What I Read this Year: 2011

It's that time of year. Time for the annual reading list. And I want to know what you read too. I know a lot of you also post your reading lists from the past year too, so if you do, make sure you link up at the end of this post. I know we're all looking for great reads for 2012.

In the fiction department I had a much more satisfying reading experience than last year. My personal rating system:

* Mediocre ** Good *** Very Good **** Excellent

Fiction

The Forgotten Garden – Kate Morton**** I like gothic novels. Strike that. Love them. I went on a Kate Morton extravaganza this year and read all her books. This one was my favorite. Mystery. A fairy tale book. An old garden. All is finally told as family secrets are unravelled.

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society – Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows**** This book was pure delight. This witty narrative is told through letters but it's not at all stale. The characters come to life as they share their war stories to writer Juliet Ashton who's searching for material for her next book.

The House at Riverton – Kate Morton*** An "upstairs/downstairs" type of novel, the drama unfolds through the eyes of housemaid, Grace. Now, elderly, Grace thinks back on her younger years and the mystery surrounding a young poet's death.

Ahab’s Wife: or, The Star-Gazer – Sena Jeter Naslund*** The author takes the reference to Ahab's wife in Moby-Dick and fashions a life-story for her. Superbly written and meticulously researched, the story was at once gripping and disturbing at times. Sometimes I loved reading it and other times I got bogged and wanted to put it down. I ended up with mixed feelings about it. Not for the faint of heart in length or at times, substance.

The Distant Hours – Kate Morton**** A long-lost letter finally reaches its destination and causes Edie Burchill to peel back the layers of her mother's history and her connection to the ancient spinster sisters of Milderhurst Castle.

In the Company of Others – Jan Karon*** I listened to this as an audiobook. It was a bit slow, but I love the character of Father Tim and joining him on his trip to Ireland. After a theft at the B&B where they're staying and Cynthia has an injury, their stay is extended and Father Tim becomes involved with the family problems of Conors.

Anna Karenina – Leo Tolstoy**** This was a second read through this magnificent novel. It's one of my all-time favorites. With themes of betrayal and faithfulness, love and forgiveness, death and life, it transcends time and is as relevant today as it was when first published.

Entwined – Heather Dixon**** This book was just plain fun. I listened to it on audiobook and was hooked. It's a retelling of the fairytale of the 12 dancing princesses. It was a beautifully written fantasy and had marvelous descriptions.

Hamlet – Shakespeare**** A classic. What more can I say?

Stepping Heavenward – Elizabeth Prentiss** This was my first free Kindle download. I used to own the book but have since misplaced it and wanted to reread. I like the fact that despite the fact it was written during the 1800's it still comes off as being very real. The main heroine is completely honest with her faith struggles and failings. As it went on it got a bit tedious and didn't always agree some of the theology presented.

Coming Home – Rosamund Pilcher*** This was my first Pilcher and I soon was sucked into English world of Judith Dunbar. This was another audiobook read by the lovely Vanessa Redgrave. The quality of the recording was a bit old, but still enjoyable. Looking forward to reading more Pilcher next year.

The Violets of March – Sarah Jio**** This was a fast and easy read, but one that immediately "grabbed" me. After her marriage ends, Emily goes to spend some time with her Aunt Bee on Bainbridge Island near Seattle. Once there, she discovers a diary that plunges her into discovering  a mystery in her family history.

The Seamstress – Frances De Potes Peebles** Although it started off great, I found it ultimately tedious. The history was interesting as were the characters. However, in the middle it dragged.

Non-Fiction

An Ordinary Woman’s Extraordinary Faith Patricia St. John**** This book has since been renamed, but is writer and missionary Patricia St. John's autobiography. Just as engaging as her many children's books, I loved learning about her amazing life. As a missionary nurse someone who reached out to many beggar children, I wonder how she had time to write all she did!

The Ministry of Motherhood: Following Christ’s Example in Reaching the Hearts of Our Children – Sally Clarkson*** I really appreciate Sally Clarkson's parenting/mothering heart and this book is at once deep and practical. I constantly need to be reminded that motherhood is ministry.

One Thousand Gifts – Ann Voskamp*** I relate to Voskamp on many levels: her struggle with forgiveness and her strained relationship with her father being the most obvious. I appreciate her gut-wrenching honesty and her tenacious attempt to find God's gifts in everything. Her poetic and almost stream-of-conscious writing is one-of-a-kind and can be hard to get used too. It lends itself well to blogs, but was harder to stay with in a longer book, I thought.

Speaking Truth in Love – David Powlison** Good content, excellent writing. But I still got bogged down at times for reasons I'm not sure. I really appreciated the message, however, as I plowed through. Faithful Women, Extraordinary God – Noel Piper**** This was a reread for me. I love biographies and this is a compilation of five biographies: Sarah Edwards, Lilias Trotter, Gladys Aylward, Esther Ahn Kim and Helen Roseveare. These women are so inspiring. And Piper ends each chapter by drawing from their lives and applying it to our own, contemporary Christian walk.

His Word in My Heart: Memorizing Scripture for a Closer Walk with God – Janet Pope*** This was a year of me growing in the area of memorizing God's Word. This was the perfect tool to help me with that.

The Reason for God: Belief in the Age of Skepticism – Timothy Keller**** There's only one Tim Keller. This book took me a long time to get through because it's got so much to think about. It basically gives a rational argument for Christianity. It's at once deep and refreshingly direct in writing style. I appreciate how widely read Keller is and how he includes so much writing/arguments from contemporary atheists.

Currently, I'm finishing up Emily Freeman's Grace for the Good Girl and P. D. James' Death Comes to Pemberley.

Now it's Your Turn

I want to know what you read. It doesn't have to be a whole list like I did. It could even just be your one favorite book of the whole year! But do share. I want to do some good reading in 2012. Comment below or share by linking a blog post of your own below:

Click here to enter the link to your booklist post and view other's lists...

Multitude Monday

Wow, it's been over a month since I've done a Multitude Monday post. Last week I was out for the count the first half of the week with some sort of horrible virus. So glad that's over. Despite that yuckiness, there's much to be thankful for over the past week:

526. The boys sang "Jingle Bells" and "Go Tell it on the Mountain" in their first co-op presentation. Regardless of being scared, all went smoothly.

527. Christmas presents for all have arrived, now onto wrapping (one of my favorite Christmas activities).

528. The fact that Sophia doesn't bother the Christmas tree!

529. A chest freezer where I can store homemade chicken stock.

530. Gingerbread house making with the boys.

531. Cookie making with my mom.

532. Walks in the fresh, cold air.

533. Sophia's joyfulness.

534. Josh being able to take time off of work to take care of me when I was sick last week. That I got the virus last week and not this week of Christmas.

535. That no one else in the family got the virus, despite the fact I had it for about 4 days.

536. Watching the boys play dinosaurs so well together.

537. The most fabulous audio book for kids: Winnie the Pooh. Stellar version with multiple voices by actors like Stephen Fry and Judi Dench. Can't say enough about this unabridged production!

538. Fun night out at Josh's work party.

539. Going to our first live nativity! Owen asking perceptive questions while we watched it.

540. The twinkle of Christmas tree lights.

541. Chocolate Hazelnut Meringue cake. So yummy and fancy.

542. A new family tradition: A Jesse Tree Family Devotional. The fact that the boys look forward to it each night.

543. Being reminded yesterday in church of "something old and rugged": the cross and the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Christmas Stories for Children {Updated Repost}

We have a special stash of Christmas books we pull out each year. I'm constantly looking for new ones to add to our collection. After just reading Krista's post on Christmas books for children, I was reminded of my own similar post last year. I've revisited this list and added a few new titles to it. Here's a few of the titles we're currently enjoying. What are yours?

Peter Spier's Christmas One of my favorite children's book illustrators, this is truly a picture book. No words. But lots of detailed illustrations which narrate in their own way one family's Christmas season.

The Foxwood Surprise by Cynthia & Brian Paterson The illustrations are the best part of this book. Three little animals look for ways to earn money to buy gifts and have a little adventure along the way.

The Christmas Cat by Efner Tudor Holmes Picked this up at a library book sale since it's illustrated by Tasha Tudor. A sweet book about a little cat that finds a new home at Christmas. Gingerbread recipe and icing in the back.

Jacob's Gift by Max Lucado A young carpenter in Bethlehem gives a gift to the newly born Christ-child.

Christmas in the Barn by Margaret Wise Brown A simple little poem about Christ's birth. Whimsical and romantic, it's still a book we enjoy.

The Day Before Christmas by Eve Bunting A sweet book about a little girl who goes to the Nutcracker for the first time with her grandfather. Who Was Born this Special Day? by Eve Bunting A simple story for young children about Jesus' birth.

The Story of Holly and Ivy by Rumer Godden I love this story about a little girl searching for a home and a doll who wants a child to be her own. Just read it to the boys for the first time this year and they loved it. Illustrated by another of my favorite illustrators, Barbara Cooney.

The Year of the Perfect Christmas Tree by Gloria Houston A tear jerker about a little girl named Ruthie who is waiting for her father to come home from war and must donate the "perfect Christmas tree" to her town's Christmas play.

The Little Spider by Sigmund Brouwer A story about Joseph, Mary, and baby Jesus' flight to Egypt, told through the story of the animals who accompany them. Came with an audio version of the story too. The boys are always intrigued by the pictures and the spider.

Stable in Bethlehem by Joy N. Hulme A simple counting book with beautiful illustrations.

The Little Fir Tree by Margaret Wise Brown A Christmas classic about a lonely fir tree who finds itself at the center of a little boy's Christmas celebration.

These are a few of our favorite Christmas books for children. Share yours!

Chocolate-Almond Biscotti

On Saturday I made my annual batch of biscotti. A recipe I got from my friend, Jessica, it's become a family favorite that I not only make for myself but often give away. It's a perfect gift to tuck into a mug with a gift certificate to a favorite coffee shop or something.

I'm enjoying my biscotti today, with a cup of tea.

Why don't you enjoy some too?

Chocolate-Almond Biscotti

1/2 Cup butter 3/4 Cup sugar 1 tbsp. orange zest 3 eggs 1 tsp. vanilla extract 3 Cups all-purpose flour 1 tbsp. baking powder 1/2 tsp salt 1 Cup almonds lightly toasted (or hazelnuts) 8 oz. semisweet chocolate chips, melted (This year, I used bittersweet)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees

In a large bowl, beat butter, sugar, orange zest. Add eggs, one at a time, beating after each addition. Stir in vanilla. In a small bowl, combine flour, baking powder, and salt. Add to the butter mix and blend. Stir in nuts. Dough will be soft.

On a lightly floured surface, divide the dough into 3 equal pieces. Lightly flour each piece and shape into a log about 1 1/2 inches in diameter and 8-9 inches long. Place logs about 3 inches apart on ungreased baking sheets. Press each log down to make about 3/4 inches thick and 3 inches wide. Bake until puffed and lightly browned on top, about 20 minutes. Cool for 10 minutes. Then slide gently onto a work surface and using a sharp knife, cut each log crosswise into 3/4 inch slices. Cookies can touch. Lay on them on their side and bake for 10 minutes more. Remove and turn cookies over and make until lightly browned, about 10 minutes more. Let them cool completely.

Spread with melted chocolate so biscotti is half covered. (I cover one whole side. I want chocolate in every bite!) Let chocolate harden, about 2-3 hours. Makes 3 1/2 dozen.

Fullness of Joy


"You make known to me the path of life;
in your presence there is fullness of joy;
at your right hand are pleasures forevermore."
(Psalm 16:11 ESV)

Joy is found in Jesus. In His presence.

It's as simple and as hard as that. If I'm experiencing joylessness, I'm not fully entering into relationship with Jesus, despite the fact that I may have a "personal relationship" with Him. It's a daily thing. Not a once in a lifetime thing.

It may be I'm trying to find joy in other places. It's often in times of loss when I discover where my joy really truly is anchored. The truth is, anything in this world can be stripped from us: health, loved ones, our possessions. Only Jesus lasts. In The One Year Book of Hope Nancy Guthrie writes, "Jesus is the only permanent joy in this world and the next. If your joy is not found in Jesus, then you joy can be taken from you."

Guthrie calls this type of joy "solid joy." She continues on to say, "The reason our joy is secure and will last forever is because Jesus has been raised from the dead and will never be cut off from us again. By defeating death and holding the keys to death in his hands, Jesus will never die, and we don't have to die either. The resurrection of Jesus means that not only will he live forever as the source of our joy, but we also will live forever if he is the source of our joy."

In the stores and on the radio this season we will hear the song, "Joy to the world." But do we really know what it means? Joy for you and me? To live in the true joy of Christmas?

The rest of song answers where that joy is found: "The Lord is come!"

And so He has. May that knowledge and His personal presence bring me--and you--fullness of joy.

Thank You

Another year photographing beautiful families and capturing special moments has come to and end. I want to extend a big “thank you” to all my clients. I hope those images will be keepsakes for many years to come!

I was also happy to grow another year as a photographer, stretching my skills to new levels. This year I also shot my first corporate head shots and my first wedding. I don't currently advertise myself as a corporate or a wedding photographer, but those were great experiences I was thrilled to be part of.

I will taking a break for the month of December through at least January. I'm breaking in December to spend the holidays with my family and in January to revamp my business. I'm very excited about making some changes and overhauling some of my visual branding as well as how I do things behind the scenes. Stay tuned and I will keep you informed here as the changes are being made.

Thank you again for a wonderful year!