What I Read in 2015 (Non-fiction)

2015-12-30_002 It's time! Time for my favorite post of the year when I share the books I read and (hopefully) also get recommendations from all of you as to new titles to add to my 2016 t0-read pile. After I posted last year's list I shared I wanted to read more non-fiction this year. I did just that. (I'll post my fiction list tomorrow.)

This year I adjusted my rating system to be the same as Goodreads so the rating corresponds. Which reminds me, I'd love to connect with you over on Goodreads!

Notes from The Tilt-a-Whirl: Wide Eyed Wonder at God’s Spoken World by N. D. Wilson**** A unique (and maybe abnormal?) book for sure. Wasn't sure if I was going to be able to get through it in the beginning. It took me some time to track with the author's writing style. Each chapter was something of an essay: poetic, philosophical, sarcastic, with lots of literary references (which I enjoyed). I came to really enjoy the book and appreciate the style with which it was written. It was a stretching book to read in terms of style.

The Meaning of Marriage by Timothy Keller***** One of the best and most insightful books on marriage I've read.

Bread and Wine: A Love Letter to Life Around the Table with Recipes by Shauna Niequist**** I really loved the themes of food and community in this book. This was the first book by Niequist I've read and I look forward to reading more because I love her style.

Own Your Life: Living with Deep Intention, Bold Faith, and Generous Love by Sally Clarkson*** This books wasn't quite what I envisioned when I bought it, but it was still good. Some chapters spoke to me more than others. I do love Clarkson's warm, open, and conversational style.

The Midwife: A Memoir of Birth, Joy, and Hard Times by Jennifer Worth*** As a fan of  PBS' Call the Midwife I'd been interested in reading this book for a while. I really enjoyed this book even more than I thought I would. It was neat to read about the stories that inspired the episodes. It reads almost conversationally and sometimes the author made remarks that seemed to need statistics to support them, but overall it was an interesting read because I was interested in the subject. I became endeared to the nuns as well as some of the people Nurse Lee treated such as Mrs. Jenkins and Conchita and Len and their twenty-five children!!! I especially was fascinated by the smog chapter, as I'd listened to a whole What You Missed in History Class podcast episode on the London smog situation during that time. Mary's story was heart breaking in every way and gives a look into the horrific state of prostitution at that time. The one chapter I skimmed was Cable Street because it went into more detail than I could handle. But overall, if you are someone who is interested in this topic and/or the show, it would be a great read.

Design Mom: How to Live with Kids: A Room by Room Guide by Gabrielle Stanley Blair***** Thoughtful advice about living in a home with kids that has beauty and function. Loved the entry way, the family office, and kids bedroom sections. Also the "At the Blair House" sidebars. It inspired me to reorganize my living room, the playroom, laundry room, and part of my kitchen!

These Strange Ashes: Is God Still in Charge? by Elisabeth Elliot**** After Elisabeth Elliot's death this year I decided it was time to revisit her writing that has so impacted my life over the years. I chose this book because I couldn't remember any details from it. I got so much more out of this book than when I read it years ago as a teenager. Probably because I could identify with the themes of this memoir of Elliot's first year as a missionary better than I could back then. Elliot spends her first year in mission work living with three other women among the Colorado Indians, seeking to try to put their language on paper. She is faced with her own "crisis of faith" as she seeks to understand why it seemed God led her to "do His will" there yet everything goes absolutely wrong and seemingly pointless.

The Fringe Hours: Making Time for You by Jessica N. Turner** I enjoyed listening to Jessica Turner be interviewed on two different podcasts and was inspired by what she had to say and agreed with her message. However, I did not find her book to be as inspiring as listening to her. I find this to be the case sometimes. I really enjoy a speaker but that doesn't transfer to their writing.

Perhaps this is because the first two sections were devoted to trying to persuade women that making time for their gifts is important. I already whole-heartedly agree with this, so those sections weren't really written for me. I DO think women need to be encouraged in this way though. Turner added this into her book based on the survey results she received because so many women expressed guilt at the idea of pursuing their own talents. The book deals with ideas of self-imposed guilt that women seem to carry with them.

But back to me, honestly I find myself already doing much of the suggestions Turner has to offer. Not that I've got it all together, but maybe this was written more for someone starting out on a journey making time for themselves as opposed to someone who already does. I already make time for myself each morning before my kids get up for personal devotional time and then many afternoons during the week during "rest time" to pursue my writing. Since I've been doing this my kids were born I feel like I've got a good handle on it. And I also already know what I'm passionate about and don't need to brain storm what my interests are.

Also, this books was written from a Christian perspective but I don't think it was necessarily was billed as such. I think it was trying to ride the fence a bit. I think it would have benefitted from a whole chapter on the theology of using and developing one's gifts and going deeper into that from a Christian perspective, or maybe not have any Christian references at all? Not sure. She discusses spiritual disciplines, church, prayer, etc. but doesn't delve deeply into any of that, so not sure if it was necessary. In some ways I feel like the book tried to be a little too broad in some areas.

So all that to say, I don't think I was really the audience for this book. However, if someone has trouble with guilt, wants to pursue some sort of passion and doesn't know where/how to start, this would probably be a good book for them.

Teaching from Rest: A Homeschooler’s Guide to Unshakeable Peace by Sarah Mackenzie***** This books packs a lot of punch for being so small.

Mackenzie offers spiritual and practical encouragement for the homeschooling mother in this book. I love how she encourages us to "make your own learning and growing a priority, and watch how that impacts the life of your homeschool." She has some wonderful suggestions for ways to find refreshment from choosing a literary mentor to keeping a commonplace book.

I actually changed our approach to our homeschool day this year based on several suggestions Mackenzie makes: loop scheduling and creating margin within the school day. I'd never heard of loop scheduling before Mackenzie explained it and I hope it will help us in a very practical way this year. Also, although I'm great at creating margin in our week and weekends, I'd actually not considered it for within our day. So now I am planning for more time that it actually take to complete tasks, to help insure I don't "steamroll" my kids with an eye to simply check things off the list, but slow down and savor learning.

A must-read for any homeschooling parent!

50 Women Every Christian Should Know: Learning from Heroines of the Faith by Michelle DeRusha**** A great overview of the lives of Christian women and their contributions to the world over the years. As one who has read a TON of biographies of Christian women since childhood, I was happy to discover many "new to me" women in this book. Each chapter is about three pages long and is a brief look into the woman's life, struggles, and legacy. I love that she covers Catholics, Protestants, and those who would not fall into either category. I discovered the lives of many women I've heard of--and even seen paintings of--but did no know their stories, like Catherine of Siena and Teresa of Avila. And I've been inspired to read more detailed biographies on Dorothy Sayers and Flannery O'Connor.

For the Love: Fighting for Grace in a World of Impossible Standards by Jen Hatmaker**** This was my first book by Hatmaker and I found it hilarious and spot-on in it's critique of many things one finds in Christian "culture." I literally found myself laughing out loud. The thank-you note section was always particularly hilarious.

 

If I had to pick, Teaching from Rest was my favorite non-fiction book of the year. What was yours?

My Favorite Apps

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2015-12-29_001

When it comes to apps, I like simple. I don't like too many cluttering up my phone, so the ones I have loaded I use all the time. I thought it would be fun to share some of my favorites and find out what apps you can't do without.

Feedly I keep up with blogs and other websites with Feedly. I love how you can customize the organization. It's easy to use on the desktop of my computer or on my phone.

Instagram Instagram is my #1 favorite social media format. Give me all the pretty pictures! It's like micro blogging. But in order to use Instagram you've got to take good pictures, which brings me to . . .

PicTapGo One of the easiest photo apps out there, in my opinion. I love how you can layer the filters and control their opacity (I rarely use a filter at full strength). I love the "Lights On" filter for lightening up dark pictures and it's so easy to post to Instagram from inside the app.

VSCO VSCO sat on my phone for a long time until I figured it out. It is not as intuitive as PicTapGo. I love that I can edit my pictures without using any filters but just tweaking it to my own eye. But as far as filters go, I also love that you can purchase various "collections" depending on the look you are trying to accomplish.

Pinterest I keep most of my recipes on Pinterest now and so it's important for me to be able to access them on my phone at times.

She Reads Truth The She Reads Truth app is my favorite Bible app. I like how the app formats the Bible and also that it contains devotional plans. I used their devotionals for this past Advent season, reading their "Advent: Born is the King" series. I also did their "Women in the Word" series over the summer.

Pray As You Go I was recently introduced to this app by Kortney of One Deep Drawer. I am really enjoying it. When I've not had time to sit down and read my Bible or have hands full with the baby this app is perfect for centering my soul. It is an experience with about 15 minutes of sacred music, a scripture reading, and a devotional thought, all read with English accents to boot. My little one has been waking early this past month and it's been perfect to sit and listen to while sipping coffee and looking at the twinkling Christmas tree lights.

Star Walk This is such a fun app to discover the constellations! Just point toward the sky and the app will show you where the constellations are in the sky! My kids love this one.

Google Drive I use Google Drive for various notes and documents, so it's handy to be able to access them on my phone when I'm on the go.

What's your can't-live-without app?

Favorite Shows of 2015

As we come to the end of 2015 I thought it would be fun to share some of my favorite things from the past year. First up: favorite shows. The theme of this year's viewing pleasure has been Cornwall. I've always had a crush on Cornwall ever since I read Rebecca by Daphne du Mauier. It captured my imagination. And it still does. Someday, I hope to visit it for myself. Until then, I will have to content myself with watching shows set there instead. Like Broadchurch.

Broadchurch 

Broadchurch has been the only show to make Josh and me watch three episodes in a row--on a week night no less--but we just had to keep going! Watching Broadchurch is just as satisfying as binge reading your favorite mystery series. Amazing writing, a plot that twists and turns with a shocking ending, dramatic views of West Bay cliff in Dorset, compelling acting, and the cinematography! Oh I love the cinematography in this show.

Another thing I liked was that the family who suffers the tragedy of losing their son are not side-lined characters we only see when brought in for questioning. We get to see them grow, develop, and deal with their grief and all it's stages. That is not very common in detective stories. Trigger warning: the show does focus on the death of an eleven-year-old boy. That said, this show is not graphic and focuses mostly on the relationships of the family, detectives, and people in the town as they deal with the tragedy and not any grizzly details. If you like mysteries, this is a must try!

Watch the trailer here.

Poldark 

Poldark makes me want to hop on my horse and gallop along Cornwall's rugged coast, hair flying in the wind. However, I must admit when I saw the trailers for Poldark, they didn't interest me. Not until a friend said I had to try it did I watch the series.

Ross Poldark returns from war to discover his father dead, his estate in ruins, and his sweetheart engaged to his cousin. The series is full of family drama, romance, business dealings gone wrong, financial strain, and class warfare. Poldark is our sometimes brooding hero who struggles to restrain his temper and act within the confines of his class. It has been touted as the "next Downton Abbey" but I actually think the series is much better than Downton. Josh loved it too.

Watch the trailer here.

Miss Fisher's Murder Mysteries

It’s the 1920s in Melbourne, Australia. Phryne Fisher is a “lady detective” in a man’s world. Dressed to impress, this pistol-packing fashionista is smart, sophisticated, and ready to solve the latest crime. The spunky Miss Fisher is always up for a good time or a murder to solve.

Watch the trailer here.

Foyle's War

Foyle's War is the type of show that grows on you. I did not binge watch it but instead savored it. The first time I tried the series I thought it was boring and didn't stick it out. But I tried again and am glad I did. I just love DCS Foyle, understatedly and superbly played by Michael Kitchen. What I like about Kitchen's acting is summed up in this article by Mary McNamara for the L. A. Times:

Kitchen is a deceptively expressive actor, and his performance as Foyle is a master class in the power of subtlety. Famous for the irregular request of less dialogue, he relies almost entirely on the physical, including his extraordinarily communicative face — the lowered eyelid, the lip bitten from the inside, the brow furrowed in mock surprise — small but characteristic movement, and the power of vocal syncopation. When Foyle hits his consonants hard, someone is in trouble.

Foyle is always honorable in a world gone to hell on the home front and the battle field. He is in a strange way--endearing. His is assisted by his driver, "Sam," who he grows to have an almost father-daughter relationship with. The episodes often deal with tricky moral situations, yet to Foyle, it is simplistic: there is never an excuse for murder.

Watch the trailer here.

All of these shows can currently be viewed on Netflix except Poldark, which I found at my local library.

What was YOUR favorite series of 2015?

Published in Flourish

FlourishMag-2 As my friends know, I'm a huge fan of The Read-Aloud Revival Podcast. I interviewed the host, Sarah Mackenzie earlier this year and was also I was also super excited to hear her speak when I went to the Wild+Free Homeschool conference last month. Her talk was encouraging and inspiring.

So I was very excited to be asked to contribute photographs and an essay to Flourish, Sarah Mackenzie's e-magazine.

The theme of the December issue was gratitude, and you can read what I shared here.

Also, you might want to check out the Flourish archive. Packed with good stuff!

 

My First Periscope + A Free Ebook for You!

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It started with Christmas. Early in December I’d pull our special stash of Christmas books down from the shelf. Reading aloud is one of our family’s favorite pastimes, and the winter months particularly lend themselves to snuggling on the couch and reading a good story while the Christmas tree lights sparkle.

But soon I was searching for books for every holiday. Over the years I've collected quite a list of picture books that we turn to when we approach a certain festivity. I've purchased some from used book sales and we borrow others from our local library.

Recently, I've been writing a lot about holiday picture books for children. I was excited to write a piece about Christmas picture books for Wild + Free's most recent "Light" bundle and faith-based ones for For the Family. And that got me thinking: why not create a master list, of sorts, of all the holiday books we've read and enjoyed over the years?

And so I decided to put together a FREE Ebook for all my email subscribers.

Celebrate! Holiday Picture Books for Children is a ten-page resource of picture books for many of the major holidays around the year. Whether you're a homeschooling family that wants to add books about a holiday's origins to your curriculum or you just want a fun book to read, this is the resource for you. You can print it off and throw it into your bag when you go to the library or to reference when you're in search for the perfect book on Amazon. Why not start now, with Christmas?

To get your own copy of my Ebook, just subscribe using the form below or in the bar at the bottom of my website. It's that easy! You will receive a confirmation email in your inbox. Once you confirm your subscription, you will then receive a second email that will contain the link to the free download.

SUBSCRIBE + RECEIVE A FREE EBOOK!

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AND, to give you a preview of just a few of the books I share in the ebook, check out my very first Periscope broadcast! It was a little weird, but fun!

I hope these books will add richness and joy to your own holiday traditions!

Prepare Him Room

Last Christmas I was honored to be asked to participate in an Advent series hosted by Christie Purifoy. The result was the following thoughts on preparing Him room, which is one of my favorite articles because it is so personal. Last Advent was a special time as we waited for Ava to arrive (and we had no idea she'd arrive on Christmas Day!) and prepared to celebrate Christ's coming too. It is good to relive because even though I'm no longer great with child, I still am preparing room in my heart for the Advent of Christ. Today I'm sharing those same thoughts over at Ungrind.

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Joy to the World! The Lord is come; Let earth receive her king; Let every heart prepare him room, And heaven and nature sing!

The song is so familiar that I barely notice the lyrics. I stream it from iTunes while making dinner.

But suddenly these words cause me to pause:

Let every heart prepare him room.

This December I am great with child.

My belly is swollen with a child that thumps and kicks and pulsates life. Three weeks out from the due date we are preparing room. The crib is set up; the clothes are washed and stacked in neat rows in a freshly painted white dresser. I’ve been here before. The preparing and waiting. The waiting and preparing.

Join me over at Ungrind to finish reading.

Picture Books for the Advent Season

WintryNight Christmas is a time for classics. It is time for grandpa’s famous eggnog and grandma’s annual pecan pie. It’s time for favorite Christmas carols around the old piano and movie marathons ofWhite Christmas and Holiday Inn.

And it’s also time for our own family’s tradition of pulling out our favorite Christmas picture books and piling on the couch for some Advent-themed reading while the lights on the tree twinkle and shine.

Today I wanted to share some of our faith-based favorites. Some are retellings of the biblical story of Jesus’ birth while others are completely fictional, but all point children to the true meaning of Christmas.

Come check out the list over at For the Family!