what we're reading :: april 2014

I thought it would be fun (and informative) to write a summary now and then of the things that we are reading. 

Right now we are spanning the ages of toddler through mid-elementary. Here are some of the things that are floating our boat, so to speak. 

Tessa {age 2}

At this phase of the game, Tessa is happy to be read to but not interested in scoping books out for herself (picture reading, if you will.)

Her favorite books in the last month:

A Big Guy Took My Ball (An Elephant and Piggie Book) by Mo Willems- if you have a preschooler, try Mo Willems. We are hooked. When asked her favorite books, she listed I Broke My Trunk, Elephants Can't Dance, Pigs Make Me Sneeze, and Naked Mole Rat Gets Dressed. 

Llama Llama and the Bully Goat by Anna Dewdney

On audio books, she really likes The Cat and the Hat and other Dr. Seuss Favorites

Ella {age 4}

Ella (who is just a few weeks shy of five) is not reading independently, though she can work through a few BOB books on her own. She does enjoy picture reading and will sit with a pile of books and scan pictures. But her favorite thing is to be read to.

Her favorite books in the last month:

Elephant and Piggie Books- her favorite being Let's Go For a Drive.

Gifts to Make for Your Favorite Grownup by Kathy Ross. Ella really likes to repurpose things around the house and make projects, so this book is RIGHT up her alley. So far she's made the animal cracker necklace and the rainbow light catcher. 

The Fairy Books Series by Daisy Meadows- these chapter books follow two friends as they try to protect fairies everywhere from the wicked schemes of Jack Frost and his goblins. Yes, that is the plot of every single book. And it never gets old (to Ella, anyway). Her favorite one is this one. 

Sofia the First and the Enchanted Feast by Catherine Hapka. I'm not a big fan of trade books, but this one has both my girls' attention. Special guest appearance by Snow White (?).

Also in the running: Good Night Moon and Fancy Nancy.

Isaac {age 6}

Isaac is reading on his own but it's a slow go and not something he endeavors beyond his reading time with me. And all that is OK. I've never been a big fan of pushing reading too hard; just keeping at it and creating opportunity. Though he doesn't love to read, he does love stories.

His current favorites are:

How to Raise and Keep a Dragon by John Topsell- This book holds his attention for hours. 

The Magic Treehouse Series by Mary Pope Osborne- a brother and sister go on adventures and fulfill quests as they travel through time in their magic treehouse. Isaac's favorites are Blizzard of the Blue Moon and Summer of the Sea Serpent. 

LEGO Ninjago: Character Encyclopedia- a highly celebrated library find. 

In audio books, the boys have been listening to Judy Blume's Fudge series- Tales of the Fourth Grade Nothing, Superfudge, and Fudge-a-Mania. These stories are about Peter and his crazy brother, Fudge, and the hilarious adventures that life brings their way. My boys giggle hysterically, quote it constantly ("Bonjour, Stupid!"), and talk about the characters as if they are real friends. 

Drew {age 9}

Drew is a reader, having conquered Lemony Snicket's Series of Unfortunate Events books last fall. He prefers fantasy, mystery, or sci-fi.

Her's some of his recent reads:

The Rithmatist by Brandon Sanderson- If you've been around this blog for any length of time, you know that we are Brandon Sanderson fans. As an author, he is extremely diverse
having published adult fantasy, YA, and middle grade. This  is a middle grade book and the first in a series. Drew plowed through it pretty fast. 

Dragons of Autumn Twilight by Weis and Hickman- a classic fantasy, Drew picked this up because it was on our shelves. It was over his head and I'm not sure he really understood the scope of the story, but he finished it and was proud of the accomplishment.

Fablehaven by Brandon Mull- he's in the works of this one, the story of kids whose grandfather is protector of Fablehaven, a gated forest that is home to ancient fantasy creatures. 

Ruins of Gorlan (Ranger's Apprentice, Book 1) by John A. Flanagan- this is the book he reads when he can't find the book he is actually reading at the time. (Yes, he loses books. I wonder where he gets that trait from...ahem.)

He has also loved the Fudge series audio books, as well as Roald Dahl's Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator on audio. 

Family reading

Moment of confession: we ditched Mr. Popper's Penguins. It was becoming a source of strife in our home, the complaining that would begin when I tucked that book under my arm and little people sensed that a chapter was coming. I think there were several things that went wrong with this one:

1- I didn't move fast enough. If you want kids to love a chapter book, especially when the language is difficult, it really helps to be steady and read it every day. I was too scattered and they lost that initial investment in the story.

2- My kids adore the Jim Carey version of this book- so when the book went on and on and there was no penguin named Nimrod, no group dances, no penguins sliding around the NY condo...bummer all around. 

So, we have moved on and started a new book and we are INTO it! 

The Mysterious Benedict Society by Trenton Lee Stewart- we talk about it, quote it, ask questions about what will happen next, which are all signs that everybody is enjoying this. We read it at bedtime so the younger ones are tired enough to stare into space and listen, while the boys and parents are really engaged. It's a really clever, well-crafted read.

What the grown-ups are reading

Garrett and I started reading books together as a road trip thing, and the habit stuck. So we are usually working through a book together. This spring I picked up the Mistborn trilogy, a series he has read before but wanted to read again. So now we are in book two, The Well of Ascension by Brandon Sanderson. It's smart, interesting fantasy with an interesting magic system and a charming group of characters. 

The last two months I've been on a middle grade kick, partially because I'm trying to write middle grade and partially to explore this new level that my kids are coming upon. Here's some of the ones that I've discovered:

The Great Gilly Hopkins by Katherine Patterson- can I just say that Katherine Patterson is a genius? This book about a young girl who begins life at yet another foster home is a social commentary, an accurate view into the system, and a moving story of friendship and love. Just read it. (It's also going to be a movie!)

Ida B...and Her Plans to Maximize Fun, Avoid Disaster, and (Possibly) Save the World by Katherine Hannigan. I read this book and had this feeling like I'd met the main character before. Finally it occurred to me that Ida B is like a modern, Iowa-raised Anne Shirley. A lovely, lovely book about imagination, friendship, and what to do when a well-loved life begins to unravel. 

The Willoughbys by Lois Lowry- This book is very Roald Dahl-esque- the adults are mostly idiots, the language feels British, and terrible things happen to people. I enjoyed it for the change in tone but I'm not sure I'd read it to my kids until they are a bit bigger. 

The Unwanteds by Lisa McMann- a middle grade fantasy about a society where kids are labelled at thirteen. The "unwanteds" are shipped away, only to be pleasantly surprised by the fantastical life that awaits them. 

I've also been reading some Christian fiction, thanks to a new Kindle and cheapskate personality that makes me think that free books are the best thing ever. I read the Ribbons of Steel by Pella and Peterson (books 1 and 2). It's historical fiction that is centered around the building of the railroad. It had some portions that were really thick with history, felt a little like it had switched to a text book. And there was one story line I was completely bored with so I skipped those chapters. But the main character was compelling (why I read the second book.)

Have you noticed in Christian romance that there's a pattern of needing the main character (always a female, by the way) to be exceptional? A girl in the Civil War who is going to college. A girl in the Wild West who is a trained French pastry maker. A girl in Gold Rush San Francisco who is a newspaper reporter. I've read a lot of first chapters (you can request a sample of any book and get the first 15 pages for free) and it feels really repetitive...and not all that exceptional. Just a thought. 

And I already told you about The Poisonwood Bible, the book you'll hate and love and crave and fear all at once. 

I'm in the middle of a few more books, which I hope to wrap up in May and tell you about soon. 

What are you and your people reading? Any suggestions?

Happy reading, folks!


thoughts for a Friday

I woke early this morning, partially to make some progress on some writing and partially due to the cat who needed to be outside at 5:07. I smiled a little when I opened the back door and a thin blanket of snow welcomed him outside. He hesitated, feeling I think what we all think about snow in April, and then I shooed him out, thinking of the wide margin of time I had before The Stirring began. 

Coffee, Bible, breathing quiet in the dark office. Just when the work began two little girls appeared, both before 6:00, too excited to sleep because of our road trip today. 

Seriously. Before 6. 

So now they've been given a very temporary distraction and all writing momentum of long, sustained thoughts is out the door. So here are, this Friday morning. Just you, me, and a blog post that is filling up.

This week I finished reading The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver. It was both tremendous and terrifying, like a great work of art that you never want to experience again. At least that's how I feel right now. (I love books so much and I would truly like to be someone who reviews them well, but when I finish a book, I'm often overtaken with how I feel about it, that a review seems silly. Then, when time has passed and the feelings died down, I've usually forgotten too much to write a useful review.) 

But this book, you guys, this book...I was mostly astonished. Such a wide scope of history, such a masterful use of narrative, such a gut-wrenching portrayal of missions and family and unintended consequences. I never cried, but I swear I read with my mouth cracked open a bit, leaning forward, eyebrows scrunched down. It drew me in and then I wanted to beg it to let me go. But I hung in there and saw it through, and I'm glad I did. I think I will revisit this book one day, read it again to really enjoy the language and understand the history more instead of being so wrapped up in the narrative. It is a masterpiece.

We are on spring break this week, which basically means we took off Wednesday through Friday in celebration of persevering through another year of CC (we made it!) and preparing for a road trip to see some of our favorite folks. Should be a nice relaxing weekend: just me and my husband, our two friends, and our eight children (ages 9, 6,6,4,4,2,2, and baby!) I think a road trip is just what the dr. ordered for our little family and we are thankful for some time in the car to chat, connect, and read the next Mistborn book, The Well of Ascension.

Well, the natives are restless so better head. Here's a few good reads I've enjoyed this week. Hope your weekend is all that you hoped and all you need it to be. 

Catch ya later!


rainy day rambles

I'm at a coffee shop on this rainy afternoon, a great place to watch the drizzle and catch my breath. Ella Fitzgerald is playing over my earbuds, white mocha to keep me company, and all the littles are home and happy with grandma about. 

And so I wonder...what should I write about? I'd like to tell you about a Reader's Digest article I read, but it's not here and I'm afraid I'll butcher the actual content if I try to remember it. 

I'd like to weigh in on this whole World Vision chaos, except that I don't know what I would say and don't believe the internet needs another voice on that. The only advice I have is what I constantly tell my kids- Let's Be Nice. That seems to go a long way.

In a fit of crazy Kindle clicking, I bought five new books for my birthday, thanks to an Amazon gift card. The only problem is, four of these books are nonfiction. Seriously. What was I thinking???? Me + 4 Nonfiction Books= 5 years of reading. But the penny pincher in me won't be brought to buy other books until they are read, or at least given a fair shot. Of course the library is still free...

(The four books I got were I am Malala, The Locust Effect: Why the End of Poverty requires the End of Violence, The Monuments Men: Allied Heroes, Nazi Thieves, and the Greatest Treasure Hunt in History, and Call the Midwife: Shadows of the Workhouse.)

To make matters worse, I still haven't finished Quiet or Outliers. I think the lesson here is that, while I want to expand my mind and learn things, at the end of the day, I really just want snappy dialogue and interesting characters. But mostly the dialogue. Is it impossible to be addicted to dialogue? What a weird thing to ask.

In other news, my kids are getting huge. For those of you who haven't seen them in awhile, my oldest is shooting up so fast I can set my chin on the top of his head without bending over. And my baby is talking, talking in big long sentences with huge words. She's really not much of a baby, but I think the perk of the last one is that they will always be the baby, right? Maybe she'll hate that, some day, but she seems to sense that it gives her  a status, a certain place among us all. We'll see how she feels about all that when she's potty trained and weaned off her night time pacifier- two changes that are on the horizon for her. 
Tessa Jo

I keep stopping, staring out the window at this rain, thinking I really should be *doing* something with this time, something- you know- productive. Since when is being still, thinking, staring out the window such a bad thing? That's a habit I need to recultivate- the art of doing nothing, letting the mind spin, the body sit. 

I've had my book out to a few folks and enjoyed conversations as people finish and give me feedback. It's amazing how someone's perception of a book can be so different, how five people can have five different critiques. But though I thought that would be the worst part of it all (hearing all the critiques), it's really not. It's been very fun, and people have been so gracious, and it feels like actually telling a story and not just adding words to a document. What to do with all those ideas...I'm not sure. But I'm trying to look for themes, sift through varying opinions and find common ground, so we'll see. 

Well, I think that's all for this afternoon. Hope this rainy day finds you thinking, maybe staring out the window, or curled up with a good book. Fiction, preferably. But to each his own. 

Catch ya later. 



The days are warming, miraculously it seems, and it's amazing how fast I forgive winter once it is almost gone. 

On Sunday afternoon, I worked in a quiet kitchen while Garrett read on the couch. At some point I walked into the living room and said, "Do you hear that?"

He looked up, listening to the nothing, and replied, "Amazing."

The sound of stillness. The sound of little people happily playing outside. I don't know why I forgot that they do that, why the winter months seemed extra long and like we might never, ever do anything but all teem in the living room, pulling out toys, poking each other, and running up and down the stairs. But there is something else, and that something else is so good.

I've been thinking lately about the goodness of God. Just that phrase seems like an understatement, as if a friend who split their veins and sacrificed their life for yours would be called "good". But more than the sacrifice of Christ, or rather in addition to it, there is the posture of God's heart to me, the sense that in all His dealings with me- from childhood to childbirth to child wrangling- He has always been unfailingly good to me, in the midst of each one. 

He is not "good". He is goodness.

Maybe it is easier to believe He is good now that the sun is shining, now that the kids are playing outside and the wind is biting less. There is something about changing seasons that exhales it all. 

Or maybe his goodness is felt by the coming of Easter, by the preparations for Holy Week and the sense that your own heart is preparing to focus on the death and resurrection of Christ.

Or maybe it is simply God, moving yet again in his own goodness, reminding me of who He is and why it is easier to get out of bed when I am thinking of His goodness. 

Here's to sunny days and a season of Lent and a song in our heart, each reminding us that the journey asks so much  but the One who leads can only be good. 


when something ends and (thankfully) not much changes

On February 4th, we had a noisy dinner.

I can't remember what we ate. I wish I could because it would have made a nice second sentence in this blog post. But we ate at home and it was probably not-so-spectacular, as Tuesday nights tend to go. And I probably overcooked it, if we was really business as usual. 

Then Garrett and the kiddos went upstairs for the evening. I did the dishes, swept the floor, made a pot of decaf coffee, and opened the laptop around 7:00.

And at 8:30, I closed the laptop and leaned back in my chair.

I had just finished my book. 

30 months from start to finish.

200,000 words. (over half of that cut at some point.)

A lot of late nights and early mornings. 

It was done. That was it.

I went upstairs and sat in Garrett's office.  We stared at each other, marveled that we made it, and then I read him the new ending. 

In the time since then, I've done a lot of important things. 

I woke the next morning, woke at my usual writing time, and started working on a new book. 

I made hot chocolate for this little band of snow fort builders. 

I went grocery shopping. Several times probably. 

I read stories that turned into silliness all around. 

We built snowmen.

I homeschooled. 

It's a funny feeling, this reality that I finished my book. That somehow that whole corner of my mind feels different, but this wide world of my life is still the same. 

It's been hard to bring up, honestly. And I've wrestled with how to even talk about it here. It feels like an achievement, but in the realm of actually producing a book, it's kind of a small step. An important one, I'd say, but just the first step on a long road that seems like a lot of scary steps.

And so what am I doing now? Well, I started writing something new which has been so fun, so wonderful to not be in Macy's head and be in Ren's instead. 

I've found a few people to read the draft and had some feedback.

I've chickened out sometimes and not actually sent the draft when I said I would. Something about it being out there, something about the waiting for feedback...it makes me feel so exposed.  But in the end I sent it, mainly because my friend laughed at me and told me to man up. (Thanks, Nicole!)

I read this article and found some good direction.

But mainly I've just lived my every day life, tried to be grateful that I stuck it out, praying about what's next, and trusting God in each step. 

It's been sweet and scary and morale-boosting and fear-inducing. But such is life, such is the reality that small victories, though hard fought, don't really replace any insecurities or make us whole. 

But those victories can make us grateful- for the people who cheered and the hours that were there and the joy that came from putting words on paper. And the knowledge that, through this venture, I found myself a little bit. Through the process of writing and daring and pushing through, I feel like I am more me. And that is so, so worth it. 

A special thanks to my husband for being supportive in every way imaginable, to my family who were subjected to early drafts that probably weren't ready to be shared, and to my friends who keep asking and hoping that a book will be born. Thanks to you, however you've helped or read or prayed or endured me lamenting this project. 

And for you- I hope if there is something that seems bold or crazy or just plain out of reach, I truly hope there is someone in your life that will say to you, "You got this."

And I hope when they say that, you will believe them and live like it's true. 

Have a great Friday, friends.