New Books Finished in 2016

Catchup post – since I skipped summing up the year between my 2015 and 2017 book posts I thought I’d jump back and fill in the blank. I’m a list checker and the gap was irritating me ;). In 2016 I read 41 new-to-me books – very low for me. We started the year with kids who were 3, 3, 1, and a baby and the first half of the year was intense. We house-hunted and purchased a home in another state, prepped our home for market, went through the process of showings and closings, prepared to move cross-country, had some really nasty illnesses, temporarily lived in a hotel, moved cross country, had some more awful illnesses, weathered a major spike in special needs issues, and gradually settled into our new home. It was good year, but certainly not a relaxing one for lots of deep reading. I’ve marked favorites in each category in bold.


  • Cider with Rosie by Laurie Lee


  • Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel
  • Morningside Heights by Cheryl Mendelson
  • The World We Found by Thrity Umrigar
  • The Revolving Door of Life (44 Scotland Street series) by Alexander McCall Smith
  • The Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan
  • Father Elijah by Michael D O’Brien


  • Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell
  • Garlic and Sapphires: The Secret Life of a Food Critic by Ruth Reichl
  • On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft by Stephen King
  • Different: The Story of an Outside-the-Box Kid and the Mom Who Loved Him by Sally and Nathan Clarkson
  • When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi
  • Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis by J.D. Vance
  • Parenting the Hurt Child: Helping Adoptive Families Heal and Grow by Gregory Keck and Regina M Kupecky
  • Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood by Rebecca Wells
  • My Grandfather’s Son: A Memoir by Clarence Thomas
  • Happier at Home by Gretchen Rubin


  • Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus: A Devout Muslim’s Journey to Christ by Nabeel Qureshi
  • Surprised by Oxford by Carolyn Weber
  • Give Me This Mountain by Dr. Helen Roseveare


  • A Great Reckoning (Inspector Gamache Series) by Louise Penny
  • Firestorm by Nevada Barr
  • Liverty Falling by Nevada Barr
  • Track of the Cat by Nevada Barr
  • A Share in Death by Deborah Crombie
  • All Shall Be Well by Deborah Crombie
  • Leave the Grave Green by Deborah Crombie
  • Mourn Not Your Dead by Deborah Crombie
  • Miss Pym Disposes by Josephine Tey


  • All-of-a-Kind Family by Sydney Taylor
  • Anna Hibiscus by Atinuke*
  • Hooray for Anna Hibiscus by Atinuke*
  • Good Luck Anna Hibicus by Atinuke*
  • Have Fun Anna Hibiscus! by Atinuke*
  • Stuart Little by E.B. White*
  • On the Edge of the Dark Sea of Darkness by Andrew Peterson
  • North or Be Eaten by Andrew Peterson
  • The Monster in the Hollows by Andrew Peterson
  • The Warden and the Wolf King by Andrew Peterson
  • The Mouse and the Motorcycle by Beverly Cleary*
  • Dinosaurs Before Dark (Magic Tree House #1) by Mary Pope Osborne*

(There were other read-alouds, but they weren’t new to me so they’re not on this new books list)



New Books Read in 2017

I’ve tracked my reading since I was 15. In my teens and early twenties I wrote all new titles (re-reads and picture books don’t count) in a small blue notebook. These days I use Pinterest and write an end-of-year summary. I missed summarizing last year’s reading here. This year’s total is 78 books, up significantly since our days of four kids aged two and under! While the exact number of books read isn’t significant it’s a good indicator of a balanced life for me with time for personal development and relaxation. This year I read fewer classics than usual, mainly because I’ve discovered so many great current reads via the What Should I Read Next podcast and the Read Aloud Revival podcast. This year’s reading tended toward lighter and fun vs. longer or more heavily theological or intellectual books. I had a few specific areas of deliberate exploration. I wanted to read more books by African diaspora authors, some Australian mystery novels, finish all the novels written by the Bronte’s that I’d yet to read, and read more (read: any) poetry than I have in recent years. Mysteries made up a solid chunk of the reading, as did memoirs and autobiographies. I also read a lot of chapter books out loud to the kids, but only counted them if they were new to me. I’ve put my favorites at the top of each category in bold, and a few notations as applicable when a book crossed categories or met one of those sub-goals. If I strongly disliked a book I’ve noted that as well.


  • Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston (African American)
  • Shirley by Charlotte Bronte
  • Villette by Charlotte Bronte
  • Dr. Wortle’s School by Anthony Trollope
  • The Mill on the Floss by George Eliot (DISLIKED. Oh my word…all THAT for THAT ENDING? I don’t feel bad about all-caps loathing because the author is long-dead.)


  • What Work Is by Philip Levine
  • The Last Shift by Philip Levine


  • The Connected Child by Purvis and Cross (truly outstanding if you’re an adoptive, foster, or special needs parent)
  • Mastering the Art of Soviet Cooking: A Memoir in Food and Longing by Anya von Bremzen
  • Startle and Illuminate: Carol Shields on Writing edited by Anne and Nicholas Giardini
  • Travels with Charley: In Search of America by John Steinbeck
  • Four Seasons in Rome by Anthony Doerr
  • Bill Peet: An Autobiography by Bill Peet (an unusual book, but a fun time machine)
  • Down a Sunny Dirt Road: An Autobiography by Stan & Jan Berenstain (like Peet’s book, a visual and imaginative treat)
  • Lab Girl by Hope Jahren
  • Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates (African American)
  • A Circle of Quiet by Madeleine L’Engle
  • Birds, Beasts, and Relatives by Gerald Durrell
  • At Home in the World by Tsh Oxenreider
  • A Homemade Life by Molly Wizenberg
  • The Duchess of Bloomsbury Street by Helene Hanff
  • Pilgrim at Tinker Creek by Annie Dillard
  • Earthly Pleasures: Tales from a Biologists Garden by Roger B. Swain
  • The Professor and the Madman: A Tale of Murder, Insanity, and the Making of the Oxford English Dictionary by Simon Winchester
  • Say Goodbye to Survival Mode by Crystal Paine
  • How to Manage Your Home Without Losing Your Mind by Dana K. White
  • So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed by Jon Ronson
  • Neither Here nor There by Bill Bryson (Disliked. I thought this was very weak for a Bryson book. Interaction with locals is often the highlight of a travel book but this was just an extremely crass litany of what he ate, where he stayed, and how the weather behaved)


  • Interpreter of Maladies by Jhumpa Lahiri
  • Gilead by Marilynne Robinson
  • News of the World by Paulette Jiles
  • All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr
  • The Stone Diaries by Carol Shields
  • The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin
  • Ready Player One by Ernest Cline
  • The Course of Love by Alain de Botton
  • The One-in-a-Million Boy by Monica Wood
  • Dark Matter by Blake Crouch
  • Homegoing by Yaa Gyase (African)
  • The Light Between Oceans by M.L. Stedman
  • The Madwoman Upstairs by Catherine Lowell
  • The Bertie Project by Alexander McCall Smith
  • The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead (African American)
  • The Awakening of Miss Prim by Natalia Sanmartin Fenollera
  • My Name is Lucy Barton by Elizabeth Strout


  • A Murder of Magpies by Judith Flanders 
  • The Beekeeper’s Apprentice by Laurie R. King
  • The Likeness by Tana French
  • The Dry by Jane Harper (Australian)
  • A Bed of Scorpions by Judith Flanders
  • A Cast of Vultures by Judith Flanders
  • Dreaming of the Bones by Deborah Crombie
  • Glass Houses by Louise Penny (Inspector Gamache series)
  • The Broken Shore by Peter Temple (Australian)
  • A Beautiful Place to Die by Malla Nunn (African/African-Australian)
  • Kissed a Sad Goodbye by Deborah Crombie
  • A Monstrous Regiment of Women by Laurie R. King


  • The Life-Giving Home by Sally and Sarah Clarkson
  • He Gave Us a Valley by Dr. Helen Roseveare
  • Catholics and Protestants by Peter Kreeft
  • One Thousand Gifts by Ann Voskamp (Disliked. If you like Voskamp’s blog writing – sort of stream-of-consciousness, ethereal, gushy – you’ll like this. However, I really have to grit my teeth for that kind of writing so it was a slog for me. I did really like individual parts and her theme of thankfulness and awareness of God’s gifts)


  • 100 Cupboards by N.D. Wilson
  • Dandelion Fire by N.D. Wilson
  • The Chestnut King by N.D. Wilson
  • The Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place: The Mysterious Howling by Maryrose Wood (listen to the audiobook, the narrator is fabulous and we laughed so hard we cried. Highly highly recommended. The next two books in the series are fun but not as strong)
  • Half Magic by Edward Eager
  • One Crazy Summer by Rita Williams-Garcia (African American)
  • Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place: The Hidden Gallery by Maryrose Wood
  • The Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place: The Unseen Guest by Maryrose Wood
  • Miracles on Maple Hill by Virginia Sorensen
  • The Crossover by Kwame Alexander (African American)


  • Owls in the Family by Farley Mowat
  • Beezus and Ramona by Beverly Cleary
  • When We Were Very Young by A.A. Milne
  • Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White
  • Mr. Popper’s Penguins by Richard and Florence Atwater
  • Ramona the Pest by Beverly Cleary
  • A Bear Called Paddington by Michael Bond

The following books don’t count toward the total. They were read-alouds to the kids (mainly the twins) but either I’d read them in the past or in the case of a couple, I thought they were too short to count toward this list even if they were chapter books. It’s still fun to record what we read together though:

  • The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis (this is the first book I remember my Mom reading aloud to me. I loved it then and it’s special to have my kids, especially our son, fall head over heels in love with it now.
  • Sarah, Plain and Tall by Patricia MacLachlan
  • Mary Poppins by P.L. Travers
  • Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl (The Man read this one and they LOVED it)
  • Mercy Watson to the Rescue by Kate DiCamillo (this one’s so simple even the toddlers loved it)
  • Pirates Past Noon (Magic Tree House #4) by Mary Pope Osborne (The kids like this series…I find it almost unbearable to read aloud)
  • Flat Stanley by Jeff Brown
  • Little House on the Prairie by Laura Ingalls Wilder (I don’t have a date so it’s possible we finished this in late 2016, not 2017)


Jenny Turns Three

Jenny turned three earlier this month. Barnes & Noble sent her a coupon for a free birthday cupcake so we kicked off her celebration early with a mother-daughter trip to the bookstore. She was a little bewildered at first but warmed up to the idea after her first bite of chocolate cupcake. Reading (and her shoes) are her great loves so we gulped down stacks of books in the children’s area along with time at the train table. She basked in the undivided attention and beamed the whole time.

In our house the birthday kid picks the food for the day and wakes up to a decorated dining room. We started her actual birthday with donuts for breakfast plus squeezie packs of applesauce. Individually packaged anything is a big treat around here because Mom and Dad are cheap! After breakfast we hit a favorite park to burn off all that sugar energy.

We ordered pizza for lunch on the way home, and at the last minute called my Mom and asked if she wanted to stop by for lunch with us. Annie does not do well with crazy days or big events but we were glad Grandma could stop in for an hour to make things a little bit extra special. Jenny loves Thomas the Train so we had Thomas plates and some of our trains out on the table for decorations. Easy-peasy. Our oven’s been on the blink so the cake came from a local French bakery. It was fabulous. I hope our oven breaks again for the next birthday to give me an excuse! Unlike last year, when she couldn’t yet chew, she knew exactly what to do with her cake and ice cream this time!

Jenny loved her gifts – her new schoolbus and Daniel Tiger trolley were big hits. This is the first time we’ve done party favors. We’d hoped they would distract the siblings from the birthday kid’s toys but not surprisingly, since they’re only four, four, and one, they were hard to pull away. We eventually shooed them up to nap to give Jenny a little predator-free time with her new toys before bed.

After the kids’ naps, afternoon snack, and a little time playing in the yard we took a long family walk. The Man and I actually had a dinner to attend that night (we forgot that date was Jenny’s birthday when we penciled it into the calendar) but it’s just as well since at that point all four kids had taken in just about all the birthday excitement they could handle.

We left a screen-less window open during our walk and came back to a surprise: a chickadee in the house.

A few days after Jenny’s birthday some relatives were able to meet up at a local ice cream shop for a last-minute low-key family party. It was the simplest party – singing Happy Birthday and eating ice cream. Completely relaxing and fun. The kids ran around in the warm weather, the adults got to talk, and who doesn’t love ice cream? It’s an ideal birthday celebration for Annie to attend, too, as she (and her parents) didn’t have to deal with the stress of gifts. She has a hard time even when the gifts are for her. Skipping them at Jenny’s party let all of us relax.

We loved our time in the Army, but after so many years away it’s a treat to have so much family nearby – the Man’s dad and step-mom, his sisters, two sets of my grandparents, my parents, and one of my brother’s with his wife and son all live with an hour and a half of our home. We even get to see the Man’s mom from Canada more frequently since she’s only one flight away now instead of an extended trip with two flights and layover. The Man’s side of the family was too busy with school and work to be able to meet up during Jenny’s birthday week (his own twin sisters had their birthday that week too) but it’s still great to have them close enough for afternoon visits, holidays, or quick weekend trips.

Our sweet Jenny had a great birthday week. What a joy this kid is! We’ve loved watching her growth and emerging personality this year. She is the easiest, sweetest, most happy-go-lucky kid and completely skipped the terrible twos. We often joke that it’s a good thing she wasn’t our first child; we’d have thought we were wonderful parents, not realizing that if you’ve had one child you’ve…had one child. I think the results of parenting are about 25% parenting effort and 75% whatever personality your kid popped out of the womb with! This year Jenny has progressed from a very quiet laid-back baby into a more boisterously cheerful toddler with a zany personality. She likes to crack jokes and run in circles around the house singing “Let’s Go Fly a Kite!” at the top of her lungs. I could count her tantrums on one hand. While she’s a sinner like the rest of us and sometimes tries to snatch a sibling’s toy she’s also incredibly kind and tender-hearted. When she sees a sibling crying she’ll often take off like a shot and return with their favorite toy. She’ll hug and pat her baby sister when she’s upset (a gesture the baby sister does not always appreciate!) and is quick to share. She’s very sensitive to other’s emotional distress – even a sad page in a picture book will make her cry or bury her face. She’s also very sensitive to correction from us and will sometimes burst into tears when we tell her “no” – not because she’s mad, but because she’s sad to have displeased us. Her favorite things on earth are her shoes and reading books, closely followed by cars, bikes and strollers, slides and swings, puzzles, baby dolls, and Daniel Tiger. She graduated from feeding therapy two months ago. After almost three years of therapy she can finally eat normal foods and drink from a cup like the rest of the family. That was her last therapy, and she’s otherwise very healthy and completely typical for her adjusted age – pretty amazing for a kid born 3.5 months early! She’s started hiking on her own legs a lot this year and is incredibly wiry and strong. She’ll do pullups on the park equipment for fun, and is constantly climbing up the fridge or onto the counter to get at the (forbidden sink) or swinging from the underside of the table. We call her the tree frog. She’s a snuggler and especially loves cuddling in on my lap with Josie for the little girls’ end of day story time. She loves playing with her big brother and sister, especially riding bikes around the house with Jack and reading books or singing with Annie. She’s highly social after an initial burst of shyness and often makes friends at the playground and charms guests. What a gift this sweet girl is to all who know her!


Campfire Nights

The Man often comes up with fun variations on our regular routine. I can get into “systems mode” where I keep doing things the same way just because change sounds exhausting. Habits are helpful, but only when they don’t keep our family from better things. Case in point, The Man came home from the grocery store a couple of weeks ago with hot dogs and fixings and suggested we let the kids roast hot dogs over a campfire for dinner. My internal monologue went “Gah! It’s so much extra work! We have to haul everything outdoors. We have to build a fire. The kids always try to climb into the fire so it’s stressful for the parents. They’ll smell smoky and need baths. I just want to have a routine dinner and put the kids to bed so I can get some rest!” Externally I said “Okay.” He was right, of course. The kids were over the moon with joy, and we all had a great time. They’ve matured a great deal since last fall, so we did not spend the entire time chasing children off the edges of our fire pit.

After dinner we invited our next door neighbors over for s’mores. Like us they are Christians, have four kids and do a mix of private school and homeschooling. We love chatting with the parents. Their teenage son mows our lawn, their teenage daughter sometimes babysits for us, and their younger two happen to be adopted just like our kids. The twins worship the ground they walk on. Jack (4) frequently tells us that he will marry their youngest daughter when he grows up.

Asking folks over for s’mores by the campfire is my favorite form of hosting friends. There’s no advance tidying, no food to prep, and after you gather up the chocolate wrappers and put away the chairs cleanup is done. My other favorite easy hosting option is breakfast or brunch. We stick with a simple meal like waffles cooked at the table, fruit salad, and bacon or sausage cooked in the oven (switched to eggs when we had Muslim friends over, of course!). Baked french toast would be another great option. Our kids are often in their best moods in the morning, and everyone likes breakfast foods. In addition, guests don’t have to wait around for an hour and a half when we transition straight from dinner to bedtimes for cranky little kids. Welcoming a mom for tea or coffee is another easy one. This summer we’d like to make a big batch of lemonade and cookies or watermelon and just have neighbors over to chat on the porch. What are your favorite simple ways to be hospitable without over-complicating things?

We repeated the meal a week later and plan to continue the fun over the summer. We’d like to add in other campfire cooking options like dutch oven/foil packet meals or bratwurst.

Back at the Mound

My Mom watched the kids last week so we could get out for a hiking date. We love to take our kids hiking but sometimes it’s nice to go at an adult pace without stops for every pebble, leaf, and mud puddle! The woods are a spring fairyland right now. We stopped for coffee in the quiet little farm town near our home on the way back. It reminded us of our early married days in San Antonio, TX when we’d often leave first thing in the morning, drive into the Texas Hill Country, eat a picnic lunch somewhere on the trail, then meander back home in time for dinner and evening reading or a movie. 

Easter Sunday 2017

Easter Sunday fell in the middle of an ICU night call stretch for the Man. He spent all night working in the ICU, needed recovery sleep for most of the day, and had to go back in to work on Easter night. We all had the stomach flu last Easter so it was a bit of a bummer to miss church on the biggest feast day of the year again. Still, we can’t complain since he had both Christmas and Thanksgiving off this year. That’s only happened a handful of times in his whole medical career!

The kids and I had a lovely start to Easter itself. The kids woke up to chocolate rabbits and a new book each (The Easter Story from Scholastic, The Twenty-Third Psalm and The Lord’s Prayer illustrated by Tim Ladwig, and When God Made You by Matthew Paul Turner). We don’t do filled Easter baskets – not for any deep philosophical reasons, just because I didn’t grow up with them and them seem like another parental obligation resulting in junk and sugar all over the house ;). These cinnamon rolls from Smitten Kitchen turned out perfectly for breakfast and we all loved them. I only noticed her note about switching to a different recipe after making the original, but I have no complaints about using the old one. It was great! I sang Easter hymns at the table with the kids and read the Easter story. The Man arrived home from the hospital after breakfast, stayed awake long enough to gulp a cinnamon roll, and stumbled upstairs to sleep. The morning went a bit downhill from there – overexcited kids on sugar highs, food to prep, girls’ hair to do, and four wiggly people to wrestle into their Easter finest. It’s possible some maternal yelling occurred. Maybe. Likely. Definitely.

My brother and sister-in-law invited us for our nephew’s baptism, followed by Easter brunch at their house. Knowing one of our kids really could not handle that much extra stimulation in one day we limited ourselves to brunch. We were bummed to miss the baptism, but the great surprise bonus was that the Man woke up just in time for lunch and was able to join us at the last minute. We had a delicious and fun meal with our relatives, my sister-in-law’s family, and some of their friends. I can remember Easters with snow on the ground during my childhood so an outdoor lunch with sunny warm weather was a nice treat! My Dad took a few family photos for us. We’ve never yet caught a family photo with all six of us smiling and looking at the camera. This day was no different, but at least we’re all in the picture.



I thought my brother did a brilliant job coming up with a make-ahead brunch menu. He picked items that required minimal attention during the quick turnaround between church and 20 people coming right over after the service. He had quiches and ham waiting in a warm oven, cold asparagus in a lemon vinaigrette, scones, sliced tomatoes with mozzarella, a fruit salad from my Mom, and deviled eggs from me (I used the Joy of Cooking recipe for the first time and brought the filling in a ziploc so I could just snip the corner and pipe it in on arrival – it was much better than my usual slapdash version). They served pre-made cakes from the grocery store and had juice, mimosa fixings, and water steeped with berries all prepared in advance. Definitely a menu to copy if you want a fabulous brunch that lets you sit and talk with your guests rather than fluttering round the kitchen.

On the longish car ride home we bribed the children with the promise of a bear cracker at home if they managed to stay awake. Over-sugared and oversocialized small children + no nap for kids + no sleep for Daddy before another night of ICU makes a scary math problem. Luckily three out of four made it and went down peacefully for naps (the fourth played quietly in her room, so success all round). The Man also went back to bed and slept for most of the afternoon in preparation for another night at work. After their nap the kids and I took a long neighborhood walk to keep the house quiet for him until dinner time. We got back just after he’d woken up and headed down to the basement to exercise: “It’s Daddy!”

This was our second year observing the liturgical octave (eight days) of Easter, building on our long-standing tradition of celebrating the twelve days of Christmas and, of course, Lent and Holy Week. This post from Better than Eden summarizes my growing appreciation for the drawn out holiday octave. It is so much more relaxing and meditative as the parent of many young children when you can enjoy Easter at a leisurely pace instead of cramming everything into one day and never getting any rest yourself! We went to bed knowing that Easter had only just begun. Seven more days lay ahead for Easter hymns, Easter stories, special foods, family fun, and secular traditions like an egg hunt.

A Hike at the Old Farm

The Man spent large chunks of Holy Week and the Easter Octave on call in the hospital but we still squeezed in lots of outdoor time in the sunshine. This week we tried a couple forest preserves we’d never visited before along with low-key walks and playground visits. These pictures were all taken on a walk at a local farm that the local conservancy bought for public use. It felt like we should be filming a BBC Jane Austen production in this scenery.

By some miracle not a single child fell in the creek (though someone did throw themselves down in the mud during a tantrum). Jenny completed the entire hike on her own two legs, a first for her. Thanks to her start as a micro-preemie she’s tended to meet physical milestones a bit later than normal but we’re seeing huge progress as she approaches her third birthday. She graduated from feeding therapy last week, too! At one point she balked in the trail, terrified of a dead tree trunk up ahead. Before I could help her Jack (4) stepped in, took her hand, and walked her safely past reassuring her that it was just a tree as they went. It’s a sweet moment to remember in the midst of the raucous sibling battles that sometimes break out around here.