Sabbath Reading: Living in the Light

living in the lightJohn Piper’s Living in the Light is a short but punchy treatise on how to keep God at the center of your life so that you can enjoy money, sex, and power as blessings rather than being enslaved to or worshipping them.

“The bottom of sin, the root of all sins, is a heart that prefers anything above God, a heart that does not treasure God over everything else, and everyone else.”

It’s a good distinction. As Christians, we’re not called to eschew any of these three things, just to keep them in their proper places. You see people (and by people I mean all of us, probably) fall off the horse on both sides with these issues–it’s just as easy to deny Christ centrality in your life in a more internal, subtle, religiously/socially acceptable way as it is to sin visibly in these areas. Piper wisely points out that whenever we’re looking to money, sex, or power for security or value or fulfillment or meaning or identity…and the list goes on…that is a problem. The book is geared toward Christians, and Piper spends time unpacking these areas for that audience.

“We fight as forgiven people trying, in the power of God’s spirit, to become what we are.”

I enjoyed Living in the Light’s hopeful tone and insight, and think it would be a quick, helpful book for a Sabbath read.

What are you reading this Sunday?


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Read Alouds: England (Always)

There’s that old adage: you can never be too rich, too thin, or read too many books about England.

Well, I suppose you could be too thin.

But, England? One never reaches a saturation point.

Here are a few books we read together or that I read for discussion purposes with the kids last semester:

our island storyOur Island Story – Told in short story form, easily read in one sitting, Our Island Story covers many facets of British history at an elementary school level. In many ways, England’s history is also America’s history, so I see this as an extension that also helps us understand our own culture and legal system. The kids love this book.

Good Queen Bess – This is solid historical fiction for kids, although it gives a LOAD of gloss on some of the more tricky parts of Elizabeth I’s reign. If you’re ok with reading something else as historical background, this is a great book, but I wouldn’t make it your only source about the time period.

Children of the New Forest – We enjoyed learning more about the Roundheads and the Restoration–a very interesting time in British history, but not one with which I am deeply familiar. The great thing about this book is how it melds historical information with great adventure, particularly in how a family of orphans learns to be self-sufficient in the New Forest. It has sort of a Swiss Family Robinson feel at times!

Life of Alfred – It’s good to read original sources, but, to be honest, this was not one of our favorites.

A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court – This is an odd book. I suppose it’s good to read, and perhaps my ambivalence is due to the incredibly annoying narrator. I wonder if the novel seemed more ground-breaking at the time of publication. At this stage of history, the structure feels tired.

The White Company – I cannot emphasize enough how insanely dull this book truly is. With the exception of one good part near the end, it was an unremitting slog. I decided not to make Hannah finish it, so as not to kill her love for literature.

The Incorrigible Children of Aston Place Series -I’ve mentioned this before, but it bears repeating. These books are so fun and funny. We listened to them on audio when we were in the car, and the reader is terrific. That may have added much to our enjoyment, as I’ve heard from others that the books are not as good for independent binge reading. But if you’re looking for a fun series to keep you busy on car trips, this is your win.

Sabbath Reading: Against the Gods

against the godsThis year I decided to set my Sunday reading time aside for books of theology and spiritual matters. The first book I picked up was John Currid’s Against the Gods.

The book considers the question of whether or not the Old Testament was written in response to or by borrowing from the myths and religions of ancient pagan civilizations. I thought the topic sounded fascinating.

Unfortunately, I think I was not exactly the target audience. I was hoping for lots of depth and cultural analysis, as well as deeper theology. The author, however, states up front that he’s writing on a more casual level, so the book stays pretty light. That’s an interesting choice for the topic, as I wonder how many people would be interested in polemical theology but NOT want detail and depth. However, if you’re casually interested and looking for a quick and not-too-demanding treatment of the topic, Against the Gods could be for you. I didn’t disagree with the author, just wish he had given us more.

What are you reading this Sunday?


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The Bear and the Nightingale

The-Bear-and-the-NightingaleThe Bear and the Nightingale, and its sequel The Girl in the Tower, are right up my alley given the medieval Russia setting, great writing, strong pacing, and folktale tie-ins.

But I found the real strength of the books to be a theme that I’m not sure was intentional. Maybe Katherine Arden has thought a lot about the culture of juxtaposition that happens when two belief systems overlap and collide, when two systems of thought are slipped into and out of as an era changes. Or perhaps not. Either way, these stories are fascinating examples of belief overlap, which is a situation our own culture finds itself in today.

I’m sure there is always an element of syncretism in any era, but sometimes belief is more stable and universal than others. In the late ancient and early medieval eras, a growing belief in Christianity clashed with older pagan beliefs and it wasn’t a clean break. For a long time, people held on to the old beliefs, or held them along with the new, and gradually slipped from one paradigm to the other. This is actually a very productive space to use in writing about our own culture. Fiction softens the blow about how vestiges of Judeo-Christian belief compete with post-modern materialism or neo-paganism. It is a softer window into how many Christians also hold cultural beliefs that are in direct opposition to their stated religious tenets. The folktale genre, when thoughtfully done, gives a canvas to explore what that looks like without stepping on modern toes.

I’ve read that science fiction is the literary space for exploring technological ethics, and I’m thinking that maybe early medieval historical fiction/folktales are the space for thinking about the culture of beliefs in flux.

If you’re interested, Eifelheim is another great example of this juxtaposition, and A Secular Age gives terrific background on the medieval shift in beliefs (although it focuses more on the late medieval shifts).

What do you think?


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Wrapping Up 2017; Setting Up for 2018

IMG_7169I love the week between Christmas and New Years Day, as we usually have a little more time for reflection and taking stock. I have been going through my notebooks and Think File to fill out my PowerSheets and make good goals for next year, and I’m getting excited to see what 2018 holds.

I stopped counting how many books I read every year, because it’s always somewhere between 130-170 and who really cares? What most people are interested in is which ones I liked best. So here are my top ten for 2017, in reverse chronological order, because that’s how I sorted on GoodReads:

High Performance Habits – I haven’t reviewed this one yet, because I just finished it, but I’m already implementing a lot of what I learned. This book uses actual research to uncover the habits that high performers in all walks of life–from CEOs to students to stay-at-home parents–have in common. Some of the results are surprising.

Acts for Everyone – This two-part book comprises a lot of theology about the book of Acts in small, easily digestible chunks. Wright’s style is engaging and his insights into the historical setting are amazing. I have read Acts a bunch of times before, but I learned so much from this book.

Lab Girl – This book came out of nowhere and surprised me with its depth and fascinating content. If you’re a memoir reader, definitely make time for this one.

The Knight’s Fee – Rosemary Sutcliff is a perennial favorite, and this book set in England at the time of the Norman Conquest made a terrific read aloud.

Eifelheim – Kind of weird and definitely genre-bending, this novel combined terrific historical fiction with physics and sci-fi. Sounds like a problem, but trust me, this was a fantastic book.

The Shadow Land – Thank you, Elizabeth Kostova, for continuing to turn out incredible novels set in Eastern Europe. Travel there is currently beyond my budget, but thankfully I can keep reading. All of Kostova’s novels are exquisite mysteries combined with terrific settings and just a hint of folktale.

Mere Motherhood – If you’re a mother, you might need to read this one for inspiration and encouragement. I can’t promise you won’t cry.

Matterhorn – This difficult but engrossing novel tracks a company of young men–mostly kids–during a short window of the Vietnam War. I feel like more people need to read this book to get a feel for the impact of modern war, and to have compassion for veterans.

When Breath Becomes Air – This extremely poignant memoir underscores the value of a deep liberal arts education for everyone–even surgeons–because truth and beauty are important in any life path.

Deep Work – I didn’t immediately call it as a top read, but Deep Work stuck with me, and I found myself referring back to Newport’s ideas and frameworks throughout the year–making valuable changes to how I work and also how I weigh opportunities.

This is also the time of year when a lot of good time management and goal setting and getting organized type stuff comes out. In case you’re also a fan of these resources, here are a few you might find interesting:

  • I’m signed up for this habits workshop. I always get a lot out of products from Simplified Organization, and the focus on distilling habit and planning wisdom into applications for moms and women juggling multiple roles is invaluable.
  • This is a FREE meal planning boot camp. I find that planning meals–at least in a loose fashion–really helps clear up my mental space.
  • I got a Motiv ring for my birthday and it FAR outstrips other fitness trackers. It’s unobtrusive, waterproof, holds a charge for three days, counts accurately, and tracks steps, heart rate, active minutes, and sleep. I find this far superior than just tracking steps. The heart rate targets help me figure out what I’m really getting done, and the sleep tracking shows me interesting trends so I can make better choices. If you’re interested, this link will take $20 off the price (that’s a good deal).

How are you spending the last week of 2017? What are you looking forward to in the new year?


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Hidden Christmas

hidden christmasOne thing I really love to do this time of year is get up early, turn on the Christmas lights, and read for the sweet few moments before the children activate their “Mama is awake and trying to accomplish things without us” radars. You, too?

If you have Prime, a Kindle, or a nearby library, I highly recommend that you pick up Tim Keller’s excellent little book Hidden Christmas to read in those moments over the long weekend. It’s short, so it’s easy to read in small pockets of time in between your obligations.

Like Keller’s other books, this one accessible, yet profound and compelling. The book looks at how Christmas fits into apologetics, particularly for our culture–a very thought-provoking challenge to reach out to others with the Gospel this time of year, but also to preach the Gospel to ourselves in a fresh way.

I found the book helpful and encouraging, and plan to have my older kids read it during Advent next year.

What have you been reading in your brief twinkle light moments this Advent?


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Christmas chapter books for kids

We’re doing a lot more reading aloud this Advent, which is a fun break to our days. Many of these books would be great independent reading, too–and since you probably have Christmas break coming up, and after all the 12 days of Christmas don’t end until January 6, you might have time to fit a few of these in this year.

christmas mysteryThe Christmas Mystery – In this interesting book, each chapter corresponds to one day of a little boy opening an Advent calendar and slowly learning more about a story unfolding inside of it. Although that sounds complicated, it’s well-told and the kids LOVE it. Traditionally, an Advent “mystery” was a re-enactment of the Christmas story, so this title and the story structure point to that. We’re really enjoying this one, and we recommend it highly.

christmas storyOur Christmas Story – This little book by Ruth Bell Graham introduces the story of Christmas by showing how it is weaved throughout the whole story of the Bible. If you do a Jesse Tree, this approach will be familiar. The kids enjoy it, and I like that the Grahams lived in the same little mountain community my grandparents did, so the descriptions of their area sound like home to me!


hallelujahHallelujah – I mentioned this one before, but I have to tell you again how much we are loving this guide to Handel’s Messiah. It’s such a wonderful mix of inspiration, poetry, song, musical knowledge, and Scripture. We’re using it daily, but it could easily be condensed.

Although it’s great for Advent reading, I think this book could be used to good effect whenever you’re studying Handel’s music. The musical insight portions have been very illuminating, and the daily listening break-down makes it much easier to digest and appreciate the work.

HandelHandel, Who Knew What He Liked We’ve read this short chapter/picture book biography before, but it’s going along nicely with our Messiah study. If you’re planning to hear the Messiah this season but don’t have the time or inclination to really get into it with Hallelujah, I recommend this book as an introduction on the composer.

The Family Under the Bridge – We didn’t read this one aloud this year, although perhaps we should have because I see from my original review (linked) that the last time we read it was 2010!

And a few collections:

Classic Christmas Tales – This book is a nice mix of stories, poems, and songs for Christmas. Some were new to us, which was fun.

Classic Christmas Stories – We enjoyed reading one of these stories each day in our Advent school term. Some are standards, but others were unusual or new to us.

Home for Christmas – A later addition to our stack, but well worth it, this book contains longer and more unusual stories than the other collections. This one includes some terrific authors, too.

The Carols of Christmas – In addition to giving us other songs to sing during our school time, this book gives a short historical background for many famous Christmas carols (and plenty of not-so-famous ones, too). It’s interesting, but short enough to make it an easy daily read.

What chapter books is your family reading this Advent?


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The Wrap-Up Chapter

A friend of mine told me that she thinks of turning 40 as beginning a new book. Although she was thinking of the idea as a life comprised of two books, to me this seems like a good way to think about decades–books in a series that make up a life. A series may have common characters, but each volume has different themes, plot twists, and crisis moments. Much like a decade, don’t you think?

IMG_7211This week I turned 39, which opens the final chapter of the book of my 30s. In final chapters, writers close loops, wrap up long-standing conflicts, and underscore themes. And in a series, the end of a book also sets up the next installment. All of those descriptions feel appropriate as I plan for 2018.

My 30s have been full of adventures in finding out who I am, exploring what I want to do professionally, figuring out homeschooling (and how to balance that with work), and building a family. I’ve enjoyed tremendous blessings and suffered significant setbacks, and grown through them all. My outlook is broader. My thinking is deeper.

I’m fascinated by how this drawing down and ramping up are taking shape. After nearly 13 years pregnant and/or breastfeeding, soon I will have more flexibility for travel, more ability to attend work-related events and conferences, and even the chance at more date nights. I’m finally processing some of my health issues and putting common sense plans into place for dealing with them long-term. We’re moving into whole new worlds of independence with the big kids that already have a big impact on how we do school. And all of that opens my mental space up to consider new angles for my work.

IMG_7212In the past couple of years, I’ve been surprised at my need to mourn the end of some 30s themes. It was harder than I expected to finish the baby stage, and simultaneously figure out how to handle pre-teens (I still have not figured this out–good thing I have a year left!). And yet I find that I’m newly energized to tackle age 39. It helps that I think middle age starts at 50, but the prospect of my 40s isn’t phasing me for now. Some things are winding down, but I can see all of these new possibilities opening up, and it will be exciting to see what new themes and challenges are in store.

When patterns are broken, new worlds emerge.

I had that Tuli Kupferberg quote on my wall in college. I still have no idea who Tuli is, but the quote still seems apt. So here’s to the winding down and opening up–the denoument of a decade and the foundation of the next!

Do you see your decades as books? If you’re just beginning or ending one, are different themes opening up?


Reading when you’re not the target audience

When I was in my late 20s to early 30s, we went through some fairly severe financial crises. I learned a lot during that time about who I am, what kind of parent I am and want to be, what my priorities are, and what I’m capable of professionally.

In The Kickass Single Mom, Emma Johnson writes about how, when her husband left her and their small children when she was in her early 30s, she learned a lot about who she was, what kind of parent she was and wanted to be, what her priorities were, and what she was capable of professionally.

Two observations: first, there may be something about the way life goes in your 30s that sneaks up on people and causes them to really examine how they want to live their lives. Life can take all sorts of turns you don’t expect and cause profound changes in how you do things–even if you stay married. And second, you never know where you might find more affinity with a demographic group than you’d think at first glance.

I’m not a single mom, nor am I planning to become one, but reading a book completely geared toward that demographic gave me some very useful tips and insight. I prepped my husband in advance before he did the library run. He thought it was kind of funny that I was reading The Kickass Single Mom, and opined that the cartoon avatar of the mom on the cover looked like me. On a more serious note, we wound up talking about a lot of the information in the book, through my issues with financial insecurity, and what we could do about that. It was great fodder for discussion.

single mom bookI picked up the book based on reviews that highlighted the author’s upbeat tone and sound financial advice to a group of women who are widely thought of as extremely busy, pulled in many directions, and under a lot of stress. I fall into some of those categories myself, and really appreciated the insights about the true value of outsourcing, how to handle financial fear, and how to balance work with high-impact parenting.

I’m especially interested in the outsourcing argument. The author did a terrific job of explaining when and how outsourcing tasks makes sense, and how sometimes we get into a mindset that we must do X, Y, or Z when actually those tasks run counter to our goals and priorities and cost us more in time and money than we would expect.

I also found plenty to disagree with. I had to remind myself as I skimmed several parts that while I can sympathize with some of the challenges facing a single mom, I am not actually the target audience, and women in different circumstances may need to hear different types of advice and encouragement (and still, I disagreed with a lot of it). I was shocked and saddened by the fact that even with an upbeat tone, so many, many aspects of divorce came through the narrative as terribly destructive and devastating–both emotionally and financially.

Overall, a lot of the advice in The Kickass Single Mom is relevant for women in their 30s-40s regardless of marital status. This is the time of life to lean in to who you are in all of your life roles: the time to pour into your children if you have them, the time to get your feet under you in all sorts of ways. And because we never know what circumstances are around the bend, it would be wise for all women to understand their family’s financial picture and know what to do if disaster strikes.

If your particular brand of adulthood has left you with fear or uncertainty about finances or a precarious work-life balance, The Kickass Single Mom might be helpful to skim–as long as you’re the sort of person who can gloss over parts that don’t fit your bill.

Just curious, do you think the 30s are a peculiarly change-focused decade? Or are you on the same general trajectory you were at 22? 


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Book shopping

hallelujahI’ve been doing a little Black Friday shopping, and was happy to see an Amazon code for $5 off of a $20 book purchase. Enter GIFTBOOK17 at checkout.

You probably already have books in your cart, but, if not, here are some ideas:

Christmas picture books – The link is to reviews of 20 of our favorites. It makes me so happy to read Christmas books!

Our new Christmas read-aloud – We’re going to try out The Christmas Mystery by Jostein Gaardner. I like the format and premise, and the kids usually love mysteries.

We’re listening to/learning about Handel’s Messiah together – I just finished reading Hallelujah by Cindy Rollins and I am super impressed. The book is a combination of short daily portions of the Messiah to listen to daily, the Scripture passage associated with the piece, and detailed notes about what to listen for musically. Interspersed with the daily readings are inspiring essays about integrating traditions and music into your Advent season. Highly recommended.

Hidden Christmas: The Surprising Truth Behind the Birth of Christ – I usually like Tim Keller’s work, so I am looking forward to reading this recent release.

Behold the Lamb of God – I’m reading this for an Advent Biblestudy. It comes highly recommended.

Box Sets – If you need a gift for a young reader, boxed sets are a good use of coupons like this one. The link is to one of our favorites–The Mysterious Benedict Society series.

Also book-related – If you’re a Harry Potter fan, the boxed set of the movies is on CRAZY sale today, just $23.99 for the eight movies!

If you’re book shopping today, what did you get?


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