My Week in Books (2/24/2019 – 3/2/2019)

Guys, I had a huge reading week, and I passed the forty book mark for this year. This post is quite long, so let’s just get straight to the books.

early riser Early Riser by Jasper Fforde. This quirky science-fiction novel is set in an alternate Wales where climate change has made things incredibly cold. In fact, the weather is so cold that most humans hibernate for sixteen weeks during the coldest parts of winter. Charlie is experiencing a first winter of not hibernating as a part of the Winter Consuls. They protect those who are asleep, which is a great and interesting opportunity for Charlie. Unfortunately, Charlie keeps having the strangest dream, and it seems like parts of the dream are coming true.

I truly enjoyed the world that Fforde is building throughout this book. It’s an interesting mystery to figure out what is going on and there were a couple of times that I was truly surprised by the outcome. I perhaps would have liked more of the world and the book by turns. This is a book that starts kind of slowly, but finishes way too quickly. My dissatisfaction with both the slow beginning and the rapid ending make this a three star book for me rather than a four or five star read. (Book 35 of 2019)

anne of green gables Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery. This is, of course, the first volume of the iconic Anne of Green Gables series, and chronicles how Anne came to live at Green Gables and her childhood years. This book follows all her childhood mishaps, and it shows her becoming quite a warm and gentle young woman who is about to embark upon a school teaching career due to a bend in the road of her life’s path.

I have read this book numerous times as Anne was one of my favorite heroes growing up. This time, I read it, with pleasure, to introduce Anne to my daughter Emalee, and I found that I am still just as charmed by Anne, but that Marilla had a relatability to her that I had never discovered in my childhood readings of this book. And, of course, I still cry my way through the last two chapters of the book, even though I’ve read it multiple times. I still remember the first time I felt that sorrow with Anne at the end of the book too as a young girl.

By the way, I love the Penguin Classics Deluxe Edition look of this book, and I only wish Penguin had made the whole series in the same edition! Even my daughter commented on how much she wished they’d made a “pretty version” of the other books. (Book 36 of 2019)

the women in the castle The Women in the Castle by Jessica Shattuck. Last year, when I read Echo, I realized that Nazi Germany during and after World War II is an underrepresented segment of that aspect of World War II fiction. An acquaintance recommended this book as a good representation of just that kind of story. This book is the story of three widows, gathered to live together in a castle after World War II, dealing with post-war Germany and the roles that their husbands played in the war. The book jogs backward and forward a little in time to show wartime as well as to update on their status (and that of their children) 40-45 years after the war.

This was a pleasant read and I enjoyed the story. I found some of the plot lines to be pretty predictable, but I have never really put myself in the role of someone who was on the German side of the war. That in itself made this book a worthwhile read for me. I have heard this book compared to Kristin Hannah’s The Nightingalewhich was my favorite fiction read in 2017, but it’s a pale comparison at best. If you were going to pick between the two, I’d go with The Nightingale, but if you were going to compare the plights of women in Germany versus the ones in occupied France, these would make good companions.

Despite the fact that it was a worthwhile read, I must confess that I struggled to remember that I had read it as the week went on. I didn’t forget the story, but I kept going, “I think I read something else this week, but I can’t quite remember what it is.” So, this is not a book that is sticking with me.(Book 37 of 2019)

return of the king The Return of the King by J.R.R. Tolkien. This is the epic conclusion to a story about a ring and a story about a king. I don’t think there are any spoilers in telling you that Aragorn becomes king (and marries his dear love), and that the ring is destroyed, but its mark still leaves a shadow over Frodo long after the adventure is done. This is a much longer and slower paced conclusion than the book, and there’s a lot of beauty in the conclusion.

The children and I listened to it on audible. The boys loved it, and the girls far prefer the movies to having to wade through Tolkien’s prose and appendices. I honestly get both positions. I am glad to have experienced this because I have often started the trilogy but never made it through, and I appreciate the books and how beautiful they are now in a way I did not 10 or 20 years ago. (Book 38 of 2019)

the sunlight slayings The Sunlight Slayings by Kevin Emerson. This is the second of the Oliver Nocturne series, and Oliver is dealing with the ramifications of both vampires and Emalie thinking that he killed Dean. Sometimes, he even thinks that he might have killed him. Then, vampires start dying, victims of some strange occurrence where they die from the inside-out with their beings suffused with sunlight. Who is responsible? Is Emalie involved? Will Oliver’s parents find out Oliver’s lies? Will Oliver be one of the victims?

This is a page-turner. I’m really dying to figure out some of the secrets in this series, especially now that we’ve had two books in this world. If this series was not my current buddy read with Connor, I would have already picked up the other books and torn through them. As it is, I’m glad we’ve already got book three in hand to start next week (Book 39 of 2019)

Stuart Little Stuart LittleE.B. White. A classic tale of a mouse born into a human family (or at least a mouselike young man). You’ll read about him and his very different adventures as well as his striking out into independence on the search for a friend. I can’t imagine anyone who has reached a certain age and hasn’t read the book, but if you’ve only heard of the movie version, the original book is very different.

I read this one with the kids, and they enjoyed the adventures and the tales of Stuart. (I read this one to the older kids a few years ago, and they didn’t remember this one.) The lack of resolution in the ending, however, really ruins the whole book for both Emalee and me. The other children, although they still enjoyed the book, wished White had written a sequel. This one also lacks the emotional punch of Charlotte’s Web, but since I cried my way through Anne of Green Gables earlier this week, that might be a good thing. (Book 40 of 2019)

Learning to Speak God from Scratch Learning to Speak God from Scratch by Jonathan Merritt. This book begins with Merritt’s realization that making a move from Atlanta to New York City silenced his ability to have spiritual conversations. The phrases and ideas behind them that made perfect sense in the south often were completely undiscovered by the New Yorkers that he was suddenly surrounded with. Through this, Merritt begins to think about the decline of spiritual conversations, spiritual language and the feeling that some words are either too fraught with baggage to even come to a consensus their meanings. What does it mean for our faith if we withdraw from using these words and from having spiritual conversations? After pondering the reasons for use of sacred words and where we are linguistically, Merritt continues by sharing several words and how those words have been altered in his spiritual vocabulary, using personal anecdotes and reflections.

This is truly a beautiful book, and I think it is an important conversation. We come to words like God, sin, suffering, lost, and grace with our own backgrounds and our own presuppositions, and we often don’t realize that someone else’s background and connotations surrounding those words are very different. When we add in meanings through church history and in the biblical languages, things can get very confusing indeed.

It was just such a book as this, Kathleen Norris’s Amazing Grace, that made me see, when I was close to rejecting my faith that I needed to wrestle with God rather than run away from him. God was big enough to handle my doubts, fears and often, accusations. (That book still has a place in my top five favorite books ever.) Merritt’s book is perhaps not as well done as Norris’s, but his book digs into the idea of lost languages and speaks to modern issues in a way that is much appreciated, and that young seekers may even relate to better. His personal reflections are top notch, and I might have really found a few things that hit me where I live, especially in the chapters on “disappointment,” “neighbor,” “self-esteem,” and “lost.” In fact, I copied so many quote from the chapter on disappointment into my commonplace book that I might as well have copied the whole chapter.

I am thankful that I paused to read this book, and I will definitely be exploring the bibliography, probably starting with Borg and Taylor’s books, so I expect I will be taking up this topic of spiritual words on my blog often in the coming months. This book receives my highest recommendation. (Book 41 of 2019)

This post finished my February reads and starts my March Reads. For those keeping track of my stats, I read fifteen books in February. Of those, my favorite book was actually a novel this month. I think everyone should add Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine to their reading list if they haven’t read it already. Eleanor is a little quirky, but more than that, she is not completely fine and her story of healing and finding her own little community is just perfection.

Notable Articles

I have another crop of articles that I have either found thought provoking or helpful that I wanted to share, and hopefully, you will find something to help you here too.

The first article that I’ve been reading is Why Men Like Me Shouldn’t Be Pastors. I really struggle with how many people think they’re qualified for leadership, but don’t make the biblical standards. This quote from the article really says it all:

Nothing is more commonsense to me than the idea that very few men are qualified to be overseers, and that the ones who aren’t qualified should be able to have a hearty confidence in the leadership of the men who are.

The article Let Children Get Bored Again is kind of preaching to the choir over here. I have seen my children’s struggle to fill their minds and their lives when they do not have screens as a crutch to lean upon, and I find it quite disturbing. I have also seen how our penchant for entertainment has really driven even our ministry practices in working with kids and teens. It’s probably an inevitable trend, but it’s not a healthy one.

On a lighter note. Sometimes, I really just want to read a good romance novel, but find that many of the books classified as romances are not what I am expecting. I know what I expect out of one, and Romance Novels, Defined hits the nail on the head perfectly. She also shows examples of some popular books that have been mentioned as romances (but aren’t) and why they don’t fit the definition.

I admit that I am an advocate for reading books. I believe this article that says that reading will make you nicer and more empathetic. After all, reading both fiction and non-fiction have helped me to understand the ideas and views of others and to see that we’re not that far apart. The emotional experience of reading fiction is often far more powerful than any essay or nonfiction book that you can read.

I also spent way too much time this weekend reading the 50 Best One-Star Amazon Reviews of Faulkner’s The Sound and the Fury. It’s actually a Faulkner novel I haven’t read because of it’s fearsome reputation, but now it’s on my TBR.  Also, some of these reviews and their responses are comedy gold.

I’ve been interested in all the articles stemming from some of the latest Barna research. This one, called Millennials, Evangelism, and Whatever Happened to Hell? examines some commentators ideas as to why Millennials are slow to evangelize. I think the speculation is interesting, and I think many of us who are turned off by evangelism are actually turned off by the argumentative, ugly conversations that many of us were taught in church are “true evangelism.” No one wins in those conversations.

I also found myself drawn completely into the article Pearl Harbor was not the Worst Thing to Happen to the U.S. on December 7, 1941. There’s a whole world of American history I know very little about. I found this fascinating, especially the “greater United States” map that Immerwahr includes.

This list of 52 books for 52 places is so fun that I decided that i had to print it off as a new and different kind of TBR list. As it happens, even though many of these are classics (and modern classics), I have only read two on the list.  How many have you read?

I could have used this article on How to Stop Overthinking Everything before I let all my negative thoughts and worries from this week keep me until three am one night this week. I swear that, if overthinking or brooding over a problem were a competition, I could find myself winning it.

The kids and I watched this video on people who took pop culture way too seriously today. Ya’ll, people are crazy sometimes!! It was kind of fun to get to laugh at the crazy ways people respond to their games, movies, books, and merchandise.

I’ve also been reading about religious language. The words that we use to describe God and religion are becoming a small obsession of mine. One of the articles that I found myself reading in relation to that is the article Is “God” a Trigger Word?. I have often pondered both the positive and negative connotations of words that we barricade our faith with, but it’s the first time that I really thought about how “God” in itself can be a barrier for many people.

That’s all for today.  I’ll share more articles soon!!

7 Things I Learned in February

I’m taking an idea I have seen with several writers, but originally saw on Modern Mrs. Darcy. This seems to have been popularized with Emily P. Freeman, and so I’m writing down both the profound and the mundane things that I learned in February.

1. 7UP originally contained lithium.

I was watching a You Tube video with the children about the origins of various soft drinks, and so many of the stories were new to me. Yes, I knew that Fanta originated in Nazi Germany, but I didn’t know that 7UP contained lithium.

I also didn’t know that Coca-Cola was originally a cocaine and wine combination until prohibition made wine illegal. Even as a Georgia native, I found that surprising and difficult to believe. My children say that we must plan a trip with the Hubby to the World of Coca-Cola and see what other strange soft drink facts we can find.

2. Even the news I see come across a social media feed is customized based on my friends, my reactions, and my previous clicks.

Two books I read this month (Ten Arguments for Deleting Your Social Media Accounts Right Now and Redeeming How We Talk) both made the argument, from completely different perspectives, that social media decreases our exposure to other viewpoints. This, of course, lowers our empathy towards others, as we don’t realize that our tailored feeds don’t match the tailored feeds that other people see. We assume other people are seeing the same things we are, and so we don’t understand where their different perspectives on life come from.

3. Quitting social media increases my happiness and contentment in life.

I took Jaron Lanier’s six month challenge for social media seriously. The only time I have been getting on either my Instagram or my Facebook is to watch a friend’s Facebook lives (for her jewelry sales). My happiness in life has increased, and I am not downing myself or angry anymore at comparing the areas where I just don’t compare to other people. Facebook makes me sad and I don’t miss it.

Except I don’t know what to do when I pick up my phone now and have nothing to do. It’s like I’ve taken away something to do with my hands in public. It also makes me notice how much time other people spent on their phones and how I am often the only person in a room not attached to my phone. I also notice how much time my hubby spends scrolling Facebook on both the computer and the phone, and it bothers me a little.

I haven’t made the commitment to delete my social media accounts yet, and I will even send this post out through Facebook, but if you want me to see a comment on the post, you should probably leave me a blog comment.

4. How to reset my Fitbit.

I just learned this today. I was sitting on the couch and my Fitbit told me my heart rate was 154. I knew that couldn’t be right. I had to text my husband and ask him how to reset it. On a Versa, you need to hold down the left and bottom right buttons until it turns off. Then, you can tap the left button and it will come back on.

When I turned my Fitbit back on my heart rate was 82. I knew it wasn’t reading it right but my first impulse was to go, “Oh no! What’s wrong with my heart?” Maybe I have an over dependence on technology.

5. What a dreamer is.

I admit that I have not been well versed on the immigration debate. They start talking about walls, amnesty, paths to citizenship and dreamers and I just kind of zone out. I don’t know enough to comment on DACA, the wall and other things related to the immigration debate. So, this month, I read Welcoming the Stranger to try and help counterbalance some of that.

While I am still not sure how I feel about many of the particularities of the debate, I feel like the whole debate has been humanized for me. Moreover, I do feel that some sort of permanent solution and path to citizenship must be reached for these “dreamers” or children of illegal immigrants. In most cases, they have no control over the fact that they were brought into the country illegally and can’t control their status. To me they are, or at least should be, Americans, and we should open up a path to citizenship to them.

6. Who the Tollund Man Is

I find that I never knew that this phenomena of bog bodies existed until this month, with The Tollund Man being the most famous of these bog bodies. They’re kind of like the mummies of Egypt. Of course, the mummies of Egypt are kings and royal officials, and the bog people are human sacrifices, but both are well preserved.

7. The Areopagus in Athens was a Council, not just a location

I had always read Acts 17 with the idea in my head that Paul’s sermon in Athens was just a little discussion of ideology. However, I find more and more that Luke often seriously underplays the seriousness of the activity against Paul and Paul’s actions. While the book of Acts is a page-turner, what Luke boils down to a sentence or two is often quite shocking when seriously pondered.

This week, I was faced with the pondering the idea of Paul’s sermon in Athens, and the realization that the Areopagus was not just a nice out cropping of rock for a nice discussion. Instead, Paul was (once again) being drug before a council and asked to explain what his ideas were and on what authority he was staking his claims. It was just such a council that would have decided the fate of the philosopher Socrates 400 years earlier.

So that’s what I learned in February. What have you learned this month?

A New Waffle Maker

Yesterday, Gamestop was having a big pro membership sale. It wasn’t a great sale according to my husband, who enjoys playing video games as one of his hobbies. However, they had a couple of things of note, and we ended up bringing home a Pokemon poke ball waffle maker.  I have wanted a waffle iron that made round waffles, and even though these aren’t as thick as Belgian waffles (which is probably for the best), they have a very pleasing round shape. The kids also love that they are shaped like a poke ball.

waflles

Having the waffle maker brings a food into my home that I haven’t made in quite some time. For years, in an attempt to watch my carbs, I have banned bread, waffles, pasta, and muffins from our home. It has been a futile attempt and I have watched myself continue to gain weight due to my achilles heel of fast food.

The waffle maker may seem like a small thing. However, for me it is huge because it marks my attempt to gauge my eating more by eating more vegetables and looking at my general calorie count than in attempting to abide by a diet made up of foods that I cannot eat. It also means that I am attempting to actually cook foods that my family actually likes instead of experimenting with things they hate.

There will be more salads than sandwiches in our house. Also, there will be more grilled chicken and veggies than creamy pasta dishes and cheesy bread. However, my relationship with food is not balanced, and it is time for me to bring balance back into our life and our home. . . and maybe stay out of McDonald’s and Chick-fil-A’s drive thrus most days.

As far as the picture goes, Emalee is the one who decided we needed both bananas and chocolate chips for our inaugural family waffle night. I could also only eat half a waffle, and I felt content. I also felt that I had fed my family well and that went a long way to food peace for today.

I think I really realized when I read The Elephant in the Room earlier this year how unbalanced my relationship with food is. I read and watched him constantly sabotaging his own efforts to eat well by following up a healthy dinner with a covert trip to Wendys. It made me think about how often I sabotage my own efforts. If I don’t make a perfectly healthy dinner, or have time to make one, I find myself settling for a five dollar box at Taco Bell. That is the crux of my struggle with my weight. I far too often settle for what is convenient because, if I don’t have time to cook perfectly, I wonder why bother.

So, I’m diligently coming along, still pondering the things that mess me up and the places where my relationship with food is broken. I’m trying to settle for good enough, even if that means a salad bar dinner most evenings (because between tae kwon do and church many of my evenings are spoken for). Still, grilled cheese sandwiches and even waffles should also find their places in our food lives.  Both are better for me than a Whopper and fries or my beloved fried Chick-fil-A nuggets and soup.

My Week in Books (2/17/19 -2/23/19)

This is a very unusual week for me right now as I only finished two books. I do blame it a little on the fact that one of them was over 700 pages and very densely written.  Still, here are the books:

the little duke The Little Duke by Charlotte M. Yonge. This was a history read-aloud with my children. This is a novel of the childhood of Richard the Fearless, the great-grandfather of William the Conqueror. I loved Yonge’s focus on this little known period of history, as Richard was one of the Normans bridging the transition between the vikings who settled in Normandy being Danish and being French. Richard is also a very moral virtuous character, exemplifying mercy and grace towards both his friends and his foes.

However, this was a struggle as a read-aloud. The language is not welcoming to children, at least perhaps 21st century children, and while my children have enjoyed a great number of classics, this was not one of their favorites. Their dislike came more from the way the story was written than the actual story itself as Richard is a worthy and courageous protagonist. (Book 33 of 2019)

fire and blood Fire and Blood by George R.R. Martin. I would have preferred the next Fire and Ice book, but it was so good to be in the land of Westeros again with this fake history. It reads like a history book, but kind of like a good, gossipy journal of a history book. So entertaining! This book begins with the conquest of the seven kingdoms by Aegon Targaryen, and follows about 125-150 years of history detailing the lives, loves and intrigues of the various houses of Westeros, with the focus on the Targaryen rulers.

I loved every minute of this 700+ page book, and I look forward to a sequel (or the Winds of Winter), hopefully soon. My children were a little shocked because it’s rare for it to take me a week or longer to get through the book, but the writing is really dense, and with the nature of the “history,” it was a much longer read than an average book.  Did I say I’m hoping for a sequel soon though? (Book 34 of 2019)

So, what did you read this week? Are you a fan of Fire and Ice?

Instant Pot Pepperoni Pizza Soup

My thirteen year old is super picky. For example, last night we went out to dinner with my parents for my mom’s birthday. We had Hibachi, and he could not find a thing other than white rice that he liked. (And we made him try everything we all got!) I promised when I started blogging again that if I made a recipe that he liked, I would share it with everyone. After all, I’m probably not the only person with a super picky kid.

Tonight, I made a soup that he actually liked and said he would eat again next time I cooked it, so I’m riding high on the tide of victory!!

pepperoni pizza soup

I adapted this recipe from my Emeals account to work in my instant pot duo, so I could make it on a Tae Kwon Do night.

  • 1 pound ground mild Italian pork sausage
  • 6 oz. package sliced pepperoni, chopped
  • 1/2 small onion, finely chopped (or 1 tsp onion powder)
  • 1 Tbsp. garlic
  • 32 oz. carton chicken broth
  • 14.5 oz. can diced tomatoes (I used Italian)
  • 15 oz. can tomato sauce
  • 6 oz. can tomato paste
  • 2 tsp. Italian seaoning
  • 1 cup shredded mozzarella

Cook sausage, pepperoni, onion and garlic on sauté mode in instant pot for 8-10 minutes or until sausage is browned and crumbly. Drain well, and return to pot. Stir in broth, tomatoes, tomato sauce, tomato paste and Italian seasoning. Switch pot to slow cook mode and cook on high for 4-5 hours. Stir in mozzarella cheese.

This makes 6 servings, and the per serving nutritional count I got is: 457 calories, 32.8 g fat, 12.9 g saturated fat, 90.7 mg cholesterol, 2,164 mg sodium, 21.2 g carbohydrates, 4.5 g fiber, 11.6 g sugar, 24.2 g protein.

I have two notes on the recipe.

First, it has a huge amount of sodium. I’m okay with that occasionally (as in once or twice a week), but if you are on a low sodium diet, this is probably one to give a skip.

Second, my son, who is picky, did not like that he could bite into onions in the soup. I told him that next time I would use onion powder instead. He would have eaten more and liked it better without the onions. (He sits and picks all his onions off his McDonald’s cheeseburgers if I neglect to tell them no onions.) I think the nutritional effect (and taste effect) would be negligible, but if there’s a big difference, I’ll come back and update this post.

Most of my recipes strike out, and I really thought this one would because of the sausage. So, I was pretty excited about having a success.

My Week in Books (2/10/19-2/16/19)

This week was an exciting week for me reading because I crossed the 30 book line in my reading for the year. However, I also freely admit that it was my slowest reading week of the year. I only  read three books, and I have been averaging approximately five books per week. The truth is I’ve kind of gotten stuck reading a 700 page book and it’s taking a little more time to read than I had thought it would. I’m sure I’ll have it finished by next week though 🙂

redeeming how we talk Redeeming How We Talk: Discover How Communication Fuels Our Growth, Shapes Our Relationships, and Changes Our Lives by Ken Wytsma and A.J. Swoboda. Wytsma and Swoboda have written a book about relationships and how communication affects relationships. It is a timely book and a fantastic read, with them deeply examining both how technology affects our relationships and the different aspects of communication in relationships. This book receives my highest recommendation and I will be sharing more about it soon in the future.

candymakers The Candymakers by Wendy Mass. Four children have the opportunity of a lifetime. They have the opportunity to create the best candy that they can imagine, to compete with a group of 32 children to see which candy will be the one chosen to be actually manufactured and placed on store shelves. This in itself should be enough to create an exciting story, but add to this the fact that not all the children’s stories are quite what they seem, and this book is on a collision course to a fun mystery.

I really found this story to be fun, even though, despite the premise, it’s not really a gripping page turner. I read this with the children, and they said the first half of the book was okay, but not great, but that the last half was incredibly good. I tend to agree, and while the plot didn’t draw me in the way I had hoped for it to, I found myself really into each character’s arc.

dear mrs bird Dear Mrs. Bird by A.J. Pearce. This is a peek at World War 2 era London through the eyes of a young lady named Emmeline Lake. Emmeline volunteers as a telephone operator the auxiliary fire service in the evenings and longs to be a war correspondent as her daytime job. She answers a newspaper advertisement for a job, thinking that she is about to become the reporter of her dreams.  In truth, she hasn’t paid much attention to the job she is applying for, and she is actually becoming the typist to an advice columnist at a women’s magazine. Mrs. Bird often refuses to answer letters with “real” emotional problems and difficult situations, and Emmeline is deeply disturbed by their problems and decides to start responding to these letters. Almost everything else that happens in the book shows the way that this decision plays out.

This book explores a very neat, and often overlooked portion of literature in the stories of the second world war–London. Despite the war going on around them, Pearce portrays the Londoners as upbeat and optimistic. The book itself takes a lighthearted tone until it cannot escape the effects of the war. I enjoyed the lightheartedness and struggled with the changing to the more serious tone in the middle. I thought this book was very entertaining.

That’s all for this week! Hope everyone’s having a great February!!