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I purchased an unabridged copy of The Count of Monte Cristo several years ago at a book sale, and it has been shelved in our home ever since, always passed by for something less cumbersome or somehow more practical. 1500 pages are intimidating for anyone, even a book-lover. Yet after reading this brief article in The New York Times on the lost pleasure of binge reading, with a little nod to the Count, I decided to brush off the dust, put down my phone, and commit to binge read this summer. A couple of my children read this way, disappearing into a quiet spot for hours to read and read and read, and something in me wanted to remember that feeling. 900 pages into the book, I love it and am not looking back.

Binge reading doesn’t require a long book or a heady one. And for those of you looking for a quick read to close the summer, here are a few books that you won’t want to put down.


Where the Crawdads Sing | Taking place in an impoverished, coastal marsh in the South, this story follows the life of a young girl left to raise herself at age six. It is a coming-of-age story with a resilient heroine, but also a murder mystery and a commentary on the power of inquisitive nature and self-education. In short, this book lives up to all the hype and will keep you curious to the end.

The Lost Vintage | Like any novel written by a food writer, this one begs to be read with a glass of wine in hand. Set in the wine countries of California and France, this lighter-hearted novel follows one bright, young woman’s return to her family’s generational vineyard in France and the lessons she learns about her family during WWII. Straddling time, place, and the curious happenings that compel us home, this is a light, quick read. Also to consider: Delicious!: a Novel

The Great Alone | Set in 1970s Alaska, this book will transport you, compelling you with Kristin Hannah’s compelling prose and unexpected twists. Written with such richly developed characters, this novel trudges through weightier topics and themes, but it also served as a swift reminder of how far we have come in my lifetime in terms of women’s rights and understanding the traumatic effects of war. Also to consider: The Nightingale

Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine | Quirky and unexpected, I loved the hidden humor and compassion tucked into this story, the reminder that, at times, even our own hearts can be hidden from us.

Educated: A Memoir | Although a memoir and not a novel, Tara Westover’s writing and personal story will certainly keep you turning pages. Raw and vulnerable, her story will make you cringe and cheer her on all at the same time. Also to consider: The Glass Castle

SUMMER ROAD TRIP on Spotify

The summer season offers us opportunities, wrapped in sunshine, beyond our normal experience. The blur of passing scapes paired with a good tune creates whimsy and a sense of adventure. Guitar chords. The changing horizon. The hum of rolling asphalt. Rhythm. Whether you are on your way to the water, the mountains, or a friend’s house this summer, I hope this playlist will feed your sense of adventure.

I Know Bayonne | Wheat Wilderado | Fool for Love Lord Huron | South Hippo Campus |We Will All Be Changed Seryn | Notice Vodi | Town & Country Bibio | Pictures of Girls Wallows |Better Views Yellow House | Down the Line Beach Fossils |Seabirds Monohans | Same Bayonne

Meals can be like writing for me at times––I have plenty of ideas and inspiration until I sit down to write them out. I’ve found the same has been true for my children in their meal planning. At first, their personal favorites take lead, but moving beyond those easy ideas can be challenging. Having recipe books, Pinterest boards, and a list of meals we’ve already made can be so helpful for this. It’s also helpful for me to give them a topic, i.e. a large salad, something grilled, a vegetable I might have on hand. You get the idea. We have a variety of recipe books on hand, but here are a few we are enjoying the most right now.

The Forest Feast for Kids | We gifted this book to my youngest a few years ago and she has loved it! The recipes are simple and easy to follow, the ingredients are easy to find or substitute, and the images are clear and colorful on every page, making it a perfect start for younger chefs. Wink. The one downside is that the amount of recipes in the book is comparatively slim, but my daughter doesn’t seem to mind returning to her favorite ones again and again. Family Favorites: quinoa edamame salad, pasta with carrots and zucchini, swiss chard quiche, pear galette.

Chop Chop: The Kids’ Guide to Cooking Real Food with Your Family | Here is another recipe book we have enjoyed for years. Think of it less like a recipe book and more as a visual cooking manual for children (and adults). It does offer plenty of recipes, but more importantly, it shows how to build their own [salad, sandwich, burger, smoothie]. The book offers lists of ingredients, toppings, or condiment options, combinations of smoothie mixtures or sandwich or burger fillers. The format is easy for children to flip through and enjoy, with clear instructions and images (although not an image for every recipe). This is a wonderful resource! We’ve made salad dressings, drinks, smoothies, condiments from this one.

Love & Lemons Everyday | This is a new book on our shelf and already a growing favorite. The images are clean and colorful, and more importantly, the instructions are clear and the ingredients are found in most any grocery store. To note, the recipes are vegetarian, but most would be easy to adapt with a grilled fish or an animal protein. Family favorites: Raspberry Basil Sorbet, Peach and Pole Bean Salad with Dill

Six Seasons: A New Way with Vegetables | This is one of my personal favorites! Color-coded with six different growing seasons, this recipe book sparks broader conversations and ideas about the types of vegetables in season (when they are most economical and available at local farmer’s markets or through CSAs). The recipes are a bit more complex for children and there are fewer images, but teens and adults looking for new ways to enjoy seasonal veggies will enjoy it!

It’s All Good | Our family has enjoyed this recipe book for years. The recipes may be somewhat complex for children, but the beautiful images of the food or Gwyneth and her children will spark interest. Family favorites: Crazy Good Fish Tacos; Whole Grilled Pink Snapper with Herbs, Garlic, and Lemon; Thai Chicken Burgers.

Eat What You Love | I received this at one of Danielle Walker’s book events in the Spring, and although we haven’t made a lot from it yet, we’ve enjoyed the images and stretching into new ingredients. She has included several of her family’s favorite foods, from cookies to sweet potato fries, so your children are sure to find something they enjoy. The downside is the ingredient lists are often long, and if you don’t regularly eat GF or DF, you may find yourself spending a lot of money on the ingredients. If you’re looking to make a jump into a Paleo or Grain-Free lifestyle, this is a win! Family favorites: seasoned sweet potato fries; chicken caesar salad; white wine, mushroom, and spinach sauté.

There are a million and two reasons to keep your phone tucked away and out of reach during the day, but an audiobook is not one of them. Like many of you, we listen to audiobooks in the car, in the kitchen, on the sofa or our beds, through our headphones on-the-go, and so on. They have been salvation for me during the little years, when my children would play Legos for hours on their bedroom floor or when they were too old for naps but needed rest time. They have been a gift for me too when I want to enjoy my own books on a run or while bustling about the house or while traveling. I find myself in the same place with audiobooks that I do with the books I read––there are so many good ones, it’s difficult to know which to choose.

There are so many decisions when deciding a book to read. I tend to agree with Kathleen Kelly’s character in You’ve Got Mail when she says, “When you read a book as a child, it becomes a part of your identity in a way that no other reading in your whole life does.” That said, I can argue countless ways that books change and inform me now. Written and spoken words are powerful. So how do we know which are worth our time? Often, I ask a friend.

On Instagram last week, I asked followers to share their favorite audiobooks. Here’s a list of their responses, linked for the curious, separated only by stories that seemed more suited for older listeners versus younger ones. The asterisks mark books or series that were mentioned more than once. I only added Pride and Prejudice read by Rosamund Pike since it’s my most recent one to finish and enjoy. It’s perfect for older children and teen listeners, too!  I have read or listened to several books listed but now have fresh ideas for both the kids and myself. I hope you will, too.


 

FOR YOU

Eleanor Oliphant is Fine**

Becoming**

The Book of Joy

The Girl of the Limberlost

The Gown

These is My Words

Jayber Crow

The Help**

Big Magic**

Bossypants**

Still Alice

Dare to Lead**

East of Eden

Anything by David Sedaris

Brave Learner

All the Light We Cannot See**

Liturgy of the Ordinary

Bad Blood

The Social Animal 

Love Does

The Guernsey Potato Peel Pie Society

The Power of a Habit

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn**

A Gentleman in Moscow

Anything by Timothy Keller

The Conscious Parent

Educated**

Anything by Ruta Sepetys

Ruth Reichl’s My Kitchen Year

Bread and Wine**

The Winter Sea

A Praying Life

The Gospel Comes with a House Key

anything by Malcolm Gladwell**

Sherlock Holmes

God’s Smuggler

The Joy of Less

For the Love

The More of Less

Laurus

The Gift of Being Yourself 

Vinyl Cafe 

Better Than Before

12 Rules for Life

Becoming Mrs. Lewis

The Night Circus

All Creatures Great and Small

The Boys in the Boat

To Kill a Mockingbird

Pride and Prejudice 

 

FOR THE FAMILY

Echo**

Farmer Boy

Winnie-the-Pooh

The Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place series

The Hobbit

Mary Poppins series**

The Wingfeather Saga**

The Roald Dahl Collection

Julia Donaldson books (for littles)

Chronicles of Narnia–Radio Theatre**

The Lord of the Rings Trilogy**

Little Britches series**

anything by GA Henty

Anne of Green Gables** 

The Saturdays

The Penderwicks series**

Paddignton Bear

Biographies by Janet + Geoff Benge**

Little Women (also the BBC Radio version)

Young Fredle

Ballet Shoes series

Green Ember series

Robinson Crusoe (also BBC Children’s Classics)

I didn’t begin the year with an urge to start fresh goals. If anything, I only had the desire for less. Less time commitments. Less of my own ego. Less busyness with unimportant things. Less things cluttering my time and kitchen cabinets. But living with less, as most Westerners realize, requires humility, fortitude, and remarkable discipline. This month, I have been slowly inventorying my capacity and desires right alongside my belongings. If less is what is needed, then the answer is certainly not found in doing more but instead prioritizing something I already have or am already doing. Then, put the rest aside. Sometimes the reminder we need isn’t a notification on our phone or a mark on the calendar, it is a line of wisdom sitting on our bookshelf currently collecting dust. Here are the books I have been re-reading at the start of the year, fortifying some rhythms and re-making others.


Essentialism | I have read this book annually the last four years (just finished it again this week), mostly because I am not an essentialist by nature. Although the book is technically about business and economics, the life applications are endless, reminding me with each read of the power of choice, of my need to define and protect what is most valuable, and as I mentioned in the last post, to recognize the trade-offs as Mark and I work toward long-term goals. I walk away from this book with more clarity and vision of our values, with more resolve to say no.

This is Home  | Although there are heaps of coffee table books with beautiful images of homes, I love how this book by the stylist Natalie Walton explores the soul of the home as much as the aesthetic. Broken up in three parts with interviews and images of 16 international homes, This is Home explores how we create, live within, and nurture our sense of home. The featured homes are lovely, no doubt, but much like our own home, they are not primly designed or overly fancy. The homes seem more organically designed, more slowly grown into by the people who inhabit them. This books always helps stir my creativity in our home’s design, to think through what we already own, to see the space we inhabit in a new way.

Simple Matters | I read this book by blogger Erin Boyle cover to cover when it first released, and I reference it often throughout the year. She and her family of four live in only a few hundred square feet in the NYC, and again and again, I find myself challenged by their minimal lifestyle, by their intention and creativity in tiny apartment living. The book is neatly categorized by areas of the home and is quite practical whether you are cleaning out a closet, decluttering your office drawer, or making your own cleaning products.

Teaching From Rest | I did not begin homeschooling because I love grading or creating academic tasks for my children. I do not think I am the best teacher or the most consistent one either. I sometimes find myself slipping into that role, looking at our homeschool as a machine of “did you?” Check. Check. I am perpetually aware of my short-comings and theirs. How do we do it all? We don’t. No one does. This quick read is always encouraging for me. It gives practical helps, of course, but more importantly, it slows me down and reminds me, less is better here, too. This read is faith-based, but I find instead of a didactic how-to, it is a comforting voice of a friend, asking me to consider again why our family chose this path this year. I find myself identifying my core values and goals for our learning again, instead of simply looking at what the curriculum guide says or what another parent is doing. I see my children. I see me. I see our own style and pace and needs. I am finding the important less that makes it more for all of us.

Strengthening the Soul of Your Leadership | I read this book last fall and am re-reading it again now, even referenced it here last week. Clearly, this is not a book either on minimalizing the home or organizing closets, but it recognizes our humanity, that we are not tasks or things to shuffle about, nor are those in our care. We are souls, and as such, we need margin and solitude. As one who can easily believe doing more or strategizing better is always the answer to a problem, this book quite practically reminds me to simply stop and listen, to make room for my thoughts and emotions, to make room for God to speak to me. It is a faith-based book, and although it is directed toward people in spiritual leadership, I found that the principles applied equally to those leading in any capacity––as a parent, mentor, or business owner, too.

 

I took a walk in the backyard this week, noticing the wildflower “weeds” rising to the early morning sun in adoration. Perhaps at the first warm light of Spring, we appear the same, pulling upward, our bare feet rooted, our heads lifted to the sky. Spring is a season of hope. We plant seeds in the earth and clear unnecessaries from our cabinets and closets. Intuitively, we renew. Spring is dawning. For those of you awakening this season, here are some soft notes to accompany you.


Dawning on Spotify

Field Keaton Heston | Mindful Towr’s | Good Friday Josh Garrels | Montana Youth Lagoon | Only Love Ben Howard | Big Black Car Gregory Alan Isakov | Each to Each Penny and Sparrow | Holocene Bon Iver | The Only Thing Sufjan Stevens | Paint The Paper Kites | Do You Rise Ian Randall Thorton | Morning Francis and the Lights | Heartbeats José Gonzalez | The Woods Hollow Coves | Berlin Corey Kilgannon |  Go Solo Tom Rosenthal | Hope Daughter | Berlin RY X | Saturn Sleeping at Last

I’ve been thinking about hope this year, that fragile confidence Emily Dickinson described as a songbird with feathers, perched in the soul, singing against the wind and the coldest of circumstance. The writer of Hebrews calls faith the substance of hope (Heb. 11:1), and after listening to the podcasts below, I realized more deeply how faith and hope and love work together in each of us. Without hope, my faith is ambiguously directed, a nebulous cloud. Hope gives my faith and belief direction and purpose in prayer and perseverance. Love fills in the gaps. Love reveals the lies that I am only loved for what I do, or for how much I do for others, or for how much money I make, or how wonderful my children are, or how lovely my house is decorated. Love reminds me I am more than all of those things. And so are you.

This week, I took Olive to another appointment for her mouth, another specialist, another medical team member to help us chart what the next decade will look like for her and her mouth. For those who don’t know: at the end of January, the girls were playing in the front yard with our 90 pound one year old Lab puppy, when Olive’s legs were take out by the line. She flipped, face first onto the sidewalk and incurred serious mouth trauma leading to emergency oral surgery. If your stomach churns a bit reading it, you’re right; it was horrific, but I am overflowing with gratitude that she incurred no brain or bone damage. I haven’t shared any images of the journey here or on social media for Oli’s protection, but she is healing so well. Her stitches are long gone, her spirit is just as large and vibrant, and her smile is just as magnetic, only missing several teeth. Wink. Of the several missing teeth, only two were adult teeth (her big ones, front and center). Apparently, it’s a more complicated fix because of her age, hence all the appointments and conferring specialists.

On the way home from this particular appointment this week, Olive had a lot of questions about the path forward, and clearly I had no answers yet. I empathized with her. She wants to know what’s coming next. In many ways, I ask the same questions, always looking forward and planning where I’m headed, how or when a particular hard spot in the path might correct. I again apologized and assured her we’re progressing, even if it doesn’t feel like it. Then she turned to me, with a bright and confident tone, so full of hope, and said, “It’s okay, Mom. It’s like Auggie’s Mom says in Wonder, ‘The Scars are only the map that show us where we’ve been.'” Immediately, tears sprung to my eyes. Those words were for me. Those precious words, spoken with a toothless lisp, so full of hope and promise, so confident that her needs would be met, were for me.

Sometimes we think we are the ones teaching our children about the world when it turns to be the reverse. As adults who have tasted and seen the bitterness in the world, the unmet expectation and disappointment, it can be easy to feel swallowed up, to allow those experiences to cloud our imaginations or ability to see beyond. Our world is ripe with heavy, chilly circumstance, and chances are if you aren’t currently walking through something difficult, you know someone who is. Yet hope is the songbird that sings against it, that reminds us that the scars in our life are a part of our story, but they do not define our path forward.


ENCOURAGING LISTENS

“Get You Hopes Up” part 1 and part two

“Hope in All Circumstances” 

“Hope is a Strategy”

 

Every night I slide into bed grabbing a book on the stool beside me. Most evenings, my eyelids begin to close after just a few flips of the page. Bedtime is clearly not the best reading time for me any longer. My days begin early and by the time I’m tucked into bed, my body seems to intuitively know I need sleep. So if I want to read a book and actually understand what I’m reading, I have to make time during the day, which requires a bit of extra discipline, one that always feeds my soul and massages my brain a bit.

When my children were younger and regularly napping, I tended to find pockets of quiet a bit easier, mimicking their patterns for day rest, but it’s a little more difficult as the kids grow and our energy is more constant throughout the day. And so I look for these pockets in the morning before the kids wake up, on the weekends when we schedule regular periods away from screens, and ideally during the day when my children are working or playing independently. Audiobooks are a lifesaver, too. Also in the moments when I tend to flippantly pick up my phone to scroll social medias, I’m learning to ask myself more often: is this what I need right now, or would it be better to sit somewhere with a book? 

I tend to read with a pencil in hand, an active expectation that I’m going to learn something new, I suppose. The more I mark up a book, the more I connect with it, digest it, practice or think on it. I still remember when Olive first began learning to read, I found her flipping through a chapter book marking every sight she knew at that point. I thought, that’a girl. Although I love immersing into a well-written novel, memoirs, self-helps, and cultural commentaries always lure me. I find myself with stacks on parenting, poetry, writing, business, culture, etc.––books that often directly apply to my living. Fiction feels like spa therapy, and so I always aim to keep one novel and a book of poetry on my nightstand, too. Consider it balance to my constant effort in self-improvement (insert: eye roll).

For those of you who are curious, here’s a smattering of the non-fiction on my nightstand I’d recommend. Unfortunately, I only read one adult novel this summer. ONE! And although promising in ideas, the content turned out to be a bit unsavory, so I won’t mention it by name. (Insert: smirk.) But I would love to hear your favorite fiction recommendations. As you can see, I can use some storytelling balance.


The End of Absence: Reclaiming What We’ve Lost in a World of Constant Connection  | As someone who remembers childhood and teen life before the internet, who traveled internationally as a teen without a cell phone, who didn’t have a personal email until her last year of university, and who parented her children’s early years without social media, I LOVE this book! It’s a MUST for every parent and millennial, right alongside Nicholas Carr’s The Shallows. Don’t get me wrong, I totally feel old writing this, but this is the first book that actually refers to my generation as the last to remember absence, to remember life with abstract space and digitally noiseless downtime. He works through many topics in this book, even heartbreaking ones, like the modern hardships of depression and cyber-bullying plaguing teens and young adults. It’s well-written, poetic even, and enjoyable to read without the fear-mongering tone prevalent in other books on technology.  If you’re looking for some practical parenting thoughts on this idea of absence, you might find what I wrote early last year about the hidden gift of boredom helpful.

Gracelaced: Discovering Timeless Truths Through Seasons of the Heart | My friendship with Ruth has been a gift of the internet, one for which I’m grateful. Her wisdom, directness, and love for Scripture always speaks straight to me and so many others. She is a gifted watercolor and hand-letter artist, and just launched her first book––a book divided seasonally and topically into over 30 different truths and meditations on Scripture. She sent it to me a few weeks ago to preview, and one of my favorite aspects, aside from the beauty and encouragement, is the way it’s parsed seasonally into digestible segments, making it a gift to pick up while I’m making dinner or taking a small break from school or work. It is always a fresh breath, especially as a mother.

The Soul of Discipline: Simplicity Parenting Approach to Warm, Firm, and Calm Guidance | Most parenting books address specific stages from infancy to teens, but what I adore about this read is the gentle, holistic viewpoint, defining what discipline is––debunking the negative connotations––and how it evolves through the different phases of parenthood. Written by the same author of Simplicity Parenting (one of my very favorite parenting books), The Soul of Discipline follows the Governor-Gardener-Guide phases of parenting, how our role of leadership changes as our children grow, from the vigilant, boundary setting Governor of the early years through the probing and attentive Gardener during the tween years into the more relaxed decision-maker and more helpful Guide years with our teenagers. Although parents of infants and toddlers might not find the Gardener and Guide sections important quite yet, this book will be helpful to have as a reference in the years ahead. Consider this a gentle resource that will grow with you, one to reference at any point in parenthood. If you’re curious, here’s a list of other favorite parenting books.

Grit: The Power and Passion of Perseverance  | Mark and I have had several conversations with our children about why we do hard things, and this book was a song of praises for the value of hard work and cultivating lifelong interest. Equipped with heaps of research and narrative, I found myself challenged, encouraged, confronted, and inspired in nearly every life touchpoint––from the way we parent to how I grow a business and cultivate vision in general. I mentioned this book here a couple of months ago, as something anyone working toward hard things should read, and I mean it! I even marked certain chapters to listen to on audiobook with the children in the car. I’m sure they loved the discussion of high and low-tier goals afterward, too. See what fun our car rides are? ;)

Humble Roots: How Humility Grounds and Nourishes Your Soul | This book was handed to me recently by a dear friend after a conversation about our 3-ness on the Enneagram––our constant need to be doing and to be successful in all endeavors, our tendency to perceive that we are loved for what we do rather than who we are. You can read more about the Enneagram, but this particular book has been a well-spring of wisdom, beautiful encouragement, and rest for me in a really hard last few months. It’s rare in modern culture to be reminded of the gift of begin brought low.

The Rain in Portugal  | I picked this book up on a whim last month. I haven’t read any of Collins poetry in a couple of years, but I always remember his lighthearted, masterful play with words and felt I could use some laughter. Plus, his poetry books always have the best covers, and so you know, I totally judge books by their covers. The same is true of win bottle labels. Design matters. But I digress. I like to have books of poetry around the house to pick up when I have a brief moment of quiet and don’t want to commit to a longer period of reading. This collection is cheeky and endearing, whisking me off on a ferry or to Moscow in the most causal way, as if we were lifelong friends having a conversation. This one I’d definitely recommend and re-read.

In the late spring and early summer, before the air becomes too weighty, I love to toss a blanket in the yard and watch the sky––the shifting clouds and migratory birds. Hammocks are perfect for this, too. So are car windows. Although the weather this time of year is too warm to lounge outside without water nearby, figurative shifts are always taking place in our home, even when the movement is too quiet to notice.

The kids are away with grandparents this week, and I’m stealing time a bit to sift through books and write down ideas for the year ahead. Although the summer season will linger here for quite a bit longer, a figurative shift in routine is looming for our home, one that involves messy tables and piles of books and art supplies again. It’s funny how swiftly these years seems to circle around again.

I am feeling more settled these days with Liam moving into the high school years, excited for some of the material he will be studying and learning this year and our conversations along the way. Still the years seem so brief––so very brief. Homeschooling has a way of slowing the years a bit, even as it demands more of the hours in a day, but I am understanding how precious this gift of time with my children will be in the nearing years ahead. I sense we are in a sweet spot right now.

Whether you’re preparing for a new school year or still enjoying the lazy days of summer or planning a last minute road trips, here’s a relaxed playlist for you, melodies that tend to flit and float right along with you.

Shortline RX Y | The Breech Dustin Tebbutt | Migratory Birds Western Skies Motel | Here in Spirit Jim James | Mexico The Staves | Youth Glass Animal | Forest Fires Alex Flovent | Honey and Milk Andrew Belle | Love is All Tallest Man on Earth | Anchor Novo Amor | Holocene Bon Iver | Garden Western Skies Motel | Afterglow Jose Gonzalez | La Belle Fleur Sauvage Lord Huron | I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For Joey McGee | Atlas Hands Benjamin Francis Leftwich |Smoke Medic | Bloom The Paper Kites  

LISTEN ON SPOTIFY