On the Bookshelf–December 2013

Oh, the bookshelf. It’s so, so full right now (the proverbial bookshelf, that it. Really, it means: Bookshelf. Kindle. Nightstand. Diaper bag. Basket by the chair. Desk.). We’ve been twice to the new used bookstore in town, Second and Charles, and I love it. Especially because I haven’t actually spent more than a dollar or two there, because of the store credit I got for bringing in books we no longer wanted. Plus the library recently got several books I’ve been waiting on. Then there’s the recent good sales on Amazon. It’s bad. So many books–I need a solid week of just reading time.

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I’m linking up with the Modern Mrs. Darcy for Twitterature–short and sweet book reviews. Want to join? (Click on the book covers for links to Amazon.)

The Tiger’s Wife

 Finished this one the day before yesterday. It was so incredibly good. Loved the many-faceted plots, the culture, the backstories on the characters. Deathless man and tiger’s wife. Read and find out more.

Mr. Popper’s Penguins (read aloud with the kids)


Classic story about a man who loves penguins and gets some for pets. My kids adored this story, and Jeremy may have come upstairs a time or two to listen in.

Letters and Life

Reading this one slowly. I’m loving the connections between writing and Christianity, the news we have to tell and how we tell it. Not a light read, but a worthwhile one. And the cover is beautiful.

What’s it Like to be Married to Me?

I’m only a few chapters into this one but so far, it’s convicting and refreshing. Better than I expected, to be sure. The title alone is enough to make you think.

By the Shores of Silver Lake (another read-aloud)

Not my favorite of the Little House books, but still, the adventures of the Ingalls family live on to delight another generation. Plus, they’re great examples of working hard and not complaining (for my kids AND for me!)

The Joy of Less


Not your typical decluttering book, this one deals with the heart behind minimalist living, and the benefits of it. Her STREAMLINE approach is very helpful. I love the idea of this type of simple living (having what you need, not tons of excess), and am working in that direction. This book helps! Another beautiful cover, too.

Stages of Homeschooling – Enjoying the Journey

While I liked the idea of a book covering each stage in the homeschooling journey, I found the book to be pretty unhelpful. Not a lot of new ideas or encouragement, which I guess is what I was looking for. I’m not planning to finish this one.

Carry On, Warrior

Loved it. More creative non-fiction, which I gravitate toward, in essay/memoir form. The theology was pretty off, but much of what she had to say was so good. The adoption essay at the end made me cry. I know some of those families she spoke about.

Prince Caspian

Now I’ve got my kids reading multiple books at a time, too. Dangerous! We love the Chronicles of Narnia. This one isn’t my favorite, but it does introduce Reepicheep and the D.L.F. And my favorite (Voyage of the Dawn Treader) is next!

Saving the World

Actually doing this one on audiobook. I wanted to see if this book was as good as the other one of hers I’d read (In the Time of the Butterflies). It is. Intertwining stories about a woman who is dealing with a dying friend, the inability to write, and her husband’s trip to South America (don’t want to give too much away), and another woman hundreds of years ago who travels with orphans (who are being used to carry vaccinations) on a ship to the Americas.

See what I mean? So many books. Waiting in the wings: Heaven, What We Have, Deconstructing Penguins, Tinkers, The Husband’s Secret, Quiet, and many more. Oh for uninterrupted hours to read!

What’s on your bookshelf?

(note: contains affiliate links)

Two Hours, Fourteen Meals

freezer mealsAfter posting this picture on Facebook last night (love how my nasty-looking raw meatballs are front and center), I got a few requests for the recipes. Here they are, in all their non-original glory. All but the meatball subs and the red beans and rice are crockpot meals, which means they are even easier: pull a bag from the freezer, dump it in the crockpot. That’s my kind of cooking.

I used this list for ten of the meals (doubled the list, so I made two bags of each). The benefit of this list was that she made up a grocery list to go with it. Saves me the work! I also made two batches of spaghetti casserole from this recipe. Then I made homemade meatballs for meatball subs, and prepped a batch of red beans and rice (I would have done two of the red beans and rice, but I had already used the other half of the kielbasa). So the fourteen meals are:

(2) chicken fajitas

(2) beef burritos

(2) teriyaki pork chops

(2) honey garlic chicken

(2) Hawaiian chicken

(2) spaghetti casserole

(1) meatball subs

(1) red beans and rice

Meatball recipe, that I’ve had for forever: (Note: I just made/shaped the meatballs and froze them raw.)

1 lb lean ground beef

1/2 c dry bread crumbs

1/4 c milk

1 small onion, chopped (or substitute onion flakes)

1 large egg

1/2 t salt

1/2 t Worcestershire sauce (that word is pretty much impossible to spell)

1/4 t pepper

Heat oven to 400. Mix all ingredients. Shape into 1″ meatballs. Cook 15-20 min, until juices run clear.

 

Red Beans and Rice (so good!) (Note: I chopped the veggies, and added the meat and garlic. When I go to cook it, I’ll add seasoning, cook the veggies and meat, and then add beans. Basically, I just saved myself the chopping.)

Three cans undrained kidney beans

1 green pepper, chopped

1 onion, chopped

4 stalks celery, chopped

salt and pepper to taste

1T Tony Chachere’s seasoning (or to taste–this makes it fairly spicy)

3 cloves garlic, minced

half a package of kielbasa or smoked sausage, cut into pieces (can use more–we like to stretch it to two meals)

Cook vegetables, seasoning, garlic, and meat until vegetables are clear and meat is brown. Add undrained beans. Simmer for as long as you can. Serve over rice.

 

So the process was this: I wrote with a sharpie on the freezer bags (type of meal and cooking directions). Then I did a lot of chopping of onions, celery, and peppers. (While I was chopping, I browned meat for the spaghetti casserole, so it could cool.) Then I filled the bags one meal type at a time, adding meat first, then veggies, then sauces/spices. Because most of the meat gets thrown in there raw, it didn’t take long to assemble the bags. I could have done it faster if I had streamlined more. But overall, two hours for fourteen meals (and I had to stop to put Mason back to sleep in there, too) wasn’t bad.

Have you ever done freezer meals before? Got any good recipes to share?

Guest Post – Unanswered

I’m guest posting at my dear friend Alison McLennan’s fabulous blog today. Come by and check it out?

Nothing So Broken: Unanswered

Last week, some dear friends of ours suffered a failed adoption. In the domestic adoption world, this is the term for being matched with a child, and then the adoption falling through. It is horribly painful. I know because we went through it ourselves just over a year ago.

We followed a long and twisted road to get to our third son, Mason. The journey started in August of 2011 (we had just brought our daughter Laina home from Rwanda three months earlier), and we believed this time we were headed to Uganda. In fact, I was headed for Uganda, and spent a week there in November of that year. In the course of the confusing and at times heartbreaking next few months, we tried our best to follow Jesus and as best we know, He was pointing us to domestic adoption instead. We switched our homestudy over to domestic in February of 2012. Mason, who was to be our son, would be conceived the next month…. (Want to read the rest? Click here.)

 

On the Bookshelf

So I’m trying something new: linking up with Modern Mrs. Darcy’s Twitterature post–short, casual book reviews of recent reads. So here’s what’s been on the bookshelf…or the Kindle…or the nightstand…or in the diaper bag…or…or…or…

I Can’t Complain by Elinor Lipman

Ever since I took a creative non-fiction class in college, it’s been one of my favorite genres. This book of personal essays did not disappoint. Funny, touching, sad, witty. Loved it.

In the Time of the Butterflies by Julia Alvarez


Wonderful, haunting, moving, beautiful, lyrical. This one was really a gift. About four sisters who became revolutionaries. It’s amazing when an author can pull off writing from multiple viewpoints and you can’t decide which you like better.

 

A Praying Life by Paul E. Miller

Truly life-changing. Wish I had read this one earlier. Practical, accessible, personal, easy to read but deep in application.

 

168 Hours: You Have More Time Than You Think by Laura Vanderkam

Got this one hoping for some time-management theory and application. I’m still slogging through. A lot of it is about career advancement which isn’t what I needed. I enjoy reading the interviews and stories, I’m learning some about how successful people manage their time, but it’s not exactly what I was hoping.

 

Abide with Me by Elizabeth Strout

Still in the middle of this one. Loving it. It surprised me with its character depth and fresh writing. It’s hard to say what it’s “about” since it’s really not incredibly plot-driven. Fine by me.

 

Lucy by Laurence Gonzalez

A weird, but entertaining book. I almost didn’t give this one a chance–the first few pages are tiresome and poorly written. But then either the writing improved or I stopped caring. Overall, I enjoyed this light read. Jeremy found the storyline a bit disturbing. Aren’t you curious now?

 

On Writing by Stephen King


Love, love, love this book. Stephen King delivers. One of the best books on writing I have read. Oh how I wish this man didn’t write so much horror! He’s seriously one of the best story-tellers ever.

Now it’s your turn! What have you been reading?

 

(note: contains affiliate links. I think.)

Living the Dream or Happy Adoption Day

August 28th, 2013: the day Mason’s adoption was finalized and he was finally, legally a Brannon.

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Also August 28th, 2013: the fiftieth anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr’s famous I Have a Dream speech.

Pretty cool coincidence, don’t you think?

Fifty years ago, MLK was uttering the words that have become famous: “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character…I have a dream that one day…little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers. I have a dream today…”

We are so thankful for the fact that MLK and other brave men and women made it possible for us to live out our dream today. This family, this is our dream.

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For us, August 28th was not really about the anniversary of the famous speech though. It was about our sweet little man, our Mason, legally, officially, and forever joining our family. Mason, with your big grin and happy dimple, with your silly faces and love of wrestling, with your unwillingness to eat finger food and your knack for spitting really far, Mason, with all the sunshine you bring our family, with your babbling conversations and joyful squeals, with your all-night bottle feasts and crazy hide-and-seek games, we love you. We’re so glad you’re our son!

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DSC_0156 (If you want to read details about the Big Day, head over to our family blog here.)

 

On Turning 30

So tomorrow I turn 30, which seems like a milestone. Probably because I always said I’d have a book published by the time I turned 30, which clearly I do not. However, I will take a cue from Anne Shirley in Anne of Ingleside when someone asks her if she’s still writing stories.

“Not altogether…but I’m writing living epistles now,” said Anne, thinking of Jem and Co.

So did I get a book published? Not altogether (and not yet). But I’m writing living epistles now, I say, thinking of Iain and Co.

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My kids are my letters to the world to come. It’s worth every second of time I have to make sure I write them well. (The Anne quote is referencing 2 Cor 3:2-3 which says in NKJV “You are our epistle written in our hearts, known and read by all men; clearly you are an epistle of Christ, ministered by us, written not with ink but by the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of flesh, that is, of the heart.” So I guess it’s more accurate to say that the Spirit is writing the living epistles of my children, and allowing me to sometimes be the pen. I’ll take it!)

Anyway, I thought it would be fun to make a list of 30 things I’ve learned in 30 years. So here goes:

1. He is always, always faithful.

2. Marry your best friend. It makes all the difference.

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3. Kids are messy, loud, hard, crazy, and keep you up all night. But they are absolutely worth it. (They are also hilarious, humbling, fun, sweet, loving, and getting hugs from them is the best thing ever. Outside of hugs from the aforementioned best friend.)

4. Krispy Kreme donuts are better when they are NOT hot now. There. I said it.

5. Friendships matter a lot. Be thankful when you have good ones. And be a good friend.

6. Quiet moments are golden. Even if you’re just taking out the recycling, stop to listen to the quiet. (Maybe this one is only good when you have four kids under seven!)

7. Adoption is hard and it is beautiful.

8. Bearing kids the old fashioned way: same deal, different ways.

9. There’s nothing like a good book.

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10. Sons are fun.

11. Daughters are fun.

12. Marriage is wonderful.

13. Making art of various kinds is a fantastic stress-reliever, regardless of how it turns out.

14. Homeschooling is harder than I thought it would be, but I’m glad we’re doing it.

15. I never regret taking pictures of my kids doing everyday, normal stuff.

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16. Writing is vital.

17. Bad as they are for you, Big Macs taste really good.

18. The days are long, but the years are short.

19. Corporate worship gets sweeter just about every Sunday.

20. There is very little that is funnier than The Office.

21. I married the best man out there; the rest of you can fight for who’s got second place.

22. I am so thankful I traveled as much as I did before I had kids; I’m so thankful for the traveling I’ve gotten to do since I’ve had them; I can’t wait until traveling with the kids will be easier and doable; and I will always want to travel more.

23. The Gospel gets richer and more beautiful the more you look at it, study it, and dig into it.

24. Family, immediate and extended, is very, very important. I’m thankful for ours!

25. The injustice in the world takes my breath away. I am comforted in the fact that He sees.

26. There is a sixth love language and it is my husband’s: surprise gifts of food.

27. Perspective is everything. Truth trumps feelings. Preaching the Gospel to yourself is key.

28. There is little that is more fascinating than the cultures of the world.

29. Being near the water (lake or ocean) feeds my soul.

30. I am more wicked than I ever dared believe, but more loved and accepted in Christ than I ever dared hope–at the very same time. (Tim Keller)

 

Three Ways Sound Theology Can Help You Stop Yelling at Your Kids

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Who could ever yell at this face?

Not that I ever yell at my kids. But if I did, if I had a particularly trying day, this is what I might remind myself of.

Sound theology basically just means that your understanding of who God is and what He has done is taken from the Bible. You know what the Bible says about God. You believe it. If you don’t like it, you change your mind. Our theology of God, what we believe about Him, shapes our every day life in every way, whether we realize it or not. We act and react based on our beliefs, our knowledge, and how the Holy Spirit has changed us based on Truth that He has revealed to us.

So how can this help me stop yelling at my kids? I remember what the Bible says about:

Sin: Namely, we have all done it. We all do it. It’s easy, on a day like today, to remember that my kids sin, but if I stop for a moment and remember that I do too, how will that slow down my flares of righteous anger? If I stop to think, We are all of us on this path. My kids and I are all broken. We’re in it together. Depressing thought? Yes, if you stop there. But I also need to pause and think on what the Bible teaches us about…

Redemption: If I stop, really stop for a moment and remember that “while we were still sinners, Christ died for us,” (Romans 5:8), how can I help but rejoice in that glory? I might not feel the weight of that truth at the moment. When the baby is wailing, the three-year-old is on the naughty circle again, and the big boys are getting into mischief, I don’t feel much but stress. However, feelings do not dictate truth. And whether I feel the soaring joy that I should, the truth remains: Christ loved us and died for us to free us from the hideous sin that would kill us. We are free. Which leads me to the last point…

Grace: All is grace. Saved by it, kept by it, forgiven again because of it. My children will hug me despite my temper because of it, and I will kiss their heads in the face of their disobedience because of it, and we are reconciled to God because of it. God’s grace means that, though we deserve punishment, He gives us Himself. We extend that grace to each other, we thank Him for that grace for ourselves and our families, and we delight in Him for His perfect goodness to us.

Pause, remember, breathe in His goodness. Feel it, or not. Believe the truth His Word teaches. And get back to work.

Clean Eating, Baby Steps, and Brownies

I’ve been dipping my toes into the world of clean eating. I’ve watched a few documentaries (Hungry for Change was a good one), and I’ve read some research online. I’ve thought about (and am still thinking about) getting a juicer. I believe this is a good way to eat: closer to what God made, fewer additives, chemicals, preservatives. I think it’s doable.

Then I have a day where my hands are full and so busy and we eat frozen pizza for dinner.  So what’s a girl to do? Does clean eating have to mean lots of time spent in the kitchen? I think the answer for us is: good in, bad out, a bit at a time. If we can start making some changes that we can maintain, we can start eating healthier without losing our (my) minds in the process. We’re aiming for fewer preservatives, less high-fructose corn syrup, more fruits and veggies. Baby steps.

So: clean granola for breakfast? Easy. Lunch? Um, PB&J still, with some apples. Dinner? I bought a clean crockpot ebook called Crock On, so we’ll start adding some of those into our rotation, although I doubt Sticky Fingers, however unhealthy, will ever be abandoned. (The cookbook looks really good — we’ll be doing granola apples and sloppy chicken this week. Yum.) And dessert? Oh yes. Last night I made clean brownies (I know, refined sugar is bad for you. But these brownies have no unknowns in them, and I’m not ready to give up sugar!) Anyway, it was no harder to make these brownies than boxed ones (maybe five more minutes of work, but less baking time) and they were so stinkin’ good. Much better than their boxed brothers. We have a new winner, friends.

And I know you want the recipe. Because really, what good is a post about trying to eat better without a brownie recipe included? Ahem. Like I said, baby steps, people. I doubled this recipe to make two mixes, so I’d have one ready for later. Here you go!

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Tasty From-Scratch Brownie Mix:

Ingredients:

  • 1 1/4 c all-purpose flour
  • 1 t baking powder
  • 1 t salt
  • 2/3 c unsweetened cocoa powder (smells heavenly)
  • 2 c white sugar

Mix all ingredients and store in a jar or container. When you’re ready to bake them, mix in:

  • 1 c melted butter
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 t vanilla

Spread into a greased 9×13 pan (known in my family as “brownie pans.” Yes, that’s what they’re for.) Lick the bowl. Bake at 350 for 20-25 minutes or until done. Cut with a plastic knife (did you know that trick? My grandmother taught it to me– it keeps the brownies from sticking to the knife as you cut.). Enjoy!

 

 

*note: if I did it right, the cookbook link above is an affiliate link.

*another note: original brownie recipe from here.

 

Two Years Ago, This

April and May bring so many important dates in the life of our family. There’s Referral Day, April 14, when we finally saw our baby girl’s face for the first time. There’s today, April 26, the most horrible day when we learned she was sick, and, numb and fearful and sad, packed into the night, kissed our boys goodbye, and drove until morning to fly to her side. And then happier days: April 28, when we met Laina and finally held our dream in our arms. May 6, the day we passed court and she became legally ours. And then the best day of all, May 19, when we stepped off the last plane and our boys ran into our arms and we were finally together.

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These dates fill me with so many memories and so many emotions. I can’t look at pictures of us as a brand new family of five without tears in my eyes, and I hope that wonder never wears off. Adopting Laina was hard, but so beautiful. Our trip to Rwanda was hard, but so beautiful.

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Living this life, with these four precious young souls, is hard, but so beautiful.

I am thankful anew for my miracle daughter when this time of year rolls around. I am thankful for the friends we travelled with, for the precious days in Rwanda where my heart continually returns, for the long days in Ethiopia. I am thankful that my family is here and that I get the unspeakable joy of spending my days with them.

DSC_0167 2I am thankful for Jesus who held us through the journey and holds us today, who moved mountains to bring our girl home and still moves in our lives. For the everyday miracles. Because never once did we ever walk alone. Never once did You leave us on our own. You are faithful, God, You are faithful.

Mommy Warring and Romans 14

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Oh, the infamous Mommy Wars. Don’t worry–this post isn’t going to be about how long or whether to nurse, what kind of school you should send your kids to, or if you should feed them red food dye. I’m not going to tell you how to get your baby to sleep through the night (heavens, no! Mason is up round-the-clock!), or whether or not to vaccinate.

I’m also not going to tell you those things don’t matter. If you are a mother, part of your job is educating yourself about such things and making wise decisions. Read books, talk to experienced mothers whose kids are thriving, research (carefully!) on the internet, pray. Be educated and make wise decisions. Done.

But the Mommy Wars aren’t about education and wisdom.

The Mommy Wars are about looking down on others who do things differently than you. People who are making different decisions than you are (would, did). The Mommy Wars, be they through the internet, play groups, or *gasp* church groups can be the instrument of meanness, accusations, and fear, making you doubt your (educated, wise) decisions, or making you argue for them. Debates and discussions have their place, of course, but if you’ve seen the Mommy Wars in action, you know they go far beyond debate.

At the root of Mommy Wars, I think, is pride. Pride can manifest itself in the obvious way (I know better than you) but it can also be sneaky, looking like insecurity or fear (I need everyone to do as I do so I will be validated.). Both of these are sin. Because really, if you need validation, you need nods of approval from people more than you need the approval of God. Pride = idolatry. Something else (myself, my opinions, the decisions I’ve made, the fear of doing wrong, the need for approval, my right to offense when someone else disagrees) is more important to me than God. I’d rather behave badly and be proven right than be humble like He asks me to be. Harsh words, but true.

Romans 14 is all about this topic. Read it with an eye to the Mommy Wars and see if it doesn’t shut them down. According to this passage, we need to be firmly convinced in our own minds about the decisions we make, and then not fuss at people who decide differently. Who are you to judge another man’s servant? We are all servants of God; let Him deal with us all.

And another thing: there are closed-handed and open-handed issues. Closed-handed issues are non-negotiable: should I raise my children to know that Jesus is the only Way? Yes. Should I teach them to obey the Bible? Yes. Etcetera. Open-handed issues, then, are open for discussion. I may have strong opinions, and I may be able to back them up with Scripture, but they are not the hills I want to die on. Examples? Pretty much everything the Mommy Wars take on.

So talk about the issues. Read, pray, be educated. Be nice. Don’t fuss. And remember that humility is what your kids need to see in you, and that will help them in life far more than whether or not you won the Wars.