Thursday, December 29, 2011

My Year End Book Review

some of my books for 2012....

I love to read.  Ever since I can recall, I always have. I would not say I'm a super fast reader, per se,  but I love getting lost in a good book.  I used to have a lot of free time on my hands where I could easily spend a good chunk of time with my nose buried and with pages turning, but recently that time has slowly disappeared to 10-15 minutes here and there....while getting a pedicure or my hair cut, waiting at the doctor's office (if I don't have my baby with me), those times when I cannot get back to sleep after waking up with baby, the last few minutes of nap time after my 'to-dos' have been get it.  Like all readers out there, my reading minutes are precious!

Every year at the beginning of the year, I make a list of "resolutions" or things I would like to accomplish in the upcoming year.  In recent years, "read more" has been toward the top of my list, so this year, I decided to keep track of the books that I read so I could somehow determine if I actually read "more" and looking back over my list, I'm so glad I wrote them down.  This was the year I also implemented my new "rule" that life is too short to read a book I'm not into.  I used to force myself to power through just to say I finished it or to see what happened even though I did not really care and well, now that I don't any more, it has been entirely freeing in that regard.  It allows more time for the stories that do connect with my heart which in turn makes me read faster because I actually want to be reading! Certainly not rocket science! But yet, it took me all of these years to give myself permission to do it and I love it! I'm weird like that sometimes.

Anyways, here is my list from 2011... (*note* I am only going to post the book title and not hyperlink them or post photos of the book covers even though I would LOVE to do that!  I'm sorry about that, I wish I had the time to make this post a lot fancier and prettier, but you can hopefully find the book you are interested in from the title. )

One Thousand White Women - I had this book on my shelf forever.  Despite many strong recommendations from friends for some reason I could not psych myself up to read a historical book about Indians.  However, I am so glad I finally did!  This book was an incredible story told from the point of view of an amazing female character- and written by a man! I learned so much from reading this book, but mostly what I took away from this book was how thankful I am that I have been born in this era in time.  I loved learning about her way of life, the people around her and the rich descriptions of her way of living as well as having a "face" to the history that took place.  I thought the premise of this book was really cool too and wished I was as creative as this author.

Water for Elephants - Hands down, one of my favorite books I read this year.  I was very late to the party with this one, as it was another one I had on my shelf forever.  I have a mental block when it comes to circus' and to think about reading a book about them just did not grab me- at first.  But I read this one is about three days.  Beautiful.  Moving.  Compelling.  Heartbreaking.  Powerful.  Lovely.  I loved this book.  I loved the love story, I loved the era the story was set in, and I (shockingly) actually loved how the author described the circus life.  I thought the movie was good, but the book was great.

Milk Glass Moon - This was a novel in a series that I have loved called the Big Stone Gap series.  I have loved these books and felt like I read them exactly at times in my life, where some of the author's words have spoken truth straight into my heart.  They are about a woman who starts out single in a small town, then marries, then has a daughter, then faces kind of a mid-life crisis in her marriage and how she sees herself.  Beautiful books.

He Speaks to Me- This book is the companion book to a bible study book I was doing at the time.  It is written by Priscilla Shirer who is an amazing woman and teacher I heard speak back in December 2009. I loved this book because it was like listening to her speak all over again.  If you ever have the chance to hear her, see her, read not miss out!

First Family- This was a fluffy mystery I read while on a work trip back in January.  I wanted a book I could easily fit into my purse for the plane ride and one that was thick enough that it would take me most of the trip to finish.  It was a perfect who-done-it about a fictional first family and some of their secrets.

Life's Healing Choices- This is a book/study that my church offers on a regular basis.  I was leading one of the groups and had not read it myself yet, so I read it along with the gals in my group.  It is a great book designed to help heal long festering wounds to your heart and the habits we pick up along the way to try and soothe ourselves from these wounds.

Baby Bargains- If you know anyone who is newly pregnant, about to have a baby, or someone who knows someone having a baby, give them or at least recommend this book to them!  It is everything you need to know about baby gear presented in a Consumer Reports style format.  It breaks down price points, safety, necessity, design, quality...everything.  In my experience, this book was a gold mine!  I read it front to back as I prepared for my daughter's arrival and still refer to it today! It's not a page turner, but in the world of feeling overwhelmed and bombarded by the unknown, this book helps you to feel like you have some semblance of comprehension left in your brain.  I promise if you give this book to a newly pregnant woman, she will LOVE you for it. (Just don't wait until the baby shower to give it to her!)

The Help- Again, one of the BEST books I have read this year.  Actually, I would go so far to say in the past several years. I loved this book.  I know everyone in America loved this book, so I won't dwell here too long other than to say, if you are one of the few who still has not read this one, turn off your computer, get yourself to a book store and get yourself a copy today!   In fact, you may want to get two copies so you can give one away.  It's that good.  I recently saw the movie version and it was wonderful as well. LoveLoveLoveLoveLoved this book and movie!

Bill Self- I live in the middle of Jayhawk country and when it comes to college basketball, the Jayhawks are the best!  For those of you who do not know, Bill Self is the beloved basketball coach of the KU Jayhawks and this is his autobiography.  I know, I think its funny when people still in the prime of their career with a school who is consistently in contention for the NCAA Title write their autobiography, but I had to read it.  It made me like him even more as a coach and grow in my respect for him as a leader.  It was a great read if you are into college basketball or leadership even a little bit.

The Beautiful Ache- This book makes me sigh with it's beauty.  It is written by one of my favorite authors, Leigh McLeroy.  I was introduced to her writing years ago by a friend who was in Leigh's bible study and I have never looked back.  Leigh writes a weekly "column" that comes out in an email format and is just consistently beautiful and powerful.  She writes with such an amazing voice and I just adore her.  She is a writer that if she lived here, I know she would be my friend.  (I would follow her around until she saw the light.)  She is amazing.  Gifted.  Lovely.  Strong.  A godly woman.  Inspiring and oh, so talented.  She has written a couple of books, and I just cannot recommend them highly enough.  This is one you want to read slowly and is written in essay format, so you can easily enjoy over many days with a delicious cup of coffee.  Don't miss this one.

The List- Another fluffy mystery book.  I thought I would like this one more than I did because it was about writing, but it was just okay.  It kept me reading since it was a mystery, but I was kind of annoyed most of the way through it and spent a lot of time wishing it was over already.

What to Expect When You're Expecting - Another classic one.  I have this one on my list because even though Lily is my second child, I actually read this book for the first time through her pregnancy.  I started it with Luke, and the very day I received his diagnosis - when I could not find even a mention of his condition in the book - I put it down and never picked it up again.  Until Lily.  It was kind of bitter sweet to get to the page where my bookmark remained from when I was reading it with Luke.  But this time, with happy news, I got to continue reading and re-writing my prior negative experience with this book with m own happy ending.  It really is full of good info.

Girlfriend's Guide to Pregnancy- This is a must read for any pregnant gals out there.  It made me laugh out loud with its raw honesty and humor - many times.  It truly is written in such a way that you feel like you are sitting around a living room with a bunch of women laughing and sharing some war stories/raw truths about being pregnant and having a baby- the whole shebang from start to finish.  I loved this book.  Give this one as a gift to any newly pregnant friend you might have.  They will hug you for this one too.

Queen of the Bigtime- I read half of this one.  I could not get into it despite the fact that it is written by one of my favorite authors.  I don't know what it was, but I just did not personally connect with this one.

The Day I Ate Whatever I Wanted- I read half of this one too.  This was written by Elizabeth Berg one of my favorite writers.  However, I just didn't like this one too much.  It was written in essay format and I just found myself not wanting to read it.  I was having to force myself to pick it up and read, and that is not the kind of book I wanted to invest my time in, so I put it down...for good.

Rise and Shine- I read half of this one too.  (I know, I was on a roll!) This one, I did not like the characters.  I did not connect with them, found myself not caring about them, and thought that the "big deal" in the plot was not really all that much of a compelling reason to keep reading.  So...I put this one down too.

The Hunger Games- I picked this one up after my previous three discouraging attempts to find a good book and whew! This one I could not put down.  I was late to the party on this one too as most of America had already read this book.  My reason for the initial delay in reading this was because I am not much of a sci-fi or fantasy gal.  Plus the premise of kids killing each other for sport just did not grab me, but once I got into it, I found myself staying up late at night reading "just a few more pages..."  If you have not read this one yet, it really is worth it.

Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child- This one speaks volumes as to where I was in my journey as a parent.  During the summer, I became very focused on helping my daughter get the most sleep possible and set about learning all about sleep and how/where/when/why/what not to do etc that I could.  This was a fantastic book on the topic.  I have found in my experience that it is rich with some of the best suggestions, research, and practical advice on the topic.  There are many, many books out there about baby sleep, but this one was my favorite.  Still is- I just re-read parts of it yesterday.

Super Baby Food- If you have any interest or know anyone who may be interested in making your own baby food or learning about how and what babies eat and when- this is your book.  It was given to me and it has been the BEST. Love this one!  I won't dwell here long because the title pretty much speaks for itself.

Baby 411- This is another ongoing reading for me.  It is written by the same people who wrote Baby Bargains and it offeres a TON of essential baby info in an easy to read, need-to-know format from sleep, to illness, to eating, to toys, to development...its all in there.  Short and to the point.  A great one to just have around the house when you have a new little one around.

The 12 Hour Sleep Solution- This was another great book on baby sleep.  Has some great information about baby sleep with the premise being about getting your newborn baby to sleep for twelve hours.  I borrowed this from my friend (and need to return it!) and learned a lot from it.  It is an easy read- much easier than the Healthy Sleep Habits book.

Heaven is for Real- This book was highly recommended to me by several people.  I had put of reading it for awhile because I was afraid.  Not afraid of what the book would say because I really love books about heaven now that I have my own angel baby living there, but more afraid of the monsoon flood of tears that I knew would overtake me when I read it thinking only of my little Luke.  I was right, there was a monsoon of tears, but they were tears of love and joy not sadness.  Well, okay, there were plenty tears of sadness and loss in there too, but I learned how much healing has taken place as I was able to "recover" and not spend days lost in the abyss of grief the way I feared I would be and had happened before so often in the past.    This was a beautiful book and I loved it.  It infused my heart with a lot of hope and joyful anticipation.

Catching Fire- This was the second book in the Hunger Games series. I enjoyed this one too.  I did not know where or how the author would carry this story forward, but she did a great job.  I was very impressed by her attention to detail and the vivid-ness of her imagination.

Mockingjay- This was the third book in The Hunger Games series.  I did not like this book nearly as much as I did the other two.  It was one I wanted to finish just simply to finish and truth be told, it sat on my night stand 3/4 completed for weeks. I read two other books before I went back and finished this one.  I found myself not caring any longer about the characters and had a really difficult time imagining what was happening and just wanted it to be over.  I'm glad I finished it because the ending was a good one, but I was REALLY close to never knowing how it ended and being okay with that.

Her Mother's Hope- I read half of this one (well 200 pages).  This book was a big one in blogland and was written by the famous author, Francine Rivers.  I have loved so many of her books and there were lots of people who recommended it and I truly believe that they loved it and can see how someone in a different life stage than myself would.  However, I had to stop after about 200 pages because I could not identify with, appreciate or continue reading about a mother who was intentionally tough on her daughter because she saw "weak" characteristics in her.  I know she had her reasons, and the book certainly touches on them, but being the mother of a precious new little girl, I could not understand or identify with that (primary) character, nor did I want to.  Not to sell this book short, it is a beautiful novel written in the saga format, so it covers multiple generations and the character I did not like was the second generation of at least three, so I know there is some that I missed out on.  But my heart was just broken for this little girl and as a mother who is trying not to be consumed with all of the ways a mother can mess up a daughter's thinking about herself, I just had to put it down.

Seal Team Six- Yes, its a book about the Navy SEALs.  I have a bit of an obsession about the SEALs and have for many years now.  Team Six is the elite of the SEALs (who are already elite) and it is about snipers (another secret obsession of mine...and yes, I know it is a dark one!)  But anyways, this was a very interesting book about life as a Navy SEAL.  The guy who wrote it had an E-G-O about himself which I could not stand, but continued reading because the information he was writing about was so interesting to me.  However, I ended up liking him so much more in the end after several events take place to change his heart.  It was a good one that I read really quickly (by my standards this year).

What to Expect the First Year- This is a book that was given to me and I have been reading it slowly as Lliy has grown through her first year.  I'm not finished with it yet, but am 3/4 of the way done.  It has a wonderful month by month through the first year of life, plus all of the little unexpecteds that pop up along the way.

One Thousand Gifts- This is one of my all time favorite books. Seriously.  It is beautifully written, challenging and just plain something I want to have tatooed to my eyelids and always in the forefront of my mind.  It is about practicing gratitude and how when you slow down enough to see the simple, everyday God gifts all around, your heart cannot help but return thanks and grow in faith.  I adore this book and gave it to many people over this year.  Beautiful and oh, so relevant and applicable to literally every moment of life.

High Heels to Tractor Wheels- This is the book I'm almost finished with right now and will be before the New Year arrives.  It is the Pioneer Woman's book she wrote about her love story with her cowboy, the Marlboro Man. It is a hoot, a joy and a lot of fun to read.  I love the Pioneer Woman.  She inspires me to be a better everything.  Read this book only if you are in the mood for a light, clean, fun and funny love story.

And that is my list for 2011!  I'm already excited for my 2012 reading!  I have a stack stacked up that looks really good.  Happy reading everyone!

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Looking for Love

I have always loved that little monologue at the beginning of the movie "Love Actually" where Hugh Grant talks about all of the glimpses of love one can observe at the arrival/departure gate of any busy airport.  Hugs, people racing to embrace, long goodbyes, entheusiastic welcomes. Tears, smiles, laughter, truly is all around.  

Earlier this week, I was feeling a little bit low, so I challenged myself to really open my eyes and look for the love I see all around me in my really look closely and see with the heart.  At first, my eyes sought out the obvious...the love exchanged through smiles between a father and his baby girl, an affectionate shoulder squeeze during church, a warm hug shared between reunited friends...   But as I continued my search into the unearthed layers below the surface, I uncovered a display of Christmas lights outside the window, a warm cup of coffee that I did not prepare, a surprise scrubbed clean sink under the stack of dishes I was washing, a door opened for me, a Christmas card from a friend in the mail, a slice of time at home alone in a quiet house when I needed to just be alone, candlelight while thinking about Luke, the sound of my daughter laughing, the sight of two birds snuggled together on a wire, a tiny hand holding my wrist, a smile just for me... on and on my list of observations of love goes....and fuller and fuller my heart has become as a result.

It is the simplest challenge.  It does not cost a dime and it has tremendously impacted my heart's attitude and perspective on life and this world.  Rather than be bombarded by the negatives of the world and all of the crazy things that people are doing and saying these days, I'm choosing to keep my eyes open and focused on the love that is all around.  Love is a gift we get to both receive and give and when we search high and low for it, it becomes something we also treasure....especially the simplest, little glimpses.  (As an added bonus, this challenge has also helped me in my pursuit of practicing gratitude as well! )

May you always have all of the love you need and if your love tank is feeling a little bit low, I would challenge to open your eyes and heart to seeing and receiving all of the love and messages of love that are already there all around you.  By looking with new eyes and a full heart, I promise you can't help but find some.  Love actually is all around!

May you find more love than your heart can hold.
Blessings everyone!

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Lily is Seven Months Old today!

 Hello Everyone!
I'm seven months old today and I wanted to tell you all I've been up to over the past month.  I've been really busy doing all kinds of new things.  

My biggest news is that I now drink from a bottle!  Last month I would barely take one or two sips, but now I am drinking about 6oz four times a day!  Mom did not think we would ever get to this day, but after a lot of work, I now even look forward to my bottles!  It was a rough couple of weeks, but we made it!  

In the past month, I have also started eating solid foods!  So far, I love everything I have tried.  Sometimes I make a face when I first try something, but then I realize that I love it and I keep on eating.  

 Some foods I especially love so far are my porridge, pears, avacado, squash, peas, mangos, bananas and sweet potatoes.  Every three or four days I get to try something new so that is exciting.  

I'm still working on learning to drink from my sippy cup.  I can do it, but I really enjoy banging it around on my high chair and I LOVE to drop it on the floor.

Although I am not crawling yet, I'm really close. BUT,  I absolutely have my signature scooch down pat! I can scooch myself across the room and get to where I want to go with no problems.  I am sitting by myself with ease these days too.  After awhile, I tend to lean to the side and then I can't sit myself back up but that is okay, its a fast way to get onto my tummy where I can really move around.  

I'm getting better at going from my belly to almost sitting myself back upright too, but I'm not quite there either.  Lukily, my mom and dad are there to help me when I get stuck.  

 Basically, I am officially on the move now,  so mom and dad are having to adjust everything around the house so that I can't get hurt.  I really love to surprise them with how fast I can go and they are always amazed.

Mom says I am a fantastic sleeper.  I nap for about two hours in the morning and again for two hours in the afternoon and then I sleep for about twelve straight hours at night!  I wake up happy, chatty and full of energy each morning!  

I love to read books, play, explore, dance, go for walks and jump in my jumper.  I enjoy being outside, but not being bundled into my car seat.  I enjoyed my first Thanksgiving and am loving listening to Christmas carols and seeing the Christmas lights all around the house.

Mom thinks I am a very peaceful baby.  I don't get upset easily and I love being around people.  This past month I got to spend time with two of my cousins and I also had my first official playdate!  It was fun and my new pal, Phoebe had a cat which was really exciting.

I love my life and I have wonderful days spent with my family.  I can't wait for the adventures that are ahead for me this month!


Thursday, December 1, 2011

Holding onto Gratitude


I hate how easily my heart slides into thoughts or postures of ingratitude.  I despise how simply the thoughts or words "I really need..." or "I wish I had...." ooze from my lips.  I feel like I have been especially guilty of this mindset over the past several weeks too.  I'm not sure what the catalyst was, but somehow, somewhere along the line, my heart just got off track and I have been traveling in the wrong direction ever since.

The simple truth is that I do not need a thing.  I have been richly blessed with more love and friendship than my heart can hold, I am married to an incredible man, we get to be the parents of the most amazing little adventurous gal and we get to call this cozy, safe, comfy place home.  We have everything we could possibly need and then some.  We are healthy.  We are happy.  We are growing and we are challenged.

What is embarrassing is to admit how easily I forget these gifts and how quickly my heart wanders to the "more" or the "if only" side of earthly living.  So today, I am starting over with my stake in the ground the beginning of this beautiful month.  I'm claiming all of these days forward for gratitude.  For presence.  For appreciation.  For intentionality.  That is what this photo makes me think of:  of my cozy, beautiful home, of my beloved family who helped me decorate the tree and of course for my sweet baby girl with whom we get to celebrate her first Christmas this year.

We have already been given so much and the best way I know to hold onto what I have been given is to say 'thank you' to the Giver. ....thankyouthankyouthankyouthankyou.....