Saturday, March 18, 2023

Repost: Hard Doesn't Mean Bad or Wrong

I wrote this back in 2015, and have been thinking about it a lot lately. The last two months... year... five years... seventeen years... have all been difficult. Really difficult. And just as I predicted eight years ago, it has only gotten harder as time has gone on. My younger self honestly had a better outlook on it than my older, much more weary self does, and I needed to re-read these encouraging words. Maybe you do, too, so I'm sharing it again:

I've been chewing on a thought lately that I need to get out. I'm not sure how eloquently I'll get it out, but I'm going to try.

Just because something is hard, doesn't mean that it's bad or wrong.

Actually, I would argue that hard is good, and if you aren't doing anything hard, then you're probably doing something wrong.

I just thought this was a great picture for a post about doing hard things.

Because God doesn't mold us into being more like Christ through the easy stuff. Think back on the times when you grew the most in your faith. For me it has been our first move to a new city after we got married, infertility, Jude's autism, moving back from Moldova, miscarriage and more infertility, Josh struggling to find work, foster adoption... these have been the times that have been so hard, I didn't know if I could go on. The times that have left me sobbing before God and sometimes before a person or two whom I trust. The times that have made me cling to Jesus for dear life, and instead of walk away from him, say with Simon Peter, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God.” (John 6:68)

One of Jude's first therapy sessions. Autism has brought us to our knees probably more than anything else.

But for as desperately, miserably hard as those times have been, they have also been the sweetest times of fellowship with and comfort from God that I have ever known, and I look back on them not with regret or pain, but deep fondness and thankfulness to God for drawing me nearer to him through them. Not just for getting me through them, but for bringing me into them in the first place.

Would I have chosen to go through those times? Not a chance. Does it make me uneasy to think about the times he will bring me into and through in the future? A bit. Because if there's one thing I've learned in my 12 years of walking with God, it's that the trials that strengthen our faith and trust in God are like lifting weights--they get harder and heavier each time. But they are so worth it for the sake of a stronger faith in God, knowing and loving him more deeply, and showing his glory more clearly to those around me.

That M.Div. was worth it, but it was not an easy few years.

Think about Elisabeth Elliot, who just passed on to Heaven. Everyone who is familiar with her story looks at her in awe and wishes for just a small measure of her faith in God. But look at everything she suffered in her life, and how she clung to God through them! Our faith is small not because there was anything special about Elisabeth Elliot from a human perspective, but because we shrink away from anything that might be hard or make us uncomfortable or encroach on our American Dream, and by the grace of God she didn't. There is a reason Paul wrote to us in Romans:
Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings,
knowing that suffering produces endurance,
and endurance produces character,
and character produces hope,
and hope does not put us to shame,
because God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us. (Romans 5:3-5 ESV, emphasis mine)
We REJOICE in our sufferings!

So I'm learning to lean in to the hard. Not necessarily to go looking for it, but to embrace it when it comes or when God calls us into a path that we know will be hard. Because I don't want a complacent life where I never grow more into the image of Christ. I don't want an easy life that even an unbeliever could live, where God's power, love, comfort, and eternal worth aren't put on display for his glory. I want to know him and make him known through the hard times.

Don't believe the lie that hard things are bad.

If you feel God calling you to do something that will be hard, don't shrink from it. It could be the best thing you've ever done.

And the hard thing you're going through may be really awful right now, but if you hold fast to God, someday you will look back on it with thanulness when you remember the depth of comfort and faith that met you there.
For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. (Romans 8:18 ESV)

Tuesday, November 15, 2022

It Must Be Nice to Have a House Helper

 The issue of having a house helper is one that causes embarrassment and frustration for many missionaries. It feels extravagant to have a maid, especially if she works full-time, as is the case for many missionaries in developing countries. Some missionaries stalwartly refuse to have house help, and others hide their helper's existence from friends and supporters. Those of us who do share that we have a house helper have inevitably gotten the comment at some point that, "it must be nice," implying that we're living it up on the mission field with our maids and easy lives. And while, yes, it is admittedly pretty nice to not have to clean toilets, there's so much more to understand about why most missionaries have house helpers.

First of all, you have house helpers too, yours just aren't human. Your house helpers are the obvious ones like your dishwashers, clothes dryers, microwaves, and robot vacuums. And they're also less obvious ones, like:

1. Reliable water and electricity that you never have to think about, much less stress about things like collecting rain water to fill toilets, spending what feels like half your life on the phone with the electric company, making sure you don't use certain appliances when you're on solar backup for half of every day, and constantly checking the water tank to see if you have enough water to shower that day.

2. Central heating and air so you don't have to keep your windows open all the time, which leaves your entire house covered in dust and bugs, and living in a generally cleaner environment where the streets are paved and grass holds the dirt in place so your house doesn't get as dirty, dusty, and muddy. My entire house in Malawi has to be swept and mopped every single day, and it is still never clean. I never go outside barefoot, and yet my feet are always dirty just from being barefoot inside the house.

3. Quick, easy meal options, whether that is Chick-fil-A, doordash, or canned spaghetti sauce from the grocery store. Most missionaries live in places with few, if any, fast or convenience food options and cook everything from scratch, which takes a lot of time. House helpers often either help with some of the meal prep and cooking, or their assistance with other household tasks frees up the missionary to do all this cooking.

4. Family, friends, or reliable childcare. Many house helpers of missionaries with small kids also work as a sort of nanny and help with the kids. When there are no other reliable childcare options where you live, this help is invaluable.

5. One-stop shopping that is easy to drive to and is in a language you understand. Some house helpers help with shopping because it is easier for a local to navigate the markets and shops. In the markets, foreigners are often charged what I call the "azungu price," or the foreigner price, because in many cultures it is perfectly normal to charge someone more if you think they are able to pay more. Even if the missionary does their own shopping, it takes much longer and is often more stressful than shopping in your own culture.

6. Generally living in a culture that is your own and doesn't require much thought to navigate. You wouldn't believe the amount of time and mental energy that is consumed just from living every day in a different culture. Traditions, expectations, presuppositions, norms, and taboos are all different from what you know, and can be a minefield to navigate. This gets exhausting.

And while a house helper is often invaluable to relieving much of the stress listed above, they also come with some of their own stresses. Having someone in your house all the time is pretty awkward. Many personality types feel unable to relax in their own home until the helper leaves for the day. And as you can imagine would happen with someone in your house all the time and helping with your kids, house helpers often become part of the family. This is a beautiful thing, but it also means that their struggles become your struggles. Yes, you pay them a good wage, but when a child is sick, an uncle dies, fertilizer needs to be bought, or a roof needs to be replaced, they come to you for help. 

You're also an employer, a role that most missionaries have never had experience with before and don't particularly enjoy. You have to deal with them not showing up for work, managing what they're expected to do, having hard conversations when they aren't doing what they should, and all of the things a boss or HR person would usually deal with.

So the next time you hear a missionary mention their house helper and you're tempted to think, "it must be nice," remember that it isn't as simple as it may seem. Do we love our overseas lives and the work we do? Absolutely! Are we complaining about any of it? Not at all. Are we living in luxury with our maids and easy lives? Also not at all.

Wednesday, December 29, 2021

My Top Books of 2021

 I have to admit, this has been a very unimpressive year of book reading for me. In past years, I've read as many as 40-50 books in a year, and this year I only managed 21. I blame it on a combination of a really hard year in multiple ways that left me without much heart to read, and my newfound love of learning Greek on Duolingo. I now spend a good chunk of the time I would have spent reading on Duolingo instead, and I don't think that's a bad thing. I'm really proud of how far I've come with my Greek in the past few months!

I realize that even though this is a low year compared to others, it's still 21 more books per year than I was reading before I decided to resume reading for pleasure a few years ago! And that's still great! Honestly, any reading is better than no reading. I still enjoy doing most of my reading via audiobooks while I'm running, doing laundry, driving, or showering.

I also read to the kids every night at bedtime, alternating between the boys and the girls (Josh does too, so one of us reads in each kids' room each night). I spent almost the entire year reading through The Green Ember series with the boys, and have just recently started a different book that will be on my 2022 list. I read more grown-up books with the girls; this year we covered Fahrenheit 451, The Little Prince, Seabiscuit, and we're about halfway through with a biography of C.S. Lewis. But this year the girls and I have started frequently having "chat nights" instead of reading, so we haven't gotten through as many books together as we have in the past. It's totally worth it, though.

So without further ado, here are my top five books of 2021:

Becoming Elisabeth Elliot by Ellen Vaughn: This is a fantastic biography of a woman I have long admired. What I loved most about it was that it didn't just show her as the perfect missionary woman that most of us think she was, but it also showed her struggles. It was profoundly encouraging to me as a missionary, but would be a great read for anyone.

The Spy and The Traitor: The Greatest Espionage Story of the Cold War by Ben Macintyre. This is a true story of a cold war era spy, and it was really hard to put down! I loved it even more knowing that it was all true.

Destiny of the Republic: A Tale of Madness, Medicine and the Murder of a President by Candice Millard. I admit I knew pretty much nothing about President Garfield before reading this book. It was really interesting to learn about him as a person, his presidency, and all of the other well-known people whose lives intersected with his.

The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma by Bessel Van Der Kolk, M.D. This is one of the most highly recommended books for foster and adoptive parents, and I honestly have no excuse as to why it's taken me this long into adoptive parenting to read it. I was surprised to find that it is really helpful for so much more than just adoptive parents, and the majority of his work has been with war veterans or people who have experience some other kind of trauma. Highly recommend.

Me, Myself, & Bob: A True Story About Dreams, God, and Talking Vegetables by Phil Vischer. I enjoyed this book so much. Our family has been VeggieTales fans for over a decade, and it was fascinating to read this history behind our favorite vegetables. Did you know that Phil was a pioneer in the computer animation field? Phil is also really funny, and I found myself laughing out loud quite a bit. 

Honorable mention:

The Green Ember series by S.D. Smith. I'm just including the whole series as one "book." I read this series to the boys at bedtime this year, and they are just so good. Read them with your kids. You will enjoy them as much as your kids will, I promise.

Books I didn't like:

The Oregon Trail by Francis Parkman. It's the actual journals of someone who crossed the Oregon Trail, which I thought I would love, having grown up playing the iconic game in elementary school. But it was honestly just so boring.

That Sounds Fun by Annie F. Downs. I wanted to love this book. We are both enneagram 7's, and I was at a point where I felt like I needed a reminder of how to find the fun in life. If you're familiar with Annie Downs, you probably know that she got famous from hosting a podcast. I just cannot for the life of me understand how this happened, because I found her voice so difficult to listen to that it was honestly really hard for me to persevere with this audiobook. Also each chapter is just some story about a thing that happened to her, and then a lesson that she learned from it. That was interesting for about the first 5 chapters, but after that it started to get redundant and boring.

The Dearly Beloved by Cara Wall. This book is well-written and good as fiction books go, but it's about two men who are pastors, and the overall message of the book is just so unfulfilling. I feel like the main takeaway from it is the profound emptiness of liberal "Christianity" (I put it in quotes because, although we call it Christianity, there was no Christ at all, one of the pastors didn't even believe in God). The story lines of infertility and learning to cope with having a severely autistic child obviously hit very close to home for me, and were moving and well-described. And then it ended so abruptly, still feeling so empty from a Christ-less hopeless so-called faith. I am so glad that true Christianity is so much more than how it is described in this book. I'm so thankful for the hope and peace Christ offers us.

Now here's the full list of everything I read this year, organized by category: 

Nonfiction - Biography

Becoming Elisabeth Elliot by Ellen Vaughn
Me, Myself, & Bob by Phil Vischer
The Oregon Trail by Francis Parkman
Destiny of the Republic by Candice Millard
That Sounds Fun by Annie F. Downs
The Spy and The Traitor by Ben Macintyre
Dolly Parton Songteller by Dolly Parton
Seabiscuit by Laura Hillenbrand
Boone by Robert Morgan

Nonfiction - Other

Brainstorm by Daniel Siegel
The Hidden Life of Trees by Peter Wohlleben
The Body Keeps the Score Bessel Van Der Kolk, M.D.
The Bible - I read through the Bible this year using a plan on YouVersion called "Reading God's Story: One-Year Chronological Plan."

Fiction - Adult

The Dearly Beloved by Cara Wall
Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury
Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea by Jules Verne

Fiction - Kids

The Green Ember by S.D. Smith
Ember Falls by S.D. Smith
Ember Rising by S.D. Smith
Ember's End by S.D. Smith
The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

Tuesday, September 14, 2021

My Favorite Books of 2020!

 I let life get in the way of writing about my favorite books of 2020 around the new year like I've done for the past few years. But I've been thinking about it, and not only do I love seeing what books other people are reading and enjoying, but I also love having the record of what I've read to look back on. So here we are in September 2021, talking about my favorite books of 2020. Better late than never, right?

You can see from my list that I read through a few series of books in 2020. I finished the Harry Potter books for only the second time in my life, listening to them on Audible this time. The reader is fantastic, and I highly recommend the audio books! I read The Growly Books series to the boys at bedtime, which is a sweet adventure story that was perfect for their ages. And the girls and I read the Wingfeather Saga books together, which we LOVED.

For a few years now, I've tried to be intentional about reading African and African-American authors. In 2020 that included Alan Paton, Lecrae, Layla F. Saad, Jemar Tisby, and Solomon Northup.

This was a REALLY difficult year to pick a top five, and I only have two least favorites this time. I read a lot of really good books this year!

Now on to my top five:

Cry, the Beloved Country by Alan Paton

 Educated by Tara Westover

 My Family and Other Animals by Gerald Durrell

 12 Years a Slave by Solomon Northup

 The Hiding Place by Corrie Ten Boom

And my least favorite:

Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen
The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment by Jeremiah Burroughs

Here's the whole list by genre:

*A star means it is an honorable mention and really, really good.

Fiction- Children:

North or Be Eaten by Andrew Peterson*
The Monster in the Hollows by Andrew Peterson*
The Warden and the Wolf King by Andrew Peterson*
Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire by JK Rowling*
Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix by JK Rowling*
Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince by JK Rowling*
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by JK Rowling*
The Growly Books: Widewater by Philip & Erin Ulrich
The Growly Books: Morning by Philip & Erin Ulrich
The Growly Books: Haven by Philip & Erin Ulrich
The Battle for Castle Cockatrice by Gerald Durrell

Fiction- Adult:

Cry, The Beloved Country by Alan Paton
Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen
Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens*
The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne
The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek by Kim Michele Richardson
A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens*
Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte*
Animal Farm by George Orwell
The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson

Nonfiction- Biography:

Unashamed by Lecrae*
Call the Midwife by Jenifer Worth*
The Real Sherlock by Lucinda Hawksley
Educated by Tara Westover*
12 Years a Slave by Solomon Northup
My Family and Other Animals by Gerald Durrell
The Hiding Place by Corrie Ten Boom

Nonfiction- History

Caffeine by Michael Pollan
The Mother Tongue by Bill Bryson*
The Lion in the Living Room by Abigail Tucker*
The Color of Compromise by Jemar Tisby*
Stories From Wales by Gwyn Jones

Nonfiction- Christian

Liturgy of the Ordinary by Tish Harrison Warren
The Ragamuffin Gospel by Brennan Manning
The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment by Jeremiah Burroughs
Old Story New by Marty Machowski
The Bible, Biblical Storyline Reading Plan by BibleProject on Youversion app

Nonfiction- Other

Love Me, Feed Me by Dr. Katja Rowell
A Disease Called Fatigue by Dr. Cecile Jadin
Me and White Supremacy by Layla F. Saad

Please let me know what your recent favorites have been, I'm always looking for new good books to read! 

If you want more lists, you can also check out:

My 2019 Book List

My Kids' 2018 Book Lists

My 2018 Book List

My Kids' 2017 Book Lists

My Girls' 2016 Book Lists

My Girls' 2015 Book Lists

I didn't have the kids do their list the last two years, but I love hearing about their favorite books each year, so I hope to remember to make that happen for 2021.

Wednesday, January 1, 2020

My Top Books of 2019

Fifty-five books! Wow! Last year was my first year reading again after decades of not making time, and I read 40. This year I hit 55! I don’t set goals, that usually stresses me out and makes me want to run away from reading. I just read what and when I want.

What I Read
For 2019, I continued (and solidified my love of) reading a lot classics. I’m enjoying both adult classics and reading children’s classics to the kids at bedtime. There is a reason that most classics are classics, and it’s because they’re really, really good (with a few exceptions). As I’ve written in one of my “didn’t like” reviews, I can really feel that reading so much truly good literature has refined my tastes so that I don’t care for mediocre stuff. And really, life’s too short to read mediocre writing when there are so many amazing books out there.

I’ve also continued to look for books by African or African American authors. The Beautiful Struggle, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind, The Last Resort, Becoming, Buried Beneath the Baobab Tree, and The Warmth of Other Suns were all by such authors.

I also LOVE biographies and autobiographies.

When I Read
I get asked often how I make time for reading. I do most of my reading with Audible while I’m doing laundry, gardening, driving alone, showering, or any other chance I get. I love listening to books when I'm occupied with an easy task where my mind would be otherwise fairly idle. I mostly read Kindle books on my phone when I’m somewhere with my phone and want to do something more productive than scrolling Instagram, like waiting in line at the grocery store, bank, etc. And I read physical books mostly during afternoon rest time or in the evenings.

Let's cut to the chase! Here are my top 5 books of 2019, followed by 5 I didn't like:

Top Five
#1. The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck
Unlike a lot of people, I was never made to read this book in high school or college. I only knew that it was a classic, and in my drive to read more classics, pulled it off the shelf. Josh, who did read it in high school, warned me that I wouldn’t like it. As I read, I would comment how much I was enjoying it, and he would say, “Don’t worry, you won’t by the end.” But I got to the end and loved every moment of it! Steinbeck is a masterful writer. Even the end (which if you’ve read it, you understand) is a bit odd but I thought so redemptive for her.

#2. The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah
This was possibly the most emotionally engaging book I’ve ever read. The whole book kept me spellbound and emotionally on-edge, and it left me completely undone at the end. On top of that, as with The Grapes of Wrath, I learned a viewpoint from history that I hadn’t previously considered.

#3. Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens
I listened to this one on Audible, and really loved it. It took a chapter or two for my ears to adjust to Dickens’s style, which I can only describe as a delectable treat for the ears. I’ve really loved all the Dickens books Ive read.

#4. The Coddling of the American Mind by Greg Lukianoff and Jonathan Haidt
I feel like this book should be required reading for parents of tweens/teens, educators from middle school through college, and late high school/college students.

#5. The Last Resort by Douglas Rogers
I don’t even remember how I came across this book, but it is written by a white Zimbabwean who grew up there and his parents still live there. The destruction that Mugabe caused to his own country as president is devastating, and Rogers is an excellent writer who captured the ups and downs of life as a white Zimbabwean under Mugabe’s regime through the lens of his parents’ backpackers lodge. I couldn’t put it down.

Five I Didn’t Like
#5. Farming Grace by Paula Scott
I got this for free or cheap on kindle and thought it looked worth a try. It is one woman’s true testimony of coming to adulthood and then to faith, and how God saved her, her husband, and their marriage over the course of several years. It’s a great story of lives drastically changed by the Gospel, and there aren’t glaring grammatical issues or anything, but it just isn’t great writing. It reads more like a blog than a novel. I feel a bit bad putting this one on my “didn’t like” list, cause it honestly isn’t terrible, but every time I thought about books I didn’t care for this year, this one came to mind.

#4. The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien
It feels a bit like heresy to put this one on my “didn’t like” list, but I have to be honest. I just really didn’t care for The Hobbit. I’m told the Lord of the Rings books are better than this one, but after reading it, I don’t have much of a taste in my mouth for more Tolkien.

#3. Black Beauty by Anna Sewell
Have I ever read a more boring, didactic book in my life? I can’t remember one. This is another one I read to the girls, and we didn’t enjoy it at all. The girls and I had a few duds this year. It’s one long sermon about why people should treat horses better, which I guess I can see the need for back in its day when horses were used for transportation and farming, but have mercy. This was so boring.

#2. The Story of Doctor Dolittle by Hugh Lofting
The idea of a doctor who can talk to animals seemed right up my girls’ alley, and the 90’s Eddie Murphy movie Doctor Dolittle was so cute, that the girls and I thought we’d enjoy this one. Wrong. It was terrible, and worst of all racist. The author even used two particularly terrible racist words that I had to stop and explain that they were very not ok words.

#1. The Remarkable Journey of Coyote Sunrise by Dan Gemeinhart
The only book this year that was so bad that I deliberately stopped reading about 2/3 of the way through. This is a new tween/teen book that gets glowing Amazon reviews, so I decided to read it with the girls at bedtime. First of all, I hate kids books that are written in first person in an “authentic voice” that’s full of incorrect grammar. I believe that an important part of reading is for kids to learn good writing and grammar, and books like this just reinforce what is incorrect. Second, it's just booooooring. Third, the whole premise of the book is that Coyote, a teen, thinks she's smarter and knows better than her dad and so she’s justified in lying to him multiple times. (Granted, most teens probably think this, but they don't need books to reinforce the idea.) The first lie never got so much as a, "you shouldn't have lied to me," from her dad, so I strongly doubt the second big one did either. Her dad doesn't actually parent her at all. She makes a lot of really stupid choices because she’s supposedly so street smart, which her dad of course never corrects, and I would actually have to stop reading and explain to my girls why things she did were terrible ideas and dangerous things to do. The last straw for us was when they picked up a runaway girl who had gotten kicked out of her parents’ home for being gay, and Coyote muses about how it doesn't matter who you love.

The Full List by Genre
I kind of want to say a little something about each of these, since most of them feel like good friends that I spent a lot of time with over the past year. But for the sake of brevity, I'll just give a list.
Orange font = I listened to it on Audible
* = Strong contenders for Top 5, it was a tough call to narrow it down to just 5

Fiction- Adult Classics

Fiction- Children’s Classics

Fiction- Historical

Fiction- Other

Nonfiction- Self Help

Nonfiction- Biography/Autobiography

Nonfiction- History

Nonfiction- Poetry

Friday, December 28, 2018

Stacy Leigh's 2018 Book List!

40 books!! I can’t tell you how excited I am to actually have a list of 40 books that I read this year! (If Josh's dissertation counts, then 41, because I read and edited that whole 200+ page beast this year, too.) I was a voracious reader as a kid, but as I got older school and life kind of killed my love of reading. I do remember getting absorbed in a great book here and there over the years, but it wasn’t in any way consistent.

Last fall, I attended a Wild + Free homeschool conference (which I HIGHLY recommend to my homeschooling friends), and was challenged there to read classic literature for myself. It’s been amazing. I mean, of course they're going to be good--classics are classics for a reason, right? (One BIG exception being my least favorite book of the year, which I discuss below.) My reading picked up even more when we moved to Malawi in July, because here we have limited internet and a house helper who does all of my cleaning (so I actually have some down time).

Moving to Africa this year, I also wanted to intentionally read more African and African-American literature. Homegoing, The Woman Next Door, Swing, A Mighty Long Way, and Born a Crime all fit into this category. King Leopold’s Ghost, Uncle Tom’s Cabin, The Daring Heart of David Livingstone, and Fear on Every Side, although not written by black authors, also deal with the history of Africans and African-Americans. I’m eager to continue learning more about this great continent where I am a guest, and the people from here, in 2019.

Josh and I have for several years read at night to the kids before bed. We take turns reading to the boys and girls every other night, so we both always have a different book going with each room. We’ve been intentional about reading mostly classic children’s literature to them, and it has been fun for me to experience these books with them, especially since I didn’t read most of them as a kid myself.

I’ve read the suggestion several times that one should always have at least 3 books that you are reading at the same time, but that just doesn’t work well for me… at least not in the conventional sense of having 3+ physical books stacked up on my nightstand or end table. 

I have, however, realized that I generally do have 5 books going at the same time, but they are all in different ways. I always have an Audible audiobook that I listen to as I drive, fold laundry, or do other things where my hands are occupied but my mind is less so. I was generously given a gently used Kindle just before we moved here, and I like to always have a book going on it, generally out in the living room. I keep a physical book by the bed for reading in the evenings, and, as I said earlier, I always have a book that I’m reading with the boys and one with the girls. I hope that helps someone who may be struggling with how to read multiple books at a time.

I debated for a long time how to share the books I’ve read this year. Should I just do a top 5? Should I say something about each of them? Should I categorize them by genre, in order of how much I liked them, or some other way? I decided I would share a bit about my top 5, and then give a list of books categorized by how I read them. I hope you enjoy.

#1. Frankenstein by Mary Shelley
Hands-down my favorite book of the year. If you’ve never read it, it isn’t anything like you expect. It was a gripping warning about taking science too far in our own arrogance, which is perhaps even more applicable today than ever.

#2. Uncle Tom’s Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe
I listened to this one on Audible, and could NOT stop. It was incredible. I’ve heard that the way the characters’ accents are written can make reading it difficult, but listening to it was fantastic.

#3. Are My Kids on Track by Sissy Goff
It is impossible for me to exaggerate how helpful this book was for parenting. It walks parents through the emotional, social, and spiritual milestones that all kids need to reach in order to be healthy, well-functioning adults, and how to help them reach them. This is a book I will turn to again and again as the kids grow, and one I highly recommend having a physical copy of for easy reference.

I picked this up on a whim at the gift shop of Little Rock Central High School when we stopped there this summer, and I am so glad I did. I think many of us who grew up in predominately white communities have a lot of gaps in our education and understanding of the civil rights movement. I had never heard of what happened at Little Rock Central High School, but I’m so thankful that Josh insisted we stop when passing through Little Rock. The book is not only educational and eye-opening, but it is well-written and hard to put down.

Come on, it’s Harry Potter. The girls and I spent 2 years reading through the whole series at bedtime, and loved every minute of it. We really, really struggled to pick a new book when we finished this, and halfway considered just starting the series over from the beginning again.

And here are a few I didn’t care for:

#3. Little House in the Big Woods by Laura Ingalls Wilder
I’m sorry to all of the LIW fans, but I read this book to the boys and could hardly stand it (although JJ seemed to enjoy it, so it was worth it). The lengthy descriptions of how things were done or made dragged on forever and were so boring. We persevered with the series into Farmer Boy, and thankfully it was much more enjoyable.

#2. All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr
This is a WWII story that has a lot of interesting elements, but it was just sloooowww. It doesn’t help that I accidentally had my Audible set to half speed for the first half of the book. Even so, the plot moved slowly and resolved unsatisfactorily.

#1. Lord of the Flies by William Golding
I blame Josh for this one. He said he read it in high school, but didn’t remember much about it except that a plane full of boys crashes on a deserted island and they have adventures. I knew it was a classic, and thought it sounded like a fun read with the girls. I have never hated a book so much in my life, and probably wouldn’t have finished it if I hadn’t been reading it aloud to the girls. I get that it was an illustration of the darkness of human nature, but it was horrifying to read. And it bothered me that it never told where the boys were originally coming from or going to or how it was possible that ALL the adults were killed in the crash but none of the kids.

Here’s the whole list:

(I specify the reader on these because sometimes there are multiple versions, and the reader can really make or break a book.)
The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum, read by Anne Hathaway
Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen, read by Rosamund Pike
Great Expectations by Charles Dickens, read by Simon Prebble
Give Them Grace by Elise Fitzpatrick, read by Tavia Gilbert
Hands Free Mama by Rachel Macy Stafford, read by Jaimee Draper
Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi, read by Dominic Hoffman
All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr, read by Zach Appelman
King Leopold’s Ghost by Adam Hochschild, read by Geoffrey Howard
The Tech-Wise Family by Andy Crouch, read by the author
Uncle Tom’s Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe, read by Mary Sarah
Crossing the Borders of Time by Leslie Maitland, read by the author

(A great resource for finding good deals on kindle books is's daily deals emails. You tell it which literary categories you are interested in, and it only sends you suggestions from your categories.)
The Last Midwife by Sandra Dallas
Swing by Alexander Kwame

Physical Book
Fear on Every Side by Jonathan Newell (bought here in Malawi and isn't on Amazon)
Frankenstein by Mary Shelley
The Memory of Old Jack by Wendell Berry
The Woman Next Door by Yewande Omotoso
Are My Kids on Track? by Sissy Goff
The Mother-Daughter Book Club by Heather Vogel Frederick
The Autism Revolution by Martha Herbert

Read to Kids
Peter Pan by JM Barrie
Matilda by Roald Dahl
Lord of the Flies by William Golding
Long Story Short by Marty Machowski
Heidi by Johanna Spyri
Farmer Boy by Laura Ingalls Wilder
Winnie-the-Pooh by A.A. Milne
Little House in the Big Woods by Laura Ingalls Wilder
The BFG by Roald Dahl

Sunday, November 19, 2017

My First Stitch Fix

My mom will attest to the fact that I do NOT enjoy shopping for clothes for myself. I get tired, grumpy, overwhelmed, and frustrated very quickly, and almost always end up leaving empty-handed.

I have a pretty solid idea of styles that I don't like, but am bad at finding things that I actually do like. This leads me to always gravitate toward the same things-- solid colored tees and cardigans. But a wardrobe cannot survive on solid colored tees and cardigans alone.

To add to how bad I am at shopping, I have 5 kids, a Ph.D. dissertation-writing husband, and a busy schedule. Even if I wanted to go shopping, when would I??

Out with my mom, who loves shopping. I'm smiling because we were eating instead of shopping.
Also because we were together. :)

My closet is simple and sparse by American standards (I completely acknowledge my first-world perspective here), and as the temperatures have cooled off I've found that I could really use just a few new well-selected pieces to get me through the fall, winter, and spring.

So after a year or more of hearing about Stitch Fix here and there, I finally convinced myself (and, more surprisingly, my husband) that it was worth it to try a couple of times. Even though I chose the lowest price range (yes, price range is an option), I knew it would be more per piece than I'm used to spending on the Old Navy and Target clearance racks, but we both agreed that it was worth it to save me the time and frustration of actually having to GO shopping and try to pick out clothes myself.

If you haven't heard of Stitch Fix, you tell them your sizes and all about what you like and don't like, and a real person picks out 5 pieces of clothing to send to you to try on. If you like it, you keep it. If you don't like it, you send it back. There's a $20 styling fee each time, but it applies toward anything you buy, so it's basically a free service.

I filled out a style profile on their website, created a pinterest board to show my stylist what I did and didn't like, ordered my fix, and waited, feeling equal parts excited and apprehensive about whether or not I would actually like anything they sent.

To my delight, I loved everything she sent!! I think the pinterest board and the comments I made there really helped her get a sense of what I would like, and I could tell from her note that she had really read them.

The first thing I got was a super cute polka dot dress. It was more flattering in person than this picture does justice to. In fact, the first thing Josh said when I came out in it was, "That is INCREDIBLY flattering." Unfortunately I wasn't a huge fan of the sweetheart neckline, so back it went.

Second, I got this great 3/4 sleeve top with a fun floral print on the back. It was definitely a keeper!

This is the front of the same shirt, but I'll use this pic to mention the sweet jeans she sent. They were short enough for me without having to roll them up! They were so soft and looked amazing on me. Or in my husband's words, a little TOO amazing. They fit great in the waist and hips, but were (intentionally) so tight in the butt and legs that they were not quite modest enough for me. So sad. I'm hopeful that my next box will have the perfect pair of jeans in it, because I could really use some.

This sleeveless top was so cute, and flowy. I really loved it, but sent it back because I had to wear a tank under it, and I don't like having to layer in the heat of the summer.

Lastly was this soft, beautiful, jewel-toned cardigan that paired perfectly with every single other piece she sent. I absolutely would have kept it if the sleeves hadn't been too long for my midget arms.

So even though I only wound up keeping one piece from my first fix, I am just delighted with it overall because I feel like she really got me. And I didn't even have to leave my house! And when you send things back, you can go online and make notes about why they didn't work for you, so your stylist learns more about your preferences the longer you continue to get fixes.

I hesitated to share this, and have sat on the idea of posting it for a few weeks, but ultimately decided to share it because I've mentioned it to a few friends who also loved the idea of a personal stylist and not having to leave home to shop. 

If you'd like to try Stitch Fix, you can waive the styling fee on your first fix (so if you don't like anything, you can send it all back and not be out anything) by clicking on these green words right here. If you do choose to try it and use my link, I get a little bit of a referral credit, and you can think of it as an easy way of supporting one of your favorite missionaries. :)