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

  • Emma by Jane Austen
  • The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck
  • Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens
  • Dracula by Bram Stoker
  • Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte*
  • Brave New World by Aldous Huxley
  • The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien
  • A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens*


Fiction- Children’s Classics

  • The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis
  • Prince Caspian by C.S. Lewis
  • The Voyage of the Dawn Treader by C.S. Lewis
  • The Horse and His Boy by C.S. Lewis
  • The Silver Chair by C.S. Lewis
  • The Magician’s Nephew by C.S. Lewis
  • The Last Battle by C.S. Lewis
  • The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett
  • Black Beauty by Anna Sewell
  • A Wrinkle in Time by Madeline L’Engle
  • The Story of Doctor Dolittle by Hugh Lofting
  • Little Women by Louisa May Alcott


Fiction- Historical

  • The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah
  • Buried Beneath the Baobab Tree by Adaobi Tricia Nwaubani


Fiction- Other

  • The Eagle Tree by Ned Hayes*
  • The Remarkable Journey of Coyote Sunrise by Dan Gemeinhart
  • On the Edge of the Dark Sea of Darkness by Andrew Peterson
  • Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by J.K. Rowling
  • Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets by J.K. Rowling
  • Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban by J.K. Rowling
  • The Growly Books: Begin by Philip and Erin Ulrich


Nonfiction- Self Help

  • The Road Back to You by Ian Morgan Cron*
  • The Parent’s Roadmap to Autism by Dr. Emily Gutierrez and Jana Roso
  • How to Think by Alan Jacobs*
  • The Yes Brain by Daniel Siegel and Tina Payne Bryson
  • African Friends and Money Matters by David Maranz
  • The Gospel and Personal Evangelism by Mark Dever
  • The Symphony of Reflexes by Bonnie Brandes
  • The Coddling of the American Mind by Greg Lukianoff and Jonathan Haidt
  • Something Needs to Change by David Platt
  • The Back Door to Your Teen’s Heart by Melissa Trevathan and Sissy Goff
  • The Common Rule by Justin Whitmel Earley


Nonfiction- Biography/Autobiography

  • The Beautiful Struggle by Ta-Nehisi Coates
  • I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou
  • The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind by William Kamkwamba
  • Letters from Amelia by Jean Backus
  • The Last Resort by Douglas Rogers
  • Notorious RBG by Irin Carmon and Shana Knizhnik 
  • Becoming by Michelle Obama*
  • C.S. Lewis: A Life by Alister McGrath
  • Saint Joan of Ark: A Life Inspired by Wyatt North
  • My Lost Family by Danny Ben-Moshe
  • Farming Grace by Paula Scott


Nonfiction- History

  • These Truths by Jill Lepore
  • The Warmth of Other Suns by Isabel Wilkerson
  • Mayflower by Nathaniel Philbrick


Nonfiction- Poetry

  • Winter Hours by Mary Oliver

Wednesday, March 13, 2019

8 Months in Malawi

Wow, we have lived here for 8 months now! I'd intended to do a post at the 6 month mark, but... life. So much has happened since we moved here, that it's hard to even know where to start. It's been an exhausting and good 8 months.


We have added 3 kittens to our family! We got Neville and Luna from the SPCA in Blantyre. Josh agreed to get ONE cat, and he really wanted an orange one. Well when we got there, there were only these two little babies. The vet told us that they were turned in together after the rest of their litter had been killed. I just couldn't separate them, so we walked out with 2!


 The very next week tiny, dirty, malnourished Ginny found us on a walk to get Abe from preschool. Seriously, I turned around and she was following JJ down the dirt road! There was no way I could leave her there. I grew up with outside cats, and to me life just feels complete with a soft, purring kitty (or 3) in my lap. The kids all love them, and Rey loves them even more. A bit too much, really. They are all 3 so sweet and chill and tolerant of all of the love.


We survived our first hot and dry season (September, October, November), and it wasn't too bad, though I'm told that it was more mild than usual. We beat the heat at swim lessons once a week with a lot of our homeschool friends, and the kids have gotten to be such good swimmers in a short time. We're now at the end of rainy season, and the rains are coming less and less lately. The rains have brought cooler temperatures and lower humidity, too, which have been lovely. Everything is so green and lush, and we have loved rainy season so much!


This time of year, the weather is just perfect. Highs are usually somewhere in the 70's, sometimes in the lower 80's and warm, and sometimes only in the upper 60's and quite chilly. And on that note, lots of people roll their eyes and laugh when I say that it's in the 60's and we are freezing, but think of it this way: We have no heat in our house. If it got down to the mid-50's at night and only the upper 60's in the day time inside your house, you'd be cold too!


Speaking of seasons, birthday season is winding down around here. Taylah turned 9 in December, Haylee turned 11 and I turned 35 in January, Jude turned 10 in February, JJ turned 7 at the beginning of this month, and next month Abe will be 3 and Josh will be 33. Phew!


We're in our second semester of homeschooling, and it's going really well. Last semester we mostly stuck to the 3 R's, so this semester we felt ready to add a few other subjects: history, science, and literature. For those of you who are interested, for language arts, handwriting, history, and science we are using The Good and The Beautiful, and we all really like it a lot. The kids are all doing math online, the girls using Teaching Textbooks and the boys using Mathseeds, and let me tell you that online math has been the single most life-changing thing we've ever done for our homeschooling. No more meltdowns! They are actually excited to do math now! It's amazing! We got literature kits from Veritas Press, which is basically just a bunch of books and comprehension guides. It's a great thing for H, T, and JJ because they are all above-average readers, but this is helping their comprehension and critical thinking instead of being able to just blow through books without really thinking about them. We are also loving Keyboarding Without Tears.


In ministry, God has been so faithful to us. It's obvious that Satan is anxious about all of the amazing things God is doing here, because he's really been fighting, but God has been so good. I'm reminded of 2 Corinthians 4:8-9, "We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed." We are exhausted, but encouraged. God is doing big things here, and sustaining us with his grace. Please continue to pray for our family, team, mission, and church here as much as you can. We can really feel the effects of your prayers.

Friday, January 25, 2019

Things I Will Miss About This Stage

I'm going to be honest, this stage of parenting that we are currently in--with 5 kids from ages 11 to 2--is really exhausting. The combination of tween hormones, severe autism, sibling dynamics, and the terrible twos all at the same time leaves us falling into bed completely exhausted around 8:30pm every night.



In the midst of all of this, a week or so ago I got to where I began to ask myself what there was about this stage of life that I was supposed to miss when they grow up. Like seriously, it is so hard that I couldn't imagine missing any of it. I let myself wallow in that sentiment for a day or two before I realized that this wasn't going to get any easier, so I needed a change of attitude if we were all going to survive.



That's when I started making a simple list of things I could think of that I really would miss about this stage:

  • Them wanting to snuggle up next to me
  • JJ bringing me flowers
  • Sneak attack hugs and kisses
  • Sweet mispronounced words
  • Them being little and smelling sweet
  • Haylee doing the dishes
  • The way JJ and Abe love the cats
  • Reading with them at bedtime
  • The girls getting along so well
  • Drawings and coloring sheets that say, "To: Mama and Daddy"
  • Strings tucked into underwear as pretend tails
  • The girls' drawings of made-up families and stories they write about them
  • Abe saying, "I want ta _________ (sit, read, snuggle, etc) wif youuuu."
  • Jude pressing his smooth face against mine
  • Them wanting to be close to me
  • JJ's backwards shirts and shirts tucked into his underwear
  • Abe saying, "Mama yook!" (look)
  • Hearing the girls practicing playing their instruments






I made it to about the 3rd or 4th item on that list before I was sobbing uncontrollably. I've been keeping a running list on my phone ever since that day, and it has been such a good way for me to choose to notice the sweet things about my kids at their current ages.

This exercise was the perfect reminder of how precious this fleeting time of their childhood is. And as if I needed even more reminders to cherish this sweet and exhausting time of life, I started working on a photo book that took me back through the troves of old pictures of them. Seeing before my eyes how quickly the last 10 years with Jude (he will be 10 in less than 2 weeks, and don't think for a second that I'm handling that well at all), 4.5 years with Haylee, Taylah, and JJ, and almost 3 years with Abe have already gone is an instant reminder that they will be grown before we blink twice.



It's also helped to reflect on how much easier things have already gotten as they've gotten bigger. The first year or two of having 4 kids, ages 2, 4, 5, and 6, was BRUTAL. The girls almost daily had huge meltdowns, JJ was in the terrible two and threenager stages, and Jude was much more difficult than he is now. Now the girls happily cook and clean, they are all imaginative and funny, Jude has come so far, and Abe is often a delight (when he isn't losing it for no apparent reason, because he's two and painfully strong-willed). So even though it is still so hard many days, the perspective of time reminds us that they do grow and get easier in many ways.



I'm posting this today to hopefully encourage you, weary mom or dad, that there are things to cherish and miss about even the hardest seasons of our kids. If you need a reminder, trying making a list and flipping through old pictures, but I take no responsibility if you end up in a puddle of tears like I did. 😉

Saturday, December 29, 2018

My Kids' Favorite Books of 2018


For the past several years, I’ve had the kids tell me about their favorite books they’ve read that year. I love getting a glimpse into which books stuck with them, and looking back at their favorites in years past. Hopefully they also serve as some recommendations for parents with similar aged kids. As you'll see, Roald Dahl and Enid Blyton were big favorites in this house this year.

This is JJ’s second year participating, and I have to say that I’m really proud of the quality of books he chose. I typed as he told me about his favorites. The girls typed their own lists.



JJ (6 years old, 3 months shy of 7)

Boy and Going Solo by Roald Dahl
Daddy read this to me at bedtime. It’s about World War II and about Roald Dahl’s life. The funny part was because he said he didn’t want to go to Egypt, and then finally on Going Solo, he DID go to Egypt! I remember the snake stories, and I’m glad we stopped reading about those. My favorite part was when he got the JU88, which is a plane that can actually explode your airplane, but a regular airplane just makes holes in a JU88.

Those were all questions I didn’t know, and I really enjoyed reading what they are instead of asking you a BILLION questions. (Mama note: I had this book as a kid and LOVED it. It’s all questions and answers about odd things that most people don’t know the answer to, like why cowboy boots have heels. I found an old copy for the kids a while back, and they’ve all enjoyed it as much as I did.)

Peter Pan by JM Barrie
This one Mama just finished reading to me not that long ago. (Mama’s note: Peter Pan is best as a read-aloud so you can edit Tink’s tendency to call people silly donkeys.) It was when Peter flew into the nursery, and Wendy sewed his shadow back on, and they went to Neverland where they never grow up. And then when they got there, there was Captain Hook and it said why Hook had a claw instead of a hand there. It was because Peter Pan cut his hand off and threw it to a crocodile, and a lot of times it would try to come and eat him. I don’t have a favorite part, I just like the whole book.

It was about a library that was very neat, but it also sounded like it looked like it was haunted. They tried looking for the person who had locked some of the doors so they couldn’t get through, and they had to crawl through windows.

Farmer Boy by Laura Ingalls Wilder
It’s about a boy who is a farmer, named Almanzo. He took a man named Tom’s money back to him when he found it. One time they made a candy when their parents were gone, and Almanzo decided to give some to his little pig, and the next morning her teeth were stuck together. She couldn’t squeal when they were chasing her, and finally Royal got her and got the candy off her teeth, and she went squealing to her pen.






Taylah (just turned 9)

Matilida by Roald Dahl
Matilda is a book about a 5-year-old girl- Matilda- who is very smart.
It is so hilariously funny! I think that everyone would love reading it.
Matilda lives with her parents, Mr. and Mrs. Wormwood, and her big brother Michael.
Her parents are very mean. I don’t know how Matilda ever even survived. 
If I was her, I would not care how badly my parents were treating, and I would try to get back at them. I just would hate living like Matilda did.

The Naughtiest Girl #1 by Enid Blyton
The Naughtiest Girl is a book about a very naughty girl. I mean VERY, VERY, VERY naughty!!!!!!!!
Her name is Elizabeth Allen. She is so naughty, that at her school, Whyteleafe School, no one likes her at all!! She didn’t even have one friend! She always gets told on, and there are almost always people complaining about her. I would’t want to be Elizabeth’s friend. She’s so naughty and mean, I’d tell on her too! She loses her temper often and very easily. I would find it hard to teach her. I would get vey mad at her.

Mary Poppins by P. L. Travers
Mary Poppins is about two children who get a very strict baby-sitter.
VERY, VERY, strict. The children find it quite hard to like her. Her name is Mary Poppins.
When they do grow to like her, the next day she’s gone!!!!!!! Will she ever come back?
I hope so, and can’t wait to read more Mary Poppins books. I wonder how many more there are? I want to get all of them- on my kindle. I wouldn’t want a baby-sitter like Mary.
Just imagine if I did! I’d be miserable. Wouldn’t you be? I know the next book is Mary Poppins Comes Back.

The Lemonade War by Jacqueline Davies
The Lemonade War is about 2 siblings who get in a fight and do lemonade stands to
see who earns the most money. I really want to get the rest of these books.
I love, love, love, LOVED this book! But that also might happen to be because I love to read- so does my sister!!!!!! There is barely any room on our book-shelf to put anymore books, we have so many. Every time we go shopping, we just keep on buying more books.

The Worst Thing About My Sister is about 2 sisters who are very different from each other.
One is more girlish, while the other’s a tom-boy. They fight a lot, like most siblings. 
1: The older one, Melissa, never sticks up for her younger sister Martina.
2: Melissa tells on them every time they get in a fight.
3: Melissa stole Martina’s special night with their father, even though everyone knows
that Martina loves to eat popcorn while watching Toy Story 3.
4: She’s always wearing makeup.
I’m more like Melissa, I think. If you have a different opinion, then fine.






Haylee (turning 11 in 2 weeks)

Matilda by Roald Dahl
This book is about a girl named Matilda, who is SUPER smart and talented. I mean, she could talk and knew all words grown ups know when she was 1!! Matilda’s parents think she is useless. When Matilda goes to school her teacher thinks she is amazing! I wish I was as smart as Matilda. Do you? I won’t tell you any more so I won’t spoil anything. Read this book, you’ll never regret it!

This book is AMAZING!!!!!  It is about a girl who everyone thinks is a freak, who finds out she’s a princess! She isn’t very happy about it, especially when she has to have princess lessons with her grandmother. I’ve alredy bought the second of this series. 

The Famous Five 1 by Enid Blyton
This series is great! The books are very adventurous, so if you like adventures read this series! Three children, Julian, Dick, and Anne go to visit their tom-boy cousin at  Kirrin Cottage. Their cousin shows them her island and they find some exiting discoveries. These books are so good I have read the second and third books in this series.    

The Naughtiest Girl #1 by Enid Blyton
This is a hilarious book. Elizabeth Allen is a VERY NAUGHTY girl. When her mother sends her to school she plans to be so naughty Whyteleafe School will kick her out. I enjoyed this book a lot, and so will you!! 

This is my favorite book of all time!!! A boy named Harry finds out by a giant named Hagrid, that he is a wizard and his parents were killed by the evil Lord Voldemort. He goes to a school for wizards and witches and finds himself in adventures he never thought he’d be in. I read this book with my mom and sister and it took us two years to read the whole series. There are seven books. I’ve reread all the books three times already this year!

If you’d like to see their lists from previous years, you can click on the years to check out their 2017, 2016, and 2015 lists.

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:

Audible
(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




Kindle
(A great resource for finding good deals on kindle books is BookBub.com'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

Thursday, October 18, 2018

3 Months in Malawi

Well if you only follow me here and not anywhere else online, surprise! We moved to Malawi in July! You can find out more about why we moved and what we are doing here at Gospellife.org.

Wow. In some ways I can’t believe we’ve already been here 3 months, and in some ways it feels like we’ve been here so much longer than that.

Our first picture on African soil, taken by Adina Caskey at the Johannesburg airport after traveling for what felt like approximately 5 million hours.

For the first few weeks, I would daily exclaim, “I can’t believe we live in Africa!” It just felt so surreal. But now we are settling nicely into our new home and life, and it no longer feels strange to be living here.


We are in the southern hemisphere here, so when we arrived in July it was COLD, with highs in the 60’s. Don’t roll your eyes at me calling that cold. :) When you don’t have heat or air in your house, lows in the 40’s and highs in the 60’s are really cold! Since then it has been steadily warming up, and now we are in the hottest month of the year, although I’m told that it has been milder and wetter than is typical for October. Most days have had highs in the 80’s, but we’ve have several pleasant days of highs in the 70’s. We are thankful to live in Zomba, where we are at a higher elevation (and thus have cooler temperatures) than most of the country. Josh was in the southernmost part of the country a few weeks ago, and it was highs of 100+ every day. The rainy season will start next month and bring with it slightly cooler temps, which will gradually decline until winter next May, June, and July.


The kids are doing amazing, and have adjusted as well as (if not better than) they did when we merely moved across the same state last year. Some of that I’m sure is helped by some big lessons we learned from that move. Last year I learned that the kids and I handle transitions in ways that don’t work very well together—they want more of me, and I want more alone time and more time investing in new adult friendships. It hasn’t been all smooth sailing, but I think I’ve balanced each of our needs better this time around, and it has helped us all.


The other big lesson we learned was that new everything + new school = way too much new. This was an issue last year for some of my children more than others, but for all of them to an extent. We’d originally planned on sending them all to a British-run private school here in town this year, but decided instead to homeschool for at least the first year while we hunker down and get our bearings about us. I don’t know how long we will homeschool, or if they will eventually give “real” school a try, but it is working out really well for all of us at this point.


It only took a couple of days for me to acknowledge that there was no way I could homeschool them all by myself. Jude needs extensive, uninterrupted 1-on-1 schooling, and Abe was a grumpy, miserable mess over his big siblings ignoring him for most of the morning. Thankfully, the Lord quickly brought us solutions. Abe started in a local preschool along with our neighbor/co-worker’s daughter, and then we hired Priscilla, a patient and helpful recent graduate of the university here in Zomba. She comes 5 days a week to help Haylee, Taylah, and JJ with their school work so that I can focus on Jude. It took Abe a couple of weeks to warm up to his new school, but he enjoys it now.


The kids have begun to make friends with some Malawian neighbors on our street and some fellow expat (aka people like us who aren't from here) homeschoolers, and Josh and I have started getting to know a few other expats as well. We look forward to deepening all of those relationships as time goes on. We of course all also love living next to Eric and Stephanie, and the time we get to spend with them.


Our main goal for this first year, especially for Josh, is to learn Chichewa. He plans on teaching in Chichewa once he becomes proficient at it. To that end, we spend a few hours every week in Chichewa lessons with our tutor, Alick, who teaches at the university and literally wrote the book on teaching Chichewa to non-native speakers. He comes to our house every Tuesday and Thursday, when he spends 2 hours with Josh and then one hour with the girls and me. JJ was having a hard time in our lessons with Alick, so Priscilla works on it with him 1-on-1 during our lesson. The kids also review daily as part of their schoolwork. They are leaving me in the dust with language learning. I don’t have as much time to practice as they do, and when I do have time I don’t usually have the brain power for it. But I will get there too, pang’ono pang’ono (little by little).


A surprising number of people have asked about Rey. She enjoys life here, especially tearing up the outdoor brooms, flying off the 4ish foot tall terrace as she zooms around the yard, going on hikes with us, and sniffing at her buddy/beau Jerry (Eric and Stephanie’s German shepherd) through the gate. With life so crazy, I’ve been neglecting to brush her regularly, which means I finally had to shave her matted head and ears. She looks super weird, but at least she doesn’t need to be brushed anymore.


There is so much more that I could say, but this is getting rather long, and I think that pretty well covers the basics. Please continue to pray for us as we come to mind!

Saturday, March 17, 2018

Updated: Annual St. Patrick's Day Pictures

If you've been following my blog for a very long time, you may remember that I love St. Patrick's Day. I love the color green, I love it when large groups of people wear matching things, and I love the story behind the real St. Patrick. We've been taking a family picture on St. Patrick's Day since Jude was born, and this has become a space for me to chronicle our changing and growing family over the years. 


2009: This was taken at the seminary, one of our first outings after Jude was born. Jude was just over a month old, and I was still in a lot of pain.



2010: In our apartment at the camp in Moldova. Jude made up for not having much green last year by sporting green from head to toe.





2011: Again in our camp apartment in Moldova. We both taught that day, so I actually got fixed up this year. Standing Jude up in the windowsill had become one of the only ways to get him to be still enough for a picture.




2012: We were back in America, and Murray State played in the NCAA tournament on St. Patrick's Day, so we had to find a way to celebrate both at the same time. You can barely see my green t-shirt under my Murray State one.




2013: St. Patrick's Day fell on Sunday this year, so we got a picture after church. We'd been driving down to Mt. Tabor for several weeks for Josh to preach, and they were about to vote on him a couple of weeks after this. Jude was grumpy and clinging to his empty to-go food container because he was hungry.




2014: In Jude's room in the parsonage, our home. The picture quality isn't as good on this one, because we took it with the front camera on my phone, but that's the best way to get Jude to look at the camera. This one just melts my heart. Also, maybe it's time to get Josh a new green sweater.




2015: Finally some new faces in our picture! I have no idea what we were all saying, but it was almost certainly something to get them to all smile. Haylee was in a phase where she thought it was funny to make that face for pictures, she really was happy, I promise! Josh's shirt had little green stripes in it that you can't even see in the picture.




2016: I can't handle how much they have all grown in a year! Sweet little faces.



2017: Another new face! And these kids just keep getting bigger, even though we tell them to stop.


2018: Our fourth and last year on this gray couch, cause we are selling it when we move this summer! I just love these people so much. Also, Abe is wearing the same shirt Jude wore in 2011.