What I Read: June 2017

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I’m beginning to face the fact that I am probably not going to reach my reading goal for this year, which was 80 books. But the more I think about it, the more I feel totally OK with that fact. Because, maybe for the first time ever, I am reading higher-quality books, books I think will be worth the time investment.

With four kids and a home to manage, my time is valuable. I don’t want to waste it reading books I don’t enjoy or love. I put a book down today after a few chapters because I found myself thinking, “I am going to regret putting the time into this book, aren’t I?”

I only finished four books in June, and I was sort of shocked that I did not finish one book while we were at the beach; usually I can plow through 4 to 5. But I did read about half of Middlemarch there, which is an 800-page classic, so that’s nothing to sneeze at, right?

All that said, I really enjoyed all four of these books and am happy to have read them!

Pearl Weaver’s Epic Apology by Rachel Keener – I was so thrilled when Rachel Keener saw my love for her book The Memory Thief and e-mailed me about it years ago. It’s so fun to converse with an author! So I was pleased as punch to hear from her again this year, asking if I would read and review her new, self-published book, Pearl Weaver’s Epic Apology.

Pearl only remembers being with her father in their museum-like home, filled with the relics of their ancestors. She remembers her first literary obsession, Cassandra from the myths. And when she quickly loses all she’s known, Pearl takes us for a crazy joyride of emotions; the preteen brain leading us through more literary trails, assumed identities, and wild journeys.

I don’t know if Pearl’s tale is 100% believable, but it sure is interesting. Keener gracefully weaves in the Southern enchantment, faith, and Pearl’s family history. It’s a hefty book, but a lovely story. (Although it takes until the last page to “get” the title!)

Rachel provided me with the book to facilitate my review; I did not receive any other compensation and provide my truthful review here!

Rhinestone Jesus by Kristen Welch – Yes, this was on my Read-the-Shelves challenge for the first three months of 2017. Apparently that is going to take me all year. Oh well!

I gave this book five stars on GoodReads. I have read Kristen’s blog sporadically (I am honestly not much of a blog reader anymore …), but I do get e-mails about her ministry, Mercy House, which I have supported some through the years. This is the story of her marriage and family, and how she grew and changed, became a writer, traveled to Kenya, and then founded Mercy House. It’s also a challenge to Christians to look beyond the acceptable, American Christianity and into a Jesus-filled life that is terrifying but fulfilling.

I appreciated and was challenged by Kristen’s words, as I am every time I read something from her. I hope this book will continue to challenge my faith and heart as I reflect on it.

The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate – I have heard so many good things about this middle-grade book, and it did not disappoint! I wanted something kid-friendly to listen to on the way to the beach, so we downloaded this on Overdrive. I thought the narration was excellent, and the book has a dry humor that is perfect. It is touching and sad while at the same time funny and uplifting in places.

Note: It does talk some about humans being descended from apes, so if that is going to be a huge issue for you, here’s your fair warning.

Middlemarch by George Eliot – I’ve been reading bits of this since early April, but I finally settled down and made myself read JUST it in June so I could actually finish. There were parts when I wished I had a little better understanding of English society in the early 1800s to help clarify, but in general, it’s a story that focuses on relationships. And these relationships feel much more modern – or at least truthful – than some of the ones we see in classic literature. The marriages are difficult. Friends are flighty. Families aren’t always awesome. Money makes problems.

Eliot’s famed work is really masterful, and I won’t forget these characters quickly. Classics are classics for a reason, apparently. ūüėČ

________

How is your summer reading going? Read anything wonderful lately?

This will be added to Quick Lit at Modern Mrs. Darcy.

Berry French Toast Bake

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Well, hello! It’s been approximately eight million years since I posted a recipe. This possibly has to do with the insanity of having four children and the added bonus that right before I had Hannah in October, my real camera decided to stop working.

(I’m pretty sure it has sand in the lens and won’t retract … but it would probably cost more to fix than to replace it. Argh.)

My husband keeps telling me my iPhone will take pictures that are just as good. I don’t really think so, but they’re good enough for me, for now.

This is one of the recipes I’ve probably made the most over the last six or seven years. It’s my go-to when I want to take a meal to someone; I find that when there’s a meal train, people usually bring chicken casseroles or pasta. And that is fine and AWESOME, but I think breakfast for dinner mixes it up a little.

This Berry French Toast recipe comes from Cooking During Stolen Moments, which was one of my VERY favorite food blogs ever. Almost everything I ever made from there was a hit. Unfortunately,¬†the site is not¬†accessible any more. I am so glad I had this one written down in my recipe book so I didn’t lose the recipe! I’ve only adapted it slightly – mostly I just skimp on the berries because I like a lot of chewy, eggy bread. It’s delicious with fresh berries of any kind, but you could also use frozen ones – or peaches!

Serve with a side of bacon or sausage for a delicious meal any time of day.

Berry French Toast Bake

Yield: about 8 servings

Berry French Toast Bake

Delicious berry-enhanced French toast casserole is taken over the top with a brown sugar drizzle.

Ingredients

  • 1 loaf French or Italian bread
  • 2 to 3 c. berries
  • 6 eggs
  • 1 1/2 c. milk
  • 1 tsp. vanilla
  • 1/2 tsp. almond extract
  • 2 oz. cream cheese, cut into cubes
  • 4 T butter
  • 1 c. light brown sugar
  • 1/2 tsp. cinnamon

Instructions

Start with day-old bread, or cut bread into large cubes a few hours before you want to start making this and let them sit out to get slightly stale. Slice strawberries into quarters. Blueberries, raspberries, and blackberries can be left whole.

Place a layer of bread cubes in a 9x13-inch baking dish. Add most of the berries, reserving about 1/2 cup. Top with the rest of the bread cubes.

Whisk together eggs, milk, vanilla, and almond extract. Pour evenly over the bread. Top with remaining berries, then dot with cream cheese pieces. Refrigerate at least 6 hours or overnight.

Preheat oven to 375F. In a small saucepan, melt the butter over medium heat. Add brown sugar and whisk together until the sugar begins to melt and the mixture is smooth, about 4-5 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in cinnamon. Drizzle sugar topping over the casserole. Bake for about 40-45 minutes, covered, until egg is set.

Let sit for a few minutes before cutting and serving.

Notes

To make dairy-free, use almond milk instead of dairy milk and leave out the cream cheese. If you are taking to a new mom who is breastfeeding, you might ask if she is avoiding dairy. (I usually am.)

http://www.jessieweaver.net/2017/06/berry-french-toast-bake/

What’s your favorite breakfast for dinner?

 

What I Read: April/May 2017

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Hi, bookish friends. Life has been nutso. We are moving this coming weekend to another space on campus (a house!), the kids are home for the summer, and, well, I have a 7-month-old baby who is crawling, pulling up, and being a baby. I wanted to stop in and share some quick reviews for what I read the last two months, though!

Sleeping on Jupiter by Anuradha Roy – I have to admit, I read this initially because I thought it was the same author as The God of Small Things. Nope, that is Arundhati Roy. You can call me Stupid American.

It’s one I came across on Overdrive, looked interesting, and when I checked I saw it was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize. Sleeping on Jupiter is the intertwined stories of three older women and a young documentary filmmaker. Their paths cross as they ride the train to Jarmuli in India, an ocean town with a famous temple. The three friends have come on a long-anticipated vacation; the young woman, Nomi, has come back to make a movie and research her own past.

It was a heavy read. I appreciated the excellent writing, but I felt like it tackled a lot of hard-hitting topics all at once and just left me deeply sad.

Can’t Let You Go by Jenny B. Jones – My love for Jenny B. Jones is well-documented here, and I am surprised I waited as long as I did to read this extra book in the Katie Parker series, given how much I LOVED the original trilogy. I did enjoy delving back into Katie’s world and seeing her as a grown woman; I just felt like this one was less believable, more romance and less personal growth. Jenny is still funny, her characters vivid, but something in it didn’t quite work for me.

Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders – The buzz about this book was so interesting I felt like I had to try and read it! What I found was that it is more of a screenplay instead of a novel: a cast of lively ghosts narrate the action going on in the graveyard (bardo is a Tibetan word for the space in between death and afterlife). We go back and forth between action in the graveyard and what happened before, leading up to and through Willie (Lincoln’s son) dying and the mourning. Those parts are told in series of quotes from different sources. (I heard someone say some of these were made up. I am not sure. The New York Times calls them “facts and semi-facts.”)

On one hand, I really like to read something that is different. And this sure is. The pages of quotes that all deal with the same event from different eyes are so interesting, pointing out that you can pretty much make history whatever you want depending on what sources you find. The action in the graveyard is so creative. The ghosts take forms of their stories – some are big or small, performing certain motions, or joined together. And nearly two months later, I can picture all of what happened very vividly in my head, which is not my norm for reading.

On the other hand, though, I felt like it was inventive just to be different. It seemed more screenplay than actual novel. And I thought Saunders included some crass stuff just for shock value. So do I recommend it? It totally depends on the person. I think those who have studied history would be especially interested in this.

The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate by Jacqueline Kelly – I picked this book up at a consignment sale and decided to read it before I passed it on to my kids. It’s a middle grade novel, and I think a little beyond¬†what my daughter would enjoy at the moment (she’s 8 1/2 and doesn’t love books that are difficult for her). I loved the story of Calpurnia, who is 11 in the year 1899. She loves science and begins studying the land and species around her plantation home with her grandfather. It’s a great story of a girl who doesn’t feel like she fits into the right mold; Callie Vee doesn’t want to learn cooking, piano, or cleaning – she wants to dig in the mud. A great view into the turn of the twentieth century.

For the Love by Jen Hatmaker – I think Jen Hatmaker’s mix of truth-telling with flat-out funny is a breath of fresh air in “religious” writing. I love her heart, and I enjoyed listening to this on audio. (Except the recipes. It’s impossible to enjoy recipes read aloud.)

My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She’s Sorry by Frederick Backman – I’m not sure I have the right words for this book. I love Backman as a writer; here, he nails a precocious 7-year-old instead of an elderly humbug. But the element in this story of relating fairy tales Elsa’s grandma used to tell her with the real people she lives around lost me a little bit. I kind of wish the entire fairy tale had been told at the beginning and then Backman had dealt with the rest of the novel. It felt a little disjointed to me. I still don’t think I completely got where he was going there, although that might be a cultural/language issue.

Anything Is Possible by Elizabeth Strout – This is the third book Anne Bogel recommended to me when I was on her podcast, What Should I Read Next?¬†It didn’t come out until April, though, and I managed to get it from the library in late May. I’ve been bogged down in Middlemarch for most of May, but I took a break to read AIP, and I am so glad I did! It’s a collection of stories taking place in Lucy Barton‘s small Midwestern hometown. Lucy is mentioned in many of the stories but only appears for one. Strout spins such beautiful tales, and these stories utterly captured me. I give it 4.5 stars, only because I didn’t feel like this will be an all-time favorite or be life-changing, but I did race through it in two sittings. It is great writing, and an excellent read.

__________

What have you been reading lately? Anything you would recommend?

This will be linked to Quick Lit at Modern Mrs. Darcy.

Dear David

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Dear David,

I remember the day I fought out I was pregnant with you. I read the test wrong, didn’t think I was, and then took a second look. I was thrilled and scared.

I remember having an ultrasound on my gall bladder, and asking the tech to look and see if she could tell the gender of my baby. She was 90% sure it was a boy. Even though I’d always thought I would only have girls, I had felt since the start you were a boy. I was thrilled and scared. 

I remember your birth: the crazy pain of my only unmedicated labor and delivery. I tried to give up and go home, but you came anyway, fiercely and fast, tearing up my body and my heart. Your little head was so round and covered with dark hair. I was thrilled and scared.

I remember all the sleepless nights, how I nursed you for so long, how I put you in Mother’s Day Out at barely a year because I was so tired, depressed, and shaken. I hope you don’t remember me from then; our life was a little in shambles and I didn’t know where to go. 

I remember your putting together a 60-piece puzzle at two-and-a-half and knowing life with you was going to be wild. You told me at age 4 you couldn’t read, you could just sound out words. I love that you help your friends, read to them on the bus, and have no idea how brilliant you are. I am always, always thrilled and also scared that I am doing the wrong things or holding you back. 

I remember knowing how ready you were for kindergarten but how unready I felt to let you go. 

And this morning, I crawled into your bed and held you before you got up. I kissed and smelled your head. It’s your last day of kindergarten and I am crying because growing pains are hard for Mama. 

I asked you if you were ready for first grade, and in your typical, no-nonsense way, you just answered, “Yes.”

Not surprisingly, I am thrilled and scared. 

Exercising Like It’s 2009 All Over Again

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Today, I can barely walk down stairs.

This is problematic given that we live in an apartment down two flights of stairs in a building with no elevator.

Yesterday I saw my cousin post on Instagram about doing Jillian Michael’s 30 Day Shred. Do you remember the phenomenon that was Biggest Loser and the The Shred? I remember reading about it on BooMama’s blog in 2009. I bought a copy of the DVD and attempted it a few times, most notably during the Losing It competition I had with my friends Mary and Ashleigh.

Then I got pregnant with David (who is yes, now 6 1/2) and I don’t know that I ever touched that workout again. All I can remember is at one time doing another workout DVD just to warm up my muscles for trying to Shred, because they were in THAT MUCH PAIN.

Back to yesterday, I was inspired by my cousin’s post to dust off my copy of the Shred DVD. It’s been lingering in a pile of workout DVDs that I never use and have considered donating; I belong to the Y and have documented how well group exercise works as a motivation for me. I wasn’t able to hit up a class yesterday because we had a two-hour school delay, so I thought I’d give Shredding a try once more.

I quit 8 minutes into the DVD.

And then I gave myself the worst shaming I could.

I’ve been going to the Y regularly for about two and a half years. Mostly I do water aerobics, although before I got pregnant with Hannah, I was also doing some weight training and other classes. Despite this, I haven’t been able to get my weight to budge (except the lovely increase during pregnancy). I have polycystic ovarian syndrome, which can make it really hard to lose weight. But I can’t blame my weight all on that. I have a lot of unhealthy habits, including an immense love for sweets and the urge to clean my plate without registering if I am full or not.

I’m about 25 pounds more than I was when I got pregnant with Libbie in 2008. I was not at all small to begin with, but four kids has changed my body. All of this flew through my head as I sat on the couch, nearly in tears, destroyed by Jillian Michaels after 8 minutes.

And then I thought of all the things I’ve been scared to do but did anyway: exercise classes, weight training, running a 5k. My body has carried and birthed four children, it has fed them all for at least six months, it has carried me around for nearly 35 years.

I got back up. I turned the DVD back on. And I did the rest of it. Because I am capable, darn it. And, with the encouragement and accountability of my cousin and a friend, I am going to make it through those whole 30 days, only taking off Sundays. I may have to mute Jillian, because she’s kind of aggravating. But I will do the work.

That is, assuming I can get out of bed tomorrow morning.

(I’ll keep you updated on Instagram if you want to follow along.)

I Have So Many Questions about Paw Patrol

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Back in February, my now-4-year-old son, Joshua, was pretty sick. He didn’t have the flu, but he might as well have, because he ran a high fever for about 5 days straight. He was REALLY puny. And so I let him lay on the couch and watch what he wanted. And what he wanted was – what else? – PAW PATROL.

He’s more than slightly obsessed. And if you’re anything like me, you find yourself wondering so much about the logistics of these kids’ shows.¬†

To see my 8 burning questions, visit the Chattanooga Moms Blog, where I am a regular contributor.

(If you ever want to see all the posts I have done for the CMB as well as other places I have guest posted, check out my Featured Elsewhere page!)