2016 reads + 2017 bookscape

Wanna chat about books with me? I love seeing what other people have read and what they plan on reading, so that’s what I’m doing today.

Reading is so important in my life. I can feel my cup of happiness fill up even reading 10 pages. Things can come and go in my life, but reading will always be a pillar for me. 

Ok. Book chat. Last year first. I grabbed screenshots from my Goodreads page and plopped them here. I set out to read 50 books. Actually read 23. Whoops. 

Books that made me cry: (one) The Nightingale

Books that made me laugh: (three) Naked, I Feel Bad About My Neck, The Grass is Always Greener on the Other Side of the Septic Tank

Novel I’m still thinking about: Peace Like a River

Books worthy of a standing ovation: All The Light We Cannot See & The Kite Runner

Surprisingly good: Scott Adams’s (creator of Dilbert) book 

Surprisingly great: Lord of the Flies (for that feeling when you know you’ve just read a perfectly crafted story)

Enjoyable page turners: Big Magic & Ready Player One 

Books that made me say “meh”: In This House of Brede, You are a Badass, and Jesus 

Great book, wrong reader: Present Over Perfect

Most helpful due to expertise: The Power of Habit

This stays here (books I will keep on my shelves): For the Children’s Sake

I read pretty regularly this year until we kicked off the school year. It’s been random bursts of reading since then but not nearly as much as what I would have liked.  My reading typically picks up this time of year again. No doubt in part due to my enthusiasm to reignite all interests with guns blazing January 1st. 

Looking back through these titles I can recall times I woke early in the morning to catch a few pages, when I texted friends or my mom with my thoughts, when I propped my feet up on the patio furniture, pausing from time to time to watch the breeze weave through the green leaves overhead. 

It’s a chapter of reading closed. And now it’s time for a new one.  Each years means a little bit more intentionality in my reading. It means new opportunities to discover new ideas, new characters, new settings to contrast and complement my own. 

So, 2017.  How’s the reading landscape shaping up? 

Well, for starters, a good chunk of my reading will be determined by my participation in the Book of the Month Club. Yay! Paul bought it for me for a Christmas gift. I was really, really happy. My 1st box should be coming in soon.  I can’t manage a face to face book club during this season of life, so this feels like the very next best thing.

Another big difference I’m making is setting up most of my non-fiction reading, in part, by the quarters. So, each quarter (quarter 1 = January, February, March) I’m choosing a book in each category:

Spiritual  *   Homeschooling  *  Self-Improvement   *  Poetry

**These were the four types of books that I wished I would have focused more on last year. 

I did fill out Modern Mrs. Darcy’s book challenges & spent too much time one night when I was sick digging into blog lists and Amazon reviews for book I could possibly, potentially read.  I’m not dead set on completing these challenges but I’ll pick a book or two from time to time throughout the year. You can check out the not one, but two challenges here

I plan to do more reading books with friends & family this year.  I dabbled in that last year & I really loved it.  Paul and I have set a goal of reading one book a quarter with each other too.  And my mom and I chatted about that with spiritual reads… need to check in with her to see if she is still up for it! If any of you want to read a book with me, let me know! I will absolutely take you up on the offer!!

Last year I used 1 trick that helped me fit more reading into my schedule and that was setting the timer for 20 minutes of reading as part of my morning routine.  This year, I want to do a better job of putting away my phone when I get to bed and reaching for a book more often...as well as getting to bed earlier so I have more time to enjoy.

aaaaaannd I've got 81 books on my "to read" list in my phone, so that should serve me well. 

Enough about my reading life. What about yours? 

Did you read any great books this past year? Do you have any you are excited to dig into this year? Do you have any book recommendations for me?

I hope you are having a great start to the new year! xoxox, Ash



A Long List of Small Ways I Cultivate a Reading Life

Books rock. I’m sharing how I hack my time & energy to read as much as I can.

These are true to the season of life and motherhood I’m in. Take what you want and leave the rest. I’ve got my own set of circumstances, and you are likely in a very different boat. 

And if you are in the same boat, what are you doing without a life jacket? And row faster, won’t you?!!!

1. I waterfall my reading. I read serious, thought-provoking material in the morning, and it goes downhill from there. By the time I crawl into bed it better be so fluffy I can float on it right to sleep.  

2. I keep my “to read” list on my phone on the Reminders app. By some sort of magic, it helps me get more books in my hands. It’s the same list app (as simple as they come) that I share with Paul for groceries (swear by it). The list is long, but I get to scroll through it every once in a while and knock one off.  

3. I hook our chapter book read aloud time to an absolute in our day. Thomas and I have kept true to our read aloud time every day for over two years. We are more flexible on the weekend of course, but the week days go the same way every. single. day. Naps start for the twins. Then we read our chapter book. 

4. I set a timer for my personal reading. Mid-day I’m like a piece of toast discovered six hours past its prime. Lately, I’ve been refueling by giving myself 20 minutes to read which is enough to make headway on a book but not so long that it’s not a realistic option for my day. It’s amazing what just a small chunk of focused reading does to clear my brain and lift my spirits back up. It’s incredible. 

5. I take pause before picking my next read. I’ve learned not to set up myself for failure. The older I get, the more I really think about what mood I’m in (oh, the feels) and what I need right now. I like a variety and try to switch things up, so that reading always brings me new flavors. Same rule goes for picking our chapter books too. In the pause, I read Amazon book reviews. Preferably with glass of wine in my hand. 

6. Books are the one thing I buy randomly for the kids. There is no other type of toy or treat we just give to the kids. I would never say, “surprise! I bought you Legos!” But I do it as much as I can afford to with books. I’m generally opposed to rewards, but if I buy one it’s probably going to be a book. 


7. I go solo to the library every other Saturday to pick up books.  I max out our card. First, I check the new books and award contestant books. Next, I grab around 3 books for each subject for school: science, math, history, art, and poetry to use for our morning time loop. Then, I grab level readers since Thomas needs a few of those to build up fluency. Last, I scan for bindings that have award or runner-up labels. Last, I judge a lot of books by their cover and fill up the rest of the bags. 

8. I keep a Goodreads account for Thomas. I’ve kept it up (admittedly missed a few books last year) since he turned 4. Yes, we had to sign him up for an email, but I can switch from my account to his no problem on my computer.  I let him rate books.  He gets to tell me what he’s interested in reading. It’s really fun. It’s motivating for him to see all we’ve read, and now he's just begun reading chapter books on his own so I'm really excited for him to log his reads. 

9. I keep a Goodreads account for myself. Let’s be friends.  :)

10. I listen to podcasts that encourage me to read.  Read Aloud Revival and What Should IRead Next? are my two favorites right now.  (Also, I'm a Modern Mrs. Darcy lifer.)

11. I read books that encourage me to read more. I’m due for a reread of The Read Aloud Handbook. 

12. I share what I read with Thomas. We hear so much about investing in what our children read, but I want Thomas to join in my world a bit too. I’ve read aloud from or summarized so many books that I’ve read. He sees me reading and asks me about my book. He asks me to read it to him, and I usually do. 

This seems very normal to me. My mom shared snippets of her books, and her thoughts about what she was reading, all the time growing up. I still treasure those moments to this day. She was sharing her enthusiasm for reading, for learning, and thought it natural to include us too and I really love that she did.

13. We laugh.  We don’t take ourselves too seriously.  The “me balls” from Only Ivan. The silly dreams in The BFG. The creepy figures in The Wizard of Oz. The Indian’s curt demands from The Indian in the Cupboard.  The ridiculous anecdotes of the narrator in the Lemony Snicket series. I have oodles of times Thomas and I have shared laughs over books. I have so many reasons I think reading is of serious importance, but it’s just fun too.  A lot of fun. Or it’s sad. And we go there too. We let ourselves feel.  Thomas made an invisible threat to the bully in Hoot and I had to encourage him to feel a little less…  

14. We keep our library books in the same place. This should encourage more reading, right? 


15. I’m honest with Thomas. I don’t sugar coat. Sometimes, I think a book is lame and say so. Sometimes, I adore a book and I say that too. Sometimes, I’m still trying to figure a book out so I say that.  I let him be honest too. We don’t have to love all books, but a lot of books are worth the try and usually make good conversation anyway. 

16. I ask people about books they are reading or for their favorites.  Oh to be connected to others through the books we read. I absolutely love it! If I read a book I almost always have a trail buddy--someone I can talk to about that book (or whom has already talked to me about the book.)

17. I make a plan. I have a number of books I’ve already planned on reading this year, so I’ll switch between reading those I’ve planned on and those that I feel like and also those that come in from the library (because I always have an ongoing hold list and they come in at pretty random times). 

18. I give classics a try. There’s a good reason everyone else has read it. It might not end up one of my favorites, but I want to know the secret too. From the classics I’ve finally caught up with in the past few years, it’s totally worth the late read. 

19. I keep an Amazon wish list just for books. 

20. Rule of two. I always have one non-fiction book going and one fiction book going. I might have an additional book beyond that, but I definitely have those first two.  

21. I take tons of screen shots.  I screen shot Instagram book recs all the time. Then when I clean out my photos, I add those books to my “to read” list or put them on hold right away. I highly recommend! 

I just looked on my phone. Here's the most recent book rec screen shot I took. 

And here are a few things I would love to start:

1Keeping a commonplace book — Do you have one? Where do I start?

2. Thomas keeping a record of his pages read — Too soon maybe. 

3. Sharing recommendations here or on Instagram (but it does feel a little overwhelming because there are so many terrific books)

4. Putting more books on hold for the kids so I can utilize the drive through. 

5. A book club! I’m wondering if this matters enough to me that I’m ready to make it happen. Possibly. 

Do you have tricks and tips for cultivating a reading life? How do you make it happen? 


Reading with Small Children

Thomas was about 3 when I asked one of my co-workers how he was ever going to learn how to read.

How would I get him there?  She had met Thomas and knew what I meant. Curious boy. Lots of questions. But still... how do we make that leap? 

She said, "Read and read and read to him. Then read more and then some more. And he will learn how to read."

When no one is looking, I will type hopelessly personal questions into Google as if he is a magic 8 ball of succinct answers. I'm always disappointed when Paul's father's day present doesn't pop up and instead I've got 10,871 articles that are "helpful".  When my co-worker (brilliant co-worker, btw), suggested I should just read to Thomas a ton, I was a little disappointed.  Where's my easy, no-fail 17 step system to teach him to read?

But she was absolutely, absolutely right. Bathe in reading. Delight in reading. Max out the library card. Bring a laundry basket to the library to fill. Tell the kids to stop playing in the laundry basket because "no, kids. not for playing. we are putting books in this thing because I was told reading so much that I never get to the laundry does magical things to children's brains."


But as far as going beyond the laundry basket

[and bins and shelves and waves of books],

here are the things we have learned and tried to practice along the way. 


1. There are bad books. Kick them out. 

A "bad book" is one you keep hiding because if your sweetie pie asks you to read it again you may just melt into the couch from boredom. A "bad book" is one that your husband comes to you about and says, "hey, I read that book about Valentine's Day to Thomas. Have you read that thing? It is the dumbest thing I have ever read. No, really. It is really, really terrible."  A "bad book" is one that requires you to not only read but also manipulate things in the book like some sort of freakin mechanic, still thinks Pluto is the real deal, or that makes too many potty jokes because it knows its audience is boys and boys like potty jokes (which they do so very, very, very, very, very, very much but c'mon!).  

2. When you are annoyed that your child wants to learn how to read, teach him to read.

This way he has the independence to read and you can listen to him read every sign, billboard, and building name on the street from the back seat of the car, and he can say "woah. slow down, mom. I needed to read that!" and be very confused by acronyms. This is not dissimilar from being excited that you have [insert smug look] taught little Junior to go to the potty and switched over immediately to living in fear for years that he will have accidents in public and destroy your life. 

3. Reward them with books.

I read an excellent book about how incentives and rewards deeply damage children. No joke!  But to get through the reading instruction book, I gave Thomas a "surprise" every ten lessons and when I say a surprise I mean a book. Hey. Don't judge. Okay, judge. It's not because he wasn't motivated. It's because I needed him to be a little more motivated. Momma's got some laundry to not fold. 

4. Stop pretending you are too cool for children's books.

Thomas might be a little concerned about who his mom really is, or if she ever really was smart enough to hold a real job like his dad and mom keep insisting. And this is because last year I learned so many things from picture books.  "Wow. I didn't know that." comes off my tongue pretty easily. Last year I learned about planets, cultures, countries, castles, pirates, all sorts of famous people and that eels can climb up waterfalls. I'm still thinking about those eels. 

5. Read your own even better stuff near the kid.

Then engage in a fun game of intellectual roulette where you subtly entice your blossoming reader (quiet laughs or "hmm"s help) to ask you what you are reading. Respond back, "oh this thing? You wouldn't be interested. It's an adult book." to which they will insist they are interested. I've read all sorts of things aloud to Thomas that were near to totally inappropriate, but it was worth the game of seeing if he could understand any of it.  Which maybe is not a page right out of Parenting Like You Mean It, but I like to spice things up.  Thomas still talks about Rhett coming to rescue the ladies and the Yankees burning down Atlanta. That's a win in my book, Parenting for Fun!

Our Favorite New-To-Us Children's & Chapter Book Reads of 2014

Paul and I will be doing our mostly online & hassle-free Christmas shopping very soon.  We are more interested in putting quality items in the hands of our kids than in rushing out for sales. (Not that you can't do both--we just haven't quite harnessed that superpower yet.) Today, I want to share with you books that we've read and fallen in love with this year, so that if you are also wanting to do some easy shopping online, you could find a few guaranteed wins promoted here.

And you know I really care about these books because I'm not an Amazon affiliate & make no money whatsoever by directing you to these books. In fact, I will be losing the money I could be making by missing time for my indulgent online poker habit. Just kidding. I don't do that. Yet.

These are books that, had I known what treasures they were, I would have bought them much earlier in my fancy mom career. I'll give you a little insight into each book & maybe you can pop into a comment box and share one of your favorite children's or chapter book favorites to help us along in our Christmas shopping.

1. Extra Yarn

 The kids were given this book as a gift, and then we gifted copies to a couple other friends throughout the year.

This book has one of my favorite messages of any children's book I've ever read and I think the conclusion is just is the best. Oh, and the illustrations are reason enough to turn these pages over and over again.

2. Little Bear
I bought this book for Thomas because he has worked through the first 3 Bob book sets and a good chunk of his reading lessons. I thought it would be good to invest in a few of those typically boring beginning reader books, but this is not boring. It's sweet and it's timeless.

If a beginning reader book is well-written enough that Momma Bear doesn't mind reading it two days (or five days) in a row, it's a win in my book.

3. A Sick Day for Amos McGee
This book reminds me of Blueberries for Sal in that you read it once and wonder what the hype is about.  It's with multiple reads that the subtleties in the art and the story wrap you up and warm you like a big blanket and a warm cup of tea on...yep...a sick day.

A great book to show all of us what being a good friend looks like.

4. The One & Only Ivan

I'll admit that this book is a little heavy handed in its pull on your heart. However, it works as a game changer that has some grit and sometimes that's what we should be sharing with our kids.

Suited for kids a little bit older than Thomas, it does the trick in stirring up empathy & making us question the warped conditions we place upon animals in the name of cheap entertainment.  It ruined some things for me in that sense, but I'm okay with that.

5. Winnie-the-Pooh
I've put dozens and dozens of books on hold at the library, and I waited the longest for this jewel right here.

Winnie-the-Pooh is that reading gem so close under our nose, we don't see it.

Hands down, everyone should have this book in their house, and here's why. It is all the charm and wonder and imaginative characterization you already know to expect, but stuffed with nuances the adult reader can enjoy while the child beside is happy just smiling at Pooh's amusing adventures.

6. Paddle-to-the-Sea

Gah. I've been talking about this book all year.  Can I say OMG about a children's book? Because ohemgee. This book was written for my soul.  The concept---YES! The education---YES! The illustrations--YES! And my absolute favorite---the langauge.

Another reason I'm so crazy about this book is that it stretches beyond a particular age group, which is so wonderful when everything in your soul is telling you that one more reading of Go Dog Go would be absolute torture.

7. The Little House

Just like everyone should have a wonderful sleepy-time book (Goodnight, Goodnight, Construction Site!), I feel everyone should have a book that draws us into thinking about the seasons, time, changes and how we fit into all of that.

This is a simple, no-frills book that nudges us to think of what is good and beautiful.

8. The BFG
This year we read a good chunk of Dahl's work: Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, James and the Giant Peach, the BFG, and Matilda.  Thomas's Uncle Stephen recommended the BFG to him, and I had low expectations.

However, this book made us think & therefore have some great conversation (which is awesome), but it had Thomas in stitches several times (which is even more awesome).  It was, by far, the funniest book (to him) that we read all year. He asked me to reread a passage 3 times, so he could keep laughing. I mean, how could I not put it on our list?

9. The Tale of Despereaux

This is just the kind of chapter book I've been searching for my 4 year old all year:

Some illustrations. Check.
Beautiful language. Check.
Meaningful themes. Check.
And still holds the attention & interest of the kiddo. Big check.

:  :  :  :  :

Wow. That was so much fun to type up because it brought back so many memories of snuggling up with Thomas or reading to all the boys in their room.  Right now they're ALL banging with wooden puzzles pieces on the fireplace while I finish this post, so pretty much the complete opposite of the sweet, soft memories I was bringing back up in my mind. :/

This year was good and difficult and a hurricane of all kinds of things.  In a lot of ways it was a big mess. I mean, twins. Do I need to say more? Walking twins! Climbing twins! Boy twins who bust their lips or bang their heads every other day! Twins who can't yet tell me all the things!

Anyway, there may be a lot of things from this year I didn't get checked off the master list or tackled like they should have been, but it was the first year that the boys and I read voraciously in all sorts of ways and for those sweet memories, I'm so grateful.

I would very, very much love it if you let me know a book or two that you feel is a must for the family library. We just started building up ours a bit more intentionally this year, and so chances are that we haven't yet bought it, and I would love your recommendations!

She Works with Willing Hands

When I was in high school I was, at more than one point, fueled by some evangelization gleam I sought to tote.  I was quick to see how much greater our lives could be if we all reached this epic level of purity and holiness I had envisioned.

My mom didn't seem too keen on my notions of grandeur. Instead, she would remind me to do the dishes. In fact, it went something like this: "You want to be a Christian? Do the dishes."  The snide remark would echo in my brain as an abhorred notion. How dare my mother corner me like that!

My mom also told me to thank God that I had the opportunity to clean; I had dishes to eat from - I should be happy to scrub them, I had clothes to wear - I should be happy to hang them, sort them, fold them. Yeah, I'm grateful mom. Whatever.

My siblings and I like to joke about the seemingly endless Saturdays of scrubbing, washing, folding, hanging, and so forth. It's our version of the "I-had-to-walk-to-school-uphill-both-ways-knee-deep-in-snow".  "I-had-to-wake-up-every-Saturday-without-fail-before-dawn-to-clean-until-I-became-emaciated-or-sick." I would moan, groan, and curse deep into the linoleum while my knees hardened into a numbed mess of floor cleaner. I would roll my eyes and grit my teeth when I heard we had another load to put outside on the ant and walking stick [Hello - FREAKY!] infested line. I would pray to God and ask for His mercy for whatever I had done to deserve a cruel, cruel mother.  And I swore to myself while furiously rubbing cleaner into the abysmal white of the shower I will NEVER do this to my poor children.

A few years later and hundreds of cycles of clean and dirty in my own home, I've had quite the conversion.

Beauty abounds in the home which is simply clean. Attentive love multiplies when household duties are taken care of in a fierce, organized, efficient manner.  And hard work, well, hard work is a great secret wonderment which sets our gratitude on fire.

These days I'm eager to wake up on Saturday [and Sunday] mornings to clean the stove [the one which whips up Chicken Cordon Bleu and Lasagna], scrub the tea kettle [the beauty that serves me wild berry tea and tricks me into being relatively calm during stressful conversations with my husband], detail the Medela breast pump and its dozens of parts and pieces [the bridge I couldn't currently live without], and spray the romper [which covers a ridiculously adorable bottom of my Bam Bam, my little guy, our Booter Binkie from the land of Stinky #2, my Boo Boo Coo Coo, our Thomas]... the one who just a few years from now will be cursing into the dirty grout he's scrubbing while I smile on with an affection and sense of humor he likely won't understand [for a while].

So, when I started reading Kimberly Hahn's Graced and Gifted: Biblical Wisdom for the Homemaker's Heart [or what I would like to think of as my current guidebook to being an awesome wife, mother, woman] and I saw that the first chapter was titled "She Works with Willing Hands", I thought to myself ...

Heck yes she does!