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My Top 10 Book Recommendations from 2016 (and 5 books I didn’t like)

Last year I didn’t participate in any reading challenges, read harder, or read many book club books. My only goals were to finish 52 books and read more Fantasy and Science Fiction. With the help of a few Percy Jackson audiobooks in the last few weeks of December I completed my reading goals. I love how I can be productive and get a book finished with audiobooks.

10 books or series I recommend from my 2016 bookshelf


Red Rising Trilogy by Pierce Brown – This series starts off slow and then the writing gets better with each book. There is a good balance of strong male and female characters. The third book, Morning Star, is my favorite book of 2016. I couldn’t put it down and I miss the characters.


Lunar Chronicles by Marissa Meyer – I first discovered Cinder on Modern Mrs. Darcy’s Summer Reading Guide. The premise of the book sounds silly, but the world building is intriguing without being complicated. I also love how the books don’t have a lot of romance, so I can recommend it to teens and adults without any caveats. It’s a fun series.


A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms (The Tales of Dunk and Egg #1-3) by George R.R. Martin and Gary Gianni – This is definitely for fans of A Game of Thrones whether you have only seen the show or read the books. This book is less violent and appalling than the original series. It’s nice to be in Westeros with a true knight while the Targaryen line rules the iron throne.


My Father’s Dragon by Ruth Stiles Gannet – I want my kids to love adventure books and they enjoyed hearing this story. The chapters are just the right length to read one aloud each day.


Shades of Magic series by V. E. Schwab – The Shades of Magic Series is set in parallel Londons with plenty of magic and consequences. In A Darker Shade of Magic (Book 1) the author spends a lot of time setting things into motion, but she really finds her stride in A Gathering of Shadows (Book 2). The third book in the series comes out in February 2017.


Me: Stories of My Life by Katharine Hepburn – Katharine Hepburn wrote this book when she was 80 years old. She is not a natural writer, but her history and stories of old Hollywood are fascinating.


Mistborn, The Final Empire by Brandon Sanderson – Mistborn is an Ocean’s Eleven heist story set in a fantasy world where metals are used as magic. Mistborn is a classic Fantasy book and definitely worth reading if you want to explore a unique fictional universe.


Uprooted by Naomi Novik – Uprooted is a stand alone book for when you are tired of books set in a series. Sometimes it’s nice to finish a whole story in one book. This book won’t blow you away, but I felt it had a Lord of the Rings vibe to the story.


Radio Girls by Sarah-Jane Stratford – I dipped my toe into the world of netgalleys last year and was able to read an advanced copy of Radio Girls. The story follows Maisie Musgrave in 1926 London at the BBC. It’s exactly what you want from a historical fiction novel – an absorbing story with strings of historical truth running through the plot.


My Lady Jane by Cynthia Hand, Brodi Ashton, and Jodi Meadows – My Lady Jane tells an alternate tale of the monarchy in England. It’s a nice light read when you need something frivolous to read. The narrator of the audiobook does a good job with all the voices.

Five books I wanted to love, but I didn’t

The Red Queen and The Glass Sword by Victoria Aveyard – The first book was good, but I didn’t finish the second book. I couldn’t remember what had happened in the first book and decided to give up on this series.

Cryptonomicon by Neal Stephenson – Cryptonomicon is one of my husband’s favorite books. This was my fifth Stephenson book, so I am familiar with his the long form style of writing. I probably would have liked it 1999, but the tech was old and there were zero good female characters. Snow Crash and Reamde are still the best Neal Stephenson books to be read first.

The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood – I know this is a classic and many people love this book, but this genre of dystopian is not for me.

Landline by Rainbow Rowell – I enjoy Rainbow Rowell and time travel stories, but I found the story slow and the characters uninteresting.

Sleeping Giants by Sylvain Neuvel – I saw Sleeping Giants on many must-read lists and I bought the Kindle version. The book is light on Science Fiction and focuses more on the relationships of the characters. The book leaves a lot of questions unanswered to keep the reader interested for book two, but it didn’t answer enough questions to make me care enough to pick up the next book.

Are we friends on Goodreads? We should be! Send me a friend request. 

Have you read any of these and what did you think? What were some of your favorite books of 2016?

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Our Homeschool Curriculum for 2016-2017

This year I have two kids in fourth grade and one kid doing first grade work. One of the best things about homeschool is being able to teach a subject based on ability instead of a specific age. My middle child started reading early, so I caught him up with his older sister. My middle child would be in second grade at public school, but he is in fourth grade at home. This is why I have a 9 year old and a 7 year old in fourth grade.

I’m also advancing my 5 year old son. He would be in kindergarten at public school, but I feel confident he can do first grade work. This is my first year having all three of my kids doing proper school work. Thankfully, first grade work only takes about 2 hours or less.

I’m having a lot of fun teaching more subjects this year. Another benefit of homeschool is adding fun subjects like Latin, Typing, and Electronics. I’m always looking for curriculum ideas and curious about what other people use to homeschool, so I am sharing my curriculum.

Here is an overview of the curriculum we are using this year.

First Grade

These are the subjects I am formally doing with my 5 year old. When I do history or science with the older students I give him a coloring page if he wants to follow along with the lesson. He gets some of the knowledge, but I’m not concerned about him mastering history or science right now.


Math – Math-U-See, Alpha – We skipped Primer and jumped right into the first level. My son could count to 20 and write all his numbers, so I was confident he was ready to begin with first grade. Thankfully, he wants to be like his older brother and sister and enjoys doing math.

Reading – All About Reading, Level 1 – My son knows all his letters and can read a few Bob Books, so I felt he was ready for Level 1. This program is very hands on and my son loves it.

Handwriting – Handwriting Without Tears, Grade 1 – I love Handwriting Without Tears! It’s the first subject I introduce in preschool. My son can start learning math and reading early because he is able to write.

Speech – We do a private speech therapy once a week with a wonderful Speech Therapist. She gives me homework every week to reinforce what she teaches in her sessions.


Typing – – We use to teach typing. My five year old’s pinky can’t reach the enter key while his hands are in home row position, but he’s getting the concept. He get tired of the lessons and moves along slower than his older siblings.

Music – Recorder class – This year we are in a homeschool orchestra and my youngest begged to be music class. So we thought we’d give it a try. Learning rhythm has been a little difficult, but he is learning how to read music! Leaving the music stand and recorder out in the dining room reminds the kids to practice.

Circle Time – I’m reading classic chapter books out loud to the older kids and I try to include my youngest when I read.

Fourth Grade

I’m definitely feeling the pressure to get my kids ready for middle school and high school. I feel like first grade through third grade was all fun, but now we need to buckle down and get a little more serious. Even though I’m making fourth grade slightly more difficult for my kids, I’m still trying to keep it fun through my curriculum choices.


Math – Math-U-See, Delta – I love Math-U-See’s mastery approach to math. We just finished multiplication in Gamma and are ready to tackle division.

Reading – All About Reading, Level 4 – My daughter loves the hands on work. She isn’t keen on reading the chapters out loud, but this curriculum helped her so much. Now she has confidence to read small chapter books on her own.

Spelling – All About Spelling, Level 1 and 2 – I’m still on the fence about this curriculum. I’m going to finish Level 2 and see if their spelling has improved. This curriculum is teacher intensive, because I have to teach the spelling rule, then dictate phrases for them to spell.

Writing – Writeshop Junior D – We just finished First Language Lessons, Level 3. My kids can diagram sentences, recite the definition of a preposition, pick out the predicate nominative, but they can’t write a paragraph. After looking at many grammar curriculums I chose this one, because it seemed a lot like All About Reading. It’s very teacher intensive, but has games to teach concepts. The format wasn’t easy for me to figure out at first. The curriculum could be better organized, but once you go through one lesson you get how it works. So far my kids love it as much as I hoped.


Science – Apologia Junior Botany – This is our first year doing an Apologia science curriculum. I love the junior notebooks! I like the conversational style of the textbook. I chose Botany, because we currently have a garden and a nice backyard filled with all kinds of plants.

History – Story of the World, Volume 1 – We’re finishing up Volume 1 this year. The kids enjoy doing History lessons. I like how flexible I can be the with the curriculum. Reading the story and doing the map with the coloring page is easy, but the curriculum also suggests library books and crafts.

Bible – – We absolutely love this curriculum! It costs a monthly fee to subscribe to the course work, but it is well worth the money. I want my kids to have a basic overview of the Bible and this course definitely covers many stories with videos and quizzes.

Latin – SingSchool Latin – This is a great introduction for kids in elementary. It’s really fun to hear my kids talk in Latin. We do one lesson a week.

Typing – – My kids find this typing course boring, but I make them do it anyway. Typing isn’t an exciting subject. I know my kids will be glad I made them learn how to touch type!


Music – Guitar and Recorder – My kids are in a homeschool band school called HOST. The 9 year old does beginning guitar. The 7 year old and 5 year old are in beginning recorder. The recorder class teaches them how to read music and prepares them for band. It is so fun to see all my kids sight read music.

Independent Reading – My kids have reading logs. When they read 10 chapter books then we will take them to a toy store. Twenty minutes of independent reading gives them time and a reminder to read their own books. It’s been a long journey and many trips to the library to get my oldest to love reading, but the reading log is helping her discover books she enjoys.

Circle Time – During circle time I read a classic book out loud. We’ve read Mr. Popper’s Penguins and are currently working on My Father’s Dragon. I got a few suggestions from The Read Aloud Handbook and put them on a Goodreads list.


Programming & Electronics – My husband and I have really gotten into Raspberry Pi and Arduino electronics. He has also been teaching them to 3D print and how to use a laser cutter. My 7 year old is using Coding Games in Scratch to learn how to program games in Scratch. I’m also using Adventures in Raspberry Pi  and Geek Gurl Diaries on YouTube to build projects with my 9 year old.

It’s cool to explore technology with the kids. We want them to know how a computer works and how to prototype projects using a breadboard. We believe technology is the future and we can start while they are young. Eventually we want to teach them how to code in Python. I’m using Code Academy to teach myself and I’m confident my kids could also learn from Code Academy.

Our homeschool is a lot of fun. This list doesn’t even include field trips and all the activities we have with our homeschool group. There is so much to explore!

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On Changing Churches

My family has changed churches twice in the last two and half years. We didn’t move to another town or change for any obvious reason. Over time small moments added up turning into a feeling like where we were attending wasn’t home any more.

We were members of one church for ten years. We were sad to leave, but we definitely felt like it was the right choice. When we joined the next church we thought we would be there for another ten years, so it was a surprise to us when we found ourselves leaving after two.

Trinity Grace Park Slope Church

Trinity Grace Park Slope, Brooklyn

Choosing a church

Living in a large town in the bible belt means we have a buffet of choices when it comes to a place of worship. I can walk out my door on Sunday morning and within a few minutes attend a church service at one of a dozen churches. I am grateful for the privilege of having the freedom of moving to a new church.

I’ve listened to teaching telling me I should choose a church based on where my family can serve instead of what that church can offer us. I’ve also heard I need to pray and feel called to a church. In practice we would attend a service then and ask ourselves, “Did we enjoy the service? Did we get anything out of the sermon? Can we do this every week?” Perhaps our questions are shallow, but discussing the church experience helped Daniel and I debrief and process our thoughts.

Church in Berlin

Church in Berlin

The kids get a vote

Our kids are older and they get to cast a vote on where we attend. I attended a children’s church training and the instructor talked about what parents say when they pick their kids up from class on Sunday. He said parents usually ask their kids, “Did you have fun?”, but instead they should ask, “What did you learn about our God today?” I understand his sentiment, but I disagree with it.

At this time I would rather my kids have fun on Sunday mornings than be involved in an intense scripture study. I homeschool and teach the Bible at home. I want my kids to be excited about church.


Hillsong Church London

Hillsong Church London

Attending a megachurch

This past spring we were skipping Sunday mornings and watching church through a live feed at home. We jokingly called it “Couch Church” or “Waffles & Worship”. For months we struggled to be engaged in any of the sermons and our interest in attending church was dangerously low. We realized this wasn’t a healthy attitude.

Then I remembered that we enjoy attending church because we visit churches while traveling. It’s fun to us to experience the Body of Christ around the world. Those memories reminded me that church can be enjoyable.

Hillsong Church Paris

Hillsong Church Paris

I suggested to Daniel that we visit the Saturday service at the megachurch around the corner. I hoped the 5:00 p.m. Saturday service would be a way to solve our attendance problem. I also assumed the messages preached would be oversimplified for multitudes to understand and maybe we would like simple sermons better. Turns out we love the 5:00 p.m. Saturday service and the short three minute drive to the church’s parking lot. Thankfully I was completely wrong about the sermons, because they have been speaking loud and clear to our present situations. The sermons are one my favorite parts of our new church.

There’s a saying at this new church: “It’s okay to not be okay.” That’s a message we really need to hear right now. There isn’t anything wrong in our lives and we aren’t in any sort of crisis mode. But it’s a message of grace that allows us to be ourselves and take time to figure things out.

I don’t know if we’ll stay at this church for ten years. I don’t know when or how we will get involved. I don’t know what the future holds.

I do know our kids love going to church. I do know we love going on Saturday evenings. I do know we love leaving church encouraged and challenged.

Right now it feels like home.

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Random Thoughts on Body Image

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about body image. Like the classic meme I want to be thin, but I love food. I want to look good in my clothes and set a healthy example for my daughter. I’m still figuring out the right combination of acceptance, nutritious food, and exercise.


Here are some random thoughts I’ve had about my body image.


By Hollywood standards I’m the homely, stout best friend character. According to Mindy Kaling’s first book we’re both a size eight. (Although, the shorts I just bought are a size ten.) In normal American standards I’m pretty normal and healthy. However, by European standards I’m a chunky American.

This is a broad generalization, but I think those who live in European urban cities have it easier than their American counterparts. Some Europeans have easier access to real food and are able to walk around their city. Whereas Americans drive everywhere and the quickest food options are not the most nutritious. Our American suburban hubs aren’t designed with meeting physical health goals for its inhabitants. Americans fight an uphill battle when it comes to eating nutritious food and getting exercise.


My weight and size and fluctuates within 5 to 10ish pounds. I’ve heard this is a normal part of life. Some of my weight changes because I’ll stop focusing on eating nutrient rich foods or I’ll exercise hard for a couple of weeks. The change isn’t a big deal until my clothes don’t fit. I hate shopping and spending money on clothes. It’s disheartening when your clothes from last summer don’t fit.

What Matters to Me

I don’t really care about the number on the scale. I’ve always been heavier than I appear. What I care about is how my clothes fit. The clothes I pin on Pinterest don’t really look great on my body type. Anthropologie’s drapey clothes are a success, because their clothes look great on a lot of body types. My problem is I don’t like drapey clothes. I prefer the structure of a good pair of jeans and a stylish t-shirt without a muffin top.



The internet is applauding women who decided to have a bikini body by simply deciding to wear one. Another post I read celebrated women who accepted their body and wore their two piece swimsuits with pride. I don’t wear a bikini, because I don’t want to stress about my bits falling out while I’m trying to make sure my children don’t drown. Bikinis are stressful.

When I see a thin person

I’m logical thinker. I know I shouldn’t compare, but I do anyway. So when I see a person thinner than me I go through this flow chart: 1. Have they had children? No. Well, that’s why. 2. They have had children. How many? Only one. That’s why. 3. They have had two or more kids, then what is their body type? They are naturally lean and they have good genes. That’s why. Not much I can do about my genes.


I once read one of those Cosmopolitan magazine articles explaining how most people fit into one of four different body types. I learned I’m not naturally a tall and lean body type. So many of us can’t do much about the genes and body type we have. My genes aren’t so hot. It’s an uphill battle.


This is the part where I’m supposed to write about how much I love what God gave me. Why I should love all the extra droopy skin and poochy belly that my three children gave me. Of course, I love my kids and I’m grateful for the privilege of having them. My issue is how my waist size easily fluctuates. Most of the time I look three months pregnant. That’s what bugs me the most. It’s difficult to find shirts that lay just the right way around my midsection. I’ve watched a lot of What Not to Wear and I know we all have some sort of issue we need to dress correctly. It’s not easy, but I am working on accepting this mama body.

Moving Forward

Diets and working out are great, but I’m on the hunt for stuff I can do forever. I don’t regret all the diets I’ve tried, because each time I added something new to my everyday diet. I don’t want to crash diet again only to gain it all back within a week of bad eating. Because sometimes life happens and you need to eat a giant pizza for your mental health.

I’m also working on finding a sustainable workout plan for the rest of my life. Doing an hour at the gym three to four times a week isn’t sustainable. Walking and some basic exercises like pushups and crunches are something I can do the rest of my life.

Finding the right combination of acceptance and healthy living is tricky. I love food and yummy beverages. I also like wearing cute clothes. It’s an uphill battle.

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