Books. And Pie. And Books.

I thought I’d tell you about some things I am enjoying lately.  First of all is Katie Parker Production, a phenomenally fun 4-book series that I finished and that Emily and Julianna are both currently reading and laughing out loud over.  The protagonist is a girl who just entered foster care due to her mom’s struggles with drugs and bad relationships.  Katie is trying to find her place in this new foster home.  Katie is sassy, irreverent, and very honestly struggling with so many issues that teens and young adults face, and you just can’t help but root for her the whole way. The first three books cover her life in high school, and the fourth revisits Katie as a young adult.

There is a very light and understated faith message throughout the series.  The struggles she faces ring true.  And the humor– oh my!– and there are SO MANY parts in the series that are truly LOL funny, including the way Katie reacts in one way on the outside, while warring with herself on the inside. (Haven’t we all been there..?) This series gets the full five stars from me and from both of my daughters. And the three of us almost never ALL adore the very same book. Winner, winner, winner.

Next I want to share a fabulous recipe I found for Blueberry Sour Cream Pie.  I had gotten a bunch of frozen blueberries on sale, and was wondering about the possibility of turning some of them into pie, but I was kind of afraid that I might end up with a watery puddle instead of something that looked like pie.  Well, this recipe is the answer.  Super easy to make and absolutely yummy.  I have made it three times in the last month and each time it has been a hit.  For simplicity’s sake, I used premade pie crust.

The recipe recommends that you thaw your blueberries before making the pie, but here’s the workaround that I came up with.  I just pour my frozen berries into a casserole dish and pop them into the oven alongside the pie crust, and by the time the pie crust is baked, the ice is off the berries and they are ready to mix into the recipe.

Finally, I wanted to mention a really fun kids’ book that I was asked to review.  It is called Neema’s Reason to Smile. The pictures are bright and lively, the view into another culture is intriguing, and I just loved the focus on hard work, perseverance, and the importance of mentoring in the life of a young person.

Have you read anything good lately?  I’d love to hear about it!

(PS– I was given a copy of Neema’s Reason to Smile in exchange for an honest review, but I found and loved the Katie Parker books all on my own.)


What I’ve Read Lately

I’ve been trying to read more fiction lately, as I got out of the habit for awhile. Here are some of the books I’ve read and enjoyed recently.  As I wrote about these books for you, I had to laugh at myself, because most of these ‘fictional’ stories are actually true stories, based on true stories, an exploration of other cultures, or exploring a facet of humans and their relationships that I would like to learn more about. No escapist fiction here, sorry!

Radium Girls: The Dark Story of America’s Shining Women— During World War I, radium was  discovered to glow in the dark, and was painted on the dials inside military airplanes.  Since not much was known at the time about the dangers of radium, the girls doing the painting suffered terribly. Though this was a fictionalized account, the women and their challenges were real. This is the story of their fight to hold their employers accountable.

Indigo Girl— A fascinating story of a young girl in the 1700’s who was left in charge of her father’s plantation.  This was based on a true story and the fictionalized story was interspersed with letters that the girl had actually written.  The protagonist is strong and capable and very atypical of (my imaginings of) a woman in that era.  Woven into the story of the plantation was the story of her longing to find a marriage match of her own choosing, and how all of it was a fight against conventional expectations of that day.

The Forgotten Seamstress— This is a story set in two different times.  A modern day woman gets curious about a quilt that has been in her family for generations, and discovers that the quilt maker was doing more than just quilting when she created this heirloom.  She was trying to tell people about her life, while locked up in an insane asylum. Definitely adult themes in this one, but it is a fascinating read.

The Namesake— This one is a multi-generational story of a family who came to America from India.  I am fascinated with the immigrant experience, and found this description of life lived with your heart in two worlds to be both mournful and intriguing.

The Girl with Seven Names– this is the true story of a girl who escaped from North Korea.  I found it to be an interesting view into the country, and into the struggles of the North Korean people, and I cheered with the woman when she finally made it to a place of safety.

Turtles All the Way Down— This one was an interesting view into the mind of a person struggling with extreme anxiety and obsessive thoughts. It did a great job portraying the endless thoughts that hound folks with extreme anxiety, and gave me a new sense of compassion and understanding. Definitely a young adult book– I would have appreciated a little more depth.  But still interesting.

180 Seconds— This story is based on a fascinating experiment where complete strangers are set face to face to look into each other’s eyes for 180 seconds.  The main character in the book is a college age girl who has spent the majority of her life in foster care, and is struggling with issues surrounding attachment and trust.  This is definitely a romance and gets downright steamy at times.  But I found the protagonists believable and the big question in the book very intriguing– what does it take to break down walls in a person who has been very wounded?

Have you read any of these books?  What did you think of them?  What have you been reading lately?

Worth reading (and a giveaway!)

Between yard work and OB work and the challenging work of parenting teens fluttering on the edge of the nest, I haven’t been reading lots of books lately. But two that I’ve read are very worth mentioning.

First off is an excellent book about relationships called Attached. This book is actually geared toward adults at two different stages of life:  people seeking a marriage partner, and people who are already married but wanting to improve their relationship and learn to interact on a deeper level so that both partners can feel more satisfied in the marriage.

You’d think that dual focus might be hard to pull off, but actually the authors did a good job of thoughtfully addresses the challenges at both those points in life.  The premise of the book is that most people tend toward one of three basic attachment styles:  anxious, avoidant, or secure.  These styles affect who you are drawn to in a marriage partner, AND how you mesh with your partner in a relationship.

This book contains lots of stories and illustrations to help you identify your own type as well as the tendencies of those around you, and gives good practical help for avoiding the pitfalls of each type, and working toward a secure style of relating to your loved one.  I highly recommend this book for anyone from young adult on up to an ‘old-married’ person like myself.

Then there’s the most recent book I finished, The Boy With The Bamboo Heart.  This book tells the story of an orphan who survived great struggles during his childhood in Thailand and then went on to found a children’s charity.  There’s some language in the book, and some frank talk about the very hard things that happened to him.  But the most memorable message in the book to me was the many places where kind adults intervened, gave him a chance, and helped him overcome his very difficult beginnings so that he could go on to become a productive, successful, and very kindhearted member of society.  I couldn’t help but finish the book wanting to be just that kind of influence in the lives of kids around me.

I’m giving away a copy of this book here in a couple days.  If it sounds like something you’d be interested in reading, comment below and tell me about a book that has inspired you to reach out to others and do more in the world.  In fact, whether you’re interested in the giveaway or not, I’d love to hear any book recommendations you have along these lines.

And finally, here is a really great and encouraging article for mothers of strong-willed children:  How to be the mom your strong-willed child needs

My latest Stitch Fix

Last week I got rather a cute batch of Stitch FixBlue items that I thought you might like to see.  This first item is a silky blue blouse that was quite pretty, but looked a little boxy on me and just didn’t quite feel like my style.  It kinda felt to me like it should be paired up with heels and a business suit which is just not me.


StripesNext up is a black and white striped elbow length top that is actually quite similar to several others that I have.  But the cozy t-shirt fabric and the flattering style won my heart once again.  I know it is something I will wear regularly.


BagThis luscious green bag was another item that was love at first sight for me.  As you can see in the photo, it is actually two bags, with the smaller bag snapping into the larger bag, depending on the size of bag that you feel like carrying around on any given day.  The leather feels beautiful in your hands, and the bag is big enough for travel.


SkirtCardiganThese final two photos actually show two items. First is a maxi skirt in a fun pattern.  I am such a sucker for maxi skirts, as they are some of the comfiest items of clothing that I own and can be dressed up or down, depending on my mood.  I think I have about hit my limit on maxi’s though, and will probably ask them not to send me more after this fix.

SkirtCardigan2Finally there’s this black t-shirt knit cardigan.  It has a fun folded-over neckline that swoops down to form pockets at the  front edges, similar to the turquoise sweater in this fix.  The fabric is stretchy and soft and being black will of course go with lots of different outfits.

I really loved this fix, and ended up keeping everything except for the blue top.  Fun, fun!  Have you tried Stitch Fix? Click here if you’d like to see the other ‘fixes’ I’ve been sent over that past couple years.  And if you’d like to give this service a try, just click on my referral link.

What we’ve liked on Netflix lately

John and I have an evening habit of 45 minutes or so of TV after the younger kids are settled for the night.  It can be a challenge to find TV that’s interesting to us both, is intelligent, and during which people mostly stay reasonably dressed and seem to have decent morals.  We both like mysteries, but I prefer the kind where crime scenes aren’t dwelt upon and the content is not too creepy.  Blacklist and Bones and several others struck out for us — just too ‘eek’. Ditto for the later seasons of ’24’.  Anyway, here are a few that John and I have really enjoyed lately.

  • Blue Bloods.  We loved this one enough that we bought the DVD set.  It shows people trying hard to do what’s right and honorable in the middle of difficult and challenging circumstances, and it does a great job showing both the struggles and joys of living in a family.
  • Psych is a lot of fun, though it tends toward goofy.
  • White Collar has some really fun, complex relationships and storylines.
  • Royal Pains is another one that can be a little goofy, but we like the characters, the houses, and the beach location.
  • Death in Paradise is a British one that we finished recently and were sad to see it done.  Along with some fun mystery and characters, the show is located on a beautiful island…aaahhhh.

Do you have similar likes and dislikes?  I’d love to hear your recommendations.




Got a photographer-wannabe at your house?

I haven’t done a giveaway for a long time, but I am excited about the one I have for you today. In our family, there are several kids who frequently grab my camera or my phone to either take selfies or to get photos of what’s going on around them.   If there’s a kid like that in your family too,  I have just the giveaway for you.

Next week National Geographic is releasing the National Geographic Kids Guide to Photography: Tips & Tricks on How to Be a Great Photographer.  The fun and accessible book is packed with great info for budding photographers.   In this book kids can learn all sorts of essential photography concepts from setting up shots, working with lighting, and improving composition.


Photographer in training

Photographer in training

Kids (and adults!) can even learn how to set up a camera’s manual settings, something that professional photographers see as an essential skill for working in tricky lighting situations. Animals, people, sports, and landscape photographer are all discussed in a very kid-friendly way.  Info is broken into colorful short paragraphs and interspersed with lots of great photos.  In my opinion, this book is geared toward kids ages 10 and up, though a motivated younger child could also learn plenty if he was a strong reader.

Getting Started Nat Geo Guide to Photos, credit Annie Griffiths

I am giving away one copy of this book next week.  If you know someone who you think would be interested in it, comment below.  For a second entry, like this post on facebook or share it on twitter, and then come back and comment again.  I think this book would make a great Christmas gift for an interested kid.   I’ll announce a winner next week!



Book giveaway: Waking Up White

Later this week I’m going to answer some parenting-logistics questions that I’ve been asked lately– things like what we do about allowance, how old our kids have to be to babysit siblings, etc. If you happen to have questions about how we do things at our house, will you shoot them to me in comments? I’ll add those questions/answers to Wednesday’s post.

Today, however, I am giving away an intriguing book called Waking Up White, and Finding Myself in the Story of Race by Debby Irving.  She grew up in a privileged white community in the 60’s and 70’s, and realized well into adulthood that, first of all, she was so uncomfortable with race issues that she was often nervous talking with black folks, and second, that she desperately wanted to be the type of person who works to break down barriers, rather than pretending they don’t exist.

I think a lot of white people would like to think that racism is a thing of the past, that everyone plays on an even playing field these days.  But the more she explored this, the more she came to realize that’s just not true. It’s a proven fact that black boys get pulled over by police more often than white boys. White women still cross the street when black men walk by.  And black men have to dress much more neatly than average to go shopping at the mall without being covertly watched and sometimes even questioned by security people.

Chapter by chapter, the author shares her own personal journey of racial awakening– of really understanding the privilege she gained simply from being born into a white family.  She also came to realize that the reserve and politeness she learned from her family of origin, were sometimes causing her to avoid the kinds of deep conversations that might lead to understanding another person’s point of view, to really imagine life in their shoes.

She talked about the different values in different families, and how some of those values might add layers of complication to how we perceive folks.  For example, a student  she’d labeled difficult and distractible because of her tendency to leave her seat and go chat with other students turned out to be from a culture that highly valued cooperation.  The child was honestly trying to help other students out.

Another time the author realized she was inadvertently offending black associates by being too quick to call them by their first names instead of honoring them by saying Mr. Smith or Mrs. Jones.  From her cultural standpoint, she saw it as a sign of friendliness. But many people, especially those growing up in the South, do not.

Yet another time she learned that calling a black person ‘articulate’  can be seen as an insult — a stinging jab often heard as ‘he’s unusual for a black person’– and not a true compliment at all.  Of course relationships between any humans can be complicated, even at their best.  But the overarching message of this book to me was how important it is to be honest and humble in our dealings with each other, to not assume that everyone is coming from the same frame of reference, and to be willing to hear and believe people telling you that life is very different for them than it may be for you.

As a mom to children born in several different countries, I read this book with interest and found it to be very worthwhile.  It left me with greater understanding and a renewed determination to be the type of person who builds bridges and grows relationships wherever I go.  As the author states in this book, we’re all different, but we all belong here.  We should treat each other as such.

If you would like to enter the drawing to win a copy of this book, comment below. I’d love to hear how you talk about race with your kids.  Do you encourage your kids to help all kids feel welcome in their classroom? How do you respond when your child points out someone of a different ethnic heritage in the grocery store?  If you are adoptive parent, how do you talk about race with your kids without leading them to expect bad treatment around every corner?



Related story:  Raising Black Kids in a ‘White’ State

Movie Giveaway: Against the Wild

The winner of The Perfect Score is commenter #5, Ticia.  Send me your address, Ticia, and I will get that book headed your direction.


Today I have yet another giveaway.  It is for a family movie called Against The Wild.  You can see the trailer here on youtube.  Our family watched it together and to be honest, my older teens didn’t find it riveting material– I think it’s geared more toward the elementary age group.  But it is  safe movie to watch with the whole family, and the dog is just beautiful.  (Of course I’m biased there– we have an Alaskan Malamute too.)

If you’d like to enter to win a copy of the movie, comment below and tell me about the best family movie you’ve watched lately.  I’m always eager to hear family movie recommendations.  Most recently (after reading the book to the younger girls) we watched ‘City of Ember’ again, and really enjoyed it.  I’ll select a winner of the video on Friday.  And if you’re interested in buying a copy of this movie, it is on sale at Wal-Mart.

Free movie tickets!

Son Of God movieThis seems to be a month of giveaways! The winner of the book The Antelope in the Living Room by Melanie Shankle is commenter #12  Tracy Stanley.  Tracy, send me your address and I will get your copy headed in your direction.

Today I’ve got a new giveaway–  four vouchers  to go see a new movie that comes out this weekend.  It is called ‘Son of God‘  and the vouchers can be redeemed to use in any theater as long as it is showing. Here’s what the Dove Foundation had to say about the movie.

I’m always a little leery of movie presentations of faith– often producers use their creative license pretty liberally.  But  John and I are looking forward to taking our teens to check this one out for ourselves.  If nothing else, it is a great springboard and opportunity to talk with others about our faith. And the musical score was done by Hans Zimmer, one of my husband’s favorite composers.  (He’s a big fan of dramatic orchestral musical numbers.) Here’s the official movie trailer so you can get a feel for it.

I am going to give away these tickets in pairs, so that two families will have the chance to see this movie more affordably — or free, depending on the size of your family.  To enter the drawing, comment below and tell me about a movie you enjoyed recently.  I’ll choose a winner on Thursday, so get commenting!  🙂

Because these vouchers are e-vouchers, if the winner replies quickly, I might even be able to get them to you in time to see the movie this weekend– if I can find time in the midst of the Refresh conference anyway.

Speaking of which, if you’re in the Seattle area and are interested in attending Refresh (a conference for adoptive and foster families) online registration is closed, but you can still show up on Friday and register in person.  There are lots of good speakers, including Deborah Gray (she wrote Attaching in Adoption) and Milan and Kay Yerkovich (authors of How We Love).  I’m excited to be team-leading a couple sessions with two awesome mommas.  Lisa Qualls of One Thankful Mom and I are doing a talk on having faith in hard times, and Jen Summers (a fellow mom of ten!) and I are talking about large family logistics.  Should be fun!

Of Chaos and Coffee

Coffee in the morning One of the things about having lots of kids is that you’re always trying to control the chaos one way or another. Sometimes that means putting multiple kids in the same activity to save driving, or doing fewer activities overall. Other times you triple a cookie recipe while you’ve already got a mess in the kitchen, or nix a messy snack and instead suggest one that is easier to clean up.

Recently it dawned on me that years of parenting many little ones left me in the habit of saying ‘no’ more often than is necessary in my current life. My youngest is 9, and I’ve got lots of capable teens, all of whom can wash dishes and do all sorts of other useful things, and some of whom can even drive each other places. That makes for a little more margin in our lives. I’m on a campaign this year to say yes to my kids more often. Sure, there are still limits. But ‘yes’ is definitely flying off my lips more often.

One of the example of this is hot drinks in the morning. For years I saved cocoa, tea, and coffee in the morning for sledding and snow days just to save on hassle and mess, but these days when kids ask for coffee or tea in the morning, my answer is a happy yes. The kids enjoy the extra pampering and so do I. This month, thanks to some freebies from Maxwell House International, we are enjoying cafe style coffee along with our tea and cocoa. This mildly sweet coffee is mellow enough that I’ll even let my 9- and 11-year-old daughters make half a cup in the morning. I also occasionally add a spoonful to my Ethiopian coffee for a bit of a different flavor. My kids really like the French Vanilla, but I prefer the Vanilla Nut myself. Swiss Mocha and Hazelnut are a couple of other options. You can see them all here.

Did you know that not only can you enjoy Maxwell House International as a cafe style coffee beverage for a flavorful and creamy coffee experience, but you can also add a few spoonfuls instead of creamer, to bring some romance to your coffee? In honor of Valentine’s Day, Maxwell House International wants you to try it. It’s delicious!

International Cafe

 Click here to get a sample (or a coupon) while they last. For additional fun, you can comment below, tell me which Maxwell House International flavor you would like to try. There are so many–including French Vanilla, Vanilla Nut, Hazelnut, Suisse Mocha, Vanilla Caramel, Café Vienna. You’ll be entered automatically in a random drawing for a $100 Visa gift card.



Sweepstakes Rules:
No duplicate comments.

You may receive (2) total entries by selecting from the following entry methods:

Leave a comment in response to the sweepstakes prompt on this post

Tweet (public message) about this promotion; including exactly the following unique term in your tweet message: “#SweepstakesEntry”; and leave the URL to that tweet in a comment on this post

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For those with no Twitter or blog, read the official rules to learn about an alternate form of entry.

This giveaway is open to US Residents age 18 or older. Winner  will be selected via random draw, and will be notified by e-mail. You have 72 hours to get back to me, otherwise a new winner will be selected.

The Official Rules are available here.

This sweepstakes runs from 2/12/14 – 3/24/13.

Be sure to visit the Maxwell House International Page on where you can read other bloggers’ reviews and find more chances to win!