7.14.2021

Summer Stack Update (A What's On My Nightstand #WOMNS Post)

Hello all! As I mentioned in my last post (back in early May), I made the conscious choice earlier this year to spend less time online, specifically on social media, and have no regrets so far with that decision. Not only is there less drama in my life, but I have more time to do other things, like hang out with my kids and read books while they play in the pool. So far it has been a win-win. And even though I still work online, blogging got thrown into the "social media" pot so I haven't been on here as much either, but today I wanted to jump on to highlight one of the books I just finished up from The Stack. I got sidetracked by several ebooks on my Kindle (currently reading Junkyard Planet by Adam Minter - which has been really interesting), so my progress on the Nightstand Stack has slowed a bit. However, I'm still plugging away, and hoping to make the most of the next 6 months. I'll keep you posted. 😊


Today's review is of The Enchanted Hour: The Miraculous Power of Reading Aloud in the Age of Distraction, by Meghan Cox Gurdon. Now, as I said in my review on Goodreads, I did not need a book to tell me that it's important to read aloud to your kids. That's something I've known since my mother read to me as a child (thus turning me into a bookworm), and was solidified by my own experience of reading to our kids (I'll get into that a little bit more in a second). However, Gurdon does a fantastic job of laying out the research and presenting her reasons for why this is not only important for turning children into readers, but also in their physical development, mental well-being, and even bridging the divide between parents and children as kids move into and through the minefield of teenage angst. 

Our Reading Story

In 2016, the Hubs and I sat in a small, dark office of a children's home (a.k.a. orphanage/care facility) in Latin America, just minutes away from meeting five kids who would eventually take on our last name and become an intricate part of our lives as we all slowly learned what it meant to be a family. In these last few minutes before life, as we knew it, changed forever, I found myself asking the in-house psychologist what each of these kids enjoyed doing. I was trying to discover hobbies, interests, anything that might become common ground in a situation where nothing was common - from language to life experience. When I asked if anyone ever read to the kids, the psychologist began laughing and said, "Read? To these children? Ha! None of them have the attention span to handle that! I tried once or twice, but it doesn't work. You'll never get these kids to sit and listen. All they want to do is watch TV." 

Challenge accepted. 

To put it mildly, the adoption was difficult from start to finish. The oldest was 12, spoke no English, hated the world, and us most of all. I can't say that I blame her - everything in her life had been taken away, changed, or forced upon her, including learning a new language. The first night we were home, I went into the bedroom and found her madly studying Dr. Seuss's ABCs, trying to read the English, and making marks in pencil above words she thought she knew, writing the Spanish equivalent above or below "elephant" or "horse" - words that she could tell from the pictures. I still remember, a few weeks later, when she finally approached me and asked, in her thick Spanish accent, "What does zizzer mean?" I asked her to repeat the question, and then again, and finally said, "That's not a word, where did you hear it?" At which point, in complete frustration, she stomped over to one of the bookshelves in our home library and pulled out the ABC book, flipped to the Z page, and then I got it. Dr. Seuss's nonsense words were lost in translation, but a memory was made. 

I read that ABC book so often, to so many kids, that I unintentionally memorized it. Over and over we would read it together, as they learned new sounds, words, and—for some—even the alphabet. These days we've advanced quite a bit from Dr. Seuss (even though the youngest four, now ranging in age from almost 9 to a newly minted teenager, still request them from time to time during our nightly reading sessions). From Seuss to Tolkien (The Hobbit was a hit), their worlds continue to expand. There are times when the Hubs and I glance at one another during our nightly reading rituals (often lasting an hour or two, depending on the number of books we have going at the moment, and my level of wakefulness), and share a knowing look, as we hear the kids sucking in their breath at a particularly intense part of the book, or chuckling when Grandma Georgina complains again about Mr. Wonka and his antics. My favorite moments are when one of them suddenly gets the subtle meaning or understands a play on words, because it shows a deeper grasp of the English language. If only the psychologist could see them now...  


I think the most surprising part of The Enchanted Hour, for me, was when Gurdon touched on the power of reading to older children, and the way it creates a bridge during adolescence (see quote above, starting with "we blow it sometimes"). I honestly hadn't spent a lot of time thinking about it, but when I read this section, I instantaneously knew she had hit the mark. The oldest's transition to a small private school was made as easy as possible for her, including allowing her to read the Spanish translations of the classroom literature assignments while listening to the English audio on YouTube. But after her first six months the instructors moved her to the same books as her classmates, and she floundered a bit as she struggled to read along. And that's when I stepped in. 

Despite ongoing angst in our personal relationship, during those months, when we spent hours together each night while I read through The Giver, I Am Malala, The Secret Garden, and Sherlock Holmes' The Hound of the Baskervilles, it was more than just getting through a reading assignment. I found myself not only in the role of reader, but also that of history instructor (trying to explain 9/11 and the ensuing war to a child that came to us knowing nothing about anything outside of her birth country), culture and religious expert, and all around encyclopedia (try reading Sherlock Holmes sometime when you don't have a concept of what a carriage is!). Although she has not become a book lover like the other four, I still look back on that year of reading aloud for school, and realize that sometimes, it was the one thing that gave us common ground, even if just for an hour at night. 

With one year left until she leaves for college, we still don't have much in common. She's doing her life, and I'm raising her four siblings. It sometimes feels like I have two different families living in the same house. But the other night she happened to be home for dinner (a rare occurrence these days). And as we all sat around the dinner table, she looked at me and said, "Remember when we read Sherlock Holmes? I'd kind of like to hear more of that. Maybe you should read it to me." I tried not to fall off my chair or look too excited. After all, I knew it was just a fleeting moment, a passing idea, but it thrilled my bookworm heart that it even crossed her mind. Who knows? Maybe one day I'll find myself in her living room, reading Dr. Seuss's ABCs to her little boy or girl, my grandchild. And maybe, just maybe, she'll finally allow herself to sit and enjoy the comfort and connective power of reading aloud. Walls torn down, one book at a time.

5.05.2021

The Stack is Still Clearing (A What's On My Nightstand #WOMNS Post)

Hello friends and fellow bookworms! My last post on here went live on February 16th, and then it seems, just as in years past, despite starting out strong with my blogging goals, life took over. And while I continued to read through my list and follow my No Spend plans for February, I failed to blog about either topic (or anything else, for that matter). But since I had a moment this morning, I thought I'd at least give a quick update about what I've read since the last time I posted. 

As a reminder, here are the list of books that I started out with from the FRONT stack on my nightstand.

  1. Boundaries with Teens - Read the Review
  2. The Enchanted Hour
  3. Agatha: The real life of Agatha Christie - Read the Review
  4. Poirot and Me - Read Review Below 👇
  5. Sugar Changed the World - Read the Review
  6. To the Land of Long Lost Friends - Read the Review
  7. Is God anti-gay?
  8. The Girls of Atomic City - Read Review Below 👇
  9. How to Raise an Elephant
  10. Dear Mrs. Bird - Read Review Below 👇
  11. The Feather Thief
  12. SoulCare
  13. Books, Baguettes & Bedbugs
  14. What She Ate
  15. Hank & Jim
  16. Don't Overthink It
  17. The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes (the only one I've read before, but not this version)
  18. The Quotable Tozer
  19. 7 Men
Over the last couple of months, in addition to reading the official books from my stack (which I'll get to in a minute), and completing Souvenir on my Kindle (you can read my review of it on Goodreads), I also read the following books to the kids: 
So as you can see, I haven't been lagging on my reading for 2021, they just haven't all been part of my official stack that I'm still working through for the year. But if you're curious about the ones that I have marked off of the list, here's a brief rundown.

👍Poirot and Me by David Suchet has definitely been one of the more enjoyable books from my stack in 2021. As an avid fan of Agatha Christie since I was in junior high, with Poirot as my favorite sleuth, it should come as no surprise that I was also a fan of the British television show. 

Who better to write a book about the show and this lovable Belgian detective than the man who played him for more than two decades? David Suchet threw himself into this role, 110%, and his love for the fictional character comes through in his writing. I'm not even sure Christie herself liked Poirot as much Suchet did and does.

If you are a fan of the books or the show, this is a must read. Two thumbs up from me, and a big thanks to my sweet Hubs for his placement of this under our Christmas tree.


👎Dear Mrs. Bird by A.J. Pearce. I had high expectations for this book, based on the reviews that I had read on Goodreads. However, once I dug in, I found that I had a hard time getting into the story. I wanted to like the characters, I wanted to like the plot line, but I found that it dragged a bit, and I ended up just wanting the book to be done. 

That being said, I now see that it is planned out to be a series of books, and since the story took a bit of an unexpected upturn at the end, I might be willing to give book #2 a try, if I ever run out of books from my stack to read. The likelihood of that is slim to none, but there's always a chance (especially if I stumble across a used copy of it at some point in time). 

If you have read this book and liked it, I'd love to hear your thoughts!



I wasn't sure what to expect when I picked up The Girls of Atomic City by Denise Kiernan. Last year I had read her book about the Biltmore House (see my review), and felt that the idea was strong, but the writing could have used some work (and a good editor). Even so, when I saw that she had written a book about the women of Oak Ridge during WWII, it piqued my interest and I went about getting a copy for my stack.

The good news is that it gets a thumbs up 👍 from me. As with The Last Castle (her book on the Biltmore House in Asheville, NC), Oak Ridge is just down the road from me (the opposite direction of Asheville) and contains a fascinating, and often overlooked, part of history. 

Although I was aware that Oak Ridge played a role in the creation of the atomic bomb that eventually brought an end to WWII, I was unaware of the extent of the secrecy surrounding the work and workers during the dark days of the war. This book makes me want to road trip down there one of these days and see what remains of that history before it's completely gone.

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That's what's been going on with my stack of 2021 books. I'll do my best to report in a little more regularly going forward, but...with five kids and homeschooling and working freelance jobs and summer coming...I'm making no promises. 😄

👉 If you haven't already connected with me on Goodreads, I recommend following along there, as I do write reviews as soon as I complete whatever book I'm reading at the moment.

What have YOU been reading?


2.16.2021

My Simplified Why: Follow the Money

FROM THE ARCHIVES ➤➤➤ I originally wrote this post in January 2020 - before the whole world came to a screeching halt, and life as we knew it, stopped. However, as I've been attempting to blog a little more consistently this year, I decided to pull up some of the posts I had started and saved as drafts, and this is one of them. While similar to the post I shared last week, as I read through it, I was reminded of where we were a year ago, and I realized that I had, in fact, made some good financial changes over the past 12 months. For example, this year our savings accounts are much healthier than they were a year ago, and that's a good thing! But I also realized that some of my points made in this post were still valid, and good reminders of other ways I could cut corners and save, so I decided to post it anyway. Maybe you, like me, will find a little nugget to take away and dwell on and then do something with this year. May we all continue to grow and improve in 2021! 

In 2012, we paid off our house. In actual fact, we paid off the remaining 54% of our mortgage in just 7 months of 2012. It came down to focusing in on a big goal, saying "no" to a lot of other things, and a whole bunch of self discipline. And it felt great when we were all done.

Which is why when, earlier this month, I found myself stressing over looming bills and shrinking bank accounts, I was pulled up short when I realized I was right back to where I was in 2011. How did that happen? Well, I'll tell you: old habits and new kids.

Old habits like, "I don't really feel like cooking tonight," (which, even as I was typing that, reminded me that I needed to start the Crock-Pot for dinner) crept back in. Only this time there were seven of us, so Japanese takeout now costs $70, rather than $20. 🙅 The occasional stop for ice cream after a school event takes $30 when you're dishing up six bowls instead of two, and now that some of them are getting older, a stop at Starbucks is often a $15 splurge, rather than a $5 treat. It all adds up.

Although most of the time I'm pretty good about telling myself I don't need the new pair of pants or that cute sweater, it's harder when I'm out and see clothes on sale that would fit my kids. I mean, I'm saving money, right? They're so hard on clothes, and it's nice not to have to pay full-price for something when I have a stash downstairs that I got on clearance. But you know what's NOT a bargain? Hitting up so many sales that I forget what I have and when I finally dig it out...they've outgrown it. True story, I'm embarrassed to admit.

Photo by Artem Beliaikin on Unsplash

In 2018, I was becoming totally overwhelmed by the amount of stuff in our house. When it was just the two of us, I kept it fairly tidy, though we still had way too much, but once the kids came, I felt like I was swimming against the tide. Despite keeping Christmas to a minimum and refusing to throw extravagant birthday parties where all of their friends were invited and we were flooded with gifts, it was like a never ending stuff parade coming through the doors of our house. Even though I instigated regular purge sessions, piles continued to creep up on my desks, kitchen counters, and even on top of bedroom dressers.

Feeling thus overwhelmed, I signed up to take part in the Uncluttered course (nope, that's not an affiliate link) that minimalist Joshua Becker hosts several times a year. All participants receive a lifetime membership to participate in the course, and also maintain access to the private Facebook group. I can't say that the course itself was particularly life changing for me...but the private group has been a great source of ongoing encouragement. Seeing what others are doing, purging, changing, has been a reminder that I shouldn't give up

A couple of weeks ago, I noticed that people were beginning to share their "why" for continuing the clean out. One woman said that her why was becoming debt free, and as soon as I read it, I knew that I needed to get back on the bandwagon. While we're not in debt - outside of a mortgage (yes, we paid it off but, long story short, we once again have a small mortgage on our home) - we're also not exactly rolling in savings. Another woman shared that whenever she thought about buying something, she transferred that same amount into her savings account, which triggered a memory of a time when I was doing the same thing (see: paid off house in 2012). It's just one of many good habits that need to be pulled from the mothballs.

This year, my WHY for minimalizing and simplifying really comes down to the money. It's not just about making multiple trips to donate excess goods, but about stemming the tide coming in as well - not just because it's stuff, but because it represents resources that could be much better spent elsewhere. As I look ahead at current and upcoming expenses, I realize that the not-so-little $40 and $70 expenditures, even if it's "saving" me money, have really added up. It's time to remember that every time I'm saying "yes" to something with my money, I'm saying "no" to something else...something that's probably way more important.

My why for #minimalismsimplified in 2020 is about financial freedom. Or, as Becker put in on a post he shared last week, "Just because it's on sale, doesn't mean I need it." 😏  

2.12.2021

News from The (Kid's) Stack

Hello fellow bookworms and casual readers! The news this week is slim, in that I'm still working my way through several of the books from my stack (and e-reader), but I did manage to finish one of the books I've been reading with the kids, so that will be the focus of today's post. If you don't know who Tony Evans is, keep reading. If you work with kids in any way (parent, teacher, grandparent, church leader, etc.), keep reading. If you've been looking for a way to explain why Ephesians 6 is important, keep reading. If you don't fit into any of those categories, but you'd like to understand more about the armor of God, keep reading! 


Today's review from the (kid's) stack covers A Kid's Guide to the Armor of God by Dr. Tony Evans. I first heard Dr. Evans when I was a freshman at college, up in prim and proper New England. I usually sat in the balcony for chapel, and I will never forget his voice carrying up to the rafters as he passionately spoke about how the "skinny white boy you see painted in pictures, was not the same Jesus who overturned the money tables in the temple and called people a 'brood of vipers'..." And we all jumped when he slammed his hand down on the podium and shouted, "NO! That's not MY Jesus! MY Jesus calmed the storm with a word! MY Jesus kicked the money changers out of His Father's house! MY Jesus isn't someone who's afraid of His own shadow!" Let me just say that it was a memorable chapel, and I loved every minute of it! 

I can't remember exactly when I picked up his Armor of God book for kids, but I believe it might have been on special during an Amazon Prime day, a few summers back. I recognized his name, and even though I knew the kids weren't ready for all of those concepts yet, I thought I might as well pick it up and put it on the shelf for the day that they were. This past fall, one of our girls was asking me about the armor of God and what that meant, and I immediately thought about Tony's book, still stuffed in a drawer in our library, waiting for the right time to emerge. I sensed that the time was coming, but then Christmas was upon us and all of our Christmas tales took the place of the usual nightly reading, so it would have to wait. But when January rolled around and things got back to normal, I added Dr. Evans book to our reading rotation, and the timing couldn't have been more perfect as our pastor announced that we would be working through the book of Ephesians this year. Well there you go!

A Kid's Guide to the Armor of God is a basic overview of the armor, as described in Ephesians 6:10-18, but simplified. Honestly, if you're an adult who isn't sure how it all works together, or what it even means, or if you know a new Christian who needs a basic overview, this is a good book to get you going, written on a level that makes it palatable, even to those who don't have a full understanding of all the "Christianese" that is often thrown around in other books. Our kids (ages 8-12) particularly liked the questions that are asked throughout the book, because it made them think through what we had just read, and they were often a catalyst for further, deeper, theological discussions. Two thumbs up from this parent!  

Also in this series (although I haven't read them yet, but plan to):

A Kid's Guide to the Power of Words

A Kid's Guide to the Names of God

A Kid's Guide to the Names of Jesus

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YOUR TURN! 

What have YOU been reading this week?

2.10.2021

$27.40

Strange title for a blog post, right? It comes from a graphic that Joshua Becker shared on Facebook last year, and again not that long ago. That's the daily spend amount that it takes to waste (or save) $10,000 in a year. Let that sink in for a minute.

Photo by Michael Longmire on Unsplash

Now, I'm sure some of you would argue that you don't have $27.40 to throw away on miscellaneous spending every day, and I get that. I don't typically spend that in a day either, but also keep in mind that number is an average. So let's take a look at a few of the ways that this can add up, and I'll use our family as an example.
  • If we take our family of seven for take-out Japanese it costs us around $75. Let's say I do that once a month—that's $900 a year
  • If you've got kids in sports, like we do, the monthly fees can quickly add up. Let's say you spend $400 a month on lessons and gear for two or more kids—that's $4,800 a year.
  • You know I like my Starbucks stops. They're like a mini-vacation in a cup on stressful days. But at an average of $5 a pop, estimating a conservative four times a month, buying for only one person—that's $240 a year.
  • The kids have done really well at school, so that calls for a celebration and a stop by our local pay-by-the-ounce ice cream shop. Cha-ching! Since we don't usually take the Hubs as he's at work, and I limit the kids to three toppings each, we can typically get out of there for around $25-30. But if we go 5-6 times a year—that's $180 a year.
You can probably see where I'm going with this. Before you know it, you're well over half-way to that $10k point, and that's not counting the stops to pick up something you "need" at TJ Maxx, or the sale you hit on clothes for the kids at Old Navy, or Christmas or any of the birthday gifts required by all those classroom invitations (a definitely bonus of homeschooling - no more class parties!). You and I might not spend $27.40 a day, but I bet if we stopped and begin counting up all the big and little expenditures, we'd be surprised at how quickly they add up, just like my examples above.

Compared to many, I would consider myself a frugal person. For over two decades, I've packed lunch for the Hubs, we've cut each others hair (and now our kids), made coffee at home (most days), shopped sales and used coupons, saved and repurposed. We don't pay for cable or Netflix, we almost never go to movies - even before COVID, and we don't take vacations. If you asked some of the kids, they'd say we're downright Scroogy! 

But the fact of the matter is, when my 1099 arrived last year from my largest client, I was shocked to see the amount and spent some time wondering where it all went last year. Yes, we were paying for private school at the time, so that took a large chunk, and yes, we paid cash for a vehicle that then needed a lot of TLC (read: parts) to get it up to speed. But despite these, and other big expenditures that happened, as I thought back over the year, I knew that my $27.40 days were definitely involved

So in the midst of this "no spend" month, I'm calling myself out for it. It's time to tighten the belt, not just this month, but every month. And when splurges do happenand they willthat $27.40 needs to be in cash. Not only is this more painful for me, but it's a good visual for the kids, who often have a difficult time grasping the concept that when a card comes out, so does money. The habit of splurging has definitely shown itself already, as I've had kids light up and say, "Oh, can we get 5 Guys for dinn..." and then remember, "oh, no. It's February." Maybe if they saw me whipping out four $20 bills each time we stopped for a "quick bite" it might impact them more than a square of plastic. It's something I'm considering...for March. 😉

What about YOU? Cash or card?
What makes up your $5, $15, or $27.40 splurges?

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