Friday, December 30, 2016

Favorite Books of 2016

This year, I read and finished 20+ books. Here are my five favorites.

I've included at the bottom a couple honorable mentions and my two kids' favorite books of 2016. I always love to hear what others are reading, so if you've read a good book recently, please share in the comments.

Fun fact: after compiling the top five list, I noticed they were all written by women -- two Brits, one Nigerian, one Asian-American, and one Canadian.

And shout out to my husband for making the graphic.

Happy reading!

Still Life by Louise Penny

Still Life is the first book of the wildly popular, twelve book (and counting) Chief Inspector Gamache mystery series. The author built up so much suspense, I lost a lot of sleep while reading this one! Engrossing, suspenseful, well-paced, lots of twists and turns. And her sumptuous descriptions of food made me hungry almost every time I read.

Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier

Rebecca, a mystery/romance/gothic novel, was an instant success when it was first published in 1938 and today is considered a classic. I found the first fourth of the book a bit slow, enjoyed it after that, and then for the last fourth of the book, I again lost a lot of sleep and could not set it down. I can't tell you why because that would ruin the mystery, but I found it engrossing, dark, disturbing, and wonderfully written.

Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Americanah is a love story that explores many big themes including feminism, culture, immigration, race, and power. The reader follows the main character, a wealthy Nigerian woman, as her life takes her from Nigeria to the U.S. and back again. The book was engrossing and very well-written, though I did not like how the love story turned out and at times it felt like the author was pushing her agenda rather than just telling the story. But, still the book stuck with me. I found myself thinking about it long after I read it.

Parenting Without Borders by Christine Gross-Loh

This nonfiction parenting book explores some of the pitfalls of American culture's version of parenting and compares these pitfalls to other, often better, parenting practices around the world. Utterly fascinating. This book helped to broaden my perspective of what parenting can be like, though I would have preferred it if the author had examined more than just a few countries and socio-economic classes to make it a truly global book.

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone: The Illustrated Edition by J.K. Rowling; illustrated by Jim Kay

This was my fourth time reading this book, but my first time reading the illustrated edition and it was just magical and beautiful. Bonus: the illustrator's re-imagining of the characters helped me finally get that Ron Weasley actor's face out of my head while I read. DO NOT get this on Kindle. Purchase it or borrow it from your library and enjoy the visual art in its full-sized glory. Chamber of Secrets is also available illustrated, but I haven't gotten my hands on it yet.

Honorable mentions:

The Martian by Andy Weir
Essentialism by Greg McKeown
All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr

Grace's (3 yrs old) Favorite Books:

A Fish Out of Water by Helen Palmer
What Makes a Rainbow? by Betty Ann Schwartz

Cora's (2 yrs old) Favorite Books:

High Five Magazine created by Highlights
Madeline by Ludwig Bemelmans

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Things I Learned This Rainy Season

Since moving to Thailand nine months ago, I have lost seasons as I've always known them. There is no summer, winter, fall, and spring here in the tropics. Rather, we have hot season, rainy/monsoon season, and "cool" (aka not-quite-as-hot) season.

Hot season comes in April and May. School is off and the smallest exertion makes us sweat buckets.

June through October or November is rainy season. We get almost daily rain and some wild thunderstorms.

They tell me cool season has started and will run up into hot season. But, with highs around 90 degrees + humidity, it's still hot to me!

What did I learn this rainy season?

In Bangkok, September is dragonfly month.

One day in September, while watching my little girls play at our neighborhood's dinky little playground, I looked up and saw dozens and dozens of dragonflies flitting around just a few meters over my head. For the next few weeks, while walking down the sidewalk, I would occasionally look up and there they were: hundreds of dragonflies. Then, after a couple of weeks, they were gone. I look forward to dragonfly month next rainy season.

We all need awe and wonder in our lives.

For Thanksgiving, I wrote about allowing our gratitude to turn into awe and wonder over the mystery of what the God who gives us all good things must be like. Many people really connected with this idea and expressed their need for a life lived in adoration of God.

My three-year-old is fairly athletic.

My first-born, Grace, took 15 months to learn how to walk. At that point, she was already speaking in two to three word sentences. From that point on, I assumed she was a smart, not athletic kid.

Six weeks ago, we got our hands on a tricycle and little bike with training wheels. She had never ridden a trike or a bike before. Nevertheless, on day one she mastered the trike and on day two she was pedaling the bike everywhere. I remember watching in shock at how quickly she learned it.

Here's to not labeling very young children, but rather giving them opportunities to try all sorts of new things and allowing them to surprise us.

I missed cooking.

For the first six months after moving to Thailand, I rarely cooked and we relied on super cheap, super yummy, super high sodium street food to carry us through. In August, I began cooking simple, healthy meals for my family of four again. I really enjoy being able to do this again for my family.

I am learning to ask God throughout my day what it means to be faithful to Him in the present moment, and I am learning to ask Him for the strength to do it.

Sometimes being faithful means tackling a pile of dishes (we don’t have a dishwasher) and practicing new Thai grammar while my kids nap. Sometimes, especially when I notice anxiety creeping into my soul, being faithful means setting aside my language study for half an hour to brew a cup of tea, pray, and rest.

I am so grateful that God doesn’t call us to be successful. In most areas of my life, success isn’t entirely within my control. Instead, He calls his followers to be faithful people who rely on Him. With His help, that’s something I can do.

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