Books I Read in 2015

In an effort to highlight books in different ways each year, I highlighted a handful of favorites, then I organized them loosely by genre. I noted the top three in each category and then sorted the rest between books I’d recommend and the ones I am not so sure about.




Literary Fiction
Top 3: Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan, Redeployment by Phil Klay, and The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho
Also Worthwhile: A Man for All Seasons by Robert Bolt, What We Talk About When We Talk About Love by Raymond Carver, The Precious One by Marisa de los Santos, All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr, Heft by Liz Moore, Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng, Some Luck by Jane Smiley, Vile Bodies by Evelyn Waugh, and My Man Jeeves by P.G. Wodehouse
On the Fence: Go Set a Watchman by Harper Lee

Children’s & YA Fiction
Top 3: A Wrinkle in Time by Madeline L’Engle, The Bronze Bow by Elizabeth Speare and Rules by Cynthia Lord
Also Worthwhile: Al Capone Does My Shirts by Gennifer Choldenko, Fish in a Tree by Lynda Hunt, Feathers by Jacqueline Woodson

Other Fiction
Top 2: China Rich Girlfriend by Kevin Kwan (a sequel, read the first book first!) and Landline by Rainbow Rowell
Also Worthwhile: The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion
Meh: The Rosie Effect by Graeme Simsion and Funny Girl by Nick Hornby

Top 3: Practicing Christian Doctrine by Beth Jones, Simply Good News by Tom Wright and The Biggest Story by Kevin DeYoung
Also Worthwhile: Every Good Endeavor by Tim Keller and For the Love by Jen Hatmaker

Memoirs/Personal Narrative Non-Fiction
Top 3: Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates, On Immunity by Eula Biss and Why Not Me? by Mindy Kaling
Also Worthwhile: The World’s Strongest Librarian by Josh Hanagarne,
The Short and Tragic Life of Robert Peace by Jeff Hobbs, Furiously Happy by Jenny Lawson, Between You & Me: Confessions of a Comma Queen by Mary Norris and If You Feel Too Much by Jamie Tworkowski
Not Sure I’d Recommend: Primates of Park Avenue by Wednesday Martin

Parenting / Family
Top 3: The Gift of Failure by Jessica Lahey, Dad Is Fat by Jim Gaffigan and The Secrets of Happy Families by Bruce Feiler
Also Worthwhile: Unfinished Business by Anne-Marie Slaughter

Other Non-Fiction
Top 4: Rising Strong by Brene Brown, Make It Stick by Peter Brown, Modern Romance by Aziz Ansari and Being Mortal by Atul Gawande
Also Worthwhile: So We Read On by Maureen Corrigan, Better by Atul Gawande, Driven to Distraction by Hallowell & Ratey, Made to Stick by Chip Heath, How We Got to Now by Stephen Johnson, Dead Wake by Erik Larson, Sugar Salt Fat by Michael Moss, How Music Got Free by Stephen Witt
Not Sure I’d Recommend: The Astronaut Wives Club by Lily Koppel, The Stuff of Thought by Steven Pinker and Assassination Vacation by Sarah Vowell

Totals: 57 books, 16,647 pages

** The links above are amazon affiliate links. If you buy something, I get a little kick-back.**

Comma Queens

Actual conversation at our house:

K – I just wrote a course description for my elective.

M – Really? I want to read it. [reads] Are you going to teach impressionable children your irrational hatred of the oxford comma?

K – Of course, they have to learn to be real journalists. Journalists don’t use oxford commas.

M – But print is dead!

* * *

You should have heard him when he found out I taught my fourth graders about interrobangs.

Plated and Hello Fresh, Reviewed

platedI like to cook, but getting food on the table has been mostly a chore lately. When a friend on facebook offered a referral to try a week of Plated for free, I decided to give it a try.

Plated is one of those companies that delivers chef-designed recipes and all the ingredients you need right to your door. All you need are basic pots and pans, olive oil, salt and pepper.

You choose the recipes from a short list. Most of them are $12/plate or $24 for the meal for two, though they do offer some premium options as well. Because the meals are almost all protein and vegetables, we easily stretched these to feed all four of us by adding a starch or another simple side.

Before I tried Plated, I had my doubts. But the recipes have mostly turned out as good as they looked and the quality of the ingredients is obvious. Everything comes in a big box, but it’s gathered together by meal and labelled well. I am more likely to be adventurous and try new things because there is no waste. In nine meals with Plated we’ve used 116 unique ingredients! Even with all the new experiences, we’ve had several recipes that went over well enough with everyone that they will go into our regular rotation, like the Steak and Zucchini Gyros with Pesto I’ve already made again.

One of the obvious risks with this sort of service is that in the process of boxing and transport, food won’t be as fresh as it would be from the grocery store. For the most part, I’ve been pleased, but one meal my lettuce had gotten a little bad on the outside and tasted a little bitter. It was still useable, but I was curious about Plated’s customer service so I wrote them a polite, two-sentence email. Within 24 hours they had credited my account for $12 (half the cost of the meal) and apologized.

hellofreshAs much as I like Plated, sometimes the offerings are a little exotic for our family, so I decided to give another company a try this week. Hello Fresh has a very similar model and pricing (details and referral code at the end of this post) but their menus seem a little more mainstream. Last night we had Sonoma Chicken Salad, tonight we’ll have Ginger Marinated Steak Wraps and tomorrow we’ll have Shrimp Po’Boys.

Having the meals partially prepped with colorful recipe cards has made it easy to get the girls more involved in the kitchen. Kate can almost (but not quite) do the easier meals on her own, and I see her gaining skills and confidence as she works on them.

Getting ingredients delivered may not be the cheapest way to feed a family but not spending as much time planning and shopping is very helpful and worthwhile. Also, I am not sure I could make equivalent meals much more inexpensively. When I made the Steak and Zucchini Gyros with Pesto again on my own, I spent more than $24. I do have some extra pine nuts to show for it, and a meal or two more worth of pesto in my freezer. However, I had to go to two stores to get all that I needed and I spent a lot longer in the kitchen when I had to make my own homemade pesto instead of getting just the right amount of high-quality pesto (tasted handmade and was sent in a big condiment cup) in my box, ready to go.

All in all, this has been a fun experiment and I plan to continue getting boxes from each company periodically when the menu look good and it works for our week. Though they are subscription services, both of these websites make it really easy to skip weeks. I am hoping it is a good way to keep us eating healthy and at home through back-to-school craziness and football season.

Hello Fresh has given me a referral code for new customers, so if you want to give it a try, you can save $40 on your first box, making the $69 box only $29 for 3 meals for two people. Just enter DX5BZ2. I don’t have any now, but if I get any free box referrals from Plated, I will share on facebook or twitter.

Go Set a Watchman Between the World and Me

There are a few spoilers about themes and one scene in GSAW in the text that follows.


Last Tuesday morning I headed to my local bookstore to buy two brand-new books, Harper Lee’s Go Set a Watchman and Ta-Nehisi Coates’ Between the World and Me. They were both good reads, and interesting to read together as they both directly addressed the subject of race.

The literary world has been abuzz since it was announced that Lee was publishing an unedited manuscript, an early draft of the novel that would be our beloved To Kill a Mockingbird.

Generally, as a novel, I am not sure that Go Set a Watchman works apart from To Kill a Mockingbird. It is so dependent and tied to it that I find it hard to believe the story that it was a first draft. It feels more like a sequel that was too heavy-handed to publish without significant editing to help Lee do more showing and less telling. To Kill a Mockingbird is a great book; Go Set a Watchman is an interesting read.

Early readers of Go Set a Watchman were aghast at the fall of Atticus, a hero to so many. But it is obvious that Atticus did not fall, as much as Scout discovered that her father had feet of clay. It is one of the universal experiences of growing up, to discover that a hero is not the person you thought him to be, but a flawed and complicated individual.

The racism that Atticus demonstrates is very representative of his day and class, with a paternalism that many saw—and continue to see—as good. Their racism becomes whitewashed by their intentions and is then easily explained away. As Coates says, “There are no racists in America, or at least none that the people who need to be white know personally.”

What Scout discovers is that race is a much bigger deal in Maycomb than she innocently believed. The turning point is when she visits Calpurnia, the black household maid and cook who raised her. As Scout experiences the coldness and distance between them, she is shaken to the core, thinking, “She loved us, I swear she loved us. She sat there in front of me and she didn’t see me, she saw white folks. She raised me, and she doesn’t care.”

When whites have all the power in a relationship and in the culture, how does that shape that relationship and that culture? What if that has been the case for generation after generation? These fundamental and core problems make simple things like Scout declaring herself color blind an insufficient response to racism.

This is why America needs the prophetic voice of writers like Ta-Nahisi Coates. His perspective and his worldview are so alien from my own, his words force me to grapple with things previously foreign. In order for things in our country to change, we need Coates to write, and the majority culture needs to listen.

Between the World and Me is a small, slim book. There are so many passive-aggressive missives these days that calling the book an open letter feels wrong, but it is a letter to Coates’ adolescent son about what it means to be a black man in America and an homage to similar letters written in the past.

The letter is often intimate and personal, the stories are intentionally visceral and provocative. There is an urgency to Between the World and Me that could be summarized in part with Coates’ own words. “Black people love their children with a kind of obsession. You are all we have, and you come to us endangered. I think we would like to kill you ourselves before seeing you killed by the streets that America made.” This dark reality could be crushing but there is levity and hopefulness in the midst of it, glimmers of joy.

There is a moment in To Kill a Mockingbird where Atticus tells his daughter a truth we’ve all heard. “First of all,” he said, “If you can learn a simple trick, Scout, you’ll get along a lot better with all kinds of folks. You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view… until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.”

Maybe it is better to acknowledge that the best way to do that is to listen, really listen to other perspectives. I will never truly know what it is like to be someone else because I can’t climb into his skin and walk around in it. Instead of trying too hard to work on his behalf paternalistically, I should get out of his way and let him speak for himself.

On Pride and Falls

There is one sermon I have heard in my life that I think about often. In fact, I rarely go a month without revisiting it in my head.

I have had the privilege of hearing many excellent pastors speak and preach, people who have thousands of twitter followers and podcast listeners. But the sermon that I meditate on was delivered about eight years ago by a twenty-something who had just finished seminary.

I believe the sermon text was Hebrews 12:1-2:

Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.

What I remember so vividly is that the pastor began to speak about sin easily entangling us. He spoke about the implicit arrogance and pride in saying things like “Divorce is not an option.” In essence, that is saying that you or your spouse could never have an affair or do anything that would warrant a biblical divorce.

The Bible is clear, and not just in this passage, about the fact that sin easily entangles us. If we believe that truth in scripture, I believe two things will happen.

First, we will be less proud and haughty when we see others fall. We will mean it when we say, “There but for the grace of God go I.” This makes it so much easier to heed the proverbs about not rejoicing in our enemy’s failings.

Secondly, we will live differently knowing that we are prone to sin and weakness. We will not encumber ourselves with tricky situations that lead us towards sin. Avoiding grey areas doesn’t have to be legalistic, it can be a freedom. As we fix our eyes on Jesus, we will delight in his sanctification.

Thank you, Joe, for your encouragement to run the race with humility. It is so tempting to look down on others who have fallen or who just don’t measure up. But God’s grace is sufficient for all of us and his power is made perfect in our weakness. Jesus suffered and died, not for the righteous, but to bring sinners safely home to God.

Inside Out


Pixar movies take us places we only imagined, lands where superheroes, toys and monsters are real. But unlike many other animated movies, Pixar movies connect with audiences on a deeper level, telling beautiful stories with honesty and grace. They are the animated movies that make moviegoers cry. Instead of merely evoking emotions, the latest Pixar film, Inside Out, takes audiences inside the head of an 11-year-old girl named Riley and gives voice and form to her emotions.

Riley has recently moved from Minnesota to San Francisco, and she is also straddling the chasm between childhood and adolescence. Her emotional life had been driven by Joy, with all of her emotions working together in a familiar rhythm, but in the furnace of transition, things start to fall apart.

Joy is voiced by Amy Poehler, and there is a Leslie Knope quality to the way she runs the emotional life in Riley’s brain. Not only is Joy the boss, she works the hardest and she is confident that her way is right. Anger (Lewis Black), Disgust (Mindy Kaling), and Fear (Bill Hader) fall in line, but Sadness (Phyllis Smith, from The Office) is Joy’s greatest challenge.

As the movie’s plot unfolded, I loved the attention to detail in how the brain works, and it reflected reality enough to spark interesting conversations with our girls about how their own brains, memories and emotions work.

However, the greatest gift of this story is Joy’s journey. She goes from marginalizing Sadness at the beginning of the film to embracing the role of Sadness in Riley’s emotional landscape by the end.

As someone who has girls about Riley’s age and is still raw from a recent relocation, I wept openly through the last 20 minutes or so. Putting all that aside, I still think it’s one of Pixar’s better films and an important one for kids to see. Riley’s emotional life has twists and turns that mirror the ones our children face, and it will be a balm to many to know that they are not alone.

RATING: Top 1/3 of the Pixar canon (don’t make me choose.) Worth seeing in the theater if you can, if only to remind Pixar to make more of these and less like Cars 2.

I Wrote a Book Chapter

During my forced hiatus, a book chapter I wrote about celebrating Pentecost was published. First it came out as a small volume, but now you can get the whole thing. Let Us Keep The Feast: Living the Church Year at Home is an affordable guide to celebrating the church year in meaningful ways.


Obviously, I find comfort and meaning from celebrating the church year at home with my family. I’ve shared over the years through blog posts about some of the ways we’ve observed the seasons. Each year I am encouraged to hear how others are keeping the church year with their own families.

Let Us Keep the Feast provides an introduction and explanation of each season of the church year with ideas of how to celebrate and relevant recipes, readings, hymns and prayers. It is perfect for someone who is newer to celebrating the church year or looking for ideas of how to bring the church year into family life.

A few people over the years have mentioned turning my blog posts into a book, and honestly this is exactly what I had in mind. I am thankful that Ed Eubanks at Doulos Resources connected me to this project after it was already underway.

The book is only $3.99 on the kindle or in PDF / epub. The publisher offers free digital copies for those who buy a print edition, if you are the sort who likes your books in multiple formats.

As we wind down the last few days of Christmas, I am already thinking about how we will celebrate Epiphany; it was a treat to see what Anna had written about in her chapter as I started to plan. Of course, I will keep all my old resources up if you’d like the quick blog version. Either way, I’d love to hear how your family keeps the feast.

Books I Read in 2014

My annual round-up of finished books. The covers pictured are the ones I most highly recommend.

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Where’d You Go, Bernadette: A Novel by Maria Semple
Roomies by Sara Zarr & Tara Altebrando
The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver
Desiring the Kingdom by James K. A. Smith
This is Where I Leave You by Jonathan Tropper
Behind the Beautiful Forevers by Katherine Boo
The Smartest Kids in the World by Amanda Ripley
From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E. L. Konigsburg

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Insurgent by Veronica Roth
Allegiant by Veronica Roth
An Anthropologist On Mars: Seven Paradoxical Tales by Oliver Sacks
The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood
People of the Book: A Novel by Geraldine Brooks
How People Change by Timothy Lane and Paul David Tripp
Hannah Coulter by Wendell Berry
Daring Greatly by Brené Brown
One More Thing: Stories and Other Stories by B. J. Novak

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Saving Lucas Biggs by Marisa de los Santos
David and Goliath by Malcolm Gladwell
How Children Succeed by Paul Tough
Death by Living: Life Is Meant to Be Spent by N. D. Wilson
Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us by Daniel Pink
Boys and Girls Learn Differently! by Michael Gurian
Wonder by R. J. Palacio
Our Town: A Play in Three Acts by Thornton Wilder
Monster by Walter Dean Myers

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The End of Molasses Classes by Ron Clark
Your Ten- to Fourteen-Year-Old by Louise Ames and Frances Ilg
No Talking by Andrew Clements
Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf
The Myth of the Perfect Girl by Ana Homayoun
What If?: Serious Scientific Answers by Randall Munroe
The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate
11/22/63: A Novel by Stephen King

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Smile by Raina Telgemeier
The Gifts of Imperfection by Brené Brown
The Julian Chapter: A Wonder Story by R. J. Palacio
Yes Please by Amy Poehler
Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption by Bryan Stevenson
Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell
Lila: A Novel by Marilynne Robinson
The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks by E. Lockhart
Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys


Since this blog was down for most of 2014, I wasn’t able to write about all we experienced. We loved Memphis, our incredible community there, and our brick bungalow. But by February everything was changing.

Michael accepted a job teaching at a historic boys’ school in Nashville. After a frantic season of interviews, visits, testing and applications, the dust settled and Kate was enrolled at the sister school (which starts in 5th grade.) I accepted a 4th grade teaching position at a PK-6th grade feeder school and Lexi is a student there as well. We rented out our house to three teachers and found a place in Nashville.

I’d love to end this story with “we all lived happily ever after” but that’s not entirely the truth. It takes time to settle in. Being a stranger in a strange land isn’t new to us, and that is a comfort. But our family and friends have suffered great losses and we have felt far away and alone.

At the same time, new beginnings are filled with hope and promise. Our new lives are full of new opportunities for each of us. We look back fondly on our time in Memphis, reminded of how God was with us and provided community. We know we will see his goodness in the land of the living.

We are spending New Year’s Eve traveling back from visiting family; a trip we extended to meet our brand-new niece. Holding a newborn is a good reminder that the world is filled with possibility.

My hope is that 2015 is the year we fall in love with Nashville. At minimum, our goal is to join a church and settle in. That always helps.

Not Dead Yet

This blog experienced a nefarious hack while our lives were too busy to fix it. Michael finally made it happen for me today. For now, the blueprint header represents the in-progress nature of where things are at the moment. The medium is almost dead and this particular manifestation has seen much better days. But, there is hope and a plan.

N.B. All the old links here and pins are broken. The recipe index and church year at home pages have updated links. I apologize for any inconvenience.

Welcome back, kind readers.

Ash Wednesday



[ download PDF | download JPG ]

Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of the season of Lent. If you’d like ideas about how to keep Lent at home, particularly with children, I have some for you.

I invite you, therefore, in the name of the Church, to the observance of a holy Lent, by self-examination and repentance; by prayer, fasting, and self-denial; and by reading and meditating on God’s holy Word. And, to make a right beginning of repentance, and as a mark of our mortal nature, let us now kneel before the Lord, our maker and redeemer.



These nine girls go to six or seven different schools (public, private and homeschool) and live in many different neighborhoods. To my knowledge, not a single girl attends Church of the Holy Communion, which sponsored the team. Half of them had never even played basketball before. But together, they won 9 basketball games and finished the season undefeated.

There is something very Memphis about how a group of girls—black and white, from Midtown to Cordova—worked together and did something they will never forget. Some games were blowouts; some were nailbiters. Everyone contributed. When it came time to name their team, they chose the Grizzlies, because that’s how Memphis girls roll.

Of course, a great deal of credit must be given to their excellent coach, who used his 1 hour a week of practice time to teach fundamentals, build camaraderie among the girls, and inspire a love for the game. Even when we had another commitment, Lexi never wanted to miss a minute.

Thank you, Memphis, for this sweet memory and for an amazing first season of basketball for Lexi. Maybe we will be sitting in the stands of a varsity game someday, telling this story about one of the reasons Lexi fell in love with the game. She’s a Tar Heel born and bred, but she learned to play in the city of grit and grind.