Category: Grown-Ups (page 2 of 3)

Advent: What It Is & Why We Love It

Over tea, a friend recently told me that she had never heard of Advent until last year, when she and her husband showed up to church one day and found blue and violet clothes draped behind the cross at our church and candles everywhere. She covertly googled “what is advent” as our pastor began his sermon.

She told me this story and both of us laughed, but I find myself coming back to that conversation, because I, too, showed up for church one Sunday in December years ago and found that Advent—whoever that was—had arrived. I am well-acquainted with Advent now, but it was humbling to realize that I have grown so well-acquainted with it that I don’t think to slow down and introduce others to the season as well.

I know you are all from a variety of backgrounds. Some of you grew up celebrating Advent; some of you, like me, grew up celebrating presents. So I want to assume nothing today and tell you all a bit about what Advent is and how we celebrate it as a family.

Advent: What It Is & Why We Love It | Little Book, Big Story

Advent is the season preceding Christmas, when we prepare ourselves for the entrance of our Creator God into his disordered creation. The season officially begins four Sundays before Christmas (that is, last Sunday the 27th), though most of our Advent readings begin on December 1. The important part is that, whether it’s four weeks even or more-or-less four weeks long, we spend that time meditating on the Incarnation of Jesus, both independently and as a family.

There are so, so many ways to do this, both at church and in our homes, but here are a few of our favorites:

We use a Jesse Tree to remind us daily of where Jesus fits in his long lineage of ancestors (and of how surprising it is that God used the people he did to shape that tree). I have written a few posts about that for this blog. If you’re interested, you can learn about what a Jesse tree is and how we use it here. You can learn how to make ornaments for it here.

Celebrating Advent with a Jesse Tree | Little Book, Big Story

We use an Advent calendar in tandem with our Jesse Tree. You can learn more about how we use it and how I made ours here.

DIY Jesse Tree Ornaments | Little Book, Big Story

We light candles each Sunday to mark our progress toward Christmas. Many people use Advent wreaths for this; we use a cheap tea light holder from Ikea that conveniently has four wells for candles. It gets the job done and it’s pretty.

I try to do some devotional reading on my own. Last year, I spent the season studying for and co-writing the Advent series at the Deeply Rooted blog (you can read my posts from that series here, here and here. If you want to know more about why I love Advent so much, they’re a great place to start!). This year, I plan to read through John Piper’s book, The Dawning of Indestructible Joy and Jen Wilkin’s None Like Him. But on the years when I’m feeling less structured, I at least try to read through one of the gospels on my own.

So You Want to Celebrate Advent | Little Book, Big Story

We try to do some sort of service as a family. The older girls usually visit a nursing home with their school and sing carols. I like to serve in the worship team at our church during Advent, though that doesn’t happen every year. But finding some way to use our gifts to bless others, even if it’s just bringing something sweet to the neighbors (sometimes that, honestly, is the extent of our service) is a goal we aim for each year.

Advent Books | Little Book, Big Story

And, of course, we read a lot of beautiful books. I pull out an old favorite from the attic every few days, but I also like to purchase one or two new Christmas books each year to build our library. By the time Christmas rolls around, we’re swimming in beautiful stories about Jesus. If you’re looking for some of our favorites, you can read this list, or you can peruse the “Christmas” section of this blog. The Read-Aloud Revival podcast also has a lovely episode all about Christmas books that aired last year, full of great ideas for how and when to read with your family.

Advent: What It Is & Why We Love It | Little Book, Big Story

There. That’s a flyover view of how our family celebrates Advent. I’ll be back next week with more beautiful Advent books and resources for you.

Does your family celebrate Advent? Do you have any favorite traditions to share?

Looking for the Gospel in Good Songs

I grew up on good music.

My mom favored folk singers; my dad introduced me to everyone from Louis Armstrong to Michael Jackson to Nirvana. By the time I held my first guitar, I had a wealth of influences to draw on and didn’t have to wonder what made a good song good—I knew what to listen for. That I would write my own songs seemed inevitable.

I want to give my own daughters that same sort of creative foundation, but with one alteration: I want them to know the classics, but I want to introduce them, first, to artists who tuck the gospel into their music, who inscribe on their lyrics and compositions Bach’s inscription, “Soli Deo Gloria.” Glory to God alone.

Looking for the Gospel in Good Songs | Little Book, Big Story

At home we listen to everything from Billie Holiday to the Black Keys, but in our minivan I have a captive audience, and so I curate our travelling collection in the same way I curate our home library: the songs we hear while buckled up together are the ones whose lyrics will take root in our daughters’ young hearts, the ones that become part of our family’s collective memory. I want them to be good songs, creative songs that nourish our souls. I put a lot of thought into which albums make it into the van, and while not all of the artists in our collection are exclusively (or overtly) Christian, most of them are.

We listen to Liz Vice (her music is one of my favorite discoveries of the past year) and Josh Garrels. We listen to JJ Heller, of course, and 16 Horsepower, an old favorite from before we married. The Gray Havens captured the girls’ imaginations with their story-songs, and the music of Ordinary Time has been with us through all manner of seasons. (It goes without saying that Slugs & Bugs and Songs for Saplings are in heavy rotation, too!)

Looking for the Gospel in Good Songs | Little Book, Big Story

Not every song on this list has made it into the van yet—some are still waiting on my Amazon wishlist for their moment to come. But they are all good songs, by artists who use their gifts to tell again the story of who God is and what he has done, and to tell it in fresh and creative ways.

The aim and final end of all music should be none other than the glory of God and the refreshment of the soul. —Johann Sebastian Bach

Slugs and Bugs (Giveaway!) | Sing the Bible, Vol. 2

Around New Year’s the ground on our side of the state was still muddy and gray, so we went to the mountains in search of snow. On the way there we sang merrily, knowing that our road ended at a cabin in the mountains full of good friends, a woodstove, and steaming mugs of hot cocoa. No matter how long the day or how red our cheeks from the cold, there would at least be good company and hot cocoa.

And sledding.

Sledding! | Little Book, Big Story

The road home was less magical: traffic slowed to a crawl for most of the journey (we were not the only ones snow-hunting that weekend), and the trip that took six hours going was a grueling nine-and-a-half hour ordeal coming home. What saved our sanity, in the end, was pineapple pizza, a ball of play foam, a roll of paper towels, and Slugs and Bugs.

We had given the girls Sing the Bible, Vol. 1 and Under Where? for Christmas, and while we savored them on our way to the cabin, we depended upon them on the way home. The antics of Randall Goodgame, Andrew Peterson, Sally Lloyd-Jones and others kept us laughing when little else seemed funny—when the snacks ran low, when the toddler got loud, when the continued presence of seatbelts began to oppress us all—and reminded us to rejoice in the Lord always.

Slugs & Bugs Sing the Bible 2 (Giveaway!) | Little Book, Big Story

These albums have hardly left our CD player since that trip. I listen to them when I’m in the car alone, delighting in the stellar musicianship (that harmonica in “New Testament Song“!) and brilliant lyrics, and I make sure to queue up a favorite like “The Wagon Song” for the girls when I pick them up from school. Mitch and I can’t resist singing “I Wanna Help” to Phoebe when she thoughtfully dumps all the hardware on the floor for Mitch while he’s trying to assemble her toddler bed. These songs have already become part of the collective, musical culture of our family.

Slugs & Bugs Sing the Bible 2 (Giveaway!) | Little Book, Big Story

But we’re ready for more. How timely, then, that Slugs and Bugs’ Sing the Bible, Vol. 2 released this month! This album has a different sound from Vol. 1, featuring as it does a gospel choir rather than the African Children’s Choir, but it still offers a glorious mix of songs that appeal to kids and to parents: my husband loves “The Ten Commandments”; my daughters love “Stars.” I can’t listen to “Raisins” without laughing so hard I cry or to “You Forgave Me” without crying because it’s so beautiful (or perhaps because I’m eight months pregnant, but I’m leaning toward “it’s so beautiful”).

Slugs and Bugs | Little Book, Big Story

Randall Goodgame and his posse clearly delight in what they do, and that delight is infectious. They pull jokes in from other albums and create completely new jokes for this album, while still treating Scripture as something living and active, to be handled with a sense of reverence and awe. I am most grateful for them in the moments when I hear our daughters (even the littlest one) singing Scripture to one another as they play.

But though I could go on at even greater length about how wonderful this new album is in the hope that you’ll go purchase a copy of your own, I get to do something a little different today: I get to give one copy of Slugs and Bugs Sing the Bible, Vol. 2 away to one of you instead! How lovely is that? Details on how to enter the giveaway are below.

Enter to win a free copy of Slugs and Bugs' new album, Sing the Bible 2! | Little Book, Big Story

How to Enter the Giveaway

Enter your info into the form below and complete as many of the possible options as you like: share, follow, or comment away! On March 17, a winner will be randomly chosen and notified by email (and if you aren’t notified promptly, please allow me a little extra grace: our baby is due that weekend). Best of luck to you!

 


Sing the Bible, Vol. 2
Slugs & Bugs (2016)

Of all the books I read in 2015, I liked these 10 the best

For a while there, our house felt like my favorite bookstore. The shelves lining our living room and small hallway were full; the tops of the shelves were full; the floor to either side of them were full of books. I like that atmosphere in a used bookstore, but in a home I’m tasked with keeping clean, it’s less charming: stacks of books on the floor turn into trails of paperbacks throughout the house, ending wherever the two-year-old was seen last.

And so my husband and a good friend built a set of bookshelves to house our wayward paperbacks. They hang above the couch and give our house a different sort of feel, a well-organized library vs. used bookstore sort of feel, and I love it. It’s a treat to look at one shelf and see (almost) all of our books cozied up together. (And it’s a treat, only picking picture books up off the floor at the end of the day.)

Bookshelves | Little Book, Big Story

Complete with toddler-blur!

This year was a year for savoring books. Compared to my list of favorite finds from last year, these books are longer, deeper, and called for more underlining. I read more during nap time, less while nursing, and took the time to read (or reread) a few of those books I’d been meaning to tackle for a while. I read fiction, yes, and nonfiction, too. I read books that called for deep thoughts and others that kept me laughing. With the exception of the books that have been appearing on this blog all year long, here are my ten favorites from 2015:

Of all the books I read in 2015, I liked these 10 the best | Little Book, Big Story

KRISTIN LAVRANSDATTER, by Sigrid Undset (Reread)

Kristin Lavransdatter, by Sigrid Undset | Little Book, Big Story

I was deeply smitten with this book the first time I read it. And when I combed our shelves for a book to take with us on an overnight trip (without kids!), I found myself wanting to read it again, this time with the ending in mind. Undset’s masterpiece of historical fiction is beautifully written, rich with details about life in medieval Norway and characters that still make my heart ache when I remember them, but when people ask me what it’s about, I find that a single word comes to mind: sin.

Kristin’s story would be a hugely popular love story if it ended with her wedding (young girl defies parents and society’s expectations and marries her lover! The end), but Undset follows Kristin for the rest of her life, chronicling the effects her sin on her marriage, her children, her years as an old woman. That may sound depressing, but it isn’t: this is a gorgeous and redemptive book, worth reading and rereading despite its length.

Kristin Lavransdatter, by Sigrid Undset | Little Book, Big Story

Note: Not all translations of this book are created equal! If you’re not completely submerged in the story and deeply in love with Undset’s language, then you’re probably not reading Tiina Nunnally’s translation (pictured). You should fix that. Hers is the best.

THE WINGFEATHER SAGA, by Andrew Peterson

My new favorite series: The Wingfeather Saga, by Andrew Peterson | Little Book, Big Story

You’ve heard about this one already. But it has joined the ranks of my very favorite books, so a list of the best books I read this year just wouldn’t be complete without a tip of the hat to The Wingfeather Saga.

DESIRING GODby John Piper

Desiring God, by John Piper | Little Book, Big Story

I tried reading this book years ago but lost steam in the first chapters. When I picked it up this time, it was like sitting down to a feast: Piper packs so much material into each page that I cannot read it without a pen handy for underlining, and every chapter gives me much to consider. This wasn’t a case of me not liking the book, as I originally thought, but of my reading it at the wrong time. This was the right time in my life for Desiring God. I’m savoring it slowly, still reading it paragraph by paragraph.

THE FAMILY COOKS, by Laurie David and Kirstin Uhrenholdt

The Family Cooks (Cookbook), by Laurie David | Little Book, Big Story

I reviewed David and Uhrenholdt’s first book, The Family Dinner, for the blog this year, and when researching that post discovered that they had a new book out, which I promptly purchased. David is even more fiercely opinionated about food in this book, it’s true, but I love the recipes in The Family Cooks. Their strength is in their simplicity: through them, I’ve finally come to appreciate salad, have reincorporated vegetables into our diet (they had slipped out of it somehow), and have learned at last how to roast a simple, flavorful chicken breast. My daughters love helping me cook from this book, too, so it’s taken up semi-permanent residence on my cookbook stand.

OPENNESS UNHINDERED, by Rosaria Butterfield

Rosaria Butterfield is a timely writer: before coming to Christ, she was a lesbian and queer theory professor, and her perspective on some of the most controversial topics facing Christians today is not divisive, but saturated with grace. Though this books tackles issues like homosexuality and sexual identity, I found that the most compelling chapters covered struggles faced by all Christians, regardless of the particular shape of our temptations: How should we confront sin? How do we accept grace? How can we truly love our neighbors?

Butterfield writes like a woman who knows how to read a text and how to articulate her thoughts (like a professor, I suppose), and those gifts served her well in writing this book. This is one that I’ll return to over the years, I’m sure, and it’s one that I bullied a few friends into buying because it is just that good. In fact, my copy is currently loaned out, so I wasn’t able to photograph it for this post.

PEACE LIKE A RIVER, by Leif Enger

Peace Like a River, by Leif Enger | Little Book, Big Story

This book is a beautiful blend of fiction and theology, recommended to me by many friends who said, “You like Gilead and Hannah Coulter? [I most certainly do.] Then you’ll love Peace Like a River.” They were right, my friends. So right.

THE THINGS OF EARTH, by Joe Rigney

The Things of Earth, by Joe Rigney | Little Book, Big Story

I loved everything about this book. I loved Rigney’s examination of how we can glorify God through enjoying his gifts, and I loved his writing style. I found myself wishing that more authors wrote about theology with the obvious joy and delight of Joe Rigney and was sorry to see this book end.

CAUGHT UP IN A STORY, by Sarah Clarkson

Caught Up in a Story, by Sarah Clarkson | Little Book, Big Story

Sarah Clarkson looks at childhood as a story, with an exposition, rising action, crisis, falling action and denouement.  This is a skinny book, but it gave me much to think about—and many books to buy. Each chapter closes with a list of books suited to that particular stage of childhood, so I can thank Clarkson for introducing me to some lovely new books and to renewing my interest in Hannah Coulter and The Wind in the Willows.

OUR MUTUAL FRIENDby Charles Dickens

Our Mutual Friend, by Charles Dickens | Little Book, Big Story

I knew nothing about this book when I picked it up, only that it was by Dickens and I was in the mood for Dickens. But oh, my goodness! The twists in this plot, the subtle shades of the characters, the way Dickens gives us only the details we need when we need them—the man was such a master that even his lesser known books are incredible feats of storytelling. I won’t tell you more: I don’t want to rob you of the pleasure of discovering the story for yourself. But I will warn you not to watch the mini-series or even glance at its summary until you have finished Our Mutual Friend. There are some aspects of the plot that cannot be translated onto the screen.

WALKING ON WATER, by Madeleine L’Engle (Reread)

Walking on Water: Reflections on Faith and Art, by Madeleine L'Engle | Little Book, Big Story

I reread Walking on Water every few years. L’Engle’s “Reflections on Faith and Art” are lovely—loosely organized and sure to reignite certain fires in me that need periodic feeding. Her words on children’s literature and on her life as a writer have shaped the way I view the call and craft of writing. This is a beautiful book, and because I read it when I was young, I sit here now, writing passionately for you about children’s books.

What about you? What wonderful books did you discover this year?

7 Favorite Resources for Family Devotions

Family devotions, we have learned, are fluid. We start a book and stick with it until a baby joins us at the table in a high chair or somebody’s bedtime shifts or a child (who shall not be named) rebels against dinner in all its forms and we leave the table fatigued, having forgotten to pick that book up off the shelf, open it, and read aloud.

Our kids change constantly, and we seem to be always two steps behind them. This makes any kind of routine hard to maintain.

7 Favorite Resources for Family Devotions | Little Book, Big Story

Part of me mourns that fact, and the fact that we’ve yet to finish a devotional together, but another part is grateful for what time we have spent with each of these books. That is the part of me that holds out hope that we’ll get back to them one day—maybe when the high chair has been retired for good, and we’re all eating with forks like civilized folks.

Because we have found a few devotionals worth returning to, plus one that has been an anchor in our family worship, I thought I’d share a few of our favorite resources for family devotions with you. Perhaps you are all eating with forks like civilized folks and you can enjoy reading these books with your family—or perhaps you’re a few steps ahead of us and have realized that that may never happen, and it’s time to buckle down and do family devotions anyway. Whatever your circumstance, here is a list of gems for you:

LONG STORY SHORT, by Marty Machowski

Long Story Short, by Marty Machowski | Little Book, Big Story

This book takes families all the way through the Old Testament—through the famous bits and the weird bits, too. It’s arranged by weeks, with each week divided into days, and each day complete with a reading from the book, a reading from the Bible, and a short list of thought-provoking questions.

We tackled this when our two oldest girls were four and under and were pleasantly surprised at how much our four year old gleaned from the readings (the two year old was more interested in finger-painting with her soup). I look forward to coming back to this one and to exploring Machowski’s book on the New Testament, Old Story New(Read the full review.)

TRAINING HEARTS, TEACHING MINDSby Starr Meade

Training Hearts, Teaching Minds | Starr Meade

Our church is collectively working our way through the Westminster Shorter Catechism with this book. Starr Meade orients each week around a catechism question and includes a series of Scripture readings and small devotions to correspond with each day of the week. This one, too, was a winner—but somehow, we only lasted six months before it returned to the shelf and stayed there.

THOUGHTS TO MAKE YOUR HEART SING, by Sally Lloyd-Jones

Thoughts to Make Your Heart Sing | Little Book, Big Story

I read this book to the girls over breakfast for quite some time. It’s beautiful—the illustrations by Jago are deeper and richer than those in The Jesus Storybook Bible and more mature somehow. And Sally-Lloyd Jones’s meditations on various things truly do make the heart sing. (Read the full review.)

THE FAMILY JOURNALby Songs for Saplings

Songs for Saplings Family Journal | Little Book, Big Story

We haven’t used The Family Journal as devotional material exactly, but as a landing place for the discussions that arise as we read together as a family. It is fun to revisit the questions and answers our daughters have learned by heart from the Songs for Saplings albums and to make notes on the spontaneous theological questions the girls throw my way. We have stuck with this one—perhaps because we don’t need to read it every day. (Read the full review.)

The Bible

Reading the Bible as a family | Little Book, Big Story

Every so often, we dip into Scripture itself. I have also been reading one-on-one with our oldest daughter, so she’s getting portions of Scripture straight from the source and that has been a rich time together for us (though pregnancy naps are edging that habit out already . . . ). (Read the full post.)

THE ADVENT JESSE TREEby Dean Lambert Smith

The Advent Jesse Tree: A Family Devotional for Advent | Little Book, Big Story

The Advent Jesse Tree has seen us through Advent after Advent, so we know that we can stick with a series of readings for at least one month! This is a clean, basic, theologically solid look at who Jesus is, what the Bible said about him before he came, and why his coming matters so much to us. We have loved this one year after year, returning to it even after a fancier book with better illustrations briefly lured us away. (Read the full review, or learn how to make your own Jesse tree.)

THE JESUS STORYBOOK BIBLEby Sally Lloyd-Jones

The Jesus Storybook Bible, by Sally Lloyd-Jones | Little Book, Big Story

This book has anchored our devotional time since our eldest was eighteen months old. Knowing that our older girls are learning the New City Catechism as part of their schooling has helped direct our family devotion time toward something that will help build a solid foundation for our younger girls. And so The Jesus Storybook Bible comes back again and again as a part of our evening ritual.

It has traveled with us halfway across the country and back and is held together mostly by box tape—not glamorous, perhaps, but a sure sign of a book that has seen service in the hands of small readers. And that is what we want: we want them to know that this is their story. Perhaps as the whole family levels up together, we’ll tackle other, deeper devotional books, but for now, this is our tried-and-true book for family devotions. (Read the full review.)

What About you? Which Devotional books (or habits!) have worked for your family?

4 Cookbooks That Feed Your Family In More Way Than One

Cookbooks aren’t the standard fare of this blog, I know. But these all have something extra, something that makes them fun to read and that feeds your family more than just food. They contain fuel for dinner table discussions, incentive to take time out with your spouse or to invite your kids into the kitchen as you cook.

4 Cookbooks That Feed Your Family In More Ways Than One | Little Book, Big Story

My copies of these four books are heavily annotated and dog-eared beyond the point of respectability. And, really, that is the best endorsement I can give any cookbook.

The Family Dinner, by Laurie David and Kristin Uhrenholdt

The Family Dinner, by Laurie David | Little Book, Big Story

Some books travel through circles of friends, like parenting books or North and South. I encountered The Family Dinner while standing at my friend Jessie’s kitchen island, flipping through it while she chopped peppers for dinner, and resolved to buy my own copy as soon as I got home. I have since passed my copy to friends as we chat over cutting boards and cold beer in my kitchen and have seen it spring up on their own shelves later.

Vietnamese Noodle Soup (from The Family Dinner) | Little Book, Big Story

This book is part cookbook, part treatise on the whys and hows of the family dinner. Laurie David is passionate about encouraging families to come back to the table and, to that end, includes everything from celebrity interviews on the importance of family dinner to tips on decorating a table, growing your own food, and cooking with kids. Two whole chapters at the back are filled with ideas for starting after-supper conversations and approaching meals with gratitude.

And then, there are Kristin Uhrenholdt’s recipes. I have come awfully close to cooking my way through this book multiple times, and I have yet to find a recipe that I didn’t like. There was one I made the night I felt queasy—I’m reluctant to revisit that one. But the recipes here get a lot of flavor from a few simple ingredients and run the spectrum from comfort food to fresh, inventive, healthy food. I miss beef when I cook from this book too regularly, but that’s an okay problem to have.

Peanutty Noodles (from The Family Dinner) | Little Book, Big Story

Favorite recipes:
Vietnamese Soup in a Teapot (p. 73)
Moroccan Chicken Tagine (p. 87)
Greek Meatballs (p. 98)
When You Need Chocolate Pudding Fast (p. 213)

Date Night In, by Ashley Rodriguez

Date Night In, by Ashley Rodriguez | Little Book, Big Story

Ashley and I were, for a time, members of the same church. She had a baby, I did not (was there ever a time when I did not?), and I loved spending time with her in her sunny kitchen, learning to butter papery folds of phyllo while making covert mental notes on how to care for both phyllo and babies. I don’t remember just how it happened, but eventually I ended up working with her as a sort of apprentice/minion in her dessert catering business. From her learned how to make a pristine meringue, a sunny lemon curd, and a life-changing chocolate chip cookie. (I never mastered the lemon curd; I still make the cookies almost weekly.)

I also learned that a broken salted caramel macaroon is a good thing for the minion, because she gets to eat it.

Salted Chocolate Chip Cookies | Little Book, Big Story

I tell you this because you should know that I have a definite bias toward this book. But you shouldn’t let it color the way you read the rest of this sentence: this cookbook is one of my top two cookbooks (the other one is listed above). I bought the book because I know Ashley and I know Ashley’s food and I would gladly pay $20 to have a little more of either Ashley’s company or her food, but I love Date Night In because I have cooked my way through over half of the recipes and have yet to find a dud. I have found, instead, a pulled pork recipe that has taken precedence over all other pulled pork recipes. I have found the inspiration to make my own hamburger buns, my own pickled peppers, my own cream soda. I have found a recipe for brownies that I can only look at on days when I feel prepared to eat half a pan of them by myself.

Date Night In, by Ashley Rodriguez | Little Book, Big Story

The book is a collection of menus based on Ashley’s weekly at-home dates with her husband, Gabe. They feature drinks, appetizers, entrees, salads, and desserts, and while they’re a little fancier than our usual mid-week fare, they’re easily adapted to suit tighter schedules, smaller budgets, and larger families. In their full form, they’re perfect for special occasions—like dates with my husband.

So many of these recipes have become staples in our home that choosing between them was painful. But here is the shortest list of favorites I came up with (of course, every other recipe mentioned in this post qualifies, too). They may not sound fancy, but they taste fancy. And that is enough:

Favorite recipes:
Olive oil pizza dough (p. 14)
Rhubarb Sour (p. 27)
Creamy Shallot Vinaigrette (p. 28)
Our Perfect Burger with Special Sauce (p. 154)
Baked Beans (p. 224)
Chocolat Chaud (p. 274)

The Forest Feast, by Erin Gleeson

The Forest Feast, by Erin Gleeson | Little Book, Big Story

When you buy a new cookbook, you don’t expect your six-year-old to run off with it before you can read it and return the book two hours later, having read it from cover to cover. But that is what happened when I bought The Forest Feast, and given the beautiful illustrations and my daughter’s affection for food I suppose I shouldn’t have been surprised.

The emphasis of The Forest Feast is on entertaining, so the recipes are quick to put together and simple—few have more than five ingredients. They’re vegetarian, but easy to corrupt with a little prosciutto or sausage, and they’re great fare for birthday parties, quick dinners, and potlucks.

But here is what I love best about this book: because of the beautiful format and simple instructions, this has become a favorite for Lydia and me to use together. When planning parties, I can hand it to her and say, “Pick out five things you’d like to make. They can’t be too expensive or too time-consuming to make, and we can’t use forks to eat them. Go!” It’s like a scavenger hunt, except she’s learning party-planning life lessons like “More than one kind of cheese makes a recipe expensive,” or “Mom will only cut so many leeks.” And we get to eat the reward.

The Forest Feast, by Erin Gleeson | Little Book, Big Story

After she’s chosen, more often than not, there’s at least one recipe that she can tackle alone, like dipped strawberries or apricot bites. And she often pushes me to try something just a little fancier than I might have otherwise, because her beautifully child-like lack of foresight is good for my tendency to overthink things.

And the book’s design? Beautiful. Stunning. So pretty it merits a few extra pictures.

The Forest Feast, by Erin Gleeson | Little Book, Big Story The Forest Feast, by Erin Gleeson | Little Book, Big Story

Now you know why Lydia absconded with it.

Favorite recipes:
Gorgonzola grapes (p. 42)
Eggplant Brie “Tacos” (p. 158)
Quinoa Pecan Frittata Muffins (p. 178)
Rosemary shortbread (p. 202)

The Silver Spoon for Children

The Silver Spoon for Children (a cookbook) | Little Book, Big Story

We have a few cookbooks made just for kids. They’re fun and the recipes in them aren’t terrible, but they lack some quality that The Silver Spoon For Children has in spades. Besides the charmingly illustrated recipes, this book has a clear intent to teach kids to cook—to savor food, to prepare it well, and to know their way around a kitchen. None of the recipes here are intended to make food shaped like animals; not a single one calls for sprinkles. But there is a recipe for homemade pasta, and there is one for chicken breasts stuffed with mascarpone.

The Silver Spoon for Children (a cookbook) | Little Book, Big Story

Perhaps I’ve made The Silver Spoon For Children sound like a serious tome meant to turn kids into somber creatures, dithering between this spice and that one. It’s not. The illustrations bring a bit of wit and playfulness to each recipe, and the visual layout makes it fun to work through with kids. Many of the recipes are still too advanced for my young chefs, but I love asking them to pick a recipe for the week’s menu (consequently, the book falls open at the recipe for macaroni and cheese) and call out the recipe’s steps while I make it.

The Silver Spoon for Children | Little Book, Big Story

Favorite recipes:
Polenta Gnocchi (p. 64)
Beans with Sausages (p. 68)
Chicken Stew with Olives (p. 74)
Fruits of the Forest Ice Cream (p. 98)

What about you? Which cookbooks do you rely on?

Of all the books I read in 2014, I liked these 10 the best

Phoebe was a few hours old when the nurse came by on her rounds and found me feeding the baby with a book propped up on my meal tray. She stopped and said, taken aback, “Are you . . . reading? While you nurse?” I don’t think she realized that Phoebe was our third baby—not right then, at least. And she couldn’t have known that our second child never learned the ASL sign for “milk” but instead took to bringing me a book when she was hungry.

Literary Highlights 2014 | Little Book, Big Story

So, maybe it was the nursing baby, or the school library, or the copious amounts of preparation I’ve put into learning to copy edit and teach art to kids this year, but I read a lot of books in 2014—so many, in fact, that for the first time ever I took to keeping a list of the ones I finished.

Reading List | Little Book, Big Story

I read so-so books, and I read too-painful-to-finish books. I read books whose appeal I did not understand (Brideshead Revisited, this means you). But I also read books that took me outside myself—books that shook up my thoughts like so much confetti. I read books that weren’t satisfied with being read silently, but that compelled me to nudge my husband and say, “Listen to this.” Books that made me gasp aloud, or laugh belly laughs in an empty room.

Best of 2014 | Little Book, Big Story

My favorite children’s books from the past year have, of course, been appearing all along on this blog. But I thought I’d share some of my other finds with you, as a way of bidding farewell to 2014, bookworm-style.

Best of 2014 | Little Book, Big Story

Anne of Green Gables (the series)by L.M. Montgomery

I find myself wishing that I hadn’t read the Anne of Green Gables books yet, so I could read them again for the first time. Instead, I look longingly at the shelf that houses them and wonder, every few months, if it is still too soon to reread them. (Read my full review here.)

On Writing Wellby William Zinsser

On Writing Well | Little Book, Big Story

This book has, quite possibly, displaced Bird by Bird as my favorite book on writing. Zinsser says things like, “Few people realize how badly they write” and “Clutter is the disease of American writing,” but he says it in the sort of tone that makes you want to laugh at yourself, pick up a red pen, and start slashing passages from your essays without remorse. (Side note: I think all bloggers everywhere should read this book.)

North and Southby Elizabeth Gaskell

Don’t let the sappy cover fool you: there is grit in this story, and politics. Elizabeth Gaskell is one of my new favorite authors, as she can turn a love story into something bigger than itself without manipulating her characters to suit her story’s needs (I went on at length about this on the Deeply Rooted blog).

In a rare turn of events, I saw the mini-series adaptation before I read this book and loved both of them in their own right. (Have you seen it? You should. You’ll never look at Thorin Oakenshield the same way again.)

Slouching Towards Bethlehemby Joan Didion

Slouching Toward Bethlehem | Little Book, Big Story

In a college course on creative nonfiction, we dissected this book. We pulled apart sentences, turned verbs this way and that, and examined each well-placed comma. We studied Didion’s essays so thoroughly that by the end of the quarter I hated them and didn’t pick up this book for a full decade after graduation.

But at William Zinsser’s request (see above), I skimmed the opening paragraph of  one essay and hardly glanced up until I had finished the book. Didion is a master of nonfiction, as it turns out. My professor wasn’t just making that up.

 A Loving Lifeby Paul Miller

A Loving Life | Little Book, Big Story

This skinny study of the book of Ruth was one of the few books of Christian nonfiction that I read this past year (how did that happen?). But it is by the author of one of my all-time favorite books, A Praying Life, and so I dove into it happily and was not disappointed: Miller’s writing is open, vulnerable and engaging, and the insights he offers into his own life with a severely autistic daughter give him a humbling perspective on the subject of loving those who may or may not love us back.

The Once and Future Kingby T.H. White

The Once and Future King | Little Book, Big Story

This book features one of my favorite jousting scenes ever. There’s not a lot of competition in that category, actually, but those of you who have read The Once and Future King are nodding to yourselves right now and chuckling, because you know which scene I’m talking about. Also, White’s interpretation of Merlyn is clearly the granddaddy of Albus Dumbledore (I am not making this up), so you have to love the story just for that.

Money, Possessions and Eternity, by Randy Alcorn

Money, Possessions and Eternity | Little Book, Big Story

Despite the clumsy title and the fact that this book looks like a college textbook (which it is), Alcorn is such a lively author that he makes passages on inheritance, insurance, and investment read well—so well that I found myself drawing this book out like I do with the best sort of fiction, not wanting it to end.

For a lady who was in the habit of doing battle with our budget every three months or so, this book was a blessing and it’s one I’ll revisit regularly. To say that it shaped the way I view money and possessions would be, perhaps, an understatement. To say that it shaped the way I view eternity would be closer to the truth.

Pantone: The 20th Century in Colorby Leatrice Eiseman & Keith Recker

Pantone: The 20th Century in Color | Little Book, Big Story

This book may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but I got all kinds of nerdy about it. The authors move through the whole century decade by decade using color palettes to note each trend. It’s history, art, social commentary and more—all in one huge and beautiful book!

Pantone: The 20th Century in Color | Little Book, Big Story

Women of the Wordby Jen Wilkin

There are Bible teachers who crush the grandeur and grief of a story like Noah’s into a dry, tasteless pulp, and then there are teachers who see the grandeur and grief and go deeper, drawing another layer of significance from the overlooked details of the story—the meaning of a name, for example, or the measurements of a room. Jen Wilkin is one of the latter.

I know this because I have followed her for years, by podcast and by blog, so I was quick to pre-order her book and dive into it the minute that brown paper package hit my front porch. As it turns out, she is not only an engaging speaker but a skilled writer, and she makes a well-reasoned case for why we ladies should not be satisfied with knowing the Bible secondhand but should know it well ourselves. I hope that this is the first of many books for Jen Wilkin (though I’m not sure how patiently I can wait for the next one).

The Count of Monte Cristo, by Alexadre Dumas

The Count of Monte Cristo | Little Book, Big Story

Perhaps including this book is a little premature, as I am still reading it—but just barely. I’m mere hours from finishing the book and am reading it with the endorsement of a number of friends and loved ones (my husband foremost among them) who love this book and know me and assure me that I will also love this book.

And besides, I am enjoying the process of reading this ginormous but wholly absorbing, emotionally wrenching, masterfully woven tale of revenge and redemption, so even if it all falls apart at the end, I think I would still include it on this list just because the experience of reading it was so delightful. But all signs point to “It doesn’t fall apart at the end.” (Update: it doesn’t fall apart at the end!)