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What good is a wordless book? In its silence, it shouts.

“Pause! Reflect! Absorb!”

On every page of this concise little title, the reader is encouraged to drink deep the adventures of youth. The child’s delight as he steps off his porch, fervor as he splashes, and dismay at losing something dear to him, are all beautifully illustrated as a reminder of just how passionately the young among us experience what seem to us to be the humdrum day-to-day moments.

My favorite part, though, is when his parent acknowledges his dismay, and helps him go about setting things right. How often do we brush off the big emotions of our children, meeting their dismay at losing that leaf that looked just so, with frustration of our own?

“What’s the big deal? Grow up!”

We may not say these words aloud, but we certainly say them with our actions. When I am frustrated that my son cannot cope with the fact that he cut the construction paper too small for what he wanted to build, or that his creative process requires a certain color LEGO piece that he cannot find, may I be reminded that he is human, too, and these “little” things matter to him as strongly as my experiences matter to me. May I be reminded to see things through passionate eyes once more, and to revel in the simplicity of splashing in puddles and watching snowflakes drift.

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Recommended by: 17 of the Most Beautifully Illustrated Picture Books in 2015

Recommended if: you’re looking for picture books demonstrating gentle parenting, you enjoy losing yourself in illustrations, or you just need to be reminded of the wonder of youth.

Linked at: Saturday Review of Books

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I had the greatest of intentions to start blogging again in 2016, beginning with a grand list of all of the books that I intended to read (and, in theory, review) this year, as well as an update on life as I know it.

Then, you know, life happened. I had a lovely little health crisis the day after Christmas, which has dragged on and left me fairly lacking in energy, motivation, and organization to do anything except keep the kids alive. (Kidding. They’re all still alive. I think. One, two, thr– yes. All still there.)

Finally I just decided to return with a book review.

But now! Yes, now. Now the list is assembled. Or rather, the lists are assembled. See, I’m going to be ambitious. (Because that’s the thing to do when chronic illness besets you, am I right? Be ambitious. Ambition will help you do ALL THE THINGS.) I’m going to partake of multiple reading challenges.

I’ll just pause right here to let you shake your head in dismay for a moment.

Done? Good. Moving right along.

My initial goal for this year was to say that I wouldn’t be reading library books. Or, well, okay. I would limit the reading of library books. To a minimal amount. As yet undecided. Then life happened, and not only did I not finish what I already had checked out in late 2015, but books that had been requested via inter-library loan came. So. Erm. Well. What reading has been accomplished in January has been primarily focused on getting those books back where they came from or so help me–

No, I did not just break into a chorus from Monsters, Inc. I don’t know what you’re talking about.

So. The notorious To Be Read pile. All of those books that you picked up because they were free or cheap, or that were given to you, lent to you, or that you borrowed from the library but then decided that you needed to own so that you could sit down and study, highlight, peruse, and absorb them… only to have them sit on your shelf once purchased, unread. Yes, that TBR pile. Turns out, there’s actually a challenge for this. With prizes.

I’ll be participating at the Mount Blanc level or, for the uninitiated, the plan is to read twenty-four of the books on my shelf. If I read more, great, but I figure with three mobile children now (yes, you read that correctly, three), setting the bar at two books per month is fairly ambitious, since most of my TBR falls under the category of thought-provoking non-fiction or classics, neither of which are particularly easy to breeze through. I haven’t nailed down exactly which ones I’ll be reading; I certainly have a fair number from which to choose.

Total Truth: Liberating Christianity from Its Cultural Captivity? I’ve only had it since high school. Jane Eyre? No, I’ve never read it. Yes, I can feel your disapproving gaze from here. Pagan Christianity?: Exploring the Roots of Our Church PracticesA friend lent it to me, so obviously I need to make this one a priority. Then there are titles like Born on a Blue Day: Inside the Mind of an Autistic Savant, The Kite Runner, and the somewhat-ironic How to Read a Book: The Classic Guide to Intelligent ReadingPerhaps I should start with that last one! If you’d like to take a peek at some of the others I am considering, you can take a peek at the applicable Goodreads shelf. Feel free to let me know your thoughts on the titles therein, especially if you have read them yourself!

Now, when I stumbled upon the Mount TBR challenge, I also discovered Read It Again, Sam . No prizes here, but I figure that it will be good motivation for me to re-read a series that I’ve been meaning to reread for quite some time: Harry Potter. I started reading them my freshman year, and the last time that I read Deathly Hallows was, I’m afraid, the only time I’ve read it – and that was shortly after it was published. So, yes. It’s about time. There are a few others on my shelves that I would like to take the time to revisit, so I’ll be joining this one as well.

Last but not least – yes, that’s right, three challenges – I will be participating in the Finishing the Series reading challenge. I’ll be working at Level Two, with the goal of finishing off two to four series in 2016. Since I had already begun Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by the time I discovered this challenge, I’m going to include the Harry Potter series in the challenge, as well as Anne of Green Gables and Ralph Moody, as I’ve read the first two books in both of those series and would like to finish them off.

Yes. It’s a bit ambitious. But I’m looking forward to the challenge.

So, what about you? What are you planning to read in 2016?

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It’s the first Picoult that I have read in a while, and while I enjoyed most of it, the end fell a little flat for me. I thoroughly enjoyed My Sister’s Keeper, although I had watched the movie first and while thought that I knew the twist – ha! – so that ending left me a wretched mess. I’ve read a few others since, and none of them has quite struck the same chord that MSK did; some even felt formulaic. (more…)

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Well. As I mentioned previously, I finished out the year at sixty-three books, for a total of just under 16k pages. 2012 saw me at sixty-three books, but with a total of just over 19,600. As you may have noticed, it’s a bit of a difference. I thought about setting my 2014 goal at 75 books, but then I realized that the page numbers tell a greater story than the number of books. (This is especially true when you’re the mother of a preschooler, and happen to add a few of the read-alouds you read to said preschooler to your Goodreads shelves.)

Then there’s the whole “I really should read Les Miserables” thing. You know, since it’s sitting on my shelf, and I started it but never finished it. And I’m terribly under-read when it comes to the classics, with my school’s abhorrence for anything classic (aka, “worldly”) unless it went through the A Beka censoring editing process. So. There’s that.

This is by no means the complete list of what I hope to read in 2014, nor is it necessarily the order in which I will proceed. I do, after all, have a few review copies sitting on the shelf (or on the hard drive, depending on the format) that I need to sit down and read, and I am sure that there are books I haven’t even heard of that will catch my fancy as the year goes on. So obviously, this is flexible.

But.

The goal.

Right.

Let’s say… seventy-five books and/or 20,000 pages. Just in case I do manage to fit Les Miserables into everything.

Fiction
Les Miserables
by Victor Hugo
Does this really need any introduction? I’ve seen several movie renditions, including the surprisingly-musical version with Russell Crowe and Hugh Jackman. What? I knew it was a musical, I just didn’t realize that everything they said would be sung. Literally. Everything. And just thinking about the entire thing has started a rendition of “Do you hear the people sing…” trouncing through my mind. Thanks for that. (Although it is an improvement over certain holiday songs parodied by well-traveled relatives. Yes, Lauren, I’m looking at you.)

The Almond Tree by Michelle Cohen Corasanti
I received a copy of this during the past month via Goodreads’ First Reads program, and I’m looking forward to digging into it. I sat down and thumbed the first few pages when it first arrived, and already feel “hooked.” It’s also set in the Middle East (Palestine/Israel, to be exact), which makes it even more interesting. I thoroughly enjoyed Michener’s Caravans, which is set in the Afghan region, and I’d like to find more books that are set in the Middle East.

The Book Thief by Marcus Zusak
I had started to read this one while pregnant with my younger son, but had a hard time really connecting with it. Everyone keeps raving over it, though, and from what I gather, there’s a movie version of it coming out this year. Combine that with the fact that my sister-in-law left me with her copy when she went overseas for two years, and I suppose I really have no excuse to not read it.

Hollow City by Ransom Riggs
The sequel to Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children. Need I say more?

Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card
Another one of those “everyone-is-raving-about-it-and-there’s-a-movie-coming-out-this-year” things. And since I’m all for reading the movie before seeing the book. Err. Well. I could go back and edit that, but you know what I mean. Ahem.

Winter’s Bone by Daniel Woodrell
All right, all right, so I cheated the principle that I just mentioned. I saw the movie, but hadn’t read the book. In my defense, I didn’t even know that it was based on a book; I had watched it simply because it was recommended as similar to Brick, one of my all-time favorite films, and it had Jennifer Lawrence, and I’m mildly intrigued by her. I’m now of the opinion that her raw characterization of Ree is what landed her the role of Katniss, but I digress. The point is, I’d like to read the book.

The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit by J. R. R. Tolkien
Before you get your knickers in a twist, yes. Yes, I have read them. But I’ve only read the trilogy once, and I think The Hobbit… twice? It’s been a few years, as well, and I think it’s time to revisit them.

Harry Potter and All His Adventures by J. K. Rowling
Okay, so that’s not an actual title. (Did I just make some random fangirl jump for a moment, hopeful that an eighth book was being written?) But like Tolkien’s works, I’ve only read most of the Harry Potter series once, so I’d like to revisit them.

Man of the Family by Ralph Moody
I read Little Britches this past year, and I’d like to continue on through the series.

The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas
Did I mention we didn’t read the classics at my school? Well, we didn’t read the classics. This one’s going on the list by recommendation of a friend who also happens to be an English teacher in Tanzania at the moment. If that doesn’t mean I should read it, then I don’t know what does.

Non-Fiction
Folks, This Ain’t Normal: A Farmer’s Advice for Happier Hens, Healthier People, and a Better World by Joel Salatin
I borrowed this from the library in 2012, and never did end up finishing it, as it’s one of those books with so many ideas and things to digest that I wanted to sit and dog-ear, highlight, underline, and write in the margins. And like I said, it was a library book. So I purchased a copy with Christmas money (because Christmas gifts = books, people) in early 2013, aaaaaand haven’t sat down with it yet. I know, I know. Shame on me. Salatin’s great for thought-provoking.

Keeping House: The Litany of Everyday Life by Margaret Kim Peterson
Another one that I purchased with last year’s Christmas money, although I hadn’t read any of this one previously. I just bought it via a recommendation from.. erm.. someone.. on.. some.. blog. I don’t remember who. Don’t stone me, please.

Treasuring God in Our Traditions by Noel Piper
I was actually given this book last Christmas, and I started to read it, but the problem with living in someone else’s home is that it puts a bit of a damper on starting your own traditions that you’d like to do in your own home. Ehm. So I set it aside for a time where I could actually do something with the inspiration it was giving me. And in light of having just purchased our first house, I think that time may be 2014.

Long Way on a Little: An earth lover’s companion for enjoying meat, pinching pennies, and living deliciously by Shannon Hayes
I’ve read Shannon’s previous books on cooking grassfed meat (and may have kept my library’s copy of Grassfed Gourmet Cookbook out for far too long after we purchased a side of beef from a local farm), and was excited when I found out that I could get a copy of this through the library system as well. I’m not sure what it says about me that the chapter’s I’m most excited to read are “Bones and Fat,” “Heads, Tails, and Other Under-Appreciated Treasures,” and the appendix, “Guide to Grain-, Legume-, and Dairy-Free Foods.” Let’s not dwell on that, eh?

The Gentle Parent: Positive, Practical, Effective Discipline by L. R. Knost
I cherish Knost’s blog, and I got some cash for Christmas again this year, so you can bet your little toes that this one’s going in my Amazon cart. I may buy all four of her books, for that matter. (Oh, and don’t bet your little toes. You might need them, after all, and gambling is generally unwise.)

Christian Unschooling: Growing Your Children in the Freedom of Christ by Teri J. Brown
Another library title, and one I’m eager to devour. The strange stewing of libertarian values, grace-based parenting, and educational philosophies in my mind has had me wondering about unschooling in general for a while, and unschooling from a Christian perspective in particular, so when I searched ‘unschooling’ in the library search engine and came across this, I had to request it. Had to. Was compelled. Felt driven. Et cetera. (Never you mind that my older son is not yet three years of age. Just… never you mind.)

The American Meadow Garden: Creating a Natural Alternative to the Traditional Lawn by John Greenlee
I know, we already established that I’m a little obscure, so what’s one more? I’m currently reading Paradise Lot: Two Plant Geeks, One-Tenth of an Acre, and the Making of an Edible Garden Oasis in the City, and I finished Independence Days recently, and.. and… there’s snow on the ground… and nearly three acres to plan for… and the library has it… and… don’t judge me. Besides, just how many “most anticipated reads” lists do you think included this poor book?

Fermented: A Four-Season Approach to Paleo Probiotic Foods by Jill Ciciarelli
This one’s on here mainly because I read Sandor’s veritable tome The Art of Fermentation this past year, again, when I typed ‘fermented foods’ into my library system’s search engine, I was directed here. If the library has it, I don’t have to spend money to continue researching a topic of interest, and as we all know, researching topics of interest is of great importance to an INTP. ENTP. Whatever I am.

A Year of Biblical Womanhood by Rachel Held Evans
Read and recommended by many of my mama friends at the Gentle Christian Mothers’ forum, so I thought: why not? I expect that I’ll be purchasing this one with Christmas money, or bugging my librarian incessantly until she purchases it. Which.. hasn’t worked thus far. Then again, I haven’t reached nearly the level of incessantness (it’s a word now, so hush) that I could, so… we’ll see. I don’t want to upset the apple cart when it comes to the fact that if no one else is on a waiting list for a particular book, and I’m still working my way through it, she’ll override the system and renew it past the four-renewals limit for me. *shifty*

The Uncategorized
Hyperbole and a Half: Unfortunate Situations, Flawed Coping Mechanisms, Mayhem, and Other Things That Happened
by Allie Brosh
I’m really not sure how to categorize this book. Is it fiction? Is it non-fiction? To which I say: Who cares? I want to read it anyway.

How about you? What books are you looking forward to reading in 2014? And, for that matter, do you have any you’d like to recommend to me?

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The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2013 annual report for this blog. It details the most popular posts, as well as how many countries were home to visitors of this blog, among other things.

Here’s an excerpt:

A San Francisco cable car holds 60 people. This blog was viewed about 3,400 times in 2013. If it were a cable car, it would take about 57 trips to carry that many people.

Click here to see the complete report.

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Well, there is at least one bright spot in healthcare “reform,” and that’s the number of new members in Samaritan Ministries, a healthcare sharing group that our family has been members of since May 2011. Members of Samaritan are exempt from the requirement to partake of health insurance or pay the penalty, and with the loss of previous coverage and/or rising costs for many families, many are turning to Samaritan to take the place of “traditional” health insurance.

I just received the following graph in an e-mail update from the office:

chartdecember

I would say that’s a bit of a growth compared to last year’s monthly increases in membership!

So, what’s the cost? Well, the current monthly share is $165 for singles, $315 for couples, $230 for a single-parent family, and $370 for a two-parent family. The cost is discounted when one or both of the heads of household are ages 25 or under, which brings the cost down to $125 for singles, $235 for couples, $180 for a single-parent family, and $320 for a two-parent family.

Like I said, we’ve been members since May 2011, and it has been a real blessing for us. The cost is lower than the insurance plan that was available to us through my husband’s place of employment, and we’ve found that much more ends up covered when all is said and done. For example, when we were on my husband’s insurance, we ended up with $2k+ out of pocket after insurance for my older son’s birth and delivery, whereas with our younger son, we ended up paying … $0. Yes, you read that right. Maternity needs are no different than other medical needs through Samaritan; you are responsible for the initial $300, but any discounts to your bill are applied first to the $300, then to the remaining bill. Through a combination of being labeled ‘self-pay’ patients (as all Samaritan members are), as well as being a single-income family, we received a discount on our prenatal and delivery that was greater than $300. This meant that we paid nothing out of pocket for the pregnancy and delivery of our younger son. What a blessing, compared to what we were left with even with insurance when our first son was born.

Want to know more about what’s covered and how to become a member? You can download an information packet, or visit the rest of their website to learn more about their accountability, endorsements, history, and more.

Just one more thing … when you refer new members, you can receive a one-time referral discount on your monthly share, but only if the new member mentions that you referred them! If you decide to pursue membership with Samaritan Ministries, would you mind mentioning that member #34517 sent you their way? Thank you!

So how about you? Are you considering membership with Samaritan, and have questions about our experience? Are you already a member, and want to share about the blessings it has provided? Please feel free to ask questions and share stories in the comments under this post. I’ll do my best to answer them!

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