Category: Books

Beyond Board Books: a fun summer reading program just for moms!

Beyond Board Books: a fun summer reading program just for moms!

Hey moms! If you’ve ever secretly wished you could sign up for your kids’ summer reading program — and win cooler prizes! — I’ve created a summer reading program just for you. Beyond Board Books is a fun way to encourage moms to take time to read this summer, and I hope you’ll participate!

There’s no assigned reading list, no deadlines, no pressure. Just read any book you want and leave a comment on the reading log page telling me what you read and something about the book. Every book you read between June 15 – August 31 will give you a chance to win a great prize from one of our sponsors in the weekly prize drawing! All of the sponsors are moms who run an online shop or blog, and I’m continuing to line up more.

Beyond Board Books kicks off this Sunday, and if you help spread the word on social media, you can enter to win a $25 gift card to Barnes & Noble (sponsored by me). If you’re a mom, go check it out! I’d love to have you join in the fun this summer!

books I want to read in 2014

books I want to read in 2014

For the first time ever, I’m starting the year with a stack of books I want to read. Not a list of books I want to borrow from the library — an actual physical stack of books. Of course, there are other books on my reading wish list, but these are the ones I’m definitely going to read this year.

Blog Inc. by Joy Deangdeelert Cho // This was on my Christmas wish list, and if you follow me on Instagram, you may have noticed that this is the book I’m reading first this year. My mother-in-law offered to stay with her littlest grandson while I went to have my van serviced, so I got to spend some time by myself reading and eating the only McFlurry McDonalds sold yesterday. Well, I don’t know that for sure, but I’m probably the only person who wanted to roll down her window and order ice cream when the temperature was in the single digits.

reading and eating alone!

David and Goliath by Malcolm Gladwell // Tim and I own and have read all of his other books, so naturally I plan to read this one too.

Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout // I picked this one up at a used book sale a couple years ago, since my friend Brenda listed this among her favorites. I’ve started it several times, but 2014 is the year I’m going to start AND finish it.

Raising an Emotionally Intelligent Child by John Gottman and Parenting from the Inside Out by Daniel Siegel and Mary Hartzell // A colleague recommended these to me shortly before I got married and became a step-mother in 2010.

The Holy Longing by Ronald Rolheiser // I read parts of this book for a seminary class I took years ago, and remember liking it.

The Gifts of Imperfection by Brene Brown // From what I’ve heard and read by Brene Brown, and from what I know about my own perfectionism, I think I will benefit from reading this.

So that’s the stack. I gathered these books from various shelves in our house, and for now I’m keeping them visible (one of the keys to reaching my goals!) by placing them right on my desk shelf.

books I want to read in 2014

The current quote on my chalkboard — may all my work be praise — is from the lovely hymn “My Shepherd Will Supply My Need.” The beautiful calendar is actually a free printable from Shhh My Darling. I wasn’t familiar with the blog before, but based on January’s image, I can’t wait to see what the next 11 months will look like.

What’s on your reading list for 2014? I certainly hope to read more than seven books this year, so I’d be glad to hear what you plan to read — or what you’ve already read and loved.

Happier at Home

reading "Happier at Home" on the iPad

My littlest guy has been under the weather this week, and needed lots of snuggle time with Mama, so I spent some extra time on the couch reading a book on the iPad. I still prefer to read books on paper, but this summer I checked out a couple ebooks from the library that weren’t available otherwise… and I didn’t hate it.

A couple years ago I read “The Happiness Project” by Gretchen Rubin, and even though I wasn’t all that impressed with it, I decided to read her newest book, “Happier at Home,” this week. My opinions on the book are pretty neutral — I would neither encourage nor discourage someone who was considering reading it — but I did glean some quotes that were worth reading again. Maybe one of them will be meaningful to you too.

quotes from "Happier at Home" by Gretchen Rubin

“To be happy at home is the ultimate result of all ambition, the end to which every enterprise and labour tends.” [Samuel Johnson] (pg. 2)

“Happiness is neither virtue nor pleasure nor this thing nor that, but simply growth. We are happy when we are growing.” [William Butler Yeats] Research supports his observation: It’s not goal attainment, but the process of striving after goals — that is, growth — that brings happiness. (pg. 13)

I was made happier by my decision to bring paper plates, not home-baked muffins, to Eleanor’s start-of-school party, but “Keep it simple” wasn’t always the right response. Many things that boosted my happiness also added complexity to my life. Having children. Learning to post videos to my website. Going to an out-of-town wedding. Applied too broadly, my impulse to “Keep it simple” would impoverish me. (pg. 27)

I can build a happy life only on the foundation of my own nature. (pg. 38)

Happiness is not having less; happiness is not having more; happiness is wanting what I have. (pg. 58)

In every area of my life, I dislike the feeling of uncertainty or unfamiliarity. I love mastery. (pg. 81)

“Well, you might never like to drive,” she pointed out. “But that’s not the same as being afraid to drive.” This was a revelation. I’d expected that my driving lessons would help me to enjoy driving. After all, a lot of people love to drive. I wanted to love to drive. But maybe it wasn’t in my nature to love driving. Okay, fine. I didn’t have to love driving; I just had to be able to do it. The driving didn’t make me happier, but successfully taking steps to conquer my fear made me very happy. (pg. 82)

“Each time of life has its own kind of love,” wrote Tolstoy, and each time of life has its own kind of happiness. I wanted to appreciate this time of life, with our young children at home; I didn’t want it to slip past me, unrecognized and unremembered. (pg. 103)

“Let every one mind his own business, and endeavor to be what he was made.” [Thoreau] (pg. 128)

I’m very self-disciplined, and it’s an exceedingly helpful quality to possess. But at the same time, I see the risks of self-discipline; I’m very good at making myself do things that I don’t want to do, but sometimes I’m better off not doing those things at all. (pg. 143)

We’re more likely to hit a target by aiming at it than by ignoring it, and happiness is no different. (pg. 186)

the journey

The journey is the reward.

At the library last week, I encouraged my two oldest kids to check out a biography as a way to expand their literary horizons just a bit. Their books on Tiger Woods and George Washington remain unread, but I finished reading Steve Jobs: The Man Who Thought Different today over lunch. I’m not certain that these words originated with him, but in his commencement speech at Stanford University in 2005, he told the graduates that “The journey is the reward.”

And indeed it is. It is so easy to get caught up in my to-do list, or in preparing for upcoming activities, and fail to consciously enjoy everyday life. If I’m focusing too much on the future, whether that is this evening, next month, or two years from now, I won’t be able to fully embrace this moment. My life right now is something I have been looking forward to for a long time, and I want to be sure to enjoy the journey.

(Photo by me, Rachel Swartley)

Toys Go Out

Toys Go Out - a fun read-aloud book

I love reading books to my children, and this one is a new favorite of mine.

Toys Go Out” by Emily Jenkins is a delightful story about the adventures of a little girl’s toys — from the perspective of the toys. I discovered it recently when an acquaintance posted about the series on Facebook. I started reading it to my kids yesterday, and this afternoon we finished it. As I read, I actually laughed out loud a few times at what I was about to read, which made my kids very eager to hear what came next!

When we first meet the toys, they’re in a backpack that smells like a wet bathing suit, trying to figure out where they’re being taken. Their observations (and misunderstandings!) of the world they live in are amusing, and each of the toys have feelings and attitudes that children can identify with. Their conversation is clever and honest and just perfect for reading aloud.

Toys Go Out - a fun read-aloud book

Each of the six chapters has just one charming illustration by Paul Zelinsky. There are two other books in the series (“Toy Dance Party” and “Toys Come Home“), and today our children’s librarian happily ordered them at our request, since she doesn’t like having partial series of books. Aren’t libraries the best?!

My two oldest kids are in elementary school, and both of them enjoyed listening to “Toys Go Out.” What are your favorite read-aloud books? I’d love to hear your recommendations.

thirteen books

I think I spent more time reading blogs than books in 2012. Actually, I’m sure I did — and I’m sure that’s true every year. I love following along with my favorite bloggers, and I find them to be very interesting and inspiring.

Seven years ago, in December 2005, I realized I hadn’t been reading much more than the newspaper and the internet, so I made a New Year’s resolution to read one book a month in 2006. Throughout the year, I developed a list of the books I had read, and by the end of 2006, I had read 25 books — which far exceeded my original goal. Since then, I’ve been keeping track of the books I’ve read each year, and I’ve read at least 11 books each year… until 2012.

I’m embarrassed to admit that I only read five books this past year. Five! And only one of those is a book I would recommend. So as 2012 drew to a close and I started thinking about New Year’s resolutions, I made a resolution to read more.

2013 New Year's Resolution: read 13 books

In 2013, I will read thirteen books (or more!), and I’m excited to see what books will be on my list at the end of the year. Maybe I’ll even discover a new favorite. What are your favorites? I’d love to hear your recommendations.

The Creative Habit

During our vacation in Chincoteague last week, I finished reading a book that I started a month ago. “The Creative Habit” was highly recommended by a creative blogger who inspires me, but I didn’t think it was all that great. Still, I gleaned some interesting quotes from the book that I wanted to share with you.

“Skill gives you the wherewithal to execute whatever occurs to you. Without it, you are just a font of unfulfilled ideas. Skill is how you close the gap between what you can see in your mind’s eye and what you can produce.”

“Too many people practice what they’re already good at and neglect the skills that need more work.”

“I cannot overstate how much a generous spirit contributes to good luck. Look at the luckiest people around you, the ones you envy, the ones who seem to have destiny falling habitually into their laps. What are they doing that singles them out? It isn’t dumb luck if it happens repeatedly. If they’re anything like the fortunate people I know, they’re prepared, they’re always working at their craft, they’re alert, they involve their friends in their work, and they tend to make others feel lucky to be around them.”

“A rut is the consequence of sticking to tried and tested methods that don’t take into account how you or the world has changed.”

“We get into ruts when we run with the first idea that pops into our head, not the last one.”

{all quotes are from “The Creative Habit: Learn It and Use It For Life” by Twyla Tharp}

The Element: a few quotes on creativity

I usually use an index card as a bookmark so I can scribble down the page number and a few words that really stand out to me as I read so I can go back later and write down the whole sentence or paragraph. I recently read “The Element: How Finding Your Passion Changes Everything” by Ken Robinson, and these are some of the sections I wanted to remember and revisit.

“Imagination is not the same as creativity. Creativity takes the process of imagination to another level. My definition of creativity is ‘the process of having original ideas that have value.’ Imagination can be entirely internal. You could be imaginative all day long without anyone noticing. But you would never say that someone was creative if that person never did anything. To be creative you actually have to do something. It involves putting your imagination to work to make something new, to come up with new solutions to problems, even to think of new problems or questions. You can think of creativity as applied imagination.”

“Creativity involves several different processes that wind through each other. The first is generating new ideas, imagining different possibilities, considering alternative options. . . . The creative process also involves developing these ideas by judging which work best or feel right. . . . Overall, creative work is a delicate balance between generating ideas and sifting and refining them.”

“If you’re not prepared to be wrong, you’ll never come up with anything original.”

“What we think of ourselves and of the world makes us who we are and what we can be.”

Perhaps these words captured my attention because I do more imagining than creating, even though I’m always more energized by creating than imagining. The internet provides endless inspiration and makes it easy for me to spend lots of time imagining, so I have lots of ideas swirling around in my head. But of course it’s only when I put those ideas into action that I actually create something. I think it’s fair to say that I’ve stockpiled plenty of inspiration and possibilities. Now it’s time to put my imagination to work.

What about you? Do you find yourself spending more time thinking rather than doing? What have you been imagining recently? I’d love to hear your ideas.

Just Checking

I know a book is a short, easy read when I start and finish the book in the same day AND reading is not the only thing I did that day. That day was today, and the book was “Just Checking: Scenes from the Life of an Obsessive-Compulsive” by Emily Colas.

Written by a woman with Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, “Just Checking” is full of stories of how OCD manifested itself in her life and marriage. She has a wonderful sense of humor, and tells these short vignettes in an engaging, entertaining way. I bought the book last month at a used book sale at the Indian Valley Public Library, and since it was bag day and I bought 22 books for two bucks, it basically cost me about 10 cents. The book was enjoyable and even humorous, but given the topic, it was also kind of stressful, so I’m glad it didn’t take me long to read it!

Here are a few sentences that stood out to me that I jotted down as I read:

  • “I possess an endless capacity to keep a worry alive.” (pg. 33)
  • “When I can’t handle the world, I clean it.” (pg. 89)
  • “But the startling realization I made as I was coming to my senses [via medication] was that life’s kind of a drag. There didn’t seem to be much to it. And my rituals had been a nice diversion.” (pg. 138)

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time

Last night at a half hour ’til midnight, I finished reading “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time” by Mark Haddon. It was one of the most unusual books I’ve read, but it was a quick read and hard to put down.

The curious incident at the heart of the story was laid out within the first six lines of the book:

“It was 7 minutes after midnight. The dog was lying on the grass in the middle of the lawn in front of Mrs. Shears’s house. Its eyes were closed. It looked as if it was running on its side, the way dogs run when they think they are chasing a cat in a dream. But the dog was not running or asleep. The dog was dead. There was a garden fork sticking out of the dog.”

Don’t worry — that’s as gory as it gets. The story of the dead dog, Wellington, is told by Christopher John Francis Boone, an autistic fifteen-year-old whose mind works in incredibly fascinating ways. Christopher leaves no details untold as he describes his quest to figure out who killed his neighbor’s dog… and discovers some surprises along the way.

When I read books, I often jot down some lines that stand out to me. Here are a few words that caught my attention.

  • “I like it when it rains hard. It sounds like white noise everywhere, which is like silence but not empty.” (pg. 103)
  • “And then I had to work out what to do. And I did this by thinking of all the things I could do and deciding whether they were the right decision or not.” (pg. 129)
  • “So I started walking, but Siobhan said I didn’t have to describe everything that happens, I just have to describe the things that were interesting.” (pg. 189) {Of course, the next ten lines were a big run-on sentence with completely unnecessary and highly detailed information.}

“The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time” was one of the five bestsellers I happened to buy at a used book sale back in October, and so far, I’ve read four of the five books (as well as six other books during that time). But I’ve been buying books faster than I can read them, so I have plenty of other books on my shelf to choose from next. And… there’s another book sale today!

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