Favorite books of 2016: Non-fiction

In no particular order, here are three of my favorite (non-fiction) books I read this year:

Mere Motherhood | Cindy Rollins

If you're a homeschooling mother, this will be your new favorite book.  I think I read this book in one day, and I LOVED it.  Cindy Rollins chronicles her homeschooling adventures in a warm, personal, authentic and sometimes hilarious style.  Though this is not a homeschooling how-to book, it is packed with wisdom and practical ideas, and you will find refreshment and encouragement within these pages.

 Just Mercy | Bryan Stevenson

I cannot recommend this book highly enough.  Bryan Stevenson is a lawyer whose passion and life's work is to defend the poor and the most desperate in our society.  Stevenson gives the reader not only an analysis of court rulings, cases, and injustices within our court system, but he invites us to come along with him as he meets with the men and women whom he's defending.  He doggedly and compassionately reveals the person behind each case detailed in this book.  

These men and women's stories stayed with me long after I put this book down.  It was at times difficult to read.  It was infuriating, shocking, and often heart-wrenching, but it was hopeful, too.  Stevenson is truly a modern-day hero, and this book is a powerful book and important book.  

George Müller of Bristol: His Life of Prayer and Faith | A.T. Pierson

This isn't the first biography I've read on George Müller, and it likely won't be the last.  George Müller is one of my heroes.  His faith and dependence upon God and his life of prayer have inspired me from the first time I heard of him.

For anyone unfamiliar with George Müller, he cared for thousands of orphans in England in the mid-1800's.  Perhaps the most stunning part of his ministry is that he never ONCE asked for financial assistance from anyone but God.

Müller's position before God was this (in his own words): "By the help of God, this shall be my argument before Him, respecting the orphans, in the hour of need.  He is their Father, and therefore has pledged Himself, as it were, to provide for them; and I have only to remind Him of the need of these poor children in order to have it supplied."

When people would wonder how one man could possibly carry the needs of so many orphans (thousands upon thousands, over the course of his life) he would say, "By the grace of God, this is no cause of anxiety to me.  These children I have years ago cast upon the Lord.  The whole work is His, and it becomes me to be without carefulness.  In whatever points I am lacking, in this point I am able by the grace of God to roll the burden upon my heavenly Father."

What an incredible testimony of God's loving faithfulness and provision, that He met every single need that was spoken only in His presence.  The (unsolicited) funds poured in or trickled in, but God faithfully provided for His own, and strengthened the faith of Müller and so many more as they saw Him daily providing for the needs that only He knew of. 

Merry Christmas!

Merry Christmas, friends!

And just for you?  Some of the outtakes:

We have been enjoying this month off, (well, the kids and I have had it off.  Mark, on the other hand, has been working a lot of overtime.  But he has had this whole week off, so we are loving that!) God has blessed us with more snow than usual, so my kids are beside themselves with enthusiasm about that. 

We have played so many games this month: Nerts, Ticket to Ride, Settlers, Dominion, Risk, Battleship, Sorry, and probably others I'm forgetting. And we finished our read-aloud (Watership Down; loved it.)  Our favorite cookies this month are Soft Molasses Cookies and these peanut butter cookies with the Hershey's Kisses on top.  Because, YUM.

We are gearing up for the next few days of very-busy-ness and fun with extended families and are looking forward to that.  I am all done with shopping (thank you, Lord) and nearly done with wrapping and I've spent most of today in the kitchen, baking and prepping food for the next two days' gatherings.

Blessings to you and yours!

Merry Christmas to you all,
~Stacy for Mark, Ella, Isaac, Isaias, Adelia and Audra

December happenings and some recommendations!

Hello sweet friends,

A few days ago Audra was wandering about, wondering what she could do, because "no one wants to play with me."  She really is such a blessed little girl because so often she does have someone who will play with her, but when she doesn't, it's a bit rough for her.

Sometimes all she needs is an idea, though, of the possibilities, so I suggested that she read Christmas books to some of her dollies, and she countered with, "Or I could do school with them!"  And then she was off, cheerily setting up her classroom and prepping her lessons.  I was so delighted when I next walked through the living room that I snapped a few pictures:

This little scene reminded me of how I used to do the very same thing when I was a little girl, except that I had imaginary students (all with names and varying personalities, of course!) and I would just teach away in my little bedroom.  Who would have thought that years later, I would actually be teaching, and no longer with invisible students in my little room, but my own children, in our little home?

What a gift.  I am so grateful.

I have also been so tired.  Several weeks ago, -- well, probably beginning right around this post, I was struggling.  And then even when the PMS subsided, I just kept right on struggling, feeling overwhelmed and emotional and just... melancholy; like my usual joyful self was missing.  I tried to define it in an email to some friends: For several weeks now, I have been feeling particularly weary and overwhelmed and sort of like my soul is parched.  I have been asking Jesus to infuse life and breath into my spirit and delight into our school days.  And the words God has put in my mind as I've prayed and talked it over with my husband are to CREATE and RELATE.  I really feel like God is exhorting me to slow down and spend more time creating with the kids and on my own, and to take the time to relate and connect with them, specifically during our school days.

I think that in my efforts to organize and plan a smoothly-running school year for all five kids, from high school down to second grade, there are days where it can feel like all we're doing is checking off the lists of things to do, and the creative side of me feels starved.

Mark and I are still praying and asking God to reveal to us what it is that we could change or tweak in our schedule to make it less overwhelming, but for the past several weeks I have eased up on some of our schooling and have focused on creating and relating, and that has helped tremendously.

And then I've just been counting down the days to December, because we take the whole month of December off from school.  I always have grand plans that we will bake things for all the neighbors and decorate cookies and do a whole month of advent, etc, etc, etc.  But honestly?  With family birthdays this month in addition to the Christmas festivities and events and traditions and all the gifts to purchase and wrap, what we mostly do is rest.

On Monday morning I went to the video store and I rented four movies for the kids to watch, as a way to kick off our Christmas break.  This is huge to our kids because we don't have TV, and they get very little screen time.  So it's a win for them and for me, because it buys me down time and I feel utterly guilt-free about that.  ;)
Last night I did purchase this Advent Study from Stone Soup for Five which you can either purchase from Amazon in book form or as a PDF you can download and print (I did the latter), so today, six days into the month, we began that.  I just reviewed the first six lessons at the breakfast table and we'll do what we can do in the next few weeks.  What I love about it is that there is a coloring page per day, and my kids love coloring, so today we sat in the living room and while I read Christmas books and our current read-aloud, they got out the Prismacolor pencils and colored.

Oh, and I must recommend to you my favorite Christmas CD of the season.  I am actually not a real fan of Christmas music.  After so many years it sort of all sounds the same to me and I just don't love it.  (UNLIKE Mark, who has 1200 Christmas songs on his iPod and announced the other day that he listened to 20 different versions of the same song In one day.  All in a row.  *shudder*  I cannot even.)  But this CD?  I LOVE.  I've been listening to Christy Nockels' music since back in her Watermark days, and for the past couple of months I've been tuning in to her podcast, because I noticed that she was interviewing people like Ellie Holcomb, whom I love with all my heart.  And Christy herself is such an encourager, and a wise woman who loves Jesus deeply, and so I newly love her.  That's where I found out about her new Christmas album, and I ordered it.  And I love it.  You can and should purchase it HERE.  I think you'll love it.

Favorite Christmas Picture Books

Happy December 1st!

We got our Christmas tree last weekend in the pouring down rain.  We were all fairly soaked by the time we found the perfect tree, but it was a fun family adventure nonetheless!  

Christmas-decorating in process, later that day:

When Mark pulls out our Christmas decor bins from the storage room, the kids are always clamoring to locate two things: our nativity, and our Christmas books!  We have quite a collection of Christmas picture books and they only come out one month out of the whole year.  Here are a few of our favorites:

Great Joy | Kate DiCamillo
The Christmas Miracle of Jonathan Toomey | Susan Wojciechowski
Christmas Day in the Morning | Pearl S. Buck
The Gift of the Magi | O. Henry