About Carmen

Wife, mother, and avid reader

Winter Reading: Just Mercy

Winter is almost becoming my favorite season. Winter = more time for books.

A couple of weeks ago, I finished Bryan Stevenson’s Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption. Yes, it is non-fiction, but Stevenson packed it so full of stories that I read it like I read  novels – in just a couple of sittings.

Just mercy  Stevenson writes from his experiences as a lawyer, sharing the stories of incarcerated individuals, many who have received unjust convictions and sentences. He tells of his own experience defending prisoners on death row, and helping some to get their convictions overturned.

I’ve always been fascinated by the judicial system (perhaps because of my early adolescent reading of John Grisham?), and Stevenson has made me all the more curious and saddened about the current situation.

Chapter Books for Preschoolers

I’ve started experimenting with some chapter books for David. I love picture books, but sometimes I get annoyed at HOW MANY BOOKS are in our library stack and HOW MANY BOOKS I have to find to return. So, I decided to start borrowing chapter books and picture book collections. Headache averted. Well, now I have to watch out for Ruby because she tries to carry these massive books all around the house.

Here are some of our recent favorites:

fredericks fables

paddington treasury

mercy watson







How do you find time for reading?


I’ve been getting this question a lot recently. I usually hee-haw around a bit, and then stammer something about “when the kids are happily occupied.”

Here is a more thought-out response:

1) If I manage get up before the kids, I try to read for 5-10 minutes. I take a loooong time to wake up, and reading helps me enter my day gradually (and happily!)

2)  During baby girl’s nap and while big brother is reading books on the couch beside me, I’m able to get in about 30 minutes of reading. I used to try to get work done during this time, but I realized that I needed a rest AND David is more motivated to look at books if I’m also looking at books.

3) After the kiddos go to bed, I’m occasionally able to get a chapter or so in, but recently I’ve been freezing green beans during that time.. .. Maybe in the winter I’ll be able to read in the evenings again!.)

4)  Sometimes, if the kids are both in the living room playing, and I’ve gotten a good bit of my “work” done for the day, I allow myself a bit or reading. I have to be careful, though, because sometimes I can become too engrossed in my reading, and then be annoyed at my kiddos for being kiddos.

5) I’ve started to skim a lot more. And I’ve gotten more picky about what I’m actually reading. This helps me get through stacks of books, but then I sometimes go to my book club and blankly stare as people talk about a scene that I must have skipped over.

6) My house is not as clean as my mother’s. My garden is not as weed-free as my father’s. And I don’t take my kids out and about as much as some of my friends.  This all leaves more time for reading. Haha.

Summer Reading: Iran & Maisie Dobbs

journeyfromthelandofno  My current interest has been Iran, thanks to Journey from the Land of No: A Girlhood Caught in Revolutionary Iran. After reading Roya Hakakian’s fascinating account, I watched several documentaries on Iran and found several Iranian food blogs. I guess I’ve moved from opera on to Iran. . .





maisiedobbsI want to tell every reader I know about the Maisie Dobbs series, but perhaps I’m just late to the party. (I see that this is the tenth anniversary edition?!!)  Winspear creates a gripping plot line without a lot of the gore that sometimes accompanies mystery novels.  Highly recommended.




Today I’m linking up with Modern Mrs. Darcy’s Quick Lit. Check out her blog for some great reading suggestions!






Still Alice & Pioneer Girl

Sometimes finding good books is hard; I was surprised that the last two books I read were blog-worthy. Usually I read one good book every several weeks.

still alice Still Alice by Lisa Genova. Soo good. This is written from the perspective of Alice, who has been diagnosed with early onset Alheizmers. Two of my grandmothers have had dementia, so I have a personal connection to this novel. I’d like to check out the movie, although I’m always hesitant to watch a book-based movie. Has anyone seen it?




pioneer girlPioneer Girl: The Annotated Biography of Laura Ingalls Wilder. I grew up pretending that I was Laura Ingalls Wilder from The Little House in the Big Woods. This is the original autobiographical manuscript on which Wilder based her fiction series. I loved comparing what I remembered from the series to what actually happened in Wilder’s life.

Herbs, Opera, and Malcolm Gladwell

I’ve been reading a strange mix of books recently. Here are several ones I’ve enjoyed:

homegrown herbs  Homegrown Herbs by Tammi Hartung. All about growing, harvesting, and using herbs. I’m diving into the world of herbs and loving it; my uses for herbs have expanded beyond the occasional culinary use.  This library book has been a great reference.





medicinal herbsRosemary Gladstar’s Medicinal Herbs. Such a non-threatening introduction to medicinal herbs. Rosemary (did she change her name to make it an herb???) organizes the book well and uses easy-to-follow language. I’m already making my list of herbs to plant next year.




bel cantoBel Canto by Ann Patchett. This novel is responsible for my strange journey into the world of opera. After picking up my books from the library Josiah asked, “What’s up with opera?” I really don’t know. Sometimes new interests pop up in unexpected places. I will add that Bel Canto, though gripping, does contain some elements that some readers may not feel comfortable with (sexuality and a little violence). I did find it to be a fascinating story of the power of music in a hostage situation, making me dream of alternative ways to peace and cooperation.



tippingpointThe Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference by Malcolm Gladwell.  I’m gradually working my way through all of Gladwell’s books; I love his research and story-telling.







February Reads

February has been full: farm work, home renovations, parenting. . . but I have gotten some reading in.  I thought I’d share three of my favorites from the month.

eating on the wild side Eating on the Wild Side: The Missing Link to Optimum Health by Jo Robinson. Robinson examines the nutritional profiles of different fruits and vegetables; she explains how the breeding of fruits and vegetables over the years has caused them to be less nutrient-dense. Basically, we’ve ended up with more starch and less vitamins. She includes helpful charts of the most nutritious varieties of fruits and vegetables (who knew that red lettuce is generally better than green!) and some fun recipes. My only regret is that I ordered my garden seeds before I read this book.


power of habit The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business by Charles Duhigg. I had to read this one quickly because it was a library copy (and somehow I had too many library books all at the same time!)  The sections on organizational/business habits were particularly interesting to me. Little habits contribute towards big results. Duhigg uses a lot of stories and case studies to illustrate his points, making this a quick, but thought-provoking read.



all the light we cannot see All The Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr.  Doerr tells two parallel stories that take place during the German occupancy of France in WWII. I’ve never read a book with a blind heroine, so I found the one story particularly riveting. I’d highly recommend this book. (If I’m going to take the time to blog about a book, it is safe to assume that I’d recommend it.)

How to Grow Fresh Air

howtogrowfreshair  Yesterday was a great mail day- I received How to Grow Fresh Air: 50 Houseplants that Purify Your Home or Office by Dr. B.C. Wolverton.

I’ve been thinking a lot about indoor air quality recently, probably because it’s too cold to open our windows AND we put new carpet in our upstairs.

This book is an incredible resource. I read it at the library a while ago, and decided that instead of trying to take copious notes, I should find a used copy. So I did.

Wolverton includes helpful charts such as ones that show how well a plant removes chemical vapors, and how easy a plant can be maintained. Boston ferns  remove the most vapors, but I was excited that some flowering plants, such as Gerbera daisy and florist’s mum, rate pretty high as  well.

Fortunately David enjoys watering plants, so maybe I will be able to keep some new ones alive.

Yes, I Still Read (and Blog)

Life has been rich and full this fall, and I’ve let blogging fall to the back corner. I’m ok with that. Here are some books we’ve been into recently:

the pearl that broke its shell


The Pearl that Broke Its Shell by Nadia Hashimi. Afghani-American Hashimi tells the story (ficitional) of two different Afghani women.  If you enjoyed Khaled Hosseini’s The Kite Runner, you may want to check it out.





richard scarry best storybook


Richard Scarry’s Best Storybook Ever. David loves everything Richard Scarry, and I’m happy that my childhood copy of this book is getting heavy use 25 years later. I do think it is the best storybook ever.





read aloud rhymes for the very young


Read-Aloud Rhymes for the Very Young – Jack Prelutsky.  David and I sit down to read one page, and get up twenty minutes (and 50 poems) later. I love poetry when I don’t have to dissect it, and I’m glad that he seems to enjoy it too. I snagged this copy at a library book sale. A win for everyone.

Summer Reads

I’ve read a lot of duds this summer. But since I don’t blog about those, I thought I’d share some of my recent favorite reads.

the nesting place  The Nesting Place: It Doesn’t Have to Be Perfect to Be Beautiful by Myquillin Smith. This has been a wonderful inspiration for me as I work at turning our new (old) farmhouse into a home. I love how it is not just about decorating – but about the heart behind it. Smith also blogs at www.thenester.com





gladwell_david and goliath  David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling Giants by Malcolm Gladwell.  I laughed, I cried, I stopped to read interesting things aloud. . .and I even found surprising connections to my Anabaptist faith. I guess I should have seen that coming.





the-invention-of-wings-sue-monk-kidd_t580 The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd.  I was pleasantly surprised to find that Kidd based this captivating book around the life of abolitionist Sarah Grimke.






notes from a blue bike Notes from a Blue Bike: The Art of Living Intentionally in a Chaotic World. I enjoy Tsh’s style, and although not everything was a terribly new idea to me, I did enjoy Tsh’s thoughts on education and travel with children.






kitchen table counseling Kitchen Table Counseling: A Practical and Biblical Guide for Women Helping Others by Muriel Clark and Shelly Volkhardt. This is a non-academic read on the art of informal biblical counseling. I found it helpful as a I continue to ponder my vocation, while taking a break from counseling at the local pregnancy clinic.





divergent Divergent by Veronica Roth. I love being a part of a book club because it exposes me to many new books and genres. This is an example of a book I never would have picked up myself. I enjoyed it.