Category Archives: Books

Looking for a good read?

The past few months brought me two great memoirs – seriously, I am in love with these books:

iu-1Educated, by Tara Westover. This is an incredible story of a girl raised in a chaotic family by parents who didn’t believe in school or traditional medicine. She describes working in her father’s junkyard, watching her mother treat severe burns and life-threatening injuries with herbs and hand gestures, and being abused by her brother while the rest of her family looked away.  As harrowing as her story is, it has a redemptive through-line, as she discovers school at seventeen and goes on to study at some of the best universities in the world. The best part however, is Westover’s unflinching chronicle of what it cost her to walk away from her family and build a life of her own.

iuThe Book of Separation by Tova Mirvis. I’m a fan of Mirvis’ novels, so I was in line for this memoir from the moment I heard she was writing it. It exceeded my expectations. She writes so beautifully about the betrayal and heartache of leaving a tribe you’ve grown up in…and yet describes how the hope of something better pulled her, encouraged her, and helped her believe in herself and the God she was trying to find.

These books make me want to write :)

You’ll Need to Escape

This will seem like a lighthearted post about hobbies, but it’s actually about survival.

It’s only in hindsight that I recognize the unexpected things that kept me sane during the tough parts of our foster care/adoption process, and what I see now is that when things get tough, I pick up a random hobby. It’s never a conscious decision. I suspect it’s God. But there’s a definite pattern where periodically, some random thing will catch my attention and give me an alternative world to dive into.

Why am I telling you this? Because if (WHEN!) you become a foster parent and/or adopt, you will have NO TIME for hobbies, and you certainly won’t have the energy… but you will need them desperately. So I’m giving you permission, now, to dive into ridiculous things when they catch your eye. This will feel like you’re giving up, admitting failure, and turning your back on all your responsibilities. But what you’ll really be doing is giving your heart, body & mind some room to reset, so you can think creatively again.

Lest you be tempted to feel embarrassed by the distractions that catch your eye — BEHOLD some of the strange worlds I’ve inhabited since we began this journey:

One summer I did nothing for three months but make beaded jewelry. I had my own tools. The ladies at Michaels knew me by name. I went to bed at night strategizing multi-strand necklaces with sea green matte crystal beads as a unifying theme.

This was phenomenally  unproductive. I was not good at it, so most of what I made was really terrible. But as I planned and beaded, I wasn’t thinking about death or loss or miscarriages, or how betrayed I felt by God. So in that way, those hours of shopping, stringing, learning and vacuuming (beads were EVERYWHERE) were well spent.

To give you an idea of how deep I was: My second book came out in the middle of this season, and the main reason I remember it is because I made a necklace to wear the launch party. I was in so much pain at that time, I hardly remember anything. But making necklaces – even ugly ones – gave me a tangible thing to focus on when I wasn’t sure life was worth the effort. And I say, if your will to live can be resurrected by $25 worth of beads and a 40% off coupon? That’s a good investment!


This past holiday season, I read 42 works of apocalyptic fiction. I learned all the acronyms (The End Of The World As We Know ItSh*t Hits The Fan). I discovered what paracord is and wondered Where WOULD we get water if we lost power for an extended period of time? I bought a water filter. I considered installing solar on our roof. It was bananas. And so much fun. This is embarrassing, but I LOVED these books. I felt like a whole alternate universe opened up for me to escape into, and I jumped right in.

Both Steve & I LOVED One Second AfterOne Year After , and The Final Day by William Forstchen – they were intense and well written, and I’m so glad our reading coincided with the release of the last book in the series.  I was obsessed with Elle Casey’s YA Apocalypsis series about a gifted girl who befriends a young neighbor and joins an Indian tribe after all the adults are wiped from the planet.  And #2 Cherub is waiting along with me for the final installment of the Pulse series by L.R. Burked, which is also YA.

I read a few other books by well known authors, but mostly, I read dozens of fast-paced self published books that lacked some finesse but made up for it with passion. (And yes, when you eagerly hit “Buy Now” on a book with the subtitle, A Novel of Societal Collapse, you’re ready for the holidays to be over!)  One series was set in southern Maine, with a Dad trying to get to his kids trapped at Boston College; it was cool to read a book set in places I know so well.

A side benefit was how these books helped me understand the mindset of super-conservative America, a world I’m not all that familiar with. It humanized that part of our country, and gave me much-needed perspective on the unfolding political developments. My one regret is that I didn’t do the free trial for Kindle Unlimited (Join Amazon Kindle Unlimited 30-Day Free Trial) It would have saved me about $200. Still, the combined entertainment & distraction value? Worth every penny.


Right now, I’m not under any real stress, except that it’s March in New England. All of us have dry skin and weird breakouts, so I’ve been going down the rabbit hole of making lotions, lip balm, sugar scrubs & cleaning products.


Mostly, I’ve made gloppy messes. But there’s one hand cream concoction everyone in our family uses, so that’s cool. #2 Cherub has asked for a strawberry flavored lip balm, so I’ll give that a try today, and I’m looking for a way to make hair conditioner. If any of this comes out well, I’ll share the details. (And if it comes out poorly, expect some funny pics)


One word of caution about all this: Whatever your hobby is? Do not try to become an expert at it. By all means, do not try to make it into a business – When something becomes your job it stops being your escape.  Just enjoy the season while it lasts and accept the gift of distractionI have three wearable necklaces, a bunch of good titles on my Kindle, and one non-gloppy hand cream that fixed my grim cuticle situation. And I’m still in it to win it with our Cherubs, and that’s a big deal. Sometimes you’ve gotta retreat in order to advance. I give you permission to be okay with that!

Keep Calm and Embarrassing Hobby on :)

Blizzard Prep

We’re expecting a ridiculous snowstorm tomorrow, so all of my plans for today were put on hold while I crammed three days of getting stuff done out in the world into one. I hope to post a full blog tomorrow (in between shoveling & chasing THIS DOG as she gallops through the snow). For now I thought I’d share three books you might like if you’re enjoying our adoption story. You know, in case you’re snowed in tomorrow, too :)

Reading is how I process things, how I figure them out. When some new subject catches my attention, the first thing I do is go get every memoir I can find (along with a novel or three) so I can see how other people handled the challenges. Here are three different perspectives on foster care & strangers-as-family that earned a permanent place on my bookshelf:

This book is just so good. I reviewed it here and could not rave about it enough. I love stories where the grim parts aren’t sugar coated and the happy ending feels earned.

If you help foster kids in any way, this book will reassure you that everything counts and you are making a huge difference, probably way more than you realize.


A YA novel about a girl in foster care – it sounds sad, but really isn’t.  #2 Cherub told me about this one – she’s read everything in the genre – and this did not disappoint.

I love how it reminded me that kids in foster care are KIDS, with the same array of everyday life questions, dreams, ambitions, and goals as other kids.


This one’s a heartbreaker, but in the best way. It’s not about foster care. It’s the memoir of a young woman who moves to a new city and meets a woman from Somalia, along with her five daughters, on a bus.  Her descriptions of the woman’s struggles to learn American culture and survive are compelling.


Stay warm! And if you ARE someplace warm, please send pictures! :)

Celebrating The Good Moments #1

EARLY Sunday morning, I saw a post from my friend Stephanie Elliot  on Facebook that inspired me to ditch the whole second half of my sermon to make room to share the story of how she handled years of rejection and disappointment in her writing career.

Her book comes out today :) 

I know Steph in real life (if you’re a longtime blog reader, you may remember this road trip from Chicago to Wisconsin in a tornado with my friends Manic Mom & Swishy? Manic Mom = Steph!) She overcame SO MANY NO’s to get to this very big YES in her writing career. She inspires me with her perseverance. She understood that if anyone was getting their books published, then it was possible for her, too. And here she is!  I’ll be waiting out on my porch all day for my copy of  Sad Perfect to arrive. It’s YA, a hardcover book for just over $10, and has GREAT early reviews. Looking to escape into a good story with a personal connection? You should click over and grab a copy, too. Congratulations, Steph! xoxo

On a related note…Lent begins tomorrow!


In He Loves Me, He Loves Me Not, I devote a whole chapter to my first experience of Lent and how pivotal it was early in my faith. There have been some rocky years since then, but this year, our church is reclaiming this observation as an opportunity to take a chance on God once again. If you don’t have plans for Lent, join us!

Everything you need is on the Greenhouse Mission Site:

The Study Guide tells you a bit more about my experiences with Lent, as well as how we’re approaching it this year through three traditional practices: Bible Study, Prayer & Fasting. You can do these on your own, or with friends. (I do better with the buddy system to keep me afloat, but it works with just you & Jesus, too.) Each week we’ll post a Weekly Bible Guide  with links to the daily reading, along with some thoughts on the passage and ideas for prayer. There will also be sermons you can listen to, book recommendations, and – God willing – some cool testimonies of what God is doing in our lives. I hope you’ll join us from wherever you are (and I mean that both geographically and spiritually :) )  Let me know if you’re joining in, and how it’s going. It’s good to cheer each other on and believe together.

(Looking for today’s Adoption Answer? It’s here, in a second post!)



I’ve had a growing stack of books on my desk for weeks now, waiting for a chunk of time to I could share them with you. There’s something here for pretty much everyone looking for a summer read:

How to Survive A Shipwreck by Jonathan Martin.  The author digs deep and shares with beauty and candor about what he learned after (in his words) “steering my own ship onto the rocks,” failing in his marriage and leaving the church he’d founded. The book has an unusual, almost mysterious style. Scenes are sparse, and there are no details at all about what happened. We’re left to wonder about the specifics of the shipwreck, as we can only see the aftermath. This bothered me at first, but then I saw an interview where the author said that the book was not a memoir, and that helped me to stop looking for the narrative arc and simply soak in the wisdom from what the author learned. I deeply appreciate this book and recommend it to anyone who has watched helplessly as their boat came apart…or been complicit in taking an axe to the timbers.

In Twenty Years by Allison Winn Scotch. I discovered Allison’s writing years ago because we have the same agent. Since then, I have enjoyed every one of her six novels, and this  might be my favorite to date. In the midst of a compelling plot, she captures so much of the angst of getting older and balancing who you are now with who you used to be. It reminded me of a longtime favorite, Plan B by Jonathan Tropper – high praise.

Onward by Russell Moore. I never imagined I’d find this much inspiration in a book by leader of the Southern Baptist Convention. I don’t even mean that in a snarky way; only that were you to draw a Venn diagram with Southern Baptists & Vineyarders, you’d pretty much just see JESUS in the center overlap. But as it turns out, that’s enough.  This book is filled with sharp thinking, wise observations, and a keen perspective on the intersection between faith & culture. I’ve read a lot of books about navigating that space – this might be the most insightful. (Bonus: I discovered Moore’s work via his interview on the Phil Fischer podcast.)

Heart Made Whole by Christa Black. This was a miss for me – not enough clear story, too many heart metaphors. The author’s heart is an open door, a house with many rooms, a dark place waiting to be explored, a locked room she’s trying to open… I love a good image, but it’s a tool to help you say something, not a substitute for  figuring out what you’re trying to say. I also found it a little strange that she talks to her heart. It wasn’t for me, but several others have liked it, so check it out if you’re interested. (Note: I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for a review.)

The Pastor by Eugene Peterson. You know all those memes on “Adulting”? Eugene Peterson should be our guide. His story is poetic and yet really clear as he shares stories about the people and situations that shaped his thinking about how to be a husband, father, pastor and friend. Lots of wisdom here.

Book Report

In the midst of a CRAZY couple of months, I’ve read some good books. Some offered wisdom, others stirred up my imagination for how things might really work, and a few just let me escape for a few hours. Here’s a rundown in case you’re looking for something to read as we head into summer:

GRIT: THE POWER OF PASSION AND PERSEVERANCE by Angela Duckworth. I expected to like this one because I’m hearing about it everywhere, but I didn’t expect it to prompt an immediate change to my daily routine. There’s a lot to like in these pages, but my personal takeaway was about the power of a certain type of practice – where you have goals that are a bit beyond your capacity, keep track of how you practice each day, and look for outside help to get better.  Highly recommend.

WAKING THE DEAD: THE GLORY OF A HEART FULLY ALIVE by John Eldredge. This was a re-read for me, prompted by a friend who shared how a retreat led by Eldredge helped her through a really thorny patch in her life. I hadn’t realized how deadened my heart had become from so many years of loss and stress. This book helped me recognize the dead-ness and believe for resurrection. Such powerful stuff here. I’m going back through all the sections I underlined and asking God to heal those broken places. If you could use some help getting back to abundant life, this is a good one to read.

THE VERITAS CONFLICT: A NOVEL by Shanti Feldhahn.  And imaginative look at the spiritual battle over Harvard. A fast-moving plot held my interest, and I was intrigued by this attempt to show how angels and demons intersect with our everyday human lives. Fun to read, especially if you have a connection to Cambridge. Now that our church meets in Kendall Square, I’d love to see a similar story set at MIT.

DISRUPTED: MY MISADVENTURES IN THE STARTUP BUBBLE by Dan Lyons. Dang, this guy is funny. This is a grim, hilariously sarcastic look at the tech bubble from a former Newsweek writer who worked at Hubspot. It’s billed as “old guy works in hot young startup,” but the book goes way beyond that basic premise.  If you’re connected to tech, this is worth a look.

SPIRITUAL SOBRIETY: STUMBLING BACK TO FAITH WHEN GOOD RELIGION GOES BAD by Elizabeth Esther.  I expected this to be a memoir, but it’s more of a 12 step program for people recovering from cult-like or abusive religious situations. It’s not a light read, but I think it will be a helpful, hopeful resource for many people as Esther shares what she’s learned about moving forward.

And Here are a couple of books I’m looking forward to:

IN TWENTY YEARS: A NOVEL by Allison Winn Scotch.  I love her books.

HOW TO SURVIVE A SHIPWRECK: HELP IS ON THE WAY AND LOVE IS ALREADY HERE by Jonathan Martin. I don’t know much about this guy but I’ve heard good things.

Running: A Love Story

I was saving this post for a bit later this month, but since Amazon has jumped the launch cover-140x210date and you can have this book TODAY if you order immediately, I’m going to stop waiting and tell you about my friend Jen’s new book, Running: A Love Story: 10 years, 5 marathons, and 1 life-changing sport.

First, let me tell you about Jen. I “met” her years ago when the blogosphere was a fun social place to find people who shared your humor & interests. Jen, a freelance journalist, wrote these great, funny, totally honest blogs about the Jersey Shore (she even wrote a guide for spending time there). Because I’d spent most of my 20s in Philly, I had Shore memories…but mostly I just liked her take on life. That’s continued over the years, and even though we’ve never met in person, I feel like I “know” her because she’s shared so much of her journey in building her career, loving her adorable dog, becoming a home owner, and devoting more and more time to running.

My favorite thing about Jen is that she’s so straightforward. She says what she wants to say, with no hidden agenda or angle. She hates overly girly running gear, loves New Jersey, and freely shares what she’s learned about making a living as a freelance writer. In a word, she’s cool.

I learned a few years back that I can’t “review” books written by my friends (even friends I’ve never met in person), especially if they’re memoir. But I can recommend them, and this one I recommend.

Jen brings every bit of her blunt candor and sharp humor to this story. But she also adds something else that really touched me: she’s not afraid to want something in this book, and she shows herself working through what it takes to have the courage to go after it. She’s not above it all, pretending to be perfect. She’s deep in the mix of life. Those are the stories I love to read, and they inspire me as a writer, and a person trying to live in a way that amounts to something.

No matter what your personal relationship is with running (mine is something like, Running: A Friend I Should Probably Call…) I think you’ll relate to Jen and be entertained & encouraged by her book. Click over and order Running: A Love Story.

Then as you’re waiting for your copt to be delivered, watch this video. It’s hilarious. (My favorite is Jen’s face when she’s wearing the “Not Running Sucks” t-shirt.)

<p><a href=”″>Running: A Love Story by Jen. A Miller</a> from <a href=””>Right Side Up Productions</a> on <a href=””>Vimeo</a&gt;.</p>