Category Archives: Family Reading List

Scouting Out Some New Books

I have a lot going on in my life. In addition to being the mother of 7 beautiful children and wife of Proeun I farm, homeschool, manage my home and write, not just a blog but for 4 area newspapers (I have also written my own book). It was on one assignment for one of these papers that I found Scout and Morgan Books (link below).

I have mentioned before that my birthday is around the middle of the year. I would get a stack of books for Christmas, read them and get resupplied for my birthday. I dreamed of having a large, fully stocked library in my home when I grew up. We do still have a lot of books, but now I have also discovered the library and through the course of several moves I have had to cull some of my books. Still Scout and Morgan is one of my new favorite places and I love the fact that I am supporting our local economy and a truly great lady when I purchase my books from Scout and Morgan.

Before our Yellowstone trip we stopped by to get a small stack of reading material and visit with Judith Kissner. One of the stories early in my relationship with Judith was the Cambridge Community Read final event with Faith Sullivan this spring. The book the whole community was reading was Goodnight Mr. Wodehouse by Sullivan. Throughout the book Nell Stillman, the novel’s protagonist, turns to books as a way of facing life’s pressures. P.G. Wodehouse was her favorite author.

So when I stopped by Scout and Morgan I was looking for my own copy of one of his books and Judith presented me with a used copy of Love Among the Chickens–the very book I had in mind.

As you can see we picked up quite a stack. What is even better is my girls discovered how fun book stores are!

When we headed off to Yellowstone books of regional interest were high on my list of desired souvenirs and so I picked up a couple there as well. Now I find myself reading multiple books at once. Here are a couple of books that are on my shelf right now.

Born a Crime by Trevor Noah. I am not familiar with his comedy or his work on the “The Daily Show” but whenever we contemplate race in this country we remind the children that they would likely not exist, or at least it would be illegal for them to exist just a few decades before their birth. It was such a personally poignant read to hear Noah’s story, a man my age whose very birth was a crime. To read about his mother’s story and subsequently his story is such an eye opening experience. It was definitely a very fast read for me as I couldn’t put it down!

Different by Sally and Nathan Clarkson.  The subtitle is “The Story of an Outside the Box Kid and the Mom Who Loved Him.” I have a couple of “outside of the box” kids. I bought this book with one specific child in mind and discovered elements of myself and other children beautifully touched on in this book. Through the Clarkson family journey I am reminded of the importance of loving and letting go of control. Trying to micromanage people and life in general is a sure fire way for loads of stress. This book gently reminded me who is really in control.

The Life Giving Home: Creating a Place of Belonging and Becoming by Sally and Sarah Clarkson. This book is written by the same mother who wrote Different. This time she partnered with one of her daughters. I have read many of her books before. Most of her books are more of ideal books, as in striving for an ideal. But by reading it at the same time as Different which is definitely about the reality of life it is a great foil and helps me see the beauty of ideals while accepting realities. Both books helped me realize how important home is as a launching place for not only us as individuals but also for our children.

Shadow Mountain by Renee Askins. This was one of my Yellowstone snags. I am almost done reading it. It is the story of the reintroduction of wolves into Yellowstone. I was not aware that wolves were eradicated from the area in the early 1900s. This was purposeful and intentional. The reintroduction was even more so. A great read–a fresh look at the world of conservation and how it intersects with real life. From the opening story Askins sets the stage, “My doe-eyed idealism about peaceable wolves, along with my meticulously planned research design, was eviscerated that day with Cassie [a female wolf she was studying at “Wolf Park”] and the six unborn puppies she carried.” Cassie was killed by her own pack. “Cassie’s death was the first of many humbling lessons in the wild’s volatility and unpredictability I was to receive in the years to come.” It is a hard lesson that ideals don’t translate particularly well to real life, but that in striving for them life is worth living. I am at the point in the book where wolves are on the ground in Yellowstone for the first time in 70 years and the first batch of puppies have been born. Askins has closed the door on “The Wolf Fund,” her life work of the past 15 years and she is ready to move on with 2 Chinese Crested dogs she recently purchased. I feel so honored that on our first night in the park we were able to witness first hand 2 wolves stalking a heard of elk, or perhaps a flock of geese (there was a lot of animals in the area). I now know the name of their ancestors and I wonder which pack they came from.

Undaunted Courage by Stephen E. Ambrose. I can’t remember if I have read any books by Stephen Ambrose. I realize as I write this that I likely mixed him up with Jeff Shaara who wrote very readable and enjoyable Civil War accounts (and one Mexican War). But this is the story of the Lewis and Clark exhibition. You can’t go anywhere out west without finding some remnants of their story. While I know snatches of it I am interested to get a more complete view. This is next on my list to read. Also a Yellowstone souvenir.

While I include the links to amazon it is so worthwhile to find a local bookseller and purchase from them. Also books make great souvenirs as you seek to learn more about where you are visiting or have visited. I thank Judith for leading me out of the doldrums I was in with reading material and introducing me to some great new authors and stories. Once my pile is done I will be back.

Welcome to Scout & Morgan Books in Cambridge, MN


Reading in the New Year

It wasn’t until the past couple of years that I have started doing New Year’s Resolutions. As I look at the new year and think about my hopes and dreams for the coming 365 days it has become a fun tradition and exercise in dreaming. I firmly believe adults still need to have dreams and goals they are striving for. And for this year my main goal is to enjoy life more–to not be so caught up in daily struggles that I forget about the big picture. When I was writing the author page in my book Home School Farm I was able to summarize what my favorite things are–writing and reading, cooking and eating and creating and loving. So this is where my focus will be for the New Year.

So I start today with reading. I thought I would share with you some of the things that are really filling my soul lately.

As a busy momma magazines are often more my speed. I have long been a subscriber of Taproot. I believe I have every copy, though I have not always been good at reading it, my last 2 issues I have completely devoured. So I am saving my others for a little postpartum reading. I love the authenticity of the magazine and the focus on simplicity.

Making was a dream come true for me. The handmade section of Taproot has always been my favorite as I dream about beautiful things I would like to make. Now there is a whole magazine just for creating all those projects that really speak to me. It is a new magazine. My copy, Fauna, is the 2nd issue, unfortunately I missed the first one, but I definitely plan on subscribing. I love just flipping through the magazine and planning future projects. I also love the ability to learn new skills and types of projects. I bought the tools for my first felting project yesterday!!

I picked up In Winter’s Kitchen at the Twin Cities Book Festival. Of course I am a fan of local food. I did expect this book to be a bit different though, I thought it would be a personal narrative and while there are elements of that I love that it goes into the history of various crops that are northland staples like wheat and carrots. I am learning much about plant history and getting inspired to try some new varieties. What is really cool is that since the book takes place in my home state I actually know some of the people Dooley talks about in the book. Also when she mentions a restaurant or company that she likes I can check them out myself.

Case in point she talks about Sunrise Flour Mill. They are a small mill that grinds heritage wheat and they are just 15 miles from my home! So yesterday I stopped by to get some flour and asked the proprietor Martin to make some recommendations for me. He did. Currently I am making Perfect Artisan Bread. It is a 2 day process I will continue tomorrow. I am super excited about it. Apparently the flour is good for people with high blood sugar, gluten sensitivities and celiac’s disease. I just hope it is delicious.

The last book I am reading has a lot to do with another activity–loving. In loving my children I hope to provide them with a peaceful and secure home environment. Peaceful is a little difficult to attain with 6 little (and not so little ones) running around. We homeschool and I was feeling like so so so much of my energy was going into the older children’s more complex struggles that we were loosing something in creative, fun energy. I stumbled upon Whole Family Rhythms and got a copy of their Winter Guide (it is only in ebook). The book provides a weekly story, and play activity as well as daily focus activities from a nature walk to cooking, to water coloring or crafting. It also provides momma meditations and momma crafts. I am trying to be more go with the flow and not stress if we doing get to everything every day but it is fun to have a little different focus.

What are you reading in the New Year?

Twin Cities Book Festival and Filfillah

I am beginning to rediscover my first love. As some of you may have noticed we are taking a sabbatical next year from our CSA vegetables. This is due in part to a desire on my part to focus on my writing. I continue to finalize the details of my book Home School Farm which will hopefully be available as an ebook the beginning of November. My work as a writer and author has really rekindled my first love–books. As a child I never was without a good book to read. But as a busy mother and farmer finding time to read was difficult to say the least. Over the years a void began to develop.

I haven’t ever stopped writing. I have written for the Hmong Times since before I was married. I have also recently added a couple area newspapers, then of course there is my book. But I really wanted to branch out and pursue writing more. So this weekend found me at

twin cities book festival

It was such a joy to see what books are new, what some of my favorite publishers are working on now, and seeing how some how some literary journals that were fledglings when I started writing like Mizna are doing now. I remember this journal was just coming out when I was in college and I thought my life would go completely differently. Now things are coming full circle except I have alot more life experience under my belt.

The highlight of the day for me was meeting Krista Tippett. She hosts a national radio show, On Being, that explores, “the question of meaning.” She has also written a book entitled Becoming Wise that explores some of her most prominent questions from her many interviews. I have barely started reading it and I am hooked.

I also picked up a copy of Beth Dooley’s In Winter’s Kitchen. I can’t get too far away from my love of good local food and aparently neither can Dooley. I can hardly what to get started with this one.

I also picked up some copies of literary journals I would like to submit to and stopped by many publishers booths for future references.


Some of the books and journals I picked up.

After the festival I was able to meet up with Proeun who also had a class that day for a date–sans children. This was our first date in years! So much fun to discuss all the cool things we learned and be able to eat at our own pace rather then rushing through a meal before the children finished and got antsy. We stopped at Filfillah. It has Mediterranean food and was absolutely delicious. We got a sampler platter of appetizers that had hummus, falafel (the best I have ever eater!), feta cheese and more. Then we ordered their sampler grilled platter of kebabs and chopped meats over saffron rice. I highly recommend them!

It was such a great rejuvenating day!

Off my bookshelf

I have been reading a lot of blogs lately. Honestly I have come to view reading as my original creative activity. Out of it comes so many things that make life more enjoyable. Reading affects my creativity in so many ways. Whether my reading sparks an idea I really need to process through my own writing or becomes a wonderful family dinner, embroidery project or just soul food, I really feel it when I am not spending an adequate amount of time in books.

I did finally break down and buy a kindle (or Proeun bought one for me) but that was mostly because some books that I really wanted were only available in a digital format. I still much prefer real, physical books.

Come to think of it most of the books I have purchased I found out about on a blog. The very first blog I ever started reading was Soule Mama. I have all her books now and have found that they really give me that soul food that I need. Her family lives on a hobby farm in northern Maine and in many ways they have been on a similar journey as our family. Her most recent book, The Rhythm of Family has short essays from both her and her husband in honor of each month as well as projects and activities that can be done as a family. Since it is January (still) I have started from the very beginning and try to do at least one of the activities a month.

A recent addition to my blog reading is Yummy Mummy. I stumbled across this site when I was searching for “healthy chocolate chip oatmeal cookies.” I found this recipe. Now I make this yummy and healthy recipe a couple times a month. Especially when mommy needs a little pick-up at snack time.

The book The Yummy Mummy Kitchen has many more delicious recipes. But I also love the brief essays and life tips. While Marina Delio lives in California and has a very international background I can’t relate to some areas of her life but I find her recipes delicious and her passion infectious. She writes in the introduction, “I’m not the Yummy Mummy. You are.  . .A Yummy Mummy is not a high-maintenance mom. Being a Yummy Mummy does not mean weekly manicures, grocery shopping in stilettos or nannies. It has nothing to do with money or perfection, it’s an attitude. She puts the kids first, but also takes care of herself and finds balance amid the chaos.” I definitely need to work on this but good food always helps.

I have also always loved handcrafts. My mother taught be all the basics, but now I am discovering so many great resources. Anna Maria Horner has a style I really connect with so when she came out with her own embroidery book I pre-ordered it (yes I wanted it that bad). It is such a joy to browse. and now Avril and I are working on our own project. I help thread the needle, pick out the thread and lay the foundation stitches then she comes back and finishes it. It is a great way to wind down in the evening.

Anna Maria also inspired me towards design. I used to design my own fashions, at 7 years old. I would make catalogs entitled JCAmy. But for the most part my designs and passion for it has been lost. But this winter I have been reminded of how much I love fashion and design. Wanting to explore this further I bought Mastering the Art of Fabric Printing and Design. It begins with the very basics and moves forward. I love the interviews with the designers and sidebar tips. Soon the season will begin in full swing and I am definitely looking forward to warmer weather, but till then I am enjoying my indoor comforts.

Celebrating Christmas with Significance

Maybe it is just where I am at in my personal journey but Christmas just seems so much more significant this year then I ever experienced before. I had wonderful Christmases as a child, so much so that there would be a huge letdown after Christmas. Then as a young bride it was a bit hard to recreate, seems like I was always too busy to pause much. But this year is amazing. We are on our dream farm, literally living our dream all year round. And this time of the year is our “off-season” where we are very protective of our family time since we are so busy the rest of the year. But what makes it so wonderful, I think it is the pausing. 

We did our Christmas shopping early, often opting for on-line versions so I didn’t have to navigate crowds. And we kept it minimal. Proeun and I were noticing a case of the “galloping gimmes” (from the Berenstein Bears) and were trying to figure ways to give the children a joy of giving, so we decided to do mostly homemade gifts and get the children involved. They are not as involved as I would like but it is definitely a step in the right direction. 
This spring we bought a piano but I haven’t had much chance to play. Now that the Christmas season is here we are focusing on learning Christmas carols. 
We started with 2 carols for the girls to sing in the choir at church. Since Mavis doesn’t read yet and Avril is not proficient enough to read and sing (though once she knows the song the words help her remember) they had to memorize all the verses for “Angels We Have Heard on High” and “Once is Royal David’s City.” It was a fun exercise for all of us. And they loved singing in the choir.
I didn’t do as much crafting this year, other than the presents. I wanted to spend the month working on it but instead am focusing on Christmas stories and music to make the time significant, though Avril did make a lovely table runner with her aunt that really dresses up the table.
The children have been asking for a gingerbread house though, so when I saw a kit for a gingerbread barn I thought it would be perfect. However 4 adults and five children couldn’t figure out how to make it stay erect so it became a cookie decorating party.
The younger ones thought this was a much better idea anyway.
And so did grandpa. I had to remind myself that Christmas memories don’t need to be perfect.
I will post after Christmas about some of our projects but here are some resources for making the season more significant.
The Nativity Story, we kicked off the season with this and loved it, I hadn’t seen it before but it was perfect for setting the mood.
Advent and Christmas is Family Worship, our first year using this. I love it though it took some getting used to, also incorporates songs, better for older children but younger ones love the songs and repeating the verses.
Truth in Tinsel, we used this more last year and it is wonderful. Takes a bit more prep because there are crafts involved, but the younger ones get it more. Also has prompts to add to an advent calendar (I really want to do that next year and make an advent wreath).
And don’t forget to sing, sing all day long. We have Christmas CDs going all day long. And bake, and talk and love and just be. Merry Christmas!

I am a reader

I have always enjoyed reading. The only thing that got me through my broken leg the summer between my Junior and Senior year in High School was a trip to Barnes and Noble. My mom told me I could pick any books and as many as I wanted, her treat. It was great.

Recently Proeun gave me a great treat. While this time around it involved browsing the internet versus a trip to the bookstore, (sorry local bookstores but you’re all huge chains anyway). I was so excited to get my box this week. I haven’t been able to pick out which one to start on. The hard time is finding time. I also have kntting projects, and sewing projects and a house to keep clean, the list goes on and on. But at least I know I am raising readers. After taking the picture both Mavis and Avril enjoyed going through the pile. Now Avril is “reading” or perhaps a better way to describe it would be writing orally a story to me from one of the books. I suppose some day I will have all the time I want to read and look back and wish for babies to hold.

Julie and Julia The Movie

I love food. That is why I farm and cook and do so much in my life. I love any kind of food. a couple weeks ago our local church school hosted an international food festival. The parents of the students make the food and sell it. This is one fund raiser I try never to miss. This year the offerings included African flat bread, Guatelman tamales, Vietnamese spring rolls, Korean eggrolls, Hmong fried noodles, potato pancakes and much more. I was enjoying my finds when another church member asked me what kind of food I would cook at home. I looked at my plate and realized I have and do cook recipes from each of these regions on a regular basis. I happen to love new and interesting flavors.

Proeun injured his back this Saturday and has been home ever since. After 2 days he was in need of some alternative entertainment. Off to the library I went to select movies. While there I decided I wanted one for myslef–Julie and Julia. When we first saw a preview for this movie Proeun said, “who would want to watch that?” I enthusiastically said, “I would!” It has everything– food, history, cooking, travel, writing, food.

Since Proeun is still laid up (we are going to venture out this evening) he was my captive audience. But in the end he saw the beauty in it, of pursuing something passionately, and eating well along the way. While we may be pursuing a different passion the end result is amazing food. Even Julia Child knew the importance of fresh food. There is a scene in the movie where she goes to the markets and says something to the effect that she finds shopping for food more fun then shopping for a dress.

When I journeyed to Paris in my college days I remember going to the markets and just wishing and praying for a kitchen I could rent or something. I didn’t know then that someday I would be a farmer growing my own food.

If food is also your passion or a passion, Julie and Julia is a great way to spend an evening. You might be like me and seriously think about trying some French cooking.

Making Brothers and Sister Best Friends

We always wanted our children to have a good relationship with each other. My sister and I do but that didn’t really develop until she was 12 and I was 16 and I had a broken leg making my 12 year old sister my primary care provider for one really long summer. At one point she told me with maturity beyond her years, “Amy I love you but if I spend one more minute with you I am going to go crazy.”

Proeun and his family were close in the way that really extremely difficult circumstances tend to bond people. Whether it was fleeing imminent death in your home country, surviving in a refugee camp, moving across the world to a neighborhood and country that didn’t understand you and sometimes didn’t want you or growing up with no money and not enough food to go around, these circumstances tend to bond people. But even then when conditions got better school friends began to take the place of family closeness. For his next youngest brother with really bad consequences of bad friends and situations that seemed innocent enough at first.

After moving to Minnesota the brothers became closer and Proeun’s family has been an example to me of sibling closeness. But all around me I see siblings that are distant at best and openly hate each other in the worst cases.

This weekend it really hit home for me how important it is to develop and maintain healthy relationships in the immediate family early as this will be the support system that will carry them through the rest of their life.

I think we are off to a good start. They love each other, play with each other, fight and forgive each other. They are really excited about another sibling joining our family.

One book that really helped me was Making Brothers and Sisters Best Friends

This book is written by 3 siblings ranging in age from 20 to 12 at the time of the writing–including one adopted sibling. This book helped me see that not only is it possible for siblings to get along but to be best friends! I really wish I had read this as a young woman before moving out of my family home. Even though I was older when I read it it helped me see my relationship with my sister in a new light and make steps to repair some of the damage to our relationship. I highly recommend it. It can also be read aloud as a family with older children.

Mother by Kathleen Norris

I love history! As I entered college that was my declared major until I discovered a secondary interest in English. At which point I decided that history would always be a part of my life and to instead hone my craft as a writer. One of my favorite venues to study history is popular stories written during that time period. Historical fiction is nice too but it often has difficulty really capturing the breadth of the philosophies encompassed in a time of the  past.

For my Christmas reading list last year I requested Mother by Kathleen Norris. The book was originally published in 1911 and reprinted in 2002 by Vision Forum (see their catalog in the side bar).

It is the story of Margaret Paget, a young woman from a large family. She is the oldest girl with one surviving older brother. A second brother had passed away before the story begans. There are 5 younger siblings. She works as a school teacher, helping to support her family. When an unusual turn of events gives her the opportunity to move to New York City as the personal assistant of Mrs. Carr-Boldt.

The story says of her mother–Mrs. Paget

        She had married, at twenty, the man she loved, and had found him better than her dreams in many ways–‘the best man in the world.’ For more than twenty years he had been satisfied to work diligently behind a desk and to carry home his salary envelope twice a monthh. Daddy was steady, a hard worker and so gentle with the children. He delighted in Mrs. Paget’s simple, hearty meals and praised her in his own quiet way. ‘God bless him,’ Mrs. Paget would pray, looking from her kitchen window to the garden where he trained the pea vines, with the children’s yellow heads bobbing about him.

    She welcomed the fast-coming babies as gifts from God, marveled over their tiny perfectness, dreamed over the soft relaxed little forms with a heart almost too full for prayer. She was in a word, old-fashioned, hopelessly out of the modern current of thoughts and events. She secrealy regarded her children as marvelou treasures, even while she laughed down their youthful conceit and punished their naughtiness.

Margaret was not interested in following their path, instead she wanted to get out and experience life. And she did through traveling and working with Mrs. Carr-Boldt. She saw the distance between Mrs. Carr-Boldt and her daughters who spent little time together. She saw the empty relationships. The empty lives and mental illness.
At one point she wished her parents had had fewer children so that they could afford more nice things. Even at that time in history 2 children appear to be some hidden ideal of the wealthy for that is exactly what she wished for, just 2 children. Thinking it would include her. Then she remembered that she was the 3rd child and would not have existed if her parents had followed her ideal course.

Over the course of the book she sees the emptiness of the life she had idealized and the beauty of the one she had nearly turned her back on and she finds her way back to her mother.

It is an old fashioned book, unapologetically. And I am an old fashioned girl unapologetically. I highly recommend it.

Books: Natural Healthcare For Your Child

We are a family of oddballs to say the least. As time passes we seem to get more odd, at least according to mainstream America. One of our particular oddities is trying to avoid unnecessary medication. This is in an effort to live as simply and naturally as possible. It hasn’t always been easy for us and for some families I know this is not an option but we praise the Lord for our good health and pray for the wisdom to keep it.

One book that has really helped us towards this goal is Natural Healthcare for Your Child, By Agatha Thrash. Thrash is a leading expert on natural and alternative medicine and with some 50 plus years in the medical field she has a lot to say.

In addition to background information on anatomy the book is organized by ailment. This actually is the only problem I have with the book because sometimes you don’t really know what the problem is and then it is rather hard to diagnoses but in most cases you can figure it out.

For example yesterday Avril seemed fine when she lay down for a nap. When she woke up we had plans to go to Proeun’s parents for the evening. She woke-up and we left right away. About halfway there she started complaining saying, “Mommy I don’t feel very good.” When we got to our destination I was helping her take off her coat when I discovered she was burning up. This is particularly worrisome with Avril because when she was 21 months old she had a fever induced seizure and ended up in the Emergency Room. We were told that she was probably prone to them and we should be very careful with her temperature. The doctor even recommended medicating her if her temp got over 100 degrees. Getting a 21 month old to take medicine is not easy. I normally ended up wearing it. Don’t get me started on suppositories.

When I reviewed the information in Natural Healthcare I discovered that fever induced seizures while common can be prevented and natural methods to prevent or cure high fevers. I also discovered the wonderful work a fever is working to accomplish in our bodies, that of actually fighting illness and to limit this ability in our bodies is to limit the bodies ability to heal itself.

So I knew all that stuff logically but I still wanted to panic when I discovered another fever. I quickly wet a cool cloth and applied it to the back of her neck. This is a trick my aunt passed on. Since all the blood going to your head passed through the neck, often close to the surface this is a good way to cool temps quickly.

Then I saw her pull on her ear–so the problem in addition to a fever was an earache! Even though we have our goals my first instinct was to take her to urgent care and get antibiotics. However on returning home and reviewing earaches I discovered most heal themselves in 3 days or so. Therefore keeping the patient comfortable is the main treatment. Among other things they recommended hot baths nightly followed by early bedtimes and hot compresses on the problem ear. I also learned more about the anatomy of a child’s ear and how to avoid problems in the future. She slept for 13 hours last night and woke with fever much improved and tonight her ear feels “good.”

Other things we have diagnosed and treated, athlete’s foot and eczema. I discovered I have a dairy allergy from another Thrash book, Food Allergies Made Simple. You can get both these books from Country Life Natural Foods. This is primarily a bulk food company but you can also order very helpful books. For great dairy free recipes I love The Country Life Cookbook and 7 Secrets Cookbook.