A Bookspired Birthday

Today is my mom’s 70th birthday. My mom reads all the time, all different books: mysteries, classics, contemporary literature, and more. On her special day, I’m sharing just a few of the books that remind me of her.

cheers mom
Happy Hour in Ireland


Coming Home by Rosamund Pilcher – My mom introduced me to this book, one of my all-time favorites. Both of us have read it several times. It has the ugliest book cover on the planet, but you know how the saying goes.

Mastering the Art of French Cooking by Julia Child – When I was little I loved to watch Julia Child’s cooking shows on PBS with my mom. More recently we visited Julia’s kitchen at the National Museum of American History.

The Boxcar Children series by Gertrude Chandler Warner: My mom bought me the first book in the series from the Scholastic book fair in an effort to get me to expand my horizons beyond The Baby-sitters Club. The plan worked, although of course I didn’t abandon Kristy, Mary Anne, Stacey, Claudia, and Dawn altogether. (My mom also bought me many BSC books through the years.)

The Pioneer Woman Cooks: Recipes from an Accidental Country Girl by Ree Drummond –  I remember when my mom showed me this great cookbook she’d checked out of the library, ages before the Food Network was hip to Ree’s down-to-earth recipes and fascinating life on the Oklahoma ranch. Since then, my Mom has bought me every cookbook Ree has written. Sometimes these two redheads even hang out.



Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH by Robert C. O’Brien: Recently I ran into one of my mom’s former fifth-grade students, who told me that when her friends from elementary school get together, they reminisce about my mom reading aloud to the class from The Rats of NIMH.

The Little House books by Laura Ingalls Wilder – I’ve mentioned before that my mom bought me the Little House box set illustrated by Garth Williams. This is, without a doubt, my favorite book series.

The Mitford books by Jan Karon – This is a favorite for my mom. I think she’s read them as many times as I’ve read the Little House books. Although I’ve only read At Home in Mitford, I plan to go through the whole series at some point. Father Tim and his dog, Barnabas – who only behaves when commanded by scripture – are great characters.

Earlene Fowler books – My mom is a talented quilter and enjoys books that incorporate quilting into the story. I’ve never read an Earlene Fowler book, but I think of my mom every time I see one at a library or bookstore.

With the “Alphabet for Annie” quilt she made for her second granddaughter.

The Persian Pickle Club by Sandra Dallas – This is a quilt-world-inspired book that I did read and love. Queenie Bean’s narration is delightful. I’d like to read it again sometime, and I know who will let me borrow it.

Brooklyn: A Novel by Colm Toibin. This was one that my mom recommended (handed) to me. As a grandchild of Irish immigrants, I enjoyed this novel and look forward to seeing the movie, which is supposed to be excellent.

Scarlet Feather by Maeve Binchy – My mom introduced me to Maeve Binchy’s stories when I was a teenager, and I’ve read the majority of her books. Although Circle of Friends is Binchy’s most famous book due to the film starring Minnie Driver and Chris O’Donnell, Scarlet Feather is my favorite.

nora mom
Nana and Nora, Day 1

Little Women by Louisa May Alcott – When I was in fifth grade, my mom offered me the incentive of a new pair of earrings from Marshall’s if I finished Little Women. She’s always encouraged my pursuit of good literature and great fashion.

Happy Birthday, Mom!

Quilt Cake by Jacques Pastries in Suncook, NH



Bookspired Picks for the MMD 2016 Reading Challenge

“That is a good book which is opened with expectation and closed with profit.” Amos Bronson Alcott

Even if you aren’t familiar with Modern Mrs. Darcy, you may have seen the MMD 2016 Reading Challenge shared on social media during the past couple of weeks. Word is traveling fast.

Anne Bogel is heading up a 12-book challenge this year, and anyone can participate. She set smart parameters – enough structure to push readers beyond the comfort zone with flexibility for individual tastes.

Image Source: http://www.modernmrsdarcy.com

I like the idea of committing to the challenge and think it will help me stay on track to complete my reading goal of 40 books in 2016. Here’s how I plan to check the challenge boxes month by month:

January 2016

A BOOK THAT WAS BANNED AT SOME POINT: In Cold Blood by Truman Capote. I’m jumping right into the challenge with this true crime classic. I’ve been meaning to read it for a while and snagged it pretty quickly from my library’s e-book hold list. A bit of trivia: apparently when Truman Capote went to Kansas to research the Clutter family murders, he took his friend Harper Lee with him.


February 2016

A BOOK PUBLISHED THIS YEAR: My Name is Lucy Barton by Elizabeth Strout. I’m #2 on the library hold list for this latest novel from the author of Olive Kitteridge, one of my all-time favorite books. To be released January 12, 2016.

A BOOK YOU’VE BEEN MEANING TO READ: Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption by Bryan Stevenson. I keep hearing about this book and am anxious to read it, as prison reform and death penalty issues are things I care about.



March 2016

A BOOK YOU CAN FINISH IN A DAY: The Fringe Hours: Making Time for You by Jessica N. Turner. I’m eager to read Jessica’s tips for making the most of each day.

A BOOK THAT INTIMIDATES YOU: Finnegan’s Wake by James Joyce. Descriptions of the book include the phrases “experimental style” and “one of the most difficult works of fiction in the English language.” Challenge accepted.


April 2016

A BOOK YOU’VE ALREADY READ AT LEAST ONCE: Coming Home by Rosamund Pilcher. One of my all-time favorite historical fiction novels – I’ve read it about five times already, but it’s been a while since my last re-read. This will be my reward for getting through Finnegan’s Wake.


May 2016

A BOOK YOU PREVIOUSLY ABANDONED: A World Made New: Eleanor Roosevelt and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights by Mary Ann Glennon. I started this book years ago but was sidetracked and abandoned it until now. All 12 Amazon reviews indicate that it’s very good – maybe I’ll be the lucky 13th.


June 2016

A BOOK YOU SHOULD HAVE READ IN SCHOOL: Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoyevsky. I took a philospophy class on The Brothers Karamazov when I was an undergrad at Boston College, and it was one of my favorite courses. I’m looking forward to reading one of Dostoyevsky’s shorter works this time.


July 2016

A BOOK RECOMMENDED BY YOUR LOCAL LIBRARIAN OR BOOKSELLER: Shakespeare Changed My Life: Ten Years in Solitary with the Bard by Laura Bates. This is one of the books up for discussion at my library’s evening book group (which I don’t attend). I think ministering to prisoners through the arts is a good thing, and I can’t wait to read Bates’s memoir.


August 2016

A BOOK CHOSEN BY YOUR SPOUSE, PARTNER, SIBLING, CHILD, OR BFF: It by Stephen King, recommended by my husband Dave. I like a good horror story, and this is supposedly one of the best.

Even smiley clowns are scary.

I’m hoping Dave will trade recommendations with me and read King’s On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft this year. It was one of the best books I read in 2015.


I’m also going to read a book recommended by my Dad: The Life You Save May Be Your Own: An American Pilgrimage by Paul Elie, described as “The story of four modern American Catholics who made literature out of their search for God.” Thomas Merton, Dorothy Day, Flannery O’Connor, and Walker Percy. Not a bad bunch.


September 2016

A BOOK PUBLISHED BEFORE YOU WERE BORN: The Signet Classic Book of Southern Short Stories. Edited with an Introduction by Dorothy Abbott and Susan Koppelman. Although this volume was actually published in 1991 (10 years after I was born), every story in it was published within the time period of 1820 to 1974, so I say it counts. I love short stories, and I can’t wait to read some classics by Richard Wright, Carson McCullers, Tennessee Williams, and many others.


October 2016

A BOOK YOU OWN BUT HAVE NEVER READ: Birdsong: A Novel of Love and War by Sebastian Faulks. My mom found a box of my books in the basement recently that included some treasures. I’m not sure where I got it (maybe a library book sale?), but I’m glad it turned up. From the back cover: “Crafted from the ruins of war and the indestructibility of love, Birdsong is a novel that will be read and marveled at for years to come.” We’ll see, but it looks promising.


That’s my plan for the MMD 2016 Reading Challenge. I’ve left a couple months’ cushion at the end of the year in case I’ve bitten off more than I can chew. And I’m not above changing my book picks as the year goes on. It’s not too late for you to join the challenge too. Here’s to a year of good reading!




Tidbits of Joy #3

Often I find myself reading and thinking and wanting to write about Serious Things. To add a little sunshine, I weave in a series of mini posts called Tidbits of Joy about things that are making me smile at the moment. Maybe they’ll make you smile too.

*** Linking up with What I’m Into at Leigh Kramer ***


  • Big development in my quest to Read Good Books! I finally downloaded the Overlook app and linked up with my local library so I have access to free downloadable e-books and audio books. I use the Kindle app to read the e-books I’ve borrowed. There is a long wait list for some, especially recent bestsellers, but you can request  several at a time and read whichever one becomes available first. I’m currently reading The Lake House and really enjoying it. Raising the roof over here for free reading.
  • My friend Kerry recently started a blog, Inspired by Baking, to share her awesome recipes and the stories that go along with them. She is so creative and talented in and out of the kitchen.
  • I’m loving Modern Mrs. Darcy’s daily Kindle deals – a selection of bargain titles, some in the $1-3 range, arrive in my inbox every day. I haven’t made any purchases yet, but I like to peruse the list and will surely snag some deals from time to time.



  • I’ve been on a hunt for the perfect pickle for a while. I love the ones you get in restaurants with a giant burger or club sandwich -crisp and fresh and dilly-sour, not sweet. Well, I finally hit the jackpot when I tried Nathan’s New York Style Kosher pickles – they’re in the refrigerated pickle section at the store, more expensive than the shelf variety, and worth every penny.
  • I’ve sampled a few different kinds of Larabars and recently declared Cashew Cookie the winner. It’s chewy and sticks with you, but it’s not super sweet – a great quick breakfast or healthy snack. Amazingly, there are only two ingredients in the bar: dates and cashews.
  • I love strong Irish black tea with milk and sugar, and I often start my day with a large mug. Sometimes I’ll have another cup in the afternoon. Recently I was inspired to brew a third cup after dinner. Brilliant! It gives me a boost to get through the harrowing bedtime routine, and it’s early enough in the evening that the caffeine doesn’t keep me awake all night.


  • Tune in to episode 134 of The Popcast to hear Jamie and Knox answer yours truly’s listener question!
  • Martin Sheen talking faith with Krista Tippett on On Being. What an extraordinary life he’s led thus far. Jed Bartlet for President!
  • I’ve been cruising through the first season of Startup, Alex Blumberg’s podcast about starting his podcast company, Gimlet Media. I’ve worked for two different startup media companies – it’s fascinating, a little bit crazy, and very cool.


  • My husband Dave and I watched several episodes of Aziz Anzari’s new comedy, Master of None, on Netflix. I especially liked Episode Two. Aziz’s real-life dad plays his dad on the show, which is sweet.
  • I’ve started watching Making a Murderer on Netflix. This true crime series is horrific and fascinating. I’m trying to avoid all spoilers and theories until I finish the series, which is not easy in the digital age.


IMG_20151211_192418695My brother Matt got married! It was a two-day affair including a Cambodian reception and American ceremony and reception. It was awesome to see my little brother very happy, to welcome my new sister-in-law to the family, and to be the mother of one of three adorable flower girls. There were an impressive number of old-school pop classics played at the American reception – think N’Sync, Backstreet Boys, Britney Spears …

  • And last but definitely not least … Our Anne Mary, a/k/a Annie, just turned ONE! We had a You Are My Sunshine Winter Solstice family birthday celebration for her. She loved being the center of attention all day long. I had fun making this easy, cute sunshine cake. And we all enjoyed eating it.
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That’s all for now.