My Top 9 Reads of 2019

Confession: I missed my 2019 Reading Challenge goal by just two books.

I may have missed my goal but I still win because it was one of my best years of reading. It’s like scoring the dreaded 89 on a test …. yet still earning an A in the class.

In 2019, I followed the Challie’s Reading Challenge. I discovered more than a few gems that I never would have even heard of if not for a search on the challenge prompts. Here are 9 of my favorites from 2019 in no particular order other than that’s the way I arranged them to look pretty in the picture:

A biography of a Christian: The Hiding Place by Corrie Ten Boom

A favorite quote: “This is what the past is for! Every experience God gives us, every person He puts in our lives, is the perfect preparation for the future that only He can see.”

Recap (Adapted from Back Cover of Book): Corrie ten Boom was a Dutch watchmaker who became a heroine of the Resistance. In World War II, she and her family risked their lives to help Jews and underground workers escape from the Nazis, and for their work they were sentenced to the infamous Nazi death camps. Only Corrie among her family survived to tell the story of how faith ultimately triumphs over evil. The Hiding Place, continues to declare that God’s love will overcome, heal, and restore and reminds us that there is no pit so deep that God’s love is not deeper still.

A book about Christian living: Life of the Beloved by Henri Nouwen

A favorite quote: “To be chosen as the Beloved of God is something radically different. Instead of excluding others, it includes others. Instead of rejecting others as less valuable, it accepts others in their own uniqueness … Our minds have great difficulty in coming to grips with such a reality. Maybe our minds will never understand it. Perhaps it is only our hearts that can accomplish this.”

Recap (Adapted from Publisher): When Nouwen was asked by a Jewish friend to explain his faith in simple language, he responded with his greatest legacy, Life of the Beloved, which shows that all people, believers and non-believers, are unconditionally beloved by God. This sincere testimony of the power and invitation of Christ is indeed a great guide to a truly uplifting spiritual life in today’s world.

A book about theology: The Divine Conspiracy by Dallas Willard

A favorite quote: “It is confidence in the invariably overriding intention of God for our good, with respect to all the evil and suffering that may befall us on life’s journey, that secures us in peace and joy. We must be sure of that intention if we are to be free and able simply to do what we know to be right.”

Recap (Adapted from book): In a time when many Christians consider Jesus a beloved but remote savior, Willard argues compellingly for the relevance of God to every aspect of our existence. Masterfully capturing the central insights of Christ’s teachings in a fresh way for today’s seekers, he helps us to explore a revolutionary way to experience God – by knowing Him as an essential part of the here and now, rather than only as a part of the hereafter.

A humorous novel: The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion

A favorite quote: “You’d better not let me down,” said Rosie. “I’m expecting constant craziness.”

Recap (Adapted from Amazon): The art of love is never a science: Meet Don Tillman, a brilliant yet socially inept professor of genetics, who’s decided it’s time he found a wife. In the orderly, evidence-based manner with which Don approaches all things, he designs the Wife Project to find his perfect partner. In the process, Don is forced to confront the spontaneous whirlwind that is Rosie―and the realization that, despite your best scientific efforts, you don’t find love, it finds you.

A book recommended by a family member: Britt Marie was Here by Fredrik Backman

A favorite quote: “The winter requires whoever is doing the watering to have a bit of faith, in order to believe that what looks empty has every potential.”

Recap (Adapted from Amazon): Zany and full of heart, Britt-Marie Was Here is a novel about second chances and about the unexpected friendships we make that teach us who we really are and the things we are capable of doing.

A book of poetry: Uncaged Wallflower by Jennae Cecelia

A favorite quote: “Surround yourself with people who don’t just ask how you are doing. Surround yourself with people who make an effort to make sure they are part of the reason you are doing so well.”

Recap (Adapted from author): This is a poetry book for you to read and relate to in a way that makes you say, “Yes, I can be better, and I will.”

A book about holiness or sanctification: The Cloister Walk by Kathleen Norris

A favorite quote: “There’s a fine line between idealizing or idolizing pain, and confronting it with hope.”

Recap (Adapted from Penguin): Any reader seeking a meaningful life will be inspired by Norris’s experiences among monks who are admirable bearers of tradition – incorporating in their lives the values of stability, silence, and liturgy that we so desperately need, yet relentlessly avoid. Gradually, she learns much about simplicity, patience, forgiveness, and the value of community. It is in the sanctuary of the cloister that she achieves healing – finding peace and gaining a new understanding of her challenging life in the outside world. Above all, she discovers the force of spirituality and the beneficial change it can effect – that “love can be the center of all things, if only we will keep it there.”

A memoir: Educated by Tara Westover

A favorite quote: “My life was narrated for me by others. Their voices were forceful, emphatic, absolute. It had never occurred to me that my voice might be as strong as theirs.”

Recap (Adapted from the author): Tara Westover was seventeen the first time she set foot in a classroom. Born to survivalists in the mountains of Idaho, she prepared for the end of the world by stockpiling home-canned peaches. In the summer she stewed herbs for her mother, a midwife and healer, and in the winter she salvaged in her father’s junkyard.
            Her father forbade hospitals, so Tara never saw a doctor or nurse. Gashes and concussions, even burns from explosions, were all treated at home with herbalism. The family was so isolated from mainstream society that there was no one to ensure the children received an education, and no one to intervene when Tara’s older brother became violent.
            Then, lacking a formal education, Tara began to educate herself. She taught herself enough mathematics and grammar to be admitted to BYU, where she studied history, learning for the first time about important world events like the Holocaust and the civil rights movement. Her quest for knowledge transformed her, taking her over oceans and across continents, to Harvard and to Cambridge. Educated is an account of the struggle for self. It is a tale of fierce family loyalty and of the grief that comes with the sometimes necessary severing the closest of ties.

A book published by HarperCollins: Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman

A favorite quote: “Sometimes you simply need someone kind to sit with you while you deal with things.”

Recap (Adapted from Amazon): Meet Eleanor Oliphant: No one’s ever told her that life should be better than fine. She struggles with appropriate social skills and tends to say exactly what she’s thinking. Nothing is missing in her carefully timetabled life. But everything changes when Eleanor meets Raymond, the bumbling and deeply unhygienic IT guy from her office. When she and Raymond together save Sammy, an elderly gentleman who has fallen on the sidewalk, the three become the kinds of friends who rescue one another from the lives of isolation they have each been living.

NOTE: In 2020, I will be following the World Reading Challenge: https://taleaway.com/world-reading-challenge-books-around-globe/

I may not read them all, but I’m in for the adventure. After all, I wouldn’t turn down a vacation to Greece just because it doesn’t also include a world tour!

I hope you’ll join me!

It's my birthday! It's my birthday! It's my birthday!

Confession: I didn’t always love my birthday.

I love birthdays. I love hanging streamers from the kids doorframes to greet them on their birthday morning. I love making a big deal out of other people’s birthdays. I love exclaiming, “It’s my birthday! It’s my birthday! It’s my birthday!” all. day. long. I especially love my Soto family’s “first and worst” singing competition where my parents, brothers, sister and I (now accompanied by our families) contend to be the first to call and/or the worst to sing the most awful version of the birthday song to the lucky recipient. The winner gets bragging rights. It’s almost always my mom. God bless her tenacity (and her laugh!).

Fourteen years ago, my birthday was in danger. Kevin had died just one week before and I was in a raging internal battle with him about how could he go and leave us like that? And at Christmas? And miss MY BIRTHDAY! How would I even be able to start the day without him making me breakfast in bed? This was just the beginning of many harsh realizations that nothing was ever going to be the same. But – as I would discover over time – that didn’t mean it couldn’t still be special in its own new way.

That night, my girls SHOWED UP for a birthday dinner at Macaroni Grill. Looking back, it reminds me of the scene from the movie, Elizabethtown, when Drew, just after his dad’s sudden passing, arrives at the family home and is greeted by his cousin with a bear hug and a promise: “This loss will be met by a hurricane of love.” And just like in the movie, the evening was filled with noise and chaos as we shared memories, shed tears, and laughed together. It was overwhelming and wonderful. Not at all what I wanted, but just what I needed.

For the first few years after Kevin died, I just couldn’t uphold our family traditions for birthdays, holidays, and anniversaries. It was too much for me to do without him. It made him feel more gone.

So, we started new traditions. And then, over time, when we were ready, we brought back some of the old traditions that now felt sweeter, and we merged them together, gradually creating our new version of normal.

No loss is the same. No grief journey is the same – especially when it comes to the holidays. One thing that has helped my family is having a plan. Knowing in advance how we’ll celebrate not only helps lessen the dread of the upcoming day without our loved one, but it actually gives us something to look forward to; a tradition to uphold in his memory. People often ask me how we get through it, so today we’d like to share some stories from the Hauser Bubble about what works for our family.

December.

December is an especially tough month for us as it includes the anniversary of Kevin’s death, followed closely by The Hauser Bubble Christmas Kickoff Weekend, followed closely by my birthday, followed closely by Christmas. Whew.

Some years I’ve put up a tree and some I haven’t. Last year we didn’t have a traditional tree and this year the kids insisted we put one up. We compromised with a half-size tree that fits all of the most sentimental ornaments, yet doesn’t overwhelm. We give ourselves grace and do what we can in the moment.

What holds us together in December is serving others. Blessing others as we’ve been blessed gets us out of the house and into other people’s lives. It keeps things in perspective and reminds us that we are not the only ones struggling over the holidays. In fact, there are many out there that have it way tougher.

Kate: Every year growing up, we went to see the Trains at North Park. It’s one of my favorite Christmas memories with my family! As a toddler, Jake was obsessed with “choo choo’s” and I especially liked the fancy mall. One year, after my dad passed away, we made a donation in support of their charity, The Ronald McDonald House, and got to put his name on an “In Memory of” train car that would be part of that year’s holiday exhibition. A whole group of friends joined us to go watch it circle around the tracks for Christmas. It was amazing. That train car is now one of our most treasured Christmas decorations that we proudly display on our mantle.

Valentine’s Day.

Kate: I can’t begin to tell you how much I looked forward to Valentine’s Day every year, the special night that my dad would take me out and spoil me rotten. ME. The eager, talkative daughter, over his WIFE. He would get me “pretty smelly stuff” from Bath & Body Works. The full-size trio. We would dress up, take our ceremonial picture in front of the fireplace, and go out to a fancy dinner! It took me years to fully understand the level of love, dedication, and sacrifice this showed – both on his part, and my mom’s. I pray that one day I’ll find a man who will love and dote on his daughter the way my dad loved and doted on me.

Oh my goodness, that first Valentine’s Day broke my heart into a thousand pieces for my sweet girl. I tried. I bought her the pretty smelly stuff. The full-size trio. But somehow that made things worse. She burst into tears. This tradition we just had to let go. There’s a limit to what role I can play as both mom and dad to my kids. We have now replaced it with a Papa Murphy’s heart shaped pizza for dinner. Not even a close second, but it works for us.

Kevin’s Birthday: May 13th.

Jake: I’ve always had fond memories of my dad’s birthdays, most of them centering around the balloon tradition. Each year we drive to the store and each of us picks out our own “Happy Birthday, Dad!” balloon to carry birthday messages to him in heaven. The message isn’t super complicated, but it means a lot to me because it’s my own little note to my dad. When we’re done, we tie on the notes and release them up to heaven where he can read them. It was always an exciting day, especially when I was younger. As the balloons floated out of sight and away into heaven, I could only wonder what he would think when he read them. Sometimes I even thought that when I joined him up there, he would show them to me. We would read through them together, and he could tell me how much he loved them.

Mother’s Day.

Kate: I’ve never asked her, but I’ve always thought that this must be the hardest holiday for my mom. My dad always made a big deal out of making her breakfast in bed, bringing her coffee and gifts, and upholding the “No working for mom on Mother’s Day!” tradition. As the oldest child, I felt like it was my duty to keep up that up after he was gone, but it was hard! I was only 10. So that first year, I did the best I could and brought her coffee and toast. Soon, I learned how to make eggs, then I started adding fresh fruit, too. It took years before I was confident enough to make a whole meal. I think I was 15 or 16 when I volunteered to make brunch for my mom and a few of her single mom friends. I don’t think I even made it through one dish before I was on the floor crying because I put so much pressure on myself to do it just like my Dad did. My mom and her friends came in, picked me up off the floor, and we all hugged and finished making the meal together which turned out to be a really sweet day.

Father’s Day.

On the first Father’s Day without Kevin, our good friends and neighbors invited us to visit their family farm for the weekend where we were warmly welcomed as special guests. It was such a relief to get out of town and not have to think about cooking or cleaning. There were extra hands to help with the kids who just loved roaming around in the wide-open spaces. On Sunday, before heading home, we painted rocks for our daddy garden. I didn’t even realize how much of a ticking time bomb we had avoided until the next year when we went to church on Father’s Day. I drove home with a distraught Jake in the back seat holding a blank card with a giant tie on the front. After that, we never went to church on Father’s Day. We stayed home and painted rocks instead.

Jenna: It usually takes me a long time to think about what I’m going to paint. I ask myself: How does this reflect what I remember about my dad this year? or What do I want him to know about me? One year, I painted a watermelon with the words “I love my Dad” in calligraphy because I’d recently gotten really good at calligraphy and I thought he’d be proud of me for that. One of the first times I remember painting rocks with my family, Jake painted a great big breakfast for daddy complete with eggs, toast, and coffee. He said that since we always make mom breakfast in bed, why don’t we paint dad a breakfast for Father’s Day? I love going into the back yard, looking through our garden, and seeing the rocks painted with our stories.

Our Anniversary: July 2nd.

Our couple anniversary became our family anniversary as we now celebrate BEING Hausers WITH the Hausers over the 4th of July holiday. We head to San Antonio for making memories with the Ppaws, which always includes the picnic on the patio at “the club”, me and Kate crushing all the small children in the egg toss competition, and ice cream and sparklers on the patio to round out the day. Uncle Scott would often fly in from California to join us, entertaining us with his witty banter, latest gadgets, and jokes about all things Texan. It’s almost incomprehensible that he, too, passed away unexpectedly last year, which makes our Hauser family time together even more precious now.

We have loved and lost. We have gotten through it with our faith, our traditions, and with each other. It has not always been easy, but it has always been a gift worth treasuring.

And speaking of gifts …. It’s my birthday! It’s my birthday! It’s my birthday!

Simple, Yet Profound

Confession: I’m a sucker for a good quote.

There are many simple, yet profound sayings that just get to me. They may differ in form – a snippit from a book, a song lyric, a poem – but what they all have in common is that they have elicited an immediate “Yes!” feeling in me. 

Take for example the quote … Live, laugh, love. I like the cadence, the alliteration, the succinct, wise command. 

But yuck – it’s too cliché! What is it about such an over-used and over-marketed saying that can inspire someone like me with a passion for all things off-the-beaten-path?

You’d have to see me with my kids to really get it.

When I look at them, I see …

Kate ~ so full of life,

Jake ~ an infinite source laughter, and

Jenna ~ who fills the world with love.

LIVE.  Kate has navigated difficulty and change with a beautiful disposition and flair. She is resilient. She’s been through more in her short life than most adults have in a lifetime, yet she has not let it define her. Kate embraces life with raw enthusiasm.

LAUGH.  Rarely do I pick up Jake from … well, anywhere … that I am not met with, “Oh, Jake said the FUNNIEST thing …”  He protests when I’m sharing his latest antic, “Moooommmmm, stop talking about how cute I am!” I am often confused by, but always utterly charmed by his boyness.

LOVE.  Jenna loves everything. The simple things in life enchant her. She is radiant with her kind heart and big eyes that sparkle. Every. Single. Day.  Jennabug.  Buggalicious. Buggadelicious. We love you loving us.

I am genuinely happy to be sharing my life with these kiddos – hitching a ride on their boisterous energy. Raising my kids is my highest priority and I gladly make the sacrifices it takes to put them first.

The interesting thing about parenting is that it is an awe-inspiring adventure; yet unpredictable, demanding, and TOUGH at the same time! I’m often caught between the call to care for them and the need to care for myself. Carl Jung’s words, “Nothing has a more disturbing influence on children than the unlived life of a parent” are so true.

I want so much to give my children a “normal” life.  Yet, we are not normal. And what is normal, anyway? Kids don’t care about normal. They’re only interested in making the most of each moment, while we as parents try to string the moments together into a preconceived picture of the “perfect” life.

My family is a living example that life doesn’t always turn out as we plan. So instead of wasting precious energy trying to make life “normal”, I vow to make it as life-filled and significant as I can.

My children need me to lead the way. So, I’m getting out there. I’m bravely taking steps on the tightrope of being the best mother I can be, while continuing to pursue my dreams. Amazingly, I am happier and more content than I imagined I could be … and so are the kids!  Funny how that works, huh?

We are The Hauser Bubble.

We’re in it together.

We will continue to Live, Laugh, Love.