Maryland reunion

Last weekend we backed our bags for our annual college friend reunion. We rotate locations and this year we headed out to Western Maryland, specifically Deep Creek Lake. After a dinner with my uncle, we headed to the house for the weekend. The weather was absolutely beautiful! and the leaves were changing. We went on a hike to some waterfalls and enjoyed time just hanging out with our friends. In total we had 13 kids (9 and under) and 9 adults in one house. Surprisingly it didn’t feel cramped at all and every year I’m amazed at how well the kids all get along. The kids and dads even took a quick dip in the lake. Everyone was sad to leave and head back to real life.

IMG_5463-001

IMG_5475-001

IMG_5477-001

IMG_5484-001

IMG_5495-001

IMG_5499-001

IMG_5552-001

IMG_5550-001

IMG_5554-001

IMG_5556-001

IMG_5563-001

IMG_5570-001

IMG_5575-001

IMG_5674-001

some recent favorite books

We read a lot of library books (in addition to our favorites we already own). Here are some of our most recent favorites.

I’m New Here – This book is about several kids who are new immigrants to the USA and how they are learning to fit in at school and learn the language.

New Shoes – The girls LOVED this one. It’s about two African American girls who live in the 1960s America. One girl goes to a shoe store and can’t try on shoes, but has to just take them home with her and hope they fit. They then come up with a plan to start a shoe store for other African American children so they can try on shoes before buying. It teaches them that even small children can make a difference in their community.

This is How We Do It – This book goes through the day with 7 children who live in different parts of the world and talks about how they do different things in their life, such as eat breakfast, sleep, go to school, etc.

My Dadima Wears a Sari – We have gotten a few books by this author and they have loved them all. They are about an Indian girl who lives in the USA, but has her grandparents visit and she learns from them. In this book she learns about why her grandmother (Dadima) wears a sari.

Margaret and the Moon – The girls LOVED this one. It’s about a woman who was instrumental in the space program, especially in the Apollo missions. I love giving them good role models to look up to!

Brothers in Hope – After I read a book about the boys from Sudan, I really wanted to the girls to know about what happened, and thankfully there was a picture book available. This tells of the struggles the lost boys in Sudan felt and experienced. The girls thought it was a terrible thing to happen and were totally shocked by certain parts, but this book definitely does a good job of opening their eyes to the tragedies some children experience.

Suki’s Kimono – Oh how, we loved this book. Suki wants to wear a kimono on the first day of school and her big sisters really don’t want to. This book tells of her experience of doing what she wants, rather than listening to others. And really that is what we want our kids to do in the face of peer pressure.

One Hen – This book is similar to one we already own, called Beatrice’s Goat, where an organization offers a family living in poverty in Africa a small animal to change their lives. Both are a lovely introduction to the many programs out there that exist to help families to provide for themselves.

Yoon and the Jade Bracelet – This book not only references a different culture (Korean), but also deals with lying and trouble with bullies. Yoon learns to stand up for what is right.

Elizabeti’s Doll – This is a series of books, we have checked out the two our library has and loved both of them. Elizabeti’s adopts a rock as a baby doll and loves it oh so much. Again it helps to point out all the luxury we have living our life of privilege and how many places children don’t even have toys.

What picture books have you read lately that you loved?

All links are amazon affiliate links.

Children’s books – where to find diverse books

For anyone who has been to our house, you know we have a A LOT of books. We all love books, whether just to look at, to read aloud or to read to ourselves. We also regularly have 20-50 books out from the library. Of course not all books are created equal and sometimes we pick out some really boring books. I’m always on the look for new title to read, especially books for the older two to read that teach good morals and aren’t filled with trash. Some places I regularly find good book suggestions are:

1. The Read-Aloud Revival – Sarah has oodles of wonderful book lists on her site. Plus she has an awesome podcast that she often interviews authors and illustrators on.

2. A Mighty Girl – I mostly just follow their facebook page and pick up books they suggest (although I will say I don’t agree with all of their selections). Most of them are good, but a few are outside of what I’m comfortable with my kids reading.

3. We Need Diverse Books – Again I mostly follow along on facebook where they share lots of excellent lists of books that are as you guessed focused on diversity. I’m always looking for new titles to request from the library.

4. Give Your Child the World – This is an actual book recommendation that is filled with book lists. Jamie breaks down the book by continent and then there is a list for each age group under each continent. We used this book last summer to pick out lots of books at the library and every few months we look back to see if something new catches our eye, or if I feel like they are mature enough to handle a new category.

5. Read Brightly – Yet another place I mostly follow on facebook, but that compiles wonderful book lists.

You will often find the same books recommended over and over again, so usually those are the ones to check out. I most often start at the library and see what they have. Our library (like most) has a wonderful hold system that you can use to request books online form any county branch and then request it to be brought to your local branch for you to pick up. It’s really wonderful and makes life so much easier and the book selection explodes. There are definitely plenty of titles my library doesn’t have and so I just add them to my amazon wishlist (which is WAY too long) and hope to one day find them on a super sale or at a used bookstore.

Almost every book that I pick up that is about kids who live a different life than us, my kids LOVE. They love to learn about how other kids live in the world or how they experience different things than we do based on either where they live, the color of their skin, the religion they practice, etc. I’m going to try and regularly post some of our favorites.

Audiobook sale!

Every so often Amazon has some amazing audiobook sales and I buy quite a few.

Do your kids listen to audiobooks? If not, you should try! We love to listen to them when traveling or when have some downtime in our rooms or when we are sick or when I’m doing the dishes. Some of our kids’ favorites are on sale right now!

We have always loved the American girl books and right now you can just about all of the series for just $3.95 on audio. Each set is 5-7 hours long! That’s a lot of listening for you and the kids.

No matter how many American Girl books we read, Molly is still the favorite, she is funny and spunky and just about perfect!

Links are amazon affiliate links.

summer garden bounty

Here are a bunch of pictures of our summer garden bounty. Things are definitely slowing down there, but hopefully our next round of beets and peas will start producing in a few weeks.

First up, flowers! So many pretty flowers this year.

IMG_1696-001

IMG_1643-001

IMG_1702-001

IMG_1642-001

IMG_1654-001

IMG_1655-001

IMG_1657-001

IMG_1660-001

IMG_1662-001

IMG_1664-001

IMG_3408-001

IMG_3412-001

And now lots of yummy fruits and veggies.

IMG_0829-001

IMG_1538-001

IMG_1674-001

IMG_0831-001

IMG_3455-001

IMG_3457-001

IMG_3458-001

IMG_3459-001

IMG_3461-001

IMG_3470-001

IMG_1403-001

IMG_0667-001

IMG_0648-001

IMG_0965

Iceland day #7 & #8

Thursday we spent the morning searching for souvenirs. After some ice cream we headed back to the house for a bit before heading out to our puffin tour, which went off without a hitch this time. The weather was beautiful and the seas were calm. I think the puffin tour was one of the girls’ favorite things of the trip, they are still talking about going on a boat. Just my dad came with us since everyone else was satisfied with their puffin viewing the day before. Puffins are only around in Iceland for a few months in the summer while the mate (did you know they mate for life?). They come back to a few islands around Iceland every year in April/May. The puffins always return to the place they were born. Puffins are so much smaller than I imagined and they are very fast flyers, so it’s hard to get a good picture of them. Not all of the tour companies allowed children, so we found one that did.

IMG_3090-001

IMG_3096-001

IMG_3105-001

IMG_3108-001

IMG_3111-001

IMG_3167-001

IMG_3209-001

IMG_3175-001

IMG_3181-001

IMG_3232-001

IMG_3234-001

IMG_3265-001

IMG_3276-001

IMG_3214-001

IMG_3219-001

After a final dinner out, we said goodbye to everyone before bed. Everyone else had to leave the house at 5 AM for their flight, while we didn’t need to leave until 1 PM. We got up Friday morning and packed all of our stuff and cleaned up the house a bit before checking out and leaving our things in the hallway of the house. Then we headed out to get one last souvenir and then to lunch. What was our cheapest meal of the trip was also our last. If only we had found Cafe Haiti earlier in our trip we might have made more than one trip there. It is right along the Harbor near where all of the whale and puffin watching boats head out.

Then it was back to the house to gather our stuff and head home.

IMG_20170721_125012

IMG_20170721_144944

Iceland day #5 & #6

Tuesday was the worst day weather wise for us. It was rainy and at some points very, very windy (40 mph gusts, 20-30 mph sustained). We started the day by going to the Settlement Exhibit which was just two blocks from our house. The long house that is located in the museum was discovered in 2001 during some renovations and dates to the 900s! It was excavated at the original location and the museum built on top of it. The museum was pretty dark inside, probably to preserve the house, but it was kind of hard to see, but still cool to see something so old. They had a table with some fun kids activities including digging for fossils, some viking games, coloring pages, and some swords and shields. The girls weren’t all that interested, but it was free for kids, so it was a win to be out of the rain and cold for a bit.

IMG_0737-001

IMG_0750-001

Then we headed towards the church, which involves walking up a street filled with shops and restaurants. We stopped for lunch at a yummy Thai restaurant and had one of our more affordable meals. The food was definitely better than any Thai we can get near us (except for going into Philly or NYC).

IMG_0757-001

Then we finally made it to the church just as the winds really picked up. I thought the kids might blow over it was blowing so much. We went into the church for a bit, but it wasn’t all that much to see inside. It was very plain and it’s claim to fame is the giant organ (my dad went to see an organ concert another day).

IMG_0759-001

IMG_0760-001

While we were there we took the elevator to the top of the church to see the city. The top has opening for air to flow through, so it was super windy up there, so we didn’t last very long up there before we headed back down. Just enough time for a few pictures.

IMG_0763-001

IMG_0764-001

IMG_0766-001

IMG_0771-001

IMG_0778-001

Matt headed home with the youngest two who were quite tired and cold. I walked slowly back down the shopping street with the older two and we stopped in oodles of stores to look for souvenirs.

IMG_0781-001

IMG_0784-001

After that everyone slowly made their way back to the house where we stayed the rest of the day. The weather was just miserable and since we had no where specific to be, we decided we didn’t want to go explore in the miserable weather. We sent out two people to pick up pizza for dinner. The pizza was actually surprisingly good.

Wednesday it was off for our last day tour, which promised lots of rain. We stopped at two waterfalls that we could get up close and personal with. One required climbing on rocks in the water through a canyon in the mountain. Matt took Beatrice in first on his back and then Eloise wanted to go in as well. The rest of us just watched.

IMG_2857-001

IMG_2859-001

IMG_2863-001

IMG_2869-001

IMG_2876-001

IMG_2878-001

20170719_105720

20170719_110216

Then we walked toward another waterfall. This one we all managed to walk behind. I left my camera at the bottom with my parents since it was quite wet and I didn’t want to ruin it. Matt took a picture of us back there, but then his phone shut off due to the moisture and the picture seems to have disappeared. So we only have these pictures of the approach. We got quite wet on this part of the journey and waterproof pants would have been nice to have.

IMG_2887-001

IMG_2891-001

IMG_2909-001

IMG_2930-001

IMG_2948-001

20170719_111546

20170719_112041

20170719_112044

20170719_112217

20170719_112412

We stopped for lunch at the base of another waterfall and had a delicious meal. When we left it was raining quite hard and since we were still wet from the previous waterfall we opted not to get out and walk up to the next waterfall. I wish we had some waterproof pants so we could have done more this day, but alas we didn’t.

IMG_0789-001

IMG_0791-001

20170719_132114

Next stop was another black sand beach with stunning caves and views of puffins! Again it was raining quite a lot, so we didn’t stay too long to explore, but it was beautiful and we got to see puffins, which was pretty cool. They are much smaller than I thought they would be and they fly very fast.

IMG_2956-001

IMG_2961-001

IMG_2954-001

IMG_2971-001

IMG_2991-001

IMG_2996-001

IMG_2997-001

IMG_3015-001

IMG_3004-001

IMG_3016-001

IMG_3021-001

IMG_3037-001

IMG_3032-001

20170719_142619

20170719_142727

IMG_3047-001

IMG_3054-001

After a stop at a factory store, we headed back home tired and wet. It was a nice day, but the stops were much more crowded with people and the weather kind of put a bit of a damper on the day.

Iceland day #3 & #4

Sunday, our third day in Iceland was pretty low key. We went to mass in the morning, which was right across the street from our house. Then I think we went to lunch somewhere nearby, but I don’t remember where. We also made a stop at the Reykjavik flea market, where we bought some lava bead bracelets and some wool items. The prices were definitely the best we found for both wool and lava items. There were many regular flea market stands (books, used clothing, misc junk) mixed in with the Icelandic items. There is also a food market in there, but we didn’t make it into that part, so I’m not sure if there is anything worth while in there. It’s only open on Saturdays and Sundays, but definitely worth a visit.

IMG_2191-001

IMG_2196-001

After a rest back at the house, we were scheduled to go on a Puffin Tour, but it ended up getting cancelled due to very rough seas (which according to the tour company only happens about once a month). Since we were down by the harbor, we took a walk over to the Harpa Center, which is a super cool looking building that hosts lots of different performing arts.

IMG_2215-001

IMG_2217-001

IMG_2223-001

IMG_2226-001

IMG_2230-001

IMG_2245-001

The girls and Matt ate dinner at the house, and I went out with my family. We ate at Public House, which was an interesting experience. The experience is kind of like tapas, where you order a bunch of small plates of things to share, but there were some interesting combinations. It was a bit of Icelandic/Asian fusion with dumplings and reindeer croquettes. Then early to bed for everyone.

Monday we had another bus tour planned, this time to the Snaefellsnes Peninsula. It was quite a drive just to get there, but boy was it worth it. This was my personal favorite day because just about everywhere we went was not crowded and there was so much open space and unique beauty. I would definitely try to get here if possible. As you drive through the countryside there are oodles of sheep and horses out the window. Most of my out the window pictures aren’t great, but some didn’t turn out too bad.

IMG_2272-001

IMG_2276-001

Our first stop was to see some seals lying along the coast. The girls loved climbing on the rocks out to see the seals. Some of the seals were very close and we loved just watching them. The girls favorite was the ‘banana’ seal. Beatrice needed to go dip her fingers into the ocean. It was definitely chilly on the coast and we were glad to have our winter hats with us and wind breakers/rain jackets.

IMG_2284-001

IMG_2290-001

IMG_2298-001

IMG_2306-001

IMG_2302-001

IMG_2322-001

IMG_2325-001

IMG_2330-001

IMG_2339-001

IMG_2337-001

IMG_2361-001

IMG_2373-001

IMG_2364-001

IMG_2385-001

IMG_2389-001

IMG_2392-001

IMG_2398-001

IMG_2402-001

IMG_2399-001

We made a quick stop to a small waterfall somewhere along the way. Many of the stops on today’s tour were very small and not very busy with people, which was nice, but I don’t know if I will be able to find the names of the places, but I’ll try (Matt used google maps to mark our locations and drives the whole time).

IMG_2418-001

IMG_2422-001

All along the drives we would pass through these lava fields that are now covered in moss. I just thought they were so unique and beautiful. They definitely look like where you would imagine trolls live.

IMG_2434-001

IMG_2436-001

Our next stop was some rocky cliffs. When we stopped there were lots of arctic terns flying around and our guide jumped out and picked up a baby for the girls to see and pet. There were definitely lots of possible fall locations at this stop, and unlike most places in the USA, there aren’t roped off areas you can’t go, you just have to use your common sense. So if you have wild runner kids, make sure to keep your hand on them.

IMG_2440-001

IMG_2450-001

IMG_2452-001

IMG_2470-001

IMG_2477-001

IMG_2483-001

IMG_2492-001

IMG_2501-001

IMG_2507-001

IMG_2508-001

IMG_2510-001

IMG_2527-001

IMG_2524-001

IMG_2536-001

IMG_2544-001

IMG_2546-001

We made another stop at another place along the coast line. This stop had some playground equipment scattered along the walking paths and some whale bones for us to see. The girls are holding up a whale rib bone. Dandelions were also plentiful here.

IMG_2556-001

IMG_2563-001

IMG_2569-001

IMG_2572-001

IMG_2582-001

IMG_2587-001

IMG_2593-001

IMG_2603-001

IMG_2619-001

IMG_2636-001

Next up we visited a black sand (rock) beach. There were rock formations to climb on and also the ocean to dip their toes into.

IMG_2649-001

IMG_2657-001

IMG_2660-001

IMG_2666-001

IMG_2689-001

IMG_2695-001

IMG_2697-001

IMG_2699-001

IMG_2703-001

IMG_2721-001

IMG_2712-001

IMG_2748-001

FullSizeRender

IMG_2759-001

IMG_2769-002

IMG_2777-001

IMG_2779-001

IMG_2783-001

Next up was finally lunch. By the time we ate it was nearly 4 pm, so everyone was hungry! Thankfully we brought lots of snacks with us, but I was starting to run out because I did not expect we would eat lunch so late. It was a full day. The last few stops turned into mostly just stopping to take pictures and then heading back. We were wiped out. There were more places we had planned to go that day, but didn’t quite reach it. Our guide says he always wants to show everyone every beautiful thing, but there just isn’t enough time in one day trip. I think this mountain is called church mountain.

IMG_2793-001

IMG_2795-001

And finally we end with a map of where we went.

Screen Shot 2017-07-23 at 11.08.30 AM

Screen Shot 2017-07-23 at 11.10.09 AM

Iceland day #1 & #2

We just got back from a week in Iceland. It was beautiful and a wonderful trip. Here are a few pictures (there are oodles more, but I can’t possibly share all of them). We went with my parents, sisters and brother-in-law.

We flew Icelandair from Newark, NJ since it was a direct flight and very reasonably priced. It costs just about as much to fly to Iceland as it does to fly to Florida to visit my family, so that was definitely a bonus for us. Just a note though if you are flying Icelandair, they don’t staff their check in desks around the clock. We got to the airport early because we wanted to make sure we had plenty of time in case there was a lot of traffic heading north to the airport. But that resulted in us having to sit and wait for 2 hours before we were allowed to check in. Not so much fun. So check their website prior to your flight and see what it says. For Newark it says check in 3.5 hours before flight, but that means that they won’t allow you to check in prior to 3.5 hours before the flight. Icelandair was great to the kids and we were impressed with them. The provided water bottles as you walked on the plane and handed each of the girls a bag with headphones, coloring pages and some card game. The girls also received free meals on the plane. We flew at night, so we mostly slept, but it was nice to have these little extras. The flight was only 5.5 hours, which meant that was the most possible sleep we were getting that night. No one got nearly that much sleep. A few took a while to fall asleep and the rest kept waking up all night. We arrived around 6 am, but we were not very well rested at all.

IMG_0730-001

We waited in the airport for the rest of the family to arrive before taking a shuttle into Reykjavik. The airport was very crowded and kind of a maze. They also had very little seating in most of the airport so we sat on the floor along with a whole bunch of other people. I think the tourism industry has exploded in Iceland and the airport hasn’t been expanded fast enough to accommodate that. Our plane also parked on a patch of black top far from the airport and we rode buses to the airport itself. (I was not impressed with the airport, but thankfully that was just a small part of the journey). Reykjavik is about a 45 minute ride from the international airport. By the time we made it to the Air BNB that we stayed around 11, we all just wanted a nap, so that’s what we did. We later got up and headed a few blocks away to the downtown area for dinner. Iceland is known for being relatively cheap to get to and stay, but food is quite expensive, definitely more than any place else we have visited in a long time. We also stopped and got some breakfast items to eat in our room. I think I paid close to $10 for a box of honey nut cheerios and $5 for a bunch of bananas. So plan for lots of money for food. Credit cards are accepted just about everywhere, which is nice, but make sure you know what kind of fees yours charges for international travel. It used to be that credit cards were the best way to get good exchange rates, but many now charge a percentage or fee for each transaction, so check into your cards before you go to see what kind of fees you will have.

The trip started off a little rough for us with lots of sitting in airports on the floor, but thankfully it turned around pretty quickly. After getting to bed at a reasonable hour despite the nonstop light outside, we got up pretty early for our first long day of a bus tour. We booked tours in a smaller mini bus that was just for our family of 11, which was nice because we kind of got to call the shots and didn’t have to worry about the kids being too noisy and disturbing too many people. On Saturday we went on a Golden Circle tour and saw lots of beautiful sites. Our tour guide, Tomas, was great and took us opposite of most of the tour buses, so we got to stops at different points in the day, which meant less crowds. The weather was pretty nice and mostly cloudy with bits of sun and not too chilly. We just needed a sweat shirt that day most of the time. We stopped at an earthquake museum (not much a of museum) for a snack break and got to see where the European and North Atlantic plates are separating.

IMG_1786-001

Then we stopped at a crater lake. The water was a beautiful color. Some of us walked around the upper rim and others went down to walk around the lake.

IMG_1811-001

IMG_1853-001

IMG_1845-001

We visited two waterfalls, one of which we walked close to and got pretty wet. Gullfoss is the bigger of the two with the beautiful rainbow.

IMG_1940-001

IMG_1969-001

IMG_1947-001

IMG_1986-001

IMG_1999-001

IMG_2020-001

The morning was pretty sunny, which was nice and one of the few sunny times during our trip. We added a stop to the tour since we really wanted to visit the Secret Lagoon. Iceland is well known for their geothermal pools. There are plenty of them around, some more popular and crowded than others. We had heard that the Secret Lagoon was one of the better options, so we paid a visit there. I only took pictures before we got in the water since I didn’t want to bring the camera outside while we were in the water, which turned out to be a good thing because it started raining while we were in the water. The water was actually a little warmer than I would have preferred, it was definitely hotter than bath water, which is why you see people walking around the path around the lagoon to cool off. It was a lovely experience and everyone felt relaxed after standing in the water for about 30 minutes.

IMG_1881-001

IMG_1888-001

IMG_1876-001

IMG_1871-001

For lunch we visited a tomato greenhouse. The tomatoes are grown with geothermal heated water and the plants grow very tall and last about 9 months. They have just three items on the menu, all based on the tomatoes they grow. They have tomato soup, pasta with tomato sauce and pizza. Between all of us we got all the items, but I think the soup is where they really shine. We stopped somewhere along the way to visit some Icelandic horses. There is only one breed of horses on the island and they are all over the countryside. They have longer manes and are shorter than the horses we are used to. They also grow long fur in the winter.

IMG_2056-001

IMG_2075-001

IMG_2081-001

IMG_2120-001

IMG_2091-001

We also visited a geyser, but I didn’t get very great pictures since we had to leave to visit the potty and then continued on with our tour. We saw it shoot water a few times, but sometimes little children make you miss pictures of things 🙂

IMG_2131-001

20170217_031112

20170217_031435

We made a stop at a delicious ice cream farm (well dairy farm that makes ice cream from their dairy) and all enjoyed a yummy cone.

IMG_2146-001

IMG_2147-001

The last few stops of the day were in the Thingvellir National Park. As with most National Parks, there is lots to see there, but we were getting tired and so our last stops were much shorter than the ones earlier in the day. We could definitely have spent a lot longer exploring the park, maybe next time!

IMG_2167-001

Then to the lake in the Golden Circle that has delicious fresh water (the best in Iceland according to our guide). So we got out and filled our water bottles up.

IMG_2161-001

Last stop was a canyon. It was getting late, everyone was hungry and tired, so we didn’t get to explore too much there, but it was lovely.

IMG_2178-001

IMG_2183-001

IMG_2189-001

20170217_052047

Here is a map of where we went on our Golden Circle Tour.

Screen Shot 2017-07-23 at 11.06.02 AM

And that’s a wrap for day 2. We visited a lot of stuff that day and it was a bit of a whirlwind. Thankfully my mom thought about the schedule ahead of time and didn’t book too many long bus tours in a row. We pretty much alternated a bus tour and a day in Reykjavik to give us all some time to recover.

books!

After many years, I have finally started reading books for myself again! Honestly I just didn’t feel like I had the time or brain space to read for a while, so many little kids and lack of sleep. At the end of last year I completed a book and decided that I would make a goal to read 24 books this year. We still have quite a few months left and I’m already at 20, so I think I shall reach my goal. I’m always interested in finding new books, so if you have any recommendations feel free to share. I tend to like memoirs the best (as you will see by my list) and especially stories about survival. I’m not sure why, but I love reading about how humans have been so low and some how come out on top and made their life better. So without further ado, here is what I have read so far this year. We also started using goodreads so that I could try and at least somewhat keep track of how many books the older two were reading. They book read a lot. Greta is still the most prolific reader in the house and since I have started keeping track towards the beginning of the year she has read 178 chapter books (I can’t possibly keep track of the picture books or other material she reads). I’m sure that doesn’t even include them all because it requires her to tell me she completed it and she doesn’t always remember. Eloise has read a solid 87 chapter books so far (far better than me).

My books can be grouped into a few categories:
1. Escaping North Korea
2. Scientology
3. Polygamy
4. Escape/living in from war torn countries

North Korea
1. The Girl with Seven Names

I think was my favorite from my category here, but it does offer quite a different picture of North Korea than the next book. The star of this book grew up much better off than the next girl. I love that Hyeonseo is smart and uses her smarts to get herself out of North Korea for good and eventually helps her to get her mother and brother out as well.

2. Stars Between the Sun and Moon: One Woman’s Life in North Korea and Escape to Freedom

This book is definitely hard to read at points, especially all the horrors that she lives through. After reading these books I’m still surprised how North Korea is still doing these kind of horrific things right now.

3. Escape from Camp 14: One Man’s Remarkable Odyssey from North Korea to Freedom in the West

This book was definitely a different perspective since Shin is the only known person born in a North Korean prison to successfully escape. I just didn’t like Shin nearly as much as I liked the women in the books above, likely because he has had a much different life than the others and didn’t really learn anything about compassion or how to treat others. I hope that all three (an the many others) are able to adjust and have a semi-normal life now that they are free from North Korea.

Scientology
1. Beyond Belief: My Secret Life Inside Scientology and My Harrowing Escape

It seems to be a theme that the first book I read on a topic is my favorite. I liked Jenna’s account of Scientology the most of the three books I read. I think this is partly because she was pretty much born in Scientology (her parents joined the Sea Org, the clergy when she was two years old). It seems so odd to me that the way the families are treated and separated at such young ages is still happening right here in our country. From a very young age she has very little contact with her parents because they are serving the religion. I also didn’t realize that those children who are so involved at a such a young age don’t attend traditional school in any sense. Their schooling is their religious education. Definitely an eye-opener.

2. Ruthless: Scientology, My Son David Miscavige, and Me

This book was written by the current head of Scientology’s father, who brought his son to the religion at a pretty young age. At times I felt like he was just attacking his son and I almost gave up on this one. They only reason I continued to read it was to find out how he managed to get out of the organization despite his son being the head.

3. Troublemaker: Surviving Hollywood and Scientology

I wanted to read a different prescriptive of Scientology since both of the previous books were about people who were in the Sea Org. Leah was a public scientologist, meaning she did not work for the church as her job. Her prescriptive revolved a lot around Tom Cruise and really I just don’t care that much about him. It’s interesting to see how much power celebrities do have in the organization and how little they seemed to know about the inner workings of the Sea Org (based on what I read in the other books).

Polygamy
1. The Sound of Gravel: A Memoir

All of these books are about the Lebaron family. The first three are written by a woman related to one of the three brothers who held a high position in their church. This one is definitely the hardest to read and Ruth suffers much more than some of the others (at least it seems to me). Her life is filled with tragedy, but she somehow survives. All of these books are definitely easy and pretty quick to read.

2. The Polygamist’s Daughter: A Memoir

While reading these books it was a little hard to figure out how everyone was related. I didn’t read them all in a row and so sometimes forgot who was related to who (they are all from LARGE polygamist families), so I definitely spent some time googling to remember who was who. Anna is the daughter of Ervil Lebaron, who breaks away from his brothers and does some pretty terrible things in his life, which result in him ending up in prison, thankfully.

3. Shattered Dreams: My Life as a Polygamist’s Wife

Irene married one of the Lebaron brothers, so wasn’t born into the Lebaron family and in fact was recommended not to marry into the family, since they have a history of serious mental illness. But she does and she tells her side of the story here. Her struggles in this book are mostly how she wishes her husband could give her more attention and how she desires to have a husband who loves her.

4. Cult Insanity: A Memoir of Polygamy, Prophets, and Blood Atonement

This book tells a lot of the back story of the Lebaron family and helps to put everyone in their place in the story. It is written by Irene Spencer, who wrote the above book as well and so it is still from her perspective. It definitely helped me fill in some of the blanks. It’s completely foreign to me how Ervil’s commands could go on for so long before being caught.

Many years ago I read another book by one of Irene Spencer’s sisterwives, called His Favorite Wife: Trapped in Polygamy. I may go back and reread it since I can’t remember the details and want to hear her side of the story again.

Escape/living in war torn countries
1. A Hope More Powerful Than the Sea: The Journey of Doaa Al Zamel: One Refugee’s Incredible Story of Love, Loss, and Survival

This is a powerful story about a Syrian woman who endures such terrible things in her journey to freedom. It really puts a face and story to all the horrors that are happening over there right now. It definitely was difficult to read at times and there are scenes in the book that still flash through my head and give me chills. It makes me want to make a difference in the lives of refugees, since there are so many people who are taking advantage of them all over the world.

2. The Dressmaker of Khair Khana: Five Sisters, One Remarkable Family, and the Woman Who Risked Everything to Keep Them Safe

This book was just ok, not nearly as powerful as many of the others I have read. It is about a family that survives in Afghanistan. It is written by a journalist and some of the details seem to be exaggerated or not quite the way it really happened. I did like reading about what Afghanistan was like while the Taliban were in charge.

3. Left to Tell: Discovering God Amidst the Rwandan Holocaust

While I knew many of the above situations existed and knew a little about them before hand (Syria, Afghanistan, North Korea), I really knew hardly anything about the Rwandan Holocaust, maybe because I was so young when it was happening and as the author mentions not much news coverage was dedicated to it at all. This is amazing story of one woman’s survival during a time when just about all of the Tutsi people were destroyed very horrifically (over one million people in a 3 month period). What I love most about this is how much her Catholic faith helped her during her time in hiding and afterwards. Immaculee is truly a survivor and her story is definitely one everyone should read. There are definitely some very graphic scenes in here, but this was a book that I couldn’t put down. I borrowed it from the library and really wanted to find out how her life paned out after this book was over, so I went and bought the next book (below) since our library didn’t have it.

4. Led by Faith: Rising from the Ashes of the Rwandan Genocide (Left to Tell)

This is a continuation of Immaculee’s story and it is powerful as well. I didn’t love it as much as the previous book, but I really like to know what happens after people escape their horrific tales, and so read this one rather quickly as well. She discusses her faith in greater detail here and I learned more about Our Lady of Kibeho: Mary Speaks to the World from the Heart of Africa (which lead to me reading her book about that as well).

Phew, did anyone read all of that? It took way longer than I thought it. I’ll come back and write about the other books I read that didn’t really fit well into these categories. What are you reading and enjoying these days?

All links are amazon affiliates links.