Book Reviews ~ A Mother's Memoir & Parenting Resources

Each of these books merit their own dedicated post. But my editorial calendar is just so full these days so I'm packing it all into one. It's a long post but these are great books to read if you are a mother, parent or homeschooler.

Let's start off with a photo of me (taken by Laurent) in one of my favorite places - my afternoon reading chair. I don't read every afternoon but when I am reading a particularly compelling book you'll find me sitting in this chair every chance I get. 

The Gift of an Ordinary Day: A Mother's Memoir

by Katrina Kenison

Without a doubt The Gift of an Ordinary Day is one of the best books I've read in the past six months.

As you can see I "stickied" many, many pages of this book so I could go back to re-read favorite quotes. Sadly, I had to remove the stickies to return the book to the library but my favorite quotes I kept.

Kenison's book spoke to me on so many levels. She talks about the very subjects that are front and center in my life. Moving, the definition of home, motherhood, writing, intentional living, beauty, and kindness. Though not a homeschooler herself much of what she writes (and her heart as a mother) applies to the homeschooling life also. The questioning, trusting, and searching for what is best for our children. 

When we focus on the what is good and beautiful in someone, whether or not we think that they "deserve" it, the good and beautiful are strengthened merely by the light of our attention. When we choose to see and appreciate what is good and beautiful in our children, that goodness can't help but grow, and their beauty blossoms forth. {emphasis mine}

Her book deals a lot with something else that is difficult for me to accept with grace - the inevitability of change.  

But the reality, or so I tell myself, is that I've never really been in control anyway. I glimpse the perfection of my own life only in retrospect, rarely in the moment, when I can barely see beyond the end of my nose. And try as I might to hold on or to avoid change, the best I can hope to do is make my way through all these ups and downs one day at a time, viewing the inevitable seasons of transition and transformation as opportunities to relinquish the old beliefs and possessions that no longer serve me all that well anyway.

Kenison's memoir chronicles the years of her two sons' adolescence, with a nostaglic look back at their younger years. As if those teenage growing pains are aren't difficult enough, Katrina's family had the added tumult (and this is where I really identify) of a life changing move. 

I stand at the threshold of both - a child reaching adolescence and a move to align our daily living with our deepest values. 

On nearly every page I felt like Katrina was writing to me. Words written from a mother's heart to be shared with another mother's heart. It was really that powerful for me. Even if you aren't moving or don't have nearly adolescent children in your home (ah... how did this happen!?) if you are a mother you should read this book. 

As the title suggests, Kenison's book encourages us to embrace "the gift of the ordinary" and I love this perspective. I love celebrating the ordinary beauty of home, nature, creativity, and relationships. 

Maybe this is what I'm meant to understand during this slow descent into winter and all the changes that lie just around the corner. That there is no such thing as a charmed life, not for any of us, no matter where we live or how mindfully we attend to the tasks at hand. But there are charmed moments, all the time, in every life and in every day, if we are only awake enough to experience them when they come and wise enough to appreciate them. Sitting at dinner with my husband and sons, I realize that there is nothing I want more than what we have right now - the simple fact of us, here, all together, for a little while longer.

I really appreciate Katrina giving me permission to print these quotes. If you are interested in buying the book please see her site. And if you'd like a good cry be sure to watch her video.

I'll leave you with one last quote which is especially applicable to my life right now. 

Moment by moment, we have the opportunity to say yes, to move into our lives and open ourselves to the adventure - but that doesn't mean that we ever really know where we're going or that we can predict what we'll find when we get there. If we're lucky, though, the life we end up leading is one that makes us feel alive.

Simplicity Parenting: Using the Extraordinary Power of Less to Raise Calmer, Happier, and More Secure Kids

by Kim John Payne and Lisa M. Ross

I reserved this book through the library after seeing it referenced on several blogs I read. My most recent exposure was at the blog Clean where Rachel is leading a Simplicity Parenting Book Club. The book discussion is just starting and it's not too late to join if you're interested. 

When I got the book it was reassuring and not entirely surprising to see Katrina Kenison's endorsement on the back cover. At first glance I got the sense this book expressed a similar parenting philosophy to her own. But where Kenison's books Gift of an Ordinary Day and Mitten Strings for God are memoirs (I love good memoirs), Simplicity Parenting is more of a how-to manual.

To be honest, there was nothing new or "rock my world" revolutionary in this book for me. And after I picked it up at the libary and thumbed through I thought I'd probably return it unread. I know this stuff and I think we parent this way already (minus the use of waldorf silk play scarves). 

But when a Friday this month opened up before me unplugged and unplanned I picked up the book in earnest and read my way through most of it. 

It's good. I like the way the book focuses on four main areas towards simplifying your parenting patterns: Environment, Rhythm, Scheduling and Unplugging.

The fact that I read this on our own unplugged day was quite ironic. There are many good quotes in this book and it is chock full of interesting case studies and advice. The authors "present an antidote for children who are overscheduled and overwhelmed by too much information and a fast-paced consumer culture that threatens the pace and playful essence of childhood" (Publisher's Weekly review from the back to the book).

I definitely recommend it if you are looking for strategies to protect your family life from physical clutter, out of home commitments, outside influences and an overdose of media. Even if you think you've got those things under control it will encourage you to keep on the straight and narrow of enriching your family life with a less is more philosophy of living

Nurture by Nature: How to Raise Happy, Healthy, Responsible Children Through the Insights of Personality Type

by Paul D. Tieger and Barbara Barron-Tieger

This book has helped me see my children for who they really are. Not just in their relationship with me but who they are as individuals.

Like the title says, Nurture by Nature is about raising children with the understanding of personality types. Specifically, figuring out your own child's unique personality and how to be a better parent with that knowledge.

Reading this book helped me so incredibly much in understanding my children that I bought it after returning my copy to the library. If you know me, you know that is significant. We keep a very small reference library and this book is now one of those on the shelf. 

I've been going through a period of personal evaluation and reflection. Trying to understand my own personality and gain some confidence as I cautiously move from the safe and secure world of homemaking into writing and other entrepreunerial interests. 

But I don't want to just know myself, I want to really know my kids. I want to use that knowledge to help them learn and grow to their full potential. This book is helping me with that goal.

This is where I hang my head with a bit of embarrassment as I admit this book has also helped me accept, at face value, exactly who my children are. Of course I have loved them beyond measure and unconditionally from the start. But sometimes I respond to their unique and quirky personalities with a mentality of "What did I do wrong here?" or "How can I change this?". When in fact my children are just expressing how they are wired.

Now that doesn't mean we just sit back and let nature take its course in a misdirected Rousseau experiment. We nurture our children's individual natures - guiding, leading, teaching. But this book reminded me to recognize and accept that we are all born with a particular personality that influences so much of who we are and how we respond to our upbringing. 

Take for example Brienne's packrat tendencies (which drive me crazy). It turns out I'm not a flawed "simple living mom" just because my daughter has not embraced the message of less is more. For her more is more. And that is consistent with her personality type. Who knew! There are just some people who are wired to accumulate. 

Many ESTPs are fairly materialistic, and whatever they prize, they want in increasing numbers. Moderation is not a concept they naturally understand or live by. While the may have trouble holding on to money because they love to spend it, they are also pragmatic and can often find ways of quickly earning enough to satisfy their current needs, figuring that the future will take care of itself. 

This book was full of so many "ah-ha" revelations and moments of laugh out loud recognition. That above quote being one. The children also loved to listen to me read the summaries of their personality types, "read that part again mom!"

The book is definitely worth reading and I think it's worth owning. And that's saying something. 

I have a few more parenting and homeschooling books featured at our Amazon affiliate store. All are highly recommended.

Here's two more books I've recently read. They deserve more than just this brief mention. Apologies to the talented authors.

Have you read any good parenting books or memoirs lately?

Renee Tougas participates in affiliate marketing, including the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program. Whenever you buy something on Amazon from a link you clicked here, I get a (very) small percentage of that sale. See disclosure for further explanation.

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  • Danyel

    Danyel on April 11, 2011, 8:46 p.m.

    Thanks for taking the time to review these. I am always searching for really good books, I will definitely be checking these out. Thanks again Renee!


  • Jill Foley

    Jill Foley on April 11, 2011, 10:32 p.m.

    I'm adding these to my Goodreads list - thanks! (I read Radical Homemakers last month).

    My favorite parenting book is Raising Your Children With No Regrets by Catherine Hickem. I also recently read One Million Arrows by Julie Ferwerda. Both books talk about raising your children with a "kingdom vision".


  • erin @ exhale. return to center.

    erin @ exhale. return to center. on April 12, 2011, 12:33 a.m.

    ahhh...i've been waiting for this post and it did not disappoint. thank you so much for the time and thoughtfulness that you pour into your reviews. very much appreciated.

    and i totally agree about "the gift of an ordinary day". i read it last year as my daughter was getting ready to start kindergarten and was so grateful for the perspective it provided as we begin our schooling years.



    • renee

      renee on April 12, 2011, 1:40 a.m.

      You're welcome.

      You were waiting? Did I mention somewhere I was working on these reviews.

      You know I could just sit and talk about Gift of an Ordinary Day for hours. It was so good. I saved all those quotes and I revisit them, savoring Kenison's words like dark chocolate.


  • Naomi

    Naomi on April 12, 2011, 12:49 a.m.

    I think I would enjoy Nurture by Nature, and you gotta love the shoe fundraiser, my goodness! :0) I read a couple books last summer about temperments as they relate to particularly spirited children, which you of course know already. I really appreciated how they pointed out the useful and beautiful aspects of their temperments. It's great when authors writing about parenting incorporate temperments and personalities into their stories and how-to's because a lot of parenting advice doesn't fit individual children unless you adapt it to each one, and you can't do that unless you understand each one! Great list! I hope to get some more reading time in this summer.


    • renee

      renee on April 12, 2011, 1:35 a.m.

      It's hard to tell in the photo but Brienne made her own "shaker" out of re-used plastic container and beads and is sitting and shaking like the Salvation Army people at Christmas. I lol just thinking again about her ingenuity in coming up with these ridiculous schemes.

      She actually did gather enough funds for new shoes. Family donated about .50 to her salvation army scheme, she did some extra work around the house to earn money and daddy, who runs the clothing budget, matched her funds with clothing money to help buy new shoes. The same shoes you see in this post.

      That girl just makes me laugh, roll my eyes and tear out my hair. All in the same day!


      • Naomi

        Naomi on April 12, 2011, 8:04 p.m.

        To be honest, Brienne gives me hope! From what you've talked about her, her personality reminds me of Daphney, whose antics have me worried sometimes about how hard it will be to raise her. I just have to keep my eyes on developing the good parts and direct the rest as best I can right? :0)


  • Joy

    Joy on April 12, 2011, 12:51 a.m.

    Grrrr! I did not need more books on my TBR pile! Hopefully summer will give me the time I need to tackle some of these. Thank you for sharing.

    I, too, read 3CT and even read it to the 90 8th graders I teach. There is a young adult version you can read with your kids by the way. I met Mr. Mortenson last April and am a huge fan!


  • debra

    debra on April 12, 2011, 1:25 a.m.

    I've had Nurture by Nature on my bookshelf and have not yet read it - I'll finally give it a try!! Also, my oldest (8) was very taken with Listen to the Wind, which is a telling of Greg Mortenson's story for kids (with wonderful collage-style art).

    Thank you for the time it took to put this together - I'm looking forward to reading these!


  • Rana

    Rana on April 12, 2011, 1:33 a.m.

    Because of your post the other day I picked up Simplicity Parenting at our library. Today I got to hear a podcast by Kim Payne on the Feed.Play.Love series that is going on. Then I found his blog page. There are some great posts written on that blog.

    Thank you for sharing these other books I'm always looking for extra insight into how to be a better parent.


    • renee

      renee on April 12, 2011, 1:50 a.m.

      Some of my SLM cohorts are participating in Feed. Play. Love and tweeting about it. I'm following along that way. Hear, hear and amen to much of what I'm reading about that course. 


  • Rambling Heather

    Rambling Heather on April 12, 2011, 1:41 a.m.

    I LOVE Simplicity Parenting and now cant wait to get my hands on that memoir! Thank you so much for recommending it! I really enjoy seeing each new post by you and leave feeling inspired. Thank you!


  • Spring

    Spring on April 12, 2011, 1:52 a.m.

    Hooray! I am so excited to get this post tonight as I am choosing my next books to read (just finished square foot gardening) and I could NOT remember the names of the books you had mentioned! Thanks for taking the time to write such great reviews!


  • Rachel Wolf

    Rachel Wolf on April 12, 2011, 3:04 a.m.

    Hi Renee, I agree with you whole-heartedly about Simplicity Parenting. I really thought I had this business nailed, but there is still so much to learn. I just reserved my copy of Nurture by Nature. Sounds like exactly what I've been needing to go deeper with my kids. Thank you! Peace, Rachel


  • Nicola @ Which Name?

    Nicola @ Which Name? on April 12, 2011, 3:32 a.m.

    Oh, I am so very grateful for this post and these reviews. RIght now, my request list at the library is maxed out. I have a feeling, though, that I will be adding a few books to my personal collection after I "review" them from the library. I already checked and will have to do inter-library loan to get The Gift of an Ordinary Day. I keep forgetting to, though!


  • Kika

    Kika on April 12, 2011, 3:43 p.m.

    Thanks for the reviews. I am currently reading Simplicity Parenting and Radical Homemakers. Simplicty Parenting is actually a peaceful read/calming. My struggle, when reading books such as this, however, is that my kids don't always agree with my efforts to simplify life to the measure that I want (although, like you, I wouldn't say there is anything new to me in the book). And I do believe in really hearing them out and respecting them as people too... not just forcing my own agenda. Anyways, I am going to look for Nurture by Nature as I think it might help me understand my children better too. So many great books/ideas. Speaking of shoes, my youngest just spent all her saved $ on a gorgeous, but overpriced (!!!) pair of ballet flats that she absolutely had to have. I would never have paid what she did but it is her money and she LOVES these beautiful shoes ;)Oh, and one MORE thing; I love that photo of you.


    • renee

      renee on April 12, 2011, 5:10 p.m.

      you said "And I do believe in really hearing them out and respecting them as people too... not just forcing my own agenda" - Absolutely. I want to endear the hearts of my children to me, not force them to do things my way just because I'm mom, with regards to simple living etc.

      When our children have been raised and have homes of their own, hopefully very, very close to ours - as in, attached (a mother can dream) Damien and I intend to live very simply and be very flexible in how and where we live. But in this stage of life we are raising children and they need a home and toys and creative supplies etc. We have lots of time to live a really simple life (in terms of possessions) when there is no longer 5 of us in one house. At least that's the theory.

      Letting our children make their own financial decisions is hard but so very necessary especially while they are relatively protected from really negative consequences while living at home. I find this hard because I want to just pass on the wisdom but of course my children have to learn it for themselves and sometimes this means the hard way. I can see this will be more challenging with Brienne than say Celine in our family, based on their personalities.


  • Francesca

    Francesca on April 12, 2011, 7:59 p.m.

    You write excellent and informative book reviews that are such a pleasure to read. Katrina's memoir sounds like the book for me.


    • renee

      renee on April 12, 2011, 8:15 p.m.

      Francesca - I really think you would like her book. I thought of you while reading it since you have two boys who are already in adoloscence (or very close - I don't remember their exact ages) and I think you'll really appreciate her writing style. I know you can't get all these books so easily but I would recommend this one for you.


  • tenaciouslace

    tenaciouslace on April 13, 2011, 3:31 a.m.

    I will certainly come back and look through our local libraries to see if they have some of these books. I am out of time tonight but I look forward to some inspiring reading. Thank you.


  • Spalva

    Spalva on April 14, 2011, 12:56 p.m.

    Enjoyed your reviews. Your doubts about your parenting resonated strongly as I have a child who is a bit like your eldest. Sometimes I've blamed it on myself; other times I've blamed it on living when she was two to five in Central Asia because everything for sale was always right there out on the street -- a constant barrage of stuff that was really, really cheap.

    The other day I accidentally came across a description of the "self-absorbed child" by Stanley Greenspan. I found in it many "answers" that finally allowed me to let myself off the hook a bit. I'm off to Powell's for a look at your books.


    • renee

      renee on April 14, 2011, 1:08 p.m.

      Brienne is actually not my eldest but my baby (smile). A barrage of really cheap stuff most have been hard - spiritually and physically.


      • Spalva

        Spalva on April 14, 2011, 3:43 p.m.

        I think I missed the name and was looking at a photo.

        Not all of it was cheap in that sense (smile back) -- some of it was pretty darn beautiful (handicrafts). Everything was extremely inexpensive out there (compensation for living as far away as one can get). Most people set up tables outside just selling packs of gum and sunflower seeds. And then there was the 1970's rusting Soviet amusement park just across the street where one could buy the cheap-in-your-sense Chinese plastic toys and stuffed animals with vendors constantly calling out to us foreigners to play a game and win a toy. Things didn't change much when we moved to Kiev and there were constant outdoor markets with wonderful handicrafts. She would walk down the street and be dying for something every other stand. And it's beautiful and it costs a mere dollar or whatever. Very trying on the mama's soul indeed.

        There I just wrote a book for you. :-)


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