Monthly Mentionables {December}: Books, podcasts, recipes & articles

My family spent Christmas here in Grand Lake, CO with my parents, brothers and their families. It was breathtaking and good for my soul.

Hygge, “woke,” enneagram, writing, submissions, edits, rough drafts, pregnancy, depression, minivan, lament, Jesus, racism, election, baby, church-hopping, twitter and podcast are all words I would use to distill down the essence of 2016 for me. I have written at length about some of these, will write about some others in 2017 and may keep some of these things to myself as I continue to learn and process.

Which words characterized your year?

I’ve been planning posts for the year and will have a series soon called 12 Days of Books where I’ll be sharing all my favorite books. I’d love for you to join me and if you have a blog, you are welcome to share links to your book posts in the comments section! 

Here are some of the books, podcasts, recipes, articles and writing I have been into this month:


On Writing Well: The Classic Guide to Writing Nonfiction, by William Zinsser
The first time I read this was for a writing class in college, so I was due for a refresher. It was just as helpful as I remembered and is a book I will return to in the future.

Blue Horses: Poems, by Mary Oliver
I’m still experimenting with poetry and I read this one in one sitting. A friend of mine advised that poetry be read and enjoyed like a glass of wine, but I don’t always have that luxury these days! I want to pick up some more books by Mary Oliver. I liked this one, but I still feel like an amateur when it comes to poetry, so I’ll refrain from giving too much of my opinion since I don’t feel qualified yet.

Parenting Without Borders: Surprising Lessons Parents Around the World Can Teach Us, by Christine Gross-Loh, Ph.D
I’m adding this to my list of favorite parenting books. As someone who has lived overseas and studied culture in grad school, I love books that explore non-western ways of doing things. This book has provided fodder for interesting conversations about preconceived notions about parenting. 

Several Short Sentences about Writing, by Verlyn Klinkenborg
The first thing you will notice about this book is the structure. Every sentence begins with a new line.  This as well as On Writing Well, both emphasize the need for short, clean sentences. I loved this book and it is on my list of favorite books about writing.

(Check out my favorite podcasts of 2016 here!)

Faith Conversations: Anita Lustrea

Mark Scandrette 
(His wife shared this post on SheLoves last month!)

Esther Emery

Carolyn Custis James

Makoto Fujimura

Lisa Sharon Harper

On Justice and Reconciliation

Faithfully Podcast

Will Christians Ever Get Race Relations Right?

White Christians, the Confederate flag and the Civil War

Black Lives Matter, the Black Church and the Prosperity Gospel


I binge-watched every single episode of their second season in a week;-) The episode with Ann Voskamp was very powerful, but I would recommend all of these episodes to anyone who is interested in writing or blogging.

Sorta Awesome

The awesome freedom of the DON’T do list

The best in books & reading for 2016 


Aside from forcing myself to watch the Gilmore Girl’s reunion on Netflix (I have to), I would highly recommend the much more life-changing, important documentary called 13th, which is also on Netflix right now. It falls right in line with all that I’ve been studying this year and features Bryan Stevenson and Michelle Alexander among others who take a deeper look into the prison system in the U.S. 


For a new Christmas morning tradition, I used this cinnamon roll recipe shared by a woman from the Velvet Ashes community. I made them ahead the night before, froze them before the second rise and left them out of the oven 30 minutes before cooking.  They turned out perfectly!

We had two familes over and made Chinese hot pot for New Years Eve. Although I probably had hot pot about 30 times in my five years in China, I used this site as a guide for what to buy in the states. I bought this hot pot from Amazon and found the spice packs at our local Asian market. Though it was a bit tricky trying to feed kids who aren’t the best at waiting, it was such a fun, communal meal and I’ll definitely do it again!

Thought-provoking Articles from the Web:

Favorite Fiction of 2016, by Leigh Kramer on her blog (I’m using this list with my book club to pick out some fiction books this year.)

It’s Not Just a Danish Word that Made Dictionary’s shortlist; It’s a Lifestyle, by NPR (an article on hygge!)

Life After ‘The New Jim Crow,’ by Brentin Mock of Citylab (an interview with Michelle Alexander, author of The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness)

Where Love Abides, by Leah Abraham at SheLoves Magazine (a reflective practice for the new year)

4 Ways White People Can Process Their Emotions Without Bringing the White Tears, by Jennifer Loubriel of Everyday Feminism

10 Reflections on Ten Years of Reentry, by Ruthie at

30 of the Most Important Articles by People of Color in 2016, by Zeba Blay for Huffington Post

55 of the Best Diverse Picture and Board Books of 2016, by Mrs. G at

In Case You Missed it:

6 Things to Do When You Live on White Island 

When You’ve Lost Your Wings {a poem}

Breastfeeding and the Liturgy of the Hours {for SheLoves}


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Linking up with Leigh Kramer


Book Discussion Questions for Just Mercy, by Bryan Stevenson

Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption by Bryan Stevenson

This is the true tale of an African American lawyer in the south fighting for the rights of death row inmates who were unjustly incarcerated. Stevenson illuminates the racial injustices that are happening not during slavery or the Civil Rights era, but RIGHT NOW.  It proves that we are not in post-racial times, but still living in the midst of rash injustice. This is the best book I read in 2016 and should be on your list of must-read books.

Discussion Questions:

(This is a very flexible guide for a book club to use as a spring board for discussing the book Just Mercy, by Bryan Stevenson. They can be skipped and discussed in any order).

1. How did you feel before you read this book?  How did you feel afterward?

2. Describe the author’s style.  Was it effective?

3. What was most shocking/sickening/saddening/surprising for you in this book?  Why?

4. What did you want to know more about?

5. Discuss some of the most memorable stories from each of the groups mentioned throughout the book: African American men, women, children, mentally ill, disabled, drug convicts.

6. What stood out to you most about Walter’s story?

7. In what ways did Mr. Stevenson himself experience prejudice?

8. What are some of our state laws about incarceration?  How can we find these out?

9. What can we do personally to make a difference?

10. How does Mr. Stevenson’s race impact your reading (and his writing) of this book?  How would it have been different if it had been written by a white man or woman?

11. Would you recommend this book to others?  Why or why not?


(You are welcome to use these for group discussion, as long as you attribute Leslie Verner.)

If you have read the book, I would love to hear some of your thoughts in the comments section! 


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Related Post: An Evening with Bryan Stevenson: Get Closer

Previous Post: When You’ve Lost Your Wings {a poem}

Next Post: 22 Favorite Podcasts in 2016

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‘The Invention of Wings’ Book Club Discussion Questions

What happens when you cross a former teacher with a blog? You get some very nerdy academic shenanigans going on like book discussion questions. This was a list of questions I used for our first book club discussion of The Invention of Wings, by Sue Monk Kidd.  I thought it might benefit those of you who may not have the time or desire to channel their inner middle school language arts teacher like I do.


'The Invention of Wings' Book Club Discussion QuestionsThe Invention of Wings is written from the perspective of one white woman from a slave-owning family in South Carolina and the African American attendant she was “given” as a girl. The chapters alternate between these points of view and walk us through their lives as the United States begins to awaken to the injustices of slavery. The themes regarding race, women’s rights and the role of history and religion in the formation of our laws are discussions that are still applicable around our living room, at bars and certainly on the Internet today. Packed with imagery and symbolism, this book provided a great discussion for our first book club.  I would certainly recommend that you explore its depths with a friend or two.


Questions for discussion: 

(As a leader, just skip around to follow the flow of the discussion.  We probably only talked about half of them, though we spent more time on the questions about specific passages.)

1. Did you like the book overall? What did you like/not like about it?

2. Did anything confuse you? Do you have any questions?

3. What surprised you?

4. Which emotions did the book bring out in you?

5. Sue Monk Kidd used many objects as symbols for various deeper ideas. What do you think these stood for: quilts/the story quilt, the button (97, 277), feathers/birds (228, 236, 303), the bathtub (115), thread, and the tree (84)?

6. What were some of the major themes of the book?

7. Discuss the following characters: Handful, Sarah, Mauma, Angelina, Sarah’s parents, Israel, Denmark, Sky, others? What did you admire, dislike, find surprising or meaningful about them?

8. Discuss some of the following passages (read the paragraphs before and after for context):

a. p. 54 “I didn’t know for sure whether Miss Sarah’s feelings came from love or guilt.”

b. p. 89 “I’d said, ‘I’m sorry, Handful, I know how you must feel.’ It seemed to me I didn’t know what it felt to have one’s liberty curtailed, but she blazed up at me. “So we just the same, me and you? That’s why you the one to shit in the pot and I’m the one to empty it?’”

c. p. 194 “To remain silent in the face of evil is itself a form of evil.”

d. p. 210 “My body might be a slave, but not my mind. For you, it’s the other way round.” (also on p. 200).

e. Down a bit further on p. 210 “How does one know the voice is God’s? I believed the voice bidding me to go north belonged to him, though perhaps what I really heard that day was my own impulse to freedom. Perhaps it was my own voice. Does it matter?”

f. p. 275 “She leaned toward me. ‘Life is arranged against us, Sarah. And it’s brutally worse for Handful and her mother and sister. We’re all yearning for a wedge of sky, aren’t we? I suspect God plants these yearnings in us so we’ll at least try and change the course of things. We must try, that’s all.”

g. p. 288 Sarah’s choice between marriage and vocation. “Wouldn’t I, wouldn’t we be enough for you?’ he said. ‘You would be a wonderful wife and the best of mothers. We would see to it that you never missed your ambition.’”

h. p. 295 “I longed for it in that excruciating way one has of romanticizing the life she didn’t choose. But sitting here now, I knew if I’d accepted Israel’s proposal, I would’ve regretted that, too. I’d chosen the regret I could live with best, that’s all. I’d chosen the life I belonged to.”

9. Were there any other specific parts you’d like to talk about with the group?

10. What did you think about the ending?

11. What did you learn? Did this book change you in any way?

Bonus Questions:

12. Were Sarah and Handful really “friends”? Why or why not?

13. Who was the most “free” in the book?

14. If you created your own story quilt, what are a few of the squares that would be on it?

15. What role did religion play in the book?

16. Did you like the way the book was written from both Handful and Sarah’s perspectives? What did this add to the story?

17. Do you think Sarah should have married Israel?

18. How did the fact that the author of this book is a white woman affect your reading of the book? Do you think an African American woman would have written it differently? If so, how?

19. If you read the author’s note, did you agree with the changes Sue Monk Kidd made in the facts?

20. How is this an appropriate book for our times even though it was written about a time 180 years ago?


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