Category: thinking deeply

My Favorite Books of 2015

Posted on December 27, 2015 by

2015 best books mamawolfe

 “A room without books is like a body without a soul.” ~ Marcus Tullius Cicero

I am a book lover. I love being surrounded by stacks and stacks of books, both read and unread. I adore walking into someone’s home and scanning their bookshelves, and get giddy when I see familiar titles. I carry at least one – if not two (just in case, you know) – books with me everywhere I go. I typically read at least two titles at once – a novel, an inspirational morning book, and some sort of writing guide. I collect books like some people collect records (wait – does anyone DO that anymore?) and update my Goodreads profile like a pro. My Amazon wish list is full of…books. That’s about it. And I LOVE to gift books – in fact, this year my mom’s present was a HUGE bag of books that made her as excited to receive as it felt to give. She reads more than I do!

In 2015 I set my reading challenge too high, and missed it by about 13 titles. I did manage to complete at least 27 full-length novels, which I consider pretty satisfactory considering I have over 100 English students in class this year (think – 100 papers per assignment, at least 5-10 minutes to read/grade each, totaling 500 minutes which is OVER 8 HOURS minimum!). This year I’m sharing my favorite books, only because I want to share just the very best. I’ve added links to make it easy to read more about these titles on Amazon; I’d love to know if you agree with me – and if you’ve read something you think I should add to my list, be sure to comment. I’m always on the look out for great stories.

Here are my 2015 favorite books, in no particular order…

The Mapmaker’s Children by Sarah McCoy

I read more historical fiction than any other genre, and this was one of my favorites. The main character, Sarah Brown, is the daughter of abolitionist John Brown, and embraces the cause of the Underground Railroad all on her own. The author weaves a parallel story set in current time about a woman struggling with infertility who finds a mysterious porcelain doll head in her root cellar. I loved the mingling of past with present, and the ideas that women throughout history have challenged themselves to create the life they really desire. I tried to write my own bit of family history after reading this book – you can get the story of my great, great grandfather in my blog post, “Sheep Shearer’s Children In Lake Tahoe”.

All The Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr

Pulitzer Prize winner. Besides that, this story is a glorious, delicate and beautiful tale about a blind French girl and a German boy who are trying to survive World War 2 in France. It’s a long read (530 pages), but I guarantee you will be captivated by the author’s ability to weave together two characters who should never have met, all the while sharing the idea that despite our circumstances, people really do try to be good to each other.

The House Girl by Tara Conklin

Another historical fiction story set in parallel structure, The House Girl tells the stories of Josephine Bell, a seventeen-year-old slave living in Virginia, 1852, and Lina Sparrow, a young lawyer living in New York City, 2004, who is tasked with research into a class-action lawsuit surrounding a mysterious Civil War era artist. I loved the interplay of art and history and secrets, and the idea about what does justice really look like.

If I Fall, If I Die by Michael Christie

This book was deliciously creepy, telling the story of a young boy named Will who had never been allowed to go outside. So what does he do? He defies his mother, sneaks out (wearing a protective helmet, just in case) and finds a kid who shows him the joy of skateboarding. There’s a mystery that happens, too – but this story showed me the extremes that parents will go to to protect their children, and the dark side of not allowing kids to experience life on their own. You can read my blog post, “Living In Between Love and Fear”,  inspired by this book.

All Together In One Place by Jane Kirkpatrick

After reading this first book in a series, I am now completely hooked on Jane Kirkpatrick. All Together In One Place shares the story of life during the westward movement in the U.S., a time when women were forced to pick up, move, and follow their husband to someplace they had never seen. What made this one of my favorite books was the multitude of strong female characters – women so strong they outlasted most of the men and managed to create their own destiny along the way.

My Name Is Mary Sutter by Robin Oliveira

I loved discovering this writer – another woman tackling the issues of feminism as told through the story of Mary Sutter, a Civil War era midwife who battles prejudice and discrimination against women. This was one of my favorite books because while the depictions of medical treatments of the time could be a bit hard to stomach, the courage and fortitude of Mary captivated me. I couldn’t put this one down.

Girl Who Fell From The Sky by Heidi W. Durrow

To my surprise, I wound up meeting this author during a conference at BlogHer this summer in NYC, and she was as lovely and delightful as her novel. While this wasn’t historical fiction ( the story is set in current day Chicago), her themes and story line most definitely have been repeated throughout our country’s history. Her story of Rachel, a biracial girl who survives a family tragedy, made me really stop and think about racism in our country, and how we all contribute to the ideas of social justice, and the power beauty and race hold in our world.

I Am Here: The Untold Stories of Everyday People 

OK- true confession – I’m sharing this title as one of my favorite books of 2015 because this collection of short stories is where I first became a published author in print. My story, “The Ride of a Lifetime”, was selected to be published by Story Shelter in their first ever print edition. To say I was over the moon is an understatement; after decades of seeing other author’s names on the title page, I did do a happy dance to see my very own there in black and white. I Am Here is an interesting collection of real life stories of regular people who have had extraordinary experiences – and my tale of our first trip to Nicaragua fit right into their theme.

Do you see anything you’d like to read in 2016? Do you share my love for any of these titles or authors? I’d love to hear your thoughts – please comment and let’s create another amazing year full of books!

P.S. – Too late for making my list, but I’m about to finish A Window Opens by Elisabeth Egan. This title came to me via a friend’s blog A Design So Vast – Lindsey’s post about “Best Books of the Half-Year” is full of interesting titles. It’s fun to stray away from my usual genre to dump myself inside the life of another modern woman determined to balance motherhood, career and marriage.

If you’re interested in my past year-end book posts, you can find my 2013 recommendations here, and my 2014 favorites here. I’ve also written a “Books I Love” post here.

Jennifer Wolfe

Jennifer Wolfe, a writer-teacher-mom, is dedicated to finding the extraordinary in the ordinary moments of life by thinking deeply, loving fiercely, and teaching audaciously. Jennifer is a Google Certified Educator, Hyperdoc fanatic, and a voracious reader. Read her stories on her blog, mamawolfe, and grab free copies of her teaching and parenting resources.

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5 Years of Decembers

Posted on December 23, 2015 by

It’s been five and a half years since I started blogging; five Decembers that I’ve shared my stories with all of you, and 50 Decembers that I’ve been learning life’s lessons.

This December, I decided to look back and see what themes popped up during the final month of the past years, and I was both surprised and reassured when I saw my progression – and devastated that while I followed the thread of motherhood and memories in my posts, I also realized that every year has brought the loss of children.  Stepping back, I see the hopes and joys and sadnesses that parallel our ordinary lives.

I hope you enjoy my favorites from 2011-2015. Maybe you’ll re-read some favorites; perhaps you’ll discover we have more in common than you realized. Above all, may you experience the beauty of living the extraordinary in the ordinary, of loving fiercely and thinking deeply. Happy holidays, and thank you for sharing this journey with me.

2011: A Year Of Feeling Time Shift

Prom Night At Our Place 

“But what prom night really taught me this year is that belonging happens in many different ways.  The girls learned that they don’t need to be joined (literally or figuratively) with a boy to have fun.  The boys realized that if they ask, they have hope.  And now I know that I don’t really need to join anything to be important in my daughter’s life – by being myself she and her friends feel comfortable. Actions speak louder than words.  My house really is the place to be.”

Shifting Gears

“After driving through the mountains in the predawn hours, my son and I pass Donner Lake, and in that moment, as the water and sky met and steam hissed from its surface, I quickly stop the car. My brain pauses and we drink in the tranquility of the water before us. Silently I breathe deeply, wait, and shift back into gear with a new sense of calm.”

When You Wish Upon A Star

“As the sun rises over the mountain tops and the moon and stars fade for another day, once again I am challenged.  It is up to me to make my wish come true – no genie with a magic lantern or fairy godmother is in sight.  My wish remains inside my heart, but my actions I wear on my sleeve for everyone to see.”

Another Day

“Slowly he prepares for the snow, insisting on doing it alone.  His fuzzy brown head disappears beneath a royal blue helmet and goggles, contrasting the lime green and black of his jacket.  We kiss goodbye, my assurance I will be waiting for him when he returns.  It is dawn out, and he gets to have another day.

Yet as I sit by the window watching the sun crest the snow-covered hills, I cry for the mother and child who are apart, who will never feel their arms around each other again, and who cannot brush away each other’s tears.”


2012: Reflecting on Memories of Childhood and Tradition

Lily’s Apple Tart

This year, we decided to go simple yet elegant, and adapt a recipe from one of our favorites, Ina Garten.  Her apple tart just seemed like the perfect complement to a heavy dinner: sweet apples, flaky crust, and a tang of apricot jam make this simple dessert one you’ll want to try for any holiday gathering.  So grab your favorite baking partner, crank up the tunes, and have some fun!”

Just A Moment In Time

We stopped, you posed, we snuggled you between our legs, holding you tightly.  Never wanting to let go.  You raised your face to the sky and grinned with rapture. It was just one moment, really.  But I remember every detail.”

Christmas Tree Traditions

“I used to be a freaky mom.  Sixteen years ago, when I had my first child, I thought I could do it all.  Control it all.  Be the perfect parent.  I certainly had seen enough examples of what I considered ‘bad parenting’ – those kinds of adults who would make excuses for their kids, send them to school without their homework, and blame their teachers and the school for everything wrong in the world – plus some.”


My kids officially grew taller than me this year… I learned that letting go is growing forward. As I end 47 and open the chapter of 48, I think of all that I’ve experienced:  the children, parenting, family, teaching, education, memories and motherhood that blended themselves together and brought such lessons to me.”

Spending Time In The Snow

“And despite the struggle, the frustrations, and the hours and hours of driving – not to mention the ski race that was canceled, we ended up with a white Christmas after all.  And a whole bunch of memories, too.”

spending time

2013: A Year of Ski Racing and Empty Bedrooms

Morning Ritual of a Ski Racer Mama

“The alabaster snow catches a glint of moonlight out my window…savory bacon and eggs fold into warm flour tortillas with cheese as kids stumble downstairs in ski socks and fleece….boot bags bulge with gear.  Speed suits stretch over strong legs, and heavy parkas with hoods zip up as we push open the door. It’s time. Morning ritual of a ski racer mama.”

It’s A Different Kind of Christmas

“And every time I’ve walked through the door this month, I’ve plugged in the lights and sighed. I just can’t do it. The boxes of ornaments are still stacked in the dining room, unopened. And it’s December 23. This has never happened before. And I can’t blame it on holiday business, too many parties or anything else-except for one thing.”

retro Santa

2014: A Year of Change and Possibilities


“The sun streamed in through her sliding glass door. It was mid-morning, and she already looked like she had never left for college. A wet towel hung over her pink desk chair, and her fuzzy sky-blue bathrobe still lay carelessly tossed on the floor. Her closet doors were flung open, and she rummaged around as she replied, “I don’t know. I didn’t pack much. I’m trying to figure out what to take home.”

My breath caught in my throat. Home?”



“I’m open to possibilities in this last-year-before-the-half-century. I’m open to quiet, to listening, to requesting and to hearing the Universe answer with guidance. Zora Neale Hurston wrote in one of my favorite books,Their Eyes Were Watching God, that “there are years that ask questions and years that answer.” I’m not sure what this year will offer me, but I’m ready to receive her whispers.”


Two Kinds of Quiet

“There are two kinds of quiet. The kind of quiet when I hear the candles flicker, feel the crumbs drop onto my plate, and the Christmas music plays on and on and on. The kind of quiet that mothers dream of, and the kind they dread, one in the same.”


“No, Mom, look.” Again and again his plaid Detroit Tigers sleep pants spun as he raised and lowered his body on one leg. “I’m getting there. I’m balancing, Mom – can’t you see? I haven’t been able to do this since the accident!”

She’s Nineteen, and She Doesn’t Live Here Anymore

“I keep thinking that one day, you’ll understand the exquisite pain and pleasure of being a mom, and all my emotional antics will make sense. I hope that one day, when that thrill hits your heart when you see your baby living their life full of happiness and joy, you’ll understand why I have such trouble letting you go.”

me and my girl

In The Holiday Spirit

“Today, as the rain pours down the windowpane and the wind whips the trees around my house into a frenzy, I breathe, and pause, and think of them. I remember their love for each other, and for their families. I call in their spirits as my pen scratches gratitudes into my journal, filling the pages with small moments of the extraordinary ordinariness of my life, feeling their love, grateful for 50 years with their spirits by my side.”

50 years

Jennifer Wolfe

Jennifer Wolfe, a writer-teacher-mom, is dedicated to finding the extraordinary in the ordinary moments of life by thinking deeply, loving fiercely, and teaching audaciously. Jennifer is a Google Certified Educator, Hyperdoc fanatic, and a voracious reader. Read her stories on her blog, mamawolfe, and grab free copies of her teaching and parenting resources.

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Triumph of The Heart: How Forgiveness Can Open Creativity In Your Life

Posted on September 14, 2015 by

I changed majors three times in college: first business (what was I thinking?!), then journalism (on the right track), and finally English. I spent years floundering through courses, panicking in exams and wondering if I ever would find my heart’s calling.

I put a tremendous amount of pressure on my seventeen-year-old self to have all the answers, and when I couldn’t figure it out, when I lost my way and made mistakes, I spiraled down and hit bottom. I’m a first born to two first born parents. I was used to being successful. I was used to leading the way, and I definitely wasn’t sure what to do when life didn’t work out the way I thought it should.

So 22 years after I graduated, after a marriage and two children and 20 years of teaching, I began to forgive myself. I began to realize that just because I hadn’t followed a plan for my college and my career – just because I had stumbled into teaching after graduation – didn’t mean that I wasn’t on the right path for me. I realized that while mothering and teaching brought me joy and happiness and fulfillment, there was still room for more.

I forgave myself for making mistakes in college, for trying to parent ‘by the book’ when it wasn’t the right plan for my child. I forgave myself for being a working mom, for not being enough for everyone. I told my inner critic to shut up and step aside.

I forgave myself and forgave fate for the obstacles life had thrown at me, and I started to write again.

That was June, 2011 when I took responsibility for making my dreams come true – all of them. I gave up trying to come up with reasons why I couldn’t write and just started putting stories together, and I found that the more I wrote, the stronger I became. I found that my inner critic became my muse, and unleashed words to the world that had always found safety locked inside journals. When I forgave my life for being what it was, I began to create my life for what it is.

triumph book cover

I’ve been reading Megan Feldman Bettencourt’s new book, Triumph of the Heart: Forgiveness in an Unforgiving World, and through her words I’ve begun to realize just how miraculous this transformation of forgiveness really is. As a journalist, Megan’s journey brought her to a multitude of people with transformative stories of forgiveness and piqued her interest in the human capacity to forgive and whether it can really help us change our lives. As a teacher, I’m witnessing our school district implement the practice of restorative justice as an addition to our discipline policy. I’ve noticed the difference it has made when we bring children and adults together and walk them through a process of dialogue, discussion and determination of other’s feelings. The power of children to forgive each other is evident; a forceful practice that, if adopted by more adults, would unleash a flurry of creativity and problem solving into our world.

I’m happy to be able to host a giveaway for Megan’s book – I’m hopeful that by spreading her words I’ll help someone else unlock their capacity to forgive and help create a kinder, more understanding world. Enter to win by leaving a comment, and to increase your chances, tweet, like and follow mamawolfe on Facebook and Twitter! Winners will be chosen on September 24, 2015.
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Jennifer Wolfe

Jennifer Wolfe, a writer-teacher-mom, is dedicated to finding the extraordinary in the ordinary moments of life by thinking deeply, loving fiercely, and teaching audaciously. Jennifer is a Google Certified Educator, Hyperdoc fanatic, and a voracious reader. Read her stories on her blog, mamawolfe, and grab free copies of her teaching and parenting resources.

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Dear Family, Love J

Posted on November 23, 2012 by

Dear Family,
Last night, as we slumped around the table, bellies full and wine glasses empty, I took my turn and shared two words of gratitude.  Surprised, you asked if that was all.  The truth is, it wasn’t, but at the time, those were the only words I could say out loud.  Now, hours later in the light of day, I have the rest.
I am grateful for the dawn over the Sierras inching up, pale pink to my left, golden yellow to my right, unveiling my angels sleeping in the back seat.
I am grateful for the dark roast with cream warming next to me as I type, helping me greet every morning with a smile.
I am grateful for the new and the old, the memories that push me forward into the future and those that ground me in the past.
I am grateful for air conditioning, Bintang beer and chocolate-center Cotton Buns.  You saw me through some challenging times last summer.
I am grateful for friends I’ve made and lost, friends I’ve seen and those I have only thought of.  You may not know it, but I listen to you and learn more about myself from your presence.
I’m grateful for curiosity, challenge and conflict.  From them, I grow into a better human.
I’m grateful for brothers and sisters, mothers and fathers, uncles and aunts, grandmothers and grandfathers.  Your eyes help create my vision, even when they don’t see in the same direction.
I’m grateful for simplicity, complication, and everything in between.  It always seems to come at just the wrong, yet just the right time.
I’m grateful for the 6,000,000-plus like-minded people who turned left, not right, and helped me see a future.
I’m grateful for the wind whistling through the trees.  Some say it’s the spirit talking.  I’m thankful I believe them.
I’m grateful for language.  The words I write, the sounds I hear, and the letters I read teach me in a way I learn best.
I’m grateful for faith, wavering in and out, back and forth, between the sky, the spirits, and the universe.  Sometimes, you’re all I’ve got.
I’m grateful for June 29, 1985.  Our worlds collided then, and life has been a doozy ever since.
Now, I’m back to where I began.  Two words.  Two spirits.  Two reasons to face each day, to walk the talk, to take a step forward when what I really want to do is stay right where I am.  Because when the pink glow is gone, replaced by a blaze of red, or orange, or a blanket of black, those two words are all that matter.
And that, dear family, is what I’m grateful for.

Jennifer Wolfe

Jennifer Wolfe, a writer-teacher-mom, is dedicated to finding the extraordinary in the ordinary moments of life by thinking deeply, loving fiercely, and teaching audaciously. Jennifer is a Google Certified Educator, Hyperdoc fanatic, and a voracious reader. Read her stories on her blog, mamawolfe, and grab free copies of her teaching and parenting resources.

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