Well, here I am, still living in Washington DC and almost exactly one month into my new job here. Life has been full, to say the least! Work is always busy and as with any new stage, it’s a process to figure out a balance between all the things you need to do and want to do. But I’m still loving it here and am truly thankful for this city, great coworkers, new friends, a wonderful church, and satisfying work. 

So, since I’m obviously now an expert after having lived here five months, I thought I’d impart my treasure trove of knowledge. Just kidding. But there are a few things I’ve picked up on since moving here that I know I’d share with a person in their first week of living here. And some of these could be useful for someone who’s just visiting as well. Take them for what they’re worth and let me know what you think! 

1. Get the metro app 
While the metro system isn’t overly difficult, it can be overwhelming at first for someone who hasn’t lived with public transportation before. Luckily, I’d had practice with the Boston and London underground systems before moving to DC back in the fall, so it was an overall seamless transition. But even so, that metro app is a great safety net. Just type in the station you’re starting at and where you want to go, and voila! It’ll tell you exactly which lines to take and where to change and get off!

2. Have a range of coats that vary in thickness 
This is something I’m still working on. There are several degrees of cold here and I’m pretty sure there has to be the perfect coat for each one, so I remain on the lookout. It was during the first major cold snap in December that I realized what I had thought sufficed as a winter coat was actually not at all sufficient. Let’s just say it’s a pretty rude awakening to that fact for an Alabama native when it feels like nine degrees and the wind is cutting into your face.
I have gotten to see sights like this a few times though, which has been pretty neat.

3. Have multiple pairs of comfortable walking shoes 
If you feel called to live in DC, you’re probably also called to lots of walking. I’ve loved having so much built-in exercise every day, and several pairs of sturdy shoes for many kinds of weather have definitely made that transition easier. They’re essentials to living here without a doubt. 

4. Be prepared for grocery trips to be an ordeal 
Related to the subject of frequent walking is grocery shopping. I went to the store last week and was sort of laughing at myself as I got ready to go. It kind of felt like I was preparing to go into a war zone – pile on the layers, cinch up the tennis shoes, grab the list and the bags…it was a process. I say often that the main times I wish I had a car here are when I go to the store. A 10-minute walk isn’t much, but it gets much longer when you’re lugging groceries on the return trip. I think I’ve about mastered the system by now, but it’s still a process every time. 

5. Queue up those audiobooks and podcasts 
Also on the subject of frequent walking – podcasts and audiobooks are your friends in DC! One of the greatest things about walking to and from work every day and pretty much anywhere else is that those walks are some of the best times to get lost in a great story on audio or to catch up on a favorite podcast. So pick your favorites and get listening. 

6. Remember where you are 
I’m doing my best to remember this these days. Familiarity naturally makes wonder fade, so I’ve been trying to do a lot of mental “stepping back” to take in my surroundings. Since I walk by the Capitol every single day, it’d be easy to pass it by without a second glance now. But I’ve been staring at it purposely a lot lately. Not many people get to be up close to this much history for long, so remember it when you come. And aside from that, DC is brimming with culture and fun things to do. I’m doing my best to not let it all pass me by! 

Happy 2017, friends! It’s time for the sum total update on my 2016 reading. I’m pleased to report that I reached my goal of reading 50 books over the course of the year! This goal seemed lofty at the beginning of 2016, but I kept it in mind without beating myself up over it. And as I read steadily through the year, it gradually began looking more like a feasible possibility. I finished my 50th read very, very late on December 31st…it might even be debated as to whether I got through it in time to count it for 2016, but I decided to take it ;) I’m usually terrible at picking favorites, but 2016 had some strong standouts, so they came to me more easily this time. Here they are – my favorites out of the books I read in 2016. Have you read any of these? I’d love to hear what you think! 

A Hobbit, a Wardrobe, and a Great War by Joseph Loconte 
A fantastic biographical look at C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien and the influence of World War I on them personally, their writing, and their friendship. Both of these literary giants served in the war and I had little prior knowledge of how much it shaped them and the stories they would go on to create. This book is an encouraging glimpse into their spiritual formation, literary genius, and inspiring friendship. 

Lizzy and Jane by Katherine Reay 
Katherine Reay is a first-rate author of what I (along with Anne Bogel) like to call “sweet spot fiction” – easy to read and understand while still tackling subjects of depth and teaching a valuable lesson. Lizzy and Jane is my favorite Reay book so far. Sister relationships, trust issues, cancer, family dynamics, and forgiveness take major roles in this one, all within the themes of food and cooking. I loved every bit and am now waiting for a Lizzy and Jane cookbook to be a thing. 

Booked: Literature in the Soul of Me by Karen Swallow Prior 
I first encountered Karen Swallow Prior through her fantastic biography on Hannah More, so I was excited to finally pick up her personal memoir. What a joy it was! She brings her journey to vivid life through so many classic works of literature and tells her story with relatable honesty and encouragement. And she explains the importance of books and how God’s character is reflected in them so well. I was saying “Yes!” in my head pretty frequently as I read it.

Harry Potter Series by J.K. Rowling 
Where have I been, you ask? Well, I have to say I’m glad I read them for the first time as an adult. The magic of Harry’s world brought me back to the innocence of childhood in many ways while also reminding me of priceless truths that I’m not sure I would have fully appreciated as a youngster. Good and evil, lifelong friendship, courage, and unfathomable sacrifice are at the forefront as Harry, Ron, and Hermione grow up and work together to defeat the evil Lord Voldemort. I’m so glad to have now taken the journey with them and expect I’ll go back to it before long. (Read my longer thoughts on the whole series here and here)

Warleggan by Winston Graham 
The Poldark series just got better, guys. This is book four and it’s a roller coaster. Ross and Demelza go through the ringer like never before and George Warleggan becomes an ever more formidable foe in this one. And yet, Ross and Demelza endure and forge ahead as the heroes once again. I’m amazed at the nuance and depth Winston Graham wove into these two central characters – their pains and joys are palpable to the reader and I can’t wait to see what’s next for them. 

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Annie Barrows and Mary Ann Shaffer 
Quite the title, I know, but don’t let it throw you. This story is charming, witty, and engaging while also bringing in profound themes. It’s 1946, and London writer Juliet Ashton is struggling to find a subject for her next writing project. But soon, she starts wondering if a subject might be forming itself when she begins an unlikely correspondence with people from the small British channel island of Guernsey, the only British territory that the Nazis occupied during World War II. From start to finish, this book is a delight (especially on audiobook!). 

Surprised by Oxford by Carolyn Weber 
I read this one in February/March, but I had a good feeling as soon as I read it that it would likely remain my favorite of the year. I was right. This is the personal memoir of an English professor that reads more like a compelling novel. In it, Carolyn Weber shares mainly how she became a Christ follower while studying Romantic Literature at Oxford in England. I love literature and England, so I related strongly to her in many ways, but her honesty and grace and joy encouraged and humbled me greatly. Read this book. (Check out my full review here). 

These were the top ones, but really, I read so many good books in 2016. Below is the full list of titles from the year! What did you read in 2016? Got any good ones planned for 2017? I’d love to hear all about it and get your recommendations! 

My 2016 Reads: 
Seabiscuit by Laura Hillenbrand 
A Grief Observed by C.S. Lewis 
The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah 
Joy in the Morning by Betty Smith 
Heir to Edenbrooke by Julianne Donaldson 
To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee 
Driftwood Lane by Denise Hunter 
Me Before You by Jojo Moyes 
The Rose of Winslow Street by Elizabeth Camden 
A Hobbit, a Wardrobe, and a Great War by Joseph Loconte 
Surprised by Oxford by Carolyn Weber 
While You Were Mine by Ann Howard Creel 
An Assembly Such As This by Pamela Aiden 
The Problem of Pain by C.S. Lewis 
The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Annie Barrows and Mary Ann Shaffer 
Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by J.K. Rowling 
Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets by J.K. Rowling 
Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban by J.K. Rowling 
Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire by J.K. Rowling 
Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix by J.K. Rowling 
Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince by J.K. Rowling 
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by J.K. Rowling 
Every Good Endeavor by Timothy Keller 
A Cowboy’s Touch by Denise Hunter
One Lavender Ribbon by Heather Burch 
The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin 
The Kitchen House by Kathleen Grissom 
Code Name Verity by Elizabeth E. Wein 
Pride, Prejudice, and Cheese Grits by Mary Jane Hathaway 
The Brontë Plot by Katherine Reay 
Lizzy and Jane by Katherine Reay 
Little Bee by Chris Cleave 
Surprised by Joy by C.S. Lewis 
Hope Heals by Jay and Katherine Wolf 
For the Glory by Duncan Hamilton 
Holy is the Day by Carolyn Weber 
Are We Together? by R.C. Sproul 
Jeremy Poldark by Winston Graham 
Warleggan by Winston Graham 
I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith 
A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith 
Seeing and Savoring Jesus Christ by John Piper 
Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier 
Light Between the Oceans by M.L. Stedman 
The Innkeeper of Ivy Hill by Julie Klassen 
Everyone Brave is Forgiven by Chris Cleave 
Greater than Gold by David Boudia 
What is a Healthy Church? by Mark Dever 
Booked: Literature in the Soul of Me by Karen Swallow Prior 
A Portrait of Emily Price by Katherine Reay 

Well, 2016 is nearly behind us and it’s been a year for the history books, I’ll say! The realms of politics and entertainment have shocked people across the world and it isn’t letting up down to the last few days of the year (RIP Carrie Fisher…*single tear*). So I’m sure I’m not alone when I say I’m looking forward to 2017. A new year feels like a great opportunity for a new start and a chance to reevaluate. By way of personal update and a desire to share a few things with you, here is what’s currently exciting me about 2017. 

New Year, New Job 
Yep, this southern gal has a job that’s keeping her in DC! I moved to Washington DC back in September not really knowing what I was doing or how anything would turn out, but I’ve been pleasantly surprised by how much I’ve loved both the city and the people I’ve met. My internship with the Family Research Council was an amazing experience for both my professional and personal life. I made friends that I hope to keep a long time, and it set me up very well for future professional steps. I’ve also found a fantastic church family that I’m excited to officially join. Soon I’ll be starting a new job with a Congressman’s office and getting used to the fact that I’m actually a DC resident. Wish me luck and please come visit! :)

New Washington DC Experiences 
That said, I’m looking forward to continuing to experience my new city. I thoroughly enjoyed autumn in DC and now have snow and spring to look forward to. I’m hoping to get some ice skating in before long and am particularly excited about the cherry blossoms that come out in full force around March. Yay pink! 

New British Drama 
And HURRAH for more period drama! 2017 is shaping up to be a fantastic year for British dramas on TV. The long-awaited season 4 of Sherlock premieres in just a few more days! Is Moriarty really back? I’ve been confused about that one a while. And just a few weeks later, Victoria, an aptly named new show about England’s favorite monarch, Queen Victoria, will make its US debut. I love the story of Victoria and Albert, so I’m very excited to see this take on it. And new seasons of both Grantchester and Poldark are also in the works for later in the year! Bring it on.

Photo Credits: Masterpiece PBS on Facebook (I do not own the rights to these photos)

New Reading! 
And of course, I’m looking forward to new reading goals! With just a few days left in 2016, I’m fighting down to the wire to complete my 2016 reading goals. We’ll see if I manage it! I’ll be sharing my 2016 favorites soon as well as ideas for 2017. For now, I’m excited to share two 2017 reading challenges from two of my favorite blogs, Modern Mrs. Darcy and Book Fifty. Both are excellent resources and take a variety of factors into account. I’ll likely be considering bits from both in my 2017 reading! 
Modern Mrs. Darcy 2017 Reading Challenge 
Book Fifty 2017 Reading Challenge
Greetings and Merry Christmas! :) What a whirlwind of a year 2016 has been on many fronts. If anyone had told me I’d travel across the world and back and then move 11 hours from my hometown this year I would have looked askance for sure. But I’m so glad I did all of that. The past few months have given me so many new friends, new purpose, a new church, and much refreshment. And I’ve found that it’s really true that absence makes the heart grow fonder, because I’m so glad to be home for Christmas for the next week or so and catching up with friends and family. I’ll be back before the end of the year with my must-have post about my favorite books of the year, but for now, here are some Christmasey Eloquent Finds to enjoy while sipping your hot beverage by the fire (or maybe a Coke by the pool if you live in the south). Merry Christmas to you and yours!
My wonderful FRC crew on our last day at the office together. Love them so!

Ladies' Christmas Tea at Capitol Hill Baptist

The True Story of Pain and Hope Behind “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day” 
When I discover the history behind well-known hymns, their meaning becomes instantly richer and more moving. This is a great one of those histories as well as a poignant one for those who may find the holidays difficult. 

The Best Christmas Scenes in English Literature 
There are some pretty solid choices here. At first glance, I’d naturally add the Trenwith Christmas party in Winston Graham’s first Poldark book to the list. And perhaps the part in Jane Austen’s Emma when the near Christmas snow-in at the Westons’ leads to Mr. Elton’s notorious proposals. What would you add? 

[Official Video] “Hallelujah” – Pentatonix 
This isn’t officially a Christmas song, but it’s on Pentatonix’s new Christmas album and it is BRILLIANT. Beautiful, measured, powerful, harmonized, haunting, and much more describe it well.

Carrot Top Paper Shop 
If you’re celebrating Christmas late or for another reason you still have time to scrounge for last minute gifts, allow me to introduce my new favorite Etsy shop! It’s literary-themed and focused on many of the classics, especially classic heroines. Everything in it basically equals my Christmas lists for the next few years. 

The Modern Mrs. Darcy 2016 Gift Guide for Book Lovers 
Speaking of Christmas lists, this. This right here. Yes to everything in it. Just yes.

Jane Austen vs. Emily Brontë: The Queens of English Literature Debate 
Also not officially Christmas-themed, but I thoroughly enjoyed this lighthearted debate on whether Jane Austen or Emily Brontë was the better author. An expert argues in favor of each author and several gifted actors also participate by reading excerpts from the various novels. Poldark fans, we’re in luck! Our own Eleanor Tomlinson of Demelza fame brought her talent to the readings and she was a natural, even before Poldark when this took place :) The debate was fun to watch as a whole, and likely to no one’s surprise, I remained firmly in the Jane Austen camp from start to finish. 

There's no place like home for the holidays :) Have a great one, friends!
I’ve mentioned my favorite book of the year (so far, anyway…though I highly doubt it’ll be unseated) several times in past posts, but here’s my more detailed review that’s been a long time coming. The book that everyone should read, but should especially read this winter because it’s perfect for curling up with in winter, is Surprised by Oxford by Carolyn Weber. 

A college friend recommended this book to me several years ago, but for whatever reason, I didn’t get around to it until a few months ago. I found it for 99 cents on Kindle, so I snagged it without much thought, but then proceeded to do little but read it for the next week or two. I’ve now read it a second time since then and will likely pick it up again before the year is out.

The Charming Basics 
This book is Carolyn Weber’s personal memoir of how she became a Christian while earning her Master’s degree in Romantic Literature at Oxford in England. I’m not sure what I was expecting when I started reading, but I certainly wasn’t expecting the transparency, grace, wit, and hopefulness that I ended up finding on every page. I honestly had to remind myself that it was a true story and not a novel. Though “suspenseful” doesn’t really fit the book’s genre, Carolyn’s narration does draw in the reader amazingly well, and every person she brings into the story feels like a significant character that you want to know better. I was amazed at the many specific conversations she was able to recount, the detailed inside looks into her thoughts and feelings that she gave, and the beautiful word pictures she painted of her experiences at Oxford. I felt particularly connected to Carolyn and the book because of her love of literature and the England setting. She uses both to their full advantage as she tells her story and I soaked up every bit of it so gladly.

What’s to Love 
I loved this book for its setting, its literary motif, its engaging narration and people, and so many other things. But underneath all of that, Carolyn’s honesty and joy as she shared her testimony went straight through any defenses I might have had up and touched me deeply. It encouraged my heart and strengthened my faith to read how she – a hardened feminist and agnostic at the outset – gradually accepted that her trust in self and reason were crumbling and that her only hope was Jesus. I was reminded that God pursues his children and meets them wherever they are. For Carolyn, that was in her books, her studies, her philosophy, and her need for reason. She discusses how she began reading the Bible partly from curiosity and partly from a cynical desire to find a chink in Christianity somewhere; but despite herself, she began to look forward to reading it and found it to be “the most compelling piece of creative non-fiction” she’d ever encountered. Additionally, there are so many people and conversations that she recounts in the book that seem inconsequential at first, but later clearly prove to be tools the Lord was using to soften her and draw her to Himself. Early this year was a difficult season for me, so I’m really thankful for how Carolyn’s story encouraged me to remember that our Lord purposefully saves and strengthens His children, no matter how far gone they seem or how discouraged they may be in their faith. 

Why it’s Perfect for Winter 
There’s England and literature…what more can I say?! Granted, these are perfect for any time of year, but who doesn’t love a good book by a blazing fire in December? What’s more, Oxford apparently goes all out during the holidays, and Carolyn gives it in glorious detail. I loved picturing Oxford covered in snow and Christmas lights. And the change from winter to spring in the book’s timeline fits well with the spiritual awakening she was experiencing. She describes a number of significant turning points in her conversion that occurred during the Christmas and winter period, and her descriptions are so vivid and aesthetic that it’s easy to imagine you’re right there with her. I felt like I was a guest right across the table from Carolyn at the splendid Christmas “high table” dinner for Oxford elites, an event where she wound up in a conversation about God’s existence and His part in the world. When she talked about her first Christmas break back home in Canada, I could almost feel the cozy fire in the log cabin where she took the painful, courageous step of breaking up with her longtime boyfriend. And I rejoiced with her as I read her description of the sunrise that broke over the frost on her first Easter morning as a Christian. Just talking about it right now makes me want to grab the book and some hot chocolate and find a nice fire somewhere. Do yourself a favor and get on it too :) 

Thank you, Carolyn, for sharing your story. I’m thankful for how the Lord has used it to deepen my own faith. And what a treat it was for me to visit Oxford this year and see so many of the places described in the book come to life! I’ll leave you with a few more Oxford pictures and some favorite quotes from the book.

No individual, by the very state of existence, can avoid life as a form of servitude; it only remains for us to decide, deny, or remain oblivious to, whom or what we serve. 

An education forced is no education at all. 

I’m like an addict when it comes to books. Compelled to read, understand, savor, wrangle with, be moved by, learn to live from these silent companions who speak so loudly. 

Self-worth that is subject to others’ judgments remains alive only as long as the delay of condemnations. 

As I aimed to become a teacher, God made me a student. My spirit as a questioner does not affront Him; rather, it reflects Him, and honors Him, and pulls me toward Him.

Ahh, teaching literature. A noble calling! For we are all stories.

[The Bible] unwinds and recasts the world and our perception of it: that the Holy Grail is more likely to be the wooden cup of a carpenter than the golden chalice of kings. “No wonder this stuff causes war,” I thought as I read, “between nations and within each of us.”