Tuesday, January 27, 2015

A Clean House and Other Misconceptions

Around the beginning of January, I asked on Facebook for ideas of writing topics this year.  My real-life friend, Allyson said, "I want to know if your house is always as clean as it is when I see it."

My short answer is no

You can't see my house right now with the wet towel crumpled in the kitchen floor and dirty cups scattered on the counter. You don't see the crooked bedspreads and the sheets that needed to be changed last week and the bag of stuff for Goodwill that's been hanging out in the floor since yesterday. You didn't see the toilet paper and puddle of water I mopped up from behind the toilet, the other puddle where someone missed the toilet altogether, and the toothpaste splatters on the sink a few hours ago. You don't see the stuffed fish and the little jar of lip gloss fallen on its side on the coffee table right in front of me.

No, my house is not always as clean as it looks when I prepare for guests.

The longer answer is more complicated. 

I like a clean and neat house so I do work to keep it that way.  Sure, our house is lived in and there's daily evidence that seven people share this space (see above), but it's a rare day now when the clutter or dust in our house get out of control.

I could tell you how I clean a little bit each day.  I rarely do a whole-house, scrub-from-top-to-bottom clean. I might vacuum a couple of rooms one day.  Clean a bathroom another.  Wipe a window sill when it gets dusty...

I could tell you how we won't go to bed with a messy house. I could tell you how I've taught my kids to make their beds every morning and how they all know how to pitch in to straighten the living room or dry the dishes or start a load of laundry.

But the thing is, each of us is different and each of our homes is different.  Neither of us lives under the same circumstances so we can't compare our lives or our homes to those of anyone else. No one has your temperament, your personality, the same number of kids you have with the identical ages, and your health status. No one is married to your husband with his work schedule. No one shares the responsibilities you have at church or school or home or work.

2 Corinthians 12:9 says, " 'My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.' Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me."

he Lord guides each of us as individuals. He knows each of us intimately and it is freeing when we abandon the comparison game, when we no longer have to strive to meet a standard that we were never asked to meet.

When we are weak, He is strong.

Monday, January 26, 2015

Sisters Book Challenge


2015 is off to a rollicking start. Our furnace stopped working (on a bitterly cold evening) and mysteriously started up again the next day. The kids had an impromptu sleepover with their grandmother.  I started training for a 10-miler and my 2nd half-marathon. We cycled our way through a shared family cold. I had a stubborn molar pulled. Maddie and Gavin spent special days with friends.  We hosted company for dinner. We moved a large piece of furniture out of our dining room and replaced it with another.  Brian celebrated his birthday...

Despite all the busyness, I also got a rollicking start to checking off my to-read list.  And yet, the list keeps getting longer.  It's hopeless.

My sister, Kati, and I decided to continue our Sisters Book Challenge for the third year  Here's how it works: 
  • Kati makes a list of 10 books. 
  • I make a list of 10 books.
  • Trade lists. 
  • Each choose 5 books from the list.
  • Read and review.

Kati and I exchanged lists on New Year's Day.  The most difficult part of the challenge for me each year is picking up books I might not gravitate towards on my own.  (I'm a little set in my ways and that includes my reading preferences.)

This year, though, one book was already on my need-to-read list and another was exactly a book I would choose (though I had never heard of it before). I'll be posting my first review soon. 

This is the list I gave to Kati.  For a fun twist, I included 5 fiction and 5 non-fiction book, all of which I read myself in 2014.

Have you read any of the books on either list?  What did you think?

Any you want to add to your own to-read list?

Friday, January 23, 2015

{Weekend Links}

Having Kids Close in Age: You Won't Regret It
Of my own five kids, the closest age span is 19 months and the largest span is 26 months. How about you?

Friday Night Meatballs
Because our family feels the call to welcome people into our home,too,  though it doesn't always come easily.

Here's What Your Favorite Children's Book Series Says About You
As a child, I was a hopeless Babysitter's Club fan, but I grew into Anne as a teen.  Did you have a fave?

Ice Painting For Kids
I picked up a new watercolor set in the Target Dollar Spot today.

Double Chocolate Oatmeal Cookies

Next up on Owen baking list? A mash-up of his 2 favorite cookies-- oatmeal and chocolate chip.

Monday, January 19, 2015

More Books About Real People

{This post contains Amazon affiliate links.  If you chose to make a purchase through one of these links, I will receive a small commission at no extra expense to you.}

One of my favorite ways to sneak in learning in our off-times from school (or anytime!) is through a variety picture books.  It's more fun that forcing dry facts, plus a well-written, engaging picture book keeps the attention of my youngest listeners while always teaching me a thing or two as well.

Queen Victoria's Bathing Machineby Gloria Whelan was a fun story of a problem solved. The conflict? Queen Victoria wanted to dip her toes in the water, but it was a disgrace for her, the queen of a nation and a proper lady,  to show her skin in public. The solution?  If I tell, it would give away the story!

The Right Word: Roget and His Thesaurus
by Jen Bryant was not only an interesting read, but the pages were visually stunning.  With list of words, timelines, and sketches in the margins, you could read this book multiple times and still miss something.

I'm also looking forward to these two books about real people, currently on my library hold list:

Mr. Ferris and His Wheelby Kathryn Gibbs Davis and The Iridescence of Birds: A Book About Henri Matisseby Patricia MacLachlan (the same author who wrote Sarah, Plain and Tall).

Want more reading ideas? Check out my original list of books about real people.

Friday, January 16, 2015

{Weekend Links} For Winter

Have you noticed how a large percentage of my blog posts...and the majority of my Facebook posts... center around either food or books?

Today's group of links is a mash-up of the two. 

(In reality, I'm recovering from dental surgery so I can only dream about eating anything more glamorous than mashed potatoes, but I am taking advantage of the downtime to get some reading done.)

I want to try this frozen hot chocolate.

But maybe you prefer the hot stuff.

I made a variation of these this week with a big pot of spicy chili (pre-surgery, of course). I left out the sugar and the water and only used 2 eggs, but they were perfect.

There are still a few days to sign up for the children's book exchange.

Need a special book for a sick day?

Or maybe a few comfort books on a dreary day?

I love this Would You Rather: Reader Edition.

And I realize this is a stretch, but since the TV show is based on a book series, what Call the Midwife character are you?  I got Shelagh.

Monday, January 12, 2015

January Learning

We're smack in the middle of our winter break from school.  After working steadily at the book work since the beginning of August, we look forward to this time of resting and recharging every year.  It's a good balance to our longer break in the summer.

I use our 6-week winter break to sneak in a bit of learning, taking care not to label it "school."  It's a mental thing for both the kids and me.  It is more leisurely and exciting when we sneak in a few things optionally without regards to a schedule.  It's also a way to fit in things we don't take time for during the school year.

Here's a peek at what's piquing our curiosity this January:

I'm a person who loves a good list or plan so on December 31st, I asked my kids if they had any goals for the new year.  Most of them shrugged and said, "Nope," or, "I don't know."  However, Owen, my 8-year-old mini-me who also thrives on organization,  immediately piped up and said, "Yes!  I want to learn to play the piano!" So we began. I teach him a lesson every couple of days, he practices (and usually memorizes) his songs, and then we move on to the next lesson.

Right before we closed the history book in December, we read a few sentences about Henry VIII, but we want to fill in a few details so I borrowed Wicked Rulers: You Wouldn't Want to Know!  from the library and ordered a used copy of Brilliant Brits: Henry VIII by Richard Brassey from Amazon.  Both books are conversational and fun.

One of the kids picked up a book of Shel Silverstein poetryon our last library visit so we're reading a few silly poems a day. Sometimes we get lucky at the library and find a gem like this, too.

During lunch every day (or dinner if we're not all together in the afternoon), Brian has been leading us through Our 24 Family Ways: A Family Devotional Guide by Clay Clarkson, picking up where we left off last spring when he went back to work.


Too much free time can lead to grumpy, whiny kids so we've been placing an importance on creativity this month. We're working on a set of 5 Art Appreciation Lessons, using supplies we already have around our home. 

summer learning color mixing

School or not, I spend a large part of my days in the kitchen, but the kids want to be more involved. Maddie has asked to make a banana layer cake together and Owen wants to make pumpkin bread since we never got around to it in the fall.  We're going to put our new KitchenAid to the test.

What are your learning in January?  You don't have to homeschool (or even have kids) to learn!

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

The Best Parts

There are many things I could say about the undesirable aspects of winter.   

Like how when I went for a run this morning, it was 27 degrees and that was the high for the day, and how the wind took my breath and nearly made me turn and go back home.

There are so many good things about winter, though, that I'm choosing to dwell on instead.

Like bread rising on the counter.
Like making homemade bread several times in the same week.
Like my new stand mixer that does all the kneading while I wash the dishes.

Like roasting vegetables in the oven and warming the house.
Cabbage, cauliflower, tomatoes.

Like a big pot of soup on the stove.
Like a little girl loving the soup so much she asks to have it for breakfast the next day.

Like a stack of books waiting to be read.
With a blanket and cup of hot chocolate.

Like having my man home from work for 10 weeks.
Like having him volunteer to go to the library to pick up my holds!

Like my kids running and playing outside in the cold and coming in with rosy cheeks.

What do you love about winter?

Monday, January 5, 2015

Children's Book Exchange

It's January, it's cold,  and my kids are sick (again).  I'm not a fan of either of those things.  Well, I like January, but only if I'm inside eating comfort food or reading a book.  Today no one felt like doing much of anything so we spent many minutes on the couch reading together.  (We ate chocolate cake, too, so the day met both of my criteria.)

In honor of the month, Allyson and I are hosting a book exchange.

Here's a quick run-down on how it will work:
1. Go here and fill out the form, letting us know you'd like to participate.  Your name and address will be kept confidential.  Only Allyson and I (plus your book exchange partner) will see where you live.

2. In the form, list at least 3 -5 (or more!) books or authors you'd like to own.  They can be picture books, chapter books, Bible story books, educational books-- anything, as long as they are children's books.

Sign up begins today and runs through midnight EST on January 19.  After everyone is signed up, give us a few days and we'll e-mail everyone a partner's name and information.  You'll have 2 weeks to pick a book from her list and mail it off to your new friend!

Anyone can participate, as long as your mailing address is within in the continental United States. Even if you don't have kids at home, you can participate for your grandchildren, nieces and nephews, or the children you babysit.
5. We will have a linky up in February so that everyone can share a photo or a few words about their new book treasure. For those of you who don't have a blog, you can link a Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram photo.

I hope this can be lots of fun and add some cheer to dull winter days. 

You can spread the word by sharing our button on your blog or on Facebook, Twitter, or Pinterest.

Friday, January 2, 2015

Holding Loosely

I stopped making resolutions years ago.  It's probably all mind tricks, but I like to refer to my plans for the new year as goals.  When you veer away from a resolution, there is a feeling of failure.  If you veer away from a goal, you can re-prioritize, reorganize, and start again. Goals can always be tweaked and adjusted.  Often it's necessary.

I'm still pondering my goals for 2015.  I have plans to run two big races in the spring-- a 10 miler and a half-marathon.  I need to drink more water and focus on getting enough calories during training.

I want to continue to have fun in the kitchen.  I want to expand my canning abilities.  I want encourage Owen to grow his baking and cooking skills. 
(And I want to do it all joyfully without griping about the mess.)

New Year's breakfast scone, bursting with chocolate

My to-read list numbers in the thirties now (and growing), but I don't have a specific number in mind to complete  Last year I wanted to read 50 books-- about a book a week-- and far exceeded that goal, but I don't want to be held to a number.  (I'm afraid I'll shy away from long books like this one in an effort to finish more.)

I want to be present in the little moments
, making memories with my kids in both the mundane everyday routine and in the bigger things.

I need to have an open, willing heart to what the Lord has planned for our family in the coming year, realizing that His ways are often not my ways.

I'm feeling called to be less structured with blogging this year and so I've decided not to plan a regular, quarterly update discussing my goal progress, but I will be giving glimpses here and there when it's worth sharing.

Before I go, I need to tie up a few loose ends from last year. When I did my quarterly goal check in October, most of my goals had been neatly completed and put on the shelf, but two remained: 

  • Run a 10K in the fall.
    I trained diligently through the summer and put in many early morning humid miles in preparation.  I ran a time trial at home to set a reasonable time goal for myself.  But then a few days before the race, the nasty weather caused the race organizers to cancel the 10K portion of the race.  I ran the 5K instead...in the rain!... but I've still not run an officially organized 10K.  Maybe in 2015.

  • Learn to change the oil in the van and learn to change the wiper blades, too.
    This goal is destined to remain undone.  For the second year in a row, I let it sit untouched.  Oh well.   I do want to learn some day.

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