Sunday, December 30, 2012

2012: A Blogging Year in Review


I started the year with a bang, getting my wisdom teeth removed

"Losing My Wisdom"



I kicked off my "How Do You...?" series with

"How Do You...Store Puzzles?"


We got a dog:
"Finn's Story"



I shared a few easy ways that we stretch the life of our kids' clothes:

"5 Ways To Make Little Girl Clothing Last Longer"



I gave a basic outline of our day in "A Day in the Life... of Me"


I gave ideas for nature study with young children:
"Simple Nature Study"


I began my chronological history book lists with

"The American Revolution (by the books)"


our family got another pet:
"Have I Mentioned We Have a Cat?"

I discussed why we've chosen to take summers off:
"Why I Take a Summer Break From School"



We made our second trek to the beach:




We started school again... a day late... and took a few photos:

"School Pictures"


I talked about how we handle questions about our larger than average family:
"How Do You...Deal With Comments About Your Family?"



We went on vacation!

"A September Vacation in Photos" 


I re-fashioned Alaine's polka dot dress once again:
"Round Two of the {Autumn} Dress"


 I spent 31 Days talking about how I have fun with my kids without losing my cool. 
I had the most comments on this post:

"Shapes For Lunch"


We had guests in our home every couple of days...and had a blast!

"November Hospitality"


I summed up what I had read throughout the year:
"What Are You Reading? Year Wrap Up"

Do you have a favorite blog post that you wrote...or read... in 2012? 

I'd love to read it!  And, yes, self-promotion, is okay!

Thursday, December 27, 2012

What Are You Reading? Year Wrap-Up

Last year when I got a new book for Christmas and realized a few more were still sitting on my nightstand and a few titles were floating around in my head...I began a reading list. It was nothing more than a penciled list on the first page of a spiral notebook, but it was the perfect place for dumping all the book titles that I didn't want to forget to read. I turned my reading list  into an informal record sheet, too, by jotting down a completion date next to each book I finished.

I read 57 books this year-- 25 non-fiction and 32 fiction-- and that doesn't count the 20 books I read aloud to the kids for fun or the history books we read for school or the myriads of picture books we consumed!

I thought it would be fun to sum up my reading year.  And please, if you are a reader, too, chime in!   


Best kid lit (that I was read to myself) was Holesby Louis SacharI checked it out on a whim in August because I had heard the story was good. It took a few weeks to convince myself that I really wanted to read it, but when I finally picked it up, I couldn't put it down.  I needed to know what was going to happen next.  I needed to know why all these kids were sentenced to  work camp when they seemed to be innocent.  I needed to know why they had to dig all day.  I needed to know who the mysterious warden was!  Maybe the intended audience was middle schoolers, but I was thoroughly engrossed in the suspense  Do yourself a favor and try itI also read Mary Poppins this summer, but this was one instance where I liked the movie better.  The movie Mary is more cheerful. 

The Great New Author Award will be shared by two this year.  The first book I read this year was Watch Over Me by Christa Parrish I had never heard of the author, but the story was excellent and the characters well developed.  I went on to read Home Another Way, also by Parrish and am planning to read her third book which was released in November. 

Coincidentally, the last book I read this year was by another new-to-me author:  The Wedding Dress by Rachel Hauck. I haven't read anything else by Hauch (and truthfully, the covers don't look too promising), but I loved how this one wove the stories of four women through a one-hundred-year-old story of one wedding dress. 

My undecided vote
goes to Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn.  I like to read books that get good buzz and have a movie in the works.  In 2011, I read The Help and it turned out to be the best book I read all year.  Gone Girl was also popular, got good reviews, and being made into a movie so I thought all the criteria was there for a winner.  The story was intriguing.  Wife goes missing.  Husband is number one suspect, but adamantly claims his innocence even though all the evidence points to him.  The problem was the language was horrible!  Absolutely retched! 

My favorite non-fiction selection was hands-down How Not to Die: Surprising Lessons from America's Favorite Medical Examiner by Dr. Jan Garavaglia.  I love the medical genre anyway which is why I also read books like The Parents' Concise Guide to Childhood Vaccinations: Practical Medical and Natural Ways to Protect Your Child and Midwife on Call: Tales of Tiny Miracles this year. This book was a quick and fun (in a weird sort of way) read.   Written by a medical examiner, How Not to Die was a fascinating look at the often preventable ways people die and debunked a few myths about things that are unlikely to kill you, too. The format was easy to follow and filled with narrative and real life examples. 

My biggest disappointment was Two Kisses for Maddy: A Memoir of Loss & Love. Having a daughter named Maddie myself, I was excited to read the story of a man who unexpectedly lost his wife only hours after their first child was born.  I expected heartbreaking and heart-pulling.  I did not expect crass and bitter which is what I got. 


I filled my notebook page with ideas this year.  Many were crossed off as finished and some books I changed my mind about or never had the chance to read.  I decided to start fresh with the approaching year.  I reevaluated my list, taking off a few that didn't interest me anymore and adding a few new titles.  I had hoped to begin with a small tidy list, wanting to begin the year with an attainable goal.  Instead, I  have a pool of 21 books to chose from already! 

My list for 2013 includes Emily of New Moon by L.M. Montgomery (Anne of Green Gables is one of my favorite books of all time and yet I've never read this one by the same author!), Below Stairs: The Classic Kitchen Maid's Memoir That Inspired "Upstairs, Downstairs" and "Downton Abbey" by Margaret Powell, The Hound of the Baskervilles by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Call the Midwife: A Memoir of Birth, Joy, and Hard Times by Jennifer Worth (a re-read) plus both sequels!

What did you read this year?  What are you planning for next year? 

Friday, December 21, 2012

A News-y, Picture-y Post

Yesterday, we completed our last day of school until February!  We slowly found a stopping point in each subject over the last few weeks , but yesterday we finished Bible and math.  Because we start our school year in August and arrange our schedule to allow for an extended break in the winter when Brian is off, we are now 5/9 of the way through our academic year!  It feels good and the break feels good, too. 

December's not been all science and math and history, though.  We've eased  in other activities, too.  Life is school.

Early in the month, the kids made cards with friends. After we put the glue and paper away, we ate Christmas cookies (or sprinkles, depending on the eater) and each mom read a Christmas book or two, which turned into three and four and a few repeats.  The kids really got into the stories! 

Another day we  made "gingerbread" trees out of sugar cones, green icing, and candy.  So much more manageable and displayable (Is that a word?  I think maybe not.) for our family of five children. 

We whipped up a few Christmas treats.  The kids and  I had an all-day cookie baking session with my mom and sisters.  After getting into a comfortable baking rut, we branched out and tried a few new recipes this year.  Stop on by our house if you want to help us sample Chocolate Sugar Cookies, Shortbread Cookies, Iced Orange Cookies, or Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookies between now and the new year. (You can stop by after January 1, too, but  I can't guarantee cookies! 

At home, we made what we've come to call our "Family Cookies" which are really not cookies at all, but a super-easy chocolatey treat we make together every year.  (recipe here)

Our December food wasn't always sweet, though.  The boys enjoyed homemade candy cane pizzas, though they were slightly bothered by the name until they saw them.  I guess candy cane pizza doesn't sound too appealing! Benjamin's and Gavin's had pepperoni for the stripes, but I made Owen's pizza with alternating stripes of sauce and cheese. 

In the midst of the Christmas celebrating, we had a celebration of another sort.  Gavin turned ten and celebrated with a Lego party and lots of cousins (and aunts and uncles and grandparents and even a great grandparent!).

It's hard to believe we've been parents for a decade. 

We had to bump our annual evening at the beach up a few days due to rain.  As it turned out, though, it was a good move because, aside from an ocean breeze, the open train ride through the lights display was warmer than usual.  Not too warm for a cup of Starbucks caramel apple cider, though. 

I'll leave you with photos of a very special family tradition.  We spend a busy Christmas Day with family and the days surrounding it are also full, so we began years ago to have our own big Christmas dinner-- just us-- the week before Christmas.  We use our embroidered Christmas table cloth, given to us as a wedding gift, and eat by candlelight.  This year each of us was to also bring to the table two of our favorite memories of the past year. 

The next few days are a happy mix of cleaning, cooking, and a party.  We're even squeezing in an evening without kids so I can get my hair cut and pick up a few groceries alone-- a married-people's date night. 

Merry Christmas to you, my friends!

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Night at the Movies

We've made an extra effort this November and December to make memories at home.  While we've had fun out and about, too, there is something especially comforting about snuggling in at home together. 

Brian had the idea to re-create a movie theater experience!  It was far cheaper for our family of seven than going out,  we could attend in our PJs, and the little ones could go to bed mid-movie if need be. 

We popped some popcorn and put it in rolled down paper lunch sacks.  We put a small assortment of candy in bowls.  Brian gave each of the kids an Uno card to use for a ticket, and then we invited each one to wait in line to place an order at the kitchen counter. 

At this point, it little mattered what we watched (though they loved that, too)! 

How are you making memories this December?

Monday, December 17, 2012

Merry Mary Christmas

Mary Engelbreit's Nutcracker 
by...who else?... Mary Engelbreit

I've read a few versions of The Nutcracker in my 10 years of motherhood...and especially in my 8 years of mothering girls.  Most version I find too wordy and many make Drosselmeier too sinister and creepy for my liking.  My long-time favorite version is The Nutcracker by Susan Jeffers, but both copies were already  checked out at the library this year so I stumbled on another. 

I plopped down in the kitchen floor with Maddie and Alaine after dinner one night, intending to breeze through it before bath time.  Maddie and I had plans to see a live performance of the ballet the following week so I wanted to refresh her memory, but I didn't have plans to linger. However, from page 1, both of my girls were hooked. 

The illustrations were bright and cheerful, Drosselmeier was a pleasant-looking toymaker, and the story was well-told.  I often find that children lose interest as the story turns from the opening party scene and moves into the Land of Sweets, but not this time! I was most surprised by Alaine, age 2, who sat mesmerized in my lap through the entire reading of the book, and when I finished, asked to read it again right away.  Both times (and other times since then), she has lingered over the page of dancers from other kingdoms and chosen the girl she likes best (the Russian girl) 

Would your boys like this book?  Probably not, though everyone can benefit from the beautiful summary of this classic Tchaikovsky ballet. Girls, on the other hand, will want to feast on this book.


Do you have a book or two to add to the growing Christmas list?  If you do, I'd love to hear about it in the comments. 

Friday, December 14, 2012

What 11 Years of Marriage and Owning My Home Has Taught Me About Decorating

I'll admit that I've always struggled with finding my own decorating style.  When we were first married, we used what we were given or what we could afford, but it never felt like "me."  We had a tiny apartment and we weren't supposed to use nails on the walls so we decorated with our hand-me-down artificial tree, a hand-me-down caroling music box, and not much else. 

Tthe artificial tree did not survive the move into our townhouse a few years later so we embraced the idea of a live tree!  By then, we had been married four years and had collected a small bit of Christmas decor that we scattered around to make things feel homey in our slightly-more-roomy, but still-small quarters. I began to gravitate toward a more natural look, though.

We lived a few more married years, had three more children, and bought our own home.  In moving we gained about 600 square feet of living space, blank walls, and a clueless feeling. 

How do I decorate when I don't know how to decorate?

Last year, I held off on the full-scale decorating, giving myself the excuse that the space was new and everyone would understand. 

Then somehow this year, I came into my own.  I still don't have the art of decorating, but I suddenly had an eye for my own style. I decided that...

1. I don't like clutter and I enjoy open spaces.  That applies to my decorating style, too.  While I love seeing the beautiful mantels and arrangements in other people's homes, I want my own home to remain simple. 

I added a ribbon to the tail of the wooden bird that graces this space all year long.

2. By acknowledging and accepting my love of simplicity, I stopped trying so hard to make my home something I thought it should be instead of what I loved.  I wanted some tiny gold ornaments to hang on the tiny tabletop tree I bought at Target after Christmas several years ago.  When I couldn't find what I pictured, I left the tree bare...and I kind of like it!

3. Experimenting with what I have on hand is easier and cheaper than buying Christmas decor that I only partly like.  This year I made garland in a mix of Christmas colors and my living room colors.  It only took me one episode of Survivor to make two strands {wink}. 

4. I keep the Christmas tree the focal point of my Christmas decorating.  We get a live tree every year, Brian strings the lights, the whole family hangs ornaments, and we put a gold star on the top.  It's dependable and pretty, smells good and lights up the room.  It's a win-win.  This year I took my own advice and made it even more simple by using what I had on hand.  The tree skirt I've used for years is pretty and I like it, but it's really not my style.   I wrapped a large remnant of fabric around the tree base instead.  My only regret is that it is so covered with presents that no one will ever see it.  At least I'll know. 

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