Saturday, December 31, 2016

Monthly Recap vol. 40~ December 2016


As I alluded to in this post, we had a hard Fall. Stephen was unexpectedly laid off and we were sidelined by this shock. The process reminded me of our early years of marriage - and being poor just in general-I was just babysitting to make ends meet while Stephen worked remotely and went to grad school, etc. We definitely didn't have luxuries in those days so we had to live by faith! Everything was too tight with housing, etc to do otherwise. However, when you are used to a steady income, it's really difficult to trust that a trial could be better for you in the long term, but that's basically the breakdown. 
The whole story is that his entire office closed, and he was offered a position in San Francisco that he decided not to take. Fortunately, after some weeks of unemployment and just general flailing as a family, he was able to get another really good tech job here within about a month's time. We did have severance pay, but the flailing was emotional more than anything. He interviewed for eight different jobs before deciding to land with the one he did. We didn't know what would happen or what to expect, so we had to pray instead. We couldn't predict the time frame for getting a new job or if it would be better or the same or a pay-cut. We didn't know. However, his new job is a good job, fortunately. They offices in California and Switzerland, and this tech company is growing extensively right now. He has several old friends there (some of them long-term, some coming over from the same company), and because of his income, he is able to stop teaching Latin online in this coming year. All in all, the situation couldn't be better. It is more than we asked or imagined, and it is better than we hoped. 
The outcome was good, but the process... the process, ya'll. It was harrowing and dark in the month in between jobs when Stephen interviewed.  It makes me thankful for security, and it reminded me to trust God in the dark times and to hope for 'better days ahead,' as always. There are better things to come, and we don't have to worry about financing and providing for a new baby, or {insert financial worries/woes here}... because of God's *great* love.


I blazed through my monthly reading, thanks to absorbing choices and a couple of sleepovers with the Grands. ;-)

Where'd You Go, Bernadette?  by Maria Semple

This feel of this book reminded me of The Rosie Project a little bit. It was a fun of-the-moment read, quirky, and the characters were just appealing enough to hold my attention.  It's a cute book with plenty of interesting self-aware rants about grown-up bullying, bad weather in Seattle, and the misunderstood architect.;-) The drawback of these bestsellers is that I sometimes doubt their staying power. That being said, should you read either of these books? They are both very good choices when it comes to new books. #Personalopinion. 4/5 stars

Wild by Cheryl Strayed

I saw the movie first, but it had been a while. I liked the movie ok, but the real impetus to finally pick up and read this book were all the references to it in the GG revival! I couldn't believe how good the book was. I literally no matter how hard I tried. I had to slink away while Stephen watched a few Christmas movies with the kids, so that I could plow through until the bitter end.;)  Watching the movie first came in handy, because there were a multitude of characters that she meets on the PCT, and I think it helped me to visualize them better! Fun! note: her philosophy of life leaves much to be desired. She doesn't claim to be a Christian, and she goes into that- and the reasons for it- in her book. To me, many of the reasons she gives sound like excuses, but she is entrenched in her own philosophy, so naturally she isn't going to (or doesn't) see a way out of it. Sad. :-( and still: 5/5 stars for epic writing, fantastic storyline and storytelling, and chilling, roundabout incidents of personal growth. #readit

I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou

Reading this was definitely a rite of passage, and I'm so glad i did. I feel like you *must* read it at some point to understand fully the race relations and race tensions in our country. Angelou is an amazing writer, and her voice and her perspective are a million to one. That being said, I am glad I read it when I did (as an adult), and I can see why it was banned, for sure. It has some mature and deep content that would have passed me by (or at best, just disturbed me) had I been too young for it.

The First Four Years by Laura Ingalls Wilder and By the Shores of Silver Lake by Laura Ingalls Wilder

I needed some light reading after Angelou's memoir, so I got sucked into these two books from my childhood. They're re-reads, but I'm pretty sure these were the two that didn't stick with me like the others did.  I have enjoyed re-reading them and falling back into the Ingall's world on the prairie. Last December I re-read Little House on the Prairie because of the fun Christmas-y scenes. That gave me the idea and impetus to read some of LEW this December. By the Shores also includes some wonderful Christmas scenes. Good tradition. :-)

Imperfect Birds by Anne Lamott

Anne Lamott is my homegirl, my main squeeze. In this bestseller from 2010, she paints the story of the Ferguson family: deeply flawed, raw, and real. This was a good follow-up, eventually, to I Know Why. There's a reason she is my very favorite author. Everyone in the world is deeply flawed, Anne Lamott is just honest about it. #perfectbirds #VERYgoodbook

I read six books this month, pushing my yearly count up to 52! ;-)


No Decemberists this months, sadly, but I've been reviewing the best from the year for another post I'm writing, so stay tuned for my favorite albums of the year.


"Persons reach out toward the multiplicity of created goods as a way to ground their identity. Given that all created goods are perishable, including the rational creature, humans recoil in fear and anxiety from the very goods they sought and have come to possess. Thus our impulses toward the good turn into the passions, those disturbances and upheavals in the soul that further corrupt and fragment the self."

This was awesome ;-)

Feast Day Celebrations: St. Lucy @ Sweet Little Ones Blog

Just precious!

Life Without Birth Control @ Catholic Mom (by Marissa Nichols)

 "To them, NFP means only one thing anyway: no birth control."

Just sayin'. This is actually a good articulation of why a couple would choose to walk this road. I identify with and resonate with so much that this author says;)

~Funny Things They Say~

Madeleine: (On St. Nicholas day) Did St. Nicholas come down from Heaven to give us these things?

The girls were jumping over a laundry basket in the hallway. Anders decided to sit on it, so they were mad that he was getting in their way. Madeleine waltzes up to him and belts out:
Madeleine {singing}: We wish you a merry Anders... and a happy new Anders!


We saw Sing in the theatre. I liked it, but I thought the plot should have revolved more around the characters' lives, and less on the theme of show-business. 

I have a low tolerance for good Christmas movies.  I get sick of some, and I think some are funny some years, and some years the humor offends me. Here's my guide to Christmas movie choices:

If you're sick of White Christmas, watch Miracle on 34th St.
Always watch: It's a Wonderful Life and The Nutcracker!!! {read a full post on this topic, here}
*unless you're reading on a Kindle*
(also: if you have bookish kids, they're also prepared to use almost anything as a bookmark, as well!;)

I think he meant "Abominable Snowman/ Snow monster"? ;)

ha, ha, ha ;-)

Linking up here & here

Friday, December 30, 2016

A couple of Kids' TV Shows Worth Watching

When Molly was a toddler, we had a no-TV rule in our house. We had decided to go "screen-free" because we knew it was bad for babies and young toddlers to watch TV or have too much screen time. After babysitting for that first full year for a family I highly respected, I saw the shows she allowed her kids to watch, and by the time Molly was three, we had a couple of shows I let her watch, based on my experiences with people I trusted and cared about.  The shows she watched were Veggie Tales, Peep and the Big Wide World, and a cute British show called Charlie and Lola, about a brother and a sister. We watched all of them on my laptop with supervision.  When Molly was about 4, I started letting her watch Caillou. Although his whiny voice really annoyed me, she seemed to like it, and her little young brain was stimulated by it.  Occasionally, I would pop in an OLD Strawberry Shortcake DVD and over the course of a few years, she probably watched that one about a million times. I practically had it memorized.

Now that we have Netflix, it is good and bad that it's easier to find options for our kids. I'm probably less strict (OK, I KNOW I'm less strict than I used to be before Netflix), but at least now I know which shows do not make my brain- and therefore, my children's brains- rot.  We have gone back and forth with a screen contract, but right now we have policies about watching TV and that seems to be working pretty well for us (see below). If the options increase, the policies must tighten! And I think since TV was invented the options have only grown. ;)

Here are a couple of "mother-approved" shows to watch in moderation.  It goes without saying that we approve of some of the old cartoons, such as Tom and Jerry, or Mickey Mouse. These are some good ones to check out while they are still on Netflix: (I think you will pick on my theme-- international kid shows! :-)

-Masha and the Bear

This is a Russian cartoon, and it just feels classy. It is something I can actually sit down and watch along with the kids. It shows ice-skating, playing chess and checkers, sewing, and it features some pretty amazing music for a cartoon. Sometimes I think that it is being dubbed, but I could be wrong. ;)

see episode: 6

-Hi 5 House

This hit show from Australia is a cute one worth trying out, with dramatic sketches, dancing, and singing. It got us through the heat wave last Summer, because not only did it hold the attention of our kids - both boys and girls- but it inspired them to get up and dance. Good for all ages, as well. ;-) My kids get a kick out of the accents, as well.... "..And I'm Mary..." lol.

see episode: 5

-Kate and Mim-Mim

Kate is a cute little girl with great  cartoon parents. She disappears into her imagination and this giant bunny comes to life as her imaginary friend. They go on adventures in her imaginary world, Mim-a-loo, and oddly enough, it works. Before you knock it, think Barney, but for today/ for toddlers. It feels fresh and friendly, and the music and characters are upbeat. The kids want to re-watch episodes that are their favorites... so in my book, that's a win.

see episode: 4

- Guess With Jess

This is a cute British cartoon, and it is about a cat who is always outside playing and doing Guessing games with her other animal friends. It is cheerful and cute, and the kids always watch it with rapt attention. Even the theme song is catchy, and all of the kids get excited when this comes on. And what can I say about that British charm and the kitten's accent? Precious. There are a few British cartoons on Netflix, but this is my kids' favorite of the lot.

see episode: 7

Honorable Mentions

These are the shows that we watch because we just didn't have a better option- like when Frances was a toddler, and I can still remember that we watched Jake and the Neverland Pirates or Dora ... too many times. But hey, when you have Netflix, you're always finding better content... I hope!

-Word Party (maybe)
This is a good show for toddlers, and the plus side is that it encourages literacy and verbal-ness (is that a word? ha) in children. The downside is that the older kids may or may not tolerate it, because it is very repetitive!
-Sofia the First (maybe)
Again, little girls will enjoy this, but some of the episodes conflict with our perspective/faith. ;)
-Power Rangers (maybe)
Little boys will watch this. I'm putting it on the (maybe-- to be considered) list, because even our girls will watch this show; the downside is that "power struggles" and fighting may seem to be the theme at first glance;)

Here are a few guidelines that we keep in our house:

-Take turns letting children pick

Remember that some shows seem dorky, but they are aimed at 1-or 2-year-olds. The older kids will have absolutely no patience for Dora, while a 2-year old might enjoy it and get something out of it. We have a rule in our house that you MUST rotate letting children decide what to watch. Often when Anders is watching a boy show, the girls go off and play!

-Have prescribed boundaries for "screen-time"

The important thing is expectations, and sometimes it is more important for parents to know and establish the expectations in their own minds. That is the first and most important, logical step. The kids should also know your expectations, and the amount of TV they are allowed to watch should be a common sense rule in the house. If the parents don't know how much is too much, the kids won't either. We have an established routine, so they know the exact times during the day when TV is allowed and when it is forbidden.

-Use supervision, within reason

No one is going to watch kid shows next to their child all the time. When are you going to take a shower, or clean the kitchen, or do the dishes?  Occasionally you'll be watching over their shoulder, and it should be pretty easy to realize or recognize when a character on a show is acting bratty, rude, or inappropriate. It would be crazy to assume that these character traits aren't going to slowly but surely rub off on  your kiddos. Turn those shows off! ;-)

-Use common sense and good judgment

TV is here to stay. It has been here since it was invented. Does that mean we can now be lazy and use it as a drug or a babysitter? Obviously, no.  Absolutely do not get addicted and don't let your kids become screen-addicted robots! Keep a strict time limit in your home and don't make it the default activity everyday and night. I hope that's common sense, but addiction is a real and scary thing. ;)

The good thing about being strict, however, is that when you find a show that you like and trust, you can go back and watch favorite episodes from a season, rather than turning to a new crappy show just because you're bored out of your mind from no options combined with all the cold weather. #haha
Stick to your guns, parents. Set a good example. If you're not sure if you have good boundaries in your home, talk to a friend you trust about the rules they keep in their house. ;-) If you have friends you trust, most will say it is Ok to have a few shows in your arsenal to turn to... in fact I hope you have gracious people like that in your life!!!;)
Linking up with Kelly

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Tennessee: The Fires and The Junk

I wrote just a little bit about the "polite unkindness" of living in the South, when I wrote this post, but I just want to throw out an unpolished, stream-of-conscious post about what it's like, for me, living in Tennessee.

I won't go into the fires, the dry spells, the odd weather, or the Woodmore bus crash. Our news this year has been the worst in ages. Living through wildfires and tragedy in our community has been -- hard. That sounds extreme; it didn't happen to me. But it was close and felt close.  I will say September was as hot as hell. One-hundred degree weather and I'm still stumbling over Summer clothes although it's December and cold, now. It was... hard not to complain on the hottest days. I try my darnedest but I'm afraid Stephen does hear the worst of my complaints.

I think it came to a peak during the election. I talked about moving about twice a day. And I wasn't joking. I thought it, dreamed it, and incessantly battered Stephen with my ideas of when and where. I got stuck on somewhere in the Midwest with better Fall and more wintry weather. I would be lying if I didn't say I wanted out of the right-wing Republican red state I had come to somehow, seemingly, accidentally. I was tired of being disagreed with. The subtle taste of culture shock, it was like a string before you thread the needle.

I say that because my heart and my soul shifted this year in a way I cannot describe as anything other than the life-altering experience, our trip to my Mom's home-state, Minnesota. I just felt so different there. I know. I'm not complaining because today it's 45 degrees and on Christmas it was 70 and I would lie if I said I liked negative temps, not that I have ever experienced them.

But coming back to the South, even though that trip was a week, was like a repossession of my homestate- and the home I found didn't feel much like a haven or home at all. The heat of September and the heatwave of election season hit me like a ton of bricks. We lived in Maryland for seven years- the first seven of our marriage. I suddenly strongly remembered why I really liked it. I didn't struggle with Anxiety, Depression, or Heatwave Melting Rainless Septembers there. Coming back here- I'm not going to lie- after being 12 hours north of here- has been ridiculously hard for me and all of my ailments bubbled forth. But coming back from Minnesota all of my worries and all of my anxieties that had been crippling me came into acute focus: the South. UGH. That tiny taste of culture shock.

I told you this would be stream-of-conscious, and it is. I hated the South. From the time we moved back, I couldn't get the house organized. I found people strangely mean in their politeness. There was a lot of shrugging and a lot of "Bless you hearting" with a self-pitying pat and never "How do you do it?" as I got in Maryland all the time. I couldn't get the kids to dressed the way I liked. I had burdens in my close family relations that I wouldn't wish on anyone. Mainly of the bad-boundaries and the strained-relationships with those closest became murkier. I have an above-average relationship with both of my parents and I love them deeply. In that, I'm lucky. But beyond that... well. Yeah.  Brothers, in-laws, below average relationships with in-laws and sister-in-laws. I do not blame myself. ;-)

Mostly I would say to you, Tennessee: you're gross. There, I said it.  You've been flattered. You're turning me off.

Learn from Gatlinburg.  We went there on a little family trip just a few years ago, and I was repulsed at what it had become since my childhood.  It's gone, people. I mean, that's a whole lot of damage and the nearly the whole town burned to the ground. Let's take stock of that for a minute. When New Orleans was nearly destroyed by a hurricane, many, many people said God was judging the sin he found there. Well what about the sin in Gatlinburg? I mean a church and the wedding chapel burned, among many, many other buildings.

And if you've been there, you might or probably know at least a little of what I'm talking about. The main strip is and was- to put it nicely- UGLY. Before the fire hit, it had come to a peak: it was all Ripleys and tourism of the materialistic kind with huge christmas stores selling ornaments and endless junk all year round. It wasn't quaint or small-town.  It dripped with greed stands and boredom busters, and shoppers who long ago forgot what the Christmas spirit and the spirit of the Smoky Mountains was all about. It was materialism worse than Nashville, and it reaked of an emotional stain almost as bad as plastic surgery. Ok. Maybe worse.

No wonder it half-burned to the ground. It stank.

Tennessee: I ask you, I urge you. That stuff is greedy, and you are broke. Let's admit that much. Let's take what was nasty, appalling, and disheartening about Gatlinburg as it stood before the fire, and learn from it. I came back from our trip up North and what I saw came to fruition when the fires started burning.

I don't know what to say. There's a judgmentalism and a laziness here. I'm not heartbroken. There's a lot of extra pounds. Extra pounds of crap. It needed to go. I say, let's rebuild the Smoky Mountains and the city of Gatlinburg into something that has soul- something beautiful, something pure, something with staying power. The Gatlinburg from my childhood was Townsend- I remember a small sleepy peaceful town in the mountains, with small general stores and good food and a chill in the air from elevation. A lodge with a wooded, no traffic, and a family feel. We went hiking at Cade's Cove one year at Christmas and it snowed up there in the mountains....  Sitting by a crackling roaring burn, hiking, skiing? Pure bliss; nothing wrong with that. Innocent fun and board games; hot cocoa by a contained fire.  I don't know. I don't have anything profound to say. But something is missing- something was missing when the heatwave, the dry spells, and the wildfires finally broke out.

Setting foot near Dollywood and the Ripleys the large-scale shopping and big box christmas stores and the wax museum? That junk wasn't a part of my childhood and I hope it isn't a part of your's.  The smoky mountains will forever be famous for that name- now for a new reason. ;0) We have smoke in our eyes. Collectively we have lost the vision for these small towns in Appalachia that hold such a special place for so many.

"I remembered what was so special about the Smoky Mountains in the first place: generations of collective memories shared by countless families, all tied to a stunning mountain range that, today, sadly lives up to its name."


Friday, December 23, 2016

Advent Week by Week- 4~ Christmas foods, Christmas concert, & Christmas lights, oh my!

Happy Fourth week of Advent! By now, you've finished celebrating all of the major feast days of December, and the long-expected coming of Jesus is not far away. :0) 

We have had a blessed week, and I hope you have, too! 

If you missed it, here are my previous Advent recaps:

This year, we got a kit at the store and put together a Gingerbread House that way. It was somewhat fun, but also somewhat stressful trying to get it to stick together. We ended up having to prop it up with a teapot and a stack of books until the bottom half dried, overnight, and then we added the roof the next morning, and propped that up with books until later that afternoon. We are saving cookie baking for Christmas Eve (for Santa!) and the 12 Days of Christmas.

We went for a drive to see Christmas lights after the school Christmas program. Nothing like it to put me in the Christmas spirit!
I really wanted to switch to the brass Advent wreath this year. It's so pretty! However, within one single day, all of my greenery had died! Ugh! I had to switch back to our old one ... for now! ;) I'm in the market for a brass wreath that has a place to hold water, if anyone has any leads. Ha:-) I'm gathering green and red holly berries for Christmas day. I love spreading them around our house, even though they do eventually dry out, too. :0)

Champy's Chicken makes an amazing takeout meal, and an awesome option for Sunday lunch. We got the 16 piece family meal on the 4th Sunday in Advent, and had so many leftovers the next day! #newtradition #itmustbe #southerncharm 
Also? Try their fried pickles! #yumyumyummy #pregnancycravings
Daddy-Daughter Dance keepsake ornament, 2016
The picture from the evening turned out ok, but not spectacular. When Molly made this plain, shimmery white ornament at school, I added the pictures and wrote "Daddy-Daughter Dance 2016" on the back. It turned out cute!
Watching Elf and presents under the tree... Starting to feel like Christmas! And um, yeah...  #5kids

Pumpkin bread is a family tradition this time of year. Made by and courtesy of. Stephen.
I have been working hard on Christmas cards. Trying to get them out on time! #spicetea

The kids had their annual Christmas program this week. Frances is the one standing beside the Santa hat boy on the left! :0) Frances' class wore pajamas in the program.

Madeleine was the shortest one in her class, and she was holding a teddy bear that dwarfed her! #petiteness runs in the family ;-)
The theme of the program was "A Christmas Carol," so it was fun to see the story enacted between the kids' Christmas songs that they sang/performed. ;-)

Merry Christmas!


Did you see my Giveaway posted on the blog on Tuesday? If not, it is not too late to enter. I've kept it open and I'll close it tonight. Head over there to leave your comment now! ;-) I was planning to find out the gender this week, but our insurance has messed things up a bit. I'll keep you guys posted. :-)~  I'm hoping it will be soon.
I guess that's a keep-it-real, but my other keep-it-real is that my bedroom has become pure craziness. I like to think of myself as super-organized, but I keep finding extra summer clothes in the kids' bedrooms, so I have been stashing them in a corner of my room. It is now overflowing. I put the Fall decorations in the same bins as the ones that had the Christmas decor to save space, but no one (me) put them back in the attic. Finally, I have a huge antique dresser that I inherited from my parents when we got married, but slowly the drawers have been sticking shut. For about a year now, I just stopped using it almost completely, but it is still sitting in my bedroom collecting dust and extra, unmatching socks in the top drawer (the only one that works). Our bedroom is starting to make me go :-0 !!!

To close, I wanted to share with you some of my favorite Christmas carols and music! Enjoy this carefully curated, handpicked list of some of the best stuff out there, IMHO! ;-)

--Spotify Playlist---
Best of Christmas 2016

Penitential Prayer of St. Ambrose

O Lord, who hast mercy upon all,
take away from me my sins,
and mercifully kindle in me
the fire of thy Holy Spirit.
Take away from me the heart of stone,
and give me a heart of flesh,
a heart to love and adore Thee,
a heart to delight in Thee,
to follow and enjoy Thee, for Christ's sake, Amen
- St. Ambrose of Milan (AD 339-397)

St. Ambrose, ora pro nobis! 
link credit: Catholic Cuisine

Merry Christmas!!! Make the twelve days of epic proportions! ;-)
Linking up with Kelly
ETA ~ Please see Tuesday's post comments to view the winner of this Giveaway!

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Taking Bets on Gender + A Recipe + A Giveaway!

Hey! Today I have a couple of things to share with you. A recipe and a giveaway, two things of note, in fact. But first...

These are our kiddos.
Molly's First Holy Communion
Frances, on her first day of Kindergarten

Madeleine, enjoying a treat at her favorite cupcake shop here in town

Anders, playing at the Nature Center about a year ago

Annabel looking happy in Minnesota!

and ..... Coming((!!!))): May 2017...
Baby #6! The question is, what is his/her gender?

If you guess correctly, I will enter you to win my Giveaway!

But first, a recipe!

We are hoping to make these during the 12 Days of Christmas! This recipe is tried and true. It is originally based on the recipe from Martha Stewart Living catalogue, but I've tweaked it a tiny bit over the making of it the past couple of years! ha! Mmmm... I love the flavor of molasses, and these aren't too sweet, trust me!

Gingerbread Man Cookies

3 c. all-purpose flour

1/2 tsp. salt
3/4 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. baking powder
2 tsp. ground ginger
3 tsp. cinnamon
1/4 tsp. ground nutmeg
1/4 tsp. ground cloves 
6 tbsp. (1/4c. + 2 tbsp) c. unsalted butter
1/2 c. granulated sugar
1/4 c. brown sugar
1 large egg
2/3 c. unsulphured molasses

Combine dry ingredients in a large bowl. In a separate bowl, beat together sugar and butter. Add egg and molasses, gradually add flour mixture. The ginger and the cloves make this recipe what it is! And of course, the molasses.
royal icing recipe here

Roll out.... bake at 350ยบ for 8-12 min.
So good!
Can't go wrong! ;-)

And now, for the giveaway!
I'm feeling generous! This is worth over $60 in actual retail price! And it is sitting right here next to me, ready to be mailed - as soon as I put your name on it.
What's in it?

fun, fun, fun!

~Angel Christmas Tree Ornaments

~St. Francis and the Nativity Book

~Be Merry Christmas Tree Candle

~Chocolate Latte Treats

So now it's time for a little gender roulette!
Leave a comment telling me what you think the gender of our next baby is! Additionally, just for fun, (if you want) in your comments tell me how you make the twelve days of Christmas special- any traditions? I need some ideas! As aforementioned, you will be entered to win if you guess correctly/leave a comment. I will announce the winner in my next post (on Friday).

Linking up with Tuesday Talk

Friday, December 16, 2016

Advent Week by Week 3~ Our Lady of Guadalupe, St. Lucia, and Christmas Cards

How was your week? Did you have joyful third Sunday in Advent? I hope you are continuing to have a most blessed Advent. We sure are. :0)
If you missed it, here are my recaps thus far during Advent:
We had a wonderful Gaudete Sunday, and we celebrated it with my parents. ;) 
Anders by the Christmas tree, and Annabel happy in her Daddy's arms!;-)

The girls dressed in pink, in keeping with the rose candle, representing Joy for Gaudete! :0)

 I made the Famous Sweet Potato Hash, same dinner as last year, but we had an amazing brunch out with my parents earlier that day. That's where we found that HUGE Christmas tree! ;) The kids had sandwiches, because I have yet to convince them that this dish is (And bonus: it gives you a ton of energy). I added sage and big chunks of garlic and a little butter mixed in with the coconut oil that it calls for. A delightful delish, as usual.

The kids helped me sew these, and then Anders had a ball saying, "I'm hanging the tree on the tree!" haha;) We actually made four of these, but they were all as equally as imperfect as the one I'm showing you!

We had nachos and quesadillas, and the kids made salt dough ornaments for The Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe. This is to commemorate when Our Lady appeared to St. Juan Diego, asking him to build a chapel, or shrine, in her honor in Mexico City. They still have the cloak, where a painting of Our Lady miraculously appeared on his tilma, made of cactus, after the apparitions. 

My Mom's beautiful collection of Santa Lucia dolls. #swedish
We love St. Lucia in our house. She was really nervous about the candles, haha!
Molly brought us cinnamon rolls, after she (of her own accord and volition) remembered to turn on Santa Lucia on my iPhone!
Santa Lucia crown craft, made of play-doh, greenery, and birthday candles!

I don't know if you all remember my homemade and somewhat sketchy advent wreath that Molly wore last year, but we finally inherited this wreath/crown from my Mom, so I don't have to worry so much about burning my child's hair with birthday candles. Yay! Ha...

I made spice tea for family and neighbors. I've made cocoa in the past, but this year I decided to return to my roots. My Mom made spice tea for neighbors when I was growing up. This was a first for me, and it was fun and pretty easy. ;)
sweet girls... just chilling on the couch. We were planning to watch The Grinch, and I got signed out of our Apple account, so we waited until Stephen got home to fix it-- and watch it! It worked out, because I was able to finish my book while they were watching it with him. ;-)

We ventured out into the cold to get our Christmas pictures made. When I look at the picture, I can't believe what was going on behind the scenes: several hours of looking for shoes and proper attire, and then looking at the weather app right before we went outside and seeing that the temperature felt like 9. :-0

But all in all, it was a fun week! I think I've wrapped up the end of my Christmas shopping, so now it's just time to wrap the gifts, enjoy the smell of my Christmas tree, and have a few more cups of cocoa. Books -- and daily book reading time-- to be expected. ;) To keep it real, I lost my wallet while I was out running errands. I bought a few stocking stuffers at Target, then I went to the Mall and as I was checking out, I couldn't find the wallet. I ran out, telling the cashier I would be back in 5 minutes. Ha. They found it later that afternoon in a cart at Target. I was just relieved that nothing was taken or stolen. #stressful

God teach us what it means to wait. Thank you for joy! Teach us to celebrate with your Son, when he comes. Help us to be mindful of Jesus during Advent. Keep us patient and kind, help us to be good and generous, and let us never forget the meaning of the season: to give generously to others, and to bring peace to earth!

Linking up with Kelly as usual!

Thursday, December 15, 2016

My Second Year Reading 50 Books: Awards and Commentary

Last year, I wrote a post chronicling the how and why of reading 50 books in a year. Two years ago, I made a goal to start writing down the number and title of the books that I read.  I read 30 books that year. Last year, I upped the ante, to reading 50 books, after I realized that I had actually read 10 books one month and I could probably reach that goal if I tried. I forgot to link-up with MMD last year, so it has been two years since I have participated in Quick Lit. (!!!)

Normally, I read the book from cover-to-cover. If I feel like a caveat is necessary, I'm nothing if not honest, and I will always let you know. I won't try to pass something off as read cover-to-cover. I'll always tell you when it was a pass, and if it was a complete pass, I just won't count it.

It takes me a long time to decide which books to read. I usually - or often- wait until the end of the previous month to put books in my queue for the upcoming month.  I have to be excited to read something, otherwise it will sit. And sit. ;)

Since I already hashed out the how and why, this year I'm going to take this post in a slightly different direction. Instead of just telling you what I read when, I'm passing out awards this year. I think I'll just start there, since some of you I might lose with a long list of all that I read!

Best Book in the Nonfiction Category:
Four Seasons in Rome by Anthony Doerr
I liked his very popular novel All the Light We Cannot See,  but I would say start here. ATLWCS is very dry and it is long, drawn out, and boring in parts. But you can see why he is such an acclaimed author, because the seeds of his talent are all there, and some would say that book is the better one. I just think Four Seasons in Rome is a better book, to me personally. It is succinct, beautiful, descriptive, and extremely good writing. He has perfected his craft, and I think you just cannot get any better Doerr than in this book.

Best Fiction Read of the Year:
This was really hard, because I read so many great fiction books this year. The book I keep coming back to is...
True Colors by Kristin Hannah
This book made me fall hard in love with this author. She opens wide a window into her world and her soul, and this is a world that you will just want to stay in for a while. It is long- so reader, beware! But the characters are incredibly believable, the storyline is unexpected for all the right reasons, and the writing is mature and on par with some of my other favorite novels of all time!!!

Most Readable (Quick Read):
Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty
If you can handle a tiny bit of spicy in your reading life, don't hesitate to try Moriarty if you haven't yet. It will be unbelievably hard for you to put this book down. But not only that, her ability to weave several storylines together into an unfathomable ending is seriously like zen or nirvana or something other-worldly. She is so talented. Read this book.

Award for Feel-Good, Heartwarming makes-you-feel-like-sipping-tea-all-day-long:
The Little Bookstore at Big Stone Gap by Wendy Welch
This is a little slower paced, but she is as smart as a whip, and her memoir is enticing, inspiring, full of depth, wit, and sensibility. I just loved everything about this book! I read it quite slowly, so that I could savor every bit of it. I didn't want to miss anything, and I didn't want it to end. ;) Her perspective is tactful, and their view of life is infectious, classy, and original. True trailblazers, they are!

Favorite Book of the Year:
Lab Girl by Hope Jahren
This book was just splendidly amusing and smart in all the right ways. It scratched my itch for a more scientific bent, and it was stimulating in a way that no other book was this year. Her companion in the book makes for some of the funniest dialogue I've read in a long time. This genre-bending memoir-meets-hard-science style is full of adventures and strange excursions, but it is also deeply intelligent, and thought-provoking in a perfect mix of esoteric and personal. This book got a mention for Best Books of the year from the editors at, so you know I'm onto something here!!! ;)

Here's what I read in total: (And unlike last year, I was able to really spread the love a little better this year, which was fun.) For more fun geeking out over Reading Challenges, see my Goodreads page.


1. A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith
2. Make it Happen by Lara Casey
3. The Full Cupboard of Life by Alexander McCall Smith
4. The Fringe Hours by Jessica Turner
5. (Let’s Pretend This Never Happened- half)


6. Four Seasons in Rome by Anthony Doerr
7. Delicious by Ruth Reichl
8. All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr
9. The Arm of the Starfish by Madeleine L'Engle
10. Rome Sweet Home by Scott Hahn


11. Until Lily by Sherry Boas
12. Eat That Frog! by Brian Tracy
13. True Colors by Kristin Hannah
14. Walkable City by Jeff Speck
15. Coraline by Neil Gaiman
16. Notes From a Small Island by Bill Bryson


17. Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson
18. Firefly Lane by Kristin Hannah
19. Garlic and Sapphires by Ruth Reichl
20. Ivanhoe by Sir Walter Scott
21. e-book (The Best of the Happiness Project Blog)


22. Reshaping It All by Candace Cameron Bure
23. The Forgotten Garden by Kate Morton
24. The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett
25. The Blue Castle by L.M. Montgomery


26. Cinder by Marissa Meyer
27. Last Ride to Graceland by Kim Wright
28. Lab Girl by Hope Jahren
29. Jane Steele by Lyndsay Faye
30. The Kitchen House by Kathleen Grissom

31. Before We Visit the Goddess by  
32. Still Life by Louise Penny
33. Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? by Mindy Kaling
34. A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman

35. Bossypants by Tina Fey
The Nightingale (Pass)


36.Mudhouse Sabbath by Lauren Winner
37. Coming Clean by Seth Haines
38. Love and Salt by Jessica Mesman Griffith and Amy Andrews
39. On The Other Side of Fear by Hallie Lord


40. The Little Bookshop at Big Stone Gap by Wendy Welch
41. Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty
42. The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros
43. Mr. Penumbra's 24 Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan

43. Be Frank With Me by Julia Claiborne Johnson
44. Present Over Perfect by Shauna Niequist
45. Discernment by Henri Nouwen
46. Surprised by Oxford by Carolyn Weber

46. Where'd You Go Bernadette? by Maria Semple (done)
47. Wild by Cheryl Strayed (done)
48. The First Four Years by Laura Ingalls Wilder (not done yet)
49. I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou (not done yet)
50. Imperfect Birds by Anne Lamott (not done, yet)

MMD 2016 reading challenge

a book published this year... Present Over Perfect
a book you can finish in a day... Bossypants
a book you’ve been meaning to read... Ivanhoe
a book recommended by your local librarian or bookseller... Brown Girl Dreaming
a book you should have read in school...Ivanhoe
a book chosen for you by your spouse, partner, sibling, child, or BFF... Until Lily
a book published before you were born... The Secret Garden
a book that was banned at some point... I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings
a book you previously abandoned... Rome Sweet Home
a book you own but have never read... A Tree Grows in Brooklyn
a book that intimidates you... The Kitchen House
a book you’ve read at least once...Little House in the Big Woods

Do you want to read more? Are you like me, around three years ago? Just starting to count up the books you've read? To close I would urge anyone who desires to read more to start writing down the number of books you read each month. Make a goal, and start small if you need to.  A book a month, 20 books in a year, 30 books in a year.  I know many people who read more than me.... but writing it all down is so helpful, it has changed my reading life! And even if you don't blog, what's stopping you from getting a journal and counting the books you read and finish? ;)  Once you start, I guarantee you will not only begin to increase your number of read books, but you will also get addicted and you'll love the process. ;) Start at a book a month. And just think-- three times twelve is thirty-six!!!! ;-) :P Have you read any of these books (this year)? What awards would you give out?

I'm linking up with Modern Mrs. Darcy for Quick Lit