Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Favorite Books of 2014

I'm not sure whether to call 2014 a good reading year for me. I did a quick tally this morning and in the last twelve months I tackled 79 books ... that came as a shock to me! Granted that number was padded by a reread of the Harry Potter series late summer / early fall, but there were lots of books on my list that I had forgotten I had read. It was definitely a fiction (primarily juvenile/young adult) heavy year, but since pre-reading books for my girls is one of my favorite things ever, it was a task I happily take on. All for the children.

Of the batch, these are the favorites that stuck with me. The ones I still think about and / or the ones that made it hard to pick up the next book because I needed to mull this one over for a while. I didn't put them in any particular order but if I needed to make a book recommendation to someone, these would most definitely make the list.

1. The Giver by Lois Lowry

I've read the Hunger Games trilogy and the first book in the Divergent series, and The Giver is an entirely different type of dystopian book. For one, it's not violent. (How refreshing!) It is a book I had to think through as I read as they deal with issues such as memory and emotion and whether or not you are protecting someone by withholding those things from them. There is a reason the author won a Newberry medal for this book. And, in my opinion, the movie is a poor substitution so if you are interested, read the book.

Ignoring the fact that there's something I should probably be doing.

2. The Green Ember by S.D. Smith

I actually just finished this book a few days ago so with a little more time, it might not make my "favorites" list. (But it probably would). This one popped up on my radar after Sarah Clarkson highlighted it on Facebook. After realizing that this author is associated with Andrew Peterson, author of one of my favorite series (The Wingfeather saga), I snatched it up. I have a weakness for stories about small talking animals and this story about rabbits fighting for their territory against wolves and birds of prey was so good - the adventure was fast paced and I was rooting for the characters the whole way through. And - BONUS - it left me with the impression that there will be a sequel. I'm pretty sure this will be a fun read-aloud for us in the coming months.

To my friend Amy who told me ages ago to read this book, I am so grateful. This will go down as one of the best books I have read in my life (and I have read a LOT of books). An amazing, amazing man who served our country and Jesus. I will look forward to

3. Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand

Amy told me to read this and she was right. I started it on the drive home from our summer trip to visit Travis' family and about six hours in the car later (thank goodness I didn't get carsick!) I had made a serious dent in the book. This has probably been my most recommended book of this year and while I admit the first part of the book has a lot of military details that might be easy to get bogged down in, the second half of the book was impossible to put down as we followed Louis Zamperini's journey through concentration camps and his life after imprisonment. So, so good. If you are curious, I haven't seen the movie (yet). I'm going to wait until it's a rental, and even then, I'm not sure if I want to see some of the scenes from the booked acted out. This will be required reading for my kids when they are in high school.

Currently.

4. A Little Princess by Frances Hodgson Burnett

(Blogged here). Somehow this book escaped my radar as a child even though The Secret Garden is one of my favorite books ever. What a delightful book! My girls had watched the movie with their dad some time ago so they were somewhat familiar with the story, but I had missed out on that and was the one dying to find out how the book ended! (FYI, I was absolutely satisfied with the ending. Just perfect).

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5. Spy Catchers of Maple Hill by Megan Frazer Blakemore

I blogged this one here and still stand by my review. This is another that I hope to read this spring to tie in with some of our history studies as it gives a great kid's-eye view of what life would have been like in small town in America during the Cold War (with a little bit of a Nancy Drew twist to it). Of note, I also read this author's other children's book The Water Castle, and it was another excellent juvenile mystery story (ooh, it's super cheap on Kindle right now, too!) Her next book is already on my to-read list for 2015.

6. Bread and Wine by Shauna Niequist

I was encouraged and inspired by this book on community, specifically fellowship surrounding food and the dinner table. I loved this food based memoir and devoured (see what I did there?) this one. : )

Sometimes there is a reason you're behind on your #shereadstruth study - because you need to hear the lesson on a certain day. "His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to

7. Women of the Word by Jen Wilkin

Carrie (I think is where I heard of this book first ... or maybe a random photo on Instagram?) tipped me off to this book and it was a short, encouraging, kick in the pants read and reminder of the importance of knowing the Word, being in the Word, and studying the Word. One of the few non-fictions I read this year, and I'm glad I made time for it. This book + combined with the She Reads Truth studies that I have participated in this year made for a wonderful summer and fall of scripture study this year. So thankful for these two resources that crossed my path this year!

I think I'm going to stop with seven though there were several others that I could expound on and might make the list if I wanted to keep typing for days. Other that probably should make the list are:
All in all a good year of reading and reading-aloud. I am brainstorming what I want to read in 2015 - I'd like to see some more non-fiction make my list. I'd also like to make a serious dent to some of the books that are languishing on my kindle and my shelves that I'm constantly skimming over to read "someday." Thankfully, there is never any shortage of wonderful books to read!

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

All the Merry Making

UntitledMyles: "Feliz Navidad is the best Christmas song ever." Christmas cookies and cousin bonding today. Not sure we are ready for this level of madness!UntitledUntitledShe's making me a secret popcorn recipe. It might be my new love language.

This Christmas season has been one where many normal things, those that I would have considered traditional, haven't happened. Though today was quite chaotic, it was important to me that we squeeze in one cousin day before Christmas on Thursday. There was mass cookie baking and decorating, some playing in our cul-de-sac in between the rain showers, and catching up over a cup of coffee (say what?) with my 17-year old niece.

The introvert in me is ready to curl up in a hole and hibernate for about 72 hours, but overall, the chaos of today was well worth it.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Crockpot Potato Soup ... or What We are Eating on Christmas Eve

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It's never too late to start a new tradition for your family ... last year marked the first year that we hosted my side of the family for Christmas Eve. For many, many years, we had spent the evening with friends and it was a much anticipated time of visiting and snacking. However, as children have grown and more and more grandchildren arrived (ourselves included!), the crowd got to be a bit much for a huge Christmas Eve get-together, and so we started our own tradition.

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This recipe is courtesy of a fellow CC mom. She brought this to a recent potluck and it was delicious! Once she emailed us all the recipe, I knew this was going to be part of our Christmas dinner menu. My favorite potato soup of all is my mom's recipe which isn't quite so heavy; however, it isn't a crockpot recipe and since we'll be coming home to eat from the Christmas Eve service, I need something that doesn't take as much babying.

Kate's Crockpot Potato Soup

30 oz frozen hash brown potatoes (I diced up a bunch of potatoes since I didn't have hashbrowns and it worked just fine.)
32 oz chicken broth
1 can cream of chicken soup
8 oz cream cheese
Bacon bits (or turkey bacon)
1 c. shredded cheese
Salt, Pepper, and Granulated Garlic to taste
 
In the crock pot, put the hash brown potatoes, broth, cream of chicken soup, half of the bacon bits and salt, pepper and garlic. Cook on low for 8 hours. One hour before serving, add the cream cheese and bacon bits. If you take the cream cheese out of the refrigerator earlier than that to warm up a little bit, it will incorporate better with the soup - I also gave it a whirl with an immersion blender to smooth it out some. Serve with cheddar cheese on top.
 
Again, the verdict by the six kids in our house was that it was GOOD. I was hoping for quite a bit leftover and I had to scrape out the crockpot to get enough for one more serving the following day.
 
Another crockpot potato soup we love is here which is quite a bit cheesier and super good as well.

Monday, December 15, 2014

In another life, I'd be a food blogger

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I'm not going to lie - my kids think I'm weird when I take pictures of food. I do it anyway. I love looking at food blogs and cookbooks and making menu plans is one of my favorite things ever. Except when it's not ... and then I'm totally uninspired and don't want to cook anything and want to get take out all the time! Alas, the budget doesn't support that type of behavior.

This is a new recipe to us that we tried a few nights ago and was a hit with almost everyone. My child that doesn't like her food touching was not a fan, but the rest ate without complaint.

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Chicken Enchilada Rice Casserole

3 cooked chicken breasts, shredded (leftover thanksgiving turkey from the freezer for the win!)
2 cups dry Basmati rice
2 cans (10 oz each) Enchilada sauce
1 can (16 oz) refried beans (I used fat free)
1 cup white cheddar, shredded (I used whatever was in the fridge!)
1 cup Monterey Jack cheese, shredded
1 can (11 oz) corn kernels (I used a regular sized can because that's what I had)
cilantro for garnish (optional)
salt and ground black pepper to taste

Cook the rice. While the rice is cooking preheat oven to 350 F degrees. Mix the 2 cheeses together. In a large bowl mix the shredded chicken with the enchilada sauce, refried beans and half of the cheese. Add rice, season with salt and pepper if needed, and mix well. Pour rice mixture into a large casserole dish. Top with corn then with remainder of cheese. Bake for about 20 to 30 minutes or until cheese melts and is bubbly. Garnish with chopped cilantro and serve warm.

We ate it for dinner with tortilla chips to scoop it up - basically it very hearty and filling dip. I ate leftovers the next day on top of some lettuce and it was just as good. I imagine it would make a great taco/soft taco filling as well.

Original recipe was here, and the version I made was from here. My edits are noted above.
 

Tuesday, December 09, 2014

Christmas Books Under the Tree

Several of my favorite blogs have been publishing their suggestions of books for Christmas gift giving. I LOVE looking at these. Since I've done a little of our shopping, many that I spot don't make it under our personal tree, but there is a more than likely chance that they will end up on an Amazon wishlist to peruse later or to try out from the library before purchasing. I'm always up for good book recommendations! I thought I would list here for my own sake the books that we (or other family members) are putting under the tree for our crew this year - to jog my memory for future years and there is the off-chance that someone out there might be looking for an idea or two.

For N1 (age 11, a fairly voracious reader):

The Cheshire Cheese Cat by Carmen Deedy and Randall Wright
Baby Island by Carol Ryrie Brink
Hatchet by Gary Paulson

For N2 (age 8, just a few weeks short of 9):

She is enamored with Shakespeare right now so I've scrounged up some used copies of several different Young Reader's Shakespeare versions for her. (We already own A Midsummer Night's Dream and Romeo & Juliet which she's recently reread on her own).

The Young Reader's Shakespeare: Hamlet
The Young Reader's Shakespeare: MacBeth
Poetry for Young People: William Shakespeare

B (age 7, just starting to really take off independently with her reading):

A Bear Called Paddington by Michael Bond - how do we not have this book?!
Katie's London Christmas by James Mayhew - we love all of his picture books

E (age 4):

Waiting is Not Easy! (An Elephant and Piggie Book) by Mo Willems
Eli by Bill Peet

For our fosters:

Mercy Watson Boxed Set by Kate DiCamillo
Jesus Storybook Bible

For our neice, age 2:

Pride and Prejudice: A BabyLit Counting Primer
Alice in Wonderland: A BabyLit Numbers Primer

What books are you looking at for Christmas? There is always next year's list to start working on. : )

Thursday, December 04, 2014

Winter Comfort Food :: Crockpot Chicken & Dumplins

I have been thinking about these leftover chicken and dumplings for two days and have been very thankful no one got to them before now.

This week has been crazy. I have had appointment after appointment after appointment on the calendar and I'll be honest ... I'm tired. Thankfully I went into the week with a pretty decent meal plan and there were several crockpot recipes on the menu to make the evenings a little less hectic. This is the first of two new ones that I've tried this week and it was a keeper. I cooked a whole chicken in the crockpot on Monday and the leftovers were reinvented into chicken and dumplins on Tuesday. It's been years since I've had chicken and dumplins and I'm pretty sure that it's going to go into the rotation for the rest of the winter.

Crockpot Chicken and Dumplins (recipe origin unknown)

4 boneless skinless chicken breasts (I used leftover chicken, precooked, but you could dump frozen chicken breasts in as well)
2 Tablespoons of Butter
2 cans of Condensed Cream of Chicken Soup (I added a 3rd can near the end to thicken it b/c I added too much water)
1 Onion, finely diced

1 Package of refrigerated biscuit dough
Sea Salt and Ground Pepper to Taste

1 bag of frozen mixed vegetables (optional)
Water


Directions: 

Place the chicken in the slow cooker and top each breast with butter, then sprinkle sea salt and ground pepper on each breast. In a separate bowl, mix together well the cream of chicken soup and onion and frozen mixed vegetables (optional), then pour this mixture over top of the chicken, spreading to cover each. Next add just enough water to cover the chicken. 
Cover and cook for 4-5 hours on high or all day on low.

During the last hour of cooking: Take one can of the biscuits and cut each biscuit into 4 pieces and place in the mixture and stir well to distribute the biscuit pieces (these are the dumplings).

All six kids here ate this (for the most part) without complaint. I did have a couple that were not crazy about the dumplins, but they ate the chicken and veggies so I consider that a win.