Saturday, December 23, 2017

2017's Favorites

One of my favorite things to do at the end of the year is to look back over the books that I've read and remember what stood out to me as the really good ones. The ones that I went and added to my shelf if it was a library copy. Or the ones that I finished and went and told one of my girls "you have to read this RIGHT now."

What follows are my top ten (plus one bonus, of course) from 2017. They are in no particular order - I decided to just blog them in the order that the pictures uploaded so I didn't have to rank them!

Just to give you some idea of numbers, here's what I tallied up from this year:
  • I read 70 total books this year.
  • 24 of those (34%) were read-alouds. (We did a LOT of reading aloud.)
  • 11 of those were ones that I read aloud with just Ethan in the evenings. 
  • 8 of those (11%) were non-fiction.


Bark of the Bog Owl by Jonathan Rogers. This was one of the read-alouds that I did with Ethan in the evening and I LOVED it. Sarah Mackenzie has raved about this author and series on her podcast and after reading book one of this trilogy, I can see why. I'm not going to spoil it for you (Sarah didn't for me!), but it's an allegorical tale done so well and so cleverly that it wasn't until about half-way through that I started putting the pieces together. This has been our go-to gift book for our boy friends that are 8-9 years old and upwards this year.


Sally & Nathan Clarkson's book Different was one that I really needed this year - encouragement as we homeschool and parent some munchkins that would fall in to the category of "out of the box" kids. (She defines that as a child that doesn't fit the mold or expectation of how a child should learn and behave whether it is because of a larger than life personality, a learning struggle, clinical diagnoses of some kind, or a combination of any and/or all of the above.) It was very timely for me and I've recommended to several friends who have munchkins wired the same way as one of ours.


Echo by Pam Munoz Ryan. Delightful and magical and wonderful. The story of three children all tied together by a single item. Just read it if you haven't. Why I haven't purchased a copy of this for our shelves yet, I do not know, but I'm rectifying this ASAP.


Fablehaven by Brandon Mull. This was my fun, guilty pleasure reading this year. For the fantasy fan or Harry Potter enthusiast that needs another series, I highly recommend this one. This was one of those books that I finished and immediately hunted down N2 (age 11) and said you MUST read this. And she might be getting the whole series under the tree this year. Completely creative storyline and a perfect series for junior (or YA) reader that love fantasy. 


Greenglass House (and Ghosts of Greenglass House) by Kate Milford. This is where my bonus book comes in. I've owned Greenglass House on my Kindle for ages, but I finally picked it up this fall and started reading it. It's a ghost story, but it doesn't go the way you think. Another one that I think my girls would all LOVE and I'm contemplating a read-aloud of it in the spring. (But I enjoyed reading this one on my own because I couldn't put it down and when you read-aloud you have to go slower!) When I finished the first book, I immediately got the second one on my Kindle and am hoping to read more of Kate Milford in 2018. I love authors that make you want to find all their books and read them all!


Little Women by Louisa May Alcott. I bought this pretty copy last year for Christmas and it's a book that is worth rereading every few years. It just gets better with age.


The Rise and Fall of Mount Majestic by Jennifer Trafton. This was another new author to us this year and one that we fell in love with. To repeat what I wrote back in January when we finished this one: this is a delightful stand-alone story that was recommended to me by a fellow homeschooler on Instagram. It is a blend of nonsense and wordly wit that reminds me of the great Roald Dahl.  (High praise, indeed!) There were so many lines that I wanted to go through and flag so that I could read them to my grammar class that I teach in our Classical Conversations community - fantastic uses of alliteration, rhyme, -ly adverbs, etc. The author is a crazy, talented illustrator in her own right AND is the sister in law of Andrew Peterson, author of another of my favorite series, The Wingfeather Saga. So many good signs that pointed to us loving this book. And we did. Highly recommend as a read aloud and for your library.

Note: We also read Jennifer Trafton's newest book, Henry and the Chalk Dragon, and loved it as well. (But Mount Majestic was my favorite). :)


Teaching from Rest by Sarah Mackenzie. If you don't have this book in your homeschooling arsenal, why not? I've blogged about this book some here and revisited again this year. I took away from it something completely different this go round (a reminder that teaching from my strengths v. what I see others doing is always the better choice). Sarah has a new book coming out in 2018 about reading aloud and y'all know how I feel about that. 


The Black Stallion by Walter Farley. This ended up being one of my absolute favorite read-alouds of our year! I picked this one this past spring because we needed a "boy" book thrown in our rotation. I was dreading it because I remember the old Disney movie from when I was a kid (and how I had bad dreams about the shipwreck at the beginning of the story!) By the time we got to the horse race at the end of the story we just had to read through to the end! 


The Wheel on the School by Meindert DeJong. Last in the list and another surprise read-aloud favorite. I picked this one because I'm eventually going to read all the books that have one the Newbery Award. We were captivated by the school children of Shora, a small Dutch town that doesn't have any storks. The children of the school want to know why the storks don't land and nest in Shora anymore and it turns into a project that pulls the children, and eventually the town, together.

There you have it. :) The best of 2017. I'm already plotting what I want to read next year - definitely more non-fiction. I have several books that I've bought and started or are just waiting to be picked up that I'm eager to get to. What was your favorite book of 2017? I might need it add it to 2018's list as well!

PS. I've edited and updated our Family Read-Aloud List up through 2017, and my full list of what I read in 2017 if you're interested in all the books. :)

Tuesday, December 05, 2017

November 2017 Reads

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My reading stack for November. It was a light month for me as far as books go. I've got a big project that I'm working on book wise and it will probably take me through the end of the year (more on that in a minute).

We'll start with read-alouds. The boy and I finished Prince Caspian as our bedtime read-aloud last month. We are slowly but surely making our way through the Narnia books - if I'm counting right, this is my third time through reading them aloud. We were going to jump into The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, but we have taken a slight detour (though a worthwhile one) and he and I are reading The Hobbit together right now. Just so you know, The Hobbit is so much FUN to read aloud. This is the first time that I've ever done that and I think it's easier to follow when I'm reading it aloud versus reading it to myself. And, since Ethan has watched the movies (4th child with older siblings problem), he can ask if this is the part with the ring or Gollum or the goblin cave and is following along just fine.

The other read aloud we finished in November was our school-time read, Little House in the Big Woods. N2 (my 11 year old) remember much of the story from when we read aloud several years ago (and has read it on her own since then), but I'm not sure how much B remembers. She would have been 3 when we originally read it! Ethan hung in with this "girl" book pretty well ... there is a lot of Pa in this book so that helped. We'll see how he feels when we get to something like These Happy Golden Years. :)

As far as personal reading, I read Emily Ley's book, A Simplified Life. I enjoyed this book - Emily has a very friendly and encouraging writing style as she walks you through ten different areas and ways to simplify your life. I think I need a book like this every so often to remind me that it's ok to let go of things (clutter does not equal joy) and where I can tighten up ship around here in other ways. The book also has blank pages if you need workbook space to work through your simplifying needs and strategies. I haven't used those but those could be a great tool for a wife and/or mama that is completely overwhelmed and needs even more help on where to start.

The other book I have read this month is an advanced PDF of Kristen Kill's book Finding Selah. I read this book in one sitting (started it on my phone at gymnastics on night - my least favorite way to read ever!) and I am eagerly waiting my advance copy to get here so I can highlight in it. I became aware of Kristen when she began co-hosting Sally Clarkson's podcast with her and was eager to read her writing since Sally (one of my top homeschool mama mentors) thinks so highly of her. Her writing is lovely and I hope to share more on this one later.

The other big reading project that I've been working on - and the reason my book stack is so small - is that I've challenged myself to read through the whole Bible this Christmas season. Instead of a chapter a day, I'm getting through as many as I can with the goal of absorbing and taking in the big overarching scope of the Bible. I have read through the whole Bible before as a year long project, but if you are like me, by the time you get three-fourths of the way through, it's a little harder to find those connections with what you read at the beginning. Plus, I love to spend time also doing in depth verse by verse studies of certain books ... again, well worth my time, but hard to get the feel of the book as a whole. Which is what it is - one whole book, subdivided into different books but with one overarching theme and story that it is telling. I've just finished up 2 Samuel this morning and am about to dive into the lives of the kings of Israel and Judah. I can't wait!

November in a nutshell! I foresee December's stack will be small with my Bible project, but I'm sure there will be a read-aloud or two to share in a few weeks. :)

Friday, December 01, 2017

Making Advent Harder Than It Needs to Be

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Apparently, I'm not the only one that makes things harder than they need to be! After hitting publish on that last post, I thought of several areas where this is glaring at me right now. (I'm sure there are others, but two are in the forefront of my mind right now.)

The first is Advent.

I realize that it is December 1 today and if you are like me you have been inundated with Advent every where you turn for the last few weeks. Daily activities for children. Countdown calendars. Devotional books for adults. Devotional books for children. Jesse tree projects. Christmas book projects. And, on and on. There are just so many options - good options - that it gets overwhelming. And I tend to think that I need to reinvent the wheel every year and if we don't do all the things I will fail my kids utterly.

That's really not true. (Whew.)

I am giving myself permission to keep out Advent simple. For the most part, I'm not planning on buying anything new. (Except for the chocolate Advent calendars ... last year's were eaten). :) I'm reading an Advent devotional that has been on my Kindle for at least a year (maybe two) and I've never read it. We are going to read all our Christmas story books without wrapping them. And that's really as far as I've thought about it. Micromanaging our month is not just stressful, but it's not really all that fun either. Most of the things that would probably be on my "want to do" list happen naturally without needing to make a note that we are making gingersnaps on the 8th of December no matter what unfolds on that day's schedule.

December always seems to hold a magic of its own and when I overplan and overschedule, I tend to miss it. And for me, instead of December being about all the extra activities, it is about the margin that comes to our schedule because of the break from Wednesday night church and gymnastic practices and music lessons. It's more nights at home and time to make a real dinner as opposed to eating quesadillas over the stove as I cook them up for everyone before heading out the door. Margin to take a meal to someone that needs it, or for those one-on-one shopping trips with a child that usually always includes a trip for coffee or a donut.

Maybe that's where I've been getting it all wrong ... focusing on the more, more, MORE that comes with December instead of embracing less. Less stuff, less going, less "me, myself and I" this month. I think this is the direction I'm going to head this way for this year.


Sunday, November 26, 2017

Making It More Complicated Than It Needs to Be

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I've gone back and forth over the last couple of months over whether to let my blog fade a slow death, start something new, or just pick up here like I haven't fizzled off writing except for the occasional monthly book report. (Of which I haven't written one on here since May!) My kids are older now. I have one who starts high school in the fall of 2018. (High. School. Not possible). The days of all of sitting around the table doing our school work together have faded over the last year so posts about art projects and joint curriculum have fallen by the wayside. More often than not I ask to take their picture now instead of the cute candids ... and then I need to ask before sharing it.

Like most moms that have a houseful of littles, I have found that several of my hobbies have fallen by the wayside to getting this child reading, or getting that child sleeping better at night, or filling the need as tutor for this child's class. I've lost a little of my own individuality in the process. My schedule has turned into less of the hands-on-all-the-time parenting to the role of chauffeur and cheerleader on the sidelines. While not an overabundance, there's margin in my days that comes with older kids and I'm struggling with how to fill it. I'm still very available, but instead of the time consuming need to sit on the floor to tie all the shoes and cut all the food and get everyone's clothes laid out and ... and ... and ... before heading out the door, it's now coffee and chocolate and all the conversation. Parenting tweens and teens is an entirely new animal altogether and most days I'm not quite sure what I'm doing.

All that rambling monologue to say, I may use this space once again. I don't know what will turn up ... most likely I'll write about books some (a lot). Photos and photo projects. (December Daily is coming up and I'm in the mood to do something with it this year.) Whatever I'm reading in the Bible and what God is teaching me.

We shall see what comes of it!


Tuesday, May 30, 2017

May 2017 Reads ... or Lack Thereof

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Cadillac Ranch, Amarillo, Texas

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El Morro National Monument, New Mexico

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Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona

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Hoover Dam, Nevada

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Hollywood

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Ventura, California

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Malibu, California

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Santa Barbara, California

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Arches National Park, Utah

And that is the reason I have little to no reading to post this month! We were either frantically wrapping up school, packing or preparing for the trip, or traveling across the United States over the past two weeks. It was all sorts of fun, but left little time for reading. A grand total of two things were read this month:

  • one was a read aloud that the boy and I finished at bedtime, Henry Huggins by Beverly Cleary. It has been a LONG time since I have read Henry and Ethan and I promptly went to the library and checked out some more books about him. 
  • I also finished Outlaws of Time #2: The Song of Glory and Ghost by N.D. Wilson. This is the second book in N.D. Wilson's Outlaws of Time series. While I am a big fan of his 100 Cupboards books, and enjoyed one of his stand-alone mysteries, this series continues to baffle me a bit and I seem to have a hard time keeping up. However, I don't mind adding his books to his library because I have a fantasy-loving girl that will enjoy them, and I feel sure the boy will down the road. 
This week is our Classical Conversations practicum (3 days of a mini classical homeschool convention and training for next year) and then I'm hoping there is much pool and reading time in the near future!

Sunday, April 30, 2017

What She Read in April 2017

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Squeaking in on the last day of the month to report on April's reading. Such a good month for read-alouds in this house. I'm not saying it's because we are thisclose to the end of the school year, and right now reading aloud is about all we feel like doing! (Math and a few other things are still in the loop, but the end is in sight.) We finished four read-alouds this month, and I read three books - two in the last week ... another sign that I'm about to get a small reprieve from school stuff for some fun reading downtime. :)

Our read-alouds that we finished were:

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  • Just So Stories by Rudyard Kipling. The boy and I read this at bedtime over the last month and as I mentioned in March's post, I really enjoyed reading it this time around. The stories are just so clever and funny. I know some of the humor went over Ethan's head, but they were animal stories which automatically makes it a hit with him. 
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  • The Wheel on the School by Meindert DeJong. This was such a great book. We were totally sucked into the story of the school children in this small Dutch town. The towns surrounding their small area all have storks that come and nest on the roofs of the houses - why doesn't their town have storks? A simple question asked leads to this small town on a quest and several unexpected friendships to bring the storks back to Shora. Loved this one!
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  • Henry and the Chalk Dragon by Jennifer Trafton. This book is such a gem. The story of Henry who loves to draw. But one day one of his drawings escapes and comes to life and, as expected, mayhem ensues. Lots of big thoughts about how it can be scary to be an artist and let your work out so others can see it ... and comment on it! My books is littered with little post-its of great quotes and turns of phrases that I wanted to remember:
Quest. It was probably the best word of all the words ever made up. It meant going on a really long journey to find something you want a whole lot.
Henry was telling the truth. Dragons aren't scary - well, they are, but they're a good kind of scary. They're the kind of scary you want to be scared of. People are the bad kind of scary, he thought. Dragons can only eat you, but people can laugh at you, and that is like being chewed to death with a smile.
It is a dangerous thing to open a door. But that, after all, is the only way to find an adventure.
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Of note: we got to meet the author at a book signing for Henry, and she was delightful. :)
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      • Stuart Little by E.B. White. This is the first time that I have ever read this one which surprises even myself, considering I'm such a fan of Charlotte's Web and The Trumpet of the Swan (review). We enjoyed it - I do have a soft spot for mouse tales - but I also found this book a little on the odd side. It was a nice short read-aloud, but Stuart is no Wilbur. 
      The books that I read this month:
      • The Witch of Blackbird Pond by Elizabeth George Speare. I picked this one up for Amy's Newbery Challenge. I'm just sure that I read this at some point as a child, but it has been a while! It's the story of young Kit who must move to colonial Connecticut to live with her extremely strict relatives. The religious liberty that these colonists came to America to find have them extremely suspicious of anything that doesn't fit into their mold, and Kit finds herself very lonely until she meets a women who most of the village suspects is a witch. Fascinating read about early America and one that I think I'll pass on to N2 this next year when we return to American history in our studies.
      • The Unbreakable Code by Jennifer Chambliss Bertram. This is fun literary mystery set in San Francisco. I read Bertram's Book Scavenger last year enough to make sure that the sequel was on our shelves when it came out last week. If you liked Escape from Mr. Lemoncello's Library or books with lots of literary references sprinkled throughout, I recommend this one!
      • A Study in Charlotte by Brittany Cavallaro. This book was recommended to me by Nicole on Instagram. I enjoy mysteries (can't get the Nancy Drew out of a girl once she's hooked) and when she said this was a YA series based on the descendants of Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson, I decided to give it a try. This was a great mystery and I definitely liked the premise of the Watson and Holmes descendants always finding each other. That said, I didn't care for some of the language in the book, but that is my only quibble with this. 
      And with that we are on to May. :) With the prospect of school ending, a family road-trip, and the pool opening in the next several weeks, I have high hopes for more reading time to come. Which means a summer reading list, naturally!

      Saturday, April 01, 2017

      March 2017 Reads

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      March has come in like a lion and is going out like a lion! It has been a full month as we are about one week away from winding up our Classical Conversations work for the little folk in this house. (N1 still has about a month left of her Challenge A class). Thus, it has been a light month for personal reading around here. We did just come off of a week of spring break, but there wasn't much downtime for reading as I was on a decluttering mission, as you do when the weather starts to warm up and you want to shed all your winter fluff in all areas! We have been reading aloud a ton and that is the sum of most of what I have to report this month.

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      The boy and I have been in a fantastic night time reading routine and finished two bedtime books this month. We read Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl - that book just gets better with each read through! We also finished Akimbo and the Lions by Alexander McCall Smith. This was one of N1's favorite series when she was reading small chapter books and it was a winner with Ethan as well. Really, anything with animals is a winner with him. Right now he and I are about half way through Just So Stories by Rudyard Kipling, another one that I am enjoying immensely more this time through. Maybe it's because I just came off a year of teaching grammar in our homeschool co-op but Kipling has such great plays on words, alliteration, and clever turns of phrases that it's just been a delight to read. And the stories themselves are fun, too.

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      Our school time read-aloud for most of March was The Black Stallion by Walter Farley. I remember seeing the old movie as a child (and was slightly traumatized by the shipwreck portion at the beginning of it!) but had never read the book. It was mentioned in Sally Clarkson's recent book Different as one that really resonated with her wild boy she was trying to tame ... off I went to the library for our own copy to hopefully inspire a couple of mine, likewise. :) This was was actually first published in 1941 (I also didn't realize it was so old) and tells the story of how Alec and the Black were the only survivors of a tragic shipwreck. They learn to depend on one another and Alec becomes the only person able to tame the savage horse. They make it back home and the book culminates in a fantastic horse race - I'll save the spoilers of who won, but I bet you can guess. :) This was a GREAT read-aloud and one I'll pull back out in a few years when Ethan is ready to read it on his own. I could see him getting lost in this whole series.

      Personally, I read three books (I guess I did read a little more than I thought!) but one definitely took the a huge chunk of my month. Johnny Tremain was my pick for Amy @ Hope is the Word's Newbery challenge for March. I had never read this one (shock!). Set during the Revolutionary War against England, this is one I am considering revisiting next year when we work through American history.

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      I also read The Girl Who Drank the Moon by Kelly Barnhill and Pekoe Most Poison by Laura Childs (both on Kindle). Pekoe Most Poison is a light mystery in Laura Childs' tea shop mystery series. A nice clean mystery series sometimes is hard to come by and this is perfect for someone who was a die-hard fan of Murder, She Wrote when she was in junior high, a-hem. :) The Girl Who Drank the Moon was the 2017 Newbery winner and I loved this one. So much that I went in search of more Kelly Barnhill books from my library. On its surface it is a simple tale of magic and love and protection, but through out the story we are unraveling the little lies that the main characters have told to "protect" each other. But were those lies really worth it for all the heartbreak and misdirection they caused? It was one that I picked up for a song on Kindle last year, and it was well worth the couple of dollars I spent on it.

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      It's almost time to start thinking about SUMMER READING. :) (I'm eyeing my Mitford stack and wishing I could while away the hours rereading those favorites - there is new one coming in September and I am ready!) I'm hoping to start pulling together a summer to-read list for myself and thinking of what would make a good evening family read-aloud with our whole crew. Book lists are definitely some of my favorite things.

      Tuesday, February 28, 2017

      February Reads for 2017

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      Last day of February ... sneaking in here at the last moment to catalog what has been read around these parts this month. My stack is still on the smallish side, but there has been lots of reading-aloud done and I've checked a couple books off my list that I've been wanting to get to so it's a win for me.

      As far as read-alouds, we finished three this month, though only two are pictured above. One was the bedtime book for me and the boy - we are working our way through his sister's Roald Dahl collection and it has been such fun to read these again with him. The nice thing about Roald Dahl, besides his fantastic writing, is that his chapters are just the right length for a little boy winding down at night and on a good evening we can get through two during a reading sessions. Fantastic Mr. Fox was the recent read and enjoyed by both of us. We have since moved on to Charlie and the Chocolate Factory which is always an excellent read-aloud. However, as I read, I go back and forth in my head between the Gene Wilder version and the Johnny Depp version of the movie, depending on which part of the book I am in. So confusing! And don't ask me to pick a favorite because I love them both! :)

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      As a collective bunch, we read aloud Peter Pan by J.M. Barrie. This is the second time that I've read this one aloud - the last time was in 2010, before the boy was born. At that time, I had one 7 year old girl hanging in there with me while I read it (and two tag along little sisters) and it was a new book to both of us. This time, I just didn't love it as much. Peter and Tink really aren't very nice people! I think I prefer the polished up Walt Disney version.

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      Working on our review crossword from our apologia science workbook. I do this along with the little girls and it's very interesting to see what I am able to remember from the lesson vs. them!

      The last read-aloud (not pictured) that we checked off this month was our science text, Apologia's Land Animals of the 6th Day. We started this "text" in the Fall of 2016 and it has taken us about a year and half (minus summer) to work our way through it. We have learned so many things about mammals and I'm so thankful that I got to read this along with the kids as part of our schooling. And now, I see the fruit as the three younger will spout out random and interesting animal facts that they have retained at different moments, ie., when the boy and I were emptying the dust canister from the vacuum and he comment that there were probably a lot of dust mites in there that we just swept up. Um, yes, there probably were! Ick. :)

      That strong willed child, that one that process information differently than I do ... such a radical change of perspective to think those are the very things God will use instead of things I need to fix. Very much looking forward to @sally.clarkson new bo

      Personal reads for me were all over the board this month! I finished Sally Clarkson's newest book Different, which was written with her son Nathan. This book probably deserves more discussion than I have room and time for here, but this is different than many of Sally's other books that she has written. This was a book written for the mama who is parenting that child at home that is what she calls an "out of the box kid." They don't fit the mold or expectation of how a child should learn and behave whether it is because of a larger than life personality, a learning struggle, clinical diagnoses of some kind, or a combination of any and/or all of the above. It was an encouraging read for me as we navigate different scenarios with a couple of our own and I need to go back and make note of some of those things that I marked the first time through. Highly recommend this one.

      I read Roller Skates by Ruth Sawyer as part of Amy's (@ Hope is the Word) Newbery Challenge. I'm two for two so far for 2017! Roller Skates is a story set in New York in the late 1800s. And, as always when I read books set in a time since past, I am amazed at the freedom given to children in that day and age. (A similar feeling struck me as I read the All of a Kind Family books and The Saturdays, and its sequels by Elizabeth Enright). You can read Amy's review of Roller Skates here - this could be a great read aloud as you study America during this time period, but might need a parental pre-read if you have super sensitive little ones.

      Another one that I finished, not pictured in the photo was When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead. This was the 2010 Newbery winner - and again, recommended by Amy - and it was good. There was mystery, fantasy, and lots of literary tie-in's to A Wrinkle in Time and I thoroughly enjoyed it.

      The last book that I read this month was one that I picked up on a whim at the library and read over our winter break. The After-room by Maile Meloy is the third book in the Apothecary series. I had read the first two books quite some time ago. Long enough that I was VERY fuzzy on characters and story line and pretty much everything going into the third book. That probably should have been a clue that I didn't love them enough to spend the time reading the third book, but I did anyway if just to see the series wrap up and move on.

      And there's February and it's on to March. I realize that February is the shortest month, but it seemed to FLY by this year. If you read anything amazing and wonderful in the last while, do share. I am realizing that my books seem to be junior and YA lit heavy lately, but that is where I'm finding all sorts of reading gems so I'm unapologetic about it. :)

      Saturday, February 18, 2017

      Mama's Successful Winter Break Involves a Crockpot

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      Our CC group was on break this week, and it worked out perfectly for us. I seem to do better (as do my kids) on a six/seven weeks on, one week off schedule. Sometimes this lines up with our homeschool tutorial, sometimes not. But I was ready for a week to recharge. Usually these weeks involve lots of cleaning out of closets and tasks around the house, but I didn't do as much this week. All of our regular activities were still on the calendar (music lessons, Awana at church, gymnastics, etc.) so our days were still humming. However, unknowingly, I managed to give myself a bit of a break by putting four brand new crockpot recipes on my menu plan. I know! Totally risky. Crockpots are funny things - the right recipe is gold, but there are plenty of bad ones out there.

      In the spirit of mom solidarity, I thought I would share the four that I made with our comments. All of these recipes came from Six Sisters Stuff. I've been following them on Instagram for a while now, and when I see them post a recipe I like, I use Instagram's new little save feature (the flag that is underneath a photo on the right). Then when I'm menu planning, I pull up my saves and go through and see if anything new jumps out at me to try.

      Slow Cooker Steak Fajitas - this recipe is actually one that the Six Sisters made from the 100 Days of Real Food Cookbook. We had some taco meat left over from the weekend from something at our house, and I found one smallish steak in the freezer. I knew my kids would not be fans of the onions and peppers cooked with the steak, but the grownups were. One smallish steak plus a load of veggies was perfect for me and my husband to have for dinner ... and the kids got taco leftovers. I'll make this again.

      Slow Cooker Lasagna - this was another good one. I made this on Valentine's Day. (Nothing says Valentine's like something Italian). It was tasty and just the right size for our crew. FYI - on all these recipes I used my 4 quart crockpot, instead of my bigger 6 quart. If I make a recipe to fill my larger 6 quart size, I generally end up with more leftovers that I want to eat! The 4 quart has been working out perfectly for us, but I know that won't last long. As different children enter different growth spurts we run out of food some nights!

      Crockpot Creamy Ranch Pork Chops & Potatoes - this one got RAVE reviews from my kids. I honestly don't know the last time they have gushed about a dinner like this. The six year old boy kept asking for more "chicken" (we corrected him several times that it was pork, but it didn't stick) and said that this meat was "'ah-licious!" multiple times. (I will be so sad when he stops saying delicious that way). My 11 year said that if it wasn't considered rude, she would lick the sauce from this dish off her plate. High praise indeed for this one!

      Crockpot Swedish Meatballs - another major hit with my kids (and me!) This is the only recipe I took a picture of and, other than the fact that my meatballs fell apart in the crockpot after cooking all day, it was such a good comfort food dish. I did what Six Sisters suggested, and served it over mashed potatoes and that was pretty fabulous, and I'm not a mashed potatoes person. I think the meatball problem was that they were turkey meatballs made from a Pioneer Woman recipe and in my experience, I have not yet learned the trick to getting my meatballs to stay together well. It didn't affect the taste in the least!

      All these recipes are going in my keeper pile and into rotation. I have my favorite recipes and cookbooks that I fall back on time and time again, but it's always nice to find a new recipe / blogger / Instagram account to add into the rotation for some new inspiration!

      Saturday, February 04, 2017

      Things That Are Saving My Life : February 2017

      Our Tennessee winter has been crazy mild this year. We had one brief bit of snow right around Christmas and that is (sadly) all the white stuff that has hit these parts. Lots of 50 degree days (which has been nice) and lots of rain (which has been quite soggy, especially with a puppy that has to go out all. the. time.)

      Anne Bogel (of Modern Mrs. Darcy) makes a list in February of things that are "saving her life" right now as she slugs through the second half of winter. While I love cold weather and wish it would get cold enough for me to pull out my big coat, I can relate to the slugging through. By the time you are homeschooling through January, it's not nearly as exciting to crack open the books as it was in September when they were brand new. School supplies have lost their lustre (and usually their lids if we are talking about pens around here) and I'm replacing the first round of dried up dry erase markers. I loved her suggestion of throwing out a few things that bring a smile right now so here are a few of mine, in no particular order:

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      1) Making a more concerted effort to read. I have appropriated (with permission) one of my girl's Kindle paperwhites and am toting it around with me so I always have a book at the ready. Never fear, there is a stack of "real" paper books sitting on my desk that I'm planning on giving some attention to.

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      2) Reading aloud. Always my favorite part of our homeschool day. Right now, we are reading Peter Pan. I try to remember to write inside the cover when we read books out loud and the last time that we read this was before the boy was born, almost seven years ago when N1 was his age!

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      3) Chocolate peanut butter powder. It is not for everyone, but when you need a sweet treat, it sure tastes yummy when you dip banana into it.

      She is so much cuter at 6am instead of 3am. #georgiareyshepherd #mamaisnotamused

      4) Puppy love. This was my birthday present this year and she is my new baby. Georgia Rey is a little goldendoodle, she's about fourteen weeks now and just as cute as can be. We are deep into puppy nibbling, lots of trips outside, and the occasional barking in the middle of the night, but she is still the most fun.

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      5) The Hide Facebook Feed extension on Chrome. I have wanted to take a long, extended break from Facebook for ... forever. However, I have a business page connected to my personal account and deleting my account (and even disabling it) causes wrinkles. The Hide Facebook Feed in Google Chrome fix has been PERFECT. The only reason that I get on FB anymore is to check the occasional group, answer something sent in Messenger, or see what I'm tagged in. Those still reach me through email or I can pull up FB's page and check the left column to see if anything new is posted in the groups I care about. Best use of technology in 2017 by far, in my opinion.

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      6) Less screentime for little people in general. Do not hear that I am a "screens are evil person." I love my iPhone, iTunes, Kindles, etc. But, truly, we got in a habit with morning screen time on Christmas break and it was great ... for our break. Not so good for school mornings. With small exceptions for a boy who has the privilege of sitting an hour at sisters' music lessons or gymnastics class, screen time has been greatly reduced during the week. It's been good to see the piles of Transformers on the kitchen table and books laid open where someone sets it down mid-chapter. A certain boy also spent one lunch hour perusing the newest Lego catalog and asking for help in writing things down for his birthday list. (His birthday is in October, but nothing like being prepared). :)

      There are always other things that are a must on a list like this - coffee, my morning quiet time before little people awake (now punctuated with a playful pup), a new pack of pens in all the colors, but these are the currents for this year!