12/31/2014

My Favorite (and Not-So-Favorite) Books of 2014

 Recently I've been trying to be more picky about the books I read. With the precious little free time I *do* have, I wanna make it count! Ok, well not always -- I did just finish a couple of light-hearted novels. But, in general, I'd like to read more books that are worth my time.

What that tends to translate to is reading more slowly. It's tough to read things like A Severe Mercy (link to review) quickly. You *can* of course, but you might not get as much out of it. That book actually took me a long time to read considering it's length, but it was nice because I was able to chew on it and really take it in.

So I think I'm going to lower my reading goals for 2015 and try for 60 books next year. That's still only a little over 1 a week. In case you needed help figuring that out.

I'm borrowing this idea from Snowfall Academy who borrowed the idea from Amongst Lovely Things and posting my favorite books from 2014.

First, a few fun facts about my year in books: 
- I took a lot of books back to the library that I never even started: A Long Way Down, This is Not the Story You Think It Is, The Way They Learn, How to Give Away Your Faith, The Language and Thought of the Child, Fangirl, My Name is Asher Lev (I really wanted to read that one!) and Lizzy & Jane (and that one!) to name a "few." Some of them I didn't mind taking back and others I was sad to see go. Sigh.

- I also started a lot of books that I never finished: Hands Free Mama, House of Mirth, Quirk, When Children Love to Learn and Traffic. Most of them I just lost interest in and others I wasn't able to finish in time. Ten years ago, I wouldn't have dreamed of quitting in the middle of a book, but nowadays, if I don't like it, I don't finish it. Ain't nobody got time for that.  

As for the books I actually finished, my favorites are as follows: (The links are to my reviews on Goodreads.)
 
Best FictionAgainst the Tide by Elizabeth Camdem  This was easily the best Christian Fiction in the Romance-ish category I've read in a long time. It's difficult to find a good Christian romance these days, you know? I'm actually in the middle of the second in that series as I write this--The Lady of Bolton Hill.


Best Non-Fiction - I had such a hard time picking one for this category! If I had to pick a book that wasn't already on this list, I'd have to go with Crazy Busy by Kevin DeYoung. I read in April and I *still* think about things I learned from that book. 

One of them is when he's describing his childhood and he talks about how he ate sugar, watched Saturday morning cartoons and got into other kinds of "mischief" and despite all of that, he pretty much turned out ok. (He's a pastor.) That wasn't so much the point of the book, but when I get all in a tizzy about how much (fill in the blank) my children have had, I'll remember that line from that book, take a deep breath and relax a little. :)
 

Best Biography or Memoir - A Severe Mercy by Sheldon Vanauken - This was an easy choice. I loved this book. There was one thing I didn't love about it though. You'll have to click over to read my review.
 

Best New To Me Author - The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle - I have never read any Sherlock Holmes and I just ate this book up! I couldn't put it down. There's a reason it's popular, I guess.
 

Book that Made Me Cry - The Scent of Water by Naomi Zacharias -- This book was heart-wrenching. I'm not sure I actually cried, but I certainly cringed and got choked up a few times. To quote myself on Goodreads, "It made me grateful for the life I have but also left me with a resolve to do more. There are so many needs (in and outside of my little world) and I feel like there's so much more I can do."
 
Book that Made Me Laugh Out Loud - Three Wishes by Liane Moriarty -- This was the third book I've read by Moriarty (What Alice Forgot and The Husband's Secret were the other 2) and as a fellow reader on Goodreads put it, "the author has snappy inner dialogue down!" It's so true. In all of her books I found myself laughing out loud at some point. That's not to say that I loved all of them, but they were funny in spots.
 

Book that Changed my Perspective on Something  - Letters From a Skeptic by Gregory A. Boyd - This was a great read. I can't say that I agree with (or understand!) all of the theology in this book, but it definitely gave me a different perspective on a few things; Hell being one of them.

Best Homeschooling Book - A Philosophy of Education by Charlotte Mason - I'm not sure if this counts because we're reading it in our homeschool group and we're not quite finished yet. But I've read enough of it to know how wonderful it is!
 
Worst Book - Unfortunately, I read too many books this year that I didn't like. But the worst was Sacred Road by Todd Maxwell Preston. I hated this book. This man left the Mormons and then left HIS WIFE AND FOUR KIDS to go and "find himself." Pukatronic.

 

Best Surprise Plot Twist - Dear Mr. Knightley by Katherine Reay - I'm probably the only person on the planet who's read this and didn't see the end coming. :/ I'm usually pretty good at that sort of thing. I didn't love this book as much as I thought I would, but I did enjoy it and recommend it.


 

Most Disappointing - Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell - There was a lot of talk by people I respect on the interweb about this book who said it was so great! I, however, was disappointed with it. It made me relive my days from middle school and I didn't like it at all.
 

Most Over-Hyped - The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt - This was on the best books of 2013 list. I have no idea why. The only reason I kept reading (700 pages!) is because I kept thinking, this HAS to get better! It didn't.
 

Most Challenging - 7: An Experimental Mutinay Against Excess by Jen Hatmaker - To live with only 7 things (clothing, food, etc.) would be crazy! Hatmaker's experience really challenged me to go even farther in terms of being thankful for what I have and giving more than I do.
 

Best Cover - Against the Tide by Elizabeth Camden (also in my Best Fiction category) - I gotta tell ya; I read this based solely on it's cover. And thank goodness, it was a great book! I'm in the middle of book 2 in the series.


 

Best Young-Person's Book - Little House on the Prairie series by Laura Ingalls Wilder - I never read these as a child and we've been listening to the series in the car on cd. We're now in the middle of The Banks of Plum Creek. They are WONDERFUL. We laughed! We cried! It moved us!
 

Book I've Been Meaning to Read for Years and Finally Got To - Don't have one for this category.
 

Best Book on Homemaking - I can't believe I didn't read ANY books on homemaking this year. The one that came close is Joyful Momma's Guide to Quiet Times in Loud Households, and honestly, there wasn't anything too new for me in that book. It was good, but nothing I haven't already read.
 

Book I have Recommended the Most this Year - Breaking Free by Beth Moore - I was a part of this study at my church and let me tell you--it was life-changing. If you haven't read the book, I would highly recommend it.
 

Best Philosophical or Spiritual Book - The Freedom of Self-Forgetfulness by Timothy Keller - This was an excellent, short book (46 pages) about forgetting oneself. Not an easy task, but life-changing.

Click here to see all of the books I read in 2014.

What were your favorite books of 2014?

12/30/2014

Quick Recap (aka Week {Month} In A Post)

Here are a few snippets I wanted to share with all of you.

- Our Christmas was very nice. We had both families and a few friends over and *I* think it went well. I hope everyone else did too! Most importantly, the kidlets had a great time. My only regret is that I didn't take ANY pictures. Doh! What was I thinking?

- My hubby did very well (as usual) in the gift department this year. I now have the "problem" of deciding what music to buy with my iTunes gift card. *sigh* It's really tough, I tell ya. I also got Lemon Heads (anyone else out there a fan?) and truffles in my stocking and some Starbucks mocha drink thingy's. Yum!

- School barely happened in December which was not my intention at all. My plan (ha!) was to only take the week before and of Christmas off, but somehow we ended up taking most of the month off. We did a few math lessons but that's about it. Of course, we had our Christmas readings and we listened to carols on a daily basis and I'm pretty sure all of that counts. I'm not really worried about it, but I might have to do some better planning next year in terms of the Christmasy-type things we do--either cut back some or plan on NOT doing "normal" school. That brings me to...

- We did about HALF (if that) of the things on our Advent list and we got through day 12? of our Jesse Tree. So in case you were wondering (as I do with other people) how all that stuff gets done, it doesn't. Just keepin' it real, homies.

- Because of school (and Christmas) I've been MIA in a lot of my friend's lives. If you're reading this and that's you, I do apologize! School itself doesn't take "that" long (most days) but because we're doing school in the mornings, nothing else gets done at that time, so I've had to shift how I do things around here to keep up! Read: I have no time for anything other than childcare, school and (sort of) keeping up my home.

Also? I have a 15 month old. Enough said.

- Despite all of that, I was able to make (am still making! *ahem*) a few presents this year! I really love knitting and am determined to make time for it this upcoming year. It's so relaxing and rewarding. And makes great gifts, obviously. I'd share some of the things I've made with you, but some of you haven't received your gift yet, so you'll all have to wait. :P 

- I also... drum roll... got a Christmas letter written and sent out! I'm going to share that on my blog, too. One of these days...

- Since I cut my bangs a few weeks ago, Oldest had been talking about cutting hers as well. I wasn't so sure because I thought she looked cute without them and because they're a little higher maintenance. Turns out, they're so cute AND it makes doing her hair much easier. Win, win!

 Before:
 After:

- I think I'm going to try to participate in this 2015 (I can't believe it will be TWO THOUSAND FIFTEEN!) Back to the Classics Challenge. One of my first posts on this blog was a sort-of challenge to myself to read more classics and I totally failed. Well, I've read a few since then, but not nearly enough. So here's to starting over! Join us? I'm so bad at doing anything that requires commitment on this blog, but I'm gonna try, dernit!

How was your Christmas? If you homeschool, did you get much done this month? Come on! Don't make me feel like I'm the only one who didn't! 

Did you make any gifts for Christmas? 

12/16/2014

My Favorite {Non-Traditional} Christmas Songs

I love Christmas music. We've been listening to it around here since before Thanksgiving. It really puts me in the Christmas mood, you know?

Of course, I love traditional carols, but there are some non-traditional songs that I adore and I thought I'd share them in case you're looking for some new favorites. 

Toy Packaging by Sara Groves



It's True by Sara Groves




Jesus is Born by Circleslide (I couldn't find it on YouTube so that's a link to the song on Amazon)

Merry Christmas, Here's to Many More by Reliant K


I Celebrate the Day by Reliant K



White Winter Hymnal by Pentatonix - We absolutely LOVE this song. It's our new favorite. If you watch any of these videos, watch this one.



What are your favorite Christmas songs?


12/05/2014

Our Christmas Traditions

Just thought I'd pop in quick and share our Christmas Traditions with you. Note: A lot of these ideas I saw on Pinterest. I heart Pinterest.

 Our Nativity.

- The Lord of the Rings. Mr. N and I watch the LOTR trilogy extended version (read: 300 hours, give or take) every year at Christmas. Of course, now there's the two Hobbit movies and we are very much looking forward to seeing the third one in the theater! eek!

It used to be that we'd start the movies Christmas morning and let it play all day, but now that we have Wee Ones, we can only watch it after they are in bed--they're a little too young for Orcses. And since we I go to bed pretty early around here, (see name of blog) we can only watch an hour or two each night.

So, now we start the movies in early December and usually have them finished by Christmas Day. You do what you have to, people.

- The Jesse Tree. We are using these this year (trying to keep it simple!), but I think next year we'll either do the Truth in the Tinsel (not quite a Jesse Tree, but similar) or something like this (which is really ambitious!) or these felt ornaments. We're reading this book, The Jesse Tree, too.

Our "tree" is some sticks I painted white a few years ago. Nothing fancy, but it works. (the two jars next to it are our homeschool treasure jars. ;o)


- Advent Calendar. We're using this one from My Joy-Filled Life. I liked that I could write my own in activities in because I wanted to plan it so that we didn't have to make cookies or go sledding on a day that we had church or something. Here's our list of Advent Activities, in no particular order: 
  • decorate tree and inside of house
  • make salt-dough ornaments (I highly recommend doing this. it was so easy and fun! the girls and I really enjoyed painting them)






 an Olaf snowflake
  • make snow ice cream
  • donate old toys (love this one)
  • play a family game together (I love games!)
  • make homemade hot chocolate
  • sing Christmas carols
  • watch The Grinch
  • act out the Christmas story from the Bible
  • go sledding
  • read Christmas chapter in Little House in the Big Woods
  • stay in PJ's all day (a personal favorite)
  • have indoor picnic under Christmas tree
A few of these ideas (Buckeyes, bird feeders, and spice-dough ornaments) came from this sweet book that my friend, Gramma Linda, bought for us. Thanks, Linda! We love the book! 



- Chocolate Advent Calendar. Every morning after the girls wake up they get to eat that day's chocolate from their Advent Calendar. We just buy the $0.99 ones from Aldi.



- Book-a-Day Advent Calendar - This is maybe my favorite tradition. I wrap(!) 25 books (I only have half of them done), place them under the tree and we open one each day until Christmas. Hint: you do not have to own all of the books. I went last week and checked out about 15 Christmas books from the library and wrapped up those. Of course, we're slowly building up our own Christmas collection, but for now, the library works for me! I'll try and post some titles later. This post is taking way too much time as it is! :)




- Animal Crossing. This isn't an official tradition, it just kind of happens. Every year around Thanksgiving we (the whole family) start to play Animal Crossing. Mr. N and I have played this game together since 2002ish. Nowadays, we all play a little video games in this house. :) In fact, Animal Crossing: City Folk was my Christmas present a few years ago.


What are some of your Christmas Traditions?

11/22/2014

My Inconsistencies and God's Faithfulness

You should know something about me. I'm very inconsistent.

I like to think I'm somewhat of a Grammar Snob, but I still use the words "gonna" and "wanna" in my emails and texts. And I still don't know when you're supposed to use the word "that" in some cases, among other things. 

We drink raw milk, buy organic beef and eggs when we can, but I love the #17 Meal at McDonalds and maybe eat it once a week? (It's the Square-O-Fish, in case you're wondering.) Also? I eat Mint Chocolate Chip ice cream like it's nobody's b'ness.

I try to be "green" -- we use cloth diapers, wash our faces with oil, use organic lotion, make my own laundry soap and use cloth napkins. But we only do and use those things about half of the time.


I love my children so much (what mother doesn't?) but sometimes I lose my cool with them. 

I love my husband but I don't always treat him like I should.

And the list goes on.

Obviously, with some of these things--anger, for example, I'm trying to do better or rather, I'm trying to allow Jesus to change me. But some of them? Like the Square O Fish? I'm not sure I'll ever be able to give that one up. 

I've been thinking about all of this lately and quite honestly, have just come through a somewhat difficult time in certain areas and I've come to a few conclusions.

#1. The older I get the more I realize that I really don't know that much. Which causes me to extend more grace to others. Before I was a mom I knew how to be a perfect good mom. I knew it. I knew that I would not allow my children to throw a fit in the store. I knew I would not allow them to keep me awake at night. I specifically remember (before Oldest was born) a conversation I had with a friend who had a 2 year old and she said she hadn't had more than 4 hours of uninterrupted sleep in 2 years. I thought she was completely insane and I told myself I would never allow that.

*insert hysterical laughter here* Have you seen the name of my blog?


Now, after three children, I know that as much as one tries, one cannot simply control one's child's actions. Sure, you can train and teach and discipline, but if your 2 year old decides to throw a fit in Target, there isn't much you can do about it except smile and leave the store.

And now when I see a mom with a screaming child in public, I don't think "I would never allow that!"; I think, "That poor woman. I've been there!"

#2. It's because of my inconsistencies and weaknesses that I need Jesus so much. Obviously, I'm talking less about what detergent I use here and more about character, but you get the point.

I try so hard to do the right thing and I fail all. the. time. My natural tendency is to then let the guilt of my mistakes weigh me down. I start thinking, "HOW can I even call myself a Christian?! What's wrong with me? Why can't I get this right?" That really doesn't do anyone any good. 

 The beauty in all of this is, God has been using those very inconsistencies and mistakes in my life to reveal more of Himself to me. I need Him because I will fail.


But HE does not. HE is the sure thing in my life. HE is the faithful, good One that my children will hopefully see through me and my inconsistencies.

The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; -Lamentations 3:22

That's a Truth that I've know my whole life, but only recently, through my realization of my need and lack of character in some areas, has that Truth sank deep into my heart. And I don't think it's done yet. Because I'm not done yet.

And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ. -Philippians 1:6
One thing I love about the Bible is that it is filled with broken and sinful people: Peter (on whom Christ built His church) denied Jesus 3 times, David (a man after God's own heart) had an affair and killed a man(!), Paul (who wrote a good portion of the New Testament) had tons of Christians killed before his conversion. When I think of men like this I'm encouraged that the Lord can use me despite my failings! And it only makes me want to love Him more and my heart swells with gratefulness!

The pictures are from our trip in September to a local pumpkin patch. 



My husband lovingly jokes that our Oldest sometimes dresses like a "homeschooler." HA!






This race track was so. much. fun.







God is good!

11/17/2014

Bang Bang!

I have 6 blog posts waiting for me to edit, add pictures and hit "Publish." Sigh. Maybe one of these days I'll finish them. Or maybe I won't.

For now I'd like to blog about something very deep and spiritual--my hair.

I've been talking about cutting my bangs for about a year now and I finally worked up the courage to do it. I was getting bored with my hair, but didn't want to cut the length--it's about halfway down my back.

Well, last week I finally took the plunge! I have bangs, people! This is big! I think the last time I had bangs that fell above my eyebrows I was 9 years old. Although, I have one friend who told me I looked like I was a little girl with these bangs. You know who you are! *giving the stink eye*

BEFORE: (excuse the low-quality selfies)

I had to add this one because of the cute baby. He was 4 months here. :)

AFTER:

ACK! Aren't they so crazy!? I know. I'm outta control over here. 

The response has been mixed. Usually people just ask me, "Do YOU like them?" I'm not sure what that means. My husband loves them though, and his opinion is what really counts in my book. :)

10/10/2014

Please Don't Say "I Could Never Do That"

I've been homeschooling for about 8 weeks. And I already couldn't tell you how many times I've heard things like this:

"I don't know how you do it!"

"I could never do that."

"I'm not patient enough to homeschool."

"I'm not organized enough to homeschool."

"I'm not ______ enough to homeschool."

Well, you know what? Neither am I. 

I do it because I want to. Because I (we) think it's best for our family. NOT because it's easy or I'm super organized or whatever.

If there's anything I've learned in the past weeks of schooling (and past 6 years of being a Stay at Home Mom) it's that it's anything but easy. And I feel less organized every day. 

That doesn't mean I'm going to give up.

Saying those things is the equivalent of saying, "I don't know how you can send your child to school everyday. Isn't that hard? Don't you miss them?" I'd venture to say it is hard for you some days. But it's your choice. You aren't doing it because it's easy or you're super organized or whatever, are you?

So please, please, don't assume that because someone has made the choice to homeschool, that's it comes naturally or easily. Because chances are, it doesn't. The hard things never do, do they?


Whew! Glad I got that off my chest in a totally non-passive-aggressive way.


10/02/2014

The Real Enemy

A few verses that have been holding me up lately: 

Be strong and do not give up, for your work will be rewarded. - 2 Chron 15:7

Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me. - Psalm 51:10

It was good for me to be afflicted so that I might learn your decrees. - Psalm 119:71

Before I was afflicted I went astray, but now I obey your word. - Psalm 119:67

May those who seek my life
    be disgraced and put to shame;
may those who plot my ruin
    be turned back in dismay.

May they be like chaff before the wind,
    with the angel of the Lord driving them away; 

may their path be dark and slippery,
    with the angel of the Lord pursuing them. - Psalm 35: 4-6


For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. - Eph 6:12 

This last verse is one I've really been holding onto lately. Or at least trying to anyway. Probably the best advice I've ever gotten in any situation is that the devil does not want our family (any family) to succeed. I believe one of his major goals is to break up families. If he can do that, then communities (societies) crumble.

Knowing that helps me so much. It helps me to shift the blame from people who maybe aren't living up to my lofty expectations to the one behind the mayhem. As a side note, the word 'mayhem' was the first one that came to mind. Check out the definition:

: actions that hurt people and destroy things : a scene or situation that involves a lot of violence 
a :  willful and permanent deprivation of a bodily member resulting in the impairment of a person's fighting ability
b :  willful and permanent crippling, mutilation, or disfigurement of any part of the body 
:  needless or willful damage or violence

I'd say that pretty much sums up with the devil tries to do. "Needless or willful damage"? Yup.

I hope some of this encourages you as it does me. If you're struggling with something or someone, remember who your real enemy is! 


9/28/2014

Like Riding a Bicycle

We've got some big news! Ok, well, this isn't like riding a bicycle. It is riding a bicycle!





Pretty exciting stuff! :)