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?