Tuesday, December 30, 2014

My 5 Favorite Books of 2014

Last year, I remember reading internet chatter about the best books people had read.  I was quite sad that I couldn't even remember what books I had read!  I started tracking on Goodreads, and it has been quite the handy tool.

Thus, as the end of 2014 draws ever closer, I joyfully give you my five favorite books of 2014, regardless of publication date:

1.  The Nesting Place by Myquillyn Smith.  One of two books I pre-ordered this year, I was super excited to read her book, which was quite nicely not just a repetition of her blog.  Smith really spoke to me about letting go of perfection and just trying something new in your house.  What's the worst that can happen?  You have to paint again?  There was so much gentle guidance, plain-spoken (but not harsh) realism, and great decorating ideas in her book.  It was so good I read it twice from cover-to-cover, once in hardback, once on Kindle.  (That's right.  I bought two formats of the book.)  Smith's tagline is 'it doesn't have to be perfect to be beautiful.'  That lines right up with my current mantra: don't let the perfect get in the way of the good.

2.  The Giver by Lois Lowry.  This book's been around for a while, but I just finally got to it at the end of this year.  It was a quick, straightforward read, but it's simplicity, truth, and heroism remains with me.  I was really struck by this book and was a bit surprised at how struck I was.

3.  Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell.  Oh, man, did I ever love reading this book.  I keep saying that I wouldn't have found them so charming and lovable if I could actually hear the characters saying "God" as exasperatingly as it was written.  But holy heck, I just loved it.

4.  Steal Like an Artist by Austin Kleon.  I'd never read a book like this, and I found it so encouraging, creative, and fun.  I would like to read it again.  Very inspiring.

5.  Hannah Coulter by Wendell Berry.  I would not have read this book if it weren't for being invited to join a Well Read Mom group.  I'm so glad it was put on my radar.  When I think back about reading it, I just remember all the peacefulness and wise words I experienced, like these:

You think you will never forget any of this, you will remember it always just the way it was.  But you can't remember it the way it was.  To know it, you have to be living in the presence of it right as it is happening.  It can return only by surprise.  Speaking of these things tells you that there are no words for them that are equal to them or that can restore them to your mind.
 And so you have a life that you are living only now, now and now and now, gone before you can speak of it, and you must be thankful for living day by day, moment by moment, in this presence. 

What were your favorites this year?  Any of these, by chance?  Linking up with Modern Mrs. Darcy for an exploration of all our favorites in 2014.

Saturday, December 20, 2014

An Advent Countdown with Books: 2014 Edition

It is satisfying to have this be our third Advent countdown with books!  What fun to look back at previous years.  We started this tradition in 2012, and we enjoyed it once again in 2013.

I love a lot of the titles on these lists, but if one thing haunts me a little, it's that the books are so serious- and I've already held back on including some of the more popular make-you-weep books in the past.  My oldest is almost seven; I haven't wanted to overwhelm him with themes that are too heavy.

The only paper I had in large supply was a roll of easel paper.  I punched out 1" holes with a hole punch in both purple and pink, representing the weeks of Advent.  This year, I labeled starting with the 30th of November.

So, this year, we will make sure to balance things out with a little fun (though, where there is Tomie dePaola there is almost always fun).

Here we go with this year's list:

Sun 30: The Very First Christmas (audio book recorded by husband's parents)
Mon 1: The Legend of the Candy Cane (Walburg & Bernardin) New!
Tue 2: The First Christmas (a book of biblical text and puzzles) New!
Wed 3: Tomie's Little Christmas Pageant (dePaola)
Thu 4: A Christmas Carol (Boddy) New!
Fri 5:  Saint Nicholas: the story of the real Santa Claus (Joslin & Cann)
Sat 6: Saint Nicholas: the real story of the Christmas legend (Stiegmeyer & Ellison)
Sun 7: Immaculate Conception (booklet - Winkler)
Mon 8: Our Lady of Guadalupe (pop-up - Serrano, Davalos, & Guzman)
Tue 9: St. Joseph's Story - (Guadagno & Lo Cascio)
Wed 10: Who is Coming to Our House? (Slate & Wolff)  New!
Thu 11: Our Lady of Guadalupe (Bernier-Grand & Engel)
Fri 12: The Nativity Play (Butterworth & Inkpen) New!
Sat 13: An Angel Came to Nazareth (Kneen)
Sun 14: Bambinelli Sunday (Wellborn & Engelhart)
Mon 15: Great Joy (DiCamillo & Ibatoulline)
Tue 16: The Night of Las Posadas (dePaola)
Wed 17: My First Book of Christmas Prayers (Roche)
Thu 18: Good King Wenceslas (Neale & Henterly)
Fri 19: Uno, Dos, Tres, Posada! (Kroll) New!
Sat 20: The Clown of God (dePaola)
Sun 21: The Story of Christmas (Pingry & Thornburgh)
Mon 22: Room for a Little One (Waddell & Cockcroft)
Tue 23: The Legend of the Poinsettia (dePaola)
Wed 24: The Nativity (Sanderson)

I traditionally end with the nativity reading from Luke out of our New American Bible (NAB), but I decided to go for a book as well this year.  We will be sure to use the Bible, too.

I lined up some feasts again this year: St. Nick (6th), St. Juan Diego (9th), Our Lady of Guadalupe (12th), but I let go of the other feasts (St. Lucy, St. Stephen).  I thought about trying to line up the O Antiphons with books, but I let that go, too.  Last year, I tried to assigned books to the days after Christmas- the 12 days of Christmas!  We read the books from those 12 days (some great books on St. Stephen, King Wenceslas, and the Wise Men!), but we didn't always read them when I had assigned them.  We were juggling post-Christmas burnout (including recovering from a bad bug), buying a new van, last minute baby prep, and a New Year's birthday for our oldest during that time.  This year, we are sticking to the 30th through the 24th because that's what we got done!

What's left of the countdown and what's already been read

This Christmas, I've been trying to really crystallize what Advent and Christmas traditions serve my family.  Unlike other things, the Advent Countdown with Books did not fall away!  I used what I had, grabbed some new-to-us books from the library, and got them wrapped up.  Not much different this year, but it doesn't have to be different to be good.

The book countdown utilizes what we already do (read books at bedtime), keeps focus on the reason for the season, and adds an element of fun to our anticipation of Christmas.

What about you?  Do you do a bookish countdown?  Do you love Tomie dePaola like me?  How do you countdown to Christmas, if you even do?

Monday, December 15, 2014

Quick Lit - December 2014 (the linkup formerly known as Twitterature)

The linkup's the same!  Only the name has changed.  Modern Mrs Darcy hosts a linkup where we all share quick reviews of the books we've been reading.  Check out her blog for more details!  Your to-read list is sure to explode as a result of clicking around all the posts.

The Giver by Lois Lowry (paperback, library) - I have been meaning to read this for some time and was so glad I did.  Simple, horrifying, poignant, and containing a heroic character.  I'll have to read this again sometime.  I think my library has one of the followup books, too.

"Lilacs" & "The Long Ago" - two short stories by Mary Lavin (borrowed a booklet) - I don't have pictures or sources for these stories.  I had to borrow the booklet printed especially for the book group I belong to since these stories are out of print.  I liked Lilacs best despite its uninviting subject matter (dung).  Lavin wrote wisely on accepting what is, or reality.  

The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie by Alan Bradley (hardback, library) - I abandoned this book after the mystery on the grounds of Flavia's estate is discovered.  This is the second mystery book I have abandoned (the first, sadly, being Maisie Dobbs).  I really wanted to like this book, but I had to let it go.

I'm in the middle of one book I'd hoped to review today, and I started another I am slowly going through.  Maybe next month!

What are you reading this month?  Read any of these?  Tell me about them in the comments. Be sure to visit this month's Quick Lit linkup for more reading recommendations!

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

What falls away at Christmas: the Christmas card

I started a post on Christmas cards on November 17th.  I went back and forth.  I yammered.  I yammered some more, and then, I couldn't come to a conclusion on how to handle this tradition.

I let the post sit in draft form.

Fast forward to a whirlwind shopping mall photo session before Thanksgiving.  We got a good shot.  I came home and started to troll the web for Christmas card deals.  I almost pulled the trigger.

Then, I thought some more about a question I asked on my personal Facebook page:

Do you think most people throw away the Christmas photo cards they receive?

Granted, this was a self-selected bunch.  I'm sure there were many throw-away-ers that saw my question but didn't want to self-identify because they probably thought they would offer the wrong answer.

There's no wrong answer to the question.  I just wanted to know what most people did.

My informal poll concluded that a little over half of people keep them, a few even said they put them in albums.  (Remember, we are talking about photo cards here.  Not regular cards.)

That's what I do.  Not that I expect people to do what I do.  But that's what I do.

But isn't it interesting that many of us are just throwing them away?  

Is it worth it?  All these fancy photo cards?  I think they are beautiful, but I've never done the fancy photo card.  I just do the original photo cards with a block on the end you can easily cut off.  Is the less-fancy photo card even worth it?  Is what we go through to get to the photo cards worth it?  The time?  The money?

The better question is: is it prudent for my family?

This year, I did so much hemming and hawing that I finally said: enough!  I'm not sending out cards!  It's stressing me out!

I'm glad I got our little three dressed in clothes we already had, used a good Living Social deal, and got someone to get all of them looking at the camera.  But that's as far as it goes this year.

The Christmas card....it's what's falling away this Christmas.

Tell me what's fallen away at your house this Advent and Christmas.  Did you do cards?  Or will you do cards?

Sunday, November 16, 2014

What falls away at Christmas: getting the tree

No, I am not suggesting not getting a Christmas tree.  (But if that appeals to you, go for it.  That was also three negatives in one sentence, but I am not changing it.)

But I am suggesting that you don't have to lug all your children in two vehicles to the tree farm in the freezing cold.  It's possible that one kid won't walk, and you'll have to carry him in his thick winter coat and snow pants on top of your sizable bump of an unborn child that's hiding under your thick winter coat.

It's possible you will have to hike a mile to find the perfect tree, walk back and forth between trees yelling out which tree is better, try really hard to stay jolly (because this is supposed to be a fun Christmas activity!) while children start to complain about the cold, and then, somehow, walk back uphill (still holding the toddler) while your husband drags the tree behind him and tries to encourage the oldest to keep walking despite his claims of capabilities to the contrary.

It's possible that you would have to hurriedly squish all the unhappy, cold children back into the car while your husband takes care of buying the tree and throwing it into the back of the truck (hence, the two vehicles).

Cutting down the tree at the tree farm is a cool thing.  No doubt about that.  I like doing it.

However, the decision to do so has not always been prudent for our family.

But I have slugged it out in recent years because I thought I had to do it because...


...I don't why.  I thought I had to in order to make happy Christmas memories for my family?  I think we might have cut the tree down once as a kid.  I'm not really sure.  I don't have loads of sentimental value attached to cutting down the tree.  My dad usually went to go get it.  From wherever.

And guess what, folks?

That's what's happening this year!  The dad of the family is going to get it.  Wherever he wants.

The whole (young) family traipsing out to the tree farm to cut down the tree and bring it home?

It's what's falling away this Christmas.

I welcome your thoughts about how you handle getting the Christmas tree in your house.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Twitterature - November 2014

I only read one book this past month, but it was 841 pages long.  It was Stephen King's 11/22/63.  It was $2.99 when I bought it in July for the Kindle, and it is still $2.99 for that format.  I thought it was wise to go ahead and purchase this one because I did not want to lug around such a large book.  Nursing a baby and holding a honker like this book can't mix well.

I was intrigued by the glowing reviews, premise, and $2.99 price tag.  The narrator wasn't very endearing, though he probably wasn't supposed to be; I didn't care for him much until well into the novel.  The book rides on mostly the plot, not deeply realized characters.  That's okay.  It was a good ride, engrossing at the end, but the book took a long time to get where it was going.  I don't know if I'd actually recommend it.  If it were a few hundred pages shorter, it might be easier to recommend.  You might really enjoy it if you are already a Stephen King fan, a JFK assassination theorist, or history buff.  Maybe nostalgia is a positive factor for a lot of readers.  I'm sure that day was a pivotal day for many living during Kennedy's years as president.  Despite the fact that I stuck with the book, I just can't shake this feeling that I could've been reading something else.  #timetravel #JFK

What have you been reading this month?  Did you read this one?  As usual,  I am linking up with Modern Mrs Darcy for her Twitterature linkup.  Go check it out for lots of great book recommendations for your list!

Saturday, November 8, 2014

What Falls Away at Christmas

I used to get annoyed with people who planned the holidays early.  Planning a Christmas gathering before Halloween?  Oh, my.

Now that I am a little older, I can understand the desire to sort things out earlier than later.  (I still say that doesn't need to be done before Halloween.  And no Christmas gathering talk much before Thanksgiving, unless you are planning some sort of reunion or big trip.)  I have noticed a strong desire to have a plan for the day or weekend lately.  It feels pretty urgent when I do notice it.  It usually comes when we have several things that we need to accomplish and drifting through the day doesn't help get those things done.  Thanksgiving through New Year's Day can feel pretty hectic, and I imagine an advanced plan could be helpful in producing smoother celebrations for families (not to mention all the days in between).

I can also understand why people put up Christmas lights earlier than later.  What if it storms or is super cold the weekend you planned on doing it?  I can imagine it's better to grab hold of a nicer weekend when you can.  (You could wait to turn the lights on though!)

We usually wait to cut down our Christmas tree until the pink week of Advent, Gaudete Sunday.  It's an exciting weekend liturgically, and we experience a deepening of joy and anticipation of Christmas.   This has mostly worked well for us, save the year a blizzard chased us back to the house with the tree.  We picked it out in whipping winds wondering why in the world we had our kids out in that weather.  So, if you wait too long, you might not get your tree cut down in time, especially since tree farms typically don't stay open past the 20th or 21st.

The snowman built from the blizzard that chased us home from the tree farm.

I can specifically remember begging people to remind me to make a professional appointment for Christmas pictures next time last Christmas.  It was so hard capturing my boys in a nice pose.  Holy cow!  My camera is not fast enough for them.  I can see why picture-taking gets scheduled in advance.

I can understand why people do a lot of the holiday things they do early.

But do we have to do all of them?  I find it easy to type out here that the answer is no, but living out that no has been harder than I thought it would ever be.

I want to think out loud about some of these things that might fall away at Christmas and what might stay, too.  It's my prayer that I approach the holidays with the right disposition, allow for the cultivation of virtue, and be a good steward of my family's time and money.

I wonder a bit if I overthink Christmas, but for my family's sake, especially for the spiritual formation of my young children, I want to navigate the holiday carefully. That requires some forethought.  (But I do overthink things.)

Think out loud with me.  I welcome your thoughts on planning for the holidays.  

Friday, October 31, 2014

31 Days of Letting Stuff Go - Day 31 - Wrapping it Up

This post is part of a series of posts called 31 Days of Letting Stuff Go and is hosted as a link up at Write 31 Days with Nester of the Nesting Place.  For previous posts, please do visit my landing page.  You can also explore #lettingstuffgo and #write31days on Twitter.  

How fun!  Here we are at the end of 31 Days of Letting Stuff Go.

This has been a great month full of letting go of stuff that wasn't blessing my family anymore, getting real about what we truly use, finding more negative space in different nooks and crannies of the house.  

I'm really pleased about what I let go of in the attic.  That was a lot of stuff for such a small space.  

I learned a really need a bookcase.  I'll be shopping for a pretty one soon, though I need to think long and hard about where it's going to go.

I didn't declutter any current paper files besides my college paper bin.  (Hey, that was a big one.)   I am very excited to try Susan C. Pinsky's suggestions for filing papers from her book Organizing Solutions for People with ADHD.  I am going to put almost every one of her paper suggestions in place for a test run.  The paper trays make the most sense to me.  Can't wait!  I'm pretty sure it will result in more purges!  I loved her book.

I've already forgotten about some of the things I've purged.  Ha!  I was fishing around in my posts for a particular link, and I saw the soap-making supplies from very early on.  Totally forgot about those already!  Excellent.  Must not have needed them too badly.  Maybe I'll finally try that box-it-up-and-date-it trick.  

I don't know if achieved what I originally set out for or not.  I'm curious what you think, if you've been reading along.  I definitely had a lot of posts in which I was thinking out loud about letting it go.  I had some decent before and afters.  (I love those!)  Did I let go of the next layer of stuff?  I think so.  I let go of so many things that had made the cut previously.  Made many cuts, when I think of it.  So, that's a win!  

There are even a few spots that didn't get hit by the purge, but that's okay because there are more days in the year.  I let something go every day this month!


Congratulations to all my fellow writers participating in the challenge.  I salute you.  I hope you had as much fun as me with your series.

Want more posts like mine?  Check out the Write 31 Days Simplicity and Organizing page.  

And before we go, here's one more purge.  These art drawers were bugging the heck out of me:

 Closest dresser to me, second and third from the top


Geez o' pete!

Oh, my goodness, that's better.

Might not look better to you, but I get it, at least.  :)

All done.

That was a lot purged.  Plenty of paper in the recycle bin.  I might play around (again) with location and real estate (does this item deserve to be in this drawer?), but this is much easier on the eyes.  A fun way to celebrate the end of 31 days!

Wishing you satisfactory before and afters.  And gratitude in the durings.

31 Days of Letting Stuff Go - Day 30 - A Candle for the Win

This post is part of a series of posts called 31 Days of Letting Stuff Go and is hosted as a link up at Write 31 Days with Nester of the Nesting Place.  For previous posts, please do visit my landing page.  You can also explore #lettingstuffgo and #write31days on Twitter.  

I am writing this on the 31st.  I made it all the way to the 30th without missing a day.  Sadness.  Womp, womp.  

But I am taking it in stride, dear readers because life is better that way.  A younger Anne would have beaten herself up about it a bit and very likely declared this series not done well enough.

What kind of way is that to talk to yourself?  

I cleared a whole heck of a lot of stuff out of my house this month.  A part of me wants to keep going with purging something every day.  The wheels have been heavily greased this month with all this letting go.  I love it!  

There was this perspective shift with writing the series.  I've purged stuff before....lots of times, but this time, I had to let go of something.  And then blog about it.  External authority, I tell you.  It does great things.

Yesterday, I was joyfully distracted by Halloween costumes, family, and homeschooling.  I didn't start purging until everyone was asleep.  Then, little sister woke up, and I had to nurse her back to sleep.  Guess who fell asleep with her, woke up at 12:30am, and thought whoops!  Just missed my very first day.

I've been through this area several times in purge mode.  Art and craft supplies are difficult to let go of in this house.  We like to create things.  (There's a little bit more storage off to the right of this picture.)

What's up with the crazy tissue paper??

One of the drawers under the tissue contained only votive candles.  Do you have any idea how long they've been there?  

Broken plastic frame under the candles

But even now, I'm thinking: But I could be like Modern Mrs Darcy and light a candle every morning and night.  Well, yes, I could, couldn't I?  It does sound so cozy to light a candle and stare at the flame right now.  It is colder out, and we are heading into snugglier times.  I could put one on the sink!  (There are some votive holders not pictured.)  

But I don't like extra stuff on the sink.  

These need to go.  I will get a new candle if I decide I want a candle on the sink.  Or anywhere, really.

I am letting them go.

Now, I can add candle hoarding to my list of things I didn't realize I was hoarding.  Candles and glass containers.  What do you hoard?

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

31 Days of Letting Stuff Go - Day 29 - Rocker

This post is part of a series of posts called 31 Days of Letting Stuff Go and is hosted as a link up at Write 31 Days with Nester of the Nesting Place.  For previous posts, please do visit my landing page.  You can also explore #lettingstuffgo and #write31days on Twitter.  

More than once lately, I've thought about childhood things.  Sentimental clutter can bottleneck a home so quickly.  Cards, gifts, old toys, books, decorations, clothes....it just can't all stay with us.

If you had to tell the story of your life, what pieces would speak the most clearly about you?  

This rocker spoke nothing about me.

I pulled that rocker from my parents' house a long time ago.  I brought it to my basement when I had kids.

I'll paint it and put it in my kids' room!  Won't it be neat that they will have my rocker?


It won't, actually.

Just because I owned it or used it doesn't mean I loved it.  I don't even remember sitting on it.  It was not a beloved toy or piece of clothing.  I didn't have grand imaginary adventures while sitting on it or even near it.

So, there it sat in my basement, never getting used, partially because it didn't coordinate with the room my boys are in currently (and I really pictured it more for a girl, who didn't join us until this year) and partially because I didn't think there was enough room for it anyway.  I am not a fan of furniture without function in a room.  I don't want to just fill space to fill space.  This rocker would've just sat there.  I can't imagine it would be appealing to my kids beyond its size.  I see them curl up with books on the couch or armchair.  Not a spindly wood rocker.  

This doesn't mean I don't appreciate that my parents bought something like this rocker for me.  I certainly do.  They've bought and provided me with a great many things out of love.  But that's not really what this post is about.  

This is about detachment from things.  Really evaluating what we need or desire to have around us in our homes.  

This is about what I really want to share about myself with my kids.

It wasn't this rocker.

I let it go.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

31 Days of Letting Stuff Go - Day 28 - Utility Drawer

This post is part of a series of posts called 31 Days of Letting Stuff Go and is hosted as a link up at Write 31 Days with Nester of the Nesting Place.  For previous posts, please do visit my landing page.  You can also explore #lettingstuffgo and #write31days on Twitter.  

I am just not sure where to look to let stuff go.  I feel like I have hit all the big spots in our house.  There are little things here and there that could go.  I could round all of those up in one post, but I don't have a feeling of I must get to xyz.

Instead, I am going clean out a drawer because that's what is bugging me right now.  

It's a little messy, not too bad.  Still, a good cleaning is a good cleaning.


Sort: trash, office supplies, small home improvement supplies, foreign coins (not pictured).  Office supplies went to the office supply closet.

I was trying to be like the Petersiks from Young House Love.  They keep certain things upstairs in a kitchen drawer for easy access.  I think this is smart, but I have a new open bin of painting supplies downstairs on a shelf that is well-labeled.  I think I will utilize that for now.  I wasn't using these tools enough to warrant keeping them upstairs.  I am probably going to regret moving the screwdrivers downstairs.  My husband uses a large, several-gallon-bucket with a sorting insert for his tools that we keep in the basement as well.  I put the screwdrivers in that for now.

After.  The calculator doesn't fit into there very neatly, but this is a good place for it.  The dividers are bottoms of cardboard food containers like cereal boxes and one Goldfish box in the back.

That felt good to do.  Clean out any drawers lately?  

Monday, October 27, 2014

31 Days of Letting Stuff Go - Day 27 - Knock Your Socks Off...or Not

This post is part of a series of posts called 31 Days of Letting Stuff Go and is hosted as a link up at Write 31 Days with Nester of the Nesting Place.  For previous posts, please do visit my landing page.  You can also explore #lettingstuffgo and #write31days on Twitter.  

There was another bin in yesterday's pictures that I knew I needed to go through. I hadn't touched it in ages, but that still didn't help me let go of the stuff in the bin.

I really wanted to put the contents of this bin somewhere else, but I didn't have the brain power to say where.  I could've just left the stuff out that I was keeping and put the bin in my huge empty bin pile, but I just didn't want the stuff out.  I am in the middle of the Big Seasonal Children's Clothing Switch, and my brain is already melting from that (3 kids, 1 dresser, 1 closet).

Here's a before: Christmas socks, thermal underwear, thicker socks, theater/dance gear, random pantyhose, swimsuit coverup....


Back in the box reluctantly.

I have ideas about what to do with everything: special theater box, reorganize sock drawer to fit extras in, purge my hanging mesh bags for a refill with a label, but I don't have time for that right now.  

It will be on my list of things to do, however.  I might need to make room in my closet for some of my baby's things!

Not feeling like I accomplished much today.  Hmph.

What do you do to get your decluttering juices flowing again?  I need a refill.