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?