Tuesday, February 5, 2019

On Turning Six

John Michael turned six last week and he had a few simple birthday requests.  He wanted banana pudding, pizza from the restaurant "so mommy didn't have to make it" (he's either our sweetest child or the one most likely to enter into politics), a trip to an aquarium, and to not have to sweep the kitchen at all, all day--his usual daily chore. 

Words cannot express how much he despises sweeping.

I think all of his birthday dreams came true.  The nearest aquarium is in Boston, which is not ideal for those of us who hate venturing out into crowded places, but Aunt Courtney said she would send the whole family off on the excursion as her gift for John this year so we made the trek into the big city.  It was actually pretty fun and John loved every minute of it.  North Carolina aquariums are still my favorite, but this one was certainly better than say, Baltimore, especially for ease of navigation once inside and your ability to bring a stroller in. 

John pretty much loves every gift he's ever been given and this birthday was no exception.  He's been on a bit of a robot kick so he especially liked all the robots and the fact that he can make them fight against each other.   The big boys pooled their money to buy him the Ninjago spinning Lego thingee of his dreams.  Now that the kids are older, it's always my favorite to see what gifts they give to each other.  It almost always involves emptying out their wallets of all of their hard earned cash.  My kids might be a lot of things but they sure aren't stingy.  It's always nice to be reminded at each birthday and holiday that deep, deep, deep, deep down inside themselves they really do love each other.  A lot. 

And John didn't sweep the kitchen once. 

Sunday, January 20, 2019

What I Read in 2018

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Looking over my reading from this past year I realized that the only way to describe it was as the year of the audiobook.  We got an Audible subscription this year and I officially listened to more books than I read.  I think that means that I got more books in than I otherwise would have since I'm generally listening to books while I'm doing other things like cooking or driving or unpacking moving boxes.  

So many moving boxes.

It probably ate into my actual reading time a bit though.  Especially any time I spent unnecessarily sitting in my car listening to a bit more of my book instead of coming inside and facing real life :)

I read an embarrassing amount of Agatha Christie mysteries which I clearly love, but my favorite actual books were the Lucy Maud Montgomery biography, Wendell Berry's latest and one Agatha Christie, Absent in the Spring, which was not a mystery at all but one of her character studies written under her pen name:

Lucy Maud Montgomery:  The Gift of Wings, by Mary Rubio
This was a very long but very readable biography of L.M. Montgomery.  If you are interested in her life and writings then you would probably enjoy it.  Her life wasn't at all what I imagined it to be--it was filled with a lot of pain and disappointment--and this book doesn't spare you from all the bad bits.  I enjoyed it more than The Woman Who Was Chesterton, by Nancy Brown, a biography of G.K. Chesterton's wife, which was interesting for all of the things I learned about Frances Chesterton and the Chestertons as a couple, but not as well written.  Rubio's book read more as a story while Brown's felt, at times, like a stilted list of facts she had gathered.  To me anyway.

The Art of Loading Brush, by Wendell Berry
Wendell Berry is like a beacon of common sense and reason in our troubled political times.  This book is filled with great essays and short stories on the state of our culture and a vision of what we've lost and what we could have again with a bit of work.  Okay, a lot of work.  If you want to better understand agrarianism, or just have some good old fashioned advice on a life well lived this book is for you.  Really Wendell Berry should be required reading for everyone.

Absent in the Spring, by Mary Westmacott
I read this while I was in the hospital after Timothy's birth and it has really stuck with me.  It's one of the six non-mystery books that  Agatha Christie wrote under the pen name Mary Westacott.  The main character is an older woman who sees herself as the epitome of upright womanhood and, luckily or unluckily, ends up stranded in a train station in the middle of the desert with nothing to occupy her time but her own thoughts. This eventually leads her to examine her life and she, as well as the reader, gradually see her for who she really is as her frivolous and self-occupied personality is exposed.   It would ruin the story to tell you what she does with that information, but I'm still pondering the ending all these months later.  If you were going to read one novel from this list I would recommend this one.   
When it comes to audio books, I tended to listed to really long ones because when you are using Audible credits they need to be WORTH IT.  Which explains why I listened to The Complete Sherlock Holmes.  I also managed to listed to The P.G. Wodehouse Collection--twice.  I do love Wodehouse, but he's more of a diversion for when you want to be amused and not think heavy thoughts.  Like when you are unpacking your library (again) and wondering if everyone is right and maybe moving all those boxes of books every one to three years really is crazy.**

My favorite audio book though was Gone with the Wind which was also very long, but it was the first thing I listened to last year and I still think about it.  I've seen the movie but never read the book and as I approached the final chapters I was really hoping that the movie had taken liberties with the ending.  Spoiler alert--it didn't.  It was the idea of Scarlet's that she would be able to be good later, become more like her mother when she was older, but couldn't see that the choices she was making were turning her into who she was and would be right then really stuck with me.  It reminded me of what C.S. Lewis wrote in Mere Christianity about how every choice we make is bringing us either closer or further away from God.  As you read (or you know, listen) you can't help but wish she could see herself for who she really is and start making better life choices.  Sometimes I just wished I could shake her.  If you've ever wanted to read Gone with the Wind but thought it was too long to try, you should definitely give the audio book a go.  I followed up by listening to Uncle Tom's Cabin which should probably always be paired with Gone with the Wind to balance any romantic ideas of life in the South that the later might stir up.  I realized that, although I could have told you the plot and historical importance of Uncle Tom's Cabin, I had never actually read it myself.  It was good timing for both books  since I'm working through the Civil War with David this year.

These lists seem like a lot and also not nearly as much as I used to be able to get through when the kids were younger and there were less of them.  Probably because so much of my time is taken up by homeschooling now, which also requires a lot of me reading books out loud, just not ones I get to choose for myself.  I did include the ones I read as pre-reading for David this year in my list though.  I was hoping to finish all of his books last summer but that proved to be an unrealistic goal :)

Now I'm back to just keeping up with all of the ones I didn't get to during my pre-reading time on Fridays and staying a week ahead of him.  I'd like to say that I'll get through all his sixth grade books in advance next summer, but we'll be moving again so....probably not.

Well, here's the full list of all my 2018 reading and listening, for all of you who have persevered this far. Make sure to tell me what your favorite book from last year was.  I obviously still have space on my nightstand for a few more before the piles topple over!

Actual Books:
  1. The Best of Wodehouse: An Anthology, by P.G. Wodehouse
  2. Death in the Air, by Agatha Christie
  3. The Pale Horse, by Agatha Christie
  4. Hickory Dickory Death, by Agatha Christie
  5. The Clocks, by Agatha Christie
  6. There is a Tide, by Agatha Christie
  7. Sleeping Murder, by Agatha Christie
  8. The Woman Who Was Chesterton, by Nancy Brown
  9. Miss Marple:  The Complete Short Stories, by Agatha Christie
  10. Murder with Mirrors, by Agatha Christie
  11. Lucy Maud Montgomery:  The Gift of Wings, by Mary Rubio
  12. The Art of Loading Brush, by Wendell Berry
  13. The Secret of Chimneys, by Agatha Christie
  14. And Then There Were None, by Agatha Christie
  15. At Home in Mitford, by Jan Karon
  16. For the Family's Sake, by Susan Schaeffer Macauley
  17. Third Girl, by Agatha Christie
  18. Elephants Can Remember, by Agatha Christie
  19. Absent in the Spring, by Mary Westmacott (Agatha Christie)
  20. Mitten Strings for God, by Katrina Kenison
  21. Village School, by Miss Read
  22. Seductive Poison:  A Jonestown Story of Life and Death in the Peoples Temple, by Deborah Layton
  23. Araham Lincoln's World, by Genevieve Foster
  24. Of Courage Undaunted, by James Daugherty
  25. Village Christmas, by Miss Read

Audio Books:

  1. Gone with the Wind, by Margaret Mitchell
  2. Jane of Lantern HIll, by L.M. Montgomery
  3. The P.G. Wodehouse Collection, by P.G. Wodehouse
  4. The Millionaire Next Door, by Thomas Stanley
  5. Northanger Abbey, by Jane Austen
  6. Uncle Tom's Cabin,by  Harriet Beecher Stowe
  7. Anne of Green Gables,by  L.M. Montgomery*
  8. On the Edge of the Dark Sea of Darkness, by Andrew Peterson
  9. North!  Or Be Eaten!, by Andrew Peterson
  10. The Monster in the Hollows, by Andrew Peterson
  11. The Warden and the Wolf King, by Andrew Peterson
  12. The Floating Admiral, by The Detective Club
  13. The Adventures of Sally, by P.G. Wodehouse
  14. Something Fresh, by P.G. Wodehouse
  15. The P.G. Wodehouse Collection, by P.G. Wodehouse*
  16. Far From the Madding Crowd, by Thomas Hardy
  17. The Screwtape Letters, by C.S. Lewis*
  18. The Hobbit, by J.R.R. Tolkien*
  19. Halloween Party, by Agatha Christie
  20. Oliver Twist, Charles Dickens
  21. Man in the Brown Suit, by Agatha Christie
  22. 4:50 from Paddington, by Agatha Christie
  23. Crooked House, by Agatha Christie
  24. Endless Night, by Agatha Christie
  25. Emma, by Jane Austen*
  26. The Complete Sherlock Holmes, by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
  27. Desperate:  Hope for the Mom Who Needs to Breathe, by Sarah Mae and Sally Clarkson
  28. Murder for Christmas:  Tales of Seasonal Malice, by various
  29. The Christmas Hirelings, by Mary Elizabeth Bradden
  30. Educated:  A Memoir, Tara Westover
  31. Murder in an English Village, Jessica Ellicott

*re-reads, or re-listens as the case may be

**Don't worry.  I decided it is clearly not crazy.  I am not a crazy book lady.  Pay no attention to the picture of the current state of my nightstand.

Friday, December 28, 2018

On Keeping Christmas Going

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I know some families have already removed all traces of Christmas from their homes, but we've been keeping the Christmas festivities going strong here!  We have almost finished our annual day after Christmas puzzle, which Chris cleverly found hiding in the basement (right where I left it, I'm sure) just in the nick of time.  We drove out to a nearby Catholic shrine with a big lights display that a reader told me about and it was so cute--they even had food and a building full of international nativity sets.  The shrine is dedicated to Our Lady of La Salette whom I had never heard of before but fear not--I bought a book all about the apparition from their bookstore so I will be fully versed soon.  Or at least sometime in the next fifty years as I slowly but surely make my way through my to-be-read pile(s). 

And speaking of books, we had our annual book day which was great and involves almost no prep since I mostly just stash books for the kids in a big box in my closet as I find them throughout the year at thrift shops, estate sales, and the like and then lay them out the night before.  There was a lot of cozy reading going on in all the corners of the house today.  I found a Magic Eye book that I remembered from my own elementary school days for David and it has been confirmed that I still cannot see the pictures.  Unlike Chris who can see them all.....allegedly.

This year we also made gingerbread houses from scratch for the first time.  I found instructions online with printable patterns and it was really not any more difficult than rolling sugar cookies.  And as a bonus, the gingerbread is actually something you want to eat as opposed to whatever it is that comes in the kits I bought at Michael's in past years.  I know this from the delight in Christopher's eyes as he nibbled off the head of John's gingerbread man that he stole when John looked away for ten seconds.   Or maybe it was just the sparkle of a little boy who loves mischief.  Or perhaps it was both love of mischief and delicious homemade gingerbread.  Professional tip:  go to an actual candy store to get your supplies.  The kinds with bins of candy.  That way you can get just what you need and won't have giant bags of leftovers from the full sized bags at the grocery store.  Also they've got mini versions of most things which work better on the mini houses.  Unless you want to make your kids each of a full sized gingerbread house, which I do not recommend.  That's a lot of work.  Full sized houses can be had when said children are old enough to bake their own :)

I just love making gingerbread houses, it's one thing everyone here loves and participates in with almost no complaining.  Christmas miracles never cease. 

We've also still got Christmas cards trickling in--mostly the ones that got sent to the wrong address and had to be forwarded.  Sending and receiving Christmas cards is pretty much my favorite part of this whole season.  It's always stressful writing them all out but I'm always so glad I did.  I love to read all the updates and catch up with all of our friends and see how big everyone's children are getting.  The past two years I've said to myself that I seriously need to make a second card wreath and then each year I convince myself that this might be the year when we don't get any cards at all and how sad would it be to have two empty wreaths?    How presumptuous to assume we'd need a second?  Note to self:  next year is the year. I will finally make the second card wreath so we can actually see all of the cards, not just the top layer, and stop breaking clips off trying to stuff too many cards in one.  It's definitely going to happen.

Merry It's Still Christmas!  There's still lots of Christmas fun to be had!

Wednesday, December 26, 2018

On Christmas Day (and Eve)

Our church here in Vermont only has one Christmas mass at four on Christmas Eve so that's when we went.  Father asked Margaret if she would process in with him carrying the baby Jesus and place him in the manger and she was happy to oblige--although it ended up being more of a skip-dance-shuffle than a solemn procession. 

Once we got home we had our traditional feast of the appetizers and decorated the tree.  The placement of it in our little window bump-out is spectacular for outdoor viewing, but slightly less ideal for squeezing round to add ornaments while also baby wearing.  Margaret was the only one who stuck around to help to the end and every once in a while she would ask if she could have certain ornaments for her tree upstairs.  (We let her and the boys each have one of our fake potted trees that generally go on our front steps--because Chris refuses to ever be rid of them--but didn't this year due to a lack of electricity out there and our unwillingness to bother about it.)  When I walked by her room later I realized that Margaret is a Spectacular Tree Decorator.  She had taken some red ribbon and looped it around and then carefully placed each ornament so that no one section was overfull.  It really was a masterpiece of odds and ends. 

We stayed up entirely too late to get everything set up for Christmas morning and then the kids were up dark and early as usual.  Everyone had a wonderful time opening presents and I don't think we had a single flop.  Excepting of course for the licorice "candy" that my darling husband put in my stocking.  I generally think that licorice is one of the worst tasting things in the history of all candy making endeavors, but this must have been even worse.  I can't say for sure because he wouldn't let me try any after he taste-tested it.  Chris can generally eat literally anything and keep a straight face--a skill that came in very handy at the beginning of our married life--but  I wish I could show you the face he made when he put this candy into his mouth.  Alas, I was laughing so hard all of the pictures I took are blurry.  It was probably the high point of Christmas for me.  Isn't it sweet of him to try to find stocking candy for me that didn't have any processed sugar in them?  He's a keeper.  A keeper who got what he deserved for trying to give me licorice. 

We usually let the kids open their stockings and get their present from Santa first thing, then break for breakfast and coffee, and then take turns opening the other gifts--one or two more from us and then the grandparents' and aunts and uncles'.  It takes a surprisingly long time, probably because we are always losing children who want to go play with their new treasures.  The big boys ended up with quite a lego haul from one grandma and spent the rest of the morning assembling them and then guarding them from toddler attack.  There's also been a fair bit of shooting practice going on between John, who received a bow and arrow set, and Henry, who got a slingshot.  Weapons are always a big hit at our house. 

Now we just need to teach Henry to police his tiny paper ball ammunition. 

Margaret was a darling telling me over and over again how much she loved each of her gifts and how they were each the best one.  Chris thinks she's spoiled but obviously she's got a dear little grateful heart.  Yes, on Christmas Eve when the children were exchanging their secret santa gifts with each other, she may have yelled at John that the gift he bought her was "stupid," but that was clearly an anomaly.  Also, she didn't realize that it was a necklace making kit which she now thinks is amazing and not at all stupid.  I also explained to her that even if someone gave her a bag of poo, the polite thing to do is to thank them and think of something nice to say--"oh, what a distinct scent that has, how lovely it will be in my garden."  You know, in terms she could understand.  Based on her Christmas morning behavior, I think the lesson sank in.

David got a pretty epic beeswax candle making kit from Santa since he's been attempting to make his own lately so we need to make some time to work on that with him.  He generally prefers kits and projects that require actual parental oversight.  He tried to sit down with the Santa that came to the law school's winter/end-of-semester/definitely-not-favoring-any-one-religious-observance/holiday party and ask him for all of the different individual components of TNT. 

That one just cannot be trusted. 

He's just overflowing with scathingly brilliant ideas.  Like the Minecraft playing coupons he distributed to his brothers as gifts, the result of which is that they now think they can cash them in to play whenever they want.  Try explaining to very excited eight and five year olds that, no, they aren't allowed to go on a twenty- four hour video game bender just because they have an unauthorized coupon giving them permission.  It doesn't go well. 

We were going to do our own first ever family nativity play after dinner last night, but the kids were done and most of them crashed early.  Maybe we'll get to it later this week.  We've got a lot of big plans for the rest of the twelve days of Christmas including seeing some Christmas lights, making and eating gingerbread houses, our annual book and sketch pad getting days, making Christmas for the animals, and visiting family.  The family visiting also includes a ND game watch and celebrating my birthday--luckily not on the same day.  I mean, I enjoy ND football as much as the next person who prefers never to watch football on television, but I'd rather not spend my birthday doing it :)

And best of all, daddy will be home to participate in everything all through Christmas.  It's so nice to have Chris back on a student schedule!

Well, merry Christmas!  I hope you all are thoroughly enjoying yourselves!  We sure are!

Sunday, December 23, 2018

On Christmas Preparations and Large, Well-Timed Projects

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I know, you've all been dying to find out if I finished Margaret's birthday peg dolls in time for Christmas.

Well worry no more!

Her favorite book is our copy of Little Red Riding Hood written and illustrated by Trina Hyman--please don't get some other Red Riding Hood picture book.  This is the best one.  The illustrations are amazing and I based the dolls off of them.  Obviously.  And if you're buying books you probably want to grab St. George and the Dragon too, also illustrated by Hyman.  It's perfection.

Those pegs were the only handmade Christmas gift I managed this year, besides stringing some beads on floral wire to decorate a dollhouse Christmas tree and making some tiny Christmas packages to go underneath it.  Margaret's getting a new dollhouse this year from my sister after an altercation between Christopher and the Chipmunk House in which he came out the victor.  I'm probably a wee bit more excited about setting it up and decorating it for Christmas tomorrow than a respectable adult should be, but what can you do?  My peg painting did inspire David to create his own peg doll gift set involving several Ninjago characters as well as hand drawn and then wood-burned backdrops on some scrap wood we had from our attic renovations.  Of course those painting sessions are what led to the toddler-in-the-white-acrylic-paint fiasco from my last post.  I'm going to say it was worth it though, for him to be so excited to create a gift for his brother.

Also we're now practicing the art of putting away our art supplies when we are not using them.

Once the crafting was all done, we finished up the Christmas cookie baking with the pièce de résistance of our annual cookie baking endeavors--the rolled sugar cookies.  Not my favorite of all Christmas cookies to eat, but the children's favorite by far--to make and to eat.  Probably because they pile them a half inch thick with extra sugar.  I mean decorations.  I'm not even sure how John managed to eat the one he stuck full sized peppermints to, but he did.  He's dedicated to his craft.

As usual I attempted to sneak in as many plain frosted stars as I could manage so that adults might actually want to ingest them.  Because unlike the children,  I'm boring.

Tomorrow we've got regular Christmas Eve things to do like decorating the tree and heading off to mass and wrapping all the presents that I probably should have already wrapped.  We've also got some un-Christmas Eve-ish things to accomplish like finishing moving all of our displaced furniture into their final places now that the boys attic bedroom is finally finished and we can get all of the rooms put together the way we had planned them.  Nothing like squeezing some ridiculously time consuming and stressful tasks into your last minute Christmas preparations.  I really want the house settled before we bring all the new Christmas goodies into the mix on Tuesday so hopefully we can get it all done.  That or I can pray for the grace to have a good attitude about leaving the house a partial mess even though it makes me feel more than a little bit crazy.  Hopefully we can get most of it done and I'll only need to pray for a little bit of grace to get me through the extra Christmas mess pilled on top of furniture rearranging mess.

I like things tidy.  It's a gift...and a curse.

Well, here's to the last day of Advent!   May it be productive--but not frantic :)

Merry almost Christmas!

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