Saturday, December 31, 2016

Good reads! Looking Back and Looking Ahead

I've really been enjoying reading everyone's year-end recaps... things like people's top 10 posts, top 9 pics, books read, books to read, etc... Is it too late to join the bandwagon and post my reading accomplishments/aspirations? I hope not. Here we go!

Read in 2016

Thinking In Numbers: On Life, Love, Meaning, and Math Love in a Time of Homeschooling: A Mother and Daughter's Uncommon Year Teaching from Rest: A Homeschooler's Guide to Unshakable Peace My Sisters the Saints: A Spiritual Memoir The Smartest Kids in the World: And How They Got That Way Teaching in Your Tiara: A Homeschooling Book for the Rest of Us Redeemed: A Spiritual Misfit Stumbles Toward God, Marginal Sanity, and the Peace That Passes All Understanding Four Seasons in Rome: On Twins, Insomnia, and the Biggest Funeral in the History of the World The Vicar of Nibbleswicke Accidental Saints: Finding God in All the Wrong People A Big Heart Open to God: A Conversation with Pope Francis The Rosary Wearing God: Clothing, Laughter, Fire, and Other Overlooked Ways of Meeting God 
Sara's favorite books »

I was so proud to hit my goal of reading 12 books this year - and I did it early even! Yay, me! Although, really what that meant was for the last few months of the year (after I had met my goal) I totally fizzled out and couldn't finish anything to save my life. (Coincidence? Probably not.) So I guess I should aim a little higher next year?

But then the question becomes "Aim higher in what way?" Read more? Read differently? I don't know that I could read too many more books given how my schedule keeps getting busier as the kiddos get older. But then I saw that Modern Mrs Darcy has an excellent reading challenge on her site - and I love that it's choose-your-own-adventure style: do you want to "put the oomph back in your reading life?" or do you want to "stretch yourself in 2017"? I kinda want to do both! As you can see from above, I pretty much read non-fiction exclusively. So, I figured I would go for the Reading for Fun track, as that would actually challenge me to read outside my self-imposed non-fiction genre restriction. (Ooo. Try to say that 10 times fast! ;) )

So for 2017...*

* Even now as I'm putting this list together, I'm questioning some of my choices. So just in case anyone is planning on holding me to this, I'm just going to throw in the caveat now that all this is subject to change. But better a so-so plan than no plan, because as they say failing to plan = planning to fail, and ain't nobody got time for that.

A book chosen for the cover: Ishmael's Oranges

A book with a reputation for being un-put-down-able: Now Taking Suggestions!

A book set somewhere you've never been and would like to visit: A Year in Japan

A book you've already read: Matilda

A juicy memoir: Yes, Please or Bossypants or Shirt of Flame

A book about books or reading: Ex Libris

A book in a genre you usually avoid: The Name of the Wind
Ha! A genre I usually avoid... hmm, nearly all of them? But of them all, fantasy is highest on the list, yet this one keeps getting recommended over and over again. Ok. I'll give.

A book you don't want to admit you want to read: Boy Oh Boy and/or The Highly Sensitive Person
Both of these could also easily go in the category of books I most definitely did NOT choose for the cover - but don't tell me that, because I think I might be highly sensitive. ;) 

A book in the backlist of a new favorite author: Loaded
Why aren't more Catholic Mommy Bloggers talking about Heather King? (Maybe because she's only Catholic and not mommy or blogger?) This really should change. I read her book "Redeemed" this past year and loved it. I'm really looking forward to this one about the spirituality of money.

A book recommended by someone with great taste: The Summer Before the War
Shoutouts to Bobbi and Kirby for this one

A book you were excited to borrow/buy but haven't read yet: Lab Girl

A book about a topic or subject you already love: Rise of the Rocket Girls
A book about women, math and science? By all accounts, I *should* love this...

There you have it! Have I inspired you? Or do you have a suggestion for me? I'd love to hear it. There's only a few hours left in 2016, but I'll take 'em all year long in 2017 too. In any case, may you have a Happy new year!

Monday, December 26, 2016

12 in 2016 (a photo year-in-review)

Taking a page from HouseUnseen (cause I saw hers first) and also Revolution of Love and recapping my year with a picture a month. I tend to think my days/weeks are pretty boring, and then I do something like this and find that, "Hey! I'm not that boring after all!" Or at least, not by my standards. (Which can be pretty low. Ha!)

The little dude turned 1! I could hardly believe a year could go so fast. (Now to prep myself for saying that all over again, when in a month, he turns 2).

Lent came early in 2016 - and turned out to be the blessing of the year. I hosted a small group of women at my house and we went through the Blessed Is She Lent devotional together - the friendships formed there have grown through this year and I'm so grateful.

Joyfully celebrated St Patrick's day (with bangers and mash... cuz that's Irish, right?), Easter, and also Grandad's arrival. Not pictured here: little dude's first bike ride with Mommy, and our multiple trips to the Children's Museum. (Multiple.)

Little dude was getting much better at walking, apparently - as I kept seeing more and more photos of him like this rather than on all fours or just plain seated. Other memories not posted: Waffledagen, St George's day, Divine Mercy Sunday

Held our first Blessed Brunch on the feast of the Visitation. It was a lovely morning brunch with quite a few more ladies than I expected!

Took the kids to their first fast food restaurant ever - Amy's Drive Thru - I got kinda excited. Also began Camp Catholic, which turned out to be a great experience!

It was now really getting warm here! We continued doing Camp Catholic stuff and also added the Read the World bookclub to our weekly activities.

More library trips, more trips to the park, more "field trips"... and then the wee girl went and started preschool (Wah! Yay!)

Warm weather lasts a looong time here in California, so there were more trips to the beach and hanging out with the neighbors. Our side yard was overrun with cherry tomatoes. No really. Overrun. And I went away for a weekend to the Setting the World On Fire conference down in Altadena. What else?... Oh yeah! And Amy's Drive Thru picked up my picture from up above and stuck it in their IG feed for a day. #15secondsoffame

October brought us a little rain and a visit from Grammy and Poppy! I attended a one-day retreat with the musician Sarah Hart. The kids played in puddles and piles of leaves. Halloween came and the wee girl finally understood the concept of dressing in costume... so she dressed in her Merida costume from the year before, the wee dude dressed up as the bottom half of BB-8 (because he doesn't get dressing up yet himself) and I wore cat ears. But most importantly we got candy.

For the 3rd year in a row, we went to the Aquarium for the wee girl's birthday. Holding to tradition, she looked, but refused to touch the sea stars. Grandad-dad returned for another visit (and also got a "dad" added to his name, courtesy of the little dude). Advent started...

...and ended! I know this picture is fuzzy and my hair's a mess but I just love it anyway. My little dude... our first real tree... the nearly 2 year old bicycle that the wee girl still won't ride (even with the snazzy new saddlebags on it). It's a beautiful mess. I hope for more of it in 2017.

Thank you for reading and blessings on your new year too!

Sunday, December 18, 2016

Advent Songs for the Whole Family

Given that there is only one week of Advent left, I thought this would be a perfect time to share the playlist that has been on constant rotation in our house/car! OK, yes, there's a little sarcasm there... well, really, it's more of a rueful *smh* - I did want to get this post out earlier so that any interested person could add some of these songs to their playlist too (and you still could!) But I guess the tack I'll take instead is that the title of this post is really quite true, as we've listened to these songs for nearly a whole month now and we still love them.

This isn't a sponsored post and there are no affiliate links (some other more experienced blogger will have to show me how to do that), so feel free to click with impunity! And if you would rather just start listening to the songs (and avoid all the blah blah blah) click here.

Rain for Roots - Waiting Songs
I purchased this last year for Christmas, and listened to it a little then, but this year my appreciation for the songs and their content has grown tenfold. As the title implies, these are not Christmas songs, per se, but songs for Advent - so we sing sweet simple renditions of "O Come, O Come Emmanuel" and "Come Thou Long Expected Jesus". And we also sing clever original songs like "Mary Consoles Eve" and "Isaiah 11" (which talks about the 'root of Jesse' - the wee girl didn't catch on to that, but I when I heard it this year, I did a little jump for joy - yeah! Another reference to/reinforcement of our Jesse Tree!*) I also love this CD's version of the Magnificat - it's just lovely.

Even though this is supposed to be in the genre of children's music, it really doesn't feel like it. OK, maybe it does with the song about Zechariah, but that's all. It really will be a family treasure, I think.

Winter EP - Audrey Assad

I love all things Audrey Assad. Her vocals are to die for, her arrangements are lyrical and lush, any covers she does are unique and her songwriting itself is pure artistry. (Have I talked her up enough? ;) ) This EP has just three songs on it - including the one she wrote and sang with Chris Tomlin called "Winter Snow." I would recommend buying it just for that song alone. I get all choked up when I really think about the chorus:
But you came like a winter snow
 quiet and soft and slow
 Falling from the sky in the night
 to the earth below
This Winter's Eve - Sarah Hart

I was surprised by how much I like this album (so no, I'm not just posting this one because I got to meet the artist!) "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen" is hauntingly beautiful - the tinkling of the piano at the end gives me chills every time. "Let It Be So" is a gorgeous reflection of Mary's "yes" to God. This is mood music at it's best!

The Vigil Project - Vigil Series #2

Here's the (probably only) upshot to spending too much time on social media: sometimes you come across things that are truly great and special. The Vigil Project is a perfect case in point (I've saved the best for last). I somehow stumbled upon their first series which were songs for Lent + Easter - and now they've done the same for Advent + Christmas. Each week they've released a new song/video that sets the backdrop for contemplating and praying the mysteries of Advent. The first song, "Prepare Him Room" is just perfect (as is that "ecclesia domestica" sign in the video... anyone know where I can get me one of those?)

There you have it! 4 albums that come kid-tested and parent-approved to bless the (fast dwindling) season of Advent. And if you missed it above, here's the link to listen to all the music mentioned. What have you been listening to this month?

*I think we need all the reinforcement we can get. Just THIS morning my (wonderful, awesome) husband mentioned to me, "Hey... I've noticed a theme with the Jesse Tree... it's like the whole Bible story told in small chunks every day!" Yes, honey, it is. *smh* again.

Friday, December 9, 2016

When God knows your "word" before you do

With the end of the year approaching, my mind is starting to look back and take stock. I'm not one to do resolutions (ever) but this year I tried something new: I chose a word to guide/inspire me in 2016. That word was LEARN.

Kind of a nice idea, yes? So open... so wise... so mature. What a good word for me to pick! Yet as I look back on my year, it makes far more sense to say that God gave me this word, and He used it to prime me to accept and seek out new learning opportunities... opportunities that (of course) He had already picked out and planned for me. I can only imagine him in heaven chuckling, "So that's how she wants to approach 2016? With a "word"? Hmmm, let's give her a good one then, shall we?"

Man plans and God laughs.*

But it has been a good year, full of learning. One of the best examples was participating in Camp Catholic this summer - an online "summer camp" with a great tag line: "Don't let your faith life take a summer vacation!" I wish I could remember now how I stumbled across it. Camp Catholic was organized by a non-profit called Catholic Extension - they've been around since 1905, supporting and strengthening churches in the poorest areas of America. So I probably saw it on Instagram, or maybe on Facebook... regardless, I remember being especially drawn to it because so many of my friends were posting pictures of how they were taking awesome vacations, or doing really fun activities with their families and, well, we didn't have any fun trips or special activities on the docket. (It's a natural consequence of getting ready to knock down your dilapidated detached garage to build something a bit more... *ahem* water-tight.) So yes, that means I was comparing and probably a little jealous. Good thing going to confession was one of the activities planned for Camp Catholic! 😉

When I considered whether we should join, I was reminded of my "word". Since the whole spirit of the Camp was to deepen our faith in Jesus and increase our understanding of the Catholic church, it seemed silly to pass it up - so, we joined:

During the 2nd week of Camp we learned about the liturgical calendar: about the seasons (Advent, Christmastide, Lent, Eastertide, Ordinary Time) and the colors associated with the different seasons of the church year. Camp Catholic created a neat infographic about it and we still keep it up on our refrigerator. I also learned that we are woefully short of green-colored clothing.

We had our first "field trip" for a feast day - celebrating St Junipero Serra's day on July 1st. Cline Cellars, a winery in Sonoma, has a small museum with reproductions of all the California missions, and a rather creepy looking mannequin of Fr. Serra too.

I think it's the slightly cross-eyed expression that unnerves me.
We had lunch on their grounds, rang a bell that used to hang in one of the missions, and bought a bottle of wine to commemorate the event (because winery. Can't pass it up!)

Keeping my phone at the ready to snap pictures for Camp actually helped me grab some fun shots too...

On left: my daily reminder to turn to God (week 3),
Top right: my neighbors (week 6); Bottom right: favorite saint (week 5)
Like I mentioned, every week they provided really useful infographics on topics ranging from "What is that thing up on the Altar?" to "Sisters vs. Nuns" (Hint: it's not the newest MMORPG) and "Everyday Catholic Devotions" And while I would really like to say that all of these were for teaching the children... well, we already said my word for the year was LEARN, didn't we?

But these are exactly the topics that I wish I had known more about when I was younger, so I really hope that when the wee ones get to be not-so-wee Camp Catholic is still around to do with them. Because regardless of whatever "word" they can come up with to guide their years, I'm sure this kind of education can always be worked in somehow.

Did you have a word for this year? Or will you be choosing a word for 2017?

Friday, December 2, 2016

Library Love: Advent(ish) Edition!

We've been finding some wonderful books at the library lately! (And of course, a few Maisy books too... you would be disappointed if I didn't mention that, wouldn't you? ;) ) However, I won't be picturing the Maisy books, as I have quite a few books for this post and I don't want to *ahem* waste the space. But first, a note about the title: since this is the season of Advent, I've been (somewhat) trying to find books that are "in season" but not Christmas, per se. So, pretty much, what that means is that many of these books are Winter-themed. We take what we can get!

Kitten's Winter - Eugenie Fernandes
I was pleased to see this one in the library because I had seen it on some other booklist somewhere (the internets is wide and ranges) and for whatever reason, I had put all 4 books in this series on my daughter's Amazon wishlist. Thus, good to see this one now and find out if it's worth keeping on said wishlist. Verdict? Yeah... let's keep it. The text is really simple, but along with the illustrations, it's actually somewhat educational. Plus, it has a cat in it. And as I have learned, cats are one of the good "hooks" into getting my daughter engaged.

The Trees of the Dancing Goats - Patricia Polacco
I had gone to the library for a different Polacco book, but alas, it wasn't available. However, this one was and it came highly rated. It's a story of how a Jewish family helps a Christian family during a particularly cold Christmas. I really like the premise of the book, but we haven't actually read it yet, so I'll just plonk it right here til we do.

Gingerbread Baby - Jan Brett
I have just discovered this author/illustrator and I am in love! The first book I found by her was "Annie and the Wild Animals", and what I loved was how the text tells the main story but her illustrations (vivid and lush and beautiful) tell an additional, supporting story. This story is just as good, and is a variation on the traditional "You can't catch me, I'm the Gingerbread Man" trope. Our library has a few others by this author, so I'm definitely going to check them all out (for myself, if not for my kiddos).

Stick Man - Julia Donalson
OK, so I first saw this story as a cartoon on Netflix - it was "sitting" next to the Gruffalo and The Gruffalo's Child (which I'm so excited to give the Proper Book Version of to the wee girl for Christmas, by the way... thanks Auntie Louise!). And I could immediately tell by the pictures that it was by our favorite British author, Julia Donaldson; but, I couldn't convince the wee girl to watch it on Netflix. Then, lo and behold, I saw it in our library! (Library Love!) It's a sweet story of a Stick Man who gets separated from his family, has quite an adventure and is returned to his family on Christmas day. I have to admit, it's not as lovable as her other books (Room on the Broom, The Snail and the Whale, The Gruffalo, Where's My Mum, etc...) but it'll do. And it's Christmas themed - so, yay! Why not.

As it turns out, there is quite the selection of (Americanized) Julia Donaldson books at our library, so we picked up a few more:
Tabby McTat - The Musical Cat
Where's My Mom? - this one is soo clever! Hands down the best of the 4 here (IMHO)
and also...
The wee girl seems to like this one best, and will quote it at random times during the day... "Superworm is super long! Superworm is super strong! Watch him wiggle! See him squirm! Hip hip hooray for Superworm!" (Bless.)

The Bog Baby - Jeanne Willis
This book was so sweet it brought tears to my eyes! Maybe it was because it was about the adventures of 2 sisters - or maybe it was because the Bog Baby sucked his toes and I just find that endearing - or maybe it was just because I can/do cry at the drop of a hat. In any case, the wee girl and I loved the story and I liked that it also had a little form at the back for what to do in case you find your own bog baby. I'm thinking this one may have also been written first in the UK and then "Americanized" - so I'm going to try and remember to look it up when we head back there next year.

Nobody Likes a Goblin - Ben Hatke
I saw this in Bonnie's IG feed and since it came with her endorsement (and that of everyone who also commented on it) I decided to look it up. Can I just say that I *love* it when something I see online also happens to be at my library? Even if I have to put it on hold, it still means I get to see something that otherwise I would have to buy to take home. And as it turned out, everyone was right! This is a great book to get the fantasy loving girls/boys/dads in your life. :)

A Pipkin of Pepper (and Pumpkin Soup, again) by Helen Cooper
So, I have to admit, the most exciting thing about watching my wee girl grow up is seeing her remember and make connections to things she has done in the past. (This is actually a sophisticated skill that needs to be recognized and encouraged to help little learners become life-long learners. But I digress.) In this case, she was reading one of her eBooks, "A Friend for Merida"... ok, pause. Reading is a very generous word here. She was actually just listening to the bagpipe intro to the book over and over again, when I asked her, "Do you like listening to the music?" "Yes," she said.
"Do you know that the instrument playing is called a bagpipe?"
"Oh, like the cat in that book?!?"
"Yes, honey! Just like that." (Of course, at this point I'm racking my brains trying to figure out what the heck she's talking about. Later on though...)
"Mom, can we go get the Pumpkin Soup book from the library?"

Ah. *That's* what she was talking about!

"Of course, honey!"

So here we have it again in our Library love list - but what should we find when we go to check it out? O-ho, there's a sequel to Pumpkin Soup! So now that is in our books-to-read as well.

As for me? I had checked out a book last week, completely on a whim, which sounded like it would be right up my alley...
The Women in God's Kitchen - Cristina Mazzoni
But after reading the introduction, all of a sudden this came up:

Lab Girl - Hope Jahren
When I had heard about this book, I immediately went to see if it was available at our library, and... it was! BUT I was number 82 in line to put a hold on it (no joke). This was months ago. And funny thing, a few weeks ago when I went to check on this hold, I was still number 59 in line! But here it is, in my hands. So I'll have to put the food writing on hold while I sink my teeth into this one. (ha ha. pun intended). One of the recommendations for this book is from Ann Patchett, and that seems like high praise, indeed.

Whew! So there you have it! Clearly, you like to read too, if you're all the way down here still reading... if so, what have you checked out from the library lately? Would love to hear your recommendations.