Saturday, December 31, 2011

2011 book list

I don't think I'd ever before kept a list of what books I read over the course of a year. I took great satisfaction in recording each title after I'd turned the last page, and it's fun now to look back over the list and remember each one.

You'll see that I lean heavily towards non-fiction. Of the 41 books I read this year, just 4 are novels! When available, I've linked to review posts on particular books. Otherwise, I've written a brief description after each title.

1. Instructing a Child's Heart
2. Mountains Beyond Mountains (Compelling story of a doctor who feels called to transform medicine in Haiti)
3. The Five Love Languages of Children
4. 1001 Ways to Introduce Your Child to God
5. One Thousand Gifts
6. The Dirty Life (Former city girl falls in love with a farmer)
7. The Prodigal God (Fresh perspective on the well-known prodigal son parable)
8. American Wasteland
9. The Heart of a Mother (Collection of reflections about motherhood)
10. The Complete Tightwad Gazette (More coming on this later--chock-full of frugal inspiration!)
11. 365 TV-Free Activities (Creative play ideas for kids)
12. The Bookseller of Kabul (Tough read about a family in Afghanistan)
13. The $5 Dinner Mom Cookbook
14. Having a Mary Heart in a Martha World
15. A Million Miles in a Thousand Years (Makes you stop and think about the story you're living)
16. MomSense (This year's MOPS International book)
17. Organized Simplicity (Get organized with the author of the Simple Mom blog)
18. Loving the Little Years (I read this one twice this year--it's that good.)
19. Misplacing God (Making time for God a priority)
20. Acedia and Me (Not my favorite book by Kathleen Norris, but still an interesting read)
21. The Dry Grass of August (A fictional, gritty story of a Southern family dealing with racial issues)
22. The Happiness Project (Wanted to see what all the hype was about--an intriguing book)
23. The Hidden Art of Homemaking (Classic thoughts from Francis Schaeffer's wife, Edith
24. Crossing to Safety (This novel about marriage and life came highly recommended--I definitely felt engrossed in the characters.)
25. Raising a Soul Surfer (After seeing the movie, I wanted to read more about this remarkable young woman!)
26. Eats, Shoots & Leaves (Excellent reading material for a grammar junkie like me)
27. Living Prayer (Seeking a prayerful life)
28. A Love that Multiplies (I am fascinated by the Duggars family and how they live!)
29. Heaven is for Real (Flew threw this compelling story in less than 24 hours)
30. The Cheapskate Next Door (Always interested in books on frugality, though not much takeaway with this one)
31. The Family Blessing (A gift from my grandma, about intentional blessing your children each day)
32. Feathers from My Nest (Reflections on motherhood written by Beth Moore)
33. America's Cheapest Family (Books like this motivate me to be a better steward.)
34. One Million Arrows (Teaching our kids to be mission-minded)
35. I Don't Know How She Does It (Saw and mostly enjoyed the movie, but I wouldn't recommend the book.)
36. Plain and Simple (Liberal woman feels compelled to live with an Amish family and learn about their way of life)
37. The Money Saving Mom's Budget
38. Committed (Interesting perspective on marriage from a non-Christian and the author of Eat, Pray, Love)
39. Running Away to Home
40. Not Buying It (A couple commits to buying only necessities for a year--interesting concept, though not a big fan of the author's rants)
41. Jesus Calling (see below)

I am pretty amazed I read 41 books this year, especially since my original goal was 18--1 1/2 per month! I definitely picked up speed in the summer, and really enjoyed making reading more of a priority this year.

I finished Jesus Calling this morning after reading through it all year. Like My Utmost for His Highest, this is a daily devotional that you read through in 365 days. I've been blessed by the insights, prayers, and direction to specific Scripture passages.

I have a copy of Jesus Calling that I would like to give to one of you. Just leave a comment on this post, telling me if you've read any of these books, or which of them looks most interesting to you. A winner will be selected on January 4.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Let's have a ball

Nathan had a very special birthday. We of course continued our tradition of breakfast in bed, and we had lunch at Nathan's favorite restaurant, a local pizza place. I asked him what he wanted for supper, and without hesitation, he requested mac and cheese, quesadillas and grapes! It was nice to have an easy supper on the agenda, especially with the party immediately following . . .

"Let's have a ball" is what I wrote on the homemade football invitations I made for Nathan's party. I love using things I already have on hand, which allowed me to spend less than $10 total on food and other supplies for the party. For the invitations, I cut out football shapes from brown construction paper, and then used a white paint marker to draw the lines and stitches.

Because of our employment at the college, we have access to campus facilities such as the gym/rec center. I thought that would be a perfect location for a football/sports party. My plan was to have a couple organized games, then let the kids just run and play, and end with cake and juice.
For the first game, I put together a pin the football on a field goal game that I found here. Then Linkwe did an egg hunt. I remembered seeing Easter eggs last spring that looked like footballs, basketballs, soccer balls, and baseballs, and I was able to cheaply order a couple dozen on Ebay. I put a couple Skittles in each one, and we hid these in a large area of the student center. I used the footballs from the first game to label a paper sack for each kid to collect eggs. They could collect one of each of the 4 kinds of balls. I hid four eggs for Natalie, too, and hers were all pink. =)Eric took over the next portion, which was fun to observe, especially since his dad retired a couple years ago from being an elementary P.E. teacher! The kids had a great time throwing balls, and playing a variation of dodgeball. They even created their own racing game!

After everyone was sweaty and tired, we sat down for juice and football cake, and then Nathan opened his gifts. We still had time to play, so I corralled everyone for a game of Duck, Duck, Goose, which is a favorite of Nathan's. The kids thought it was hilarious to call me the goose!

I found it quite humorous to be planning a football-themed party since that is one of my least favorite sports. The things we do for our kids, right?! =) But I had fun thinking through all the details, and I'm glad Nathan had a good time.

So I just gave you the details of Nathan's party, but they only tell part of the story. The truth is that I didn't have so much fun at this shindig. Despite our best efforts, things felt chaotic, and there was a lot of selfishness being demonstrated. I wrote out some more observations last night when I was feeling the aftermath, but upon reading them again this morning, they sounded whiny albeit accurate. So there may be a post on that subject at some point if I'm able to articulate my thoughts a little better. I do know that we will take last night into account when planning future birthday celebrations. And that's a good thing, I think.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Happy birthday, Nathan!

I have started writing in a journal for each of my kids as soon as I found out we were expecting them, and it has been really meaningful for me to go back and read earlier entries. I was just recording my annual birthday message in Nathan's notebook, and I read back over his other birthday entries, as well as some from right after he was born.

I was particularly struck by Eric's observations written right after Nathan turned one. Here is what Eric listed:

You are very smart and learn quickly.
You get frustrated easily.
You are very coordinated and love balls.
You are very determined.
You are picky about food.
You seem like you will be an extrovert.

I think the eating thing has improved, and I'm not certain about him being an extrovert. (Perhaps he'll be like me, being energized by both people and time alone.) But the other observations remain right on target, and it's been interesting to read these today and think about who Nathan is and how much he's grown.

We're celebrating all day, and I'll share more tomorrow about the festivities. But since I was feeling reflective right now, I wanted to get this post up on his actual birthday.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Book club

My blog friend Carrie recently asked me to participate in a new endeavor of hers: the Reading to Know Bookclub. She asked 12 different bloggers to each select a book, which we will review on her blog over the course 0f 2012. Anyone is welcome to join in by reading one or more of the books.

I have a strong tendency to over-think most decisions, so when Carrie asked me what book I'd like to review, my initial reaction was to tell her I would think about it. Which is code for "I will agonize over a list of titles, and once I choose one, I will still wonder if it was the best choice." But a funny thing happened. While I was typing the email telling Carrie I'd think about it, I realized it was silly to drag out such a decision. So I went to the list of books I've been wanting to read, and picked the first one: Running Away to Home by Jennifer Wilson. Wilson is a fellow Iowan who decides to move to her ancestral homeland of Croatia for a year in hopes of reconnecting with her past and present family. I usually really enjoy books of this nature, so I'd love for you to join in if you're interested.

My bookclub post is slated for February, but in the meantime, go check out the list of 12 books for the 2012 bookclub--such a nice mix of fiction and non on a variety of topics! What a neat idea, Carrie. Thanks for inviting me to participate!

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Merry swap show and tell

I sure love the holiday swaps. It's show and tell time for the Merry swap . . .

Since we ended up with an odd number of swappers this round, I was in a 3-way swap. I sent a box to Amy who sent to Angie who sent to me.

Here are the goodies I received from Angie: She organized them into categories so it spelled out MERRY: Memories of Colorado (items she picked up on a recent trip to my hometown--neat!); Eat, Drink and Be Merry: tea, cookies, and M&Ms; Rest during the busy season: tissues, gloves, book, potpourri and candle; Relaxation through hobbies: Target shopping bag =), notecards, clipboard, notepad; Yuletide supplies: tissue paper, Advent reading guide, ribbon, "merry" sign, and ornaments for N+N to color.
As if that wasn't enough, the crowning touch is a wooden sleigh her father made using wood from her great-grandfather's farm. Her husband then sanded and stained it. Wow! What a special gift. Thank you so much, Angie, for your generosity!And here is what I sent to Amy: snowman candles, snowman kitchen towel, nativity made in Israel, homemade hot cocoa mix, snowflake garland, "Merry" napkins, gift notebook, card kit and washcloth for her daughter, thank you notes, and star ornament.Now it's your turn--please leave a link in the comments so we can check out your Merry boxes!

Friday, December 9, 2011

The Money Saving Mom's Budget

I've been reading the popular Money Saving Mom blog ever since it was created several years ago, and it's my go-to site for scoring deals. I also enjoy many of the articles, especially those on mothering and stewardship, which are topics near to my heart. So I was excited when I learned Crystal was writing a book, and I was thrilled to receive a copy of The Money Saving Mom's Budget to review.

The book covers creating a budget, using cash, using coupons, grocery shopping strategically, and finding cheap or free entertainment. Eric and I do these things already, so there are just a couple little things I wrote down from these chapters that I would like to try.

One area of the book that I'd like to come back to again is the section on personal priorities. Crystal suggests creating a list that helps you identify what is most important to you, and then referring to it when making decisions about how you spend your time, money and energy. Since I am prone to over-commitment, I liked this statement: "Whenever possible, invest your life in what you're truly passionate about and gifted in. You will lead a much more productive and fulfilled life."

The final chapter of the book is on cultivating contentment, and that advice of course is applicable to all of us. Being grateful and generous top the list. Good reminders!

I also wanted to mention that there is an appendix at the back of the book containing ten ways to earn an extra $100 a month. Several months ago, Crystal asked her blog readers to submit ideas for that section of the book. I offered a few suggestions, and was excited to see one of them made it in, even if it wasn't just because of me. =) I suggested proctoring tests on college campuses. Eric and I have both done this quite a few times over the years, and it is a pretty easy way to earn over $100 in the course of a few hours.

To use a financial term, here's the bottom line on the book, from my point of view: If you've read Money Saving Mom for a long time and follow many of the money-saving strategies mentioned above, you likely won't glean a ton from the book. But it is still an enjoyable read. And if you don't read MSM and/or could use some advice and motivation where your finances are concerned, I would heartily recommend this book. It covers the basics, but takes you a step or two further as well. Thanks, Crystal, for a wonderful blog and for the opportunity to review your book!

Have any of you read this book? Do you read the MSM blog? What are your thoughts?

Monday, December 5, 2011

Thanksgiving re-cap

Thanks for all your kind words on Friday's post. I am feeling more hopeful about the situation now, and appreciate all of you who shared experience with the same condition.

As promised, I wanted to share a few photos from our Thanksgiving trip. We drove to Chicago to visit Eric's sister, Kendra, and her family for a few days. I also got to see this wonderful chica, my dear friend Mandi:
This was Kendra's first time to host Thanksgiving, and her first turkey, and she did a wonderful job. Everything was beautiful and delicious!A fun highlight was a group outing to an evening parade in a nearby suburb. The weather was mild enough to make it bearable, and local businesses were handing out free cider and cookies. Eric and I even bumped into a friend of ours who lives in the area, which was a fun surprise!Love this pic of these two cute cousins, who are just 3 weeks apart in age. (As an ironic sidenote, Marc and Kendra were married 3 weeks before us, so it was very funny when they had their daughter 3 weeks before we had ours!)We had a nice time together, and look forward to seeing this group again in a few weeks when we head to Michigan for Christmas.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Announcing . . .

We are thrilled to be expecting another healthy baby girl in April! The ultrasound tech was amazed we've used the same (reversible) sign each time, but it's served us well. Natalie is definitely excited about having a sister, but Nathan is quite disappointed, as he really wanted a brother. I told him since our dog is a boy that at least our house will be evenly split! I know he'll be a great big brother to this little one, though, especially since he enjoyed interacting with his 7 month-old cousin, Brylee, last weekend!

Thanks for your thoughts and prayers. I was even more grateful to see our little girl kicking and Linkher heart pumping strongly since we had quite a scare at the beginning of this pregnancy. Unfortunately, the ultrasound revealed that I have a condition called placenta previa, which can cause bleeding and premature delivery, so I appreciate your prayers as we continue down this path! It's been an emotional rollercoaster for sure.