Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Reading Review: 2013 Books

I did it! I made my goal of reading 80 books this year! A few of these were cookbooks, decorating books, shorter young adult or kids chapter books, but I didn't count any picture books. I feel like 80 is a sweet spot for me - I read 72 in 2012 and 68 books in 2011. But to read more than 80 I would have to cut out other things that I love to do also. So I'm going for 80 again in 2014. But... more non-fiction. And classics. I only read 3 classics and 1 non-fiction. Man, no wonder I got to 80 easily!

When I look at the reading goals I set last year, I failed miserably at most of them. I only read 3 of the 6 books I wanted to get to (although one I took off the list) and didn't get to any poems, plays, or non-fiction. So I guess my goal for 2014 is to read more meaningful and quality books and a little less just-for-fun fiction. And to finish a few I have been working on for a super long time!

To Read in 2014

3591262To Finish:
Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese
The Hand the First Held Mine by Maggie O'Ferrell
The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton

The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis
The Secret Life of Walter Mitty by James Thurber

Trails to Testimony by Bradley D. Harris
Raising up a Family to the Lord by Gene R. Cook
The Parenting Breakthrough by Merrilee Boyack

The Odd Couple by Neil Simon
The Taming of the Shrew by William Shakespeare

General Fiction:
Ahab's Wife by Sena Jeter Naslund
The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon
Peace Like a River by Leif Enger

This seems like a lot - just the 14 listed above. But anyone who can read 80 books in a year can get through those, right? Let's hope so. I would like to be widely-read and well-read (and well-rounded) and not just have finished a bunch of fluffy mystery books.

But I did read some great things in 2013 and want to lay out my favorites here.

Favorite 5 Stars (I only gave this rating to 6 books and one was a cookbook.)

The Penderwicks series by Jeanne Birdsall
I love this series and this family so much! It has a charming, old-fashioned feel to it, but probably set more currently since they mention laptops and such. It just impresses me that the children play sports, do creative things like writing, crafts, cooking, and plays, and never seem to mention watching tv or playing video games. It helps that it is set on the East coast in places that seem to good to be true but I want it anyways. I gave the 2nd book (of 3) 5 stars, but the rest are solid 4 stars and supposedly another book or two will be coming out eventually.
1024275The Light Between Oceans by M.L. Stedman - a gripping, emotional story of love & loss about a couple isolated on an island off the coast of Australia
Pictures of Hollis Woods by Patricia Reilly Giff - A Newberry Honor book from The Battle of the Books list for elementary school, about an orphan girl who finally finds a family
A Proper Pursuit by Lynn Austin - a fun, light Christian romance
The Beekeeper's Apprentice by Laurie R. King - A Sherlock Holmes fan fiction book/series, introducing a young, female assistant for an older, semi-retired Holmes. Can't wait to read more!

Notable 4 stars

10508431Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein - about a couple of women serving in the RAF during WWII
Tuesdays at the Castle by Jessica Day George - for grade-schoolers
Sweet Tooth by Ian McEwan - an interesting twist on a spy novel. set in the 1970s.
A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving - this has really stuck with me
Interpreter of Maladies by Jhumpa Lahiri - great collection of short stories

The entire list of the 80 books I read is on Goodreads.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Getting ready for "Geneful" Conference

Nothing like posting twice in a year! But my family has been having some fun and success with our family home evenings lately and I wanted to share. My husband and I attended BYU's Education Week in August, and one of the many, many things that struck me during the week was a thought about modern prophets and apostles. Their words are scripture to us, and we need to learn and know the messages they give us at general conference and other times. But how can we believe their words if we don't know them? We need to know these great men. So our family is getting to know them every week until conference in October. Or as my boys call it: "Geneful Conference." (They also say Geneful Grevious from Star Wars.)

The internet is a wealth of information, and we used several ideas we found there. I made a poster like the one on the blog, We Talk of Christ.  I used the photos of the apostles from lds.org and printed them at a print shop so they would look nice, then laminated them myself and attached them with Velcro to the poster. I did the same with their names. The boys have been practicing and after conference next month we will replace the names or photos with a few words or pictures that represent the talk they gave at conference. I certainly like having this up in our foyer where we see it every day.

Another fun idea we used was a song to learn the names of the apostles. I know there are several songs out there, but we used the one on this YouTube video. I love it and get a kick out the boys singing it. Plus it keeps getting stuck in my head, in a good way, and keeps me thinking about the Lord's apostles more than I normally would.

And here's the video of my boys singing it.


The lesson part of our family home evenings this month is devoted to learning about these men of God. Each week we are learning about the history and background of 3 of the apostles. And my oldest, Alden, (he just turned 9!) has been taking on one every week, with my husband and I each taking another.

Last week we had my son research President Packer, while I took Elder Nelson. What Alden found out was that he and President Packer shared the same birthday, which was the next day. He was so excited to find this connection. And when I was studying the life of Elder Nelson later that day, I found that it was his birthday that very day! And these two friends and elders were born the same year - both Pres. Packer and Elder Nelson turned 89 last week. We got a kick out of all of it.

All my family is enjoying this course of study and we are looking forward to learning about the rest, and especially to hearing their words at general conference on October 5th and 6th. You can watch it all here.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Very Valentine

I am getting the flu and have 15 minutes to kill before my preschooler's bus gets here and then I can climb into my bed for a couple hours while my boys watch Netflix. Happy Valentine's Day! My husband is amazing and deserves so much more than a sick wife who has been too busy to do much for him. I did buy him a gift. It is shoe laces. Long story but I know he loves them! We are going out to celebrate for reals next week.

I love doing elaborate Valentines with the kids because it's like justified crafting for me. I found a couple of cute airplane valentines online this year. Both were cute and required much folding. Incidentally, I'm all caught up on my Hulu shows.

But Alden looked through my Valentines Pinterest board and wanted something like this:

We decided to glue mechanical pencils to the backs of the arrows and stick them into pink erasers. But did you know those erasers are like 50 cents each? And mechanical pencils aren't cheap either. So I opened up Illustrator and designed my own Valentines. And ended up with these. Hot glue holds the pencils on and suprisingly holds the arrows straight up too.

Roland was willing to practice his writing and addressed and wrote individual notes on 18 Valentines for preschool. He would tell me what he wanted to say, I'd write it on scratch paper and he would copy it onto the Valentine. That kid is going to write for Hallmark someday. Some of my favorites were:

You are kind of tough.
Sometimes I like your shirt.
You can do an awesome flip.
I like your voice.
I like that we are both 5.
Sometimes you say oopsy daisy and I like that word.

Man, I love that kid.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Illustrating Fool

If I could go back to college I would study design. Because despite not having artistic talent, I am drawn to creative design work. But because I can't afford the time or money to redo college I have opted for a few classes here and there. If you have ever heard of Nicole Hill Gerulat, photographer extraordinaire, you may have heard of Nicole's Classes. Nicole works with Mike & Alma Loveland, as well as other professionals to teach us lay people some creative skills. I have attended two Art Weekends, which are three day events that offer  lots of different two-hour mini-courses. I have taken screenprinting, Illustrator 101, pattern-making (in Illustrator) and Photoshop. And Illustrator is my favorite. I feel like I can create something that I can picture in my mind, without my hands having to draw at all!

For Christmas this year, my sweet husband paid for me to take an online course from Nicole's Classes. So this month I am taking Illustrator 101 from the illustrious Alma Loveland. And I am loving it! It's so nice to take a month-long class instead of just two hours. I completed week 1 and am deep in the throes of week 2. For anyone yearning to cultivate their creative side I highly recommend Nicole's Classes. I am very impressed with their online format and they offer classes in photography, Adobe Illustrator, Adobe Photoshop, flower arranging, sewing, and watercolors.

My first assignment was to make a typographic poster and I chose to make one for my friend that just had a new baby. I asked her about colors and used the sweet baby's name (isn't Piper Jane the cutest!). This poster is not fabulous design-wise, but it was fabulous as practice for all the things I learned in my first week. And I learned something about saving files properly so I was very pleased with the printed results. Costco prints a 16 x 20 size for only $6.


Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Foods to Try

I am a Bzz Agent, which means I sometimes get products or services for free to try out and review. Over the holidays I was part of two campaigns - Alexia Frozen Foods, and Private Selection (by Kroger) Foods.

Sweet Potato Julienne FriesAlexia is a line of all natural, gourmet-inspired side dishes. I tried three Alexia products - which are available in your grocer's frozen food case, sometimes in the section for fancy or organic stuff. Although I found it at my grocery store, they carry less than half of the line of products. I would be interested in trying more of the products, but am not sure I will venture out to another store just for that.

The julienne sweet potato fries were our favorite. My family ate these straight off the baking sheet and enjoyed every bite. The seasonings were perfect. They were a great side to serve and are much healthier because they are baked and because they are sweet potatoes. Plus they taste better too!

The oven fries with rosemary and garlic were not as great. They cooked up well and had a pretty good flavor, but were dry and needed a lot of salt.

The garlic baguette was very convenient for a Sunday dinner with soup. It certainly didn't taste homemade, but was probably better than other frozen breads I've tried. The butter and seasonings were good and not overdone, and the bread baked up crisp on the outside and soft on the inside.

Private Selection is the gourmet brand by Kroger, which for me means my local grocery store, Fry's, carries all the products. I was already a fan of this line, particularly the ice cream and the greek yogurt, but was glad for the chance to try a few new things.

largeImageI tried a jar of fancy kalamata olives - and when I say "I" I mean my husband (because I hate olives). We actually served these at a holiday party and they were a big hit. They were higher quality than what we normally buy, but really were barely more expensive. We are switching.

We got a few kind of Private Selection crackers. We already buy these regularly and love them. My husband is strange and prefers crackers and cheese and fruit over chocolate for his dessert. I love chocolate, but with my weight-loss challenge I am starting to join him. (I started a new 8-week challenge yesterday). These crackers are higher quality than the cheap stuff, but much more affordable than the fancy ones.

We tried a bottle of the Private Selection Napoletana Roasted Garlic Sauce too. It was wonderful! I'm not a big fan of bottled tomato sauces, and usually just feed them to my kids or use them on pizzas. But I was impressed with the flavor and quality of this sauce. We are switching for sure!

My BzzKit also included some Private Selection coffee, but since we don't drink coffee we passed it on to my husband's co-workers.