Wednesday, December 28, 2011

2011 Book Reflections

I head back to school in just a few short days. :( While this break has been really good, refreshing, and relaxing I've spent pretty much all of it recovering from oral surgery. I'm glad that I had the time to have the procedure during the break and didn't have to take time off work. But my surgeon said 7 days for recovery and its becoming more like 10-12. Today is the first day I haven't NEEDED to take any pain medication but the process is slow and steady. It's a good lesson in patience for me, I am typically pretty fast paced so slowing down is a good thing. And not having the desire to eat too much junk food, because of a sore jaw, is also a good thing...

The break has given me some great time to do some reading and it made me realize that a few months back I promised you all a few book reviews. Also the other night while on a date, my husband and I spent some time talking through the different books we've read in 2011 and which ones were well worth it and which one's were 'meh'.
So here is what I read in 2011

'1776' by David McCullough~ Well worth it

~It was really pretty good, I'm not much of a history person and I really had to 'try'. So I grabbed some notecards and took notes on who was who, because he name drops alot and I was losing track of who did what. Once I got all that straight I thought it was well worth reading and I learned a ton and we actually own it so I hope to revisit it from time to time.

'Please understand me II' by David Keirsey~ Well Worth it

~This is a personality trait book that I read back in the winter. Its one of the best I've read because its pretty scientific. I really liked it from this standpoint. He doesn't use stars or animals or anything like that. He just lays out the main types of personalities and then the variants within each. Plus the author uses alot of references to philosophers as well as founders in the world of psychology that I personally found interesting.

'One Thousand Gifts" By Ann Voskamp~ Well Worth it

~Okay so I totally jumped on the band wagon. I started reading this book (after a few week wait for it at the library) around the time that a handful of friends where reading it or had recommended it. I also read this book back in the winter. It was VERY good and really really made me think about the way I live my everyday life, its not a light read at all but WONDERFUL nonetheless. A word of warning to non-literary people like me. I found that it took me about three chapters to really 'get into it.' The way the book itself is written takes some time to digest. I found the message the author was trying to convery very poetic at times and other times very obvious. I will definitely re-read this book in the future and I will be ready for the deep heartfelt lessons it offers. It's a book that can change your life no doubt about it.

'Fear No Evil' Brady Boyd~ Well Worth it

~My family attends the church where Brady is the pastor. We have been attending for years now and have experienced all the ups and downs that go along with being a part of a big church family. I loved the book and took so many nuggets and treasures away from Brady's re-telling of a very trying time in our church body's history. Its a book about inspiration, resiliance, and the power of God.

'Bittersweet' by Shauna Niequist~ WELL WORTH IT!!!!! One of the best books I've read in 5 years.

~A dear sweet friend recommended this book to me months before I was able to get it from the library. I had this sucker in the hold que for what felt like forever! I finally read this book in the spring and remember crying and laughing on the same page, and on an airplane too which was somewhat embarrassing. The author simply shares her story of real life changes, real life hurts, and real life joys. She's genuine, funny, and deep all at the same time while making you, the reader, feel like you are sitting across from her on your couch with some coffee in your hand. The title is bittersweet and rightfully so the entire book is about embracing the bitter and the sweet parts of our lives in order to truly savor what we have. It was an awesome book. Go reserve it at your library right now...read it then you'll want to buy it.

While reading 'Bittersweet' I put this authors other book 'Cold Tangerines' on hold at the library and there were like a billion holds in front of me so I took a break from reading for the summer and watched alot of Ann of Green Gables, Glee, and Pride and Prejudice. We had tons of company too my sister-in-law, my sister, and mom made the rotations through our house for pretty much the whole summer so we had plenty to keep us busy. Also after reading the past four books I just really needed some think time. Time to digest what I'd read and just let things rest a bit in my soul. I journaled alot during the summer and spent many hours on my deck listening to my kids run through the sprinkler while I wrote my little heart out...it. was. wonderful. As a teacher I'm finding that I also really need to prepare myself mentally for the upcoming school year so the 'mental break' was really needed and very important, especially toward the end of the summer.

'Cold Tangerines' By Shauna Neiquest~ Meh.

~I was thrilled when this book finally became available at the library. I think I was hoping it'd be as good as 'Bittersweet' which she wrote after she wrote Cold Tangerines. It was by no means bad but just not as good. I still found the book refreshing and nourishing but it was much lighter and didn't give me as many deep thought moments. But really that's okay sometimes too and in light of the school year having just started, it was pretty appropriate.

'Pride and Prejudice' by Jane Austen~ Well worth it.

~At this point I just wanted some fiction, a story that I knew already and had on hand for a quick grab (I own all of Jan Autens classics, I can't say that I've read them a ton or even every one... just my owning them makes me feel smart :) I've seen the different films based on this book about a zillion times so the story wasn't what compelled me to finish it, it was the language. To be transported to a different place and different time was fun.

'The Twilight Series' By Stephenie Meyer~ Well worth it.

~Okay so admittedly I've read this series about three times total. I have found myself re-reading the series each year since the last book came out. Say what you will about the content. But I have found some deeper themes in between the lines that are worth thinking about. And its just an entertaining set of books. A friend at work calls it 'Smut' and to be honest we all need a modest amount of that in our life, it keeps us balanced in my opinion.

'Water for Elephants' By Sara Gruen~ Meh

~This book was not one that I will read again and again. I typically won't with fiction unless its a straight page turner and even then I have to put some serious distance between my reading them to enjoy the book a 2nd or 3rd time. I enjoyed the book in general but it wasn't a page turner for me. I thought the author did a great job with the content of the original life of a circus train. If you are contemplating this book just for the sake of literary entertainment then its a good choice.

'Why Gender Matters' By Dr. Leonard Sax~ WELL WORTH IT!!! One of the best parent books I've read.

~This book is going in my parenting and teaching arsenal. It was WONDERFUL. I have never found a book that talks so clearly about the fundamental neurological and physiological differences in boys and girls and how they need to be taught and parented differently simply because of their differing genders. He backs everything up with research and studies and he lays out different examples to highlight his points. He also does alot of 'bottom line' writing. Getting to the point without lingering too long on a topic which I like, its keeps the book moving. For an educational psychology book it was in my opinion VERY easy to read. It was great!


Okay well that rounds out my reading for 2011. I'm not a huge reader, in fact I have friends who set a goal to read a book a week. There is no way I can accomplish that feat. But after all is said and done I read 13 books in the last year and only 2 of them were so-so. Some of them are pretty popular right now and some of them you may not have heard of. But either way I hope this gave you a little bit of a glimpse into my mind and heart this past year.


Til next time, remember to find beauty in your midst!
~me

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

DIY pine tree coasters

We like to have our Christmas Tree up ASAP after Thanksgiving. As a result it's pretty dried/dead by Christmas. So yesterday as we were looking at the wilting tree we decided to put it out of its misery and un-decorate it.

Mountain Man and I laughed as we drug it out to the drive way watching the mass of pine needles fall EVERYWHERE in the process. This year MM had decided to saw the branches off and just chop up the trunk into firewood but I had a special request before all the chopping/sawing ensued. But first I need to tell you how the idea came to me.

About three weeks ago, R came in from the garage after having played in the snow. In his hand he had a small wooden disk a little bigger than my palm. And I said... "Oh honey thats the end of the Christmas tree that Daddy had to saw off before we set it up, you can just set it down and I'll throw it away in a sec." (I said all this to him as I pointed at the bark around the trim of the disk and the saw marks on the actual piece of wood.
 

(Thanks H for being my model :) )
Then he set it on the table right next to me and was off in a flurry of sound effects that only boys can make, this time it was a race car. I got back to whatever pointless activity was consuming my time at the moment, probably facebook... And after a few minutes the little piece of wood caught my eye and I took a second look at it...as it was resting right next to my coffee cup.
 


I realized that it was perhaps the perfect size for a coaster. So I quickly tried it out in its new potential occupation and it was PERFECT!
 


I only had one though and decided to set it under a candle in the kitchen so that I'd be sure to not forget about it and tell my super handy husband as soon as I could. And you can probably figure out the rest.

Yesterday Mountain Man complied with my request and sawed another 8 disks off the bottom of our Balsam Fir tree trunk.

 


 


 


 


They were a little damp feeling from having been in essentially a bowl of water for a few weeks so we laid them out to dry on the mantle yesterday and last night. The very first one he sawed will take a few days but the other 7 are totally dry today and were ready for me to find a home for them. We will also probably use some kind of urethane on them in the next week to give them a protective liquid proof layer and help them last longer. I'm also debating writing something like Christmas Tree 2011 on the underside of each for nostalgia's sake. But for now I love how they add another 'bring the outside in' element to the house.

If you've ever been in my house you know that they will fit right in with our decor. And I'm so excited how they turned out! Thanks to my hubby taking the time and extra man power yeterday :).

 


 


 



 
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Til next time, remember to find beauty in your midst!
~me

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

A few of my favorite things during the Holidays

I love lots of things. Like most people. Some of my favorite things during the Holidays are:

-A live tree- The smell far outweighs the issue of pine needles
 


-My shop-vac- Cleaning up the pine needles is fun now!

-Pandora- Three stations that have been really fun the past month: 'Amy Grant-Holiday', 'Mannheim Steamroller-Holiday', 'The Nutcracker Suite'

-Not having cable. We made the leap about a year ago and haven't looked back since. I love that the house is full of music, puzzles, and play. We watch movies still and have the internet and are contemplating Netflix but for now I just love that my kids day revolves around play and not what time the next show is on. (Although I will admit I really miss Food Network and all the sappy Hallmark Holiday movies)

-The smell of Cinnamon and Pine...Its probably my favorite smell combination.
 


-Mint Sugar Cookies- DIVINE!

-Two forecasted days of snow the week before Christmas
 

-Two weeks off from work/school.

-Three trashbags filled to overflowing the week before Christmas they have little pieces paper on them each labeled with something different. 'Trash,' 'Recycle', 'Give Away'

-Our nativity- It's the 'Willow' collection that pretty much everyone has but I love it so much. So simple and beautiful and impactful every time I look at it.
 


-Christmas Cards
 


-Little hands moving the wooden candy cane down the Advent Calendar, and R really understanding and knowing the date/days this year.
 

-My kids knowing the words to Silent Night this year

-Watching 'A White Christmas' while wrapping presents while having hot cocoa with Mint Schnapps (YOU HAVE TO TRY IT!)

-Our Christmas Dishes that we got for our 2nd Christmas I think...I love them and I love all the memories they hold.
 
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-The anticipation of the conclusion of a year and the beginning of another and the hope that it brings.



Merry Christmas!


Til next time, remember to find beauty in your midst!
~me

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Peppermint Chocolate Cake

The following recipe is a holiday cake that I've been making since 2005, its from the 'Kraft food and family magazine'. If you have never taken a look inside one of these magazines their desserts are typically SUPER easy and total show stoppers. I make this cake every year and its become quite a tradition. So in honor of that I thought I'd take step-by-step pictures for you, something I've been wanting to do for a while.

Here is what you'll need:
1pkg (2layer size) chocolate cake mix
1 pkg (4 serving size ) chocolate flavor instant pudding/pie filling (Jello)
4 eggs
1 8oz container of sour cream
1/2 c veg oil
1/2 c water
4 squares semi sweet baking chocolate, chopped
18 small candy canes, coarsely crushed (about 1 cup), divided
1 8 oz container Cool Whip

*No need to adjust this recipe for high elevation cooking, I didn't anyway. :)


~Preheat your oven to 350 deg, lightly grease 2 (9 in) round cake pans

~Beat cake mix, dry pudding mix, eggs, sour cream, oil, and water in a large bowl with electric mixer on low speed scraping side of bowl frequently. Beat on med speed ofr 2 min or until well blended
 


~Chop Chocolate
 


~Get 18 small candy canes
 


~Place in a ziplock bag and crush with a rolling pin
 


~Or have your stringy haired four year old help
 


~Pour all the chocolate and 2T of the crushed candy canes into the batter, stir then divide evenly in the greased cake pans
 


~Let it bake. And while it bakes let 'said' stringy haired 4 year old lick the spatula
 


~Once baked let cool completely (this does take some time but its totally worth it!)
 


~Frost completely with one tub of cool whip
 


~Emellish the top and side with the remaining crushed candy canes
 


 


~Voila!!! It's so yummy you will not be disappointed
 

~While you're at it you may as well have some friends over to enjoy it with you. So go set the table, put the kids to bed and enjoy!!!
 


 


 
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Thursday, December 8, 2011

Holidays

It has been one crazy set of weeks for us here in the P household!
We travelled to see my husbands family, in the midwest for Thanksgiving, and ate and shopped the week away. We had a blast catching up with family whom I hadn't seen in about two years and we were able to see some other friends who we hadn't seen in almost 4! It was a wonderful week off for both Mountain Man and I with the kids.

I don't really have any pictures from that trip because:
1- I didn't take my camera, we were squeezed like sardines in my car (which gets better gas mileage than the other larger more roomy SUV) and taking big bertha wasn't an option
2- I just recently acquired an Iphone so I am trying to take more pictures with that and I'm still figuring out how to get the pictures I take with my phone over to my computer to then blog...I've figured out how to FB them...but...oh well.. who wants to see a bunch of pictures of us eating anyway?

Once we got home we literally spent an hour and a half unpacking then we went out and got our tree. We're the type of people who love having Christmas up for as long as possible. Hopefully the tree will make it through to New Years... With a 4 and 7 year old we are pretty much in the 'little kid' phase of parenting and its fun to see the anticipation the kids have of what to look forward to and what they remember about Christmas's past. They aren't teeny tiny anymore so their excitement starts early (back in October I think we started the countdown) and they are beginning to request special holiday activities. So its a really precious time with them. I pulled out our "Little People" nativity and the kids haven't really touched it, except H who has set it up a few times. Its kinda bittersweet to see them play with it less and less each year, we've had it since R was 1. But I plan on saving it for grandkids someday to play with again and again. Such is life, change, growth, and more change and more growth.

A few days after the tree was set up my mom came and visited us and while she was here Mountain Man went on a long weekend trip with some climbing buddies and they did a little ice climbing. As you can see his handy work has supplied my blog with a very beautiful banner picture. And that picture is pretty much straight out of the camera, I just cropped it. I love the peaceful solitude and long shadows of that snowy valley. It moves me every time I look at it.

Last Friday I bundled up the kids with my mom and headed out to see my sister perform in the family musical 'A year with Frog and Toad' she was one of the two female performers in the five person show. She WAS brilliant in her professional premiere. It is running the whole month of December and I'm looking forward to seeing it once more before it closes.


Every year around this time I start reflecting on the year past and the year to come. I am always overwhelmed with how much we've crammed in to the year, where we have been and what we have done. I'm also really excited about what's in the hopper for 2012. Mountain Man and I spend typically the whole month of December thinking about, praying about, brainstorming, and jotting down goals, ideas, hopes, and dreams of what the next year will hold for our little family. I read this earlier and it COMPLETELY describes how I feel about what is waiting for us in 2012:
"I am thankful for hope, the keen awareness that something good, even great, awaits us in the not too distant future."

Here are a few pictures of some Christmas festiveness for you to enjoy!!



 


 


 
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Well I'm off to make some cookies and bust out the egg nog!