Tuesday, September 01, 2015

First day of school

Yesterday was our first official day of school, although we are easing into things slowly this year and adding subjects a little at a time.  Honestly, I've felt so overwhelmed and disorganized, I feel like this is the most un-ready I've ever been going into a school year.  Oh, I have all the curriculum, and I've put lots of time, thought and research into our choices for this year, but I just haven't had the uninterrupted time I'd like to sit down and plan our daily schedule.  The kids haven't been super eager about starting this time around, either, so that doesn't help!  But I know we will get there...it's just going to take some time to figure out how things will work best this year.  Last year was such a blur with the final months of pregnancy and adding a new baby to the family...I *think* this year will be better, once we get our bearings!

I made a special breakfast of baked oatmeal and coffeecake, which made for some happy kiddos.  We are also trying a new routine where we do our read-aloud time first thing in the morning after breakfast.  I hope to write more about that in a future post.  Two days into this new routine now, and the kids say they really like it.

And I also love love love the basket I found at Marshall's to hold all our read-aloud books, plus a few others! :)

This boy is starting 2nd grade...can you believe it?!  
I am also in disbelief over the fact that I have a 6th grader.  How can this be?  Wasn't he just starting Kindergarten a year or two ago?!
And then there's Julia...always ready to pose (plus she was happy that her sign had an ice cream cone on it).
The three musketeers...
Julia decided they needed to do a silly pose, so this is what happened!
Our first day went okay, once we got into it.  It had a bit of a rough start, but I think I may have set my expectations too high for the first day!  (Today, our second day, was much better.)  Sam and Julia had some independent reading time and they seemed to enjoy that.  Both of them have been tackling longer books lately, which I think is fantastic.  Sam is currently reading 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea.
Josiah did a handwriting lesson and I was very impressed at how much better his writing is looking now, then even at the end of last year.  
Meanwhile, Julia was engrossed in Calico Captive.  She had started this book a while back, but set it aside while reading some other books from the library.  Yesterday she picked it back up and really got into it...in fact, she just finished it before bed tonight.  She loves books with strong heroines and adventure.  Last spring she read Indian Captive: The Story of Mary Jemison, and loved it so much that she later went back and re-read it...and it's a pretty big book!  I'm so proud of the bookworm she is becoming. :)
So that's just a quick peek into our first day of school.  We will do two more days this week, then take Friday off to go to a fair with friends.  And then hopefully by next week, we'll be tackling all the subjects we need to each day.  Stay tuned for another post soon with details about this year's curriculum and plans!

Summertime . . . and the livin' is BUSY!!!

Crazily enough, I haven't put up a post since late April.  There goes my record of only missing one month in 10 years of blogging!!  Oh well.  Real life happened, and we were busy living it. :)  In early May we took our annual trip to Ohio.  I didn't take too many pictures this time, but here is one of my favorites--all the cousins together on a hike in the woods.
As always, it was great to catch up with everyone out there and we had a nice visit.  This year all the kids had bikes to ride, so many happy hours were spent zooming back and forth on the driveway.  We ladies took our usual day out to Amish country, and another day most of us went out to eat at Hardee's . . . the kids got to watch some movies together and played some video games too.  It was especially nice to spend Mother's Day with Jim's mom, as that doesn't happen very often!  Plus we celebrated Jim's birthday and one of our nephew's birthdays during the visit as well.

The rest of May and early June were spent plugging away at school, and wrapping up most of our work.  Then we tackled our standardized testing, and finished that up just about the time Joanna, Clay, and family arrived from Nevada for a much-anticipated visit!  It had been nearly 3 years since we saw them, so needless to say we were all quite excited that they were able to come out and spend just a little over 3 weeks in NH.  During their visit we took a lot of pictures--way too many to share here--but I also snapped a lot on my iPod and Kindle and made some collages to post on Facebook along the way.  I decided the best way to give my blog readers a peek at our "staycation" would be to post the collages here as well.  

Adventure #1: Short hike and swimming/exploring at Squam Lake, June 20.
 Adventure #2: Several days spent at our extended family's camp on a small pond, June 21-24.  It had been years since we'd spent time there and our kids had never been inside, so it was really fun to all be there together as a family!  Lots of time was spent kayaking and canoeing out on the pond, games were played, stories were told, books were read...an all around good and relaxing time!
 Adventure #4: Meeting up with old friends at Beech Hill Farm for ice cream and visiting, June 27.  
 Adventure #3: (oops, this one's out of order!) STORY LAND!!!  June 26.  We usually try to go here every year as a family, and it is extra special when we get to go with the cousins!!  My parents and our two older nieces were able to come along also, and we all had such a FUN day!  Jim even had the added adventure of getting stuck on top of the roller coaster! :D  (Too bad nobody got a picture of that!)
 Adventure #5: Pemaquid Point Lighthouse, Bristol, Maine, June 29.  This is an absolutely beautiful place to visit!  Plus, most of the adults and kids were able to go up inside the lighthouse, too.  There is a height restriction, so the four youngest cousins were (sadly) not allowed to go up.  But those who could, really enjoyed it!  And we could not have had more perfect weather!!
Adventure #6: Reid State Park, Maine, June 30.  We spent the night in cottages in Freeport, had overpriced but yummy seafood for supper, and hit the beaches at Reid State Park the next day.  LOVE this place so much!  Another absolutely gorgeous day in Maine.
And then our family stopped for BBQ on our way home!!
Adventure #7: Strawberry picking, VT, July 3.
Adventure #8: July 4th church picnic and fireworks.  Frog catching, bubble blowing, softball playing, plus lots and lots of yummy food!!
 Adventure #9: Beach day at Newfound Lake, July 6.  Really fun to take all our kids back to the same beach we frequented every summer as kids!
Adventure #10: Sisters' outing for lunch and ice cream!
Adventure #11: Squam Lakes Natural Science Center, July 9
Family time at Grammy & Grampa's...pool time, visiting with Great-Grammy, Aunt Carolyn & cousin Andrew- July 10
Adventure #12: Ginormous ice cream "Avalanches" at Frosty Scoops!  YUM...and we all got stuffed!! 
The Grand Finale: Campfire & s'mores at Grammy & Grampa's, with a "Monkey" story told by Uncle Clay!!  
We had soooo much fun, as I'm sure you can tell!  While these were not all of our adventures this summer, they were the highlights. :)  The rest of July and August were filled with other summery things...more beach days, more science center trips, get-togethers with friends, VBS at church, library programs, Old Home Day.  It's been a full and fun summer, and I wish I had had the time to record everything here!  Perhaps I'll be able to throw in a few more pics here and there in later posts.  I definitely need to put up a post of all Ari, because she is growing and changing like CRAZY!  But for now, I wanted to share these summer highlights because we're transitioning out of our lazy but busy summer days, and into a school routine again.  It's promising to be a super busy year ahead, but I hope to get back to a more normal schedule of posting here. :)  Hope you enjoyed this peek into our summer!!

Saturday, April 25, 2015

Book Review: The Story Keeper

Synopsis: Jen Gibbs is an editor who has just landed a job at Vida House Publishing in NYC . . . she's working her way up the ladder, and while Vida isn't the biggest publishing house in the city, it's got a stellar reputation and Jen is thrilled to have this position.  Not bad for a girl who grew up in rural Appalachia, in poverty, but Jen has put that life behind her to live her dream in the big city.  That is, until she finds a mysterious manuscript on her desk. The Story Keeper, apparently found in Vida's infamous "slush pile," draws Jen in from the first page, and ultimately leads her on a journey of discovery to Tennessee, trying to discover if reclusive author Evan Hall is the author of this fascinating story.  But the journey also takes Jen back to her roots in Looking Glass Gap . . . a place she doesn't want to go.

My thoughts: I really, really liked this book.  I think The Story Keeper was my first Lisa Wingate book, and I was very impressed with her writing.  I loved how she wove the two stories together . . . the manuscript story of Sarra and Rand, and the modern-day story of Jen herself.  I loved the threads that tied the two stories together, and watching Jen grow and change through the book.  It's really hard to sum up The Story Keeper in a brief review, but this was a book that stayed with me, and I highly recommend it.  I was also fascinated to learn more about the Melungeon people of Appalachia (I had never heard of them before!), and I felt like I could picture every setting in Wingate's story--she's excellent at making you feel as if you're there!  I actually was sad to see this book end.  It ended in a very satisfying way, but I would have liked it to keep going.  And that's one of the marks of a good story, for me. :)

Thanks to Tyndale House for the free review copy of this book.  I was not required to write a positive review, and all opinions expressed are my own.

Book Review: Keepers of the Covenant

Synopsis:  Ezra, a Torah scholar, never expected to be chosen to lead his people.  He was content to live a quiet life of study, but all that changed with one decree from the king of Babylon.  Suddenly the Jewish exiles in the kingdom are facing annihilation, and Ezra's people are thrown into despair.  Why is God allowing this, and how will He rescue them?  In a surprising turn of events, the king makes a new decree that the Jews can defend themselves against their enemies, and God's people are miraculously saved.  Ezra, now a leader (though not by choice), finds himself living a very different life than the one he once had.  Together with his family, he leads many of the Jewish exiles back to their homeland, a number of years after the events of Purim.  He finds himself a leader in Jerusalem as well, and a somewhat unpopular voice for purity and holiness in the Jewish worship and following of God's laws.

My thoughts: I feel like it's difficult to give a good synopsis of Keepers of the Covenant in just a paragraph or so, because it is a BIG book with so many interwoven stories.  While Ezra is the main character, there are several other characters whose lives are followed through the book.  My personal favorite part was the story of Reuven, one of the exiles who traveled back to Jerusalem, and Amina, a lame young girl who was adopted into a Jewish family.  Their story touched me as I desired a happy ending for them!  This book also covers a number of years of Jewish history . . . and as always, Lynn Austin does a wonderful job bringing Biblical events to life.  I found it interesting that the book started with the events before and during Purim (the story of which is told in the book of Esther), but it focuses on Ezra, instead of Esther, as we might expect.  Esther is only mentioned very briefly in the book, and I liked seeing the story from a different angle--from the point of view of the Jewish exiles instead of Esther herself.

As in her preceding book, Return to Me, Austin does an excellent job of drawing the reader into the time and place of the story.  I know she has traveled to Israel to research her books, and it shows.  I've really enjoyed The Restoration Chronicles so far, and look forward to hopefully reviewing book 3 in the future!

Thanks to Bethany House for the free review copy of this book.  I was not required to write a positive review, and all opinions expressed are my own.

Book Review: With Every Breath

I have had the privilege of reading every one of Elizabeth Camden's books to date, and have enjoyed them all.  But I think With Every Breath may be my new favorite!

Synopsis: Widow Kate Livingston is content with her quiet life and her job at the census bureau in Washington, DC.  And then, her life is turned upside down by Trevor McDonough, or "Dr. Kendall," as he is now known.  A rival from school days, Trevor was always moody and disagreeable, but now he's requested for Kate to help him in his tuberculosis research at Washington Memorial Hospital.  Some of Trevor's theories for a possible cure seem far-fetched, but as Kate works with him, she finds herself becoming passionate about finding a cure too, and drawn to Trevor himself in ways she didn't expect.  But when Kate discovers Trevor's deepest secret, and someone in the background is working hard to discredit him, it seems that both success in their work, and their happiness together, may be impossible.

My thoughts:  One thing I love about Camden's books is her strong female characters.  Kate Livingston was no exception.  Trevor was an interesting and complex character too, and I enjoyed seeing how their story played out.  Another thing that I really appreciate about Camden is her ability to weave some very interesting (and sometimes little-known) history into her books.  This novel gave me not only a picture of Washington, DC, in the late 1800s, but also a lot of information about tuberculosis itself, and the research that went into searching for a cure.  Camden does a fantastic job with researching her novels (unlike quite a few historical fiction authors I've read), and through her books I've learned about things like the opium trade, watch making, the Great Chicago Fire, etc. I am always interested to see what she'll come up with in her next book!  With Every Breath was a great read, and I was very satisfied with the ending.

One minor quibble: I have to say that every Elizabeth Camden novel has a beautiful cover.  (My absolute favorite is Against the Tide, but I like them all.)  But I felt like the artist "missed" on the cover's depiction of Kate.  The woman on the cover is lovely, but not at all as I pictured Kate in the book.  Like I said, just a little minor thing, and the cover is still nice. :)

Thanks to Bethany House for providing me with a complimentary copy of this book!  I was not required to write a positive review, and all opinions expressed are my own.

Mid-April Daybook, Part 2 (aka picture overload!!)

Hmmm, can I still call this "mid-April" even though we are almost at the end of the month now? And even though I just looked out my window and saw that "terrible awful bad white stuff" (to quote my dad) falling from the sky?!  (Don't worry, I don't think it's cold enough for it to stick.)  I wanted to continue the daybook since (as usual) I had more to chatter about.  And actually, this post will be less of a daybook style (though still a bit of that) and more a bunch of pictures that I hadn't posted before.  I've shared some of these on Facebook, which is my go-to place for quick little posts these days (sorry Mom! ;)), but I know my non-FB friends would probably enjoy seeing them also.  So here we go!
 One of the ladies from a Facebook homeschool group I'm part of is doing a few sewing classes for kids at a local library.  I took Julia and Ari to the first one back in March.  Julia had a great time and enjoyed making a heart-shaped pillow out of an old t-shirt!  
 Ari and I spend part of most Sundays out in the foyer or another room to nurse when she gets hungry or restless. We had fun taking a few pictures several weeks ago when everyone else was in Sunday school.
 One day Sam held Ari for me while he worked on handwriting.  
 I think both of them enjoyed that! :)
 Ari really likes to feel like she is one of the big kids.  We will often put her on the floor on her blanket or in the Bumbo so she can watch them and feel a part of things.
 She's getting so big already!!
 First time out on the deck in the Hop 'n Pop!  (Please ignore the Christmas/winter wreath and sled in the background...they have since been put away, although I still haven't replaced the wreath with a spring one yet!)
 We made  3 dozen "doubled eggs" for Easter.  Each of the kids got to peel 6 eggs and they were a big help!
 What's new around here:  We've spent a lot of time over the past couple months hunting for a new vehicle.  Jim and I have been scouring Craigslist ads, we drove around to some dealerships, and even took one trip farther south to look at a Yukon which didn't pan out. Oh yeah, not to mention my in-laws graciously looking at one vehicle for us in Ohio!  A different vehicle was a need because our Suburban was too rusty underneath to pass inspection this month.  These next pictures were taken during a nursing/get-Ari-out-of-the-carseat-break on our trip to look at the Yukon.  All we came home with were some cheap sunglasses from Ocean State Job Lot (because I forgot to bring mine along)...maybe the best $2 I ever spent because they are really comfortable!
 We went all the way to Maine for the Suburban we ended up buying.  The service center where we bought it happened to be right across the street from the Sarah Orne Jewett house.  (Thanks to which I was able to pick up free wifi and therefore wasn't totally bored while Jim was looking it over, taking it for a test drive, and doing all the paperwork and payment stuff.)  In the meantime the kids had fun putting Julia's sunglasses on Ari and taking pictures. :)
 The old and new Suburbans stopped at McDonald's on our way home.  We were SO hungry and I had a major headache by this time!  The new one is only a couple years newer than the old one, but has no rust that Jim could find.  Yay!  However, the check engine light came on on the way home (grrrr).  Thankfully it just needs a couple sensors replaced to fix the issue, and then it can be inspected.  Have I ever mentioned how THANKFUL I am to have a husband who can fix stuff like this?  Seriously, he watched a couple Youtube videos about how to do it, ordered the parts, and today he's replacing sensors.  He's quite a guy.
 Another fun activity:  Last Thursday it was time for another sewing class!  This time I took the boys with me too, because Jim was working.  The project was one that all the kids enjoyed doing!  They drew and colored a picture on fabric with crayons, then the lady set the design with an iron.  After that they cut and pinned their fabric, and she sewed it.  They stuffed their finished "buddies" with fluff and then I hand-sewed them closed at home, because we ran out of time to do it in class.
 Josiah with the front side of his "bad piggie."
 Sam's design was an airplane:
 And Julia made a butterfly!
 Cutting out the back:
 More coloring:
 And cutting: 
 Hard at work:
 I forgot to take pictures of their finished projects, so I will have to do that another time!  They all had a lot of fun though, and I'm grateful for opportunities that open up for them to craft and learn new skills with other kids--it gives me a break from "teaching" and gives them the chance to meet some new friends, too.

Ari news: Last Friday we tried Ari in the Ergo for the first time.  I still wear her in the Baby K'tan a lot, but she's getting heavier and sometimes it's just nice to have her on my back instead.  She's still a little small for this position, but I think we'll be doing this more often when she gets to be 6 months or so.  Can you find her in this picture?  (Hint: she fell asleep. :))
 Later she woke up, and she was pretty happy that way for a while too. Especially when Julia came along and talked to her. :)
 Family stuff: Taking some inspiration from our friends the A. family, we have started having a family fun night every Friday.  This Friday we didn't because it was Josiah's birthday (which equals automatic family fun!), but we've all been taking turns to plan the menu and activities for each Friday.  Last week, Sam requested strawberry shortcake for dessert (last minute decision) and since I had no strawberries, and Jim needed a few things in town anyway, he and Sam headed to Walmart.  When they came home, Jim whispered to me that he had gotten something that wasn't on the list.   It was a new bike for Julia!  She was rather surprised. :)
 Jim had told her a year ago or so that when she was big enough for this size bike, he would buy her a brand new one.  (Almost all our bikes around here are freebies from the dump or cheap ones from yard sales.)  As it turned out, she had forgotten that he ever said that, so she wasn't expecting it...but she was quite delighted!
 On my mind: On Sunday, our pastor sang "Cherish the Moment" as a special, which was requested in memory of the infant granddaughter of a couple in our church, who had gone home to Jesus 8 years ago.  It's a beautiful song and a good reminder that we don't know how long we'll have with our children.  Even if we have them till they're out on their own as adults, that time is fleeting.  I'm feeling the shortness of it every day when I realize how tall my 11 year old is getting, how the time from kindergarten to 5th grade flew by in a flash.  Truly, the days are long but the years are short.  Some days (like last Wednesday) are *really* long and I'm glad to see the end of days like that!  But I'm trying to treasure the everyday moments like this one.
 Because, you know?  We only get moments like that for a short time.  I'm so glad we live in the age of digital photography.  Thanks to that, and my blog, I'll be able to look back on memories like this for years to come. :)

Also on my mind: On a related note, last weekend my FB news feed lit up with the news of Jonathan Crombie's death.  (He played Gilbert Blythe in the Anne of Green Gables movies.)  He was only 48 and died suddenly due to a brain hemorrhage.  So sad . . . and another good reminder that life is short.

In the schoolyard:  I'm calling it the schoolyard just because we did some school outside one nice morning last week. :)  The bugs aren't out yet, and we just needed to go out and soak up the sun!  We didn't get a whole lot done before it started sprinkling, but it was fun while it lasted. 

Ari LOVES being outside.  She is very content out there for ages . . . and of course the kids couldn't resist putting sunglasses on her again.  She's a pretty patient baby--she doesn't really seem to mind!
Well, this has been such a long post that I'd better wrap it up . . . I'm hoping to (FINALLY) post some book reviews today while Ari is napping, plus I have some cleaning up to do around here, some emails to type, etc.  I hope you are all having a wonderful weekend so far!