Saturday, December 31, 2011

Reflections on 2011 and Looking Ahead to 2012

Last year I could have done better at some things, yet I followed through on other things.  I completely ignored some items on my list, and yet amazed myself with my effort on others.  I think that sounds about right for most people.

Some things I am really proud of from 2011:

We chose each of our children to be a special kid for the month.  Every month (they each got 4 months with one of them being their birthday month) one of the kids got to have a "date" with mom and a "date" with dad.  We went out to eat and then usually did something else, maybe a stop at Target, out for ice cream, played a game, or just had some one on one time to chat.  Some months we were down to the wire getting our dates in and even one time we had to carry over into the next month, but these times with each of our children was a priority.  It was nice to be able to be alone with that child and give them our full attention.  It was nice to have those chats that we can't have when there are the constant interruptions of every day life.  It was fun for them to get to chose where they wanted to eat.  It was a special time and I look forward to continuing this tradtion in 2012.

I will continue with daily prayer and really focusing it on others.  I saw some prayers answered and others answered in unexpected ways in this last year.  I am going to continue this in 2012 by focusing on one person each day.  I have a calendar and I plan to write that person's name in for a day and then pray for them.  It may be because they are on my mind.  It may be because I have been alerted to a need.  It may be because it is their birthday or some other significant day.  But, each day I plan to focus on one person and pray for them throughout that day.

THE. TREADMILL.  Umm, yeah, that has really slacked off lately. Well, frankly, it has become non-existent.  But, I vow to get back on it and really make some changes to my weight.  On my 40 By 40 Challenge, I vowed to lose 20 pounds by the time I turn 40.  I have 10 months to do it.  It won't happen by sitting around doing nothing.  I must get back at it! I've lost 5 lbs so far and with my cousin, Melanie as my accountability partner, the final 15 (or shoot maybe even more) should come off!

In the blogging world, I plan to keep at what I am doing.  Some reviews, some inspiration, some snippets from our life, and some things to make you smile!  I am not going to pressure myself into regular features except for those that are part of my 40 By 40 Challenge.  Thanks to all of you who check in, share and read what I write throughout the year.

 I have really been excited about my 40 By 40 Challenge and have already knocked several items off of my list.  With 10 months to go, I have no doubt that all will be completed.  To see my challenge list and the updates, check it out HERE.

I hope that 2012 is....
full of all the blessings you can imagine,
smiles you can't contain,
and laughter that overflows. 

Happy New Year!

Friday, December 30, 2011

Books As Gifts

I. LOVE. BOOKS.  Unless you have been living under a rock, you knew that about me already.  This year I gave some books as gifts and got some as well. 

BOOKS I GAVE:

FIDDLER'S GREEN (Fin's Revolution #2)
by A.S. Peterson
Published December 15, 2010

Given to my nephew, Eric and his wife, Ericka.  They had read FIDDLER'S GUN and loved it, so I sent them the next in the series.







NO HIGHER HONOR
A Memoir of My Years in Washington
by Condoleezza Rice
Published November 1, 2011

Given to my dad because he asked for this book.  I'm not sure he knew it was going to be 700 pages though!  I hope he enjoys it!






I also gave several magazine subscriptions SPORTS ILLUSTRATED to our boys, AMERICAN GIRL to Reagan, PEOPLE STYLE WATCH to my niece, Jena, and TV GUIDE to my mom.  Reading is reading, whether it is in book or magazine or newspaper or online format.  I gave my BFF Tammy an Amazon gift card for her birthday last week so she could get some books for her Kindle.  I know she preordered HOME FRONT by Kristin Hannah.  That's one I want to read too! 

I also participated in the LIBRARYTHING SantaThing gift exchange.  I chose 2 books to give to my SantaThing recipient.  She likes science fiction books and fantasy which are not genres I usually read.  So, it was a bit of a challenge, but I hope I picked a couple that she will enjoy.

GAUNTLGRYM
by R.A. Salvatore
Published September 30, 2010

This is the first in a series and came up after some searches using genres and authors she liked.  I hope this becomes a new series she enjoys.






FATE'S EDGE
by Ilona Andrews
Published November 29, 2011

Because this was a newly published book, I was confident she hadn't read it yet.  This was another author that popped up frequently in the paranormal listings and I thought it might be a good read for her.





BOOKS I RECEIVED:
Pat gave me an Amazon gift card and I promptly purchased two books for my Kindle that I had seen in an email that the publisher reduced the prices....

WICKED
The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West
By Gregory Maguire
Published December 5, 2000

I have heard a lot about this book as well as the musical.  I thought it was time to check this out and with the reduced price, I couldn't resist.





CROOKED LETTER, CROOKED LETTER
By Tom Franklin
Published October 1, 2010

This is one I have been interested in since it came out and again, with the reduced price, I had to snag it.  It is a bit out of my reading "comfort zone", but I have heard so many good things about it, I want to check it out.





THE SCENT OF RAIN AND LIGHTNING
By Nancy Pickard
Published January 7, 2010

I received this as a gift from my sister and was surprised that I hadn't even heard of this book.  It definitely sounds like something I would enjoy and am glad she picked it out for me!





THE FEMALE BRAIN
By Louann Brizendine, MD
Published August 1, 2006

This book is obviously non-fiction and I was curious as to why she picked it out for me.  But, after reading the back of the book and different reviews, I think it is going to be a very interesting book and one I will enjoy and learn a lot from.





THE ZOOKEEPER'S WIFE: A WAR STORY
By Diane Ackerman
Published September 1, 2007

This was one of the books I received from my LIBRARYTHING Santa.  I can't believe I had never heard of this book. This is definite a book I would choose to read.  It is set during the Holocaust and is a true story which makes even more interesting.  I can't wait to dig into this one!




VANISHING ACTS
By Jodi Picoult
Published January 1, 2005

This was another gift from my Santa and LIBRARYTHING.  You can't go wrong with a Jodi Picoult novel and this is one that I hadn't read yet.  I know I will enjoy it!





HOME AGAIN
By Kristin Hannah
Published October 30, 1996

This was the final book from my Santa and LIBRARYTHING.  I have become a recent fan of Kristin Hannah and have read her newer novels, but not her older ones.  I look forward to comparing her older writing to her newer ones.  Thanks so much to my LIBRARYTHING Santa for blessing me with these new books!




In 2011, I added 110 books to my To-Read shelf on GOODREADS.  My reading pace isn't keeping up with my to-read pace.  I'm gonna have to kick it up a notch and try to get some of those books off my shelf.  I set a goal of 40 books to read in this last year before I turn 40 and since October I have read 8, so I am definitely on pace.  I have lots of great review books coming up and lots that I want to read, so it should be a year of great reads! 

What books did you get as gifts this year?  What are you most looking forward to reading in 2012?

Thursday, December 29, 2011

My Top Ten Reads from 2011

I read 36 books this year which is more than I anticipated.  They covered a variety of subjects and were reads that were for my Book Club, for review purposes, and for my own enjoyment.  Of these books, these were my favorites from the year.  Some actually came out in 2011, others were ones I finally got around to reading in 2011.  Most were fiction, but there was also some non-fiction.  If you haven't read these books, I recommend you putting them on your MUST-READ list today!

#10
EYEWALL
by H.W. "Buzz" Bernard
Published April 15, 2011

I got this for FREE on my Kindle but was drawn to it because of it's setting: St Simons Island, Georgia.  I have family that lives there and my husband and I spent our honeymoon there.  EYEWALL tells the story of a hurricane hitting the island and focuses on a family who wasn't able to get off the island in time.  The science behind hurricanes was just as fascinating as the storyline of the family.  If you are looking for a thrilling page-turner, definitely check this one out.  Check out my review HERE for more details. 

#9
ROOM
by Emma Donoghue
Published September 13, 2010

This was a book club read, but also one I had been wanting to read.  The story of Jack and his mom locked in a room was made even more fascinating because it was told from 5 year old Jack's perspective.  Keep in mind, Jack has never seen the world outside of his room and only has seen him mom and his "dad", the bad guy who has them locked away.  This is gripping and will have you rooting for Jack all the way to the end!


#8
FRIENDSHIP BREAD
by Darien Gee
Published April 5, 2011

This was a book I read for review.  If you are looking for a story that pick you up and give you hope, then this story is for you.  It is a feel-good kind of story about a community that is brought back together all because someone made some friendship bread and dropped it off on a door-step.  The bonus is that recipes for starting your own friendship bread are included.  You may just want to start your own batch after reading this story.  Check out my review HERE for more details.

#7
THE IMMORTAL LIFE OF HENRIETTA LACKS
by Rebecca Skloot
Published February 2, 2010

This was also a book club read, but again, one I had been wanting to read.  Even though this is a non-fiction, it reads like a fiction novel.  Skloot tells the story of an African-American woman who changed medical history even though she died in the 1950's.  This is a fascinating book that taught me much about cancer, medical research and the value of a life.  Check out my review HERE for more details.


#6
JOY FOR BEGINNERS
by Erica Bauermeister
Published June 9, 2011

This was another review read for me and I just loved the premise of it.  This is the story of seven women who gather to celebrate one of owns victory over cancer.  The celebration leads to them all conquering their one fear.  The fears are all unique and are life-changing for each of the women.  Again, this is another feel-good story and one you should definitely check out.  Check out my review HERE for more details. 

#5
EXPOSURE
by Therese Fowler
Published May 3, 2011

This was another review read for me and one that is right from the headlines of our newspapers.  It tells the story of teenagers who in the heat of young love, make a decision that will affect their families, their school, and their entire community.  As a parent, I found this novel eye-opening.  I also respected the author for writing this story from her own son's horrific experience.  If you have or will have teenagers in your home, READ. THIS. BOOK. Check out my review HERE for more details.

#4
SAME KIND OF DIFFERENT AS ME
by Ron Hall and Denver Moore
Published June 15, 2006

This was a book club read and one my Sister-in-Law had been telling me to read for quite some time.  This story will bless you and can be life-changing if you let it.  It is emotional, it is powerful, and it is unforgettable.  Check out my review HERE for more details.



#3
SHANGHAI GIRLS
by Lisa See
Published May 26, 2009

I read this for my own enjoyment, but also because I was scheduled to review the sequel to this novel and felt I couldn't do that without reading this one first.  I was already a fan of See's from reading SNOW FLOWER AND THE SECRET FAN and was expecting a great story.  I was not disappointed.  I love reading historical fiction and learning about this that happened in the past that I didn't already know or understand.  This story of two sisters in China during the 1930's and beyond had me enthralled right from the start. 
#2
DREAMS OF JOY
by Lisa See
Published May 31, 2011

So, as I said above, this was a review book, but one I was very anxious to read, especially after reading SHANGHAI GIRLS.  This picks right up where SHANGHAI GIRLS left off.  But, this story is capable enough to stand alone.  It picks up in 1957 and takes you back to China.  The sisters are still the forefront of the story you are instantly drawn in to their world and their lives.  Lisa See never disappoints you with her character development and vivid descriptions.  This family drama will keep you up all night turning the pages.  Check out my review HERE for more details.

#1
THE LANGUAGE OF FLOWERS
by Vanessa Diffenbaugh
Published August 23, 2011

This was my favorite book of 2011. It was a book I read for review and am so glad I had that opportunity. I think of this story often and can't wait to see it played out in movie form.  The rights have been sold and actors/actresses are being chosen!  I can't wait!  This story of a Victoria who grew up in foster care and is now "graduated" to real life on her own will have your heart aching for her.  The other main characters are the flowers and the language they are expressing from the giver to the receiver.  I found the story of Victoria just as fascinating as the language of the flowers.  This story will leave you with a renewed faith in the good of others, a belief in love conquering all and the hope for second chances.  Check out my review HERE for more details.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Scenes From Our Week - Week 12

You can see all about my day at MISSION OF HOPE on Wednesday at the post below this one. It was a wonderful day of giving to others.  I can't wait to participate again next year!

On Friday, we celebrated Christmas with Pat's family.  It is so fun to watch all the kids open their gifts and then listen to the cousins playing together while the grown-ups chat and catch up on life.

Bennett was pretty excited to open up his Steelers pennant.

Patrick showing off his LaBron James shirt


Reagan with her new hair feather

COUSINS! (Minus Matt, Krysta and Mykenah)

Siblings and Spouses

Mother and Daughter on Christmas Eve

Sibling love on Christmas Eve
  

A Day of Giving



For the second year in a row, I was chosen by CEPIA and the RANDOM ACTS OF ZHU to hand out toys to a charity.  I again chose MISSION OF HOPE in Cedar Rapids because of the awesome work they do to help out the least, the last and the lost. December 21, 2011 was their Day of Giving and I was thrilled to be a part of it again this year. 

The kids were thrilled to be able to help out with this huge project.  They helped unpack all the boxes of toys and sort them out. 

Then we sorted all the toys and made them into gift packages with each set including two accessories and one ZhuZhu pet.  We tied them with ribbon and off they went. 

The hundreds of toys ready to give out at MISSION OF HOPE.  Would you believe we went through almost all of these toys????  At one point we even came very close to running out of toys for boys ages 8-12.  I stopped and prayed, asking God to help us provide toys for every child that day.  I didn't want to tell a parent that we didn't have any toys for their son.  Thankfully, a father and son came in and dropped off toys specifically for boys.  I was so humbled by their generosity and so grateful that God sent them in to the Mission.  Those toys got us through 'til the end!

We also handed out 225 food baskets with fruit, potatoes, veggies, rolls, pie, and chocolate.  Then a ham and milk were added to the basket as well.  After each person got a food basket, they were then allowed to chose some cold weather items like coats, blankets, hats, gloves, and scarves. 
Then the guests came to the toy area where the "elves" had toys for every age group. 

The guests were able to choose a toy for each child and then get several "stocking stuffer" items as well.

It was such a full and busy day, but so heart-warming.  So many times I was thanked over and over again for helping them provide a wonderful Christmas for their family.  So many children had gifts to open because of the generosity of others.  So many families were able to find some happiness in their Christmas with a meal, some warm clothing and toys under the tree. 

Thanks so much to CEPIA and ZHUZHU PETS for making this Christmas a little happier for so many families.  Thanks for letting me play "Santa Claus" and thanks to MISSION OF HOPE for letting me be a part of such a wonderful Day of Giving.

If you would like to learn more about Zhu Zhu Pets, check out http://www.zhuniverse.com/

If you would like to learn more about Mission of Hope and all they do to serve others, check out http://www.missionofhopecr.org/.


Monday, December 26, 2011

Book Review: Wishin' and Hopin' by Wally Lamb

Wishin' and Hopin'Wishin' and Hopin' by Wally Lamb

Published October 21, 2009
My rating: 4 of 5 stars


I found this as a cheap Kindle buy and knew I couldn't go wrong with a Wally Lamb book. I wanted a Christmas story and even though Christmas wasn't the focus of the whole story, it was still a fun read for this time of year. I especially liked how it was set in the 1960's and got a lot of laughs about things said and done during that time. This is a fun, light read and is great for any time of year, not just Christmas. I also appreciated how the author brought the disease of MS into the focus. With a family member recently diagnosed, I am aware of the devastating news this can bring.






View all my reviews

Saturday, December 24, 2011

A Christmas Prayer


Loving Father, help us remember the birth of Jesus, that we may share in the song of the angels, the gladness of the shepherds and the wisdom of the wise men.

Close the door of hate and open the door of love all over the world.

Let kindness come with every gift and good desires with every greeting.

Deliver us from evil by the blessing which Christ brings, and teach us to be merry with clean hearts.

May the Christmas morning make us happy to be Thy children, and the Christmas evening bring us to our beds with grateful thoughts, forgiving and forgiven, for Jesus' sake.

Amen.

Robert Louis Stevenson 1850-1894

Merry Christmas to all of my wonderful reader friends! 
Relax, soak up this special time with your family and remember the REAL reason for the season!

Thursday, December 22, 2011

What I've Been Baking

I love to bake and have been getting my goodies made up for Christmas celebrations. 

I've made:

Pumpkin Bread

Almond Bark Dipped Ritz Bitz

Peanut Butter Star Cookies (my Christmas Favorite)

 Spritz Cookies (my Grandma made them every Christmas, and my mom, and now me)


Peppermint Sugar Cookies (With Hershey's Candy Cane Kisses)

Almond Bark Dipped Pretzels

Regular Cut Out Sugar Cookies ( Stars and Ornaments this year)

Banana Bread

Phew!  I'm exhausted.  I have several other recipes I saw on Pintertest and other blogs that I want to try, but those will have to wait.  I am pooped and frankly sick of being in the kitchen.  So, I'm gonna stop here, and maybe I will make some new ones for New Year's!

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Scrabble Lover Gift

Do you have a Scrabble lover in your family?  When I saw this gift idea to make a personalized Scrabble board HERE I knew this was going to be my gift for our Jones Family Christmas.  My mom and her sisters and their kids and grandkids get together every year to celebrate Christmas.  There can be anywhere from 50-65 of us depending on who can attend.  The adults participate in a gift exchange where you draw numbers and then you can open a new gift or steal an already opened gift from someone.  Some years it has gotten pretty exciting with all the stealing of gifts that takes place.  When I saw the Scrabble Board idea, I knew it was perfect for our family, because Scrabble playing is in our heritage.  I play it, my mom and her sisters all play it and her parents and grandparents played it and several of us cousins play it as well.

I used my Grandpa and Grandma's names on the board and then added a photo of my mom and her four sisters standing in front of the house they grew up in. I super glued the scrabble tiles to the board and mod podged the photo to the board.  I then just super glued the scrabble board to some 12" square scrapbook paper.  Finding the frame took some trial and error.  I originally bought a square frame, but it wasn't deep enough to fit the board and tiles.  So, I had to get a shadowbox frame.  I got the kind that has different depth levels so you can fit it to your specific depth.  Both the frame and paper came from Michael's.  The Scrabble Me game I found on Amazon.  It works great because the boards are about 7" square rather than a regular Scrabble board size. 



My Aunt Kathy was the lucky receiver of the gift and I was happy that one of the sisters got it. 

Then, since I had leftover tiles, I decided to make some ornaments.  I saw the idea for the Scrabble Ornaments HERE.  I layed out all the letters I had left and made ornaments with some last names as well and Christmas words.
Pat cut the trays to fit the letters for me so I had more than four trays.  I just super glued the tiles and the ribbon behind the tiles.  Really, for a non-crafty person, this was super easy!  These are the perfect ornament for your Scrabble Geek!

Monday, December 19, 2011

Book Review: THE ART OF RACING IN THE RAIN By Garth Stein

THE ART OF RACING IN THE RAIN

By: Garth Stein

Published: May 5, 2008

Enzo knows he is different from other dogs: a philosopher with a nearly human soul (and an obsession with opposable thumbs), he has educated himself by watching television extensively, and by listening very closely to the words of his master, Denny Swift, an up-and-coming race car driver. Through Denny, Enzo has gained tremendous insight into the human condition, and he sees that life, like racing, isn't simply about going fast. Using the techniques needed on the race track, one can successfully navigate all of life's ordeals.

On the eve of his death, Enzo takes stock of his life, recalling all that he and his family have been through. In the end, despite what he sees as his own limitations, Enzo comes through heroically to preserve the Swift family, holding in his heart the dream that Denny will become a racing champion with Zoƫ at his side.
 
I'm not really a "dog person" and am not really interested in racing, so I wasn't sure I would like this book. But, it kept popping up on every "Must Read" list I had seen, so we decided to make it our book club read for this month and I am so glad we did.  I can't wait to hear everyone's take on it this evening.
This really is a very touching story and I loved that it was narrated by Enzo, the dog. I don't think this story would have worked if it wasn't told from his perspective. There were so many facets to this story and lots of things going on, but it all flowed well and keep you turning the pages to see what was going to happen next. I actually enjoyed the racing parts of the story and learned a lot about it.

After reading this, you won't look at dogs the same way and you will appreciate all your human abilities!
I gave this 4 out of 5 stars. 

Scenes From Our Week - Week 11

The weeks are getting quite busy now and I have lots to share from our week!

Every year we celebrate the day we got our house, December 15 - 8 years ago now- by having "Family Day".  We have a special meal complete with sparking grape juice.  Then after dinner we decorate our Gingerbread Houses together.  The kids really look forward to this day and is a fun tradition that I hope they will remember forever.


c
All the candy!

Hard at work decorating
The finished gingerbread village!

Pat and I off to a Christmas party

Patrick playing "Silent Night" for the church Christmas Program

Reagan, in the plaid skirt, with her friends watching the puppet show at our church Christmas program

The Wild West Chrismas Puppet Show at church