Tuesday, December 25, 2012

'Twas the Night Before Christmas

Ready for the Christmas Eve service at First Presbyterian.

Snuggling in their Christmas pajamas.  Pants made with love by Mom.

The children are nestled all snug in their beds and all the presents are under the tree.

Monday, December 24, 2012

52 Books in 52 Weeks - Year End Wrap up

Here is my complete book list for 2012 in reverse order from December back to January:

Best Exotic Marigold Hotel by Thomas Newman

Blue Christmas: Now with More Holiday Cheer (New Recipes Too!) by Mary Kay Andrews
How I Came to Sparkle Again by Kaya McLaren
The Three Incestuous Sisters: An Illustrated Novel by Audrey Niffenegger
Calling Invisible Women by Jeanne Ray
Uncle Tom's Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe
The Tortilla Curtain by T.C. Boyle
Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail by Cheryl Strayed
The Twenty-One Balloons by William Pene Dubois
Anne of Green Gables by Lucy Maud Montgomery
The Endless Forest by Sara Donati
The Yearling by Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings
Fire Along the Sky by Sara Donati
The Red Badge of Courage by Stephen Crane
Lake in the Clouds by Sara Donati
Dawn on a Distant Shore by Sara Donati
The Warmth of Other Suns by Isabel Wilkerson
Explosive Eighteen by Janet Evanovich
Freed to Live by Anne White
Perfect Nightmare by John Saul
Plum Lucky by Janet Evanovich
Plum Lovin' by Janet Evanovich
The Weird Sisters by Eleanor Brown
Visions of Sugar Plums by Janet Evanovich
Trial by Fire by Anne White
Into the Wilderness by Sara Donati
A Walk in the Woods: Rediscovering America on the Appalachian Trail by Bill Bryson
Home by Toni Morrison
How It All Began by Penelope Lively
Tears of Autumn by Charles McCarry
Frankenstein by Mary Shelley
Teach Like Your Hair's on Fire: The Methods and Madness Inside Room 56 by Rafe Esquith
Things Fall Apart by Chinụa Achebe
The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
The True Memoirs of Little K by Adrienne Sharp
Choosing Gratitude: Your Journey to Joy by Nancy Leigh DeMoss
Insurgent by Veronica Roth
An Unexpected Guest: A Novel by Anne Korkeakivi
Letters from the Corrugated Castle by Joan Blos
Lethal by Sandra Brown
A Study in Scarlet by Arthur Conan Doyle
The Maid by Kimberly Cutter
Sarah Bishop by Scott O'Dell
The Leftovers by Tom Perrotta
This Beautiful Life by Helen Schulman
Book of Dreams by Davis Bunn
The Housekeeper and the Professor by Yoko Ogawa
11/22/63 by Stephen King
New Found Land by Allan Wolf
The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes
Inside Out and Back Again by Thanhha Lai
Same Kind of Different As Me by Ron Hall and Denver Moore
The Sunflower by Simon Wiesenthal
The Jane Austen Book Club by Karen Joy Fowler
Before I Go To Sleep by S.J. Watson
Why Read Moby-Dick? by Nathaniel Philbrick
The Postmistress by Sarah Blake
Divergent by Veronica Roth
Moby Dick by Herman Melville
The Night Circus by Erin Morganstern
Ahab's Wife by Sena Jeter Naslund
Celia Garth by Gwen Bristow
Smokin' Seventeen by Janet Evanovich
Sizzling Sixteen by Janet Evanovich
Sketches by Eric Walters
Galileo's Daughter: A Historical Memoir of Science, Faith, and Love by Dava Sobel
The Tower, the Zoo and the Tortoise by Julia Stuart
The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield
Ladies' Night at Finbars Hotel edited by Dermot Bolger
How the Irish Saved Civilization by Thomas Cahill
The Ring by Bobbie Pyron
The Art of Racing in the Rain: A Novel by Garth Stein
The Midnight Zoo by Sonya Hartnett
Benjamin Franklin: An American Life by Walter Isaacson
The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Díaz

1) How many books did you read this year? 75

2) Did you meet or beat your own personal goal? Yes, my personal goal was 52 books read. One book a week seemed like it might be a stretch because I never kept track of my reading like this before.

3) Favorite book of 2012? Yes, you can list more than one and even break it down by genre if you choose.
Fiction:  Calling Invisible Women by Jeanne Ray

Inspirational: Choosing Gratitude: Your Journey to Joy by Nancy Leigh DeMoss

Historical Fiction/Poetry: New Found Land by Allan Wolf

4) Least favorite book of 2012 and why?
In fiction it would be The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Díaz
It wasn't nearly brief or wondrous enough for me.

Here is my complete review.  I didn't totally  pan it but I wanted to like it more.

My least favorite non-fiction pick would be A Walk in the Woods: Rediscovering America on the Appalachian Trail by Bill Bryson.  The only thing I discovered with Bill was that he was full of complaints and not very engaging.  If you want to read a good book on a walk in the woods try Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail by Cheryl Strayed.

5) One book you thought you'd never read and was pleasantly surprised you like it?
Uncle Tom's Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe

6) One book you thought you'd love but didn't?
The Twenty-One Balloons by William Pene Dubois

7) One book that touched you - made you laugh, cry, sing or dance.
Choosing Gratitude: Your Journey to Joy by Nancy Leigh DeMoss

Calling Invisible Women by Jeanne Ray

8) Any new to you authors discovered and you can't wait to read more of their stories? Erin Morganstern, Veronica Roth, Sarah Blake, and Jeanne Ray

9) Name the longest book you read? Shortest?
Moby Dick seemed like the longest.  I read but didn't list Sarah, Plain and Tall and its sequels.  The kids and I loved these stories.

10) Name the most unputdownable book you read?
Calling Invisible Women by Jeanne Ray

11/22/63 by Stephen King
The Night Circus by Erin Morganstern

11) Book that had the greatest impact on you this year?
Choosing Gratitude: Your Journey to Joy by Nancy Leigh DeMoss

12) What book would you recommend everybody read?
Fiction:  Calling Invisible Women by Jeanne Ray
11/22/63 by Stephen King
The Night Circus by Erin Morganstern

Historical Fiction/Poetry:  New Found Land by Allan Wolf

Nonfiction:  The Warmth of Other Suns by Isabel Wilkerson

13) Share your most favorite cover(s)
I really don't remember the covers.  I only remember the titles because I made the list.

14) Do you have a character you fell in love with?
There were so many memorable characters in Ahab's Wife and also I loved Uncle Tom.
15) What was your most favorite part of the challenge? Did you do any of the mini challenges?
 I loved keeping track of my reading and watching the list grow. 
I read Ahab's Wife and Moby Dick as part of a challenge.  I wouldn't have read either book otherwise.  I think I also read The Great Gatsby as part of a challenge.  I started reading Dr. Zhivago but bailed on that before I finished.  Too much snow and too many long train rides.

16) What are your goals for the new year? To read more non fiction? To dip your toes into a mystery or a urban fantasy or horror or romance? What book are you most looking forward to reading in 2013?
For 2013 I want to continue to read 52 books in 52 weeks.  More than that is really just gravy.  I also want to continue to read what I consider to be classics.  I added quite a few to my list this year and I like doing that.  I've been reading them as my children work through their history cycle.  They make me feel smarter.

The books I'm waiting for from my reserve list at the library are Gone Girl and Notorious Nineteen.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Advent: Day 23 - Christmas Adam

Today was our day to celebrate being a family at Christmas time.  I know, you are probably wondering what we've been doing for the last 23 days if not celebrating.  And, you are right.  We have celebrated all God's blessings for the last four weeks.  But, today was special.

First, we participated in the Nativity play at church.  H13 read the narration.  S10 was a wiseman and a shepherd.  M8 was the angel.  I wrote and directed the program.  If I do say so myself, it was lovely. 

After church, we enjoyed our normal Christmas Adam activities.  Each year we take this day and celebrate Christmas Adam, the day before Christmas Eve because as everyone knows Adam came before Eve.  Yes, it's a little goofy but we love it.  Here is a post I wrote several years ago about our Christmas Adam tradition. 

Today we shopped at a new Dollar Tree.  The kids are older and we just handed them their money and turned them loose.  They completed their shopping in less than half an hour.  They wrapped their own gifts without help.  Shane asked if plastic grocery bags were acceptable wrapping materials.  Nice try but, no, they aren't.  After our shopping was complete we enjoyed lunch at Applebee's, laughing and talking through it.  Our waitress was chatty and fun.  Our food was good.  The company was excellent.

A successful tradition continues.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Advent: Day 21 - Winter Solstice

Another tradition continues.  Despite the possible end of the world, despite snow and ice, the party went on. 

The food was an Italian theme.  We enjoyed several kinds of olives, roasted peppers, pepperoncini, two types of salami, a variety of cheeses, bread sticks, pasta fagioli, and meatballs.  Dessert included flourless chocolate cake and three types of mini cupcakes.  Delicious!

Once again, new friends and neighbors mingled with old friends we hadn't seen in awhile.  The weather kept the phone and text buzzing with cancellations all day Friday but we still had over 30 people enjoying our hospitality.  The kids played inside and out.  I understand that an epic snowball battle took place.  Irish cream was served and our night was merry and light.  Once again, we did our best to make this long dark night a little lighter.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Random Bits of Christmas Thanksgiving

Tomorrow is December 21, 2012.  Talk of the Mayan calendar and the end of the world has increased the closer we get to the date.  Our tradition is to hold a party on the longest night of the year.  As I sit in my warm home listening to the wind bluster outside I am so thankful for so many good things.  Since tonight might be the last, I want to celebrate with thanksgiving and praise.

I'm thankful that the Jesse Tree and my Advent plans have gone as well as they have.  I'm also thankful that I've been able to let loose of the imperfections and appreciate each moment just as it is.

I am thankful that I've got one pair of pajama pants finished and the other three cut out.  There is hope for homemade Christmas pajamas after all.

I am thankful for online shopping, FedEx, UPS, and the U.S. postal service.

I'm thankful that I've been able to keep up with wrapping gifts as they arrive.  It's so nice to have it done without a marathon wrap session.

I'm thankful that my children are older.  I have loved every age and stage after 4 months.  I wouldn't trade the days with toddlers for anything.  Even preschoolers are worth keeping.  However, the luxury of having help cleaning the house, cooking, putting away laundry, unloading groceries...it's priceless.  I have so much more freedom and flexibility now than I've had in years.  I am so thankful for the blessings that my children are to me.

I am thankful that we are financial secure and that we have enough to share and give.

I'm thankful for a husband who makes charitable giving a priority.

I'm thankful for the means to buy our children so many things that they want.

I am thankful that all my needs are met.

I am thankful that Rob is here to share Christmas with us this year.  I try not to stop and think about what could have been.  It's paralyzing, really.  I am so thankful for what is.

Heavenly Father,
I praise you for your grace to me.  Each day you save me.  Each day you send new blessings.  Each day you are wonderful.  Thank you for all the blessings that I've shared here, Lord, and for so many more that I haven't shared yet.  Thank you for enabling me to sing your praises.  May my praise and thanks please you, Lord.  Amen.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Advent: Day 18 - Breakfast for Supper

Pancake sundaes, sausage and quiche were the highlights of this breakfast for supper. 
Everyone loved the concept.  We may have to do this more often.

The Jesse Tree: The Wisdom of Solomon

The story of Solomon.

The Jesse Tree: Dancing

The Story of David, Part 2

Advent: Day 17 - Christmas Cards

Our family activity this evening was to sign, fold, stuff, and stamp all our cards.

This is the picture from our Christmas card this year.

These are two other pictures that I think turned out especially well.

Here's a copy of the Christmas letter:

The White House Farm Follies

I will start by saying; it has been another blessed year. God continues to amaze us with His grace, mercy and forgiveness.

M is now 8 years old. She played soccer in both spring and fall. She participated in a soccer camp this year and learned some amazing new moves. You will have to ask her to show you the scorpion move sometime. She also became an expert with the hula hoop.

S is now 10 years old. He played football again this year. This year he played for The Waterford Wildcats. Once again, Shane was recognized as one of the most enthusiastic and dedicated players by the coaching staff. In addition, he’s an artist and aspiring author.

H is now 13 years old. She is an avid reader. No….she is a devourer of books. She also is becoming quite the archer. During the 4H fall shooting sports season, Halley placed 1st in her division. Yea, she beat the boys too.

K is now 16 years old. Can u say OMG! She is driving now in her 2001 black VW Cabrio convertible. This year she is studying cosmetology at the career center and taking courses to meet her high school requirements. Her plans are to get her cosmetology license and then use it to work her way through college. I like that plan a lot! It includes college and less pay out for me.

Robin is now….Oh, I am not that stupid. She has really bought into the whole farming thing. Robin loves going to the farmer’s auction and then canning tomato sauce, green beans, corn, salsa, eggplant, etc. Home schooling H, S, and M is still the big activity. This year she was selected by Operation Christmas Child to be a community relations regional coordinator. Staying busy is not a problem for her.

Me? Oh, I had a little heart issue in July. After a quadruple by-pass, I am now officially part of the zipper club. I went back to work in September and completed cardio rehab in November. I am healthier now than I have been in years. God is good, all the time.

On the farm side, we were a bit more successful this year. We raised and butchered our first steer and T-bone is delicious. We added a dozen Easter egg chickens to our laying flock and are now receiving more pink, green and blue eggs than we can eat. We raised and harvested another 100 meat chickens and our own Thanksgiving turkey. We currently have two steer on pasture. The dogs and cat are doing well. Gardening and the bees were not as successful this year as part of July, August and September were focused on my recovery.

We did get off the farm a bit. Robin, H, S, and M spent time in Norfolk, VA with Robin’s sister, Christy. While there they got to tour Yorktown, Jamestown and Williamsburg. In June, we all spent a week in Atlanta. In addition to our sightseeing in Atlanta, we were blessed to visit with Aunt Ginger, George and Annie Westlund and their children. A fun day at Stone Mountain, GA was definitely a highlight. After that we joined the Westlund family for Shoopa! in Tybee Island. In July we became jet setters, and traveled to Idaho to help my parents celebrate their 50th wedding anniversary. Since then we’ve been sticking pretty close to home. We were blessed to have lots of family visit us through the fall. Sandy Schmidt, Christy Westlund, and Julie McMahon have all been by at least twice. Amy Daniels and Sarah IntVeld, with her children, have also dropped in. Bill and Katie Westlund have made numerous stops on their way criss-crossing the country. It’s wonderful that all roads lead through Ohio. Jim and Jill Wells have become regular guests and are wonderful fans for all sporting events.

We love company and love to show people our farm and farm animals. Stop in for a visit or a long stay.

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year

Advent: Day 16 - Wild Lights and Santa

On Saturday night we watched the weather.  The Sunday forecast was for thunderstorms.  We discussed going to Wild Lights at the Columbus Zoo, but we didn't want to take that drive on a day we couldn't really enjoy the spectacle.  Because of the weather forecast we decided to move a zoo trip to sometime after Christmas.

Sunday arrived with overcast skies but no thunderstorms.  A check of the weather on Sunday afternoon showed cloudy skies with mild temperatures.  The predicted thunderstorms were postponed until Monday.  We made a fast decision to go to the zoo and moved just as quickly to get on the road. 

Our alternate plan for Sunday involved a long winter's nap and breakfast for dinner.  In addition, I wanted to go to the local pharmacy for their Christmas party and pictures with Santa.  Only K16 and H13 managed to get the nap.  I was thrilled that Wild Lights included Santa.  Our first stop upon entering the zoo was Santa's home where we took a picture with Santa.

After a visit with Mr. and Mrs. Claus, we strolled through the light strung trees enjoying to the sights and sounds of Christmas at the zoo.  We also stopped to enjoy a group of performers called Signs of the Season.  They gave Christmas caroles and songs a new dimension with American Sign Language.  After the performance we went in search of what we thought was going to be a group of 27 arbors made up of animatronic trees.  What we got was 27 stuffed animals sitting on a Christmas tree shaped frame.  We left laughing at how the description was much more grand than the reality.

We all enjoyed seeing the lights.  Since we were zoo members this year the experience was worth the drive.  I'm not sure we'll make this an annual event.

We were all hungry by the time we left the zoo so we went in search of delicious food.  We found what we were looking for in nearby Easton at The Cheesecake Factory.

Advent: Day 14 & 15 - Another Change in Plans

On Friday, we took a family walk then Rob and I went Christmas shopping and to his department Christmas party.  The kids picked up McDonald's for dinner and watched t.v.  Not exactly family Advent activities but necessary none the less.

On Saturday, we enjoyed a fire in the fireplace

 and made melting snowman cupcakes for the church Christmas dinner. 

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Advent: Day 13 - St. Lucia

For several years we've saluted our Swedish heritage by celebrating St. Lucia day.  The idea of a blonde haired girl with a crown of candles is an appealing one for my daughters.  We let them carry candles if they choose but have always stopped them from putting anything burning on their heads.  In past years, I've made various kinds of cinnamon rolls and sweet buns.  This year I decided to make the real deal, St. Lucia buns.  Our activity of the day indicated that we were to have a tea party and celebrate St. Lucia.  Time ran short.  The bread didn't rise according to schedule.  Our tea party turned into dinner with St. Lucia (Italian pesto) soup.  M8 hauled out the tea party gear anyway.  I was just thankful she didn't want to light the candles and balance them on her head.

Despite the long rising time, the St. Lucia buns turned out beautifully.  Now that I know I can make this recipe and that it's very delicious, we'll be enjoying the real thing as part of our tradition.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

The Jesse Tree: The Shepherd King

The story of David

The Jesse Tree: "Speak, Lord, For Your Servant Is Listening"

The story of Samuel

The Jesse Tree: The Foreigner

The story of Ruth

Advent: Days 10, 11 & 12 - Candlelight Celebration, Cookies, and Conversation

We are still having a wonderful time with our Advent celebrations.  I just haven't been great about taking pictures and getting them posted.  This week we made gingerbread, but we still have the cookies to cut, bake and decorate.  The dough is waiting patiently in the refrigerator.  Things got busy on Monday and Tuesday nights.  

Tuesday we had our last co-op of the year and then went to the library.  Because of some errands that took longer than expected (Don't they always?!), we arrived at the library just a little late for the Christmas party.  We all got to enjoy grilled cheese sandwiches cut like gingerbread men and marshmallow snowmen.  After enjoying the library Christmas party and checking out a generous number of books, we took our food donation to the local food bank. That was a worthwhile adventure and one that we will repeat with more regularity.

Tuesday we followed the Advent plan as previously scheduled.  December 11 is my mother's birthday so a candle light dinner was the perfect way to celebrate.  I love celebrating birthdays even when the people we are celebrating can't be there to join us.  My picture doesn't really show our lovely ambiance because my flash works really well and I don't really understand all my camera's settings.  You'll just have to believe that the lights were out and that we did indeed have dinner by candle light. 

We even enjoyed birthday cake!  My Grandmother Westlund's recipe.  Someday I may share it here.

 On December 12 we made cookies, lots and lots of cookies.  Nutmeg, Lemon, and Oatmeal Chocolate Chip.  We are delivering cookie plates to our neighbors on December 13 so we had to get ready. 

Once the cookie bake-athon was done we met in the living room for a cookie and eggnog snack and Christmas conversation.  I love hearing my children talk about their favorite Christmas traditions and things the are looking forward to this year.  The conversation was full of side-tracks and off the wall comments but was fun. 

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Advent: Day 9 - Little Women of Orchard House and Shopping for the Food Pantry

At this point I'm thinking that my plans for Advent were really just suggestions.  When I started thinking about Advent my purpose was to create a time that focused on being together as a family and thinking about God and others.  Even though we aren't following my original schedule exactly we are having a wonderful time. 

Today we went to see Little Women of Orchard House, a youth theater production of the Mid-Ohio Valley Players.  We've seen the movie version of Little Women and learned a bit about the time during the Civil War in the United States.  Our background knowledge made this play especially enjoyable.  We were all impressed with the quality of the performances and each had our favorite actor/character.

One of the things that I hadn't really planned was including a service activity on Sundays.  After our experience last week when we went shopping for a needy child, we decided that having a special others focused activity on Sunday was something we enjoyed and wanted to continue.  This week we decided to pick up food for our local food bank.  We'll be dropping the food we purchased on Tuesday.

Advent: Day 8 - Christmas Party

According to our original schedule, today was suppose to be the day we made gingerbread guys. Today was also the day of Rob's company's family Christmas party.  The gingerbread guys had to be put on hold to make time for saying goodbye to Grandmomma and Grandpap as they continued their drive to Florida. 
By the time we got dressed for the day it was time to leave for skating, pizza, and Santa courtesy of KERC.  While we skipped the gingerbread guys for now, we will definitely be making them before Christmas.

Advent: Day 7 - Grinch Day

On December 7, we watched How the Grinch Stole Christmas.  While the kids prefer the Jim Cary version of this classic tale.  I prefer the old cartoon animated version.  Since this is my activity, I got to choose the version.  While we disagreed on the best Grinch, we all agreed that these Grinch shakes were delicious.

The Jesse Tree: "Let My People Go!"

The story of Moses

The Jesse Tree: Famine and Plenty

The Jesse Tree: The Dreamer

We enjoyed the company of special guests for this Jesse Tree ornament.  Grandmomma and Grandpap joined us for a bonus evening on their way home to Florida.

The story of Joseph

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Advent: Day 6 - Make Reindeer Cookies

We made our reindeer cookies using Nutter Butter cookies, small pretzels, mini m&ms, and milk chocolate melting discs. 
 K16 melted 1 cup of the discs in the microwave.  H13 lined a pan with parchment paper.
We dunked the Nutter Butters in the melted chocolate, being sure to coat thoroughly. No fancy technique here, just a spoon to scoop out the cookies. 
We broke a pretzel in half then snapped off pieces until it looked like antlers to us. 
We stuck the pretzels into the melted chocolate covered cookies.  The chocolate did a great job of fastening the antler to the reindeer. 
We stuck the m&ms on the chocolate covered cookies to represent eyes and a nose.  Sometimes we even made sure the m side was face down.
The most difficult part of this project was leaving the reindeer alone so the chocolate could harden.

The easiest part of this project was eating the completed cookies.

The Jesse Tree: The Stairway to Heaven

The story of Jacob

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Advent: Day 5 - Ferris Bueller's Day Off

Ferris-Bueller Ferris-Bueller.gif photo

If you look back at my original advent list you'll probably notice that day 5 does not say anything about Ferris Bueller.  Day 5 was suppose to be "Make reindeer cookies."  Ferris Bueller and reindeer have nothing in common that I can think of.  In fact, I don't know that Ferris Bueller has anything to do with Christmas.  If I thought real hard, maybe did a six degree of separation type association, I might be able to connect Ferris Bueller and Christmas but there's really no need.

I can connect Ferris Bueller to our advent celebration because I couldn't find Nutter Butters.  Since I couldn't find Nutter Butters at the grocery store and I don't know how to make reindeer cookies without Nutter Butters plans had to change. The mother of four is nothing if not flexible.  I had a plan B then M8 and S10 were invited to go to McDonald's for dinner with the neighbors.  Scrap plan B, go to plan C.  Thankfully, I picked up Ferris Bueller at the library today. 

I realized a few weeks ago that my children had never seen Ferris Bueller.  We have watched a number of the great 80s flicks.  John Hughes is as timely now as he was when I was a teenager.  Somehow, we had missed Ferris.  Tonight, that situation was corrected.  I think it's safe to say that I have created a new generation of Ferris fans.  Save Ferris!

The Jesse Tree: A Test of Love

The story of Isaac