Stockings hung, Christmas cards in progress…all is normal

Well, not all is normal, but that’s just because flu (mild, thankfully) has struck the house this week. The Christmas cards still being in progress on the 7th day of Christmas, though, is perfectly normal.

Before discussing Christmas cards, I must share that I got both stockings I was knitting done in time to hang for Christmas Eve! Yay!! I still have to go back and weave in all the ends and block the red one, but it held Santa’s presents, which is all that really matters as far as the stocking’s owner is concerned.

knit stockings

Now about those Christmas cards…every year, I plan to do them early (well, earlier…early for us would be to have them all in the mail by Christmas Eve). And every year, I never get them done in time. A large part of the problem is procrastination on my part, but another issue includes the relatively large number of cards I try to send each year: we’re up to about 140 this year, and that’s not including new congregation members. I decided to give myself a pass on them until next year, mainly because my Christmas card apparatus just did not have an extra 50 or so cards and addresses built in and I have to draw a line for sanity’s sake somewhere.

Every year, I also question whether or not I really want to do Christmas cards. It’s another “thing to do,” and it’s one that easily fits into the “not absolutely necessary” category. It takes a long time, between tracking down address changes, ordering cards (I use photo cards), having cards sent to the wrong place (ok, that was just this year), writing a Christmas newsletter, and signing/addressing/mailing. Then, I have long since given up handwriting more than our signatures and at most a line or two on each card, and gone the “photo card with enclosed newsletter” route, which I know many people (including my husband) feel are not in the true spirit of Christmas cards. But every year, I decide I still want to send cards, and to do it this way, and here’s why:

  1. It’s one chance to keep in touch with just about everyone in my address book. In fact, even though I bought a lovely new address book this year, I have yet to actually fill it in, because most of my addresses are on the Christmas card spreadsheet. As much as Facebook can help with keeping in touch, it doesn’t beat snail mail. An ongoing goal of mine is to write more actual letters, but this is one chance to make sure I send out at least a little bit of snail mail each year.
  2. I like Christmas newsletters. I know that many find they are at best tacky and at worst a canvas for bragging and one-upmanship, but I differ. I don’t have the stomach to write the same pieces of news out by hand 140 times, nor do I expect my friends to. But I still like to hear what’s going on in other people’s lives, and I enjoy reading any newsletter updates when they arrive. So I’m going to keep sending them until I either here from someone who genuinely hates ours (in which case, I probably just won’t enclose the newsletter next year) or my husband takes over the bulk of Christmas card preparation (unlikely).
  3. I like those photo cards, too. Similarly, I think they let you personalize your cards without handwriting cramp, and I like seeing visual reminders of our friends and, for those with kids, how the kids are growing and changing.
  4. I prefer sending imperfect cards to no cards at all. Miss Manners would probably disapprove of my assembly-line Christmas cards (especially since this year I went and bought printable labels–but MAN has that been a help once I got the printing alignment right!), but if I didn’t do Christmas cards this way, I wouldn’t do them at all right now. And I like doing them.

With all that said, I do think Christmas cards should only be sent if the sender enjoys sending them. They are a lot of time investment, and December is a month with enough time commitments already. But for now, I’m going to keep sending Christmas cards–and reminding myself that Christmas is a twelve-day season in which to get them out!

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Advent 2014

I have obviously not kept up very well with blogging this fall. While we as a family seem to be getting acclimated to our new home and life, I have found myself still feeling very much in transition. That’s why I am so happy that it is now Advent. I have known that Advent starts the new church year for quite awhile, but this year, I am especially eager to start a new year. I need the chance to refocus my thoughts away from the transition of the last year and on to what good things are yet to come.

One of the challenges I keep facing over and over is “not getting enough done” as a stay at home mom. The days fly by, and it seems like my to-do list at best stays the same length and at worst gets longer. I also find myself focusing too much on the to-do list and not enough on time with the kids, or even concentrating on whatever task I am currently working at. So to get ready for this Advent, I went ahead and made a huge, multi-page to-do list for the next year or so. I divided up the things I wanted to get done into categories (for example, crafts I wanted to make, household chores that needed to get done) and then I tried to choose just a few of the major things to focus on right now: celebrating Advent/getting ready for Christmas, and trying to complete “moving into” our new house. These are two fairly large items, and there are of course other small things that have cropped up and will continue to do so, but I’m hopeful that by focusing on a few things, I can feel less adrift and frenzied. I’m also hoping that this approach will help me to look at the different seasons in the year and in life, and recognize what tasks are appropriate to focus on in this season–and which ones to drop for now.

I do hope to get back into blogging, but right now, that’s not one of my top priorities, so I’m going to limit it to book posts for now. In the meantime, I will be trying to enjoy and do the work of this Advent season.

Library Books Enjoyed, 10/20/14

Gabby and GatorGabby and Gator by James Burks

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

My kids LOVE this one. Gator is an alligator who was flushed down the toilet as a youngster, lives in the sewers, and guiltily eats dogs to survive. Gabby is a smart, vegetarian, earth-friendly girl who knows what she wants, but doesn’t have any friends who understand her. They become friends pretty instantly, but both Gator’s appetite and the local animal control officer are difficulties that have to be overcome.

Some of the kids’ favorite parts: Gabby’s tuba-playing, Gator’s first dog-eating incident, and scaring off the local bully.

Annie and Snowball and the Dress-up BirthdayAnnie and Snowball and the Dress-up Birthday by Cynthia Rylant

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

We like Annie and Snowball almost as much as Henry and Mudge around our house, but this one has been a particular hit. Annie plans a “dress-up” birthday with her family, but her idea of dress-up and Henry’s don’t quite match up. The results are both fancy and crazy, and my kids laugh every time.

Dear FishDear Fish by Chris Gall

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

My six-year-old now has a favorite author, and it’s Chris Gall. This isn’t one of my favorite installments, but my kids have enjoyed the story of fish coming to visit the local town after Peter Alan sends them an invitation in a bottle. Grown-ups and older kids can amuse themselves trying to find the “fish puns” that make up part of the drawings–I haven’t found all 10 yet!

WordGirl: Word Up: Word UpWordGirl: Word Up: Word Up by Anita Serwacki

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Oh, Word Girl. If I did not have such affection for all things PBS, I might be tempted to banish you from my house. But you have entered, and you have conquered my children, especially my superhero-loving-six-year-old boy, and now I am doomed to read you aloud for all eternity. At least each book comes with two separate stories, which can each be read alone.

P.S. For a superhero whose power is vocabulary, you think you’d need more than 2 words per episode to defeat the bad guys!

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Library Books Enjoyed: 10/6/14

Wow, it’s been awhile since I’ve done one of these.

Buy My Hats!Buy My Hats! by Dave Horowitz

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This was a cute story about two aspiring businessmen (well, a business bear and a business fish) who can’t quite figure out the secret of success. In the end, a rainstorm comes to their aid.

We reread this one several times, and I think the kids liked the ads for the protagonists’ competitors and all the conversations taking place on the pictures as much as anything.

Dog vs. CatDog vs. Cat by Chris Gall

My kids LOVED this one. I only thought it was ok at first, but it is one that seems to improve upon multiple (multiple!!) rereads. A classic dog versus cat tale that has forces the two adversaries to join forces against a common enemy. The pictures are really funny, and Mr. Gall completely knows his audience because, a week since returning this to the library, my kids are still calling “I have outdoor privileges!” and cracking up every time. This is also one of the first books to bring home the idea of liking different books by the same author, because my son has retrieved his Dinotrux book and also found another book by Mr. Gall at the library.

A Kiss for Little BearA Kiss for Little Bear by Else Holmelund Minarik

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is the first book I had my six-year-old read to me without him having already had it read to him. He did a great job, and it was a fun story to discover together (if I’ve read this one before, it’s been a LONG time). Little Bear sends a picture to his Grandmother via Hen, and Grandmother sends a kiss back the same way. But Hen gets busy and enlists other animals to help send the kiss along. N.’s favorite part was when Frog was getting Cat’s attention to give him the kiss, and mine was when the kiss got stuck with 2 little skunks.

This last one is not a grown-up book, but it’s just one I read for my own interest, not with the kids.

I Kill the MockingbirdI Kill the Mockingbird by Paul Acampora

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I don’t remember where I read a review of this one, but when I came across it at the library, the cover grabbed me. I was not disappointed. The premise (three friends decide to increase interest in the summer reading assignment To Kill a Mockingbird by hiding the book all over their state) is interesting, but it’s really the characterization and the real-life feel/details that make this book.

Some points I especially like:
-The amusing but fond descriptions of the Lucy, Elena, and MIchael’s Catholic school.
-The poignant parts about Lucy’s mom recovering from cancer are good, but not (I think) overdone, and they don’t take over the book.
-The smart, nerdy kids who know they are smart but can laugh at themselves, too.
-The little bit of romance.
-Several of the lines, but in particular, after the three use bus passes to hit bookstores all around Connecticut, “We’d never be able to pull this off in Texas.”

It was both a fun read and a thoughtful read. It’s short, and I don’t think very hard, so I think some older elementary students would enjoy it, but the protagonists are all about to start high school, and the focal point is To Kill a Mockingbird, so it’s best target may be younger middle schoolers. I think it would go over especially well with fans of E.L. Konigsburg.

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Farewell, dear Durham

We have been living in Maryland for just about 3 months now, and I’m just getting around to my good-bye to Durham post. Part of this is because of the busy-ness of the summer and new school year, but some of it has been mental block. I think I’ve gotten to where I can finish it up, though.

House #1 in the winter

House #1 in the winter

House #2 in the winter.

House #2 in the winter.

Of my 32 years, I spent the last 8 in Durham–one-quarter of my life, and over half of my adult life. This may end up being a fairly small blip, depending on where I spend the rest of my years (I certainly hope it has the potential to become a blip!), but right now, in this season of my life, it’s a major part of my experience. It was also a fairly eventful 8 years. During our time in Durham, we bought our first two houses (and sold one of them), earned 2 masters’ degrees and most of a doctorate between us, and had three children. We both had our first professional jobs. We started going to a church because that’s where Mark worked, and ended up with a church family who watched us grow, welcomed our children with us, and let us challenge them and be challenged to grow by them. We made a group of friends that I hope we will keep in touch with for the rest of our lives.

P1020373

I thought I would do a “favorite places” post, and I’m going to go ahead with that, with a few caveats. The first is that when I think “Durham” (at least, from here in Maryland), I’m really thinking about the whole Triangle area, and not all of the places I’m including are even there. The second is that I know I will miss some. These happen to be the places that I am missing the most right now (and they are in no particular order):

  • New Hope Presbyterian Church. We are starting to get to know our new church family, but that doesn’t mean we aren’t still missing our old one. I learned so much here about being part of a church, even though we never officially joined. So many of our friends are here. Every church has its strengths; theirs are a love of music and worship and a strong sense of community. When we started going there, I wouldn’t have necessarily recommended them to families with kids, but now I can whole-heartedly–just remember that you’ll have to give your gifts to the church, too. If you happen to be looking for a church in the Durham-Chapel Hill area, I recommend that you visit New Hope!
  • NC Museum of Life and Science. I didn’t even know about this place (not really), until our son was almost one, so almost 3 years into our time in Durham. But I can’t imagine the following 5 years without it, and I miss it very much. We always visited at least some of the animals, and my kids knew most of the farm animals by name. I don’t know that there’s any other museum quite like it–both committed to learning for all ages and just plain fun.
    A now long-ago day at the Life and Science Museum.

    A now long-ago day at the Life and Science Museum.

     

  • North Carolina Zoo. Yep, not in the Triangle at all. But such a fabulous zoo, well worth the car trip. We made a point to go there several times a year because we joined as members, but I think becoming members ended up giving us excuses to go somewhere we loved anyway. We’ve recently visited the Maryland Zoo in Baltimore, and it was fun, but it just doesn’t compare to the NC Zoo in terms of attractive, large habitats for their animals (although to be fair to the MD Zoo, they are making LOTS of improvements from when I was a kid) and a beautiful natural setting to put it all. [AHH!! I just went to put the link in, and saw that they now have LION CUBS!! If you live in NC, I am officially charging you to go admire them for us.]
    Seals.

    Seals.

    Giraffes!

    Giraffes!

  • Hillsborough Yarn Shop. One of those places I liked to go for myself, and what will forever be the (probably too-high) standard for how I judge yarn shops. They are always friendly and helpful and always welcoming of my sometimes-crazy kids. One of the things I liked most about them is that they stuck to their mission of providing only natural fibers, but were willing to help me find quality materials within my budget–or simply learn how to make things with yarn from my stash.
  • Duke Gardens. I remember this as one of the first beautiful places I found in Durham, and I have a very happy memory from my time in library school of going there for the afternoon just to read with a good friend. The Gardens also became a fun place to take the kids and the pick-up spot for our many CSA deliveries. It was another good place to go if we just needed to get outside.Photo069
  • Sparta, NC. Way out from the Triangle, but one of the places that connects my childhood with my kids’. I loved going here during summer vacations to visit with my extended family, and we were lucky during our time in Durham to go out and visit my aunt and uncle several times a year. I know we will still return to Sparta (and Durham!) many times in the future, but I miss being able to do it, realistically, in a weekend.P1030814

As I said, I’m leaving out a lot. I didn’t mention any restaurants (too many to choose from, with different reasons for loving different favorites), or any universities (three of which we have close family ties to, now). But we miss a lot of places, and especially people, in Durham.

In the last two weeks, I’ve started to feel more settled and at home here in Forest Hill. The start of the school year and getting back into familiar routines has definitely helped with that.  So, of course, has time passing and giving us a chance to explore our new town. I’m sure we will continue to get to know and love this part of Maryland (and remember favorite places in other parts of Maryland), but I just wanted a chance to note how much Durham has come to mean to us over the past 8 years.

So farewell, dear Durham. We miss you a lot, we look forward to visiting in the future, and we will always cherish our 8 years with you.

Still getting back into things…

Obviously, the plan to blog more hasn’t panned out yet. We started the school year, which has made life busier as we adjust schedules, and I’ve gotten hung up on my good-bye post to Durham. Hopefully I’ll have that one up in the next week, and I have a couple others in the works, but in the meantime, you can read my latest for YALSA’s The Hub:

http://www.yalsa.ala.org/thehub/2014/09/09/no-tense-like-the-present/

Hope you like it! And I hope I’ll be back soon…

Library Books Enjoyed, 8/18/14: First Maryland edition

Our new library is the Harford County Library, and here are some recent picks that we’ve enjoyed from there:

Princesses Are Not Just PrettyPrincesses Are Not Just Pretty by Kate Lum

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A cute story about three princesses who each WANT to be the prettiest, but eventually remember that they have more important things to do. My kids LOVED this one (and I have to say, I liked that one of the princesses was named Princess Libby), and now we need to seek out Lum’s other princess books.

My New Friend Is So Fun! (An Elephant and Piggie Book)My New Friend Is So Fun! by Mo Willems

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

A new Gerald and Piggie!! Hooray! Gerald and Snake find out that Piggie and Brian Bat are hitting it off–and then they start to worry that their best friends won’t need them anymore. Another great installment by Willems.

Naughty Kitty. Adam StowerNaughty Kitty. Adam Stower by Adam Stower

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I do have ONE gripe about this book, which is that the tiger who appears and gets Lily’s kitty in trouble shouldn’t be quite such a surprise to Lily, since she adopted him at the end of Silly Doggy. Still, Lily’s animal raising skills amused us just as much, if not more, in this new story as in the first, and this is one that I not only reread several times, but that my 6 and 4 year old quickly learned enough to reread by themselves. Cute, funny, and right on target to audience (they especially loved the line, “As for Mom’s carpet, I can’t even talk about that. It was revolting!”

And one adult book (and I was very impressed by how quickly I got this from the holds list):

The Silkworm (Cormoran Strike, #2)The Silkworm by Robert Galbraith

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I thoroughly enjoyed this second installment of the Cormoran Strike detective series (yes, I probably wouldn’t have read it if it weren’t written by J.K. Rowling; I have no shame about this). I think I like that it follows the basic hard-boiled detective and green partner pattern, and I love the character development between Strike and Robin, and I LOVE that (at least so far) it has not become a romance. I did tell a friend who is hoping they will get together that there’s still room for it to develop (not least because Robin’s fiancé Matthew seems even less likable in this novel), but I’m still holding out hope that it will just stay a detective-partner relationship.

I thought the murder mystery part was also well done (and that the whodunit was less of a cheat than the first book), but be aware that the murder in this volume is extremely gory and disturbing.

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