{Almost} Wordless Wednesday

My baby knows the Pledge of Allegiance!  She said it all the way through the first time; this time she got a little distracted by the tv, but still...the pledge!

File this under:  things I would never have dreamed they could learn at this age.


Ten for Tuesday

  • Thanks for all the input on our next computer.  After much dithering, we purchased a Macbook Pro yesterday.  If you ask Jeremy, it's probably my Valentine's Day/Mother's Day/birthday present for the year, but hopefully it will prove to be worth it!
  • On that note, I am quite sure I will be asking you experienced Mac-users many questions in the weeks ahead.  My first question--Do you store your pictures in iPhoto on the hard drive?  I want to use the editing features in iPhoto, but I like to keep my pictures on the external hard drive, and at this point, I am a little overwhelmed by all of that.  What's your photo-editing and -storing method? 
  •  There has been a virus going around our town and I am so very ready for it to move along and leave us alone.  Nearly everyone I know has had it in some form over the last few weeks, including Mackenzie (last week), Addison (right now), and my mom (also right now).  I am feeling the urge to deep clean the entire house...which, if you know me, is SO not normal.  
  • We are starting to talk about the girls' THIRD birthday, which is coming up in just over two months.  I keep saying they are almost three, leading them to some confusion when asked how old they are.  Two?  Three?  Somewhere in between?
  • A & M have gotten the idea in their heads that they want a blow-up bounce house at their party.  In our previous experiences with bounce houses, they only wanted to jump when there was no one else in it, so I'm not too sure how that will go over at the party.  I foresee my girls doing their jumping after everyone is gone, but maybe the other guests will enjoy it.  
  • They got the idea of the bounce house while watching a child fly off of one on America's Funniest Home Videos...maybe it's time to discontinue viewing that show before they get any more ideas?
  • I really want to go see my sister in Baton Rouge next month, so I'm on the lookout for cheap airfare.  She is working as a missionary with Campus Outreach at LSU and will be moving into her first real house soon.  She's all grown up, and I could not be more proud of her!
  • I am debating the possibility of scheduling my trip to coincide with Mardi Gras, which I have never experienced.  I'm a little worried that I am too old and uptight to enjoy it, but I still want to do it at some point in my life.  Have you been to Mardi Gras?  
  •  Looking at airfare really gives me the travel bug.  I have all sorts of trip possibilities planned in my head right now.  Looking back at 2011, we did quite a bit more traveling than I expected at the beginning of the year, both as a family and Jeremy and me.  I look forward to many more adventures this year...mostly nearby, but we might sneak a couple of larger explorations in there as well!  I dream of a relaxing getaway to Charleston and Savannah, but I feel like it could get a little expensive, so we'll have to see on that one.
  • Speaking of expensive traveling, we are very tentatively beginning to talk about a trip to Disney World.  I have my sights set on December 2013.  I have heard December is a good month to go, with mild weather and not too many people.  The girls will be four--old enough to enjoy it, but still plenty young enough to really love the magic and wonder of the experience, I think.  Also, that will be the last year before they are in school (!!!!), and I like the idea of not trying to plan around a school schedule.  Is Disney on your family must-do list?  
 Happy Tuesday....I'm off to cuddle a sick little girl and hope this is the LAST of this virus for our family!


Some Words for the New Year

I have been writing and rewriting a New Year post in my head for more than a week now, but it somehow still hasn't made it to my computer screen.  I don't do too well with specific resolutions, so as usual, there are a lot of "more ___" and "less ___". 

I love Marcia's word of the year idea, and I had been thinking I would go with simplify for the second year in a row (surely that's allowed?).  It was my word for last year, and although I did a lot more thinking about simplifying than putting it into action, it still helped as kind of an overarching theme for the year.  I tried to keep it in mind when making decisions--to evaluate which avenue would further the goal of simplifying our lives.

So, going into the year, my long-term goal is yet again, to simplify.  Jeremy and I want to reduce our stuff, reduce our spending, and do more enjoying of the simple pleasures in life.  That still holds true.

However, this weekend I unexpectedly found a new angle for thinking about my year, and although it falls in line with the theme of simplifying, it defines my focus a bit more...and puts it exactly where it should have been all along.

I had the blessing of attending a retreat with the youth from my church, and it was a great way to kick off the year with the right attitude.

Now I have more than a word for the year... I have a mantra:
Nothing more; nothing less; nothing else.
Sounds like the perfect mantra for simplifying life, right?  Actually, there is much more to it than first appears.  In the context of the song it comes from (by Peder Eide), it is followed by the words Do what you want with me

I don't know if the youth felt the real meaning of this song as strongly as I did or not, but for me, it was the perfect reminder that I don't need to spend time worrying about living up to the world's standards of success.  God will put me in the places I need to be to serve Him best, and really, isn't that exactly where I want to be? 

I am listening for the whispers this year, the quiet nudges directing my path--maybe not always my path, but His path, which promises to be infinitely better than anything I could do on my own.

Nothing more; nothing less; nothing else...just what He wants me to be.

Get ready, 2012, I am coming for you!


Favorite Books of 2011

When I decided to set a reading challenge for myself last year on Goodreads, I went with the somewhat randomly selected number of 35 books for the year.  It took me until sometime in 2010 to really get back into reading after the girls were born the year before, and I think I read around 25-30 books that year, so 35 seemed like a good number.  When I found myself back in the habit of reading with a vengeance early on in 2011, I increased my goal to 50 books for the year.

Despite my best efforts to find something enticing enough to read in the last couple of days of 2011, I fell one book short of my goal and ended with 49 books for the year.  I am pretty proud of getting that close to the goal I set for myself...and even more importantly, I enjoyed every minute of it.

In no particular order, here are my favorite books from the past year (or so...a couple might have been from late 2010):
  •   A Discovery of Witches, by Deborah Harkness  It has vampires, but the grown-up, non-sparkly kind.  With plenty of history and strong, capable female characters, this one was definitely near the top of my list for the year.  
  • Dead Until Dark, by Charlaine Harris  This one may be cheating a little, because I don't know if this is my favorite of the Sookie Stackhouse series or not.  It is the first one though, and since the series consumed the bulk of my summer reading, I feel it's only right to count it somewhere.  Are these books great literary treasures?  No, but they are some of the most entertaining books I have read in years.  I only wish there were more books already out so I would never have to stop reading them.

  • The Truth About Forever, by Sarah Dessen  This was my first Sarah Dessen book, and I think I started with the best.  I loved every word of this book, and reading it really kicked off a YA trend for me this year.
  • What Happened to Goodbye, by Sarah Dessen  Dessen's latest is nearly as good as The Truth About Forver.  She definitely has a personal style and pattern to her books, and she works it well.  I love that minor characters often recur in other books; it's fun to see who will turn up next.

  • The Hunger Games, by Suzanne Collins  I think this one may have been read in late 2010, but it is fresh on my mind due to all the talk surrounding the upcoming movie.  When I first started hearing talk about this book, I was not at all sure I would like it.  In fact, I waited until I could get it from my library because I didn't want to spend money on it.  As a stand-alone, the first book may not have made my list, but the trilogy has definitely stayed with me.  (Yes, I am among the many looking forward to the movie, and I may very well reread the books before I see it.)

  • The Thirteenth Tale, by Diane Setterfield  Again, pretty sure this one was late 2010, but oh my, it is one my favorites.  It is just a story, plain and simple, and once you get to the end, you want to start all over and pick up on all the clues that you missed.

  • The Lincoln Lawyer, by Michael Connelly  I love a good action-packed suspense novel sometimes, and this one absolutely delivered.  It's a lot like the style of John Grisham, but with a much faster pace and less depressing introspection.

  • The Summer I Turned Pretty, by Jenny Han  Why don't we just call this the year of the YA trilogies?  I gobbled this series up in less than a week.  I wanted to strangle some of the characters at times, but let's be honest, when does that not happen?
  • Pack Up the Moon, by Anna McPartlin  I might not have remembered this one if I hadn't looked back at my Goodreads list for the year, but I really enjoyed it.  It was both funny and very emotional, without venturing into the melodramatic, which was a good combination for me.
 What were YOUR favorite books in 2011?  Have you read any from my list?


Wordless Wednesday: Football & Baby Faces

A few photos from Jeremy's Christmas gift...a trip to see his football team play in the Chick-Fil-A bowl in Atlanta:

Also, someone has been learning to use the camera on my iPhone...

There are about twenty pictures in my camera roll with some variety of facial snippets, the floor, the wall, a hand, or my back.  I can't bear to delete them!


Happy Thoughts

It's been a good few weeks around here.  We have all been busy catching up from the holidays, and I haven't even been able to post any pictures from Christmas because our laptop died and I can't find my camera cord to connect and download pictures to my work computer.  I do want to do a Christmas post, for the sake of memories, so you may be reading about our Christmas around Valentine's Day...or whenever we get around to buying a new computer!

Speaking of new computers, I really, really want a Macbook Pro, but Jeremy is not convinced we need to invest that kind of money.  I have never had a Mac, but suddenly, I am positive it would make all my dreams come true.  If you have a Mac, tell me why you love it...help me build my case!  : )

Anyway, like I said, we have just been having a pretty great year so far.  Much like Marcia mentioned yesterday, we have had a few of those days that just make me stop and think, "Yes, these are exactly the kind of moments I imagined for our family."  (Which further enforces that feeling that this may very well be all of our family, just the four of us.)

I don't even know how to explain it really, but it just feels like we are enjoying each other so much more lately.  We play games and do crafts with the girls, who are more fun and independent than ever before, but there are also times that we are all in the same room and we are all doing a bit of our own thing--I might be reading, Jeremy playing a video game, and the girls moving back and forth, making us "coffee" or "pancakes" from their kitchen--and in those moments, I stop and realize there is absolutely no place I would rather be.  Unless, you know, someone were to offer us a house on the beach in which to do all those activities...because I certainly wouldn't turn THAT down!

Our daily lives still revolve around Addison & Mackenzie, of course, as well they should.  But it also feels like maybe the intensity of the early stages is easing a bit.  Instead of every moment being consumed with what the girls want/need me to be doing, I am finding more moments where I can just enjoy being with them.  I mean, on Saturday, I rearranged their bedroom, by myself, WITH BOTH GIRLS PRESENT and even sort of helping me!  This is unprecedented territory, folks.  Six months ago, they would have been a screaming, crying mess if I even tried to focus on something other than exactly what they wanted me to do for longer than five minutes at a time.  We spent about three hours in their room, alternately playing, rearranging, hanging pictures, and going through old clothes.  It was an absolutely precious morning with my girls, and even better, I was productive while enjoying time with them.

Further illustrating how far we have come as a family, Jeremy took the girls to the mall the other day, willingly, all by himself.  He wanted a new shirt and decided he would take A & M to Build-a-Bear.  He did, and they had a very successful trip.  It may not sound like a big deal, but an outing like that would have been a much bigger deal a year or so ago.  At about an hour away, the mall is not a place they have visited all that often, bless their hearts.  : )

So, yeah, things are changing for this family, and all in the best of ways.  Now that these girls are potty trained and ready for new adventures, you just never know what we might be up to next! 

In wrapping up my happy thoughts for the evening, I have to give a big ROLL TIDE for my fellow Alabama fans (especially MandyE!)...as I type, our beloved Crimson Tide is less than three minutes away from wrapping up a victory over LSU in the BCS National Championship game.  I can't wait to tell Addison & Mackenzie in the morning.  They went to bed shouting "Roll Tide, and go Alabama, and go Auburn, and go Braves", with a few "Go Wildcats" (our local high school team) thrown in for good measure.  Bless their confused little hearts...it's hard being in a divided house!

And once more, because I can't resist....Roll Tide!!!


Next to Love by Ellen Feldman

Have you ever picked up a book that sounded interesting, knowing all the while that it was not really your usual style?  Maybe you decide to give it a try, but you kind of prepare not to love it?

I was in that place going into Ellen Feldman's Next to Love.  Described as "a story of love, war, loss, and the scars they leave", the WWII-era novel captured my attention.  War-themed books, even fiction ones, are not at all my favorite genre, so there has to be a good storyline to draw me and keep me reading.

Next to Love delivered the storyline I was looking for and far exceeded my expectations. I ended up enjoying this book so much that it easily moved onto my list of favorites for the year.

WWII is the catalyst for the plot of the book, but the war itself is discussed mainly as a backdrop for the real stories, those that take place at home.  Babe, Millie, and Grace are childhood friends from very different backgrounds.  Each has found happiness in her own way, but the war will drastically alter the direction of their lives.

The narration switches between the three characters, but Babe's experiences are the ones we see in the most detail.  Though she frustrated me at times, I admired her character for staying true to herself throughout a lot of trials.  I loved the reemergence of the strong and independent spirit Babe first displayed when she worked in the telegram office during the war, and it was satisfying to see her relationship come full circle, in a sense.  I was happy that she found some peace in the end.

Another thing I especially enjoyed was the spot-on portrayal of the friendship between the three women.  Babe, Millie, and Grace are all experiencing very different trials, they often disagree with one another, and possibly don't even like each other at times...but the friendship remains intact.  Isn't that exactly the way it can be between old friends?  Despite our differing situations and lifestyles, my childhood friends and I have a bond that will endure.

Beautifully written and engaging, Next to Love is a compelling story of love, loss, friendship, and redemption.  I am extremely glad that I took a chance on this one.

**Digital copy received from the publisher through NetGalley.  Next to Love is available now.