Inside Out & Back Again: A Book Club Book Review

 

Reading books with my kids is one of my simplest joys.

Years ago I started a Mother-Daughter Book Club with my older girls.  Since then Piper Finn has been begging for her turn at a Book Club.

We’ve been meeting for several books now and this week we gathered again to discuss the beautiful story in Inside Out & Back Again by Thanhha Lai.

 

 

My friend Addy chose the book and I am so glad she did.  I had never heard of the story before.  It’s the story of a young girl and her family who were living in Saigon during the Vietnam War.  The family is forced to leave their country and eventually they end up in America.

It’s written in poetry form.  I chose to read this one out loud with Piper.  Its content and themes were deeper than some novels we have read and its format was unusual for us.  Also, the words and tone and cadence were so lovely that I wanted her to hear them read for maximum appeal and understanding.  Plus – I love reading poetry aloud.

 

 

The story develops in its readers a genuine sense of empathy and concern for people we don’t naturally understand or who may seem different than us.  Piper Finn frequently commented about how frustrated she was about the way the main character is treated or about the way she is misunderstood.  At times it was painful to read and heart breaking to see her struggles.  We both rejoiced when the little girl met with people of sincerity and generosity, who saw Ha and her family as people and offered them compassion and friendship.

 

 

At our book club we were able to see some items from Addy’s dad during his tour of duty during the Vietnam War.  We also tasted papaya – Ha’s favorite fruit from Vietnam.  We also tried pho and Vietnamese candy too.  We used watercolor paints to create a silhouette like the book cover.  It was a well-rounded gathering and I was reminded again that it’s a gift for my daughter to have a wide variety of friends from lovely families.  It’s a privilege to talk about books and ideas, to try new fruits and foods and to learn about history that intertwines itself into our own stories and dynamics.

It’s a treasure to read books together that have the potential to make us kinder, gentler, more compassionate people.

 

 

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Visual Latin: A Review

 

Teaching a foreign language to my children is simply not going to happen from my skill set.

We’ve played around a little with a program called DuoLingo that helps to teach Spanish, plus a handful of other languages you might prefer. The kids like it – it’s a free online program.  It’s just an introduction sort of situation, not a thorough education, but they enjoy acquiring a few words and I think it’s mildly helpful.

Although I’ve heard other parents sing the praises of having their children learn Latin, somehow it has never been on my radar.

But this year, after hearing positive reviews from several homeschooling friends, I decided to try a soft approach to learning Latin with the kids.

Visual Latin was recommended to us and we decided to just jump right in with their program.  It’s a video based program where the kids watch a video daily with an instructor on the screen and then they can complete optional worksheets.  This year I am having the entire family watch the video and only London is completing the worksheets.  Otto and Piper sit in for the video lessons and I’m sure some of it is just in one ear and out the other, but some of it is sticking and just hearing it is enough for me at their ages.

The instructor on the video is funny, even a little silly sometimes, and he happens to remind my family of a friend of ours, which we get a kick out of.  The worksheets are self-explanatory and London (ninth grade) has had no problem keeping up wth them herself.  (Which is important to me, of course.)

Because I have no real experience in Latin myself, I cannot speak to whether this program is more or less rigorous than any other program, but I’d say, if I was guessing, that it is less rigorous, but it is meeting the current needs of our family quite nicely.  And those current needs are – a basic introduction and understanding of Latin words and roots and meanings.  The kids are regularly telling me which words they recognize in other readings because of learning the Latin roots and suffixes and prefixes.  That’s a success right there to me.

I’ve put a link on the sidebar for you to check out Visual Latin yourself, and all of the curriculum at Compass.  They’ve been an easy company to work with.

I think Latin has value in learning and becoming familiar with because it is the root of not only English, but of so many other languages too.  The overlap is huge and as you learn new words and root meanings in Latin, you really do see a connection across the board.  I wish I had started inserting Latin into our homeschool curriculum at a much younger age, but I know that Otto and Piper will benefit from beginning now.  I’m also confident that the older kids will still have knowledge to gain to add to their broad base of information in languages.

 

 

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before the promises fulfilled: life in the regular

 

Sometimes I come across words like these:

Repay the years the locusts have eaten.

Beauty from ashes.

Like a phoenix rising.

All the right ideas.

The symbolism.

The hope.

But

(thus far)

none of the follow through.

I have yet to see the descendants, numbers greater than the stars.

I’m no longer sitting in the ashes,

although the smell from the fire still lingers on the tips of my hair,

despite all the extra washings.

I’m not in a hard place like I’ve been before.

My problems are less desperate, more run of the mill.

We’ve just started a study on the book of Ecclesiastes at church.  Meaningless.  Hevel.  Nothing new under the sun.

The book (and my life and this post) are not without hope, of course.

That’s not even where I am, emotionally or spiritually or physically.

Not at all.

(Not that I have never pitched my tent in those woods.  I certainly have.  But I’m not camping there currently.)

The question was asked in the sermon, “When does life seem meaningless to you?”

And a possible answer given was in the daily mundane.

That’s sort of where I think I’m floating right now.

In the middle of the regular.

There’s a lot of regular in my life right now.  

Regular as in – laundry that never ever ends.  A sink that never ever stays clear of dirty dishes.  Kids that are never ever all simultaneously fed, educated, showered, content, quiet, obedient, grateful.  A to-do list that is never ever crossed off.  An inbox that is never ever clear.  A house that is never ever tidy enough and free from the flotsam of life.

And I liked the pastor’s point today.  The point of a part of the book of Ecclesiastes.

Let’s stop pretending.

Stop pretending that the meaning we create for ourselves is enough.  Stop pretending that we can make all the pieces fit and make a name for ourselves and make life work.  Stop pretending that there is meaning apart from Jesus.

And begin to remind ourselves that we can talk of both the hard and of the hope.

We can feel them both.

We can live in the regular and in the holy.

 

 

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Five Finds Friday (a funny video and my take on The Greatest Showman)

 

Hey-o.  Friday it is.  Short days – long week, am I right?

I maybe made it worse on myself by catching up on This Is Us on two different nights so I was past my bedtime twice this week.  (Past my bedtime.  Who am I kidding?  I don’t even have an assigned bedtime and that’s a real problem.)

 

 

funny

 

I woke up one morning this week to a text.  “We are still meeting, right?”

To which I was forced to respond with honesty – “Right.  Yes.  We are.  That’s exactly why I am still in bed in my pajamas.  Because we are meeting.”

Who’s the grown up here?

Funnier than that – because that actually wasn’t funny – is this question from my son.  “Mom, how much do you think just my head weighs?”

And also equally funny is this car rental video from my friend Tyler.  (The video is great, but his wig is magnificent.)

 

 

I always think these guys are hilarious.  But I feel especially drawn to this car rental video because last week I had what I thought was a fantastic experience renting a car through Enterprise turn into what was actually a pretty disappointing and annoying experience renting a car through Enterprise.  Which is a bummer as Enterprise is the ONLY car rental agency available directly in my town.

 

fashionable

 

Nope, nothing here this week. 

You’re hearing from a woman who slept in a skirt one night and then got out of bed and wore that same skirt the entire next day.

This is NOT my week to report on fashion in any way, shape or form.

 

flavorful

 

Also, nothing to see here.  Maybe I shouldn’t have even tried to post at all today.  It’s beginning to look that way, right?  (I gave you THREE funny things though, okay?  That’s gotta count for something.)

This week Mosely had a night that she was in charge of supper.  For her birthday she received a Harry Potter cookbook – an unofficial one – but full of Harry Potter recipes nonetheless.  She chose and created Onion Soup.  Which I found a surprising choice for her, frankly.  Otto jumped in and volunteered to make Irish Soda Bread with the soup.  Alright, cool.  Go for it, kids.

Both turned out pleasantly delicious.  But I have no recipes to give you from either.

 

faithful

 

Well now, here I have something, but I am never certain how these sort of thoughts will translate.

Our house is still cold and one afternoon I wanted to be warm.  The sun was shining brightly so I walked outside my kitchen door to the nearest patch of sunshine.  I stood still.  Tilted my face to the sky.  Closed my eyes.  And waited.

Waited for the sun to permeate through my skin.  For the warmth from the rays to reach my face.  Eventually it was hot on my skin, just there in that beam of sunlight.

And I said words to myself.  Because although it’s been mostly a good week, there have been pitfalls and landmines that I’ve both skirted and fell victim to.  And the words I said sounded a little like this, “God.  You see me.  I know you see me.  You said you see me.  You see the situation …………….. and you see the place where my back’s against the wall  ………………….. and you see the need our family has in this direction ………………….. and you see the pain I am struggling through on this front ……………………. and the way in which I don’t understand your motives over here with this part of my story ……………………..  You see me.  So.  I’m just reminding you – God, you see me.”

Because, I know.  He does.

 

feels

 

Everyone has different feelings about movies.  That’s good.

I watched The Greatest Showman recently.  I’ve read articles about its lack of authenticity in telling the true story of PT Barnum.  About how it’s not the real picture.  And I know we let Hollywood seep into our consciences in ways of which we aren’t even aware.  We believe lies that are shiny and bright because they’re pretty and they make us feel good.

I doubt anyone would walk out of the theatre and think that the picture presented in The Greatest Showman is an actual true to life representation of who PT Barnum was and what he stood for.  I hope they would not, in fact.  I hope viewers would not believe that the story in that hour and half is the whole story.  It’s a musical for goodness sake.  It’s more important to producers on a screen to make the words flow and the rhythm attractive than it is important to tell the truth.

So there’s my disclaimer that I somehow felt obligated to offer.  

And now this other stuff …

I. Loved. The. Movie.

I thought it was so much fun.  It was grand and beautiful and big screen worthy.  It felt large and special and I’m glad I saw it.  (I’d see it again, in fact, and that is terribly unlike me.)

So many fun parts and uplifting themes and stellar moments.

Once, when Barnum was convincing a character to be brave, to join his adventure, and she was afraid of being laughed at and judged and misunderstood, Barnum said to her, “They don’t understand.  But they will.”

And I love that scene, but even in the theatre i couldn’t stop from thinking, “Or they won’t.”  They may not ever understand.  Or even try to understand.  You may be laughed at.

And although Barnum didn’t utter any words like I was thinking, another song from the movie did.  (And that’s one scene where tears fell from my eyes.)  Because although I was thinking (and have known) times when people don’t understand, there’s this rewarding other side to that too that came out in the song “This Is Me” and I think it’s the answer to the fear of being misunderstood.

Maybe it was my favorite song.  (I say maybe because the songs were so good and so much fun and we’ve been singing them around the house on repeat.  And loudly.)

I love the lyrics – it’s an anthem, a fight song ——

I am not a stranger to the dark.
“Hide away,” they say
“Cause we don’t want your broken parts.”
I’ve learned to be ashamed of all my scars.
“Run away,” they say.
“No one’ll love you as you are.”

But I won’t let them break me down to dust.
I know that there’s a place for us –
For we are glorious.

When the sharpest words wanna cut me down,
I’m gonna send a flood, gonna drown them out.
I am brave, I am bruised
I am who I’m meant to be, this is me.
Look out ’cause here I come
And I’m marching on to the beat I drum.
I’m not scared to be seen
I make no apologies, this is me.

 

 

___________________________

 

 

 

 

Me and Young Living: At the Beginning

 

So.

Essential oils.

I’ve been learning slowly about the benefits and the uses of essential oils for years.  A friend of mine calls it voodoo magic and that makes me laugh.  She and I both joke about that title and we both seem to pair skepticism along with a willingness to give it a go.  That and more than a handful of occasions where the voodoo crossed into experiential fact and here I am today writing this post about essential oils.

I definitely like the smell of oils.  And at first, perhaps, my dabbling in them was primarily because I like stuff to smell nice.  And a house that is over one hundred years old often doesn’t smell nice.  Nor does a house filled with dirty diapers (once upon a time) or sweaty teenagers (the current situation).

Voodoo isn’t the right word and certainly someone somewhere will take offense to those implications.  But hey, the conversations about essential oils and their uses have the potential to be as controversial as conversations about vaccinations.  I’m not trying to make friends, converts or enemies out of this post.  Or, truthfully, from any of my posts.  I’m just doing what I do – telling you stuff from my experience and you can, like always, do whatever you want with that information.

Like I said, I’ve seen great personal success in a handful of particular essential oils on different occasions.

Peppermint oil really alleviates car sickness in both us and in Ryder.  (And trust me, I’m ALL about anything that keeps that giant old pup of ours from throwing up in our car.  Ask me how I know how awful that is.)

An anti-allergy blend has really proven to help Mosely through some seasonal allergy symptoms when the traditional medicine we tried just didn’t cut it.

Anti-bacterial and germ fighting oils have frequently benefitted in keeping us well or in shortening the span of sickness our house has suffered.

There’s a stomach one we use that is my hands down favorite.  It feels like magic actually.  We’ve been using this one for years and it feels crazy how quickly after application that a child says their stomach ache has disappeared.  This is one that stays in my bag on trips.

We’ve used oils for years to repel mosquitoes without having to spray Deet on our skin.  And if a mosquito makes it past or we haven’t remembered to use the spray, a dab of oil on the insect bite eliminates itching remarkably rapidly.

Lavender is one of my favorites for scent – but also of all around multi purpose use.  I have it in a bottle as a mist to refresh my hair and it’s a great scent to help sleep come more quickly.

Eucalyptus in the shower or a diffuser clears up sinus issues instantly and makes breathing deeply possible when you have a cold.

We have one – I think it’s called Dragon’s Blend – that’s miraculous for cramps.  (Moms of teenager girls, you want that one in your arsenal.)

This is just the beginning and I am pretty much an amateur, but you can see the uses are varied and many.  I’ve been fortunate to have a handful of friends who have been using oils for years before me and those folks have been my go-to for information and which oil might fit which situation best.

I have a talented friend and oil guru who is a great resource of knowledge and she sells Young Living and that’s the oil company where I have landed.

I’m still absolutely at the experimental stage in a lot of ways, especially in the ways of working under Young Living as a business.  But, like all topics on this blog, I’m taking you (virtually, of course) on this journey with me.

You can see a photo and link on the right sidebar.  Also – note the oils I chose for the photo.  That made me laugh too.  (If you click through that link to make your own purchases, yes – I do receive a benefit.)  If you want to learn more or jump on board in any way, I’m happy to be your person.  (More accurately and straight forward – I’m happy to direct you to my resource who will undoubtedly be helping us both ultimately.)  Because although I don’t know much yet, I sure do know someone who does.  (Her name is Bri and she’s really funny and smart and educated and super kind and just ridiculously easy to work along beside.  In fact, I wouldn’t have done this dive into Young Living without her.)

I don’t want to discuss the best or the worst oil companies or disparage particular brands that are your favorite or that you sell.  I’m confident each brand has its merits and its well-spoken pitches and promoters.  I do, however, love talking about which oil is your favorite or what you use one specific oil for or a story about how an oil works best in your house or with our family.   Do you have a go to oil and a story to share in the comments?

 

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Five Finds Friday (snow cream & old lady knees & a history making moment)

 

I heart snow.  Give me all the snow.  If it’s going to be cold, might as well be snowed in and have all the ugly brown landscape of winter vanish and all the pure white forgiving beauty of snow cover everything.

So glad we’ve had the opportunity to enjoy a little gift of the white stuff this week.

 

 

 

funny

 

Funny stuff happens Every Single Day.  It’s just that I’ve been noticing that lately I forget to write it down.  I laugh a lot though.  So I know funny things are being said and done all around me.

What’s a little less funny is that I think I’m still twenty years old.

Today we met some friends for a short jaunt to sled down a giant hill.  I had a meeting right afterwards so I wasn’t dressed for sledding.  And I had no plan to sled.  But then there was this inviting hill perfect for sledding and some really great sleds.  I took a leap and coasted down all the hills face first.  It was great.  I was laughing and their dog was chasing me and it was a satisfyingly long run.  I felt like a kid again.

 

 

Then I had to walk back, dragging what now felt like a thirty pound sled behind me.  And I felt like an old mom.

The kids were treating the sleds like giant snowboards and that looked cool.  Standing up and heading down the hills upright.  You know, of course, I decided that I should try that next.  I made it half way – well, maybe one fourth of the way – before hard planting my right knee in the snow off of the sled while the remainder of my body was on track to keep snowboarding downhill.  I felt like a grandma then for sure.

My knee still hurts, but what would you expect from a grandma who keeps forgetting her own age?

(Seriously, I keep forgetting.  This week I told someone I was 43.  Because I was for certain that I was 43.  And then London said, “Mom – you’re definitely 44.  You were thirty when I was born.  Remember?  Like she does!  So I inadvertently lied to that person.  Ugh.  Now I’m a lying grandmother too.  For the love.)

fashionable

 

Half of the time my fashionable posts here are either a dress from Title Nine or earrings from Noonday.

All I’m doing today is letting you know a little Noonday heads up.  

My friend Hanna from Colorado is a Noonday Ambassador and she’s great.  Her link and her picture are there on the right side of the blog in the sidebar.  They’ll always be there.  So if you get a Noonday hankering and you need a gift for your friends or yourself, click on over and let Hanna help you out.

 

flavorful

 

Well this week I think I’ve consumed so much snow cream that it’s running icy through my veins.

 

 

I don’t feel badly at all about this state of affairs.  It snows so seldom here in South Carolina that it’s still a rare “menu” item even if I serve it thrice daily.  And, because our house is already cold and then I am consuming literal snow, I have to do an awful lot of jumping jacks to get to a basic base layer of warmth again.  These are the justifications I tell myself.  (If I’m going to lie about my age, I might as well lie about my excessive love of sugar too.)

Actually, we ate well this week.

One dinner was especially popular with everyone except Otto.

Black bean “burgers” on naan bread with tzatziki sauce and served with Bergen’s mac & cheese.

 

 

I used this recipe from Pioneer Woman.  London and I agree about our feelings for the Pioneer Woman.  Her recipes are spot on.  But she is sort of … uh … not someone we enjoy being entertained by.  But man, she’s good at writing recipes.

 

faithful

 

I listened to a podcast today that my friend Leslie did and I was struck by something she said.  She was talking about how she used to feel that the weight, the responsibility, of making sure God was represented well was on her shoulders.  (I might be getting the wording wrong a little.)  But the idea was that she was carrying a burden that was definitely not hers.  As if she had the power to make God look bad or to train wreck God’s agenda.  And not that we don’t have personal responsibility – because of course we do – but that God’s being is not going to be rescued by us – or ruined by us.  Who do we think we are that God is dependent upon us “getting it right”?

 

 

feels

 

If you’ve read here long, then you know I love our small town here.  And that I own a website promoting said small town.

Last night our town made history for itself.

Last November we elected the first female mayor of Travelers Rest and last night she was sworn into office and began her mayoral duties.

It was a big deal.  The room was packed and people were clapping and hugging and cheering her on.

 

 

I’m honored to say that she is a friend of mine and I like to joke that when I met her many years ago that I predicted her future.  (I’m not the only one though so I can’t claim any real victory here.)  I just remember telling her, “I think you’ll be mayor one day.”  I also think she won’t be stopping as mayor.  I’m seriously predicting governor or senator in her future as well.  I’ll vote for her for sure.  Team Brandy.

I made the entire family go to the ceremony because it IS a big deal and because she’s our friend and because it’s our town and because I want my kids to all grow up realizing that the limits we think we have don’t have to predict our futures.  On the ride home we talked about jobs that used to be predominantly available for women.  We talked about the kinds of jobs and careers that my mom, their grandmother, would have had as options.  And her mom – their great grandmother.  And how that has all shifted for them.  And, truly, none of my passengers could quite figure out exactly why a female mayor was all that big of a deal.  “Why shouldn’t she be mayor, mom?” they asked.  And “Of course a girl can be mayor.”  Because they don’t know the entire world yet and because, in their world, strong women are not out of the ordinary.

And I think that’s beautiful.

While I was standing against the wall of the crowded small council room in this small town I’ve come to love at the base of the Blue Ridge Mountains, I watched Brandy place her hand on the Bible and take an oath that I know she takes personally.  That I know matters to her.  That I’ve seen her live out and I am confident I will continue to see her live out.  She’s grace and poise and small town and big thinking and my kids were all watching and I was watching and then I was blinking because sometimes I don’t even know why tears surprise me when they do.

 

 

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Puzzles. Why we love them.

 

Every holiday and on any vacation- especially a mountain cabin or a beach house sort of vacation – a puzzle is in mid-progress for our family.

We’ve got out favorite brands but we’re not all that particular.  Usually we pick a puzzle with more than 500 pieces and we like best the 1000 piece puzzles but we’ve tried all sorts – including a round globe puzzle that intimidated me but the kids whipped it together in no time and have now assembled it multiple times.  One of the favorite puzzles the kids enjoyed was an educational life sized reversible floor puzzle of the human body – one side being the bones and one side being the internal body features.

Why do we love puzzles?

1.  Everyone can participate.  As kids age and mature and change, family activities can be hard to be one size fits all.  A puzzle pulls in every age.  Younger kids can search for edge pieces.  Older kids can tackle one tough area – those pesky trees that all look alike.

2. Opportunity for family bonding.  Yeah, it sounds cheesy.  But I don’t care.  It’s nice to all be doing the same thing together.  There’s an opportunity (if anyone takes it) to say “good job” and high five the finding of a difficult or troubling little puzzle piece.

3. It’s not all consuming.  Unlike the game of Monopoly or Risk, if you walk away from puzzle mid-build to answer the phone or get a bowl of ice cream or answer the doorbell or heaven forbid use the bathroom, everyone at the table isn’t angry at you.  You aren’t impeding progress or causing en entire game to wait for your task to be completed.

4.  It’s memory and tradition building.  For Christmas every year one of our family gifts is always a puzzle.  We often open it last and, like clockwork, we usually begin the assembly process on the morning the day after Christmas, at that slow and late breakfast after the chaos of Christmas has settled right down.  And, if the puzzle purchaser is on their A game, that year’s puzzle reflects something from the year.  The year we took a cross country adventure, the puzzle was a compilation of the fifty states license plates.  The year a kitten joined our clan, you guessed it – a puzzle featuring a lazy but well-read kitten.  We’ve had puzzles with landmarks or just hobbies one of us enjoys.  One year it was a bird puzzle for our budding ornithologist.  You could even go so far as to match the puzzle to the occasion. Beach trip?  Pull out the impossible conch shell puzzle.  Mountain cabin with the grandparents?  A gorgeous scenic puzzle with snow capped alpines.

How can you build up your puzzle collection?

Luckily, puzzles are not all that expensive.  You can also look for sales and specials at Hobby Lobby or other craft stores and use their weekly 40% off coupons.  However, not everyone assembles a puzzle over and over and often, once they’ve completed the puzzle once, it sits on a shelf until some grown up kid donates it to the local thrift store.  So, yes – you can search out your thrift store.  The puzzles are certainly cheap there.  But – they are also risky.  And, not many tasks are more disheartening than putting together an entire puzzle to find one (or three) pieces completely vanished from the face of the earth.  A slightly safer option is to look to your fellow puzzle loving friends.  When you have finished your puzzles and they have finished their puzzles – have a puzzle switch.  You send yours to their house and they send theirs to your house.  Ta-da.  New puzzles at no cost.

A few other tips.

Some time in college I ended up in a drafting class and a required purchase was a lightweight large drafting board that was able to be carried from class to class.  (Not comfortably and not while looking cool in any manner, but carry-able nonetheless.)  I saved mine for some reason.  (Yes – it’s more than twenty years old, has weird college quotes on it and my maiden name written in loopy letters.)  It’s the perfect puzzle board.  It’s almost the exact size of most puzzles.  We start the puzzle right on it and then can easily move the entire puzzle board off the table when it’s time to eat.  If you’re lucky – you own two tables in your home and one can keep a puzzle going while the other is occupied for dining. We’re not currently living in a house like that, so our the puzzle board is a good resource.

Play some music and create an inviting atmosphere to make puzzle building appealing.  Maybe there will be snacks involved.  Every task is more fun with a side of snacking.

Don’t be too rule oriented.  Yes, every person should know that the edges are always built first on a puzzle, but if your kids or friends insist on working on that eye catching scene before they find the edges, relax already.  Nothing will guarantee that you are the only person assembling the puzzle than an insistence that there is only one right way to put the puzzle together – YOUR way.

Some people like to glue their completed puzzle and frame it.  As a kid, my mom and I put together a puzzle I loved back then.  I remember it clearly.  It was a teddy bear tea party in a lot of lavender tones.  I adored it.  We glued it together, had it framed and it hung in my childhood bedroom.  (I have no idea where that puzzle is now.  I’m sort of glad.  I wouldn’t want it on my wall now, but I have strong feelings of guilt in disposing of childhood memories so it would be hard to part with it, even if I thought it looked silly.)

Puzzles typically don’t work for road trips.  (I mean, they’re great to pack on a road rip to use at your destination but can you imagine assembling one in the backseat of your car?  The idea makes me chuckle if it’s happening in your car, and makes me cringe if it’s happening in mine.)  A great alternative for road trips are paper puzzle books.  I Spy sort of puzzles and Hidden Pictures puzzles.  (Like this sort from Highlights.)  (Which, by the way, reminds me of a fantastic journey our family once took to the Highlights Retreat Center ….)

Is your family a puzzling family?  (Well, aren’t we all?)  Of course I mean – does your family like puzzles?  Have you had any favorites?

 

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a story of a tradition gone south

 

Maybe this just isn’t the year for keeping things the same.

I didn’t chose a word.  I didn’t make our annual list of things to accomplish this year.  I already told you guys all that.

But we always take a hike on the first day of the new year – or a day really close to that.  It’s not just a regular hike, it’s a hike designed to be about creating a little time for reflecting as a family and for looking forward as a family.  We also always pack along a bottle of sparkling juice of some sort and our own small glasses.  The best part of the hike is usually the toast to the new year and all it holds on some mountain side with a sweet view and, of course, a cold breeze.  Generally we’re sort of freezing but laughing and our “cheers” is hurried because we want to shove our hands back in our pockets as fast as possible.

Even though our hike was scheduled for about eight days after the new year began because that’s when it worked out, I had hopes for at least maintaining the annual toast.  It was bitterly cold (remember that week?) so I even was willing to cut the hike short and stay a little closer to home.

We chose nearby historical Poinsett Bridge as our destination and even tossed in a fun lunch at a local pizza place before hand to improve all of our attitudes.

 

 

I carefully looked over the sparkling juice I had bought a month earlier just for this day and read that we did not need one of those twisty cork screw things.  Everyone pocketed their tiny pottery mug and we hit the road.

After our lunch we drove the lovely back roads and found the quaint little bridge.  It was so very cold.  Of course, the boys were excited anyway as they are impervious to the weather somehow.

We walked around, admired the old archway (an archway that plays into some novels by an author I enjoy – Robert Morgan – so that was cool for my literary fan self) and then walked to the top of the bridge to prepare ourselves for our toast.

 

 

Bergen tried to open the juice.

 

 

Piper tried to open the juice.

 

 

Mosely tried to open the juice.

Otto tried to open the juice.

London said we should open it at home.

I tried to open the juice.

Suddenly, the cold air whipping around our heads, the historical bridge under our feet, the lack of my other traditional new year thoughts and plans already rejected and forgotten, I decided that this was one annual event that we were not going to miss.  I was not going to toast to the new year in our own home.  I was going to toast to the new year on that bridge, right there, right then.

 

 

Bergen and I joked that if we let failure beat us for this small task then it was like an omen for our entire year.  (I don’t actually believe that – but right then, it sort of felt enough true to work a little harder to get that ridiculous bottle open.)

I wedged the cork between rocks and began to try a new method.

What I got for my efforts was a broken cork with the remaining cork shoved in the bottle too far to even twist.

The kids rebelled and refused to wait in the cold any longer and all took to the car, expect Hawkeye, as determined as I was.  I searched the car for something helpful.

We tried the sharp end of Otto’s metal airplane.  (I would have been happy with just shoving the cork all the way in and floating in the bottle.)

We tried a pencil.

I tried this knife.  Not helpful, you guys.  And not wise.

 

 

Finally, I ordered the dangerous show to end and we started the car, the sad stench of defeat heavy on our shoulders.  (Actually, no one really cared as much as I did.  That seems about normal.)

As we headed home, I took a different route because that’s what I do.  I realized we drove right by our friends at Look Up Lodge.  And so – positive that there would be some sort of corkscrew there, I pulled in, phoned our friend Walter, who happened to be around camp and happened to own a corkscrew, and he came to our rescue.  (It’s not even the first time Walter has rescued us in some manner.)

Anyway – we cheered when Walter opened the sad little damaged sparkling juice bottle.

 

 

We drove to the highest point at Look Up Lodge, found a fabulous view, and had our frigid little ridiculous delayed toast up there.

Cheers.

 

 

And immediately following the toast, the girls were ensconced in the car and the boys were like this:

 

 

I hope our entire flop of a tradition is not a sign of our new year in any way, shape or form.

But, I guess if it is, a little help from our friends is neither a new nor a terrible theme for this family.

 

 

 

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That Time We Went Inside a World That First Started on a Page

 

I was late to the express train that is Harry Potter and JK Rowling and the entire universe of wizards and Hogwarts.

I had my reasons.  (One of which was that in 1997, when the first novel was released, I was a newlywed working for a newspaper writing sports articles (can you even imagine?) and helping to put my husband through college and I was volunteering at a local theatre and anyway, I just didn’t even pay any attention to the books.

By the time Riley joined our home and her cousins were all about the Harry Potter books I was neck deep in teaching high school English and theatre at a small private school and there was a strong wave of evangelical fear wrapped up in the idea of the books and I just had no interest combined with no time.  I was also birthing babies and adopting babies and, you know, that kept me sort of busy for like a decade or something.

At any rate, here I am, a whole lotta years later and my girls found themselves with friends who adored the series and they wanted to know who this Potter boy was.  I read the first book to try to keep ahead of the learning curve and found it just fine – although not as endearing as the universe seemed to.  I trusted a few close friends and framily who were bigger fans and had read further into the series and I allowed the girls to read the books at paces I chose.  (Also, about this time, a dear friend gifted London the entire series sent from London itself, across the pond.  Which – made them all the cooler, naturally.)

Eventually I began to join in, more because I wanted to share in the conversations the kids were having.  Admittedly, I have only just completed book four, but I have every intention of finishing the series.  London, Mosely and Bergen have finished the series and Piper has read only the first two books.  I definitely see the appeal and have begun to enjoy the adventures of the trio, Hermione being my favorite.  As for the fear swirling around the series a decade or more ago, I think it’s pretty unfounded.  The real world our children live in is plenty more frightening and Dumbledore certainly promotes bravery and courage and loyalty and kindness over all the dark powers that be.  Harry is kind and heroic, generous and thoughtful, and a true friend.  (At least he still is all those things at the completion of book four.  No need to spoil it for me just yet guys.)

Perhaps because my children are homeschooled or perhaps because of who knows what, it was about a year or so ago when one of the kids, after reading a particularly fun part of the novel series, said out loud something like this — “Don’t you wish someone would create a place that looks like Hogwarts?  Where you can eat the same foods Harry eats and see what Harry sees.”

It was a satisfying little parenting moment when I could say, “Well, you know what.  There’s this place called Universal Studios – and that is sort of exactly what they’ve done.”

We all perused the Universal Studios website for a while and dreamed of going and then we checked out the prices and then we stopped dreaming, as we are all mostly a family of realists.  (Except Piper perhaps – remember her wish for a unicorn?  Now she’s saving up for a golf cart, but the point is – she dreams big.)

I tried what I could.  Making my pitch to Universal.  It was a long shot, for sure.  And it fell short of my goal of free tickets.  I buried the idea of a Universal trip because that was a goal definitely too lofty for our current lives.

And then.  A miracle.  A framily member alerts me via text that her sister in fact is employed at Universal Studios.

And.

That she would be willing to give us her comp passes for one day.

All six of us.

To Universal Studios.  (Or Harry Potter World as I kept calling it, much to my fourteen year old’s embarrassment.)

Do you know what is a hard secret to keep from your favorite people?

But I didn’t tell them or give any hints and I waited until Christmas morning.  (It’s a tradition that every kid gets a card in their stocking with a gift of a date or an experience for the following year.)  This trip was going to be a one for all, all for one deal and would be everyone’s gift.

 

 

Last week we ventured south (maybe for the first time I was actually grateful for Florida’s warmer weather) and we embraced our adventure as muggles in a wizarding world.

 

 

We drank butter beer (it’s better served warm) and pumpkin juice (like intense apple cider) and walked more than eight miles according to Otto’s watch.  We walked through the wall of the train station and boarded the train at nine and three quarters and everywhere we looked adults and children alike were dressed in robes.  The village looked as if a fresh snow had just fallen and Diagon Alley was so authentic I expected to run straight into Hagrid at every turn.

 

 

We had a good time.  We shared a train compartment with two brothers on holiday from Australia and while waiting on our shuttle bus we chatted with a couple visiting from Dublin, Ireland.  We never got tired of hearing the staff refer to us as muggles and our 3D adventure riding broomsticks was pretty exhilarating, with only a five minute wait because apparently mid week in January is prime time to visit the park.  The kids had their own spending money they had saved and Otto came home with Neville Longbottom’s stuffed frog Trevor, London purchased a Ravenclaw pin for her bag and kept herself supplied with icees and a chocolate frog.  Bergen chose a quaffle ball and Mosely also procured a chocolate frog.  Piper kept it simple with a magic quill pen that was both edible and able to write.

 

 

I’m not an amusement park kind of girl.  We’re not even really an amusement park sort of family.  No one cares for roller coasters and crowds make us tired.  But we had so much fun wandering the alleys and streets of Hogsmeade and looking at robes and wands and people and rides and the remarkably well done architecture.

If there were any people in this world that I’d want to kick around a made up world straight from an author’s imagination, it’s this rowdy gang of five.

 

 

And, speaking of made up worlds, that’s pretty incredible all by itself, isn’t it?  That there was a time when no one had heard of a boy with spectacles and a lightning scar on his forehead.  And then one day a women in need of a miracle herself set down and put pen to paper and created magic.  The sort of magic that grew beyond her pages and charmed not just her own country, but lots of other countries besides.

That’s a good story, guys.

And, for one solitary day, my story and the story of five of my children, bumped right into her story and the stories of a quite extensive and incredibly diverse bunch of other people.  

The power of books.  (That’s where the real magic is.)

 

 

 

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Grove Collaborative Giveaway: My Favorite Mrs. Meyers loot

 

It’s been a while since I’ve hosted a giveaway with Grove Collaborative but it’s only been about two hours since I’ve used a Grove Collaborative product.  (Peppermint scented Mrs. Meyer’s dishwashing soap, if you’re curious.  And also Method’s dishwashing tabs.  Fun fact – Otto calls all of the Mrs. Meyer’s products Mrs. Myrtle Clean.  Neither of us have any idea why.)

This is one of my favorite Grove Collaborative giveaways because it’s all the good stuff.  The stuff I use over and over and keep on my routine list of orders.  I think the Mrs. Meyer’s products make great thank you gifts or whatnot too.  (In fact, I may or may not have two such gifts resting on my kitchen table for an upcoming trip.)

Of course, the biggest winners for these giveaways are always the newbies, those of you who have never joined the ranks of the Grove Collaborative groupies.

The way it works is basically this: You sign up for this giveaway.  You get all the things I’ll post below for free.  You do have to make a $20 purchase with items in your cart, but then you get the other items listed here for no cost.  You will then be signed up for a routine ordering from Grove Collaborative.  You can handle that a couple of ways.  You can order each month the items you use.  You can decide that some months you do not need to order so you can simply push your order back by a month or six months or whatever. You can cancel your routine orders all together.  Choices – you’ve got ’em.  (And the Grove Collaborative folks are super easy to work with and their email reminders really help so that you shouldn’t miss an order, unless you ignore all of your emails and then that’s on you folks.  They’ll even send you text messages if that helps you remember better.)

Here’s what’s for free with this giveaway:

  • Mrs. Meyer’s hand soap
  • Mrs. Meyer’s dish soap
  • Mrs. Meyer’s hand lotion
  • Grove cleaning caddy
  • Grove walnut scrubber sponges

 

 

Like I said, those are my own personal go-to items.  The walnut scrubbers changed my dishwashing ways.  I was always a brush person until these babies.  They’re great.  They don’t stink.  It’s a dishwashing miracle.

All you have to do to get the loot is sign up here and wait by your mailbox.  (I wouldn’t actually advise doing this.  The waiting part, that is.  I would encourage you to do the signing up part.)

 

 

Your shipping on this order will be free.  We’ve been so spoiled with free shipping, haven’t we?  It bothers me to ever pay for shipping these days.  I’m so entitled or something.

Yes, when you make this order and sign up for this giveaway, I get a perk.  I get credits for free items on my future orders and sometimes, if enough of you sign up, I even get a little cash kick back.  That’s all good and well and I certainly love that bonus, but I guarantee I wouldn’t spend my time promoting this Grove Collaborative if I didn’t sincerely love it and use it.

I like avoiding the stores and I like having what I need at my house when i run out of something and I like my soaps to smell pretty.  Bergen and I for real rejoiced when the pine scent came out around the holidays.  It’s the happiest smell!    (Bergen and I seem to be the most into good smells over here.)

And for you faithful Grove Collaborative partners?

You’re not totally left out.

You get free walnut scrubbers.

And hey – I’ve already sung their praises so if you haven’t tried them, at least you can do that this month!

Grab your free walnut scrubbers here.

Thanks guys – I appreciate you and your willingness to listen to my pitches and to try out some of the products that we love at our house.

And hey – if you can’t decide what to put in your cart to reach your $20, look into their toothpaste options and their skin care products.  Their candles are dreamy and their kitchen towels are thick and lovely.  They have cute reusable storage bags if you’re a lunch packer.  Maybe you guys can share in the comments what Grove products you regularly use.

 

 

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