Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Our Favorite New-To-Us Children's & Chapter Book Reads of 2014

Paul and I will be doing our mostly online & hassle-free Christmas shopping very soon.  We are more interested in putting quality items in the hands of our kids than in rushing out for sales. (Not that you can't do both--we just haven't quite harnessed that superpower yet.) Today, I want to share with you books that we've read and fallen in love with this year, so that if you are also wanting to do some easy shopping online, you could find a few guaranteed wins promoted here.

And you know I really care about these books because I'm not an Amazon affiliate & make no money whatsoever by directing you to these books. In fact, I will be losing the money I could be making by missing time for my indulgent online poker habit. Just kidding. I don't do that. Yet.

These are books that, had I known what treasures they were, I would have bought them much earlier in my fancy mom career. I'll give you a little insight into each book & maybe you can pop into a comment box and share one of your favorite children's or chapter book favorites to help us along in our Christmas shopping.

1. Extra Yarn

 The kids were given this book as a gift, and then we gifted copies to a couple other friends throughout the year.

This book has one of my favorite messages of any children's book I've ever read and I think the conclusion is just is the best. Oh, and the illustrations are reason enough to turn these pages over and over again.

2. Little Bear
I bought this book for Thomas because he has worked through the first 3 Bob book sets and a good chunk of his reading lessons. I thought it would be good to invest in a few of those typically boring beginning reader books, but this is not boring. It's sweet and it's timeless.

If a beginning reader book is well-written enough that Momma Bear doesn't mind reading it two days (or five days) in a row, it's a win in my book.

3. A Sick Day for Amos McGee
This book reminds me of Blueberries for Sal in that you read it once and wonder what the hype is about.  It's with multiple reads that the subtleties in the art and the story wrap you up and warm you like a big blanket and a warm cup of tea on...yep...a sick day.

A great book to show all of us what being a good friend looks like.

4. The One & Only Ivan

I'll admit that this book is a little heavy handed in its pull on your heart. However, it works as a game changer that has some grit and sometimes that's what we should be sharing with our kids.

Suited for kids a little bit older than Thomas, it does the trick in stirring up empathy & making us question the warped conditions we place upon animals in the name of cheap entertainment.  It ruined some things for me in that sense, but I'm okay with that.

5. Winnie-the-Pooh
I've put dozens and dozens of books on hold at the library, and I waited the longest for this jewel right here.

Winnie-the-Pooh is that reading gem so close under our nose, we don't see it.

Hands down, everyone should have this book in their house, and here's why. It is all the charm and wonder and imaginative characterization you already know to expect, but stuffed with nuances the adult reader can enjoy while the child beside is happy just smiling at Pooh's amusing adventures.

6. Paddle-to-the-Sea

Gah. I've been talking about this book all year.  Can I say OMG about a children's book? Because ohemgee. This book was written for my soul.  The concept---YES! The education---YES! The illustrations--YES! And my absolute favorite---the langauge.

Another reason I'm so crazy about this book is that it stretches beyond a particular age group, which is so wonderful when everything in your soul is telling you that one more reading of Go Dog Go would be absolute torture.

7. The Little House

Just like everyone should have a wonderful sleepy-time book (Goodnight, Goodnight, Construction Site!), I feel everyone should have a book that draws us into thinking about the seasons, time, changes and how we fit into all of that.

This is a simple, no-frills book that nudges us to think of what is good and beautiful.

8. The BFG
This year we read a good chunk of Dahl's work: Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, James and the Giant Peach, the BFG, and Matilda.  Thomas's Uncle Stephen recommended the BFG to him, and I had low expectations.

However, this book made us think & therefore have some great conversation (which is awesome), but it had Thomas in stitches several times (which is even more awesome).  It was, by far, the funniest book (to him) that we read all year. He asked me to reread a passage 3 times, so he could keep laughing. I mean, how could I not put it on our list?

9. The Tale of Despereaux

This is just the kind of chapter book I've been searching for my 4 year old all year:

Some illustrations. Check.
Beautiful language. Check.
Meaningful themes. Check.
And still holds the attention & interest of the kiddo. Big check.

:  :  :  :  :

Wow. That was so much fun to type up because it brought back so many memories of snuggling up with Thomas or reading to all the boys in their room.  Right now they're ALL banging with wooden puzzles pieces on the fireplace while I finish this post, so pretty much the complete opposite of the sweet, soft memories I was bringing back up in my mind. :/

This year was good and difficult and a hurricane of all kinds of things.  In a lot of ways it was a big mess. I mean, twins. Do I need to say more? Walking twins! Climbing twins! Boy twins who bust their lips or bang their heads every other day! Twins who can't yet tell me all the things!

Anyway, there may be a lot of things from this year I didn't get checked off the master list or tackled like they should have been, but it was the first year that the boys and I read voraciously in all sorts of ways and for those sweet memories, I'm so grateful.

I would very, very much love it if you let me know a book or two that you feel is a must for the family library. We just started building up ours a bit more intentionally this year, and so chances are that we haven't yet bought it, and I would love your recommendations!

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Walking Light & Carrying Little

The 30 Before 30 list is just not going to work.  [And if you don't know what it was, I wrote down some things that sounded fun to do before I turned 30.]

 A few of you were so kind as to ask the whereabouts on my progress. And honestly, I've been so busy with so many things, it has taken me until now to face that my life doesn't have space for most, if not all, of those items on that list and to act like or proceed forward with it like it does would just make me unhappy.

When I wrote that list (which is fun and lovely outside the realm of reality) about a year ago, I was in a very different place.

I didn't realize how taxing Paul's travel would be this year or that I would be watching adorable Misters Luke & Logan for a bit of time or that 3 kids (mine) would feel like a lot more once the twins were on the move.
Besides, a good chunk of the things on the list just don't matter at all to me right now (i.e. building a "real blog" or attending a cooking class or my goodness, Ashley completing a cross stitch piece).

I found this photo on my phone. A hundred dollars says I texted this to Paul with some kind of declaration that things were cray cray & I can say that because things are always crazy around here.

My 30 before 30 list should have had things on it like:

* go to the bathroom without interruption

* give self an at-home manicure & pedicure in the same day

* not yell for 1 whole day

I actually did a great deal of behind-the-blog stuff for the list that was going to eventually make it on the blog, but there were also several items I've never even begun to start. Can I blame it on the kids again? Good. It was totally the kids' fault.  They were much, MUCH more persistent in their needs than the list. Did you know kids eat three times a day?

I have only a few bittersweet days left with Luke & Logan.  And then we will turn the page to a new season again.  Last week I sat down on the couch and wrote at the top of a piece of paper POST DAY CARE REHAB.  There were some things I chose to put on hold while watching the boys. And also some things I chose to let slide because I know from almost this same thing last year (when I was transitioning to 3 kids & ouch, it hurt so good bad) that it is best to be flexible when life calls for it.   In the little time left in this year, I need all of it to focus on re-establishing healthy boundaries for my kids in terms of screen time & discipline & fill them up with lots of cuddle & reading time just like they deserve.

The last thing I want on my mind in this next season is any weight to do with things that I in all truth I just don't want to do.

I quit my job last year so I could just be mom and wife.  I wasn't like a lot of moms I saw breezing into work with things in their life pulled together just as beautifully as the scarf around their neck.  I quit because I knew I actually couldn't do all the things or not even all the things but the working things + home things and even with just one kid there were times when I was so blasted tired of feeling like if I just tried a little harder, I could pull it off one day. ] I wanted to give 100% to teaching and 100% to being a mom & wife. And I constantly felt this exhausting burden of feeling torn all the time.

But don't we all know so well that this is life.  Balance is always a struggle regardless of how easy or pulled together our role might appear to others.  We can always find ourselves in a mucky mess. And we can always, always make bold choices to go lightly, to yell Towanda at obtuse barriers that keep our hearts from resting in our priorities: time with our loved ones.

I have such a flaw/passion in me to do all the things all the time. I'm working on it. There was something much bigger I see now that was going on when I typed up that fun list.  Something ugly to share, something not easy to live with.

+ I [still] wanted to prove that I was a lot more than just mom and wife.  

Yeah, that's a bunch of crap, friends, but I won't get into that today. 

I severely judged moms at home before becoming one & I wanted everyone to know I was bigger than that. I was capable of doing way more than your average SAHM. I'm Ashley and the last thing I am is average.  Exclamation point. 

Sometimes my gut or Jesus or my littles tap me on the shoulder and whisper: just simply be because that's plenty. 

: : : : : 

In less than a couple months I'll celebrate the big 30.  I want to walk into it lightly. I want to carry little. When I sit down with my 30s I want to be that friend who is inclined to listen first and act second.

Any crappy, awful time that I had in my 20s happened because I didn't give myself the freedom to fling some shit to the side of the road (because really, guys, I think we might only need 1 of these 4 cast iron skillets I packed) and get moving.  There are so many more things I want to shed than just a simple list of things I wanted to do this last year.  Shed isn't even the right word. Purge. Burn. Flush. Destroy. Things that are keeping me from my where my heart rests: time with my loved ones. 

: : : : :

Thanks for cheering me on, friends.  In my plans, my schemes, my writings, my hopes.  I know you know the me in me sometimes more than I see. I'm okay with that because it is what it is and the truth is a beautiful thing no matter how messy. Or so I really hope because wow! hot mess!

Oh shoot. Here it comes.  Just.

Let it go.

Not deleting that. 

Don't hold it back anymore.

Stopping myself.


Tuesday, November 4, 2014

29 things about Ashley

I just saw Grace's post about herself & had to jump in on the fun.  What's a blog for if not a loud, narcissistic streak now and then?

And because my brain is fried & my time limited, a list of selfie tid-bits seems a perfect way to rescue this day. [Alistair reopened his sliced frenum & if you don't know what that looks like or all that entails let me sum it up with one word: horrifying].  Well, on with it:

She loves me. 

1.  I love to dance.  Dancing on a stage or in a spotlight = even better. LIFE HIGH! I will not deny it. Nothing makes me feel more free, alive & happy!

2. But no, I've never taken a dance class. But I do have many fantasies that I've bought time in a room full of mirrors and good speakers & my kids are far away nestled at home & I choreograph my little heart/legs/arms out all day.

3. I'm a dreamer. INFP.

4. I've only wanted one job ever and that was to be a teacher. I asked Santa for a stapler and record keeping book when I was ten.

5. Halfway through college I strongly considered dropping out to become a nun. Chew on that one, kids.

6. I met Paul a long time after my friends did which is probably a good thing because it was love at first long talk & we were engaged just two months into dating and married a year after that.

7. I have space issues. Noise issues. Over-stimulation issues. It's a wonder how I have not run off to a cave yet.

8. But yes, I need time by myself. Time outside walking makes me feel like someone is quite literally filling me back up.

9. I'm Catholic (but easily turned off by self-righteous religious types. yeck.)

10.  Many pre-teens reach out to their crush celebrities. I wrote a letter to Richard Simmons telling him what an inspiration he was after I read his book.

11.  I used to think that when adults were having private conversations it was about the end of the world (which makes absolutely no sense whatsoever considering my background).

12. I didn't give my mom a head's up that my confirmation name was going to be Ursula...

13. Which is fine because my husband was just as out of it in the confirmation name game because he was so smitten with St. Paul he double-dipped... William Paul Paul....

14.  I can't drink or eat really hot things. It's as if my tongue doesn't register it. It's weird.

15. If I write on a piece of paper, I have to have another piece of paper under it. Every. Single. Time.

16. One quarter of one of my eyes is brown and I never can remember which is which after all these years.

17. I've never once in my entire life used lip liner. I've put on lipstick under ten times. Probably less.

18.  I cook a lot, and I have for years.  And yet I still have never made mashed potatoes by myself.

19.  My favorite treat of all time is chocolate covered salted caramel balls. Gah.

20.  I was a runner in high school (not sure that is even worth mentioning anymore).

21.  I try really, really hard but I'm not a great friend. I can be flaky. I'm working on it. Same goes for a lot of my other relationships because I don't like messy things & loving people is messy.

22. Rats ate my underwear at 4H camp.

23. As my mother-in-law so aptly suggested, I'm the tail to my husband's kite. We make a great team that way.

24. Criticism works like saffron with me. A little goes a very, very long way.

25. I'm the 2nd of 5 kids. My husband is 1st of 10.

26. I do not like confronting people.

27. Anger is my least experienced emotion.

28.  I've yet to meet anyone with a smaller wardrobe than mine. Or less shoes. And it's not because I'm a minimalist. It's just the way it is.

29. The thing I value most: to give fully of self