Classics Challenge 2017

This is the third year I've participated in the Back to the Classics Challenge. For a few seconds, right as I was struggling to pick my last book, I was thinking maybe I'd skip it this year. Take the easy way out. But then Karen posted the categories and I realized that of course I couldn't skip it. I love the Classics Challenge! It gets me out of my comfort zone and challenges me and I end up finding all these great books I never would have tried. You really should join in. It's a lot of fun!

I ended up switching a lot of my books around as the year went on but I still think its fun to try and pick stuff now. Here's what I'm thinking as of now.

1.  A 19th Century Classic - Oliver Twist

Another year, another Dickens.

2.  A 20th Century Classic - Freckles by Gene Stratton Porter

I read the sequel (not knowing it was a sequel) a few months ago and now I've got to go back and start at the beginning. 

3.  A classic by a woman author. 
Wives and Daughters by Elizabeth Gaskell

I love Gaskell but because of the incomplete ending, I've avoided this. But I do want to give it a go. I think if I can live with my imagination's working on the ending of Villette, I can handle this too. 

4.  A classic in translation.

Still thinking. 

5.  A classic published before 1800. Plays and epic poems are acceptable in this category also.

Fierce Wars and Faithful Loves - This is an updated version of Spenser's Fearie Queen #1 that I'm hoping to read with the Ambleside Online forum. I don't have my copy yet but it appears it is just updated spelling and helpful annotations so I think it fits the criteria for this. 

I've also wanted to try Dante's Inferno/The Divine Comedy. So that's another option. And I reserve the right to scrap both of these for something easier. Augustine's Confession is also on my long term tbr list but I'm not sure if that's going down on the easiness scale or just sideways.

An romance classic - 
Dr. Thorne by Anthony Trollope.

 Another Trollope to add to the two I read last year. Based on the vague reviews I've seen on goodreads (I don't want to be spoiled) I think this will work. If not, I'm sure I can find something that will. 

7.  A Gothic or horror classic - Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier

I'm really excited about this one. It might be my first classic of the year.

8.  A classic with a number in the title - 
Fahrenheit 451.

 After several failed attempts at 1984, I was so glad Elaine's review allowed me to let go of every reading it. Life's too short to read books I don't think I'll enjoy. But she did encourage me to give Fahrenheit 451 a try. So I think I will. 

9.  A classic about an animal or which includes the name of an animal in the title.  

Call of the Wild. 

10. A classic set in a place you'd like to visit. It can be real or imaginary:


11. An award-winning classic - The Good Earth by Pearl Buck

I was originally going to use this as my location classic (China) but I might keep looking for that. There are a lot of places I would want to go but I don't tend to want to read award winners (I think it's a personality thing. I'm not sure what it says about me but there you go). But then again, maybe I'll shift it back there and keep looking for this one. 

12. A Russian Classic - Anna Karenina

I was so excited to see this category. I really wanted to read a Russian Classic this year anyway so this is extra motivation and I don't think I'm the only one who will pick this book and I love seeing other people's thoughts about a book I just finished.

Whew, I'm kinda tired just thinking about this list. But also excited! Let's get reading!


The Things they Says

Jonah is not an easy kid to parent. But man, he can be cute. More than once this week I've found myself thinking, "Everyone should have a little boy in there life."

Playing in the tub, he turned the toy tea pot into a "sea diver machine" and filled it with those foam letters. I hear him..."Oh no, the tea pot is too full, the "M" won't fit. Hurry "H" and "L" let's go rescue the tea cup to hold the "M before she drowns!"

Our local Christmas radio station plays a truly awful selection of Christmas music. If it isn't The Waitresses' Christmas Wrapping, it's "All I Want for Christmas is You." The kids were asking me Craig what it was about when Jonah offered up his explanation. "It's God singing and he's talking to us". Seriously, could he get any cuter?!

On Monday afternoons, we drop Lucy off at art class and have an hour and a half to run errands. Norah's with us but its mostly my time to catch up with Jonah and really talk to him and focus on him. Last week we only needed a few things from Aldi so I asked him what he wanted to do with the rest of our time. He asked to visit the bookstore. That alone would have  made me happy but he was so cute inside. "Wild Things! That's my favorite book. No pictures! That's my other favorite. Oh, boo-boo butt, so funny, hahaha .Frog! It's Toad's friend Frog! That's Lucy's favorite!" Then of course, we went to look at the toys (he loves books but he's still a kid ;-) and he saw "Pat the Bunny! It's the bunny!" He and Lucy just finished listening to Raggedy Ann at naptime but I didn't know if he would recognize her so I showed him a Raggedy Ann doll and told him who it was. "Raggedy Ann? With her shoe button eyes?!" Seriously, I could have just eaten him up he was so sweet.

I've heard it say that one can find a Godfather quote to fit almost any situation. Jonah hasn't seen the Godfather but he's spent the day doing the one source quote thing with Beatrix Potter, specifically her Roly Poly Pudding book.

Me: What do you want on your toast?
Jonah: Make it properly, with breadcrumbs...and butter and cinnamon. 

Me: Jonah, what are you doing?
Jonah: I've been discovered and interrupted!

And I think this is the first time Norah's been included in this category! She doesn't say a whole lot but Craig and I both thought we had heard a version of "kit-tee" before but not consistently. But on our trip, we were at a house with a little dog and she must have thought it looked familiar because she chased it all around saying "kitty kitty kitty." Close enough baby girl!

The kids and I have not quite intentially, taught Norah to say "Mmm" when she eats. But sometimes she tries something and has this unsure look on her face but if we say "Mmm, yum" and smile at her, she'll normally trust us and keep eating. Now, whenever I go into the kitchen to prep for a meal, she comes up by my feet and starts saying "Mmm? Mmm?"


A Winter Stroll

Hi, this is Craig. If you are my Facebook friend you may have seen my live coverage of the events surrounding the unexpected ice that covered roads throughout the St. Louis area Friday night. Cars throughout the region were stuck on the roads for hours due to accidents. I am going to write up the events as well for posterity.

As I headed home from work, ice was already setting in, so the commute down the interstate was slow. MacKenzie wanted me to stop by the library, which I thought was perhaps not a good idea given the conditions. But she also said southbound traffic along our road was at a standstill due to an accident, and that I should go down and come home from the south. That route took me by the library, so I took care of that errand.

I headed home and found that, within a couple of miles from my home, northbound traffic was also not moving, due to the same accident. So I turned around, as some cars ahead of me were doing, and went to cool my heels at a McDonald's. There were a few of us weather refugees there, including a woman who had been trying to go south to Cape Girardeau, but had abandoned that plan and now wanted to head back north to home. It sounded like she might have had to check in to the nearby Super 8 for the night.

MacKenzie suggested that I walk home rather than wait for who knows how many hours, and I was thinking "easy for you to say." But traffic in front of my house was still not moving at all, and I knew of a good spot to park my car about 1.5 miles from home, so I ended up deciding to do that. Right before I reached my chosen parking spot, I slid a wheel into the ditch. I thought I was going to have to leave the car early, but I was able to back out. I was right next to another car that had also slid off the road. So I got back onto the road and slowly advanced to my car abandonment spot.

The Walk Home

I decided to walk back and check on the women in the aforementioned car in the ditch. I encouraged them to try to back out, as I had done, and they were successful (it was a shallow rocky ditch, and they only had one wheel off the road). I suggested that they keep the car in low gear while driving, and headed off on foot towards home at about 6:45 pm, initially keeping to the grass because paved surfaces were slippery. It was about 30 degrees, so it was comfortable walking weather. The temperature had been predicted to be a few degrees higher, hence the lack of preparedness for icy roads.

I stopped to talk to many people in their cars as I shuffled along the way (having moved onto the shoulder). I had more information on the situation than many of them, thanks to what the wife told me about the accident and since I had just seen what was happening on the nearby interstate (a standstill there too). I had a few opportunities to provide assistance to motorists. I tried to help a lady start her truck, but she wasn't receptive to my advice, so I continued on. I arranged a jump start of one person's car, assisted by the driver of the car behind her. I gave my left over sandwich from lunch to a kid in the car with the dead battery (I had eaten some of the remaining food from the previous day's Christmas potluck for lunch instead). I tried to encourage a woman to back up a bit so the truck in front of her could attempt to drive away without fear of sliding into her, but she refused to budge an inch, convinced her car would slide 20 feet into the ditch if she did so

I encountered a couple of fools. This full-size van was off the road, with one wheel in the air. The driver tried several maneuvers to get back on the road. I walked away, fearing that the van would slide out of control and run me down. I looked back to see him driving 15 feet away from the road into the woods, then speeding in reverse back to the highway, but he could not get over the hump in several tries. Another truck further ahead was spinning its wheels, trying to advance forward up a slight hill, but not making much progress.

The van in the ditch
I passed by the accident scene at about 8:15 pm, an hour and a half after my walk started and 4.5 hours after the accident took place.  Tow trucks were in the process of lifting the two vans involved in the crash (a third vehicle was involved but not disabled). I understand that they had been waiting for some salt to get the ice melted so they could tow the vehicles. I also saw what appeared to be the body of the deceased party in the accident (there was one fatality, according to the accident report, and he wasn't wearing a seat belt) surprisingly still on the ground under a sheet. An ambulance was arriving at the scene as I walked by (the surviving, injured parties had already been taken away).

I got home at about 8:30, five hours after I left work that day. I decided that, since the people near my house had been sitting there four hours or so, that I would go hand out water and granola bars to those who had no sustenance. I had some grateful takers, but also met some people who were well-prepared (as your car should also be, with food, water, warm items, and a somewhat full gas tank). What people wanted most, though, was information. I told them that, since the tow trucks had just gone by carrying the vehicles involved in the accident, that the roads should be open soon. It ended up being about half an hour after I went back home that traffic started moving, as the Highway Patrol waited for MODOT to do some salting before letting cars go.

So that was my adventure. That night had some similarities to December 30 of last year, when large-scale flooding of the Meramec River left many people stranded in their cars for hours as the rising water closed all north-south routes. I just barely escaped from that one, too, getting home when things had slowed but before they ground to a halt. I guess that's a benefit of getting to work really early - I go home before the rush.


I came, I read, I conquered! - Back to the Classics Challenge Wrap-Up Post

I just posted my review for Just So Stories which means I've completed my Back to the Classics Challenge! It was a great challenge for me this year and I can't wait to get started on next years. 

1.  A 19th Century Classic - The Warden

2.  A 20th Century Classic A Room with a View

3.  A classic by a woman author. Miss Buncle's Book

4.  A classic in translation.  I, Promessi Sposi (The Betrothed)

5.  A classic by a non-white author. Things Fall Apart

6.  An adventure classic - Alice's Adventures in Wonderland

7.  A fantasy, science fiction, or dystopian classic. Utopia

8.  A classic detective novel.  The Woman in White

9.  A classic which includes the name of a place in the title. Bleak House

10. A classic which has been banned or censored. Brideshead Revisisted

11. Re-read a classic you read in school (high school or college).  Persuasion

12. A volume of classic short stories. Just So Stories

Classics Challenge Short Stories - Just So Stories

Just So Stories. A childhood classic, right? But I don't think I've ever read it. I say think because I read a lot as a child so its possible and it would be kinda odd if I didn't because my dad loves Rudyard Kipling so much we had a dog named Kip. So maybe I did but it just didn't stick as this didn't seem familiar.

This was actually something I read to Lucy as part of her Ambleside Online Year 1. Its one that I see quite a few mom's mentioned was as struggle for them or their child so I had planned to pre-read this to help myself out. I was only able to pre-read one story before I started with her but we read it slowly all year so I could have kept up if  I had needed to. It turns out that Lucy and I both really enjoyed this one pretty much from the beginning. So much for being too weird or hard to understand!

It is different though and it does continue to grow on you though. We found it enjoyable at the start but by the time we ended the year, I think it was in Lucy's top three (Shakespeare and Viking Tales being the other big hits). She understood the story and had no issues following along but it's like a good children's movie. It has that layer of humor I think adults catch and appreciate that kinda goes over kid's head. I had to stop myself from laughing out loud during the last story, The Butterfly that Stamped, and Lucy kept saying "What mom? What?"

I do think it benefits from a strong reader, and probably being read out loud as well. I don't think I would have enjoyed it nearly as much reading it silently to myself. The word play and sounds are just as much of the fun as the stories themselves. I love reading aloud and if you do, its a great choice because it gives you so much to work with. Now that I'm out of highschool, I don't have a lot of chances to be in plays and productions, but reading aloud to my kids gives me the chance to really have a similar kinda of fun -without any stage fright. I won't claim to be the next Jim Weiss but my kids enjoy my work - and I enjoyed sharing this one with them. Which is good because I have to  get to read it at least two more times over the next few years.

Just So Stories is my Back to the Classics Short Stories selection.


Year 1 Term 3 Exams!

We did it! We finished our first year of Ambleside Online! Only 35+ more to go! (11 for Lucy, 12 for Jonah and Norah and a plus for any more kids that might come).

We had such a great year. I'm starting to get overwhelmed by holiday season to-dos and I almost skipped exams but Lucy loves them and its so encouraging to look back as see how far she's come. I really needed them this term especially. I was still a good term and we got everything in plus added a few new things (French, Solfa singing, etc) but schooling with a non-napping baby is a lot more work for me and I, like I'm sure all homeschooling moms, have to fight off that "is it enough, am I shortchanging anyone? feeling" But after exams I can easily say - No. We are doing good. We just gotta keep doing what we're doing.

    Tell about one of Jesus' miracles.
So they were at a party and Jesus was there. So one guy said “there is only supposed to be good wine at the beginning.” (Now, this is the deal with exams. Sometimes your amazed at what your child remembers and sometimes your trying keep a straight face when your child gives you this. But its okay!)

 What did Peter do at the Beautiful Gate?
Help the man that couldn’t walk. Me: Could you tell me a bit more? Like a narration? Oh, so Peter and John were about to go to the temple and there was a man who couldn’t walk so he asked Peter and John for some money but they said “we don’t have any money but walk” and he could walk. And he went into the temple and all the people were like “what?” and asked “how could you walk?” and they said “it was not us. It was GOD!”


     Copy "No storm stayed the ships."

This is one area where I most enjoyed looking back on her portfolio. Below is her best writing at the end of Term 1! Not bad at all for a six year old but she's gotten so much better since then and I didn't even realize it.


Tell one of Aesop's Fables.
There was a dog and the dog had a bone and he stopped by a water pool and then the dog saw his reflection and thought it was a different dog with a bigger bone and he wanted that bone so he dropped his bone and then he couldn’t get any bone and he was sad.

Tell part of a "Just So Story."

The letter. So there once was a girl and her dad and they were going fishing and a stranger came along but her dad’s spearhead broke so that they couldn’t fish. And he said “I will have to go back and get my other spear at home” and then the little girl said to the stranger “would you please get our other spear” and the stranger did not understand for he did not speak the same language. And she said “Ahh, I will explain it again and then she wrote it on a big rock and she drew a picture of them living in a cave and the cave and her mom and her mom with a spear and her dad with the other spear and the beavers and the beaver dam and the beavers looked like people but she couldn’t draw all the beavers because there were too many. So the stranger took it to the cave and to the little girls’ mom and the little girls’ mom said “what? Did you say that my dad, that there are a bunch of people creeping up and his arm is broken?” and there are a bunch of other ladies and they put a bunch of mud in his hair and he went back and they were like what? Why are you hurting my stranger man and explained it and they everyone laughed. Her mom laughed and the other ladies laughed and her dad laughed and she laughed. That’s all. Isn’t that funny. I choosed it because I thought it was the funniest one.

This is the same Just So Story she chose for her last exam but she really loves this one (and the whole book)! We haven't read it since that initial reading and her narration at the end of this term is just as good as the one from Exam 2. 


Tell a story about King Alfred.
So Alfred was in a women’s house and the woman said “watch this cake” but he didn’t watch it. He was thinking about his country but the cake burnt and the woman was angry “you were supposed to watch this cake but you just thought and thought” and he said “I was thinking about my country!” and the woman said “you could watch and think at the same time”. And the guy came in and he said “well, he’s the king! Why do you want the king to watch your cake?”

What do you know of Harald as a little boy? Tell everything you can think of.
So…King Harald. As a boy. A Viking queen and a Viking king and they had a baby Viking. And he grew up. And there was another person that told him about what he did when he was a little Viking and a Viking. And I went to a farmer’s house and took all there stuff and had a feast at the farmer’s house. That’s all I remember about that. Oh, but he went to King Harald’s king and the king didn’t want him but the queen said he would be a good person for our little baby. And one time King Harald learned how to make a spearhead and "I think I will make, I want to make a whole spear so I must get a wooden handle" and there was a wolf. Wait, so he named his spearhead foes-fear. And then there was a wolf and he fought the wolf with foes-fear. And he went back and said “I fought with this foes-fear spear” That’s all I remember.


  Name some things Paddle passed as he traveled through the Great Lakes. Or, Trace Paddle's journey on a map from Canada to the sea.
Lake Michigan, Lake Superior – the wolf head, Lake Erie, he went down a big waterfall, a big big waterfall. And Lake Huron and Lake Uhm I don’t know (Me: Ontario) Oh yeah, Lake Ontario. Lake Michigan is a squash with a leaf. Lake Huron is the trapper, like  a man with a big sack on his bag. Lake Erie is a piece of coal.

  What is latitude? or, What is the equator?

The equator is the line in the middle of the globe. We use it to measure what part is this side and what part is that side.

Natural History and General Science

    Describe your favorite nature study finds from this term?

I liked finding leaves and acorns. (Me: Well tell me more.)…there were different shapes. Like maples leaves and other leaves like this (demonstrates) and they were yellow and red and some were brown. The acorns in our yard are small green and then they, when they are ready, they are brown. We like to hunt and collect and find them. Some of them are bigger at Powder Valley. And some were at Shaw nature center and there were lots of different types. One type was small with big caps and the caps almost covered all the acorn. And some of them were the same type as Powder Valley and ours.

At Powder Valley we saw turtles. They had like, well, this big (demonstrates). And I touched the shell. It was sorta smooth with small bumps. The bumps were not too little and scratchy, just like smooth up and down bumps, kinda like waves. We saw two.

   Tell about a bird Peter learned about that stays in the winter, or, What do you know about birds' homes in the Green Forest?

The nuthatch goes forward down the tree. Peter asked “how can you do that?” and he said “because I have these claws.”

This was our bird year. We really got into watching them and kept a log of what birds we saw each month. And her narrations for the Burgess Bird Book were great during the year but when it came to exams, we struggled. And I really do mean "we," I couldn't come up with much either! But no matter, we learned tons. 

    If you were to go through the Earth to the other side, what would you go through? Describe your trip.

Through grass, dirt, and then rocks, layers or rocks and then oil. Magma – that’s the stuff that makes volcano, then past the outside of that stuff we did, what’s it called (Me: Mantle? - we did a paper project with this). Yeah, mantle. Then outer core, your almost to the middle of the earth! Then inner core! It’s where North, South, East, West meet, nothing to this side, or this side, you just float. Then you go back through all the stuff. But you would need a very fireproof ship. It's really just pretend, you couldn't do that.

The start of her rock collection. We've only done one individual painting but she wants to get 10 because that's her last step to getting her Geology American Heritage Badge. 

Some of the other rocks she's found. 

1  Draw a picture narration and describe it for me about your favorite fairy tale or Shakespeare story from this year. 

Scenes from A Midsummer's Nights Dream. 


Foreign Language

 Copy my actions and say in French what you are doing:

J’ouvre mon sac a dos (I open my backpack)
(je) prende le livre (I take the book)
J’ouvre le livre et je ferme le livre (open the book and I close the book)

Je prends la trouse (I take my pencil case)
Je prends trois crayon. (I take three pencils)
(je) met trois crayons dans la trouse. (put three pencils in my pencil case)
(je) ferme la trouse. (I close my pencil case)
          Je met mon trouse dans la sac a dos. (put my pencil case in the backpack)
          Je ferme la sac a dos. (I close my backpack)

I'm loving Speaking French with Ms Mason and Francois. We've done four series but I limited the exam to the first 3. Other than a tendency to drop her pronouns, she's doing amazing. I can see her really starting to understand and she knows those words. And they are always asking "how do you say this? How do you say that? and we've started to try and use french at lunch some days.

Count as high in French as you can.
She got to ten but needed help with nine

Picture Study
  Describe your favorite picture from this term's picture study. (I let them look to pick their favorite then cover it up to narrate.)

Young Mother Sewing. So there is a woman and a girl that is kinda like leaning on her, the mom. The mom is sewing. It’s bright. That picture is brighter than most of them. The mom has a striped shirt. I think the girl has a white dress and you can see the arm, the place where you rest your arm on the chair a little bit. You can look out the window and there are trees and a flower on the window.

Jonah had to have a turn

In the Loge (but he didn’t remember the title, he just pointed). Uhm, there was a, in that corner (lower right) there is a lot of black on her dress and like a yellow thing like I have a yellow thing. And it’s a mom. And so little of people, they are funny. (Lucy- they are little because they are far away). And they have hats and the mama does too. It’s dark.


     Sing your favorite folksong and hymn from this term.

   Sing One Two Buckle my Shoes with So and Mi hand signs


She took an outside art class this term in addition to spending time almost every day drawing.



     Show some work in handicrafts from this term to someone outside your family. – She gave a necklace to her Gigi at Thanksgiving and we have another project we can't show because its a Christmas gift. 

I didn't do any recitation for this exam because they are planning a Christmas Eve show for us and our family visitors. They will say both their poems and songs and bible memory verses. Lucy will play Jingle Bells on the piano and they are putting together some sort of drama. I'm trying to let them do most of the work so we'll see how it works out but I'm sure it will be entertaining no matter what. 


Nourishing Meals - for all

I really should have enough cookbooks by now. But when a friend of mine posted a picture of her successful attempt at a gluten free pie crust (after many failed ones apparently) and declared the source her favorite cookbook, I couldn't resist.

Now, we aren't gluten free right now although I have been in the past. And, crossing my fingers, we don't have any other food restrictions right now. I'm not convinced that going grain free or dairy free is, in general, a beneficial health thing. But we do know a lot of people that do have food allergies and specific issues they are trying to resolve with dietary changes. And I'm glad they are finding things that work for them. I wish gluten free helped my thyroid issues.

I was still happy to give lots of the recipes in Nourishing Meals a try. It's a big cookbook and has a wide variety of foods - breakfast, snacks, lunches, soups, dinner, desserts and even some preserving/fermentation recipes. Pretty much everything. I tried to attempt something from most of the categories to really test it out and overall, they were good. Nothing was disliked by everyone which is saying something in a family of five!

It also has a big section with general information about healthy eating in the Nourishing Traditions/Paleo type fashion. As I said, I don't agree with everything they said but still some good info to be found there. Despite the wide variety of recipes and basic information to be found, I wouldn't necessarily consider this a good cookbook for something trying to do an initial transition from the SAD (Standard American Diet). Too many different ingredients and unusual textures, it would be a bit hard on your family and pocketbook. I was even gluten-free for almost a year and I don't even know what Teff is. So if you and your kids are used to fish sticks and peas and you try to make them winter Curried Lime bean soup or Eggplant and White Bean Ragout, you might have some trouble winning them over. The slow and steady approach with increasing fruits and veggies and beans, decreasing sugar, switching out white for wheat flour and trying to source grass-fed meat and dairy is probably going to be easier to stick with long term.

BUT if you are already familiar with the basics and just need a whole lot more options in recipes that seem to be fairly reliable, it has a ton. Even the recipes that are kinda standard in the world of healthy eating (smoothies, date balls, etc),  had some new ideas and combinations that I didn't think of. You'll be busy for a while trying to test them all out. I think it would also be awesome for someone who suddenly finds themselves having to go anything free. Everything in this cookbook is gluten free as well as being clearly marked with an allergy key which is great. So if you have found yourself trying to find replacements for all the things you used to love, check it out. There's pumpkin pie and gluten free pie crusts, pizza crust, bbq sauce, you name it. Allergy foodies rejoice!

And then there is me and why I wanted this cookbook. But first, I'm gonna get on a little soapbox. I've seen several articles/blog posts about food restrictions and holidays and they all seem to be addressed to the people with the allergy/sensitivity and how to try to lessen their impact on others and avoid conflicts. I don't have a problem with these articles themselves because they are trying to be helpful. But so often the comments become so self-centered - in terms of the non-allergy people thinking people with food allergies are out to ruin their fun and be a buzzkill. What?!

Right now, I'm in the group that can eat whatever I want. It's, frankly, a nice easy place to be, but my goodness, why wouldn't I WANT to try to go out of my way to be kind to someone else if I can be. I like baking and blessing others with food. I like doing so even more when I know their options are limited. I am really excited that this cookbook has given me a way to make reliably tasty food for those around me. We have close friends that we fellowship and eat with regularly that have a combination of gluten-free, dairy-free, egg-free, peanut-free and kosher restrictions. And since I don't eat that way on a regular basis, I don't have tried and true recipes that meet those needs and I don't want to scour the internet and hope a recipe doesn't end up like cardboard.

I made the (gluten-free, nut-free and dairy-free) Sweet Potato Custard as one of my tester recipes and it was good so I'm really excited to be able to take it to our church potluck this weekend and share it. The three people I know that need gf and/or df are certainly not demanding special accommodations or really even expecting anything to be safe other than what they bring, but I'm glad I can. (And I also won't be offended if they choose not to eat it. Maybe they don't like sweet potatos, maybe they are nervous about trusting me because if I wasn't experienced with gf they might end up feeling like crap for a few days if I cross-contaminated something. That's fine too. No expectations.) If you don't have the ability to make something allergy-free, then don't. But don't dismiss the idea off hand because you are assuming it's the other person's responsibility to figure out their own issues.  Off my soap box.

Now, there are so many recipes in here I didn't even try a quarter of them yet. But this is what I did try:

Orange Creamsicles Smoothie - Reminded me of an orange julius. Different from my typical go-to smoothies and quite tasty.

Coconut Banana Breakfast Cake - Boys didn't like it, Norah and I thought it was okay. Good flavor but I'm just not a huge fan of coconut flour (although I love coconut - its a texture thing). Lucy really liked this. I think she ate 1/4 of it.

Rutabaga Fries - Yum. I made a mix of these and regular oven potato fries and kids selectively picked potatoes until they were gone but ate rutaba. I liked both equally and when I don't give them a choice next time, I'm sure they'll eat them up. I always needs help getting variety of veggies in. We eat a lot but I tend to fall back on the same old ones.

Lean, Mean and Green Rice Salad. - Awesome. Kids gave me a side glance at the kale but ate it anyway. It makes a bunch but I kept leftovers for me.

Apricot Glazed Chicken - This is going in our regular rotation. Everyone had seconds, even the baby and she doesn't normally like chicken (I know, who doesn't like chicken. Norah!). And it is super easy and quick!

Chocolate Walnut Brownies - These taste like a cooked brownie date ball. Which to me is a compliment. Craig said he likes my bean brownies better but these didn't last very long either way!

Homemade Coconut Milk - I've made my own coconut milk for years now but her technique was slightly different and gave better results.

Sweet Potato Custard - Well, you know its good if I'm willing to take it to a potluck! I will increase the sweetener in it though. We're used to low sugar baking and liked it okay as is but a Christmas potluck deserves a full level of sugar, imho.

So the TL/DR - It's a niche cookbook but if you are the target audience, I think it a great choice.

"I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review.


T-day in review

So I know Thanksgiving is over and people have moved on to Christmas but bear with me! I've got pictures to share! We ended up heading over to Kanses the day after Thanksgiving to have some family time.

The first day we went back to Fort Leavenworth. My family has lived there three different times so we have a lot of memories. Some good - like visiting the house where Craig asked my dad's permission to marry me, and sledding down the gigantic hill (with or without proper clothing like pants and a shirt if you are my brother). And baptizing Lucy at this little church.

There were also some more painful memories as that was also the place where we sat with my mom when she took her last breath.  But it was fitting to take some time for those memories as it was also the 5th anniversary of her passing. We were able to see the tree they had planted in her honor.

 I also took a second to get this one of me and my girls. It's taken at the same spot this one of my mom and her sisters was.

Lucy was our only child when my mom passed away but I know she would have been overjoyed to see Lucy gain a sister. It's amazing to think of all that has changed in the past five years. I've done a lot of grieving and a lot of healing but in some ways I can't believe it has been more than just a few days since I last talked to her. I actually composed a long post in my head during our drive home about my mom but now that I've "gotten in out" I don't need to write it down. But I will say that I do believe her legacy in my life is only getting stronger.

Of course, we couldn't only visit sad spots. The kids needed to get out and have a bit of fun after our drive. So we took multiple trips on this old carousel. And by the last one Jonah even decided he was brave enough to go on a horse that went up and down! (But only one of the small horses that only goes up a little :-)

 Another highlight of our trip was that we finally got to meet my little brother's girlfriend. I try not to be an overly curious sister but getting any information out of this guy can be like pulling teeth sometimes so it was nice!

 Ben and Craig decided to try the Rocky Mountain Oysters. They said they were good but...yuck!

The highlight for the kids, besides seeing family members, was probably Legoland! I wasn't sure what to expect but it was great. Not too big that I felt like I was always counting heads. But enough to keep us all interested for 3 hours. 

The 4D movie. Jonah was not sure about this one.

Norah clapper for herself every time she stacked a block. But half the time her clapping would knock the whole stack over again. She didn't mind.

We also spent a good amount of time just hanging out together in the hotel. Swimming a bit in the "technically heated but still too cold for adults pool," going to the park, sneaking out for a date lunch (Craig and I) and trying to spell things out of partial pretzels (Jonah and Lucy). In other words, a good time was had by all.

The pool water was cold but the kids really enjoyed putting their feet in the hot tub although Jonah had to be reminded several times where his feet stopped and his belly began ;-)


2017 Book Goals: Help Needed

I was just looking at my 2016 book goals  and while the year isn't over, it looks like I'm going to end up doing pretty well. I've really enjoyed making goals these past two years and I think its a habit that will have to continue. I'm not quite ready to share it yet but I do need your help with a few things!

Dickens: I've read one dickens novel each of the last two years. 2015 was A Tale of Two Cities which was okay. Last years was Bleak House which I enjoyed much more. But what to read next? Great Expectations? David Copperfield? Or should I try one of his lesser read works? I don't know.

A Russian Novel: Would you believe I've yet to read a classic Russian novel? Probably :-) But I want to change that.  I'm leaning toward Anna Karenina but could easily be persuaded to read The Brother Karamazov (especially since I just saw Cindy Rollin's gave it a good review) or really any other. I normally do one or two really tough novels a year and I'm willing for this to be one so it can be a doozy. In fact, I'm pretty sure it will be. But I'm pushing myself here!

I also am in need of some lighter reads. So far my list is pretty dense and I need some non-twaddley filler books. Sadly, I've on the last Jasper Fforde book our library has and I just finished the Lord Peter series. I might re-read the Chronicles of Narnia which would be an easier read but got any fun mysteries? Or maybe something clever. I like witty books, whether that is word play or revised fairy tales, all that sort of thing. Or a good Austen-esq novel.

Okay guys, help me out!


Okay, this is sad. My blog isn't giving me a hard time about commenting! I mean, it's MY blog! So I'll just add here:

I'm glad to see such positive feedback about Anna Karenina!

Can I admit that I didn't really like the Wendell Berry book I read (Jayber Crow)? I feel like the world of readers will turn on me if I do. But I still have Hannah Coulter on my tbr-someday pile because it might have just been my mood at the time.

And Vinegar Girl was already on my list plus possible Peace Like a River but I'm always glad for confirmation of a good book. I'm reading my first Goudge right now (The Little White Horse) and I have a feeling I'll be on the lookout for more.

Good call on Oliver Twist. I'm starting to see the need for pre-reading and I really should try to get ahead while I can or I'm gonna be swamped 2-3 years from now!


Things I love: YNAB

The Problem:

Exactly 350 days ago, Craig and I decided we needed to redo our budget and make some serious budgeting goals. We just weren't happy with how things stood and knew we could do better. We had a lot of the right pieces; a reasonable mortage, a desire to save, a lifestyle without a lot of frills, no credit card debt or habits of relying on credit cards. But the 2015 was a hard year for us with a lot of medical expenses (Shots that aren't cover by insurance all pregnancy, midwife, etc) during a time when I wasn't exactly up for clipping a lot of coupons and we had burned through our savings. Now, that said, I don't really feel bad about that because we did what we had to do to keep Norah with us and she is totally worth more than all the money I could potentially have and much more. But we knew we could do better this year.

We had $100 in our savings account which is a far cry from the 3-6 months of expense goal that we would have liked. And especially being sick, I didn't have much of an idea of what was coming in or going out. I was just out of the loop.  We didn't fight about money but we just didn't' communicate much about it at all, unlike when we were first married. We have very traditional roles in our marriage. He's the provider. And he does a great job and works hard for our family. But he wasn't necessarily getting the "credit" for that because I wasn't feeling secure. I could look up our bank accounts and balances but without an idea of what the bills were, that number didn't mean a lot to me. It was time for some help.

The Solution:  Budgeting software YNAB (You Need a Budget)

It was just what we needed. It's easy to use and allows both of us to know what's going on at all times. I'm more of the budget manager now but it's easy for Craig to tell me if something comes up and I need to move money around. I also really love that they encourage you to change your budget as needed. I also love that the program wants you to start where you are at and just take whatever money you have now and think about what you need it to do before you get paid again. When we started, our first goal was their "live on last month's income" and once that happens, it does make it easier to plan for one month at a time but even before that point, their system works.

Now, ynab wasn't the only thing we changed. Craig started uber driving occasionally. We cut out of a few recurring expenses although to be honest, we didn't have a lot of those that we could cut. Our situation wasn't a case of a couple that can easily save $50 a month by cutting out starbucks trips. We probably wouldn't even save $50 a year if we cut out starbucks. Maybe $5 a year. But every bit helps I guess. I just don't think those things would have helped without YNAB. Seeing the money adding up in the savings category was a huge motivator for me because otherwise I felt like if I saved money, it would just be spent elsewhere with nothing to show for it at the end of the month (which may or may not have been true but either way, my thoughts mattered, motivation is key in saving!)

The verdict:

We, it's been just a few days under a year and we've hit all our major goals!

- Save enough to spend next months income or as YNAB would say, we aged our money.
- Save 6 months expenses
- Pay off both student loans (~$7000)

Yep, last night I payed off our last student loan! Our only debt right now is our mortgage. But as great as that is, knowing that we set some steep goals for ourself and achieved them together tops it. As does knowing that we are now on the same page and can easily talk about our priorities and come up with a plan for our future.

And you'll notice that we didn't put our goals in Dave Ramsey order. I read his books and they make sense but with three small kids, two old cars and pretty reasonable monthly payments on our student loans, we felt like switching the loans and savings made sense. We also didn't mess with our previous retirement stuff. Craig was great about setting that up when he first got his job and I don't even see it as incoming money so we just left it as it was. We could have met our other goals a bit quicker had we taken that money as well but I'm glad we didn't. Now it's time to set some new goals - and I think a minivan is gonna be one of those!

*Now, if you've been following the basement remodel and are confused, I will add that that is all due to a very generous gift from my father and that money is completely separate. I just don't want you all thinking we did all this saving stuff while paying for a basement remodel! And its a good reminder overall that you don't know other people's situations, don't compare, don't assume, just do what your family needs you to do. Keeping your eyes on the prize was my goal this year.