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Reading

Top Books of 2018

Granted, I realize I have some time before the end of the year, and I do plan on finishing up a few books before the dawn of 2019, but if you’re like me, you ask for books (or Amazon gift cards) for Christmas. And you, like me, may have a Goodreads list with dozens of books listed there. Well, here’s some more you might want to add. Please note that few of these were published this year. I just grab books either because I notice them at the library or on Goodreads or someone passes them along to me. I have very little reason other than, “Hmm. Looks good.”

First off, let’s have a comprehensive look at the books I’ve read this year, not counting my top four.

The Lady of the Rivers by Philippa Gregory

Swan Song by Robert R. McCammon (Fantastic post- apoplectic book, but too disturbing at times)

Three Sisters, Three Queens by Philippa Gregory (Obviously I love Philippa Gregory; great historical fiction writer, always a satisfying read – but did not make my honorable mention or top book list)

The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova (Great story, disappointing climax)

A Constellation of Vital Phenomena by Anthony Marra

The White Princess by Philippa Gregory

The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood (Also, I hear she’s coming out with a sequel!)

Searching for Sunday by Rachel Held Evans

Dance, Stand, Run by Jess Connolly

Jesus Feminist by Sarah Bessey

Of Mess and Moxie by Jen Hatmaker

Dracula by Bram Stoker

Okay. I’m pretty satisfied with that list. With that list alone, you have variety with good writers of fiction and nonfiction. That list alone could get you through 2019. But now let’s go through honorable mentions, because I couldn’t pick just one:

Outlander by Diana Gabaldon
Don’t roll your eyes, but, for real, the book is better than the series. I’ve watched the first season of the series, which covers the first book. It’s not that it’s not good, but I’m just not a fan of torture. That’s one of the reason why I gave up Game of Thrones. I’m not into that. Gabaldon does a better job conveying her story than Starz does.

Fear: Trump in the White House by Bob Woodward
I mean, come on. It’s Bob Woodward. BOB WOODWARD. How could you not want to read this? But, in all seriousness, it was a fantastic book because Woodward does a great job being unbiased. It’s a good, solid piece of journalism here. My only complaint was the obscene use of profanity throughout the book. I understand he is quoting these individuals directly and that, as it was in a book format and not a newspaper, he has more than the necessary freedom to print those words. It was just a lot. A. Lot.

The Business of Being a Writer by Jane Friedman
I actually took an online class with literary agent Rachelle Gardner over the spring, and I picked this book up at our library on a whim when I saw it. Good, solid advice that echoed Gardner’s classes.

Now, the part we’ve all been waiting for.

Drumroll, please.

My Top Four Books of 2018

Fight Club by Chuck Palahniuk
The first rule of Fight Club is that you don’t talk about Fight Club. Oh, Chuck Palahniuk. I listened to this on audiobook on my way to New Orleans for a conference. It was a terrible travelling experience, but this audiobook made the trip worth it.

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Just Show Up: The Dance of Walking through Suffering Together by Kara Tippetts
I will buy this book for everyone because it is that good. So many times we want to help friends or loved ones who are dealing with a debilitating disease – but we don’t know how. This book offers practical, real-life advice through personal experience and testimony. Props to my cousin’s wife, Nikki, for recommending it on Instagram.

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Faith and Doubt by John Ortberg
This is another one that I would buy for everyone – if it were readily available. I have had a hard time finding copies of this, but if you happen to see it, GET IT. Rachel Held Evans’ book “Searching for Sunday” talks about her disappointment in the church and wavering belief in God. This book is what her book wanted to be. It is real, it is honest, it is backed by Scripture, and it is good.

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Grace-Based Parenting by Tim Kimmel
If I had to pick a book of 2018, it is this one. I LOVED this book. I probably quoted the majority of it to Kyle. It has changed the way I parent my children for the better, and I am thankful to Kimmel for sharing his wisdom on this subject.

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There you have it! My top books of 2018! I still have a couple more I’m finishing up, but I’ll talk more about them in January.

What books did you love this year? Did you read any from my list?

 

celebrations, Parenting

Milk & cookies

When I was a kid, every Christmas Eve we had epic Christmas parties with families and friends. Those nights are some of the highlights of my childhood. The adults would stay inside, eating and drinking hot cider, and the kids would be running around like wild heathens outside, playing hide and seek and chase. Often, we’d have visits from Santa during the parties, too.

In fact, one of my first realizations that I did not want to be a newspaper reporter my entire life was working my first Christmas Eve after college graduation and knowing I was missing my family’s party. I was so irritated, because I absolutely loved those parties.

Since then, with my own kids, I thought about starting our own Christmas Eve parties to keep up the tradition – but it didn’t work for our family. Our church hosts a beautiful, memorable Christmas Eve service every year – and I did not want to miss that or ask others to miss out, either.

So, instead, we host Milk & Cookies parties for the kids one morning before Christmas. It’s wild and chaotic and filled with sprinkles and sugar. And while I call it a Milk & Cookies party, it’s really more of a Milk-and-cookies-and-pjs-and-watch-The-Grinch party. Because that’s what we do. The kids (and I) wear Christmas pajamas and eat way too many cookies (most of the time guests are sent home with a bag of cookies as well) and we have the old Grinch cartoon playing in the background. I say in the background because, in our four years of hosting this party, I’m not sure if the kids have ever finished the movie. Did I mention the cookies? Yeah. Usually they’re all sugared up, running around and playing in the kids’ rooms. And it is wonderful. It’s beautiful and lovely because the parents and I are watching our kids with these new traditions, growing up together.

This year, for the first time, The Artist asked if we would have the Grinch party this year. She’s remembering it now, and those memories are good. They are grand. She knows her friends will come over and play and I won’t tell her one time to stop eating all the cookies she wants (She and The Engineer managed to eat quite a lot last year by sneaking cookies off of peoples’ plates).

When I was first married, I thought we needed to have certain traditions that first year – but all the traditions I tried to form never worked. We tried to go to Natchitoches every New Year’s Eve. Nope. Worked for three years and that was it. We tried to go certain places for Christmas. That didn’t work.

The best holiday traditions we have now are the ones that just started naturally. I hosted the first Milk & Cookies party when The Artist was almost two, and our group of friends had maybe 5 kids among 5 families. Now – now, we have about 20 kids who come in about 8 or 9 families.

We somehow started a Christmas tradition without even realizing it. And that one is one I’ll treasure forever.

That and lying in bed on Christmas Eve and laughing as Kyle irritably puts together way too complicated Christmas toys while watching “Christmas Vacation.”

Hey, I never said I was a saint.

Parenting

Pine cone surprise

Christmas, in Louisiana, is generally a hot, humid celebration. We don’t don Christmas sweaters or fuzzy boots or scarves – unless you want to sweat to death. Granted, this doesn’t happen every year, and every now and then the temperature will dip to the high 30s – but in my 30+ years of life, I have never experienced a Louisiana white Christmas.

But we still participate in Christmas activities – looking at Christmas lights, drinking hot chocolate, making snowflakes out of coffee filters (since we don’t have real snow). Last year, I thought it would be fun to make pine cone birdseed ornaments. We live on the edge of the woods, and we frequently have an assortment of animals besides birds and squirrels – deer, raccoons, possums (which is how I spell and pronounce “opossum”). In fact, just a couple of weeks ago, I had a raccoon hanging from my door – no joke. And the wildlife has never bothered me; I enjoy seeing the little animals outside, as do my kiddos.

So, anyway – these pine cone feeders. By the grace of God, the person who built our house also determined that pine trees are evil and removed every single one of them off of our four-acre property.  I literally live in the “Piney Hills,” and I have no pine trees. So to acquire pine cones, the girls and I headed to Tech, where I teach, to collect pine cones.

We grabbed about 12 and placed them in paper bags in the back of the car. We drove home and went outside to work on our sweet feeders. I grabbed the birdseed and peanut butter and placed it on our outdoor table with the kids, then I grabbed the pine cones. I handed one to The Engineer and one to The Artist. The kids giggled and had peanut butter and birdseed everywhere. It was a hot mess, but it was sweet and precious.

They finished their first pine cone ornament feeder, and I tied a red string around it to hang outside. I was thinking how picturesque the day was — nice temps in the upper 60s, my girls placing peanut butter to help feed the animals this winter. The kids did a few more pine cones and then we got to the last one. I took it out of the paper bag.

There was a wasp in it.

Y’ALL.

It was dadgum middle of December, and there was a LIVE WASP HIDING IN ONE OF OUR PINE CONES. I mean, WHAT THE HECK???? Those things are supposed to be dead or hiding (okay, maybe it was hiding, but I digress) in the winter. And I had brought that wasp home with me IN MY CAR.

I fight wasps all summer in our backyard – and often in our house. They’re everywhere. They should be our state bird because THEY ARE EVERYWHERE. But I do not expect to see them in the winter. It’s like mosquitoes (which are our state bird). If we have to deal with a snowless winter, we shouldn’t have to see mosquitoes – or wasps.

But that day last December, we did.

Suffice to say, we did not do any more pine cone feeders.

Also, truth be told, I may not let them create the feeders this year, either. I’m not all for holding wasps in my hand like that. Granted, maybe that was a fluke experience, but I’d rather not repeat the experience.

We’ll just stick to our snowflake coffee filters this year.

 

 

celebrations, Parenting, Sweet girls

Christmas toys

Happy December!

I don’t know about everyone else, but I’m pretty ready for Dec. 25 when I can pull out all the toys I’ve hidden around my house. The girls are getting older now – and much more agile – and it’s getting harder and harder to hide their gifts. We’ve been storing most of them in Kyle’s car, though I do have some in the closet where they can’t reach.

As they also can’t read – or at least can’t access the Internet and this blog, I thought I would share what our little Engineer and Artist are getting for Christmas. I always look to other parents to see what they’re getting their kids so I can get some ideas, so I thought I’d share what we bought the kids Thanksgiving night while lying in bed in pjs and watching Netflix (which is the only way to shop this time of the year).

Both of the girls are into “Paw Patrol” and “Puppy Dog Pals,” but The Artist also loves her American Girl doll, Mary Ellen. In her letter to Santa, she specifically asked for a car for Mary Ellen (In case you were like me and did not know until recently, please be aware there is a Target brand for American Girl — Santa has a budget!!) and a Skye (“Paw Patrol”) doll.

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So, yes, she received both of those — and The Engineer will receive a Skye doll too, because we don’t want to deal with her stealing Big Sister’s doll. Because it will happen otherwise.

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Both kids also received mermaid tail blankets with reverse sequins – reverse sequins have been a BIG deal for The Artist for a year now. She loves them. They also love cuddling in blankets and watching TV, so I thought these would be practical, too. And, yes, both got the same color blanket – again, not fighting over colors this year.

Speaking of colors – each kid got a big box of crayons, too. We go through crayons like Kleenex at our house. The girls color and draw every day, and we have gone through a big box of crayons since school started this fall. So I figured two huge boxes would help for this coming spring.

The Engineer (again, she is two), has the Paw Patrol Lookout Tower, which will be probably just slightly shorter than she is. She’s going to be so excited – so will The Artist. I can totally see them both playing with this a lot during break.

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The Engineer also received a new pair of shoes, because she desperately needs some, a Paw Patrol Look and Find Book, and a Skye hat because her hats are too small. We don’t usually wear hats in Louisiana during winter, but we’ll have about a week of super cold weather, so she’ll need a hat then.

The Artist (who is five) also received a pair of shoes, which are needed, a new church dress (also needed), and a book on how to draw fairies and mermaids.

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We try to get the kids four big gifts: something they want, something they need, something to wear, and something to read. We succeeded for these four, and then they’ll receive small stocking stuffers as well, like nail polish, stamps, and candy canes – or mermaid tail blankets and colors, ha!

Lastly, too, we have the kids pick out a gift for each other – so in a few weeks, I’ll take The Artist shopping to get her sister a gift and then The Engineer will “pick” out a gift for her sister. It’ll probably be hair ribbons. Girl needs some new bows.

What are your kids getting for Christmas?

Running, Uncategorized

The 10k

Our city held the Rock Island Greenway 10k and half marathon a couple of weeks ago, covering grass, asphalt, and trail. Kyle and I both ran the race – it was our first race together since the Warrior Dash in 2012 (pre-kids) and his first 10k ever. So, in other words…

lti1z

We arrived at the race super early. I say super early because I mixed up the times of the races. The half marathon began at 7:30 a.m. — the 10k began at 8. So we froze. FROZE. Guys, I’m from Louisiana. I’m not all into standing impatiently this 40 degree morning weather.

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Freezing before the race began

But when the race finally began — oh, it was great! Racing invigorates my love for running. I can feel completely burned out from running, wondering why I would ever sign up and pay money to run, and then the event begins. And all those negative thoughts get pushed aside as I remember why I love racing. Running together with a large group of people, everyone cheering each other on, knowing that you’re running some long distance — it’s a great rush. And I love the individual competition for most individuals. I’m not trying to win a race. I’m competing against myself, no one else. So there’s a camaraderie with most runners. During the race, I had several people say, “You’re doing great! You’ve got great pace!” Well, well. Let me just deflate my head a bit so I can keep up that great pace.

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The hill we started the race on — and that’s Kyle finishing the race and running downhill on it.

I will say, though, I certainly felt my ill preparation for the race. I had spent most of my time inside running on a treadmill (#lazyrunner). I had the distance down, but I did not have the elevation. This race STARTED on a hill — not just any hill, either, but a hill I generally avoid in my own running routes because it is a beast. But that’s okay — the race had just started, my adrenaline was pumping, and I went slow. Slow is never really how you want to start a race, but it was necessary with that huge hill.

 

I usually will use the MapMyRun app when running so I can work on my pace, but my phone was a little squirrley that day, so I opted not to use the app, which actually messed with my time. Remember that awesome pace I had? Yeah, it was awesome — too much so. I generally will run a 10-minute mile. But I had a 5k pace of about 25 minutes — way, WAY too fast. And that definitely messed with me for the last three miles, which included  a one-mile upward hill (okay, okay, it was like half a mile…or at least a quarter mile — at any rate, it was awful).

My goal was to finish the 10k in under an hour — which would be hard but not impossible.

I finished the race at 58:34.

Despite the hills, the changing terrain, and my poor training, I still did it — I still finished the 10k in under 60 minutes. Definitely came close, but I succeeded and even finished sixth in my age group.

Kyle did great as well. For those of you who don’t know, my husband is a Type 1 diabetic. Running is a bit of a challenge for him because he has to watch that his blood sugar doesn’t bottom out during running. I was a bit nervous for him, but he completed the race with no problems.

And then to celebrate — well, we took a nap!