Friday, December 31, 2010

2010 Books End of Year Review

This year, I was finally able to start reading for enjoyment again.  Baby D has been a fairly demanding baby, and I hadn't had much time before to do much of anything.  This year, I read 22 books (including the chapter read alouds to Miss Dainty.)  (At least, that's what I kept track of, there might be more.)

My favorite read aloud with Miss Dainty was:  James Herriot's Treasury for Children.  This was such a great and heartwarming read.  The stories were wonderful and the illustrations were beautiful.  Miss Dainty really enjoyed each and every story.

My favorite Christian nonfiction/Bible study type book was:  The Divine Mentor by Wayne Cordeiro.  Absolutely my favorite by far.  I did not do the SOAP journal the entire year like I had wanted, but when I did, I learned so much, and really felt a transformation in my quiet time.  My goal is to SOAP journal again through all of 2011.

My favorite nonfiction book was:  Eating Animals by Jonathan Safran Foer.  It was such an incredible and thought provoking book.

I didn't have a favorite fiction book.  I didn't read too many since my reading time was limited, but I did read a few books/authors that were recommended to me.  However, I was left disappointed. =(

I joined a few reading challenges for 2011, so I'm looking forward to getting started.  =)

2010 Knitting - End of Year Review

I just learned to knit in January 2010.  I have absolutely fallen in love with it!  It's my favorite thing to do now.  I mostly did small projects to learn on.  I can't wait to tackle some harder and bigger patterns.  Here it is the last day of the year, and I'm wondering if I can fit in one more project today...
Here are my stats for this year:

Total Projects knit: 25
 # of projects specifically for myself: 1

*Last one is crochet, but I needed one more pic to make my collage even.  Didn't include washcloths... =)

Finished Knitted Objects:
Scarves: 3
Mittens/Fingerless: 6 pair
Tops: 1 (simple baby top)
Washcloths: 2
Bibs: 1
Slippers: 1 pair

Techniques/Stitches accomplished:
  1. cast on
  2. bind off 
  3. garter/knit stitch
  4. purl stitch
  5. stockinette stitch
  6. rib stitch
  7. adding skein
  8. simple cables
  9. seed stitch
  10. waffle stitch
  11. whip stitch (blech.)
  12. picot edge
  13. gussets
  14. eyelets
  15. Ktbl
  16. Kfb
  17. K2Tog
  18. M1
  19. SSK
  20. knit on straight needles
  21. knit in round on DPNs
  22. knit in round on circulars
  23. add stitches in middle of row using single cast-on
  24. pick up stitches
  25. fix a dropped stitch (and a whole dropped section!)
  26. rip back and was able to put project back on needles
  27. tried continental style (but didn't use it in projects.) 
  28. magic loop knitting
  29. fair isle (first try)
Other stuff accomplished:

   30.  knit Christmas gifts
   31.  taught Miss Dainty to do knit stitch
   32.  knit in public

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Fair Isle: First Try

So, I posted earlier about trying out the Magic Loop method yesterday.  Well, I decided to try another technique today.  (Mr. Hubs is on leave right now, so we're pretty much being bums...  We have plenty of time on our hands right now.)

I thought about trying to do some color work, since I haven't really tried yet.  I tried intarsia first with a simple wrist warmer pattern from the Stitch 'N Bitch: The Knitter's Handbook.  But...  I got frustrated.  After restarting the little thing, oh, about three times, I decided to quit.  I browsed more patterns trying to find something else to start (not color work,) and decided I really wanted to try again.  I would not give up!  heh.  I decided to try fair isle instead, since it seemed easier, and chose a different picture chart.

And it was easier, I guess.  Annoying a bit, but easier.  However, I must have pulled the floating yarn strands in the back too tight, because the wrist warmer puckered a little bit.  It came out super small.  It was supposed to be for me, but it ended up fitting Miss Dainty.  So, at least she was happy. 

I'm happy, too.  That I at least tried fair isle, even if I didn't love it.  Hopefully, I'll get the intarsia thing more easily next time.  =)

Magic Loop Knitting

Back in October, I came across a 50% off coupon for Michaels and decided to buy the $69.99 Boye circular needle set for $35 to see if I liked the whole interchangeable needle idea.  A friend of mine had let me use her Knit Picks set for a few minutes, and I figured I'd try the cheaper brand before deciding if I wanted to spend the extra money on that set (which was really, really nice.)   I tried the circulars on a few projects and used them for straight knitting and knitting in the round.  I liked them enough, the only thing that bothered me was that if I didn't watch the screws connecting the needle tips to the cable, they could come undone.  Once I got into the habit of checking it though, it didn't bother me.

A few days ago, I had another 50% off coupon for Michaels, and debated getting another circular set because I had read somewhere that you can knit in the round using 2 circular needles.  I thought that would be a good way to save money on needles, since this set contained needles from size 2-15, with 20", 24", 29", and 36" cables.  I practically wouldn't need to buy any more needles!  Since I didn't mind using the first set, I really considered it and went ahead and bought the second set.

Yesterday, I ran across a discussion in the Ravelry forums about Magic Loop knitting, and decided I wanted to give it a try before I opened the second circular set.  It was the perfect time to try it, because I had a baby hat I've been wanting to make for someone which called for size 10.5 DPNS, which I didn't have, but my circular needles would still be too long to knit the little hat with.  This is the video I used, but of course there are a ton of them:

So, I connected the 36" and 29" cables from the first interchangeable needle set, and attempted the magic loop.  At first, I was fumbling with the cables the whole time, and I felt like my knitting was so inconsistent, but eventually I got used to it.  The only issue I had was getting the stitches from the cable back onto the needles.  The stitches were stubborn and didn't want to go back on.  Perhaps my knitting was running tight.  I also couldn't figure out how to effectively use a stitch marker to mark my rounds, but the tail let me know when I was starting another round. However, it was nice to only have to deal with 2 needles versus 4, and the fact that Baby D couldn't come up when I wasn't looking and run off with a DPN leaving dropped stitches was a really big bonus.
In the end, I was really pleased with the baby hat, and the magic loop method.  I will definitely be using it instead of DPNs.  Which is awesome, because that saves a lot of money not having to buy all those DPNs, and on the other hand pretty much removes that limit of only knitting things that I have certain size needles for!  I'm so excited to try the method on more projects. 

Monday, December 27, 2010

Winter Storm

We got about a foot of snow yesterday.  So, of course we had to take the girls out.  I had fun for about 10 minutes... then I was ready to go inside.  =)   I'm not much of a snow person, however, I did get to try out my mittens!  They were awesome!
Like my dorky pose?  haha

The mittens kept my hands warm.  I was very impressed with the yarn.  I think I'm going to make the kids some mittens out of it now.  Their mittens didn't keep their hands very warm, but I had only used worsted weight yarn, not bulky or anything.  =/  Now I know.

Mr Hubs and the kids enjoyed the snow much more than I did.  Mr Hubs even broke out his zombie costume for a few post apocalyptic-ish zombie photos... lol Here's a pic of the hubby.  They all had a blast.  I had fun taking the pictures.  =)

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Christmas & Santa's Big Scramble

Christmas Eve, Mr Hubs had duty. =/ The girls and I went to church in the afternoon for our first ever candle light service. It was beautiful! After coming home and eating dinner, we made cookies for Santa. Miss Dainty chose the chocolate chip mint cookies from The Joy of Vegan Baking. They were pretty good. I wish I could have taken more pictures of them helping with the baking, but it was hard enough keeping them from eating the non-tasty ingredients, and spilling flour all over the place. They had a blast though.

On Christmas morning, my grandparents drove in.  This actually was a bit of a surprise, because up until the day before, I thought they weren't coming down due to our impending bad weather.  But they decided to drive down and at least stay for a few hours to see the girls open their presents.

When Mr Hubs finally made it home from work, we started on brunch: soy chorizo and potato breakfast burritos.  They were awesome!  I absolutely adored watching my grandma help my girls roll out tortillas.  I remember her helping me when I was younger.  It was so incredibly sweet.  I love it when they get to spend quality time with my grandparents.
After breakfast, we opened presents.  There were plenty of priceless moments, but two will stay in my mind forever.  The first was the look on my grandma's face when she opened the rose scented rosary from (and blessed at) the Vatican in Rome.  (We only recently re-found it after moving back here a year and a half ago!) Her expression was priceless, and the moment was incredible for me.  And second was when Miss Dainty opened her skateboard.  Her eyes lit up when she recognized what it was, and she screamed, "It's a SKATEBOARD!!!  SANTA GOT ME WHAT I ASKED FOR!!!  IT'S A SKATEBOARD!!!"  Now there is an interesting story behind it, too.
Miss Dainty hadn't asked for anything in particular for Christmas throughout the entire Christmas season.  We choose not to have cable and the like, so she never sees all the millions of commercials telling her what she has to have to be the coolest kid on the street.  So, we were just going to get a few fun things and leave it at that, especially since a few family members had sent gifts to them.

Three days before Christmas, Miss Dainty decided to write a very last minute letter to Santa.  She wrote:  "Dear Santa, For Christmas I'd like a skateboard and a Kung Fu Panda set with a red belt and a sword.  And for my sister, can you bring her a new baby doll and a baby bed?"

Immediately, I panicked, only because the things she thoughtfully asked for her sister, I knew her sister was already getting from my grandparents.  What are the chances of that?  How would Miss Dainty feel on Christmas morning, if Santa had brought Baby D what she had asked for her, but not what she had asked for herself?  Oh dear.  What a problem!

And I had figured, up until this point, that Miss Dainty had come to the conclusion that Santa was just for fun.  She had been asking tons of questions about whether or not Santa was real, and how he traveled all over the world in one night, etc. etc.  At one point while running into a "Santa" at a store who would pose for pictures with the kids, she told me, "Mom, I don't think that was Santa.  I think that was just a regular guy."  And then a few minutes later, she said, "Man!  I should have asked him if the reindeer really fly!"  Needless to say, I really didn't know what to say.

So, there I was "mailing" Miss Dainty's letter on the way to the store, wondering what were we going to do?  While at the store, I quickly looked for either of her wishes, and found neither.  I texted Mr Hubs who was at the Nex on base and asked him to look.  He called later and said he had no luck finding the items there either.

After the girls and I got home that afternoon, I started preparing Miss Dainty for the chance that maybe her letter had gotten there too late, or perhaps Santa got her something different.  Mr Hubs called again on his way home from work and said he would stop by Toys R Us and hopefully find something.  They had no Kung Fu Panda products.  (I guess that's the only bad thing when your kids don't watch commercials, they don't even know what's "popular.")  I thought about asking him to stop by a karate school to see if he could buy a uniform, although that would be quite a bit more expensive than a toy costume of some sort.  He later called and said he had found the skateboard!  So, we went with that instead.  We definitely lucked out!  I'm still surprised we were able to find one of her wishes on such late notice.

But when she opened that present (we saved it for the very last,) and had such a great reaction, it made the last minute scramble so completely worth it.

The girls loved everything they got though, and really all of their presents were so awesome: useful, family oriented, and/or creative.  Thanks to everyone who sent them presents, they were really great! 

Later, we all went to a good friend's house for a potluck dinner.  (I was bummed I forgot to take pictures.)  It was nice to hang out and chat while all of the kids played together.  And then, (thanks to Mr Hubs fixing my laptop's webcam... he's my HERO!!)  we were able to skype with family in Texas!!  It was so awesome!  It was such a great Christmas for us: quality family and friend time, and priceless moments.

I hope everyone had a great Christmas!

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Garden of Lights

Last night we took the girls to a surprise.  It took a bit of driving, and on the way Miss Dainty kept asking where we were going and what the surprise was.  Of course we kept telling her, "We're not telling you, it's a surprise!" 

Meanwhile, Baby D just sat in her carseat staring out the window because, really, what could a 2 year old do except just wait and see what it was we were doing.

Then Miss Dainty started asking questions like, "Are we going to get out of the car soon?  I'm kind of getting tired of being in here."

To which we answered, "No, we have to stay in the car."  She was a bit disappointed.

After a while, as we were getting closer to our destination, Mr Hubs asked Miss Dainty, "Are you pumped up?"  She asked what that meant, and I told her it meant if she was excited.

She said, "Well, I can't really say I'm pumped up, because I'm not that excited about staying in the car.  I don't know what's so exciting about staying in the car the whole time. So, no I'm not pumped up."

Oh, I couldn't stop laughing.  Ever the practical one.  We eventually did pull up to the surprise:  Garden of Lights at Norfolk Botanical Garden.  At first we had to wait in line for a while, and Miss Dainty was not impressed with the lights they had set up around the entry line.  But after seeing the more detailed scenes she indeed got "pumped up." 

My favorite scenes were the underwater scene (so cool to drive through,) the pink woodland scene (so adorable,) and a small section that looked like rain falling (couldn't capture on camera, but it was really neat.)  In the end, the girls loved it.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Tantrums... and knitting

I used to fight Miss Dainty's tantrums.  I did.  I tried everything.  Then for a short time, about the time when I was 7-9 months pregnant with Baby D, I quit fighting them.  There was really nothing I could do, honestly.  And so I would let Miss Dainty (who was about 3 1/2 then,) feel her emotions, uncontrollable or not, deal with them, and when she had calmed down enough we would talk it through.  She survived.  I survived.

So, tell me, why did I go back to fighting them?  I remember after we had just returned to the States, she went through a long tantrum phase.  And I didn't know what to do.  Mr. Hubs was still in Sicily and I had a 6 month old baby and an every single night tantrum throwing 4 year old.  I tried every single thing that had been given in advice to me.  Every single thing.  I was exhausted.  I was frustrated.  I cried.

After we moved into our current home, she would still throw them, just not as often.  The nights she did were insane.  Mr. Hubs would go to work exhausted in the morning after no rest.  We would all be so tired from fighting the tantrums.  Nothing would calm her down.  She would listen to no one.  It would be hours before she stopped.  We prayed every single time she threw one that it would be the last.  She phased out of it, though, thankfully.  Well, for the most part.  Every once in a while she still throws them.

Like tonight.  Oh, boy did Mr. Hubs miss a fun night tonight!  Two hours.  sigh....

Two.  Hours.  After.  Bedtime.

But guess what I did? 

I didn't fight it.  I didn't know what was causing the emotional outburst.  It could have been because I was busy all day cleaning and doing a ton of extra laundry (it's bedding day.)  Or it could be because Mr. Hubs had duty today.  Or perhaps because our schedule is out of whack due to holiday stuff.  Who knows.  I figured if she had some crazy emotions right then, then she had a right to feel them.  I also decided I wasn't going to let her behavior steal my relaxing time.  So, I picked up my current project, and I started to knit.  I knitted through the screams.  I knitted through the stomped feet.  I knitted through everything.  I would try to talk to her when I thought she was calming down, and if she wouldn't listen, I told her I'd wait.  And I did, and thanks to focusing on every single stitch, I was able to do so patiently.

She eventually calmed down and we talked it through.  She apologized and accepted her punishment (she is losing a LOT of stuff tomorrow.)  We cuddled for a few minutes and then she went to bed. 

Look how much I got done on my second mitten (when I picked it up, I was only a few rows into the first brown section:)
I honestly don't know why I didn't think of this before!

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Celebrating Christmas

We have pretty much been celebrating Christmas since December 1st.  As soon as I erased November from the eraser board calendar, Miss Dainty knew.  Every prayer is now ended with Miss Dainty's "Happy Birthday, Jesus!" followed by the question, "So how old is Jesus now?"  She makes me smile.

Today, we attended our homeschool group's Christmas party.  Miss Dainty had a ton of fun.  She played games, decorated cookies, made some ornaments, and listened to the guitar students play some Christmas carols.  It was great, and she loved spending time with friends.
After dinner, the girls wanted to finish decorating the Christmas tree.  I was trying to wait until Mr. Hubs gets back, but Miss Dainty has been waiting patiently all week, and he had said we could go ahead and finish it without him.  So, we did.  They clumped the ornaments together at the bottom in some places, and some of the ornaments weren't even hung.  Baby D just sort of shoved them in there and they kept falling off, and it took me a while to figure out why!  And of course, half of the candy canes did not make it up to the tree.  But the girls' expressions were priceless and their joy was contagious. 
I have no idea why they decided to keep their jackets on.  My kids are such goobers.  =)  We have also been reading our favorite Christmas book a lot lately:  The First Christmas by Carol Heyer.  The illustrations are gorgeous, and the writing is wonderful.  Such a great book.

I hope everyone is having a wonderful Christmas so far!  We are keeping ours very simple this year, and I am truly enjoying it.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

On Nature and How I've Missed It

With all the reading challenges, you can probably tell I've missed reading.  Baby D has been a fairly demanding baby, and only recently has she become a little more independent and self entertaining.  I almost don't know what to do with the stretches of free time during the day as she and her sister play.  ("And you want another one?!" I can hear Mr. Hubs saying in his usual dramatic way...)

One evening last month, Mr. Hubs stayed with the kids while I ran to the library.  I had intended on only picking up a knitting book, but of course I got distracted by the rows and rows of inviting titles and covers, which led to many books being opened.  I think, that after being with my family, being in a library aisle, with books to both my sides, is my favorite place to be.  I happened across the book Bird Songs of the Mesozoic by David Hopes.

The title caught my attention first, quickly followed by the cover art.  I love birds.  I love watching them, feeding them, listening to them.  It's fun and relaxing.  Miss Dainty's learned a lot by studying them, too, so that doesn't hurt.   When I realized it was more of a memoir or collection of essays, I almost put it back on the shelf.  I don't particularly enjoy memoir type books.  The few I've read seemed to drone on and on, with no specific plot, and that bothers me to no end.  I need a conflict, and I need a resolution.  But the last part of the title:  A Day Hiker's Guide to the Nearby Wild convinced me to at least give it a try.

When I read that, I instantly thought back to our time in Florida.  Mr. Hubs and I used to hike a lot back then.  Even after having Miss Dainty, we managed to be outdoors more often than not.  We would just put her in the backpack carrier and be on our happy way, enjoying the forests that we thought looked more like jungles at times, with friends who equally enjoyed the outdoors.  The Jacksonville area was awesome when it came to outdoorsy type activities.  They had numerous parks and forests that beckoned hikers, bikers, campers, photographers, and birdwatchers.  I loved it.  I've missed it.

**In the top left pic, I was pregnant, but we hadn't found out yet.  In the picture to its right, I was 7 months along and did a 4 mile hike.  =)

I've missed being out in nature, and looking at those pictures from Florida makes that feeling sink in even more.  I've tried here in Virginia, but it seems in our area (at the parks I've visited at least,) the trails are an after thought.  The boat ramps and playgrounds seem most important, and even Frisbee golf takes precedent over the trails at our nearest park.  I have to distract my kids away from the playgrounds for them to even notice nature, and even then, Miss Dainty constantly asks if it's time to go play yet.  I miss just being in nature. 

So, back to the book, I started it that night, and indeed it's been a slow read for me.  I have enjoyed some parts of his writing, especially where he speaks of his interaction with nature in his every day comings and goings.  I share in his appreciation for nature, yet we appreciate it for different reasons.  I'm not sure he really knows why he appreciates it, just that he does.  For me, spending time in nature observing creation, its beauty and intricacies, helps me connect to the Creator.  It's like spending time at a museum and observing a favorite painter's work.  You get to know the artist through his creation, and I feel that way about God and nature.

It reminds me of this passage in the Bible:
Romans 1:19-20 NIV  "since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. For since the creation of the world God's invisible qualities- his eternal power and divine nature- have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse."

On the other hand, the author alludes to a struggle with this concept, and I'm not even sure he meant to.  He first says on page 28 while hiking, "I stop in the road and ask myself, 'What are you afraid of?' Of staying forever the way I am.  Of dying alone and friendless.  Of fighting with God so much that he turns away from me."  I found this an interesting peek into the author's innermost thoughts and struggles.  But then he goes on to say, "None of those things is here.  None of them is coming at me out of the shadows of the forest."  And that is where he was wrong.  His struggle with God would be coming out of the forest, simply due to God's presence in His work, and the author's struggle to acknowledge it.

Later, on page 66, he expresses a struggle with the idea of evolution.  Talking about the evolution of the dragonfly from a larvae type creature, he writes, "What I want to know is, how were they summoned into shining air?  How did it cross their unimaginable little minds even to commence such a journey?  Yes, I know how it's supposed to work, but all the time there has been since the beginning of time should not be enough to turn the one thing into the other."  Exactly, Mr. Hopes.

The book is not meant to be spiritual in the least.  It's a collection of essays on how "nature finds you wherever you are."  But honestly, where there is nature, there is God, naturally.  I am only about halfway done with the book, and I will probably finish it in hopes of more insights and epiphanies on the author's part concerning nature and God.  I'm curious to see if they are in there.  If what is on the cusp of his understanding will click, if what is on the tip of his tongue will be professed.

The book has served as a gentle reminder of how much I missed being outdoors, though.  Sure, I notice things while I'm out and about.  I always do.  The changing color of the leaves, a flock of birds singing as we get home, an interesting bug to point out to the girls, a lizard or turtle sunbathing.  But I miss being immersed in it, in His creation.  Of course, God is always with us, but I enjoy that visual and physical presence found in nature.

Luckily for me, after realizing this, I remembered our Girl Scout troop would be doing a hike, but couldn't recall the exact day (although I knew it was to happen soon.)  When I checked my notes, would you believe it was the very next day?  Good thing I was prompted to check, or we would have missed out on it.  Instead, we went, and enjoyed it.  Miss Dainty ran off on the trails with the girls, while I (with Baby D on my back,) enjoyed, with a renewed appreciation, the scenery, the fresh air, the crunch of the leaves, the sun's warmth (a last farewell before the cold hit.)  And I reveled in it and so did Miss Dainty, and that made me happy. 
Even if I end up not finishing the book, it has served a purpose for me: a reminder of something I love and miss dearly.  Of something I've always wanted to share with my children, and yet haven't been as much as I had intended.  Living in Sicily got us into the habit of not going out with the single purpose of enjoying nature, there was nowhere nearby to go to do so, but now that we are back in the States, I want to change that.  I'm looking forward to it.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

2011 Off the Shelf Challenge

Off The Shelf!

This is the last 2011 challenge I'm joining. The point of this one is to read books that are sitting on your shelf. I have a ton of those, and I keep adding on to them (finding that local used book store hasn't helped at all.) At first I was thinking about doing the Trying level (15 books) but after stacking up 15 books of mine, it was quite daunting to look at. (I am, after all, just getting back into reading.)

So, I'm starting out at the Tempted level (5 books.) Hopefully, though, I will manage to get even more off of my shelf.  If I do, I will continue to add them.

Actual list of books completed:
  1. Matched by Allie Condie.  (on my shelf since Nov. '10)  Finished 1/3/11.  Zomg.  Get it off my shelf and out of my house! haha
  2. Little House in the Big Woods by Laura Ingalls Wilder (on my shelf since Sept. '10)  Finished 1/15/11
  3. The Choice by Nicholas Sparks (on  my shelf since June '10)  Finished 1/17/11
  4. 1984 by George Orwell. (on my shelf since '00)  Finished 2/9/11 
  5. The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd. (on my shelf since June '10)  Finished 2/16/11.
    ***Reached original goal of 5 books off the shelf! ***
  6. Little House on the Prairie by Laura Ingalls Wilder.  (on my shelf since Sept. '10)  Finished 2/27/11.
  7. A Voice in the Wind by Francine Rivers. (on my shelf since Nov. '10.)  Finished 3/11/11. 
  8. An Echo in the Darkness by Francine Rivers.  (on my shelf since Nov. '10) Finished 3/16/11. 
  9. As Sure as the Dawn by Francine Rivers.  (on my shelf since Nov. '10) Finished 3/29/11. 
  10. On the Banks of Plum Creek by Laura Ingalls Wilder.  (on my shelf since Sept '10.)  Finished 3/31/11. 
  11. My Sister's Keeper by Jodi Picoult. (on my shelf since Nov. '10) Finished 4/5/11. 
  12. By the Shores of Silver Lake by Laura Ingalls Wilder.  (on my shelf since Sept. '10.) Finished 5/25/11.

Earlier list of the 5 books I've chosen (I finished all of them, so the list is removed.)
Then if I get to them:
10.  The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson
11.  Red-Tails in Love by Marie Winn
12.  Atonement by Ian McEwan

Check out the Off the Shelf Challenge over at BA Reading Challenges!

*last updated 4/5/11 
I might actually get my list up to 15!

2011 Dystopia Reading Challenge

I will be participating in the 2011 Dystopia Challenge!  When I used to read a ton, I loved this genre, so I'm really looking forward to getting back into it.  I'm starting at the Asocial level (1-5 books,) though, because of all the other challenges I'm doing to get back into reading.  

Dystopia Challenge

The books I've read for this challenge:
  1. Matched by Ally Condie -  Finished 1/3/11.  Meh.  2 out of 5.  I wasn't impressed.
  2. ______ by ______.  1/19-27.  4 out of 5.
  3. 1984 by George Orwell. 2/9/11.  5 stars! 
  4. Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins. 6/5/11.  4 stars. 
  5. The Giver by Lois Lowry.  6/23/11.  3 stars.
    ******** Reached original goal of 5 dystopia books!

 Books to read:
1984 by George Orwell (this has been on my shelf for ages!)
Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury
The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood
I am Legend by Richard Matheson

Care to join?  Check out the challenge at BA Reading Challenges!

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Thirty Days of Thanksgiving: Day 30

Wow, I can't believe it's the last day of November already!  Where did this month go?

Today, I am thankful for:

76.  nature.
77.  a beautiful, warm day to enjoy outside before the cold hits.
78.  our silly cats that make us laugh.
79. and finding an old mp3 player laying around the house.  (I'm married to an IT... there are always unused electronics laying around, and fortunately at least one of us knows how to work them.)  I'm getting some audio books to try to listen to while knitting.  We'll see how it goes.  I'm not much of an audio learner. 
80.  this blog challenge.  (Thanks Angela!)  It really helped me get back into blogging, and I loved reflecting on all the things I have to be thankful for this month.  It's truly made me realize how blessed we are.  Not only do I have essentials of life to be thankful for, but so many, many extras.  I really enjoyed reading my friends' posts, too.  I felt connected with them as we all did the same Thankfulness challenge.  This was a lot of fun, and I can't believe today is the last day!

Monday, November 29, 2010

Thirty Days of Thanksgiving: Day 29

Today, I am thankful for:

72.  Mr. Hubs making it to the alteration place right before they closed, and that they took his uniform at such short notice (meaning I don't have to sew on patches!)
73.  the Christmas music station on  We listened to it as we put the tree up tonight.  We need to go get some hooks for the ornaments though.  Last year's seem to have disappeared.
74.  for the peace that I have about upcoming events.
75.  being able to stay at home with my girls.  I love it, and it is such a blessing.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Thirty Days of Thanksgiving: Day 28

Today, I am thankful for:

67.  my mom!  Today is her birthday.  =)  She is such a wonderful person, always selfless and loving.  I miss her... wish I lived closer to her.  I'm also thankful I got to talk to her for quite a while today.
68.  a great dinner with awesome friends.
69.  meeting and getting to know Mr. Hub's good friend's wife, and having a lot in common with her. 
70.  a friend thinking of me.  She gave me cotton sock yarn today!  Can't wait to try knitting my first pair of socks.  It was such a nice surprise.
71.  Mr. Hubs loving the things I knitted for him:

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Thirty Days of Thanksgiving: Day 27

Today, I am thankful for:

65.  a fun family day celebrating Baby D's birthday.
66.  my grandparents being able to drive down to join us.

Once again, nothing went as I had planned it. I think this is becoming the theme of my life lately!  (Apparently, there is Someone who thinks I need to work on my control issues...)  But I am getting better at going with the flow (at least I think so.)  Baby D was terribly fussy this morning, and I was exhausted after a rough night with her.  Mr. Hubs got home this morning from duty and had to get some sleep.  My grandparents arrived a little earlier than I expected, but that was a nice surprise.  I made cupcakes instead of the cake I didn't have time to decorate.  I didn't get a chance to go to the store to get the decorations I had planned on putting up.  And we ended up grabbing a take out Japanese order instead of going to a restaurant for lunch, like we had hoped for.  BUT when everything was said and done, like my grandma told me, Baby D didn't know anything was wrong at all.  She had fun.  She loved her cupcakes.  She loved her gifts.  She was adorable opening her presents.  Her face lit up at the baby doll my grandparents got her, and then of course the Diego DVDs rocked her world!  =)   It was so sweet to see the girls spend some quality time with my grandparents.  I'm so glad they could make it.  We had a great time.

Men In Uniform 2011 Reading Challenge

Another reading challenge for next year:

Men in Uniform Reading Challenge

I will be choosing the Sergeant level - read 1-5 Men in Uniform novels.  This will be a new genre for me, but I have always wanted to read up more on military topics, so this will be a good opportunity to do so.

Care to join?  See the challenge here at The Book Vixen!

I'll be keeping track of the books I've read on this post.

Outdo Yourself 2011 Reading Challenge

I found a few reading challenges that I will be partaking in next year, because, you know, here pretty soon, I will have a ton of extra time in the evenings that will need to be filled with something.

The first is:

Outdo Yourself Reading Challenge

This should be fairly easy for me, since this year (2010) I've only read 16 books so far (with another 2 I will hopefully finish by December.)

I ended the year with 22 books (including chapter read alouds with my oldest daughter.)

I'm going for the "Out of Breath" level - read 6-10 more books than the previous year.  So, that would put my goal at:  28-32 books next year.

I will be keeping track of what books I read on this post.
Want to join me?  See the challenge here at The Book Vixen's blog!

Books Read:
  1.  Matched by Ally Condie.  Finished 1/3/11.  2 out of 5 stars.  Meh.
  2. Little House in the Big Woods by Laura Ingalls Wilder. Finished 1/15/11. 4 out of 5 stars.
  3. The Choice by Nicholas Sparks.  Finished 1/17/11.  2 out of 5 stars.  Just not my genre.
  4. Gooney Bird Green by Lois Lowry.  Finished 1/23/11.  4 out of 5 stars. 
  5. The Whale by Cynthia Rylant.  Finished 1/25/11.  3 out of 5 stars.  Super quick, I almost don't want to add it in, but I said I was counting read aloud books, too.  I did expect this one to be longer, though. Oh well. 
  6. The Dispossessed by Ursula K. LeGuin. 1/19-27.  4 out of 5.  Thought provoking. (Hidden because this book deals with my rav swap, and I don't want to give my spoilee any clue that I'm her spoiler...) 
  7. Cam Jansen and the Mystery of the Gold Coins by David Adler.  1/28/11. 3 out of 5 stars.  These are getting to be too easy for night time chapter read alouds.  I'm thinking Miss Dainty will just have to start reading these herself. 
  8. Boneshaker by Cherie Priest. 2/2/11.  4 out of 5 stars.   
  9. Bleach Volume 1: Strawberry and the Soul Reapers by Tite Kubo.  2/5/11.  4 out of 5 stars. 
  10. 1984 by George Orwell.  2/9/11.  5 stars! 
  11. The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd.  2/16/11.  3 stars 
  12. The Seven Wonders That Will Change Your Life by Glenn Beck and Keith Ablow, M.D.  2/20/11 
  13. The Sandman: Preludes & Nocturnes by Neil Gaiman.  2/23/22.  4 stars.
  14. Little House on the Prairie by Laura Ingalls Wilder.  2/27/11.  4 stars.
  15. A Voice in the Wind by Francine Rivers.  3/11/11.  5 stars. 
  16. An Echo in the Darkness by Francine Rivers.  3/16/11.  5 stars. 
  17. Schooled by Gordon Korman.  3/16/11.  3 Stars. 
  18. The Color of the Earth by Kim Dong Hwa.  3/21/11.  5 stars. 
  19. As Sure as the Dawn by Francine Rivers.  3/29/11.  5 stars. 
  20. On the Banks of Plum Creek by Laura Ingalls Wilder.  3/31/11.  4 stars. 
  21. My Sister's Keeper by Jodi Picoult.  4/5/11.  2 stars.
  22. What We Keep by Elizabeth Berg.  4/7/11.  3 stars. 
  23. 100 Income Streams for Full Time Moms by Randi Lynn Millward.  5/10/11.  4 stars.  Good starting point. 
  24. The Color of Water by Kim Dong Hwa.  5/17/11.  5 stars. 
  25. By the Shores of Silver Lake by Laura Ingalls Wilder.  5/25/11.  4 stars. 
  26. The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins.  6/5/11.  4 stars.
  27. The Color of Heaven by Kim Dong Hwa. 6/16/11. 5 stars.
  28. The Giver by Lois Lowry.  6/23/11.  3 stars.
    Reached original goal!

    Friday, November 26, 2010

    Thirty Days of Thanksgiving: Day 26

    Today, I am thankful for:

    64. our wonderful daughter, Baby D, who turned 2 today.

    (I cheated, this picture is from October.  =)  We're celebrating tomorrow, so I'll have new pics then.)

    Dear Baby D,
    Where have the past two years gone?  Just yesterday we were bringing you home from the hospital, you were taking your first steps, saying your first word.  And now?  Now you are running after your big sister, expressing your ideas and wishes as best as you know how, and always, always being a goofball.  You definitely got your daddy's personality.  You brighten our days, Baby D.  Your sister loves to see you first thing in the morning.  Your daddy loves to see you run to him as he comes through the door after a long day at work.  You bring laughter to our lives with your crazy little antics.  We are always waiting to see what you do or say next.  Your smile makes us smile.  Your hugs bring us happiness.  We are so blessed that God gave you to us.  You are a wonderful daughter and sister, and we look forward to seeing the person you are going to grow up to be...  but please, just take your time.
    Mommy, Daddy, and your Big Sister

    Thanksgiving 2010

    Like I said yesterday, our Thanksgiving turned out wonderful.  I had a hard time getting started though.  I was feeling inexplicably sad at first.  Mr. Hubs kept asking me what was wrong, but I couldn't even answer.  I didn't know exactly.  I was missing family.  I was missing friends.  I was missing tradition.  I just kept feeling like something was missing.  I wanted my mom, my sister and her family, and my grandparents here.  I wanted all the kids running around and having fun while they waited for dinner.  I wanted a dozen different sides and pies to choose from.  I wanted the constant chatter and laughter.  I even missed the background noise of the football game (and we don't even like football!) 

    Simply put, I wanted what I had when I was a kid, and I wanted my kids to have it, too. 

    Eventually, after I put Baby D down for a nap, I did get started.  We chose an easy meal:  Chickpea Cutlets and Spiced Mashed Sweet Potatoes (both from Veganomicon,) green bean casserole (my favorite,) mashed potatoes (Mr. Hub's favorite,) gravy, rolls, and cherry pie for dessert (which Miss Dainty chose.)  Everything came together easily and generally at the same time, so we weren't even in the kitchen for very long (maybe an hour and a half.)  Mr. Hubs helped out a lot in the kitchen in his normal role of Sous Chef.  (I made the messes and he cleaned them up!)  We made a great team. 

    Instead of the football game, we had classic rock music going, and the girls were happily playing together.  It was nice to spend that time with my husband, working together, enjoying eachother's company.  When the smell of the cooking food filled the house, I breathed in deeply.  It smelled like Thanksgiving, and that made me happy.  And even though my kids were not experiencing the type of Thanksgiving I had growing up, this was their Thanksgiving, and I decided to make it great for them.

    After the food was finished cooking, we all sat down at the table, and Mr. Hubs led us in prayer.  It was a wonderful moment of reflection for me as I looked around the table.  It was like something was telling me, "Look at what you have.  Look at how far your family has come.  Look at how amazing this is.  Look at everything you have to be grateful for."  And I was grateful, so very, very grateful. 

    Afterward, we relaxed.  Mr. Hubs and the kids played Xbox, and I happily spent my time knitting (and cuddling,) and reflecting on our amazing Thanksgiving, our awesome family, and our many blessings. 

    As I was tucking Miss Dainty in to bed, she said, "This was the best Thanksgiving ever, Mom.  I loved it." 

    And I went to bed later with my heart completely filled, feeling content, and inexplicably happy.

    Thursday, November 25, 2010

    Thirty Days of Thanksgiving: Day 25

    Today, I am thankful for:

    63.  our wonderful Thanksgiving at home.  We had a simple meal, since I didn't get to go grocery shopping earlier this week due to the girls feeling a little under the weather.  We ended up running to the store last night.  I've never procrastinated that long before, but it still worked out.  At first, I was feeling a little bummed yesterday knowing that for the first time we wouldn't have family or even friends to spend the holiday with.  (We were invited to a couple of places, but with the girls sick, we weren't going to go.)  I'm happy to say I was pleasantly surprised at how wonderful and right everything felt despite it only being the four of us.  It was a wonderful Thanksgiving.  I'll try to add some pictures tomorrow.  =)

    Wednesday, November 24, 2010

    Thirty Days of Thanksgiving: Day 24

    Today, I am thankful for:

    60.  a great family to miss.  I hope they have a great Thanksgiving.
    61.  our health.  Coughs and colds are pretty much the worst thing we've dealt with, and that is a blessing.
    62.  a relaxing cup of tea and my knitting... both of which are calling my name right now.

    Tuesday, November 23, 2010

    Thirty Days of Thanksgiving: Day 23

    Today, I am thankful for:

    59.  Quiet evenings with Mr. Hubs.  It's what I miss most when he's gone, so I'll enjoy them while I can.

    I got an award!

    My Captivating Images awarded me with the Stylish Blogger Award. She is such a sweetheart, and I really enjoy her blog, too!  She is a wonderful photographer, and her posts are inspiring.  This was such a surprise to me, especially since I haven't been blogging here for very long.  =)  Thanks!

    Rules for accepting the stylish blogger award:

    1. Thank and link back to the person who sent you the award.
    2. Share 7 things about yourself.
    3. Pass this on to 13 other wonderful bloggers.
    4. Contact the selected bloggers and tell them about their award.

    So, without further ado, 7 Things About Me:

    1.  If I can't find a pair of socks, it is not beyond me to grab two very mismatched ones and wear them anyway.  (My most memorable instance of this was a yellow spongebob sock and a red "Talk Nerdy to Me" sock... no one was supposed to see them, but Mr Hubs noticed...)
    2.  Diamonds are not my best friend... kitchen appliances, cookbooks, and knitting supplies are.  (And thankfully, my husband knows this.)
    3.  I wish I was more creative.  I'm good at following a pattern or replicating something I like, but to actually create something that is all my own... not so much.  Although, I guess I truly haven't tried much either.
    4.  I can read a cookbook like a fiction novel, cover to cover.
    5.  I am at opposite ends spiritually from where I was when I was younger.  I grew up as an apathetic Catholic.  Now my heart and my passion rest in Jesus.  I have a peace that I never knew was even possible, and it makes me happy.
    6.  I met Mr. Hubs when I was 15, and I knew I was going to marry him.
    7.  I love the idea of gardening and growing your own food.  You know, the whole self sustaining backyard farm idea.  Unfortunately, I can barely keep ivy alive.  The only plant I've ever had success with is basil.  Someday, I hope to get better at this.

    Well, I don't have a big blogroll since I just started back up with blogging, but these blogs are still special to me.  I love stopping by.  So, here are the bloggers I've chosen.  A few haven't posted in a while, maybe this will gently nudge them.  =)

    1.  California to Sicily
    2.  Creative Disaster
    3.  The Thomas Motherload
    4.  Through His Eyes
    5.  November Babies Plus 1
    6.  Life of the Perfectly Flawed
    7.  Our Daily Minutiae
    8.  The Clayton Family
    9.  Snapshots of My Reality
    10. Craft Junkie

    Monday, November 22, 2010

    Thirty Days of Thanksgiving: Day 22

    Today, I am thankful for:

    58. fun mail!

    While we lived in Sicily, getting mail was always exciting (except for the driving 30 minutes just to go pick it up part.)  I did a lot of online shopping since I couldn't find what I wanted locally (or if I could, it was way more expensive,) so that made up the bulk of our mail.  And of course, my awesome grandma always sent care packages, because, well, she rocks.  =)

    Now that we're back in the states, I don't get as much fun mail, but I still love it just as much when I do.

    Look what I got in the mail today:
    My friend, Emily at Creative Disaster sent me this fun and super cute project bag, personalized with my name and everything!  How awesome is that?!  I love it!  It holds a lot, too!  I'm thinking the first project that will go in it will be Baby D's sweater that will be knit in that kelly green yarn.  Can't wait to get started on it.  And notice the book?  I found that at the local bookstore's $1 side walk sale the other day!!  What an awesome find!

    This was part of an impromptu swap Emily and I did.  I can't wait for her to get what I sent.  I had no idea how fun swaps were.  Can't wait to do another one! 

    Sunday, November 21, 2010

    Thirty Days of Thanksgiving: Day 21

    Today, I am thankful for:

    57. my husband's selflessness and for the sacrifices he makes on a daily basis.

    Today, was such an amazing example of this.  As I mentioned in my last post, Mr. Hubs had duty last night.  He came home this morning, cheery and bright eyed.  "Did you get to sleep?"  I asked after he walked through the door and said hello.

    "Yeah... well, a little.  I'll be okay.  I bought these," he said, holding up an energy drink.  "I'm going to shower and we'll go to church."

    "How much sleep did you get?"

    "Oh, uhh.." he hesitated, probably wondering if he should tell me or not, "two hours."

    "That's not enough," I said.  "Are you sure you're going to stay up?"

    "Yes, this is my only day off in two weeks, I'm not wasting it on sleep."

    And he didn't.  We had a wonderful morning at church with a very challenging message, followed by a great lunch with a friend.  Then we came home and had a very productive day, a nice family dinner, and had family game time with the kids before bath and bedtime.

    He did this on two hours of sleep.  He amazes me.  I love him so very much.

    Saturday, November 20, 2010

    Thirty Days of Thanksgiving: Day 20

    Today, I am thankful for:

    56.  friends to ride with to the Norfolk Grand Illumination Parade to be able to participate in our church's servant evangelism project.

    This was particularly special to me, because it was my very first SE event.  I am not an extrovert, at all.  No, really.  I'm actually quite socially inept until I get to know someone a little bit, then, and only then, do I start making any sense with the words that come out of my mouth.  Besides that, I suffer from anxiety (although it has gotten MUCH better in the past year.)  I get very anxious just thinking about taking my very small children to servant evangelism projects because of, well, because of all the strangers around.  (Can you tell this is WAY out of my comfort zone?!?)

    This particular event has been in my church's bulletin for weeks now, and honestly, I hate to admit it, I had no intention of going whatsoever.  And if I was going to go, it would be us going as a family so that the girls could finally see a parade, because they never have.  Ever.  Well, God had other plans, apparently.

    Miss Dainty had seen a sign advertising the parade a few weeks back... (speaking of reading, there are times when I wish she wouldn't...)  She was so excited, and asked if we could go.  I told her I didn't know.  Well, she surprised me this morning with the question of whether or not we were going.  I had hoped she would forget, because (as it always seems to happen,) Mr. Hubs had duty tonight, but apparently she had written it on her calendar!!  (Why does she have to pick these things up from me?!)

    Many things were against us going: 1) I would have to drive us in insane traffic, 2) I don't know the Norfolk area at all, 3.) it would be dark, and I would be trying to find my way, in the dark, 4.) chances of regrouping with anyone from church would be slim to none... 5.) which meant that I would be in a huge (HUGE) crowd of strangers... STRANGERS!!!  6.) with TWO small kids, by myself, 7.) that is IF I happened to find the right place and find a parking space AND was actually brave enough to stay.  Do you see how the odds were very much against Miss Dainty?

    Well, I decided to take the kids to a nearby town's fall festival, hoping that it would be enough excitement for one day.  We had lots of fun.  There were classic cars to look at, books to be had, puppies and kittens to be petted, a karate demonstration to watch... Neat stuff, I tell ya, I was quite content, but apparently, it was not near enough excitement for Miss Dainty.  Immediately after leaving, she asked again, "So, can we go to the parade?"  And again, I told her I still didn't know. 

    I debated it in my head.  Told myself I should try.  Talked myself out of it.  Back and forth, back and forth.  I eventually asked friends on facebook if anyone was going to go.  One friend in particular said she was, and invited us to hang out.  Well, before I could change my mind I told her that that would be great.  So, there.  Once I hit "comment" the decision was made.  I felt like I couldn't wimp out and tell her never mind.  See how I have to trick myself? 

    Anyway.  I got the kids dressed warmly, packed some snacks, and even made hot cocoa to put in my awesome coffee mug.  (Seriously, 5 hours after I poured it, I am still sipping on hot cocoa as I type this!)  I drove us down to church to meet up with everyone.  I asked a few questions about where the parade would be, how bad would parking be, etc.  Not really good questions for me to ask, since I wasn't really intentionally trying to talk myself out of it, although that's what was happening.

    When my friend showed up, I shared with her how I was feeling.  She encouraged me, and insisted I could follow them, and everything would be fine.  I then realized it was just her and one other lady going together.  "Is her backseat empty?" I asked her.  When she nodded, I asked if she thought it would be possible for the girls and me to be able to ride along, because at this point, I knew there would be no way I would make it to where ever they were saying the parade was going to be (I still have no idea where it was.)    Much to my relief, her friend said that was fine.

    So, I transferred the car seats, jackets, the camera, the candy canes & invite cards we were handing out, and my half dozen bags over to her car, and we were off.  We sat in traffic for a little bit, but spent the time chatting away.  When we got to the ferry that we were going to take over to Norfolk, we noticed how very long the line was, but we were hopeful.  We stepped in line, and my friends entertained Miss Dainty, while I tried to soothe Baby D who was a bit mad I had put her in the sling, when she knew she was quite capable of walking around. 

    We waited for about 30 minutes, when the friend who had driven decided she was going to go ahead and hand out her candy canes and cards to people in the line.  My other friend and I stayed in line, so as not to lose our place.  We waited for another 30 minutes, and it seemed the line was not going anywhere.  We debated whether or not we should stay.  If we waited (who knows how much longer,) and taken the ferry over there, we didn't know if we would even have any time to a) actually see any of the parade or b) be able to pass out the candy & cards since we would have to turn around almost immediately to get back in line for the return ferry ride before the ferry stopped running.  After realizing the parade probably wasn't going to happen for us, and realizing how many people were still in line, we decided we had an awesome opportunity to pass out the rest of the candy canes & invite cards.

    So, we did.  And I was so incredibly nervous... until I saw my little Miss Dainty cheerfully handing out candy canes and cards to those who wanted them.  I knew that if she could do it, I could, too.  It's crazy how often my children encourage me in ways they have no idea!

    After the first person I asked said, "Thanks, I'd love one," my nervousness and anxiety melted away, and instead I smiled and was happy.  And the people smiled, happy for something nice while waiting forever in line.  All of my candy canes & invite cards went quickly.  So did my friend's.

    We ended up walking around town looking for a coffee shop that might have hot cocoa (would have worked great if we were in Sicily!) but after finding only drinking bars, we decided to just stop by a store and let the kids pick out a treat for being so good about not getting to see the parade.  On the way home, we talked about how we were in a perfect place to hand our invites out.  People were receptive after standing in line for so long, and no one else from our church was there.  If we had gone across on the ferry, there would have been lots of people from our church who would have been handing their candy & cards out already, but on our side, we were the only ones.  It was like we were meant to be there.

    And further, as I reflected on this as I typed it up, I realized this whole thing wasn't even about going to the parade.  Deep down, I really didn't want to see it without Mr. Hubs.  I really wanted the girls to see their first parade with him there.  This wasn't about the parade at all.  It was about God getting me to (finally!) do a servant evangelism project.  Which is kind of funny, because I've been praying that I become better at evangelism, and for more chances to do it, and yet He still had to drag me into it kicking and screaming!  (okay, maybe it wasn't that extreme... heh.)  But I do know that had my friends not let us ride along, I wouldn't have even made it there.  I would have turned around once I hit traffic, and if not, I would have definitely not stayed once I reached the huge line by myself with two kids.  I'm so grateful for them.  They truly helped me do something that I have been praying for the courage to do.

    And so tonight, I will be praying for all the people who accepted one of the candy canes & invite cards.  I hope that it serves as a gentle reminder about Who this season is really about, and that it encourages them to go to church, even if it's not ours.

    How I Taught My Oldest Child to Read

    My friend, Emily over at Creative Disaster, asked a question on my last post about books.  She said, "I wanted to ask how you taught Miss Dainty to read, did you use a program or what?"  So, I figured I'd write a post about it, because I did several different things with Miss Dainty, and even though I know Emily's son is older, I'm going to start all the way at the beginning in case any other friends or readers were wondering this too.

    The biggest thing I can vouch for is reading nonstop to your kids (and start early!)  Don't just do it at bedtime, do it all the time!  Read a story at breakfast, read at quiet time, snack time, any time!  Have books available to your kids, even the babies.  Miss Dainty had cloth and board books from when she was teeny tiny.  She got her first paperback books when she was about 6 or 7 months old.  (Very young, I know, and quite a few of them got torn up, but she loved the bigger pictures.)  Don't keep books away from your small children because they might write in them, or don't know how to handle them.  If you don't expose them to books they won't be able to learn how to treat and appreciate them.

    I do understand that babies can be destructive towards books.  Baby D just recently got past her writing in books phase (so thankful for that!)  So, try to keep library books in a special put up place, and only pull them out when you're ready to read them.  That goes for special books that you want to keep forever, too.  But other books, board books, yard sale finds, etc, let your child explore them on her own time and free will.  It really gives them the chance to become interested all on their own.

    So, that is how I raised my first child in books from the get go.  The second thing we naturally started doing with her was teaching letter sounds.  We didn't worry too much about whether she knew her alphabet, but instead focused on the sounds.  (Along these same lines, I always talked "grown up" to her, enunciated clearly, used big words, etc.  I never lowered my speaking level even when she was very, very young.  I honestly think this helped tremendously.)

    Anyway, on her second birthday, someone gave her the Leap Frog Fridge Phonics educational toy.  At first, it was nothing more than a game to her to take all the letter magnets off the fridge, and I would say the sounds of each letter as I helped her pick them up.  Eventually she started playing with it in the intentional way.  The toy sings a song about each letter's sound when you put one of the magnets into it.  "A says aaaa (short a) and A says AAAA (long A,) every letter makes a sound, A says a and A!  (and on and on for each letter.)  This was Miss Dainty's first introduction to phonics:  through play.  She learned the song and started learning her letters from it.

    After seeing how much she loved that particular toy and its song, I bought her the Leap Frog Letter Factory DVD when she was about 3.  It follows the same idea:  teaches each letter's sound.  The plot is very fun for kids, the characters are lovable, and the tunes and actions that each letter goes through are very memorable.  Basically, in the movie, Tad's dad works in a letter factory where the letters make their sounds, and he's giving a dictionary publisher a tour of the factory.  At first, Tad doesn't know his ABCs, and his brother and sister can't see how Tad can help.  Tad ends up looking around the factory and meets a professor who takes him through each letter's room, where the letters are learning how to make their correct sounds, and in the meantime, Tad also learns each letter and its sound.  In the end, after Tad learns his ABCs, he is able to help with the final production to try to convince the publisher to use letters from the factory in his new dictionary.  Miss Dainty loved watching this DVD, and it was one that I didn't mind her watching.  It really furthered her understanding of letter sounds.

    At about the same time (around 3 or 3 1/2, I can't quite remember,) she wanted to start doing "school."  Some of her friends had started going to day care ("school") and she wanted to go, too.  But of course, I didn't put her in.  However, I did start teaching her more intentionally, following her lead.  We began to focus on a letter per week.  Some things we used around the same time, were:

    Letter of the Week Preschool Curriculum:  We used a cork board instead of making a new poster board each week.  Miss Dainty loved this program.

    My First Steps to Reading book set by Jane Belk Moncure:  This is out of print now, but if you can find something comparable, it's really neat.  I found my set at a yard sale for $15, so I really lucked out.  Each book focuses on one letter and tells a story with as many words that start with that letter as possible, while still maintaining an easy to follow plot.  For example, in My "b" Book, page 8-9 reads:  "Little b found a bird and a birdbath.  She put them into her box."

    Alphabet Art - With A-Z Animal Art & Fingerplays by Judy Press and Sue Dennen.  We just did the activities for the letter we were working on each week.

    We also played quite a few games around this time.  The two I remember most were:  a Montessori type game, and our Letter Box Game.  In the Montessori game, I made a small card for each letter and wrote it in glitter glue.  This way each letter was raised off the card, and she could trace it with her finger.  I would put a few small items in a group, and she would match each item with it's beginning sound (once again stressing letter sounds, not names.)  One time we had small figurines/toys of: Apple, Bottle, Cat, Dinosaur, Egg.

    The Letter Box Game had a similar idea, but I put in a bunch of small objects, and I had her pick out the objects that started with whatever sound we happened to be working on.  For example, in the box perhaps there was:  a button, a pencil, a domino, a bell, a penny, a ball, a toy bee, a plastic egg, etc.  Then I would tell her we were looking for things that started with the sound "b," and one item at a time, she would tell me what it was and whether or not it started with "b."  This was a very simple game, and yet she absolutely loved it.  We also drew letters in sand saying the letter's sound (not the name,) as we did so.  Playdough is also a good hands on activity for letters, too.  I would have Miss Dainty roll out playdough snakes, and then she would lay it on top of a letter card following the letter's shape, and saying the sound as she did so.

    Over all, I think the main thing that helped in the beginning was that I focused on the letter sounds, because once she knew what each letter said on its own, it was so much easier for her to start blending.  And we did that through a game, also.  I found this Picture Word Puzzles game at a teaching shop when I first returned to the States.  Miss Dainty had just turned 4, and I really hadn't planned on using it yet.  I was planning on saving it for when we got settled in and started homeschooling "for real."  But of course, Miss Dainty doesn't like following Mommy's plans...  She wanted to play right away.  The deck of cards has 56 two-sided cards.  Each 3 make a different word and picture on one side, and a sentence on the other.  It took her a while of playing the game, with her matching the picture up, and me helping her read the word one letter sound at a time, but eventually she read her first 3 letter word: cat.  She was so excited when it clicked.  

    So, at 4 1/2, Miss Dainty knew all of her letter's sounds and was blending three letter words, thanks to the word puzzle game.  At this point, when I would read books to her, I'd follow the words with my finger as I read, and let her read the words I knew she could.  For example, in The Cat in the Hat, I would read all the words except the "at" words, at which I would pause and let Miss Dainty read.  She loved doing that... for a while, but eventually she got hungry for more.  She kept asking me to teach her to read "real" words.  So, how could I refuse?

    I ended up buying Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons.  I've heard that this method does not work for all kids, but it did for Miss Dainty.  It really built upon her knowledge of phonics in a very progressive way.  Through this book, she learned the harder letter blends, and by the end of the book was able to read fluently.  I do think that it helped that she already knew the basic phonics, but it's definitely not required.  The book starts at basic phonics. 

    Alongside that book, we used the Bob book sets since Miss Dainty wanted to read an actual book, not just the short stories in Teach Your Child to Read.  These mini books were great.  They are fun, simple to follow stories that are just challenging enough for beginning readers.  The illustrations are very basic and do not distract from the written words too much.  Miss Dainty enjoyed these.  

    From there, she took off on her own, pretty much.  I would take her to the library and show her the level 1, 2, and 3 books as she progressed in her reading, and she devoured them.  Now, she is constantly reading on her own.  She absolutely loves it.

    Of course, everything is always different for each child, so I definitely suggest following your child's lead.  I also would emphasize to make it fun, don't pressure, and try not to make it drudgery.  And (again) emphasize letter sounds, not names.  It makes it so much easier.  We read in sounds: CAT not SEE AAYY TEE.  See what I mean?  And once they learn those individual sounds, and further, how they work together, a whole new world will unlock for them.  =)  

    I hope something in this post can help, Emily!  And I know you and your boys love books, and I know they will have so much fun with reading!  Good luck!

    Friday, November 19, 2010

    Thirty Days of Thanksgiving: Day 19

    Today, I am thankful for:

    55.  books and that my children absolutely LOVE to read and be read to... oh, and LIBRARIES! 

    It's funny, I think I have a lot in common with my friends who are also doing the Thirty Days of Thanksgiving challenge.  I've seen "books" listed on a few of their lists as well.  My mom works in a college library where I grew up.  She did all through out my childhood.  I would go often and pick out books to take home and read.  I was constantly devouring one book or another, and sometimes a handful at once.  It was how I enjoyed spending all of my free time, well, until I started dating Mr. Hubs, but even then, books were not pushed aside all together.  He always said it was one of the reasons he was attracted to me... 

    Today, we went and ate dinner at the Thai place again (I told Mr. Hubs he just HAD to try it!) so of course, we stopped by the little book store since we were right there.  There was a book in particular that I had debated buying yesterday, and after not buying it, I regretted it.  So, I hoped it was still there.  Mr. Hubs wanted to take a look around, too.  Well, thankfully my book was still there, and needless to say, I ended up buying a few more... (okay, more than a few!)  But I found some really good ones. 

    I've also had some great luck on!  I'm also lucky enough to live within walking distance of a great library! (Which is so wonderful after living in Sicily for 3 years, where I had to drive 40 minutes to go to the base library which was teeny, tiny!)  Speaking of libraries, we need to make a trip soon...

    In the collage, there are pictures of my lucky finds, and of course my daughters reading.  Well, Baby D pretends.  It's so sweet when I catch her reading to herself, she'll be saying words she knows and sees in the pictures: puppy, bird, cat, hat, etc.  It's so adorable.  Miss Dainty's picture is of when she was reading her very first chapter book on her own this past summer.  Turns out I picked a bad one.  I bought it at a yard sale and had planned on previewing it, since I had no knowledge of the author or series (it's been a long time since I've read children's chapter books.)  I didn't get the chance to even look at it as Miss Dainty had excitedly run off with it while I was cooking dinner that day.  She came up to me a few minutes later and said, "Mommy, I don't like this book.  This girl is mean!"  I took the book and asked her what she meant, and after flipping through a few pages I realized that Junie B. Jones was not for my daughter.  (oops!)  But thankfully, my daughter had her own response and opinion to the character's actions and words, and I'm very proud of the way she responded.  In a way, I'm glad I accidentally gave her that book, because it let me see how much my daughter comprehends in her reading, and how capable she is at reaching her own conclusions, and forming her own opinions.  So wonderful!

    Anyway, a list of my book finds follows the picture, if anyone is interested.  =)

    1. Meet Abraham Lincoln by Barbara Cary
    2. A Child's Garden of Verses by Robert Louis Stevenson
    3. Margaret Pumphrey's Pilgrim Stories revised and expanded by Elvajean Hall
    4. Beginner's Guide to Silk Ribbon Embroidery by Ann Cox (I really want to try this soon!)
    5. Easy Homeschooling Companion by Lorraine Curry
    6. The Love Dare by Stephen and Alex Kendrick

    From the local bookstore:
    7. Great American Learning Vacations - Fodor (This one is out of date being a travel guide, but I think there's still a ton of great info to be had.)
    8. Meet Thomas Jefferson by Marvin Barrett
    9. Gigi: God's Little Princess by Sheila Walsh
    10. Backyard Birds by Dr. Janann V. Jenner
    11.  Favorite North American Indian Legends Unabridged, edited by Philip Smith
    12. The Field Guide to Wildlife Habitats of the Eastern United States by Janine M. Benyus (So excited about this one! I love how it is illustrated like a nature journal!  And it is jam packed with information!)
    13. The Apple Pie that Papa Baked by Lauren Thompson (This is actually the book I went back for.)
    14. James Herriot's Treasury for Children (I actually already have a copy of this, that I paid full price for, but couldn't pass up a second copy.  I hope to give it to my daughters when they have their own kids. Is that crazy? LOL  It is such a wonderful book!  The stories and the illustrations are so great.  It's perfect, I love it.)
    15. Linnea in Monet's Garden by Christina Bjork and Lena Anderson (This is a great living art book.  I'm so excited about it.  I was hoping there was a series, but I looked it up, and unfortunately there isn't.)
    16. Barnyard Dance! by Sandra Boynton (I had to get a fun board book for Baby D. We already read this one tonight, and the girls had a blast dancing through the actions as I read them aloud.  Such a fun book!)

    Thursday, November 18, 2010

    Thirty Days of Thanksgiving: Day 18

    Today, I am thankful for:

    52.  Lunch and conversation with a good friend at a Thai restaurant.  I love love love Thai food!  They had a great vegetarian section.  =)   
    53.  a little bookstore we found next door to the Thai place.  I let the girls pick out a book each, and of course, I got a few.  We will definitely be going back.  When I was younger, I always wanted to open a book store... but after watching You've Got Mail, I was convinced that small bookstores just wouldn't make it anymore.  So it always makes me happy when I happen upon one.  =)
    54.  conviction...  might be a longer post later.  I need to mull over some things...

    Wednesday, November 17, 2010

    Thirty Days of Thanksgiving: Day 17

    Today, I'm thankful for:

    50.  the playgroup a few ladies started at church.  The girls love it!  On nice days we take them outside to play on the playground, and on cold/rainy days we let them run around this huge room and play with toys.  They always have a blast.  It's also nice to have grown up conversations with the other moms!  =)
    51.  the beautiful weather today, even though it's not particularly "fallish" it is a gorgeous day, warm and sunny.

    Tuesday, November 16, 2010

    Thirty Days of Thanksgiving: Day 16

    I know, this is a little late posting, but oh well.  =)

    Today, I'm thankful for:

    49.  That Baby D sat fairly still for a haircut.  I was so tired of pulling food out of her hair, and pulling the hair that would get stuck to her neck with food... it wasn't a pretty sight.  Plus, she constantly had hair in her eyes.  I debated taking her in to get it done, but decided I wanted to try.  I never cut Miss Dainty's hair before, and really it's like a rite of passage for a parent to at least cut their kid's hair once!  So, I did it.  The cut itself came out okay, the bangs are a little shorter than I meant to make them, and of course a little crooked, but she doesn't mind.  She's just happy there's no hair in her eyes anymore.  Miss Dainty ended up wanting bangs too, which also came out a little short and crooked (I'll get it eventually!) but she loves them.

    Monday, November 15, 2010

    Thirty Days of Thanksgiving: Day 15

    Today, I am thankful for:

    45.  my sewing machine, and a reason to use it!!
    46.  the white chalk pencil I didn't know I had, but really, really needed tonight.
    47.  my grandma.  Today's her birthday!  I'm so blessed to have her in my life and to have such a close relationship with her.  I know a lot of people don't get to have their grandparents very long, so I do not take this for granted!
    48.  my grandma's corn chowder recipe that I've tweaked to make it vegan.  It's still just as good as I remember it.  When I was in high school and worked at a grocery store, she would make it on cold winter days, and it was so awesome to come home to.  Maybe that's why I made it for dinner tonight, because I was thinking about her all day for her birthday.  =)

    Sunday, November 14, 2010

    Thirty Days of Thanksgiving: Day 14

    Today, I'm thankful for:

    44.  Dinner on the ship with Mr. Hubs, and the kids' excitement about being on the ship (it was our second time.)

    Saturday, November 13, 2010

    Thirty Days of Thanksgiving: Day 13

    Today, I am thankful for:

    40.  Mr. Hubs fixing my computer's memory issues...
    41.  Yummy colors of yarn that I bought (on sale!) at Michaels today, while Mr. Hubs chased the kids around the Christmas decoration aisles.  
    42.  The 7 ft. pre-lit Christmas tree we bought tonight (also on sale!)  I can't wait to put it up, but Mr. Hubs is making us wait until after Thanksgiving...
    43.  That we will be together for the holidays.  

    Let the countdown begin!  =)

    Friday, November 12, 2010

    Thirty Days of Thanksgiving: Day 12

    Today, I am thankful for:

    39.  knitting how-to videos on youtube.  I learned "k tbl" tonight.  =)

    This is what I'm working on:
    Last Sunday, Mr. Hubs found out about a group of guys that play ultimate frisbee on Saturdays, so a few days ago he asked for a pair of fingerless gloves.  I had originally started with a different pattern that used size 2 needles.  Unfortunately, I was not making progress quickly enough, so I frogged it.  Then flipping through my Knit Simple magazine I saw these, and although they don't have the half finger parts that the other gloves had, these seemed like they would knit up a lot faster.

    I don't think I'll have them done by tomorrow though....  =)  So, hopefully by next week, he'll get to use them.