Thursday, January 10, 2019

100 Books, Part 2

Whew! I didn't expect to write multiple posts about the books I read in the past year, but once I got going, the words just kept coming. I'll try to be less verbose in Part 2, but I make no promises.

Non-Fiction for the Win
It's been said that truth is often stranger than fiction. I don't know how strange my non-fiction selections were, but I sure read some great ones. Looking back over my NF list, it really covered a wide range of topics.
Memoirs: It was Me all Along by Andie Mitchell, Scrappy Little Nobody by Anna Kendrick, This is Me by Chrissy Metz
Anna Kendrick and Chrissy Metz have the advantage of star-power behind their names (Kendrick is best known for her performances in the Pitch Perfect movies and Metz rocks the role of Kate Pearson in This is Us) and their books have been on a lot of lists. But of the three, Mitchell's weight-loss memoir is by far the best. It's raw and real and hits home in a million different places. Kendrick's and Metz's stories are interesting too, and I'd recommend them for fun and easy reading if you're a fan of their work on the big and small screens, but I'd recommend Andie Mitchell to everyone.

Malcolm Gladwell made me learn things:
I read/listened to Tipping Point and Outliers, both by the incredibly smart Malcolm Gladwell. This man has done a ton of research and knows other super-smart people who have done a ton of research and he's written it all down. In Tipping Point, Gladwell shows readers how the little things really do make a tremendous difference and explores what factors are at play when an epidemic occurs. He talks about negative epidemics (the spread of the AIDS virus is one example) as well as more positive ones (the sudden declining crime stats in New York City in the 1990's) and some that are more frivolous and fun (Hush Puppies and Sesame Street are two mentioned in the book).
In Outliers, Gladwell turns the focus on the best of the best in athletics, art, technology, and other fields to see what makes the best so much better than the average of the population. His examples of why birthdates matter in hockey, how descendants of immigrant dressmakers grew up to the be the most successful lawyers in New York City, and how tech giants Bill Gates and Steve Jobs were uniquely poised to achieve their success due to their age and proximity to the right technology at the right time. While Outliers was incredibly educational, it was also inspiring, because so much of the data showed that hard work and practice, much more than talent alone, is how the best became the best. Malcolm Gladwell has some other books that look interesting and I'm putting them on my 2019 list.

Other Notable Non-Fiction:
Stiff by Mary Roach - This is by far the best book about dead bodies that I have ever read. Okay, so it's the only book about dead bodies I've ever read, but it is really good. Roach delves into all the different ways bodies have been used in science, medicine, weapons research, crime studies, etc... It's not as stomach-turning as you might guess and I actually learned a lot and this book really cemented my long-held decision to be an organ donor.

Daring Greatly by Brene Brown - Another Book Club selection. When we discussed this book, about vulnerability and honesty, we decided to meet in a member's home instead of the pub because we knew tears and stories and personal confessions would flow, and we were right. Brown's years of experience and research in the field touched each of us personally and pretty much left us gutted and raw, but in a good way.
I'll Push You by Justin Skeesuck and Patrick Grey - Two best fiends go on an epic hike 500 mile through Spain. That in itself it pretty cool, but add to the fact that one friend is wheelchair bound and needs specialized medical care, and you've got yourself an inspiring true story about the power of faith and friendship and what it truly means to carry one another's burdens. The book is written by the two friends from the story and it was really neat to get their first-person insight. Also, I want to go to Spain.

Uninvited by Lysa Terkeuesrt - I dunno if you've perused the Non-Fiction Inspiration for Christian Women section at your local bookstore (new, used, or online) but holy cow it's a pretty saturated market right now. I read several this year and Lysa's was the best. (She has another one that just came out and I'm like 33rd on the waiting list at the library.) She doesn't beat around the bush when it comes to hurt and heartache, and she keeps the main things the main things and knows with complete surety where her strength and salvation truly come from.

Sunday, January 6, 2019

2018: The Year of 100 Books (Part 1)

Like most people, when I make a New Year's resolution, my good intentions are usually forgotten by about the middle of January. However, last year I set a goal to read more - a lot more - and I actually followed through. I decided to read 100 books in 2018. I didn't specify fiction or non-fiction, paper or audio, and had no self-imposed restrictions concerning page numbers or subject matter. On the afternoon of December 31, I finished book #100 and completed my goal. It's kind of cool to set a goal and actually accomplish it.

In the past few days, I've gotten lots of questions about what books I read and what books I would recommend. Because I love books and want other people to love the books I love, these aren't easy and simple questions for me to adequately answer, so I decided to write it all out. I hope this is helpful.

When in Doubt, Pick a Newbery
I think I repeated those words to myself more than a handful of times during the last year. If I would get bogged down with all the book options I saved on Pinterest or jotted down on my TBR (to be read) list, I would think back to the recommendations my elementary school librarian always passed on and look for middle-grade books with shiny Newbery Medal seals on their cover. That 30+ year old advice has yet to lead me wrong.

Because of Winn Dixie by Kate DiCamillo
(I also read/listened to Raymie Nightingale, Flora and Ulysses (another Newberry), and Tiger Rising, all by this author. I would recommend all of these.)
Kate DiCamillo is a national treasure and her books are a pleasure to read, and Because of Winn Dixie has a special place in my heart. India Opal, her Preacher father, the mutt Winn Dixie, and all their colorful neighbors and friends tell a good tale about healing and forgiveness and letting go and moving on. Lana's third grade teacher assigned it to her last year and Lana just went on and on about how good it was and told me I should read it too. Lana and I ended up listening to the audiobook together and had some great discussions when I'd hit the pause button. Reading books with my daughters and talking about them together is a habit I want to continue for, oh, about the next 100 or so years.

Number the Stars by Lois Lowry
I think I was the only girl in my sixth grade class that didn't read this book, but I guess better late than never, right? I don't know why I ignored it all those years ago, but I shouldn't have. The story of how one Danish family, and particularly one brave 9-year old girl, saved their Jewish neighbors during the Nazi occupation of Denmark is powerful and inspiring. Lowry's writing is beautiful and nuanced and I'm pretty sure I'll be adding more of her books to my 2019 list.

Caddie Woodlawn by Carol Ryrie Brink and Our Only May Amelia by Jennifer Holm and Thimble Summer by Elizabeth Enright
These three books about plucky and spirited girls in the "olden days" were simply delightful. The lessons on character, resourcefulness, and growing up are ones that you're never really too old to learn again.

Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine
What a fun, well-done spin on the good-girl-gets-the-prince stories! Ella is stubborn and smart and has to figure out how to save herself to best help her family and the cute prince. The movie (starring a young Anne Hathaway) is super cute, but don't be fooled, Ella Enchanted isn't just a cute little story, and of course, the book is always better than the movie.

Ramona Quimby, Age 8 and Ramona and her Father by Beverly Cleary
The girls and I listened to the entire Ramona series (impeccably ready by the timeless Stockard Channing) and thoroughly enjoyed every minute of it. Ramona starts the series as an annoying and trouble-making little sister in nursery school, and throughout the series has many adventures and mishaps, some which are belly-laugh funny. This series really focuses on family relationships and sparked many good conversations with the little people in the back seat.

The Penderwicks by Jeanne Birdsall
This entire series (in 2018 we got through 4/5, book #5 gets to our library soon!) is charming and feels quaint and old-fashioned, even though it's set in modern-times. The four Penderwick sisters, their loyal dog, and their protective and wise widowed father all have big personalities and get themselves into some shenanigans. These books are all strong on the themes of family, loyalty, and fighting for what is right.

A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L'Engle
This was a book club pick. Had it not been, I might never have picked this gem up (perhaps being completely turned off by the creepy cover). The outlandish characters and the fantastical, time-and-space-traveling plot took me on a wild ride as Meg, little brother Charles Wallace, and unlikely friend Caleb take on the powerful and mysterious IT in order to rescue Meg's father.

Miracles on Maple Hill by Virginia Sorensen
I listened to this book, and the Full Cast Audio performance is reason enough to choose it. The voice actors made the story come alive. Marly and her family move from the city to a farm after her father returns from war. They are in need of some healing, time, and miracles. They get more than they ever expected, and exactly what they need. This book came out in 1960, but feels in place today.

The Thief by Megan Whalen Turner
I picked this one up on a whim because none of the books I'd reserved at the library were available yet. What a great discovery I made! This book (and the entire series - I'm reading the third book right now and I think there are five in total) feels like reading the history of a far-off land from a long time ago. The story is a cross between and Ocean's Eleven-style con and Greek and Roman mythology. It's original and smart and creative and beautiful. I'm looking forward to finishing the series this year.

The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate
Told from the point of view of a large gorilla named Ivan, this book is unlike anything I've ever read before. Ivan and his elephant friends live in a shopping mall where they're supposed to entertain shoppers and bring in big crowds. But Ivan remembers his early days and remembers being free. Ivan likes his friends and making art, but still dreams of being young and free.

The Crossover by Kwame Alexander
I know, I know, when you look at me, you can tell I love hip-hop music and middle school basketball, right? No? That doesn't seem obvious to you?  No worries, I too had to wonder what I was diving into when I put on my earbuds and pressed play on this audiobook. I am so, so glad I did. The story of the Bell brothers, their retired professional ball-playing dad, and their school principal mom is as real as a family tale can be. Add to that the typical drama from middle school and basketball and write it out like an extended rap song, and you've got something incredibly unique and special. I don't typically have an opinion on paper books vs. audio books, but in this case, unless you have a natural inclination to read like a rapper, choose the audiobook. I know I would have missed so much of the clever prose because I don't naturally think in hip-hop and would have read the lines like and almost 40-year old white lady.

I think that covers 25 or so of the books I tackled in 2018. Part 2 is coming soon......

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Lana's Marathon of Summer Camps, part 4

Yes, I know it's October and summer ended clear back in August, but just like Lana made it through her marathon, I've got to make it through mine. Also, I think this will be a handy reference to have next spring when we're signing up for camps again.

Moscow Parks and Rec Camp:
This day camp is held in the youth center in Moscow. They do all sorts of neat things with the kids and go on awesome field trips. They went to the Moscow Water Park 2-3 times per week, to the paint-your-own-pottery studio, to the University of Idaho climbing wall, to local parks, and to the library. Lana always had fun stories to share on the drive home. This camp may have been Lana's favorite day camp of the entire summer (it's neck-and-neck with Cougar Kids Camp) and she was bummed when it ended. She met some great new friends and wants to go back next year. Of course the extra miles I had to drive every morning and evening were less than convenient. However, this was the only day camp that allowed you to register (and pay) for individual days and not entire weeks. This worked out very well for us because we had a trip planned and didn't have to pay for the days we were gone. If Lana needs a fun camp for a few days here and there next summer, we'd totally sign up again.
(Sigh. I guess by this point in the summer I was less than enthusiastic and took exactly zero pictures of Lana at Moscow Parks and Rec Camp. Here's a cheesy stock photo instead. Just imagine Lana was as excited as the wild-eyed girl in the upper left.)

Refresher Camp:
So, guess how many day camps there are the week before school starts? Two. Exactly two. One is a sports camp with a similar set-up to the Cheer Camp Lana did earlier in the summer (which filled up quicker than I realized), and the other is Refresher Camp. This camp is designed to get kids back into school mode by doing academics in the morning and outdoor activities and games in the afternoon. It sounded good and the fact that it was the only option available made it a winner in my book. The schedule was 9:00-3:00, which is not working-parent friendly. Fortunately, I know a fabulous teenage babysitter in that neighborhood and she faithfully walked Lana to and from camp every day, fed her a snack, and let her lounge on the couch watching movies until I got her at 4:30. By this point in the summer, movies and snacks were the perfect thing for an exhausted 8-year old.
Refresher Camp was good for Lana. Her horrific summer handwriting became legible again and she remembered how to sit still and behave in class. She wouldn't say it was her favorite, but she did get back into "school mode" and that was the whole point.

Overall, Lana's Marathon of Summer Camps was a success. She was safe and well-cared for every single day. She has a bunch of neat stories and met some great new friends. However, it was exhausting. For her and for me. I felt like I was always making plans and thinking about where I needed to drop her off and pick her up that particular week. I'm not sure what we'll do next summer, but I should probably start making arrangements now : )

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Nora went to Camp too!

Lest you think I've completely forgotten about my youngest daughter in all this summer camp madness, I should tell you that Nora got to go to camp too!

Pullman Parks and Rec (my new BFF) puts on a 1/2 day program for preschoolers. Miss Jean, the teacher, has been working with preschoolers since forever and everyone I talked to about this camp couldn't have given it a more glowing review had they tried. I wasn't sure how Nora would do around so many new people in an unfamiliar environment, but she did fine and I needn't have worried.

The camp was simply adorable! The first week was all about transportation and the kids got to ride their bikes and take a trip on a city bus. The next week was all about bugs and flowers. They also walked to the library for story time, did neat crafts, and sang songs and played games.

Lana loved Miss Jean and the helper teachers and definitely wants to go back. Because it's a 1/2 day program I had to piece together afternoon friends and family care, but it worked and I'm glad Nora got this wonderful experience.

Thursday, September 21, 2017

Lana's Marathon of Summer Camps, Part 3

Are you tired?
Because I'm tired. Thinking about (and writing about) all these camps reminds me of the whirlwind summer we had. Now that we're back to our regular school-year schedule, I can say I am a creature of habit and routine.

Here are camps 5 & 6:

Mega Sports Camp VBS
This vacation bible school is run by Resonate Church and is pretty stinkin' fantastic. Lots of great teaching, awesome counselors and a whole heap full of physical activity. The kids do so much running and playing and are exhausted by the end of the day. It's a 3-day program with a 9:00-3:00 schedule. The times aren't exactly working-parent friendly, but with the help of some awesome friends, we made it work. The fee ($20) is tough to beat.
(Sorry, no pictures from Mega Sports Camp.)

SkyHawks Cheer Camp
This was a program we found through Pullman Parks and Recreation. They offered about 1 million different camps over the summer and the Parks and Rec summer catalog became my best friend. This camp had the option of half-day (cheer only) or full-day (cheer and afternoon swimming). Lana went with full-day. This camp was also 9-3:00, but because it was located relatively near my workplace, I could run her down to the park and pick her up relatively easily. That arrangement wouldn't have worked all summer, but for that week it was fine.
Lana had a great time. She adored her coaches and had several friends in the program with her, but honestly her favorite part was swimming each afternoon. I don't think it sparked a desire to do competitive cheer or dance, but she sure had a lot of fun!

Go Skyhawks!

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Lana's Summer Camp Marathon, Part 2

Before I was married and had kids, I heard about Cougar Kids Camp, and even as a childless single lady I knew it was something special and that one day my kids would be attending. This is Lana's fourth year attending and it still hasn't lost its luster. She often comes home with sand in her hair, is exhausted and happy, and full of stories.

CKC is held at the Student Rec Center, a multi-million dollar facility at WSU that is underutilized in the summer (all the students are gone). It gets turned into a wonderful playground for kids. Campers go swimming, climb the rock walls, play lots of games, do crafts, go on field trips around campus, meet Cougar celebrities, go on excursions (like hiking and visiting the water park), and learn cool stuff about the outdoors, safety, nutrition, being in college, and leadership. In short, every week is awesome and quite frankly, I want to pay $122 and go for a week myself. (That's another thing. As far as summer day camps go in this area of the world, Cougar Kids Camp is CHEAP. It's less than daycare, less than Parks and Rec, less than science camp, and that makes it awesome in my book. I think regular price is $142/week, but I make sure we sign up in advance for the early-registration discount and I take advantage of the multi-week discount too.) This year Lana even did an overnight at Cougar Kids Camp and camped out on the soccer field and played capture the flag in the dark. Pretty much she had the best time ever. Nora wants to go to CKC and thinks it sounds awesome too. In two more years, I'm sure she'll be there right alongside her big sister.

VBS (Vacation Bible School) is a week of songs, crafts, games, stories, Bible learning, and friends. And Lana starts asking me about it months and months in advance. She loves the outlandish themes (this year's was Galactic Starveyors - lots and lots of outer space) and the songs. The stage and classroom decorations are so well done and turn our regular church into a who new world.
Lana comes home from VBS full of Bible stories and shows off new dance moves to her new favorite songs. Just like with Cougar Kids Camp, Nora sees what Lana is doing and want to do it too. When she was told that she could do VBS when she was five, Nora (without missing a beat) said with authority, "I'm five enough."

Next up - Mega Sports Camp VBS (yay for another VBS!) and Parks and Rec Cheer Camp.

Friday, July 7, 2017

Lana's Summer Marathon of Fun, Part 1 (Bike Camp and Ross Point)

Last summer Lana learned(ish) how to ride her bike(ish). We decided to sign her up for bike camp to help her get better on two wheels and gain more confidence as a rider. Bike camp did all that and more. The instructor and his helpers got all the kids riding upright and took them on jumps and ramps, down some maintain biking trails, and helped them work on riding up and down hills safely. They learned about proper helmet fit, basic bike maintenance and riding rule and etiquette. They also rode their bikes a lot, which is exactly what Lana needed.

The first day I picked Lana up, she proudly rode her bike around the obstacle course without falling, a grand improvement over what she did when I dropped her off five hours earlier. She excitedly told me. "I crashed three times and have two band-aids and IT WAS AWESOME!" I took my cues from her and figured if she wasn't too hung up on the injuries, I wasn't going to be either.
Over the course of the week Lana earned the nickname of Crash Queen, but also earned the admiration and respect of the other campers and the instructors for dusting herself off and getting back on her bike after every fall. I was expecting Lana's bike riding skills to improve over the course of the week, but it was her strength of character that probably grew the most. Lana wants to do one of the more advanced bike camps next year and I think that's a great idea.

After Bike Camp came Ross Point Baptist Camp, the only overnight camp Lana's got scheduled this summer. For Lana's age group, she's only gone Sunday-Wednesday, but that's certainly enough time for me to miss her. Ross Point is very much a typical, traditional summer camp. There's swimming in the Spokane River, as well as canoeing and paddling, campfires, a climbing wall, singing silly songs, Bible studies, s'mores, staying up too late, and making a dozen new friends.

Lana loved going last year and I knew she'd love it again. More than anything, she's excited for next year because she gets to stay for a whole week. I can easily see our girls going back to Ross Point year after year after year.

Two camps down, six more to go! These two are definite keepers.

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Goodbye Spring, Hello Summer!

With tomorrow being the first official day of summer break, I thought I should chronicle some of our highlights from this past spring.

Lana's Science Fair Project - Let's Make Crystals!
(Not Crystal Meth, like it kind of appears the board reads. We didn't make drugs, I promise : )

Easter egg hunting is the best!

Sweeties on Easter morning!

We visited some fun spots for Go Idaho articles.
Here's the one for Shattuck Arboretum.

We enjoyed some incredible sunsets......

.....and some pee-wee soccer fun.

Little House on the Prairie day was a big hit.....

.....and I think Lana and Nora made the cutest Mother's Day cards ever!

Lana rocked her singing solo and her 3 lines in the church's children's musical.

Our Memorial Weekend at the cabin was like hitting the resent button.

Double rainbows are beautiful!

We've got lots coming up this summer and maybe (just maybe) I'll hop on her to update every once in a while : )

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Happy Birthday Nora!

Yesterday this bundle of personality and spunk turned three years old. Being a day-after Christmas baby means the party is small (just the four of us), the activities are easy (a movie and lunch at McDonald's) and the treats are store-bought (grocery store cupcakes because the fancy bakery was closed and I was done with baking). However, the giggles and squeals from the birthday girl were as delightful as any could be.

Three years of snuggles, stubbornness, dancing in the snow, infectious laughs, and sloppy kisses are all wrapped up in this one little girl. Nora knows her own mind and lets her wants be known. (Yesterday she wanted a birthday hat and a birthday dress, so I dug around and found both. She didn't care that the hat was a crushed leftover from last year or that the dress needed ironing.)

This girl challenges me more than anyone on the entire planet and also holds on to me tighter than anyone ever could. She's taught me a lot about patience, expectations, and perseverance in the last three years and I'm sure will continue to in the years to come.

Happy Birthday Nora!

Saturday, December 24, 2016

Merry Christmas from our family to yours!