Monday, December 30, 2013

2013 :: What I Read, What I Wrote, What I Loved, What I Learned

It's time to wrap up 2013.  In some ways I feel like it was one of the most low key years we've had.  (Either that, or I just have a really bad memory regarding all the impressive and important things that happened.)  No babies born, no new cars, no big vacations, no books published, no sponsors banging down my door to support this little blog ;)  Just messy, crazy, lovely life; long days in a year that flew by.   

I have only a short re-cap of things that may interest the blog-reading world (lucky for you!!)  So, here's a little look-back at some of how I spent 2013...  

* * What I Read * *

It wasn't that much compared to some other lists I've seen! So, in no particular order, and most of which I've already mentioned at some point on this blog...  

The Sane Woman's Guide to Raising a Large Family, Mary Ostyn

Style, Sex and Substance, Hallie Lord

Grace for the Race, Dena Dyer

The Temperament God Gave Your Kids, Art and Laraine Bennett 

Children and Parents, Fulton J. Sheen

Dion: The Wanderer Talks Truth, Dion Dimucci

My Sisters the Saints, Colleen Carroll Campbell 

Who Gets the Drumstick?, Helen Beardsley 

The Pope and the CEO, Andreas Widmer

Ten Ways to Destroy the Imagination of Your Child, Anthony Esolen

Dad is Fat, Jim Gaffigan

Orthodoxy, G. K. Chesterton (still reading struggling through this one for my prayer group.)

American Diabetes Association Guide to Raising a Child with Diabetes, Jean Betschart Roemer 

, In the Garden of Beasts: Love, Terror, and an American Family in Hitler's Berlin Erik Larson (currently listening to this one via Audible)

Uh... if I have a reading goal for 2014, it seems pretty obvious that it should be Read Some Fiction!!

* * What I Wrote * *

These were some of my favorite posts from the past year.  (Or if they weren't my favorites, they were at least my most thought out.)

How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the iPad (May)

Headline: "Mom Test Runs New Scare Tactics in Home" (July)

Siblings: My Gift to Myself, My Gift to Them (October)

Chopping Onions for Moms Because Our Lady Did it for Saint Elizabeth (October)

My most widely viewed posts were:

10 Christmas Gift Ideas for Kids That are Not Stuff (November)  This one made the big time due to Pinterest, but interestingly, not very many people had anything to contribute comment-wise...

Toddler Apron Tutorial (September) Another popular Pinterest item.  I wonder how many aprons have actually been attempted?!

the Kids and Classical Music mini-series (November/December) Even though I did get some lovely comments and encouragement on this series, I'm suspicious of the number of "clicks" and suspect wacky internet spam-related issues had something to do with it! 

The Fall Soup Party - Planning and Prep (October) I didn't think this post was particularly noteworthy, but I think that soup parties are spectacular, so I'm happy for people to join the fun!

* * What I Loved * *

Family: watching my husband compete in the International Barbershop Harmony Society Competition ~ seeing how the Holy Spirit touched the hearts of our children in so many unique and specific ways this past year ~ seeing Aaron mature into a second-grader (!!) and excel at Lego engineering ~ witnessing Dominic's amazing smiles when he started to READ!! ~ Ruth's growing enthusiasm for drawing, impressionist artists, and dress up ~ Clare starting to talk (only we can understand her still!) and her overwhelming love for her dad ~ the birth of my first nephew! ~ our own pregnancy announcement! ~ my amazing parents who are constantly blessing us with their generosity, love, and wisdom.  

School: Popcorn and Poetry Night, using our new iPads, that the boys got to participate in an archery class and soccer clinic, Dover coloring books (of course!) ~ time at the creek, nature hikes, fruit picking.

For the Kids: lots of lovely new art supplies this year, instant downloads of Jim Weiss story recordings (very important for quiet resting time!) ~ farm camp 

For Me: lovely home improvements including very romantic gifts from Russ like a new shower head, new toilet seats, and a new washing machine door gasket!! ~ a vegetable garden that we managed to keep the bunnies out of ~ a prayer group with wonderful ladies who try not to let me get away with spiritual sloth ~ summer fruit jam ~ filling my freezer with meals this fall ~ stolen moments for sewing, painting, and crocheting ~ sushi :) 

* * What I Learned * *

Since Dominic started first grade this year the biggest thing that I already *knew* in my head but had to adjust to in practice was that my children are very different from one another and I have had to keep that in the forefront of my mind when working on lessons with two very different kiddos.  It's so much easier said than done...

This blogging thing isn't as easy as it looks and none of my New Year resolutions have to do with this blog.  (Hope you weren't expecting anything new and improved here!  It'll be pretty same ole - same ole!)  

Another epiphany from 2013 was... well, I'll keep you in suspense.  I'm writing a post now that I'll hopefully publish in the next couple weeks on something that I've been pondering a lot!  Stay tuned :)  

* * * * * *

Our lives are made of days and nights, of seasons and years, for we are part of a universe of suns and moons and planets. We mark ends and we make beginnings and, in all, we praise God for the grace and mercy that fill our days.
(from Blessing for the New Year,

* * * * * *

Happy New Year from our family to yours!

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Happy Handmade Christmas (Volume 2)

Last year I posted on the handmade gifts I had given for Christmas and thought I'd do the same again this year.  (Check out Volume 1 - that would be 2012's handmade gift list - here.) I really love making gifts this time of year.  The aspect of it that I was particularly proud of this year was that the majority of what I made was from materials I already had on hand!  I had to buy a few things here and there, but for the most part, handmade gifts this year were taken from my sewing room stockpile.  (It's a pretty big pile...)  As always, I will try to link back to the patterns, tutorials, and inspirations that I used.

The kids also hand make gifts each year.  This year they made salt dough ornaments which I completely forgot to photograph, wrap, and distribute to our family.  They also made these felt Christmas tree wall hangings - an idea I found from Ginny at Small Things via Pinterest! 

And I made...

For the kids' stockings...

Ruth has been begging for a pretty notebook like one of these for a while, so I just decided to make one for each of the bigger kids... to go with the "Smencils" they also got in their stockings!

The tutorial for these simple cloth-covered notebooks is here.

This was a pre-Christmas gift, but here's the peg doll Nativity set I painted... 

I loved doing it so much that I decided to to also paint some saint dolls for the kids' stockings.  I had intended to do two for each but ran out of time.  So Ruth got Our Lady of Guadalupe and St. Kateri, Clare got St. Clare and St. Therese, Aaron got St. Francis, and Dominic got St. Dominic.  

I whipped up a couple of crocheted ear warmer/headbands for the girls, but Clare refuses to model hers.  It's fairly similar to Ruth's...  (pattern from here)

And this is my favorite crochet project of the season - these nesting and stacking bowls for Clare.

These bowls are a combination of patterns.  The bottoms of the bowls follow this method here and the sides follow this method here

Gifts for extended family this year included a tag blanket for my new nephew...

a simple wooden-handle purse for one of my sisters...

I used this tutorial for the purse.  

and winter cowl/neckwarmers for my mom and other sister...

These are the patterns respectively...  Butternut Squash Neckwarmer and Cluster Stitch Scarf (I just made it smaller to be a neckwarmer and not a full length scarf.)

For the kids this year, we had decided to give them one big "bought" gift and one handmade gift.  For the boys, the homemade gift was fleece pajama pants - Russ also got a pair - in support of the hometown football team!

I just used a pair of the boys' sweatpants to create a pattern for these.  

And the girls received dress up capes...

The red cape was based on this tutorial here, and the floral one I created using an existing dress up cape I borrowed from a friend.  I'm hoping to make a couple more and will stick with the second version, as I like it better.  

That was the extent of handmade Christmas this year.  But if I get my way, I'll be doing a lot more sewing in the next couple weeks because I'm starting to panic that after the baby is born I'll never do another sewing project again...

I would love love love to hear about the handmade gifts you gave this year!  Leave me comments on your creations, and maybe if I can manage a couple extra minutes of blog time later I'll try to turn this into a link-up. Let me know if you're interested in that and perhaps it will be motivation for me!

* * * * * * 

And...  because I seriously love reading what other families choose as gifts for their children,  I'll quickly tell you what the kids' second (non handmade) gifts were, in the event that you're likewise interested in these kinds of ideas!

For Aaron (age 7 1/2): The book Cool Creations in 35 Pieces, by Lego artist Sean Kenney, as well as three sets of the 35 pieces needed to build all the creations in the book.  

For Dominic (age 6): Melissa and Doug Scratch Art - Combo Scratch Art Set and Holographic Scratch Art Set.

For Ruth (age almost 4): A variety of beads for necklace making, including Melissa Doug Bead Bouquet, Butterfly Wooden Bead Set, and Flower Power Wooden Bead Set, as well as wooden pony beads and alphabet beads.  

For Clare (age 21 mos.): the classic, ever popular Fisher Price Magnetic Doodle Pro (which was much, much cheaper at Target, so um, get it there.)

* * * * * *

and, that's all folks!

P.S. If you read enough of my last post to ascertain that we were all sick and miserable, I'm happy to report that it seems we're on the mend!  No one got sick today and everyone ate dinner, except me  - but that has more to do with pregnancy-related reflux than stomach bug, but who wants to hear about that... 

Happy 4th Day of Christmas!  

Friday, December 27, 2013

On the Third Day of Christmas...

Oh forget it.  I surrender.  There's not a lot of 3rd Day celebrating going on around here.  We're just trying to stay afloat with enough clean clothes to wear and clean sheets to sleep on.  (Well, actually, there aren't quite enough clean sheets to go around, but it's sort of the the least of our worries right now.)  It's like the blind leading the blind around here, or more accurately, the pathetically sick and bed-ridden caring for the pathetically sick and bed-ridden.

It started Christmas day, got much worse the day after, and today, despite Clare waking up in a mess of vomit, we thought we were in the clear.  Not so.  Dominic succumbed this evening after he had already fallen asleep... in our bed.  This thing has just latched onto our family like a bad and needy house guest, has left no one untouched, and despite all our hopes and dreams, is giving no indication of departing any time soon.  

That's why I haven't gotten to blog my posts about Christmas cheer, traditions, and gifts as I've been wanting to do.  

Aren't you happy to know about all this misery??  I know bugs hit families all the time and we're not the first to endure this kind of suffering - and suffering it truly is.  But this is the first time in our family where it has literally been everyone.  I've never known what it was like until now to be the sick parent attempting to comfort, and clean up after, a sick child.  Not. fun. Not. easy.  

Even more significantly, this was the first time that our son, Aaron, has been sick with vomiting and other gastrointestinal unpleasantries since his April diagnosis of type 1 diabetes. When he started getting sick yesterday I vaguely recalled from my early diagnosis reading that vomiting posed particular challenges for those with type 1, so even in my own fog of illness I had the wherewithal to look at the "what to do in an emergency" magnet on our fridge and called the diabetes doctor on call at 7:30 in the evening.  And so began a night-long revolving door into Aaron's room to check his blood, into the bathroom to check his ketones (you can read about that here, if you're remotely interested), giving him insulin to counteract his extremely high level of ketones, giving him juice to counteract the insulin, and then all over again every two hours.  Poor kid.  At one point he even apologized that we had to continually care for him throughout the night.  Goodness, we were the ones who were sorry that he was up all night being pricked with needles and peeing in a cup. Needless to say, I didn't sleep well since on top of the fact of still feeling sick myself, I was so anxious about dangerously low night-time blood sugars and high ketone-induced ketoacidosis. Between Aaron, Russ, and myself we did pretty well considering this was out first experience with the whole thing.

Blessedly, the endocrinologist on call was immensely helpful the four times we talked throughout the night and he even called us this morning to check on how all was going.  Aaron's ketone check was negative by this afternoon and he ate a reasonable lunch and dinner.  I'm relieved that this first bout of illness complicated by diabetes is over, and I'm so grateful that Aaron was able to take it all in stride.  I certainly learned a lot, the most important being don't Google what to do when your diabetic child is sick... just call your doctor and don't forget to give him or her a hug next time you see them!  

We're still not out of the fray.  Dominic was sick this evening - a second - uh, make that third - time since I started writing this - and even if no one else gets sick there's the aftermath to deal with.  The laundry, of course, and all of the other things that are totally insignificant in the face of an extreme and all-encompassing stomach bug.  Our home is a complete mess - bits of Christmas still laying about.  But it hardly seems to matter - and I partly credit my Advent attitude of "no fuss, no stress, what gets done gets done."  Otherwise, I might be a wreck.  But as it is, there's stuff everywhere, and frankly, it's ok, because as the kids get better one by one, there are new Christmas things to be enjoyed and they're all readily available for the taking! We've had two days of Legos, books, dress up, bead necklace making, Aqua Doodle, Calico Critters, and lots and lots of art and crafts (and these things are flying everywhere to prove it!)

Here a few photos taken after we did a quick clean up...

Despite this ridiculous illness and this crazy, messy house and life, I'm feeling surprisingly blessed.  We had a lovely Christmas Eve and morning, and beautiful time with family before all this struck. Perhaps the 4th day of Christmas will treat us a little better than the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd, but if not, we're still experiencing the gift of Incarnation in our hearts (now we just need His peace in our stomachs). 

Without the baggage and wretchedness that I subjected you to in this post, if you're still reading...truly, Merry Christmas to you and yours.  

Word of the Father, now in flesh appearing!
O, come let us adore him...
Christ the Lord.

Friday, December 20, 2013

A Peg Doll Nativity (more craftiness show and tell)

I finished my first ever peg doll painting project!  I've always admired the sweet little figures on Etsy and at craft fairs, and in fact we have a wonderful set (of our family, and a little Mass set) painted by a friend of mine.  I wondered if I could do it and always wanted to try, and so I did!!  I think I might be hooked, and can't wait to start my next project.  

This project was to make two Nativity sets - one of the boys' room and one for the girls' room.  We used to have miniature Nativity sets in our rooms during Advent when I was little, so I thought this was a perfect way to carry on the tradition (and for me to get a craft fix - oh, I need those so badly every so often!)

I interrupt this show and tell to tell you loud and clear that none of these ideas were mine, and you would be remiss to credit me with anything other than the paint on the wood.  Since I've never done this before, I scoured Pinterest for ideas on what the figures could/should look like, and chose my designs from the sites linked to below.  They are the ones with the ideas.  I just bought a couple brushes and paints and copied away :)

Peg Doll Nativity, from Just What I Squeeze In (blog)

I also had some success on Etsy selling a few last minute Christmas gifts, so I was able to purchase this stable for the kids to use with the new figures I painted...  It's beautiful and perfect for the peg dolls and I definitely recommend the seller!

Nativity Stable by MamaMadeThem, on Etsy

With all that inspiration, here's what I came up with:

This is the little known portion of the story where the three kings arrived early and all they got to see was an upside down sheep in the manger.

I have no idea...  Conga Line?

...sleep in heavenly peace...

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

The Things They Do With Yarn (a kids crafts show and tell)

A few weeks ago there was an explosion in our living room.  A yarn bomb went off and we're still wading through the aftermath ...

I've taken up crocheting again recently.  It's a nice activity for the chilly winter months, and it's something I can work on without sequestering myself in my attic sewing room.  But once the yarn comes out, the kids go nuts.  They have to be in it, around it, on top of it.  Last year I tried to teach them to crochet but they didn't have the coordination (read, I didn't have the patience.)  So I've been trying to come up with other yarn-related projects for them so that they can join me without needing my help every. twelve. seconds.  (So far, we're at about every 32 seconds, so we still have a long way to go before we're all crafting away in peace and quiet.) 

I love this picture because this is what is supposed to be happening...  I have my work and they craft quietly nearby!
I have bought so much yarn in the past few weeks, the majority of it cheap-o kid craft yarn.  With materials from around the house, we've made pom-pom makers and homemade looms.  The boys are able to complete projects on them mostly independently, so that makes all of us happy!  They wish I'd get the camera out of their faces and craft projects but that's not going to happen!  So here are a few photos of the work they've been doing...

The pom-pom makers were sturdy cardboard squares with the centers cut out so that we could tie a string around
the middle before cutting the ends.  

We made looms by gluing together random pieces of cardboard - to keep it stiff.  Then Russ sawed the notches into the top and bottom and glued on wood paint stirrers cut to fit.
Dominic's project

Aaron's project - he's tying it off in this picture
Aaron's other project involved building a manually powered "sewing machine."  He used it to thread his loom for his second weaving, but for some reason I can't get the picture to load :(
Seriously, what did seven-year-old boys do before Legos???

Sunday, December 15, 2013

"Fair As You Are Able"

People, look East!  The time is near,
Of the crowning of the year.
Make your house fair as you are able,
Trim the hearth and set the table.
People, look East and sing today.
Love, the Guest is on the way!

That is one of our favorite Advent songs around here.  We especially love to sing it while we're hanging the ornaments on the Jesse tree.  I focused on the words "fair as you are able" this weekend, and we used the song for inspiration as we continued to prepare our hearts and home for celebrating the birth of Christ.

Cleaning and decorating.  Every year these things get me a little down because the part of me that longs for things that are neat, orderly, lovely, and picturesque especially longs for a pristine home and gorgeous decorations at this time of year.  Imagine the most beautiful magazine photograph you've seen of a home decorated for Christmas.  That's what I want.  And of course, I don't have!  But this weekend wasn't about perfection and decor worthy of Better Homes and Gardens.  It was about making things as fair as we were able, and it turned out to be good lesson for my heart this Advent.  

CLEANING: Saturday morning we set the troops to work and got a decent amount of organizing and cleaning done around the home. (By Saturday afternoon, you couldn't really tell.)  And my generous, fabulous mother helped me finished a little this morning after Mass - she cleaned my stove top, I cleaned the bathroom, and somehow it finally feels like our home is slowly transforming into a worthy place to hold Christmas celebrations.

even the little ones don't escape chores :)
SPIRITUAL LIFE: Speaking of "transforming into a worthy place" to celebrate the coming of Christ...  Russ and I did a tag team Confession run on Saturday, one of us running through the snow and cold into the church while the other stayed in the car with the kids.  Fair as we are able - we didn't have time to prepare or do a thorough examination of conscience, but we were both so grateful to have fit it in!  

PLAY: The photos were less than lovely, but I captured a sweet moment of the girls "reading" books of the Nativity and arranging some of our Nativity figures along the way.

DECORATING: Saturday afternoon we set out in 11 degree - feels like 0 degrees - weather to choose a Christmas tree.  It was so cold and uncomfortable, we ended up "choosing" practically the first tree we came across.  I missed our tradition of scouring the lot for the perfect tree, but we chose as fair as we were able under the circumstances, and I admit, now that it's lighted and decorated, it's a pretty nice one!  (Speaking of decorations, here's my post from last year about how our Christmas tree simultaneously ridiculous and the most beautiful Christmas tree in the world!)

HAIR: My hair is beyond help, but I was able to tackle the guys' hair this evening.  THANK GOODNESS.  I could hardly look at those shaggy dogs for much longer :)  Christmas haircuts are done.

before.  obviously.

Little by little, we are trimming the hearth, setting the table, preparing out hearts, and decorating our home.  It's not perfect; there are still crumbs on the floor, fingerprints on the fridge, and large portions of the tree with no ornaments.  Better Homes and Gardens isn't calling to do a photo shoot here.  But we're preparing as fair as we are able.  I hope that when my children get older they remember the joyful anticipation and preparations for the Christ child and know that as fair as we are able is all He asks of us.  

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