Insta Replay: It’s Beginning To Look A Lot Like Christmas.

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We cut down our first Christmas tree at Hann’s Christmas Farm on the Sunday after Thanksgiving. We’ve been using fake trees the past ten years largely out of habit but Dan grew up with live trees and has always wanted to have that experience with our kids. When the lights on our pre-lit tree burned out last Christmas, I used it as an excuse to fill his wish this year. He was only a little giddy about it.

The weather was absolutely perfect that day – a slight breeze but still unnaturally warm for nearly December. We trekked through the Christmas Tree farm and looked at all the different varieties, finally settling on a Fraser Fir. I know nothing about tree varieties but it made me think of Outlander and that was good enough for me. I’m not proud. They also had a great playground and  free hot apple cider in the gift shop. We totally made a day of it.

We’ve got the decorating thing down by now. I put on my Christmas playlist and we pawed through the totes of awesome shatterproof ornaments and family ornaments. The kids love looking through the assortment that we’ve collected over the years – several of them date back to my childhood as well as Dan’s and many were made by the kids or purchased over the years.

This year we added two new ornaments to the tree, one a Shutterfly photo ornament with a family photo from last January. The other was made with a picture MM drew of a Sorry game board in art class that I was feeling very mom smitten with. His class uses a website called artsonia.com that sends out an email to parents and any other relatives that sign up to “follow” the kids and we get to see all the work they do in art class and order any photo gifts we like using the artwork. I think it came out really nice and the price was pretty reasonable, too.

When do you start decorating for Christmas? I told myself I was going to wait longer this year but I tend to start feeling festive and sentimental during the long Thanksgiving weekend. This year was no different.

Mama’s Losin’ ItHave you tried Mama Kat’s writer’s workshop yet?It’s basically the most awesomesauce thing ever.

Top 10 Favorite Books From 2016

Can you belive that it’s already December? I won’t stress you out with the countdown of days until all the things, but seriously. It’s all happening. And now everyone is writing up end of the year roundups on all of the things and I don’t want to be left out, so I thought I’d share my ten favorite reads from 2016. Thus far. Obviously I might read something amazing before the year is out, but it will have to earn its fanfare organically.

So without further adieu: The 10 Best Book I Read This Year

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The Royal We by Heather Cocks is basically Prince William and Kate Middleton fanfiction but it was actually a really great read. It was kind of an undertaking, spanning the course of ten years in the courting, dating, breaking up and getting married of Prince Nicholas and Rebecca (i.e. William and Kate). I know it sounds ridiculously cheesy by the premise alone, but the writing is so compelling and the characters are so well written that I found myself cheering for them from the start and rooting all the way to the finish line.

Night Film by Marisha Pessl – It really wasn’t until the second half of the book that this story really picked up for me and consumed my very being. This is a hefty mystery with a lot of moving parts and it took awhile to ease into but I read the last 150 pages in basically one day. I found the overall story to be really fascinating and the pictures and clippings were a nice touch. I was kind of disappointed that the google play app at least doesn’t seem to exist anymore. Unless Cordova got to it.

Eligible by Curtis Sittenfeld is a modern retelling of Pride and Prejudice so you shouldn’t be surprised that it gets mixed reviews. I’m personally a sucker for Pride and Prejudice adaptations and thoroughly enjoyed this one. Sittenfeld took some interesting departures from the original story but overall I think it was an excellent modernization. I would imagine some people might not enjoy a few of the liberties taken, especially P & P purists, but I thought it was a lot of fun.

Old World Murder by Kathleen Ernst is a cozy mystery that takes place at Old World Wisconsin. I live in Wisconsin so it was a lot of fun reading a murder mystery that takes place in my state. Lots of local references to enjoy. Additionally, it’s a good and compelling story that took awhile to build but kept my interest and then consumed my interest in the second half. It ends on a cliff hanger that led to me immediately downloading the next book.

Circling The Sun by Paula McLain was one of my favorite book club reads this year. I could relate to Beryl (the main character) in a lot of ways, especially with her early family life – and I found myself rooting for her from cover to cover. She led a fascinating life that was both difficult and admirable. McLain’s story is well written and absorbing and based on a true story.

Okay we’ve gotten the more adulty books out of the way (with a few exceptions, I know, shhhh). Now here were my five favorite YA novels that I read this year:

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My Lady Jane by Cynthia Hand, Brodi Ashton and Jodi Meadows – This is a strange, strange book to describe. It’s about Lady Jane Grey, who was briefly the Queen of England, except the authors took some pretty major, fantastic, hytertical liberties with the story.  I honestly loved everything about it. It’s part historical fiction, part fantasy, definitely some romance and very funny. You will root for basically every character, even the horses.

Winter by Marissa Meyer – The final book in the series. Each book seems to get bigger as the series goes and more characters are introduced. This book felt like the fireworks finale that it should be with #allthefeels all over the place. Every moment you were waiting for finally happens and Meyer only tries to break your heart eleventy billion times so it’s all good. New to the Lunar Chronicles? Start with Cinder.

The Last Little Blue Envelope by Maureen Johnson is a sequel so definitely read the first book before you read this one. I was surprised to find that I actually enjoyed this book more than I loved the first one. Something in the writing felt fresher and tighter and it probably helps that I’d grown accustomed to the cast of characters. I also really loved Oliver – probably more than I’d liked Keith in book one.

Since You’ve Been Gone by Morgan Matson – I got sucked into this one quickly. The main character, Emily, is extremely shy and totally oblivious but you love and root for her anyway and Frank is just allllll the things. I loved this book. The list of items that Sloane left for Emily to do really made for a funny and interesting book and the characters are all very fleshed out. I liked that the book felt real and honest – characters felt authentic even when you sometimes wished they wouldn’t.

Finding Audrey by Sophie Kinsella – This was a case of the hype totally matching the quality of the book. I waited for what felt like FOREVER to get my hands on a copy of this book and it was totally worth it. After just a few chapters in, I found myself carrying this book with me everywhere I went so I could sneak in a few more pages here and there until it was done. A sweet love story, an honest and up close peek at social anxiety at it’s worst and a surprisingly funny tale of family life and coming of age.

What are some of the best books you’ve read this year?

Gift Guide: For your middle school nerdling-in-training who eats, sleeps and breathes for Minecraft.

My ten year old was shockingly difficult to shop for this year. He’s at a crossroads between child and tween so he’s not really playing with “toys” like he used to and the stuff he does want is rarely in our price bracket. No lie, the words “a Playstation 4 with four controllers” was on his Christmas list this year. I tried not to laugh too loudly. Dreams are precious, you know.

His seven year old sister is easier – she likes literally everything and had a list of like eleventy million things and counting when I stopped her and said, “Woah, no need to fill the whole page!” The only other items on his list were more Hot Wheels tracks and a Minecraft book. Anyway, I’ve been perusing Amazon for a couple of months now looking for other ideas and I thought I’d share some of my contenders with you in case you have a middle school nerdling of your own to shop for.

The Real Nerdy Stuff.

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  1. The Way Things Work Now by David Macaulay is a guide to how basically everything works – the inner workings of everything from windmills to Wi-Fi. This is your future engineer’s dream book.
  2. Shape by Shape is a game by ThinkFun. It has 60 challenges using tannegrams that will sneakily teach your kids conceptual thinking and spatial relationships.
  3. This kid’s telescope is less than $50 – a nice price point for kids that are starting to get into astronomy.
  4. Or perhaps a pocket microscope to slip into their stocking so they can look at all the gory details of that gross thing they found in the backyard.
  5. The Liberty Kids DVD series has insanely great reviews. It’s an animated series about the American Revolution that will make your inner history buff swoon.
  6.  Apparently, what’s old is new again. This little instant camera is basically all over the place. Let your budding photographer experience the world of film cameras with a price point that won’t make you sob.

For Your Master Builders.

  1. masterbuilderThis is something I actually bought my own 10 year old. He fell in love with this Holy Bible for Minecrafters at the school book fair and has not stopped talking about it.
  2. He asked for Hot Wheels tracks and I’m still deliberating between two: the first is a Stunt Kit with a big wheelygig.
  3. I’m also considering this 2 lane launcher so that he and his sister can race against each other.
  4. Dan TDM is apparently a famous Minecraft You Tuber (that’s a thing) and he created this graphic novel based off the world he created in Minecraft. The illustrations look fairly amazing and I’m pretty sure my ten year old would go nuts for it.

Because they  are still kids, too.

  1. funandgamesI cannot stop swooning over this shark victim blanket. Why I’m so enamoured with the idea of my son being eaten by a shark, I don’t know. But I’m pretty sure my tween won’t need me to explain why it’s so awesome.
  2. I’m pretty much obsessed with all variations of Apples to Apples and super intrigued by this Freestyle edition where the players actually come up with their own answers instead of using the traditional noun cards.
  3. Is there anything better than a classic boomerang. This would be  great to tuck into their stocking and there are tons of cool designs on Amazon to choose from.
  4. You can’t go wrong with a video game. And a video game that combines Legos with Super Heroes seems like a sure thing to me. The nearly 5 star rating seems to agree.
  5. Dog Man by Dav Pilkey (he of Captain Underpants fame) seems to be a big hit right now. It would be great for kids of a pretty broad age range – lots of pictures but funny enough that older kids will want to tuck into it, too. We English Major moms can groan about it behind our coffee mugs but any book that makes a kid excited to read is a good book to have in the house.

Gift Ideas: For my kindred spirit ladies.

I’m going to be sneaky and create a gift guide that is basically just a list of presents that I would want. If you know an introverted bookworm who is obsessed with travel, celebrity memoirs and young adult novels, has a handful of small children and still watches tween tv shows sometimes… I got you. Or if you are a friend or relative of yours truly and have a hankering to buy me pretty things… I got you, too.

Here are gift ideas for the wifey, daughter, sister-in-law, bestie or coworker that should probably be my new best friend:

First off, books. Because obviously.

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Talking As Fast As I Can by Lauren Graham | Hungry Heart by Jennifer Weiner | Scrappy Little Nobody by Anna Kendrick | Replica by Lauren Oliver | The Crown by Kiera Cass | After You by Jojo Moyes

There’s always a book I want to read, these are the ones I’m currently ogling at bookstores. Another safe bet is a big ole gift card to Barnes & Noble. Give us an excuse to get lost in those aisles while sipping a holiday latte.

Things For The Kitchen. Broad Description Alert.

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Cravings by Chrissy Teigen | Citrus Kitchen Soap from Food52 | ROYCE chocolates NAMA

Don’t buy me a blender or some other device that is designed to trap me in the kitchen and take up too much counter space. Do buy me things that will make being in the kitchen feel a little bit luxurious. Fancy soaps to make doing the dishes a little less hellish. Amazing chocolate that will ruin all other chocolates for me for life (too late, the damage is done). And although asking for a cookbook sounds so cliched, I’ll admit I really want to try out the recipes from Chrissy Teigen’s book.

Music to Embarrass My Kids In The Car With.

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Hamilton Soundtrack | Christmas With Jon Batiste | An Evening With Sutton Foster

I think the soundtrack to Hamilton might be the only feasible way for me to experience this phenomenon and any excuse to listen to rap music but still feel holier than thou and elitist and you know I’m on board. It’s this or watching Fresh Off The Boat, really.

We’re big Colbert fans here and so obviously we’ve become fans of Jon Batiste and Stay Human because we do what Stephen tells us to do. I’m always on the hunt for new Christmas music that my husband and I will both enjoy, this seems like a good bet.

And I’ve been a fan of Sutton Foster since Bunheads and now Younger. She’s basically one of the most talented creatures alive and I’m super intrigued by this CD which is kind of broadway and kind of jazzy and sounds kind of awesome.

Things I Couldn’t Categorize Easily.

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Parts of Speech Poster | Born Ballet Flats | Marrying Mr. Darcy the Card Game

Ah, the riff raff at the bottom of the list. These have basically no connection to each other except being picked last for dodgeball. Still, these are all pretty high on my wish list and totally a safe bet for making me squeal. This Parts of Speech poster is just begging to be hung in my office. I’m on the hunt for the perfect ballet flats and these pink pretties by Born should probably be my next victim. And I’m so eyeballing this card game hard because it combines two of my favorite things: Pride & Prejudice and gaming. It’s a match made in heaven, really.

This is the part of the post where I say something sentimental about how it’s the spirit of giving that matters and that all I want for Christmas is to spend time with my adorable children and sip a big mug of coffee in proximity to our Christmas Tree and while all that is true, I’ll still totally accept any of the above gifts if you crave spoiling me this year.

Holiday Book Gift Guide: For Your 7 Year Old Daughter Who Is Reading You Out of House and Home.

When I buy gifts for people, I tend to look at books first. I was a big reader growing up and now I find myself raising big readers. It’s a proud momma moment when I see the whole family curled up with respective books. Our house is fairly crawling with good books and I do not mind this problem at all. If you have a seven year old girl looking for her next good read, here are ten books I’d suggest sticking under the tree for her this Christmas.

51jwweqe08l-_sx336_bo1204203200_Christmas Stories by Laura Ingalls Wilder – This whole series of Little House Chapter Books is fantastic for kids just getting into chapter books and a great introduction to the Little House series. This one seems like an obvious choice for this time of year.

518gvkn9val-_sx359_bo1204203200_Ballet Cat: The Totally Secret Secret by Bob Shea is one my own daughter has her eye on. It’s heavy on the pictures and perfect for building your kid’s confidence in reading a larger book because it’s a deceptively quick read despite its size. It’s reminiscent of the Piggie and Elephant books by Mo Willems that both my kids love.

51sosm4erml-_sx428_bo1204203200_Clarice Bean: The Utterly Complete Collection by Lauren Childs has three Clarice Bean books in one box set. This are chapter books by the same author who wrote Charlie & Lola. I love her writing style because it tosses in larger words in a funny way so it’s secretly increasing your kid’s vocabulary, too. If your daughter isn’t quite ready for chapter books, the Charlie & Lola books are fantastic, too.

61qnfm9ir0lWonder Woman at Super Hero High by Lisa Yee is a great chapter book to offer your comic book loving girls. It all takes place at Super Hero High where some of our favorite super heroes go to school to learn to be super heroes. Join Wonder Woman’s first year at school and meet all your favorite comic book heroes in a way you’ve never seen them before!

51jmfvi-xcl-_sx342_bo1204203200_Kristy’s Great Idea: Full Color Edition by Ann M. Martin is a major nostalgia alert. I bought this for my daughter to lure her into my favorite series from childhood and found myself sitting on my bed reading the whole thing in one sitting. I loved the illustrations and my daughter was immediately hooked and asking for book two! Only a small handful of the books have been given the graphic novel treatment, but you can go from these to the regular series or even check out the Baby Sitters Club Little Sister series which are shorter in length and feature younger girls.

51xxd20z2wl-_sy395_bo1204203200_Julia’s House for Lost Creatures by Ben Hatke looks like a beautiful picture book to add to your collection. Even when your kids start reading to themselves regularly, they still love to be read to. This is when you up the ante and get picky about your picture books. Gorgeous illustrations and stories good enough that you actually want to find out what happens next. This one looks fantastic.

41pbrsgesil-_sx399_bo1204203200_Mercy Watson Boxed Set by Kate DiCamillo is going under my Christmas tree this year. My daughter is reading one of the books for school and cannot stop the gushing. I like to keep a good thing going and this little pig seems to have the power to captivate my daughter with every page. These are kind of a hybrid between chapter books and picture books. Lots of illustrations but plenty of words, too.

51ldqls0g3l-_sx321_bo1204203200_Buckle and Squash: The Perilous Princess Plot by Sarah Courtauld is a mixed-up fairly tale chapter book with scattered sweet illustrations about two very different sisters who find themselves on a daring adventure. It’s praised for it’s wit and wordplay and seems to be a hit for all ages.

514bxlelovl-_sx337_bo1204203200_Kiki: My Stylish Life by Kyla May is one of my daughter’s favorites. It’s part of a series of books, each told from a different girl’s perspective. It’s written like a diary and has lots of cute illustrations and a lot of sass and silliness. My daughter laughed out loud over this one and frequently asked to read section aloud to me. It’s a great forray into chapter books for kids that are kind of ready for more but still love plenty of pictures in their books.

511r-wotp9lOkay, so you have a big reader – maybe they are ready to start writing, too? I just ordered my daughter this adorable “secret” diary with a pretty little box to keep it in. Now she can write her own stories and feel like she’s part of her own novel in the making.

 

What books would you add to this list?

What was your favorite book at this age?

toptentuesday

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme hosted by The Broke and the Bookish.