Categories
books & reading

Books I Read in 2020

As is tradition, here is the complete list of books that I read last year.

  1. LIKED I Love You So Mochi by Sarah Kuhn | Finished 1/16 | This one started out at 3 stars for me but slowly worked its way to 4. A slow burn, I started out annoyed by how dense the main character was and just perplexed by the whole argument she was having with her mom that leads to her impromptu trip to Japan. But then I got distracted by the descriptions of Japan and the overall love story and ended up liking the book almost in spite of myself.
  2. REALLY LIKED Guts by Raina Teglemeier | Finished 1/19 | This is another graphic memoir from when Raina was in the 4th and 5th grade. It details her struggles with anxiety, fear of getting sick, friend struggle and learning to talk out your problems. My 10 and 13 year old both enjoyed this one, as did I.
  3. REALLY LIKED Always Never Yours by Emily Wibberley | Finished 1/28 | At first I was sort of dubious about the main character and her whole theory that she’s doomed to be the “girl before.” But as the story progressed and we learned more about her, she eventually won me over. And the love story was pure 😍😍😍.
  4. LOVED Waiting For Tom Hanks by Kerry Winfrey | Finished 2/2 | I slightly blew threw this book, staying up way too late for a couple of nights. I loved all of the rim com movie references but I especially loved the heart behind the story and the banter between the characters. The next book is definitely on my wish list!
  5. LIKEDFriendship to the Max (Lumberjanes Vol. 2)| Finished 2/2 | Such a fun graphic novel. I love how tough these girls are and enjoyed the mythology element in these chapters.
  6. REALLY LIKEDEleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman | Finished 2/26 | I’d like to subtitle this book ‘For fuck’s sake, Eleanor”. This was my second attempt to read this book. The first time I barely made it through 2 chapters before backing away slowly as it became clear that the main character is a bit… Off. But my book club is discussing it this month and I decided to give it another go, this time listening to the audio book at the recommendation of a friend. I loved the narrator and a few more chapters in I started to realize WHY Eleanor is so strange and found myself anxious to see the book through. Also, I adored Raymond. His friendship with Eleanor was everything. I ultimately ended up really liking the book so I’m glad I gave it a second chance. (February Book Club)
  7. REALLY LIKED I’ve Got Your Number by Sophie Kinsella | Finished 3/2 | Such a wacky premise. I loved the characters, even when they were being obtuse. Fun, addictive read. This was a staying up past my bedtime to finish kind of book.
  8. REALLY LIKED The Magic Misfits by Neil Patrick Harris | Finished 4/7 | TThis was a really fun story and I couldn’t help but hear NPH in my head narrating it. It kinda reminded me of the tone of A Series of Unfortunate Events. My son really liked it too. Planning on reading the next book.
  9. REALLY LIKED Things You Save in a Fire by Katherine Center |Finished 4/18 | I really enjoyed this but The Rookie was occasionally almost too amazing if that makes sense. Still, I found the book more relatable than I was expecting and loved all the Boston references and the peek into the world of firefighting.
  10. REALLY LIKED Pretty in Punxutawney by Laurie Boyle Crompton | Finished 4/23 | Andie is doomed to relive the first day at her new high school until she gets it right. This book really came to me at just the right time. Reading it during quarantine when every day feels like the one before, put me in the perfect mood for reading this. I really loved this book. I thought it was really well done. The whole time loop premise is thoroughly fleshed out and examined and although you kind of know how things should end, I had no idea how we were going to get there.
  11. REALLY LIKED Lucky Caller by Emma Mills | Finished 4/27 | I blew through this sweet ya love story. I liked the main characters, even when they were frustrating and rooted for the little tag tag radio team.
  12. REALLY LIKED P.S. I Like You by Kasie West | Finished 5/2 | This book really grew on me in the end. The love story really comes together. It’s got a kind of You’ve Got Mail storyline and I definitely stayed up way too late to finish it.
  13. LOVED Starring, The Babysitters! By Ann M. Martin | Finished 5/2 | I reread this with my ten year old and it was nostalgia for days. I love Peter Pan and reading about the Babysitter’s being a part of one of my favorite plays was great. Reading it with my daughter was fun. I was coming in with a mom’s perspective this time and it was fun to compare our points of view and to share a book from my childhood is always a fun bonus.
  14. REALLY LIKED This is What Happy Looks Like by Jennifer E. Smith | Finished 5/11 | The premise of this book was fun and the characters were easy to root for even when they were bad at decision making. I plowed through the book and definitely plan to check out more books by Smith.
  15. REALLY LIKED Artemis Fowl by Eoin Colfer | Finished 5/23 | I read this at the recommendation of my 14 year old and my husband who both loved it. I don’t know what I was expecting, but it wasn’t this – a fantastic blend of fantasy, action and sci fi starring an villainous but brilliant twelve year old. This is a fast paced read and a lot of fun. Looking forward to book two!
  16. LOVED Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng | Finished 5/30 | This book was a slow burn for me (pun intended) but the more I read, the more it grabbed me. The second half went by fast. I think the author did a great job peeling away the details at the right time. Very well done.
  17. LOVED Aloha, Babysitters by Ann M. Martin | Finished 6/2 | Read this with my daughter for a little mother daughter book club. I don’t remember reading it before actually so it was fun not knowing what was going to happen. I don’t remember Abby and liked getting to know her character. This super special had a lot of action and adventure and I loved the descriptions of Hawaii. 🥰🥰🥰
  18. REALLY LIKEDUprooted by Naomi Novik | Finished 6/6 | Howls Moving Castle meets Moana meets The Witcher. This reads like a dark, adult fairy tale and sweeps you away.
  19. LOVED Tweet Cute by Emma Lord | Finished 6/21 | Sort of a modern YA You’ve Got Mail. There are multiple layers to this adorable love story that eventually all come together beautifully. This one kept me up late reading several nights in a row.
  20. LOVED 10 Blind Dates by Ashley Elston | Finished 6/25 | I blew through this one. The premise is fun and wacky. The characters are easy to root for and the love story is everything. Loved it.
  21. LIKED Of Curses and Kisses by Sandhya Menon | Finished 6/30 | This was a fun premise. I’m a sucker for a good retelling and this loose take on beauty and the beast was a lot of fun. Menon has created a great cast of characters and I spent several nights staying up too late to finish it.
  22. LIKED Witchy by Ariel Slamet Ries | Finished 7/5 | Very intrigued by this story. I sort of felt thrown into the middle of a larger plot but I hung in there and eventually settled into what was going on. Hoping there will be a second book out soon.
  23. LIKED Happy Birthday, Babymouse by Jennifer L. Holm | Finished 7/7 | These are a fun, quick read. Babymouse tries to plan the perfect birthday party but nothing seems to go right. More fun literary references and a feel good ending.
  24. LIKED Dragonslayer by Jennifer L. Holm | Finished 7/7 | My ten year old loved this and was adamant that I read it, too. This is an adorable series about a little mouse making her way through life and school, with a pretty big imagination. Dragonslayer sees our hero taking on the ferocious monster: math. I loved the fantasy elements mixed with everyday life.
  25. LOVEDCrime and Poetry by Amanda Flower | Finished 7/23 | I really got into this one. A cozy mystery set in a magical bookshop? You had me at hello. I really liked the overall writing style and definitely plan to continue the series.
  26. REALLY LIKED Babysitters at Shadow Lake by Ann M. Martin | Finished 7/28 | I reread this with my eleven year old and really enjoyed experiencing it a second time. A lot of stuff I’d honestly forgotten. I love super specials because you get to see the same experience through multiple eyes, including some of the younger kids this time.
  27. REALLY LIKED The Unlikelies by Carrie Firestone | Finished 8/1 | This book was heavier than I expected, but engrossing. I thought the premise was really interesting and the characters were so inspiring. We should all be Unlikelies.
  28. LOVEDProse and Cons by Amanda Flower | Finished 8/19 | I pretty much blew through this book. I think I can officially declare myself hooked on this series. I didn’t figure out whodunnit until the last possible second. Love the characters. Looking forward to book 3.
  29. REALLY LIKED Karen’s Roller Skates by Ann M. Martin (graphic novel) | Finished 8/23 | My daughter loves the graphic novel series of BSC books and just read this one – and promptly handed it to me. It’s just as adorable as the other books in the series and perfect for younger readers. Definitely brings me back to my own childhood reading every BSC book I could get my hands on.
  30. LIKED The King’s Fifth by Scott O’Dell | Finished 8/24 | It took me about halfway through to really get into this book. It seemed to start really slow and it took me time to adjust to the dialect and unfamiliar vocabulary. But the action definitely picks up halfway and I can see a lot of value in the story told. My eleven year old and I will be discussing the book for history and literature next month.
  31. REALLY LIKED Stargazing by Jen Wang | Finished 8/24 | Another graphic memoir handed to me by my eleven year old daughter. This one got heavier than I was expecting – I teared up a little towards the end. Very sweet with a happy ending.
  32. LOVED The Flatshare by Beth O’Leary | Finished 8/30 | I pretty much devoured this one. Love the concept, loved the characters. It had action, humor, and a love story to swoon for.
  33. LIKED102 Top Picks for Homeschool Curriculum by Cathy Duffy | Finished 9/6 | A little out of date, but lots of useful information about teaching and learning styles, homeschooling philosophies and priorities and how to apply all of that to choosing a curriculum.
  34. LIKED The Friend Zone by Abby Jimenez | Finished 9/12 | I have mixed feelings about this one. The writing style was good, the chemistry between the main characters was palpable and there were plenty of funny and entertaining scenes. But the whole story was also overwrought with drama that could have been avoided by people just being honest with each other to a degree that became irritating after awhile. And there were some traumatic moments that seemed almost unnecessarily cruel that I think the whole story could have been successful without. I’ll avoid saying more on that though, because spoilers.
  35. REALLY LIKED The Ghost in the Tokaido Inn by Dorothy Hoobler | Finished 9/13 | This was a story that kept me on my feet trying to guess what would happen next. My eleven year old is supposed to read this next month and I’m debating reading it with her instead of having her read it on her own so that we can discuss it in real time, because as much as I found it engaging, I’m concerned that the frequent discussions of seppuku might be distressing for her. It’s important to the plot, but still pretty distressing.
  36. REALLY LIKED Homeschool Basics by Tricia Goyer and Kristi Clover | Finished 9/15 | There’s plenty of practical advice and also just some emotional cheerleading. You won’t find that everything applies to you and your situation but it will probably answer most of your questions.
  37. REALLY LIKED Secret of the Andes by Ann Nolan Clark | Finished 9/17 | My 6th grader and I read this out loud as part of our homeschool curriculum and she loved it to pieces. It was very engaging, with plenty of rich details about the Incan people, the Andes mountains and Peruvian culture. The little mystery definitely kept us guessing. And of course the llamas were her favorite part.
  38. REALLY LIKED Master Cornhill by Eloise Jarvis McGraw | Finished 9/18 | This is the next book in our 6th grade homeschool curriculum, set in London in 1666. The story is nestled between the great plague and the great fire, but mostly centers around the title character, eleven year old Michael, who searches for family and purpose in the middle of one of the toughest years in London history. I found the book very engaging and I’m looking forward to hearing what my own eleven year old thinks of it.
  39. REALLY LIKED Murder, Plain and Simple by Isabella Alan | Finished 10/10 | This one kept me guessing until the end. I really enjoyed the setting and characters. Definitely planning to read the next book.
  40. REALLY LIKED The Ravenmaster’s Secret by Elvira Woodruff | Finished 10/13 | This is the next book my 6th grader will be reading this year and I think she’ll really enjoy it. Lots of action and a good pace. A fun story that manages to be educational and show what life was like in that part of England’s history.
  41. LIKED The Arrow Over the Door by Joseph Bruchac | Finished 10/27 | Short read about the Abenaki and the Quakers during the Revolutionary War. An interesting perspective.
  42. REALLY LIKED Calm the F*ck Down by Sarah Knight | Finished 11/9 | Some of the book was repetitive or read like common sense, but I also found some pointers in it for better managing my anxiety so worth the read.
  43. REALLY LIKED The Scarlet Pimpernel by Emmuska Orczy | Finished 11/12 | Loved the audiobook narration, it really brought the story alive. Started dry, but was very funny and suspenseful once it got going.
  44. LOVED Murder, Simply Stitched by Isabella Alan | Finished 11/12 | Definitely hooked on this cozy mystery series. Looking forward to the next book!
  45. LOVED The Sherwood Ring by Elizabeth Marie Pope | Finished 11/14 | The Revolutionary War through the eyes of a teenage girl and her ancestral ghosts. A romping good time with three love stories to cheer for!
  46. REALLY LIKED The Princess Rules by Phillips Gregory | Finished 11/18 | Recommended fervently by my tween, this was an adorable collection of stories about a princess breaking all the rules, finally. Girl power!
  47. LIKED People of the Breaking Day by Marcia Sewell | Finished 11/27 | a little long for a picture book but engaging and informative with beautiful pictures. Loved the glossary of Wampanoag words in the back.
  48. REALLY LIKED Pilgrims Fact Tracker by Mary Pope Osborne | Finished 11/27 | Loved the format of this companion book to Thanksgiving on Thursday. Informative but entertaining and engaging.
  49. REALLY LIKED Thanksgiving on Thursday by Mary Pope Osborne | Finished 11/27 | This was a quick fun read that brought a little bit of history alive. My eleven year old loved it.
  50. LIKED Calico Bush by Rachel Field | Finished 12/23 | I had a love hate relationship with this one. We really enjoyed most of it, but some of the passages seemed too intense for the intended audience.
  51. LIKED Only the Names Remain by Alex W Bealer | Finished 12/31 | While it was informative, it was very dry and not very engaging. Not my favorite.

You might also enjoy this round up of my favorites of the year.

Books Read in: 2008 | 2009 | 2010 | 2011 | 2012 | 2013 | 2014 | 2015 | 2016 | 2017 | 2018 | 2019

Categories
books & reading homeschool quick lit reviews

What I’ve Been Reading Lately

We’re already halfway through the month of January and my reading life for 2021 is in full swing, thanks to homeschooling and bedtime reading. I’m joining along with Anne @ Modern Mrs Darcy to share what I’ve been reading over the last month.

Books I’ve Finished Recently

Calico Bush was one of our last read alouds and I still have mixed feelings about it. We loved most of the book and got very wrapped up in the lives of the characters. But I’m still shook over one section of the story that I think was too intense and graphic (and tragic) for the target audience of the book.

Only the Name Remains was probably my least favorite homeschool reader and definitely my daughter’s least favorite this year. Compared to all the other books we’ve read, it was dry and dragging, which is tough to acknowledge when trying to read about a difficult part of history. It just didn’t breathe the story to life for us.

Murder, Served Simply was book 3 in the Amish Quilt Shop series. I’m obsessed with the author and series and conveniently I got to read this Christmas tale of murder and meddling parents and love triangles during Christmas vacation.

Banner in the Sky is the book my 6th grader is reading right now. It was slow to start and I was initially worried it would be a slog, but it quickly swept me away to the Swiss Alps and earned a 5 star rating from yours truly.

What I’m Currently Reading

Right now we’re reading Betsy and the Emperor aloud and we’re both hooked on this story of Napoleon’s enprisonment on St Helena. The title character is delightfully sassy.

I have been hearing endlessly good things about the Brave Writer program and the creator’s book, The Brave Learner so I bought her book to check it out and so far so good. I really appreciate her viewpoint on education and I’m looking forward to picking up some tricks and tips.

I’ve been reading 10 Things I Hate About Pinky at night before bed for the past few nights. The author is a favorite of mine and I was hooked from the premise which is reminiscent of 10 Things I Hate About You.

I’m prereading Homeless Bird right now before my 6th grader starts it next month. It’s an intense plot, but so far I’ve found it very readable. I’ve only gotten a few chapters in though. It’s basically about an arranged marriage gone horribly wrong.

We started reading Soft Rain during our morning basket time at the suggestion of a friend and fellow homeschooler, after commiserating over our lack of enjoyment of Only the Names Remain. So far I’d definitely agree that this is a much more enjoyable narrative to read about the topic of the Trail of Tears. This morning my daughter even begged for one more chapter, always a good sign.


What are you reading right now?

Categories
food and drink mama kat's writers workshop

6 Keto Recipes Rocking my January.

I’m linking up with Mama Kat’s World Famous Writer’s Workshop this week. All the cool kids are doing it. Head to her blog to see more posts about the following topics this week:

1. Share a favorite recipe you’ve been loving lately.
2. Write about what helps you stay motivated during these unprecedented times?
3.  Write a blog post about something that made you smile this week.
4. Write a blog post inspired by the word: enough
5. Write about the last argument you witnessed (could be a silly one)…did you take a side?
6. Share a memory about something you did as a child that made a family member angry.


Dan and I both agreed halfway through the month of December that we needed to jump start our diets in the new year. We’d both been living that 2020 Slump Life and eating like a couple of unguarded six year olds at an ice cream buffet for basically a whole year and being actual probably grown ups we knew we couldn’t do it indefinitely. Since quarantine life continues whether we like it or not, it was time to stop acting like life has no rules anymore.

Dan has had tremendous luck with Keto in the past so it was no surprise that he chose to jump back on the well working wagon. And after a couple of years of cooking for his diet, I felt capable this time around of joining him, for at least a month.

There are different types of Keto lifestyles, I’d say ours falls somewhere in the Lazy Keto / Dirty Keto corner. He’s much stricter about his carb levels than I am, but I’ve still managed to do enough in the last two weeks to keep myself from cracking and to keep my sugar level at a much more manageable state. I’m shocked at how few calories I’m consuming when I stick to it and keep enough fat and protein in my diet. So far so good. Here are some of the newer recipes and old favorites that are making this whole thing work for us.


THE BREAKFAST SMOOTHIE

I decided early on that I wanted to find a way to make a breakfast smoothie that was Keto friendly because like 48 hours before starting the diet I had one of the best smoothies of my entire existence at a local coffee shop and I was heartbroken that I wouldn’t be able to drink it again anytime soon. True story, I’m a real piece of work. So I started with this recipe at thebigmansworld.com and tooled around with different flavors and combinations and eventually settled on the following stupidly simple recipe:

Jen’s Keto Chocolate Peanut Butter Smoothie

Ingredients

  • 1 cup of unsweetened vanilla almond milk
  • 2 tbsp peanut butter or almond butter if that’s your bag
  • 1 cup of Quest chocolate protein powder (it has a less carbs than other powders I looked at. I’ve used Olly, too and only used a half serving to cut down on carbs)
  • cinnamon to taste

Directions

  1. Add half the almond milk to your blending device of choice and then the remainder of the ingredients. Then add in the rest of the almond milk.
  2. Blend until all ingredients are well mixed in and it’s the desired consistency.

Sometimes I add powdered instant coffee, too.


EGGS AND BACON Y’ALL

Thanks to my terrific husband working from home, most days he makes me some variety of bacon, eggs, and cheese. Sometimes he scrambles, sometimes they are fried. I am seriously digging this breakfast for lunch life and it’s an easy Keto friendly meal.


KETO ZUPPA TOSCANA

I’ve been making this slow cooker Keto take on zuppa toscana for ages now and I honestly prefer it over the potato version. This recipe subs in cauliflower instead and the result is very tasty. Multiple members of the family have informed me that it’s one of their favorite meals. You can use fresh or frozen veggies and whatever level hotness you like in a sausage. Seriously I make this even when nobody is dieting.


TACO PIE

I was perusing this article on Good Morning America last week and was super intrigued by the Taco Pie recipe. We usually just throw our taco meat on a salad and enjoy our quick taco nights but I felt like trying something new but relatively easy and this was just the ticket. The whole family dug into it and my husband and I immediately started dreaming about how to reimagine other meals in this quichey pie dream world. Tonight I’m going to turn another family favorite, hamburger casserole from Cast Iron Keto, into a Hamburger Pie.


KETO NO BAKE CHEESECAKE

But what about dessert, asks every sweet tooth in the room. I said a lot of big talk early on about how I wasn’t going to succumb to silly fake desserts while doing Keto this month and I made it about one day under that notion. We have found a few Keto ice cream bars and pints that hit the spot, but this no bake cheesecake recipe from Kalyn’s Kitchen was lick the beaters good. Like where have you been all my life let’s get married and live in creamy, cheesecakey bliss forever good. And it was so stupidly easy to make that it kind of felt like maybe things will be okay after all. This one still definitely qualifies as a sometimes treat, but what a treat it was.


KETO CHEESE CRACKERS

I’m also still loving this awesome keto cheese cracker hat trick. I found the recipe at kaseytrenum.com and it’s so simple guys. I just cooked up a huge batch today. Each “cracker” is one slice of cracker barrel sized cheese, so three crackers is equal to 1 ounce of cheese. That’s it. This time I sprinkled half with her quasi spicy spice blend and the other half I used garlic powder, basil, and a little parmesan cheese for good measure.


Anyone else living that Keto life? I’d love to hear about your favorite go to recipes in the comments section!

Categories
family fun motherhood

The unsung heroes of 2020

I am feeling nostalgic as this year draws to a close and thought I’d dorkily list some of the very un- serious things that have gotten my family through this year and served as the backdrop to our year, if you will. Things like…

Animal Crossing which I bought on a petulant whim after all our plans were cancelled this Spring and has since gone on to become a favorite game for my eleven year old and I, along with all the other tweens and moms I know it sometimes seems. This summer especially involved a lot of long hours visiting friends islands and working on our little island.

Bob’s Burgers which we started watching for the first time this year and have already caught up with the current season, making it much harder to binge. It’s not the only show we fell for hard this year. We also binged Community, The Great, Space Force, most of King of the Hill, and almost the entire Marvel cinematic universe.

Adult coloring books have become a completely unironic hobby of mine this year. My daughter and I both spend many afternoons and evenings coloring together and have developed strong opinions on markers and paper quality.

Eatstreet has gotten so much of our business this year it’s crazy. We’re using Amazon slot, too, but that’s not necessarily new so much as increased. Before 2020 we almost never ordered delivery apart from the local pizza and Chinese places but this year we’ve made ample use of these new fangled services that let us enjoy more of our favorite restaurants without leaving the house.

Loungewear has become far more important this year. Yes standards have fallen pretty low when it comes to what constitutes outdoor wear, but I don’t hate the freedom of deciding that comfort is king this year. Mad love to the new favorite pieces from Duluth Trading Co. and Torrid that have become every day staples.

Our Mr. Coffee pot that went from the appliance we pulled out on weekends to our daily workhorse. I don’t hate meeting up with my hubby for coffee refills on the kitchen in between his work meetings and my homeschool lessons. We’ve developed a lot of cute rituals that just look like drinking coffee on the front porch or shopping for groceries but have become a stand in for date nights and I couldn’t imagine the year without them.


What new or novel things have you been enjoying this year? What new hobbies and habits will you keep in the next?

Categories
family fun IRL

counting my blessings in 2020

It’s pretty easy to wallop on this year and list the myriad of things that have gone wrong or changed or thrown us for a loop. All you have to say is 2020 and I think we all collectively groan and grumble about quarantine, politics, social media, curves that need flattening, and the isolation and closeness and sheer Groundhog Day-quality that this year has been.

But it hasn’t all been bad. 2020 has scattered a few blessings in between the chaos, at least for us.

I was inspired by this video by Homeschool on the Hill to look back on some of the ways that this year was good for my family.

The first obvious one is that even though it was under duress, homeschooling my sixth grader has honestly been a joy. That’s not to say it’s been easy or that I haven’t been exhausted or stressed out in the planning and day to day of it all. But I can see how much she’s learning and how much we enjoy sharing this together. We’re loving our Bookshark curriculum and I’m already starting to plan for seventh grade because even when this whole quarantine situation is over, we’re not planning to switch back (at least for middle school).

I would be remiss not to express my gratitude for getting to replace my car this year. We actually replaced both of our aging vehicles and although both happened rather unexpectedly, I’m grateful that we were able to replace them quickly and with little issue. Not paying for private school tuition this year certainly made this situation easier. And I freaking love my new ride.

We have been blessed with so much family time. From camping trips to late night stargazing walks to movie marathons and just the day to day minutes. I’ve not so secretly loved having my brood around so much. Distance learning hasn’t been easy for everyone but my teenager makes it look easy and working from home has been relatively easy for my husband as well.

Although we get antsy with the close quarters every now and then, for the most part we’re all getting along and making the most of these stolen days. If anything, I feel like I am finally learning how to simply be at home. I’m baking more and finding time for hobbies and learning to keep myself entertained without leaving the house as much.

We’ve done some home renovations that we’ve talked about for years like clearing out our office so it can double as a den and gaming room – or replacing our stove (under duress) and putting up a little backsplash. We cleaned out the garage so that my new gorgeous car can park inside (yay!!) and put some chairs on our front step so that the hubby and I can escape outside for a morning cup of coffee and “get away” from the kids for a bit. We’ve also finally gotten comfortable leaving the kids home alone for periods of time so we can go on exciting dates like “to the grocery store” or “what if we got ice cream by ourselves for no reason?”


Those are just a few of the little blessings off the top of my head. It’s nothing earth shattering – but if you ignore the face masks and the toilet paper shortages and the lack of exciting vacations or big parties and the ability to go to Target to shop for nothing while drinking coffee (and yes some of the bigger things we are missing, too), this year almost kind of hasn’t been that bad…

I’m not making light of the struggles this year has provided. There have been plenty. I could write a completely different post listing all my grievances and it would be a long one. And I’m sure yours would be pretty intense, too. But sometimes we need to remember to focus on the rays of light where we find them shining.

Happy Holidays guys – I hope you find some glimmers in the darkness as we count down to the end of a very strange year.

Categories
books & reading homeschool

My Year in Books (so far) | 2020

The year is not quite over yet but the odds of me finishing another book before the clock strikes twelve on 2020 is starting to diminish (though I’ll give it my darnedest). I finished my 2020 Reading Challenge on Goodreads (thank you Homeschool readers!) and they have even published their Year in Books so I thought I’d share a little bit of my reading year and give you the highlights.

So far I have read 50 books this year which is a pretty awesomely high number for me, and I think greatly contributed to by our homeschool year. My 6th grader and I have read about twelve books together so far this school year (some longer than others).

I also discovered a few great new to me series and have made ample use of my local library this year, in spite of the hoops we’ve had to jump through with curbside pickups.

Here are a few superlatives for the year’s reading:

Top 3 Favorite Homeschool Books

Our history and reading curriculum are essentially entertwined so we’ve spent the school year so far reading some terrific historical fiction for our World History 2 class. Here are our three favorites:

The Ghost in the Tokaido Inn by Dorothy and Thomas Hoobler was so good that my daughter asked for book two in the series. It’s more of a mystery book than a scary one, despite the cover.

While attempting to solve the mystery of a stolen jewel, Seikei, a merchant’s son who longs to be a samurai, joins a group of kabuki actors in eighteenth-century Japan.”

The Ravenmaster’s Secret by Elvira Woodruff was immensely readable and had a great cast of characters. I especially loved Maddie and could not stop picturing her as a young Merida (Kelly Macdonald voice included). This book takes place in the Tower of London during the Jacobite rebellion, told from the perspective of the son of the Tower’s Ravenmaster.

The Sherwood Ring by Elizabeth Marie Pope was one of the last books my daughter finished before Christmas break and one of my personal favorites. It was another one of those books that she didn’t actually want to stop reading. There’s quite a little Fandom on the internet for this book, that I had never heard of before this year, but I can see why. There are three love stories, terrific dialogue, and plenty of action, adventure, and comedy.

“Newly orphaned Peggy Grahame is caught off-guard when she first arrives at her family’s ancestral estate […] The house is full of mysteries — and ghosts. Soon Peggy becomes involved with the spirits of her own Colonial ancestors and witnesses the unfolding of a centuries-old romance against a backdrop of spies and intrigue and of battles plotted and foiled. History has never been so exciting — especially because the ghosts are leading Peggy to a romance of her own!

Favorite How Do I Homeschool Book

Just in case you are looking to start homeschooling and wondering where on earth to begin, I really enjoyed Homeschool Basics by Tricia Goyer and Kristi Clover. Not every chapter was relevant to me personally but I skimmed through the bits that weren’t for me and got a lot of great information and affirmation from the rest. I really love Kristi’s YouTube channel for more great homeschooling tips.

Favorite New to Me Author

I devoured Crime and Poetry by Amanda Flower, which is set in a magical bookshop (seriously), this summer and have been quickly getting my hands on some of her other books like Prose and Cons (book 3 which I’m in the middle of reading) and her Amish Quilt Shop series that she writes under the name Isabella Alan. She has a huge backlist, so this should keep me busy for awhile.

Favorite Swoony YA Book

The other genre I’ve been spending a lot of time with this year is the YA Rom Com trope (tried but true). Basically in between reading for school, I’m indulging in a lot of comfort reading and cozy mysteries and YA are pretty much where it’s at for me there. My favorite YA book this year was…

Tweet Cute by Emma Lord which is sort of a You’ve Got Mail style premise with two teens who have been placed in charge of the Twitter accounts for their family’s respective businesses which turn out to be rival companies. The story has a lot of heart and I basically inhaled it.


That’s the highlights reel for this year of reading. What books would make your Best Of list for 2020?

Categories
family fun homeschool motherhood

10 Things I Was Doing When I Wasn’t Here.

You guys. It’s twelve days into December. Seriously. My last blog post was telling you the things I was loving this fall and now we’re knee deep into December and this morning I had to shovel snow off my front porch and we tried out our new propane outdoor heater thingy so we could sit on said porch and drink tea together like the old people we apparently are. (The heater worked great but we should have waited for it to stop snowing because flurries kept blowing in my face basically the whole time. I don’t know how to be outdoors basically.)

Anyway I thought I’d make up for my horrendous lack of regular posting by sharing TEN THINGS we’ve been doing when I haven’t been here blogging about it. That aught to get you up to speed. You’re welcome.

We celebrated Thanksgiving with a weeklong unit study about the Wampanoag tribe because 1) history tends to sorely overlook them apart from saying, “Thanks for teaching us how to make corn. Sorry we were basically terrible in return.” and 2) my hubby and kids are actually part Wampanoag so it was also basically genealogy. We made nassump corn porridge and cranberry coffee cake. We read books about the tribe and a few about the pilgrims, too. We watched YouTube videos about how the tribe lived back in pilgrim times and we made pottery with some air dry clay.

The weekend after Turkey Day, we put up our Christmas tree. This was our first time pulling out the artificial tree in a few years, the prelit lights no longer work, so we strung another string of lights right on top and went about our merry making.

I made the family pose for a cozy sock photo after an aunt sent us these amazingly cozy socks that my eleven year old especially has been living in ever since.

One of my besties got me this amazing coffee mug because my three favorite things in life these days seem to be coffee, coffee mugs, and Animal Crossing. Oh and my family and stuff, I guess.

The sixth grader and I have been slooooooowly making our way through a Nutcracker Themed weeklong art history class offered by Art History Kids. This is a swirly Christmas tree inspired by Van Gogh.

My book club discussed the intro to Braving the Wilderness by Brene Brown and then made the I think really fun decision to no longer have a planned book each month and rather just get together and discuss what we’re each reading, and do the drinking and gossiping we were already doing. Basically it’s a wine club for bookworms.

I brought out the watercolors again for the first time in ages after we learned about Hokusai’s famous wave painting. I thought it would be fun to have waves created by super wet watercolor dripping down the page. Honestly, I was pretty pleased with the results.

I got the kids a Harry Potter LEGO advent calendar this year which is super splurgy for me – I’m usually a chocolates or stickers kind of advent mom. But Covid does funny things to our priorities. It’s been really fun opening the door each day and the kids completely took it in stride that they’d be sharing the one insanely expensive calendar.

We got a new oven!! Our old oven was on its way out and after exploring the cost of parts, we decided to just get on with it and replace it. We splurged on this induction cooktop with a convection oven option and an air fryer option. It’s pretty spiffy. We also installed a peel and stick backsplash that I’m in love with.

Other than that, it’s been a lot of school and work. Which for my sixth grader and I usually looks like us curled on the couch reading together. One of our last reads was Calico Bush by Rachel Field which she adored in spite of some seriously intense plot twists. Definitely read some parental reviews before mindlessly handing this one off to your kiddos.


What have you guys been up to? Who’s excited to say Smell You Later to 2020 in a few weeks?

Categories
family fun motherhood

6 Little Things I’m Loving This Fall

It’s been a few weeks so I thought I’d tell you about some of the light hearted fun stuff we’ve been up to in the middle of a hectic season of life that’s been trying it’s darndest to get to us. But in the year of 2020, it’s going to have to try harder than a few geriatric cars and other things too serious to joke about. Instead let’s talk about…


Apple cider donuts from the grocery store – we’ve had a lot of apple cider donuts this fall, but the ones that keep me coming back for more are actually just the donuts from my local grocery store. They taste like apple cider, stay moist for days, and brighten up my morning in an instant. Simple wins!


I just finished Murder, Simply Stitched by Isabella Alan, book two in her Amish Quilt Shop series. I’ve been flipping through a few of her mystery series and have had varied results but I really like this one as well as the Magical Bookshop series that she writes under the name Amanda Flower. Something about this season has begged for the cozy mystery so I’ve been checking out a lot of them in between my book club picks and homeschool readers.


I made this slow cooker Olive Garden Chicken and Penne recipe from The Magical Slowcooker and two out of three family members ranted and raved and have been devouring the leftovers all week. The other person doesn’t really like slow cooked meat and it shows. Can’t please everyone. ::shrugs::


EMILY’S WONDER LAB (L to R) Emily Calandrelli as EMILY in episode, 101 of EMILY’S WONDER LAB. Cr. NETFLIX © 2020

Emily’s Wonder Lab on Netflix is my sixth grader’s new favorite thing and is miraculously always relevant to our current science curriculum. (sidenote: One of my favorite things about homeschool is how seamlessly one subject seems to find another and how our lessons often seem oddly relevant to the shows we’re watching on tv or things happening in day to day life.) This show is like Bill Nye for the next generation, making science unabashedly fun and silly.


You guys, I’ve become Adult Coloring Book lady rather unabashedly this fall. You know I love my watercolors, but adult coloring books let me be creative in bursts without planning ahead or having an idea of something to create. This is great when I have five minutes to kill and don’t want to give it to social media. I can idly color in a mandala while we’re listening to an audio book or I’m waiting for my daughter to finish her math lesson. I find that I’m more present while doing this than idly tapping my phone – and it’s a better stress reliever. Some days I’m coloring because I’m bored but many other times it’s because 2020 has me stressed out of my gourd. Anyone else?


Another show we discovered this fall is the apparently oldie but goodie, The Librarians, currently streaming on Hulu. This feels like Doctor Who meets Castle meets Buffy the Vampire Slayer. The whole family is watching this one and loving it.


What have you guys been up to lately? What books or shows should we watch and read next? What’s your favorite weeknight dinner recipe?

Categories
family fun motherhood

Redefining Halloween in 2020

The question on every mom’s lips right now is “What are you doing about Halloween?” Per usual, we’re all coming from different places with this question and, thus, arriving at different places as well. Kendra @ the Lazy Genius did a whole podcast about how to have a Pandemic-Friendly Halloween that’s definitely worth a listen if you are still trying to come up with a game plan for your family.

Several weeks ago I came to the conclusion that the typical Halloween – i.e. trick or treating – simply wasn’t going to happen for us this year. The risk just didn’t seem worth it to me. The decision was made easier by the fact that my kids are getting older and that I personally am a little bit over trick or treating.

The routine of dressing up in a costume and then covering it with a big jacket because it’s almost November and thus it’s cold out – and then walking through the neighborhood to beg neighbors we don’t otherwise talk to for candy in such exorbitant amounts that we’re then going to go home and try to figure out how to get rid of most of it without disappointing the children… Fourteen years in and I’m thinking I’m ready to call shenanigans on this beloved childhood pastime. Just call me Jen, the Killer of Fun. 2020 was the perfect excuse to shake things up, really.

So what I proposed to my little coven was to celebrate all month long and then really up the ante the week of. We’d spend the month watching all the awesome Halloween movies we could find. Dude Mom has a great list of Halloween movies streaming on Netflix right now. We watched Addams Family, The Nightmare Before Christmas, lots of Harry Potter movies, ET, The Great Pumpkin Charlie Brown, Goosebumps 2, The Witches, The Babysitter’s Guide to Monster Hunting…

We decorated a horde of pumpkins…

I bought the best candy my money could buy – which meant a bag of butterfingers for the husband, peanut butter m&ms for my teenager, sour candy for my tween and fancy truffles filled with coconut for me. And a few other bags and bars that happened to look appealing… But we’ll get to spend the month enjoying it.

This week I told my daughter she could dress up in various costumes every day for school – a challenge she met with enthusiasm. So far she’s been female Harry Potter, a stylish pirate, and a deceptively evil fairie who tricks people into thinking she’s a good fairie by not dressing in a stereotypically evil fashion…

This weekend will be a feast of candy and fall treats. We’ll watch Hocus Pocus on Friday night and a double movie feature on Saturday – the new Hocus Pocus sequel with the kids and the Zombieland sequel for the grownups.

It’s nothing big – I’m not moving mountains. I just decided to focus in on the parts of Halloween we enjoy and ignore the rest. Next year when all our options are available again, I may have to seriously consider which parts of Halloween I want to bring back.

How are you celebrating Halloween this year?

I’m linking up with Mama Kat’s Pretty Much World Famous Writer’s Workshop this week – check out her blog for more prompts and fun.