Thursday, December 14, 2017

Quick Lit - December

It's the most wonderful time of the year!  And when I'm kinda, massively, planning out my reading so my total books finished for the year will end in a 5 or 0.  Obsessive, I know.  But I much prefer those numbers and so sometimes I cause myself a little bit of stress trying to hit that (although this year is shaping up to be much easier on that front, so much that I am slowing down my reading a little.).

Here's what I've finished in the last 30ish days!  As always, I'm active on Goodreads (friend me if you are too!) and linking up with Modern Mrs. Darcy!

Book post this month:

And everything else I've read!

The Actor's Life: A Survival Guide by Jenna Fischer
To be clear, I have no interest in being an actor but Jenna has always been one of my favorite parts of The Office and our recent rewatch super made me want to read this.  This is very much geared towards those looking to make a living from acting but also sprinkled in are a lot of tidbits about her time on The Office.  Those parts were the most interesting to me but I also just liked learning a little more about the non-glamorous side of that career.  4 Stars

Sisters First: Stories from Our Wild and Wonderful Life by Jenna Bush Hager and Barbara Pierce Bush
This was not a straight memoir but was mostly what the title says: stories.  It felt scattered in the beginning, with jumping between their childhood to the years their father was president, but the second half seemed to have a better flow.  Interesting stories if a little repeated at times between the two of them.  But nice to see a side of a life most of us will never live. 3.5 Stars

Sourdough by Robin Sloan
This was such a strange book.  A woman is semi-bored by her computer job and ends up getting passed a sourdough starter which she then turns into a whole business, even with teaching a robot to do some of the bread making.   The story was a little bit all over the place in a mostly enjoyable way but also slightly confusing.  I finished it a few weeks ago and still not sure what I think of it. 3 Stars

Wildflowers by Robin Jones Gunn
Finished up the Glenbrook Series this month.  I had only read this one a few times (unlike some of the earlier ones in the series that I've probably read 10 times) and so the story was almost new.  All the earlier books follow young women (mostly) looking for love.  This one follows a woman already married, with older kids even, so it was very different but probably more applicable to my current life than the dating books.  3.5 Stars

Artemis by Andy Weir
I, like most people, picked this up having read and enjoyed The Martian (book and movie, which we consumed in that order).  I'm also always on the lookout for books I think my husband will enjoy, mostly sci-fi ish.  But this wasn't The Martian and overall wasn't great.  I liked the world of living on the moon and what that might entail but also, WAY TOO MUCH of the story was hinged on good welding.  Which just isn't that interesting of a plot point. 2 Stars 

The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business by Charles Duhigg
A very interesting look at habits and how they can shape our lives.  I liked Better than Before better but this looked at some very different aspects.  I especially liked the chapter about how Target and other stores track you.  Well, not really liked because it was also a little terrifying but I did appreciate it.  And now wondering if I should pay for everything with cash. (not really, that would make returns waaay too complicated.  Also, I never have cash.)  Worth a read.  3.5 Stars

Open Your Heart, Time Will Tell, Now Picture This, Hold on Tight, Closer Than Ever, Take My Hand by Robin Jones Gunn
I've written at length about my love of the whole Christy Miller saga but I hadn't read most of the books in 7 years.  This year I corrected that, reading the Christy Miller series over the summer and the Sierra Jensen series this fall.  I have strong nostalgia for these books; they were a HUGE influence on my teen years.  These books mostly cover Sierra's senior year of high school (which, for me, was literally half my life ago) and sometimes I just want to, nicely, shake some sense into her regarding her infatuation with Paul but overall, so enjoyable.  4 Stars

Last Christmas in Paris by Hazel Gaynor and Heather Webb
This was about as close to an impulse read as I get - added it to my TBR at the end of November and had read within two weeks.  I love Paris and I love Christmas so I thought this would be a nice book to read in December.  Except that it turns out it's barely about Christmas so reading it in December was not necessary (not that you can only read Christmas books in December...but it makes the most sense).  Epistolary format with letters between various characters during World War I.  It was an enjoyable and very easy read, just not what I was expecting.  3.25 Stars

Finding Father Christmas, Engaging Father Christmas, Kissing Father Christmas by Robin Jones Gunn
I was heavy into Robin Jones Gunn's books this month.  This is a novella series she wrote that all center around a charming English village during Christmastime.  The first two about Miranda and her quest to find the father she never met, the last about a related character who pops up to continue the story.  Perfectly cozy December reads. 4 Stars

 What have YOU been reading?  What should I be reading?

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

DIY Strawberries & Cream Instant Oatmeal

I've recently learned that I am pretty alone in my dislike of eggs.  I use them for baking but never, and I mean NEVER, eat them for breakfast.  I literally don't know how to make scrambled eggs or an omelet or dippy eggs or any other kind...because I never have.  Also, I don't like them.  My sister with a bunch of a kids said they will go through 6 dozen eggs in two weeks, eating most of those for breakfasts.  Even with all my extra Christmas and Thanksgiving baking I'll go through about 3 dozen in two months. 

Matt likes scrambled eggs...but we never have them at home.  I honestly couldn't tell you if Luke does because I've never seen him express any kind of opinion.  We are very strongly cereal people here, with the special occasion (i.e. lake trips, holidays) cinnamon rolls, coffee cake, donuts, etc.  We either eat cereal or sugary baked goods.  Those are our breakfasts.

But sometimes it's nice to have something warm in the winter and since eggs aren't going to happen and most days aren't "special" enough for cinnamon rolls, we eat oatmeal.  I still like the overnight oats I posted years ago but I don't always remember to get those around the night before.  So having something on hand that we can easily mix up in the morning in super handy.

I've long been fond of the instant oatmeal fruit & cream packets you can buy at the grocery store.  When I was suffering through my worst days of HFM with sores all over my mouth and tongue, they were one of the few things I could eat without pain.  But they aren't the healthiest and I knew we could make something a little cheaper, a little less sugar.  So we did.  Now we have a hot, easy breakfast option.

DIY Strawberries & Cream Instant Oatmeal
yield: at least a dozen servings.  It makes a lot.
-7½ cups quick cooking oats, divided
-1½ cup powdered coffee creamer
-1 cup sugar
-.6 ounces dried strawberries (I have found these at both Aldi and Target)

1) Put 1½ cup of oats into your blender or food processor and turn into a powder.  Really a powder.  Do not skip this, it will help thicken up your oatmeal.

2) Chop the dried strawberries into smaller pieces.

3) Stir all ingredients together - oats, oat powder, coffee creamer, sugar, and strawberries.  Store in a sealed container.

To make a bowl of oatmeal I heat up ~½ cup of water in the microwave.  Pour about ½ cup of mix into a bowl.  Add the hot water until you reach your desired consistency. 


Source: modified from The Creative Princess and Treats with a Twist

Thursday, December 7, 2017

{12} Christmas Hacks (of sorts)

I'm back on my simplifying train (...besides the almost overflowing cart I had at Target yesterday...) and this time it's less about possessions and more about mental space and clutter.  I've been working on reducing our physical stuff for at least 4 years and feel like we've gotten to a pretty good place.  Sure, there is always more that we could get rid of but I feel good about what we have, that we use it, and the amount of space it all takes up (I will most definitely feel different after all the Christmas celebrations).

But lately I've wanted my mind to be less clutter, not bogged down with all the details and all the things, all the time.  Just want life to be a little easier, you know?  There is plenty going on this month so I'll take any little things that will help me simplify and do more enjoying the season and much less stressing about it.

Some of these might be obvious but they are little things that are helping me feel on top of the busyness of this month.

1) Put lights on a timer

Oh my goodness, this is practically life changing.  We hang lights on the outside of our house that are controlled by a switch in our basement stairs.  Which makes no sense but it is what it is.  I also hang lights all around the windows of our fully enclosed front porch.  For 10 years one of us has plugged and unplugged those in every night.  UNTIL NOW.  I tried an old timer last year but never got it to work, this year I bought a fancy one I can control with my phone and I am amazed by it.  The lights come on 15 minutes before sunset (so gradually earlier and earlier) and turn off at midnight.  ALL BY THEMSELVES.  Yes, I might be yelling but I am so excited about this.  It was a 30 second task but not having to think about it is definitely making my life easier! (We still have to flip the switch in the basement for the other set of lights but since that's right next to the bathroom and kitchen, it's not a "problem" unlike venturing onto the cold porch.)

2) Take pictures of decor to reuse next year
I've done this for a few years, taken pictures of various spots around the house.  Of course I take multiple of the tree, just for having pictures of the tree.  We put it in the same spot every year, hang the same lights but the ornaments are always going to be different.  BUT...all my other surfaces...I photograph.  I don't always want to do things the same but it's SO NICE having a starting point when staring at a couple large storage tubs.  This isn't going to help you right now but, think about it before you put your decorations away!

3) And STORE in an easy place
This one I just figured out this year.  I use Dropbox often and so I setup a special folder in there to dump all these decor pictures (since I also change up my Instagram collage and porch gallery with the seasons) so I have a reference for when I start.  Until a few weeks ago I was going through folders of pictures on my phone trying to find the ones I need.  Now all my decor reference pictures are in a Dropbox folder, then broken down by type: Christmas, porch gallery, IG collage, etc.

4) Pre-grind graham crackers
I mentioned this years ago and it's still one of my favorite hacks.  I make a lot of graham cracker crust things between Thanksgiving and Christmas but have always HATED grinding the graham crackers.  I do not like cleaning out the food processor and using a ziploc and rolling pin usually leads to a mess.  So I'll grind a whole box at once, at least.  Then I'm all ready to go whenever the 6 layer bar urge strikes!  I rarely measure it out, just a box and whatever other random ones are in the cupboard.  The crumbs have never gone bad on me, even when sealed in the cupboard for a year.  Only having to clean the food processor once definitely keeps me a little happier.

5) Have Christmas music on all the time
I just find it really calming.  I have an old video iPod and a dock that we keep in the kitchen from Thanksgiving - New Years and it's just so handy to have it on most of our waking hours.  The house has music, I'm not messing with my phone to get it, and it can calm me down.  It's festive.

6) Schedule, a lot
Not overly scheduling yourself but slotting your priorities in so you know things will get done.  I even wrote on the calendar which movies we are watching which nights for the rest of the year.  Then I know we'll get to them and can forget about it the rest of the time.  I know when we'll watch the classic tv specials with Luke and when the husband and I are going to start watching our favorite Christmas episodes.  I know when I plan to wrap presents and when I will be having lunch in 2 weeks.  It's all written down and I can relax a little better.

7) Traditions, default when you don't know what else to do
Doing something just because you've always done it that way is never a single good enough reason to keep doing something.  BUT, if it's something you enjoy and you want to keep things easy.  Traditions.  The same things.  We eat the same thing for Christmas breakfast every year.  We have the same basic schedule every year.  We open our stockings on the same day (Boxing Day, not Christmas).  Christmas might have the most traditions of any other time of the year.  And if you enjoy them, just keep them up!

8) Easy Suppers on hand
I am a pretty strict menu planner BUT I also know this time of year especially things can come up.  So I have a few super easy suppers on hand, things that require less than 10 minutes of work and little to no defrosting.  Because it's inevitable that supper is not going to work out to plan at least a few times by the end of the year.

9)Wrap in bulk
I'm not going to worry about wrapping a present each time something shows up in the mail.  I usually bulk wrap on the weekends and get a bunch done at once.  It's just too much to haul everything out and put it all back. 

10) BUT keep all wrapping supplies together
To wrap I need to pull out a few rolls of paper, the gifts and appropriate boxes, and then one other box that has tape, scissors, washi tapes, and various other ribbons.  I know, I just said it's too much to haul everything out and put it back but it's also much easier when most of the things are together.

11) Wrap while watching Christmas movies
I wrap all the presents besides my own and do almost all of those while watching Christmas movies.  The ones not appropriate for Luke and that Matt won't watch (The Holiday, Love Actually, The Family Stone, White Christmas...basically my whole favorites list).  I seriously love doing this.

12) Skip bows!
I do very few real bows, you may notice from above that I have a box of ribbons, but I rarely use them anymore.  I've been doing a lot of washi tape or bakers twine on presents and writing the tags right on the paper.  Then I don't have to worry about tags falling off or bows getting smooshed!  Makes arranging under the tree and transporting easier!!

And that's it!  Twelve mostly little ways I'm aiming to make my holiday season a little bit easier!  I love so much about this time of year and freeing up the mental space for the enjoying parts and less on the work parts (although, I mostly consider gift wrapping long as the boxes aren't too big or oddly shaped)!

How do YOU hack Christmas?

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Book Love: Loving my Actual Christmas (and fighting the holiday crazy)

This season is kinda known for being stressful and crazy and expensive.  Also for Jesus' birth and Santa and all the other things.  But also the stressful stuff.

(That is, partly, why I start my prep in October.  Most of my baking is done!  Cards are out!  We've made good progress on gift buying!  The house is mostly decorated!)

It's very easy to spend most of November and especially December overwhelmed by all the things that need done, activities that need attended, the never-ending to-do list.  There is a lot of pressure on this time of year, maybe more than any other, to make things lovely, wonderful, and constant memory-making.

Of course, that is impossible.  There is still laundry to be done and jobs to do and your family probably wants (or at least needs) to eat something besides cookies every day.  Our real life doesn't stop for all the fun, at least on days that aren't December 25th.

I recommended Alexandra Kuykendall's last book, Loving my Actual Life in the spring.  I loved her practical steps to make her life a little happier, a little easier.  When I saw she was coming out with one about Christmas I immediately put it on my to-read list.  I read it a couple weeks ago, pre-Thanksgiving crazy, and was inspired to make sure our December isn't crazy, that I'm not losing my mind by Christmas, and that we spend plenty of time focusing on the real reason of the season (that's Jesus, not Santa).

She breaks the season down to the 4 weeks of Advent, the time traditionally observed by Catholics, and maybe other religions, as time to slow down focus on Christ's birth as well as His second coming.  It's when we are supposed to be preparing our hearts and not just our homes (really, the heart stuff is more important).

(This is also why the various secular advent calendars drive me a little crazy.  Lego Star Wars, as much as we like it here, has nothing to do with "advent"!  Even though we've been very tempted to buy one every year.  But have so far resisted.)

So, every week she gave herself a few things to focus on as well as a few activities to do with her family.  Activities outside their home and as well as things like decorate cookies.  She evaluates how she did at the end of each week, what her take-aways were, what she can apply to her life.

She ends with practical tips and logistics about food and presents and a whole host of things.  I found many to be very applicable. I love some good lists of advice!  And maybe you just need some "permission" to let some things go!

She also mentioned multiple times that the Christmas season doesn't end with Christmas.  The "Twelve Days of Christmas" (from the song) are following Christmas.  We don't have to fit in all the things before Christmas.  Many people, all school kids, have a break between Christmas and New Years and that's a prime time for additional activities since most of your gift buying/exchanging is probably done.  I LOVE this week.  SO much.  It's so chill and relaxed and wonderful, even if I keep with my goal to barely leave the house!

To make the most of this wonderful, wonderful, season you can't be beat by Christmas Day.  You need energy for actual Christmas!  So that means some planning, some pacing yourself, and, maybe, saying no to some activities this year.  Maybe you take a year off cards or baking every kind of cookie.  You don't have to accept every invitation.  Traditions can change and evolve and that might be ok.

I highly recommend this book to anyone who finds this time of year to be overwhelming or even if you just want some ways to make it more enjoyable.  Also, the book is only 130 pages so not too much to add to an already busy time.

We should love our actual Christmas.  There's a lot to love about this time of year!
Goodreads | Amazon

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Friday, December 1, 2017

Looking Back at November

You have probably been wondering how my recovery from hand/foot/mouth has been (nobody was wondering that).  Well, it's been almost 2 months since I was sick and I have learned that I had sores under my fingernails because 4 are in the process of falling off.  And you know what skin is super sensitive?  The skin under where your fingernail is supposed to be.  But isn't, on 40% of my fingers.  My feet are also still peeling but that I think that's partly due to all the running I put them through this year too.  But other than that, HFM is just a distant memory...  (It could take a few more months before my nails finish falling's so much fun.)

We're in full holiday swing over here with the house almost completely decorated, presents bought (none wrapped, as of this writing), some cookies baked, and just the general good spirit of it all.  I LOVE LOVE LOVE this time of year.  December might be my second favorite month, after July.  (It is a coincidence that I get gifts both of those months?  Maybe.)

1) Running in the fall!  Much cooler, maybe prettier!
2) Luke and I do A LOT of "let's ride your bike around the neighborhood so I can take pictures of trees!" in October and early November.
3) Like this time too.
4) Oh and this time.
5) Matt and I on a rare child free evening at my (5th and final) cousin wedding for the year.  We just left Luke with my sister with 6 of her own kids and 3 from another sister...what's 4 more when there are already 6 running around???  (She's much braver than me.)
6) Driving home from Target after admiring all the pretty Christmas things and then admiring the pretty leaves.
7) I like this tree every time I ran past it this fall.  Although this was taken from the car because taking pictures while running never turn out too well.
8) I baked cookies before quiet time.  Then after quiet time the cookie sheet looked like this...someone has gotten very good at sneaking cookies. (THESE)
9) Jumping in a HUGE leaf pile at lake closing, the only time he gets to do this since we don't really have trees!
10) At closing we had the coldest weather I've ever experienced there, 34°!  There was ice on the channel!  Made me miss sweating in the summer.
11) Running what was likely my final mile for the year. 460.54 miles, a record year for me!
12) Super lazy Sunday morning at home while Matt crossed multiple state lines for a funeral and Luke and I didn't leave the house the entire time he was gone.
13) I might make cranberries for Thanksgiving just because of how pretty they look. (I do also eat them.)
14) Downtown all festive on Thanksgiving Eve!
15) Seriously one of the coolest things about where we live!
16) My traditional addressing of Christmas cards on Thanksgiving Eve.  I love this night.

1 year ago: Flying with a 3 Year Old
2 years ago: DIY Jet Ski Costume
3 years ago: A Day in the Life - Round 3
4 years ago: Pumpkin Painting
5 years ago: It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year
6 years ago: Kitchen Project
7 years ago: Messy House & Closing the Lake (I will never complain about a messy house again after revisiting those pictures...)
8 years ago: On Vacation!

Books finished: 21 for the month, 186 for the year
Things sewn: 4 pillow covers!
Things added to the garage sale pile: 10!  Some from my closet and a few of Luke's toys...we need to do a bigger toy purge before Christmas, mainly for my sanity.

Miles ran: 11.85 and that might be it for the year?  Although it's supposed to be 50° tomorrow...
Currently watching: We finished season 9 of The Office and it was SO enjoyable.  And I decided to finish Stranger Things and we're on season 2.  I'm still ehhhhh on it (over hyped, for sure).  Excited for The Crown coming back soon!

Most read post this month: Quick Lit - November and then A Day in the Life (Luke 4¾)
Luke's current favorite song: Anything Christmas, the louder the better.  Cursing the person who taught him how to turn up the volume on my iPod dock (it wasn't anyone who lives here).  

So looking forward to enjoying December and all this wonderful time of the year!