January 24, 2015

Hayrides, Horseback Riding, and a Very Happy 7 Year Old

Last weekend we gathered with extended family for our annual holiday (post-holiday) get together.   This gathering has changed over the years and for the past two, my aunt and uncle have hosted it at their farm about an hour and a half from us.
Between my grandma, her kids, us grand kids and our kids (the great grands).. there are 55 or so of us.  This year was a smaller group than most years, but a great day!

Uncle Bruce had the hay wagon ready to go. 
Below are Beau, Johnathan, their littlest cousin Owen, and his mom & dad (my brother and his wife.) 

The kids enjoyed checking out the animals in the barn (what a lucky, well-loved bunch of animals!) and my aunt Julie made Beau's whole new year by letting him ride a horse. 
Beau loves horses.  He draws them and writes about them almost daily.  He was so excited.
Here he is visiting with Mike, the farm dog, while Julie saddled up one of the horses in the barn:

Beau got to ride Nicker, a sweet old girl in her senior years.
Julie showed him how to stop, go, and steer.  
She even led them over and through some big snowbanks, showing him that horses have four wheel drive.  :)
Mike tagged along, loving it.

The other two horses were very curious about the action outside of the fence.

After a while, Julie got on to show Beau how to trot with the horse.  He thought the bouncy ride was pretty funny.

And then he was ready to trot solo.  (He's super proud of this.)

It was a great day with family!   Beau says it was one of his best days ever.
I snapped pictures of the notes he wrote before sending off in the mail: 

We're thankful for Bruce & Julie hosting again this year. 
They have some baby animals due to arrive this spring, we may have to plan a return visit!

Peace, Love, and Four Wheel Drive Horses,

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January 21, 2015

Onward & Upward | Ten Goals for 2015

goal: the object of a person's ambition or effort; an aim or desired result.
resolution: a firm decision to do something. firmness of purpose, intention.
commitment: the act of committing, pledging, or engaging oneself.
priority: something given specified attention.

As we entered the new year, I spent a good deal of thought on all of the above, and a good deal of time tweaking, fine tuning, and articulating my thoughts into a list. 
And then..  IT DISAPPEARED!!!   Oofda.  
It's important to me to commit my goals to writing.  So I will try, try again.
My priorities, commitments, intentions and goals for the 2015: 

1.  Captain of My Ship : Stay On Course
At the beginning of 2014, I made a conscious decision to be intentional in my influences (Good Vibes.)  To say no to unnecessary commitments.  Be true to my priorities, in command of my choices, Captain of my time.  Trust my inner peace as my navigation guide. 
I've seen great benefits from this over the past year.  I like where it has led me and will continue along the same path.
This might seem like a vague, non-specific goal, but it's been the most important and influential one I've ever set.  It's worth a reminder.

2.  Nurture Passions, Cultivate Creativity
I felt my passion for photography slip this past year.  In particular, I found I wasn't taking photos as much as usual.  Photography has been an extension of myself, really connecting me to my surroundings for many years.  Most of my adult life, my camera has gone everywhere I've gone. Acquiring a smartphone in 2014 played a part in my using my camera less.  It was easy to leave my bulky camera behind when I had one that fit in my pocket and could send photos anywhere at the touch of a screen.  (A computer hard drive failure didn't help much either.) 
I aim to refocus on my connection with my camera, which means carrying it with me no matter how cumbersome or less convenient it may sometimes seem. 
Additionally, I intend to nurture my creative core as a whole.  Do more with it. 

3.  Explore to our fullest ability.
This goes hand in hand with nurturing creativity and passion.  New places and exploring are some of my greatest inspiration.  I've been digging into maps over the first weeks of 2015 and look forward to where it will take us.
Goal:  Plan more mini-adventures with the kids, as often as possible (flexible goal of once a month.)
And one mini-to-grand married people adventure without the kids.  We're past due.  Exploring is good for us!

4.  Send at least one hand written note a week. 
Technology, great in many ways, has affected the amount of snail mail I've sent in recent years.  I love sending and receiving personal notes, and I read a couple of books last year that inspired me by way of pen and stamp, as well.   
I plan to send at least one hand written note a week in 2015 in hopes to brighten someone's day (including my own.)  I'm off to a good start and plan to also include the kids in this goal.  Beau has an envelope ready to go today. :)
I was happy to learn a couple of other people I know have included this in their resolutions, too!  

5.  Read One Book a Month
My 2014 goal was to read fifty books
.  I read anything I could get my hands on. 
This year my goal is to read one (hopefully really good) book from my more selective stacks and recommendations each calendar month.   I aim to focus more on quality and balance. (I find that when I read a lot, I don't write as much, and so on.)

6.  Be healthier.  I'm grateful for good health.  But I can be healthier, and I've set some personal goals to do so.  A common, cliche kind of resolution, I know.. But I'm a first timer! 
Nothing extreme, just good, realistic, healthy goals.  I'm experiencing an all new-to-me mindset.  It's a good thing.
7.  Minimize stuff.  Maximize efficiency. 
I did very well to curb my vintage / thrifting weakness in 2014.  Since my reform, I've found that I have a lot of awesome but unnecessary stuff.  As a family of seven, outgrowing things is also a constant.  My goal:  Find a good use or place for everything in our home, or BE GONE WITH IT!
Develop an Outbox and use it with gusto.

8.  Let it be.  Just do it.  (Try to be a little less particular.)
This wasn't on my initial list, but stems from reading a post a friend wrote about some of her obsessive compulsive personality quirks.  It really made me think!
I often feel the need to change things that aren't "just so." 
For example: Dishes put in the dishwasher haphazardly.  I rearrange dishes or silverware every day.
I'm willing to bet the dishwasher will still get them clean even when they aren't loaded my particular, systematic way, and I challenge myself to try and let them be.
Now I'm not saying I'm going to drastically change my housekeeping ways. Order and aesthetically pleasing surroundings are part of my personal preferences that make me me, and give me peace.  I like my towels folded and stacked a certain way.  Parking our shoes neatly keeps us from tripping on them or walking in puddles.  But some things, like dirty dishes tucked away in a dishwasher, I could try to let slide.  Baby steps.  :)
Equally, sometimes this part of my personality, the part that likes things just so, prevents me from getting things done.  I somewhat envy the person who can spontaneously hang things on their wall without painstaking (or any) consideration.  I have many (this goes along with #7) things to be hung on my walls that aren't.. because of the constraints of my particularity.  So I challenge myself to just do it. 

9.  Do Small Acts that Make a Big Difference
I'm not sure where this goal will take me yet.  I am not a person who likes to be "involved" a whole lot.  I enjoy solitude, and keeping out of public activity.  But even people like me can make a big difference in small ways.  I'll be on the lookout and updating as I discover them. 

10.  Embrace Change  
2015 is full of possibility.  There are areas in our life where change may be good for us.  Schools / educational opportunities are some of those possible areas.  Life will certainly be changing as we gain another teenager and our oldest will become young adults.     
"What's comin' will come, an' we'll meet it when it does." - Rubeus Hagrid

I've been working on many of these things and look forward to updating on my progress.
I hope 2015 brings good things for us all! 

January 3, 2015

A Year in Books

(Photo: Village of Owego, NY  May 2013.  I loved it there.)

When I was in 4th grade, I moved to a new school.  4th grade changed my life in many ways.  One of them was my teacher, Mrs. Ferraro.
Mrs. Ferraro is a tiny lady filled with big passion; for children, learning, reading and writing.  She's a literacy super hero. 
I could go on, but today I'm thinking back to 4th grade because about once a week, our class was required to "sell books."  We would stand in front of the class, hold up the book we'd read, and "sell it."  We'd share what we liked about the book, what it was about, and then ask, "Who wants to buy this book?"  Hopefully, hands would shoot up, and the seller would pass the book on to another student.
I was a shy kid, bordering on painfully shy in some situations, mostly anything to do with speaking or being in front of a group of people.  Selling books was awful for me.
But I loved to read them. 
In 4th grade, I became a reader and writer.  It was a wonderful year.

Some 25+ years later, I love to read (and write) more than ever.
In 2014, I set myself a loose goal of reading fifty books (finishing forty-five.)
I traveled to Germany, Italy, Afghanistan, London, India, Australia, Sweden, France, New York City, the Past, the Future, and all over the countryside in the pages of books.
Books have been wonderful companions and teachers.  
I thought I'd briefly share why -or why not- I think you should "buy" (read) these books.
These are just opinions, so feel free to differ.  I love a good discussion.

My year in books looked mostly like this: 
*Highlighted are the three books I read that struck me as most remarkable this year. 
A guy named Standhal once said, "A good book is an event in my life."

1.  *The Book Thief  by Marcus Zusak
Set in WWII Germany and narrated in the most unexpected way, this book astounded me.  If you haven't read it, I urge you to.  One of the most powerfully and beautifully written books I've read.

2.  Uncle Tom's Cabin, Harriet Beecher Stowe
I was supposed to read Uncle Tom's Cabin in about 9th grade, but never did.
Harriet Beecher Stowe, pushing the envelope on equality and human rights,
was quite a lady of her time and for all ages.  I'm glad I took the time to read this piece of history.

3.  The Clothes They Stood Up In and The Lady in the Van, Allen Bennet
This is a strange little book made of two separate, unrelated, British short-ish stories. 
If you happen to come across it like I did, I suggest you enjoy a walk, visit with a neighbor, or read another book instead.

4.  Pardonable Lies (Maisie Dobbs #3)

6.  An Incomplete Revenge (Maisie Dobbs #5) 

  Elegy for Eddie (Maisie Dobbs #9) 

11.  Leaving Everything Most Loved (Maisie Dobbs #10)   

12.  Life of Pi, Yann Martel
An interesting, surprising, and perplexing read, involving a boy on a boat with a Bengal tiger named Richard Parker.  You have to read it to understand the surprising/perplexing factor. 
Life of Pi threw me for a loop.

13.  Fahrenheit 451, Ray Bradbury
Fahrenheit 451 was always showing up on lists of classic books to read.  Published in 1953 (the year my parents were born), the story portrays a futuristic American society in a pretty frightening way.  I can't say I enjoyed it, but I can say I've read it now, and I see why it's somewhat iconic.  Some (not all, thank goodness) of the futuristic ideas aren't far off from current realities.

14.  Hope Was Here, Joan Bauer
A Newbery Honor young adult book about a girl named Hope and her experience moving to a small town.  A good book for adolescents.  An ok book for people like me who like to read young adult books now & then. 

15.  The Light Between Oceans, M. L. Stedman
"This is a story about right and wrong and how sometimes they look the same.."
A good read that took me to far away Australian shores and the isolation of lighthouse living.  I believe my heart became quite involved when reading this novel.

16.  Stealing the Ruby Slippers, Amanda Michelle Moon
The author of Stealing the Ruby Slippers is from our nearby small town.  We went to the same school and I enjoy following her creative & writing endeavors.  Our nearby larger (but still small) town is birth place of Judy Garland.  A pair of ruby slippers she wore while filming The Wizard of Oz were stolen from the local museum in 2005, a true event that inspired this fast paced, gritty crime-fiction story.   

17.  The Plague of Doves,  Louise Erdrich
With a little time gone by, I cannot tell you what this book was about.  The story (?) was hard to follow, and there were so many characters I lost track of how they were connected, if they were.  A few unpleasant things are what stand out in my memory from reading it.  Because I've heard good things about the author, and its Ojibwe background, I wanted to love this book.  I disliked it.

18.  *A Thousand Splendid Suns, Kahled Hosseini
A powerful, painfully beautiful story (I call it a love story, though it doesn't always seem it) that expanded my perspective and knowledge of our world and modern history.  Not an area I'd likely be drawn to reading about (Afghanistan), it was actually my 4th grade teacher, Mrs. Ferraro, who's praise "sold" it to me.  Horrific at times, yet a book rarely leaves me more satisfied overall with its story telling and conclusion. 
If you haven't read it, I urge you to.  One of the best books I've read.

19.  The Sugar Queen, Sarah Addison Allen

20.  Garden Spells, Sarah Addison Allen

21.  The Girl Who Chased the Moon, Sarah Addison Allen

22.  Lost Lake, Sarah Addison Allen
Each of the four Sarah Addison Allen novels above has some touch of magic or charm in them, applied to a normal (non magic) plot or story.  They were easy, lighter reads when I didn't feel like tackling a heavy (literal or figurative) book.  For instance, when our dog died this year.  Sometimes you just need a book with an easy-to-follow story and a magic tree that tosses apples at people to take your mind off things. 

23.  Drowning Ruth, Christina Schwarz
The opening sentence of this books speaks of a drowning.  At the end of the book, the circumstances of the drowning are revealed.  I felt there wasn't enough going on in between, leaving the majority of the book unremarkable.  When I dislike a book, I feel a little like I failed somehow, or that maybe there was something I missed, so I look to reviews to see what others think.  I read a lot of reviews that assured me I was not alone in feeling unimpressed with Drowning Ruth.  Of course, some people enjoyed it, too. (It was an Oprah's Book Club pick.)    

24.  My Name is Mary Sutter, Robin Oliveira
About a young woman's struggle to become a doctor during the Civil War, this work of historical fiction is loaded with historically accurate events, figures, and information. 
I learned a great deal about all medical aspects of the Civil War (medical aspects being major aspects of it.)  
I also learned a great deal about amputation from these pages!  (If you don't care for reading about bone saws, it might not be for you.)  I found it very educational.

25.  Angry Housewives Eating Bon Bons,  Lorna Landvik
Angry Housewives Eating Bon Bons made me wish I was part of a book club.

26.  Chocolat, Joanne Harris
With a name like Chocolat, I expected it to be sweeter.  Instead, I found the plot rather dark & bitter, and the book rather dull.  I didn't enjoy it much.

27.  The Wind in the Willows,  Kenneth Grahame
Oh, that Mr. Toad and his motorcar shenanigans!  Beau (7 years old) & I read this classic together (along with others throughout the year that didn't make the list because I've read them before.)  Our favorite parts involved Mr. Toad. We laughed and laughed!
Find a young person to read it with, and I hope you laugh like we did.

28.  The Fault in Our Stars, John Green 
Was it as great as I expected?  In all honesty, no. I was clearly not a member of the targeted audience. 
Did I cry?  Yes. Cancer is sad, and particular pages hit close to home.
A story of teenage love, youthful bits of philosophy & wisdom. And sadness. 

29.  The Night Circus,  Erin Morgenstern
Vivid in imagery and magic, this is a brilliantly unique book.  I agree with some claims that the plot grew sluggish, but I was too enchanted by the fantastic spell of the Night Circus to mind. 

30.  Astrid and Veronika, 
Linda Olsson 
A story of two women of different generations, with painful pasts, who become friends.
I liked that it was set in Scandinavia.  But it didn't quite hit the good-enough-for-me-to-recommend-to-others mark. 

31.  Love Walked In,  Marisa de los Santos
If you're looking for a story with an ending that'll make you feel warm & sappy, and don't mind a little language and what-not along the way, this is the Chick Flick in book for you.  I enjoyed it.

32.  The Kite Runner,  Kahled Hosseini
Another very compelling story by Kahled Hosseini.  I didn't love The Kite Runner like I did A Thousand Splendid Suns.  The content was more difficult (sometimes very unpleasant) to process, and even more heartbreaking.  Still, an unforgettable story and beautiful writing.  I just picked up And the Mountains Echoed, which I look forward to reading in 2015.

33.  Big Stone Gap, Adriana Trigiani
My first Trigiani book, full of humor and quirky characters.  Ave Maria, voice of the story, awkwardly finds love in this small coal mining town, as well as a family in Italy she never knew she had.

34.  Big Cherry Holler (Big Stone Gap #2)  Adriani Trigiani  
This installment begins 8 years after the last left off.  Ave Maria's loss of a child sets a more serious tone, and her marriage is in a rough place.  This segment of the story left me with some hangups.  (FYI: those hangups were satisfied by the end of the series.)  For me, that was part of the lesson I took from these books: Patience. Commitment to things that matter.  Don't call it quits during a rough patch or hang up.  You might miss the best part. 

35.  Milk Glass Moon (Big Stone Gap #3)  Adriana Trigiani
Book 3 of the series focuses more on Ave Maria as a mother, as her daughter is on the verge of growing up.  The stories of all the folks from Big Stone Gap continue to weave into the whole. 

Home to Big Stone Gap (Big Stone Gap #4)  Adriana Trigiani
The final Big Stone Gap novel, I was satisfied with the conclusion it was to the series.
Sometimes it occurred to me while reading that there wasn't much of a plot, more the telling of a life unfolding and the lessons along the way. 
I didn't find them riveting or thrilling, but each book grows more comfortable, like we
(hopefully) do with ourselves, and in our relationships over time. 

37.  Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children,  Ransom Riggs
I didn't enjoy this book.  For starters, it contains murderous flesh-eating creatures, which aren't my thing at all.  I had a hard time finishing it, only to find the end is more of a beginning to the next book, which I had in my possession and opted not to read.  
However, the peculiar photos are interesting, and the cover and page design are attractive.

38.  The Wednesday Letters, Jason F. Wright
This is a story about the letters written by a husband to his wife every Wednesday for 39 years, and what their children learn from those letters after their parents' deaths. 
Side note: Ave Maria and Jack Mac (of the Big Stone Gap novels) write to each other once a year in an anniversary book.  I like both ideas.  Written words can be a treasure.

39.  Lucia, Lucia,  Adriana Trigiani
Set in
1950's New York City, I thoroughly enjoyed Lucia's story.  My favorite Trigiani novel so far. 

40.  *The Glass CastleJeannette Walls
Jeannette Walls' account of her dysfunctional upbringing.  T
hat this was a true story astounded me at times.  She tells the painful and sometimes ugly truth of her family life with grace and even humor.  And amazingly, without a hint of resentment toward her parents.. eccentrics who were unconventional at best, while mostly neglectful and irresponsible.  There is so much to discuss about this book!
Walls is proof that despite tangled roots, we can make the life we choose for ourselves.  A memoir worth reading. 

41.  Reconstructing Amelia
Kimberly McCreight
This was not a pleasant book for me to read, but as a parent raising kids in the time of social media and cell phones, an eye opening story.  More important than reading this book: If you are a parent, raise good people and guide them in our modern world with caution.   

42.  The Tale of Despereaux, Kate DiCamillo
Beau and I loved reading this chapter book aloud together over the course of a few evenings before bedtime.  The story of a mouse, a princess, some soup, and a spool of thread.. Filled with poetic narration of light and dark, and rich vocabulary (like perfidy and chiaroscuro.)  We adored the tiny hero Despereaux, and his wonderful, powerful, ridiculous love.  A fun tale to read aloud with a child.  "I honor you."  :)

43.  Rococo, Adriana Trigiani
My sixth Trigiani book of the year, and the first that struggled to hold my interest.  (Also the first narrated by a male main character.)
I'm not deterred though.. I look forward to reading her next book in my stack.

44.  One Million Lovely Letters, Jodi Ann Bickley
One Million Lovely Letters is the author's true story of being struck with a serious brain infection, her struggle to recover, and the idea/movement that came from it: to reach out to others in uplifting, lovely letters. 
Reading her story left me inspired to get out my favorite pens and write some lovely notes and letters, myself.  I do believe kindness and words make a difference.

45.  Of Mice and Men, John Steinbeck
A classic that I'd never read,
I can't say I liked nor loathed Of Mice and Men.  (My mom hated it.)
I was left thinking that regardless of my enjoyment of his books, Steinbeck has a way of making me think about tricky things.  There isn't always a pleasant line between moral rights and wrongs.  

This was a likely candidate from my to-read shelf, since I was nearing the final days of 2014 and had a handful of books to go in order to hit my goal of 50.  I thought I might do it if I read thin ones, and this book is very thin!

Once completed, I decided 45 was a good number.  I had family and holidays to be present with, tend to, and enjoy.  And I have all of 2015 to read more books. 

In the coming year, I think I should do this one book at a time. :)

If you have any books to "sell" I'd love to hear about them!