Caroline

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How do you distill a life into words on a screen?

That's the thought I have as I write this today. Last week Josh's grandmother, Caroline, known to us as "Amma" died due to complications following a stroke. We spent most of last week traveling to and from Virginia, going the viewing and the funeral.

Amma was someone I looked up to, despite having known her only nine years. I have often said I want to model my old age after the way she lived hers, if at all possible. She was energetic, hospitable, and always serving. When visited, she'd be the earliest person awake, making a hot breakfast for us each morning of our stay. She would have already read her Bible and prayed, and you could tell, because she was strong in faith for the Lord. She served in her church, visited the "old folks," exercised regularly, and just the week before her death, served and spoke at a homeless shelter. On more than one occasion, she spent months serving a ministry in New Mexico that met the needs of Native American Indians on reservations. She'd organize and cook in the kitchen, teach the Bible, and teach women work that they could do to make a living.

We last saw her the weekend of Thanksgiving. On our way home, I drove Amma from where we were staying with Josh's aunt and uncle in Staunton back to her home in Winchester, Virginia. Josh drove her vehicle home for her. On what was to be my last conversation with Amma, we talked for about an hour and a half. I learned more of her growing up years (she was one of sixteen children), her years of service through the Church of the Brethren prior to marriage, and how she met her husband and got married. I learned of their early years of marriage as he made a living as a trucker and she made a home in a trailer and had two children in quick succession. I am glad for that conversation.

Amma shared her excitement for starting a new Bible study with the ladies of her church. So when we entered her home after her death, where everyone was hanging out prior to attending her viewing, my eyes misted with tears as I saw her Bible open on the table with her study book. It was where she left it the morning of her stroke.

I immediately captured the image, before it could be moved. It is the portrait I want to remember of Amma. It will be my last memory of her.

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Dance by the Light of the Moon

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The house is empty now. The daffodils have been uprooted. Dark green paint peels off of the shutters that hang crooked on their hinges. The house was never beautiful; it was always in desperate need of repair, and now it’s even uglier than before. But it holds so many memories for me. I stand in a graveyard across from the house on the other side of the road. It is the graveyard she lived across from for most of her adult life, and now is buried in, with a headstone of her own. I used to play on people’s headstones when I was little, looking at half lichen-covered pictures and trying to slowly read vanishing words.

The house looks tired and worn out. But I remember when I couldn’t wait to visit it. When it held expectation, mystery, laughter, and even beauty. It wasn’t that long ago. I remember . . .

I'm honored to be published in Kindred Magazine today.  To finish this piece, please continue reading over there.

Weekending

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Joining Amanda at The Habit of Being with her link-up series, Weekending

Groceries bought, cupboards restocked.

Josh worked on the house, installing shoe molding in various rooms, a long over-due project.

Muffin madness ensued as I baked up some quick-grab breakfast goodies. I made egg and sausage muffins and these.

The day ended with homemade pizza and watching the Ravens win their divisional playoff game. Shouting all around! Crazy kids cheering. Eating too much chips and dip.

Sunday morning church. First some coffee in what we call "The Square" prior to the service. Prayer for our medical mission team headed to India this week was especially sweet.

Some afternoon peace on the couch with, yes, another cup of coffee, reading this riveting book. The perfect activity for today, which is such a grey and misty day.

Looking forward to eggs and toast for dinner and Downton tonight.

Non-Fiction Reads of 2012

And now, for my non-fiction reads . . .

Grace for the Good Girl: Letting Go of the Try-Hard Life – Emily Freeman** This book was good. I didn't completely identify with Freeman, but I am a pull-myself-up-from-my-bootstraps type of girl when I'm in-default mode. So I can identify with being a "good girl" and missing God's grace in my life, or relying on my works instead of God to work through me--even my mistakes.

Loving the Little Years: Motherhood in the Trenches – Rachel Jackovac*** This was a short little book and could come off a bit preachy at times, but I think it's just the writer's style of "telling it like it is" so that didn't bother me. It was really funny and encouraging. I appreciated that, because I need to laugh more at the mess of mothering than I do.

Reliving the Passion: Meditations on the Suffering, Death and Resurrection of Jesus as Recorded in Mark – Walter Wangerin, Jr.** I read this book for Lent. Sometimes it really spoke to me and sometimes it didn't. The writer's style was different and poetic and I went back and forth between liking it and not liking it.

Isobel Kuhn – Lois Hoadley Dick*** This book was on my shelf and I decided to reread it, which was great because I didn't remember the content at all! Amazing to read missionary stories and once again come away amazed! When you're a missionary you have to trust God so much MORE for just your daily life. Reading about the faith of these saints always encourages me towards trust.

The Core: Teaching Your Children the Foundations of Classical Education by Leigh A. Bortins** This year we started Classical Conversations for our kids and we LOVE it. This book was written by the founder of Classical Conversations and outlines the classical approach to all subjects. I had a tough time in the beginning. Lots of statistics and rather dry. Once it moved into the subject areas it was more helpful. I still think The Well-Trained Mind will be my go-to classical education book, but this is good if you're involved in Classical Conversations or if you want a much shorter over-view (because The Well-Trained Mind is super long and goes by each grade and is more of a very detailed handbook and curriculum guide).

Paris in Love: A Memoir – Eloisa James** I wanted to like this book more than I did. Parts of it were really interesting, but the main thing is it read like a bunch of Facebook status strung together to make up each chapter. Seriously. Not a fan of a book being organized like that.

Behold the Lamb of God: An Advent Narrative – Russ Ramsey*** My advent readings this year were from this book. It's kind of like an overview of the whole Bible in 25 days. It was a great way to prepare my heart for Christmas over the advent season.

Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy – Eric Metaxas (still reading) I am still reading this book! I've been reading it off and on for over a year. I'm determined to plow through! I'm not sure why it's taken me so long to read it. I got through the first third quite quickly. Metaxes is a great biographer and when I read it I'm really enjoying it. But sometimes I don't pick it up for a long time. Part of it is a lot of the culture of that dark time periods has so many parallels with today it's scary! But Bonhoeffer is a fascinating man to study and such an example someone who is absolutely given over to God while interacting in culture and politics in a bold and thoughtful way.

The Luminous Portrait – Elizabeth Messina (still reading) It seems like every photographer was reading this book this year and I'm enjoying it and reading it slowly. Messina's portraits are arresting and definitely have their own "voice." I have found her exposure tips helpful when I was a more light and airy image. Her composition alone is inspiring and worth viewing.

Fiction Reads of 2012

It was a good year in the fiction department for me! I discovered some delightful new authors. Here's what entertained, inspired, even let me down in 2012.

My personal rating system:

* Mediocre ** Good *** Very Good **** Excellent

The Great GatsbyF. Scott Fitzgerald*** Amazingly, this was a book I never read in high school or in college. I contemplated reading it, then after seeing the Robert Redford film adaptation decided not to waste my time. I'm glad I finally did read it for the homeschool co-op literature class I helped co-teach. It was worth it! I see why it is now considered a classic. The story certainly worthy of a read as it follows one character's fascination with the mysterious Mr. Gatsby.

The Penderwicks: A Summer Tale of Four Sisters, Two Rabbits, and a Very Interesting Boy Jeanne Birdsall** (audiobook) A cute children's story that I'd enjoy reading when my kids are older. Reminds me of the old-fashioned stories that I used to read as a kid. Nice to know there are still such children's stories written with such adventure and imagination.

The Girl Who Chased the Moon – Sarah Addison Allen*** (audiobook) Sarah Addison Allen was an author I fell in love with this year. Her novels are light and fluffy but completely delightful to me. The stories are small-town and southern in flavor with a bit of fairy-tale magic thrown in. Somehow they work. Her novels are simply delicious  and food always plays a fascinating part in her plots.

The Shell Seekers – Roseamunde Pilcher**** This sweeping saga of one woman's history was like eating a delicious meal. It was so satisfying. The book goes back and forth between Penelope's old-age present and her past during W.W. II. It's the story of what she decides to do with her famous father's painting, The Shell Seekers, and her sometimes tense relationship with her adult children. I loved Pilcher's writing style.

Oliver Twist – Charles Dickens**** (audiobook) I've never been a Dickens fan, but might have changed my mind with this novel. Listening on audiobook helped me get through the more tedious descriptions so famous of Dickens. However, I appreciated his unrelenting sarcasm in this novel that tells an awesome story while revealing the underbelly of Victorian London.

The Hunger Games Trilogy: The Hunger Games, Catching Fire, and The Mocking Jay – Suzanne Collins**** When I first heard about this trilogy I did not think it would be something I'd read. But I did read it and it was one of the highlights of the year. I've already written severalposts about this series, and no doubt, unless you've been living under a rock you already know something about the plot. These books haunted me long after I'd put them down. Their themes are universal and enduring, bringing up questions that are worthy of deep thought. I loved how Collins was inspired by both current events and Greek myths in her telling of this story. The reason these books are such a big deal is because they rise above normal teen literature. They are not just about a love triangle. They question how to remain true amidst corruption and how to survive after experiencing great suffering.

The Turn of the Screw – Henry James**** This creepy classic inspires more questions than answers and is not your typical ghost story. Short but superb, James' novel ends with a satisfying conclusion and the literary analysis of this novel is about as fascinating as the novel itself, it has sparked such controversies. I taught it for the homeschool literature class and it's a great one for a book discussion to see how people read it, because there are multiple ways to interpret it.

Jarrettsville: A Novel – Cornelia Nixon** While the local history in this novel based on a true story was fascinating, the actual story wasn't that fabulous. I had a hard time empathizing with either main character, and even their motives were hard to connect with. I had a hard time getting through it and wouldn't recommend. However, I did enjoy a visit to the actual graves of the main characters.

Where Lilacs Still Bloom– Jane Kirkpatrick*** (audiobook) I loved this novel and have already written about it at length. For gardening lovers, this novel would be especially of interest.

Romancing Miss BronteJuliet Gael**** This novel has inspired me to read more about Charlotte Bronte. Although a novel, I was amazed at how much factual information was wrapped up in it. Every time I doubted a detail and thought the author was sensationalizing, the detail proved true. Of course, the Bronte's were fascinating and their life was the stuff of novels. This novel focuses on how Charlotte's relationship with her husband grew. They were married very briefly but had known each other a long time and she had to defy her father in order to be married. This was one area of her life I was the least familiar and after reading the novel I now find it intriguing.

The Bungalow – Sarah Jio** While I enjoyed Jio's other novel, The Violets of March, this one was slow and I'd just skip it.

The Peach Keeper – Sarah Addison Allen*** Willa Jackson's family met financial ruin years ago, but the details surrounding that time now come when a skeleton is found under a peach tree on the property they once owned. Mystery and friendship surround this story that's a delightful as the smell of peaches.

Garden SpellsSarah Addison Allen** This was my least favorite Allen novel, although it was still interesting. Claire Waverley is a caterer who prepares meals with magical concoctions and who is reunited with her long-lost sister who returns home with a child.

The Sugar QueenSarah Addison Allen** Josey opens her closet door only discover a local waitress, Della Lee, huddled inside. This sparks the unraveling of a family mystery and a new life for Josey, who has always been looked down on by her mother.

September – Rosamunde Pilcher** I looked forward to this follow-up novel to The Shell Seekers, however, it gripped me much less. While the descriptions were just as lovely and English, the story just wasn't that interesting.

The Secret Keeper – Kate Morton*** I was so excited for Morton's newest novel, as I devoured her other three last year. Morton's novels are the perfect blend of gothic mystery and are always told in some form of flashbacks. This novel didn't disappoint, and although I did think it stalled a bit in the middle, her twist at the end was a shock I did not anticipate at all!

What was your favorite fiction find of 2012?

Christmas DIY

Now that holidays are over and all the gifts have been unwrapped, I can share some of the DIY projects I was busy with leading up to Christmas! The past two years I've attempted to make gift-giving simpler by "themed gifts." Two years ago the theme was books. That was an awesome year because I simply put an order in at Amazon. Even for people who don't read, books make wonderful gifts and you can choose from cookbooks and coffee table books for those who don't always want to sit down and read. Last year we had family portraits done so our gift was framed prints for everyone.

This year I had a harder time coming up with one theme, and never did come up with a cohesive one. If there was a theme, I guess it was "crafting." But I did find some great projects that I thought would be perfect for the people on our list. Here's what I was busy crafting, baking, knitting, and framing this year:

I made several cup cozies and am still whipping them up to have on hand to give as gifts. Aren't they cute? Stick on in your purse and you'll never need one of those cardboard sleeves again! And I'm so excited that that I now have a Cuppow so that no matter how many jars I break, I'll always have a coffee cup. :)

I also made gourmet marshmallows! Coffee and chocolate flavors. Such soft and billowy goodness!

Pumpkin bread was baked in these adorable wooden bakers. It definitely dresses up a gift of sweet bread and you can get a set of 6 from King Arthur Flour.

I also made Pomegranate Syrup and put them in jars from Mountain Rose Herbs. Aren't the stoppers cute? The syrup can be drizzled on pound cake, ice cream, or made into cocktails.

I have a thing for maps and when I saw these printables, I printed out a bunch and framed them for almost everyone! What a beautiful way to decorate for Christmas! Or all year, because I'm not going to pack mine up.

I also made these pretty scarves! A no-sew project too, just hot glue and buttons. I got my sister to model hers for me. :)

And speaking of DIY projects as well as my sister, aren't these glittered fruit beautiful? My sister made them and I put in a request for her to make me a set too.

8 of 12

Technically, I failed this personal photography challenge, only capturing eight family photos out of twelve months. While I'm sad I missed four months, I'm so happy to have these images! I'm terrible about getting pictures with ME in them, so it's great to have eight more pictures than I otherwise would have had. It's tough to make these pictures happen. My kids are at the age where they don't care to have their pictures taken. I have to set up the timer and find a place for the camera to sit. It's work, but it's worth it, as I look back over the year. I want my kids to look back and see their mom in the pictures of our family life! Because of this, I'll be taking the 12 of 12 challenge again this year! You can visit the whole series here, if you like.

December Instagrams

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I certainly Instagramed a lot this December! And yes, I made that word up. :) It was a full month full of wonder. The boys counted down to Christmas all month-long with more anticipation than the past four years of their life. We baked and crafted and visited with family and friends. It was fun to look over this last month of 2012.

Hot cocoa with the Almengor crew above. Homemade Indian food below. Yum!

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The boys' pencil boxes. Can you guess who is Type A and who is Type B?

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Train Garden at the Jarrettsville Firehouse and then ice cream afterwards at Jarrettsville Creamery!

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Tasty Christmas goodies: biscotti and a hazelnut chocolate cookie!

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Advent readings this year were from Behold the Lamb of God by Russ Ramsey.

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Cookie making at my mom's (above), gifts for neighbors (below left), and pull-apart parmesan herb bread (below right).

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Christmas Eve was magical with a dusting of snow!

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Josh build Sophia her very own oven! Let me tell you she LOVES it!

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The week after Christmas we went to The Walters Art Museum, where I once worked for almost 5 years in the Exhibition Department prior to having the boys. I ran into a few old friends there, although most were off for the Holidays. It was fun to show the boys installations I'd worked on during my time there, including the Chamber of Wonders and Arms and Armor room!

Sophia was scared in the mummy section, but was thrilled to discover Medusa (above left).

Theseus fighting the minotaur was a hit too, since Duncan had done a presentation on that Greek myth.

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Josh also built a new media console so we could completely rearrange our living room, something I'd wanted to do for years! The console can be added onto in the future, should we have the space.

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We started listening to our new Radio Theater The Magician's Nephew from the complete set of The Chronicles of Narnia the kids got for Christmas.

We also made "prayer people" of all our immediate family members as well as Beverly and Arjun, our sponsored children through Compassion. A great way for our kids to grow in "outward" focused prayers at dinner time. I got this nifty idea from Living Out His Love, a friend who goes to Classical Conversations with us.