Monday, December 29, 2014

14 Things I Learned in 2014

Gina has some of the best link-ups!  Today I'm joining her with a post that was harder to write than it should have been...

Why was it so hard to come up with 14 things I learned this year?  It's a fact of life, my life in particular, that two or three days after I publish this, all the really significant things I learned will come flooding back to me, so I reserve the right to edit this post at any time (or at least up until the end of the week ;)  )

But for now, my 14 Things, in no particular order...

(1) you can cook bacon in the oven!!! and ground beef in the crock-pot!!! (both revolutionary discoveries have saved me a lot of un-fun time over the skillet :)  )  

(2) how to make my own chicken stock (even if it was using chicken parts that I don't think I could name...)

(3) family vacations aren't always the scary ordeal I imagine them to be.  we took two this year :)  that's more than, like, ever.

(4) a happy side effect of homeschooling has been that I am learning new things too :)  (finally, after all these years, I don't feel so stupid at math!!)

(5) don't cancel next weekend's plans just because you're exhausted tonight. (actually, this past year I learned quite a bit about managing and working through exhaustion :) ) 

(6) host dinner guests... even if your home is less than perfect- like dusty, or cramped.  they don't care and you can still have lots of fun!

(7) just because something doesn't go according to plan doesn't mean it's totally spoiled.

(8) having five children is hard.  carrying one of them on my back makes it a little easier :)

(9) the lasting peace I feel after having held my tongue is so much more fulfilling than the fleeting gratification of spouting it off in a frustrated moment.  (requires less apologies too!)

(10) our marriage is better when I let my husband test out his ideas, theories, and experiments instead of pointing out all the holes in his scheme before he's even begun.

(11) homeschooling is very rewarding when the lessons for the day go well and we end when they are completed, as opposed to my old method of "things are going really well so let's squeeze more in!" 

(12) it's overwhelmingly romantic (and kinda sexy) to see your man proudly walking through the grocery store parking lot like this :)  (kids suit this guy and I love him more than ever for it!)

(13) God has truly blessed my efforts to be a more peaceful, joyful, and patient wife and mother this year.  He is the source and giver of peace, joy, and patience, but he often asks a mother to be the conduit of those gifts to her husband, children, extended family, and friends.  I pray he continues to nurture those virtues in me in 2015 :)  

(14) my days are better when I eat egg whites for breakfast 

(15/bonus) internet friendships are for real :)

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And speaking of 2014, check out some of the goings on at Ordinary Lovely 
this past year...

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What did you learn in 2014?  Anything's legit, from the mundane to the earth shattering.
Share it in the comments here or link up with Gina at Someday (hopefully) They'll Be Saints!

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Favorite Posts of 2014 (your favorites, my favorites, and family happenings)

I've seen a couple blogs publish these lists already this year and I've enjoyed looking over them and clicking through to check out the posts I missed during the year.  I loved looking back through all the things I wrote this past year.  It helped me re-appreciate and love blogging all over again to recall all the neat things I chose to write about, all the conversations I had with readers about posts, and the friends I made along the way.  Looking back at what I did here this past year has rejuvenated and excited me for the new year!

I've compiled my posts into three categories for each month - the most popular post (or two) with readers, the post (or posts!) I liked the most, and a few of the posts that were note-worthy happenings in the life of our family.  Hope you find something you missed the first time around and get to catch up on a few posts from 2014!  

If you want to take the shortcut and just cut to the top top top posts --- the posts with the most views were in June and July (here's where I interrupt and offer a note of gratitude to Kendra, who drove more traffic to my blog in those two months than all my other months and years combined ;) ).  And my favorite post was from March.   James wrote it. 


Most Popular Posts...

My Favorite Post...

January Happenings...

It Has Come to My Attention...
(a very exciting nomination that I missed because I was in the hospital having a baby.  
No babies coming this next year, so I will be available to spread the word and shamelessly promote myself, should there be a repeat nomination.  
ps - truly, thank you to the reader(s) who nominated me.  What an honor!!)


Most Popular Post...


Most Popular Post...

Prayer With an Open Door Policy

My Favorite Post...

 Dear Cousin Miles, Birth Order Matters.  Love, James
(****this was probably my favorite posts all year!!****
though it is pretty hard to label JUST one as a favorite...)

March Happenings...


Most Popular Post...  

My Favorite Post...


Most Popular Post...  

The 10 *Best* Alphabet Apps for Toddlers
(a Pinterest favorite...)

My Favorite Post...


Most Popular Posts...  

Thoughts on Baby Wearing from a Self-Proclaimed Non-Baby Wearer
(I loved writing this.  I thought it was fun and funny, and it got a lot of views and fun comments from readers of Catholic All Year.)

An Illustrated Story of Life, Love, and My Long Lost Caffeine 
(ps - still drinking decaf.  Plan to wean James in Feb. ;0)  )

      The Allure of Other People's Water 
(I like to reread the posts that I write when I'm trying to take myself less seriously)


Most Popular Posts...

How Kendra Changed My Life (and Answer Me This)
(another post made popular by Kendra :) )


My Favorite Post...

July Happenings...


Most Popular Posts...

My Favorite Posts...


Most Popular Post... 

My Favorite Posts...

         Adding a Little Extra Tech to Our Homeschool (Don't Judge Me)
(this is one one of my favorites because it's made such a positive difference in our day-to-day homeschool)

The New Latin for Weight Loss System!!
(more trying not to take myself too seriously)

September Happenings...

    Michaelmas for Better Eyesight
(loved this post because I worked so hard on the meal and it turned out so well!)


Most Popular Posts...

  The "In the Interest of Full Disclosure" Post
(apparently, it was as fun for you to read about my short-comings as it was for me to write about them!)

My Favorite Post...

October Happenings...


Most Popular Posts...

My Favorite Post...

November Happenings...


Most Popular Post...  

My Favorite Post...

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Thanks for reading Ordinary Lovely in 2014!!
I'm really looking forward to a new year of conversation and friendship :)

Monday, December 22, 2014

Our Epic Holiday Tradition: CHRISTMAS SNACK TABLE

Most of this post is a cut n' paste from two years ago.  But there was no sense in re-writing the wheel..errr... whatever.  I'm posting it for you again in case you missed it.  

This is what we're getting ready for around here... the best Christmas tradition in the universe... Christmas Snack Table.  

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The best tradition ever invented is called Christmas Snack Table, and it's so old it's hard to remember how it all started.  There is a home video of the very first one (I think I was about 12), which was actually held the day after Christmas.  I don't think anyone knows how it came to be held on Christmas Day, but I think it has something to do with not wanting to make and eat a repeat of Thanksgiving dinner one month later.  I really have no idea of the why.  It doesn't matter.  It's the what that's important.

Christmas Snack Table is an all-day buffet of the best party food - the kind that you've been waiting all year to eat - that's held on Christmas day in place of brunch, lunch, dinner, dessert, and any other meal you may have been thinking about eating that day.  The planning begins weeks before Christmas.  Deciding what will be on the snack table is fairly easy for us now - there are a lot of dishes that make an annual appearance, and everyone who will be "home" for Christmas is allowed one specific food request.  We divide up shopping and prep responsibilities.  Like last year, this year we'll be doing a lot of the prep the few days before Christmas.  The rest of the work is done on Christmas morning... and Christmas morning pretty much goes the same with my "new" family as it did with my "old" family growing up.  Get up.  Go to early Mass.  Come home, drink coffee and open stockings.  Prepare Christmas Snack Table - everyone is involved.  (That's part of the fun!  It's really a family-prepared feast!)  Say prayers and sing Christmas carols, bless the food.  Fill your plate, and eat all day!  In our family, we open our gifts one at a time and intentionally draw it out all day.  So frequently, someone will declare it's time for a gift break and another round of Snack Table.  Gift opening lasts well into the afternoon and Snack Table goes on all day.  For many years, it's lasted into the evening providing the adults much needed nourishment for intense games of SPOONS and Taboo. 

The reasons to have your own Christmas Snack Table are many.  The best I can think of are these:  It's fun holiday bonding to have the whole family involved in making a huge buffet early in the day and being able to enjoy it all day long (as opposed to two or three people tucked away in the kitchen all afternoon to make a big holiday meal while everyone else is still celebrating and socializing.  We just did that at Thanksgiving, so no need to repeat!)  It can be as casual or elegant as you like (or a tacky mix of both, which is where ours usually ends up - think gourmet stuffed mushrooms and potato chips and dip on the same table.)  There's something for everyone.  And it's just. plain. fun.  A totally unique way to celebrate an already fun and festive time of year! 

Here's a peek at the 2014 menu we've lined up for this year.  Maybe it will jump start your own planning.  'Cause you know this is awesome and you're seriously thinking about trying it!  I'll post pictures of the real thing next week!  (These are from 2012... I think??)

We're having a huge crowd over for Christmas this year, so the menu is extensive.  It's going to be so fun and so yum!!

The Basics:

potato chips, dip
veggies, dip
fruit, dip
(there are a lot of dips involved in Christmas Snack Table)
cheese, crackers, sausage, cheese spreads
red and green gumdrops (a tradition)

The Stuff We'll Make:

corned beef "sliders"
layered taco dip and Frito chips
hot chicken wing dip and tortilla chips
spinach dip, bread bowl
bacon tomato cups
deviled eggs
cocktail hot dogs wrapped in biscuits (a tradition...)
crab wontons
stuffed mushrooms
cucumber canapes 
crock-pot cocktail meatballs

salted caramel and pecabrownie bites  (it's so nice delicious to have a pastry-chef sister!)
the cookie tree
chocolate covered pretzels rods
candied pecans

beer, wine, pop

Sunday, December 21, 2014

We're Going Lessons-Free for Christmas (and are hoping it makes us holier)

For me, one of the hard things about home schooling is the breaks.  Taking breaks from our regular school routine is very hard for me.  I haven't quite identified why, seeing as that I'm generally OK with taking breaks from other things.  I don't want the kids to fall behind... I don't want them to forget... I'll miss the schedule and routine... It will be hard to get back into the swing of things when the break is over...  I mean, really... take your pick as to the reason.  It's probably a little bit of everything.  But when an obvious time for a break in lessons rolls around, I really struggle.  

In the past we've done lessons almost all Christmas break, Easter break, Spring break, Summer... you get the idea.  "Vacation" time rolls around and I toy with the idea of taking some time off from lessons, and then I can never quite bring myself to do it.  That's changing this year, though - tomorrow, in fact, we are starting a real break.  One and a half weeks of no school lessons.

And I know it's going to be hard.  But I also believe that it's very important that we do it.   That's one of the reasons I'm writing about it here, so that I can get my plan out in the open and will feel like I'm a little more accountable for it.  

I recall reading a meditation in the series In Conversation with God on the importance of true rest and sanctifying our "down time."  God calls us to sanctify our rest just as sure as he calls us to sanctify our work.  True rest isn't wasted time, because it isn't idleness, it isn't useless, and it isn't selfish.   True rest, an intentional change from our daily routines and responsibilities, allows us to connect with God in a refreshed way.  Just as we grow in virtue if we work with purpose, if we rest with purpose it can also be an essential part in our growth in holiness.  God rejoices when we know peace, because then we can know Him better.  It delights him when we appreciate the good things he's given us to enjoy - an afternoon walk, a cup of steamy hot chocolate, a conversation with a friend.  The things we experience and encounter in times of rest can edify and sanctify us in ways our work cannot.  Allowing ourselves to rest, change our pace, and shift our focus off of our normal habits and routines gives us the opportunity to encounter God in unique, out-of-the-ordinary ways.

That's why we'll be taking a Christmas break from lessons this year.  It may set us back.  Aaron may forget how to multiply by 2.  Dominic may struggle to form the cursive letters he's nearly perfected, and Ruth might not remember all of the phonograms she's learned so far, but I will have allowed them the opportunity to rest and to be filled and nourished by they peace and joy and strength that are the fruit of rest.  

I want them to know that it is not slothful or irresponsible to leave aside our school lessons and our predictable routines.  "Vacation" has value.  

I want them to experience the rhythms of life that so often mimic the seasons of Church - ordinary times of daily tasks, responsibilities, practices and holy-days/holiday times of feasting, celebrating and taking a break from the "everyday."

I want them to take all the good that "breaks" have to offer - extra play time with siblings and friends, baking and kitchen-mess making for the upcoming feasts, gobs of free time to be creative with toys and crafts and artwork, lots of books and reading for pleasure, trips and treats and surprises that are out of the ordinary.  

Breaks, and their advantages, while not necessarily a part of the everyday tasks that God asks us to remain faithful to, are still part of his plan for our lives. God calls us to encounter him in a unique way in our down times.  He nudges us to enjoy the delights of his creation that are best appreciated during times of rest.  He calls us to refresh and rejuvenate ourselves so that we may serve him and others more whole-heartedly when he calls us back to our work.  

We're going lessons-free for Christmas break this year.  I'm convicted that it can be fruitful, and I pray that it will be.  I will pray the same for you, friends!

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“Rest is leaving one’s occupation, detaching oneself from the normal toil of the day, the week, and the year. It is important that we do not wander around aimlessly; our time off must not just be empty time.
“It would be good to enjoy nature, the mountains, the sea, and the forest. And of course, it should always be desirable for one’s leisure time to be filled with something different—a new content that nevertheless still leads to an encounter with God. We should open up the inward eyes of the soul to His presence in the world and incline our inward ear to His word of truth.”
St. John Paul II 

Friday, December 19, 2014

Button Flower Wall Hanging (Kid-Made Gift Series)

Have you and your kids been making lots of gifts this holiday seasons?  We have.  I'm a little crafted out, to tell you the truth.  So it's a good thing this is the final post in the kid-made gift series :)

Today's project is brought to you courtesy of Ruth, who made two of these lovely wall hangings this morning!

What you'll need:

embroidery hoop
 large piece of craft felt or other fabric
scraps of colored craft felt
needle, craft thread

Set up embroidery hoop with background felt or fabric.
Cut flower and leaf shapes from colored craft felt

Sew the buttons on, randomly spaced and placed.

Ruth used nine buttons on a 6 inch hoop.

Fold the flowers in half and make a small snip in the middle.

Fold the bottoms of the leaves and snip. 

"Button" three leaves onto the project.

Then add the flowers.

And... she's done!!  It's so colorful and cheery!!  I just think she did such a great job!

Trim the edges and add a ribbon to hang.

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I hope you've enjoyed this kid-made gift series!  I loved writing it and was so grateful to the other lovely bloggers who contributed also!
I love encouraging my children to make gifts for family and friends, to teach them new handicrafts and skills, and to encourage sharing their talents with others while emphasizing generosity during the Christmas season! 
Thanks for joining me for this series.  Maybe I'll plan on another one next November/December :)

check out all the kid-made gifts in the series...

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