Friday, January 23, 2015

friday's five

Oh, hello there, January. I hadn't realized you were going to be so speedy this year, what with 22 of your days gone already, while I've been hyper-focused on seven particular picture books. Now it's time to officially start a new year of friday's five posts, albeit a little late, with a handful of titles fresh off the library's "new releases" shelf. Though these were all just picked up today, all five have been read by or to at least one young one in my life in the last few hours, and they've all been enjoyed by their audiences.

For a couple of these, the familiar names on the spines and the front covers caught my eye, leading to placement in the checkout bag. For others, it was the cover illustration itself. No denying it, I'm a total judge-a-literal-book-by-its-cover kind of gal. My toddler pal was my assistant in the selection process, and each of these books were given her initial okay, too. Let's get to the books.

1. Lion Lion written by Miriam Busch and illustrated by Larry Day

Perhaps reading this for the first time with a toddler wasn't ideal, for I see this book working much better with a slightly older pre-k or kindergarten audience, but she still had fun trying to figure out what was going on. Sly and darkly humorous, this picture book doesn't tell a straightforward story. Instead, there are clues as to what's really going on in the mannerisms of the little boy, and his tone of voice, once readers understand enough to deliver the lines most appropriately. (Teacher friends, don't forget that golden rule for read alouds-- KNOW YOUR MATERIAL!) I read this for a second time today with my seven year old, and I was more confident in my delivery of the story, and he was better able to grasp the complexity of the story. Because of its twist, this book practically roars out for re-reads. (See what I did there?)

2. The Jacket written by Kirsten Hall and illustrated by Dasha Tolstikova 

The eyes peeking out definitely caught both my young friend's and my attention at the library. This happened to be one of the books that was chosen to stand face-out on the shelf, and it just happened to be at about her eye level. How could we not bring this one home? The story it tells is another slightly complex one, and I think my older kids will particularly enjoy it. I loved the personification of the book itself, because the idea of a book being alive just makes sense to me. The conflict here arises when a young girl's two loves-- the book and her dog-- just don't mix well. An accident of a muddy nature pushes the girl into action to create an entirely new look for her favorite book. 

3. First Snow written and illustrated by Peter McCarty

Though our snowfall totals have been small, just this week, we had a bit of a beautiful afternoon of flurries and that image often sticks in kids' minds with more positive feelings than for many adults. The picture of six furry friends in snowsuits and hats, sleds in hand, is surely an inviting one to children excited for their own chances for some fun in the snow. The plot here is a straightforward one, with a relative, Pedro, visiting just in time for a big, overnight snowfall, providing him with his very first experience with snow! But, his first impression isn't terribly positive. It's cold, it's uncomfortable, and he just doesn't know what he's supposed to do out there. But then it's time to climb up the hill for the big sledding session, and even though he has a bit of a spill, Pedro discovers the joy that can be found in a wintry wonderland.

4. Maple & Willow Together written and illustrated by Lori Nichols

My kids met Maple this past year, and they adore her, so I was happy to see her sequel on the shelf today. My daughter chose this as the book she wanted to read aloud to me and her younger brother tonight, and they shared a few glances at points in the story that they could absolutely relate to. Sibling relationships are a special thing, but that doesn't mean that even the best ones are void of conflict. Even sisters like Maple and Willow get in fights, but the important thing is that they try to make amends... a lesson I think most parents will find familiar. This book also opened my eyes to the fact that my younger children apparently have no understanding of the concept of "Pig Latin," so it was fun to try to explain the "secret language" that the sisters share!

5. Stormy Night written and illustrated by Salina Yoon 

I've become a big fan of Yoon's books for my toddler friends, because she knows how to blend age-appropriate themes with illustrations that have just the right touch of adorableness, with thick lines and big patches of solid colors, to result in a book that toddlers want to pick up as soon as they see the cover. In this new one, the topic is one that parents and young children both will likely have experience with-- the fears that can come during a loud storm, especially one that happens during the night. When Bear can't sleep because of the storm, he finds comfort in his parents, and guess what? They find comfort in him, too! The love that Bear shows his favorite stuffed bunny is reflected in the love his parents give him. Tender and quiet, this is a perfectly lovely, reassuring read.

Whew! Getting back in the swing of things ain't easy, I tell ya, but I'm looking forward to another year of exploring new-to-us picture books. 

Happy reading,

Friday, January 16, 2015

are there parents who are never disappointed in themselves?

Whether or not they're out there, I know that I am not of their tribe. Since I first became a parent almost fifteen years ago, I could fill an imaginary swimming pool with metaphorical drops of self-disappointment. Does that make me a bad parent? Sometimes. Yes. Sometimes I'm not the best parent I could be. I yell more than I'd like. I possess a remarkable amount of patience when dealing with young children, but just not the ones in my family. I say things sometimes that I later regret... hard. I am so imperfect that disappointment in myself is a feeling with which I have much experience.

Right now, perhaps more than ever, I have three children in very different times of their lives. The teenager... well, do I really need to expound? He's a teenager, and our first round as parents during adolescence is like a never-ending roller coaster. In a pitch black environment, no idea what is about to come... a straight, flat, smooth track or one that suddenly drops out, plummeting for who knows how long? Sigh. The eight year old has begun shifting into this second phase of childhood, as it were, and it's full of more emotion than ever. We're getting glimpses of the adolescent she will become, at that time when the mix of baby/toddler face and big kid expressiveness is constantly apparent. And then there's the youngest in all his goofiness and impetuousness. Though a mere 18 months younger than his sister, his seven year old self is simply in a different developmental stage than hers.

But I am just one person, engrossed in a seemingly constant struggle to figure out how to best parent each of these individuals, whose basic needs are obviously all the same, but who also possess such distinctly different needs when it comes to temperament and engagement. I can't be everything to everyone all the time, so there's always a shortcoming.

And yet, I still try. I still wake up every morning hoping for the best. Okay, maybe it's better to say the best possible. I love my children, even when I find myself not liking them in a moment. The moment will pass, though that can be so damn difficult to see right then. They assuredly are having the very same experience of emotional fluctuation when it comes to me, too. (At least I'll assume that from the grumbles and whines they think I can't hear under their breath.) 

I know there are no perfect parents out there, regardless of the shiny-happy-people images put forth on Facebook and such. It stands to reason then that there are also no parents among us who have never felt shitty after a heated interaction with their children, or asked themselves, "What in the world was I thinking?!" after doling out a harsh consequence in anger. I'd even go so far as saying that the vast majority of parents are trying their best, day in and day out, and that's the thing about trying... sometimes you fail. Some days are uglier than others, even when you tried.

A friend of mine has a funny way of saying things sometimes. She so succinctly summed it up not too long ago-- Parenting is hard, yo. Indeed.

This post was inspired by the novel If I Fall, If I Die by Michael Christie, about a boy who's never been outside thanks to his mother's agoraphobia, but ventures outside in order to solve a mystery. Though most of the story focuses on the boy's experiences, I couldn't help but feel empathy for the mother who had lost so much and became isolated from the world out of fear and anxiety. Yet, she was still struggling with the same basic issues of parenting that we all do, just from an intensely heightened emotional state.

Join From Left to Write on January 22nd as we discus If I Fall, If I Die. As a member, I received a copy of the book for review purposes.

Yours in reading,

Tuesday, January 06, 2015

a surprising post-break bonus day

The first snow of the winter season always seems to throw the mid-Atlantic region for a loop. Each year, there are times when I shake my New England-born head at the decisions made by the powers that be, whether it be the school system for closing, or worse, NOT closing, or the public works folks for not preparing sufficiently. For this winter, that day came today when a system came through exactly as forecast (emphasize those three words as you read along!), yet there appeared to be zero preparation for it. As a result, though there is an amount of snow on the ground that would make our northern neighbors scoff, the road conditions during the morning commute were abysmal thanks to the super cold temps and no pre-treatments. Our school system first called a two-hour delay, but at some point around 8 am, changed it to a complete closure. Oh, the joy expressed by the 2/3 of my children who attend public school. To the other's credit, he did some Spanish classwork before he was dismissed to go play in the snow until the time of his online class.

After the initial uncertainty of the morning for school and work schedules all around, the day's plan firmed up. For the children, that plan involved getting their father to climb up into the frigid attic to procure the outdoor snow accouterments, and then layering up, donning the now-too-small snowpants, and heading outdoors. Sadly for Hubby, working from home goes on as scheduled regardless of the wintry weather. Other than his breaks to help get the kids' stuff, blowing up a snow tube, and building a cozy fire, he's spending his time upstairs in his work space (i.e. our bedroom) having a regular old Tuesday.

For me, though, the snow opened the day up to more possibilities. Like this exact moment-- blogging in the middle of the morning, and even more remarkable, sitting in the living room with only the hum of the fan and the crackles of the fireplace as my soundtrack. The kid trio is out and about in the neighborhood, properly dressed and equipped with sleds, and I have been left to my own devices. With laundry going, and big fat flakes falling, this morning seemed the best time to get in some baking, and the eleven overripe bananas were practically screaming out to be made into something. An hour later, and I've got clothes that need folding and muffins that need eating. One of those sounds more appealing than the other, but both will inevitably get done later today.

Though the new year is often seen as a time for hope and renewal, I've been fighting a bit of seemingly cyclical melancholy lately. It's no surprise, as I'm fully aware of the way my brain chemistry likes to mess with me to varying levels now and then. As I reflect on my mood, I've been thinking that I don't fully appreciate the relationship between contentedness and happiness, and that I let perfectly wonderful moments go by unnoticed or unacknowledged because they're simple and not super exciting. If I associate happiness with only those extremely special times, then I'm missing a whole lot of everyday joys. Today, I'm trying to keep that thought in the front of my mind. Appreciating the quiet of this morning, the beauty of the snow, and the low-keyness of the day as a whole is a source of happiness, and I'm trying to be mindful of it.

As is our bird feeder. How thankful I am that my toddler friend and I refilled it yesterday, for the birds have been having a party there all morning. Though the cardinal didn't care for me getting too close, the nuthatches were as oblivious as always, and there are usually so many juncos that they never fully disperse. If I was a hardier person, I would have hunkered down and sat in the snow for a longer birdwatching session. With very few cars passing through our very busy corner, the hush of the snowfall was even more pronounced, and the chirping and twittering of the birds brought even more calm than usual.

a cardinal taking shelter while the juncos find my bread bit tossings in the snow

bright red cardinal looking good in the snow

junco on the line waiting for his turn at the feeder after the nuthatch

sassy cardinal chirping at me to stop going all paparazzi on him

Today's unexpected gifts have been wonderful so far, and it's only lunch time. I have a feeling that a movie is on tap for the younger kids later this afternoon while the homeschooler does his homeschooling-don't-play-by-snow-day-rules thing. The fire will keep going and some reading will surely take place, and maybe, just maybe there will be a calm upon this house.

Snow day salutations,

Saturday, January 03, 2015

book reviews 2015

There's no denying I have a bit of an obsession with lists and keeping track of things I don't want to forget. Give me a little while, and I'm likely to forget things, so I started to record my first thoughts after finishing a book back in 2008, not a full review, but just my immediate impressions. It's a tradition I enjoyed keeping through 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, and 2014. Let's see if 2015 can bring some fantastic new reads.

4. 1/24/15
The Way to Stay in Destiny by Augusta Scattergood
I kept waiting for something *more* from this book. The premise was interesting, and there were strong opportunities for character development and emotional exploration, but neither went as deep as I had hoped. Perhaps this was intentional, to keep the book geared toward the youngest end of middle grade fiction readers, but the themes and setting might still need some explanation anyway, so why not go deeper? I'm still going to pass it along to my 8 year old daughter, but I wasn't as impressed as I was with Scattergood's previous book GLORY BE.

3. 1/13/15
You Could be Home by Now by Tracy Manaster
I was happy to finish this book just so I could move on to something else. That sounds harsh, but it's not to say that there weren't enjoyable aspects of the book... I just didn't get pulled into this one like I usually do with novels. I didn't find myself caring much for any of the characters, and none of the several story lines really felt deep enough.I felt there was a disjointedness to the novel as a whole, and while I was pleased to see some resolutions occur for characters in the end, I was mostly just happy to be done.

2. 1/5/15
If It's Not One Thing, It's Your Mother by Julia Sweeney
With a month on her own while her daughter is at camp and her husband is away for work, Sweeney vows to relax and spend the time telling her story. Through her essays, readers learn many bits about her past, some flip, others quite serious. Her relationship history, the adoption of her daughter as a single mom, and then the too-wild-to-be-made-up meeting of her future husband, all make fantastic fodder for her engaging and introspective storytelling. I quite adored this entire collection of essays.

1. 1/1/15
If I Fall, If I Die by Michael Christie
An extreme case in agoraphobia, Will's mother hasn't left the house in as long as Will can remember, and as a result, neither has Will. The day that Will steps Outside (capitalized for its Otherness to him) introduces him, literally, to an entire world new to him. Throw in the mysterious disappearance of a local native youth, dark and untold family histories, and an exploration into mental illness unlike any I've read before. The parent/child relationship here is definitely not a healthy one, yet it holds elements I would guess most parents could understand. Will's budding adolescence cannot help but be influenced by his childhood of isolation, but again, there's a universality to this experience as well. I was taken by the tone of this novel, dark and foreboding, and rich with emotion.

As always, happy reading,

Friday, January 02, 2015

movie reviews 2015

When January arrives, it's time to start the new posts that will serve as the cumulative lists for the year. In this one, I'll keep track of the movies watched in 2015, though I admit to not including the ones that the kids make us watch again and again, since I'm usually not paying much attention that 24th time around. This tradition dates all the way back to 2009, and every year since- 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, and 2014. Let's all go to the lobby!

7. 1/25/15
This Is Where I Leave You 
Well played, everyone, seriously well played. I quite enjoyed this book, and this cast nailed it. Tenderness, pain, and dark humor blend well to give this a truly realistic feel, as I imagine many families can find themselves in these characters, each of whom is not without strengths and faults. Perhaps that's what was most appealing to me here-- the real, full-range depictions of people- good, bad, and ugly. And the performances for those characters was simply outstanding. I'm not sure, but I think I liked the movie of this one even more than the book, which is not something I often say!

6. 1/24/15
The Skeleton Twins
Well, that was a great fucking movie. I didn't know what to expect going in... could these actors, who are more than adept at comedy, handle the weight of this emotionally-driven plot? The answer, apparently, was yes, and then some. Bill Hader, especially, gives a nuanced performance, achingly real and believable. Their sibling relationship was touching and raw, and with information about their pasts, familial and personal, revealed in bits and pieces, the big picture comes together slowly, building up our understanding of just what they've endured and experienced up to this point. Beautifully executed, this movie really touched me.

5. 1/24/15
The Muppet Movie
I really don't think I'd seen this movie since I watched it as a child myself, and though we've had it in our big old collection forever, we'd never watched it with any of the kids. Unfortunately, because JAM was out, he missed this viewing, but the other two enjoyed it... though, not as much as Hubby and I did! What a fun time this was, really. I kept busting out with surprised laughs at just how clever this was-- thirty-six years ago! Breaking the fourth wall and including several meta jokes might have gone over the kids' heads, but I loved it. And, opening with "The Rainbow Connection" is probably the best thing ever. A couple other songs weren't as catchy, but I can forgive any and all slow spots in exchange for the inclusion of Steve Martin as "Insolent Waiter." The sarcasm, eye-rolling, and shorty-shorts all made up for it.

4. 1/16/15
Men, Women & Children
When I read this book, I stayed in a constant state of discomfort. It was disturbing, to say the least. I couldn't imagine that the film adaptation could show even half the level of explicitness of the book. In the end, it was much tamer, TONS tamer, and it even took out one of the main story lines with the teenagers. And, taking the kids from 8th graders to 10th graders, along with making it less explicit and extreme, made it much easier to watch than the book was to read. Like the book, though, I was still left wondering in the end... what is the lesson to be learned? With just one of the many couples among the teens and adults in a relationship where they actually talked to each other about their genuine feelings, it was still an overall depressing story. It serves well as a cautionary tale, perhaps.

3. 1/9/15
What an incredible film. Truly. For both the fact that these actors stayed committed to this project for twelve years and for the performances that they gave that only got better and better as the years went on. This movie was so much like the books that I love the best-- all about the character development with a plot that simply depicts real life, with all its big events and mundane details. It's long and often slow, but I don't offer those descriptions with any negative connotation at all. Know what to expect-- an amazing family drama with strong emotions and many, many moments with which parents will be able to relate. Yes, I cried, and no, I can't stop thinking about the film the next day. I hope this flick wins all the awards this season!

2. 1/8/15
Wish I Was Here
I like movies with that indie flair-- there's always something a little bit wacky about the whole thing, but there tend to be more realistic emotional moments, too. This movie did it for me. Funny, tender, honest, and yes, a little bit wacky, this one had me in tears at times, as well. I appreciate that there wasn't just one issue that the protagonist was trying to deal with at a time, because we know that's not how life works. When it rains, it freaking pours, but even just regular old daily life can mean that each day involves several different struggles, especially in the realms of parenthood, marriage, and work. Zach Braff does a fantastic job here of presenting the story and depicting the main character, faults and all.

1. 1/1/15
Night at the Museum 3: The Secret of the Tomb
As soon as we learned that Larry Daley and his museum pals were coming back for another round of tablet-inspired fun, my whole crew got excited. It was awesome luck that Santa Claus himself heard their wishes and gifted us a family date night. We rang in the New Year with this third installment in one of our family's favorite series, and there were many laughs and smiles all around. Yes, Dexter the monkey is as cheeky as always, and several other returning characters happily join the fun. Sir Lancelot is one of the newbies, and the source of some of the funniest scenes, especially the one with a Hugh Jackman cameo. (Well done, Huge!) For fans of this series who appreciate the silly, and often slapstick humor Ben Stiller does so well, you'll likely enjoy this one as well. I imagine later this year when this one comes out on DVD, it will be added to our frequent rotation.

Grab a Slurpee and the popcorn,

friday's five- finalists time!

Happy new year!! Let's pretend that I'm sharing the Cybils Award picture book finalists today to keep with the regular Friday schedule, and not because I spent New Year's Day nursing myself back to health after a wild NYE party.


Yes, the lists were announced yesterday and we, the round two judges, are getting the seven books in hand now so we can start our part of the process. Yay! I'm happy to say that I've read all seven of the finalists, and I had included five of them in my ongoing reviews this season. But, between now and February 14th when the winners will be announced, mum's the word from me. You won't hear a peep out of me about these books! I'll be saving all those opinions for our judge discussions, and I'll be bursting to tell you by February!

Until then, let's see which seven rose to the top of the pile for the round one panelists, shall we? I'm including the blurbs prepared by the panelists from the official Cybils Award announcement post, and a link to my previous review when applicable.

1. Brimsby's Hats by Andrew Prahin 
"When his best friend moves away, Brimsby buries himself in his work. He is lonely, and longs for someone to talk to, to share meals with. On a walk one day, Brimsby notices a tree filled with birds who are trying to survive in the snow. Brimsby’s ingenious solution to the birds’ dilemma is the start of a new friendship. The quiet text is matched by gentle illustrations that convey the warmth and humor of this story of friendship."
--Teri Lesesne, Goddess of YA
reviewed on my thoughts exactly, October 2014

2. Here Comes the Easter Cat by Deborah Underwood and illustrated by Claudia Rueda
"Cat’s jealousy of the Easter Bunny makes him want to take over the job and get the attention, but it isn’t that easy. Perfect pacing encourages page turns of this lengthy picture book, moving the story along as Underwood masterfully shifts Cat’s attitude toward the Easter Bunny from envy and rivalry towards compassion and helpfulness. The story features a unique format of a narrator’s conversation with Cat, who “speaks” via facial expressions and placard drawings. The humorous text is reminiscent of parent/child conversations and perfectly balanced by charming illustrations. Parents will enjoy this book as much as young children, while older siblings will chuckle at Cat’s clever, conniving thinking, making this a book for the whole family to enjoy."
--Carol Munro, Just Write Words

3. Knock, Knock: My Dad's Dream for Me by Daniel Beaty and illustrated by Brian Collier
"Every morning, a dad knock-knock’s on his son’s bedroom door to tell him “I love you”. One morning the dad doesn’t knock, and the boy writes a letter asking why his father isn’t around any more. The letter the dad writes back about the hopes he has for his son’s bright, beautiful future is full of hope and inspiration. Any child dealing with the absence of a parent, due to incarceration or other circumstances, will find strength in this beautifully illustrated book. This is one of those books that may make a powerful difference in a child’s life."
--Kristen Remenar, Kristen Remenar

4. Maple by Lori Nichols 
"Maple loves her name and she loves the tree that her parents planted when she was born; it’s the perfect friend as they grow together through the seasons. In the spring, a new tree and a new baby arrive and, after a little adjustment, the siblings look forward to sharing their trees together. The simple text and lovely illustrations, from the tree itself to the leaf rubbings and prints in the backgrounds, delightfully capture the joy of the seasons and the excitement and adjustment of a new baby. Simple is best in this heartfelt and lovely story, perfect for encouraging a child to enjoy nature or look forward to a new baby."
--Jennifer Wharton, Jean Little Library
reviewed on my thoughts exactly, December 2014

5. Shh! We Have a Plan by Chris Haughton

"Chris Haughton’s Shh! We Have A Plan is a hilarious tale of four hapless friends who set out to catch a bird. Despite having minimal text, it is a joy to read aloud. The small font encourages whispering, and the short, repeated phrases are accessible to even the youngest of listeners. With its muted colors and quiet text, Shh! We Have A Plan would make a wonderful bedtime book for preschoolers and kindergarteners."
--Jen Robinson, Jen Robinson’s Book Page
reviewed on my thoughts exactly, October 2014

6. The Girl and the Bicycle by Mark Pett

"A girl has a dream – to own the brand-new, bright green bicycle she sees in the store window. It’s the sort of desire everyone can relate to, and rarely is it told as elegantly as in Mark Pett’s The Girl and the Bicycle. When the girl gets down to the business of making her dream a reality, she discovers it ain’t easy. Told with honesty and heart (and nary a single line of text), it’s storytelling at its most pure, with a conclusion that will make everyone smile."
--Travis Jonker, 100 Scope Notes
reviewed on my thoughts exactly, December 2014

7. This is a Moose by Richard T. Morris and illustrated by Tom Lichtenheld 
"A movie director struggles to capture a documentary about the mighty moose. But woodland creatures keep getting in his way, acting quite unlike proper animals. With laugh-out-loud hilarious movie outtakes, author Richard T. Morris teams up with illustrator Tom Lichtenheld to bring us unforgettable characters and their antics on the movie set. Kid appeal runs high and brings story time to a new dramatic level. The original concept paired with the detailed cartoon sketches Lichtenheld is known for, bring an unexpected surprise that pushes silliness to its extreme."
--Carrie Charley Brown, Carrie On… Together
reviewed on my thoughts exactly, July 2014

There you have it. Congratulations to the wonderful authors and illustrators who are honored on this finalists list. When friday's five begins again (maybe next week if I can get my self back on track!), we'll be talking new books, but no more words about the Cybils until 2/14/15 when one of these books will be named the winner. Woo-hoo!

Happy finalist reading,

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

you take the good, you take the bad, you take them both, and there you have...

... 2014. Yeah, 2014.

Even as this little old blog is just barely clinging to life, I have a hard time letting go of traditions. And ever since 2007, I've put aside the last post of the year as a sort of round up list of positive things from the previous twelve months. They didn't have to be big, monumental things, necessarily, but collectively, they were some highlights from the year. I returned to the idea in 2008, and at some point after that, it officially garnered tradition status. So every New Year's Eve saw a posting- 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, and 2013. It wouldn't seem right to leave out 2014, even if this year was... less than stellar.

I'm not one to shirk from sharing the good and the bad, though I took a gigantic step backward this year when it came to the blog and personal life sharing, for a variety of reasons. This year challenged me to the core, on several fronts, and it can be difficult to see the shiny moments through the murk of the bad ones. Even if it doesn't feel completely authentic to be talking all happy right about now, I can't let this date pass by on the blog without a list, so I'm soldiering on, and it's good to acknowledge that there were plenty of good times to remember, too. I'm wading through the mess to find...

The Top Ten Things that I Liked, Laughed At, Smiled About, or Generally-Remember-in-a-Fond-Way of 2014. 

Pink lady and the kids loving summer life!
10. All the way from blue to pink.
While 2013 saw me finally trying a funky hair color like I've long wanted and opting for my favorite shade of deep blue, this year I went in the complete opposite direction. Pink? Me? Really? I know, I could barely believe it myself. Though the first attempt lasted less than two weeks, an awesome friend (with lots of experience coloring her own hair just about every shade there is) helped give me a second shot, and that round was even more vivid and lasted slightly longer. I loved having those bright pink strands all up in the front of my pixie cut, though the summer was a bummer of a time to do it, since I was avoiding the pool water more than I liked for a couple weeks. Ever since I went super short a couple years ago, I've felt more like myself with these haircuts, and funky colors just add an extra layer of fun. If I could get it to stay in longer, I would do this all the time! What could be next... purple? Let's see what 2015 brings...

9. A trip to LA on someone else's dime? Awesome. Making Adam Sandler break out into the voice of "The Goat"? Pretty damn priceless.

Adam Sandler making Drew Barrymore laugh. So many laughs all around!
Being able to represent 5 Minutes for Mom at a movie junket for bloggers is an extreme honor, and when an opportunity presents itself, I never know if it's going to be the last one. This past year brought one of those chances, and if it ends up being the last one I'll ever have the chance to do, it will be a high note on which to end, that's for sure. The long story can be found in my original blog post, but the short version is that not only did I make Adam Sandler laugh, he also responded to me in the voice of an obscure old character of his that I was OBSESSED with back in college. Total high point of the year.

8. Exploring the birds and bees... (and spiders, and praying mantises, and beetles, and moths, and cicadas...)
If you're my Facebook pal, then you have likely seen my nature-themed bird and buggy posts. In fact, I started a photo album on my page to hold the pics I take of the various bugs we come across outside (or inside, as is the case with those sneaky spiders) that I find interesting. This year brought some of our favorites, as we hatched praying mantis nymphs and painted lady butterflies again, but we also had some brand new experiences, too. (I'm looking at you, Northern Black Widow spider who decided to hang out next to our front door.) One funky caterpillar even hung out with us for a couple weeks and went all the way through its metamorphosis into the most-fun-named moth I'd ever heard of- the Agreeable Tiger Moth. I'm hoping that 2015 will bring an exciting first for us in our buggy adventures, as we have been housing what we believe to be a Luna Moth caterpillar since the fall. If he overwinters well in the habitat we set up on our front step, then we'll be so lucky to see him emerge in the spring. Keep your fingers crossed!
top: Northern Black Widow, annual Cicada, Arrowhead Orb Weaver
middle: Agreeable Tiger Moth as larva and adult
bottom: Praying Mantis, Tomato Hornworm caterpillar parasitized by Braconid Wasp eggs (take that you garden creeps!), Katydid

7. No matter where we gather- Deep Creek, Cape Henlopen, Ocean City, or our backyard- my friends bring me joy. And laughter. So, so much laughter.
This year ranked high on the successful-trips-with-friends meter. I got not one, but TWO, weekends away with my lady friends. The first was in the late winter/early spring up in the mountains where we were surprised by a thick blanket of snow on our last morning, and that weekend was filled with a bunch of emotions... thankfully, my expression of them didn't push my friends away, either, which is the biggest thing I was grateful for in the weeks following the trip. The second weekend took place in early fall when we took to the beach, and the off-season allowed for no crowds, which was lovely and provided a smaller audience for our tequila-fueled balcony antics. Phew. One of the days was warm enough though to see a few of us splashing in the ocean. In October! In between those ladies-only-weekends was a five family camping trip, with 10 adults, 13 kids, and two dogs spread out across four adjacent campsites. Cards Against Humanity was played into the wee morning hours for the adults, and the kids went feral for three days, so everyone was in their happy place. I'm not sure any coming year can match this year's travels on the fun scale, but it will be great to give it a try.
Swallow Falls State Park- awesome walking in the woods
My favorite thinking spot at Swallow Falls
The party campsite, with perfectly assembled DIY tarp setup once the skies opened up!
Nothing like mimosas to accompany a beachside balcony kind of morning.
My favorite part of the weekend- practically dying of laughter in the waves. Images are blurred to protect those who might not want their bathing suited selves splashed over the web.

6. Two family vacations in one! 
With one set of grandparents a seven hour drive north, and the other a three hour drive south, it can be a challenge to split limited vacation time and still get time with everybody. This year, the idea was hatched to all go on a trip together, and everyone was amenable to traveling to our beloved Maryland vacation site- Deep Creek Lake. One big rental house gave us plenty of space to spread out, and the kids got a week with four grandparents' worth of attention. There was fishing, a bit of early June lake swimming (read: freezing cold!), a day on a pontoon boat captained by Birthday Boy Hubby, white water rafting, big family meals, game playing, and tons of relaxing hanging out time. We were even fortunate enough to tack on an extra weekend to our stay and spend time with old friends who moved away a few years ago. Thankfully, Deep Creek is about a halfway point and they have a family vacation home in the area, so we got one more friends-weekend added to the mix. All in all, it was absolutely a week to remember. We were fortunate enough to also be able to head north later in the summer, thanks to Hubby's work-from-home-on-the-road abilities, which allowed for a visit with my sister, too. Because of distance, we have to make the most of the family time, and I think we did well this year.
Family and ice cream. Who could ask for anything more?

5. He's still funny as hell, but when he laughs these days, his look is a little different.
It seems that there's a regular theme for this post when it comes to Pudge. If we're talking about things that have made me laugh, he's always high on that list. His comedic nature is innate, and he continues to be the jokester of the family. But, if I'm thinking of one big thing for him this year that eventually made us all laugh... even if there were more tears than giggles at the time... it would have to be that boy's ordeal with loose teeth. He shed a few this year, but the most eventful night of them all came back in September. Both of his front teeth on the top were loose, very loose. He had a collision of some sort with his sister that left the first one hanging on by a thread, and early in the evening, it was gone. The other was halfway twisted, but still connected slightly, transforming his smile into an early Halloween fright. With some convincing, and some tugging of his own, finished off by one good yank by me, the second one was out before bedtime. Two teeth in one night? Memorable, yes... and something that we can all laugh about now, especially as the hole is still pretty big months later while his grown-up teeth take their sweet time slowly coming in. But teeth or no teeth, this dude will always keep me laughing. Oh, and it's worth noting that this was the year that he finally joined the rest of us as a glasses-wearer, though oddly enough, he's the only one who is far-sighted, so he doesn't need them all the time. We're still trying to convince him that he's handsome as heck with them on.
Add the glasses, take away the teeth.
Seriously, how could one not laugh at this guy?

4. Though it may be a silly name, there seems to be something to this tween thing.
Turning eight this past spring seemed to mark a new time for Red. She's growing up in some ways, and still happily clinging to the joys of childhood in others. Her maturity can be seen in bursts and spurts, and we're having more thoughtful and serious conversations together than ever before. One big milestone for her was her decision to get her ears pierced this summer. She'd asked before, several times in fact, and though I had always been okay with it when she asked over the years, she would pull back and say she wanted to wait some more. But, she was finally done waiting, and when a friend got it done, it was the final catalyst she needed. She was so proud of herself for not crying, and we both had a chuckle when we realized that the song playing over the in-store intercom at the time when she was getting pierced was Sara Bareilles' "Brave." I'm proud of her for coming to the decision in her own time, and now she's looking more and more like a big kid!

"I did it!"
She's growing up!

3. Teenagers open up a whole new world of TV and movie viewing.
This is the year that I made an effort to connect with my oldest via a screen. Sure, it doesn't sound like much, but I've always been a big fan of television and movies, and JAM is now at an age that allows for more viewing options together. This summer, we had a bit of a film fest in that we watched a bunch of movies I loved when I was a teen, and laughter was a big part of several them. Into the fall, it morphed into series viewing, and both Hubby and I were not upset at all at the opportunity to rewatch the much-too-short, one-season-only series Firefly, followed by a viewing of the film Serenity, of course. That entire world became a new obsession for the teen, especially evidenced by several of his Xmas gifts this year. At the end of that, I figured it only appropriate to follow up with my other favorite how-could-this-have-only-lasted-one-season shows, My So-Called Life. We're nearing the end of that show now, but I don't know yet what will be next. I do know, though, that there are some cool parts of parenting a teen, and this is one of them.

How's it sit? Pretty cunning, don't you think?
"Ignore Angela! She can't help herself-- she's the product of a two-parent household!"

2. Hubby the builder! Can he fix it? Yes, he can!
My husband is handy, no doubt about it. We have a running joke about how if I say I like something, he's often likely to respond with, "I could build that." Sometimes it's easier to buy than build, but we have no shortage of his handiwork in and around our home... much of our home itself IS his handiwork- one kitchen, three bathrooms, flooring, molding, I could go on and on. This year, he saw it was time to replace the fairly basic planter boxes he had built years ago around our front walk and along our patio fence line. His design got a little more ambitious this second time around, and he began to think about gardening for purpose, so the design morphed again to allow for some veggie and herb growing. His finished product has provided a wonderful place to sit these past few months, and all summer long, we were harvesting herbs and tomatoes that were put to good use in the kitchen. We hope to get better with our other crops, but we had modest success with green beans and peppers, while our carrots and sweet potatoes were kind of a bust. Next year, we'll make some adjustments and try again, all thanks to this guy's hard work. Nice job, builder man!

Exhausted but pleased with himself, as he should be.

1. Clinging to the thirty-something label for one more year, and celebrating in style.
Back in November, I was whisked away to our nation's capital for a birthday weekend to remember. A nice hotel, grown-up time walking around the city, a special birthday dinner out with friends, a cruise around the Tidal Basin, a comedy show. Dude. It was a lot in two and a half days, and it was fantastic. Big props go to my in-laws who stayed with our kids, and kudos to Hubby who planned a whirlwind of a weekend of fun. A nice way to say hello to 39, indeed.

Thirty-somethings in the wild.

Okay 2014, you've had your way with us, and if I squint and just look back at times like these, you were a great year. We'll leave it at that. I'm ready for 2015, a year that will undoubtedly bring new experiences and highs and lows I can't yet imagine. Let's do this.

We'll take a cup of kindness yet,