I didn't "get into" reading until about 5th grade.

My 5th grade teacher, Mrs. Stephanopolous, challenged us to read 50 novels that year.  It wasn't so much a challenge, as it was an assignment...and being the type of student that I was (my husband would refer to it as brown-nosing) I was 100% on board!  I had my 25 read and reported by Christmas and I was on my way to finishing before April!

We didn't have a great library and my mom didn't have a car at home.  Mostly I relied on my teacher bringing in boxes of books or borrowing from whomever would share.  I read all sorts of genres that year...basically whatever would contribute to the challenge and get me the next star.

The thing is, I was hooked...I discovered that reading was an was a safe place away from talk of heart surgeries and blocked out arguments and books I forgot that we couldn't afford the "nice" stuff or that my mom sewed most of my clothes...

And though it began as an escape, it morphed into a passion and love for the written word.  I began to journal too...when "closed captioning" became a thing, I turned it on so that I could READ the movie, as well as watch it...

I loved where words took me...I lived with the characters of my stories...I hurt and triumphed with them...

I'm mostly drawn to historical fiction...probably because it's safely in the past already...I suppose if I really want to analyze it...but, I do love the different eras, the eloquence of the language of the time...

Reading is definitely something that takes "time", and for some it could be considered just a luxury...during certain seasons of life, I would consider it the the same time, it's a NEED for me.  It's a way to calm my soul, to force myself to slow down a bit when life feels like a cyclone ripping around me. It's my healthy way to release anxiety and remember that life isn't the sum of my circumstances or my's also a reward for a job well done, a time to relax and enjoy!

With this in mind, I wanted to share a few favorite reads...and also see if anyone else has some recommendations. If you haven't been on, I highly recommend the site!

So here is a short list of recent (and not so recent) reads that left an impression! If you check out my Instagram Profile and click on the instastory highlight BOOK NOOK you'll get a little info on some of these! (I've linked some titles to amazon and some to my goodreads reviews if you are interested)

Women in the Castle by Jessica Shattuck
Winter Garden by Kristin Hannah
The Nightengale by Kristin Hannah
Karolina's Twins by Ronald Balson
Where the Wind Leads by Vinh Chung
Before we were Yours by Lisa Wingate
Sisters First by Jenna & Barbara Bush
The Winter Sea by Susanna Kearsley
The Masterpiece by Francine Rivers
Before We were Yours by Lisa Wingate
Secrets of a Charmed Life by Susan Meisner
You can do this by Tricia Lott Williford

Young Adult Reads:

Elementary Student Reads:

It all starts with Narnia! It's a classic, I know.  If you want to start at the beginning, go to Magician's Nephew, but my favorite is this one. You will find courage, you will cry, you will be exhilarated.  It's a worthy read!

This tends to be a popular read aloud by teachers.  So you may have already heard of it.  If not, please do not let childhood slip by without reading this to your littles. I guarantee you all will cry! 

I didn't actually read The Trumpet of the Swan aloud to my girls, but rather, we listened to it in the car whenever we drove somewhere.  The author, E.B.White, has a grandfatherly voice and told us the story over miles to grocery stores and errands.  Another fantastic read!

Favorite Picture books for kiddos:
Perfect for "getting ready for Spring" this picture book features something similar to Beatrix Potter's tale of Peter Rabbit, but without the death of Father Bunny.

I love Mo Willem books...they keep the adults entertained with the subtle sarcasm and witty humor, while still being wonderfully appropriate for little ears!

An ALL TIME favorite is The Gruffalo.  If you have not read this and in turn, seen the little video, PLEASE RUN TO THE LIBRARY and get it!  I made felt pieces for this story for my youngest, and made an old time flannel board for her to "retell" the story over and over.  It's wonderful!

I love ALL the Bonny Becker bear books.  You MUST do voices when reading these.  Your older children will love them too!

This one may be for a bit older elementary but it's hilarious!  Definitely a fun read aloud on a Saturday or before bed :) 


What do you DO in the Winter?

I've been asked quite a bit recently whether things slow down this time of year...

And, with regard to photography...YES, absolutely...the Fall season has finished, and most families are hunkering down to get through the flu and frigid season with the hope of Spring on the horizon.

My family is not exempt!

However, because Fall is so, so crazy, everything else gets puts on hold for about 3 months...therefore, come January, the pile up becomes a little too much to handle and the dismantling of the mountain must begin...

So, in order to keep you in the loop as to my "whereabouts" and all my "hootenanny"...

1. I recently experienced an emotionally exhausting event (insert eye roll from my hubby) during this "down time"... I was able to "begin" the tackling of...The Basement.

Fourteen big black bags of trash and 6 bags of clothing later, we have made a dent in the back storage area of my cellar.  Friends, I'm a bit of a hoarder...although, I like to refer to it as "treasure keeping".  I'm a big fan of upcycling and repurposing items... I mean, there are times that I NEED a specific size shoe box to wrap a present and by golly, I'll have 25 of them to choose from...and what about all those old pots and pans from my wedding shower 18 years ago?  I might NEED it for a lesson or project someday...right?

Ugh...I still have tubs and tubs of baby toys and clothing that I couldn't part with and hubby knew to not even attempt to ask me to sort through my 3 tubs and 2 cardboard boxes of picture books & novels.  Someday this "grandma" is going to have a LIBRARY for her grandchildren!

2. In addition, during this "off season", I've been able to read a couple novels (another post on that later!), participate in the Worship Band at church, and continue to hang with the middle schoolers in Youth Group.  In the midst of that, I've actually been able to deep clean different rooms in our house that haven't seen the right end of a broom or vacuum since September...YIKES!  It feels good to bleach counters and diffuse OnGuard and feel like I'm going to battle with flu germs!!!  #iwillwin

3. Next in the line up of "what have you been doing lately" is Pippa, our diva dog.  She's not a diva in the sense of looks, but rather of personality.  She kinda acts like a cat...she's not very friendly or cuddly...except with us...sometimes...

Due to this personality quirk, she keeps to herself.

Long story short, last Saturday morning, she was having trouble going to the bathroom...she squatted all over, but nada...seeing as we tend to leave her alone (her choice), we took the opportunity to take a closer look at our poor pup, only to discover a massive "poop ball" under her tail...mangled with hair...

I won't go any further in the description lest you stop reading and need to get a glass of water to keep the nasty taste from coming up your throat...yes, it was THAT disgusting!

Never have I experienced this "situation"...and so, into the tub she went where we hosed her down with warm water until said "poop ball" disengaged. 

I'm happy to report that she turned into a playful puppy after that and all is blockage (in case you were worried) It has however, motivated us to perhaps be a bit more on top of our grooming responsibilities, especially in the Winter months...we will do better...

4. Sooooo, speaking of last Saturday...this is what brings me to what has taken most of our thoughts and energies these past months.  Our middle daughter was in the High School Musical Jr. performance the first weekend of February.  During December and January she would awaken at 6am, head to school and before-school ensembles, clubs...stay all day, then head to practice until 7pm.  She would get home by 7:30pm most nights where she'd complete homework, shove food into her mouth and then fall into bed after a shower.

It paid off though because the performances were a huge success...all grandparents were able to attend at least one show and so many friends braved the cold to come see her as well.  It was definitely a highlight of her 8th grade year so far!

That said, I thought I'd share a few images from the rehearsals & shows to give you a glimpse into the spotlight of it all...and I'll share a few photography tips at the end! (and just FYI, although I took a gazillion pictures for the cast and crew, I only posted the ones highlighting my daughter in the post :) #proudmama #dramamama #theatermom

Helpful Photography Tips for Theater Performances

I'm going to be "straight to the point", so in the words of my recent Instagram post,
I'm sorry for the things I said when it was winter! 

1. Please note that a pop up flash will do NOTHING in most situations.  A pop up flash is meant for distances of no more than 6 feet in front of you.  If you use a pop up flash inside a dark theater from far away, the most it will do is cause distraction for the performers...Thishas got to be one of my biggest pet peaves...HOWEVER, you CAN adjust your ISO to get more light if your aperture does not give you the ability to have a wide window of light to let through. Typically, in these situations, my ISO is set to 800 or even up to 1600 in some cases.  The spotlights definitely help, so be sure to meter to faces.

2. Because it is dark, your camera is going to "want" or "ask for" more light.  Sometimes this means that it will SLOW DOWN your shutterspeed...this can cause major blur on really neat action parts.  Therefore, be aware of this and again, adjust that ISO beforehand to give your camera enough light to work with, without using a flash. By doing so, you allow your camera the ability to speed up the shutter in order to catch action without giving up the light needed for the frame.

3. Zoom in as much as you can, but also be sure to get the big picture too.  Try to keep in mind the "story" being presented.  Every story has characters, details, setting and action.  Try to "freeze" those story elements in your imagery. 

4. If possible, use different angles.  Instead of just shooting straight on, try aiming up, to almost get the ceiling in the background...try different composition techniques like Principle of Thirds, to give the image more pizzazz!

5. Remember to ENJOY THE SHOW!  Try not to have the camera in front of your face the entire time (or your iphone...recording video or snapping pictures)  Relish the moments WITH your's so, so worth it...Get a handful of really great pictures for the scrapbook and then sit back and watch them shine!!!  


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