Now blogging at THIS SIMPLE HOME.

Now blogging at THIS SIMPLE HOME.

At This Simple Home

  • Homemade Magic Shell - I remember having Magic Shell once as a child. The chocolate syrup drizzled over my ice cream magically turned crispy hard. Mmm... So I was rather excited t...

Friday, December 31, 2010

Deep Valley Books

You might remember my fondness of Maud Hart Lovelace.  It was just over a year ago that we were introduced.  Her writing tells the story of a simpler time-the early 1900's, and I just love it!

 The Betsy-Tacy series just wasn't enough for readers, and I am so excited to share about Betsy's friend Carney and a book of her own!  Carney's House Party is not part of the Betsy-Tacy books.  It is one of the Deep Valley books, taking place right in the same town as the Betsy-Tacy books and with many of the same characters, newly republished by Harper Collins Perennials.

Maud Hart Lovelace always wanted to be a writer, and after telling and retelling stories from her own childhood to her daughter Merian, she began writing the Betsy-Tacy books.  These books are fiction, though closely based on her own life in Minnesota.  Since Maud didn't go to college, she wasn't comfortable sending Betsy to college, so instead, she sent Carney!!

Carney's House Party/Winona's Pony Cart: Two Deep Valley Books (P.S.)In the first book in this two-book volume, Carney's House Party, Caroline (or Carney) Sibley has just completed her sophomore year at Vassar College in 1911.  She returns to Deep Valley for the summer.  Carney hesitantly invites her roommate from back East, Isobel, who will stay with her for a month of summer.  Then her old friends, Bonnie and  Betsy, are able to come visit, too!  So Carney has a house party!

Their summer in Deep Valley is wonderful and filled with parties, fun, and fudge.  Carney's high school sweetheart returns for a visit after four long years apart.  Though they corresponded frequently, they need to see each other to see if marriage is in their future.  In the meantime, a rich, young man named Sam becomes part of the crowd and Betsy and Isobel become quite friendly with him, even though he reminds Carney of a baby hippo!

With Carney's House Party taking place over just a summer, as I read, I felt that the characters were well-developed.  The ending was not what I expected, but I was not disappointed either.  I was happily surprised.

Carney's House Party was enjoyable and gratifying to read.  Really, I didn't want to put it down!  I really enjoyed Carney, Betsy, and the crowd all grown up.  The Sibley family has its own unique values, traditions, and daily life.  They were still fun, and there was plenty of teasing; after all, most of the characters are familiar from the Betsy-Tacy books.  Carney's House Party is not from Betsy's point-of-view, so it is definitely different.

The girls attend college, and despite thoughts of engagements, intend to complete their schooling.   Isobel and Carney don't always understand one another's ways, but they remain friends and get along well enough.  (I never knew that breakfast, lunch, and dinner vs. breakfast, dinner, and supper were regional terms!  We happen to have breakfast, lunch, and dinner OR supper.  Except on Sundays.  On Sundays our noon meal is dinner.)  Carney is truly a sweet character, and I am thankful that Maud Hart Lovelace devoted an entire book to her.

Once again, there is a lot to learn about the early 1900's from reading Maud Hart Lovelace's work.  When I read Heaven to Betsy, I noticed how MHL was able to weave history (especially of the Mid-West...or the Middle West, as Carney prefers to call it) into the story in a fascinating, yet subtle way.  This time, there is a reference to women's suffrage, and even to the Mona Lisa's theft from the Louvre.  "She (Isobel) was too much like that smiling and inscrutable Mona Lisa who had been stolen last month from the Louvre Museum in Paris."  Throughout the book there were references to another book called The Little Colonel, which intrigued me, as well.  

The second Deep Valley book in this volume is Winona's Pony Cart.  Winona Root is a wealthy friend of Betsy and Tacy.  She is also a bit spoiled and about to have her eighth birthday.  She brags to her friends that she is going to get a pony for her birthday.  Winona is able to send out fifteen birthday invitations.  Without talking to her parents, she invites twice as many friends to the party!  When the time for the party arrives, Winona still hasn't told her parents that more kids will be coming.

Though Mr. Root has said no to giving his daughter a pony, he arranges for a pony to come to the party.  It proves to be quite entertaining for all the children.  Winona's Pony Cart gives a bit of a look into another child's life and of course, Betsy, Tacy, and Tib are still a three-some while being friends with Winona, too.

Though I didn't relate to Winona as much as Maud Hart Lovelace's other characters, this was still an enjoyable book.  Winona was a bit of a brat at times, but she did get over herself, too, even if she had her way in the end.

If you are a fan of Maud Hart Lovelace and have not yet explored the Deep Valley books, I definitely recommend them!  I will be reading Emily of Deep Valley very soon and can't wait to share it with you!

Big thanks to Harper Perennial for sending me this volume for review and for republishing them!!

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Book Review Sites

Oh, how I wish books were rated like movies are! I really wish I knew ahead of time the language and sexual situations that each book contained.  I am somewhat sensitive to these, though I do read (and listen to on CD) books that contain mild situations or language.  Eventually, this is going to be even more important to me as my children begin reading independently.

Just last week I listened to Charlotte's Web to see if my daughter might be ready for this classic tale.  Though she is four years of age, she is definitely not ready to hear about how Wilbur is supposed to dinner...and becomes depressed...and to top it all off his best friend dies, even though his life is saved.  A great book?  Yes!  Appropriate for my daughter?  No.  Not yet.

So what is a parent to do?  Well, for me, I read blogs, ask friends, and use our church library in addition to the public library. ( I know that just because a book is at a Christian bookstore or church does not mean that it is biblically sound.  Many Christian publishers now allow curse words in their books.  I have no tolerance for that, though I do not mind mild language in non-Christian books.)   For many book bloggers, I think if you even just ASKED for an author recommendation, they might be able to help you if you give them some criteria!

  • Christian Children's Book Review- CCBR reviews lots of Christian children's books (for all ages), but they also have highlighted a few mainstream books (in detail) like The Magic Treehouse series and the Twilight series.  
  • Library of Clean Reads- Laura is an author herself (great book!), and reviews adult and children's books.  She rates them as needed, but most of them are "clean."
  • Squeaky Clean Reads- This is a site that lets YOU, the reader, rate books!  Of course, you can also search for books by title or genre to find out if a book you are interested in is clean.  I haven't used this site nearly enough since I just recently learned of it.
  • Good Clean Reads- This site has a very clear rating system that lets you know what to expect when it comes to language, sexuality, violence.  Another new site to me, but one I intend to use a lot!
  • Reading to Know- Carrie reviews children and adult books, fiction and nonfiction from a variety of publishers.  She is my good friend, and we like many of the same books, so she is a great resource for recommendations for me...and maybe you, too.
  • The Literate Mother- This has a wide variety of mainstream books, most unfamiliar to me, but still worth including in this list.
  • Focus on the Family Book Reviews for Parents- Includes a plot summary, Christian beliefs, authority roles, authority roles, profanity/graphic violence, kissing/sex/homosexuality, and discussion topics in each review to help parents understand what to expect in a book.  (By the way, if interested in the same reviews, plus opinions, of movies, check out Plugged In.)
Where do you turn to for book reviews?  Please add any additional legitimate resources in the comments and let us know why you like them!  (Spam will be deleted!)  

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Some New Things That I Love (Crock Pot 101)

I was absolutely shocked when my husband brought home a new crock pot for us to use-before Christmas.  We tend to be very practical when it comes to gifts...and a crock pot is definitely practical.  Derek got it for about $6 at Lowes!

Seven and one half years ago we were given the big crock pot that we registered for as a bridal shower gift.  My aunt and uncle gave it to us.  When we were registering, I thought bigger was better.  I was wrong.

Our 6 quart crock pot is just too big for our family.  I rarely make roasts that large, and cooking two or three chicken breasts in a large crock pot just dries out the meat.

Crock-Pot SCR300SS 3-Quart Round Manual Slow Cooker, Stainless Steel
This picture actually shows
 the crock pot too full!
When it comes to crock pots, it is best to keep it 1/2 to 3/4 full for most efficient use.  If you only put in a little meat, then it's best to add lots of vegetables to make it half full.  My large crock pot was never half full.  

I am so thankful for my new 3 quart crock pot.  We'll keep the big one for when we have company-or four children.  Which ever comes first.  (I'm joking, but not opposed to a larger family either.)  The big one has served us very well, but now my little one is taking up much less room in the cupboard!

Over Thanksgiving we also got a new treat for cold nights-which is every night for me.  We bought a king-sized electric blanket!  It was a real steal for about the price a twin electric blanket would be.  My nights are so much more comfortable now!  With dual controls, we can both be comfortable!

In the future I will be reviewing a product for CSN Stores.  It will likely be something very practical for our home.  We could really use some help with our basement organization, so if you have any tips or product recommendations, please let me know!  They have everything from TV stands to toys to book cases, and I look forward to working with CSN Stores again for a product review and a giveaway for my readers, too!

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Merry Christmas!

Dear Readers,

As you celebrate Christmas and the birth of our Lord and Savior, I pray that you will richly blessed these days as you celebrate Christmas and the birth of our Lord and Savior.

As always, thank you for reading!  I look forward to sharing more with you after Christmas!

Merry Christmas, friends!
♥Annette and Family

Monday, December 20, 2010

Favorite Children's Christmas Books

My children have been opening one Christmas book each day during the month of December.  It is definitely a huge hit with them and a tradition we will continue!  They are good about taking turns opening each of the books, too.  Thank you, Amy and Carrie for the awesome idea!!

With Christmas almost here, I wanted to highlight our favorite Christmas titles.  We have a lot of Christmas books that we've collected over the years, and I am thankful for each one.  With that said, there are still some that stand out above the rest!
Mortimer's Christmas Mortimer's Christmas Manger by Jane Chapman and Karma Wilson is a sweet story about a mouse named Mortimer that wants to live in the manger a family set out by their Christmas tree.  Mortimer lugs and tugs the "statues" out of the manger to make room for himself.  This continues until he overhears the family telling the story of Jesus' birth.  We love everything about this book.

The Very Snowy ChristmasThe Very Snowy Christmas by Diana Hendry and illustrated by Jane Chapman  is another sweet mouse Christmas story.  (HUH! I just noticed the books have the same illustrator, though in Mortimer, the book does not distinguish author/illustrator and gives equal credit to both.  That's really cool!  Even if you just look at the covers, you will notice a resemblance in these adorable mice. )  This book is a Christmas story, but it is also just a fun, sweet book!  Little Mouse goes out to look for holly for the Christmas tree.  Soft white flakes begin to fall, and Little Mouse hurries home to explain to Big Mouse that the sky is coming undone.  Along the way Little Mouse meets some frightening creatures (like his reflection in the water).  Big Mouse eventually helps Little Mouse understand that there is nothing to be afraid of, and then they warm up by the fire.  (I actually won this book, and others, from the publisher Tiger Tales!  You might want to check out their blog so you can win some day, too!  Thank you, Tiger Tales!)

The Little Drummer Boy Board Book  The Little Drummer Boy was my favorite Christmas song before I even understood what the song was about. We have the wonderful board book illustrated by Ezra Jack Keats that tells the story through the song lyrics.  Wonderful and beautiful!  I just love books that are based on the lyrics of a song because it causes the child (or adult) to slow down and consider each word.  (We also like Jingle Bells!)  Another bonus with this book is that we have the Little People Little Drummer Boy set that plays music and has animal sounds.)
Dewey's Christmas at the Library

 The most requested Christmas book has been Dewey's Christmas at the Library, written by Vicki Myron.  It's the story of Dewey, who is a cat that lives in a library, and the adventures that he has.  It really is a great book, and I don't mind reading it again and again!  You can read my full review here.

My Giant Fold-Out Book ChristmasThose books are all wonderful, but my favorite book to teach (to my 2 and 4 year olds) about the reason we celebrate Christmas is My Giant Fold-Out Book Christmas.   This is written by Tracy Harrast and illustrated by Paula Doherty.  Not only is this a fairly large book to begin with (approximately 9x12), but the pages fold out in big ways to create even larger illustrations for the children to enjoy.  What I appreciate most about this book is its biblical accuracy (despite Gabriel's wings).  It highlights Gabriel's visit to Mary, the journey to Bethlehem (and it explains the census), looking for a room and the birth of Jesus, the angels coming to the shepherds, and the wise men's visit.  Each fold-out page focuses on a different part of the story, but it still comes together to create a well-written and illustrated children's version of the birth of Jesus.  I appreciated that when the wise men visit, it says they found Jesus in the house with his mother (not the stable that is too often shown in picture books).  Jesus is also no longer an infant baby in the drawing depicted with the wise men-another plus. Overall, I just love this book, and it is appealing to children, too!

You might notice that these books do not all have Jesus as a theme.  We are using our advent calendar (linked to post about how we are using it) daily, along with our Jesse tree to teach about the birth of Jesus.  I think that our particular advent calendar with the little books teaches the story of Jesus' birth perfectly and biblically.  I am thankful for other books that do the same, but the books I am sharing today are just our favorite Christmas books.  Though our focus is on Jesus during the month of December, we're not opposed to Santa though we certainly understand and respect that others do not teach their children about Santa.

On a side note...I really think it was all the cute mice in books that made me want a mouse as a pet when I was a child.  I will hope that Tumtum and Nutmeg (linked to my review) and others don't have that same effect on my kids!

Friday, December 17, 2010

Dewey's Christmas at the Library

If your children like cats, Christmas, and your local library, this book is for them!  
Dewey's Christmas at the Library

Dewey's Christmas at the Library (like all of the Dewey children's books) is based on the real-life Dewey and his adventures with (former librarian, now author) Vicki Myron at the Spencer, Iowa Public Library.

In Dewey's first Christmas adventure, he is totally mesmerized by the library's Christmas tree and a skinny red "mouse" that tackled him.  This "mouse" was really a ball of yarn, and boy does it make my children giggle!

Dewey plays with the ball of yarn long after closing time, and Vicki, the librarian loves how he decorates the tree with it!  They even first place in the tree decorating contest, thanks to Dewey!

Personally, I love this peek into Dewey's Christmas at the Library.  More than that, I appreciated my 4 year old's squeals of delight every time we read this book!  

Thank you, Hachette Books for providing me with this book for review purposes!

Thursday, December 16, 2010


Jenna Z is the winner of the Zippo candle lighter!  Congratulations!  Please email me with your contact info within 48 hours.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Winner and a Note

I wanted to share that I will take a few days off from blogging while I attempt to make several batches of cookies, including chocolate chip cookies, to share with friends, write Christmas cards, and maybe a couple other things.  I really try to make Christmas cards personal.  I prefer not to just sign our names to them, and for those we rarely see, I really like to write a long note.  I am very, very bad at staying in touch with those who do not use email, so I  like to make up for it with personal Christmas cards.

(Ideally I would still like to sew a project for Christmas gifts and complete my job with the church library, but both are big jobs.  We'll see what happens.  The reality...probably very little.)

Tomorrow is the last day for the Zippo Candle Lighter giveaway!

Janice won the Sharpie and Rubbermaid giveaway!  Congratulations!  Please email me withing 48 hours!

Monday, December 13, 2010

Homemade Paper Christmas Ornament ~Tree~

I've always liked homemade paper.  It probably comes from my love of stationary.  So I was excited to learn how to make homemade paper ornaments-that even my little guy could make.

I came across this post that first told me about these paper ornaments.  A Faithful Journey let me know that by not reading my Family Fun magazine, I had missed out on this little craft.  I immediately went to my December issue and found this homemade paper ornament craft.
Photo from Family Fun
That very day my children and I went about making our own ornaments before naptime.  Even my two year old son made his own!  We decided to make tree ornaments.  I thought my newly acquired sequins would add a nice touch since we do not use glitter in our home.  Interested in your own?  These directions will make three 3 inch ornaments.

1. Preheat your oven to 200 degrees.  Take 3 pieces of construction paper and tear them into domino-sized pieces.
2.  Place the torn paper in a blender with 1 1/2 cups hot water.  Stir a bit to make sure all the paper is wet.  Let it sit for five minutes. 
 3.  Pulse in the blender for about 30 seconds.  Be sure the lid on the blender is on securely, otherwise the heat will make the lid come off a bit.  Then you will listen to your son say, "Mess!  Mess!" to you.
4.  Place the paper pulp in a strainer and squeeze out the extra water.  Place a rag on top and push down to remove additional water.  
I would suggest dividing the paper pulp into thirds so you know how much pulp to put in each ornament.
5. On top of a plate, put a dish towel.  On the dishtowel place a paper towel and then your 3 inch ornament
 6.  Spoon paper pulp in the ornament and press down.  This is where more detail would have been nice from Family Fun.  I'm not sure how thick these ornaments are supposed to be.  I'm guessing about 5 mm?  
Be sure to get the corners really well.  Then place a rag on top to get the extra water out.  If you are using glitter, sprinkle now.
 7.  Gently press the cookie out of the cookie cutter.  
8.  Bake at 200 degrees for two hours, according to Family Fun.  We used parchment paper on cookie sheets.  If you are me, you will need to bake them for about 4 hours to remove all the moisture, which is important.  I'm not sure if ours were way too thick...but 2 hours was not nearly enough.  (Once again, I would suggest dividing the pulp into thirds.  We did not do that.  I wish we had thought to do that!)
9.  Since the sequins that we put on did not stay on, I used Mod Podge as a glue covering, which worked effectively.  You could wait until now until now to put the sequins on with glue or Mod Podge.  Instead of trying to  
10.  Finish by gluing a thin ribbon or yarn to the back of the ornament.
My 2 year old's tree.
 Interestingly enough, we tried to make a second batch of ornaments.  I thought it would be fun to add flecks of other colors to the tree ornament.  So in addition to the original three green pieces of paper, I added scraps  of other colors.  Well, you know what happens when you mix all the colors, right?  You get brown!

So our plan changed and we made gingerbread men.  Of course, these go well with our gingerbread children craft and our gingerbread house.
How about a little reading to go along with these lovely homemade paper ornaments?  
The Legend of the Christmas Tree or The Gingerbread Friends might be enjoyed by your family like they are by us!

This is linked to ABC and 123, stART, and Kids' Craft!

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Giveaways Ending

Just a quick reminder that today is the last day for the Rubbermaid and Sharpie giveaway!  You have until Wednesday for the Zippo candle lighter!

Saturday, December 11, 2010

A Gift Idea for Teachers...

As a former teacher, I collected lots of gifts at Christmas-time and the end of the school year.  I was always thankful for them!  I also only taught for eight years.  Some teachers (especially ones with long careers) may not need another mug or Christmas ornament, but I can still tell you who gave me which ornaments.  (I also wrote on some of them to help me remember...)

If you are looking for an elementary teacher gift, you cannot go wrong with books.  Gift certificates to book stores or Amazon would also be appreciated.  If you know they drink coffee, then Starbucks or Dunkin Donuts would be appropriate.

My all time favorite gifts were of personalized stationary.  One year I was given some notepads with my name on them...perfect for sending notes home or to the school office!  Another year I was given a stationary paper set with my name.  I loved them both so much.
12 Personalized Note Cards
Photo from Plum Paper

This year, I decided to give M's preschool teacher personalized note cards.  I purchased them through Plum Paper's etsy shop, and just love how they turned out!  I chose to go with a repetitive flower design (similar to the one above).  Other shops might have teacher-y designs, but I wanted Mrs. S. to be able to use the cards for personal use, if that is what she desired.  I got my cards in just 5 or 6 business days, so if you are still thinking about a teacher gift, you have time!  I would definitely recommend Plum Paper!

I was given several unique gifts during my teaching was a giant dancing snowman that also sang.  It responded to movement.  The students loved him, but I never, ever would have bought him myself, but what a  huge hit!  Another was a Christmas sweatshirt.  It was cute, but it was not a gift I would expect to get from a student.  One girl gave me coasters with drawings of Korean life portrayed.  Diane was from Korea (and lived with her uncle here), so they were perfect and fully unique.  (I still have them, too!)     Oh, the chocolate chip cookie pie that I love was first given to me by a student!

More than anything, as a teacher I appreciated the heart-felt words of a parent.  When I taught junior high, some students even wrote their own notes.  "Thank you" goes a long way for a teacher.  Tucked away, I have those notes from parents and students.

Disclaimer:  These cards were not for review...I just wanted to share.

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