Tuesday, December 4, 2018

Christmas Novels That Tell Good Stories

I have to admit I'm not a big Hallmark Christmas movie fan. I just can't get past the excessive cheese. Or the bad acting. Or the terrible writing.

But I get why people love them - because they're cozy, and conjure up those feelings of the holidays which make us all feel so great. So in my effort to make myself feel as cozy and festive as I can without the use of Hallmark movies, I've tried to read some cozy and festive books!

I read all these books last December when I realized that I owned a bunch of books that took place around Christmas but had been saving to read. Once I started I had to keep the streak alive so I took some flyers on some other titles and some recommendations from friends. It turned out to be just what I needed to enter the holiday season while I was personally going through some difficult things. Escapist reading can be really therapeutic!

I think this list has something for everyone so I hope one of these books will make your holidays brighter this month.

The Birds of the Air by Alice Thomas Ellis

This novel of a woman who's grieving the death of her son while she celebrates Christmas dinner with her mother and sundry guests sounds as if it would be a downer. But Ellis has such a unique writing voice and style that she brings about a profound vision of life through her often biting wit and observation of the ordinary. If you're dealing with some big stuff while feeling like everyone else is having a postcard holiday this book is for you, the beauty of Christmas seeps through even the most difficult of seasons.

I Am Half-Sick of Shadows by Alan Bradley

A Flavia deLuce mystery which if you know me, you know I'm always up for. This was one that I had been saving on my shelf and it really is the perfect cozy read. (I do think that the coziest of books are English manor mysteries, however.) These mysteries centre around the main character who's a precocious, murder solving, chemistry loving, 12 year old who lives in an old English manor so these are never dark and depressing. This story brings the entire town plus a film crew to Buckshaw. Flavia has to solve a murder while trying to trap St. Nick on the roof on Christmas Eve, so there's a lot of fun in the solving.

Comfort & Joy by Kristin Hannah

I know Kristin Hannah has a DEVOTED fan base, but I always like to point out that she got her start writing romance novels. This is a sweet romance that doesn't get too racy and has an element of amnesia which helps it feel a bit more substantial than a Hallmark movie. Hannah draws two random characters together while putting them in a "festive" setting to make you want to keep turning the pages to see if they couple will get together in time for Christmas. A light read if you're looking for something to fit in on a flight or road trip this Christmas vacation, but definitely not something that's well written - full disclosure!

Winter Solstice by Rosamunde Pilcher

Every once in a while you need to read an old lady novel. I firmly believe this to be true, and Rosamund Pilcher always delivers. This story brings together two older characters, one of whom has lost his wife and daughter. The two set up a house for the winter in Scotland and strangers become friends as they help others and themselves heal from devastating losses.

A Christmas Party by Georgette Heyer

A mystery by Georgette Heyer who we all know and love for her regency novels. This novel hits all the cozy marks for taking place in an English country house in the 30's over Christmas, and no one can leave because everyone's a suspect! While I thought this moved fairly slowly for a mystery, it did have an atmospheric quality that's festive even though murder is involved.

And a bonus non-fiction pick:

The Man Who Invented Christmas: How Charles Dickens's A Christmas Carol Rescued His Career and Revived Our Holiday Spirits by Lee Standiford

A nonfiction book on Dickens and his writing of A Christmas Carol was perfect for me who eats up biographies of authors. I enjoyed learning the fun tidbits like Dickens was going broke and really needed to make some quick money, and the immense cultural impact this story had upon publication. A short read, just like the classic story it pulls the curtain back on.

Hope these reads bring you a very, merry Christmas!

follow along:

facebook ~ instagram ~ pinterest

Friday, July 6, 2018

Seven Quick Takes and some catching up!

And suddenly it's been more than a month since I posted anything! That means it 7QT time with the Kelly MToan!


Let's do some catching up! 
Hope your June was as beautiful as mine! I don't know if it has to do with getting older and wiser and appreciating time flying by at the speed of sound, but I seem to really appreciate the seasons more and more with each passing year. Our spring was of course, too fast and almost got missed completely as we went from having a foot of snow on the ground to 85 degree temperatures within a few weeks. But the warmth and long days are not going by unnoticed by me! I can ignore many snowy days, but spring and summer days I legally obligated to notice. 


June was a packed month, just like May was, with activities of every kid, family gatherings and sacraments on every weekend(ok, that last part was just May). We spent a couple days in the mountains and with friends on a little holiday which was lovely. The kids had a great time even though we made them hike multiple days in a row and got to enjoy the city, the zoo, and the circus! 
So far travelling with my children has evolved to alternating between "Traveling with kids is so great, they love seeing new things, show all the people that kids can travel to!" and "Why on God's green earth can we not even buy ice cream for less than $100! And could you all just be quiet!" But this is all an improvement to my previous thinking of having to be in the same car and then hotel room with all my children for days on end as unthinkable torture. So. Baby steps, guys.


Which is my way of making the official announcement that in the fall we're going to be going out of the country for the first time with everyone to go to...Disneyland! Trust me, I never thought I'd be saying those words either. Because before kids I thought people who took their kids to Disneyland were selling their children to the corporate machine in order to stand for hours for overrated rides. Oh, how the tables have turned.
Things just all pointed to doing this thing this year. And I will probably survive. We're going to the park for three days and then spending a couple more days in California. It'll be a huge deal as no one has been on a plane before and it's one of their collective dreams. We also haven't told any of the kids yet, mainly because I just can't imagine having the next four months of my life dealing with how long till Disneyland questions! 
I'm fairly sure none of them read my blog.


Luke celebrated his First Holy Communion in May and it was a lovely day and beautiful occasion. I can't believe three of my kids have already had their first communion. I distinctly remember having the thought when Gemma was a baby that it was practically decades before I would be celebrating, preparing, and seeing her receive her first communion. And now three. We've got a two year break till our next sacramental child! 


Since its Summer, Glorious Summer I've been trying to change up our daily routine as much as possible. I used to think year round schooling was the bomb, but I've come to realize I need a complete break where I don't even think about school for a good two months of the year. I just like the complete freedom to not have a long list of School Things I Need To Make Sure Get Done and just have the regular mom list of Things I Need To Make Sure Get Done. To the untrained eye it looks like not so big a deal, but to the homeschooler of more than one child it's a giant difference! I think it's a general challenge for homeschool moms to differentiate the seasons. I want my summer to feel somewhat summer like, so that means less schedule, more reading, more doing things that I've let get to the bottom of my list, and generally letting the kids go their merry way and for the love to stop fighting. The kids still are reading everyday, doing some science, and of course we're still doing read aloud time because THAT'S MAH THANG. (I need a way of saying that so it doesn't make me sound like a giant loser.) Other than that the kids are obviously outside 500% more than winter and I spend most of the day asking where's soandso?? Which is a nice change from, "Why hasn't Soandso done their spelling? And where's your handwriting page I asked you to do three hours ago?" 


I wanted to give an update on house stuff I've done lately, and then I realized that I've done nothing lately! Which has been a nice change. But then last week the septic backed up AGAIN in the one room of our basement and I literally wanted to burn down my house. I spent the entire day mopping, disinfecting, and disinfecting again because it was a nightmare. We ended up having to rip up a good chunk of carpet because it was unsalvageable, and it's not a huge loss because the carpet is tragically old and I'm fairly emotionally detached from the basement in general, but now we have flooring questions for the basement which I'm trying to summon the will to deal with. 


Last week I got to be part of a Q&A panel with Matt Fradd and Jason Evert at a Catholic conference and it turned out to be a lot of fun. It was nice to have a casual atmosphere to talk with big speakers and hear their answers to various questions. I hope that I seemed relatively coherent when I answered a few questions but who knows! These things always feel like a blur and I lose all memory of what I actually said -- which is probably for the best!

Hope you all have a wonderful summer weekend! 

follow along:

facebook ~ instagram ~ pinterest

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

On the Royal Wedding and Longing for Tradition

You know I love royalty. I was born with both British and monarchist blood flowing through my veins. My family never turned their noses up to the latest tabloid scandals afflicting Charles, Diana, and Fergie while I was growing up. Opinions were expressed about the royals as if they were neighbours down the street whose lives actually affected ours, who needed our personal advice. I have an almost endless fascination with the royal family, but also carry a large dose of cynicism. I don't idolize them and I know that they are fully human and have a lot of not-so-great qualities. I understand that just as the rest of the world have given into modernity and its casting away of moral and cultural restraints, so too has the royal family of Britain.

Needless to say of course I watched the royal wedding of this past weekend, I DVRed all six hours of live coverage, I suffered through so much mindless commentary, and I also loved seeing the beauty of a wedding take place in such a historic setting. Like everyone else in the world, I found the romance was impossible to turn away from. There's also the fairy tale motif of the American girl becoming a princess which is so attractive, but I think there's a bit more to why so many were enthralled with this matrimonial pageant.

I think people are attracted to the tradition of the pageantry, the wedding service itself, and the host of other royal trappings that surround a royal wedding. We may joke about it, approach the whole thing as if the royal family are stuffy and out of touch, but we can't deny that they've hung on to traditions like no one else. We're a tradition starved world that is drawn to tradition, if only to gawk.

For the past couple of hundred or so years there has been an almost ceaseless campaign to eradicate tradition, solely because it is tradition. The value of something being passed on from another generation is not simply rejected it's completely denied and abhorred. We've severed tradition and any passing on of wisdom or custom from one generation to the next with remarkable success.

But we can't completely disregard that human longing for what has passed, to reflect on history and it's meaning, to carry on what our grandparents once did. We long for the connection to people who have lived before us. It is very much a spiritual connection with spiritual effects. As our world has gotten more and more materialistic and denied more and more of the eternal and unseen realities, we act as if there is no meaning from the lives of those who lived before us. Ceremonies, traditional language and liturgy have all but been exterminated from our regular lives. What institutions can we say carry on much tradition from the past?

The longing for tradition is similar to the longing for true beauty, for beauty that isn't defined by trends, likes, and tweets. Objective beauty stands the test of time and penetrates the souls of people separated by centuries. Queen Victoria's children were baptized in St. George's chapel at Windsor in the same place Harry and Meghan stood this weekend and I can bet that their guests were equally awed by the surrounding beauty as Oprah.

We long for tradition and beauty just like we long for the transcendent. It is facet of how we were created. I think our world is desperate for tradition when so many things feel topsy-turvy and out of control. What I'm not sure the world is aware of is that tradition has meaning, and it's meaning points to so much more than dresses, titles, and a picture perfect wedding. Tradition points to the fullness of humanity; of being connected to those who've lived before you, the wisdom, knowledge, faith and custom that those who have lived before you, and most importantly the reality that we are not simply made for this world.

follow along:

facebook ~ instagram ~ pinterest

Friday, April 6, 2018

Seven Quick Takes, bb

Hi, Kelly!


That's it. I need to do some quick takes. I am fiercely loyal to Seven Quick Takes and I wish I could do them every week. It's also beens so long since I've blogged that I feel like I should have a grand post here instead of just ramblings, but too bad, I can't wait any longer for real inspiration to strike! Seven Quick Takes needs me!


Guys, I know I complain about the weather. A lot. I mean, it's somewhat of a hobby at this point. But I sincerely wish to revoke all previous complaints so I can allocate them to this truly, terrible, God-forsaken "spring" we're having. We've honestly had probably 3 days of real melting. It was -27 when my husband went to work this morning on April 6. There is still a good three feet of iced, blown over,  crackling banks of snow in the fields with no bare ground even visible! And it would be almost tolerable if the long term forecast had predicted temperatures above 10 degrees in the next two weeks, but no, we're going to be lucky if it gets above freezing and we'll probably have more snow. It's just too much. Shoot me now!


March seemed to go by in a flurry of different things this year. I was working on various projects that had to get done, we had birthday parties, Holy Week, I did a modicum of spring cleaning because I truly haven't cleaned much all winter, and we started painting our main floor. It went by quickly which was good because....the weather!


I got shamelessly sucked into the new cult documentary series on Netflix called Wild Wild Country this week. I almost appreciate the wackiness of the cult more than the production value of the documentary, but the filmmaking is just really good. Cults are crazy, but endlessly fascinating. It's just really a blatant example of how humans are religious creatures who honestly can worship pretty much anything. We always think the Israelites in the desert were so dumb for worshiping that golden bull, but cults...they don't have a lot of substance for the amount of worship they illicit either.


I've also been trying to catch up on my reading because March sucked up all my reading time, but I still somehow managed to start new books so I'm reading approximately 6 books right now. That's too much even for me. I feel like I need about 4 solid days of reading to get things under control! Not that 4 straight days of reading is a remote possibility or anything...


Easter this year was a lot of fun even if it was under a lot of snow and colder than Christmas was this past year. I remember that Easter and holidays in general really used to stress me out for some reason. I just always was worried I wasn't doing things the right way, and wondered if all the extended family thought they were getting their time, and if my kids were going to be happy with what was in their Easter baskets, and were we doing enough traditions and going to enough liturgies and did I make enough desserts! It just felt like so much and it felt so important because it was a special holiday and I felt stressed about the whole thing. Which isn't really like me to be stressed out about non-life-threatening issues, but it just did! But the past couple years, maybe having bigger kids, have just felt easier and much more relaxing. I do really hate change and really love routine, so now that we've got more holiday rhythms things seem so much easier. 


This Easter week has been hard to get back into the swing of things. I'm fairly confident it's a symptom of extreme cabin fever and the fact we've been around each other in close confines without the ability to just get outside in so long, but it has been a struggle. Just my lack of patience and frustration with what seems like the endless repeating of the same things every. single. day. can get me down. I know it's a part of motherhood, but a very big part of me just wishes for that breakthrough where kids just got through that somehow huge hurdle where they could just GET stuff without me repeating it day in, day out ad nauseam. It's a motherhood struggle. Here's hoping for a relaxing weekend! 

follow along:

facebook ~ instagram ~ pinterest

Monday, February 19, 2018

The February Post

Oh, February.

A time for questioning. A time for contemplation.

Like questioning why I don't work full time. Why I continue to live in the actual boonies. Why people ever settled in this winter wasteland. You know, just the little questions.

Because February is rough.

I can't speak for you, but for some reason, be it the weeks on end of extreme cold, the tiny house I live in with my own offspring who in their own right are irritable and frustrated at constant confinement, and the always being around said offspring with the homeschooling business, February seems ridiculously hard.

It probably isn't the hardest winter I've experienced, but it does feel eternal when the temperatures haven't felt above -10C for the complete calendar month. It's sorta like a marathon of days after days looking the same, feeling the same, and people getting more and more on your nerves. A mental olympics for which there is no winner!

The perspective is that it does eventually end. Even though I can't realistically imagine it. It would be really nice if it ends by Easter...but I can't get my hopes up because we had snow for all of April last year...and I'm still feeling the effects/traumatized!

Difficult seasons for me can take on a very literal meaning. It is hard to keep going and plugging along when you know there is not quick fix in sight. There's no way of rushing spring or cold weather along. And that all goes exactly contrary to the very human desire to hurry the bad stuff up and stop languishing in the hard.

I'm getting older and maybe a bit better at realizing that we don't have to fix things or rush things or conquer difficult seasons. Firstly, because it's usually completely out of our control, but also because it's a part of life. Our human powers can't make things completely easy just be willing it enough or working hard enough. Difficult seasons are simply a fact.

Which isn't to say we can't get better at dealing with the difficult, at offering up our suffering, at changing our attitudes to embrace the hard. But that doesn't change that the hard is there and to be lived. It's just that slice of life we wish we could shrug off, which our culture and every social media channel tells us we need to ignore and/or conquer with positive thinking.

Difficult seasons happen. Our lives are composed of difficult and easier seasons and we've got to hold on to the fact that even in those difficult times when we feel bleak and frozen that we're still alive underneath it all. And hopefully will come back to life again in the spring.

follow along:

facebook ~ instagram ~ pinterest

Wednesday, January 31, 2018

My best piece of self-care advice

I've got some words to say about self-care. And quite possibly my number one tip when it comes to self-care. The number one, easiest, most impactful piece of advice! My life changing piece of advice. Because I think we tend to talk about "self-care" as some vague term that means only big things and not simple daily practices that better our mental health. I want to stick to the simple and practical. But first, walk with me back in time. (insert wavy lines across the screen now)

I had 5 kids in less than six years. I had a brief couple months in between all five where I wasn't pregnant and/or nursing. There were constant diapers, bottles, naps, diapers, messes, and diapers. It was a constant barrage of needs to be met and lots of crying from kids and myself. Those days are really blurry and as difficult as they were, I really learnt a heck of a lot about myself and my husband in those difficult times. I had patches of postpartum depression and anxiety, and at times felt positively drowning and that my life would only and forever be overwhelming. It's not a great mental space. But this is what happens when human beings are in stressful situations, and raising five mini-humans is a stressful situation.

Because our life felt like it was hurtling along at 100 mph with babies coming every year my husband and I talked about our mental health often, if only to check in to make sure our heads were above water. But we learned very quickly that neither of us could handle the stress by ourselves, without talking it through with each other, and asking for support from each other. A couple of kids in when I felt like all I did was change diapers, feed, and soothe babies my husband realized that for the sake of my sanity we had to plan time for me to get out of the house. He realized the need and firmly told me that was what was happening even when I made excuse after excuse about babies needing me and being exhausted. So I would leave the house every week if I could for an afternoon, and sometimes every two weeks, but it was a standing thing that had to happen. Because it happened and I made it through a stressful, and very demanding time without completely losing my mind or myself.

It wasn't every day, it was every so often, sometimes for longer, sometimes for shorter. But I'm telling you, getting time for yourself is the biggest and best thing you can do for your mental health. Right now. Today. No matter what season you're in.

We've all been in times of survival mode where self care can't happen for whatever reason, but the first step to getting out of survival mode is to carve time for yourself to be alone. You can't get a mental break when someone is asking for something every five minutes. You don't recharge your own batteries by hiding in the bathroom while the kids watch Paw Patrol. You can't realize what would truly be live giving self-care if you don't even have time to realize what you personally need because you're always on baby duty.

Sometimes you don't know how much you need time alone if you've gone too long without it. 

If you're feeling at lose ends, like you don't know how to fix issues with your marriage or family or how to reignite the passions you had prior to having kids, it may be because you never have time alone to even fully ruminate on these very important things. Having that time for yourself creates space where you can begin to figure these things out. It allows you to listen to what your own needs might be, how to best meet them, what areas of your life need work and addressing, and maybe more opportunities to look at your life a bit more objectively rather than in the emotional throes of witching hour when the whole world feels like it's falling down around you.

I know some moms feel that in order to be a "super mom" or even a "good mom" that that means being available to their children all. the. time. But would we ask any other person of any other profession or vocation to never have time alone? Would we ask our parish priest to not even take an hour out of his daily schedule for himself? Do we think that people who work full time should come home from dinner and immediately get back to work with only intermittent breaks for sleep during the night? Then why as moms who are truly working 24/7, being completely emotionally and physically available to their babies and children think that they don't need time alone? We need to recognize that that mindset is deeply unhealthy and detrimental not only to our own mental health, but to our children, to our marriage, to the way we live our lives.

I want this advice to be simple. Find alone time for yourself. It may be before the kids wake up if you have an extremely active lifestyle or are blessed to be a morning person. It may be when kids nap simultaneously. It may be after your husband gets home from work before the kids go to bed. It may be after the kids go to bed. Find what time best works for you and your family. If your husband really and truly can't give you half an hour to an hour kid free because he's superman or some equivalent, don't feel guilty about asking for some babysitting time from family and friends, or just a regular ol' paid one, and spending that time not on errands and grocery shopping, but yourself. (Unless grocery shopping is deeply restoring for you, in which case you're probably a hero who doesn't need any of my advice!)

Also, this time you spend alone has to be spent doing what you want. Not what you need to do, not what you "should" do. Spend it blissfully bingeing The Crown. Spend it with a book. Spend it running or taking a gym class. Spend it alone at a coffee shop with tea, or strolling the aisles of Target. Don't forget to give yourself the gift of going out for lunch by yourself - that can change your damn life!

It can be out of the home or can be in your home. Just make it uninterrupted time, alone. It doesn't have to happen every day, but it does have to happen consistently and as often as possible. I think the most important step in trying to make big life changes like crawling out of survival mode begins with committing to small changes in our routine. Especially as moms, I think one of the biggest aspects of our lives for better or worse is our routines and how we utilize them. We aren't out of control of our lives just because we have small kids, we're still in control but change comes in little steps.

Just humour me if you don't think this one step will change your life. Commit to it for a week or two and see if you notice changes in how you feel, in how you think, in how happy you are. Let me be your life coach!

follow along:

facebook ~ instagram ~ pinterest

Thursday, January 18, 2018

Living off the grid - time wise

I've been thinking lately how my daily routine as an at home mom has changed over the years. And it has changed a lot over the years but at the same time it hasn't. I sometimes have deep questioning thoughts if I'm a truly boring person who abhors change, or if I'm using routine because that's life with a bunch of kids.

I think I question because, frankly, I live really oddly. Living in a rural area and homeschooling means I don't actually even see a town some days. I don't have to get kids to school, I don't have to pick them up. I don't run errands, I don't hop in the car to grab coffee or see people. Which I'm sure makes me seem like a complete anti-social hermit. I get out of my house by walking down the road every day I don't go to town/the city to see my parents.

My schedule isn't made by anything outside of my own home and mostly, me. I'm the boss of me! I decide when I get up, when my kids get up, when school and sit down work gets done, what activities we go to and when, and usually when choosing these things they fit into my general routine. As in we focus on school most every morning barring a weird doctors appointment, make most activities fit into afternoons, and if not we have the flexibility to work other things around to make the things that don't fit perfectly work. I choose how to spend my time after I've dealt with school and kids. I decide when to cook and eat dinner. There are short periods of time where things get disrupted for one thing or another and I can feel the difference and stress it creates. I feel maxed out and rushed, but at the same time very unproductive.

Obviously I'm only speaking for me and my own weird existence, but whether it's from living this way for so long or not, I feel like I would really not enjoy living according to outside schedules. I mean, I would have to adapt, and I know I could do it, but I really don't want to! And I mean this in a very general way, because we all have appointments, and Mass, and activities, and meetings and lots of things that we have to show up for at certain times, but not having the daily rhythm of my day determined by outside factors is pretty swell.

But that's so odd! I'm so weird! It's so distinctly un-modern and uncommon. As a society we're so used to being told what to do, where to go, and when to be there. Which happens for very important reasons, but have we thought about the overreach of them all in our lives that much? Do we ever question "school" and work and the myriad of things we think we have to do? We really do have control over our own time.

I think I partly took to routine and making sure I'm making choices of how and when I fit all the things of life into my day because I had a bunch of babies in a short amount of time! Babies and their routines make you figure out that there should be a routine to your day, that you function better if you sleep, eat, and play on a regular schedule. As an adult this is still true. And as the adult of a bunch of babies, your way of survival is to get all babies on the same routine as to not lose your mind completely. As the fiftieth caveat of this short post; of course my babies weren't perfectly scheduled every day of their life, but the general rhythm of routine in our days was something that over time I learned really helped everyone including myself. Knowing that most days I'd have nap times to get a little time for myself was hugely relieving. Knowing that when babies woke up, I would nurse, then they would play put in perspective that their needs needed to be met before mine. And the list goes on and on.

I would never tell anyone to live as weirdly as I do. But I do think that intentionally looking at how we spend our time and how to use it valuably for ourselves; what we want to spend our time on, instead of the other way around and being forced to live in the leftovers of time the outside world dictates, can change our perspectives on how we're living our lives.

follow along:

facebook ~ instagram ~ pinterest


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...