2018 Reading Challenge, Part 1

Every year, Anne over at Modern Mrs Darcy puts together a reading challenge. My friends and I meet once a month as a book club to discuss our selections for the categories. I blogged about our choices every month for the first year, but I stopped doing that after my second son was born.

When I looked at last year’s categories, I couldn’t remember which books I had read. This made me sad. I decided to start recording our selections again. My friends and I take turns selecting the categories and hosting the discussion, so we don’t usually line up with Anne’s selections. I also switched out a couple of categories I knew would be difficult for some people in the group to do (such as the 600+ pages category). Here is what we have read so far this year…

January: a book by an author of different ethnicity or religion

  • The Girl in the Tangerine Scarf (mine)
  • Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi
  • When Dimple Met Rishi
  • How God Shows Up
  • Unusual Chickens for the Exceptional Poultry Farmer
  • The Diary of Hannah Callender Sansom
  • Everything, Everything
  • Last Chance to See
  • Night
  • Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus

Febraray: a classic you’ve been meaning to read

  • Sense and Sensibility (mine)
  • Mansfield Park
  • A Severe Mercy
  • Animal Farm
  • Murder on the Orient Express
  • Great Expectations

March: a book recommended by a librarian or bookseller

  • Illuminae (mine)
  • First and Then
  • We Were Liars
  • Hello Universe
  • My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She’s Sorry
  • The Keeper of Lost Causes

April: a book you have read at least once

  • The Paper Magician series books 1-3 (mine)
  • The Magician’s Ward (mine)
  • A Wrinkle in Time
  • The Dragon Hoard
  • The Initiate
  • The Testing trilogy
  • Little House on the Prairie
  • Murder Must Advertise

May: a book you can read in a day (I read SO MANY for this one)

  • The Plastic Magician (mine)
  • Star Bell (mine)
  • The Pit Dragon Chronicles books 1-3– Dragon’s Blood, Heart’s Blood, A Sending of Dragons (mine)
  • Percy Jackson and the Olympians series books 1-5 (mine)
  • Aru Shah and the End of Time (mine)
  • Fairest by Marissa Meyer
  • Follow Me Back
  • The Paper Magician
  • Nadya Starlung & The Cloudship Rescue
  • Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place book 6
  • Beauty by Robin McKinley
  • Bluebloods
  • Sockeye County Shorts by Jerusha Jones

I always enjoy getting together with my friends to see the different books they read for the same category. This provides a great way to get recommendations on what to read next. Some of the books I read for this book club are ones my friends read for different categories. Let me know if you think I should bring back monthly blog posts on what we read for the Reading Challenge, or if I should just give occasional updates like this one. Happy reading friends!

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Nature Collection Displays, Part 2

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Back in December, I wrote about creative ways to display nature collections. I will get to show off these collections and teach a bit about rock collecting at my local library in July. I feel so excited to share my hobby with my community. In preparation for my presentation, I thought I would come up with some more pretty ways to display the rocks and fossils I have collected with my family.

Terrariums have become very popular over the past few years. They are easy to customize with found treasures or souvenirs from travels. I really like this terrarium tutorial from A Beautiful Mess. Elsie picked some beautiful crystals to include in her terrarium. I have tried making terrariums a few times in the past five years, but they have all failed.

I found this terrarium at Aldi a couple of weeks ago for $5. So far, I have managed to keep it alive. I have learned the importance of using a spray bottle to water air plants and succulents. I feel a little annoyed with this one because everything is glued together. This prevents me from switching out the rocks. I may eventually try to pull it apart, but I wanted to make sure I can keep the plants alive first.canva-photo-editor (1)

I also found this plastic hanging terrarium at my Dollar Tree. I want to get an air plant or two for it and find some cool fossils to display in it. If my family and I make it down south for a weekend, we should be able to find some fossils.canva-photo-editor

Pretty glass boxes have also become trendy. I found this pretty brass one on clearance at Meijer this week. Hobby Lobby has also started carrying terrariums. I especially like this one. I hope you have enjoyed seeing some pretty ways to use rocks and other natural elements for decor. canva-photo-editor (2)

The Fantasy Series I Really Wanted To Like

I started reading the Pit Dragon Chronicles back in May. I have two boys, so I want to find good books in several genres to recommend when they become older. I found out about this series by Jane Yolen which has a make protagonist. The boys enjoy some of Yolen’s picture books, and I like some of her other books.

I checked this series out from our local library and started reading. The first book, titled Dragon’s Blood, started out well. The youth Jakkin set up his hiding spot for raising the drain, overcame some obstacles, and stole his dragon. I enjoyed reading about the dragon, but I didn’t enjoy Jakkin’s interactions with the other bond boys. The casual references to prostitution and drug addiction turned me off to the book. I understand these things are likely to develop on a planet populated by the descendants of convicts, but it still made me uncomfortable. The ending came as a bit of a surprise.

I started book two, Heart’s Blood, dragging my feet a bit. The beginning had more of what I liked in the first book: Jakkin interacting with his dragon Heart’s Blood. I appreciated the characters pointing out the flaws of their society, including the bond system, baggeries, and killing healthy dragons to eat them. However, I think the plot wandered around a bit. From the synopsis, I assumed this book would focus on Jakkin rescuing Akki. While this does happen, the book pots in more time discussing politics and following Jakkin and Akki as they flee from the authorities after being falsely accused of a crime.

The third book was my favorite. It focuses on the two young heroes as they continue to hide from the authorities. Heart’s Blood’s babies feature prominently in this book. Jakkin and Akki discover a society of cave dwellers and rescue two new dragons.

This series was originally a trilogy, but a fourth book was added later. I haven’t had a chance to read the fourth one, nor do I feel a great need to continue with the series. I have really wanted to love this series when I started reading it. Overall, I feel disappointed by the series as a whole.

Industrial Style Bookshelves

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After two months of finding time here and there to work on this project, hubby and I finally finished our built-in bookshelves! I have long fantasized about having floor to ceiling bookshelves in my house. We purchased our first house last year, so we finally get to do permanent projects like this.

Our tax return check this year provided some unexpected extra funds. Hubby and I paid off more than $5k of college debt (our three smallest loans), added some money to our emergency fund, and each picked a fun project for the house. I chose to do built-in bookshelves, and he chose a surround sound stereo system and mounting our projector from the ceiling (which we still need to finish).

I became inspired to try using pipe to build bookshelves when I watched this episode of The Weekender on YouTube. Hubby surprised me by jumping on board with this project. He chose the 3/4 in pipes to better hold the weight of our books over time. He chose 2 in thick boards for the same reason. I got the idea to use tube straps to secure the boards to the pipes from a tutorial I watched on This Old House’s YouTube channel.

Hubby helped me paint the wall behind the shelves and the wall next to it. We actually decided to paint the living room white and bought the paint before we moved in last January, but we never actually painted. We still have more of the living room to paint. However, it feels good to have it started.

I changed my mind about painting the one wall behind the shelves white. This wall gets the least amount of natural light in the entire house (excluding inside the furnace closet). Paint color will do little to lighten this space, so I chose a beautiful blue color. The color didn’t turn out quite the color we wanted, but I still enjoy the color.

We experienced a few other hiccups along the way. The two boards I stained first turned out different than the others. The vertical pipes ended up being a fraction of an inch too tall. Menards didn’t have enough pipes in stock. Despite these setbacks, we persevered and completed the project.

I still want to style three shelves a little differently. A few picture books ended up being too big to fit, and I don’t know what to do with them. I need a couple more bookends to hold my books up nicely. These things will come with time.

Enjoy a few close-ups of a few of my favorite things! (Apologies for the poor quality. Like I mentioned earlier, this is a dark part of the house.)

My pretty hardback books and bird collection.

Some rocks and shells hubby and I have collected over the years and my awesome metal dinosaurs.

Hubby’s records and music books.

We ended up having some extra pipes we couldn’t return. I plan on using them to build some shelves in our bathroom and install a shelf in the boys’ closet. I will share when I finish this project.

We did not put our board books on these shelves. My toddler gets them out frequently, and he would probably constantly knock all of the books on the bottom two shelves down if we kept his favorite books with the rest. Both boys also have some special books in their room for calm down time.

I hope you all enjoyed seeing our home library! I plan on sharing more projects soon.

Geode Slice Mobile

We skipped right past spring here in the Midwest. One week, the weather continued in the 40s with the occasional morning snow. The next week, the temperatures jumped into the 70s with mostly sunny days.

This means I have started spending much more time outside with my two young boys. Since we don’t have a fenced in yard, I don’t feel comfortable letting my children play outside by themselves. My oldest son and I enjoyed planting several types of perennial flowers the past few weeks. However, we have run out of good spots (and budget) to keep planting.

To still feel productive, I began taking projects outside to work on. I made a geode slide mobile/wall hanging today with supplies I already had on hand. I purchased a package of geode spices from Amazon with a gift card I received for Christmas. The fishing twine and jewelry wire I had leftover from another project. I found the stick in the woods while on a walk with a friend.

I decided to wrap the geode slices with jewelry wire because I didn’t want to drill into them or make any permanent changes in case I decided to reuse them later. YouTube and Pinterest have many wire wrapping tutorials of better quality than I could put together. I learned how to make wire wrapped pendants several years ago and can’t remember the tutorial I learned from.

It takes just 5-10 minutes to wrap each geode slices with wire. When I finished with them, I just tied everything together with the fishing twine. I plan on hanging this mobile up where light can shine through the geode slices. This method could also be used to make suncatchers for windows or pendants for necklaces.

Easy Cassette Holder Conversion

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I have always enjoyed collecting rocks. Displaying found (and occasionally bought) treasures can become tricky, especially when my three-year-old wants to take them out and put with them. I put together this post: https://marshallsreporterscorner.wordpress.com/2017/12/10/nature-collection-displays/ not too long ago with ways I have displayed and stored nature collections in the past.

However, I have always had my eye on a vintage printer’s tray or one of those cool mountain shelves which have become so popular on Pinterest to display collections. The minimum $25 price tag for such a thing is way out of my budget. When I found this cassette holder at Goodwill for $2.99, I picked it up with the hope of turning it into a rock display.

It sat on the floor of my closet for a few months while I worked on other things. Progress on other projects and spring purging motivated me to finally tackle this DIY. I turned to the wonderful world of Pinterest for inspiration and a possible tutorial for how to convert my cassette holder.

I found this train storage conversion: http://www.upcyclednest.com/diy-train-storage/ and decided to use it. I found hubby’s tin snips and got to work. This project only took 5-15 minutes (small children make it difficult to determine how long it actually takes to do something). I really like the way it turned out.

Now, I just need to find a place to hang it. I may use more of these for storage in the future. Let me know what you would store in an old cassette holder.

The Great Espcape

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Today, I want to to share this short story I wrote nearly three years ago . . .

When my son finally fell asleep for a nap, I felt free to do anything. However, the unwashed dishes and piles of laundry weighed heavily on my sense of obligation. I started by scraping the remains of last night’s meal into the trash. Full again. I sighed and tied up the bag.

As I approached the black trash can at the corner of the porch, I heard a rustle of leaves and a chirping noise coming from out of sight on the right. I carefully approached the trash can. Another rustle of leaves. This time, I could tell they came from near the abandoned blue trash can. Fear of rabid animals and my poor choice of raggedy blue slippers as shoes hastened my retreat indoors.

With the windows open to the fine spring weather, I could still hear rustling leaves and chirping noises. I decided to face the potentially rabid creature rather than face a cranky baby. I gathered my courage and changed my shoes to venture back outside. The chirping noises became more frustrated. Could a bird have gotten trapped? The noises definitely came from the trash can filled with cardboard for car work and dead leaves.

I gently tapped on the trash can and jumped back at the vigorous rustling noises. The animal had definitely fallen into the trash can. I pulled out my phone to ask hubby for advice. Before he could respond, I picked up the blue bin by the handle. I slowly moved it to the grassy area while keeping it at arm’s length. I took a deep breath and gently tipped the can away from me.

Once the can hit the ground, a chipmunk scurried out and dashed for cover. I let my breath out in a sigh of relief. I replaced the trash can in its neglected corner and went back inside. The baby stayed asleep, and I sent my hubby a brief message of victory.

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Capsule Wardrobe Update

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I skipped my fall capsule wardrobe this year. My job and kids have kept me very busy for the past six months. I tried to sit down a few times and write a post about my fall capsule wardrobe. In the past couple of weeks, I came to the conclusion I don’t need to post about my capsule wardrobes anymore. I feel content with the clothes and accessories I have. Working with the Project 333 guidelines helped me trim down my closet and start to discover my style. However, I don’t need to concentrate on numbers so much anymore.

My wardrobe does not fit perfectly within the guidelines. I like to try to choose pieces for my wardrobe I can wear for at least half of the year, so I always find myself with more than 33 items in the cooler months when I add in my layering pieces. The Midwest also has variable seasons, which means I always had to include “just in case items.”

For example, the fall usually starts out with shorts and sandals and ends with winter gear. We have experienced 70 degree days in December and February. April can start with ice storms or balmy conditions. All of this fluctuation in weather means I keep all of my clothes in my closet year-round.

I may eventually share more of my wardrobe in general, such as my jewelry box or scarf collection. For now, I will use my blog to focus on other areas of my life. Feel free to leave a comment if you have content ideas.

Nature Collection Displays

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Edit 1Like most children, I had a small rock collection. Most of my specimens came from gift shops where my family took its annual vacations. Included in my collection are: a geode slice from Yellowstone State Park, a clear quartz crystal from a museum in Grand Rapids, several different quartz keepsakes from Mammoth Cave and Horse Cave in Kentucky, and some things I don’t remember where that came from. I put all of them in a beautiful carved box my father gave me and didn’t look at them again for many years.

I picked up collecting rocks in college. My science professor assigned everyone a rock collection project in my geology class. Some of my friends, including my now lovable hubby, helped put mine together. Collecting rocks and fossils became a quirky hobby my hubby and I still do together. We have quite the assortment of specimens we have found over the past eight years.

Our oldest son became fascinated with all things nature in the past year. He likes to pull out my old box of rocks and other containers of rock, fossils, shells, etc. I have come up with a few different ways to display and store our collection. Some of these are purely decorative while others make specimens easily accessible for curious hands.

1. Apothecary Jars: any glass jar or container will do. I have used canning jars, vases, and bowls. These usually made their way to my bookshelves as decoration or bookends.

2. Bookends: as I said above, jars and vases with rocks and fossils make great bookends. I also have this pair of geode bookends.

3. Cloche: I found mine at a church rummage sale, but I have also seen them at Goodwill. My cloche has three giant fossils my husband and I found on our trip to Myrtle Beach.

4. Display Box: images of old printer trays and curiosity cabinets are popular on Pinterest. I went with this slightly more affordable display box, which I paid $18 for on Amazon. It houses all of the fossils my hubby and I have found over the years (with the exception of the trilobite fossil, all of our specimens have been found).

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5. Tool Sorter: this is actually my son’s collection. He started his collection less than a year ago. My mom found this tool sorter in her garage, but these can be found at any hardware store or tool section at large superstores (Meijer, Wal*Mart, etc).

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6. Magnetic Tins: this is the most recent display I put together. I’ve seen these used as spice racks all over the internet. I found mine at the Dollar Tree. (Yes, I did put rocks in my pocket to test the strength of the magnets before purchasing them.) I like this display for organizing and showing off specimens from different trips. Here I have shells and lava rocks from Myrtle Beach, a break your own geode from Michigan, and some fossil conglomerates from our camping trip to Madison*, Indiana, this year.

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*Madison, Indiana, is a great place to find fossils. It is located along the Ohio River right across from Kentucky. Sea glass and small fossils wash up along the river shore. We had to be careful walking on the beach because there was broken glass and other trash. Madison also has a wonderful road cut just outside of town. Every rock we picked up had at least one fossils in it. I wanted to find some trilobites, but we only found brachiopods and corals.

I hope this list inspires some people to display their found treasures. I have plans to make a hanging display of geode slices for my kitchen window. If it turns out well, I will write a post about it. I want to wait until the holidays are over before purchasing supplies.

Busy Bags for Church and Car

Hubby and I started going to a new church more than a year ago. (We finally became members this month.) We love many things about this church, but it doesn’t have a nursery for the little ones to go to during the service. There is a play room with a speaker playing the sermon, but the children generally spend the entire service with the rest of the family. My toddler (almost preschooler!) did fine at first with a few toys and playing with my jewelry, but he has matured a bit and needs more stimulation now. This has forced me to get creative with small, quiet activities he can do in a church pew. We also drive 4-6 hours to see my in-laws a few times a year, so I also need some car-friendly activities. Here is what I have come up with so far for my almost-three-year-old:

  1. Duplo kits (current favorite). I have had my son help me put together Duplo kits to entertain him. We fill a bag with some Duplos to build different things. Usually, the little man, vehicle base, and flowers end up in the bag with some basic bricks. This past week, it was all red bricks. My son used these to make a plane, a horse, and other creations. These didn’t work so well in the car, but I think he just needs time to get used to managing them in his lap.
  2. Velcro sticks. My sister-in-law made these with colored craft sticks and velcro dots. These are great for learning colors and shapes with straight sides (square, rectangle, pentagon, etc.). My son used these to make a drill, a hammer, a triangle, a house, and many other things. These worked well in both the car and at church.
  3. Puzzles. Any puzzle will do. We are currently stuck between the puzzles with four pieces which make a shape and the regular puzzles. I think my son will do better with these later in the year. I don’t think this would work well in the car.
  4. Lacing cards. You can make these out of cardboard and a hole punch or buy the pre-made ones pretty much anywhere (even the Dollar Tree). Again, my son is a little young for these, but I think he’ll catch on to them sometime in the next six months. You could also do a string with large beads. This will make a great car activity.
  5. Pipe cleaners in a bottle. I cut down some pipe cleaners and put them in an empty spice bottle. To make this more challenging, you could put colored stickers around the holes and have your child match the colors. I think this one would also work well in the car.
  6. Matching cards. We have a set of cards where my son matches a colored vehicle to the corresponding shadow. He hasn’t quite caught on to this one yet. These are easy to make, or you could use a matching pairs game. My sister-in-law made our set for us. This is another one we haven’t tried in the car yet.
  7. Dinosaur farm. We have a pencil pouch with some small plastic dinosaurs we get out occasionally. If I include our duplo fence, my son can make a little farm on the church pew. We can also switch out the dinosaurs for some duplo animals we have.
  8. Books. This isn’t really a busy bag, but I usually slip a couple of books in our bag for my son to flip through during church. My baby also likes looking at the pictures once in a while.

I don’t pack all of these busy bags every week. My son usually picks out some duplos and 2-4 books. Then, I pick a couple of the other busy bags to include. Everything fits in my toddler’s play bag, and he likes carrying it out to the car and into the church. He also usually has a little stuffed animal he carries because he will sometimes fall asleep for nap on the way home. Let me know if you have any busy bag ideas.