Wednesday, June 21, 2017

King's Dominion

To kick off the summer and celebrate the successful end of 2nd grade x 2 + 4th grade, the boys wanted to go to King's Dominion.  We left early and arrived shortly after the park opened for the day.
Cort tried to spike up his hair to be taller for some of the scarier rides, but alas, he didn't fool the measurers.  He was still able to ride some milder thrill rides, like the Ricochet, the Avalanche and what used to be the Scooby Doo (which was my first roller coaster, when I was about 13).
Pierce has been trying to learn French through an app called Duolingo, so he wanted to go up in the Eiffel tower replica.

I can no longer ride the super spinny rides like the Scrambler, so Paul took one for the team and rode the Scrambler over and over (it was Pierce's favorite ride).
Reid turned out to love the roller coasters.  He wasn't tall enough ride the most intense three, but he rode all the ones he could (Cort was so jealous - he just needs to grow that last inch to be able to ride the ones Reid rode!).  I had a blast riding the Anaconda with Reid, which goes upside down three times and also goes under water.  It came out around the time I had season passes to King's Dominion in high school, so it was kind of like returning to an old friend.  Over twenty years later!  I couldn't stop smiling.

Here is Reid (yellow shirt) getting ready to go on the Grizzly, his last coaster of the day.  It was late and by this time there were no lines anymore.  Unfortunately, the boys were exhausted, and the drive home involved a lot of bickering.  Then we hit a closure on the interstate due to an overturned tractor trailer.  So we sat there, exhausted, staring at the sea of headlights in the dark.  It was almost 1:00 am by the time we got home!  Overall, though, we had a fabulous day, and the boys can't wait to go back, hopefully a little taller next time. 

Readers, do you like roller coasters?


Wednesday, June 14, 2017

The Not Quite a Complete Disaster Camping Trip

Five years ago, we took the boys on a day trip to Fairy Stone State Park, and had such an excellent time we thought we'd like to camp there at some point (for fun, here is my first post about Fairy Stone - they were so little!)

So Friday night we got all our gear packed up and Saturday morning we were out the door around 7 am, to get to the park by 8.  We wanted two full days of fun.  When I booked our site, there was no chance of rain, but two days later the weather had shifted.  We were hoping that the storms would pass quickly, if at all.

 Once we were set up, the boys were already complaining they were hungry, so we decided to fix an early lunch.  It was supposed to storm in the evening, so we decided to make dinner for lunch and save the sandwiches for storming weather.  Sweet potatoes and corn on the cob and hot dogs hit the spot. 


Our roomy REI Kingdom tent.  We hadn't used it in rain before, so we were hoping for the best.  REI makes high quality gear, in our experience.  You can see my comfy camping cot.  Paul and I can sleep on the ground, but with plenty of room in the tent, I figure why not bring a cot. 
After lunch we hit the lake.  They have a playground for the kids that is so much fun.  Luckily, it wasn't too terribly crowded.  The boys had a blast.

The water was cool but not too cold to enjoy.  I wished I had brought a swimsuit, but at least I remembered the boys'.

While the boys were swimming, Paul took our kayak out.  The boys each took a turn, too.  By the time it was my turn, the first storm was rolling in, so I decided to wait until the next day. 

After dinner, we went to look for fairy stones.  After all the rain we've had, we found tons and tons of fairy stones!  Reid found over 100!  Everyone had bulging pockets on the way back to camp (you can see my old post for a chart of how they look).  The evening was the perfect time to search, because everyone else seemed to be back at camp for the night.  We had the whole place to ourselves.

 
 
Reid checks out his fairy stone collection by lantern light that evening.  We went to sleep around 9, but then the storms started rolling in.  We really got pounded!  Over and over again waves of storms rolled through.  Thankfully, our tent with rain fly was excellent.  Not a single spot got damp.
 
Unfortunately, Reid woke up around 4 am complaining of stomach pain.  Then by 6, Cort was up as well, and started vomiting in the woods behind our tent.  Having kids struck down by the stomach flu in the middle of the woods when you have a bunch of gear to pack up is not a good thing.  Cort threw up again and again as we rolled up sleeping bags and put away chairs and such.  No coffee this morning.  It seemed like we would never get everything packed up. 
 
Thank goodness we were only an hour drive away.  It was a VERY long hour.  We were sad we didn't get our second day of hiking and kayaking and fairy stone hunting.  We'd had such a great time the day before.  Paul said, "Maybe next time we can just do a day trip again".  I have to say - I second that!  And hopefully our next overnight camping trip (wherever we go) will be much smoother.  

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Up to Something

On Mother's Day, Paul and I had just finished cleaning up dinner when he said, "I think the boys might be up to something".  We went to look outside.


They were carrying one another around the place on an old WW2 stretcher that came from my grandparents' garage.  Good thing they don't know where my big bandages stash is...

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

MindFlex

I ordered the boys a game called Mindflex, because one of them was having trouble focusing in school and at home.  To play this game, you wear a belt around your head with sensors on your forehead and ears.  It responds to brainwaves in the 'focused' zone, similar to an EEG.  When the player is focused or concentrating, the game's fan goes on, and the ball lifts into the air.

Once you learn how to control your attention, you can manipulate the ball up and down and around in a circle.  That's when the real fun starts.  You can add obstacles.

My hope is that once it's understood what attention and focus feels like, the boys can turn it on at will, just by changing their thinking patterns in the brain.  This is essentially biofeedback. 

The game is a little pricy, but I think it's a healthy way to help children learn to focus more effectively.  And I have to admit - the game is fun for adults too!  I suspect it will be popular with my psychology classes too, when we study EEGs and biofeedback.

Readers, do you feel like your concentration could use improvement?

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

When Birds are Jerks

This spring, a little bird decided to build a nest in my clothespin apron, which was hanging on the deck (convenient for grabbing to hang clothes).  Everyday, the bird would add twigs, and I would remove them.  We went back and forth.  Stubborn little feathered friend.

 
 
That is, until I got really busy.  And forgot to check for a couple of days.  After which, I found this.  Not only is the nest complete - on top of all my clothespins - but now the bird is sitting there all day.  Probably on some eggs.  Look how SMUG this bird looks.
 
I guess I won't be hanging out the laundry any time soon...
 
Nicely played, bird.  You win.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Butternut, Moths, and Peep S'mores

Gosh I love Spring.  Temps in the 70s, everything in bloom and green.  The promise of new life, new gardening.  Here's a picture of the twins on Easter, waiting to make s'mores out of Peeps.


After the suggestion of one of my blog readers (who are always teaching me wonderful things, and giving me new ideas), I canned the butternut squash I had left from last fall, before it could start to go bad.  When canning squash, you have to cube it, and you must use a pressure canner.  It was a lot of work to peel and cube so much butternut in one go, but now all I have to do is open a jar!  I plan to use it a lot in soups or rice bowls.  You can see my garden corral in the background of this picture.

Another sign of spring?  All the butterflies and bees.  On a recent run, I discovered this rather unusual moth.  I don't carry a camera or phone when I run on our trails, so I went back and found it later.  I loved it's creamy yellow coloring and brown stripe.  According to google, this seems to be a swallowtail moth.

Readers, what are the small things delighting you this spring?

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Go Fly a Kite

We had three kites from previous beach trips.  One breezy day over the boys' Spring Break, we took them down to the large pasture.  One was missing a piece.  Reid got his stuck in a tree when a breeze jerked it out of his hand.  But Cort?  Well, Cort had a grand time.

Behold the joy of Spring! 
Readers, when did you last fly a kite?

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Egg Hunting, Two Bears Style

This was the first year that none of the boys had Easter egg hunts at school.  So we had to do something at home.  Rather than just hide a few eggs around the house or in the yard, we decided to get a little more....creative.  Paul and I hiked a trail loop on our property, hiding eggs along the way.  It's about a 3/4 mile loop. 

After we had all the eggs safely hidden, the boys were very excited to go.  A neighbor kid showed up right around this time, so we gave him a sack to let him hunt for eggs too (he was so delighted by his fortune in having shown up with perfect timing you would've thought he'd won the lottery).  A brief countdown, and they were off!

There were eggs in trees and in holes and even on limbs.  Eggs that had to be hit down with sticks.  Needless to say, this adventure was a HUGE hit with the boys, and they immediately wanted to do it again.  I suspect this will become a yearly tradition, assuming the weather is always as beautiful as it was on this particular week. 

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Canning Boston Baked Beans

Recently my grandmother passed, and she has been my garden confidant and canning champion the past few years.  I don't have anything to can from the garden yet, so I decided to try to can a big batch of Boston baked beans instead.  It felt like a simple way to keep her close to my heart.  When I work in my garden each year, I will certainly be thinking of her.

I got two large bags of Great Northern beans and soaked them overnight.  Then I drained them and topped off with fresh water.  I boiled them until the skins started to split.  I layered them in my two hugest baking pans with chopped onions, green peppers, bacon, and a sauce made from molasses, salt, dry mustard, the water I boiled them in, and brown sugar.  I baked them for 3 hours at 325.


They had to be processed in the pressure canner for 85 minutes.  It was a long day to make these beans, but I ended up with 16 pints (plus a couple of pints I left out that we ate for dinner that night), and they have a great flavor.  Plus, baked beans are so inexpensive to make! 

Readers, are there ways you like to honor the memory of your relatives?

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Rampicante Squash Muffins Recipe

Remember last year when I grew so many rampicante squash in my garden?  I froze some of it (it's quite similar to zucchini, and you could use zucchini in this recipe if you didn't have rampicante) and decided to make some muffins recently.  I'm happy to say that these are kid approved!


You will need:
3 eggs
1/2 cup canola oil
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar
3 tsp. maple flavoring (or use vanilla extract if you don't have this)
2 cups shredded rampicante squash
2 1/2 cups flour
1/2 cup wheat germ
2 tsp. baking soda
2 tsp. salt
1 tsp. Cinnamon
1/2 tsp. baking powder
1 cup extra ingredient (nuts, chopped apricots, raisins or butterscotch chips)

Preheat oven to 350*.  Spray muffin tin with cooking spray (or lightly grease). Mix eggs, oil, and sugars.  Stir in squash.  Stir in dry ingredients until just mixed.  Fold in your extra ingredient (I used butterscotch chips).

Bake for 30 minutes or until knife inserted in center comes out clean.  These are fairly healthy, and make a great breakfast-on-the-go muffin (they aren't as crumbly as some muffins).  My boys love when I send them as a school snack.

Yield = 15 medium muffins

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Spring, Finally

I'm glad it's spring and I can move into warmer weather and gardening season.  I have a few random reflections on the winter.


We went through a lot of the home canned goods this winter.  By January we had run through all 12 pints of salsa I canned last summer.  This year I need to make more.  The boys loved the canned carrots and canned green beans.  Only Reid and Paul and I like the beets, but I'm working on the other two.  We used up most of the jams and jellies, and discovered that autumn olive is our new favorite jelly - next year I hope to make a lot more.  Some of the squash I stored never got used, and I had to throw it away in March when it started to rot.  This year I'm planting less squash.

Last month St. Patrick's Day resulted in little Leprechaun traps all over the house.  The twins were quite devoted in creating these, and they seemed to be around every corner.  Alas, they were still empty on March 18th.  Maybe next year.

I read the boys classics like Hatchet and Old Yeller this winter, when the days were short and the wood stove was going.  They loved both books.

I put down a layer of hay in the garden for weed control.  I look forward to warm hands in the dirt and putting in seeds this month.

Readers, do you have any winter reflections?

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

How Green Valley Book Fair

The boys had a teacher workday recently and we decided to meet my mom and head north for the day to the Green Valley book fair, near Harrisonburg.  I've blogged before about this amazing warehouse sale of discounted books.  It's a happy place for sure.

We all found books we loved.  I got several animal memoirs - heartwarming stories about animals who changed their owners' lives for the better in some way.

Then we headed to Wright's Dairy-Rite.  Pierce has been begging to return there since we went a couple of years ago.  This little diner has been an institution in Staunton for many years.

Pierce loves it because he gets to phone in our orders from a phone right at the booth.  He also likes the jukebox.


I like it because they have chocolate soft serve cones that are dipped in peanut butter shell.  That's right, chocolate and peanut butter.  My favorite combination!  And they are as delicious as you might imagine. 

It was a fun day, and a good way to see out the dreary winter months. 

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

OM and Ohms

This year I helped coach an Odyssey of the Mind team so that Cort and Reid could participate.  They were on a primary team (first and second graders, judged but not scored).  Their problem was called Movin' Out and they had to make a scene that could change when the characters moved from one scene to another.  Pierce's team did a problem where they used two famous works of art and looked at them in the past and in the future. 

It was a long day and the boys' competitions were close together, so I forgot to take pictures!  I was just focused on getting people to where they needed to be, and costumes.  I only took one picture.  At one point we were walking down a hallway by a science classroom (the competition was at a high school) and Pierce stopped me, pointing to a cartoon on the door. 

"MOM!  Look!"

I confess, I stood there blinking at this cartoon for a minute, at a complete loss. 

"MOM! Don't you get it?"

Me:  blink, blink

"MOM!  Resistance is measured in ohms!  That's something I learned studying ham radio."

Me, shaking my head in dismay at my shortfalls:  "Ohhhhhh!  I get it now! That's cool, Pierce."

Pierce's team didn't place this year, and they were disappointed, but they still had a great day.  All of the other kids on Pierce's team are headed to middle school next year, so he will have a new team I guess.  Cort and Reid loved doing OM and can't wait to be on a secondary team next year.

Readers, did you know that resistance is measured in Ohms, or is it just me?

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Treasure Hunting

We have a persimmon tree that self-seeds fairly easily, so we told a neighbor he could come dig up some up the small trees and try to transplant them on his property.  When he started digging, he got more than he'd expected.  Turns out the hillside where the persimmons are growing was a dump site for the old homestead that used to be on our property.  He dug out a number of bottles from under the tree roots.  Many were broken (there were a few old boots in there, too), but some where unharmed.

I have only cleaned up the front center bottle, with the white residue inside.  It has Norwich on it, and is an old Pepto Bismal bottle.  Once I get time I'll clean up the others and see what Google can tell me about them.  Several appear to be liquor bottles, and one at first glance looks like Pepsi to me.

Hard to say what else has been  buried on our land all these years.  Prior to us moving there in 2000, no one had resided in the old (now torn down) house since the mid 70s. 

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

New Fence Line

Last year when we did that overnight backpacking trip with the boys, a big storm blew in and blew a fuse in our electric fence.  The horses got out and were running all over, and no one could reach us because we were in a region where there was no cell phone service.  Once we found out, we drove the two hours home, and I was terrified for the horses the whole way.  I already knew that Phoenix was limping.  Luckily, I was able to get them home (they were about a mile away from our house, up a mountain) and Phoenix's injury, while painful, was treatable.  I NEVER want that to happen again.  So I've been saving every cent I get from Christmas or selling stuff online towards building at least one very secure pasture.  With no electric!  That means three board fencing for most of it.  With the cost of wood right now, it's a pricy endeavor.

We've been working on this stretch since Christmas.  We hit a number of obstacles, including a broken nail gun, a post hole digger that didn't want to run, and post holes that dipped into an underground stream and were filling with water.  Not to mention all the rocks we had to dig through!  Happily, we now have a big stretch done.


This pasture already has wood fencing on two other sides.  So now three sides are fenced with wood.  We only have the back stretch left.  Because the final side is by a river (and may need adjustments as a result), and cannot be seen from the road, I will probably try to use high tensile fence wire with a mixture of wood posts and t-posts.  It should go in easier than the wood (with having to dig less holes) and hopefully will be cheaper.  After that's done, I will start saving again - I still have a couple of other stretches of wood fencing I want to do.  I do love seeing the fence lines once they're done!

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Cort and Reid Make Great Pyramids

If you have a truly excellent memory, you may recall when Pierce made a pyramid from Legos for Social Studies in second grade.  Cort and Reid have reached that point in their studies.  Both of them were eager to start their pyramid project.  The only guideline was that it had to have a square base and four sides.  I think they each wanted to do something unique.

Reid decided to work with Sculpey clay.  He created a little scene with two pyramids, including lots of pots and treasure.  He even made the Nile river.  We baked it in the oven and then after it cooled he painted it with acrylic paints.  On the base piece he painted Elmers glue and then sprinkled sand from his sand box over it.  He spent a long Saturday creating his scene to perfection. 

Cort is really into rocks and gems, so he decided to build his pyramid from cardboard and then hot glue "gems" to it.  He also glued a layer of bright patterned paper before putting on the gems (which I got from the dollar store).  He made a pyramid that really POPS.


They were both really pleased with the results, and couldn't wait to present them in school. 
Readers, how would you make a pyramid?

Monday, February 27, 2017

The HAM Radio Operator

Last fall, Pierce got hooked on Morse code.  He'd memorized it and was going around 'speaking' in Morse code.  I mentioned (casually - I had no idea where this was going to lead at the time) that HAM radio operators used Morse code sometimes.  Next thing I knew I was having to tell Pierce every bit my (very limited) knowledge of HAM radio. 

Pierce started studying for his license exam (issued by the FCC) in December.  He used a computer program that the local amateur radio club put on my laptop for him.  For Christmas, he got a small, handheld portable HAM radio.  He was able to listen in but wouldn't be able to talk on it until he passed his exam.

In January he sat for the test, which was offered at the Red Cross in Roanoke.  He was so excited when he passed at the technician level.  He is hoping to take the general level test at some point in the future.  But for now, he can finally talk on his radio.  He went to a local field day in January, where he got to try to make contact with people all over the nation.  He talked to people in places like Kansas and Tennessee.

It's kind of funny to look over and see your kid (who still likes to wear footie pjs) reading magazines on HAM radio for fun.  I think it's the sort of hobby that he'll be able to enjoy for many years to come. 

Monday, February 20, 2017

Fermenting

My parents got me a fermenting kit for Christmas.  It had been on my wish list for a very long time.  I have some old crocks that were my great grandmother's, but they have dangers of lead paint, so they no longer recommend these for fermenting.  This method is safer, plus it prevents mold from becoming an issue.  I took this picture right after I filled it up:
My first attempt was sauerkraut.  Sauerkraut is excellent for digestion, and is loaded with good bacteria for the gut.  I took at least a week for it to get the flavor I wanted.  Once it did, I capped off the top and moved it to the fridge. 

The boys love this.  Who would've thought?  Readers, do you have any good fermentation recipes for me?

Monday, February 13, 2017

Around the Garden

I've been trying to prep the garden some during the milder days.  I layered some sand in the area I plan to plant carrots this year (very excited - I ordered some purple ones).  I have been putting down hay and mulch, and hope to bring down some manure from the rabbits as well as my compost ball. 


I couldn't find any gardening gloves one day when I was pulling the last of the fall weeds, so I borrowed some from the boys. 

I installed a bean tree for my beans to grow up (last year's bean climbing devices left a lot to be desired.  And I ordered this year's fruit trees.  I think our self-pollinating pear from last year didn't make it, so that is being replaced for free.  In addition, I ordered another peach, two plum, and a cherry. 

Readers, have you started thinking about garden plans yet?

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Strange Guitar Happenings

I was sitting on the couch reading a book. 

It was quiet.

The boys were at school. 

It was a milder day than usual, so even the cats were outside. 

I'd done my chores for the morning and was deep in a novel when the guitar on the wall across from me plucked two notes. 

Two notes.

One right after the other.

I looked at it. 

No one was around.

No cats.

No boys.

No stinkbugs.

No earthquakes.

No explanations at all.


I googled for scientific explanations.  Was it the atmosphere?  We'd had a lot of rain.  I didn't find any logical answers.

I remembered my maternal grandfather always used to tell a story of attending the funeral of Uncle Bill and hearing a banjo play 2-3 notes at the wake.  I asked my mom if this was one of his tall tales.  She said no, that she was there too when that happened.

So I actually have a genetic heritage of hearing guitars play notes on their own.  It's in my genes.

How's that for scientific explanations?

Readers, you got any similar strange happenings to tell me?

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Winter Beach Fun, Part 2

I have a few more cell phone pics I wanted to share from our short trip to Myrtle beach. 

Here are the boys on the boardwalk.  It rained all morning but finally lifted in the afternoon.  We were glad we brought raincoats.  I love how quiet it is in the winter.  Mostly just older couples walking on the beach.  I guess a lot of kids had to go back to school before we did. 
The boys wanted to go to Ripley's Believe It or Not Odditorium.  They love the Ripley's books and are frequently checking them out of the library.

I have to admit the Odditorium was really fun.  Lots of quirks and history and some hands on, too.  Here, Pierce compares himself to a wax figure of the largest man. 

The boys loved this dizzy tunnel.  The lights are spinning a circle around you, and although the floor does not move, when you get in there it's very disorienting.  If you stand there for a minute it starts to feel like you are spinning yourself. 
There were other fun things like a scary mask with a jewel inside, that when you reached for it, sent out a big puff of air (I may possibly have jumped in the air and yelped over this.  Luckily, we were the only people in there at the time).  There were also some great computerized dance and fight simulations that we all loved. 

It was a fun little getaway.  I guess now I get to start planning my spring garden...

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Myrtle Beach in January

Since the boys had such a long winter break, we decided to take a brief road trip.  Hotels are so cheap at the beach this time of year, and I love the beach in winter.  I like that it's quiet and you can admire the scenery in peace.

It was so misty the day we got there that we couldn't see very far.  It was nice though - about 68*.

My aunt and uncle gave the boys gift cards for Christmas, and we used one to go to Ripley's Aquarium.  It was really fantastic. 

Something is so relaxing about watching sea creatures.  Pierce found one that he bonded with below.

The highlight was the shark tunnel, which was long and wrapped through the tunnels on a moving sidewalk, so my pictures were blurred.  Sharks were swimming on both sides and overhead - and there were so many different types of sharks.  But another highlight was petting moon jellyfish, which I caught below. 
We also pet some horseshoe crabs and some small sharks.  The aquarium is pricy, but I think it was worth it for all they have to see.  The boys and I all were amazed by the different sights there. 

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Winter Break Fun

We had a fun break over Christmas.  I didn't have to teach any classes and the boys were out of school for several weeks.  Here are a few things we did.

Cort asked for a cotton candy machine for Christmas, which my parents got him.  The blue raspberry turned his lips and tongue blue.


We went to the Martinsville science museum one day.  Pierce's preschool teacher, who has kept in touch with us over the years, came along.  We had an excellent time.  Below is Reid threading whale bones.  The highlight of the trip was when Mrs. Mack and I were chatting in the gift shop and heard Pierce behind us saying, "I'm feeling romantic!".  We both stopped and looked at each other in surprise, and then turned around to look at Pierce (who is a very concrete thinker and definitely doesn't go around talking about his emotions).  Turns out he had a mood ring on and was reading the color chart to see what his mood was.  Mrs. Mack and I laughed and laughed over that.

One day we went roller skating.  The boys had so much fun that we have decided to go roller skating a lot more often.  It really clicked for Reid and Cort this time, and they found themselves skating more confidently by the end. 
I have another winter break post coming up soon.  Readers, did you do anything fun over the holidays?

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Running Recap 2016

The past year wasn't my best running year, but it wasn't my worst either.  I developed Morton's neuroma on my right foot last January, and battled it all year.  I had a couple of cortisone shots, which helped, but didn't cure.  I've been using metatarsal pads in my shoes and had active release therapy (ART) done on it a few times.  Surgery isn't an option in my opinion, as it is not always successful and can cause problems worse than the neuroma.  Some days are better than others.  But it did affect my mileage this year.  In all, I ran 1419 miles.

I ran three races, and those were fun.  I especially enjoyed the 24 hour race I did in November, even though I didn't run the full 24 hours.  Here's a picture from our first snow dusting this winter.  You can see the little chalkboard on the left where I keep track of my miles when I'm doing long runs at home.  You can also see Francie checking me out.  She's doing well.  And to the right is my garden area.


Hoping my foot will improve over the next few months.  Taking time off doesn't seem to help much, so I'm just trying to learn to manage it run by run. 

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

203 Books of 2016

I read more books than usual this past year.  203!  My eye muscles are tired.  It's hard to pick a favorite when you read so many, but I've made a collage of a few that really stood out.  In no particular order:
1. Running Girl by Simon Mason.  I won an advanced reader of this Young Adult mystery on Goodreads.  It was engaging and amusing.  Enough so that I'm hoping the author writes a sequel.  Please note that if you are buying this for a young adult in your life, it does have drug use.

2.  Heart in the Right Place by Carolyn Jourdan.  This is a hilarious and authentic memoir of a woman who works in a high paced office for a senator in DC.  She ends up moving home to help out her dad's small town medical practice when her mother has a heart attack. 

3.  The Sea House by Elisabeth Gifford.  Historical fiction exploring the legend of mermaids (and incorporating a real medical condition as explanation).  Intriguing writing that made it hard to put down, even in the slower parts.

4.  The Perfect Son by Barbara Claypole White.  A story about a distant dad who has to take over the needs of his highly functioning but autistic son when his wife is hospitalized long term for a heart condition.  Bittersweet and at times quite funny, this was an excellent read.

5.  The Gravity of Birds by Tracy Guzeman.  I'm not certain who gave me this book.  It had been sitting on my shelf for a couple of years.  I picked it up and was immediately drawn in to family secrets and dynamics, and a lost painting.  I recommended it to several people, who all loved it too.

6.  Small Great Things by Jodi Picoult.  I have read every book Picoult has written.  I love her ability to take ethical dilemmas and make you see every side of them.  But this book?  She outdid herself with this book!  Some have been calling it "To Kill a Mockingbird for the 21st Century" and I'd have to say that's an excellent phrase to sum it up. 

7. The Magician King by Lev Grossman.  This is the second book in a trilogy and I read them all, after finding the first on a list of books for adult fans of Harry Potter.  This book was my favorite of the three, but you should read the first one first.

8.  Proust was a Neuroscientist by Jonah Lehrer.  This is another book that had been on my shelves for years.  If I'd known how good it was, I would have read it sooner.  Each chapter has a different angle on neuroscience combined with insights from classic literature and art.  I know, it seems an unlikely combination, but it is so well done and fascinating.

9.  The Disaster Diaries by Sam Sheridan - the author has been worrying about the apocalypse for years, and finally decides to do something about it.  So he takes each aspect of survival preparation and seeks out an expert in that field for training (how to live off the land, how to defend oneself, etc.).  A unique perspective with a lot of useful information.

And two last books that I loved (but read after I made the collage):

A Man Called Ove was recommended by a friend, and I think it was my favorite book I read all year.  And my mom recommended The Mad Woman Upstairs, which was also excellent reading.  Well, that does it!  Readers, do you have a favorite book you read last year?