Thursday, December 15, 2016

Maternity Leave

Belly Shots, Belly Pregnancy Progression

You guys, I had lots of plans for all the posts I wanted to get up this month. We were going to talk Christmas decorations, Christmas books, end-of-year reviews and best-ofs. I may still get around to some of these posts at some point, but it became apparent this week that my lovely little baby is likely going to come earlier than later.

I'll try to spare you the intimate details (although a full birth story will be coming once she's here, worry you not!), but basically I've been in labor since Saturday. I'm dilating at a slow and incremental pace, living in a state of constant low-level contractions. Based on my last pregnancy, I expect this to drag on for a few weeks yet, but I'm definitely miserable. And trying desperately to keep some semblance of normalcy afloat with my other children as we still attempt to participate in holiday activities and celebrate the season.

But something's got to give, and for the forseeable future, it will have to be blogging. Hopefully next time I write, it will be with pictures of my precious, squishy baby girl. And I won't be pregnant anymore!

Until then, may you all have a very Merry Christmas, Happy New Year, etc. etc.!

Thursday, December 8, 2016

How to Make a Fresh Bough Wreath (Tutorial)

Fresh Bough Wreath, Tutorial, Christmas Wreath, DIY Wreath

You guys, I have no right whatsoever to be posting a crafty tutorial. I'm laughing at the absurdity of this as I type. I'm also positive that you can find out how to make this exact wreath (or something even prettier) from actual legit sources somewhere on the internet. So I know, completely ridiculous and redundant of me to post this.

BUT! But, this classic little wreath is SO EASY and SO CHEAP to make (once you've invested in your initial materials, every year after that it's pretty much free) that I can't help sharing. I just feel like someone who reads this blog is going to benefit from this knowledge (maybe, I don't know).

So, if you've ever seen fresh bough wreaths in stores, you know they can be pretty pricey. And for something that only lasts you one month of the year at most, I'd always considered them a bad investment as far as Christmas decor is concerned. But they smell so nice! And look so much prettier than the fake ones (not knocking the fake ones, I've totally owned fake ones in my time).

Then, three years ago, I went to a church activity where they taught us how to make these fresh wreaths, and I was sort of blown away at how easy it was. You know, the prices they charge for the ones in the store would make you think this is an incredibly complex process, but no. It takes almost no skill whatsoever (trust me, I have none to speak of), it's basically impossible to screw up, and did I mention it's cheap?

It is, in fact, so easy that I've managed to make one (on my own!) every year since then, despite having a colicky newborn, being in school half-way through December, or (in this year's case), being a nearly 8-month-pregnant beached whale. In fact, I knocked this year's model out, from start to finish (meaning, from trying to find where I stashed all the supplies last year to hanging it on my door) in under an hour.

Okay, so are you ready to do this? Let's get started!

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

A Brief Taxonomy of Gifts

Gift Taxonomy, practical gifts, luxury gifts, experience gifts

I've been thinking a lot about gifts recently ('tis the season). Gift giving is an area of life where I feel some anxiety and inadequacy (we've already established this is not exactly my love language), but because there are so many people around me whose primary love language is gifts, and because I know so many awesome gift-givers, this is an area that I've determined to be more thoughtful about and improve in.

One thing I've been thinking about this year is gift categories, specifically the three categories of practical gifts, luxury gifts, and experience gifts (there are other categories, like "clutter gifts," but nobody likes those, so why bring them up here?). I think different people prefer different categories of gifts (at least, in my limited experience, they do), so recognizing these categories has helped me identify who might prefer what kind of gift. Let's talk about them a bit more.

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Books I Read in November

Well, November was not my greatest reading month ever. I borrowed a bunch of my usual dedicated reading time for other projects (trying to get things done before baby comes), but mostly I'm just tired and distracted. I'm comforted by the fact that I've already hit my (expanded) reading goal for the year, so everything from November and December is just gravy on top. That's exciting for me.

Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman

This one was actually a hangover from my October seasonal reading that I didn't quite finish until a few days into November. In the past few months I've tried three Gaiman novels: American Gods (disturbing did-not-finish), The Graveyard Book (charming YA read), and this one. This book is definitely for adults, and it came close to crossing some squeamish lines for me, but wasn't nearly as violent or disturbing as I found American Gods. I quite enjoyed the story and most of the characters. So for now, I've really liked 2 out 3 Gaiman novels, despite getting off to a rough start with him. If you know you like Gaiman, this one is a general recommend. It's got some really good, creepy world building.

Leave Me by Gayle Forman

I've had conflicting, flip-flopping emotions about this one. See longer review here. Generally, I think it's worthy of a recommend, especially if you've enjoyed any of Forman's other novels.

The Wrath & the Dawn by Renee Ahdieh

So, I was generally intrigued by the premise of this one (a YA retelling of the Scheherazade tale), but in the end it felt like a fairly typical YA fantasy read, even down to the abhorrent love triangle. It wasn't bad, and if you like YA romance fantasy stuff, this one may be perfect for you. It just wasn't what I was hoping for and I don't feel any need to continue on with this series.

On to books in the infamous category of Did Not Finish!

Before We Visit the Goddess by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni

This one has gotten a lot of hype this year in certain quarters, and it started off with such promise. I loved the beautiful writing, the characters were interesting and I was invested in the story. But as things progressed, I really began to lose interest. Lives kept falling apart in more and more depressing ways, bad choices were being made left and right, and then the story started shifting to tangential characters that I didn't care all that much about. I got through about 75% of this, but when it was due back at the library, I returned it with no desire to check it out again. I just don't care enough.

And now on to family Read Alouds:

Flat Stanley's Worldwide Adventures 1: The Mount Rushmore Calamity by Sara Pennypacker and Jeff Brown

You guys, we've been struggling a bit in the read-aloud department with a lot of false starts. Part of the problem is that it's taking a while for some of my holds to come in, and the offered selection at my local branch isn't great. I would've preferred to start with the first book in the original Flat Stanley series, but this is what my branch had to offer off the shelf. Still, it was our first non-animal centered read aloud success. My son really liked the characters and got super involved with the story-line. It was at a great level for him, and I will definitely be putting more Flat Stanley's on our holds list.

Have you read any of these? Thoughts and opinions welcome!

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Small Joys

Tablescaping, Thanksgiving Table

I've spent a lot of time this month reflecting on gratitude and the big things I'm grateful for. There really is so, so, so much that is wonderful and amazing and completely, perfectly, abundantly blessed about my life, and it's been good for me to remember and write about those things in other places (my journal).

But when I spend three consecutive nights in a row in and out of sleep because of massive cramping and Braxton Hicks contractions that leave me aching sore and unable to walk in the morning... well, it's harder to remember those big things I'm grateful for about my life. It's funny that it seems to be the small things, these small joys, that actually get me through these rough patches (and by rough patches, I mean this pregnancy that is going to kill me).

So for now I'll spare you a list of the big and obvious things I'm grateful for (it may or may not be true, but somehow it feels a bit indecent to publicly share those things, like "Look how utterly amazing my life is!"), and just continue to share the small joys that got me through November.

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Recipe Files: Sweet Potato Souffle

sweet potato souffle, casserole, Thanksgiving

Oh, right. Thanksgiving is over. We've all moved on to busily talking and thinking and gushing about all things Christmas. Forgive me, for half a second, if I indulge in posting a very Thanksgiving-y recipe. If I were any sort of considerate food blogger I would've posted this recipe on November 1st so you all could've had access to it as you meal planned the biggest feast of the year. But I'm not a food blogger, and I didn't have a picture of this dish to post until I actually made it on Thanksgiving day. Besides, the point of me posting recipes here is entirely selfish and for my own electronic files anyway.

That being said, I highly recommend you pin this recipe and remember it next year when planning your Thanksgiving dishes. Or better yet, make it for your Christmas dinner this year, even if you've never done sweet potatoes for Christmas dinner before. Believe me, no one at your table will be complaining. Because honestly, this is the BEST sweet potato dish I've ever had. This stuff is practically a dessert, it is so, so good.

Monday, November 21, 2016

Review: Leave Me

I stumbled across this book almost by accident, just seeing it while scrolling through my library's app on my phone. I read If I Stay by Forman a few years ago. Confession: I picked it up in a bookstore and speed read the whole thing in one sitting because I didn't actually want to buy the book but the premise was so interesting I wanted to see where it was going.

A similar thing happened with this one. I read the little blurb, and was immediately intrigued. A mother who actually walks away from her unsupportive, ungrateful children and husband? Hm...

Monday, November 14, 2016

The Book Blab Episode 10: Books and Food!

Guys, if there's one thing I love as much as books, it's food. So an entire episode of The Book Blab devoted to all things books and food? Basically, Amy and I could've gone on for hours and hours. This show is packed with book suggestions and recommendations (all listed in the show notes below), so please enjoy.

Thursday, November 10, 2016

Thanksgiving Decor (With Maybe Just a Little Election Ranting)

I don't delve into politics much here on the blog, but I will say that I abhor election season in America. It just seems to bring out the worst in people, and then it drags on and on. In undergrad, French was my minor, and we studied French politics in one of my classes. We followed their presidential elections which, campaign to election, lasted a matter of weeks. Why can't we do that here? Anyway, whether my candidate wins or loses, usually on election day I'm just grateful that the whole stupid campaign process is finally over.

This is the first time post election where, as much as I hated the campaign season (more so than any other before), I woke up the morning after wishing we could go back in time and just be in that liminal space again where the nightmare (of either candidate winning) was a looming yet hypothetical future, not a present reality.

What I have loved in the aftermath is all the searching for a silver lining, all the reminders that despite who our leaders are we can still be good, decent citizens living moral, honest lives, while raising our children to be better, kinder, and more understanding than the generation before. It might feel a bit shallow, at this time of great national division, to write a post about holiday decorations. But what better time than now to focus on a holiday all about gratitude? It's been my mental savior this whole pregnancy, focusing on the little things I'm grateful for, and it's a far better coping mechanism than drowning in the feeling that all hope is lost.

So let's talk Thanksgiving decorations.

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Writing Projects and Reading Lists

Writing, goals, books about writing, books and roses, books and flowers

Three years ago (I can't believe it's been that long, it feels like last year) I participated in NaNoWriMo, or, for the uninitiated, National Novel Writing Month. I really didn't have an idea for a plot when I started. There was no plan, no big idea, I just had the time and the goal and so I plunged in. Needless to say, the resulting product was terrible. But I still did it, still got 50,000 words down in somewhat of a story form, and I really enjoyed the process of just having a creative writing project.

This year, I made another goal for myself to tackle a big creative writing project. The difference this time around is that I actually have an idea for something I want to write (less a novel, more a fictionalized memoir type thing). I have no expectations for this being any good, but I'm excited by the idea and excited just to have another project in the works.

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Books I Read In October

And poof! Just like that it's November. Isn't November such a lovely month? I love November.

But we're talking about October. Specifically, the books I read in October. For the past few years I've been getting more and more serious about intentional seasonal reading, and October is one of the months I fixate on "getting this right." However, I don't do horror or anything too gruesome or scary, so it can be tricky finding new material. I really like classic Gothic horror, like Rebecca or Woman in White, so this month I was on the lookout for material like that. Creepy atmosphere with a dose of mystery. I can't say I found anything spectacular, but I made an effort.

The Weird Sisters by Eleanor Brown

This one has been on my to-read list for a while now, but after reading a bunch of reviews, I went in with pretty low expectations. I was still intrigued by the heavy Shakespeare influence, but yeah, it's not necessarily one I recommend. The three sisters this book revolves around are all train wrecks, and I found I had little patience for the poor choices they'd all made. While there is a nice tidy dose of redemption in the end, and I did enjoy the Shakespeare stuff, this one is nothing special.

Monday, October 31, 2016

Small Joys

Happy Halloween folks!

It's been an exhausting month. This whole month has felt like sitting in one doctor's office after another. Probably because we averaged about two or three doctor's appointments a week. It was brutal, but thankfully all routine. I've just reached that lovely stage in the pregnancy where I get to see my doctor every two weeks instead of four, then there was that nasty gestational diabetes screening, plus an extra ultrasound, and weekly visits to a physical therapist for my back. Then there were a couple of appointments for the kids (well check-up, dentist, flu shot). Except for the one dentist appointment that was for him, I was able to schedule most of these appointments while my oldest was at Joy School, but I still had my little Henry as a tag along companion. Thankfully he's been pretty patient about all this doctor office stuff. We have the routine down. He sits in the corner in the stroller, munches on his snacks, and babbles quietly to himself while I get poked and prodded and whatever else. Oh boy, but I am ready to be done with doctors forever!

It's just been another long month where I desperately need to remind myself of the little things I'm grateful for.

First up?

1. Another year of literary-themed coordinated family Halloween costumes!

charlotte's web, costume, family themed Halloween, literary themed Halloween
I didn't think we were going to be able to pull it off this year, because Josh is finally old enough to have opinions about these things, and he's been rotating through suggestions since August (first he wanted to be a ghost, then he wanted to dress up as his cousin Kate...). But after we had such a positive experience reading Charlotte's Web last month, I asked if he would like to dress up as Wilbur, and he was thrilled at the idea! So we quickly assigned the role of Charlotte to Henry, Farmer Zuckerman to my husband, and I got to be the Web (well, really, the baby bump got to be the web, I was just the blank canvas). We'll see what happens next year, but I really get a serious amount of joy out of literary family themed costumes. It's just the best.

And just for funsies, here's a montage of all of our literary family themes from the past few years:

Literary Themed Costumes, Halloween Costumes, Family Costumes, Coordinated Costumes
2016: Charlotte's Web
2015: Curious George (the adults were H.A. and Margaret Rey, far too boring to be in the picture)
2014: Various Picture Books (Harold and the Purple Crayon, Very Hungry Caterpillar, Chicka-Chicka Boom Boom, and Ms. Frizzle)
2013: Not literary themed, therefore not included
2012: The Wizard of Oz (technically based off the movie, not the book, but too cute not to include)

2. New Glasses!

Black Glasses
You guys, it really is the small things in life. I've had my old glasses for about eight years now, and while the prescription was still accurate, they had definitely seen better days (the coating was beginning to scratch off the lenses, which made them a bit fuzzy to see out of). Usually I'm a contacts girl, but with this pregnancy... I just can't bring myself to bother. So I got myself to the eye doctor (oh year, another one of those appointments), got my prescription updated, and ordered this new pair online (a bit of an exercise in faith, considering I didn't try them on first). I love them so much! My husband is still adjusting to the new look (my other glasses weren't quite so... bold), but they are exactly what I wanted, and now I'm actually excited about being a glasses girl! (P.S. Don't judge this picture too harshly, I never take selfies, and wow, they are surprisingly difficult! I guess I just lack the coordination or amount of practice other people have, but it really takes some work to get a decent looking selfie, which I discovered when I tried to get this shot.)

3. An S.I. Belt. I mentioned earlier that I've been going to physical therapy for my back. I thought my favorite part of this experience was going to be the back massages, and while those were nice (except for the part where my back was so messed up that the massages actually left me feeling crippled with lactic acid release for the rest of the day), my favorite, favorite, favorite thing has been the S.I. belt my therapist had me get. I'm not sure what the S.I. stands for, but somehow this thing compresses my spine and hips back into shape enough that I can actually function now! I put this belt on first thing in the morning, and by the end of the day, after hauling my flailing and tantruming two-year old around and making dinner and doing dishes and bathtime and bedtime, I can still manage to stand on my feet (before at that point in the day I was pushing a chair around as a crutch or crawling on my hands and knees). This is not a pregnancy belt, it's used by all sorts of people with back issues, so if you have back pain, I highly suggest asking a doctor or physical therapist about getting one. It's been a miracle worker for me.

4. Solo Travel

Knoxville Tennessee Church Red Door

At the beginning of this month, I had the opportunity to present a paper at a conference in Knoxville TN. It was a very short trip (I flew in late Friday night, presented Saturday morning, then flew out early enough Sunday morning I was home in time for 9 AM church), but it was so fun! I presented on a panel (and shared a hotel room) with two of my friends from grad school, and while the conference itself was a great experience, the most fun part was getting to spend the afternoon wandering around Knoxville a bit. What an adorable little city! I really, really need to spend some more time here. Also, traveling without kids? AMAZING!

5. Halloween Decorations
 I know I already talked about these here, but it's so funny what an insane amount of joy my simple little decorations brought me. Halloween is still far from my favorite holiday, but even I get a lot of joy just participating and putting forth the effort to make things a little bit special. Not everything is worth the effort, but some things are.

What's brought you joy this month?

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Annie Dillard, Unseasonable Weather, and Letting Go of Ideals

Fall, leaf, branches

We still very much stress the simple fact of four seasons to schoolchildren; even the most modern of modern new teachers, who don't seem to care if their charges read or write or name two products of Peru, will still muster some season chitchat and set the kids to making paper pumpkins, or tulips, for the walls. "The people" wrote Van Gogh in a letter, "are very sensitive to the changing seasons." -Annie Dillard

Before I get around to addressing that quote, let me comment on the source for a minute. I've been reading Pilgrim at Tinker Creek by Annie Dillard for the past six weeks. Usually, it does not take me this long to read a book, especially one I love, but this book is a bit different. There's no plot to keep me grounded and engaged, but also, this is the type of book that I feel is best consumed by sampling and savoring in small doses. I'll sit down and read a section, and then just want to sort of sit and revel in how beautiful the language is, or the profound idea Dillard is exploring. She writes like Thoreau or some of those other Transcendentalists, all about nature and beauty and what we can learn from it. But yeah, it's taking me a while to get through it, and it's coming due this week for the last time, and even if I am able to renew I'm afraid I won't get through it any time soon. I feel like I'm just not at the right season for this book, when every time I sit down to read I find myself interrupted by the constant needs of two little boys. This may be a book to dip in and out of, but it's one that requires some attention and reflection, which a stream of constant interruptions doesn't really facilitate. I have this beautiful vision of me picking this book up again at some point in the future, when my children are old and grown, and I'm on a vacation retreat at some cabin in the mountains during the late fall, and I can sit out on the porch bundled up in thick quilts and look up from this book to contemplate the beauty of the nature Dillard writes about. Ahh, someday.

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Hand-Designed Highlight

As a graduation present for earning my bachelor's, my mother-in-law offered to buy me a sewing machine (my sister-in-law was graduating at the same time and that was the present she had requested). My husband and I looked at each other and just laughed. It was a super nice offer, but we both knew I would never use it. (We got a couch/love-seat set as a joint present instead, and trust me, that has gotten way more use than a sewing machine ever would have).

My own mother rolled her eyes when she heard I'd turned down the offer, because if she hadn't been a school teacher, she definitely would've been the type of stay-at-home mom that hand-made all her children's Halloween costumes. My mother dutifully taught me how to sew a straight line and make pillowcases and pajama pants and whatever other simple projects, but unfortunately the skill never really took hold. I can sew a button on just fine, but that is about it.

However, I have a few friends who not only know how to sew completely amazing things, they actually design their own patterns (and even fabric!). To say that they are talented is an understatement, and I'm completely blown away by the amazing stuff they can make (and maybe just a tiny bit jealous). Over the past few months, two of these ladies actually launched small businesses selling their products, and since I love to help a sister out, I thought I'd just take a moment to promote them in my small space, because I think what they are doing is amazing and I want to support them both any way I can.

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Recipe Files: The Best Cole Slaw Ever

cole slaw, recipe files

Growing up, I hated cole slaw. Actually, it was just the mayonnaise dressing on most cole slaws (or maybe Miracle Whip? I still can't stand Miracle Whip). It was too... too something. I don't even know. Slimey? Sweet? Just plain disgusting? I like cabbage, I like carrots, I just couldn't stand cole slaw.

Until I tried this recipe.

I found this recipe in a Rachel Ray magazine a few years ago (June 2012, just so I credit my sources as correctly as possible), and was intrigued to try it because it called for caraway seeds. I had a jar of caraway seeds sitting in my spice rack (a wedding present) that I had never once used, because honestly, how many recipes call for caraway seeds? So despite my reservations about cole slaw, I decided my caraway seeds deserved a chance to be used, and I tried this recipe out.


Thursday, October 13, 2016

Review: Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons

Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons Book Review

Conversations I've had with my four-year-old over the past few months:

Driving in the car, light turns green and I step on the gas.
Josh: Mom! I wasn't done reading that sign! You're supposed to wait till I sound out all the words!
Me: Sorry bud, I have to drive when it's time to drive.
Josh: But what did that sign say?!?!?
Me: I don't know. I didn't see what sign you were looking at.
Josh: Turn around! Drive back! I need to read it!
Me: Sorry kid. You'll just have to read it next time we drive by.

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Holiday Decorations: Discovering My Style

Let's talk about holiday decorations. Specifically Halloween decorations.

Okay, theoretically, I am 100% on board with holiday decorations. I'm all about anything that makes holidays more fun and magical for the kids, and decorations do a lot toward building ambiance and anticipation and all that.

But when it comes to actually paying money for decorations? I start to get all Scroogey and stingy, because holy cow this stuff gets expensive fast! And most of it is super kitschy or horrendous anyway (at least, the cheaper stuff is). And then there's that whole thing about these decorations only being used for a few weeks of the year, a month at most, and then they have to be stored for the rest of the year. The Marie-Kondo side of me (or the fact that we live in a rather small two bedroom apartment) simply abhors the thought of storing decorations.

The exception is Christmas. We have and store a decent and growing set of Christmas decorations because, well, because it's Christmas. I am thoroughly invested in growing my nativity collection, and we have tons of ornaments and sentimental keepsakes things that I am more than happy to store all year because Christmas is Christmas.

But every other holiday? Yeah, I basically have nothing, and then I feel a little bit guilty every year when these holidays roll around because it's like I'm being lame and grumpy and failing my children or something. But then when I go to the store with the express purpose of picking up some decorations, I just get depressed at the money being asked for such trivial and stupid things and buy nothing.

Thursday, October 6, 2016

Nonfiction That Has Changed Me

While thinking about our topic for the latest Book Blab, I started reviewing all the nonfiction books I've read over the last few years. If there has been any sort of change in my reading life from my adolescence to now, it's how much I read nonfiction. I was almost exclusively a fiction reader as a kid. Nonfiction just felt boring. Too textbooky or something.

But I LOVE reading nonfiction now. I don't know if it's because nonfiction has gotten better, or I've just woken up to the possibilities of this genre, but some of the best books I've read in recent years have been nonfiction. I just wanted to take a moment and highlight some of the most influential non-fiction books I've read over the last few years. I want to stress that this list does not represent all of my favorites or even the categorical best of the non-fiction I've read. I just realized that some of these books had been super influential in shaping me in some way, and I wanted to highlight them here. It's always a powerful thing when a book can actually change the way you think or act, and I would argue that all of these books have done that for me in some way.

Books That Were So Interesting They Blew My Mind

Born to Run  by Christopher McDougall

I believe I can safely credit this book with being the one to fully turn me on to non-fiction. I'd never read any book like this before, and I absolutely loved it. It was just so fascinating, and the writing was good! I'm not even a runner (and probably never will be, despite how close this book came to convincing me I should try), yet I couldn't put this book down. This was the book I told everyone about for months after reading it and forced on all my friends and family. It is a good one.

Monday, October 3, 2016

Books I Read in September

So, September started off pretty rough in the reading department. I had some major bungles with my library holds list. One book turned out to be in Spanish, and unfortunately I cannot read or speak Spanish (nothing about the listing online revealed it was the Spanish version, so that was just annoying). Then the next book to come in turned out to be an abridged adolescent version of a book I was anxiously waiting for. That was just an oversight on my part. Needless to say, I'm not interested in the abridged version, so back that one went to the library, and back to the bottom of the holds list the real title goes.

And then, nothing else came off my holds list for almost the entire month! So I found myself scrounging quite a bit. It felt like I was always in need of something to read (or listen to), and always low on options. But I still managed to squeeze in seven books, and that's not a terrible month for me at all, so not all was lost. Here we go.

Anne of Avonlea  by L.M. Montgomery

After enjoying my return to Anne of Green Gables so much last month, I decided to continue on with the series. And really, this one just feels like an extension of Green Gables for me anyway. Anne's a little bit older, but still gets into plenty of memorable scrapes. And the whole little romance at the end was just perfect. Such a perfect sequel.

Saturday, October 1, 2016

The Book Blab: Reading for Learning (Episode 9 and Show Notes)

Hey guys! Welcome to The Book Blab Episode 9! We're still figuring out a new groove switching up platforms here, but Amy and I filmed this a few days ago (when it was still September), and I'm happy to be posting this fun episode today. Show notes below!

Show notes:
0:20 - September marks the beginning of a new school year
1:36 - Today's topic: Reading for educational purposes
2:06 - Reading for pleasure vs. reading for information 
3:39 - Pew survey says parents of small children do the more informational reading than non parents
5:35 - If presented in the right way, nonfiction can be just as riveting as fiction
6:15 - A few examples of books that satisfied a specific educational need
7:30 - Biographies vs. memoirs
8:58 - Self-help books 
9:52 - Fictional reading can be educational, too
11:10 - Classic and historical fiction novels are a great way to learn about history
12:52 - The value of writing about literature in a critical way
16:28 - Why there can be educational value to "cotton candy" books
17:45 - The subtle way fiction can actually help you be a better parent, spouse, human etc. and expand your perspective
19:45 - Use reading goals to tackle topics you want to learn more about
21:47 - Two books that helped us learn something new
  • 22:06 - Suzanne's recommendation
  • 25:38 - Amy's recommendation
28:27 - Conclusion 

Books and links mentioned in the show:

A Disciple's Life: The Biography of Neal A. Maxwell by Bruce C. Hafen (Amy's review)
Beethoven by Maynard Solomon (Amy's review)
Baby-led Weaning by Gill Rapley (Amy's review)  
Better than Before by Gretchen Rubin (Amy's reviewSuzanne's review)
A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens (Amy's review)
War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy (Suzanne's mentions it in this post)
Johnny Tremain by Esther Forbes
Rifles for Watie by Harold Keith
Little Men by Louisa May Alcott (Amy's review)
Middlemarch by George Elliot (Amy's review)
Reading goals (Amy'sSuzanne's)
Being Mortal by Atul Gawande (Suzanne's reviewAmy's review)
Honey for a Child's Heart by Gladys Hunt (Amy's review)

Thursday, September 29, 2016

Small Joys

Puffin in Bloom Box Set, books and flowers

I feel like my first trimester nastiness pushed right up to the half-way point of this pregnancy, and then I had a bout of second trimester relief, when things felt like they were getting better, and I might not actually hate being pregnant so much, and we could get out of the house, and I had energy and could do things and there was hope. That lasted all of two weeks, and then third trimester miserableness hit and hit hard this month (never mind I won't officially be in the third trimester for three more weeks, these pregnancy hormones don't care for rules like that). Exhaustion, back pain, swelling, leg cramps, heartburn, exhaustion, and more back pain. I just... do I really have three and a half more months of this? Really?

So before I spiral back down into my well of self-pity, let me count my blessings again and remind myself that life is actually very good. Very, very good. Here are my small joys for September.

Monday, September 26, 2016

How To Throw A Literary Themed 30th Birthday Party

Step 1: Make it a mid-year resolution, commit the goal to paper, or it will never be anything more than a pipe dream.

Gatsby party, goodbye roaring 20s, hello 30

Step 2: Enlist the help of a friend with a vision. Steal her vision, because yours is hazy and probably unrealistic. Besides, hers involves a literary theme that's awesome for a party and perfect for your bookish tastes. It doesn't matter if you don't actually like the book in question, there is nothing better than a Great Gatsby party. Also, party planning is way more fun with a friend you can spend hours drooling over Pinterest with, instead of making all these decisions by yourself.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Birthday Eve

white hydrangea, flowers, birthday eve, vase

When my husband and I first started dating ten years ago (!), one of the ice-breaker-get-know-you questions we asked each other was "What age do you feel like you are?" At twenty-one, my (then-future) husband admitted that he still thought of himself as a seventeen year-old. And in so many ways, that is his age-at-heart. He's just a big kid who loves to play games and have fun and be care-free.

Which is a nice balance, because despite being a freshly-minted twenty-year-old, I told him at the time that I'd always felt more like a thirty-year-old. And in many ways, that was pretty accurate. I've always been a bit of an old soul, more comfortable around adults as a teenager than my own peers, more responsible or mature than others. And the older and older I've gotten, the more and more comfortable I've felt in my own skin.

So it's actually a very nice feeling that tomorrow, my outside age will finally match my age-at-heart. Yep, I'm turning thirty!

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Recipe Files: Broccoli Quinoa Salad

broccoli quinoa salad recipes

Oh, look, another recipe. I'm not sure how many more of these I'm going to post, but the more I go through my files, the more recipes I realize are missing from my Pinterest archive (including some of my paper recipes that I would really like to transfer online). So there may be more, but I'll try to spread them out.

Okay, I know that picture doesn't look super appetizing, but you're just going to have to trust me when I say that this is one of my favorite salads of all time. While it's technically not 100% vegetarian (I suppose you could omit the bacon bits, but then, you'd be omitting the bacon bits), it's still packed with other super healthy high nutrient foods (and a little sugar in the dressing, but you know, whatever).

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Two Traits of Fictional Teenage Boys that Really Bother Me (or, Never Send Your Boys to Boarding School)

Okay, so, it's come up before. Of all the categories of human beings in the world, I find teenage boys to be the least... likable. In middle school and high school, I mostly just tried to ignore them. Individually there were some nice ones, but as a group they seemed incredibly stupid, so I figured they just generally weren't worth my time. Even after falling madly in love with my husband, I was appalled by stories of his high school self, and I've told him repeatedly it was a very good thing I never knew him as a teenager, because I'm not sure I could've gotten over it (in all fairness, the feeling would've been mutual had he met my own awkward, snobbish, overly-opinionated teenage self).

Books have done little to help me overcome my distaste for the male adolescent portion of our species. It's a bit funny, because I'm actually quite capable of swooning with the best of them if the story is told from the perspective of a teenage girl and the male adolescent in question happens to be the handsome and charming nice guy in love with her (oh, Gilbert Blythe, I would've forgiven you for calling me "Carrots!"). But if the main character is a teenage boy himself, and the book tends to dwell in any measure on the inner-workings of his adolescent mind... it just gets depressing so fast. To support my arguments, I present the following evidence:

Monday, September 12, 2016

Recipe Files: Cilantro Lime Sweet Potato and Black Beans

sweet potato, black beans, lime, cilantro, recipe

As promised at the end of my last post, here is the first of my vegetarian recipes that I need to update my Pinterest recipe archive (since I'm weaning myself off paper recipes). Also as promised, the amateur food photography (but Pinterest does require a photo for pinning).

I don't really expect anyone else to care, but a note about this recipe just in case. I love this dish so much. It combines my two favorite foods (sweet potato and black beans) with the stellar flavors of lime and cilantro. It's beyond delicious. It's also super easy to pull together. The original recipe source I got this from (no longer available to link to, unfortunately) called this a side, but I treat it like a main dish. My favorite is to serve it with a tomato/avocado salad-- a perfect meal in every way, except there are never enough leftovers.

Thursday, September 8, 2016

More Thoughts on Food: On Being Mostly Vegetarian

Avocado Toast, Cucumber/Tomato Salad, Pickled Beet Salad

A little over a year ago I wrote a post all about my complex feelings around food, plus a reading list. Well, recently I've been diving a (very little) bit into my next book club book: How Not to Die: Discover the Foods Scientifically Proven to Prevent and Reverse Disease by Dr. Michael Gregor. Perhaps I should wait until I actually finish the book before writing on the topic, but even the little bit I've read has dragged up so many of my foodie issues. That, and the fact that I'm finally (finally!) able to eat a little bit more normally, means that food is on the brain, and so here I am, writing about it all over again.

In that post last year, I mentioned my anxiety over choosing a healthy, daily diet for my family. I'm a fairly avid blog reader, I follow all sorts of cooking blogs as well as "lifestyle" blogs, and I tend to get super anxious when I read about other people's super committed diets to Paleo, or Whole30, or Extreme Raw Veganism, or whatever. But I'm becoming more and more confident in the pattern our daily family diet is developing. Using extremely unscientific methods such as experimentation, trial and error, gut instinct, and a smattering of what is probably biased research, I've decided that the best overall diet for our family (re: my shopping and cooking style), is to be about 90% vegetarians. We will never, ever be 100% vegetarians because: bacon. Also, barbecue. (And we will never, ever be vegan because: cheese).

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Being Mortal: A Review and Thoughts

I think I added this book to my library holds queue after I finished When Breathe Becomes Air because I was all like "I need more books about dying written by doctors!" Okay, so Atul Gawande is not actually facing/reflecting on his own imminent death, nor is this a poetic tribute to what it means to be alive. This one is much more straight fact nonfiction.

But it's still very well written, incredibly interesting, and a very important read. To give a brief summary, Gawande realizes at some point in his career that he, as a doctor, and the modern medical profession as a whole, really don't know how to face death. To modern medicine, death is a failure, death is to be avoided at all cost, whatever cost. There is always another treatment, always another surgery, always another experimental drug, and never a way to tell patients they are going to die. And yet, we all die, we are all still mortal. So Gawande sets out to explore what death means in this modern medical environment, and how best to go about the medicalized process of dying. The first part of this book focuses on aging and the medical practice of geriatrics, while the second half focuses on the medical journeys of people with terminal illnesses.

So, this is a super depressing book. It's not fun to think about death, or even just growing older. In fact, my husband kept asking me why I was reading this book because I would complain to him every night about all the discouraging and depressing things I was reading, and my answer was, "It feels important. It feels like something we should all be thinking about a little bit more."

Thursday, September 1, 2016

Books I Read in August

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child

You guys, if there is any other proof needed that I have finally turned a corner in this pregnancy and I'm starting to get my groove back, it's the fact that I read EIGHT books last month. That's slightly less than two a week! Considering I've only been managing a paltry average of three books for the past few months, this is a definite uptick for me. Might even be a record. There were some good ones, some fabulous ones, and some just okay ones. Let's dive in.

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Small Joys

This post last month was really good for me, just to write out the things I'm grateful for or that are going positive in my life, so I've decided to make this "Small Joys" post a monthly series for a while to help me be thinking more positively (because otherwise, I'm very prone to wallow in my usual pregnancy doom-and-gloom frame of mind, where everything about life is just terrible). So let's dive in to some of my small joys from the month of August.

-Okay, this first one is actually not a small joy, but a HUGE, GIGANTIC, LIFE JOY. If you missed my announcement on Instagram or when Amy brought it up in our last Book Blab... I'm having a GIRL! I was so surprised when the ultrasound tech told us she thought it was a girl (and honestly, I'm still a bit nervous that in a future ultrasound, or worse, on the delivery day, they're going to come back and say, "Just kidding! We were wrong. It's a boy after all!"), because mentally I was very prepared for boy #3. Somehow the vision of three little boys just seemed to make sense, and I was fine with that. We have all the boys clothes, I know what to do with boys, so we were just looking forward to having another little boy. But then! It was a girl! And we were all so thrilled and excited (and then half a minute later I started panicking, because, we have zero girls clothes! And now I'm going to have to figure out how to style girl toddler hair! And how do you raise a girl?!). Anyway, I'm super, super excited.

Monday, August 29, 2016

The Book Blab: The Pros and Cons of Book Ratings (Episode 8 with Show Notes)

Oh hey! Here it is, Episode 8 of The Book Blab. Now that the Blab platform is officially dead (RIP, although I guess we're still keeping our name, for now), we experimented with Google Hangout on Air. There's no split screen here, which is super annoying, but at least it worked and our show lives for another month! This was a fun topic for us, and I hope you enjoy! Show notes below.

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Big Magic: Review and Thoughts

Oh, hey, if you came by today looking for that Book Blab live stream I promised you, well, it's not happening today. A combination of technical difficulties (like the entire Blab social media platform being dissolved... ugh, technology!) and scheduling conflicts means we are regrouping. But we're still excited about this episode, so we'll figure something out and get it posted in the near future. Keep an eye out.

So, remember when I made that goal to start writing a book this year? Well, in preparation, I decided to read some motivational/inspiring/instructive books on writing. I started off with Elizabeth Gilbert's book Big Magic, which came out last year, I think?

Now, here's where I confess that I've not read anything else by Gilbert. I never read Eat, Pray, Love, and I suspect I wouldn't like it if I ever did read it. In fact, I suspect I wouldn't really like any of her other novels and I don't have plans to read them.

But  Big Magic? I totally loved. Yes, it's a bit woo-woo and probably not for everyone. But while I didn't agree with everything, I agreed with so much of Gilbert's advice that I found myself wishing I had the paper copy of the book (I listened to it on audio) so I could highlight or copy out quotes.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Back to School (or... Not)

Home School Preschool, No Preschool,

Around here, most kids went back to school yesterday. If I hadn't graduated in May (and decided to take a year off before plunging into that Ph. D. thing), I'd have started school yesterday too.

But this is a special year for us. This is the last year for a long, long time when nobody in our family is going "back to school," at least in a super formal sense.

My oldest, Josh, will start kindergarten next year, but he is not doing a formal pre-school or pre-K program this year. Apparently, this is unusual. In fact, Josh is the only kid among friends his age in our area that is not enrolled in a formal preschool program. The culture in our city/area seems to have normalized formal preschool as an expected part of every child's experience, even though it is not offered as part of the free public school system. It doesn't matter, every kid does preschool. It's just what you do.

I personally find this baffling, because I did not grow up going to formal preschool, nor do I think did many of my friends. And, well, I turned out just fine academically, so I never really planned  on or expected my own children to attend a formal preschool. But when your kid is the only one of his friends NOT going to preschool, you better believe I felt the pressure and anxiety of this choice. Was I doing it wrong? Was my child going to miss out?

Friday, August 19, 2016

My Career Path (Part 2): Divine Intervention

If you didn't read my last post (Part 1), I recommend you read that first, or parts of this one might not make much sense.

Photo Cred: Josh age 4.5

Besides English teacher, the one other career I briefly considered as a teenager was "writer." After all, I really, really, really enjoyed writing (filled up all sorts of notebooks with my stories and poems and essays, I'm sure it was all just amazing stuff that really deserves to be published... *cough, cough*). But I was far too practical and sensible a person to actually seriously entertain this as a possible career. Because, I mean, what's the career path? How do you "become" a writer? It's not exactly something you can plan: First, I will go to school and get my degree in English, then I will write the next Great American Novel, then I will get paid enough to support myself... yeah, it doesn't work that way. Life is unpredictable, and I wanted to make sure I had some marketable skill that could earn a decently stable income to support myself (I should note, high school Suzanne did NOT expect to get married at the tender age of 21). So "writer" was out (but it does make a fabulous hobby, and I'm not opposed to turning this into a marketable skill that gets financial compensation some day... I'm just never going to rely on it for my bread and butter).

But do you want to know what other career path I rejected as a high-schooler? Academia.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

My Career Path (Part 1): Unexpected Turns and Surprise Satisfaction

Career Path
Photo Cred: Josh age 4.5

Do you remember those career aptitude tests they used to make you take in high school? The ones that were supposed to gauge your interests and personality and skills and help guide you into a career that would be a good fit? I remember getting wildly different results on every test I took. One told me I would make a good clergyman (um, okay), and another told me I should try anthropology (I had no clue what that meant in high school).

But I didn't care what any of those tests told me. I knew exactly what I wanted from my life's work, and I knew what career was going to give that to me. First, I knew I wanted a job that had to do with reading and writing. Second, I knew I wanted a job that needed creativity, that would be interesting and engaging and allow the chance for growth and new changes. And finally (and perhaps most importantly), I wanted a career that was meaningful. I wanted to help other people, make an impact, serve in some way that benefited the world around me.

So logically, there was only one option. I was going to be an English teacher.

Thursday, August 11, 2016

Olympic Stories

You guys, the Olympics is seriously cutting into my reading time these days. Honestly, it's cutting into my everything time. I race to get my kids in bed as quickly as possible and then just plop on the couch and do nothing for the rest of the evening but watch the prime time coverage. It's such an addiction, but I can't help myself. (Also, it's becoming a bit of a pregnancy tradition, considering I was pregnant with Henry during the last Winter Olympics and did nothing but sit and watch and groan with nausea during every commercial involving food. My goal for the next Olympics? NOT be pregnant. It's a bit depressing watching people performing at their physical peak while I'm at my physical low point.)

But speaking of my reading life, I had every intention of doing some appropriate theme reading during this Olympics. Alas, I'm still three people away on the waiting list at my library for The Boys in the Boat, so I likely won't be getting around to that until some time next month (it's so difficult to time library wait lists). So I thought I'd look around and see what else the reading world had to offer on the Olympic theme.

Honestly? It's a bit uninspiring.

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Meditation vs. Relaxation

Way back in 2013 I read The Willpower Instinct by Kelly McGonigal. As with most such nonfiction books, I remember it being truly fascinating and thoroughly enjoyable at the time, but have since forgotten most of the content. The one thing that has stuck with me from that book was the discussion about meditation. I don't remember any details of the studies or the specific benefits or whatever, other than the general idea that meditation is inexplicably but undeniably beneficial for your brain, your self-control, and all sorts of other things.

I remember vowing that I was going to make meditation a daily part of my life. The idea of meditation really appeals to me, as do all of the purported benefits of regularly practicing meditation.

But, enter motherhood, and a couple debilitating pregnancies, and that whole earning a master's degree thing, and general sleep deprivation, and a busy life... and, well, this is a habit that has yet to become a really ingrained practice in my life.

But the busy life part is just an excuse. My real problem is that I'm just not exactly sure how to meditate. The (very little) reading I've done on it has given some idea that there are many, many different ways to approach meditation, so I kind of assume that I just need to figure out what works best for me and stick with that. But the few times I've taken a stab at developing a meditation habit, I find that whatever I'm trying feels silly, or ineffective, or way too hard to keep my focus, or just makes me fall asleep, and that makes me feel like I'm doing it wrong.

Friday, August 5, 2016

The Magic of Learning to Read

Learning to Read

When I was in high school, my mom taught at the elementary school just across the street. Along with being a second grade teacher, she was the staff reading specialist at her school in charge of recruiting and training volunteer reading tutors, so often during my lunch breaks I would walk over to her school and tutor the little first graders who were falling behind their class mates in reading.

It was a pretty magical experience for me, watching those struggling kids finally sound out a word, or read a sentence for the first time. It was that look in their face, that "aha!" moment when things clicked together and those mysterious black strokes on the page suddenly turned into sounds with meaning. That tutoring experience was one of the big reasons I wanted to become a teacher myself.

But despite having a reading specialist mother, and despite being an early and avid reader myself, and despite my education and teaching background, (or maybe because of all these things) I was determined not to force reading lessons on my own children before they were ready. I absolutely 100% adhere to the school of thought that the preschool years should be all play and exploration and imagination, not academics. If they don't learn to read until 1st grade (or later), well, so be it. They'll figure it out eventually. My main goal with reading and my children is making sure it's always a pleasure, always something they want to do for fun. The longer I can put off tedious phonetics lessons or assigned reading "homework," the better. Right now I'm content to just read aloud to them as often as they will let me.

Monday, August 1, 2016

Books I Read in July

Well, I'm a bit disappointed that I only finished three books this month. I had hoped to start feeling better and pick up my pace this month, but such was not the case. I mean, I did start feeling better, but then got sick again (with a cold), and I'd just rather sleep than read when I don't feel well. I'm still in the middle of a couple of longer books that hopefully I'll get finished in August (slow and steady wins the race).

Anyway, here's what I did finish.

Red Queen by Victoria Aveyard

I read this one for my local book club, otherwise I don't think I would've picked it up. I'm just feeling a little too saturated on the dystopian YA trilogy thing. Look, if you love books like Hunger Games and Divergent, you'll likely enjoy this series as well. It's got all the elements: really messed up and oppressive futuristic power structure, strong female lead who ends up being "special" and in the perfect position to lead a revolution, and a love triangle where everyone is pretty inexplicably in love with said heroine who is otherwise completely average in every way. It was engaging and kept me hooked until the end, and I did not see the twist coming, but I don't feel the need to read the next one. At least not yet. I need a break from this genre.

Peaceful Parent, Happy Kids by Dr. Laura Markham

Still processing and thinking about and implementing this one, and kind of amazed what it's doing for my parenting. Only good things, I think. Read my full review here.

The Marvels by Brian Selznick

This was my first Selznick book, and I really enjoyed it. Modern Mrs. Darcy recommended this one to Amy on her podcast earlier last month, so when I happened to see it on the shelf during a quick trip to the library, I grabbed it. Despite it's size, it was a quick read, only took a couple hours or so, and I found it delightful. I loved the two different stories, one in pictures, one in text, and how they intertwined, and the blurring of the lines between reality and fiction. It was very well done.

And now, for one book I did NOT finish, (and was the inspiration for this post, where you guys really came through in the comments and taught me what I was missing in my Goodreads tracking!)

Enna Burning by Shannon Hale

I really enjoyed Goose Girl, so I was more than happy to add the second book in this series to my reading list. I read some reviews that it started off a little bit slow, so I was prepared for that, but oh man. It was rough. I really gave it a shot, I probably got about half-way through the book before realizing I just wasn't enjoying it enough to put the effort into it. I don't know, Hale's magic touch just wasn't there in this one. Maybe if I'd stuck it out to the end, but it just wasn't worth the effort for me.