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)