Thursday, June 15, 2017

What It Means to Be a "Reader": Does Nonfiction Count?

Look, I love nonfiction. Nonfiction books can be amazing and informative and fascinating and gripping and wonderful. We did a whole Book Blab episode on all our favorite nonfiction books. Nonfiction is amazing, and I love reading good nonfiction books.


When someone asks me my what my favorite book is (impossible question) the answer is always and forever going to be a novel. A fictional story. That's where my true love lies. To me, literature is fiction. I remember reading a quote somewhere (no idea where, so sorry I can't cite a source) about how even the word "nonfiction" sounds like an apology, denoting its inferiority. It doesn't get it's own word, it is identified simply as being not-fiction. Because obviously, fiction is the best.

So when I took my "Teaching Reading" course in college, and the professor talked about how many (maybe even most) people prefer reading nonfiction, I couldn't really believe it. Who are these people? I didn't know anyone who actually preferred nonfiction over fiction. How could I even begin to understand someone like that?

Well, over the past few months, I've slowly been coming to terms with the fact that my oldest child is probably one of those people. Here's the evidence.

1. He picked an easy reader book out at the library called The Adventures of BB8 that he absolutely loved, not because he knows or cares anything about Star Wars or the story, but because the book told a fictional story in a nonfiction format. Every page contained it's own heading, and every other page or so contained informational graphics like all the categories of different droids, or diagramming a starship, or something like that. He was the most fascinated with the Table of Contents, and ever since reading this book, all of the stories he's written on the computer have contained detailed Table of Contents, including notes for indexes and glossaries. I've never met another five-year-old who does this.

2. He was recently gifted a book about space, which he loves, but he tends to ignore the main text and focus on all the captions and factoids presented in bubbles. He's apparently really drawn to the visual layout and bite-size break up of text presented in these kinds of texts.

3. And, the most compelling piece of evidence by far is the absolute love and devotion he's shown for his favorite book of all time: Maps. I mentioned how cool this book was when we got it last year, and here's a picture of it (from last year):

Then my son got super interested in geography, and this became his new favorite book, and one year later, this is what the map book looks like today:

Yeah, it's been taped back together so many times, the spine doesn't actually exist anymore. We really just need to bite the bullet and get another copy of this book, but I'm waiting until his geography obsession abates a little so our next copy has a chance of being enjoyed by the younger children.

Anyway, the point is, my kid's favorite book is about maps. Geography. Nonfiction that is light of narrative text. I'm not denying this isn't a cool book (it is a super cool book, and deserves to be obsessed over), I'm just saying that at no point in my childhood was my favorite book about maps. Stories? Yes. Maps? No.

And it's totally, totally cool that my kid likes nonfiction books, or at least books that present bits of information alongside graphics. These are great books. It's just that when I think about people who I would define as "readers" (and I want my children to grow up to be defined as "readers"), they read fiction. Novels. And as children, they read and devoured all that wonderful children's literature. They love stories. That's what a reader is to me.

My son does enjoy stories (remember this?). He willingly participates in our nightly read-aloud sessions, and he'll sit and read both picture books and chapter books on his own, but he reserves his passion and enthusiasm for these nonfiction books. And I'm trying to tell myself this is okay. Right?

Do you count as a "reader" if the books you pour over are maps?

I actually think this was one of the things my college professor was trying to teach us English-major-avid-reader teachers-in-training, that we needed to re-frame how we defined what a "reader" was. Kids who read informational texts are "readers." Kids who read graphic novels are "readers." My kid is a "reader."

He may not love the same books I loved as a kid, or love fiction the way I love fiction, but he still loves books, and I will encourage a love of books and reading in any form it comes. When it comes to family read-alouds, I will always choose fictional novels, because everyone deserves to be exposed to classic children's literature. But when it comes to his own personal reading, he'll always be allowed to read his choice.

And if that's nonfiction, that's wonderful.

Monday, June 12, 2017

My 5 Guidelines for Upsizing Minimally (or We Bought a House!)

No, this is not the house we bought. This is just a picture of Boone Hall Plantation outside Charleston, because every post is better with a picture.
So I mentioned this a couple of posts ago, but we bought a house. It closed last week so we are officially homeowners! The story of how we got this house is a whole thing, and I'll tell you that story some time, but today I've got other things on my mind.

Just over a year ago, I wrote a post considering the pros and cons of small living vs. more space. At the time, we were a family of four living in a smallish two bedroom city apartment, and I honestly felt like we were in a good spot space-wise. After majorly decluttering our stuff, I felt really comfortable in our place. We were living a comparatively minimalist lifestyle, and our "stuff" was under control. It felt good. Also, minimalism and small living is totally hip right now, and I liked considering myself one of the cool kids being counter-cultural and all.

But then we had another baby, and somehow things just started feeling cramped. She slept in our room, but all of her stuff and accouterments didn't have a real home. Her clothes stayed in baskets that rotated spots throughout the house, we were constantly tripping over her swing and boppy and Bumbo chair that seemed to live in the middle of the floor, and it just would've taken some major reconfiguration of our space to get her to fit in long-term. I started pining for more space.

Around this time, we started house-hunting for our move to Kansas. Based on our financial situation, we'd set a price range we were comfortable with and that we felt would get us a modest home, but I was surprised once we started looking at just how much house we could actually get in our price range (the Midwest, you guys, cost of living is sweet!). And once you know you can afford something bigger, it's kind of hard to hold back and stay small (especially when you're already daydreaming about more space).

So the house we got is more than double the size of our apartment in Houston. It wasn't the largest house we looked at or could afford, and it certainly isn't any McMansion, but it's still so much more space than we've ever lived in before. In fact, it's bigger than anything I've ever lived in before, including the house I grew up in.

At first, I was just giddily excited. The baby gets her own nursery! I get a home office! There are more than three drawers in the kitchen!

But then we started to make lists of all the things we would need to buy to live comfortably in this house. And the lists just kept growing and growing. This whole week it feels like we've been doing nothing but shopping: furniture stores and hardware stores, Walmart and Target and Ikea, and let's not forget the hours and hours online scouring Wayfair and Overstock and Amazon (and Craigslist, but you guys, scoring deals on Craigslist is an art form I do not have the skills, or patience, for). Going from renting to buying any size house comes with it's necessary purchases: washers and dryers and lawn mowers and hoses and all those things you're not responsible for when you rent. But then there's also all the furniture we need for these new rooms, and all these home improvement projects we're already trying to tackle (new carpet! new paint!). It feels like the list is endless.

And with every swipe of the credit card, my old anxiety flares up about all this stuff we are accumulating. It is so much stuff in so little time that it just feels overwhelming. There is so much stuff that part of me just wants to call the whole thing off. Let's just find an apartment and keep renting, keep living our minimal lifestyle, keep things small and simple so we never have to worry about replacing a roof or fixing the water heater or whatever million possible hassles we could face as homeowners.

But another part of me is still deeply excited by this new responsibility. Yes, this is a big house, and we will need to accumulate some more stuff to live comfortably here. Yes, there will be things to fix and a lot of work and a lot of money to keep it up. But this house is ours. It is part of this whole family thing that we are building together. It is a space that will give us room to grow and work and dream and build together as a family. Owning a home is an act of creation. We have here an empty canvas upon which we will create, decorate, design, build, work, clean, fix, arrange, and make it more beautiful. And we will do it as a family. I'm excited about this.

So while everyone else on the internet may be throwing up the virtues of downsizing and going minimal, we're upsizing. But there's still a huge part of me that will always feel drawn to a more minimal lifestyle, and so I'm working on creating some guidelines for myself on how to approach our accumulation of stuff. Here's what I've come up with so far.

1. Only buy what we need to live here comfortably. Just because we have more space doesn't mean we have to fill it to the brim. But we still want to make this extra space usable in the most effective way.

2. Take it slowly and be fiscally responsible. There are some things that we have to buy right away (like a lawn mower, washer and dryer, etc.), and some purchases we've budgeted for (like a new office desk and chairs), but other things we can wait on, like furniture for the front room, patio furniture, or decor items to fill up all this new wall space. We have some ideas of what we want to get, but we don't need them right away, so we'll wait until we've saved up or find the perfect item. This means things might look bare for a while, but I'm trying to be okay with that.

3. Buy less at a higher quality. We could buy a bunch of cheap furniture and decor to fill up the space, or we can buy fewer things that are slightly higher in quality. We're actually trying to take this approach when it comes to our home improvement projects too. There are a couple of rooms where I want to rip out the carpet and replace with a hard surface of some kind, but we decided to hold off on that right now and save up until we can afford to put in flooring that matches the hardwood already in the kitchen and dining area. We could've gone with a cheaper laminate or composite wood option, but hopefully by saving up and putting in higher quality flooring that matches through the whole house, it will increase the value of the home and help with resale.

4. Buy for joy and beauty. I never want to own more than I need, but I'm also giving myself permission to buy things that make our space beautiful or that make us happy (as long as it's in the budget).

5. Keep perspective and don't get attached. Just because we have the space now doesn't mean we will in the future. Should life ever throw us a curve ball, I want to be able to let all this stuff and space go and be able to downsize again. Maybe easier said than done, but I can try.

So, any other suggestions or nuggets of wisdom to share about how to upsize gracefully? I'd love to hear! I'm still feeling quite a bit of anxiety over all of this change, so advice is appreciated.

Also, you better believe there will be pictures coming, probably even whole before-and-after montages (I am the girl who posts about my over-thinking of holiday decorations, after all). But like I said, we'll be taking it slowly. We don't move in officially till next week (when the carpets are finished and they can ship our stuff to us from storage), and then we'll be drowning in boxes and chaos for a while, so don't expect anything soon.

But do get excited to hear the dramatic story of how we bought our house, complete with bidding wars, a private jet ride, and all the stress and anxiety of buying a house I hadn't actually seen!

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Travel Log: Charleston S.C.

trees, road
Okay, I know, this is not a travel blog. But sometimes when you go somewhere completely wonderful, you just need a place to share (a fraction) of the beautiful pictures you took.

Here's how the story went. On Thursday (May 18th) the movers showed up to pack up all our stuff (well, all the stuff we hadn't already packed ourselves). On Friday the moving truck rolled out taking the vast majority of our possessions to a lonely storage unit. And on Saturday Miss Lily and I boarded a plane (her first time!) to Charleston S.C., bidding farewell to our boys for a week, and to Houston forever.

This trip to Charleston was a fun girls trip with my mother-in-law and three sister-in-laws to celebrate my mother-in-law's significant birthday this year (out of deference to her, the specific number of this significant birthday will remain unnamed). I can't remember who picked this location (Evy?) but I will say that before this trip, I was only vaguely aware that Charleston even existed, and had completely zero life plans to ever visit. But oh, my, goodness! Am I ever glad I got the chance! I had no idea that any city with this level of charm existed outside of Europe. Basically, the entire city is one picturesque photo opportunity. There was just not an ugly place to aim my camera. So, ready for a few pictures? Here they come!

Thursday, June 1, 2017

Books I Read in May

You guys, I'm not positive, but I think I've hit a new all time low as far as books finished in a single month. At the end of last month I was in the middle of two books I was really enjoying, and in the entire month of May I managed to finish one of them! ONE! SINGLE! BOOK! In the whole month!

This is so embarrassing.

I've been scratching my head and trying to figure out why it was such a bad reading month, and the truth is, I'm just not sure. But here are some possible theories. First, it was a busy month. We bought a house (more on that later). We had a flurry of good-bye parties and social engagements. We packed up our apartment and moved to a new state (moving is the. worst. thing. ever!). And I spent the last week traveling. So things were pretty busy.

But I've had busy months before, and still managed to fit in a little more reading time, so I'm trying to figure out what else accounts for the slump. I was especially looking forward to the travel time, because I had five separate plane flights in which to read, and I thought for sure I was going to knock out some books there. But then, I was traveling solo with a lap baby who needed lots of attention on all those flights, so I think I ended up getting a total of thirty minutes of reading done in the air.

Honestly, I think that sweet baby is the major culprit for most of the reading slump. She has become extremely efficient on the nursing front. We're down to about five minutes a session which is barely long enough for me to check my phone before she's demanding to be burped and on with her day. So that precious reading time is all but gone. And I was trying to remember when I used to read, before nursing when there were just the two kids. I remember I used to read in the afternoons and listen to audio books while doing the dishes. Somehow, with three kids, that time just doesn't seem to exist anymore (not that there aren't still dishes to be done, it's just my husband seems to be doing them more because I'm occupied with one or the other of my needy children).

I think the real problem is that we just haven't settled into a good routine yet. The baby's nap schedule is still all over the place, so my days just aren't predictable right now. And then of course, we moved. Nothing more disruptive to one's routine than packing up and moving. Without my solid routine in place, I'm struggling to find my reading time. It doesn't help that I'm just exhausted all the time (once again, the baby's fault, I just can't get her to drop that pesky 4 AM feeding) and I'm in this brain-foggy place that makes focusing and mental activity (like reading) difficult.

Anyway, it's probably a combination of all these things. Hopefully this next month is better. Now, without further ado, let's get around to talking about that one solitary little book I finished. At least it was a really good one.

The Boys in the Boat by Daniel James Brown

In my further defense, this was quite a long book. But you guys, it's totally worth all the hype. This really was such a good book. I can't count how many times I've heard it compared to Unbroken, with most people saying that Unbroken is better. And yeah, when one is the story of a guy who nearly dies in a plane wreck at sea only to be rescued by the Japanese enemy and sent to a POW torture camp, the story of nine college boys who win an Olympic medal seems tame by comparison. But I think I fall on the side of people who think that this book is actually better (not that it has to be a comparison, they are both extremely good). At the very least, I found this to be a more enjoyable reading experience, because it was so inspiring and uplifting (whereas Unbroken was quite a depressing slog for most of it). Brown is an extremely talented writer. I was just amazed at his ability to imbue these rowing races with drama. I was on the edge of my seat through every single race description, especially the final one when I knew the outcome! It was just really, really good writing, and a very inspiring story. I highly recommend.

Have you read it? Agree or disagree about the comparison to Unbroken? Any other thoughts?

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

The Book Blab Episode 13: The Girl Who Drank the Moon Mini Book Club

Sorry, guys. I didn't mean to drop out here for most of May, but life got real busy here. So busy that I couldn't even find time to read (which I'll tell you all about in my end-of-month round-up tomorrow). What have I been busy doing? Well, mostly packing up my house, moving all our stuff to storage, and then traveling around the country (which you probably know about if you follow me on Instagram).

Anyway, the good news is that during all my traveling, I ended up in Utah with a few free hours on my hands, and got a chance to meet up with Amy in person to film our latest Book Blab! And our babies got to meet!

Amy and Suzanne, babies

So, so fun!

Anyway, the long awaited discussion about The Girl Who Drank the Moon is here, and we had lots to say about this book (seriously, once we turned the camera off, we sat around chatting about this book for another thirty minutes or so). If you haven't read it, maybe don't watch this. Spoilers abound. But if you have read it, we'd love to hear your thoughts! Please let us know what you think about this book. Show notes below.

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Listening Comprehension and Children's Audio Books: Some Thoughts

In March's Book Blab Episode, Amy and I talked about the importance of reading aloud to kids (of all ages). We covered a lot of material, but two things we didn't talk about in that episode (but which I've been thinking a lot about since we started reading longer chapter books aloud to our boys last year) were listening comprehension, and children's audio books. These two issues are related, but let's take them one at a time.

First, comprehension. One of the biggest concerns I had with starting longer chapter books with my then four-year-old was whether he would be able to follow and understand a longer story that took days and weeks to read. Drawing on my training as an English teacher and my experience of reading aloud to my son for the past few months, here's my best advice on increasing listening comprehension while reading aloud.

1- Choose age appropriate books with stories that your kid naturally finds interesting. This is easier said than done, and it takes some trial and error to figure out the books that work and the books that don't. Reading aloud is a chance to expose your children to books that are above their own reading level, because children can usually have higher listening comprehension than reading comprehension (another reason it's great to read aloud), but if you go too far above comprehension can plummet. Likewise, if your child isn't interested in the characters or story, they are less likely to pay attention. It takes some work to find books that hit the sweet spot for comprehension, and we've had a couple of duds (but it's always fine to stop reading a book that's not working and just move on).

Thursday, May 4, 2017

Happy Bloggiversary to Me!

Hi guys! Four years ago this month I pushed publish on my first little blog post here at Such Stuff, and while I didn't necessarily have a clear vision about what I was going to do with this space, it quickly became my favorite hobby of all time. Writing about books? Meeting up with other wonderful bookish people? Writing about other rambly things completely unrelated to books? Yes and yes! This little blog has been so much fun for me and brought me so much joy, and I hope I can keep up with it while plunging into the depths of grad school work at the PhD level (not to mention still raising those three kids....).

To commemorate my bloggiversaries, I like to do a little face-lift and sprucing up here on the blog. This didn't happen last year because, pregnant, so things were kind of in desperate need of some updating (I mean, desperate). I made a few simple cosmetic changes (hope you like the new header, I drew it myself, if that isn't painfully obvious) and spruced up my pages, which is what I want to draw your attention to.

First off, I finally have a page devoted to the archives of The Book Blab! Yay! I've been meaning to put this page up since, well, since we started doing The Book Blab, so that was long overdue. Now if you ever want to view a past video but don't want to go searching through all my archives, you can head to that page.

Second, I changed up my Books page with a much more aesthetically pleasing view of (most) of the books I've read and reviewed on Goodreads, but I would appreciate your feedback on this page. Right now when you click on the book cover, it takes you to my Goodreads review of the book. I thought that would be the most useful because Goodreads is where I actually give a star rating for every book I read, but would you prefer links to my actual blog posts? Since I don't thoroughly review every book, or sometimes talk about books in multiple posts, linking to posts can get messy. But if I get a strong response from you guys about wanting links to my blog posts, I'll see if I can work something out.

Also, right now that page is organized by the order I've read these books (most recent reads at the top), because this organization is the most useful to me. But this page is supposed to be useful for you guys, so would you prefer alphabetical order? Or some other kind of organization? Or do you not really care at all? Let me know in the comments, because I can reorganize fairly easily (especially if you want it in alphabetical order).

Finally, do you guys have any other input for me? Things about the blog you wish I would add/delete/change? Comments or advice? Favorite types of posts? Things you wish I'd write more about (or stop writing about, as the case may be)? Questions? I'm all ears, hit me up in the comments or shoot me an email.

And can I just say, thank you so much for reading! I love all you, the readers I know in real life, the virtual friends I've made through this blog, and even the silent stalkers who never comment! I'd still write if nobody ever read, but it's so much more fun with an audience, so thanks for joining me here.

Here's to many more years of blogging to come!

Monday, May 1, 2017

Books I Read in April

Well, I only made it through five books this month. I really shouldn't be all that disappointed, considering this still beats my goal of a book a week (and actually, by the end of April I've already read more books this year than I read the entire year of 2014, so that's something). It's just clear that all my luxurious nursing reading time is a thing of the past, and I'm back to fighting and scraping to find time for reading amidst all the other demands on my time. Also, I'm in the middle of two really good books right now that I had hoped to finish last week but alas, the time did not materialize. Anyway, I've actually written about most of these books already, so these reviews will be short with links to my other posts.

Rainbow Valley by L.M. Montgomery

It was charming and delightful, but I missed Anne. More thoughts here.

The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey

Stunningly beautiful. Beautiful story, beautiful writing, five star read. More thoughts here.

Rilla of Ingleside by L.M. Montgomery

Not the same kind of love as for the earlier Anne books, but still really good as a WWI book. More thoughts here.

Crooked Kingdom by Leigh Bardugo

Still really well written, but lost some of the novelty of the first in this duology (Six of Crows). Also, a bit dark and violent. Mentioned in this post.

The Girl Who Drank the Moon by Kelly Barnhill

I finished this one for a special mini book club Book Blab episode with Amy, but then she went and had her baby, so we didn't get the episode filmed this month. I'm saving all my thoughts for whenever we do get that episode filmed, so stay tuned for that (but read it yourself first, because spoilers!).

Actually, I just realized that I "read" a few more books this month by way of read-alouds and audio books with my son, but I'm still on the fence about counting those toward my personal reading goals. I'll share more about those in an upcoming post. Let me know if you've read any of these ones, would love to here your thoughts!

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Facing Big Changes, One Step at a Time

I've been a bit tight-lipped here on the blog about some big changes happening in my real life, mostly because while we knew they were coming, we didn't know how or when or where. For basically this whole year, we've been living in a state of anxious anticipation about our foggy future and trying to figure out our next steps. But things are finally starting to come into sharper focus, and so I feel okay now with sharing some of these bigger bits of news here on the blog.

As my faithful readers know, last fall I began applying to PhD programs. In mid-February, I learned I was accepted, with good funding, to two of these programs, and in March I accepted a place at the University of Kansas. My husband immediately began a job search that went through several rounds of ups and downs, but yesterday he accepted a very good offer with a law firm in Kansas City, and today he gave notice to his firm here in Houston. And so next month we will be moving.

To Kansas.

Looks like we're going to need to resurrect this family Halloween costume from 2012. And I've always loved ruby red shoes, so I should fit right in. There's no place like home, right? (If I'm going to live in Kansas, I might as well own it.)

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

The Power of Language to Overcome Violence (Plus the Value of Finding Unexpected Connections)

I often seem to find myself thinking about the connections between books I read right around the same time (the English teacher side of me calls this making "text-to-text connections"). Sometimes the connections are obvious because the books are very similar (like when I read two books by the same author with the same setting and themes within a few weeks of each other), but sometimes the books are completely different in every way and the only reason my brain picks up on a connection is because it was already thinking about the theme or topic from a book I just finished reading (for instance, when I connected a rambling memoir about a young woman with a foreign novel about an old man because they were both clearly introverts).

This happened to me recently, with an even more bizarre pairing: a literary foreign novel about friendship, and an action-packed fantasy novel with a heist twist. You guys, Elena Ferrante's My Brilliant Friend and Leigh Bardugo's Crooked Kingdom could not be more different, but while I was reading the latter, I couldn't stop thinking about the themes of poverty and violence, mostly because those were such big themes in My Brilliant Friend, and therefore it was on the mind.

Violence is not something I spend a lot of time thinking about, I guess because I live a lucky and privileged life in which I've had very little exposure to real violence. Once, when I was in kindergarten, a boy I didn't know very well came over for a play date (our mothers were friends), and he proved to be a bit rougher of a playmate than my sisters and other girl friends were. I think he was pretending to be a ninja or something, and at one point in the game he punched me hard in the chest. I was shocked because it was the first time in my life I'd ever been hit like that. It was also the last. (Except for that one time when my then-boyfriend now-husband accidentally punched me in the nose while he was putting on a sweatshirt and forcing his arm through the sleeve and I was standing a little too close. It was clearly unintentional, but I still like to rag him about that moment.)

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Screen Time: Considering the Good

Benefits of Screen Times

Screen time. Such a sensitive, hot button topic. We all let our kids have way more screen time than we feel they should, and we all feel super guilty about it. Or we don't let our kids have any screen time and get completely worn down by the fight of it.

I've been thinking about the topic recently because my husband and I have been discussing just how much screen time our kids should get, and we disagree. If you guessed that I'm on the side of "the less screen time the better, and we should really try to not let them have any at all" then you'd be...

Thursday, April 13, 2017

On Re-Reading Anne of Green Gables as an Adult

Anne of Green Gables

I first met, and fell in love, with Anne of Green Gables when I was twelve. My sister received the whole series of eight books a few years earlier as a birthday present or something, so after devouring the first book I was able to race through the rest of the series in one go.

They made a huge impact on me. I loved, loved, loved those books. I related to Anne like no other. I used the term "kindred spirit" in an essay I wrote about friendship for my English class. I tried to sunburn my face to get freckles like Anne (not joking). I even considered dying my hair red. But, I'm not a huge re-reader, so while I watched the classic TV series a few times over the years, I never re-read the books.

Until now.

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Easter/Spring Book Page Crafts (Am I Still Talking About Decorations?!?!?)

Easter, Spring, Book Page Crafts, Easter Decorations, Book Page Flowers, Book Page Eggs

Okay guys, I know I have no business talking about holiday decorations and crafts. Martha Stewart I am not. But considering I couldn't shut up about my fall decorations last year (a post here, and here, and here, and I would've subjected you to even more posts about my Christmas decorations beyond this tutorial if the end of that pregnancy hadn't been so terrible), let's just say I'm a little obsessed with the topic right now.

It's just, I've come to realize in recent years how much intentional design and decor matter to me, and how much decorating for holidays seems to add to the festiveness and fun of celebrating. In a word, it makes me happy. It was kind of a light-bulb moment for me when I realized my style and criteria for holiday decorations, and then I also realized that I have a bit of an inner crafter in me (shocking!) who actually likes creating and making these holiday decorations, and so this is something I'm getting a lot of satisfaction from right now.

Thursday, April 6, 2017

The Magic of Babies

Babies, Infertility, The Snow Child, Eowyn Ivey, Books

In the past few weeks, I've read two books by Eowyn Ivey: The Snow Child and To the Bright Edge of the World. There are three themes which both of these books share, and about which Ivey writes with eloquence and genius: the majesty of cold and wintry Alaska, the heartbreak of pregnancy loss, and the mysterious magic of the inexplicable.

Maybe you remember last year when I wrote a post on Magical Realism and how I just did not get this genre. Everyone in the comments recommended checking out The Snow Child (and then I kept seeing it recommended by practically nearly everyone who's bookish taste I trust), and so I put it on hold at the library (and yes, it took nearly a year for me to actually get that book off the holds list, it's that popular... or my library just has that one copy and someone lost it for a while). And you guys were totally right. You were all exactly, wonderfully right. The book is amazing. The writing is exquisite. The characters and the story are beautiful. But also, don't hate me if I think I might like To the Bright Edge of the World  just a tiny bit better. Not that it's a contest. It's not. Basically, they are both incredible books that I highly, highly recommend. And while reading both of them I just kept thinking THIS IS WHAT I WANT MAGICAL REALISM TO BE! THIS IS WHAT IT SHOULD BE! THIS IS AMAZING!

Monday, April 3, 2017

Books I Read in March

Well, not only is my baby getting much more efficient at nursing, in the past month she's started sleeping longer and dropped a couple of feedings, so I lost a lot of dedicated reading time. But I still managed to get six books in this month, which is ahead of my book-a-week goal, so still very much a win. Let's jump in!

Wolf Hollow by Lauren Wolk

This was very good, if a bit heavy and sad. The main character is eleven, but I'm not sure if this makes it more middle grade or young adult. The main themes center on bullying, and it's disturbing stuff, but I do think it's would be worth handing to kids and talking with them about. It's definitely not my favorite book ever, but a very strong recommend. Read more of my thoughts about it here.

Monday, March 27, 2017

The Book Blab Episode 12: The Joy of Reading Aloud

Yay! Time for a new episode of The Book Blab! This month, we talk all about reading aloud, mostly to our kids. Amy's the expert on this topic, so most of the episode is me asking questions and gleaning from her wisdom. But even if you don't have kids, we still talk about how reading aloud is a great relationship builder with anyone in your life. Thanks for watching! (Oh, and don't forget to tell us all about your favorite books to read aloud in the comments.)

Monday, March 20, 2017

Well Behaved Women Seldom Make... Great Protagonists

Heroines, interesting girls, YA lit, Children's lit, strong female protagonists

I finished a middle grade/YA book at the beginning of this month, Wolf Hollow, that's been getting some buzz lately (I think it got a Newberry Honor award). The number one thing I'd read about this book before starting it was some variation of: It's being touted as a new To Kill a Mockingbird, but it's no To Kill A Mockingbird! And after reading it, I understood both sides of those sentiments. I can see the comparisons to TKAM. It's about children getting wrapped up in some very serious adult politics, and the choices one girl makes to fight for justice. It has some heavy stuff to it that is handled in a very compelling way. Things don't necessarily end happy. But the material and themes of that book is a post for another day.

What I've mostly been thinking about since finishing that book is the second half of the popular sentiment I kept reading about: this book is no TKAM. I agree. Despite the heavy material and seemingly similar set-up, Wolf Hollow simply does not live up to To Kill A Mockingbird. I've been trying to pinpoint just exactly why that is, and for me it boils down to this: Annabelle is not Scout.

Thursday, March 9, 2017

Book Review: The Course of Love

The Course of Love by Alain De Botton

I've been trying to write this book review since I read it at the beginning of January. Partly, I blame the delay on the new baby. But partly, I've just had a hard time figuring out exactly how I feel about this book.

I picked up this book because Modern Mrs. Darcy raved about it last summer. I knew nothing about De Botton before reading this book (and still know relatively little, other than that he's a philosopher who usually writes nonfiction philosophy), but I found it to be a book that inspired pretty polarizing emotions in me. There were parts I LOVED with all the emotions those capital letters can convey. And there were parts that, while hate may be too strong a word, I completely disagreed with and found flawed and frustrating. At points this book resonated so deeply with me I felt like De Botton had been a fly on the wall of my marriage, and at other times I felt so completely different from the couple in this book that I was sure we must be a separate species. I wanted to recommend this book to everyone, and at the same time recommend it to no one because I felt I would have to explain the flaws that I did not agree with. I really wanted to bring this book up in our Book Blab on romance, but my thoughts on this book could more than fill an entire episode alone, so I felt it best not to mention it at all.

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Books I Read in February

Wow, posting around here has been few and far between lately. I blame it on the baby, who has proven to be a champion napper during the day when her brothers are awake, and a champion fuss-bucket in the evenings when they are asleep. Meaning that for the past month or so, I have had approximately 0 minutes awake without a needy child demanding my attention (and far too few minutes asleep before being woken by needy children). This has put a serious cramp on all those things I like to do while children are asleep, like blogging, because it is just so hard to focus with whining and interruptions and colicky crying and whatnot.

There is hope for the future, though, as the Little Miss chose to mark the eve of her two month anniversary by sleeping from 9 PM to 3 AM! Progress!

While I'm not getting around to writing much, I'm still very much enjoying my ample reading time in the nursing chair, and blew through another eight books this month. Let's review!

Sun and Moon, Ice and Snow by Jessica Day George

This was Amy's book recommend from our November Book Blab, and since I've been in the mood (or sleep deprived state) for lighter reading fare, I was happy to pick this one up. It was very engaging, I enjoyed learning about this fairy-tale I was otherwise unfamiliar with. But there were a few holes in the plot that bothered me, or things that felt like they were going to be more significant early on and then didn't really end up being as important as I thought (like the whole thing with her name...). Anyway, still a recommend for anyone who enjoys fun middle-grade fairy-tale retellings.

Monday, February 13, 2017

The Book Blab: Episode 11 "All You Need is Love"

Woohoo! After my little maternity leave break, Amy and I are finally back this month with a new episode of The Book Blab! And since tomorrow is the Day of Love, that made for a natural topic for this month's episode. This was a super fun topic. We talk all about our favorite relationships and romances in a wide variety of genres, and there was so much to talk about I think we may need to revisit this topic in the future.

Hope you enjoy!

(And Happy Valentine's to you and yours!)

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Books I Read In January

You guys, I read NINE books in January. Basically, I'm blowing my book-a-week goal out of the water. I was able to accomplish this feat because I use nursing as an excuse to ignore my other children, hide away in my room, and read for about eight hours a day. I'm getting NOTHING else done in my life, but by golly I'm burning through these books. I am hoping that at some point Little Sister gets a wee bit more efficient at this nursing thing and I don't have to devote 1/3 of the hours of my day to keeping her nourished, but until then, let the reading continue!

Also note, I started out with some heavier/more literary titles, but as the month wore on, and I got deeper and deeper into the newborn-sleep-deprivation-stage, my reading choices became quite a bit fluffier. My brain isn't working well these days.

The Course of Love by Alain de Botton

This was a fascinating read for me, and I'm definitely going to have to talk more about this one (maybe a good old Valentine's post on it, as it is all about relationships). There were things I absolutely loved about this book, and other things I strongly disagreed with. It's a recommend, with caveats.

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

2017 Goals

pink flowers, resolutions, goals

It's still January, so I can still talk goals and resolutions, right?

Usually I like to do two posts, one as a review and wrap-up of my previous year, and one about my new goals for the year, but we're running into the end of January here, so let's just combine things.

Monday, January 16, 2017

10 Favorite Reads from 2016

Well, here we are half-way through January. It's past time for me wrap up 2016 and give my final reading report. 2016 was actually, surprisingly, my best reading year since I started tracking. My reading goal for the year was to read 50 books, and in the end I actually hit 56 books (maybe 57, but I didn't record any of my December books until January, and I feel like I'm forgetting one. I know I did a lot of reading, but everything from the month of December is kind of lost in a hazy fog of general miserableness.)

I never quite know how to go about assessing my favorite reads from a whole year. I thought it would be easier this year, with so many books to choose from, but it was harder. So, like with all of my book rating decisions, this is just a gut check list of what struck me as my top 10 today. (If I wrote this list two weeks ago, or next week, or next year, it would probably come out different.) Anyway, in the order I read them, here were ten of my favorite reads in 2016.

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Baby #3 Birth Story

Okay folks, here it is. Birth story #3. It's a novel, but believe it or not this is the edited version. I hope it makes sense (I'm pretty sleep deprived these days, so no guarantees). Also, just a note for any readers who happen to not be fellow mothers, I use a ton of pregnancy-related lingo (pitocin, VBAC, dilated, etc.). If you don't know what I'm talking about, just Google it. And finally, for any new readers around here, if you want some more context, here's Baby #2's Birth Story, and some more background on Baby #1's traumatic C-section.

Jan. 10, her due date, and one day shy of two weeks old.

I don’t remember when I read Ina May’s Guide to Childbirth—it was at some point in one of my earlier pregnancies—but there is a sentiment expressed in that book that haunts me. Ina May describes a woman attending her childbirth courses who was surrounded by relatives, mothers and sisters and aunts, with highly dramatic birth stories. While this particular woman expressed the wish to experience a calmer and more natural birth experience, Ina May noted that she was too caught up in the competition factor of her family’s birth stories, and indeed ended up having a highly dramatic birth story of her own. Ina May’s point was that, even if it is unconsciously done, we write our own birth stories before they happen.

This sentiment haunts me because, if it is true, what does that mean for my birth stories? Particularly this one? Did I write this one before it happened? Because I don’t even know how I could’ve predicted this story, even unconsciously.

Wednesday, January 4, 2017


She's here! And a week old at that (if you follow me on Instagram, you probably already know this). Introducing Lily Grace, our sweet little baby girl. We are so thrilled she's here and so perfectly sweet and squishy and delicious. This whole newborn thing is so much easier to enjoy the third time around.

I'm currently working on the full birth story, but guys, it's a bit of a doozy. I'm on page 7 and not done yet (I will try to trim it down before foisting it on you here). Apparently I'm using this birth story as a sort of cathartic writing process to sort through all of my thoughts and feelings about how intense the end of this pregnancy was for me. But once I get it in a presentable form, I'll get it up.

For now, here are just a few more pictures for you to enjoy. Newborns are the dreamiest.

I still consider myself on maternity leave, so I can't promise how regular posting will be around here for the next little while, but as we get more into a new routine hopefully I'll find some more time to pick back up here. I've got so many bookish things to talk about!