Thursday, June 2, 2016

(Mostly) Middle-Grade Summer Reading

The time has come, all you lucky parents, for your sweet children to be terrorizing you home for the summer. Obviously, they'll be outside playing, watching movies, eating popsicles, and getting dirty like good boys and girls, but I certainly hope that they do their fair share of reading while school's out. Of course they won't be doing a ton of "homework" but it is a good idea to at least make some reading a priority. In order to avoid kicking and screaming resistance to this plan, I'm here to help with some really great titles that will have even the most reluctant reader eager to see what happens next. 

(By the way, these are all technically middle grade (5th-8th) but some could go a little younger or older. If you aren't sure feel free to ask me. =)


-The Penderwicks by Jeanne Birdsall- this series is one of the happiest discoveries I've made in a long time. These books are so sweet and funny and I love that they feel old-fashioned even though technically their setting is present day. The story of these four sisters is so good from book one to book four. 

-The Wednesday Wars by Gary D. Schmidt- I know I've mentioned this book like a million times here but I can't help myself. It's just so good. An English teacher, Shakespeare, the Vietnam War, middle school- it's hard to describe but just get it for your kids. I promise they'll love it. (All my students did.)

-The Templeton Twins Have an Idea by Ellis Weiner and Jeremy Holmes- I read this a couple years ago and immediately started reading it out loud to my sixth graders. The story of these clever twins who have to outwit a crazy stalker/wannabe kidnapper is told by a ridiculously hilarious and sarcastic narrator and it's just great. I need to read the sequel!

-The Crossover by Kwame Alexander. I'll be honest- I was skeptical about a book written entirely in poetry form (mostly free verse) but this story of a middle school basketball player with a famous dad who played professionally and a brother who is equally talented on the court is really great and the structure makes it move quickly. Hand this to a sports-loving boy to prove that poetry can be cool too. =)

-The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis- I just finished reading these to Alice (her last feeding at night is the only time she'll be still long enough for long chapters =) and it was actually my first time to read the entire series. Ugh... all the heart eyes. They are just beautiful and I got choked up several times thinking of the allegory of Christ. These are great read-aloud books.

-The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate- I saw this recommended on Janssen's blog ages ago but I was like, "a story about a gorilla? Nah." But a few weeks ago at the library I just happened to pick it up and I fell in love with the story immediately. Ivan and his elephant friend are part of a mall-front "circus" and his telling of their life in captivity is sweet and heartbreaking at the same time.

Additional suggestions: Harry Potter, anything by Roald Dahl, anything by Beverly Cleary, anything by Gary D. Schmidt, Jordan Sonnenblick, or Kristin Levine, the Dear America Diaries, or any Newberry winners. Oh, and Nancy Drew is always a good idea. =) 


-The Boys in the Boat (Young Reader's Adaptation) by Daniel James Brown- this is one of my favorite books from the past few years. It's the story of the 1936 U.S. Olympic rowing team from the University of Washington and takes a close look at each team member, particularly Joe Rantz. It seamlessly weaves biography and history with a detailed look at the sport of rowing (which is super intimidating!) and I think boys especially will love it. 

-Unbroken (Young Reader's Adaptation) by Laura Hillenbrand- this is a difficult story to read, even tailored to young readers, but it's so important for kids to be aware of the amazing sacrifices that American heroes have made on our behalf. The story of Louis Zamperini is nothing short of astonishing and definitely something that older kids and teens should learn from and be inspired by. 

-Chasing Lincoln's Killer by James L. Swanson- this is a detailed narrative of the race to catch John Wilkes Booth, starting with his plot to shoot the President and ending with his apprehension in a barn miles away. It amazes me that the military was able to put together such a detailed investigation with basically none of the technology available today. Pretty much all of their clues were based on eye-witness accounts but they put the pieces together regardless. Fascinating stuff!

-BOMB: The Race to Build- and Steal- the World's Most Dangerous Weapon by Steve Sheinkin- oh man, this is SO good. The story of the journey to the atomic bomb and the countries involved in developing it (and the spying involved in the process) from the perspectives of the Americans, Germans, and Russians, reads like a novel but is totally true. 

Some great biographies are the Heroes of the Faith series and the "Meet" series (Meet George Washington, Meet Benjamin Franklin, etc. These are especially good for younger readers.) 

Oh, and one more thing- I highly recommend audio books, especially for struggling readers. I would definitely recommend getting an audio book AND a physical copy of the same book to allow your kids to follow along. OR if you can't get everyone to sit still long enough for chapters (and don't have the energy for reading with expression and doing a bunch of voices!) audiobooks are great for road trips. (Here is a great post about why you should try audiobooks with your kids.

There you go! I hope this helps with the young readers in your life, but let's be honest- I've read and enjoyed them all so either I have the emotional level of an 11-year-old OR perhaps they're all just really great. (Let's go with the latter.) I LOVE hearing from you guys when you read something I've recommended so let me know if you check these out with your kids! Happy reading!

Monday, May 23, 2016

Spend Out

I have always been notoriously bad about "saving" things for later. New clothes, new shoes, new notebooks (what is it about that blank paper that is so glorious that I can't bear to write on it?), sometimes even new books... It's like somehow I feel like saving things for later or reserving them for only certain occasions somehow makes them more special.

But I recently re-read Gretchen Rubin's excellent book, The Happiness Project, and one of her resolutions in her year-long quest to be happier was to "Spend Out," in which she offers two seemingly contradictory ways in which to do so: stop hoarding and let things go. I could write an obnoxiously long post about how these could apply to my own life, but this particular resolution recently manifested itself in one little way that I love a lot.

So, like I said, I tend to save/hoard stuff, and when we were moving into our house and I had the chance to redecorate several spaces, I wanted everything to be just right. One spot in particular, an empty shelf over the refrigerator, plagued me... (how pathetically easy is my life that a shelf is considered a plague? First world problems, I know.) I thought about using the shelf for storage- aka all the random stuff that wouldn't fit in the pantry- but I knew that would become an eyesore and I despise visible clutter. (My dresser drawers might be another story.)

L-R: Hobby Lobby, Target, Pioneer Woman at Walmart

But I also had a few pretty little things that I was trying to place around the kitchen, and my old tendencies popped up again- I wanted to "save" them. Why banish them up to this shelf when they could be displayed more prominently? (Mind you, very few people come to my house, so it's not like I'm trotting out this stuff for the whole neighborhood to see.) But then I remembered Gretchen's advice to "spend out." I could keep these items on the counter, waiting for the right spot, and I could junk up my shelf with the cake stand I never use (ha!) OR I could make that space pretty and not something that would make me cringe every time I look at it.

This seems like a simple thing and not worthy of a blog post, but it's something I've been thinking a lot about. Spending out, in terms of my house, means putting thought and effort into spaces that no one else might see but that I look at every day, so why not make them nice/organized/pretty? Perhaps clutter and haphazard storage solutions shouldn't bother me, but over time the tiny little irritations they spark add up. (See also: Jonathan's nightstand situation. Don't get me started. Ha!) Anyway, this shelf, besides holding some of my favorite pieces I've purchased for the house, is a daily reminder to spend out. Life's too short for your favorite shoes, or new bag, or books or whatever to sit and collect dust for no reason. Use them! (Sadly, learning this lesson years ago would have helped prevent me from somehow accumulating a drawer's worth of unused stationery and a stack of unframed pictures.)

Also, if you need practice using things up, I suggest starting with chocolate chip cookies. There's no need to ever save those.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

The Collapse of Parenting by Dr. Leonard Sax

I hardly ever write book reviews for just one book at a time- I usually combine several with my quarterly reading posts or book lists. But I haven't shut up about this book since I finished it a couple of weeks ago and I felt like it merited its own post. It's just really excellent (and if you don't believe me, ask my husband... I have talked his ear off about it and I'm also making him read it.) 

As usual, I heard about this book through Janssen (and her great review) and immediately requested it from the library. (That's basically my reading MO.) From the very first chapter, I could tell that it would not only be informative but also validating to the beliefs and opinions about children that I've established throughout my years of teaching (and thus observing a plethora of parenting styles and their results.) 

The author is Dr. Leonard Sax, a family physician and psychologist who has, over his 30+ years of medical practice, seen firsthand the decline of parental authority and the subsequent rise of childhood obesity, overly-medicated kids and teens, and the culture of disrespect that is so rampant in the majority of homes and schools today. As he points out throughout the book, the primary problem lies in the lack of parental authority. He defines authority not as discipline (although that plays a part) but as the value that children place on their parents' opinions and instructions. Compared to twenty or even ten years ago, that value is practically nonexistent.

When I was a teacher, I marveled at how my students sometimes talked to me... many times they didn't even consider themselves disrespectful as they contradicted, complained, or just gave me an attitude that I wouldn't have dreamed of showing to my teachers. It wouldn't have even crossed my mind, but today that type of behavior is a matter of course for American teens and even elementary-aged children. (In other countries, it's far less of an issue. I should also point out that most of my students were little darlings. =) Dr. Sax points out that this became a trend when parents stopped telling their children what to do and started suggesting, negotiating, coaxing, etc. So, rather than valuing their parents input, kids are much more interested in peer-age opinions- and whether than affirmation comes from high scores on a video game or lots of likes on Instagram, it has little to do with parental authority. 

It's natural that a breakdown in authority has led to kids who are inactive (hence the rising childhood obesity rates), overly medicated (the terrifying ramifications of using high-powered drugs on children have yet to even be explored fully), academically backward (the author cites another favorite of mine, The Smartest Kids in the World, which discusses in detail American education in comparison to international classrooms), and most importantly, fragile. In a world of "safe spaces" on college campuses and the inability for anyone to make a joke about, well, anything, it's pretty obvious that this last point is manifesting itself in a big way. 

The first few chapters are a little depressing. Reading about how awful some of these kids act is almost as much of a bummer as reading about how their parents just sit there and don't bat an eye at their behavior. (The chapter on medications alone was heartbreaking.) But the second half of the book focuses on solutions- namely, that we must teach our children self-control, conscientiousness, humility, and the meaning of life, along with spending quality time with them. The subtitle, "How We Hurt Our Kids when We Treat Them Like Grownups," doesn't mean giving them responsibilities and important tasks; it means that we are handing over the authority for choices and desires that they literally are not capable of making wisely. 

There are so many nuggets of wisdom and so many great examples that it's hard to narrow them down, but my biggest takeaway was probably his advice about screen time and the damaging affects that unsupervised, limitless screen time can have. It's a pretty fast read and definitely doesn't feel like a textbook; the statistics are balanced with lots of real-life examples. The media (and my own life experiences) have made it clear that many, many young people today are entitled, extremely sensitive, and totally apathetic toward what their parents and teachers think. Obviously that's not a good thing, and the results are a lot more serious than just a teenager rolling his eyes. (Also, out-of-control behavior is hardly limited to teenagers- children are rebelling and "giving orders" at home at younger and younger ages.) 

If I could force this book into the hands of every parent (and teacher) I know, I would. It's that good. (I also might shake their shoulders and say, "READ THIS!" in the nicest way possible.) I know I only have one child (and she's seven months old, so we're not too worried about her "attitude" just yet =) but these are things that I want to have decided months and even years before I actually have to test them. It's hard to be "that parent" who limits screen time and social media, maintains their authority, and makes time for family time that includes hard work and meaningful conversation, but it can be done. The "easy way out" actually leads to some terribly hard results, and Dr. Sax paints that unfortunate picture very clearly. 

We're just getting started on this parenting journey and just want to do the best we can. Here's hoping the worst thing I'll ever do to Alice is force her into matching outfits. =)

Monday, May 9, 2016

Alice Juliet- Six/Seven Months

Well, fancy meeting you here... we haven't seen each other (minus my ode to apartment living ) since this time a couple months ago.  Oops! Have I officially morphed into a mommy blogger? Actually, I have several non-Alice-themed posts bouncing around in my tired little brain so perhaps soon you can read about something here that is a little more informative than my daughter's latest eating habits. (But be honest, do you really want to?? =) I had her six month post all ready to go but then I never got around to posting it because we were settling in the house and hanging pictures and... I'm lazy. So a combination post it is.

Here we go... the latest on my SEVEN MONTH OLD baby. (Sob.)

Six Months

Seven months- she looks SO old to me here. =(

Weight and Length- I'm not entirely sure because according to her last doctor's appointment, she weighs 15.5 pounds and is 27.5 inches long, BUT for some reason I just feel like one of those numbers might be off. If you've never seen a baby get measured at the doctor, it's hardly a science... they literally just draw a line at her head and her feet. Those measurements put her at 25/50% for weight and the 90th percentile for length! The doctor did tell me her weight and length growth would be disproportionate as she becomes more mobile but still... I think she weighs a little more. But I don't have a scale at home because ignorance is bliss (right?) so we shall see. 

Nicknames- Alice from the Palace, Squish, Sissy, Sissy Sue (my dad always called all of us girls Sissy and I've started doing it subconsciously), Sugar, Sugar Pie Honey Bun (you know I love you!), Sugar Bee, Princess, Princess Pie (apparently I've got dessert on the brain) This baby does not lack for terms of endearment!

Sleep- still around 9-10 hours a night... she's doing a lot better with sleeping in again now that we have real curtains in her room. Her room has an enormous window and we finally found some pretty room-darkening curtains that don't look like airplane seat upholstery. (Why is that?) They are from JC Penney and were a really good deal if you are looking for some! (From Alice's sleep to a curtain commercial... oops.) Her naps are not that great... she likes to use me as a (literal) body pillow and since the move and a million interruptions to her schedule she naps slightly sporadically. I make sure she gets at least two good naps a day still... they just don't always happen at the same time. On an ideal day, she'll take a long nap in the morning and a shorter nap in the afternoon. Since she sleeps so well at night, I can't complain!

Eating- she's still nursing every 3ish hours, but has tried a ton of new foods! She eats food at least once a day, sometimes twice, and has tried applesauce, bananas, green beans, carrots, mashed potatoes, avocado, and Chick-fil-A ice cream. (Just a taste! =) She is a great (if messy) little eater and her favorite food so far is applesauce, but she hasn't turned up her nose at anything yet! 

She's loving the high chair life! And if you're looking for a high chair, I highly recommend this one from IKEA. It's easy to wipe down, lightweight but sturdy, and the best part is it's $20. 

Clothing- after her 3-6 month pajamas were really... um, working overtime (aka straining snaps!) we finally got her a few new pairs and they're all 6 or 6-9 mo. Her onesies are all 6mo, and her dresses and rompers are mostly 6-9. She still has a long torso and short little legs so she can wear bigger tops (like 9mo) and they're fine. I am loving putting her in her little summery rompers. Dressing this girl is one of the most fun parts of this mom job! =)

Mood- jolly, jolly, jolly. This girl amazes me... even though her little world has been rocked in the past few weeks with the move, different room, changing schedules, etc., she is mostly so very happy and just rolls with it all. She definitely has her grumpy moments (#hangry) but she is so sweet and curious and I love it. She's super friendly and her smile charms people everywhere we go.

-being carried by daddy

-singing with mama 
-music of any kind (but her Alice in Wonderland song instantly calms her down)
-teething toys
-this ridiculous voice I do that sounds kind of like Arnold Scharzeneggar? I started talking like to Emily and Steven years ago and they thought it was hilarious so I tried it on her a while back and she LOVES it. Like, belly laughs. It cracks me up! Welcome to a lifetime of looking like an idiot to amuse my child.
-rolling and scooting 
-chewing anything and everything (including any tag on blankets and toys. Ugh!)
-pulling my hair 
-my piano playing (poor kid doesn't know any better.)
-her stacking rings
-Our pastor... seriously, she's obsessed with him. It's hilarious.
-her toes (apparently they're delicious)

I dare you to find a cuter picture! You can't do it! 

Doesn't Love-
-being put down when she's upset. Or sitting down with someone when she's upset. Only walking around will do. Dance, puppet, dance! (I'm the puppet.)

-being still- she's always on the move!-being in the car (I thought it was the carseat but she's fine in the stroller.)
-face planting on the carpet (not that I let that happen. #badmama)

-a hairbow/headband, especially when she's tired
-shoes/socks- she refuses to keep them on. Basically she looks like a little waif when I give up on her bow and socks after like ten minutes. 

What I Want to Remember/Milestones- she has changed SO much these past two months. She's so big, she's sitting up longer by herself, jabbering away, reaching for me when she wants to be picked up, able to grab and hold things better, trying to push up and crawl (nooooo!), and just showing her little personality more and more. She's very friendly and sociable but is also content to sit and play with her toys or chew on  read her books by herself. She lights up when her daddy comes home from work (don't we all?!) but wants me when she's upset. She moved to a high chair! Her half-birthday was so fun! She wore her Alice dress and over the past month we've accumulated almost all the Alice in Wonderland toys the Disney Store has to offer. (#onlychildperks) My first "official" Mother's Day was really special and sweet. We moved into our house and got her new room set up. Overall I just want to remember this as such a special, happy couple of months. We sing and dance and play and read all day and have the best time! (And sometimes we're waiting by the door when daddy gets home... there are ups and downs. =) 

What I'm Looking Forward To- summer! Well, not the horrendous heat, but family visiting, maybe a few day trips, and the little pool we just bought to put in the driveway. =) Oh, and since I got the most beautiful bike for Mother's Day, I know we'll be biking and jogging (well, Jonathan will jog) with the stroller.

Me- the past two months have been a big transition. I'm not a huge fan of change anyway, but having to adjust and add new things to our finely honed schedule has been a challenge for me. Introducing solids is a good example- after getting nursing down to a science, it's time to change things up and have to figure out a whole new world of what to feed her, when to feed her, what to mix with what, what texture is best... all that jazz. I'm slowly learning that motherhood consists of mastering something only to have to abandon it for the next thing that starts you back at square one. So fun! =) But it really is fun... and every smile and squeeze and disgusting, open-mouthed kiss from my girl is worth all the stress and second-guessing and feeling inadequate much of the time. 

There you go... more than anyone needs to know but I want to write these things down so I don't forget! (Thanks to Alice, my memory is quickly fading... it's joined my left eyebrow in the list of things hormones have taken from me. I wish I were kidding.)

Monday, May 2, 2016

Pros and Cons of Apartment Living

We've been in our house for almost a month now, so I've had a little time to reflect on almost six years of apartment life. From our first little tiny place in Goldsboro (good old Ash Street!) to our New Bern townhouse to our Texas apartment, we've had varying experiences over the years but overall I really enjoyed living in each of those spaces. I was going to write "things I miss about apartment life" and then I changed it to "things I don't miss" and then I got smart and decided to combine the two. =)

Pro: Quick cleaning. I am a bit of a neat freak (in visible spaces, anyway... my closet can be another story sometimes!) and only having a few hundred square feet to keep clean was awesome. It was also awesome that even deep cleaning took under an hour. Honestly, it doesn't take a whole lot longer than that to clean my house because I don't like cleaning so I do it as quickly as possible =) but still. I could deep clean the apartment in like 45 minutes, which was great.

Con: loud neighbors. Somehow, no matter where we lived, we managed to be stuck under or over couples who hated each other and loved to scream at each other at all hours of the night. (I wish I were exaggerating.) Beyond the cursing, there was usually stomping, loud music (this last downstairs neighbor inexplicably loved techno) and partying on the patio right under our bedroom. (So fun!) I'm sure we weren't always the best either, with our screaming newborn and all, but we tried to be considerate (and we weren't hurling profanities back and forth at 2 am! Ah!) I did the whole broomstick on the floor thing a few weeks before we left because you wake up my baby, you deal with my wrath! #mamabear

Pro: Maintenance crew. When something broke, it wasn't really our problem; we could just call and someone would come fix it. Now we have a two-person maintenance crew: me and Jonathan( really just me, because let's be honest- that's not my jam.) And even though we're educated in other areas, we're not exactly fix-it people. At least Jonathan is good at figuring out instructions and when all else fails, there's YouTube. 

Con: Three. Flights. of. Stairs. One of the main reasons we moved from our apartment (and this sounds crazy, but it's not) was that we were on the third floor and there were no elevators. Carrying a baby in a carseat + third floor + Texas heat = no bueno. I seriously did not want to deal with that with the summer and 100+ temperatures coming. (Also a certain baby in this house is only getting heavier as the days go by so... yeah. Not happening.) 

No more stairs! Woohoo!

Pro: No bugs! Since we were on the third floor, it was extremely hard for bugs to make it all the way up to our apartment. I've killed more bugs in the month we've lived in this house than I did in a whole year in our last apartment. (This includes a roach Jonathan killed tonight so I'm considering burning the house down. Nope, nope, nope.) 

Con: Limited Storage/Customization. (I'm combining these!) Our apartment had pretty good closet space but there was still not much room for all of our junk seasonal stuff, tools, etc. (Tools sounds better... mostly we needed room for our books.) And not being able to paint meant that every room was the exact same color so that got old quickly. We haven't made huge cosmetic changes to our house but at least we have the option if we want to, and we have painted so that every space isn't a sea of khaki-colored walls. 

Pro: the pool. THE POOOOOOOL. Seriously, y'all... I've been in mourning ever since we moved because that pool was seriously my favorite thing ever. (Plus this time last year I already had a great tan.) It wasn't just a pool, either... it was gorgeous and the majority of the time I was the only person there so I really felt like it was mine. =( 

Goodbye, old friend. 

I'm so thankful for all the memories of our years in apartments (even those shouting matches are a little funny now.) But I am loving our house and all the extra space... we're really settled now and hopefully I'll get some good pictures together to share soon. (Just don't ask to see the garage. Now that we finally have one we're definitely putting it to good use! #hoarders) 

Friday, March 11, 2016

Alice Juliet- Five Months

Is it weird that this month has gone faster than any other since Alice was born? I don't know why, since it's been the hardest by far- RSV followed by the beginning of stages of teething, Heaven help me- but it's true. It feels like I just took her four-month picture and lo and behold it was time to pull out the monthly stickers again this week. (Everyone tells me that this dedication to documenting the minutia of my child's life will not last past my firstborn. We shall see.)

The good news is that Alice is finally better. The bad news is that she started teething and is really wanting to be mobile- two things that cause her (and me) great distress. I've been dreading teething and crawling basically since she was born so the coming months are sure to be a barrel of fun for both of us! =) Anyway, here's the latest on our little chunker:

Weight and Length- lest you remember her weight from last month and worry that Miss Leg Rolls has gone on a diet (you don't and she hasn't), I got two things wrong last time- she was weighed with her clothes on at the Urgent Care AND I wrote down the incorrect weight. She weighs about 14.5 pounds, probably a little closer to 15 now, and she's about 24 inches long.

Nicknames- Alice from the Palace, Love Bug, Squish, Little Girl, Pookie, Troll, Spitty (seriously, you guys, the spit up, THE SPIT UP!) and Al (but only by me because I gave her birth to her so I can call her whatever I want.)

Sleep- about 9-10 hours a night (praise the Lord, seriously... I have done nothing in my life to deserve such a blessing. I did stick to Babywise pretty closely from the time she was born, however, so I will give credit where it is due.) She has one long nap in the morning and a couple of shorter ones in the afternoon. (Currently she should be napping but is instead jabbering away in her crib.)

Eating- still every three hours. She's been getting hungry a little sooner than that actually, so I'm guessing it's a growth spurt and also we need to bump up the amount she gets in a bottle to probably six ounces. She only has one bottle a day unless we're out during a feeding time so that's not a huge issue but her one bottle is her first feeding so we're trying to figure out what works there. We tried a little rice cereal and she was not a fan (I'm not either, really- it looks like extremely unappealing Cream of Wheat) but I'm hoping to introduce some vegetables here soon.

Clothing- she's at a weird spot where almost all her three month stuff is way too small but 3-6 is still pretty big. But then again, her tops are 3-6 or 6 months because she has such a long torso that wearing her regular size means a lot of crop tops. Ha! We have a ton of 6mo stuff so I'll be set in another month or two. (She's certainly not going naked, people- this child has an absurd amount of clothes.)

Mood- hmm... still happy MOST of the time, but the teething is really doing a number on her jolliness. It's mostly in the evening and/or as soon as she wakes up from a nap. And really only at home- she still rarely cries when we're out. Oh, except in the car- her new least favorite spot. 

-hanging out with daddy
-trying to push/sit up/scoot (I'm so not ready for this mobility)
-napping on me (I'm essentially a body pillow at this point. Another reason not to diet. Haha)
-being outside
-her Disney songs
-grabbing anything and everything 

-books- she loves to look at the pictures! 
-stuffing her shirt/bib/blanket in her mouth (ew)
-her teething rings

-yanking my hair (seriously it hurts so bad. Thanks, Alice.)

-my singing (I know, it's a mystery. But she really does.)

Doesn't Love-
-being put down when she's upset. Or sitting down with someone when she's upset. Only walking around will do. Dance, puppet, dance! (I'm the puppet.)

-being in the car (I thought it was the carseat but she's fine in the stroller.)
-face planting on the carpet (not that I let that happen. #badmama)

Maybe my favorite picture of us yet! Her face!

What I Want to Remember/Milestones- well, for one thing, since I know this won't last, I want to document the fact that she is a total mama's girl right now. I know, it's mostly because I'm with her 24 hours a day and she knows I'm her sole food source, but it makes me inordinately pleased that I am the number one person who can comfort her and that she is full of smiles for me almost all the time. (Don't get me wrong, she loves her daddy too!) But one day when she picks her dad 100% of the time, and she will because he's the fun parent, I'll remember these days. =) Also she is becoming very... shall we say... opinionated and has developed a very charming pterodactyl-type shriek that she employs throughout to express herself. Make a joyful noise, indeed. (She really doesn't do it out of anger most of the time, thank goodness.) I'm trying to take as many mental snapshots of these moments as possible- her relaxing against her daddy on the couch, reading at night, cracking her up by singing and dancing to Disney Pandora, bath time, our first trip to the pool, shopping for her first swimsuit (pictures are coming soon!), shopping for her first little sandals... ah! So many things. It's such a fun time with her right now. 

What I'm Looking Forward To- putting together her first Easter basket, her baby dedication sometime this spring, trying new foods, Gigi coming to visit. (Oh, and Alice's future best friend/potential husband Sawyer is going to be born sometime in the next few weeks and we can't WAIT to meet him!)

Me- this month has been draining on my already psycho-worrier mind. Since Alice was sick three out of the last four weeks, there was a lot of "Is she breathing? (at night) Should we go back to the doctor? Better go check on her for the 17th time tonight." Having a sick baby is hard but it's also given me a ton more empathy and compassion for those who have serious illnesses they're dealing with... I can't imagine her being in the hospital for a prolonged stay or anything like that. That being said, it's also forced me to be a little more flexible. It's hard to stick to your ironclad schedule when your baby is all snotty and grumpy and just wants to be held. Whatever you want, Your Majesty! Your congested wish is my command! =) I won't say I haven't been slightly stir-crazy in the past month but Jonathan has been good about setting me free letting me go out a few times and honestly, when I see how happy and joyful Alice is despite being sick it's made me want to be more like her! (Of course, her only concerns are eating and pooping and figuring out to best scalp her mother one handful of hair at a time but still.)

Happy five months, little one! We love you more every day and you fill our days with sunshine and spit up. What a life! =)

Monday, February 22, 2016

Five Ways to Read More

I totally understand that reading more (or reading at all) isn't necessarily a priority for everyone, but I hear people, especially moms, say all the time that they wish they had more time to read AND the truth is that everyone has the same amount of time and we all choose how to spend it. 

Now, before you reach through your screen and slap me... gear down, Big Shifter- I realize that obviously since I stay home with Alice and don't have a "job" (even though teaching was a lot easier than having a newborn! =) I have more free time than most moms. And everyone has different interests/hobbies... if you'd rather watch tv than read, I get it! It usually involves way less concentration (and I definitely have Netflix days where I don't crack a book open.) 

That being said, I have been asked a time or two how I manage to read so many books. The short answer is that I quit my job and have stayed home the vast majority of the time for the past year and a half. (Totally doable, right??) Since that's not a viable option, here are a few tips that everyone can apply no matter how busy their schedules. 

If you really want to fly through some books, choose ones that only have a couple of words per page. You'll feels so accomplished! =) 

-Find what works for you. It's easier for me to read on my phone while I'm feeding Alice but I have a really hard time following nonfiction when I'm on the Kindle app, so if there's a nonfiction book I want to read I usually get a physical copy. If I'm trying (and failing) to follow a more complicated book, I'll be more likely to give up (or get distracted by Facebook/Instagram/YouTube/whatever.) 

-Read what you like. I really love fiction and sometimes just need a simple plot to unwind, but I read a lot of nonfiction even though it doesn't always hold my attention the same way. But just because something is a "must-read" on lots of lists (even the New York Times!) doesn't mean you have to like it. For me, that means anything scary, graphic, or with a lot of language. (I'm a fairly sensitive person and graphic imagery of any kind really messes with my head.) On a podcast I listened to recently, a lady said she worries that her book choices won't seem "smart enough" to her friends. Who cares? Most of my favorite books are children's literature. I don't feel less than "intellectual" because I'd rather read Nancy Drew than Stephen King, you know? If a stack of Beverly Cleary sounds more appealing to you than the latest adult fiction, go for it. (Those Ramona books are probably more well-written anyway.) The point here is that reading something you enjoy makes it more of a priority because you will want to find out what happens! =)

-Abandon a book if you hate it. Like I said in the last point, you don't have to like a book just because someone else does, so if you're reading a book and it's just not holding your attention or you hate the plot or you want to strangle the main character (Scarlett O'Hara, anyone?!) give it up without guilt. Life is too short to sludge through lame or boring books when there are so many out there to be read and loved! I always feel a little bad about quitting a book (or returning it to the library without even getting to it!) but sometimes, like I said, I would rather spend my time on books I like than committing to something I'm not even enjoying. There are enough things we HAVE to spend time on that aren't enjoyable... why waste our precious reading time on drivel? (I'm aware that drivel is totally subjective and what may be awesome to me is total garbage to you. That's what makes it fun. =)

-Make it convenient. I can (and sometimes do) talk everyone's ears off about Gretchen Rubin's advice and research regarding our habits. (Check out her podcast, "Happier" or her website for more information.) One of her best tips for any habit, not just reading, is "make it easy to do right and hard to go wrong." Want to read/exercise/eat healthy/stay organized? Make it easy/convenient! Right or wrong, the fact is we are all influenced enormously by how convenient something is, so if you want to read more, make it easy to do so!

Downloads books on your kindle app if that works for you, carry a book in your bag for those inevitable down times like the car line at school, waiting rooms, etc., and utilize your library. It was a happy day when I started taking advantage of my library's hold system. I can search the database online, request the books I want, and then pick them up when they're ready. This also makes Jonathan happy because he knows that my usual "let me run into the library" time ends up taking much longer... I tend to get distracted. =) And nearly every library now uses an online checkout system called Overdrive that allows you to borrow books through the Kindle app too. So really, you don't even have to leave your house (or spend any money) to get new books to read! No excuses! =) 

Another option, especially for those who love to multitask, is to download audiobooks (also available through your library's online database.) Pop in those earbuds and "read" away while you fold laundry, make your commute, or even exercise. (Bleh! Maybe that will make the gym more fun.) I admit, I have a hard time with audiobooks (maybe because I have a baby to distract me at any and all moments of the day) but most people agree that it's kind of a skill to be developed. 

-Take what you can get. I know that our ideal reading scenario is curled up on the couch with a book and a cup of coffee, with no noise or distractions to pull us away from the story. But with kids, work, errands, and a multitude of other things, your reading time may not be that picture-perfect. And even though reading is an important thing, it's obviously not THE most important thing. My reading has dropped off a little since Alice was born because there are definitely moments when holding her is a priority (like this week- my poor sickie!) and I have to set my books aside. That's a no-brainer! But I'd rather catch a few pages at a time than just throw up my hands and say, "Well, I have a baby! Reading time's over till kindergarten!" We all have our priorities and reading happens to be one of mine (along with Diagnosis Murder marathons and keeping You've Got Mail on repeat. =) 

So, if you're looking to finally finish that book (or stack of books) that's been on your nightstand for months, maybe this will help. For stellar recommendations, check out Everyday Reading (my go-to for years now!) and Modern Mrs. Darcy- Janssen and Anne both have awesome book lists all the time and lots more reading information. (In fact, Anne just started a podcast called "What Should I Read Next?". Perfect!) And I have a book list or two here if you care to poke around. =) 

As always, happy reading!