Tuesday, July 26, 2016

What's on My Nightstand

I mentioned in the other day, but I'm kind of drowning in library books at the moment. I feel like I walk a thin line between getting caught up in a movie-watching binge and reading nothing or having so many books to read that I feel overwhelmed. Thankfully, I'm on track to read at least as much as I did last year, baby and all =), so even when I feel like I've totally fallen off the reading wagon I usually make my way back around. It just takes me a lot longer to finish books these days since I read in little chunks of time. (I can't imagine why that is! Ha!)

Also, I just realized that only like two of these books are actually on my nightstand... so apologies for a misleading title. (Psych quote time: "I can't watch Channel 8 anymore. Lloyd Lansing wears a toupee... it's like every newscast begins with a lie.")

Anyway, I usually only read one or two books at a time but lately I've been trying to start a few at a time and make progress on them as I can. Here's what I have checked out:


This isn't even my nightstand. My bad. 


-Everyone Brave Is Forgiven by Chris Cleave- I just started this so I have no idea what to think yet, but I keep hearing about it on different blogs and it's supposed to be good (and I've heard comparisons to All the Light We Cannot See which I did enjoy.) All I really know is that it's set in London at the beginning of World War II and continues as the Blitz destroys the city. I rarely say no to a WWII story (I just finished this one) so hopefully this turns out to be a winner.

-Quotidian Mysteries: The Laundry, Liturgy, and "Woman's Work" by Kathleen Norris- I heard about this on Anne's podcast and all I really know about it is that it's about how we can find meaning and glorify God in our everyday, mundane tasks. Sounds right up my alley for this time, eh? Also it's short so I'll be able to finish it quickly and feel accomplished- a total win-win! (If you're like me and didn't know what "quotidian" meant, it just means "daily.")

-101 Dalmatians by Dodie Smith- I bought a really pretty hardcover copy of this for Amy since this is her favorite movie (and her childhood nickname was Rolly... for no apparent reason =) but I didn't even know the Disney movie was based on this book until recently. And Amy loved it and highly recommended to me so it's waiting on my stack!

-Navigating Early by Clare Vanderpool- I don't know much about this but a recent guest raved about it on Anne's podcast and I was sold. I've never read the author's more well-known book Moon Over Manifest (a Newberry winner) but I've heard great things about it so I have high hopes for this. Middle grade fiction consistently provides some of my favorite reading. 

-The Quiet Man: the Indispensable Presidency of George H.W. Bush by John Sununu. I just talked about this the other day, but I've read a little more of it since then. I just love George Bush so much; he was (and is) such a classy gentleman who truly loved our country and tried to put partisan issues aside for the good of America (imagine that!). It drags a little in places (like very specific and long descriptions of meetings and budgets and zzzzzz) but the inside look at the White House and how different decisions were made is interesting. It's interesting, given that John Sununu actually stepped down as Bush's chief of staff before his term ended, that he speaks so highly of President Bush and describes him with the utmost respect- another testament, I think, to Bush's excellent treatment of those around him. 

-American Mirror: the Life and Art of Norman Rockwell by Deborah Solomon- I know nothing about this but every time I go to the library I walk down the biography sections and grab one or two. I've always loved Rockwell paintings and especially the era he represented so this one seemed up my alley. Have I started it? Nope! 

-If You Can Keep It: the Forgotten Promise of American Liberty by Eric Metaxas- I've been looking forward to this one for months and it's definitely what I'll start next. Eric Metaxas is one of my favorite authors and this book is extremely timely with our culture being what it is. I'm sure I'll have an entire post to write about once I'm done reading it. 

-The Secrets of Happy Families by Bruce Feiler- I can't remember where I heard about this one (maybe from Janssen- always a safe bet) but the subtitle- "Improve Your Mornings, Rethink Family Dinners, Fight Smarter, Go Out and Play, and Much More"- sounds helpful so I'm hoping I'll enjoy it and learn something. I'm always eager to read a good parenting book (and one that doesn't leave me insanely depressed like this one. Yikes.) 

That's all! I feel like I left off a few but I was too lazy to go look at the pile of books on my coffee table. =) If you read any of these (or have anything good to pass along!) let me know! Virtual book club! (Now I just need virtual coffee and virtual cookies because I'm starting a diet this week and I can only have virtual calories. Maybe all this reading will distract me from my hunger. Say a prayer for my deprived little self! (Well, if it was little I wouldn't be dieting would I?) 

Happy reading!

Sunday, July 24, 2016

Right Now

I remember writing a post like this a few years ago... I was too lazy to go look for it but I'm sure I would have a good chuckle at how different my life is now. It's a little worse in some ways (no job = no pressing need to fix my hair every day) but better in almost every way (Alice = all the heart eye emojis ever.) My days now include fewer bulletin boards and lesson plans and more bottles and baby toys (or anything that can fit in Alice's mouth, which makes it a toy to her and includes my hair, lucky me) but of course I wouldn't trade it for all the red pens in the world (although I do miss that power. Ha!)


Also, it should be said that I tend to get stuck on things. By this I mean I'll listen to the same song/album or read the same author or eat the same food until I can no longer stand whatever it is and go on to the next thing. I'm basically Toad in The Wind in the Willows, always following some new "mania." Although my "manias" are usually Broadway cast albums or baby clothes and I don't have friends named Rat and Mole, so that's where the similarities end. (Side note: if you've never watched the Disney movie "Ichabod and Mr. Toad" please do. Such a treasure.)

-I'm seriously prepping myself for some legit "let's lose this baby/last two years of inactivity" weight. I can't even blame Alice for this... girth because I was actually on a diet when I found out I was pregnant so it's not like I was just thrilled with myself before I had a baby. My goal is to be a little more pleased with how I look (and how my clothes fit, ugh) by her birthday (which is many moons away and not something to even be discussing about my tiny tiny baby. #denial)


Me, right now! (Well, yesterday.) Also, I don't want to brag but my nose is the same size it was before I had a baby. I mean... #fitnessgoals

-On repeat: The Music Man, both the movie and the soundtrack. Don't ask me why; I can't explain it to you. All I know is I revisited this movie for the first time in years after Alice was born and in the past couple of weeks I've become obsessed (mania!) with knowing all the words to the Rock Island train scene. Again, I don't even know why. But I will conquer that song one of these days. I've also really come to love Shirley Jones's voice, which has never thrilled me even though Oklahoma! is one of my favorites. Who knows? This entire paragraph is only making me seem nuts so let's move on.

-Um, let's talk about Apple Music: y'all, why haven't I had this my whole life? (Um, because it didn't exist until like last year?) I did the free trial and I'm already feeling drunk with power. I can listen to anything, anything at all?? I can jam to the A Walk to Remember soundtrack like it's 2004? I can play Patch the Pirate endlessly or download the Jim Brickman lullabies? Any Disney playlist or soundtrack? ALL THE BROADWAY CAST ALBUMS ARE MINE FOR THE TAKING? (See The Music Man nonsense above.) I've had this for like two weeks and it's already improved the quality of my life significantly. (I wish I were exaggerating but sadly I am not.)

-I'm pretty much drowning in library books the moment (and just finished this one last night- creepy!) but I'm in the middle of The Quiet Man: the Indispensable Presidency of George H.W. Bush by John Sununu, his former chief of staff. I actually just finished another giant Bush biography but this one is more comprehensive regarding his years in office. It's really interesting and inspiring but also terribly depressing given our current political climate. (Also there is a Bush documentary on Netflix called 41 on 41 and it's quite good if you like that sort of thing.) Reading about someone who is well-liked and admired by both parties (at least now, several years removed from his term), it's amazing that such a thing is even possible when we're faced with two of the most polarizing candidates in history. (Gag.) Anyway, George H.W. Bush is my favorite President and I'll gladly read anything I can about him.

-Have you tried the A Cappella app? I'm not nearly as talented as my sister ("oh, you know, just doing six part harmony like I'm the entire Von Trapp family! No big deal!") but it is fun to play around with. This is pathetic but I almost always turn the camera around because facing it makes me feel SHAKY AND NERVOUS IN MY OWN HOME with no one around (seriously, why) but if you like singing and harmonizing it's pretty cool. ("I enjoy the sound of my own voice; I won't apologize for that." Ha- best Shawn Spencer quote ever.)

-It's probably a fruitless search, but I've been looking everywhere for some flattering clothes (see weight loss paragraph.) Anything too fitted shows off my pregnancy souvenirs, but billowy tops (normally my go-to) make me look like I'm about six months pregnant soooo. what is a girl to do? It's so much easier (and cheaper) to just buy clothes for Alice (knowing she'll look adorable) but at some point I have to move past my rotation of Old Navy t-shirts and swing dresses and try to actually find something flattering. (Or, you know, make myself easier to be flattered... I type as I sip my Dr. Pepper.)

-Speaking of losing weight, you'd think I'd be a toothpick considering that a) I pick up my 18.5 pound baby and her million-pound carseat multiple times a day, and b) I spend a large portion of my time chasing her away from various dangerous objects. (This kid will be the death of me.) She is definitely into everything- terrifying considering she's only nine months old and there are years of destruction to come- and what's worse, everything goes straight to her mouth. Stuffed animals? Fine. Her baby monitor? Um, no, darling. The little dear pulled every single book out of her lower shelf in her room last night and proceeded to crawl inside. Ha! "What times we have, what great games!"


Okay, there you have it. Multiple paragraphs about things I enjoy and how I spend my time... I'm afraid we're veering into some serious navel gazing here, so I'll wrap it up. But if you want to chime in to the shopping/book/music/dieting conversation, please do. There's something for everyone! I'm basically the food court of bloggers. (Not a bad analogy for many reasons, especially if I represent Chick-fil-A.)

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Things I Do Every Day to Make Me Happy

I'm a firm believer in regularly doing things that make me happy. (One of my biggest happiness boosters is shopping which, sadly, can only be done in moderation since my desire to buy stuff must be reined in by my budget.) But, to quote Gretchen Rubin again, "what I do every day is more important than what I do once in a while." If I occasionally eat ice cream, that's not the end of the world. But if I drink soda every day (guilty) that can have long-term effects that I'm not wild about. (Trust me, this internal struggle has been going on for years now and my common sense continues to lose out to my love of Mountain Dew.)

But Gretchen (yes, we're first-name-basis friends, of course) says that treats- not necessarily food or anything that costs money- can help us feel good about ourselves, in control, and cared for- all things that do boost happiness without spending money or calories. And I can tell a difference in days that include one or all of these things- I'm in a better mood, I feel more productive, and I get energy to tackle things that aren't quite happiness boosters. 

-Play the piano- now, this might not boost the happiness of anyone listening (typically just Alice, who doesn't seem to mind =), but if I sit down for just a few minutes and play through a song or two (or sometimes more!) I feel calm and even slightly accomplished (depending on the difficulty of the music.) Side note- if your kids are taking piano and wanting to quit, please don't let them unless they are just completely miserable. (Even then...) One of my biggest regrets is not taking lessons in college and not really practicing in high school. Such a waste of great talent.... not. But I still regret it!



I love my white piano! My BFF Sara is a wizard and painted it for me when she was here.


-Ride my bike- this one hasn't been happening lately because it's just SO hot and I can't really bring myself to exercise outside when I know I'll be totally soaked within a few minutes. (Ew.) But typically riding around the neighborhood just fills me with happiness, especially since bike riding was one of my very favorite things as a kid. They say if you don't know what to do with your life to look back at what you enjoyed when you were ten years old, and this is at the top of that list. Plus riding a bike is one of the most rewarding forms of exercise to me because you don't have to exert that much energy to feel like you've accomplished something (it takes just a few minutes to leisurely ride a mile.) It helps that my bike is so pretty! =)



-Read- to myself and Alice- you knew this would make the list, didn't you? I mostly read to Alice at night when she's sleepy and less likely to crawl away or try to rip the pages =) but I've also started reading to her when she's in her high chair or rolling seat- aka trapped! We're almost through the Ramona books and I'm deliberating what to start next with her. (We do chapter books while she eats before bed and picture books the rest of the time- my favorites are these forever and ever.) But of course I find time every day to read by myself too. (Read more about that here.) I get antsy if I'm not reading something (even if that means renewing it the maximum number of times before I finish.) Reading is my time to learn or think or sometimes just escape (in the best way of course, not a "my baby has been shrieking for an hour" way. Never! =) 


If you wanna read you gotta go to the library- and wearing matching colors doesn't hurt! (Also this is an old picture and Alice looks so tiny. =(

-Straighten up the house- since I'm home all day and therefore don't have the busy in-and-out shuffle that used to accompany my teaching life, I keep my house pretty clean. (Actually when Sara was here she said I was OCD, but that's neither here nor there. Maybe I am a little. =) I guess since I'm here all the time I get more annoyed by clutter? Either way, I don't deep clean every day (obviously) but I take the time to clear the counters, table, and main areas (including Alice's room) throughout the day and that helps me tremendously to not feel overwhelmed by a "dirty house." Also Jonathan is a big help and keeps the dishwasher loaded/unloaded for me. #besthusband 

-Bible study- this is something that I stay much more consistent with if I'm actually involved in a specific study and not just randomly choosing a topic or chapter on my own. For a long time I felt like a bad Christian because I wasn't, you know, doing a Hebrew word study with my husband's massive Bible commentaries, but I've come to accept the fact that there are other women who have written great Bible studies- for other women!- and I can benefit from their research and wisdom. Since (to us another Gretchen Rubin term) I'm an Obliger, I am much more productive when I create outer expectations and accountability, so getting involved in Bible studies at church works for better for me in this way. Our most recent study was Missing Pieces by Jennifer Rothschild and it was excellent. 

 It's worth noting that not that everything that makes us happier makes us feel happy in the moment. For example, making my bed doesn't fill me with some rush of joy, but seeing my bed made, especially since I've recently bought a new quilt and pillows, does make me happy. Exercising definitely doesn't make me happy while I'm puffing and sweating and wanting to STRANGLE those perky girls in the background (aren't they the worst??) but I do feel happier when I've exercised. And I'm not necessarily happy while I'm cleaning my house but few things make me happier than a clean house. As my papaw used to say, "The joy is not always in the doing but in the having done." 


I wish I could say I made my bed every day (hangs head in shame) but I do try! I used to be really hardcore about it but then when I became a total sloth while pregnant I got out of the habit. At least it's pretty when I do. =)


What are things that are important to you and make you happy every day? "Reading your blog, Ashley!" Why, you're too kind. =) Seriously, though, let me know! I'm endlessly fascinated by this kind of stuff. And maybe I'll get some ideas, too. (Such as "fix my hair," "put on makeup," "wear real clothes and not pajamas." Oh, and "work out." Yikes!

(Although here I must quote Jim Gaffigan: "I'm going to the gym EVERY DAY."
*next day* "Well not every day. I gotta let my muscles breathe a little."
*next day* "I don't wanna get caught up in that beauty culture." Ha! Seriously... my struggle.)


HAPPY Tuesday!


P.S. If you want to learn more about this stuff, definitely read any of Gretchen Rubin's books. So interesting and practical! 

Sunday, July 17, 2016

Don't Squander Joy

Before I get started, I just want to say that even though some of these thoughts are kinda sad, don't get me wrong- I am generally a happy person and I'm extremely thankful for my mostly boring (in a good way) life. But like so many others I know, moms in particular, I struggle during quiet (or not-so-quiet) moments with this subject of worry. I'm okay, I promise. Don't worry about me! See what I did there? Carry on...

I've mentioned a time or two (or ten) here that I am a worrier. My mind can go from zero to worse-case-scenario in about two seconds and no matter how many verses I read or inspirational quotes I pin, I have always struggled with worry. (A sin, yes... I know. Adding guilt to worry makes it even better! Ha!)

Not only is worry bad for my mental well-being, it's just bad for my spirit in general. (I think social media has made this approximately one zillion times worse. Want to worry some more? Look on Facebook and behold the general awfulness of mankind at any given moment of the day.) So even though worrying does me no good and a ton of bad, I still indulge in it daily. (Why use the word indulge? Because sometimes it does feel like an indulgence- "I know this is wrong and I shouldn't do it, but I'm going to anyway." It's like McDonald's for the mind.) And then my mind (or yours) wanders to some catastrophic (albeit fictional) event and when it comes back to the present, realizes that that scenario hasn't/won't/couldn't possibly happen- or could it?! (Rinse, repeat.)

Since I've always been a worrier, I thought I had it down pretty well (what, it's not a skill? Oops) but then... I had a baby. And my pre-baby worries were teeny tiny potatoes compared to the elaborate worries I can now concoct while Alice sleeps just a few feet away. The worrying started during my pregnancy and continues to sometimes overwhelm me... again, it doesn't take long to look around and think about what a terrifying world this is to raise a child in.


Basically me. If only worrying really were a superpower...

So, since this is something that really bothers me, I'm actively trying to make a dent in my worrying ways and kick them to the curb (not that I'll ever do that for good, because, obviously, I'm a mom now so it comes with the territory) but I am trying. I was reading this book a few months ago and an entire chapter (but this quote in particular) jumped out at me. I try to write down good quotes but even when I do they rarely stick with me and resonate the way this did.

"Don't squander joy. We can't prepare for tragedy and loss. When we turn every opportunity to feel joy into a test drive for despair, we actually diminish our resilience. Yes, softening into joy is uncomfortable. Yes, it's scary. Yes, it's vulnerable. but every time we allow ourselves to lean into joy and give in to those moments, we build resilience and cultivate hope. The joy becomes part of who we are, and when bad things happen- and they do happen- we are stronger." 

I basically need to tattoo these words onto my arm and read them every day. This is SO me! I love the use of the word "squander," which basically means waste but also sounds like "squash" and has the idea of destroying. Why would we waste or destroy our joy? If it's a precious gift from God- indeed, true joy can only be found through Christ- it's a terrible thing to purposefully squander it. Taking moments of joy and turning them into "test drives for despair" is a very, very bad habit of mine. Sometimes when I'm rocking Alice, or she's giggling with her daddy, or I'm watching her sleep (in a non-creepy way of course- ha!), I'll think of how lucky/blessed we are and how I want to freeze these moments- and then two seconds later I'm picturing how I could lose it all. WHY? Like the author said, that's actually diminishing my resilience instead of strengthening it for the inevitable hard times ahead. Another old phrase says, "Don't borrow trouble," and that's basically the same thing. 

As usual when I'm really struggling with a concept, answers for it come in pairs. The same week I read this quote, I came across the idea of worry in the context of guarding our minds when I was doing Priscilla Shirer's Bible study Armor of God (which I highly recommend.) Unfortunately I can't find my workbook (thanks to the move! It's probably in the garage...) but she talks about the fact that we have to protect our minds (with the idea of a helmet) because of the damage that worry and fear can do both mentally and even physically. (I can definitely identify.) I wish I could find my book to share exactly what she says but it was so comforting to reiterate the idea that even though I struggle with worry, God can equip me with what I need to overcome my fears. I can't equip myself, even though I try, but He can. 

So, my resolution (yes, in July) is "don't squander joy." There are plenty of actual, real-life moments that naturally make us unhappy or give cause to worry (like the news every single day!) but in moments that bring joy (and Alice gives us plenty of those!), I'll choose not to squander it. I'll try to fully engage in the joy I'm feeling even though that leaves me vulnerable to hurt and loss, and I won't "test drive despair"- such a descriptive phrase but truly something that should be avoided at all costs. If (or really when) hard times come, it's not like I'll be able to say, "I'm totally prepared for this because of that one time I was rocking my baby to sleep and started freaking out about the future!" It's better for me in every way (including in the example I set for Alice) to put my trust in God and allow myself to accept the grace He offers to help me through my worrying moments. 



Although... this girl is now pulling and crawling (instead of just her army crawl/worm) so if I have ever had a legit reason to worry it's now that she is a crazy fast, mobile, and fearless little explorer. Pray for me! It gets easier, right? (No, no it will not. I know this.)

Happy Monday! Even in this dark and scary time in our country, please choose not to squander joy. If we've ever needed to trust God and cultivate hope, it's now. <3



Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Alice Juliet- Eight/Nine Months

How is that my baby has now been with us for the same length of time as my pregnancy? The past nine months have been like a blink, while pregnancy seemed to last years. It seriously blows my mind that this girl's first birthday is around the corner. How did this happen? WHY DIDN'T ANY OF YOU WARN ME? (Sob.) Okay, I'm calm now. 

I thought about putting off this post another few days because Alice has her nine-month checkup on Tuesday and we'll know her weight and length and all that but I knew if I waited then I might not blog again until she's like three. Poor little neglected Dash of Ash! Ha! (Except... that's what I did. Oops.) Anyway, here we go... the latest and greatest on Miss Priss, who is so ridiculously big and mobile and crazy these days I can't even handle it. 




Weight and Length- we just had a checkup today and she's 18 pounds 9 ounces and 28.5 inches long! She's definitely growing! =) 

Nicknames- Alice from the Palace, Al, Ayice (the way Ella says it, like pollo. Ha!), Squish, Fatsy Patsy, Sugar Bee, Princess Pie, Jolly Holiday

Sleep- at least 10 hours at night, and her naps have gotten much better. The past two months have been a STRUGGLE on the nap front. Like, kicking and screaming (not to mention Alice doesn't like them.) Haha- seriously though. My previously jolly baby somehow morphed into this alter ego Crazy Baby and it was ROUGH. We have finally turned a corner (aka I just wait until she's obviously exhausted before trying to put her down) but there have been some tearful afternoons for both of us. Thank goodness it's gotten better. Also thank goodness she never ever acts like that at night and if I had to pick one I would pick night to go more smoothly.




Eating- she's still nursing 4 times a day and once at bedtime, with solids 3-4 times too. I'm trying to cut down the nursing to 4 times total and we're introducing new foods more often now too (including puffs. God bless puffs.) She's not picky at all and has seemingly enjoyed everything but her favorite food right now is green beans (just like her mama!) I'm not crunch by any stretch of the imagination but I do make her food myself because it's cheaper and I have nothing better to do with my time. Ha! Mostly I just cook/steam vegetables on the stove and then puree them in the blender. Easy (obviously, since I do it) and healthy. (Before you know it I'll be making my own bread or something. Psshhh. I don't have high hopes.)


Clothing- she's pretty much entirely in 9 month stuff now except for some 6 month pajamas and a few 6-9 month dresses. Still not really wearing socks or shoes ever (bad mom) but it's so hot I don't even care. 

Mood- happy! Of course, now that she's so much bigger and more aware and opinionated she likes to express herself quite a bit =)... but she is so friendly and sweet and has the biggest smiles for just about everyone! (Although when she is sad her poochie lip is SO adorable.) 

Loves- my singing (I know, I don't understand it either. =)

-wrestling with her daddy
-MOVING (crawling, pulling herself up, etc.)
-anything she can't have =) (lotion, my phone, the remote control, cords... basically anything dangerous or poisonous is like her forbidden fruit!) 
-puffs
-her rings and other little toys
-people-watching (she's nosy like her daddy!)
-tickles

Doesn't Love- naps if she's not ready for them (#angryangryangry)

-getting in her carseat
-getting her clothes changed (soon dramatic!)
-leaving mama
-too many strangers at once 
-being held for long (she is on the GO!) 

What I Want to Remember/Milestones- oh my word... SO many things have changed in the past couple of months! She is crawling (and FAST... she speeds around everywhere!), just started pulling herself up, walking when we hold her hands, grabbing food herself, really playing independently (instead of just putting toys in her mouth =), and just becoming such a little person. I think she's going to be left-handed because she almost always grabs for things with her left hand and transfers things to her left hand before eating them or whatever. She is starting to give kisses (open-mouthed, of course- EW! haha) and reaching for us. Still no words yet but she definitely knows our names and hers. She loves to be loved on! She loves kisses and tickles but sadly she is such a busy bee that pretty much the only snuggling I get now is when she's eating or right before she goes to sleep. =( Even with all the anti-nap tantrums and frustrations of the past several weeks, she's been the sweetest, best baby. We went to North Carolina and had family visit recently and she did great with all the different people around. I love showing her off to friends and family too (including her future husband Sawyer. =) 

What I'm Looking Forward To- I'm actually really sad about it but her first birthday is the next big thing happening... we are planning on getting family pictures done and then an Alice in Wonderland photo shoot for her so that will be fun. And planning her little party will be fun too (so will shopping for her presents. =)

Me- the last couple of months have tested me in whole new ways compared to the beginning stages of this motherhood gig. Sleep training a newborn or dealing with daily fussy times or whatever were all a piece of cake compared to the daily battle of trying to get her to nap. Nothing makes you feel like a failure like not being able to control an 8-month-old baby. And of course the Mom Guilt is strong and it's easy to lean over her crib while she's screaming and picture a lifetime of delinquent behavior that started right in this moment that you lingered for one second too long before actually leaving the room and STAYING OUT (I'm such a wimp. Ugh.) Thank goodness we've rounded that corner! Overall, as always, this is the best gig in the world. I have experienced more joy in these nine months than in my whole life. She's just the best. 




There you go! For those of you (my mom and whoever else) who read these little updates, thanks! You are singlehandedly keeping this blog going. One day I'll write about other things again, but for now it's nice to have a place to keep a record of Alice. And you can't say you mind the pictures. =) 


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. =)



Fiction

-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. =) 

Non-Fiction

-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.