Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Summer Reading

The Houston Public Library has a summer reading program for adults and kids ages 0 to 18  years old. All you have to do is read books (or have them read to you if you're in the lower range in the 0-18 category) and log them which will enter you for prize drawings. For adults, the drawing is for a Kindle Fire. I'm not even sure that I would find a Kindle Fire useful but I like getting free things so I signed John and myself up (also, I like to read, so that's another reason). I suppose Isla could even participate since she is definitely older than 0 years (she's nearly 1/6 of a year old, thank you very much!), but John really enjoys reading so I think I'll focus on reading with him this summer. 

I found that I am really unfamiliar with good quality children's literature and didn't know where to look to find good books for John. Recently I found some lists on the library's website that have been helpful in providing a lot of suggestions:

Caldecott Winners
100 Classic Picture Books
Texas 2x2 ( The Texas Library association's list of 20 recommended books for children, age two to grade two.)

Since I've had the pleasure of reading many, many children's books over the last two years, I've been delighted to realize that a good book is a good book no matter your age. That's a good thing too because that means that I can look forward to reading with John as much as he does. I guess that is only true on the upper end of the developmental spectrum. While I enjoy children's books, I'm going to hold off on introducing John to Grapes of Wrath for the time being. He does like grapes, but I have a hunch the symbolism would elude him. 

I checked out several books last week from the lists mentioned above and I was thoroughly impressed. Our favorites so far are: 

A Sick Day for Amos McGee. The 2011 Caldecott winner. This book is so, so precious. 

Goodnight, Goodnight Constructions Site. I don't know why large vehicles have such an attraction for little boys. But they are undeniably exciting. I have to admit that even I am more interested in excavators than I ever thought I would be. This book is really, really cute as well.  

And, speaking of excavators, John has recently added that word to his vocabulary thanks to Goodnight, Goodnight Construction Site. It's so cute, recently when he sees construction vehicles he's been saying "excavator... yeah!" 

For my reading, I always have an enormous book list that I'm sure will never be completed in my lifetime, but this summer I'm hoping to make it through a few of the books on Money Saving Mom's list of 7 must read books for work at home moms. 

I'm not necessarily trying to be a work at home mom (I'm happy eating bon bons all day ;o) but a few of the suggestions were about time management. I'm embracing my new type A personality by trying to read up on time management and organization skills- two things that don't come naturally for me. I couldn't find all of them at the public library but I'm hoping to get through these three which were available to check out: 

The Other 8 Hours

Eat That Frog 

168 Hours

And since I wrote my last post I received recommendations for two books, Unbreakable and Notes from the Tilt-a-Whirl: Wide-Eyed Wonder in God's Spoken World

These have been on my list for a while! Now that I'm breastfeeding again, I actually have more opportunities to read when John isn't bringing me books that he wants me to read to him. So, I'm going to try to read as much as I can while I have no choice but to sit in one place for 20 minutes every 2 or 3 hours! 

Monday, May 21, 2012


Sometime last summer or possibly fall, I stopped blogging book reviews. I didn't stop reading, but between early pregnancy lethargy and holiday busyness, I didn't blog much. So, here's a catch up:

Revolution in World Missions by K.P. Yohannan. The author is a native of India who has an organization that specializes in training native missionaries to reach their own people with the news of Christ rather than sending foreign missionaries. This book is about how he came to start the organization and why he thinks it's the best way to go. I thought it was very inspiring, challenging and a quick read.

Instruments in the Redeemer's Hands by Paul David Tripp. I really like this author, though his books tend to be dense and wordy. (I'm actually partial to dense and wordy books. Hello, Charles Dickens!) But he really gets to the center of the gospel in his messages. This one is about how the members of the church are supposed to fill the function of "counselors" for each other as we "do life" together. That's a very simple explanation for a dense book. But I found a lot to think about and practical information as well. It is a lot to take in. I feel like I need to read it again but I don't know when I'll get to that. More realistically, I'll at least have it on hand for reference.

Three Cups of Tea  by Greg Mortenson and David Oliver Relin. I didn't really like this. I listened to it for a  book club that I never went to. Its veracity has been challenged by John Krakauer in another book called Three Cups of Deceit. I intended to read both of them but never quite made it to "Deciet". Despite the fact that the author of "Tea" may have embellished his claims, I just didn't find the book that inspiring. It was somewhat repetitive, the writing seemed dry and it just didn't "grab" me.  However, I'm all for fighting terrorism through education, like the author claimed to be doing.

White Fang by Jack London. Again, I read this for a book club that I never went to. I'm not that familiar with Jack London but since he seems to be well-regarded in the American literature canon, I was happy to pick this audio book up. It was okay. It's has a lot of depressing things in it but it does have a somewhat heartwarming, to use a cliched term, ending.

The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake  by Aimee Bender. I can't say I liked this one. It's not that this was poorly written. And, while I was listening to it, I was intrigued enough to finish it. But at the end, I really had no idea what its point was. Perhaps that's because it is magical realism and I'm not very well read in that genre. Still, though, I'm usually decent about being able to pick up on symbolism but this one totally escaped me.

Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese. I listened to this on audiotape for a book club. Some other women in the club raved about it. I thought it was a pretty absorbing story but I didn't love it like they did. It was very long, I don't know that I would have finished it if I hadn't been listening to it. (Listening goes much faster for me, as I do it when I'm doing chores around the house.) But it could also be that because I was listening to it, I wasn't as in tune with some of its story lines. That is the downside of audio books, I think. This book had some very rich themes and it was well-written and a good story. I just didn't love it like I thought I might. I don't know if I'd recommend it because I think if I'm going to recommend a 600-page book it should be something that I loved.

The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald. I Read this in high school. I recently listened to it for a book club and it was like reading it for the first time. I didn't remember anything from my high school reading except that there was a car accident. I liked it and I appreciate its message but I also have more difficulty understanding literature from this era than I do other time periods. I think a lot still went over my head. It's a classic but I wouldn't say that you must read it now if you haven't (like I would say about some other classics like To Kill a Mockingbird).

Year of Wonders: A novel of the Plague by Geraldine Brooks. This was a very quick read and I really enjoyed it while I was reading it. It was a page turner with a very interesting premise. The author uses very vivid descriptions. However, I did not like the end at all. I found it to be rushed and very improbable. That made me like it less after I was finished.

On Writing by Stephen King. I haven't read any other Stephen King books. I'm familiar with some of his works that have become movies- of which there are many. I was surprised to find how many films have been adapted from his writings. He's quite prolific as an author and this book is part memoir, part writing manual. I loved it. He uses very salty language throughout. But his writing is engaging and funny, and I found the instruction on writing to be incredibly informative.

Are you reading anything good?

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Lemonade Party or Thank You, Pinterest, for Taking Over My LIfe

Saturday, we celebrated John's second birthday with a lemonade-themed party at the splash park. Despite the title of this post, the party was actually fairly simple to pull off. But there's no way I ever would have thought of making pinwheels if it had not been for Pinterest. Now I am helplessly caught wandering in Pinterest's impeccably decorated, endless labyrinth of ideas. I don't think John understands anything about it being his birthday. Though he does say "happy day!" (happy birthday) and he answers "two" when asked how old he is. Still, his lack of understanding has made me really consider whether I might lower my party standards for child number 2 and her parties until she knows what a birthday means. But there is something about seeing a bunch of two-year-olds running through the water with the pure joy of being two that is very special. Even if they'll have no memories of it whatsoever, I'll remember it, I suppose!

Birthday boy with my Mom, his favorite person!

 I was going for old-fashioned lemonade stand (pinterest idea!). Unfortunately we didn't have the lemonade ready when this picture was taken. But it did eventually make it to the table.

 Here, I was trying to convince John not to ruin the artistic integrity of the table before the party actually started. You can imagine how that turned out. (Look at those cute little baby feet sticking out of the carrier!)

If you ever need to attract large swarms of toddlers just put out a few snacks. Like moths to a flame!

 I wish I had more detailed pictures of John running through the splash pad. He was having So. Much. Fun.

 I can't believe it's been two years. It's gone by fast! We've loved every minute! 

Tuesday, May 08, 2012

It's Never too Early for Jane Austen (Or Charlotte Bronte)

John, it could be said, very literally entered his life amidst the good-natured sarcasm of Elizabeth Bennet and the sensible humility of Elinor Dashwood. This being because I watched a combined 8 hours of Pride and Prejudice and Sense and Sensibility during and after labor. I'd like to think some of that Austen charm set in and that he'll grow up to embrace Mr. Darcy's gentlemanly ways without being so curmudgeonly.

Only time will tell. However, I was researching classic children's literature in search of some good  books to check out from the library and I stumbled upon these. I can't believe I didn't think of this, but I'm so glad someone did. Author Jennifer Adams has undertaken to make classic literature accessible to children by writing, in board book format, modified versions of Pride and Prejudice, Jane Eyre, Alice in Wonderland and Romeo and Juliet! A Jane Austen board book!

Now, I understand, these books are mostly meant to be novelty items appreciated more by adults. I know John would much rather read about freight trains. And Isla, well, Isla's not so into reading yet. But if she were, she'd probably like to read about milk and sleeping. Neither have expressed interest in the passive aggressive class squabbles of 19th century England. Yet. Still, though, a Jane Austen board book!

I really hope the author does all of Jane Austen's books. And more Brontes! I also love the Brontes.

Meanwhile, I'm going to work on toddler adaptation of Crime and Punishment. 

Saturday, May 05, 2012

Home, Neat Home

I haven't cleaned in a month. That is, I hadn't cleaned in a month until Monday. It's not really true that I didn't clean at all. It would be more accurate to say that I abandoned my cleaning schedule. Until Monday when I attempted to reinstate it. It went well, although some of us (I shan't name names) might have been a mite traumatized that we couldn't be rocked all the live long day.

I'm glad I didn't clean for a month because it showed me two things:

1) If it doesn't get done one week, no big deal! Everyone lived through it and the house didn't even look that bad. In the past I've had weeks where I wondered "what am I doing?" as I dusted furniture that did not appear to have dust on it and vacuumed floors that seemed perfectly clean. However, I also learned...

2) There's a reason that I do it weekly. Even though missing one week (or even a few weeks) really doesn't make a big difference, keeping the mess at bay is definitely the way to go, I thought as I breathed in a month's worth of settled dust.

I think about cleaning a lot. I think that's partially because I didn't grow up being a "cleaner". You know the type. The ones who, no sooner than you've pickup up your cup off of the counter to take a sip, they've got a rag underneath wiping up the ring. Those people.

Because I didn't grow up like that, I still sometimes feel like a stranger in a foreign land when it comes to keeping house. I don't always know the "right" way to do something, if there is a right way. I might not even know an acceptable way, and sometimes I'm at a complete loss. One thing I find constantly baffling is the shower. How often should I clean it? And is it ever clean? I recognize when it's dirty (like it is right now) but I'm doubtful whether it's ever actually clean. Our grout is horribly stained. It's possible that it's 40 years old with 40 years of mildew stains. It doesn't encourage me in my cleaning efforts when I've scrubbed it down and it still looks dingy.

But, I digress. What I wanted to say was that I think a lot about cleaning and I've stumbled on some principles that have really helped me transform from a slob into a Crazy Cleaning Lady (I'm not saying that this is necessarily a metamorphosis that one should undertake. I mean it's good to have a clean house. But becoming a Crazy Cleaning Lady is fraught with its own set of problems. Namely, your family and friends might suddenly appear to be mess-making machines whom it is your destiny to destroy with lasers.)

Cleaning priciples:

1) Habits. Small habits. I love habits and routines. LOVE THEM. These are words that I never thought I'd be typing. When I was building a cleaning schedule I started one habit at a time. Now there are a few things that I automatically do daily. I usually dust mop the kitchen every night. At least every night that I cook because those are the nights that tend to result in crumbs on the floor. Sometimes I think "I'm not going to dust mop, I'm too tired." But it's so ingrained now that before I even know what I'm doing I've gotten the mop out and dusted the kitchen. Habits! They can trick you into doing things that you don't want to do! Yay!

2) Cleaning schedules are good. This is just another habit. But the main thing here is doing things like vacuuming even when the carpet doesn't necessarily look dirty. You're doing it according to schedule not necessarily according to need. By the time it looks dirty, the dust bunnies have already won. It's easier to tidy up when there's only minimal mess, is what I'm saying. This might be obvious to the average person but it eluded me for approximately 25 years.

3) Know the minimum level of cleanliness that you can tolerate. This was really helpful for me to think about as I was preparing for a new baby. I knew there would be a time that I couldn't maintain my ideal schedule. So, knowing what I should focus on helped me to keep cleaning to a minimum but also not go insane. For me I settled on three things: 1) Keep stuff picked up. I hate clutter. 2) Keep counters wiped down and 3) Don't let floor get too gritty. So this means that I continued wiping counters, dust moping and picking up after myself (and a few other people) almost daily. But for the past month I haven't moped, dusted, vacuumed or scrubbed the shower regularly. I also took a break from my monthly tasks of dusting baseboards, wiping down cabinetry and bleaching out trashcans. And no one seemed repulsed by the filth that ensued so I'm sure it wasn't actually that bad. (Not even I thought it was that bad.)

And now, without even intending to, I've gone and written a treatise on cleaning. So, I'll save the rest of my thoughts for later. This has to be one of the least interesting posts I've ever written but I tell you, I have to have an outlet for all these thoughts that are clanging around in my brain like tin cans. It gets quite distracting!
And now I'm going to go scrub the shower.

Friday, May 04, 2012

Isla: One Month!

Isla was one month old on April 28th. I think I'm going to forget about trying to make updates correspond with the appropriate calendar dates. I'm just going to do my best to periodically convey that the children are still alive- thriving, even!

If I had one word to describe Isla's first month, it would be: hot. Between the constant body heat that accompanies nursing, wearing her in a carrier while we're at the park, occasional screaming fits (her's, not mine) and swaddling (again, her, not me)  it seems that neither of us have stopped sweating since she was born.

 She's a sweet girl. She hasn't yet revealed what are sure to be her many unique personality traits. She's being coy. So far her disposition has been par for the course in newborn land. She loves to eat, sleep, and be rocked.

She's a good sleeper at night. She wakes to eat but goes right back to sleep and hasn't been fussy during the wee hours. She's fussier during the day. That is fine by me, I can deal with a little crying during the waking hours.

Two things she is really good at: spitting up just outside the borders of the burp cloth and pooping in a clean diaper. That's my girl! She's also very good at being a delicious sugar lump who cannot yet escape the constant barrage of kisses she receives from her mama and her big brother.

Isla's life so far. It's harder than it looks.

I have to watch carefully so big brother doesn't give her the jostling of a lifetime before she gets good head control. (Because I'm sure at some point she will get the jostling of a lifetime.... I'd just like her to have a little 
stability for her noggin.)

Tuesday, May 01, 2012

Knocking on the Door of Two

John will turn two on May 13th. I should write a longer update on him around then. But if I don't get to that, which is a distinct possibility, I wanted to write down some things while I have a chance.

He really loves animals and is quite proficient at a myriad of animal sounds.

I haven't taught him a flamingo sound (what sound does a flamingo make?). But he does know how a flamingo stands:

Isn't that cute?! (If I do say so myself.) (Note: The flamingo part is the standing one leg. The upraised arm and ruler- I don't know what that's about.)

He's at such a fun age. He's becoming so much more verbal and we've been having honest-to-goodness discussions about literature! One book we've been reading of late is the tome "What makes Elmo Happy?"

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Recently he was chattering on and I heard him say "Elmo, happeeee."

 I asked him,"what makes Elmo happy?"

 He responded by saying "Momeeee, dadeee."

"What else?"

"Ouside" (outside).

"What else?"

Eeyou (you).

And indeed, these are all mentioned in the book as things that make Elmo happy! He recalled them without prompting (other than the question "what makes Elmo happy?").

 Today he picked up a book about Noah's ark and said "ark." I asked "what happened on the ark?" He said "animals." I mean, he didn't give me a dissertation or anything, but he's got the gist!

Doesn't this demonstrate reading comprehension and memory! It's so exciting! I can't wait until we get to J.R.R. Tolkein! (What makes Frodo happy?)