Book buddies in-law

2012 was one of the most formative years in my life – I experienced the sorrow of losing my father and the joy of connecting with the love of my life. When I married my husband the next year, I would be walked down the aisle by my mother, and there would be no father-daughter dance. Though the day was the happiest of my life, Dad’s absence was felt. I had no idea at that point that the man who pronounced us man and wife, my husband’s father, would one day be a dear friend and father to me.

The Hubby and I were long distance until about one month before we married. We met and knew each other’s families, but had not spent significant amounts of time with them. For the first five years of our marriage, we were lucky enough to live just five minutes away from my father-in-law, Verne. Through this proximity and the almost-weekly dinners we would have together, we had a chance to get to know each other pretty well.

One day, while at our house for dinner, Verne eyed my bookshelves and asked to borrow my copy of The Catcher in the Rye. He hadn’t read it before, and felt like he didn’t read enough fiction. This is one of my very favorite books of all time. Probably top ten. I was more than excited to share it with him, and then demand he share every thought and feeling he had about it with me. Maybe if he knew what he was signing up for, he never would have asked, but I considered the whole exchange an invitation to recommend him books until the end of time.

We are both big readers, me more of fiction and Verne more of nonfiction. I happily took up the challenge of finding fiction that he would love. Five years later, and we’ve read about fifteen books together. Books and stories have a way of going to the heart and helping people connect on a deeper level, and that has definitely been true for us. We’ve had so many great conversations about the books we’ve read, and I love when I’m reading a book and start to think, “Verne has to read this.”

We recently had the chance to talk books and reading with Anne Bogel on my favorite podcast, What Should I Read Next? I sneakily submitted an application to be on the show without telling Verne and shared our story and what it’s meant to me. I’m so happy they picked us to be on the show – and not just because it’s been a dream of mine to be on it. The reason is the reaction my father-in-law had when he got a chance to read my submission. I really thought he knew everything I wrote down, but it seems like it was news to him. If we hadn’t been chosen for the show, he would not have read that and may never have known just how much I value our relationship and love sharing books with him. Thank you, Anne, for the opportunity to share.

Anne says books are “a shortcut to talking about the things that really matter in life.” I’m glad my father-in-law and I have been able to take that shortcut and forge a meaningful friendship. At my brother-in-law’s wedding last summer, and I finally got the chance for a father-daughter dance.

A new year of reading

Usually I have an ambitious list of reading plans built up for the new year. I plan out elaborate lists, goals, and challenges for which books I’ll read and how many. This year, I’m feeling resistant to such plans, and thinking about this new year of reading more organically. So this won’t be a tidy list, but a stream of consciousness musing on what I want from my reading life in the coming months.

This year I want to read books that matter, whatever form mattering takes. This could mean personal growth or parenting books that teach me important things and improve my life. It could mean reading about important events in history I should know more about. It could mean reading a book that was really important to a friend. In short, I want more than just entertainment from my reading life.

In the past few years, I’ve come to crave the comfort of rereading my favorites, especially Jane Austen. I’ve read every Austen novel at least once and my current project is to reread all in the fancy cloth-bound editions my mother-in-law gifted me a few years ago. It would be a real shame for any these beautiful copies to go unread! Along those lines, I have a beautiful, new, cloth-bound copy of my beloved Middlemarch and it deserves to be read as well.

That leads nicely into my next point: I want to read the books on my shelves. I have so many books I purchased with great excitement and left to languish on my shelves ever since, some for over a decade (I’m looking at you, Hero With a Thousand Faces). I made a point of this in the last few months and it’s so satisfying. It’s a win-win because I can cross something off my TBR, and if I don’t like it, I can get it off my shelf and out of my life.

I want to pick up classics again. Many of my favorite books are pretty freaking old – Pride and Prejudice, Jane Eyre, Middlemarch, North and South. The problem is, the classics have all been on my TBR so long at this point, they’ve gone stale and it’s hard to get excited about them. Please, if you have a favorite classic (or old book that has flown under the radar of classic-dom), share!

I made a goal last year of reading more children’s literature, more as a duty to my children than anything else, and, wow, did I love it. I was surprised to find that my five star reads of the year were disproportionately middle grade. A great children’s book is a great everyone book, and I’m hungry to find more gems in this category and continue some of the series I started last year (The Mysterious Benedict Society, The Vanderbeekers, Little House).

In 2022, I don’t want my reading life to revolve around goals and checklists. I simply want it to be rich and joyful. May we all be so lucky!

Year-end Reading Roundup: reading for fun and disproportionate amounts of middle grade

At the beginning of 2021, my biggest hope for my reading year was to start enjoying the act of reading again. I’d gotten into a habit of reading to finish books, rather than just reading to read. My focus was on the numbers – how many books, how many pages, how many can I check off this or that list. While it’s in my nature to get caught up in the numbers, I kept this goal in the front of my mind all year and tried my best to correct my course when I got off track. And a weird thing happened – I read just as many books when “how many books” wasn’t the goal. I just got a lot more enjoyment out of the process. Turns out, when you’re having a great time reading, you just do it. Naturally. Without self-imposed goals and deadlines.

Normally this is where I’d share the reading habits that have worked for me lately, but I haven’t really had reading habits lately. I might get up early and read, use my Kindle while nursing at night, turn on an audiobook while cooking, or get a paragraph in between my kids’ fights. I do all these things sometimes, but none of them with any consistency. Some weeks I read a lot, and some I don’t manage much at all. Usually, I’ll find at least a few minutes every day. I read when I can and that’s about that.

So, without further ado, favorite books of the season (plus a review of all my favorites from 2021).

That brings me to favorite books!

Hero of Two Worlds by Mike Duncan. I’m a huge fan of the Revolutions podcast, so I’ve been waiting for this one for years. Like a proper podcast fan, I had to listen to Duncan read the book himself. This is biography at it’s best. Duncan perfectly combines meticulous research with excellent storytelling, which never feels like just a collection of facts in chronological order (my general experience of biographies). What was most fascinating was the woman behind the Marquis, Adrienne – certainly one of the many incredible unsung women of history, and I’m grateful for Duncan’s determination to tell her story as well as her husband’s.

A Place to Hang the Moon by Kate Albus. I adored this middle grade historical fiction about three siblings trying to find a home. William, Edmund, and Anna are evacuated to the countryside during the Blitz, but unlike the other children, they don’t have a home to return to when it’s over. They’re hoping to find a family to take them in not just for wartime, but forever. I was so charmed by the characters and Albus’ gentle prose that barely anyone got out of getting this book from me for Christmas.

The Tale of Despereaux by Kate DiCamillo. Sometimes I finish a book and think, “How can this be that good?” Kate DiCamillo never fails to be original and stunning. I started out reading this aloud, but found it was not age appropriate (torture and other things unsuitable for the youngest readers) – but by the time I decided it wasn’t for Bub, I was hooked and had to finish for myself. This is so much more than a story about a mouse – it is a story about the good, the true, and the beautiful.

Solutions and Other Problems by Allie Brosh. Allie Brosh’s unique brand of relatable weirdness makes me feel like she is an utterly original, singular human being while at the same time being all of us. This lived up to and exceeded my expectations set by Hyperbole and a Half.

Surprised by Joy by C.S. Lewis. This memoir of childhood and young adulthood by C.S. Lewis demands to be read from page one. It is obvious right away why Lewis’ fiction is so beloved by children – he remembers what it’s like to be a child like few adults do. I enjoyed listening to the audio, which was included with my Audible membership (along with almost all of Lewis’ most beloved nonfiction).

Rules of Civility by Amor Towles.  This book is so different from A Gentleman in Moscow, but Towles’ distinct style shines in both. The prose, the characters, the setting (Towles does sense of place like no one else), the plot twists. Everything was just perfect. I’m DYING to read this again knowing everything I know now. 

The Vanderbeekers of 141st Street by Karina Yan Glaser. When five siblings face losing their beloved brownstone apartment in Harlem, they set out on a mission to convince their landlord to let them stay. This is everything a middle grade book should be. Lovable characters, fun and heartfelt story, excellent writing. I loved how this book took place in four days, and divided the chapters up by days. A great book for adults and children alike, and (for future reference) a feel-good holiday read (that could be read any time of year, IMHO).

Here are the rest of my favorite books of 2021. You can find my descriptions in my past Reading Roundups here and here.

I’d love to hear all about your favorite books of 2021! Happy New Reading Year!

I don’t read to my babies.

When Bub was born, I immediately started reading him books of all sorts. I read aloud from my own books while he was nursing. I read board books, novels, and picture books. I’ve read to him almost every day of his life. In his first year, he heard Dr. Seuss, Tolkien, Beatrix Potter, E.B. White, John Klassen, and maybe even a little Jane Austen. One day I pulled out every children’s book we owned and tried reading through them one by one. I read because I loved books. I read because I knew the importance of reading to language development. I read because I knew it was a powerful bonding experience for parent and child. I would spend as much time as possible reading with my baby, and surely would with all my babies!

It’s never too early for The Lord of the Rings.

Fast-forward to baby number two, and I wasn’t. I was still reading to two-year-old Bub lots every day, but reading to Jaybird took a backseat. I had two kids to care for, which made it harder to sit down with a baby and read, what with a toddler running around tackling cats. Being a baby and all, he never brought me books himself like his older brother did, so I often didn’t even think of it. He was a very active, antsy baby. When I did sit down determined to read to him, it never went well. He’d squirm away or grab the book and throw it, or some other gesture of total disinterest.

I felt horrid. I love books. I love reading to my children. I believe in the amazing power of reading aloud to all ages. Here I was, dutifully reading to one child, while another’s reading life was woefully neglected. I worried he’d never love reading like his brother, because I wasn’t making it happen. I worried I was delaying his language development and neglecting and important bonding experience. I worried I was not being a good mom.

Jaybird not cooperating.

Then one day, around fourteen months, he started bringing me books. And then he kept bringing me books. He asked for one book after another, he asked for his favorites again and again. We went through a huge pile of books every day. I might have been annoyed at how much time it was taking if I weren’t so ecstatic that I hadn’t ruined his reading life after all. When Grama would visit, he would monopolize her whole visit with reading. When friends would visit, he would crawl into their laps with a book – even if he’d never met them before. When Dad was getting ready to go in the morning, he would insist one more book. He was a man obsessed, and he still is.

Make a home where books are part of life

A book can’t solve every problem, but it can make anything just a little better. Jaybird picked up on this without any baby reading regimen. He did not need me to force him to sit through books when what he wanted to do was move and explore. He didn’t need me to teach him to love books or feel driven to learn. He needed a home where books were part of life. He needed an environment where books were available whenever he was ready, on shelves he could reach himself. He needed an atmosphere where reading was a delight, not a chore or an item on a developmental checklist. And, of course, he needed parents who were available, so whenever he was ready, he knew he could toddler over with a book and be welcomed with open arms. Babies are always paying attention: environment, atmosphere, and availability go a long way.

Babies love to do what the family does, so when reading is something the family does, babies will join in – when they’re ready. Though baby Jaybird wasn’t sitting down with a book often, books were woven into the fabric of his daily life. He was paying attention, and what he learned is that reading is joyful, loving, and ubiquitous. He saw Mom and Dad reading for their own pleasure, he visited the library, he saw books in every room of his home, he heard countless books as we read aloud to his older brother, he got books for gifts at birthdays, Easter, and Christmas. He got the message – reading is just another part of life, and a pretty good one at that. When he was ready, of course he wanted to join the party.

Changing his tune.

I’m not saying I won’t or don’t ever read to my babies. If your baby loves to read, by all means, READ! But if your baby, like Jaybird and Pantsa-Pantsa after him, squirms away or throws the book across the room, please don’t sweat it. If you aren’t finding time to read (or even remembering to try!) amid the errands, chores, and endless tasks of motherhood, give yourself a break. Give your baby the environment, atmosphere, and availability they need to grow into reading. Your baby is paying attention. When books are valued, your baby will learn to value them too.

Pantsa-Pantsa is just over one year old now. Sometimes she’ll bring me a book, but usually after a page or two she rips it out of my hands and goes about her business. It’s okay. She’s okay. Books are part of her daily life, and she is paying attention.

Happy Belated Bubsday

At the end of December my Bub turned five. It is hard to believe it’s been five years since I became a mother. So hard to believe, in fact, that I put four candles on his birthday cake and even almost bought a number four candle. As you can see on the picture, I corrected the problem, but only because my husband noticed as I was lighting candles. (Also, Bub insisted on having a triangle cake. In the immortal words of Leonard Cohen, “I did my best, it wasn’t much.”)

To be honest, I’ve been afraid of writing this post all year. Age four has been tough. It’s not an easy age for parent or child, even if you don’t add a baby, a very emotional two-year-old, and a mom with PPD to the mix. I was afraid to write this because my relationships with my baby and toddler are so simple, those posts so easy to write. What does it say about me if it’s not as easy to write about Bub?

Benefits of being five? First library card!

But he’s growing up. As he grows, our relationship will grow, too. It will become more complex than it was at one or two. It will go through rough patches, and periods of adjustment. This is okay. It was a tough year, but we got through it. (pro-tip: Motherhood is easier when you’re not depressed. If you think you may have post-partum depression, get help – for you and for your kids.) Reflecting on this not-so-easy year, I’m seeing everything with a fresh perspective and learning some amazing things about my child.

Bub is so thirsty for knowledge. He is curious and inquisitive and wants to know the reason for everything. Or reasons, plural. (Actual conversation – Me: “You can’t go into the street, ever.” Bub: “Why?” Me: “Because a car could hit you and kill you.” Bub: “What’s the other reason?”). I couldn’t ask him to do or stop doing something without hearing, “Why?” This got very frustrating at times, but, I have no doubt that kid is going to learn a lot in his life and he’s going to love the process.

Bub is highly sensitive to his emotional environment. He is so perceptive and keyed in to those around him. Practically, this means if I’m feeling off, he’s feeling off. Of course this is challenging for me, but much more so for him. He’s too young right now to know what to do with all the emotional input he picks up on. It must feel uncomfortable to know intuitively when your mom isn’t at her best – especially when it lasts for a long time. With emotional maturity, this trait will develop kindness and empathy in him, and that is worth some temporary challenges.

Bub never does something just because everyone else is doing it. I can’t tell you how many social situations where I thought, “This would be so much easier if you would just do what the other kids are doing!” He needs to know the why, and “because everyone else is doing it” does not suffice. This may make some awkward parenting moments for me, but I’m proud. I’m making a point of giving a real answer to why, and he responds so well to getting a real, respectful answer – often one I’ve never considered before. It’s amazing how much we just do without ever questioning why. This certainly won’t be a problem for Bub, my little individual who insists on a good reason for everything.

Happy belated blog birthday to my Bub.

Reading Roundup: Spring & Summer 2021

When I started writing this, it was a midyear reading roundup, to be posted promptly on July 1. So this is a third quarter reading roundup instead. Because I’m a few days late on July 1.

My reading and writing (and life) struggles all began with Daylight Savings. Yep, it’s almost October and I’m still stuck on Daylight Savings. Usually, I get up about a half hour before my kids and read before starting my day, but these days I’m always sleeping in. My kids had an equally hard time adjusting, so bedtime is a battle that can run pretty late. That leaves me too tired for reading most evenings.

Despite the struggles, I find at least a little time for reading most days. I still read in the mornings, which adds up even if it’s less time than before. I squeeze a page or two in when my kids are playing nicely, and when insomnia strikes, I read on my Kindle in the dark. I become a mood reader when stressed so I pick up whatever strikes my fancy, start twelve books, and finish none.

The rest of my reading time is credited to my Mother’s Day gift – a triple stroller! Thanks to this monstrosity (“The Big Caboose”), I’m getting in more audiobook time than I’ve had since Pantsy was born. I got an Audible trial to listen to a book club choice and ended up loving it (though I hated that particular book). I’ve always been too cheap for Audible, but I’d be loath to give it up now. One of my favorites below was included, and the wealth of such “free-ish” books and the chance to listen without waiting on Libby holds won me over.

The Big Caboose! Reading time in disguise.

Now for the good stuff.

North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell. A friend recommended this book and it’s my favorite read on this list. Right at home with some of my favorites, Pride and Prejudice and Middlemarch, North and South is a slow-burn love story centered around well-developed characters you’ll love to root for. Margaret is strong and thoughtful, and not at all your standard Victorian heroine. When her family must move from a quiet, rural southern town to an industrial northern town, she encounters self-made factory owner Mr. Thornton. The north/south culture clash sows plenty of discord, but mutual respect leads them to reluctantly learn from their differences (and fall in love and stuff). I loved the audio by Juliet Stevenson, which is included with an Audible subscription.

Becoming Mrs. Lewis by Patti Callahan. This biographical fiction tells the fascinating story of Joy Davidman, the woman who married C.S. Lewis late in life. I knew nothing about her going into this, other than that A Grief Observed was about her. She is a fascinating woman, and a talented writer (the chapters begin with excerpts form Davidman’s lovely poetry). This is a compelling story about two incredible people coming together, and Callahan’s obviously meticulous research shows on every page.

The Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis. Inspired by the above, I picked up this classic which I originally read at 18. It holds up so well. It’s easy to discount C.S. Lewis when it’s been a while. His books seem almost too simple, but when you read, they are so insightful, perceptive, and uniquely Lewis. Simplicity is not a shortcoming, but the key to Lewis’ lasting appeal and value.

Reading People by Anne Bogel. This set me off on a huge personality kick. Bogel shares concise, practical summaries of several different personality frameworks and what they mean in everyday life. I was blown away by the chapter on cognitive functions, which unlocked a whole new understanding of myself as an INTP (like why taking a test today might mistype me as F or J). Fellow INTP Personality Junkie is a great resource for learning more on cognitive functions.

The Railway Children by Edith Nesbit. I was surprised to find this children’s book from 1906 so fresh and delightful. This is a story of three wealthy children who lose their fortune and end up in a small town, where they love to hang out at the railway station. Shenanigans, adventures, and charming friendships ensue. This reads a lot like Frances Hodgson Burnett, but somehow both more cheerful and less saccharine. A great read-aloud that can be enjoyed by both adults and children (I’d say five and up). I loved the free LibriVox recording by Karen Savage.

Parenting Without Power Struggles by Susan Stiffleman. This book came recommended by my favorite parenting resource, Janet Lansbury. After hearing the author on Janet’s Unruffled podcast, I ordered this book. It’s about helping parents avoid power struggles so they can be the leaders their kids need and respond calmly to difficulties without threats, bribes, punishments, and blowups. I use what I learned from this book every day.

The Call of the Wild + Free by Ainsley Arment. I’m starting homeschool this year and this book was a fabulous introduction. I learned so much, and walked away feeling more confident about my choice. I appreciated the wealth of resources and practical advice. Most of all, I loved the positive and encouraging attitude of the author, who shows in this book that homeschooling is exciting and valuable in itself, not a place to hid from some big bad wolf.

I love my pants.

Fall is a special time for our family. We’re ready for fall sometime around June and rejoice when the cool weather finally arrives. Of course, we have the everyday wonder of colorful leaves, sweater weather, hot soup, and, well, everything everyone loves about fall. On top of all that, we celebrate my birthday in October and our anniversary in November. Fall always brings back fond memories of birthdays, newlywed days, and anniversaries spent at a cabin in the woods.

Last year, fall gave us another reason to celebrate: the birth of our first girl. Pantsy Pants made her arrival on a beautiful Saturday in October. I had been through days and days of false labor. We had my mom stay at our house twice during the week, because we were SURE she’d be born in the night. Friday night, we knew. Because Jaybird was 20 minutes shy of being born on the highway, and we live far from our hospital, we drove out late that night to stay at a hotel near the hospital until it was time to go – probably in an hour or two. Then I fell asleep and woke up to no contractions at all. We spent the morning around town hoping with some walking and time, the contractions would return, but nope. Though it was frustrating at the time, Pantsy was giving us a gift. We enjoyed a lovely morning alone together talking and enjoying the beautiful fall day. It’s one of our most memorable dates.

We drove back, sent my mom home, and spent the day like a normal Saturday. We took the kids on a hike, made a nice dinner, and had a movie night. Near the thrilling conclusion of Giant Robber Crabs (now a family classic), my water broke. I started freaking out, because last time this is where I went immediately into I’m having a baby mode. My mom’s Grama senses must have been tingling, because she was already halfway to our house when we called.

We call Pantsy our easy one; that started with pregnancy, and continued in labor. After twelve hours of active labor with Bub, and a whirlwind, barely-made-it-to-the-hospital labor with Jaybird, I had no idea what to expect. She turned out to be our Goldilocks baby – not too fast, not too slow, but just right. She kindly waited until we got to the hospital before labor started in earnest. Things progressed steadily, without stalling or going terrifyingly fast. I ended up making a last-minute decision to have a water birth (a great choice). After about two and a half hours, Pantsy was born. For several minutes I just held her, no idea if I had a boy or girl in my arms, just so happy to have my baby (and to be not in labor anymore).

Photo Credit: Kara Jo Prestrud

This girl’s default is to smile. She loves to meet new people, keep up with her brothers, and explore the world. She loves to grab my hair with a death grip and laugh at my distress with the cutest baby giggle. After two boys with stick-straight hair like Dad, I was delighted to see her hair grow into perfect ringlets. Pantsy takes her time with everything she learns, but once she is ready, she is determined – it is impossible to hold her when she wants to practice her new skills.

Every time I meet a baby, I am struck by how unique they are – how much personality radiates even from a sleeping newborn, and how many new things there are to learn from them. Pantsy girl’s personality has charmed us from the start. She has a cheery disposition and can-do attitude; she delights in learning, trying, and making friends. And there is still so much to learn about this little lady. I can’t wait. Happy birthday, Pantsy Lou Who.

A Very Tardy Winter Reading Roundup

The first few months of 2021 were the best reading season I’ve had in a long time. My biggest goal for the year was to enjoy the reading experience and stop worrying about how many books or pages I’ve racked up. That has made such a difference in my reading life, and on top of that I’ve found some incredible books. The reading habit that has been working for me this season? Simply reading whatever the heck I feel like reading at any given time. That has meant I have 7+ books in progress most of the time, and my willingness to pick up what strikes my fancy has lead to some unusual choices for me, which my list below reflects. You’ll find significantly more non-fiction than I usually imbibe as well as some children’s books that I’d happily recommend to kids and adults alike.

My Family and Other Animals by Gerald Durrell. This is my new go-to recommendation for anyone who asks (and many who don’t). It is pure delight from cover to cover – so funny, insightful, and fresh that I was shocked to learn it was first published in 1956. It follows the author’s adventures as an animal-loving child in Corfu, Greece where he lived with his eccentric British family. (If you’ve read any Lawrence Durrell, you’ll be intrigued to see him as a bratty twenty-something mouthing off to his mother) I’ve since enjoyed the follow-ups Birds, Beasts, and Relatives and The Garden of the Gods. (Looks like this one is free to read on Kindle with Amazon Prime!)

The Crossover by Kwame Alexander. This was such a surprise. I added this to my TBR after hearing about it on an episode of What Should I Read Next? podcast. By the time my hold came through on Libby, I had lost interest, but I had somewhere to drive and nothing else to listen to, so I turned it on. A novel in verse about twelve-year-old Josh Bell, his relationships with twin brother JB and their father, and their shared love of basketball. What I thought would be a Disney Channel original movie -esque sports story turned out to be a unique and stunning look at brotherhood, fathers and sons, and grief. This Newbury Medal winner is one of the finest coming-of-age stories I’ve read.

The Mysterious Benedict Society by Trenton Lee Stewart. I could not put down this middle grade adventure that reminded me so much of the early Harry Potter books. It had the same combination of quality writing, lovable characters, and absorbing plot that made me want to read and read. Reynie Muldoon is an orphan seeking a better life when a mysterious ad in the paper leads him to join a secret society of brilliant children assembled by the eccentric Mr. Benedict. Reynie and new friends Sticky, Kate, and Constance Contraire are sent on an undercover mission where they’ll rely on their unique talents and each other to, you know, save the world. I fell in love with these characters instantly, and enjoyed the fun and unexpected twists throughout the book. Can’t wait to read the rest of the series.

The Library Book by Susan Orlean. This is fairly well known as a selection for Reese’s Book Club. It was on the lucky day shelf on Libby, so I picked up the audio and it was just wonderful. This book combines the fascinating story of the 1986 library fire in L.A. with a history of libraries and a peek into the lives of librarians. The audio, read by the author, felt a lot like listening to a great, in-depth NPR story.

84, Charing Cross Road by Helene Hanff. This book is all charm and atmosphere. A collection of letters from a plucky American author and a British bookseller starting in 1949 and continuing for 20 years. Book lovers will relate to Helene’s bookish dilemmas, history lovers will love the window into post-war London, Anglophiles will love all the Britishness. You can read this in one afternoon, or savor it a bit at a time.

The Read Aloud Family by Sarah MacKenzie. I got so much out of this book by Sarah MacKenzie of the Read Aloud Revival podcast. It covers the why and the how of reading aloud with children of all ages. It is chock full of ideas for incorporating books into your family culture, encouraging a love of reading, talking about books with your kids, and finding new books to enjoy with your family. MacKenzie will not only inspire you to read aloud more, but also blow up your TBR with tons of amazing book recommendations. I’d recommend this to any parent, teacher, nanny, grandparent – anyone who spends time with kids. (This is currently very cheap on Kindle!)

Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen. I’ve read this several times, but this was my first time in audio. Listening really brought out Austen’s humor. I love this free Librivox recording from my favorite reader, Elizabeth Klett. There are few books as perfectly crafted as Pride and Prejudice and it is a delight every time.

Simply Clean by Becky Rapinchuk. A friend recommended this book for learning better housekeeping skills. It was such a help in the midst of spring cleaning. Rapinchuk (of Clean Mama) offers a manageable, comprehensive plan for getting your house in order and maintaining it in just a few minutes a day – simple challenges and checklists make her plan unintimidating and easy to stick with. I got my house cleaner than it’s ever been and I’ve been able to maintain it, just as she promises, in just ten minutes a day. She inspired me to switch from a daunting weekly laundry day to a small daily load and, wow, that has been life-changing.

Happy Birthday, Jaybird

In this new year, I have been reminded in many ways that I cannot take my three healthy, wonderful children for granted. Some of these reminders have been joyful, like Bub seeing a display of heart-shaped balloons at the grocery store and declaring we HAD to get one, “For Jaybird!” (Update: Jay somehow popped his balloon before two minutes had passed.) Some of these reminders, however, have been painful, but all have shown me what a great gift is each day. So today, Jaybird’s second birthday, I am thankful to God for every one of his 731 days, and every one we may be blessed with in the future.

Two years ago, around three in the morning, I went from, “I’ll probably have a baby some time in the next 24 hours,” to, “I’m having a baby right freaking now!” It had been a very snowy few weeks, but I lucked out and went into labor in one of the few hours it wasn’t snowing. Otherwise, we would certainly have welcomed our baby on the highway. Twenty whirlwind minutes after arriving at the hospital, my Jaybird was born.

Photo Credit: Kara Jo Prestrud

Since then, he’s lived up to his dramatic arrival – when he decides he wants something, whether it’s a toy, a new skill, or just to be born, he wants it now and goes for it. Jay lives in the moment like no one I’ve ever met. He is always 100% where his is, what he is doing, how he is feeling. As someone decidedly lacking that quality, I learn from him every day. I’ve never really been able to imagine Jay aging, because he perfectly embodies whatever age and stage he is in. When he was a baby, he was SO BABY. Now, he is SO TODDLER. He is a strange and wonderful combination of id and quiet wisdom.

When Jay is upset, you can be sure we hear about it (along with everyone in the county) and no attempt at distraction can calm him. This Sunday I was sick, and watched church at home; I could hear Jay in the background crying on and off throughout the service. Upon taking his seat at church, he decided he wanted different shoes, and refused to be consoled…for over an hour! He will not be diverted from feeling his feelings to the full. And when he’s done that, he throws himself into the enjoyment of whatever is next.

He tries new things with aplomb and, undeterred by failure, keeps trying until he succeeds. Jay fearlessly says words he’s nowhere close to saying correctly; he watches his older brother, sure he can do all the same things (usually he’s right, and we nervous adults are wrong); and he tries to solve problems himself before asking for help. Basically, he assumes himself capable, and doesn’t get discouraged by imperfection. At the same time, he is perfectly content to do things at his own pace, and won’t be pressured to do what he’s not ready for (or not do what he is ready for.) This is how I ended up with a baby who crawled before he could sit upright, and climbed around playgrounds before he could walk.

Two years old!

In a season of life where I’ve often had to sit with some uncomfortable feelings, Jay teaches me to let myself feel it rather than trying to distract it away. He teaches me not to compare myself to others, to accept what I’m not ready for and to assume myself capable of what I am ready for. He teaches me to live in the moment.

Which brings me back to the beginning, because living in the moment is the best way to combat a tendency to take things for granted. I try not to take my family for granted, but often that has turned me to fear and anxiety about the future. But anxiety grasps what it fears to lose, it doesn’t cherish what it is grateful to have. So I’m trying to be like Jay, to live in the moment with gratitude for all I have.

Happy birthday, Jaybird. By the grace of God, may I cherish every moment I am blessed to be with you, and continue to learn from your wise little soul.

Great and Powerful Oz, Make Me a Good Mother

I’ve been listening to L. Frank Baum’s The Wonderful Wizard of Oz with Bub. (This free Librivox recording is excellent.) It is much less scary and more four-year-old appropriate than the movie, I promise. The characters are so convinced of their failings that they cannot see they already have what they seek. The Scarecrow, so sure he has no brain, cannot see how his cleverness, logic, and ideas get him and his friends out of scrapes. The Tin Man, though he is in love with a munchkin girl and shows compassion to all he meets, believes he has no heart. The Lion, scared of every noise and shadow, fails to see how he faces these fears to help his friends without so much as a thought for his safety. They constantly demonstrate the very things they believe themselves lacking.

It struck me as I listened that we all do this; we often believe ourselves sorely lacking the characteristics and abilities we value most. I struggle with this particularly when it comes to motherhood, and I rarely meet a mother who isn’t similarly self-critical, at least some of the time. A mom will declare herself a “terrible mother” for all sorts of reasons, from losing her temper to taking time for a shower. But she cares about being a good mother, as the Scarecrow cares about brains. She would go to the Emerald City at all costs if it meant she could really be a good mother. I often fixate on this idea of a good mother, and the thing is, it just becomes whatever I am not. Sometimes I can think of nothing but my mistakes and shortcomings as a mom – even when I do something right, I lament that it isn’t enough. When we believe we do not possess the characteristic of being a good mother, we are blind to all but our failings.

“You people with hearts,” the Tin Man says, “have something to guide you, and need never do wrong; but I have no heart, and so I must be very careful.” With this reasoning, he walks through the woods with careful attention so as to avoid crushing any living creature; when he does step on an ant, he cries until his tears rust his jaw so that he cannot even ask for help.

How often does mom guilt take us there? How often do we think, “You people who are good mothers have something to guide you! But I am a terrible mother, and so I must be very careful!” In the mom life, we will fail; we will step on ants. It is impossible to be a parent without making mistakes. But, like the Tin Man, we try our hardest and recognize when we fail. So, I’m trying to take a lesson from the Tin Man – beating myself up will only paralyze me. A friend of mine often says, “Bad moments don’t make bad mothers.” A good mother isn’t a perfect mother, but one who cares enough to try.

We all know the ending of this story. Dorothy discovers she always had the power to get home. The ruby slippers (or silver in the book) she has worn the whole time transport her back to Kansas. Do you worry that you are not a good mother? Stop worrying. You are wearing the ruby slippers already.