Announcing the Arrival of . . .

May 31, 2014

 Clark Elson Johnson
Born Wednesday, May 28, 2014 at 5:51 pm
8.0 lbs., 20 inches

It goes without saying that we are thrilled to have little Clark here. We are all smitten with him. I love the newborn phase, so I have been doing a lot of kissing and holding and snuggling. Luckily, he doesn't seem to mind.

I have many details to share, but right now I'm going to go take a nap with this sweet baby.

Beezus and Ramona by Beverly Cleary

May 26, 2014

Soon after I checked out this book from the library, it disappeared. Completely. I literally searched for it for weeks . . . under all the beds, couches, tables, behind dressers, in closets, in every bag we own. I was very thorough. I began to wonder if maybe I had returned it to the library accidentally, and it hadn't been checked back in properly (I have had that happen before . . . ). I was running out of renewals when one evening, I was sitting on the floor sorting the laundry. I glanced over to my bed, and there, under one of the corners in plain view, was Beezus and Ramona.

Of course, I was overjoyed to find it, especially since the boys and I were just ready for another chapter book. But I was also completely baffled. I had looked under my bed close to a million times in search of that book. I absolutely, positively know it wasn't there before. So where was it all that time? These kinds of happenings drive me insane.

The good news is, we still had enough time to read it before its final due date, and it was (almost) good enough to be worth the mental stress it put me through.

Ramona is four years old, and she can be, in the words of her older sister, Beezus, "exasperating." Everyone thinks she is so adorable and imaginative, but Beezus knows better. She's the one who finds Ramona eating one bite out of every apple in a big box. She's the one who has her checker game ruined when Ramona locks Ribsy in the bathroom. She's the one who has to scramble to find activities for a dozen children on a rainy afternoon when Ramona invites them all over for a party. And she's the one whose birthday is almost ruined when Ramona decides to put her doll into the oven with the cake. Ramona can be so exasperating that sometimes Beezus not only doesn't like her, she doesn't love her either. And Beezus feels absolutely awful about that . . . until she gets a glance at the other side from her mom and Aunt Beatrice.

One of Aaron and Maxwell's favorite characters from the Henry Huggins books was Ramona, so I thought it might be fun to switch series and read about Ramona in a starring role.They loved it.

I had to laugh when we had read just the first page, and I paused for a moment and asked, "How old do you think Ramona is?" Aaron and Max guessed, "Two? Or maybe one?" They were shocked when I turned the page and we found out she was four years old. It's one thing to be reading this book as a nine-year-old where you have years of wisdom between yourself now and the lowly age of four and to be an actual four-year-old (like Max) and look at all Ramona's antics and think, "I would never do something like her" (even though your mother knows you very well might).

But whether they were enchanted or offended that Ramona was close to their own ages, they loved her anyway. Maxwell is still marching around the house shouting, "Bingle-bongle-by!" I don't blame him. Even if you're not part of a kid-parade, it is still such a fun thing to say. I think they both felt the most empathy for Beezus when Ramona ruined her birthday cake (twice). At that point, they weren't laughing at Ramona's actions (which they were for most of the book). They just felt so sorry for poor Beezus.

I loved this book for different reasons. Having just finished Quinny & Hopper, where I mentioned my disappointment in the way Quinny talked about her two younger sisters, it was really refreshing to see the older sister/younger sister dynamic played out in a different way. It wasn't that Beezus was always kind to Ramona (she wasn't) or that she always watched her willingly and cheerfully (she didn't) or that she was full of patience and love (she wasn't). However, Beezus acknowledged the way she sometimes felt, and she had the sincere desire to be a nicer sister. In fact, the sister relationship is probably the main theme (which, in Quinny's defense, it wasn't), and I think it's very relatable to all siblings, not just sisters. Several times as we were reading, I stopped and asked Aaron and Max if that's how they sometimes felt with Bradley or with each other. I don't want my kids to only read books with perfect examples of sibling relationships. But I do want them to see how to work through these differences and frustrations in a meaningful way.

This was such an enjoyable book for us to read. At the end of the edition we read, they included the first pages of Ramona the Pest. Aaron begged for me to read it, but I told him we'll just check out the whole book from the library (and pray we don't lose it!).

Sunlit Pages Turns Two

May 23, 2014

Last year, I pulled out all the stops to celebrate Sunlit Pages' first birthday. This year, out of necessity, things will be simpler and quieter, but I didn't want the week to go by without at least mentioning the fact that I've been dedicated to my blog for a full two years. I'm patting myself on the back a little because it has been time consuming (and forced me to give up other things), but it's also been very rewarding.

As I end this second year and embark on year number three, I have a few thoughts to share with you all:

First,  I had to laugh when I looked back at the post from last year about my future plans for Sunlit Pages. I've been rather lax, it seems. Take a look:
  • Join Twitter. Yes, I joined. And in the last year, I've tweeted 54 times. About once a week. You can tell, I've really caught the vision (haha). I'm still working at it, but if Twitter is your thing, feel free to follow me: @sunlitpages.
  • Facebook and Google+. I set up my Facebook page and my Google+ profile . . . and I've done even less with them than with Twitter. You guys, maybe social media just isn't my thing. I keep trying though.
  • New look. Sunlit Pages finally got a facelift in January, but it wasn't as complete as I wanted. Still a lot of tweaking to do.
  • Learn to use Photoshop. No, not at all. I'm very disappointed in myself.
  • Continue reading, writing about, and exploring the world of literature. At least I can answer this one with a resounding YES!!!
In spite of all my failures, Sunlit Pages still had an exciting year. Here are some of the things I DID do:
  • Received review copies of several books. There's nothing quite like getting a free book in the mail. I think I was especially excited when Disney-Hyperion contacted me to ask for a review of Quinny & Hopper.  I also loved reviewing Blackmoore, Christmas From Heaven, and Number One Sam. I'm learning how to pace myself so I don't commit to too many reviews at one time. I never want to get so swamped I don't have enough time to read and write about whatever strikes my fancy.
  • Wrote my first ever guest post. Last fall, Erica at What Do We Do All Day asked me to write a guest post. She is one of my favorite bloggers, so I was beyond flattered. I wrote about how to help young children love chapter books.
  • Started a new series. Last summer, I decided to talk more about ways I was helping my kids develop a love of reading. Thus, the series Raising Readers was born. I try to post on the first Monday of every month.
  • Connected with many readers across the country. Thanks for all your comments!
I try to write three posts on this blog each week (ideally on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday). This doesn't always happen (as in the month of our move), but overall I've been fairly consistent. So here is a look back at some of my favorite posts over the last year:

Crafty: Art Worth Wearing (a fun project for Father's Day next month!)

Rant: Borrow, But Don't Read (in which I talked about my outrage over a $29.00 library fee--yikes!)

Nostalgic: An Early Christmas Present (My sentimental side took over when I saw that little train.)

Book Review: Navigating Early by Clare Vanderpool (This was one of my favorite books last year, and I just re-read it this month and loved it just as much.)

Personal: How Do You Forget to Breathe? (I'm still baffled I could forget to write in my journal, but I haven't missed a day since.)

Meeting an Author: Starstruck Over Kate DiCamillo (I'm still so happy I got to hear her speak and talk to her in person. She's awesome.) 

Preschool: Walter the Baker (I still love that I was brave enough to let the kids create their own recipe!)

Holiday: Bah Humbug (Yes, I bashed Elf on the Shelf. Perhaps I should do another post about how much I despise the Easter Bunny.)

KidPages: Three Incredible Biographies (I always feel super proud of myself when I find an inspiring biography in picture book form. My kids always wonder why such books make me cry.)

Accomplishment: Reading Goals, End of the Year Report (I may not be able to accomplish all my social media goals, but when it comes to reading goals, that's something I can handle.)

Many thanks to all you loyal and faithful readers of Sunlit Pages. I write for myself but also for you.  I'd love it if you'd leave a comment so we can connect!

On Having Four Boys

May 21, 2014

Lest you think the title means we now have four boys, we don't. At least not four boys that we can hug and snuggle and kiss. In spite of this mother's daily pleas, the fourth boy is hanging tight for probably a couple more weeks.

So no, I can't speak to what it's like to have four boys (yet).

But I can describe what it feels like to be on the brink.

Just the other day, I was standing in line at Costco with Aaron, Max, and Bradley. They were being typical boys--poking, pulling, and pushing each other while laughing uproariously the whole time. The gentleman behind me watched them for a moment, then with a half-amused expression, pointed at my ball of a stomach and critically asked, "Is that a boy?"

You'd be surprised the number of random strangers that stop me on any given day to ask me if I'm having another boy. When I answer in the affirmative, I'm met with a lot of sympathy, a few chuckles, and very little congratulations.

And almost always the question: Do you think you'll try again for a girl?

As if I was trying for a girl this time. As if the only reason I could possibly want four kids would be if one of them was a girl. As if the prospect of four boys should fill me with disappointment and regret.

I know many fellow moms out there who desperately want a girl; moms who, the more boys they have, the more they want a girl; moms who say, "I would consider having another baby if only I could guarantee that it would be a girl."

My thoughts have taken the opposite route. With my first, I very much wanted a girl. And yes, I was disappointed when I found out he was a boy. With my second, I was indifferent. By that time, I'd discovered that boys could be pretty fun, but I also thought it would be nice to have one of each. With my third, I was on my knees praying that it would be another boy because I didn't know how I could possibly handle three kids in three years otherwise. And with my fourth, I didn't know why we should change a good thing and create an upheaval in our family dynamic.

So when people ask, "Do you think you'll try again?" I want to say, "Maybe [although really, I can hardly wrap my head around four kids, so let's not even talk about five], but only if I can be guaranteed another boy" and then watch them shake their heads in flabbergasted disbelief.

Let me just give you an insider's glimpse into the awesomeness of boys:

Cheap. For apparel: shorts, t-shirts (the rattier, the better), no shoes, no accessories. For entertainment: sticks, dirt, bugs, a brother or two.

Easy. It takes thirty seconds to comb their hair, and even that is optional.

Competitive. They will do practically anything (clean up toys, put on pajamas, get into the car) if it's a competition. (Of course, this also leads to a lot of angry tears for the ones who lose, but we won't talk about that part.)

Exclusive. There's something so nice about going to the store and being able to pick up three of the same thing and not even having to consider the girl counterparts. (I'm sure you who have all girls feel the same way.)

Limited drama. I hesitated listing this one because it's so stereotypical as to almost be unfair. But the truth is, in our home, even though there's still plenty of screaming and crying and fighting, it's pretty straightforward and over with very quickly.

No competition. I'm talking about myself here. I am surrounded by boys who love me. It's pretty great. (I've also noticed that my boys are highly tuned-in to what is feminine, and even though they shun those things themselves, they want to make sure I'm wearing earrings or enjoying other pretty things.)

Of course, I've considered the downsides to having only boys, namely that all of them will grow up and stop talking to me, and I will be left the despised mother-in-law.

But for right now, I look at these three cute faces and think, "I get another one of these? I am so lucky."

Dad is Fat by Jim Gaffigan

May 19, 2014

It was my brother, Gordy, who first introduced me to Jim Gaffigan's comedy sketches. I think the first one I watched was his ode to bacon. I laughed. A lot.

(But I think I laughed even harder when I watched the one about natural childbirth.)

When I saw that he had a book coming out last year, I knew I would eventually want to read it. But it wasn't until last month that I finally checked out the audiobook. And I admit, I had ulterior motives. I was hoping I could entice Mike with it so that he would paint Aaron's bedroom. (It worked.)

What I wasn't planning on was how easily I'd get pulled into the book every time I went into the room to check on Mike's progress. (Okay, I'm a liar. Mike didn't need any supervision. But after I got so bogged down in so many half-finished books, I told myself I could not start anything else until I'd caught up with myself. Hence, the excuses to check on the painting status so I could sneak a listen here and there.) It was easy to just jump in and enjoy any of the essays in any order.

Finally though, I finished the other audiobooks I was in the middle of, and I got to enjoy the entire book from start to finish.

Jim Gaffigan and his wife, Jeannie, are the parents of five children. Dad is Fat (the title of which is taken from the first complete sentence written by one of his sons) is a collection of essays, all with the general theme of parenthood. He talks about everything from the nightmare that is taking your children out to eat to the impossibility of quickly leaving the house to comparing dogs to children. Some of the essays are taken from his stand-up routines, but most of it was new to me.

Having come from a large family (the oldest of eight kids), and on the brink of having four children myself, I found this book absolutely hilarious; I could identify or relate to it in so many ways.

One of my favorite essays was about how noisy children are. Gaffigan said, "We make efforts to stop our children from making noise, but it's like trying to stop the sun from coming up." I seriously wish I could go back in time and hand a copy of that essay to our former neighbors (their bedroom wall backed up against our living room wall). They were never mean, but they definitely didn't understand how impossible it was to try and keep three young boys quiet before 8:00 in the morning. It took me almost a month of living in our own home before I stopped automatically shushing my kids when they woke up each morning. Jim Gaffigan houses his family of seven in a two-bedroom apartment in New York City, which makes our current home feel practically palatial in comparison (and makes me feel indescribably grateful).

I also enjoyed listening to his accurate description of what it's like to try and leave the house with several children in tow. He said: "You must always add 'find the shoe time' to your calculation of estimated time of departure. If you have a child in diapers, you must realize that they time their soiling of the diaper to the precise moment you say, 'Okay, we are all finally ready to go.' If it is winter and there are hats, gloves, scarves, and mittens involved, just forget it. You might as well just stay in. It will be the spring thaw by the time you get them bundled." This is exactly why I am enjoying our current weather so much; sometimes, depending on where we're going, I don't even make my kids bring shoes. Oh glorious 80-degrees! May you never go away! (This is also why, in about two weeks' times, I won't be scheduling anything since it is nearly impossible to get out the door on time, or at all, with a newborn.)

And just for fun, here are three more of my favorite quotes that literally had me laughing out loud:
"If you ever take your kids to a situation where they must be quiet, bring lollipops. They're like flavored muzzles. Mothers-to-be should be given bouquets of lollipops at baby showers. At the hospital, people should hand lollipops  to new fathers and say, 'Here, you're going to need this.' It's the parents' secret weapon."
(Have I ever mentioned the magic of lollipops and immunizations? I am amazed every time when my kids don't make a peep while getting poked because they're so consumed with enjoying their lollipops.)
"The Black Hills of South Dakota are breathtaking. They are sacred to the Lakota Indians, and out of respect, our government has carved four white guys into one of the mountains. 'These hills are sacred to us.' Carver: 'Yeah, yeah, yeah. We'll be done in a couple of decades. These guys I'm carving were all about freedom, especially the two who owned slaves. Just consider it a gift from us white people, a reminder of all the good things we've done for you.'" 
(Funny, but also a little sad.)
"Because of our cell phone cameras, we have way more photos than we will ever need. What are we supposed to do with all these photos of our kids? Yes, there is the benefit of our computers running really slow, clogged with thousands of photos of the same pose. But outside of that, it's pointless. Yet we keep taking pictures. Click, click, click, click. We download all of them. We don't even weed out the bad ones. 'Aw, I'll just get another computer. This will be my Disney trip computer.'"
(My brother, Ben, should read this one since he's always chastising my mom for filling up her laptop with blurry pictures.)

Even though Jim Gaffigan's humor is usually considered clean (or as he laments, "family friendly"), it is peppered with some mild language and some mildly crude humor, so just be forewarned.

Also, I will say that I didn't find him funny all the time. There were passages like this one, "Why don't we eat something? Then we'll go get something to eat. Then we should see that thing we're supposed to see. They've probably got a snack bar there so we can get something to eat. But after that, we've definitely got to go get something to eat," that just seemed a bit dumb and juvenile.

But underneath all the humor and sarcasm and dry wit, there was a surprising streak of sentimentality and seriousness. For all of his making fun of his family, Jim Gaffigan loves his kids, and he loves having five of them. I loved the way he defended the family (and defended big families at that). This is a side of him that I don't think gets showcased in his routines too often, but it was so touching to hear him talk about his transition from not really wanting any kids to renting a tour bus in the summer so he won't have to spend weeks away from them.

So listen to it (yes, listen . . . why would you want to read it if you could hear Jim Gaffigan narrate it himself?). Listen to it because it's funny. But also listen to it because it will make you love your family just a little more (and also be willing to cut them a little slack).

Quinny & Hopper by Adriana Brad Schanen

May 17, 2014

I debated whether to read this book by myself or with my kids. But they saw it sitting on my dresser and were totally taken in by the cover. (You have to admit, it does look rather entertaining.) They begged me to read it to them. And I relented.

It was a smashing hit. Even without dragons, they loved it far more than our last read aloud and never were satisfied when I told them it was time to stop for the night.

The story is told from the points of view of two eight-year-olds: Quinny (saucy, spunky, friendly exuberant) and Hopper (shy, quiet, observant, sensitive). Quinny has just been transplanted with her family from vibrant New York City to boring Whisper Valley. The transition is rough until she meets the boy next door (Hopper). Meanwhile, Hopper is trying to survive the summer by staying away from his older twin brothers. This means he spends the majority of his time in his room building anatomical models and drawing. He is a little dumbfounded when he first meets Quinny--he just doesn't quite know what to do with all her energy. But he finds that he rather likes it.

Their main occupation over the summer is trying to capture Freya, a beautiful zebra chicken whose owner used to live in Quinny's house. They want to return her to him, but all of their efforts prove unsuccessful. Then, with the beginning of third grade looming just ahead, everything changes. Hopper is sure Quinny won't want to be his friend anymore, and Quinny's attention is being manipulated by the glaringly popular Victoria (who is quick to point out all the "rules" that accompany third grade). Luckily, Freya, that ornery chicken, is able to keep Hopper and Quinny's friendship together.

My main concern going into the book was that the back-and-forth narrative would be really confusing to my boys. Up to that point, we hadn't read a book with that format, and I wondered if they'd be able to keep track of the characters and who was telling the story.

But I was pleasantly surprised. Schanen created two really distinguishable characters and voices, and neither Aaron or Max ever seemed to be confused on this point. In fact, it was one of their favorite aspects of the book and one of the main reasons they resisted putting it away each night: "Oooh, it's Hopper's turn? Oh, just read his chapter. It's short, right? Please?!"

As already mentioned, Quinny and Hopper are both going into third grade, and so the story is written to appeal to 7- to 9-year-olds. I have to say, I think Schanen perfectly captured the language of eight-year-olds. Too perfectly, in fact, for me. As some of you know, I'm a little on the controlling side when it comes to what my kids listen to and watch. I've found that boys do not need to be exposed to potty language to just come up with it on their own, and so I've tried to limit their exposure to rude and crude language as much as possible. They don't need any encouragement or additional ideas.

So I found myself editing phrases and sentences in the book, especially Quinny's descriptions, which were often about her irritation with her two younger sisters and their gross habits.  Sometimes I didn't see it coming in time to save myself from a rather awkward sentence, like, "Hey, Hopper, did you know that butterfly has . . . is . . . a really funny word," but my kids never seemed to notice. For the most part though, it was really easy to skip over a phrase here and there . . . much easier than when they're watching a movie (that's why certain shows are just banned completely around these parts). I know some parents reading this will think I'm making too big a deal about making jokes about bodily functions and treating kid-sisters with annoyance. Really, in the big picture, a little potty language is harmless and doesn't even phase many parents (who are as much the culprits as their kids' peers on the playground). But I'm trying to encourage my kids to speak a little more respectfully. However, it's obvious the author has had experience around this age group of kids, and what she has written will definitely appeal to them and be easy for them to relate to.

On the whole though, we all became quite attached to Quinny and Hopper. Even my husband, who wasn't listening to the book, knew all about them because the boys loved to talk about them as if they were real people (and sometimes I would catch him eavesdropping on the end of a chapter). Max especially likes to give detailed recapitulations of all his favorite parts to a captive audience. I had to laugh one day when he said he thought out of all the people in our family, I am the most like Quinny. From my perspective, he is definitely the most similar.

Quinny and Hopper's friendship is an unlikely one. Their personalities are quite different, and it is doubtful whether they would have ever become friends if they had met in New York City instead of Whisper Valley. Because she is so lonely, Quinny reaches out to Hopper out of convenience (he lives right next door) and desperation (she has to have someone to talk to). Hopper's only friend had moved away a few months before, and so, in a way, he is grateful Quinny forces her friendship on him because he would have been too shy to ever approach her. As unlikely as this whole arrangement is, it works, and they really balance each other out quite nicely. I also love that we get the contrast between true friendship (Quinny and Hopper) and a manipulative relationship (Quinny and Victoria). It made the reconciliation that much sweeter.

This is a cute story of friendship that was enjoyable to read from start to finish.

Many thanks to Disney-Hyperion for the review copy. In case it wasn't obvious after I confessed to being a controlling mother, all opinions are definitely my own.

The Forgotten Garden by Kate Morton

May 14, 2014

After hearing about this book for months (maybe even years), I picked it up just after Christmas thinking that it would be a fast read to counter the other heavier things I was reading at the time.

But seeing as how it is now May, it didn't prove to be so fast after all.

This had nothing to do with my enjoyment level of the book. It was just the thing that was most easily sacrificed anytime other reading or projects clamored for my attention. In fact, I would have preferred to read it at a much faster pace. It's that kind of book.

When Cassandra's grandmother, Nell, passes away, she leaves behind an unfinished mystery. As a little girl, Nell was found alone on the docks at Maryborough, Australia. She had arrived on a ship from England, but as far as anyone could tell, no one came with her. One of the dock workers, Hugh, found her. She wouldn't say her name, and her luggage didn't provide any clues to her identity, so he took her home with him. He and his wife, Lil, fell in love with the small child. Up to that point, they had been unable to have any children of their own, and so they "adopted" the child.

On Nell's twenty-first birthday, Hugh decided it was time to tell her what he knew about her past. The revelation devastated Nell and completely transformed her. Who was she really? Why had her family abandoned her? Why had she ended up in Australia? These questions consume her for the rest of her life, and over time, she fits together some of the pieces of her past. However, at the time of her passing, there are still unanswered questions, and it is up to Cassandra (who was always very close to her grandma) to find out what Nell so desperately wanted to know.

It took me awhile to get into the story, mostly because there was so much set up that had to take place before I was ready to jump into the mystery. The story travels between multiple places and time periods: England in the early 1900's, Australia in the 1970's, and Australia and England in 2005. At first it was difficult to remember who all the characters were, especially since many of them seemed completely unconnected. (My confusion was obviously aided by my sporadic reading of the first 100 pages.)

But once I had all the characters firmly fixed in my head, the pace really picked up, and I enjoyed trying to figure out all the details. I was so impressed with the pacing: three story lines, all being told in conjunction with each other, and each one giving just a little here and a little there so that it wasn't any one of them that solved the mystery for the reader, but they all worked together to make it all happen.

I also loved the little nods to Frances Hodgson Burnett's, The Secret Garden. The beloved author even makes a little appearance at a garden party, which is delightful.

My one problem with the book was the final revelation . . . the final twist, if you will. I had already guessed that something of that nature was going to happen. But it bothered me for two reasons: first, there were a couple of scenes earlier in the book that seemed false based on later revelations (personal thoughts of some of the main characters, etc.). Of course, I realize they were purposely misleading to make it more difficult for the reader to guess the truth about Nell's past, but still, it seemed a bit untrue, which made the ultimate revelation not as impressive.

Second, I was disappointed with the nature of the final discovery. I suppose it could be considered noble or selfless or an act of true friendship. But since I read Jane Eyre at the same time, I just couldn't reconcile giving up your virtue for another human being, no matter how innocent and sincere the desire. Jane didn't go back on her personal convictions, even when she knew how deeply it would hurt Mr. Rochester. And neither should a certain unnamed individual (because I'm trying to be vague and not spoil anything) have given up a part of herself. In my opinion.

I also thought some of the secondary plots (the volatile relationship between Cassandra and her mother or Cassandra's grief over the tragic death of her husband and young son) could have been more developed and more fully reconciled by the end.

Overall though, I really enjoyed Kate Morton's writing style and the way she set up and developed such an intricate plot. I will definitely read more of her books.

Irrational Hope

May 12, 2014

Way back in September, when I found out I was pregnant and calculated my due date to be May 30, 2014, I mentally changed the due date to the beginning of June.

I figured it would be better for my sanity if I just assumed this baby would come late.

You see, so far I have a flawless track record:

Aaron: due July 20th; arrived July 29th; 9 days late

Maxwell: due February 19th; arrived March 1st; 10 days late

Bradley: due September 17th; ultrasound adjusted to September 28th; arrived September 23rd; so 5 days early, but technically 6 days late

For months, I was content with the idea of an early June baby. I love the month of June! I love the numbers 1-5! It seemed like a perfect time to have a baby, and I was happy to wait for it.

But then my hips started disintegrating. And I couldn't roll over in bed. And every time I got out of bed, I hobbled around like an old lady. The baby's head started pushing against my bladder, and I found myself in the bathroom an unreasonable number of times. And if I didn't get in there soon enough, a wave of contractions began. I became grumpy, emotional, irrational.

And that is how, without so much as a backward look, I cast away all my good feelings about a June baby and planted all my hopes in May.

I now find myself fantasizing daily, hourly even, about going into labor:  

Wouldn't it be awesome if I was just standing in line here at the grocery store, and my water broke? A little embarrassing perhaps, but I'll take it.

[In the middle of the night]: Well, I'm not doing anything at the moment. It'd be a great time to meet this little guy!

I've had like five contractions in thirty minutes! True, they didn't feel like much, but this could just be the beginning . . . or I might just need to go to the bathroom.

May 12, 2014 . . . what a lovely sounding birthday. Let's see, it's 3:11. If my contractions begin now, I could easily have this baby here before midnight.

I'm beginning to drive myself completely batty. (And if I'm going batty, I don't know what I'm doing to poor Mike. It's hard to live with a batty pregnant lady.)

To counter this, I try and remind myself of all the reasons, I don't want this baby to come yet:
  • My piano students are all ready for their recital . . . oh, wait, that happened on Saturday. In that case, I'm good to go! 
  • My brother-in-law is getting married on Thursday. Of course I want to be there, but hey, they'll take pictures, right?
  • The baby's clothes are all sitting, unfolded, in the dryer. But they are clean and therefore wearable.
  • Our friends are still borrowing our bassinet. But their baby is 4.5 months old, and since they're moving later this month, we can pick it up anytime.
  • Aaron is in school until June 3rd. But I'm sure I could get some friends or relatives to help with drop off/pick up.
  • I haven't packed a bag for the hospital. But it's not like the hospital is two hours away. I can just send Mike home with a list. 
  • I was going to make a canopy for the car seat. But really, why does it have to be done before the baby gets here?
  • I don't want his birthday to be during the week of Mother's Day. Oh well, women have been sharing their day with birthdays for decades. His future wife won't mind, right?
  • My house is a disaster. Well, since that's the norm, I probably won't be able to time this baby's arrival during the magical clean five minutes anyway.
The good news is, even if my wishes don't come true, this can't go on much longer than three weeks. And, even with disintegrating hips, three weeks isn't that long of a wait.

. . . but wouldn't it be funny and ironic and awesome if I posted this and then went into labor tonight?!

37 weeks and 3 days, but who's counting?

KidPages: Some Bugs

May 7, 2014

Dormant over the winter, my boys' love of bugs instantly revived as soon as the ground thawed. Over the last six weeks, they have been outside turning over every rock and digging holes in any square inch of dirt they can find.

(Just yesterday we were at my sister-in-law's, and when I told Maxwell it was time to go, he said he couldn't until he found at least one bug.)

Last year, I shared some of our favorite bug books. And then, because we were reading so many, I shared even more favorites.

With all those, I really didn't think I would have any reason to write about bug picture books this year.

But then I read Some Bugs by Angela DiTerlizzi and illustrated by Brendan Wenzel, and that was all the reason I needed.

This book is fabulous. If it had been around last year, it definitely would have made the list.

The text reminds me of Emma Dodd's I Love Bugs (another favorite of ours, which I wrote about a long, long time ago). It mentions characteristics or actions of different bugs through a simple rhyme (Some bugs sting. / Some bugs bite. / Some bugs stink. / Some bugs fight.) While Emma Dodd uses flowery phrases in her book, Angela DiTerlizzi usually keeps the descriptions to just one word, which I love.

The illustrations depict the bugs that demonstrate those types of actions. For example, the mosquito is a bug that bites. The cricket is a bug that sings. My boys' personal favorite picture is the one with the Hercules beetles--a bug that fights.

The illustrations are playful and cute while still being completely recognizable. One of my favorite features of this book is the glossary at the back, which shows every bug from the earlier pages (over forty in all) accompanied by their names. It is so nice to be able to answer my boys' questions of "What's the name of that bug?" with a quick glance at the back and an authoritative answer, "Why, that's the Halloween Pennant Dragonfly" (who knew?!). You'd be surprised how much time we've spent poring over that glossary. I suppose the bugs could have just been labeled when they appeared throughout the book, but it is so fun to have them all collected in one spot and be able to compare their sizes and colors and numbers of legs and other important things like that. Also, my kids think it is so funny that Oskar the cat, who is featured throughout the book, gets a spot in the glossary and that under his name, it say,s "Oskar is not a bug."

The two-spotted ladybug shows up on every page, and my kids love finding her (even though she's not difficult to spot). She's usually doing silly things like hiding under a leaf or being carried off by a group of ants. It's one of those books where the illustrations just keep on giving: the more you look, the more you find.

I don't think I'll ever be able to say I'm a fan of bugs, but with a book like this one, I guess it's obvious I am a fan of bug picture books.

Raising Readers: Using a Whiteboard

May 5, 2014

When Aaron started kindergarten last fall, Maxwell thought it was his turn for reading lessons. I wasn't feeling as intense of a desire to push him as I did Aaron (second child and all that). But since he expressed the desire, I was more than happy to oblige.

I had such great success with Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons with Aaron (see my post: The Boy Can Read) that I naturally turned to it again. We made him a chart, just like Aaron's. We did lessons in the mornings, just like Aaron.

But, shocker. Maxwell is NOT Aaron.

I thought Aaron had a short attention span, but Max cannot even make it through the first three words before he is complaining about being "too tired."

We made it to Lesson 40-something before it became pure torture, and I thought to myself, Seriously?! Why am I doing this? He's four years old! He doesn't need to know how to read yet.

But he was still asking to do reading lessons. He still liked the one-on-one attention. He liked feeling like a big kid. And he really does want to unlock the secret code of reading.

But I had to think of some other way.

Enter the gigantic whiteboard.

Sorry for the poor quality pictures (that's a basement for you), but I had to show the size of this thing. It came from the conference room at the place where my brother-in-law works. When it sold for $12 at a company auction, he bought it, but he ended up not being able to fit it down his stairs. So we took it (much to the dismay of my seven-year-old niece who was in tears at the loss of her art canvas).

Anyway, I'm kind of surprised, but Max loves to do reading sessions on this board.

Here is how I've used it so far:

Have him read something short and simple. Max just needs something that's not daunting, so I've used the BOB books, Dick and Jane, and some of the simple books Aaron brought home from school during the first couple of months.

Use words from the book to explore with on the board. One day, there were a lot of words that ended with -er. So I started with the root word, asked him what it was, added -er to it, and then asked him what it was again.

(I'm not a trained educator, so I'm probably introducing combinations and word families at all the wrong times, but Max loves it, so I don't really care.)

Change one letter. Max really likes seeing the transformation of words and how, just by changing one letter or adding another, you can make an entirely new word.

Have fun with rhymes. Some days I will just choose a word and see how many rhymes we can come up with. Many of the words are nonsense, but it still shows Max how the letters work in combination with each other.

Keep a list of sight words. The box on the right side holds a list of five sight words we encountered in our reading. I just keep them up there and at random times during the day, I'll point to one of the words and ask him what it is.

Put sight words into a sentence. The other day, I wrote a few sentences on the board. Each one contained at least one of his most recent sight words. First I asked him to find one of the words . . .  "was," for example. Then I asked him to read the entire sentence.

Don't erase the words. After our short little lesson is over, I don't erase what I've written. I just leave it there for him to look over at his leisure as he is building with Legos or doing puzzles or whatever. Sometimes Aaron will come along and ask him about it. I like that he can just figure things out and remember them on his own without me hovering over him.

I'm sure we will come up with other ways to use this board. The possibilities are endless. And of course you don't need a whiteboard that's 8'x4' to do any of these activities. Paper or a chalkboard or even fridge magnets would work just as well.

But I have to admit, the whiteboard IS pretty fun.

For more Raising Readers posts, click here.

Ina May's Guide to Childbirth by Ina May Gaskin

May 2, 2014

I can only imagine what went through your head as you read the title of this post: Ina May's Guide to Childbirth?! YES! I've been waiting for this book review for MONTHS!  

No? More likely, you're not even reading this right now because once you saw what this post would be about, you thought, Maybe I'll go check Pinterest instead.

In which case I'm talking to myself.

Well then, why am I wasting time with small talk?

Soon after I had Bradley, one of my natural childbirth friends (yes, I do label my friends as home birth, natural, epidural, or C-section with further classifications as necessary) recommended Ina May's Guide to Childbirth. With a newborn in my arms, it didn't really seem like it would be all that helpful of a read, but I tucked it away (i.e., added it to my to-read list on Goodreads) for a future date.

For my previous three pregnancies, my preparations included a natural childbirth class, a hypnobirthing class, reading Hypnobirthing: The Mongan Method, and practicing visualizations and relaxation techniques. All of these things were helpful, but I was ready for some new information (or at least the same old information presented in a new way). Plus, I honestly didn't think the same relaxation scripts from last time would put me in a state of calm since I now associate them with painful contractions (sad, but true).

My initial reaction to Ina May was discomfort. In the first ten pages, one of the birth stories described a woman sharing her birthing energy with another woman who was supporting her in labor. This other woman (who had recently had a baby of her own) began having contractions at the same time. Say what? It all just seemed a little too unorthodox for me.

When it had to go back to the library (and I still had read only 15 pages), I considered not requesting it again. While I am a huge fan of unmedicated labor and delivery, I've always had the desire to give birth in the hospital, so it seemed like this book where laboring women climbed trees (not making that up) might not be very applicable to me.

But I had hardly given it a chance. And I knew I needed to do something to remind myself I was going to have a baby in a few weeks. So I checked it out again.

And, happy surprise!, I actually really liked it. (She definitely began the book with one of the stranger birth stories. Most of the others, although still taking place in homes in the Tennessee woods, were more what I was originally expecting.)

Ina May Gaskin has been a midwife for some 40+ years. Her training began through observation, and she gradually picked up and developed the necessary skills and certification. She has helped deliver thousands of babies with astounding rates of success. She and her husband were founders of The Farm, a community in Tennessee where the residents live in peace with the earth and each other. Many women who aren't residents of The Farm travel there to give birth because of the solitude, friendship, and skills they find there. (Have I convinced you yet that this is an unconventional book? Don't look up The Farm on wikipedia unless you want to be officially weirded out.)

The book is divided into two parts: birth stories followed by instructions and advice. I found it most helpful to alternate between reading a couple of birth stories with a chapter from the second section.

There were many things I liked about this book, including:
  • realistic descriptions; I don't think Ina May ever promises "pain-free" labors. Rather, birth is energizing and fatiguing, exhilarating and painful. This was so comforting and liberating for me. With my other three pregnancies, I spent a lot of time practicing with relaxation scripts because the hypnobirthing method claimed that labor could be free of pain if you were able to stay relaxed and take your mind to another place. Most of Ina May's stories and suggestions felt very tangible and physical: go on a walk, change positions, laugh, breathe, have someone squeeze your hips or rub your back, etc. She also suggests positive affirmations because she believes in the mind/body connection, but she never says anything about magically turning off the pain. Rather, she makes suggestions for how to channel that intensity productively.
  • birth stories; I felt like I learned so much from the various birth stories that were shared because they demonstrated how every woman's labor is individual and different. They also showed various techniques in action. Plus, there's just something so motivating and exciting about reading another woman's positive birth experience.
  • suggestions for different birthing positions; when I delivered Bradley, I was very frustrated with the midwife (she was not my midwife but the one on call at the time) because she insisted that I be flat on my back to push him out. This felt so counter intuitive to me, and I couldn't figure out why a midwife could only catch a baby one way. Reading about the wide variety of positions empowered me to be communicative about what I want, especially my need to remain flexible. I especially found the birth stories involving shoulder dystocia fascinating. The thought of big babies getting stuck terrifies me (especially since Maxwell was 8 lbs. 11 oz., and he had his hand up by his face), and I really appreciated her suggestion of the hands and knees position in order to open up the space a little more.
  • advocating eating and drinking during labor; since I'm giving birth in a hospital, this is probably out of my control a little bit (they have rules there, you know). But still, it was so nice to read the evidence that eating during labor is not only safe but also very beneficial. I am always starving during labor, and the nurses and midwives always act like I'm crazy for feeling like I need to eat. I'm tempted to sneak in some food this time (and yes, just in case you're curious, Ina May does go into the reasons why doctors don't want you to eat during labor, but she also gives a lot of convincing research for why this isn't something that should be a serious concern).
I've already mentioned that I had a difficult time with the stories that seemed a little on the extreme side. There were also a couple other things I didn't love about this book:
  • the chapters on medical interventions, c-sections, and mortality rates; I didn't have a problem with her making the point that natural birth is, in most cases, safer, healthier, and more effective than medical births. I just found the information boring and tedious to get through and felt like those pages could have been used in a more useful way for the types of women who are probably reading this book.
  • No recent birth stories; the book was supposedly updated (she does give some statistics from as late as 2006 and 2010), but the stories are really old; most are from the 70's and 80's, with a few from the 90's, and just one from the year 2000. I'm not saying I didn't get a lot out of the stories from 30 and 40 years ago, only that it would have been nice to have some more recent stories thrown in. Since she's still practicing midwifery and since she obviously took the time to add some new material, I would have really liked a few recent stories added to the mix.
I am 36 weeks today (yay!), and reading this book has definitely put me into birth mode. I'm kind of obsessed with it actually. Now if I could only find a way to bring that reality home to Mike. I think he's going to be in for a shock when he's back in the labor and delivery room in just a few weeks.
He could probably do with a little refresher course of his own.

Update: read about how it all went down here.

In Defense of Food: An Eater's Manifesto by Michael Pollan

May 1, 2014

I finished listening to this book on Mike's and my anniversary. It being a Monday, we had planned to hold off celebrating until the weekend. But then my mother-in-law was unexpectedly available to watch the three boys that evening, so we jumped at the opportunity to get away for a couple of hours.

I had just been armed with sound nutritional advice: Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.

I had spent the afternoon making healthy goals for myself.

And then . . . we decided to go out to eat at, of all places, Tucanos (a Brazilian grill), which effortlessly broke every single one of my newfound resolutions in a matter of minutes.

First we ordered Brazilian lemonades, which magically refilled themselves. There went my first resolution: Be conscious of how much you eat (or in this case, drink).

Then I filled my plate at their Salad Festival, a buffet where I probably could have stuck with basic spinach and tomatoes but instead chose cheese bread and fried bananas and crab salad, all of which led me to break my second resolution: Choose real foods with short ingredient lists.

And then the meat began to arrive. Brought out on sizzling skewers, I tried this kind and that kind; my plate filled and emptied and filled again without having to leave my seat; the servers came out in an endless stream: Bacon-wrapped turkey? Garlic sirloin? Mango shrimp? Yes, yes, and yes. And before I knew it, I had effectively broken: Eat meat as a side dish; savor your food; eat lots of produce; eat until you're 80% full.

I think the only resolution I kept was: Eat at a table. I was most definitely at a table. In fact, I could hardly heave myself out of my chair to leave said table.

Whether for good or ill, the contrast between the practical advice of this book and the practical reality of the American diet was striking and, I admit, very discomforting. I was overly self-conscious with how poorly we, as Americans, eat and why our health is failing on so many levels.

From this lengthy introduction, you probably already gained a general feel for the premise of this book. A couple of years ago, I read Michael Pollan's The Omnivore's Dilemma, which was completely fascinating but also a little overwhelming and not easily applicable. This book felt much more hands-on and practical.

In the first part of the book, Pollan talks about why Americans are so messed up in their eating: why we get obsessed with certain nutrients and diets and supplements and why we are constantly trying new things but not seeing any improvement in our health.

Pollan is harsh in his criticism of nutritionists who, he says, are isolating and breaking down the components of food (the beta carotene in carrots, for example, or the antioxidants in blueberries) so much that we're losing the very essence of the food itself. Studies are now showing that such elements in isolation do not provide the same nutritional benefit that they do when combined with everything else to make a complete fruit or vegetable.

He also talked about how we are obsessed with low-fat foods with the result being that we now eat a lot of food that is chemically altered to make it low-fat, and we also feel justified in eating more of it since it is low-fat. Pollan said:
By framing dietary advice in terms of good and bad nutrients, and by burying the recommendation that we should eat less of any particular actual food, it was easy for the take home message of the 1977 and 1982 Dietary Guidelines to be simplified as follows: Eat more low-fat foods. And that is precisely what we did. We are always happy to receive a dispensation to eat more of something, with the possible exception of oat bran.
The United States is in rather a sad place because, unlike other countries such as France or Greece or Japan, we don't have a food culture. We don't take time to sit down and eat our food. We spend quite a bit less on food than other countries. And we want to be instantly satisfied. Basically, we want it fast, cheap, and fake.

In the last part of the book, Pollan breaks down his mantra: Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants. This was my favorite part of the book because it felt so hopeful to me (and perhaps also a little ridiculous in its simplicity, but hey, that's what I need sometimes). I don't have to go live on a farm in the middle of nowhere and grow or raise everything I need for my sustenance. I can just buy more produce at the grocery store. Or get a CSA box. Or plant my own garden. Even in America, where we are surrounded by lots of bad options, the good options are still readily available.

Since finishing the book three days ago, and not counting my binge at Tucanos, my most noticeable improvement in the eating department has been not eating snacks between meals (a favorite past time of mine). Since I am pregnant, I'm not going to force myself not to eat if my body is telling me I'm hungry, but even being pregnant, I have to say that the majority of my snack consumption happened just because eating sounded like fun to me.

For me, the take-home message of the book was just to be a more conscious, present eater. Consequently, I'm trying to take smaller, slower bites. I'm trying to enjoy and savor each one. I'm trying to pay attention to whether or not I'm full. I'm trying not to eat when I'm in the car or reading or perusing the internet.

In short, I'm just trying to enjoy real food . . . simply, completely, enthusiastically.
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