Turning Impulsive

Apr 29, 2016

In most situations, I consider myself an underbuyer. Buying huge amounts of anything makes me feel anxious instead of secure. And I tend to agonize over even very small purchases, like sandals or toothpaste. I usually end up not buying anything rather than actually forking over the money.

I think I've mentioned before that I teach piano lessons on a few afternoons every week. When Mike was in school, that extra money went right into the mix to buy groceries, housing, and other necessities. But when he graduated and got a full-time job, that money became mine to do with as I pleased.

It has taken me a long time to get used to. In fact, I usually spend the bulk of it on things like preschool or extracurricular activities for the boys or gifts. And I'm totally fine with that because it means we can save more of our actual income for house projects or other big things.

But in the last six months or so, I've become a little more rash and impulsive. I can think of a number of purchases I've made on the spot, without agonizing over them at all, and, for the most part, I've been happy, even thrilled, with all of them.

For example, one evening when we were at Costco, they had a display of down-filled, quilted coats for $40. Normally, this is the kind of potential purchase I would go home and "think about." But it was exactly what I wanted, and I knew I wasn't going to find it for that price again, so I bought it right then.

And, oh my goodness, I've loved that coat. It's warm without being bulky, and it is so comfortable. I wore it every day this past winter, and it made the cold not seem quite so unbearable. Even though I hadn't gone into Costco thinking I would buy a coat, it was exactly what I'd been looking for, and I was so glad I hadn't let my underbuyer side get in the way of a good purchase.

I made similar impulsive purchases when I bought a dress (actually two) for Mike's work Christmas party, a swimming suit (after I'd already bought one for the upcoming season), and a pair of converse sneakers.

And then, of course, there have been the books: Finding Winnie because I loved it so much after we read it and Amazon had it for under $10; The Reindeer Wish and Santa Clauses because they had been on my wish list, so when the price dropped, I jumped on it; Sense and Sensibility because it was my birthday and it was so pretty.

And just last week, Little Men. After I read it last November, I wanted my own copy, but I didn't like any of the current editions except for a UK one that I couldn't find in the US. But then last week, Suzanne and I scheduled our monthly Book Blab, and I was planning on recommending Little Men. I always like to have a copy of the book to show while we're chatting, but all the library copies were checked out. So I decided to just see if there was just a cheap paperback on Amazon that I could buy and not feel guilty about. And then, instead of just an ugly copy, there was a beautiful new edition for only $6. It was exactly like what I wanted to find a few months ago, so I didn't wait. I snatched it up and then bought Jo's Boys too. (And I would have bought Little Women and Good Wives as well if Amazon had had them in that edition.) It was so fun getting them in the mail and lining up their cute spines on the bookshelf. 

These purchases weren't impulsive in the same way that some things are impulsive. They were all things I'd thought about and had my ideal of in my head. No, they were impulsive because I bought them immediately upon finding them instead of pacing for twenty minutes in the store before deciding to go home and come back to the store later if it was still something I really wanted.

And that's rare for me and also, I discovered, a little bit liberating.

Gretchen Rubin advocates "indulging in a modest splurge" to boost happiness. It's taken me awhile to figure out how to do that without being quickly overtaken by buyer's remorse. But I think I've finally got it. I don't like shopping, especially when there is something specific I need (like a new outfit for a wedding). But, like most people, I have a running list of things I'm on the lookout for that will fill a specific purpose. So when I find myself out shopping, and I happen to see one of those items on my list, I buy it. I don't question it or talk myself out of it. I buy it right then and there. It feels impulsive to me, so I get a little bit of a rush, but it's really not because it's stuff that I've already thought through. I'd call that a win-win.

Are you an underbuyer or overbuyer? What does impulsive look like for you? Tell me about a happy, impulsive purchase you've made recently!

The Book Blab Episode 5: How to Find Time to Read, Plus Two Books About Motherhood (with show notes)

Apr 25, 2016

Last Thursday evening, Suzanne and I sat down and had a virtual chat about how we make time for reading in our lives. We shared seven of our best tips and had a great time commiserating about our book nerdiness.

In case you missed watching it live, here is the replay along with the show notes. Enjoy!

0:44 - This month's topic: How to fit in more time for reading
2:30 - What made Suzanne prioritize reading in her life again
3:40 - Tip #1: Manage your reading list
6:27 - Tip #2: "Read" audiobooks
10:02 - Tip #3: Speed-read some books (nonfiction, textbooks, online articles, etc.)
12:38 - Tip #4: Read multiple books at a time
16:55 - Tip #5: Keep a book with you always
18:42 - Tip #6: Use external motivators (reading goals, book club, etc.)
21:33 - Tip #7: Schedule a time to read
23:48 - Two favorite books about motherhood
  • 25:12 - Suzanne's recommendation
  • 26:27 - Amy's recommendation 
29:15 - Conclusion + reminder of next month's show

Links from the show:

Episode 3 of The Book Blab: Reading Goals
On Such Stuff: "Does it Count as 'Reading' if You're Listening?"
The book that was ruined because Amy listened to it at regular speed
On Such Stuff: "Speed Reading vs. Slow Reading"
Suzanne's review of The Light Between Oceans
Amy's review of Little Men 

We would love to hear your recommendations for how you fit more reading time into your busy lives! Please share in the comments!

And P.S., don't forget that next month we'll be having a mini book club discussing A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman. We invite you to read it, too, and come share your insights. We'll announce the  date in a few weeks.

Crossing to Safety by Wallace Stegner

Apr 20, 2016

Several years ago, my book club read Angle of Repose by Wallace Stegner. I can probably count on one hand the number of book club books I haven't read, but that is one of them (I think I knew I wasn't going to be able to make the meeting, so I decided not to commit to a 550-page book if I wasn't going to have anyone to discuss it with afterwards).

And yet, Wallace Stegner has stayed on my short list because so many readers whom I respect and trust have raved about him. One of my reading goals this year is to "Read a male author I've been meaning to read" (don't worry, I have a goal for a female author too--I'm nothing if not fair), and Wallace Stegner was definitely a contender. But the deal was clinched when my friend, Jen, said she'd been wanting to read something by Wallace Stegner too, and she was game if I was. (This is the same friend who convinced me to read Middlemarch last year--she's a good influence on me.)

So I read it. And I loved it. Like, really really loved it. And then I was intimidated to write about it because I loved it so much. But I couldn't bear the thought of it fading from memory over time, so I decided to buckle down and crank out my thoughts, as inadequate as they might be (there may be some inadvertent spoilers, just a heads up). 

It's not that it's a particularly happy novel, but it's also not a particularly sad novel. It's just kind of a mix of both, just like real life.

The story is retrospective in nature. Larry and Sally Morgan are returning to visit their best friends, Sid and Charity Lang, after many years away, and Larry's thoughts naturally go back forty years before when they were both young married couples with big dreams in front of them.

They met in Madison, Wisconsin soon after Larry took a job teaching creative writing at the college. It's the 1930's, so of course he's grateful for any job he can get, even though this one was not advertised as a permanent position. Sid Lang is also on the English faculty, hoping he can publish enough academic papers to get tenure (even though he'd rather by writing poetry). Charity Lang and Sally are both pregnant (Charity with her third, Sally with her first). Their friendship takes root almost immediately. It's one of those rare instances where the wives get along and the husbands get along and the couples get along (Mike and I have about four such friendships, and we treasure each one of them).

The Langs are gregarious and supportive and generous. They like everyone, but no one as much as the Morgans. They are also very wealthy due to an inheritance from Sid's father. The Morgans are barely making ends meet (luckily, as Larry says, "With the right wife, and I had her, deprivation becomes a game"). This disparity in finances could have made the friendship between these couples awkward, especially since the Langs are only too eager to help the Morgans at the least sign of need, but Larry has a talent for writing that Sid envies, and that seems to even things up a little.

Although some very real and heartbreaking things happen during the course of the narrative (Sally contracts polio, Sid's career flounders, Charity is diagnosed with cancer), it was the relationships themselves that kept me riveted.

In particular, there is an interesting dynamic between Sid and Charity. Although it's obvious that they love each other, there is no doubt that Charity has to be in control--from little things, like taking a photo of Sid even when he has asked her not to, to big things, like demanding that they stay in Madison and that he teach a subject he's not passionate about.

There's one scene especially that I keep thinking about. In it, the Morgans and the Langs are about to leave on a week-long camping trip. As usual, Charity has organized the whole thing down to the most minute detail. She has an extensive list, but they all forgot to consult it, and now everything is packed and ready to go. She can't bear the thought that they might not bring something important (or maybe she's more worried that they'll have a fine trip even without every item on the list), and so she does the totally irrational thing of making them unpack everything and go back through the list, checking off each item before repacking it.

Sid is frustrated but does as she asks. Then he takes the walking cane that she has insisted he use and heads off with Larry, who has a cane of his own. Larry admits, only to himself, "I kind of like my cane, but then, nobody's making me carry it." I couldn't help but think that's probably the way it is with a lot of things, in careers and marriages and parenting. When someone forces us to do something, it's irritating, even if it's something we would have chosen to do on our own. We just want the freedom to decide for ourselves.

Much later in the story, when it returns to the present, Charity is in the final stages of cancer. With death, as with everything else, she has a plan, and she will not swerve from it, even though Sid is completely broken because of it. He wants her to keep fighting, but she says, "Hope would be foolish for me. It wouldn't do me any good to set my will on living. I thought it would, before I had the operation. That's why I had it. I had so much to live for, I was determined to live. But they just sewed me up again, and I had to learn to face the facts and make the most of what time I had left."

It's an interesting conflict of interests, hers versus Sid's, and you get the impression that maybe they've never had the kind of marriage you'd hope for in one of nearly fifty years.

Towards the end of the book, Sid and Larry have a poignant conversation. Sid admits that he's "taken a bit of comfort in [Larry's] bad luck." He says, "You've always thought my marriage was a kind of slavery," but he knows that, in his own way, Larry was also trapped by his marriage, "tied and helpless, though for very different reasons." He speculates, wonders, if Sally hadn't gotten polio if Larry would have stayed as faithful to her? If she hadn't needed him so much, and he'd had more time to develop his talents, would they have grown apart? And then he says this: "[Sally] couldn't survive you? Could you survive her?"

He's asking it because he realizes how dependent he's become on Charity for everything. He doesn't know if he'll be able to survive her after she's gone. Larry says that both he and Sally would be able to survive the other because that's just what you do, but you can see how these themes of freedom and choice and love and sacrifice permeate the entire book.

I realize that the parts of the book I've chosen to share in this review haven't painted Charity Lang in the most flattering light. And while it's true that she has her faults, so do Sid and Larry and, yes, even angelic Sally. That's why I loved this book so much. There was just so much depth to each character. In fact, Mike listened to it too, and we both wondered how Wallace Stegner could write in such a perceptive, intimate way if he wasn't writing about his own life. (I later found out that this book is semi-autobiographical, but I was never able to find any more details about it. Still, maybe it's that hint of truth that makes the whole thing seem credible.)

At one point, Larry is talking to the Lang's adult daughter, Hallie. She is begging him to write a book about her parents, but he refuses. He asks himself, "How do you make a book that anyone will read out of lives as quiet as these?" But of course, that's exactly what this book is, and, it turns out, this is how you do it.

Have you read this book? Which parts have stayed with you? And what do you think the title is referring to?

Also, unrelated to this post, but I wanted to let you know that Episode 5 of The Book Blab will be airing live on Thursday, April 21st, at 7:00 MST. I hope you'll join Suzanne and me as we discuss how we make time for reading. The live feed will be right here on the blog or you can visit this link. See you then!

Roller Girl by Victoria Jamieson

Apr 18, 2016

I'm starting to not recognize myself any more. Last year, I read a verse novel about basketball, and it ended up being one of my favorite books of the year. A couple of weeks ago, I picked up this graphic novel about roller derby, and I couldn't put it down. Seriously? Roller derby? Is this really me? I used to be afraid of new genres. I used to shun topics I couldn't relate to. But as I've pushed myself out of my comfort zone, my world has only opened up and become richer. Reading has become even more of a treasure.

Astrid and Nicole are best friends and have been since the first grade. But as they approach sixth grade, their interests begin to diverge. Nicole loves to dance; she cares about clothes and the way she looks; she likes boys. Astrid though . . . Astrid doesn't really know what she likes until one night  when her mom surprises her with tickets to a roller derby bout. Astrid didn't even know something like this existed, and she is hooked from the minute the emcee announces the names of the Rose City Rollers.

She is so excited, in fact, that she doesn't even notice Nicole's lukewarm reaction to all the pushing and shoving and racing and falling. When Astrid sees an advertisement in the program for junior roller derby camp, she assumes they'll both sign up together.

But that's not how it goes at all, and Astrid finds herself staring down at six weeks of roller derby camp without her best friend by her side. The roller derby girls are completely different than Astrid is used to. They have crazy nicknames (Slamwich , Scream Soda, and Blondilocks); they dye their hair green and purple; and they're tough as nails. Astrid can barely make it home after the first day because she's so battered and bruised and worn out.

But she sticks with it--in part because she never told her mom that Nicole decided to go to dance camp instead, and her mom assumes she's getting a ride home with Nicole every day--and after a couple of weeks, she's hit a certain sort of stride and is excitedly anticipating competing in her first bout. But of course, there are some bumps in the road, and those teach her who she really is and also what it takes to be a good friend.

After Roller Girl won a Newbery Honor earlier this year, I was very interested in reading it. You might remember that a graphic novel, El Deafo, won an honor last year as well, and even though I liked it fine, I didn't personally feel like it fit the Newbery criteria. With a second win for a graphic novel this year, I was really interested to see how they compared and if more of a case could be made for this one.

And I will say that even though it still seems unfair to strip away the illustrations and consider the text alone because the two are meant to go together, the text itself was far superior to El Deafo. It was sassy and funny and added as much character to the story as the illustrations did.

One of my favorite scenes was when Astrid's new friend, Zoey, helps Astrid dye her hair blue. Because Astrid's hair is so dark, they have to dye it blonde first, and when Astrid sees herself, she freaks out. "Okay, relax," Zoey says. "It's OK. Breathe . . . But not too deeply on account of the fumes . . . You're experiencing some shock right now, but this is normal."

Although I've never had even the teeniest tiniest desire to play roller derby, I felt like the underlying message of this book (finding yourself, being comfortable with who you are, etc.) was very relatable. I know many twelve-year-olds who would feel a kinship with Astrid, rather than Nicole, and who would appreciate her personality and interests.

There is a part of me, however, who wonders how kids who relate to Astrid will react to this book. Will they see it as permission to rebel and be a little more edgy? Astrid and her mom have a couple of fights in the book (the one after her mom finds out that Astrid lied to her and has actually been walking home from camp by herself is especially intense), and those actually demonstrate really great conflict and resolution, so hopefully even kids who relate to Astrid will see how important it is to be honest and communicate with their parents.

The other thing that struck me as incredibly real is that Astrid and Nicole don't magically become best friends again. They go through a very rough patch where they basically hate each other, but even though they eventually mend things, their friendship never goes back to the way it was, and you don't get the impression that it ever will. I think that's pretty true to life. Friends often grow apart from each other, and that's okay.

One of my major complaints about El Deafo was the ending. I felt like it totally celebrated being dishonest in order to gain popularity. But I had no such problem with Roller Girl's ending. In fact, I wouldn't change a single thing about it. Astrid shows real selflessness and good sportsmanship, but some really great things happen to her as well with her roller derby idol, Rainbow Bite.

The most surprising part of the book for me though was just how much I loved reading about roller derby. I thought it was fascinating. Not something that I would ever want to try, mind you,  but fascinating.

So here's to reading more books about subjects I don't like! Okay, that didn't sound quite the way I meant it to, but you know what I mean.

Which books have surprised YOU?

Content note: A mean girl gives Astrid a crude nickname.

20 Parenting Books Later, and This is What I Remember

Apr 14, 2016

Last Sunday, we were sitting in church, and Clark didn't get to put his little plastic sacrament cup back in the tray like he wanted to. It was basically the end of the world for him. Instead of covering his mouth though or telling him to be quiet or rushing him out of the chapel, I whispered in his ear, "You wanted to put the cup in the tray. It was your cup, and you wanted to do it. You didn't want mommy to do it. You wanted to do it." Within seconds, his cries had stopped and he was back to his normal self.

A tantrum had been narrowly avoided, and as I was thinking about it, I realized that in that moment, I'd applied the one piece of advice I remember from when I read The Happiest Toddler on the Block: Narrate what they're thinking. Most of the time, they just want to know someone knows why they're so mad, so just say it for them again and again and again.

Over the past eight years, I've read my share of parenting books. Most of them completely motivate and inspire me while I'm reading them (and for maybe a couple of weeks after), and then I promptly forget everything except for maybe one or two takeaway messages. (And sometimes, sadly, even with books I liked very much, I really do forget the entire thing. It's mom-brain at it's finest.)

Today I thought it would be fun, or maybe depressing, to see what has stayed with me from some of the books. In each case, I haven't looked back at my review, which surely would have helped me remember a lot more (and sometimes, it was very tempting to take a quick peek, but I'm a girl of my word).

The Happiest Baby on the Block by Harvey Karp
To sooth a crying baby, try one (or several) of the five S's: Swing, Swaddle, Shhhh, Suck, and . . . dang it, I can't remember the last one!

Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child by Marc Weissbluth
Put your baby to bed earlier, and he'll sleep longer.

Love and Logic Magic for Early Childhood by Jim Fay and Charles Fay
When you want your child to do something (for example, leave the park), give him a choice, "Would you like to leave now or in five minutes?"

The Happiest Toddler on the Block by Harvey Karp
Your toddler is like a little caveman. When he is upset, mimic his words/feelings in short, primitive sentences.

Parent Power by John Rosemond
There should never be any question that it is the parent who is in charge. 

The Parenting Breakthrough: A Real-Life Plan to Teach Kids to Work, Save Money, and Be Truly Independent by Merrilee Browne Boyack
It's the parents' responsibility to teach their kids how to work and to raise successful adults out of them. This is best accomplished through an organized plan. (For example, at three, teach them how to get dressed; at seven, teach them how to use the microwave; at twelve, teach them how to schedule appointments, etc.) I modified the plan she outlined in the book to fit our own family, and we still reference it every year.

Free-Range Kids: How to Raise Safe, Self-Reliant Children by Lenore Skenazy
My kids won't die if they eat cookie dough.

Baby-Led Weaning: The Essential Guide to Introducing and Helping Your Baby to Grow Up a Healthy and Confident Eater by Gill Rapley and Tracey Murkett
It is better for babies to learn how to handle real food at six months when their gag reflex is at the front of their tongue rather than at nine months when it has moved farther back. Cut up food into stick shapes at the beginning for early success.

Screamfree Parenting: The Revolutionary Approach to Raising Your Kids by Keeping Your Cool by Hal Edward Runkel
Be very careful not to label your kids, especially when they can hear what you're saying. You might think they don't have a natural inclination towards ______, but if they hear you say so, they most certainly won't. (Full review here)

Bringing Up Geeks: How to Protect Your Kid's Childhood in a Grow-Up-Too-Fast World by MaryBeth Hicks
If my parents were to write a parenting handbook, it would be this book. (Full review here)

Bringing Up Bebe: One American Mother Discovers the Wisdom of French Parenting by Pamela Druckerman
Kids don't need to eat a snack fifty times a day. One snack, that's it. It's okay for kids to be hungry before meals. (Full review here)

Boys Adrift: The Five Factors Driving the Growing Epidemic and Underachieving Young Men by Leonard Sax
Most active boys do not have ADHD and do not need to be medicated. Boys are active because they're boys. Video games should be severely limited or avoided altogether. Boys thrive on competition. (Full review here)

All Joy and No Fun: The Paradox of Modern Parenthood by Jennifer Senior
Validation! Also, I'm terrified to have teenagers. (Full review here)

Raising an Emotionally Intelligent Child by John Gottman
It is not bad to feel mad or sad or scared. Those emotions can be a catalyst for growth and change. (Full review here)

How to Talk So Kids Will Listen and Listen So Kids Will Talk by Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish
Basically the same book as Raising an Emotionally Intelligent Child but easier to read and with more practical, hands-on tips. Reflect back your child's feelings rather than force them into a different emotion: "I can see you're feeling angry right now. Why don't you go take a break in your room?" Not, "Get into your room, and don't you dare come out until you're happy!"

Raising a Reader: A Mother's Tale of Desperation and Delight by Jennie Nash
A mistreated book is not worth freaking out over. (Full review here)

Calm and Compassionate Children by Susan Usha Dermond
Get a pet. (Full review here)

Strong Mothers, Strong Sons: Lessons Mothers Need to Raise Extraordinary Men by Meg Meeker
Your son should never ever ever question your love for him. Never. (Full review here)

MotherStyles: Using Your Personality Type to Discover Your Parenting Strengths by Janet P. Penley
I am an ISTJ. I can't come up with imaginative ways for my kids to eat their food or get ready for school. But I can make a long list of summer goals, check them all off, and have fun doing it. (Full review here)

Little Men by Louisa May Alcott
Taking the time to have one-on-one, weekly interviews with your children will go a long way in raising productive, successful, faithful adults. (Full review here)

This list represents hundreds of hours of reading. I can remember forcing myself to painstakingly read every word of The Power of Positive Parenting by Glenn Latham, and you'll notice that it didn't even make the list because I couldn't remember a single thing from it. That's sad. It almost seems like it's not worth all the time and effort if I'm just going to forget it all anyway.

But here's the thing: Reading is as much an experience as a memory. As I read each of these books, they influenced and shaped me. Some of that influence was retained as a tangible phrase that I could apply in tricky parenting situations, but some of it actually changed who I was, and that is harder to measure.

Which books have shaped you as a parent? What are some of your mantras in moments of crises? Do you have any fail-proof tips you use to calm a screaming toddler or to get your kids to stop fighting? Please share!

And bonus! Here are a few other parenting books I've read that didn't make the list because they were so memorable I couldn't remember anything. Oops.

Nine Classic Board Books My Toddler Asks for Again and Again

Apr 11, 2016

I always fall into a pit of despair when my kids hit their eight-month birthdays. At that point, they're mobile, which means they have the necessary skills to get into a ridiculous amount of danger and trouble in a short amount of time, and they think they can do it all on just one nap.

If it were only that though, I don't think I would be as dramatic as calling it a pit of a despair. A pit, maybe. But not of despair.

But coinciding with this eight-month mark, they also stop listening to books, except to rip them to shreds with their chubby little fingers. And that, no question, is despair-worthy.

Luckily, something miraculous begins to happen soon after their first birthdays and slowly gains momentum as they approach eighteen months. All of a sudden, they like books again. They sit on my lap and listen contentedly. They point to pictures. They make animal sounds. They ask for the book again . . . and again.

Clark has been no exception to this pattern, but that doesn't make it any less miraculous. The whole family is enjoying his requests of "read book please." It's kind of fantastic to have five willing readers now instead of just two. I'm telling you, this kid is spoiled.

Because we are doing a lot of reading now, I wanted to share some of Clark's current favorites.

But first, a disclaimer. This list is made up almost entirely of classic children's books. If you're looking for new recommendations, you'll have to look somewhere else. Clark, of course, doesn't know that these books have been around for ten, twenty-five, fifty years. He just knows that he likes them, and I kind of love seeing him gravitate towards them just like his older brothers did. Many of them have been reviewed here before, but I'm mentioning them again so I can capture a bit of Clark right now (and maybe remind you of some of your beloved favorites, too).

1. The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle
Since I already warned you this would be a list full of classics, I might as well start out with one of the most iconic children's books of the twentieth century. I'm sure their are readers out there who don't love it (there always are), but from my viewpoint, this story about a gluttonous caterpillar who gorges himself for a week is pretty much universally loved. At least it is in our house. Clark loves pointing out all of his favorite foods, and I love nibbling his neck while the caterpillar nibbles a strawberry.

2. At the Zoo: A Lift-the-Flap Shadow Book by Roger Priddy
This book has a lot of flaps, and if you're like me, then you probably try to avoid such books, but hear me out. Each page contains probably ten to twelve silhouettes of different animals. Open each flap, and you find a photograph of the actual animal. I love this book (and the other ones in the series) for several reasons: 1) The silhouettes add a fun little guessing game element to the book, 2) It features quite a wide range of animals, and 3) The photographs make it feel more real. I was a little overly protective of the book when we first got it when Aaron was a toddler, but I've loosened up a bit with each child, and it's held up remarkably well.

3. Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? by Bill Martin Jr., illus. Eric Carle
When Aaron was born, one of my good friends gave me a box set of Brown Bear, Polar Bear, and Panda Bear. Believe it or not, four kids later, those same board books are still kicking at our house, but only just. They have been read so many times, the edges are scuffed and worn soft, the binding is coming apart, and we all can recite them in our sleep. When Bradley was Clark's age, he loved this book so much, Mike made him a Brown Bear cake for his second birthday. Clark's favorite page is the last one where all of the animals are shown together. He likes to point to the correct picture when I say, "Find the blue horse" or "Find the red bird." I keep hoping it will help him learn his colors, but so far it hasn't worked.

4. Hooray for Fish by Lucy Cousins
Little Fish takes readers on a tour of his ocean home and introduces them to all his fishy friends. Lucy Cousins' broad strokes and bold colors are eye-catching of course, but other than that, it's a pretty average story. And yet, all of my kids have loved it. It might have to do with all of the little things we've added over the years: chomping their tummies when we get to the "scary fish," changing voices when we read "fat" and "thin" fish, and giving three quick kisses on the cheek when we find Little Fish's favorite fish. Or it might just be because of those illustrations because really, who can resist Lucy Cousins?

5. Where is the Green Sheep? by Mem Fox, illus. Judy Horacek
Most of the books on this list are family favorites, but Mike has firmly told me that he doesn't really love this one. No matter. I bought it for Clark for Christmas anyway, and he loves it.  The reader spends the entire book looking for the green sheep. He finds the sun sheep and the rain sheep and the moon sheep and the star sheep, but where is the green sheep? (Clark always answers, "I don't know.") The lilting text is perfectly repetitive, and the sheep are silly and unexpected. Mike might not be a convert, but the rest of us are.

6. Pete the Cat: I Love My White Shoes by Eric Litwin, illus. James Dean
I don't think you can call Pete the Cat "a classic" (although it is very popular), and it's also not a board book, so it probably shouldn't be on this list at all except that Clark loves it, and that's what I'm really trying to showcase here. It had been quite awhile since I'd sung the "I love my white shoes" song to any of my kids, but it came right back to me. I have mixed feelings about Pete the Cat though. We've loved this one since it first came out in 2010. And the ones that followed (Rocking in My School Shoes and Pete the Cat and His Four Groovy Buttons) are not bad either. But then, as so often happens with popular books, someone decided it would be a great idea to make a whole line of early readers based on Pete the Cat, and they don't have the same personality as this one. So I guess what I'm saying is, if you haven't read any Pete the Cat before, don't think that you can just go to the library and pick up the first one you see and it will be a winner.

7. Dear Zoo by Rod Campbell
I guess it's probably fairly obvious from the featured books on this list that Clark is a fan of animals. This one though is more than just a collection of animals thrown together. It's a simple story about a kid (I always assume it's a boy, but I think that's just because I only have boys) who asks the zoo to send him a pet. He gets all sorts of animals shipped to him, but for one reason or another (too fierce, too grumpy, etc.), they're just not quite right for him. Fortunately though, the zoo finally finds the perfect pet.

8. Blue Hat, Green Hat by Sandra Boynton
For years, I said that Hippos Go Berserk was my favorite Sandra Boynton board book. But then I got Clark Blue Hat, Green Hat for Easter, and the first read-through prompted the most delightful, unadulterated giggles I have ever heard, and I switched loyalties just like that. Seriously though, if you think that a book with only a handful of words and approximately six pages can't be funny, then you clearly have never read this book about a turkey who just can't seem to get his clothes on correctly. For a toddler whose daily life is a struggle of the same, it is hilarious.

9. The Very Busy Spider by Eric Carle
One of Clark's early words was "spidey," which made me remember this book . . . and also realize that I hadn't seen it around our house in a very long time. After a thorough search, I decided it really was missing and promptly bought a replacement copy. It only took one time through for Clark to be a devoted fan of this story about a spider who can't be bothered by all the other farm animals because she is so busy spinning her web.

Which classic board books have your kids loved?

For more favorite board books, click here.

Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day by Winifred Watson

Apr 7, 2016

My library and I have been a little out of sync lately. Long-awaited holds come in when I'm already completely swamped followed by periods where I'm scrambling to find something to read because I'm still several people out on wait lists.

But occasionally these dry spells work to my advantage. Like, for example, a couple of weeks ago when I was listening to the latest episode of What Should I Read Next. The guest happened to have very similar reading preferences to myself, which meant that I was interested in every single one of Anne's recommendations,including Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day.

I was between books at that moment with a little weekend trip happening the next day, and Miss Pettigrew seemed like the perfect book to slide into that empty spot. And for once, I got lucky, and it was actually at the library, available for immediate check-out (it helped that it was written in 1938, and the movie adaptation is several years old, so it's not exactly in high demand).

It surprised, delighted, and scandalized me. So in other words, it was the very thing.

Miss Pettrigrew is a forty-year-old governess looking for work. She has never been married, never had children, and, by all appearances, lived a rather boring (dare I say, mediocre?) life.

When the story opens at 9:15 am, she is seeking employment once again, with the added incentive that if she doesn't find a job that very day, she will be evicted from her flat. Luckily, Miss Holt from the employment agency has just had a request from a Miss LaFosse who is seeking a governess. Miss Pettigrew clutches the card, sets off for 5 Onslow Mansions, and dredges up what little hope she has left.

She knocks at the door, and it is eventually opened by the most stunningly gorgeous woman Miss Pettigrew has ever seen, who, at that particular moment, is rather flustered because Phil is still there, but Nick could arrive at any moment, and then of course there's always Michael to worry about. Miss Pettigrew is completely baffled. She has no idea what is going on . . . and she loves it.

Thus begins the best day of Miss Pettigrew's life. There are no expectations to limit her, and because of that, she shines like she never has before.

During their first conversation, just as Miss Pettigrew is on her way to the kitchen to cook breakfast, Miss LaFosse says, "I knew it. The minute I laid eyes on you I knew you were the kind of person to be relied on." Then it says, "[Miss Pettigrew] knew she was not a person to be relied upon. But perhaps that was because hitherto every one had perpetually taken her inadequacy for granted. How do we know what latent possibilities of achievement we possess?"

Miss Pettigrew struggles with this disparity throughout the book. From the very first minute, Miss LaFosse has such unfailing confidence in her, and yet Miss Pettigrew feels like a total imposter. She's been a lousy governess her whole life. She's plain and unattractive. No one has ever wanted to be friends with her. She believes she can only have this one magical day, and then she will have to go back to her abysmal life because that is all she deserves.

It's so sad, right? And yet, there's something rather uncomfortably familiar in it. Don't we all get a little boxed in by other people's opinions of us? Stereotypes can be so limiting and almost impossible to overcome.

As it turns out though, Miss LaFosse has her own set of stereotypes she's up against. She's a night club singer with several boyfriends, all of whom have slept over at her house on more than one occasion. As a reader, I began drawing conclusions about her immediately: from the way she was dressed and the people she was associating with and the predicaments she was in. With such loose morals, I thought Miss Pettigrew should stay far away from her.

However, Miss LaFosse is unbelievably kind and unassuming. She senses something about Miss Pettigrew that is buried so deep, Miss Pettigrew doesn't even know it's a part of herself anymore. Miss LaFosse treats her like a wise mentor, and Miss Pettigrew slips into the role as easily as if she was made for it.

I'm not saying I condone all of Miss LaFosse's actions. I don't (and neither, for the record, does Miss Pettigrew). In fact, one of the things that bothered me about the book was that it made it look like you're only living if you drink and flirt and stay up until 3 am.

For example, at one point, Miss Pettigrew is trying to convince Miss LaFosse to settle down and marry one man. Miss LaFosse asks, "Is it so much the best?" Miss Pettigrew answers, "Indeed it is." But then this:
"[She] stopped. She was not fifty yet, but some day she would be, with no home, no friends, no husband, no children. She had lived a life of spartan chastity and honour. She would still have no home or memories. Miss LaFosse would reach fifty someday. Suppose she reached it equally without home and friends. What then? How full would her memories be?"
This implies, of course, that Miss Pettigrew's upstanding life has done little for her in the long run. She has no family or friends or home, and no memories either. Even if Miss LaFosse finds herself in a similar situation in twenty-five years (which is highly unlikely), at least she'll have the memories of what a great time she had drifting from partner to partner, getting drunk every night, and sleeping until noon the next day.

Can you tell I'm being a little sarcastic? I'm sorry, but I don't really think that's living either.

However, what Miss LaFosse does have, and I think, at its heart, this is what Miss Pettigrew longs for, is solid friendship stripped of judgment and criticism and filled with humor and loyalty. Miss LaFosse treats all of her friends the same way she treated Miss Pettigrew on first meeting her: with respect, confidence, and a natural ease. She likes people and assumes that they will like her (and they do).

I loved the way almost everyone accepted Miss Pettigrew on first sight, even Miss Dubarry, who saw Miss Pettigrew before her makeover:
"[Miss Pettigrew] was thoroughly enjoying herself. She was in a state of spiritual intoxication. No one had ever talked to her like that before. The very oddness of their conversation sent thrills of delight down her spine. come to think of it, hardly any one had ever troubled to talk to her about anything at all: not in a personal sense. But these people! They opened their hearts. They admitted her. She was one of themselves. It was the amazing way they took her for granted that thrilled every nerve in her body. No surprise: they simply said 'Hallo', and you were one of themselves."
So even though I was shocked that such a book with such scandalous content could be written by a woman in 1938 (although, for the record, all of the promiscuous behavior is implied or happens off-screen, which definitely makes it more mild), in the end, I liked this book. It was short, fast-paced, and dialogue-heavy, and I loved seeing Miss Pettigrew's delight and excitement and transformation throughout the day.

And incidentally, in her whole life, Winifred Watson never set foot once in a nightclub, which struck me as incredibly amusing, but she said, "When you write, if things feel right, people believe them." And I guess I did.

Have you read this book? What did you think of it? I'm trying to decide if the movie would be worth watching, so opinions on that are welcome as well.

Raising Readers: How to Raise a Family of Readers (Guest Post)

Apr 5, 2016

Today I'm pleased to introduce you to my blogging friend, Erin, who hails from the land down under. I believe we first "met" through the Read-Aloud Revival facebook page (when it still existed). Erin is a homeschooling mom of ten children (yes, ten!), and I'm continually inspired by the way she balances education and real-life experiences and fun. They are currently renovating their house, and the whole family is involved in the construction. (I'm especially excited to see their completed home library--squeal!!) Her blog posts about books and glimpses into everyday life in rural Australia are not to be missed, and she is just an all-around really nice person. I hope you'll appreciate her insights into how she and her husband have raised a family of readers.

Reading in our household is an integral part of our family culture: our children are read to from birth through to their teenage years, reading independently is nurtured, and reading as a pastime is highly valued. Our children are surrounded by books as our home literally contains thousands of books: books purchased, gifted and found at book sales. Both my husband and I are readers as are our children; conversations, activities and movie watching are entwined around our love of reading.  Simply, reading is something we do as a family. 

As I reflected upon how we have grown a reading culture, I asked our adult children and teens who have been nurtured in this environment to contribute their thoughts as to how we’ve managed to raise readers; the younger children also wanted to contribute. The children’s insights are fascinating,
and it was enlightening to hear reoccurring themes. Essentially, our children felt the key components of raising readers in our family have been: our family read-alouds, the emphasis placed on the value of reading and the time allowed for this, our insistence on quality literature, the teaching and nurturing of burgeoning readers, sibling interest and passion shared, a family culture created, the sheer amount of books they are surrounded with, and my willingness to search for books of interest for each individual child and my quest to provide them with these books, whether via our own shelves, the library or purchasing. Admittedly, scouring book lists and searching for the ‘morsel to tantalise the taste buds’ of some of our children is an endeavour that has consumed many hours over the years.  I’ll allow the children to speak for themselves.

Question: “Why do you think you are a reader? What did we do to support reading in our family?”

Anna Maria – 22

“You read read-alouds to us as children. We enjoyed a wide range of quality literature; you made sure the books we read were quality books. Lots of emphasis was placed on reading. You bought lots of books; we went to book sales and the library.  You modelled reading and you talked about books.”

Carpenter – 21

“We had a ready supply of books and options. You found books in the genre I liked and supported me in my love of series. You would search to find books I was interested in and were willing to buy the books and series if we couldn’t find them at the library. You would go through our shelves at home and find books I might be interested in and give me huge piles to select from.

You read read-alouds to us, taught me to read, and encouraged me to read. When I was younger and learning to read, the ‘reading caterpillars’ (a family competition) motivated me to learn. I was also motivated by them later.”

Einstein – 19

“From a young age reading was encouraged. When learning to read we received lots of praise; when we had progressed and began reading short books and later chapter books we received lots more praise. Learning to read was a big deal. As we continued strengthening our skills it was all praiseworthy.

We were encouraged to read; a love and care of reading was fostered. I love reading.”

Michelangelo – 16

“You taught me to read, provided books at my level of reading ability. You had a good selection of books. You found books and series of interest I would enjoy. My older brothers and sisters shared their enthusiasm for and encouraged me to read particular books. Our rule of having to read the book before watching the movie created interest.”

Princess – 14

“We live in a reading environment. You are constantly suggesting books for me to read. Reading is considered important; it’s ‘the way’ to relax.”

Jelly Bean – 11

“You found books I was able to read that were interesting and made sure there were library books all around that I would like, that helped me want to learn to read. It helped having a supportive Mum who didn’t get angry, who was patient when I was learning to read."

Jack Jack – 9

“I want to read interesting books; I want to know what happens in the story.”

Jem – 7

“Reading is fun; I want to be able to read interesting books. It’s not fun learning how to read, but it is worth it. “

A reading environment doesn’t automatically translate to early reading. In fact, not many of our children learnt to read at a young age; indeed, most read at an average, or later than average, age, with a couple not reading independently and for pleasure until the age of eleven. Our goal however is to create a love of books and reading within each of our children and that we have succeeded at.

Our desire and commitment is to expose our children to primarily quality literature; whilst we are by no means purists, the benefits of exposing our children to rich literature and ideas which are manifold are now playing dividends.

We are in the enviable position that while ‘reaping the fruits of our labour’ with our older children, we are still able to experience the wonder of introducing a two-year-old to the world of books, a pastime she loves as her demands ‘read to me’ indicate. Our five-year-old is at that beautiful stage
where he is beginning to discover the magic of the written word for himself, as well as continuing to enjoy picture books and transitioning to listening to chapter books with his older siblings.

I encourage you to begin creating a reading culture within your family today. Begin with one chapter at a time; snuggle, share, cry and laugh together. The rewards are rich indeed.

Whether you have one child or ten, grandchildren or nieces and nephews, how are YOU raising a family of readers?

Erin wanted to be a librarian as a child, issuing the neighbourhood children with library cards and stamping the family books in and out, she can’t remember a time she couldn’t read. She makes her home in Australia with her husband and ten children ranging from twenty-two to two years, where they are literally surrounded by thousands of books. She chats about books, family and home education at Seven Little Australians and @sevenlittleaustralianscounting.

A Little of This and That in March

Apr 1, 2016

With spring break and visits from family and a birthday and a wedding, March was definitely not short on things to talk about. This month found us:

Celebrating . . . Maxwell's sixth birthday. Mike and I gave him an iPod so he could listen to audiobooks more easily. We're kind of regretting that decision because he listens constantly, but luckily, he uses up the battery fairly quickly, and then we conveniently seem to lose the iPod cord every time, so that buys us a few days' reprieve.

Getting . . . a new roof! We had been talking about and planning and saving for it ever since we moved into our home two years ago, so sometimes I still can't believe it when I pull into the driveway and see those beautiful shingles up there instead of that ugly tile. Next up: painting! (Don't get too excited--it will probably take another two years.)

Enjoying . . . a visit with my family. They were here at the beginning of the month to visit a couple of schools for two of my brothers. We saw them off and on during the week, and my kids were very sad to see Aunt Angela go back home. She is their favorite aunt for sure.

Listening . . . to all of Clark's new words. I think I said something similar in last month's recap, but Clark continues to say new words every day, and it's just so fun. This month, he started saying, "I ub oo, Mommy," [I love you, Mommy], and my heart melts every time.  

Hosting . . . our second annual Pie (Pi) Day. Mike made thirty-one pies, we had over one hundred people come, and the weather was completely gorgeous, so it was a success in every way.

Wearing . . . green on St. Patrick's Day. We don't do much besides eat Lucky Charms for breakfast, but this year, I also packed each boy a green lunch (with green bread that Mike made the night before). Aaron especially was so surprised and thrilled when he opened it up, so I felt like it was totally worth the extra bit of effort.

Going . . . to Maxwell's walking report card. He got to demonstrate all of his skills by completing a packet with Mike and I watching. That kind of attention and praise is exactly the type of thing he thrives on, so he just relished it all evening. He also sang songs with his classmates and really got into the performance. 

Welcoming . . . spring. Everything is waking up, the days are lengthening, and every day seems to bring a new surprise in the way of flowers or birds or leaves. I love it.

Indulging . . . Clark's recent love of books. With all of my kids, I've despaired a little around 14 months when they still don't sit still for books. But then, as they approach their second birthday, something always clicks and suddenly I find myself sitting on the couch reading book after book after book. This is exactly what has happened with Clark in the last couple of months, and I'm loving it. Stay tuned because I'm going to be sharing Clark's favorite books in an upcoming post (although I'll warn you right now, he mainly sticks to the classics).

Reading . . . books with due dates. I started The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah at the beginning of the month, but I was reading some other things at the time (Escape from Mr. Lemoncello's Library for one, and I couldn't let Aaron get too far ahead of me), and my time with it expired before I was even a quarter of the way through. Now I'm back to being #80 on the hold list at the library. Boo. 

Playing . . . at the cabin. We only stayed over one night, but our kids had so much fun, mostly because they had cousins to explore and play games with and grandparents who indulged their every whim.

Teaching . . . Bradley how to ride a two-wheeler. He was catching on like a pro, but then the weather turned bad, and he hasn't practiced since.

Organizing . . . a neighborhood Easter egg hunt. I have wanted to do this for years (ever since we moved away from a neighborhood that did it). Parents dropped off a dozen plastic eggs for each child who wanted to participate. We divided up the eggs into four age categories and then hid them in four different yards. We had a great turnout, met some new neighbors, and avoided the community egg hunt over at the library (which is more of a greedy grab-fest than a hunt).

Keeping . . . Easter. I have been wanting to do something similar to our Christ-centered advent calendar for Easter to help us count down the days and keep our focus on the spiritual reason for the holiday.  I finally put together some resurrection eggs (you know the kind that have a little symbol and scripture in each egg?), and we opened them up on the days leading up to Easter.

Attending . . . Josh and Katie's wedding. My brother-in-law, Josh, got remarried just a couple of days ago. With his three boys and Katie's four kids, all of them between ten and fifteen years old, I have a feeling their house is going to be one constant party.

Alternating . . . between playing in the sun and huddling under a blanket. That's spring for you. 

Trying . . . to get our fill of Mike's parents before they go back to Germany. But it's impossible. Clark especially has been loving all the time with them and lights up every time he sees "Bampa Paul."

For more glimpses of this and that, be sure to follow me on Instagram.

What were you up to in March?
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