Spring and the Infectious Diseases Ward

We’ve been sick a lot this winter thanks to a combination of preschool germs, four kids who still put things in their mouths, lots of indoor time due to nasty weather, and finally coming out of our preemie-with-immature-lungs cocoon and spending time in public places now that Jenny is over two. Among multiple other illnesses the entire family caught RSV (Josie developed croup to boot). We’ve had three rounds of the stomach flu in the last month. The poor Man, bless his heart, had to spend the night on call in the ICU in a nauseous haze. Just as half the family got over the stomach flu we traded with the other half and caught a nasty cold that involves four days of high fevers and general misery before mellowing out to a week of hacking, runny noses, and sneezing. The baby cried for a good four hours today, and the kids spent half of yesterday slumped on the couch watching Daniel Tiger as their brains leaked out their ears. Basically, you would not want us as party guests right now. In fact, you don’t want us out on your driveway, and it’s probably best if we don’t even glance your direction while passing by.

Outside, though, things are looking up. There’s a new spring “first” every way we turn:

That first short-lived crocus was quickly followed by six more. Two days ago I spotted the first daffodil blooming up on the wooded ridge between our house and the neighbors. That afternoon, driving Lucy home from an appointment, I glanced at the prairie to my right; overnight every scrub bush had produced a delicate haze of newborn green leaves. Just before dinner yesterday we loaded our sick kids in the car for a drive and passed new rain-dotted snowdrops. The yards around us are starting to green up. On a damp drizzly walk this afternoon we heard the first woodpecker of the year drumming away in the woods, and the first frogs calling in the marsh as deer ran away from us through the chest-high grass.


(I turned around after photographing flowers and spotted an audience)

Two days ago we enjoyed a random temperature spike into the 70s. Nobody felt great but the twins joined me for a bit as we cleared out dead leaves and old tomato vines from the kitchen garden. Eventually they ran off to climb their favorite backyard tree and told me they were Winnie the Pooh trying to reach some honey. In the afternoon I loaded sick babies in the stroller and we headed off on a gloriously sunny walk.

It’s not all grim inside. The twins are pulling out of their colds, Jenny is close behind, and hopefully Josie will follow soon. I found this set of magnetic wooden people for $2 at a consignment sale and it’s bought us some sick days breathing room. I was excited that it’s a racially diverse set. Annie loves them and keeps begging to play with “the Maggot People.” 

Hair day needs to happen, sick or well.. My skills need work but I liked this part line pattern.

Jenny has joined Josie in her ditch-the-pants obsession. We turned around from folding laundry this afternoon to proud little girl giggles and this sight:

The Things They Say

I realize that kid quotes generally aren’t absorbing to people other than their parents. However, this is first and foremost a (very rarely updated) family journal so here goes.

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This baby lives to take off her pants. Winter, Shminter. You can always tell when she’s succeeded because she lets loose a delighted chortle, then goes on tour showing off her pudgy pink legs to the whole family.

Josie (19 months) has a beloved elephant. We gave Elephant to her for her first Christmas and he quickly became her special toy. For a long time she didn’t call him anything. A couple of months ago she started calling him, of all things…”Beer”. Beer the Elephant. We finally figured out that she was copying her big sister who has a beloved bear, very originally named “Bear”. After a month of “Beer” Josie made a fresh verbal attempt at “Elephant” and landed on “Onion” as her best approximation. Another month later and she’s crept forward to “Ey-fun”. We will miss Beer-Onion the Elephant.

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Jack (4), casually announced to no one in particular while putting on his astronaut costume: “I’m getting ready to save the world.”

Moments later, struggling with the costume’s zipper with his tongue out in concentration he panted “I’m. Not. Ready. To save. The world.”

Finally dressed he pumped his fists in the air, cheered “I’m ready to save the world!” and…ran straight over to his sisters to roar in their faces and deliberately annoy them as much as possible.

If you’d asked me for a three sentence summary of A Four Year Old Boy that’d do it.

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Jenny (2.5) doesn’t understand what an astronaut is, but has her own astronaut costume that I bought for a couple dollars through a local swap site last fall. She loves dressing up with her big brother. The other day I helped her into her costume as Jack put his on. Jenny strutted all over the house pointing to herself and announcing “air-cot! air-cot!” I can’t figure out if I’m raising an astronaut, an apricot, or a French green bean.

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Annie is going through a potty mouth stage. It’s typical for four, but that doesn’t mean it’s socially acceptable when a preschooler walks around all day to a steady mantra of “poopy. poopy. poopypoopypoopy.” Last week she tried it again with her Occupational Therapist. The OT told her that they could only use nice words while playing together. Annie’s solution was to stand up, run to the corner of the room, cup her hands over her mouth and whisper “poopy” as softly as she could any time she felt the urge to misbehave. With that out of her system she’d run to the therapist to play politely, sure she’d obeyed the rules. I don’t like potty mouth but I have to admit that kid brains crack me up. Got a favorite method for reforming a potty mouthed kiddo? I’m all ears.

Daybook for the First Week of Spring

Outside my window…


Sunshine is pouring down after a long stretch of cold gray days. [I wrote that two days ago. Now it’s gray and dreary, but at least it’s in the 50s]. We’ve had an odd winter with bitter cold and loads of snow in December followed by a snow-less January and February. Temperatures vacillated between frigid cold and balmy spring-like days. We even had a couple thunderstorms and a tornado watch in the mix. Flower buds popped out along the bare branches on our crap apples and daffodil shoots sprouted all over the yard. Now that it’s March we’ve had another four sticking snows and the kids finally got to use the sleds they received for Christmas. All the plants about to bloom have paused and hunkered back down looking a bit sheepish. If they had feelings I think they’d mirror the embarrassment one feels after standing up for a song in church, looking it up in the hymnal, then glancing around after finding the page to realize everyone else has remained seated. A purely hypothetical scenario not based on personal experience at all, of course. We moved into this house in June so I’m looking forward to seeing the yard in Spring for the first time.

I am thankful…


At the natural history museum. Only Josie seems to grasp the peril of their situation

…that the stomach flu continued on its way after afflicting only Jack. Poor Jack, but lucky us. [Update from two days later: apparently I jinxed myself. Reward: spending half last night up with a vomiting baby].

…for community. We’re glad to be closer to family  but have badly missed our old neighborhood, friends, church, and military community in North Carolina. We’re finally starting to build a few connections after many months of church hunting and it’s a nice feeling.

…for bigger kids. This is the last day of The Man’s latest stretch of ICU call. ICU is still exhaustingl and intense on the home front, but so much easier than it used to be. The Man came home late in the evening yesterday, glanced around the tidied-right-before-bed-with-the-kids house, and commented “You know, the house could never have looked this good in the middle of an ICU week a year ago.” It’s true. 4, 4, 2, and 1 is a very different state than 3, 3, 1, and an infant. When he’s gone for extended stretches it’s still (very) hard work but I don’t constantly feel like I’m scrambling to keep body and soul together. There’s just enough breathing space for little extras like a museum trip, park stop, or store run with all four in tow. I even made it to church solo with all four little kids this morning – a first! They can do things now like eat a picnic lunch in the car with (reasonable) tidiness, skip the occasional nap or snack, or delay a meal half an hour without imploding. Altogether, just a little more flexibility in our days.

I am thinking


about Spring plans outside and inside. Our home has basic landscaping but nothing more. We’d like to plant flower beds, a vegetable garden, some fruit trees, and a few berry bushes but will have to see what time allows. We’re also debating school plans for next year. Continue as we have with private school a couple mornings a week and low-key homeschooling on other days? Public special needs preschool? Full time homeschooling with more room for therapy? Another option?

Learning all the time…


with baking experiments. I love to cook and bake but can easily fall into a rut thanks to the basic necessity of feeding all these people all these meals on all the days. I really haven’t done much with yeast breads in the past. So, in place of the usual familiar dessert baking I’ve been experimenting this Lent with various yeast-based doughs: pizza dough, Smitten Kitchen’s Cheddar rolls (delicious, but I think better with tomato soup than for breakfast), and a couple batches of whole wheat/whole grain bread. Do you have a favorite recipe (or cookbook) for whole wheat bread, the perfect pizza dough, or something else? I’m all ears. We’ve had reasonable success but risen doughs are definitely a learned skill.

Celebrating the liturgical year…


with a low-key Lent. I can’t say we’ve done anything specifically Lenten as a family though we continue as usual with daily Bible reading, prayers, and hymns with the kids. As adults it’s been a quiet but beneficial Lent so far. Not dramatic, but steady. While it’s not specifically Lenten, I’ve also been enjoying richer and more consistent scripture study since Christmas. We’re pretty consistent about reading the Bible as a couple but I’ve struggled with sticking to my own devotions. I’m a fast reader and often find myself skimming through the Bible when I sit down to read it. On the other hand, when I use a formal study the intellectual perfectionist side of me rears its head and I find myself writing exhaustive answers to each question and lost for hours on a section that’s designed to take ten minutes. That’s not bad except that I then get impatient and frustrated and abandon the whole thing. At the end of December I jumped (late) on an Advent-focused scripture writing challenge. I started a new one in January and found I really benefited from the forced slow pace and intense focus of hand-writing a passage instead of just reading it. At the beginning of February I decided to start copying an entire book by hand. I settled on Romans because it’s middle-of-the-road in length, theologically rich, and one I haven’t studied in a while. Because I know myself and my tendency to do things just to check them off the list I didn’t even break it into sections to tackle and check off. Every morning I just read the next passage (usually 3-6 verses), hand copy it, re-read it, then rapidly skim the book back up to that point to place it in context and make sure I’m tracking. I’m happy to say, after years of on-again-of-again personal study that I’ve missed only a couple of days since January first. I’m half way through Romans and am pausing to outline the first eight chapters and review. 6 weeks sounds like a long time for eight chapters but I’m flying compared to my childhood pastor who preached through Romans for two straight years. There really is such a thing as too much of a good thing.

From the kitchen…


as mentioned above, yeast breads. Also, a fair number of meatless meals like potato pancakes, leek and potato soup, salads, black beans, and pasta. I also made crepes for the first time using the Joy of Cooking recipe. I substituted 1/3 whole wheat flour for all purpose. My Mom used to make crepes and I love them so I don’t know why it took me so long to get on the bandwagon. They make a nice Lenten special family breakfast. I skipped the sugar in the batter, spooned warm applesauce down the middle, rolled them up, and sprinkled cinnamon on top. A hit with everyone. Were it not Lent that’d be cinnamon sugar, the way my Mom used to make them for us on cold winter mornings. After Easter there’ll be blintzes and crepes with Nutella and strawberries in our treats lineup.

I am creating…


a scarf. Very. Very. Very. Sloooowly. At this rate it will be ready just in time for the stifling heat of August. Knitting is not a “just like riding a bike” skill for me. I’ve learned and then forgotten how to knit many times: as a small child, an older child, in college, and again while The Man was deployed. At some point after the twins became mobile one crawled to the knitting basket and tangled my work-in-progress. I never finished it. Two more babies followed and all skills were again forgotten. I’m just now getting to the point where there’s a smidgen of breathing room for handcrafts. Courtesy of YouTube I’m now back to knitting Continental Style. I’m making this pattern without the contrasting center stripe or letters.

I am working on…


bits of spring cleaning, as time allows.

I am going


to lots and lots of therapy appointments. Physical therapy for me, feeding therapy for Jenny (the end is in sight after almost three years!), Speech, OT, and Behavioral Therapy for Annie. In addition there are specialist visits for various children and routine pediatrician and dental checkups needed. I don’t really like being a family that has someplace to be every day of the week but right now it’s necessary. Whenever possible I treat appointments as special 0ne-on-one time with a child. We chat in the car, play music of the kid’s choice, and read books or play one-on-one together in the waiting room. Often the long drives are also a good time for me to catch up on my podcasts queue or listen to an audiobook if the child isn’t in a chatty mood.

I am hoping


to prepare well in advance for a weekend trip to New York. Practically, though, who am I kidding ;).

I am praying…


for our three older kids and their first families. Adoption is complicated and messy. A blessing, yes, but also a tremendous loss.

I am pondering

Jack’s face of concentration. Ha!


special needs parenting. I’m reading as much as I can get my hands on. There’s a wealth of (often contradictory) information out there. It’s hard to take that flood of information in, filter it, and decide what’s best for a child who doesn’t yet have much say. Unfortunately many Christian parenting books take a one-size-fits-all approach to parenting that may work with typically developing children but is poorly suited to kids with neurological differences.  It’s humbling as a parent who thought I knew everything before having kids (and frequently judged others’ parenting) to realize that much of our kids’ behavior and growth cannot, and sometimes should not, be controlled by us. It’s a constant fight to focus on what a child really needs and not the way others around us are judging the child or our parenting.

I am reading


Travels with Charley by John Steinbeck as an audiobook read by Gary Sinise. It’s wonderful, and Sinise has the perfect voice for it. Even if you’re not a Steinbeck fan I highly recommend this account of his casual journey through 40 states. He combines dry wit and poetic description with detached observation and a warm interest in the people he meets. I love a good armchair travel book but frequently cringe at travel writer’s scornful summary of the people they encounter. I can’t imagine how the people Bill Bryson or Paul Theroux describe must feel at the authors’ sardonic assessments of their lives. Steinbeck manages to describe foibles without mockery and approaches others on his travels with warm interest. I’m also reading Madeleine L’Engle’s first memoir A Circle of Quiet which is enjoyable and thought provoking. She’s incredibly well-read so each page brings up some other book I should also read. Dangerous fodder.

I am listening to


Podcasts, whenever I can. When I was growing up my parents frequently had the radio on. Classical music, talk radio, or the news in the car, often Old Time Radio or Car Talk on Saturday mornings. I almost never turn the radio on but I think Podcasts are my equivalent. It’s nice to have a grownup talking to me about something interesting as I do the dishes or fold laundry. We’re also listening to classical music quite a bit as the kids usually request “singing” in the car and one can tolerate only so much of Elizabeth Mitchell or the OkeeDokee Brothers. Right now it’s Haydn’s masses in the car and Beethoven in the CD player at home.

I am hearing


The washing machine gently swishing, laundry tumbling ’round the drying, and an anemic burbling from our increasingly useless coffee maker. The baby spent half the night vomiting through multiple rooms so I’m in wash-and-sterilize-everything mode.

I am struggling


with my hair. Which sounds a bit silly and vain but I’ve never been a hair or makeup person. All my life I’ve just washed every couple days, combed or brushed, and tossed it back in a bun, braid, or ponytail without blow drying, styling, or products. The very hard water in our new home is wreaking havoc on my hair though and it constantly looks unkempt. Dry strands, frizz, and unevenness abound. The hard water doesn’t really bother us in any other way so I’m wondering if there are better product choices vs. investing vast sums in a water softener.

Clicking around


Well, not much really. I’m doing my best to cut back on social media in particular and screen time in general. Which, bonus, allows time for things like writing and reading!

Around the house…

SuperDad comforts four fussing children at once.

we’re making plans for painting a few rooms. We haven’t made any changes to the house and have only hung one picture since we moved in Hopefully we can get a few small projects done before warmer temperatures pull our living outside. We’re adding in some more consistent chores for the big kids now that they’re four. We’ve always had them help, but are adding in a few more regular jobs at regular times for them like vacuuming the dining room after meals and a set whole house cleanup every evening. They’re still at the age where it’s more work to supervise them than to do it ourselves, but it’ll be worth it in the long run.

One of my favorite things…


The quiet hour or two before the kids get up. I’ve been consistently getting up at 5:00 or 5:30 since New Years with only a couple of later days from illness or missed alarms. I consider the earliest hours my personal time. For this introvert it’s a key window to read, eat a quiet breakfast, do my Bible study, exercise, or knit. Sometimes I squeeze in a chore or two, but I don’t feel obligated to use that time for household purposes. I find when I start the day with something mentally fulfilling I’m a much better spouse and parent throughout the day.

A few plans for this week…

About typical for our “selfies for six” attempts. Seven if your count Annie’s beloved bear.

Therapies and specialist appointments. Dinner with the pastor’s family tonight. Sending off picture and email updates to the kids’ birth families.

A little peek at my day…


A sick baby overnight means a freshly-bathed baby with fabulous hair in the morning.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Currently Reading – Late April Edition

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The Man: Still reading the Wingfeather Saga. He’s on Book 3 and loving it. This being an ICU week, it’s more “reading” than reading. He’s only actually read his patients’ charts and sympathetic “I’m sorry you had to stay all night with a sick patient and catch two hours sleep on the office floor”-type texts from his wife

Me: Just finished the last of the Morningside Heights trilogy, Anything for Jane, and moved on to another book in my TBR stack. The kids absconded with it this morning, so until I dig it out from under a couch or in a cupboard your guess at the title is as good as mine…

The Kids: As always, we read big stacks from the library and our own stash every week. I only record the standouts worth revisiting here. Our current chapter book is Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle by Betty McDonald. I’m reading half a chapter or a chapter out loud after the twins’ bedtime picture book and hymn each night.

This week’s big favorites from the library (repeating the picture here because I’m too tired for hyperlinks tonight and I trust your google skills) are Lola M. Schaefer’s One Special Day and One Busy Day, Jonathan Bean’s Big Snow, and Elisha Cooper’s Train. 

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Schaefer’s books were such a fun discovery this week.I love her whimsical and engaging art. Her stories are simple but creative. One Special Day tells the story of a little boy named Spencer who is strong, wild, funny, and muddy,yet oh-so-gently welcomes his brand new baby sister with love. Sweet but not saccharine, funny, and the art is delightful. Each page is full of tiny little details that kids love to spot. I think this is an ideal book to give a new big brother or sister. Unlike many “a new baby is coming” books it doesn’t give a list of negatives about baby siblings. It’s completely positive.

One Busy Day follows Spencer and his little sister a few years down the line as they play together through a long and imaginative day. Again, great art, and the grownups and the kids in our house both enjoy it. Both books are ideal for the 2-5 age group.

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We’ve already read and re-read Jonathan Bean’s wonderful At Night many times. His book Building Our House made waves in children’s publishing circles in recent years (though I’ve yet to read it). He was homeschooled and his new book This is My Home, This is My School is the first traditionally-published picture book about homeschooling. I’d never heard of his Big Snow until I saw it at the library last week but I’ve fallen head-over-heels for it. The kids adore it too. It follows a little boy through a winter day as he alternates between”helping” his Mom in their home (with disastrous results) and checking outside for snow. This book perfectly captures the impatient anticipation little kids feel for snow, the pleasant warmth of a cozy winter home, the quiet wonder of a blizzard, and the contentment of a happy family. It’s set around Christmas but never specifically mentions the holiday so it’s a pretty good all-around winter (or anytime) book. Each outdoor page has fun little details to spot around the town. I liked that the Mom is dark-skinned with curly hair. It is so hard to find good Christmas books with black main characters for our kids!

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Last but not least on this week’s library favorites list is Elisha Cooper’s Train. We’ve borrowed it in the past and it’s always a pleasure to revisit. This book takes you across the United States by a series of trains. The book opens with a commuter train leaving an East Coast city, hands off to a passenger train en route to Chicago, continues on through the great plains by freight train, hands off to an overnight train through the mountains, and completes the last leg to the west coast by high speed train. Cooper’s beautiful watercolors and evocative text are pleasing for kids and adults alike. This book strikes just the right balance between keeping the story moving and introducing informative details about trains and railroads to young readers. Bonus, this book depicts a wide variety of races and families. We also borrowed another of his books, Beach. That story dragged a bit and the art felt less varied (though beautiful) but it, too, did a great job depicting racial diversity.

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What are you reading these days?

 

February Mantel

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Christmas is wonderful, but it always leaves me longing for a clean, bright, and freshly decluttered home. I love decorating for the holiday. I also love how open and clear our home looks after everything’s boxed up again.

Despite all the best advice of decorating magazines, at this point in our lives we have very few “styled” surfaces. I keep a few things out on the fireplace mantel, the piano, and one cupboard. Since having kids I’ve gradually stored or discarded our extra decor. You’ll notice most decorating magazines don’t feature homes with four kids three and under! I believe in house-proofing the kids versus just childproofing the house, but I also like spaces where our little people are free to play without requiring constant vigilance (name that character). I found the best decorating tip for this stage of life on the Dyno-mom blog. She has 11 kids, and lives in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. The Keweenaw easily sees 28 feet of snowfall each winter. Frequent storms keep her family cooped up in a relatively small house for many months a year. Her advice for non-practical decorations is just…don’t. If you’re maxed out on childcare you don’t have the mental space for clutter and visual distractions. Not everyone is wired the same, but I’ve found her advice true for this stage of parenting. I try to choose attractive options for the practical things we need like lamps or couch throws, but avoid putting things on a surface just because it’s bare. My three year olds take care of that!

The fireplace used to be dark gray and pink stone with a boxy dark ’80s mantel. I didn’t have the energy or resources to replace it so I did the next best thing and painted it all a clean bright white a few years back. My mantel picks right now:

  • Pillar candles and holders (vases? chimneys? what would you call them?) from Hobby Lobby. My favorite go-to candle option with small kids. I love candles in the winter months or at dinner. These are the basic unscented candles from Hobby Lobby. I pick them up during 50% off sales and they last forever. I lit the last set almost nightly for…four months? six? before they burnt down. The holders make them hard for the kids to tip, prevent wax spills on the furniture or tablecloth, and make it harder for little kids to accidentally lean over into the flame. They also don’t get hot like narrower glass holders would. Also, on that appalling morning when you come downstairs and realize you never blew out the candles last night you’ll be happy to know the holder makes it very hard for anything else to catch fire while you sleep. We have one pair downstairs and one set upstairs.
  • Fisherman’s creel. I love nice baskets and spots of natural material around our home. They’re practical and pretty at the same time. This one contains the remote, matches, or other living room odds n’ ends that would float around the house or get eaten by babies.
  • Flowers. It’s hard to escape your genes. My mother’s flowers seemed so boring as a kid, but flowers in the house make me smile now. They’re beautiful and cheery, but they’re not clutter or permanent. I love a pretty bouquet, but for best return on investment it’s hard to beat a $5 pot of flowers from the grocery store. A good one blooms for weeks before heading out to the compost heap. My only advice is the lesson my Mom taught me when I was six: don’t get the plant with the most flowers – it’s almost done blooming and will die soon. Get the plant with the most buds. Thanks to Christmas checks from relatives I have a pot of hyacinths in the kitchen, another in our bedroom, and a pot of daffodils in the living room right now. They’re sitting in a bowl I’ve had since high school.
  • Painting. My parents had a few paintings inherited from my great grandmother when I was growing up. Because they were always around I barely registered their existence. My husband re-sold me on the value of “real art” and every few years we find something we love at a thrift store, antique shop, or gallery. We ran across this old portrait during an otherwise disastrous trip to Savannah (the Army cancelled our leave and ordered us home). The artist is unknown and it’s not in great condition, but that doesn’t bother us – it made it much cheaper! I’d wanted a portrait for years and I love this one.

What’s making you happy in your home this season? Any decorating tricks that work for you with small kids or many kids in the house?

Books in Review – 2015

In these busy days with many very small children time to write (let alone edit) is precious and rare. I don’t pressure myself to blog regularly but get to it when I can in little snatches and bursts. I enjoy having a written record of anything I’ve managed to blog, even if it’s only a snapshot of one brief season in our lives. Whatever slips through the written cracks is still life fully lived, and there’s nothing to regret in that.

Every year I record new books I’ve read, not counting books only read partially, books re-read, or picture books read with the kids. At the end of the year I write a review. In 2015 I read 74 new books. I read a lot fewer old classics than usual this year and a lot more 20th century literature. In this brief season of tiny children I lean toward lighter or quicker reading because there just aren’t wide blocks of time to engage deeply and work through heavy topics. I don’t mind. Children are tiny for a very short period, and there are likely many seasons of meatier reading ahead. Memoirs took up a big chunk of my reading list this year, as did gleefully binging on Louise Penny’s Inspector Gamache series. The Modern Mrs. Darcy site sparked a lot of my reading choices this year as well. It’s always a bit hard to categorize books, as some cross genres (e.g., many of the parenting or marriage books I read are also Christian, some memoirs are classics, etc.).

MY FAVORITES

  • Managing Oneself by Peter Drucker. There’s a lot of food for thought packed into this concise and practical volume. Drucker discusses analyzing strengths and weaknesses, learning and performance styles, ethics and values, relationships, communication, and developing interests and strengths. He speaks from a business viewpoint but his ideas are widely applicable.
  • Respectable Sins by Jerry Bridges. It is easy to become preoccupied with society’s “big” sins while ignoring or even condoning sins in our own lives or our Christian communities. Bridges briefly tackles “respectable” sins like frustration, discontentment, pride, impatience, irritability, gossip, lack of self-control, and others. So-so writing but meaty ideas.
  • East of Eden by John Steinbeck. I’m not usually a big Steinbeck fan but, as promised by others, this one completely hooked me. The Hamilton and Trask families’ stories are often dark but they’re also full of tremendous warmth and beauty.
  • Laughing Without an Accent by Firoozeh Dumas. Dumas has a wonderful sense of humor, and her stories will have a special ring of familiarity to anyone who is the child or relative of immigrants. I like that Dumas approaches both Iran and the US with a gently critical eye and with appreciation vs. blanket generalizations. I also like that this book poked fun without humiliating the subjects. The same cannot be said for her first book, Funny in Farsi, which left me cringing for the objects of her jokes.
  • Louise Penny’s Inspector Gamache books. I discovered this series about a detective in Quebec via Modern Mrs. Darcy. I succumbed to addiction and only emerged after bingeing my way through the entire saga during midnight feedings with the newborn. You know books are fun if you’re happy when the baby wakes you in the wee hours! Beautiful writing, enjoyable characters, and good dialogue. I appreciate that Penny thoughtfully tackles issues of ethics, honor, and virtue. While I don’t always agree with her conclusions or base assumptions, these books are more thought-provoking than your typical mystery. They follow both individual stories in each book as well as a broader story arc so they are best read in order. Not all of the books are equally good (especially toward the end of the series) but overall I loved them.
  • The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman. My sister-in-law introduced me to Gaiman. This is his newest book. Gaiman’s writing tends to be spooky and macabre but also beautiful and evocative. His writings freely explore evil, but always in contrast to good. The Man and I both loved this book although the ending feels a bit weak. Like the Narnia books it is also an allegory of the central themes of Christianity – someone has evil/darkness placed in his heart and owes his life to dark forces because of it. There is a Christ figure, a trinity, incarnation, the second coming… Frankly the choices surprised me as Gaiman publicly rejects Christianity.
  • The Martian by Andy Weir. I picked this up because it was getting such good press, and because I wanted to read it before seeing the movie. For the first chapter or two I had a pretty “meh” reaction, thought it wasn’t for me, and wondered why it got the good reviews. I’m glad I stuck with it though – creative and so much fun, a perfect vacation read!
  • My Family and Other Animals by Gerald Durrell. I loved this book. Durrell later became a famous naturalist and conservationist. This memoir covers his boyhood on the Greek island of Corfu. Think Cheaper by the Dozen with a splash of P.G. Wodehouse and several hundred animals and bugs shaken in. I laughed like a loon while my husband shot me concerned looks, then passed it on to my Mom. I can’t wait to try Durrell’s other books.
  • Winnie-the-Pooh by A.A. Milne. I never actually read this one as a kid. The twins love Pooh bear so I read them the novel and was surprised by how much fun it is. A lot of the humor is over kids’ heads, but it’s so clever and wry for adult readers.

Here’s the full list for this year:

BUSINESS/LEADERSHIP

Managing Oneself by Peter Drucker

Rumsfeld’s Rules: Leadership Lessons in Business, Politics, War, and Life by Donald Rumsfeld

 

PARENTING/MARRIAGE/HOUSEHOLD/HABITS

I’m Chocolate, You’re Vanilla: Raising Healthy Black and Biracial Children in a Race-Conscious World by Marguerite A. Wright

Hands Free Mama by Rachel Macy Stafford

Beyond Ordinary by Justin and Trisha Davis (could also file under memoir)

The Fringe Hours by Jessica N. Turner

The Four Seasons of Marriage by Gary Chapman

The House that Cleans Itself by Mindy Starns Clark

How to Really Love Your Child by D. Ross Campbell

The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo

The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin

Simplicity Parenting: Using the Extraordinary Power of Less to Raise Calmer, Happier, and More Secure Kids by Kim John Payne

The Mission of Motherhood by Sally Clarkson

 

CLASSICS

Brideshead Revisited by Evelyn Waugh

East of Eden by John Steinbeck

Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes

The Professor by Charlotte Bronte

Far From the Madding Crowd by Thomas Hardy

A Legacy by Sybille Bedford

Here is New York by E.B. White

 

CHRISTIAN

Talking with God by Francois Fenelon

Respectable Sins by Jerry Bridges

Relationships: A Mess Worth Making by Timothy S. Lane and Paul David Tripp

A Homemade Year by Jerusalem Greer – a tough one to categorize

 

MODERN FICTION

Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins

the curious incident of the dog in the night-time by Mark Haddon

I Am One of You Forever by Fred Chappell

Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins

Bertie’s Guide to Life and Mothers by Alexander McCall Smith

Emma by Alexander McCall Smith

The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion

Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan

The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman

The Martian by Andy Weir

The House at Riverton by Kate Morton

Go Set a Watchman by Harper Lee

Hannah Coulter by Wendell Berry

The Road by Cormac McCarthy

 

AUTOBIOGRAPHY/MEMOIR

The Antelope in the Living Room by Melanie Shankle

Long Walk to Freedom by Nelson Mandela

The Telling Room by Michael Paterniti

Going Solo by Roald Dahl

Boy by Roald Dahl

Laughing Without an Accent by Firoozeh Dumas

Funny in Farsi: A Memoir of Growing up Iranian in America by Firoozeh Dumas

A Year in Provence by Peter Mayle

The Quotidian Mysteries by Kathleen Norris

A Million Miles in a Thousand Years by Donald Miller

Life from Scratch by Sasha Martin

A Spoonful of Sugar: A Nanny’s Story by Brenda Ashford

The Seven Storey Mountain by Thomas Merton

The Story of a Soul by St. Therese of Lisieux

My Family and Other Animals by Gerald Durrell

 

CHILDREN’S NOVELS

The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster

Winnie-the-Pooh by A.A. Milne (read with the kids)

My Father’s Dragon by Ruth Stiles Garnett (read with the kids)

The Penderwicks in Spring by Jeanne Birdsall

Pippi Longstocking by Astrid Lindgren (read with the kids)

 

MYSTERY

The Winter Queen by Boris Akunin

Still Life by Louise Penny

A Fatal Grace by Louise Penny

The Cruelest Month by Louise Penny

A Rule Against Murder by Louise Penny

The Brutal Telling by Louise Penny

Bury Your Dead by Louise Penny

A Trick of the Light by Louise Penny

The Beautiful Mystery by Louise Penny

How the Light Gets In by Louise Penny

The Long Way Home by Louise Penny

The Nature of the Beast by Louise Penny

The Case of the Missing Servant by Tarquin Hall

 

CHILDBIRTH

The Thinking Woman’s Guide to a Better Birth by Henci Goer

Husband-Coached Childbirth by Robert A. Bradley

Natural Childbirth the Bradley Way: Revised Edition by Susan McCutcheon

 

What did you read this year? Any favorites? Do you have a preferred way of tracking books like Goodreads? I used to record everything in a notebook, but prefer Pinterest these days.

Veterans Day

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Veterans Day came as a pleasant surprise since we’d forgotten the Man had a work holiday. We woke up to a perfect fall morning, hiked and hit the playground, then built a backyard fire in the afternoon with our very own veteran. We used to make bonfires a lot before kids but haven’t lit many in recent years. It’s just a lot of work to get everything set up and herd staggering toddlers away from tempting flames. Now the twins are finally old enough to have a (small) sense of self-preservation. They loved the fire. Jack and Annie wanted to help break up sticks; I spent half an hour feeding the fire with tiny one-inch twig fragments they proudly supplied. We headed in smoky and happy as dusk fell for a dinner of corn chowder and cornbread followed by bed for all the little folks.

I think one of the things you learn as kids grow is the balance between too little and too much. It is, frankly, a lot of work to do anything with small children. That can keep you from attempting something fun. On the other end of the spectrum you can easily go overboard setting your hopes high for hours of idyllic family time with roasted hot dogs and s’mores and kumbayas ’round the campfire. We try not to let the work keep us from trying things, but also try not to spend an eternity preparing elaborate events that the toddlers just won’t appreciate. Everyone stays happier when those two extremes are in balance.

Incidentally, did you ever wonder why the British commonwealth memorializes the war dead on November 11th, while in the U.S. we commemorate those who died in wars on Memorial Day in May and honor all war veterans on Veterans Day? When Armistice Day observances began after WWI the US already had an existing spring war memorial thanks to the Civil War fifty years before. Dates and their exact meaning wobbled around for a few decades, but Memorial Day eventually won out as the day to memorialize the dead while all war veterans receive recognition on Veterans Day.

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