Happy New Year! It was a bit touch and go towards the end, but I successfully completed the 2018 Modern Mrs. Darcy Reading Challenge.
In October, I finished Killers of the Flower Moon (A book nominated for an award in 2018) and The Pale Horse (A book recommended by a librarian or indie bookseller). Killers . . . wasn’t quiet as good as I was hoping. The storytelling wasn’t as engaging as I was hoping but I was still learned about a period in history I knew nothing about. I technically picked up The Pale Horse as a “Blind date with a book” at the library, but I still enjoyed the Agatha Christie mystery. I’ve surprisingly few books by Christie and I hope to remedy this in the future!
In November, I finally finish slogging through Crime and Punishment. This was the book that I needed to find several different media options for reading. I wound up purchasing a hard copy, 2 different audiobook versions (lesson learned: Not all audiobooks are created equal), and the Kindle version. I’ve concluded that a lot of Russian literature, especially the philosophical parts, goes over my head.
On December 31, I finished The Mother of the Reformation (A memoir, biography, or book of creative nonfiction). Don’t worry, I still had 11 hours to spare! This was an older biography that was originally published in 1906. I’m glad I completed it and it was pack with information, but some of it was dry reading.
In addition to the reading challenge, I also opted to track my reading this year. This was an inspiring practice for me. I’ve always considered myself a reader, but motherhood has made me feel like my reading years are currently on hold. I don’t often curl up on the couch and read for pleasure–there often seems to be something more pressing to do during nap time (spoiler: sometimes “more pressing” means “scroll through Facebook”) and I’m too exhausted most nights to read. However, I forgot to account for my Kindle reading. I don’t know why I felt like it didn’t count, because I’ve spent hours and hours reading while nursing Sweet Pea.
For 2018, I read 71 books! Not all were great literature and there were a few children’s novels thrown in there (but I really did enjoy reading The Penderwicks for the first time), but it was reading! 11 of those books were hard copies, 2 were audiobooks, and 58 were on my Kindle (yes, my toddler nurses that much. She also hates sleeping).
I plan on doing the 2019 MMD Reading Challenge. I hope to update you with my picks soon!
A couple of Easters ago, I looked at my exhausted husband, looked at the ham we had planned to eat for our Easter feast, and said, “I really don’t feel like cooking today. Can we have our big meal tomorrow when we all have more energy?” Instead of ham for dinner that night, we had boxed mac and cheese. Our toddler was thrilled and we had a lovely Easter dinner on Easter Monday.
Behold, a tradition was born.
Now on Christmas and Easter, I plan to have mac and cheese for dinner on the actual holiday and have our big feast on the day after. It has worked wonderfully for our family. Instead of trying to force ourselves to prepare an elaborate meal while running on fumes, we truly rest on Christmas and Easter afternoons. The girls love mac and cheese and don’t care that we aren’t having a fancy dinner. Frankly, they’re usually so full of sweets that they don’t eat much anyway.
Perhaps someday Babykins and Sweet Pea will be horrified that we never had a proper Easter or Christmas dinner. But I like to think that they’ll grow up to appreciate our quirky little tradition.
I love a good jigsaw puzzle, but I haven’t been able to do many over the past four years. Jigsaw puzzles take time and space. And with the number of destructive creatures we have running around our house, time and space is very much a precious commodity that couldn’t be spared for a puzzle.
However, I missed the peacefulness of piecing together a puzzle. For my birthday, I decided to ask for items that would help me enjoy a jigsaw puzzle without leaving it within reach of my little “helpers.”
First on the list was getting a puzzle mat that I could roll up when not working on a puzzle. I received one similar to the link I shared, except my mat is black (which is also great for showing how much cat fur is all over the house. Yay). The mat works surprisingly well. A few pieces may get jarred when rolled up and loose pieces move around, but for the most part the puzzle stays as it should.
Then I looked for something that could help me sort pieces without having them scattered all over the house. Initially I looked at actual puzzle piece sorter containers, but I ultimately decided to go with 2 mini drawer organizers. Overall, these drawers work well for sorting puzzle pieces. They are easy to move in and out of the closet where I stash the puzzle things. The only downside is that I can’t (easily) remove the drawers, so it makes it a bit more difficult to dig around for specific pieces.
As I mentioned, I store the puzzle things in the living room closet. I initially tried keeping it in the guest room closet, but I made the mistake of not putting the puzzle mat out of a child’s reach. Babykins found it during her quiet time and tried to “help” inflate the tube and spilled the pieces off the mat. I currently work on puzzles on the living room floor while I listen to an audiobook or a podcast during quiet time or after the girls are in bed. Getting the puzzle things out does take additional time, so it’s not something I can do for 5-10 minutes at a time. But the positive of not keeping the puzzle out all the time is that I can’t get sucked into working on it while the girls are awake.
So there you have it: How to put together a jigsaw puzzle when you have some many “helpers” hanging around!
With Advent rapidly approaching, it’s time for me to consider our evening service attendance. Babykins, Sweet Pea, and I might be at a stage that all three of us can handle going to evening services. This has not been the case the past few years–I think the last time I attended an evening service was Ash Wednesday 2016.
The girls are very much early to bed, early to rise kids. Likewise, Babykins completely gave up napping at the tender age of 24 months, making a 6 p.m. bedtime a priority. I distinctly remember an evening that I put her to bed when we had a houseful of guest (including 8 extra children) because she begged to go to sleep. It was about 7 p.m. Pushing bedtime back just didn’t work for her.
Last year, I did occasionally send Babykins to an evening service to sit with other members while I stayed home with Sweet Pea. She did well with this set up–she knows how to behave in church and enjoys sitting with people besides me. I couldn’t manage the evening services with Sweet Pea though. She’s a fickle sleeper and the strain of trying to keep her awake and happy when we were already dealing with our own little Sleep Hell was something that I just couldn’t bear.
But maybe, just maybe, we can swing the evening services. I know it will still be rough, but it doesn’t seem impossible like it has the past 2 years. However, Babykins can now stay up well past her bedtime occasionally without becoming a weepy mess. Sweet Pea’s sleep has improved (at least she doesn’t try to be up for a couple of hours on a given night). Likewise, she can stay up later as well, just so long as she takes a nap. Of course, she may drop her nap in a month if she’s anything like her sister. . .
Oh, the anticipation.
You can never tell what 4-year-olds might do, but the reasoning for their actions are often more unexpected than the initial action.
For example, last week Babykins and Sweet Pea were peacefully playing in the sandbox while I puttered around the yard. Suddenly, I hear Babykins wailing. I quickly strode over to the sandbox to asses the situation. Babykins was sitting next to Sweet Pea with a guilty look on her face. Sweet Pea was crying and had sand all over her hat, inside her coat’s hood, and down her back. It didn’t take a trained investigator to realize that Babykins had dumped sand on Sweet Pea’s head.
“Why on earth would you dump sand on your sister’s head?!” I asked Babykins. She promptly replied:
I’ll have to admit I wasn’t expecting that answer!
This year I set a goal of completing the Modern Mrs. Darcy Reading Challenge. The gist of the challenge is this: Read 12 different books to complete 12 categories in order to get more out of your reading life. Despite the fact I haven’t updated since February, I have been making headway with my challenge.
In March I completed Pillars of the Earth (A book that’s more than 500 pages) and Joy Luck Club (A book by an author of a different race, ethnicity, or religion than your own). Despite it’s heft, I thoroughly enjoyed Pillars of the Earth. I was apathetic about Joy Luck Club.
I completed Fahrenheit 451 (a banned book) in April. It was okay, the ending was a little too philosophical for me. In May I completed All American Boys (a book recommended by someone with great taste). Again, I saw this book as simply okay. While it dealt with the hot button issues of race and police brutality, it didn’t do much to create empathy for both sides of the issues.
I completed 2 books in June: Great Expectations (a classic you’ve been meaning to read) and Anansi Boys (A book by a favorite author). I listened to most of Great Expectations via audiobook. It was an enjoyable listening experience and I certainly didn’t see the plot twists coming! Anansi Boys wasn’t my favorite Neil Gaiman novel, but it was enjoyable nevertheless.
The rest of the summer flew by without me completing any challenge books (but still reading!). I have completed 8/12 books and I’ve been working on tackling two more: Crime and Punishment on audiobook and The Mother of the Reformation by Ernst Kroker (A memior, biography, or book of creative nonfiction, replacing my original pick of Hamilton–I couldn’t tackle another 500+ page book for the challenge).
How has your reading life been lately?
No, I didn’t fall off the face of the planet. I’m not even pregnant again. I just haven’t been writing.
There’s no big reason for this and about a hundred little reasons: Demands of little people, Sweet Pea not sleeping (which is it’s own saga), time spent reading, the siren call of Facebook (*hangs head in shame*), and so on.
But I still have thoughts and stories. Someday I’ll write them down again. Maybe even someday soon. . .
For almost a year now I’ve been listening to Sarah Mackenzie’s Read-Aloud Revival podcast. Unsurprisingly, the focus on her podcast is about reading aloud to your children. She has insights and tips, as well as interviews with a variety of authors. Although reading to the girls comes fairly naturally to my husband and me, it’s inspired me to think about reading aloud as something we’ll do for the rest of our lives rather than just while the girls are little.
So when Sarah (she’s so perky and lovable on her podcast that I feel like we’re on a first-name basis) announced that she was releasing a book entitled The Read-Aloud Family: Making Meaningful and Lasting Connections With Your Kids, I actually preordered it. Long story short: It was money well spent.
We all know that reading to our babies, toddlers, and young children is important. Even doctors remind us to read to them at well-child checks. But how important is it really? And why is it important? And do we really need to keep reading to children once they are able to read to themselves? Sarah tackles these questions in her book. She states,
Reading aloud with our kids is indeed the best use of our time and energy as parents. It’s more important than just about anything else we can do (28).
Throughout her book, she lauds the power of story to build our children’s character and expose them to the world around them. Likewise, she discusses how stories can create a bond between family members, creating references for inside jokes and experiences.
Additionally, Sarah advocates that reading aloud isn’t just so we can eventually teach our children how to read. Instead,
Even more important than teaching our kids the actual skill of reading is to cultivate a deep love of stories. After all, a child must love reading if he is to do it of his own volition throughout his life (70).
Her belief is that if you create a love a stories in children, a child will eventually learn how to read. That means that the struggling reader should be read to just as much–if not more–as a child who is reading at an “average” level.
The first part of the book emphasizes that reading aloud is important and that our duty as parents is to instill the love of reading into our children. Thankfully, Sarah doesn’t just beat us over the head with this goal without providing guidance on how to achieve it. The second half of the book gives tips and strategies on how to make read-aloud time meaningful. Likewise, she includes read-aloud book recommendations for all ages, even teenagers.
Many of her tips are very practical and she encourages us to make our goals small, because even small goals can bring about the love of reading. For example, she starts our read-aloud goal to be just 10 minutes a day because,
If I read for ten minutes every day, I’ll have read with my kids for sixty hours over the course of a year (109-110).
10 minutes seems too small to be a “real” goal, but sixty hours sure is an impressive amount of time. She goes on to explain that even if we read to our kids for 10 minutes every other day, that’s still 30 hours of read-aloud time. Sometimes it just takes someone to do the math to see how these small goals can make a big difference. Some of her additional insights include:
- How to create a book club culture at home
- What read aloud time will actually look like (and it’s not your children sitting quietly at your feet while you read).
- How to choose books for your kids
- How to ask questions that will create a bookish conversation with your kids
- Why audiobooks count as reading
After reading The Read-Aloud Family, I feel more motivated than ever to read to Babykins and Sweet Pea. Heck, I feel more motivated to read for my own personal pleasure! And now I have a book to back my belief that reading is more than just a skill, it’s a way of life.
In February, the girls and I took our first long road trip since the previous October (note: the definition of a long road trip is a drive that requires a bathroom stop). I already knew bathrooms were a challenge for Babykins. She’s still small enough that she’s uncomfortable sitting on a regular-sized toilet and the echos of most public bathrooms make her nervous. On this particular trip, I had already given up on getting her to pee on an actual toilet–the little travel potty in the back of the van would suffice for her. However, I still needed a real bathroom.
Since it was lunchtime, I found a McDonald’s for us to stop at. I strapped Sweet Pea into the stroller, helped Babykins out of the van, and cheerfully announced, “Okay, Mommy has to go potty before we order food!” We traipsed inside and found the bathroom.
In typical traveling-solo-with-littles fashion, my best laid plans went to pot immediately. The handicap stall, the stall big enough for the stroller to squeeze into, was out of order. Since I had already unloaded the girls out of the van, we were committed to this stop and I really needed to use the restroom. Thankfully, it was a small bathroom that only had one other stall. I parked the stroller in front of the stall door, firmly told Babykins not to move away from the stroller, and locked myself into the stall.
Sweet Pea started crying as soon as I stepped out of her sight. “It’s okay, Sweet Pea,” I crooned, “Momma’s right here!” Sweet Pea just cried harder. “Babykins, can you play patty-cake with Sweet Pea?” I called out.
“Otay!” her little voice replied, “Pat cake, pat cake. . .” Then disaster struck.
As I mentioned earlier, it was a small bathroom. When Babykins moved to the front of the stroller, she stepped directly under the hand dryer. The AUTOMATIC hand dryer. The dryer roared to life directly above Babykins’s head.
I rushed to finish my business as both girls started screaming. “Babykins, move away from the dryer!” I shouted. Then the automatic toilet flushed and both girls screamed louder. I burst out of the stall and Babykins attempted to scale my leg like a terrified cat while Sweet Pea thrashed in the stroller.
I can only imagine what horrors people outside of the bathroom thought were occuring as I tried to calm my hysterical girls down. After a few minutes, I managed to convince Babykins that I needed to wash my hands but I would dry them on my pants. I wouldn’t make the hand dryer turn on. She continued to tremble by my leg as I changed an equally perturbed Sweet Pea on the changing table. A quick text message asking a friend to use the bathroom at her house as our next potty break ensured that we would not have to endure another torturous public bathroom experience on this particular trip.
Consequently, our road trips from now on will be limited to a) trips that my husband can come with us or b) places that have friends along the way so we can use their bathrooms.