What We’re Reading

I’ve been on a pretty good reading streak lately, and it’s time to give a little update on the bookishness.

Mostly literary fiction/novels, which definitely explains why I have been able to read so quickly. I love non-fiction, but it always takes me way, way longer.

Let’s get to it!

China Court by Rumer Godden

This book was really interesting and a really good read. I’ve already read several of Godden’s novels and had heard good things about this one from Like Mother, Like Daughter. It basically tells the story of three generations of a family living in a country house called China Court. Godden uses tenses very interestingly to give a sense of the passage of time– when writing about the present-day characters, she writes in the past tense, but when writing about all the family members from the generations past, she writes in present tense. It took me a little while to get used to, but then it became really natural, and almost felt like I was watching a home video of the family members, where all the action is happening right there in real time. Godden includes a detailed family tree at the back of the book, and warns the readers that at first we may have trouble keeping up with all the different people and names, but that eventually we will just go, “Oh, that’s so and so, the daughter of so and so and sister of so and so,” and everyone will be all lined up in their correct generation. It’s absolutely true. By about a third of the way in, I knew all the characters, and no longer needed to consult the family tree. By jumping back and forth through time and the different family members’ stories, you eventually get the whole picture of all the mundane and monumental events that made up the life of the family at China Court.

You will like this book if you enjoy:

-The Liturgy of the Hours (the chapters are structured after the main hours in the Divine Office)

-Rare and ancient books (the present-day plot turns on the family’s connection with a collection of them)

-arranged marriages (kidding. Kind of.)

-complicated family histories/drama

-English countryside, beautiful gardens, old houses

Gilead by Marilynne Robinson

This one wasn’t my favorite, but definitely had some beautiful passages and ideas to ruminate upon. It’s written in the first person as a memoir of an elderly Congregationalist minister, writing letters to his seven year old son (he marries in his sixties). He recounts different memories of his life growing up in a small town in Iowa– his family members, his close friends, the townspeople, the wars, the Depression– peppered throughout with his meditations on various spiritual matters. It’s a peaceful book, not necessarily a page-turner, and Robinson definitely masters the character of a seventy-something year old man.

Bringing up Bébé by Pamela Druckerman

Here’s a little non-fiction to spice things up! I’d heard a lot of buzz about this one and wanted to see what it was all about. The author is a journalist who becomes in ex-pat in Paris and ends up having and raising her three kids there. She goes on a mission to determine why French children seem so well-behaved and disciplined and how French moms seems so relaxed and poised. Overall, of course, she makes a lot of sweeping generalities (I mean, all French kids aren’t going to be like Parisian French kids, and there is probably a lot more variation in parenting than what she encounters) and she skews towards claiming that the French way of parenting is de facto superior.

I did find some of her observations really compelling and interesting, and they seem to align with basic common sense as well as other parenting/child development theories, like Montessori:

– give babies and kids a very firm cadre, or structure. French kids learn to wait for things like food (they only snack once between meals around 4:30), and their parents’ attention (they are told to wait while parents are talking to other adults or doing something). Within that cadre they are given a lot of freedom: they eat their daily sweet or chocolate (at the 4:30 snack), play at the park without parents hovering, and supposedly even have a “little kid” curse word that they are permitted to say in certain settings (it’s loosely translated as poop sausage….).

– there’s a huge emphasis on teaching babies and kids to delay gratification, lest you end up a with “child king” who rules the entire family. You definitely do see this all the time in America, but supposedly in France, it’s very uncommon, she claims. The French parents teach their children patience in little situations to build up their tolerance for frustration and reduce tantrums and outbursts. Parents hold the authority always, and will often tell their kids directly, “It’s I who will decide.” They have no problem firmly telling their kids “no” and expecting to be obeyed. Druckerman observes that this is an underlying assumption that French parents have (as opposed to American parents who tend to not want to be “too harsh” or will get into complicated negotiation sessions with their kids over disagreements), and that it works: French kids learn to just obey, because parents mean what they say.

-French kids are not given “kid food” but rather begin their culinary adventures with things like fish, Brie and Camembert, and every vegetable imaginable. Lunch at the creches (day cares) consist of four courses every day. French parents basically assume their children will learn to have non-picky palettes if they let them try lots of different things right off the bat, and they keep on trying them if the kid doesn’t like it the first time. They are horrified by the idea of boxed mac and cheese, chicken nuggets, and all the typical “kid food” we think of here. It just doesn’t exist there. And because they haven’t been snacking every 1.5 hours, they are really hungry and eat their meals. Makes sense.

There were also several sections that I found a little crazy, like the baby sleep chapter. Apparently, French parents expect their babies to be sleeping straight through the night from 2 months onward. I suspect there is a strong correlation between the insanely low breastfeeding rate and this sleep phenomenon, but the breastfeeding moms claim their babies sleep too.

Druckerman discovers that the parents use “The Pause,” in which they wait a few minutes when the baby cries, to see if he will put himself back to sleep, and in this way babies learn to self-soothe early on. I think that’s totally fine, but I also know from experience that it doesn’t guarantee that your child will either fall asleep on her own OR become a great sleeper automatically. This phenomenon is also greatly driven by the fact that almost every mother in Paris goes back to work by 2-3 months, so they say the baby “knows their Mom needs to get up the next morning, so they just learn to sleep all night.” Right. If only my babies knew I needed to, you know, function like a human being the next morning, and would just sleep through the night!

I do agree with their premise that babies need to be taught how to fall asleep and that it’s a hugely necessary thing for the entire family, but I still think 2-3 months is pretty dang early to do that.

Anyway, it’s a light-hearted read that will make you think about parenting assumptions we have in America, and whether or not they’re necessarily good. It’s always interesting to observe what another culture does and glean their best practices.

What are you reading lately?? I’m always up for more recommendations!

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State of the Lena

We’ve been fighting some sleep battles with the second-born, who decided over a month ago to start giving up her morning nap. (As an aside, I find the term “giving up” to be a complete misnomer, as if the sweet, self-sacrificing child is offering up her cherished sleep time for the poor souls in Purgatory in an act of voluntary self-immolation. Wrong. The poor, sleep-deprived child is waging a stubborn war of screaming and sweating until the parents realize there will be no nap where there previously was one, and if anyone is getting time off of Purgatory, it’s surely the parents. So let’s go with “throwing the nap violently away.”) Anyway, this caught me way off guard since Lucy didn’t violently throw her morning nap away at all, but rather slowly just stopped falling asleep in the mornings around the time when I was expecting her to, based on regular baby development and her changing Circadian rhythms, around 16 months. I think it’s safe to say that Lena may be a full-blown sanguine, though, and so she’s much less aware of her own inner rhythm and routine and what her body is telling her (i.e. get some sleep, crazy baby! You woke up at 6:30!).

Thus, our days have been a little off-kilter to say the least, as we deal with sometimes, a few mornings per week, getting a late morning nap from Lena, from which I must wake her lest she go too long and then sabotage her afternoon nap; and other times, when it’s clear she will NOT nap and we go out somewhere in the mid-morning, she ends up falling asleep immediately in the car and then…voila! No afternoon nap for her. And not much sanity for me. And don’t even ask about her night-time sleep. Good thing she is so darn cute. Despite all these erratic sleep behaviors, I really do love this age, at the cusp of one year. It’s clear that Lena understands a great deal of what we say to her, and she takes delight in responding in whatever way she can. Most of the time it’s a loud, “YAH!” straight from her diaphragm (girl is going to be a good singer) or a very deliberate pointing of one or both index fingers. She loves pointing at things on the ceiling or up high on the walls, or throwing her hands up in the air as a response to “How big is Lena??”

IMG_1778.2015-06-24_224214She’s also started making this little face, scrunching her nose and half-shutting her eyes, when she knows she’s doing something a little naughty and I’ve said (or am about to say), “Nooo, Lena!” Cutest thing ever. Also the boldest baby, as evidenced by:

-climbing (onto stools, benches, chairs, the trampoline, Lucy’s toddler bed, into the bathtub, into the kiddie pool)

Climbed up onto the wrong side of the trampoline...

-stairs, trying to climb up them and down as well

-taking off her diaper

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Note the turned-around bench. That’s our current gate for the bottom of the stairs, which we just had to turn around as she kept climbing on TOP of the bench. Also, she’s figuring out that she can shimmy through that crack on the side…

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-eating the most inedible of objects. I will spare you descriptions but let’s just say she has a very unrefined palate at this point.

I can’t believe she’s about to turn one. What a crazy, loud, adventurous little firecracker.

Always keeping up with her big sis

Always keeping up with her big sis

Favorite Kids’ Stuff for Summer

We try to keep a minimalistic approach to most things in life, including our kids’ toys and other accoutrements. That’s not to say that they are living in a Dickens novel, though, and of course there are some products that we have found particularly fun for the kids or life-saving for the parents (or is that one in the same??). Here’s our summer round-up of favorite things!

Favorite Kids' Stufffor Summer! (3)

1. Outshine Popsicles

These are all-natural and made with fruit juice, so there are no nasty dyes or HFCS to worry about. Everyone in our family loves these, and we are looking forward to trying the many flavors throughout the summer!

2. Badger Sun Screen/Bug Spray products

I really love Badger for their zinc oxide sunscreens. I feel totally safe using them even on the littlest of babies (Lucy used it all during Rome at 2-3 months) and they are very effective. You do have to rub a lot to get the white to blend in, but I feel like that’s a good thing, as it gives me an obvious visual as to what areas haven’t been covered yet. The bonus is that all the sunscreens actually smell nice, not chemical-y. The bug spray is ok too, though it seems not to be a match for the Great Swampy Mosquito Land that our yard becomes here in the summers. We’re looking into some natural yard spray options because we can’t go out for more than a minute or two without getting devoured. But this spray does help a bit (maybe 2-3 bites as opposed to 10 without) and doesn’t have DEET so I feel safe spraying it on Lena.

3. Manito Sun Shade

Don’t know where we’d be without this thing, seriously. This is an ALL THE TIME favorite, but obviously even more so in the summer. If your car happens not to have tinted windows, you find out very quickly that a toddler carseat + sun streaming in windows + toddler= terrible combination. This shade has helped a lot and is pretty flexible so you can adjust it as you need to. We highly recommend this if you have scream-fests in your car anytime the sun so rudely shines through the windows.

4.  $0.50 Paint Brush

I’m serious. Best $.50 you ever spent on a toddler. Give this to them with a bucket or basin of water, and set them to work on your brick patio or wood deck slats. They will paint the tiles/slats for a loooooong period of time. It’s wonderful.

5.  iPlay Reusable Swim Diapers

Disposable swim diapers are absurdly expensive. The invention of these washable/reusable swim diapers is genius. They are basically the cloth diaper equivalent to a swim diaper, and are officially approved for use in public pools/any place where there’s a sign saying, “Swim diapers required.” I use these whenever the girls are going to be swimming or playing at a public pool or splash pad, but when it’s just at home with family they go commando! 🙂 You can find them at Target for about $10, which is well worth it with the number of uses! My only complaint is that they can’t be put in the dryer and take a LONG time to air dry, so if you use the pool daily, you may want to have two in rotation.

What are your favorite summer kid (or adult!) essentials??

Linking up with Five Favorites!

Summer Days

It’s summer again!!

Gardens are bursting...

Gardens are making a come-back…

So is the herb bed!

And the herb bed is thriving, too.

Lucy’s been obsessed lately with “bentures” and said adventures can range anywhere from a trip to Target or the library to a walk around our cul-de-sac. She sometimes declares when we’re just hanging out inside that she is “havin’ a benture over here, and Lena’s havin’ a benture over dere,” (all fun and games till Lena wants to join Lucy’s side…).

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Her hair is getting sooo long in the front, but I don’t really want to start cutting it!

Thank goodness toddlers are so easily amused. We can literally plant the “adventure” idea in her mind to make whatever we have to do that day seem cool and exotic to her. I’ll be a sorry mom when these days are over!

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Lessons in baby-wearing

Carrying her baby

Lena is pretty hilarious at the cusp of 11 months. Her favorite (and only) word is a very enthusiastic and resounding, “YAH!” which is her stock response to everyone. Sanguine optimist, anyone? If she hears anyone say anything with a question inflection, or any phrase starting with, “Do you…” she immediately responds, “Yah! YAH!” She is practically running now, and I can’t begin to count the number of people who are dumb-founded by her walking abilities. I guess she does look pretty cute, trudging around on her chubby legs, arms often held out in front, Frankenstein-style. She’s suicidally attracted to all stairs, whether up or down, and is in the constant-supervision stage.

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We discovered a hydrangea bush on the hill on your side yard. It’s gorgeous and makes us want to plant about five more bushes around the yard…

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Ignore the weeds…the side yard needs work, but will have to wait till fall!

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Currently, Vol. 4

Happy Friday!

(1) Celebrating:

The birth of our new nephew, Leo!! We cannot wait to meet him this weekend.

The end of the school year for Tom! Well, sort of. It’s the end of classes and his daily shirt/tie uniform, but he’ll be going to school with basically the same hours as he preps and runs his summer camps. Then come August he’ll be done done. 🙂

(2) Watching:

People, Gran Hotel is back! We have been showing great restraint by only watching 2 episodes at a time. It’s terribly over-the-top at times, and unfortunately there seem to be a few more racy scenes than previous seasons, but it’s still so well done. And there are some great face slaps, por supuesto. 

We have the final episode tonight and then after that, we’ll be searching for something good to start. If you have any suggestions from Netflix or Amazon Prime, let us know!

(3) Doing:

Well, not much, unfortunately, because it has been raining NON-STOP the last four days and has also been really chilly! Ugh. I will take the humidity over the perma-cloud any day. It’s giving Lucy a bit of cabin-fever driven naughtiness, and I can’t say I blame her. I, too, would want to sprinkle cinnamon all over the counter/floors if I couldn’t play outside for days, or tip over my humidifier and soak my freshly vacuumed carpet.

(4) Gardening:

Ok, at least our newly planted gardens are enjoying all this rain. We took an entire Saturday three weeks ago and dug out the three raised beds in the front yard and the brick garden box in front of the kitchen window (and when I say we, I mean Tom did 98% of the work. I sowed the seeds and watered, and generally kept the children fed and watered.).

Sadly, the stupid deer or rabbits or squirrels have already taken the opportunity to eat off, entirely, two of our four cucumber sprouts, bits of our tomato plants, and large chunks of the squash sprouts. SO annoying. I’m thinking we’ll have to net them in. So far, the basil, parsley, and rosemary seedlings are doing great in the window-front bed. I see lots of pesto in our future…

(5) Praying for:

Continuing to pray for little Liam, who has had 3 surgeries so far. Please join us in praying he will receive the right treatment and get better!

Praying for (and SO excited for!) Anna and Angela, whose Lourdes trip is just around the corner!!

(6) Clicking:

Our friend Hannah’s gorgeous photos and posts from France…it really helps when everything is looking so icky around here…

I really enjoyed reading this essay about Brideshead Revisited in the print magazine. Makes me want to re-read it!

And I’ve now listened to this at least thrice, because I find it so fascinating!  A Quick Lesson on Southern Linguistics

(7) And now for some (unrelated) recent baby pics!

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During sunnier times...

During sunnier times…

And that’s seven…linking up at This Ain’t the Lyceum for SQT.