Restaurant Review: Townsend

Remember when this used to mostly be a blog about food?

Me too.

For obvious reasons, we don’t go out to eat a ton these days. And, when we do, it’s usually for brunch or lunch, to the same places where we already know that the food will be decent, the service will be quick and we’ll get minimal dirty looks if our kid has a meltdown in the middle of the main course.

So, that’s why I was pretty excited to go out to an early Valentine’s Day dinner at Townsend, one of the latest additions to the ever-expanding dining options on East Passyunk Avenue. Chef Townsend Wentz was previously employed at various Center City institutions such as Lacroix and the Fountain at the Four Seasons, so it’s not totally surprising that he chose to fashion this restaurant as a modern French bistro.

The menu changes seasonally, and on the night we visited, it was heavy on the seafood options, which is always okay with me!

To start, I had the beef tartare. This was one of the best versions of the dish that I have had. The beef was prepared with just enough mustard and lemon to give it a memorable flavor, without being overpowering. The grilled slivers of bread, with melted sheep’s milk cheese were an excellent complement.

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Chester, meanwhile, had the oysters.He enjoyed them, but thought that the fact that they were cooked and topped with bacon masked some of their natural flavor. I have never heard anyone complain about something being topped with bacon, but I’m not really a fan of oysters, so what do I know?

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We shared the next course, escargot and brussel sprouts. The escargot were tender and flavorful and the sprouts were perfectly crunchy,and the sherry cream sauce took the whole dish over the top. The portion looked small, but the dish was so rich that it ended up being just enough. And, we liked it so much that we devoured it without taking a photo.

I feel like I rarely see bouillabaisse on restaurant menus, so I chose that for my entree. While it had a generous helping of seafood (a slightly crispy cod, tender scallops, mussels and clams), it also had a generous helping of Old Bay seasoning, which I didn’t love. It overpowered the flavors of the broth, completely masking any hit of saffron that is characteristic of the dish. I ended up with mixed feelings about the dish, and probably would choose something different on a future visit.

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Chester chose the venison, which was on the Valentine’s Day menu. I only had a small bite, but it was tender and flavorful, and not at all gamey (which is what I had expected).

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To end the meal, we shared the chocolate soufflé (which means that Chester had half a bite and I ate the rest). This may have been my favorite part of the meal. I mean, you can’t go wrong with warm, fluffy dark chocolate, right?

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Overall, I think that Townsend is a great addition to Passyunk Avenue and it’s definitely a nice date night option. It was definitely nice to have a grown-ups only dinner for the first time in a few months.

It was back to regularly scheduled programming the next day, as we took B to Max Brenner for Valentine’s Day brunch. She got the biggest sugar rush of her life from a few sips of a chocolate milkshake and it was completely adorable!

Little B: 17 Months

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With the exception of New Year’s festivities at the beginning of January, we have mostly been hibernating at home. It’s cold, and, after the rush of the holiday season, it is kind of nice not to have too many commitments. Still, B has managed to keep herself pretty busy during the last month, and as a result, we are busy chasing after her, as you’ll see in this latest update:

Milestones

Two more teeth (including another molar), have made their appearance.

Doing

B is like a little tornado. She runs through the house, leaving toys and books in her path. She bounces from one end of the couch to the other and tries to ride Poor Tracy (yes, that has become the dog’s proper name lately, although B has also taken to calling her “T”) like a pony. When she falls, it usually doesn’t phase her too much and she’ll spring right back up again. Overall, she is pretty coordinated, unless she is really tired. Then, she stumbles around like a drunk and it’s hilarious.

She still loves to dance. She will start doing the twist and/or bobbing up and down and flapping her hands when her favorite songs come on. It’s a move that we have labeled “The Bridget” and I don’t think words can adequately describe it. I need to start keeping my video camera at the ready so that I can capture it.

Stair-climbing has also been a favorite activity for awhile, but she is getting really good at going up and down while holding our hands. The prospect of going up and down has made it a bit easier to convince her to get a diaper change or go up to bed. All we have to say is “do you want to go up?” and she sprints to the staircase and waits for us to open the gate so she can start her climb.

Personality

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Cheese face!

Most of the time, B is giggly and affectionate  I don’t know if it’s the cold, continued teething or maybe the fact that she misses me during the day, but she seems to want to be closer than ever to me lately. Often, after she has her milk in the morning or dinner at night, she’ll lead me to the couch and we’ll have a good snuggle. Lately, if I’m wearing a long sleeve shirt, she’ll put her hand up my sleeve and just stroke my arm. Seriously, I notice the most random things. But to me, this is one of the sweetest gestures ever.

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Full of sass

Other times, I wonder if “terrible twos” have started early in our house. Lately, she has taken to hitting when she gets frustrated about something and pouting in the corner when we correct her bad behavior.  I know part of it is just frustration about still not being able to communicate her feelings, so I am hoping that as her communication keeps improving these outbursts will diminish as well.

Saying

New words this month include “A-den” (again); “Heh” (hair); “Yeah”; “Milp” (Milk). She is also becoming skilled at a wide variety of animal sounds (woof, quack and meow) and using non-verbal communication to get attention—fake crying and coughing are her current specialties.

Favorite Books

This month, it’s “LMNO Peas,” “Goodnight, Mr. Darcy,” “Bunny and Bee Can’t Sleep” and “Happy Hippo, Angry Duck.”

Favorite Songs

The theme song from “Arthur” remains her favorite, although “Elmo’s Song” and “Apples and Bananas” are becoming frequent requests. Sometimes she “sings” along with us, which mostly just involves her trying to copy the melody by making a collection of random sounds.

Favorite Things

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Little artist.

She loves her kitchen set and Little People toys and is getting better with crayons. Poor Tracy is still her favorite playmate. Although, their games are pretty one-sided, if you ask me, as they mostly involve B stealing Tracy’s ball, and Tracy looking on pitifully as B scampers away with it.

Eating

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At the big kids’ table

Last month, I mentioned that I was determined to start sneaking some vegetables into B’s diet. I started with a delicious (at least in my opinion) spinach, mango, pineapple and banana smoothie. She took one sip, and said “all done.”

After that, though, she started eating broccoli by the handful. Seriously. Maybe she resented my attempts to fool her into eating her vegetables and wanted to prove that she liked them after all. Or, maybe we just settled on something that she likes (at least for the moment). Either way, I consider this progress!

She has also become a big fan of cheese—grilled, with macaroni, in quesadillas or just by the slice. She still won’t touch chicken, and has been hit or miss with beef, which has been one of our other go-to proteins.

Overall, she really seems to love food. She has been practicing using a fork and gets excited and says “Mmmm!” whenever food-related words are mentioned. We have started a new routine of eating dinner together every night. Sometimes, she gets her own meal, but for the most part, we have been trying to give her whatever we are eating. I’m hoping that this will encourage her to try new things. It’s been hit or miss, but I really enjoy this little bit of time that we all have together at the end of the day, and I think she does too.

Fun Experiences

As I mentioned, we’ve kept things pretty low key this month, but I think we are already reaching the point where we are getting antsy for Spring. We have been hoping for at least one good snowstorm so that we can go out and build a snowman, but so far, everything that has been promised by the weather people has not materialized.

B seems to get especially bored and whiny if she spends a full day indoors (another way in which she is just like her parents) and lately if we tell her we are going out, she’s trying to open the door before we can even bundle her up! So, for the next few weeks, we’ll just keep looking forward to a time when it’s warm and sunny, so that we can take trips to the park, walks around the city and start packing for B’s first international trip—to Ireland! She got her very first passport and is all ready to go!

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Official passport photo. She might be detained for cuteness!

What I Read: January

Since I don’t really have any goals this year (I’m totally owning the fact that I’m completely lame, by the way), I haven’t set a reading goal like I did last year. But, I had fun sharing what I was reading in 2014, so I’ll continue on with these “What I Read” posts.

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China Dolls by Lisa See

This novel was one of the 2014 releases that I was most looking forward to reading. I am such a fan of See’s earlier novels. She always explores interesting time periods and weaves compelling stories of complex relationships between characters. As soon as I started the first chapter, I could tell that I was going to be disappointed.

China Dolls follows frenemies Helen, Ruby and Grace as they compete for the spotlight at San Francisco’s exclusive nightclub, The Forbidden City. Their backgrounds could not be more different, but they each harbor their own secrets and heartbreak from the past. Along the way, the girls alternately protect and betray each other, but situations become even more complicated after the attack on Pearl Harbor. The country is plunged into the war and suspicion is cast on the Japanese, including Ruby, who has been trying to pass as Chinese for years.

While the premise was promising and the details of the time period and setting seemed well-researched, it lacked the sparkle I was used to from See’s past efforts. The language was simplistic and disjointed. As with See’s other works, the main characters alternate as narrators, but in this case, the author failed to create distinct voices for each of them. I found myself having to go back to the beginning of each chapter from time to time to figure out who was telling the story at the moment.

If you haven’t read any of See’s works before, I would skip this one, and opt for Shanghai Girls or Snow Flower and the Secret Fan. China Dolls is definitely not reflective of her usual style.

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The Secret History by Donna Tartt

After enjoying The Goldfinch last year, I really wanted to tackle Tartt’s earlier works. Like that book, The Secret History goes on for much longer than it should, so here is a quick synopsis: A group of six students at a private New England College somehow manage to circumvent all of the rules of the institution to study the Classics with a professor that they all seem to think is some kind of god. Ultimately, their studies convince them to pursue all kinds of questionable behavior, including murder (I’m not giving anything away—the book opens with said murder and the rest of the novel explains why they did it).

A few people had told me that this was Tartt’s best work, but I still don’t know how I feel about it. On the one hand, I could not stop reading it because the story was so good. It was suspenseful in all the right places and I just had to stay up past my bedtime so I could see what would happen. But, on the other hand the characters were just so smug, annoying and self-absorbed that I wanted to hit them. And the writing was overblown and wordy that I just wanted to finish it.

Sure, the exploration of exactly what is going on in the minds of the characters and the level of paranoia and desperation that they succumb to as the deal with the consequences of their actions is interesting, but much like The Goldfinch it seemed like there were parts where the author was just writing to write.

The bottom line is that I I didn’t hate this book, but I didn’t love it either. I’d love to know what others think, since based on reading other reviews, I seem to be in the minority!

Hello, 2015

mummersB loved the Mummers this year…although she actually thought this guy was Santa.

Once again, I am fashionably late with a new year’s post. This year, I’m going to go with the excuse that it the new year didn’t technically start until the end of vacation/return to work. And, since that just happened this past Monday, I was allowed a few extra days to adjust back to reality and get myself together.

Needless to say, I have zero resolutions that involve a commitment to be more timely and/or stop procrastinating.

In fact, I have no resolutions at all.

In 2014, I made a bunch of them. I was going through kind of a big period of adjustment this time last year, embarking on my first full year as a mom, planning a transition between jobs and basically just trying to balance everything in my life. So, making a list of goals was helpful in managing all of the things that were going on in my head and helping me to stay (somewhat) sane.

As this year begins, I’m definitely in a better place in terms of my career path and I’ve managed to carve out some time for the things that are important to me. And, although I am always going to be a bit of a perfectionist, I’ve gotten better about channeling my energy to the things that actually matter (for example, B’s habit of smearing oatmeal and yogurt all over her face and clothes doesn’t even phase me anymore. If it keeps her quiet for five minutes while I try to wash a few of the breakfast dishes, then that’s awesome).

All that to say, I’m happy with the way things are going at the moment. I feel more focused and like I actually know what I’m doing in the areas of my life that matter to me the most. So, I’m just going to sit back and see where the year takes me.

It would be nice to have some kind of measurable goal (like last year’s 12-book goal) or a long-term creative project (I know a lot of people are fans of the photo-a-day projects, which would be great for helping me with my ongoing quest to improve my photography skills but seem like too big of a commitment). But, since I haven’t figured out what either one of those things are going to be yet, I’ll just see what happens along the way.

Wherever things end up, I’ll be happy to have you all along for the ride again in 2015!

Little B: 16 Months

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We had a much easier time with this month’s photo shoot, due in part to her sudden interest in sitting in “big girl” chairs.

I hope everyone is enjoying the first days of 2015!

Chester and I were off from work for two weeks, and had the best time hanging out with B. It was rough going back to reality yesterday–I got used to the extra snuggles and time with my little family. The weekend can’t come soon enough!

A few days before we rang in the new year B celebrated her 16 month birthday. So, here’s what is new in her world:

Doing

B is officially off and running on her own! Chester kept saying that his birthday wish was for her to walk and it seems that she heard him. His birthday was December 3rd and that is pretty much the last day she needed us to hold her by both hands to walk.

Everyone kept telling us that we would regret wishing for her to walk, because then we would have to chase her around all the time. We definitely are putting miles on our running shoes, but are so happy that she has mastered this skill I love walking down the street holding her little hand and she seems a lot happier when she is walking and exploring on her own. But, there have been quite a few meltdowns–in public–when we have had to redirect her or keep her from climbing up and down steps! She definitely doesn’t like being told what to do.

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Her new-found mobility meant she could get up close and personal with the tree this year. 

 

Saying

This month was all about Christmas-related words, including “Tee” (tree) and “Ta” (Santa). She has also learned “hush” as a result of our repeated recitations for Good Night moon, and I love when she chimes in at that part of the story. “All done” seems to be the phrase of the moment. She says it when she has had enough to eat, when she is sleepy or when she just wants us to stop doing something that annoys her (like, brushing her teeth or rinsing shampoo out of her hair).

Relatedly, I have been amazed by how much she seems to remember. For example, Santa dropped off the book Press Here, which we took out of the library awhile back. If you haven’t seen it, it’s kind of an interactive book (press on the dots, shake the book, etc.) and as soon as she opened it, she knew exactly what to do, despite not having seen it for more than a month.

2Putting her new Elmo ornament on the “tee”

Milestones

She cut a bottom molar, which brings her total number of teeth to nine. She loves showing off her teeth, grinning broadly when we ask to see them. I can’t wait until the rest of these molars come in though–I hate to see how much pain they are causing her.

Eating

She has definitely inherited her mother’s sweet tooth, judging from the way she gobbled up Christmas cookies (especially her Grauntie’s butter cookies). Lately, she has been snacking on wheat crackers, spread with hummus. In an effort to get her to eat more fruits and vegetables, I’ve started hiding them in baked goods. Hits so far have included carrot muffins (substituted whole wheat flour and brown sugar; reduced the sugar to 1/4 cup) and breakfast cookies (substituted pears for apples in the first recipe of this post). I am super flattered by the rate at which she gobbles them up. If anyone has any other suggestions to share regarding ways to sneak greens in, I’m all ears (I’m already planning to delve into smoothies this month).

Favorite Things

Now that B can walk, she has been all over the dog. Bascially, there is no safe place for Tracy to hide. B loves to give Tracy hugs and often tries to climb into bed with her. Tracy is so good with B and never shows any sign of wanting to be left alone. It could also have something to do with the fact that B has also discovered the cabinet where we keep the dog treats and is more than happy to dispense way more of them than Tracy is usually allowed.

B Tracy CollageBest buddies

B has really enjoyed the Christmas music during the last few weeks. In particular, anything by Michael Buble, The Jackson Five, Jingle Bell Rock and Holly Jolly Christmas can always perk her up. She also really loves the theme songs to all of her PBS shows. Sometimes, she’ll just say “Ar-ra!” (Arthur) and start swaying back and forth, which is our cue to sing for her.  She actually prefers that little ditty at bedtime, instead of “You Are My Sunshine” which I have been singing to her since she was born.

She got A LOT of new toys for Christmas, and has really been enjoying her kitchen set, Little People train and stuffed Olaf (she hasn’t seen Frozen yet, but this plays into her current infatuation with snowmen). But, she has taken a renewed interest in toys that have been around for awhile like her Poppin’ Park Giraffe and her push walker. Like I said in my Christmas post, it’s almost as if she doesn’t want to hurt their feelings.

Mostly, though, she likes to take things off shelves and put them back. Or, she will move things from the toy box, to the couch to the floor. It doesn’t seem like “play” in the traditional sense, but it keeps her occupied for ten to fifteen minutes sometimes, so I’ll take it!

Books

Now that B is a little more mobile, I sometimes will get ready in the bathroom while she walks back and forth between the upstairs rooms (Not to worry–we have a small house so I can still keep an eye on her and a baby gate blocking the stairs). Sometimes, though, she will go into her room and things will get strangely quiet. I race in, fearing the worst, only to find that she is occupied with a  pile of books that she has pulled from the shelf.

All that to say: books are basically still her favorite. Lately, we have had lots of requests for Click, Clack Moo, Guess How Much I Love You?, Put Me In the Zoo Elmo’s Twelve Days of Christmas, and Olivia Saves the Circus.

Least favorite things

Naps. As I’ve chronicled at length, they have never been her favorite thing, but she fights them now more than ever lately and continues to be completely inconsistent about them. Sometimes, she’ll go down before 11 a.m. and other days, won’t even think about it until 1 or 2 p.m. It takes her forever to settle down and she might only stay asleep for 40 minutes or so.

She has recently taken a real liking to her Glow-worm, and if she is upset about going to bed at night, we just need to tuck it in next to her and she calms down. This technique, unfortunately does not help with the nap situation, but since “Glow” was my constant companion when I was little, so I’m glad she is starting to take an interest in hers!

Fun Experiences

Christmas_2014-6_filteredThis year’s Christmas card image. Concept and photo by Chester; Santa impersonation by Yours Truly.

Preparing for and celebrating Christmas was definitely the highlight of the last month.

B had a great time with her Christmas Countdown. At first, she didn’t know what to make of the calendar, but after a few days, she got the hang of pulling off the tags and turning them around to “read” what was in store for her that day. She loved all of the little presents that the elves left for her and enjoyed taking in the Christmas lights and watching Christmas movies (Frosty the Snowman was her favorite). I’m glad she can’t read yet, though, because a few times, we had to rearrange or substitute activities due to inclement weather or scheduling conflicts. I probably won’t be able to fool her as easily in the coming years!

countdown collageSome of our Christmas Countdown Highlights: Top Row: unwrapping her Little People Christmas Village, enjoying Frosty, while drinking chocolate milk; Center: Choosing the first tag; Bottom row: Gluing cotton balls on Santa’s face to make his beard, writing a letter to Santa.

Of course, no Christmas season in Philly would be complete without a visit to Macy’s. B was entranced by the Dickens’ Village, ambivalent about the light show and not at all happy to sit on Santa’s lap. I quickly placed her request for a giant Elmo, and we all posed for a photo to keep the tears at bay.

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In awe of the prize turkey in the Christmas Carol Village

4Waiting for the light show to start. She lasted about two minutes when it actually did.

Macy's SantaI was so not prepared for a photo shoot on this particular day.

The fun continued after Christmas, starting with a trip to the zoo with Auntie B and Uncle Billy. I had never been to the zoo in the off season. Although we went on an unseasonably warm day, there were no crowds and the animals were much more active than they usually are during the warmer months.

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Then, B and her boyfriend Jack went on a date to the Please Touch Museum. I think that the grown-ups had as much fun as they did (except when I got yelled at–loudly–by a seven year old when I accidentally called the trolley in the transportation exhibit a bus. How embarrassing.)! I hadn’t been to the museum since it moved to Centennial Hall in Fairmount Park and it was quite impressive, with lots to see and do.

Please_Touch_Dec_2014-1Smitten

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Please_Touch_Dec_2014-6Going down the rabbit hole, with Alice

So, as you can see, we capped up 2014 right! I know there are great things in store for us this year–I hope that the same can be said for you and yours!

Wonderful Christmastime

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My little elf, on Christmas morning

It hasn’t even been a week, but it feels like Christmas was forever ago! We had two full days of celebrations with family, friends and delicious food. And, B looked even more adorable than usual. So, of course, I can’t resist sharing a few photos of the festivities.

We spent Christmas Eve at Big Bridget’s mom’s house. Chester and Bill did all of the hard work of cooking a humongous meal, while the rest of us sat around chatting, eating and drinking.

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B was a lot more social and less overwhelmed by all of the people than she was at Christmas last year. But, she still wasn’t to thrilled about posing for photos!

When we got home later that night, I ruined a cake that I was trying to make for Christmas Day dessert, took one look at the instructions for the B’s play shopping cart, and upon seeing that it involved about 40 steps and a hammer, turned the heavy lifting back over to Santa (i.e.. Chester) and went to bed.

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I brought B downstairs around seven the next morning and her eyes lit up when she saw the pile surrounding the tree. She wasn’t really into tearing the paper off the gifts, like I thought she would be. So, we opened a few things that morning and saved the rest for later (we actually just unwrapped the final box just last night). But, she did have a blast playing with some of her play kitchen, shopping cart and Big Hugs Elmo. She also kept running back and forth between her old toys and the new ones—I guess she didn’t want them to feel left out!

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Christmas_2014-16Serious bed head

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This Elmo is literally her size. She was dumbfounded.

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Love at first sight

Christmas_2014-18We took B to Pet Smart and let her pick out a gift for Tracy. But, judging from the amount of time that poor Tracy has actually spent playing with that ball, it seems like we still have a way to go until B understands the concept of gift giving!

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Yes, we had matching pajamas (even Chester).

After naps for everyone, it was off to my mom’s for more food (including lasagna, meatballs and sausage–no one makes them better than my mom!) and gifts. Spoiled doesn’t even begin to cover what everyone in the family was this year. The floor of my mom’s living room was barely visible amid all of the boxes and bags.

Christmas_2014-35This will forever be my favorite outfit that B has ever worn. She was our Christmas princess.

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This was, by far, her favorite gift, although she kept throwing the poor doll onto the floor.

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Photo books of B’s one year photo shoot for everyone!

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Stealth photo of Uncle Mike. He’ll be thrilled to see this on here.

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Chester’s parents, on their first Christmas as Philadelphia residents.

It is safe to say that this was one of my favorite Christmases ever. Even though B still didn’t totally “get” what all the fuss was about, she was so good and just…happy. Seeing her smile and hearing her laugh are the best gifts ever. All too soon, it was time to say “Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night!” But, next Christmas is only 359 days away!

 

What I Read: October to December and Wrap-Up

As the year comes to a close, I’m proud to say that I made the reading goal that I set at the beginning of 2014! I haven’t posted one of these updates in awhile, so this is what I read during the last three months:

The Vacationers

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Emma Straub’s book was on all of the summer “must-read” list, but as usual, I was fashionably late to the party and didn’t pick it up until October. The story follows the Post family, as they vacation on Mallorca. Being in close quarters for two weeks brings out the worst in them and exposes a few family secrets along the way. In many ways, the characters and plot devices mimic other dysfunctional family stories, but Straub’s writing is smart and humorous and she managed to make me care about characters that seemed unlikeable at first glance. This would definitely be a good one to put on your list for next summer’s beach bag—or to pick up in the winter when you are craving warmth, sand and sun.

This One Is Mine

 

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Maria Semple’s protagonist, Violet Parry, is a former television producer, turned stay-at-home mom and wife to a legendary music producer, David. She’s bored and unhappy with her life, so she decides to have an affair with Teddy, a struggling musician. Sure, David is a self-absorbed jerk, but Teddy is no better (we learn along the way that he is an alcoholic with violent tendencies, and also has Hepatitis C). There are a few other characters woven into the story, including David’s sister Sally who is on a continuous quest to bag a rich husband. But, none of them really have any redeeming qualities. The plot was unrealistic and I was thoroughly annoyed by all of the characters. Semple’s Where’d You Go Bernadette? is a much better read. Although the plot of that book is equally far-fetched, her characters are far more sympathetic and humorously drawn.

Jim Henson: The Biography

 

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As a lifelong Henson fan, I loved this! Brian Jay Jones traces Henson’s life and career, including his childhood in Mississippi, where he first dreamed of working in television, his efforts to break into the medium as a puppeteer on various local and national shows, his lesser known work making experimental films, and his big break on Sesame Street. Jones did an amazing job of putting together the story of Henson’s all too short life and career, through personal interviews with his family and colleagues, Henson’s personal diaries and company archives, to paint a comprehensive portrait of Henson’s passion for his work, complicated private life and lasting influence.

These three books bring the total to 12 and as the year winds down, here are a few of the highlights (and lowlights) of the past year in books:

Couldn’t Put Down: The Goldfinch 

Pleasant Surprises (aka “I Picked These at Random, Mostly Based on Their Cheap Price, and Ended Up Really Liking Them”): The Perfume Collector and The Rosie Project

Book That I Was Sad to Finish: Jim Henson: The Biography

Biggest Disappointment: Bridget Jones: Mad About the Boy

Book That I Forced Myself to Finish, Even Though I Hated It: This One is Mine

Most Helpful (aka “I Wish I Had Read this Sooner):Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking

I’m glad that I set this goal, as it made me set aside time to read at least a little bit each day…even if I could only get through a page or two each night before falling asleep (only to be woken up by the Nook falling on my nose. Ouch). Escaping into a good book is a pretty easy way to unwind, when you don’t really have a lot of time or energy at the end of the day!

What did you read in 2014 and who has recommendations for 2015?

Christmas Light Tour

Big, sparkly Christmas light displays are my fave. Luckily, there are no shortage of them in and around the Philadelphia area. And, since taking in the lights is a pretty toddler friendly (and free!) activity, we’ve been doing a lot of it this season. Our first stop was the Franklin Square Electrical Spectacle, with our friends Richard and Louisa and their kids. Every 30 minutes, the park is illuminated by an elaborate light show, set to a soundtrack by the Philly POPS. There is plenty to do at the park keep everyone occupied, including a seasonal craft market, food/beverage tent and of course the carousel and mini golf, so I would definitely recommend adding this to your holiday to-do list (this year, it runs through New Year’s Eve). FS-24 FS-3

She was obsessed with the water in the fountain. She kept spinning in circles and saying “wa-wa”

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She started clapping as soon as the music started

Next, we headed to Peddler’s Village in Bucks County. You can get some of your shopping done while taking in more than one million lights that make up the outdoor display. PV-1

Killing time in the toy store, while we waited for the lights to come on.

PV-6 Our final stop was the Christmas Village in Love Park and new Dilworth Park outside of City Hall. CM-2 CM-6

B had fallen asleep in the car on the way there and was not too happy about being woken up from her nap, or about the crowds in the village

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We didn’t notice until going through the photos that these lights changed color

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She’s on the move, and she loved the big, open space…

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…and the steps. She would have gone up and down them all day. Not pictured: the meltdown that ensued when I picked her up to leave. That’s how I knew it was time to head home.

Where have you all been getting your Christmas light fix this year?

Little B: 15 Months

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This was the most difficult photo shoot to date. She basically refused to sit in the chair, so this was the best we could do!

Another month is in the books, and as usual, we have plenty to report:

Stats

At B’s 15 month doctor’s appointment, she weighed in at 20 pounds, 13 oz (she feels way heavier) and was 29.4 inches long. She is wearing size 12 or 18 month clothes, for the most part. This month, she got two more teeth (one on the bottom front and a molar on the top left) and more seem to be on their way.

Doing

We have made great strides in the walking department and I would say that B has officially taken her first steps. Her balance has definitely improved and she is more confident in her ability to walk unassisted. She seems to do a lot better when she is carrying something, and it is hilarious to see her toddle along dragging her stuffed panda or big pink ball (both of which are roughly half her size) along with her.

Personality

When I think about it now, it really shouldn’t surprise me that B took her sweet time when it came to taking her first real steps. Her dislike of surprises is becoming more evident with each passing month, and I would definitely use the word cautious to describe her personality. The other day, for example, we were sitting in the living room playing, when our Christmas tree (which we have on a timer) lit up. I thought B would be thrilled; instead she broke down in tears. Thankfully, her reaction has improved as the nights go on.

She is also getting more social. Although she is still wary of strangers and people she doesn’t see often at first, she warms up a lot more quickly now. She loves other little kids and one of her favorite people to visit is Big Bridget’s grandmother (Nunnie).

Saying

B continues to talk a mile a minute Her newest words are “Ar-ra” (Arthur, since she has recently become a huge fan of the book and television series), “wa-wa” (water), and “mahn” (man, which usually refers to a snowman) But, her favorite words this month seem to be “mama” and “hi.” She says them all. The Time. More often than not, the sound of her saying them over and over again is what wakes me up in the morning. I continue to be amazed at how much she understands, and we have already had to resort to spelling certain words around her to keep her from figuring out what we are talking about.

Favorite things

The Arthur television show and book series; water—drinking it, playing in it, saying it; snowmen; Crayons. She scribbles with them a bit, but mostly, she just likes to hold them and watch them roll across the floor; her tea set. She loves pretending to serve us a hot beverage; Slamming doors. She has a whole routine of saying “bye” and closing doors in our faces. Then, we spend a few minutes knocking back and forth from our respective sides, before we open the door so she can greet us with an excited “A-boo!”; she is currently enjoying the song Rock-A-Bye Baby and she will cross her arms in front of her and sway back and forth when we sing it.

Least favorite things

Going to bed. She employs all kinds of distractions to delay bedtime, from pulling all of the books off her shelf, to slamming books shut as we try to read them, to squirming off my lap and out the door as we sit in the rocking chair.

Books

We continue to read most of the same books mentioned during prior updates over and over again, but have added a few to our rotation, including Snow (such a beautiful book, both in terms of its story and illustrations) and How Do I Love You? We took Press Here out of the library recently and she loved it and did such a good job following the directions (shaking the books, blowing on the dots, etc.). I think Santa will definitely be dropping that off for her this year!

Foods

We switched from baby to grown up oatmeal this month and she loves it, mixed with a little brown sugar, cinnamon and fruit. Overall, though, her appetite was hit or miss this month, and the only things she would reliably eat were sweet potatoes and meatloaf. I think teething played a huge part in the trend. She seemed to be in quite a bit of pain, particularly as that top molar made it’s way in.

Fun Experiences

At the beginning of November, we finally had B christened. While she might not agree that having water poured over her head was fun, we did have a little celebration with family afterward—with cake!

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Not happy about having a wet head

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Also not happy about having oil put on her forehead. I love the grown-ups facial expressions in this one, especially of the godparents, Uncle Mike and Auntie B

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Napping after the trauma

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Cake makes it all better.

We took her to see Elmo at the Franklin Institute. I wish we had gotten some better photos with him, but he “forgot his inhaler” and couldn’t really stick around for the duration of the event. B was still pretty excited to just be in the same room as him.

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She celebrated Thanksgiving at Granny’s. She napped through most of the Macy’s parade, but loved the balloons and floats that she managed to see. I was surprised that she didn’t seem interested in at least trying things from the dinner table. She was so interested in the food last year that I thought she would be excited to eat this time around. But, she was more interested in riding her zebra and cleaning Granny’s floors with the Swiffer.

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What is this, guys?

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Hoping she won’t mind doing windows, either.

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Now, we have been getting ready for the holidays. She is loving the lights, dancing to Christmas music and her Christmas countdown! She is the star of our Christmas card once again, and I can’t wait to share that photo once we send them out to family and friends!

DIY Christmas Countdown Calendar

One of the first signs that the holiday season was upon us when I was growing up was the appearance of the Christmas countdown calendar in our kitchen. It was this one, from Avon. When I saw it hanging in B’s playroom at my mom’s house on Thanksgiving, it brought back memories of the yearly fight between my brother and me, in regards to who would get to move the mouse first.

This year, I decided to start the Christmas countdown tradition by making a calendar for B. It doesn’t look like the fancy ones that are currently cluttering my Pinterest feed, but it’s fun and whimsical and B’s eyes lit up when she saw it. I’m glad she’s still at an age where she is easy to impress.

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I covered paper tags with card stock, wrote each activity on the back of them, cut the numbers out of glittery paper and displayed them on the chicken wire frame from her first birthday party. Since she is still a little too young for some of the traditional holiday festivities like baking cookies and ice skating, I purchased few little trinkets for her to unwrap (a hair bow and socks, books, jingle bells, to name a few) and alternated them with toddler-friendly activities, like watching Christmas movies and driving around to look at Christmas lights.

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I think it should make for a fun December (which starts tomorrow! What?!)