Archives for January 2015

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!