It’s a miracle — I only took one video in May. Soren has memorized the names of the 15 leaders of our church, and we think it’s pretty impressive.
Where were we? Ah yes, at the beach! Let’s pick up where we left off at the end of March.
A cute singing moment at the beach house with my boy.
The second birth was a bit anticlimactic, but of course I had to video it.
This might be the cutest rendition of “I’m a Nut” I’ve ever heard. If you can’t quite understand his speech, here are the lyrics. “I’m a little acorn round, sitting on the cold hard ground. Everybody steps on me, that is why I’m cracked, you see. I’m a nut. I’m a nut. I’m a nut, I’m a nut, I’m a nut.”
I’m kind of fanatical about having purpose and structure in my reading. I can’t just pick a book off a shelf and go for it. I even have a hard time reading from recommendations. Ten years ago I started making my way through the list of Pulitzer Prize winners for fiction, and I rarely departed from my agenda. When I was pregnant, I switched over to a near-exclusive focus on pregnancy and childbirth books. But post-Soren, I’ve been in a reading funk. Many of the Pulitzers are just too heavy for my frazzled mom brain. Parenting books are OK here and there, but you just can’t do too many of those in succession. So I welcomed the invitation from my Segullah cohorts to read through the five Whitney Awards finalists in the historical category and then cast my vote.
Here are my brief reviews of those five novels, ordered alphabetically by author.
Softly Falling, by Carla Kelly (Sweetwater Books, an imprint of Cedar Fort Media and Publishing)
The intriguing Lily Carteret is transplanted from her privileged life in England to the rough Wyoming Territory, only to learn that her alcoholic father has gambled away his cattle ranch. As Lily adjusts to the harsh conditions of her new home, she’s befriended by a number of charming characters — especially Jack, the handsome but illiterate cowboy who quickly falls for Lily. The bulk of the story takes place during a very long, grim winter (known a century ago as “the big die-off”), where Jack, Lily, and the others on the ranch work tirelessly to save the cattle and themselves.
Kelly’s characters and historical details were the highlights of the book for me. The drama of the terrible winter provided constant tension, but the pacing of the story was incredibly slow. It was a long, long winter, and the reader definitely feels this (for better or for worse — and for me it was for worse). The action was also very sluggish, but with just enough blips of excitement to keep me going. The dialogue between the protagonists felt contrived, at times, but the characters overall were engaging and pleasant to follow.
Eve: In the Beginning, by H.B. Moore (Mirror Press)
This fictionalization of the story of Adam and Eve dives into the struggles of our first mother, first in the seemingly perfect Garden of Eden and then in the harsh and pain-filled real world. The tale includes the basic stages we’re familiar with from the Bible — Eve partakes, Adam joins her, and they are cast out of the Garden. But Moore throws in a number of possible scenarios that I found to be very thought provoking, like a tragic miscarriage, incredibly challenging weather and living conditions, and problems between Adam and Eve as they attempt to become united in marriage.
I really liked the voice of Eve — she was curious and inquisitive, yet largely faithful amidst her trials. Adam, though much more rigid in his obedience, was not self-righteous in his devotion to Elohim, and I appreciated the way he cared for his wife even when he didn’t agree with her. Lucifer was present throughout the book and was as eerie as one would expect, providing constant confusion and manipulation. I was surprised (as were Adam and Eve) by the overwhelming silence of Elohim — I kept waiting for him to come to the rescue and make it evident that He was mindful of them. But, such is life. The story was well crafted and really nicely written, though there were a few moments that felt redundant as Adam and Eve blundered along, trying to find their way.
An Ocean atween Us, by Angela Morrison (self published)
The first book in a new series, “An Ocean atween Us” tells of 19th century Scottish coal pits, young love and heartbreak, physical hardships, and family bonds that are put to the test. Will Glover leaves the love of his life and begrudgingly joins his family in a grueling journey across the ocean for a new start that is every bit as disappointing as he expects it to be. The new opportunity in North America is filled with hardship for the entire family, and it is ultimately left to Will to care for the family and bring himself out of his estrangement from happiness.
In her author’s note, Morrison said she spent more than a decade researching her family’s Scottish history for this novel, including trips to coal mines in three countries. Her desire for authenticity is readily apparent — the book’s narration uses a flavor of the Scots language (which, for some readers, will be a little too authentic, as the brogue at times feels distracting), and the historical details were on point. I loved this story’s strong family bonds and the importance of home, which remained constant despite the protagonist’s choice to wallow far too long in his self-inflicted pain. Though Will’s pining after his first love grows old quickly, the book’s overall narrative is skillfully crafted and consistently engaging.
Deadly Alliance, by A.L. Sowards (Covenant Communications)
“Deadly Alliance” is the final book in a trilogy, though it works just as well as a stand-alone novel (which is how I read it — I actually had no idea there were two other books). Like “An Ocean atween Us,” it was abundantly clear that Sowards had done her due diligence on the time and place she wrote about — World War II in Italy and Yugoslavia. The novel follows Peter Eddy and his commando team as they drop behind enemy lines, unaware that they’ve been deployed on a suicide mission. Meanwhile, Peter’s girlfriend Genevieve, an OSS spy, finds herself battling new enemies as well. With heart-pounding plot twists and turns aplenty, Peter, Genevieve, and their various comrades experience plenty of action, with true-to-the-era violence and death.
“Deadly Alliance” drew me in quickly and kept me hooked right through the last page (although the far-fetched finale disappointed me a little). The history was, at times, hard to follow, but it didn’t detract from my interest in the book. The characters were well drawn and appealing — or hateful, in the case of the enemies who played significant roles. I appreciated the believable dialogue and the relationships that felt so genuine. Overall, this book was my favorite in the category — strongest writing, most intricate plot, realistic narrative, and great characters.
Gone for a Soldier, by Marsha Ward (WestWard Books)
Part war story, part love story, “Gone for a Soldier” features a range of characters (11 members of the Owen family, plus a few love interests and fellow soldiers), with each chapter rotating between different characters’ perspectives. Rulon Owens, the central figure, moves quickly to enlist in the war after Virginia secedes from the Union — but not before asking for the hand of his love, Mary Hillbrands. Off at war, Rulon sees and feels it all — his tent-mate threatens him regularly, he aches to be with his new wife and their new son, and he struggles physically through battles with the impossible-to-defeat Union army. At home, Mary faces her own battle for independence from parents who disapprove of her marriage.
Like a few others in this category, this novel was rich in historical details and authentic in its language, relationships, and descriptions of day-to-day living. The narrative became increasingly realistic as well-loved characters faced death and debilitating injuries, leaving relationships and situations unresolved, which was surely the case during the Civil War as lives were cut short or changed dramatically. I enjoyed the flow from chapter to chapter with the focus on different characters and different storylines, and at times I found myself growing anxious to get back to Mary’s situation or Ben’s adventure to learn what would come next. “Gone for a Soldier” kept me engrossed and tugged at my emotions more than a time or two — which doesn’t happen easily.
Our March was an exciting one…
A few documentations of afternoon playtime:
My favorite part in this one is the way he says, “Not really” (around 0:18).
Then back to Boston and back to coat weather. I had to video the way Soren removes his coat, because it’s one of those cute things you just don’t want to forget and you know it probably won’t happen again next winter. He unzips the coat, spins around until it falls off, and then promptly picks it up and hands it to me. Of course he doesn’t do it quite right in this video, but you get the idea.
At the end of March Soren and I took off again, this time for Virginia and North Carolina.
And then, it was April! Guess I’ll have to finish those beach pictures later.
If I had to sum up the month of February in one word, it would be SNOW. We’ve had a grand time breaking weather records like crazy. We’re not sure if we’ll know what to do with ourselves once spring arrives — we can’t really remember what grass looks like!
(With no pictures to be found on my real camera, our February update is essentially a compilation of my Instagram and YouTube uploads.)
My mom set Soren up with a box lid of rice while she was in town (it quickly became a “construction site”), and he’s been playing with it for three weeks straight.
This video shows another well-loved toy. (Visit the Whoville Creations Etsy shop to see more fun block puzzles. Tim’s aunt is the genius behind the shop.)
I pass by our pediatrician’s office building a few times a week, and every time I have the exact same thought: “I should call right now and schedule an immunization appointment for Soren. Or… maybe I’ll do it tomorrow.”
At two and a half years old, my son should have received about 27 shots. Instead, his shot record booklet is collecting dust on some corner of my desk. He’s received a couple of DTaP doses, a Hib shot or two. The PCV13 seemed like a mostly good idea. But polio? Nah. Who even gets polio in the United States? And the rotavirus vax? No thanks — babies can get rotavirus even if they’ve received the vaccine. And I know the autism/MMR theory has been debunked, but that one still gives me the heeby jeebies. Isn’t it still a little unnerving that the connection between autism and vaccines is still believed so strongly by many intelligent people?
During my 39.5 weeks of pregnancy, I pored over the literature. I was meticulous about what I put in my own body, avoiding even Tylenol when the crazy hormonal headaches hit. I abandoned my face wash to prevent salicylic acid from touching my skin. I birthed my sweet baby without medications or interventions, then breastfed him for more than two years. I used coconut oil when his bum got rashy (which didn’t happen much, thanks to cloth diapers) and slathered him with a super safe but ridiculously priced sunscreen on our beach days. When he hit six months and seemed ready for solid food, you better believe his first bites of roasted broccoli were organic.
So being skeptical about vaccines was a no-brainer for me. I mean, is it really a good idea to inject an hours-old baby with aluminum and formaldehyde for a disease (hepatitis B) that’s transmitted through sexual contact? Is it wise to blindly vaccinate when our country’s recent history includes things like the swine flu fiasco and a flu vaccine that is merely 23% effective?
We decided to embark on a delayed vaccination schedule for Soren, focusing on the immunizations that bring the greatest benefits; we also decided to allow just one shot at a time, and never any of the whopper combo vaccines. (This has made for some interesting discussions with the pediatrician. When he walks into the room his first words are, “OK, let’s negotiate. Five shots today.” I respond with a firm, “one.” He comes down to three, I hold fast at one, and eventually he surrenders to the mother’s wishes.)
But we never exactly put our proposed vaccination “schedule” on paper. And as overwhelmed new parents often experience, our best-laid plans quickly went awry. The result was a vaccination here and a vaccination there, mostly when we happened to be visiting the doctor for a well check-up anyway, and mostly when I’d taken time to research the particular shot right before the appointment. Not exactly a solid method.
Sometimes I blame my busy schedule for preventing me from finding ample time to study the issue out and really determine which side I’m on. But the truth is that I simply can’t decide. I’m not an anti-vaxxer. But I’m not fully on board with the whole thing. I like the idea of everyone vaccinating for the good of the community. But I’m also selfish. I want to believe the research. But when there aren’t any solid studies on long-term side effects, how can I?
So where do I fall in the great vaccine debate? I’m on both sides and I’m on neither side. I’m smack dab in the middle.
I’m certain I’ll never feel that vaccinations are free of risks. I realize they’re probably safe. The benefits of vaccinating my child most likely outweigh the costs. But it’s very possible I’ll remain on the fence forever. So what’s an indecisive mom to do? For now, I’ll continue to follow my instincts, vaccinating occasionally and somewhat haphazardly. Am I wrong? Some doctors would say so. The most passionate anti-vaxxers might disagree with me.
But being on this middle ground has shown me that all of us have the same goal — to keep our children healthy and safe from disease. The way we each go about it, however, is quite different. It’s all part of the great experiment we call parenting. And aren’t we all just giving it our best shot?
With literally hundreds of books to choose from at the library each week, you’d think it would be a cinch to bring home a stack of winners for a 2-year-old. Unfortunately, you really can’t judge a book by its cover. Or its title. Or its illustrations.
But after two years of scouring our library’s “transportation” section, I think we’ve nailed down the top 10 children’s books (and authors!) that feature trucks, machines, trains, buses, planes, and the ever-popular pickle car. Here are our greatest “things that go” picture book hits.
1. Roadwork by Sally Sutton, illustrated by Brian Low
“Load the dirt. Load the dirt. Scoop and swing and drop. Slam it down into the truck. Bump! Whump! Whop!” This rhyming, rhythmic read-aloud lays out every step of the construction process with simple language and vibrant art. We also love the final page of the book, which details the much-loved construction equipment (and clues parents in to the real names of the machines).
2. Machines Go to Work by William Low
Low has pioneered the use of digital painting in children’s books, and there’s something wonderfully mesmerizing about his realistic illustrations. The fun in this book is the surprising twists that come when little fingers lift the gatefolds, morphing borderless two-page spreads into three-page murals. Questions are asked, and then each machine’s true intention is revealed in the answer. When the firetruck comes roaring to the scene of an emergency, are the trees on fire? No! A kitten is stuck, waiting to be rescued.
If you read the book with slightly older children, show them this neat YouTube clip of the artist at work. He’s a fascinating guy (a native New Yorker who was born in the back of a cab), and I never would’ve imagined the book’s illustrations could have started out as scribbles on a computer screen.
Other favorites by William Low: Machines Go to Work in the City
3. Red Car, Red Bus by Susan Steggall
This picture book is both simple and brimming with clever details. The text and accompanying vehicles offer basic lessons in patterns and sequencing, so even a two-year-old can “read” the story. The illustrations are the real focal point, though — each page is filled with collages made from textured and torn paper (some handmade, some manufactured), and the amusing background storylines entice us into opening this book again and again.
Other favorites by Susan Steggall: The Diggers Are Coming
4. Cars and Trucks and Things That Go by Richard Scarry
Goldbug. Pickle car. Broom-o-cycle. Bananamobile. Need I say more? When a children’s book stays in print for 40+ years, you know it’s a winner. And I love any book that can absorb a two-year-old without adult involvement.
5. Little Blue Truck by Alice Shertle, illustrated by Jill McElmurry
Little Blue and his devoted barnyard posse won our hearts the first time we opened the book. The first few pages of the story introduce each animal and offer a chance to practice all those fun farm sounds (baa, moo, oink, croak) — perfect for the pre-verbal and just-talking stages. The plot thickens when a pompous dump truck finds himself sunk deep in the mud, and Little Blue demonstrates that “a lot depends on a helping hand from a few good friends.” This heartwarming tale never gets old (and it doesn’t hurt that it’s only a few dollars on Amazon — definitely one to own).
Other favorites by Alice Shertle: Little Blue Truck Leads the Way
6. Fire Engine Man by Andrea Zimmerman and David Clemesha
I’ll be honest — the first few times I read this book with Soren, I was like, “What’s the big deal? I could’ve written that.” Sentences like “I like to squirt down fires” and “I love fire engines” didn’t immediately enchant me. But Soren was obsessed. And I guess it makes sense: The main character, a child, takes on the role of a real-life firefighter, driving a fire truck, sleeping at the fire station, and fighting fires. Every little kid’s dream, right? So now I’ve come around to really enjoy this and the authors’ other similar books, loving that they spark my little one’s imagination.
7. I Am a Backhoe, by Anna Grossnickle Hines
This quick read was big at our house well before Soren turned one, so it’s got staying power. The book’s little protagonist pretends to be a backhoe, a crane truck, a roller, a bulldozer, and then a dump truck, with illustrations of the bright, massive machines shown behind him. I love the way this book encourages pretend play — “I dig my hand into the sand, my scooper hand. Dig. Dig. Dig. Lift, turn, tip. I am… a backhoe.”
Other favorites by Anna Grossnickle Hines (how about that name?): I Am a Tyrannosaurus
8. 20 Big Trucks in the Middle of the Street by Mark Lee, illustrated by Kurt Cyrus
If I could design the perfect day for my machine-loving man-child, it would mimic the scenario that plays out in “20 Big Trucks.” After an ice-cream truck breaks down in the middle of the street, a host of other exciting vehicles — a crane truck, moving vans, a cement mixer, a truck carrying squealing pigs — creates a giant traffic jam around the block. This counting book is a fun read aloud with its cheerful rhymes and detailed illustrations, and it doesn’t hurt that the yellow-helmeted youngster featured on every page saves the day in the end.
9. The Big Book of Things that Go by DK Publishing
Every home library needs a few good DK books. I picked this one up at a thrift store for a dollar or two, and it’s received a lot of love over the last couple of years. Name any vehicle — camper van, tanker truck, breakdown train — and you’re sure to find its photograph on the pages of this book. I’ve loved learning the proper names for different machines (and boats and trains) so I don’t have to refer to everything as a “digger.” This is another no-parents-needed book — it’s always a bonus when your toddler is able to happily “read” to himself!
10. Who Made This Cake by Chihiro Nakagawa, illustrated by Junji Koyose
Who made this cake? I’ll tell you who. It’s a bunch of miniature construction workers operating big machines. Front-end loaders scoop up flour and sugar, excavators outfitted with whisks beat the eggs, and a helicopter delivers the finishing touches. Totally bizarre. But really fun.
I’m not a resolution-maker, but there is something magical about the newness of January. I love a fresh start. We drove back to Boston from Virginia on the first day of the new year, which gave us plenty of time to talk about our plans and hopes and dreams for 2015.
Although I don’t have any photos to illustrate this, I must document the saddest part of our January. Soren decided to call it quits with the breastmilk. My 29-month-old darling no longer needs me. It had been a gradual process, so the first day of no nursing didn’t seem very out of the ordinary. But the idea was a little bit heartbreaking. I guess it’s time to have another baby.We decided this year to have a family theme each month, with applicable goals and activities to work on throughout the month. January’s theme became “Get Stuff Done,” and the idea was to take care of all the unfinished projects we’d begun in 2014. One such project (of about 30) was to take family pictures and send out some very late New Year’s cards. Since we’re dumb, we didn’t take advantage of December’s pleasant weather for photo taking. Instead, we ventured out on January 10, the first day we had nothing else on the calendar. It was about 15 degrees out. And WINDY. And there was snow on the ground. So basically a really bad day to try to take pictures outside. We dragged a friend along who is not a photographer, handed her our camera set to automatic, and we took some pictures.
Part of our monthly family theme includes a song and a scripture that we sing/read each morning. We’ve been using this scripture study method for a few months, and Soren largely ignores the scripture reading part, opting to play while Tim and I say the scripture. On the last day of the month, I told him I’d give him a chocolate chip if he’d say the scripture with us. Turns out the little stinker had the whole thing memorized all along. His voice is pretty quiet in the video, and he’s really hard to understand, but here’s the text of Doctrine & Covenants 58:27 if you want to try to catch what he’s saying: “Verily I say, men should be anxiously engaged in a good cause, and do many things of their own free will, and bring to pass much righteousness.” This kid kills me.
Sometimes, when you really love something, you just need to spread the news. So let me tell you about a few of my favorite things right now.
IKEA Patrull Bathtub Mat. Being a bit of a helicopter parent, I rarely leave the room when Soren is bathing. To put my mind at ease that he wouldn’t slip and fall to his death, I bought a set of non-slip shower treads at Home Depot. And I hated them. Half of them peeled off within the first few days, and the entire attempt was worthless since the circles covered such a tiny portion of the tub floor.
And then, while browsing at IKEA, I stumbled upon the cutest bathtub mat I’d ever beheld. And it was only $5. And Soren and I both love it. It nearly covers the entire length and width of the tub, and the plentiful suction cups on the bottom make it easy to securely attach it and then pull the whole thing up after each bath. The handy holes are perfect for hanging the mat to dry (although good luck finding a suction hook that will both stick to shower tile and hold up the alligator). Best of all, you can throw the mat in the washing machine to keep it as clean and fresh as the day you bought it. (Don’t live near an IKEA? Amazon sells the matfor around $10, which is double the IKEA price but still a pretty great deal.)
Electrolux (by Sanitaire) Canister Vacuum. The fact that I can call a vacuum a “favorite thing” is practically a miracle. See, I hate cleaning. I enjoy a tidy, well organized home, but I simply hate cleaning it. When Tim and I first got married and realized there were no more roommates to clean the floors, we figured we better purchase a vacuum for all 550 square feet of our apartment. We picked up a cheap Hoover stick vac and figured we were set. It wasn’t quite the worst vacuum in the world, but it was really only good for super light use. Once we upgraded to a two-bedroom apartment and got a few floor rugs, I knew it was time for something more serious. I’d been admiring the Dysons at Costco for years, but didn’t think now was the time to spend $400 on a vacuum. So I went with a $100 Hoover upright, and after using it once I wanted to kill myself. It was colossal, really awkward to maneuver, and it consistently shot dust and dirt out the back.
For my next attempt at purchasing a vacuum, I read review after review online and felt more confused than ever. So I got smart. I went to an actual vacuum store. And I don’t know why anyone would do it any other way. Those people are geniuses! They advised me based on the size of my house, the types of rugs I have, and what style of vacuum I might like to use. They knew I was lusting after a Dyson (and they did have plenty of them in their store), but they also knew it wasn’t the best choice. Bless them. They set me up with an Electrolux canister vac, and I’ve been in heaven ever since.
3 Sprouts Storage Bin. We hit a breaking point with the toys a few months ago. Most of Soren’s playthings had a home in some way or another, but the Duplos were a little out of control. Surprisingly, IKEA had nothing to offer me. I had resigned myself to the notion that we’d be swimming in Duplos forever when I saw a delightful storage bin at a friend’s apartment. It seemed perfectly crafted, really sturdy, and it was large. I was certain it was a fancy-pants baby boutique item way out of my price range, so I was amazed to find it on Amazon for just $20. Best of all, you can choose from a dozen different animals. When I asked Soren which he wanted, his initial choice was a pink elephant. Is it wrong that I went with my top pick instead? The same brand has other really tempting toy chests and laundry bins and wall organizers. And I better stop there before I fall for any more of them.
Acure Organics Shampoo. I am generally the last person anyone would want to look to for advice on anything hair or beauty related. The extent of my makeup routine is mascara once or twice a week. I’ve used my blow dryer about three times in the last three years. BUT, I’ve learned a thing or two while switching to more natural products in my bathroom over the past few years.
For nearly a year I did the “no ‘poo” method, using baking soda for shampoo and apple cider vinegar for conditioner. And I really loved it. But I started reading about how the combination of BS and ACV can potentially damage the hair or mess with the pH or something. And I got scared. So then I tested another DIY shampoo — coconut milk and aloe vera juice. And I looked like a walking oil slick. No go. Next, I moved on to Honest’s shampoo and body wash combo. I liked it. The scent was nice, it lathered fairly well (for a natural shampoo), and I appreciated the convenience of using one bottle to wash my hair and my body (and Soren’s). But when the last bottle was almost empty, I wondered if I should switch things up and see if I could love another shampoo more. I polled a group of friends, and the answer was nearly unanimous: Acure. With Acure, it was love at first wash. The scent is kind of powerful but really incredible — I actually look forward to my two hair-washing days each week because I’m so crazy about the smell. It lathers way better than Honest’s shampoo. And my hair is a little less frizzy than it once was. Try it.
Onaroo Alarm Clock. Who drops $40 on a clock for a one-year-old? I’ll tell you who — it’s the very same mom who needed a breathing monitor, a video monitor, a lifetime supply of glow-in-the-dark pacifiers, and a $150 sleep consultation to get her kid (and herself) to sleep through the night. But seriously, this clock saved our sanity when Soren was nearly two and waking up for the day at 4:45 a.m. Every day. We’d tried absolutely everything, and his early rising was all but killing us. Enter the toddler clock. Using Troublesome Tots’ article as our how-to, we introduced the clock and haven’t looked back. And now we all get out of bed at 6:30 a.m. each day and we feel like a million bucks! He often wakes around 5:45 or 6 a.m., but he stays quiet and laying down until the clock’s green light tells him it’s morning. I’m so glad we introduced it before Soren turned two, because I think his habit of waiting for the green light will be super useful when (if?) we eventually move him to a toddler bed.