Monday, March 12, 2018

Weekend Extension

Today is the Monday of my spring break (but no one else's). This is lovely because I get hours to myself, but also will make for some craziness next week when the girls come to work with me one day when we're in between child care (I have students lined up to babysit during my classes and a faculty meeting).

This weekend was a busy and productive one. On Saturday morning, I got up and wrote out my list of things I wanted to get done that day and then proceeded to blow through it LIKE A BOSS. Got my laundry done, did yoga and the elliptical, graded some papers, walked the dog, got through Zuzu's Kumon, got the girls to dance and back, and made huge progress on the cardboard barrel we're creating before going out to dinner with friends to celebrate Carol's birthday. Also I drank a lot of water--the recommended 64 ounces! And so I felt like I spent a lot of the day going to the bathroom.

My productivity was made possible because David took the girls to his school to work with a girl scout troop on cleaning up the yard and putting in a green house. They were gone for four hours. I missed them, but also I had no distractions or interruptions, which was amazing.

On Sunday I made up for my time away by being in full-time mom mode from the time I rolled out of bed and didn't do yoga before church because daylight savings time kicked my a$$ even though I went to bed at a reasonable hour on Saturday. We went to church, then came home and ate lunch, took the girls to JCPenney for Easter pictures (I cannot resist). It was SNOWING like a ridiculous amount even though it was in the 30s so nothing was sticking, but there were huge flakes falling fast and then instant slush and mud on the ground. I took a picture of the girls in Easter outfits in front of the glass door with a blizzard behind them.

At the start of our photo session, I thought we'd hit a sweet spot in ages where the girls would be totally cooperative. Three photos in, I was dragging Zuzu outside the room to threaten her with not attending a birthday party if she didn't go in there and SMILE without squinting her eyes closed and grimacing and she'd better quit being disrespectful about the photographer's time. (Twice a year we do these portraits and twice a year David tells me I'm crazy and twice a year I agree with him, but then the next year I pull out the frames mixed in with holiday decorations that have last year's Christmas or Easter photo in them and I forget everything except how damn cute they are). She ended up being marginally cooperative, but it was maddening. Coco wasn't quite as bad except her fake smile includes a really disturbing vacant expression that the photographer managed to capture multiple times.

After JCP, we dropped David at home and then went to visit Coco's best friend and her new baby brother. The girls played together beautifully and I had a great time chatting with E's parents.

Confession: I didn't hold the baby. He was very sweet and cute and a part of me even wanted to hold him, but I still struggle a little with new babies and this guy was just two weeks old. I said that I was worried about germs and didn't want to expose him to anything, which is true because this winter has been brutal for sickness, though the illnesses at my house have been more inconvenient than worrisome, obviously your concern is heightened when you're talking about a newborn. But also I think I didn't want my heart to ache for another baby and I just didn't want that level of emotion that I feel about babies. KEEP it LIGHT. We had a lot of Sunday to get through.

We left their house to take Coco home and then drive Zuzu to a birthday party at the Magic House. The Magic House is not my favorite attraction in the St. Louis area. Don't get me wrong--it's cool. But it's always crowded and not easy to keep track of quick-moving kiddos and I had a headache and of the moms I asked at the party, one of them had a single aspirin which I was about ready to CHEW just to remedy the pounding head but swallowed like a normal person with water and it did help but you know how kid birthday parties are... I really like the sweet little girl whose party we were celebrating--one time Coco was teary at drop off and this girl paid such special attention to her and tried to get her to feel better. But even so it was kids running everywhere and I was lugging around two coats and a purse and a cup of water and I really wanted to just take a hot bath and go to bed.

But we got home just in time to have our neighbors over for dinner! I'd been looking forward to it. We have really nice neighbors at the bottom of our hill and we share part of a driveway with them and their daughter has babysat for us before. We wanted to get to know them better and they have been so nice since we moved. David put together an amazing meal of smoked tri tip and salmon and twice baked potatoes and broccoli and bread and buttered noodles for the girls. It was really fun, but with the time change and visiting, we ended up not putting the girls to bed until 8pm, which was too late for them. Coco actually asked to go to bed, which was hilarious but also made me feel like a negligent parent! (Also, Zuzu would never, ever ask to go to bed, no matter how exhausted she was. They are so different.)

Anyway, spring break starts today with getting through a stack of grading and a few housekeeping things. Also finishing a cardboard barrel. I'm feeling pretty good about it so far, but we'll see!

Friday, March 9, 2018

Conversations with Zuzu and Coco

Scene: Coco shoving a stuffed animal in Zuzu's face.

Zuzu: Coco! The bunny doesn't toot in people's faces! That's RUDE!

* * *

Scene: Coco wonders aloud if she'll be put in a group with her best friend for the upcoming preschool field trip.

Backstory: She recently bit her best friend on the arm because E sat next to the teacher during story time and Coco wanted to sit there and E would not scoot over. We talked a lot about how we only bite food.

Coco: We can't sit together because we bit together. And we are not food!

Zuzu: (matter-of-factly) But we are made out of meat.

* * *

Scene: Driving to school. Contemplating the moon that is still visible in the sky even though the sun is up.

Zuzu: The moon is actually in space.

Coco: I don't like space because it's a long way to fall.

* * *

Scene: Looking through a Disney princess cookbook Zuzu checked out from the library (she's really into the nonfiction section these days). Backstory: David made cupcakes with the girls last week and we didn't have frosting so he tried to improvise and I don't know what he did but the "frosting" he created ruined all of the cupcakes.

David: Well, we can't make that because we don't have those ingredients.

Zuzu: What do we need?

David: Cupcake mix and gummy treats.

Zuzu: Oh, yeah. We can't make that. You make horrible cupcakes with gross frosting.

David: (silent, looks offended)

Zuzu: (shrugs) I'm true.

* * *

Scene: In our kitchen.

Coco: I have to go to the bathroom! I need to pee and poop.

Me: Well, go! You don't want to have an accident.

Coco: I want someone to watch me.

Me: Coco, honey, people don't like to watch other people poop.

Zuzu: (laughing) Oh, Mom. You're so adorable when you say that.

Thursday, March 8, 2018

Annie Edson Taylor and Zuzu's Feminism

The kindergartners at Zuzu's school are each choosing a famous American to research for a presentation. They get to dress up as that famous American for the presentation. My understanding is that the teachers checked out a bunch of different biographies for children and they selected a famous person featured in one of the books.

On the way to school the morning of the choice, I really talked up Rosa Parks. How AWESOME was she to protest on a bus? Wasn't it great that she started a huge movement for equality that we still want to be part of?

Other girls in Zuzu's class chose people like Jane Adams, Juliette Gordon Low, and Sacajawea.

Zuzu chose... Annie Edson Taylor.

The first woman to survive going over Niagara Falls in a barrel.

If you need me this weekend, I'll be crafting a barrel out of a cardboard box. Don't worry--I found a YouTube video on how to DIY this.

I sent Zuzu's teacher a link to this article the other day because it aligns so strongly with the Montessori philosophy, as well as the way I want to parent. Her teacher's response included this gem:

"Caroline is one child who is especially in tune with what she loves to do! It's wonderful to observe!"


Zuzu is definitely in tune with what she loves to do. And she really doesn't care very much at all if it meets anyone else's expectations or desires. Her teacher put such a generous spin on that personality trait, which is one of many reasons she is a wonderful teacher!

I was talking this over with a friend in the context of a conversation we'd been having about this past week's This American Life. which is kind of a spin off the #metoo movement and follows five women who worked for the same guy and their experiences, reactions, and expectations of sexual harassment in the workplace. My friend's comment about Zuzu was, "I hope she will use that trait in the future to avoid tolerating shitty behavior from others because she thinks her desires should be secondary. It's very feminist of her."

Yes! This! Exactly! I want to nurture and encourage this take-no-shit attitude. I want her to be as fierce and confident at 15 and 25 as she is at 5.

I definitely don't want her going over Niagara Falls in a barrel, though.

So maybe she can be fierce and confident and also be willing to listen to her mother? I mean, is that really too much to ask?

Wednesday, February 28, 2018

The Perfect Novel?

I'm teaching a class this fall that I'm (1) pretty much unqualified for and (2) totally excited about. It's called The Craft of Novel Writing and we're going to... wait for it... write a novel! We're going to participate in NaNoWriMo in the month of November, and we're going to read a couple books about craft of writing and a novel.

So here's my big quandary. I want my students to read The Perfect Novel. One that is literary but also accessible. 20th or 21st century (not that I don't love the Victorians, but we're not working a three-volume Dickensian novel here.) I need one that is not too long, so we have time to read it, outline, and kind of dissect it to see what makes it work. A novella would be fine. YA novels are fair game, but The Hate U Give is too long and also being read by most of our English majors this semester in a class on YA lit being taught by one of my colleagues.

At the moment I'm considering The Great Gatsby... it's got easily traceable themes, not too long, not too many characters, a very specific writing style... but extra points if you can suggest a novel not written by a white dude. (No offense to white dudes, but because their voices are so often heard in the world, I like to highlight other voices.) Gatsby would work. But I'm not excited about it, you know?

Any great suggestions? Like the novel you read that made you think you wanted to write a novel? It's  a line we have to navigate carefully because it can't be so wonderful that it's off-putting--like "No one else should even write anything because it will never measure up to Beloved."

And I don't really want sci-fi or dystopia because I'm hoping to gently nudge my students away from those go-to genres (unless they're set on it, and then that's fine... it's their book). The form needs to be standard-ish, so nothing like Lincoln in the Bardo, although first person or third person narrator is okay. Multiple narrators might be too ambitious for us.


I was thinking about A Wrinkle in Time but it's too weird. Ruling it out.

The Catcher in the Rye? I used to love this book and now I can't stand it. (Go ahead and give me my I'm Officially an Adult and Also Really Lame badge).

Something that was a recent best seller? I'm looking at this list and I want to read ALL OF THESE, starting with Ill Will and Sing, Unburied, Sing but I don't have time to read the whole list before I decide. And I am pretty sure I should read the book (or at least skim it) before I choose it, and I need to decide SOON. Like, within a week.

(For the record: I've been thinking about this since before Christmas and I still haven't reached a decision.)

Share your thoughts please!

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

3 Things on My Mind


Have you all heard of the enneagram personality types?

I'm a fan of personality quizzes. I'm a Myers-Briggs INFJ. (Introverted, Intuitive, Feeling, Judging.) Of the Four Tendencies, I'm a Questioner.

I think it's fun to recognize myself in these descriptions, and to consider strengths and weaknesses based on the way I tend to respond in specific situations.

When I first heard about the Enneagram, I didn't think any of the descriptions fit me. Also they all seemed kind of unpleasant! But I started reading and listening to podcasts more about them, and I realized that I am a hardcore 4 - The Individualist (sometimes called The Romantic).

I think the reason I initially felt that enneagram skews negative is because they talk about the best and worst case personality features, or the ways we tend to behave when we're making healthy choices and the ways we tend to behave when we are stressed or making unhealthy choices. A big one that rang true for me is a tendency to withdraw--remember how I dropped off Facebook after Eliza died? I basically dropped out of life. And I imagine that is true for many people who are deeply grieving after they lose a loved one, but it's not necessarily true for everyone. Some people find energy and comfort in being surrounded by others, but that was really hard for me (and other 4's, as it turns out!). Anyway, there are lots of books and podcasts on the topic, but if you just want to dip your toe in, here's a quiz and here's an explanation of the personality types.

Oh, and most people get two or even three similarly scored on the quiz, so the best advice is just to read the types and see which one resonates with you, or, in my case, which one you resist the most. It just might be revealing something about you!

At the advice of my friend Monica, I signed up for their daily e-mails (based on your type) and the ones I've gotten have been hilariously spot on. They basically encourage you to do something good for yourself that might go against type. One said, "As a withdrawn type, you tend to be too disconnected from your body. Get active with something like cycling, yoga, or jogging."

It's like UGH STOP KNOWING WHO I AM, Enneagram!

(Also, I did yoga yesterday and this morning, probably because of that e-mail.)

* * *


I saw George Saunders speak at our local library last Saturday and he was wonderful. I want to take his classes and be his best friend. He was charming and self-deprecating and funny and delightful. I so appreciated hearing him talk about his own writing process and the "line by line" approach he takes, and how that helps him divorce himself from his work so that he can revise and edit with a clear eye for improvement. It was truly inspiring and it has been something I've reflected on every day since as I do my own writing.

If you haven't read George Saunders, he has written a lot of brilliant, quirky, weird, dark, and funny short stories. I bought his collection The Tenth of December after seeing him speak. He also wrote a novel called Lincoln in the Bardo which is a fascinating tale of Lincoln after his eleven-year-old son Willie dies, but it's not just about Lincoln, it's also about spirits in a cemetery. It doesn't have a traditional narrative, but is almost written like a script with many voices and excerpts from historical books and papers--some of which are real and some of which are completely invented by Saunders.

The audio book is amazing--they got different people to voice every single character. Some are actors (notably Nick Offerman, whom you may know as Ron from Parks and Recreation, and Megan Mullalley, whom you may know as Karen from Will and Grace or as Tammy 2 from Parks and Recreation). But there were so many--over 100 separate voices--so Saunders told us that his parents, his siblings, his wife and kids, basically everyone he knows has a small part in the audio book. I listened to a lot of it (I got it through the OverDrive app connected to my library), but honestly the parts about Lincoln's grief are so beautifully and truthfully done that I was crying too much in the car on the way to work and had to stop. Still, I think if I were visiting it for the first time, I would read it and then listen to it. It's worth doing both. Such a strange, lovely, heartbreaking and funny little book.

(Also Saunders won both a McArthur genius grant and a Man Booker prize, so I'm not the only person who thinks it's brilliant.)

Speaking of writing, I signed up for a sort of guided online writing class. It's called Truth Collaborative and when I got a discount code I decided to do it as a way to jump start my own writing. I've been wanting to get back into my book project and doing more writing in general, but I knew I needed something to kick me into gear. So... spending money on something that has guidelines and lessons and "due dates" and a "teacher" who will give me feedback? Yes to all those things. I've really enjoyed it and the writing that it has prompted me to do. Honestly, a lot of it has been familiar because I did so much blogging and journaling after Eliza died, but obviously that has shifted in more recent years/months, so this was a nice refocus for me.

* * *

I. Just. Don't. Get. It.

I saw this headline today:

Florida Legislature rejects weapons ban with massacre survivors en route to Capitol

How is this possible? How is it possible that a bunch of old white dudes decides that we're not going to ban weapons made to kill people after a guy just slaughtered a bunch of kids and high school teachers with an assault rifle? How will these people sleep at night? What excuse do you tell yourself to justify voting no on whether to debate this as a possibility? This was a move toward conversation and discussion about regulation and potentially banning some kinds of weapons. How do you say no to that? And how do you say no to a bus full of kids who have just survived a living nightmare? Kids who in just a few years (or months) will be voting?

I hope the Millennials rise like a tidal wave and clean house in these legislative bodies that are self-serving and not working for the best interests of the people they represent.

90% of American support common sense gun laws. 100% of concerned parents want to keep their kids safe.

I have friends and family members who practice conceal and carry in the state of Missouri. I can't imagine one of them who would resist a background check, training course, and permit associated with the privilege of carrying a hidden, loaded weapon. (Yes, you read that right. You don't need a permit to conceal and carry in Missouri. You just need to be 19.) Honestly, it just makes me want to cry. You want a "well-regulated militia"? Fine. Then regulate it.

Thursday, February 15, 2018

So Many Things

I've got to start with Florida. Another school shooting.

I called Roy Blunt this morning (his Washington office number is 202-224-5721). I said that I'm calling because I'm so concerned about the shooting and I said that we have to put into place common sense regulation of automatic rifles. I also said that I want to see Senator Blunt stop taking money from the NRA and I'll be watching his campaign donations closely. I think it's immoral to take money from gun lobbyists in light of the mass murders that take place on a regular basis in our country.

I'm from a small town where hunting kicks off the holiday season. I know tons of people who are gun owners. The point is NOT to take away guns (and Obama was never trying to do that, no matter what some people think). The point is to keep guns away from dangerous people and that no one outside of law enforcement needs to own military grade weapons.

And I know the old argument that if you make guns illegal, only criminals will own them. I roll my eyes at this. If you limit accessibility to military grade weapons, we will pay much closer attention to who is buying (or trying to buy) them. We don't need to be pumping out into circulation weapons that make it so easy to kill massive amounts of people.

It is morally wrong not to regulate the accessibility of machines that can kill people--just as we regulate automobiles.

Everyday, my entire family goes to school. Elementary school or university, each one of us shows up to a place that could easily be a target for a shooter who wants to make some kind of sick statement. It is terrifying, and there is no way to twist it around so that I feel safer. Small school, big school, elementary school, high school, rural community, suburban community... It could happen anywhere, and you never think it could happen to you until it does.

* * *

We reined things in for Valentines this year... I got the girls each a Shimmer and Shine activity book and a ring pop and some candy hearts and a book to read. They were THRILLED--mostly with the Shimmer and Shine stuff--but I was delighted with the two books I gave them, which we read last night.

Coco got Love by Matt de la Pena, which is so beautifully written and beautifully illustrated. We read it together and then she wanted to read it, which means she looks at the pictures and makes something up, and then turns the book around to show us the pictures like she is a teacher. (I love it when she reads.) It also made me realize how much We Stories has influenced the way we talk about books and illustrations, because even though ALL I DID was read the book as it is written--a book about how families love each other--when she started reading it, she said, "Some people have darker skin and some people have lighter skin. And she is the mom and he is the dad."

Zuzu got Each Kindness by Jacqueline Woodson, and it hit me right in the feels. It's also pitched perfectly to where Zuzu is intellectually/socially/developmentally right now. It's a little long for Coco, but Zuzu was completely wrapped up in the story and when I got to the end, she asked me to read it again. And it's short enough that I was happy to oblige.

SPOILER ALERT: It's about a new girl at school and the narrator noticing that the new girl, Maya, doesn't have nice clothes or new shoes. She sits by the narrator, by the narrator won't return her smile. The narrator already has a group of friends, so she says no when Maya wants to play. And she doesn't speak up when others say mean things. Then one day, the teacher talks about kindness and the ripple effect of putting kindness out in the world, and the narrator realizes that she wants to be kind to Maya--but it's too late. Maya's family has moved.

I can't tell you how much I liked that the book didn't have some cutesy wrap up where Maya comes over for a slumber party or something. It felt so real and honest, and Zuzu seemed to understand Maya's loneliness and the narrator's regret at the end of the book. She told me, "I think Maya is poor," and when I asked what she would do, she said that she would be kind. She also thought people were mean to Maya because they were jealous of her, which I thought was interesting. SO COMPLEX!

* * *

I want to wrap this up with three things, but I have a massage scheduled and I need to get out of here. If someone could just massage away the stress of my committee work, my personal anxieties, and that stack of grading I need to get through, that would be amazing.

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

Butter Making

I feel like everyone who reads this has probably seen these pictures on IG and FB, but I had to recap our butter lesson here. Zuzu gave us a lesson, just like she was a little Montessori teacher.

She had previously made a list of what we needed.

In case you don't read Kindergartener, that says:

and then she drew a picture of a colander

So we followed the list and got everything ready. Then, she poured the cream. (You can see little sister was an enthusiastic student.)

Dropping in a pinch of salt.

Then you shake it.

And when you don't hear the marble anymore, you open the container.

And pour out the butter!

Spread it on your crackers.

Little Sister needed a closer look.

Serve! Zuzu was so proud to teach us how to make butter. I mean, she was just beaming. She was SO proud of herself and so happy. Honestly, I got teary-eyed because you could just feel the pride and happiness radiating off of her. I took several blurry pictures because she was gesturing so wildly as she expressed herself, and she could not stop grinning.

And she was also enthusiastic about eating it.

Coco watched the lesson, so then she got to try.

We've got lots of fresh butter at our house now. Bring some saltine crackers and come on over.

Monday, February 5, 2018

February is the New January

I am not exaggerating when I say that Friday was the first day since January 1 that I felt like my old self in terms of my energy level.

I have therefore declared February the new January and I am starting my new year now, by crossing off tasks like: "Organize cabinets in laundry room" and "Get caught up on laundry."

Listen, after an entire month of wanting to go to bed at 8pm, productivity feels really good.

We had a fun weekend with my parents in town. The girls started ballet and tap, which was super cute. Somehow I didn't get any pictures of them in their outfits, but they were both into it. The dance academy they're going is kind of unusual, because parents can't watch the classes. There is a waiting room, but then instructor closes the door to the dance studio and there aren't any windows to observe. We can hear the instructor (I heard her say, "Good, Coco!" quite a few times #mombrag) but we can't watch. In fact, most parents drop off and come back to pick up at the end of the hour. I felt kind of sad about this for a second, because wouldn't it be nice to watch the cuteness? And then I was like... A free hour on Saturday morning???? I think I can get used to it.

* * *

Zuzu's behavior this past week had lots of room for improvement. And I kept getting reduced to using her best friend's birthday party as leverage, which means I have no idea what I'm going to do this week when I can't threaten to call Gemma's dad and say we're not going to her party.

We just finished reading Ramona the Pest and have moved to Ramona the Brave and my girl Zuzu may be the big sister, but she is definitely more Ramona than Beezus.

{Insert the inevitable curiosity about the kind of Beezus Eliza might have been...}

Coco has been observing Zuzu's behavior closely, particularly when Zuzu gets in trouble, and after we have scolded Zuzu, Coco will pipe up, "Mama, am I doing the right thing?"

Coco may not be a Ramona, but she is figuring out how to be a pest to her big sister.

* * *

The girls finished up their Valentines last night, which has me patting myself on the back for being ahead of the game. There might have been a moment when my coaching/encouragement of mermaid creation got a little bossy, because Zuzu said, "Mommy! These are not YOUR Valentines! These are MY Valentines!"

I was actually really embarrassed to realize that I had been overstepping in giving directions, so I told her that she was right and she could draw their mouths however she wanted.

And that's why some of her friends will be getting meth teeth mermaids. #happyvalentinesday #thissirenwantstodrownyou

* * *

Oh, and Coco doesn't do the right thing all the time...

My dad was having the girls work on a craft project where they wound string around nails to make hearts and he left the scissors and yard on the table. I walked through the kitchen and noticed that there was also a comb on the table (which grosses me out) and long strands of hair in the comb (which I initially assumed was doll hair).

Some investigation later, we determined that Coco had YET AGAIN cut her hair. Only one small section, but cut down to the scalp.

I told her that she did not do the right thing, and I asked her why she keeps cutting her hair short if she wants it to grow long. She couldn't answer me, but she was obviously embarrassed.

Then David said quietly, "Coco, I'm very disappointed."

And Coco ran behind a chair and cried and told me that she didn't like it when Daddy screamed at her.

I'm hoping maybe David's disappointment is enough to put her off DIY makeovers, but we'll see. In the meantime, we're reinforcing the All Scissors Out of Reach Rule.

* * *

Oh, and my mom and I took Zuzu to see The Sound of Music this weekend. It was a great show, of course, and we really enjoyed it. Truth be told, I think Zuzu was a little young for the show. She got restless and had a lot of questions and couldn't always remember to whisper them.

But she was a good sport, and she did pay close attention to what was happening on stage. She followed the plot pretty well, especially when you consider she doesn't have any context for nuns or Nazis. And she definitely enjoyed the music and even did some singing along, which I thought was super cute.

She also rocked a dinosaur purse, made out of construction paper and staples.

Looking good and feeling good! Here's to the New January: February. May it feel short and sweet.

Tuesday, January 30, 2018

January in the Rear View

So the month of January is gone tomorrow and guess how much exercising I did this month? I was doing great on daily yoga with Adriene until I stopped being able to breathe without coughing, which was somewhere around Day 8.

ANYWAY, I'm giving myself the permission of the blank slate and we'll let February be the month for exercise! (Honestly, my ribs are still a little sore, but I think I can ease my way back in with yoga, and I expect it will be good for me.)

As far as other resolutions... meal planning is going swimmingly because David has been 100% on board. We talk about meals on Sunday, laying out which nights we have stuff going on, and he does the lion's share of food prep. It's been awesome! We've also gotten Blue Apron two weeks out of the month, and making dinner just feels EASIER when all the ingredients are ready to go that way. Plus the meals were really super good. Doing a premade casserole or enchilada or lasagna on Sunday is also a way to win at life during the week.

We still occasionally fall into the trap of making a completely different meal for the kids. I want to be all French Kids Eat Everything about life, but in reality my kids sometimes just eat noodles with butter and Parmesan cheese.

We are about to enter some hilarious adventures in homesteading as the girls have been making butter at school and they are desperate for us to make some at home. We're borrowing a little churn container from their school (it's just a plastic jar with a screw on lid and a marble in it) and picking up some heavy whipping cream at the grocery store today to see what we can do. Zuzu is adamant that we get saltine crackers on which to spread the butter, because that's what they have at school.

I'm also filing this under "Do more fun stuff" because it honestly does sound kind of fun to me and the girls are crazy excited about it.

I'm also wanting to look up the chapter in Little House on the Prairie on churning butter... I can picture the illustration with Laura standing at the butter churn. I'm trying to remember if there's also a section about making butter in Understood Betsy, which is another favorite of mine from when I was a kid.

Zuzu and I are almost finished with Ramona the Pest and we read Beezus and Ramona. Our progress is occasionally slowed by reading her book of Greek mythology, which she finds spooky and fascinating. The story of Cronos eating all his children is kind of alarming. She really likes Hermes's winged sandals and wants me to find a similar pair for her.

I've been asking the girls questions from this Q&A a day journal that I did for like a month in 2017 and then forgot about... Anyway it's cute, but Coco's answers crack me up because every one of them is about her best friend, Evelyn, at school.

Q. What games do you like to play?
A. Wif Evelyn!

Q. What snacks do you like?
A. Crackers. Wif Evelyn! We sit on the floor!

Q. What pet would you like?
A. Evelyn has a pet?

Even Zuzu commented, "She sure is talking a lot about Evelyn!"

It's a bit obsessive, but very sweet.

This morning I was fixing breakfast for the girls and Coco said, "I don't want to go anywhere dangerous."

I told her that I thought that was fine and she didn't need to go anywhere dangerous.

She followed that statement with, "I don't want you to go to jail, Mommy."

I assured her that I am not going to go to jail, but I'm really wondering what's going on in her head.

Maybe it has something to do with me discovering both girls inside the washing machine yesterday? They've never climbed in the washer or dryer before, but something possessed them to crawl inside it and it just almost made my heart stop to find them in there with the door closed (but not latched). I tried to explain it was dangerous and compared it to the time Coco zipped Zuzu inside a suitcase and she didn't like it. Anyway, they weren't in any real danger but it still felt terrifying... mostly to think about one of them closing the door and hitting a button with the other one inside. I don't even want to think about it, and I kept telling them how dangerous it was (I didn't say anything about jail, though!).

Last night I slept poorly because I had bad dreams about mice and rats. I think it's from listening to The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, which talks about the German occupation of the Guernsey island during WWII, and has some discussion of work camps and the sleeping quarters there (infested with rats).

I've read the book before, but it's such a good one that I was delighted when my book club decided to read it for this month. I am actually listening to the audio version, which is even better because it's an epistolary novel (written as a series of letters back and forth) so different readers do each of the different character's voices and it is SO great. Makes me look forward to my commute.

Thursday, January 25, 2018

Multicultural Children's Book Day #ReadYourWorld

Tomorrow is officially Multicultural Children's Book Day.

I was recently given the opportunity to review a children's book, and of course I jumped at the chance.

My family signed up for the We Stories program in St. Louis over a year ago, and I'm not exaggerating when I say that the experience has been life-changing. Some of it has been small things--we've consciously expanded our library to be more diverse and multicultural, and we've had open and honest (and sometimes awkward) conversations with our kids about race, color, ethnicity, religion, and injustice. Some of it has been bigger, mind-opening things, in terms of my recognition of privilege, segregation, systemic racism in my community, and a desire to organize within my community.

One of the markers of white privilege is that we can assume a book character is white unless or until we are told differently. Picture books obviously make appearances very clear from the beginning, so while I've loved and appreciated books that are specifically about complicated racial issues (books like The Story of Ruby Bridges and This is the Rope), I have come to really appreciate books where race is not necessarily central to the plot, yet the book features a child of color. I think it's important for white kids not to assume everyone in the world looks like them.

The book I was given to review is a sweet little board book called Baby Loves Aerospace Engineering. It's written by Ruth Spiro, illustrated by Irene Chan, and published by Charlesbridge, and it does double-duty by featuring a child of color and introducing small kids to the idea of aerospace engineering.

The title alone was a draw, and it just so happens that the baby who loves aerospace engineering has light brown skin, dark hair, and dark eyes. There's no specific discussion of race or skin color, and I don't think it's a conversation that needs to be forced, either (although if I were reading it with my older daughter, I probably would want to talk about how engineers can be men or women and can have many different colors of skin). This is a board book, so it's geared toward the three-and-under crowd, and it simply gives us the opportunity for my kids to see a person of color doing cool stuff (in this case, wondering how things fly).

As a board book, the story line is not complicated, but the illustrations are charming and the idea of a child's interest in airplanes or space ships becoming an more grown-up interest in aerospace engineering is something I'd definitely want to encourage! This would make a sweet gift at a baby shower, especially paired with a toy space ship.

Many of us live in pretty segregated societies, and our interactions with people from different races, religions, or cultures may be limited. While I do think it's important to take steps to make changes on the community level, small decisions at home matter, too. One of the decisions we've made is intentionally expanding our library to embrace diversity. I hope that some of my children's favorite books are about characters who don't look like them, but with whom they can connect in other ways.

What I've learned from We Stories is that it's not about being "colorblind." It's about acknowledging difference, correcting injustices, and celebrating diversity--which is what Multicultural Children's Book Day is all about!

Important info and resources for teachers, parents, and homeschoolers:

Multicultural Children’s Book Day 2017 (1/27/18) is in its 5th year and was founded by Valarie Budayr from Jump Into A Book and Mia Wenjen from PragmaticMom. Our mission is to raise awareness of the ongoing need to include kids’ books that celebrate diversity in home and school bookshelves while also working diligently to get more of these types of books into the hands of young readers, parents and educators. 

Current Sponsors:  MCBD 2018 is honored to have some amazing Sponsors on board.
2018 MCBD Medallion Sponsors
BRONZE: Barefoot Books, Carole P. Roman, Charlesbridge Publishing, Dr. Crystal BoweGokul! World, Green Kids Club, Gwen Jackson, Jacqueline Woodson, Juan J. Guerra, Language Lizard, Lee & Low Books, RhymeTime Storybooks, Sanya Whittaker Gragg, TimTimTom Books, WaterBrook & Multnomah, Wisdom Tales Press

2018 Author Sponsors

We’d like to also give a shout-out to MCBD’s impressive CoHost Team who not only hosts the book review link-up on celebration day, but who also works tirelessly to spread the word of this event. View our CoHosts HERE.
TWITTER PARTY Sponsored by Scholastic Book Clubs: MCBD’s super-popular (and crazy-fun) annual Twitter Party will be held 1/27/18 at 9:00pm.
Join the conversation and win one of 12-5 book bundles and one Grand Prize Book Bundle (12 books) that will be given away at the party!
Free Multicultural Books for Teachers:
Free Empathy Classroom Kit for Homeschoolers, Organizations, Librarians and Educators:

Hashtag: Don’t forget to connect with us on social media and be sure and look for/use our official hashtag #ReadYourWorld.

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Updates, Kid Commentary, That's All

How about an update on my fascinating illness? I have an official diagnosis of bronchitis and definitely a strained ligament in my ribs.

I took a muscle relaxer for the first time ever last night. Also a pain pill. (My doctor said it was fine to take both.) Let me tell you, I did feel fine. Loopy, but better! I was slurring words as I tried to read Ramona the Pest to Zuzu and then I fell asleep in her bed at 7:30pm (responsible parent of the year) but I did get a good night's sleep (David woke me up so I could move to my own bed, but Zuzu later joined us there anyway). I felt great when I woke up this morning, but moving, talking, laughing, coughing, all hurt on some level, so now that the day is wearing on, I am wearing out. Still, I feel like I'm on the mend, so all that is an improvement.

Also my weight at the doctor's office was eight pounds higher than I was expecting, which was an unpleasant shock, but also perhaps an indication that I've done no physical activity since January 1 (okay, let's be honest, it was a while before the holidays...), especially when I fell off my yoga commitment in the new year because I couldn't stop coughing.

Anyway, the pain is making me cranky and short tempered and my students are afraid of me, so yay.

I finished reading When They Call You a Terrorist by Patrisse Khan-Cullors and it was fascinating and heartbreaking and infuriating. The lack of mental health support for marginalized and impoverished young people is almost unbelievable. It becomes a law enforcement issue and kids are jailed instead of helped. It's so cruel and wrong that it's hard to read about. The book gave me a new perspective on the Black Lives Matter movement, and how intersectional Patrisse Cullors intended for it to be. Another one I recommend!

Last night as I was shuttling the girls home from school by way of the pharmacy drive through, I overheard Zuzu say in the backseat, "I'm very sorry, Coco, but tomorrow, I won't be able to play with you at school." Coco was saddened, "No! I want to play with you!" Zuzu said, "Well, you can play with Evelyn, but I won't be there."

At that point, I interrupted. "What do you mean, you won't be there?"

Zuzu explained that tomorrow is the 100th day of school, so she wouldn't be there anymore.

I said, "I don't know anything about a field trip. Where are you going?"

"No, Moooom. I'm going to my new school."

Turns out, she was completely convinced that the 100th day of school was kindergarten graduation and she was headed to first grade the next day.

And--get this--when I tried to explain that was incorrect, she argued with me and refused to be convinced. I ended up saying stupid things like, "I KNOW THIS because I'm a grown up and I'm your mom and I read all the notes your school sends home." and she was like, "Meh. This is what happened last year and this is what's going to happen tomorrow."

I ended up texting her teacher to say "Just so you know..." I mean, I'm sure 100 days does feel like an incredibly long amount of time, so Zuzu probably thinks kindergarten must be over now, but it just kills me that there was no argument I could make that would convince her otherwise! She's such a nut. Anyway, I hope her teacher lets them down easy (because I'm sure she's convinced several other kindergarteners of the same!).

At her school, they are given "Accomplishments" each week (which are basically work assignments of various activities in the classroom), and once they've finished their accomplishments, then they have free choice. But there's freedom within their accomplishments as well. They have a list for Monday/Tuesday and a list of Wednesday/Thursday and they can choose other work to do on those days, too. Then if there's any carryover, Friday can be a make up day or a free choice day. From what I can tell, Zuzu is not one who is worried about crossing off her accomplishments. Zuzu will always, always, ALWAYS delay a non-preferred activity for a preferred one. The idea of "eating the frog" is absolutely the antithesis of her work philosophy. I have to admit, I can totally relate to that kind of procrastination...

As for Coco, my former barnacle has become quite the daddy's girl these days. And I'm totally jealous. She's still a sweetheart for me, but she's obsessed with David these days! And she's still such a great helper. She loves to fetch things from another room or throw things away for me or help me with any task (while Zuzu seems to have fast-forwarded past that phase of life and gone straight from toddler to tween eye rolling when asked to assist with any non-preferred activity). This morning she pitched a fit because "I don't wanna walk wif you downstairs, I want you to carry me!" but I couldn't carry her because I have a strained ligament that barely lets me breathe normally. Anyway, she stopped crying when I asked her to make me coffee, and really she could do it herself and she does a better job than David does (he rarely makes me coffee because he doesn't drink it, but he always ends up with grinds everywhere... as in outside the filter and in the coffee).

Are you following The Conscious Kid on IG? You should. Great book recs and commentary on raising big-hearted kids.

Ok. Off to eat a frog by way of writing an exam on Hamlet.

Monday, January 22, 2018

Day 22 of Cough; Day 3 of Painful Breathing

I started not feeling well on January 1. We got home from our holiday travels and I gave in to the cold and spent January 2 and 3 on the couch. On the 4th, I dragged myself to campus and spent two full days in the office preparing for the spring semester.

Now it is the 22nd. And I have not stopped coughing since January 1.

Perhaps it wasn't the wisest idea to join a mile-long march and chant loudly while breathing in the chilly January air on Saturday, but except for the cough, all my other symptoms had pretty much cleared up. No fever, no headaches, sinuses were fine. I just couldn't quit hacking.

Well, after getting home from the march, I was coughing more and more. I took a bath, which helped, but once I was out of the warm, steamy tub, the cough was back in full force. And finally I coughed so hard that something twisted/strained/broke??? in my chest wall. And now when I cough, sneeze (God forbid--that's the worst), laugh, blow my nose, or breathe fully, I feel a stabbing pain in my ribs. And I don't mean a stabbing pain like "Oh, that was a weird twinge." I mean holy-effing-crap, I need to go fetal position on the floor right now.

This is where I was yesterday afternoon when I finally decided I had to go to urgent care.

Now, I know that I'm a whiny special snowflake with very thin skin, and there is hardly a commercial for the winter olympics that won't make me teary-eyed, but when it comes to physical pain tolerance, it's a different story. Please keep in mind that I've birthed three babies without epidurals. In eighth grade, I tried out for cheerleading with a broken toe (I didn't make the squad, and I cried more over my wounded pride than I did over the painful toe). I've walked around New York City with blistered feet and strep throat and I just clenched my jaw and dealt with it (then I flew home and got penicillin). I sprained my ankle in college so badly that the doctors told me a broken ankle probably would have hurt less, and when using crutches for two weeks was too much of a hassle for my third-floor-walk-up dorm room, I ditched the crutches after five days and just hobbled around.

All this to say, emotionally, I am a very delicate flower. Physically, I can grit my teeth and get through just about anything.

Also, I do not think I get sick very often, and yet when I do, I get very little sympathy from my husband. I try not to whine excessively, but then I feel like he is completely brushing aside my totally legit and very real illness/distress.

So yesterday, when a sneeze had me in tears, on the floor, and then my strategy of only taking shallow breaths so as to avoid the stabbing pain in my chest was making me feel panicky, I decided to ignore his rather dismissive "Why I don't get you a couple advil and an ice pack?" and go to urgent care (special thanks to my nurse friend, Michelle, who encouraged me to get seen). I drove myself, which I probably shouldn't have done, because a coughing fit would have made me a danger behind the wheel.

Urgent Care swooped in with two shots, a chest x-ray, and three prescriptions, so I left feeling exhausted, relieved, and validated. I'm following up with my regular doctor today, though, because this morning was rough. I can't raise my voice without coughing or breathing, and getting my kids out the door on a Monday is never easy. Especially a Monday after I've been kind of out of commission all weekend. I spent a good chunk of Saturday at the March, then on the couch, and most of Sunday in bed or at Urgent Care.

As a result, I was not well organized for Monday morning, which meant that Coco got to school without her pillow and stuffy AND her winter boots. Normally we just keep her winter boots at school and they wear them for outdoor play all winter, but she had an accident on Friday so she'd worn them home because her tennis shoes had pee on them. I did manage to get her shoes washed, but I forgot about her boots. I ended up circling back to go home to get her pillow and stuffy and boots because she was in tears about the pillow and because I didn't want her to destroy the new little shoes she wore today playing out in the mud. But I couldn't find her winter boots in the laundry/mud room and I didn't have the energy to search further. So I took her rain boots instead. She cried again when I showed back up and said she wanted me to stay or she wanted to go home and that is so unlike Coco, especially because her class was celebrating a friend's birthday today. So that was rough. I mean, have you guys SEEN her sad face?

Heartbreaking. And my chest was already killing me.

(I feel the same, but look less cute.)

There was also some shoe-drama with Zuzu before leaving the house because it's not FAIR that Coco has way many more shoes than Zuzu and Zuzu wants to wear a new pair of shoes that are two sizes too big for her and she wants her shoes to match her outfit exactly because today she was a pink and red and purple valentine so her shoes could only be pink or red or purple. (We settled on silver, because her shirt had a silver heart on it, but only after crying and gnashing of teeth on the floor of the laundry room a full five minutes after I'd wanted to leave the house.)

I taught Hamlet even though I wasn't sure I was up for it because I was already in the car on my way to work and I put mascara on this morning even though I barely got any sleep last night, probably because of the steroid shot they gave me? I woke up at 2am and was WIDE AWAKE. Like read a chapter of a book and watched two episodes of The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel and scrolled Facebook and tried to go to sleep for HOURS kind of awake. I lay there until David's alarm went off at 6 and then finally dozed until almost 7. Brutal. But I took two more steroid pills this morning, so I don't feel tired, I just look like hell.

I was not my best in front of the classroom because (1) my unwashed hair and bags under my eyes and (2) I can't gesture wildly or speak very loudly, and (3) every time I cough (and once I did sneeze), I have to stop and in an effort to hold the part of my chest that hurts the most, I basically have to cup my right boob and wince in pain until the coughing subsides. #totallyprofessional. I did wear a large scarf to deliberately help cover some of the boob-grabbing. It just is a stabbing pain that goes from the front/side of my boob to my shoulder blade. I told my students that it was most likely a strained ligament (per Urgent Care doctor) but could be a blood clot (also per Urgent Care doctor) so if I passed out they should say that when they called 911.

To their credit, they looked concerned and seemed to pay more attention after that.

Anyway, I LOVE teaching Hamlet so it sucked to be in ongoing pain and not able to get as worked up about the potential incest plot. I'm ending my office hours early and heading home to lie down instead of sit and then I see my regular doctor this afternoon.

I will be newly appreciative of pain-free breathing once this clears up, so I encourage you all to take a deep breath and be grateful for it.

P.S. I was skeptical of The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel and now I'm all in. Thanks for the recommendation!

Thursday, January 18, 2018

Reading | Watching | Listening | Eating

I've read two excellent books in recent weeks (and that's not counting Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, which isn't my favorite book to read but is one of my favorite books to teach).

The first is Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi. I had this on my Amazon wishlist and got it for Christmas from my brother and his wife. It is SO good. It is crafted unlike anything I can remember reading before. It's almost a series of short stories, interrelated by generations of the same family, who trace their roots back to two sisters who are separated from one another in Africa just before the slave trade. One branch of the family remains in Africa; one branch of the family is enslaved in the United States. It carries up through the present day. Some sections were difficult to read, but all were beautifully written. You get all the information you need to get a complete sense of each character, and to feel fully invested in what happens to them, but I was always left wanting to read and know even more... until I'd get swept up in the next story. It was really so beautifully done. I highly recommend.

Another one I loved is Kelly Corrigan's Tell Me More. It's a series of essays about things she's practicing saying, and it's about family and friendship and grief and love and parenting and aging and it made me laugh and it made me want to underline. (I didn't underline, because I was borrowing my friend Michelle's book, but I did write down this quote: "But the truth is that I'm always teetering between a mature acceptance of life's immutables and a childish railing against the very same. In the time it takes to get the mail, I can slide from sanguine and full of purpose to pissed off and fuming.") She's raising two teenage daughters who are two years apart, so I liked to imagine it was a (sometimes scary!) glimpse into my future, but she also doesn't have the size/shape of family she'd hoped/planned for, partly resulting from her experience with cancer in her thirties. So I related to that, too. I really enjoyed it and it was a quick read for me. I get to go see her Monday at the library in St. Louis and I can't wait!


I watched two films over the weekend: Get Out and Whose Streets? They are totally different, but linked by common themes of racial injustice. Get Out is both funny and scary. It's fascinating and unflinching, even though it made me flinch a lot. I don't want to say too much about it other than it's about a black man going to meet his white girlfriend's parents and there are parts that get pretty violent.

Whose Streets is a documentary about the protests in Ferguson, Missouri after Michael Brown, an unarmed black man, was shot by a (white) police officer. The protests made national news, so I was aware of them as they were happening, but Michael Brown was killed the day I got home from the hospital with newborn Coco, so I wasn't really tuning in to local news. It was also the day I found out one of my best friends had breast cancer, so I was more inwardly focused than outwardly focused. Anyway, the film is really powerful. It helped me see why protesters continue to protest when many people (especially many white people) feel that it is futile or even counterproductive. It also made me think a lot about how violence is portrayed in the media. A man was killed and his body left lying in the street for hours. But it was the looting and burning of a gas station that was presented as the actions that we (white people) should be scared of. There was a particularly poignant moment when people behind fences in their own yards were being tear gassed and they are filming it with their own camera. You can hear a woman yell, "Where are you now, KSDK? MSNBC?" because the media coverage was certainly only covering part of what happened. And it was shocking to see the military response to a gathering that truly began as a peaceful candlelight vigil but then escalated into something else. Anyway, it made me hope that we can do better, and it made me think a lot about the role of police and what it means to protect and serve communities.


I've been listening to podcasts and audiobooks because of course I have. A podcast I'm enjoying is The Smartest Person in the Room. I'm only a couple of episodes in, but the host interviews people with interesting jobs--particularly in Hollywood and the film industry--and it has some fascinating behind-the-scenes info. For example, I didn't know what a Production Designer was. Now I kind of want to be one. I also had no idea how long it took to produce an animated film. Holy moly! Worth a listen.

Another app I use a lot is LibriVox. It's an audiobook app of books that are in the public domain (so lots of ninteenth century novels!). It's hugely helpful for me to listen to Frankenstein on my commute, and then I can skim as I reread before class. So if you've been wanting to tackle The Moonstone or Jane Eyre, you can totally do it with a free audio book through LibriVox. Fair warning: some readers are better than others, and some books are read by one reader while others have multiple readers, but for the most part I've found them easy to listen to and they make my commute time productive.


Maybe my favorite sweet treat is chocolate covered peanut butter filled pretzel bites. You can get these at Trader Joe's and I just discovered them at Whole Foods. I keep forgetting they are in my pantry, though, so I hope David hasn't eaten them all. So good.

Non-sweet favorite craving of late is roasted cauliflower and roasted chick peas with mustard. My mouth waters just typing that. I looooove Dijon mustard and I love everything about this recipe. There are lots of different versions, but I use this one.


Any recommendations for me? I'll read anything, watch anything not too scary or gross, listen to anything not boring, and eat anything vegetarian except mushrooms and olives. xo