Friday, September 06, 2013

I'm moving!

Hi friends! I just want to let you know that in the interest of streamlining my web traffic, I'm combining this blog and Beyond Toast. All posts will now be on one blog, whether they're food-related, book-related, parenting-related or otherwise. If you're a follower, please join me over there!

See you soon!


Friday, August 16, 2013

When We Just Need a Chance to Redeem Ourselves and Be Supermom

My 13-month-old suddenly has an affinity for babies. She's fascinated by them. She has a book of babies from around the world and suddenly, it's her favorite book. She excitedly points out babies everywhere we go (even some older than her, which leads me to wonder if she realizes she, too, is a "baby"). When we spent a week in Michigan last month, she developed an attachment to a baby doll in the toy box at her grandma's, so after we got home to Virginia, my sister-in-law and I went to Target to get her one of her own. I'll never forget the moment we turned down that all-pink doll aisle in the store. Her eyes grew wide, then wider. She held out her arms, took a deep breath, and exclaimed in a tone of complete awe, "baaaaaaabieeeeeees!"

We found some that were just the right size for her. There were so many options - a bath time version, a potty training version, one with a stroller, one with a car seat. She insisted on two - one for each hand. She would have nothing less. And while I don't usually just indulge her every whim, we were facing potential real tears, here. She was so overcome by the babies. Auntie Jen quickly suggested she get one to keep at her house. What a relief! Thank goodness for the understanding, generous love of aunties!

We took the bathtub version home with us, and she hasn't left my girl's side since.

Until yesterday, that is, when we briefly lost her.

The weather has suddenly gotten cooler here, so I took my girl along on a run. E packed her and her baby into the jogging stroller (because she wasn't going without baby, no sirree) and we set off. As we did, I thought to myself that I'd better keep an eye out for baby to tumble from the stroller, since my girl is into throwing things these days, too. She loves her baby, but that doesn't mean she hesitates to wing her across the living room if she feels like it.

We got about two thirds of the way through the figure eight-shaped route I'd mapped out, and I paused to check on her, make sure the sun wasn't in her eyes.

Her baby was gone.

I couldn't believe what I was seeing. I'd been watching! When had she fallen out?

I think all moms must have this moment, the first time you fail to prevent a little one's most precious possession from going missing.

I felt a bit of panic, I won't deny that.

We turned around, and I resumed jogging, my eyes combing the grass edging the sidewalk for a small, pink-and-white clothed baby doll.

I was praying, hard. Yes, over a lost baby doll. What mothers pray for in the course of an ordinary day runs the gamut, I guess.

We got back to the center point of the figure eight - home - and I dropped off my girl all in a flurry, leaving E to extract her from the stroller, explaining that I was going back out in search of her baby before someone snatched it up. And I began my run route all over again, a little faster this time.

The neighborhood across from us, which we'd run through, is full of little kids, and I could easily imagine someone finding baby and making off with her in the time since she'd been dropped. As I ran, my eyes continued to comb the grass, the gutter, the sidewalk ahead.

I failed to mention that in addition to being full of families, the neighborhood across the street is also - well . . . less nice. There's a lot of litter. Wadded up t-shirts in the gutters. Discarded shake cups. Rolled-up newspapers in the grass. All objects that from a hundred feet away look like they just might be a little bitty baby doll.

As I ran that mile, I experienced moment after moment of false hope, and I actually welled up with tears a couple of times. As I got farther and farther along, I began to lose hope. Surely someone had picked her up already. I told myself I was silly to feel so upset by the prospect of not finding her - I could easily return to Target that night and purchase another identical baby doll if need be. Just because I'd missed the moment my toddler tossed her toy out of the stroller, that didn't make me a bad mommy.

I don't know exactly what it was that was going on in my still-kind-of-new-to-mommyhood brain, but I needed to find that baby doll.

And then I saw her for real, lying fifty yards ahead of me on the sidewalk. God's grace.

Filled with relief, I scooped her up and ran the rest of the way home.

When I came through the door with baby in hand, my girl acted like nothing out of the ordinary had happened. Me, I felt like Supermom.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Six Months of Books in 2013

At the beginning of the year, I set a goal to read 26 books in 2013. The year is a little more than halfway over, and amazingly, I've kept pace with that goal. As of June 30, I've read 14 books. I've started another four, but I won't get into my issues with reading multiple books at the same time here.

Appropriately, last weekend at McKay's I picked up a memoir by journalist Sara Nelson called So Many Books, So Little Time. It's about a year of reading, one book a week, what the author read and what she thought of it, how it played into her daily life and relationships. Although I've only read the prologue thus far, a line in the jacket flap copy caught my attention. It read, "She had a system all set up: fifty-two books, fifty-two weeks...and it all fell apart the first week. That's when she discovered that the books chose her as much as she chose them." In my own experience with a year's reading list of 26 books (I'm less ambitious, giving myself two weeks per book, which was wise, as a goal of 52 books would have me failing miserably to keep up), this has been so true. The books choose you as much as you choose them. And there's no controlling it.

I started out with over 40 books on my list and had to whittle it down to the 26 I wanted to read most. The final list included books that have been sitting on my shelf for years waiting to be read, the top prize-winning books of 2012, and a few titles that I'd downloaded onto my eReader and hadn't yet read. I've found myself deviating from it in unexpected directions. Some of this has been mood-driven, some of it discovery-driven. Some of it was just happenstance. There have been a couple of valuable re-reads too, of which I'm not ashamed and which I am counting.

My reading choices are always a mixed bag. The English major in me craves really good literature. The journalist in me loves nonfiction, especially biographies and food journalism. The foodie in me loves a good food memoir or food-related fiction. The francophile in me can't pass up a good read on Paris or Provence. The part of me that still dreams of Kenya craves books with an African theme. The Christian in me needs some spiritual growth reading thrown into the mix. The new mommy in me just wants some help, for Pete's sake!

Here are my original 26 books and how they made it onto my list, in no particular order. Those I've read include a rating out of five stars.
  • Behind the Beautiful Forevers: Life, Death, and Hope in a Mumbai Undercity by Katherine Boo. Winner of both the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award for nonfiction. Also, culture and poverty in India interests me (thanks to Slum Dog Millionaire, I'll admit, as cliché as that might be). I seriously can't wait to get to this one.
  • The Round House by Louise Erdrich. National Book Award Winner, fiction category. Currently reading this for a book club I'm going to check out next week and am totally wowed thus far. 
  • The Pale King by David Foster Wallace. This unfinished novel was one of the three finalists for the Pulitzer Prize in fiction. It was an odd year for the Pulitzer, as the judges couldn't decide on a winner and left the three finalists hanging. Of the three, The Pale King sounded the most interesting to me. Wallace himself was the most interesting to me of the three finalist authors.
  • Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies by Hilary Mantel. Winners of the 2010 and 2012 Man Booker prize, respectively, Bring Up the Bodies is the sequel to Wolf Hall. Also, the Henry VIII era is one of my favorites in British history. I can't resist a good Henry drama.
  • Bloom: Finding Beauty in the Unexpected by Kelle Hampton. I was already about halfway through this when Baby Girl was born, and had set it aside. I wanted to finish it. I follow Kelle's blog and was curious about the story of her daughter Nella's birth (Nella has Down syndrome). It's an amazing and humbling story. I loved it. Four stars.
  • Dearie: The Remarkable Life of Julia Child by Bob Spitz. I can never pass up a good bio on Julia. I'm halfway through this, and need to get back to it. I set it aside at the point when they left Paris because, well, I was sort of heartbroken that the Paris years were over, you know? Living vicariously, I guess.
  • Nomad: From Islam to America by Ayaan Hirsi Ali. This sequel to Ali's first memoir, Infidel, about leaving Islam for a Western life has been on my list for a long time. 
  • The Omnivore's Dilemma by Michael Pollan. I've had a copy of this since 2008, and was long overdue to read it. It's life-changing. Totally inspiring. A perfect follow-up to Eric Schlosser's Fast Food Nation. Five stars.
  • Alice Waters and Chez Panisse by Thomas MacNamee. This book has been on my shelf for over a year. For about two years prior to that, I stalked it in the bookstore, debating about reading it. Food maven Alice Waters and her mythically proportional Berkeley restaurant Chez Panisse have always intrigued me. t's a  bit dry and drags on at some points, but then, don't most of our lives? Three stars.
  • The Sweet Life in Paris by David Lebovitz. A food memoir about living in Paris? No contest. Plus, I already owned it. Lebovitz had me laughing out loud and reading sections to E. Four stars.
  • Daring Greatly by Brené Brown. This book was all over the Christian blogosphere at the beginning of the year, receiving accolade after accolade.
  • Desperate: Hope for the Mom Who Needs to Breathe by Sarah Mae and Sally Clarkson. This sounded like the perfect young mom book, for the sleepless nights and insane days trying to live a balanced life. Because it is desperate at times. I'm slowly savoring this, a chapter at a time. It's validating, nourishing, encouraging - in short, it is exactly what the subtitle claims. Five stars.
  • American Wife by Curtis Sittenfeld. This fictional piece loosely based on the life of Laura Bush caught my attention when it first released (admittedly, it might have been the cover that did it). Now that I live in DC, it seemed an apropos time to read it. And I already had a copy. A totally satisfying piece of fiction. Four stars
  • The Saturday Big Tent Wedding Party and The Limpopo Academy of Private Detection by Alexander McCall Smith. I'm not a mystery reader per se, but my mom-in-law got me into The No.1 Ladies' Detective Agency series three years ago, and I can't help devouring them. I was two books behind at the beginning of the year. Neither one disappointed. Four stars.
  • Kisses from Katie by Katie Davis. This memoir was almost published by my company, so I've long been interested in the story of this remarkable young woman who gave up her privileged American life to move to Uganda and adopt a whole passel of orphaned little girls.
  • The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin. Because who doesn't want to figure out how to be happier? Caught my eye in an airport bookstore.
  • Time Was Soft There by Jeremy Mercer. I happened across this memoir by a young man who found himself in Paris working at the famed Shakespeare & Co. in the used bookstore and snatched it up. Couldn't resist.
  • The Flame Trees of Thika by Elspeth Huxley. Another memoir, this one about living in Kenya in the late 1950s. I watched the movie (which starred Hayley Mills, of all people). Loved it.
  • Almost Amish by Nancy Sleeth. This book on the quest to live more simply by is written by the wife of Matthew Sleeth, champion of the Creation Care concept and author of Serving God, Saving the Planet. I'm always interested in how to live more simply.
  • Tarte Tatin by Susan Loomis. I loved Loomis' first book, On Rue Tatin. Another memoir from an ex-pat living in France.
  • 7: An Experimental Mutiny Against Excess by Jen Hatmaker. Another treatise on simple living from the Christian perspective. I read Jen's blog, and her book has gotten a lot of traffic online, with mixed reviews. I want to form my own opinion.
  • Chocolat by Joanne Harris. I've been trying to read this with a book club forever, but it keeps getting voted down. I figured it was time to read it on my own.
  • My Love Affair with England by Susan Allen Toth. In addition to being a Francophile, I'm an Anglophile. And actually, given a choice about where to live abroad, I think London would be my first choice (easy access to Paris). I have been meaning to read this for years, literally.
  • The Green Hills of Africa by Ernest Hemingway. Hem is my favorite classic American author, but I've never read this particular work.
  • The School of Essential Ingredients by Erica Bauermeister. Food fiction. Enough said.
The interlopers, books I didn't plan to read:
  • Spirit-led Parenting by Megan Tietz and Laura Oyer. I had a copy of this hanging around from 2012, and just hadn't finished it. Not particularly well written, but good content. A great read for new moms who are overwhelmed by all the conflicting advice in the baby manuals. Two stars for the writing versus four stars for content = three stars.
  • Pride and Prejudice and Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen. After watching the film verions of P&P and S&S back in February, I had a hankering to read them again (for the first time since college). I think I loved them twice as much as a married thirty-something than I did as a single twenty-something. Five stars.
  • White Jacket Required by Jenna Weber. I support the bloggers I follow by reading their books. This one was a total disappointment. It was flat and sort of lifeless. It's the single book I regret spending time with this year. No stars.
  • Prep by Curtis Sittenfeld. Since I'd put American Wife on my list, and I already had a copy of Prep, I decided it would be apropos to read Sittenfeld's first book first. Not as intriguing as American Wife (the main character has way too much angst for my taste), but still interesting and a good story. Three stars.
  • Seventeenth Summer by Maureen Daly. I happened upon a copy of this classic teen love story from the 1950s in the used bookstore. Couldn't resist buying and reading it again. Twenty-some years later, I still think it's the sweetest teen romance ever. Four stars.
  • It Starts with Food by Dallas and Melissa Hartwig. This is the manual for the Whole30, so when we decided to do it, I bought the book and read it. A must for anyone who really wants to understand the benefits of the Whole30 and a Paleo diet in general. Four stars.
  • This Organic Life: Confessions of a Suburban Homesteader by Joan Dye Gussow. When Michael Pollan cited Gussow in The Omnivore's Dilemma, it dawned on me that I'd been given a copy of her book as a gift a couple of years ago. Intrigued by Pollan's comments, I picked it up and started in. Currently reading (and enjoying).
I'm sure there will be books on the original list of 26 that I just don't get to, and thus they'll get moved over to 2014. Regardless, the main point, which is to make reading a significant part of my days, has worked. Setting a goal like this means that I'm focused on reading, learning, growing in the chunks of time that present themselves, like while I'm working out on the elliptical or bike, or waiting at the doctor's office. Reading is one of the practices that feeds my mind, heart, and spirit in a very necessary way. When I fall away from spending regular time with books, I don't feel as productive, as nurtured, as fulfilled.

What are you reading in 2013? Post a comment below - I'd love to know!

Friday, July 19, 2013

Figuring it all out

I feel like a runaway. I'm sitting in the cool, coffee-scented air of the Barnes & Noble down the street from my house, listening to some version of I Just Met a Girl Named Maria ('cause B&N is down with the show tunes) playing over the store's intercom system. I'm here to work on my neglected novel. There are food stains scattered across my t-shirt from Baby Girl, my face is devoid of makeup, and my (unwashed) hair is hidden beneath the faded purple Northwestern baseball cap that has absorbed the head sweat of probably a thousand workouts. I am thus attired because I made a mad dash to get out of the house as fast as humanly possible the minute Baby Girl was safely in Afternoon Napland (not without a twinge of guilt) and I am probably not in any state fit to be seen in public, but I'm here and that's what matters.

I was supposed to begin doing this - spending Friday afternoons in the bookstore, writing - back at the end of May, when summer hours bega (which translates into having Friday afternoons off via flexing out your work hours over the course of the rest of the week).

It's mid-July. It's my first time here. Argh.

So yeah - I'm supposed to be working on my novel, but I just needed to get this off my chest first. Because, well, for all my good intentions back in February and all my lists and organizational tools, I am still figuring it all out, meaning this whole work-from-home-mom-aspiring-author-living-in-a-new-city thing. And I'm realizing this: it's okay. Really and truly okay. It's okay that my house is messy and working out consistently is still a challenge and the baby weight that continues to plague me is trickling off a quarter pound at a time and my blogs continue to get sporadic attention. It's okay that I still don't have any friends here and we still haven't found a church and we still don't leave the house four days a week most of the time. Because in spite of all this, there is progress. I mean, I'm here, aren't I?

And I've figured out a few things for sure. Like the fact that I am best at working out consistently when I go to the gym during my lunch hour. Early morning is just too early for me, and late afternoon is slump time. Between 11 and 1 is perfect. So that's what I've been doing, and it works.

I've also figured out that travel kills my blogging habit. Oh, I take my laptop along every time, but finding the time or even the physical space to think, much less write, escapes me. There's always too much going on. It's not that I don't have material - my backlog is scary, in fact. So sometime, somehow, I plan to get ahead (ha!) and have posts scheduled to publish while I'm gone. I have no idea when I'll be able to make that happen, but I do have a plan, and that's the first step.

Ultimately, what I keep learning over and over is that I am so blessed to work from home. To not miss a millisecond of Baby Girl's development. I'm reminded of this every time I travel for work or have to spend a week in the Grand Rapids office. I get to be there. I get to witness  every new discovery, every new word. And for me, personally, that has become more and more priceless over the past year because she has changed so much so fast. And even though she gives me a hard time every day about being at my desk, and she begs to sit on my lap and pound on the computer keyboard and fusses when she can't do that, she gives her dad a harder time when I'm not there at all. It's definitely not "out of sight, out of mind" with her. I'm so thankful for this season of being home with her and still being able to provide for my family while E is in school. I'm grateful for my gracious colleagues who express delight when we're on a conference call and she's babbling (or shrieking) in the background.

So all the rest of it - running and blogging and time for my novel and a social life and church - I'll keep figuring out those things, and eventually, I'll get there. Because God doesn't give us passions without also giving us the wherewithal to pursue them. I'm going to stand on that truth for as long as it takes.

For now, I have a giant iced tea and a manuscript full of corrections to make and a few precious hours. It feels good.


Sunday, June 16, 2013

A Different Father's Day Perspective

Today was my favorite Father's Day ever, because it was the first Father's Day I spent as a wife and mother, and it caused me to pause and look at my husband and 11-month-old daughter together and really cherish what I see between them.

I always knew E would be a really good father. I saw it back when we were first dating, in the way he related to his nieces and nephew, treating each one as though he or she was truly special, and going out of his way to connect with each one.

The day Baby Girl was born, I watched as E fell head over heels in love with her. She was so tiny in his hands, but he was both confident and capable as well incredibly gentle. It was as though he'd been waiting his whole life for that moment - the moment his daughter was delivered into his waiting arms. As for her, she was comfortable from the very first moment, snuggling up to him like there was no place she'd rather be than tucked into the crook of his shoulder.

This first year of Baby Girl's life has been a unique, special time. Because he's in graduate school and I'm working to support us, E has had the opportunity to be home with her every day. In some ways, it's been a stretch for him - it's the first time since he was 15 that he hasn't held a steady job. He's faced more spit-up, mashed bananas and dirty diapers than he ever imagined. But he hasn't missed a single milestone from her first word to her first step - he's been right there for every single one. A year from now, he'll have a Masters degree and hopefully a new job to go with it, and this precious season will be over. If we have another child, it's highly unlikely he'll get the same opportunity.

Today, I found myself celebrating the special bond that has formed between my husband and our precious girl because of the endless hours they spend together, and looking forward to watching the relationship between them develop as she grows up, which I know will nurture her in important ways. I'm betting she'll learn some practical things that aren't very girly, like firearm safety and basic auto maintenance. She'll also be taught that hard work is rewarding, and that it's important to pursue your dreams and not give up on them when the going gets tough. He'll make sure she has an understanding of what's going on in the world around her, within as well as beyond U.S. borders. And hopefully when she's all grown up and someone asks her who has influenced her faith in God, one of the people she names will be her dad.

We celebrated all these hopes and expectations with a picnic at the park. We ate fried chicken, pasta salad, deviled eggs and strawberry shortcake, and then romped with Baby Girl on the playground. She was all smiles, and so was her daddy.

I couldn't ask for more for either of them.