Saturday, December 24, 2011

Ho ho ho!

Here's hoping your Santas are even half as cute as ours!

Merry Christmas!

Friday, December 16, 2011

Real Women Of Pinterest: Card Holders and Peanut Butter Cup Brownies

As some of you know, there is a special place in my heart for Pinterest. I luff it. I can distract myself endlessly on there. Contained within its bits and bytes are a million and one ideas for projects and decorations and clothes and things that I would like to do. However, after several months of "pinning", I have actually done exactly zero of the projects I have found on there. Pinterest FAIL. I have followed my dear friends mep and E... as they tackle projects as part of their Real Women of Pinterest challenge and every week I am inspired but the busyness of everyday life gets in the way and somehow another week passes without me doing anything.

But that changed this week!

I present my first project:The Card Holder

Majestic, isn't it? I know, I know. You all want one. Every year we get holiday cards from all of our nearest and dearest and they wind up cluttered on every available flat surface: dining table, mantle, bulletin board, refrigerator. I needed some way to display them but I hadn't really settled on anything. My first thought was a french memo board. I've made a few and I quite like them. But I didn't want it to be a permanent installation and we are not exactly overburdened with storage here, so I was reluctant to create something that would take up valuable space the other 11 months of the year. When I saw this idea on Pinterest, I was smitten. The original was hung on a hook over a door, but we don't have a door that would be good for that, they are all either out of the way or see too much use, so I hung it on a nail in the dining room. There are a few things I would change but I'm mostly happy with it, especially considering it was almost entirely constructed of things I had on hand. I would like to point out the level of attention to detail I committed to this: I dyed the clothespins to match the color scheme. Bow to my craftiness, minions.

My next project was a recipe for a cookie exchange: Peanut Butter Cup Brownies

I'll grant you, this recipe isn't exactly rocket surgery. Basically, it's a brownie mix with peanut butter poured on top, but it's peanut butter and chocolate, HELLO two great tastes that taste great together, and they looked cute. I keep trying overly complicated recipes and completely screwing them up, so I wanted something foolproof. Well, as with EVERYTHING in my world, nothing is foolproof, and I'm not overjoyed with how mine turned out. I'm going to blame my oven. (It certainly can't be MY fault. Pfft.) I couldn't seem to get the brownies to the exact right doneness wherein the center collapses and the peanut butter goes in perfectly. But reports were that they tasted good. I doubt I will make them again, but it was a fun experiement.

So that's it for this week! If you aren't already, get thee to Pinterest! If you want to see what I'm pinning, I'm Carabee74. And to see what some other Real Women of Pinterest are creating, check out Not to Brag.

Thursday, December 8, 2011


I love Christmastime. It is undeniably my favorite holiday. I love the tree and decorations and carols and the convivial spirit that everyone has. There is so much to enjoy. There are all of the little moments that will embody the season for Sophie as she grows older and my hope is that each year we can bring a little extra magic to the holiday for her. That extra this year came in a "cool" package.

The beautiful ladies of Momzshare organized a special event just for local bloggers. We were given the opportunity to visit the Gaylord National Hotel on the National Harbor in Washington DC to view their ICE! attraction. ICE! features ice carvings of all of the characters from Merry Madagascar, the upcoming holiday sequel to the beloved Madagascar films. In addition, within the Gaylord National atrium, a special Christmas village was set up with characters from many of the Dreamworks movies including Shrek, Kung Fu Panda and Puss in Boots. Hanging over the village was a 60 foot Christmas tree which, even before it was lit, was dramatic and beautiful.

The view overlooking the Christmas village. He's tough to see, but that's Shrek just underneath the tree.
Our first stop was a milk and cookies reception in the atrium where I sampled the white chocolate and cranberry rice crispy treats (note to self: figure out how to replicate these, STAT) and Sophie sipped on Ogre Milk (presumably not the milk of ogres, but it was green) and nibbled on sugar cookies in between jumping up and down while she waved furiously at Shrek below.

Cutest ogre EVER.

Scheduled for a 3:30 tour of ICE, we took our time strolling around National Harbor before heading over to the enormous white tents that house the famous ice sculptures. Living where we do, National Harbor is a special visit for us and while I visited once a couple years ago, I haven't been back since. It is a wonderful area, many great restaurants, galleries and shops, plus a spectacular view of the Potomac. I would love to get back down there for an afternoon or evening out.

During the opening film, they told us the tent holding the ice would be cold and I believed them, but I didn't REALLY believe them. As you enter, they give you long, heavy parkas to wear over your own coats. Flattering? Not really. But once you step inside you begin to understand why, because, brother, is it cold in there. So cold that I quickly abandoned taking pictures or attempting to tweet on my iPhone because it was simply too cold to go without gloves for more than a few seconds. But bundled in my extra layers, cap and gloves securely in place, I was cozy enough to take in the amazing ice sculptures. According to the film, more than 2 million pounds of ice were whittled down by 40 international artists to create the wonders we were viewing.

Each room left us more amazed than the next. Giant ice versions of our favorite Madagascar characters greeted us at every turn. Alex the lion, Marty the zebra, Melman the giraffe, Gloria the hippo, the penguins and, of course, Santa were all there. But it was when we got to the ice slides that Sophie really went crazy. Here is where we were glad to have the extra long coats to cover our behinds when we slid down the ice chutes. Sophie went down by herself and was back in line to go again so fast it made my head spin.

We finished up the ice pavilion and headed back over to the hotel for some dinner at the hotel's sports bar and grill where Neil caught a bit of the Ravens game before a visit with Shrek and the gang. Unfortunately, when it came to actually talking to Shrek, Sophie unexpectedly turned shy. But from a safe perch in mommy or daddy's arms, she met all of her favorites.

We had hoped to stay for the grand lighting of the hanging tree, which includes a light show, singing, dancing fountains and an indoor snow fall, but unfortunately our little bean was just too pooped, so we had to depart. But we left already making plans to come back again to see the lighting on another visit and see all of the wonders again.

Disclosure: We were given tickets to ICE and the other holiday attractions at the Gaylord National in exchange for a post. We paid for our own dinner. All opinions are my own.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

What's in a name?

As the parent programmer for Sophie's pre-school co-op, I help out with planning and prep for all holiday parties. When the selection of our ideal class jobs was made, this was top of my list and I was over the moon when I got it. With my background in the service industry, I know a thing or two about putting on a party. For the most part, it's pretty light stuff: a few decorations and favors as well as the snacks that will be served.

Today was her class Thanksgiving celebration, so I was there to help out. All of the parents were asked to bring in an element of the Thanksgiving "dinner" that we would be prepared and served by our little ones. The parents then returned a half hour earlier than usual so the kids could sing songs and we could eat our feast together. As part of the festivities, the kids wore crafts they had made. Among these were a paper headdress and necklace, both of which were Native American inspired. When the teacher welcomed the parents to our party, she introduced her tribe of little "Indians."

When I grew up, the term Indian was in common use to refer to Native Americans. We played cowboys and Indians, we sat Indian-style and, prominently, Thanksgiving was about the pilgrims and the Indians. It hails back to Columbus' expedition more than 500 years ago in search of a westbound route to India and while its fallacy was quickly established, the name stuck.

At some time in the last 25-30 years, there has been a shift towards the politically correct, and more accurate, "Native American." And while I don't consider Indian to be derogatory, its use has certainly fallen out of favor, particularly in schools. Which is why I was a tad surprised when the teacher used that term. This is a non-public school, so we aren't bound by the same rules and practices as our public counterparts, but there is still an expectation that certain conventions will be followed.

Personally, I am not offended by the term Indian. In fact, there are many situations where it feels down right weird to use the PC version. Cowboys and Native Americans? Just doesn't have the same ring for me. I also know that many Native Americans continue to call themselves Indians.

But today I got to thinking. Because there is a little girl in Sophie's class who is actually Indian, as in, born in India, bona-fide Indian, Indian. And I wondered what she thought of the use of the term Indian to refer to Native Americans. Because even at three going on four, she must understand the difference. Does it confuse her?

What do you think? Are we over-sensitive to these things? Not sensitive enough?

Monday, October 31, 2011


When I was young, we lived in a big old house. Built in the late 1800s, it had history. There were rumors of the families that had lived there. Of tragedy and mystery. But we didn't know anything for sure and at that age, I didn't really think about those sorts of things.

My first floor bedroom was across from the door to the unfinished basement. More of a cellar, really, it had a dirt floor and crumbly brick walls. We almost never went down there. Only in tornadoes. And in Kansas, that was more often than I care to say. Even then, we were none too excited to open that door and descend those steps. None of us had ever had a bad experience down there, it was just a general unpleasant sense that everyone that went down there felt.

The first time something unusual happened to me, I was 8. I lay in my bed. The light in the bathroom across the hall was on and both my door and the bathroom door were open. I don't know what I was thinking, not sure how deep my thoughts were at that age, but I am certain that I was very awake. Quite suddenly, the blankets on my bed were roughly pulled off and under my bed. With the fearlessness of a child certain there are no monsters, I leaned over the edge. My head nearly touching the floor, I looked under my bed, fully expecting to see my sister playing a trick on me. But there was no one there.

After that, I would lay in bed at night staring at the partially cracked door to the basement. A door that wouldn't close all the way, no matter how hard you pushed on it. I stared and I waited. There were no repeats of the sheet snatching but few were the nights that didn't involve troubled dreams and I never truly felt comfortable in that house again. Mercifully, we moved a few years later.

Over the years, a number of other unexplained things have happened to and around me. Shifting shadows, noises, doors opening and closing, objects moving, voices. Some houses have a stronger presence than others. One apartment in a fairly new building I lived in when I first moved to Maryland was particularly active, while some older places have been entirely quiet.

The rational side of me says there are no ghosts, that bumps in the night are no more than settling or wind or little living creatures working their way through walls and floors or perhaps even an over active imagination. But the emotional side. The side that remembers my name clearly whispered into my ear when I sat alone on the sofa watching television. That side says there ARE things we can't explain. And that side will insist on a nightlight this all hallows eve.

As it does every night.

Happy Halloween!

Friday, October 7, 2011

The Little Ballerina

A few years ago, my sister came across this book in the storage room at my parent's house. I have the very fondest of memories of reading it when I was young and I know my sister did too. With the hope that she would enjoy it as much as we did, she set it out for Sophie. I've had it since then, but only recently introduced it into the reading rotation because I was worried that it would be too long or detailed for her. When I finally did bring it out, she absolutely fell in love with it. She asks me to read it every day before bedtime and naptime. She prances around the house doing the ballet moves described in the book.

Unfortunately, the book is more than 30 years old and has been much loved. The pages have fallen out and it is only my careful handling that keeps it together. I can't leave it in her room anymore because she doesn't have the most gentle hands and on more than one occasion I have come in to find its delicate pages strewn about her room.

So I got on Amazon to see if I could find a new one. I'm not sure if I expected it to still be in print, but the answer is that it is not. Which isn't surprising, it is a VERY dated book, a la Fun with Dick and Jane. Amazon does have some copies for sale, but they are in the same age range, or older, as my copy and are now considered historic pieces* and are quite expensive.

When I did a search for the book, I found another book of the same name by a different author. Based on the description, it looks to be similar to my book although not quite the same, but I thought "hey, maybe this one will do." So I scanned down to the reviews. The top review was from a woman who says that what she loves about this book is that the titular ballerina doesn't get the lead and dance in toe shoes, that books with that sort of stuff give kids unrealistic expectations.

The more I think about it, the more that bothers me, because I feel like that sort of attitude is an epidemic these days. Why is telling stories about children who do wonderful things setting them up with unrealistic expectations? True, not every child will be the lead in the recital, but does that mean it's wrong to teach them to dream for that? I just don't understand this attitude. Maybe it's Ayn Rand-y of me to say, but why is teaching excellence bad?

So while I can't quite talk myself into spending $50 for an authentic replacement of my book, I simply can not buy this book that tells my daughter that all she should hope for is mediocrity. Maybe that's good enough for some kids, but not mine. Nobody ever achieved big things by dreaming small. Whether she actually achieves them or not isn't really the issue for me. I just want my daughter to try.

* I also recently saw a toy that I LOVED as a kid in a museum. True story. My age is showing.

Friday, September 16, 2011

My Daughter, The Pre-Schooler

It's official. Her first day was last Friday. She goes Tuesdays and Fridays, 9am-11:30am. The first two sessions all of the parents accompanied their new little students for the entirety of the class, but today, yea, this very day, I dropped her off and went on my merry way.

During the first session, I was a little nervous. Although she spends a considerable amount of time among other kids in the gym's childcare and she had VBS last month, she has never been in a situation that required much in the way of structured group activities. And certainly very few situations where she had to follow directions other than those barked out (or screamed) by her mother.

True to her rebellious form, she was not among the kids who quickly lined up when asked, or that stayed lined up for more than 10 seconds once there. She participated in activities as it suited her whim. And she felt very strongly that SHE should be the line leader. Let there be no confusion, she's an alpha, that girl of mine. Someday, when her high school principal calls because she's been caught doing something bad, I will be fairly certain that it was she who led the expedition.

However, it would not be fair to not point out that she boldly did all of the activities asked of her while many other children stood back timidly. She may have lost interest and moved on before some of those kids even had a chance to step up to the table, but there was no fear. Also, she was unfailingly friendly, the quintessential social butterfly.

At the second session on Tuesday, she was more willing to follow the direction of the teacher and while she still has a long way to go, I was proud at how quickly she had picked up the routine of the day and the cues that indicated the beginning of a new activity. When I went to pick her up today, her first solo outing, she was happily chatting with one of the other kids, a little girl she named Purple Dress. For obvious reasons. Reports from the teacher were positive. And she is excited to go back next week.

Myself? I spent the time running errands. It wasn't exactly pampered "me" time but tasks that normally take half a day, I accomplished in less than 2 hours. And for a busy mom, that is luxury enough.

Hooray for pre-school!

The obligatory first day of school picture.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Yet Another Reason I'm Going To Hell

We here in the land of Bean are not religious folk. In fact, saying we are not religious is overstating the issue. On any given day our opinions on the topic range from apathy to confusion and occasionally anger.  I was not raised in a religious home. I was not baptized and I can count the number of times I have attended church for anything other than a wedding or funeral on one hand. And most of those were during my exploratory youth. Some kids tried drugs, I tried religion. It didn't stick.

Which is why it surprised me that I even considered the idea when Katie suggested sending Sophie to the same Vacation Bible School that Christopher was set to attend. My first reaction, not surprisingly, was a very unladylike snort. I never went to VBS as a kid and if I'd ever been asked, I would have said I had ZERO plans to send my child to it, either. But when she said that it ran from Monday to Friday, 9-12am, and cost a mere $25, suddenly it didn't seem so outrageous. In fact, I'm fairly certain my eyes glazed over as I considered all of the things I could do in those hours.

So with more than a few rationalizations, I got on the website and signed her up.

When the first day rolled around, I nervously walked in to the church. Fears of lightening striking, or at the very least, some hard stares from all of the godly church folk when they noticed a heathen in their midst. But to my surprise, they were welcoming and kind, and I quickly found myself chatting with other moms during dropoff and enjoying the special VBS music that blasted over the church's kickin' sound system. By the end of the week, Sophie and I were belting out to Jesus with the best of them. I'm not gonna lie, we've even listened to the VBS CD on a few* occasions since.

And those hours to myself. Sweet, delicious, precious time. The first day, I came home and just sat on the sofa for an hour before I did anything. Just sat there. Not reading. Not on the phone. Not playing on my phone. The second and third days, I came home and took a nap. On the fourth day, I went shopping. On the fifth day, I was lounging around at about 10:30 when it hit me how completely I had wasted a precious opportunity to really indulge myself. Why hadn't I gone for a pedicure, or to get my eyebrows done, or for a much needed massage? The answer is that I honestly didn't think of it. The glut of ME time overwhelmed my brain's processing functions. If only I'd had a few more days...

It was then that I began evolving a plan for next summer. Every church in the area has a VBS, if the signs that line the streets in front are any indication. And since there doesn't seem to be any requirement to be a member of the church, would it be so bad if we just went from church to church attending vacation bible school after vacation bible school ALL SUMMER LONG? I know. It's ingenious.

I am a terrible, terrible person.

*MANY. Those songs are just so catchy! 

Lest even one person think I am serious. I AM NOT. I have no plans to send my daughter to every VBS in the area, tempting though the idea is. However, now that we've got our foot in the door at this one, you better believe we'll be going back next summer. VBS! VBS! VBS!

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Almost There

Leading up to my decision to start Weight Watchers, I wasn't exactly a fan of the program. I viewed it as I did pretty much all diets, it was for people who were too weak to exercise and control their calorie consumption. Not ME. I was accidentally overweight. MY weight was due to a difficult pregnancy. And it was just a matter of time before it fell off of me. Fell off, people. But three and a half years and it wasn't falling off. I was working out like crazy and feeling like I was eating sensibly, but I wasn't losing weight. Clearly, I was one of those people who couldn't control my calorie consumption.

So one day while sucking down a milkshake at Chick Fil A, (And I wondered why I couldn't lose weight. REALLY?) Katie suggested we do Weight Watchers together. I should note here that Katie is a very dear friend for doing this with me because she didn't really need to lose weight but she knew, cause she's intuitive like that, that I needed a nudge, and maybe that nudge was someone to go to meetings or weigh-ins with me. So that very night we went to the neighborhood Weight Watchers and signed up.

Since then I have been to exactly two meetings. But I go for my weigh-ins every week and I follow the points system religiously. And people it is WORKING. I've lost 30 pounds! I'm down two sizes and, most surprisingly, a half a shoe size. I'm running more and faster and easier. My heel spurs are gone. I didn't realize how much weight I was carrying in my face. I swear I've lost a pound of nose alone. I'm smaller than I've been in eight years. I look like me again.

I'm not to my goal yet. And frankly, I was hesitant to write a "look at the fabulous job I'm doing" post yet because I really want a big before and after reveal when I hit my 40 pound goal. But its been a long road and I felt like talking about it a little. So there you go. Status updated.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Itsy Bitsy

I went to the gym this morning, as I do most days, all part of the continued effort to recover my 25 year old derriere. After depositing Sophie at child care, I headed for the locker room. I dropped my bag off in one of the lockers and walked toward the long mirror that runs along the wall across from them.

As I approached the mirror, I adjusted my iPhone armband and reached up to tighten my ponytail. Now just a few feet from the mirror, I noticed a small black spot on my neck. Peering closer, I noticed that the spot was MOVING. I reached up and brushed the spot, looking at my hand as I did. Which was when I realized that the spot was actually a tiny spider and quickasaflash I whipped my hand out with a scream, flinging that spider off into locker room oblivion.

With the threat now gone, I chuckled at my reaction and gave thanks that I was alone in the room. I'm not especially freaked out by spiders. In fact, I generally like that they eat all of the other little creepy crawlies that I really don't like. I am not a fan of having them ON MY BODY, but barring that, I'm a pacifist. Live and let live, I say.

But then the itching began.

A spot on my arm. Another on my leg. On my head. My chest. My skin was crawling like a meth addict coming off the crank.

Now, I couldn't actually see any other spiders, but I am fairly certain that hundreds of the little bastards were working their way up my body. My best guess is that they were hatched from an egg sac in my belly button and they were on a mission towards my brain where they planned to burrow in and take over my body. I was ground zero for a massive spider conspiracy to take over the world.

Damn my innie genes. If only I had an outie, the rise of our arachnid overlords could have been averted.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

War and Pees

Three weeks ago, the prospect of my daughter using the toilet was still just the stuff of fantasy. Her reactions when faced with that option were violently negative. So I went out and bought another giant box of diapers and resigned myself to more more more diaper changing.

But we hadn't given up. We regularly talked to her about how big girls go on the toilet and that she HAD to be potty trained to start pre-school this fall. Truthfully, I didn't really think it was sinking in because her typical response to the big girl argument was that she didn't need to because she was a "wittle girl."

But then last Saturday we decided to give it a go. Institute our own version of potty training boot camp. I wasn't optimistic, but she's well behind most of the kids we know her age in this department and we felt maybe it was time to make a hard effort. So as of that morning we said no more diapers. During waking hours anyway, we're not insane.

At first, we took her to the toilet every 15-20 minutes, but we very quickly found that she only actually used the toilet when she instigated the trip. So we stopped setting our timers and let her lead the pace. And just like that, the switch was flipped. Since last Saturday, eight days now, she's had maybe a half dozen accidents and the bulk of those were in the first couple of days. On the third day, I took her to the gym with me, nervous to leave her completely to her own devices, but when I picked her up, the report was that she had gone three times, all on her own.

We're only eight days in, so the final tally is hardly set, but thus far I am completely blown away by how well she is doing. I had prepared myself for more accidents or to struggle with going #2, but she has been a rock star in both. I would like to pat myself on the back for my fine parenting but it's all her. The only thing I did right was exercise a little patience and wait for her to be ready before pushing her towards it.

So now the big question is, would it be a bad example if I used some of those leftover diapers myself? I haven't made it through the night without a bathroom visit since she was born and I could really use the sleep.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

All I've Got Is A Photograph


Sorry for the long absences, friends and fellow denizens of the internet. Turns out kids take up a lot of time. Who knew? Sure as hell not me. If you'd asked me before Sophie, and I'm basing this on the behavior of the soap opera watching baby sitters of my early youth, taking care of kids was a piece of cake. The reality is, this stuff is work. A lot of it may be fun work, but make no mistake, it puts a real damper on a person's laying around, bonbon eating time. So fun stuff, like writing blog posts, talking on the phone (I used to talk on the phone?), and most other forms of normal human interaction have been abandoned.
I have a metric ton of stories of the goings on around here lately. Visits to the nature center. Camping on the surface of the sun, also known as Virginia in May. Touring amazing natural wonders. We've spent a little time in the Emergency Room. Not to worry, we're all fine. At some point, I will post about that. There's blood and drama, the very hallmarks of a fine blog post, if I do say so myself. My weight loss journey continues, successfully, but I won't really talk much about that now because, SNORE, aren't you all tired of hearing me go on about it? I'm tired of talking about it and I love talking about me. Obviously.

So anyhoo, this was just a quick HI! to let you know that we're all still alive. And that hopefully I can get my diminishing posterior in gear at some point and write some posts, because I miss this. And all of you.

*In case some of you were fooled by my masterful Photoshop skills, that is not an *official* Def Leppard Size 3T concert tank top. I KNOW. It's uncanny. I am an artiste.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Last Dance

The good news is that we spent three hours yesterday out of diapers and there were no accidents. The bad news is that at the end of those three hours, she was crying and pleading and screaming for me to put a diaper on her. She even got one out and sat down on it for me to do up the tapes.

I think I've been pretty cool on the subject of potty training. All of the parents that I have talked to, particularly those that have 3, 4, 5 kids, have said that it happens when the kid is ready. It's like AA, they're never gonna give up the diaper until they're good and ready to quit. Some kids that's 18 months. Some, like mine, that's 42 months. SIGH.

I remember when she was much, MUCH, younger and she showed interest and I was so excited that she would be an early adopter. Alas, that was not to be the case. Despite constant encouragement and more than a little cajoling mixed in with a healthy dose of peer pressure from all, and I do mean ALL, of her potty-using friends, that interest dried up faster than you can say "tinkerbell underwear." Except when stalling bedtime. Then, why she's all about the potty. Even cries in mock distress that the "poopie is coming!" Which, of course, it never is.

When she's sitting on the toilet, and we do a fair amount of that, I'll run the faucet and make the appropriate facial expressions associated with the activity, maybe even throwing in a grunt for good measure. But still nothing. We sit there, read a few books, maybe do a puzzle as it teeters on her little knees, and then she declares herself done and we go about our day.

I've been patient, but I am so done with changing diapers. More importantly, I am sick to death with BUYING them. Mama needs a new pair of espadrilles and they cost about the same as a box of diapers. I want to do a three day commando bonanza where diapers aren't even an option, but I feel like if she's screaming and crying for a diaper that she's not really ready. I was never good at "cry it out," in sleeping or anything and it goes against my nature to do it now, but am I doing her a disservice?

So I put it to you, friends and denizens of the interwebs, do I force it on her? Or do I wait just a skosh longer and see if the lightbulb goes off? But the bigger question is should I go ahead and buy those espadrilles? They're really cute. Parenting is hard.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011


There's a lady at my gym. She's 85 if she's a day, her back is hunched, there's more hobble than walk in her gait, and I have never seen her without a smile. I've spoken with her briefly on a few occasions as we came or went in the locker room. She's quick to laugh and easy with a story in her thickly German-accented speech.

She makes me smile. Even when we don't talk. Just the sight of her working her way across the main gym floor makes me happy. I've always been intrigued by older people. I love their feathery skin and crinkly eyes. The personality in their hands. There are those that will bend your ear as long as you'll allow to detail their many ailments and there are those that will regale you with tales of tragedies or victories of days long gone.

I see this lady, with her smile, and I wonder about her. Is it a magic of biology that she survived the sorrows that any lifetime will dish out and still finds so much joy in every moment? Is it sheer force of will? Are there tears hidden away when others aren't looking? I see so much unhappiness. For every person like my smiley gym lady, I see a dozen sour folks. Faces pinched. A lifetime of sucking on life's lemons.

I lie in bed at night, the day's events running through my head and I find myself too often having to relax my tightly pursed mouth into a more natural pose. They say kids laugh a hundred times a day but as we grow up that diminishes until we're lucky if we get even a couple belly laughs out of every day. Do I laugh enough? Do I spend too much time frowning, yelling, scowling? I don't want to be one of those pinched face old ladies and I'm afraid that's the path I'm headed down.

So I'm making a choice to be happy, to smile as much as I can. Life is just too short, no matter how long you live, to be miserable. And you know what? Laugh lines? Are gorgeous.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011


If you are watching your weight now, you will be watching it for the rest of your life. 

The leader of one of the first Weight Watcher's meetings I went to said this. Maybe all WW group leaders say this at some point, I don't know. At the time, I heard it, but I was too busy taking in my surroundings for it to really register. In the weeks since then, it has marinated in my brain. I have said the words out loud to myself on a number of occasions driving in my car or looking in the full length mirror in our bedroom. I have rolled them over in my head a hundred times. Dissecting each word.

When it finally sank in, its simple profundity took my breath away. The fact is that without voicing it or ever really even thinking about it, I had fully expected that once I lost the weight, I could go back to my carefree life. I could eat whole pizzas and super size Big Mac meals. Drink Dr Pepper by the gallon. And when I realized that this really did have to be a lifestyle change, that I could NEVER do that again, that is, if I wanted to not weigh 200 pounds, it was the quintessential come to Jesus moment.

But for this instant gratification junkie, the real surprise is that the last eight weeks haven't actually been that hard. In fact, easier than I ever expected. I think the divorce from McDonalds has been harder on my child than me. We drive by almost every day. She will look upon those golden arches longingly and say "freeeench fries." At first it was with expectant suggestion and then enthusiastic hope and now it is mostly in sad remembrance, tasting the salty words in lieu of the actual thing.

But that meeting leader's words were rolling around again in my head tonight as I tried on pair after pair of pre-baby pants and they were fitting. Not just fitting, as in I could get them on but I would never leave the house in them because they were really too tight, but FITTING, like my regular pants are just too big now and these smaller ones are the ones I should be wearing. Anyone who has ever struggled with their weight, and how many of us haven't at one point or another, can appreciate the jubilation of fitting into the next size down.

I am the lightest I have been since before Sophie. I am looking in the mirror and not cringing. In fact, some days, I actually even think I look good. I'm a long way from skinny. In fact, I was this size when a former friend told me REPEATEDLY that I was a BIG girl. So I'm not letting this go too much to my head, but I am trying to revel in my success just enough to keep me motivated to push on further.

My goals when I began this journey were modest. But now I'm starting to think bigger. Or smaller, as the case may be. And I will meet them.

Friday, April 8, 2011


This past weekend, I visited my cousin in Rochester, New York. She is graduating from the Eastman School of Music and it was the occasion of her senior recital. She is an extremely talented violinist and my heart was swelling with pride when I saw her perform. Of course I've seen her play at family functions since she was old enough to hold a bow, but seeing her up on that stage in an unbelievably beautiful performance hall very nearly brought me to tears.

After her performance, we went to a friend of my cousin's for an after-party. At my aunt's request, my cousin and one of her friend's sang a few songs. These "kids" are just full to bursting with talent. My uncle, himself an extremely gifted musician, took up the guitar after and played while the whole room sang, myself included, although quietly so as not to embarrass myself too badly. We sang and laughed until nearly 1am, when the old fogies, my aunts and uncles and myself, had to abandon the younger crew to their fun.

My own college experience was not the most traditional. I started out at one school but after a year I left to "find myself." When I returned at a different school a few years later, I was past the magic of the experience. At that point, I was just ready to do what I needed to do and be done with it. So I didn't form the kind of deep relationships that I saw so clearly between my cousin and her friends. Most of the time, I don't really think about this. It is not the sort of thing that haunts me. I have enough real regrets that I won't waste time on stuff like this. But on the occasion when it is placed in front of me, I can't help but be nostalgic for something that never was.

It was a long drive for what amounted to less than a 24 hour visit, but to get to spend time with some of my favorite people and to share space with that kind of energy, every mile of the journey was worth it.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Weighty Matters

So I know I've talked about weight loss a lot on here. And for a long time. A depressingly long time. Actually, I would have been writing about it since I was 25 if I'd had a blog back then. Ironically, the weight I was then is my target weight now. But that's a whole different body image kettle of fish.

Anyhoo, since I had Sophie, I have really struggled to lose weight. I gained 45 pounds when I was pregnant with her and too many of those pounds stuck around. Not to mention that I needed to lose more than a couple (dozen) when I got pregnant with her. I began working out more than TWO YEARS ago, with the expectation that by hopping on the treadmill or elliptical five times a week, the weight would just drip off and I would be a svelte goddess in no time.

This did not happen.

I may be in better shape than I was two years ago. I can run a 5K without dying. But I'm only one size smaller. At this rate, it will take me ten years to get to my target size and that just isn't going to cut it. Last year I started counting calories and had some success. But I plateaued and lost my momentum. Slowly over the last year, I have gained much of that back and that is not acceptable to me. So last week I finally admitted that I can't do this on my own and joined Weight Watchers.

I went to my first meeting on Tuesday. I got weighed in. Ouch. And got all of the materials. I sat in the back of the room and took it all in. Listened to people talk about how they combated cravings or substituting healthier options for the bad stuff. I giggled a couple times as I spotted the "women of Weight Watchers." But overall, I'm glad I went to the meeting because I think it was the introduction I needed.

I went home with my booklets in hand, downloaded the app for my phone and fantasized about all the weight I was going to lose.

Six hours later, I started puking. I went on to spend the rest of the week mostly in the bathroom. In four days, I didn't meet my daily points total for one day. And I'm pretty sure any points I did consume went right down the toilet. I'm mostly better now, but my appetite hasn't returned and I suspect that when I go in for my weigh in tonight, I will have hit my initial 5% weight loss goal.

I wouldn't recommend it, but as far as jump starting your diet, you just can't beat a good stomach virus.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Flying Bean

For the seven of you that don't follow me on Twitter (and why aren't you?) or a Facebook friend, here's the result of a rainy afternoon, a new flash and a queen sized bed in the Land of Bean.

Monday, February 28, 2011

The Things We Do

I got my first introduction to the seedy underworld of pre-school registration recently. I had no idea this was such a cut-throat endeavor. I'd heard tales, of course. Seen bits in movies. But I honestly just thought they were urban legends. People don't really clamor for spots, do they?

They do.

When I went to the open house for my chosen pre-school, I was delighted and nervous when I saw just how many other prospective attendees were there. But when talk turned to the process for actual registration my nervousness turned to shock.

Registration was to take place at 6:30pm the following Friday. Parents would be given numbers as they arrived and that is the order they would be registered in. And what time did they think we should come? Well, last year parents began showing up around 10. That's TEN Ay Em. EIGHT AND A HALF HOURS BEFORE REGISTRATION.

When they said that, I snorted and turned to walk out. I wasn't going to waste any more of my time on this BS. But halfway to the door I started thinking. First, this is a great pre-school. I have several friends whose children have gone here and raved about it. Second, it is significantly less expensive than the others I was looking at. Sophie's experience is the most important factor but all other things being equal, if we can save a thousand dollars, I'm not going to turn that down. So I halted my stomping out in protest and decided to listen to the rest of what they had to say.

It turned out to be an enjoyable morning as Sophie took part in typical activities with her future classmates. The teachers were really nice and I believed it a good fit for my daughter.

But there was that registration looming over me.

Over the week and a half leading up to the registration day, I changed my mind a hundred times. Going. Not going. Going. Not going. The idea of lining up and sitting there ALL DAY to sign my daughter up for pre-school was not an appealing one. But in the end, I decided to make the sacrifice. Because I'm officially the best mom ever. Or the craziest. So I asked Neil's parents to watch Sophie for the day and I resigned myself to the insanity.

On the appointed day, I dropped off Sophie and headed to the school. I arrived about 10:30 and I was certain that I would be one of the first people there. Wrong. I was 11th. The first arrived at 6:30. Thaaaat's right. 6:30 am. For pre-school registration.

Fortunately, neither the school nor the other parents were super strict about how we spent our time waiting and while some chose to sit in chairs lined up at the door, I opted to sit within the comfort of my car reading The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo on my Ipad, with the occasional phone call or game of Angry Birds thrown in to break it up. Around 2, the kindly Katie took pity on me and showed up with a cookies and creme milkshake from Chick Fil A. Otherwise it was a quiet and uneventful day.

At about 6:15, we all lined up at the door of the school and prepared for the magic moment. We filed in and waited for our numbers to be called. With just 14 spots in the morning class I wanted and an unknown number already taken by children whose brothers or sisters had already come through the program, I was not optimistic that Sophie would get in. Sadly, my fears were justified, but there was a spot in the afternoon class. So, despite my concerns about this interfering with her naps, I signed her up. I don't mind telling you, I'm pretty excited for September. Sophie is going to love it there.

I know it's crazy, but those hours seem like a good investment on my daughter's future. Sure, it's just pre-school, but these are formative years, right? I guess I'll just have to chalk this up as yet another on the long and ever-growing list of things I never thought I would do as a parent.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Stream of Consciousness Sunday: Taste Memories

Another attempt at a Stream of Consciousness post. Here's what's jumbling around in my head at the moment. As always, the rules according to Fadra are thus: set the timer for 5 minutes, write, write, write and when the timer stops, that's it. No editing. 

I was making macaroni and cheese for Sophie today. Not the homemade kind, the kind that comes in a blue box. I'm domestic but not THAT domestic. As I was finishing up, I remembered from my childhood how my mother would make us the same macaroni and cheese and she would cut up real cheddar cheese and mix it in. Cheddar cheese being what it is, it didn't melt in very well and there were always chunks of cheese in with the macaroni. I loved scooping up a forkful and finding one of the pieces of extra cheese. Its one of those funny childhood memories that litter my brain.

So as I was preparing her not exactly healthy blue box variety, I decided to mix in some cheese. Give it that little touch of motherly love. Knowing she would love it as much as I had and a new memory would be created for this next generation, carrying on the tradition. So I got out the brick, just as my mother did, I sliced off a hunk and methodically cut it into small pieces. Not so small they couldn't be seen or tasted, but small enough to mix in a bit. I threw it in with the butter and milk and stirred and stirred until the powdery stuff was creamy and the perfect texture achieved.

I scooped a small amount of this now precious dish into the cute little Winnie the Pooh bowl and stuck one of her plastic Ikea spoons into the mix. I called her to the table and with my own dish in hand, sat hers down in front of her with a smile and a twinkle in my eye.

She twirled the fork, watching the stringy strands of cheese stretch from fork to bowl. My own mouth watered in anticipation as she eyed up this delicacy. Then, just as she seemed to be about to take a bite, she pushed the plate away and said, with great finality: NO. And just like that, my dreams for this heirloom treat were shattered.

So I pulled her bowl over to my placemat and ate all of that tasty mac and cheese myself. That picky little thing might not like it, but I'm not letting it go to waste.


Wednesday, February 16, 2011

THE Best Valentimes Card

There are some moments that you later realize were pivotal to how you experience life moving forward. Of course you have your most obvious moments: marriages, births, promotions, but there are also moments that shape your world in smaller ways. For me, one of those days was in June of 2008 when a run of the mill weekly trip to the grocery store turned into a conversation in the check out line with another new mother who was there with her son. He was just a few months younger than Sophie and we bonded over the finer points (and failures from a mother's perspective) of grocery cart design. We exchanged numbers and email addresses. I don't think either of us could have guessed how significant that meeting would be.

Two and a half years later and that chance encounter has turned into one of the best friends I have. Katie has become a confidante, co-conspirator, companion, commiserater and emergency babysitter. We have our weekly trips to Chick Fil A, filling our tanks (and saddlebags, in my case) on milkshakes while the kids run like hooligans in the play area. We've spent countless hours at the library and the park and each others' houses. She's the kind of friend that I'm not embarrassed to have come over when my house is a mess and my daughter is wearing a swimsuit in the middle of winter.

Our children have grown up as close as two non-siblings can. They fight, of course, but they can also be so very cute, like when they spontaneously curl up on the sofa together for a little Diego. I don't think I'm the only one that not-so-secretly hopes they someday get married.

Because it is a requirement* in my friends, she is also super funny and terribly creative. So no surprise that she "helped" her son make the cutest Valentines card for Sophie. Christopher presented Sophie with her card when they stopped over after our return from a long ski weekend. (For those of you unfamiliar with Sophie's signature phase, check out this post.)

I think I'll probably frame it.

Thanks for everything, Katie, you're the best!

*More of a guideline than a strict rule, really.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Stream of Consciousness Sunday: Moments

My second go at a Stream of Consciousness post. This time I actually thought out what I was going to write before, which seems a little like a cheat, but I felt so ill-prepared last week. Anyhoo, here's what's jumbling around in my head at the moment. As always, the rules according to Fadra are thus: set the timer for 5 minutes, write, write, write and when the timer stops, that's it. No editing.

Most of my memories from my childhood are not full fledged memories as I know them as an adult. They are not full recollections of activities but more snapshots. Moments in time captured. We got a fair amount of snow last week. We live across from the fields of an elementary school and part of those fields are the sledding hills for the area. Whenever there is enough accumulation to make it possible, the kids come out in droves, lining up along the ridge and tearing down the short run before picking themselves up and racing back up to the top for another go.

I am certain that there were numerous sledding adventures in my childhood. Probably at least once every year, my sister and I hit the snow covered hills in our area. But there is one such outing that stands out. It happened when we lived in Heidelberg, Germany. And strangely it isn't really the sledding that I remember, although there are flashes of that. Tearing down the hill on the old-style curved toboggan or one of the metal and wood runner sleds. What I remember is afterward, when red-faced and wild-haired, we all trooped to the nearest fast food restaurant and sat down for french fries and hot cocoa. An unlikely combination but at 10 years old, after a cold afternoon spent sledding, they were divine. I remember all of us sitting around, my parents, my sister, and some family friends and their kids who were our age. In the snapshot in my mind, everyone is laughing as we cup the cocoa in cold hands.

I think about that image and how happy I was that day and I wonder what snapshots my daughter will take with her of her childhood. What unlikely event will be the amalgam for a group of happy memories? I know I can't possibly pick and choose which it will be, but it certainly makes me aware of each moment that I share with my daughter. And in that awareness, attempt to make every experience matter. Its easy to make the big moments spectacular, the magic is in making the little ones even more so.


Sunday, January 30, 2011

Stream of Consciousness Sunday: Nature Happens

I've been reading the beautiful and talented Fadra's Stream of Consciousness Sunday posts for a while and often thought it would be fun to do but never seemed to get around to it. So today, as I sit here waiting for my cookies to bake, and I had my little netbook handy, I thought the time was ripe. So here goes. The rules are simple: set a timer for 5 minutes and just brain dump. After that, there is no editing or proofreading. Which for this OCD editor is HARD, but I'm going to do it. Here goes:

So let's see, what's been going on. I've started taking Sophie to a Nature Center every Monday to take part in pre-school nature hour. Each week they have a different theme which is presented by one of a couple different guides or rangers or whatever they are. So far my favorite, because I'm juvenile was the one on SCAT. Aka poo. As always, we walked in a couple minutes late, so at first I wasn't aware what the topic was. There was a movie presentation going on and they kept showing cartoon drawings of animals pooping on the head of this little animal, I think it was a mouse or some other small woodland creature. I was only half paying attention because I was trying to corral Sophie onto the blanket at the front with the other kids, but as this poor mouse kept being pooped on, I figured it out. Now, I'm not sure what the message there was supposed to be. I think it was helping kids identify the different kinds of skat. But the message was clear to me: unless you want to get shit on your head, don't stand under the business end of a bigger animal.


Monday, January 24, 2011

Say What?

We've struggled with Sophie's speech for a long time. In fact, when she was about 18 months we took her to an audiologist because she was saying so few words. There might also have been the fact that she absolutely did not listen to me and I would much rather think it's because she has hearing issues than that my parenting was lacking. Well, thanks to the fine specialists at Seans Bobkins, we found that there was absolutely nothing wrong with her ears. (read: it was, in fact, bad parenting)

So we've spent the last year and a half struggling. She with her attempts to communicate to us and us with our attempts to understand exactly what she was saying. While we watched the vocabulary of all of the kids around us grow and grow. While younger children spoke more clearly, communicating in phrases and sentences, Sophie continued to be nearly incomprehensible.

One of the cute but frustrating elements of her speech was something that sounded much like gidda-gidda-gidda. Said rapid fire, it was my theory that because she didn't know the words, she used that as a placeholder. As time wore on, I wondered if it was some sort of speech impediment, perhaps the beginning of a stutter. But as she slowly, ever so slowly, began to say more words and phrases, it became clear that it was not taking the place of words but was more of a transition sound between words she did know.

I'll be honest, I was beginning to get a little worried. She turned three in October and she was still so hard to understand. I talk to people all the time who say their kid barely said a word until they were 3 or 4 but that doesn't make the anxiety any less. But then, just in the last month, she has had a vocabulary explosion. All of a sudden, she is communicating relatively clearly in phrases and sentences. There are still words that I have absolutely no clue what she is talking about, but they are far outweighed now by those I do. So my frustration level, at least in this ONE area, has gone done significantly.

Now, if I can just get her potty trained. SIGH.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

No Food Issues Here

Is that a quesadilla in your pocket or are you just happy to see me?

Sunday, January 2, 2011

The Year of the Procrastinator

Here we are nearly 48 hours into 2011 and I still can't figure out what year it is. On no less than a half dozen occasions, including one unintentionally hilarious tweet, I have fast forwarded to 2012. I'm not sure why I can't seem to get it through my head that it's 2011, but for some reason I am stuck on 2012.

While I have this same trouble nearly every year, this is the first time I have gone forward rather than backward. Maybe I'm excited for what the next years will bring. Maybe time is just zipping by so quickly for me these days that I don't even know what year it is anymore. It is certain that my grasp on time has gotten worse and worse. Not having a set work schedule doesn't help this.

I'm always late, to one degree or another. My best friend tells me it's because I do unnecessary things as I'm leaving. I say that if I don't sort the magazines before I leave for that lunch date, then I'll forget and it won't get done. I always feel guilty about my tardiness. Not guilty enough to be on time, but guilty nonetheless.

Because of this, I've decided that 2011 is going to be dedicated to the cause of promoting anti-anti-procrastination. In fact, I'm encouraging everyone to embrace their inner procrastinator. I'm not making any grand resolutions, because who ever follows through on them anyway, but in a much more dramatic fashion, I have decided this is going to be MY year. And I'll still probably always be late.

So welcome to 2011, y'all, the Year of the Procrastinator. It took me two days, but I'm finally here with everyone else.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

What Am I Reading 2011

I'm a reader. Always have been. There is little I love more than escaping into a good book. And it has been fun keeping track of what I've read the last two years. So into 2011 I go, a universe of literature at my fingertips. As in the past, please feel to leave comments on books you read, opinions on my "reviews" or suggestions.

The Year in Books 2010
The Year in Books 2009 

The Scorch Trials - James Dashner (Genre: Young Adult) The second book in the Maze Runner trilogy, Thomas and his group of maze survivors are now out in the outside world facing a whole new series of trials. I wanted to like this book, I'd heard good things, but it felt like a lot of running around and getting nowhere. I guess I won't be able to say until I've read the third and final book, but I honestly didn't feel this book advanced the story other than to throw the boys (and girls) through more hellish torment for reasons unknown. Grade: B-
Probability of Miracles - Wendy Wunder (Genre: Young Adult) When I received this book, my first thought was "a book by Wendy WUNDER called Probability of MIRACLES. Pfft. Can we try a little harder folks?" It is a very good thing that I didn't judge this book by the cover (or the name, in this case), because it is one of the best books I read this year. 

It is the story of Cam, a 16 year old girl with terminal cancer. She's been through every treatment and experimental therapy available and while she doesn't believe in miracles, her mother and 11 year old sister do, and they think they'll find them in the aptly named town of Promise, Maine.

As she pursues her "flamingo list", Cam begins to truly enjoy life. She finds herself, almost unwittingly, a part of a group of friends and involved with a boy who believes in the magic of Promise more than anyone. So despite her grim outlook and determination to stay that way, she unexpectedly finds hope.

My criticism of our last book of the month was that, while good, the dialogue and behavior didn't feel true to teenagers. This book does. The characters were real witty. Their interactions were believable. I loved Cam and her unique family. Everyone should have a nana who has to make herself angry at them so she can let them leave without breaking down.

I sobbed as I finished this book in the locker room at my gym. I just couldn't put it down to wait to finish it at home. It is the first book that has truly captured me in a while. I will definitely be keeping an eye out for Wendy Wunder's next book. Grade: A

Sapphique - Catherine Fisher (Genre: Young Adult/Science Fiction/Fantasy) The sequel to Incarceron, we follow Finn and Claudia on the outside as they struggle to prove Finn as the rightful prince, and on the inside, Attia and Keiro, who, with the glove of Sapphique, are searching for a way out of Incarceron. This book left me wanting more, in a good way. Grade: B+

Finding Somewhere - Joseph Monninger (Genre: Young Adult)
Most girls go through a horse phase, but Hattie and Delores take theirs to a whole new level. Speed is Hattie's "one" horse. Beloved, he is the one that will be all horses to her ever after. When his owners decide that his time has come, these two unlikely friends make a cross-country trip in search of somewhere to give the dying horse a last taste of freedom.

This book was written from 16 year old Hattie's point of view, and while the descriptors used were beautiful and evocative ("when the moon is full and woodsmoke lips out of the chimneys"), they just didn't ring true to the way a girl her age would think. Going along with that, these two girls were unnaturally self-aware for 16 and 18. Dolores apparently suffers from Bipolar Disorder and both she and Hattie are very attuned to her fluctuating moods, so much so that they would work to head off her depressive phases. As a 37 year old woman with familial and personal histories with this disease myself, I can only say that even now it's really darn hard to see the shifts as their happening and almost impossible, barring medication, to do anything about them. I struggle to believe that a 16 year old would be this perceptive.

Finally, I was frustrated with character development, specifically, Hattie's backstory. Why did she drop out of school and get her GED? Her father is clearly not in the picture, but there is very little in the way of explanation there. The girls had planned a cross-country trip before Speed, so while the horse was the specific impetus for their journey, the idea had already been set in motion before they realized his situation. I don't need comprehensive exposition, but I would have understood her need to make this trip a lot better if I had some of these details.

As a woman who loved horses as a young girl myself, I liked this book, I empathized with Hattie and Delores and I wanted Speed to have his day in the sun as much as they did, but... I needed a little more. Grade: B 

The Power of Six - Pitticus Lore (Genre: Young Adult) The second in the Lorien Legacies, we continue where we left off with John Smith, aka Number Four, as he runs from the the Mogadoriens. He has been joined by Number Six as they search for the remaining five Lorien children. Good action, interrupted by some not at all surprising plot twists. My beef with this book, as with so many lately, is that it does not stand alone. It begins in the middle and ends in the middle. Authors don't waste the energy to make each novel satisfying on their own because it is all about the series. Since this book is written expressly for monetary gain, it shouldn't surprise me, but I'm disappointed nonetheless. Grade: B-

Consider Phlebas - Iain M. Banks (Genre: Science Fiction) A promising opening with an intriguing central character drifts off into a collection of disjointed experiences that left me not really caring about anyone in the book. There was some good action and a well developed universe but it wasn't enough to make this book truly likable. Grade: B-
Blood Wounds - Susan Beth Pfeffer (Genre: Young Adult) Part of what seems to be a happily blended family, Willa's life is thrown in to upheaval when the biological father she doesn't remember suddenly becomes a very scary part of her life. I loved Pfeffer's Last Survivor series so I went into this book with quite high expectations and while I had no trouble zipping through it, I never really identified with any of the characters as I did so strongly with the characters in her other books. The characters in this book all felt very stereotypical and two-dimensional: the doting mother with her hidden small town past; the too-perfect stepfather with the evil ex-wife; the stepsisters who get everything while Willa lives on hand-me-downs. Additionally, there were significant areas of the story that didn't ring true for me. I simply can not believe that any mother, let alone Willa's overprotective one, would allow her child to travel on her own following such an unbelievably traumatic event. Moreover, the personal issue that Willa struggles with felt like a forced connection to her father, one that was too quickly and easily resolved in the end. Pfeffer can certainly string words together, but this book fell flat for me. Grade: C+ 

Little Bee - Chris Cleave (Genre: Fiction) This is one of those books that I really want to say I love, but I just don't. The writing was well done, the story interesting and yet. It just didn't capture me. This novel tracks a young Nigerian woman and a thirty-something British couple, and the catastrophic intersection of their lives. Grade: B 

Under the Mesquite - Guadalupe Garcia McCall (Genre: Young Adult) Lupita is the oldest of eight brothers and sisters in her close-knit Mexican-American family. She dreams of pursuing a career in acting but her world is torn apart when her mother is diagnosed with cancer. As her mother undergoes treatment, Lupita struggles to hold her family together while simultaneously traversing the pitfalls of adolescence. Through tragedy, she discovers hope and promise. When I first realized this book was written in free verse, I worried that the form would make the story of  difficult to follow. I am very happy to say my fears were unfounded. Moreover, this captivating book evoked a range of emotions astonishingly complex for such a quick read. McCall's words brought me back to my own difficult teenage years and the complicated relationship between my mother and I. A beautiful but sometimes painful read. I can't say enough good things about this book. Grade: A+

Divergent - Veronica Roth (Genre: Young Adult) In a future distopian society located amid the ruins of Chicago, five distinct factions have emerged. Each embodying a necessary element of society, children are required to select their faction at the age of 16. Despite being raised among the peace-loving Amity, Beatrice chooses the Dauntless faction, who are the protectors of their society. As she struggles to complete the initiation, she discovers a plot that will change her world forever. Fast-paced, well written novel. Grade: A

Domestic Affairs - Eileen Goudge (Genre: Fiction) Just another bland novel without much in the way of originality or creativity. The characters were flat and there wasn't a single twist that I didn't see coming from the very beginning. Even the writing was lackluster. The fact it has 4 stars on Amazon completely baffles me. All I can think is that the people rating this book on there must be comparing it to the Twilight novels or your run of the mill Danielle Steele. Grade: D 

Judas Unchained - Peter Hamilton (Genre: Science Fiction) I am hesitant to talk about the story because it will give too much away for any who might not have read Pandora's Star. I'll just say that it was a reasonably satisfying conclusion to this epic story. It was a long, long road but I'm happy to have made the trip. Grade: B+ 

Pandora's Star - Peter Hamilton (Genre: Science Fiction) In the future, travel by wormhole and rejuvenations that essentially make humans immortal are accepted parts of life. When an entire galaxy is found enclosed within an impenetrable opaque barrier, no one is prepared for what they find within or the implications it will have for the human race. Grade: B+

Room - Emma Donaghue (Genre: Fiction) Told from the viewpoint of a 5 year old boy, Room is the heartbreaking story of a woman and her son and the world they create within four walls. At times painful for me to read, as a mother, it was deeply engrossing. Grade: A 

Jellicoe Road - Melina Marchetta (Genre: Young Adult) The story follows the stories of two groups of teenagers, one in the past and one in the present, who are inextricably linked to their predecessors. Grade: B+

The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake - Aimee Bender (Genre: Young Adult/Supernatural) Ten year old Rose discovers that she has a very unusual skill: she can taste the emotions of the preparer in the foods she eats. The complexities this creates in her relationships with her mother and those around her reveal more than just the usual struggles. I loved this book. Grade: A

Bossypants - Tina Fey (Genre: Memoire) Perhaps I've overdosed on memoires in recent years, but I just didn't love this book like I expected to. I love Tina Fey. It certainly made me laugh. But. There was a cohesiveness that was missing. I don't expect the structure of a novel in these sorts of essay books, but I do expect a broader theme. And I just didn't feel it was there. Having said that, it was definitely an entertaining read and I recommend it for the laughs. Grade: B
The Paris Wife - Paula McClain (Genre: Fiction) The story of Ernest Hemingway's marriage to Hadley, told from her viewpoint. In the end, I enjoyed this book, and it was undeniably beautifully written, but it dragged. I struggled through the middle hundred pages but the end was satisfying. Grade: B

The Girl Who Kicked The Hornet's Nest - Stiegg Larsson (Genre: Fiction) The third, and erstwhile, final book in the The Girl Who... series. A worthy finish to these interesting books. My only complaint was that there were some storylines that were not wrapped up. I won't say which to avoid spoilers but it left me wanting. I hope the rumored fourth book is eventually published and that it addresses these storylines. Grade: B+

The Girl Who Played With Fire - Stiegg Larsson (Genre: Fiction) Following the same characters as the Dragon Tattoo, we get into the search for a mysterious character in the sex trade world that winds up being very key to our heroine. Grade: A- 

The Postmistress - Sarah Blake (Genre: Historical Fiction) Set during World War II, this book follows three women and their experiences in Europe and America as they dealt with the changes the war brought. Well written, but unexpectedly unsatisfying. Grade: B

Goblin Quest - Jim C. Hines (Genre: Fantasy) Runty goblin Jig winds up a captive/guide for a group of adventurers, among them a dwarf, fairy and two humans, in search of a treasure at the heart of the mountain that Jig calls home. Their adventure takes twists and turns as they battle the magic of a the dangerous wizard Necromancer. Grade: B

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo - Stieg Larsson (Genre: Fiction) After a humiliating public conviction for libel, a financial journalist is hired by an elderly industrialist with a complex family history and a missing person mystery that needs solving. Well paced, interesting read with some great twists and facinating characters. I look forward to the next book. Grade: A-

A Reliable Wife - Robert Goolrick (Genre: Historical Fiction) Set in early 1900's Wisconsin, this is the story of an aging businessman and the wife he met through an advertisement. There are a couple of twists but I wasn't terribly surprised by any of them. A well-written book, and the story was solid but I wasn't really taken in. Grade: B

On Deck: 

Unbroken - Laura Hillenbrand
A Visit From The Goon Squad - Jennifer Egan
Here Lies Bridget by Paige Harbison:
The Opposite of Me - Sarah Pekkanen
Disquiet - Julia Leigh
Truth - Robin Wasserman
Wake - Lisa McCann
Pride and Prejudice - Jane Austen
Blue Bloods - Melissa De La Cruz
Uglies - Scott Westerfeld
Still Alice - Lisa Genova
Outlander - Diana Gabaldon
The Road - Cormac McCarthy
The Happiness Project - Gretchen Rubin
Willow - Julia Hoban
Private Life - Jane Smiley
The Domino Men - Jonathan Barnes
Eat Pray Love - Elizabeth Gilbert

Going forward this post will be updated after I read each book and can be reached by clicking the "What's On The Bookshelf" link at the top right of the page. I pick almost all of my books based on suggestions from friends, so please feel free to leave a comment with a recommendation at any time during the year!