Whatcha reading?

Weekends are becoming more what they should be around here lately: relaxing. We still have lots to do (soccer practice, and also a crapton of leaves to take care of. Yay Fall.) but we are able to fit relaxation and fun in.

For me, that means reading! And not only audio books (like it was for the past few months), REAL BOOKS. It’s exciting, and this year I’ve developed the habit of diving in to several all at once. At the moment I’m reading…

A Storm of Swords (GOT Book 3): I’m listening to this one, because I’m a huge baby/whiner about how long they are, and was getting bitter about how much reading time it was soaking up. Well, trading that in for a cool 47 hours of listening… I guess it’s a win? It’s a great book, and I’ve slowed down how much I’m listening.

One for the Books by Joe Queenan: I impulse bought this one after hearing an interview with him on NPR. He’s a brash Philadelphian (his accent was part of the appeal, though it’s not *pleasing* in the widely understandable way that, say, a Southern accent is, something about it makes me miss home.) He’s an author, but this book is about how much he reads (150ish books/year). His reading habits are nothing like mine and at times he is annoyingly flippant about books I like, but it’s making me think and sort of rededicate myself to reading more.

Catcher in the Rye: I am not quite sure why, but I feel it’s time to reread this one. It’s one I’ve read 3 times now, and I’m super excited to crack it open again. I have the copy I read in high school & I was really into underlining stuff and writing in books then. I continued that tradition and it’s sort of a whole different experience each time I read it, and funny to see how time changes what parts speak to me. The first time I fell in love with it (the second time I read it- first time I didn’t really get it, I think), I was 2 days into studying abroad in Ireland (10 years ago… how can that be?) Something about it, even though it’s not about being a stranger in a strange land or any of the things I was feeling, takes me back to those feelings. I’m pretty excited to re-re-re-reread it.

Oh, and I am sort of slowly making my way through Lots of Candles, Plenty of Cake because I love Anna Quindlen (or bc you know, I am secretly 20 years older than I’ve been letting on?), and Showstoppers! for work, as a writing style to strive for in our next book. I get to read a book for work, that’s pretty cool, right? (It’s pretty geeky though.) Scott and I started listening to Paterno on the way home from DC the other weekend and we’re going to listen together on roadtrips. Really, really loving it so far, and I think most Pennsylvanians/Penn State fans would!

And, I promised myself I wasn’t going to flake out on book club for next month, so I will read the Wedding Gift next! Promise!

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Book Dump

It’s like a brain dump post, but only books. I realize how that might be a weird/creepy/misleading post title but I’m leaving it.

This year has been … well, about as crazy as I assumed it’d be. Reading has always been an important part of the equation for Centering Jamie. I love it, and I approach it from a former English and Writing student. Reading a book to me is about dissecting the themes and critiquing the writing. I am actually incapable of Chick Lit. And 50 Shades of Grey. (And I’m okay with that, I know my limits.)

I finally feel like my Goodreads shelf is up to date, and I must say I’m pretty impressed with the amount of books I’ve managed to read this year. So far: 22. And I’m reading 5 right now (some more vigorously than others.) Listening to audio books is a HUGE factor in being able to accomplish that. I listen when I run, walk around work from building to building, drive (sometimes), shop (when I’m alone), get ready for work and do laundry. It’s my favorite multitasking ever.

Side note: On goodreads? Let’s be buds!

So far, my favorite books this year, ones I’d recommend to anyone are:
1. Gone Girl. For me it utterly rocked my face off. It surprised me, disturbed me, kept me thinking about it for weeks after and made me want more. Can’t wait to reread it. (I listened to it, and it was the best audio book I’ve listened to yet.)

2. A Grown Up Kind of Pretty. I didn’t have high expectations for this one, and it surprised me a lot. Great book, sort of lighter than GG (how could it not be!) but entertaining, deep and real.

I’ve already reviewed The Fault in our Stars, and 11-22-63, but I think they’d be on my Top Fiction Books of the Year list as well.

I also like “Thinker” books too, ones that are sort of educational and challenge me to think. Under that category, I’ve enjoyed… Think, Bringing Up Bebe, and Rachel Maddow’s book Drift. I think I actually need to listen to it again, but it was so information heavy and compelling. My takeaway: I don’t know anything about the military (and most of us don’t), and it’s spending. That’s a big, big problem. Also, I still hate war forever amen. The audio book was excellent, Rachel Maddow read it and she rocks, so there’s that!

I also listened to Divergent and Insurgent, the first two in the YA dystopian literature phenomena. They were good, but not great, for me. Like, I’m not anxiously awaiting the third book.

No really, who doesn't adore Arya?

And, let’s end with the Game of Thrones series, aka, TIME SUCK.  I started the first book in … June? May? I’ve been more or less reading them ever since. It’s infuriating, honestly. These books are SO dense, and so, so long. And the chunk of time I have to read amounts to like 20 min every night, tops. Making headway in a 900 page book of science fiction is hard. But here’s the sucky part: They’re good. Like, really, really good. A few weeks ago I was like “screw it, moving on” and picked up another book. It was terrible by comparison. So there’s that addictive part of them too.

My advice here: If you haven’t read them, watch the HBO series. And if you really, really want to read them, go on a month-long vacation alone. Or just be prepared to dedicate a lot of energy to the adventure, forsaking all other books. I got the 3rd book on audible and it’s more manageable, so that’s another way to get into them and not have to ignore family members and jobs, etc. (Have I mentioned I am really into audio books?)

My biggest Un-Recommendation is Age of Miracles. It was terrible and that’s the absolute nicest way to describe it.

 

Makin’ Cakes! (Yogurt Cake Recipe Time)

In follow up to my lenghty and conflicted review of Bringing Up Bebe, I wanted to share the recipe for Gateau au Yaourt. (For someone who speaks zero French, these words are incomprehensible. Can I buy a consonant???) So, in English, Yogurt Cake!

(I’m sorry. I’m really not *anti-French* at all & don’t mean to be insensitive, but something about a word like that makes me laugh. I mean, my mouth just won’t do that. Yaourt? Other languages are weird.)

This recipe seems to have some buzz around it. The making of the cake is sort of the fun and different part. It’s slightly easier than if you were to make a *real* cake from scratch (thought not as easy as a boxed cake, baker beware). I’ve done it with Margo’s help twice now and she’s really enjoyed it. It’s fun to have her help and of course she loves to eat it.

Since the French are all philosophical about their child rearing (or at least Druckerman is in her telling about it), the theory behind this cake is that it teaches children to wait. One of the French values that is central to its culture is … willpower. I haven’t read it, but I think it comes into play in the “French Women Don’t Get Fat” book… they indulge in sweets and bad stuff, but not all the time. For their kids, they don’t do frequent snacks, but the afternoon snack is a standard. The author mentioned baking the cake together (or the child doing it alone!) in the morning and eating it for snack, teaching the child about waiting. *shrug* I guess.

Stirrin’ it up!

What’s special about the recipe is it calls for yogurt in serving-size containers as the first ingredient and you use those cups to measure all of the rest of the ingredients. At Margo’s age, I had her dump the ingredients in, but eventually I suppose she can measure stuff herself. She helped stir as well. Last week, we made some in a mini-bundt tin for Teacher Appreciation Week. It’s a different type of cake… but tasty and the process of making it is fun. A good toddler exercise!

Recipe: Yogurt Cake (gâteau au yaourt)

(copied from Cake Student bc I”m too lazy to type it from the book…:) )

Ingredients

  • 2 (6oz) containers of plain whole milk yogurt (keep containers for measuring the other ingredients) <- I couldn’t find 6 oz whole milk yogurt so had to use 3 4oz things. Involves math, baker beware.
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 containers sugar
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • just under 1 container of vegetable oil
  • 4 containers flour
  • 1 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1 container mini chocolate chips or 2 containers of frozen berries (optional) <- we’ve done it twice, once w/ blueberries & once with choc chips. OBV the chocolate was better, but fruit wasn’t bad & Margo ate it.
  • Crème fraîche (optional)
  • powdered sugar (optional)

Instructions

  1. Preheat the oven to 375 F
  2. Coat a loaf pan or 9″ round cake pan with cooking spray or oil.
  3. In a large mixing bowl, combine the yogurt, eggs, sugar, vanilla, and oil.
  4. In a separate bowl, combine the flour and baking powder.
  5. Add the dry mixture to the wet mixture, stir until just combined. You can now add the chocolate chips or berries if using them.
  6. Scopp it all into your baking pan, bake for 35-45 minutes or until golden and the cake springs up when touched (or when a toothpick inserted is pulled out clean). Let it cool on a rack.
  7. Dust with powdered sugar (optional) and serve with the Crème fraîche (optional).

Preparation time: 15 minute(s)

Cooking time: 40 minute(s)

Bringing Up Bebe: Musings on Frenchies & their parenting

So, there’s this book. Bringing Up Bebe. I listened to the author on an NPR podcast a few weeks ago and it peaked my curiosity. The book is good: thought-provoking, promoting self-reflection, gives me some good ideas…. But it’s also annoying. I’ll explain.

So, the high-level goes like this: In France, they do things differently. You know this debate we like to have in America about everything (breastfeed/formula, SAHM/work, organic babyfood?, cry-it-out, etc etc ad nauseum)? Well, in France, there’s sort of a consensus on how to do things. There’s a very regimented way to make their tiny humans a part of the family in a loving but not-very-disruptive way. French parents (who I respect but also come to hate in reading this book…blah) just expect to pretty much get their lives back. And then they do. You know that saying “You get the baby you expect,” … because that’s how you treat them? In a lot of ways that makes sense to me, and I think that also sort of comes into play in the way the French deal w/ their kids.

There are some important things that are different, such as state run daycare (can you even IMAGINE what a game changer that is? Free Daycare? For all? That alone blows my mind.) They have a different attitude toward foods their kids will eat and how to get them to sleep through the night. They are more strict in enforcing their house rules, but yet more open and understanding on some level. The author referenced a few French parenting experts and I found it fascinating that many of them sounded like philosophy textbooks. They conceive of childhood and parenthood differently than we do.

*snort* (from The New Yorker)

 So, in short, informative, interesting. BUT, where I encountered issues was when things were not going perfeclty with my own tiny human? I *really* didn’t give a shit what the book had to say, to put it kindly. Oh, isn’t it fantastic how French toddlers play quietly alone while their parents have a conversation? And eat foie gras and escargot at daycare? I’m just so happy for them, as my own kid throws her chicken nuggets onto the floor and whines the whole way home from school because she dropped threw her sunglasses and now she wants them. So yeah, some days I wasn’t really, um, open to the message.

She also talked about what it’s like raising children in a foreign country (she’s American and her husband’s British), how the French relate to their spouses differently, and a few small things to do to incorporate some of the things they do into your life. Making my child wait, for instance. That one is sort of a pain but it makes sense that if you satisfy her every need the second she requests it, she’ll be a brat, right? Also, there was an interesting section about how the French are big on teaching their children to say bonjour when the arrive somewhere. I never thought about it, but Margo doesn’t so I have been prompting her to. The theory is that it gives them autonomy and independence, something they can do to join society. Also, it’s polite! I’ve also been saying the mantra “It is I who decides,” when she gives me pushback. Mainly for me. It sort of makes me laugh, but also is empowering at the same time.

One thing that resonated was the concept that parents should say yes more than they say no. I believe this, but I’m also pretty sure that anyone who’s ever parented a toddler can attest to this not always being how things play out.

In a lot of ways, the culture Druckerman depicts reminded me of the message Free Range Kids… pretty much “RELAX. You’re way overthinking this, parents.” (This was my favorite message of the book.) We don’t benefit our kids by taking care of every little thing for them, by enabling them to only have bananas that are *cut just so* or stopping the car to get said sunglasses off the floor. Giving them freedom, letting them cope with consequences of their choices and actions… that’s part of the growing experience.

Bringing Up Bebe isn’t a drinking the KoolAid book, to me. This book doesn’t make me want to move to France and change Margo to Margaux. It doesn’t make the French endearing at all to me. Sometimes they come off downright cold, pretty much like the popular stereotypes. But I do love the societal ideal they all seem to share. I don’t often debate or feel conflicted on my parenting choices. (Like this Mommy Wars business? I feel completely unaffected. I made my decision and I’m 100% happy with it, don’t care to rehash!) To have it just be a societal thing that we’re all laid back? That’d be pretty fun.

What it seems like this book is best known for is the Yogurt Cake. I am going to post about that soon, because it’s a really fun toddler activity! Stay tuned.

4 weeks to the half!

Juuuust under 4 weeks until I take on the VA Wine Country Half Marathon. It’ll be my 3rd half and for some reason I took on the goal of breaking 2 hours. So the training plan is ending up to be REALLY HARD. I know, surprising. But I’m rising to the challenge. To be honest, I think it’s only getting super hard right about now. The past 2 months were tougher than usual, but with a long-slow-distance run on the weekend (comparable to what I’ve done before) and one speed workout a week it felt manageable.

This week I have to do 6 miles with 4 miles at a 9:00 pace. I had to do that same speed workout a few weeks ago and absolutely DIED. I made one mile at 9:00 then just sucked tough for the rest of the time. It was maybe the most painful run of my life. You know, when you just sort of realize at some point when you’re several miles from a way out of it that you can’t do it and then your brain keeps telling you “You suck!” and you listen and start walking… it was a bad run, guys. Anyway, I rebounded and feel like I won’t necessarily self-destruct on Wednesday’s re-do, but it’s still sorta very daunting bc of the way last time turned out.

The running/audio book thing has been generally fun. I loved loved loved running to Stephen King’s 11-22-63 and wish I could find another awesome book just like that to listen to. It was the perfect blend of action and prose, but not TOO intense. It’s the density that can be overwhelming with running to audio books, I’m finding. I finished Moonwalking with Einstein recently. It was … okay. I had higher hopes. It got boring at parts (like really dragged.) I stuck it out and I don’t think I’d necessarily recommend it. I’m listening to Rachel Maddow’s Drift right now, which I LOVE because she’s reading it and she’s just awesome. It’s good, but it’s also SO DENSE and I’m missing a lot. Good news is it’s mine forever and I can re-listen at some point, but bad news is I missed like ALL of the Iran-Contra stuff bc it was a speedworkout. lol. Maybe shoulda read that one. I think I need to cash out that iTunes gift card I got for Xmas for Wednesday’s “BIG WORKOUT.”

Overall, I feel like I’m in great shape, especially for this early in the training plan. I’m hoping the next month can get me to where I want to be timewise… I’ve been doing weekend runs with my friends who are also doing the race, makes SUCH a difference to have company. I really need to establish some connections on the marathon training front!

Hugo Cabret and 11-22-63 Book Reviews

I have slowed down on my reading, a little… but not too much! I just finished two this past week (one audio, one paper) that I shall review for you now. (Spoiler: Both were really awesome!)

The Invention of Hugo Cabret – Brian Selznick
I read this for book club, and it’s impossible not to feel daunted by the size of this book. It’s like an encyclopedia or something. But, don’t be scared, dear reader, it’s a magical thing called a graphic novel. You know how smarty pants will sometimes see your book and be like “I only read books with pictures, har har.” Well, they must read this book. Hugo is full of beautiful, expressive illustrations. I enjoyed the pictures (in that “ooh, look, art!” kinda way.) And I liked that it moved really fast (I could read 200 pages in a sitting!) I would love to see the movie adaptation. It was a book club book and I’ll be interested to hear what my fellow booknerds have to say about it.

11-22-63 (Stephen King)
I listened to this book, and dude, it was 30 hours. That’s about a month’s worth of audio book time for me. I listened on my runs, while getting ready in the locker room and on weekends while doing chores. It’s weird, reading audio books filled so much empty time for me this past month. I don’t know what’s next and it’s making me jumpy!

Length aside, it was a fantastic book. I highly, highly reccommend it. I also had never read a Stephen King book before, and based on what I know about SK, this isn’t his typical book. While it was definitely sci-fi, it wasn’t too horror-y or gory or anything.

The basic premise was the main character, Jake, happened upon a time travel portal that takes you back to September 1958. He was setting out to stop the assassination of President Kennedy (the date in the title) by killing Lee Harvey Oswald, and the lengthy and very fascinating story ensures. So many interesting things to think about: butterfly effect, what would you change if you could and what the effects would be… for me, the 1960’s in general are sort of an interest so that was fun. There was a great author’s note at the end by SK about his research on JFK’s assassination and Lee Harvey Oswald. Particularly for the audio book, the voice acting was great. If you’re considering an audio book, this is a great one.

For my next audio adventure, I’m considering Michael Lewis’s Boomerang or perhaps a David McCollough history book? Any other suggestions? I’m still on audible because I’m still too dumb to figure out the library’s site…

 

Book Nerds: Kid Edition

This morning, I got to read to Margo’s pre-school class, in honor of Dr. Seuss’s birthday. We love reading to Margo, always have (even in the early days – adorable video,) and she loves to page through books on her own. I was super excited, signed up early (even though, sadly, all the slots didn’t even fill up.) It was so sweet to see her in the middle of the day, and see her in her element. She was so well behaved and sweet, and so excited. I was a proud momma today 🙂

I debated my decision a lot, which forced me to evaluate my *favorite* children’s books. Incidentally, these also happen to be Margo’s favorites! The front runners for today’s readaloud at daycare were:

Edwina: The Dinosaur Who Didn’t Know She Was Extinct (Mo Willems)
Go, Train, Go! (Rev W Awdry)
Madeline (Ludwig Bemelmans)
Knuffle Bunny: A Cautionary Tale (Mo Willems)

Edwina is so fun, like all of Mo Willems’ books. Plus, there are plates of chocolate chip cookies inside the cover that Margo likes to pretend eat and share with me, which is melt-your-heart adorable. And there’s a character called Reginald Von Hoobie Doobie, which is hilarious. Go, Train, Go! is a Thomas book, and would have been great to read to the class. It’s rhymy and cute… Thomas gets into some mud which makes him all “dawdy!” and eventually saves the day because Thomas always wins. But something in me didn’t want to take a commercialized character into a class of toddlers. They get Thomas; I’m feeling like opening eyes to new worlds today. Madeline is one of my all time favorites, period. In college I took a Writing Children’s Lit class and this is one of the ones that just stuck with me. I love it mostly at night though, because who can beat the last page? “Good night, little girls, thank the lord you are well. And now go to sleep, said Miss Clavel…” I want to fall asleep just writing that. (I totally have that page framed over her bed.)

But, I went with Knuffle Bunny. This book is our absolute enduring favorite for more than a year now, which is saying something given how quickly toddler obsessions can change. Early on, the illustrations appealed to her. She eventually began to identify other things in the pictures, a dog in the background, keys, etc. Now she says Trixie’s lines (“Aggle Flaggle Klabble! Snurp.”) And you guys, this story is just so sweet… There’s also Knuffle Bunny Too and Knuffle Bunny Free, which are nice to spice up the rotation. They follow Trixie as she gets older. As you can imagine, the last one is adorable and tearjerking.

Would be a great Easter Bunny gift… actually Margo is getting a stuffed Knuffle Bunny for Easter!

Happy birthday Dr. Seuss, and happy reading to children day.