Archives For On a Personal Note…

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I started out this summer devouring several books in a row, but lately I’ve hit a bit of a dry spell. I’ve started a few books and just can’t get into any of them. So, what are your favorites that you’d suggest? I like to really be able to get to know the characters, bonus if there’s a romantic element. Here are some I’m considering:

The Secret Keeper: A Novel During a summer party at the family farm in the English countryside, sixteen-year-old Laurel Nicolson has escaped to her childhood tree house and is happily dreaming of the future. She spies a stranger coming up the long road to the farm and watches as her mother speaks to him. Before the afternoon is over, Laurel will witness a shocking crime. A crime that challenges everything she knows about her family and especially her mother, Dorothy—her vivacious, loving, nearly perfect mother. Now, fifty years later, Laurel is a successful and well-regarded actress living in London. The family is gathering at Greenacres farm for Dorothy’s ninetieth birthday. Realizing that this may be her last chance, Laurel searches for answers to the questions that still haunt her from that long-ago day, answers that can only be found in Dorothy’s past. Dorothy’s story takes the reader from pre–WWII England through the blitz, to the ’60s and beyond. It is the secret history of three strangers from vastly different worlds—Dorothy, Vivien, and Jimmy—who meet by chance in wartime London and whose lives are forever entwined. The Secret Keeper explores longings and dreams and the unexpected consequences they sometimes bring. It is an unforgettable story of lovers and friends, deception and passion that is told—in Morton’s signature style—against a backdrop of events that changed the world.

Margot: A Novel Anne Frank has long been a symbol of bravery and hope, but there were two sisters hidden in the annex, two young Jewish girls, one a cultural icon made famous by her published diary and the other, nearly forgotten. In the spring of 1959, The Diary of Anne Frank has just come to the silver screen to great acclaim, and a young woman named Margie Franklin is working in Philadelphia as a secretary at a Jewish law firm. On the surface she lives a quiet life, but Margie has a secret: a life she once lived, a past and a religion she has denied, and a family and a country she left behind. Margie Franklin is really Margot Frank, older sister of Anne, who did not die in Bergen-Belsen as reported, but who instead escaped the Nazis for America. But now, as her sister becomes a global icon, Margie’s carefully constructed American life begins to fall apart. A new relationship threatens to overtake the young love that sustained her during the war, and her past and present begin to collide. Margie is forced to come to terms with Margot, with the people she loved, and with a life swept up into the course of history.

The Secret Life of Bees When Lily’s fierce-hearted black “stand-in mother,” Rosaleen, insults three of the town’s most vicious racists, Lily decides they should both escape to Tiburon, South Carolina—a town that holds the secret to her mother’s past. There they are taken in by an eccentric trio of black beekeeping sisters who introduce Lily to a mesmerizing world of bees, honey, and the Black Madonna who presides over their household. This is a remarkable story about divine female power and the transforming power of love—a story that women will continue to share and pass on to their daughters for years to come.

The Invention of Wings Hetty “Handful” Grimke, an urban slave in early nineteenth century Charleston, yearns for life beyond the suffocating walls that enclose her within the wealthy Grimke household. The Grimke’s daughter, Sarah, has known from an early age she is meant to do something large in the world, but she is hemmed in by the limits imposed on women. Kidd’s sweeping novel is set in motion on Sarah’s eleventh birthday, when she is given ownership of ten year old Handful, who is to be her handmaid. We follow their remarkable journeys over the next thirty five years, as both strive for a life of their own, dramatically shaping each other’s destinies and forming a complex relationship marked by guilt, defiance, estrangement and the uneasy ways of love. As the stories build to a riveting climax, Handful will endure loss and sorrow, finding courage and a sense of self in the process. Sarah will experience crushed hopes, betrayal, unrequited love, and ostracism before leaving Charleston to find her place alongside her fearless younger sister, Angelina, as one of the early pioneers in the abolition and women’s rights movements. Inspired by the historical figure of Sarah Grimke, Kidd goes beyond the record to flesh out the rich interior lives of all of her characters, both real and invented, including Handful’s cunning mother, Charlotte, who courts danger in her search for something better. This exquisitely written novel is a triumph of storytelling that looks with unswerving eyes at a devastating wound in American history, through women whose struggles for liberation, empowerment, and expression will leave no reader unmoved.

I know the easy solution would be to download a free sample of each to my Kindle, but I wanted to ask your opinions, plus inquire as to whether there are any others I might like. So what say you?

(all book descriptions are from amazon)

Way back in April Nick’s parents gave us a pair of twin beds that their boys slept in when they were kids. I used gel stain to darken the wood and then had to wait a while until we could get a mattress and hardware.

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The stars aligned this weekend and Nick was able to bring a truck home from work on a weekend when we already had plans to visit his parents about an hour away. They had a twin mattress that wasn’t being used so we loaded it up. We decided to only set up one of the beds for now because Jack’s room is so small. Someday we may move him into the larger guest room and set both beds up then, but for now one bed is plenty. These beds have been in storage for a while and the accompanying hardware is nowhere to be found. I tried tracking down replacement hardware, but from what I understand there is no standard sizing for these sorts of fasteners and the company that made the beds has since gone out of business.

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I decided to just attach the rails with some sturdy brackets instead. Nick and I measured, marked, and drilled until brackets were attached to all four posts, then measured and pre-drilled holes in the rails before attaching them in place. I’m considering adding another small bracket on the top or side at each corner but they’re surprisingly sturdy as is.

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The bed came with a set of slats and what google tells me is called a “bunky board.” I love that it offers more support than slats alone without the bulk of a boxspring.

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I made up the bed with a set of basic white sheets and this blanket (in gray pickstitch). It’s so much softer and cozier than anything I saw in the kids’ section and I love the way it looks.

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Jack was really excited about making the move into his new bed! I think it helped that my mom got him this book for his birthday a few weeks ago. Here he is at bedtime on that first night (Sunday).

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As excited as he was, he definitely needed a little more support falling asleep that night. I ended up laying down with him for a little while, then sitting in the chair, then sitting in the living room with his bedroom door open and telling him to lay back down whenever I saw him sit up on the video monitor. But I am shocked to report that he never got out of bed! Even in the morning! I’m also hopeful that we won’t need the guardrail for long, but I’ll watch him carefully for a while to be sure. He hasn’t moved around much at all so far. I still need to add a waterproof mattress cover and contraption for toddlerproofing that outlet behind the headboard (both on order from Amazon), and I have plans to rework the mobile that I made to hang above his crib, but setting up the new bed was the only major change required to take this space from nursery to kid room.

It feels like the end of an era, y’all. As I stood on his bed to remove the mobile hanging from the ceiling above I remembered being hugely pregnant and climbing into his crib to hang it a little over two years ago (I actually bent the metal mattress support standing on it with my big pregnant self). Here’s a throwback pic for nostalgia’s sake:

And OMG I can’t even.

In celebration of Jack’s second birthday we had a small party at the splash pad near our house on Saturday. We kept the guest list much shorter this year and made things easy on ourselves by ordering pizza.

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We considered having it at our house, but Jack loves visiting the splash pad so much that it was an obvious choice. Getting everything to the splash pad and back home again posed a logistical challenge but it forced us to keep things low key and was still less stressful than hosting it at home.

033 Fuse (570x380) I filled some inexpensive beverage containers from Target with homemade lemonade and ice water–more on the beverage stand tomorrow. The iced tea was a last minute decision and the pitcher was only half full because I needed a spill-proof way to transport it and that amount filled the largest lidded jar that I had. I should have filled the pitcher with ice, the jar with water, and used the second beverage dispenser for tea. Live and learn. The tablecloth is just a twin sized flat sheet draped over a folding table. 005 (570x381) Although pizza was the main event, I also brought some fresh fruit and spinach dip. I didn’t have a shatterproof bowl large enough for the watermelon so I hollowed out the watermelon itself. I just took a small slice off the bottom to help it sit flat, then cut off the top third and cubed up the insides. Once I had most of the fruit removed I scraped out the rest to make a nice bowl. The tablecloth is a large canvas dropcloth that I already had. It’s been washed so many times that it’s amazingly soft. Everything on the table got squished over to the right once the pizza arrived. It’s also worth noting that we set up a folding canopy over the two tables–the cake was melting towards the end even in the shade! 007 (570x381) My sister is an amazing baker and did a great job with the cake. She knows I don’t like themed parties but couldn’t resist the temptation to incorporate one of Jack’s favorite things–Sesame Street. He LOVED seeing Elmo, Cookie Monster, and Big Bird on his cake. The characters around the perimeter are actually plastic rings. For older kids they could double as party favors but we set them aside after we saw Jack put one entirely into his mouth. 019 (570x375) We’d practiced blowing out candles a few times recently so Jack knew what to do! He thinks it’s fun. 059 (382x570) The cake was strawberry with Swiss meringue buttercream icing–yum! Folks brought towels and folding chairs and sat down to eat wherever they felt comfortable. It was very relaxed. 079 (570x380) I didn’t manage to get a picture of it until after the party, but I spent about $20 on enough buckets, balls, etc. for all the kids to enjoy, plus any others that happened to be playing at the splash pad that day. Normally it really bugs me when people bring toys to the playground or splash pad because my kid wants to play with them and it gets awkward, so I made sure to tell other parents that their kids were free to play with them and even bring them home. I intentionally bought a bunch because I figured they could double as favors and we still brought more home than we know what to do with. 011 (570x380) All together we spent right around $200, including $25 on a gift–Jack’s really into trucks right now so we got him this with some small things we knew he’d love, like bubbles and an Elmo cup, in the back. To save money I designed the invites myself and then emailed/texted them out instead of having them printed and mailed, bought napkins and cups at the dollar store, used things I already had whenever possible, and kept the guest list short–just kids we play with regularly and immediate family. I also found lots of things inexpensively in the Target dollar spot and summer sections and most of them are things I can use again for future parties. We probably could have saved quite a bit by serving homemade sandwiches instead of pizza, so that’s something to consider for next time. 114 (2) (380x570) You can read about Jack’s first birthday party here. I’ve got to say that after this experience I’m pretty much sold on hosting parties away from home. An hour before the party we were just chilling on the couch, everything packed up and ready to go as soon as it was time. The only thing I didn’t plan well enough was the cleanup. I’d brought two small trash bins but they weren’t nearly big enough–next time I’ll bring a couple of large garbage bags to get everything home, including stuff like towels and tablecloths that aren’t getting thrown away but aren’t worth folding neatly for transport, either. I also forgot ice, even though I’d meant to buy a bag of it on our way over, but my sister’s teenage stepson saved the day by begging some from the golf pro shop adjacent to the splash pad. We are really lucky to have a place like this so close to home, but even if you don’t maybe you can repurpose some of the ideas used here–like sticking to simple colors instead of a theme so that you can be more flexible and reuse items in the future, or resisting the urge to invite everyone you know. It was so much more relaxed having a smaller crowd. We had such a good time that I wish we could do it again sooner than next year!

Jack turned two years old this weekend. Can you believe it?

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We celebrated with a small party on Saturday and saved Sunday for just the three of us. We gave him a gift and had brunch at a place that has a live band. Jack loved it. They even put a giant sombrero on his head and sang to him. Yesterday afternoon I tried to snap some photos of him to document the milestone. He was way more interested in playing than posing but I still got a few good ones.

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He regularly gets compliments on his eyes. They’re definitely Nick’s.

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This kid is obsessed with apples–he could eat several a day. He also really enjoys milk, cheese, and anything sweet.

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His favorite things are books, swimming, Elmo, and Let It Go, as well as playing outside, animals, music of all kinds, and cuddling. He impresses me every day. It’s easy to fall into the trap of comparing him to other children, especially in this age of social media. I want to document the things he’s doing for my own reminiscence, but I don’t want to brag. So often when I see a friend post on Facebook about the cutest thing her toddler just said I catch myself wondering whether her child is more advanced than mine. It’s ridiculous–they’re two! So, with the caveat that each child develops at his or her own pace, here are a few things Jack has started doing that I’d like to remember: singing his ABC’s (mostly just the same few letters over and over again to the tune of the song); counting, though often out of order; naming the colors yellow and blue; naming familiar people and pets; running, which is kind of a big deal seeing as he didn’t walk until 19 months; testing limits and boundaries; naming body parts; and this isn’t new, but he gives lots of huge and cuddles. He’s a very sweet boy and we just love him to pieces.