What I Read – September 2016

Missing, Presumed – Susie Steiner (Harper Collins, 2016)

Rumours of Another World – Philip Yancey (Zondervan, 2004)

Commonwealth – Ann Patchett (Harper, 2016)

Flight Behavior – Barbara Kingsolver (Harper Perennial, 2012)

Currently Reading:

Prayer – Timothy Keller

The Trees – Ali Shaw

A Day

I planned and wrote this post two weeks ago when all was well and life was sweet. I never uploaded it and it seems strange to do so now but somehow I can’t bear the thought of this happy day languishing in my drafts folder. So here is September 14th. Pearl was eighteen months old and I was fourteen weeks pregnant.

6:00 am – Peter’s alarm goes off and he’s up. He makes coffee every morning because he’s the best. (I’m currently drinking tea in the mornings because I find coffee too strong for my pregnant stomach first thing. Peter puts the kettle on.) I lay in bed a little longer but not much because…

6:05 am – Pearl cries out from her room. I would love if she slept in later but she doesn’t. No matter what time she goes to bed. I go in to get her but she makes it clear she wants her dad so Peter picks her up and takes her into the bathroom with him while he shaves and gets ready. I go into the kitchen to pour the boiling water for my tea. When Peter gets into the shower, Pearl gets into bed with me and we have a few minutes together while I drink my tea.

img_4091

Recently, I’ve been struggling to find time in my day to read my Bible and spend time in prayer. My preference is to do this first thing in the morning but since Pearl wakes so early, there isn’t much opportunity. I’ve switched my Bible time to before bed and in the morning I try to sneak in a quick reading of Timothy Keller’s Songs of Jesus.

6:40 am – I get breakfast started while Peter gets dressed. Peanut butter toast for Peter and Pearl and cereal for me because we’ve run out bread. I share my cereal with Pearl when she asks.

7:00 am – We have Bella the Dog for the day so my mother-in-law arrives to drop her off and Peter leaves for work. Pearl eats a little more breakfast but is pretty distracted by the comings and goings.

img_4092

7:10 am – Pearl gets dressed and her diaper changed. This is the first tantrum of the day. She hates getting changed right now and it is often a struggle. We calm down with some cuddles on the couch with Bella.

7:20 am – I wash my face, put in contact lenses, put on some moisturizer and mascara, brush teeth, etc. Pearl loves to brush her teeth so she will happily “brush” in the bathroom with me while I get ready. She loves it less when I help her to make sure her teeth are actually brushed but, you know, it’s gotta be done.

I get dressed while Pearl pulls all of my purses out of my closet. Currently, I’m very diligent about applying lotion. I know stretch marks are basically 90% genetics but the lotion didn’t hurt last time so I’m sticking with it! Pearl likes it when I rub a little lotion on her belly too.

img_4094

7:40 am – Laundry. I throw in a load of diapers. We wash diapers every other day.

7:45 am – Tidy kitchen, put away clean dishes from yesterday and load up this morning’s dishes into the dishwasher.

8:00 am – My in-laws brought us bags of apples and pears from their yard. Since Pearl is happily playing, I decide to take the opportunity to deal with some of them. I pull out my apple peeler/corer (awesome $3 thrift store find!) and get to peeling and slicing. Pearl has been happily pulling dishes out of the tupperware cupboard but is soon fascinated by what I’m doing. I give her a little ramekin of apple slices to have a snack at the table.

img_4095

8:30 am – Most of the apples are peeled and sliced and I seem to be becoming less successful so I opt to call it quits. Pearl’s still happy so I quickly make an apple crisp and the rest of the apples go into the freezer.

I tidy up the kitchen and sweep up a little. Pearl “helps”. I try to really encourage this even though it’s definitely faster and tidier for me to do it myself. Plus, she loves it.

img_4100

Yes, she is wearing her gumboots. She puts them on all by herself.

Pearl moves into her bedroom and I join her to play with blocks and read a story. This morning’s book is Red is Best by Kathy Stinson, a recent library find.

img_4104

8:55 am – Laundry is done so Pearl, Bella, and I go outside to hang it up. Peter installed the clothesline this summer and it makes me so happy.

img_4105

Bella and Pearl are both very happy to be outside so we spend a little time running around in the backyard. Our days in the backyard will only be fewer and fewer and I want to enjoy them while they’re here.

img_4108

9:25 am – It becomes clear that Pearl needs a diaper change (not pictured) so we all head inside. I bribe Pearl with plain, unsalted crackers (I don’t know why she loves them so much) to stay still while I change her quickly.

9:40 am – I spend some time on hold with a car seat company, attempting to get information regarding our infant car seat but give up and send an e-mail instead.

The apple crisp is out of the oven and cool enough to eat so Pearl and I share a little bit. She actually doesn’t seem to like it and I am totally okay with that.

img_4110

I quickly vacuum the living room rug and the carpet in the bedrooms. Both Pearl and Bella hate this.

10:00 am – I set Pearl up to “colour” (A regular pencil and some scrap paper for her to scribble on) while I get lunch ready. Because Pearl wakes up early, she naps early, which means she eats lunch early. My schedule has adapted to hers and I find I’m already hungry. I make tortilla pizzas for lunch, basically a way to use up leftovers.

img_4112 img_4113

While the pizzas are cooking and then cooling, I join Pearl in the living room to colour and cuddle.

img_4115

10:30 am – We eat lunch together. Pearl eats her whole pizza, as well as an extra tortilla. Her recent development is drinking from an open cup. She loves it! It definitely gets messier than a sippy cup but it’s so cool to watch her learn.

11:05 am – Lunch is over. Pearl gets another diaper change and then it’s naptime.

Quick clean-up of the kitchen and then I make myself a cup of tea and sit down to do some writing. Most recently, I’ve begun prioritizing my own stuff to do while Pearl naps. That means I worry less about cleaning bathrooms and checking off to-dos and instead spend the time reading or writing or something else I enjoy.

img_4118

Pearl naps well but for whatever reason it takes her a long time today. In the midst of trying to settle her, I have to change another diaper and she doesn’t fall asleep until well after noon.

2:00 pm – A friend drops by with a few of her kids. We had planned to have a chat while Pearl napped and the kids played but Bella barks her head off when they arrive and wakes Pearl up. The kids snack and play and my friend and I have a good, if somewhat distracted, conversation.

3:40 pm – Our guests leave, I get Pearl changed and pack up Pearl and Bella to go to the park for a bit.

4:00 pm – Turns out I’ve timed this poorly and not long after we arrive, a group arrives to set up for soccer practice on the field. Since I have the dog with us, we can’t stay. I opt for a quick walk which goes predictably poorly. (Bella on a leach + the stroller is not a good combo.)

img_4119

4:20 pm – We arrive home. Pearl has a snack of dry granola which she spills over the freshly-vacuumed rug. Bella helps clean up so I forgive her her poor behaviour.

img_4121

Before getting started on dinner, I do some prep for dinner tomorrow. Thursdays are a work day for me and I try to have as much done in advance as possible. I chop vegetables so I can quickly throw everything in the slow cooker tomorrow morning.

Pearl has decided she wants to wear my hoodie so I help her put it on. She walks around the kitchen and living room with the hood over her face, looking like a tiny Dementor.

img_4125

4:45 pm – I throw the radio on (CBC Radio 3, pretty much always in our house) and start making dinner for tonight. Peter generally gets home between 5:00 and 5:30 pm. However, Wednesdays are his long days and so he won’t get home until after Pearl goes to bed tonight. Often I won’t bother making a real dinner for just Pearl and I but I feel like it tonight and am throwing together an easy one – Alfredo with Shells and Peas from the Smitten Kitchen cookbook.

5:30 pm – Pearl and I eat dinner. This is the first evening that Peter’s been gone since before the summer and Pearl is thrown by his absence. She keeps waving her fork around, asking for him. (“Dad-Dad” is her most consistent word these days.) As a result she doesn’t eat much dinner.

img_4128

While we’re eating, my in-laws arrive to pick up Bella. When they leave I give Pearl some plain yogurt because I know she’ll at least eat that.

6:00 pm – Straight from dinner into the bath for Pearl. Bath time is followed by teeth brushing, pyjamas, story time, and cuddles.

6:30 pm – Pearl’s in bed. I go back to the kitchen to, you guessed it, clean up! It’s pretty much the last thing I want to do but it’s so much better to do it now than in the morning. And if I sit down right away, I’ll never get back up! I also finish prepping for tomorrow night’s dinner.

7:00 pm – I send a few e-mails and then bring in the laundry. Here on out, the evening is mine.

 

He Restores My Soul

I really don’t know how to write this post. I suspect I wouldn’t except for having already shared here about my pregnancy.

I was pregnant and now I’m not.

Last week, only a couple of days before I would have reached sixteen weeks, our baby died. We don’t know why. We may yet get some answers and we may never know. I had three ultrasounds (plus 2 in the ER), including one just last Monday in which our baby was moving and healthy and everything looked fine. I saw that heart beat.

Our baby was wanted and loved every day of his existence and I hope he felt that. I don’t know why God creates life and lets it die. I believe God loves me and I believe he loves my little one but this doesn’t feel like love and it’s hard to understand.

Psalm 23 was on my mind a lot while I was in the hospital.

The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.
He makes me lie down in green pastures.
He leads me beside still waters.
He restores my soul.
He leads me in paths of righteousness for His name’s sake.

Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil,
for You are with me;
Your rod and Your staff,
they comfort me.

You prepare a table before me
in the presence of my enemies;
you anoint my head with oil;
my cup overflows.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me
all the days of my life,
and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever.

This doesn’t feel like goodness and mercy. I feel lost in the valley of death and the profound unfairness of having my baby taken away. I want to believe that God will restore my soul because it feels pretty shattered these days. It will be a big job.

I am so thankful for my husband and for our girl. I’m so thankful that I don’t have to walk through this valley alone and I’m thankful every moment I get to be Pearl’s mum.

 

Reading with Pearl: A Child of Books by Oliver Jeffers and Sam Winston

A Child of Books - Oliver Jeffers and Sam Winston (Candlewick Press, 2016)

A Child of Books – Oliver Jeffers and Sam Winston (Candlewick Press, 2016)

I love just about everything from Oliver Jeffers that I’ve gotten my hands on. (The Day the Crayons Quit is probably my favourite.) His illustrations are unique and his stories are fun and whimsical and often hilarious. His most recent book, a collaboration with the artist Sam Winston doesn’t disappoint. While A Child of Books definitely leans more to whimsy than hilarity, it retains that Jeffers charm, as well as showing off Winston’s talents.

img_7425

The story is short and simple – a girl floats away on a sea of stories and convinces a boy to journey with her through words and tales. The art combines pictures and words – words lifted right out of famous children’s stories. Each page is fascinating to look at and while young children might not recognize the opening pages of Peter Pan it can still offer a great jumping off point into some of those bigger novels.

img_7426

I think this book is a great edition to the library of any book-loving child.

Book Review: Missing, Presumed by Susie Steiner

Missing, Presumed - Susie Steiner (Harper Collins, 2016)

Missing, Presumed – Susie Steiner (Harper Collins, 2016)

If you’ve been reading reviews here for a while, you may have noticed I don’t read many mysteries. The truth is, I’m kind of a chicken. I have an overactive imagination and when I read horror or violence I have a hard time keeping my brain from focusing on those mental images. (And it doesn’t even have to be that horrific or violent – my brain is happy to fill in those gaps.) So instead, I choose to avoid things that seem too scary.

I was interested enough in Missing, Presumed however to make an exception and I’m happy to report that it’s not particularly violent or horrifying. While definitely a mystery, the descriptions are far from gratuitous and the conclusion didn’t leave my mind running horror movie scenarios late at night.

The novel switches between perspectives but our main character is Detective Manon Bradshaw. She’s thirty-nine and wants to find someone to share her life with. This doesn’t seem to be happening via her string of bad internet dates but Manon is also dedicated to her job with the Cambridgeshire Police and throws herself into the latest Missing Persons case.

Edith Hind is twenty-four, smart though a little flighty, and when her house is found empty and her phone, coat, and car have all been left behind, she is declared missing. As the case drags on (and I liked that it did realistically drag on), the worst is presumed. Edith’s father just so happens to be a very successful surgeon (surgeon to the Royal Family, no less) and so the case instantly gains a high profile in the media, along with all the pressures that brings.

Steiner does well at showing the day-to-day actions and work of the police. The balance of public investigation and the need to protect witnesses, the monotony of some of it and the heartbreak of other parts. Manon and her fellow detectives are generally well-balanced, interesting characters, though they do all seem pretty unsuccessful in their personal lives. I also enjoyed the very British-ness of the novel. It felt accurate and interesting without being forced or over-the-top.

For me, the weak parts of the novel came primarily with the conclusion. As I said, I appreciated that Steiner did portray how the case dragged on. How the public loses interest, how the police move on to other things no matter how much they might still personally care. She also delves into how this affects Edith’s family and their attempts to continue their lives without answers. So it was almost disappointing when the case was very neatly summed up and concluded. Even more so when all the random leads and guesses that the police had did turn out to be related. Being able to make connections between every single minor or large crime that happened in the book and every random interview the police made seemed very unrealistic to me.

While this book hasn’t turned me into a mystery reader, I was glad to branch out in my reading and try something different.

Book Review: The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah

The Nightingale - Kristin Hannah

The Nightingale – Kristin Hannah

The Nightingale offers a interesting conundrum to a book reader. It’s an engaging, easy-to-read story and so it’s not hard to understand why so many readers seem to have fallen in love with it recently. On the other hand, it’s also not very well-written.

After hearing some rave reviews of Kristin Hannah’s latest novel (I’d never read her before) I was interested to get my hands on a copy. The chapters are short and there’s enough action to keep you pushing forward but I found the early sections a slog. Hannah’s writing is full of cliches and the sentence structure itself suffers from a lack of variation. Everything you expect to happen in this book happens.The power of Hannah’s story-telling is that she has chosen a compelling time and place on which to focus – occupied France during the Second World War.

Vianne and Isabelle Rossignol are sisters who have been distant most of their lives, ever since their mother died and their father effectively abandoned them. Vianne has made a life for herself in the small town of Carriveau, with her husband Antoine and their daughter Sophie. Isabelle has just been expelled from yet another boarding school as war creeps across the borders of their country. When Antoine is sent to fight at the frontlines and Isabelle is relegated to the country by their father, Vianne and Isabelle are forced to live together once again, along with a German officer, Beck, billeted in their home.

Isabelle – who inexplicably fell in love with a completely random, and pretty unlikeable, man on her way from Paris to Carriveau – quickly joins in the efforts of the French Resistance and her days in Carriveau come to an end. From here the story diverges to follow both of these sisters. Isabelle’s increasingly daring exploits with the Resistance. Vianne’s struggles to provide for her daughter and the growing question of right and wrong as the Nazi presence becomes heavier in her town and her home.

The story itself is compelling because this is compelling history. The grief (and, yes, I cried at parts) and the tension come from the real life knowledge that these things happened. Neighbours turned on neighbours; Jewish families lost their businesses, their rights, and their lives. Regular people were faced with monumental and impossible tasks – choosing to protect others at the risk of their own lives. This is where the depth of the novel exists.

Similar depths are harder to find in the Rossignol sisters. Both are impossibly beautiful and seem only to have to decide to do something for it to be done. Despite the difficult setting of occupied France, their individual obstacles don’t actually seem that great. When Isabelle hatches a daring rescue plan that’s never been tried before she just does it. There’s almost no tension because she never fails at anything.

Vianne spends most of the novel trying to keep her head down and protect her daughter, until the war creeps ever closer and she finally feels the need to act. And then, again, she simple does so and even though what she’s doing is incredibly risky, it never feels like she’ll get caught.

Hannah does do well at covering a broad spectrum of what life in France during World War Two might have been like. (Seriously, if it happened in France in the 1940s, it happens to these two sisters.) And she clearly knows how to tug at people’s emotions. If she could avoid cliched descriptions and create more nuanced characters, this book would be far more worthy of the praise it’s been receiving.

Summer 2016…and some other news

Now that we’re well on our way into September and heading steadily towards autumn, I think I can just squeak in a bit of a summer re-cap.

IMG_3969

It was a perfectly normal, low-key, Coastal summer for us. The Sunshine Coast is one of the best places on Earth to spend the summer. It’s what we all tell ourselves as we live through the rainy, grey days of fall, winter, and (let’s be honest) most of spring.

Peter and I were both fortunate enough to be able to work part-time for the summer and so we did our best to balance work and family time, trading off to take care of Pearl while spending time all together too.

IMG_3956

There were lots of hikes and lots of beach time. We went camping with Pearl for the first time at the end of June. (You can read about that fun here.)

It went well enough that we tried it again in August, this time with two other families. These friends of ours also have little girls younger than Pearl. The older Pearl gets the more thankful I am to have friends in this stage of life. There have been many shared walks and talks in recent months and we had a blast camping together. (And no judgement about going to bed early!)

IMG_3986

On that camping trip, Pearl got to experience a canoe for the first time. For the first ten minutes she screamed about the unnatural horror of floating on water and then settled down and enjoyed herself. Peter also took her out on a paddle board for the first time.

IMG_3981

I opted for a more solo paddle-boarding experience.

On August 21st, Peter and I celebrated six years of marriage with a ferry ride and a fancy dinner out, just the two of us.

IMG_7375

And we topped our summer off with a visit from family where Pearl got seriously loved on from her big cousins. As she grows, it’s so fun to watch her interactions with these guys.

IMG_4007

Pearl is now 18 months. She has strong opinions and strong affections. She doesn’t say much yet but she can run and climb like nobody’s business. This summer we’ve really seen her imagination develop. She pretends with her stuffed animal friends and often seems to be making up her own little games.

IMG_3904

Like putting Big Bear in her high chair and feeding him crackers. She’s also excellent at sharing imaginary soups and making her stuffed animals give each other bunny kisses. She understands a lot of what we say and even if she doesn’t verbally respond yet, she makes her desires known and is getting pretty good at obeying simple instructions.

IMG_7379

But what’s really kept me busy this summer….

IMG_7383

That little rascal in the bottom left corner…

…and the little one who has made its presence known through fatigue and nausea all summer! (The real world, physical arrival will take place some time around March 10th in the new year and we couldn’t be more excited to see our family grow!)

Book Review: Today Will Be Different by Maria Semple

IMG_7380

Fans of Maria Semple’s previous novel, Where’d You Go, Bernadette?, will not be disappointed by her new offering. Today Will Be Different has all the wackiness, sentimentality, family love, and Seattle adoration that Bernadette brought without feeling like Semple treads ground already covered. (Though readers may find some of it familiar.)

Eleanor is our eccentric and likeable and sometimes confusingly motivated narrator. She’s middle-aged, married to super surgeon Joe, and mom to Timby. And she’s tired. But today will be different. Eleanor is brilliant in her own right – the former superstar animator of a cult TV show called Looper Girls – but she’s drifted in recent years, overdue on the graphic novel she was supposed to write and sure she’s not doing her best by any of those around her.

The main plot of the novel follows Eleanor through the course of a single day. The day she swears will be different. And it is. Because Eleanor discovers that her husband hasn’t gone to work in a week and told his office (but not his wife) that he was on vacation. Here is where Eleanor varies from the average (reasonable) human being as she treks through Seattle – Timby in tow – trying to to figure out what her husband is up to.

In amidst Eleanor’s frantic day, we also get a third person narrator look back at her younger years. Her time at Looper Girls, her childhood, her relationship with her sister, and how all of this has brought her to where she is today. (And maybe Joe to where he is.) Semple strikes a good balance here between the past and the present and lets the reader’s sympathy for Eleanor grow, even while we might still think she’s crazy. A highlight is also the illustrated pages of Eleanor’s never-finished graphic novel based on her own childhood. I love when author’s include these types of visual aspects when they have a character who is so visual.

Today Will Be Different is released this October. It’s not a long read (I finished it in a couple of days) but it’ll make for a fun one.

Book Review: The Nest by Maria by Cynthia d’Aprix Sweeney

The Nest - Cynthia D'Aprix Sweeney (Harper Avenue, 2016)

The Nest – Cynthia D’Aprix Sweeney (Harper Avenue, 2016)

The Nest seems to have been one of the more hyped books of Spring/Summer 2016 and so it’s disappointing that, in the end, it was only kind of mediocre. It’s an easy read – something to pick up on a long weekend or a couple of days at the beach – but there’s no real substance here and D’Aprix Sweeney doesn’t add anything new to the well-worn library of family dramas.

The novel focuses on the four adult Plumb siblings – Leo, Jack, Melody, and Beatrice. A few months away from Melody’s fortieth birthday and their long-awaited inheritance. Each of them has their own reasons for counting on the riches stored in what they’ve come to call “the nest”. But just months away, Leo (the charming reprobate) makes a series of poor decisions with disastrous consequences that put the nest in jeopardy.

Family’s fighting over money is sadly nothing new and The Nest doesn’t offer much in the way of innovation on the theme. The story moves between character perspectives, which at least keeps things slightly more interesting. Leo is supposed to be charming and irresistible but I never understood why a bunch of middle-aged adults kept falling for his tricks. Melody is the stressed-out suburban mom, Beatrice the quirky single artist, Jack the gay arts dealer. Events fall out about how you’d expect.

One of the stranger choices that D’Aprix Sweeney makes is occasional chapters focusing in great detail on side characters, some of whom we never see again or don’t have much of an impact on the larger plot. Do we need to know about the life and marriage of Leo’s girlfriend’s neighbour? No, we don’t, but we learn about it anyway. It seems like an attempt to create a richer and more vibrant world around the main characters but it falls flat because it’s easy to see how non-essential these sections are.

There’s nothing harmful or terrible in this novel and so if all you want is something mindless to read at the beach, it will probably do the trick. However, in a world full of wonderful books, you can do so much better.

Book Review: The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt

When The Goldfinch was first released in 2013, I heard many excellent reviews of Donna Tartt’s work. Having never read her before though, I was reluctant to commit to nearly 800 pages. It wasn’t until I read Tartt’s early novel, The Secret History, that I became excited to read more from her. Thankfully, The Goldfinch doesn’t disappoint.

For an 800-page novel, it’s a surprisingly quick read. Probably because it’s incredibly well-written and (like in The Secret History) Tartt knows how to reveal just the right information at the right rate.

Our main character and narrator is Theo Decker. The story is told from Theo’s adult perspective and we meet him holed up in a hotel room in Amsterdam for a reason he doesn’t yet share. From there, he takes us back to his early teens in New York City and his mother’s death. Theo’s mother is killed in a terrorist attack in an art museum; an attack that Theo survives but that forever changes his life.

I didn’t know much about the plot going into this novel and I found it most compelling that way so I don’t want to reveal too much here. His dad having previously abandoned the family, Theo is left on his own, at the mercy of Child Services and the family of a school friend. He also carries a secret from the day of the attack, as well as a surprising relationship that springs from that experience.

The book follows Theo through his teen years before jumping ahead a few years into his twenties. Theo is a likeable protagonist – easy to cheer for and easy to feel frustrated with as he makes poor decisions. Yet sympathy was almost always my overriding emotion when it came to Theo’s poor choices. Tartt does an excellent job of setting Theo up not as a victim of his circumstances but as someone who will always be affected by them and who will, likely, always struggle as a result.

Characters and places are expertly drawn and Tartt pulls the reader into a variety of worlds as Theo stumbles through adolescence and into adulthood. We have art museums and cheap diners in New York. Abandoned subdivisions of Las Vegas. Back rooms full of beautiful furniture and strange, forgotten apartments full of beautiful art. The book’s conclusion and ultimate climax perhaps delve into more of a thriller-style novel than seems to fit with the rest of the book but the characters remain strong and consistent and the plot will pull you forward, wondering what happens next.