Sunday, April 26, 2015

Book Club: All the Light We Cannot See

Normally my book choices are very methodical. I have carefully ordered lists and stacks, plans and schedules that dictate what books I read, when. Structure and organization make the world go round, my friends...
 
Only one thing will cause me to deviate from my carefully laid out book nerd plans: A recommendation from my Aunt Elaine.
 
She has never, ever steered me wrong. Throughout the years, her suggestions have always been so unfalteringly fantastic and spot on that I've learned to virtually drop whatever I happen to be reading, and pick up her latest starred literary treasure as soon as I can. I've never been disappointed.
 
So when I received her email about All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr, I had it downloaded to my Kindle the same afternoon. And the next morning I practically missed my bus stop because I was so engrossed. As I said... spot on, every time
 
All the Light We Cannot See is a beautiful, stunningly ambitious novel about a blind French girl and a German boy whose paths collide in occupied France as both try to survive the devastation of World War II.
 
Marie Laure lives with her father in Paris within walking distance of the Museum of Natural History, where he works as the master of the locks. When she is six, she goes blind, and her father builds her a scale model of their neighborhood so she can memorize it with her fingers and navigate the real streets with her feet and cane. When the Germans occupy Paris, father and daughter flee to Saint-Malo on the Brittany coast, where Marie-Laure’s agoraphobic great uncle lives in a tall, narrow house by the sea wall.
 
Werner and his younger sister, Jutta, grow up as orphans in Germany, both enchanted by a crude radio Werner finds. He becomes a master at building and fixing radios, a talent that wins him a place at an elite and brutal military academy and, ultimately, makes him a highly specialized tracker of the Resistance. Werner travels through the heart of Hitler Youth to the far-flung outskirts of Russia, and finally into Saint-Malo, where his path converges with Marie-Laure.
 
Doerr’s gorgeous combination of soaring imagination with observation is electric. He deftly interweaving the lives of Marie-Laure and Werner, illuminating the ways, against all odds, people try to be good to one another.

I tore ravenously through this book. It was beautifully written, with rich characterization and descriptions. I feel like I will never get enough of WWII novels, but this was one of my favorites that I've read. The pacing was terrific, and the story alternately terrifying, moving, and heart-warming. I tried to slow down so that I could savor each paragraph as I neared the end, but it still came all too quickly.
 
Doerr definitely deserves the Pulitzer Prize he was awarded for this stunning book.
 
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Saturday, April 25, 2015

Happy Birthday, Darling Husband

For Stewart's 34th birthday I was determined to do something awesome to make up for last year's epic failure.
 
His birthday falls within a week of one of his best friends from college, Matt, and conveniently his wife Alissa and I are the best of friends. So the two of us teamed up to plan a joint surprise birthday bash that would shock and thrill the guys.
 
We reserved a private event space for the evening at Seattle's Rhein Haus, a German beer hall with bocce ball courts. I arranged for my parents to take Ryder overnight, and for weeks Alissa and I worked secretly on the invitation, details, menu, and decorations. Rhein Haus looked like a super cool place for a party, and we were so excited for the surprise. 
 
I did my best, but Stew is just too dang smart for his own good.

He guessed well in advance that I had something up my sleeve for the evening (I claimed we were getting together with Matt and Alissa for a small celebratory dinner), so it wasn't as much of a surprise as I would have hoped. In any case, at least the location and guest list were kept a secret -- and Matt, on the other hand, was shocked!
 
 




 


 
I wish I had taken more, better-quality photos of the evening, but I really just felt like letting loose and enjoying the party instead of worrying about documenting every moment for my blog. I can tell you that the beer, brats and bocce were a hit though!
 
Happy Birthday, Stew & Matt!
Cheers to another fantastic year ahead...
 
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Sunday, April 19, 2015

Book Club: American Sniper

I usually know better than to see the movie before reading the book.
 
But Stew really wanted to see American Sniper, and it was kind of the perfect situation -- My mom had taken Ryder for the night, and our friends were available for an evening out, so we really couldn't pass up the opportunity for some grown up fun.
 
Stew had already read the book and told me a little bit about what he thought of it. And of course I had some background on Chris Kyle (a U.S. Navy SEAL and the most lethal sniper in American military history with 160 confirmed kills), because of the media attention surrounding his murder on U.S. soil by a fellow military veteran.
 
His bestselling autobiography, American Sniper, was published in 2012. Kyle and his friend, Chad Littlefield, were shot and killed on February 2, 2013. The film adaptation of American Sniper (directed by Clint Eastwood) was released at the end of 2014.
 
The theme for my March book club was "memoir," and I decided that an autobiography was close enough. (What is the difference, really?)


American Sniper describes Kyle's life, his four tours in Iraq, and raising a family after the war. I thought it was an incredibly interesting look at a modern day warrior, as he described the mentality of killing an enemy and his combat experiences. I also enjoyed the parts about the struggles he faced at home, and interjections by his wife, Taya.

Chris believed that life should be ordered as follows: God, country, family. Taya, however, believed that family should come before country. This was a continuing conflict between the two of them.
 
Although he's not the best author (the story seemed a little random and scattered at times), Kyle's voice is truly authentic, providing an intriguing and heart wrenching story told by a true American hero. It's pretty hard to say anything negative about it.

Since I saw the movie before reading the book, I was comparing the two with every word I read (and picturing Bradley Cooper, who by the way did an amazing job portraying Chris Kyle). The movie version was really only able to elaborate on small brief bits of Kyle's life, but the book provides a much more detailed account. Kyle goes into great depth about his life and experiences, and you're left with a feeling of awe toward his dedication and love for his family and country.

I really enjoyed it.
 
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Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Celebrating Imperfect Parenting

Guest Post by Cailin Bundrick

If you are a mom, you are familiar with the term mom guilt. It starts even before your baby is born.
 
You worry about what you're eating during pregnancy (and what you're not). You worry about whether or not you should get a nanny or put your child in daycare once maternity leave is over. You decide you have already failed your child if you don't pass your first glucose test. You worry. About everything. You feel bad. About everything.
 
My guilt extends beyond mommy guilt. I have wife guilt, friend guilt, daughter guilt, HOA president guilt, neighbor guilt. You name it, I pretty much got it. And it sucks.
 
As if it's not enough that I want to be the loving, gentle, tender mom who never loses her patience or, God forbid, yells at my daughter, I also want to be the wife who is never grumpy and always has dinner on the table. I want to be the friend who remembers every important moment in my girlfriends' lives and the lives of their children. I want to be the HOA president who puts out a monthly newsletter, and resolves each matter that arises efficiently and effectively. I want to be the neighbor who brings over a home-cooked meal when someone is sick or had a medical emergency.
 
The reality? I lose my temper at my 2-year-old at least once a day, sometimes for something as simple as being asked the same question one too many times. I often greet my husband when he gets home from work with an annoyed look and a, "We already ate. There should be something in the fridge," as I chase Charlie around the upstairs, trying to get her into pajamas. I'm lucky to respond to the sweet text messages from my friends within 24 hours, let alone be the one to send the sweet texts. I haven't sent out a newsletter since January, and this month isn't looking promising either. And I hardly make home-cooked meals for my family, so it's unlikely I'd give one away if I actually did find the time or energy to whip something up.
 
I used to beat myself up for not being the perfect mom. What I've come to realize, though, is that no one is perfect. And if someone seems perfect, they are most likely a really good actress who is actually stressing over the same things I am, or maybe even worse things than I am. They might limit their kids' screen time, eat all organic and send hand-written thank you notes for every Pinterest-worthy event they host, but they have demons too. No one is perfect.
 
Want to know what some of my demons are? My kid eats McDonald's at least once a week, if not more, and so do I. She watches TV, and probably more than the two hours a day recommended by the AAP. I'm not sure because I stopped counting when she stopped napping, and I became dependent on the boob tube for a little bit of time during the day to cook or clean or breathe. I am not a graceful grouch. I wear my emotions on my sleeve, and when I'm grumpy, everyone knows it.
 
But for as many faults as I have, I also have some pretty admirable characteristics too. I play with my daughter. I get down on her level and do whatever she wants me to do, whether it be dress up as a princess or build pillow forts on my neatly made bed or color (as much as one can when the crayon you have is the only crayon your toddler wants no matter which crayon that is). I'm a fiercely loyal friend who rarely gives up on people. I take on the jobs most people won't, hence the second term as HOA president. Making others happy makes me happy.
 
I'm not perfect, but I'm me, unabashedly and unapologetically. And my favorite people are the ones who can admit their faults and laugh with me about mine. If more people were authentic, I think less people would spend time beating themselves up about their imperfections.
 
So let's celebrate those things that make us who we are, for better or worse. And spend more time lifting one another up instead of tearing one another down. It's ok to be the person who is always late or always in dirty yoga pants. In fact, people might like you better if you let your imperfect flag fly freely.

About the Author
Cailin Bundrick is a stay at home mom to 2-year-old daughter Charlie. She lives in Maple Valley, Wash., with her husband, daughter and two dogs, Tinker and Brian. She has a journalism degree from Western Washington University, and worked as a reporter and editor for community newspapers in Kentucky, Florida and Illinois. She also worked in sales and property management before becoming a domestic goddess. She enjoys reading, writing, traveling and selling jewelry as an Independent Designer for Origami Owl.

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Ryder's First Easter

Ryder spent his first Easter at Nana and Grandpa's house, and he had a fantastic time.

Stewart and I are not religious, so we don't celebrate Easter in that sense, but we always enjoy any excuse to get together with family and participate in holiday traditions.

Dying Easter eggs is one of my favorites!
It was difficult to put together an Easter basket for Ryder, because he's not allowed to have candy or sweets yet, but I still think I did pretty well. I got him an adorable, super-soft Jellycat bunny (with "Ryder" stitched onto one ear), Jelly Belly scented bubbles, and colorful plastic Easter eggs filled with organic yogurt melts. 


He was super entertained by shaking the eggs, breaking them open, and eating the little treats.
Ryder always gets tons of attention at family gatherings, and Easter was no exception. Uncle AJ and Aunt Erin couldn't get enough cuddles, and I got to spend some time with my cousins Kate and Tara, which I always look forward to.

And of course my mom made an absolutely delicious meal, which I had no room for because I spent the morning eating Easter candy. I'll never learn...
We also introduced Ryder to bubbles for the first time, and let me tell you one thing for sure -- there is nothing cuter than a little kid giggling about bubbles!


I've been listening to the Stuff You Should Know podcast quite a bit these days, and on our way home on Easter Sunday I happened to listen to a super fascinating episode called "Thanks, Easter Bunny! Bock Bock!" that was all about Easter, from its humble beginnings as a pagan holiday to the multi-billion dollar industry it is today. They covered the Biblical and religious aspects along with the origins of some of Easter's greatest traditions.

It was incredibly fascinating!

Regardless of Easter's origins, I was happy to have a reason to get together with my family and introduce some new holiday traditions to our little boy.

And next year I'm sure Stewart will make sure he gets to sample all the delicious Easter candy.

What are your favorite Easter traditions?
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Sunday, April 5, 2015

Dear Ryder... Eleven Months


Dear Ryder,

It's been another exciting month! It's hard to believe that you have been in our lives for almost an entire year. But here we are, and once again we've been just as busy as usual...

We went to a fancy dinner at Woodman Lodge to celebrate Daddy and Mommy's third wedding anniversary. We got married on St. Patrick's Day, so it's always a big, special holiday at our house. We haven't looked into getting an evening babysitter for you yet, so you came along and we caught the early-bird special in order to get you home for bedtime. You were such a good boy, and it was fun to be out as a family. 

On March 15 we participated in the St. Patrick's Day 5K Dash at Seattle Center to celebrate the arrival of Spring -- and being Irish! The Dash benefits the Detlef Schrempf Foundation in support of Northwest children's charities. Unfortunately it poured rain the entire time, but you chilled in the stroller like a champ and hardly fussed. We also got all dressed up in our finest green attire on March 17.

Grandpa Russ came for a visit this month, and he brought you some exciting new toys that have been some of your favorites ever since!


We also went down to Olympia to visit Nana and Grandpa, and we had lots of fun at cousin Shane's birthday party, where we got to see Grandpa's whole side of the family. You love going down there to get spoiled with love and attention.

You had a blast riding Trigger, Uncle AJ's horse from when he was a little boy.

We also went to Nana and Grandpa's house for your very first Easter! It was difficult to put together an Easter basket for you, because you're not allowed to have candy or sweets yet (and according to Daddy that's the main point of Easter). But you still had fun shaking the plastic eggs that I filled with yogurt melts, and experiencing bubbles for the first time. You also seem to love the little bunny we got you.

We often have the TV on in the background, but so far you haven't really been interested (the remote control, however, is one of your very favorite things). But one morning we were playing upstairs, and I looked up to notice that you had not only managed to change the channel to a kids' station, but you were watching with fascination! Let's hope this isn't the beginning of the end...

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You still love walking around with your elephant, but now you also like pushing around other items, like your high chair (when we forget to lock the wheels) and your activity table.

You cruise around using furniture for balance, and you pull yourself up onto everything. You can stand on your own without holding onto anything, and when you crawl now it's often on your hands and feet (instead of your hands and knees). You took your first two steps on March 24 for Daddy, and on Easter Sunday you took seven steps in a row! Oh, and you still love door stops...

You're so much more active now, and we know that you're going to take off running any day. You clap, point, high five, throw things, and can even climb all the way to the top of the stairs. You're very flexible, and for some reason you like to suck on your feet after dinner.

You love baths and naked time. So far we haven't had any accidents... let's keep it that way!

A huge, 16-acre city park opened right across the street from our house, and we took you there to try out the swings for the first time. You loved it! We walk over all the time now, and you cry when we take you out of the swing -- it's your favorite thing at the park. You love being outside in general, and we try to get out at least once every single day as a family. 

You eat big boy meals almost all the time. Fruits, veggies, chicken, cheese, cereal, pasta... you've tried pretty much everything and you definitely have your likes and dislikes. Blueberries are your absolute favorite -- you can't seem to get enough. We're working on learning how to use a fork or spoon, but it hasn't been successful so far...
I'm still pumping at work, and breastfeeding when we're together. The plan is to begin weaning you from bottles during the day after you turn one, but for now it's still working out for both of us.

Sometimes at Nana's house you get special treats like grilled cheese sandwiches. Roxy (the dog) is always thrilled when you come to visit, because you inevitably spill some "snacks" onto the ground for her. You absolutely love dogs and cats, but they aren't so keen on you, which you find frustrating.

The fit throwing has started. On this particular day, you were furious that I wouldn't let you into the laundry room to play in the cat's litter box. Sorry honey -- not going to happen.

You definitely have some favorite toys, like your remote control (although you aren't fooled for a minute into thinking it was issued by Comcast). Grandma Sally gave you that Winnie-the-Pooh toy, and you're posing with it in my rocking chair from when I was a little girl. You still love to carry around random blocks and other toys that fit easily into your hands, and for some reason that green circle from Aunt Erin (actually meant for cleaning teeth) is one of your favorites. And of course the throwback Seahawks bear from my blogger friend Jamie in Florida is popular.

So far you haven't been super duper into stuffed animals, but for about a week you dragged around a blue bear that my office manager, Corliss, gave you. You absolutely love your kitty piano from Grandpa Russ, and I feel like if I hear another song about "the little kitty," I may just lose my mind completely. Of course other things that are not meant to be toys are also some of your faves -- like the wheels to your high chair, which have provided tons of entertainment.

Sleep continues to be a struggle. I rock you to sleep every night (sometimes in quite odd positions) because you still scream when we put you down awake. You also refuse to nap anywhere but in your swing (and even that is sometimes a challenge) so when we go visiting you usually end up napping in the car or in someones arms (any nap is better than no nap). You always go to bed in your own crib, but typically end up in our bed sometime in the wee hours of the morning after waking up a couple times to nurse. To be honest I don't mind -- I love my nighttime cuddles after not getting to see you all day long. 

And in the morning when the alarm goes off, we always take some time to cuddle and giggle before getting up to face the day. These are some of my very favorite times with you.

I will cherish the memories we're making for the rest of my life, little angel! 



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Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Book Club: Pregnancy Resources

Since I'm a big fat nerd, the first thing I did when I found out I was knocked up was place an order on Amazon consisting of a bunch of pregnancy resources that had been recommended to me. I then proceeded to spend nine months reading books and articles about anything and everything to do with pregnancy and childbirth. Reviewing all this stuff in individual posts would probably bore you to tears, so here's a quick recap of the major stuff...


Belly Laughs: The Naked Truth About Pregnancy and Childbirth
by Jenny McCarthy

This one was a hilarious, light read. It's a no-holds-barred account of what you can really expect when you're expecting. No woman is spared the discomforts and humiliations of pregnancy, but most are too polite to complain or too embarrassed to talk about them. Jenny covers it all in the grittiest of girlfriend detail: morning sickness and hormonal rage, hemorrhoids, pregnant sex, gassiness, constipation, exhaustion, forgetfulness, crankiness, and the torture and sweet relief that is delivery.


The Girlfriends' Guide To Pregnancy: Or Everything Your Doctor Won't Tell You
by Vicki Iovine

This book had the same basic concept as Belly Laughs, but I didn't like it quite as much. Four-time delivery room veteran Vicki Iovine talks to you the way only a best friend can in this book that takes you through the whole nine months. She gives you the lowdown on all those little things that are too strange or embarrassing to ask, practical tips, and hilarious takes on everything pregnant. Plus, the latest scoop on staying stylish and proudly showing off your bump.


Creating Your Birth Plan: The Definitive Guide to a Safe and Empowering Birth
by Marsden Wagner

I'm so thankful that someone recommended this book to me. It was hands down my favorite resource as I was preparing to give birth for the first time. It's designed to encourage collaboration between pregnant women and their caregivers, and includes information on hospital deliveries, birthing centers, and home births, how to select an advocate to ensure your wishes are honored by your caregiver, the natural stages of labor in a problem-free birth, explanations of various medical or surgical interventions (and potential complications and benefits of each), and natural alternatives to drugs, technology, and surgery. After reading this book I felt so much more prepared and empowered for Ryder's arrival.


What To Expect When You're Expecting
by Arlene Eisenberg, Heidi Eisenberg Murkoff, and Sandee Hathaway

The pregnancy guide bible of everything you need to know while pregnant. This is the traditional book for expectant mothers, so I decided I'd better pick up a copy. It addresses all the basic health and medical questions as well as lifestyle concerns, and provides expectant parents with a wealth of information on month-by-month development, preparing for labor and delivery, and breastfeeding and bonding afterward. Incorporating the most recent developments in medicine, the book contains both the most accurate information available in the most reader-friendly format. It's boring and pretty dry, but it does have excellent information and it's easy to use the index to find exactly what you're looking for if you don't want to read the whole thing cover to cover.


Of course I also read about eleventy billion online articles that basically summarized bits and pieces out of all of these books, and we took a six week childbirth preparation course at the hospital. I wanted to be as prepared as I possibly could for my little boy's arrival. Then, before I knew it, the big day arrived and I learned that no matter how much you read and how much you plan, nothing is going to go how you imagined it would.

After 20 hours of labor, I went in for an emergency C-section due to failure to progress and lowered fetal heart rate. It was terrifying and disappointing. There aren’t many mothers who will say that a c-section was what they had first envisioned when they thought about giving birth. Major surgery. Cutting and suturing. Months of recovery. Emotional and physical scars. It's not what I planned for. But it's okay.

Now, in hindsight, it doesn't matter to me how my baby boy got here. I did the best I could. I read and planned and prepared as much as possible, but I always told myself that no matter what happened, I'd be okay with it. 

And I'm still glad that I read all those books and articles. As new parents we're lucky to have so many resources available, and I hope some of my recommendations are helpful.

What were some of your favorite pregnancy resources?

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