Archive for December, 2013

You know I love me a good list, so I’m always eager to log into Goodreads at the end of the year and browse my virtual bookshelf.  I finished 19 books this year and covered nearly all my literary bases: memoirs, thrillers, classics, self-help…  There are some real goodies in here, books that inspired me to be a better writer or to live a simpler life, books that entertained me through many a late night feeding, books that opened my eyes to gross injustice.  The year in review:

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Wild by Cheryl Strayed

The Art of Procrastination by John Perry

The Brothers K by David James Duncan

In the Woods by Tana French

Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn

The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald

The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery

The Happiest Baby on the Block by Harvey Karp

Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide by Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl Wudunn

Divergent by Veronica Roth

Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life by Anne Lamott

Seven: An Experimental Mutiny Against Excess by Jen Hatmaker

On Love: A Novel by Alain de Botton

Carry On, Warrior: Thoughts on Life Unarmed by Glennon Doyle Melton

The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood

Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Where’d You Go, Bernadette by Maria Semple

The Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan

The Power of One by Bryce Courtenay

Best books of 2013:  Sadly, I don’t have any new all-time favorites up there.  But topping this year’s list are The Brothers K and Gone Girl.  They are wildly different, but so, so good in their own right.  I loved Brothers K for the beautiful writing and the endearing characters and the perfect mixture of tragedy and humor – it’s a high-quality novel, though slow going at times.  And then there was Gone Girl.  Not a literary masterpiece, but man, what a freakin’ page-turner!  I can’t remember the last time I read with such fervor.  Fun (though disturbing) stuff.

Worst book of 2013:  Divergent.  I was looking for something quick and fun and engaging and thought this Hunger Games-esque young adult novel would fit the bill.  But it was just a bunch of kids running around with guns speaking in cheesy dialogue.  Not the least bit tempted to see the movie version coming out next year.

On the docket for 2014:  The Sleepeasy Solution (yep, this is our life now!), Daring Greatly, and Half Broke Horses are at the top of my queue.  Plus some Dr. Seuss and a little Maurice Sendak, for our little reader-in-training!

I’m having a hard time believing that Christmas has come and gone – I’m resisting Shane’s request that we take down the tree and I still have the Charlie Brown Christmas album on repeat.  I’m so thankful for the time with family and friends, for the special holiday moments we shared with Juliette.

We headed down to Portland on Saturday, just in time to wish Morgan a happy third birthday.  This sweet girl was a little overwhelmed by all the attention lavished upon her – she bashfully smiled as we belted out “Happy Birthday”, not entirely sure what to make of the singing and the candles and the cameras.

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But all sense of reserve was lost once she was told she could dig into her cupcake!  Was it really just three years ago that I was holding a newborn Morgan in my arms?  She’s such a strong-willed, fun-loving little person now.

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Since my parents, Shane and I would be heading home on Christmas Eve, we opened gifts on Sunday morning.  Morgan and Elise excitedly tore into their pile of presents, while Juliette needed a little help from dad.  The sound of wrapping paper being torn was her favorite part of the whole ordeal – next year, I’m giving her a bunch of wrapped empty boxes!

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Shane, on the other hand, understands the joy of a perfect gift – check out that whiskey grin!

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The rest of Sunday was wonderfully low-key – we ate, we painted, we played Candyland, we napped, and as the day drew to a close, we cracked open Shane’s Christmas gift.

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We set out for Alberta Street on Monday to show Jules one of our favorite Portland neighborhoods.  First stop: coffee at Barista!

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Kathryn bought Mitch a ukelele from his favorite music store for Christmas, and Shane gave it a little test drive out on the sidewalk, serenading Juliette as she dozed in her stroller.

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Shane, Kathryn, and I grabbed delicious Indian food from Bollywood Theatre for lunch.  Morgan and Elise were not so interested in samosas or dal or pork vindaloo, but they were quick to take us up on an offer of ice cream from Salt and Straw next door.

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We capped off the day with a special pizza dinner to celebrate my mom and dad’s 43rd (!) wedding anniversary.  I loved being in a house full of family, crowding around the table at mealtimes, watching Morgan and Elise dote on their new cousin.  There were times when the hub-bub was loud and crazy and tiring (you can see below that it tuckered Jules out), but the hub-bub was also full of joy and great care for one another.  There was never any shortage of volunteers to hold the baby or clean up the kitchen or read a book to the kids.

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My parents left early the next morning for La Pine, and Shane, Jules, and I strategically hit the road at morning naptime.  But first, the requisite photo of cousins on the couch:

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Christmas day was quiet – we lounged around in our PJs, did some cooking, and opened our gifts from Shane’s family.  Jules can’t believe how well she made out:

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It seems impossible that a year ago, this little girl was the size of a poppyseed, making a home for herself in my belly unbeknownst to Shane and I.  Best gift ever.

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The Rust clan flew in from their week in Colorado on Christmas afternoon, so Shane, Juliette, and I headed over to their place that evening, bearing ham and mashed potatoes and apple pie.  It was a treat to share Christmas dinner with our Seattle family, to be back in the midst of hub-bub after such a mellow day at home.

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And with that, a holly, jolly Christmas 2013 is in the books!

My mom left Wednesday after a week-long stay in Seattle, and man, I’m missin’ her already!  Yes, I will see her tomorrow when we head to Portland for Christmas, but still…I so enjoyed having her here, watching her love on her granddaughter.  And my word, it was nice to come downstairs in the morning to the smell of sizzling bacon and freshly brewed coffee!

It was a pretty quiet week – gone are the days of our several-hour shopping excursions to downtown or Southcenter, I guess. We spent a lot of time just hanging around the house, doting on Juliette and then popping in You’ve Got Mail and Little Women when she went down for her afternoon nap. My mom easily fell into our routines and rituals; she was coaxing big smiles out of the baby in no time and quickly learned what to do when those smiles went sour – I came home one afternoon after a quick run to the grocery store to find her doing laps around the kitchen with a zonked-out Jules in the stroller! I like that she saw the inner workings of our little family; she can fully sympathize now when I say that Juliette had a car seat meltdown, she knows how good it feels to lift her warm little body from the crib after a nap, she gets it when I say we had an extra cheery morning or a really tough time getting her to bed. And it was so affirming to hear her tell my grandma over the phone that I’m a good mom. Those are blessed words to hear from the woman that raised me.

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My mom and I did venture out with the baby occasionally, for runs to West Elm and the neighborhood toy store to finish up our Christmas shopping, and we made multiple trips to Columbia City Bakery for Americano’s and coconut macaroons.  I like to think the three of us will be going on these coffee dates for years and years to come, even after Juliette has acquired her own taste for espresso.

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Thanks so much for everything, Mom…  Jules and I appreciate every meal, every hug, every lap around the kitchen island. You may have come to help take care of the grandbaby, but you did some really good takin’ care of your daughter in the process.

Time is flyin’ – our (not so) itty bitty baby turned three months old on Saturday!  The latest on our ol’ Bag of Books:

She’s getting better and better at entertaining herself – despite my resolve to keep our home as free as possible from baby clutter, I broke down a couple of weeks ago and bought her one of those obnoxiously bright play mats, complete with a dangling elephant and giraffe and monkey.  Some days, she’ll lay there for thirty minutes at a time and swat at her animal friends.  Her ability to grab and grip things (and eventually put them in her mouth) improves day by day.  It’s fun to watch her play, to see her realize that her hands are attached to her body and that they can be used to control the objects around her.

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We’ve been doing some good gettin’ out lately – we hit the mall together a couple of times last week, we’ve taken some long walks, and we’ve made many a trip to the neighborhood bakery.  But our best outing was our trip to the Seattle Aquarium with my mama friends and their little ones.  I was surprised by how taken Jules was with the big fish tanks, at her wide-eyed, open-mouthed curiosity.  I’m starting to understand the joy in watching your child discover something new.  Granted, she was probably more taken with the blue glow of the lights and the busy stream of bubbles than she was with the beautiful array of fish, but still, there was this new little spark in her gaze that I’ve never seen before.  I can’t wait to show her the zoo and the ocean and, someday, Paris!

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Sleep.  Ahhhhh, how quickly our conversations and schedules and moods have come to revolve around sleep!  Juliette still wakes once or twice each night to eat, and naps have been frustratingly brief as of late, but we’re rolling with it as best we can and feeling thankful for those nights where she blesses us with a 6 or 7-hour stretch of snoozing.  Most mornings she sleeps until 7:00 or 7:30 (or even 8:30 this past Sunday! hallelujah!); on the rough days she’s waking in the deep darkness that is 6 a.m. in December.  I stumble into her room, tired and a wee bit cranky, but then she flashes me her ultra-sweet morning grin as I peer down into her crib and all is forgiven.  Taking her out of her swaddle blanket is like unwrapping the cutest, warmest, cuddliest present ever.

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We’re spending less and less time bouncing Juliette on the ball these days, as we’ve discovered alternative means of soothing her.  If she’s not too fussy, the pacifier and some cuddle time might do the trick.  If she’s a little more upset, we may resort to laps around the kitchen island with her in the stroller.  If she’s really fired up, there’s nowhere she’d rather be than in papa’s arms, propped up just so, as he walks her around the house and assures her in his calmest voice that all will be ok.

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Every day with this girl continues to be a surprise – when I wake up each morning, I don’t know if the day will hold long naps or inconsolable fits of crying or tummy time sessions full of goofy grins.  But I can always count on at least a few happy smiles, a couple of precious cuddles, a moment or two where my heart flip flops with love for our baby Jules.

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Ohhhhh, this face!  She kills me.

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We’re beginning to fall into a (loose) schedule with Juliette and are putting her to bed earlier these days, starting the go-to-sleep song and dance around 7:00.  This gives Shane and I more time to ourselves in the evening, which is great, but by the time we turn in around 10:30, I actually kind of start to miss that girl – I’m often tempted to lift her out of her crib for one last snuggle to top off my love bank.  I don’t, for fear of waking the sweetly snoozing beast, but I do creep into the nursery to gently stroke her hair and whisper good night.  This is also my time to pray for her, to lay my hand on her and lift up my hopes and dreams for our baby.  Some prayers are for the immediate future, for a good night’s sleep and a tomorrow full of smiles, and some prayers are for the longer-term, for Jules the little girl and Jules the teenager and grown-up woman.

Dear Juliette, this is some of what mama so desperately hopes for you…

I pray that home will always be a place of safety and comfort and joy for you.  That you’ll rest in the absolute assurance that your dad and I love you unconditionally, that we’ll hold you when you need to cry and take you out for pizza when you want to celebrate.  Sometimes we’ll mess up and lose our patience or raise our voices or get too busy to give you the attention you need, but in the midst of our shortcomings, I hope you know that you are safe and wanted here.

I pray that God will keep his hand of protection over you.  Gosh, this world feels scary sometimes, especially for a woman. But I don’t want you to live in fear; I just want you to be aware and be wise and let your dad and I interview any boy that wants to take you out on a date. (kidding.) (ok, not really kidding.)

I pray that you will find fulfillment in expressing your creativity, whatever form it takes.  Whether it’s music, or art, or, if your dad has his way, iPhone app development, I hope you’re able to experience the joy of making and sharing something beautiful or innovative.

I pray that you’ll love yourself, that you’ll look in the mirror and feel confident and beautiful.  I hope you won’t buy into the media-driven myth that beauty is about being thin and wearing designer clothes and having airbrushed skin.  Nobody looks like those girls in the magazines.  Even those girls in the magazines don’t really look like those girls in the magazines.  Decide for yourself wherein beauty lies; don’t let Victoria’s Secret ads do it for you.

I pray that kindness and compassion will be your guide, rather than popularity or ease.  Few things would make me prouder than to see you invite the lonely new kid to come sit with you and your friends at lunch.  I pray that you’ll care about justice and and mercy, that you’ll be bold in speaking out for those who have a hard time making their voices heard.

I look at you, so quietly sleeping in your crib, and this list hardly begins to capture the way my heart bursts with all that I want for you.  I ache with the hope that you’ll live a life brimming with joy and love and adventure.  I’ll help you along, cheer you on, smother you with kisses, but I must remember that ultimately, you’re in God’s hands.

So please, please, please Lord – take care of my baby.

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The sentimental-ist in me is big on family traditions, and now that we’ve added a kid to the mix, I’m even more intent on maintaining certain annual rituals.  Our yearly trek out to North Bend to cut down our Christmas tree tops the list of favorite Schnell family traditions, so on Friday we donned our warmest winter clothing and headed east for our eighth (!) visit to Mountain Creek tree farm.  I still remember our first time there back in 2006, when we were newlyweds giddily buying our inaugural Christmas tree as a couple.  The woman behind the counter asked as we paid if we had any kids that would like a candy cane.  We both laughed and told her “No, thanks”, unable to imagine how a child would fit into the fancy-free life we lived in our small Capitol Hill apartment.  That same woman has asked us that same question every single year, as our nervous “No thank you’s” slowly morphed into anticipatory “Maybe next year’s” and then into pained “Still not yet’s”.  And now, here we are, in the midst of below-freezing weather with a child that often throws fits in the car, but dammit, I wanted a candy cane, so off we went!

Juliette fell asleep within minutes of hitting the road and opened her sleepy eyes just as we rolled into the parking lot.  Shane and I bundled her up, crossed our fingers, and set out in search of the perfect tree.  Usually this search takes a good 30-45 minutes, as I insist that we wander the entire farm to get a complete sense of our options.  I’ll narrow it down to three or four contenders, circling each tree several times to evaluate symmetry and fullness before making a final decision.  But once we stepped out of the car on Friday, felt the cold, and heard Juliette’s little whimpers, we were on a mission.  Fifteen seconds into our search, I pointed to a tree that I said I liked, and as I was turning to find the best angle from which to snap a photo, Shane was already hacking away at it’s trunk and slinging it over his shoulder.  I didn’t even have time to yell “timmmmmber!”.  Jules and I hung out by the wood stove in the front shop while Shane tied the tree to our car; he joined us for a quick cup of cider and then we were back on the road in record time (candy cane in hand!).

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Thankfully, despite our impulsiveness, this tree is a beaut and looks great in our living room.  I unwrapped my ornaments yesterday while Juliette sat in my lap and I told her about the plastic snowflake I’ve been hanging on Christmas trees for over 25 years, about my collection of angel ornaments, about the beaded green bird I bought in Portland with my mom a few years ago.  I’ll be carrying on the tradition my parents started by giving my own daughter an ornament every year, and as I hung her pretty glass owl on the tree, I pictured Christmas next year, when we’ll have to hang these breakable ornaments high and out of reach of toddler hands, and Christmas a few years from now, when Jules will start to look forward to opening up her box of familiar ornaments to hang on the tree, and Christmas a couple of decades down the road, when I’ll hand over Juliette’s collection to hang on her own tree.  I guess that’s what I love about traditions – the way they bring forth good memories of years prior and anticipation of years future.  Happy holidays, indeed.

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