Wrapping Up November With Thanks and Joy

Season’s greetings! Is it too early to say that? I’m in the Christmas spirit early this year, and genuinely want to share with everyone the joy this time of year brings to me.

An Easy and Special Thanksgiving

gathering greenery

We had a happy Thanksgiving. This year, we stayed in town and celebrated with my husband’s side of the family who live in town, too. Not traveling or hosting allowed us to make the day our own, and it was a day that really did remind me that there is so much in my life for which to be thankful.

Knowing that I needed greenery to make Christmas decorations, my husband surprised me with a special plan when Bitsy and I woke up Thanksgiving morning: we would be going to a friend’s horse farm to gather greenery. We dressed and got coffee on the way. It was a beautiful morning: sunny and mild, just cool enough for a sweater or light jacket. The farm looks beautiful in the fall, with all the colorful leaves and the evergreens getting their time to shine.

gathering greenery fun

Bitsy had a wonderful time. We watch her closely but give her plenty of room to play. At one time, we were in a fenced-in area where we could gather holly branches and let her explore. She walked alongside us and played her heart out. By the time we finished gathering, she was falling asleep in my arms. I got great exercise carrying her and the baskets full of branches, leaves, and pine cones!

farm finds

A Simple Sidedish: Kale Salad With Apples and Dried Cranberries

We came home in time for me to prepare the simple side dish I was bringing to Thanksgiving dinner: a kale salad with warm cranberry vinaigrette. All I had to do was wash and tear the kale, cut a couple Honeycrisp apples into thin slices, and prepare the vinaigrette (olive oil, garlic powder and 2 cups of dried cranberries, 1 tablespoon red wine vinegar, 2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar, a tablespoon of honey, juice & zest of half a lemon and half an orange, a pinch of brown sugar, and salt & pepper to taste) in a saut√© pan, massage the kale with olive oil for about 90 seconds, then toss in the cranberry vinaigrette mixture and top with the apple slices and pecans. Bitsy napped the whole time I was preparing it–something else for which to be thankful! Those who like kale loved the salad, and those who don’t ate some to be polite ūüôā What more could I ask for?

My Most Precious Blessing

This was Bitsy’s second Thanksgiving, but the first since she started eating table foods. She loved the food, and had a wonderful time playing with cousins and made new friends with my sister-in-law’s brother-in-law’s children who are close to her age. She ran played, squealed, and laughed with the purest joy until she was all tuckered out.

And the Prettiest Sight You’ll See is the Holly that Will Be On Your Own Front Door

Christmas wreath

I’m usually not one to put up my Christmas decorations the day after Thanksgiving. I like to wait until it’s officially Advent to even begin decorating for Christmas. Beautifying my home with Christmas decorations is part of my observance of Advent. “Make your homes fair as you are able,” says my favorite Advent hymn, “People Look East,” as we prepare for the coming of our greatest Christmas guest, Jesus Christ. This year is different because I’ve already collected all of this beautiful fresh holly, pine, and magnolia, and must go ahead and put it to use. I made my wreath and put it on the front door Saturday, and we are all enjoying it. For this one, and most Christmas wreaths I make, I used a metal wreath form, attaching the pieces with floral wire. Whenever I hang a wreath, Bitsy likes me to open and close the door so she can keep getting a look at it. I have plenty left over for more decorations, so I’ll be pretty busy decking the halls.

Loving the Fall and Looking Forward to Winter

It’s still fall for a while longer, but starting to feel like winter. Just a couple weeks ago we were enjoying the pleasant days of early fall, with lots of playing outside. I guess it wouldn’t be right to skip through the season without the obligatory toddler-playing-in-leaves blog post, so here we are having some family fun time outdoors a couple Sundays ago:

The day was still warm enough for bare feet, especially for my child who hates to wear socks and shoes.

leaves on porch

After helping Daddy with a little yard work…

approaching leaves

…it was time to play in the crisp dry leaves.

in the leaves xi

in the leaves 6

in the leaves xii

in the leaves xiv

Bundling Up

Now that the cooler weather is here, I’m happy we get to start wearing our coats and sweaters. I love this trench I got from¬†Stitch Fix¬†(this link will get each of us $25 off when you sign up and order your first box!) I got it two years ago, but it’s such a classic and high-quality piece that it should last me for years to come.

beforeMass Missal for Toddlers

Something to Read

In this pic we were just getting ready to leave for Mass. The book you see in the picture,¬†¬†A Missal for Toddlers, is a recent purchase I’m so glad I made. Bitsy loves the book (as you can see her clinging to it in the picture), so it’s a great way to a) start getting her interested in what’s happening at Mass, and b) give her something to entertain herself with if she gets restless during Mass. This board book is hardcover, but soft enough (almost like a padded feel) that it won’t be noisy if your toddler bangs it against the pew. The language is simple and relatable for little ones, and the illustrations are adorable. I highly recommend it for Catholic families with small children.

It’s the Most Wonderful Time…

It’s a busy but happy and invigorating time for me as the semester winds down and the holidays approach. I have one last big assignment to do for my collection development class, and so much decorating to do! We have to come up with a plan b for our Christmas tree this year, since we don’t have a good way to baby-proof it, and Bitsy’s too young to understand that it’s off limits. I know it’s just the type of thing she’ll want to explore, from the water in the tree stand, to the branches, lights, and ornaments. Right now, the plan is to have a very small tree on an end table. I’ll check in again soon with more decorations, recipes, and holiday cheer!

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Something We Read: Eating the Alphabet by Lois Ehlert

Eating the Alphabet by Lois Ehlert

This week, I want to focus on another of Bitsy’s favorite picture books for Picture Book Month.¬†Eating the Alphabet¬†(shown above in¬†board book form, but also available in other formats at¬†this link), like a lot of alphabet books, is one in which the illustrations are the real star of the show. There is a good variety of vocabulary to found be in this book, too (Kumquat! Kohlrabi! Xigua!).

Eating the alphabet Peach through Pomegranate

I think this book is a really fun one for little ones who are discovering new foods. Because it’s a quick read, it’s a really good one for the short attention span of an active toddler. Bitsy brings this one to me frequently, we read it, then she wanders off to play some more. Reading then feels fun, not forced. A learning activity I’d like to do with her soon, but haven’t tried yet, is to take this book with us next time we go grocery shopping and search for each of the fruits and vegetables in¬†Eating the Alphabet. When I do that, I’ll let you know how it goes!

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Something We Read: Rooster’s Off to See the World

Rooster's Off to See the World

Picture Book Month

November is Picture Book Month, a time to celebrate picture books for their importance in developing literacy, and the joy they bring us as readers. Bitsy and I enjoy picture books together every day. In celebration of Picture Book Month, I plan to do some extra posts about the children’s books we read. This week we read a book that is an excellent example of the great work that can be done by authors and illustrators in this format:¬†Rooster’s Off to See the World, by Eric Carle.

Reading Together

This story is one adults can enjoy as much as children. Bitsy loves the different voices I do for all of the animal characters. The colorful illustrations are so appealing to little ones, and I love Eric Carle’s distinctive collage style.

rooster's illustrations

The story is so clever. A rooster awakes one morning and forms the notion he would like to travel. “So, right then and there, he set out to see the world.” As he walks along on his journey, the rooster meets other animals who accept his invitation to travel the world. Cats, frogs, turtles, and even fish swimming in a brook form the travel party.

rooster's travel party

Cocksure as one would expect a rooster to be, he made no plans or preparations for his bold endeavor at world travel. The animals soon feel the deprivations of an ill-prepared trip, and one by one each group of animals abandons the trip and returns home. The rooster ends up alone again, finds himself hungry and homesick, and returns to the comforts of home as well. In the end, he falls asleep and has “a wonderful happy dream–all about a trip around the world!” This is a good place to ask your little one what you think the rooster will do next: will he be satisfied with dreaming about seeing the world, or will he make real travel plans and try again?

Rooster's dream

While the book is good for teaching counting, addition, and subtraction, it does so in a very subtle way–the main focus is the story. The illustrations include a visual in the top corners showing the growing, then declining number of animals on the trip as each group of animals joins or leaves the party.

counting with rooster

One rooster is joined by two cats, then three frogs, four turtles, and five fish. The fish, then the turtles, followed by the frogs, and finally the cats take their leave of the rooster, until there is just one animal present again. The way this is done through illustrations shows just how important picture books are to early learning.

As you can see in several¬† other posts here, Bitsy and I love Eric Carle books. This is one of my favorites, though. I like the distinct personalities of the different animal characters, and the humorous tale. The rooster, with all of his colorful feathers, must have been a particularly fun animal for Carle to illustrate, and stands out to me as one of the most beautiful of his illustrations. I highly recommend this one for your child’s collection.

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Something We Read: Last Stop on Market Street by Matt de la Pe√Īa, illustrated by Christian Robinson

IMG_3303[1]

Last Stop On Market Street¬†was the first book I put on Bitsy’s¬†Amazon baby registry, and the first one I bought since I was too impatient to wait for someone to buy it for us. I was just so excited about having books for her, and this one in particular¬† I knew would be special. It received some of the most prestigious honors in children’s literature. It is a 2016 Caldecott Honor Book, the winner of the 2016¬†Newbery Medal, and a 2016 Coretta Scott King Illustrator Honor.

These awards speak well for the book, but what attracted me most was its content and message. After church, CJ and his grandmother take the bus to the soup kitchen where they volunteer each week. CJ sees his friends go home in their cars, and wonders why he can’t do the same. He feels a little sorry for himself, but his grandmother patiently, lovingly, and wisely shows him how fortunate they are, and how to find beauty all around them in this ordinary excursion. Who needs a car when “we got a bus that breathes fire?” CJ’s friends who get to go home after church will not get the chance to meet all the people CJ and his grandma see on the bus and at the soup kitchen. CJ doesn’t need a smartphone to hear music when the man across from him on the bus has a guitar, and plays a song for everyone. CJ closes his eyes to appreciate the music. It takes him out of the bus to an imaginary place of freedom, beauty, and magic.

After CJ and his grandmother exit the bus in the neighborhood of the soup kitchen where they volunteer, CJ looks around at the “crumbling sidewalks and broken-down doors, graffiti-tagged windows, and boarded-up stores.” He asks his grandmother why “it’s always so dirty over here.” She points out a rainbow and tells him that being “surrounded by dirt” can sometimes help you be “a better witness for what’s beautiful.” CJ then recognizes his grandmother’s gift for finding beauty, and looks around to find it himself in the street lights, stray cats, and shadows around him. When they approach the soup kitchen and see the people they serve every week, CJ tells his grandmother he is happy to be there.

There are so many messages in¬†Last Stop on Market Street that I want to share with my daughter, and I’m glad I have this book to help me do that. I want her to be able to find joy and beauty in everyday settings, and be grateful for our many blessings. I want her to have close relationships with her grandparents, like CJ and his grandmother have. His grandmother is such a positive influence, teaching him some of the most important lessons for living a happy, meaningful, and useful life. The illustrations show diverse characters, something very important for every child to see in their books. Most of all, I love the sense of community CJ’s grandmother clearly has and is teaching him. She connects with the people all around her. She sees the bus as a valuable public space where people can interact and learn from one another. She smiles and wishes a good afternoon to all the other passengers, and has CJ do the same. The way she speaks of the people they serve at the soup kitchen shows that she does not condescend to the people she serves. She treats them not only as equals, but as wonderful people she and CJ are honored to know. I think the book conveys all of these messages without being preachy. I try to share these messages when I read it to Bitsy through my voice, expression, and pointing to the illustrations, delighting in all of the beauties CJ’s grandma points out to him. I’m so glad Bitsy has been enjoying this one. The message, as well as the condition of the book in its hardcover format, should hold up for her for years to come.

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Something We Read: Little People, BIG DREAMS

Little People, BIG DREAMS: Ella Fitzgerald by 

Isabel Sánchez Vegara, Illustrated by Bàrbara Alca

ella

Just look at that adorable cover!

Bitsy seems really drawn to this cute illustration of little Ella Fitzgerald, and often carries¬†¬†this book¬†around with her and brings it to me to read to her. At this toddler stage, sitting still for a whole book can be difficult. If a toddler is having trouble sitting still for an entire story, that’s okay. It better to skip some sentences or whole pages, or let them run around while you read, than to make them sit still until you finish the book. You want to help them develop a love of reading, not make it a chore. I do sometimes miss the days when I could read her books with longer, more complex stories than the ones in her board books, whenever I wanted. For whatever reason, Bitsy seems to stay pretty engaged with this book, though. I think she likes Ella’s friendly face and the colorful illustrations.

This one is fun for adults, too. There are little references for us to enjoy, like Ella’s mother reading¬†Mrs. Dalloway. It gives us a lot of music to explore. At the beginning, we see a musically-precocious little Ella Fitzgerald listening to the Boswell sisters on vinyl. This group was a new discovery for me, and fortunately you can find their collections on Youtube, including what fans in the comments say are pretty rare, deep cuts.

We also learn about Ella Fitzgerald’s collaborations, band, and solo work, including illustrations of her album covers. What a great way introduce one of America’s greatest singers to children! Bitsy is so drawn to music, and this book has prompted me to play some of Ella Fitzgerald’s music for her.

 

The story is a very positive one about overcoming adversity and following your dreams. It does briefly touch on some difficult events in Ella’s life–her mother’s death, skipping school, being sent away to “a strict school as punishment,” and running away from home. It doesn’t dwell too much on these events and topics, and tells about them in a way that I believe children can handle.

Little People, Big Dreams

This¬†series¬†features the stories of women who have achieved great things. It follows their stories from childhood, showing little ones that we all start small, but can accomplish a lot if we dream big and follow those dreams. The books are written for young children, but are enjoyable for all ages. According to this¬†interview, the author was inspired to write books about female heroes to fill a gap she discovered when looking for books to read to her nieces.¬† There just weren’t as many books about real-life, strong, courageous women as she’d found about men. The books aren’t just for girls. They are about dreamers, and intended for all children.

Vergara writes all the books in the series, but works with different illustrators. I loved all the illustrations in the book about Ella Fitzgerald. One page really stood out for me for the way Alca illustrates Vergara’s figurative language. Ella Fitzgerald’s “velvety voice wrapped around the audience like a blanket.”

blanket

I am so excited to keep sharing stories in this series about the lives of great women with Bitsy. I think the next¬†Little People, Big Dreams¬†we’ll read will be¬†Rosa Parks,¬†Mother Teresa, and¬†Jane Austen. There are many from which to choose in this series, and you can probably find the stories of some of your heroes to share with your children.

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Something We Read: Little Owl’s Colors by Divya Srinivasan

A few weeks ago,¬†I told you I included two books to read to Bitsy in my hospital bag when she was born. The first book read to her was¬†Home For a Bunny¬†by Margaret Wise Brown. This week I’ll tell you about the second book she read, which we read several times this week:¬†Little Owl’s Colors¬†by Divya Srinivasan.

Little Owl's Colors

This book was a baby shower gift from my¬†Amazon baby registry¬†I like that it uses nature to teach colors–a gray raccoon, blue pond, purple flowers, a red cardinal eating red berries.

Little Owl’s Colors¬†was the first book we read by Divya Srinivasan. We have one other–Little Owl’s 1-2-3. She is both author and illustrator of the books in the Little Owl series, of which there are three more–¬†Little Owl’s Night¬†,¬†Little Owl’s Day¬†, and the upcoming¬†Little Owl’s Snow¬†–as well as¬†Octopus Alone, a book about a shy octopus who learns to balance playing alone with playing with friends. I plan to complete Bitsy’s collection of Little Owl books.

I was so happy to find out that a new book (Little Owl’s Snow)¬†is coming out in time for Christmas, because I love Divya Srinivasan’s illustration style. In addition to the books she wrote and illustrated, she has done art and animation for¬†This American Life,¬†New Yorker, Weird Al, and others. She illustrated perhaps the most visually-appealing book I’ve seen recently: Neil Gaiman’s¬†Cinnamon.

 

See her portfolio¬†here. I’ll be on the lookout for more work from her.

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Something We Read: Baby Faces Books

babyfaces books.jpg

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Now that Bitsy can walk and bring me books to read to her, I’m really enjoying seeing which ones capture her interest–the ones she wants to read over and over again. Babies love looking at pictures of other babies, and lately Bitsy has been bringing me her¬†books with photos of babies quite often. These are very appropriate books for her at this stage. It can be hard for a new walker to be still and focus for a long time, but these books are short and sweet, and the babies’ faces capture her attention. I love seeing her react to the babies’ different facial expressions.

The two we’ve been reading a lot this week are¬†Goodnight, Baby¬†by¬†Rourke Board Books¬†,and¬†Hugs & Kisses¬†by¬†Roberta Grobel Intrater¬†from the¬†Scholastic Babyfaces series.¬†Hugs & Kisses¬†features real parents and babies showing affection. I like to read her this one we snuggle at nap time, night time, or when we wake up in the morning.

Goodnight, Baby is one we borrowed from the library that will be hard to return because she has gotten pretty attached to it. I may have to order a copy, which we often do when she loves a library book this much. Fortunately, there are used bilingual English/Spanish editions editions available on Amazon for under $6.

The pictures and text in¬†Goodnight, Baby¬†are adorable and sweet. It’s perfect for helping a baby or toddler settle down for the night. I let my voice get softer as I read each page, and this seems to be very soothing for Bitsy. My only complaint is that in two places, the book ends sentences with prepositions. I’m just picky about stuff like that, but Bitsy and I enjoy this book so much, I’ll have to let it slide. I just correct it as I read, saying “Put away your toys,” in place of “Put your toys away.” I’m nerdy. My husband calls me Diane Chambers.

Bitsy also loves seeing babies’ faces in her favorite Youtube video. It’s video of the Suzuki Songbook 1 for violin, with toys, animals, and children smiling & playing. Bitsy is very interested in music, and we enjoy this video together almost every day. She smiles back at the babies, and laughs, claps, and points when she sees the toys and animals she likes best. Give it a try with your little one here: