December 31, 2010

The Book Project: 2011

I may come to regret this later, but I’ve decided to try and read all the books on the BBC’s top 100 books. I thought that I was doing pretty good when I went through the list in November and discovered that I’d read 29 of them (Today I realized it’s actually 28. I got confused on Grapes of Wrath.). Then my much more well-read friends chimed in with numbers like 45, 49, and 90.

Being that I’m a stay-at-home mom, I clearly need something to occupy my time. What better than to fill in the 72 books I’m missing? I had thought about rereading the ones I’d already done, but then I realized things were on there like the Harry Potter series. While I do love it, I don’t want to read all seven books again.
The benefit for you, my reader, is that I plan to blog on all the books I read. This way you don’t have to read them. But clearly you should. In fact, I’ll let you know what book I’m reading when, and you can read along if you like.

Right now I’m finishing up a delightful memoir that I snagged in Waldenbooks over the holidays, so my kick off will wait a little while. But because I plan to read through the list in order, I’ll be starting with a bang with The Lord of the Rings.

I’m not going to promise that I will read a book a week or anything like that, but I’ll keep at it and we’ll see if I can do them in a year or if this little project turns out to be the end of me.

Just so you can plan ahead, here’s the list. Books in bold I have already read; books in italics are ones from which I’ve read excerpts. I will read the entirety of the books in italics.

Wish me luck. I’m going to need it!

1 Pride and Prejudice - Jane Austen
2 The Lord of the Rings - JRR Tolkien
3.  Jane Eyre - Charlotte Bronte
4 Harry Potter series - JK Rowling
5 To Kill a Mockingbird - Harper Lee
6 The Bible
7 Wuthering Heights - Emily Bronte
8 Nineteen Eighty Four - George Orwell
9 His Dark Materials - Philip Pullman
10 Great Expectations - Charles Dickens
11 Little Women - Louisa M Alcott
12 Tess of the D’Urbervilles - Thomas Hardy
13 Catch 22 - Joseph Heller
14 Complete Works of Shakespeare
15 Rebecca - Daphne Du Maurier
16 The Hobbit - JRR Tolkien
17 Birdsong - Sebastian Faulk
18 Catcher in the Rye - JD Salinger
19 The Time Traveler’s Wife - Audrey Niffenegger
20 Middlemarch - George Eliot
21 Gone With The Wind - Margaret Mitchell
22 The Great Gatsby - F Scott Fitzgerald
24 War and Peace - Leo Tolstoy
25 The Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy - Douglas Adams
27 Crime and Punishment - Fyodor Dostoyevsky
28 Grapes of Wrath - John Steinbeck
29 Alice in Wonderland - Lewis Carroll
30 The Wind in the Willows - Kenneth Grahame
31 Anna Karenina - Leo Tolstoy
32 David Copperfield - Charles Dickens
33 Chronicles of Narnia - CS Lewis
34 Emma -Jane Austen
35 Persuasion - Jane Austen
36 The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe - CS Lewis
37 The Kite Runner - Khaled Hosseini
38 Captain Corelli’s Mandolin - Louis De Bernieres
39 Memoirs of a Geisha - Arthur Golden
40 Winnie the Pooh - A.A. Milne
41 Animal Farm - George Orwell
42 The Da Vinci Code - Dan Brown
43 One Hundred Years of Solitude - Gabriel Garcia Marquez
44 A Prayer for Owen Meaney - John Irving
45 The Woman in White - Wilkie Collins
46 Anne of Green Gables - LM Montgomery
47 Far From The Madding Crowd - Thomas Hardy
48 The Handmaid’s Tale - Margaret Atwood
49 Lord of the Flies - William Golding
50 Atonement - Ian McEwan
51 Life of Pi - Yann Martel
52 Dune - Frank Herbert
53 Cold Comfort Farm - Stella Gibbons
54 Sense and Sensibility - Jane Austen
55 A Suitable Boy - Vikram Seth
56 The Shadow of the Wind - Carlos Ruiz Zafon
57 A Tale Of Two Cities - Charles Dickens
58 Brave New World - Aldous Huxley
59 The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time - Mark Haddon
60 Love In The Time Of Cholera - Gabriel Garcia Marquez
61 Of Mice and Men - John Steinbeck
62 Lolita - Vladimir Nabokov
63 The Secret History - Donna Tartt
64 The Lovely Bones - Alice Sebold
65 Count of Monte Cristo - Alexandre Dumas 
66 On The Road - Jack Kerouac
67 Jude the Obscure - Thomas Hardy
68 Bridget Jones’s Diary - Helen Fielding
69 Midnight’s Children - Salman Rushdie
70 Moby Dick - Herman Melville
71 Oliver Twist - Charles Dickens
72 Dracula - Bram Stoker
73 The Secret Garden - Frances Hodgson Burnett
74 Notes From A Small Island - Bill Bryson
75 Ulysses - James Joyce
76 The Inferno - Dante
77 Swallows and Amazons - Arthur Ransome
78 Germinal - Emile Zola
79 Vanity Fair - William Makepeace Thackeray
80 Possession - AS Byatt
81 A Christmas Carol - Charles Dickens
82 Cloud Atlas - David Mitchell
83 The Color Purple - Alice Walker
84 The Remains of the Day - Kazuo Ishiguro
85 Madame Bovary - Gustave Flaubert
86 A Fine Balance - Rohinton Mistry
87 Charlotte’s Web - E.B. White
88 The Five People You Meet In Heaven - Mitch Albom
89 Adventures of Sherlock Holmes - Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
90 The Faraway Tree Collection - Enid Blyton
91 Heart of Darkness - Joseph Conrad
92 The Little Prince - Antoine De Saint-Exupery
93 The Wasp Factory - Iain Banks
94 Watership Down - Richard Adams
95 A Confederacy of Dunces - John Kennedy Toole (this is on my bookshelf)
96 A Town Like Alice - Nevil Shute
97 The Three Musketeers - Alexandre Dumas
98 Hamlet - William Shakespeare
99 Charlie and the Chocolate Factory - Roald Dahl
100 Les Miserables - Victor Hugo

December 28, 2010

Opening Presents

In the present opening department H takes after my brother.

When we were children, Santa carefully arranged twin piles for Johnny and me. They were very equal piles, and really, we always got what we wanted. But every year I would tear through my presents. I’d unwrap one, give it a quick look, and set it aside. It was the anticipation, the newness that I loved. I wanted to open presents. Johnny on the other hand, would open a present and examine it. He’d look at the box, open the toy, and start to play. My parents had to coax him to go on to the next present. And of course, the process was repeated with each box. As you can imagine, this meant that I would open all my presents, and Johnny would still have a pile left over. I could never understand how he could always have “more” presents than me.

 Don't judge us and the ooze of gifts from under the tree.
When H came downstairs on Christmas morning, there was quite a good pile under the tree.  Probably a third of all the presents were for H. And right in front were a new baby arm chair and popcorn popper push toy. Really, those two toys are all that she needed for a merry Christmas. She plopped down in the chair, ran around with the popper, and had no interest whatsoever in opening presents.

We skyped with Grandma and Grandpa in Texas so they could share our Christmas morning. Once the computer came out there was really no hope of H having anything to do with opening gifts. She wanted to play with the computer. This was good for the grandparents, as it gave them a much closer view of their main object, namely H. I tried to get her to help me open the gifts. She was down with pulling off bows and handing her Uncle Johnny the ribbons. But removing the paper was of little interest. Eventually we had to sign off just so we could finish opening presents before dinner.

Clothes were ignored outright. This is no surprise. Books were given only the most cursory inspection. Toys, however, were fascinating. Each toy that emerged from shiny paper and ribbon needed to be opened right then. Dolly needed to be taken out of her packaging so she could be hugged and shushed and carried around. The ride-on Mickey Mouse airplane needed to be assembled immediately.  I was thrilled to discover that it had no volume control or off switch. And on it went.

My new favorite no-off-switch toy. Actually, it's pretty cute.

Clearly, at 19 months Christmas is still something of a mystery to H. She doesn’t really know why there were presents or who Santa is or why we celebrate at all. But it does make me wonder how she will act as she gets older. Will this “go slow” approach continue? My brother gets it quite honestly from my dad. You practically have to hold a gun to his head to get him to open a present. I’m told it took years of teasing from my mother (the queen of tear and flick) to get my father to stop taking out his pocket knife to slit the scotch tape and carefully peel back and fold the paper. (It has to be good for something.) Given that kind of lineage we may be stuck with a present slowpoke for life.

On the other hand, careful training paired with aging may turn her into a gift-wrap-tearing maniac. It’s really a question of nature vs. nurture. Perhaps this is what will solve that age old debate. Or at least it will keep me guessing for the next six months as we gear up for another birthday.

All I know is that I now have good reason to say, “One present per giver.” If we let H set the present pace, we could be opening birthday gifts until Christmas!

December 24, 2010

Happy Hippopotamus Christmas to One and All

I really felt like I needed to touch on this major holiday that is nearly upon us. I have, after all, spent the past few weeks frantically scrubbing, cleaning, dusting, baking, and going to the poor house buying food for said holiday. 

The one Christmas carol that really makes me smile every time I hear it is “I Want a Hippopotamus for Christmas.” I even have a little ornament with Santa toting his sack with a hippo in it (and it plays music!). I’ve been giving some serious thought to why I love this song. 

If you listen closely, you can hear that this is no ordinary child asking for a hippo. This child is not making a capricious decision; she has thought it through. It’s the sort of planning and obsession, mixed with optimism that reminds me of me. I’m not entirely sure if I’ve just complimented or insulted myself.

She considers transportation, “I don’t think Santa Claus will mind, do you?/ He won’t have to use our dirty chimney flue/ Just bring him through the front door,/ That’s the easiest thing to do.” What Santa wouldn’t like for kids to think of his ease when asking for presents? For that matter, it shows that she understands what she’s asking for.

This little girl has been doing her research. Even though her mom tells her that the hippo would eat her up (It’s a clever mom ploy to discourage kids. Remember, “You’ll shoot your eye out”?), she knows that the hippo is a vegetarian. She plans for its care: “There’s lots of room for him in our two-car garage/ I’d feed him there and wash him there and give him his massage.” I especially like the part about the massage. I’d really like it if someone would plan on giving me massages on a regular basis. And what kid thinks of these things?

As I was writing this, I found out that Gayla Peevey recorded this song when she was nine years old. Now the voice and the joy captured in the song make so much more sense—especially when she sings about creeping down the stairs on Christmas morning. It sounds exactly like you feel when you’re nine and you imagine Christmas morning. It’s how I hope H sounds in a few years when she talks about Christmas.

That excitement is really what gets me about the song. It takes me back, man. Even now, I have trouble sleeping on Christmas Eve because I’m so excited.

So, may all of your mornings, wherever you are, be filled with anticipation. “Oh what joy and what surprise/ when I open up my eyes/ to see a hippo hero standing there.” Here’s to hippo heroes everywhere.

Merry Christmas!

December 20, 2010

The Score Continues...Mom-0

I had a moment of inspiration and decided that I was going to wean H from her morning nursing. She has informed me that this is a bad idea.

As you’ve read in my long sob story, nursing started out rough. But now I love our time together and since H really only nurses first thing in the morning, before nap, and before bed, it’s no big deal. It makes her happy, it puts her to sleep, and it makes me happy. But of late I was coveting the extra 15 minutes I could get in my morning if we cut out that feed. All the other feedings we’ve dropped have gone by with nary a whimper, so I figured a little distraction and some repetition would do the trick.

The first day was fine. I came in to get her up and gave her a sippy cup. In fact, the unexpected bonus of this little weaning adventure was that I discovered that if I get to her early enough after she wakes up, then she may not have soaked her diaper yet. Normally the overnight diaper is heavy enough to knock someone out and wet enough that I’m constantly amazed pee doesn’t squeeze out of it just by picking it up. On this morning, it was surprisingly light. A trip to the potty was very successful. I patted myself on the back for being the kind of awesome mom who not only starts weaning but finishes potty training at the same time. Visions of my articulate, beautiful, weaned, and potty trained daughter flashed in my head.

Then on day two H was kind of cranky. On day three, she cried so much during breakfast she almost couldn’t eat. But she got over it. I reassured myself. Day four I made Daddy get her up for the first time in her entire life. It was glorious! I still felt like we could make this work.

Today was day five. I am not too much of a push over. H likes to have a good tantrum at least once a day (when she starts getting tired), and I’ve grown quite immune to them.  But the crying from the moment she wakes, so hard that she can barely eat is no good. How can you enjoy breakfast if you’re crying through it? I could not in good conscience continue my little experiment. In the middle of cereal we went back upstairs and nursed. Then we came down and finished cereal with a smile.

This, I take it, is what they mean by child-led weaning (not exactly, but it’s certainly clear who wears the pants in this nursing relationship). I know that there will be a time when she wakes up without a thought for me. She took her own time to do everything else, I’m not sure why I thought that nursing would be any different. In the meantime, I will continue to get more reading done in the mornings and enjoy my cuddly, happy morning nurser.

December 12, 2010

Let's Crack Some Nuts

In a fit of spontaneity, I talked Josh into taking me to New York City to see the New York Ballet dance The Nutcracker at Lincoln Center. (Life long dream!) I’m still not sure how I managed it. I clearly must have one of the nicest husbands around.

Thankfully, I have a lot of family in New Jersey and New York, and they were so kind, offering advice on how to travel and where to eat, not to mention putting us up and babysitting for us. A thousand thank yous to all you beautiful people!

There are some things that you dream of, and you build them up in your head, and they’re so beautiful. They become far more beautiful than anything real life could offer. After so many years of dreaming about seeing The Nutcracker in NYC, I was afraid that I was setting myself up for disappointment. It was more than I had imagined.

The theater was a soft, gold jewel box. Each tier of balconies had giant diamond-like sconces, the balconies stacking four high. The ceiling vaulted over everything in an almost fractal-like swirl pattern with a massive gold and crystal chandelier. It was a giant globe of diamonds and gold fitted into the center of the ceiling.

The sets were ornate, lush, and so Russian. The stage was framed out in gold filigree with red and green accents. The Land of Sweets was sugar lace and candy stripes. The Christmas tree, which was close to 20 feet to start with, grew out of the stage until it went from the floor to the very top of the curtain—the trap door itself must have been 15 feet across to let the tree up from the depths of the theater. Then, as Marie (I did find it weird that it was Marie and not Clara) and Fritz leave for the Land of Sweets at the end of the first act, the entire tree was lifted into the rigging and the set was changed for a cool, snowy forest. When the Snowflakes danced as it snowed on stage to close the first act, it was like a snow globe had come to life.

When I was a child and dancing in The Nutcracker (I was a Ginger child and a toy soldier), we danced to a recording of the ballet. The sounds of the pit orchestra warming up filled the air the moment we entered the theater. They were flawless. Having both danced to and played The Nutcracker Suite, it’s a piece of music very near and dear to my heart. It would have been joyful just to listen to the music.

But of course, I save the dancing itself for last. I was surprised to see so many children in the ballet. They couldn’t have been more than 12 years old, and all of them were wonderful. The first act, during the Christmas party requires quite a bit of acting, and the children looked so purely joyful, as if this really were their Christmas party. My favorite of the first act had to be the defeated mouse soldier who so mournfully followed her dead leader off stage. It was a very sad mouse.

No matter how much you enjoy the first act of The Nutcracker, the real dancing happens in the second act. Josh, who hadn’t seen the ballet before, recognized one or two themes of the first act and about three-quarters of the second. That’s where you get the Sugar Plum Fairy’s dance and the Waltz of the Flowers. If you’ve seen Fantasia, you’ve heard the second act.

Part of the fun of the second act is how kitschy the “ethnic” dances are. The ballet was written in 1892, so the Spanish, Russian, Chinese, and Arabian dances are all exaggerations and no one thought of political correctness. The Chinese costumes especially still reflected an old-fashioned, Breakfast-at-Tiffany’s-Mickey-Rooney-dressed-as-an-Asian-man feel. But the ballet is such a classic that you can hardly hold a grudge.

The Arabian dance was done as a solo. The dancer actually had finger cymbals and played the chimes for the music at certain points. It added another level of complexity to the dance that really brought out the musicality. Very cool.

But I will save my last gushing for the Sugar Plum Fairy. I’ve been to professional ballets two or three times. I’ve never seen a stronger ballerina. During the Pas de Deux she went on point, one leg straight out behind her, and through some trick of stage work her partner pulled her forward, on one foot, for five or six feet. Her leg never moved. You could see their arms shaking from the effort, but her body was completely motionless. A few moments later she followed it up with an extended turn sequence where again she was firmly planted on one toe, like a ballerina in a jewelry box. It was completely amazing.

There is so much more to tell, about the city during Christmas, which I’d never seen before, and our mad cap traveling on New Jersey Transit and cabs, but this is going a little long.

For all of you who have seen and love The Nutcracker, you know how magical it can be. For me it holds nostalgia not just for my young childhood, but also for the many teenage years playing viola. I smiled the entire show and nearly cried more than once. If you’ve never seen the ballet, go. It’s like nothing else.

December 7, 2010

The Potty Train-Part 1

By popular demand: potty training.

Let me say, I am no expert, but I am happy to share what little insight I have into the bizarre world of training small humans to do their thing in a place other than their pants.

We got started around 14 months because I was hoping, based on the success of a friend, that I could have H potty trained by age 2. We still have 5 ½ months to achieve this goal, but I’m not super optimistic about it. Hopefully we’ll be well on our way.

I read Early-Start Potty Training by Linda Sonna. The book does indeed claim that you can potty train by age 2. It goes over various ages to start, strategies, and diapering and potty clothes. It gave me a good basic idea of what is involved. I’m not sure you need to own this book, so check your library before you take a trip to Barnes & Noble (should you be so lucky to have one in town). There are also many many websites devoted to the topic.

Basically, if you can house train a dog, you’ve got the tools to potty train a child. I hate to compare dogs and children, but in this case it’s pretty apt. When you have a puppy you feed it and then you take it out and use your key phrase to help it associate those words with going to the bathroom. Repeat until desired results are obtained.

With a kiddo it’s slight more involved, but it follows the same principle. First, you try to figure out when your little one goes to the bathroom. A friend recommended a potty log (I like to think of it as an input/output log). Obviously it’s easier to catch the poops than the pees. The process does get you to pay a lot of attention to your little one. I’ve gotten pretty good at identifying the exact position and look of concentration associated with the deed (one day, H will hate me for writing this on the Internet). If you can figure out when they usually go—everyone has a schedule—than you have a better chance of getting them on the potty in a timely manner.

I feel I should point out, if you’re trying “early” potty training (before age 2), then part of it is training you as much as the kiddo. This is not a bad thing. Just don’t expect your little one to be a pro at letting you know when they need to go.

I’m not sure that it matters a great deal if you get an infant potty or just use the big toilet. We’ve used both, and she’s gone on both. Either way, you start with getting the kiddo comfortable sitting on the thing. Start with clothes on. Depending on the age, your little one may have more or less interest in sitting still. Try to use a toy or book to help you get the kiddo to stay still a good little while (1-2 minutes). You may have to work your way up to the allotted time. Once the kiddo will sit fully clothed, try it sans pants.

This is also when you will introduce your key phrase. Whether you say, “Go potty,” make a noise (like a “Ssssss” peeing sound), use a sign, or some combination thereof, just be consistent. And use the same phrase when you tell the kiddo that you’re going to the bathroom. Repetition is key. On a side note, it can be helpful for kiddo to see you go to the bathroom (demos are good). Chances are he or she is following you in there anyway.

To get technical, for the human body to go, it has to relax. So you want the kiddo to feel as comfortable on the potty as any place else in the house. Once you have sitting down pretty well and you have an idea of at least one time that kiddo goes pretty reliably, try taking kiddo to the potty at that time, using your key phrase, and see what happens. Some kids pick it up almost immediately, others can take weeks or months to put it all together.

Even if you don’t have immediate success, don’t despair. All the learning about the potty will pay off. We have been somewhat sporadic with it for the past 4 months or so and we’re only now starting to see some successes. And once you start learning about the potty, you don’t have to keep at it like a drill sergeant. A few days here and a few weeks there is fine.

We picked before bath as our big potty sit of the day. We get her undressed and let her run around naked to the bathroom (if you try this, close supervision is required to avoid getting pee on your carpet). Then we sit on the potty and get in the bath. For months she would sit on the potty, do nothing, and then immediately pee on the bathroom floor or in the tub. So frustrating! But then a few weeks ago it started to click for her and we’ve been having success once a week or so.

Our plan is that once we’ve mastered the pre-bath potty, to move on to other times of day. Good candidates are first thing in the morning and immediately after nap. If you want these to work, you have to be Momma-on-the-spot to get kiddo up or you’ll miss it. One strategy is to let kiddo sleep with just a diaper and no pants and to keep an infant potty next to the bed.

Another strategy is to try a potty training boot camp. We may take a day or weekend of no diaper at all (and no carpeted surfaces) and try to catch as many potty moments as possible. With our hectic schedule, I’m not sure when or if this will happen, but if it does, I’ll be sure to report back.

Happy potty training! 

Check out Confessions of a Super Mommy for some more on potty training. I'm not sure of the exact posts, but hopefully the Super Mommy herself will comment with some "must reads" for us.

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