Summer Reading with my Toddler

I love our county library system.

Last summer when Sky was one, we participated in the summer reading program. My little reader and I picked up a stack of books every week after story time, took them home, and read them until we had memorized them. Then we traded them the following week for a new stack.

I’m a big fan of relying on the library system to feed my little one’s voracious appetite for books, while keeping a small stash of favorites at home. Her interests change so quickly, and she likes to read a book over and over again until suddenly, she decides she’s had her fill and won’t pick it up again.

We are diligently crossing off boxes on the little summer reading game board, turning it in every two weeks for a prize and eventually that coveted summer reading T-shirt. (Insider tip: toward fall, you can pick one up for 50 cents at the Title Wave bookstore.)

Meanwhile, I’m making it a personal challenge to cross out as many squares as I can on the adult summer reading Bingo board. Just for fun.

Here are our favorite books so far:

Sky, 2 years old


The mixed-up truck/ Steven Savage
A cement truck is new on the job, and he keeps mixing up the wrong stuff! In the end, all of the trucks take a bubble bath and go to sleep. The bubble bath was Sky’s favorite part.

One gorilla : a counting book/ Anthony Browne.
Really beautiful illustrations of ALL kinds of primates, finishing with a group shot of a diverse mix of humans– We’re all one family. I was shocked when Sky began naming the species she saw: “That’s a MANdril. Those are baBOONs.” We both learned a lot. Plus, this book is oversized, and she loves “big, big books.”

Piggies/ Don & Audrey Wood.
Do you love King Bidgood and the Napping House? Here are more of those arrestingly odd and sweet illustrations, plus a story about the different sized fingers on our hands, and, if you’re as lucky as we were, an accompanying CD with truly weird songs about the “piggies.” Sky loved this book best of all.

Walter’s wonderful web / Tim Hopgood.
This book teaches shapes through the story of a little spider who try-tried again. It features a repeating narrative– “‘Whoosh!’ went the wind” and  “Walter sighed”– and Sky loved helping to tell those parts of the story. It has also come in handy as the early fall spiders start making their webs across our front door step. Despite my best efforts, Sky is already scared of spiders. I tell her the spider is just like Walter and his wonderful web. It kind of helps.


There’s No Such Thing as Little/ LeUyen Pham
Here’s one of those books I would not have guessed would be such a hit– but it was. Easily her first choice book the week we picked this up, every time we sat down to read. This book has sweet circle cutouts that reveal the ways in which something that may appear little– a tree, a fish, a candle flame– can actually turn out to be more meaningful and significant than you think. Just like your little one. (aww…)

Melissa, 30 something 🙂

These are some of my own favorites, along with the adult summer reading Bingo game prompts that inspired them.

Request a recommendation from My Librarian.
Reinventing American health care : how the Affordable Care Act will improve our terribly complex, blatantly unjust, outrageously expensive, grossly inefficient, error prone system / Ezekiel J. Emanuel.
This one took me forever to finish, and I’m more than a little late to the game in reading it, as you can see by the subtitle’s hopeful future tense. I requested suggestions from the library’s (awesome, free, online) My Librarian service. I wanted a few recent titles that would help me understand the appalling state of health care in the U.S., as the current “administration” gets ready to dismantle the few pieces of it that actually function. Next on the list is Elisabeth Rosenthal’s 2017 An American Sickness, but there’s such a lengthy list of holds placed on this one I figured I’d start in the past and work my way (queasily) forward.

Read a book with a single word as its title./Read a book you’ve always wanted to read.
March : a novel / Geraldine Brooks.
Little Women was a favorite for me growing up, and Brooks’ spinoff book, detailing the March girls’ father’s Civil War service, has been on my reading list for years. This was a suspenseful and emotional read. Not for the faint of heart– and ordinarily I’d count myself among that group– it’s more than a little gory in some chapters, but then, it’s a novel set in the Civil War. It’s hard to go back to Alcott’s flowery prose after reading March.



Read a book with a map on the endpapers.
A midwife’s tale : the life of Martha Ballard, based on her diary, 1785-1812 / Laurel Thatcher Ulrich.
This won the Pulitzer in 1991, and it’s a meticulous contextualization of one of the oldest intact diaries we have in the United States– the story of a seemingly tireless woman who delivered over 800 babies in a small Maine town in the 18th century. (!!) I was fascinated by the details of Martha’s day-to-day life. Things that must have seemed so mundane for her– riding sidesaddle to attend midnight births, planting hundreds of beans in her “garden,” pulling candles and weaving flax, administering herbal medicine to her neighbors– filled me with admiration and curiosity. It was interesting to read the terse, factual diary entries that begin each chapter, and then to see how Ulrich, a gifted writer and history scholar, unpacked and set everything into context in terms of familiar U.S. historical events and feminism.


Read a biography of someone you admire.
Becoming Maria : love and chaos in the South Bronx / Sonia Manzano.
I happened to catch an NPR interview with Manzano in 2016, just after this memoir was released. Manzano had a 44 year run as Maria on Sesame Street, and in the past six months as I’ve introduced my toddler to the likes of Big Bird and Elmo, let’s just say she has become a very, very familiar face in our house. It was interesting to read about her tumultuous but colorful childhood in the Bronx.



Read a mystery
Big little lies/ Liane Moriarty.
I’m not sure this technically counts as a mystery, since I had watched the addictive HBO mini-series first, and already knew whodunnit. Still, the book added depth and nuance to the TV version, and it was interesting to see what had been changed/omitted on screen. For instance, the book is set in the author’s native Sydney, Australia– not a fictitious California coastal town as filmed in Big Sur. I read it in less than three days, so make sure you’ve got some downtime available when you pick this up. **Also, trigger warning: both the book and the series contain graphic imagery/language about abuse.**


Read a book that teaches you something.
No Bad Kids: Toddler Discipline Without Shame/ Janet Lansbury.
Strangely, this book was nowhere to be found in the library catalog, and neither were there any other titles by Lansbury. I picked it up online and hope to buy an additional copy to donate to the library. It has smoothed out so many edges in my days with Sky. Though bringing this level of awareness and intention to my parenting takes more energy, it saves so much time and heartache, for both of us, in the long run.


I can’t recommend this enough for any parent of a spirited toddler– and show me a toddler who isn’t spirited.

Certainly not this one. 🙂

Continue Reading

Making A Family Budget

I love, love, love the podcast Matrimoney, run by a couple in Arizona with two small children, who get together to share their money goals and budgeting process with the world. I admire their transparency (their current budget is posted on the podcast website) and their relaxed, kind way of talking about money. Relaxed and kind are not words I would have used to describe money conversations in our own household– until recently.

Lyle and I started listening to Matrimoney together once a week as a way to kind of ease into a regular practice of checking in on our finances. In our house, I pay all the bills, do all the grocery shopping and meal-planning, keep our files in order, and maintain our budget.  It gets to be a little overwhelming for me, especially because we are a one-income household for the moment. I struggle with feelings of anxiety and guilt about how I’m managing our money. To his credit, Lyle trusts me completely to make sound decisions for our family, and his hands-off attitude generally makes it easy for me.

But as our family grows, the complexity of our monthly bills does, too. We have a mortgage and land lease to pay now, preschool tuition, a car payment, and allllll the insurance. Plus we have goals and dreams to save for– namely a down payment on a house closer to our parents, in a smaller town in California, with a decent amount of land to grow a big garden and let our kids run around wild. Our patch of earth.

So I felt like I needed him there with me in the trenches of budgeting.

After a few weeks of listening to Matrimoney and having some relaxed, kind conversations of our own about our dreams and challenges with money, we felt confident and inspired enough to make our own budget, from scratch. And it really didn’t take us that long.

I’ve tried lots of different budgeting systems in the past. You Need A Budget (YNAB). Mint. Learnvest. I mostly found them difficult to customize and frustrating to update and use. The free versions would never sync with our accounts, or I’d spend a precious hour categorizing a month’s worth of expenses only to have it all erased.

So we modeled our budget after Matrimoney’s, making a simple Excel spreadsheet that I printed and posted on our fridge. We also made a poster with Sky’s markers listing our top budgeting challenges and our top goals, and stuck that on a kitchen cabinet. It’s motivating to see those goals and number every day. I think that as we continue to develop the habit of working on this together, we’ll get more specific about our top goals, and hopefully translate them into dollar amounts we can work toward.

I moved all our online budgeting over to Finance Works, the free budgeting software that’s built into our community credit union’s online banking feature. It’s not fancy, which I appreciate, and all the categories are customizable, so I was able to match them to our Excel categories.

So far all of this is working well for us. We haven’t had an overdraw all summer, our personal spending has been reigned in, and we’ve been pretty consistently on or under budget for groceries, too. Those were our top three problems in May, so I’m really pleased to be making progress there. I’m also feeling a lot less stressed and alone in all the money stuff– and that’s probably the best part of all.

What about you? Do you have a family budget? How do you talk money in your house?



Continue Reading

My go-to soup for new moms (and toddlers too)

This is one of the posts I’ve had bouncing around in my head as I’ve tried (and failed) to avoid writing a blog. I’m so excited to share one of the recipes we make on repeat– at least when I’m not sick to death at the sight and smell of onions. And garlic. (Pretty much anything in the allium family is contraband in our house for nine months, and then as soon as baby comes, my aversion magically disappears. It’s wild.)

It’s a simple soup recipe from my cousin Kelly. This amazing mom of four (!) brought a jar of this golden orange goodness along with some tasty baked goods AND her whole brood, over the hills from Hillsboro to our door when Sky was a newborn. I will never forget how good it tasted, and how good it was to see her in those early, blurry-eyed weeks.

Since that day, we have made this soup SO many times. Sky loves it so much she eats it with TWO spoons. And it’s incredibly simple and budget friendly. I bet you even have these ingredients in your house right now.

This week, I get to go visit our former babysitter and her brand new baby, and I’ll be bringing a jar of this along, plus a batch of these muffins.

Carrot Ginger Coconut Soup
from Everyday Detox

Serves 4

1 tsp coconut oil
1 yellow onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 lb carrots, chopped (~3 cups)
2.5 cups water
1.5 tsp sea salt
2 Tablespoons freshly grated ginger
1/2 cup coconut milk

  1. Melt the oil in a large stockpot over medium heat and sauté the onion until tender. Add the garlic and sauté until fragrant.
  2. Add carrots, water, salt, and ginger, and bring to a boil. Lower the heat and simmer covered until carrots are fork-tender, ~20 min.
  3. Transfer soup to a blender and blend carefully in batches, or use a stick blender in the pot.
  4. Return the soup to the pot if you transferred it, heat it over medium heat and addd coconut milk.

I experimented a little with the amount of water to get the thickness I like.



Continue Reading