On my Parenting Bookshelf

These are my favorite books on pregnancy, babyhood, and parenting.

Mindful Birthing, Nancy Bardacke

So this is not exactly on parenting, but the mindfulness techniques for coping with pain in labor are just as relevant when coping with anger and frustration during challenging times with a toddler. I am rereading this as we get ready to welcome our second baby (in about 28 days!!) and once again finding it so helpful.

Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child, Mark Weissbluth

This is the classic on sleep training. If you’re wary of sleep training, you’ll probably avoid this book. If you’re looking for a science/evidence based look at children’s sleep needs at each stage of development, along with clear suggestions for helping children develop good sleep habits, you will welcome this book. I’ve fallen into each category at different times in my parenting journey thus far. This book helped my family establish regular sleeping patterns after our daughter’s 4-month sleep regression. It saved my mental health at a time when it was really suffering, and I have since referred to it as she has moved through subsequent sleep changes, whether it’s dropping a nap, moving to a toddler bed, or adjusting bedtime as she gets older.

Oh Crap! Potty Training, Jamie Glowacki

Loved this book. The author has a great sense of humor, which you really need when you start helping your kid learn how to use the toilet. We followed a sort of relaxed form of elimination communication with Sky starting at about 3 months, and that helped her get familiar with the potty early on, as well as helped me learn to “read” her signals. But in terms of long-term independence and toilet learning, none of the EC books were nearly as helpful and straightforward as this one. This book kind of breaks down the process into simple, manageable steps and helps you trouble-shoot.

Peaceful Parent, Happy Kids: How to Stop Yelling and Start Connecting, Laura Markham

We are just starting this book, in tandem with an online parenting course at Aha! Parenting, and so far I really love it. It’s easy to talk about not yelling, but it’s a whole other thing to actually be able to commit to growing as a parent and human being in the way you need to in order to change a habit. I like how this book focuses on how to manage your emotions as a parent, so you can teach your kid to skillfully manage their own emotions. It’s so so hard, and I really, really want to do the best I can for Sky.

Child of Mine: Feeding with Love and Good Sense, Ellyn Satter

This is a really long book about something as (seemingly?) simple as eating, but it was well worth the read for me. The gist is this: my job as a parent is to prepare and serve appropriate foods at appropriate times, and it’s my child’s job to decide if and how much she will eat. Period. Really simple, right? But tough in practice, especially when you’re worried about your kid’s developing preferences and habits. I like this author’s gentle, warm approach and learned a lot from her experience as a nutritionist and counselor.

No Bad Kids: Toddler Discipline Without Shame, Janet Lansbury

So good. I wrote about this earlier this year, but it bears a repeat mention because she is just so helpful. A friend recommended the RIE approach to me even before Sky was born, and Lansbury makes it pretty accessible. I also liked her earlier book, Elevating Childcare. Ultimately I’ve found the RIE approach a little more sensible than Positive Discipline: The First Three Years, which was a good starting point but left a lot of gaps and confusion for me.

Buddhism for Mothers, Sarah Napthali

Another supportive book for parents in learning to use mindfulness to parent calmly and lovingly. I also liked her follow-up book, Buddhism for Mothers of Young Children, and her book for couples. Napthali has a great sense of humor and an easy-going, clear way of explaining the nuances of Buddhism, woven into stories from her own and other mothers’ lives about putting philosophy into practice in the trenches of motherhood.

Long Days of Small Things: Motherhood as Spiritual Discipline, Catherine McNiel

Last but definitely not least. This book was such a huge gift this year. McNiel brings a Christian lens to the interlocking circles of mindfulness, spiritual growth, and mothering. Reading it felt like drinking a big glass of fresh cold water. I’ve just been longing for good writing that situates motherhood as holy, fertile ground for spiritual growth within the Christian tradition, and this book does that so well. It’s both practical and lyrical; down-to-earth and inspirational.



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Seven Series: All the Rest

**This is the last in a series of posts on experimenting with reducing consumption, based on a modified version of Jen Hatmaker’s book Seven. Check out my original post on the challenge.

Guys. I made it through the media portion of the challenge and then it all kind of just fizzled out.

I ran into a ton of deadlines, then Sky and Lyle both got sick, I had to keep Sky out of preschool for a week, then preschool went on break, and I had a bunch of late nights playing catch up on writing projects. Then I got the flu on Thanksgiving and it turned into the gnarliest sinus/ear/eye infection I’ve ever had, lasting almost three (!!) weeks. At one point I had a panic attack at 3 am because I actually couldn’t breathe. Fever, urgent care, Tamiflu, antibiotics, antibiotic eye drops, ribs bruised from coughing– it was so so bad.

Eeeverything kind of got put on hold and we are only just starting to climb back out.

But it’s been kind of a blessing, too, which is always how God’s trials seem to work. (Though in the middle of it I might want to punch you in the face if you tell me so.) I mean I let go of a lot of stuff that just doesn’t matter. I felt grateful for the smallest things that should matter more, more often.

Like breath. Like health. Like my son’s kicks and punches in my belly, where he is measuring right on track with a healthy heartbeat, in spite of his mama’s illness. Like my daughter’s sweet, sunny little face when she gets to snuggle in the “big bed” with her mama and watch If You Give a Mouse a Cookie and read library books all day. Like my husband’s endlessly generous spirit and willingness to work for his family. I really don’t know how I lucked out with him, or how he continues to do the hard things for us day in and day out.

So in terms of the 7 challenge, we had four categories left: a media fast, a waste fast, a spending fast, and a fast from stress. Media-wise, I’ve been off Facebook for Advent and I’m really enjoying the break. Waste-wise, and spending-wise, I went through about three boxes of kleenex a day and went to Walgreens or the doctor pretty much every day. So. Then there was some serious Amazon Prime spending on stuff for the baby, Christmas presents, and vitamins/stuff to try to get better.

Nope, can’t say I really “did” those challenges, but in a way they kind of did me.

We cooked a lot from Trader Joe’s freezer section and relied on the kindness of friends, the kind who drop curried butternut squash soup on your front porch or offer to watch your toddler while you nap. The kind who just send a sweet text to check in and say they’re praying for you to get better. The kind who pack their toddler into a stroller and bring over essential oils to help you breathe.

Stress is still present, but I also feel like it’s better. Lyle and I have both had to say no to a lot of social things and extra work opportunities, and that’s been fine. I checked out Seven Sacred Pauses and have been kind of just thumbing through the prayers here and there, and working through the same devotional I’ve been using since summer.

It’s been good. It’s been a month of God showing me my limits and asking me to slow way, way down. I have had some tantrums because of it– it’s really challenging for me to lie down and be still, when my nature is to work and plan and do. It’s challenging to be in pain when I try to do something basic like walk or hear or breathe, to allow things to heal on their own timing, knowing I’ve done everything I can do to take care of myself and my family. I’ve been grumpy and not fun to be around, and I’ve had to relearn how to say “I’m sorry” and “I’m feeling frustrated,” and how that simple reset button really, really does work to allow God in, to let love lead.

So for the 7 challenge, I’m calling it good, and I’m calling it done. As we get closer to the arrival of our second child, I can’t think of a better way to walk there than humbled and ready to let go of the little things, so we can focus on just loving each other and taking care of each other.

Happy Christmas!

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Seven Series: Possessions

**This is the third in a series of posts on experimenting with reducing consumption, based on a modified version of Jen Hatmaker’s book Seven. Check out my original post on the challenge for more info.** 


  • Give away 7 items each day
  • Source meaningful recipients, not Goodwill
  • Reduce and donate Sky’s toys
  • Go through all closets and backyard shed
  • Read about the psychology of consumption, the buy-purge-buy cycle

Day 4

I’m getting a bit of a slow start on this one. I also ended up doing a big clean-out of Sky’s toys and books, some baby items, my bookshelves and clothing, and our kitchen cabinets during the clothing challenge. I guess I started cleaning out my clothes and I got on a roll.

I’m really happy with the results thus far. I read this one simple rule on Rising Shining about maximizing space and minimizing clutter in a small house: keep as many horizontal surfaces clear as possible. Instantly, I saw so many places in our house to declutter, and when I was finished our house felt really bright, open, and inviting. At a little over 1,000 square feet, our house has definitely helped us take a minimalist approach to possessions, kind of by default, no special philosophy or practice needed. We no longer have a garage, and it’s a constant effort to keep the small shed behind our house from becoming a dangerous tangle of garden tools, strollers, and barbecue accessories.

I’ve got a large box in our spare bedroom/ my office collecting seven daily items for donations. Hopefully Lyle will get in on this with me and go through his bookshelves and closet, too.

One thing I’m thinking about: the four storage boxes in my closet containing the journals and notebooks I’ve kept since age 7, old school papers, and letters. These are the possessions I’ve never been able to part with. I’ve been through a lot of phases of letting things go in my life– living out of a backpack at certain points, a small trailer at another– but these boxes have remained a kind of anchor for me. They sat in my parents’ garage for a long time, and I’d sift through them whenever I visited. At a certain point, when we were more settled, the boxes came to Oregon with me for good.

They anchor me in time, but they’re also a weight I’ve now carried during two cross-town moves. I wonder often what it would be like if I didn’t have to cart them along when we move into what we hope will be our forever home in California. I wonder what value they will have for my children, whom I hope will outlive me, and if I’d be doing them a favor by culling the collection a little bit. Or maybe it’s the kind of thing you let go of slowly, a piece at a time, as the years go by.

I’m thinking I will schedule a few hours in the coming weeks to go through one box at a time, and see if there’s anything that can go, or anything I’d rather scan onto a hard drive for safekeeping. I suspect many of my childhood poetry journals are mostly blank pages, and I might be able to copy and combine some of the original poem drafts into one folder.

Tomorrow we’re going to tackle the shed once again. We’ve decided to pare down to one stroller, so we’re letting go of our bulky jogger. (Let’s face it– I’ve never been much of a runner anyway.) I’m hopeful this can be our final organizing session, that we can store what we use most often in the shed so that our items are easily accessible and securely stored. So that everything has a place.

Day 5

Our shed is so clear and open now. It feels much safer, and it didn’t take as long as we had imagined. We cleared out the stroller, a push-scooter that no longer functions, and a baby hiking backpack we bought for $10 at a thrift store. After several hikes with Sky, we’ve determined that for our pace, a regular soft-structured carrier like the Ergo, in backpack-carry mode, is juuuust fine for us. The REI external frame carrier was kind of overkill for us, overly heavy and bulky for the short hikes we typically do.

We cleared away a lot of miscellaneous detritus (wood scraps, plastic pots, a broken kiddie pool) and stored only our most-used items in bins on the back shelf: folding chairs up top, sharp barbecue and gardening tools on the second shelf, and Sky’s extra sand and pool toys in a big blue bin on the bottom shelf. We kept our camp stove and propane there, too, for emergencies, and strapped the push-mower and scoot bike to the wall on one side.

The result: I can actually push the stroller all the way inside the shed. Without running into things, scraping my finger, and cursing. Without shoving the door shut and padlocking it. It feels really great. I’m looking forward to doing the same with our office/craft/guest room closet– the other black hole of where-do-we-put-this-I-don’t-know-just-shove-it-in-there-for-now.

I appreciated this short article in Christianity Today on the appeal of the minimalist movement, because I’ve been slightly wary of the trend for various reasons. My perfectionist nature has led me to try to pare down my belongings to the minimum at many, many different times in my life– only to see them balloon again as I move onto new projects or phases of life that (seem to?) require different tools or clothing.

For a lot of us who grow up in the relative wealth and privilege that is life in the U.S., I think there’s a kind of “anorexia of stuff” that can be dangerous, whether it’s the capsule wardrobe or a Kon Mari decluttering frenzy. What I mean is: anxiety can be the driving force, leading me to pursue a non-existent ideal based on an unrealistic self-image. I get into dangerous territory when I declutter in the mistaken belief that it will give me lasting happiness and a sense of worthiness– when there’s much deeper, more complex soul work to be done instead.

CT writer Kate Shellnutt writes:

But treating any lifestyle change as the real key to happiness usually means idols are lurking underneath. As writer Pamela Druckerman recently noted in The New York Times, “It’s consoling to think that, beneath all these distractions, we’ll discover our shining, authentic selves, or even achieve a state of ‘mindfulness.’ But I doubt it. I’m starting to suspect that the joy of ditching all of our stuff is just as illusory as the joy of acquiring it all was.”

Day 14

Sky got a tummy bug, I left for a long weekend work-ish trip, and then had tons of deadlines in a row. Plus, pregnancy. So. Here’s my catch-up summary.

I never got to sorting through the boxes of journals in my closet. But I did go through the bins in our office/guest room closet and ended up with a large box of giveaway items, including books, clothes, toys, shelving and frames we never used, an unused and very old digital camera, and a straightening iron. Then I moved the two shelves of books that belong to Lyle and me from the living room to the office. When we did the Kon Mari purge last year, we each drastically reduced our permanent “libraries.” But it doesn’t make much sense to store these little-read books in the living/dining room, which is where Sky and I do pretty much everything– painting, art projects, playing, dancing, reading, etc. I moved all of her craft supplies to the book shelf, so now when she’s clamoring to paint I don’t have to run to the closet and rifle around for paper and paint brushes.

I also reorganized her closet with accessible toys, since during these last two weeks we developed a more consistent wake-up routine for her that involves independent play in her room if she wakes up too early. (Which is most days.) We had tried to put a latch on the closet to keep her from getting into the bins of clothes she’s either growing out of or into. But she figured out how to unlatch it (clever girl) and really, I figure her closet should be a safely-organized space she can access by herself anyway.

That means I have bins of outgrown clothes and too-big shoes to store somewhere, so I’m on the hunt for another under-bed storage bin. We have one under our bed for winter clothes she’s about to grow into.

Finally, I cleaned out the secretary desk in the office and moved all of my sewing supplies there. As I begin the 3rd trimester, I’m having pretty serious nesting urges, including lots of ideas for sewing projects. I want to make Sky a blanket, some fun overalls, a firefighter outfit, and a doll. We’ll see if I manage all of that, but hopefully having one central station for everything will make it more appealing to drag everything out to the kitchen table to work. One day I’d like to have a dedicated sewing space, but for now, I’m happy just to have all my supplies in one easy-access spot.

Thoughts overall: This is much more challenging to take on during pregnancy than I had imagined. I also started writing for Red Tricycle, and between the demands of parenting and my other freelance work, I’m pretty wiped out by the end of the day. I’m glad I did the bulk of our cleaning/organizing work earlier in the 1st & 2nd trimesters.

How is all of this affecting me spiritually? It feels pretty practical at this point. I do have an increased sense of how little we truly need to be happy, and more awareness of my urge to “buy” us out of a problem by purchasing something. Even though this isn’t the spending portion of the challenge, it goes hand in hand with possessions. I’ve been reading Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove’s book God’s Economy, and it’s blowing my mind. Hopefully I will have more thoughts on that to share with you soon, but for now I’m just soaking it in. Pick up a copy if you get a chance.

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Fall Fun and a Simplified Holiday Bucket List

I’m thinking a lot about quality time with Sky as I head toward the last month of this pregnancy. We made some fun memories during the ever-so-brief but beautiful window of time called Fall in the Pacific Northwest. After a blistering summer with many days of wildfire smoke, the easy blue skies, golden leaves, and crisp weather of October and November felt like such a tremendous blessing. We were thrilled to be outdoors whenever we could.

Building on our summer bucket list, we created another short list of things we wanted to do before the weather turned wet and the days grew even shorter. Here are some of the fun things we did together as a family.

Mushroom Hunt— Lyle was an avid mushroom forager when we met in Santa Cruz, and one of the many reasons we were drawn to the Pacific Northwest was the potential for foraging. With a small business to run and a family to look after now, though, it hasn’t been as easy to make the time it really takes to get to know the good spots. That takes many reconnaissance missions, plus relationship-building with other fungophiles. With Sky in tow, we definitely hike at the slow pace needed to spot mushrooms, but we can’t cover nearly as much ground or do the same level of bushwhacking. But it was still fun to venture out into new trails just over the river in Vancouver. We spent a wet afternoon exploring a short loop with Sky. She tried out her rain boots in the many mud puddles and got completely soaked. (Turns out used Bogs aren’t nearly as waterproof as they should be, word to the wise.)

Family Zoo Day— So fun! We picked the perfect day, a crisp sunny Wednesday morning when the crowds were thin and the animals were just waking up. Two hours went by in a flash. Sky could have definitely stayed longer but I didn’t want to push her nap time too late and Lyle needed to head to work. We loved seeing the elephants, lions, and giraffes the best. Sky was so much more engaged and interested than the last time we went. My parents gave us a family membership for Christmas and I’m looking forward to the return of warmer weather this spring so we can make it a regular activity.

Hike Shellburg Falls— I’m so glad we did this hike. Despite a rough start (Sky just did not want to be in the car), we all managed to enjoy the long meander through pasture to the forest. Sky liked using her hiking stick and running ahead of us on the trail. We put her in the backpack carrier for the winding trail up to the falls, though, where the edges get steep and slippery. The falls were really beautiful and we even had them to ourselves for a little while.

Pumpkin Patch— We headed east this time, and I’m so glad we did. Last year’s trek to Sauvie Island ended with a two-hour traffic jam on the way home. We hit the crowds and the weather just right this year, with a deluge starting just as we climbed in our car to head home with three giant pumpkins. We pet goats, had donuts and cider, and picked out pumpkins. I even rode one of those barrel/tractor rides with Sky. It felt extra bumpy while pregnant, but baby stayed in.

Carve Pumpkins— Sky was much more interested and involved this year. She was impressed with the seeds and “guts.” We were a little too eager with our timing, though, because all three pumpkins ended up rotting well before Halloween. We ended up composting them and picking up one small pumpkin at the grocery store to carve just before the trick-or-treaters arrived. Lyle and I both grew up in relatively dry California towns and it still surprises us how quickly the rain and humidity here can hasten the decomposition process. And last, we went to the same toddler halloween party as last year. She was the oldest one this year, but she still had fun. And all in all, we got a lot of use out of her her firefighter costume.

The one thing we still didn’t get around to: a day trip to the coast. This was a carryover from our summer bucket list. It poured the weekend we had planned to camp near Ft Stevens with friends. Even though we had arranged to borrow my brother-in-law’s camper (thank you Bryce!), the weather was a big deterrent. Sky had a cold, I was feeling very pregnant, and the thought of hunkering down in a cramped camper with two grumpy campers while 30-40 mph winds howled outside sounded, well, pretty bad.

I miss the ocean, but I kind of don’t think it’s going to happen this winter, and that’s okay. We can go in the spring or summer with our baby boy.

Our winter bucket list is super short because pregnancy. At 35 weeks I am pretty much falling apart physically and emotionally. I need to sleep a lot, I have sandwich emergencies, and my hips/pelvis/ligaments have stopped getting along, so I’m basically a waddling, limping, crying 90-year-old woman. I’m just not very fun or portable right now.

So here’s our plan:

*Get a Christmas tree from this front yard operation in our old neighborhood. Check.

*Decorate said Christmas tree with about a dozen simple felt ornaments I was able to sew while propped up in bed, that the cat/Sky can rip off and run around with to their hearts content. Check.

*Make cookies at some point with Sky. I think we are doing this tomorrow with my two neighbor mama besties. That way the extra sugar (and associated tantrums) get shared among three toddlers and three mamas.

*Go see some lights. I think we’re skipping the zoo part of ZooLights by going to (free) Peacock lane instead, and may even drive this year.

*Do a simple nativity activity with Sky (I loved this one from Story of this Life), and read one story a night from this Advent book. So far she is loving both and it feels simple and repeatable enough to turn into a tradition. We bought a Little People nativity set that she and her brother and any other future siblings will be able to play with for years. I printed short verses in the International Children’s Bible version on BibleGateway, so it’s easy to tell the story of the birth of Jesus in language Sky can understand.

*Have a baby. After the new year, I am clearing my calendar of everything except check-ups and simple prep work like freezing muffins and getting the second car seat installed. I hit 37 weeks on Christmas and I know I will not be good for much after that point except growing this baby. We can’t wait to meet him!

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