Stay at Home Sanity Tip #1: If They Want to Go, Let Them!

I’ve been toying with doing a “sanity tip” list for awhile–several have occurred to me over the past months, and the idea of having some quick posts in the works also appeals. These are simply tips that have helped my sanity as a stay-at-home mom–if they end up helping someone else, that’s great, but I’m not claiming any sort of cure-all in them.

I had some more philosophical tips in mind, but I’m starting out with one that’s been very practical in the last few weeks: if my kid wants to go to the bathroom, I should take her! This may sound like a no-brainer, but here’s the thing: I am not talking about the kid who already knows how to use the bathroom. I mean the kid who don’t quite know what she is doing yet. Taking a potty trainer to the bathroom every time she wants to go can be very time consuming (it seems like she want to go every 20 minutes, and each visit can take 20 minutes by itself), so it can get in the way of normal life activities.

I easily fall prey to doing what’s easiest at a given moment (and sometimes this is necessary!), but I finally found that sacrificing short-term convenience in this area does pay off in the long run. With my first two, I introduced the potty, I tried to take them regularly throughout the day, but I often sacrificed using the bathroom regularly to getting them down quicker for naps, or to making an outing easier.  But with the third, I’ve finally gotten tired enough of diapers that I decided, what the heck, if the child wants to go, I’ll take her.

Wow! We are not out of diapers, but I am impressed at how well it’s going. Additional benefits:

  1. I got to switch from humongous backpack diaper bag to very small backpack/purse/diaper bag this week.
  2. We used cloth diapers but not cloth pull-ups (we can discuss environmental/economic impact later–I have not found a great cloth pull-up, but admittedly I haven’t looked very hard), so washing diapers is just about over.

Obviously, this trick probably works better with non-first children, since the biggest incentive to use the bathroom (in my observations) is definitely not seeing parents do so, but other kids.

I promise the next few sanity tips will not be bathroom-related!


Vacation Reading

Just home from vacation, and since I got three books that were not picture books read, it can automatically count as a good vacation. I enjoyed all three books, another plus. Here they are, so you can go enjoy them, too.

The Outcasts of 19 Schuyler PlaceThe Outcasts of 19 Schuyler Place by E.L. Konigsburg

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I recently received this as a gift, and since Ms. Konigsburg died this year, I wanted to read it sooner rather than later. I didn’t really discover her books until I was an adult, but I think I like this better than her others that I’ve read.

Like her other books, the protagonist (Margaret Rose Kane) is a precocious child (well, teenager in this case). However, I don’t feel like she’s “Benedict Society smart” like some other Konigsburg characters are. She’s also kind of grouchy, at least when the book starts, and since I seem to be kind of grouchy these days, I felt like she was a kindred spirit. I also pretty immediately fell in love with her Polish immigrant uncles, who had some similar qualities to my own favorite uncles, but with the added bonus of being European.

There’s a fair amount of flashback in the storytelling, but I found it easy to fall into the flashback-then-advance-the-plot rhythm that was set up. Once the main conflict was revealed, I also got into worrying about whether the uncles’ towers would be saved or not.

Both the plot and characters were enjoyable, and even some of the meaner characters get the chance to redeem themselves (and really, kids and teenagers who are mean should get the chance to redeem themselves). The only part I found distracting was that the book was set in the early 1980’s. This turns out to be important to the resolution, but I kept forgetting about it, since many of the descriptions seemed like they could apply to the present day (or because I was born in the 1980’s and am now old enough to forget that it’s not the present day?).

All in all, a fun book–I think older elementary kids (4th-5th graders) through younger teens would enjoy it.

The Joys of LoveThe Joys of Love by Madeleine L’Engle

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I discovered a Madeleine L’Engle book that I’d never heard of before this spring, so of course I snatched it up. I just got around to reading it on vacation, and it doesn’t disappoint–if you like Madeleine L’Engle’s other YA fiction, which I do.

I marked this as historical, but it’s not really–it’s set in the 40’s, and it was first written in the 40’s. It wasn’t published until recently, after Ms. L’Engle’s death, by her granddaughters, which is why I hadn’t heard of it before.

The story follows Elizabeth, an aspiring actress working as an apprentice on scholarship in a summer theater. The two main conflicts are her trying to follow her professional dreams, despite her guardian aunt’s lack of approval or support, and her romantic entanglement with an older, suaver, but slimier, actor/director. This character, Kurt, is probably the weak link, as is Elizabeth’s falling for him: the problem with all of Madeleine L’Engle’s romantic villains is that, while they may occasionally be sympathetic, the reader can pick them out as slime balls from a mile off.

Luckily, the book is not a tragedy, so all ends well. Some of the best parts are the real friendships Elizabeth forms and getting a picture into both the camaraderie and the problems that make up a small theater company in the 1940s. Also, the note by Ms. L’Engle’s granddaughter at the front indicates that Elizabeth was largely autobiographical, and much of the story does ring true with her nonfiction work Two Part Invention.

I now need to dig up my copy of Certain Women, an adult book written much later, to see if the Elizabeth in The Joys of Love is the same character as the Elizabeth in that book (I am fervently hoping not, but in Madeleine L’Engle’s fictional worlds, you never know).

Dark Lord of Derkholm (Derkholm, #1)Dark Lord of Derkholm by Diana Wynne Jones

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is my second Diana Wynne Jones book–I read the obligatory Howl’s Moving Castle back when it was a big thing, and I never read anything else, despite hearing how good an author Ms. Wynne Jones is.

Well, she is.

It took me awhile to get into this (admittedly longer) fantasy world, which follows the problems of a magical world trying to get rid of a leech and bully from our world–and particularly, the problems of one wizard family who’s father, Derk, is forced to play the “Dark Lord” in the yearly “Pilgrim Parties” that the villain Mr. Chesney brings through.

The plot is complex and the characters many and varied–the comparison on the back of the book that suggests Ms. Wynne Jones to Harry Potter fans is particularly apt when considering the depth of world building involved–so here are just a few of my favorite points:
-The family in question has both human and griffin kids.
-There are carnivorous sheep (not usual, even in the magical world).
-There is romance, but just a dash.
-None of the characters are perfect, but most of them are likable.
-Some of the name borrowing from other fantasy books is hilarious.

As I said, it took me awhile to get into this, so give yourself 3 or 4 chapters before deciding whether you like it or not.

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Brief Thoughts on Writing and Vocation

I write. Some.  I write in a diary, I write this blog, I occasionally work on fiction writing. I have had 2 library science articles published. I have the idea of some day writing a (preferably good) kid’s book that gets published.

One author I admire, Shannon Hale, recently wrote an interesting piece on her blog about being a writer and a stay-at-home mom. Here it is.

It definitely gave me a lot to think about. I fully believe that this is how it works for Ms. Hale (and it obviously works, because she’s written some awesome books. And there are some things I can definitely learn from it: wasting time on the computer (and off) doing non-essential, non-writing tasks would be the first. The idea of taking plenty of time to write before worrying much about publishing is another. And I think I can accept that I’m not “hardcore” enough about writing to call it a passion or to see it as my life’s work.

In some ways, the conversation should stop there. But I have a few reasons of my own why I’m not going to give up just yet.

  1. I’ve heard/read other writers emphasize that everyone has a different writing process. So what works for Ms. Hale might not work for everyone, even other successful authors.
  2. I can’t find citations for any of this right now. But I do know that some people don’t successfully publish a book until middle age or later–that the age bell curve for “becoming an author” skews much later than other life accomplishments. There’s not necessarily a need to rush–all my children are at home and require attention at all waking hours right now. That won’t always be the case.
  3. While I would like to write a book worthy of publication, there are many other things that I’m ok with putting ahead of this–again, at least for right now. I see my primary professional work being as a librarian–and if I become a good librarian and am never a published fiction author, that will be ok. I am also not willing to give up such things as hanging out with friends (which happens infrequently enough anyhow), pursuing those things that may only be “hobbies,” and sometimes just doing nothing.

So I will keep on writing when I can fit it in, try to make better use of those times, and see what comes of it. Maybe nothing. But better to write in bits and pieces than not at all.


Books Enjoyed, 7/3/13

The second not-just-library books enjoyed post. This one includes my favorite recent new read (I liked Anna Karenina, but Kat, Incorrigible was just pure fun for me), as well as a classic (Jumanji) that I should have been able to pick up at our library, but had to get my school librarian mother to bring her copy home when we visited. To give the library some credit, our branch is supposed to have 2 copies, but they were both checked out at least 2 weeks in a row. Oh well. This is why it’s good to know multiple librarians!


A Big Guy Took My Ball!A Big Guy Took My Ball! by Mo Willems

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I was really looking forward to this new Elephant and Piggie installment, but it just didn’t charm me like some of the others. Don’t get me wrong, it was cute, funny, and sweet, but it just didn’t have that spark that will make it one of my favorites. Also, the kids didn’t ask for repeated rereadings (although since one of them took it into her room for naptime and it did not emerge until we had to return it to the library, that could have been circumstantial evidence).

JumanjiJumanji by Chris Van Allsburg

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Just introduced my 5 year old (and subsequently, his younger sisters) to this classic. I don’t think I’ve read it since college, and it’s still great fun. I think what struck me most this time was how fast the action has to move in a picture book–but it works here, maybe because of Van Allsburg’s amazing pictures?

Kat, Incorrigible (Kat Incorrigible, #1)Kat, Incorrigible by Stephanie Burgis

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I LOVED this older elementary/middle school historical fantasy novel. When her older brother’s gambling debts lead her eldest sister to agree to try to marry a rich, but unpleasant (and possibly dangerous) older man, 12 year old Kat Stephenson tries to take matters into her own hands. Her first attempt is immediately foiled, but she doesn’t give up, and along the way she finds out that she is the heir to her deceased mother’s powerful magical abilities.

A few reasons why this book is awesome:
-it seamlessly mixes the setting of Regency England with a magical fantasy
-there is romance, but not Kat’s
-Kat doesn’t go running to adults for help, even at the climax of the story
-the sibling relations are both realistic and humorous

I’m glad to have discovered this after Burgis has already written the two other books in the trilogy, so I look forward to reading them, too.

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Cabbage has been my CSA nemesis this year. This is mostly because we haven’t had any collards to contend with, but also because cabbage has never been a favorite of mine. It’s big, it’s very distinctive, it lasts forever. And this year, we have received LOTS of it (and very big heads sometimes, too). Oh, and I don’t really like coleslaw.

Thanks largely to suggestions of friends (hooray for Facebook recipe calls!) and my husband’s creativity, I have come to better appreciate cabbage this year. In case you are also not a cabbage fan, here are some ideas for your over-abundance of cabbage:

  • Obviously, stir-fry it. If you cook something with enough soy sauce, meat, and other veggies, it tends to taste better. I will put it in chicken stir-fry when I make it, and we also frequently make a recipe (from the cookbook More With Less) called Formosan Fried Cabbage, which is basically a stir-fry of sausage, cabbage, onions, and soy sauce.
  • Continuing in the Asian vein, a friend recommended this recipe: This was very easy and good (although my kids didn’t really love it, my husband and I liked it enough to eat all the leftovers quickly), and rose even more in my estimation when it got mentioned on The Splendid Table after we had already made it.
  • We turned to good old Joy of Cooking and found a couple other ideas, one of which was to boil potatoes with cooked bacon, then add cabbage until it’s cooked, and add parsley at the end. With a little butter also added (not in the recipe, but it tasted pretty darn good), this was a family success. Bacon is often a key point in getting our son to try things.
  • I also made creamed cabbage (also from Joy) for the first time…not too bad with a homey meal of chicken and mashed potatoes. I put in too much salt, so taste before you salt!

That’s about it for now. I don’t think I’ve seen the last of cabbage for the year, though, so I’ll update if I find more to share.