Wednesday, October 26, 2011

November Reading List

5 Minutes for Books asks, "What's on Your Nightstand?"

Here's what's loaded on my iPad, ready for November bedtime reading:

I feel late to the party reading The Tiger's Wife, which was just nominated for a 2011 National Book Award. 

I didn't love Eugenides' last novel but understand this has a much different tone.

 I'm a little embarrassed to admit that I enjoy John Grisham novels when I'm in the mood for mindless easy reading.  Not all reading has to be thought-provoking, right?  Besides, I want to see if his depiction of "litigators" in any way resembles my former life or the lives of the many litigators I know and love.  I'm guessing...not.  :)

 Of course.

And speaking of books, please come back and visit the cul-de-sac on Tuesday, November 1 for a very special book giveaway announcement!  Happy Reading!

Thursday, October 20, 2011

It's Fall, Y'all: Time for Stew

Here in Austin, it's finally fall, y'all, and that means it's time to dust off the slow-cooker and make hearty autumnal fare.  On the menu today, a tried-and-true family favorite: Beef Stew with Bacon.  You can find the recipe from Williams-Sonoma here.  I feel fortunate to be working from home today, because my entire house smells heavenly (assuming heaven smells like bacon, of course!).

What are your favorite fall recipes?

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Reading with the Kids: Lovin' BabyLit!

I can't wait until next month's Kids' Picks to share these wonderful children's books, so this is a bonus post.  I recently discovered the fabulous BabyLit series by Jennifer Adams and Alison Oliver:

For those of us moms who love classic English literature, these sturdy, beautifully illustrated board books are the perfect counting primers to read with our toddlers.  "1 English Village...2 Rich Gentlemen....10,000 pounds a year!"  What a fantastic way to introduce our children to the characters and (age-appropriate, simplified) plots of the classics.  I can't wait until they release Jane Eyre next year!

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Living the Dream

I haven't been blogging much lately because I've been working really long hours while also parenting three sick kids and nursing my own cold.  I'm barely one step ahead of work deadlines, way behind on laundry and sleep, and I have blurry memories of feeding my kids frozen waffles for dinner one night last week.  There have been many moments in the past week when I have grumpily told my husband that I cannot --- cannot --- be expected to do everything I do, even one day more --- that something has to give.  I know from past experience that when life gets this crazy, I feel guilty for not focusing exclusively on the children, and that the something that gives, other than laundry, is work --- an extra paper I hoped to publish, a research collaboration I hoped to pursue.  And then, I feel guilty for not contributing to society at my fullest potential.  My life as a working mom is a pendulum swinging between two guilt trips.

Tonight, I was in my study, focused on writing when my husband brought me the baby to nurse.  I took a little break to feed her and catch up on my internet news.  On the CNN homepage, I saw this headline: For Parents, Sacrifice Is Living the Dream.  I clicked, and read Josh Levs' wise words.  They resonated. And as cliche as it is, I saw all of my dreams in my sleepy baby's sweet smile.  She was content; I was content.

This working mama is still tired, but happier to have a little perspective tonight.

I wish you all a good weekend filled with the things that matter.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Christmas Shopping for the Kids: Tegu Blocks

Call me a Grinch, but I don't buy many toys for my kids, at Christmas, or otherwise.  We much prefer to spend our money on experiences than material goods.  Our toy strategy has been to invest in a few quality pieces with longevity and open-ended creative play potential (like a play kitchen, musical instruments, blocks, dolls, magnatiles), and avoid the temptation to buy the latest trendy plastic-electronic contraptions from Target.

This (relative) toy minimalism is helped by the fact that my kids have never once set foot in Toys R Us or seen any television commercials advertising toys.  If they don't know that it exists, they don't miss it.  And truly, they have very happy, fun, playful lives.  We value the purity of a childhood that isn't overly tainted by commercialization (hypocrisy disclaimer: unless that commercialization comes from Apple, in which case we embrace i-Everything).

Santa does bring one or two special gifts each year, however, which are complemented by a few smaller gifts (clothes, books, art supplies) from Mom & Dad.  In the past, Santa has brought an art easel, a play tent, a fabulous red play kitchen, and magnatiles.  This year, after consultation with me, Santa bought the girls Tegu blocks (Santa's an advance planner and does his shopping early!).  In my work life, I teach business ethics, and Tegu's story is compelling:

The Tegu Story from Tegu on Vimeo.

They are expensive, but the purchase price not only buys quality magnetic blocks made from sustainable wood, but also allows you to contribute to re-forestation and education causes in Honduras.  Beyond the social responsibility element, Tegu blocks are appealing because they encourage imaginative play.

The customer reviews thus far are very positive, and Santa's hardest decision was which set to buy.  I'm excited to see what the girls create.  Santa made a good choice, I think.

Have you started holiday shopping?  What are your favorite finds this year?

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Helping My Daughter Fall in Love with Reading

Kindergarten continues to go swimmingly well, and my daughter continues to read, and be read to, enthusiastically each evening.  As fall sets in, here are the books that, with each read, help my five-year-old fall in love with reading:

My 5-year-old daughter is an artist, and this gorgeous book, about the joy of free creative expression, is a gem.  The text is simple, but she can read much of it herself, and she immediately understands the deeper meaning: "See? I can draw whatever makes me happy!"  Exactly.

Her obsession over when she'll lose her first tooth continues. 

My daughter's current favorite subject in kindergarten is science.  Every day, her class engages in simple but fun, and very hands-on, science experiments.  My daughter then comes home and develops her own experiments on household items, following a rudimentary scientific method: "First, make a prediction.  Then think of an experiment to test the prediction.  Then see if your prediction comes true.  And always take good notes."  This book is funny, and when prefaced with the usual parental warnings (these experiments are silly and just for pretend --- don't try them on your own!!!), ideal mind-candy for a budding scientist.

She loooovves Pinkalicious, and she has a packed playdate schedule herself, so this is a perfect "I Can Read" book to help build her literacy confidence.

This is a *beautiful* book with stunning illustrations and a wonderful story.  It's a new addition to our home library, but one I think will be a treasure for many years.

As always, I'd love your suggestions for children's literature.  And if you are new to the cul-de-sac, I welcome you to follow and join me in celebrating, nesting, nurturing, sharing, traveling, and of course, reading.

(sharing with 5 Minutes for Books' Kids' Picks)

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Past Pumpkin Patch Pictures

As we plan for this year's pumpkin patch outing and requisite pictures (that adorn the annual autumn greeting card we send to family and friends), I had fun reminiscing about past years' results.  Some efforts were more successful than others!






This year, we've got three kids to coordinate.  Wish me luck!

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Amethyst-Inspired Christening Celebration

Last weekend, we celebrated my youngest daughter's baptism.  We were blessed to have several out-of-state family members fly in and join the locals for three days of parties honoring our newest addition.  Love (and food!) was in abundance.

In planning the weekend, I decided to weave a single color through all of the events.  After much deliberation, I chose amethyst.  Our family has had a recent love affair with the color purple, and purple seemed autumnal enough for an October baptism, but I wanted a softer, more feminine shade for my baby's special weekend.  A vintage amethyst cocktail ring from my late maternal grandmother provided the final inspiration. My mother gifted me the ring to wear for the christening, a sentimental gesture since the christening date was also my maternal grandparents' 75th wedding anniversary, and the anniversary of my mother's own baptism, a few decades years ago. So, amethyst, it would be.  This invitation from Red Stamp, printed on wonderfully thick paper, set the tone for the celebrations:

(forgive the blurred out contact info...)

After decorating the house with as many hints of purple as I could justify ---

 --- we kicked off the weekend with a dinner at our home on Friday. One of our favorite local restaurants catered, and we enjoyed flavorful oyster tostadas on yucca root chips, mushroom and corn quesadillas, coffee-rubbed ribeye tacos, chicken enchiladas, and of course, margaritas and wine. I used a Marimekko tablecloth I picked up on clearance at Crate & Barrel before Easter to connect the party's amethyst color theme with my blue dining room.

Upon departure for their hotels that night, our out-of-towners received personalized bottles of water and boxes of sweets:

(The custom stickers are from Red Stamp and coordinated with the invitations; the water bottle labels were made with purple duct tape I found at Michael's; the amethyst cylinders (which were filled with homemade cookies) and brown gift boxes are from Container Store.)

After a full day of playtime with the kids on Saturday, we convened for an outdoor dinner at a favorite restaurant and then embarked on a riverboat cruise to see Austin's main attraction: 1.5 million bats.  It may sound creepy, but the bats are actually really beautiful when they fly en masse each night at sunset.  They leave the bridge in four orderly columns, and which then converge:

Sunday morning, we rose early for the baptism at our church.  Our daughter wore an heirloom christening gown, worn by four generations of her family, including her grandmother, me, and her sisters.  She mostly cooperated, and I mostly kept my joyful tears at bay.

Then it was time for brunch, which we hosted at the Four Seasons Hotel, on Lady Bird Lake.

We sat outside on the beautiful green lawn, under ancient live oak trees. The centerpieces, artfully arranged by The Flower Studio, provided purple pops of color on the tables; as a favor, each guest received a wrapped framed baptism portrait of the baby.

The weather was perfect --- sunny, clear, and not too warm.  The kids ran around on the lawn, as the adults stuffed ourselves on sushi and ceviche, mimosas and mussels, pancakes and potstickers, beef tenderloin and bacon.  We toasted and took about a thousand pictures.  In a geographically dispersed family like ours, it is rare to have four generations together at once.  We felt blessed.

That night, we gathered as a group one more time at my home for dinner, catered by another local restaurant.  Afterward, we enjoyed this dessert table, highlighted by a delicious blackbottom cake made by my favorite Polkadots Cupcake Factory, who also makes my girls' birthday cakes; the cake featured an amethyst damask pattern around the sides; I made the rose topper myself:

Also on the table, which was covered with a purple velvet cloth: exquisite Wilbur-chocolate dipped designer oreos with an amethyst damask pattern, made by Sweeties; lavender macarons by La Patisserie; cake balls by Austin Cake Ball; color-coordinated M&Ms from Lammes; purple chocolate butterflies; chocolate bars; and cupcakes:

A few days later, our sugar highs are gone, but our gratitude remains.  We are so appreciative for the opportunity to celebrate with family, so thankful for their love and support.  It was indeed a weekend of blessings.

(Sharing with Celebrations at Home,  Savvy Southern Style and Design Dazzle)