May 24, 2015

Six months: a snapshot

I don't know that anyone ever sets out to be a "mom blogger" on purpose -- I didn't -- but it seems to happen to most once the little ones alive -- might as well embrace it, eh? 

Anselm turned six months old recently -- I've been meaning to write down a few things about how life is right now -- the blog will do until I can get things down somewhere more permanent (which is to say, on paper).

At six months old, Anselm's favourite toys are his own feet (especially now that he can suck his toes!), the tin lid of one of my jewellery boxes, Mr. Blue Bun, and Sophie Giraffe (who is requisite and necessary, as well for the hands as for the gums). His favourite activities include rolling from his back to his front, and then to his back, and then to his front, and then to his back... He is also into hair pulling and grabbing Mama's glasses (we are working hard on dissuading him from these activities). He is very close to crawling and likes to stand up with support. He likes music and people. Nobody can make him laugh like Daddy can, especially when playing with Crazy Horse (now that he's outgrown being scared of it). When he gets excited -- which happens often -- he kicks his legs and flails his arms, often punching himself in the face.

Anselm goes to bed at around 7 pm (+/- 30 minutes) and sleeps until 6-7 am, with a few feedings in between. He is a haphazard napper. He still nurses well but is highly distractable, so if we're going out he'll drink expressed milk from a sippy cup, with some assistance. His favourite people are Mama, Daddy, and his little buddy E, whom we babysit once a week. For some unfathomable reason, he is also completely and utterly enamoured with the curtain that hangs in our stairwell -- but only when he's being carried up the stairs.

In the past week or so we have also introduced solids! He was fairly bamboozled at the beginning but seems to be getting the hang of it, and eats about 1 oz. at a meal. So far he likes applesauce, and sweet potato with spinach, but is not keen on banana. He prefers to hold the spoon himself, which is why I generally use three -- one for each of his hands, and one for me. Anselm has not suffered for the lack of solids up to this point, and weighs 21 lbs... or likely rather more, since it's been about a month since we last measured. He loves "ups" in our baby carriers (a wrap, a mei-tai, and a ring sling) and can usually be bounced to sleep while being worn.

We feel very blessed that he is an easy baby -- he has a very sweet inner nature and we hope that it will not grow jaded as he gets older. Though there are moments when he's an absolute turd -- as all babies sometimes are -- by and large he is very easy-going, and doesn't get upset without reason. He is quite sociable, and will turn his mouth up towards us when we cue him with "kiss-kiss". At church he likes to look at other children and at the stained glass, and is always happily surprised by the sanctus bells.

His latest trick is to do a little fake cough in order to fart (gotta engage those abs somehow, I guess!). What a little weirdo. We love him to bits.

May 17, 2015

Week of finals and firsts

It's Sunday, which means that we have officially made it through finals week -- all exams taken, all papers both written and submitted, commencement attended (Stan marhsalled and I did childcare) -- and our second year of seminary is done. Done! It's not been long enough that we feel done... probably that won't happen until we graduate, since we'll both still be doing school through the summer, but it's a milestone nonetheless.

Speaking of milestones:

1. Stan and I had an oral exam on Tuesday, which meant that Anselm got left with a babysitter for the first time. The baby did great; I was a little weepy, but rallied for the exam. We left him with another family whose son I've been watching one afternoon a week through the semester -- the boys get a kick out of each other, which helps a lot. We're hoping to work out some sort of child-sharing arrangement through the summer (each of us taking both boys for one afternoon a week, or similar) so that we can get some guaranteed free time / couple time / nap time / whatever on a regular basis.

2. And speaking of leaving the baby, he's now going to bed at a relatively reliable hour and staying asleep for a good long chunk afterwards -- and so one night last week I put him to bed and then went out! with my friends! without the baby! for... yup, the first time as far as I can recall. I was so excited I was pretty much vibrating (yes: there was some teasing). We went out to the new pub in town -- it's quite nice, and gets a million bonus points for being the only non-smoking bar around these parts (since the last one, ah, burned down) -- and confirmed our drinking status as moms and other lightweights. Fortunately someone's husband showed up after his shift ended to finish all our beers for us. Ha.

3. We've been trying the baby on solids, since he's old enough to start and is showing a lot of interest in food. I'm not sure that he's actually swallowed anything we've offered yet, but the faces he makes are pretty amazing.

One thing that does feel summery -- now that we've finished and can turn our attention to other things -- is the start of summer projects. First on the list is completing our librarything catalogue; both Stan and I are book-buyers and our to-be-catalogued piles were taking over the office. We crested 1,000 books catalogued yesterday -- with still a good chunk left to go! After that's done, my next project is probably going to be finishing making Anselm's Christmas stocking, which has been on the hooks since last November. Ah, well, some you win...

May 13, 2015

Stir-Fry Salmon with Gnocchi

I've been watching a lot of Chopped recently. It's nice because it's formulaic enough that I can throw it on while I'm washing dishes or whatever and be able to track with it without having to watch the screen the whole time. It's also inspiring, in a way: if these chefs can make decent, creative meals out of zany ingredients, surely I can make decent, creative meals out of the normal food in my cupboards, right?

So here's one I came up with, which handily used up the last two salmon fillets that had been hanging around forever, and a package of gnocchi (spellcheck suggestion: chignon), ditto. Now gnocchi is, of course, Italian, and I did asian-esque seasonings on the fish... but hey, look, it's fusion... or whatever.

STIR-FRY SALMON WITH GNOCCI -- serves 2

Gnocci:
1. Buy a package of gnocchi and cook according to directions. Bam.

Salmon Stir-Fry:
- 1-2 Tbsp olive oil
- 1-2 Tbsp soy sauce
- 1 onion, finely chopped
- 4 cloves garlic, minced
- 2 fillets salmon, cut into stir-fry sized strips
- spices: sea salt, black pepper, chili powder, ginger (fresh or dried)
- a good squeeze of lime juice

1. Combine oil and soy sauce in a large skillet over medium heat.
2. Add onion and garlic and sauté until onion is beginning to get transluscent
3. Add salmon to skillet
4. Season liberally with salt, pepper, chili powder, and ginger. Cook, stirring frequently, until salmon is done.
5. Remove from heat and give it a squeeze of lime.
6. Serve warm, over gnocchi.

We also made this with cod the other day -- that was good, too, but the salmon was better. Serve with a green side salad.

May 4, 2015

The first third of 2015: what I read

One of the habits I've successfully integrated into my life is to keep a reading log. It's extremely simple (as I find less data means more likelihood of keeping up with it): every month I write out a numbered list of what I've read, just the title and author(s). Once a year I gather up some statistics for my own interest, namely, number of books read, how many were fiction or non-fiction, how many were new reads or re-reads, and my monthly average. I keep a notebook in my dining room for this purpose, and have so far recorded every book* I've read since January 2013.

Back when I was blogging more-or-less exclusively about books, I'd try to do a reading round-up post about every month. That's a little much for me now, though -- so here's what I read during the first third of this year.

January: My annually-in-December reading of The Lord of the Rings bled significantly into January this year, for I believe the first time ever. Well. I had a newborn, what do you want from me?

1. The Two Towers (J.R.R. Tolkein)
2. The Return of the King (J.R.R. Tolkein
3. A Voice in the Wind (Francine Rivers)
4. Echo in the Darkness (Francine Rivers)
5. As Sure as the Dawn (Francine Rivers)
6.The Tales of Beedle the Bard (J.K. Rowling)

February: Not a lot of reading in February -- a lot of schoolwork was done instead, which is probably a good thing.

7. The Tower of Geburah (John White)
8. A Wizard of Earthsea (Ursula K. Le Guin)
9. Devices and Desires (P.D. James)
10. The Practice of the Presence of God (Brother Lawrence)

March: When I look at this list I'm a bit surprised that I read eight books, because in my memory I was reading Martin Chuzzlewit approximately forever. Apparently not. It helps, of course, that March is a long month.

11. Celebration of Discipline (Richard Foster)
12. Martin Chuzzlewit (Charles Dickens)
13. The Rebel Angels (Robertson Davies)
14. What's Bred in the Bone (Robertson Davies)
15. The Lyre of Orpheus (Robertson Davies)
16. As You Wish (Cary Elwes)
17. The Princess Bride (William Goldman)
18. Decline and Fall (Evelyn Waugh)

April: The bulk of my reading in April was taken up, by far, by Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell -- which is brilliant, and also huge. Devotional Classics is a textbook that I had been reading throughout the semester and finally finished.

19. Dad is Fat (Jim Gaffigan)
20. A Circle of Quiet (Madeleine L'Engle)
21. Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell (Susanna Clarke)
22. Devotional Classics (Richard Foster and James Bryan Smith)
23. These Strange Ashes (Elisabeth Elliot)

I'm pretty happy with these numbers, although I have to remind myself not to compare them too much with other times of my life. In undergrad I was averaging about 18 books/month, but I was also doing a literature degree and so my school reading contributed heavily. There was also one summer in highschool where I wasn't working, so I was reading two novels a day: one in the morning and one in the afternoon. Two novels a day. Can you imagine?

Well, I'm not in the position to read two novels a day, any more, or even two novels a week (at least until summer!). But I feel like I'm reading at a good pace right now, which doesn't take up too much of my [school/family/etc.] time but still gets me through enough books that I feel as if I'm making progress. We'll see what the next few months bring. (My prediction: the numbers will go way up June-August, and then drop down again when the new semester starts. Really going out on a limb here...)

* Every book except for one in August 2014. There's a number for it, I know I read something, but I had a pretty big case of pregnancy-brain at the time and I'm afraid it is lost forever.

May 1, 2015

On reading and not reading

I mentioned in a post the other day that the first book I chose from our town's new little free library was The Thirteenth Tale, which I had read and reviewed some years ago but did not remember well (save that I enjoyed it). Not wanting to spoil things for myself I didn't actually read my review -- not that I tended to give spoilers away (much) but because I didn't want to trigger any memories of the book's plot at all. It's rare that I forget a book's contents so completely, and so I wanted to come at it fresh. A second first reading, if you will.

The verdict, this time around? 

I couldn't even finish it.

In fact, I couldn't even finish the first third. 

The writing, you guys. The writing is so bad. It's got the most overblown, purple prose, and I just couldn't do it this time around. A glance over my review from back in 2009 shows that I thought that the prose was bad then, too, but had been sufficiently captivated by the plot to declare, in effect, that I loved it and would read it over and over again forever. 

So much for that. 

This did get me thinking, though, about the nature of literary taste and how it changes (or doesn't) over time. I think that one of the reasons that I decided to put down The Thirteenth Tale is that over the last six years I have learned to read with more discrimination. I have less patience for bad writing (whether objectively bad or simply not to my taste) and I am much more willing to simply stop reading something if I'm not enjoying it. Part of this is certainly related to how busy life is right now: I'm doing a master's degree and I have an infant, and since my for-pleasure reading time is constrained, I want to make sure that I'm using it on things that are actually pleasurable. I think that I also have less stomach for the unpleasant. It's not far into The Thirteenth Tale that we are into the region of incest, sadism, and sexual assault. I don't think that I'm afraid or upset to read about such things, but again, I'd rather be reading things I'm more likely to enjoy. If the writing were better, perhaps I would have lasted it out; like love, good prose covers a multitude of sins. 

At the same time, I find that I apply these standards somewhat arbitrarily: I judge books that are new to me much more harshly than books I've read and enjoyed before. (At least as far as the books that I remember reading, that is!) If a book was a favourite in my childhood or adolescence, chances are that it will remain a favourite despite the very real flaws that it might have. Likewise, there are some books I own that do not have, perhaps, the most literary merit, but that are light enough that they get read and re-read when I need some brain candy. 

The issue of timing also comes into play. Sometimes we read, or try to read, books when it's just not the right time for them. The first time I read Pride and Prejudice I thought it was boring and didn't finish. A few years later I read it again, and it became and remains one of my all-time favourites. The first time I read Wuthering Heights I thought it was garbage. A few years later I had to read it for a class -- and while I will never count it as a favourite, I did come to appreciate it in many ways. That year I think I read it three or four times, and I wrote two papers on it. Perhaps I would have had more patience with The Thirteenth Tale if it weren't coming at the not-quite-end of a very stressful semester.

Of course, books can either suffer or shine depending on what books they're following. A book that's kind of run-of-the-mill will appear stellar if it follows a couple of flops, or like a pretty bad book if it follows a few that were brilliant. Some books are just tough acts to follow. 

Will I try reading The Thirteenth Tale again? I might. Evidently I loved it the first time around, and while I don't always agree with my past self's opinions, I'm still willing to hear them. What doesn't work at the end of the school year might work a month later on vacation or at the pool. Time will tell.