The Annual Year End ReCap

This is my fourth year (!) doing Linda's year end recap.  For a little history, here's 2008, 2009. and 2010.  If you do this meme too, put a link in the comments, I'd love to read yours!

1. What did you do in 2011 that you'd never done before?
I wrote a bunch more about being depressed.  So much so that I even published a non-anonymous piece about my depression on babble.com.
I had a mid-blog-life crisis and spent a little money for a bloggy makeover courtesy of the ever-patient Nap Warden.
We decided we're done having babies
I watched Z in her first dance recital. 
Z started kindergarten and E started part-time preschool.   And I realized this didn't mean I would magically have the time, motivation and focus to do anything other than the usual housework.

2. Did you keep your new year’s resolutions, and will you make more for next year?
 I'm liking the idea of a list of goals rather than the more general resolutions.  Look for it in a scintilating post in the next few weekzzzzzzz.

3. Did anyone close to you give birth?
My best friend from college had twin baby boys in November who I have yet to meet, which is totally unacceptable and will be fixed when I go visit and help out in January!  Then there's Marie Green!  And B!

4. Did anyone close to you die?
No, thank goodness, we got a reprieve this year.  Which we feel we totally deserve, after last year.

5. What countries did you visit?
We went to Jamaica with my parents in February.  And, though it was far from perfect,  I'm about ready to go back.  NOW.   I even got to meet another Amalah-inspired blogger!

6. What would you like to have in 2012 that you lacked in 2011?
This is what I said last year: "I'm still searching for that elusive "sense of connectedness". I would love to feel more like a "Virginian". I want this house, this town, this state to be my home and I know that just takes time and effort. I want to feel part of a community. I want to feel like I belong."

Oh it is SLOW, this community building stuff.  I'm starting to feel myself sinking into my life here more and more.  I can't go anywhere without running into someone I know.  And I really know no one.  It's a small town and it feels that way, in good and bad ways.   Now, I'm not sure I really want to feel like a "Virginian".  I guess I want to feel like myself, not like I have to change in any way to fit in here.

Something else I'd like:  a sense of my next step.  Writing more?  Taking some online classes?  Weaving my dog's hair into award-winning sweaters?  Beuller?

7. What dates from 2011 will remain etched upon your memory, and why?
November 16, 2011.  The day my best friend delivered her beautiful, healthy baby boys!

8. What was your biggest achievement of the year?
Reconnecting with my husband in a meaningful way.  The previous two years were not easy in our marriage.  It was hard, in ways I haven't fully shared here because they are between us.  But I can say this: this year has been a year of rebuilding and I am oh so grateful for him, for our partnership and for our future together.

9. What was your biggest failure?
It is always the same, every single year: losing my temper. Each and every time it happens I think: who is this monster?

10. Did you suffer illness or injury?

11. What was the best thing you bought?
Why can I never think of anything for this question?  Um, maybe my bloggy makeover?

12. Whose behavior merited celebration?
The street protestors both here and abroad.  Power to the people!

13. Whose behavior made you appalled and depressed?
Anthony Weiner,  Arnold Schwarzenegger, and Casey Anthony.  I'm still hoping humanity is basically decent.  But, MAN, sometimes it's hard to tell.

14. Where did most of your money go?
It's the same every year:  mortgage, insurances/taxes, preschool, Wegmans, Target, Amazon.  Will someday this list include things like a speed boat ride around the island of Capri?  Maybe?

15. What did you get really, really, really excited about?
When my babble post went live and when Peggy Orenstein linked to this blog post in a tweet, I pretty much peed my pants.

16. What song will always remind you of 2011?
The soundtrack to the Nutcracker has been playing on repeat in our house for the last three weeks, so I'm going to have to say the dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy.

17. Compared to this time last year, are you:
a) happier or sadder? Happpier!  Thank you Pr0zac!
b) thinner or fatter?  Fatter!  Thank you Pr0zac!  And cookies!
c) richer or poorer? Poorer:  paying for two girls in school and the soon-to-be-renovated master bathroom has done a number on our bottom line.

18. What do you wish you’d done more of?
Writing.  Returning emails and phone calls quickly. Exercising.

19. What do you wish you’d done less of?
Same as every year: "Lost my temper. Curled inward instead of reaching outward."

20. How did you spend Christmas?
At home with my parents who braved our collective illness to spend it with us.  This year, the girls were so fun, so excited, so happy with each and every present.  I loved every nose-blowing moment of it.

21. Did you fall in love in 2011?
Just the usual, daily falling in love with my family.

22. What was your favorite TV program?
Um.  We don't watch much.  The shows we usually make time for:  The Daily Show, Breaking Bad, and Modern Family.

23. Do you hate anyone now that you didn’t hate this time last year?
Blerg.  The word "hate" gives me the heebie jeebies. 

24. What was the best book you read?
I'm going to have to say "State of Wonder" by Ann Patchett.  But I read a whole bunch of good books this year.

25. What was your greatest musical discovery?
Missy Higgins.

26. What did you want and get?
A year with no deaths in our family.
A weekend away with my husband.

27. What did you want and not get?
Wow.  I can't think of anything.  How's that for contentment!

28. What was your favorite film of this year?
"Super 8", "Away We Go" and "Crazy Stupid Love".  And I don't think I have laughed at anything this year as much as I laughed at Maya Rudolph kneeling down in a Manhattan street in "Bridesmaids".

29. What did you do on your birthday, and how old were you?
I turned 39 on the Monday after Thanksgiving.  It was a quiet day and I was very happy.

30. What one thing would have made your year immeasurably more satisfying?
A professional organizer to snap our house into shape.

31. How would you describe your personal fashion concept in 2010?
Another day, another pair of elastic waist pants.

32. What kept you sane?
Pr0zac, exercise, blogging, reading, family and friends.

33. Which celebrity/public figure did you fancy the most?
Oh, I'll jump on the Ryan Gosling bandwagon.  Why not?  

34. What political issue stirred you the most?
It's a tie between the right to marry someone of the same sex and the right to peacefully protest.

35. Who did you miss?
If I don't get to see my best friend and her newborn twins soon, I may spontaneously combust.

36. Who was the best new person you met?

37. Tell us a valuable life lesson you learned in 2010.
That being happy as a SAHM, and being sane, are a quiet joy, one that isn't easily recognized from the outside but is oh so wonderful on the inside.

38. Quote a song lyric that sums up your year.
"Your warm whispers.  Out of the darkness, they carry my heart."  - Missy Higgins

Happy New Year everyone!


A few of my favorite posts of 2011

I'm sick.  The girls are sick.  There has been no school or outside of the house activities for over a week.  My head is so full of snot, I am pretty sure if I bent over to clean up the shreds of wrapping paper littering our floor I would fall over.  So.  No writing (or cleaning) from me.  Just reading.

If you're housebound as well and looking for good reading, here's my totally non-comprehensive listing of favorite blog posts from the year.  These are some of the posts that stuck with me, for whatever reason.  I am not listing amalah or dooce or anyone else with a quadrillion readers already.  Perhaps you will discover your new favorite blog.  They are listed in totally random order because I tried to alphabatize them and went cross-eyed.

This year I discovered Ann WyseHer subtext?  Is so up my alley.  And when she wrote about moving away and being moved away from, or holding onto babyhood just a little longer, I was right there with her.

Check out my local friend Beyond Diapers.  I love this meditation on skin and this one on homesickness, the existential kind.

I happen to think that Erica is a spectacular twitter-er.  But her blog, well, that's great stuff too.  The girl is funnySO funny.  So honest. 
I've met B, over at Late Night Feedings, in person.  She's just as lovely as she seems.  This year I've lived vicariously through her and her new baby and I love this post about the baby-kid hybrid.

Okay, she has a million readers but still, if you don't already, read Swistle, who's always at her best when illuminating the little stuff that's actually huge.  Like this recent post about the differences between being gifted vs. ahead.  Or this perfect post, or this one with the best title EVER - OH NO WAIT -  THIS is the best title ever.  And if you want to freak right the eff out, go ahead and read this post.

Mo Mommy-  I do love when she puts on her thinking cap or gets poetic or shares her copious stores of wisdom.  She also has some of the most adorable, funniest kid pictures ever, like the last shot in this post.  

I love Princess Nebraska and you will too, if only for her hysterical Advent posts this year, including my favorite one.   But also her important questions, and posts where she feels like my sista and for when she makes me laugh and nod my head in agreement so hard my eyeballs start to make a loud squishy sound.

My friend Twisterfish started out her blog with a bang this year with polished posts like this one.   Her writing is deeply felt and opinionated.  What's not to love?

If there is a heaven, Doing my Best is going there for sure, not only for her Crappy Day Present exchanges ("Making the world a better place, one crappy day present at a time!") but also for her informative, necessary posts about cleaning toilets and dishwashers and for letting us see the beauty that is this homecoming.

I have decided Marie Green is my real and true friend, even though we've never met.  Because blogs are real life, okay?  They are windows in our real lives; we share our ups and our downs.  If I happened to live close enough, I would have totally broken down her door to hold her new baby.   We're all here, she said this year.  What a joy it is to have shared this part of her journey.

Another local friend:  Rebecca at Expedition Kids.  When she writes, I swear I can hear her talking, which is, I think, one of the best compliments to give a writer.  Check out "I am a Mother" and "Going to the doctor is like going for a job interview".
Hillary and Michelle at Not Raising Brats remind us that Disney Eats Brains (HA!), that the little heartbreaks are good training grounds, and moving on is almost always harder for us.

Whimsy.  She always, always uses her words like delicate sculptural tools.  Read her, remember, rejoice, and definitely envy her daughter's wardrobe.

Another discovery of mine this year: Pamela. I keep commenting on her blog about wanting her to write a book, by which I mean her words deserve a large audience and the permanence of the printed page. But it is not my intention to malign blogging, because it gives us gifts like this, and this, and this.  Those words don't have to be in book form to make them worthwhile, to make them magic.

Sarah, over at Semi-Desparate Housewife, is wiser than her years. She and I share an addiction to chocolate but even when we are so, so different (READ:  I am not a clean freak), I find her take on things incisive and always funny.

Speaking of funny: Tess.  Her blog is brilliantly, intimidatingly hysterical.  See: her treatise on Bucking the Rider.  And the laughing from this post woke my husband from a deep slumber.

Check out Amy.  I'm a fan of hers, as she has a gift for so often wrapping beautiful words around pain over at Chicken and Cheese.

After meeting her in Jamaica in 2010, Stephanie at (In)significant Detail, continues to inspire me with her crystal clear posts on subjects like fake spring and next steps.
D e v a n over at All D's sent me such an awesome Crappy Day Package and made my week a whole lot brighter with this post.

Oh crap, I'm running on fumes here but I haven't run out of inspiring bloggers!

Charming Gardener's thoughts on her next actParking at Home has had a rough year, made better by a well-timed Crappy Day Package. Issa, on going off her anti-depressantsPurdy Bird, on adjusting to life with two kids.  Gina, with a post that includes THE BEST caramel corn recipe, to which my expanded waistline can attest.  Alice had some of the best Halloween costumes I've ever seen.

Okay, my linking finger is officially broken.  Tell me:  who else should I be reading?


Unexpected Gifts

'Tis the season of expected - and unexpected - gifts.

There are the many - too many - gifts currently squirreled away in closets that will be opened on Christmas morning, the ones that have arrived from Amazon and Zappos and anyplace else with free shipping.  Most of them requested, known about ahead of time, expected.  Still wonderful, hopefully.  Still bringing a little bit of joy to those we love.

Our abundance expands to embarrassing heights this time of year, no matter how much I try to limit it.  We are filled to the brim with gifts of every kind.

Including the unexpected gifts.


It's never the things I expect that bring me Christmas joy.

Going to a farm to cut down our live Christmas tree?  Turned ugly when Z threw a volcanic fit about not getting enough hot chocolate and I seethed the entire drive home.

Trimming our tree?  Included more fights, whining and broken ornaments than joy.

But then I got a lovely shock:  Z, who last year left a ballet performance in hysterics just as it started because it was too dark, the room had no windows and the ballet might include "mean people", watched a full-length Nutcracker, with stars in her eyes and a whispered question on her lips every two seconds.  She's hardly talked of anything else since.

And thank goodness for the unexpected joy of watching my Santa-hat wearing girls traipse through Target choosing toys for the Toys For Tots bin.  I expected:  fits about not getting the toys themselves.  I got:  my girls talking about what other kids might like and how much fun it was to buy gifts for other kids.


I almost missed signing up for Doing My Best's brilliant Crappy Day Present exchange.  I sometimes read blog posts through my reader in the glowy haze of 6:27 am when I'm wrapped in a gigantic fuzzy bathrobe, so big it seems to extend all the way up to my brain. That damn bathrobe blurs all possible thought and action and usually prevents comments on your blog posts.

But I did sign up for this awesome adventure and I got to drop off a package to a local friend/blogger on a day I knew deserved a crappy day package and it felt so good.

Then I promptly forgot that I was going to get one myself, until one day last week, when this arrived from Devan.

It was a normal day, really, and actually a pretty nice one.  But as soon as the package arrived, as if on cue, the girls started to squabble and it only took two minutes of listening to them to decide I was allowed to open - and consume most of - a chocolate bar.  (Dark!  With sea salt!)

Yes. That's better.

I wasn't sure what to do with the rest of the presents after that.  I mean, it is so close to Christmas, it isn't like I have to wait very long for gifts.  I feel a little guilty about this mound of presents that are all just for me.

These presents feel so different than any other presents.  They were given to me, yes, but then I chose to give them to myself.  And not when I'm usually inclined to give things to myself, on the days when I'm feeling flush, happy, generous with everything and everyone, myself included.   I'm supposed to wait for a crappy day and give myself a package.

Is this a crappy enough day?  What about today?  Does today warrant a little pampering?  My answer is usually no.

Whenever I'm having an actually, truly, verifiably crappy day?  I don't think I deserve a present.  There is a menacing voice in my head that says if I'm having a crappy day it's all my fault and I should suffer.

Oh ho ho!  All this guilt and I'm not even a little bit Catholic!

In my head, it's not that there aren't days that are crappy enough, it's that I'm not good enough.


When E started coughing and sniffling last week, I assumed it was a cold.  Oh well.  Hopefully it will pass soon.

But by Friday her cough turned into a vicious bark and her temperature rose.  So I took her to the doctor, just in case it was something treatable so we could nip it in the bud before our busy week of shopping and cooking and socializing and, most importantly, the arrival of my parents for Christmas.

An hour and a half later, E was diagnosed with RSV and we were advised to keep her away from people, especially babies, and probably my dad, who's suffering with recurrent bronchitis and crippling headaches after three years of lung and brain cancer treatments.

Suddenly my plans for a busy, social week before Christmas rolled over and died.  No school for E.  No attending school holiday celebrations for E or Z.  No gym classes for me.  No date nights. No visits with our friends' new baby.  No shopping, grocery or Christmas.  And, worst of all, possibly no visit from my parents.

I let myself be very, very sad.  But after a few days, a different feeling crept up, something like relief.  I can't run around town shopping, dragging E in tow.  We can't go to all of these events we've been invited to. 

The sudden curtailing of our week was sad, yes, but also, at the risk of sounding like a total Pollyanna, a most unexpected gift.


On a crappy day this weekend, when I hadn't been my Oprah-worthy Best Self or even her half-way decent second cousin, I opened a Crappy Day Present.

As I opened it, I could feel the bad feelings well up.  You don't deserve this.  You just overreacted with the girts and could have done this and that and THAT so much better.

I put my makeup brushes into my pretty new makeup bag and I put my new mud mask on the side of the sink for use at bedtime and I put those thoughts out of my head.

Because I deserve these unexpected gifts.  All of them.

You do, too.

(Happy Holidays!)


Parenting in today's Little House

I'm pretty sure that rereading the Little House on the Prairie books is irrevocably fu#king with my parenting.

I mean, I LOVED these books as a kid but I just have to laugh at their well-mannered protagonists now.  As Z said the other night in the middle of Farmer Boy, with its earnest, perfectly behaved Almanzo:  "Did they really work like that?  ALL DAY?  With no play? And no whining??" In between explaining the effort required to run a family farm and the expectation that children were seen and not heard, it all starts to seem so foreign to both of us as to strain credulity.  On Sundays in that Little House on the Prairie, Laura and her sisters had to sit quietly and not run or play or talk loudly.  For a whole day.  Is that even physically possible?

I don't know about you but I'm pretty sure my children would spontaneously combust if that was required of them. 

Plucky Almanzo works his tail off from dawn till dusk with nary a complaint or disciplinary action.  And I can barely get my children to clean up their wad of plastic toys when I ask very nicely with my big girl words AND promise a favorite snack at the end of it.

Were the children of the Little House era a completely different species from the modern day, singing, twirling tyrants that inhabit my Little House in the Suburbs?

Were they running on hot and cold FEAR of beatings?

I'm fighting this feeling that I must be doing it all wrong.  The parenting books that I like, that resonate with me and my values, are all about playful, connected, positive parenting.  I'm all about parenting through love and connection and firm but non-punitive consequences.

I'm pretty sure Ma didn't make up special songs or games or resort to outright bribery to get her daughters to help out with basic chores on a daily basis.  And did they really never whine?  EVER??  I've come to think of whining as a perfectly normal, expected 4 year old tone of voice.

My girls' modern first-world lives are certainly cushy, probably much too cushy for our naturally self-centered brains to handle.  Though I require an ever increasing contribution from both of them, these "chores" are laughable when compared to the real work done by Laura and Almanzo and their cohort.

Perhaps what I really need to be doing is throwing my girls out back with a hoe and a bag of seeds and working them till they drop.  But that's about all I can take away from these books.

Because, let's be honest, there will be no fear-mongering or beatings here. Unless you count the beating of my own head against the wall.


Holiday presents: you can't win

How do you do your Holiday shopping?  Here are the options as I see them:

Option #1:  The gift that you yourself already own and like.
Pros:  You know it's decent if you already own and like it.
Cons:  You might look a little uninspired or even regift-y. ("Hi!  Here's your gift!  I already own several and love them!  ...... I did not just wrap up one from my own kitchen drawer, I swear!")

Options #2:  The gift you like but wouldn't buy for yourself normally.
Pro:  You like it!  It's likable!  And maybe you wouldn't normally buy it because it's a real treat.
Con:  If you wouldn't buy it for yourself normally, perhaps it's because it's not really, truly worth it.  Or it's expensive and that credit card statement is going to HURT come January.

Option #3:  The gift you don't like in the hopes that you are hitting it out of the park for someone with VASTLY different tastes than you.
Pro:  You are being thoughtful and thinking outside of your box! You are really embracing the Christmas spirit by trying to intuit what someone very different from yourself would like!
Con:  There is the possibility that you are sending the message that you DO like this item and therefore you are telling them this is YOUR taste and this is what to get YOU.

Option #4:  The generic gift that anyone, anywhere with half a brain/heart would like.
Pro:  Hard to go wrong!  It won't be memorably awful!
Con:  Generic items can be boring and, um, generic.  It won't be memorable, PERIOD.

Option #5:  The highly suggestive gift.
Pro:  You heard a friend lamenting her poor cooking.  So you buy her a great cook book and a nice spatula.  You are thoughtful and encouraging!
Con:  You could come across as a pushy, pedantic a-hole with a hidden message about your recipient's inferiority/weaknesses.

Option #6:  The official wishlist gift.
Pro:  You know EXACTLY what they really want and need.  You can rest easy knowing you are fulfilling a clear wish of theirs.
Con:  There is ZERO excitement and suspense.  Unless, of course, you are "Santa" and fulfilling the wishlist of a 4 year old.

Option #7:  The handmade gift.
Pro:  Not too expensive!  And I have such grand ideas!  I know it means SO MUCH to get something that someone hand made.
Con:  My grand ideas greatly exceed both my skill level and my time-management skills.

What's that you say?  You've already finished your holiday shopping!  EXCELLENT.  Come on over and HELP ME.  I'm feeling a tad bit overwhelmed with tasks and under-equipped with holiday spirit.


This week's lessons

Dear Z and E,

You have taught me that all those years in therapy talking about my childhood and my parents and my weaknesses were so very worth it.

You have taught me that I will most likely benefit from therapy for the rest of my life. And that I should probably start saving now for your therapy.

You have taught me that I am always only one tickle-hug away from feeling absolute joy.

You have taught me that the magic of Christmas is about ritual, memory, and time spent with people we love.

You have taught me that if Santa really is magic, you might as well ask for his help "cleaning the ocean."

You have taught me that "matching" is a subjective, relative and possibly unnecessary term, especially when everything you're wearing has your favorite color in it somewhere.

You have taught me that sometimes you just need to stop everything and help a worm make it safely to the other side of the driveway.

You have taught me to plan extra time to get anywhere lest there be a worm in need of rescuing somewhere along the way.

You have reminded me again and again that everything changes:  toddlers who angrily refused any and all hair grooming can one day become French-braided kindergarteners. 

And these are the lessons I learned from you just this week. 

Yours in concurrent growing, learning, and love,

Your Clueless But Hopeful Mama


Books 2011, part two

It's that time of year again!  Time to buy... BOOKS!  (Or, conversely, put a whole bunch on your library request list.)

As always, I'm reviewing only from memory, no picking up the book or looking things up on the internet.  So it pays to be memorable.  Unless it was memorably TERRIBLE.

Last years' books reviewed here.  The first part of this year's books reviewed here.

You Don't Look Like Anyone I Know by Heather Sellers.  I read this after it was recommended to me by Stephanie.  Sellers wrote this memoir about her profound inability to recognize faces, even those of her loved ones.  Prosopagnosia (Okay, cheating already! I did have to look up how to spell that.) is very rare and not well understood.  What is clear:  you don't want it.  It makes everything from everyday social graces to lifelong intimacy so much harder. Recommended for: the memoir-lover, the psychology lover.

A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness.  Everyone was reading this, it seemed, and so like a good little lemming, I got it from the library.  It's a long, gothic vampire/witch tale about a scholarly woman who discovers she's one of the most powerful witches in all of .. witch-dom. She falls in love (SLOWLY) with a vampire who's bent on protecting her and the whole thing should be super exciting and plotty (because, ahem, the language is not why you are reading this book) and YET.  SLOW.  SO SLOW.  But people loved it and if you're one of them, I'm sure it'd make a great gift.  Recommend for:  the girl who can't get enough vampires.

The Postmistress by Sarah Blake.  Ooh, ooh, OOH.  I liked this!  C'mon brain, remember this one!  Um... novel set in the months leading up to World War II following the concurrent stories of a postmistress in Cape Cod and a female journalist in Europe.  A great woman-centered novel.  Recommended for:  friends/sisters/aunts/mothers who love fiction.

State of Wonder by Ann Patchett.  I liked this one too!  A beautifully written novel about a scientist asked to head into the jungle to find her missing colleague.   I love Ann Patchett's writing and found the plot interesting and even the completely bizarre plot points seemed almost real.  Also:  the best ending EVER.  Recommended for: fiction lovers of all stripes.

The Anti-Romantic Child by Priscilla Gilman.  Okay, this was a weird one for me.  Priscilla Gilman is a Wordsworth scholar who had a deeply romantic view of childhood.  Until she became a mother.  Her memoir tells the story of her own childhood, her intellectual studies and her journey mothering her son, whose baffling development challenges everything she thinks she knows.  It's an interesting memoir, though the language felt thick and heavy at parts.  Recommended for:  the neurotic English major who just had a baby.

The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake by Aimee Bender.  BIZARRE-O novel about a girl who can sense the emotions of people through the food they make.  It besets her in early adolescence and we follow her as she tries to stay sane and make a life for herself.  I really like the use of magical realism in suburbia. But there was a crazy subplot with her brother that sort of derailed things for me for a bit, so I can't say I loved this book.  Recommended for:  the magical-realism lover who can take a mental leap or three.

A Mind at a Time by Mel Levine.  I think every parent and teacher should read this book.  Right now. Go get this book and read it.  But I did have a serious issue that I wrote about here.  Recommended for:  the parenting book reader in your life.

Shiver by Maggie Stiefvater.  The first in a trilogy of YA fiction about werewolves.  I liked this one enough to read the next one.  Recommended for: YA/werewolf fiction lovers.

Linger by Maggie Stiefvater.  Bad. Just bad.  Made me decide I didn't like the first one after all. 

Quirky Kids by Perri Klass, MD and Maureen Costello, MD.  This parenting book would be a good fit for parents of kids on the autism spectrum or somewhere close.  It wasn't as good a fit for us and our kids, so I skimmed.  Recommended for:  parents of kids on the Autism spectrum or somewhere close.

The Grief of Others by Leah Hager Cohen.  A great, somewhat depressing novel about a family who lose an infant just hours after birth.  The premise alone sets the dark tone, though the writing is lovely and the author is thoughtful and wise in her development of her characters and plot.  Recommended for:  fiction lovers who enjoy a walk on the dark, sad side. 

Maine by J. Courtney Sullivan.  A longish novel written from alternating points of view of four women in three generations of a family.  The action centers around a summer house in Maine and each character reveals a deeply divided aspect of this dysfunctional family.  I felt like I recognized this family and grew to care about them because of, or in spite of, their glaring faults.  Recommended for:  anyone who has a family cabin, and female fiction lovers.

The Blessing of a Skinned Knee by Wendy Mogel.  A parenting book with heart, this one was also recommended to me by Stephanie.  Mogel applies traditional Jewish teachings to modern child-rearing and I found this such an affirming, positive, beautiful view of parenthood that parents of ALL spiritual persuasions can enjoy.  Recommended for:  the parenting book lover who is Jewish or open to learning from other religions.

Divergent by Veronica Roth.  YA novel about a dystopian future where teenagers must decide their future roles in one fateful day.  Fast-paced, fun, full of romance and violence.  Recommended for:  the YA lover in your life.

The Kitchen Counter Cooking School by Kathleen Flinn.  I learned a few things from this memoir of a trained chef who helps regular folks learn how to cook better:  1.  Most people don't know how to hold a knife properly. 2.  I DIDN'T KNOW HOW TO HOLD A KNIFE PROPERLY.  3.  Basic things such as how to hold a knife properly make a big difference in how confident people feel in their kitchens.  This book made me take a good look at my own kitchen habits and I learned some valuable lessons that have made my shopping and cooking a lot more efficient.  Recommended for: the food lover, memoir lover. 

The Leftovers by Tom Perrotta.  I know several people who did not like this book.  But I am not one of them.  I loved how Perrotta took his wild premise - a mysterious Rapture-like event has caused the disappearance of thousands of people, of all different religions and moral characters - and let it play out in the normal suburban lives of a small town.  I didn't like all the characters, I didn't like some of their decisions, but each chapter felt like a little wrapped package with careful corners and clear intent.  Recommended for:  the fiction lover.

The Dirty Life by Kristen Kimball.  My mom gave me this memoir and told me I'd love it.  And I did.  In this traditional, major-life-change memoir, Kimball interviews an idealistic farmer who shows her a completely different world from the one she knows. She falls in love with him, leaves her New York city life and all her high heels behind and together they construct a farm so old school they use horse drawn plows instead of tractors.  Recommended for:  the memoir lover, the food lover, the wannabe farmer.

Easy to Love, Difficult to Discipline by Becky Bailey.  I love this book.  SO MUCH.  I wrote a whole long post about it and how it fits our needs and our family and our challenges right now but it turned out to be one of those posts where you're pretty sure you're sharing too much about your children and you don't want them to hate you (more) later in life because of your blog so you move it to your diary folder and pat yourself on the back.  (Maybe we need a secret blog specifically about our kids and their issues.  A Constance, Jr.??) Recommended for:  the parenting book lover.

So that's it!  Now it's your turn. What are your favorite books of the year?  What books are you giving as gifts this year?

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