Archive | November 2015

How I’m Reading 100 Books in 2015

This post contains affiliate links. They are for educational purposes, because you should check your books out from your library. But if you did buy something from Amazon, I would get a tiny cut.

I have always been a fast reader, the kind who needs more than one Agatha Christie novel if it’s going to be a long flight. In 2010, the last full year before I became a mother, I read 85 books, according to my LibraryThing page, and only half of those, tops, were manuals on childbirth, infant care, or breastfeeding. That was a light year–2009 I read 113.

Then the babies started to arrive and I enrolled in library school. I did my best to keep up with reading. I curled up with Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child and Adventures in Tandem Nursing; I held a sleeping baby on one arm and The Murder Room on the other; I listened to State of Wonder on my iPod during four a.m. feedings. Still, I read only 46 books in 2011, and in 2012, the year Big Brother was 1 and Little Brother was a newborn, a paltry 31. That’s probably a respectable number as far as averages, but look at it this way: Reading is the recreational activity that I love more than any other, and my reading had dropped by a full two-thirds.

Family portrait by Big Brother. I'm the one with the book in hand, of course.

Family portrait by Big Brother. I’m the one with the book in hand, of course.

I became irritable and depressed and simply did not feel like myself. I resolved to do better. I read an article near the end of 2012 about a man who had successfully resolved to average one book per day that year–365 books. That wasn’t realistic for me, but I figured I could manage 75 in 2013. I finished my goal ahead of schedule and clocked in at 82 for the year. Last year, I dunno what happened, but I was back down to 48 for 2014.

This year, I have so far read 97 books and should easily break a hundred. And no, that does not count picture books I’ve read to the children. “But, Mrs. FP,” you say, “You have two preschool-age children and a part-time job and you serve nutritious, made-from-scratch meals. How do you have time to read?” Here are my secrets for averaging about two books a week:

I use every scrap of time.

If we watch TV, I read during the commercials. If I get in bed a few minutes before Mr. FP, I read a few pages. If I arrive at the preschool door two minutes before they open it, I read a page. I read while I’m eating; sometimes I even read while I’m cooking. I often have an ebook going on my smartphone as well as a paper book to better maximize; sometimes it’s easier to read on my phone, sometimes I want paper.

I let my children amuse themselves.

I’m not saying I never play with them, and goodness knows I spend half our waking hours reading to them. But much of the day, I let them do their own thing, together or separately. Now, most of THAT time, I’m in the kitchen or doing laundry. Still leaves a bit of time for my books, especially at the playground. Sometimes lunch is served at 2:15 pm because I wanted to finish my book and they were playing happily in the park.

It helps that I made two of them. Once Little Brother turned two, all of a sudden they could really entertain each other.

I consume less of other media.

I follow exactly three television shows (and two of them are short-season shows). Lots of other good ones out there, but I let other people watch them. Movies? As soon as I finish folding the laundry, I just get restless and want my book back. News? I scan the headlines in Feedly, but I don’t read much about things I can’t change.

Confession: I read a lot of (but not only) short books.

Sure, I took my time wading through the annotated Pioneer Girl, and when my sister sent me The Thorn Birds for my birthday, I read the whole damn thing. (I told her next year, just send me a hammer and I’ll break my toes with it and enjoy it just as much.) But I read a lot of what librarians call “genre fiction.” You know what genre fiction is. It looks like this:

These Mary Russell/Sherlock Holmes novels are pretty fun with a smart heroine.

These Mary Russell/Sherlock Holmes novels are pretty fun with a smart, independent heroine.

Or this:

Yep, there is sex in this book.

Yep, there is sex in this book.

I also tore through a ten-volume graphic novel series (Y: The Last Man). Makes the books add up in a hurry. It’s not just they’re short, it’s that they’re fun and I’m always anxious to get back to them. I’ll read a few in a row, then maybe something with modest literary pretensions.

All of this is to say, I love reading and it makes me happy, so I make it a priority and sometimes let other things slide. What does that for you? Do you read?

If you’re curious what the 97 books are, click here to see a Google doc of this year’s reading with reviews of some of the books. I maintain a LibraryThing page with over 900 entries, but I like to keep a list on my own hard drive as well..



What Would Ma Ingalls Buy? My Fall Shopping Critique

The Amazon links in this post are affiliate links, which support the blog at no cost to you. Other links are just FYI and do not earn me any money.

Earlier this year, I decided that Big Brother was ready to try chapter books for read-aloud. On an impulse, I decided to start with one of my childhood favorites, Little House in the Big Woods.

He LOVED it. When we finished, I asked if he wanted something different, maybe with a boy in it. Nope. “More Laura and Mary.” So it was on to Little House on the Prairie, and then On the Banks of Plum Creek, in which we have recently been traumatized by an actual, historical plague of locusts.

If you aren’t familiar with the Little House books, they are semi-autobiographical novels about the author’s experiences as a pioneer girl in the second half of the nineteenth century. (Caroline Ingalls, or “Ma,” was a real person, but for my purposes, I am talking about the fictionalized character.) Wilder goes into great detail about topics ranging from cheese making to log cabin building to travelling by covered wagon. When they move to a new place, which is often, they leave behind all their furniture (homemade) and load up the covered wagon. When they arrive, they build a new house, build some furniture, and there they are. Their sole decorative possession is Ma’s china shepherdess; you know they’re settled in a new place when the shepherdess is installed on a shelf.

Reading these books has made me feel lazy, wasteful, and generally useless. I can’t make cheese! I don’t make all my clothes! I own more than two dresses and several pairs of shoes! I complained that there weren’t enough Starbucks in Kansas!

I’m not saying Ma Ingalls had it better than me–she would probably change places with me without hesitation. But there is something appealing about the simplicity, and I have found myself asking, when I buy something, “What would Ma think?”

I seem to have been on a bit of a shopping spree this fall, with an unusual number of brand-new purchases, so let’s let Ma Ingalls critique my acquisitions.

Raingear for me

Why buy: I take my children to school by bicycle. Got soaked the first time it rained–three times. All my pants are cotton and I owned no waterproof jacket, so I had to change after drop off, after mid-morning pickup (Little Brother), and again after afternoon pickup.

Why new: I am hard to fit and need special sizes. My rain pants (which I will also wear for playing in the snow, over sweats) are youth size 18 (I got these LL Bean ones and the jacket, also from LL Bean, is petite. I needed to be able to try it on and return it if it didn’t fit. Plus, now I get a lifetime guarantee!

What would Ma think? Well, she pretty much never buys anything for herself and would be puzzled as to why I now own seven coats. (In my defense, three of them date back to the 90s). On the other hand, I’m sure she would approve of protecting my other clothes with the appropriate outerwear. Staying dry is just better.

Kids’ uniforms and school supplies

Why buy: Well, the school said I had to. They gave me quite a list, and they won’t even let three-year-olds in the door without uniforms (school-purchased short-sleeve shirts with undershirts and pants in prescribed colors).

Why new: Obviously, I can’t buy used construction paper. I was able to get a couple pairs of pants for Little Brother second-hand, but after two thrift stores and one consignment sale, I still couldn’t find long-sleeved undershirts or the remaining 6 pairs of pants. Had to buy new. I asked on NextDoor for used uniform shirts but struck out, so I had to buy them, too. (You can image how I felt paying ten dollars for one polo when I usually get them at Goodwill for $1.99.)

Then I splurged and bought them school sweatshirts, too, mostly because all the other kids had them.

Big Brother is especially delighted with his sweatshirt and the front pocket.

Big Brother is especially delighted with his sweatshirt and the front pocket.

What would Ma think? A former schoolteacher, she made sacrifices to send her children to school and I’m sure she would approve of the school expense. She would probably be puzzled as to why my kids start school at age three instead of age seven and why they need four sets of uniforms–her girls had one school dress each. That was in the back of my mind when I purchased just four uniforms, which commits me to every-other-day washing (one uniform on the child, one at school in case of accident, and two in the washing machine). Many children have six!

A Crock-Pot

Why buy: My existing slow cooker, which came out of Grandma’s FP’s laundry closet circa 2010, had two main drawbacks: It was not programmable (had just 4 cook time settings) and even at its longest settings, could not produce really soft beans. I wanted to be able to make recipes that call for shorter cooking times and I liked my beans fully cooked, thank you.

Old and new lined up on the counter. I can't actually bring myself to get rid of the old one, which is now in the basement.

Old and new lined up on the counter. I can’t actually bring myself to get rid of the old one, which is now in the basement.

Why new: Well, I use a slow cooker several times a week. I wanted something to meet my exacting specifications. Also, they were on sale at Costco and I do like to enjoy a lifetime guarantee.

What would Ma think? First of all, I’m sure she would think that a slow cooker is a brilliant invention. It lets me work as a librarian (and she valued education, remember) while still looking after my family. She would, however, have kept using the old crock until Pa bought her a new one, like when he bought her a new cookstove for their new house in On the Banks of Plum Creek.


More room on the bottom for chicken breasts! I should also be able to comfortably cook a full two pounds of beans, not the measly one and a half I’ve been limited to.


I can set it for any amount of time I want, and it even counts down!

I’ve never been as self-effacing as Ma and my husband knows that–he tends to assume that if I haven’t bought it for myself, then I don’t really want it. I really wanted it, so I bought it.

There are other things I’ve been considering purchasing this fall, like yoga pants. Then I think of Ma Ingalls. Would I get as much joy out of yoga pants as Ma got when Pa bought her some pretty calico to make a new apron? No. So I decided not to buy them. By the same token, I mended my pajama pants rather than replaced them and decided to keep wearing my old fleece. I want a black or gray fitted one; what I own dates back to perhaps 2005 and is rather large and a cream color that always looks dirty. But… it’s still warm. And if I don’t want to wear it, I can wear one of my six other coats.

What are you buying or not buying this fall? And who else loves Laura?