The Book of Dust

Compass in hand, pointing north

Earlier this month – the week of my birthday, in fact – I learned that Philip Pullman is writing a new trilogy, The Book of Dust. The first of the three books will be published on October 19 – my Lyra’s birthday. Naturally I am over-the-moon excited about this.

A few friends and fellow librarians asked if I was going to write to the author (or his publicist), and I thought sure, why not, and then I remembered he was on Twitter. And then this happened:

Twitter screenshot of Philip Pullman's announcement of The Book of Dust and our exchange that followed

“Give my pre-emptive birthday greetings to Lyra!” This is definitely going in the scrapbook.

(Also, I cannot believe it didn’t occur to me to look up who else shared her birthday until she was already over a year old.)


Filed under baby, books

What we’ve read so far, 16 months

This post is long overdue! We have been reading, of course, I just haven’t documented it here (the last post was around 13 months). Now, if we ask if she wants to read a book, she’ll choose one, bring it over, turn around, and plop herself onto one of our laps, ready for storytime. It is the best.

I was very excited for Chris Haughton’s new book, Goodnight Everyone, but while I liked it very much, Lyra wasn’t nearly as interested as she was in his three previous books (Oh No, George!, Little Owl Lost, and Shh! We Have A Plan). It’s only in hardcover now, so perhaps when/if if comes out as a board book, she’ll like it more.

Cover image of Jamberry by Bruce DegenJamberry must be read at top speed; we pause only on one particular page so she can point to the bear’s hat filled with berries.

Lots of kids’ books feature animals:

Dinosaurs! We like I Dreamt I Was A Dinosaur and How Do Dinosaurs Say Goodnight?

Wombats! We’ve read my childhood copy of One Woolly Wombat so many times I have it memorized. She likes to point at the kangaroo’s necklace because Grandma has one like that.

Chickies! Our cousins sent us a copy of Bedtime for Chickies by Janee Trasler and Lyra loves it. This is another one she wants to race through, like Jamberry.

Wolves! We found a book that is exactly halfway between I Am the Wolf…And Here I Come! and Herve Tullet’s Press Here: it’s called Help! The Wolf is Coming! I read both wolf books to Lyra’s daycare class and all the kids loved them (there were many encore readings).

Dogs! Not all dogs, just Spot, from Where’s Spot? fame – she likes lifting the flaps. Although we actually have a real live dog in the house, Lyra still hasn’t said “dog”; her first animal word was “owl.”

Owls! We’ve given Wow! Said the Owl a little break, but are enjoying illustrator Tim Hopgood’s version of What A Wonderful World. We tried Olivia Loves Owl, which I think is cute but Lyra doesn’t care for (at least right now. Tastes change quickly…).

Blue Horse I, 1911, Franz Marc

Blue Horse I, Franz Marc

In the past week, she has developed an intense attachment to Eric Carle’s The Artist Who Painted A Blue Horse, and will listen to it over (and over, and over) again. Baby’s first book about degenerate art!

Maurice Sendak is not a classic for nothing: she loves In the Night Kitchen and has started to ask for Where the Wild Things Are, and she still enjoys the Nutshell Library, though most of the appeal is being able to take the tiny book jackets off.

We also still like some Sandra Boynton board books, particularly the Belly Button Book and Tickle Time. Sometimes we’ll reach the end of these and she’ll immediately sign for “more” to read it again.

In addition to books, we’ve been listening to (and dancing to, and playing) lots of music: Sesame Street Platinum All-Time Favorites, some Raffi, They Might Be Giants’ Here Comes Science, and Caspar Babypants (Hot Dog!, Away We Go!, Beatles Baby and Baby Beatles!, I Found You!, etc.). Lyra will sign “please” and “more” and point to the music setup when she wants music, or will nod enthusiastically when I ask her. (It’s one big dramatic, emphatic nod: chin waaaaaay up so all you can see is cheeks…wait…wait…wait…down!) She’s also started saying “Yeah!”

What are your favorite books and music for toddlers?


Filed under baby, books

Boston Women’s March for America

Boston Common during the Women's March

Boston Common, January 21, 2017

On Saturday, my mom and I went into Boston to join the Women’s March, one of the many marches that took place nationally and internationally the day after the inauguration. In Boston, like in many other cities, attendance was much higher than anticipated (city officials estimated the final turnout around 175,000), turning the march into more of a standing protest.

But getting there – on the T packed with other protesters, everyone friendly and wearing pink hats – and then emerging onto the Boston Common at Park Street to see people streaming toward the stage, carrying or wearing their messages, was emotional. I don’t like crowds as a rule, but I’ve never felt safer or more welcome in one.

Elizabeth Warren speaking at the Women's March

The crowd during Elizabeth Warren’s speech

Senator Elizabeth Warren spoke, Senator Ed Markey spoke, mayor of Boston Marty Walsh spoke. So did many others, and then there was a lot of standing around as the organizers and police tried to figure out how to funnel over 100,000 people along a march route planned for a much smaller number.

That part was a bit boring and mildly claustrophobic, but the weather was far nicer than we could have expected for January, and I had brought a sandwich and a book, and there were lots of signs to read as well.

A Woman's Place is in the Resistance

A photo of Carrie Fisher as Princess Leia: “A woman’s place is in the resistance.”

"Respect our existence or expect our resistance"

“Respect our existence or expect our resistance.” (An excellent slogan, but not one that can be said three times fast.)

"We are the people"

“We are the majority and are not going away. Yes we care!” & “We are the people!”

Signs ranged from serious and straightforward to clever and funny. Here are a few of the ones I saw:

  • Girls just wanna have FUNdamental rights
  • Women’s rights are human rights
  • Climate change is not a hoax
  • Bend toward justice (presumably an allusion to the Martin Luther King, Jr. quote, “The arc of the moral universe is long but it bends toward justice”)
  • I’m with HER [picture of a globe]
  • Speak truth to power
  • Black Lives Matter
  • Orange is the new bleak
  • Too worried to be funny
  • STEMinist (the belief that women are people, science is real, and women belong there)
  • You know it’s bad when the librarians are shouting (librarians are actually much more shouty than the stereotype would indicate, particularly when it comes to standing up for freedom of speech and fighting against censorship). Likewise, “So bad even the introverts are here.”
  • Rebel Rebel (Princess Leia again, but with a David Bowie lightning bolt. I didn’t see this one myself but my friend Tim snapped a picture from the DC march)

There is such a diversity of causes represented by the left: women’s rights, equal pay (for women, of all races), anti-racism, access to health care, parental leave, paid sick time, LGBTQ rights, education, climate science, common sense gun safety laws, and more. I hope we can work together to make progress on all of them. To start, the Women’s March organizers are suggesting 10 actions for the first 100 days.


Filed under politics

Welcome to the Club

If you’re a new(ish) parent and you’re unfamiliar with the blog The Ugly Volvo, start here, where she takes apart Goodnight Moon. Then get yourself a copy of her book Welcome to the Club, which is full of the hilarious, the disgusting, the tender, and the poignant (see below).

Photo of a page of Welcome to the Club

Photo of the illustration accompanying “#59: First Time You Drop Off Your Child At Day Care and Second-Guess Everything About Your Life.” 

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Filed under baby, books



Her daycare sent this photo, and my first thought was that she looked exactly like Wallace Shawn as Vizzini in The Princess Bride.

“But it’s so simple. All I have to do is divine from what I know of you: are you the sort of man who would put the poison into his own goblet or his enemy’s? Now, a clever man would put the poison into his own goblet, because he would know that only a great fool would reach for what he was given. I am not a great fool, so I can clearly not choose the wine in front of you. But you must have known I was not a great fool, you would have counted on it, so I can clearly not choose the wine in front of me.”

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Filed under baby, movies

Babes in Toyland

This has been sitting in my draft folder for about six eight months now. The regular text applies to 0-6 months, the italic text I’ve added now, at 12 months. All babies have different interests (really! It’s surprising the extent to which this is true), so they will all gravitate toward different toys. Or electrical outlets, as the case may be, once they can crawl.

We did not go overboard buying baby toys. People gave us some, and my mom had saved some from when my brother and I were little (some stacking cups, a clackety wooden caterpillar, a rattle shaped like a bus) but I figured, she’s a baby: anything she can reach and put in her mouth is a toy, right?

Well, yes and no. There is something to all that developmental stuff; beyond the fact that she can’t play with Lego until she knows not to try to swallow them, certain toys really are great for certain developmental stages. Here are some she has enjoyed over the past half-year [year], in order of appearance, and all were either gifts, hand-me-downs, or bought used, except the “whoozit” teether (see “bandersnatch” below), which we saw in Henry Bear Park and Lyra claimed as her own, using the classic strategy of putting it in her mouth and saliva-ing all over it.

An assortment of baby toys on the floor

Left to right: Whoozit/Bandersnatch, Sassy mirror, wooden developmental thing, Kid-o car, stacking rings, soft stacking blocks, shape blocks, stacking/nesting barrels, stacking cups, stretchy sandwich

Stuffed cow: A gift from a co-worker (thanks Kathy!), we brought this with us to the hospital, thinking the black-and-white contrast would hold her attention. She didn’t get interested in it until 4-5 months later. About a week before her first birthday, she started cuddling things: she’ll pick up a stuffed animal, blanket, sock, whatever is around, and hold it to her cheek and it is the most adorable thing in the world. She loves cuddling with Cow.

Soft dangly toys: The turtle came with the activity mat at a yard sale, jingly Winnie and Tigger I picked up from the Little Fox Shop. She was so pleased the day she could finally reach Tigger’s foot and stuff it in her mouth. Jingle-Pooh and Jingle-Tigger are also perfect to attach to pacifiers in her crib, since the brand of pacifier she likes is not the one they make “Wubbanubs” for. Yes, Wubbanub is the name of a real thing.

Mirrors: I forgot who told me (or where I read) that babies love mirrors but DO THEY EVER. We have one that came with our play mat and one freestanding one (the brand is called Sassy) from a friend. The latter has a black-and-white ball that moves and some crinkly leaves. We found a real mirror on the curb, painted it, and put it up in her room; she loves looking at herself and us in it, and we brush teeth and hair in front of it too.

Cloth for peekaboo: We often use a swaddle blanket but any piece of fabric will work – napkin, hand towel, t-shirt, whatever – we float the cloth through the air and down over her as she’s lying on the floor. “Where’s baby? There she is!” Cannot get enough of this. Also a good way to get clean laundry folded. The laundry trick still kind of works if it’s big sheets, not so much for ordinary clothes. Now she is a more active participant in peekaboo, and we don’t even always need a cloth – she’ll peek from around furniture, etc. Or she’ll find one of my t-shirts or scarves, drape it over her head, and initiate a game herself.

Rattles: We have a classic style rattle made of plastic, a plastic shaker egg [we HAD a shaker egg, it is missing in action], and wooden shaker bird. Once she could grip things reliably, she loved all these, and the noise level isn’t bad at all. Rattles/shaker toys are still good! [Now we are TWO shaker eggs down.]

Whoozit, blocks, sandwich, indestrubtible, soft bookBOOKS: Board books, “indestructibles,” crinkly fabric books (Very Hungry Caterpillar)… we keep books in every room and have read to her every day. It has paid off: one of her favorite things to do is turn the pages of board books. Around 11 months she started to chew on the books a little bit less, and now at a year she is paying more attention to what is on the pages and pointing at things. She definitely recognizes certain books and has favorites. It’s not just librarian-mama’s imagination, either – at daycare her teachers have said she gravitates to the books. Yay!

Mini boppy with attached mat/toys: A present from Nana, this is ideal for the “tummy time” phase; it helps to prop them up, and gives them something to do while they’re there. The hard plastic toys come off and the pillow and mat are washable.

My first snaps” linking toy: These are perfectly sized for little grasping hands (and mouths, with no scary points or edges). She can carry them around the house or when we go out on walks, she can knock over towers we set up for her, she can take them out and put them back in the barrel, and later she’ll be able to link them together to build things.

Stretchy sandwich toyStretchy sandwich/burger: This was a gift from friends (thanks, Uncle Tim and Aunt Jenny!). We hung it from her activity mat and she used to grab it and suck the little green bobble at the end. It has provided entertainment for grown-up visitors as well, musing on what mystery meat the sandwich might contain. (Is that bologna? With pimentos…?)

“Bandersnatch”/Whoozit: We didn’t know this was called a “whoozit” when we bought it, but we thought it kind of looked like the illustration of the Bandersnatch in the Jabberwocky board book, so that’s what we called it at first. It includes all the things babies like: a mirror, tags, a plush toy body, and teething toys to chew on.

Stacking rings: These were another yard sale acquisition. The top ring has a few little balls in it so it rattles, which she likes, but mostly she enjoys tipping it over, dumping the rings off, and mouthing the yellow base. At 12 months, she finally started removing the rings one by one and trying to put them back on. Learning!

Soft stacking blocks: Another great find at the Little Fox Shop, a set of four blocks, some crinkly, some jingly. I realized the stacking cups had some sharp edges, so these are better for now. The stacking cups are fine now! In fact, she pulls them apart with her teeth. Her many, many teeth. But the soft blocks are fun too – we made a game where I try to keep one up in the air, and when it inevitably hits the ground she is gleeful.

Kid-o car (anything with wheels): There was a little one of these at a library storytime (baby storytimes consist of one or two books, then songs or rhymes, then dumping out a bunch of toys on the floor and letting the babies roll or crawl around together). She seemed interested in it so I found one for her, but she has shown minimal interest in toy cars. Maybe later?

Walker toy: A friend with two older kids gave us one of these from her basement before a move. You may hear dire warnings about walker toys, but mostly they have to do with stairs; if you don’t have stairs, they’re fine. The front part is interactive (a little door that opens and closes, shapes that are attached with springy cord, some spinning gears, etc.), and the sounds and music are a little repetitive, but not intolerable. She really liked this for several months; especially in the mornings, we’d put the interactive part (detached from the wheel base) in the pack ‘n’ play in the living room and let her entertain herself for a few minutes while we brushed our teeth. She didn’t use it to practice walking very much; she kind of got the hang of that by herself.

Activity cube: Borrowed this from a friend with a younger baby. Previously I’d only seen these in dentists’ and doctors’ waiting rooms, and had no idea what they were called. Entertaining for while babies are practicing standing, and even before that, since there is something different on each side of the cube as well as the wires and beads on top. I think we had this from about four months to nine or ten months. It’s heavy, but not so heavy that a baby can use it to pull herself up to standing without tipping the cube over.

Activity table with music/sounds: I was wary of anything that made noise on its own, but we borrowed an activity table (again, from a friend with a younger baby) and it was completely tolerable! There were two different volume settings, neither particularly loud, and it had Spanish as well as English (so now we can sing the ABC song in Spanish). Had this from about five or six months to eleven months. The legs detach, so you can put just the top of it on the ground for babies who aren’t standing yet.

Balls: I was hoping she’d be interested in rolling them, at least, if not throwing and catching, but she has shown very little interest, no matter the size or texture. The one with the rattle inside it intrigues her for a while, but once she realizes she can’t get the rattle out, she loses interest. The one with the nubbles on the outside was easiest for her to hold, from about four months on, I think. *Update* She now enjoys playing with balls! Doesn’t quite throw them yet, but will fetch. So she’s doing better than our dog.

Blocks: I found some nice wooden blocks on the curb and cleaned them up. Now they live in a mixing bowl on the kitchen floor. She doesn’t build anything yet but enjoys knocking over anything we build, and now she’ll take them all out of the bowl and put them back in. *Update* Now she stacks them!

Other things that have been very useful this first year:

Bibs: Initially I’d thought we wouldn’t need bibs until she was eating food, but in the words of William Goldman, “Boy, are you wrong!” Milk dribbles, spits, etc. happen plenty right off the bat, and while you still have to wash the bib, you don’t have to do a complete outfit change. Cloth bibs also double as washcloths as needed. Once they start eating food, waterproof bibs with pockets are really handy.

Sleep sacks: We did swaddle at first, but she usually wriggled out of the swaddle, so we switched to sleep sacks. At first we used the Halo brand, but I found a secondhand Gunapod one and it is the best, because: the zipper zips from bottom to top and is already connected – no need to line up the zipper just right in the dark with a wriggling baby! There are also shoulder snaps and a zipper around the side, but we just use the middle one. I’ll be sad when she outgrows it and have my eye out for the next size up. She has outgrown it. I am sad.

Pacifiers and clips: Through trial and error (borrowing from friends’ babies), we discovered she likes the Tommee Tippee pacifier best. Through crowdsourcing other parents on facebook, we found a “pacifier leash” that works well, too, so we can clip it to her car seat or carrier and not worry too much about losing it. (So far we’ve only lost one of six!) (And we found it…mangled by the disposal in the kitchen sink.)

Wet bags: I had never heard of these before having a baby. They are bags for holding wet things and they are incredibly useful. Cloth diaper folks can use them for that, and the rest of us can use them for wet/dirty clothes or damp bathing suits. After eleven months, I set aside the diaper bag and started using a regular backpack with a wet bag in it. In retrospect, I’d suggest this approach from the start, especially for anyone who thinks they might be wearing/carrying baby more than using a stroller.

We’re still doing our best to keep screens (TV, computer, phone) out of her sight, but a couple times a week we watch a few minutes of Sesame Street or Reading Rainbow, which transfixes her enough so that we can cut her fingernails. This is a trick I learned from a former nanny (thanks, Caitlin!) and it works beautifully.

People who have, or have had, or have experience with toddlers: what are your favorite toys and games for the next couple years?


Filed under baby

Various tasty things

Friends, Romans, Countrymen…I have discovered the casserole. Mostly what I have discovered is cooking one big thing and having several days’ worth of leftovers for 2-3 people. From what I’ve heard, casseroles are merely the gateway drug to slow cookers, but I’m not quite there yet (I’m hesitant to add one more gadget to the kitchen, though I hear they are well worth it).

What we’ve made lately, savory:

  • Macaroni and cheese casserole, Pioneer Woman (a.k.a. Ree Drummond) recipe. I added caramelized onion, broccoli, and chicken meatballs. Used traditional elbow noodles.
  • Pasta and meatball casserole, America’s Test Kitchen recipe. I jarred sauce instead of homemade, made it with penne or rigatoni.
  • Sweet potato and macaroni and cheese casserole, Nigella Lawson recipe. You may need a side of greens with this. I used cavatappi pasta.
  • Fettuccine alfredo, America’s Test Kitchen recipe, except I think we used linguine, and we used less cheese because we didn’t have parmesan on hand, and I added a couple cubes of the pesto I made and froze at the end of the summer. And chicken meatballs. Pesto fettuccine alfredo? It was good.
  • Thanksgiving dinner! Not just on Thanksgiving anymore. Turkey breast from Trader Joe’s, cranberry sauce, mashed potatoes, sometimes box stuffing.
    • Cranberry sauce: two cans of whole berry cranberry sauce, a little water (or orange juice), half a lemon, some lemon or orange zest, an orange, clementine sections, chopped walnuts.
    • Mashed potatoes: With butter and whole milk (at least. Half-and-half or cream also works), some salt and pepper, and whatever herbs are still alive – rosemary, thyme.

What we’ve made lately, breakfast-y or sweet:

  • “Big beautiful muffins,” America’s Test Kitchen recipe, different variations: blueberry and lemon, raspberry, apple-cinnamon.
  • Granola (Ben makes this from my friend Sarah’s recipe)
  • Cranberry-apricot scones, America’s Test Kitchen recipe.
  • Chocolate chip cookies, recipe from Good to the Grain (uses whole wheat flour and bittersweet chocolate instead of AP and semi-sweet)
  • Molasses spice cookies, recipe from Flour by Joanne Chang (and someone just got a copy of Flour, Too for an early Hanukkah present…)
  • Orange cardamom madeleines, recipe from Martha Stewart’s Cookies. I had the ingredients, neighbor Catherine had the madeleine pan (and an expert set of hands). Despite baking for more than twice the prescribed time, they were a little underdone, but still delicious.
  • Pumpkin pie (homemade filling from my cousin’s recipe, frozen crust. Frozen crust is fine but use a sweet one, not a savory one!)

In a happy turn* of events, the kid is now eating food in quantities larger than a tablespoon at a time! She has enjoyed all of the above (but especially the muffins and madeleines).

*It was more like a fifteen-point-turn, rather than a U-turn or even a three-point-turn, but in her defense, you see a lot of those around here, on account of the insane layout of the roads, and the drivers who would probably drive the way they do even if all the roads were laid out on a perfect grid. Anyway, muffins!


Filed under food, recipes