Pippin’s Books of 2017 (Age 4)

This was the year of a chapter book awakening for Pip — we started with Ramona for reasons I can’t remember and from there he was insatiable. J had been working slowly through Hobbit and others since Pippin was twoish but now both adults were reading aloud to him and he was devouring audiobooks during quiet time much faster than I could source them.

We’ve only just started phonics so the only words he can read himself are “Pippin,” “police,” and “Grandpa” (!!!). We read a lot of picture books for fun, too, but I don’t track those. And his comprehension of these chapter books can vary — he regularly refers to plot details from Beverly Cleary books, but didn’t realize Beth March died until we watched a movie version of Little WomenBut he only has to listen to things that interest him, and I figure even if he doesn’t absorb all of some of the books he listens to, letting the words wash over him is still beneficial, especially if he enjoys it.

I didn’t keep perfect records but I think he “read” 40-something unique books in 2017, which doesn’t account for the frankly disturbing number of times he wan’t to re-read the Henry Huggins books and other favorites. You can see the full list on Goodreads if you’re interested.

I thought it would be fun to have him review his year in reading. You can probably tell from his answers he was less enthused!

  • What kind of books do you like?
    • “Police car ones.”
  • What was your favorite book Mama read aloud?
    • Henry Huggins
  • What was your favorite book Papa read aloud?
  • What was your favorite audiobook?
  • Who was your favorite character in a book?
    • “Captain John [from Swallows and Amazons] and also the Boxcar Children, Henry Alden.”
  • What books do you want to read next year?
    • All the same ones I did.
Reading Swallowdale last month


The Catholic Wendy’s Booth

Lately I’ve been reading Emily Stimpson Chapman’s The Catholic Table with a book club of women from my church, and while we were pretty divided over A Severe Mercy, I think it’s possible we actually all like this one. Way to go, Emily S.C.

So I’ve been thinking about what food means for our family in this season where I’m increasingly incapable of actually preparing it. (It doesn’t help that I’m pretty sure being on my feet to make a freezer batch of NOT EVEN GOOD chicken pot pies jumpstarted my last preterm labor.)

Anyway, it was a Saturday morning and J took Scout on errands. So it was just me and Pippin, and I miraculously convinced him to help me go through Roo’s closery and start getting things cleared out in there from the 1000 bins of hand me downs it’s housed since Scout’s reign. And it was actually super fun. He loved being the strong man who slid the bins into the hall for me, and he helped me pick out tiny outfits for the hospital bag, and spun around in my spiffy new glider.

Afterwards, I decided to treat him to a lunch at Wendy’s, his all-time favorite restaurant, even though it would mean a longish waddle across the park. But he’d helped me all morning! And the weather wasn’t awful. And you know what they say about 31 weeks…it’s only going to get worse from here.

So we stopped at every park bench on the way and I tried not to think dire thoughts about my fitness level as I hobbled along, pausing for him to gather leaves to toss in the creek, enjoying his chatter about the proper way to plant these things I’m not even convinced are seeds.

At Wendy’s, we ordered our usual and sat at the window so we could keep look out for police cars and fire trucks. Pip has such a fraught relationship with food that it’s just a relief to go someplace where he’ll eat his fill cheerfully and gratefully. But even though it wasn’t the kind of meal I envisioned when reading The Catholic Table, something like the meals Shauna Niequist is so good at describing, and which I occasionally succeed in producing on our own big dinner table, there did seem to be something sacred about this little treat with my firstborn.

Lunchtime, especially on weekdays, is usually a time of frenetic activity for me. We Skype my parents, I cajole people to focus and eat, I try to produce balanced meals with zero effort, I get up from the table 30 times for things I’ve forgotten or someone’s decreed essential. Or I read on my phone and encourage folks not to bother me as I eat my poorly microwaved leftovers. Or I try to start the slow cooker and change out the laundry as the kids eat their lunch painstakingly slowly. It’s not the worst part of my day, but I doubt it’s a time they’ll recall me shining as a mom.

But at this little spontaneous lunch date with my eldest, I left my phone in my purse. I didn’t cajole him to eat more because it’s all garbage, and I didn’t get mad that he wasn’t eating what I had fixed. We talked about who in our family loves fries most as we split an order. He coached me on assembling the windmill toy he got in his kids’ meal, and we spotted a fire truck with lights speed by. We said grace, we enjoyed our meal, we enjoyed each other.

What else is sharing the Catholic Table about?

Police Preschool, the First Fortnight


Ground rules

Day 0: The Friday before, Pippin is encouragingly excited about homeschool. I ask him if he wants to come up with a name for our school and some rules, and together we draft the above document. I am killing at this. 

Day 1: There’s a mad rush to get a decade of the Rosary in with J before he races off to work. We are starting school a couple weeks before local places so I don’t feel as shirky if the kids experience a stretch of televised education when Roo comes in late fall. Pip and I are both excited to start, but disaster strikes: I have heard that preparing things to distract the toddler is almost as important as engaging the learner, and soon both kids are vying for a bin of beans, making a mess and squabbling. Ugh. I try to remember that the start of last year, at traditional preschool, was tough, too, but at some point, I’m yelling “NO ONE HERE IS BEING VERY AMIABLE” as I try to go back to our lesson on the virtue of amiability. Then I load up the kids and take them to play at a local wading river with friends because, hey, this is homeschool.

Day 4, End of Week 1: Each morning, Pippin asks me to read to him or play for awhile before we start school, but I keep starting (and finishing) early. He seems to enjoy once we are gathered around the table, and asks when we will homeschool again over the weekend. I’m learning to be firm, kind, and not panicky in making school happen each morning. We have decided that at the end of each week, if we’ve both behaved, we get a special policeman activity, and this week it’s some random worksheet I downloaded off Pinterest. He loves it.

Week 2: It’s Letter B in the house of Bowers. He writes a letter to my sister Beca, using butterfly stamps and bear stickers that were mine when I was a kid. We don’t make it to the library this week, but we do go on field trip to a neighbor’s house to learn a little about her bee hives (mostly he plays with Duplos). We read the story of St Benedict, but he mostly just likes the attempted poisoning bit.

I am relying on my phone more than I feel great about: playing Benedictine chant, showing him paintings of the various Mysteries of the Rosary. But if I were using a library CD, somehow I’d feel more wholesome, so I try to get over it.


Writing his aunt

Scout is usually content to sit in her high chair and play with special toys (including the dreaded bean box), and our lessons are always extremely quick — maybe 30-45 minutes, all told. Sometimes we revisit a memory verse or talk about the letter of the week later in the afternoon, but often it’s the usual old mix of park visits, reading aloud, and entirely too many trips to the grocery story. Everyday, he tells my parents over Skype some of what he’s learned, and repeats it again for his papa after work. I feel like that’s reinforcement enough.


This week, I think we’ll add in coins, sorting them and using them to count by 5s and 10s and 25s, but that’s the height of my ambition. It can be rocky when everyone’s yelling and I’m just trying to get through a poem, but it sure beats the tar out of Pip’s preschool adjustment last year.


Enrichment. Maybe. Also, imprisonment.


I really really wish I felt better while pregnant. There are pregnant women being Wonder Womanly and kicking butt at tennis and for a very long time, just existing is a pretty major accomplishment in my book.

I’m finally some better, but in that long hibernation space, I felt like the kids were mostly just watching tv and mainlining Goldfish. As it turns out, though, Pippin was developing newfound independence and a willingness to help.

In the past few weeks, he’s started pouring his own milk (if we keep a small bottle filled for him), feeding the dog, checking the mail, keeping an eye on his sister (who he endearingly and mysteriously calls “Sweet Pete”), helping me put away groceries and helping more consistently with baking.

It’s grand. It’s a reminder for me of a couple things: first, I should keep an eye on my kids’ development and give them chances to try new tasks. And more importantly, I’m learning that even in a season of seeming stasis, the kids are growing all the time. They are not (just!) developing complexes from me repeating, “Please don’t touch Mama, please go watch more Daniel Tiger” — maybe the boredom and benevolent neglect even hastens these leaps.

Well, Sweet Pete, looks like Mama’s not getting around to it anytime soon. Should I try?

Captain Barnacles gives little sis a push on the swing

This Is Four

Lately, this is my boy when he sees me sneaking a photo. But when he gets my phone to himself during audiobook time while I’m making supper:

He’s been so into reading chapter books aloud since the new year, and when in flusterment* I handed him my phone with a hastily downloaded Mercy Watson library audiobook a couple weeks ago when I couldn’t manage to read aloud and chop onions simultaneously, I had no idea how popular this move would make me.

So while Scout methodically destroys my kitchen or deigns to throw Cheerios from her high chair and I frantically finish supper, Pippin listens to the adventures of the Boxcar Children and takes a million, jillion pictures of the things that make up his life. I love his weird compositions of scenes from our messy house during one of the most difficult times of our day as a family. I delete most of them, because I don’t really need (literally) 93 pictures of his Matchbox firetruck. I end up with pictures of the junky Lego book I let him get from the library; of our unstraightened playroom bookshelf; of shoes strewn with wild abandon (even though they know better!). I delete most of them, but I keep a few, mementos of these imperfect, fleeting evenings.

*not a word, but should be


For Pippin’s birthday we bought Octonauts UNO. I was scrolling through Amazon results trying to find the least obnoxious/exorbitant Octonauts merch and thought, “Hey, maybe he’s old enough to play UNO.”

And turns out he was. And it’s such a small thing, but I’m loving it.

I wouldn’t say I’m much of a cards player. But when I was a little girl I’d play all kinds of cards games with Gramps, my dad’s dad. We played War and Go Fish and the excitingly named Dammit, but most of all we played Crazy Eights (which is, I’m assuming you know, basically UNO).

Gramps lived in Sarasota but would visit us in his Dolphin camper with my granny. He had a pliant old deck of Jack Daniels playing cards and in my memory he could perform shuffling miracles. Either he or my dad made me a little card stand out of a length of wood with a groove to hold my hand of cards, because I was so small I couldn’t manage to hold my cards to myself. He and my sister and I would play games of almost intolerable excitement, and he always seemed prescient, almost magical to me, in his ability to guess what I’d play next. (He said he could see my cards reflected in my eyes, which I still want to believe was true.)

Pippin and I mostly play in the little slivers of time when his sister is asleep and he isn’t, after naps, before bed. He beats me without me letting him, and so he’ll probably never believe that I am a magical card expert like my gramps, but I like to think Gramps would approve just the same.


Last week I threw the fourth birthday party I’ve thrown for my boy.

Year 1 he had a homemade carrot cupcake. He didn’t like it. But he liked the strawberries his aunt, the hostess, served, and crawled happily through the legs of adults who love him more than anything.

Year 2 we invited a large family of friends over to our outgrown grad school apartment. We were already in the descent into New England weather and the descent into morning sickness with Scout, though I didn’t know it yet. Our friends, who would turn out to be Scout’s godparents, are gluten free, and Pippin was still resistant to cake so I shaped vanilla ice cream in a springform pan and topped it with whipped cream.


Year 3 we were new to Virginia. I invited the three kids whose mothers I knew and liked best and Pippin requested doughnuts. I really wanted to show off my baking skillz, but hey, it’s his party. He and J ran out before the party for these lovely, local Mennonite-made doughnuts and I borrowed a cake stand and piled them, I thought, quite elegantly.

On Halloween Pippin turned four and at six am on Friday I got up to start the first of two batches of cinnamon rolls. He’s still not a cake man, but he could subsist on the gooey cinnamon rolls his papa treats him to on their Saturday morning outings. The second batch I rolled out and set to rise in the hush of the kids napping. I love bread dough, and how it feels warm and silky and resilient under my hands, like the sweet frog bellies of my babies, and I thought of the baby Pippin once was, blue-eyed and bald and cherubic.

In the past I have railed against Pippin’s food eccentricities, and his refusal to eat cake is one of the more ridiculous ones. How is a doughnut not basically cake? Besides, flour is my love language, and it frustrates me to be able to fix so few of the foods he enjoys. (I could, I suppose, learn to make chicken dinosaurs.)

But thinking of the baby he once was, I realized we may not have many more of these birthdays: birthdays where he makes lavishly bizarre requests, birthdays when I can make his dreams come true.

Readers’ Advisory: Non-Terrible Truck Books

I’ve been around the block when it comes to truck books. Here is my helpful parent guide to the least obnoxious truck books we’ve come across:

  • For simple, labelled catalogs of trucks, you can’t go wrong with Richard Scarry. Richard Scarry’s Cars and Trucks and Things That Go is a good starting place and our first copy was responsible for getting us to and from Acadia fuss-free when Pippin was about 18 months old.
  • Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel and, to a lesser extent, Katy and the Big SnowClassics.
  • Backhoe JoeA breakthrough for us; one of our first narrative truck books. What a relief!
  • Trashy Town and its companion Digabout the quietly sweet men who work dirty jobs.
  • Here Comes DarrellSo sweet, but with enough trucks to pass muster. The book centers around a year in the life of Darrell, an old New Englander who helps out his neighbors with plowing, hauling, and excavating, until the time comes he needs their help. (For my money, it’s a much better message than the more popular Little Blue Truck, where you must help others or you’re left stranded.)
  • Demolition and its companions: a good read-aloud for little kids. Lots of action!
  • Dinosaur Rescue combines vehicles AND reptiles for a preschool homerun. There are others in the series, but this is our favorite. (The rescue worker dinos sleep with blankies and loveys after their big adventure — so sweet!)
  • Machines Go to Work boasts the prettiest truck illustrations I’ve come across, that’s for sure.
  • Good Night, Good Night, Construction SiteThe best metered rhyme of all the many, many truck books we’ve read. Sweet and sleepy.

Note, these are not necessarily Pippin’s favorite truck books, but mine. (Sometimes, we agree to disagree.)

Dishonorable mentions: The Working Wheels series — actually, nearly anything from the junior nonfiction section of the library; I Stink which boasts illustrations of dirty diapers and dog poop; all things related to the Pixar Cars or Bob the Builder franchises…




It’s still hot and we’re still without AC but lately when I’ve been out with the kids, especially in the morning, there’s been the whisperiest hint of autumn in the air (and we all know the sweetest winds, they blow across the South).


Color me excited. New England autumn used to fill me with dread, but here in the Shenandoah Valley I can embrace the season without fear for coming winter. Here are a few of the things I’m most looking forward to:

  • Hot tea
  • Baked granola and ciabatta bread and roasted vegetables when I can use our oven with impunity
  • Not shaving (sorry)
  • Wearing a hat when my hair is dirty and pretending it’s because I want to wear a hat and not that my hair is dirty (my secret is out, sorry again)
  • The start of preschool (this fills me with a mix of excitement and dread so in traditional Grimm fashion I’m eager just to get it over with)
  • Seeing friends back in western Mass when fall is still beautiful and not yet ominous
  • Blooming ageratum (Does it even in grow in Virginia? I’ll have to pay more attention this year.)
  • Maple leaves, 4eva
  • Less sweating
  • Open curtains. This summer I’ve been a responsible citizen and mostly kept the shades down to keep the house cooler. But I didn’t escape basement living for nothing.
  • A visit from my parents, and a visit from my sister.
  • Taking pictures of Pippin with leaves, because that’s apparently a thing I like to do a lot.

How about you?