Reading, Watching, Listening [the All-Pumpkin, All-the-Time Edition]

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If my summer media diet was one of fluff – at least until the summer went to hell in a handbasket and I gorged on heavy, difficult news and commentary – I’m looking to mix it up a little more this fall. Call it the pumpkin spice fall to-do list of books, tv, and audio, if you will (and I will, because pumpkin spice haters be damned, the fall is my happy time, and as far as I can tell, pumpkin just makes it better).

On my list as I pretend it’s not 80 degrees out and wear a sweater anyway:

Reading

Over the summer, I had a grand plan that the fall would be my time for “self-improvement” books. Then I added about 30 books to my to-read list, and now I have no theme other than “finish them before my library loan runs out” or “just finish them, already.”

  • Better Than Before. Gretchen Rubin’s newest, about forming and keeping habits and (of course) how habits contribute to happiness. I already knew a lot of what’s in this book thanks to her weekly podcast (Happier), but it was a good read nonetheless. If you’ve read the book or listen to the podcast, you know about her Four Tendencies framework; for the record, I’m a classic Obliger.
  • A Series of Catastrophes and Miracles. Mary Elizabeth Williams’ memoir of her diagnosis, treatment, and recurrence of melanoma — along with a straight-forward discussion of how immunology is changing cancer treatment for some patients — is one of the best books I’ve read in years. I’ll have more to say about this book soon, but for now, put it on your list. While you’re at it, follow Mary Elizabeth on Twitter and read her stuff at Slate, too.
  • Miller’s Valley. No, really, I’m going to finish this. It’s Anna Q.! How can I not? Yet somehow, other books keep creeping in ahead of it…
  • On Writing. Stephen King’s book about his craft makes so many writers’ must-read lists and favorite quotations that I figure it’s about time I read it, too.
  • Big Magic. It’s been on my shelf for a year, just as my creative writing has gone through its own fits and starts. Maybe this book from Elizabeth Gilbert, all about encouraging your creative self, will give me a nudge?
  • News, news, and more news. I mean, let’s be honest here. The headlines are driving me mad and sapping my ability to focus, but I’m reading them anyway. My eyes (and brain) will be grateful for November 9.
  • Go Fug Yourself. The antidote to the news, namely the weekly Royals Round-Up. Heather and Jessica always seem to know just when to drop in a few pictures of horribly dressed stars at a premiere or a critique of yet another pair of Kate Middleton’s beige heels to distract me.

Watching

  • Pitch. Now in lieu of watching the Sox play into October (THANKS, Porcello and Price), I’ll be watching this new (fictional) show about the first female MLB pitcher. A great concept for girls who love baseball to see themselves on the field. I hope it sticks around (and not only because it also stars my long-time celebrity crush, Mark-Paul Gosselaar).
  • Football! Fall means football in our house – namely, fatty football parties with friends. They’re a little different than our pre-kid days, as I wrote here, but still a great way to round out the weekend, and they give me a chance to continue to wear my Vince Wilfork jersey. #75 for life, baby. Touchdown, Patriots!
  • Washington Week. We rarely watch Meet the Press anymore; it’s just never been the same since Tim Russert died, and 10:30 on Sunday mornings isn’t exactly prime TV-watching time in our house anymore. But Fridays at 8? I can make time for a half-hour of civilized political discussion with Gwen Ifill.
  • The Affair. We originally had Showtime for Homeland, and stayed for The Affair because McNulty. Now I’m past the point of even hate-watching Homeland, but I’ll gladly re-up our Showtime subscription for The Affair, a show where, to paraphrase showrunner Sarah Treem, “everyone’s an asshole.” It’s back on November 20, just in time to fill my election void. (Related/unrelated: as creepy as it may sound, I will always have a soft spot in my heart for this show because I watched the first episode in the hospital the day after Katie was born.)

Listening

Full disclosure: I had to declare bankruptcy on some of the podcasts I subscribe to; I just had so many unplayed episodes, stretching back into the spring in some cases. But my love for the medium is unabated. Bring me my earbuds!

  • Rick Steves’ Ireland. We’re starting to plan for a trip to Ireland next year! At least half the fun of travel (for me) is the planning and the anticipation, and these episodes about Irish sights and culture are getting me excited.
  • Tony Kornheiser. He’s no longer doing a radio show, just a podcast from “an undisclosed location in Chevy Chase,” but with all the familiar trappings of the old show, ridiculous rants and all.
  • Election podcasts (for the next three weeks, at least). If I’m reading about the election, and I’m watching about the election, you know I’m listening to podcasts about the election, too. In my feed: Keepin It 1600, an unabashedly partisan look at the presidential race from former Obama and Clinton comms staffers — now twice a week, because that’s really what my psyche needs — and Pantsuit Politics, a pod from two friends, one from the right and one from the left, in search of nuance. Anyone who can find nuance in this election has my ear.

What’s on your list these days? What’s missing from mine?

A Letter to Teddy at Four

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You’re 4. Well, if we’re being all specific and accurate, you’re actually 4 years, 2 weeks, and 4 days old. Because your mom is a little belated on this year’s birthday greeting.

Not your actual birthday – we were all over that, with days of celebration featuring cake, ice cream, and donuts (Katie really liked the chance to sing “Happy Birthday” over and over again). This year featured your two favorite things: trains (yes, still) and dinosaurs (a new, but deep and abiding love), with a side of your smaller fascination with Paw Patrol. You were okay when we celebrated not with the proper-noun TV show Dinosaur Train, but with the lowercase mash-up of dinosaurs and trains, surely due in no small part to the fact that it meant you got yet another new train to accompany your dino-decorated cake.

This year’s party felt like a bridge to me, as we move firmly into your “full-blown kid” years. I was so glad that we were able to celebrate with your old daycare buddies – despite all going to different schools, you’ve remained a tight little bunch – and with the new school friends who you were so excited to have at our house.

They’re part of the reason why you’re so happy on Mondays, too. As much as you always enjoyed going to daycare, you adore school. You’ve developed a French accent that my high school French teacher would be proud of – as when you said “Bon appetit” at dinner this week – and school has given you so many new ways to engage your curiosity.

I’ve loved seeing your brain in action over this last year, laughing at jokes and funny shows, creating elaborate narratives for Thomas and all of his friends on your many (MANY) train tracks, and putting complex puzzles together faster than I can find four corner pieces. I had fun on our momma-Teddy dates when school was closed, and I smiled upon realizing that you’d picked up my love of the Christmas season, as you wore your Christmas pajamas and asked to read Twas the Night Before Christmas all year long.

And of course I’ve loved seeing you with Katie, teaching her about the finer things in life, like donuts, popsibles (aka, popsicles), and Daniel Tiger. (I could have done without you also teaching her about climbing along the back of the couch, but we’ll let that slide.) The day she finally learned to say “Teddy” – instead of her previous name for you, “Gut” – ranked right up there with hearing mama and dada.

She’s so lucky to have you as her big brother to follow, and we’re lucky to get to watch you steam ahead.

Je t’aime,

Momma (or as you like to call me now, Mommy)

Here are my letters to Teddy after he was born, at one, at two, and at three.

Three Good Things [09.06.16]

photo by Wes Powers

Welcome to the newest installment of Three Good Things, the thank-god-summer-is-over edition.

You, dear reader, may have noticed that I skipped a TGT July roundup. Because July (and most of August, for that matter) sucked. What I had termed the summer of fluff became the summer of fuck this shit. #suckysummerof16

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Photo courtesy of the always on point Treacy sisters.

You don’t need me to recount all the horrible, no good, very bad things that happened this summer. But a summer of fluff it was not. So much so that I couldn’t get it together to list my good things, because although good things were happening, it felt altogether too Pollyannaish of me to write a list of them when people were legitimately dealing with so much hurt and violence and anger and sadness and sickness.

But…here we are with the end of the summer behind us, and in the interest of getting back up on the gratitude horse (or whatever mangled metaphor goes here), I give you what I’ve loved, learned, and felt thankful for this summer.

Three things I’ve loved:

  • The current-day recreation of the meeting of C.C. Bloom and Hillary Whitney. Ah, Beaches. Best movie ever for when you need a good, cleansing cry. And I will never hear “You Are My Sunshine” without thinking of it. Hand me a tissue? (Related: did you see that Lifetime is remaking it? Really not sure how I feel about that.)
  • Make-a-Wish created a bakery for a teen with thyroid cancer. What a cool, lasting project for a girl who has traveled a hard road but hasn’t lost her interest in spoiling others with delicious baked goods. Maybe she’ll even create some good low-iodine treats! (By the way, September is both Pediatric Cancer Awareness Month and Thyroid Cancer Awareness Month. Have you checked your neck yet?)
  • Tagging along with friends to the pool. We finally accepted friends’ long-standing invitation to join them at their pool, and all we could ask was, “What the hell were we waiting for?” (In my defense, I was scared that my sometimes “high-energy” children would endanger themselves or others…) But it’s a little piece of heaven, complete with an awesome toddler pool, shaded picnic tables and grills for cooking out, and a sand playground. Oh, and you can bring in booze. Mark this as the summer I was reintroduced to boxed wine, and I loved it.

Three things I’ve learned:

  • Skills and attributes of great listeners. I’ve fallen all too often and deeply into the trap of being half engaged, hearing but not actually listening. I appreciate the explanation of six different levels of listening here.
  • Lots about adoption through foster care and of kids with special needs from the Coffee + Crumbs podcast. I love stories about how people’s families came to be, and these moms’ honesty moved me.
  • How the Newseum’s front pages exhibit comes together. The Newseum is one of my favorite museums in D.C. —  I’m not crying at the “What’s News?” movie, you’re crying at the “What’s News?” movie — and even when I don’t have the time for a full visit (or want to pay the $23 ticket price), I love to look at the front pages from around the world. I know print newspapers are going the way of the dinosaur, but a screenshot of an online news site just isn’t the same.

Three things I’ve felt grateful for:

  • Another healthy baby in our family. Welcome, Ophelia Jane! That marks six grandkids in just under four years for my parents, with Ophelia evening the score to three girls and three boys. And she’s Teddy and Katie’s sixth cousin within just a few years of them between our two sides, which makes me so happy in advance for all the cousin playdates and sleepovers to come. My cousins are still some of my very best friends, and I hope all of our kids will feel the same.
  • The return of routine. August 23 — the first day of school — couldn’t come quickly enough in our house. Covering Teddy’s summer break took a mashup of camps, sitters, random days off for B and me, and a few short trips thrown into the mix. Tack on a bunch of work travel for B and it all added up to a real lack of routine for our little guy who thrives on knowing what to expect (and let’s be honest here, for his parents who do, too). It was so nice to finally answer the daily question of “Is today a school day?” with “Yes. YES IT IS.”
  • A late summer vacation. That mashed-up summer schedule kept us from taking a long vacation, but we didn’t let the start of school get in the way of a quick weekend getaway last week to Lancaster, Pennsylvania. Kitschy rides at Dutch Wonderland, ice cream, and swimming in the hotel pool in Amish Country, followed by steamers and beer (and yet more ice cream) when we returned to D.C., went far toward making up for so much of the rest of the summer.

What did you love, learn, and feel grateful for this summer? 

Stitch Fix Review #9: August 2016

Stitch Fix Collective Concepts Rilo Button-Up Blouse, Collective Concepts Ardenas Split Neck Blouse, Margaret M Christiana Printed Pencil Skirt, Kut From the Kloth Dayna Skinny Jean, Loveappella Malbec Elbow Patch Knit Top

I’m breaking up with Stitch Fix.

Yes, you read that right. Stitch Fix has been a lot of fun — the pinning, the review reading, the requests to my stylist, the anticipation — but I have to be honest and say that it also hasn’t been all that successful.

I’ve never bought more than two of the five pieces I’ve received in a Fix. While I’ve truly been okay with that for the sake of my budget, I never bought more than two because there were never more than two I wanted. And as you’ve seen in some of my reviews, even those months were more the exception than the rule.

After a couple (far) less-than-great Fixes in the early summer, I intentionally chose to wait until August to schedule another Fix, in the hopes that the transition-to-fall inventory might be more my style — and that it would fit me better. No such luck. Read on for details on my (likely-to-be) last Fix and my takeaways from the fun that Stitch Fix has brought to my life and the jumpstart it’s brought to my closet.

Collective Concepts Rilo Button-Up Blouse | XSP | $68

I didn’t have particularly high hopes for this top when I peeked at my Fix in the app. I figured it would be another in the line of sheer, oversized blouses I’d already been sent. It was sheer, but in a way that would have actually been okay with me, if the blouse hadn’t actually somehow ended up a little too short (huh?) and with a less-busy pattern.

Verdict: Returned.

Collective Concepts Ardenas Split Neck Blouse | XSP | $54

Shelby took great direction from my Pinterest board with this top, to the point that I thought I’d actually pinned this exact one until I took a closer look. I loved the colors and even the somewhat busy pattern and thought it could have transitioned from a fun late-summer pairing with my white jeans to a fall work outfit with a black skirt and cardigan. The length was okay, which begs the question: why are the armholes on all these Stitch Fix tops so enormous? The picture above really doesn’t show how big they were, but I remain perplexed. If this had been a top on sale at Loft for $29 I might have considered keeping it, but for $54, nope.

Verdict: Returned.

Margaret M Christina Printed Pencil Skirt | XSP | $78

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I requested a pencil skirt, and I love the idea of a navy addition to my closet, but…they sent me a different pattern of a skirt that I returned last fall. I returned it mostly for fit and quality reasons — neither of which was any better with this one. Again, I might have made it work on a less expensive skirt, but for $78 I maintain that a skirt should be lined, and more than that, it should fit. Cute pattern but the rest was a no. (Add to my questions for Stitch Fix: do your computers not weed out pieces that clients have previously returned?)

Verdict: Returned.

Kut From the Kloth Dayna Skinny Jean | 0P | $88

Shelby checked off another of my requests — medium wash skinny ankle jeans under $100 — with these, but they were just a case of a pair that simply didn’t fit. I’m eschewing vanity and showing you this picture of the sausage legs that these jeans gave me for the sake of an honest review. But yeah, sausage legs. Back into the bag they went.

Verdict: Returned.

Loveappella Malbec Elbow Patch Knit Top | XS | $58

My first thought when I saw this top in my app: Ooooh, so cute for fall baseball season! And stripes! And elbow patches! I thought this would be a win all around, especially because I’ve loved how soft Loveappella tops have been. But then I got it in person, and it was another no. The heathered sleeves were too close to stonewashed for my taste, and the fabric was too scratchy. Womp, womp. Cue the tiny fashion violins.

Verdict: Returned.

Final tally: 0/5 this month, 10/45 overall. Ultimately, I’m leaving because even the petite inventory didn’t fit me well, but I’m walking away with 10 new pieces in my closet that I really love, including two great bags that I probably never would have bought for myself, and the best-fitting jeans I’ve ever had. I’ve also added some fun new pieces to my wardrobe through other stores, in part because I started paying better (or any!) attention to style trends and what I was lacking. And I really did love the Stitch Fix process, especially the anticipation of finding out what would be in that box. I do think that $20 is a reasonable styling fee, especially when it includes shipping and what I thought was highly personalized service once I found the right stylist. I may be back, someday, but for now, that $20 can add more enjoyment to my life in other ways, like covering an hour of babysitting, drinks with a friend, or a couple of e-books. Thanks for coming along with me on my wardrobe revitalization experiment!

Want to read more of the good, bad, and, yes, even some ugly? All my Stitch Fix reviews are here:

Our Best Baseball Trips

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Before Teddy was born, we used to take at least one trip every year to see baseball in different cities. We own multiple books that profile parks across the country, and one by one, we were checking them off.

Our trips have been on hiatus of late — anyone else tried sitting and watching nine innings with toddlers? — but with the boys of summer back in full swing after the All-Star Break, I’ve been reminiscing about our past trips. One of our favorite games in the Storybook Life house is to look back on our past travels and rank them against each other (what can I say, we’re an exciting pair). And so here, I give you my favorite five baseball trips. And Florida, watch out — we’re coming at you, toddlers and all, for spring training again next year. I’ve had enough time away.

5. St. Louis, 2005.

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The Sox won the World Series on October 27, 2004. On October 28, I knew our trip the following year would be to St. Louis. It would be the Cardinals’ last year in the original Busch Stadium, and I needed to see the place where they’d won it all. The cheap and giant Buds didn’t hurt, and we loved our tour of the Bud brewery and our visit to Grant’s Farm. And wow, are people at baseball games in St. Louis nice (says this girl raised on Fenway crowds).

4. Spring Training #1, 2011, & #2, 2014 (tie).

Talk about two different trips. One pre-kids, paired with Disney (& around the world at Epcot), the other pushing kid #1, 18 months old, around in a stroller and barely pregnant with #2. In the first we saw the Sox in Lakeland, at the Tigers’ park, and the Sox’ last park.  We drank buckets of beer near our hotel and spent a whole day on Fort Myers Beach, sunning ourselves and bar hopping.

On the second trip, we babyproofed our hotel suite, showed up at the hotel dining room for breakfast at 7 and dinner at 5, and caught snippets of games in between Italian ices and giant pretzels at the Minnesota and Baltimore parks. (Note that in the second trip we couldn’t get tickets to the new Sox park, and I’ll be damned if I’ll pay scalper prices for spring training games where players sport triple-digit jersey numbers by the fourth inning.)

The first was our last trip as a family of two, and the second our first as a family of three (& almost four). Spring training holds such a special place in my heart.

3. Toronto #1, 2004.

The trip that started in Niagara Falls — yay, Maid of the Mist! — and included a visit to one of the very best museums I’ve ever been in, the Hockey Hall of Fame. We walked blocks and blocks of the beautiful, clean city on our first (but spoiler alert, not our last) trip to Canada and when we needed a rest, we hit some fun bars. Full disclosure: the highlight of this trip for B remains me falling for a practical joke in one of the bars, where they’d positioned a (very realistic) dummy of a guy in the corner of the women’s bathroom. What? I’m surprised that you’re one of the three people he hasn’t regaled with the story in the 12 years since.

2. Chicago #1, 2003.

Our very first baseball trip remains among our best. We could have spent a week straight in Wrigleyville, gazing at that ivy. We caught a Friday game (afternoon, of course), and though we originally thought we’d find tickets for Saturday’s, too, the neighborhood was so great that we decided to watch the game from some of the bars around the park instead. I was also thrilled to stay in the Hotel Burnham, one of Chicago’s oldest “skyscrapers” — all 13 stories of it — and to catch the annual air show from the Hancock Observatory. Our trip back to catch a Red Sox-White Sox series a few years later was fun in its own way, but the new Comiskey Park — sorry, US Cellular Field — doesn’t hold a candle to Wrigley. Or to the little league field down the street.

[I don’t have a picture from this trip as it was in the olden days, before we had a digital camera, and I don’t know where the print pictures are…but picture it. Ivy. Hot Chicago summer days. Airplanes. Fancy hotel.]

1. Seattle (& Vancouver), 2008.

We needed our trip to the Pacific Northwest in May 2008. We could have said it was a trip to celebrate my 30th birthday, but it was really a chance to take a breather after the relentlessness of the months since our wedding just eight months earlier. The cancer diagnosis, the surgery, the radiation, the return to some semblance of a “normal” life.

And then, just before our trip, my face swelled. My cheeks felt like I was storing a winter’s worth of a chipmunk’s acorns, thanks to my radiation-fried, and now swollen and sore, salivary glands.

I said some choice words, took some Advil, applied warm compresses to my cheeks as I’d been instructed — and I got on the damn plane. Because we weren’t just flying to Seattle to see the Sox. We were flying first-class, dammit, and I was going to take every glass of mediocre wine, every little plate of snacks, and every warm cloth offered.

And then we got to Seattle, and this was our view from our hotel room:

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As the swelling in my cheeks relented, I left the bad memories of the last months behind and made plenty of good new ones — even as the Sox lost both games we went to. (The Safeco garlic fries trumped my fried sense of taste. Yum.)

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We walked. We drank. We saw the Pike Place Market and the Space Needle. We ferried to Bainbridge and ate fresh fish and walked (and drank) some more.

Then we got in the car and drove north, to Vancouver. And that’s where this story ends, for now — because there are more, memorable non-baseball travel stories to be told, another day.

Right now, there’s another half-season — and playoffs, I hope, this year! — to watch.