Top Ten Favorite Board Books

31 March 2023

I have a number of book posts in the queue – I’m planning to share some of June’s favorite chapter books, as well as our first handful of nightly read-alouds, in response to requests – but first I’d thought I’d share some of our very favorite board books. Miss Annie is firmly in her board book era and loving every minute of it. While I’m cooking dinner, she will often take herself over to our lower bookshelf, remove and flip through them one by one, then stack them neatly in a pile to her side. It is the very cutest.

The best board books are beloved by the youngest kids AND pass the muster of a parent reading them hundreds of times. Several of our favorites have the covers torn off; I can recite most word-for-word. Here are ten of them.

Bear Snores On by Karma Wilson and Jane Chapman | If I had to pick a number one favorite, this would be it. Introduced to us by my sister- and brother-in-law, this book has the sweetest illustrations and impeccable rhymes. Plus, we have lots of fun with all the different animal voices :)

Also worth mentioning that this is the rare book where the others in the series are equally as good. We haven’t read all of them, but we have Bear Can’t Sleep and it’s also great.

Chicka Chicka Boom Boom by Bill Martin, Jr, John Archambault, and Lois Ehlert | This book is a delight to read, and the bold, modern illustrations are colorful and fun. One of my favorite alphabet books!

Don’t Push the Button by Bill Cotter | Reading this book usually results in shrieking and giggles, and all three kids have been obsessed in their time. There is one line I change for moral hazard reasons – it encourages kids to push the button when no one is looking – but otherwise, a total crowd-pleaser.

Goodnight, Goodnight, Construction Site by Sherry Duskey Rinker and Tom Lichtenheld | Written in nearly perfect iambic tetrameter, these rhyming lines just trip off the tongue. Combined with cozy illustrations and clever details, our copy is tattered from so many page turns. GGCS has spawned a legion of spin-offs, but unfortunately, none are as good as the original (though the Christmas version is worth adding to your collection).

I Love My Tutu Too! by Ross Burach | This newest addition to our bookshelf has become an instant favorite. The wordplay makes it so fun to read, and Annie demands a mini dance party when we get to the second-to-last page (IYKYK). Combined with a tutu, it would make a perfect birthday gift for a little gal!

Little Blue Truck by Alice Schertle and Jill McElmurry | A sweet story of friendship that shows the consequences of being kind – or not – our kids particularly loved this one because we’d bounce them on our laps every time we said “bump” and gently push them forward whenever we read the word “push.” An interactive reading experience :) Also helpful for learning animal sounds!

LMNO Peas by Keith Baker | You know how some books are described as “rollicking”? That’s the perfect way to describe this one. It just carries you along with a smile on your face, and again, the rhymes are perfection. And the little pea illustrations are so endearing!

Olivia by Ian Falconer | I was introduced to this pig protagonist when I was in high school, and immediately fell in love. The spare illustrations and clever writing make it a stand-out even 20 years on.

Pajama Time by Sandra Boynton | Would it be a board book list without a contribution from Sandra Boynton? I think not. Though we have and love many of her board books (Barnyard Dance, Birthday Monsters, Moo Baa La La La, The Going to Bed Book), this one is my favorite.

Sheep in a Jeep by Nancy Shaw and Margot Apple | Even after hundreds of read-alouds, this one still makes me chuckle. Between the clever words and illustrations of erstwhile sheep, I think you’ll enjoy this one as much as your toddler.

Of course, I’d love to hear: what are the favorite board books in your house, or that you remember from childhood?

Affiliate links are used in this post!

3 Friendship Case Studies

28 March 2023

“Friendship is the rare kind of relationship that remains forever available to us as we age,” Jennifer Senior noted in an Atlantic piece last year. “It’s a bulwark against stasis, a potential source of creativity and renewal in lives that otherwise narrow with time.” And yet, despite all of its virtues and joys, many of us find friendship something we puzzle over as grown-ups: how to make friends? How to keep friends? How to care for our friends, and find time to actually enjoy their company? After all, says Senior, once we graduate, “we are ritual-deficient, nearly devoid of rites that force us together.”

And so, as adults, we must develop our own friendship practices, habits, and rhythms. Because I’m personally always looking for inspiration, I thought it might be fun to share a few “case studies” of successful friendships in my own life. They’re anonymous, but only lightly so – if you’ve been here awhile, you’ll surely know who I’m talking about. All part of the fun :)

This post turned out to be extravagantly long, so I’ve split it into two parts – three today and three in a future edition!

Case Study No. 1: The former coworkers turned friends

How we met: We worked together at a small business. I worked there first, and advocated for L’s hiring – we had connected via our blogs while she was still in college. From her writing, I knew she would be perfect for the role, and we were kindred spirits from the start once we finally met in person. (Still are :))

K and I have a particularly good meet-cute: the first time we met, at a reader event I was hosting for work, she came up to me and blurted out, “I know where you live.” Not creepy at all, ha!

How we got close: L and I sat next to each other five days a week for several years, and together the three of us (along with other beloved teammates!) road tripped, squealed over major business victories, survived one particularly painful team-building activity, sweated buckets at photo shoots, celebrated engagements and new babies, frolicked across fields in – there’s no other word for it – ballgowns, and much, much more. Small business life is not for the faint of heart, and relationships often grow deep and strong as you navigate it together.

How we stay close: Though we met as coworkers, we no longer work together. This could have been the end – I have said goodbye to many coworkers throughout my career, and without the regular face time (physical or virtual) of the workweek (and the chance to share the tiny details of life over Slack or while gathering for a meeting), it’s impossible to maintain the same type of relationship.

And so transition becomes necessary. Sometimes this is to a more distant, but benevolent, relationship. Other times – as in this one – you find a way to forge something new AND close.

As COVID lockdowns loosened a bit in August 2020, the three of us tucked kids into bed and met up on L’s back porch with glasses of Prosecco and bowls of popcorn. And then we talked for 2-3 hours, so happy to be together in person. Before we parted ways, we put a date on the calendar for our next get-together, and we’ve been doing it ever since.

What we’ve overcome: Navigating our transitions from coworkers to friends was challenging for me. Because we were used to seeing each other during the workday, we had no established rhythms to be together outside of work, and so in some ways felt we were starting from scratch with figuring out what our friendship would look like.

In both cases, I also dealt with feelings of betrayal when they decided to leave the business (and I stayed behind). It’s painful to admit, but I harbored bitterness for months that poisoned our relationship, at least on my side. To move past it, after clearly feeling God ask me to make a move, I had to initiate a dedicated conversation where I shared what I had been feeling and apologized. It was one of the scariest conversations I’ve ever had, but I’m so glad I had it. We would not have the friendship we have today without it.

What I love about our friendship: We’ve been through a lot together, and these ladies GET me: multi-state road trips leave lots of time for conversation. We’ve met each other’s families. We’ve celebrated and mourned with each other through major life events.

I love that the three of us are both different and the same. Many of the things that matter most to us we hold in common, but we are wildly different in other ways, with different personalities and interests and areas of expertise. I also love that our ages are slightly staggered – between the three of us, we span about eight years – which brings an interesting flavor to our conversations and allows us to speak into each other’s lives in unique ways.

I love that meeting up so regularly allows the tiny dramas of life to spool out in a way that engenders closeness: there’s always something to catch up on when we’re together, and yet there are never big gaps we need to fill.

And finally, if you’ve met these two ladies, you know ANYONE would consider themselves lucky to be their friend. They are supremely talented, extravagantly generous, passionate about all the right things, and just plain fun to be around.

Case Study No. 2: The couple friends

How we met: N was a photographer I met through work practically in my first month on the job. I started to read her blog, and when I saw she and her husband liked to play Settlers of Catan (a somewhat niche interest!), sent a VERY bold and uncharacteristic email offering to get together to play, if they wanted.

How we got close: They did, and we did, and we’ve been playing board games ever since. Things took a turn a few years in when we went camping together – there’s nothing like conversations around a campfire, or seeing someone un-showered first thing in the morning, to bump a relationship up a level. Since we were friends before any of us had children, we had time for long, honest conversations about the things that matter to us, like generosity, marriage, family, faith, travel, and, yes, eventually the decision to have kids.

How we stay close: Camping. Always camping, every year. It’s a guaranteed check-in where we know we’ll be able to connect and go beyond surface conversation, even if we have to brave bugs and dirt to do so.

Other than that, in this season of life we make do with infrequent get-togethers, like dinners at one of our homes with all seven of our kids and the occasional double date night.

I also consider myself the number one fan of her podcast and will frequently text her my commentary and feedback :)

What we’ve overcome: We’ve overcome physical distance. We’ve never lived particularly close to each other, but the distance was easier to overcome in our kid-free days, when no one was paying for babysitters and driving 40 minutes for a game night was nothing.

We’ve also bridged difference. Though we share many important things in common, we’ve also made different choices on church, education for our kids, work, type of neighborhood, and more. It’s easy to judge or feel judged when your loved ones choose differently from you, and I’m proud that our friendship is stronger than that.

What I love about our friendship: One thing I treasure about our relationship is that I like to think we learn from each other. I know I have personally learned SO much from N and from watching N and W’s relationship over the years. And this is the beauty of difference – if you’re exactly the same, there’s no room to grow :)

Case Study No. 3: The group of friends

How we met: A mostly-online friend who had just moved to the area approached me about starting a monthly discussion group, and I enthusiastically agreed. We issued open invitations on our blogs, opened our homes to perfect strangers, and the rest, as they say, is history.

How we got close: Seven years later, four gals from that first night are still in the club. The other eight joined us over time – some, blog readers who responded to periodic open invitations, others who knew someone on the inside :)

The most obvious way that we got close is because 1) we met regularly – every single month, without fail, and 2) every time, we discussed things that mattered over several hours. I mean, if you want a formula for developing a deep relationship, I don’t think you can do much better than that. There were a few other key factors over the years, though:

About a year in, we decided to hold our discussion over dinner instead of over wine and snacks. There’s something about cooking for each other and sharing a meal that engenders familiarity.

During the pandemic, we found creative ways to meet – on Zoom, bundled in ridiculous layers of clothing around a fire pit, on blankets in the park with takeout boxes on our laps. In a time starved for companionship and rife with things to discuss, we had each other.

Finally, we started a group text thread. This might sound inconsequential, but it provided an immediacy to our friendship that hadn’t existed before, as we didn’t chat much outside of our monthly gatherings. Now, we’re a part of each other’s lives in a more mundane way that is beyond delightful.

How we stay close: Yes, it’s the fact that we meet monthly. But to go one level deeper, I’ve got to give credit to my co-founder, who sends the email that confirms our date each month, another a few days before that reminds us where and when we’re meeting and what we’re reading, and creates a SignUp Genius link for our meal. She’d tell you it’s nothing, but it’s not. Organizational skills are one type of glue that holds friend groups together, and that’s certainly the case in ours.

What we’ve overcome: This group has never felt rocky, which is both shocking – considering the controversial, personal, and deeply meaningful things we discuss – and a deep testament to these women. I also think it signals a truth our modern, very online, culture seems designed to conceal: that there are very few people you wouldn’t love if you spent time with them, around a table, in good faith.

What I love about our friendship: I mean, so many things – I’ve waxed poetic many times over the years :) But man – that text thread! Everyone needs one in their life! A smattering of topics from the last week: line-drying clothing, Demon Copperhead, OB/Gyn recs, Amazon + One Medical, someone’s cute new tennis bag, thank you note methodology, an undershirt for sweaters, everyone’s favorite types of butter, where to donate dress pants, and an absolute deluge of hype over one member’s marathon finish that qualified her for the Boston Marathon (!!!). It’s also an official rule that you must share a selfie after you get a haircut.

If you’re in need of a local recommendation, have something exciting to share, something you want to discuss, something you need an opinion on or a cheerleader for anything at all – this is your thread. Everyone needs one!

Up next: a church friend, a neighborhood friend, and either a preschool friend or a long-distance friend – you tell me which you’d prefer! :) I’d also love to hear something that moved you closer to one of your friends, if you’d like to share.

P.S. The best way I’ve found to regularly see my friends.

In search of photos to use in this post, I searched “flower” in my camera roll and these were three favorites that popped up: an iPhone snap from one of the last SW photo shoots, sunflowers at Dix Park, and a backyard centerpiece plucked from our garden. Also, affiliate links are used in this post!

New 36

24 March 2023

On my birthday, I wrote about my spirit age, or subjective age, of 36 – the age I’ve consistently felt on the inside since my late teens. Dancing around the edge of those musings was something else I’ve been sitting with, though it didn’t make it into the essay proper: the idea that I don’t change. This is less of a settled fact I believe about myself and more an idea I’m holding up to the light, twisting and turning to see how it looks from different angles. Does it square when held up against other things I know to be true about myself?

The answer: yes and no. Yes, I think I am an unusually consistent person, and have been for a long time. I value stability and loyalty and wisdom. I married my high school sweetheart. I have worked for the same company my whole adult life (albeit with twists and turns along the way). I made a major geographical move after college but have stayed put ever since. My faith has remained true. This blog you’re reading has been around for 14 years.

But also: I used to fear and loathe speaking in front of a crowd, and now I volunteer for it. We worship in a new community. I am hugely more comfortable with small talk, and now rather likely to extend forward invitations in friendship. I compost and use washable cotton rounds and somehow learned to use my Instant Pot. I camp and hike. I read things I disagree with daily, and sometimes they change my mind.

Let’s consider this a little home tour preview, shall we? :)

Change and novelty do not always come naturally to me, but I see their value. And so, in my 36th year, I am – very loosely, very casually – embarking on a “new 36” experiment. (“New 52” has much more of a ring to it, but 52 felt a bit overwhelming :)) The plan is to seek out the new that feels like it would add something to my life. I’m thinking of it more as a “to done” list than a “to do” list, with more room for serendipity than some of my other projects.

That being said, I do have a few ideas – some of which I’ve already checked off or that are in process…

Take tennis lessons
Place an order on ThredUp
Pray on my knees first thing in the morning
Volunteer with Habitat for Humanity
Donate blood (I come from a family of prodigious blood donors and have grand aspirations but have always been near the weight limit and somewhat prone to fainting…)
Find a perfume I love
Replace my beloved hat with a new look
Camp for the weekend with my best big girl
Chaperone a field trip
Take a day trip via train to Greensboro
Bike the whole American Tobacco Trail

What would be on your list? What new thing would you like to do or try? This experiment was inspired in part by my friend Shay, who shared about her “new 52” project in her 38th year. Some things she’s tried so far: throwing pottery, a new discipleship friendship, visiting a new country (!), a hot yoga class, a personal training session, a new marriage devotional, and attending a hockey game.

I also floated my idea to the Articles Club gals and they had ideas of their own. New things my pals want to try: install a Little Free Library, learn to use power tools, donate a kidney (!), play pickle ball with friends, and plant herbs.

So: what would be on your list? Or what new thing, big or small, have you tried in the last year? I’d love to hear!

Easter Baskets + Persnickety Gifts Giveaway!

19 March 2023

Remember in December when we talked about my two marvelous friends and their done-for-you holiday magic? Persnickety Gifts sources stocking stuffers, Easter baskets, birthday gifts, and more so that you can celebrate as a family with ease. If you love the idea of shopping small, curating thoughtful gifts, and creating everyday magic for your littles, but don’t have the patience, know-how, bandwidth, and/or desire to make it happen, this is for you!

Just like their stockings, their done-for-you Easter baskets couldn’t be easier: you choose your child’s age and gender on their website, and they send you a neatly-packaged bundle of goodies ready to tuck into their basket. No paying shipping from 15 retailers or breaking down 15 boxes – just handpicked delights from small and lovable businesses. (And no weird surprises, either – you can see everything that will be included right in the listing!)

So fun, yes? And lucky for us, Persnickety was kind enough to let me give away one done-for-you basket bundle! Just leave a comment here with which basket bundle you’d choose (age + gender – though of course they’re just suggestions – you know your kids best!). Consider following Persnickety on Instagram or signing up for their newsletter for a little holiday magic throughout the year, if you’d like.

I’ll choose a winner on Wednesday! (Updated to add: Congratulations to our winner, Carolyn!)

In addition to inviting me to host a giveaway, my pals were kind enough to send me a few items from their add-on collection. And friends, don’t sleep on this under-the-radar part of their business! It’s perfect for someone like me – who enjoys collecting things throughout the year and likes to include basics like shoes and pajamas, but loves the opportunity to round out what I’ve collected with fun items from small businesses (again without paying shipping multiple times or breaking down boxes).

Here’s what each of our kids will be getting in their Easter baskets this year, including goodies from Persnickety Gifts:

June, age 7, will have a Banagrams set, a new water bottle, rainbow stripe pajamas from the consignment sale, fruit nail stickers, a Sudoku book, a unicorn coloring book from a local store, a few chapter books (also from the consignment sale), a headband, the cutest color-changing markers, gummy bear barrettes (!), some candy from a local shop, and a bath bomb. We also included the Gospel of John from the Kaleidoscope collection – very excited about that.

Shep, age 4, will have a jungle animals sketch book, a Bluey coloring book, an alphabet activity book, water-grow animal capsules, a bathing suit, goggles, the best blue bath foam, a mini football, a giant bubble wand (!), a new water bottle, some candy from a local shop, and a bath bomb.

Annie, age 1, will have some farm animals (all our kids LOVE these), the next size up in Cientas and Natives (the latter I got at the consignment sale!), a bathing suit, new socks, the cutest rainbow wand and crown, a copy of Laura Wifler’s new picture book, and a bath bomb.

Thank you so much to Julie + Irene for letting me share this giveaway! I hope you win! :)

P.S. More Easter basket ideas for a 6-year-old girl, a 3-year-old boy, and a baby girl. And affiliate links are used in this post!