Jeneration X by Jen Lancaster

Oh my 518L04RBZJL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_goodness I needed to read some Jen Lancaster. It seems like everything I have been reading has either been a super heavy topic or it’s long or it’s serious nonfiction.

I’ve read everything she’s written up to about 2012, so I went out and bought Jeneration X: One Reluctant Adult’s Attempt to Unarrest her Arrested Development; Or, Why It’s Never Too Late For her Dumb Ass to Learn Why Froot Loops Are Not For Dinner. I need to catch up with my Jen Lancaster.

I’m not usually a chick lit person, and I still stand behind Lancaster books not being chick lit. You know, other than I can’t imagine any guy ever wanting to read it. But she doesn’t write mushy gross romances, and she makes me laugh right out loud. So she is one of my favorites.

Just like all her memoirs, Jeneration X is a fast read. Instead of telling one long story like her previous autobiographical works, this one is more of a collection of essays all with some sort of lesson for “reluctant adults.”  Since I consider myself one of the most reluctant of adults, I figured I would either learn something (HA HA HA) or laugh a lot (YES). I laughed a lot.

Long-time fans have criticized this book as seeming like a bunch of blog posts bound together in a book, and yes, I suppose it could seem like that. But really they are essays, not blog posts. And they all have some sort of (loose) lesson about adulthood. And everyone one of them is told hilariously.

Even the posts that are about more serious lessons like estate planning and how friends are your family don’t take the serious, preachy turn they could. No, no. Lancaster would never do that. Rather she makes you laugh, nod your head and say “for sure” about whatever it is she is talking about.

If you need a quick, funny weekend read, I suggest anything by Jen Lancaster.

Apron Strings

apron-strings-newcover-351x351I love historical fiction. Some of my favorite books fall under this genre: To Kill a Mockingbird, The Red Tent, East of Eden, among many more. So when I was offered the chance to read/review a book that goes between the late 20’s/early 30’s era and the late 1950’s, I jumped on it.

Apron Strings by Mary Morony tells two stories. The main story is told by seven-year-old Sallee Mackey growing up in the late 50’s, in the South, smack in the middle of desegregation. Sallee’s family has their share of issues. Her Yankee father, Joe, quit his job as a lawyer to build and open a controversial shopping center. Her Southern mother, Ginny, is concerned about what people are saying and copes by drinking. And their maid, Ethel, who has been with Ginny and the family since childhood and has been Sallee’s touchstone and mother figure when her own mother couldn’t, has her own personal and family problems.

The other story is told by Ethel, the Mackey family’s black maid. Morony’s novel jumps back and forth between Sallee’s voice telling a first person account of her family and Ethel’s first person account (which seems to be directed at Sallee) about growing up and working for Sallee’s mother’s family.

I very much enjoyed Morony’s writing. I felt that she captured the confused and often times naive voice of a seven-year-old trying to make sense of racism and the judgment of adults very well. In fact, she seemed to capture all the voices of her characters well. I get skeptical when a white person writes a black character, but Ethel and her family members seemed to have dialect that would fit both the time and location for the story.

I think my one issue was, that after I read the last line and closed the book, I wondered what story I just read. I enjoyed reading it all the way through, but when I got to the end I wasn’t sure what the main take away of the book was supposed to be. Both Sallee’s and Ethel’s stories were interesting and fun to read, but that is all it felt like, just the life stories of two different people. I wasn’t sure if it was supposed to be a statement against racism or drinking. Or maybe it was about the importance of family. It felt like maybe it was trying to do too much at once with a lot of characters that didn’t all seem necessary.

For instance, Sallee’s weird neighbor Mr. Dabney shows up in Ethel’s stories. We find something out about him, but I thought it would have a lot more relevance to the story. It did not. It didn’t seem to effect the outcome of the book at all, but I found it interesting. Like real life, I suppose.

So I feel like I am in a weird position. On the one hand, I very much enjoyed reading the writing and the stories these characters had to tell. On the other hand, I’m not sure all the characters or the details were necessary to the story as a whole. I wouldn’t tell anyone to NOT read it because it’s a nice little read, but I don’t know that it’s the first thing I would recommend to someone looking for a new read either.

I will say that in the end, I do wonder what happens to Sallee after the book is over. I wonder about all her siblings and her parents too. That is the mark of a good story and good writing.

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Disclaimer: This is not a sponsored post. I was sent a copy of Apron Strings to read and review. I received no compensation. All the opinions are my own.

Journaling is Not Dead

For Christmas tjournalhis year, I was gifted a book about writing by a dear friend. The number one takeaway was one I tell my students and anyone else wondering how to be better at writing: write more, write always.

The funny thing is, I had not been taking my own advice. I vowed to write more. Not necessarily to publish more blog posts, but to physically write more. I realized that if I wanted to write with freedom of not thinking about an audience, and therefore not censoring or editing myself, I needed to write by hand more. I needed a journal.

I didn’t have the time or money to go buy a pretty one, so I just grabbed a composition book from my classroom and started jotting and writing. While very little of that translated into anything here, it felt good to be writing every day again.

Then I was offered the opportunity to use (and review) a “gratitude journal.” I wasn’t exactly sure what this meant, but I did know that I just had a tiny new human in my life and I was super grateful, so it seemed a good fit.  The Grace of Gratitude Journal  is a perfect journal for a beginner or a veteran writer looking for a way to get ideas and thoughts down quickly. Author Deborah Perdue beautifully weaves examples of gratitude throughout the pages and Tara Thelen provides gorgeous illustrations to inspire the writer.

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What sold me on this journal was that it has lined pages and a spiral binding. It fits just right in my diaper bag or purse so I can take it with me so that I can jot thoughts of gratitude wherever I am.

As you can see, the lines are wide-spaced and somewhat short. I would not use this journal for free-writing; it’s much better for listing. I currently use it to list ten things I am grateful for each day. I already love looking back at what I’ve written for previous days–especially those days that felt like they totally sucked because each day I have no problem coming up with ten things to say a silent “thank you” for to the man upstairs.

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The Grace of Gratitude Journal is reasonably priced at $14.99 on Amazon. It’s a hardcover journal, so no bending of the cover or wrinkling of pages, which is awesome because if your purse/bag looks anything like mine, it’s a miracle if anything comes out in tact.

Journaling every day has not just reignited my writing habit, but it puts me into an immediate better mood because I am thinking only positive thoughts. Because I am at risk for a postpartum depression/anxiety flair up, anything that puts me into a sunny place mentally is good. I feel like this has been another branch of my self-care along with therapy and meds. It helps me focus on the good at the end of each day rather than what I would otherwise obsessively worry about.

Plus it’s been an idea-generator for blog posts! Win!

Really the only drawback to this journal that I can think of is that it’s for only forty days. I would love a thicker one that covers six months or a year. A year of gratitude would be awesome to have and look back on when you need a reminder of how blessed you are.

Do you write by hand, or is everything you do on a computer or device?

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Disclaimer: This is not a sponsored post. I was sent a copy of The Grace of Gratitude Journal for review. No further compensation was provided. All opinions are my own.

Gone Girl

21480930I picked up Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn completely due to peer pressure. That and I like a good mystery/suspense novel.

My mom got me hooked on mysteries when I was in middle school. By the time I was in seventh grade, I had read all that was available to me by way of Sweet Valley Twins and Sweet Valley High and all the other series that were aimed at my age group. I needed something more challenging.  That was when my mom introduced me to Agatha Christie. It didn’t take me long to read through ALL of Christie’s novels. More than once.

By high school, I needed something else. My cousin introduced me to Mary Higgins Clark and from there I also found John Grisham. I haven’t picked up too many mystery/suspense books since then, although when a good one comes along, I try to get to it.

That being said, I wasn’t going to read Gone Girl because I don’t tend to like books with a lot of hype. But everyone hated the ending and everyone was so mad when they finished, so of course I figured, “well now I have to read it because I will probably like the ending…or at least be able to defend it,” because I am snobby and full of myself that way.

Ok so I started it and I was bored to tears. It took me forever to get through the first third of the book. I didn’t particularly like any of the characters–not enough to care about them or root for them or anything. The story is an old one: wife goes missing; husband is a suspect; reader tries to figure out if he’s guilty before the book tells you. The challenge is to keep it interesting, which it was NOT for the first part of the novel. I liked that every other chapter bounced between first person accounts from the husband and the wife–his present-day thoughts and her past-tense thoughts from her diary, but it wasn’t enough. I quit the book.

I told all this to a friend of mine who then asked, “Well what part are you up to?” When I told her she replied, “Oh stuff is about to BLOW UP. Start reading again!”

She was right. I read another chapter and then BOOM! Plot twists and turns and bombs dropped. Just when you think you know what’s going on? Nope.  So I started binge reading.

Then I got all bored again once I knew what happened to the wife.

By the time I got within a few chapters of the end of the book, I totally knew how it was going to end, but I couldn’t put it down because this book had just enough surprises that even though I thought I knew, I wasn’t sure I knew. Ya know? I ended up being mostly right about the end, but I wasn’t angry like everyone else was.

I didn’t think the ending was “fair”, but it didn’t surprise me.

In fact, I likened Gone Girl to The Great Gatsby in the following ways: it’s sort of a boring basic plot, none of the characters are likable–or trustworthy, for that matter, and the ending pretty much makes you mad because that is NOT how it’s supposed to go.

The difference is that The Great Gatsby is one of my favorite novels of all time particularly because I know so much about Fitzgerald’s process and his writing style/word choice make my literature nerd heart happy. Gone Girl, on the other hand has Ok writing, but it’s not enough to make me want to re-read and love to hate the characters the way I do with Tom, Nick, and Daisy.

I’m not mad that I gave in and read Gone Girl, and despite this review, I would actually recommend that if you haven’t read it, maybe you should. I do want to see the movie too.

Talk to me: have you read it? Have you seen the movie?  Thoughts?

Rocking Through Spring Break

I was not looking forward to spring break. Not even a little bit. In fact, I watched the days tick down on the calendar with a sense of doom.

Alice was only a month old and we hadn’t yet found our “groove”. Spring break meant throwing both boys into the mix. I wasn’t too worried about Eddie, but Charlie is sort of a live wire.  He likes to do what he wants to do how he wants to do it when he wants to do it…usually when my hands are full of baby.

Therefore I planned to have Charlie in daycare three of the six week days.

I know, I’m a wimp.

The other days I quickly realized he (and Eddie, really) needs direction with what to do and since the weather was cold and rainy all week, “what to do” had to be indoor activities.

We played with play dough and did water paints and coloring books. We cleaned up the playroom and ate lots of cheese sandwiches (Charlie’s favorite lunch). And we did it to music!

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This is where I admit that despite my music snobbery, our family is crazy for Kidz Bop. We have Kidz Bop 24, 25, 27, and now 28. Seriously, my  younger self would be shocked to learn that when I hit my mid-30’s, I would be Ok with (fine, I would even LIKE) to sing Shake it Off at the top of my lungs with the Kidz Bop group.

Here is the thing: I’m really not a giant fan of pop music, but Kidz Bop tends to choose the few songs I do like..or at least the songs that are serious ear worms. For instance, we found ourselves jamming to lyrically appropriate (if not hilarious to those of us who know the real lyrics) versions of Fancy, Shake it Off, and All About that Base on Kidz Bop 27.  My boys’ favorite song on KB 28 is Uptown Funk which they call Hot Pants. If you know the song, you can probably figure out where they got that from.

We mostly listen to our Kidz Bop CDs in the car. Over spring break, Eddie and I went to see a movie together, and we had about a 30-minute drive to get to the theater. You better believe we were jamming out to some Steal My Girl  and Lips are Movin’.

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And while I would ALWAYS rather be listening to the Pearl Jam channel on satellite radio, I would much rather have the kids request a Kidz Bop album than something with Wheels on the Bus on it.

So Spring Break was still a challenge since I’m not used to three kids just yet, but we at least had fun and danced our way through it.

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Disclaimer: This is not a sponsored post. Kidz Bop sends me CDs and the boys and I listen to them. All opinions are our own.

The Storied Life of AJ Fikry

91hvgvo-tlI love to read books that are super good, but are not the ones that are being talked about all over Facebook and the Today show. The ones that someone recommends to you because they loved it, but whenever you ask anyone else if they’ve read it, they say no.

The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin came to me in church. A friend came up to me with it and said, “Hey Katie, our book club just finished this book and I just think you will really like it. I always think of you and your classroom when I read a really good book and want to pass it along.”

I was busy reading The Giver and Animal Farm and getting ready to plan out those units before I went on maternity leave, so I put it on my To Read pile. Just before Alice was born, I picked it up and totally got hooked.

The title character, A.J. Fikry, reminds me a lot of Sheldon from The Big Bang Theory, only literary instead of sciencey. He is the ornery, particular, owner of the only bookstore on Alice Island, Massachusetts.  As a middle-aged widow (his beautiful, care-free wife died in a car accident), he talks to few and is rude to many.  Then a series of strange things happen–an almost priceless Edgar Allen Poe piece is stolen, a “package” shows up in his store–that change his life.

The book is separated into chapters with titles the same as short stories–which Fikry claims to prefer over novels–and a brief synopsis of what the short story is about.  Literature nerds like myself will appreciate all the literary references and allusions not just from the chapter title pages, but throughout the entire novel. And as cliche as it sounds, I really can’t give away more of the plot because it would ruin the magic of it unfolding for you.

It’s a quick read–especially if you do lean more toward the literary–but it’s both heartwarming and heartbreaking, if that is possible. There are times when you totally see what’s coming, but it’s not a bad thing. And then there are times when you are blindsided and you want it to be all cliche and happy.

I found The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry  to be the perfect read for helping me relax in the evenings as my csection date with Alice approached, and then for the evenings in the hospital before I went to sleep. It wasn’t too heavy, but it wasn’t just fluff either.

Because this book straddled my time between pregnant with Alice and her first week home, I’ll always remember it fondly.

Have you read this one? What are you reading right now?

 

9 Things I Wonder About Other Writers

While I was reading blogs–yes, I still do that–I came across this post by my friend Alison, which was inspired by Kristen. I really liked it.

I have been thinking a lot about that label “writer” lately. Are “blogger” and “writer” synonymous? I suppose so. I tell my students that if you write, you are a writer. However I think there is a difference between “writer” and “capital ‘W’ Writer”.

I definitely consider myself a writer (well, a Teacher-writer, if you want to be specific), but a Writer? I’m not sure.  I don’t think being published means you are automatically a Writer. I think there is more to it than that, but I haven’t figured out what. In the meantime, here are my answers to some interesting questions.

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1. Do you share your work with your partner or spouse? Does it matter if it’s been published yet?

Yes, always. Cortney reads my blog regularly and I send him almost every draft of something I am going to submit for publication elsewhere. He is my biggest cheerleader in anything I do and really pushes me to go to the next level in teaching, learning, and writing. I smiled when I read that Stephen King also has his wife read everything he writes.

2. How much of your family and/or closest “friends in real life first” read your stuff…let alone give you feedback about it? 

Most of my readers are people I know “in real life”. My mom is probably second after Cortney in being my support. She doesn’t always agree with what I have written, but she proudly shares it with everyone and encourages me to keep writing.

My friends and other family members read it from time to time–when they see me post on Facebook and the topic interests them. Many members of my church have become readers, as well as some of my colleagues. Our church library even has one of the books I was published in on its shelves.

I’ve always been deeply honored when people I know tell me they read my writing and enjoy it. It’s also very humbling when former students, people I went to high school with, or past co-workers either approach me “in real life” or reach out via email or Facebook to tell me they enjoy what I write.  That keeps me going.

3. What do you do with the pieces that continually get rejected–post on your blog? Trash? When do you know it’s time to let it go?

The pieces that I have had rejected are either posted to my blog or kept for something else. I never know what I could revise and use again.

Rejection has taught me about who I am as a writer though, and what sorts of publications are more important to me than others. I find that I don’t fit many of the places that other bloggers find success submitting to. I don’t fit the mold that many places like the Huffington Post, Mamalode, etc are looking for.

While I do write about motherhood, most of those essays get rejected, and I’ve become Ok with that. I don’t naturally write beautiful, flowy pieces about being a mom. When I do, it’s usually something that just happens by chance.

The writing I get most recognition for are my opinion pieces and my posts on education. In fact, I’ve been published twice now in academic journals, and that is probably what I am most proud of.

4. Are there pieces you write for one very specific place that, once rejected, you just let go of, or do you rework into something else?

I don’t think I have ever just “let go” of a piece. If it didn’t start as something here on my blog, I will publish it here in some embodiment of it’s original whether I have to make it more “blog friendly” if it was academic, or revise it down to fit the attention span of blog readers.

5. What is your main source of reading-based inspiration (especially you essayists)? Blogs? Magazines? Journals? Anthologies? Book of essays by one writer?

I read a ton. I take very seriously Stephen King’s idea that if you don’t have time to read, you don’t have time to write.  I like to read books on the craft of writing, but I also just like to spend time with good writing–a good book that I can fall into for awhile. I get inspired by good writing.

I also try to read books on teaching pedagogy so I can stay abreast of best practice teaching. This leads me to try new things in my classroom and to write about it here (like I did with Reader’s Workshop and not assigning homework). I also read academic journals which both inspire me as a teacher and writer, but also give me ideas of what I can write about.

I like to read blogs as well. Lately I have been reading lots of political blogs and opinion blogs (but not the comment sections!)

6. What tends to spark ideas more for you: what you see/hear in daily life or what you read?

I think it’s equal parts experience and reading especially my teaching/writing posts and essays.  It’s hard to write about something you don’t experience, but reading really motivates me to write.

7. Who have you read in the past year or two that you feel is completely brilliant but so under-appreciated?

I think young adult literature is often under-appreciated. I know I never thought of it as “literature” until I started reading a TON of it over the past year in preparation for implementing a Reader’s Workshop in my classroom.  When I was the age my students are now, what I had available to me with teen protagonists was hardly good writing. Now I find myself spellbound by authors like Rainbow Rowell, Andrew Smith, and John Green.  I don’t think you have to have teenagers or teach them to fall in love with these books.

8. Without listing anything written by Dani Shapiro, Anne Lamott, Lee Gutkind, or Natalie Goldberg, what craft books are “must haves”?

I think it depends on the kind of writing you love to do. I appreciate Stephen King’s memoir, On Writing, but I also read a lot of “shop lit” (books about teaching writing) by Kelly Gallagher, Kylene Beers, Katie Wood Ray, Penny Kittle, and many others.

I also think sometimes reading authors that inspire your writing is sort of like reading a “craft book”. For instance I am largely influenced by Hemingway’s writing style of using very few words to convey very large ideas, but other than his posthumously published A Moveable Feast –which is more memoir than writing direction–there is not much writing advice he gives. I think many Writers don’t claim to know what will work for everyone; they only know what will work for themselves.

While I enjoy a good “craft” book, I don’t lean on them for a direct “Here is How to be a Capital “W” Writer” so much as I glean suggestions and ideas from them.

9. Have you ever regretted having something published? Was it because of the content or the actual writing style/syntax? 

Nope. No regrets. There have been a piece or two that I didn’t think was my best writing, but I don’t regret that it’s out there.  There are also pieces that I put out there that people read into in a way I didn’t expect, but again, I am not regretful or upset that I pushed “publish” or “send” on those pieces because they started conversations.

I’d love it if you answered a few of these. I’d also love it if you shared what YOU wonder about other writers too.

30 Blog Posts

I did it.

I posted all 30 days of November, and I learned a few things along the way.

1. I don’t really enjoy posting every single day.

2. I am not entirely happy with what I have written for that day, but instead of just hitting “save” on the draft, I hit “publish” because, well, a post a day!

3. I don’t feel like I wrote more than I usually do; I just hit publish more often.

4. I found myself thinking “is this a blog post?” about everything…like I used to do.

5. I am still annoyed about the picture thing. Yes, there have been pictures but that is either with copy/paste or embedding via Flickr. Both are annoying stand in’s to what I should be able to do here.

6. I do still enjoy writing every day, and it’s not all bad to have some pressure to hit publish once in a while.

7. I’ve been more stumped for content because, I think, I’ve been holding back.  No, I know I have. I have some stuff I really, really want to write about, but I am afraid of being controversial or whatever and I don’t have the energy to “deal with” the fall out. Or even the support.  I know. That is sad.

8. Blogging every day has me somehow missing real people more than usual. I am still working this through my brain about what this even means.

9. I’ve become acutely aware of how much has changed since I was at the “height” of my blogging (stats-wise that is) in 2011/12. I didn’t care what other people were logging about or what had been said already. I was writing my own truth not trying to say something new.  Now I feel like a small, repetitive voice in a sea of “been there, done that” type of writing.

10.. I made time to post, but I didn’t make enough time to read others, and I wish I had. I miss reading blogs just for fun. So to those of you who have popped over here, thank you. I know how big of a deal that is.

Will I do NaBloPoMo again next year? I don’t know. I didn’t know I was going to do it this year until I had posted on November one and decided to see if I could. So maybe?

I also know I am tired and tomorrow starts the three-week haul to Christmas break, so I am going to go grab some rest.

Stand Up {a giveaway}

Children’s books are a HUGE part of our family life in Sluiter Nation.

Eddie has so many that I am running out of shelf room in his bedroom.  Charlie has so many board books they are taking over the nursery. And yet, I would never ever say, “oh, we have enough books.”  There is just no such thing as “enough” when it comes to books.

Recently we added one more book to our growing pile, Stand Up. But this book is extra special. This one is authored by David Stefanich, otherwise known as “Uncle Dave” in our house since he is, in fact, the kids’ uncle.

Stand Up is a book about Xavier, a student at Parker Elementary. Xavier is a victim of bullying. The book follows Xavier from Kindergarten through 3rd grade and shows the importance of bystanders and how they can make all the difference.

David works in education as an elementary school principal and he is acutely aware of the challenges kids face at this age. Not only is the plot of the book wonderful for kids of all ages, but because of his work in education, it’s also the perfect book for making predictions, making inferences, and opening up discussion between parents and children.

Eddie and Charlie have listened to “Uncle Dave’s Book” countless times in the short week we’ve had it, and every time something new comes up when we are finished.

Stand Up would make the perfect gift this holiday season, but one of you has the chance to win a copy signed by the author here!

Just follow the directions in the Rafflecopter widget below. A winner will be chosen at midnight on November 25.
a Rafflecopter giveaway

Disclosure: This is not a sponsored post. We received two copies of the book because we paid for two copies. Now I want to give one to one of you because we love it and its author.

The Pros and Cons of a Janky Blog

My blog ain’t quite right.

A couple months ago I found I couldn’t log in. So I hired someone amazing and she fixed it.

Or so we thought.

I mean, I can log in and my blog is back and not hacked anymore.  She did her thing.  But something is still janky.  Something that is not her fault or mine.  We thought it was a hosting issue. I have a media library, can upload to it, but cannot access it from a post. So you know, that does me no good.  There are also weird memory-type errors. Like it can’t find my list of tags when I start typing them. It won’t let me make new categories. Among other weirdo things.

But GoDaddy can’t figure it out.

So maybe it’s a WordPress thing?  We don’t know. Cortney is working on it because I just hear gobble-dee-gook and start rocking and crying in a corner.

But I can type words.

It’s been driving me nuts to not post a picture with my posts though. I have pretty much had to give up Project 365 for this year since I am over two months behind. I mean, I have the pictures on my computer, but there is no way I am going to put them all up once (if? ACK!) this thing ever gets fixed.

It’s weird not to photo-document this pregnancy with Alice. In fact, it makes me angry. I have so SO many posts and pictures of BOTH boys in my tummy. Nothing of Alice.

Not being able to post pictures has made me use my words though. I have to either write or not post and because I am sick of not posting, I have been putting my words here.

I’d love to put a montage of snuggly pictures to show you how the boys have been with me lately, but I don’t have that option. So I’ll just have to tell you that Charlie likes to sit so close to me that it’s hard to tell where I stop and he begins. He has started to do this thing when we ask him to come to us where he turns and shakes his booty at us. It’s simultaneously frustrating and hilarious.

We have always laid next to Eddie as he falls asleep at night, but lately he has been turning into my negative space and putting a hand on my arm as he falls asleep.  A couple nights ago he confessed that he wishes I wasn’t pregnant because I am too tired all the time and he doesn’t want to have to share a room with Charlie. Then he started to cry because he was afraid Alice would think he didn’t love her.

My boys are so sweet.

I wish I could put their picture here.

But I guess I really don’t need to.

(I still want my janky blog fixed though.)

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