Reading on Vacation


I sit on the floor in our bedroom on the second story of my in-laws’ house and dig in my backpack, pulling out the few books we packed for this trip. Ten days and a handful of books. We’ll have them memorized by the time we get back to Texas next week.

“Which book do you want?” I ask Oscar, laying them in front of him. He’s perched on our bed, waiting to read.

“That one!” He points. “Llama Llama SNOW.” His emphasis on the weather amuses me. I pick up the book, Llama Llama Holiday Drama, and start to read, falling into the familiar cadence of the Llama Llama books we love so much.

Oscar grins and crawls under the covers, perching on a pillow as he curls up by my side.

“Is Llama Llama sad?” He asks, looking at an illustration.

“What do you think?”

“I think he’s ready for Christmas.” He replies solemnly and turns the page. When we finish the book he looks up at me.

“Mama, we read more?” He reaches for another book, opens it, and starts to read. This one he has memorized. It’s a Boynton book, and he reads to me about ten dogs - and one cat before closing the book and asking if we can sing before we fall asleep.

Two rounds of “The Wheels on the Bus” and three of “Twinkle, Twinkle,” and he falls asleep curled up beside me. I smile and move him to his bed, tucking him in with his lovey before I go to gather the books and ready them for tomorrow, when we’ll read them again.

Reaching for my e-reader, I take a moment to think about how normal this is for me - packing books for long trips. When I was a child we traveled often from Ohio to Maryland or Tennessee to visit my grandparents. My backpack then was full to burst of books, and when I got older, books and a discman. All for the long car ride and trip ahead. It’s always made sense to me to pack reading materials, especially for bedtime.

The night before we flew, my husband and I stood in our living room, picking up toys that missed the pre-bed cleanup. I sat holding the stack of seven books the three of us read before tucking Oscar in for the night, trying to decide which ones to bring. With a fifty-pound checked bag and two-carry-on-per-person limit, I couldn’t bring all of them, as much as I wanted to.

“Which should I pack?” I put the books on the coffee table and scanned the stack. We had Boynton’s familiar tales, two Llama Llama books, “Goodnight Moon,” and a library book. I set the library book aside for return as we assessed the others.

“Which does he choose nightly?” My husband asked. I smiled and sorted out four of the remaining books. We would be getting more books on our trip as gifts. I didn’t want to pack too many, but also didn’t want to pack too few, either. The books I chose for him were the familiar - ones we’ve all memorized and still read, night after night.

I often choose the books we pack for Oscar this way, yet my books are nearly always new, even if they’re by favorite authors. I love devouring new reads when we travel, but I know our son wants familiar. It’s hard to be out-of-routine when away from home, and a familiar book or two at bedtime go so far toward creating a sense of normalcy.

Before taking my e-reader and the baby monitor downstairs, I stop and think about how much I love this nightly ritual of reading. Two or three of us curled together on a couch or bed, deep in the illustrations of a new or familiar book. There is something comforting about stopping everything for a few minutes for a story before settling into dreamland. Thinking about how Oscar read to me tonight makes me smile as I switch on the nightlight and head downstairs to dive deep into my own pre-bed reading.

What I'm Reading Now, First Edition

Books are a part of my day-to-day life. In addition to the many picture books I read in a day, I also keep a stack of reading beside my bed, a book in the diaper bag, and a few stashed throughout my living room. I’m rarely far from something to read, sneaking snippets of novels while swirling water over the coffee in my chemex or cooking dinner, enjoying short stories and novellas while my son naps, and diving deep into long-held and new favorites before bed.

In short: I read. A lot. In addition to sharing my adventures reading with my son, I wanted to begin to share just a glimpse of what I’m reading in my downtime, in hopes that you may find a new book to try, or see an old favorite you may have forgotten. This First Edition of what I’m reading includes books new-to-me, as well as one favorite that I can’t help but reach for each fall, as the leaves turn from green to red and the air grows crisp.

The Female Persuasion, by Meg Wolitzer. I’ve been a fan of Meg Wolitzer since I first picked up The Interestings a few years ago. Her writing is compelling and rich with description and emotion. The Female Persuasion is a great example of what I love about her work, with compelling main characters exploring the ideals of feminism for the first time. While I’m not that far into the book, I’m enjoying what I’ve read so far, and am eager to see where Wolitzer takes these characters as we move through this book.

Eleanor Oliphant is Complete Fine, by Gail Honeyman. A friend of mine passed this one along to me, and while it took me a couple chapters to get into, I found it compelling enough to read it cover-to-cover in about two days. Eleanor is not a particularly lovable main character at first, but quickly endeared herself to me as she worked to find herself, making a good friend along the way.

Bittersweet, by Shauna Niequist. I somehow turn to Niequist’s books every autumn, when the leaves start to turn and the light turns golden. Bittersweet has become one of my favorites as Niequist writes openly about chaos, change, and old homes, friends who become family and togetherness. This book is the essence of fall for me, the written equivalent of sun striking frosty grass in late October. I love how she weaves the minutiae of life into each essay, talking about cooking as easily as she writes about close friends and trips with her family. This is a book I like to tuck into while enjoying a cup of my favorite coffee.

I’m looking forward to sharing more of my current reads with you next month! Find me on Instagram @deva_defined to share what you’re reading lately!

Readying for Halloween


“Mama look! Blippi Glasses!” He slides the orange frames onto his face, “Hi! I Blippi!”

I giggle at his enthusiasm. His Halloween costume arrived yesterday, and though we’re still a ways out from Trick-or-Treat, he hasn’t been able to stop wearing his costume.

“Hi Blippi!” I say, playing along, “Are you going to play on an excavator?”

He pulls the glasses off and smiles. “Hi! Now I Okkar!”

“Oh, Hi Oscar! Did you know Blippi was just here?” We’ve been playing this game a lot, and I love watching him try on new identities as he plays dress-up.

“Yeah!” somehow he turns this into a two-syllable word.

“Hey! Mama!” He runs to the library book box. “Want read book a-me?”

“Sure!” He runs to me carrying a book with jack-o’lanterns on the cover and climbs onto the couch.

“It Halloween book! We do Halloween? We go trick-or-treat? HEY! We have pumpkins!” He pauses to draw a breath and I laugh again. Halloween is a big deal when you’re two-and-a-half.

“We do bud! Should we paint them?”

“Later. Let’s read.” He’s solemn and he reaches to open the book sitting before us.

“Okay!” The dust jacket crackles. “This book is called Halloween Eye, what do you think it’s about?”

“Ummm. Pumpkins. Halloween. Trick-or-Treat.” He curls into my lap and I begin to read a sweet rhyme about Halloween and costumes, witches and wizards, trick-or-treat and monster feet.

We pause each page to look at the dark blue, black, and golden illustrations. I can almost feel the cool autumn air, though it hasn’t been much like autumn in my part of Texas. Not for long, at least.

“Look mama! Pumpkins! They smile?” He points to the page we turn to with orange smiling jack o’lanterns grinning at us.

“They do! Do we have pumpkins like that?” We do, and they’re sitting on our porch, waiting for the sun to go down so we can turn on their lights.

“Yeah. They’re not scary.” He shakes his head.

“They’re not.” We go back to the book and clap its rhythm together until we finish the tale. The plastic wrapping on the book crackles as the cover closes with a quiet thump. Before I can ask about another book, Oscar is off and digging in the toy box, talking about costumes and the upcoming fall holiday.

I pause and think about what it was like to trick-or-treat as a child back east, surrounded by trees brightly colored in reds, oranges, and golden yellows. The air smelled like dry leaves and frost and the ground crackled and swooshed beneath our feet as we went door-to-door clad in our costumes. One year I went as a bunch of grapes in a purple sweatsuit covered in balloons, my hair sprayed green. Another I was the night sky, clad all in black and covered in silver star stickers. I hoped for my pillowcase of candy to be laden with more chocolate than not, and tried so very hard to ration the chocolate. I rarely succeeded.

Halloween was mysterious and fun, a night to be as you’re not, and I’m excited to see my son enjoy the idea of dressing as something else for just a few hours one night and go door-to-door for candy. His favorite right now is lollipops, closely followed by chocolate bars, and I selfishly hope that he doesn’t find the stash of candy I’ve begun to gather for the wall of trick-or-treaters that will venture down our street on Halloween night.

“Mama!” Oscar runs to me, “Let’s play with the pumpkins! Let make smile pumpkins!”

He runs to the entryway, where our carving pumpkins are waiting for a coat of paint before they join the plastic decor already on the porch.

I smile. “Sure buddy. Want to paint them?”

“Yeah! Make them look like in the book?”

“Of course!”

As I pull out the paint and lay down paper, I can’t help but think how for him, the magic of Halloween is only just beginning.

Clothes and Fairy Tales


The sweatshirt hangs in my closet as it has for sixteen years now. Its front kangaroo pocket is ripped, the fleece inside is worn, there’s a spot of paint on the front, and the hood lost its drawcord long ago. This hooded sweatshirt remains a favorite, one I reach for time after time, even though my cell phone no longer stays in the pocket and I can no longer cinch the hood tight against cold autumn breezes.

I cannot bear to part with this hoodie, the first of many I bought to represent my alma mater. Bought on a fall day when I was caught in a world somewhere between high school and college, this hoodie holds memories in its seams. It holds dreams remembered, dreams long-since-forgotten.

This hoodie holds a tiny piece of my heart. I recently sat down and read l.l. barkat’s The Golden Dress. This book brought back memories of my earliest days in this gray hooded shirt, when my heart was set on being a photographer and traveling the world. Like the dress holds a piece of its maker’s heart, my maker heart poured into this shirt week after week, art class after art class. In this sweatshirt I was invincible.

A fairy tale, the dress within The Golden Dress is magic. As the mother lovingly crafts a dress for her daughter, she weaves a piece of herself into it and thus, the dress can become whatever the wearer wants it to be. I think that’s part of the magic of motherhood: we share a piece of ourselves with our children so they can become whomever they want to be.

I see this through the books we read day in and day out. Yesterday it was a book about dinosaurs creating magic in the living room. One minute we were mother and son and the next, we were dinosaurs with chompy teeth and big roars roaming through the jungle. We chomped and stomped our way upstairs and downstairs, pretended to be a t-rex or diplodocus, stretching our imaginations and giggling.

Before bed we’ll once again imagine. This time it’s my husband doing the reading: Doggies by Sandra Boynton. We transform into dogs, barking and counting our way through until we giggle through all ten dogs (and a surprise cat!). It’s another piece of magic shared between us, a book we love and find silly, setting the tone for a goofy, fun-filled bedtime routine. In this, we’re sharing the funny and silly parts of ourselves and writing the story of our family.

Once Oscar goes to bed I find myself wondering about the future. My mind drifts back to The Golden Dress. In it, the girl learns from a raven and blue lace wind that it’s time to share the dress and its magic. She resists and I understand why. It’s hard to let go and let things fly free within the unknown. But that’s part of the magic of the dress: in order for the magic to continue, it must be shared. Every day I share my heart and a piece of myself. Every day we write our own fairy tale. I’ve learned just how important and how hard it is to have a part of my heart, my own son, walking around outside of my body every day.

One day, I know I, too, will have to let go. Like the daughter in the story has to let go of her dress to share its magic, one day my son will walk ahead of me without looking back. He’ll no longer be a toddler, eager to read with his mom on the floor and may one day decide not to play pretend with blocks or become a dinosaur in a suburban jungle. I’m enjoying every minute I have of the magic of make-believe and books and stories about dresses that become what the wearer wishes.

But the next time I run out of clean hoodies due to paint, glue, or coatings of flour dust, I’ll reach for the hoodie with the ripped pocket and paint, the glue and the memories. I’m still becoming who I am, and my son is still growing to become who he will be. Some days we’re dinosaurs and doggies. Other days we dream of the future. He can be anything while I continue to dream those artist dreams, still often wearing that tattered sweatshirt. It’s an adventure. One filled with our favorite books lined up on the shelf, ready to greet us in the morning.

Library Days


“Good morning mama!” I hear Oscar chirp, feet padding on the carpet. His hair is still rumpled with sleep. I put my coffee down and open my arms for a hug.

“Hello! Did you have good sleep?” He snuggles into my shoulder.

“Yes! It morning mama! The sun is up! We go libirdy today?” There is nothing on our agenda until evening.

“Of course!”

He cheers and runs off. As we eat breakfast, his excitement at getting to go to the library is palpable. I remember how excited I would get as a child to go to the library. We went weekly to the big one in town, fifteen minutes away. The one with the carpet-covered cubes and wide, curving window seat. I would pull countless books from the shelves and perch, reading until it was time to go home. My bag would be laden with books, and a week later, we would do it all over again.

When we get to the library, we’re just in time for storytime. We watch as toddlers and preschoolers file into the room. When we go to join, Oscar stops me.

“No ‘tory time today mama. Want read books. Play train.” He runs quickly down an aisle of picture books until he sees a one that catches his eye. The plastic around it crackles as he pulls it out and hands it to me.

“Sit down! Read to you? Please?” I grin at his mixed up pronouns. Sitting down, I open the book. He’s found a “Pete the Cat” version of “Five Little Ducks.” He climbs into my lap and I start reading.

“Five little ducks went out one day, with one cool cat leading the way,” I read, turning it into a song. Oscar leans in and reaches for the book page, slick with ink. It whispers as he turns to the next page and I continue, singing a familiar tale, with a twist.

By the last page, Oscar joins in, “Five little ducks went out one day, with one cool ‘tat leading the way,” his voice sing-song and near a whisper. He closes the book with a crackle of plastic and adds it to the bag we’ve brought to fill with books.

Looking up, I see that we have a small audience of preschool-aged kids, sitting rapt. Their mothers see me and hustle them away and Oscar and I are once again, alone. He reaches back to the shelf and puts a few more books into our bag. He reminds me so much of me, so eager to fill his book bag to the brim.

Once our bag is full, it’s time to play, and Oscar is off and running to the play area on the children’s floor. It’s a train, and he waits patiently before the librarian’s desk for me to join him. We head inside where he picks up a stack of paper train tickets lying beside the toy cash register.  I pick up plastic coins to buy a ticket, and we start making up stories about the places depicted on the tickets. One has a picture of the Alamo on it and he tells his own story about it, making it into a stone house filled with people who have a farm. I let his imagination run wild as he talks.

Eventually he moves on to the magnetic wall, covered in letters and simple words. We rearrange the letters over and over, talking about their names and sounds before once again settling in for another book, found perched on the ledge beside us. We read all about “The Little Engine That Could,” and by the end of the book he’s whispering “I think I can I think I can I think I can,” along with me. He’s found another world among the shelves to add to his imagination.

I hear his stomach grumble. It’s been two quick hours since we arrived and it’s lunch time. Before I can say anything, he catches my eye.

“Mama, check out? Go home?” he asks, walking to the exit of the train.

“That’s a great idea, buddy!” I follow him to the self-check out and scan our card. Immediately he reaches out and starts stacking our books onto the black pad and we watch as they pop up on the screen, checked out and ready to go home. Our receipt prints as I refill our library bag, and Oscar snatches it up and heads to the elevator.

“Bye library!” he calls, pressing the button to go down, “Bye!”

In a week we will return for more books, more play, and more fun. Neither of us can wait.


Reading and Baking


If you give a mouse a cookie,” The book begins and my son scoots closer to me on the carpet. He turns the pages, faded from years of reading.

“What’s that?” he asks, pointing to an illustration.

“What do you think it is?” I respond.

“A mess! To find a napkin?”


We go on, following a journey of a mouse on a mission to get a cookie and milk, napkin and hair trim. A mouse who cleans house. Who among us does not desire to have someone randomly show up, enjoy a cookie, and clean our house?

The book ends with a request for yet another cookie. My son grins at the last page and helps me close the book. He stands up and runs to the pantry, pulling it open.

“We bake cookies? Want bake cookies a-me?” His eyes are shining. He doesn’t know that after he went down for his nap I put butter out on the counter to soften.

“Sure! Let’s bake cookies!” my voice is high and cheery. Cookies are my specialty. His grin is so wide his eyes crinkle half-shut and he runs to help me move his learning tower close to the counter. He climbs up and I pull out ingredients. Flour, sugar, eggs, salt, vanilla, and chocolate chips.

“Mama? We give cookies a mouse?” He asks as I set the mixer up, put the bowl in front of him, and hand him a stick of butter to unwrap.

“Do you think a mouse will come to have cookies with us?” The butter plops into the bowl with a metallic ting. I hand him another stick and pull out the measuring cups.

“Yeah! We have milk?” I’m measuring sugar for him to pour into the bowl. Last time we baked cookies I found sugar for days after.

“Sure! Do you want to count how many scoops of sugar we need?” I hand him the measuring cup and he counts out loud.

“One! Two! I DID IT MAMA! More scoops, please?” He covers his ears while the mixer makes a fluffy mess of the butter and sugar. The eggs slide in and I drizzle in the vanilla, making the kitchen smell warm, like a bakery.

“Flour next, right?” He helps scoop the flour out of the bag, one quarter cup at a time. I count in my head so we don’t under or over measure. His tiny hands work to hold the measuring spoons steady for baking powder and salt and then he asks if we need to mix it again.

We do. The mixer works with such vigor, even on its lowest setting, that he starts giggling.

“Look mama! It snowing!”

I find myself grateful we own a dustbuster as the flour and wet ingredients come together into a perfectly rich dough. I reach for the scissors and cut the bag of chocolate chips open, then turn off the mixer and pull the bowl away for him to see inside.

“Look, mama! It cookies! We add chocolate chips? I eat one?” We both dig into the bag for a few to sample before they go into the dough. We can’t eat the raw dough. Raw eggs make me itch. But we can eat the chocolate chips before they go in. A quick mix later and we are ready to turn the dough into cookies.

Oscar picks up the cookie scoop, a tiny ice-cream-scoop looking thing. He slides it through the dough and struggles to fill it.

“Mama, I need help!” I place my hand over his and we scoop the dough together, then he squeezes the handle of the scoop to plop round balls of chocolate-studded dough onto the silicone-lined baking sheets.

I slide the first tray into the oven and set the timer. The house begins to fill with the rich scent of freshly-baked cookies. I hear Oscar in the living room, turning pages of a book and whispering what he can remember of the story.

“It’s a mouse and you give him a cookie. Oh no! He get milk with his cookie. Oh look, there is a mess and the mouse cleans it up. Maybe mouse have another cookie?” His tone is melodic.

While he reads and the cookies bake, I clean up my little mouse’s mess from cookie-baking. Dustbusting up flour and wiping down counters. The timer beeps; the first tray of cookies are done, and I pull them out of the oven and quickly move them to a cooling rack. There is nothing quite so delicious as a cookie still warm from the oven. A second tray goes in and the timer is set. I go to join Oscar on the floor until the second batch of cookies comes out of the oven.

Oscar hears the timer beep for this tray and runs into the kitchen as soon as they’re out of the oven. His eyes are shining.

“Cookies! I eat one? Please mama, I eat one?” He’s vibrating with excitement.

“Of course!” The first batch out of the oven are cool enough to eat. I pick up the one with the most chocolate chips, reach down, and give my little mouse a cookie of his very own.


He Brings Me Books


It is morning, and light is filtering through tightly-closed blinds. I snuggle my son closer, breathing in his little-boy scent as he sighs contentedly. I don’t want to wake him - he came in at three, carrying his lovey, and asked to sleep in mama’s bed. Instead of walking him back to his room, my sleep-weary brain lifted him up and under our covers, where he burrowed deep into the bed and fell asleep. Now he lays cuddled under my arm.

I can only snuggle so long before my bladder reminds me it needs to be emptied. Ever so slowly I pull the covers back away to slide out of bed. My feet don’t land on the floor. Instead, they land on the books Oscar brought in with him -  books chosen carefully from the shelves in his room at three o’clock that morning.

I smile and pick them up. Today’s books are “Going on a Bear Hunt,” a favorite of mine when I was younger, and the ever-popular “Goodnight Moon.” I set them aside so we can read them when he wakes.

When I was pregnant, I hoped for just a few things for my growing baby: that he would be happy, that he would have his father’s eyes, and like me, that he would love books. Books are important to me because they let me go on new adventures, imagine, and show me new ways to see the world that exists around me. I wanted so desperately to share the richness of books and all they bring to life with my son, even before we knew we were having a son.

My husband and I started reading to him before he was born. As soon as the Ovia Pregnancy app on our phones announced  “your baby can hear you!” I pulled out books I bought when I learned I was pregnant. Both his dad and I would read aloud and grin as our son kicked and rolled to the sounds of our voices. Well before he was born, we discovered one of our favorites was  “The Going to Bed Book,” by Sandra Boynton, and the antics of the animals within. I didn’t expect it to be a favorite now, over two years from his birth. We read it almost every night at bedtime.

“The sun has set not long ago,” Boynton’s book begins,  and now, my son sits, rapt, waiting to turn the page as we follow Boynton’s animals through their bedtime routine. We have hand motions for the book and his little fingers flutter through them, brushing his teeth, raising his arms up and down. He repeats words after me as I read, and when we get to the end, he whispers along with me “they rock and rock and rock to sleep,” while he sways side-to-side.

I stand in the kitchen and think about all of this while my coffee brews in the chemex, water swirling over fresh grounds. When he wakes up for the day we’ll read the books he brought, curled up on the sofa together with our shared bedhead. Our breakfasts sit between us when we read, and we nibble between books. Today we will go on a bear hunt, clapping a rhythm I learned twenty-nine years ago. We’ll drive a bus through town and we’ll talk about and act out our emotions with another Boynton book. I giggle when we both become “sad as a chicken,” and exaggerate sadness as we say “cluck, cluck.”

These books are pieces of his heart. They are pieces of mine. His books have become a heavy part of our daily routine, and our favorites change weekly. After a play-filled morning, he naps and I read one of my books chosen carefully during our “libirdy” days. We both love going to the library, coming home with dozens of books to read each week. Each book is a new world to explore and discover. Worlds crafted from carefully chosen words to excite the imagination. No wonder it’s among our favorite places.

As I watch him sleep on the baby monitor screen, I wonder if he’ll continue to love books this much. I wonder if he will be like I was in grade-school, taking a flashlight to bed to read surreptitiously under the covers. Even now I struggle with the idea of bedtime when there are so many books I have yet to finish. They tower precariously on the nightstand.

Before he wakes from his nap, I’ll finish a book and close the door on a new world full of magic and characters I love like they were my best friends. My book set aside, I watch as my drowsy toddler gets out of bed and stands before his bookshelf, pulling books out and putting them away. He selects each volume with care, and every day the post-nap books change.

His door opens and he runs to me. “Mama! Look what I found!” he cries. He always sounds surprised as he carries me the books that make up the pieces of his heart. Handing me a stack of books, we sit down in the floor, his warm, sleepy body leaning against mine. I pick one up, open the door to a new world, and we begin to read, warm in the afternoon light.