Every meal around here these days includes books propped up on the table.
I spent my entire childhood, it seems, with my head in a book. Stacks of them toppled beside my bed, the top one waiting to be grabbed and then devoured. Every room, in every house we lived in, had books in shelves, on the floor, in the bathroom. I often think of the moment in A Child’s Christmas in Wales when there has been a small fire in a home, and the firemen rush in with their hoses and ruin the place. Everyone looks in shock, then stops to listen to the eccentric aunt who emerges from her room. She surveys the scene the wet furniture, the smoldering chair then says, “Would anyone like something to read?”
This feels familiar to me.
And so, it’s not much of a surprise and quite the delight to find that Lu has her nose perpetually in a book.
About a month ago, she and I were doing some shopping on a Sunday afternoon. Nothing interesting, just cleaning supplies and some chalkboard paint for a cupboard. As we walked through the hardware store, she said to me, “Mama, they have kitchen supplies on that aisle. We should go there.” I looked at her, looked up at the sign above the aisle that said “kitchenware,” and asked her how she knew that.
“I read that word,” she told me.
Now understand, she hasn’t been reading out loud to me. At all. In fact, it’s the opposite. She has resisted reading with us, not wanting to sound out her letters or be told how to notice the clues of how words work. Danny and I both stepped back on that awhile ago. It’s her space and there’s absolutely no point in pushing a child to perform at a certain expected pace. They all learn in their own time. We continued to read dozens and dozens of books a day together. I could hear her playing with language as she made up stories and told us jokes. She has known all of her ABCs since she was 14 months old. And she always had a book in her hand. What did it matter when she read out loud for us?
So I was surprised to see her point out the word kitchen. I asked her once again. “How did you know they have kitchen stuff here?”
“I read the word,” she said. “See, Mama? It says kitchen up there.”
Astonished, I guided her down the aisle and pointed out words on boxes and packages. “Lu, what does that word say?”
“How about that one?”
How about this one?”
Stockpot? She went from refusing to work on phonics to reading compound words with no prompting? Dazed, I pointed out word after word as she and I walked down the aisle together. She delighted in astounding me. “Dog, cat, clean, ice cream, pizza, drive, detergent.”
At detergent, I stopped. Detergent. Everything grew a little blurry with the tears. She was reading to me. My daughter was reading to me.
“Lu, when did you learn to read?”
Immediately, she answered, “Mama, I’ve been reading since I was three. I just wanted to keep it to myself.”
I stood up and took a long breath. I remembered the day we were driving to the photoshoot for Gluten-Free Girl Every Day, two years ago, and Lu shouted out from her car seat, “Mama, they have color there.” Confused, I turned around and saw her pointing out the COLOR sign at a hair salon. Danny and I long ago lost the ability to spell out words. “Do we have any P A S T A for her lunch?” I said last year across the kitchen.
Lu smiled wide. “Yes please. Pasta for lunch!”
And her preschool teacher told us last year that a couple of times, Lu read three or four words in a row to her, then stopped herself, aware that someone else was noticing.
So she has been reading. And it’s one of the best pleasures of my life to see her at the breakfast table, reading Nikki McClure’s wonderful book, To Market, to Market, chanting the words quietly, and stopping to talk to us about kale.
Every evening, now, before we start the bedtime routine, the three of us sit in the living room, with a book each, and read silently for 20 minutes, together. I probably don’t need to say it, but this is my favorite time of the day, by far.
We thought we’d share with you some of what we have been reading and loving.
Lu absolutely adores the Ivy and Bean books. They’re a modern Betsy-Tacy series and she has been loving Betsy-Tacy too with two inseparable girl friends who cause a little mischief and solve problems intrepidly. I love reading these books to her because they’re funny. (Lu loves funny too.) And for a girl whose highest compliment is that someone is spunky, these books work perfectly.
Most Sundays, Lu and I go to our local library together. (Dad gets some football time. Friday mornings, I get time for a weightlifting session at the gym and Lu gets a date with her dad.) We peruse books, and she runs up to me, excited, when she finds the copy of Tiny Pie, again. I think we’ve checked out this book every single time we’ve returned it. Lu loves the illustrations and the sweet, quiet message that even the smallest hands can make something good. Also, there’s pie.
After we go to the library, and I lug our bags full of books to the car, we go to the tea shop to share a pot of ginger-roiboos tea. (Lu’s choice.) We sit together and read every book we checked out from the library. But some weeks, we have a special treat and walk next door to our local bookstore. They have a wonderful children’s section, with used books priced at $3 a piece. Even with bags full of library books, we usually buy one or two. Lu’s favorite one lately is Bigmama’s, a beautifully illustrated tale of a man’s memory of spending every summer at his grandmother’s house in Florida. The life he shows is the best of childhood running through green grass in bare feet, time alone to explore the fishing hole, small adventures everywhere. The first time I read it to Lu, she looked up at me and said, “Again, Mama. Again!” She has said this every time we’ve read it.
She also loves a charming new book called A Gluten-Free Birthday for Me!. Even though Lu seems to be able to eat gluten (so far), she loves the story of a girl who has a gluten-free birthday cake and makes a little friend happy when he finds he can eat the cake too. It’s good gluten-free reading for your gluten-free kid.
The day The Gramercy Tavern Cookbook arrived in our home, Danny didn’t talk much to us. He couldn’t stop gawking at the photographs and imagining the recipes on our plate. We both adore that restaurant, and it’s not just because Danny cooked there when he lived in New York. This is fresh food elevated to art. But the book is still approachable. I love that Chef Michael Anthony insisted that this be a book for home cooks, not just coffee table art. We both adore this one. I think. Danny still hasn’t let me touch it much.
The only reason that Danny put down The Gramercy Tavern Cookbook is because Hank Shaw’s new cookbook, Duck, Duck, Goose: The Ultimate Guide to Cooking Waterfowl, Both Farmed and Wild arrived. This book is gorgeous and meant for people who aren’t afraid to cook. We get complaints sometimes from people who say, “Why do your books have such weird meat in them? I only eat chicken.” The irony is that we don’t post that many meat recipes here. That’s going to change soon, especially when we start making dishes from Hank’s book. I love his unabashed love for duck, one of my favorite meats. Danny read me something about duck fat and maple syrup drippings from the book and we haven’t stopped talking about it since. And I’m also looking forward to learning more about how to cook with goose, under Hank’s tutelage.
I’ve been on a real fiction tear lately, after a time of straying away from it. In the 1990s, the voice in nearly every novel published was so self-aggrandizing and and the plots subservient to that voice that I put them down. And then I had a child and most of my reading had to happen in quick glimpses. This past year, I have been luxuriating in fiction again. My latest love is Beautiful Ruins, an impossibly beautiful novel that feels like a puzzle and a movie and a place to fall into language. Oh, I was crushed when it was done.
I shouldn’t recommend The Revised Fundamentals of Caregiving: A Novel yet. I haven’t finished it, since I just picked it up from the library yesterday on my Sunday trip with Lu. But I started reading it at 10 pm last night and could not stop reading. 80 pages flew by with such ease that I was actually angry I had to turn out the light to sleep. Why am I even writing now? I should be reading this book.
“Listen to me: everything you think you know, every relationship youve ever taken for granted, every plan or possibility youve ever hatched, every conceit or endeavor youve ever concocted, can be stripped from you in an instant. Sooner or later, it will happen. So prepare yourself. Be ready not to be ready. Be ready to be brought to your knees and beaten to dust. Because no stable foundation, no act of will, no force of cautious habit will save you from this fact: nothing is indestructible.”
from The Revised Fundamentals of Caregiving
And finally, some pieces that have resonated for us lately.
You may know that Time magazine did a Gods of Food issue, outlining all the most important people in food in the United States. And not listing any women chefs. Poppycock. That’s so silly I’m not even going to discuss it. (Also, who calls an issue like that Gods of Food? Ridiculous.) I’m just going to point you toward this piece on the effect of Alice Waters on the world.
I saw this piece on an invisible bike helmet floating around Facebook and didn’t want to look. It seemed like a gimmick. It turns out to be beautiful.
Have you seen A Mighty Girl? This is one of my favorite sites for Lu. It calls itself “..the world’s largest collection of books, toys and movies for smart, confident, and courageous girls.” I really need to buy this shirt for Lu.
I love this Subway Signs Experiment, the kind of random kindness (or just silliness) that makes hard days better.
Our friend John from Food Wishes did a great video on farinata. Make it today!
Our friends Nicole and Mark have created a video series called How Does It Grow that should already exist. They’re showing folks how all the ingredients we take for granted are planted, grown, transported, and make it into your store. We adore them and this project. Please do support their Kickstarter.
Laurie Anderson’s piece on the loss of her love, Lou Reed, is a devastating and gorgeous evocation of long love. It has also a remarkable accounting of his passing, one of the most moving I have ever read.
Finally, we love Sesame Street around here. Once again, they lead the way with this segment on kids who are hungry. Did you know that 1 out of 4 children in this country is not sure where his or her meal is coming from? This makes me so angry that I have a hard time typing these words. This is far more important than anything else I have written here. How can we let kids go hungry in this country? Or have a school system that throws out a kid’s breakfast in front of him because he’s 30 cents short? Ay god, people. What have we done? What do we do?
I’m grateful that we have enough money to put food on our table, next to the books. We do everything we can to help others but it’s not enough. What a strange world, where we decide our food doesn’t look quite good enough to impress our blog readers, while kids go hungry.
My only hope is that my little reader, and all your little readers, use their compassionate hearts to bring us real change. Let’s teach them how.