Welcome to my hearth

epicurean (epi-cure-ee-ann) – a follower of Greek philosophy that is based upon the teachings of Epicurus; epicureanism espouses the belief that the surest way to achieving happiness is to live a wise and virtuous life.

hearth (harth) – the fireplace, known for centuries as the center of the home and the source of warmth, light and food.

Epicurean philosophy struggles to answer the question, “What is the good life? How do we attain it?” In this blog, I’ll talk about how we are trying to live the good life with a baby in tow. What is virtue? How can we lead our child toward our shared goal of a fulfilled life? How did baby stuff completely take over our living room? This will also be a deposit for book reviews, homeschool curriculum, observations about mommy wars, and other adventures in parenting. Stay tuned!


Sing-Along Books

Let’s face it: even the best picture books become a drag after the hundredth time reading them. It’s a struggle because as a parent, you want to engender a love of reading to your child, and you know that if you are bored out of your mind, your kid is going to pick up on that, too. What has helped me get out of reading ruts is changing up the usual picture books with books that are meant to be sung. After seeing her enthusiasm for Over in the Meadow, we decided to add a few more sing-along books to our home library. I thought I’d share a few of my toddler’s favorites here.


Puff the Magic Dragon was one of my favorite songs as a child, so I was delighted to learn that Peter Yarrow helped put it into picture book format, complete with a CD. Watch the video below to hear the song from the CD and see illustrations from the book.

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My Favorite Things illustrates the beautiful imagery from the song of the same title in The Sound of Music. This book is so loved by our daughter that we have to keep it hidden when we’re not ready to read it, or else she would insist it be the one and only book sung to her.


Favorite Nursery Rhymes from Mother Goose is a beautiful showcase of the art of Scott Gustafson. There are about fifty nursery rhymes in this book, and I’m always amazed that my 16 month old will patiently sit through all of them. Many of the nursery rhymes are meant to be sung, such as Old King Cole, Sing a Song of Sixpence, and Hey, Diddle, Diddle. If you’re not sure how to sing some of the more obscure rhymes, let me point you to my favorite nursery rhyme movie from childhood (part 1 of 7):


Baa Baa Black Sheep isn’t nearly so lovely as the others, but it’s still much loved in this house. I think the repetition of the verses must be soothing.

Do you have any sing-along books you’d like to share? I’d love to hear recommendations!

Citrus Lane Review – April 2015

Citrus Lane is a company that specializes in sending a box of goodies monthly for children based on their gender and age from birth to age 3. I have to be honest, I wasn’t sure this kind of thing would be my bag. Or box, to be precise. I mean, it sounds perfect for parents who don’t have the energy or the time to carefully choose the right toys or books for their child. But that’s not me. I have Amazon Wishlists divided by age groups, for crying out loud. I thrill at finding affordable but unique (and hopefully educational) toys to capture my toddler’s attention. I kind of resent the idea of handing that power over to someone else. With only a budget of $20 for new toys/books per month, we’d be hard pressed to buy any extra items in addition to the box subscription.

What persuaded me to try it out? By partnering with toy companies hoping to get parents hooked on their brands, Citrus Lane is able to offer a bevy of items for less than their retail value. Assuming you enjoy most of the items in your box, that means that the subscription actually saves you money. My fear was that my box would have one item I loved and four items I didn’t care for, making it a bust.

I was willing to set that reservation aside, however, because I had a fabulous coupon for the month of March. It not only knocked 40% off the price of the box, but it also gave me a bonus free Skip Hop backpack and straw bottle (a $20 value). At that price, I just couldn’t resist! So let’s get down to what you came here for, shall we?

This box was ordered for my 15 month old daughter.


Pearhead Handprint Wall Art, $9.72 on Amazon

I have mixed feelings about this one. I love the keepsake aspect, but with a 15 month old, we can’t really use it. A younger child would be compliant enough that I could gently place her hands where they needed to go, while an older child would have some understanding of what we’re doing and go along with my instructions (hopefully). But at her age, she would just freak out when I tried to hold her hand down on the canvas. I don’t feel that this is quite developmentally appropriate (which is a big disappointment because that’s the perk Citrus Lane sells itself on). I think I’ll save it for when she’s closer to 2.


Green Toys Airplane, $13.63 at Amazon

I have to be honest, this is exactly the kind of toy I would not buy for our little girl. To begin with, it’s plastic. I know the company boasts that it’s made from recyclable materials, but meh. If I was going to buy a toy airplane, I would get one made of wood, like this. The plastic feels cheap and not very durable. I foresee the propeller breaking off. Secondly, taking a regular toy and then painting it purple and pink is ridiculous. “Hey! It’s an airplane…for girls!” Planes come in many different colors, ranging from silver to blue to red. But have you ever seen a purple plane with a pink underbelly like this one? No. There is no such thing. It’s a cheap gimmick that doesn’t even work–either a little girl is going to love planes regardless of color, or she’s going to want a doll instead.


Bear on a Bike, $6.52 at Amazon

Our toddler loves books! Just not this one. I don’t know if it’s the weird artwork or what. She won’t sit through it. She’ll even lunge for other books to read instead (and she’ll sit through those, so it’s not that she’s just not in the mood to be read to). We’ll probably end up giving this book away.


Ella’s Nutrition Shake, $2.50/shake at Target

$2.50 for a 4 oz. drink that’s not even alcoholic?! It’s mostly milk and sugar, with some pear, plum, broccoli and coconut oil mixed in. We don’t give our toddler any sugary drinks (including juice), but I don’t fault Citrus Lane for not knowing that. Of course, we’re too frugal to let it go to waste, so it will be a special treat.


Skip Hop Insulated Lunch Bag and Straw Cup, $12.99 and $5.99

As a special gift, I received a free Skip Hop straw cup and backpack. I wish I’d scored the ladybug one instead of the giraffe, but free is free, right? Skip Hop always has great quality.

With the coupon, the total cost for my box was $17.40. The regular price is $27/month (3 Month Plan), $24/month (6 Month Plan), or $22/month (Annually) + Free Shipping.

Excluding the Skip Hop bonus items, Citrus Lane’s April box has an estimated retail value of $32.37. If you had a 3 month subscription, you would have a savings of 27% off retail. With the coupon I used, I saved 55%…plus I received another $20 for the Skip Hop stuff. Not too shabby!

Is it truly worth it? There is real value here, not only in the items you receive, but also in the time the subscription saves you. It’d make a wonderful baby shower gift. I think this is an especially attractive option for parents with multiple kids, and for older children who can dive into the art and science kits from similar subscription services like Kiwi Crate (ages 4 – 8) or Tinker Crate (ages 9+). On the other hand, even if you can get more items for the money with the boxes, sometimes more is just…more. A single toy that a parent lovingly, carefully picks out for $22 holds more value than five items in a $22 box that are just okay.

I couldn’t resist trying it out with the coupon. However, I will be honest and say that I was pretty disappointed with this box. I saw plenty of other boxes from previous months that looked really cool. I think that’s the inevitable risk with subscription boxes–some will be fantastic, some will be mediocre, and some will be a bust. I’m calling this one a bust.

Want to try it out for yourself?  Use the promo code TAKE40 to get 40% off your first Citrus Lane box! Expires July 1, 2015.

Spotlight on our current favorite book

1826207Over in the Meadow may be one of my favorite read-alouds to our 14 month old right now. In case you’re not familiar with the nursery rhyme, here’s a YouTube video of the tune. Over in the Meadow dates all the way back to the 16th century, and the illustrations in this book are wonderfully nostalgic.

She’s too young for this now, but in a year or so I plan on buying the Audible versions of several children’s books and allowing her to flip through the pages herself while listening to the audio. This book will definitely be on that list, along with the illustrator’s other award-winning book, Frog Went A-Courtin.


Tidying with the KonMari Method

p22-odonoghue-marie-kondo-b-20141012I mentioned in a book review that I recently read The Life-Changing Art of Tidying Up, so I thought I’d do a follow-up post about applying her techniques to our home. The cornerstones of the KonMari Method are:

Clean up all at once, not a little at a time.

Tidy by category (clothes, books, papers, etc.) instead of by room.

Keep only what sparks joy.

Now, by saying that you should clean all at once, she doesn’t mean you’ll be done in a day. She estimates that it will take about six months from start to finish. Still, she defies the conventional wisdom that it’s better to clean incrementally so you don’t feel discouraged. Her premise is that doing that will only result in what she calls “the rebound effect,” an inevitable slow return to chaos.

Before you start tidying, however, she urges readers to visualize and articulate the ideal home that they’d like to live in. This struck me as a little fruity, but the more I thought about it, the more I began to appreciate the idea of having an ultimate goal to work toward. It shifts the mindset from a negative (“I don’t want to live in clutter”) to a positive. And as Marie Kondo points out, you won’t know what to keep and what to discard if you don’t first determine the what and why of things I need in my life. Here’s what I’ve written down.

I want a home that is warm, comforting and peaceful. I want a place where my child feels secure and mentally stimulated, where my husband has a haven, where people can show up unexpectedly and make themselves at home. I want to take pride in running a simple, clean, and functional household. My home should be a refuge that is feminine, light and airy.

I struggled with this affirmation because to me, I can’t really have a feminine home with the old, dated furniture that we received secondhand. I’ve been secretly harboring the belief that I can’t have my ideal home without first buying new things, and as for it being “light and airy,” our apartment has faux wood paneling for crying out loud. Unless we move to a different place with new furnishings, how am I ever going to achieve anything like my dream? Uncovering this hidden bias has helped me realize how I’ve created a stumbling block to creating the lifestyle I want in the now. Marie Kondo would probably advise me to replace the furniture that does not “spark joy,” but we really don’t have the money to do that. However, that doesn’t mean that I can’t make the rest of our home beautiful. A cardboard box would feel homey if it was filled with things I love.


The first category she instructs readers to tackle is clothes. Cue an inward groan. If I had to pinpoint the area we struggle with the most, it’s clothes. She recommends putting all your clothes on the bed so you can see them all together. When I did this, I discovered something shocking. See, the above picture (as an obvious disclaimer, that is not my closet) represents the style I love most: soft colors, feminine florals, long tunics, flowy sleeves, lace and a few ruffles. All of those things are virtually absent from my wardrobe. My clothes mostly consist of t-shirts (some with holes!), dark colors, heavy fabrics, and of course, some things I haven’t worn in years. It was a little heartbreaking to realize for the first time that the mountain of clothes I own do not represent me as a person, in large part because most of my closet was gifted.


I started out thinking I had a clothes problem because I just have too many clothes. Now, I realize I have a clothes problem because I don’t have enough clothes that speak to my heart and spark joy. But doesn’t this go back to the same problem I mentioned before? I can’t just throw everything away and buy a whole new wardrobe. After some hesitation, I resolved to stick with the KonMari Method and ruthlessly purge the clothes that I do not love. That means only having very few outfits for now, but my thinking is that I can buy one item of clothing per month and work toward creating a style I love.

This is only the first step in the KonMari Method, and already it’s proved to be both surprisingly difficult and rewarding at the same time. Books are the next category I’ll be tackling, and they may prove to be even more of a challenge. Some women collect shoes, but I collect books. I have so many books that there are great stacks of them hidden in the closet, forgotten and unused.

I am curious to see how far this purging will eventually go. She refers to a “click point” where you realize you have discarded enough, and now the objects in your home are the only ones that bring you joy. I don’t really believe her promise that once the regimen is complete, you will never fall back into chaos–I’ve rebounded too many times for blind faith. But I am willing to try. What do I have to lose? Just a lot of junk I wasn’t using anyway.

Book Reviews 1/25

Screen Shot 2015-01-03 at 11.07.09 PM51ItyE+LPZLThe Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up is not the first book I’ve read on the subject of home organization (not even close), but I am still holding out hope that it may be my last.

The author claims that even the most messy and disorganized people can have a clean and comfortable home if they follow her method. Whereas most guides warn against trying to clean in one go and encourage you to tackle one room at a time or throw out one item a week, this author advocates a whirlwind of declutterization (is that a word?) where you rip the band aid off all at once. The reason people always rebound to a state of messiness, she says, is because they aren’t addressing the root problem. By doing a big clean (and a lot of discarding), you’ll be able to maintain your new peaceful abode like you never have before. Rather than focusing on what to throw away, she encourages a zen mindset of keeping only “what sparks joy.”

Some parts of the book are much too animistic for me, but they provide a fascinating glimpse into the author’s culture. She is so encouraging to people like myself who have secretly given up on the dream of becoming a tidy person. I’ll let you know if this book turns out to be as practical as it is inspirational.

I was in the mood for something light this week, so I decided to listen to Dad Is Fat on audio. It’s a parenting memoir about Gaffigan’s experience raising five kids in a two bedroom apartment in New York City. You should definitely get the audiobook version. It’s a real treat to listen to Jim Gaffigan narrate his book like one of his stand-up routines.

As funny as some of his anecdotes are, there are times I want to take Jim by the shoulders and shake him. For instance, his kid came home crying because she believed the Tooth Fairy didn’t love her as much as a friend who received more money. What more proof does he need that it’s a bad idea to lie to your children? Instead, he just shrugs because hey, telling your kids that the Tooth Fairy and Santa Claus exist are part of our society’s conventions. There are so many times throughout the book where he has a light bulb moment that something is absurd, but he can’t bring himself to choose a different path that might be unpopular.

That’s a little surprising, considering that by virtue of having five children, he’s already outside the norm by today’s standards. Speaking of that, I’m happy to see an example of life with a large family outside of the trope of the Duggars. I have to say that I enjoyed his memoir in large part because it managed to be funny and sweet without being saccharine. Here’s one of Gaffigan’s observations on life with a large family:

“I guess the reasons against having more children always seem uninspiring and superficial. What exactly am I missing out on? Money? A few more hours of sleep? A more peaceful meal? More hair? These are nothing compared to what I get from these five monsters who rule my life. I believe each of my five children has made me a better man. So I figure I only need another thirty-four kids to be a pretty decent guy. Each one of them has been a pump of light into my shriveled black heart. I would trade money, sleep, or hair for a smile from one of my children in a heartbeat. Well, it depends on how much hair.”

Book Reviews 1/17

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Shades of Milk and Honey is the kind of book I wish I had written myself. What if magic existed in the Regency Era, and young ladies were expected to be able to weave its illusory powers as an accomplishment alongside the pianoforte and painting? You’ll find at least half a dozen tributes to Jane Austen here, but the story still maintains an originality all its own.

Although it is a fast and easy read, I found the modern tone a bit too anachronistic. Still, the descriptions of glamour, pelisees, and gentlemen on horseback are most diverting. Magic isn’t used as a crutch for good storytelling–the plot is compelling even without the fantastical elements.

The author does not possess Jane Austen’s singular wit and deep insight into the human psyche, but hey, sometimes a cravat is just a cravat. If a spectrum exists, I imagine nonsense like Lost in Austen on one far end and the true classics written by Austen herself on the other. In my estimation, Shades of Milk and Honey falls center-right toward Austen, and that’s good enough for me. I’ll probably read at least one of the sequels.

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A Natural History of Dragons is an alternate history set in the Victorian era. Can you believe this cover? It makes me happy just looking at it. Note to book publishers everywhere: stop using cheesy photo manipulation. Commission real artists for a change!

My interest in this book was piqued when I learned that the author enjoys roleplaying (ah, a fellow gamer!). If you love zoology, mythology, Victorian romance or dangerous expeditions akin to Darwin’s voyage on The Beagle, this story is for you.

I’m sorry to say the author trots out the tired trope of the oppressed Victorian woman. The feminist parti pris only weighs the story down, unless you’re the type of reader who thrills at this kind of whitewashed retelling of history. It does create a good vantage point for people to look down their noses at the past and feel smug in their own modern sensibilities. In point of fact, women studied history, literature, astronomy, botany, mathematics and, yes, zoology. Mary Anning was perhaps one of the most acclaimed paleontologists of the Victorian era, praised by no less than Charles Darwin. By attempting to make the protagonist so forward-thinking, the author actually underestimates and devalues women of that era.

Still, one can forgive such a commonly held misconception, particularly since this book is set in an alternative timeline. The memoir is full of humor and suspense, the illustrations are delightful, and I’ll be spending a little more time with dragons exist in the sequels.

howtoliveon24hoursadayFirst published in 1910, How to Live on 24 Hours a Day (link to the audiobook for $0.99) is a brief treatise on how to truly live versus merely existing. Bennett worried that the swelling middle class in post-industrial England was falling prey to the monotony of the 40 hour work week. Sound familiar? In order to break the mindless work-eat-sleep-work cycle, he suggests seizing upon a certain amount of leisure time and using it to better oneself.

The author advises carving out time to read great literature, take an interest in the arts, learn a new skill, or practice inward reflection gained by the reading of philosophy. He then coaches you on creating and sticking to a routine without becoming a slave to it. Definitely an inspiration as we start the new year!

“Which of us lives on twenty-four hours a day? And when I say ‘lives,’ I do not mean exists, nor ‘muddles through.’ Which of us is free from that uneasy feeling that the ‘great spending departments’ of his daily life are not managed as they ought to be? Which of us is not saying to himself — which of us has not been saying to himself all his life: ‘I shall alter that when I have a little more time’? We never shall have any more time. We have, and we have always had, all the time there is.”

Bye Bye Bottle


I pumped exclusively, and our baby transitioned to formula when my supply tanked at around seven months, so the bottle has been our constant companion since birth. It’s with a heavy heart that I’m putting away the bottles and transitioning to a straw cup.

Why are we skipping sippy cups? Speech therapists believe that sippy cups (as well as prolonged bottle use) can contribute to speech delays, tooth decay, and ear infections. It turns out that sippy cups weren’t invented until the late 1980’s, so although they seem ubiquitous today, they were unheard of only a generation ago. While they are an enormous boon to parents in preventing messy spills, their benefit to children is questionable at best. Transitioning directly to straw cups now also saves us the hassle of having to first transition to a sippy and then once again to a straw cup. We only plan on giving her milk at meal times, so I don’t mind if she spills a little water out of the straw throughout the day.

To be honest, I’m sad to see the bottle go. It signifies an end to babyhood. I mean, I knew that technically babies become toddlers at age one, and her first birthday is right around the corner. It just hadn’t really sunk in until we decided to start preparing to lose the bottle. Cuddling on the couch with her laying on my lap as she drank her bottle is a ritual I’ll miss dearly. Of course, getting older means she’s also doing more and more fun things and becoming more interactive.

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We’re using OXO straw cups, if you’re curious. Here’s what I love about them:

  • it’s dishwasher safe and easy to clean (the straw breaks down into two parts)
  • the straw is made of soft silicone
  • the lid can be rotated so that the straw is pinched and it won’t leak while traveling with it (she’s too young to master this herself)
  • the transparent bottle allows her to see whether she’s getting milk or water
  • there are measurements in both mL and ounces
  • the cup has silicone on its sides so that it can be easily gripped by young hands
  • it comes in three colors (we went with gender neutral green)
  • it doesn’t have handles, which makes storage easy
  • you can buy replacement straws if need be

And here are some aspects of the cup I’m not so keen on:

  • they’re expensive (I wouldn’t spend $7 on a cup for myself)
  • I’m afraid there will come a time when she’ll chew up the straws
  • it’s difficult for her to get the very last bit of liquid at the bottom
  • I kind of wish the straw was slitted so it wouldn’t leak, but I’ve heard that comes with its own set of problems
  • it will be a long time before she can open and close it on her own, so it leaks a little when shaken or overturned

Overall, we’re pretty happy with it. I give it four out of five stars.

She wasn’t sure how to use them at first, so we bought some baby food pouches (which we normally never do, as they are overpriced). She quickly learned how to suck food out of the pouch, and by alternating giving her the pouch and the cup, she reflexively sipped out of the straw cup after sipping food out of the pouch. She still seemed a bit reluctant to switch to the straw cup, so we focused on giving it to her first thing in the morning, when she was groggy and very hungry after her night of sleep. We’re still giving her an evening bottle just before bed, but we hope to eliminate that by the end of the month.

We actually first tried to transition her to the Munchkin Miracle 360 cups, but it was pretty much a failure from day one. We thought that using a rimless cup would be less of a learning curve than a straw (plus rimless cups don’t leak), and it’s true that she learned how to drink out of it without any help, but she had no interest in it. She would occasionally take a sip here and there, but she wouldn’t take formula out of it and barley drank water from it. Perhaps she’s too young for it. We’ll shelve them and try again in a few weeks. If nothing else, the tops can be taken off and they can be used as regular kid cups when she’s older.

This is probably more than you ever wanted to know about transitioning from a bottle to a cup, but I actually found it difficult to find information about it when we were first trying, so maybe someone out there will benefit from this post. Our next big milestone will be switching from formula to whole cow milk. Here’s hoping that transition goes smoothly!