Things to Read Thursday - Beach Books (for Grown-Ups & Kids)


beach again

Beach Reads for Grown-Ups

At the beach, I finally finished Nicole Krauss's The History of Love: A Novel, despite having the cheesiest title ever, this was an amazing read. Not that Nicole Krauss needs any props from me, the New Yorker magazine chose her as one of the top 20 writers under 40 (she also published this wonderful story in the New Yorker) and Granta magazine included her as one of the "Best Young American Novelists". Plus she's married to Jonathan Safran Foer, so I'm sure they'll have genius offspring someday. All that being said, The History of Love is an easy read (though somewhat depressing, the main character is a Holocaust surviver) and just a lovely story (though somewhat hard to summarize as it has three intersecting plots). But you will cry. Luckily, if you read it at the beach, everyone will just think you have sand in your eyes.

I'm not a huge fan of chick lit, but if you want an incredibly easy, somewhat trashy novel for the beach (and sometimes we all want trash, admit it) then you can't go wrong with Valley of the Dolls. The novel (which was originally published in the 1960s and sold millions of copies) centers around three friends all of who become fabulously famous and, yet, unhappy. It's a page-turning soap opera. You won't be able to put it down, even for a second.

My third beach pick is Ruth Reichl's memoir, Tender at the Bone: Growing Up at the Table (Random House Reader's Circle). Reichel chronicles her life (starting with childhood) by using food as a catalyst for memory (every chapter ends in a recipe, all of which I've been too lazy to make). The writing is quite good and the stories are poignant, but nothing incredibly depressing happens (which was nice, as sometimes I feel that for a book to be published it has to describe something horrific).

My final beach pick is Kate Walbert's A Short History of Women: A Novel, a fictional look at the lives of five generations of women. The narrative switches between women and is not in chronological order, which at times makes it a little tricky to follow. All the women in the novel make drastically different choices in life and the book tries to deal in some form with the "struggles" of women throughout the last hundred years - from the matriarch who starves herself for women's suffrage to her great-granddaughter's drunken playdate with another mom in NYC. It is one of the best books I've read in the last year, I highly recommend it.

By the way, if you live in DC area, I own all these books, except for Valley of Dolls, and you're welcome to borrow any of them - just email me.

Children's Books About the Ocean - Ages 3.5 - 7 (Approximately)

Does Anyone Know Where A Hermit Crab Goes? This book is a simple story, a very fast, easy read (which rhymes, as the easiest reads tend to do), all about a hermit crab looking for a new home. Lots of pictures. The kids really like it.

Clam-I-Am!: All About the Beach (Cat in the Hat's Learning Library) I'm a big fan of the Cat in the Hat's Learning Library. It's fun to read books with clever rhymes and learn something at the same time. Both for children and for adults. This one is very good, though somewhat longer than other books in the series. It describes various sea creatures and then goes on to answer questions, such as "why is the ocean blue?" and "why is seawater salty?" very informative.

Tammy Turtle: A Tale of Saving Sea Turtles
This book was at the house we rented. The girls found it on the bookshelf and made us read it to them every night. It's nice in that it shows how people can help sea turtles, so for about three days my children dreamed of being "sea turtle rescuers." Plus, it has an environmental message - one of the turtles becomes sick after eating a plastic bag that she mistook for a jellyfish.

Science in Seconds at the Beach: Exciting Experiments You Can Do in Ten Minutes or Less
I was nervous that the kids would run out of ways to self-entertain at the beach (of all my fears this ended up being the most ridiculous), so I wanted to bring along a book on kids' activities. The Science Museum of Virginia suggested Science in Seconds. We didn't use it as much as expected, because the kids seemed to be having so much fun on their own, but I'm glad we purchased it as the experiments are versatile enough that we'll be able to reference it for many years to come. The experiments are incredibly simple, yet very informative - such as using lettuce leaves to show how oxygen is made in oceans and lakes and/or using an egg and a drinking glass to test whether it is easier to float in the ocean or a swimming pool.

On the Seashore (Picture Books)
We actually don't own this book, but I plan on buying it for our next trip to the beach. A good friend recommended it and said that it's one of her children's favorite books. We do have Milbourne's Snowy Day (Picture Books) and we read it over and over again during the winter.

There Was an Old Lady Who Swallowed a Trout Anyone who knows me understands why this book is a family favorite. There are a TON of "old lady who swallowed x" books out there (why is this? does anyone know? what's the big deal about old ladies who swallow impossible things?), but this our favorite. IF only for the phrase "that splished and splashed and thrashed about. It wanted out!" For some odd reason, I find myself saying this over and over throughout the day.

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By the way, in case you're wondering, "what does a baby walking on a beach have to do with reading?" The answer is - absolutely nothing. I just have so many cute beach pictures I figured I'd add some to this post. So be it.


Places to Go - Nags Head, NC (Part II)

beach round 1

For the first few days, we all enjoyed a relaxing beach vacation. Luckily, huge tide pools formed in front of our house. In the morning and evening, each one was about the size of a small baby pool. And all three kids loved them. P tried to "surf" in their non-waves. T (the baby) carried his shovel into them and tried to dig up all sand in site. And F, our oldest, collected bucket after bucket of seashells. By day two, F had a "beach outfit" which lasted the entire trip, consisting of a visor, a ball, binoculars, and a towel (the baby often fought her for the ball). And, since the tidepools were so shallow, I could actually lie on a blanket, relax, and watch the kids. Bliss. But THEN . . .

beach round 2

on day three, the kids discovered the magic of waves. It started innocently enough, with the girls dipping their toes in the surf, then running away. But eventually they decided to go in deeper and deeper. So, of course, I had to go in with them, holding hands and holding a baby. So much for relaxation. By day four, we were up before sunrise and dressed for the beach by 7:30 am. So much for sleeping in. Oh well, everyone was exhausted by 10 in the morning, so we avoided the sunburn hours (and, wow, can I burn). Plus, the whole place was lovely. Simply lovely.

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Things to Make (at the Beach) - Seashell Jewelry & Sand Pictures

seashell jewelry 2

seashell jewelry 1

This is probably my favorite kid craft project ever because (1) it's super easy and (2) it actually produced something I WANT to wear (miracles, miracles). Before we left for the beach I bought some leather cord (Natural Beige Faux Leather Suede Beading Cord 10 Feet Ultra Microfiber). So all we had to do was find seashells with holes in them. The girls proved themselves to be very bad at this task. On the upside, they were GREAT at finding seashells in general, so we dumped buckets of shells on the table with hopes that some would meet our criteria. And some did (YAY)!! P had fun making her necklace, but soon tired of wearing it. F, on the other hand, continues to wear her bracelet everyday (she likes the "jangling" sound it makes). And I have a beautiful necklace that I've been wearing. Sort of a cool souvenir. Or so I like to think.

beach art

For another craft project (we were there for a whole week, after all), we made beach pictures on construction paper. All that this entailed was bringing blue and light-brown construction paper and saying "why don't you draw the beach?" Then, to make it "extra special", the girls used a glue stick to attach real sand. So easy.

For more suggestions on things to make at the beach, these cards are the best -
52 Fun Things to Do at the Beach (52 Series)

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Places to Go - Nags Head, NC (The Outer Banks)






If you are a parent with young children (too young for school) or if you don't have children, there is no better deal on the East Coast than the Outer Banks after Labor Day. The rates plummet, the crowds leave, BUT the water is warm and the weather is perfect (usually mid-80s during the day, turning cooler at night). Since this is F's last year as a preschooler (next year = kindergarden, yikes) we couldn't wait to take advantage of the low September rent. We found this beautiful, beautiful house through a rental agency (there are literally thousands to choose from) and invited my parents to come with us. My dad has stage four cancer (he's doing incredibly well, but sometimes he has trouble walking), thus it was important to me that we booked an oceanfront house. But if you're flexible, there are tons of houses farther back for much cheaper (though make sure to rent somewhere that provides hurricane insurance, as it is the season).

So off we headed with a minivan full of stuff (including a bag of dinosaurs and several headbands). We haven't been to the beach in almost two years, plus, this was T's first trip ever, so I wasn't sure what the general reaction would be. Luckily, as soon as we arrived, the girls RAN onto shore and played and played (before we even had time to get bathing suits on them). And the baby would have walked into the ocean if it weren't for grandma (thank god for grandparents). So off to a good start . . .

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Things to Do - Dance in a Circle

dance in a circle

A few weeks ago, we took the kids to Great Country Farms for their potato picking festival.** As we waited in line for the hayride to the fields, a bunch of the kids started dancing in circles. No music or anything. In bright sun (hence the bad quality of the pictures above). The great thing about kids is they take for granted that the journey is more important than the destination. Now if only I can do the same.

Have a great weekend everyone - if you need some inspiration, check this out!

Next week I have a whole series of "beach posts" from our trip to Nags Head, NC, so please stop by!

**By the way, if you ever have a chance, potato picking is completely amazing. We arrived at the field and all we saw was dirt and more dirt and we all looked like "seriously, this is the worst scavenger hunt ever." Then the tractor combed the field and all of a sudden there were potatoes everywhere. Thousands. Like magic. Of course, this was SO SO EXCITING that everyone ended up with more potatoes then they can possibly eat (one of my friends has $15 of potatoes in her pantry right now). In other words, expect potatoes for Xmas.


Things to Read - Photography & Art Books


With the exception of Hidden Pond, my blog this week has an art focus. So I figured I'd stick with the trend by posting some of my favorite art and photography books. I've tried to include a ton of hyperlinks, so even if you have no desire to buy the books, they should give you an idea of the artists' work (if you're interested). Let me know if you have a problem with any of the links. References to the works pictured above are at the bottom of the page.

A Year of Mornings: 3191 Miles Apart

The photos in A Year of Mornings are so so simple, yet so so beautiful and powerful. The book is a collaboration by two women, who live on opposite coasts, taking daily pictures of their morning. Often the photos are nothing but a shadow or a left-over breakfast plate, but they somehow manage to make even the mundane look completely magical.

Julie Blackmon: Domestic Vacations

Julie Blackmon does these photoshop composites of kids and parenting that are never too bitter or too sweet. And are often quite funny. If you're a mom who has ever been in a playgroup, her playgroup photo (second row) is just too true.


If you've ever lived in the suburbs (or considered living in the suburbs) you need this book. The photos are great, the captions are really funny. It's amusing and poignant. For example, one photo shows an older man and older woman in a workshop with a bunch of nude pictures (playboy-type shots) surrounding them, the caption reads "We've been collecting rocks since 1958. It's enjoyable to get out into the open and hunt for rocks, and it's really fun to cut open a rock and find a gem inside." Bill Owens knew what he was doing.

Massimo Vitali: Landscape and Figures

Apparently this book is very expensive now, which makes me sad because I bought it for nothing then ripped out my favorite photos and framed the pictures. I thought this made me frugal, now I realize it makes me an idiot. Oh well, the pictures are lovely. If you can't afford $385 on a book, then just click here to see Vitali's beautiful pictures of crowded places (especially beaches) sort of like Where's Waldo, but with no Waldo.

Alex Katz (Contemporary Artists)

I mentioned on Monday that I'm a little obsessed with Alex Katz right now. Can't stop looking at these pictures. I really can't stop. It's like each picture is its own short-story or choose-your-adventure book, there are certain clues but you're still not quite sure what is going on. Plus, it's sort of cool that he modeled for J Crew as an old man, but then again, I'm dorky like that.

Asylum: Inside the Closed World of State Mental Hospitals

Christopher Payne's photographs are simply stunning. I keep looking at them over and over asking "how did he do that?" For this book, he took images of empty mental institutions. He included abandoned objects along with building shots, but the best part of all is how he managed to capture light and shadows and hints of color everywhere. You would think that such a subject matter would be haunting or disturbing, but most of the images are just beautiful, not spooky at all.

Brassai, Paris (Taschen 25th Anniversary Special Editins)

This is pretty much a classic, so it isn't a surprising pick, but, nonetheless, I can't seem to stop looking at all the night photos, especially before I go to bed. Odd, I know. I couldn't find a great link for Brassai's photos (lots of biographical info clogging google), but here's the google images link, which probably has some false hits as well.
Top photo (from left to right) - Alex Katz (Contemporary Artists), A Year of Mornings: 3191 Miles Apart, Julie Blackmon: Domestic Vacations

Third photo from top (from left to right) - Asylum: Inside the Closed World of State Mental Hospitals, Suburbia, A Year of Mornings: 3191 Miles Apart, Asylum: Inside the Closed World of State Mental Hospitals

Fourth photo from top (from left to right) - Brassai, Paris (Taschen 25th Anniversary Special Editins), Massimo Vitali: Landscape and Figures, Julie Blackmon: Domestic Vacations, Massimo Vitali: Landscape and Figures

Bottom photo (from left to right) - Alex Katz (Contemporary Artists), Suburbia


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