Best Movies of 2014

by LeeAnne on February 22, 2015


Going to the movies has been a favorite pastime of mine for a very long time. It’s partially entertainment, sure, but it’s also art. I see movies to be moved, challenged, and inspired. They take me out of my own little life and get me thinking about the Big Questions in a way no other medium does. Something I heard a lot when I was pregnant was, “Just wait until you have kids…” I found this rather annoying. Beyond the fact that it’s neither supportive nor loving, it is simply not true. Every person has the same amount of time in a day, and we choose how to spend it based on our individual priorities. Is my new child a priority? Of course. But so is my favorite hobby—and I schedule time for it. Some parents watch hours of TV. Others read piles of books. I watch a lot of movies.

Despite the late May arrival of my daughter and the end of my movie-watching life as I knew it, I saw 39 new flicks this year. To make my annual top ten, I keep a running ranked list and insert each title after I see it. At the end of the year (or, more accurately, before the Academy Awards, as so many great films are released late in the year and it takes time to hit them all), I make adjustments based on how strongly a title still resonates.  So, without further adieu…

1. Birdman
What I loved: The one-long-shot cinematography, the feverish pace, the freestyle drumming score, the blending of fantasy and reality, the deliciously whacky performances, and the winky-wink nod to Michael Keaton’s own acting career.

2. The Grand Budapest Hotel
What I loved: Wes Anderson’s films are like moving paintings, specifically dusty retro paintings you might find in your grandmother’s attic. In addition to the stunning sets and costumes, this crime caper is fast and funny and fabulous.

3. Whiplash
What I loved: This one is intense, and I wanted to join in smacking Miles Teller over the head a few times, hehe. But I really respected that it doesn’t take a moral/ethical stance on the pursuit of perfection. Artists’ internal and external motivations come in many forms—and greatness often rises from darkness.

4. The Theory of Everything / The Imitation Game
What I loved: So, I’m probably cheating a bit here, but these are practically the same movie. Biopic on a great (but awkward) mind, killer British cast, beautiful cinematography… I’m giving the edge to Theory because Eddie Redmayne and Felicity Jones were so, so good.

5. Edge of Tomorrow
What I loved: Action movies don’t often rank this high for me, but this Groundhog Day–esque concept was really fun and interesting, and the puzzle challenged me til the very end, which was very satisfying. Plus, who knew Emily Blunt could take on such a tough role?

6. Wild
What I loved: I read this book about a year ago, and I struggled with it. I just didn’t really care for the protagonist—and it’s a memoir! Seeing the movie, I was delighted by what Reese Witherspoon brought to the character. I felt empathy toward her and believed in the transformative power of her journey.

7. Guardians of the Galaxy
What I loved: The trailers for this movie were laughably bad. But I kept hearing good things and took a chance. So glad I did. I thought Guardians had the perfect balance of action, drama, and comedy. It didn’t take itself too seriously. And it was just a lot of fun.

8. Selma
What I loved: This movie was so, so powerful, as you’d hope a biopic on MLK would be. Credit, I think, goes to the supertight focus on this one event in the movement and the authentic performances. Personally, I think it’s insane that David Oyelowo isn’t up for a best actor Oscar.

9. American Sniper
What I loved: My husband points out that this is a rare war movie without politics. And it’s true: It’s the (true) story of one warrior, from childhood through four tours in Iraq to (spoiler alert, I suppose) his tragic and untimely death. It’s gritty and intense. I especially loved some of the small moments, like when Chris Kyle has to put down his gun and rub his shoulder after hours laying in a hideout.

10. Chef
What I loved: This was easily the most fun I had in the theater this year. The movie doesn’t break any new ground, but it’s a delightful father-son story with larger-than-life characters, a fun soundtrack, and lots of delectable food shots. The grilled-cheese making scene is whoa. Need that. Now.

Honorable mentions: Boyhood (for it’s Big Idea, even if it feels like a gimmick in light of zero plot), A Most Wanted Man (for a thrilling ride; also RIP Phillip Seymour Hoffman), Big Eyes (for Christoph Waltz in those courtroom scenes), The Skeleton Twins (for the lip-sync prowess of Kristen Wiig and Bill Hader), Laggies (for making me nostalgic for high school and slumber parties), Muscle Shoals (for a compelling slice of music history, even if it technically came out at the end of 2013…).

What I wish I hadn’t wasted time on: Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit (zzzzzzzzz), Magic in the Moonlight (Woody Allen is so hit or miss, and this is a miss), and Snowpiercer (sorry, Entertainment Weekly hype machine, it wasn’t that good).

What I didn’t get around to seeing but wish I had: Calvary, Nightcrawler, and St. Vincent.

Now it’s your turn. What were your favorites? Please share them in the comments!

P.S. – I’ve been making movie-related top 10 and best-0f lists for a while. Here’s where you can find them for 2013, 2012, 2011, 2010, 2009, 2008, 2007, 2006, 2005, 2004, and 2003.  And, I also have a Top Movies of the Decade list, representing 2000 to 2010.


Dear Denali: Seven Months

by LeeAnne on December 23, 2014


The wave. It’s your new favorite thing. The first time you waved at me, I had just dropped you off at Grandma and Grandpa’s, so I could join your dad for his work holiday party. Grandpa was holding you on the porch. He waved goodbye as I backed out of the driveway—and you did, too! Except it was backward, the palm of your hand facing you, slowly opening and closing. It was so precious; my heart melted. Soon, you started waving at the cats whenever they entered the room. And once, when I gave you your dolly, you held her above yourself with one hand and waved at her with the other. Sometimes, I catch you practicing: You’ll be laying on your back with your hands up in front of your face, opening and closing your fist and turning your wrist.

Another new favorite: music class. Mommy’s friend, Kate, suggested we try a free Music Together class, with Kate and her two-month-old, Clarice. That 45 minutes ended up being the highlight of your life so far. You had a huge smile on your face as the group sat in a circle, singing and clapping to music. We played with drumsticks and egg-shaped shakers. We dance around in a circle. At one point, the teacher dumped out a bin of various instruments. I gave you a small tambourine and a bongo drum, and you were delighted. You happily shook the tambourine in one hand while slapping the drum with the other. You loved watching all the other kids in the class (mostly 9–12 month range). I knew I had to sign you up for the rest of the session. Maybe it was because we were at Music Together earlier in the day, but you got the biggest smile when you heard someone hammering a new display at Crate & Barrel. Maybe you thought it was music?

Lately, you are not a big fan of having anything on your feet. You constantly tug at your socks (one style, which you wear often, stays on) and kick off your shoes almost immediately. When I was trying to take your six-month photos, you’d have one shoe off before I could focus my camera. You also really hate it when the book you’re “reading” closes. Until you figured out how to open them on your own—which took a few days—you’d be happily playing with a book and then start wailing in frustration.

We retired your play mat. I needed to clear out the living room for a Christmas party, and you had nearly outgrown it anyway. These days, you’ll sit in the middle of the living room for a good 45 minutes, often preoccupied with rollie owl or your Taggies blanket. (You are obsessed with tags—on your bib, on your clothes, on your toys. You crinkle them in your hands and suck on them.) Eventually, you’ll get tired of sitting and fall over. Then, you enjoy rolling over to the hard tile and slapping it. Or rolling over to an object and licking it—like the leg of a chair. Or a wastebasket. One day, I could tell you were about to spit up. I kind of dove onto the carpet in front of you and stuck out my hand—and I caught it! Haha. It was impressive and also gross. The things moms do to prevent more carpet cleaning…

Your personality is starting to come into focus, and you’re clearly a playful and social little girl. When you’re excited to see someone, you kick all of your limbs. You do this every time I carry you into the office to say “hi” to Daddy on his telecommuting days. A big smile, and flail, flail, flail! One evening, you made your dad laugh so hard, he spit out his drink. He said to you, “You still have your jacket on,” and you immediately went, “HA-HA!” It was pretty funny. We have our favorite photos of you on a stream that our Apple TV uses as a slideshow screen saver. You often watch it, but lately, you make excited shouts and squeals when the photos change. I don’t know if you realize the photos are of you, or if you think there are a bunch of babies on our TV, hanging out with your family and your toys. And, you’re more aware of and excited about the cats. In fact, I think you know their names. I was saying words to you—Mama, Papa, hi, bottle, Pepper—and when I got to Pepper, your eyes widened and you started looking around the room for our cat, Pepper.

Despite all the fun and silliness, you’re also getting more fussy and drooly lately, and it might be teething related. We’ve started giving you your Binky again at nap times and nighttime, and it seems to be helping. You fall asleep faster and sleep longer with it. We upgraded your hospital Soothies to Super Soothies, which are much thicker and stronger. You like to pull them out and chew on the sides.

You had your first Thanksgiving! You wore a pretty dress and sat at the table in your high chair. Your bib had a turkey on it and said “I’m stuffed!” You had meat for the first time: Grandma bought a jar of turkey and butternut squash baby food. You liked it a lot; you didn’t even make a “first-taste” face. Later in the evening, your second cousins Tyler and Marieke were making you laugh for a good half hour. They’d give you a toy, you’d drop it (purposefully) on the floor, and they’d scramble to get it. As soon as they’d move, you’d bust up laughing. It was ridiculously cute.

Some firsts this month… You tried your first fruit: apples. You did not enjoy them and made the worst face of any new taste—even a gagging sound! Haha. A few spoonfuls later, you started clamping your mouth shut. Your second fruit, prunes, was better, although you stuck out your tongue between bites. Maybe because of the tartness? Veggies are the clear favorite thus far. You sat in your first restaurant high chair, at The Habit, with the Carson clan. You did great! You played with your toys and were content until you got tired. (After I moved you to my lap, you suddenly threw your head down onto my arms, which were resting on the table, and fell asleep! You were slumped over my arms, face down, with your arms splayed out. We cracked up and took a bunch of photos. Silly girl!) I bought you your first battery-operated toy: a set of plastic keys. The clicker plays real recorded sounds, like a car horn, a door closing, an engine starting, etc. When you first held it, you unknowingly hit the button for the car engine sound. It made the noise and you opened your eyes wide in shock. For several days, you’d suck on the clicker (rather than the teething keys!) and it would emit a continuous string of sounds.

This month, you started weekly visits with Grandma and Grandpa. They are helping Mommy get some freelance writing done without distraction. They enjoy having you, and you really enjoy your time with them. I am so grateful for their help. Later in the day, I join you all for dinner and the weekly Carson “craft night.” In other news, we got a new car! We traded in one of our Honda Civics for a family-friendly Honda CRV. It’s much easier to get you in and out of the car, and we have more storage space, so we can actually put something else in the trunk with the stroller! And, lastly, we found out that Auntie Lindsey and Uncle Brett are expecting a girl. Yay! I hope you two will be best buds.

Month 7 Stats
Clothes: 9 months, 9–12 months
Diapers: Size 3
Food: 4–5 six- or seven-ounce bottles per day. Has tried oat cereal, peas, carrots, apples, prunes, bananas, and a Thanksgiving blend of butternut squash and turkey.
Likes: Waving, sucking on tags, rollie owl, Christmas lights.
Dislikes: Apples.


Dear Denali: Six Months

by LeeAnne on November 23, 2014


You are on a roll! Literally. For a several weeks, you’ve been playing on your play mat in the doorway of the bathroom while I shower. One recent morning, I noticed you rolling off the mat and out of my view. I kept opening the shower door to check on you, and by the time I was finished, you were under my bed, stopped by the bins of wrapping paper underneath. Later that night, you rolled across the living room until you ran into the coffee table. And several days after that, you began getting frustrated by roadblocks, starting to fuss and cry when your roll was cut short. You are a woman on a mission. (And you now go in the Pack-and-Play when I shower.)

Mommy and Daddy bought you a jumper that hangs in a doorway. The first time in it, you were hesitant and a little afraid. At one point, you turned away from us and immediately started wailing. You thought we left you in the contraption! Since then, you seem to like it a little bit more but not a lot. You will push off with your toes and go slowly in a circle, but you haven’t done any jumping yet. Something else you’re not sure about: bubbles. I’ve been putting you in your Bumbo seat and blowing bubbles up above your head so they fall gently around you. You just stare at them. No smiles for the bubbles. Rattles, however, you totally get. You love rattles these days. You’ve started knocking on the wall at your changing table, with a little fist and everything. And you often flip over and grab at the clothes and other things on the changing table while I’m trying to change your diaper. So squirmy! Your fine motor skills have improved drastically. You will use your pointer finger and thumb to pinch at the antenna on your ladybug rattle. You looooove peek-a-boo.

You can basically feed yourself now. I sit you on my lap, with your back to me and looking out. You hold your bottle yourself, with just an occasional nudge from me (especially when the cats enter the room; you whip around to look at them and lose the bottle and your balance). Speaking of food… You tried solids for the first time at 5 ½ months! I put you in the Bumbo seat on a dining room chair. You wore one of the bibs that your Great Auntie Nette embroidered for you, and used an engraved keepsake spoon I bought you. We started with rice cereal. You were eager and curious about it all, but the moment the cereal hit your lips, you grimaced. You sucked the cereal off your lips but then grimaced again for the second and subsequent spoon deliveries. You seem to like the food but not the sensation of a spoon in your mouth. But you never cried or fussed. You ate maybe a teaspoon, haha. Since then, we’ve tried squash, green beans, and sweet potatoes. Your reaction to sweet potatoes was hilarious: open-mouthed shock and awe. You now have a real high chair (it’s dark wood with a woodland creatures seat cushion) and you eagerly open your mouth in anticipation of the spoon, although your tongue still sometimes gets in the way. You’re not sure what to do with it.

These days, you’re sitting up well enough to take baths in the kitchen sink without the Puj tub insert. You love to splash the water. By the end, I am drenched and the kitchen is flooded. Your hair is long enough now for bed head, LOL. It is a lot easier to cut your fingernails these days. You are really curious about what I’m doing and hold still. Your toenails on the other hand… harder.

I was watching The Voice one evening, with you playing on the floor, and you started “singing along.” You tried to out-volume the performers with very loud screaming and screetching. It was hilarious. Sometimes, when driving around in my car, it sounds like I have a flock of parrots in the backseat. You’re definitely in a squawking stage. You make it hard to listen to podcasts! And then one night, while all three of us were in the car, you were babbling away in the backseat and said “Yeah!” as clear as day. Your dad and I thought that was very cool. First word? LOL.

Lately, you’ve been sucking in your bottom lip a lot. It gives you a turtle-like face. Such a crack up. And you’ve had red bags under your eyes lately, which concerns me a little. My research suggests it’s probably just that you’re tired, or you could have allergies. You DO sneeze a lot. I hope you’re not allergic to cats!

You’re suddenly afraid of loud noises. My hairdryer, which didn’t used to bother you, now makes you cry. I have to talk you through it (“It’s OK!”) and turn it your way occasionally, so you can feel the air. This keeps you calm-ish. In public restrooms, when someone flushes a toilet, you get the most frightened look on your face. Your lip starts quivering and then you start wailing with real flowing tears. It’s the saddest little thing. Otherwise, you are so patient. Everyone tells me this. You are happy and calm, can go with the flow, and can be distracted from grumpiness pretty easily. I am grateful for this.

Some firsts this month… You had your first night away from Mommy and Daddy, when we celebrated our anniversary in San Francisco. You stayed with Grandma and Grandpa and had a great time. You slept through the night in their grandkids room, no problem. You went on a walk and had your first turn on the swings at the park. Grandma sent me the video, and it’s so cute. You are so series when it comes to new experiences. You had your first Halloween! Mommy and Daddy took you to a pumpkin patch, but you were not impressed. You wouldn’t smile. But you did like the goats in the petting zoo and the horses pulling the horse-drawn carriage. I made you a Halloween costume with a onesie and felt to look like you were a piece of sushi, and we went to Grandma and Grandpa’s. You trick-or-treated there and at one house across the street. Thanks for the candy – it was good. ;)

I’ll end with a funny story. We took family photos for Christmas cards in mid-November. I had purchased an outfit for you months ago, when the holiday stuff first hit stores. Everything fit fine except the shoes; they were too big. I had to make some adjustments to your outfit anyway, though, to coordinate with Mommy’s and Daddy’s. So I swapped out your sparkling white sweater for a silver one, and your too-big silver glitter Mary Janes for black patent-leather ones. One thing I almost forgot until I was buying your shoes was tights! Of course! Little girls wear tights with their dresses. I was just going to put your shoes on bare legs. What a noob mom move. I happened to see white tights with little silver glitter bows at the register at Carter’s, and they turned out perfect! So you ended up wearing only original piece: The maroon lace dress with satin ribbon. Sigh…

Month 6 Stats
Weight: 17 pounds, 11 ounces (78th percentile)
Height: 26.75 inches (82nd percentile)
Clothes: 6–9 months, 9 months
Diapers: Size 3
Food: 5 six- or seven-ounce bottles per day. Has tried rice cereal, squash, green beans, and sweet potatoes
Likes: Peek-a-boo, rattles, solid food, splashing bath water
Dislikes: Doorway jumper, bubbles, me wiping her face after eating


InstaFriday No. 20

by LeeAnne on November 8, 2014

Happy Friday! Got any fun plans for the weekend? Tomorrow is my and Paul’s sixth wedding anniversary—what!? That flew by. He has a few days off of work next week, so we’re hoping to make a quick celebratory getaway. I love, love, love the coast, and we’ve been to Monterey and Big Sur countless times. I can’t decide if I should mix it up and plan something different (Wine Country? Mendocino?) or just stick to my happy place. I’ll let you know what I decide in the next InstaFriday batch. Here’s what I’ve been up to the last couple weeks…


1: I was a member of the in-studio audience for CreativeLive’s Scrapbooking Your Baby’s First Year with Nicole Samuels. CreativeLive offers free web-streamed live classes in crafting, photography, business, and more, plus a library of paid on-demand content. You can apply to be an audience member for most classes filmed at their San Francisco and Seattle studios. I arrived bright and early to meet my classmates, get mic’ed, and settled in for several hours of scrapbooking tips and tricks, hands-on projects, and Skype calls from industry rock stars Ali Edwards and Becky Higgins.

2: One of the six scrapbook pages I made in the class. Everything moved very quickly, and this is the only layout I completed. But I learned so many new things, from creating photo collages with PicMonkey to ideas for non-milestone page themes, such as focusing on one relationship (baby and the family pet) and capturing several of your baby’s facial expressions.

3: CreativeLive provided breakfast, lunch, snacks between sessions, and a wrap party with drinks and appetizers. We were well taken care of!

4: Me (third from left) with my fellow audience members and Nicole Samuels (in green cardigan). Nicole was such a great teacher.


5: Denali was unimpressed with our local pumpkin patch. She basically made a stank face at everything. But I’m glad we went and got some cute pictures of her in candy corn leg warmers.

6: My first beer-and-paprika beef stew of the season. It’s one of my favorite Pioneer Woman recipes. We invited Paul’s parents over to share in the feast, and we enjoyed it as leftovers for a couple more days. (Stew improves as leftovers, don’t you think?)

7: Found a hidden heart in a rooftop garden in San Francisco. These painted hearts are part of an annual city-wide art installation and hospital fundraiser, and they’re auctioned off each year.

8: I just happened to be near San Francisco City Hall on the night before the Giants’ big World Series celebration and watched them setting up the stage, sound system, and street barricades.


9: Diablo magazine’s annual Gourmet East Bay event is always a lot of fun. Some of my favorites this year included: sashimi from Sasa, mini tostadas from Maria Maria, and ice-cream sandwiches from CREAM.

10: My polling place went all out with the blue electrical tape on Election Day. Not pictured: The phrase “first floor” written in blue tape, just outside the elevator.

11: Denali was a piece of sushi for Halloween.  I shamelessly stole this idea from Etsy.  I just couldn’t stomach $50 plus shipping for something I could make myself and she’d only wear once.  It turned out pretty well, except the bottom of the tuna started peeling off the onesie.  Karma in the form of fusible interfacing.  I’m sure the real deal has better construction.

12: We had a big milestone day recently in our household: Denali had her first “solid” food. We’re starting with rice cereal for several days before I bust out the carrots, squash, and sweet potatoes.  She grimaces when the food hits her mouth, but she ends up licking her lips, so I guess that’s a win.  Btw, the bib is embroidered by my Auntie Nette, and the keepsake spoon is from Lisa Leonard.


Hello, November

by LeeAnne on November 4, 2014


Wearing: Jeans, a sheer floral-printed shirt over a tank top, and flip-flops. California Autumn. I’ve basically been wearing a variation of this outfit daily since having Denali. I haven’t been back to (office) work, and I haven’t done any clothes shopping. After my c-section swelling went down (probably the worst part of the physical recovery, IMHO), I ended up 15 pounds lighter than when I got pregnant. Best weight-loss program ever. Don’t hate me.

Watching: Hollywood Game Night. I’m often late to the party on TV shows, as I don’t have cable or broadcast TV. But I stumbled across this game show on Hulu, and found myself laughing til I cried. Also, I’m looking forward to catching the movie Birdman soon. It’s Oscar season, you guys!!!

Listening: I’m two episodes into the new podcast Serial. It’s one true-crime story told over several episodes, kind of a throwback long-form radio show. It’s from the crew of This American Life, and it’s pretty awesome so far. I’ve also been flirting with purchasing the You+Me album (Pink does folk ballads!) and the Muscle Shoals soundtrack. Do you guys still buy digital music? I feel like I might be showing my age here…

Reading: In recent days, I enjoyed this quirky, tender, and ruthless Japanese approach to home organizing (example: thanking objects for their service before tossing), an Anne of Green Gables fan’s tour of Prince Edward Island, and this funny but moving birth story.

Wanting: These adorable hand-drawn emoji stamps from the new collaboration between A Beautiful Mess and Studio Calico.

Planning: You know that Project Life album I’m working on? I’ve been stalled a bit on how to organize it. But after taking Scrapbooking Your Baby’s First Year (more on that soon), I was inspired to change directions. I had been doing one spread per week, but the photos were starting to get monotonous. And I wasn’t sure how to incorporate the Dear Denali letters, which is great journaling that is already done. My new plan is to do two Project Life spreads per month (half the photos of previous plan) with 12×12 pages as dividers in which I will incorporate the Dear Denali letters in a traditional scrapbooking format. I’ll photograph some of these layouts as I complete them.


Dear Denali: Five Months

by LeeAnne on November 2, 2014


Everything is hilarious. At least you think so. And it’s a whole lot of fun. After giggling a bit with your grandparents, you finally laughed long and hard at me. All I did was lean into you on the changing table. It caught me by surprise, and when I repeated it, you laughed again. Shortly after that, we found your tickle spots. You are very ticklish under your armpits and a little bit on your tummy, too. My favorite is when you laugh at the anticipation, as my hand is coming toward you with tickle fingers.

Your babble has changed a little. You are very obviously trying out different sounds by changing the shape of your tongue. You do a mean taco tongue. Mommy cannot do this, so you must have gotten that from Daddy. You’ve started “singing along” with me and the radio. You make these long, drawn-out vowel sounds with some screetching mixed in. You’re also doing what I call “angry raspberries.” You seem to think that blowing raspberries is a form of communication, and you will do them when you are happy, sad, or angry, by changing the force of the air and your tone. So, you will be in the middle of a crying fit and start blowing raspberries rapid-fire with a scowl on your face.

Because of Daddy’s job change, you saw a new pediatrician for your four-month check-up. The office has a big fish tank, which mesmerized you. The doctor suggested weaning you from your occasional middle-of-the night feeding by soothing you and putting you back to sleep without offering a bottle. You must have been paying attention, because you’ve slept fully through the night since that appointment. Like, 10 to 12 hours straight. On your own. The power of suggestion!

While you sleep really well at home, you struggle to sleep elsewhere. But Mommy and Daddy keep trying! I’d love for you to feel comfortable falling asleep wherever we are. One cute story: At a Jones family birthday party, we were trying to get you to nap in one of the upstairs bedrooms. We didn’t have a baby monitor, so we set a timer to check on you in 10 minutes. When that went off, you were crying, so I went up to comfort you and then set another timer for 5 minutes. When that went off, you were still crying, but this time, the bedroom door was open and your cousins Audrey and Andrew were with you, trying to soothe you. It was sweet.

You’re rolling over now. One day out of the blue, you rolled from your back to belly during play mat time and then kept repeating it throughout the day. Unfortunately, it took you a few more days to figure out how to roll from belly to back. During that time, it was harder to get you to go fall sleep, as you’d immediately roll onto your tummy and then get upset because you were stuck. Eventually, you learned how to fall asleep on your tummy. The first night, that made me so nervous, having spent four months making sure you were always on your back. But you clearly prefer it: You’ve slept on your tummy ever since. It’s amazing how much you travel during the night. I’ll put you to bed on your back in the middle of the crib, and when I come to get you in the morning, you’re on your tummy, turned 180 degrees, and wedged against the rails. One night, you managed to wiggle yourself out of one arm of your sleeper.

You’re getting really good at holding your bottle and will do so for a full feeding, though you occasionally need help with the angle. You’ve started (unintentionally) throwing things. I’ve found Sophie outside your car seat and have had to pick her up off the floor a few times. You’ve discovered that you can pull my glasses off my face. You’re also really into slapping—your belly, your knees, the side of the car seat, your books, etc. You smack your belly so hard it makes this loud, hollow thud! sound. You have found your toes, and you love, love, love them. Better than any toy. This makes diaper changes especially challenging, as I’m constantly pulling your feet out of your hands.

In addition to the rolling and the toe-grabbing (getting so active!), you’re arching your back to slide off my lap, pushing with your legs, and grabbing at food. You woke up from one nap while I was taking pizza out of the oven, so I held you as I ate a slice. You made chewing motions with your mouth as you watched and grabbed the bottom of my soda can. When you’re on my lap when I’m eating, you follow my fork with your eyes, from plate to mouth. Once, you grabbed Daddy’s lips after he took a bite of food. I’m thinking it’s time to start you on solids soon.

You love animals and can’t take your eyes off them, especially our cats Nomnom and Pepper. At a party, we introduced you to a guinea pig. After several minutes of staring, you grabbed him and pulled out a tuft of hair! Time to start teaching the word “gentle.” Auntie Erin introduced you to an iPhone app for cats in which you hit moving bugs. You really, really like it.

A couple firsts… We had our first girls’ lunch, just the two of us, at Spanky’s Dog House. I ate a macaroni-and-cheese-topped hot dog while you enjoyed your bottle propped up in the stroller. It was quick, and you were a champ. You also had your first “play date,” when we went to meet Mommy’s friend Amanda’s three-week-old son, Jett. We laid you next to each other for comparison, and you looked so big!

Month 5 Stats
Clothes: Larger 3–6 months, 6 months
Diapers: Size 3
Food: 5 six- or seven-ounce bottles per day.
Likes: Books, Bumbo seat, feet, animals, iPhones, sleeping on tummy
Dislikes: Loud noise, bubbles


InstaFriday No. 19

by LeeAnne on October 24, 2014

OK, so, it’s been a year and a half since my last InstaFriday! Now that I’ve caught up on my Dear Denali letters (I back-dated a bunch of them—sneaky, sneaky), I hope to resume blogging semi-regularly, and InstaFriday will return. A small part of me wanted to recap the last year and a half in one post, picking just a dozen or so favorite photos. Not possible. If you want to see what I’ve been up to, you’ll have to check out my Instagram feed. Otherwise, here is what I’ve been up to the last few weeks…


1: I had lunch with Food and Wine magazine editor Dana Cowin! OK, actually, I attended a bookstore luncheon with Dana Cowin, in promotion of her new cookbook, Mastering My Mistakes in the Kitchen. Regardless, it was so cool to hear her stories about becoming the editor (no prior food-writing experience!), learning to cook, judging Top Chef, and what it’s like to work with the world’s most famous foodies.

2: Our meal at the luncheon was cooked by Rakestraw Books owner Michael Barnard, using recipes from Cowin’s cookbook. It included pork tenderloin with arugula and salsa verde, yogurt and chick pea salad, and brownies. You guys: I ate the yogurt salad and liked it. I still hate white creamy food, so I’ll chalk this one up to strong herbs and seasoning!

3: Fall has been slow in coming this year. It makes me sad.

4: And because fall has been slow in coming, there have been few opportunities to dress Denali in her pink hooded bear bunting, which is the most adorable garment ever. It’s getting snug, so I bought a second one two sizes up. Paul is going to forbid me from baby clothes shopping if I keep this up…


5: New obsession: tacos. I want tacos for every meal. Breakfast tacos, Mexican tacos, Korean tacos, BBQ tacos, all the tacos. These delicious ahi tuna ones are from Fieldhouse Sports Grille in Danville.

6: It kinda rained for about an hour last week. We’re going to need a lot more to get out of this drought!

7: My little family. I love this sweet daddy-daughter moment. I’m glad I caught it on camera. Also, that romper no longer fits her… sniff.

8: New wooden studs from Anthropologie. I haven’t worn much jewelry in the last five months, so it seemed like an occasion worth celebrating.


9: Page Mill Winery in Livermore, at a wine-tasting fundraiser for an Anastasis Ballet. I made it halfway through the tasting flight: several whites and a couple pink wines. I’m not a big drinker, but I enjoyed it.

10. Downtown Livermore was yarn bombed. Kind of. Can you call it yarn bombing when the city is behind planning it? Probably not. They’re calling them “tree sweaters,” and after they are taken down, they will be used for blankets at the local animal shelter. Regardless, yay for yarn bombing—of all kinds!

11. Miss Grabby Hands has learned she can remove my specs. Play time is getting more dangerous for Mommy.

12. A giant, messy burger at Guy Fieri’s Johnny Garlic’s in Dublin. Couldn’t get my mouth around it, so I removed the top bun and ate it with a knife and fork. I’d like to say that saved me some calories, but…

That’s it for this week!  Have a great weekend.  I will return next week with a five month Dear Denali letter and, hopefully, some crafting project updates.


Dear Denali: Four Months

by LeeAnne on September 23, 2014


These last few weeks have been so very good. I’d read about how babies change significantly at around three months, and with you, it’s true. You are markedly more alert and happy during the day (even in the car!), and you sleep really well at night (one wake-up, usually at 4 a.m.) and at nap times. We’ve also fallen into a mostly predictable and reliable schedule. I know patterns will change and evolve, but it’s really nice right now.

You continue to be very observant and curious: feeling the texture of the wall by your changing table, staring at the pattern of fabrics, following the shimmer of my engagement ring with your eyes. You’re full of personality: You smile easily, make hilarious expressions, and—perhaps your biggest development since last month—you have found your voice. You babble all the time. You “talk” to Daddy and me, and even to toys, lamps, and the owl poster in the living room. You have the most earnest expressions when you’re babbling; you really believe you’re communicating. One morning, you started blowing raspberries, and we made them back and forth for an hour while I made two cakes for Daddy’s birthday party. Now blowing raspberries is pretty much your favorite thing ever (video).

Physically, you had a big growth spurt over the last month. You flew through your 3-month clothes. Some outfits only got only one wear! Most 3–6s still fit, but you’ve moved on to 6-month footed sleepers. You’re still working on rolling over and have only done so a few times, but you often roll onto your side while playing. We practice sitting, and you do well with a little support. I hold onto your hands and move them around, kinda like we’re dancing. You love flipping through the pages of your board books and just started holding your own bottle.

You’re a big fan of Sophie, the teething giraffe. I keep her in your car seat, and you suck and chew on her ears and hooves whenever we’re out and about. You’ve also been sucking on your hands a lot lately, especially your left pointer finger. You’ve all but forgotten about your Binkys. You spit them out immediately, so we’ve just kinda stopped offering them. Despite all this dexterity, you still sometimes seem surprised by your own hands, turning them slowly in front of your wide eyes.

You had several firsts in recent weeks. Your first BART ride was to meet my friend, Kate, for lunch in Berkeley. You loved looking at all the people, the scenery flying by the window, and even the BART signage. You stared at the emergency procedures poster for so long, I thought for sure you had figured it all out. (If we’re ever stuck in the Transbay Tube, I’m counting on your expertise!) About halfway through, you fell asleep, although the loud clap! of a passing train startled you awake. You also had your first childcare experience, when I attended my first MOPS (Mothers of Pre-Schoolers) gathering at church. I wasn’t sure what to expect from your reaction. Turns out, you were a doll and charmed everyone.

The only time you’re really fussy and challenging is when we go out at night. I can’t tell if it’s just a bad time of day for you, or if you don’t like being among lots of people, or if you’re tired and can’t get settled outside familiar environs. Or all the above. But you have a hard time when we go out to dinner or spend the evening at a family birthday party. You cry loudly and will not be soothed by the usual tactics. For the first time, we’ve had to do some leaving early—and sometimes just after arriving! (For the record, you’re a great lunch date. You either fall asleep or enjoy a bottle while sitting happily on my lap.)

Let’s see, what else? We’re no longer swaddling you; it’s all about fleece and terrycloth sleep sacks now. You’re getting some color to your eyebrows, and your eyelashes have grown rather long. You also have random patches of longer hair on your head, which is kind of adorable. You respond to my voice, even when we’re in a crowded room. You watch me closely when I’m eating, and one day, you shoved your fist into my salsa. I think you’ll be ready to eat solids soon…

Month 4 Stats
Weight: 14 pounds, 13 ounces (65th percentile)
Height: 24.75 inches (64th percentile)
Clothes: 3–6 months, some 6 months
Diapers: Size 2
Food: 5 six-ounce bottles per day. Occasionally, one additional bottle in the middle of the night.
Likes: Sophie teething giraffe, OBall toy, sleep sacks, grocery stores, trees
Dislikes: Pacifiers, Ergo baby carrier


Project Life Catch-Up Sesh

by LeeAnne on August 28, 2014


Three months into parenthood, I feel like I’m getting into a good rhythm. With Denali’s longer and more predictable sleeping patterns, I’ve transitioned from sitting on the couch browsing the Baby Center message boards and binge-watching television (the entire series of Glee) to taking on some freelance writing and editing assignments and resuming some of my favorite hobbies. Today, I began organizing Denali’s scrapbook. I’ve decided to chronicle her first year week by week, Project Life–style. I’ve only made one other Project Life spread, ever. So despite having a ton of product, I’m still new to this system. I hope to share some of the completed spreads on the blog, but for now, here are some thoughts on the highlights and struggles thus far.

Photo Editing
After a couple years on my wish list, I splurged and bought myself Rad Lab. It’s a Photoshop plug-in with 80 photo effects and instant preview. You can see how every effect will look on your photo, all lined up side-by-side, before you make your selection. Afterward, you can fine-tune the “recipe” used to make the effect (sliders for brightness, contrast, strength, etc.). You can also create and save your own custom recipes. I’m really enjoying it: It’s much faster and easier than Photoshop actions.

Page Planning
To plot out each week’s two-page spread, I’ve been using Project Life planner templates from Marcy Penner, which I downloaded forever ago. It really helps for me to sketch out an initial plan and then let it evolve from there. For example, my first few attempts had way too many photos, so I’m working on paring them down.

Photo Printing
I randomly received a 100-free-prints offer from Shutterstock, so I prepped several weeks worth of photos for that. Unfortunately, I wasn’t thrilled with the quality. They just weren’t very vibrant. And, news to me, the Project Life pockets aren’t true 4×6 or 3×4 dimensions. I had to trim every photo. I abandoned those, and soon after, I learned that Persnickety Prints offers custom Project Life print sizes, and will even round the edges for you (at an additional cost). Their UI is a little clunky, but the photos themselves turned out great.

Since I learned I was pregnant, I’ve been writing daily notes in the Notes app on my iPhone. This has been hugely helpful, and I can’t recommend it enough. I have major “mom brain” and can’t remember what I did yesterday, let alone Denali’s first weeks. With the app, I can easily pull up a list of what happened each day, from firsts to funny anecdotes to thoughts and feelings. For the theme and journal cards, I wanted to keep a consistent color story throughout the book. I stumbled across the Baby Girl Sn@p set by Simple Stories and really liked how it looked. I purchased two packs each of the 3×4 and 4×6 cards (so I can use some favorite designs more than once), as well as the sticker set. Since it’s not a Project Life product, I will need to trim these cards, but I’ll live. I also have the 3×4 and 4×6 lined Project Life journaling cards and the corner rounder. (The latter because, you guessed it, the corner size is unique to Project Life. My Crop-A-Dile corner chomper and my very old Creative Memories one won’t work. Obviously, this is a theme. I do wish all these things were more compatible.)

Whew. I hope that was helpful to anyone else getting started on Project Life. I’m off to get some scrapbooking done!



Dear Denali: Three Months

by LeeAnne on August 23, 2014


Confession: Before having a child of my own, I thought that for most of their first year, babies were more or less like slugs. Constantly growing, sure, but not doing much more than crying, eating, filling diapers, and laying there. It’s truly fascinating to me how much of a little person you already are at three months. You have so much personality, from your pouty lips (that’s a real, inborn thing?) to your shy-like face covering to your very involved and hilarious morning stretch routine. Sometimes when I put you in your crib, you smile at me so adorably, I want to take you back out and play.

You’re sleeping less and less during the day, but when you are awake, you are so much more alert and curious about the world around you. You’ve been wonderful to take out, especially to the grocery store: You stare in wonder at the aisles of products. I used to wait for you to fall asleep before I took a shower, but more than half the time, I’d hear you start crying and have to cut it short. Lately, I’ve been laying you on your play mat in the doorway, wide awake following a feeding, and you’re now making it through my full routine (shower, brush teeth, dry hair, put on makeup) before getting upset.

You’re starting to fill out: chubby cheeks, Buddha belly, chunky thighs. And you’re so strong. People comment on it all the time. You have such good head control, you lift your chest at tummy time, and you’ve started pulling yourself from your back to your side, using the toys hanging above your play mat. You’ve started quasi crab walking when I change your diaper. Just as I’m about to secure the tabs, you dig in your heels and scoot your butt back. It’s funny and also frustrating. I know diaper changes will get harder and harder as you get more mobile! You’re able to hold onto things now. You don’t really know how to manipulate them, but you hold onto them tightly. I started giving you your owl blankie or giraffe rattle to hold in your car seat. And you grab my hair all the time.

You’re testing out your vocal chords with sounds like, “Eeeeeeeeyeah!” and “Gooooooooooguh!” and “Ahhgoooooo!” and “Guulllllaug!” Lots of G’s. It sounds vaguely German. I repeat the words back and we have a fun little conversation. And sometimes I just get silly and respond with stuff like, “Get out! Mr. Bug said what to you!?”

We had a bunch of firsts this month. We went on our first walk “for exercise,” after dropping off Daddy at BART for his new job. We went three miles around the neighborhood. You slept through the first half and were fascinated by everything for the second. We now do this 2–3 times a week and are up to four miles. We had our first post-baby houseguest, when Mommy’s college roommate, Kristin, came to visit. She thought you were very cute and enjoyed playing with and feeding you. She did not want anything to do with diaper changes, though. Can’t blame her: You have some pretty wicked poop! You had your first physical interaction with a “stranger.” A little girl in Target saw you and got really excited. She squealed “baby!” and grabbed your hands. Before I even realized what was happening, her mom jumped in and said, “Don’t touch that baby with your dirty hands!” Hehe. So, the girl admired you from afar. I’m not terribly concerned with stuff like this. You will get germs; you will get sick. I’d rather you didn’t live in fear. And I’d rather not parent in fear.

Speaking of germs… You had your first cold this month. When you woke for a feeding at 4:00 a.m. (one night-time feeding at this hour has become fairly routine), you had a stuffy nose and the saddest little cough. For the next few days, you were raspy and sneezey and just wanted to sleep, sleep, sleep. You took four-hour naps and fell asleep on my chest while burping you. It’s been several weeks since you’ve slept on me, and it was so sweet. Colds = cuddles.

You got to be in your first wedding! Auntie Charissa and Uncle Joey got married and had all their nieces and nephews in the ceremony. You were a “flower girl.” You wore a pretty white dress, frilly white diaper cover (which Mama bought in Blackhawk – fancy!), patent leather shoes, and a floral headband made by Auntie Christina. You looked so pretty. Your oldest cousin, Anna, held you for the processional and for several minutes up front for the welcome and the family prayer. Then, she handed me to you when the junior bridesmaids took their seats. You did so well! You started fussing once, but Anna calmed you down right away with a little bouncing. You were great for the wedding party photos and then cried through photos with Mommy and Daddy—of course. You stayed awake through most of the reception at the rodeo grounds—so much to see and hear! We changed you into a floral romper and some tiny cowboy boots. Those got a lot of attention. That night, you slept the longest yet, from 11p.m. to 9:15a.m.

Lastly, a funny story: I lost you and your grandmother in the mall. You were upset (you were hungry, and Mommy wasn’t prepared with enough formula), and Grandma offered to take you for a walk and to be changed while I paid for my final purchases. The Macy’s restroom was closed, so she said she’d take you to “the one out in the mall.” When I finished, I stepped out into the mall and realized that there was no bathroom on that wing and I had no idea where she’d taken you. Complicating things, my phone was in the cup holder of your stroller. At first, I contemplated checking every bathroom in the mall. Then, I thought maybe I should stick near Macy’s, in case you guys returned looking for me. Finally, clarity came, and I asked a clerk to use the store phone and called my cell. Thankfully, Grandma picked up. We laughed a lot about it later. It was only a few minutes of panic, but I can’t imagine how hungry and angry you would have been if it had taken a long time to find each other! Mommy is always overly prepared now. :)

Month 3 Stats
Clothes: 3 months, some bigger 0–3 months
Diapers: Size 1
Food: 5–6 five-ounce bottles per day, including one in the middle of the night.
Likes: Play mat, bouncer seat at grandparents’ house, being freed from swaddles
Dislikes: Tummy time