Friday, July 31, 2009

Hello Mutha, Hello Fatha

We got news from Amanda at camp yesterday.

She had promised her brother she'd write him, and sure enough, the letter came today. I was happy to get it, and even happier that it brought good tidings:

"Please read this yourself" (he did pretty well, but of course needed help on some words)

Dear Kyle,

I'm having so much fun at camp! I love it here! We sing, we have a church class, there's tubing and kayaking. It's so much fun.

I went kayaking with my camp counselor Kaela and Haley. It was really great. I miss you so much! See you on Saturday.

Love, Amanda (your loving sister)

PS Tell Mom thanks for all the cool stuff! (the care package left in advance for her to open)

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Books on Screen Adaptations

The weekly Books on Screen column that runs every Thursday at 5 Minutes for Books is one of my favorites. Every Thursday, we post our thoughts about a movie that is derived from a book. Recently I had clicked over to redblog as I was checking out some new releases at my favorite video "store," and came across a couple of posts by Erika Olson, who was obviously a film-lover, but also seemed to have a passion for books as well.

Erika Olson is a freelance writer who reviews movies and DVDs and covers film industry news for redbox, the company behind the $1 DVD rental kiosks you’ve probably seen outside your local grocery store. Her posts can be found on redblog. She also runs Long Live Locke, an extremely popular site dedicated to the TV series Lost, and — whenever she has free time -- blogs about completely random topics (including books she’s read) on her other site, According to e.

I asked her if she'd be willing and able to guest post, and it resulted in a nice little Q&A that I posted last week: Adapting to Adaptations. We had so much material that week one dribbled over into week two (posted today), and is now overflowing right here.

If you aren't familiar with redbox, check them out (We love the convenience of it, and you can't beat $1 a night!), and if you are a fan of movies, you'll probably find some like-minded folk over at the redblog community.

Now on with the overflow from our delightful little "conversation" about books and movies:

JD: If you learn that a film is coming out shortly that’s based on a bestselling novel you haven’t yet read, do you feel like you should try to read the book first even if that means it will be fresh in your mind when the film debuts and you’ll be more likely to criticize differences?

EO: It really depends on what the book is about — some stories would never interest me in the first place so I know I’d never read the book no matter what... whereas I might be up for the movie version if it includes some of my favorite actors in the cast or I’ve seen positive reviews or whatnot. But then there are other times when it’s clear that I better get my act together and read a book before having my opinion shaped by a film. For example, I had been totally clueless about the whole Twilight phenomenon. Then as I started hearing buzz about the movies, I knew that I absolutely could not be left out of this pop culture craze, especially since the books seemed right up my alley. I tend to like sci-fi and fantasy and have no problem picking up something that’s targeted at readers half my age, so once I got the gist of the Twilight saga, I gave it a shot. I finished the books about four months before the first movie hit screens, and then I ended up reviewing Twilight for redbox. Needless to say, like many other fans of the series, I was disappointed with several aspects of the film... I felt like it could’ve been great, but they just did it on the cheap and pushed it into production in order to capitalize on the fandom’s fervor. I’m certainly glad I read the books before seeing the movie or else I would’ve written the franchise off entirely and missed out on some good story-telling.

That’s why I’ve also decided to read The Road by Cormac McCarthy and Shutter Island by Denis Lehane before their respective film adaptations come out this fall. Part of my job entails covering recently released movie trailers, and when I saw the preview for The Road, it reminded me of all of the excellent reviews I’d read for the book back in 2006 (and then promptly forgot about). With Shutter Island I’d actually never heard of the book and have stayed away from Lehane’s other works because they’re a little too sad and dark for my taste. But once I saw the Shutter Island trailer — and realized that it was directed by Martin Scorsese, starred Leonardo DiCaprio and Mark Ruffalo (which certainly didn’t hurt) and looked kind of trippy and unique -- I thought, “OK, I’ve got to know what happens before I watch the movie or else I’m going to be scared out of my mind seeing this “blind” in the theater.”

Since both of these films premiere in the fall, that doesn’t leave much time for me to get through the novels and then try to let go of expectations and just enjoy the movies separately. But I know that once I’ve seen the movies it will be tough for me to muster the motivation to go back and read the books, so I’m prepared to suffer the consequences!

JD: Do you ever see a movie first, and then go back and read the book it was based on? How does this differ from seeing a beloved book made into a movie?

(Read the first part of her answer in the Books on Screen column "Better than the Book" today)

However, with other books — particularly nonfiction accounts — the movies usually don’t trump the source material even if I saw the movie first. One example is North Country, which I watched several months before reading the book upon which it was based: Class Action: The Story of Lois Jenson and the Landmark Case That Changed Sexual Harassment Law by Clara Bingham and Laura Leedy Gansler. The movie was wonderful, but the intricacies of the court case and several other details about Jenson’s personal struggles just couldn’t possibly be captured on film. So when I turned the last page of Class Action I remember thinking, “Wow. This woman went so much more than what was shown in the film!” I was very glad I got the full story by following up and reading the book.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Rooting for Art Smith


I am still harboring lovely lovely memories of my trip to Chicago in May where I learned to "Love Your Veggies". I dream of the Four Seasons hotel. Seriously. If I had unlimited funds, I would never lower myself to a three and a half or four star hotel again. It would be all five-star all the time.

One of the highlights of my trip was watching Art Smith in action, teaching the kids at Chicago's Comer Center (read more about that awesome community center HERE) that he mentors through the Common Threads program. The dinner we had at his restaurant Table 52 was absolutely delicious.

So imagine my delight in seeing Art Smith on Top Chef Masters. They lure the chefs into competing in the high-pressure contest by giving money to the charities that the chefs support.

We also had a meal at Rick Bayliss' Frontera Grill, and he's a finalist as well, but I know that Common Threads is a charity I can get behind, and since I'm on a hugging basis with Art Smith as well, I'll just have to say "Go Art!"

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

A Summer Gourmet Party

My friend Lee hosted a "No Repeats" Gourmet party last week. This same group of party-goers has had a few dinner parties that were adults only, but we included the children on this one.

The rules were that everyone had to bring something that they had not made before. We divvied up the courses and set to work planning our dishes. As you know, when you make something new, it can be a fabulous success or a major flop. We didn't have any major flops, however we were definitely less than enthused about some of our dishes.

The biggest "meh" was my Marinated Summer Beans from the July issue of Cooking Light magazine. Those will definitely be a "no repeat" dish.



But my second side dish was a big hit, if I do say so myself, and it will become a summer staple. In fact, not only was it "No Repeat" but it's an original. I forgot to add the parmesan cheese called for in the recipe (which I was a bit unsure about, to be honest). And when I tasted it, and saw how delicious it was, I decided to add some halved grape tomatoes to it, because -- tomatoes and corn? Always a delightful combination.

Colorful Corn Salad
from the Taste of Home Cookbook

1 pkg (10 oz) frozen corn, thawed
1 cup chopped green pepper
1 cup chopped sweet red pepper
1 cup chopped celery
1/2 cup chopped green onions
1/2 cup minced fresh parsley
1/4 cup shredded Parmesan cheese (I omitted this)
1 tsp ground cumin
3/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp pepper
1/4 tsp hot pepper sauce
dash cayenne pepper
4 1/2 tsp olive oil
1 garlic clove, minced
3 T lime juice

(I also added grape tomatoes)

1. In a large bowl, combine the vegetables, parsley, cheese (if using), cumin, salt, pepper, hot pepper sauce, and cayenne.
2. In a microwave-safe dish combine oil and garlic and microwave uncovered for 1 minute. Cool. (I am convinced that this MADE the dish. I also fished out most of the garlic, even though I dearly love garlic). Whisk in the lime juice. Pour over the corn mixture and toss to coat.

I made this several hours early to let it blend, and it was great. It was even good leftover the next day (I added some fresh cucumbers to stretch it more into a meal-ish salad).

Click over to Lee's food blog (which is awesome -- chronicling her cooking adventures with her kids) to read her take about the dinner party, and look at her awesome new pictures taken with her new baby. I'm sure she has the recipe to the main course that she made, which was this stuffed tenderloin type thing. I'm not a big steak eater at all, but it was delicious. In fact, I stayed at her in-laws after dropping Amanda off at camp, and they grilled some steak that I also loved. Hmmm -- maybe things have changed??



The kids got involved with drinks and desserts. Amanda made a peanut butter cake that Terry's great Aunt Arleta makes (I had made it before, but it was a No Repeat for her). Lee's daughter made two cheesecakes that were fabulous. I think that she will be posting later in the week about them. They are not to be missed.

The food was great, but the company was just as good as the gourmet offerings. I think that it's a sure bet that we'll be repeating the experience again soon. Next time we think that we're going to make let the kids cook for us, since many of them have such an interest in it.

My Nightstand -- July

This month my reading habits have been pretty different, so I thought that I'd put more emphasis on the books that I've read this month (with of course a sneak peek of some of the titles at the top of my to-be-read pile on my nightstand).

What's so different about this month? Many (most) of the books I've read have been personal picks, not review titles for 5 Minutes for Books. And I liked it.

Books I read just because I wanted to:

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (Book 6) -- reviewed HERE
Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier (this was for the Classics bookclub at 5 Minutes for Books -- next week you can still join us -- but I read those books because I want to/think I should).
A Thousand Splendid Suns (yes, finally -- I read it!! I enjoyed it, but still think that The Kite Runner was better)
Julia Child's My Life in France, because I read Julie and Julia: My Year of Cooking Dangerously years ago and am really excited about the movie, which is also based on this book (I was already half-finished with this one)

Semi-personal picks that I finally got to (from the Amazon Vine program):

The Truth about Truman School
When You Reach Me (both of these tween reads were excellent, and I'll be posting reviews soon)
In the Sanctuary of Outcasts: A Memoir

Review titles read:

Blue Like Playdough by Tricia Goyer (linked to my review -- loved this book and you can enter to win!)
Best Friends Forever by Jennifer Weiner (review and giveaway will post Monday 8/3)

Don't get me wrong, I LOVE reviewing books at 5 Minutes for Books. I enjoy the variety of titles I'm offered that I might never pick up on my own, and I get a kick out of reading books before they're released, but it was fun to just read some "want tos" instead of "have tos" as well (if my biggest problem in life is that I "have to" read some books, I don't have much to complain about, do I?).

On the top of the pile:

Because a friend has passed on a couple of books that I can't wait to read (America America by Ethan Canin and The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society), and because Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows is finally out in paperback, and I bought it, but it might not be able to sit patiently at the bottom of the sack for long (where it's hidden from Amanda so she won't start begging), I'm going to be trying to do some more personal reading this month as well -- although I have to say my review pile is burgeoning. There are many novels that I can't wait to read there either. I'm not sure what order I'll get to them, but these are ones that I've just started this week.

The Triumph of Deborah by Eva Etzioni-Halevy
Hungry Monkey: A Food-Loving Father's Quest to Raise an Adventurous Eater
The Last Days of the Lacuna Cabal -- I didn't know anything about this book except that it was supposed to be quirky and literary. We'll see how it goes. I'm supposed to review it soon, so I'm going to try to read it after those two.

What's on your nightstand? Let me know in the comments or click over to 5 Minutes for Books and join in the fun there.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Baby Steps

Kyle was a late walker. He crawled on schedule, and when he got mobile, there was no stopping him. He was fast! He couldn't be bothered to do things that other toddlers did, such as pulling up on things or even trying to stand. He had places to go -- toilet paper to unroll!

The doctor always assured me, "Don't rush him. It's safer now." By the time he was 14 or 15 months old, he had joined the ranks of those of us who get around on two feet. The doctor was right -- other than fielding the innocent questions of relatives and grocery store cashiers about whether or not he was walking, there was no rush.

This week Amanda took a big step. Yesterday we dropped her off for a week of sleepaway camp. She wanted to go last year, but this year we knew that the time was finally right. Another friend's daughters were interested in going too (taking baby steps with support from friends -- both mine and hers -- is always a good plan), so we found a Christian girls' camp and signed them up.

Just like when Kyle discovered the joys that crawling around brought him, Amanda has been beyond excited. But unlike Kyle, I've seen her strengthening those legs as she takes those steps that will eventually take .

For example, this summer she's done some chores without being asked. She's been taking care of certain things that I used to have to beg her to do -- personal care that she will have to do at camp without someone nagging her. She even told me that she was ready to pack without assuming that the packing fairy would take care of it (she still believes in the laundry fairy though).

My friend and I were standing in the line to begin the check-in progress while our three tweens took it all in -- grinning, excited, and a little nervous. "I can't believe that I'm going to be here a whole week -- alone with no one I'm related to! I've never done that before," Amanda exclaimed, with no anxiety lacing her anticipation.

She's going to have a good week.

She's already changed some as she realizes that she's growing up and that I trust her with some independence. I can't wait to see how else this experience changes her. And maybe it will change her mom as well.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Recovering

Yes, a long trip always requires some time to recover when one returns. There's the inevitable mountain of laundry, a trip to the grocery store to restock the fridge, returning phone calls, cleaning out email inboxes, etc. etc.

That's what I was up to on Monday and Tuesday. Then Wednesday I awoke feeling a little queasy. A little off. I was determined to beat it with mind over matter. I wasn't sick. Since I felt badly that morning, I stopped after one cup of coffee (coffee has got to be the worst thing to put in an upset stomach), and I didn't eat breakfast. I thought that I was okay, so the kids and I got out to cross some more to-dos off our list (in addition to all the regular post-trip stuff, Amanda leaves for sleepaway camp on Sunday, so there's that).

By noon, I was wiped out, my stomach hurt, and I needed to get home. I dropped Amanda off with her friend (since playdates are essential to children after being away for any length of time), and Kyle and I returned home, where I laid down on the couch and dozed and moved as little as possible. Yep, it had hit.

I thought I was okay on Thursday, and my piece of breakfast toast was sitting well, so when we were at Costco, I had a piece of pizza for lunch. Bad idea. We returned home, and I took up residence on the couch again and stuck to applesauce and chicken noodle soup.

I think I'm back to 100% today, but just to be sure, I stuck with my trusty toast for breakfast and will have my chicken noodle soup for lunch. I'm going to a "gourmet party" tonight, so I hope I'll be able to taste to my heart's content.

From what are you recovering this week?

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Religion Saves

I've listened to Pastor Mark Driscoll's sermons from Mars Hill Church in Seattle off and on for quite some time. I haven't been downloading them recently, because just like with a favorite author, I tend to start feeling like "been there, done that." However, I've been thinking about revisiting his podcasts, because I enjoy the way he teaches Christian doctrine within his sermons in a way that can be understood by a new (or seeking) Believer, yet also provides spiritual meat for those who have more Bible knowledge. Doctrine and straight Bible-teaching are what many modern churches have given up on in their efforts to reach the unchurched, but not Mark Driscoll.

I actually listened to the sermon series that Religion Saves: And Nine Other Misconceptions is based on, and was curious to see how it differed. I enjoyed listening to the series, but I think I like the book better. It reads more factually (and seems to contain more facts and figures), and less of his larger-than-life personality comes through on the page, which shifts the focus more to the topic and away from himself, which is a good thing for the message in my opinion.

This book was the result of a survey that was available on the Mars Hill website, asking for questions to be submitted. People voted on them, and Driscoll created a sermon series (and this book) from the top 10 categories. Each chapter is devoted to one of these topics which include cultural issues such as birth control, humor, sexual sin, dating, and the emergent church. More esoteric religious issues such as grace, predestination, and the regulative principle are also addressed.

Driscoll always gives his definite opinion on the issue (see "larger-than-life personality" above), but he also backs it up with scripture. You may or may not agree with him on all points, but Religion Saves: And Nine Other Misconceptions will definitely leave you thinking.

Find out more about Mark Driscoll (including links to podcats and vodcasts).
Read or listen to an excerpt from Religion Saves.
Find out what others on the blog tour have to say about this book.

My Kids' Picks -- July

I love the third Tuesday of the month over at 5 Minutes for Books. That's when we have the chance to tell about the books that our kids have enjoyed in the last month.

We just returned from our long driving vacation, and reading is always a part of the plan. My husband likes to do the driving, so I'm free to read in the car. Amanda also enjoys the hours of daylight when she can read, read, read. Young Kyle has been learning to read and I wondered if this was the year for him to independently entertain himself with books on a trip.

I bought a selection of Mo Willems' Elephant and Piggie books after checking one out at the library (and via Dawn's recommendations) in the hopes that new-reader Kyle (5) would also join in the family pursuit. That he would actually sit quietly and read a book ("Reading in his mind" is what he called it). He usually read out loud, but that was okay. He needed help on a few words, and we actually liked listening in on the first read-through anyway. Every day of the journey, I gave him a new book or two. He loved them all. What I especially like about these books (other than the fact that we all love them -- him, big sister, and parents), is that they are very re-readable, and as I said, very accessible to early readers. There are some big words, but they repeat, which I know helps build Kyle's reading vocabulary.

I would say that 10-year-old Amanda's favorite book was Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. Yes, I let her read it right after I did (linked to my review), giving the hefty tome double value in the books-packed department. But the books I bought to surprise her on the trip were the rest of the Emily Windsnap books by Liz Kessler. We had bought the first one on clearance somewhere, and she's had a hard time finding the other books in the library. So she was really pleased to receive books two and three (and I just noticed that there's a fourth coming out in October).

When we were visiting my sister, she and I went to the library, and I helped her pick out some books for my nephew Ross (age 11). He loves to read when given a great book, and Karen said that he reads in gulps when he finds a book he likes. Browsing at their library I saw Code Orange by Caroline Cooney, which is one of our state's Nutmeg book award nominees for this year. Amanda loved it and many of her friends loved it too. We showed Ross the two books we had brought home, and he grabbed that one, sat on the stairs and started reading. He didn't move for a few hours until he had finished it! So Code Orange trumped the XBox!

The links of others' suggestions are in the comments at 5 Minutes for Books Kids' Picks, so check them out.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Every Trip Has a Story

It seems like every trip has some sort of story: the accident narrowly averted, the airline that lost someone's luggage, and if you have kids, vomit often figures in the retelling of past vacations (yes, it's that kind of post, so look away now if you are squeamish).

We've always avoided this issue while traveling, but in telling a few friends my story, I've found that it's more common than not.

Between the Einstein bagels right by the hotel being very very slow, and me having to rearrange everything in the car, we got off a little later Saturday morning than I planned, but at 8:00am, we were off. Kyle had decided that he was just going to share some of mine and Amanda's bagels (since I wouldn't let him order a cookie for breakfast), and we were fine with that.

Fifteen minutes into our drive, I had eaten most of mine, and handed back 1/3 of it to him. He ate a few bites and hurriedly gave it back to me saying, "Take it! I don't want anymore. I don't like bagels."

And then it happened. He leaned over and put most of it in the pull-down tray between the two seats in the back. Amanda screamed and pushed against the other side of the door to get as far away from it as possible. Of course then she started gagging too. I grabbed the bag and handed it back to Kyle, who as per usual, wasn't too upset with this turn of events.

Because we were right in town, it was a couple of miles before I could exit. But I laughed. What else can one do? Kyle has gagging issues, so I assumed and hoped that was the problem, and that it might be one-time thing.

I pulled off the interstate and into a parking lot, and told Amanda and Kyle to get out and stand in the grass. As I was unbuckling Kyle, he needed to puke again, and instead of throwing up outside the car, he turned back towards the tray. I thought that this was stupid, but now that I'm thinking about it, it would have been on me had he leaned out the car.

I utilized the wipes in the car and cleaned things up. It didn't get on his car seat or the carpet (which would have made for a very very stinky drive home), and I was able to clean it up well. We went into the bathroom and washed our hands and arms and faces.

Fortunately, I had not cleaned out the car the night before, because our parking lot was not right outside our hotel room, so I gave him a fast food cup and told him to use it if necessary. When he had to use it (and the other one I had) twice more a few hours later, I was worried that he really was sick. He napped, and I think that helped him feel better, until he got really hungry around 5:00pm. He hadn't eaten (cardinal rule when they are sick -- if they aren't begging for food, don't let them eat), and he was tired in spite of two little naps. He was ready to stop for the night and was for the first time really acting like he didn't feel well. We also hit the Central to East coast time line, which made it an hour later, so I decided to stop about 100 miles sooner than I had planned.

I stopped at the Wal-Mart next to the hotel and got some children's Motrin, apple juice and Pop Tarts (thinking he might want to eat one). He still seemed pretty miserable, and I dosed him right away. By the time we checked into the hotel a few minutes later, he was a different kid. He said he was going to share some of mine and Amanda's Subway sandwiches. He did and seemed fine.

The hotel had a pool so they even swam for about 30 minutes.

At midnight, Amanda and I were awakened by his retching (Oh I most definitely chose to sleep with Amanda). He got sick twice that night as I laid in bed praying that he would feel better and stop throwing up and that Amanda and I would be spared (at least through the next day).

Both kids were just fine today, and I am too. So far so good. We'll see what tomorrow brings.

So have you been spared this malady? I'm surprised that of the three people I've mentioned it to, they've all dealt with it.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince


The fact that I just finished this book, the 6th in the Harry Potter franchise, the same week that the movie came out makes me feel somewhat part of the whole fad, but it's pretty much just coincidence. I definitely came late to the Harry Potter party.

I've been reading the series slowly since I picked the first one up (maybe in early 2005?). I read it because I had several friends who had enjoyed them -- as adults -- and partly to decide if I thought Amanda should read them when the time came. I honestly didn't love the first one, but I had bought the first two books, so I soldiered on, and by the time I finished the second one, I was hooked.

A year or so passed before I read the third one, and then perhaps another 6 months or so before I read the 4th. Then a year went by, and I hadn't read the 5th one, but by then Amanda had read the first 4 and wanted to proceed, so last summer I read the 5th. I owned the 6th as well, but waited until this summer to read it.

See, I was never in a rush, because the trade paperback of the 7th book wasn't out, and so I knew that I had time to complete the series my way.

I want to say that I love Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince like I've loved no other in the series. I don't know if it's my favorite (I really loved the story in the 4th, the Goblet of Fire, or should I say I remember loving it since it's been a couple of years since I've read it, and I haven't seen the movie).

It made me realize how much I love these characters, this realm. It made me hunger for more, and want to go back and relive the past. Like my beloved Mitford series by Jan Karon, that's how I knew that this series would be forever a part of my bookish self.

So having just finished that book, when I saw Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Paperback out on the shelves at a grocery store for less than half price (not even knowing it was out), I snatched it up. I'm sure I will read it before the summer's out.

When did you know that you had fallen for Harry?

*****

Guest reviewer Kipi was one of the throngs who saw the movie on midnight 7/15. Her review of the Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince movie is up on 5 Minutes for Books today. You can also enter to win a copy of the A&E Biography Harry Potter's Kids, so click over before 7/22.

*****

Other posts that I've written about Harry Potter:

We're Wild About Harry
Previewing Harry for Amanda
Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone movie review
(after watching for 1st time 8/2008)
Is The Hunger Games the Next Harry Potter?

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Children's Classics -- Field Trip

I have to admit it. I checked out Miffy at the Museum with an ulterior motive. I would love to be able to take the kids to one of the art museums in New York City this summer, but taking an active five-year-old boy to an art museum? I'm not sure if that's going to happen. However, Miffy at the Museum definitely planted the idea in Kyle's head. After we had read it a time or two, he said, "Can we go to a museum?"

By the way, I'm not the only parent who feels that way. Even Miffy's own Donna Reed-esque pearl-wearing bunny mom employs that strategy. The book opens with her saying, "I'm going to the art museum to see beautiful colorful works of art. Who'd like to come with me?" V-necked sweater-vested Dad says, "I would, but Miffy is much too small." And as you know, the reverse psychology is all it takes to convince Miffy that an art museum is where she wants to spend her day!

I liked this book a lot. We've seen some of the Miffy cartoons on TV, and Kyle likes them well enough (yes, Carrie -- there's Miffy on TV!), but this book with the bold sparse text and bright simple pictures is a great learning tool.

I had hoped that after reading Pieces of Georgia (linked to my review), Amanda my tween would have an increased interest in seeing more of the art by the artists profiled within that free verse novel, but it doesn't seem to have worked that way.

Find out what other books inspired some field trips at 5 Minutes for Books Children's Classics carnival!

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Greetings from Ro-Kare-Jennifer

We are enjoying our visit here in Texas with friends and family. We are even withstanding the heat okay. I've had some internet access the last few days but am about to head over to my grandmother's house for the last leg of my trip (before heading home via Tulsa to visit my sister). In thinking about visiting her, I was reminded of her first trip to visit us. This originally posted on 10/15/06.

My grandmother Mimi is here this week. I am so proud of her for coming on her own. We have big plans for the week. She's already been blown away by the beautiful New England Fall (being from Texas, the land of one, maybe two, seasons--hot and not hot). Tomorrow we are taking a lovely drive to a nice little town, where we will drive country roads, see a gorgeous waterfall, and eat a pastry or two in town if we so desire. Wednesday I'm taking her into "the city" (as those of us in the New York area call Manhattan), and we're going to see the Phantom of the Opera.

So, since she's here, I've gone from being "Jennifer," or "Mom," or "Honey," to my childhood name of "Ro-Kare-Jennifer." Roselyn is my mom, and Karen is my sister, to me, but to Mimi they are Jen-Kare-Roselyn or Ro-Jen-Karen. Does anyone in your family call the role when they are trying to get your attention? Do you in your own family? I know that I am most guilty of calling Kyle, Shadow or Shadow, Kyle. Will you agree with me to the similarities between a dog and a toddler underfoot when you are trying to get dinner ready?

I have a few advance posts ready, and I'm sure I'll come up with much to say, but if I'm a bit scarce over the next week, that's why.

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

Read and Reviewed

Well, of course I've been reading on the trip, but here are some recent reviews that have published.

First--click on over to 5 Minutes for Books today for our first "Comment Carnival." We ask a question, you chime in with your thoughts. Quick, easy, book-y.

Sam Stern's Get Cooking -- cookbook aimed at teens

The Moon by Night
-- Amanda and are both loving the Austin Family Chronicles

Eat My Globe -- Fun, fun read

Free Range Kids -- review and podcast with Dawn, the author Lenore Skenazy, and me. If you are curious about this "free range movement" please mark your calendars to join @5M4B and @FreeRangeKids for a tweet-up on 7/15 from 10pm - 11pm ET.

Monday, July 06, 2009

Some pictures

Because we as women are contradictions, I'll post some pics from our journey -- in direct rebuttal of my previous post.

But in this case, I think it's valid and wise, going on the "picture tells a thousand words" theory.

This is a real picture I took in Bowling Green, Kentucky. Only in the south.


Amanda and Kyle both doing their own thing, with their own headsets plugged into the back stereo system.


Amanda chillin' listening to her audiobook (not sleeping).


Kyle playing Itza-Bitza on the laptop. He loves this game.


Amanda being a VERY good big sister.


Kyle enjoying his new headphones -- day one.

Saturday, July 04, 2009

Living Life or Capturing It?

We are fortunate to be able to see the fireworks at the nation's capital many years, since my in-laws live there (and even better, since my father-in-law works downtown, we use his parking pass to grab a convenient spot!). I waxed philosophical about the role of the mom and her camera. It originally posted August 9, 2006, but I thought you'd enjoy it today, in honor of the 4th of July.

A photojournalist sees some amazing things. Through a lens, she can capture governments being overthrown, lives lost and freed at war, cultural mores changing, and even simple everyday moments. But those pictures she is taking are completely separate from the life she is living.

I was thinking of this as we were on our whale watching trip (edited note from 2009 -- read that one too, it's fun). I wanted to get some good photos, but you often miss so much when you are looking through the camera lens. That happened when we were watching fireworks last year in Washington DC with my inlaws. It was amazing. Awe-inspiring. Breathtaking. I wanted to capture it on film. Better with flash, or without? Let's try night flash. Maybe the action setting. On and on. I ended up getting some fair pictures, but I think I missed out on the experience.



I should have just been watching, like they were.



Or, for that matter, hooting and hollering and cheering them on like she was:


So, on the whale watching excursion, I did watch. I took some pictures, too, but I didn't feel bad if I missed "the shot." I even "let" Terry have some fun with the camera, and many of the great shots are his. I won't forget those large mammals, and the photos don't accurately capture the experience anyway.

That's kind of like it is with our kids. We have to just be with them, and take in the whole experience (not just the perfect Kodak moments). When I see pictures of the kids, from even months ago, I often think, "Did she/he really look like that?" It seems like who they are continues to change and so that becomes my current perception of them. A picture doesn't capture the way that Kyle says, "Wha'?" anytime you mention his name or catch him offguard (like last night, when Amanda screamed out two sentences in her sleep). Even a video can't capture Amanda's enthusiasm for life and her imaginative perspective on things.

Read Beck's post, or at least the last couple of paragraphs, here . She voiced her thoughts on why she doesn't have a lot of video footage of her kids. It's really beautiful.

NOT taking pictures is what works for me. Try to capture some memories in your heart as you live it. Journaling (and blogging for that matter) really appeal to me, because I am able to record the whys and the hows behind the picture frozen on film. I am not a dedicated scrapbooker, but that was what I loved when I was first introduced to Creative Memories. I don't worry about my poor handwriting on those pages. I capture my thoughts or our family's reactions to trips we've taken. In fact, I think that my handwriting becomes part of the recorded history.

Thursday, July 02, 2009

In Dixie

We crossed over the Mason-Dixon line, had dinner, and checked into our hotel. Stephanie (fellow Southern blogger located in the NE), told me to eat lots of good southern food, and so far I have. I even had some catfish off of Ryan's buffet in her honor.

In spite of being totally ready about 45 minutes early, I left 15 minutes late. I realized that in spite of the fact that I had run the dishwasher and had my minions children unload it that morning, that I should put the dishes that someone manifested themselves in there and run it, since no one was going to be home for ten days or so.

Then, I had a little New England driving disaster while I was on the way to pick up Terry at an unfamiliar train station in NJ (he took the train out so that we could deal with bridge traffic etc, and just get on the way). Let me say that I grew up and learned to drive in Houston, Texas. Houston is the fourth largest city in the U.S. and is geographically sprawling with freeways intersecting other freeways and tollways -- known as a spaghetti bowl. Other than the fact that I have no natural sense of direction, I had no problem getting around in the big city. New England highways and byways are a totally different matter.

I ended up on the New York State Thruway and when I realized it, I was in the "thru" section -- so I had to drive 15 miles (and then backtrack the same 15 miles) to get back on course. My husband is lucky to be married to me. I offer him personality enhancement programs (how to deal with irresponsible wives in a kind gentle manner) -- no charge. It just comes with the package.

As for the actual trip -- so far, so good. Amanda read and listened to an audiobook. She also was very nice to her little brother and played with him, and encouraged him to read the new books I bought him (thanks Dawn) , I read and played a handheld Tetris game, Kyle listened for hours and hours to his new Barenaked Ladies CD. Thanks again, Dawn! for the recommendation. Seriously, kids' music is a good good thing in our car. Listening via headphones that plug right into the back seat is even better! That's the best $10 I ever spent. Actually, I bought him some kid headphones too, which actually fit and don't cause whining and crying and fussing. That's the best decision (so far).

I bought some new computer games for my laptop, so I will probably bust those out for our 12 hour trip tomorrow.

The whole family is asleep now, so I guess I better join them.

Now is when I start to stress out

The laundry's done. We're (mostly) packed. I have all of my special activities packed up and ready to go, I even implemented another idea I had to make traveling fun -- I'm parsing it out. I've prepared 3 different bags for both kids with different books, CDs, and games in them. When they get too many new and exciting things, everything loses it's shine. Hopefully this will work.

I do fine traveling with my kids. I really do. Whether it's a long car trip as a family or me flying to visit family with just the kids -- no matter their ages -- it doesn't scare me. In fact, I told a friend today that I'm actually a little excited about it. And Amanda thinks it's all "going to be great" as well.

And in all of my obsessing about this very long journey, I remember that we've done it before! Five years ago when we moved here, we drove. Amanda was about 9 months older than Kyle is right now. And we were fine (If Kyle could remember that trip when he was three months old, he would NOT have told you everything was fine. Even though he was a newborn, and all newborns do is sit in a carseat-ish type thing and eat or sleep, he was miserable! He showed his spirit even then by crying an angry cry when he had had enough).

But it's now -- in the last night and the final morning before we leave, that I begin to feel anxious. I start to worry, "Did I pack everything? Will we be able to leave on time? Have I taken care of everything that needs to be done here at home before I leave?

So, while I am quite irritable in the hours until we leave, once we are on the road, I'm totally calm. It's all behind me. I can't change anything now.

And I've learned that there's very little that I could forget that's irreplacable. When we were about an hour into our drive to spend Christmas with my in-laws in Virigina one year, it hit me -- very clearly -- that I had forgotten pajamas and underwear for myself. A peek into my bag once we got there confirmed my suspicions. A trip to Kmart first thing that next morning, and all was solved.

I'll still be around the blog, though probably not as frequently, and of course there will still be lots of new reviews going up at 5 Minutes for Books.

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

Satisfied

I spent all day doing laundry (In order to properly pack for a trip, clean clothes are recommended. Just call me Heloise). Laundry used to be one of those chores I just did not enjoy.

In fact -- let me come clean here -- I don't really enjoy any chores. I don't mind cooking, but cleaning? Sorting? Organizing? It does nothing for me at all. Of course I love the look of a nice clean house, but honestly -- the tradeoff of the work involved to get it there steals my joy. So generally we go with the "good enough" theory. I wouldn't be embarrassed if someone dropped in for an unannounced visit. Okay, I might be a little embarrassed, but I wouldn't be horrified.

But laundry and I have been kindling a little flame. On a "stay home" day, I try to do a few loads of laundry. I start with jeans, then with towels, then underwear, and then shirts. As each load comes out of the dryer, I plop them onto my bed for future folding. Then I take an hour or so, when that last wrinkle-prone load is finished and watch a favorite show on TV as I fold. I've come to look forward to this little ritual.

Yesterday as I was folding all the laundry, a feeling of satisfaction welled up in me. I was doing something. I didn't go quite so far as some of the uber-perfect moms who write tips about praying for each family member as they smooth and/or iron their items of clothing, but I did get warm fuzzies. No, it's nothing monumental, and it won't bring about world peace, but there are so few ways to measure success as a stay-at-home mom. Knowing that my fridge has cold milk and there is peanut butter and bread in the pantry, as well as drawers filled with clean underwear are a few little things that help me feel like I'm actually doing something right.

I am satisfied (at least until the cubbards run bare and the laundry hampers overflow).