Sunday, January 31, 2010

Anne of Avonlea

I just finished reading Anne of Avonlea for the L.M. Montgomery Reading Challenge hosted by Carrie at Reading to Know. Last year I read Anne of Green Gables for the first time (linked to my review).

Returning to Anne was lovely. I won't post a full review, because most of you are familiar with Anne, and if you aren't, the quotes below will give you a taste. I will say that if you are a fan of Jan Karon's Mitford, or Laura Ingalls Wilder's Little House on the Prairie, and you've never read Anne of Green Gables, I say "Get thee to a library!"

As I read, I kept dwelling on what was so delightful -- about the character of Anne and about L.M. Montgomery, who created her thoughts and the other characters and the observations that they make.

I read this on my Kindle (for free--wooohoo!), so I don't have page numbers for my quotes, but I believe that it's in the public domain anyway:

"Anne, walking home from school through the Birch Path one November afternoon, felt convinced afresh that life was a very wonderful thing."

"'What a nice month this November has been!' said Anne, who had never quite got over her childish habit of talking to herself."

That's what I mean -- Anne, her whole world, and the thoughts she expresses are just warm, comforting inspiring.

I marked other quotes on marriage, childhood, and childrearing, and I think that I'm just going to have to devote another post to that tomorrow.

I also posted my thoughts on sequels at 5 Minutes for Books today. Check out my On Reading column about The Comfort of Series.


As for 11-year-old Amanda, who tried to join me again, she did like Anne of Green Gables (linked to her review), but she found Anne of Avonlea to be "boring." She liked the start of it, and we both laughed over Mr. Harrison (as we read it separately). I loved how she said that there was no kindred spirit in him, because I knew that she would probably regret that rash judgment.

Amanda read about 100 pages, and then abandoned it for good. However, I really thought that she would enjoy meeting Miss Lavender, so I told her that she could skip the middle, and I'd tell her where to pick back up. As I leafed through the book (we checked out a "real book" from the library for her to read), and decided that she would enjoy Diana and Anne's preparations to meet Miss Morgan, and then the later encounter as well, which occur before Miss Lavender comes on the scene. So I moved her bookmark about 50 pages forward. She says that she's going to read it, but it still leaves about 150 pages, so we'll see if she does.

I think that she can definitely revisit Anne in a few years, when the narrative style and nostalgia will hopefully be more appealing to her. I've no doubt that she'll still like finding out "what vain little Anne will do next" (a quote from her review of Anne of Green Gables).

Thursday, January 28, 2010

My Favorite Part of American Idol

A few weeks ago, I mentioned that Amanda and I were jumping on the American Idol bandwagon. We are now enthusiastic and eager members of the community of fans.

I wrote about some of the contestants who I liked and who intrigued me, and I was swayed by the emotional pull of all of those young hopefuls. There have been a few who have stood out since then, like the young Broadway kid from the Color Purple last night who wrote his own song, the Barney girl from last night, the young tatooed goth-ish Mom. . . . but most of them are all a blur. I think that I thought I'd remember my favorites from these auditions once we got to Hollywood, but now I realize that I'm not going to remember a thing. And I guess I'm okay with that.

Amanda and I have been watching together, and it's been fun to do that, but until I found out that Joe Jonas was the guest judge in the second half of the show, I had told her that she could watch until 8:30, and then had to go to bed, since she has to wake up early on Thursdays.

She reluctantly agreed, remembering that I had said from the beginning that she might not be able to stay up to watch every show every week. She did not argue (she's learning!!), but later quietly said, "If I can't stay up, will you not watch it either?"

"I probably will watch it."

"But it's my show. I was the one who asked if we could watch it," (aside to you, my readers: I do not think this is true) "and so I don't think that you should watch it without me."

Interesting approach, dear daughter.

We both watched the whole thing, and I'll share my real highlight of the evening: Neil Patrick Harris. Love him. Have loved him ever since college when I watched Doogie every single week.

Ironically, thought there are shows that I watch simply because of who is in them, when How I Met Your Mother premeired, I watched an episode to see what Doogie was up to. "He looks weird," I thought. "He's all smarmy. And the show is kind of stupid." So I didn't watch.

How wrong I was. Because after watching a few episodes on an airplane, I was hooked. I love the show, and I love Neil Patrick Harris even more now. So much so that he's no longer Doogie, but Barney, or actually, just plain ole Neil Patrick Harris.

Oh, was I talking about American Idol? Neil Patrick Harris, guest judge, looked great, don't you think? He was a little mean, but he really took charge of the evening. I say, "Bring him back for more." For that matter, I'd go for more Neil Patrick Harris anywhere.

Lest you think that I am being inappropriate with my love for NPH, let me say that he is "my type" and show you a picture of my husband (you can compare it to this photo of Neil Patrick Harris). There are similarities. And he is fully aware and not threatened in the least by my little NPH fixation.

And thank you for indulging me this little immature sidebar. Certainly I am not the only one with this issue (regarding NPH or someone else)??

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Loads of Lisas

I have so many Lisas in my life that when I'm telling my husband or a friend about my plans, I have to be specific. You think I exaggerate? This week alone I've had contact with four Lisas. The Lisas in my life include
  • 5 Minutes for Books reviewer Lisa
  • Church Lisa
  • Church Aggie Lisa (an Aggie who has moved here who I met recently at church)
  • Bible Study Fellowship Lisa (apparently many Lisas are holier-than-average)
There are others:
  • Neighbor Lisa
  • Kyle's preschool-friend's-mom Lisa, who until this year would have been up on that top list.
For all you of (many many) Lisas out there, lest you take offense, remember that this is coming from a Jennifer.

Throughout my growing-up-years, there were always lots of Jennifers (and I don't recall so many Lisas). The personalized craze was big in the early 80's, and could I ever get a pair of shoelaces or a mirror with my name on it? No sirree. They were always sold out. In fifth grade, there were three of four of us, in the same class. Right before we moved here, there were four or five of us in the same adult Sunday School class.

But then we moved to Connecticut. And I was the only one. Oh, I heard of Jennifer's out there, and they still abounded in the blogosphere, but I had no competition in my immediate circles.

But this year, that all changed. Of the 17 children in Kyle's class, four of them have moms named Jennifer. That's almost 25%.

So although there may be loads of Lisas, there are apparently jillions of Jennifers.

What about you? How common or uncommon is your name? How do you feel about that? Let's see what this unofficial blog-comment survey reveals.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

What's on My Nightstand -- January

It's the fourth Tuesday of the month, which for me means that I have the opportunity to look at all the books that I've collected in recent weeks and months and try to figure out which ones I'm actually going to read. I like this exercise.

I'm about halfway through two books that I'll finish soon (before the end of the month, I hope): An Irish Country Girl by Patrick Taylor and dear Anne of Avonlea for Carrie's L.M. Montgomery Challenge.

Amanda and I finally finished reading the Mysterious Benedict Society (linked to my review), and we dove right in to number two in the series, The Mysterious Benedict Society and the Perilous Journey. It's not quite as hefty as the first one, and I'm hoping we'll make significant progress this month. Reynie, Kate (oh how I love Kate), Sticky, Mr. Benedict and Number Two are like old friends already.

Toxic Friends: The Antidote for Women Stuck in Complicated Friendships WAS on my Nightstand months ago, and I sort of lost it (it got abandoned in the bottom of a bookbag), but I've found it and would like to get to it.

There are a few memoirs that are right on the top of my pile:

Committed: A Skeptic Makes Peace with Marriage by Elizabeth Gilbert
Healing Hearts: A Memoir of a Female Heart Surgeon
Hear No Evil: My Story of Innocence, Music, and the Holy Ghost
and then maybe Far From the Land: An Irish Memoir

And two novels I can't wait to get to:

The Postmistress

The are some tween/teen books that I sort of want to read (in theory), but haven't been reaching for in practice:

Leviathan by Scott Westerfeld (of Uglies fame)
The Dead and the Gone (sequel to Life As We Knew It)
William S. and the Great Escape

Obviously I won't read all of these, but I think that 3 memoirs (none are too long) and 2 novels are doable for sure.

See what other people are reading at What's on Your Nightstand at 5 Minutes for Books.

Monday, January 25, 2010


It all started with a warehouse-sized pack of toilet paper.

Because I'm lazy Because I like to teach my children responsibility, I try to think of age-appropriate chores for them to do around the house. One thing that Kyle (age 5) is assigned is putting things away. As I'm unloading groceries, he takes the shampoo bottles and toothpaste upstairs to the bathrooms. Toilet paper has to be distributed to three bathrooms, so I thought we'd do a little math with the giganto-pack of toilet paper.

"Kyle, we need to put all of this toilet paper away in the three bathrooms, okay?"

"Okay," he agrees as he tore into the plastic, "but can I build pyramids first?"

"Sure," I say, switching my lesson plan notebook from math to civil engineering or ancient history.

And build he did. He worked on the character-trait of perseverance and learned coping skills as it fell down and had to be rebuilt.

And then, yes, he got to the work of picking them up, in sets of four or five, and putting them away.

No, we're not a homeschooling family, so I don't really know the true ins and outs of Charlotte Mason versus unschooling, versus whatever other educational philosophies are out there, but from what I understand, those who adhere to the unschooling theory take advantage of every day life to teach their children (those of you who really know what you are talking about, feel free to chime in).

This is just another example of my efforts to take the best of homeschooling and merge it with a public school education (see Homeraising Mom).

I think we are doing just fine.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Update on Haiti from Haiti

I had the opportunity to listen in on a conference call with Wess Stafford, Compassion International president, and Edouard Lassegue, Vice President of the Latin American Region (who is in Haiti right now) about their relief work there.

After listening, I'm more convinced than ever that if you are wanting to donate money to the relief effort that Compassion is the way to go.

If you don't have money, you certainly have some time right?

Please read my full update at 5 Minutes for Mom about how you can help support the relief effort there -- with some money or some heartfelt prayers.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

The Seventeen-Year Itch?

"I'm reminded of a story I heard on NPR once about a woman who ran into her old high school flame at the frozen yogurt shoppe. He was the manager. She, on the other hand, was happily married to a successful business guy, had a couple kids, a nice house, yadda yadda yadda. But she became obesessed with this yogurt dude. She'd go in and flirt with him, and he with her; they'd even pass notes like in high school. She thought about the guy all the time. Until finally, unable to stand it any longer, the woman confessed everything to her husband. But he didn't freak out. He didn't act jealous. All he said was, very sincerely, "Oh honey, I'm sorry I don't give you that feeling anymore." And her obsession was gone. Phlit. Phlat. Phlew. Out the window. Because she was reminded that giddiness, like those rubbery carrots that sat in our bilge for eighteen days, is a perishable good. It never, ever lasts."

--Janna Cawrse Esarey, The Motion of the Ocean (page 283)

Earlier this month, Terry and I celebrated seventeen years of marriage. We've reached those numbers that many people do not reach, and so some people offer real congratulations with awe and respect for making it this far. But then there's this odd comment that one of Terry's coworkers offered: "So, you've had time for two seven-year itches, right?"

The older we get/the longer we've been married, the more there is to pull our focus away from each other. Just like a sail around the world, sometimes we are powered by wind, and other times we drift.

That's one reason that I enjoy reading marriage memoirs. A good memoirist is not afraid to tell it like it is -- to share the good along with the bad. And those of us who have been there can laugh or nod in agreement right there with her.

Marriage is not easy. Anyone who tells you it is, is either lying or in denial. Fulfilling? comforting? secure? -- Yes. Easy? -- No.

Read my full review of the Motion of the Ocean at 5 Minutes for Books. Other marriage memoirs to consider:

I really enjoyed Halfway to Each Other, which also has a similar feel -- the examination of a marriage in the context of an exciting journey (relocating to Italy as a family).

Elizabeth Gilbert practically created the popular genre of memoir with Eat, Pray, Love. In her first memoir, she travels to Italy, India, and Indonesia as she is escaping a failed marriage. Her second memoir Committed: A Skeptic Makes Peace with Marriage is already on the bestseller list and is supposed to be on its way to me, so I hope to be reading and reviewing it soon.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

What My Kids (and I) Have Been Reading

This month, I'm going to use this Kids' Picks spot to highlight some books we've been reading aloud (view more bloggers' picks at 5 Minutes for Books).

When we were at the library recently, Kyle found a book that the librarian had put out on top of the shelves (bless them for calling our attention to great books that might otherwise get lost in the stacks), Animals Under Our Feet. It's part of the "We Both Read" series, which has a page with more difficult vocabulary on it for the adult to read, followed by a page with a few sentences for your young reader to read aloud. Not only does it encourage a child to read (without becoming weary of it), but it has some larger words emboldened that are then repeated on the child's page. Since Kyle learned to read more with a whole language approach (self-taught, at that), this helps him adds words to his reading vocabulary such as nocturnal, predator etc.

When I was at the library alone, I picked up some more in the series, and he was thrilled to see them. We are currently reading About Dinosaurs (We Both Read).

Amanda and I have almost finished (less than 10 pages left, but she had to leave for school this morning with it unfinished) The Mysterious Benedict Society by Trenton Lee Stewart. I know that by now every one with a child over the age of eight has heard of this book, and has said, "Oh yes, I should read that." I'll just add one more pebble on the scales of "read it now" that you are weighing in your mind. Though this was Amanda's third read of the book, she loved having me read it aloud to her. I will say that much of the vocabulary was pretty advanced, and at over 450 pages it is long, so if your child is not at at least a fifth or sixth-grade reading level, I would suggest doing it as a read-aloud. It's a very clever book, so will definitely appeal to older tweens and young teens as well.

One reason that I know it's a book that will be beloved for years to come is that it's the kind of book that as it's wrapping up, my first desire is to go back and read it again immediately. But alas, there is no time for that.

Yes, we are diving right into the second book, The Mysterious Benedict Society and the Perilous Journey. Amanda has actually not yet gotten around to reading the third one (The Mysterious Benedict Society and the Prisoner's Dilemma), so I'm hoping to convince her that we should do it as a read-aloud.

It took us a full three months, but there were a few weeks, especially over the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays, that we didn't read a page. We read the last 100 pages after Christmas. So, with commitment, we can do better on future long books.

Now me:

There are a couple of mom memoirs (say that 10 times fast) that have giveaways that are still open. I enjoyed both of them: The Water Giver (hurry, last day to enter), and All Things at Once by Mika Brzezenski (open through Sunday).

I finally read a book by Amanda's favorite author Margaret Peterson Haddix --
Claim to Fame

I reviewed another cute book for older tweens, The Sweetheart of Prosper County.

Monday, January 18, 2010

In Their Own Words -- Martin Luther King, Jr.

Last week, Kyle overheard me telling the Monday babysitter that comes when Amanda and I go to BSF, that I didn't need her because of the holiday.

"Holiday? It's a holiday?" Kyle asked, most likely thinking of tinsel and presents.

"Yes, it's Martin Luther King day."

"Oh. Who's King Martin?"

I'm getting a lot of mileage out of our sleepover at Madame Tussaud's Wax Museum

He came home on Friday with a little booklet that they had cut and put together (from

Martin Luther King, Jr.

He liked to read.
He liked school.
He liked sports.
He became a minister.
He had a dream for peace.

"Oh, now you know who Martin Luther King, is, huh?"

"Yeah," Kyle said, smiling.

"Do you know why we have a holiday for him?"

"He wanted peace. And he got shotted."

"Do you know why he got shot?" I asked, surprised that he knew that he had been killed.

"People didn't like him."

Amanda chimed in. "Kyle, do you know a fancy word for getting shot? Assassinated."

Two of the five books that I'm reading as a Cybils Middle Grade Nonfiction judge are civil rights books. As I'm trying to read these, with a kid's-eye view, it occurs to me that it's like ancient history to them -- sort of like me learning that there was a time that women couldn't take a man's job or vote.

And that's a good thing.

Friday, January 15, 2010

What Can We Do?

Honestly I haven't even clicked on all the news headlines that pop up on yahoo about the Haiti earthquake. I just don't want to know. I know it's awful. I know that life there is already hard for the many people who live so far below what we call the poverty line that they can't even see it. And how are they going to recover from this?

What makes it even more personal to me is that when I went to the Dominican Republic with Compassion International, we were in an area that was very near the Haiti border and populated by many Haitians. My sponsored child Chino lives there.

Even more personal than that? Amanda's best friend's mother is from Haiti. I've sent her an email to let her know that I am thinking of her and praying for those in Haiti. I don't know what kinds of connections she has there, but certainly as she sits in her beautiful home in Connecticut surrounded by her beautiful kids who are getting a great education and just got cell phones for Christmas -- certainly her heart, like mine, is broken for her people.

I asked Amanda if she knew about the earthquake, and if she remembered that her friend's mom was from there. She said that she did, and she thought that our church should do something to raise some money to help them.

"What about you? Why don't you raise some money?" I asked her.

"What could I do?" she asked.

"I don't know. You could have a bakesale, or just try to raise funds yourself, and we could send earthquake relief through Compassion

Where will your money go?

• $35 helps provide a relief pack filled with enough food and water to sustain a family for one week.
• $70 gift helps care for their needs for two weeks.
• $105 helps provide relief packs filled with enough food and water to sustain two families for two weeks.
• $210 gift helps care for two families' needs.
• $525 helps provide relief packs filled with enough food and water to sustain 10 families for two weeks.
• $1,050 gift helps care for 10 families' needs.
• $1,500 helps rebuild a home.
• $2,100 helps supply 20 families with the basics for three weeks.

I trust Compassion. They have financial integrity and have earned top ratings for make a donation ourselves. I'm going to take up a collection in my Sunday School class at church.

And in order to honor my own daughter's desire to help -- to do something --my husband and I are going to match your children's contributions. Why? Because a little bit matters, and kids need to know that they can help.

The fine print: The funds I match must be donated from a child's own money. We will match up to $500. I don't want them to desire to give, and you to match the desire. I believe that $5 from a kid's piggy bank can stretch a lot further in God's economy than the $50 I could donate and not even miss.

You can donate directly to Compassion, and then send me an email telling me how much your your child gave from their own funds, or you can email me at jennifer (DOT) snapshot (AT) yahoo (DOT) com and I can send you my paypal address (it's not that same address), or leave me a comment with your email address, and I'll email you. I will include the paypal donations with my contribution.

Time is of the essence. See what your kids want to do and get back to me on that, but make your donation now.

Maybe unlike me, you don't have a loose personal connection to Haiti. Watch this Compassion video made about the work in Haiti -- before the devastating disaster and you will.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

A Little Taste of Sunshine

By New Year's Eve, even my foodie friend was feeling like she was in food overload. Since only her family and my family would be bringing in the New Year together, we decided to keep the food fairly simple.

Along with a few other items, I put out some veggies and hummus. For Lee's healthy addition, she sliced up some oranges. After so much excess, the oranges were so good. We all devoured them like they were -- well, like they were candy.

Lee volunteered her secret: "They were just the cheap bagged oranges from Stop and Shop."

Since I've been making a concerted effort to eat more fruits and vegetables, I picked up some of those oranges this week. I sliced some up for an afternoon snack for Amanda.

"These are so good," she said, agreeing with our assessment that it often is best not to fool with Mother Nature.

In this January deep freeze, those Florida oranges are an easy way to get a little taste of sunshine.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

A New TV Tradition?

Amanda and I stumbled upon this fun show on Fox -- American Idol. Have you heard of it?

Not only have we heard of it, but Amanda guest judged with Simon when her brother Kyle tried to get on the show:

Okay, it's really from our Night at the Museum

Seriously, I may have seen a total of 3 American Idol episodes over the last eight years, although I'm of course familiar with some of the past stars, because I don't live under a rock. But I think I'm a convert.

I found it entertaining and inspiring. I also felt like a bit of a sucker as I let the editors of the show pull my heartstrings, but that's okay.

Especially with our East coast time zone and the show not even starting until 8:00pm, it wasn't something that I ever considered letting Amanda watch. I'm sure she's been deprived since her friends have probably all been watching since they were in preschool.

But last night we snuggled up in my bedroom with some hot beverages -- Orange Zinger tea for me and hot chocolate for her -- and we watched. I'm not sure I'm going to let her watch it each of the fifteen times it's on each month, but I'm thinking that it might be appointment viewing for us. It will definitely be a fun thing for us to share (although she did get embarrassed by me as I'm sang along and did my own faux auditions during the commerical breaks). Honestly, I think I liked the show more than she did.

It's going to be a rough few months. I'm already attached to some of these young hopefuls, such as the blondie skullcap dude, and the 70's throwback guy with the broken wrist. I'm intrigued by Barbara and Tripp Curtis' daughter Maddie. I also gotta give a shout out to the Nigerian-American kid who sang an old school George Strait song that took me back to the early 80's, although he may have been more familiar with the Jamie Foxx version.

So tell me -- am I the last American Idol virgin? Have some of you been turned off or moved on?

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Is Reading a Challenge?

I know for a lot of people finding the time to read or forcing yourself to read something that will stretch you IS indeed a challenge. I have found that participating in Reading Challenges can help you turn the dream of reading into a reality. I know that it did all those years ago when Katrina at Callapidder Days had her first Fall into Reading Challenge.

Some readers participate in many year-long challenges, but this is probably the most I've been doing at any one time.

Carrie at Reading to Know is hosting the L.M. Montgomery Reading Challenge for the second time. The first time it was the push that I needed to read Anne of Green Gables (linked to my review) -- for the first time, ever. Me, a kid who had her nose in a book all the time, was never introduced to Anne. I decided to bring Amanda along for the ride so that she would not have to mention that in her therapy sessions that she had never been told that she might like Anne of Green Gables (which she did).

I told Amanda that Carrie was hosting the same challenge, and did she want to read Anne of Avonlea (I got it free on my Kindle!) with me? "I don't know," she said, "I guess I should."

"You don't have to," I told her, "but I think I'm going to."

"No. I want to. Let's do it."

So, we are both in.

This challenge only lasts for the month of January, so we've gotta get on with it.


And continuing in the theme of children's literature, I am going to sign up for the 6 month long Children's Classics Mystery Challenge. I'm going to keep it simple and revisit an old favorite, Trixie Belden. I gave Amanda a beloved Trixie Belden book a couple of years ago, and she declared it boring and never read any more ever again. Since I practically lived on Trixie Belden in the 5th grade, I was shocked and appalled!

She did get into Nancy Drew a bit, but it was never her favorite thing. And here's a secret: I find Nancy Drew boring. That's right -- dull. I tried to read a book aloud with her, since I had never read them growing up, but I couldn't. Boring. Didn't do it for me.

Please read Carrie's post at 5 Minutes for Mom about her favorite Nancy Drew book, and favorite editions of them. We are giving away 5 beautiful lockets, so please enter now.

My goal for this is simple -- to read one Trixie Belden book, specifically The Mystery Off Glen Road, which is one of the originals by Julie Campbell. It's a challenge because I wouldn't read it otherwise.

Progress on the two other challenges that I'm participating in:

When I saw the South Asian Authors Challenge, I joined in, for that little push to encourage me to read some authors I've been wanting to read anyway. Just two weeks into 2010, I've already completed a book: One Amazing Thing by Chitra Divakaruni.

It wasn't even on my list, but when I saw this book on my amazon Vine list by an Indian author, I decided to chance it (the description was unclear about whether or not it explored the Indian/South Asian experience). As it turns out, it was ripe with cultural information. I enjoyed the author's writing, but the book itself read a bit more like a series of short stories, which is fine, but not what I expected. I will post a full review on 5 Minutes for Books in coming weeks, but here is the link to my amazon review.

So I'm easily on my way to a goal of 5 this year.

I'm "reading" a book for 5 Minutes for Books Classics Bookclub right now as well. The free audiobook download for December at was the Brothers Karamazov, so I decided to give some classic Russian literature a try. I'm a couple of hours into it. The audio version is nice, but it might be even harder to follow. I'm thinking that I should read a summary as I go to help me retain it. We'll see if I stick with it or not, but if so, that puts me through one of my goal of 3 for the year.

Thursday, January 07, 2010

I Interviewed Matthew Goode

Last month I was invited to a screening of Leap Year, the movie starring Amy Adams and Matthew Goode, and then a "date night with Matthew Goode," where we'd go to an Irish pub (in honor of the movie's Irish setting) and have some one-on-one interview time with the star of the movie.

Unfortunately, he was detained in the UK, and the "date night" was rescheduled to a "phone date" later in the week.

I hadn't been on a date with someone other than my husband in almost 20 years (!!), so I was actually okay with that development.

I took a friend to see the movie with me, and we had a girls' night out, which I prefer to awkward first dates. Read my review of the movie and part of my interview, along with getting a chance to win a fun movie prize pack at 5 Minutes for Mom.

So, my phone date started out with me trying to find common ground, which is key in successful small talk, right? Terry and I are a bit obsessed with our renewed love of The West Wing these days, and I saw an interview online that mentioned that Matthew Goode is also happy to watch episodes of the show on DVD back to back, so I asked him about it.

"I usually say please discount what you read at all costs, but in this case, it's true," he answered in his British accent.

I followed up with some information I had learned while watching the commentary on one of the episodes (as I said, obsessed) that the actor Richard Schiff loved working with food. I mentioned this to Matthew, and said that I noticed a lot of food bits in his current movie -- a sandwich and two different apples are used. "Was that intentional on your part?"

"Most was in the script, but we might have put the apple in. It's always good to have a prop, so you don't just stand there looking like a looney."

"What do you admire in an actor?" I asked.

"Sam Rockwell. That can answer your question," he said without much hesitation. "He can do so much -- disappear into the roles, do comedy and drama. I'm not sure I could put myself in that bracket, but it's something to live up to. It's not the easiest job to do: 'This week I'm going to play Lincoln.''"

"What is your idea of a good date night, and has it changed since you've settled down and become a father?"

"It depends. When we're abroad, and we have time, we quite like popping in and having afternoon cheese plates. Does that sound very old-fashioned?"

"No," I said, giggling laughing, "but it does sound quite British. I don't know any Americans who pop in to have a cheese plate."

He continued with the banter, "Yes, we love to take a glass. A good cheese plate, followed by a long meal, and at some point the removal of clothing. That's a pretty good date night."

I'm glad I wasn't sitting across the table from him at this point, because I would have been bright red, I'm sure -- not to mention the fact that when we ended the call, he called me "darling." What would I have done with that little remark had I been sipping a Diet Pepsi in a dark pub with this actor?

Christina, one of the members of his fan site had posted: "Though I’m sure that I will be one of the many women to see Matthew Goode in LEAP YEAR, I’m disappointed that he is falling back into a romantic comedy role. The man is Oscar Worthy. He should not be doing films where his purpose is to make women giggle and swoon."

I have to say that although I haven't seen him in his serious roles (Brideshead Revisited and The Single Man), that he is quite able at making this particular girl giggle and swoon.

My friend Nicole and I enjoyed this movie. If you're looking to get out with girlfriends, or having a date night of your own, go see Leap Year -- opening in theaters January 8.

I invite you to subscribe to my feed, or follow me @jenndon on twitter.

Disclosure: Universal studies treated me to a pre-release screening of the movie.

Tuesday, January 05, 2010

America, America

One of the events at 5 Minutes for Books is the I Read It carnival. Initially we only linked up reviews that had been recommended by 5 Minutes for Books, but we've expanded it to include reviews of any book that we read that was recommended by someone.

We have also started running it monthly (the first Tuesday of the month) instead of quarterly as we used to.

I love this idea, because books draw people together. You can recognize a connection with someone if they like -- or don't like -- the same book as you.

My friend Andrea and I often swap book suggestions, and even though she moved away a couple of years ago, when I saw her this summer, we swapped books. One of the books she gave me was America, America by Ethan Canin. She loved it and thought I would too. Although it took me five months to move it from my nightstand to the top of the pile, when I read it over Christmas break, I could see exactly why my friend recommended it so highly.

It's a literary read, and to me read a bit like a biography or something. America, America is a sweeping saga, looking at a generation of the Metarey family. It takes place in the 70's, but there are also scenes in present-day looking back to those times. The narrator is Corey Sifter, a local boy who Liam Metarey takes under his wing.

Liam Metarey also takes another, more influential person under his wing, intending to get him elected President. However, a controversy, to which Corey is a witness, puts Senator Bonwiller's Presidential run in jeopardy.

This book tackles so many themes: the opportunities of the rich vs. the poor, aging (into adulthood from the teen years all the way to the incompetence of old age), political power, the affect of the media.

I loved it. If it's not a 5 star read, it's certainly 4.5. If you like generational sagas or stories of influence or literary novels, I recommend you give this a try.

I would definitely read another novel by Ethan Canin. Are there any you recommend? Have you read America, America?

Monday, January 04, 2010

Forget Your Troubles, C'Mon Get Happy

I just finished reading The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin, and I loved it. It's a book that I enjoyed reading because of the good writing, research and facts, and the humorous tone. But more than that, it honestly inspired me.
I am generally a happy person. However, there are decisions that I make

Gretchen Rubin has inspired me to read Aristotle.

But more than that, I've decided to work on some of the areas mentioned. I do not have a year-long attention span, because I want to jump right in -- NOW. But I have sort of lumped together many of the areas that she worked on, and I'm going to tackle them over the next three months.

Here are my goals and briefly what that means to me, in a practical sense:

January: Be Healthy

  • Specifically I need to make some doctor's appointments -- yearly female checkup (that's way overdue), and a dermatologist check-up that's way way overdue. Add the dentist to that list as well.
  • As far as physical health, I want to focus on healthy eating, I always do best when I make an effort to eat lots of fruits and vegetables. I like fruits and vegetables, but I generally eat junk instead.
  • In the Happiness Project book, Gretchen Rubin talks a lot about getting rid of clutter. This is something that I know puts me in a better frame of mind. Whenever I return from a clutter-free vacation home or hotel, the clutter in my own life almost suffocates me. I've already gotten a jump on this one by cleaning out my closet earlier this week. More to come!
  • I also want to be sure not to neglect my spiritual health. I am not going to set a specific goal here, because then it becomes a box I can check off, and that's not the purpose either, but I am indeed happier when I am in a closer relationship with God and allowing Him to help me tame those bad habits and attitudes I have.
For February, my focus will be "Be Kind," encompassing my relationships with my family and others.

For March, my focus will be "Be Responsible," in which I will work on my work habits and money and the use of my time.

I will write more specific goals on each of those months.

I highly recommend this book. Please check out my full review of this book at 5 Minutes for Mom. You can enter to win one of two copies (U.S. and Canadian addresses).

I liked it so much that I added it to my list of 5 Star Reads.

Do you make goals? Or are there areas of your character that you are trying to work on? Are you happy?

Saturday, January 02, 2010

2009 Reading Wrap-Up

Today's edition of Semicolon's Saturday Review of Books is devoted to book lists. Semicolon has quite a few of her own. You can also link up a regular review, but I thought I'd take up the challenge.

At 5 Minutes for Books we all shared our "Year in Review(s)" as well. Check it out.

This year was the first that I was really faithful about keeping a reader's notebook. It helped me write my reviews, and track what I was reading and how long it took me to read them.

I probably didn't track every book, but my reading journal records 106 books read in 2009. In addition to that, I listened to at least 15 audiobooks (which I didn't always track).

Here's the breakdown:

Fiction (adult), 41 books. Here are the stand-outs, linked to my reviews:
Memoir, 22 books. I've always enjoyed memoir, but as I was flipping through my notebook I noticed that I read many food and travel memoirs, alongide other typical memoir fare:
Other Nonfiction, 16 books -- lots of parenting books here, but compelling:
Tween and Teen Lit, 27 books -- notably:

This isn't an award show, but I also wanted to thank my husband of 17 years -- today. He supports me in everything I want to do, and whether we're watching DVDs on the sofa, or reading side by side in bed, I'm so glad to share life with him.