Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Some Things I Want You to Read -- Links and Giveaways

After a dissatisfying start to my summer, reading-wise, I've kicked it into gear.  School starts tomorrow, and with that I hope to use my time wisely, which mostly means actually getting paid for several hours during the day with my freelance pursuits.  But especially with my very favorite weather on tap -- sunny but not hot -- I'm quite sure that I'll spend time outside on the deck reading in silence (it's become increasingly more difficult for me to read over the sibling rivalry and/or loud blare of the TV that I've employed to block out sibling rivalry).  Lest your jealously kick in, it's supposed to be 92 today, and 92 makes my house stuffy.

I'd love for you to check these out, if you haven't already.  I am proud of these posts/reviews, and there are some great giveaways.  If you use your CTRL button when you click the link, they will open in a new window:

I don't think I've posted any of these.  I did a follow up to my Emma Thompson/Nanny McPhee story (if I didn't link to those, they are at the bottom of these posts):  Emma Thompson's advice to aspiring actors AND then a separate review/giveaway of the Nanny McPhee returns book tie in.  It's really original and fun, and includes a film diary.  It is the same story, but presents itself in a new way.  I recommend it highly as a great middle-grade novel that stands alone.

Speaking of great middle-grade novels, I wanted to see what all the 39 Clues hype was about.  The final book releases today, and we got to host the final blog tour stop over at 5 Minutes for Mom.  Read the guest post by author Margaret Peterson Haddix (of Found and Double Identity fame).  Then be sure you enter to win a set of all 10 books.  I read book one and part of book two myself, and was very pleasantly surprised.  I think that I thought that because they were so popular, they were somehow simple and lame.  Read my Mom's Review of 39 Clues.

And yes, we have Mockingjay fever.  The finale to that book came out last week, and Amanda and I both read and enjoyed it.  We were both happy with the ending, and we both thought the beginning was a little slow or cumbersome.  Amanda and her friend got to go to a Mockingjay Reading and Signing with Suzanne Collins, and that upped their interest!  We were also privileged at 5 Minutes for Mom to host a very limited Ipod Touch giveaway with the Mockingjay logo.  So even if you aren't in on the hype, you want a free Ipod Touch, right??

I read Audrey Niffenegger's followup to her smash hit the Time Traveler's Wife.  The reviews on amazon are mixed, but I really enjoyed Her Fearful Symmetry, and am even giving away my extra copy.

Speaking of giveaways, I did draw my Staples winner.  It was Jenni, and I'm hoping her gift card is on the way or she's already received it.

Monday, August 30, 2010

I (Almost) Climbed Mount Monadnock

Wikipedia says that Mount Monadnock has long been known as one of the most frequently climbed mountains in the world. I believe it is second to Mt. Fuji, but it is the most climbed mountain in North America.

We recently stayed over a few nights in New Hampshire after picking Amanda up at camp, and my husband couldn't resist.

The pragmatic (oh yeah -- and lazy and out of shape) me said, "It's almost 2 1/2 miles up the mountain. And then we have to get down. That's a long way for me the kids to hike."

The 2.4 miles was pretty much straight up. It was fairly rocky in places, which was not too hard to get up, but is always a little scary to go down. Amanda actually loves that kind of hike. She still talks about a hike that we took when she was just a little older than Kyle. Terry and I weren't quite sure we were going to make it back down. We were at Macedonia Brook State Park. The hike up was fine. The views from the top were amazing. But on the way back down, it got very cloudy, and so though it was still late afternoon, it got a little dark. Kyle was one, and Terry was carrying him in a backpack, which made those steep declines even harder to navigate. The dog was with me and Amanda, and she didn't even want to go down some of the ledges. We were on pins and needles the whole time coming down.

So Amanda was happy to relive her mountain climbing days by tackling Mount Monadnock.

Since the incline was fairly steep, and I haven't been hiking in a while, I seriously thought I might have a coronary. I had to stop to catch my breath after each steep ascent. This always irritates Terry, who nudges me, "Don't stop in the middle -- you can stop at the top of this piece." But there was never a top, and I thought my heart was going to pound out of my chest.

After an hour and half of pretty steady hiking (with some breath-catching breaks), we reached a big clearing with a gorgeous view. We were almost there!

"I don't think it's much further. If you just want to wait for us here, you can," Terry offered up.

I accepted, taking a nice rest on a big flat rock with a gorgeous view. It was a bit further up than he thought, because it took an hour for them to make it back down to me (which was okay with me).

On the way back down, Amanda and Terry blazed the trail. Kyle was one of the youngest hikers we saw up that high, and got a few kudos from other hikers about making it up there himself. However, by 2:30 or so -- 3 hours in (with rests and time to check out the view), he was done. He was whining, crying, and tired. He kept wanting to just sit down.

However, unlike me wanting/needing to rest on the way up so that my heart didn't explode, he was just tired. We still needed to get down, and it wasn't going to happen if he was resting at every pace. I wasn't having any trouble with the descent, and he's still pretty light, but there was NO way I was going to make it down if I carried him.

So I tried to be patient as he cried, "See, this is why I do not like nature," every time he tripped and stumbled, which was a lot, because he was tired and not paying attention. "Nature is hard."

I kept congratulating him for his feat of climbing the mountain and acknowledging that three hours of hiking is a lot, and that he had to keep going so that we could get down.

Finally Amanda and Terry were waiting for us, so Terry was able to carry him down the last 15 minutes or so.

Three and a half hours and 4.8 miles later (maybe 4 miles for me), we were back in our car. Half an hour after that, after waking the 6-year-old who fell asleep in the car, we had our reward:

Saturday, August 28, 2010

His and Hers . . . Tape??

Summer togetherness has come with a price. There has been a fair share of arguing, hitting, and screaming. (As a long aside, I thought that since my kids were 5 1/2 years apart that there would be less bickering. And yes, there has been less bickering than with some siblings, but in the last year, it's on. The eldest is a tween and knows everything -- more than her parents and certainly more than her little brother. The little brother, now 6, is tired of being bossed around, and knows quite a bit himself, so clashes are commonplace.)

Some of this is allayed by massive amounts of electric entertainment via the computer, the Wii, and/or the TV, and sometimes this just intensifies the fighting.

Recently there was a real ruckus upstairs.  Running in the hall, screeching, and slamming doors.

Apparently the slamming door was Amanda's, because the howl of neglect and the angry scream came from little brother Kyle.

"Kyle?  Come here.  What's up?" I asked, fairly calm for once.

Kyle came to me, weeping (still angrily), "Amanda broke my feelings."

How heartbreakingly sweet is that, I ask you?

"She wouldn't share the tape."

All this, over tape? I wondered.

For Amanda, the struggle was over territory -- her room. For Kyle, it was over being left out, being excluded, being told no.

But he's no shrinking violet. I had given him a roll of tape for whatever he needed it for, and when I came downstairs later, I saw that he was staking his irrevocable claim on it:

Wednesday, August 25, 2010


She calls me "boss lady." I call her the "good little soldier." I first came to know and respect her through her impassioned comments and posts about books.

She became a member of the team at 5 Minutes for Books, and I've loved sharing our thoughts on books and so much more -- children, husbands, TV shows, blogging, NPR -- just to name a few.

Last weekend, I got to spend over an hour with her, meet her kids and her husband, brainstorm, chat and laugh. It was quite lovely. Since she lives less than an hour away from my in-laws (and I live only about an hour away from her parents), I'm hoping that it will happen again.

Nice to meet you Dawn!

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

My Nightstand -- August

I've you've only come to expect me to post on Tuesdays (with my 5 Minutes for Books linkups) and perhaps one more throughout the week -- get ready.  I noticed that I have several posts in draft which are practically ready to post.  An incredibly busy summer of travel has brought my focus to other things, but now I'll be writing about that vacation, deal with sibling rivalry, share some links to some awesome giveaways and book reviews, and maybe stir up a TV viewing conversation.  So, please, subscribe to my feed if you don't already, and reward my efforts (if my efforts satisfy, that is).

I'd also like to pass along the link to a fun, informative article I did for Patch.com: Get Your Kids Hooked on Books, specifically about encouraging that early, perhaps reluctant reader. Kyle has turned the corner, and I'm thrilled!!

Now on to my Nightstand:

Books I need to read:
  • The 39 Clues Book 1:The Maze of Bones -- A carryover from last month. I want to read at least this first book (and maybe more) before next week, when we are thrilled to host the final stop for the final book in this series with author Margaret Peterson Haddix. That will be on August 31 at 5 Minutes for Mom. In the meantime, check out guest posts by the authors and giveaways at other stops (look at the "stay tuned" bullet).
  • Mockingjay -- the Final Hunger Games Book. It's supposed to arrive today. Amanda and I will fight over it (actually I've decided to let her read it first, but with no plans on the schedule, she might finish it today), but we'll both have it read within the week I'm sure. If you are unsure what all this hubbub is about, check out my Hunger Games summary post at 5 Minutes for Mom, where you can also enter to win an 8GB Ipod Touch with a special Mockingjay emblem on it. That's right!

Books I think I'll read:

Books I might read (but I might not):

See what else the blogging world is reading at What's on My Nightstand the fourth Tuesday of every month at 5 Minutes for Books

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

What My Kids are Reading

I mentioned last week that Kyle had been enjoying the Ricky Ricotta books by Dav Pilkey. We've gotten a few more at the library.

He is actually sitting and reading books! I am thrilled. I was fairly sure his lack of interest was a developmental thing, because he learned to read so well so soon, but I know that there's no guarantee that all my children will love to read, so I've been waiting and hoping.

In addition to those, he has enjoyed a little Pokemon chapter book we picked up at the library, and The Great Puffle Switch that we had bought at the book fair last spring. He was asking for more of those books (because he can also use the included code online at Club Penguin), and I just noticed that they have quite a few in the "Choose Your Own Adventure" style, and they are part of amazon's 4 for 3, which I absolutely love, so I'm thinking that my little reader boy will get a reward.  Though we use the library a LOT, I like to have some books around, so that they will always have something to read.

As for Amanda, who will be starting middle school in just a few short weeks, she's really been enjoying the Iron King series. She read the first one (linked to my review), and just recently started The Iron Daughter, and is loving that too.

When I first read it, I wasn't sure if it might be a bit too intense for her, but I think it's okay. In addition, it uses a mild swear word fairly frequently (more frequently than in other books she's read, where it's just been a one-off), but we discussed it.

She also really enjoyed Belly Up, a dead hippo mystery. It has great reviews at amazon as well (and which I will be reviewing over at 5 Minutes for Books at some point).

I've linked this up to 5 Minutes for Books Kids' Picks.  Please join in, or see what other kids can recommend this month.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Back to School with Staples, Giveaway

Among other things, back to school means back to school shopping. Amanda and I have bought a few clothing items for her over the last few months, Kyle got the new tennis shoes that he badly needs, and last week we finally made that school supply shopping trip.

Both of their needs were pretty basic this year. With Kyle just entering first grade, he needed a few pencils, crayons, markers. There wasn't much room to get fancy, but he did need a folder. We selected one of those made out of the same material as those flexible binders in a cool black and white pattern. That one might hold up as the everyday take home folder. That folder usually takes a beating!

He fell in love with the animal-shaped pencil toppers, which I didn't buy him, and the novelty cell phone erasers, which I did sneak into the cart as a first day of school treat. They beat the plain pink bar eraser hands down.

Amanda's middle school list includes mostly run of the mill items, but also some of those things you seem only to see in the summer months leading up to back to school. I was glad that Staples had everything, including graph composition books, so that I don't have to scramble to find some of the items. I was sent this fun flash drive for review, and she loved it. Last year her teacher really encouraged them to keep their writing assignments on there, so that they could work at school or home, so though this wasn't on her list, it's a back to school need.

Kyle absolutely adores this soccer calculator. The ball is attached with a string and sticks magnetically to his foot. Kyle has always enjoyed playing with calculators, so this will make it even more fun for him. Amanda thought it was really cool, too, but since many of the items I got to preview were more appropriate for her, she lost out on this one.

Staples has teamed up with Do-Something.org, and we received some of those notebooks as well (different style pictured above). They are both stylish and make a statement (but not too much of a statement -- it's more an inspiration for kids to get involved than some sort of political manifesto).

The shopping trip was full of lots of "no's." There were many cool things for them to ask for (and to be honest, many cool things that I had to resist buying myself): from jumbo pushpins, to locker organizers, to stand-up staplers, to fancy notebooks, to candy, to zebra-striped paperclips (Okay -- I didn't resist these, but who could at the price, $1.29, and the fact that I never have paperclips around when I need them?).

Check out Staples Back to School Center for hot deals near you.

I have one $25 Staples card to give to one of you, so that you can splurge on some of these fun novelty items (or any of the items in the store, whether you are shopping for back to school or not!).

Leave a comment, and make sure that I have a way to contact you (either email in your google profile or left in the comments, or a blog where I can leave a comment). If the winner I draw does not have contact info, I will immediately draw again.

You have through August 24 to enter, and I will announce the winner on August 25.

If you want -- just for fun -- tell me your favorite item that you like to buy when the stores are stocked with all the fun back-to-school supplies.

Disclosure: Staples sent me some of these back-to-school items to preview for you and is providing the gift card to one of you.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010


We haven't seen many deer in the yard this season, but since reading The Hidden Life of Deer (linked to my review -- a great read that I still revisit in my head), I'm even more fascinated by these large gentle graceful creatures, so I was glad to spot these in my yard, and even more sympathetic to them, thus letting them nibble a bit on the morning glory vines -- which they totally destroyed last year. I was wondering why they hadn't been around this year.

After reading the book, I now know that this group of four is probably a family group. The large doe is the mother, the smaller doe is probably her fawn from last year, and the adorable spotted fawns are her twins (right in the middle, who look at a little bigger than they did when separated from the group), born this year. The females usually stay together as a family unit.

They come into our yard without fear. That brown railing you see in the picture above is my deck, shown below for perspective. They are just 15 feet or so from the house.

And where is the dog who enjoys being outside, protecting our home from intruders of the two-legged and four-legged community? Relaxing regally on the front porch, that's where she is:

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Dav Pilkey -- and the Caldecott???

If you have a son, you probably recognize Dav Pilkey's name. You probably think of those books about a superhero in his underwear that you either tolerate because -- "Hey, at least he's reading" (which is where I think I'll be in a year or so), or you forbid because "Enough with the potty humor already."

When I was at Scholastic HQ over the weekend, they were promoting Dav Pilkey's new series,The Adventures of Ook and Gluk, Kung-Fu Cavemen from the Future (which I think I'll be able to review). I almost -- almost -- bought Kyle some Captain Underpants books, but they were a little above his reading level, and I am still not sure I want to go there.

When I saw Ricky Ricotta, I realized that this series is exactly what I've been looking for. With some prompting (and the promise of library summer reading rewards), he's done well reading independently this summer. These books are very early chapter books. There are still pictures on every page, and each page has only a few sentences, but there are about 10 chapters. It's a perfect introduction to a chapter book (and I would LOVE your recommendations about any others. I know all the early chapter books, and I think he'll be there soon, but if I can encourage him with more early readers on this level, that would be awesome.).

As thrilled as I am with this new development -- what does potty humor and comic book art have to do with the Award-Winning Children's Classic Challenge at 5 Minutes for Books, for which I'm writing this post?

Well, when searching Dav Pilkey at amazon, I saw The Paperboy by Dav Pilkey which featured that telltale silver Caldecott Honor medal. A quick trip to our library had this book in my hands in time to write about it today.

What an amazing contrast!

I'm not discounting his wildly popular books at all, but just look at that book's cover. The art and the story are equally beautiful. The story is about a paperboy who wakes up each Saturday before everyone in the house and everyone in the neighborhood, and delivers his papers (with his adorable Corgi dog).

The pre-dawn hours give Pilkey a chance to really show off. The use of light in the paintings is incredible (seriously--just look at the cover). The sunrise scene alone is worth looking at this book.

I love a lot of things about this book: the African American protagonist, the dog, the amazing paintings, the poetic meter of the non-rhyming text. There's one thing I don't like -- the end. I'm not being corny and saying that I am sad to see the book end. The last page is really corny and weird and is not consistent with the rest of the book (in my opinion).

I am thrilled that we discovered Dav Pilkey this week at Scholastic and at the library, both for the Caldecott honor book The Paperboy, and Ricky Ricotta.

Sunday, August 08, 2010

Not Your Mother's Microwave Cookbook

I love Not Your Mother's Slow Cooker Cookbook, so when I was given the opportunity to review Not Your Mother's Microwave Cookbook: Fresh, Delicious, and Wholesome Main Dishes, Snacks, Sides, Desserts, and More, I thought I'd give it a try. If Beth Hensperger can rescue the crock pot from cream of mushroom soup mix, she could entice me to actually cook in my microwave.

I used to live in the South, and I always wondered why women's magazines featured "Don't heat up your kitchen" mealplans, because although it was 90 outside, the inside was the same overly air conditioned temperature it always was. Well, now that I leave here in New England, where many people have no a/c or like me, a smaller unit that effectively cools the bedrooms, but leaves the kitchen and living room stuffy when the temperatures get above 85, I get it. And there's no way I'd bake something in my oven for 35 minutes on a day such as that.

I've tried several recipes from the cookbook, and they've all been big hits.

I adapted the "orzo with sun-dried tomatoes and peas" recipe. I didn't add the parmesan at the end, and I ate it at room temperature, not hot. I've eaten the leftovers cold. Who would imagine cooking a pasta dish in the microwave?

I also tried out two protein dishes, because though I've cooked fish in the microwave, I've not used it to fully cook chicken and the like. The Chicken Diane with boneless chicken breasts are going into my regular recipe rotation. The kids loved it, my husband liked it. I thought it was okay, but with that success, I'm making it again.

The Barbecued Chicken drums (thighs initially called for) were also pretty successful. My son and daughter and I all thought the result was good, but my husband did not (I think it's because he knew that they were cooked in the microwave).

The steamed carrots ("The Best Glazed Carrots") were a hit. I loved the sauce, and would love to try it on other dishes (like as a chicken glaze).

I can't wait to try one of the risotto recipes.

There are also great dessert sauce recipes, for ice cream or the like.

The recipes are clear, telling you upfront the cooking time and what tools and pans you need to make the recipe.

I do wish that there was a bit more general information, because after using it so successfully, I thought I'd try to make regular white rice in there. I guess for that I would need my mother's microwave cookbook, because unlike some who just used it to heat when they first came on the scene, my mother used hers to make rice, scalloped potatoes and more.

Do you change your cooking methods in the summer? If so, how? Do you have any tried-and-true microwave recipes?

Thursday, August 05, 2010

Don't Use the F Word

My daughter has started using the F word. She hasn't even hidden it from me. In fact, she said it to me twice. I suppose I shouldn't be surprised. It's inevitable with all the teen culture surrounding her and what she picks up from her friends at school.

The F-word of which I most fear my daughter will fall under the spell -- Fat.

She is entering puberty and adolescence, and as I've mentioned, she's the size of a "normal adult-sized person." Coming to grips with that changeover from a tall, skinny, gangly child to a filled-out adultish person is difficult, especially when many of your friends still look like skinny, gangly kids. She's become conscious of the number on the scale, and apparently she and her friends have compared numbers, and she doesn't like that hers is higher. But she's taller than they are, and yes, she's beginning to fill out some, whereas many of them still have childish frames.

We talked about it. I told her how dangerous a poor body image is (I also knows that she checks in here at Snapshot to see what Mom has to say as well, so she'll hear it again). She said, "It's only bad when you stop eating because you think you are fat, but I don't do that. I can't not eat."

I answered that yes, indeed, an eating disorder is a dangerous and scary thing, something we have to keep watch over and avoid. But even if she doesn't develop unhealthy eating habits or fall into an endless cycle of diets, I told her that an unhealthy body image is sad because your body is always with you, and constant dissatisfaction about the way you look wears away at your self-esteem, and I want her to avoid that.

I don't know how to protect her -- how to give her a healthy body image, to teach her how to take care of her body with good food and moderate exercise without letting her self-esteem be tied to the number on the scale or on the tag in her jeans. Although I've never been thin and perfect, I've always had peace with my own body, even when I knew that I should lose a few pounds, and that's a peace that I wouldn't trade for anything -- even a supermodel's physique.

She's absolutely not fat, and yet I know that I can't convince of her of that. I have to just hope and trust and pray that we will be able to talk it through-- that she'll get over this hurdle, and will be able to love the body that God gave her, curves, thighs and other lumps to come.

It's just another in a long line stretching ahead of me of scary, dangerous things that she and I are going to have to navigate through together as we walk the path to adulthood and full maturity.

Tuesday, August 03, 2010

Love in a Time of Homeschooling

When we received the email pitching this book to 5 Minutes for Books, almost all of us were interested in it! I don't think that we've ever had four of us vying for the same title. Dawn, Carrie, Lauren, and I each thought it was a book that would appeal to us, for different reasons.

Lauren reviewed Love in Time of Homeschooling on 5 Minutes for Books (linked to her review), and Carrie ended up reviewing it on Reading to Know (linked to her review), and then Carrie was nice enough to bring her copy to me when she came here for BEA in May.

What appealed to me about this book was the fact that a mother was doing what was in the best interest of her daughter in her 5th grade year. She thought that setting aside a year for her eldest daughter would be in her best interest: socially, emotionally and academically. Isn't that the definition of motherhood? For her, homeschooling was a sacrifice of love to her daughter. I have a friend who actually made a very similar choice last year for similar reasons with her tween daughter, and so I was very interested in seeing how it played out for the author Laura Brodie.

As the mother of a tween daughter, I'm aware of time passing so very quickly. I'm aware that I'm not meeting all her needs, and that I could sacrifice a bit more (and probably should).

I have never been interested in homeschooling, but what I do envy about all of my homeschooling friends is the sheer amount of time and influence that they have with their children.

In the end, Laura Brodie's experience was much like my own would be (and parenting is every day anyway): there were struggles, she lost her cool, and her daughter forgave her. I think the experience of almost complete togetherness throughout the day, tackling a difficult project (including things such as violin practice and math, which her daughter needed much prompting to do) caused her to examine herself as a mother.

In the end, I'm not sure she would have given herself an "A" in motherhood, and hindsight gave her some other ideas that might have better suited their academic plans, but I think that the overall experience was something that was a success in both her mind and her daughter's. They both ended up learning (academically and emotionally) -- about the world and themselves.

If you are considering homeschooling for any reason (aside from religious -- because though she discussed that this is why many parents homeschool, she didn't investigate nor relate to that), Love in a Time of Homeschooling might be a good book to help you understand the benefits, the sacrifices, and the struggles -- at least of one family who chose one year of homeschooling.

This review is linked up to the I Read It carnival that happens the first Tuesday of each month at 5 Minutes for Books. Link up your reviews that you read at the suggestion of someone else.