Tuesday, September 28, 2010

What I'm Reading (What is actually on my Nightstand)

I'm a little late linking up today to What's on Your Nightstand, but I thought I'd share a bit about what I'm reading exactly right now.  I have a nifty amazon widget that Lauren told me about that is super-easy to update, and I try to keep it updated with what I'm actually reading right now.

Amanda and I are reading the latest Mother Daughter Bookclub book Pies and Prejudice.  It's good.  I made her watch A&E's Pride and Prejudice with me, and by the last half, she was pretty well hooked. 

Without a Word is Jill Kelly's memoir of her marriage to Jim Kelly, specifically as it was affected by having a severely ill/disabled baby.  It came unsolicited, and I decided to give it a try.  I knew I'd either like it or it wouldn't wow me.  It pretty much wowed me.  So I'm almost halfway through.  I think I will feature a giveaway on Monday at 5 Minutes for Mom.

The Kneebone Boy by Ellen Potter is as delightfully quirky as I had hoped it would be. I liked it as soon as I started it, but I've been trying to finish some other things, so I've put this Middle Grade novel aside.

And I did just finish Extraordinary, a YA faerie novel.  The review and giveaway will post at midnight tonight at 5 Minutes for Books.  The links will be live at that time.

I made a list for the Fall Into Reading Challenge, so you can see what else I'll be reading this month (plus), but as usual I forgot 2 books.  I will read them next, because will be featuring them on 10/11 at 5 Minutes for Mom:

Six Ways to Keep the Little in Your Girl and 8 Great Dates for Moms and Daughters: How to Talk About True Beauty, Cool Fashion, and Modesty! by Dannah Gresh

Friday, September 24, 2010

I'm as smart as Wikipedia says I am

I was writing up a review for a really clever children's book Besty Red Hoodie the other day.  I was trying to comment in a scholarly and official children's picture book reviewer sort of way about the pictures on the paper inside the cover of the book.  I knew that there was a word for those pages glued on the cover, and so I googled it, and lo and behold Wikipedia came through. In addition to the structure of a book, the book entry also contains information about manufacturing, the history of the book, genres, library bar coding and more.

Such a treasure-trove of information! Oh yeah, if you want to know the technical name, you'll have to check out my review of Besty Red Hoodie.

It's a part of the 5 Minutes for Books Fall Festival of Children's Books. We're doing a clearinghouse of children's books this week -- featuring reviews of all sorts of picture books -- fiction, non-fiction, funny, scary, religious. . . . And we have a bunch of giveaways as well. As of today we have 14 reviews, and 7 of them have giveaways attached!

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Are Your Kids Proud of You?

One of the chefs on Top Chef Desserts said last week "I want to win this so that my boys will know their mom did something great."

I think that there is probably a greater legacy one can leave their children than winning a TV reality competition, but I do get where she's coming from.

My daughter -- as much as I may bemoan the adolescence that has overcome our home -- is a very sweet girl.  She is full of kindness, and mercy, and forgiveness.  She loves me with her whole heart.

I have often heard people say that we can better understand God's love for us when we have children, because of how we love them.  May I be the first to say that I do NOT love my children in the way that I know God loves me -- unselfishly, strictly with my best interest in mind, with unlimited forgiveness and acceptance.  I don't.  But you know what?  My kids do love me that way.  When I lose my cool, they forgive me.  When I jump to a wrong conclusion, they give me a second chance.

I lost my cool a couple of weeks ago when Amanda was working on a project for school.  They were supposed to find some pictures and print them out, or cut them out of a magazine of things that represented them -- their family, their interests, their strengths, what they are proud of.

Our printer network is not very reliable.  I had to leave to go to Amanda's open house, so I had told her several times, "Get this done before I have to leave, because I won't be able to help you."

Well, she didn't.  And I didn't just leave and force her to accept that consequence (which is absolutely what I should have done).  I left late after fiddling (not quite successfully) with the printer.  I ended up yelling and berating her and telling her to figure it out herself because "Now YOU MADE ME LATE!"

She didn't make me anything.  I extended her just enough rope to hang myself with.

The next morning I asked if she got what she needed, and she said she did.  I saw the papers she had printed out, which included headers from 5 Minutes for Books and the local online newspaper I write for.

"You know what those banners were for?" she asked.  "Those are things I'm proud of."

Yes, she's proud of me.  And while it may seem that she was trying to stick it to me with that comment ("Do you think you are someone worthy of my pride?") I don't think that's where she was going with it.  I think she felt sorry she had pushed me, and it was her way of offering up her apology -- and yes, forgiveness, too, reminding me about who she thinks I am.

I think that their pride in us comes only after they know they are loved.  I could be busy and accomplished, and it wouldn't matter at all if I didn't love my kids.  But because I somehow fit in a life of my own around life as their mom, they are proud of my life outside of being their mom.

Are your kids proud of you?  You might make a killer apple pie, or sew prom dresses, or paint pictures or walls.  You might have a job that helps others or requires skill.  You might make great sound effects when you read aloud.  If you asked your kids, what would they say?

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Fall Into Reading Challenge - 2010

It's Fall.  That means it's time for Callapidder Days' Fall into Reading Challenge.  Because I'm a book reviewer at 5 Minutes for Books and currently read between 1900- 2800 pages a month, I hardly need a challenge to insure that I am reading (as I did when I joined the first one, and had forsaken my love of reading -- obviously it worked!!).

**Shameless plug before I give my list.  We are having a Fall Festival of Children's Books this week, so if you like picture books for all ages and of all types, check it out.  We have about 10 giveaways in all!

And now, on to my list.  As a reviewer, I don't really know what I'm going to be reading in the middle of December, because I want to be open to accept a book and read and review it.  However, there are some books that I have on my personal shelf that I've been meaning to get to.  There are also some advance copies that I've had standing by that I need to get to, and I have a super secret project for which I will be reading a lot of children's literature over the next few months -- okay it's not super-secret anymore.  I'm a Round 1 judge for the Cybils Middle Grade Fiction category.  BIG WORK ahead!

Review titles I would like to finish by the end of the challenge:

Adult Fiction:
  • Out of the Shadows -- by Joanne Rendell. I enjoyed her first two books. I got this a week ago and am chomping to get started on it!
Adult Memoir and Non-Fiction:
Young Adult (been loving all the YA I've been reading):
  • Extraordinary by Nancy Werlin -- I must read this next so that I can get the review and giveaway up at 5 Minutes for Books next week, but it looks like a great YA fairy novel.
  • Pies and Prejudice (Mother Daughter Book Club) -- I love this series -- love, love! It's a long book, and Amanda (12) and I reading it aloud, but we should finish in the next month or so, and then I'd honestly like to get started right away on another with her.
Middle Grade Fiction:
  • The Kneebone Boy by Ellen Potter -- I just started this last night, and it's living up to the delightfully quirky expectation I had for it!

Personal titles that I want to finally read (I would like to get to at least 4 out of these 5)
For personal study:
Um -- typing out all these books was very eye-opening.  25 books (plus all the children's fiction I will be reading and anything else that might come my way?) -- that's a lot.  I actually think that reading 25 books in the 3 months isn't a problem at all, but will it be these 25 books?  We'll see, right?

Want to keep up with me? I invite you to subscribe to my blog feed (I post a few times a week about parenting a 6 year old boy and a 12 year old girl, my life in general, and our love of books!), and/or the 5 Minutes for Books feed (We post about twice a day -- reviews and giveaways of all genres for all ages).

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Chester Gets Matched

I came downstairs Sunday afternoon and saw my husband sitting in the living room, and Amanda draped on the loveseat -- both reading.  I quickly grabbed a book as I asked, "Oh, are we all reading together?"  That's a family activity I can get behind.

Amanda said, "We aren't all reading.  Kyle's playing computer."

I told Kyle to look through the bin and find a book, and he came and snuggled up with me in the other chair and we all read.

In spite of a busy back-to-school schedule, we are still managing to read around here.

One of the things Kyle had to bring for his first week of first grade was "his favorite book."  They used it throughout the week to do different activities.  The book Kyle chose was Chester's Masterpiece (linked to my original review).  He did indeed read it a lot this summer, and it grew on me as well.  I love the idea of Chester, but I don't find him as funny as my children do.  However, this story is very clever, and I love how Melanie Watt includes the elements of writing a story in it.

Two weeks into school, I asked him if they were finished with the book, and could he bring it home.  They were finished, he said, but he still wanted to read it.  He uses it in his free time.

I went to his Open house in week 3, and asked, "Do you want me to bring Chester home, and maybe you could take another book?  Nope.

Ally Condie's Matched was one of the hyped releases at BEA. I was able to hear her speak on the YA panel, and was so impressed by her. She's the kind of person I think I could be friends with, but more importantly to this work, she gets teens, in spite of the fact that she knows she's not one of them -- a hopelessly uncool adult -- because she's a high school teacher, and she remembers what it's like to be a teenager herself.

I haven't gotten to Matched yet, because it doesn't release until late November, but after reading a few advance reviews, I confidently passed it on to Amanda, 12,  to read. She loved it. It was one of her last summer reads. A book she could spend hours reading during the day and stay in bed an extra hour with the book under the covers, and she did just that.

It's a futuristic dystopian tale -- you know, "If you like the Hunger Games, try this. . . . ", which I know we'll see a lot more of. But it's not just a copycat book. It's original, and realistic, with that futuristic edge.

Amanda loved it, and I look forward to reading it myself.

This is linked up to 5 Minutes for Books Kids' Picks.  Link up your own post the 3rd Tuesday of the month, or browse around to see what other children are recommending.

Monday, September 20, 2010

A Hexbug Party

MomSelect sent me a kit so that I could have a Hexbug party for 10 of Kyle's friends.  We got some great product to keep, as did all of the guests (that's the disclosure, folks).  None of my friends are involved in this aspect of social media, so they didn't get it.  They didn't get why they sent me the stuff "free," and why they got to keep some of it.  When I sent out the invite via email, I tried to explain it, and said, "There's nothing to buy at all.  They want me to show my friends and get your opinion."

But after watching our kids play with these things for over an hour without growing bored or wanting to do something else, I think that they see the value in this kind of word-of-mouth marketing.  I figured that I was sent at least $400 worth of product, if not more, and each guest left with over $30 worth of product to keep. , including 3 of their own Nano Hexbug Robots. But for the cost of sending out that kit to me, I think that company gained 10 new customers.

Each kid loved playing with the Hexbugs on the Hexbug Nano Habitat Set, the moms loved the creativity of them and the fact that it would be an easy Christmas gift to ask for, and how each set can work with the other sets.  The track is very easy to put together.  These kids were about 6-years-old, and they each were able to manipulate and reconfigure the track very easily.

I am sad that Kyle will no longer play with his trains.  He's now at an age where he could make pretty cool tracks himself, but I think that this is the perfect step up from that.

We didn't get any of this out until our party on Saturday, but since then, Kyle has played with them multiple times per day.  He's named his Hexbugs and "fed" them (that's all imaginary), and let them "exercise."

Are you still asking yourself, "What is a Hexbug?"  Basically it's this little colorful thing that is about the size of a large toothbrush head, and moves around like a cockroach (A friend of mine who is also originally from Texas made this observation, and unfortunately we Texans are experts on giant roaches.  Forgive the unpleasant diversion from my otherwise excited post about this fun product).  The Hexbug Habitat sets allow them to run around like on a track or a maze.  There is also a Battle Bridge set coming out in October (but that we received for the party), so that you can set two cockroaches Hexbugs to battle.  The one left on the little orange bowl longest, wins.

Another guest said that her 12-year-old nephew was familiar with them as well, and his friends liked collecting them.  A friend who couldn't come said that her older sons have them as well.  This was the first that me or any of my guests had seen of these Hexbugs, but I guarantee it won't be the last.

By the way, a few of my guests were girls (who happened to have brothers, so they are used to this sort of thing, I'm sure), and I had some pink Hexbugs to give away, but they enjoyed them just as much, I think!

Thanks MomSelect and Hexbug for letting me host a party!


They also sent a bunch of ideas for Hexbug party games.  We played a few of them, but I can honestly see how you could have a Hexbug birthday party, and play these games.  Each child's "goodie bag" could be their own Hexbug (which cost about $10, I think -- a little high for a party, but it's cheaper than going somewhere else, right?).  Some of the games included:
  • Bug in Your Pants -- The kids pass a bug (turned on and buzzing I guess) around behind their backs, a la musical chairs.  When the music stops, the person in the middle (who was blindfolded) has to guess who has the bug.  If they guess right, that person is "it." If they guess wrong, you add another bug (to make it easier), and that person tries again.  Amanda, my 12-year-old, led this game, and by this point the moms and I were out on the back deck talking, so I don't know how it went over (10 6-year-olds squealing and playing with bugs are VERY loud).
  • Bug-A-Baloo -- Turn a box over that has a few 1 - inch doors cut out around the base, and then you put all the bugs under the box.  You can assign a point value to each door, and as the Hexbugs come out, they get that number of points.  Play a few rounds, and see who gets the most.  If some of the children have the same color Hexbug, mark it with a small sticker on top that will identify theirs.
  • Challenge the kids to make the longest (or the tallest) habitat trail that they can out of the pieces available.  Then time them to see whose Hexbug is fastest.
  • Nano Palooza races -- Create a start and finish line.  Give each child two toilet paper or paper towel tubes.  Each player puts the tubes on the ground one in front of the other.  When you say "Go" they put the Hexbug in the first tube.  When it goes through the first tube, they pick it up and put it in front of the other tube.  They keep doing this end over end until the Hexbug reaches the finish line.
  • There were also suggested relay races (taking the Hexbug on a flyswatter), and some crafts, but I was glad I hadn't planned too much.  These younger kids really enjoyed just playing, especially since it was their first time seeing them.
Have you heard of Hexbugs?  If so, how old is your child who is interested?

Friday, September 17, 2010

Run Forward/Come Back

A couple months ago, I featured Audrey Assad's new CD over at 5 Minutes for Books. I have really been enjoying The House You're Building since then.

There's one song that's just been hitting me lately.  Love it.  Love the sound and absolutely love the words.

If I was listening to this CD a year ago, I would have thought about the precarious dance of a marriage growing older.  But now, I am literally watching my sweet daughter fight for her independence, I see the clashes that are going to inevitably put obstacles in our path.

Oh, how'd we get so disconnected
My heart is shutting down
I just can't let it

I can't embed it, but go watch the video

Listen.  Read the lyrics, and then if it reminds you of a marriage, as it did me, go read my review of The Stuff that Never Happened (which earned the best of the best 5 Star Reads label).

When I read this line in The Stuff that Never Happened, I couldn't help but hear this song as a companion piece.  One of the characters said to another, "Because you need to grab on to whatever you can in life -- whatever makes you happy.  There's so little of that in life.  That's grace, you know.  A concept that, by the way, I didn't know I believed in."

The song continues

Oh I'll run forward and pray you fall back
Grace will come and clear your path
I'll run forward and you come back
Come back

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Forgotten Treasure

The theme for today's post at Book Blogger Appreciation week is "Forgotten Treasure." I love that. We posted our picks over at 5 Minutes for Books, but I'm not talking about books here.

What? That's right I'm NOT talking about books.

It got me thinking of other areas of Forgotten Treasure. Everything in entertainment especially is fueled by hype, but there are great shows on TV and wonderful movies that have been forgotten.

Should I use this opportunity to once again discuss my love for The West Wing? I don't know. People who watch it love it, but do people watch it?? Maybe they do since it's in syndication on Bravo now, and I've been wielding my influence this last year.

Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan are big stars, but does anyone appreciate Joe Versus the Volcano like we do?  Maybe treasure is taking it too far, but it's funny, and wry, and ironic.  Really.

Newer is not always better, right? For example a friend and I were talking once about DVDs. They are supposed to be great, right? Better sound, better picture quality, smaller, lighter. But what has happened to every DVD your child has loved? What, your child always handles it properly and puts it in the case, so they don't scratch them? Lucky you. They always scratch. But I had VHS tapes from Amanda's years that I could share with Kyle (until our VCR bit the dust for good). I understand that Blu-Ray discs are supposed to be a billion times stronger and more coated, but I can't confirm or deny that.

So, tell me -- what are things that you love that are forgotten by others? It could be a movie, TV show, food, a household product, anything. If you want to talk books, join in the discussion at 5 Minutes for Books, but let's fill our Netflix queues and Target carts with some items that we've forgotten how lovely they are.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

BBAW Blogger Interview -- Rundpinne

I signed up for the interview swap for Book Blogger Appreciation Week. I was matched up with another Jennifer (what are the chances??) who blogs at Rundpinne.

Tell me a little about yourself and your blog.

I am rather unexciting and try to speak as little as possible about my life and that of my family. The most exciting thing about me is that I lived for a while in the former USSR. I have been married for almost 20 years; I have 3 boys (18, 16 and 16), and an extremely pampered cat who believes she owns me. My one addiction is organic fair-trade coffee, which I buy in bulk, as I am a coffee snob. I could give a toss about fashion and detest wearing make-up, yet I must have a specific brand of coffee made in my French Press in a precise manner.

As for my blog, it began many years ago as a knitting blog, then turned more into a family blog until I realized I did not enjoy writing about my private life and sharing it with the world. At which point I was going to give up blogging when it dawned on me to follow my passion and blog about books!

While most would not associate a blog titled Rundpinne as a book review blog, it was the name I began with and it has grown on me over the years. One thing I do not care for in blogging is drama. I do not participate in it and I do not blog about it.

Have you always enjoyed reading or is it something that came later in life?

I quite literally cannot recall a time when I was not reading.

Does your family enjoy reading?

Yes! My boys all read early like me and have maintained their fondness for books. My husband reads mainly scientific and technical writing, allowing very him little time for leisure reading.

How do you fit reading in?

I read during the day while the house is empty. I work my household chores around reading and since it is rare to find the television on in my home, I can be found reading into the early hours of the morning. I do not read when my guys are home, unless they are doing their homework as family comes first.

Without thinking what is your favorite book?


Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy! My first copy was in English; eventually I read it in Russian (which does make a difference!) and then several other languages. My Russian Literature books are the only books I have in multiple editions.

What is the first book that really took your breath away? 

I was an early reader and so my skills at reading exceeded my age. The first book that truly made me marvel at life and all there was to learn in the world was The Gulag Archipelago by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn. I was young when I first read it, then I re-read them as I grew older and more mature and after living in the former USSR read them again in Russian.

What are a couple of books that you've enjoyed that show the diversity of your reading preferences? 

This is a very tricky question. In The First Circle (Unabridged version, linked to my review) by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn and Winnie-the-Pooh by A. A. Milne (I am a huge Milne fan and still have my first Milne book from when I was a child), two books that could not be more different, yet I enjoyed both, not in the same manner, yet they will always be a part of me.

What do you look for in a book review? What do you not like to see in a book review? 

Each reviewer has their own style and I enjoy the many different styles of reviews. Imagine how boring it would be to read reviews that were all written in the same manner. The only thing I would not want to see is plagiarized work; otherwise anything works if the reviewer is being honest about their feelings and not bad mouthing a writer.

Do you rate books when you review them? If so how do you decide the rating? 

I do indeed rate books based on the writing, style, and how well it captured my attention. It would be extremely odd to find one ranked below a 3 on my site mainly because I am fairly choosey about what I accept. True some books turn out to be not my genre, those are usually given a 3, which on my blog simply means it was not for me.

Point us to a couple of your favorite reviews (that you wrote):

The Land of Green Plums by Herta Müller


An Unfinished Score by Elise Blackwell

Thanks, Jennifer, for an interesting interview!  Check out her interview of ME at her blog.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

What is Your Ice Cream Memory?

I started the post that went up Friday morning about eating ice cream on vacation weeks ago (meaning it to be a part of a vacation wrap up that obviously has been late in coming), but then I heard the Colin McEnroe show on WNPR later that day, and they were talking about how ice cream fits into our childhood memories and also about seeking out locally made ice creams on vacation.  Do you think that they are reading my blog and stealing my ideas?  (insert heavy sarcasm here)

But it got me thinking (anything that gets me thinking about ice cream is okay in my book).

My childhood ice cream association (in addition to raiding the top of my mom's dresser for change for the ice cream truck, which the panelist mentioned is a memory common to all of a certain generation), is Blue Bell ice cream.  It's one thing we miss about living in Texas. 

When I was in high school, I spent as much time at my best friend Mary's house as I did at my own.  Her dad loved Blue Bell ice cream, and so one of the first things I did when we arrived after school was check out the stash in the freezer.  There were usually at least 3 half-gallon cartons of Blue Bell.  There was always Homemade Vanilla, usually some sort of chocolate flavor, Tin Roof or my favorites Chocolate Sundae or Triple Chocolate, and then perhaps "something weird" (weird meaning it didn't interest Mary or me).

The decadence of having so many flavors to choose from in a home freezer, and having it always available was beyond my comprehension (For the record, it's not the only reason I went to her house).

We miss being able to buy ice cream of that quality right at the grocery store, but it has been replaced
with being able to buy delicious dairy-fresh ice cream.

The summer we moved here to Connecticut from Texas, Ferris Acres Creamery opened up in our town.  It's only open seasonally, about April - October.  Anyone who has visited us in that time frame has gone to Ferris Acres with us.  This summer I have become absolutely addicted to the Coffee Almond Fudge ice cream, but because of big crowds we still don't go that often. 

I'm not sure what Kyle's problem was.  He's probably jealous that Jason got more ice cream than he did. 2008 - Taking friends to Ferris.
Their radio show was actually inspired by an article in the New York Times about artisanal ice cream.  They referenced the high cost of it.  I'm not sure about the ice cream from Buttonwood Farm that they were sampling (that we might have to try out now!), but not only is our ice cream from our dairy farms delicious, but it's also inexpensive and plentiful.  For less than $3 a "small" has 2 very generous-sized scoops.  You can't beat that.

The radio panelist who teaches a writing class on "place," insisted that everyone has an ice cream memory from childhood.  So what's yours?

Friday, September 10, 2010

Vacation = Books (and Ice Cream)

I'm pretty sure that books and ice cream have been part of any vacation experience that our family has had. Whether it's a quick overnight getaway or a weeklong stay, being able to have some quiet time to read makes a trip feel like a vacation.

My reading time could come on the airplane or car trip getting there. It could come during a lazy day, or when rain thwarts other plans.

If we don't have television, then we get to indulge in more reading than we usually would in the evenings. It was our quick vacation at the beginning of August that finally kick-started my summer reading after a couple months of lackluster results.

If we are exploring a small town, we don't ever pass by the bookstores.  Even though "you can shop at home," as my dear old dad says, we don't always shop at home, and browsing in a bookstore isn't really shopping, it's enjoying the slow pace of vacation.

Local ice cream shops are also never to be missed.

While we vacationed in New Hampshire for a few days after picking up Amanda at camp, we experienced each of these vacation must-dos in spades.  We browsed a couple of bookstores, and ate ice cream several times. A stand-out was the dairy-fresh Walpole Creamery. Although it's not as good as our own dairy-fresh ice cream, it's apparently a New Hampshire institution.

What do you always do on vacation?

Tuesday, September 07, 2010

I Read What Swapna Likes

The I Read It carnival over at 5 Minutes for Books is all about reporting on a book that you read because someone told you that you should. It could be one person's insistence that you would just LOVE this book, and it could be the prolonged accrual over time of reading recommendations on people's blogs.

This month I read two books which were recommended by Swapna at S.Krishna's Books. I first became acquainted with her when I was a judge on last year's Book Blogger Appreciation Awards in one of the categories where she was nominated. I loved many of the books that she loved, so I knew she was someone who I could trust for book recommendations going forward.

This past Friday, I read her review of The Stuff That Never Happened. Actually, let me be clear -- I sort of skimmed-ish her review, because I don't read reviews of books I haven't read yet. But I knew she liked it. It was in my review stack, having picked it up at BEA in May, but I didn't have any immediate plans to read it. However, having recently read and/or listened to a bunch of YA fiction and more esoteric literary fiction written by men, I was completely ready for some great women's fiction, and Maddie Dawson delivered. I read The Stuff That Never Happened: A Novel in two short days and loved it. Look for a full review in coming weeks at 5 Minutes for Books, but this was just the perfect book for the perfect time, which makes it a perfect fit for the I Read It carnival, because had I not seen S.Krishna's review, I wouldn't have picked it up at that time, and I wouldn't have had such a delightful reading weekend.

A couple of months ago, I saw The Sari Shop Widow on the Kindle free list, so I snatched it up, knowing that Swapna had enjoyed it, and hoping to use it to fulfill my goal in the South Asian Authors challenge (linked to my post with my updates along the way).

The Sari Shop Widow by Shobhan Bantwal is the story of a woman, Anjali, who runs a sari shop and boutique with her parents. Having been widowed at a young age, she lives with her parents, sneaking away to meet with her "friend with benefits" when she can. She's lonely, but she doesn't want to risk love again, and she's happy building the business with her parents. When the business is in trouble, a not-so-lovable uncle comes to town to save them, bringing with him an uninvited guest. Anjali begins to wonder if all the effort has been worth it, and what she's going to do now.

This book is something rare indeed -- multicultural chick lit. Though I don't love that term (I don't have downy feathers, do you??), to me "chick lit," as opposed to women's fiction, is something that is fairly light and probably has a romance element. Stereotyping again, most of the fiction I've read by South Asian authors has been a bit deeper (one reason I love it), and for that matter, most of what is branded as "chick lit" features white middle class women.  So if you want to explore cultures through reading, but find a lot of multicultural lit to be a bit heavy and/or depressing for your taste, check out The Sari Shop Widow. It is light, but features nicely developed characters, and a real taste of the "little India" section of in a town in New Jersey. In fact, at the end of the book, Bantwal encouraged readers to go have an Indian pastry or check out a Sari shop in such an enclave near them, and this made me love the book and her even more!


My child, the one who made me a mother, my daughter Amanda, is twelve today.

You've read my thoughts about her as I navigate the tween years.

I've noticed changes in her grooming habits,  I've shared my pride in her accomplishments.

I've documented some really great mother-daughter days (this one involved hot fudge, so how could we miss?).  There have been some bad ones that I haven't shared, but I have recounted some important conversations.

Many of you turn to Amanda for book recommendations.  I frequently feature her picks in the Kids' Picks carnival at 5 Minutes for Books.

We celebrated this weekend with some of her friends.  We survived a sleepover this weekend with four other 12-year-old girls, where some sleeping actually occurred, along with a loud of screaming and laughing and a little bit of melodrama.  In short, it was a girls' slumber party.

 Since you've all watched Amanda grow up, as I am watching myself --in amazement -- will you leave her a happy birthday greeting?  Maybe tell her something you remember about her, or something you yourself remember about being 12 or in 7th grade.

Happy Birthday, Amanda!  I'm very proud of the young woman you are becoming.

Monday, September 06, 2010

What Shows Do You Watch with Your Tweens and Teens?

I wrote (um, more than once or twice) about Amanda and I watching American Idol last year. We really enjoyed the experience, both joining in the hype that most of the rest of the world has been involved in, as well as sharing it together.

When it was over, she said, "We need to find a new show." I was all for that, but there are two major obstacles to that.
  1. Family viewing is difficult. There's not much that is truly family-friendly.
  2. Add to that that we are on the East coast, with no DVR. That means that the first prime-time show doesn't even begin until 8:00pm and the last isn't over until 11:00 pm (I should have added that to the surprising facts about myself, but that might actually be changing soon. Very soon.).
When we spent many many hours in the car on our road trip to Texas, it led to what many hours inside a big metal box should lead to -- conversation. Amanda (almost 12), told me that she wishes that I'd let her watch PG-13 movies, as "all" of her friends do. She went on to say that she feels so babyish as compared to her friends.

It was a good time to have a heart to heart, and we did. I did realize that she's growing up. Along with the shaved legs and mascaraed eyelashes, which I started doing even earlier than she did, I know that by her age, I was watching more adult movies and TV shows as well.

I did quickly correct the assumption that just because she watched TV shows or movies with mature content, that did not make her mature. I also told her that she was going to have to learn to assert her independence, because very very soon (too too soon), her peers were going to be doing other things that they think will make them more mature, such as smoking and drinking.

My DARE graduate said, "But that's stupid. That's against the law. This is just a show."

I have loosened restrictions on reading, and I know that some of what she reads dips into typical high school behavior, but I also know it's nothing like the constant barrage she'll get if she immerses herself in mainstream media.

Back to the movies, I said, "I never said you couldn't watch any PG-13 movies. I said that even when you are 13, it won't mean you can watch all PG-13 movies. I'm willing to consider them on a case by case basis. What movies have your friends seen that you want to see?"

We went back and forth for a while, her insisting that she just wanted to be able to watch them, and me saying that isn't going to be able to, even when she's 13 (or 14 for that matter).

Finally she said, "I've heard The Proposal is funny."

I remember watching The Proposal and I actually remember thinking that it was surprisingly clean.  So it will probably be on our Netflix list soon.

She also mentioned Psych, and with any of those detective shows there's some inappropriate crimes, but we've watched a few together.  I liked this exchange in episode two from this season:
Gus said, "They weren't even married. Why would they be trying to get pregnant?"
 Of course Psych-guy immediately corrected him. But that is life, right? Most people do think that marriage isn't a prerequisite to having children, but I liked that the less-mainstream viewpoint was expressed.

We recently had a "Fail" with this whole experiment.  I remembered loving 27 Dresses, and thought it was on the clean side of PG-13.  Since I had seen it, I didn't do my research (PluggedIn is very conservative, but gives a complete run down of violence, cursing, and other mature themes in movies so that I can make my own decision).  When there had already been a couple of sexual comments and not-so-mild swear-words within the first 15 minutes or so, Terry was giving me looks.  I reevaluated my decision, and we sent Amanda to bed, and she was fine with it.  Terry and I enjoyed it thoroughly -- being quite over the age of 13.

So -- I'll send it back to you.  What TV shows and movies do you watch with your tweens and teens?  Or if you don't have tweens and teens, which movies and shows have you seen that would be appropriate to share?

Wednesday, September 01, 2010

Back to School - Wordless Wednesday Style

Yep -- it's that time. 

Want more words?  Check out my article on Newtown Patch about our first day.

A big middle-schooler waiting for the bus

First grade! He'll be gone all day this year.
See more Wordless Wednesday at 5 Minutes for Mom.