Friday, December 31, 2010

South Asian Author Challenge--2010 complete, 2011 signing up

I had a great time doing S.Krishna's South Asian Authors challenge, and I believe that I will do it again in 2011.

2010 Finish-line:

I met my original goal of 5 in May (updating my original goal post throughout) and upped it to 7. I read one more in August, and then two in the last two months, making my total EIGHT.

I started off with certain books in mind, and did not get to some of them, although in November and December, I did read some Middle Grade fiction, which was one of my goals.

Both were Cybils nominees, and both gave a great look at Indian culture:

  • Seaglass Summer by Anjali Banerjee is about a young girl who spends the summer with her uncle while her parents go visit family in India.  He's a vet, and she's always wanted to be, so she learns a lot about him.  There are glimpses of the unfair treatment that he received -- enough to make the target age group of 8 - 12 consider how some immigrants are treated, yet not at all contrived or heavy handed.  It's really 11-year-old Poppy's story, a younger version of the coming-of-age theme, since she's challenged to fit in in a new place and explore her gifts.  I really enjoyed it.  
  • Boys without Names by Kashmira Sheth is a much heavier story. It takes place in present-day Mumbai, where 11-year-old Gopal's family flees in hopes of finding work, since their farming life in the country is no longer lucrative. He ends up being captured and trafficked as a child laborer. He and the other young boys are not allowed to use each others' names, but as a way to get their minds off things, they end up sharing stories of their pasts. This is a heartbreaking story, but still appropriate to the 10 - 13 year old reader.

For 2011, I would still like to get to the books I originally hoped to read in 2010:
  • The Namesake: A Novel by Jhumpa Lampiri
  • Revisit Abraham Verghese's memoir My Own Country, which I first read ten years ago (or more!).
  • Something by Mitali Perkins. I've read a couple of her novels for young people, and always enjoyed them. Since this year's challenge allows me to read anything by a South Asian author, even if it doesn't have a South Asian setting or theme, this will make it much easier.
I'm going to try to be a South Asian Adventurer, with a goal of 7 books.  If you'd like to find out more, check out her 2011 FAQ post here.

    Thursday, December 23, 2010

    Have you turned into your mother?

    As a young person, I remember being embarrassed by my mother ALL the time.  One time when I was in high school, we had bought a few things at the grocery store.  The total was $19.74.  She remarked, "Oh, that was a good year."

    The bag boy was in my Spanish class.  And he heard her say that!!  Horrors!!

    When Carrie and I were at BEA last year, I found myself talking to strangers, a lot.  Not talking like "Oh, we're both at BEA, so you must be a bookseller, or reviewer, or librarian, and thus we can chitchat about that."  No, more along the lines of something my mom would say to a total stranger in line at the restroom.

    As I left the restroom after engaging in such a conversation, I told Carrie, "It's okay if you are embarrassed.  I think I'm turning into my mother, and I was always embarrassed."

    Today I was at the grocery store, and the woman behind me was loading up the conveyor belt with all sorts of delicious-looking cheeses, some shrimp, etc.  It was obvious she was preparing for some great holiday entertaining.  I held back my comment, "Looks good -- can I come over?" even though my sure-to-be-embarrassed tween was not with me.

    So is it just me?  Or have you turned into your mother as well??

    *******

    Speaking of mothers, how would you like Blythe Danner to be your mom? I guess that would make you and Gwyneth sisters.  I interviewed Danner and several other members of the cast of Little Fockers in New York recently.  Check out my interview with her where I reveal her secrets to being a good grandma.

    I talked with cast newcomer Jessica Alba about being a mom and work/life balance.

    I also interviewed the kids in the movie, who cracked me up.  If you comment on that post you can enter to win a $50 Fandango gift card.  In that introductory post, I shared my guilty pleasure at watching the movies (which are PG-13, but please don't take your 13-year-old to see them!!).  This 3rd movie went back to the funny and touching storyline that the first one had (but they are a guilty pleasure -- I know I shouldn't be laughing at some of that stuff, but I can't help it).

    Monday, December 20, 2010

    Going Home, Missing Home

    I've always had an odd relationship with home.  Home is where I am at the moment.  If I'm visiting relatives and we're out shopping and I ask, "Are you ready to go home?" I mean their home, the place I'm sleeping.  If we are on vacation and planning whether or not we're going to go home for a bit, the hotel is home.

    For the last six years, home has been Connecticut.  However, home has also simultaneously been Houston.  I was very much at home in Connecticut, but Houston still felt like home.  When I visited there each year, I had these strange feelings of sadness and homesickness -- both for my home in Connecticut and the one I had left.  I couldn't really explain it.  I almost felt sad to be there because I knew I'd return, and that would mean I wouldn't be living in Connecticut anymore.

    Last summer when we were there, the connections felt deep.  I was thankful for friends and family there, and the ability to just pick up where we leave off at the previous visit.  It was the first time I hadn't felt like I was glad to be back home visiting, but also quite glad that I didn't live there anymore.  I mused, "If we had to move back, it wouldn't be so bad."

    Thank you, God, for advance confirmation of your plan for us.  It was one of the things that helped me so willingly step out to explore Terry's options.  And once we decided that indeed this was a great job opportunity and that this was the right time to relocate, I got a little excited.

    I'm still torn.  I know it's right, I know that it will be a great thing for our family, but it's hard to say goodbye.

    The much-more-exciting and eloquent blogger at Planet Nomad recently wrote about these conflicting feelings since she's left her home in Morocco and moved back home to Portland (Oh, Portland, I miss you too, birthplace of my firstborn!) in too vague for a title.

    I commented there, and then hopped over here and wrote this post.  Here's my comment:

    I'm sorry that you are missing home while you are at home.  I understand.

    My move is imminent (days away now!!).  The goodbyes have been hard, and yet I'm just ready to do it already.  I know that it's going to be a good transition, but hard in many ways.  I have a lot of hopes for our "new life," but a lot of fears that nothing will change.

    Where did that come from? Did blog-reading suddenly become a sort of therapy?

    But it's true. Park of the allure of a move is the ability to start with a fresh slate, to reinvent ourselves. We have some bad habits that we've been trying to change, like the kids watching too much TV (we've made pretty good progress on that actually).

    The new Jennifer in Houston keeps a cleaner house, she writes letters to friends (real ones, not just email), she is a devoted granddaughter, and an attentive mom (playing board games and laughing). She cooks wholesome dinners and the snacks that she serves her children are fruits and vegetables. She also bakes more, and invites her children into the kitchen to bake with her.  She is a gracious playdate hostess, and a frequent entertainer.

    Seriously. I imagine these things.  They are part of my hopes and dreams for our new life.  But in reality my house will probably be just as cluttered, my temper will be just as short, my selfishness will be just as ugly, and my kitchen just as ho-hum as it's been lately.

    What do you dream about changing about your current lifestyle and choices?



    Sunday, December 19, 2010

    The Answers

    Yes.

    To Houston.

    Right before Christmas.

    No.

    Those are the answers, but perhaps you want the questions that I answer anytime I'm in a group of casual acquaintances lately?

    "You're moving?"

    "Where?"

    "When?"

    "So are you putting up a Christmas tree?"

    So here we are again, yet another year without a Christmas tree.  In that linked post, I admit to and explain the other three years that we've committed this heresy, two of which happened in the last five years.

    Again, this year we have a good reason.  We are moving -- I mean really packing up and moving far far away -- on December 23.  We'll spend Christmas with my in-laws in Virginia, and then head on down to Texas.

    A week or so ago, the complete lack of Christmas began to bug me, so I dug out our stockings and lighted garland (and tiny wreath where we usually hang a bigger live one).  It's not a tree, but it's not so bad either, right?




    Thursday, December 16, 2010

    Putting Our Best Foot Forward

    Having our house on the market has made me aware of both how easy and how difficult it is to keep a clean house.  Because I was so busy trying to purge and get my stuff put away and the house show-ready within a short time, I opted to pay a cleaning service to come in for a deep clean so I could take that off my plate.  I'm glad I did.  The house sparkled after they left!

    Having it super-clean gave me incentive to keep it clean.  If I was going to be gone all morning, I was careful to leave the house ready -- beds made and smoothed, toys put away, socks in the hamper, dishes put away, sinks wiped out.  It looked great.  And when I came back home after a hectic day out, it was so calming to come home to order.

    "I can do this all time time," I thought.  "Why don't I?"

    The whys became more apparent to me as the days/weeks stretched on before me.  Running around to get everything "just so" in the morning caused me to run late.  In the evening rush to get homework done and dinner prepared and served, I didn't always feel like cleaning up right away, or putting away that load of laundry that I had washed earlier in the day.

    So while the house is clean and organized, it's slipped back into normal.  We had some showings last weekend, and if someone wants to come anytime this week or over the weekend, I'll whip it into shape again.  But for now, we are going with "lived-in comfortable" chic.  It's a look that I'm comfortable with.

    However, I have learned some things: I've learned that it is beneficial to take a little bit of time in the evening and a little bit of time in the morning to put the house into order.  I've also learned that having it super-clean is a motivator in itself, and I'm seriously considering adding a housekeeper into the budget to come once or twice a month.

    But the other thing that I've learned that I hope I will adopt is to occasionally take a look at your house through the eyes of a stranger and to do something about it, so that you  can enjoy it.  For example, we've had a smoke detector hanging from its wires for years right in our entry hall, because the clips broke at some point when we tried to turn it off.  It took $15 and 20 minutes to put a new one in.  Why didn't we do it sooner?

    But I've also learned that I'm not ever going to be housekeeper of the year.  And that I don't think that I want to be.  Recently I was having dinner with some friends, and all 3 of the other women said that they vacuum every day.  One of them vacuums her sofa every day (and I've seen it after dropping in!!).  Their homes are show-ready all the time, even though they aren't trying to sell it.


    So what about you?  Do you have any housekeeping secrets to share that give you peace?





    Thursday, December 09, 2010

    The BEST Christmas Specials

    Love, love, love ABC Family's "25 Days of Christmas" specials.

    Tonight are my two favorites -- Santa Claus is Coming to Town and The Year without a Santa Claus.  Since I'm DVRless, I was considering watching without my kids, but I think I'll let Kyle stay up until 9pm (I'm not a major stickler, but he's a basket-case when he's tired.

    What are your favorite classic Christmas shows?  Any new favorites?  Are you watching Santa Claus is Coming to Town with me right now????

    I may be sort of live-blogging this -- updating this post as I'm watching.

    Update:  I don't think Kyle is at all familiar with this. I feel a bit ashamed.  Curses on East coast TV time (and my life without a DVR).  He said, "Oh, it's puppets."  Seriously -- what exactly are those things?  Pretty revolutionary for the 60's or 70's or whenever they were made (1970, thanks imdb and Google).

    Now it's getting familiar -- "Wait.  I think I did see this."

    I thought so.  I don't feel so bad.

    **Disclosure:  ABC Family sent me a fun little 25 Days of Christmas treat, a Christmasy thermal iced beverage cup, but I was not obligated to blog and my opinions are my own.



    Tuesday, December 07, 2010

    I Read It!

    Forgive me if this post sounds a little echo-y or if the cobwebs are getting in the way.

    Blogging has become quite rare around here.  I'm not making excuses or anything, but I am in the process of planning a cross-country move and trying to read my share of the 148 nominees as part of my Cybils Middle Grade Fiction panelist duties, so I've been a bit busy!

    All of my reading this past month has been based on the recommendation of another, so I definitely wanted to link up to the 5 Minutes for Books I Read It carnival (click over there to see why this our last month doing it, and what will be new in 2011).  The Cybils nominations are an open process.  Anyone can recommend one book in each category.  With there being only one per person, hopefully people are selective in choosing their very best.

    Amy, at Hope Is the Word nominated Leaving Gee's Bend (linked to her review), and I've read some of it, but I don't think I've gotten far enough into it to make a decision.  I trust Amy's recommendations, so I look forward to reading a bit more and getting into the story.  The voice is definitely true and the setting is strong, two things that make for a great story.

    One reason that I've had to put that book aside is because Betti on the High Wire arrived earlier this week.  It's another Cybils nominee, and one that I remembered Dawn enjoyed from her review on 5 Minutes for Books.  I haven't been able to find a copy, and Dawn agreed to send me her review copy.  Another panelist can't find it either, so I have to read this quickly so that I can send it along to her as well before it returns to Dawn's care.  This one was also a little slow-going.  I liked Babo, but I wasn't really drawn into her story of the circus kids and the leftovers from her war-torn country.  However, as soon as the setting changed, where Babo, now Betti, was taken to America to be adopted by the Melons, I couldn't put the book down.  This is a wonderful story that will help children (and adults!) empathize with immigrant children or those like Babo and her friend George who are adopted from a foreign country and brought to America.  I'm not quite finished with it, but I imagine it will finish strong.

    However, this book leads me to answer Katrina's weekly FIR Reading Question: "Do you ever read the end of the book before you actually get there?"  Well--my answer is no, not usually.  I do not want to know.  I want to be surprised.  I don't even read reviews on books that I haven't finished for fear that something will be spoiled.  However, in reading many of these Middle Grade novels, especially those which are historical fiction or based on some other type of fact, there's often an author's note at the end.  I get there and think, "I wish this had been at the beginning of the book.  I would have liked to know that."

    In Betti on the High Wire, we don't know what country Babo came from.  I even went back and skimmed the early chapters, thinking I had missed it.  So I turned to the back, where an author's note would be, and lo and behold -- there was not only an author's note, but it started out this way:

    Dear Reader-
    You may be wondering where in fact Betti comes from?  You may want to pummel me over the head, feed me to Cindi the lion, and smoosh me in the center of a fire circle for not telling you through this whole entire book.

    Well, it's not that I've intentionally played tricks on you or kept secrets.  The problem is that I haven't been able to name her country.  And trust me, I've tried and tried and tried.

    But there are far too many people disasters -- wars -- happening in our world right now.

    The author Lisa Railsback goes on, but this is one time that I'm really glad I peeked at the end.  I was very careful to avoid seeing one word of the pages of the last chapters as I flipped to the back, but now I can focus on her story and stop wanting to pummel the author.

    Here are some other Cybils nominees that I've read and actually posted reviews for, that were reommended by someone who loved them best out of all the books that were published in that genre in 2010:


    Wednesday, December 01, 2010

    Ebeanstalk.com for Toy Shopping


    Last year I posted a review of an awesome product that ebeanstalk.com selected for my son.  It's something I never would have found without their recommendation, and it's a unique building toy I still recommend to friends.

    This year I have the opportunity to review another toy (review coming soon), but in coordination with that, I was asked to first review the site.  I absolutely love shopping online, and do at least half of my Christmas shopping (if not more) that way.

    The ebeanstalk.com site is so user-friendly.  It helps you find items by age and sex. As I alluded above, the toys on ebeanstalk are unique.  In fact, I think that I found the perfect Christmas gift for my nephew by searching their recommendations (He can't read yet, but his mama can -- don't tell!) for toddler toys

    So in summary, the reason that I like ebeanstalk.com so much is for the ease in selecting a gift AND the fact that I've come across learning toys and other unique items there that I don't see on other online sites or big toy stores.

    If you are looking for a baby gift or gift for any age child, I highly recommend checking out this site.

    Disclosure:  As stated above, I am posting about ebeanstalk.com in conjunction with a toy-testing program.  In exchange I will be receiving a toy, however my opinions are my own.