Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Buying Toys Online

I buy toys online.  I buy almost everything online except groceries and the like.

I've done some toy reviews for, and now I'm going to tell you why I like the site*:

  1. It's a great way to find the best children's toys. The sidebar clearly suggests toys by age, so if you are looking for the toys for a  3 year old, you can click on the sidebar link. When I clicked on the "top sellers" link, I found several toys that I was pretty sure the 3 and 4-year-olds in my life would think were pretty awesome.

    For example, the Color and Washable Pony. At $14.99, it's priced just-right as one of the best gifts for 3 year olds.

  2. The reason I shop online is so that I can take time to read reviews. ebeanstalk offers an expert review and age guidelines (which are perfect for grandparents or aunts and uncles who might be unsure about a child's abilities or interests). The expert reviews are very clear. For example, something that caught my eye is the Marble Run set. It was listed as one of the top-selling toys for a 3 year old, but under the features tab (which is more aptly called "features and skills" when you click through), it's clearly stated how children of different ages would interact with this, namely that for a younger child the parent would have to help put it together. I was drawn to this toy for my 7-year-old, so as a parent, I appreciate that additional information. The Marble Run Vortis is in the toys for an 8 year old category, but the feature review sounds just like him:

    "Can converse (almost) at an adult level...Reading may be a major interest...Seeks to understand the reasons for things...Begins to feel competent in skills and have preferences for some activities and subjects...Begins to recognize concept of reversibility (4+2=6 and 6-2=4)"

  3. The other reason I shop online is because I can easily compare price. I have a go-to site that I assume will always be the cheapest, but honestly is very competitive in price, but they offer something that I don't think I've EVER seen in other stores, online or in person. Keep reading.
  4. The Happy-Kid Guarantee -- On most of the toy product pages, you'll see a link to the Happy-Kid Guarantee. Check this out: "We are so confident in the toys we pick that if your toy is not age-appropriate or your child doesn't like the toy, return it to us within 30 days from the date of purchase for a refund."

*Disclosure: has asked met o review their site, giving my honest opinion. They requested that I link to certain pages with certain verbiage, but my opinions are my own. In exchange for the review, they have provided me with a $25 gift certificate to their site.

What do you look for in an online retailer? Why do you shop online?

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

What's on My Nightstand -- June

Well, after wrapping up the Spring Reading Thing, and STILL not reading HP #7, I truly truly must read it. I think subconsciously I just don't want to let it end, but I do want to know how it ends (and yes, I've managed to stay blissfully unaware), but I might save it for our big August driving trip.

I also have some review titles to read:

Miss New India by Bharati Mukherjee

Kindred Spirits by Sarah Strohmeyer

Suffer the Children: The Case against Labeling and Medicating and an Effective Alternative -- I am not against medicating kids who truly benefit from it, but I do think that it's a first resource, when it could often be the last, and the idea mentioned in the description of "treating" it at home reminded me of Brave Girl Eating, which I really liked. So we'll see how this one goes.

Need to finish:
Tolstoy and the Purple Chair: My Year of Magical Reading

The Optimism Bias: A Tour of the Irrationally Positive Brain -- I was curious about this one, because I AM an optimist. It's a little science-y for me so far, but we'll see.

Via NetGalley on my Kindle (yay!):

Your Child's Writing Life: How to Inspire Confidence, Creativity, and Skill at Every Age by the fabulous Pam Allyn

Rules of Civility: A Novel

I've think that when I travel this summer, I'm going to take my Kindle with me and plow through some of those books that I've been collecting. I even noticed that you could make a "collection" and so I went through and added some books that I hope to get to so that I can just go right there. I have two review titles that I need to read, so those will be my focus this month, but in July/August I'm looking forward to more e-reading.

Read-Alouds with Kyle:

The Invasion (Animorphs Book 1) -- They are reissuing this series! I may preview this one and try to encourage him to read it on his own, either now or later.

The Secret Zoo -- I received an ARC of the 3rd book in this series, out in the fall. I hadn't heard of it, but Kyle and were both intrigued. The book has great reviews on amazon, so I'm excited.

Read-Alouds with Amanda:

13 Little Blue Envelopes by Maureen Johnson (it was free on my Kindle--yay!)

Racing in the Rain: My Life as a Dog  This is the junior version of Garth Stein's novel for adults. We may just each read it, not as a read-aloud.

See other people's Nightstands the 4th Tuesday of each month at 5 Minutes for Books.

Monday, June 27, 2011


Amanda is bright, in many senses of the word. confirms it.

  1. radiating or reflecting light; luminous; shining:
  2. filled with light:
  3. vivid or brilliant:
  4. quick-witted or intelligent:

Amanda's inner light shines. Her smile covers up any discomfort she feels at new situations, and I'm quite sure that it eases others' unease as well.

The shoes that she insisted on are brilliantly vivid. If possible, they are brighter than they actually appear in the picture.

School has always come easily to her. She absorbs things by osmosis. Whereas a little studying would probably make her an A+ student, she's a little like her mother was -- happy with the A's that sometimes slide into B's that she gets without much effort.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Books Worth Reading

I've posted several reviews over at 5 Minutes for Books this month. A couple have giveaways, so I wanted to make sure you could check them out.  I honestly think that there's something for everyone here, so if you are looking for a summer read for you or your kids, check them out.

People who love reading and are interested in English and Writing degrees
may be interested in graduate schools online. Many people love delving into the study of literature and being transported to different worlds within books.

  • Leaving Van Gogh was a 5-Star Read for me. The setting came to life, and the author managed to unveil Vincent Van Gogh's mental illness without it being a totally depressing read.
  • The American Heiress just came out, but I've been hearing buzz on it for months. It's not usually my thing (late 19th century society -- America to England), but it was a nice light listen. Yes, it's an audiobook, and there's a giveaway. I think this book would make for great summer reading or listening if you like to keep it light (but not simple-minded).
  • A Pug's Tale is another one that is definitely classified as "light fiction," but I enjoyed it tremendously, mostly due to the fun, quirky characters, a likeable main character, and a little mystery.
  • Girl in Translation is a novel that reads like a memoir, mostly because it's based on the author's own experience of immigrating over from Hong Kong and struggling in a sub-par apartment in Brooklyn. This book was fascinating and has a lot of heart.
  • Joy for Beginners is a great book to read if you don't have a lot of time or mental energy to read, because each section looks at a different character, so you could definitely read one section and then pick the book back up in a week or so and not be lost. I don't read that way, but I know some of you do!
  • True . . . Sort of took me back to my late elementary/early middle school years. It was sort of funny, sort of sad, but Amanda liked it, and she really doesn't do sad, so I feel confident that it's not too heavy for tween readers.
  • I reviewed Healer a while back, but they offered up a giveaway in honor of the paperback release, and I was happy to be able to offer up this book about mothers and daughters and mid-life changes.
  • I received some random preschool DVDs from HIT factory, so I put them up as a giveaway
This really is quite a lineup. These were all very solid reads. Maybe I'm due for a clunker.
    Have you read anything good this month???

    Thursday, June 23, 2011


    There's a scene in the movie Beaches when Barbara Hershey is all pale and ghostly in her bed at the beach cottage waiting to die, and she freaks out saying, "Her hands -- I can't remember my mother's hands."

    Bette Midler, the dutiful friend, scours through boxes of photos until they find one, and all is well.  And the implication is that she won't let her daughter forget her hands either.

    I like this movie.  I liked it when I was a young college woman, and I've liked it every time I've seen it since.  I don't care that it's an over-dramatic emotion-manipulating movie.  However, I never really got the frantic nature of this particular scene.  She's worried about hands??

    But I've been noticing Amanda's hands a lot lately.  She has beautiful long slim fingers.  When I was about her age, a coltish girl-woman with long legs, and yes, beautiful long slim fingers, people would always comment on them and say that they were good hands for the piano.

    And then I thought back to my mother's hands. I do remember them (and to clarify, they are still around) -- tanned and sleek, with prominent finger bones.  I remember Mimi's, too, and in fact, one of my favorite pasttimes as a young girl was to play with the protruding veins (which I'm now developing on my own hands) -- pushing them around. One of her favorite "Jennifer and/or Karen as a little girl" stories is me rubbing an age spot (which thankfully I do not yet have), and saying "dirty."

    Since Amanda's hands began catching my eye, I've come to appreciate Barbara Hershey's concern.  We see ourselves in our kids, and hopefully they see us in themselves (and take some sort of pride in that).  Amanda's hands probably are a close approximation of mine as a young teen, but now somehow make mine look old and withered. I look at hers and feel like they look exactly like mine, but then I look down at the effects that 40 years of use have given them, and reality reminds me that she is young and I am getting older.  But perhaps as she continues to grow, she'll serve as a concrete reminder of my youth.

    Tuesday, June 21, 2011

    My Spring Reading Thing 2011 wrap-up

    I don't have any problem making reading a priority, especially since I've begun managing 5 Minutes for Books which guarantees a steady stream of interesting books on my desk as well as some deadlines to make sure I actually read and review them.

    However, I when I made my goals for the Spring Reading Thing, I listed some books that I really wanted to read, in spite of review books that might be clamoring for my attention.

    How did I do??

    Read and Reviewed:

    The Namesake: A Novel by Jhumpa Lahiri -- Wow. I loved this as much as I had hoped I would (linked to my review). I also revisited the movie, which I saw years ago, and enjoyed it all over again as well. Read this book. See the movie. Do either or both -- excellent.

    The Wilder Life: My Adventures in the Lost World of Little House on the Prairie   -- Also as good as I hoped it would be.

    Joy For Beginners -- Also a satisfying read.

    These next two books are where the Spring Reading Thing really helped me meet a goal. A week or so ago, I realized that my time was drawing to a close, and I made an effort with some books on my list:

    Out of the Shadows by Joanne Rendell -- I finished this last week and haven't reviewed it yet, but I'm glad I finally got to it.

    I haven't finished Zero-Sum Game: The Rise of the World's Largest Derivatives Exchange, but I did pick it back up a few days ago. I had read 20 or 30 pages right at the beginning of Spring, but that wasn't far enough to get into it. Now I'm a good 1/3 of the way in, and I am confident I'll finish it.

    See below for more on that . . . .

    I think I did fairly well actually, and instead of feeling like this is a fail, I'm going to recommit to finishing off my list before summer is over, which means I'll definitely, definitely (FOR SURE) finally read Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (Book 7).

    In spite of everyone's encouragement that I really should get to The Book Thief, I didn't. I put it as a "maybe, but probably not" selection on my list, knowing I probably wouldn't get to it, so I will leave that on my Summer Reading List.

    Other goals I didn't really meet included reading one of the Christian Living books on my shelf, and to read at least 2 books stored on my Kindle (I did read one).

    I am already planning to use my Kindle more this summer. Depending on any review deadlines I have, I might take it -- and only it -- with me when I leave town on 2 different trips this summer. That's almost 3 weeks of reading, and I could probably read 5 or 6 books, easy. I've downloaded several books (including Tim Challies' The Next Story: Life and Faith after the Digital Explosion, which would also count as a "Christian Living" book that I was trying to read more of).

    Check out how other people did over at the Callapidder Days Spring Reading Thing wrap up linky post.

    Monday, June 20, 2011

    Muffin Tin Meals -- Orange and White

    I first saw the tip of using a muffin tin to serve meals to your kids a while ago, and though it's not a regular habit,  It's a really unique way to put some variety on the table in a way that might attract your children's attention.  It's also much easier to focus on solid proteins accompanied by lots of fruits and vegetables using the little compartments in the muffin tin, because our typical lunch plate easily gets filled by a sandwich and chips or crackers.

    A friend recently posted a link on Facebook for Muffin Tin Mom that reminded me of this fun way to serve lunch.  Since we've been enjoying a lot of meals and snacks out on the patio by the pool, I decided that was a perfect setting to present Kyle with a nutritious lunch.

    As I was putting it together, a color scheme unintentionally developed. The tin was orange (I love this silicon one with slightly deeper cups), and a few items I had already selected including the cantaloupe that Kyle requested at the grocery store last week were orange or white.  So instead of adding grape tomatoes or red grapes, I stuck with the color scheme.

    My Orange and White Muffin Tin Lunch, for Kyle, age 7:
    • Pre-cooked cut chicken strips -- I had bought some of these for a party, and Kyle loves them. 
    • Cantaloupe 
    • Carrots -- I love these crinkle-cut bagged ones that I found on a recent shopping trip.
    • Cauliflower and orange bell peppers
    • Dip -- We absolutely adore the Hidden Valley Ranch Farmhouse Originals Hickory Bacon or the original Hidden Valley Ranch Light Dressing (I had stopped buying light or fat free dressings because they tasted fake and gross, but this light tastes as good as the original!). 
    • And as a fun treat, an orange bottled drink as well.
    And yes, he ate pretty much all of it. He needed a refill on the dip, because he used it on his chicken and the veggies, and  he did leave some cauliflower behind, but how many 7 year olds eat cauliflower at all?
      What are some lunch items that are a big hit with you and your kids that go beyond sandwiches?

      Disclosure: I am a paid spokesperson and a proud member of the Hidden Valley Ranch Love Your Veggies Mom Panel, but as always my opinions are my own.

      Friday, June 17, 2011

      Listening Underwater


      Those of you who don't know the pleasure -- and yes, pain -- of a child who never has an unexpressed thought may not understand this post. You'll be thinking, "Big deal, she's listening to her kid."  But I've talked with enough moms who have chatty children like mine who understand that while communication is lovely and it's amazing to get a peek into their brains at work, it also can wear a person down.  However, since Kyle and I had a week of one-on-one time, I've had a lot of time to listen.

      Chapter 1 -- Teaching, and learning

      Spending time in the pool with Kyle has given me the opportunity to teach him some water skills. He's gotten very good in the water, and because of that he enjoys playing in the pool a lot more. I know that when Amanda comes back, she's going to be impressed.

      I thought that I'd challenge him to see if he'd try a flip, using the noodle. He was game to try it, and after a time or two, he was doing pretty well. I was helping him perfect his form, and then -- YES! -- he did it.  A joyful chirp rose from my chest.

      Kyle swam over to the step. "Some laughs are when you're really happy. At first I was trying not to be offended, but my mind figured out what you were doing, and that was okay."

      Yes, it was one of those laughs full of surprise and excitement. When I saw him flip, it just bubbled up as laughter should. That's a good thing about a kid who expresses his thoughts, and a good thing about listening to them. I never would have thought he'd think I was laughing at him. I'm glad his mind figured it out correctly.

      Chapter 2 -- I become a video game

      "Get on my back," I said.

      "Okay. You'll be the taxi.  Take me over there to Italy."

      We went back and forth on transcontinental journeys between Europe and various Northeastern states a few time. Then Kyle "paid" me and tipped me, and asked which upgrade I wanted. "You can get the exercise room, or the waiting lounge."

      "I don't know if I want an upgrade."

      "You have to.  See that guy over there. He's steaming mad waiting.

      Chapter 3 -- More pool games

      When I'm tired of playing pool games, Kyle makes up dives and I rate him.

      "That was great.  A 10!" (and I'm not always so generous).


      I explained that 10 is the highest.

      "Awww!  But remember, I gave you a 15 on Motherhood."

      Oh he's learned the you scratch my back, I'll scratch yours theory, at such a young age.

      When we were talking in the car earlier, I used a tip I learned from Grow the Tree You Got about curbing sibling rivalry, in which you ask them to rate (please check out my review on this book about raising adolescents. I loved it!).  I turned it around and asked him to rate me as a mom on a scale of 1 to 10. And he did indeed give me a 15. No room for improvement at all.  I'll have to ask him again in a few years when he is an adolescent.

      Chapter 4 -- Sharing his interests

      After swimming, I require the drippy kids to sit and dry off some. This is a great way for us to get some summer reading minutes in. Kyle has found quite a few books that he's enjoyed.

      "I put a bookmark in the book for you too. We can have two bookmarks and read it at the same time.  I want you to read it. It's really good."

      He's seen Amanda and I doing this, and I love that he wants me to read what he's loving.

      Chapter 5 -- Expressing his creativity

      Rapping, after our muffin tin lunch:

      I told you that wasp wouldn't go away
      See, it's over in that muffin tray
      Now it's above your head
      So don't hesitate or you might get dead.

      Musical chorus:
      Wo-oh, Wo-oh
      Wasp Trouble
      Wo-oh, Wo-oh
      W-W-W-Wasp Trouble!

      He's very talented. He's always making up songs, sometimes about his love for his mother, or his love for God, or sometimes about wasps. It's actually fairly impressive, and it's one of those skills that he will develop in life or if it will fall by the wayside.

      Chapter 6 -- The post-swimming bath

      "Hey, mom -- You know if you tried to cut a wood house right in half, that wouldn't work. You can't just go right through the plumbing and everything."

      Remember what I said about no thought unexpressed?  A follow-up question about the wood house ("You mean like a log cabin?") told me that he was thinking of our old house, which is different from our new brick house. And obviously he was thinking about plumbing because he was in the bath.

      Epilogue -- 10 years later

      Kyle is busy with science and sports, friends and video games. He's tan and thin, long and lanky -- similar to his 7-year-old self with a little more height and breadth.  He doesn't beg his mom to swim anymore. He still likes to swim, but usually his girlfriend and their friends are the ones out there with him.  He especially likes it when his big sister comes home for a visit and joins them.

      Sometimes he talks. And when he does, I listen.

      Wednesday, June 15, 2011

      Dinner for Three

      The week of loving Kyle well is going just fine. It's actually passing slowly, but in a good way. Last night I couldn't believe that it was just Tuesday night. Even in the summertime, I can't get rid of that "Another week is gone" bit of anxiety that starts to hit me around Thursday. Do you know what I mean? That sense that you didn't quite get everything done that you want to? At any rate, I'm not feeling that. I'm glad that we still have three days left of this unstructured yet highly beneficial week.

      Monday Kyle requested pizza for lunch. I keep a stash of inexpensive (and remarkably delicious) Tombstone Pizzas in the freezer. They make for a good dinner for the kids if Terry and I are going out, and this summer, I've made them for lunch a few times. I told Kyle that we didn't have any, but we could have real pizza for dinner if we went to the store. He agreed.

      He and I thought through the list together and set off the store. I haven't taken him with me to the grocery store since he started school full time. I usually do those things while he's gone (and I like it that way, as does he, I'm sure). I had decided in advance that I'd let him pick some sort of treat, and when we visited the bakery overstock shelves, he selected some delicious frosted brownie bites.

      We were in the baking aisle getting flour and yeast and Kyle spotted something else he wanted. "Cantaloupe! I love cantaloupe; can we get it?"

      I told him that we couldn't get cantaloupe in the baking aisle, but we could certainly buy one (He was looking at storage containers, and one had an insert that make it look like it was full of cantaloupe).

      As we were selecting our fruit based on size, firmness, and sweet aroma, he said, "I can have this with my dinner."

      So while the pizza was baking, I served he and Terry their "appetizers" in the living room while they were watching baseball -- a bowl of melon for Kyle and a salad for Terry. That was a nice touch that Kyle liked.

      Letting a kid choose what's for dinner is just one small way to make them feel loved (at least around here). And who knew that one of his grocery store treats would be a healthy fruit?


      I've posted my recipe for homemade pizza dough before. It's not hard.  As I mentioned in that post, I didn't make it nearly as often in Connecticut because takeout pizza was a semi-regular staple (since it was so good). I can (and might) write a whole 'nother post about why I will definitely be making homemade pizza more often now.

      As I right this I sit on my back patio, and Kyle is in the pool urging me, "Come on, Mom! Get in!" and so I must.

      Monday, June 13, 2011

      What my kids have been reading

      Oh, I'm so proud of Kyle for making that transition into being an independent reader. He's had the ability for over a year, but not the desire. With the increased downtime of summer, summer reading programs as incentives (our favorite is the one at Half-Price Books where you record minutes. If you read 600 minutes over June and July, you get a $5 gift certificate. If you are the top reader in your age group in your store, you get $20). I'm thinking that Amanda will have a shot at the 11 - 14 age group, because she's been reading hours each day.

      Kyle's pick for this month is quite obvious.  Why do I know this without even asking him? Well, he read this new graphic novel for 3 or 4 days in a row. He refused to put it down. He wouldn't read anything else.  Over and over again, tears in his eyes when I suggested that he should really read another book.  I ended up winning the battle, but if he has to be stuck on something Squish #1: Super Amoeba by the masterminds behind Babymouse, Jennifer Holm and Matt Holm.

      Basically this graphic novel for the middle grade reader takes place in the amoeba classroom -- blending everyday school activities with scientific terms (like photosynthesis and such), and the adventure of a little guy who reads Super Amoeba comics.

      Amanda has been similarly obsessed with The Clique series. She's gone through SEVEN of the books in the last couple of weeks. Honestly this is not the kind of literature that I am thrilled for her to be reading, but the girls are in 8th grade (and by the end of the series, I think that they are in 9th grade), and honestly, it's scintillating. And I'm totally okay with her being immersed in boy crushes (and probably some kisses), girl drama, name-brand dropping, rich-girl toys etc etc. The final (14th in the series, but there are also 5 "Summer" books), published in February, so I'm sure that by the end of the summer, she'll have all 19 books under her belt. Her diet has been a little varied as she's waited for other books to come in at the library. She did read (and review, via video) Divergent and Illusions, which she enjoyed.

      I've leafed through The Clique books and read some summaries. I'd sort of like to read one or two, but honestly I think that ut would take some of the fun out of it for her if her mom was reading along, and I'm totally okay letting her be an almost-teen girl and getting absorbed in the kind of drama that fortunately does not exist in her own life.


      We have also come across some other series that he enjoys (below), and I would LOVE to hear some other suggestions that your 7 - 9 year old boys have enjoyed.

      Need suggestions for summer reading? Check out what others have posted at the 5 Minutes for Books Kids' Picks carnival the 2nd Tuesday of each month.

      Sunday, June 12, 2011

      One down, one to love

      We're down a kid this week. Amanda left this morning right after church on a big Coach bus. She's at youth camp, where she'll be hanging out on the beach, getting closer with the other girls and leaders from church (hopefully), experiencing great worship and preaching, which will hopefully help make her faith real to her.

      I miss her already.

      But --

      I have to be honest and admit how much easier it is to love my children well when we are one on one. I don't know if it's because they know that they have our full attention, or if it's the absence of the sibling rivalry and bickering, or what, but I do know that both Terry and I enjoy our time with our kids one on one.

      So with Amanda off having fun, I've determined in advance to make sure Kyle has a special week as well. We already have a movie date, taking advantage of Cinemark's Summer Movie Clubhouse. You can't beat $1 for a movie inside a big dreamy air-conditioned movie theater, and we haven't seen the show for this week, How to Train Your Dragon.

      We're going to try to finish our first summer read-aloud (The Penderwicks), do some more swimming, and who knows what else.

      The point is that I'm going to try to take all that parental energy that sometimes gets frustrated with the shrieking and squabbling that happens, and to be determined to build up instead of (carelessly and unintentionally) tearing down.

      Thursday, June 09, 2011

      I Danced with Mr. Popper's Penguins

      Not only did I get to go to LA to interview those who are on camera and behind the scenes on the new movie Mr. Popper's Penguins (out June 17), but I got to actually be on camera. As part of the press junket we had the opportunity to do our own little promo. It was a total blast!

      Now I'm going to entrust you with my on-screen debut, but you have to promise to read the explanation as well. Because I'm humiliating myself (and firmly breaking Amanda's "Moms do NOT dance in public -- or really, EVER" rule) by posting this so that I can share the experience with you.

      Several of us from the blogging crew took the opportunity to do this fun video. First, we had to get miked. The sound guy came over to me and gave me the wire, and said, "Put this down your dress." He had already told Chelsey from BreezyMama (who bravely went first) to put it down her shirt, so I was ready. Before I moved, he changed tactics, "Actually, put the cord out your sleeve." Then he clipped the mic pack on the back of my dress (strangely securely considering that there was nothing really to clip it to). You can see it when I turn around in the video.

      The camera had a big green square around the lens with a sign that said "Look Here." That was a little challenging because our director, Tom (yes, we had a director!), was sitting right below the camera, so sometimes we were tempted to look at him.

      I am bummed that he wasn't there when I went back in after shooting to take pictures. He was awesome. He made sure that we each got a good clip by doing several takes. If someone seemed nervous, he chatted her up. We were all giggling about the whole situation and he let us enjoy it.  I didn't feel like an idiot, though I'm quite sure I looked like one. For that matter, when I came back to take pictures so that I could blog it, they didn't make me feel like an idiot either, and the sound guy even volunteered to take my picture while I stood on the green screen, because he said that it was just a screen (He already sort of had me when he called my dress a "dancing dress," because it seemed sort of sweet).

      Obviously, we were on the green screen, so there were no penguins there with us. We took our place on the mark where we were supposed to stand, and Tom cued us when "Nimrod" fell, so we could look down at the X marked for us.

      What really intimated us was that there was no music. Nope. We were dancing with imaginary penguins to complete silence. I will be the first to admit that I lack the rhythm gene, so perhaps it's just as well that I have an excuse that there was no music?

      Also, I'd like to say that it's true that the camera adds 10 pounds, but I look better than I feared I might, so I think I was captured just as I am.

      I've interviewed other celebrities, and it's always a surreal experience, but this was the sort of behind-the-scenes look that feels like a once in a lifetime event.

      Other Mr. Popper's Penguins coverage:

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

      Wednesday, June 08, 2011

      A Successful Summer

      This morning I woke up naturally at around 7:30 a.m.  I made a pot of coffee and spent about an hour reading.  Then I spent another couple of hours working on my posts for the Mr. Popper's Penguins movie press junket, which will start posting tomorrow.

      That's a pretty good way to spend a summer morning (into afternoon), no?

      We're a week into our summer vacation here, and I'm judging it a success:

      • Not only have I been reading, but Kyle has been reading!  Kyle's reading ability has always been much higher than his desire. I was waiting on emotional maturity to kick in and hoping that would do the trick.  This year, his reading level shot through the roof, so he really has no excuses.  I was/am determined to get the right books in his hands this summer.  He's loving it.  In fact, he told me, he was "obsessed with reading" now! He's still doing a fair amount of video-game playing, but the fact that he's not balking against enforced reading has made me a very happy mama.
      • We've also been swimming in our pool almost every day.  Who can argue with vitamin D, exercise, boisterous fun?  And yet another milestone for Kyle -- he's actually swimming! He "decided" a week ago that he could swim, and so now he's dog-paddling his way across the pool, jumping in (again and again) and enjoying himself a lot more than when he was grasping his noodle for dear life.
      • We've also been a little crafty. Kyle and I checked out the Klutz Fabulous Flowers book. Click through to read my review and enter the giveaway.
      • Amanda has been acting like the adolescent that she is, and I've been letting her.  She sleeps until 9:30 or so, then usually stays in bed reading for another couple of hours. Seriously, some days I haven't seen her until close to lunchtime.  Must be nice.
      • She's also done some baking, starting with a sugar cookie mix she asked me to buy, and Amanda-fying it by adding some peanut butter and Reese's Pieces to the mix. Usually Terry shies away from her "creations," but he's eaten a lot of them!
      • In addition to individual reading, I've been enjoying a read-aloud with both of my kids. I remembered that Amanda was about Kyle's age when we first enjoyed The Penderwicks (linked to my review), and I hadn't re-read it, so we are both enjoying it together.  I don't know if Kyle would enjoy the second one,The Penderwicks on Gardam Street, as much, because they've aged, but I'm going to re-read it to get read for the third book,which came out in May, The Penderwicks at Point Mouette, which Amanda and I will do as a read-aloud.
      • Amanda and I got back into the read-aloud swing before school was out. We just finished Nerd Camp (linked to my review). I highly recommend it. It was sweet and funny. We both enjoyed it.
      • Before school was out, I had managed to get back into a good exercise routine. While theoretically having a reduced activity level should make it easier to exercise, the reality is that it doesn't always. But I'm happy to say that I'm still sticking with it.

      I know that for many of you, summer has not begun yet, but whether it has or not, what's your definition of a successful summer?

      Thursday, June 02, 2011


      Every time I visit Southern California, I am absolutely amazed at the climate.  On this June 2 day when Houston might reach record-breaking temperatures of 100, it is a breezy 67.  Perfect climate all the time. I'm not sure if one could get bored with perfection all the time or not, but I would think that one might long for something else sometime.

      But the women here seem to acclimatized to it. They walk around with their straight hair, thin, tanned limbs, and large sunglasses.  They wear short shorts, and asymmetrical blousy shirts, one shoulder bared.  Unlike the women in New York City who are dressed in shades of black and charcoal wearing expensive heels, these ladies (girls, really -- no matter the age they are "California Girls") wear bright colors and patterns and flats, while probably equally expensive, they are much more comfortable.

      I left my hotel, the beautiful Beverly Hilton, and walked down Wilshire Boulevard to the heart of Beverly Hills.  I was just walking.  It was a nice day, I got some exercise, saw some people, and enjoyed the sunshine.  I didn't even walk into Saks Fifth Avenue or Neiman Marcus, or Lacoste, or Tiffany or even Guess.  I just walked.  I'm not really a shopper and had nothing to shop for and deep down I feared that I might get the Pretty Woman, "We don't have anything for you here.  Please leave."

      While I was walking I saw two buses proclaiming why I'm here: Mr. Popper's Penguins.

      We're seeing the movie tonight and tomorrow we'll get to interview the producer and director, Angela Lansbury, Carla Gugino, and yes -- Jim Carrey.  These things are always fun.  It's a roundtable so there's no pressure of "What if I don't have anything to say," or "What if my question bombs." I've interviewed quite an impressive list of stars*, and more often than not we end up sort of having a natural 20 minute conversation.  Pretty cool, huh?  But I have to remind myself that for most of these people being charming is part of their job (also, especially when standing beside someone like Jessica Alba, I have to remind myself that their job is also to be fit and beautiful).


       I decided to make a page where I can link all of my interesting interviews, and I'll try to keep it updated.

      *Celebrity Interviews

      Wednesday, June 01, 2011

      Mangoes and Mw-something

      "D'you like mangoes?" the young man asked me as he began bagging my groceries.

      Caught off-guard, I answered, "No," and looked around to see if there was a pile of marked-down fruit that he was trying to sell me.

      "You don't like mangoes? They're so good.  I've been eating them since I was a kid."

      Trying to relax into this unexpected and slightly weird conversation with the eager young adult, I said, "I guess I like them, but I don't eat them much, because they are very difficult to cut up."

      "I like mangoes, grapes, watermelon, apples.  I eat all of those all the time."

      The man had light brown skin (a creamy coffee ice cream to fall into the over-used formula of describing skin color with food) and wore his hair long enough that you could see the loose curls.  He was probably in his late teens or early 20's.  His nametag had a lot of vowels, Mw-something, but he didn't have an accent.

      "What are your favorite fruits?"

      This enthusiastic line of questioning was still a little confounding to me.  Did he have some type of mental challenge? Or was he just socially awkward? Judging from the look the cashier gave me when I left, this type of patter was par for the course when Mw-something was sacking groceries.  But who can blame him? Why not engage in conversation? It sure beats being surly or just standing there waiting for your next cigarette break, as it seems some of the sackers are doing, so I answered his question the best I could, with a smile.

      "We eat a lot of apples. My son really likes those.  I like grapes a lot. The red ones."

      "Yeah, yeah.  Those are good.  Hey Tony (to the cashier), do you like the red grapes or the green ones best?"

      I don't think that Tony even answered.  I'm glad that I let myself be available for 3 minutes to have an odd, but friendly fruit-centered conversation.