Library Books Enjoyed, 8/29/13

I’ve been remiss on library book posts recently, but I am trying to get back into the routine of sharing books we’ve checked out. I should warn you that this week’s crop is not one of my favorites, but I will try to do better next week!

Benny and Penny in Lights OutBenny and Penny in Lights Out by Geoffrey Hayes

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Continuing our search for elementary-friendly graphic novels, we picked up this one a few weeks ago.

I have to say right now that graphic novel format just doesn’t speak to me, so I may not be giving these a fair shake.

I liked this one ok, it’s just that there wasn’t very much of a story to it. Or rather, the story seemed to sneak in between all the other things going on. If I had to synopsize this, I would say that a brother and sister mouse overcome their fear of the dark/boogey-mice to retrieve an important item at bedtime. But that only seems to be a small portion of the book, with lots of regular going to bed antics before and after.

Anyway, I obviously only liked it ok, but it was a big hit with all three kids, and received multiple repeat-reading requests, so it gets its four. Also, I should add that I find the pictures charming, and that all of Geoffrey Hayes’ books are at least fairly short graphic novels, which is good when you have to do read-alouds, because the format just doesn’t read aloud very well (unless you are freer with your sound effects than I tend to be).

So if you too have a budding comic book enthusiast in the pre-reading/easy reading set, I would recommend it.

Those Darn Squirrels and the Cat Next DoorThose Darn Squirrels and the Cat Next Door by Adam Rubin

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I just happened upon this book by the author and illustrator of Dragons Love Tacos, and to give you fair warning, liking Dragons Love Tacos will not ensure that you like this one. My husband did not. But it happened to work for me (the combination of squirrel and cottage cheese humor basically has me nailed as a target audience member) and my kids liked it, too. Only after 2-3 rereads did I notice that there are other books in the series. So we may have to keep an eye out for those this week…

Walt Disney's CinderellaWalt Disney’s Cinderella by Cynthia Rylant

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This one only gets a three because my three-year-old will currently “read” anything that’s called Cinderella and has a girl with a ball gown. I was especially disappointed because I generally enjoy Cynthia Rylant’s writing style and was hoping to enjoy this one, too. It was just too sentimental for me, with lots of talk about Love (yes, with a capital “L”). Also, it’s called “Walt Disney’s Cinderella,” but the pictures (and the story, for that matter) only look vaguely inspired by the Disney version. I am not saying Disney has the best version, only that if you label it with Disney, it should be more recognizable as Disney.

I hope M. doesn’t ask to check it out again…

The Frog Prince, ContinuedThe Frog Prince, Continued by Jon Scieszka

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Alright, I seem to have been down on most of the books this week. Here is one we all genuinely enjoyed, and even Daddy agreed to repeated rereadings of it. Jon Scieszka uses his fractured fairy tale genius to imagine what happened to the Frog Prince after he and the princess got married. The illustrations are also great fun.

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Making the most of our last year (?) in Durham

We are looking at what may be our last year in Durham, and I’ve been wanting to put down in black and white things to do before we move away. I would say I’m 60% sure at this point that next year we’ll be moving back to the Baltimore/Washington area, where we both grew up and where both our immediate families still live. I will be about 80% sure one way or another by October, and I think we’ll know for certain by the end of February 2014. This is what we’ve always planned to do, and there are some aspects that we are definitely looking forward to (grandparents within a couple hours!), but Durham has become home in the 7 years we’ve lived here, and we will miss it a great deal.

Despite having lived here for a decent stretch now, there are many activities in the area that we either haven’t taken advantage of at all, or haven’t done as much as I would like. Here’s my list of things to do before we go, in no particular order:

  • Go to Maple View Ice Cream.
  • Walk or ride bikes on the American Tobacco Trail.
  • Visit at least 2 of these parks: Falls Lake, Umstead, Eno River, West Point on the Eno, Occoneechee Mountain. (I’ve been to the last 2, but not for awhile, and I’ve never visited the other three.)
  • Take a walk in Duke Forest.
  • Hear Will Willimon preach while he’s at Duke Memorial UMC.
  • Go to the State Fair. (We’ve been twice, but I really like it and want to try to go again this year!)
  • See an American Dance Festival performance. (I don’t know if this will be possible, since we’d have to move by July 1, but I’d like to try.)
  • Go to at least 2 Durham Bulls games. (I’m cheating on this one: we’re going to one tonight!)
  • Spend a day in Chapel Hill/Carrboro (reminiscing about my library school days, I guess…).
  • Eat at Vin Rouge and try out either Nana’s or one of the other fancy Durham restaurants we haven’t been to (obviously a kid-free selection).
  • Go to 2-3 of the choral groups performing via Duke Performances this season. (This is more on my husband’s list than mine, but I like going to hear music with him at least occasionally–and we could combine it with the one above!)
  • Take the older two kids to see the Nutcracker when it’s performed at UNC’s Memorial Hall.
  • Go to the NC Aquarium once more.

I think that about covers it. I’m sure there are things I’d like to do that I’ve missed, but I can add them later (and I don’t want the list to get too long, if I’m to have any hope of completing it!!). There are a few things I am fairly confident we will do and so didn’t list them: visiting the Life & Science Museum regularly, visiting Duke Gardens, visiting the NC Zoo 1-2 more times. It would also be great to get to either the Outer Banks or Asheville since I’ve never been to the first and only to the second once upon a time in middle school, but those will be more difficult to fit in, especially now that we have someone in school.

Anything I absolutely must add to the list?

Cookbook Recommendation: The Mom 100

The Mom 100 Cookbook: 100 Recipes Every Mom Needs in Her Back PocketThe Mom 100 Cookbook: 100 Recipes Every Mom Needs in Her Back Pocket by Katie Workman

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I received this cookbook as a Christmas gift last year, and it has been a good one. I have only made about 4-5 recipes so far (and one of those, I actually delegated to my husband…but hey, I found the recipe!), but they’ve all been well-received, and most of them have been either very easy or easy to make in large batches so I don’t have to cook as often.  Particular favorites so far include  her granola recipe, Mexican tortilla casserole (I’ve made similar recipes before, but this has been my favorite all-vegetarian version), and roasted potatoes (which has convinced my non-potato eating son to eat a potato or two). I have plans to make at least 3-4 more of the recipes in the near future.

Beyond the individual recipes, this is a cookbook that is both fun and useful to just sit down and read. I wouldn’t recommend it as next month’s book club selection or anything, but when I go searching through the recipes, I often lose half an hour just reading. Her comments about trying to feed healthy things to kids are both funny and helpful, and when I first looked through the book, I was laughing out loud at some of her chapter titles and tag lines. For example, there’s a chapter called “Let’s Call a Carb a Carb!” and her seafood chapter has the tagline, “Just eat the damn fish!” (This one could probably apply to me as well as my kids, so that might be why it tickled my funny bone. On the “useful” front, she includes many dishes that I already have recipes for, but with variations that are nice to keep in mind, and lots of the recipes include “Fork in the Road” suggestions to vary one dish for several picky palates.

If you are looking for a low-meat cookbook, this is not it. It has some great vegetarian recipes, but many of the meat dishes call for a lot of meat. I personally love meat, but it’s a good thing to know in advance, and that also means that some of the recipes are on the expensive side. One other criticism is that most the chicken recipes, including several roasting recipes, call for the chicken to be cut up before cooking. Not a problem if you remember to buy chicken parts; I was just a little disappointed because I expect a roast chicken recipe to involve sticking a whole chicken in the oven and moving on with the day.

Aside from these slight criticisms, I think this is a great book and I look forward to cooking from it more over the coming months.

Zucchini and Summer Squash

I like zucchini and summer squash, but I can’t say I love either one (at least not in their purest forms), and we have gotten a LOT of them this year. My basic plan for using them is:

  1. Make zucchini bread. Possibly a double batch, and you can use shredded summer squash just the same as shredded zucchini. (I use these two vegetables basically interchangeably no matter what.)
  2. Have at least one meat and potatoes dinner where zucchini or summer squash is the vegetable. The default way I cook it is sauteing with onions and butter–I really like it best when it has cooked so long (at a low temperature) that there is probably no nutritional value left, but nobody else in my family seems to especially like it at all, so I cook it my way. I tried grilling it this summer, but it just didn’t seem quite done enough for me.
  3. Hide extras in such dishes as ratatouille, chili (they make a good substitute for meat if you want to make a vegetarian chili, at least in terms of bulk), soups, stews.

This plan generally makes use of all the squash I have laying around, but this year it wasn’t enough. I don’t know if I didn’t make enough stews or what, but we had a LOT of extra summer squash lying around, and I wasn’t ready to make more zucchini bread yet.

This led to my most recent food discovery, which is zucchini or summer squash parmesan. It’s exactly like eggplant parmesan, only substitute squash. Now, I used my one “real Italian” cookbook to make this (that’s where I found the recipe), so it was a somewhat involved process including homemade sauce (hey, we had a lot of tomatoes, too) and sliced vs. shredded cheese, but I think this was a recipe that can easily adapt. So if you have a good eggplant parmesan (or chicken parmesan, for that matter) recipe that you like feel free to sub in zucchini or summer squash as the main event. The one point I wouldn’t have thought of is to slice the squash long-ways, instead of in rounds–this will also make the overall process faster, since you can fry the bigger pieces.

This extra option for squash-usage has successfully rid me of all the squash that were hiding in my crisper drawer.

Now if I can just figure out how to use up all the cucumbers.


SAH Sanity Tip #3: Remember It’s a Gift

This was actually going to be my first tip, as it’s the one that first occurred to me, and is one that I have to keep reminding myself when I’m losing my temper or the kids are running around screaming.

The chance to stay home with my kids is a gift.

Not everyone has the opportunity to do this. I wasn’t able to for about two and a half years. Now I am, and I need to enjoy it while I can. I know this doesn’t mean I will enjoy every minute, but it does help me to remember that this is a (finite!) special time, and that I get to enjoy my kids’ company more now than I probably ever will again.

It may be a mind game to repeat this to myself, but it’s a truth that I am repeating, so it makes life a little more sane (at least for a few minutes at a time!).

Library Books Enjoyed, 8/7/13

A short one this week:

The Three Little Pigs and the Somewhat Bad WolfThe Three Little Pigs and the Somewhat Bad Wolf by Mark Teague

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Fractured fairy tales either work for me or they don’t. This one does–I’m not sure if it will work for you, but it does for me.

We heard this one at storytime last week, and I was happy when it was the one my son chose to request (he asks to check out one of the books ready every week; we are lucky that our branch only has the one preschool storytime per week). The twist in this three little pigs story is that the wolf is only somewhat bad (like most of us when it comes down to it), and just really hungry. Also, the pigs’ lifestyle choices are pretty funny, especially if, like me, you enjoy potato chips and soda. All ends well, and the first two pigs learn a little work in the process.

Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad DayAlexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day by Judith Viorst

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I got this one from the library this week because I loved it as a kid, and I loved it just as much this time. My kids seemed to like it, but haven’t requested repeats yet, so either they need to grow into it a little, or it just doesn’t click for them like it did for me.

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Certain Women by Madeleine L’Engle

Certain Women 
I read this book for this first time when I was in library school, probably in the spring or summer of 2007–I remember that I found it in a used bookstore that’s sadly no longer open in Durham. I enjoyed it when I read it, but I had forgotten a lot about it, so I decided to reread it a few weeks ago. I think it’s one of Madeleine L’Engle’s more complicated books–it’s certainly one of her later books, and I think one of the few “adult” books she wrote after she became a well-known children’s author.

Before I go too far, I don’t think I’ve mentioned on this blog that I consider Madeleine L’Engle my favorite author. I have lots of favorites, but she’s one who’s books continue to appeal to me both because I like her stories and because I appreciate her outlook on life. Like my mother (who introduced me to L’Engle), I’ve found more to criticize in her books as I’ve gotten older, but overall, I still think her books are fabulous and capture the way I feel about many things. So while I do have a few critical comments, more of this book works for me than it might for other readers.

A quick overview of this one is difficult, but it basically follows actress Emma Wheaton as she spends time with her very famous actor father, David Wheaton, while he is dying. They are in the Pacific Northwest, on a boat, with David’s current wife, Alice, and Alice’s brother Ben, who runs the boat. David spends much of the time reviewing his life and regrets, particularly those regrets related to his marriages (8 in all), his children, and never having gotten to play King David in a play that Emma’s playwright husband, Nik, was trying to write. There is a great deal of flashback, and Emma has to come to terms with her own past traumas and mistakes while she’s trying to help her father in his dying and let go of him, too.

Those familiar with L’Engle’s work may be surprised the she focuses so much on a character with so many marriages–her Austin books are sometimes criticized for presenting a family that’s too perfect–but as in her other books, she treats almost all of her characters with compassion. David Wheaton acknowledges that he’s messed up many times, and many people have gotten hurt because of his choices, but he maintains friendships with some of his past wives, contact with almost all of his children, and overall is a sympathetic character. Most of his children get along with each other, and several of the wives are friends as well, which is where I can see L’Engle looking at the world with rose-colored glasses. While many former spouses can remain or eventually become friends, and step-parents and step-siblings often do become friends, the “one big happy family” ideal seems to come a little too easily.

My other criticism is actually the use of the Biblical story of David. I generally like when L’Engle uses Biblical themes–Many Waters, a retelling of Noah and the ark, is my all-time favorite–but it gets a little tiresome here. Part of it is a natural part of David Wheaton obsessing with the story and Nik’s play in his reminiscing, and also of Emma and Nik forming their relationship largely around work on the play, but sometimes it just gets to be a little too much.

With that said, I like the book. I like the theme of less than perfect families still loving each other, even if it seems a little too easy here. I like the focus on dying well and using the time of dying to reflect on life and say good-bye, along with the rejection of medicalizing death. Emma is a likeable, but not perfect protagonist–her own problems come out in pieces as the book unfolds–but I like the choice she makes at the end of the story. Additionally, the world of the New York theater scene in the 1940’s is wonderfully vivid, and I’m sure drawn largely from L’Engle’s own time as an actor (to support her writing!) in that period.

I looked up some reviews from when the book came out (in 1992), and the main criticisms were L’Engle’s rosy outlook and that she had sprinkled trite philosophical truisms throughout the book. I’ve already mentioned the former, and I think if you can get past that, then you can get past the truisms, too. To me, a more hopeful and optimistic outlook is sometimes what we need, and I think the smatterings of philosophy rang true in the world of the characters.

If you can get a hold of the book (Durham Library does have 2 copies, which surprised me a bit), and if you like L’Engle’s other books, I would recommend this one. Just remember that this is definitely not a kid’s book–it’s written for adults.