Life and other complications

Well, my writing New Year’s resolution has completely gone out the window. February was a busy month. My husband traveled to Maryland and passed his commissioning exams with the Methodist church. Hooray! This means we are moving to Maryland (although we don’t yet know where) this summer. Just before he left (because when I do something, I like to do it thoroughly), I got a bulging disc in my spine. It was not fun, but drugs and physical therapy are helping me heal. This led my parents to come down for a week to help out and enjoy the second snowfall of the winter with us. It also meant that, while I’ve gotten almost no writing done in the last month, I got a good bit of reading done.

Aside from those major events, life keeps trucking on with school, church, library time, music class, birthday parties, etc. Time continues to fly.

My major goals over the next 4 months are to heal completely (or completely enough to get on with regular life) and to get us moved to Maryland (enjoying our time left in Durham in the meanwhile). Writing time will probably continue to suffer accordingly, but I’m not giving up, and I hope to attempt adopting more of a writing routine again when July comes.

For now, here are some pictures from the last month. First, a baking success from my husband’s birthday in January:

Chocolate jelly roll with ice cream in the middle...on the way to being baked Alaska.

Chocolate jelly roll with ice cream in the middle…on the way to being baked Alaska.

The person he has to meet with for his performance reviews is one of the owners of Maple View Farms. Yes, we lead a charmed life. Anyway, she gave him a whole lot of ice cream for his birthday, and we decide the best thing to do was make baked Alaska. I used the instructions from Joy of Cooking (we have the 1997 edition), which included the possibility of making a jelly roll, and then I followed the jelly roll instructions (including things like lining the pan with waxed paper, flipping the jelly rolls several times and peeling off and replacing paper with tinfoil). And, lo and behold, they worked! I was both surprised and pleased.

Next, a few snow pictures:




Snowman (He wasn't melting yet, just really small.)

Snowman (He wasn’t melting yet, just really small.)


And finally, we have begun the packing process:

Books in piles.

Books in piles.

Books in the garage.

Books in the garage.

We may do some decluttering in the process of moving, but the books are not on the decluttering schedule, apparently. M. makes the point that we could be placed in a church near a very small public library, so we are simply being prepared.






Library Books Enjoyed, 2/10/14

Three more books my kids enjoyed, plus one I read for myself (still not really an adult book, but since I read YA as much as actually grown-up books, it will have to do).

Knock, KnockKnock, Knock by Sophie Blackall

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

My kids are completely into jokes these days, especially knock-knock jokes. They still don’t quite “get” what makes jokes funny (although with me for a mother, they may never…), but that doesn’t stop them from laughing their heads off when one of them tells (or makes up a joke). This collection was neat because each joke was illustrated by a different artist, mostly well-known children’s illustrators. The jokes ranged in both their level (some I could explain to the kids, some I didn’t bother to) and their humor (although, again, that could be me), and I think the illustration quality varied, too, but overall, it was a great collection. It certainly merited lots of individual paging through by the three jokesters-in-training.

Amanda Pig and the Awful, Scary Monster (Oliver and Amanda)Amanda Pig and the Awful, Scary Monster by Jean Van Leeuwen

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I’ve at least heard of this series for awhile, but this was the first installment that I actually sat down and read with my kids. It was a little long for reading aloud, but we all enjoyed it despite the length. I particularly liked how the book dealt with a real-world fear (a monster in the bedroom), and that the fear was overcome in a realistic way–it took some time, as well as the help of her family. Her brother, Oliver’s, suggestions were a bit hit-or-miss, in a real sibling manner, but you could tell that he really did mean well (most of the time). Oliver’s name was also a hit in our family, because we have a cousin with the same name.

An Undone Fairy TaleAn Undone Fairy Tale by Ian Lendler

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This author and illustrator basically took the concept of a story not being finished quick enough for the reader and ran with it. The story starts as a fairy tale, but soon, the narrator is having to interject and ask the reader to slow down because Ned, who seems to be the artist, casting director, handyman, and all around guy-in-charge, is having trouble getting things ready when they are supposed to be. He tries to make emergency substitutions (first small–a donut for a crown–but then bigger, like grape popsicles for a wall), and eventually gives up as the story devolves into hilarious chaos. This one really just hit the perfect note for my kids–they thought it was absolutely hilarious and made us read it over and over.

Alice on Board (Alice, #24)Alice on Board by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Another fun installment in the Alice series…this one won’t be a favorite, but I enjoyed it just fine, and I’m all set to read the last one now…

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Library Books Enjoyed, 2/3/14

I’ve been meaning to get some more of these posts in, so here we go…no particular theme here, just a few books that we enjoyed in January:

Awesome Space RobotsAwesome Space Robots by Michael O’Hearn

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Wow, already I see in my 5 year old son an affinity for reading nonfiction. I saw this robots book and grabbed it because he’d expressed an interest in the Mars rovers. We only read the introductory chapter and the chapter on Mars robots together, and the book was probably a little above his age, even for listening, but he was still engrossed. I’m interested to see his reading choices in a few years…

I thought the book was well-done, with interesting pictures and pull-out facts, an organization that made sense (even to someone who’d had no prior knowledge about the variety of robots that get sent into space), and fairly simple text.

A Isn't for Fox: An Isn't AlphabetA Isn’t for Fox: An Isn’t Alphabet by Wendy Ulmer

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I wasn’t sure what I thought of the concept of an “isn’t” alphabet, but this one worked pretty well–for each letter, a couple of “isn’ts” led to an “is,” and there was a pretty catchy rhyme scheme. The fun pictures contributed, too.

Good Night, Sleep TightGood Night, Sleep Tight by Mem Fox

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This was a nursery rhyme book in disguise, albeit a small collection of nursery rhymes. Bonnie and Ben pester their favorite babysitter, Skinny Doug, for more nursery rhymes at bedtime. He obliges…until they absolutely must go to sleep. Something about this completely clicked with my two girls (perhaps that the request for more rhymes was its own rhyme), and we reread this many times. I loved that the illustrator put the three characters into each rhyme as well.

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Reading and writing in 2014

I am two weeks late for any sort of New Year’s post, but that’s just how I roll, it seems.

I made three official New Year’s resolutions (going on the theory that if I make several, I have a better chance of keeping/achieving at least one), and the one that I think will receive most of my energy is trying to finish writing a book-length story that I started at least 5-7 years ago. Like my knitting and sewing projects, I seem to pick it up and put it down, but I’m hoping to pick it up for good this year. That’s part of why I started this blog in the first place–to get back into a habit of writing–so now I’m just going to shift some of the time I would spend on blog posts over to working on the story. There will probably be less posting here because of that, but hey, since I’m not the most faithful blogger in the first place, you may not even notice!

An unofficial resolution that I make just about every year is to try to read the books that are sitting on my nightstand. It never happens. This is largely due to me getting distracted by other things to read, but sometimes I’ll put something on the nightstand that I know I should read but am not really in the mood for so it sits forever. Similarly, any book that I receive as a gift goes there, some of them eagerly and others not so much. I also had some ARCs that are way past the “advanced reading” stage, and so on. This year, to help somewhat with the nightstand phenomenon, I actually took everything off and only put back books that I really do want to read. A few (the ARCs!) have been marked for giving away (don’t worry, copyright people, I gave the ARC’s to my local library to use as teen event prizes or some such thing, NOT for sale in a thrift shop or library book sale), others just put on our regular shelf, and the ones that stay on the nightstand arranged in what I hope is a tempting manner:

The nightstand in all its glory.

The nightstand in all its glory.

First, we have the whole thing, which may look deceivingly empty and easy to get through. Note the Kindle on top, which creates its own problems. I have found that to actually read something on the Kindle, I kind of have to impulse buy (buy it when I want to read it right now only), because otherwise the book sits there without even a physical dust catcher to remind me that I need to sit down and read it.

shelf1Next, the first shelf, which includes space to stick whatever I’m currently reading on top of my diary and a few books-in-progress on the side. (Finding Calm in the Chaos is a devotional book, so it will probably stay there for most of the year as I try to use it every day).shelf2

The lower shelves are not arranged in any reading order, but by how the books best fit. I do try to put books I want to read sooner in the front with others in the back. People of the Book has been there (and I’ve been truly wanting to read it…just not tonight) for about 2 years. You can also see my French book-in-progress and some kids’ books my mom lent me that will go quickly when I finally pick them up. Relic is a Christmas gift YA book that I’m looking forward to.shelf3

The lowest shelf includes some of my cheating: I’m already about halfway through rereading Little Women, and the orange book on the side is the English translation of the French book (which I’ve still only been referring to after I read a given section in French first). Also, you may notice that there is both a print and audio copy of the same book on the right, so I will listen to that one for my next audiobook.

Judging by the first two weeks, my 2014 is already off to a busy start, and I know I’ll never finish everything I want to this year. But here’s to an optimistic late start, anyway!

Something to tide you over…

Ok, I doubt anyone is just checking this blog everyday just to see the next post, but I do feel bad about not having posted in a good week and a half. I will try to get some more posts up in the next few days.

In the meantime, this posted on YALSA’s The Hub today (and was a large part of why no other blogging got done in the last week):

It was a fun chance to combine two interests in one project. While you’re there, you can check out the many other Hub posts, including a reading challenge for finalists of the William C. Morris Debut Award (for a first time YA author) and the Excellence in Young Adult Nonfiction Award. The ALA Youth Media award winners (including those from YALSA and ALSC–the latter include the famous Newbery and Caldecott awards)  for this year get announced on January 27, so stay tuned!

Library Books Enjoyed, 1/2/2014

Happy New Year! Around here, it’s also still Christmas, so here are some Christmas library books we enjoyed before the New Year:

The Little Drummer BoyThe Little Drummer Boy by Ezra Jack Keats

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

My son wants to learn to play the drum and, this Advent, has become fascinated with the Little Drummer Boy song. So when I saw that Ezra Jack Keats had made a picture book of the song, of course I checked it out. It was a hit. I’ve only been asked to read it once, but he has sat and looked through it over and over. The pictures are very familiar as being by Keats, and it’s a pretty traditional adaptation of the song.

Silver Packages: An Appalachian Christmas StorySilver Packages: An Appalachian Christmas Story by Cynthia Rylant

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I checked this out from a library display, partly because the picture appealed, and partly because it was by Cynthia Rylant. I had to suggest it to the kids for the first reading, but after that they requested it several times. I thought it was a touching story, and it’s interesting that it’s based on a true phenomenon (the Christmas train). The kids loved the train, and the older two were able to understand that the boy who’d always hoped for a doctor kit eventually became a doctor.

The Night of Las PosadasThe Night of Las Posadas by Tomie dePaola

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I love all the Tomie dePaola Christmas books that I’ve read, and this one was no exception. It tells the story of the Las Posadas procession that takes place on Christmas Eve in New Mexico, and about a miracle that happens during a snowstorm one year. Like many of dePaola’s books, it’s influenced strongly by his Christian faith. The kids enjoyed that it was essentially a Christmas pageant, since they are gearing up for ours at church.

Llama Llama Holiday DramaLlama Llama Holiday Drama by Anna Dewdney

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Llama llama is back again, this time caught up in the holiday rush. I like Llama alright, but my kids LOVE him, and we had to reread this one several times. This is a good one if you need a classroom holiday story, because no mention of any particular holiday is made.

Henry and Mudge in the Sparkle Days (Henry and Mudge, #5)Henry and Mudge in the Sparkle Days by Cynthia Rylant

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Henry and Mudge enjoy the first winter snow, Christmas Eve dinner (a fancy dinner that, at first, Mudge is not invited to…), and a winter walk. Henry and Mudge have been around since I was a kid, and we are just getting to the point where the kids can sit through the slightly longer books (although, with chapters, we can always just read one chapter in a sitting). They are a charming pair, and they have the kind of adventures normal kids have. We reread this one several times.

Welcome ComfortWelcome Comfort by Patricia Polacco

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Patrica Polacco has never been a favorite author of mine–I recognize both her skill and that her stories resonate with lots of kids, but they just don’t usually click for me. This one did. It’s a sweet story, and the adult main character is based on a real person, but this is a magical Christmas story. I’ve just read it once so far, but I think my kids have gotten their dad to read it already, and I won’t mind reading it again. It’s a little long for a bedtime story, unless it’s the only one you read.

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Favorite Christmas Books

In lieu of doing a library book round-up this week, I thought I’d feature some of my all-time favorite Christmas books. (These are in alphabetical order by author, so don’t draw any ranking conclusions from them!)

Christmas in the Big House, Christmas in the Quarters, by Patricia C. McKissack and Frederick L. McKissack, illustrated by John Thompson215959.Sch_XmasBigHouse_0.tif

When I was growing up, we had a big box of Christmas books that only came out at Advent/Christmas time with the other Christmas time. My sister and I got as excited about looking through the books we hadn’t seen for a year as about all the other Christmas preparations. This was one of my favorites from the box, and it was a somewhat later addition (I don’t remember when we got it, but I remember getting it). It’s a historical fiction picture book, which portrays Christmas 1860 on a southern American plantation. It shows both the slave and owner life experiences, and while it combines facts and traditions from many different actual plantations, the authors work hard to be historically accurate. I will admit that, at first, my favorite thing was to pour over the pictures of splendor in the “Big House” celebrations. But the story is very well done, and over time it gave me a lot of food for thought.

best christmas pageantThe Best Christmas Pageant Ever, by Barbara Robinson

This is just fabulous. If you haven’t read it, go out and brave the post-Christmas return crowds (0r go on Amazon) to get a copy. It tells about a town’s Christmas pageant put on with the “worst kids in the entire world” as its stars–kids who’ve never heard the Christmas story before pageant practice begins. As they demand explanations for various parts of the story, they give everyone a new way to think about Jesus’ birth.

The Twelve Days of Christmas by Robert Sabudatwelve days

I have a love-hate relationship with this book. It’s beautiful, and I even pulled it out on Christmas Eve to read with my kids, who loved it. But, we received it when our oldest was either a baby or about a year old, and much as I’ve tried, I haven’t prevented serious damage to the paper engineering. If you aren’t familiar with Robert Sabuda, he does pop-up books that aren’t just for kids–beautiful, intricate pop-up books that are easily damaged by small children. We still enjoy it, but his books are definitely best shared with somewhat older kids.

polar expressThe Polar Express, written and illustrated by Chris Van Allsburg

Everyone knows about this one, but I’ll add my voice to the clamor. It’s a great book. I haven’t seen the movie, but I’m sure the book is way better.

Max’s Christmas by Rosemary Wellsmax christmas

This is an early Max book–I remember it being in our Christmas book box, too, and I don’t remember getting this one. I like it better than many of the later Max books because it’s so short and sweet–perfect for small children, and it also perfectly encapsulates the characters with just a few well-chosen words and well-drawn pictures. A great accompaniment to “The Night Before Christmas” as a Christmas Eve read-aloud.

jonathan toomeyThe Christmas Miracle of Jonathan Toomey, by Susan Wojciechowski, pictures by P.J. Lynch

This is a newer picture book, and it’s a serious one. Like The Best Christmas Pageant Ever, it’s best enjoyed by people who see Christmas as a holy day and not just a holiday. It tells the story of a grumpy old woodcarver who is brought back to joy by a Christmas job given him by a widow and her son. There are some pages that make me cry, but most kids won’t be quite so deeply affected.

Hope you are all enjoying the Christmas season! Merry Christmas!