Sunday, April 29, 2012

Week in Review

It's been so chilly and rainy here the past few days that I've been able to really get some blogging done. Now that the weekend is here and it's a beautiful Sunday, the yard work must commence! No relaxing for this family. As much as we love having our big yard in suburbia, it's a large amount of land for us for as busy as we are. It seems like all day on the weekends are taken up with weeding, working in the garden, mowing, or something. I think the next place we move will have a smaller yard. Or we'll just pay someone else to do it. In my dreams...

This week I posted the following:

My review of Grave Mercy by Robin LaFevers. 

My thoughts on an excellent book for kids that both love math and struggle with math. I highly recommend this one to parents and teachers. 

A review of Child of the Mountains by Marilyn Sue Shank. 

My weekly Fitness Friday feature. That's some alliteration for ya.

I've decided to change up my Picture Book Saturday posts a bit. Instead of a weekly offering of 2 or 3 books we've liked, I'm going to do a monthly post of favorites. This week I have four books to talk about.

On a completely unrelated note, I LOVE this bag:

It's an Etsy find from Charm Design and I want it! It could hold a lot of books...

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Picture Book Saturday

For now, while Elliott is still a little guy, I think I'm going to start doing these Picture Book Saturday posts once a month, focusing on our favorites. That may mean more than just 2-3 books in each post, but that way they're all in one place and I'm not trying to write out a new post every week. If you couldn't already tell, I've been totally slacking at it.

This month, these are the ones our whole family has really been enjoying:

The Duckling Gets a Cookie!? by Mo Willems

We love us some Mo Willems in this house! Elliott seems to really enjoy the simple illustrations and Aaron and I love how ridiculously silly the stories are. This one made us both laugh out loud! That darn pigeon is just too cute. 

Boy + Bot by Ame Dyckman and illustrator Dan Yaccarino

I'm not much into robots myself, but my nerdy husband loves them and I have a feeling, with a little boy in the house, I just may be seeing them around a lot. This book was great...filled with bright illustrations and a nice message about friendship and helping each other out. The amount of text was perfect--not too much and not too little-- and the adorably nerdy appearance of the little boy had me chuckling. I loved it!

Baby Bear Sees Blue by Ashley Wolf

One of the more unique color-concept books I've seen, this one is not only a lovely read, great for bedtime or just one-on-one time with your little ones, it's beautifully illustrated. Parents could do so many things with this one, spawning projects, guessing colors, etc. or just use it as a nice way to introduce the colors, as I am with E. I'll be using this as a baby shower gift in the near future!

The Little House by Virginia Lee Burton

Obviously, this is an old book. I enjoyed it during MY childhood and now I'm hoping Elliott will enjoy it too. It's been around for 70 years! This copy includes a cd to read along with, one track with page turn signals and one track without, as well as a bonus track of a reading of Maybelle the Cable Car. Aaron thinks the story is too long, but I love it! Such a sweet story and completely relevant for our family, watching the D.C. Metro area continue to sprawl.

All books were review copies sent by the publisher.

Friday, April 27, 2012

Fitness Friday

Another successful week has passed. I ate pretty well all week and was able to exercise almost every day, even if it was just weights at home. My shins are still bothering me, but I ordered new sneakers, finally, so I'm hoping that makes a huge difference and I've been icing my shins after each workout, as someone suggested. I took tips from both Callie and Tina and ordered Mizunos, so we'll see what happens!

The one night I went for a good run, I ended up just doing my own version of intervals, which actually seems to give me a better workout than just jogging. For whatever song I'm listening to, I'll walk fast or slowly jog until the chorus, where I'll run as fast as I can until the chorus is over. I'll do that for about 25 minutes and I end up covering quite a bit of distance. The mental part of running gets to me and I always end up stopping before I'm really tired, so these intervals work well, because I have the goal of running hard for just the length of the chorus. 
(Image borrowed from Pinterest)

Since I've been tracking my eating, I've also learned that afternoon snacking is really my main downfall. I know a lot of women have that issue and seriously...3pm rolls around and I'm ravenous for something sweet. I've tried substituting snacking with a cup of coffee and sometimes that works, but most of the time I'm just desperate for something to eat. I've tried allowing myself one cookie or a couple of these amazing Energy Bites that are healthier, but when I'm in that mindset, one or two just isn't enough. Any tips on what you do in that type of a situation?

Biggest Loser weigh-in: -1.2

Ok and this may sound a tad silly, but you want to know my biggest motivator this week? I watched all the back episodes of this season's Biggest Loser. Try watching a 400lb man run on a treadmill and not feel inspired. I ended up working out to the episodes and definitely was a great motivational tool. Now, if only Hulu would let me watch ALL the seasons without having to upgrade!

Haven't done a blogger spotlight in awhile.  Here's Tina, who runs Best Body Fitness.

Tina is AMAZING! She's a mom to 2 beautiful children, a Christian, former binge eater, and personal trainer. She's currently in the middle of running her first Best Body Bootcamp, which seems to be going great, according to all the bloggers I know that are participating. I'm sad I missed out this time, but I'm definitely up for it next round!

She's a great motivator, especially with her passion for running and being fit, despite being a busy mom, and always has something positive to say. I read her blog daily for a dose of inspiration and love to see how far she's coming with her business and her own personal fitness journey.

Photo borrowed from Twitter!

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Child of the Mountains review

Lydia loves growing up in the Appalachian Mountains of West Virginia. She's not at all embarrassed as to how poor she is or how strange others think she speaks and is proud of her heritage.  She loves her family very much, despite their incredibly difficult life, the hardships they've had to face, and the lack of hope that seems to come from all directions.

It's 1953 and Lydia's world seems to be falling apart. Her beloved Gran died and now her brother, BJ, a young boy suffering from Cystic Fibrosis, has also died, resulting in Lydia's mother being jailed. Tragedy after tragedy follows Lydia, landing her at her Aunt and Uncle's house, where she feels like an outsider, her heart hurting from losing her tight-knit family and feeling like it was somehow her fault.

Although Lydia is broken-hearted, she's also determined to do something about her circumstances. She leans heavily on Bible verses her mother and Gran would repeat in times of need, leading her to a place where she thinks she might actually be able to help. She wants her family back and though she may not get it back in the form she previously knew, Lydia succeeds in all the best ways.

"Sometimes BJ and me spent time sitting on his bed looking at the hills and sky out his upstairs bedroom window. Ain't no better picture for a wall than that 'cause God Hisself painted our picture, and it changed everyday."

This book had so much heart. Lydia's character is beautiful and inspiring in so many ways and the emotional impact of how much she loved and cherished her family was amazing. For a sixth-grader, she is resilient beyond her years, but in a manner that is both believable and lovely.

Child of the Mountains
Marilyn Sue Shank
272 pages
Middle Grade
Random House 
April 2012

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Your kids need this book!

I was TERRIBLE at math in school. Great at everything else, but I had to work incredibly hard to just pass math classes, starting in elementary school. I was never given a book like this that shows that math can be fun and practicing those problems doesn't necessarily have to be a bore. I don't typically push books like this, but I know how frustrating it is to just not get the math kids are taught and I think this book is brilliant.

As you can tell from the title, The Book of Perfectly Perilous Math, excitement is infused into math problems for middle schoolers. Each problem is accompanied by an activity to help solve, as well as a lengthy explanation by the author. The reader is also given advice as to how to solve the problem simply, without over-complicating it and then the solution is given, step-by-step. I always made the problems more difficult than they had to be, so I think this really would have helped my middle school self. 

There are illustrations, crazy stories, and a lot of fun included with the math. Fractions, geometry, algebra and more are covered and there are 24 hands-on activities.  The reader HAS to solve the problems...his life depends on it.

For those of you that live in the D.C. Metro area, like me, the author, Sean Connolly, will be at the U.S. Science and Engineering Festival on Saturday (4/28) with an on-stage demonstration from 12:45-1:30. It would be super cool to bring your kids to this event!

The Book of Perfectly Perilous Math
Sean Connolly
242 pages
Workman Publishing
April 2012
Review copy

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Grave Mercy review

After her father arranges a marriage to a horrible man, 17-year-old Ismae escapes and is taken in by a convent, where the sisters serve St. Mortain. They train women to be assassins for the God of Death. Do I have you yet? Keep reading.

Over the years, Ismae is trained to kill those that St. Mortain decides are no longer worthy of life and she's proud of her job and the life she leads. She's strong in both physicality and her beliefs. When given an assignment inside the court of Brittany, Ismae doesn't trust anyone, including Duval, a man she was taught to despise. As the book progresses we watch the characters each learn more about themselves and each, leading to trust and deeper bonds. We experience, as they do.

There's violence in this historical fantasy, but it's done in such a beautiful way. You feel Ismae's emotions as she's forced to kill and can almost see the fights happening while you're reading about them. The details are almost as important as the characters, planting the reader smack dab in this time period, and the ability of the author to make you believe in what Ismae is experiencing is top notch. 

I loved the dabbling of truth to the story...real characters, real issues back hundreds of years ago, mixed with the belief in a God of death, the convent, some magical elements etc. It made the fiction seem as real as it could possibly get and allowed the visualization of the setting and time period to be

Both Duval and Ismae were perfectly done characters in terms of leaving me caring about both of them, even when I had no idea who was good and who was bad. I love that! I love to keep guessing during a story, never knowing where it will go.

This was the book to kick me out of a reading slump. I read it slowly, savoring the setting, details, and fabulous characters. I highly recommend it in all of it's 520+ pages and can't wait until the next one comes out. Easily would recommend to adults, as well. Well done, Robin LaFevers!

Grave Mercy
Robin LaFevers
528 pages
Young Adult
Houghton Mifflin
April 2012
Review copy

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Week in Review

It's been a whirlwind couple of weeks around here! No one told me when I became a parent that the weeks would fly by at warp speed, but I won't actually accomplish much. Here's a rundown:

-Drove to NY for Elliott's baby dedication
-Celebrated Easter
-Drove home overnight
-Multiple doctor appointments for all
-Small group every Thursday night
-More time with friends Saturday nights
-Church on Sundays
-Trying to workout every day
-Meal planning
-Shopping for groceries
-Working (yeah...that little thing)
-Photo session for Elliott
-TONS of spring yard work
-Dealing with dogs

And on and on and on. And did I mention we only have 1 car? I feel like reading has really had to take a back burner, which makes me sad. I always said I would be the mom that would read as much as I did before having kids, but I obviously needed a reality check.

That being said, I've also been in the middle of a horrible reading slump. I don't know if it's because I have such limited time, so most books aren't appealing to me or what. The last couple of days have been better...I'm in the middle of Grave Mercy by Robin LaFevers, which is awesome, but a slow read for me and I'm listening to White Cat by Holly Black. A great listen, done by Jesse Eisenberg.

I also posted a few things, despite the craziness:

A review of My Family for the War

My love for Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe

I talked about The Beetle Book by Steve Jenkins

My thoughts on Jodi Picoult's latest book.

Fitness Friday

 Hopefully this week brings great reading and some relaxation. Not counting on it though and that's ok. Enjoy your week!

Friday, April 20, 2012

Fitness Friday

Week 1 of the Biggest Loser program DOWN. I had a rough time earlier this week...too many treats in my house...but now that I've corrected that issue, the eating has been great. I'm still using, and it's a fabulous tool. It lets you log all you eat, as well as your exercise, and keeps track of what you tend to be eating more off, makes suggestions, etc. It's motivating and helpful in tracking calories for those of us that need that. I don't always plan to track the calories, but until I'm sure I know an estimate of what most food contains, I need it. 

Biggest Loser Week 1:  -1.2lbs. I'll take it.

Still experiencing awful shin splints, so running is off the table until I can afford some new shoes. Hopefully that will fix the problem. Elliott and I are still walking 4-5 miles every day (pushing him and a heavy stroller definitely makes it more of a workout) with some strength training at home after and if the weather isn't great I'm doing Jillian Michaels' 30 Day Shred on the Days I can't head outside. 

I've seriously been going to town on this recipe that Ashley posted. Such a great treat when you're craving chocolate! It has a pretty high calorie count for a snack, but it's the oatmeal that does it, not anything with sugar. And it's much better than 10 Oreos or a candy bar. If you have a favorite chocolate treat that's still on the healthy side, I'd love to hear about it!

Happy weekend everyone!

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Thoughts on Lone Wolf and Jodi Picoult

If you had asked me a few years ago to name my favorite adult author, I'd have a hard time doing so, but I probably would answer with Jodi Picoult. I've read her books since she was first published and, in my opinion, her work just kept getting better and better. I loved them and recommended them all the time. Then, I don't know if my reading tastes changed, if I became more picky, or if I just grew out of her, but the last three books I've read of Picoult's have just left me unimpressed and a bit sad. Sad to lose a love of an author's books and sad that I can no longer seem to rave about her. 

Lone Wolf wasn't bad, but it wasn't anything remarkable. It also wasn't anything new. There was a hot-button issue introduced, the story is told from multiple points of view, it included a court battle, etc. It seems like the same story is being told in every book, it's only the topic that's different. We've seen cancer, school shootings, gay rights, child abuse, etc., but it's told in the exact same way. I'm bored, Jodi and I don't want to be! I like you!

I actually liked the story in this latest book...I read all the way to the end, which is quite remarkable for me these days, and some of her writing is still incredibly beautiful and caused me to stop and think before moving on to the next sentence or chapter. I learned a lot about wolves and their habits that I never would have known if I hadn't picked this up. That being said, I was still left unsatisfied and really didn't care how the story ended. I wasn't invested in any of the characters, because I felt I had read them SO many times before.

If you haven't read a lot of Picoult, pick this one up and see what you think. And if you've read a lot of her, but still love her, definitely give it a go. If you're bored like me, cross your fingers that next year's book will be new and exciting. 

Lone Wolf
Jodi Picoult
432 pages
Adult fiction
March 2012
Library copy

Monday, April 16, 2012

Non-Fiction Monday: The Beetle Book

I love me some Steve Jenkins! Even though my child isn't even close to reading his non-fiction books, I eagerly snap up each one as it's published, like it's some sort of book candy. I learn things from these!  I'm considering homeschooling Elliott in the future, depending on where we live, and one can never have too much knowledge.

The Beetle Book is Jenkins' latest book and from cover to cover features the most gorgeous illustrations of beetles I've ever seen. I mean, it takes a lot to get me interested in creepy crawly things, but the vibrant colors and short, to-the-point information is easy to read and understand. Kids, boys especially I have a feeling, will be clamoring for this one at the library and bookstore. 

Included are diagrams of all the different beetle parts, an illustrated listing of different beetle variations, descriptions of beetle senses, who eats what, etc. Anything you could ever possibly want to know about beetles is in these pages. The information is concise and geared towards a kid eager to know more about bugs, rather than a kid needing information for school. Jenkins is one of those authors that really makes non-fiction FUN!

Great for school projects or just to browse through and enjoy the beauty of the amazing illustrations. I'm always impressed and this latest book proved that my love for all things Steve Jenkins is valid.

The Beetle Book
Steve Jenkins
40 pages
Houghton Mifflin
April 2012
Review copy

Friday, April 13, 2012

Fitness Friday

Hi friends! It's been awhile! Last week the husband and I embarked upon our first road trip to Upstate NY since having Elliott (success!), and I wasn't feeling up to sitting down and writing out a post the morning we arrived. We had driven overnight and I was exhausted! 

I knew my healthy eating was going to be a challenge while at my in-laws and I was definitely correct in that assumption. I'm totally fine with that. I've said from the beginning that I'm not going to be a crazy person in terms of eating only healthy stuff all the time and exercising like a maniac. It was a holiday weekend and I indulged in delicious chocolate, among others, though the chocolate was the most important part.

The husband and I did sneak off to the grocery store on Friday morning pick up a few healthier options for me to snack on throughout the weekend and for breakfasts, since I'm not a bacon and eggs every single day kind of person. Or really any day if we're being honest. I might have snarfed down half a bag of Cadbury Mini-Eggs on Sunday morning, all by myself...oh well. 

I also had a birthday this week, which didn't help matters. Dessert at lunch and then ice cream cake after dinner, along with some of my favorite dishes (mac and cheese) resulted in food overload. Back on track now though and happily so!

My sister-in-law is running a second round of a Biggest Loser type competition with some friends and coworkers in Chicago and she asked me to join. Though I know my weight is known to fluctuate, I figured it would be an excellent motivator to keep up with the healthy eating and the exercise, so I sent her my money and we're starting today. In 10 weeks, the person to lose the most weight gets 80% of the pot, 2nd place takes 20%. Even if I don't win any money, the competitor in me knows I'll keep it all up for the whole 10 weeks...definitely worth it to me! 

Keeping up with the walking, though the running has had to slow down. I have horrible shin splints and have no idea what to do about them. Probably going to order a new pair of shoes this weekend and hope that helps.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe

I can't explain how much I loved this book. Plain and simple, I thought it was absolutely beautiful and I want to read it over and over again...and if I do, I think I'll learn something new each time I read it. It's a story of an incredibly close friendship, a love story, and a story of hatred, of prejudice, and of wars within one's self. Aristotle and Dante are two of the most pure and honest characters I have ever come across and their story is one that needs to be read.  

"And even though I knew I was named after my grandfather, I also knew I had inherited the name of the world's most famous philosopher. I hated that. Everyone expected something from me. Something I just couldn't give.

So I renamed myself Ari.

If I switched the letter, my name was Air.

I thought it might be a great thing to be the air.

I could be something and nothing at the same time. I could be necessary and also invisible. Everyone would need me and no one would be able to see me." (pg. 84)

That's all you'll get from me on this one. You need to read it. Both Debi and I say so.

Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe
Benjamin Alire Saenz
368 pages
Young Adult
Simon and Schuster
February 2012
Review copy

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

My Family for the War review

When WWII begins, 10-year-old Franziska's family is terrified for their safety. Choosing to be separated while awaiting passage out of Nazi Germany for their entire family, they place Franziska on the kindertransport, a train taking Jewish children to Britain to stay with foster families until Germany becomes safe again. She doesn't understand why she has to go, since her family doesn't even practice Judaism and she wears a cross around her neck!

Taken in by an Orthodox family that, over the years of the war, becomes closer to Franziska than her actual relatives, she is not only faced with confusion and heartache over being separated from her parents, but she's also forced to deal with the concept of religion and what it really means to be Jewish and Christian. 

I was super impressed with Anne Voorhoeve's book. I had picked it up a couple of times and read the first few pages, not necessarily being drawn into the story right away, but once it got going, I was completely hooked. The kindertransport was something I had heard of, but never really read about, and it was just an amazing learning experience for me, not to mention an emotional roller coaster. 

I felt for Franziska's parents having to make the decision to save their child by sending her away and the absolute devastation and feeling of abandonment felt by the main character. Even, years later, after hearing the stories of what she had been spared, she still just didn't quite understand how her parents could send choose to send her to live with strangers.

I think this was a completely realistic portrayal of what it meant to be a Jewish, German child being sent out of the country during WWII. I believed her story and I can imagine there are so many other stories almost just like this one out there. The story felt like it was being written from a child's perspective and then from a teen's perspective as Franziska grew, both physically and emotionally. The religious aspects were perfect and I could feel her indecisiveness throughout the story in regards to those elements. 

It's hard to say I loved a book on such a tough subject, but I definitely did. Even with the young protagonist, I would probably be more apt to give this to kids 14 and up, only because of the heavier subject matter. It may go over the heads of anyone much younger.

My Family for the War
Anne C. Voorhoeves
412 pages
Young Adult
February 2012
Review copy

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Week in Review

Lots of fun was had this week! This guy:

turned 4 months old! We're so blessed to have such a happy, healthy baby, especially with as early as he arrived. He's almost caught up developmentally, which is impressing everyone (especially his Mama), and is learning new things all the time. I was so excited about being able to check "yes" in 8 out of 10 of the boxes on his Well-Baby visit sheet this week. He's doing everything except 2 items right on schedule now, just a little shakier and not nearly as coordinated as other babies his age. I'm cool with that. 

This week, he discovered the art of putting a toy in his mouth and how to try and claw his eyes out. Gotta watch that kid like a hawk now or he goes digging all over his face.

He is turning into a pretty great sleeper, only getting up once during the night, sometimes not at all and he's always smiling and happy. I'm such a lucky mom!

Happy 4 months, Elliott! 12lbs, 23inches, and all sorts of cute. 

Book-wise, lots going on too! I held the March meeting of my YA Book Club for Adults at the store on Tuesday. We discussed My Family for the War, which I'll also be reviewing tomorrow. 

I finished Starters...haha.  My review is here

I started The Tiger's Wife for Jen's book club.  

I started The Gilly Salt Sisters on audio. Loved The Little Giant of Aberdeen County, so I'm excited to dive into this one. 

I went to the fabulous One More Page bookstore for a wine and chocolate tasting. Love that place! I'm so lucky to work in one independent bookstore and be able to frequently stop by another!

On another note, can I just say that I STILL have not seen The Hunger Games? And it won't happen this week either. This is hurting my heart.

Happy Holy Week for those who celebrate and just Happy First Week of April for those that don't!