Thursday, November 29, 2012

Flight Behavior review

Barbara Kingsolver has a special way with language and Flight Behavior certainly exemplifies that. The story of Dellarobia Turnbow --a wife and mother so unsatisfied with her marriage and her life on the farm that she resigns herself to an affair. Hiking through the woods to meet the man she has decided will allow her to escape her mundane existence, she discovers something extraordinary. A gift of nature so amazing and powerful that her family will never be able to go back to "before" and every single person becomes is forced to reexamine who they are and what they mean to each other.

I loved what was at the heart of this story. How "family" can mean so many different things and how, no matter what, family members have to join together and walk through life as a unit, rather than separate moving parts. 

I also thought the environmental aspects were honest, well-researched, and showed the passion Kingsolver has for issues such as logging and other eco-tragedies. Her conviction can come off a bit harsh at times, but I loved that she didn't necessarily take a politically correct route, but stuck to what she wanted to get across to her readers. 

I occasionally had a bit of trouble getting through the dense language, but it was worth it. Not always able to connect with Dellarobia, I connected to the book through the mesmerizing plot. Though beautifully written, some sections tended to be overly wordy, rather than just gorgeous prose, but I was ok with it. I wanted to know more. Kingsolver is really known for that style of writing, so her fans will be very pleased. Overall, an excellent book for so many different types of readers: environmentalists, plot-driven novel fans, the list could go on and on. 

You can check out Kingsolver's website here

Flight Behavior
Barbara Kingsolver
448 pages
November 2012
Review copy

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Dear Elliott: A 1st Birthday letter

My tiny little baby turned ONE yesterday. It's still amazing to me how fast this year went by and as I thought about what I was going through one year ago and all of the beautiful events and smiles and fun we had this year, I was pretty weepy and emotional. Elliott will probably be my last baby, so all of his "firsts" this year were also "lasts" for me. I'm ok with that and happy with my little family, but it's still bittersweet. 

I wanted to share my letter to my boy with all of you and, of course, slip in some picture memories of our past year. 

Dear Elliott,

When you came into the world, 8 weeks early, your dad and I were terrified. All we wanted during that delivery was to hear you cry -- that was our sign that you would be ok -- and as soon as the doctor lifted you up we heard a huge, loud scream. You let everyone know that you were a fighter and would be just fine.

After a 3 week NICU stay (again, you're a rock star), we were able to finally bring you home. We've watched you grow so quickly and learn new things all the time. You'd almost never know you were born so early. From those early days of  the two of us camping out in the recliner through the whole night watching episodes of House Hunters...

celebrating your first Christmas...

having your first photo shoot...

lounging in the pool on those hot summer days...

wearing the most adorable kangaroo costume for Halloween...

have our first family photos taken...

and finally, visiting the aquarium and having your first cupcake on your BIRTHDAY, we've had such a great ride this year. 

You are the most joy-filled boy I've ever met and I am so thankful that you're mine.

Some fun facts about you at 12 months old:

-You love your blanket and can't sleep with out it.
-You suck your two fingers on your right hand, even though it drives us crazy.
-You hate getting your diaper changed and getting dressed.
-Bath time is your favorite time of the day, especially if it's with daddy.
-You'll eat anything and everything, as long as you aren't sitting in your high chair...then all bets are off.
-You have 2 teeth.
-You think rubbing your eyes like you're tired will get you out of any trouble/eating/diaper changes.
-Your favorite books are Dog by Matthew Van Fleet and B is for Bear by Roger Priddy.
-You love Zoey, but aren't so sure about Shae. She's too big for you to play with.
-You're wearing 9mo. clothes.
-You are about 26inches long and almost 18lbs.
-You're thinking about walking. You'll cruise along furniture and step between chairs and toys.
-You love to smile and laugh and are almost always happy (except when those darn teeth came in!)
-You occasionally say "mama" and "bye-bye," though it still takes us to decipher it.

I know the next year is going to be so much fun and we'll have all sorts of adventures together as a family. You are my sunshine, E, and I am so proud to be your Mama!!

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Picture Book Saturday: Just Right for Christmas

Now that Thanksgiving has passed us, I feel like I can finally write about the Christmas books Elliott and I have started to enjoy. I'm one of those people that really likes to go about my year one holiday at a time, so even though I started to receive the books a few months ago, I was kind enough to spare you the chatter until now. You're welcome. 

Just Right for Christmas by Birdie Black and Rosalind Beardshaw is yet another absolutely charming book published by Candlewick. I can't even begin to explain how much I love their books -- some of the best this year for us. 

In this one, a simple piece of beautiful red cloth makes the "just right" gift for five animal strangers. From a king who creates a grand cloak for the princess all the way down to the mouse who makes a teeny tiny scarf for her little boy mouse, the scraps from each gift are just right to make the next gift, with leftovers to share. 

Not only is the message of the story perfect for this time of year, but the illustrations are just gorgeous. Since E is still pretty young to sit through a whole story, I think his favorite part is the doses of vibrant red on each page. I'm a fan of that to :)

We definitely recommend you add this one into your holiday reading list. It's a very sweet read and holds a great message of sharing with others when you're done using something or recycling things you no longer need. 

Thanks again to Candlewick to sending this one along to us!

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

The Dogs of Winter review

I love hearing that books by authors I really like win awards. Last year, I really enjoyed Bobbie Pyron's A Dog's Way Home and while still at the bookstore I was able to hand-sell a ton of them. It was a great story, well-written and easy to read and a really nice story to share together with your kids or classroom. 

I've had The Dogs of Winter sitting on my TBR shelf for awhile, but when I saw that Bobbie had made the Kirkus list of Best Children's Books of the Year, I knew it was time to pick it up. I don't always agree with Kirkus, but this time I definitely understood why the book received a star and why so many other people are raving about it. It was fantastic. 

The haunting story of an orphan boy, forced to live on the streets and eventually "adopted" by a pack of stray dogs is incredibly sad, yet inspiring and SO memorable. The boy, along with so many other children during that time period, had his life completely turned upside-down by the dissolution of the Soviet Union. So much so that he basically became a feral animal -- one who learned to survive on the streets from canines. DOGS. It's incredible, astonishing, and taken straight from Russian headlines that Pyron researched. 

I think kids are really going to connect with Ivan and his will to succeed. Though it's a tough story and a heavy topic, the writing has the ability to appeal to so many readers and the plot is paced perfectly to allow for discussion. This would make a great class read aloud -- in fact, I'm going to pick up a copy for one of my best teacher friends for Christmas! 

I highly recommend it, though be prepared for your heart strings to be pulled!

The Dogs of Winter
Bobbie Pyron
312 pages
Middle Grade
October 2012
Review copy

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

When does this sleep issue end? Help a mama out!

I've been blessed with an awesome sleeper. Sort of. See, since the day Elliott was brought home from the NICU, he has thrived on a schedule. He was on an "eat every 3 hours on the dot, diaper change, swaddle, sleep" schedule there and it really worked well for him. We continued it when we got home and as he grew and got older, that schedule slowly morphed into an extension of the original. 

Up until this week, he would sleep for 11 hours straight, no problems. Almost on the dot. Unfortunately, he was pretty insistent at going to sleep at exactly 6 p.m., which means a 5:03 a.m. wakeup call for me. On the dot. Weird. Still, I couldn't complain too much, since I had approximately 4 hours to myself every night before it was time for me to go to sleep and I really don't mind getting up early in the mornings anyways. Productivity for the win!

This week, however, is a whole other story. He has been waking up at 3:50. As in, 3:50 in the morning, hours before the birds are even awake. He's smily, ready to eat and play until around 8 when he wants his first nap. I've tried pushing bedtime back and he was definitely not having it. I've tried just feeding him and laying him right back down without talking to him, changing his diaper, or anything. No go. I have no idea what to do. 

I've even tried pushing his naps back too, but he's just very set in his ways and I'm not sure how to break him of it. He likes to sleep from 1-3 or 12:30-3 each afternoon. If I attempt to move him to 2, he will still wake up at 3. Then he's cranky from lack of a good nap and still wants to go to sleep at 6. Help a mama out please!

Another reason, even if it's a lame one, for this being such a problem, is the lack of sound barriers in our house. For whatever reason, sound travels really well in our split-level home, so even if I'm trying to play with him quietly in his room, my husband can still hear us pretty loud and clear in our bedroom downstairs. Considering he has to work all day for our government, that's not a good thing. 

Suggestions, tips, things I'm doing wrong?? I can handle one or two days of this, but pretty soon, I'm going to go crazy. Though really, with this face, it's hard to be annoyed:

Still, we all need more sleep around here and I would love to hear what you have to say about this!

Monday, November 19, 2012

Cold Snap!

If there's one thing I've learned about the weather in Northern Virginia after living here for 3.5 years, it's that you  never really know what you're going to get. It's November, sure, but last year at this time it was in the 60's and 70's all the time and the year before that we had like 3 blizzards. This year, I'm happy to report that we're having a pretty typical November, with days in the upper 40's and lower 50's and very chilly nights. Perfect weather to finally pull out this book I received a couple of months ago, Eileen Spinelli’s Cold Snap. Elliott and I have been paging through it each day for awhile now and we're really enjoying it. He loves the illustrations, I love the story. 
The story is definitely targeted for probably 4 and up, but we're enjoying it a bit early. The temperature in Toby Mills is COLD and as each day passes, it just gets colder and colder. Icicles are hanging from the General Toby’s statue and no one can seem to get warm. Everyone is discouraged and lonely and COLD, until the Mayor’s wife has a brilliant idea, bring the entire town together for a fun surprise to ride out the cold snap.
The perfect mixture of cozy and sweet, perfect for reading on these chilly days. Included is a recipe for Miss Dove’s Sugar-on-Snow Candy, which would be great to make after reading the story, if you have children that are a little bit older. Yum! 
It’s perfect for sharing with your little ones as a fire roars in your fireplace (or, if you’re like me, the electric baseboard heaters warm the room) and you sip on some toasty hot chocolate. 
Thanks to Random House for sending us a copy to share together!

Friday, November 16, 2012

Things I Like (4)

It's been so long since I've done one of these posts! It's fun to share a few of the things, other than specific books,  I've been enjoying lately and I always love reading others' posts like this. Enjoy!

I've been pretty sick for the past week or so and this tea is amazing. I typically order it at Starbucks when I have a cold, but when this sinus infection decided to invade and stick around for awhile, I bought a box. Not the same. I don't know if the tea leaf is different when it's served in the store, but the taste wasn't quite as strong and nasal-clearing. I still the minty smell and taste though. Great for cold weather. 

Sick remedy #2. This is my favorite ice cream flavor and I've been downing a bowl a night to help my throat. It's just delicious. 

This gorgeous scarf by Little Minnow Designs. I found it on Etsy while browsing one day and I just can't get it off my mind. It's the holiday season, so buying for myself is out of the question, but I sure do love it. SO many pretty colors too. I think I'm partial to the green, though the plum is beautiful too. 

Kinda strange for a list like this, I know, but after my husband's dedication last weekend, we have really nice "new" countertops. Be gone fake butcher block laminate! It doesn't quite look like granite, but it definitely looks much more expensive and pretty than what we had before. $60 vs. probably $1000 for granite. I'm sold. 

I really want these stockings. 1 of each color please... Aaron in red, Elliott in green, and Amanda in white. Thanks! ;)

How's that for a random assortment??

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Fairy Tales from the Brothers Grimm, Pullman style

Still sick, so that means short reviews. And if anyone has a cure for serious nasal congestion, please send it my way. 

I haven't read through this entire book yet, but I can tell you already that it would make such a neat gift for someone who really loves fairy tales. Philip Pullman puts his own spin on 50 of his favorite stories, originally written by the Brothers Grimm, keeping the creep factor high and the beautiful details he's known for front and center. His versions are much more readable than the originals too... something I appreciated. 

My favorites? "The Bremen Town Musicians," "The Brave Little Taylor," and "Iron Hans." The atmosphere is perfect for reading on these dark, dreary, and cold days and I've been savoring a little at a time in between taking care of a teething boy and attempting to take care of my sick self. 

The cover is fantastic and will look great on my shelves next to the other creepy stories! I have a couple of people in mind to pick this up for during the holidays... if you love fairy tales, stop reading this now. You may be ruining your Christmas gift ;)

Thanks to Candlewick for sending along a copy. 

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Maurice Sendak and the Nutcracker. I'm giving one away!

I love the story of The Nutcracker. It's one of those classic holiday stories that is fun to read and see on stage, though, I've never seen a ballet version in person. Must remedy that. When I saw that Maurice Sendak had illustrated a version of the Nutcracker by E.T.A. Hoffman way back in the 1980's that was being reissued, I knew I wanted a copy and a few days later those psychics at Random House offered me one to have and one to giveaway. Mind readers, I tell you. 

Sendak apparently worked in set and costume design for a ballet company's version of The Nutcracker years and years ago, which would definitely explain the beauty on these pages. The story is long, definitely best for older children that are willing to sit through a story, and beautifully done. It would make an awesome keepsake for a child that loves the story or for those that just love to collect Sendak books. I wasn't even aware he had done this one... it originally came out the year I was born. 

Random House kindly sent an extra copy for me to give away to one of you. If you're interested, leave a comment telling me your favorite holiday tradition with your family. Make sure I have a way of contacting you, if you win!!

Hooray for Maurice Sendak!

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Week in Review: Home improvements

Long time, no see! I feel like I've barely had a presence on the blog or Twitter this week, but it's been a bit harried around here. Elliott is still teething and managed to get sick AGAIN. I think I'm going to have one of those babies that just can't seem to stay healthy. Nothing serious, but he had about a week of feeling good before he started coughing again and his nose is running like a faucet. Back to the inhalers. 

However, nothing a blanket, box, and his fingers can't fix. Ohh...those fingers. They drive me nuts.

We're also in the midst of doing a few kitchen updates and in our house that means the one-day project will actually take about a week. Or more. The whole pantry debacle was almost 2 weeks, so I figured the countertops would be a disaster, but so far it's going ok. Almost done! 

We went the inexpensive route and bought one of those "fake granite" paint kits that everyone seems to rave about. It turned out about as well as you could expect from two people that are absolutely not artists. Almost all the reviews we read on the kits were positive, but I still think it looks like a painted countertop. Really hoping that once the top coat is on and dry, I'm happier with it. 

From a distance it's fine, but on closer inspection it's a painted countertop. Oh well. We have very little countertop space, as you can see, so if I really hate it, we'll spend the money and replace them. 

In the past few days we've painted those countertops, replaced the cheap and ugly sink, faucet, and broken garbage disposal, and are working on swapping out the heating element in the oven. Determined to figure out what the heck is wrong with that thing. So glad I have a handy husband. He's amazing. 

I finished up a couple of books this week:

On the Divinity of Second Chances by Kaya McLaren

Gathering Blue by Lois Lowry

I blogged:

A review of Things Happen Here

A review of Jepp, Who Defied the Stars

Planning some fun stuff for the blog this week, including a showcase of new pop-up books and a giveaway!

Friday, November 9, 2012

These Things Happen review

Wesley is 15 and dealing with a lot of "stuff" for someone his age. His father is gay and living with his partner, where Wesley has come to live for a time in order to get to know his father a little better. His dad is distant and appears not incredibly interested in getting to know his son, though his partner George is really interesting and cool. 

Wesley's best friend, Theo, has also just come out, a total surprise to Wesley and most of the student body. Wesley is proud of his friend at first, but then becomes the subject of horrific bullying, because of Theo's announcement. What ensues is an incredible learning experience for every single character, infused with a ton of humor. Apparently, Richard Kramer knows how to make his characters funny, even in their darkest moments. 

I had fun with this book. Written on a seemingly heavy topic, the tone is light and witty, though never letting the reader forget what the characters are feeling. Though I've yet to meet a teenager that actually talks in the way Kramer has written Wesley and his friends, I'm also a huge fan of John Green, who writes his teen characters the same way. These Things Happen actually reminded me of the grown-up version of Will Grayson, Will Grayson with Wesley as the first Will Grayson and Theo as Tiny. Anyone else? Maybe it's wishful thinking that teens would use language in this manner, but I say if it works, it works! 

I don't think this will be a book for everyone, but if you're in the mood for quirky, definitely give it a try. It's a unique take on a serious story and I really enjoyed the format, the writing, and the characters. I finished the book loving each one, which is impressive for a character-driven reader such as myself.

These Things Happen
Richard Kramer
272 pages
Adult Fiction
Unbridled Books
November 2012
Review copy

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Popping in to tell you what to read next

Between being sick myself and now having a teething boy on my hands, things are a little crazy around here. I just wanted to quickly pop in and tell you what your next read should be:

I hadn't heard anything about this book when I picked it off the shelf at work last month. Admittedly, I was drawn in by the gorgeous cover on the galley (which the publisher kept...hooray!), but from the first sentence, I was absolutely hooked. 

The story of Jepp of Astraveld is one you all need to read. The plot reads like the best of historical fiction and the characters will make you love them (or hate them, as the case may be) after just a few pages. It's a chunkster for sure, but I was so happy it was long -- I truly didn't want it to end. 

I know I didn't give you a whole lot of a description, just trust me on this one.

Off to tend to the whiny, drooling child...

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Week in Review: Mom's turn

Apparently I'm not super woman after all. I thought I could bypass the illness everyone else has been getting, but I guess it's my turn.  Everyone from Elliott and Aaron to several of our friends and their children have had this respiratory issue the past few weeks and it hit me hard on Friday night, right in the middle of date night. I could just feel my energy draining as the night went on. 

Luckily, I have a rock star of a husband who got up early with Elliott and left the house to give mom some recovery time. He returned with more than a few of my favorite things:

That would be split pea soup, hot cocoa, and a mini-cherry pie from Whole Foods. Elliott and I decimated that soup in a matter of a few minutes...SO good. Oh and can't forget the whipped cream. I'm not usually one to love whipped cream from a can, but the stuff from Whole Foods is just delicious. Today is another recovery day, with the boys off to church and me on the couch. There are books to be read, friends!

On the blog this week:


A review of the beautiful book Things Remembered

Fitness Friday: It's cold outside

Friday, November 2, 2012

Fitness Friday: It's getting cold outside

I grew up in Upstate NY, where Spring, Winter, and Fall are all freezing cold most years. I've had snowstorms on my birthday in April and it snows almost every year on Halloween. Having lived there most of my life, one would think I'd be used to the cold and the havock it brings when attempting to exercise, but alas, my lungs never adjusted to cold air. 

I'm one of those people that is outside for 10 minutes in the cold and my lungs start burning. Forget about running, I can barely walk quickly without wheezing and feeling incredibly uncomfortable. Though I now live in Northern Virginia and the temps don't get quite as frigid as New York, it's still cold! 33 degrees this morning, on November 2nd. It's cold. However, since this year marked the start of my serious fitness journey, I'm not about to give up exercising from November-February, just because I can't necessarily run outside, I can't afford a gym membership, and I hate workout videos. What's a girl to do?

Pinterest to the rescue, once again. For the past couple of weeks, I've been slowly working a few workouts I've found on Pinterest into my routines, as well as taking long walks/jogs with Elliott and getting out to run myself once or twice a week. When it becomes too cold for running outside, I plan to do one of these each day. It's not going to be quite the workout that running would, but it's something to get my heart pumping, keep my strength up, and just keep me moving through those dark days of winter. 

Here are few that I've been doing and that definitely get my heart rate up:

Disclaimer: I'm not a fitness instructor, nor am I certified in any health field. I did not create these workouts, nor am I endorsing that they are the best path for YOU. I don't know if the exercises are working the proper muscle groups in the correct order or if they're doing more harm than good. 

What are some of the exercises you do during the winter to stay in shape?