Reading, Top Ten Tuesday, Young Adult

Top Ten Tuesday: Best and Worst Book Worlds

Today’s Top  Ten Tuesday theme was one I couldn’t resist: book worlds where you’re glad not to live. But I’m going to tweak it a little and do five places where I’m glad I don’t live and five book places I would like to live. If you think this topic is as much fun as I do, check out The Broke and the Bookish blog. The ladies there host this meme every week and have lots of great bloggers chime in on all kinds of book topics.

So here goes!

Worst Book Worlds: Or, Books Worlds Where I I Don’t Want To Live

1. The United States featured in The Hunger Games. Yikes.

2. Charles Dickens’s London. The coal, the fog, the rain, the damp, the poor….eesh. When I read The Old Curiosity Shop, I cheered internally when Nell and her grandfather leave London to go to the country. And then there’s the danger of being put in the Debtor’s Prison, like Little Dorrit’s family. Talk about hopelessness.

3. The United States in Matched. I still haven’t read the third book in The Matched trilogy by Ally Condie. If you’re unfamiliar with it, basically everything is decided for your in life by The Society: your spouse, your vocation, your house, your food, everything. And that’s really all you need to know about why I don’t want to live there.

4. Life After Life‘s setting: a world where you can keep on living alternate versions of your life. This book gave me waking nightmares. Very vividly written and thought provoking, but not a read I enjoyed!

5. C.S. Lewis’s Space Trilogy worlds. Basically, anything that includes science fiction is somewhere I do not want to be. I like normal life. The ability to travel to other planets is nice to read about, but man am I grateful not to live there when I’m done reading!

Best Book Worlds: Or, Books Worlds Where I Want To Live

1. C.S. Lewis’s Narnia. For those of you who have only read The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe, you won’t get this one. Or maybe you will, if you can get past the beginning when it’s a perpetually frozen iceland. Like Bree in The Horse and His Boy, if I lived anywhere else but Narnia in the world of these books (say, Calormene), I would be high tailing it to Narnia. I want to see a Dryad, talk to a Beaver, dance with a Faun, all of it.

2. Tolkein’s Rivendell. Or anywhere but Mordor. Actually, I’d probably just like to visit Rohan, but not live there. I’m not exactly keen on horses.

3. Green Gables. Sigh. Green Gables.jpg

4. Guernsey from The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society. After the German occupation, of course. Living on an island that’s not too far from the mainland sounds great.

5. Hogwarts. But just for a visit. =)

 

Saturday Cooking

Saturday Cooking, Anti-Winter Edition

You guys. Savory, warm, cheesy, comforting winter food is great. It’s lovely. But it has its limit. I can eat potato soup one night, then some kind of macaroni and cheese or pasta bake the next, and then I’m like, “Thanks, I’ll just have a lettuce leaf.” Chili at this point in winter is my least favorite meal. Please, no more chili!

Or maybe I’m just eating the wrong kind of winter food? And maybe winter food aversions have something to do with being 15 weeks pregnant? But honestly, I feel like this every January. I start buying completely out of season strawberries and blueberries, I put avocados on everything, I think I’ll maybe make a few smoothies and then realize, no, I’m too cold.

So bear this weirdness in mind while I share a few recipes I’ve been making this week.

First, I made up a huge batch of homemade granola today to go with the strawberries and blueberries I splurged on at the store. Yum! I could eat granola and berries every day for weeks.

Here’s my granola recipe, which I got from one of my awesome sisters-in-law. I have no idea where she found it, but I like it because it’s extremely easy and I always have the ingredients on hand.

Easiest Ever Granola:

Ingredients:

  1. 8 cups of rolled oats, quick oats, or a mix
  2. 1.5 cup brown sugar or honey or a mix of both (I highly recommend honey!)
  3. 4 teaspoons of vanilla
  4. 4 Tablespoons of oil of your choice (I’d stick with one that doesn’t have a distinct taste)
  5. 1 teaspoon of sea salt
  6. 1 teaspoon of cinnamon (optional)
  7. 1/2 cup of water

Pour all the oats in a large bowl. Mix together the rest of the ingredients in a microwaveable glass container and melt together. Stir well and pour over oats. Mix all of that ooey-oatmealy goodness together. Spray some kind of baking pan with edges (I use a roasting pan) with nonstick spray and pour the granola mixture into the pan, spreading it out evenly. Bake at 250 for 2 hours, stirring every 30-45 minutes. You can add all kinds of stuff to make this granola healthier, like flax seed, nuts, sunflower seeds, dried fruit, etc., but don’t add any dried fruit until the last 30 minutes, or maybe just mix it in with the cooked granola at the end. I’ve done raisins before but they were hard as rocks when I got the granola out of the oven.

Avocado Chicken Enchiladas

Next up on my anti-winter eating kick is this Avocado Enchilada Recipe. I found it on Pinterest and can’t wait to try it. I’m not sure my 4-year-old daughter will enjoy it, but my 2-year-old son will eat piles of avocado.

We’re also going to be having a Greek salad that involves Kalamata olives, feta cheese, romaine hearts, and this awesome Newman’s Own Olive Oil and Vinegar recipe. Really, I shouldn’t be buying a salad dressing that would be a cinch to make at home, but this bottled stuff is so good. I put it on sandwiches, too (mostly because I hate mayo).

I am really going to make smoothies, even though the highs are in the 30s. I keep smoothies simple with strawberries or blueberries, frozen bananas, yogurt, and milk or OJ. I hardly ever toss in the spinach that I tell myself I’m going to put in there. I know you can’t taste it, I know it would be an easy way to get my veggies in…sigh. Maybe I’ll make it happen this week.

My go-to no-meat meal for the last year has been this Lime and Cilantro Rice with Spicy Citrus Black Beans from Annie’s Eats. I combine these in a Chipotle style rice bowl and top it with cheese, sour cream, salsa, guacamole, and lettuce. My only suggestion is to double the sauce for the rice, and add a bit more salt than the recipe calls for.

And I’m considering sending my wonderful husband out to the grill tomorrow night to cook up some steak. He’ll probably brave the cold for steak, right?

So what about you? Are you still cooking comfort food, are you on a healthy eating kick, or are you sticking to your normal meals plans year round? Share your inspiration!

 

 

 

Children's Books, Everyday Life

Warm Reads for Winter Days

I heard on the radio yesterday that no one in the U.S. outside of cities in the northern mid-west (Chicago, Minneapolis, etc.) is allowed to complain about cold weather right now. Basically, if you don’t live in Chicago, you’re not that cold.

                    Dear Radio Station: I live in the deep South, and I’m cold.

I also heard it’s colder in most of the U.S. than it is in Alaska right now. Well. The Alaskans definitely got the better end of that climate change.

Today where I am, the temps aren’t expected to get above freezing; I am so thankful I have nowhere to go. I’m also thankful we did our library run earlier in the week and are well stocked with books to keep us entertained through the cold weekend.

Fritz and the Beautiful HorsesThere’s really nothing better to read on a cold winter’s day than a book by Jan Brett. Her Scandinavian-inspired illustrations contain furry animals and rosy-cheeked children and beautiful, warm-looking boots and skirts and mittens…ah. It’s almost enough to make you think you’re warm yourself. Our favorite right now is Fritz and The Beautiful HorsesWe read it for the first time this morning, and then both children asked, “Can we read it again?!” Fritz is a furry, short-legged pony who longs to be ridden by children. However, he has the misfortune of living near a walled city that is very proud of its beautiful horses, and only allows the most beautiful to come in. Fritz gets his chance to prove himself worthy, though, and shows the citizens that beauty isn’t the only thing of value in a horse. After the second reading, Isaac, aged 2, said longingly, “I would ride Fritz every day,” and Ella said, “Me, too!”

Cowboy Small (Lois Lenski Books)Another book we’re enjoying this week is Cowboy Small by Lois Lenski. Isaac has been asking over and over in the last week, “When I grow up, can I be a cowboy and ride a horse?” Any time your little boy asks to be a cowboy or pilot or sailor or fireman, it’s time to check out the Mr. Small books. Lenski takes readers through a day or two in the life of Mr. Small doing his work with her trademark illustrations and a few interesting details about whatever profession Mr. Small is working at in that particular book. The airplane one is a bit long for our attention span, and a little dated, but the other books are just right for a curious two-year-old boy. 

RoxaboxenFinally, we just discovered RoxaboxenYes, we live under a rock. This book is on everyone’s favorite children’s book list, but for some reason, I thought it was a poem book (which my kids are not fans of) so I never picked it up. But last week I said, “Everyone should like poetry!” and checked it out. As you probably already know, it is not at all a poetry book. Roxaboxen is an imaginative book about a group of children who make a barren hill across the street into their very own town. Roxaboxen brought me back to the days when my sister and I used to cut through the wisteria vines and thorns in our backyard woods to make “rooms” in our fort. Every kid needs a fort, even if it’s just in a closet of your city apartment. So if you’re looking for a great poetry book for kids, I can’t help you. But do read Roxaboxen, because it’s delightful. And make sure to check out other books illustrated by Barbara Cooney.

Kirsten's Surprise: A Christmas Story (American Girls: Kirsten, #3)For longer chapter books, we love to re-read chapters of Little House in the Big Woods and Little House on the Prairie to make us appreciate our modern comforts and imagine what it’s like to be really cold. We haven’t made it to The Long Winter because I’m just not sure Ella can handle the…longness. I’m thinking Ella and I will read a Kirsten book from the American Girl series this afternoon for school. There’s more Scandinavian warmth to be had in Kirsten Learns A Lesson and Kirsten’s Surprise. I don’t know if I’m really on a Scandinavian kick, but I sure would like some lingonberry jam on crepes right now…

After you read some books with your kids, you need some music to get them (and you) dancing around and burning off energy/calories. We’ve been listening to the Frozen soundtrack in every waking moment for a week now. I took Ella (4) to see the movie on Sunday, and she had the whole soundtrack memorized by Wednesday. It was her first movie theater experience. We had to do a good bit of processing all the drama in the first few hours after the movie, because Ella is a very perceptive and emotionally sensitive 4-year-old (in the best possible way!), but then she decided she was a fan. Can I just say how thankful I am for a Disney Princess movie that features warm clothing? Now I can say, “Anna wears long sleeves!” when I’m trying to convince Ella to put a shirt on under her dress-up dresses. She even wears tights and boots! Awesome.

So that’s how we’re surviving the ice age/weekend. I hope you’re staying warm and reading lots of good books, too!

 

Everyday Life

The {UN}Word of 2014: Progress Not Perfection Part 2

Unperfect is not a word. But it’s the 2014 un-word that I claim. And not because it seems like it should be a really easy un-word to live up to. That’s not why I choose it. Here’s why….

progress

If you read my post on how I’m feeling about New Year’s resolutions, you know my motto for this year is “Progress, Not Perfection.” Twenty days into 2014, that’s still the goal in my mind.

But…

There’s another goal that fights with the progress side of things, one I must have been born with. It’s called “The desire to appear perfect.” And its motto is “Only noticeable progress, thankyouverymuch.” Yes, I have a performance issue. I don’t like to display my struggles, and it gets me uptight when I realize that I don’t have a choice on whether to show them or not. Because let’s be honest, the fact that I struggle to stay on top of dishes, to organize anything, to be a good friend, or to maintain some semblance of a blog is clearly on display. And the display bothers me. And then to admit that I’m working on some area of life, without having any noticeable progress to show for it? Well, that really bites.

But I’m not supposed to care about that in 2014, right? I’m supposed to only care about making progress, not achieving perfection, or even appearing to achieve perfection. Still, I’m simply not convincing the performance driven person inside of me of any of this. “Progress, schmogress,” she says. “No one would even know you spent any time cleaning this house right now. No one would know you mopped when you can’t see through the dust swirling every time your kids jump on the couch. No one cares that you actually washed, folded, and put away three loads of laundry when you can’t see the carpet through the wooden train tracks and puzzle pieces. No one would know you made three square meals…okay, judging by the dishes still filling the counter space, yes, one would know. No one knows you read 5 books this week because you haven’t blogged about it on your book blog and why would you even tell people that, you lazy woman? And people won’t even notice the progress you’ve made with your two-year-old’s attitude towards his peers when they see your daughter’s glare when she doesn’t like what you say.” I pay attention to that voice, for some reason.

Listen, I know I’ll never arrive. But can’t I just look like I have? That’s what’s going through my head these days. I want progress, and I want it to be noticeable. I listen to that voice when I should slap it in the mouth.

I’m always fighting this inner battle. I’ve spent a lot of my life giving in to the performance driven me, and –news flash to me –it’s never gotten me anything but a fleeting self-pat on the back and a large load of long-lasting guilt.  You and I, individuals who are doing our best to accomplish truly worthwhile things, need to daily refuse to listen to that voice that tells us nothing we do actually measures up to progress. We need to keep celebrating positive motion and encourage ourselves when we fail instead of beating ourselves up. Because our goals are important, and they’re more important than what our efforts look like. Goals to parent, to train, to nurture, to befriend, to love, to study, to create, to serve…these goals are a vital part of living a meaningful life, and my “progress, not perfection” mantra is not a bless-your-little-heart excuse for shrugging off failures. Because really, when it comes to these kinds of goals, failure is not an option. No, progress over perfection is supposed to be a way to realistically take steps towards goals I know are so big, I’ll never fully achieve them. I know that, and I have to admit that to everyone else. I’m never going to have it all together. But I’m going to have to set aside my desire to make myself appear to be Really Ridiculously Competent In Everything if I’m going to make real progress in my motives for success.

If you’re 20 days into your new year and feeling the pressure inside your head to perform, already, to stop being wishy-washy and get it all together, well, I’m right there with you. I’m claiming Unperfect as my un-word because I know that means way more than just flawed. What it means to me is embracing unperfect as beautiful. Unperfect is reality, unperfect is in every beautiful thing I’ve ever seen because nothing in this world is perfect. I’m always going to be a work in progress, and my work is always going to be in progress, so it’s always going to be unperfect and that has to be okay. Is it killing me not to write “imperfect?” Yes, but that’s just the point. This un-word, unperfect, it slaps me in the face and tells me to put away that red pen, quit criticizing and praising and drawing lines, and go make some progress on things that matter.

So what are you letting go of now that 2014 has begun? What’s your un-word? It’s a pretty clarifying way to think of how you can really change something in your attitude. I hope you claim an un-word for yourself. Read all about other bloggers un-words here and share your own!

Reviews

Lost in D.E. Stevenson

Thanks to the blog The Captive Reader, I have been completely lost in the works of D. E. Stevenson (Dorothy Emily Stevenson, 1892-1973) since Christmas. She is the perfect writer to get me through the winter months, with her light wit, cleverly rendered characters, and cozy English village settings. Stevenson clearly idolized Jane Austen–she refers to Austen in every book I’ve read so far– and took notes from Austen on how to develop unique yet familiar characters. Her works are similar to some of her contemporary British authors (Barbara Pym, Dodie Smith, P.G. Wodehouse, etc.), but they avoid the dismal endings so often chosen by mid-century authors. Stevenson is a fan of tying up books neatly at the end, which I appreciate even as I am aware that tidy endings are not considered very artistic in this day and age. Why not? I have no idea. Books don’t have to be open-ended like “real life” to be art, people. But I digress.

Mrs Tim Of The Regiment (Bloomsbury Group)Stevenson published over 40 novels between 1923-1970. Her works are becoming popular again thanks to Persephone Books‘ re-publishing three of her works since 2009. I started with Mrs. Tim of the Regiment, which is written as the diary of a woman married to a soldier in 1935. Hester (Mrs. Tim) is a very likable character, the kind you’d think would make a great friend, and the characters around her are all amusing. The book isn’t very plot driven, but more about character development. It was written at the request of one of Stevenson’s friend’s whose daughters was going to marry a British soldier. Stevenson stated that she wrote it as an autobiographical piece mixed with fictional characters and plot, so it is an interesting piece of social study at the same time that it is a light novel. I found the last third of it to be rather slow, but enjoyed it over all.

Miss Buncle's Book Miss Buncle’s Book is my favorite so far. It follows the tale of a poor spinster in a small English country village who turns to writing to make ends meet. The only problem is she has no imagination, so she writes a novel based entirely on the people of her own neighborhood. Miss Buncle’s book wreaks havoc on the peace of her neighbors when the village begins to read it. I loved this book! It is clever and flows well from beginning to end. The characters are delightful and there is a more sustainable plot in it than any of the other Stevenson books I’ve read thus far. While Mrs. Tim of the Regiment is a book I’d definitely recommend, if you’re only going to read one Stevenson, make it Miss Buncle’s Book. I think the sequel, Miss Buncle Married, is also worth a read if you enjoy Miss Buncle’s Book, though it is not as well crafted as the first book in the series.

I’m now in the midst of Mrs. Tim Gets A Job, which is enjoyable because it’s about Mrs. Tim, but it’s my least favorite Stevenson so far. However, saying it’s my least favorite Stevenson still puts it miles ahead of most of the current books I’ve picked up in the last six months. If you like “vintage” novels and need a good winter read, several of Stevenson’s books are available on Kindle or Nook. And of course, there’s always the library. Sadly, my local library doesn’t have many of Stevenson’s books and I ended up buying two of them (gasp!) on my Nook.

What have you been reading to keep sane through these cold winter months?

Everyday Life, Reading

The End of an Era: My Barnes and Noble Is Gone

My Barnes and Noble closed two weeks ago. I’m a little heartbroken. No, I didn’t really own it. But I’ve lived in the suburbs of a the same small, American capital city my whole life. I’m not even 30, and I feel like I already make those old-timer comments like, “I remember when there was nothing here but trees, and now there’s a Walmart!” This January, many of us in our suburb are making sad comments like “Remember when there was a Barnes and Noble here last week where we used to mix and mingle and be?” Or “remember when we were in high school and college and we would go and browse for an hour in that Blockbuster store that closed down last month?” For better or worse, it’s the end of an entertainment era in my hometown. I spent many a pleasant evenings in that Barnes and Noble, surrounded by books and coffee and my family or my friends, and later my boyfriend who was then later my husband, and most recently my children who loved that store. There are lots of memories there. Rather, there were lots of memories there.

It’s all very reminiscent of that movie I refer to way too often, You’ve Got Mail, when Meg Ryan writes to Tom Hanks about how her bookstore is closing. She writes that some foolish person will say it’s a tribute to our city the way things are always changing, but really, she’s devastated because tomorrow her store is going to turn into something really depressing, like a Baby Gap. Except for “my” store is turning into something even more depressing, a huge Nordstrom Rack. I went by a few days after they closed to take my daughter on a date to the Yoghut next door. It was surreal to see those construction workers taking down all the bookshelves and cutting wood to make tables for clothing displays. Ugh.

But I’m not sentimental.

Really, I don’t have any room to be sentimental. It’s my fault as much as anyone’s that bookstores are closing across the country. I’m the one going in and browsing, taking notes on what to check out from the library or download onto my Nook. I hardly ever bought anything bigger than a tall Mocha Latte in my favorite store of all time. I’m the one who has mounds of books that all came from used library book sales. I’m the one jumping on the free e-book deals of the day. I’m the one driving bookstores into the ground.

Good thing I’m not sentimental.

The one good thing that can come from all of this is there really needs to be a sequel to You’ve Got Mail. Now is the time for Meg Ryan’s character to open a quaint, Dickensian used bookstore and watch the conflict evolve as Tom Hanks’s character’s big box book store becomes obsolete in the wake of electronic book sales. I don’t know how it all should end, but I’m sure it’s great rom-com material.

I guess what it boils down to is a loss of atmosphere. The convenience of going right to a search bar and getting the exact book I want delivered wirelessly in seconds is a nice feature of the modern book era. But I want to browse and flip through real pages, I want to pick up movies and flip them over to read the synopsis on the back. I want to be surrounded by the possibilities.

When’s the next library book sale?

Children's Books

Kids’ Books We’re Loving Right Now

On our last library trip before Christmas, we found some real gems that the we have reread and reread and renewed and renewed. The kids do not want to give these back!

Take Care, Good KnightTwo-year-old Isaac is a sucker for a book with a friendly knight and a dragon or two. Take Care, Good Knight by Shelley Moore Thomas has three dragons and a knight and some cats. Now that’s a great book. It is a funny tale of three little dragons who try to take care of The Old Wizard’s many cats, but despite their best intentions, get it all wrong until The Good Knight takes command. It’s an amusing story for children and a great introduction to a lesson on asking for help when you don’t know what to do instead of trying to figure it all out on your own. We’re not really at the level of independence where this is a problem–most days, I get more frustrated with the other end of that dilemma. I say things like, “Why don’t you look for it before asking me where it is?” or “you know you can buckle your own seat belt!” But maybe someday, too much independence will be an issue. Maybe. Either way, we love Take Care, Good Knight. This is the first book we’ve read in the Good Knight series.

A Home for BirdWe’re also enjoying A Home For Bird by Philip C. Stead. In this book, a friendly frog finds a forlorn bird that has fallen out of its cuckoo clock. He befriends the bird, not realizing it’s an inanimate object, and spends many days trying to find it a home. The illustrations in this book are soft and inviting, while being very bright and attention getting at the same time. Both children and parents will enjoy it. The poor frog is kind of pitiful, wanting so badly to make his bird friend happy, but you can’t help but love his sweetness.  Philip C. Stead was a popular library pick with us last trip! We’re also reading lots of Bear Has A Story to Tell and Hello, My Name is Ruby.

And of course, we had about two or three Fancy Nancy books in our library bag. The new fave is Fancy Nancy Heart to Heart. I know there are plenty of Valentine’s Day haters, but at our house once Christmas is over, it’s never too early to start enjoying lots of pink and red and heart-shaped doilies. =)

What books are your kids loving now?