Saturday, November 13, 2010

That's a Wrap!

The gift-giving season will soon be upon us. I'm already doing quite well on my shopping, thank you very much! I always like to tackle a crafty project to give as gifts and I have some fun ideas on that this year. Hopefully, things will go as planned and I can share that as well.

But for now, I'll share a gift wrap idea that my friend Margaret gave me:

Reuse your child's artwork!

I love this idea for so many reasons:

No guilt about throwing away the multitude of paintings and drawings that we don't have room to keep.*

By not purchasing wrapping paper, I'll save money.

It's an opportunity to reduce and reuse.

It adds a personal touch to a gift.

And, it's a special way to showcase your little artist's work. He or she will be thanked for the present and complimented on its one-of-a-kind wrapping!


*Of course I'll keep the really special ones. :) I've also been religiously photographing the art creations J brings home from preschool. At the end of the school year, I'll create a Shutterfly book of them as a keepsake.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Oops: A Follow-Up to Babywearing Pride

I have to share this as a follow-up to my post earlier this week on babywearing.

I was wearing N at the park yesterday while J and I were gathering acorns. I had noticed an older lady (with granddaughter) looking our way a few times. My immediate thought was that she was staring at N in my Gorgeous Baby pouch sling and passing judgement.

This had happened to me before. When N was just a few weeks old, J and I were out for a much-needed walk with N in the mei-tai when a nosy neighbor stopped me and lectured me on how she had seen "such bad things about those on the news". I politely responded that everything was fine and that I felt confident wearing her and that she was happy.

The lady stepped closer, peered in at N and continued to stare until she saw N make a little twitch. To which she replied, "Oh good, she is breathing." To which I replied, "Come on, J, let's get on with our walk."

So, yesterday afternoon, on the way to her car, I was not surprised when the staring lady approached us and said, "Be careful with those..."

My babywearing-defense radar went crazy and I opened my mouth to kindly but firmly refuse her unsolicited 'advice' when she continued, "We took some home the other day and they had worms and grubs inside."

Oh. She meant be careful with the acorns.


Now I refer to her as the lady-who-kept-me-from-bringing-grubs (I'm not even exactly sure what these are, but what a hideous word!) into-my-house instead of the staring-lady-who-doesn't-get-babywearing-and-isn't-afraid-to-say-so.

That nickname, however, still applies to the neighbor.

Happy Babywearing!

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

is there a better time of year than fall?

No, there is not! :) And here's why I think so:

The richness of the colors...

The crispness in the air combined with the warmth of the sun...

The delicious smells and tastes...

This little guy's infectious anticipation and enjoyment of our annual trip to Lynd's Fruit Farm for apple picking and a hayride through the orchards

And, best of all, the family time that we are so anxious to carve out and cherish so much...

We were thrilled to have my parents along with us on our Fall Fun Day last weekend. It makes our hearts swell to see how immensely they relish in the company of J and N. I feel guilty for not capturing any of their special moments on camera that day, but am thankful that my mom was able to snap a rare family photo of the four of us.

I hope you are enjoying this lovely time of year as much as we are.

Monday, October 11, 2010

7 months and counting...

I use slings and carriers with my baby because...

I love having her safe in my arms and near my heart.

I love that she is content here.

I love seeing my husband get that extra cuddle time.

I love that she has an exciting view of the world around her.

{Post inspired by Stephanie's call to action. Visit Adventures in Babywearing.}

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Many Moons

I have a special picture book review today. It might take some work to find it at your local library or bookstore because it was written many moons ago, in 1943, but it'd be worth it:

Many Moons by James Thurber, illustrated by Louis Slobodkin

I picked this book up for two reasons:

1) It's written by James Thurber, a humorist who grew up in and began his writing career in Columbus, OH. I would have loved to have met him. He traveled in the same circles as Dorothy Parker and E.B. White, had a career at The New Yorker... Oh, I just love it.

2) It won the Caldecott medal in 1944. My favorite book award is the Caldecott. I love picture book art. The illustrations are often what draw me to a book in the first place.

So, I curled up in bed last night and read this fantastic fantasy-fairy-tale of a picture book after the kids were in bed. I savored every word. I honestly felt myself smiling as I read it. It's light and fun, but also sweet and a little sentimental. It has a nice message about the innocence and creativity of children. You could even say that it's sort of a cautionary tale about over-thinking things and the difficulty in making a choice when you're presented with too many options.

As I read this tale (about a young princess who has taken ill and tells her father that the only way she'll get better is by having the moon), I once again had the feeling that kids' books today lack description. They lack language--beautiful language.

Without being wordy, Thurber incorporates lovely detail into this story.

For example, Princess Lenore is 10 years old, going on 11. A minor detail, yes, but what kid wouldn't pick up on that and identify with it? My 3 year-old is offended if we don't remember to tack on the "and a half" when we tell someone his age. And, his birthday is three months away, but he is already in a birthday-excitement-frenzy.

There's just a little extra something that "10 years old, going on 11" adds to the tone of the story as well as to the character.

I also enjoyed the fact that Thurber introduces each new character. They don't just pop in; they are introduced and have a backstory.

Many Moons is definitely an "escape" read. Each little detail, paired with the narrative and the illustrations sweep readers in. So refreshing! Check it out.

And, for those of you who are local, have you ever visited the Thurber House? I'm disappointed that I haven't yet, but I'll get there.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010


For my birthday last year my parents got me the coolest gift. A mosaic photo frame from It's hard to believe almost a year has gone by and I've not posted about it.

MOO is a site that takes your photos/designs and prints them on a variety of products, one of which are the mini-cards. These cards are approximately 1 inch by 3 inches and are the perfect size for storing in your bag (inside the handy MOO holder) and whipping out to share when asked for recent pics of your kids. But, they also fit into a mosaic-style picture frame to make really cool, interchangeable wall art.

Right now I'm having trouble deciding which of my cards I want displayed, so I've been playing around with different themes and layouts... I could go with calming scenery stills:

...or showcase the many {silly} faces of my kiddos:

I also think it could be fun to scan in J's artwork and create a mini-card mosaic of his masterpieces! Like these watercolors he painted this week:

I really like that idea, actually! Arranging the tiles would seem to him like putting together a puzzle, only there is no "right way" to do it, so the process would be completely open-ended and creative. Then, there's the added bonus that the images he's manipulating are his own creations. And, once he's older he would have ownership over swapping new images in and out of the frame--creating sort of a fluid, fluctuating portfolio!

What do you think? How would you MOO?

{And, whether you're new to MOO or not, check out their blog for inspiration!}

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Good Grief

I've found myself missing my mother-in-law a lot lately. All of us who have experienced loss know that it is so hard to wrap your mind around the fact that someone is gone. For good.

If I see a purpleish-bronze PT Cruiser I automatically look at the driver to see if it's her. It's strange how ingrained these things are. Strange and very jarring at times, but I think it's also probably a comfort to us. It's comforting to know that we can remember so easily, or in this case, forget so easily that someone is no longer with us.

Here are a few things that always make me remember her. (And I hope this does not read like a eulogy.)

Books. Fran loved to read, and I think my career as a librarian gave me an automatic "in" with her. We read some of the same books, and she usually liked my recommendations. I remember when she borrowed my childhood copy of The Secret Garden, she couldn't believe she had never read it before. She liked to read outside her comfort zone; she'd go from Stephen King to historical fiction, from Harry Potter to some inspirational book about Catholicism. She also loved David Sedaris and went to see him speak the same night C and I went. It was a little awkward to laugh at his readings, knowing that my MIL was a few rows back!

Coffee. C and I were lamenting our home-brewed coffee recently, as it's just as savory as the cups we've been splurging on at some of our local coffee shops. C's mom drank coffee practically all day. She always got her pot ready the night before and set the timer. C remembers weekends as a kid when he'd go out to the kitchen, pour his mom a cup, and bring it in to her in bed. Even way back then he was a gentleman!

The Sunday Ads. What goes better with coffee than lounging on the sofa on Sunday morning, flipping through the ads? We used to go to Fran's a lot on Sundays for church and then breakfast and then camp out in the living room leafing through the newspaper.

This ring. Isn't it kind of neat? The family recently went through some of her jewelry, selecting pieces that were significant to us. I chose this. It's kind of fun to jiggle it around and try to line the little beads up in different configurations. If you sometimes get restless or fidgety like I do, then this is the right jewelry! I know that she bought it at one of the summer art shows, which she loved to shop.

And the summer art shows remind me one of the more "memorable" Christmas gifts she gave me. A leather fanny pack. It was beautifully made and probably pretty expensive, but...not my bag. Literally.

But, of course the passage of time can make things seem funnier than they were at the moment. Although I was raised in a strict it's-the-thought-that-counts environment, at that moment I was thinking, "has she ever seen me wear a bag like this? Does she still not know me after all these years?" Now, it's a funny story that gets an eye-roll and a smile before everyone starts up telling of their own worst gifts.

Maybe like worst gifts, we endure grief because we're going to come out better on the other side. With greater compassion. More understanding. More ready to laugh things off. And more hopeful that we'll remember it all.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

For the Love of Pete! {the Cat}

Have those of you with young kids seen the picture book Pete the Cat by Eric Litwin? Pete the Cat loves his white shoes, and we love Pete the Cat!

If you have a toddler, preschooler, or young elementary student, you'll want to check it out. Jazzy rhythm, cool illustrations, and a feel-good moral. Plus, there's this really cool YouTube video of the author doing a live reading. We are having fun watching it at our house.

I hope to be posting about some other exciting new picture books that have been getting repeated readings over here. Blogging has taken a backseat to the back-to-school frenzy!

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Who's Schooling Who?

We have a big black lab named Maggie and although she's a pretty good dog, "heeling" is not her strong suit. In fact, it's not one of her suits at all. She simply doesn't do it. Whether her leash is extended the full 16 feet or if it's reeled in nice and tight, she is barreling forward with not an ounce of concern for our shoulder joints. Typically on our walks we get that look from people, the one that suggests, "who is walking who?".

Well, right now we are in a school frenzy. C is gearing up for his 7th year of teaching and we are also researching, touring, and talking up preschool for J. It seems like every misbehavior comes with a school-related warning or reprimand:

"You need to wash your hands so that when you are at school you won't spread your germs."
"Let's practice listening because when you are at school you'll have to listen to your teacher."
"Teachers don't let their students come to school without shoes."

And some recent events here have caused me to wonder, "Who's schooling who?" Here are a few examples that have stopped me up short:

  • With a dad who's a teacher, J has picked up on the phrase "my students". "Mama, at school, what do you think my students will want to play?" "Don't worry, I will share things with my students." Oh, what are his poor classmates in for?
  • Prepping J for a preschool tour this morning I said, "We are going to look around at the preschool and see what kind of things they have there. You'll have to also be quiet and patient for a little bit while Mommy and Daddy talk to the teacher." He dryly replied, "You will need to be quiet and patient too because I might have to talk to the teacher."
  • During the visit, C and I nodded as the director discussed the behavior, mindsets, and learning styles of 3 year-olds as it all sounded very familiar and we were reassured in our thinking that J is right on target and a very bright boy. We were no sooner back home and in the door, though, and he was acting up, giving me sarcastic answers, and while in a self-imposed time-out, peed and pooped his pants.
  • Lastly, like the naive parents we are, we spontaneously decided to reward J's patience during the visit with a trip to Tim Horton's for some tim bits. Of course after he finished his two, he asked for more. C told him that was all we had and that two was a lot. J's face darkened and he said, "No, it's not. Two is two. Next time I want five."
As one of my coworkers would say, "What a trip!"

Speaking of trips, on our recent trip to Cincinnati, J appointed himself our navigator and frequently tried to grab maps out of our hands because he "knew the way". He'd also ask us questions about the animals and fish we saw at the zoo or the aquarium. We'd answer as best we could and he would promptly disagree with us and then impart his own knowledge on us.

No matter my opinions on Reggio Emilia philosophy, the Montessori Way, development-based or academic-based preschools, I think C and I are in for some schooling the J Way.

Saturday, July 31, 2010


The winner of The Elephant Keeper is... Emily H.

Thanks to those who entered. You should all go get a copy from your library. If you need more insight into the story to sell you on it, here is an essay from the author on his inspiration behind the novel.

In His Own Words
Christopher Nicholson, author of

Exactly where The Elephant Keeper spilled from isn’t easy to say, but its origins seem to lay a long way back. If it is, to some extent, a celebration of the English countryside, it must be significant that I was brought up right on the edges of London; that, if I walked up a nearby hill, I could look in one direction over the vast expanse of the city, dark and, in those days, still subject to dense smog, while the other direction offered a view of unbroken green breached only by the spire of a distant church. The novel also emerges from a fascination with the exotic, and as a little boy I used to fantasize about zoo animals roaming the English countryside. In my bedroom I had a long procession of carved elephants, and downstairs, on the hall chest, lay a curving ivory tusk, half a meter long, fashioned into a paper-knife and engraved with the Nicholson coat of arms. I still have this grotesque object.

In 1984 I visited Nepal to walk round the Annapurna mountain bloc, and afterwards traveled to the Chitwan National Park, where I rode on an elephant for the first time. It was during this period that I made a series of radio documentaries for the BBC on the relationship between humans and animals; this work helped develop my thoughts on the differences between human and animal language. About the same time, I happened to visit the stately home of Longleat, in south-west England, where a safari park had been started, and I remember how excited I was at the sight of giraffes grazing in the park, which was landscaped in the mid 18th century. They looked perfectly matched to their surroundings. Although there were no elephants at Longleat, it was easy to imagine that there might have been; and maybe this thought eventually gave rise to that part of The Elephant Keeper set on a country estate.

During my twenties and thirties I began to collect old natural history books, especially those of the 19th and late 18th centuries - which I loved (and still love) for their eccentric illustrations and wonderfully romantic language. When I began to write the novel, one of my aims was simply to enjoy swimming in some 18th century language. The first draft was written in a whirl & probably took no more than six months, but there was a lot of reworking and rewriting. I carried out a good deal of library research into obscure 18th century texts on such matters as veterinary science, horse-breeding, gout, and I visited a number of 18th century estates for descriptive detail. The great country house and deer park at Petworth, in southern England, had some influence on the deer park in the novel. I also spent time with two elephant keepers at a zoo that held, in addition to several female elephants, a very large male. Male elephants are dangerous creatures; this one was not only ill-tempered but half-mad. I learnt a lot about the phenomenon of ‘must’ or ‘musth’, in which male elephants are attacked by a kind of frenzy; I used this in the novel.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

GIVEAWAY: The Elephant Keeper

Once again Harper Collins Publishers are offering my readers a giveaway! This time it's a copy of The Elephant Keeper by Christopher Nicholson.

I wasn't familiar with the title, which is now being released in paperback, but there are a lot of positive comments surrounding it. The highly talented poet Nikki Giovanni said The Elephant Keeper is "the best book I've read in the last twenty years or so". High praise indeed!

The story is set in Bristol, England in 1766 as two baby elephants arrive from India nearly dead. An unassuming stable boy, Tom, finds himself their new caretaker and thus begins a remarkable bond.

My copy is en route and I'm anxious to read it.

To be entered in the giveaway, leave a comment sharing your favorite novel featuring an animal as one of the main characters. Charlotte's Web tops my list, which would also include Seabiscuit and Water for Elephants.

Giveaway is open to U.S. and Canadian residents. A winner will be chosen on Saturday, July 31, 2010.

Tweet this post for a second entry into the giveaway. Copy and paste the message below (and leave me a comment to say you did so):

Book giveaway from @k8ie: The Elephant Keeper

Friday, July 16, 2010

How does your garden grow?

The latest lunchtime routine in our house is for J to have a PB & J picnic in the living room, watching DVR'ed Sesame Street, while I get some "me" time (or, more often, some baby time!).

Today's episode featured Mother Goose's Mary Mary (quite contrary) who planted a flourishing garden surrounding Oscar the Grouch's trash can abode. Aside from drawing smiles and compliments, the garden also provided opportunities for learning: reciting the nursery rhyme as well as discussing what gardens need in order to bloom.

It reminded me of this article I read recently in School Library Journal, discussing a new initiative in schools to incorporate gardening into the curriculum. According to a recent study from the U.K., gardening in schools encourages a healthy, active lifestyle, teaches teamwork and responsibility, and amazingly also "help[s] increase scientific knowledge and understanding, as well as improve[s] literacy and numeracy".

An independent research organization surveyed 1300 teachers and conducted in-depth observations of 10 schools to evaluate the impact of gardening in school. Results of the studies were incredibly positive. Teachers felt that gardening provided an opportunity to give their lessons a hands-on, real-world perspective, which "improved students' readiness to learn, encouraged them to take greater control of their own learning, and helped them become more active in seeking knowledge and solving problems".
I hope this kind of creative curriculum development is a growing (ha ha) trend in American education. Certainly, there is much more discussion these days about meeting kids where they are: experimenting with various teaching methods to aid students who may not learn in a traditional classroom setting. It seems that our public schools are taking cues from the success of more non-traditional forms of education like Reggio Emilia and Montessori.

One teacher interviewed in the study noted that gardening provided a positive contrast from the traditional teaching environment, which can be "frustrating for those who have difficulty focusing or other barriers to learning".

An inspiring book on this topic, and one that my husband uses with his middle schoolers each year, is Seedfolks by Paul Fleischman. It is a simple, yet moving story of how a community garden in a low-income neighborhood changes many individuals' lives. I highly recommend it--actually, all of Fleischman's books are gems. He's one of those authors who write with such beautiful simplicity that his characters and stories remain prominently with
you for a long time.

I hope you are enjoying some great summer reads as well as sampling some tastes of the season from a local garden. If you have thoughts on gardening, especially with children, please share!

Thursday, July 8, 2010

To Kill a Mockingbird Anniversary

To Kill A Mockingbird 50th Anniversary

Thanks to my friends at Harper Perennial for reminding me that Sunday, July 11 is the 50th anniversary of the publication of To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee. They are making a big celebration out of it here, including the publication of a special 50th anniversary edition. I couldn't let this pass by without a mention. What a special and spectacular book. And what about Gregory Peck in the movie? So powerful. I think To Kill a Mockingbird may be the only instance in the history of turning books into movies that the movie actually does the book justice.

I'm not sure how old I was when I first read To Kill a Mockingbird, but I think I was probably in middle school or junior high. I remember it being summertime, so the sweltering Alabama heat in the novel was made all the more tangible for me. Having read this book at a relatively young age, it was a real eye-opener. It was the beginning of reading not just for fun and pleasure, but to become immersed in settings, cultures, and mindsets different from my own.

Recently, I've read a couple of books that reminded me in various ways of To Kill a Mockingbird. First, Marcus Zusak's The Book Thief. The main character Liesel's foster father Hans is a German Atticus Finch. Set during World War II, the novel explores the racial persecution of the Jews in a unique manner--through German characters who are opposed to Hitler. Hans is a sturdy rock for his family to trust in, as their world is turned upside-down by war, fear, and injustice. He is an incredible model of patience and tolerance; the word 'noble' best describes his character. Atticus and Hans will always be memorable characters in my mind because of the tenderness they show their children, which is an often rare virtue bestowed on men in literature.

Two other books are being compared to To Kill a Mockingbird for the way they narrate stories about racial segregation in the South during the 1960s. One is the phenomenal book by Kathryn Stockett, The Help, and the other is Minrose Gwin's The Queen of Palmyra (of which I previously blogged a review).

What are your emotions and memories associated with reading To Kill a Mockingbird? I'd love to read your comments here. What other books do you consider to be as powerful? Are there any current books you think will be in the spotlight 50 years from now?

Saturday, May 22, 2010


Commenter #1 on the previous post has to thank for her new copy of What He's Poised to Do. Cheryl, you're the giveaway winner!

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Letters with Character

So, lately this blog has become primarily a book blog! I don't mind, do you? I think most of my readers are...readers! Anyway, I'm here today with some more book news and another giveaway!

Yesterday, I learned of a new campaign from Harper Perennial that combines two of my very favorite things: letters (or letter-writing) and books! To celebrate publication of Ben Greenman's What He's Poised to Do, Harper Perennial launched Letters With Character: An Interactive Literary Environment. The idea is to write a letter to a fictional book character. Anyone from literature that you'd love to introduce yourself to, or that you have a bone to pick with, or just have some things to say to. Isn't that a cool idea? I know there's a fair share of book characters who really stuck with me after I finished their story and I think this would be a really cool exercise.

So, read on for all the details on how to submit your letter to the project. And, if you leave me a comment telling me what character you'd write to, I'll enter you in a chance to win a copy of Greenman's book. (Big thanks to Amy at Harper Perennial for offering to give both me and one lucky reader a copy of this book of short stories!) Deadline for the giveaway is midnight on Friday, May 21, 2010.

OK, read the full project description below. I'm off to think about who I'd write to (kids lit counts too!) ;-)

Harper Perennial presents


An Interactive Literary Environment

On the occasion of the publication of Ben Greenman’s What He’s Poised to Do (Harper Perennial, On Sale: June 15, 2010) we invite you to celebrate the art of correspondence and WRITE A LETTER TO A FAMOUS FICTIONAL CHARACTER

Before there was any fiction at all, there were letters. For centuries, letters were the only way for people in different locations to communicate with each other. But letters have also become a rich and complex element of the best literary fiction. The acclaimed author Ben Greenman explores how letters function in life, as well as how they function in fiction in his new collection of inter-linked stories What He's Poised to Do.

"Ben Greenman's masterwork of stories inspired by letters offers
fresh insight into the mysteries of intimacy."

--Simon Van Booy.

On the occasion of the book's publication, and in celebration of the art of the letter as a form of fiction, Harper Perennial invites you to participate in its Letters With Character campaign, and to write a letter to a fictional character. The letters can be funny, sad, demanding, fanciful, declarative, or trivial. They can be about a novel, a short story, or a children's book, works both literary or popular. There is only one requirement: They must be written by a real person and must also address an unreal one.

The best, most interesting, strangest, and most moving letters will be collected on the site to see a selection of those that have already been written: a romantic appeal to Captain Ahab, a moving consideration of middle age addressed to a Garcia Marquez heroine, a hilarious challenge to Agatha Christie's famed detective Hercule Poirot.

And feel free to submit your own letters to

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Review: The Queen of Palmyra

The Queen of Palmyra is a dark, beautiful new novel exploring the segregated society of Mississippi in 1963 through the eyes of an eleven year-old girl. With the tensions and emotions of the civil rights movement as a backdrop, author Minrose Gwin situates her main character Florence in the middle of racial conflict, constructing a story that is quite tense and emotional itself.

In the summer of her eleventh year, Florence Forrest is trying to make sense of the battery of contradictory information coming at her from the influential people in her life. Her liberal, educated mother, who drags Florence along on her late night trips to the bootlegger. Her stoic "traditional" father, who has his own secret nighttime activities which her mother opposes. Her kind grandparents who disapprove of their daughter's choice in marrying her high school sweetheart. Zenie, her grandparents' longtime maid. And, the force to be reckoned with: Eva Greene.

After spending "a year on the lam", moving from city to city as her father sought and failed to hold onto jobs, Florence and her parents have now returned to Millwood, Mississippi. Her father secures a job as a burial insurance salesman and her mother creates an at-home business baking cakes. Florence lost touch with her classmates after the move, and is virtually friendless. When not helping her mother with cakes, Florence spends considerable time at her grandparents' house, under the care of Zenie. However, when her mother flees her family, Florence spends most of her time at Zenie's house, in the black part of town called Shake Rag. It is here that Florence meets the dynamic, exotic, and life-changing Eva Greene, Zenie's niece, a college student visiting for the summer.

Together, Zenie and Eva become almost stand-in mothers for Florence, attempting to teach her how the world really is, while also tutoring her lagging academic progress. As she moves uncomfortably between her two worlds, never really fitting in to either one, Florence slowly recognizes the growing conflict surrounding her father's mysterious late night meetings, and the pivotal role that Eva plays in this conflict.

The isolation, anxiety and escapism of the novel come to a violent climax that takes years for Florence to fully understand. Readers won't realize it until later, but the novel opens with a bit of explanation for why she was so slow to realize the truth:

I need you to understand how ordinary it all was. At night the phone would ring after supper. My father would say a few quiet words into the receiver. Sometimes he spoke in numbers. A three he would say. Or a four. When he put down the phone he'd turn and look right at me. There would be a strange pleasure in his look, a gladness. he would ask me to perform this one small task; he'd tell me to go fetch him his box. (1)

And after her adult realization of what her father was and what transpired that summer, Florence has a heartbreaking understanding of why it took her so long:

How he did that thing I couldn't see, didn't see. A willed, necessary blindness. True stories happen, and then you tell them. But what you tell depends on what you see. And what you see depends on what you know. (381)

It's a beautiful description of what Florence experienced, and a very moving portion of the book. Florence's emotional and intellectual selves certainly undergo major shifts during that crucial summer, but huge developments are also made years later as she is standing in front of her English grammar students. This is what makes The Queen of Palmyra a true and unique coming-of-age story, one almost on par with To Kill a Mockingbird.

{This review is based on the uncorrected proof . Quotations and page numbers may differ from the final published version.}

Saturday, May 1, 2010


I'm a mother of two now. And a neglectful blogger, though I can't imagine a better reason than this happy girl!
But, as a matter of fact, this blog is not the only thing suffering my neglect these days. The dog. The dishes. The laundry. The pile of books to read. The husband. And, at any given moment one or the other or both of my kids. (It is so weird to put an 's' at the end of that word!) I've come to the realization that mothering more than one child means that no matter what you are doing, you are pissing off one or the other of your children. And, you can just forget about yourself completely! You know the saying, "You can't please all the people all the time"? Well, it should be revised to, "You can't please all the people...EVER"!!!

It's like a continual game of tug-of-war. Take today:

C heard about a bike ride test-driving some new mountain bikes and he leapt at the chance. So, he's happy. J on the other hand, has recently learned that the word 'weekend' means Daddy is home, which typically equates to a trip to Starbucks for a a chocolate milk and a donut, and spends the morning randomly crying out, "Why Daddy is on the bike path? I want him." He is not happy.

I am not happy because I awoke to a kitchen full of dirty dishes. With a three year-old asking for Captain Crunch (which we don't even have) and a two month-old cradled in my arms, there's no chance that I can clean it up a bit before getting breakfast going. So I unhappily move the dirty dishes around, clear a 6-inch by 6-inch space off the kitchen table and set down a bowl of yogurt for J. Immediately, he drops a glob of yogurt on his shirt. He is not happy. The shirt must come off. Any slight stain or even a drop of water necessitates a wardrobe change for this kid.

Now N is not happy because the first of her many nursing sessions of the day has been interrupted by big brother.

Fast forward an hour and a half. N is still nursing and J has exhausted his capability for independent play. "Where are we going? Want to go somewhere?" C won't be home for another hour and he took the good car.

J's second favorite thing after going places is snacking. So, he launches into whining that he wants "a snack". No hint as to what he wants. He expects me to go into a detailed and complete list of everything we have, which he will briefly consider before saying, "No. Something else."

When none of our slim pickings will do, he remembers that if he pees on the potty he can have three chocolate chips. N protests as I plop her into her swing and herd J into the bathroom.

After that's taken care of, C comes home and offers to make lunch. J's exuberant mood at going potty turns on a dime and he shouts that he doesn't want lunch, he wants "a snack". C and I give him exaggerated and forceful "Shhh's" because N is finally napping.

Napping is another battleground. I savor the hour and a half that J naps. He's much happier after a nap, but is in denial of that fact. So, he begs and fights and stalls and we end up cajoling and making bargains. Today, no amount of cajoling on C's part could get J to sleep. I tried to nap while they bickered about glasses of milk, trips to the potty, and what time J could get up. In the end, C drifted off and J ended up playing in the basement while I changed an explosive poo diaper. Pretty clear here who's happy and who's not, right?

Rather than taking you through the continuing give and take of our afternoon, suffice it to say that it involved car naps, J sporadically singing, "I'm wearing a Pull-Up!", and canceling our dinner plans with friends.

Lest you think I am a horrible, grumpy, ungrateful mother, I assure you that there are moments of pure joy throughout our days. My favorite right now are the times that N is content on my lap looking up at me when she catches sight of J and breaks into a wide, crinkly-nose smile. J's face lights up as he grins right back and says something sweet and cute like, "Mama, look! Her happy face! I think she really likes me!"

It doesn't get much better than that.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Writer Mama News

I'm pleased to share with you some news from Writer Mama, Christina Katz. Remember when she stopped by here during her marathon blog tour last year? Turns out that experience led right into Christina's next project. The 31 blog posts from that tour, and their ensuing questions and comments have been compiled into her newest book, Author Mama. Read about it below, and check out the amazing deal she's offering to early readers during the month of April.

Her first book, Writer Mama, is chock-full of the necessary info and advice on beginning a writing career. Author Mama is sure to be just as informative, helpful and motivating.

I'm anxious to read my copy, especially because the lovely Christina Katz dedicated it to the bloggers who participated in her blog tour... myself included! How cool is that?! Check out what Christina has to say about it:

Have you ever considered writing a book?

Have you ever wondered if you have what it takes to become a published author?

What would the process be like?

What are the steps?

What do publishers do for authors?

How long would it take from start to finish?

Can you make any decent money?

Should you self-publish or traditionally publish?

Now you can find out the answers to these questions and more when you order a copy of my new e-book, Author Mama, right here.

In Author Mama, I share my personal experience walking through the traditional book-deal process and book-writing experience and offer tips along the way, addressing common myths and challenging writers to get ready for the marathon that is writing a book.

During the month of April 2010, be a first reader of Author Mama at the introductory price of $5.99. I will personally deliver your e-book to you. Simply click on the Paypal purchase button and follow the instructions. Upon completion of your payment, Author Mama will be sent to your e-mail inbox.

Author Mama is a 135-page e-book in Beta, or trial, version. The Alpha, or updated, version is coming May 1, 2010. Everyone who purchases the Beta version at the low-low price of $5.99 and fills out and submits a feedback form (sent to you with the e-book) will receive the Alpha version automatically upon publication in May.

I appreciate your willingness to participate in my first e-book launch. I hope you enjoy reading Author Mama! Visit to get your copy.

We Have a Winner

Thanks, all, for participating in the giveaway for It All Changed in an Instant. Commenter #8 (Sasha) was the lucky winner.

Thanks, too, to HarperPerennial for setting me up with a copy of the book to give away. There will be more in the near future, so please hang around!

Friday, March 26, 2010

Book Giveaway!

Sorry, I promised a book giveaway months ago and here it finally is!

It All Changed in an Instant
is a collection of six-word memoirs, penned by authors known and unknown. Some of the more famous who stepped up to this daunting task include: Sarah Silverman, Neil Patrick Harris, Suze Orman, and Tony Hawk. The biographical blurbs are honest, open and run the spectrum of serious to hilarious to poignant and inspiring. All wrapped up into one book, it's an easy, enjoyable read and fun to just flip through and read aloud with someone.

Here are a few that made me laugh:

The miserable childhood leads to royalties. Frank McCourt

Normal person becomes psychotic on Twitter. Robin Slick

She left me for the librarian. Chris Clark

And a few that gave me pause:

Never second guessed my own instincts. Shepard Fairey

I've done it all except hear. Marlee Matlin

With deep roots, branches soar skywards. Jonathan Blum

Only I define who I am. Montel Williams

Former boss: "Writing's your worst skill!" Amy Tan

Leave a comment to be entered in the giveaway. I'll draw a winner in two weeks: Friday, April 9th.

Oh, and you can submit your own six-word memoirs at

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Book Review: The Believers

With biting wit and beautifully intelligent prose, Zoe Heller has created an unforgettable cast of characters in The Believers. The story encompasses the Litvinoff family, headed by Joel and Audrey after forty years of marriage. Joel is a high-profile New York lawyer who suffers a stroke in the courtroom and is left comatose. Audrey handles the shock, as she does everything in life, with a cool composure and a stinging British tongue. Their children: Rosa, Karla and Lenny are each in the midst of their own personal dramas. Rosa, a political activist, is trying to reconcile her leftist views with a newfound desire to embrace her roots in Judaism, much to her mother's horror. Karla, a social worker, and her husband Mike are just beginning the adoption process when she finds herself falling in love with the man who runs the newspaper shop at the hospital. Lenny, the beloved adopted son, doted on by Audrey, is struggling yet again with heroin addiction.

Heller's writing slices open the complicated roles and relationships among the family when a secret about Joel's past is uncovered. Character development is definitely the strong suit here, as readers get to know the Litvinoffs in the context of their familial roles, which contrast, often very sharply, with the personas we see develop in other social contexts throughout the novel. The family dynamic and its many confrontations often give the reader the feeling they are witnessing a train wreck, unable to avert their eyes. As the novel progresses, Heller brings to light the many dichotomies present in the Litvinoffs' lives: liberal vs. conservative; atheism vs. religiousness; rich vs. poor, while also exploring where each individual falls on the continuum of ideals such as honesty, trust, faithfulness, love and self-respect.

Though critics have said that The Believers is filled with unlovable--even unlikable--characters, it is a very real book about family. And that, I believe, is worthwhile.

Next up for review, I have several choices:

Mornings with Mailer

It All Changed in an Instant

The Queen of Palmyra

Stay tuned!

Saturday, February 6, 2010

No-Sew Fabric Crafts

Maybe I'm nesting, because I've been feeling crafty lately. Either that, or my subconscious knows I won't have any craft time for awhile!! I've been making some more flannel pieces for J's board and also for a friend's birthday gift.

I was really surprised to see what flannel board sets are going for on Etsy. Some seemed kinda pricey!

I want to keep making some more flannels, particularly the train pieces from Donald Crews' Freight Train, and also some firemen and firetrucks. Maybe some seasonal stuff too, like shamrocks and leprechauns and Easter eggs.

I'm thinking my next no-sew crafts will come from this book I found at the library: 100+ No-Sew Fabric Crafts for Kids. It has the cutest things in it--and all the templates to make them. All the projects are meant to be done using Fast2Fuse fabric. Does anyone have any experience with this stuff? I've never heard of it, but apparently it's very simple to use.

Suggestions? Inspirations?

Sunday, January 31, 2010

Cultivating Confidence

Confidence isn't a trait I've thought much about in relation to my three-year-old. I imagined that would come into play more when he starts school or joins a sports team. But, then I saw this article on PBS Parents and something clicked. Without fully realizing it, I've been noticing some changes in J lately that basically boil down to confidence. (Read the article here.)

If you follow me on Twitter, you've seen the updates about what a boisterous, energetic and happy guy we have. He's articulate, very social, and wakes up most days asking where we are going to go.

Seeking a way to release some of this energy, I signed him up for a trial class at The Little Gym. He's always running, jumping, climbing, bouncing and dancing all over the house and the furniture, so I knew this was right up his alley. Surprisingly, though, he cried and clung to me for the first half of the class. It's the preschool class, so parents were supposed to sit outside and watch through the glass wall. I wasn't granted that luxury though, and spent 30 minutes on the floor of the gym with him clutching and clawing at my neck every time a teacher approached him and asked if he was ready to join in.

At about the halfway point, he shut off the waterworks just like that and said he was ready to do some climbing and jumping. I walked him over and, sure enough, he was more than ready to let loose! He ran and tumbled and danced his face red over the next half hour.

This is where that article comes in. One of the pointers is: Let Your Kids Grow in Their Own Time. The author goes on to say that nothing hurts confidence more than being pushed to do something you're not ready to do.

So, I guess I did a good thing by letting J sit with me, observe, and then make his own decision on when and if to join in. I didn't push him, but I didn't pack him up and leave either; I left the choices to him.

With that experience, I think both of us got a little boost to our self-confidence! He's been talking about gym class a lot and says he wants to go back. I had the encouragement of seeing one of my parental decisions being very successful. Which will give me the confidence to follow another piece of the article's advice: Trust Your Own Intuition.

I'll leave you with a little song from The Sound of Music that popped into my head as I was writing this:

I have confidence in sunshine,
I have confidence in rain.
I have confidence that Spring will come again;
Besides which, you see, I have confidence in me!

Tuesday, January 26, 2010


A blogger I read and admire, Abigail Green of Diary of a New Mom, has tagged me with the "Sweet Friend" Award and asked me to post 10 Things That Make Me Happy. How could I refuse? A new year began 26 days ago and here is my first post! But, I think it's a perfect "first of the year" post.

1. My Family--I'd be crazy not to put my family at the top of my list. They are by far the biggest source of happiness in my life. Although I've posted my fair share of mama woes and toddler troubles, I've never experienced such happiness and awe as I do when I'm with J. My husband is happy and funny, a great partner; my parents live near and are supportive; my younger brothers, though they don't always "get" my life as a wife, mother, professional, are around and involved; AND, I have four living grandparents! Life has been good to me in the family department, and I do realize it often.

2. Reading--I've always been a reader, and although it's harder and harder these days to find the time, thankfully I still am. I just finished The Help, which I loved and will be recommending for quite some time. Currently, I'm reading two books for the two book groups I'm involved in: Keeping Faith by Jodi Picoult and Teacher Man by Frank McCourt. (I bet you can guess which one is for the retirement community book group!)

Next on my to-read list is probably The Happiness Project, which fits in perfectly with this meme. The author summarizes it as "a memoir of the year I spent test-driving the wisdom of the ages, the current scientific studies, and the lessons from popular culture about how to be happy". Check out her blog, which is one of the happiness experiments she conducted while writing the book. It's energizing and inspiring.

I love to write and talk about books, and I have another book giveaway (or two) coming up soon. Please stay tuned for those!

3. Nature--Nature was a big part of my upbringing. My parents "made" us spend lots of time outside, took us to metro parks all the time, and planned vacations around nature attractions and activities. I feel happy and enjoy myself when I'm outdoors. My mood is also strongly affected by the environment and the weather. (I probably have undiagnosed SAD, but how could you not?)

4. Concerts, Live Theatre, Performances--If we made more money we would be more frequent patrons of the arts, but as it is I think we do pretty well. Last week we took J to his first symphony, one geared towards kids, which he loved. In high school, I went on the Stratford trip, where we traveled to (ahem) Stratford-on-Avon, Canada for the annual Shakespeare Festival. That was a really amazing experience. A couple of my favorite concerts are U2 and David Gray.

5. Traveling--I've taken some great trips around the country, the highlights being a) honeymoon to Bar Harbor, Maine, home of Acadia National Park; b) a year into our marriage, C and I trekked across the country to the Southwest in a little stick shift Saturn--these were some amazing adventures, one of which was my profound desire to knock C over the edge of the Grand Canyon once we finally got there; and c) a high school road trip with my best friend, her brother and her uncle traveling throughout New England and into the amazing cities of Montreal and Toronto.

6. Music--All kinds. Lately, my favorite musical interests are J's. He's BIG on singing, making up songs, dancing, playing instruments and asking who we're listening to on the radio. I think he has some kind of music lessons in his future, which makes me very excited and happy, as I have no musical talents whatsoever!

7. Writing--A favorite past-time that's taken a back seat lately. The entries in the pregnancy journal are much shorter this time around! But, any kind of writing makes me happy, especially blogging and letter writing. And, the extra happy bonus about letter writing is getting mail in return!

8. Good Food--I'm just gonna be totally honest here: food makes me happy! Pregnant or not, I like good food!

9. Photography--I could probably add "wanna-be photographer" to my blog header. I'm not sure exactly how good I'd be at it, but it is something I enjoy. And, I can appreciate the qualities of good photography. Looking at photos makes me really happy. We have so many albums around the house that I often pick one up and flip through, however quickly, just for that warm fuzzy reminiscent feeling I get.

10. Friends--Last but not least, my friends make me happy. I hope you all know that! Whether you are close personal friends, blogger friends, Twitter friends, you all add happiness to my life. With that, I'll tag a few friends with this "Sweet Friend" award and encourage you to blog your own 10 things: