Jan 19, 2018 - Uncategorized    No Comments

Anyone Going to San Francisco?

Seriously.  I want to take a road trip there, because Angel Island just soared up to the top tier of my “places I want to visit in the US” list.  Did you know that Angel Island–an island near Alcatraz, ironically–was known as the Ellis Island of the west?  In the latter years of the 19th century up until just before WWII, Chinese, Japanese, Korean, and other immigrants were detained there, hoping to gain entrance to America.  Their experiences and history make for fascinating reading, although they also make one shudder at the racism they endured.  Russell Freedman excels at making history accessible and compulsively readable for younger readers (AND older readers with small children at home and resultantly diminished powers of concentration); his Angel Island:  Gateway to Gold Mountain is no exception.  Don’t miss it!  (And if you’re planning a trip to San Fran, take me with you, will you?)

Angel Island: Gateway to Gold Mountain


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Jan 17, 2018 - Uncategorized    No Comments

The Year of Bigs and Littles

It’s January.

Which is alarming because, for the first time in I don’t know HOW long, I’ve managed to read only one of last year’s four Newbery winners.  ONE!  And it was essentially picture book length!  The other three are all well over 300 pages, and I haven’t gotten to them partly because I have so much less time to read than I used to and I desperately want to FINISH books.  Which is why, in 2018, I set a Goodreads goal of 10 fewer books than last year; I want to read more of the longer books that I’ve been putting off for being, well, longer.  Now, the catch is that I also like to read a lot of the books my older girlies are interested in, and so this will be the year of bigs and littles for me–big books that I’ve been putting off because Goodreads is already yelling that I’m a book behind!, and little books (or graphic novels, because they’re fast if not little) that my girls want and that I’m curious enough about to read before handing them over.  I’ve already finished one of the latter this year, and tonight I get to review one of the former.  (Although to be fair, it’s noticeably illustrated and has a large, impressively spaced font style, but still–370 pages!)

Technically, of course, When the Sea Turned to Silver is checked out on my oldest daughter’s card; she loves Grace Lin’s most recent books.  Since one of those was a Newbery, however, I care enough about Lin’s other books that I sequestered this one in my room until I got the chance to read it.  (Does that make me a bad mother?)  It seemed a good choice for easing into a commitment to read longer books this year, though, and so off my shelf it came.  And I have to say, I really enjoyed it.  It suffered a bit from the necessity of reading it in smaller chunks–most books do–but the way the stories in it weave together and build toward the climax gave it an added measure of intensity for me.  Pinmei’s social anxiety also made her a more interesting main character, perhaps because I know and love more than one person with similar struggles.  Watching her grow and develop into a strong (female) protagonist from such a timid beginning is both entertaining and rewarding, so seriously–don’t miss this one.

When the Sea Turned to Silver


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Jan 15, 2018 - Uncategorized    No Comments

Kids Can Always Surprise You

When we got my hubby’s annual Christmas ham (he works for a small company–it’s something they do), I went looking for ham recipes to use up the rest of the what was in the freezer (not last year’s Christmas ham, mind you–I got one over the summer).  And while I love cheesy, hammy goodness as much as most of the people I know, I had already made our favorite homemade mac and cheese with ham and I was trying for something a little less cholesterol-laden.  (Yes, I know, it’s ham, but still.)  This recipe for Potato, Ham, & Carrot Casserole caught my eye for that reason–no cheese.  AND something other than broccoli or peas (which I love, but again, I’d already gone down that road).  Granted, it sounded like kind of a strange combination, but I had all the ingredients, so why not?

Honestly, I’m still surprised at how much I liked it.  It did what a good casserole recipe is supposed to do–it tasted like something more than just the sum of its parts.  The carrot flavor came through and actually blended enough to work nicely, and the onions were part of the whole in a way that’s especially nice when you’re feeding children.  When I asked the kiddos for feedback I got two thumbs middles (one of which upgraded to middle-to-up by the end of the meal) and one thumbs up–from my most stalwart potato-hater (!).  And while I’m STILL a bit weirded out by this, I’m certainly not complaining!  The only change I made–other than using diced ham instead of sliced, because it’s what I had–was to use a homemade cream of celery substitute instead of canned cream of mushroom, since that was going to make all of us happier.  (I also think the flavors work better, but maybe that’s just me.)  OH, and I threw a tablespoon of butter into the pan to cook the ham and onions.  (Because BUTTER.)

Bottom line?  My hubby gave it a thumbs up as well, so this is definitely happening again.  Give it a try!*

*Just so you know, this only fed all six of us because I still have littles.  If your family is bigger than four–or if more than one or two of those four have my kind of metabolism–I’d serve it with some sort of bread to fill people all the way up.  

Jan 13, 2018 - Uncategorized    No Comments

Reasons

Yes, I missed a post on the 11th, but there was vomit, and I just didn’t have it in me.  (The two-year-old got the short straw, in case you were wondering.)  Tonight, however, I’m realizing that even without vomit, I may still not have a post in me.  I’ve even tried two new recipes in the last two days, but between the sick child, a lack of sleep partially caused by the sick child, and a general inner fog (caused in part by the lack of space a newly-not-napping two-year-old gives her mother)–meh.  The beef stew recipe wasn’t exciting anyway.  I’ll post the baked oatmeal one soon, but in the meantime, well–sleep beckons, and coherency seems beyond me.  I shall return on Monday!

Jan 9, 2018 - Uncategorized    No Comments

With Some Tweaking

Tonight I tried out this Southwest Quinoa Salad, and while I still have some left, I’m already looking forward to trying it again–with a bit of tweaking.  Here are the changes I’ve either already made or plan to make next time:

  1.  JUST USE THE WHOLE CAN OF BLACK BEANS, ALREADY.  Seriously, why would you use a cup of black beans and leave about 3 T hanging?
  2.  I might try Trader Joe’s frozen fire-roasted (or whatever) corn next time, but it’s January.  Frozen corn is clearly the way to go.
  3.  I’m adding the cumin to the salad dressing next time.  Cooking the quinoa with it sounded nice in theory, but it made no discernible difference in taste.
  4.  I threw in the juice of a lime after it had sat in the fridge for an hour or so.  It needed the extra acidity.
  5.  I was generous with the tomato, because why not?
  6.  I used green onions, because biting into chunks of raw red onion is hardly ever my preference.

Like I said, I’m looking forward to next time, because this one was tasty enough to tweak–and healthy to boot.  Let me know what you think!

Jan 7, 2018 - Uncategorized    No Comments

I’m Sensing a Theme

I finished the third Baby-Sitters Club graphic novel last night, mostly because my second girlie was prepared to bug me until I did, and now I’m reviewing, because once she finds out that I’ve finished it there will be NO peace until I turn it over to the downstairs bedroom.  (She’s obsessed with graphic novels, ESPECIALLY with graphic novels by Raina Telgemeier.)

While I was reading Mary Anne Saves the Day, I finally realized a likely reason for the organization of the BSC graphic novels.  I’d been wondering why the graphic version of the series (that sounds wrong, doesn’t it?!) skips some of the original titles, but with the third one I realized that each installment in this version focuses on a period of growth in the life of the main character.  Coming of age might be a strongish term for it, but I’m betting that’s why the original second book was skipped.  Claudia’s growth period looks to be coming up, but dealing with a sister relationship should make for a stronger plot for it than whatever happened with the ‘phantom phone calls’ (that title rings such a faint bell with me it’s hardly even worth mentioning).  In the meantime, Mary Anne Saves the Day gives us a nice view of Mary Anne learning to cope with various issues, growing up a bit in the process.  (The fight among the BSC members dragged on a bit for me, but I AM thirty-eight years old.)  It’s a fun series, although I’m sure the nostalgia element helps.  Based on my daughters’ reactions, though, it’s fabulous for elementary age girls!

Jan 5, 2018 - Uncategorized    No Comments

Pros And Cons Of How I Spent My Week

Pros:

  1.  My littles’ room.  It’s cleaner and far more organized than it’s been in months–maybe years.
  2. There are empty bins–and a full bin in my garage that was taking up space in the house.
  3. Tonight–at long last–we completed the 2,000 piece Star Wars puzzle.  Some of the portions of outer space got really ugly, but it’s done.
  4. My youngest is medicated for her secondary infection.  (Sinus or bronchitis–the doctor mentioned both.)

Cons:

  1.  My living room.
  2. My dining room.
  3. To a lesser degree, my kitchen.

There you have it, folks.  You can’t make an omelet without breaking eggs, right?  Every cook will tell you that.  (But look what happened to the cook!)  This week, well–I clearly have options.  Any suggestions on where I should focus next?

 

Jan 3, 2018 - Uncategorized    No Comments

The 2,000 Piece Star Wars Puzzle

That would be the reason I haven’t finished another book, folks–also the reason that my current organizing project is only happening during the day.  All the faces and animals are mostly done–unless you count Vader as a face, although in puzzle terms, he’s definitely ‘more machine than man’–which leaves the ships.

Oh, and space.  (As in outer.)  Lots and lots and lots of space.

I could never resist a good puzzle, though, and my hubby’s been in the mood for them lately as well, so the books will wait.  In the meantime, I managed most of a storm trooper on a speeder bike tonight, so I’m off to the shower!

Jan 1, 2018 - Uncategorized    No Comments

Sorry Not Sorry

Really, I doubt anyone’s shocked by my lack of a post on New Year’s Eve; I was playing games and eating junk and enjoying myself with family.  Weren’t you?  (And if you weren’t, I’m sincerely sorry.)  Today, however, I have come to the conclusion that I can no longer put off reviewing what has to be one of the most bizarre books I have ever encountered.

I checked Confessions of an Imaginary Friend:  A Memoir by Jacques Papier out of the library because I read a picture book by Michelle Cuevas and enjoyed it enough to at least try one of her intermediate titles.  It took me months to get around to reading it, because HEY, my to-read shelves, but I finally did–and wowsers.  This book is WEIRD.

The premise is existential but amusing; Jacques Papier discovers that he’s actually Fleur’s imaginary friend, instead of her twin brother, and goes into a full-blown identity crisis.  Creative, right?  It’s when you get to Fleur’s reaction to Jacques’ reaction, and then the meeting of Imaginaries Anonymous, and the Imaginary Reassignment Office with its keyword issues…honestly, it’s hard to pinpoint exactly WHEN Confessions crosses the line between creative and just plain strange, but it most definitely crosses it.

At a gallop.

I did, however, find it wildly entertaining.  I don’t think I’ll pass it on to either of my older girls, but that’s only because I can’t see it being either of their things (although to be perfectly honest, I’m not sure what kind of “thing” this book would be, exactly).  I think if you have a child with an imaginary friend, this might be quite a good read; if you have children who thrive on the bizarre, well, they’d probably really enjoy it as well.  My one complaint with it as a whole is that the ending felt different from the rest of the book; it had a Disney-ish feel to it, which cast a “Toy Story” shade over the rest of the book in retrospect.  I would have preferred something a little more edgy.  More…well, bizarre.

You’ll have to tell me what YOU think.

Dec 29, 2017 - Uncategorized    No Comments

Fun With More

I wasn’t actually planning on reviewing Jordan Stratford’s The Case of the Missing Moonstone; I checked it out for my mystery-loving oldest and just wanted to skim through it on the treadmill for kicks.  (How could you not be curious about the first book in a series called “The Wollstonecraft Detective Agency”?!)  It drew me in so immediately, however, that it definitely turned into far more of a read than a skim.  Ada is a hoot (oh, the Peebs cannon!), and yet her portrayal as definitely ‘spectrum-y’ gives the entire story an interesting depth.  The entire cast of characters is a hoot, really, and the style is fabulous.  If you like mysteries, the tv show “Numbers”, 19th century British settings, or literary jokes, this is a series for you.  (And maybe if you like reading about the early, early years of modern science.  I’d heard of all of the literary characters–I did major in English, after all–but not Ada, while my hubby, the information systems major, knew exactly who she was.)

Briefly, the series imagines Ada Byron, Mary Godwin, and Percy Bysshe Shelley as far closer in age than they actually were; the girls form a clandestine detective agency (their word, mind you), and Percy gets drawn into the adventure.  I’d hate to tell you much more, because you really deserve the joy of discovering it for  yourself.  In the meantime, I’ll just say that while messing with history is not usually my thing, Jordan Stratford rocked it–and I can’t wait for my oldest to read it so that I can check the next one out for both of us.

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