Really, I just couldn’t resist that title, but I suppose I can’t promise that this review will be illuminating. Part of the problem is that I still can’t decide whether I feel this deserved to win this year’s Newbery Medal. It has many good points, you understand. It was thoroughly enjoyable to read; it had profound things to say about love and finding your way, in Kate DiCamillo’s VERY distinctive style; it was immediately fascinating (while, it must be said, also being quite bizarre); and it used illustrations in an interesting sort of way. Although I will say that I’m not sure that that last point makes it any more Newbery-worthy to me (I suspect the book’s occasional forays into a bit of a graphic novel helped it win, though). As for not-so-good points…hmm. I did really enjoy reading the book. I didn’t end it and marvel at the beauty of it, like I did Okay For Now and True (…Sort of), but that has more to do with the book’s intent. And I did choke up a bit once or twice. This was definitely more of a Tale of Despereaux than an Edward Tulane, and I’m glad of that. I suppose my hang-up over whether it really deserved to win comes more from an ambivalence about DiCamillo’s trick of melding important truths about ourselves and life with exceedingly bizarre plot twists and turns. I got a big kick out of the ‘squirrel gets vacuumed and becomes flying, poetry-typing superhero’ idea–it’s certainly entertaining–but it’s a, well, weird marriage with the ‘let’s express our love for the people who matter’ and the ‘finding our way home’ themes. Her tendency to dot her books with characters who make profound observations on life on a regular basis is also a little on the edge. It works okay for me in general, but it could just as easily not. I can’t help agreeing with my friend Abbie, who was surprised that Flora & Ulysses won while Navigating Early got nothing from the Newbery powers that be; then again, at least it’s not 2005 over again. I’m STILL furious that Kira-Kira beat out Al Capone Does My Shirts and Lizzie Bright and the Buckminster Boy to win the medal. It was a travesty that a book that WANTED to be really good–but didn’t quite make it all the way–got the gold (so to speak), while two amazing, beautiful, and heartwrenching masterpieces ended up with silver. Really, while we’re on the subject, the other Honor book that year was The Voice that Challenged a Nation: Marian Anderson and the Struggle for Equal Rights, and it was ALSO better than Kira-Kira. (Yes, I know, I’m not holding back here, but come ON.) I digress, however. Suffice it to say that it was good, and I enjoyed it, but I’m on the fence about its medal status. Feel free to comment and tell me what YOU think!
I was pondering what to make for dinner tonight–and it needed to be relatively quick and easy, because my daughter’s SEP (Parent/Teacher) Conference was at 6:15–and sudden, beautiful inspiration struck. Half a cup of whipping cream leftover from the ganache for last week’s Chocolate Coconut Bars–which were quite tasty, by the way, if a little messy to eat, and went over VERY well at my sister-in-law’s birthday party–was going to go bad in my fridge within the week. The last of a batch of Mel’s Oatmeal Pancake Mix (a household staple) had been sitting around in that same fridge for a while, and I had maybe a quarter of a cup of crushed pineapple left from Sunday night’s Hawaiian Haystacks. Bingo! I tossed the pineapple into a pint measuring cup and filled it up with frozen strawberries from Costco. I made the mixture into this AMAZING Strawberry Sauce, whipped up the cream (sweetening it, of course!) and a triple batch of pancakes (for which I had to make another batch of mix, but I do prefer to have some knocking around my fridge or freezer, and anyway, a double batch no longer reliably feeds all of us), and, well, that was dinner. Not the healthiest dinner ever, but such a delightful splurge! And after a truly horrendous night’s sleep, a splurge was in order. (My son has not been sleeping well. I can’t decide whether it’s just the teeth he’s trying to get or if antibiotics aren’t doing enough for his ear infections, but SOMETHING is up.)
AND speaking of splurges, I am going to go IGNORE the dishes in my dishwasher (clean) and sink (dirty) and go read some more of Flora and Ulysses: The Illuminated Adventures. I’m tired enough that I can’t start reading too late or I’ll just fall asleep, but I really, really want to read some more of it. Goodnight, world.
I was wandering around in the produce department at the grocery store today, and what do you think I saw? Asparagus for $1.69 a pound, baby! Wahoo! (Of course, I looked through my weekly ads just now and saw it for $1.39 a pound at a closer grocery store, but we’re just going to file that information away for future use.) Anyway, I hadn’t finalized my dinner plans by then, and when I saw the asparagus–the fat kind, which roasts so nicely–it was kismet. And so we had Mel’s Penne with Roasted Asparagus and Balsamic Butter, just because we could. (No one enjoys this as much as I do, unfortunately, but it’s hardly the recipe’s fault. My two younger ones don’t care for asparagus, my older one prefers it as a separate side dish with our favorite Balsamic drizzle, and my husband isn’t much into pasta.) Guess who’s not sharing the leftovers? Furthermore, guess who gets to try ANOTHER asparagus recipe with the other two pounds sitting in the fridge? If I’m really lucky, my friend and I can make this Asparagus Leek Chowder, without pimientos (why obscure the other lovely flavors going on?) and with evaporated milk instead of half and half. And with rice flour, since she got diagnosed with Celiac a couple of years ago. (We used to cook together quite a bit, which I miss; it’s more complicated now.) If you live somewhere with great asparagus sales going on this week, you should try one of these.
Or you could make your own favorite asparagus recipes and share them with me. That works, too. I’ll just be sitting here browsing my asparagus-containing pins on Pinterest until the price goes up again.
Valentine’s Day is just going to keep getting more complicated, isn’t it. Today we pulled out the boxes of Valentines we picked up for the girlies–AND the instructions they each brought home from school. (I’m kind of disturbed that there are instructions. I absolutely don’t want kids to feel left out, but the whole thing seemed simpler when I was in school. Then again, it probably seems simpler to my girls, too. Maybe what you have to do as a parent hasn’t actually changed that much…) My four year old is supposed to bring 30 Valentines–NOT addressed, although they may be signed. Treats are optional (and yeah, I’m the mean kind of mom who is NOT going to add any more sugar to that mix. I still remember teaching at Sylvan at 5:30 in the evening on Valentine’s Day. It wasn’t pretty.). My seven year old has 23 kids in her class–including her–and a list of names was kindly provided. (THANKFULLY she can tell me which ones are boys and which ones are girls, because I sure would have guessed wrong in at least one case.) For this let’s-do-Valentines-while-your-brother-is-napping party, my husband and I picked up 2 boxes of Doc McStuffins Valentines, 1 box of Sofia the First Valentines, and one box of (much cheaper) Lego Star Wars Valentines. The last we picked up because we have nephews we figured would love the stickers, and the boys in the seven year old’s class could get them too, right? (Call me sexist if you want; I’m guessing they’d prefer that to the Sofia the First notepads, but my seven year old LIKES Sofia the First, so that’s what the girls are getting.) Well, that’s all well and good, but the reason the Lego Star Wars box was cheaper for twice the Valentines was because it came with a postage-stamp-sized sticker per Valentine, with no way to affix the sticker without rendering it unusable for the recipient.
My current plan is to buy a pack of something like Dum-Dums and tape one on each boy Valentine. The girls are going to need to be happy without candy, since they’re already getting a Sofia the First notepad (the preschoolers are all getting Doc McStuffins notepads; since we can’t address the Valentines and don’t have a list of names, the boys are just going to have to live with that). This whole process, of course, brings to mind making cards with my mother–yes, making cards. My mother has an art education degree–she finished it while I was in junior high–and we made Christmas cards for my classmates with red thumbprints that were magically transformed into a reindeer by a woman who didn’t pass much of that particular talent on to me. (I remember attaching peppermints to the cards one year; I was good at the taping part.) To my Mother: every day I am a mother I realize a little bit more how amazing you are. I hope I’m not failing my children by taking the easy-Valentine-way-out. (Of course, it didn’t feel easy to everyone. Signing her name thirty times completely exhausted my four-year-old. She’s got an August birthday, meaning she might be the youngest in her entire preschool class, and printing is still very laborious for her.)
Anyway, after this whole laborious process, I felt the need to make treats tonight, because, well, I wanted to eat treats. (Isn’t that why everyone makes treats?) I went through one of my ten dessert boards on Pinterest (sadly, not an exaggeration) and found something easy enough to appeal to me on a Sunday evening: these Coconut Blondies. Mine had more calories than these, of course–I don’t generally throw away egg yolks for random treats I’m just trying out, and I don’t keep stick margarine in the house–and so they should have been even better, right?
Meh. I was underwhelmed. My husband said they were ‘ok,’ and that’s exactly what they were. Ah, well. I imagine the kiddos will enjoy them with us…
From a nutritional standpoint, you see, this weekend was probably an abject failure. Friday night’s dinner was very kindly provided by Little Caesar’s…my seven year old got a coupon for free crazy bread from school and so we reveled in a hot ‘n’ ready Hawaiian, which they almost never have ACTUALLY READY but miraculously did yesterday. (I know it’s over $3 more than cheese or pepperoni, but we all so love Hawaiian!) We also learned an important lesson: even with unlimited red grapes (and we ate plenty!), one pizza (of that size, anyway) and one order of crazy bread is no longer enough for all of us to have all we want of both. No one went hungry, you understand, but there were no leftovers, and several of us could have eaten a tad more. Tonight Daddy grilled hot dogs, and while green beans also figured prominently on the menu (all of my kids enjoy green beans, weirdly enough), well, we still had pizza and hot dogs for dinner this weekend. But, on the OTHER hand…
Yesterday the girls and I deep cleaned the living room…as in, the “look under all of the couch cushions and sort through the toy buckets” level of clean. (I can neither confirm nor deny the possibility of certain McDonald’s toys finding their way to the bottom of the recycling bin on the sly.) This morning we dragged everything, and I mean EVERYTHING, out from under the bunk beds in the kids’ room, finding the two lost socks that have been irritating me for days in the process. I even convinced my seven year old to get rid of the empty box her American girl pet (a gift from a great-uncle) came in, and believe me, this is front page progress. The poor girl inherited the Heron pack rat genes in full (I’m so sorry, Love.) I also gave Daddy and Carter haircuts today, we got more propane (which is why grilling was an option for dinner!), I packed the Christmas boxes neatly back in the basement closet (and therefore out of the way), AND I did two loads of wash. Wahoo! The best part about this was I also got some time to kick back and chill, which doesn’t always happen on a Saturday. I used a small part of this time to cut away the crinkly plastic library cover from a book my best friend got me for something like $.10 at her library sale (yes, that’s ten cents, and while we go to different libraries, they’re both part of the Salt Lake County system). Which led to me re-reading said book, or most of it (I may have skipped a bit of the beginning so I’d have time for the rest of it!). While I can’t read a first-time book while the kids are awake, I can re-read/skim like a champion if I’m motivated enough, and I was motivated, because really, the book was Gary D. Schmidt’s Okay for Now.
I really, really love Gary D. Schmidt. I love The Wednesday Wars, which was a Newbery Honor book a few years ago, and I really love Okay for Now, which is its sequel (of sorts), and I really, REALLY love The Sin Eater, which doesn’t even come up on his current website because it’s an older title and published by NOT the same people who published any of his other titles. The man is brilliant. He makes me cry. He makes me laugh. He makes me love my family more, and think about the world more, and–seriously, if you have not read any of these books, go read them now. Don’t wait. Just do it.
Incidentally, he also wrote Lizzie Bright and the Buckminster Boy, which was ALSO a Newbery Honor book a few years ago. A few years before The Wednesday Wars, to be precise. That one is really, really good as well, AND incredibly beautiful, but the specific sort of tragedy it deals with was painful for me to read. (It was based, in part, on true events, and I was inspired enough while reading it that I visited the spot where it took place on my next trip to Maine; it’s totally worth the read, but the tragedy will break your heart.)
And that, friends, is why it depends on how you look at it. You could call my weekend a nutritional failure, an organizing achievement, or a rather relaxing experience, and you’d be at least partially right every time.
There’s a lot to be said for this sort of weekend.
I finished my first of this year’s winners, folks, and the lucky title is…The Year of Billy Miller! I will freely admit that I read this one first because it looked like the fastest read; new Newberys are rarely renewable at the library, so it’s best to move right along if you can. To be perfectly honest, on the night I started it I got thirty pages in and was kind of disappointed. I didn’t think it was bad, necessarily, but Billy didn’t feel like a character that I personally had anything in common with (someone really needs to invent a way of not ending sentences with prepositions that doesn’t sound formal and/or pretentious in today’s society). So I set it down feeling kind of glum about not enjoying my first 2014 winner as much as I wanted to be enjoying it. I was, however, pleasantly surprised on the following night. (Did I mention that I mostly read before bed? I don’t concentrate well with the kids interrupting me, so my reading time happens at night, once the kids are down and all necessary nighttime tasks are performed. Or most. I’ve been known to procrastinate some such tasks in favor of reading once or twice…a week.) And the next night as well. By the end I decided that I like Billy Miller BETTER than I liked Olive’s Ocean, Henkes’ other winner. The writing and the story flowed together more nicely, and the simplicity of it fit the plot well. And although the plot deals with simple experiences in a 2nd grader’s life, not life-changing ones, I found I liked that, too. Much of our growing is done that way, through brief, not-very-memorable-sounding incidents that for some reason bring us up to a slightly higher level of understanding. This worked for me.
I have to admit, though, that as much as I liked this one, my very favorite Kevin Henkes books are the ones I read to my kids. Lily’s Purple Plastic Purse, Chrysanthemum, Owen, Chester’s Way…the man is a genius. I gave Sheila Rae, the Brave to my four year old for Christmas this past year. I love that man’s mice. ‘About all I can say is, WOW!’
(Postscript, or another Newbery note: my seven year old is really, really enjoying Mr. Popper’s Penguins. Which I took some time choosing for her for Christmas. This makes me happy!)
I was looking for something different to make for dinner tonight–something that DIDN’T involve any big hunks of meat, since I got nothing out of the freezer to thaw last night–and after reviewing a few of my 10,000,000 food pins on Pinterest (that’s only slightly exaggerated), I decided to try this Cheesy Quinoa Casserole. I halved it for my family, of course; I say of course because I doubled the last new casserole recipe I tried, IN CASE it didn’t make enough, and that worked out so well that I ended up freezing more than one container of it to feed to my toddler (the ONLY family member who ate it with enjoyment). After that debacle, I decided that instead of doubling an untried recipe, I’d just serve banana bread on the side (read: something filling that everyone likes). Besides halving it, I also added some diced ham (a cup and a half for the halved recipe), because really, why bother serving a casserole as only a side dish when cheese and broccoli practically beg for ham? The consensus was as follows:
Mommy and the 19-month-old: Thumbs Up!
Daddy: Thumbs Middle
7 year old: Initial dislike which morphed into “maybe I like it a little bit”
4 1/2 year old: Initial thumbs up which quickly descended into Mommy having to feed her every other bite (I’d worry more about that, but really, from this one, the initial thumbs up was the surprising part of the meal.)
A keeper recipe? Hard to say. We’ll see how the 7 year old feels about the leftovers…
My other venture into the unknown tonight involved someone sharing “Thug Notes” on Facebook. Has anyone ever seen any of these book summaries/analyses? I’m torn between not at all loving the language but being highly entertained by the concept (and the execution). If you can deal with some language, try them out on Youtube when the kiddos aren’t around. They’ll make you giggle.
I own a lot of books.
Ok, ok. To be more accurate, my husband and I own a lot of books. Five or ten bookcases worth, in fact. (I love this about us, except when we move. Then, not so much.) Some of these books were ours as children, some we’ve bought or had given to us, and some were free back in my Borders days.
Some of them I’ve read.
It’s been bothering me for years, however, that I haven’t read more of them. I want to read them, mind you. We keep them because they appeal to at least one of us. As you may have noticed, however, I also check books out of the library, and you see–those books have due dates.
You see the problem? We have stacks and stacks and stacks of books that I mean to read someday, and time marches on. Which is why, back in May, I talked my best friend into making a deal with me. She has her own library habit, you understand, and her own shelves upon shelves of unread books in her house, so we decided that every fourth book we read MUST be a non-library book. (We did stipulate that you could count books in a series as one book, since stopping in the middle of any series more than three books long seemed unrealistic.) Mostly my fourth book ends up being a book I own; occasionally it’s a book borrowed from a family member or close friend, the kind of person who is never, ever going to bug you about returning it. Either way, in at least a small way, I have started to work my way through the books in my house that DON’T have a due date, and it’s a lovely feeling. Yes, the other three books come from my library shelf, but really, baby steps. Right? (If you don’t hear Bill Murray in your head right now, your father does not love “What About Bob?” as much as mine.)
I bring this up because despite having had two brand-new Newberys in my house for a week, I just finished Roald Dahl’s The Twits. (Which was weird as only Roald Dahl can be, really. It had entertainment value, but I’m never going to love it the way I love Fantastic Mr. Fox.) When I picked up the two new Newberys I was finishing up a series; once I finished the series I had two books that weren’t going to be renewable at the library; when I finished those, it was my fourth book…although I did use my contingency plan. I’ve got a stash of SHORT books that I pull out to choose from when I’ve got library books that are calling to me more forcefully than usual. (You may wonder why I don’t just cheat a little, but let me tell you what, that does NOT work for me. I can govern my vices by rigid rules; I can’t do it with guidelines. (There’s a very good reason that I don’t allow myself to play ‘Words of Wonder’ after dinner unless I’ve already had my shower for the night. It’s amazing how much less time I waste when I have to leave my bedroom again to do it.)) Anyway, I bought a Roald Dahl box set years ago–off of one of Borders’ many bargain tables–and I’ve now read the three shortest books in the set as fourth books when I’ve been in a hurry. I’m not always in a hurry, but it’s still nice to have shorter books available!
Anyway, to make a long story short (too late! and if you don’t think of “Clue” there, well, you should), The Twits was my fourth book, and now I am beautifully, completely free to start on this year’s winners. Which is why I’m leaving. Goodnight!
I just finished The Boy on the Porch, and I’m feeling kind of torn about it. I ended up really liking it, mind you…it’s a brief, simply-worded book about the children we take into our lives (NOT our own, in this case), and I found it beautiful. Sharon Creech at her best is very good at tugging at your heartstrings, and while this wasn’t quite her best (can you top Walk Two Moons or Love That Dog or Heartbeat or Granny Torelli Makes Soup?), it was hardly her worst, either (and her worst isn’t exactly BAD). I was torn for two reasons for much of the (admittedly short!) book, but the spareness of the writing and the plot ultimately worked for me, if barely. The second reason is why I still feel torn, and it’s quite a different problem. As a teacher, a parent, an aunt, an occasional tender of friends’ children…as all of these things I loved the book. And perhaps if I’d read it as a child, I’d enjoy it in a completely different way, but–I’m having trouble seeing the appeal for young readers. What will they get out of it? Will they see and understand the pathos? If a child has always had a reasonably happy, stable home–and yes, I know that that’s not the norm nowadays, but IF–will he or she relate to this story in a meaningful way? It’s such a short, simple book. I’m afraid that by the time a child is old enough to appreciate what’s going on emotionally, he/she is going to dismiss it on sight as a younger child’s book. Has anyone out there read this one? What do YOU think?
Anyway. BEFORE all the kiddos were in bed and I got to finish my book, I did my Monday grocery shopping, and I must confess that the two new Limited Edition! varieties of Oreos sucked me in. Friends, it did not used to be so. I didn’t grow up eating a lot of junk food, and while I’ve always had a sweet tooth, I never used to buy cookies. (Mostly because I like to taste the BUTTER when I’m eating a cookie, and to do that, you have to either spend more money or make them yourself. Nothing tastes like a homemade chocolate chip cookie.) In fact, when I got married (to man who’s fond of pretty much ANY cookie containing chocolate), I could take or leave an oreo most of the time. But then–then–then, my friends, my third pregnancy happened. It was–the oreo pregnancy. I spent my second and third trimesters craving the homemade cookies and cream ice cream I had growing up, and I never found anything that tasted half as good (we don’t have an ice cream maker), and it was very, very sad. And even though that baby is now 19 months old (today!), I still find I can’t resist trying whatever new flavor of oreo I see. (Most of them I only try once, especially since my husband has NOT liked the banana split oreos OR the berry burst ice cream oreos.) Today I got sucked into the cookie dough oreos AND the marshmallow crispy (read: Rice Krispie Treat) oreos, and I couldn’t resist. (In the interest of full disclosure, I BARELY resisted the lemon oreos, which were originally a limited edition flavor but have no such phrase on their package now. I mostly resisted them because I figured they could wait for another shopping trip.) I have now tried them both, and I am–drum roll!–undecided. The marshmallow ones are golden oreos, and they are very, very sweet. You must be in the mood for a LOT of sugar. The cookie dough kind were actually not as sweet as I expected them to be, which wasn’t really a problem, but they weren’t quite what I expected (in some vague, undefinable way). I’m still deciding how I feel about them.
I shall probably have to eat quite a few more before I can come to an informed decision. It’s so very hard to be me…
Although it does involve treats, but only of the sweet variety. (I’ve always thought of the Super Bowl as a salty sort of day.) Last night I tried a recipe for Caramel Apple Blondies; I often bring treats when we do Sunday dinner at my in-laws’ house, and I’ve been eyeing this recipe for quite a while. The verdict?
I don’t know.
They tasted good, they absolutely did, but boy, mine sure looked darker on top than the ones on the blog! The texture was also kind of funky…they were similar in a lot of ways to a Betty Crocker Cookbook recipe we made a lot when I was growing up–for butterscotch brownies–but the pieces of apple and weirdly not-gooey Kraft caramel bits made for an odd mouth feel. (Which sounds stuck-up and Food Network-y. Don’t get me wrong, I love the Food Network, but to be honest, I only said mouth feel because it felt like such bad writing to say “texture” again so soon.) They were also really, really sweet. And rich (one and a half sticks of butter for a 9 by 13 pan). I think the bottom line is that they were no hardship to eat, but I’m probably not going to bother making them again.
Luckily, I was not so ambivalent about the book I finished while I was sneaking a few bites of the aforementioned blondies. I picked up Serafina’s Promise on a whim at the library–it just happened to catch my eye–and it turned out to be a lovely, sometimes heartbreaking, ultimately hopeful glimpse into a Haitian girl’s life before (and during) the recent earthquake. (My definition of “recent” tends to be what feels “not that long ago” to me, by the way. This does not always correspond to actual chronology of events.) It’s a verse novel, which is always a plus for me; I love being able to fall into a world so quickly, and while I love other styles of writing as well, less can certainly be more. I was near tears for quite a bit of the last third of the novel, but it ended on a realistically hopeful note (I was relieved.) I know I was going to review old Newberys this past week, but I’ll get to that; this book was worth spending time on (in every way). Check it out! (Unless, that is, you’re pregnant or have a newborn baby. Parts of it are going to be too hard to read in that particular emotional state. Put it on your list instead.)