Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Book Review -- Lift

I don’t normally drool over writers – there are some that I like more than others, but if they were in a café where I was eating, I would think, “Ah, there is so-and-so” and go on my merry way. None of that applies to Kelly Corrigan. If she were in a café, I would do something stupid enough to get myself noticed so I could meet her. I love her that much. She is fresh, she is honest, when she drops the F bomb she sounds really cool, she yells at her kids and admits it, she survived cancer, and her husband is from Arkansas – that in and of itself seals the deal. Yes, she is who I want for my next best friend and I will read every word she writes for the rest of my life.

I loved her 1st book – The Middle Place – her memoir about cancer, family, husband and children. Her latest release is not so much a book, but a letter to her daughters called, Lift. It can be read in one sitting. A brief, but powerful message from a mother to her daughters about things they will never remember about growing up. It’s a perfect size to be kept in your purse, so on really bad mother days - -you could pull it out and reference it and say, “Kelly’s been thru the same thing!”

I adored this “amuse bouche” of a book. A perfect way to remind me that my kids will survive my rants and may even thrive with me as their mother!

Book source: library copy

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Monday, March 29, 2010

Book Review -- The School of Essential Ingredients

The School of Essential Ingredients The School of Essential Ingredients by Erica Bauermeister

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

My first “foodie” book was Like Water for Chocolate. It literally changed my life.

I certainly wasn’t expecting to have the same reaction after reading The School of Essential Ingredients by Erica Bauermeister, luckily for me, it is sometimes good not to have expectations.

Lillian’s cooking class has attracted eight eager students – all searching for something other than food – a way to find one’s self again after being a stay at home mom, a way to heal after losing your soul mate to cancer, a way to mend past transgressions. Over the course of their cooking studies they learn more about themselves and the food they are preparing.

This was a quaint novel. Nothing dramatic, nothing earth shattering. No profound life changing affect like the aforementioned book. It was quick and easy – something I needed for a vacation read. One problem I did have with her writing style – the complete overuse of metaphors and similes. Literally, every other sentence was like this, “…something she couldn’t quite identify, deep and mysterious, like perfume lingering in the folds of a cashmere scarf.” Lovely if used sparingly, but not every sentence in every paragraph! Her imagery was charming, but bordered on over-kill.

Most foodie novels contain recipes, this one does not. So if that is a requirement for your tastes, I would move on to another book.

I’m still a lover of food lit – and this is a passable contribution to the genre. But I would stick with Like Water for Chocolate or Chocolat any day.

For another opinion, check out this at Reading for Sanity.

Book source: private copy

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Sunday, March 28, 2010

Home Again


Anyone out there?

We’ve traveled over 2400 miles, consumed 94 gallons of gas, stayed in 4 different hotels, traversed 4 different states and 1 District and have now returned home after 10 days (and a subsequent 6 loads of laundry).

It was a fabulous trip. It far exceeded our expectations. A 16 hour car trip (divided into 2 days) was something I was a bit leery about, but the kids were fantastic (as long as they had chocolate and DVDs) and the parents enjoyed every minute of it. I would readily hop in the car again with my family in a heartbeat. We are already planning our next road trip.

If you are planning a trip to DC – let me recommend the following:

1. Mt Vernon: President Washington’s home was one of the highlights of our trip. I’d been there before when I lived there, but not since they opened the new museum/visitor’s center. Honestly, we could have stayed there for hours. The museums are fantastic and had tons of kid-friendly activities. They had a delightful game and dress-up area where kids could try on period costumes. It was a perfect blend of adult/child historical entertainment.

Oh, and the actual house and grounds– stunning!!! It took my breath away.

2. Meet your congressperson: It really bothers me to read/listen/watch the mood of this country towards our federal leaders – and regardless how you feel about your particular elected official, I highly encourage you to meet them, and in our situation, take our kids to their office. We had a Capitol tour by Melissa, one of our congressman’s staffers. She was knowledgeable and entertaining. The new visitor’s center (again, a new DC feature constructed AFTER I moved) was fabulous. A far better way to take a Capitol tour. Afterwards, we went back to the office, where my kids were introduced to their congressman. He is retiring this year to spend more time with his family – wife, 3 year old and 1 year old TRIPLETS! I think he deserves it!

3. Monuments: Visit them at NIGHT!! The monuments are ALWAYS open! Save your daylight hours for things that are only open during a certain time (i.e. Smithsonians 10-5:30pm)

And to throw in a few things bookish on this trip – I bought the following on sale at Books A Million in Williamsburg – they seemed totally appropriate:

Ladies of Liberty: The Women Who Shaped Our Nation by Cokie Roberts

In this eye-opening companion volume to her acclaimed history Founding Mothers, number-one New York Times bestselling author and renowned political commentator Cokie Roberts brings to life the extraordinary accomplishments of women who laid the groundwork for a better society. Recounted with insight and humor, and drawing on personal correspondence, private journals, and other primary sources, many of them previously unpublished, here are the fascinating and inspiring true stories of first ladies and freethinkers, educators and explorers. Featuring an exceptional group of women—including Abigail Adams, Dolley Madison, Rebecca Gratz, Louise Livingston, Sacagawea, and others—Ladies of Liberty sheds new light on the generation of heroines, reformers, and visionaries who helped shape our nation, finally giving these extraordinary ladies the recognition they so greatly deserve.


Mayflower: A Story of Courage, Community, and War by Nathaniel Philbrick

“…Such leading figures as William Bradford, Benjamin Church and Miles Standish of the so-called Plymouth Colony (which was not even close to Plymouth or its now-famous rock) emerge from the pages of history as understandable if not always admirable figures, and Guidall's evocations of the sadly depleted (by European diseases) Wampanoag Indians and their chief, Massasoit, are equally believable. The bitter voyage of the Seaflower (a slave ship taking captive Wampanoags to be sold in the Caribbean after a disastrous war with Massasoit's son, Philip), which rounds out Philbrick's masterful account, is treated with energy, respect and a straightforwardness that only increases its power.”

Tomorrow, back to reality: Kids back to school, me back to work, and hopefully in the near future, back to reading books!

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Spring Break Here We Come!

Tomorrow we impersonate Jack Kerouac and embark on a road trip encompassing 10 days of travel, over 2000 miles, 6 states and 1 District. In honor of our massive road trip, I’m highlighting several road trip/travel/adventure books to encourage you to hit the road!

On the Road
Jack Kerouac (Author)

I read this years ago, and at the time wondered, "what is the big deal about this book?" I always seem to have that feeling about books you are "suppose to read." It is a classic, however, I'm still not sure why. From Amazon: "On The Road...now recognized as a modern classic, its American Dream is nearer that of Walt Whitman than Scott Fitzgerald, and it goes racing towards the sunset with unforgettable exuberance, poignancy and autobiographical passion."

Harry Truman's Excellent Adventure: The True Story of a Great American Road Trip by Matthew Algeo

Can you imagine GWB or Bill Clinton leaving the White House in a Buick?? This looks great! I need to read it soon!

From Publishers Weekly
Public radio reporter Algeo (Last Team Standing) brings the 1950s into focus with a fascinating reconstruction of Harry and Bess Truman's postpresidential 2,500-mile road trip. I like to take trips—any kind of trip, Truman wrote. They are about the only recreation I have besides reading. Between 2006 and 2008, Algeo retraced their journey with stopovers at some of the same diners and hotels the couple visited. When Truman left the White House in 1953, he returned to Independence, Mo., rejecting lucrative offers he felt would commercialize the presidency. His only income was a small army pension. Acquiring a 1953 Chrysler, the Trumans set out with no fanfare and a curious notion of traveling incognito. However, reporters and newsreel cameras soon turned their vehicular vacation into an ongoing media event. The book benefits from extensive research through oral history interviews and papers at the Harry S. Truman Library, and Algeo's own interviews with eyewitnesses. With deliberate detours, this book is a portal into the past with layers of details providing unusual authenticity and a portrait of the president as an ordinary man.

The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls

Probably not marketed as a travel book, the Walls family spends as much time traveling in their car as the do in a permanent residence. I loved this book.

Amazon.com Review
Jeannette Walls's father always called her "Mountain Goat" and there's perhaps no more apt nickname for a girl who navigated a sheer and towering cliff of childhood both daily and stoically. In The Glass Castle, Walls chronicles her upbringing at the hands of eccentric, nomadic parents--Rose Mary, her frustrated-artist mother, and Rex, her brilliant, alcoholic father. To call the elder Walls's childrearing style laissez faire would be putting it mildly. As Rose Mary and Rex, motivated by whims and paranoia, uprooted their kids time and again, the youngsters (Walls, her brother and two sisters) were left largely to their own devices. But while Rex and Rose Mary firmly believed children learned best from their own mistakes, they themselves never seemed to do so, repeating the same disastrous patterns that eventually landed them on the streets. Walls describes in fascinating detail what it was to be a child in this family, from the embarrassing (wearing shoes held together with safety pins; using markers to color her skin in an effort to camouflage holes in her pants) to the horrific (being told, after a creepy uncle pleasured himself in close proximity, that sexual assault is a crime of perception; and being pimped by her father at a bar). Though Walls has well earned the right to complain, at no point does she play the victim. In fact, Walls' removed, nonjudgmental stance is initially startling, since many of the circumstances she describes could be categorized as abusive (and unquestioningly neglectful). But on the contrary, Walls respects her parents' knack for making hardships feel like adventures, and her love for them--despite their overwhelming self-absorption--resonates from cover to cover.

Down the Nile by Rosemary Mahoney

Another "to be read" that has languished on my Goodreads list. I pass it often on the biography shelf at the library when I'm shelving. Haven't yet grabbed it off it's perch.

From Publishers Weekly
This is travel writing at its most enjoyable: the reader is taken on a great trip with an erudite travel companion soaking up scads of history, culture and literary knowledge, along with the scenery. The genesis for the trip is simple: the author's love of rowing. Her plan, "to buy a small Egyptian rowboat and row myself along the 120-mile stretch of river between the cities of Aswan and Qena," is less so. Mahoney (The Singular Pilgrim; Whoredom in Kimmage) conveys readers along the longest river in the world, through narrative laced with insight, goodwill and sometimes sadness. Mahoney's writing style is conversational, her use of metaphor adept. She cleverly marshals the writings of numerous river travelers but focuses on "two troubled geniuses": Florence Nightingale and Gustave Flaubert. The device allows readers a backward glance at the Edwardian travel accoutrements of sumptuous riverside dinners, staggering supplies of alcohol and food, trunks of books and commodious accommodations. The physical environment is demanding. "When I removed my hat, the sun had made the top of my head sting... it was like having a freshly baked nail driven into one's skull." Yet her biggest obstacle isn't the climate but the slippery hurdles of culture and sex. Whether struggling to buy a boat, visiting historic Luxor or rowing, innocent encounters become sticky psychological and philosophical snares. Still, the ride is smooth, leaving the reader wishing for more nautical miles.

Route 66: The Mother Road by Michael Wallis

My heart is tied to The Mother Road. Both sets of my grandparents had business that thrived along Route 66. One of my favorite activites was waiting on the Greyhound bus to arrive at my grandmother's drug store and gift shop. I learned to drive on some of the old, unused portions of this mythical road. One of my favorite "coffee-table" books and authors.

From Amazon:
America's Main Street is celebration, Michael Wallis hit the road again, revisiting people and places that made the Mother Road on American icon, and uncovering new treasures. A love letter and a tribute, Route 66: The Mother Road takes us on an unforgettable journey through the secret corners and hidden towns of America's most famous and beloved highway.

I will be checking in and posting along our massive journey. We have plenty of DVDs and audio books to occupy our time along the way. I have The Hunger Games and Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins to keep me company too!! I may be the only person left who hasn't read these.

Bon Voyage!

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Book Review -- From The Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler

From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs Basil E. Frankweiler From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs Basil E. Frankweiler by E.L. Konigsburg

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Claudia and Jamie Kincaid are not running away from something -- but running TO something -- in this case, The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Claudia, the mastermind of the escapade has written a good bye letter to her parents, persuaded her younger brother to join her and has headed off on the adventure of her life. The encounter has them sleeping in ancient royal beds, bathing in fountains and hiding in bathroom stalls. Along the way the come face to face with Angel, a recently donated statue to the museum, believed by many to be a lost work of Michelangelo. They are determined to find out if the rumors are true.

This was our mother/daughter book choice for March. I’m sad to admit that my daughter gave up after chapter two. In her defense, I could see where this book may be advanced for some readers (like my daughter!). The author uses third person narration that was confusing at times, and some of the dialogue and vocabulary was more than she may be used to reading. I should have been more willing to read it to her, but she seemed determined to be done with it, so I didn’t want to be belligerent about it. I want book group to be a fun experience, not something that is forced on her. Once she got there and all the other girls had read it, I think she regretted not putting forth more effort. That’s the kind of peer pressure I appreciate and it will have more of an influence than my nagging!

I, however, did finish the book and I thought it was delightful. Jamie and Claudia were intuitive, imaginative, industrious and FRUGAL! I loved how they worked together to navigate this “adventure.” Their dialogue was pitch perfect older sister/younger brother banter. On the other hand, as a parent, I was infuriated at these kids for ignoring the anguish and misery their parents must be experiencing. I wanted to wring their necks on more than one occasion during this book.

Every month I hold my breath thinking this will be the last book group because moms/girls are going to drop out. But every month I’m surprised that pairs show up and are excited and energetic about the questions and discussion. We did have one mother/daughter pair drop out this week, but our group of 8 managed just fine.

Our April book is The 1st Nancy Drew – The Secret of the Old Clock.

Book source: personal copy

View all my reviews >>

Sunday, March 14, 2010

March Madness, Baby!

Brackets, bracket busters, bracketology, bubble teams, on-the-bubble, bubble busters, must-wins, play-ins, upset-city, who got left out, automatic bids, at-large bids, punch your ticket, Cinderellas, glass slippers, Dickie V, Jimmy B, Coach K, Cameron Crazies, Diaper Dandies, “Rock Chalk Jayhawk,” office pools, family pools, conference champs, Selection Sunday, first round upsets, one and done, #1 seeds, first and second rounds, Regionals, Sweet Sixteen, Elite Eight, Final Four™, the Big Dance, in-transition, fast break, triple-doubles, three-pointers, buzzer beaters, points in the paint, Big 12, Big East, Big 10, ACC, SEC, PAC 10, A-10, mid-Majors, Bruins, Cardinals, Wildcats, Panthers, Terps, Tigers, Huskies, Mountaineers, Boilermakers, Spartans, Sooners, Utes, Seminoles, Orangemen, Golden Bears, Blue Devils, Sun Devils, Demon Deacons, Tar Heels, The Vols, The ‘Zags, The Buckeyes, cutting down the net, “One Shining Moment”…

It only means one thing… (cue CBS Sports music)…

It’s March Madness™, baby!

I’m saying goodbye to motherhood for the next three weekends and assuming the “couch potato” position in front of the big screen (honestly, I’m not on the couch very long, because I’m jumping up and down screaming at the TV like a lunatic). I’m on hiatus from dinner, laundry, baths and homework. Some Moms indulge in chocolate, manicures, quiet time with a book, or shopping with friends. My ultimate indulgence is watching as many games as possible until I’m delirious. My bracket is complete, my team didn't make it but my husband better get ready for the trash talk, because his alma mater will totally choke in the first round. I’ve got chips, queso, Dr. Pepper, DirecTV, HDTV, DVR and the remote. The DO NOT DISTURB sign is on the door, so kids, unless you’ve been swarmed by fire ants or you’ve been drinking the ever popular wiper fluid Kool-Aid (I live in AR, that seems to be popular here), don’t even think about bothering me! Bring it on!

Let the Madness begin!

(Originally posted on Mormon Mommy Wars 15 March 2009)

Friday, March 12, 2010

Library Loot Overload!

I think Library Loot is a weekly meme that occurs on Wednesdays thanks to Marg at Reading Adventures and Eva at A Striped Armchair – however, my library motherload happened yesterday when I went to work and nearly all the HOLDS I had on recently published books (therefore 14 day check out) came in at the same time! Argh! Oh the rotten timing of it all!

Kindred by Octavia Butler
The Book of Fires by Jane Borodale
Wench by Dolen Perkins-Valdez
Who Whould Have Thought It? by Maria Amparo Ruiz de Burton
Beneath the Lion's Gaze by Maaza Mengiste

There is NO way I will be able to read all these books before they are due (and I can’t renew them because they are destined for other readers). We depart on a 10 day road trip to Washington DC next Thrusday, and very little if any reading will be done in a cramped van with three fidgety children. Or between treks to Monticello, Mount Vernon, The Capitol or the Smithsonians. Thanks to my trusted library colleagues, I have since learned that I can FREEZE my holds without losing my place in the book queue. A handy, on-line feature I somehow missed.

Kindred by Octavia Butler is a 28 day check out, so I should be OK on that one. But the others all have to be returned before I get home. The one I was most eager to read was Wench by Dolen Perkins-Valdez. I started it last night, and had a hard time getting thru the 1st 40 pages. As my daughter said about our next book club book, “it just didn’t grab me.” I hate giving up on a book. Maybe I will return it and start it again when I get home.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

I'm Not Worthy

With all I've had to do the past month, my reviews and blogging have taken it on the chin. So it is with much humilty that I accept this award from my friend Leah at Amused by Books:

I haven't been very prolific lately -- and with spring break and a 10 day road trip with my family looming -- I'm not sure March will be much better. But I will try my darndest to live up to this honor!

Here are the rules to passing along this award:

A Prolific Blogger is one who is intellectually productive... keeping up an active blog that is filled with enjoyable content.

1. Every winner of the Prolific Blogger Award has to pass on this award to at least seven other deserving prolific bloggers. Spread some love!

2. Each Prolific Blogger must link to the blog from which he/she has received the award.

3. Every Prolific Blogger must link back to this post, which explains the origins and motivation for the award.

4. Every Prolific Blogger must visit this post and add his/her name in the Mr. Linky, so that we all can get to know the other winners. (Click here for the Mr. Linky page.)

Here is who I am passing the Prolific Blogger Award on to. Please check out these fabulous bloggers! I'm bucking the trend and only passing along to 3 -- I value quality over quantity:

1. Amanda at A Bookshelf Monstrosity
2. Katy at A Few More Pages
3. Lesley at A Life in Books

Thank you again Leah! I'm glad I didn't have to buy a dress for this ceremony!

Sunday, March 7, 2010

I'm Back!

I did it!! The PTA fundraiser I've been planning for 4 months was a huge success Friday night! There isn't one thing I would change -- the venue, the food, the music, the auction items -- all were perfect and worth the hard work and effort. I only have ONE picture from that night -- I was so busy, I forgot to take pictures -- and it really doesn't reflect how awesome the Grand Hall of The Clinton Presidential Center looked -- but it's all I've got.

So -- now that that is done -- it's back to reading! I have a huge stack of books to attack -- but it will have to wait until the Oscars are over!

In honor of the Oscars -- I'm re-posting my VERY FIRST blog post that I wrote over at Mormon Mommy Wars. I posted this a year ago on Oscar night. Who new that being snarky about a high profile celebrity would cause such a ruckus, but it did. It was a very abrupt awakening to the world of blogging. And just in case you are wondering, my views about Gwynnie and her GOOP have changed very little!

(Originally posted at Mormon Mommy Wars on February 22nd 2009)

Gwyneth Paltrow has gone domestic diva on us and started a new website called GOOP (subtitled: Nourish the Inner Aspect). I thought goop was found at the bottom of your garbage can or in your kid’s ears, but I guess Gwyn (now that I’ve been to her website, I feel like I can call her Gwyn) thinks GOOP is an appealing word that will make women across the globe hit her website. A Toronto newpaper wrote of Gwyn’s new website name, “Perhaps, ‘Any Old Load of Rubbish’ and ‘Learn from me, Ungrateful Peasant’ were both taken.”

The site is loaded with recipes (does this woman actually eat?) travel tips (if you need a really expensive hotel in London or NYC, she’s got your back), and de-cleansing and stress-free living tips (not sure if I could spell any of the herbs needed to de-stress or de-cleanse).

She also shares her book club’s favorite selections – Tolstoy, Faulkner, Hemingway. Twilight, Bridget Jones and Shopoholic are noticeably absent. But when your book club members include Madonna and Christie Turlington, what do you expect.

In one of her on-line newsletters, a guest contributor writes about being “spent.” Dr Lipman writes: “‘Spent’ is the word I use to describe people who are overwhelmed, fatigued and feel older than their years.” Welcome to my world! He then proceeds, “Our ancestors lived in harmony with day and night and the seasons. As a result, the cycles and rhythms of nature became imprinted in their genes. We still share this DNA with our ancient ancestors, but we are living at a radically different pace and rhythm.”

I’m not sure about your ancestors Gwyn, but mine were either hauling their belongings in hand carts across the Rockies or forced in a death march from N. Carolina to Indian Territory in the Trail of Tears. Doesn’t sound like the most “harmonious” or “rhythmic” lifestyle, but I guess I would have to blame Pres. Andrew Jackson for that and not their genes, thank you very much.

Finally, Gwyn and Dr. Lipman give us the tools to “rejuvenate” including: eating in your body’s rhythms (I have a chocolate and donut rhythm), have an electronic sundown (any relation to electric shock therapy?), slow down with relaxing music (probably doesn’t include the Jonas Bros or Hannah Montana – but possibly COLDPLAY) ease with restorative yoga (does wrestling your screaming kid out of Target count?), release tension with tennis balls (where are you supposed to put those tennis balls, Dr.?) add an adaptogen (Gwyn’s favorite adaptogens are Panax ginseng, ashwagandha and rhodiola! Whaaa!!!!) and finally, practice ubuntu. “ ‘Ubuntu’ is an African term that means what makes us human is the humanity we show each other. It’s a worldview that sees humanity as a web of family rather than a mass of individuals. When you relate in this way, you feel connected, energized and have a sense of abundance.” (They could have stayed domestic and investigated the American term – “Relief Society,” instead).

At the end her website, Gwyn boldly announces, GOOP goes to Paris! Honestly, this is the only reasonable de-stress technique, herb, remedy, recipe, tonic, offered on her entire GOOPY website!

Monday, March 1, 2010

Literary Auction

In 4 days, 4 months of hard work will finally pay off – the PTA fundraiser/silent auction that has occupied my every moment, thought and sleepless night, will happen. With the help so many, I have collected over 130 auction items. My house looks like a warehouse of gift baskets, art, quilts, gift certificates – you name it – it is in my dining room. I am so READY for this to be over! I want my normal life to return! Just think how many books I could have read, if not for my predisposed obligation??!!

But one of the things I’m most proud of is the collection of AUTOGRAPHED books I’ve assembled.

We have author-signed copies of the following:

The Clinton Tapes: Wrestling History with the President by Taylor Branch

Cotton Field of Dreams; a memoir, foreword by former President William J. Clinton by Janis F Kearney

Ford County: Stories by John Grisham

All's Fair: Love, War and Running for President by Mary Matalin and James Carville

Read My Pins: Stories from a Diplomat's Jewel Box By Madeleine Albright

And finally,
The Mysterious Benedict Society by Trenton Lee Stewart

Two that I’m particularly thrilled about: Read My Pins and The Mysterious Benedict Society

Read My Pins is visually a stunning book. Also, Madame Albright has by far the BEST signature of the whole bunch!!

The Mysterious Benedict Society was a total surprise. Mr. Stewart is a local author, so I wrote a “blind” letter requesting a signed book for our auction. I wasn’t particularly optimistic that I would receive a copy, but a big brown envelope was in my mail box last week with his signed copy and a “good luck with your auction” greeting! I plan to hover over this auction item ALL night so I can I go home with it!

This will probably be my last post this week. Wish me luck! I will need every bit of it!