Reading With the Seasons: Thanksgiving Wrap-Up

Nov 30, 2012

I hope all of you had a wonderful Thanksgiving and were able to read at least one book during the month of November that helped you get ready for the day.

As I mentioned at the beginning of the month, I had a few books I wanted to get to--books that would make me hungry or historically-minded or cozy or grateful. I asked for your suggestions as well, and several of you came through, especially in the historical category, which was the hardest one for me to fill. Over the course of the month, I found a few more ideas as well.

In no particular order:

The Beggar King and the Secret of Happiness by Joel Ben Izzy was suggested by Stephanie. She said that it is one of her favorite books and makes her feel cozy and grateful. It's a new title for me. I can't wait to try it!

Witch Child by Celia Rees was suggested by Joanna. This one takes place in the 1650s and revolves around the witch trials. I knew there had to be some books set during this time period!

Mayflower: A Story of Courage, Community, and War by Nathaniel Philbrick - Partway through the month, I saw this book featured by Michele @ The Great Read. It is exactly what I was looking for! I even put it on hold at the library, but by the time it came in, the month was too far gone for me to want to start it. But next year...

Garlic and Sapphires: The Secret Life of a Critic in Disguise by Ruth Reichl - I mentioned that I was reading this one to help get me in the mood to eat. It maybe worked a little too well. (Full review here)

Dinner: A Love Story by Jenny Rosenstrach - This is the other food book I talked about at the beginning of the month. I haven't finished it yet, but since I'm more than halfway, I can definitely recommend it and say that it is full of scrumptious-sounding recipes as well as being very entertaining and down-to-earth.

The Heretic's Daughter and  The Traitor's Wife (both by Kathleen Kent) were suggested by Lisa. They are historical novels set in the 1600s. The first one is about the Salem witch trials (I'm getting the feeling the witch trials are far more exciting to write about than the landing of the Mayflower), and the second one is a romance that takes in some of the political tension of the day. Really grateful for another historical suggestion!

Stories of the Pilgrims by Margaret B. Pumphrey - I found this one suggested by Debbie @ Our Cup of Tea. Because I had been on the lookout for books about Pilgrims, it immediately caught my interest. It is written for children, but I still think it could provide some good information about America's early days.

So there are a few titles to get you started when November rolls around again. Up next: CHRISTMAS! (I have a feeling it will be a little bit easier to think up books for this season! Get ready to share!)

Garlic and Sapphires: The Secret Life of a Critic in Disguise by Ruth Reichl

Nov 29, 2012

For many years, anytime I had to list my hobbies/interests/talents on a random questionnaire, I would faithfully include "cooking" on the list. But one day, Mike blatantly and honestly told me, "You do not love to cook." He could make this judgment because he does, in fact, love to cook, and he could tell we were not having even close to the same experience in the kitchen. (He breathes in the aromas as he minces garlic and sautees onions and does a little happy dance; I observe the minutes on the clock slipping away while I practically slice off a finger chopping vegetables and take in the mess of my kitchen with a discouraged sulk.)

I do, however, love, love, love food. So if I could list "tasting and savoring" or "reading  a recipe and dreaming of eating it" or "watching with fixed fascination practically any show on Food Network" on my list of hobbies, then that would probably be a more honest indication of my relationship with food.

So did I love Garlic and Sapphires? Yes, I loved it.

Ruth Reichl was the restaurant critic for the New York Times from 1993 to 1999. A few months before beginning the job, she was on a flight and was shocked to discover that New York's best restaurants were preparing for her; they knew what she looked like and everything, from professional to personal, about her. She knew there was no way she could possibly write honest reviews if she was always getting the red carpet treatment, so she set out to create a vast array of disguises for herself--everything from a dumpy old lady to a hot platinum blonde. She was wildly successful and learned a whole lot about herself in the process.

This book was fun and interesting in so many different dimensions:

First, of course, the food dimension. I have never read anyone who can write about food the way Ruth Reichl does. It is an experience in and of itself. For example: "I tasted the linguine, fragile ribbons as delicate as butterfly wings with curls of white truffle skittering between them." Yum. My mouth watered through the whole book. Even things like sea urchins or squid ink that would almost certainly hold no appeal to me in real life sounded tantalizing.  All of the reviews really made me want to go to an expensive, well-known restaurant in New York City someday (although we would stick out like the cheapskates we are and consequently would get the worst service, I'm sure). As it was, Mike and I did go out to eat while I was in the middle of this book (a rare occurrence for us, and by our standards, it was not a dumpy restaurant), and I felt like I was enjoying the meal on a whole new level simply because I was paying attention to every detail and wishing I could dissect the food just like Ruth.

In between the restaurant reviews were sprinkled Ruth's own favorite recipes. I enjoyed these because they demonstrated Ruth's love of food in a whole different way. I tried "Nicky's Vanilla Cake" (hey, I didn't say I don't like to cook/bake--trying out a new recipe can be quite fun), and it was really spongy and yummy. Even Mike, who really doesn't like cake all that much, can't stop talking about it.

Second, there was the disguises dimension. In the course of the book, she talks about six of the different women she became over the six years she was at the New York Times. These disguises were more than a wig and makeup. She actually took on a completely different persona with each one. But what I found absolutely fascinating was the way she could see a tiny bit of herself reflected in each character. For example, "Brenda" was a flamboyant and friendly and very fun redhead. After going out as Brenda with her family, her son, Nicky, said, "I like eating with Brenda. She talks to people. Being with her is fun!" Ruth felt a little bit bad about this, but then her husband reassured her, "[Brenda] is really you. She's just you in a particularly good mood." Some of her other characters, Emily in particular, brought out her worst qualities. (And Chloe, the blond bombshell, made me the most uncomfortable, just because I could see how easily pretending to be someone you're not could lead to dangerous relationships). I loved the contrast between what she said when she was Brenda ("Brenda was my best self, the person I've always wanted to be. She was generous and funny, optimistic and smart. She was kind.") and when she was Emily ("It was extremely unpleasant to find how easily I had been able to summon this mean, petty person who was waiting inside me."). It really gave me a lot to think about--that we each have a whole mix of attributes inside us, but it really is a choice which ones we let shine through.

Finally, there was the "personal journey" dimension. When the story began, Ruth was at the height of her career. Being the restaurant critic of the New York Times? Can you climb any higher than that? But the longer she spent tasting exotic and gourmet dishes, the more she longed to be at home preparing her own food for her own family. She realized she wanted the added experience that being intimate  with her own food would bring her. She also realized that spending a good deal of her time as someone else was taking its toll. She said, "I saw that when I became Emily I had played with fire." Instead of spending her life pretending to be someone else, she wanted to work on becoming the best self she could possibly be.

My one criticism of the book is that, as so often seems to happen with memoirs, many of the events, names, and dates just didn't match up for me.There was too much jumping around for me to make a cohesive line in my mind. I don't know if I just wasn't following it correctly, but often she would talk about something new, and I would think she had already mentioned it, or vice versa, or she would mention people I didn't remember--things like that. It definitely could have been due to reader error though.

I listened to part of the book, and the narrator, Bernadette Dunne, was quite good. Even though it is nonfiction, Ruth describes so many different people (both real and created), and Bernadette Dunne was able to bring all of them to life.

I did think it was funny that while I was reading, I kept thinking, This would be such a fun job, but then I realized I could never do it since I don't drink alcohol. I had no idea how big a role alcohol plays in the melding and highlighting of different flavors. Although, Mike was quick to point out that he thinks root beer is a perfect complement to pizza, so he could totally see how wine would do the same thing. (Yes, we really are that naive.)

And so the book ends with Ruth leaving the New York Times in pursuit of some other dreams and goals. I thought it was a perfect ending and really gave this memoir a lot more depth than I was expecting. I actually read this for my book club this month, and it made for a really wonderful discussion. Mike also read it and liked it almost as much as I did. It really is so much more than a food book.

Note of caution: There is a little bit of language, including one scene with an F-word.

Mr. and Mrs. Bunny--Detectives Extraordinaire by Polly Horvath

Nov 28, 2012

With a title like that, I don't know how you could not want to read it. Seriously.

One evening when I went to the library alone (a semi-rare occasion, and one that I relish every time), I was perusing the children's audio book section when I happened upon Mr. and Mrs. Bunny. The title alone would have probably been enough to make me pull it off the shelf for a closer look, but I had also read several things about it and was therefore even more curious. I was just about to check it out when I thought, Wait. Maybe this would be a great one to read aloud to Aaron. I put it back on the shelf. And turned to go. And then I thought, Actually, since I really don't know what age it's geared for, I should probably read it first. I picked it back up. And then I thought, But it's about bunnies. Of course, it would be appropriate for a four-year-old! He will want to hear it! I put it back down. Finally I thought, If I like it well enough the first time, then it will be a pleasure to read it a second. And with that, I thrust it into my library bag without giving myself another chance to change my mind. (If I'm this indecisive about children's books, is it any wonder I'm terrified about buying a house someday?! And Mike does not make definite decisions any better. We're doomed.)

As it turned out, despite the adorable bunnies on the cover, Aaron would most definitely not have understood much about this book, especially the hippie, irresponsible parents (who may or may not be a little high on drugs). So I'm glad I didn't dive into it with him. But I am glad I read it myself. I maybe laughed my head off in a few places.

Madeline is a young girl with ridiculous parents. How ridiculous? They insist on being called Flo and Mildred (not Dad and Mom), they don't keep track of anything (addresses, appointments, etc.), and they would rather spend their time making paper lanterns than working a real job (or paying attention to Madeline). In fact, they're so ridiculous, they end up being kidnapped by a group of power-hungry, and also just plain stomach-hungry, foxes. Madeline knows her parents will never be able to save themselves, so she tackles the problem herself. Fortunately, she runs into Mr. and Mrs. Bunny, who, even more fortunately, have just purchased fedoras and decided to become detectives. Madeline hires them on the spot, and the three put their heads together to find the diabolical foxes.

Okay, so if you want a taste for what this book is like, just picture a rabbit in purple platform shoes and a fedora driving a smart car. (He has to wear the platform shoes in order to reach the pedals.) I wish I had a hard copy of the book, so I could quote a few passages for you, but what I just described actually captures the flavor of the book really well.

So, yes, it is uproariously funny, but not in a way that a four-year-old would get at all. In fact, I'm trying to think which age would enjoy it the most. Maybe 9-12 year-olds? (I think that's who it's written for at any rate.) That is, if they don't feel too self-conscious reading a book with bunnies (in fedoras) on the cover. But I don't know. In all honesty, it was pretty down-right enjoyable as an adult.

The audio is narrated by Polly Horvath. I always love it when authors narrate their own books, and this one was no exception. I especially loved the voices she used for Flo and Mildred. They were so perfect and seriously made me laugh every time.

All in all, this is a fun book, and it makes me want to read some more by Polly Horvath.

Note: This book is also my third potential-Newbery read of the year. I wanted to read at least three before the award is announced in January. Of the three I've read, I think Wonder has the most likely chance, but there are still several more contenders I hope to have time for.

The Aviary by Kathleen O'Dell

Nov 26, 2012

I am extremely behind with my book reviews (and when I say "extreme," I mean about four books-worth, but that feels extreme to me). So I'm going to try to catch up this week.

I picked up The Aviary back in October (is it really almost December now?!). It was on my to-read list, and I honestly couldn't remember what prompted me to put it there, but it looked like a great pre-Halloween read; it is set at the turn of the (20th) century, and the main character lives in a large, old, somewhat dilapidated house. Add in a few murders, a fifty-year-old mystery, a few hints at a ghost, and a flock of enchanted birds, and it was even more perfectly spooky than I thought it would be.

Clara Dooley is eleven years old. She and her mother live with Mrs. Glendoveer (along with the housekeeper, Ruby) and care for her in her old age. Clara is never allowed to leave the mansion because she is frail and sickly from a weak heart. Mrs. Glendoveer keeps a cage of five exotic birds. One morning when Clara is out on the grounds, one of the birds begins frantically screaming, "Elliot! Elliot!" Clara tells Mrs. Glendoveer about the bird's strange behavior, and Mrs. Glendoveer doesn't seem all that surprised. She alludes to some disturbing events from her past, but Clara doesn't want to pry. Then, Mrs. Glendoveer gets very sick and dies (sorry, that was a bit abrupt). Without quite intending to, Clara sets out to solve the Glendoveer mystery: What happened to the Glendoveer children? Why do the people in Clara's small town regard the Glendoveer's with such distrust and fear? Why is Clara never allowed beyond the grounds? And what are the birds trying to tell her?

I didn't even realize this was a mystery when I started reading it, but I loved that it was. And really, it was just the kind of mystery I like: while it does involve up to seven possible murders, they happened fifty years before the book takes place, so there wasn't anything descriptive or graphic. Also, I thought the book was paced really, really well--the first half was set up with lots of unanswered questions, and the second half brought all of the pieces together one by one.  I also liked this story because there was just a hint at the supernatural/fantastical--nothing too crazy or unbelievable but enough that it was different and intriguing.

And then, I have to say that the setting was perfect. I tend to like stories that are set in the early 1900's anyway, but in a creaky old mansion with dark closets and dusty trunks and a locked up attic room? Mmmm, yes. Definitely worth getting lost in.

I wish I could say more about the birds because they ended up being some of my favorite "characters," but I don't want to ruin it for anyone, so I'll leave it at that.

I also really liked Clara's friend, Daphne. She complemented Clara really well, although I did think their friendship took off a little too quickly. Then again, Clara was so starved for friendship that I guess it was only natural for her not to waste any time.

I've read other books like this one where I liked everything about them until the very end, but then all of a sudden things wrapped up much too quickly. I think this is an easy trap to fall into when you've set up the whole book trying not to reveal too much so that then, when the questions do start being answered, everything gets answered all at once because it's too difficult to continue to pace the story and hold back little bits of information. Anyway, I'm happy to say that did not happen with this book. By the end, all of the dangling strings were tied up, but Kathleen O'Dell maintained a perfect pace throughout. What's more, even though some of the resolutions were a surprise, they all made sense and nothing was out of character with the beginning of the book.

This definitely was a good book for October, but you could read it at any time of the year, and as long as you're in the mood for a good, old-fashioned mystery, you will come away satisfied.

Four Facts for Friday (4)

Nov 23, 2012

A fact about Thanksgiving: it was great. Check out this spread of pies:

A fact about my stress: I spent the evening frantically trying to finish a free calendar from Shutterfly. I finished, but I'm not entirely sure I'm going to be pleased with it when it comes in the mail.

A fact that I'm gloating over: I mailed my Christmas cards today. Yes, I did. See that stack of stamped envelopes sitting on the seat of my car? Last year, I felt like I saved too much for the week before Christmas (including Christmas cards). So I made a goal to be more on top of at least this one thing this year. And I did it! Pat on the back for me!

A fact about Christmas: I am super excited for it, but I have waaaaay too many projects I want to do. This blog might just be hijacked to showcase my craft and sewing projects instead of book reviews.

KidPages: Five Thanksgiving Books

Nov 21, 2012

Even though I love Thanksgiving, I can't say I'm in love with Thanksgiving books. There just seem to be a lot of...can I use the word "boring"?...stories. But these five books? They are most certainly not boring. And they will put you right in the mood to eat some stuffing and count your blessings:

1. Sometimes It's Turkey, Sometimes It's Feathers, Lorna Balian
Although not a new book (1973), Sometimes It's Turkey, Sometimes It's Feathers is new to us this year. I love it when I find a new, old book. It gives me hope that there are still many old books out there that I have yet to discover.

If you're in the mood for a good story, this is it. Mrs. Gumm (love her name!) finds an egg one day while she is hunting for mushrooms. The egg turns out to be nothing less than a genuine turkey egg, and Mrs. Gumm and her cat lovingly care for the turkey that hatches out of it in the hopes that he will make a delicious Thanksgiving dinner come fall. Of course, after all that love and care, Mrs. Gumm can't bring herself to eat him, making the excuse that he will be even bigger next Thanksgiving.

I love Lorna Balian's illustrations - fine lines and neutral colors (kind of like black and white ink, but brown and white instead). The copy we have from the library is an old edition, and it looks like the cover (and perhaps the inside too?) has since been updated, but it's a great book either way. 

2. The First Thanksgiving, Nancy Davis
I'm feeling a little possessive over this book. I found it at the beginning of the month and immediately fell in love with its simple text and illustrations. Apparently, everyone else fell in love with it, too, because I've seen it on at least a couple other Thanksgiving lists (and if it's on a couple, well then, you know everyone is reading it). I guess since I rely on book lists so much, I feel a sort of personal triumph anytime I find a really great book on my own. So, for the record, this book find was all mine.

Anyway, enough about my slightly neurotic possessive disorder.  This little board book is a great introduction to the historical events leading up to the first Thanksgiving (the Mayflower, befriending the native people, etc.). Finding a book that talks about the pilgrims and the Indians in a simple enough way for the under-3 crowd to be able to grasp and understand is a rarity. Really almost nonexistent. But this book somehow does it in as few words as I've ever seen but still hitting on all the important points. I actually thought (more or less), as I read it to my kids for the first time, "I have been searching for this particular book my entire four years of motherhood!"

3. Off to Plymouth Rock!, Dandi Daley Mackall, illus. Gene Barretta
The First Thanksgiving is perfect for toddlers, but it is a little too basic for 3-5 year-olds. There are a lot of good thankful books and turkey books for this age group, but again, if you want more of the historical aspect, you're faced with the text-heavy, information-laden books. Seriously, it seems almost wrong to shelf this type of fare alongside Run, Turkey, Run. I'm sure it's great for elementary-school-aged kids (although I'm not entirely convinced they wouldn't find it boring, too), but really there is just no way you're going to get a four-year-old to sit through pages of names and dates and places and events (believe me, I tried).

So it was with great delight that I began reading Off to Plymouth Rock. Each page contains a lilting verse, with an easy, catchy rhythm. It explores some of the difficult issues and events ("Leaving, grieving, still believing" and "Blizzards pounding, Snows abounding"), but in a concise, memorable way. Simple text like this makes for the perfect kind of lead-in to deeper discussion if curiosity arises (for example, "Why were the Pilgrims fleeing?"). But it can definitely stand on its own without any explanations or clarifications. The illustrations, although at times not the most historically accurate or realistic, are nevertheless quite entertaining and complement the text very well.

Last week, I had literally almost given up hope of finding this type of Thanksgiving book when, in a last ditch effort, I put this on hold at the library. I'm so glad I found it. (Notice, I found it. Just giving credit where credit is due!)

4. All for Pie and Pie for All, David Martin, illus. Valeri Gorbachev
I already mentioned Mike's obsession over pie, so is it any wonder that we would gravitate toward a book all about sharing and eating this glorious food?

Grandma Cat makes a pie, and everyone in the Cat family eats a piece. When they are done, there is one piece left over. While the cats are napping, a family of mice split the leftover piece. When they are through, there are six crumbs left, which a family of ants heartily enjoy. The cats, the mice, and the ants all enjoy the pie so much that Grandma Cat decides to make another one.

With the ants eating the pie to the very last crumb, the lessons of resourcefulness and not wasting are conveyed. Also, I like how it shows the pie being savored and so completely enjoyed. And then, of course, it's also gratifying to see the grandma making another pie, so good things don't have to come to an end! :-) Really, it's just a fun, sweet story that will wake up your taste buds.

5. Bear Says Thanks, Karma Wilson, illus. Jane Chapman
It might be in bad taste to admit this on the night before Thanksgiving but...I don't really love the "thankful books." Do you know the ones I mean? There are oodles of them, and they're all about the same: we're thankful for family and nature and friendship and food and blah, blah, blah. They're all so generic and impersonal and do absolutely nothing for me.

But...showing gratitude is one of the reasons why I love Thanksgiving so much. I want Aaron and Maxwell and Bradley to know what it means to be grateful. And it's such a shame that books, which usually come through for me in every situation, kind of fail me in this area. Honestly, reading a little cutesy verse about being thankful for flowers and universal kindness? That does not leave any kind of impression on a two-year-old boy.

I'm telling you all of this so you'll understand why I liked Bear Says Thanks so much. First of all, it's a story with real characters (not some illusive narrator). What's more, it features a familiar character (we've read at least a couple of the other Bear books). In the story, Bear is bored and he wants to make a feast for his friends. Turns out, he doesn't have any ingredients. Luckily, his friends show up one by one, each with something delectable to share. And each time, "Bear says thanks." I love that it shows Bear being thankful for simple physical objects but that the deeper kind of gratitude for caring, generous friends comes through. This is the kind of thankful book I can be thankful for!

But I'm not going to lie...while the text is great and inspires some good feelings, it would be nothing without the illustrations. Jane Chapman's artwork is comfort itself. They are what take this from being a fine, average story to something quite beautiful and a joy to read.

So tomorrow, if you're in the mood for a little reading before feasting, you might give these books a try!

I'm linking this post to the Kid Lit Book Hop and The Children's Bookshelf.

SingingPages: Three Thanksgiving Songs

Nov 19, 2012

Did you know Thanksgiving is this Thursday? I don't know if it's because it's as early in the month as it can possibly be or what, but it seems to have arrived very quickly this year. So prepare yourself for an onslaught of Thanksgiving-themed posts this week.

First up, a few Thanksgiving songs. Last week, it was my turn to teach our little music class. (Remember the music class of my recent rant? I think a few moms purposely avoided it last week for fear of breathing too loudly.) Along with some of our frequently-sung songs, I wanted to teach a few new ones with a Thanksgiving flavor, so I scoured the internet for ideas, and I found some really fun ones:

1.  Did You Ever See a Turkey?

I got this idea from Read It Again! If you go to the link, you'll see how super creative I am since I copied her turkey exactly. That's what you have to do if you have zero artistic talent - rely on other people's. Um, but I did make mine out of felt, and I used smaller googly eyes, so, you know, I took a few creative liberties. :-)

To the tune of "Did You Ever See a Lassie?"

Did you ever see a turkey, a turkey, a turkey,
Who struts around the farm yard with feathers so bright?
There are red ones and brown ones and orange ones and yellow ones.
Did you ever see a turkey with feathers so bright?

I had ten different colors of feathers, so each child got a chance to choose one to go behind Turkey Tom. We only did four at a time (so it would fit with the song), so we had some really unique color combinations! Also, one of my friends had a great song that was able to use all ten of the feathers. I can't remember it, but if I get the lyrics to that one, I'll add them here.

Turkey Tom with all ten feathers

2. Yummy Pies

I had to do this one. Mike is a pie-maniac around this time of year; he literally makes seven or eight (different) pies for Thanksgiving. (I think he mainly makes so many because he thinks having leftover pie for breakfast is the ultimate way to wake up in the morning.)

I got the idea for this song/flannel board from Trails and Tales. I copied it almost exactly except for swapping out the apple pie with pumpkin. I mean, it's Thanksgiving...I had to have pumpkin pie! Plus, it added another color to the mix, which I loved.

To the tune of "Three Blind Mice":

Pies, Pies, Pies
Pies, Pies, Pies.
Yummy pies,
Yummy pies.

Strawberry, blueberry, cherry, too.
Pumpkin and Key lime, to name a few.
Chocolate and lemon, how about you?
I love pie!

That's no lie!

Then we played the game suggested by Kathryn at Trails and Tales. The children closed their eyes, and I removed one of the slices of pie. Then they opened their eyes and had to try to figure out which one was missing. This game was actually a huge hit with Aaron and Max when we were practicing for music class at home.

I know these pies are made out of felt, but they kind of make my mouth water.

3. Thanks a Lot

And finally, what's any singing time without a little Raffi?I was not acquainted with this particular Raffi song, but I saw it on Storytime Secrets and loved having a song that encouraged a grateful attitude. It's from the album, "Songs of Our World," or you can hear Raffi himself singing it here.

I printed off pictures to go with the words (most of them came from the open clip art library because I have zero artistic talent, remember?). Then I laminated the pictures and attached them to craft sticks. I gave one to each child, and as we sang the words, they held up the appropriate picture (or didn't, as suited their fancy).

Thanks a lot.
Thanks for the sun in the sky.
Thanks a lot.
Thanks for the clouds so high.

 Thanks a lot.
Thanks for the whispering wind.
Thanks a lot.
Thanks for the birds in the spring.

 Thanks a lot.
Thanks for a moonlit night.
Thanks a lot.
Thanks for the stars so bright.

 Thanks a lot.
Thanks for a wondering me.
Thanks a lot.
Thanks for the way that I feel.

 Thanks for the animals.
Thanks for the land.
Thanks for the people everywhere.

Thanks a lot.
Thanks for all I've got.
Thanks for all I've got.

This has a really lilting, repetitive, almost sing-song-like tune that will put you into a hypnotic trance if you're not careful, so just beware.

I did sing one other Thanksgiving song but didn't make any visuals for it (although I brought along some paper plate pilgrims and Indians that Max made at preschool). This was a song that I grew up with, so I played it more for old time's sake (and its awesome jazzy tune) than for anything else. I'm not sure how readily available it is anymore, although it looks like the original songbook can be purchased from here. (Mine was from an old cassette that I stole from my mom.)

The words, although not entirely politically correct, go like this:

The Pilgrims and the Indians
Had a pow-wow a long time ago.
The Pilgrims and the Indians
Felt like having a party and so,
The Pilgrims and the Indians
Cooked a turkey and Indian corn.
Sat down and ate together,
And that is how Thanksgiving was born!

And now your Thanksgiving has a soundtrack! I'd love to hear if you end up singing any of them with your little ones!

What We Do When It Snows

Nov 17, 2012

Have I mentioned the 14 inches of snow Salt Lake received last weekend? Oh, I have? Twice already? Well, let's make it three.

Last Saturday, it snowed steadily for almost the whole day - great, wet, fluffy flakes that clung heavily to every tree branch and laid gently on the ground. I am not a snow fan, unless I can stay cozied up inside and just admire the beauty of it from my window. But last Saturday, I did not want to stay inside because our local bookstore (The King's English) was hosting Caralyn and Mark Buehner for a book signing. So I bundled up all three boys, and we trekked our way through the untouched white.

(As a side note, our neighbors are die-hard cyclists. On Saturday, Mike noticed them loading up their bikes and heading off to a (outdoor) race. Mike and I kind of joked about how dedicated and crazy-obsessive they are about their hobby until I pointed out that I was leaving the house for a book signing, of all things. Okay, okay, it's not the same as cycling outside in the snow, but if you know how much I dislike the cold and wet, you will still recognize it as sacrificing for something I love.)

Anyway, the snow kept a lot of people away, and there were only nine other people at the signing. Bad news probably for the Buehners but great for us.

Mark and Caralyn Buehner are the husband and wife co-creators of Snowmen at Christmas (one of our all-time favorite stories), as well as dozens of other books (including Wittilda, which I talked about a few weeks ago). Their latest book, Snowmen at Work, just came out, and it is a delight.

The Buehners were so fun. Mark began by showing the process he goes through when drafting the illustrations for a book. He will often draw the same picture from many different angles and vantage points before settling on the one he likes best. He showed the kids what a giant would look like from a duck's point of view and a duck from a giant's point of view. Then, because there were so few kids there, each one got to choose an animal for him draw. Aaron chose an alligator, and Max chose a dragon.

Then Caralyn read and talked about all four Snowmen books. I always love hearing any stories behind the story, and it was especially fun with the Buehners since they are from Salt Lake City, so many of the illustrations are inspired by things right in our very own neighborhood. Caralyn also pointed out which illustrations are her favorite, and I loved hearing her speak so fondly of her husband's talent.

The brand-new Snowmen at Work is adorable. It begins one winter morning when a boy wakes up to find that it has snowed during the night but that all the walks are miraculously free of snow. No one is around...the snowman he made the day before. Did he shovel the sidewalk? He begins to imagine all the possible jobs the snowmen might have while all the people are sleeping. The illustrations are full of lots of fun details. My favorite snowman job is the librarian, and if you look really closely, you can read titles on almost all of the book spines. All of them have something to do with snow or cold. (Caralyn specifically mentioned how Mark worked with a magnifying glass and painstakingly added on the tiny words...she also mentioned how much fun he had thinking up all the titles.)

This would be a great book to use if you wanted to explore different grown-up jobs: there's a dentist (that one is a really funny picture), a mechanic, a pizza delivery snowman, a store clerk, and several more. One of the things I  love about Mark Buehner's illustrations are all the hidden it reads like a story, but then you can go back and spend hours (okay, maybe not hours) finding all the hidden objects, so in that sense it kind of doubles as an activity book. Also, I have decided that no one else can draw Christmas lights as well as Mark Buehner. They kind of mesmerize me and make me happy.

I promised Mike that we were just going to the bookstore to listen to the Buehners, not to buy any books. But once we were there, and we were having such a fun time listening to them and the new book was so cute, well, I just couldn't help myself. (And it wasn't an "I solemnly promise" kind of promise; it was more like, "Don't worry, I'm not going to buy anything" kind of promise. Mike should know me well enough to know that some promises are impossible to keep unless I just stay away completely). Anyway, so we bought Snowmen at Work, and I'm so glad we did because it gives us something tangible to hold onto so we can remember the fun we had. Plus, we got it signed. Plus, we really like the book and have read it again and again already.

Oh, but do you want to know what the best part of the morning was for me? Remember the pictures Mark Buehner drew for each of the kids? Well, they got to take them home! I don't know why, but this just thrilled me: a real artist drew a picture for my son, and he got to keep it! We are going to frame them and put them up by their beds.

Aaron's alligator
Maxwell's dragon (If you look really closely at the library picture from above, you'll notice that the dragon in the book the librarian is holding looks strikingly similar to this one.)

Even if the snow cut down on the number of people who came, I thought it was so appropriate to have snow for the newest Snowmen book. We are so glad we got to meet the Buehners.

This post is linked up to The Children's Bookshelf.

Vote for Edenbrooke!

Nov 17, 2012

UPDATE: Edenbrooke made it into the final round!!! I am so excited about this! Go vote for it one last time here.

If you're on Goodreads (and if you're not, come on...what are you waiting for?!), you've maybe noticed the announcements for the Goodreads Choice Awards. This is an annual event where readers have the opportunity to vote for their favorite books of the year. There are 20 categories, and many of my favorite books have made it into the semi-final round. I have voted, but the only category that I really have any strong feelings about is the romance category.

That is because Edenbrooke, one of my very, very favorite novels from this year is on the list! And I desperately want it to make it to the final round. Why? Not just because it is a great book (even though it is), and not just because Julianne Donaldson is a local author AND we were in the same ward for a short time (but she is, and we were), but mainly because I just find it so AWESOME that her book is in the top 20 ROMANCES of the year. Amid all of the other sleezy and vulgar titles, there stands Edenbrooke, beautiful and lovely and clean. I wish there were more books like this one out there, and I want her to make it to the final round, so maybe some authors will take a second look at the romance category and see that not everyone wants all of the graphic, sexually explicit scenes that are the norm for the romance genre.

So, if you have a mind to support really good, clean literature, can I beg you to go vote for Edenbrooke? (Just shield your eyes against some of the other offensive covers!) The voting for the semi-final round ends today, so click over there NOW.

(And, um, no, it probably looks like it, but this post was not sponsored by Julianne Donaldson.)

Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier

Nov 15, 2012

I almost don't want to write this review. I have been lost in the world of Manderley, submersed in writing that was so perfect, I fear that if I breathe any of my clumsy words or awkward sentences onto the book, it will break the spell and the story will be ruined.

However, one of the main reasons I love writing reviews is because it captures the story for me. When I read my old reviews, it sparks memories that I'd forgotten, and I remember details of the book that otherwise would have faded irretrievably away.

And so, I will try to explain why reading Rebecca was one of the best reading experiences I've ever had. I make no promises about not alluding to any important plot details, so if you haven't read this book, then skip this review; instead, go get the book. Part of the magic and intrigue of the story for me was that I knew very little about the storyline before reading. The plot unfolded just as it was intended...creeping quietly with a slow intensity that was both frightening and captivating.

The story is narrated by Maxim de Winter's second wife. We never learn her name. His first wife, Rebecca, supposedly drowned in a terrible storm. She was very much-loved and is sorely missed by all who knew her. Maxim does not speak of her often, but the narrator feels her presence the gardens, at the writing desk, even when she puts on an old, forgotten raincoat. She tries to handle the menu and the daily routine and the social obligations like Rebecca, but she knows she is nothing like Rebbecca and finds it so oppressive to live in someone else's shadow...

As I am sitting here writing this, I am flipping through a copy of the book. It doesn't matter which page I turn to, as soon as I begin reading, I am once more engrossed in the story, and I don't want to stop. I actually listened to an audio version of the book, but reading passages here and there right now makes me realize that I will love it in print just as much as I loved listening to it. I wish I could put my finger on why it is so good. Something about the balance between narration and dialogue and description, and also between past and present and future, and also between reality and fantasy is just so perfect. It's the momentum of being pushed forward and then abruptly tugged backward. I'm feeling frustrated trying to find a way to describe it...I keep thinking of the word "atmospheric," but it's something else, too. Something more.

One of the elements of the writing that I loved and that's a little easier to pinpoint is the way the narrator envisions and describes the possible conversations or actions of strangers.  For example, the night of the fancy dress ball, she sees two gardeners outside. As they walk away, she is suddenly lost in thought and imagines what they will say that evening when the festivities are over. Sometimes it's not conversations she's thinking of but alternate events in the past. For example, when she sits at Rebecca's writing desk for the first time, she opens a drawer at random and suddenly feels as though she is merely a house guest and has been given permission to use the desk only to be caught snooping through its contents. Sometimes the flashbacks are real, and we catch a glimpse of the narrator's personality by visiting a scene from her past. In all cases, these types of reminiscences and imaginings are so vivid and alluring so that when the narrator is abruptly and sometimes startlingly brought back to the present, as the reader, you are, too. You feel guilty and embarrassed for getting lost in thought even though you weren't really lost in thought but instead just lost in amazing writing.

Besides the writing itself, the story has some really gripping, white-knuckle moments. There was one evening when I was listening to it, and Mike was at school, but he came home earlier than I was expecting, right as I was in the middle of a very intense scene. I wanted to talk to him, but it was agony to pull myself away. Only for him.

Now, just a brief word on the audio. The edition I listened to was narrated by Anna Massey. She was fabulous...absolutely, completely fabulous. It's funny because for the first ten minutes, I thought her voice was going to irritate me...something about the way she rolled a few of her R's. But after the initial adjustment, I loved everything about her performance...especially the way she did the fictitious conversations and flashbacks that I described above. I can't speak for other narrations, but I can definitely recommend this one.

I have read a lot of good books this year. In fact, it's been one of the best years in reading I've ever had. I tell you this so that when I say Rebecca is the best book I read in 2012, and definitely among my favorites of all time, you will know just how much I absolutely loved it.

Aaron's Preschool: Fall and Leaves

Nov 12, 2012

Never mind the 14 inches of snow on the ground. When I hosted preschool last week, we were enjoying the most beautiful kind of fall weather. And I wanted to take full advantage of it.

I used Red Leaf, Yellow Leaf by Lois Ehlert for inspiration. The book follows a sugar maple tree from seed to mature autumn beauty. I love Lois Ehlert (particularly Eating the Alphabet), but I felt this one was a little abstract at times. I love that it shows a tree in all its various stages, but some of the illustrations zoom in and crop out too much of the big picture. For example, when the tree has grown enough to be purchased and planted in the narrator's yard, the tree's roots are wrapped up in burlap. The picture shows the burlap and part of the skinny trunk, but if you're a child who has never seen a tree in a nursery, it was difficult to tell that it even was a tree. (I guess if it's too confusing, it just instigates more questions and provides other learning opportunities.) Anyway, I really do like the book (I wouldn't have used it for preschool otherwise), but this is just something to be aware of.

We began the day by reading the book. Then we headed into the kitchen to prepare a snack for later in the morning. I wanted something that would relate to leaves, and so we made cornflake clusters and called them "leaf piles." Unfortunately, Aaron has a strong aversion to peanut butter (he's not allergic, but he won't eat it in any form), so I found a peanut butter-less recipe. I do not recommend it. It was so sweet and sugary that just a bite or two made me feel sick.

Anyway, while the too-much sugar was melting on the stove, I explained why the leaves change color in the fall. I'll admit that was probably a little ambitious for four-year-olds, but I found this website that gave a pretty simple explanation of the process. While I talked, I drew a few simple pictures/diagrams to help them visualize what happens (sorry, no photos since my artistic talents are only suitable to be viewed by children).

Then we finished our leaf piles and left them to cool while we went for a walk outside. This was probably the best part of the morning. The weather was perfect and all of the fallen leaves were delightfully crunchy. We collected different types of leaves (and the kids were all excited to find a sugar maple tree since that was the kind that was in the book). We also noticed how the seeds and bark and shape of the leaves varied from tree to tree. But mostly, the kids just loved racing up and down the sidewalk.

When we got back, we made a leaf craft. I saw these little leaf creatures at the beginning of fall and have been dying to make them with the boys ever since. Time of course slipped away from me until fall was almost over (by the looks of it here today, you'd think it already was). So I knew we had to do them as part of preschool. You just glue googly eyes to a leaf, glue the leaf to a cardboard tube, poke in a couple of twigs for arms, and glue on three pebbles for buttons. Aren't they just adorable?

Then we ate the leaf piles (and almost no one could finish theirs because of the extreme sweetness).

Last, we pulled out their little bags of leaves, etc. from the nature walk, and we filled out these little booklets. They did a rubbing over each leaf, and then I helped them fill out the facts.

I had more planned, but we only had ten minutes left, and all of them were desperately wanting to play in the backyard, so I let them.

My Quiet Sadness

Nov 9, 2012

I've been quiet the last few days, and not without a reason.

On Saturday, almost a week ago now, my sister-in-law, Sonja, delivered a beautiful baby boy. He was full-term, perfect, and stillborn.

I have been quiet because my heart is breaking.

Writing is how I sort out my pain, my feelings, my heartaches, my dreams. That's why I write in my journal every day. And at first I thought I would just contain my thoughts and feelings about this loss to my journal (certainly many of them have already been recorded there). But because I write in my journal every day, my thoughts are often disjointed and sporadic...I write about whatever I am feeling at that particular moment, and often those feelings don't connect into something very cohesive.

I'm realizing more and more that when I experience hard emotions, I don't want to talk about them, but I do want to write about them. Mike and I have broached some of the most difficult conversations in our marriage through letters. That may sound silly, but both of us need the quiet time and space it takes to thoroughly examine each item, measuring it against what we already know or feel.

I couldn't talk at all on Saturday...not in the morning when Mike's sister, Alisa, called and said the doctors couldn't find the baby's heartbeat; not in the afternoon when we were together with other members of the family; and not late at night after Mike returned from praying with his family and holding Sonja's angel baby. At first, it was because I was in denial. I believed if I didn't talk about it and didn't ask any questions and continued to steadfastly pray that the outcome might change. But once it was undeniable that this devastating thing had happened, then the sadness and grief came flying at me from such a multitude of directions and levels that I did not know what to do with it all. And behind all that grief, the ever-pressing thought, This is nothing compared to the pain Sonja and her family is feeling. Nothing. And I would cry anew at the thought of all they were going through.

Late Saturday night, as all of the closeted emotions came pouring out in wrenching sobs, Mike kept asking, "Is it because you feel sad for Sonja?" I couldn't answer him. I literally could not get a single word to come out of my mouth. But now I'm finally feeling like trying to articulate this complex web of sadness.

Yes, I am sad for Sonja. So incredibly sad. My heart aches for her and her husband and their four other children. At the center of every other emotion I feel is the deep sadness I feel for them. I know how much each one was looking forward to this sweet baby.

I'm also sad for myself. In this light, it sounds selfish, but I was excitedly anticipating the arrival of their baby. Today was supposed to be his birthday, and I had planned to visit Sonja in the hospital and hold and snuggle him for the first of many times. Aaron and I talked often about the new brother his cousins would soon be welcoming into their family. He was excited, too.

On Saturday, I was not only sad but so angry. I've seen this happen to other people...something tragic happens and they wonder how God could be so unfair and unjust. That was exactly how I felt. In my silence, my mind and heart raged. Why would Heavenly Father allow this to happen? If miracles were possible, why weren't we blessed with one? What was even the point of praying if in the end it was all random family received a miracle, another family didn't. Maybe their wasn't a God after all because it certainly didn't make sense to take away their baby at the last possible moment.

These feelings of intense doubt threatened to pull me under and drown me. It is in times such as this one that I recognize the wisdom in establishing faithful habits. Daily prayer and scripture study provide a crutch for me to lean on. I was feeling completely faithless, but these habits are sustaining me and pulling me through. Even though I can't make sense of this tragic event, deep down I know that turning away from Heavenly Father will never give me the answers I fervently want. In addition to prayer and the scriptures, I have been so grateful for the talks from the most recent General Conference, particularly President Eyring'sElder Bowen's, and Elder Anderson's. Little by little, I am rebuilding my faith, and hopefully it will be stronger than it was before. I do have faith in the Atonement of Jesus Christ to heal all wounds, but I also know there are some heartaches that, as President Eyring said, will "last a lifetime."

This week also brought with it waves of fear and anxiety. I keep thinking, A week ago we had no idea this would happen. We didn't know we would be going to a graveside service today for our baby nephew. What other events are on the horizon? A week from today will I be looking back on another tragedy we didn't have a premonition of? Life feels so volatile, and it scares me so much.

I also keep thinking about how an event like this not only alters the future but also, in some respects, the past. The future is obvious: we thought we would get to watch this baby grow up; we thought we would get to know his sweet smile and the many facets of his personality; we thought he would be a part of the festivities on Thanksgiving and Christmas. But I've also noticed that some memories from the past will forever be changed in my memory because I now know what happened later on. As a rather inconsequential example of what I mean, a few weeks ago, Max broke a little piece of pottery Mike and I bought when we were in Chile four and a half years ago. It wasn't particularly sentimental and therefore I didn't really mind, but I did say something like, "When we bought that pot, I had no idea that a little boy named Max would break it." Over the last few days, memories keep surfacing, happy memories that are still happy but also laced with sadness because I now know what I didn't know then.

One of the hardest things for me on Saturday and Sunday was just wondering what I could possibly say or do for Sonja and her family. I wanted to talk to her, but like I said, it's so much easier for me to write hard things than say them. Plus, I knew there was nothing I could say that would actually ease the pain. And I also knew there were probably a great deal of things I might accidentally say that would make it worse. Besides being my sister-in-law, Sonja is also one of my dearest friends. She is so much wiser than me, and I trust her opinion completely. I've seen her go through hard things in the past, and I respect and love her so much. In the end, it was Sonja who guided our first conversation, not me, which just showed me once again how truly amazing she is.  

The graveside service for little baby Daniel was this morning. We have been enjoying beautiful autumn weather, but last night a storm blew in, and today it was cold with thick, heavy snowflakes falling steadily. I thought I would hate the snow, but while it was inconvenient, it was also oddly comforting. Everything was blanketed in pristine snow, and that word, "blanket," kept repeating itself in my mind. It felt like a gift from heaven: a pure and soft blanket from Daniel to comfort all of us at the same time.

As part of the service, my sister-in-law, Brittany, sang the song, "I Will Carry You." I accompanied her on a small keyboard. Throughout the service, water and snow dripped from the overhanging branches of trees onto the keys, and by the time we performed the keys were wet and very cold. As Brittany was singing, and I was playing, I looked out over the white expanse and felt my fingers going stiff and thought how I would never in a million years have pictured myself in this specific situation. I would never have wished for it, but it was a privilege to be able to do something.

More than a decade ago, a family friend gave birth to triplets, two boys and a girl. They were born prematurely. The girl was strong, and she grew and developed well. But the boys were severely handicapped. To this day, they require constant care and have never walked or talked. One time, the mom said, "In our home, we think about heaven every day." They know that someday, their sons will be blessed with perfect bodies, and they hold fast to that hope. That thought has stayed with me, and it came back to me today with greater meaning and hope.

Daniel has given me a reason to think of heaven every day.

Reading With the Seasons: Thanksgiving Edition

Nov 2, 2012

As I contemplated which books would put me in a Thanksgiving mood, I realized that my reading could really go in four different directions:

First, books that will make me hungry. Let's be honest, Thanksgiving is a gluttonous holiday. Unlike other candy-driven holidays, this one focuses on rich and heavy and warm and satisfying foods. I think I've mentioned before that I don't really love to cook, but I love to eat, and I also love to read about food. In that vein, I have two food books on the agenda this month: Garlic and Sapphires: The Secret Life of a Critic in Disguise by Ruth Reichl (the former food critic for the New York Times) and Dinner: A Love Story by Jenny Rosenstrach. I've already started Garlic and Sapphires since it is my book club's November pick, and I am gobbling it up (heh, heh). Ruth Reichl's rich and vivid descriptions of food make me mouth water.

Second, books that will make me think of America's beginnings. I am a big historical fiction fan, so I thought November would be the perfect time to read about the Mayflower, Puritans, and the first Thanksgiving. But I am drawing a complete blank on this one. Except for The Witch of Blackbird Pond, I can't think of a single book that takes place in America during the 17th century. I definitely would welcome any suggestions, and for all you aspiring authors out there, this looks like a niche that could use some filling.

Third, books that will make me feel cozy. As the weather turns cooler, there's nothing I like better than curling up in a blanket in front of the heater vent (we don't have a fireplace) with a good book. So many books could fall under this category, but the boys and I are reading The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane by Kate DiCamillo, one of my very favorite children's books and which has just the right hint of nostalgia and sentimentality to fit the cozy bill. Plus, reading with two little boys squished up beside me is infinitely more cuddly than reading by myself.

Fourth and finally, books that will make me feel grateful. No genre does this better for me than memoirs. Two that I've read in the past that I would highly recommend for adding a little perspective and gratitude to your life are The Glass Castle by Jeanette Walls and Heaven is Here by Stephanie Nielson. Another one that I've had my eye on for the last year or so is Two Kisses for Maddy: A Memoir of Loss and Love by Matthew Logelin. I hope I get some extra time to read it this month.

Hopefully, these ideas have sparked some ideas of your own. Please share any yummy, historical, cozy, or grateful books, and at the end of the month, I will compile all of them into a perfect November reads list. I know you must have ideas, so even if you've never commented before, let this be your reason to do it! Share!

Reading with the Seasons: Halloween Wrap-up

Nov 1, 2012

At the beginning of October, I talked about how I love reading books at just the right time of year or season of life. I asked for any suggestions you had for great Halloween/fall reads, and several of you shared your ideas, plus I gathered a few more of my own:

The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair That Changed America by Erik Larson was suggested by AJ and Mel. My book club has actually almost selected this book for the last two Octobers, but in the end, we all just get so creeped out and scared by the idea of a serial killer that we nix it.

The Lace Reader by Brunonia Barry - This was the title that ended up being selected for October book club instead. It was set in present-day Salem, Massachusetts, so it was flavored by the history of the Salem witch trials. I ended up not finishing it though. It was pretty depressing and the writing was confusing.

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee was suggested by my dear friend, Sarah. I thought this was a really excellent suggestion. Maybe not what you normally think of as a Halloween read but with the climax happening on Halloween night (with Scout dressed up as a ham, no less), I think it would be perfect.

Dracula by Bram Stoker was suggested by Mel. There really are a lot of creepy classics out there, and this is one of them.

Frankenstein by Mary Shelley - another terrifyingly-appropriate classic

The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman was suggested by Robyn. This won the Newbery a few years ago. I haven't read it, but by all reports it is a bit frightening.

How They Croaked: The Awful Ends of the Awfully Famous by Georgia Bragg - Mike's cousin, Jill, mentioned this a few days ago on her blog, and I immediately wrote it down to remember it for next year.

The Eyes of Amaryllis by Natalie Babbitt - I saw this book on Inhabiting Books, and Megan said it would be a great read for this time of year.

Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens was suggested by Alicia, one of my very favorite friends. I think a lot of Dickens' works provide just the right spooky edge.

The Wolves of Willoughby Chase by Joan Aiken - I have wanted to read this book for a long time. Maybe I will save it for next year.

Nine Coaches Waiting by Mary Stewart - I remember Sarah mentioning this one a long time ago, and I think it would definitely fit into the spooky category.

The Witches by Roald Dahl - I said this was on my October reading list. Well, I read it, and I loved every word of it.

Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier - Oh, my. I don't know if there's any way to capture my feelings for this book. But I'll try in a soon-to-be-coming review.

The Aviary by Kathleen O'Dell - On a whim, I decided to read this book this month, and despite being set in the summer, the creaky old house and enchanted birds made it a great read for this time of year. Full review coming soon.

And that's it. If you have any more suggestions, feel free to share and I'll add them to the list. And make sure you save this list so you'll know just what to read next October.

Tomorrow I will be talking about my reading plans for November, so get thinking about your favorite cozy/yummy/grateful/historical books to read this time of year!
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