The Sunday Salon: January 17, 2010

Good morning!  I hope it’s bright and sunny where you are!

In  Southern California we are bracing ourselves for a MAJOR WINTER STORM!  Take cover!  There may be some rain!  I might not be laughing about this a week from now, but when the weather forecasters cry wolf a few times, and the major storm ends up being a few sprinkles.. well, let’s say I’m a bit unimpressed with the warnings.  We’ll see.  Right now it’s sunny, the sky is a brilliant blue, and the only clouds I see are high and fluffy.  But they are moving pretty fast, so.. hmmm.

Today was supposed to be our parent/child book club meeting day, hosted by me, but my oldest has strep throat.  I almost made her go to school on Friday (another one who’s always crying wolf) but she seemed a little warm and listless and had a miserable attitude so I let her stay home.  Later I saw that her throat was inflamed so we went to the doctor.. he said it was viral and to go home and give her Motrin.  But then last night she spiked a high fever and her throat was bright red, so we ended up in the ER for several hours, and she got a shot of penicillin.  Now my husband has a sore throat.  Good times!

I’ve spent some time this morning going through our pictures for Sheri from A Novel Menagerie’s Beautiful Baby pet photo contest.  We have so many that it’s hard to decide what to submit.  She’s having consolation prizes for most humorous and best personality so I’m thinking of entering one of these, rather than the standard “beauty” shot.. tell me what you think:

Where is everybody? Who wants to play with me?

What's THIS? A new pet in the house?

Well, she smells pretty good. Maybe we can be friends.

As for reading, I’m about 2/3rds of the way through both U is for Undertow and American Rust.  I’m usually a one book at a time woman, but I’d left “U” in my car one night and didn’t feel like going out to get it, so I started American Rust and haven’t put it down since. Wish I had a team of people to raise my children, make my meals, do my laundry, clean my house, and shop for me so I could just read read read in my free time.  Wait..I need another me!  I need a wife!! Ha Ha.

What are you reading this weekend?  I hope you all have a wonderful day and a great week!  Thanks for stopping by Books On The Brain.

The Sunday Salon – January 10, 2009

Happy Sunday, everybody.  I’m sitting in my family room that is flooded with bright sunlight trying to wrap my head around the fact that this is January.  We’ve had blue skies and temps in the mid to upper 70s for over a week.  While it’s not unusual to have a day like that in January in Southern California, an entire week is weird, even for us.  We are enjoying it by getting out to ride bikes, visiting the beach, etc.  Typical January activities, right?  (I apologize to all you frozen-over mid-westerners for rubbing it in!)

This past week has been a whirlwind for us, trying to get back into a normal routine after the loosey-goosey schedule of winter break.  The Hub’s been in Vegas for a convention since Tuesday so the girls and I have been on our own.  I’ve gotten back to work and it’s a good thing because things had really piled up while I was off playing with the kids.  School mornings have been crazy (nobody wants to get up) and the homework battles have begun anew.  The kids have also taken to fighting over who gets to sleep with me each night while Dad’s away.  Tonight is the last night before he comes home and I think I’m going to demand that everyone sleep in their own bed.

The kids and I have been reading in the evenings.  My youngest and I are reading Fablehaven by Brandon Mull together for our mother/child book club and really enjoying it.  (My oldest is already on Book 4 of the series).  It’s the story of a brother and sister who go to their reclusive grandparents’ home for 2 weeks while their parents are on a cruise.  The home and property turn out to be a centuries-old refuge for mystical creatures (fairies, etc.) that can only be seen by drinking special milk.  Reading Fablehaven has been a great way for me to get my kids to drink their milk!!

I’m currently reading an old favorite author, Sue Grafton, and her latest, U is for Undertow.  I’d stopped reading this series a few years ago (the last one I read was M is for Malice) but I have no idea why… I LOVE Sue Grafton’s sense of humor, and this book is really fun.  My kids have caught me laughing out loud several times (it’s a mystery but her humor shines throughout).  Her sarcasm and wit just kill me and the way she intersects the various characters is really clever.  Now I’ll have to go back and read N, O, P, Q, R, S, and T to see what I’ve missed!

Tonight is book club night and it’s my turn to host our meeting.  I had my servants kids dusting and vacuuming in preparation yesterday.  The whining and complaining could be heard for miles around.  I decided to go super easy with the food and order out- Pizza Hut makes an awesome chicken fettucini alfredo so that’s what I’m serving.  No cooking!  Tonight we will discuss The Boy in the Striped Pajamas by John Boyne.  We’re also going to watch the movie.  This is something new for us and I’m looking forward to discussing the book vs. movie.  It was such a powerful book and I can’t wait to see Hollywood’s interpretation of it.

Well I’m off to rouse the troops- the bathrooms need attention, the dog needs her pills, the front porch needs to be hosed off, the dishwasher needs emptying, clothes need to be  put away.. the list goes on.  It’s not easy being a taskmaster but someone has to do it!

Thanks for stopping by Books on the Brain.  Leave me a note and tell me what you’re up to this weekend.

Have a great week!

Adventures of a Christmas H.O.

This isn't me. It's some other H.O.

I am generally an excellent H.O. (Holiday Organizer) but this year I got sidelined with the flu right after Thanksgiving and was sick for 10 days.  My lists and plans had to wait until I could breathe and cross a room without hacking up a lung.  Thankfully I’m fully recovered (well, mostly- still have a cough), so yesterday I tackled my lengthy Christmas list, hoping to get it all done in one day.

I left the house armed with coupons, discount cards, store ads, debit and credit cards, and a good attitude (most important!) and donning a Santa hat.  I had an organized list and knew exactly what I was getting for almost everyone.  What a H.O.!

First stop, the ATM for some cash.  Next stop, Starbucks for a venti peppermint mocha to get into the right mood.  Then onto Target for electronics.

Target has a GREAT deal on digital cameras right now, something both my kids have been coveting. I wanted to see them in person and make a decision between two of them.  I hoped to beat the crowds with my mid-week, mid-morning shopping trip.  I hadn’t figured on a 6 person-deep line and a frazzled young man behind the counter who continuously got distracted because he kept getting interrupted, answering questions and helping others without completing one transaction.  After this happened 3 or 4 times I was ready to just leave when the man ahead of me barked, “HEY!  There’s a line here!  I don’t care if you just have a ‘quick question’.. get your ass to the back of the line!”

Whoa.  The man had READ MY MIND!  I was impressed and took a sip of my mocha with a holiday smile on my face.

When it was finally my turn, I asked my question (“Why is this camera $30 more than that one?  They look identical.”)  His confused look and his nonsensical answer (“uhhhh, one is red and one is silver. I’m going to help this other guy while you decide.”) left me annoyed but still patient and chanting “It’s ok..I’m a H.O.  I can do this.” in my holiday brain.

After inspecting them more closely I realized the more expensive camera had 10 megapixels vs. 8 for the cheaper one.  I made up my mind about what to get, got the attention of the clerk again, asked for two of them, then waited several minutes while he rooted around looking for them only to find out that they were sold out.  That might have been nice to know right off the bat!  Could have saved everybody a lot of time!  Grrrrr.  I suggested that he put a sold out sign in the display to save the next person the same aggravation, and he give me a look I see quite often as the mother of two preteen girls.  Kind of condescending.. a look that says, “Whatever, lady..”

But the clerk was sweet enough to call another Target for me where they had 7 cameras left, so I took my time leaving the store, sipping my mocha and picking up other odds and ends (mini candy canes for the class party, stocking stuffers, batteries, laundry soap, wrapping paper, birthday cards for my daughter) then checked out.  It wasn’t until I was in my car  and making my way across town that I realized I hadn’t crossed one thing off my list, even though I’d spent 90 minutes in that store.  Dude!!  That was more than 25% of my ‘shopping alone’ time!

Feeling more panicky now and determined to stay focused, I pulled into the lot of Target #2, grabbed a cart, briefly considered stopping at the bathroom but after looking at my watch decided to keep going, put on blinders, and headed to the back of the store.  This electronics department was busier but better staffed, with three people working who actually seemed to know what they were doing.  I waited my turn, got the cameras, two cases, memory cards, and even allowed myself to get talked into extended warranties, all with a smile on my face because the clerk seemed to really know what she was talking about.  I liked her.  She was nice.  She liked my hat .  And she thought warranties were a good idea.  I never buy warranties, ever, but maybe I should.

And then I ran into my neighbor.  “Lisa, oh my gosh!  It’s been ages!  You look great!  How are you?” and this is where I made my fatal mistake, when  I said, “Hey!  I’m fine, HOW ARE YOU?” because then she proceeded to tell me.. and tell me.. and tell me..  Meanwhile, the mocha is hitting my bladder, hard.  A couple of times I said, “I should get going” and “I’m sure you have a lot to do” and “Oh, wow, look at the time” but finally I had to say, “I need to go, I really have to pee” and she laughed and said, “Ok” and then KEPT TALKING.  It’s difficult to interrupt a person who is spilling their guts about their impending divorce, so I crossed my legs and prayed, “Dear Lord, please don’t let me wet my pants.”  Finally I had to say, “I need to find a bathroom, now” and walked away as she was still talking.  Folks, I barely made it..  One more minute and I would have been standing in a puddle.

A quick stop for food, a (not too) quick stop at Borders, then suddenly it was time to pick up Kid #1 at school #1, then Kid #2 at school #2.  Then, after a flurry of phone calls back and forth with my sister for sizes and likes/dislikes of her son, we were off to the mall.  Shopping is much slower with kids in tow.  They are under the mistaken idea that we must look at everything they want for Christmas when we’re supposed to be shopping for other people.  And a trip to the mall wouldn’t be complete for them without a visit to the pet store.  So it all took forever, but we had fun, and I finally finished.

The most difficult gift selection of the day was for my best friend.  She always comes up with the perfect thing.  She never spends too much or too little.  It’s always something thoughtful and meaningful.  So the pressure is on..  I found a lovely Lennox holiday bowl that was regularly priced at $50.  It was on sale 40% off, then with my discount coupon it ended up with a final price of $18.  I was happy until I thought, what if she returns it?  She’ll know how little I spent!  She’ll think I don’t care about her as much as she does me!  Then I was thinking maybe it was too impersonal, maybe I should have gotten her a sweater or a bracelet or a fuzzy robe or.. I don’t know.. something BETTER.

My husband thinks I’m cracked.

ANYway!  Ho, ho, HO!  My shopping is done!  Except for my husband, who wants a weight bench and weights, because, “Honey, THIS is the year I’m getting in shape!”  Whatever, honey..

Are you the family H.O.?  How are you doing with your shopping?

Keeping the Feast – Winter Reading Series Announcement!

Ah, winter.  For me it is the most perfect time of year for reading.  Something about cold weather and short days makes me all snugglish, and then add to that a warm mug of something yummy, a fuzzy sweater, a cozy chair.  What else completes that idyllic mental picture better than a book, right?

Have I got one for you…

I’ve teamed up again with Mari from Bookworm with a View for a Winter Reading Series!  We had so much fun with our Summer Series that we thought we’d do it again.

Our first selection is a perfect winter read called Keeping the Feast: One Couple’s Story of Love, Food and Healing in Italy by Paula Butturini.  Love?  Food?  Italy?? If you’re anything like me, that sounds really good, and vaguely familiar.. but wait, there’s more to it..

From the author’s website, here is the synopsis:

Keeping the Feast traces the path of a single bullet that upended the lives of an American couple reporting on the fall of Communism in 1989. Ultimately, though, it is a memoir that celebrates the healing to be found in the sharing of food, three times a day, among friends and family in Italy and France.

A bullet?  NOT exactly what you were expecting, eh?  Well, it is the time of year for surprises!

Ok, so here’s the deal.  I have 20 COPIES  of Keeping the Feast available for our reading series, compliments of Riverhead Books!  We’ll get the books out to everyone who’s interested in participating. Then 20 of us can discuss it here, and Paula will join in!  Think of it as a book club of sorts, except without the wine.  Well, you can have wine in front of your computer if you like.  Who’s gonna stop you?

E-mail me with your address (even if you think I have it!) to enter the drawing for a free copy of the book.  Put “Keeping the Feast” in the subject line, but please only request the book if you are interested in coming back for the  discussion.  Be sure it sounds like a book you’d enjoy.

Click here to read a full description of the book. Keeping the Feast will be in stores on February 18th, 2010, and the discussion will take place here in February – with the author participating ‘live’ for an hour!  I will post details for the discussion about a week before along with an email reminder to those who’ve won the book.

(Oh, and thank you to Sasha & the Silver Fish for reminding me to say that this is open to US/Canada residents only.  I apologize to our friends in other countries.)

I hope you’ll join us!

Teaser Tuesday- November 24, 2009

Miz B and Teaser Tuesdays asks you to: Grab your current read. Let the book fall open to a random page. Share with us two (2) sentences from that page, somewhere between lines 7 and 12. You also need to share the title of the book that you’re getting your “teaser” from … that way people can have some great book recommendations if they like the teaser you’ve given!

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

My teaser comes from page 51 of When the Emperor Was Divine by Julie Otsuka.  At 144 pages this is a minimalist story told by a young boy about his Japanese American family during WWII, when they are split up and sent to the internment camps.

My (step) grandparents were children during WWII and went to the camps with their families, so I have a personal interest in these kinds of stories.  I’m pre-reading this one to see if it would be ok for my 12 year old daughter to read.  So far, so good.  Here’s the teaser, from page 51:

“There was a window above the boy’s bed, and outside were the stars and the moon and the endless rows of black barracks all lined up in the sand.  In the distance, a wide empty field where nothing but sagebrush grew, then the fence and the high wooden towers.”

A (Thankful) Sunday Salon

I don’t know about you but I hate those posts where the blogger apologizes for not blogging because they are _________ (fill in the blank) busy, lazy, distracted, sick, tired, *whatever*.  So, I won’t do that.  Because really, nobody cares.

But from looking around I see it is time to dust off the cobwebs in the corners, water the plants, throw open the windows to air the place out and try to get rid of that smell of neglect.

Whew!  That’s better.  (Thank you, BOTB readers, for understanding, and for checking in with me.  I’m fine!  Just uninspired!)

At some point in recent weeks I all but stopped writing reviews.  I have all the usual excuses (busy, etc.) but mostly I’ve just not had the writing mojo.  I would sit down to write a review and the words wouldn’t come.  Now I have so many to write I may never catch up.  I’m thinking of clearing the slate and starting fresh, with the exception of books I agreed to review for others (thank you, authors and publishers, for your patience).  Has anyone else done this?  Just wiped the slate clean and moved on rather than trying to write reviews for books you read weeks ago?  (Thank you, blogging friends, for your advice in this area).

What happened to me?  There was a time when I reviewed everything I read, immediately upon finishing.  It’s much easier to write a review that way.  If enough time passes, the details get fuzzy, and nobody likes a fuzzy reviewer, right?

My aim in the new year:  fuzz-free reviews in a timely manner.

We’re looking forward to some quality family time this week.  The kids are off from school and I do not have to bust my butt cleaning my house and gearing up for company (yay!  YAY!) because Thanksgiving dinner will be somewhere else this year (thank you, Mom, for making dinner!).  All I’m required to do is show up with clean, well behaved children (ha!), a bottle of wine, and a casserole dish full of sweet potatoes (thank you, Tara, for the most excellent recipe!).   My holiday responsibilities end there.

The girls have NO HOMEWORK over the break (thank you, teachers!  I was expecting the worst!)  So we will be out carousing this week.. shopping, seeing movies, going roller skating, and just generally hanging out.  With no school projects to attend to, it will be a real break for them.  We are dying to see New Moon (even Mom’s looking forward to seeing werewolf  Taylor HOTner-all three of us are TEAM JACOB) and Cirque du Freak: The Vampire’s Assistant (thank you, Hollywood, for all the great movies this time of year!).  Daddy has to work (thank you, Dad, for being a great provider!), so it will be a whole lot of girl time. Hopefully there will be no drama and we will all get along.

I’m also looking forward to some reading time.  I’m reading How to Save Your Own Life by Michael Gates Gil, a super quick little guide to finding joy in unexpected places.  I need to finish Bold Spirit for a December book club discussion (thank you, book club friends, for enriching my life!).  And finally, I can’t wait to start Keeping the Feast by Paula Butturini this week (thank you, Penguin Group, for sending the book!)

What are your plans this Thanksgiving?  What are you reading?

I’m thankful for YOU.  HAPPY THANKSGIVING!

Twelve

IMG_4534My baby turns 12 today.  I can’t quite believe it.  We had birthday cake for breakfast and she opened her presents before school.

I tried to cram all my feelings about her into her birthday card.  I told her how much I love her, how she means the world to me, how much my life has changed because of her, how she has made me a better person, how proud I am of the person she is and the young lady she is becoming.

No card is big enough to hold it all but I think she knows how much she’s loved.  And if during those moments when we’re not getting along she forgets a little bit, well, she can re-read the card.

She got a few books for her birthday.  I think she was happy about that.

IMG_4537
She’s growing up, but she’ll always be my baby.

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Goodbye, eleven.  Hello, twelve!

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Waiting my turn for Catching Fire

scollins-330-Catching_fire_cI read The Hunger Games in August.  LOVED it.  I was totally engrossed and could not put it down.  My 11 year old read it after me.  Also loved it.  So we were thrilled to see that they had the sequel at the Scholastic Book Fair that I chaired at the junior high a couple weeks ago.

Catching Fire was literally flying off the shelves, even in hardback, even at $17.99.  I had to place a restock order twice during the one week fair.  Teachers were buying it, kids were begging their parents for it, and the librarian got 6 copies.  Scholastic also sent 25 copies of The Hunger Games in paperback at $8.99 and I sold out of them within two hours on the first day of the fair.  I ordered 50 more and sold them all.

My daughter’s eyes lit up when she saw all those copies of Catching Fire, that beautiful stack of crimson books.  “Please, Mom, can we get it?”  What she didn’t know was that I was way ahead of her.. I had already purchased it!!

I planned to read it first, but she got to it before I did.  She was reading it at dinner last night when she actually gasped, covered her mouth and looked at me with these huge eyes.  “Don’t tell me!  Seriously, do NOT tell me!” I said sternly.  “I have to, Mom!!  You are not going to believe it!  Katniss..” she began, but I stuck my fingers in my ears and said, “la la la la la” until she finally backed down and said, “OK! OK!  I’ll keep it to myself!  But PROMISE ME you’ll read this as soon as I’m done!”

She won’t have to twist my arm.

Kids and Cash

Got any money?

Got any money?

I do not want to raise spoiled brats.  I want my kids to understand the value of a buck.

But in the area in which we live, this is tricky.  Rampant consumerism is the norm.  My daughter’s best friend has a flat screen tv in his bedroom, a laptop, and is on his 3rd cell phone.  And he’s 12.  We have friends who vacation in Hawaii every summer, have annual passes to Disney,  and eat out 5 nights a week.  Moms bring their kids carmel macchiatos from Starbucks at lunchtime to the grade school.  7th graders get regular mani/pedis and $200 salon dye jobs.   And the competitive party throwing (each kid’s birthday party must be bigger, cooler, more interesting, and BETTER than the last) starts in preschool.

No matter what type of store we go into, my kids want something.  It could be the hardware store, the drugstore, or Kinkos/Fedex- it doesn’t matter.  If there’s something to buy, they want it.

My kids each have a bank account where they deposit Christmas and birthday money and any other money they get throughout the year from pet sitting, extra chores, etc.  They also get a monthly allowance that they deposit on the first of each month.  It isn’t much, but I want them to learn how to manage money, plus I get tired of being their personal ATM.

The problem comes when they want to spend money.  It’s always, “Buy this for me now and I will pay you back.”  I’ve stopped doing this because they forget, or I forget, or they think they’ve paid me back when they haven’t.

My daughter has been wanting this thing called a Zhu Zhu Pet.  It’s basically a battery-operated hamster.  Unfortunately they are sold out of it in our area.  You can get them online at a MUCH higher price, plus shipping.  My darling daughter wants me to whip out a credit card and pay the inflated price.  She will pay me back.  She thinks it’s perfectly ok to pay $23.98 for a toy that normally sells for about $3. at Walmart.  “It’s not that much, Mom, and I HAVE MY OWN MONEY.”  Why can’t she wait until the store gets another shipment?

We don’t have any set rules about how much money they can spend, how much money they can take out of the bank,  or what their allowance is actually for.  This is the problem, and I’m struggling to come up with the right solution.

I’ve read it’s not wise to tie a child’s allowance to chores, but I have heard myself say in moments of frustration, “If you don’t make your bed, I’m docking your allowance!” Shouldn’t the lesson be- “When you do a job, you get paid”?  Or should chores just be something you do because you’re a part of a family?  But if you don’t tie allowance into chores, the child can be a lazy piglet and do nothing around the house and still get his allowance, right?  Maybe another consequence is better, but I know that if I don’t work, I don’t get paid.  It seems like a natural consequence.

I want to instill fiscal responsibility.  I want my kids to be generous but also thrifty.  I want them to understand they should work for things, have patience, save up, pay their debts.  I want them to think before plunking down cash for things they don’t really need.  I want them to understand that Mom and Dad are not made of money.  In short, I need help.

So I have some questions for all the parents out there.

  1. Do you give your kids an allowance?  If so, how much? At what age did you start giving allowance?
  2. If you give an allowance, what do you expect in return?  Chores?  General respectfulness?
  3. Do you take away a portion of their allowance as a consequence for misbehavior?  For anything?
  4. What is your child’s allowance intended to cover?  Is it just ‘mad money’?  Can they spend it freely, without consulting you?
  5. Do you separate allowance money from other savings your child might have?

Thanks to any wise parents out there willing to help me think this through!

Review: Wintergirls by Laurie Halse Anderson

35621937.JPGWintergirls by Laurie Halse Anderson explores the darkest recesses of the troubled mind of a teenage anorexic coping with the death of her best friend.  For a mother of young girls, this was a most terrifying reading experience.

Lia and Cassie were best friends growing up, making a dangerous pact to stay thin and always support each other’s habits.  But after 9 years of best friendship, they stop talking.

When Lia’s parents put her in a treatment center for eating disorders, Cassie’s parents warn her to stay away from Lia, who they perceive as a bad influence.  But what Cassie’s parents don’t know is that Cassie is a bulimic and in very serious trouble physically.  At the time of her death, Lia and Cassie hadn’t spoken in several months, but for some reason Cassie tried to call her 33 times the night she died.

Lia is haunted by obsessive thoughts of her friend, and visual and auditory hallucinations of Cassie encouraging her to stay strong, eat less, and join her.  She can even smell Cassie’s presence.

Obsessive thoughts rule Lia’s existence.  Thoughts of Cassie and thoughts of food.  Everything has a number.  Apple (75) half a bagel (185) 10 raisins (16).  The book is written in a stream of consciousness style that is compelling and painful.  I felt like I was witnessing this girl, this character I cared about, slowly killing herself, and I couldn’t do anything about it.

Her family is desperate to help her but Lia is critical of all their efforts.  Lia believes they are clueless and that they don’t care, but it’s clear they love her and will do anything to make her well.

A starving girl does not make the most reliable narrator.  She is deeply disturbed and in so much pain.  She calls herself names and has such horrible self-talk that it was very hard (as a mom) to read:

::stupid/ugly/stupid/bitch/stupid/fat/

stupid/baby/stupid/loser/stupid/lost::

Her brain is at war with itself throughout the book as she tries to convince herself that she doesn’t need food.  Anderson shows the reader how conflicted she is by using a strike-out technique with great effectiveness.  Here’s an example:

My traitor fingers want that fudge.  No, they don’t.  They want a seven layer bar and some weird muffins and those pretzels.  No, they do not.  They want to squish the marshmallows and stuff them into my mouth.  They will not.”

This is a fabulously written, intensely compelling book.  I love how it doesn’t solve the problem or give any easy answers, because there aren’t any.  It’s such a complicated issue.  Laurie Halse Anderson is an amazing YA novelist who takes on the most difficult subjects.  I’d highly recommend Wintergirls to anyone looking for a book to take over their lives for a couple of days, but most especially to those who deal with teenage girls on a regular basis or who want a better understanding of eating disorders.

This one is excellent.

UPDATE:  I forgot about the ‘full disclosure’ issue on blogs.. about where books come from.  I bought this book on vacation in August when I ran out of books to read. I read Speak by LHA last spring and loved it, and had seen Wintergirls reviewed positively on a number of blogs.  So that’s how I came to own this book, if anyone cares about that stuff!