Saturday, December 31, 2016

2016 Year In Books

The books I read in 2016 are listed below.  For my thoughts on (some of) them, check out my 2016 Reading Highlights.

How to Write a Novel by Melanie Sumner

The Bookseller by Cynthia Swanson

The Lake House by Kate Morton
(audiobook, narrated by Caroline Lee)

Paulina and Fran by Rachel Glaser

The Making of Us by Lisa Jewell

O, Pioneers! by Willa Cather
(audiobook, narrated by Barbara McCulloh)

The Life We Bury by Allen Eskens
(audiobook, narrated by Zach Villa)

Mrs. Engels by Gavin McCrea

A Single Man by Christopher Isherwood
(audiobook, narrated by Simon Prebble)

The Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend by Katarina Bivald
(audiobook, narrated by Fiona Hardingham and Lorelei King)

Dear Thief by Samantha Harvey

The Past by Tessa Hadley
(audiobook, narrated)

Escape from Mr. Lemoncello's Library by Chris Grabenstein

Any Human Heart by William Boyd
(audiobook, narrated by Simon Vance)

Bellweather Rhapsody by Kate Racculia

Be Frank With Me by Julia Claiborne Johnson
(audiobook, narrated by Tavia Gilbert)

The Ramblers by Aidan Donnelley Rowley
(audiobook, narrated by Erica Sullivan)

The Book of You by Claire Kendal

My Name is Lucy Barton by Elizabeth Strout
(library book)

This Was Not the Plan by Cristina Alger
(library book)

My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante
(audiobook, narrated by Hillary Huber)

Listening Valley by D.E. Stevenson
(audiobook, narrated by Emma D'Inverno)

Brooklyn by Colm Toibin
(audiobook, narrated by Kirsten Potter)

Eligible by Curtis Sittenfeld
(paperback advance copy)

The Wife, the Maid, and the Mistress by Ariel Lawhon

Everything, Everything by Nicola Yoon

Pretty Girls by Karin Slaughter
(audiobook, narrated by Kathleen Early)

The Nest by Cynthia D'Aprix Sweeney
(audiobook, narrated by Mia Barron)

The Great American Whatever by Tim Federle
(library book)

Nora Webster by Colm Toibin

The Summer Before the War by Helen Simonson
(audiobook, narrated by Fiona Hardingham)

The Girl with All the Gifts
(audiobook, narrated by Finty Williams)

Tell Me Three Things by Julie Buxbaum

Keep Me Posted by Lisa Beazley
(library book)

After I Do by Taylor Jenkin Reid

Dumplin' by Julie Murphy

Elizabeth the First Wife by Lian Dolan

Three-Martini Lunch by Suzanne Rindell

Miller's Valley by Anna Quindlen

The Decent Proposal by Kemper Donovan
(library book)

Anatomy of a Misfit by Andrea Portes

Nobody's Fool* by Richard Russo
(audiobook, narrated by Ron McLarty)

The Last Fifth Grade of Emerson Elementary by Laura Shovan
(library book)

The Expatriates by Janice Y.K. Lee

Everybody's Fool by Richard Russo

The Last Boy and Girl in the World by Siobhan Vivian

Tremarnock by Emma Burstall

Heat & Light by Jennifer Haigh

Because She Loves Me by Mark Edwards

The Headmaster's Wife by Thomas Christopher Greene

The Widow by Fiona Barton

The Sky Is Everywhere by Jandy Nelson

Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng

The Versions of Us by Laura Barnett
(library book)

Letters for Scarlet by Julie Gardner

Here's to Us by Elin Hilderbrand

Modern Lovers by Emma Straub

One True Loves by Taylor Jenkins Reid
(library book)

Paradise Lodge by Nina Stibbe

No One Knows by J.T. Ellison

The Children by Ann Leary

The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver

Sweetbitter by Stephanie Danler
(library book)

Riders by Jilly Cooper
(ebook via EPL)

Happiness for Beginners by Katherine Center

Helen of Pasadena by Lian Dolan(paperback)

Rainy Day Sisters by Kate Hewitt

The One-in-a-Million Boy by Monica Wood

Everything We Keep by Kerry Lonsdale

First Comes Love by Emily Giffin

The Sea of Tranquility by Katja Millay

Moon Over Manifest by Clare Vanderpool

Before the Fall by Noah Hawley

The Inseparables by Stuart Nadler

We're All Damaged by Matthew Norman

When I'm Gone by Emily Bleeker

The Hopefuls by Jennifer Close
(library book)

Opening Belle by Maureen Sherry

Life and Other Near-Death Experiences by Camille Pagan

Since You've Been Gone by Morgan Matson

Patience & Sarah by Isabel Miller

Siracusa by Delia Ephron
(library book)

Belgravia by Julian Fellows

In a Dark, Dark Wood by Ruth Ware

Commonwealth by Ann Patchett

The Girls by Emma Cline

The Dinner Party by Brenda Janowitz

A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles

The Season by Jonah Lisa Dyer

The Things We Wish Were True by Marybeth Mayhew Whalen

The Wangs vs. the World by Jade Chang

Bridget Jones's Baby: The Diaries by Helen Fielding

The Bookshop on the Corner by Jenny Colgan

The Fall Guy by James Lasdun

The Awakening of Miss Prim by Natalia Sanmartin Fenollera

Truly Madly Guilty by Liane Moriarty

Sarah Morris Remembers by D.E. Stevenson

The Gilded Years by Karen Tanabe
(audiobook, narrated by Janina Edwards)

Excellent Women* by Barbara Pym

The Guise of Another by Allen Eskens

The Edge of Lost by Kristina McMorris

Young Mrs. Savage by D.E. Stevenson

Today Will Be Different by Maria Semple
(library book)

Invincible Summer by Alice Adams

A Day at the Office by Matt Dunn

The Odds of Loving Grover Cleveland by Rebekah Crane

Winter Storms by Elin Hilderbrand
(library book)

The Nix by Nathan Hill

Junior Miss by Sally Benson

The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey

First Star I See Tonight by Susan Elizabeth Phillips

It Was Me All Along by Andie Mitchell

The World's Strongest Librarian:  A Memoir of Tourette's, Faith, Strength, and the Power of Family by Josh Hanagarne
(audiobook, narrated by Stephen R. Thorne)

How to Be Interesting: An Instruction Manual by Jessica Hagy
(library book)

Year of Yes: How to Dance It Out, Stand in the Sun and Be Your Own Person by Shonda Rhimes
(library book)

On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft by Stephen King

Brave Girl Eating: A Family's Struggle with Anorexia by Harriet Brown

When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi

Surprised by Oxford by Carolyn Weber

Never Broken: Songs are Only Half the Story by Jewel
(audiobook, narrated by the author)

When We Were the Kennedys:  A Memoir from Mexico, Maine by Monica Wood

Burnt Toast Makes You Sing Good: A Memoir of Food and Love from an American Midwest Family by Kathleen Flinn

Autobiography of a Face by Lucy Grealy

After Perfect: A Daughter's Memoir by Christina McDowell

Wildflower by Drew Barrymore

Present Over Perfect: Leaving Behind Frantic for a Simpler, More Soulful Way of Living by Shauna Niequist

Keep It Shut:  What to Say, How to Say It, and When to Say Nothing at All by Karen Ehman

Forever, Erma by Erma Bombeck

The Girl with the Lower Back Tattoo by Amy Schumer
(library book)

Come to the Edge by Christina Haag

No Baggage: A Minimalist Tale of Love and Wandering by Clara Bensen

String Theory: David Foster Wallace on Tennis by David Foster Wallace

Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis by J.D. Vance

Born Standing Up: A Comic's Life by Steve Martin

Hungry Heart: Adventures in Life, Love, and Writing by Jennifer Weiner

Angels in My Hair by Lorna Byrne

The Impostor's Daughter: A True Memoir by Laurie Sandell
(library book)

Rosemary: The Hidden Kennedy Daughter by Kate Clifford Larson

Tree of Treasures: A Life in Ornaments by Bonnie Mackay
(library book)

Boys in Trees by Carly Simon

Girl Trouble: An Illustrated Memoir by Kerry Cohen
(library book)

Born A Crime by Trevor Noah
(audiobook, narrated by author)

Besties by Leah Reena Goren
(library book)

Beyond Belief: My Secret Life Inside Scientology and My Harrowing Escape by Jenna Miscavige Hill

Scrappy Little Nobody by Anna Kendrick
(library book)

Talking as Fast as I Can: From Gilmore Girls to Gilmore Girls, and Everything in Between by Lauren Graham
(library book)

The Bridge Ladies by Betsy Lerner

An (*) indicates a reread.  Unless otherwise noted, my ebooks are read via the Kindle app on my phone or iPad.  EPL = Elmhurst Public Library.

Sunday, December 25, 2016

Merry Christmas

 Our nativity at home.  One of the loveliest and most special wedding gifts we received.
I was proud of my kids for remembering to place Baby Jesus in his manger first thing this morning.

 One of the nativity scenes at our parish.  

Our grade school's Christmas card, designed by a class of fourth graders.  I just love it.

Finally, a poem that I discovered earlier this year when my daughter was on a poetry reading (aloud) kick.  I can envision a sweet heart-shaped Christmas ornament with the poem on one side.  Will file that idea away in the room mom folder in my brain.  Here's the poem ...


What can I give Him,
Poor as I am;
If I were a shepherd,
I would give Him a lamb.
If I were a wise man,
I would do my part.
But what can I give Him?
I will give him my heart.

Christina Rosetti

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Gift Idea -- Nora Fleming

That's our elf, JJ, sittin' pretty on a pile of cinnamon-scented pinecones in the middle of my Nora Fleming salad bowl.  Nora Fleming, you say?  Tell me more.  If you are seeking a gift for a woman who loves to entertain and collect, a woman with a soft spot for cute stuff, consider Nora Fleming serving pieces.  All the pieces are simple and cream colored with a little beaded detail.  There's a little hole in each (I should have photographed this) where you can stick an adorable mini--like the woody wagon with tree on top featured above--to suit the occasion.  Having made it known that I am a woman who likes to entertain and collect, I have received some Nora Fleming pieces (platters, bowl, napkin holder, cheese board) and minis over the past five years.  I have also treated myself to some more minis now and again.  They are so cute that it's hard not to.

See what's I'm talking about?  So stinking cute.  
Fun, fun, fun.

Where to find Nora Fleming platters and minis?  I'm lucky because the best gift shop here in Pleasantville (Uptown Shop, Elmhurst, IL) sells them.  I believe they are also available at Von Maur.  Nora Fleming lives in a neighboring suburb, I think, and must be a generous lady as I have also seen Nora Fleming gift collections on auction for good causes (one of which I won -- woo hoo!).  

I totally get it that this kind of thing is a "me me me!!!" for some and an "eyeroll" for others.  Some like the idea of basics that can be jazzed up.  Others are not at all tempted by more stuff.  We all like what we like and do what we do.  I'm just sharing this gift idea in case you need something to add to your own Christmas list or need inspiration for someone you love.  I seem to have aged out of the wedding shower circuit and didn't know about Nora Fleming back when I was on it, but for the "me me me!!! I love cute stuff" bride, I think a basic platter and a couple minis would make a great gift.

Monday, December 12, 2016

My Tree of Treasures -- New and Fair Trade Additions

Inspired by Bonnie Mackay's Tree of Treasures, I'm going to share the history of two of my tree treasures.  I'm kind of cheating because I bought both ornaments just last weekend, but why not start with a task that won't task my increasingly iffy memory? 

The gorgeous cardinal ornament above now has a perfect eye level spot on my beloved cardinal tree.  Made in India, the ornament was purchased at our parish's free trade artisan market, which takes place each year in December.  The purpose of the market is to bring a variety of artisan goods to buyers who pay fair prices for them and help support artisans and families all over the globe.  It's made of fabric, and I fell in love with the cording and beading details.  With many cardinals already perched on my tree, new additions have to be very unique and beautiful (see above) or welcome gifts from friends.

This beautiful ornament featuring the Holy Family was (surprise surprise) also purchased at the fair trade artisan event.  If I could get a decent photo of our family tree, you'd see that we need another ornament like a hole in the head.  However, I fell in love with this nativity tucked inside a hollowed out gourd from Peru.  Who can argue with a new and beautiful reminder of the true meaning of this Christmas season?

Both ornaments were purchased from the vendor Gracias Free Trade.  I know they'll grace our trees for many years.

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Kindle First -- Whatdya Think?

I've been an Amazon Prime member for about ten years, I think.  I joined for the free, fast shipping.  A few years ago, our family began accessing the Prime videos for streaming television shows, movies, and original series.  I downloaded the Prime Music app on my phone, but I'm not exactly sure what's going on there yet.  The idea of Prime Photo Storage is appealing.  However, the whole arena of digital photo storage, clouds, etc., makes me feel anxious.

My awareness of the Kindle First book offerings for Prime members was only foggy.  Basically, Prime members can choose one book each month for free that is going to be released the following month.  I always assumed the books wouldn't be any good so didn't follow up until a friend of mine told me she had gotten a book we ended up selecting for book club for free via Kindle First.  I started paying attention. 

Now, checking out the Kindle First selections and choosing one has become another monthly ritual.  I've read a few books so far, my favorite of which was Kerry Lonsdale's Everything We Keep -- crazy mystery/romance page-turner.
Here are screen shots of this month's offerings.  I couldn't fit the Amazon-provided tag lines in my collage, but I will list them below.  By the way, I'd love to be able to write these kind of tags.  I should practice.

Sister One, Two, Three by Nancy Star -- CONTEMPORARY FICTION
Three sisters.  Three Memories.  One chance to reunite them all.

Hope's Peak by Tony Healey -- THRILLER
Detective Jane Harper is learning that secrets in Hope's Peak don't just die hard.  They kill.

The Missing by Caroline Eriksson -- PSYCHOLOGICAL SUSPENSE
When a father and daughter vanish during a family trip, Greta questions her sanity.

Fate of Perfection by K.F. Breene -- SCIENCE FICTION
A corporation made her.  Now it wants her child.

Into the Thickening Fog by Andrei Gelasimov -- LITERARY FICTION
A state of emergency turns wickedly funny for a famous Russian director in his hometown.

The Original Dream by Nukila Amal -- MAGICAL REALISM
What happens when life is like a dream and dreams are like real life?

So what did I choose?  One of the three translated novels on offer ...  A novel that is not magical realism or science fiction...  A novel that sounded compelling, funny, and smart...  The one set in Russia ...

Drumroll please.  I chose Into the Thickening Fog by Andrei Gelasimov, who is apparently a popular writer in his own land.  Russia's been on my mind since reading A Gentleman in Moscow, and reading a book where cold features prominently seems like a perfect activity for January (on comfy couch with warm blanket).

If you're Prime, it will cost you nothing but a few minutes of your time to treat yourself to a Kindle First selection.  Enjoy!

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Tree of Treasures

I'll save my November NaBloPoMo wrap-up for another day.  Here's a sneak preview for December here at Books and Carbs.  I found Bonnie Mackay's Tree of Treasures on a new release kiosk at the library.  It's the perfect library book, not something I need to own, but something I am so glad to have read.  Mackay owns many, many ornaments and has been in the ornament business for much of her professional career.  

The book pairs photos of some of her favorite ornaments with stories about their origin and significance.  As her subtitle promises, it's "a life in ornaments."

I want to write about some of my favorite ornaments this month (not every day, I promise).  Mackay's book made me think of how cool it would be for adult children to photograph and write about some of their favorite ornaments for a family ornament book that could be given to parents as a keepsake gift.  Maybe I'll take some pics of my parents' tree when we're home for Christmas and recruit some writers of all ages.   

What if I could get my kids to write about one ornament each year starting NOW and collect the photos and write-ups in an album?  Am I getting carried away?  We'll see.

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Lights Out

You may recall my riveting account of composting our rotten Halloween pumpkins earlier this month.

Here's another exciting tale of conscientiousness and follow through. 

On Monday morning, out of the corner of my eye, I saw a bin at our community workout facility when I was there for tennis.  The bin seemed to be filled with Christmas lights.

I arrived home a couple hours later and noticed the pile of non-working Christmas lights on the floor of our garage.  My husband had placed the lights (and some other get-rid-of-them-please items) in my parking spot in the hopes that I would get rid of them.  A quick google search revealed that I could recycle Christmas lights at a variety of community locations, including the place where I play tennis.  In an amazing feat of memory and follow through, I moved the lights from garage floor to passenger seat, then remembered to carry them into the building and drop them in the bin when I went to tennis today.  Lights out success.

I successfully parked in the garage this evening.  I'd tell you what I did with the other get-rid-of-them-please items, but I don't know if you could handle the excitement. 

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

1,000 Books Before Kindergarten

Those of you with young'uns probably already know about the 1,000 Books Before Kindergarten initiative.  I did not, another sign that I have passed into a new era of motherhood.  I was flipping through our library's winter magazine and saw the feature above.  The idea is that you read 1,000 books with your child before kindergarten to "Promote early literacy and encourage parent and child bonding through reading."  Who can argue with that?  Apparently, there's even an app for tracking the books.  I checked the App Store, and from the reviews it looks as if they're still working out the kinks, but still, great idea.  The Elmhurst Public Library is offering prizes for each 100-book milestone and some kind of graduation party.  I love it all!  Some of my happiest memories involve reading with my children.  Bedtime, the smell of baby lotion, footie pajamas, chubby fingers pointing, Ten Nine Eight, The Going to Bed Book, Goodnight Moon, Give Me Grace, Miss Spider's Tea Party, and every Little Critter title or any one of the many other books we enjoyed together ... I could cry right now. 

Having this app would have been fun, but I think I exceeded 1,000 books before kindergarten with each kiddo without the app.  No time spent reading with a child is wasted.  Not a second.  Except maybe with those Disney Look and Find books or the Dora or Barbie books -- kidding.  Seriously, just kidding -- reading together is everything, no matter if it's 1,000 different books or a few favorites on repeat.

In case you're not a fellow citizen of Pleasantville, here's the library magazine I referenced:  Elmhurst Public Library's Fine Print.  I am consistently impressed (and amazed, per the cover) by our friendly, professional, dedicated library staff and their ideas for programming, resources, and community outreach.

Monday, November 28, 2016

Gift Idea -- Out of Print Clothing

A dear friend bought me this library due date card tote bag for Christmas last year.  It was a perfect gift:  useful, cute, reflective of my personality, and something that I'd feel guilty buying for myself.  Plus, a inter-generational conversation starter or intra-generational nostalgia/bonding piece.  I've used it for toting books to and from the library (surprise, surprise) and also hauled my laptop around in it a bit.  It's pretty sturdy.  If you visit the Out of Print Clothing website, you'll see this tote and many other cute ones (Nancy Drew, Pride and Prejudice, Gone with the Wind, and classic children's books).  Had I posted this earlier in the day, you could have benefited from the Cyber Monday 30% pricing that expires in a couple hours.  Kicking myself over here.

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Cardinal Tree, 2016 -- Hope!

We have an artificial tree that we inherited when my in-laws were downsizing their own Christmas decor.  It's covered with colored lights and every imaginable kind of ornament, chaotic and perfect in the way that family Christmas trees ought to be.  

When we moved to our town five years ago, we started decorating a real tree each year as well.  We had a perfect front window for it, plus our kids' school has a Christmas Tree lot as a fundraiser.  The first year, the real tree had some random decorations and kept falling over (including onto my friend and her son while she was changing his diaper during a preschool lunchtime playdate -- those were the days!).  

I found some cardinal ornaments at Target, Kohl's, and Walgreens on deep discount after Christmas that first year.  Combining the bargain cardinals with the cardinal ornaments my mom had been gifting me ever since my oldest was born, a vision was born.  I could imagine the cardinal tree and knew it would be spectacular.  And it is.  I take pleasure in seeking and finding cardinal ornaments to add to my collection and have been lucky to have friends and family help the cause. 

Cardinals are my reminder that all is well in my world.  For me, cardinals are peace, joy, and, always, hope.  It feels right to write about this cardinal tree on the first Sunday of Advent, the season in which we wait and hope.

Saturday, November 26, 2016

Treat Yourself Sale

I couldn't post yesterday because I was freezing my toes off while watching two high school football state championship games.  Very fun day though!  The game watching kept me completely out of the Black Friday scene, which is probably for the best since I have not much idea what anyone on my list really wants or needs.  Had I hit the mall, I would have ended up treating myself to bargains instead of shopping for others.

Having skipped Black Friday, I figured I could treat myself to four books at the Audible Treat Yourself Sale and still come out well ahead.  

Goldy Modalvsky's Kill the Boy Band -- creepy title, but I've seen lots of positive buzz about this one on my Twitter feed

Broken Angels by Gemma Liviero -- this is a book club pick, was going to skip it (the book, not the meeting and earring gift swap) as it sounds too depressing for holiday season reading, but it's supposed to be great so maybe I'll listen

Fishbowl by Bradley Somer -- sounds DIFFERENT, but cool, exactly the kind of title I like for listening

So You've Been Publicly Shamed by Jon Ronson -- I think I'll learn from this one, have been curious about it for a while

If you're interested in audiobooks, there are many great titles in the Treat Yourself Sale:  The Goldfinch, Where'd You Go, Bernadette?, A Man Called Ove, The Time Traveler's Wife (one of my first-ever Audible listens), and many, many more.

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Fountain Drink Dissertating: Freestylin'

We had lunch on the road today and, whadya know, there was a Coca-Cola Freestyle machine at Wendy's.  I am familiar with the Freestyle machine from our favorite local chain, Meatheads, and a few other restaurants.*  If you're not familiar with the concept, it's a fountain drink machine where you can do a lot of mixing and matching.  I've not done the math (as if I could) but there are likely hundreds of possible flavor combinations. 

- It's a Coca-Cola Freestyle machine so that means that one of the options is Diet Coke which, as I've noted before, is the only option that matters to me.
- There are a lot of choices.  Most beverage bases (sprite, coke, diet, root beer, minute maid, and many, many more) come in regular, diet, and often in caffeine free versions. 
- There are feelings of power and excitement that go along with these choices.
- Your kids will love it.

- There are a lot of choices.  Usually there are two machines in an establishment, but if you're behind an amateur mixologist or a really indecisive soda drinker, you might wish there were fewer options or more machines.
- Your kids will love it.  They will want to mix their own drinks and whatever rules you have about specialty sugary drinks will be more challenging to enforce. 
- Decision fatigue could set in.

What do I drink when I encounter a Coca-Cola Freestyle machine?  I am choosing a beverage to go with my meal and for me, a regular Diet Coke is all I want.  When (not if), I refill my cup to go, I sometimes top off my regular Diet Coke with a bit of Vanilla Diet Coke.  That's it.  Boring.

Sure, if I had a Freestyle machine in my home (husband assures me this is not happening), I could likely come up with some other exciting flavor combinations, but when out to lunch, I play it safe.

How is the Diet Coke in the Freestyle machine?  Not bad, but not as good a the McDonald's or Chick-fil-A blends.

I was going to list "smaller cups" on the Freestyle negatives list, but I've realized that it's just Meatheads, where I most often do my Freestylin', that does not offer big cups.  Obviously, today's Wendy's cup was plenty large.

Before I close, I'd just like to shout out to the staff at the Joliet Street Wendy's in Dyer, IN.  We've eaten at this Wendy's on several road trips.  The workers there are very friendly and efficient, memorably so. 

Thoughts on Freestylin'?  I'd love to hear them.

*Other Freestyle machine spots include Pie Five and Noodles & Company

Monday, November 21, 2016

Masterpiece -- Reading with Kids

The third graders were assigned a Cereal Box Mystery Project.  Mine was excited about the project but disappointed because he ended up with a Hardy Boys book when he made his selection in class.  We spent two weeks going in circles.  He would never want to read his book.  I would tell him to ask his teacher if he could change his book.  He would tell me he wasn't going to ask because he knew he couldn't.  He would tell me that the Hardy Boys book was boring.  I would tell him that I knew that.  Finally, when he was only on page 38, despite lots of in-class reading time, I emailed his teacher and asked if he could change books.  She gave me some parameters, and I did some research and offered three choices for her approval. 

The end result of this negotiation was Masterpiece by Elise Broach.  My son had to push himself to catch up and finish but ended up loving the book.  And I quote:  "Now I know that a lot of the harder chapter books are worth it."  I read Masterpiece as well, sometimes aloud to him as we were in a crunch time situation, and thought it was a great mystery about friendship and family dynamics that also gives kids insights into the art world.

My older son read and loved Shakespeare's Secret by Elise Broach just last year.  Wondering if I can convince my third grader to read that one just for fun.  Maybe a family read-aloud?  Masterpiece would be a good read-aloud.

Should I have stayed out of it and made him suffer through a Hardy Boys book that he wasn't enjoying?  I don't regret intervening because the end result was a very positive reading experience and plenty of momentum for the cereal box project that accompanied it.  Should I have made him talk to his teacher about switching books instead of doing it for him?  Yes.  Next time.

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Girl Trouble

Kerry Cohen's Girl Trouble: An Illustrated Memoir caught my eye at the library last week.  Female friendship was an academic interest of mine and is, of course, a personal one as well.  Cohen tells her life story as she chronicles her various female friendships in (more or less) chronological order.  These reflections on friendship are honest and insightful and surprisingly specific.  Many of her female friendships have been troublesome, but she owns that.  This memoir is not fueled by a sense of victimhood or defensiveness.  

Here are two thought-provoking passages from Girl Trouble:

"I miss all of my ex-friends.  They are stamped onto my heart like old romances, lost loves.  They are part of me in ways no one warned me they would be.  Had I known, I would have chosen more carefully.  I would have better thought through what we did to one another, how we used each other, and how we split apart" (111).

"I have figured out that the formula is kindness.  Don't be an asshole.  Don't try to hurt people.  Try hard to have boundaries and limit expectations and take responsibility for your own heart.  Because you never know who will return in all their truth and beauty" (127).

Our friendships shape and define us.  Sometimes our friends teach and lift us.  Sometimes they limit and diminish us, though not necessarily on purpose.  Over 41 years, I've been blessed with many female friends of the best sort, but as with most women, I've lost friends along the way.  Not any dramatic break-ups that I can recall, but some slow, vague drifts toward silence, indifference, distance.  What I tell myself (and truly believe) is that even if a friendship does not last forever, that does not mean it was not true, real, or necessary during a particular time in my life.  

I think if I endeavored to reflect on and write about my female friendships over the years, I'd feel overwhelmed with gratitude for the lessons learned and laughter shared.  I think I'd also feel overwhelmed with regret and shame for the times I have failed my friends and for what those "failures" reveal about me.  I'm no monster, but we all have our flaws, quirks, and blind spots.  It might be more comfortable for me to reflect on friendships by asking myself what I learned from each, what better (or worse) version of myself I was able to access with each.  I doubt I'll turn my pen to this anytime soon, but I'm intrigued by the idea. 

In the spirit of the season, I am truly thankful for my female friends.  The ones I see each day.  The ones who knew me when.  The ones waiting in the wings.  

Saturday, November 19, 2016

Carly and James

I first heard of James Taylor at summer camp, probably in 1987 or 1988.  The counselors played us the song "Fire and Rain" and told the story behind the song -- James Taylor's friends surprised him by buying a plane ticket for his girlfriend and the plane ended up crashing.  I've never investigated to see if that story is true, but it stuck with me, and I liked the song.  

My introduction to Carly Simon was the song "Mockingbird," which was on one of the many movie soundtracks I used to buy.  Can't for the life of me remember which one.

Anyway, I went through a Carly Simon/James Taylor phase in the late 90s.  By that I mean that I listened to both of their greatest hits CDs and sang along to both with great pleasure and enthusiasm (but not great talent).  

When I saw that Simon's memoir, Boys in Trees, was being offered on an ebook sale a month or so ago, I bought it.  I struggle to review memoirs because I don't want it to seem as if I am rating someone's life or personality.  I'll just say that I'm glad I read it.  I had no idea that Simon's father was a founder of the publishing house Simon and Schuster.  I knew that Simon and James Taylor had a love story together, but I'm embarrassed to admit that I didn't even realize they were married.  Simon's childhood and young womanhood weren't easy and some parts are uncomfortable to read about.  I'd like to know more about her friend/collaborator Jake.  He sounded creepy but she didn't explore that as much as I'd have liked.  She writes with a refreshing honesty (not that I can verify, but she seems to be putting it all out there).  I was impressed by how she wrote about James Taylor with a lot of love and respect.  The benefit of time and perspective, I suppose.  If you're a fan of either, you'd enjoy the book.  I'm a casual fan, and I did.  

One reason I love ebook deals is that they push me to read books that I wouldn't otherwise.  I had heard about Boys in Trees but don't think I would have checked it out of the library or bought my own full-price copy.  I don't recommend others bite on as many ebook deals as I do, but treat yourself here and there so you have options to fit all kinds of moods when you're ready to read.

P.S. -- For those of you keeping track of my NaBloPoMo daily posting (which is no one) ... I forgot to post yesterday.  I'll try to post twice today to fulfill the challenge on my terms.    

Thursday, November 17, 2016


In my lifetime, there has never been a more glorious November for Midwestern weather.  The leaves were slow to change colors but fired up eventually and then stuck around.  Many still cling to trees.  The breezes have been warm.  The rain scarce.  The sun a daily visitor.  Hockey cancelled due to melting ice.  Last year's winter coats still in storage.  The word gorgeous overheard again and again. 
Cold is knocking on our door now, finally, and I'm already regretting all the walks I did not take.  All the moments I did not stop and think, "Wow.  I am to be outside in November without a puff coat."  The garage I did not clean out in non-frozen finger conditions.  The Christmas lights I didn't get a jump start on putting out.

We'll see what the last days of November bring ...

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Thank YOU, Elephant & Piggie!

Modern Mrs. Darcy is devoting this whole week of blogging (and podcasting) to reading for a lifetime!  Check out all of this week's MMD posts, particularly her 7 Tips for Raising Kids Who Love to Read.

Am I raising kids who love to read?  I hope so.  I think so.

It seems the perfect time to mention (again) a series of books that really helped my beginning readers gain confidence and find pleasure in the act of reading.  The Elephant & Piggie books by Mo Willems have so much going for them:
* They are genuinely funny.  The combination of dialogue and illustrations is witty perfection.
* They are easy to read without feeling clunky, forced, or just plain lame (like some books for beginning readers).
* They are perfect for reading aloud.  Both of my sons brought in Elephant & Piggie books to share with the class when it was their turn to read aloud at school.  These books are ideal for practicing reading with expression.
* They are fun for reading together.  Divide up the parts and read aloud.

* Plus, there's a game!  Mo Willems hides Pigeon from another popular series of his (Don't Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus! and etc.) in the endpapers of each book.  Even now my kids make sure to look for Pigeon.

Last spring, Mo Willems published the final Elephant and Piggie title:  The Thank You Book.  It's a very sweet story that revisits characters from throughout the series and even includes a couple inside jokes.  I read it with my middle and little when it first came out.  Two nights ago, I made my oldest read it to me.  I welled up a bit, remembering how thrilled I was when he was first able to read these books aloud.  Cue the cliches about how fast it all goes.  But it does. 

Thank you, Mo Willems, for helping me raise kids who love to read.

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Audible Monthly Credit(s) Report -- November

I spent some time this morning deliberating on how best to spend my two credits for this month.  Drumroll please! 

Bold but unverified declaration:  No patron has ever purchased these two audiobooks in the same transaction.  

I just read a very positive review of Trevor Noah's Born a Crime in EW yesterday and am excited to listen to Noah narrate his memoir of growing up in South Africa as a mixed race child.  

With the holidays drawing near (and everything, joyous and exhausting, that comes with them), I'm looking for some "bubble-type" reading of the sort that will make me feel calm and peaceful.  D.E. Stevenson's novels are very relaxing to me, particularly because they are usually narrated by individuals with melodic Scottish accents.  I'll let you know how I like Young Mrs. Savage.  I have to say that cover's a bit more intense than the usual D.E. Stevenson cover.  

I was tempted to spend one of my credits on Anna Kendrick's Scrappy Little Nobody, but I've got a near-the-top spot in the library queue.  Ditto Lauren Graham's Talking As Fast as I Can.  I'm already in line at the library so will make the fiscally responsible choice to wait.

Monday, November 14, 2016

Winter Storms

Christmas started early this year or, rather, my Christmas reading did.  I always fantasize about relaxing while reading a Christmas book by the light of my Christmas tree.  Those cozy reading times are hard won in December so I may as well grab the moments when I can in this period of calm before the, ahem, winter storm(s).  Halloween is well over (thank the Lord) so I think it's okay to stroll toward Christmas.

I picked up Elin Hilderbrand's Winter Storms at the library on Saturday evening.  It was finished by Sunday morning and was another wonderful trip to Nantucket.  This final title in Hilderbrand's Christmas-themed trilogy was a satisfying end to the series and, turns out, it's not quite the end...

 What a tweet treat!  I will look forward to Winter Solstice

You may have noticed from the top o' post photo that I purchased copies of Winter Street and Winter Stroll, but borrowed Winter Storms from the library.  I did that because I know from past experience that come January, I will be able to buy Winter Storms for a dollar in my beloved library book sale room.

If you haven't read any of Hilderbrand books or any of her Winter series books, I envy you the hours of reading pleasure that await.

Sunday, November 13, 2016

Another LFL Sighting

I was in LaGrange visiting Ye Olde Scout Shoppe again a couple of weeks back.  As I was heading home, I noticed a second Little Free Library in LaGrange, about four blocks from the first LFL I spotted in LaGrange.  

As ever, I paused to consider which book I would borrow were I in needed.  I think I'd choose Teacher Man by Frank McCourt, even though I never finished Angela's Ashes.  Or maybe Dora's Spooky Halloween if it didn't sound so darn scary...

I'm tempted to visit the three LFLs in my zip code (you can check the LFL Map to see what's in your hood), but I've decided that I like the idea of happening upon LFLs instead of purposely seeking them out.  I may change my mind though.

Saturday, November 12, 2016

My Grandpa's Books -- Baseball Joe

My parents have been sorting through family mementos and trying to place them in good homes.  Thus, I recently inherited some of my Grandpa's books.  My goal is to learn about these books and their authors and possibly read a few.  And, of course, share my findings here on

Given the recent, historic World Series, I thought I'd start with the Baseball Joe books, of which my Grandpa had six.  I read up on the Baseball Joe series and learned that Lester Chadwick was a pen name for Howard Roger Garis, a writer for the Stratemeyer Syndicate, whose writers also authored the Nancy Drew, Hardy Boys, and a Bobbsey Twins books.  I really enjoyed Mark Ahren's Baseball Joe piece found on  "Baseball Joe was one of a group of fictional sports heroes, capable of not only winning games but also solving crimes and extolling virtue simultaneously."  I'm intrigued.  Ahrens also covered the conventions of the syndicate's books and the way series books like Baseball Joe were dismissed by school librarians and other adults as "unworthy trash."   

The first Baseball Joe book was published in 1912 so several of the titles are now in the public domain and thus available for free in an ebook version.  I'm going to preview Baseball Joe of the Silver Stars or The Rivals of Riverside, the first in the series, to see if it's appropriate for my ten year-old (not concerned it may be "unworthy trash" -- just want to check the reading level).  He's a good sport and a good reader so I'd like him to read a Baseball Joe book for history's sake, and since I found the free ebook of Baseball Joe of the Silver Stars, I might see if I can talk my dad, my brothers, and my nephew into checking it out as well.  Actually, I need to find out if my dad read his dad's copies of the Baseball Joe books when he was a boy (an eat-sleep-breathe baseball boy).  Stay tuned. 

The name Baseball Joe has extra resonance because of a hometown hero from where I grew up, Joe Nuxhall (aka "Hamilton Joe" and "the 'ol left-hander"), who pitched his first major league baseball game for the Cincinnati Reds as a fifteen year-old high schooler and went on to have a memorable career as the voice of the Reds.  

Just to be clear, my Grandpa's books aren't going to end up on Ebay or the Amazon Marketplace. 

Friday, November 11, 2016

Oh Wow, Puppy Chow

Puppy chow is my favorite treat.  When I make a batch, I eat it obsessively.  Wake up in the morning?  Puppy chow and Diet Coke.  Lunch not quite satisfying?  Little bowl of puppy chow to supplement.  TV time snack?  Puppy chow.  My kids also enjoy it but have been overheard saying, "What happened to all the puppy chow?"  Oops.

I use the proportions of the standard "Muddy Buddy" recipe (listed on back of the Chex cereal box) with one essential change:  white chocolate chips instead of semisweet chocolate chips.  This tweak is critical.  Trust me.

Here's the recipe with my tips ...

9 cups of Chex (rice or corn, your choice -- generic brand works fine)
1/2 cup peanut butter
1/4 cup butter
1 cup white chocolate chips
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 1/12 cups of powdered sugar

large flexible bowl
medium-sized microwave safe bowl
2-gallon plastic storage bag (zip top better than slide top if you can find it).
sheet of wax or parchment paper

1.  Pour 9 cups of Chex in a large plastic bowl (a cheap bowl that you can bend a bit works best).

2.  Melt white chocolate chips, butter, and peanut butter in a microwave safe bowl for one minute and then in small increments as needed.  Stir until the lumps are gone.

3.  Stir in vanilla extract.

4.  Pour melted goodness over the Chex.  Stir gently with a spatula so that you cover the Chex without crumbling it.

5.  Pour powdered sugar into your giant plastic storage bag.  Then pour in the gooey Chex and seal bag tightly.  Shake the bag so that the powdered sugar covers the Chex. 

6.  Pour your finished puppy chow onto a sheet of parchment or wax paper to cool.

7.  Make someone's day!  Then, go back to step one and make another batch.  You can use the same bowls and the same plastic bag.

I've given batches of puppy chow as new neighbor gifts, thank you gifts, and hostess gifts.  I've brought it as the "dessert" for my tennis team lunch before.  People love it.  Only caveat is to be aware of peanut allergies and never send in to school and never serve for a group of kids unless you know for sure there are no allergies.

One more bonus?  It's gluten free.


Thursday, November 10, 2016

Non-Fiction Read Alouds

My kids are all independent readers now, but that doesn't mean I don't still want to read with them.  It also doesn't mean that they all love reading on their own.  I'm still on the lookout for books we can enjoy together, especially for my least motivated reader.

Our library had a special section reserved for children's books that have won the Monarch Award, which is an Illinois School Library Media Association Readers' Choice honor.

Many of the Monarch Award titles gathered were non-fiction, and those were the ones my eight year-old and I really enjoyed reading together.  It's kind of nice to read for ten minutes, learn a little something, and then be able to discuss it.  Here are a few of the non-fiction (or "based on a true story") read alouds we would recommend ...

 Trapped: A Whale's Rescue by Robert Burleigh.  Paintings by Wendell Minor.

 Elizabeth, Queen of the Seas by Lynne Cox.  Illustrated by Brian Floca.

 Mr. Ferris and His Wheel by Kathryn Gibbs Davis.  Illustrated by Gilbert Ford.
We loved this because the Ferris Wheel was introduced in our town (Chicago!).

I neglected to snap a pic of our very favorite (and the saddest) of the non-fiction read alouds:  Ivan: The Remarkable Story of the Shopping Mall Gorilla by Katherine Applegate, illustrated by G. Brian Karas.  

All of these books have background information and additional research at the end.  Reading and learning together never gets old.

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Book Fair Find

It's Book Fair time!  I've worked at the fair during the after-school shift for the past two days, and it's fun to see parents and kids excitedly shopping for books (and decoder pens, monster erasers, big finger pointers, and all the other piddly sh*t that gets the kids to part with their money). 

I neglected to take a photo of our new $3.99 pens nor of the Paw Wars poster that my oldest spent $4.95 on.  Just picture two squirrels having a lightsaber battle and ponder what wall real estate you'd offer that gem.

I think my middle guy had the most interesting find:  Suzette Valle's 101 Movies to See Before You Grow Up: Be Your Own Movie Critic -- The Must-See Movie List for Kids.  

Finding a crowd-pleasing film for family movie nights can be challenging, and I'm eager to read through this book in more depth.  It seems the movies range from G to PG-13, and there's helpful background information provided for each movie.  There's also a spot for your child to rate the movie, record the date they watched it, and note who they were with when watching. 

Possible gift idea, I'm thinking.  Paired with a box or two of movie candy, popcorn, a copy of one of the DVDs listed, a Netflix or theater gift card, or a cozy blanket?

Since we had a babysitter tonight for a couple hours while I attended a meeting, I asked my middle guy to show her the book.  They ended up going through it together.  She put post-its on the movies she considered "must-see" and wrote helpful notes like "maybe when you're older" and "*****."  Her five-star picks were A League of Their Own and Ferris Bueller's Day Off (which probably falls in the "maybe when you're older" category as well).

I'll circle back to this book after we make some movie choices.  For now, put it on your radar if you have school-age kids.

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

The Hopefuls

I have no Election Day insights or commentary to offer.  

How about a mini-review of a novel about politics?  I've read and enjoyed all of Jennifer Close's novels, and The Hopefuls is her best yet.  I appreciated the glimpses into the political and social scenes in Washington, D.C. and Texas.  The novel also portrays the strategy and extraordinary effort required by campaigns and the toll that such takes on personal relationships.  Close humorously (but seemingly accurately?) captures the jockeying and posturing for power and position (and access to people in positions of power) engaged in by D.C.'s twentysomethings. 

My favorite aspect of The Hopefuls is Close's depiction of the fragility/resilience of marriage and of the sometimes fleeting (but not necessarily less real for being so) nature of friendship.  I think book clubs would have plenty to talk about with this one, especially with the relationships portrayed, but you'd have to consider whether you'd like to open the door to a possible political discussion at your book club meeting. 

This book cover is my favorite of 2016 so far.  I vote you read it. 

Monday, November 7, 2016

Digging Out from Dinner Blues

The biggest development in the dinner department at our house is that we now have 4/5 of diners willing to eat tacos of the basic ground beef prepared with store-bought seasoning variety.  The fifth family member gets cheese quesadillas on taco night. 

I have more child-free time than ever in recent history which should make menu planning, shopping, and meal preparation easier.  The problem is one of will.  Now beaten down by years of my kids' picky eating and my hubby's travel schedule, I've lost interest in seeking out and trying new recipes.  Motivated by the taco "success," I am vowing to turn back the clocks eight or ten years to when I was more motivated (and only had one child) and blissfully collecting new recipes.  I only made a fraction of the ones that caught my eye, but the passion was there.

I visited the library this afternoon and grabbed a few cookbooks (see collage above) that looked promising.  My strategy will not be to put post-its all throughout the books and then hastily remove them (with recipes unmade) when they're due back.  Instead, I plan to try one (just ONE) recipe in each book.  Or maybe even ONE new recipe total from among the four books.  I'll follow up in a few weeks with triumphs or excuses.

And, since I mentioned tacos, check out these new flat taco shells.  Sort of an open-face taco, but less risky than a tostada shell.  I liked them.  Let's hope these new shells aren't the most exciting thing to hit my kitchen this month.

Free lead for Weird Al and/or YouTubers everywhere:  Flat-bottomed shells you make the kitchen world go 'round. 

Dinner success stories?  I'm all ears.  Please share!


Sunday, November 6, 2016

iPhone Pic Picking -- Pretty Stuff

I should be photographing these gorgeous Fall days, but there have been so many glorious ones, I'm starting to take them for granted.

Instead, I did some iPhone pic picking and want to share some of the prettiest things I found.
I was very fortunate to have the opportunity to travel to California last weekend with my husband for his work.  Our hotel was just across the street from the famous Bouchon Bakery so I had to visit (twice, ahem) and snap a pic of some of their pretty and delicious goods.  I forgot to photograph my favorite bakery treat because I was too eager to maul it.  It was called the Fuggedaboutit:  a huge rice kripsie treat with a thick layer of caramel, dipped in premium chocolate.  I'm not likely to fuggedaboutit.

This bouquet of decorative kale was $4.99.  Love, love, love it.  Do autumn brides know about this? 

NTB, but I think these cards are pretty pretty as well.  Like I've said before, you can make beautiful stationary in seconds with a little washi tape and some blank cards

Saturday, November 5, 2016

Smashing Pumpkins (Sort Of)

 30 posts in 30 days ...

And speaking of good intentions, I followed through on one of mine this morning.  I saw on Facebook earlier in the week that our town was offering free pumpkin composting.  I can't say what we've done with our rotten pumpkins for every Halloween up to this point (thrown in the trash, I guess), but this year, I gathered them in the van for composting.

I drove to a public works facility and opened the trunk.  Some boys who looked about 15 or 16 delightedly took the pumpkins from my trunk and took turns tossing them into a large dumpster with other pumpkins.
A very nice lady was kind enough to let me take a pic of the anticipated final product.  Again, so as not to be a total creep, I did not photograph the teen boys hurling the pumpkins.

Stay tuned for more posts as exciting as this one.

Getaway Reads

NaBloPoMo ... foiled by life on Day 4, but I'm going to post twice today to get back on track.

I was very fortunate to getaway twice this October -- to Scottsdale to celebrate a friend's milestone birthday and to Napa Valley for a work event for my husband.  Exploring destinations is wonderful, obviously, but when I travel without my kids, the other pleasure is the journey itself.  I treasure the blocks of uninterrupted reading time at airports and on planes. 

Here are some of the books I enjoyed this month during my getaways (mini-reviews heavily cribbed from my GoodReads.  I'm booksandcarbs there if you want to find me on GoodReads).
I started and finished this one on a flight with time to spare.  Perfect in-flight reading!  It's a strange scenario to see the film version of something before reading the book (but necessary when, as with Bridget Jones's Baby, the movie precedes the book, at least in the States).  I preferred the film's storyline, but that's not to say I didn't laugh out loud and delight in every page of the book.  I hope Helen Fielding never abandons Bridget Jones as I would be happy to read about Bridge as she faces menopause, takes her kids to college, or moves into a senior-living community.  Viva, Bridget Jones!

Liane's Moriarty's Truly Madly Guilty is a bit of a slow starter, but I was reading as quickly as I could to figure out what happened at that g.d. barbecue (hoping, all the while, that it wasn't something unendurable).  I think what I liked best about the novel was not the suspense/mystery element but the way that Moriarty portrayed marriage and female friendship.  My favorite Moriarty books are probably What Alice Forgot, Big Little Lies, and the underrated Hypnotist's Love Story.  I wasn't at all disappointed by Truly Madly Guilty though.  They would all make good book club selections as there is plenty to talk about.

I read all of Jennifer Weiner's novels and admire the way she speaks her mind.  I don't always agree with her (though often I do), but I appreciate her honesty, humor, and vulnerability.  I enjoyed reading Hungry Heart -- essays about her childhood, her parents, her high school and college experiences, her days as a journalist, and her family life.  The essay about her miscarriage had me in tears.  She chose Hamilton's "I wrote my way out." as an epigraph, but I wish she would have talked more about her writing process in Hungry Heart

The main character of this novel (is it odd that I don't remember her name?) is downsized out of her librarian job in Birmingham, England and ends up buying a huge van and setting up a mobile bookstore that she drives around rural Scotland.  Bookish heroine, Scottish setting, sexy farmer -- quick, breezy, enjoyable read!  I bought The Bookshop on the Corner because I had enjoyed Jenny Colgan's Little Beach Street Bakery so much.  If you want a getaway on your own couch, these books would hit the spot.