Sunday, April 20, 2014

Sunday Salon: Easter Edition

I have loved having this long Easter weekend off of work. 

The entry and stair tiling project is nearly complete, thanks to my husband.  This has been a very tedious, time consuming job, but it looks great.

Today we celebrated Easter at my mom's house after attending church.  A lot of food, a little archery, a ride on the four-wheeler, and an egg hunt outside rounded out the activities.

This is my niece blowing out the candles on her cake. Her big day is tomorrow, but we celebrated a bit today at my mom's.

Little Sister getting an archery lesson from my brother

Yesterday my in-laws took us out for supper at Old Chicago, where we enjoyed some good pizza.

I feel like I could skip eating for several days just to make up for all the junk I have eaten this past weekend. I am trying to talk myself into a run a bit later on the treadmill.

Reading has taken a back seat this weekend as we have enjoyed beautiful weather- finally- and still been cleaning, sorting, organizing, and getting ready for the Easter holiday.

I did manage to read an ARC of Chris Bohjalian's newest book and have started a few more books that I need to get working on.  Right now I am taking a break from cleaning out our bedroom, while my husband cleans in our garage.  The girls decided to stay at my mom's a bit longer and have fun with their cousins, so we are taking advantage of the time we have to see how much work we can get done.

The week ahead looks busy, but the weather looks fabulous compared to the winter we experienced, and I am excited to continue working on our house project and get things finalized.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

My Basmati Bat Mitzvah

Tara Feinstein is Jewish-Indian-American, an identity that she struggles with.  As she attends Hebrew school and her parents plan for her bat mitzvah, Tara tries to determine who she really is.  She embraces parts of both sides of her family.  

Tara is also a typical middle school student, struggling with friendships, and trying to determine if her best friend, Ben-o, is really more than a friend.  As she prepares for her bat mitzvah, ruins a beautiful Indian sari that has been handed down for generations, and works on a robotics project with a new partner, Tara has a lot of things to deal with.

Tara is a tween that readers will relate to.  Freedman has managed to create a very human protagonist that is easy to relate to and that represents well the feelings that go with this age group.

As I was reading My Basmati Bat Mitzvah, I couldn't help but think of two other tween titles that also deal with a character trying to find out who they really are:

Thursday, April 17, 2014

The Immigrant Advantage

The Immigrant Advantage: What We Can Learn from Newcomers to America about Health, Happiness and Hope by Claudia Kolker caught my eye as I was browsing the book club section at the public library.

I teach in a school where there is a lot of diversity.  It is one of the things I most enjoy about my job.  But, I have often been able to find ways that immigrants are not at an advantage. Seeing this book made me curious.  What are things in which immigrants have an advantage?  

Kolker looks at several different immigrant groups and can pinpoint different customs or traditions that help their culture mentally, physically, and financially.

One of these things is arranged marriage (she uses the term assisted marriage).  While this is generally frowned upon here in the United States, there are some cultures, like those of South Asia, that still give suggestions to their children about possible dating (and marriage) options.  These cultures have a lower divorce rate and couples seem to value and love each other more as time goes on, not the other way around.

Another chapter focuses on multigenerational houses, something typical in Jamaican culture. This allows for grandparents to be involved in the raising of grandchildren, and for a stable home life for these children. It also allows the adult children to save money for a home of their own (a goal that is pursued in this culture) and to become more financially secure before striking out on their own.

Each chapter shares a practice or custom, and Kolker shares her own observations about these ideas. Some she tries on her own and is able to share her success and experiences.  Her writing is entertaining and she is able to use research along with anecdotes.

I have recommended this book to a few friends, and hope that soon I will have someone to discuss it with.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Waiting on Wednesday

Waiting on Wednesday is hosted by Jill at Breaking the Spine.

This week's pick:  The Vacationers by Emma Straub
Due out May 29, 2014

An irresistible, deftly observed novel about the secrets, joys, and jealousies that rise to the surface over the course of an American family’s two-week stay in Mallorca.

For the Posts, a two-week trip to the Balearic island of Mallorca with their extended family and friends is a celebration: Franny and Jim are observing their thirty-fifth wedding anniversary, and their daughter, Sylvia, has graduated from high school. The sunlit island, its mountains and beaches, its tapas and tennis courts, also promise an escape from the tensions simmering at home in Manhattan. But all does not go according to plan: over the course of the vacation, secrets come to light, old and new humiliations are experienced, childhood rivalries resurface, and ancient wounds are exacerbated.

This is a story of the sides of ourselves that we choose to show and those we try to conceal, of the ways we tear each other down and build each other up again, and the bonds that ultimately hold us together. With wry humor and tremendous heart, Emma Straub delivers a richly satisfying story of a family in the midst of a maelstrom of change, emerging irrevocably altered yet whole.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014


Maria Hummel's grandparents lived in Nazi Germany, trying to quietly go about their lives while Hitler came to power. Letters discovered in an attic wall fifty years later gave Hummel the inspiration for this story, as she begins to explore what it meant to her grandparents and father to be a witness to the persecution of Jews and not do anything to help.

Liesl and Frank Kappus married just two months after Frank's first wife, Susi, died during the birth of their third son.  Now with three children, Liesl is busy with running a household while Frank, a surgeon, has been called up to serve in the German army, performing reconstructive surgeries on wounded soldiers.

All around Europe war is raging and Liels feels it growing closer to her and her family.  She does her best to continue to provide food and clothing even as supplies dwindle, while Frank focuses on his career and finding ways to advance professionally.

The Kappus' are just one example of a German family who went about life as best they could during World War II.  While  Hummel does not reveal if Liesl and Frank understood the atrocities being committed against Jews and other minority groups, she does briefly explore what happened to those suffering mental illness.  

My own grandparents lived their entire lives in the United States, but I have always been curious about their knowledge of this time period.  Hummel's novel is one that will stick with  me for years. Motherland is a must read.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Chew On This

I still read to Big Sister and Middle Sister, even though they resist this from time to time. I just can't quite give up on our time spent reading and talking about books together.  Part of it is the teacher in me. It is still an opportunity to make sure they are reading some books that I want them to be exposed to.  And, more recently we have been discovering non-fiction titles in our read aloud time.

Chew On This: Everything You Don't Want to Know About Fast Food by Charles Wilson and Eric Schlosser is the junior edition of Fast Food Nation.  There are a lot of interesting topics we discussed while reading this book.

- how workers are treated by employers.  Many of the meat packing companies don't want to pay their workers benefits and have them doing jobs in unsafe conditions.  

- the low salary of these same workers.  IBP, a meat packing company very close to us, was the first company to cut corners by paying their workers low wages.  It's not something to be proud of.

- the treatment of animals.  As a farm girl, my parents raised animals knowing that some of them (maybe all of them) would be killed to provide food for people. That doesn't feel the same as raising animals by the thousands and then killing them in cruel ways.

- Feeding chickens so much food that they bulk up and are unable to walk because of their size, letting them live for just 35 days until their scheduled execution - doesn't seem like the way animals should be treated.

- the fast food we eat at restaurants is bought from these meat packing places and from the chicken slaughterhouses.  Not only is the food unhealthy, it is also purchased from companies who don't seem very ethical.

- Fast food is not a very nutritious or healthy diet choice. There is a chapter about gastric bypass surgery and the number of American youth who are overweight. 

The girls still talk about this book a few months later. Middle Sister hasn't eaten at McDonald's since.

I gave this book to a fifth grade student, a boy who loves non-fiction. He promptly told a few friends about it.  Last week one of the fifth grade teachers was recommended this book by her students, and stayed up late reading Chew On This.  I never predicted this would be a word of mouth book that would really take off, but it is.  

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Saturday was a beautiful, nearly 80 degree day.  Today it is a rainy, cold 45 degree day. Such is Iowa weather.  My three year old nephew spent the weekend with my mother and my family.  We traded him back and forth a few times, and he was a busy little guy.

He pretty much mastered these little stilts.


The hail storm provided some entertainment as the girls and J tried to see how much hail they could collect.

 Although not Easter yet, we decided we could decorate eggs with J. I bought the plastic ones from Wal-Mart that can be dyed.  I would give them a failing grade, but we had fun just the same.

Little Sister provided the bed time reading, David Gets in Trouble by David Shannon.

In addition to my nephew we had a college friend come and stay with us for part of the weekend. He helped my husband work on putting down new flooring on our stairs and entry. They don't have the project completed, but my husband is on his own now, and busy trying to get it done. 

I have barely read anything at all this weekend, and enjoyed the weather and soccer games that Middle Sister and Little Sister had yesterday.

This coming week we have only four days of school, and I am excited to have a short break for the Easter holiday.  There is a lot to get done before then and I am hoping that I can still get quite a bit done today so I feel a bit more prepared for the busyness of the next few days.

What about you? Any big plans for your week?

Friday, April 11, 2014

Friday Five


On Wednesday the teacher librarians in our district attended a reception to thank a generous donor who gifted books in honor of Black History month to every school library in the district.  These book worm and library cookies were too cute to pass up (and my girls told me they were quite tasty, too).


My obsession with the royal family is something I may never get over....I loved watching Prince George on his first official playdate in New Zealand.  Of course this reminds me of Prince William's first official overseas tour in 1983 (also to Australia and New Zealand) below.


Old Navy has these canvas drawstring utility vests right now that I am thinking would make a great addition to my wardrobe.  I've been seeing these all over the place, and might even get Big Sister one since they also have them in girls' sizes.


I love guacamole but I hate wasting a whole avocado. These 100 calorie packs are perfect when I am the only one who is eating guacamole.  I use these on salads, in tacos, with chips, as a spread on a good!

And finally....

Little Sister just finished reading Junie B., Toothless Wonder. Now she is a toothless wonder herself (I am thinking I should retake a photo of LS- this one is terrible!)

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Sum It Up

When I was in college in the mid 1990s, I had many friends on the women's basketball team.  They were the ones that first introduced me to Pat Summit and her amazing coaching ability.  It is no wonder that one of these friends rated Sum It Up by Pat Summit as the best book she read in 2013.

I've had this book since it was published, and just finished it up on the treadmill. My running has slowed down considerably, which has also slowed my treadmill reading, too. But Pat Summit's memoir has had me looking forward to my time on the treadmill a bit more.

Summit's upbringing was no-nonsense as the first daughter and fourth child (another daughter was born after Summit) of a farm family. Hard work was expected and no excuses were tolerated. Physical affection wasn't a part of the way Pat was raised, and she possessed a drive that allowed her to pursue her passion for the game of basketball relentlessly.

As Pat recounts her life, she shares anecdotes of the players and people who have been a part of her life.  The highs and lows are discussed and Summit admits to her own failings openly.

In 2012 Pat was diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer's disease, and there are bits of this that Pat writes about as well.  However, Alzheimer's is not the focus of this memoir, nor are there medical insights or treatment recommendations.  This is an account of Pat's life and career by Pat Summit while she is still capable of remembering and sharing her story in her own words.

My college friends selected a great role model when they decided to pick Pat Summit to admire. I have always felt that Pat was an asset to women's athletics, but reading Sum It Up makes me more impressed than ever.

Her Alzheimer's diagnosis is a tragedy, yet even as Pat's future seems bleak, she aspires to help others and live life.  

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Waiting on Wednesday

Waiting on Wednesday is a weekly meme hosted by Jill at Breaking the Spine.

This week's pick: The Sweet Spot by Stephanie Evanovich
Due out: July 8, 2014

Product Information taken from Harper Collins:

When pro baseball player Chase Walker first meets Amanda at her restaurant, it’s love at first sight. While Amanda can’t help noticing the superstar with the Greek-god build, he doesn’t have a chance of getting to first-or any other-base with her.
A successful entrepreneur who’s built her business from scratch, Amanda doesn’t need a Prince Charming to sweep her off her feet. And a curvy girl who likes to cook and eat isn’t interested in being around the catty, stick-thin herd of females chasing Chase and his teammates.
But Chase isn’t about to strike out. A man who isn’t interested in playing the field, he’s a monogamist who wants an independent woman like Amanda. His hopes rally when she discovers that squeaky-clean Chase has a few sexy and very secret pre-game rituals that turn the smart, headstrong businesswoman on-and into his number one fan.
Then a tabloid discovers the truth and turns their spanking good fun into a late-night punch-line. Is Amanda ready to let loose and swing for the fences? Or will the pressure of Chase’s stardom force them to call it quits?