Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Calling Invisible Women; A Novel by Jeanne Ray

Calling Invisible Women

246 pages

Jeanne Ray's latest contemporary women's fiction novel has something to say about how we allow products to heal ourselves whether they are expensive drugs prescribed by our doctor or Botox-type enhancers that lift money from our wallet for temporary solutions.

Clover Hobart, a fifty-something wife and mother, wakes up one day and discovers she cannot find herself in the mirror after her morning shower.  Her first disappearance lasts only a short time but she's concerned because her son says he can still see her.  She thinks she might be losing her mind.  When it happens again she locates a group of invisible women that meet at the local Sheraton Hotel.  Clover learns that a combination of three medicines all made by Dexter-White, a pharmaceutical company, is what causes many women of a certain age to become invisible.

Through this group she begins to take action as the reporter she once was spurring others to get busy by exploring what they can accomplish as invisible women.  Because of her new bravery she stops a man from harassing a woman outside the grocery store, she un-arms a robber in the midst of bank robbery, and she and another invisible woman ride the school bus to corral bully behavior.  Eventually she takes on the Dexter-White.

This is a light-hearted look at how easy it is for older women to become invisible in society as what's young and hip steals focus.  I enjoyed the characters, the topic, and I felt more empowered as I raised my fist in solidarity with them as they crafted a plan to bring down Dexter-White..  It is an easy read-it only took my three days to read the book.  Ray is the author of Julie and Romeo.

A quote:
"No one is interested in us," Mrs. Robinson said.  "When I look back on my life, I was invisible for so many years before I became invisible.  I never did stand up for myself.  If you don't stand up before you become invisible, what chance do you have of making people pay attention to you when you aren't there?"
"Amen to that," a voice said.  (66)

Reviewed at Dear Author

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Super Imaginative Picture Books!

I dropped by the library for mere moments the other day and found a plethora of cute picture books on the "new" shelf. I've read them by bits and pieces all through the week and I have three absolute favorites. All three while different have sort of a connection about imagination and comfort.

Naughty Toes by Ann Bonwill; ill. by Teresa Murfin (2011) Tiger Tales

Chloe narrates this tale about life with her perfect ballerina sister, Belinda. She's not jealous, which is the first thing I noticed and loved. When their mom takes them to the ballet store to pick out leotards and shoes Belinda picks classic pink and white. Chloe picks a wide array of bright colors. The two sisters head to Madame Mina's dance class where Belinda has "good toes" and Chloe "naughty toes" while Mr. Tiempo keeps the beat on his bright yellow piano. Before the next class Dad does their hair; Belinda's hair folds elegantly into a beautiful ballerina bun while Chloe's pokes and struts refusing to be tamed. This illustration is great, showing Dad with bobby pins peeking out of his frown. Back at class Madame Mina gives directions and Chloe continues to flounder. On the day of the big show Belinda gets a bouquet from Madame Mina and Chloe receives a box from Mr. Tiempo- tap shoes with a note that reads..."follow your feet." The message is clear and abundant. Every character in the book celebrates their own path. Chloe's never scolded for marching to the beat of a different drummer. Each parent participates in their own way.
This is a perfect score!

Princess Super Kitty by Antoinette Portis. (2011) Harper.

Simply narrated by a little girl with short cropped dark hair who is pretending to be a kitty.  My own children did this often, asking for food on the floor, as they purred and scratched their way around the house.  Most memorably my two oldest loved to pretend they were wolves.  Oh, those were the days.  Such an abundance of imagination!  This young girl shifts from kitty to Super Kitty, ready to save the world by rescuing her baby brother.  She even delivers his bottle in "zero seconds".  Super Kitty quickly morphs into Princess Super Kitty as she marches around the house for her family to adore.  Each new character allows her the freedom to make a new choice about doing something helpful like taking a bath or playing nicely with her brother.  From the tone we can easily hear that she is not a demanding or shrill princess character.  I adore Portis' other books, Not a Stick and Not a Box and this is another one to add to my collection.

Goodnight Dragons by Judith L. Roth; ill. Pascal Lemaitre (love his work!). (2012) Hyperion Books.

This is a "boy" book filled with wonderful imaginative play.  This little guy wants to tame dragons so he gathers his tools and fills his wagon.  He traipses off to the forest with his trusty "horse" dog.  The book at this point hadn't stirred my creative soul just yet but then this line hit me:  "With a voice strong as hawksong, I call them to me.  Come you heartbreakers.  Come, you brokenhearted.  Come put your fire with sweet chocolate milk."  he repeats peeking through the treetops.  That line is magical to me-this little boy in the trees, offering comfort to the dragons, who come swarming for his call.  Instead of sword play he offers them blankets, and a sleepy time treat.  Magic.  Simply shows how little boys can be nurturing and creative as well.

Sprinkle these extremely peaceful stories into your bedtime routine for lots of hugs and love!

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Graduation Day

Today is the day.  Our junior is graduating with all the seniors.  He is one year ahead of schedule but due to unforeseeable circumstances he realized it was more important to graduate from his school than to spend one year at a new school. The above photo shows him (first photo without braces which came off at the beginning of this week) with his Colorado grandparents who flew in for the event.

Until I see him walk across the stage it won't really seem REAL to me.  I'm not emotionally prepared for this event.  We've only been talking about it for a 2-3 months.  We did have a casual backyard party yesterday in celebration.  The party was fantastic and happy which allowed me to just enjoy that moment but today, well, this ceremony is a whole other BIG moment.  I'm bringing a box of kleenex.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Guacamole; A cooking poem by Jorge Argueta and Margarita Sada

One day over at Jama Ratigan's fabulous blog, Alphabet Soup, I entered one of her drawings and I won!
I almost missed my opportunity to win this book because I missed her email message to me and she nicely emailed me a second time.  Thank you Jama!

Groovy Girl and I were both home when the post person brought the package from House of Anansi Press with this very green poetry food book inside the yellow bubble wrapper.  We actually sat down in the grass and read it right away.

The first thing you notice are the gorgeous illustrations that show the young children interacting playfully with the food. The second point is that the story is told bilingually with Spanish and English.  It begins:

"Today I'm going to make you guacamole,"
I say to my mother and father
and my little brother and sister.
They stare at me with their big eyes
that remind me of the green avocados
in the basket on the red kitchen table. (1)

and it continues with vivid colors and words used to describe the process of making a delicious bowl of guacamole!  I adore how this young chef sings and dances around the kitchen with her apron on.  She continues with:

I wash them in the fountain of the sink
and then, dancing and singing,
I put them on the red kitchen table. (6)

This is a treasure of a book for the kitchen or the library.  It is a celebration of food and fun and this young girl celebrates the simple process of making a family tradition.  I think I'm going to add it to my school library collection but I'm not ready to part with it at home yet.  I am waiting for some beautiful avocados to slide my way so I can give this recipe a try. Thanks again to Jama for offering such a great poetry giveaway!

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Louise Erdrich; books with historical significance

I don't know why it took me so long to discover this wonderful series.  Next year I plan to put it on our 5th grade book club reading list.  Thank you to V. for pushing me toward this title.

The Birchbark House (1999)

Omakayas and her family are Ojibwe Indians living on Madeline Island.  The year is 1849 and Omakayas (Little Frog) is seven years old.  She has one older sister, Angeline, and two younger brothers; one a baby and the other, Pinch, is pure trouble.  The book is set up on the cycle of the seasons as this small tribe of Ojibwes enjoy the  warm days of summer preparing for fall and winter.  The snowy months prove difficult for the tribe as many are short on food and sickness robs Omakayas of her baby brother.  Erdrich set it up nicely in this seasonal manner  to help us feel in the moment with this peaceful tribe.  I have a romantic notion for Native tribes and this book shares all the positive as they begin to feel the encroachment of the white man on their land and Omakayas understands more about her gift for dreams.

The Game of Silence (2005)

The sequel to The Birchbark House continues the thread through seasons with several adventures.  Another small tribe arrives by canoe, bedraggled and starved, as they escape from the white man and sickness.  Old Tallow gets lost during a heavy snow as she searches for game to hunt and Deydey leads the priest on a mission just as the ice over the lake begins to crack and break.  Any of these problems demonstrate the difficulties native people had even without the added fear of losing their way of life.  Omakayas learns to accept her dreams as she uses a particularly powerful dream to rescue her father.  She is a strong and unique young female character who takes pride in her family and the way of life she's too often taken for granted.

A quote:

"The air cooled quickly.  It was a little cold to sleep outside, but Deydey spread out the fire and built it up to a huge blaze.  When the fire had all burned down to a bed of coals, he spread out the coals and then all of the family heaped sand on top of the big spread-out remains of the fire.  They were making their bed. The soft comfortable sand was their mattress.  Underneath, the coals would continue to give off a gently heat.  They all lay down under the stars.   There were no mosquitos or flies when the air was so chilly.  Yet the warmth from underneath kept them comfortable.  Deydey made this sort of sand bed often on his trips, and the children loved for him to make it for them." (72-73, The Game of Silence)

Louise Erdrich's native heritage helped to shape this series as she recounts events in her own family's past.  I have a few other books ahead of it but I plan to read the third and final book, The Porcupine Year. A post by Carol Hurst talks about The Birchbark House. The Game of Silence is discussed in this article at KidsReads and The Porcupine Year has this article also at KidsReads.

Monday, May 7, 2012

Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman

Wow.  I haven't written a book review for quite some time.  I hope it's like riding a bike.
I read Gaiman's Neverwhere back in March and rushed through it.  My family was wowed at my ability to fly the sofa with this book in my hand.  Gaiman wrote this in 1996 and it is a perfectly dark urban fantasy.


Richard Mayhew is a young man with a good heart and an ordinary life, which is changed forever when he stops to help a girl he finds bleeding on a London sidewalk.  His small act of kindness propels him into a world he never dreamed existed.  There are people who fall through the cracks, and Richard has become one of them.  And he must learn to survive in this city of shadows and darkness, monsters and saints, murderers and angels, if he is ever to return to the London that he knew.   (from the book cover)

I had trouble getting into it for the first few chapters and even sent a text to my stepdaughter to see what she thought about this title.  She is a HUGE Gaiman fan and her advice was to keep going; it was going to be worth it.  So I settled in and plugged away until I couldn't give it up.

Richard is a wonderfully simple guy who easily morphs into a modern hero.  His only superpower is his naivete and his kindness.  He wants to believe people are what they say they are and he thinks he wants the life his overbearing fiancee, Jessica, has created for him.  Thankfully he rescues himself when he stops to care for Door.  Great name, Gaiman, because once he's met Door he enters a completely foreign world with monsters and angels plus ordinary people who have quite literally fallen through life's cracks.  Neverwhere is multi-layered and fantastically written.

One of my favorite sections is when Richard, after getting Door to her destination,  returns to his office, Jessica's office and his apartment only to find his life doesn't exist.  Wouldn't that be a truly horrid nightmare?

"Jessica.  Thank God.  Listen, I think I'm going mad or something.  It started when I couldn't get a taxi this morning, and then the office and the Tube and---" He showed her his ragged sleeve. "It's like I've become some kind of a non-person." She smiled at him some more,  reassuringly.  "Look," said Richard.  "I'm sorry about the other night.  Well, not about what I did, but about upsetting you, and ...look, I'm sorry, and it's all crazy, and I don't honestly know what to do." 
And Jessica nodded, and continued to smile sympathetically, and then she said, "You're going to think I'm absolutely awful, but I have a really dreadful memory for faces.  Give a second, and I know I'll get it." 
And at that point, Richard knew that is was real, and a heavy dread settled in the pit of his stomach.  Whatever madness was happening that day was really happening.  (61)

Brilliantly creepy.  Richard, begging for his non-life back, knows even then he wouldn't change helping Door.  A hero who doesn't know or want to be a hero is always the most fun to read about.

Find N. Gaiman here @ Neil Gaiman and on twitter.

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Weekend Cooking; Homemade Chocolate Cake

Cake on my grandmother's Spode plate

Teenage Boy's birthday was last weekend.  Did I mention he turned 17 and how old that makes me feel?  Well it does. No gray hair to prove it thankfully but there are other less obvious scars.  A long list of joys as well but this cake conversation was not one of them.

Over the years I've made homemade angel food cake topped with strawberry sauce and fresh whipped cream for his birthday until he told me last year how much he disliked angel food cake.  What!? When did this occur??  I have pictures of him grabbing at angel food cake during his early birthdays.  I felt stricken.  How come you didn't tell me this? He gave me a teenage shoulder shrug and a "I'm telling you now."  So much for thinking you know your teenage child.

Even though he's requested less sugar in his life he does love chocolate so I pulled out the best chocolate cake recipe I've ever know and made this cake because it oozes chocolatey-ness.  This cake was made for special occasions and church potlucks when I was growing up.  It hails from a family friend named Alice Bachman (of course) and always been referred to in my family as:

Alice Bachman's Chocolate Cake

2 cups flour
2 cups sugar
2 eggs
1/2 cup buttermilk
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp vanilla
1 stick unsalted butter, melted and then added to 3 T. cocoa and 1 cup HOT water.

Combine sugar and flour and beat in eggs.  Add HOT water/cocoa/butter combination and continue to mix with a wooden spoon or spatula.  Add the buttermilk, soda, and vanilla.  Combine well by hand.  Use butter wrapper to lightly grease 9 x 13-in baking pan.  Pour batter into pan and bake at 350* for 20-25 minutes.

Melt 1 stick of butter (yes, more butter)  in small saucepan.  Add 3 T. cocoa and stir.  Add one box of powdered sugar, 6 T. buttermilk, and 1 tsp. vanilla.  Stir over low heat until smooth.  Pour over cooled cake.  Serve and enjoy.

My dad used to eat this cake in a bowl of milk. I do this now in my favorite small pink bowl in memory of him and Alice and smile, smile, smile as I scoop its deliciousness in.

On my quest to not eat sugar I will be making this rhubarb cake (Smitten Kitchen) solely based on the fact that a friend gave me a big bag of rhubarb just begging to be turned into this big crumb coffee cake.

This cake post is linked to Beth Fish Reads Weekend Cooking meme.  Click her link to find many more food-related posts.

I'm off to garden now which is on my weekend to-do list right after finish WC post by 9 am.  I'm off schedule already.  Hard not to scrap it all and do give in to Heather's temptation.

Have a blessed Cinco de Mayo!

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

April Showers

April left a little quickly but was filled with excitement!

This young woman turned 20 on the 5th. 
This young man turned 17 on the 28th. 

I'm working on a graduation party for Teenage Boy. His lab school is closing which has caused him to reevaluate and graduate early.  Wow.  That's a lot to take in.

After attending many grad parties in the past we knew we wanted to make less of an earthly impact.  We didn't want a huge garbage can to be filled up with paper plates, cups, and streamers.  After searching local party stores I ended up ordering compost-able plates and cups from Amazon.  I feel ecstatically happy about this decision.  We are having root beer floats, Bugles (TB favorite snack-so not healthy), popcorn popped by me, and turkey hot dogs roasted over our fire pit.

I  read three good books in April:

1. The Birchbark House by Louise Erdrich.
2. The Clockwork Three by Matthew J. Kirby.
3. Crossed by Allie Condie.

I went to only one movie, Bully,  but it was life-changing. I recommend it to everyone, 4th grade and above.  Even Groovy Girl saw it and she made it through the few bad words.  We went as a family and had a great discussion afterwards.  I cried continuously and have felt moved to talk to everyone about it.

Groovy Girl had her skating program and Spring is official for her as there are no more Saturday morning skating lessons.

Happy May.