All posts by Vasilly

About Vasilly

Mother, daughter, sister, college student, bookworm, lover of chocolate and coffee.

Sunday Salon: Week 1 of My Happiness Project

At the beginning of October, I decided to spend the month de-cluttering and focusing on managing my time better. I’m pretty tired of my days going by in a blur with little to show for it, but an ever-growing to-do list. So last week I decided to go through my days and write down my observations about my daily life before I put a plan into gear.

Time Management

There’s too much to do and I’m only one person! There’s a million things that I need to do every day. From homeschooling to cleaning the house, making dinner to taking care of my kids, there’s always something that needs my attention.

I try to multitask. That’s a fail right there. Multitasking is something that you feel the need to do even if you can’t always do it well. I find myself trying to look up something online for one kid while helping another one with their work, and doing a third thing. I know I’m not giving any one thing my undivided attention and often it shows.

Multitasking leads me to being distracted. My attention span seems to be getting shorter and shorter. It doesn’t help that I’m constantly running around with things to do and not enough time to do them. There’s 24 hours in a day and my son, Avram, often asks me if I wish there was more time.

Organization

I don’t have enough space. I live in a small two bedroom apartment, crammed with kids and books. I try to take advantage of every inch I have, but I’ve realized that I can scale down and cull our things, buy furniture to help make this space home, or just move. I’m at the point where every time I look around my place, I don’t feel peace. I see more tasks that I need to do.

I have too many things. I really don’t, but as I said above, I don’t have enough space. It makes what we own seem like too much though it’s not.

Our things are everywhere. As any bookworm knows, books never stay on shelves. They’re on nightstands, on the floor when you run out of shelf space, on the couch, and all over your desk. I can say the same thing about my pens and pencils, writing notebooks, Legos, and other objects.

Writing down what I observed this week was pretty eye opening. I’ve been having the same issues over and over again for years now and it’s time to change that.

Changes

Now that I understand some of my problems, it’s time to put a plan into place. Instead of lamenting about my small space, I’m going to work with what I have for now. I plan on culling things, organizing, and trying to give everything its own place. When it comes to time management, I’m going to cut things from my to-do list and cut out multitasking to see if it helps. We’ll see what happens.

What are you up to today? Do you have any time management or organization tips for me?

Sunday Salon: My plans for October

My daughter's vanilla birthday cake.
My daughter’s vanilla birthday cake.

Time: // 8:34 a.m.

The scene: // sitting in my living room with the kids, watching HellBoy 2. The kids and I decided to watch a scary movie every day in October. We missed two days but are planning to make them up. Next up is Super 8.

Yesterday, we celebrated my daughter’s thirteenth birthday with cake, ice cream, and Chinese food. There were several birthday parties going on in the neighborhood, so instead of hosting one more, we decided to go and enjoy everyone else’s. As a parent, I realize nothing makes you feel old like seeing your children get older.

Reading: // I seem to be on a non-fiction kick. Right now, I’m currently reading 10% Happier: How I Tamed the Voice in My Head, Reduced Stress Without Losing My Edge, and Found Self-Help That Actually WorksA True Story by Dan Harris. He’s one of the hosts of Good Morning America. I like his reporting style but didn’t know if I wanted to read a celebrity memoir. I figured if Harris learned something about being happier, maybe I should read the book. So far, I’m impress. Harris is very honest about how he was a chronic worrier, even when things were going well, and how being a war correspondent is like a drug.

Steve Harvey’s Act Like a Success, Think Like a Success: Discovering Your Gift and the Way to Life’s Riches is the author’s third self-help book. I’m about seventy pages in and I’m finding it inspiring.

A few months ago, Elizabeth of The Dirigible Plum recommended Opening Minds: Using Language to Change Lives by Peter H. Johnston. Once I finished reading her post, I bought a copy. Since then, the book has sat on my shelves unread. In Opening Minds, Johnston talks about the language adults use to help children become their best and get them out of a fixed mindset.

Planning: // a happiness project. Too often, it seems like there’s not enough time in the day. My days have started to blur together and it feels like I don’t have anything to show for it. I decided that I’ll spend October focusing on managing my time and de-cluttering my home. I plan on posting updates about my progress to help me stay focused.

So now I’m off to: // start my day. I have a house to clean, lessons to plan, and some jambalaya to cook.

What are your plans for October?

“Tonight I Can Write the Saddest Lines” by Pablo Neruda

Tonight I can write the saddest lines.

Write, for example, ‘The night is starry
and the stars are blue and shiver in the distance.’

The night wind revolves in the sky and sings.

Tonight I can write the saddest lines.
I loved her, and sometimes she loved me too.

Through nights like this one I held her in my arms.
I kissed her again and again under the endless sky.

She loved me, sometimes I loved her too.
How could one not have loved her great still eyes.

Tonight I can write the saddest lines.
To think that I do not have her. To feel that I have lost her.

To hear the immense night, still more immense without her.
And the verse falls to the soul like dew to the pasture.

What does it matter that my love could not keep her.
The night is starry and she is not with me.

This is all. In the distance someone is singing. In the distance.
My soul is not satisfied that it has lost her.

My sight tries to find her as though to bring her closer.
My heart looks for her, and she is not with me.

The same night whitening the same trees.
We, of that time, are no longer the same.

I no longer love her, that’s certain, but how I loved her.
My voice tried to find the wind to touch her hearing.

Another’s. She will be another’s. As she was before my kisses.
Her voice, her bright body. Her infinite eyes.

I no longer love her, that’s certain, but maybe I love her.
Love is so short, forgetting is so long.

Because through nights like this one I held her in my arms
my soul is not satisfied that it has lost her.

Though this be the last pain that she makes me suffer
and these the last verses that I write for her.

Trans. W.S. Merwin
Poem XX from Twenty Love Poems and a Song of Despair (1924)

brown girl dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson #diversiverse

20660824brown girl dreaming
Jacqueline Woodson
338 pages
Published in August 2014 by Nancy Paulsen Books
Source: Public Library

The first time I write my full name

Jacqueline Amanda Woodson

without anybody’s help
on a clean white page in my composition notebook,
I know

if I wanted to

I could write anything.

brown girl dreaming is Jacqueline Woodson’s wonderful and poetic memoir about her “very complicated and very rich” childhood. Shortly after her birth in Columbus, Ohio in 1963, Woodson’s family moves to South Carolina, her mother’s home state. The author and her two siblings live with their maternal grandparents for years as their mother travel back and forth to New York, trying to make a life for them. It’s there in the South that Saturday nights “smell of biscuits”, Jacqueline gets her hands dirty in her grandfather’s garden, and sit-ins are happening downtown. In New York, rainy days now mean staying in the house and being introduced to a new baby brother. Written in verse, brown girl dreaming is a book that both young readers and adults can enjoy.

There are many things that make brown girl dreaming so special that it’s hard to even write about it. Woodson has this wonderful way of writing from a child’s point of view. Readers see a young Jacqueline fall in love with stories even though she struggles with writing and is compared to a brilliant older sister by teachers. Thrown in with these moments are the huge events that were going on in the country like the end of segregation and what that meant as she and her grandmother shopped downtown, watching the Black Panther Party on TV from across the country, and the Vietnam War.

brown girl dreaming was just nominated for a National Book Award in Young Adult Literature, a nomination it rightly deserves. You won’t regret reading it, so buy this book, don’t borrow it. My rating: 5 out of 5 stars.

Sunday Salon

sunday salon

Time: // 8:42 a.m.

The scene: // my living room is a mess! As I sit at my desk typing this post, behind me my son has poured thousands of Lego pieces on the floor. I better remember to walk around with shoes on for the next few hours.

Reading: // Black Swan, White Raven, an anthology of fairy tale retellings collected by Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling. It’s a reread for me so I’m looking for a novel that will knock my socks off. Any recommendations?

Grateful for: // a lot of things. Last week was pretty hard to get through. Now, there’s a lot of change that I need to adjust to. I’m grateful that I’m not sad or upset but looking forward to the future.

Promoting: // Deb’s Week in Books post. If you’ve been going through reading slumps or blogging malaise, this is the post you should read.

Now I’m off to: // finish my cup of coffee and start correcting math books.

What are you up to today? What’s the last book that knocked your socks off? What are you grateful for?

Sunday Salon

Time: // 8: 52 a.m. Sunday morning

The scene: // sitting in the living room, listening to my kids and sisters talk. Is it me or are teenagers kind of loud? It’s already 80 degrees, set to be 97, and I’m miserable. Can fall please come already?

Listening to: // the latest album by FKA Twigs entitled “LP1.” I don’t even know what genre to call this music but I love her voice.

Promoting: // if you didn’t know, today is the first day of Aarti’s A Diverse Universe event, which goes on until the 27th of this month. You can find her link-up post here.

Reading: // for the past week or so, my reading has been going . . . surprisingly well. After being in and out of reading slumps for months, I’ve actually finished a couple of books. I want to keep the momentum going so I pulled a few books off my shelves to read this three-day weekend.

Kara Cooney’s fictional biography, The Woman Who Would Be King, started off pretty good, but I’m putting it down for now. I call the book a fictional biography because its subject, Hatsheput, lived thousands of years ago as a pharaoh in Ancient Egypt. There’s little evidence of Hatsheput’s personal life, so Cooney uses her experience as an archaeologist to fill in the blanks, which she admits to doing. Readers will find life during ancient times fascinating but Cooney’s input kept taking me out of the story.

20660824

Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson is book of verse about the author’s childhood. I’m only a few poems in but so far, so good. I wish I could get the cover as a poster. I would definitely put it on my walls.

I recently added Hand to Mouth: Living in Bootstrap America by Linda Tirado to my tbr list after reading the essay she wrote last year about being poor. I was lucky enough to get an ARC from the publisher. I can’t wait to start reading it.

Looking forward to: // going to the library today. The local libraries were hit hard with budget cuts about a decade ago, which left them open only five days a week. Recently, the original budget was restored, so the library is now open seven days a week. I have fond memories of going to the library on Sundays, and I can’t wait to make new memories. It’s funny how simple things can make you happy.

So: // what are you looking forward to today?

Review: The Truth Is a Cave in the Black Mountains by Neil Gaiman and Eddie Campbell

gaimanThe Truth Is a Cave in the Black Mountains: A Tale of Travel and Darkness with Pictures of All Kinds
Written by Neil Gaiman
Illustrated by Eddie Campbell
74 pages
Published in 2014 by William Morrow

In Neil Gaiman’s, The Truth is a Cave in the Black Mountains, two men journey to a cave located on a mysterious island in the Scotland. The cave is said to grant gold to anyone who can find its location. But in return, visitors have to give something up. . .

I hesitate to call this work a book. It’s more like an illustrated short story in graphic format. Gaiman collaborated with artist, Eddie Campbell, and the result is a dark tale. In reviews that I’ve read about The Truth is a Cave, some readers have found themselves a little thrown back by the style of this book. There’s art on every page, and sometimes the art is used to illustrate while other times it’s part of the story itself. At times, the art felt like a perfect match for the story, though it can seem like a distraction. I think it had to do with the different styles used by Campbell.

img054

Overall, this was an engaging read. After I read it once, I had to reread it again. For those looking for a short and creepy read for the R.I.P. Challenge, I would recommend this tale. My rating: 4 out of 5 stars.

The first lines:

You ask me if I can forgive myself?

I can forgive myself for many things. For where I left him. For what I did. But I will not forgive myself for the year that I hated my daughter, when I believed her to have run away, perhaps to the city. During that year I forbade her name to be mentioned, and if her name entered my prayers when I prayed, it was to ask that she would one day learn the meaning of what she had done, of the dishonor that she had brought to my family, of the red that ringed her mother’s eyes.

I hate myself for that, and nothing will ease that, not even what happened that night, on the side of the mountain. . .

Sunday Salon: Have I Got a Book for you! #diversiverse

sunday salon

Happy Sunday! Instead of telling you what I’m up to, I decided to do something different. A Diverse Universe event is coming up and I thought I’ll write a list post for anyone who’s thinking about joining the event and don’t know what to read.

Bloggers like Aarti and Nymeth have eloquently written about why more people should read diversely. I’m not going to do it. I’ve realized that exploring works of art based on an author’s race means being open to something different. And either you are open to that or you’re not. Readers love the adventures that books can take them on, like new worlds light-years away or a dystopian version of the world they live in. Looking at race can be a different and harder thing to do. But it doesn’t have to be.

It’s an ongoing process, one that means making a decision book by book. It doesn’t mean suddenly changing the way you read overall. I, myself, have been guilty of not reading many books by people of color over the years. Or, I’ll read them but don’t review them. This year has been fantastic with books by people of color dominating my reviews, but I still have work to do.

Some critics have stated that by purposely choosing to read a book written by a person of color, you’re excluding whites. Well, that’s true. When you’re in the mood to read science fiction or fantasy that means excluding all writers who don’t write in that genre. Race isn’t any different. Nor is it any different when choosing to read books that won certain awards or set in different countries or translated from other languages. I hope everyone who reads this post makes a decision to pick up a book by a person of color. Like I stated earlier, that choice is up to you.

The books on my list were all published this year. I decided to give newly released books more bookish love than those that were published in previous years. By buying, borrowing, or reviewing new releases shows the gatekeepers that books by people of color are desired by readers.

Note: Most of the links to the titles below will take you to Goodreads. Several will take you to my reviews or the reviews of other bloggers.

Looking for a short read?

diverse collage 7

I don’t read short stories often enough though I love them. The great thing about them is that you can often find amazing ones online via Tor and other online publications.

Novels

Diverse Collage 1

diverse Collage 2

 

Diverse Collage 3

 

diverse Collage 4

 

Diverse Collage 5

Nonfiction

Diverse Collage 6

 

Have you read any of these books? What newly released books would you recommend?

Foodie Giveaway: Burnt Toast Makes You Sing Good by Kathleen Flinn

 18693752I’m Swedish, which makes me sexy, and I’m Irish, which makes me want to talk about it.

So starts Kathleen Flinn’s entertaining foodie biography about her family, Burnt Toast Makes You Sing Good. I’m halfway through the book and it’s pretty good so far. Here’s the publisher’s excerpt:

A family history with recipes, Burnt Toast Makes You Sing Good offers a flavorful tale spanning three generations as Flinn returns to the mix of food and memoir readers loved in her New York Times bestseller, The Sharper Your Knife, the Less You Cry. From a Route 66 trek to San Francisco to their Michigan farm to the shores of Florida, humor and adventure define her family even in the worst of times. You’ll savor Uncle Clarence’s divine corn flake-crusted fried chicken, Grandpa Charles’s spicy San Antonio chili, and Grandma Inez’s birthday-only cinnamon rolls. Through these flavors, Flinn came to understand how meals can be memories and cooking can be communication. Brimming with warmth and wit, fans of Luisa Weiss’s Mr. Berlin Kitchen, Gabrielle Hamilton’s Blood, Bones and Butter, and especially Betty Smith’s A Tree Grows in Brooklyn will delight in this revealing look at a family that just might resemble your own.

The publisher loves this book so much that they’re shipping one copy to one lucky reader. To enter this giveaway, just leave a comment. I’ll randomly pick a winner on August 28th. The contest is limited to readers in the United States. Good luck.

The contest is closed! Thank you all for entering. The lucky winner has been contacted.

Sunday Salon

sunday salon

Time: // 5:14 p.m. Saturday afternoon. You guys, we have to stop meeting like this! It’s becoming a bad habit that I’m only posting on Sundays. Luckily, I have a few book read and I plan on spending some of this weekend writing reviews.

The scene: // sitting at my kitchen table with a cup of coffee and the fan directly on me. It is hot outside, just a little over 80 degrees but it’s Cali. (That means I’m a wimp when it comes to the heat.) Half the kids are at a neighbor’s birthday party while the other half is munching on hot wings and macaroni and cheese. Kids.

kids books
Reading: // Nothing right now. I’m supposed to start read-alouds with the kids. With Piper it’s The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams. It’s a re-read for me but her first time. Oliver and I are going to read The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie. Wonder by R.J. Palacio is Avram’s book. I plan on spending part of this week catching up with the kids.

Listening to: // The 39 Clues: Maze of Bones by Rick Riordan on audio. I can count that as reading. I’m trying to get the kids to try new formats and genres of reading this year. The first book of the 39 Clues series is fantastic. Every time I’ve listened to it (three or four times so far,) I’ve been glued to it.

Thankful for: // the first week of homeschooling being over. The bad: my youngest’s perfectionism reared its ugly head. The good: the kids’ microscope and slides for biology and life science are coming. One of the best things about homeschooling through a charter school is that the kids can take advantage of so many opportunities like cooking school and are able to get their hands on materials they wouldn’t have been able to in our local public schools.

Now I’m off to: // read and relax.

What are you up to today?

Sunday Salon

sunday salon

Time: // 5:32 a.m. Sunday (Insomnia is no joke.)

Listening to: // “All About That Bass” by Meghan Trainor. What a fun song about plus-size women! Have you heard it?

Reading: // I’m still reading The Canon by Natalie Angier. I’m liking it a lot but I do notice that Angier tries to show off her science knowledge in a way that can be distracting. I’m hoping to finish it in a few days. For some reason, I’m not really in the mood to read fiction right now.

This week: // is the last week of summer before we start back homeschooling. Is it possible to cram in everything I want to do in seven days?! Oliver, my oldest son, has his 11th birthday tomorrow, which means he’s having a cakepops party and food will be all over the kitchen as the kids make their own. With his new bike, I’m sure we’ll spend most of the day outside.

Thanks to my reading mojo vanishing for much of the summer, I didn’t get to half of the books on my summer reading list (or any) but that’s okay. I can read them over the year and it’s a small stack anyway.

I need to spend the next week cramming in time at the beach, reading, lesson planning, and just relaxing. We’ll see if I can get it all done.

Promoting: Melissa’s (Feminist Texican) review of The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood on audio. I keep saying that I’m going to listen to this and haven’t yet.

Buried in Print’s post on This One Summer by cousins Mariko and Jillian Tamaki. B.I.P., Candace (BethFishReads), and my daughter have all enjoyed this book. What am I waiting for?

Now I’m off to: // enjoy my coffee and curl up with The Canon.

What are you up to today?

Review: Ruby by Cynthia Bond

rubyRuby
Cynthia Bond
352 pages
Published in April 2014 by Hogarth
Source: Publisher

I didn’t have any interest in reading Cynthia Bond’s Ruby until I read the author’s bio. When I read how the author used to teach writing to homeless and at-risk youth, I knew Bond understood that all stories are important, especially those that usually lie in the margins of society. So when a publicist from Hogarth contacted me about Ruby, I decided to finally give it a try.

Ruby Bell is a woman who’s been through so much from an early age. The product of dire circumstances, Ruby was abandoned by her mother as a baby and life after that didn’t get any easier. The citizens of her small hometown, Liberty Township, “wove Ruby into cautionary tales of the wages of sin and travel. They called her buck-crazy. Howling, half-naked mad.”

All except Ephram Jennings.

Even as a child, Ephram understood that there was something different about Ruby, some secret that was wrapped so tightly around her. Unlike the rest of the town, who enjoyed seeing Ruby’s descent into madness and despair, Ephram wanted nothing more than to protect her. What follows is an emotional and devastating debut about a woman’s emotional journey from madness to hope.

I gave you a little summary about the book. Anything else would ruin the plot for you or just scare you off. That’s definitely not what I want.

It wasn’t until after I finished the book that I read praise comparing Cynthia Bond to Toni Morrison. Like Morrison’s Beloved, Ruby takes the past evils of the South to another dimension, a magical one. Because I didn’t really have any idea what the book was about, the magical elements were unexpected but in the end, it really helps in telling the intertwined stories.

Read Ruby. Then, find a friend to talk about it with because you’re going to want to. My rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars. I can’t wait to read Bond’s future work.

An excerpt:

Marilyn held her daughter. She would be hurt, of that Marilyn was certain. Helpless to protect her, Marilyn felt a wildness in her own chest, like a bird trapped behind a glass door. But when she looked in the girl’s eyes she could see that she was already gone so she gave her words to help her in the dark days:

“Your daddy and me named Otha. It means ‘wealth.’ You were your daddy’s treasure from the time you were born until he died. He used to say there were rubies buried deep inside of you. Remember, baby, don’t never let a man mine you for your riches. Don’t let him take a pickax to that treasure in your soul. Remember, they can’t get it until you give it to them. They might lie and try to trick you out of it, baby, and they’ll try. They might lay a hand on you, or worse, they might break your spirit, but the only way they can get it is to convince you it’s not yours to start with. To convince you there’s nothing there but a lump of coal…”

Sunday Salon

sunday salon

Time: // 7:14 am

The scene: // with the exception of the fan going, the house is pretty quiet. Almost everyone is still asleep and the air is so cool since it rained last night. I hope it continues today.

Drinking: // coffee because no one is crazy enough to want me to go without it.

July: // wasn’t the best month. I spent most of in a blah type of mood, where I didn’t get much read or done. I finished seven books, three of which were picture books and one was a graphic novel. In terms of quality, six out of the seven I would definitely recommend.

PicMonkey Collage

August: // holds a lot of promise. Hopefully. We start back homeschooling in two weeks. Until then, I’m getting lessons and materials together. The thing I really love about homeschooling through a charter school is all the materials and things the kids can do that they weren’t able to do in public school.

Looking forward to: // reading and reviewing more this month. Ruby by Cynthia Bond is a hard book to review. I’m trying to balance the summary without giving too much away. It’s a book more people should read.

I also plan on finally joining Trish’s Cook it Up: A Cookbook Challenge with my kids. We have lots of recipes just lying around, so I plan on making a recipe scrapbook to help us get started.

So what are you up to today? Have you read any good books?

Monday Salon. . .again

Time: // I originally started writing this post around 8:30 Sunday night as I waited for my son’s x-rays to come back. He was playing soccer and miss the ball and kicked the concrete wall outside instead. Ouch!

The scene: // It’s now 6:55 am Monday morning. I’m sitting at the kitchen table, enjoying my coffee. With the exception of my daughter Piper’s chattering, it’s mostly quiet.

ruby
Reading: // I’m actually reading again! It’s like the world is more beautiful now! On a whim, I downloaded two graphic novels from NetGalley on Saturday and devoured both of them within hours. Now I’m reading Cynthia Bond’s Ruby. From what I’ve read about it, I’m sure it’s a devastating read. You know, the kind of read that breaks your heart with its characters’ lives and beautiful writing.

high summer rat

Promoting: // Michelle’s High Summer Read-a-thon which starts today and ends this Sunday. I’m joining the event in hopes of keeping my reading streak going. I have no idea what I’m going to read after Ruby and that’s okay. I’m going to go where my mood takes me.

Aarti is bringing back A More Diverse Universe event for the third year in a row. In the past, the event highlight speculative fiction by writers of color. This time around Aarti is expanding the event’s reach by highlighting books of all genres by writers of color. A More Diverse Universe is going on the last two weeks of September, so there’s plenty of time to sign up, help out, and figure out what to read for the event. You can find more information on Aarti’s blog.

Now I’m off to: // read.

What have you been up to lately? Read any good books?

Sunday Salon

sunday salonTime: // 9:20 a.m.

The scene: // Sitting in bed as the sun shines through my window. The fan is on, my cup of coffee is on my nightstand, and I feel so good.

Reading: // a bunch of teaching books before we start back homeschooling the middle of next month. For some reason, it’s been hard for me to settle down with a book. The weather is pretty mild right now but I have almost no desire to read. I’m thinking about returning all of my library loot unread and just waiting this mood out.

Promoting: // I may not be reading too many books right now but I’ve read several interesting online articles this week. Penelope Trunk wrote a fantastic post this week called “Leaving Your Options Open Sets You Back”. Y’all, I am the queen of leaving my options open. I thought it was smart but over the past year or so, I’ve been kicking myself in the ass big time. My problem is every option looks GOOD. This is why I’ve changed majors a million times: Anthropology English Psychology Anthropology and why so many occupations sound right up my alley.

So anyway, Trunk writes about how it’s important to stop trying to multitask since it’s foolish and start taking action. She writes every day and says that the only way she can get it done is to give herself no choice in the matter.

“You might tell me that I do have a choice. When we have a choice to not do something big, we don’t do it. Each of us has a challenge to find something big that we want and then convince ourselves there is no option but action. Focused action does not include hedging our bets with something else. Because hedging your bets is like multitasking: everything degrades. And taking action toward a goal we’re committed to is like splashing cold water on your face: it’s difficult and jarring but you feel power to do anything in that moment.”

Go read the post.

Now I’m off to: // go back to bed.

What are you up to today?

Sunday Salon

Time: // 7: 28 a.m.

The scene: // sitting at my desk as the family sleeps. With summer here, the kids are staying up late and sleeping in pretty much every morning. I’m loving it. I can enjoy my coffee in peace without anyone wanting to talk about Legos or trying to plan my day.

What’s happening: // I haven’t been in the mood to blog for ages now. It still amazes me how hard it is to try to blog again after taking so much time off. I’m going to try though one post at a time. . .

Finished reading: // The Bees by Laline Paull. The author made bees so fascinating! Now I want to read a few interviews with the author to see how this story came about. I’m so curious.

For some reason: // I always have a problem figuring out what’s going to be my next read. I think it has to do with having too many books to choose from. Has that ever happened to you? I have library books, my own tbr pile, and advance reading copies to choose from.

Hating: // the weather. Yes, I’m complaining. Can I get the cool kind of summer? You know, mostly in the mid-70s? It’s 7 a.m. and it’s already hot!

Loving: // how carefree my summer has been so far.

Now I’m off to: // relax.

What have you been up to so far this summer? Have you read The Bees? How do you choose your next read when you don’t have deadlines to think about?

Review: Losing Touch by Sandra Hunter

18668195Losing Touch

Sandra Hunter

224 pages

Published in July 2014 by OneWorld Publication

Source: Publisher

“There is some pain you cannot breathe through.”

When I read Sandra Hunter’s Losing Touch, I found out that it’s a book of small moments. Of parents not understanding their teenage children, of the longing and regret that can exist between a man and woman, and of past hurts fueling future pains. I didn’t expect a debut novel to read so well.

Losing Touch follows Arjun, a man who traveled from India to west London with his family years earlier. His wife is no longer as carefree as she once was, his children are strangers living in his home, and he is slowly losing control of his body. Arjun has no idea how things came to be the way they are but his family know. Arjun is rigid-thinking, always believing himself to be right. His wife, Sunila, whose view is also told, isn’t perfect and can be just as narrow thinking herself. The two dance around their problems as Arjun is forced to stop ignoring his health problems.

This may be Hunter’s first book but she is a master observer of life. I found myself reading sentence after sentence, turning pages to know more about this ordinary couple and their family. The last chapter left me in tears. Losing Touch is a book that I will definitely reread. My rating: 4 out of 5 stars.

Review: The Day I Became an Autodidact

698417The Day I Became an Autodidact: And the Advice, Adventures, and Acrimonies that Befell me Thereafter

Kendall Hailey

288 pages

Published in January 1989 by Delta

Source: Public library

A few days ago, I started reading The Day I Became an Autodidact by Kendall Hailey. Hailey, the daughter of a playwright and novelist, decided to graduate from high school a year early at the age of 16. Her turning point came when days after tenth grade ended, her school sent out a mandatory summer reading list. I don’t blame her. After being told what to read, what to write about, and what classes to take, the last thing anyone wants to do is slave away during the summer. I remember not wanting to do that during the school year.

So Hailey calls it quits with school and decides to become an autodidact, learning everything she needs to know through books. She reads Madame Bovary and Anna Karenina, Vile Bodies and Great Expectations. She takes trips with her family, reads, and takes more trips.

It’s great and all but I soon found myself wanting more. Part of the problem has to do with the fact that Hailey doesn’t do anything but read. Coming from a well-to-do family, the author doesn’t have to do anything she doesn’t want to but it doesn’t make for a good story. I DNFed the book after reading sixty pages, so I can’t tell you if she ever does anything out of her comfort zone. Within the pages I read, she doesn’t volunteer, search for others like herself, or anything. What’s the point of educating yourself if you’re going to stay in a bubble? Granted, the memoir was written in the late 1980s and Google wasn’t a click away.

Maybe the problem is that I’m not the right target for this book. I mean, I love reading. If I could, I would read all day long, except I can’t. That’s why read-a-thon days and various breaks are like Christmas to me. Even while writing this post, I had to stop and play Legos with one kid and make a snack for another one.

It doesn’t matter.

Hailey’s thoughts are insightful at times and I found a few paragraphs that I want to photocopy. That wasn’t enough for me to want to finish this book. My rating: 2.5 out of 5 stars. It’s okay.

Sunday Salon

sunday salonTime: // 8:14 am – Sunday morning

Place: // the usual: at my desk with a cup of coffee.

What’s happening: // Now that my sisters’ graduation is behind us along with Avram’s birthday, I can finally relax!

Just finished reading: // the first two books in Maggie Stiefvater’s The Raven Cycle quartet: The Raven Boys and The Dream Thieves. I finished both books in the past three days. That says a lot since I rarely read young adult books. The next book comes out in October and I’m looking forward to it.

Up Next: // I have no idea. Maybe Brando Skyhorse’s Take This Man, a memoir about the author’s childhood with his mother, grandmother, and the five stepfathers he had. I read Skyhorse’s previous book, The Madonnas of Echo Park and loved it so much.

Loving: // 100 Happy Days meme. I saw a few people via Facebook participating in the meme and decided to join. I love finding a moment that captures my day.

PicMonkey Collage happydays1

Thankful for: // everything. I’m really enjoying the time I’m spending with my kids and these lazy summer days.

Not thankful for: // various neighbors. I wish they would move but I’ll move instead.

You guys should read: // Jill’s review of Knock Knock by Daniel Beaty, a children’s book. I haven’t read this yet but I’m sure I’m going to start crying once I do.

Now I’m off to: // enjoy my coffee.

What are you up to today?

Review: My Real Children by Jo Walton

18490637My Real Children

Jo Walton

320 pages

Published in May 2014 by Tor Books

Source: Public Library

If there were two worlds, then what caused her to slide between them? They weren’t two times as they were for Charlotte. It was the same year, whichever year it was. It was just that things were different, things that shouldn’t have been different. She had four children, or three. . . Had she made a choice that could have gone two ways and thereafter had two lives?

It’s 2015 and an eighty-something year old Patricia Cowan is losing her memory. Not only is she losing her memory, but she’s remembers things that couldn’t have possibly happened. She remembers having a life with Bee and being mom to three kids, but she also never met Bee and instead married Mark and had four living kids. Nuclear bombs were dropped on Miami and in the other life, this never happened. As Patricia looks back on her lives, she wonders why did these two lives come down to one seemingly innocent decision she made in the past. My Real Children is a wonderful exploration about the choices we make in life that can affect not just ourselves but the world.

Jo Walton takes the question of ‘what if?’ and explores it in depth. It’s probably a question many of us have asked ourselves throughout our lives. I found myself fascinated and pulled in to Patricia’s lives from the first few pages. Her lives were vastly different from each other with just a few connecting strands. The two Patricias (Pat in one life, Trish in the other) found love and joy in almost unrecognizable ways.

This book has been compared to Life After Life by Kate Atkinson with My Real Children being the clear winner. Since I haven’t read Life After Life, I can’t tell you which is better. I can say that after reading My Real Children, I need to go and read more books by Jo Walton. My rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars.

Sunday Salon – Busy, busy, busy

Time: // 6:31 a.m. – Good morning.

Drinking: // coffee. Have you guys tried the Dunkin Donuts Hazelnut coffee? It’s heaven.

The scene: // Sitting at my desk after watching the first episode in the second season of Orange is the New Black. I don’t watch a lot of shows but I really enjoy this one. I’m trying to space the episodes out so that I can enjoy the show longer, but I already know after writing this post, I’m going to watch the next episode.

18490637

Currently reading: // My Real Children by Jo Walton. It’s about an elderly woman who remembers living two lives – one in which she says no to marrying a boyfriend as a young woman and another life in which she says yes. Readers experience both possibilities and the consequences. I’ve read some reviews that compare it to Kate Atkinson’s Life after Life but an overwhelming majority prefers this book instead. This is my first book by the author and I’m pretty impressed.

Up Next: // The Woman Who Would Be King: Hatshepsut’s Rise to Power in Ancient Egypt by Kara Cooney. This book came at the perfect time last week. The kids and I were doing a unit on Ancient Egypt and learned a little about Hatshepsut. I’m so excited to read this.

Blogging: // about nothing much but I will start back with reviews this week.

Anticipating: // how busy this week is going to be. My sisters are graduating from eighth grade on Thursday, which means I need to do some last minute shopping for dresses, take them to get manicures, and do their hair. My youngest, Avram, is turning nine on Tuesday so I need to do some Lego shopping. Plus, I want to see Maleficent today with the boyfriend.

Now I’m off too: // watch Orange is the New Black before I have to start my day.

What are you up to today?

2014 Summer Reading List

The school year officially ended last Friday and since then, my days have been filled with watching the kids spend time being outside, playing Uno with the kids, and vegging out on the couch. According to a family friend, my family is glowing. It wasn’t until I heard the words, that I realized she’s right. There’s no notes to take, reading logs to type up, or textbooks to check. It feels good.

While the kids are making plans on how to spend their summer (building huge Lego sets, swimming, and starting their own blogs), I’m making plans too. I’ve posted my bucket list so now I get to share my summer reading list. Sometimes I think one of the best parts of reading books is making lists about the books we want to read.

  • Guerrilla Learning: How to Give Your Kids a Real Education With or Without School by Grace Llewellyn and Amy Silver
  • The Book of Unknown Americans by Cristina Henriquez
  • Project-Based Homeschooling: Mentoring Self-Directed Learners by Lori Pickert
  • The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck
  • The Autobiography of Malcolm X
  • Trokia by Adam Pelzman
  • The Invisible Man by H.G. Wells (may read this one with my daughter)

 

  • Bad Feminist by Roxane Gay (essays)
  • Notes from No Man’s Land by Eula Biss (essays)
  • Among Others by Jo Walton
  • Starting From Scratch: What You Should Know about Food and Cooking by Sarah Elton (future cooking classes with the kids)
  • The Iliad by Homer
  • Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng
  • The Known World by Edward P. Jones

 

  • Thrive: The Third Metric to Redefining Success and Creating a Life of Well-Being, Wisdom, and Wonder by Ariana Huffington
  • Love by Toni Morrison (reread)
  • The Woman Who Would Be King by Kara Cooney
  • The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams

My list will probably change from week to week as I add and subtract things so you can always see the most updated list on Pinterest. It seems like a lot of books but I have plenty of time on my hands. I’ve already started reading The Iliad. Surprisingly, I’m enjoying it.

What are you reading this summer?

Review: Anansi Boys by Neil Gaiman

2744Anansi Boys

Neil Gaiman

384 pages

First published in 2005 by HarperCollins

Source: Personal library

It begins, as most things begin, with a song.

In the beginning, after all, were the words, and they came with a tune. That was how the world was made, how the void was divided, how the lands and the stars and the dreams and the little gods and the animals, how all of them came into the world.

They were sung.

I first read American Gods years ago and it’s probably in the top three of my favorite books of all-time. Since then, I’ve been meaning to read Anansi Boys and never got to it. Yesterday, I needed something to read while I sat in a waiting room and hastily grabbed Anansi Boys off my shelf. I didn’t put it down until I finished the last page a few hours ago.

“Fat Charlie” Nancy has been called Fat Charlie all his life. It started with his father and when his father names something, it sticks. Mr. Nancy dies and Fat Charlie thinks that’s the end of his father upstaging and embarrassing him. But when an old friend tells Fat Charlie about Spider, the brother he never knew, Fat Charlie’s life changes as he is chased by killer birds, hated by mythical beings, and learned the truth about his powerful father.

Though Anansi Boys features Mr. Nancy, a funny and lovable character from American Gods (AG), this isn’t AG #2. I didn’t know that before I picked this book up. It’s took several chapters for me to realize the fact. While it didn’t bother me, I’m sure readers who are expecting the same characters from AG to appear might end up disappointed.

There are a lot of differences between Anansi Boys and AG. One of the things that stands out is the tone. While AG was a pretty dark book, Anansi Boys is more light and funny. You can’t go wrong taking this light read with you on vacation.

Though Anansi Boys is an enjoyable read, it’s not my favorite Gaiman book. It can’t be because I love AG too much. Readers new to Gaiman’s novels will love this book. For the rest of us, I suspect it’s just another “good” book. My rating: 3 out of 5 stars.

My Summer Bucket List 2014

 

You might think it’s a bit early to think about a summer bucket list since summer officially starts in late June. With my summer vacation a little bit more than a week away, I figured now is a fantastic time to write down the things I want to do with my kids. I made the list doable so as to not get overwhelmed.

  1. Make watermelon gazpacho
  2. Swimming lessons for the kids
  3. Go to the movies at least three times
  4. Wear sunscreen everyday
  5. Make iced coffee Pioneer Woman style
  6. Tackle math (which I’ve been doing)
  7. Go to Farmer’s Market at least twice a month
  8. Watch a movie at the park
  9. Take kids to an amusement park
  10. Buy an air conditioner
  11. Have a movie marathon day
  12. Make my own ice cream
  13. Make popsicles
  14. Have one date with each kid individually
  15. Introduce the kids to funnel cake
  16. Go to the beach more often
  17. Take the kids ice skating on a really hot day

What are you looking forward to doing this summer?

Sunday Salon

 

Time: // 8:08 a.m.

The scene: // sitting at my desk, waiting for the donuts to finish rising. I have about 45 minutes left before I can start frying them. Most of the kids are asleep and I’m enjoying the silence.

Listening to: // Melody Gardot’s album, My One and Only Thrill. It’s jazz and her voice is so beautiful. Take a listen:

This week: // Bout of Books was a fail. Well, not really. I did manage to finish and review, The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender by Leslye Walton. I’ve started reading Mambo in Chinatown by Jean Kwok. I’m really enjoying it and will try to finish it today.

Grateful for: // the fact that I start work tomorrow. It’s a warehouse job through a temp agency but it’s a start. I was looking for a job that I can work late afternoons or nights so I can still homeschool during the day and be around the kids. I’m glad I found one with compatible hours.

Appreciating: // my extended family. My cousin recently passed and Friday was his funeral. There was so many people there and we laughed and cried over my cousin’s antics. He was one of the most giving and friendly people you could ever meet. Going to his funeral was sad but it didn’t end that way. I was so happy to see my family and will keep in touch.

Writing down: // my summer bucket list. I saw a post on How Sweet It Is and within minutes came up with a ton of things for me and the kids to do this summer, which includes making watermelon gazpacho. Have you ever made a summer bucket list?

Now I’m off to: // fry some donuts.

What are you doing today?

Review: The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender by Leslye Walton

18166936The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender

Leslye Walton

320 pages

Published in March 2014 by Candlewick Press

Source: Public Library

“To many, I was myth incarnate, the embodiment of a most superb legend, a fairy tale. Some considered me a monster, a mutation. To my great misfortune, I was once mistaken for an angel. To my mother, I was everything. To my father, nothing at all. To my grandmother, I was a daily reminder of loves long lost. But I knew the truth—deep down, I always did.

I was just a girl. “

I’m not going to lie. I picked up The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender because of its beautiful cover and the fact that it’s magic realism. The book is steeped in the genre and doesn’t have a tinge of magic like other books that are also labeled the same way.

The main character, young Ava Lavender, is a girl who is born with wings. Her wings aren’t the wings of an angel, white and magnificent. Ava’s wings are the wings of a bird: strong brown wings that cannot fly or be cut from her body without killing her. Her twin, Henry, wasn’t born with wings but maintains a silence that most people can’t break. Along with their mother and grandmother, both heartbroken over past loves and loss, the twins live secluded at their family home away from the world and all of its dangers.

I think the best books of magic realism are those whose magical aspects aren’t distracting and also make readers feel at home in a world where anything can happen. Beautiful writing helps too. Luckily, readers of this book won’t have any problems with the things I listed. This is Walton’s first novel and for the most part, the book doesn’t read that way.

Ava’s family, the Roux, have a long history of heartache. From Ava’s great-grandmother losing her husband, to various members dying as the result of love, forbidden or otherwise. As a result, Ava’s grandmother, Emilienne, and mother, Viviane, are closed off to pretty much all types of love.

Love. That’s one of the biggest themes of this book and it’s also the reason why I don’t understand this book being deemed as a young adult read. Walton expertly explores various forms of love: between parent and child, the young love of teenagers, and the love of two friends. It felt more like a book I can recommend to an adult but not a teen.

The one disappointment of this book is that the characters are kept at a distance from not only each other, but from the reader. I didn’t really care about any of them. The only feelings I had for a character was Viviane, whose willingness to ignore the man that truly loved her and her children, infuriated me. I wanted to reach through the book and slap her many times. Because of this distance, I couldn’t give this book a perfect score.

The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender is a book that readers of magical realism will enjoy for its imagery and beautiful writing even with its fault. My rating: 3 ½ of 5 stars.

Bout of Books 10 and Update Post

BoB10-200x200

Bout of Books have officially started. I’m typing this on Sunday night since Mondays are always busy with meetings, homeschooling, and errands. Don’t worry, I’m taking my reads to the beach with me Monday afternoon since summer has pretty much hit Southern California. (I’m not bragging. I actually wish it was winter here.)

PicMonkey Collage

I’m starting the read-a-thon off with two books that aren’t on my original list: The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender by Leslye Walton and For Today I Am a Boy by Kim Fu. I also plan on using this post to update my progress as I go.

Enjoy your Monday!

What are you looking forward to reading/doing this week?

Monday’s Update

Monday was fantastic! I started and finished The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender. It was filled with beautiful writing and though I didn’t really get attached to any of the characters, it was still a nice book to read.

  • Books finished: 1
  • Pages read: 320

Now I just need to figure out what to read today (Tuesday). Any suggestions?

Tuesday’s Update

Tuesday was a total reading disaster. I couldn’t figure out what to read so I didn’t do any reading. Plus, this heat was so bad that all I wanted to do was sleep yesterday. Ugh.  Today (Wednesday) it’s suppose to be 98 degrees. I can’t hibernate since I have a ton of things to do. Today’s book will either be There is No Dog by Meg Rosoff (a reread) or The Enchanted by Rene Denfeld.

Day 3 Mini-Challenge

Today’s mini-challenge is from My Overstuffed Books. B.o.B. participates are to pair a book with something.

My pairing is The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender by Leslye Walton and probably French bread.  In the book, the main character’s grandmother owns the bakery in their small town and believes bread helps to heal almost anything. I love that idea.

 

 

Weekend Cooking: Donuts!!

14618917My son, Oliver, begged me for weeks to make donuts. We’ve made cookies, cakes, and even cinnamon rolls before but never donuts. Last weekend, I reluctantly agreed. Oliver downloaded a sample of Jessica Segarra’s Mini Donuts: 100 Bite-Sized Donut Recipes to Sweeten Your “Hole” Day and went to work. Even though he’s only ten, he refused to let me help him. These donuts are so good, I couldn’t help but say “oh my God,” when I took my first bite.

Glazed Fried Mini Donut

            Yields 26 Mini Donuts and 26 Mini Donut Holes or 14 regular-sized donuts

Prep Time: 2 ½ hours  Cook time: 2-5 minutes

For Donuts

2 tablespoons warm water

1.25-ounce envelope fast-rise yeast

¾ cup warm whole milk

¼ cup granulated sugar

½ teaspoon salt

1 large egg

3 tablespoons shortening or lard

2 ½ cups all-purpose flour

Vegetable oil or peanut oil for frying

For Glaze

2 tablespoons whole milk

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 ½ cups powdered sugar

1. In the bowl of your stand mixer, with the paddle attachment (or in a large bowl if you are going to knead the dough by hand), mix together warm water and yeast and let stand for 5 minutes.

2. Add milk, sugar, salt, egg, shortening, and 1 cup of flour. Mix on medium-low for 2 minutes, then switch to the dough hook. Slowly add the remaining 1 ½ cup of flour, ½ cup at a time. Once you have added all the flour, knead on medium for 2-3 minutes, until dough no longer sticks to the bowl. Turn up the speed to medium-high, and continue to knead dough for 3-4 minutes, until dough is smooth. [Keep some extra flour on hand in case you need it like we did.]

3. Transfer dough to a greased bowl, and cover with a slightly damp tea towel. Place bowl in a warm area (or in an oven preheated to 200˚F and then turn off) for about 1 hour. Dough is ready when it has doubled in size.

4. Transfer raised dough to a lightly floured surface, and carefully roll out until it is ½” thick. Cut out donuts with a floured 2” biscuit cutter, and then cut out the center of each donut with a floured 1” biscuit cutter.

5. Place donuts and donut holes on a lightly floured cookie sheet, and cover again with a slightly damp tea towel. Place in a warm area (or in an oven preheated to 200˚F and then turned off) for about 1 hour. Dough is ready when it has doubled in size.

6. Heat oil in a large, deep skillet or a deep fryer to 350˚F.

7. Once oil is hot, working with 4 to 6 donuts at a time, carefully drop donuts into oil. Fry for 1-2 minutes or until golden brown; flip each donut and fry the other side.

8. Remove and drain on a plate lined with paper towel or newspaper. Continue this process until each donut has been fried.

9. Place wax paper under a wire rack to collect any drippings for any easy cleanup. Then, in a small bowl, whisk together milk and vanilla extract. Add powdered sugar, whisking until smooth.

10. While the donuts are still warm, dip the top of each donut and donut hole into the glaze, transfer to a wire rack, and let set for 5 minutes. Serve immediately; donuts can be stored in an airtight container for up to 3 days but are best served fresh.

Note: Oliver didn’t like it the glaze, so we ended up dipping the warm donuts into cinnamon and sugar. We used 1 stick of melted butter, ½ cup of sugar and 1-2 teaspoons of cinnamon, dipping the donuts into the butter than the cinnamon and sugar mixture. We used a mason jar top to cut the donuts out and the tip of a piping bag (you know, the ones used for icing cakes) to make the donut holes.