How to Be Popular

51SDMstGVSL._SX400_BO1,204,203,200_Betty Cornel wrote Teenage Popularity Guide in 1951, which focused on becoming popular, wearing the right clothes and makeup, and how to be good hostess. 60 – something years later, can any of what she wrote still be useful? Maya Van Wagenen, a teenager struggling to get through middle and high school (and also an aspiring writer) thought she might put this book to good use. As a teenager, all I wanted was to be popular, or at least accepted, – and honestly, nothing else really mattered. I’m not sure if this book would’ve been helpful – but Ms Maya puts it to the test:

“It was written by a former teen model who promised that, with a little hard work, poise, polish, and popularity were easily attainable for anyone.

Anyone?

I almost laughed.

That was when my mom had the idea – an amazing, terrifying, once-in-a-lifetime idea. ‘Maya, you should follow the advice this year, in 8th grade, and write about what happens.’”

510IUhDewyL._SX329_BO1,204,203,200_So she accepts her Mom’s challenge. Each month during her 8th grade year, she would take on a new challenge. These challenges were taken from Cornel’s chapters, including her advice on hair, skin, makeup, clothes, earning money, positive attitude, being a good hostess, and modeling tricks. They’re all equally ambitious, taking Maya out of her comfort zone. She’s brave for taking on this project, for sharing her experience, and most importantly daring herself to do this.

In this year-long project, she learned lessons about herself, and in writing about her experiences she is honest and daring.  Trying new things can be scary and intimidating, but also fun. In the process of trying all of Betty’s advice, she made many more new friends, and even at the end of the year when she found out she might be changing schools she continued to make an effort at making new friends – and spending time with the others. She tries new styles, colors, makeup, and every day makes an effort. Making an effort – not only with her appearance, but with friends and people.

I’m not in high school anymore – and thank God for that!  But there’s advice that Betty and Maya give that I think I can benefit from.  I enjoyed reading about her experiences, and took the advice to heart about making an effort.  Even if you’re as beyond the teenage years as I am, this is still a good read.  If only I could be as brave as Maya!

300 Sandwiches

9780553391602_p0_v1_s192x300I love a good sandwich. Who doesn’t? Mine is a good turkey and swiss – any kind of bread, but my favorite is on a croissant with lettuce, tomatoes, and some good spicy mustard. Pickles on the side, of course. Stephanie Smith, a fellow lover of sandwiches, chronicles her relationship with her boyfriend (who became her fiancé) and the 300 sandwiches she made for him.

Sandwiches seem simple, but they can be pretty powerful.   To get her boyfriend to propose, she makes 300 sandwiches (and 300 Sandwiches – which is what inspired the book). This is an expression of her love for him, something she had watched her mother do for her father.

“Sandwiches were everything to my second-grade self. They were lunch. They were cufrency. A token of mother’s love. A membership card to the cool kids’ table at the school cafeteria.”

On her blog she shares her recipes, her successes and failures, and the progress of their relationship. Eric had promised her an engagement ring after she had made him 300 sandwiches, and not just 300 total, but 300 unique sandwiches. No sandwich recipe or combination could be repeated and count towards the overall total. There was also a forbidden foods list, things he didn’t like, and a list of ingredients she couldn’t use. That’s quite a commitment on her behalf – and quite a kitchen project! Also included in the overall sandwich total are dessert sandwiches – ice cream sandwiches, homemade oreos, and even a gingerbread whoopee pie she made just for Christmas (a recipe which she shares, that I can’t wait to make!).

When she shared the project on her blog, at first friends and family followed along. But as it grew, and gained more notoriety, she received some negative attention, and there were negative comments about what a chauvinist he was.  She defended the project, and the blog, she’s an educated woman who loves doing nice things for him.  He does nice things for her, and she points out several times in the book, that he usually did most of the cooking.  That didn’t seem to change anyone’s mind.

Most of the condiments were homemade, with the exception of the basics – mayo and mustard.  She also includes a recipe for her go-to pesto, which she worked into her mozzarella and homemade pesto BLT recipe (yum!!). This pesto was also added to her Italian burger recipe, another recipe I can’t wait to try!

unnamedOne of my favorite recipes (and also one of the quickest & easiest) was the Cuban sandwich.  I make paninis all the time – and this is a good one.  She calls her “hold the pickles”, but I couldn’t eat a Cuban without a pickle!!

Hold the Pickles – Cuban Sandwich

1 small baguette or roll

2 T olive oil

2 T yellow mustard

3 or 4 slices ham

3 or 4 slices turkey

2 or 3 slices Swiss cheese

1 large dill pickle, sliced

Black pepper

Slice the baguette or roll in half. Drizzle olive oil on the outside, and slather mustard on both halves on the inside. On the bottom, stack the ham, turkey, Swiss cheese, and pickle. Season to taste with black pepper, and finish with the other piece of bread. Toast in a Panini machine or in a nonstick pan with a sandwich press. It’s done when its toasted on the outside and the cheese is melting.

Best Halloween Books for Kids

unnamedSo, Halloween in on Saturday and we’re finally almost ready.  My daughter has an October birthday, so our Halloween plans are usually put on hold until after her birthday.  Her birthday was last week, and we have finally picked out her costume.  Her birthday, however, does not interfere with us wanting to “stock up” on Halloween candy.  We’ve also been reading a bunch of Halloween books that we picked up from the library.  These are some of our favorites!

10 Trick or Treaters – An adorable, and just slightly spooky countdown to Halloween night.  We’ve read this so many times in the past couple of weeks, I practically have this one memorized.

Room on the Broom – This is now a Halloween classic, and my favorite on this list.  This friendly witch goes for an epic broom ride, and she continues to make room for her animal friends on her broom.  It’s adorable and the perfect read for Halloween!

5 Little Pumpkins – This is a quick rhyme, and the perfect board book.  We’re not reading too many board books anymore (my little baby just turned 5!!), but this rhyme I know her preschool class is memorizing for the school’s pumpkin patch parade.

Haloweena – We recently discovered this one at the library, as a part of their Halloween display.  It’s a cute story about a little “human” girl who is adopted by a witch.  The witch tries to turn Haloweena into a good little witch, and their favorite holiday to celebrate is of course Halloween!!

Goodnight Goon – An adorable Halloween take on one of the best kids books ever, Goodnight Goon is a spooky parody of Goodnight Moon. Instead of bunnies, there are adorable little monsters.  There’s also The Runaway Mummy, a “petrifying parody” of Margaret Wise Brown’s other classic.

It’s the Great Pumpkin Charlie Brown – The book version of the best Halloween special ever.  This was one of the first Halloween books we bought for my daughter a few years ago.  She’s not a huge Peanuts fan yet, but this classic has a way of growing on you!

I’m ready for Halloween – we have our pumpkins picked out, and the pantry is stocked with pounds of candy.  She has her costume picked out, this year she will be one of the thousands of the little girls dressed as Elsa!

Hope you get more treats than tricks!  Happy Halloween!

Book to Screen: The Martian

unnamedOver the summer my husband and I had a rare date night, and went to see Jurassic World together.  It was the first movie we had seen together – without our daughter – since she was born.  Seriously, the last movie we saw in the theater without her was Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End (which wasn’t very good!).  Needless to say, we were long overdue for a date night.  One of the previews we saw while waiting for our movie to start was for The Martian.  It looked amazing, and while we were hoping that once it finally reached theaters we’d be able to see it, I picked up the book – I just had to read it.  I loved the book, and absolutely could not put it down.  I shared my review of it, and arranged a date night swap with a friend over the weekend so that we could finally see it!

My husband and I really loved the movie.  The movie didn’t … to the book – and after loving the book so much, I was afraid Hollywood would mess it up!  There were a few minor details that changed, but nothing that changed that story.  The imagery was amazing – and Matt Damon was perfect for the role of Mark Watney.  He was both a botanist and an engineer, a little MacGyver-esque.  The cast was full of all-stars, and I loved Jeff Daniels as the head of NASA.

While reading the book I wondered frequently if any of what was happening – with Mars travel, and the technology used – was actually possible.  I wondered the same thing while watching the movie.  Is travel to Mars possible?  Probably.  But what boggled my mind was the way that Mark was able to survive – which was possible because of the technology and equipment there, and also because he was incredibly smart.

Of course while watching the movie, there were previews for other movies that I’m now dying to see!  And new books to read before movie versions get made!  This is such a good movie, and an even better book.  I recommend them both!

Spooky Reads

unnamed-1As Halloween approaches, costumes are being prepared, candy is stockpiled and consumed (by the pound in this house!!), and everything you can think of is pumpkin spice flavor!  If you haven’t picked out pumpkins yet, or your costume, or prepared for trick or treaters, these books might help you get in the mood.  I’m not a huge fan of scary books – and definitely not of scary movies.  But I am a huge fan of Stephen King, and he has the ability to thrill!  These are some of his, and others that I’ve loved, that have scared the daylights out of me.

The Amityville Horror Jay Anson – This book may not be quite as popular as the movie version, but it’s just as scary.  Based on what is believed to be a true story, a family moves into the home in which an entire family had been ruthlessly murdered.

The Shining – Stephen King –  I have watched the movie and read the book and the book is so much better, and a lot scarier.  Both would be perfect for Halloween.

It – Stephen King – I read this book as a teenager and had nightmares for months!  I’ve been wanting to reread it, but haven’t gotten brave enough yet.  As if anyone needed another reason to be afraid of clowns!!

The Exorcist William Peter Blatty – By far the scariest movie I’ve ever seen, this book comrades the 40th anniversary of the movie’s release.  It does not disappoint, exploring the supernatural, it is sure to inspire nightmares!

Salem’s Lot – Stephen King One of the first books I read of his, years ago.  It’s so good I had to reread it (and might again!), and it’s one of the first books he wrote.  It’s the original vampire book – no teen romance here, just pure, evil vampires.

The Silence of the Lambs Thomas Harris Harris wrote the Hannibal Lecter series, which launched an entire movie franchise.  This book I actually read after seeing the movie, and both were terrifying.  Lecter is an evil genius, and when the movie and book were released it was around the same time that Jeffery Dahmer was caught, making this story even more chilling.

Bring on the candy!!  I’m heading to Target later to stock up on candy, it’s “for the trick-or-treaters”.  Until Halloween, you can grab one of these books, eat a few Kit Kat or two and enjoy the season.

New Fiction Friday: The Vacationers

9781594633881_p0_v2_s192x300I have always dreamed of traveling to Europe, and one day, I hope that I finally make it there. The Vacationers had been on my summer reading list and I finally finished it!  It centers on a family vacation on Mallorca, a Spanish island that’s in the Mediteranean, south of Barcelona. Franny and her husband Jim had been planning the trip, and happened to have a friend who was loaning them a beach house there for a few weeks during the summer. This is a dream vacation, promising to be fun and relaxing.

Vacationing with them are the couple’s two children, Sylvia, who has recently graduated high school and is heading off to Brown in the Fall, and her older brother Bobby, who is a real estate agent in Miami. Bobby’s long-time girlfriend, whom no on likes, is also along for the trip. Franny’s best friend Charles tags along, with his husband Lawrence. It’s quite a group, and the beach house fills up quickly – with guests, and drama.

In the beginning of the book I really didn’t like Franny.  Her husband of so many years had recently lost his job, just a couple of years shy of receiving his full retirement.  This is something that was devastating, which humiliated and humbled him. She is unforgiving and unrelenting in her scorn.  But in the beginning it isn’t revealed why he lost this job, and as the story progresses the truth is revealed and my opinion of Franny changes.  The first half of the book she is cold, edgy, and bitchy.  After the details of his firing are revealed, I felt sympathetic, understanding her ire.

It’s not the story itself that’s compelling, it’s the characters.  Their transformation is real story.  One character doesn’t change though.  Sylvia remains a hapless bystander to all the drama of the beach house.  She wonders, like a typical teenager, what is wrong with this family?  Emma Straub has quite a knack for creating great characters.  I read Laura Lamont’s Life in Pictures, and loved that one too.

As the weather outside is beginning to cool, this was a “beach read” that made me long for more summer days!

The Martian

9780553418026_p0_v3_s192x300On a rare date night over the summer, my husband and I were able to go and watch Jurassic World.  It was scary, fun, and we loved it.  Mostly because it was it the first movie we’d seen in the theaters together (not counting kids movies) that we’d seen since my daughter was born 5 years ago.  One of my favorite things about going to the theater watching previews – and while waiting for this movie to start we saw the preview for The Martian, which I can’t wait to see.  Starring Matt Damon as an astronaut that has gone Mars, he’s one of the first people ever to travel that far into space.  In an unpredictable storm, the mission is aborted and the team he’s with escapes just in time.  He is left behind, and that’s where the real story begins.

The movie looks really good and I can’t wait to see it.  We’re hoping to get another date night this weekend to go see it.  Of course I had to read the book first!  I loved the it, and while reading it imagined Matt Damon as Mark Watney – who is not only a NASA astronaut, but an engineer and botanist.  This makes him a perfect fit for the team that went with him to Mars, one of their primary goals was data collection and exploration.  It also makes him the most likely of team to survive alone there.

That’s when the story begins.  He allows himself only a short time to freak out, then begins planning for survival.  Mark’s character is smart, funny, and athletic.  The elements are all against him, and the odds that he will survive and somehow make it back home are incredibly rare.  He devises a way to stay inside Hab, which was designed to accommodate him and his team while they were on Mars.  His ultimate goal is to survive until the next team arrives, or possibly communicate with NASA back on earth.  Daily survival becomes his new mission, and of course making the food rations last.  Food rations that were meant for a team of 7 for up to about a month, now are his only way to stay alive.

This is an ultimate story of survival, that was thrilling and hard to put down!  If he’s one of the only people ever to walk on Mars, will he be the first to die?  That’s one of the book’s taglines.  It’s totally fitting – and the perfect role for Damon.  This is one of the most exciting books I’ve read in a while.  I seriously couldn’t put it down.  Now I can’t wait to see the movie – which we plan on doing this weekend.  Hoping that it’s better than Gravity, although that’s not hard to do!

Have you read the book?  Seen the movie?