Summer Reading

unnamedIt’s that time of year again, time to sign up for the summer reading club at the local library. I just did my online sign up. I’ll have kiddo do it when he starts summer break. There has been a change in our reading clubs here over the past few years. It used to be based on books read only, then it was minutes read, now it’s a combination thereof. Points are awarded for books read and for minutes read. You can also earn points by attending events at the local library or finding codes at special community places like the zoo, science center, and kiddo’s fave – the sculpture park. The goal for adults is to read get 1200 points, which earns raffle entries, a library umbrella, and coupons for sponsors. The teen program (EEEKK) yes my child will be participating in the teen program even though he is eleven because our library goes by grade levels and he’s going into sixth grade he’s in the teen program, anyway the teen program asks kids to get 1000 points. With prizes including a free book at the halfway and completion points, as well as raffle entries for Cardinals tickets and various electronics. For the first time in a long time kiddo is actually interested in doing the summer reading program.

I have a few books already picked out for my summer reading, I’m still on a space kick so I’ll be reading:

Last Man on the Moon – Gene Cernan was the commander of the Apollo 17 mission, the last mission to the moon and therefore the last man to have feet on another celestial body

We Seven: By the Astronauts Themselves – a book by and about the Original Mercury Seven Astronauts

A Man on the Moon – written by Andrew Chaikin this is the story of the Apollo missions, used as the basis for the mini series From the Earth to the Moon

Two Sides of the Moon – by NASA astronaut and Apollo 15 commander Dave Scott and Russian cosmonaut, world’s first spacewalker Alexei Leonov, this one tells the story of the space race from both sides of the Atlantic

I’m sure there will be other books but these are the ones I have on my list right now. Just looked at my list from the end of last summer and don’t think I’ll get anywhere near that many this year but we’ll see. Kiddo on the other hand is working his way through the second Warriors series, I have no idea which of the 39 Clues series but not the first, and has begun to read the Maximum Ride series. All in all some good reading choices.

Hope you have fun with your summer reading!

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A Homemade Life

9781451655117_p0_v2_s192x300Last year I was wowed by Delancey, the story of a pizzeria, and the couple behind the pizza. Written by Molly Wizenberg, a food writer, podcaster and restaurateur. I loved the story of her husband’s passion of making the best pizza in the world. I also loved her passion and devotion to support him, I think that may have been my favorite part of the story. Before opening the restaurant, and meeting her husband, she was a food writer and blogger.   She’s the creator of Orangette, a popular food blog where she shares recipes, stories about food, and now stories about their daughter June.

Before Delancey though, there was A Homemade Life.  In this earlier book she tells her life story, in a series of treasured and remembered recipes. She has lived all over the country – and in Paris, and her recipes are inspired by so many places and people.  She points out that most of our life stories can be told through a series of recipes, and I think that’s true. Interspersed with stories of her life growing up in Oklahoma, trips to Paris, and later moving to Seattle during graduate school, are some really great recipes. As a foodie she is quite adventurous, far more so than I am. There were some recipes I’d like to try and some that included ingredients I’d never heard of!!

unnamedIt was while she was living in Seattle, and through her blog, that she met her husband. He was a fan of her blog, a fellow foodie, and passionate about so many things.  She realized that he was so much like her father, who had passed away not long before they met. They dated, survived a long-distance relationship.  She eventually moved to Seattle to be closer to him.  Her one regret in marrying Brandon was that her father would not be able to walk her down the aisle.

I really enjoyed reading this collection of stories about her life.  The book had been sitting on my shelf, read though untouched, for a while.  Last week, after a trip to go strawberry picking with my daughter, I decided to tackle one of the recipes she shared in the book.  It calls for a combination of blueberries and raspberries, but substituted the blueberries with strawberries.

The cake was delicious – and I had so many strawberries, I made a strawberry syrup which I drizzled over the top of the cake.

Blueberry-raspberry pound cake

2 cups plus 8 T cake flour

1 t baking powder

½ t salt

5 large eggs

1 2/3 cups sugar

2 ½ sticks (10 oz) butter, diced, at room temperature

2 T kirsch

1 C blueberries

1 C raspberries

Set an oven rack to the middle position, and preheat the oven to 300F. Butter a standard-sized 9 cup Bundt pan and dust it with flour, shaking out any excess. (If your pan is nonstick, you can get away with a simple coating of cooking spray, no flour needed.)

In a medium bowl, whisk together 2 cups plus 6 T flour, the baking powder, and salt.

In the bowl of a food processor, blend the eggs and sugar until thick and pale yellow, about 1 minute. Add the butter and kirsch, and blend until the mixture is fluffy, about 1 minute, stopping once to scrape down the sides of the bowl. If the mixture looks curdled, don’t worry. Add the dry ingredients and process to just combine. Do not overmix. The batter should be thick and very smooth.

In a large bowl, toss the berries with the remaining 2 T flour. Pour the batter over the berries, and, using a rubber spatula, gently fold to combine, taking care that all the flour is absorbed. Pour the batter into the prepared pan, spreading it evenly across the top. Bake until a toothpick inserted in the ckae’s center comes out clean, 1 hour to 1 ¼ hours.

Transfer the cake to a rack, and cool in the pan for 5 minutes. Carefully invert the cake out of the pan onto the rack, and cool for at least 20 minutes before slicing. Serve slightly warm or at room temperature.

Our Favorite Short Stories

9781594631771_p0_v1_s192x300May is short story month, and before the month is over we wanted to share our favorite short story collections.  I’m not a huge fan of short stories, but there are a few collections that I’ve really loved.  I recently finished The Long Valley, which is a collection of John Steinbeck’s earliest stories.  Short story month is promoted by Storyaday.org, which also celebrates writing, and offers daily prompts to encourage writers, reminding them “write everyday not someday”.

These are our favorite short story collections.  If you haven’t read them – you should.  The first one on this list is my absolute favorite.  Perfect for to read this upcoming long weekend!

9780395927205_p0_v1_s192x300Junot Diaz – This Is How You Lose Her I love Junot Diaz, and this collection seems somewhat autobiographical.  He details a series of relationships between a guy who keeps getting it wrong over and over again.

Stephen King – Nightmares and Dreamscapes If you know us at all, you know we love Stephen King.  He has written so much, and has had many short stories published.  Some of these stories are the scariest I’ve ever read.

Jhumpa Lahiri – Interpreter of Maladies For this collection Lahiri won the Pulitzer Prize.  I actually read The Namesake first, and absolutely loved it.  I then decided to read this, and these 516HCFCNNQL._SX325_BO1,204,203,200_unique stories were really touching.

James Joyce Dubliners – I first read this years ago in college, and have read it again since then.  Some of the stories are incredibly sad.  There is so much heartbreak in such short stories.  The collection is not an easy one to get through – but it is so worth it!!

Stephen King The Bazaar of Bad Dreams –  This is the latest of his short story collections.  I read it last year when it came out and really enjoyed it.  He never disappoints!

Ray Bradbury The Martian Chronicles –  He was writing science fiction before I was born, yet these stories seem so fresh and current to me.

So, what to read next?  What is Not Yours Is Not Yours, which is a brand new short story collection by Helen Oyeyemi.

Happy reading and enjoy!

Bedtime Math

51SXV06OGNL._SX408_BO1,204,203,200_Math was never my best subject.  Which is probably why I teach history.  I don’t hate math, I just wish I were better at it.  My daughter is now 5, and we are preparing for kindergarten next year.  I have been reading to her practically since birth.  Mostly because I hope she will love books as much as I do.  She loves books, loves to be read to, I have no doubt she’ll succeed in school.  She’s developing reasoning and reading comprehension skills, but how can I help her develop math skills?

I first heard of Bedtime Math when the book’s author, Laura Overdeck, was interviewed on NPR.  She talked of her love for math, and her habit of reading to her sons at night before tucking them in.  She started the habit of telling short stories, with math word problems at the end, and that was what inspired the blog.  The blog inspired the books (there are now 3!).

The best part about this book (and the blog) is the introduction to word problems.  To so many kids (and adults), word problems are the toughest math problems.  In the book there are short stories, with short word problems that follow and correlate with the story.  There are three word problems with each short story – one for Wee Ones, one for Little Kids, and one for Big Kids.  There are also Bonus questions, which are sometimes a little harder to answer than the one for Big Kids.  This is an easy way to make math fun, and to hopefully prevent the fear so many math learners have for word problems.

After reading through all three books, doing the “Wee ones”, and occasionally the Little Kids problems, I can already see an understanding of addition and subtraction developing in my daughter.  I think Ms Overdeck is amazing.  I don’t know if my daughter will love math – or even be good at it.  I just hope, that with this early introduction to math and word problems, it’ll at the very least, be less intimidating.  You can read through the books, or follow the blog, which delivers daily stories and word problems to your inbox!

26 BOOKS IN 2016

Is it really almost June?  I have been looking forward to summer for a while, yet I really can’t believe it’s almost here.  I will finally have some time off work (actually – that won’t start until August, when summer school ends).  I have a long list of books I’m waiting to read – and can’t wait to get started!!  Hopefully I can check more books of my book challenge list.  So far, I’ve marked 11 off the list, and obviously have quite a few more to go (there are 26 categories).  I’ve been reading quite a bit lately – I have had about a week and a half in between Spring and Summer semesters and I’ve been enjoying that time, and some extra time to read.

I can now mark these things off the list:

A book set on a school campus – Fates and Furies

A book that will help you grow – The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up

A book off the ALA’s Banned and Challenged Books List – Slaughterhouse Five

I still want to read Charlotte’s Web – and just picked it up at the library.  I’m trying to find a book to read with a friend, and searching for a good book from the 70s, (yeah, I said the 70s!) – for a book written in the decade I was born!  Reading Slaughterhouse Five was great, and it was something I probably should have read years ago.  I attempted to read In Cold Blood by Truman Capote, to mark the ALA challenged book category off the list and I just couldn’t get into it.  I’m headed to the library later on today, maybe I’ll look for a book with the ocean, or some waves on the front, to mark that category off the list too!

It’s not too late to join this challenge – or find another one like it.  Have fun and happy reading!!

New Fiction Friday: Fates and Furies

61wOEo8a2fL._SX329_BO1,204,203,200_People seem to either love or hate Fates and Furies.  It was one of last year’s most popular books, and I saw it on so many best of the year lists.  I have to say that I’m on the list of those who love it.  It took me a while to finally read the book, it had been in a stack of books to read for a while, and I just finished it.  It’s not new anymore, but it was recently released in paperback – and so worth a read!  It’s ultimately a story about a marriage, which seems like a frequently visited theme, but it is so much more than that.

Lotto and Matilde marry just as they are graduating college.  They meet as students at Vassar College, and surprise everyone by getting married after only a few weeks of dating.  As the story goes on, they continue to surprise friends and family by their ongoing commitment to each other.  They are deeply in love, and let almost nothing come between them throughout their long marriage (long compared to those in their circle of friends, and for the rest of the city).

The book is divided into two sections, appropriately named, Fates is the first half, Furies is the second.  Lotto becomes a playwright, after a failed attempt at acting after college, so the book reads like the first and second half of a play.  Their relationship his told through his perspective in Fates, and beginning in the second half the story shift to her.

There is a short story in the beginning of Furies, and at first it’s unclear who the story is about, and how it fits into the broader story.  This story completely changes the perspective of the story, revealing a surprising character flaw. There is then almost a dichotomy of the story, a good character and a bad character.  Yet, it’s hard to really believe that either character can be completely bad or good.

Lotto’s parents had been very wealthy, but he is disinherited when he marries Matilde.  There’s an ongoing struggle between him and his mother.  From his perspective, there is sympathy, for this lost and strained relationship with his mother.  From Matilde’s perspecrtive (which is told in the second part of the book), she has a role in keeping them apart.  It’s this second part of the book that I like the best.  Matilde’s hand had been invisible in the first half, but in the retelling of their life together in the second half, she is pivotal in all of his life’s major moments.

Lauren Groff also wrote The Monsters of Templeton, which I read a few years ago and loved.  She expertly dissects their relationship here.  I was surprised by the second half, and though it felt like she was trying to make the reader dislike one or both of the main characters in this dissection, I really liked it.  It comes across almost as marriage advice – what would you do for the one you love?  Lotto and Matilde will stop at nothing to stay together, to raise each other up.  I doubt I could ever do what they did for each other; despite that, this is still a powerful message.

Dear Mr. You

9781501107832_p0_v2_s192x300I had no idea that Mary-Louise Parker was a writer. Although Dear Mr You is her first book, she had previously had other work published.  I honestly didn’t know much about the book until I heard her interviewed on NPR.  I love not only her interview, in which she connected with fans of her work, but also her description of the book. The book is comprised of a group of letters written to some important people, and some not so important people in her life.

It is deeply personal, and as a public figure, I feel like I kind of know her.  Yet, after reading her stories, I guess I really don’t.  The stories that she tells are very personal, going deeper than anything I had ever read about her.  I remember her public breakup with Billy Cruddup years ago, and wondered which of these stories, if any, were about him. Her stories range from a taxi driver who was tasked with driving her while pregnant, possibly in labor with her first child, to a letter written to her father, a seemingly humble guy, a WWII vet, an inspiration to her and her siblings.

It’s this letter that touched me most. To him, she says:

“We all miss you something fierce, those of us who wouldn’t exist had you not kept walking when an ordinary person would have fallen to his knees. To convey in any existing language how I miss you isn’t possible. It would be like blue trying to describe the ocean.”

Another incredibly touching letter is written to the uncle of her adopted daughter. I happened to be at gymnastics with my daughter, trying to concentrate on reading while other mothers and kids were talking and playing when I got to this part of the book.  Her stunning description of this incredible act of trust brought me to tears. (Slightly embarrassing to be crying in public for no apparent reason).  A mother she had never met before, handing over this tiny baby, knowing they’ll never meet again. It’s something I can’t even begin to understand, and though she doesn’t describe anything about this process of adoption, or inclusion of this baby in her family, she describes her feelings of overwhelming joy and humility, and the feelings she thought the mother might have had in giving this baby away.

I also really loved the story that she wrote to her neighbor. Without knowing much about her personal life, the essays reveal a few bits and pieces.  It seems as if she left New York with her kids in tow. Maybe she hasn’t left the city for good, but enjoys spending time in the country. Maybe upstate, this neighbor is helping her adjust to life in the country, how to use the land, taking care of vegetable and herb plants, and her animals. Interestingly, there is an essay written to one of her goats.

Although no names are really mentioned, I feel closely acquainted with Ms Parker. She seems creative, kind, sensitive, and funny.  Like you could tell her anything and she would completely understand, and not judge.  She has some really great stories to tell. I loved reading this – and was so surprised by her prose.  I’ve been a fan for years – and I loved this book.  I’ll be looking forward to whatever she writes next!