Saturday, December 27, 2008

What could be better than a late breakfast of pecan pie and Earl Grey tea? Well, sitting on the floor going through books to send to the grandkids, of course! Thought I'd share a few of my favorites before they get sent on. These the ones I set aside because I wasn't sure I could part with them, even to the grandkids. But, better Mary read them to kids than they sit on my shelf with me wishing I could read to them.

Potato Joe by Keith Baker. You all know the nursery song - one potato, two potato, three potato, four! Well these potatoes are having great fun at the rodeo with Watermelon Moe! Baker created the illustrations with Adobe Photoshop and they are so so cute - such expressive potato faces using simple facial features. Now I have the rhyme going through my head!

Five Little Firefighters by Tom Graham. Nope - not a counting book at all. Not sure why Little has to be in the title, other than to entice someone to open the book up thinking it might be the counting rhyme. Instead, 5 mult-ethnic firefighters, one a woman, set out to put out a house fire and have to go in to find Cleo - the family cat. A great book for community helpers units in school, but my grandsons will love the firetruck illustrations in this small sized book.

Tadpole REX by Kurt Cyrus. I can just hear my grandsons reading along and shouting out the "Bloop. Bloop. Bloop." of the prehistoric muddle bubbles as a tadpole is coming to life. He might be the smallest thing around and when he gets big enough he lets out a roar - Ribbet!! All the dinosaurs craned their necks to see who "roared" but frog has slunk down under the mud so all that is showing is his eyes - watching the dinosaurs come and go. Remember, frog is still around long after the dinosaurs are gone. If you look really close into a frog's eye you might just see his inner tyrannosaur. :-) I love the over sized illustrations in this book and the author's note that frog were around for millions of year before even the dinosaurs he added to the illustrations.

1 2 Buckle My Shoe by Anna Grossnickle Hines. This is the perfect book for my daughter to share with McKinley as Mary is into quilting again. Maybe this classic nursery rhyme illustrated with pictures of quick appliques will entice her to make a counting quilt.

Close to You: How Animals Bond by Kimiko Kajikawa. If the cover photo of a mother polar bear and two cubs doesn't have you saying, "AHHHH!!" the mama giraffe giving her youngster a puckered up kiss will. Add to this mother/child animal pairs of manatees, snow monkeys, elephants, prairie dogs, and even alligators. Don't forget the human animals - they make up the last page. Great end matter in this book too. Animal web sites and a table of animal weights at birth vs. maturity. Polar bears - 1 1/2 lbs at birth, but up to 1,500 pounds at maturity!!

Okay - now to get these boxed up along with the clothes we bought at the after Christmas sale. Steve got a bit carried away, but it was fun to watch Grampa pick out clothes for the boys and girls both. I think he had the most fun picking out clothes for our oldest granddaughter Allyson and 5 year old Michael. They are going to be "stylin" when they back to school in January!

Couldn't sleep so Sophie and I have been up since a bit after 6:00. No matter how quietly I come out to get my first Diet Coke of the day, she hears me. Thank goodness she normally wants out so her morning conversation, more with herself than me, doesn't wake Steve.

This is one of the Mayan buildings in Chichen Itza. It was once an observatory but I think it looks like the ruins from a lighthouse. I forgot to get Steve his annual lighthouse calendar for Christmas so when we were in the mall yesterday he picked out one. There are very cool lighthouses from all over the world but my favorite is from back home - it is way out at the end of a pier in McClain State Park outside of Hancock, MI in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. The pier both fascinated and frightened me as a child. A fun summer road trip would to visit all the places I remember as a kid in the UP. I have always been fascinated with the idea of living in a lighthouse. Don't remember what the book was I read as a child, but I think it was The Little Red Lighthouse and the Great Gray Bridge by Hildegarde H. Swift and illustrated by Lynn Ward. This was published in 1942, but a new edition was reissued by Harcourt in 2002. This little lighthouse in near the Washington Bridge on the Hudson River. You might recognize Lynn Ward's name as he won the Caldecott in the mid 50s for The Biggest Bear which might not be very PC today, but a boy raising a bear rather than shooting one is not such a bad story to share, even today.

Books in which animals talk and interact much like humans are very popular with children and Kathi Appelt's first novel for children (she normally does NF and others types of picture books) The Underneath will be loved by children and adults alike. It was one of the books nominated for the Young People's Literature category of 2008 National Book Award. It did not win the award, but what an honor to be a nominee. Take a look at the the list of winner in the past:

Appelt describes what it feels like to be loved and than abandoned by your human family as she begins her story with a pregnant cat being left beside the road near a bayou in NE Texas. She brought me to tears - and that was only the first couple of pages! Appelt's writing is sparse but lyrical as she tells the story of an abused Houston boy who makes his way into the swamps and become Gar-Face (due to his deformed jaw after being hit in the face by his father) - a mean and hateful man who enjoys killing as much as he does drinking the rotgut liquor he barters for with animal pelts. He's after the enormous alligator who has eluded him in the bayou for decades. Underneath the porch of his rundown house lives the hound he wounded in the leg during a hunting trip and considers worthless. And beside him, loving him are the abandoned mother cat and her two kittens. No family could be more bonded than this one hidden away in the Underneath. Tragedy strikes when one of the kittens ventures from the Underneath and is seen by Gar-Face. Cats make good bait for alligators. There are multiple stories flowing together in this book, merging as smoothly and languidly as the murky waters of the bayou, one being of Mother Moccasin who has been imprisoned in a earthen jar for centuries. Her story will weave itself into the tale of a lost kitten and his need to find his way back home to the Underneath. David Small's drawings supplement what is one of the most beautifully written children's novels I have read in quite some time. I believe it will become a classic, sitting beside my beloved Where the Red Fern Grows by Wilson Rawls as a favorite and often reread "big box of Kleenex" books. Check out Kathi's web site at She also writes for teens, along with great picture books. My favorite is Bats Around the Clock How can you not love a picture book that teaches time at the American Batstand with Click Dark as the host and the young bats bogeying around the clock?

Another award winning author, the well known John Green, also has a cool web site which one can spend way too much time on if you click through the links and wander far and wide. Who knew that Britney Spears is an anagram for Presbyterians? Talk about a guy who just radiates energy. I have heard him speak a couple of times (he's good), but when he sat next to me at the table during the YALSA Coffee Klatch I could see that he was jittering with nervous energy. He made me feel twitchy! But, a very likable dude! I was reading all the hype about Paper Towns so I on the YA lit listservs finally read it and felt like I was reading another version of his debut YA novel that won the Printz Award - Looking for Alaska We have another immature HS age boy obsessed with a girl who is both selfish and smart and has the boy wrapped around her little finger. Quentin doesn't have to go off to private school to find his obsession, as Miles does in Looking for Alaska. Margo Roth Spiegelman lives right next door. He's secretly been in love with her since they were kids but it has been years since they played together. They certainly don't run in the same crowd at school and that isn't likely to ever change as graduation is fast approaching. However, when Margo is out to seek revenge for a broken heart (more like wounded pride), she shows up at Q's window dressed like a ninja and demands he be her companion for a night of breaking and entering the homes of the teens who wronged her. The antics are as mean as Margo - she isn't a nice girl, but Quentin doesn't care - he's obsessed. When she disappears, leaving behind angry and distraught parents (she's run away before), it is Quentin who finds her clues and sets off on his own adventure, visiting paper towns (plotted subdivisions where houses never "grew") in search of Margo. His best friends tag along for the final road trip in which he finds what he seeks, but was is it worth it? Felt too much like Green telling the same story with different characters and settings, but basically the same coming of age tale of the geeky boy obsessed with the wild girl. Will it be popular with teens? I think so, especially those who like his other books.

My picture book choice for today is Oscar and the Mooncats by Lynda Gene Rymond, illustrated by Nicoletta Ceccoli. This is a 2007 Houghton Mifflin book but it is one that I go back to again and again because of the beautiful illustrations. Using shades of gray, Ceccoli makes the craters of the moon and the Mooncats so inviting that even I want to visit, but just for a bit. No wonder Oscar jumps all the way to the moon to play with them. They beg him to stay and play and drink the milk the cow who jumps over the moon leaves behind in a crater. But it will eventually make Oscar forget about the boy who waits for him back home. Needing to get back to his boy, Oscar jumps onto the cow, but she warns him she does not go to Earth so he lets go and luckly lands right back home where his last jump is onto his boy's bed. But Oscar is already dreaming of his next adventure. I love this book!! A wonderful bedtime story for young and old cat lovers like myself. However, my Sophie is not so adventurous. She is even afraid of bunnies, real and stuffed. She comes flying into the house if a real one is in her yard. Steve gave her a little stuffed bunny with a squeaker in it for Christmas and she is not a happy camper if you squeak it or put it near her. Actually, the squeaker sounds more like NCIS Abbey's Bert the farting hippo! You can see and hear Bert at:

That's it for me today. The sun has come out!

Friday, December 26, 2008

I am not the best photographer as you all have discovered! But, no matter how poor it comes out, I always take a picture of each year's Christmas tree. This was taken this morning after I cleared up most of the stuff in the middle of the living room. A chair with our big Scrabble board was there too but I moved it. Steve has been beating me time after time at Scrabble. I love to play it but I am bad at it! I've only beat him a few times since we have met. I was playing Alphabugs online to increase my "weird word" vocabulary, but that didn't even help much.

The big box is the small aquarium I gave Steve for Christmas. He used to have a huge one that took up most of one wall in the house in Texas but we don't have as large of a house here so there isn't as much space. Thought a little one might help - we'll see. It supposedly is self contained once set up - only change out the filters every so often. I'll believe that when I see it.

As always, I received books from Steve. :-) Christmas morning I curled up in bed with a Diet Coke, the mattress pad heater on and Greg Kincaid's A Dog Named Christmas. Todd McCray's father is a Vietnam vet who hasn't allowed a dog on the family's Kansas farm since his beloved childhood dog died while he was in the service and his life was saved when a dog he befriended in Vietnam stepped on a landmine before he could. But, it is Christmas and the pound is asking folks to take a dog home for the Holidays so they aren't left in the kennels alone while the staff spends Christmas at home. Todd is 20, but has the mind of a child and he wants more than anything else to take a dog home for the Holidays. Todd gets his way and a big black mutt he names Christmas rides between a reluctant father and jubilant son as the old truck rattles its way back to the farm. Christmas quickly becomes part of the family but Todd's father is adamant about taking him back to the pound on December 26th. This poignant story of a man dealing with his past is told from the viewpoint of Mr. McCray as he watches Christmas become part of his family. It is the advice of the elderly farmer nearby who helps McCray see what is right in front of him all along. It is a short book - started out as a short story that the author fleshed out. For me it was the perfect quick Christmas morning read. Make sure the Kleenex are around if you read this one.

It is raining here again today. It rained so hard Christmas Eve we had a river running through the grass between ours and the neighbor's house. Realizing we'd have a blizzard on our hands if it had been snow I had to pick up A Very Special Snowflake by Don Hoffman and illustrated by Todd Dakins. Christmas may be over but it is still the season for winter/snow books. Brother and sister go out in the snow with their white puppy Snowflake who promptly disappears into a snowbank. They walk the streets of their small town asking the florist, mailman, policewoman, etc. if they have seen Snowflake, but they all respond with weather comments, including the baker who says the snowflakes have inspired him to decorate his cakes with fluffy white icing. This repetitive tale will delight little ones, as of course, Snowflake bounds out of the snowbank and the community helpers see exactly what kind of snowflake the siblings are looking for. An inexpensive Scholastic paperback at $3.99 that makes for a fun after Christmas surprise.

Since McKinley won't be a year old until February I am always on the look out for fun board books for her. A new Little Scholastic title, Welcome Winter by Jill Ackerman and illustrated by Nancy Davis fits the bill nicely since Mary's family is inundated with snow in Green Bay. The flocked snowflakes, crinkly paper to sound like footsteps in the snow, a fluffy hat, etc. are the perfect things for little fingers to touch. What is cool about the series for infants is the web site with tips and downloads: for parents. Back when Mary and Mic were babies Dr. Spock's classic book on child rearing was dog-eared. Believe it or not it is still available in the 15th edition Dr. Spock's Baby and Child Care Benjamin Spock, a doc at Mayo Clinic, died in 1998, but Dr. Robert Needlman has revised it. I still think it is one of the best print resources out there for parents of little ones even though there are a myriad of parenting resources available today.

Time for me to get my act together and head out to find after Christmas sales on kids' clothes. Now to find the lists of what sizes they all are - from bitty to big!

Friday, December 19, 2008

Well, I finally have a few minutes to look through my pictures from our Cancun trip. I didn't take very many but I did like the cenote, pronounced: seh-NO-tay, that we visited outside of Cancun on our way to the Mayan ruins of Chichen Itza

These pics were taken from the top, looking down in. A very long set of steps went down to the swimming area. There was a high dive spot that folks were crazy enough to drive/jump from. I'd like to tell you that the pic is of me jumping off, but I didn't go swimming. But, when I was teenager I would have been one of the first, as we jumped off of cliffs and other dumb things at the lake - even after I broke my big toe one summer when I hit a rock on the bottom. My inner child could see myself swinging out over the water on one of the vines but there were warning signs everywhere not to touch them.

The weather is hardly Mexican hot and dry here today. It had been raining all morning but finally stopped - no sun, just dark gray clouds suggesting more rain later. Monday we get a snowstorm and arctic temps and today it is in the 50s. So it won't be Christmasy weather tonight when we go to see Trans-Siberian Orchestra. I have been a fan for many years and have been known to bake Christmas cookies while conducting with a wooden spoon! This will be our second year to see them at the Rupp Arena. Downtown Lexington is quite gorgeous right now with all the lights - many of them in UK blue. We were in Mexico for the annual Christmas Parade downtown but we froze our bippies last year and I was too cold to even wait for the big tree lighting.

For those of you looking for the perfect book to make any middle age girl smile add a copy of Maria Padian's Brett McCarthy: Work in Progress. under the tree. Actually, I'd have given a copy of this to my mom if she were still alive. Mom loved words and so does Brett - many of her favorites are chapter titles, such as irrational, insolence, bazooka, unprecedented, etc. This is one of those books for all generations as Brett's grandmother, Nonna, is a most quirky, delightful character - a grandmother we would all love to have in our family. As I read I pictured Nonna and my mom in Nonna's garage working on putting "junk" to good use. My mom hated to see anything go to waste just like Nonna, but Mom made killer apple bars, not Super-Sized Raspberry Chunk Brownies like Nonna. Oh what I wouldn't do for a piece of Mom's apple bar right now. I've tried to make them but they just don't taste the same not baked in Mom's wood stove. I think this book will entice those wonderful early adolescent memories from any adult reader's mind, so don't shy away from giving it as a gift to your favorite aunt or older sister. Oh, and that favorite poetry lover in your family - Brett's dad is an English Professor and is quoting line of poetry at the oddest moments, but what a cool dad!

Would be a great read aloud in a MS classroom as it addresses so many of the issues younger teens deal with - bullying, peer-relationships, family situations, geeky vs. cool friends, etc. And, teachers can think of it as a sneaky way to teach some really cool new vocabulary words and poetry!

Anyway, back to Brett - she is a 14-year-old soccer player in a small Maine town who has never gotten into trouble, but that all ends when she is kicked out of school, loses her female best friend over The Phone Thing, and finds out her beloved Nonna has cancer. Like all 14-year-olds, Brett fumbles her way into adolescence, but also gets an occasional glimpse into the exceptional young woman she will become. At her side is her geeky male best friend Michael who loves Nonna as much as Brett, so much so that he risks them both in a late night drive to the marina to steal a boat. Brett knows Nonna is on Spruce Island for one last visit.

Brett tells it all in her blunt Maine manner, making the reader cringe at times, but you can't help but love this girl. If I had this book when Mary was in MS and we were snowed in, as often happened in Alaska during the Holiday Break, we'd be reading this one aloud together. We'd also be having fun creating sentences with Brett's favorite words with the very cool PR set of "Kickin' Word Magnets". This a book for both giving and receiving no matter what time of the year it is. Sounds weird, but it is a really great "feel good" book that you also need a box of Kleenex nearby when you read.

And let's not forget a fun picture book for the Holidays - Bunny Wishes: A Winter's Tale by Michaela Morgan and delightfully illustrated by Caroline Jayne Church. Valenteeny (Teeny) and Valentino (Tino) are two of the happiest bunnies around, friends with all the other creatures, including the new baby mice who are scampering everywhere. Winter has arrived and the two bunnies are snug in the burrow but venture out long enough to pin their wish lists onto the hollow log as it is "a Very Special Time of the Year" when your wishes can come true. But, as it is winter after all, a gust of wind "whooshed those lists right off the hollow log and into the air..." Well, the baby mice are still out there playing and when these two big new playthings fall out of the sky they use them to make sleds, telescopes and little hats. Eventually Mr. and Mrs. Mouse discover what their little ones have done to the bunnies' wish lists. But, it is a Very Special Time of the Year when wishes do come true and the mice have their own way of making Bunny Wishes come true. What a fun book for the Holidays. You might recognize these two note writing bunnies from their Valentine Day romance - Dear Bunny: A Bunny Love Story - Perfect for toddler and preschool storytime or to read to your own honey bunny.

Can you believe less than a week until Christmas? I need to get Steve's presents wrapped and under the tree so Sophie can hide behind them.

Friday, December 05, 2008

All I can say is BRRRRR!!! Only 17 degrees this morning - that is chilly for Kentucky. But, I shouldn't fuss too much as I talked to Mary yesterday and they have a foot and a half of snow in Green Bay. They have a long driveway so poor Scott is shoveling snow each morning so they can get their vehicles out. I called her on Wednesday and she was behind a snow plow on the highway and couldn't pass him as the other lane had not been plowed. There is no way I want to live in snow country again!

I felt kind of bad as she told me about the snow and cold as we got back from Cancun late Tuesday and the weather down there was incredible. Even down right hot the day we toured the Mayan ruins of Chichen Itza. First time I have ever been on a guided tour and it was well worth it. We had soda and beer on the bus and a restroom - good thing as it was an all day trip. However, using a bathroom on a moving bus is much more difficult than on a plane! The tour guide was superb and used a little mirror (from my purse!) to show us unique features of the carvings on the ruins. One carving looks like Jesus and another looks like a cross-legged Buddha. Makes one wonder about the ability of our famous philosophers/religious leaders to travel through time via meditation, etc. I felt sorry for the many Mayan children selling trinkets and "junk" at the ruins. We were there on a Saturday so I am sure there were more than usual. What beautiful children, with the most expressive eyes.

Our Thanksgiving dinner at the GRSolaris resort, which Steve booked through Travelocity.;jsessionid=383553E4F0F06ED8628846FC0224E63C.p0751?propertyId=60171&tab=features&fromPage=&SEQ=12284824942361152008&hotelQKey=8287598903317697659 It was a bit strange as the food was traditional turkey and mashed potatoes, etc. but the show was a Mayan festival. They showed how the Mayan played a form of ancient soccer but used their hips to hit the ball. The players were incredible as was the dancing. I loved it! We then went and sang along with Karaoke in the bar and danced with everyone in the place - including the kids. It was great fun. I would recommend this resort to anyone with kids as there are so many activities and things to do, but for a "older" couple like us who wanted quiet, this is not it. From noon to 5 p.m. there are activities at the main pool - our room was right above it. We spent our time at the adults only smaller pool which was much quieter or on the beach itself. I did get too much sun one day - of course, our last full day there - but it was because it was cloudy and we sat on the beach and read for too long - not realizing how much sun we actually got. This is an all inclusive resort so I put on 3 pounds! The food is excellent and lots of choices including fresh fruit at every meal. I "pigged out" on my favorites - papaya and melon. No problems with water here as they have their own filtration system. Only issue we had was our room location - we were next to the pipes for the water and at night they rattled so hard it sounded like a jackhammer in the room. A quieter room and this would have been an almost perfect vacation - as it was, it was pretty close. Only time we left the resort was to go to the ruins. Otherwise, we chilled on the premises. Of course, it is a time share so we went through the hard sell to get the $80 certificate to use for the tour, but it wasn't bad. We talked to some folks who had been members for over 10 years as there are 3 Solaris resorts in Cancun, but we like to try different places, so we were a "lost cause" as far as selling us anything.

We celebrated my birthday while in Cancun and Steve spoiled me with a beautiful necklace, music DVDs (Patsy Cline and Alison Krause), and a book, of course. I am a huge John Lennon fan and he gave me the new 851 page biography John Lennon: The Life by Philip Norman. It has a wonderful picture of Lennon on the front - not a handsome man, but what arresting eyes. One of my favorite pictures is of me sitting on Lennon's lap - actually, a bronze statute of him in a park in Havana, Cuba. Need to get that scanned into the computer one of these days. The book is superb so far and I think teens who wish they could be rock stars might change their minds when reading of the squalid conditions the Beatles endured in the early years. Well, on the other hand, the sexual openness in Hamburg, Germany might appeal to some teens. Makes Bourbon Street in New Orleans seem very tame!

Since we spent time at the beach and I was wishing for the relaxing days of the catamaran sailing trips we went on back in 2001 and 2002 I had to read a sailing book - A Thousand Shades of Blue by Robin Stevenson. Told from the viewpoint of 16-year-old Rachel, the reader can feel the tension in a family vibrating off the pages as Rachel shares her thoughts. They are a family running away from potential demise. Rachel's parents are fighting and both she and her younger brother, Tim, who is in a perpetual state of anxiety, fear their parents will divorce. The father decides they will to sail from Ontario to the Caribbean via the inter coastal waterways - a way to bring the family together. Rachel is more than a little upset - she does not want to leave her friends or social scene of school behind for a year of being trapped on a small sailboat with her family. It is not an easy trip either in terms of the weather or the storm clouds of surpressed anger and anxiety that hover over the tiny sailboat. A stop in the Bahamas for repairs as well as interaction with other sailing "families", both young and old, help and hinder the eye of the hurricane of feelings to strike - forcing a decision on the mother's part. Rachel falls victim to the charms of a rich 20-something sailing his own boat and almost loses her virginity, but it is what she and Tim see occurring in another boat moored near them in the bay that will force family decisions. This isn't a sailing adventure so much as Rachel's emotional coming-of age journey through the shades of blue of both hope and despair. An honest look into how impending divorce affects tweens and teens.

That's it for today. Need to finish up grading and start putting this semester "to bed" - thank heavens - it is has been a long and hard one.