Thursday, May 26, 2016

My son has never known summer

Christopher has been in daycare since he was 11 weeks old, and I went back to work full time. I never even considered staying home with him. I knew I couldn't handle it. I like working, and I need adult interaction. But he has been in daycare/school full time all year round for almost 6 years. He doesn't even know what summer vacation is!

Since he's in kindergarten this year, and summer means a break from traditional school, I really didn't want to stick him into full time daycare for the summer. Because even though they take field trips once or twice a week, daycare is still a school-like environment. It's inside a classroom for most of the day, with tables and chairs. With coloring sheets. With rainbow carpets and bookshelves.

Halloween Party at daycare 2014.

I wanted him to have a break from learning. A break from structure. A break from any sort of instruction. We'll still read over the summer, but otherwise, he's so far ahead that I think he deserves a rest from academics. I just want him to have fun. To enjoy the outdoors. To experience nature and freedom. And summer! Like I did when I was a kid.

Unfortunately, Jim and I still have to work full time, so I found two entirely recreational options for him. They're not 100% outside, but he will at least be playing all summer long. For most of the summer he'll be going to the day camp at our fitness club. They will play in the gym, do crafts, go on field trips, and go the new outdoor pool! (That was the selling point really.)

Then for one week in July he'll go to YMCA day camp, where they will spend the majority of the time outside learning about nature until they go swimming, which is inside because this is WI, and outdoor pools are pretty rare.

I was a crazy mess in March trying to plan Christopher's summer schedule. I was stressing about him getting bored if he spent too many weeks in the same program. I went back and forth about including daycare for some weeks as well, but in the end, I am very happy with my choices. (He'll actually be attending a week of STEM camp at his school in June, so I squeezed a little academics in - but it's science and invention, so it should be super fun.)

Hopefully this summer goes well. I want him to get a nice break before he's back at it in the fall.

Taking school supplies to open house - August 2015.

When do your kids finish school? What will they be doing this summer? 

On the blog last year...

Meal pairings: How I deal with a picky eater

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Book Review: You Know Me Well (YA)

I received this book for free from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

You Know Me Well by David Levithan and Nina LaCour

To be published on June 7, 2016.

Goodreads Summary:
Who knows you well? Your best friend? Your boyfriend or girlfriend? A stranger you meet on a crazy night? No one, really?

Mark and Kate have sat next to each other for an entire year, but have never spoken. For whatever reason, their paths outside of class have never crossed.

That is until Kate spots Mark miles away from home, out in the city for a wild, unexpected night. Kate is lost, having just run away from a chance to finally meet the girl she has been in love with from afar. Mark, meanwhile, is in love with his best friend Ryan, who may or may not feel the same way.

When Kate and Mark meet up, little do they know how important they will become to each other -- and how, in a very short time, they will know each other better than any of the people who are supposed to know them more.

Told in alternating points of view by Nina LaCour, the award-winning author of Hold Still and The Disenchantments, and David Levithan, the best-selling author of Every Day and co-author of Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist (with Rachel Cohn) and Will Grayson, Will Grayson (with John Green), You Know Me Well is a deeply honest story about navigating the joys and heartaches of first love, one truth at a time.

Author Comments from BEA:
I heard David Levithan talk about this book on Thursday, May 12th, after I'd already been approved for the book on NetGalley. He said he really wanted to write a he said, she said book featuring a gay boy and a lesbian girl. He was hoping to have a book that wasn't characterized as a boy book or a girl book, just a queer book. He mentioned that the plot takes place during Pride Week and that the characters help each other through their respective romantic dilemmas.

He also discussed the experience of writing with a partner. He said that when he's writing alone he doesn't push himself as much as a partner, in this case Nina LaCour, pushes him. He also said that when he's writing with someone else, then that person is the person he's writing to instead of writing to a specific audience who may eventually read the book.

I was excited to read this book before seeing David in person. I have read some of his other partner works: Will Grayson, Will Grayson with John Green and Dash and Lily's Book of Dares with Rachel Cohn, and enjoyed both of them. But I was even more anxious for this book after hearing him speak.

My Review:
Oh my gosh. This book! It is for books like this that I bother reading contemporary YA. So many times they don't work for me, but this book was amazing. The emotions. Wow! So raw.

Mark and Kate meet at a bar on the first night of Pride Week. They are both struggling with something huge. Mark is in love with his best friend, Ryan, and their friends with benefits type relationship is no longer working for him. He is desperate for Ryan to notice him as a boy and not just as a friend. Kate is supposed to finally meet her best friend's cousin, Violet, who she has loved from a distance for a while, but she's scared to take that next step.

I love stories about instant friendship. Mark and Kate are so honest with each other. They can share feelings and thoughts that they cannot share with their other close friends because of their history. Each chapter just kept getting better and better. Some of the scenarios were a little crazy, but I loved getting to know these characters. I was routing for them the whole time, and I was silently cheering them on as I was reading.

The whole book takes place over Pride Week, but Mark and Kate go through some pretty heavy stuff during those 7 days. The story is told in alternating chapters - David Levithan writing as Mark and Nina LaCour writing as Kate. I think I enjoyed Kate's chapters a little more, but I'm not sure if it was Nina's writing or the female POV. All of the writing was pretty fantastic.

I struggled with this rating. I almost went for 5 stars, but there were some things I couldn't completely wrap my head around in the plot. And sometimes there were these weird jumps forward in time followed by some back filling of the details, and it was a little hard to follow. Otherwise, I LOVED this book.

Favorite Quotes:
"I am excited about Taylor. I may want to date Taylor, if everything goes well. But I have known Taylor for a total of about five seconds, while I have known you since the mountains were made and the rivers were formed. I know we're in a weird place right now, but I want you to step out of it and be there for me. Taylor is a boy, and you are my best friend. Taylor is a date, and you are my calendar. Understood?"
I don't want to be a best friend if I can't also be a boy in his eyes. I don't want to be a calendar if I'll never get a date.

Swoon, right?

I know that I've ruined something between us. I know I stopped feeling like Lehna's twin a long time ago, and it's a terrible thing to be the one who walks away.

That one isn't as great out of context, but the emotion. Wow!

My Rating: 4 Stars
Understand my ratings.

Last year on the blog...

Raising a child with a servant's heart

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Top Ten Tuesday #24: Changing Feelings on Books

This topic was really hard for me. I am very opinionated, and I don't often change my mind. I never checked over my work when taking tests in school. Second guessing myself was just not a good idea. My initial instincts were usually right. That sounds conceited, but I don't mean it that way. I just know what I like and my assessment of things right away.

What has changed for me though as I've gotten older, and especially now that I read so many books, is my memory. It sucks! That's a huge part of why I started using Goodreads to keep track of my reading before I started blogging. So I could remember whether I liked a book or not after I read it in case someone asked me about it. Then I realized that the rating wasn't always enough to help me remember why I like or didn't like a book. One of the reasons I started this blog was so that I could write about the books I read, so I'd have the review to help me recall what I thought about the book specifically.

For books that I read before I started using Goodreads, I will mark them as read, but I don't ever add a rating because I know it won't be that accurate. I don't second guess the ratings I've given, but I do know that my recollection of a book is usually more positive than my feelings were while I was actually reading it.

So for today's topic, I am going to share 10 books I read before I started using Goodreads. We can assume that I enjoyed these books somewhat, but perhaps not as much as I remember enjoying them.

Eye Contact by Cammie McGovern

The Myth of You and Me by Leah Stewart

The Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jamie Ford

The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield

The Year of Fog by Michelle Richmond

Magic Hour by Kristin Hannah

The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd

Her Fearful Symmetry by Audrey Niffenegger

The Memory Keeper's Daughter by Kim Edwards

The Lake of Dead Languages by Carol Goodman

Have you read any of these books? Can you help me recall why I may have liked them? Or maybe why they weren't as good as I might be remembering?

This weekly meme is hosted by The Broke and the Bookish.

Monday, May 23, 2016

Book Review: A Robot in the Garden

I received this book for free from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

A Robot in the Garden by Deborah Install

Published on May 1, 2016.

Goodreads Summary:
Warm-hearted fable of a stay-at-home husband who learns an important lesson in life when an unusual creature enters his life.

With all the charm and humour of THE ROSIE PROJECT and ABOUT A BOY mingled with the heart-swelling warmth of PADDINGTON BEAR MOVIE.

A story of the greatest friendship ever assembled.

Ben Chambers wakes up to find something rusty and lost underneath the willow tree in his garden. Refusing to throw it on the skip as his wife Amy advises, he takes it home.

My Review:
I'm not really sure what to think about this book. It takes place in the near future when android servants are the norm. Ben finds a robot in his backyard, and despite his wife's annoyance, he's determined to help find someone who can fix it. His wife, Amy, leaves him because he's not been the best husband - he's not working, but yet he cannot find the time to help out around the house. He and Tang, the robot, embark on a trip around the world to find someone who can repair Tang's broken coolant cylinder.

I read a review on Goodreads that compared this book to the movie Short Circuit, and that's fairly accurate. The whole time I was reading it I was trying to determine who the target audience was because it definitely wasn't me. I think I was drawn to the comparison with The Rosie Project, but it's not really a fair comparison because Ben has a completely healthy mind, although he is still grieving the death of his parents and his failure to amount to anything while they were alive.

Tang is cute. He's very much his own person, unlike the Androids in the story. I kept thinking that middle school boys would enjoy him most, but the relationship portion of the plot would make this an entirely inappropriate book for that age group.

Ben grows up a lot over the course of the book, and I was liking him more by the end. He's the narrator of the book, and I had a hard time believing I was reading the thoughts of a 30-year old man until maybe the last 1/3 of the book.

Overall, this story is strange and the journey is winding as the go from England to California to Texas to Micronesia and back to England. I just couldn't really relate to any of the characters. Tang is very child-like, but even that didn't really hold my interest. Had I not gotten this for review, I may have stopped reading it.

My Rating: 2 Stars
Understand my ratings.

Last year on the blog...

I need to make public resolutions

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Juvenile Pile: Monsters, Race Cars, and Friends

I've been reviewing kids' books rather haphazardly most Saturdays, but with all of the children's book galleys I got at BEA, I wasn't sure how much time I'd have to discuss the books I've been reading with Christopher. So, I decided to start posting a new series on Sundays. I'm calling it "Juvenile Pile". I'll share the books we've read during the week along with brief thoughts and ratings.

I realized that we have been slipping a little bit with having Christopher read at bedtime. With summer coming, I am trying to make that a part of our normal routine again. So the nights I put Christopher to bed this week (except one), I read him 1-2 books, and then he read me part of a book. Because it was a Level 3 book, I didn't push him to read more than 4-6 pages because it was pretty challenging.

In general I kind of hate these Step into Reading books, especially when they're based on animated TV shows or movie. But they serve their purpose, and they get kids reading. Christopher selected The Big Case off the new release shelf at the library.

It took him 3 days to get through this book, but he enjoyed it. It was a fairly decent, albeit shortened, version of the movie plot. Having seen the movie definitely helped him with some of the harder words.

He wasn't overjoyed to keep reading it each night, but I also didn't have to push him too much. The book was rather "meh" for me. 3 stars

I selected Stick and Stone because I thought the illustrations were really cute. This book is a story about friendship, and also kind of about bullying. Pinecone is being mean to Stone, and Stick comes to his rescue.

Stick and Stone become friends. The words are simple and rhyming, so it was a little young for my 6 year old. But I liked the subtle reference to that grade school chant: "Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me." Did you say that too when you were little?

Later in the story, Stone rescues Stick after a storm blows him into a mud puddle, and he gets stuck. It's a good lesson in how to be a friend. At the end Pinecone apologizes and kind of becomes their friend too. I wasn't a huge fan of the quick absolution there, but younger kids wouldn't mind it. 3 stars

I pulled Go to Sleep, Monster! off the new release shelf, and Christopher agreed right away because of the cover and title. This story was really cute. We both enjoyed it. In the story, the little brother is afraid to go to sleep because of the monster under his bed. His sister asks the monster why he won't go to sleep. It turns out he's afraid of the monster under the floor, who is also not sleeping.

The story continues with monster after monster scaring the one above it. They finally end up in the center of the Earth with a giant dragon-like monster, who is afraid to go to sleep because he's scared to be alone. All of the monsters and the two kids fall asleep together.

It's very creative and a fun read. I think it helps make light of the common fear of the dark. 4 stars

I found How Do Formula One Race Cars Work? when Christopher was asking for "just one more book" after I'd set the library limit at 20. We don't read a lot of non-fiction, but he has always LOVED race cars.

This book was really cool and very readable. It goes through the different parts of a race car and explains the purpose in simple, understandable terms. Even I learned something! Did you know that the "wings" on the front and back actually help hold the car on the track because of the way the air moves over them? I thought they were just for show.

We read the book cover to cover in one sitting, but I think it would be a fun book to read a little at a time, even with younger kids who enjoy race cars. Usually I take books back to the library after a single reading, but I think I'll keep this one around in case Christopher wants to read through it again. 4 stars

I placed a hold on The Thank You Book right after BEA, where I learned that it was the last (sniff) Elephant and Piggie book to be published. We have read all of the earlier books, so we had to get this one right away.

For the first time, Christopher and I read one of these books together. I was Piggie - and he made me use a high, squeaky voice. And he was Elephant and all of the other characters. He used a gruff voice for Gerald (so cute!) and other silly voices for the other animals in this book.

Because it's their last book, Piggie decides that he needs to thank everyone who has helped them. Gerald is convinced he'll forget someone. All of the characters from the other books, Hippo, the squirrels, the flies, etc., make appearances. And at the end, they thank the reader. It was adorable. I know if Christopher were still younger, we'd buy this book and read it over and over again. Because he's older, he wasn't as into it, but we certainly had fun with the voices. I'm excited to go back and read the older books with him now that he's reading. 4 stars

What have you read with your kids this week? Anything good?

Last year on the blog...

Book Review: Better than Before

Saturday, May 21, 2016

Life Milestone: Learning to ride a bike

When I wrote about Christopher's birthday, I alluded to our disastrous experience trying to teach Christopher to ride his bike. I'm finally ready to share the full story.

Two years ago I bought Christopher a used bike with training wheels for his 4th birthday. It's been challenging for him to ride because it's an older bike, and it's very heavy. I decided that if we were going to teach Christopher to ride without training wheels, he'd need a new bike. Almost everyone we know with young kids has already taught them to ride without training wheels, so I was feeling like we were behind schedule, even though I didn't learn until I was about 8 or 9. (I know I shouldn't compare myself to other parents, but it's so hard!)

I told Christopher that we were going to buy him a new bike for his birthday because I wanted him to pick it out. The Saturday before his birthday, we went to Toys R Us and let him pick out a bike. He selected a cool green one, which of course had training wheels in the store, so he was able to try it out. Jim spent Saturday afternoon/evening putting it together. We decided to wait until Sunday afternoon, after his party, to try riding it because by the time it was put together, it was getting pretty late.

Sunday afternoon we pretty much had to force Christopher to go with us to an empty parking lot to learn to ride the bike. We live on a small cul-de-sac, but we decided a larger parking lot would be a better place to start. The locale ended up being pretty good. Our child...not so much.

Clearly he had a little anxiety about the experience since he was not at all enthusiastic about going. We probably should have known better than to try on a day that already had so much excitement, but I didn't want to have to wait for the following weekend, and the weather was cooperating for once.

We drive up to the park. Right away we discovered that the bike probably needed to be tightened a little bit more, and Jim hadn't brought the right tools, but we tried anyway. We started with holding onto the back of his seat (even though everything I read online before going had suggested starting with just balancing or riding downhill on grass). This was the way both Jim and I had learned, and we recalled it being a pretty simple process. Wrong!

Christopher does not do well with failure. He gets that from me. It's why I don't play video games. I don't like doing things I am bad at. Jim is not this way (and he's great at everything he does), so he wasn't quite as understanding. There was A LOT of yelling.

Christopher yelled at us to stop telling him what to do. Jim yelled at Christopher to stop yelling at us. Christopher yelled about the bike not steering the way that he thought it should. I yelled at Jim to stop yelling at Christopher. It was awful. Not the happy learning-to-ride-a-bike experience I had envisioned or wanted Christopher to remember.

Jim ended up leaving for a little bit to go get new tools. I didn't have any better luck with him gone. We eventually tried having Christopher ride the bike more like a scooter to get a sense of his balance, but we didn't take the pedals off, so that was really hard for him to do. We realized that he had learned some bad behavior from the training wheels, like leaning to the side when riding and not balancing his body weight.

After about 30 minutes, we gave up. We were all pretty upset as we drove home.

Monday morning I realized that maybe Christopher was like me, and that he might be more receptive to learning from books versus being told how to do it. So I went online and found a few book suggestions, and I reserved them from the library. They came in a few days later.

We read Everyone Can Learn to Ride a Bike, and it was cute, but not especially helpful. We never read the other books.

The bike sat in the garage for several weeks, except for one brief occasion when Jim got Christopher to try riding it like a scooter again. This time without the pedals.

And then...this past Wednesday night while I was at my YA Book Club meeting, Jim did it! He taught Christopher to ride his bike. When I asked him about it later that night, he said it went about the same until he got Christopher to coast down the middle of the cul-de-sac a couple of times, seeing how far he could go while lifting his feet up. Then he tried holding the seat again and taking him around the circle, and he got it on the second try. It just clicked, finally.

Jim texted me this video. And I was so happy he could do it!

(And I was so relieved I didn't have to try to teach him again.)

Thursday night immediately after getting home from school, he was outside riding around in the circle on his own (without even telling me he was going outside). Clearly, he's pretty proud of himself; as he should be. I watched him through the window with a smile on my face, as I talked to my mom on the phone.

I'm so excited!

Another life milestone down for our little man.

How old were you when you learned to ride a bike? How about your kids? How did you teach your children? Are they better learners than Christopher?

Last year on the blog...

My love affair with my crock pot

Friday, May 20, 2016

Book Review: Happy People Read and Drink Coffee

I received this book for free from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Happy People Read and Drink Coffee by Agnes Marin-Lugand

Published on May 10, 2016.

Goodreads Summary:
Diane seems to have the perfect life. She is a wife, a mother, and the owner of Happy People Read and Drink Coffee, a cozy literary cafe in Paris. But when she suddenly loses her beloved husband and daughter in a tragic car accident, the world as she knows it instantly vanishes. Trapped and haunted by her memories, Diane retreats from friends and family, unable and unwilling to move forward. 

But one year later, Diane shocks her loved ones and makes the surprising decision to move to a small town on the Irish coast, finally determined to heal and rebuild her life alone—until she meets Edward, the attractive yet taciturn Irish photographer who lives next door. At first abrasive and unwelcoming, Edward initially resents Diane’s intrusion into his life of solitude . . . until he can no longer keep her at arm’s length, and they fall into a surprising and tumultuous romance. But will it last when Diane leaves Ireland, and Edward, for the home she once ran away from in Paris? At once heartbreaking and uplifting, Diane’s story is deeply felt, reminding us that love remembered is love enduring. 

My Review:
The title of this book appealed to me, even though I don't drink coffee. The blurb hooked me when it mentioned that the main character owns a literary cafe. Unfortunately, I didn't really pay attention to the rest of the description, which goes on to state clearly that Diane leaves Paris (and her bookstore) to go to Ireland for the majority of the book. I was hoping for fun bookstore references, and instead I got a grieving woman, which if you know me, you know I also kind of love. But this book didn't work for me at all.

Diane's husband and young daughter were killed in a car accident one year before the start of this novel. Diane hasn't really left the house since. Her best friend, Felix, is left managing the bookstore and trying to coax Diane back to the land of the living. Even the one year anniversary visit to Colin and Clara's graves can't do it. Then Felix suggests they do on a trip together. Instead, Diane plots to go to Ireland (somewhere Colin always wanted to go) alone.

This all seemed good in theory for me, but the writing was very choppy. It jumps around between past and present a lot in the beginning, which was quite confusing. Then later on the timeline progresses forward in a very disjointed way. It was almost more like a string of scenes versus a cohesive story line.

Once Diane gets to Ireland, there is an almost Darcy-ish romance with her very dark and moody neighbor, Edward. Only he wasn't as charming as Mr. Darcy, and the relationship was rather unhealthy in my opinion. I wanted to want them to get together, but I just couldn't.

The ending is rather abrupt and unresolved (apparently there's going to be sequel).

This book was originally published in French, but I don't think it was the translation that I had an issue with. I was able to look past the grammatical errors because I read an eARC. I think it was more that the writing was flawed. It was kind of emotionless and ultimately too all-over-the-place for me.

My Rating: 2 Stars
Understand my ratings.

Last year on the blog...

When books inspire real life