Friday, January 30, 2015

Friday Five

Here we go again.  Another Friday Five!

 I have one pair of Ugg Boots, but I would happily add another to my collection. Love the stitching on these.  And right now they are on sale.

Love this song, even though I am definitely not crazy about the lyrics.

Despite following the same recipe for protein pancakes as the one pictured above, my pancakes looked nothing like this, but they were so yummy that I couldn't help but share.  My sister-in-law tried them out herself and also enjoyed them.  Definitely something I am adding to my breakfast line-up.  The best news is they are so tasty you won't even need syrup.  

My own Little Free Library doesn't look anywhere as cool as these featured on Mental Floss.  So jealous!

I haven't had my knitting needles out in a few years, but seeing this poncho makes me want to break them out again.  Of course, I would also need my mother's help because my knitting ability doesn't include more than simply knitting and purling. Forget trying to read a pattern and achieving something as complex as stripes!

Thursday, January 29, 2015

The Smartest Kids in the World

When Janssen tells me that a book is good, I know she is right.  I can pretty much take any recommendation she gives and be guaranteed a great read.

The Smartest Kids in the World: And How they Got That Way by Amanda Ripley is about a topic near and dear to my heart: education.

Ripley admits to not wanting to write about education for much of her career as a journalist. However, she eventually takes on an education story, and finds out a lot about the American education system and what other countries have done to create successful schools.

As an educator, I have a lot of my own ideas and beliefs about our educational system.  I have seen the things that definitely do not work in the setting I am in, and I am always amazed that the people making the decisions about education are people who are not actually in the classroom.  

This book should be on the radar of our school board, our administrators and anyone else whose decisions can impact our children. 

Ripley looks at different countries' education systems.  Not surprisingly, the United States does not score all that well when compared to other countries.  A standardized test given to students around the world puts the US in the middle of the pack.  

It puts Finland at the top. And that is not where Finland used to be, even recently.  The way Finland's education system changed is worth noting as they were once in the same position the US is now in.

There were several things that really stuck with me that I continue to think about even now a few weeks since I finished this book:

1.  Throwing money at education isn't necessarily going to solve the problem. The US spends a lot of money on education, but some countries that spend less have better education systems.

2.  Tracking students early on is more detrimental than helpful.  

3.  Teaching as a profession should be regarded as something that requires skill and knowledge and those wanting to work in this field should be required to go through rigorous training and be compensated accordingly. After all, we don't want doctors who are only marginally good at science. Why would we want teachers who are only adequate students themselves?

4.  Parental involvement isn't necessarily the answer. Having parents who read with their children and talk with them in a meaningful way is more beneficial.

5.  Homework, or time at school, doesn't necessarily translate into good grades or academic success. Students still need time off.

I seriously wish someone I know would read this book. I keep on telling everyone about it, but so far I'm still waiting to hear of someone who actually takes my suggestion.  

The Smartest Kids in the World is something I will be thinking about and talking about for a long time.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

My Father's Wives

Mike Greenberg's My Father's Wives is the second novel by Greenberg, whose first, All You Could Ask For, is one I enjoyed previously.

Overall, Greenberg's novel was an enjoyable read and I am always pleasantly surprised by the fact that Greenberg is so capable at writing women's fiction.

My Father's Wives follows Jonathan Sweetwater a man who is just turning forty and is not only a very successful businessman, but is also a very happily married father of two. 

All of this changes one day as he arrives home early from work and believes he sees his wife and another man through the keyhole in the guest bedroom.  Never actually seeing the woman's face, he turns and leaves his home, never confronting his wife.

Going to his mother for advice, Jonathan begins a period of self discovery, going to talk to the women his father was married to after he divorced Jonathan's mother.  Because the two never had contact after Jonathan's ninth birthday and his father is no longer alive, these women are the one link to his dad and the only way he can find out more about this man.

Greenberg's novel was easy to read and get into.  I enjoyed the writing style, yet felt the issue of Jonathan's wife's fidelity wasn't entirely resolved, leaving me wanting more.  There weren't any big a-ha moments, yet the book was an enjoyable fast read, and kept me entertained.

My Father's Wives was sent me for review by Trish at TLC Book Tours.  I was not paid for my review, and my opinions are my own.

Waiting on Wednesday

Waiting on Wednesday is a weekly meme hosted by Jill at Breaking the Spine.

This week's pick:  China Rich Girlfriend by Kevin Kwan
Due out: June 16, 2015

Product Information taken from Amazon:

Kevin Kwan, bestselling author of Crazy Rich Asians, is back with a wickedly funny new novel of social climbing, secret e-mails, art-world scandal, lovesick billionaires, and the outrageous story of what happens when Rachel Chu, engaged to marry Asia's most eligible bachelor, discovers her birthfather.
     On the eve of her wedding to Nicholas Young, heir to one of the greatest fortunes in Asia, Rachel should be over the moon. She has a flawless Asscher-cut diamond from JAR, a wedding dress she loves more than anything found in the salons of Paris, and a fiancĂ© willing to sacrifice his entire inheritance in order to marry her. But Rachel still mourns the fact that her birthfather, a man she never knew, won't be able to walk her down the aisle. Until: a shocking revelation draws Rachel into a world of Shanghai splendor beyond anything she has ever imagined. Here we meet Carlton, a Ferrari-crashing bad boy known for Prince Harry-like antics; Colette, a celebrity girlfriend chased by fevered paparazzi; and the man Rachel has spent her entire life waiting to meet: her father. Meanwhile, Singapore's It Girl, Astrid Leong, is shocked to discover that there is a downside to having a newly minted tech billionaire husband. A romp through Asia's most exclusive clubs, auction houses, and estates, China Rich Girlfriend brings us into the elite circles of Mainland China, introducing a captivating cast of characters, and offering an inside glimpse at what it's like to be gloriously, crazily, China-rich.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

The Nightingale

I've been hearing buzz about Kristin Hannah's The Nightingale, even though it is yet to be published.  Every bit of publicity is well worth it. 

The novel begins in 1995, but quickly moves to 1939 and Paris during World War II.  

Sister Viann and Isabelle have had a hard childhood, especially since the death of their mother, which causes their father to turn to alcohol and send his daughters to live away from home.

The sisters are far enough apart in age that they are not close, yet as the novel unfolds, we see their lives continue to come together repeatedly.

Viann lives on a farm with her daughter as her husband has been sent to fight.  She is a "good girl," a rule follower and tries her best to carry on without the help of her spouse.

Isabelle is the wild child, having been kicked out of a variety of schools. When her father sends her to live with her sister in the country, she is not happy about these developments.

And yet, both women find a way to help France resist the Nazis.  

There were many reasons I loved this book even though it was a sad story, a hard subject to read about.

I enjoyed that Hannah set her novel in France.  Sarah's Key was the first novel that shed light (for me at least) on France's less than stellar role in World War II.  The Nightingale also provides that same background and history for readers.

Hannah manages to create a little suspense in The Nightingale in various different places that kept me reading until the very last page was turned.  Her characters were well developed and Viann and Isabelle never stopped surprising me.

I have read everything written by Hannah, enjoying some more than others.  No matter how much I have thought about this book after I finished reading, I have known that there is no way that any review could do it justice.

This is a must read, a novel that will stay with you. I am expecting to hear a lot about this novel for some time to come.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Sunday Salon

I have been spoiled with weekends that have been relaxing and lazy, but now as we start Middle Sister's volleyball season, our schedule is filling up.

Today is the first tournament of the season, so most of the day will be spent in a gym.  Depending on their wins/losses we could potentially be at the tournament until nearly supper time.  I am going with a few books to keep me busy, although I usually end up talking instead of being entirely anti-social.

I only made it to three days of my exercise class this week. Monday I had off in honor of Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, and ended up having lunch with this girl (and let myself relax and sleep in instead of working out):

Our lunch selfie

On Friday the girls didn't have school and I was excited to let them sleep in while I exercised and got ready for work in a quiet household.  However Little Sister has a horrible cold and Middle Sister didn't feel well either, so instead of exercising I spent the early morning hours playing nurse.  

Maybe that's a good thing.  Here's the pair of shoes I wore to exercise one morning:

Do you see anything wrong with this?  Considering these were the only two shoes in my bathroom in the morning, I'm hoping this isn't the pair of shoes I wore to school the day before.  No young children commented on them, so I am thinking I am safe.

We finally took down our Christmas decorations last night, which after not having them out last year, was OK. I will say I was plenty excited to get that job done.

Yesterday was nearly fifty degrees out and felt like spring.  Today there is a bit of new snow on the ground.  Such is weather in Iowa.

Enjoy your Sunday!

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Thunder Birds

Last weekend as the girls and I were driving around to do errands we passed two bald eagles sitting in a field eating a deer that had been hit by a car.  They were so close to us that I even turned the car around to get a picture of them.  

Since I can't drive and take pictures simultaneously, Middle Sister did the honors.  She is about as good at photography as I am which means we have nothing to show for our efforts except a flew blurry shots of the landscape and what looks to be a very microscopic bird flying away.  

I will say that taking pictures from a moving vehicle is probably not going to result in any wonderful photographs.

Years ago I would never have noticed the bald eagles and certainly wouldn't have turned around, but my husband's interest in birds has rubbed off a bit.

And in addition to seeing birds in nature, I even occasionally read about them.

Jim Arnosky's book Thunder Birds: Nature's Flying Predators is my most recent read about birds.

From owls to vultures and various birds in between Arnosky gives good information about a variety of animals.  Full page fold outs show the actual sizes of birds, and give information including wing span and height.  Little known bits of information, such as the fact that owl's wings are silent as they fly which allows them to sneak up on their prey, were fun little facts I was interested to learn.

I am adding this to my school's collection of animal books and can see lots of ways teachers could use it, as Arnosky provides a page of text about each animal (not too overwhelming for listeners or readers), along with the beautiful illustrations of each bird.

Friday, January 23, 2015

Friday Five

Here's my latest Friday Five.  There's always something to fall in love with whether it's online or in the actual bricks and mortar store.
It seems like one of the girls is always needing a spot to sit to watch television.  This Threshold red chevron pouf at Target looks like the perfect solution.  My friend Robin and I saw some gals wheeling two of these out to their car the other day. We were all excited when they told us they were just $15, but when we went back and looked they were marked $59. I'm thinking those ladies didn't pay much attention to how much they cost - they just liked them enough to buy them.

So then Robin and I drove home and ate an entire bag of Rold Gold Dark Dipped Bavarian Twists which really didn't help us get any red chevron poufs, but they did taste good.

My co-op worker at school graduated last year and is in college now. She showed up to visit the other day with this cool ID compliments of Vera Bradley.  I would like to have one for myself, but when I was telling friends this, they looked at my in confusion. Apparently as a mom I need to have a purse with everything under the sun in it.

 These slippers are on sale at Von Maur right now.  Love them.  

My husband has pretty much forbid me from shopping for a while, but I did buy Little Sister a new pair of black leggings at Old Navy since hers had holes at the knees.  Despite the fact that I need nothing, I did enjoy this Old Navy open front cardigan and think it would be great to throw on in my school building which fluctuates between hot and freezing.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Waiting on Wednesday

Waiting on Wednesday is a weekly meme hosted by Jill at Breaking the Spine.

This week's pick: Blue Stars by Emily Gray Tedrowe
Due out: February 17, 2015

Product Information taken from Amazon:

Emily Gray Tedrowe has written an extraordinary novel about ordinary people, a graceful and gritty portrayal of what it’s like for the women whose husbands and sons are deployed in Iraq.
BLUE STARS brings to life the realities of the modern day home front: how to get through the daily challenges of motherhood and holding down a job while bearing the stress and uncertainty of war, when everything can change in an instant. It tells the story of Ellen, a Midwestern literature professor, who is drawn into the war when her legal ward Michael enlists as a Marine; and of Lacey, a proud Army wife who struggles to pay the bills and keep things going for her son while her husband is deployed. Ellen and Lacey cope with the fear and stress of a loved one at war while trying to get by in a society that often ignores or misunderstands what war means to women today. When Michael and Eddie are injured in Iraq, Ellen and Lacey’s lives become intertwined in Walter Reed Army Hospital, where each woman must live while caring for her wounded soldier. They form an alliance, and an unlikely friendship, while helping each other survive the dislocated world of the army hospital. Whether that means fighting for proper care for their men, sharing a six-pack, or coping with irrevocable loss, Ellen and Lacey pool their strengths to make it through. In the end, both women are changed, not only by the war and its fallout, but by each other.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

The Question of Miracles

The Question of Miracles is Elana K. Arnold's first middle grade novel and I was absolutely blown away by it. This novel explores the question of loss in a way that kids (and adults) will easily relate to.

Iris and her parents have moved to Oregon where it seems to rain all the time. In addition to disliking the dreary weather, Iris doesn't yet have any friends in her new home.

Then she meets Boris, a boy in her class that is also in need of some friends. Despite Boris' annoying habits, the two become friends.  

During all of this Iris is dealing with the death of her best friend, Sarah.  Arnold creates a little suspense as the reason for Sarah's death isn't initially revealed. But most important, she allows Iris to explore the question of miracles.  Boris survived what was to have been a fatal birth defect; his life is a miracle. Yet, Sarah died, and Iris struggles to understand why she didn't receive a miracle.

These are complex thoughts - ones that adults question as well, and Arnold does an amazing job of answering this question and allowing Iris to find some happiness without her best friend.

I'd love to press this book into my tween daughters' hands along with my upper elementary students and teachers.  The Question of Miracles is an amazing book.