Monday, July 27, 2015

Make Your Home Among Strangers

Make Your Home Among Strangers by Jennine Capo Crucet is a fantastic debut novel that chronicles the immigrant experience.  

Lizet is Cuban American. She grew up in Miami among many other Cuban Americans, but secretly applies to a prestigious liberal arts college far from home.  When she arrives at college she is one of a handful of Cuban students and must learn to assimilate into the white culture.

It soon becomes obvious that her high school experience was different from many of her college classmates and she is starting at a disadvantage.  Yet, Lizet doesn't give up.

Even when things back home in Miami are in the news.  A young boy named Ariel Hernandez has come to Miami, leaving Cuba with his mother on a life raft.  She dies on the trip and when the Coast Guard picks him up he is taken to his  mother's family in Miami.  Although Lizet and her family have no connection to this child, her mother develops a bit of an obsession with him and spends much of her time and energy on the news surrounding Ariel and whether he will stay in the United States or be returned to Cuba.

Lizet and her family are at the center of this novel and Crucet has done a great job depicting the culture of Cuban Americans, first by developing these characters and then by having Lizet attend a white college where her education, relationship with her family and boyfriend are all held up and compared to those of her white classmates.

One interesting thing to note is that dialogue is not written in the traditional way, with the use of quotation marks.  Instead a small dash begins each bit of dialogue.  I have found this difficult to read in some instances, but became accustomed to it fairly quickly while reading.

Make Your Home Among Strangers is receiving quite a bit of well deserved buzz.  I'm anxiously awaiting it's August release to discuss it with other readers.

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Sunday Salon

Yesterday totally got away from me and I never posted anything even though I had cooked a ton this past week.

I even whipped up a pasta recipe that Kristen at Iowa Girl Eats had on her blog.  Everyone - including two friends of my girls' - liked it. 


This past week I found myself without my usual sidekicks on a few occasions. My mom is back from vacation so the girls have been excited to go with her a few times.  It was so quiet without them, I hardly knew what to do with myself.

But I did manage. One item on my summer bucket list was getting a pedicure.  I'll spare you the nasty details, but I am appalled that I have a fungus on my one toenail.  I've tried tea tree oil and Vick's Salve without any noticeable change.  At this point I'm not inclined to go on an anti-fungal medication which is extremely hard on your kidneys and necessitates monitoring of kidney function.  
So my solution was to have it covered up with nail polish - at least for the summer months.  The nice gentleman who gave me a pedicure offered to remove my toenail for me, which I turned down.

Taking advantage of our hot, sticky weather, I took the girls and their friends to the pool - and stayed there for five hours.  Since we don't live in the same town where we have our pool membership, just dropping them off and coming back for them doesn't ever happen. And with Little Sister just being eight I don't think she's ready for that yet.  Part of me wishes we lived closer so that was an option, but lying in a chair and reading a book isn't really all that bad a way to spend your day.

We also had a bonfire with our neighbors last night and managed to get to bed just before midnight.

Tonight I've got chicken and veggie kabobs planned for supper and since I've just come back from the store, have our meals for the week pretty well planned out.

I am officially in a reading slump.  I've read so many books this summer that I knew it was bound to happen eventually.  I'm just hoping it passes quickly since the TBR stacks don't look any smaller than they did when summer started.

Since summer school starts on August 3, this coming week is really my last free week.  I'll admit that although I'm not entirely ready to be back at school,  I've started to think about it, and get excited for different things I want to teach.

I've got a dental and hair appointment for myself this week as well as a list of errands to run.  

I plan on making the most of this last week of total freedom.  How about you? What's your plan for the upcoming week?

Friday, July 24, 2015

Friday Five

Apparently I did not do a lot of internet browsing this past week.  The Friday Five was a little hard to come by, although in writing this post and seriously looking at my favorite online stores, I found many more than five things that I'm interested in.

1.  Mango Ice Tea at Starbucks

This isn't anything I had to find online.  Last week we were at the pool when it was nearly 100 degrees and after a few hours of that I was dying for a drink.  (The water bottle I packed in my bag was not overly refreshing since it had been in the 100 degree heat with me).  The girls always want to get something at Starbucks but I've seen how many calories those drinks have and always pass it up. However, their tea had very few calories, so I took the recommendation of the gal working the drive-thru.  What a treat!  It could have been simply because I was sooooo thirsty, but in my memory it was absolutely wonderful.  And it was gone even before the girls had their drinks.

2.  Boho Embroidered Top

Boden's new catalog arrived in my mailbox the other day and I wouldn't allow myself to look at it since I can always find something I think I must have. However, I just delayed the inevitable and had a nice time looking at their new fall things online.  

3.  Vintage Broken In T

This T from the Loft and looks soft and broken in.  It comes in a variety of colors, although I love this one, and although I have a lot of old Ts to wear around and hang out in, this one seems a little dressier. 

4.  Gap Fit GsPrint Shorts

I used to have several different running short options but over the years they have dwindled.  I own quite a few pairs of running capris, but would like to find a few pairs of shorts that I could exercise in - and just wear around to hang out at home.  I like the print on these.

5.  Diminuendo Draped Top

I saw this one this morning on The Big Mama Blog where she features ten things each Friday (she is such an overachiever!).  And I fell in love.   It's on sale right now, too. 

So, that's it for this week.  What's caught your eye?

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Harper Collins Treasures

I am always excited to get a package from Harper Collins because I know what is inside is a treasure- a collection of new, soon to be published children's books that I am always eager to share with my own children, students, and colleagues.  

Three of the new books I have enjoyed reading to Little Sister before bed this past week are ones that I am definitely ordering for school.

Two Girls Want a Puppy by Ryan and Evie Cordell, illustrated by Maple Lam

Most kids want a puppy at some point and spend a great deal of time trying to convince their parents they will love and take care of a new pet.  Cadence and Emerson Cordell are two girls whose plan to get a puppy was very creative- getting a million likes on facebook before they could get a puppy-  which resulted in this book.

I love the illustrations, the short text, and the sweet story.  

There are lots of dog stories out there already, but this one is definitely worth reading. (Grades K-2)

Who Wants Broccoli by Val Jones

Broccoli lives in an animal shelter dreaming of the day he will have his own home.  He's big, lovable, and a bit of a handful.

Broccoli has lived at the shelter for nearly his entire life and watched many other animals find homes.  

And then there's Oscar, a boy who is looking for a pet to call his own.  He doesn't want a pet that is just cute and cuddly. He's looking for a dog he can play with.

And guess who fits the bill?

Another cute and fun dog book that kids will enjoy reading.  (Grades K-2)

Little Miss, Big Sis by Amy Krouse Rosenthal, illustrated by Peter H. Reynolds

You absolutely can't go wrong with Rosenthal's books and this is just another example of her cute and clever style.

This is a rhyming picture book about a girl and her baby sister:

Forever Protected.
Forever Connected.
And just as suspected...
from that first hug and kiss...
the most wonderful Big Sis!

What could be sweeter?

Thanks to Harper Collins for providing copies of these books. The opinions expressed are my own.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Waiting on Wednesday

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

This week's pick:  The Hours Count by Jillian Cantor
Due out: October 15, 2015

A spellbinding historical novel about a woman who befriends Ethel and Julius Rosenberg, and is drawn into their world of intrigue, from the author of Margot.

On June 19, 1953, Ethel and Julius Rosenberg were executed for conspiring to commit espionage. The day Ethel was first arrested in 1950, she left her two young sons with a neighbor, and she never came home to them again. Brilliantly melding fact and fiction, Jillian Cantor reimagines the life of that neighbor, and the life of Ethel and Julius, an ordinary-seeming Jewish couple who became the only Americans put to death for spying during the Cold War.

A few years earlier, in 1947, Millie Stein moves with her husband, Ed, and their toddler son, David, into an apartment on the eleventh floor in Knickerbocker Village on New York’s Lower East Side. Her new neighbors are the Rosenbergs. Struggling to care for David, who doesn’t speak, and isolated from other “normal” families, Millie meets Jake, a psychologist who says he can help David, and befriends Ethel, also a young mother. Millie and Ethel’s lives as friends, wives, mothers, and neighbors entwine, even as chaos begins to swirl around the Rosenbergs and the FBI closes in. Millie begins to question her own husband’s political loyalty and her marriage, and whether she can trust Jake and the deep connection they have forged as they secretly work with David. Caught between these two men, both of whom have their own agendas, and desperate to help her friends, Millie will find herself drawn into the dramatic course of history.

As Millie—trusting and naive—is thrown into a world of lies, intrigue, spies and counterspies, she realizes she must fight for what she believes, who she loves, and what is right.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

I Saw A Man

This is the second post in two days where I have taken the advice of Ann and Michael from Books on the Nightstand.  Owen Sheers' novel I Saw a Man was discussed and recommended a few weeks ago, and since I totally trust these two and their recommendations, I promptly ordered it from Amazon Vine.

This is an interesting novel in many ways.  The lives of four characters intersect.  All are important, none are the lone or central figure in the book.

Michael and Caroline were just newly married when she left for work, going to Pakistan to do some reporting. While there she is accidentally killed by a drone and Michael is devastated, moving from their Wales home to London.

In London Michael is befriended by his neighbors Josh and Samantha who have two young daughters, Rachel and Lucy.  Josh struggles with his high pressure finance job, and Samantha begins to pursue photography more seriously.

The fourth character is Daniel, a man these other characters never meet, but who is the person responsible for Caroline's death, the one who was in control of the drone that killed her.  His guilt has caused him to leave his family and to write Michael a letter explaining his guilt and how the attack happened.

As the novel unfolds the friendship between Michael and Josh and Samantha is a central part of the plot.  

As Josh and Samantha face an enormous tragedy, Michael continues to stand by them.  And unbeknownst to them, Michael is also the person responsible for the tragedy.

Sheers has provided a great deal to think about with the comparisons between to tragedies and what impact the truth has on everyone.  Michael was angered by Daniel's confession, yet he wants to do the same.  Will the truth be better for everyone? 

I Saw a Man is a well written novel with highly developed characters that book clubs will enjoy discussing.  I'm excited to go back and read other books by Sheers and to discuss this one with other readers.

Monday, July 20, 2015

It's Monday and I'm Not Prepared

So, here I thought I had a review all ready to post this morning.  And I do.  However, when I was trying to link it up and post a picture of the cover, it seems there is some confusion about the actual title of the book.  The book I read seems to have undergone a title change and since the publication date isn't until August, I'm going to wait and see what happens with that before posting  my review.

Which means that I can actually post about a book I finished this past weekend.

I'm still processing A Little Life which I finished last night and honestly just don't know what to say about it. 

But earlier this weekend I read Blackout: Remembering the Things I Drank to Forget by Sarah Hepola on my kindle and loved it.

I had already downloaded this to my kindle by the time my very favorite podcasters Ann and Michael (Books on the Nightstand) talked about it, but the tease Ann gave had me starting it right away after I was done listening to their weekly show.

Hepola's work background has given her the skill to be a master at the craft of memoir writing which is a real treat for readers. She is a wonderful writer and storyteller.

And what Hepola tells us is that she began drinking at a very young age. She wasn't the product of poor parenting or anything extremely tragic. She was a child who matured quickly physically and enjoyed alcohol.  She recalls her parents letting her take the last swig of beer from their cans (which must be a hallmark of growing up in the 70s and 80s because I have that same memory) and enjoying the taste of it.

The drinking and partying that accompany high school and college didn't end with her graduation. And with the drinking came blackouts.  Whole periods in time forgotten.  (Hepola explains that these are not truly forgotten periods of her life, but with the presence of alcohol the hippocampus, responsible for chronicling ones' memories, doesn't record them so there is nothing to retrieve).

Eventually waking up with someone in the morning with no idea how she got there becomes something that isn't funny.  

And so Hepola stops drinking.  

And stopping gives her a whole new perspective on who she was and who she is.

If you are someone who loves a good, well written memoir, then Blackout is definitely worth the time.  And, if you have already read Blackout and are looking for something similar, 

Smashed: Story of a Drunken Girlhood  by Koren Zailckas is another memoir of a woman who turns to alcohol.

If you know of other books that are similar, feel free to share them in the comments. And if you've read Blackout or Smashed, I'd love to hear your thoughts.

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Sunday Salon

I've taken a little flack from my family about reading the same book all week long.  It was a slower reading pace than I am used to, but what a book it was!

I am still processing what exactly I can say about Hanya Yanagihara's A Little Life besides, "you must read this book."

Absolutely amazing.  

I just finished it up this afternoon and although I usually have another book I am anxious to get to, right now I am still soaking this book in and not rushing to read anything else. 

The weather is hot here. I love it!  We've had some time at the pool this past week and there will definitely be more afternoons spent there this week.  This coming week is perhaps the last truly free week we have before the end of August.  

Unbelievable, right?  Camps, summer school (for me), doctor appointments, hair appointments, XC camp....things are getting busier already!

The highlight of the past week was our trip to Des Moines to see my sister and her family.  We've never been to the Governor's Mansion before and stopped for a tour as well as managed a little shopping.

Terrace Hill, the Governor's Mansion in Des Moines

Little Sister with her cousin at the mall

After church today I picked up groceries for the week, cleaned up a bit, and read. A nice relaxing day.

How about you?  Was your weekend enjoyable?  Enjoy what's left of it!

Saturday, July 18, 2015

Good Eats

I haven't done a bunch of cooking this week. The girls and I went to Des Moines to visit my sister for a few days so we ate out at Chick-Fil-A and The Cheesecake Factory.  

And it's been so hot that cooking and heating up the house hasn't seemed very desirable.  But then my oldest daughter started talking about blueberry cobbler.  And I found a recipe for broccoli salad on Pinterest. 

So today after I ran we've been cooking a late lunch.

The Broccoli Salad is a favorite of mine but I've only made it once- back when I was newly married and learning how to cook and this seemed like the hardest recipe ever.  I was happy to realize that this recipe is super easy and my cooking skill have advance greatly in the past seventeen years.

1 cup light mayo
1 tsp. celery seed
2 T red wine vinegar (all I had was apple cider vinegar and it seems fine)
1/3 cup sugar

2 heads of broccoli cut into small florets
10 pieces of bacon, cooked and cut into small pieces
1 cup almond slivers
1 1/2 cups seedless red grapes, halved
1/2 c. green onions, sliced

Prepare dressing and refrigerate for 30 minutes
Toss salad ingredients together in bowl
Add dressing

My mom has been known to make this salad, but she'll add raisins and olives which totally wreck it for me.  I am excited that Little Sister loves this salad, too. The two of us took the entire bowl and our forks and were eating it together before anyone else was ready to have lunch.

And for dessert....

Blueberry Cobbler compliments of Big Sister

The recipe was one I had pinned on Pinterest and I was happy that Big Sister wanted to tackle it because it had a lot of text to read through and she was fine with reading the details.

This was the perfect way to end our meal which included barbecued chicken on the  grill and some biscuits. 

And who cares that it was 2:30 in the afternoon by the time we had lunch?  I am of the opinion that it was worth the wait.

 Visit Beth Fish Reads to see other food related posts that are linked up to her weekend cooking meme.

Friday, July 17, 2015

Friday Five

Another week of summer has flown right by!  It's officially midway through July which means that school is just right around the corner - almost.  I'm not quite ready to think about back to school shopping, but my girls are.  

Here are a few not-back-to-school things that caught my eye this week.

1.  Seersucker cropped pants

Maybe I'm stuck in the 60s because of The Astronaut Wives Club, but these seersucker pants are super cute and they are calling my name.  Target has had these in their store for a while and I look at them every time I'm there. One of these days I may just purchase them.

2.  Step Lively Crop

I haven't been to Jordan Creek Mall in Des Moines for a while, so when the girls and I went to visit my sister this week I was excited to see a Lululemon store there.  What nice exercise and casual clothes!  I found a pair of crops on the clearance rack, but was eyeing these pants as well.  

3.  HGTV's show House Hunters: Tiny Houses

Although I claim that I rarely watch television, this summer I've found time to sneak in a few shows.  Last Saturday I watched a few episodes of House Hunters Tiny Houses.  These small homes intrigue me and encourage me to eliminate junk from my house.

4. Aldi

I'm late to the party on this one.  A few friends have been encouraging me to try Aldi for grocery shopping for quite a while.  The major drawback is that it is not very conveniently located.  However, the girls and I took a trip there earlier this week and found quite a few things to purchase.  

The girls were most impressed with the quarter that was plugged in to use a shopping cart- and then returned when the cart was returned

And our favorite purchase- a kit to make funnel cakes at home. Absolute yumminess!

5.  Embroidered Chambray Top

I haven't been to Old Navy in a while, but they've got a lot of new arrivals on their website that I'm liking.  I like the stitching design on this top which I think would be a great back to school wardrobe purchase.

That's this Friday's "Friday Five." What's caught your eye this week?