How to Have a Nice Weekend

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Lots of pictures in this one.

I had a partially crappy Friday, complained about it online, and got the very good advice from my friend Becky to have a wonderful weekend with my boys. So here are some of the things that I did:

On Saturday we attended Meredith and Aaron’s Harry Potter Hootenanny, which is not the proper name for it, but I like the way it sounds and am going to repeat it out loud and in print repeatedly until it sticks.

We were told that we didn’t need to do anything in particular, except that H was requested to come as Harry. Late (too late for the stores) on Friday I came up with an idea, so I got up early on Saturday morning, dashed to the craft store, and made him a shirt.

We played Quidditch, drank butterbeer, made wands, ate cauldron cakes and ton tongue taffy, watched movies, and played with a cute puppy.

Yer a wizard, Henry!

Leaky Cauldron

Quidditch

Meeting Bailey

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On the Swing

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After church today, I planned to make an exchange, buy some groceries, and clean out a section of the garage. By the time I’d finished the first two things, it was REALLY hot, so I worked indoors for a while. I got the kitchen clean, except the floor (we need to get a new mop) which was annoying but felt good to have done.

Then I had Ryan assemble the thing I’d exchanged — a plant rack — and I sat on the front porch during a short-lived thunder storm, repotting some wilting geraniums I’d rescued from the Shopko clearance lot. We’ve found that if we can keep geraniums alive for years if we bring them in to a sunny warm spot during the winter, and I’ve got a nice little geranium garden made up mostly of clearance plants. When I made my exchange I got suckered into a pot of petunias and marigolds, too, even though they don’t exactly match my other flowers. I repotted, cleaned out the dead stuff, rearranged all the pots with the new racks/stands, fertilized and watered, and swept out all the cobwebs that gather on our porch. 

front porch

H has a few things that he really loves and has ALWAYS really loved, and high on that list are trees and chimey music — like music boxes or windchimes. One of his Christmas presents was a small windchime that I hung up outside the house, but the wind never got it, and then one of the chimes fell off, and then the whole thing fell down. This evening I finally got around to fixing it and I hung it in a new place, in the tree over H’s little chair.

We took him out there and the look on his face would melt the polar ice caps. He beamed, played them, looked back and forth between us and the chimes, talked to them, and said something that I’m going to go ahead and pretend was “pretty” and “thanks”.

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IMG_8331Then we read a story.

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At about that point, the sprinklers came on a few doors down, and H decided he needed to go investigate. He likes splashing in water, but hasn’t historically been a big fan of water that moves — the fountains at the splash pool were a big bust earlier this summer. My camera started acting stupid at this point and recorded only about half of what we thought it was recording (grrr — missed a very cute several minutes where H was “talking” very animatedly about the sprinklers) but we did get some of him discovering and… enjoying(???) the sprinklers. He was out in them for about fifteen minutes and cried when we took him inside.

I’m really not sure if he was enjoying it, or just found it very disturbing and confusing. Check out his facial expression and tell me what you think:

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All in all, a very good weekend. Didn’t get everything done that I meant to do, but I got some very good things done, and I had some wonderful times with my boys. Just might be able to face the week now. :)

 

 

 

Reading Update 28

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SGF Reading

Reading Update: Today is Thursday, July 17. As of today, I have read 69 books toward my goal of 100; two of them have been since the last update. The two books I’ve read so far are:

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Siege and Storm is the sequel to Shadow and Bone. I like this series, although it falls in kind of a strange zone for me. For the most part, it seems to be middle school level — but then there’s this undercurrent of darkness and sexuality that makes it more YA. I mean, there’s nothing happening or anything, but there’s this sort of sense that it will, y’know? Anyway, it’s a pretty great dark fantasy sort of thing, with interesting characters (albeit somewhat thinly written).

Dangerous is the latest by Shannon Hale, and it’s science fiction! It’s a superhero story, an alien story, a love story, and an adventure story. It reminded me of both The Fantastic Four and Ender’s Game. I liked the characters, especially the strong female protagonist, and I liked how it wasn’t nice and neat and whitewashed. I didn’t like the way that huge spans of time were wiped away in a single sentence, but I guess that comes from trying to edit a book down to a length and pace appropriate for young readers. It wasn’t the greatest book I’ve ever read, but I’m hoping for a sequel.

Currently Reading/Looking Ahead: I need to find a good read to review for GLW. I put Ready Player One in my bag this morning but am not enthused.

Virtual Shopping

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For some reason, I’m having a really hard time organizing my thoughts into blog posts this summer, so instead of getting to read about the various fascinating things going on inside my head, you’re getting a heaping dose of “things I thought were adorable when I saw them on Zulily.” Hooray for window shopping! Just about as fun as real shopping and a lot easier on the bank account.

First off, how precious is this? Definitely a must-have for every one-year-old’s back-to-school wardrobe, don’t you think? [link]

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In love with this sweet little t-shirt. I’ve seen camera shirts before but this is by far my favorite that I’ve seen. [link]

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How completely sweet are these personalized wooden buttons? I’d have to figure out something I could sew to use them — or since they’re 2″ across, maybe they could just be keepsakes/playthings. [link]

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What’s the best part of these pajamas? Is it that they’re superhero pjs? That they’re orange? Or is it that they have Daddy’s initials on them? Would be pretty awesome when he’s big enough to understand. [link]

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I’m fascinated by these magnetic wooden blocks. They cost a ruddy fortune but they seem like a really wonderful idea, don’t you think? [link]

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A fair-isle-style sweater with robots. What’s not to love? I die. [link] (I’m also pretty crazy about the gray and blue version, gotta admit.)

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Choo-choo pants. What’s not to love? [link]

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I’m a complete sucker for hoodies with critter ears. [link]

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I love this bear so much that I’m pretty sure this is at least the second time I’ve shared it. I love the texture of it (baby crack!) and the facial expression and the cute color (H’s favorite word right now is “blue”). Kind of pricey but hey, imaginary money, right? [link]

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H has a tool belt and a workbench, so he probably needs this, don’t you think? Just wish it were a t-shirt instead of a onesie, though. [link]

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More fantastic onesies that I wish were t-shirts: his favorite song, his parents’ favorite way to respond to essay questions, and awesomeness. [link]

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And finally, come next Halloween, H’s Daddy is going to need a Halloween costume, don’t you think? [link]

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Okay, I’d better return to the real world now. And yes, I know there’s nothing on here for me (unless you count enjoying baby clothes “for me”) but that’s because everything I want right now is on Zillow, not Zulily…

 

 

Reading Update #27?

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SGF Reading

Reading Update: Today is Thursday, July 10. It is hard to remember to blog during summer break, especially when I am prepping for and teaching summer school, and also doing a bundle of other things… oops. But here I am. As of today, I’ve read 67 books toward my goal of 100 for 2014.

Since last time, I’ve read the following eight books:

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Not so very much to say about Corduroy and Pooh Loves unless you’re reading to a toddler…

The Assassin’s Blade is a collection of prequel novellas in the Throne of Glass series. I was expecting them to be dreadful, but they were pretty good, and made me all the more eager for the next book to get published.

Graceling is one of those books that had been recommended to me several times by various friends. It focuses on a young woman who has the Grace (think Xanthian Talent, or superpower) of near invincibility. She’s a powerful fighter and nothing seems able to hurt her. In rapid succession she rebels against her king, rejects her suitor, chops off her hair, falls in love, and runs off on an adventure. It was interesting enough that I read it very quickly, and would like to read the other two books in the series so far, but I don’t really see what all the fuss is about. It felt thin, and I feel like other books have done the same basic story better.

Shadow and Bone is the first in yet another YA fantasy trilogy, this one taking place in a fantastical Russia-ish land. Its protagonist is a orphaned girl conscripted into her country’s military, who discovers an unrealized magical power when she and her beloved friend are attacked. From there she is swept up into a world of glamour and intrigue — and betrayal. I thought this was really well done; I actually cared about the characters, even though they were written in simpler strokes for younger readers. For the first 3/4 of the book I felt it was a pretty great middle grade fantasy in the Narnia vein; later, some more adult situations complicate things, and the very end of the book felt quite rushed and thrown together. Altogether, I quite enjoyed this one and am anxious to read the next book.

The Daughter of Smoke and Bone series was recommended to me by J, and I’d heard a lot of positive chatter from other sources. Here is a place where the hype was right! SUCH a good story. Karou is an eccentric art student in Prague, but of course this is one of those classic “quirky character is more than s/he appears to be and is in fact a messiah figure” tales. The character writing is fantastic, and the complicated moral ground and romantic subplot make this sophisticated enough for adults.

Currently Reading/Looking Ahead: I picked up The Season last night but I’m not impressed. May go by my library this afternoon and pick up Siege and Storm. As long as I’m catching up with my MG/YA collection I probably ought to pick up some realistic fiction, but I’m just not in the mood right now.

Review: Throne of Glass by Sarah J. Maas

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[Cross-posted at GuysLitWire]

Let’s face it: we are all of us, but perhaps especially young guys, guilty of judging books by their covers. That’s why books have cover art, after all, and it’s why we have terrific, heated conversations about that art when it doesn’t match up to reader — or worse, author — expectations. (An example.) It’s no surprise that a book with a really kickbutt cover can gain wings to fly off the shelves, which is how Throne of Glass by Sarah J. Maas got selected for my middle school library and why I had to wait until summer vacation to get my hands on a copy.

The ingredients:

  • a ferocious, sexy female assassin
  • two male best friends, both smitten by said assassin, neither willing to violate Bro Code by pursuing her since the other also likes her
  • an evil king
  • a rebel princess
  • political intrigue
  • a competition to the death
  • a mysterious power lurking in the bowels of the castle
  • a fairy tale land that has lost its magic

This book, its sequel (Crown of Midnight), and its collected prequels (The Assassin’s Blade) proved enormously popular with my male readers, so I was imagining that it was an action-packed magical gorefest. By the time I finally got the chance to read them, I was surprised to find that these were much more feminine than I would have guessed. The heroine, Celaena, is almost disturbingly vain and girly, and the love triangle takes up a significant chunk of the story. Celaena is obsessed with her appearance and uses it like any James Bond femme fatale would — as a weapon. And as the series progresses, things in that love triangle heat up to a degree that had me running for my roll of YA stickers.

And yet, despite being clearly focused on things more commonly attributed as “girl” interests, they remain a hot commodity among my guys. There’s a lot of good fighting, dark mystery, and a thread of high fantasy running through the tale. Yeah, the guys are starry-eyed for their pet assassin, but they don’t stop acting like dudes — they still fight, they still notice other girls, they do their jobs, and they don’t forget to think about their guy friends. There are weapons, enchanted objects, duels, and betrayals aplenty.

It also bears mentioning that this series has a prominent, powerful, female PoC character, it passes the Bechdel test, and the courting behavior of the male characters would be a pretty decent example to the young men who read it.

In all honesty, this series started weak to me. Book 1 (Throne of Glass) is kind of disjointed, with an assassin who worries about breaking her nails and a bunch of bad guys with murky motivation. Something about the characters and premise made me go back for more, though, and I am SO glad that I did. Crown of Midnight was outstanding, and left me anxious for book 3 (to be released this September; Maas anticipates writing 6-7 in total, thus breaking the oh-so-common Rule of Three in YA literature). The prequels were surprisingly good as well, and did a lot to round out Celaena’s character development.

I’d recommend this series for teens and young adults, probably grade 8 and older. Guys and gals alike will find something to love about these books.

Reading Updates #22 & 23

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SGF Reading

Reading Update: Today is Thursday, June 12. It is summer break and I have completely forgotten to do my reading updates for the past week and a half. Take me out of the school and my internal calendar completely breaks down! As of today I have read 59 books toward my new goal of 100 books.

Since last time, I’ve read the following three books:

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Crown of Midnight is book two in a series and manages a rare feat: it is a rare sequel that greatly surpasses the first book! I thought book 1 was sort of meh, but something about the story brought me back for book 2. Now I’m aggravated that I have to wait for book 3 (and am planning to read the prequel collection pretty soon here). I’m also a little disturbed about this book’s popularity with preteen boys; they DEFINITELY warrant a YA sticker by the time we get to Crown!

Finally finished up volume 1 of The Absolute Sandman.  I feel like it’s kind of wrong to rate it because I’m caught mid-story, so I don’t really know how the whole thing will fall together. At this stage I ended up giving it a 4 of 5, just because it hadn’t yet earned that fifth star for me (unfinished story) and because I still, as always, struggle with the visual format. I’m just such a wordie, and I don’t find it easy to read a narrative with so much left unsaid. Comic books (which this is, really, as opposed to a graphic novel) always leave me a little disoriented.

I picked up Affliction because I had to. I’m a devotee of this series even though it has started to SUCK (and not in a vampire way). To my complete and utter glee, this was actually a good book! It had a plot! Things happened! Not just things, but things OTHER THAN sexcapades and long philosophical conversations! Yeah, there was a zombie apocalypse, and I’m not much of a zombie person, but this book was good old-fashioned classic Anita Blake and I loved it. Here’s hoping Hamilton has more like it in mind for books 23+.

Currently Reading: Right now I’m s-l-o-w-l-y reading an issue of Mental Floss, because that’s about where my ability to focus is these days.

Looking Ahead: The Maas prequels, maybe?

Reading Update #21

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Reading Update: Today is Monday, May 27.  As of today, I have read 56 books toward my new goal of 100.

Since last week, I read the following books:

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I’ll start with the picture books and move up.

A Pocket Full of Kisses is apparently a sequel, but I didn’t realize that when I read it. I was immediately drawn to the artwork and the fact that it’s about raccoons. I really loved raccoons when I was little. Thought I’d have one as a pet one day (thanks, Sterling North); my most threadbare stuffed animal from my childhood is Rocky, my beloved raccoon. As an adult living in a place where raccoons are a reality instead of a fun idea, I’ve come to learn that they aren’t exactly the endearing woodland friends of my early imagination, but I still find them — and their adorable hands! — fascinating. Anyway, in this book, the main character is a raccoon who is trying to adjust to having a new baby brother. He’s becoming annoyed at the way his brother encroaches on his life, and worries that his mama may not love him as much now that she has two children. Mama Raccoon puts his fears to rest by giving him extra kisses to keep in his pocket. It was very sweet, and now I want to track down the first book!

New Baby Train is an adorably illustrated folk song offering up an alternative theory to the whole “stork” thing. Rather than tell you more, I’ll point you in the direction of a YouTube video that brings song and book together:

Moving on from little kid books to YA books, we have Throne of GlassI’d been wanting to borrow this from our school library for a while but hadn’t gotten around to it before this past weekend. The cover art, concept, and its popularity with my pickier fantasy-loving boys drew my attention. It’s the first in a series (six novels projected, plus a collection of prequel novellas); book 3 comes out in September. It features a young female assassin fighting to win a position as the King’s Champion — but more importantly, for her promised freedom after four years of royal service. On the positive side of the equation, I read this book quickly and eagerly, and have book 2 sitting at hand. I liked that there is a strong supporting character who isn’t a Generic White Person. On the negative side, the characters left me flat. The protagonist is annoyingly and unrealistically vain and immature; I couldn’t work up any interest in which boy would win the girl. And the book suffers badly from purple prose. That said… book 2. Here next to me. So there’s obviously something working correctly here. (Also: Why do my male students like this book so much? It’s very girl-oriented. The book even mentions menstruation! Interesting.)

And moving on from YA books, past adult books, into Adult Books, we have Possession. This is book 5 in the Fallen Angels series by J.R. Ward. It’s an urban fantasy, heaven vs. hell epic, peppered liberally (well, not so much in this book, which was a welcome change of pace) with steamy scenes of demonic, angelic, and human sexcapades. Definitely classy reading. I liked this one better than some of the previous installments; it’s definitely not great literature, but better than your average romance novel and on the upper end of the majority of urban fantasies I’ve read, so there you have it. Start at the beginning with Covet if this genre is your cup of tea.

Currently Reading: I need to wrap up The Absolute Sandman Vol. 1.

Looking Ahead: Crown of Midnight (sequel to Throne of Glass) is in the wings…