Thursday, December 29, 2011

{a thought for Thursday} The heart of a small boy

"People want to know why I do this, why I write such gross stuff. I like to tell them I have the heart of a small boy ...  and I keep it in a jar on my desk." -- Stephen King

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

{read: time travel fiction} 11/22/63 by Stephen King

The 1950s and early 1960s are as much a character in 11/22/63 as Jake Epping/George Amerberson, and Stephen King brings the time period to life. Who knew that the 1950s stank of cigarette smoke and air pollution from factories? It reminded me of the way Pat Conroy evokes the sense of place in The Prince of Tides, and it's been a while since I've read anything in which the setting was such an important part of the story.

To make a long (800+ pages) story short, Jake finds a time travel hole and sets out to stop the assassination of JFK. But the hole drops him into the 1950s, so he has some time to waste before it's time for his main mission. I was impatient at first and wished that the story could have been shortened by 200 or so pages by dropping Jake closer to the 1960s, but the story soon won me over. This is compulsively readable and gets harder to put down the closer you get to the end.


11/22/63 by Stephen King (Scribner, 2011)
My rating: 4 stars

Thursday, December 22, 2011

{a thought for Thursday} Minds like empty rooms

"Now, 75 years later in an abundant society where people have laptops, cell phones, iPods and minds like empty rooms, I still plod along with books." -- Harper Lee

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

{read: Christmas novel} Winter Solstice by Rosamunde Pilcher

I first discovered Rosamunde Pilcher with her bestselling book The Shell Seekers, which became one of my all-time favorites. Although I read her other books, none compared to that one until Winter Solstice. Re-reading this tale of loss, sorrow, and the journey to grace and hope has become one of my annual Christmas traditions.

Elfrida Phipps plans to while away her retirement years in a quiet English village after a life spent in London on the stage and the tragic death of her lover. But once there, she becomes friends with Gloria and Oscar Blundell and their little girl. When tragedy befalls the Blundells, Oscar asks her to help, and it's off to Corrydale in Scotland for a time of grieving and, they hope, healing. With no plans to celebrate Christmas, they settle in for the winter. Yet when various relatives and acquaintances end up on their doorstep, they reconsider their plans -- not just for Christmas, but for their future. This is a heartwarming story of relationships among friends and relatives, men and women, and children and adults. (I know, that's just about everyone.) It's not sappy, but it has a message of grace and hope that I always find inspiring and grounding.

Winter Solstice by Rosamunde Pilcher (Thomas Dunne Books, 2000)
My rating: 5 stars


Monday, December 19, 2011

{crafts} Last Minute Christmas Crafts

Need a few ideas for some last minute christmas crafts? Check out these projects posted on Random Thoughts of a Supermom:


I don't know about you, but these last few days before Christmas are just a little crazy!
*last minute shopping trips*
*wrapping presents*
*baking lots of goodies*
But if you are ahead of the game this year and are looking for a few quick crafts to tackle before Saturday, here is a list of a four SUPER fun and SUPER easy crafts to try!
#1
If you need to add a little bit of Christmas cheer to your house, you could make a Christmas version of my Candy Bottles. Just add red and green M&M's {or maybe even peppermints} and some vinyl letters, for a quick Christmas craft that can be used throughout the year.
#2
 I also added a little more glitter to my decor this year with some simple letters that I framed.  Cut out the letters of your choice, coat them with glue, sprinkle with glitter, and then framed them.

#3
To keep the kiddos busy, you could let them make these SUPER cute Rudolph Candy Canes. Check out the tutorial over on my friend Liz's blog Sugarplum Creations.
#4 
Check out this really great tutorial on how to make a Tulle and Pearl necklace over at Sumo's Sweet Stuff. This would be a great last minute gift for your sister or friend. I'm thinking of making one using some red tulle I have left over from wrapping presents:)

Thursday, December 15, 2011

{a thought for Thursday} Deadlines

“I love deadlines. I love the whooshing noise they make as they go by." —Douglas Adams

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

{read: baseball and life}: The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach

The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach is a slow starter but once it picks up momentum, it keeps rolling until the end. I put it down after about 150 pages and wasn't sure if I'd pick it back up again, but I kept wondering what would happen to the characters, so I decided to finish it and, surprisingly, it's ended up in my favorites list and with a four-star rating. At its heart, this is a story about what you do when the things you planned and hoped and worked for don't happen, told through the story of three college baseball players, a high school dropout, and a college president. How do you deal with defeat? How do you move on to the next stage, and how do you even figure out what's next? The characters of Henry, Pella, Schwartz, and Owen are all very believable and I found myself rooting for them. They showed growth throughout the book, but it was in small, lifelike spurts.

There were also several passages in this book that I made me say, "Yes! That's it!" It made me reflect again on the fact that the best fiction carries truth at its heart. Harbach and his characters gave words to the same things that I've thought or felt but not been able to express so eloquently.

I do have two criticisms to offer. The first is the use of the word "freshpersons" instead of "freshmen." This alone was almost enough to make me stop reading. Luckily, Henry moves on through college and its use becomes less frequent, but it was very jarring to me. It sounded pretentious and threw me out of the story every time I saw it on the page.

The second is the way the situation with Affenlight was resolved. Without giving it away, I'll say that I saw it coming a few pages before and think it was the easy choice. While it may have been a realistic resolution in terms of the plot, I expected better from Harbach by this point in the book. He had already surprised and delighted me a few times and I thought I could count on him not to take the easy out. That being said, this is definitely still a book worth reading with an excellent, pitch-perfect (baseball pun not intended) ending.

The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach (Little, Brown and Company, 2011)
My rating: 4 stars


Thursday, December 8, 2011

{a thought for Thursday} Saint or sinner?

"Every saint has a past and every sinner has a future." Oscar Wilde

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

{read: book recs} Top reads from 2011

In the spirit of the season, here are some of the best books I've read this year. If you're giving books as gifts, consider an independent bookstore that may have an autographed copy, like Boswell's BooksNext Chapter Bookshop, or Powell's Books. I believe all of these except the memoir were published this year. That's one that's been on my TBR for a long time that I finally got to ... and was glad that I did.

Mystery/thriller from Sweden, Norway, or Denmark
The Keeper of Lost Causes by Jussi Adler-Olsen

Fantasy/sequel
The Magician King by Lev Grossman

Psychological thriller/mystery
Before I Go To Sleep by S.J. Watson
Turn of Mind by Alice LaPlante
The Night Strangers by Chris Bohjalian

Best memoir
Let's Take the Long Way Home by Gail Caldwell

Other great fiction not easily categorized
The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern
A Good Hard Look by Ann Napolitano
The Call by Yannick Murphy
Rules of Civility by Amor Towles
The Tiger's Wife by Tea Obreht

Monday, December 5, 2011

{crafts} crinkle rocket ship {tutorial} from Sew.Craft.Create

This is a super cool crafted toy idea from Sew.Craft.Create!

The best part about this? you get to recycle water bottles!
{make sure you grab the kind with the ridged surface!}


{not pictured: needle, thread, liquid stitch, & batting}

and your done!!!

Thursday, December 1, 2011

{A thought for Thursday} A mind of her own

"Women and cats will do as they please, and men and dogs should relax and get used to the idea." — Robert A. Heinlein

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

{read: WWII fiction with a twist} City of Thieves by David Benioff

I just re-read this for a book club discussion and enjoyed it just as much the second time around. I appreciated the very specific premise of this book, perhaps because I read it again during NaNo: Two young men apprehended by the NKVD in Leningrad during the seige are given a possible reprieve from execution: find a dozen eggs before the wedding of the NKVD colonel's daughter on Thursday. That this task is nearly impossible is almost beside the point. That, in the end, it turns out to have been pointless yet costly seems to underscore the futility and insanity of war.

Kolya is a character who's impossible to resist, and his focus on the trivialities of daily life (what characteristics does Lev have that might make him attractive to the young sniper partisan Vika?) makes the cold, the hunger, and the long walks almost seem bearable. Although everything is a struggle for Lev, life seems to come easily to Kolya. Nothing shakes him, and he has a ready plan for every situation. Yet in the end, we see that Lev has more resources than we might have given him credit for.

City of Thieves by David Benioff (Viking Adult, 2008)
My rating: 4 stars



Monday, November 28, 2011

{crafts} recycled crayons

If you have a lot of old crayons laying around, you can easily recycle them!

Step 1. Gather your crayons


Step 2: Chop them up into small pieces


Step 3: Fill an ice cube tray, if you can find one that has cute shapes, your crayons will be fun shapes!


Step 4: Bake them at about 225 degrees for 20 minutes, keep a close eye on them and take them out when they are melted.


Step 5: Allow to cool, and pop them out of the molds.


Thursday, November 24, 2011

{a thought for Thursday} One step at at time

In honor of all NaNoWriMo participants:
"Writing a novel is like driving a car at night.  You can see only as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way." -- E.L. Doctorow

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

{read: YA bestseller} The Hunger Games

I picked this book up after hearing rave reviews from several friends, even though I'm not usually a sci-fi fan. The straightforward narration made it a quick and easy read, good for NaNo. I couldn't always predict what was going to happen next, and I liked the futuristic hybrid mutations, like the tracker jackers and the mockingjays. I did see Katniss's crisis at the end of the book coming from almost the beginning, though, and am hoping the series doesn't revert into predictability. Although I knew she was going to live through the Hunger Games to make it to books 2 and 3, it was sort of like watching Mission Impossible: the enjoyment is in seeing how the characters get out of impossible situations. The editing wasn't that great and I wish more attention had been paid to punctuation, but I'll definitely finish this trilogy.

The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins (Scholastic, 2008)
My rating: 3 stars

Monday, November 21, 2011

{crafts} Thanksgiving Turkey Shirt

I saw a tutorial for a cute Thanksgiving Turkey Shirt on The Crafty Nest. I created one for my son to wear to his school's Thanksgiving Feast:


{DIY Tutorial} Turkey Handprint Shirt

Turkey Handprint Shirt 1Turkey Handprint Shirt 12

Thanksgiving just isn't complete without a handprint turkey. I turned Logan's little hand into a felt turkey and ironed it on to a shirt that he can wear for the turkey eating festivities. The hardest part of this project was getting a 16 month old to sit still long enough to trace his hand. I plan on cutting out the little turkey and framing it, to be used in my Thanksgiving decorating next year. Happy Turkey Day!

Materials

Shirt (I found mine on clearance at Target)
Heat-n-Bond No Sew Iron On Adhesive
6 Pieces of Different Colored Felt (large enough to fit a tiny handprint)
Scissors
Pen or Pencil
1 Piece of Cardstock
Iron

Turkey Handprint Shirt 3

Directions
Step 1: Trace your little one's handprint on a piece of cardstock. Cut out the handprint.

Turkey Handprint Shirt 4

Step 2: Iron a small piece (big enough for a handprint) of no sew Heat-n-Bond onto the 6 pieces of felt.

Turkey Handprint Shirt 5

Step 3: Trace the entire handprint onto the Heat-n-Bond backing of the piece of felt that you want to use for the turkey's body. I used a brown piece of felt for the body.

Turkey Handprint Shirt 6

Step 4: Trace each finger (except the thumb) onto the Heat-n-Bond backing of 4 different colors of felt. Each finger will get a different color of felt. Cut out the fingers.

Turkey Handprint Shirt 7

Step 5: Cut a wattle (that wobbly red thing on the turkey's neck) out of the remaining piece of felt that you adhered Heat-n-Bond to.

Turkey Handprint Shirt 8

Step 6: Iron the whole handprint onto the shirt. Next, iron on each individual finger and the wattle.

Turkey Handprint Shirt 9
Turkey Handprint Shirt 11

Step 7: Place shirt on child and enjoy your turkey!

Turkey Handprint Shirt 13

Thursday, November 17, 2011

{a thought for Thursday} Reincarnation through translation

All mankind is of one author, and is one volume; when one man dies, one chapter is not torn out of the book, but translated into a better language; and every chapter must be so translated. . . . —John Donne

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

{wordless wednesday} Ice

Time to start getting into the holiday mood!
This was from a show in Washington DC. Everything was made of ice! It was a cold exhibit.


Monday, November 14, 2011

{crafts} Craft organization

This is a beautifully organized craft center. I would love to work in an area this pretty! Do you have an organized craft area? Send your pictures to bookreviewsandcrafts@gmail.com.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

{read: short story/novel) The Imperfectionists by Tom Rachman

I enjoyed the portraits of these quirky characters who had only one thing in common: the international newspaper in Rome that they worked at (or in one case, read). The character sketches are written in the present, and the story of the newspaper itself, beginning with its founding, is told in italics in between the chapters. This switch in time was a little disconcerting at first, probably because I tend to skip subheads (which included the date, the big clue that we were changing time periods) and just start reading the chapters. I found the story of the paper and its founding family much less compelling than that of the reporters, editors, and other employees. My favorite chapter was the one about the copy editor, Herman, and The Bible, which is the paper's style guide. As a former newspaper reporter and current magazine editor, I had to laugh out loud at many parts of this chapter, including his diatribe about the word "literally." 

Although I typically don't like short stories disguised as a novel, these were somewhat linked and kept moving the story forward. I found myself liking it, despite my usual preference for one continuous story over short character portraits. It was an amusing read.

The Imperfectionists by Tom Rachman (The Dial Press, 2010)
My rating: 3 stars

Monday, November 7, 2011

{crafts} Toddler Super Hero Cape


I have found a cute craft to try out. My little one is ready for some dress-up fun and I thought this might be cute:

Here you have it, the most popular, free sewing pattern for superhero capes on the internet.


Thursday, November 3, 2011

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

{read: vet fiction} The Call by Yannick Murphy


Somewhere I saw this book blurbed as "not your father's James Herriot," and I definitely agree. This is written in the first-person style of a vet's log book ("the call," "the action," "the results") and also has some other categories like "what I thought about on the way home" and "what the wife made for dinner." Although the style could be limiting, Murphy brings to life the New England landscape, farms, people, and animals. The story follows the vet as he tries to find out who shot his son in the shoulder while they were hunting, causing him to fall from his tree stand, land on his head, and end up in a coma. The police have no leads, so the vet starts to ask around. It's a small town, and he's convinced that someone knows who shot his son. He begins to suspect some of his clients and makes up reasons to visit them so that he can think of incriminating questions to ask them. In the meantime, part of his past is coming back to lay its hands on his present, and he'll have to make a difficult decision.

Murphy's characters are finely drawn and her language is crisp and clear. This is a quick and engaging read. It's the first book of hers that I've read, but I'd love to pick up another one.

If you like this one book, check out Murphy's blog from September that's posted at Powell's books. It's written in the same style.

The Call by Yannick Murphy (Harper Perennial, 2011)
My rating: 4 stars

Monday, October 31, 2011

{crafts} Owl Halloween Costume

Happy Halloween! Here is the full tutorial of the crafted Toddler Halloween Owl Costume.

My 22 month old son loves this adorable Twinkle Twinkle Little Star video on youtube.


He watches it over and over and sings along. It has a cute little owl singing to a star. The owl is his favorite character, so I decided he should dress up as him for Halloween.

To start the project I am crocheting an owl hat. I figured this would work best because he would never wear any kind of mask, but he may keep a hat on. This project will be posted in
steps, the base of the hat will be the first step.

I found this very clear tutorial and was able to make the base of the hat in just a few hours:

Art of Crochet by Teresa - Baby Crochet Cap with Earflap Option -



After creating the base, I then added the ear flaps, colored trim and the tassels. I am using this video by Brooke Till for the details, but I found the previous video to be a little bit easier to follow when it came to
the basic hat.



Here is my basic hat, ready for the facial details:



.
The next step in creating the owl hat is to create the eyes. I have used the brown and green to match the hat and added white for contrast. This was fairly easy to do because it follows the same pattern as beginning your hat. I now need to sew on the eyes and then move on to the beak and ears. Here is the video tutorial:



After creating the eyes, sew them on with a large needle. Following the video tutorial, sew on the beak. Then you will create the tassels for the ears using the same colors in the braided tassels hanging from the ear flaps. Here is the video tutorial:
Once you are done with the hat, we can move on to the body. I am going to use an old, long sleeved onsie. I found one that is the same color as the green in the hat. I put it on my son and marked where it will be tucked in, only on the front.

We are going to use the back flap of the onsie to create the tail. The next step will be to create the feathers. You will need dark brown fleece or felt, and tan fleece or felt. I got 1/2 yard of the dark brown
and 1/8 yard of the tan.

I created a template for the feathers. There are many different sizes on this template, so you can print and use what will suit your needs.
I started at the bottom of the onsie, using the larger sized feathers. I cut enough to fit around the front and back. I used a hot glue gun to attach them.

On the back, I filled the onsie flap with feathers to create the "tail" of the owl.

I worked my way up the front and back, gluing the feathers so that they overlapped each other. I made the feathers a bit smaller as they reached the top. This made the process longer, but the results were worth it. The change in size helped create a more realistic look. I used the lighter tan fabric for the belly. Here is a final image of my son in the costume, photos courtesy of Kit Abeldt.


I then took the photo and placed him into a screen shot of the Twinkle Twinkle video. I can't wait to see his reaction to this photo. My final step to the project was creating a star for him to carry around. He would not wear the hat at all leading up to this weekend. When the star was complete, he understood the costume and then would not take of the hat! Sometimes things just work out!