18 October 2019

10 Random Things for a Friday

  1. While I haven't been doing a lot of writing here, I have caught up on a LOT of reading! Now I just need to take the time to summarize the books I read in September. I'd also like to start cross-posting some of my reviews. So if you like reading, be sure to check back ;)
  2. Fall is decidedly beautiful. While I don't mind a bit of crisp-ness in the air, I hate feeling cold. So my enjoyment of fall is tempered by my dread of winter. Ugh.
  3. I've broken into the Halloween candy already (okay, a while ago!) and now I want a giant box of just Bottle Caps. These things are so good!!
  4. We've planned a busy weekend! We've got the Halloween party at our local Aqua-Tots pool tonight. Jack has a friend's birthday party tomorrow. If the weather is nice on Sunday, I want to check out the train ride and Halloween party at Crossroads Village and Huckleberry Railroad. Hopefully everything falls into place for our fun weekend plans.
  5. Next weekend starts our baton twirling competition season! Our first event is next Sunday in Grass Lake, Michigan. Maggie will do all the events she usually does (but she's been really improving her routines lately!), and Jack will compete in a first contest for his basic march. 
  6. I'm so happy that the elementary and middle schools in our school district have a half day on Halloween, and November 1 off! Yay!
  7. I can't wait to see Zombieland! I didn't try to attend the screening, as it was the same night as Maggie's choir concert, but I have added it to the list of movies I definitely want to see eventually.
  8. Is there anyone else who just hasn't gotten their brain to switch to an online calendar? I tried, honestly, I did. And now I actually maintain both, as hubby wants it all in an online option, but I just need to write things down and see them in my paper planner. 
  9. Know what I forgot to plan tonight? Dinner. For anyone. Hahahaha... The kids have extra baton twirling practice, which starts right after school for Jack. I suppose we'll have to grab something to eat between practice and swimming. Wish us luck!
  10. What's your favorite part of fall? I think I like all of it, and the excitement of Halloween! I'm so glad I got their costumes taken care of early, so now I can sit back and enjoy it. Maggie is dressing as a zombie VSCO girl, and Jack is Ashe Ketchum, the Pokemon trainer.

16 September 2019

On the Start of a New School Year

Well, we're almost a month into the new school year, and it already feels like it should be half done. Hahaha... Mornings are early, people.
My official job is serving breakfast at a local elementary school. I always work 7:30 - 9:30am Monday - Friday. I'm also available to work lunch as a substitute at any school in the district - and I frequently do. I've subbed at four different buildings so far this year.
I'm writing today because I just wanted to share a few breakfast & lunch lady observations with you all.
  • I'm still the same kitchen employee I was last year. One of the brightest moments of my regular job, and of subbing, is seeing kids I knew before, who nearly look surprised to see me again. Not much makes me happier than seeing a kid who may be a little lost or overwhelmed in a new building (like switching from an elementary school to one of our three middle schools). Seeing them is cool enough, but seeing a relieved smile and glow on their face when they see a familiar face? Priceless.
    That being said - Don't worry too much, parents. ALL of the new middle schoolers are a bit overwhelmed. And all of us employees know this and are looking out for them. Trust me - it WILL get better within another month or so. It won't be the same as elementary school (or anything else they were used to last year), but they will get more comfortable and less stressed as it all becomes more familiar.
  • The more things change.... I'm seeing the same kids already low on funds in their account. And it's a huge bummer. I remind them, and we send notes home, but it's the same kids each year, and I feel terrible for them. I wish that if there was ANY question about making ends meet and feeding a child, every parent would fill out the application for free/reduced meals. Just fill out the application. This is really just simple adulting.
    The program is seriously there to help those who need it. Our kids on free/reduced meal plans get the same meals as the rest of the kids - I don't tell ANYONE whose meals are free/reduced. Right now, our district carries over last year's records for free/reduced meals, but starting October 1, I'll have kids slipping through the cracks because their paperwork wasn't filled out again for this year. So please, just do it. 
  • When you see the horror stories about lunch ladies being nasty or refusing kids food who don't have money on their account, please remember there are two sides to every story, and the press publishes stories for your reaction, not necessarily to help anyone.
    I've subbed in several buildings and NEVER seen a child embarrassed or mistreated because of a lack of funds or any other reason. Do I remind children when their account needs money? Yes, I politely do. Do I send them to the back of the line, or take back their food? Never. The worst case scenario is if their account is several meals in the negative, they get a comp meal. Still a full meal, and in my case, a meal that is on offer to everyone in line. I don't like to do it, but I'm annoyed with the parents, not the kids, and I never take it out on the kid. Never.
  • My last observation, and bit of advice, applies to buying breakfast/lunch, riding the bus, and all the other new experiences of school. Unfortunately, I realize it contradicts some teachers' advice. Oh well. Send your kid to do all the new experiences ASAP. Right now is when I'm looking out for confused kids to show them the system. For that matter, so are the older kids (who I sometimes jokingly call my 'old pros'). If your kid comes for a meal in November, we're not sure if they've been through the line before We're still always happy to help if asked, but right now is when we're really keeping an eye out to help the newbies. Send them, we're here and ready to help.

12 September 2019

Books - August 2019

August ended with me finishing SIX more books. I doubt I can keep this kind of pace going now that I'm back to work for the school year. But it was fun while it lasted. It was an almost even split for August, with four books read for review, and two books read just for the heck of it. Enjoy!

Off the Grid by Robert McCaw

I read this one and reviewed it as 5 out of 5 stars for Books I Think You Should Read. It's the second in a series, and I think I would enjoy backtracking to the first book. The setting sounded beautiful (Hawaii), and the characters were engaging. Here's the official Amazon synopsis:

"A scrap of cloth fluttering in the wind leads Hilo police Chief Detective Koa Kāne to the tortured remains of an unfortunate soul left to burn in the path of an advancing lava flow. For Koa, it’s the second gruesome homicide of the day, and he soon discovers the murders are linked. These grisly crimes on Hawaiʻi’s Big Island could rewrite history—or cost Chief Detective Koa Kāne his career.The dead, a reclusive couple living off the grid, turn out to be mysterious fugitives. The CIA, the Chinese government, and the Defense Intelligence Agency, attempt to thwart Koa’s investigation and obscure the victims’ true identities. Undeterred by mounting political pressure, Koa pursues the truth only to find himself drawn into a web of international intrigue.
While Koa investigates, the Big Island scrambles to prepare for the biggest and most explosive political rally in its history. Despite police resources stretched to the breaking point, Koa uncovers a government conspiracy so shocking its exposure topples senior officials far beyond Hawaiʻi’s shores."

A Fist or a Heart by Kristin Eiriksdottir

This is another book that made me grateful to be a book reviewer. I don't think I ever would have picked this one up on my own, but I gave it 3 out of 5 stars in my review. The writing was beautiful, but I found the story a bit convoluted. If I hadn't promised to read it, it may have been set aside before I made it to the end.

"Elín Jónsdóttir lives an isolated existence in Reykjavík, Iceland, making props and prosthetics for theatrical productions and Nordic crime flicks. In her early seventies, she has recently become fascinated with another loner, Ellen Álfsdóttir, a sensitive young playwright and illegitimate daughter of a famous writer. The girl has aroused maternal feelings in Elín, but she has also stirred discomfiting memories long packed away. Because their paths have crossed before. One doesn’t remember. The other is about to forget.Soon they’ll discover all they have in common: difficult childhoods, trauma, and being outliers who have found space to breathe in creative expression. Yet the more Elín tries to connect with the young woman and unbox painful memories, the more tenuous her grasp on reality becomes.
Winner of the Icelandic Literary Prize, A Fist or a Heart is a gripping, artfully interwoven novel of power, secrets, and isolation by one of the most bracing and original voices of the author’s generation."

When a Toy Dog Became a Wolf and the Moon Broke Curfew by Hendrika de Vries

While the title is certainly a mouthful, this was one of my favorite books last month. I gave it 4.5 out of 5 stars in my review. One of the things I found most interesting was that this memoir takes place just a few blocks from where Anne Frank was hidden during the war.

"Born in the Netherlands at a time when girls are to be housewives and mothers and nothing else, Hendrika de Vries is a “daddy’s girl” until her father is deported from Nazi-occupied Amsterdam to a POW camp in Germany and her mother joins the Resistance. In the aftermath of her father’s departure, Hendrika watches as freedoms formerly taken for granted are eroded with escalating brutality by men with swastika armbands who aim to exterminate those they deem “inferior” and those who do not obey.
As time goes on, Hendrika absorbs her mother’s strength and faith, and learns about moral choice and forced silence. She sees her hidden Jewish “stepsister” betrayed, and her mother interrogated at gunpoint. She and her mother suffer near starvation, and they narrowly escape death on the day of liberation. But they survive it all―and through these harrowing experiences, Hendrika discovers the woman she wants to become."

Rival's Break by Carla Neggers

This was another book that had me ready to pack and head on vacation! The descriptions of life on the east coast of the U.S. were great. I reviewed this book on Books I Think You Should Read, where I gave it 3.5 out of 5 stars.
"Emma Sharpe is recovering from a shattering loss while her husband, Colin Donovan, is deep into his latest undercover mission. So they’re grateful to enjoy a peaceful autumn weekend together on the southern Maine coast to celebrate Colin’s brother Andy’s wedding.
But the peace is short-lived when Kevin Donovan, a marine patrol officer, receives a call to check on suspected food poisoning at a party aboard a yacht. Colin decides to tag along. He is surprised to recognize one of the victims as an undercover British intelligence officer, and it quickly becomes evident they’re dealing with something very sinister. At the same time a valuable painting by Irish artist Aoife O’Byrne—a friend of Emma and Colin’s—is missing from the yacht, and the connections make the investigation international and extremely personal.
Emma and Colin discover they are up against a deadly foe who plans to strike again. With the help of HIT, their small, elite Boston-based FBI team, they must foil an attack that will have devastating effects. It’s a case that will alter their lives beyond anything they’ve ever imagined…"

China Rich Girlfriend by Kevin Kwan

This one had been on my library waiting list for a while. I'm working my way through the trilogy now. This is the second book, and I think a movie is yet to be made of it. The first book and movie were both good. I'm on the library waiting list for the third book now. These are great, entertaining books that make it fun imagining how people so different than myself live. I'd give this book 3.5 out of 5 stars.
"It’s the eve of Rachel Chu’s wedding, and she should be over the moon. She has a flawless Asscher-cut diamond, a wedding dress she loves, and a fiancé willing to thwart his meddling relatives and give up one of the biggest fortunes in Asia in order to marry her. Still, Rachel mourns the fact that her birthfather, a man she never knew, won’t be there to walk her down the aisle. 
Then a chance accident reveals his identity. Suddenly, Rachel is drawn into a dizzying world of Shanghai splendor, a world where people attend church in a penthouse, where exotic cars race down the boulevard, and where people aren’t just crazy rich … they’re China rich."

Camino Island by John Grisham

Sometimes my motivation for reading a particular book can be a little funny. I picked up this one from my to-be-read pile because it was a small-ish paperback with short chapters, and you can't go wrong with John Grisham! This book spent the day in my backpack at Cedar Point amusement park, and I read tiny parts of it while waiting for the kids to go on the rides they enjoyed.

A book about collectible books?!? It was a fun premise, and I loved how it all played out. I'd give this one 3.5 out of 5 stars.

"A gang of thieves stage a daring heist from a vault deep below Princeton University’s Firestone Library. Their loot is priceless, impossible to resist.        Bruce Cable owns a popular bookstore in the sleepy resort town of Santa Rosa on Camino Island in Florida. He makes his real money, though, as a prominent dealer in rare books. Very few people know that he occasionally dabbles in unsavory ventures.     Mercer Mann is a young novelist with a severe case of writer’s block who has recently been laid off from her teaching position. She is approached by an elegant, mysterious woman working for an even more mysterious company. A generous monetary offer convinces Mercer to go undercover and infiltrate Cable’s circle of literary friends, to get close to the ringleader, to discover his secrets.
But soon Mercer learns far too much, and there’s trouble in paradise—as only John Grisham can deliver it."

06 September 2019

10 Random Things for Friday

  1. Whew. Friday took way too long to get here! The first week of school is kicking my butt. I've worked extra hours all four days too. What was I thinking?!? Oh, yeah. Paychecks.
  2. The good news? After painting my nails all summer long and not using a base coat, my nails were pretty yellow on Tuesday when I headed back to work (that's not the good news part). But, after doing lots of dishes and bleach washing, the yellow is significantly faded already! LOL
  3. Fall is coming so fast! My phone says it's only 64 degrees out now - and that's for probably the hottest part of the day. Summer took her time getting here, and she seems to be in a big hurry to leave again. You know how I complain about the cold...
  4. Tonight the kids and I are excited for 'pizza and a movie.' It's sort of a tradition on the nights that hubs has something else going on. His plans for tonight canceled, so he'll be here with us! We rented the new Godzilla from Redbox and will pick up a pizza after baton practice.
  5. I'm really enjoying the book I'm reading right now. It's a historical fiction called The Collector's Apprentice. I love the descriptions of the woman's life in 1920's Paris.
  6. I also have to go wash out the garage fridge tonight. Ugh. We're upgrading to the fridge from our rental house, and buying them a new fridge. But a garage beer fridge can get a bit yucky. And I need to un-yucky it before DTE comes to get it tomorrow...
  7. I am not yet used to this waking-up-at-5:30am business. I'm sucking down Cherry Coke like it's my job. And luckily I have GoSip from Cirkul. It's water, but with flavor and caffeine. So everything but the bubbles, I guess? My daughter is liking the non-caffeinated but still flavored water to get around her classroom rules about only having water bottles to drink ;)
  8. While our weekend doesn't seem to have too much planned yet, I need to check the weather and see if it may be a good weekend to visit the Michigan Renaissance Festival. I don't think we've been since the 12-year-old was a toddler, and she doesn't remember going then. It runs til the end of September, so we've got a few weekends left to catch it.
  9. Laundry time! I do like fall fashion choices better than summer, actually. I'm excited to have some jeans to wear. Today I had to take off my work uniform and switch to a maxi skirt, since I was out of clean jeans. 
  10. A cider mill also sounds like a good idea right about now - fall is in the air! What are your big plans?

14 August 2019

Books - July 2019

I finished reading five books in July. Three of them were books from my personal TBR list, and the other two were for review. One of my favorite things about reviewing is the variety of books and genres - I just read what's in front of me, and keep going :) I've found some great books this way!

The Darkest Minds by Alexandra Bracken

My 12-year-old daughter recommend this one a while back, and we watched the movie. Now I'm sort of interested to check out the rest of the series some time. It was a bit similar to The Fever King in the plot - the kids suddenly either got powers, or died. There were a few noticeable differences between the book and the movie, but they didn't really change the overall story much. I'd give the book 4 out of 5 stars.

"When Ruby woke up on her tenth birthday, something about her had changed. Something alarming enough to make her parents lock her in the garage and call the police. Something that got her sent to Thurmond, a brutal government "rehabilitation camp." She might have survived the mysterious disease that killed most of America's children, but she and the others emerged with something far worse: frightening abilities they cannot control.
Now sixteen, Ruby is one of the dangerous ones.
But when the truth about Ruby's abilities--the truth she's hidden from everyone, even the camp authorities--comes out, Ruby barely escapes Thurmond with her life. On the run, she joins a group of kids who escaped their own camp: Zu, a young girl haunted by her past; Chubs, a standoffish brainiac; and Liam, their fearless leader, who is falling hard for Ruby. But no matter how much she aches for him, Ruby can't risk getting close. Not after what happened to her parents.
While they journey to find the one safe haven left for kids like them--East River--they must evade their determined pursuers, including an organization that will stop at nothing to use Ruby in their fight against the government. But as they get closer to grasping the things they've dreamed of, Ruby will be faced with a terrible choice, one that may mean giving up her only chance at a life worth living."

Sullivan's Island by Dorothea Benton Frank

This was a nice summer read. Sullivan's Island is a real place that we almost visited on our last visit to South Carolina. I'd give the book 4 out of 5 stars.

"Set in the steamy, stormy landscape of South Carolina, this New York Times bestseller from the author of Queen Bee is the unforgettable story of one woman’s courageous journey toward truth…

Born and raised on idyllic Sullivan’s Island, Susan Hayes navigated through her turbulent childhood with humor, spunk, and characteristic Southern sass. But years later, she is a conflicted woman with an unfaithful husband, a sometimes resentful teenage daughter, and a heart that aches with painful, poignant memories. And as Susan faces her uncertain future, she realizes that she must go back to her past. To the beachfront house where her sister welcomes her with open arms. To the only place she can truly call home..."

Angel Catbird by Margaret Atwood

While I've read a couple graphic novels for my daughter's battle of the books competitions, I think this is the first one I've sought out on my own to read. Margaret Atwood talked me into it ;). I'd give this one 3 out of 5 stars. Graphic novels will never be my first love... I do plan to read her graphic novel of The Handmaid's Tale soon.

"Internationally best-selling and respected novelist Margaret Atwood and acclaimed artist Johnnie Christmas collaborate for one of the most highly anticipated comic book and literary events!

A genetic engineer caught in the middle of a chemical accident all of a sudden finds himself with superhuman abilities. With these new powers he takes on the identity of Angel Catbird and gets caught in the middle of a war between animal/human hybrids. What follows is a humorous, action-driven, educational, and pulp- inspired superhero adventure--with a lot of cat puns."

The Optimistic Decade by Heather Abel

I read this one to review for Books I Think You Should Read. Check out my full review there to see why I gave it 3.25 out of 5 stars. 

"A smart and sly story about a utopian summer camp, a charismatic leader, and the people who are drawn to his vision, The Optimistic Decade follows four unforgettable characters and a piece of land that changes everyone who lives on it.

There is Caleb, founder of the back-to-the-land camp Llamalo, who is determined to teach others to live simply. There is Donnie, the rancher who gave up his land to Caleb and who now wants it back. There is Rebecca, determined to become an activist like her father and undone by the spell of both Llamalo and new love. And there is David, a teenager who has turned Llamalo into his personal religion.

The Optimistic Decade brilliantly explores love, class, and the bloom and fade of idealism, and asks smart questions about good intentions gone wrong. "

At the Narrow Waist of the World by Marlena Maduro Baraf

This is another book I read for review. I gave it 3 out of 5 stars there, but may have ranked it a bit higher if my Spanish skills were stronger. 

"Raised by a lively family of Spanish Jews in tropical and Catholic Panama of the 1950s and 1960s, Marlena depends on her many tíos and tías for refuge from the difficulties of life, including the frequent absences of her troubled mother. As a teenager, she pulls away from this centered world—crossing borders—and begins a life in the United States very different from the one she has known. 

This lyrical coming-of-age memoir explores the intense and profound relationship between mothers and daughters and highlights the importance of community and the beauty of a large Latin American family. It also explores the vital issues of mental illness and healing, forgiveness and acceptance. At the Narrow Waist of the World examines the author's gradual integration into a new culture, even as she understands that her home is still—and always will be—rooted in another place. "

09 August 2019

Friday, Friday, Friday!

Welcome to Friday! With just a few weeks left til school (and my work) start back up again, I'm feeling even more focused to read, read, read!

I found a few book-ish memes to play along with this week. If that's how you found me, welcome! I've just started jumping on a few memes again lately, remembering how fun they all were way back when this blog was new (15+ years, whoa!).

This is my first time on the Book Blogger Hop from Ramblings of a Coffee Addicted Writer. This week's question (suggested by Elizabeth at Silver's Review) is:
What authors do you always read and recommend?
 I really needed a few minutes to think on this question. See, most of my reading is books I've been given to review. So when I finally get around to choosing, I usually have other people's recommendations or books that I've heard about lately and want to read.
One author I've read some really varied books from and enjoyed is Kristin Hannah. With a lot of books with different characters and subjects, I really feel she has a lot to offer for a variety of readers. Even while recommending her, there are some books of hers that I have yet to read.
I'm excited to read others' responses to this question, since my list of books/authors recommended to me is always growing :)

A couple weeks ago I really enjoyed the Book Beginnings meme from Rose City Reader, so I'm back!

The book I'm reading this week is a translated winner of the Icelandic Literary Prize called A Fist or a Heart by Kristin Eiriksdottir. It starts out:
My hands get no cleaner than an old bathtub. My fingernails are all clipped as short as possible, but the chemicals have managed to claw their way through the dead skin, into the bone. As if there's no enamel.

And last but not least for this week is the Friday 56 from Freda's Voice.

Here is my excerpt from page 56 of A Fist or a Heart:

SON:He'll never leave, will he? And if he does leave, he'll just come right back again?GRANDFATHER:You may have to kill him.
Wow. Sort of a deceptive excerpt - actually an excerpt of an excerpt. Part of the book is about a playwright, and this is just part of a play that character has written.

08 August 2019

Blinded by the Light - My Review

My husband and I had the opportunity to see Blinded by the Light a couple weeks ago. It opens in theaters August 14, 2019. I'm glad we saw it, and it was better than I expected.

In talking on our way home, I said I'd give it 3 out of 5 stars, and hubby said he'd go with 4 out of 5 stars. It's not too often that hubby likes a movie more than me. I think the biggest detractor for me was the camera style. Some of the bike scenes made me a little dizzy. I did enjoy the story, the characters, and the music montages. I also have a soft spot for 80s-based movies. I remember the 80s vividly as my own growing-up years.

The story is about Javed, a British-Pakistani Muslim teenager, who changes his whole view of life in 1987 and finds inspiration when presented with the music of Bruce Springsteen by a fellow student at his high school. The movie is based on Safrad Manzoor's acclaimed memoir, Greetings from Bury Park: Race, Religion, and Rock 'n Roll.