12 July 2017

Reading Challenge - Book 15

I finished up my 15th book for this year sometime during June, I think. As usual, Liane Moriarty did not disappoint. I read this book to satisfy the seventh category on the list - 'a book that is a story within a story.'

The Last Anniversary by Liane Moriarty is difficult to talk about without giving away too much. It starts out about a 20-something girl, Sophie, who has inherited a house when an ex's elderly Aunt Connie passes away. Sophie's unique outside perspective is perfect for telling the intricate tale of the Aunt Connie's family.

The inherited house is on the tiny Australian island of Scribbly Gum. The only other houses on the island are inhabited by other family members, who all run a big festival each year on the island to celebrate the Baby Munro Mystery - the history of Enigma, the baby found just days after her birth by Aunt Connie and her sister. As Sophie moves into her new house, though, Scribbly Gum island may be preparing to celebrate the anniversary for the last time.

I loved Liane Moriarty's characters again, and I loved to fantasize about living on the quaint little island with them all. The plot twists and other discoveries were very entertaining, . From dealing with love lost, what to do about one's biological clock, finding 'Mr Right,' and post-partum depression, all the way to solving a random murder mystery on the last page, this book kept me reading and interested to find out how the stories ended for them all. I would definitely recommend this book.

07 July 2017

Proven Winners Direct GIVEAWAY

There are some blogging opportunities I really look forward to each year, and I was so excited to be able to work with Proven Winners Direct again this year. You may remember last year that I received a beautiful DIY hanging basket that grew better than anything I've ever had, and was able to give one away as well.

This year I was thrilled to hear from them while working on planting some new bushes and re-doing our front porch area. They wanted to send me four gallon containers of the exclusive At Last roses. While we'd just planted butterfly bushes and coreopsis, I knew just where I wanted to add in some gorgeous roses. I considered sharing them with my mom, but after having torn up everything around our front porch at Mothers' Day, we had plenty of room.

It was almost instant gratification - within a week I had a huge box with holes in it placed gently on my favorite porch chair, and was grabbing my gloves to start planting these thorned beauties. Having flowers shipped always worries me, but Proven Winners Direct has it down. The box is super sturdy, and the gallon planters are safely divided from each other so everything looks like I could have carried it out of the nursery myself. I actually had to put in some effort tearing the box down so I didn't get all stabbed up with the thorns while trying to remove all four plants from the box. Then they had plastic carefully tied and taped across each pot so the soil stayed put during transit. Super impressive, and safely delivered.

These three pictures are my real At Last roses, and trust me, I'm no green thumb. I hurried to get my four plants in the ground before the rain came that day, and I've fertilized them a couple times, and tried to water every day. These flowers just keep coming! The corner with the three plants looks best first thing in the morning (when I'm not typically out to take a picture!), and the other one glows after getting the morning sun for a bit since it's at the other end of the porch.

Plant Details:

Top three reasons to grow At Last rose:
  • Combines fragrance and disease-resistance
  • Easy care: no spraying required, no need for fussy pruning.
  • Very long blooming, with flowers present from late spring through frost.

Garden Height:  30 - 36 Inches
Spread:  30 - 36 Inches
Light Requirement: Sun
Bloom Time:  Summer through Fall
Hardiness Zones:  5a, 5b, 6a, 6b, 7a, 7b, 8a, 8b, 9a
Soil Fertility Requirement:  Average Soil
Water Category:  Average

Maintenance Notes: 
To keep it looking great, simply prune back by at least one third its total height each early spring, just as the new buds begin to emerge on the stems. Make your cut just above a thick, healthy bud, as these produce the most vigorous growth. It can also be fertilized at this time with a granular rose fertilizer.

The plant may be deadheaded if desired, but this is not required for continuous bloom.

Want a chance to win your own four gallon At Last roses before you can buy them in 2018? Those who win a rose bush should be willing to share what they will do with it (give it to a friend or an interesting landscape idea) by posting a photo using #atlastrose and tagging ‘Proven Winners Direct’ on Facebook. This will enter you for a chance to win more roses!
To enter, comment here with your favorite feature of the At Last roses! Please leave your email as well, as I need to be able to contact you for more information when I draw a random winner on Tuesday, July 11 at 9pm ET.

I received these gorgeous and fragrant roses in exchange for my unbiased review. 

20 June 2017

Reading Challenge - Book 14

The 14th book I read this year was essentially a recommendation by my nine-year-old daughter. She started reading The Forbidden Library sometime last year, and I remember her carrying it everywhere during holiday break from school. It is the first of a trilogy, and the other two books were purchased with a holiday gift card and are waiting on her bookshelf for both of us to read. She hasn't finished this one yet, and may have been a bit annoyed with me for finishing it in one weekend. ;)

The Forbidden Library by Django Wexler satisfied the 17th category on my reading challenge list very well - a book involving a mythical creature. Mythical creatures were kind of the point of this book. After Alice's father is on a ship that sinks and he's presumed dead, she is sent to live with a mysterious uncle whom she has never met. Before long she figures out that everything may not be as it seems, and she has some abilities that go beyond anything she practiced at her previous school.

Alice finds herself learning about and battling a variety of unique mythical creatures, and can't be sure for long who to trust for assistance in her adventures. She spends much of the first book learning about herself, those around her, and her newly discovered gifts.

I love books that stretch my imagination, and this one definitely fit the bill. I also love characters, and those found in this book are definitely one-of-a-kind. I'd recommend this book for young readers (grade 4 - 7) who enjoy fantasy in the style of Harry Potter.

16 June 2017

The End of an Institution

I know I'm here today to gripe about #firstworldproblems. Now you know too. So continue at your own discretion. LOL

My daughter's school is changing. Our district (which is excellent) used to have three 'focus' elementary schools, and four neighborhood elementary schools. The focus schools were based on 1) an arts curriculum, 2) a balanced (or year-round) calendar, and 3) a multi-age concept. We were at the multi-age school. To make a really long story that essentially wrapped up last November, short - the focus schools cost more in transportation, so they no longer exist starting next fall. And a traditional school had to close as well, to 'right-size' our number of spaces vs number of elementary students. We now have six traditional elementary schools, and where you go is determined simply by where you live. We happen to live in the area for our same school building, but the educational format is changing.

I've never been happy with the board's decision, but I also never did much to get involved, so I don't feel like I can really complain. I wonder now quietly how much is being saved financially. The busses still run for the elementary twice in the morning and twice in the afternoon, albeit over a shorter route since the students are sorted by location. Oh, and now some of the middle school kids need to be bussed mid-day to their previous school to continue their chosen foreign language, since not all languages are at all schools.

So this sounds like some crazy, confusing meandering. But I really, really liked my daughter's first five years of elementary school with the multi-age set-up. Kindergarten was its own class, then there was a first/second grade split with 50 kids and two teachers, and the same for third/fourth. Fifth grade has always been its own animal, so that isn't even really changing for her. Unfortunately, out of nearly 600 students at the school's last day today, I've heard that less than 100 will return to the same building next fall. Most of the closed traditional school is redistricted to our building.

I'm a bit sad, and even my super-resilient kid has said that EVERYONE will cry as school lets out today. We'll have our regular fifth-grade clap-out for the last day, and this time it's the kids who were in her class last year that we'll be clapping out. I've cried at the clap out every year! When she was in kindergarten, we knew maybe five fifth-graders, but I still cried. This year? I may be publicly emotional, and that's not my thing. I cried alone in the car after dropping her off this morning.

It's change. Change isn't usually easy, and while I'm sure next year will again be great, and we'll make new friends and have new adventures, right now I'm sad.

05 June 2017

Reading Challenge - Book 13

If you are an Amazon Prime member, but not taking advantage of your free Kindle book each month, you're missing out! Around the first of each month, they send me four - usually very different - books to choose from, and I get one on my Kindle for free. In May, I chose The Lioness of Morocco by Julia Drosten, which is scheduled for publication June 1, 2017. Yup - I read it before then.

I haven't been following my actual reading challenge list to choose books to read this year, but this one fits the eighth category on the list - a book with multiple authors. I discovered this in the 'About the Author' section on its Amazon page: "Julia Drosten is the pseudonym for a two-person writing team based in Münsterland, Germany." This is their first novel translated and published in English. Isn't that interesting?

The woman who later became known as the Lioness of Morocco started out as a sheltered girl in London, fast on her way to becoming an old-maid. When at age 23 she recognizes marriage as her best option to get out from under her father's rules, she wastes no time in becoming the wife of an ambitious member of her father's company. Once they take a business assignment in Morocco, she really begins to spread her wings.

I really enjoyed this book, as our heroine Sibylla navigates life in a foreign country, raising her family, and substantial changes to her circumstances with bravery and grace. While I tend to not think ahead too much, I did see the surprise twist at the end coming from miles away. But I still enjoyed the journey getting there, and all the details of the story in the interim. I would recommend this book as a great summer read where your mind can take a colorful vacation, even if the rest of you stays at home relaxing for a bit.

16 May 2017

Reading Challenge - Book 12

Oh boy. My daughter really wanted me to read this book after her fourth-grade class read it at school. She liked it so much we got the follow-up book (not a sequel) as one of the audiobooks we took on an Easter weekend trip. Then she was worried that I already knew some of the original book because of the other character's viewpoints in the follow-up. But it was all good.

I read Wonder by R.J. Palacio as the 12th category on the PopSugar Reading Challenge (which is interesting, since it's also the 12th book I finished so far this year). The category I read this for was 'a bestseller from a genre you don't normally read.'  And on the Amazon site, I see that it's also being made into a movie - and you should know by now how I love when that happens!

Wonder is about August Pullman, a boy with facial deformities who is attending public school for the first time as a fifth grader. Up until fifth grade, he's been homeschooled, mainly because his extensive surgeries would have required him to miss a lot of school. The book is about Auggie's fifth grade year at Beecher Prep and his relationships and interactions with the other students, many of whom have known each other for their whole school careers. Having listened to Auggie & Me: Three Wonder Stories first did color a bit of my interpretation when reading the book, as I got to know other characters before Auggie. I don't think the change in my interpretation changed the overall message of the book at all though.

This is one of those books that all school kids should read in this generation. It is recommended for readers in 3rd - 7th  grade (ages 8-12). It has also brought to mind some books that were universally read when I was growing up, which is kind of fun. If you haven't read Wonder yet, you should totally check it out. And then maybe even see the movie!

12 May 2017

10 Random Things for Friday

  1. I need to have a good long sit-down with my calendar. I've been scheduling lots of summer stuff lately, but I'm starting to worry about it overlapping. I almost forgot the Memorial Day parade, and my daughter has been in that for YEARS!
  2. I finally put a UV filter in my aquarium. Some stuff I found said my 13-gallon shouldn't need one, but I've got algae that is obviously from the sun, and the algae eater starved because of it (I assume he starved. I assume he was a he. Anyway, I never found his corpse, so maybe he just moved to another tank?).
  3. It seems ridiculous, but I'm still cold. I think we might have hit 70 degrees yesterday, but I'm still cold to my bones.
  4. Sometimes I wish I could be as excitable as my kids. My son will not stop talking about the fact that we now have two Wii controllers. It's been almost two weeks, and this is still worth shouting from the rooftops for him.
  5. I've moved my laptop out of my office and back down to the kitchen. I kind of like hanging out with everyone else, when there isn't work I really need to 'focus' on most of the day. I can focus while everyone else is at work and school.
  6. What's for dinner tonight? There were a few posts floating around earlier in the week with taco salad, which sort of starting a taste for it for me. So that's what's here. Taco salad. The good stuff, with Doritos and Catalina dressing.
  7. I also need a simple-ish dessert to bring to a lunch on Sunday. I'm gone for an undetermined amount of time on Saturday, so I need something that I'll potentially be making on Sunday morning to take with us...
  8. Anyone have experience with butterfly bushes? That's what I want to replace our old icky shrubs with, right by our front porch. Hopefully next weekend.
  9. Have I mentioned lately how much I love my handheld Dyson that I got in late fall with my Posh Points? I can just carry it around and make little messes disappear. Good times.
  10. Anyone else have big plans coming up? I'm just ready for a good long nap. LOL