Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Book Review:: Henry's List of Wrongs

You know that old saying, "don't judge a book by it's cover?"  Well, I'm guilty in this case.  A couple of years ago, I bought this book solely because it's cover was gray and yellow, and I thought it would look pretty on my shelf.  I never bothered to crack it open to see what it was about...I just liked the title and the simplicity of the hardback.  Fast forward to a few days ago, when I finished up The Road and none of my holds at the library had arrived yet.  So, much to my dismay, I was without a book.  The vast majority of the books I own are non-fiction.  I'm on a total fiction-kick lately, and I'm not in the mood to re-read anything at the moment.  So my choices were fairly limited.  I perused the shelves until I rediscovered this one, and I was pleasantly surprised that the story between the covers was worth the read!

This is a story about forgiveness and redemption.  The title character, Henry, allows one heartbreaking incident steer his entire life in a very focused direction.  He decides to get his revenge on the breaker-of-his-heart by overcoming giant hurdles to become an undeniable success...and then rub it in her face.  On the way to the top, a summit he does indeed reach, he remorselessly crushes anyone in his path, including friends and family.  While on the task of what he believes is the final roadblock to bring his vengeance full-circle, he discovers that the girl who broke his heart a decade before truly loved him and was only trying to protect him.  This devastating realization that the sole purpose of the past ten years has been a lie, and the reality of the damage he's done to the lives of others reels him.  Mid-stride on his way to jumping off of his hotel balcony, the housekeeper--a psych student--stops him and convinces him to rethink suicide.  Instead, she helps him devise a list of the top five wrongs he's committed, and together, they travel the country asking for forgiveness.  On this bizarre journey, it becomes clear that Henry isn't the only one with skeletons in his closet.  As each wrong is righted, Henry takes another step back towards who he used to be, but at the same time, is walking away from the very lucrative life he's spent so much effort attaining.

This was a really quick read; I finished it in three sittings.  It was littered with curse words that, for the most part, were completely unnecessary, but were at least true to the character development.  It was a feel-good story about it never being too late to make things right, even the most horrible things.  It's not about undoing those things...we all know that the past is the's about owning up to our mistakes, being accountable, and asking forgiveness.  And then, changing.

To be honest, it was really just so nice to read a book with a optimistic tone and happy ending.  So long as gratuitous cursing and references to sexual immorality (promiscuity) do not offend your sensibilities, it's worth the read! 

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Book Review:: The Road

Man.  This one was tough.  Way too real.  I'm left with a stunned, broken heart after finishing up the last page.  I've never read a book in which I thought, "the only happy ending is, 'then everyone died, the end.'"

That said, it was another book I could not stop reading.  One element that led to its can't-put-it-down status is the unique format with which it was written.  No chapters.  Just one long string of brief paragraphs constructed of beautifully poetic blunt sentences.  No frivolous use of quotation marks, just tit-for-tat conversations.  The entire novel is written in third person, and the two main characters are simply referred to as "the man" and "the boy."  The geographic locations are not specified either, which lends further to the eerie feeling of "this could be anyone, including you." This is not to say that this was not a graphically descriptive was, and heartbreakingly so.

From cover to cover, you're following the agonizing journey of a man and his small son as they trek across a post-apocalyptic America in hopes of reaching the coast before winter hits.  The boy was born the night after the world as we know it was decimated; his mother ended her own suffering a couple of years later.  Allusions to nuclear holocaust are made, and nothing save a handful of scavenging humans are left.  No plant life.  No animal life.  No blue skies.  Nothing but toxic air and the ashes of a destroyed planet.  The pair carefully travel down state highways on their way to the coast, where they hope to find warmth and life, and possibly more "good guys."  Because they're the only good guys they know for sure exist.  On their path, they're continually on guard, making sure to stay hidden as best they can from the cannibalistic marauders that are all that is left of humanity.

I've got to be honest.  This book was utterly depressing.  A few times, my heart literally wrenched in my chest.  The contrast between goodness and horror was shocking.  The beautiful portrait of a parent's love and protection was endearing.  The sadness of watching a young, hopeful spirit disintegrate was not.  Imagining myself in this predicament was even worse.

Do I recommend you read this book?  Yes.  If for no other reason than to undo the glamorization of a post-apocalyptic world that the current zombie trend has created.  It ain't pretty.  But maybe what we all need is a call to reality, and this book definitely does that.   

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Scavenger Hunt

It's spring break, and the weather is spectacular!  So the boy and I headed back to our new favorite place, Oxley Nature Center at Mohawk Park.  This time, we met some friends there for a picnic and scavenger hunt!  I let my inner nature geek out a little and put together this list, complete with my attempts at drawings of each item, and made copies for each of the kiddos.  I made the list based upon my memory of the last visit and what we saw that day, but there are so many more things we could've added to the list!  When we found something neat that wasn't on the list, we just wrote it on the back of the page.

It ain't pretty, and this is a scanned copy, but you're welcome to it if you'd like to use it!  And if you're going to be at Oxley, the nature guides actually made copies of this to pass out to kids!
And they're off!

We found a ton of items to check off of the list right away!

I think we were all pretty excited about the warm sunshine.

We may not have seen any frogs, but this little spot was deafening with the sound of them singing!

Just one of the dozens of critter paw-prints we found.  I suspect this was a dog...way too big for a coyote.

There were things to explore everywhere!

Seed of several varieties we found.

We were a little dubious that we'd find a flower, but lo and behold, there they were.

Another seed pod.

An elevated observation platform gave us a gorgeous view of a little lake filled with geese and pelicans.

A flock of pelicans!  Those things were huge!

Cattails...or bulrushes if you prefer.

Marking off another find

Turtle.  I forgot to put turtle on the list.  Silly me.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Book Review:: The Book Thief

I've been working my way through a list of books that I found on pinterest that were advertised as "books you can't put down."  Well, The Book Thief was one such book, that's for sure.  I requested it at the library, and was amazed to see there was a waiting list.  When I finally got the blessed automated phone call informing me it was my turn, I realized for the first time that a film based on the book was recently released.  Hence the waiting list.

Once home, I dove right in, and was immediately intrigued and hooked.  The most surprising thing that caught my attention right away was the narrator of the book:  Death.  That's right, the story is told from the perspective of the Grim Reaper, but in an unexpectedly endearing way.  What makes that first-person account much more significant in this particular novel is that it is set during the second World War in Munich, Germany.  Imagine the atrocities that one who delivers souls to their eternities would've witness during that time and place.

When I was nearing the end of this book, I was chomping at the bit to recommend it to everyone by virtue of a beaming book review, but I have been thinking for several days of the best way to describe this book.  I could tell you the basic story line, but that isn't what makes this book so compelling.  It's just a story about a girl growing up in war-ravaged Germany.  No major plot twists and turns.  No crazy cliffhangers at the end of chapters.  Pretty even speed throughout.  So how do you review that while still expressing the importance of reading this novel?  After three days, it came to me.

The Book Thief may not be climactic, but what it lacks in suspense, it makes up for with two major themes:  the resilience of humanity, and the power of words.  Throughout its pages, you see time and time again how we humans are able to pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off, and continue moving forward.  You see the many faces of love and how it is expressed differently.  You see the bitterness and evil of hatred and how ruthless and prejudiced it can be.  You see how mere words can unite a nation.  How they can convince people to do unspeakable things by gradually lowering walls and boundaries.  How they can strike such a deep fear into people that turning a blind eye is preferable to standing against a dangerous trend.  And you see how words provide us with a safe place, an escape from the inescapable.  They give us a voice, even if we're the only one who hears our own.  They reveal our true hearts and feelings and minds.

Now that I've read the book, I think I'll rent the movie.  I'm one of those who always prefers the book, but I am excited to see this one nonetheless.  I highly recommend the book...even if you've seen the movie...simply for the sweetness of the story that is told.  If you need a little further convincing, it was a very quick read, too!

Responsibility Chart

Wyatt is an only child.  Therefore, I theoretically have the time and energy to do more things for him than my friends who have several munchkins.  And because I have done too much for too long, I'm starting to see that he is either too comfortable letting me do certain things for him, or such menial tasks are far beneath "Prince Wyatt."  Up until this year, he has never had a bad attitude when I've asked him to help me out with things that he is fully capable of doing.  Lately, his blatant disobedience or disrespectful arguing before compliance are crossing a line with me.  This Mama is completely over being the maid and personal assistant to a 7-year-old tyrant.  I refuse to raise an ungrateful child with an air of haughty expectation.  He will respect authority, especially mine and his father's.  Period.

Over the past several months, I've learned through trial and error that Wyatt is a hard nut to crack when it comes to determining his currency.  Most kids would be devastated if you took away their toys, television, or video games.  Not Wyatt.  He'll just go play with rocks and sticks or read a book.  Take those away and he'll turn scraps of paper into playthings.  Or he'll make his hands into "airplanes" and make believe.  On occasion, he's gotten a spanking for extreme defiance or repeat offenses, but honestly, we avoid spanking him unless it is well earned.  Writing sentences is still a good consequence for mouthiness, but since he still needs to be practicing his handwriting daily, I don't like making it a routine punishment.  Losing my temper or trying to appeal to his humanity out of desperation have no effect on his seemingly robotic little heart.  So, after taking suggestions from some of my wonderful friends who seem to know what they're doing, we're switching gears to a reward-based system.

Above is the very simple responsibility chart I've come up with.  No, these are not ALL of Wyatt's responsibilities.  He has chores that he must do as they arise, like putting away his laundry, cleaning his bathroom, vacuuming, taking out the trash, making his bed, etc.  But ironically, I rarely have trouble with him when it comes to his chores.  It's the everyday, mundane routine things that he gets all sassy about.  So this responsibility chart is much less about the completion of every task, but primarily about his attitude while performing them.

I printed this chart off and slipped it into a page protector sleeve so that we can hang it on the fridge and use a dry-erase marker to mark off each item as it's done.  At the end of the day, I'll give him a happy or sad face to indicate his attitude for that day.  At the end of the week, if he's consistently had a positive attitude, then we'll celebrate with a fun activity together.  This reward is chosen before the week begins so that he knows what he is working towards throughout the week. 

Now, obviously I want him to succeed.  So I've decided that he will get one verbal warning regarding his attitude if he starts to sass or disobey.  If the 'tude continues, that item gets a strike, and he still has to finish the task.  Every day, he gets three strikes before he is given a sad face for the whole day.  A sad face won't negate the possibility of earning the weekly reward, but it will cost him his bedtime book, which is extremely important to him.  Two sad faces for the week, no weekly reward. 

I haven't put this into effect yet.  We just started spring break, so most of the things listed are not applicable this week, but I still intend to start tomorrow with any that are.  I'm really hoping to see a positive change.  I know that the incentive of a fun reward is going to make a big difference.  But I think that more importantly, he might start understanding how much control he has over the decisions he makes, and the consequences that come from them.  Because I've decided that if he can do something, he is going to do it.

Monday, March 10, 2014

A Book Review:: The Elegance of the Hedgehog

I've been plowing through books lately.  A couple of days ago, I finished this one, and the glazed-over look in my dear hubby's eyes while I was reeling verbally about the heartbreak I just went through made a little light bulb go off over my head...I'll blog a review so that I spare him the details and maybe convince someone else to read this book.  Alas, here we sit.

Hedgehog admittedly started very slowly.  I often find that it takes me a couple of chapters to get into the rhythm of a new book, and this was especially true in this case.  First of all, it is translated from French.  Very well, yet it still had a few of those, "what did I just read?" moments in which I had to reread an entire page.  Second, it would seem that Ms. Barbery sat with thesaurus in hand while she authored this book, using only the largest words available.  Now, I'm a smart cookie, but there were some humdingers in this novel for sure!  Also, some of the philosophy introduced throughout the book was mind-bending, but wonderful all the same!  Once I was thoroughly into meeting the two main protagonists and their plights, I was hooked and could not put this book down.

Without any spoilers, I'll give you a brief synopsis of the story:

The book is written from two perspectives; the first being that of Renee Michel, a 54-year-old concierge of a very upscale condo building in France, and the second being that of Paloma Josse, a 12-year-old resident of said condo building.  Both ladies are absolute brilliant minds.  Renee is self-taught, and has a vast knowledge of all things art, film, and literature.  Paloma is a natural genius who downplays her intelligence so as not to draw attention to herself...she is the solitary type.

Renee comes from a very poor upbringing in a family that never expressed any love...or any emotion really.  All of her life, she's best been described as plain, and at worst, ugly.  Although she is passionate about all things Art, she never aspires to anything beyond her inherited social status, hence the concierge position.  She spends her entire life hiding her intelligence and passions...because a concierge is only expected to serve others and watch soap operas.

Paloma is obviously from a ridiculously wealthy family of high standing, and has never wanted for anything.  She, however, sees no advantage to this, and instead is disgusted with the facades that the vast majority of the people in her social stratosphere wear.  The constant pursuit of wealth and status of those around her is depressing, and she doesn't believe that life is worth living anymore in such a world void of Beauty and Art.  So she decides that she will end her life on her thirteenth birthday.

As you'd imagine, these two heroines need each other.  And when a new resident takes ownership of a vacant condo, his unique ability to see right through everyone's masks brings them into a sweet little triangle of friendship.

That's all I can really tell you without giving anything away.  So many deep, profound "ah-ha!" moments are to be had throughout this book.  And, for me, so many sadly relatable moments, too.  I found the book to be very enlightening to the human spirit, and human nature.  The ending was completely unpredictable, and it made me cry a little...I'm not afraid to admit that.  Even so, it was worth the read.  

Thursday, March 6, 2014

I Heart Faces Photo Challenge: Smile

Oh, my Pooky Bear.  I just love his face.

Photo Challenge Submission

Garden Veggie Chicken Curry Soup

In a large pot, add a couple tbsp olive oil,  a couple of pounds of frozen skinless, boneless chicken thigh strips, one medium chopped onion, and a couple of tbsp of garlic.  Simmer on medium heat, stirring occasionally, until onions start to get translucent.

Add one of these bad boys.

While bringing the broth and chicken to a boil, chop up a zucchini, 4-5 ribs of celery, and about a cup of carrots.  Once your broth is boiling, add these.

Plus, about a half-to-full cup of each of these.

After it's boiling again (the frozen veggies cool it down some), add a pound of asparagus, chopped into 1-inch pieces, and some sliced mushrooms.  About ^ that many.

If you got one, add one of these tubs of deliciousness.  If you don't, a bullion cube or two will work.

Then, dump about that much red curry powder into the mix.  Seriously, I never measure anything. 

Oh, yes, they get to play, too. 

First, about ^that much cream cheese.  A big, heaping spoonful.  Stir it in, smooshing it to help it dissolve.  Then, add the ENTIRE 16oz tub of sour cream.  You won't regret it.  Stir to mix.  It helps to cover the pot and let it boil rapidly, all while stirring every couple of minutes, until it's totally liquified and creamy.


This is really delicious with egg noodles, too.  As is, though, it is extremely low-carb...this makes four huge bowls at around 15 carbs each!  And it actually reheats well, too.

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Bowling Date with My Kiddo

So, living in Oklahoma, the weather is absolutely unpredictable.  Last weekend, we spent the days outside enjoying nearly 70 degree weather.  This weekend...we literally have a sleet and snow thunderstorm happening as I type.  It's nuts.  And it makes it really hard to find things to do with Pooky so that we can get out of our house...otherwise known as the Den of Arguments.

As I'm sure many parents of too-smart-for-their-own-britches 7-year-olds can tell you, being trapped indoors with such a child, especially one who is the clone of yourself, can be a recipe for disaster.  I decided to load the kid and my mom up in the Jeep and do something fun instead of tempt turmoil.  We went bowling.

The ball return was quite the entertainment.

Gosh, Mom, do you have to document this whole day?

Stellar form...for Wyatt.
 I decided to just let Wyatt take the lead.  My mom doesn't bowl, but she totally cheered us on.  In the spirit of "just have fun," I gently showed Wyatt the suggested method of delivering his 6 lb ball down the lane, but didn't fuss too much when his actual mode of propulsion was far more loose an interpretation.  So long as he didn't look like he was going to hurt himself or anyone else, I just let him do his thing.  And Mom and I celebrated his efforts sincerely, and it was fun seeing him light up when he knocked down pins.  This particular bowling alley has retractable bumpers that go up and down according to whether each player needs them!

The laces matched my flamingo pants.  Fate, much?

 After ten frames, the game was over, and Wyatt was ready to head over to the arcade that sits adjacent to the alley.  Since we arrived at the alley first thing after they opened, we were still one of only a tiny handful of bowlers in the place, so we had every game in the arcade to ourselves!  I was honestly relieved Wyatt only wanted to play one game...I forgot that bowling requires exercise, and today being one day out from this excursion, I know now that the muscles required lie in your butt and lower back.  I'm old and achy.

This photo is courtesy of Mom...who was very comical while operating my camera.

Not too bad...okay, it is, but I haven't bowled in ages, and Wyatt's seven.

He loves race games.  I'm so not looking forward to Driver's Ed down the road.

Ticket Central....Skee Ball!

This kid was so pumped!  He won 100 tickets in all, and actually grabbed a ball out of the crane machine...he's freakishly good at those things!
When all was said and done, we'd spent about two hours at the bowling alley, and only spent $18, arcade included.  Taking our time, not having an agenda, and spending time together...could not have been a better day!

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Slow-Cooker Chicken Churro Bean Soup

Yet another favorite at our house, this slow-cooker soup was invented one day in an attempt to recreate the churro beans at one of our favorite tex-mex restaurants.  Not only is it a healthy dinner, but it's super easy, and extremely flavorful!

2 tbsp olive oil
2 cans pinto beans (do not drain)
1 can chicken broth
about 2lbs of frozen boneless, skinless chicken thigh strips
1 can petite diced tomatoes
1 7oz can diced green chiles
1 cup chopped carrots
1 small onion, chopped
2 tbsp minced garlic
1-2 tbsp cumin
a dash of crushed red pepper
cilantro (I like a lot...about 2/3 cup), chopped
shredded cheese, optional

Add a liner bag to your crock pot, then dump all ingredients except the cilantro and cheese into the pot.  I stir it up, then cover and cook on high for 4-5 hours (or low all day).  You really can't over-cook just make sure the chicken is good and cooked through.  About 30 minutes before serving, add in the chopped cilantro, stirring in and recovering.  When it's ready, you can serve as is, or top with shredded cheese.

For us, this makes four big bowls, and they're about 35 carbs each.  It reheats really well in the microwave, too.