Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Review: The Turtle of Oman, by Naomi Shihab Nye

The Turtle of Oman: A Novel
9780062019721

Here are some things Aref loves about his home.
  1. Mish-Mish, his cat
  2. The dunes in the desert
  3. His friends Diram and Sulima
  4. Fresh apricots
  5. Crispy fish served in baskets
  6. His grandfather, Sidi
  7. His excellent rock collection
  8. The turtles of Oman
Aref does not want to move to Michigan. He's sure the kids there won't like him. Also, he has everything he needs right where he is! But Sidi has another point of view. Sidi says Aref will go and come back. Just like a falcon or the turtles of Oman, he'll travel far and make his way home to Muscat.
So Aref sets out to say good-bye to everything he loves. Good-bye to Mish-Mish, Diram, Sulima, dunes, Sidi . . . But how can he stand it?
As an adult, I can say that this is very well written. The characters are so well-drawn, I feel as if I know them well - Aref, his grandfather Sidi, and even his mother (who I think I have a lot in common with, personality-wise). The vivid descriptions of the sights, smells, and tastes of Oman make it hard to pull yourself out of the book and back to your regular surroundings. I find myself wanting to visit an area I had not thought much about previously - possibly because it's a relatively peaceful country right now. Politics and religion are not a part of this story, simply a young boy coming to terms with leaving almost everything he knows and loves for what seems to him a very long time, and that is conveyed extremely well.

So, as an adult, I enjoyed the book thoroughly. I am not sure how successful it will be in reaching its intended audience, though. There is a continual sense of waiting for something (Aref's departure for America) to happen, and it wasn't until I was halfway through the book that I realized that wasn't going to happen until after the story was over. Readers who are looking for action, or a climactic event, will be disappointed. There are several gentle climaxes as Aref's wise grandfather helps him become at peace with the future. A very Arabic tale in this respect, but I'm not sure how it will be received by the typical ten-year-old American boy.

Save this one for that introspective young reader, fond of making lists, a lover of facts, perhaps a bit wise beyond his years: give him a good, long look, and hand the book over slowly, saying, "This book isn't for everyone, but I think you might be just right for it."

Thank-you to HarperCollins for the review copy.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

More Re-purposing - with a purpose!

We are trying something a little different for our teen programming this year. Our age ranges go from high school to 'college age', whatever that means - no longer kids at home, out on their own, navigating school/work/independence. Yeah, "college-age" is just easier to say.

We are trying a series we are calling "life hacks", or "things they haven't taught you but you really wish they would." Our first, in September, will be a program on personal security - self defense, securing your vehicle/apartment, etc. Looking ahead to the gift-giving season, I am planning a program on making gifts that LOOK really cool, but that don't break the budget (even if your budget is, like, $5). To that end, I recently spent $11.87 at a local thrift shop on these items:


and added in this clock:


I bought the clock for $1 at a yard sale many years ago, and it recently started keeping rather erratic time, in spite of new batteries. 

The dome-shaped thing says it is a 'California fruit ripener'. I guess in California they don't have windowsills or paper bags. A little gravel from the turtle tank, some potting soil, and some succulents that needed to be re-potted, and you have:


a miniature greenhouse!

Honestly, that's what I thought it was when I picked it up. I will probably find a nicer tray for underneath, the plate was just handy. If you don't have plants to take cuttings from, buy a packet of seeds for $1 - herbs would be good - and get them started before presenting the gift. Or, if you are out of time, tie a pretty ribbon around the seeds and put them inside the dome with a bag of colored stones from the dollar store and a small bag of potting soil (dollar stores sometimes have that, too!) Great gift for anyone who likes to cook! Big glass jars work well for this kind of thing, too - cake servers - look around the housewares section with an open mind. The gravel or stones for the bottom will help with drainage if there aren't holes in the bottom.

This also could have been a cool spaceship toy with a little bit of fabric and colored paper - but, I really needed to re-pot these plants!

Next to it, of course, is the watering can, with a spider plant started in it. The watering can needs some sort of decoration - a painted message, or flowers if you are artistic. If you aren't, cut pictures out of a magazine and glue them on. Glue a wide ribbon around the bottom or tie some on the handle. Yes, ribbon, I think:


Amanda, didn't you give that scrapbooking ribbon to me when you moved away? Come back for a visit, and you can have the whole planter!

The clock was fun to take apart:


saving the gears for jewelry-making later

I got two gifts out of this one. For the first, I used the frame from the flower picture. I was going to repaint it, but decided I liked it better looking a little weathered. If you need to repaint something, though, don't go buy a whole can of paint - Freecycle is your friend! Everyone has odds and ends of leftover paint sitting around, just ask!

I did this one quickly to give the general idea: clock face in one corner, hand-lettering in the other (or you could print out letters, or use stickers), then pictures of times spent with the kiddos, printed off Facebook:


Superglue the hands to the outside, for a 3D effect:


and you have an "Awwww" gift that will make Mom melt.

I was excited when I realized the empty clock frame would make a great shadow box...and then I couldn't find the main thing I wanted to put in it. I did find where I saved the note...


that Daddy came home to one night. "Call us on Mykela's cell. Don't panic. Your younger daughter shoved a rock up her nose." Turned out it was actually a pinon nut, which I saved, after the very expensive trip to the ER to get it out when tweezers failed, and telling her to blow her nose just resulted in sniffing it up further. I KNOW I saved the nut and put it somewhere safe...when I figure out where that was, this frame will be waiting, and will be sure to give Daddy a laugh every time he looks at it! You can probably think of something less disgusting that will mean something special to somebody on your gift list, and broken clocks are MUCH cheaper than official shadow boxes!

Finally, that wine rack from the first picture was looking pretty grody, but some black spray paint (stolen from the custodian) spiffed it right up:


Now it can hold magazines (a Dad gift! Dads are SO hard!), or earrings. Hang it in your bathroom to put rolled-up towels in - fancy! Put it on its side next to (or inside) the shower for your shampoo, body wash, etc. Stand it back up, fill the holes with mis-matched drinking glasses, and stash pencils, paperclips, etc. in them. Hang it in your kitchen and use it to hold foil, waxed paper, etc. - or (and this is a silly idea) - bottles!

So, five gifts for less than $15.  Don't be calling me cheap, now, or you won't get one!




Sunday, August 24, 2014

Opinions needed - and I Know You Have Them!

I have a habit of becoming fixated on one particular item I need, but won't spend a whole lot of money on. Exactly the right flour container, or brown sandals, or what have you. I am too cheap to just buy what I want on line, I have to scour yard sales and thrift shops until (three years later) I find it collecting dust somewhere.

When we changed out the kitchen cabinets, we went from l-shaped to straight, because I couldn't find a corner cabinet that fit. That left me with a spot about two feet wide that needed...something. Something with a small footprint, but negotiable height. Preferable movable. Something I could put...stuff in. That part is negotiable, too. 

With that clear vision in mind, I breezed through all the area thrift shops, finding many beautiful pieces that were just not quite right. On my way to work Saturday I went to a few yard sales, ending at one that sounded promising - retired couple down-sizing to a travel trailer. I didn't see anything small enough, and finally asked the wife. They had a baker's rack that would be perfect. Sold it for $10 just before I arrived. Sigh.

As I was walking back to my car, something that looked like wagon wheels, tucked off to the side, caught my eye.


 I pointed. "Is that for sale, or are you using it to hold your fly swatters?" (Said items scattered across the top.) Turns out the husband was trying to fix a caster with no success, and was frustrated enough to sell it to me for $5.


Obviously, it needs a tiny bit of work, but I have since found the exact tea cart online for hundreds of dollars. Score!

First up is the top, and this is where I need your opinions. It had this 'lovely' sticky laminate, peeling up in the corners, 


with - ugh - particle board underneath:


The bottom tray is the same:


The particle board has become wet and swollen in areas, which is why the surface was peeling off. Obviously, that needs to be replaced, but with what? I keep vacillating between options, and every five minutes I am absolutely positive I have decided something different. Help! Here are the options I see:

1. A thin sheet of laminate
Easiest and cheapest, but it would probably also look that way. 

2. Tile
I'm thinking white, maybe with a little grey, matte finish. Durable and pretty, and I can use grout to fill in any uneven spots. But, would the grout cause the particle board to swell more?

3. Wood 
This has several sub-options (is that a word?) I could cover the whole top with a thin sheet of oak (I considered butcher block, but it is too low to be a practical cutting surface). I could take the trim off (will it come off in one piece?) and replace the middle part, which would also mean replacing the thin sheet of plywood holding it all together underneath. Or, I could toss the whole middle section and start new - which would then mean mitering the edges to fit the leaves when they come up. These last two options would be closest to original, but would also be most labor-intensive, and - hello - kitchen remodeling underway!

So, what do you think? Please tell me what to do, I can no longer think for myself.

Fortunately, the rest of the cart is sanding up nicely,


so I can probably just use either a light stain or a plain, clear varnish when it's all done. Which, you know, should happen in the next couple years.






Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Remodeling is FUN. We Can Knock This Out in a Day. Old Houses are Charming. Plumbing is a Breeze. #thingspeoplewhoknowbetterneversay

Before I say anything, let me affirm that, yes, I have seen this post, have read it, shared it, commented on it, agreed with it. As much as I am a sucker for appliances and cooking gadgets, I don't need bells and whistles for my kitchen.

But, when there's black mold...


which I have tried bleaching and painting over, to no avail, and a leaky sink


which didn't cause the mold, but which isn't helping to get rid of it, I think a minor makeover is in order.

I am also really really cheap, though, so even after getting a fairly reasonable quote from a very good woodworker in town, we decided to do it ourselves. Unfinished cabinets were 20% off at the store with the big orange sign, and a MUCH bigger sink was to be had for a clearance price that made it equal to the generic one I was looking at. Score!


Pretty brown - not pink - counter top! With a BACK SPLASH, not scratched-up rubber strips!


As opposed to the current 5", which makes washing large pots a challenge for a contortionist.

And, after much deliberating about dishwashers (I hate them, but I also hate spending all my time washing dishes), I found this:


for $20. Sold!

So, Saturday I pulled off doors and stripping, and Daddy yanked the sink.



That was the easy part. We couldn't find any screws holding the counter top on...that's because it was stapled, not screwed.


We had to cut it, then pry it off.


Doesn't that wall look pretty?!

I see Jesus! Oh, wait - never mind, it's Elvis. Carry on.

But, wait...that is, in fact, the wall...not the back of the cabinet. There IS no back of the cabinet.

Insert bad words here.

So, Daddy headed back down the hill for drywall (water resistant, this time!), while I stained and varnished the new cabinets.


Which have backs! And no mold!

The middle kids were napping, and Christopher was on Starfall, so I just put Shane in his walker to keep him out of trouble.


Yeah, you knew that was coming, didn't you?

Now, have I ever mentioned that we live half an hour away from any actual stores? And that it has been raining every day lately? So, Daddy was in a hurry to get the drywall and get home before it started raining, water resistant or not. So, we didn't have time to pull the old stuff first.

If we had, we might have realized we were also going to need insulation.


I didn't get a picture before we ripped it out, we just wanted to get it sealed in trash bags and out of the house.

At this point, it was raining pretty steadily, and it was time to figure out some sort of supper that didn't require too many dishes, so this is where we left it for the evening. The good news is, we got absolutely no moisture in the house from the rain, so the mold was not the result of anything currently leaking! We're guessing the culprit was a leaky window that we fixed when we moved in, and it has been slowly growing before coming through the wall.

Oh, but, all that rain? It has caused a problem I have not had to deal with since I left Ohio twenty years ago: fleas. Yes, while all this is going on with the kitchen, I was also scrubbing down dogs, then the bathroom, then myself, then the dog bedding, then all the people bedding, then all the rugs. Because, you know, I don't already do laundry nonstop. 


Some of that might have been overkill, but better safe than itchy. SO glad we don't have carpet anywhere!

Of course, Monday, everyone had to go back to work and school, so at dinner time, the kitchen still looked like this:


I am a fan of neither TV dinners nor TV as a babysitter, but sometimes a Mom's gotta do what a Mom's gotta do. How to Train Your Dragon TV dinners, 

She is breathing fire.

and the corresponding movie. None of them really sit through a whole movie, but it distracted them enough to get one cabinet, 


two cabinets,


and a counter in!


Notice the light progression through the window! The floor is not level, and the walls are not straight, so it was not as simple as just sliding everything in. By this time the bigger kids were in bed, but Shane was not about to sleep through the noise. He was used as a weight while Daddy screwed the counter in.

Vibrating!

And then got to check out the new sink. It is huge! I can't tell you how excited I am about that, and I don't care how old and boring that makes me sound.


Shane was excited, too.


Then Daddy went and put a dirty fork in it. 


I will pause for all the women to look over at their husbands and shake their heads, knowing he would probably do the exact same thing. And for all the men to scratch their heads and wonder what is wrong with that.

Actually, Daddy wasn't the first to get things dirty - in the short amount of time Shane was on the counter, he spit up all over it, then made a grab at one of those pineapples, which turned out to be much riper than I thought it was, and his hand went right through it. By the time we quit for the evening, my brand new counter was sticky, and smelled like pineapple-flavored alcohol.

Stay tuned to our exciting saga, to find out: will the sink ever actually become attached to the counter? Will the plumbing (which is of a size no longer made) be adapted to work? What fresh evils will the $20 dishwasher produce? And how on EARTH am I going to fit 3 cabinets and 4 drawers worth of 'stuff' into one cabinet and drawer???





Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Book Review: The Luck Uglies by Paul Durham

The Luck Uglies
9780062271501

"Rye O'Chanter has seen a lot of strange things happen in Village Drowning. She and her friends have grown up on Drowning's treacherous streets—its twisted rooftops and forgotten cemeteries are their playground.Now a terrifying encounter on the night of the Black Moon has Rye convinced that the monstrous, supposedly extinct Bog Noblins have returned from the forest Beyond the Shale. There's nobody left who can protect the village. There was once—an exiled secret society so notorious that its name can't be spoken out loud.The Luck Uglies.As Rye dives into Drowning's maze of secrets, rules, and lies, she begins to question everything she's been told about the village's legend of outlaws and beasts . . . and what she'll discover is that it may take a villain to save them from the monsters."

A quite satisfying adventure, with vivid imagery, wonderful character development, and a perfect mix of excitement and humor. Adults may cringe at elements such as the Bog Noblins' habit of wearing their victims' feet around their necks, but really the book is never too dark for the intended middle grade audience, while just enough so to keep them absorbed until the very last page. While this title can easily stand alone, I was happy to see it is part of an expected trilogy, and I already have an order card filled out for part 2 (not due until March, sadly!) Quite an impressive debut!

Monday, August 11, 2014

Picture Book Reviews

Riff Raff the Mouse Pirate
9780062305084

Ahoy, mates . . . and mice! Riff Raff the Mouse Pirate is setting off on a treasure hunt with his cheese-loving crew, but before they can find the treasure, the bold buccaneers must find the missing clue. Join in on the fun in this hilarious, easy-to-read sea adventure!

Mysteries for the very young are hard to find, beyond search-and-find books, and this one is a cutie. The missing clue is part of a street name, and the mice (all named after types of cheese), have to pay close attention to their letters as they hunt for the treasure. Two fun extensions come to mind: devise your own treasure hunt using local street signs and partial clues, maybe ending up at a friendly neighbor's. While there you could enjoy the other idea: sample the different types of cheese the mice are named for!

Monster School: The Spooky Sleepover
9780060854782

This appears to be the third in the Monster School series, which I have somehow missed. Norm is the only normal (get it? Norm? Normal? Yes, all the names are like that) student in his school. Having friends with different abilities can be handy, though, when you are feeling a little homesick. I think I will have to order the rest of these, as the humor is right up any first-grader's alley: "Isaac lost his fuzzy blanket and cried his eyes out." Picture of purple-skinned Isaac blubbering amid a dozen or so eyeballs rolling across his sleeping bag.

The Great Balloon Hullaballoo
9781467734493

When Simon the squirrel's mum sends him off to the shop, Simon decides to fly to the moon in Old Uncle Somerset's hot air balloon in search of cheese. Shopping in outer space is very exciting, but proves to be a bit of a distraction . . .

Well, we know as soon as Simon's mother admonishes him not to forget the cheese, that he will do just that. In between, however, come some unpredictable adventures as Simon and his friends fill the rest of the grocery list on several different planets (reached by hot air balloon, how else?) Adults may want to practice before reading out loud, as the rhymes and rhythm get a bit tricky in places, but kids will enjoy the just plain silliness.

Friday, August 8, 2014

Book Review: Dreamer, Wisher Liar by Charise Mericle Harper

Dreamer, Wisher, Liar
9780062026750

"Ashley is bracing herself for the worst summer of her life. Her best friend is moving away, and instead of being able to join her at camp for their last weeks together, Ash finds out her mom has arranged for some strange little girl to come and stay with them.
Then seven-year-old Claire shows up. Armed with a love of thrift-shop clothes and an altogether too-sunny disposition, Claire proceeds to turn Ash's carefully constructed life upside down. Besides, Ash has a secret. Ash, who is petrified of change and new people, has discovered a magical jar in her basement. It's a wish jar, filled with someone's old wishes—and it has the power to send her back in time and provide a window into another friendship between two girls. Discovering her own connection to the girls' story shows Ash that her life is full of surprises and friends she never saw coming. And while this may not be the summer that she expected, it could actually turn out to be the best summer of her life."
I've read this book before. Maybe that's just what happens when you read so much, but the whole book felt like a mash-up of Laurel Snyder's Seven Stories Up and Jordan Sonnenblick's Notes from a Midnight Driver. Now, I have also read pieces from a couple different authors about how frustrating it is to come up with an idea nobody has ever used before, and then discover twelve other books with the same plot are being published at the same time! It happens, and I don't think this was a copy, purposeful or not - it was just a bit distracting.
Taken by itself, this would be an enjoyable read for any middle school girl. Predictable enough to make the reader feel smart, interesting characters, and the twist of Ash's face blindness - the inability to recognize someone by their facial features. Mysteries and character growth are the main focus of the story, and those who like everything tidily wrapped up and connected at the end will be quite satisfied.