Monday, July 25, 2016

Guest Review: Sworn to Raise by Terah Edun

As is probably painfully obvious, my time to read and review over the summer is pretty much nonexistent. I have some very articulate teens this summer, though, so i decided to turn some of it over to them! Following is a review written by Anna H.:

Sworn to Raise
9781620512074

Seventeen-year-old Ciardis Vane grew up in a small village on the edge of the realm. Beautiful, destitute, and desperate she is looking to get out any way she can. She has worked her whole live as a laundress with no hope of escaping her fate anytime soon.
But then Ciardis's life changes when a strange woman appears with the key to Ciardis's escape. With an offer to take her to the capital and a life she'd never dreamed of, it's hard to resist. There's only one catch.
She wants Ciardis to become a companion: she'll be required to wear expensive dresses, learn to conduct suitable magic, educate herself on court proclivities, and - in the end - chain herself to the highest bidder. A Patron for life.
Ciardis knows that this is her one opportunity to change her life.
But what she does not know is that she will soon be at the heart of intrigues and power struggles, and that her new life in luxury demands a high price, perhaps even the life of a prince.

A beautifully written book that I absolutely refused to put down. I can't wait to see the rest of the series come out. Seeing more than simple elemental magic was truly fascinating.

I am quite curious. Sebastian reminds me a bit of Ciel Phantomhive from "Black Butler". Was that on purpose?

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Review: The Island of Beyond by Elizabeth Atkinson

The Island of Beyond
9781467781169

Awkward, unsocial eleven-year-old Martin knows he's going to have a terrible summer with his weird great-aunt Lenore, who lives on a tiny island called Beyond. But nothing about Beyond is what Martin expects.

If it's not clear from my family posts, we are not huge on sitting around inside, playing video games, which is pretty much Martin's daily schedule. He is kind of a wimpy kid - no sports, afraid of everything, no friends other than the people in the tiny village he has made out of his father's old Army figures. The very definition of a Mama's boy. Other than the vivid imagination he shows in the creation of his village, there wasn't much to endear him to me - yet, I liked him.

From page one, somehow I was rooting for Martin, and took an instant dislike to his father, who wanted him to be a very different kind of boy. (To be fair, I also took an instant dislike to his mousy, enabling mother.) I didn't want him to have to go visit his 'aunt', even though it sounds like something I would have enjoyed. It's the mark of a good writer to make the reader like someone they would have rolled their eyes at and avoided in real life!

The other characters are distinct and quirky, each with a surprise or two. It isn't clear at first whether there is something mystical going on, or just mysteries that can be solved. A gentle coming of age story, perfect for kids who are old enough to realize that adults aren't as one-dimensional as they may have thought, and that they might not fit into the single box they had them in. At the same time, Martin - and hopefully the reader - discovers that there is also more to him than he previously thought.

Good addition for upper elementary/middle school age, appealing to both boys and girls.

Monday, July 18, 2016

Review: Timber Creek Station, by Ali Lewis

Timber Creek Station
9781467781176

Set on a cattle station in the Australian outback, Timber Creek Station is the story of a grieving family, entrenched racism, and the surprising ways the world and one boy can change.

I almost hesitate to put this in our collection, because I really, really liked it. Unfortunately, I am not sure it sill circulate here, which will cause be to go into a rant about readers who don't know what's good for them when it comes up on the weed list in a couple years.

I'm forward-thinking like that.

Okay, here are the negatives that may keep some readers away: 
1) The Australian Outback is not exactly en vogue right now, and the protagonist is a young boy. Not something my teens come in looking for.
2) The cover is really cool, but at first glance you think "horror story" - which means teens will pick it up expecting that, read the description, and put it back disappointed.
3) True to its setting, there is a great deal of vernacular that some teens may find distracting. The context makes it fairly easy to understand, but it's not the 'easy read' some may be looking for.

The positives:
1) The idea of racism, even deeply entrenched racism, being overcome through relationships and experience is about as timely as you can get.
2) The writing is superb. I have never been a 13-year-old boy, much less one living on a cattle station with a dead brother and a pregnant sister, but I felt everything right along with Danny. Liz was never completely 3-dimensional to me, but she served quite well as a catalyst. I liked that there was so much going on with the family. In many books, one tragic event is enough to make up the story and shape everyone's behavior, and nothing else happens that needs to be dealt with. That's not the way life is, though.
3) Your patrons who are NOT looking for a light read, those who like to think a bit, and sink into a book, and discuss their thoughts about it with you afterward, will fall in love with this one.
4) Did I mention the camel? He gets to raise a camel. I want a pet camel.

Verdict? Add it, read it yourself, then hand sell it to those patrons, male or female (definite crossover), who fit #3 above and make them promise to come and tell you what they thought.


Thursday, July 14, 2016

Happy Birthday Logan!

My goofy boy.


My messy boy.



My smart boy.


Most of all, my sweet boy.


He is the one patient and quiet enough to get close to wild animals - I once saw him spend half an hour out in the snow, creeping along an inch at a time, until he was able to reach one frozen, red little hand out and pet a snowbird!


He is also the one who notices things. When everyone else looks at a playground and heads for the climbing wall, he finds the teeny bug or the pretty flower.


I see him being a fantastic teacher or hospice nurse some day. He will be the teacher/caretaker who notices when something is wrong, or who makes mental notes of what makes someone happy. His natural good cheer will bring sunshine to a classroom or a sick room. He will be the teacher kids hope they get, or the nurse who lets families know their loved one is in good hands.

But for just now...he is FIVE! Happy big birthday, medium boy!






Friday, July 1, 2016

Mud and Water Play 2016

Did you know that there is an International Mud Day? We didn't either until a few years ago, but we immediately decided it was something we wanted to celebrate! The official date is June 29, but the exact date isn't important. The important thing is - mud! Getting muddy and having fun, no electronics, nothing fancy, no worksheets, just good...not-so-clean fun!

Of course, having messy play at a library always requires a bit of planning, but we have learned a few things about what works and what doesn't over the last few years. While the mud and water were outside, we had prepping to do inside. Murphy's Law states that as soon as a toddler is covered in muck, he will have to pee. Since our entry hall is all tile, that could get dangerous: so we laid all the story time rugs from the front door to the restrooms. They need to be cleaned anyway! I stacked a pile of towels at the door, with a sign reminding everyone to clean off first, saying "Remember, this is still a library!" (I did have some dirt to sweep up in the bathrooms later - mainly from kids changing clothes - but no slips and falls!) 

Outside, the most important part is the mud:


14, 1.5 cubic feet bags of Eco Earth, which advertises no chemicals or poop. Clean dirt! Just before start I added big trucks and a few plastic snakes and lizards.

We also had a smaller pool with dry dirt, and (when we started) some smaller tractors and shovels:


In the background is a pool of just water.

On our little hill, a poor man's slip and slide - the biggest tarp I could find, with a sprinkler at the top, and dish soap all over it. Pictures coming up shortly.

In the middle of the yard, two trash cans full of water to refill squirt guns:


And on the opposite end of the yard, a smaller pool for the little ones:


We were playing with homemade puff paint all week, and I had some paint - and a LOT of shaving cream - left over. I decided to fill the last pool with that.

Thanks for emptying all those cans, Andrea! Hope your thumbs recover!

I was paranoid about stuff in eyes, so I made sure I had the MSDS sheet (rinse with water) and put up  sign:


and reminded everyone I could as they came in. I had the liquid watercolors handy, and my thought was that kids would have fun squishing it in their hands and swirling colors together.

The kids had other ideas.


Oh.


My.


Goodness.


It was everywhere!


And, as you can see, it was mostly a hit with the older kids!

The slip and slide was ignored at first. Then a couple kids tried it out.


Then a couple more.


and a couple more


Thanks, Pastor Jeff, for taking on soap duty!


Sheridan and Logan stayed here the entire time!


And, it's soap and water, so it's the same thing as having a bath, right?

Of course, the mud pit was the place to be. The first brave souls tiptoed around...


...but that didn't last for long.



I heart this little girl's smile.

Eek!

Our very own Where's Waldo!




Hey, Mom, dance with me!


Some of the littler ones looked at the mud, then looked at their moms like they were crazy. Not this little girl!



Whose scary little child is this?


Oh...that would be one of mine.


In a white shirt. Of course.


And then...you guys, this is embarrassing.


My son. MY son.


Refused to get dirty. Or even wet.


He just walked around pouting, refusing to join in the fun.


He's lucky he's so darn cute when he pouts.

Here's another cutie!



And his equally cute big brother - who kept shooting him with the squirt gun.


Ah, yes, the squirt guns! Which quickly turned into buckets of water. And then buckets of mud. Very few were spared. 


Including the local newspaper reporter, who showed up when things were in full swing. She had an adorable blue sundress on, makeup and hair perfectly done. By the time she left, her legs were splattered in mud - but she gave us a nice write-up!

Finally, it was time for clean-up. 


Lots of people pitched in this time (and the mud was mostly out of the pit by now anyway), so we were finished just in time for me to get to my root canal appointment. Can't have TOO much fun, you know. 

We now have some good dirt added to the grassy area, and everything has been VERY well watered. Volunteers kept control of the hoses, so we didn't waste too much water - and, if half these kids filled up individual wading pools at home, it would have used a whole lot more. Most importantly, they were encouraged to run and get messy and be kids (both the littles and the grown-up kids!)

Time to start planning for next year...


Saturday, June 25, 2016

Minor Kitchen Remodel on a Budget

Even when you are on a tight budget, there comes a point where 'serviceable' turns into 'get this out of my house'. We live in an older double wide manufactured home, and the original cabinets have seen better days. Scrubbing has worn the finish away so they just look permanently grimy, the pink (pink!) formica counter tops are chipped, handles won't tighten any more, doors won't hang straight any more, etc. And, did I mention the counter tops were pink?



The real tipping point was when we realized there was black mold in the cabinet under the sink. Once we ripped that whole cabinet out, we realized the mold was in the wall, so as home improvements usually do, it became a slightly more involved operation involving replacement of walls and insulation. In the end, though, I had a MUCH bigger sink, a dishwasher, pretty brown counter top (on that side of the kitchen, anyway), and space for a tea cart I bought for $5 at a yard sale.

We planned to do the opposite side of the kitchen relatively soon, but...then there were new tires, transmission issues, a grand baby moving in, etc. And two years went by. We finally decided we better get on it before they discontinued that particular counter top. It turned out that one store had actually stopped carrying it, so I'm glad we didn't wait much longer! 

As usual, I forgot to take "before" pictures until I had started the demo...


Oh, look, an electrical cord running through things. And a lot of wasted space. Not to mention having to reach in and dig when I wanted something in that blind corner.


Oh, goody: More black mold.


Nothing makes you feel like a great housekeeper like remodeling....ew.


So, wall replaced, retextured, and repainted, and we hit the Memorial Day sales - 20% off unfinished cabinets!


And, after:

Am I a total geek that drawers are making me happy? I had one drawer. One. Now I have four, and my life is forever changed.
There is actually more available cabinet space with it NOT going around the corner. I had planned on a lazy Susan, but the outside edges would have made it take up way too much space.

Now, we were just going to do this corner for now, because: budget. There was another wall with a pantry and refrigerator, and of course because the pantry was built to fit, none of the replacements were the same size, no matter how we configured it, so we thought we might have to have something custom made some day. Then Mike started a sentence with "What if..."

Don't you love when people do that just when you think you are almost done?

In this case, however, it was a pretty brilliant "what if". See the washing machine just on the other side of the doorway? We took out a set of plastic shelves between it and the dryer, slid it down, and put the refrigerator there - giving us an entire 6 foot wall of space to play with!

Once again, I got so excited about demo, I didn't get a 'before' picture until after I had removed the doors and emptied it out!

 That made room for a 24" pantry, a 30" cabinet, and a space between for the trash can (which had previously just been floating around the kitchen). I was planning on using the same type of counter top, but Mike decided I was having too much of the fun, and I think he missed doing some of the finer carpentry work he used to enjoy. So, this part is NOT in the budget....


a solid oak, doweled-together, cutting board counter top...


...but isn't it purdy?! I won't actually cut anything on it. In fact, I won't do anything on it. It's like having your first brand new car - that first scratch is heartbreaking! I'll just balance a cutting board over the sink for a while longer...

The shelves are to the exact height I wanted, and I plan to add cup hooks to the exposed supports.

That left the exposed side of the pantry looking a bit bare. I needed something 18" wide, a couple feet high, and preferably with a drawer...

...voila! Another $5 yard sale find. The original finish was that 1960's orangey-brown stain that's so thick it looks like paint. A LOT of sandpaper and elbow grease later...

Yes, I forgot a 'before' picture AGAIN!

The end panels were a pain in the you-know-what to attach, so I painted this side with chalkboard paint instead.


There's that refrigerator in the background, literally just two extra steps away!

The spice racks and jars were another splurge, but I paid for them by selling some of the small appliances I decided I didn't really need as I was rearranging (why did I have two pressure canners??) 


I like the rustic look of the racks, and the uniform glass bottles make my OCD side soooooo happy!

The total cost for everything except the oak counter top was about $700. That looks like a huge chunk of money to me, but when compared with those 'budget' remodels in magazines that come in with a couple more digits, I feel a lot better about it!

And none of it is pink:)