Thursday, May 30, 2013

Review: Also Known As, by Robin Benway

Also Known As
Plant this one firmly on your list of easy summer reads:
"Being a 16-year-old safecracker and active-duty daughter of international spies has its moments, good and bad. Pros: Seeing the world one crime-solving adventure at a time. Having parents with super cool jobs. Cons: Never staying in one place long enough to have friends or a boyfriend. But for Maggie Silver, the biggest perk of all has been avoiding high school and the accompanying cliques, bad lunches, and frustratingly simple locker combinations.
Then Maggie and her parents are sent to New York for her first solo assignment, and all of that changes. She'll need to attend a private school, avoid the temptation to hack the school's security system, and befriend one aggravatingly cute Jesse Oliver to gain the essential information she needs to crack the case . . . all while trying not to blow her cover."
Sound a little like the Gallagher Girls series? Yep. Not incredibly derivative, though: just close enough to appeal to the same fans. While the characters can be a bit stereotyped, they are thoroughly enjoyable (I want Roux to be my new best friend), and if the plot is somewhat predictable, I still didn't want to put it down. I feel like I'm saying terrible things about this book, but it really did work for me! Does it help if I point out that Benway is also the author of Audrey, Wait! ? You liked that one too, right? Then, go snag this one, curl up in the shade, and enjoy the next few hours!

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Inventions I Would Like to See

August is National Inventor's Month, so to give all would-be inventors a heads-up, I am going to list a few inventions I would pay good money for. Some are probably impossible in current technology, but others are fairly simple - I'm just too lazy to go out and patent them myself.
#1 - Diapers with two different-colored, preferably glow-in-the-dark, tabs. Anyone who has ever tried to change a diaper in the dark knows exactly why. The tabs are the same color as the rest of the diaper, and by the time it needs to be changed, they have melded in with the countours of the rest of it. They are most likely wet, too. I could probably get some neon markers and color all our diaper tabs by hand, but I would happily pay a few extra pennies to have that done at the factory.
#2 - An eye-hole punch. Every children's librarian in the country would want one. Masks are a fun and easy craft project, but nobody likes cutting out all those stupid eye holes. They make long-armed staplers that can reach the middle of a page, why not a hole punch, with a one-inch hole? That would make life SOOOOOOOO much easier!
#3 - A portable Bat-signal you could keep in your purse, and set off in a department store when you need help. A beacon would hover over your head until a salesperson came to you to mix your paint, or load that dresser on a cart, or whatever.
#4 - A 'magnet' that could be programmed to pick up a specific item. Imagine if you could wave a wand over a room and pick up only the Legos, or stir through a tub of beads and pick up only the red ones? That would be awesome!
#5 - An app that could accurately locate anything in a given store immediately. Before you say there are stores with such apps already, note that I said ACCURATELY. I don't mean, tell me where the corporate headquarters says the horseradish should be, or where it was last week even, but where it is shelved RIGHT NOW THIS MINUTE. Because I can almost guarantee you those would not be the same answers.
What would you be willing to shell out some bucks for? 

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

H is for...

Hair! We started the letter "H" on a Holiday, and I knew the kids would need a bath by the end of the day anyway, so we got out the old Halloween Hair spray.

Oh, boy, just look at that expression. This is going to be a fun day.
After a breakfast of Honeycomb cereal, we went to our friends' house (greeting ll our Horse friends along they way). They (the friends, not the horses) raise bees, and just announced their first batch of Honey for the year.
Nom! Mommy wasn't quite prepared enough to have brought home books on honeybees, so she will snag those at the library tomorrow. Mommy also needs to grab some toilet paper tubes to make a Hive. Mommy's brain does not think ahead far enough to cover a three-day weekend.
We did the usuals - add the letter to the coconut tree:
the wall line-up:

the stickers are all of Houses
 and the bottom of the top bunk:

Part of S.'s bedtime routine with Daddy is for him to give her words, and she points to the beginning letter. She is doing a little too well at that. Last night's she told him "cake" starts with "f" - then explained, "because cake is food, and "food" starts with "f"!"  That's my girl, no forced choice questions for us!
 During the next week or so we will be looking at Honey, Hummingbirds, and Horses, but that was enough inside work for one day. I kicked them outside to play, and they made sure I wouldn't have to rinse that hair color out after all, by dumping buckets of muddy water over each others' heads.

Monday, May 27, 2013

Review: Jennifer Lawrence, the Hunger Games' Girl on Fire, by Nadia Higgins

I don't read, much less review, biographies very often, especially biographies of movie stars. I requested this title, however, in an I-can-admit-when-I'm-wrong moment:
Jennifer Lawrence: The Hunger Games' Girl on Fire
Like many rabid Hunger Games fans, I waited anxiously to see who would be chosen to play Katniss in the movies. In the midst of all the whitewashed book covers, I really wanted to see someone of a non-white ethnic background (the physical descriptions of Katniss would lead the reader to think slightly Asian). When Lawrence's selection was announced, and I did an internet search to see who the heck she was (sorry, Ms. Lawrence!), my first reaction was an outraged shriek of, "A BLONDE???!!!"

Well, I don't have to tell anyone how amazingly she carried it off, and reading this short biography, I get a glimpse of why.

In addition to her acting talent, Lawrence grew up in a family that seemed determined to prepare her for doing stuntwork - two older brothers who tortured her as only brothers can do, riding unbroken horses without a saddle. Not quite the stereotypical blonde cheerleader type (although, yes, she was a cheerleader, too!)

I found the biography a quick, refreshing read, and I know it will be snapped up off the shelves as soon as I get it in the system. Plenty of pictures from movies, red carpets, and Lawrence's childhood, to satisfy any fan. Thank-you to Lerner for the review copy, and let the (second) games begin!
For more great nonfiction, head over to Prose and Kahn.

Friday, May 24, 2013

A Night at the Museum

Back in March, I posted about the awesome Cowboy Days program at the New Mexico Farm and Ranch Museum. We all had so much fun, I got online the next day to see what other big programs they had coming up. When their May event popped up, I literally gasped.
C's second-favorite movie after Ghostbusters is Night at the Museum,  and here they were with a program of the same name, scheduled for the evening of the last day of school. I immediately knew I had his birthday present. Adding to the excitement, I decided we would stay in a hotel overnight, just us - S. got to stay in one with Daddy a while back, and he was a bit jealous. I didn't relish the idea of driving 2 hours home in the wee hours, myself. We even had a gift card for a restaurant he likes, so hotel and gas were the only expense (the museum was a whopping $3 for adults and FREE FOR KIDS!)
When I told him about it at his birthday party, he rolled his eyes back and planted himself on the carpet, face-first (In C-speak, that means he's happy). I'm glad I didn't tell him earlier, because he bugged me almost non-stop then about how much longer it would be! The day finally came, I picked him up after school, we grabbed Sonic drinks at the bottom of the mountain, and we were on our way.
Man, can that kid talk. I let him sit up front (still in booster seat), so I could hear him, and almost regretted that. How does the car make air conditioning? Can whales eat sharks? Can sharks eat whales? What makes a volcano explode? Why did that guy in that movie (which I haven't seen) do what he did? It is fun to have him by himself, but he didn't understand why I started laughing every fifth question. 
We checked into the hotel, and immediately ran into friends from our town. C. was fascinated with the in-room refrigerator and microwave, and disappointed we had nothing to put in them. After a thorough inspection, we went to eat - giant stack of pancakes for supper, why not? And we even had leftovers to put in the refrigerator! Quick stop back at the hotel, then on to the museum.
They did a fantastic job! A dozen or so employees were dressed in black, with "security guard" t-shirts and hats. They greeted us as "security trainees", and gave us badges that put us into groups:
While each group waited to be called up, there was a commentary of the movie, "Night at the Museum", showing on a huge screen. We checked that out, looked at some of the artwork, and visited the gift shop to buy little souvenirs for S. and L.
Finally, our turn for instructions!

Follow your checklist, and don't let anything in or out of the museum. We were then passed on through a security gate to this guard, who called us all "Hopscotch" and "Cupcake" (starting to sound familiar?) He repeated the above directions, and added that we would be given a key soon, and we absolutely must not lose it. he also showed us a picture of a street scene, and complained that the little girl playing checkers had escaped again.

The next security guard, Bob, gave us our key, and stressed again that we shouldn't lose it, then our training began.
This gentleman came to the museum with the old car. He spends his evening trying to fix it up, but the museum staff keeps draining the fluids out again! He offered to polish our key for us, but we wouldn't hand it over.

We found the checker-playing girl at mercantile. As you can see, she moves like a blur, so we couldn't quite catch her. She tried to get our key, too - she was hoping to pry open the jars of penny candy with it.

She had to settle for a game of checkers.

After a stop at the post office, we met this very enteraining gentleman at the chuck wagon. he complained about being put next to the sheep herders - they were nice enough, he said, but the little girls kept rearranging his wagon when he was out.

Could you believe that of these sweet faces? Good thing I wasn't holding the key, I would have handed it over to the little one without being asked.

He confided in us that he and the young man at the old car liked to get it cranked up and drive it around the museum at night. Sometimes they get into trouble for knocking things over. etting in a little trouble can get you sent to storage, which is bad enough, but if the museum folk get REALLY mad, you can be sent back to a department store - who wants to stand around and watch people shop all day?!

This is Lozen, an Apache warrior. She took an immediate shine to C., and was pleased to discover he is Apache, too.

This woman was so engaging, I could have listened to her all night. She portrayed Cathay Williams, a female buffalo soldier. I had never heard of her, and had to look her up the next day. Fascinating! She told the story so personally, it was hard to believe she wasn't making half of it up.

This couple made another attempt at our key, trying to convince us it would start their tractor.

And, here, we learned the difference between horses, donkeys, and mules.
There were several other stops - 14 in all, each very informative and interesting. Stops were just a few minutes long, moved along by a voice on the loudspeaker announcing, "The Museum is secure". We made it through with key intact, and after a notherlook around, headed back to the hotel. Well done, Farm and Ranch folks!
Back at the hotel, I handed the TV remote to C. We haven't had cable in years, and I was cracking up at how little he 'got' TV. He would spend ten minutes watching a Spanish soap opera, then ask, "Mom, can I skip this?" I am quite happy with this gap in his 'education'.
All in all, a fun trip, and a great way to spend time with my big 7yo:)

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

G is for Grandma

And, I now are one!

At 5:25 this morning, I got to meet Grace Elizabeth:

8 pounds 11 ounces, 20 inches long. Her eyes are closed here, but she has been staring at everything pretty much from moment one, taking it all in.
She has already rolled her eyes at me, too.
Her amazing Mommy did it with NO EPIDURAL - they put one in, but it didn't 'take', and they ended up turning it off. She squeezed my hand just a bit:

and my sides look about the same, from those moments she grabbed the nearest skin and squeezed. All worth it, though.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Review: The Long, Long Journey: the Godwit's Amazing Migration, by Sandra Markle and Mia Posada

The Long, Long Journey: The Godwit's Amazing Migration
I started telling my husband about the trip these birds make at just 4 months old, and he exclaimed, "L. is almost two, and I don't even like him being atthe end of the driveway!"
While most animals have to grow up quickly, and many different species migrate, godwits are especially impressive in both areas. A young female godwit hatches in Alaska in early June, and her parents protect her from predators and teach her to fend for herself. By August, she is flying - and then her mother leaves! Her father leads the young godwit and her siblings to the coast, but then he, too, takes off.
Around mid-October, the young godwits - with no adults to lead or protect them - take off en masse on a nonstop flight from Alaska to New Zealand. They fly for nearly eight days straight, travelling over 7,000 miles. Their arrival in New Zealand is heralded by gathered crowds and the ringing of cathedral bells, and is seen as one of the first signs of Spring.
The simple but poetic ("The young female prances across the mud on her long legs") text tells the story of this young godwit's first summer, easily imparting facts about food and predators. The illustrations seem almost soft to the touch, just as our feathered friends would be. A page of recommended reading and web site suggestion, as well as an author's note of personal experience complete the book. This would be fine as a read-alone, or as part of a curriculum. Recommended for elementary age libraries or classrooms.
Thank-you to Millbrook Press for the review copy! For more great nonfiction books (and another review of this one), head over to Perogies and Gyoza.

Friday, May 17, 2013


Do you like strawberries? Do you buy strawberries from the local grocery store? Then, you don't know what a strawberry is. Go find some strawberries grown on a farm where you can pick them yourself, and taste one. I guarantee your eyes will roll back in your head in sheer bliss, and you will never be able to put one of those store-bought ones in your mouth again.
Strawberries actually grow really well in my little garden, so much so that, this year, I gave them twice as much space as they have had. They are already blossoming away, promising many sweet berries to come.
The problem?
These guys:
Roly-Polies. Pillbugs. Sow Bugs. Whatever you call them, they love strawberries just as much as I do. What they don't eat, the chipmunks run off with. I can put netting over them to keep the latter out, but the pillbugs were still getting into my raised beds.
Meanwhile, the library replaced the old behemoth CD racks with sleeker, way-more-compact cases, and the old racks went on auction. Nobody seemed to want them, and I was staring at them, trying to think of a possible use, when I realized...three feet off the ground...three long tiers about four inches deep...hey!

For a whopping $10, I got all six of these. They fasten together back to back, making a half-circle. Can you picture them, covered in strawberry plants? Daddy jokes that I am being awfully nice to raise them up fpr the deer, so they don't have to bend down to eat them, but there is already a fence in the works. And, he was nice enough to load them into the truck in well-over-80-degree temps today, when he should be recovering from a three-day road trip hauling uncut lumber and a jeep.
I wasn't allowed to help load, being in 'a delicate condition', so F. and I pulled all the little felt inserts out. I now have approximately nine thousand pieces of what amounts to a commercial grade carpet, about 6"x8". The librarian in me can't just throw those away, and I'm already trying to think of craft ides. Unsuccessfully so far, but I'll come up with something. (Any ideas???)
I love getting something cheap and using it for a project that could have cost me a fortune, otherwise! What have you repurposed lately?

Thursday, May 16, 2013

G is for Gingerbread

We have been learning the letter "G" this week, and finally got to make use of a gingerbread boy pan I picked up at an after-Christmas clearance sale.

Logan's method of decorating is to push the candy in as far as you can - that way, you get icing on your fingers that has to be licked off!
I also got a silicon tray of gingerbread minis, so we made cookies out of those.
Even gingerbread men need minions.
C. and S. love 'reading' the story of The Gingerbread Man on Starfall, and as ours were baking, we talked about what would happen if they came to life. This is the story they dictated to me, together:
One day, C., S. and L. made a gingerbread man. Then we cooked him. Then we opened the stove then the gingerbread man popped out and it ran away. Then C., Mom, S. and L. were chasing the gingerbread man. We were saying "Come back here", cause we wanted to eat him cause we thought he was good stuff, so we wanted him to eat.
Then he ran all over the place and we kept saying, "Come back here, you stinker-butt!" Then the gingerbread man said, "Run, run, as fast as you can, you can't catch me, I'm the gingerbread man." He fell down and we caught him in a net and the gingerbread man just popped out again and he ran as fast as he could and we ran as fast as we could and the gingerbread man stopped at a wolf and then he ran again and the wolf and the fox were trying to catch him and we said, "Good boys!" and the wolf and the fox caught him and they threw him to us and S. held him on her back and she flew away.
When we got home he took the clock down and S. took it away from him and put it back up. He wanted a clock for his house. Then God made us another clock so the gingerbread man could have a clock for his house.
The End.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Review: Cowpoke Clyde and Dirty Dawg by Lori Mortensen

Cowpoke Clyde and Dirty Dawg
Cowpoke Clyde has scrubbed his house and shooed the horseflies out. He's ready to kick back and relax with a pot of soup, when he realizes he forgot ol' Dawg. Not a problem, he'll just give him a quick wash...right?
Anyone who has ever tried to give a dog (or an impish toddler) a bath will have a clue as to what happens next. Dawg is gone - and, so is the soup! A merry chase ensues, with all the ranch animals getting involved (whether they want to or not).
Illustrations by Michael Allen Austin, from Dawg's shaggy fur and fleas to the astonished pig's wide eyes and pinched lips, are the perfect complement to Mortensen's bouncy rhymes. I defy anyone to read this without a twang in their voice!
Cowpoke Clyde will definitely be added to my read-aloud list, and I may just have to plan either a cowboy or bath time story time around it. You can run out and grab yourself a copy or order it online starting TODAY!
Thank-you to the author for the review copy!

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Alamogordo Public Library Storybook Wall 50th Anniversary

Fifty years ago, the Librarian at our public library (not me) approached a young woman named Maude Rathgeber, then Chairman of the American Association of University Women, about replicating a tile wall she had seen at another library. Together with local artist Lou Berkness, she drove a group of ladies through months of collecting and then selecting drawings from hundreds of area schoolchildren, and painstakingly replicating each chosen drawing onto a ceramic tile. The wall was completed and dedicated May 11, 1963.
The library has changed just a tad since then, but the wall is still there. Patrons waiting their turn to check out line up next to it every day. Children standing with their parents constantly run their fingers over the tiles, checking out the pictures drawn decades ago.
One year ago, FOL member Carolyn Ditmer was standing in that line, chatting with another patron, when she realized that the 50th anniversary was coming up, and immediately proposed we all do something about that. We, of course, agreed. There are 247 tiles, and one of my tasks (with help) was to track down as many of the original artists as possible.
Needless to say, this wasn't a matter of going through the phone book. After 50 years, many last names (and a few first) had changed. We are a military town, so the number of kids who moved before they even graduated was pretty high. Of course, more than a few had passed away, although we were able to find family members in some cases.
Word started getting around, though (hooray for Facebook!), and I started getting scribbled notes dropped on my desk, saying that so-and-so possibly now owns a car dealership in Tuscaloosa, or giving me somebody's cousin's best friend's phone number. As I sat in the chair at my annual eye exam, in between the "Is it better here at 1, or here at 2?" I got, "So, what is it you're doing with those tiles?" It turns out, my optometrist's sister illustrated one.
I also discovered that I already knew several of the artists, I just didn't know them by their maiden names. One old friend appeared at my desk one day with a huge grin, and the exact same copy of the book she drew her picture from!
A gentleman I've known for several years, both through his work and mine, finally shared that he had a tile. His parents, a very conservative and traditional couple, did not believe in drawing unnecessary attention to oneself. He told me that he once purposely spelled a word wrong in the district spelling bee, so he wouldn't be the one to go on to the state. When the tile project came up, he decided not to draw anything, so he would be sure not to be chosen - until his teacher threatened to send him to the principal if he didn't. Odds were, his wouldn't be chosen anyway, right?
He is normally smiling every time I see him - I think he's still checking over his shoulder for angry parents!
I made many new friends, as well. I talked with people in Alaska and New Hampshire. I heard wonderful stories, like the gentleman who admitted that, not only had he not read the book he illustrated, but he misspelled his own name. Another gentleman's family used to live in the building that now holds my favorite restaurant. One woman had just come to the United States from Mexico, and that had been her first year of school. 
The gentleman on the right here:
was visiting town one day, and we had a long talk, discovering several friends in common, including the secretary of C.'s school. The pretty lady in the middle is Maude's daughter, has a tile on the wall, and is the wife of C.'s principal! Have I mentioned this is a small town? The gentleman on the left is Maude's son. He was too young to illustrate a tile, but instead got to help carry all those tiles back and forth from car to kiln. Fifty years later, he was ferrying Maude to and from meetings preparing for the anniversary celebration. I have enjoyed getting to know him as well.
To help commemorate the anniversary, we decided to do three things: we had a huge party at the library on the exact anniversary, we (meaning our extraordinary clerk Melissa) put together a commemorative CD and booklet, and we started a quilt with squares illustrated by the descendants of each of the original artists. More on each of those in a moment.
Another full-circle story: The sister of the gentleman on the right also illustrated a tile, choosing Snow White. A biography she wrote for our commemorative CD compares her life to that of Snow White. Her daughter illustrated a quilt square with:
and as icing on the cake, she sent me this photo of the two of them together:
Around 100 people attended the Anniversary Celebration, including at least 19 of the original artists, their families and friends.
Raise your hand if you illustrated a tile...

A barbershop group kicked things off with some tunes from the sixties.

FOL President and City Commissioner Nadia Sikes read a proclamation by Mayor Susie Galea
We still had a framed copy of program from the original wall dedication fifty years ago. Both mat and frame, though, were the same beige as the program, and were beginning to show signs of age. FOL member Victoria Copeland and her husband donated a new frame, and Kelley Quarles of Hang it Up to Go created a new mat. The finished product was presented to Library Manager Sharon Rowe:
and it now hangs in the Children's Room, near the Storybook Wall.
So much prettier!
The program is fun to look at, because it was done on an old typewriter - the height of professional at the time - and the women involved are named as "Mrs. Jack Rathgeber" and such, rather than by their own first names. All of the original artists are listed by school.
One of the tile artists, Maude's nephew G.B. Oliver III, told the assembled crowd that "any class I have comes from my Aunt Maude". He said that he would have been perfectly happy to stay on the ranch, but that Maude got him into orchestra. "Can you see these big hands wrapped around a violin?"

Of course, the lady of the hour was Maude herself, who still remembers in great detail the whole project, from beginning to end. I can't remember what I did yesterday! She shared some stories and took questions from the audience.

When she was through, we presented the quilt-so-far. Once we started making contact with the original artists, we started asking if they had any children or grandchildren (or neices or nephews or very artistic dogs) who would like to create a square for a quilt, in the same tradition as the wall. We originally intended to have a finished product to display, but realized as the event got close, and we were still finding artists, that this would mean leaving some people out.
Grandma painstakingly pieced the sometimes-odd-sized pieces together and created the center piece. Some of the squares came from as far away as Singapore! Another arrived the day of the celebration, and more are coming. I would like to add at least one more strip to each side before we finish it off. This, too, will hang in the Children's Room. Fifty years from now, somebody else can track these kids down, and their descendants can make...holographic images? Who knows!
Several of the artists got up to share their memories. This gentleman,
another character I enjoyed meeting, joked that his tile - the second in the bottom row - was placed there so he could reach it when he grew up. He also claims his mother made him enter the contest:)
This pretty lady,
who is much less blurry in real life, didn't have a tile, but her brother did, and she read a letter from him. Her husband is one of those whose picture was NOT chosen for the wall, but he claims he isn't bitter about it any more. Not much, anyway.
We got most of the artists present to sit for a group picture, along with Maude, and June Harwell in the front, far right: June was not the librarian at the time of the dedication, but was soon after that, and is another trove of memories!

There is no way some of these people are over fifty. I think they got their grandkids to stand in for them.
And, there was food! We had traditional sixties party favorites, like meatballs and deviled eggs (they nixed my idea of martinis), as well as fruit and veggie trays, cupcakes, and a cake with a picture of the storybook wall. The local high school orchestra performed while people ate and caught up with old friends.

We also took the opportunity to showcase some of the things the library has to offer today, including our new databases, e-books, and award-winning Lego Robotics teams.

I don't pretend to understand any of it, I just schedule the room for them.
One of our library clerks, Melissa, spent a huge amount of time putting together a CD and booklet with pictures of each individual tile, again arranged by school, pictures of the quilt squares that came in, and biographies written by or about some of the artists. Then, she set the entire CD to music from the sixties! The husband of another library clerk burned copies for us to sell at the event (and after - a few are still available!)
Due to time and space constraints, not everything we received ended up in the booklet or CD. This came just before the celebration - a rejection slip, if you will!

If any other artists would like to share pictures, memories, or biographies, I would be happy to add them here so others can see them. They can be e-mailed to me at: I can also still send quilt squares out to interested descendants, just let me know how many and where to, at this same address.
I had a wonderful time getting to meet people in person, and everyone else seemed to enjoy the day as well. It was fun hearing the "Well, hi!!!" as people rediscovered old friends and got reconnected. Thank-you to all the staff and FOL members who worked so hard to put this all together!
Adding a link to the article in the Alamogordo Daily News.