Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Joey's New Address

I'm so sorry to have neglected this site the way I have! But I promise, it was not because I was neglecting "Joey's" premise ... I've been working to make her bigger and better, and I believe I have done so. Please check her out here, at our new home ... Reading with Joey.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Sprout Spokane Collaboration: The rest of the summer reading list

Thank you for rejoining us! I appreciate you hopping around to complete the list with Joey  ……

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

The only concern I have about reviewing this book is that I won't do it any justice. Nobody could. What I can say, though, is that The Book Thief is more than a bound collection of words on paper, it's an experience. The characters consume you and will break your heart.

The story is set during the Holocaust, and there's some debate as to whether this is a twist that shouldn't be revealed, but the narrator is not who you would expect.

The writing is spectacular, and character development is precise and haunting, but the beauty of the book is in its narrator. You instantly trust him, and although he is a neutral commentator throughout the book, you grow to love him and feel for him during what he occasionally describes as one of his busiest periods in history. The other character of note (although I believe they all are developed equally well, she just happens to be the heroine) is Liesel.

In one act of thievery, Liesel Meminger changes the path of her life and that of the unseen narrator's who takes an interest in the girl. The stolen item is a book, The Grave Digger's Handbook, found near her brother's graveside. With the help of her foster father, she uses the manual to learn to read. With book burnings commonplace in Nazi Germany, she has to risk her life at times in order to fuel her desire to learn.

Through Liesel, the reader experiences life and the good and bad it has to offer. Through our narrator, the reader experiences death and the good and bad it has to offer. And - most importantly - between our heroine and storyteller, the reader experiences something that we all look for in a book, a collection of characters -- some who are friends, some who are not -- who you will remember for a lifetime and pull from your bookshelf again and again.

Short Girls by Bich Minh Nguyen

Rough, perhaps, but still enjoyable.

Nguyen, author of Stealing Buddha’s Dinner, plays on the themes of family (sisterhood in particular), cultures, and the differences we find in both that tend to tear us apart as well as bring us closer – if we let them.

She focuses most of the novel on sisters, Van and Linny, and tells of how their lives intersect at their father’s citizenship celebration during a time of deep turmoil. Although each display impressive amounts of stubbornness, which allows for a long-standing family tension to get in the way of any type of reconciliation, both are more alike than either realize.

Straight-laced lawyer Van’s picture-perfect marriage is quietly falling apart, and fashionable party girl Linny’s secret affair with a married man is tearing her up. Without knowing it – or at the very least, without wanting to admit it – each are in desperate need of a sister to confide in. Being brought back together at this juncture in their lives is exactly what the other needs.

I’ll admit, it was the title that sold me (I’m only 4’11” myself), but I’m glad it did. I enjoyed the fractured nature of the sisters’ relationship, even if it was a bit trite and predictable on occasion. Nguyen is a talented writer who I’m excited to watch … er, grow.

Sophomoric at times, extremely touching at others, Short Girls is well worth a read.

Sara Gruen, author

I’m doing something different here and reviewing an author. One, in fact, who doesn’t quite yet deserve to be reviewed as an author on her own yet. As far as I’m concerned, someone like Stephen King or Richard Russo are the types of writers who would deserve their own space, not necessarily someone like Gruen.

The reason I am setting her apart, though, is because of the schizophrenic nature of her writing (so far, at least). I want to review her most-recent book Ape House, but there is no way, in good conscience, I can recommend that anyone go out and buy it. And the truth is, I wanted to like this book. I really wanted to. And for about 50 pages I did, but then it unraveled. Her writing held muster – which is a good sign – but the plot fell apart, almost to the point of being ridiculous.

On the other hand, I am completely head-over-heels in love with Water for Elephants. Beautifully written and truly original, Gruen’s story is set during the Great Depression and starts after the tragic death of Jacob Jankowski’s parents. Alone and penniless (soon after the funeral he discovers that his father’s farm and veterinary practice has been mortgaged to the hilt to pay for his college education) Jacob, an Ivy League veterinary student, literally hops a train and finds himself aboard a traveling circus car.

Without at job – and now without a home – Jacob seizes the opportunity to use his knowledge and love for animals to earn a living as the animal trainer for the traveling show. After befriending – and ultimately falling in love with – Marlena, a beautiful ex-ballerina and the star of the main event, he soon learns that behind the glitz and glamour of a circus production lays dark secrets and deadly jealousies.

A love story that is filled with passion, intrigue and a most unusual heroine, Water for Elephants is an absolute must-read.

 And, there you have it, a few of my favorites for summer -- or really any time of year, especially considering summertime really isn't that summery this year.  

Sprout Spokane Collaboration: Summer Reading List

I have recently collaborated with family-oriented and local-business-driven site Sprout Spokane to develop a summer reading list. Giddy, I jumped at the chance. Perhaps I over-jumped because I might have over-written.

First and foremost, if you haven’t had a chance to check out their site, you need to, right away. It’s chalk-full of ideas for families looking for something to do in Spokane and the surrounding areas, with an emphasis on locally-owned businesses (hooray!). The site also contains a wide array of parent resources, including a fun mom blog featuring local, spunky moms. This truly should be on your favorites menu as well as in your Facebook friends list.

Link to my guest post here and be sure to link back to Joey via Sprout for the list in its entirety. Yeah, I know, lots of links. It’s my fault for gettin’ too wordy. But I promise all of the clicks will be worth it … You’ll have a ton of new summer reads.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

The PaperHOME: Sacrifice Fly

A couple of Spokane Indians’ tickets, a few too many sugary soda pops on top of a man-sized greasy hamburger on an already excited three-year-old’s tummy and a foul ball.

That’s all it took to create what is sure to be the highlight of our summer.

But wait. I’m getting ahead of myself.

As the kids have been getting older, we’ve started to venture out a bit more, taking them to a few events we think they might enjoy. Since the newly potty-trained twins have bladders the size of their grandfather’s, we have to be sure there are restrooms reasonably close to where we are sitting, for easy access.

But we hadn’t counted on what was going to happen next.

We’ve been experiencing – and cherishing – a lot of firsts as a family lately. The first movie-theater movie, first bike rides, first circus show. And we were lucky enough to be offered tickets to a Spokane Indians’ game recently. We wanted to make the boys’ first baseball game a memorable one, so we did it in spectacular fashion: We let them pick out their own souvenir Tshirts, order their own greasy burger for dinner and drink as much orange soda as they wanted (a BIG first for them).

Perhaps that’s where we went wrong. 

Brock (left) and Jack (right) enjoy the game with Alex.

We didn’t notice anything was off until after the seventh-inning stretch. Brock was looking a bit peaked, but I just assumed it was because he was exhausted. It was, after all, way past his bedtime. (As a side note, I’ve realized baseball fans are by far the most patient of all spectators).

It wasn’t until I heard him whisper the word that I realized we were in trouble. He only had to say it once, but I made him repeat it, just to be sure.


So I did what any woman who wore the wrong shoes to a baseball game with two three year olds would do, I handed him to his father and asked him to make a mad dash for the bathroom. Dad came back, looking relieved and certain it was just a gassy tummy. But it’s never that easy.

The next time Brock felt the nausea creep up, he didn’t have a chance to warn us. He just leaned over and let it fly. This time he was sitting on daddy’s lap. And a foul ball was headed our way. Two things we mothers worry about, though we never expect them to happen within 90 seconds of one another.

Using the same caliber of dexterity being displayed on the field, Alex managed to grab the foul ball while balancing an open soda pop and a puking child. This splendid display of athleticism, however, came to a screeching halt when, while leaning back to retake his seat, Alex slipped and fell right into the mess.

As impressed as I was with my husband’s athletic prowess, I was even more impressed by the professionalism of the Avista Stadium event staff. They quickly and courteously cleaned up the mess and asked several times if Brock was ok. We will definitely be back. But perhaps we’ll skip the all-you-can-drink orange soda.

This foul ball gives new meaning to the term sacrifice fly.

This column was published in the July 13, 2011 edition of the St. Maries Gazette Record.

Monday, June 27, 2011

The PaperHOME

I think my site needs a dash of Joey. Grandma Joey.

Therefore, in an effort to channel her love of journaling, I am going to interlace snippets of our home life within the book and product reviews. In addition to promoting the store, I also hope to be able to use this site as a way to take a few moments to reflect and record the memories we are making before I lose them forever.

I have tried countless times to keep a journal of my life as a mother and have failed miserably. Maybe this is one small way I can do it. It will at least be a way to record some of the fun - albeit, censored - memories we make, as well as a good place to put the family into family-owned business for our loyal Paperhouse customers and Joey readers.

As the days have been getting warmer and longer and the kids getting older, we’ve been able to experience lots of firsts as a family ….

 … with the most significant being the first few consistent days of beautiful weather. We experienced the first family bike ride together on the Trail of the Coeur d’Alenes in Harrison, Idaho.

Followed up by ice cream!

And Joey’s first-ever cone all to herself.

The circus came to town and brought with it two separate firsts for us: the big show itself, as well as a lesson in clear and proper annunciation. The first “first” is quite obvious, of course. And as you can see in the photo, Joey couldn’t pull her eyes away. She especially loved the trapeze artists and an act that featured beautiful and very well-trained birds.

The second “first,” the one dealing with annunciation, took us a bit more by surprise. It’s always funny to hear grown-up words come out of a child’s mouth, and this instance is no exception. The boys had been talking about the circus for weeks, ever since they had started seeing the posters all over town. They would talk about all the things they’d get to see … the tigers, the lions, the clowns, cotton candy, sodas, etc. Except, I don’t think they ever said the actual word “circus.” When we got into the tent and after we had made our way to our seats, Brock sat down, scooted over to me and excitedly asked, “Are we here Mom? Is this the cervix?”

Jack (left, in black) and Brock (in yellow) are Cars nuts. Absolute fanatics. And they have been looking forward to the sequel for months. Alex and I wanted to make it special for them, so we made sure Cars 2 was the first movie they ever got to see in the theater. And we did it in spectacular fashion, complete with a jumbo bucket of popcorn and sodas … and four trips to the bathroom.

And perhaps the best first: my first long run since the St. Joe River half marathon. The run itself wasn’t the best part, although it wasn’t half bad … I ran a paved trail along the lake. But the best part was that I got to share it with my dad. He and I took off early Sunday morning; he rode his bike, and I ran the Trail of the Coeur d’Alenes from Chatcolet to Harrison, about an 8-mile trek. The plan was to leave early enough to arrive just in time for church. That almost happened … I was just in time for Communion.

My only regret? No photo! Trust me, though, it was beautiful beyond words; the sun rising above the mountains, the stillness of the water, the emptiness of the path ... and especially the time spent with my dad, which didn't require any words. Father-daughter relationships rarely do, though. And perhaps that's what makes them so special.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Just in time for summer, a Weiner roast

It used to be that puzzle time on the kitchen counter was a pretty innocent way to spend an hour. Even if it happens to be while listening to the nightly news as I botch another recipe with my proclivity to confuse tablespoons with teaspoons.

But that was before Anthony Weiner got a hold of a camera and a Twitter account. Since then, watching the nightly coverage with two three-year-olds has made for a very interesting take on national news.

Rep. Anthony Weiner is the Democratic New York congressman currently entangled in controversy surrounding a photo sent over his Twitter account. The photo in question was intended for a 21-year-old girl from Seattle with whom the potential New York City mayoral candidate – and very married politician – had been socializing on the popular networking sight. Instead, it was sent in such a way that the content of the message was visible to all of the congressman’s Twitter followers.

The three-year-olds in question (like most of us will agree) understand that wiener is, quite simply, a funny word. And when it’s being used on a “Mommy show” – something they normally would tune out for being too boring and void of bright colors and silly bodily noises – it becomes a hilarious word. Now, like a recipe that sort of creates itself, pepper in the words “picture” and “photo” and strategically say them right after the congressman’s last name, and you have something these two young boys (and perhaps, many of us) consider sheer comic genius.

All during the six-o’clock news.

Obviously my problem isn’t with the word itself; I didn’t even bother trying to hide my own giggles. And it is, after all, the guy’s name. Not to mention the fact that I’ve been caught saying far worse while destroying an otherwise perfectly good recipe. It’s the arrogance – not to mention the icky-ness – of the act itself.

Weiner spent the better part of the past week playing footsie with the media, clearly hoping his charm and inconsistent brush-offs would keep them and all of their pesky questions at bay. Unfortunately for the congressman, the new era of investigative bloggers didn’t swoon over him the way young girls appear to. Like Larry Craig in the airport bathroom, his story never did add up, and that’s what’s offensive. Where’s the shame? The humiliation? My preschoolers even understand that – as silly as it is – it’s still embarrassing subject matter. 

The puns we can make are infinite and equally hilarious – to all age groups, apparently - and we all have a pretty good idea what the “tweet” consisted of. (I know a couple little boys who would gleefully tell you). But the truth is, lewd subject matter is well … subjective, so we should probably cut the guy some slack. After all, when you consider his voting record, it’s quite possible the “offensive” picture in question was merely a shot of a balanced budget.

This column was originally published in the June 8, 2011 edition of the St. Maries Gazette Record.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Book review: "Press Here" by Herve' Tullet

There are so many excellent kids’ books flooding the market (Dr. Seuss comes to mind, as do the Bright Baby board book series), that sometimes it’s hard to sit down and pick one to write about – or, in this case, gush over. The truth is, how good a book is really depends on the level and stage of development your child is in. And I’ve never found one single book that holds an older child’s attention as well as intrigues an infant more than Herve’ Tullet’s book Press Here.

Clever and effortless, Tullet’s work sets the stage for fun and interactive story time. Joey and the boys alike request it multiple times each day; Joey does so by pointing and babbling in its direction, whereas Jack and Brock say, “Mom, we wanna read that fun dot book.”

Author and illustrator of several children’s books, Tullet mixes simple art with even simpler instructions. But the reaction is anything but ordinary.

Each page displays bright, colorful dots with a sentence or two of instruction, such as “Five taps on the red …” The result of completing the instructions appears when you turn the page to find that the dots have either changed color, multiplied or moved.

The grandkids huddle around Grandpa for yet another re-telling of their new favorite book.

My three-year-olds enjoy it because they’re old enough to understand that what they have done has created a change but still too young to truly figure it out. They are intrigued each time we turn the page, even when they know what’s coming. Joey (who is now 15 months) doesn’t quite get that she has affected something, but is so enamored with the beautiful colors and interaction that it doesn’t matter. It’s truly a perfect book for children of any age.

My only complaint is that it’s not available as a board book. Joey is still too rough on books to allow her to play with this on her own, and if she had it her way we’d read it all day long and only allow for sippy-cup-refill breaks.