Wednesday, June 30, 2010

The Power of Music and Dance

I am a huge fan of shows like Dancing with the Stars and So You Think You Can Dance because, not only do they celebrate the beauty of dance, but they also introduce me to music that I wouldn't have heard otherwise, and then subsequently, become a fan of that music. I am convinced that OneRepublic became a household name when "Apologize" appeared during season 3 of SYTYCD in a contemporary routine danced by Anya and Danny.

I hope the same thing happens to this brilliant singer whose song "Jar of Hearts" was featured in a routine tonight with Billy and Kathryn. Remember this name: Christina Perri.

Her voice and songwriting ability is painfully beautiful. One of the best lyrics ever written: "You're gonna catch a cold from the ice inside your soul." Oh this girl has a gift.

No Plot? No Problem! A Low-Stress, High-Velocity Guide to Writing a Novel in 30 Days by Chris Baty

Chris Baty is the founder of the literary world's infamous National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) every November. Every year I have my 6th graders participate in the Young Writers version of the program, but have never actually participated in it myself.

The adult version of NaNoWriMo proposes that you write a 50,000 word novel in one month's time. (The Young Writer's version allows the kids to choose their own word count.)

I always enjoy reading "how to write" books because it helps me hone my craft as a writer and a teacher. But No Plot? No Problem! stands out among the others because of its humor and its ability to make you want to get up and write a really crappy novel RIGHT NOW. The case that Baty makes for writing a novel in thirty days is simply this: so many of us (myself included) say, "Someday I'm going to write a book - when I have the time, and when I'm older and wiser." Baty is telling us to STOP WAITING! The novel you could write today is just as valid and plausible as the one you could write thirty years from now.

Writing a novel in such a short time frame forces you to turn off your inner editor and just "git r done" which is what so many writers lay claim to when people ask them where they get their inspiration. Oftentimes, inspiration comes from just sitting down and writing a lot of crap, only later turning it into a literary masterpiece during the long and tedious revision process.

Not only is this book the motivational speech most of us need to sit down at the computer and start writing (and to keep writing when all hope seems lost) but it also has a lot of great writing exercises to get you through the difficult patches that are sure to come about during your 30 days chained to the computer. I highly recommend this book for anyone who's wanted to write a novel but procrastinated it into oblivion. Chris Baty will make you want to start writing before you even finish the first chapter.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

A Day in the Life of a Bibliophile: Summer Edition

Starting the day on the patio with a book and some tea:

Guenter would like to join me outside:

My husband pimped my ride by putting a basket on my bike so I can ride to the library and bring back a bounty of books:

Preparing dinner while listening to a book on my iPod:

A bibliophile multitasks: reading a book while grilling chicken and potatoes:

Slam dunk dish of the day: Skewered steak fries with a smoked paprika rub:

Recipe from June 2010 Food Network Magazine:

1. Cut up two baking potatoes into wedges.
2. Drizzle with 0live oil.
3. Season with salt and pepper and brush with the following spice rub: 1 tablespoon olive oil, 1& 1/2 tsp hot smoked paprika and 1/2 tsp each of garlic powder and brown sugar.
4. Grill until golden and crisp, about 25 minutes.
5. Brush with more spice rub and season with salt.

Serves: 2

So what would your day look like?

Monday, June 28, 2010

Summertime Bounty of Basil

Ask me my favorite thing about summer and I'm likely to give you the obvious answer: three months off from work.

Ask me my second favorite thing about summer, and I'm likely to turn my thoughts to food. Hands down, it's gotta be the basil.

There is just something so refreshing and delectable about this summer herb. A lovely chiffonade of basil confetti just makes me want to throw a party, or at the very least, run my fingers through their verdant leaves.

To celebrate summer's bounty of basil, today I used it in three different applications, just to show my love and commitment to its usefulness in the kitchen.

First I cut and washed some strawberries

Then I added in some basil

Then, the best part of all, I soaked them in some sugar and balsamic vinegar. Oh heaven!

While I waited for the berries to macerate, I made myself a lovely lunch of spaghetti with butter, garlic, and basil

Then to wash it all down, I let some basil steep in a simple syrup

That I added to lemon juice and water to make a delicious Italian lemonade that I enjoyed on my patio.

All in a day's work. Cheers to summer!

Friday, June 25, 2010

Audiobook Week: Favorite Titles

Rounding out Audiobook Week, this is the topic I've been looking forward to all week: favorite audiobooks.

These titles are not just books I enjoyed for their stories, but books I enjoyed due to their memorable narrators and otherwise top-notch production.

So enough chit chat, let's get to it:

Middle Grade Favorites:
The Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place: The Mysterious Howling by Maryrose Wood
Hope Was Here by Joan Bauer
Rules by Cynthia Lord
Flush by Carl Hiaasen

YA Favorites:
Paper Towns by John Green
Book of a Thousand Days by Shannon Hale
The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher
Feed by M.T. Anderson
Sleeping Freshmen Never Lie by David Lubar

Adult Favorites:
Columbine by Dave Cullen
Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden
The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows
The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein
Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert
The Road by Cormac McCarthy

In a Class all its own:
All the Harry Potter books narrated by Jim Dale. Brilliant!

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Audiobook Week: When Do You Listen to Audiobooks?

Join the discussion over at Devourer of Books if you're a lover of audiobooks - or you've never listened to them but are curious.

Today's topic I feel like I already covered, but I guess it doesn't hurt to expand on it: when do you listen to audiobooks?

As I mentioned in previous posts, it all started in the car (as it does for most people) but it eventually evolved to any time I'm doing a task that doesn't involve a lot of complex thought: cleaning the house, cooking dinner, washing the dishes, taking the dogs for a walk...etc). I feel like if I'm NOT listening to a book during those "dead air" spaces, then I'm wasting time.

What this blog is NOT

I read a lot of great book blogs that have contests and giveaways galore. I enjoy reading these blogs because they always help me to see what's up and coming in the world of YA and middle grade lit. But I've been lamenting the last few months over my lack of readership, and have considered hosting a few contests and giveaways to boost my followers. But then I realized that's not what my blog is about. Don't get me wrong, I absolutely appreciate all of the generous bloggers out there who give away ARCs and signed copies of just-released books. But see, the thing is, that will never be me. Not because I like to selfishly hoard books; no, I like to UNSELFISHLY hoard books -- in my classroom. Any book that is in my possession that can be read by kids from 9-14, I'm going to hang on to it for my students. As much as I enjoy sharing my love of reading with book bloggers, I'm not gonna lie, I love sharing with kids more. It's way more satisfying to put that book in the hands of a kid who never liked to read and now does, than to ship it off to some random person in Nebraska who doesn't know me from a hole in the ground.

So even though you won't have the opportunity to win mounds of free stuff, I'm asking you to stay for the conversation and ability to talk about great books (and sometimes not so great). I don't want to buy your readership; I'd like to earn it.

(I'd like to note that I am not in any way shape or form, criticizing bloggers who have contests and giveaways; this was more of a way for new readers to understand where I'm coming from and what I'm about than a criticism of the way other bloggers blog.)

Move over Ke$ha

Author Stephanie Perkins (who, by the way, really makes me want to add blue streaks to my hair) posted this video on her blog and now I'm smitten with Jackson Pearce. I've never read anything she's written, but after this clever music video, she's been added to the top of my "to-read" list!

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Audiobook Week: Meme

Audiobook are you currently reading/you read most recently: The Red Pyramid by Rick Riordan (on my iPod) and The Goose Girl by Shannon Hale (on my computer)

Impressions?: I'm enjoying The Goose Girl, but I'm not loving The Red Pyramid yet. Though I'm one of the strange people who didn't like the Percy Jackson series.

How long you’ve been listening to audiobooks: Four years - ever since I started at a job that is an hour from my house.

First audiobook you ever listened to: The Good German by Joseph Kanon

Favorite audiobook title: I've listened to so many great ones, but if you put a gun to my head I guess I'd say Book of a Thousand Days by Shannon Hale

Favorite narrator: Hmmm... I really like Burnadette Dunne. I listened to her narrate Memoirs of a Geisha and The Devil Wears Prada, two completely different novels in mood, tone, genre, but she managed to do both justice. In fact, I'd venture to say she actually made The Devil Wears Prada more bearable than it would have been otherwise.

How do you choose what to listen to versus read? Whatever my library has available.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Molto Gusto: Easy Italian Cooking by Mario Batali

Mario Batali is a rock star in the food world. He wears those orange clogs like he doesn't even care how absolutely hideous they are. But I'll forgive the Iron Chef the fashion faux pas given his ability to make Italian cuisine so simple, yet so delicious.

The recipes in Molto Gusto are inspired by his restaurant Otto Enoteca Pizzeria in NYC, which I have had the privilege of dining at. The food at Otto is so simple, yet so tantalizing on your palate that it's hard to believe its lack of pretention. However, the recipes in this book are so simple that it's sort of almost not worth making a cookbook out of them. But for someone looking to learn new techniques and nuances of food (e.g. how to grill pizza), then look no further. 

Molto Gusto: Easy Italian Cooking by Mario Batali
Published: April 6, 2010
Publisher: Ecco
Pages: 272
Genre: Cookery 
Audience: Home Cooks
Disclosure: Purchased Copy

If you buy this book or any book through Amazon, it is my hope that you also regularly patronize independent bookstores, which are important centerpieces of thriving communities. While I am an Amazon Affiliate, that by no means implies that I only buy my books through their website. Please make sure you are still helping small, independent bookstores thrive in your community. To locate an independent bookstore near you, visit IndieBound

Audiobook Week: Reviews

If you're an audiobook lover like me, head on over to Devourer of Books to be part of the Audiobook Week discussions and giveaways.

Today's Topic: How to write an audiobook review

Hmmm.. This is a tough one. I don't always mention that it was an audiobook in my review, only if I abandoned it because the narrator was so terrible, or the audio presentation was so top-notch, I have to give props to the narrator(s) and producer(s). For me, the only time I think it's really worth reviewing an audiobook as a separate entity is when it's so far below par (a la Percy Jackson) or is so masterfully done that it makes the book an even more enjoyable experience than actually reading it (a la Book of a Thousand Days, or Thirteen Reasons Why).

Monday, June 21, 2010

Celebrate Audiobooks

Jen over at Devourer of Books has created a lot of great events and giveaways for audiobook week and I feel obliged to participate as I am a huge proponent of audiobooks.

Today's discussion topic: why audiobooks?

I started getting heavily interested in audiobooks four years ago when I accepted a job almost an hour from my house. To keep myself from going insane while sitting in traffic, I began to check out audiobooks at the library, and the rest is history.

I always encourage my students to listen to audiobooks, even when their parents will tell them that it's cheating. Listening to audiobooks is a different experience from reading a book, but no less valid. I'm the type of person who prefers audiobooks to regular books and vice-versa, depending on the book. I have abandoned audiobooks that were absolute snorefests thanks to dull and lifeless narrators, but then read the actual book and loved it.

If you haven't listened to an audiobook, this is the week to give them a try.

Don't count your egg yolks before you use the whites

Back in the early days of learning how to cook, I, like anyone, made a lot of stupid mistakes. One of the silliest mistakes I made was using part of an ingredient and then throwing away the other part(s) that I wasn't using. Case in point: eggs. Whenever I would make a recipe that called for egg yolks, I foolishly threw away the whites. WHAT WAS I THINKING? Hello?! There's a whole other meal in those whites.

I recently made ice cream that called for 6 egg yolks, and I am horrified at the thought that a couple years ago, those whites would've been tossed down the garbage disposal rather than having the opportunity to be a part of this delicious prosciutto, basil, and egg white omelet. Oh the injustice of it all!

I'm still making plenty of mistakes when it comes to cooking, but I'm glad I'm not making that one anymore!

My Summer TBR Pile and a reading challenge

These do not include library books, only the books I own.

The one I'm looking most forward to reading is Bamboo People since I just finished a Mitali Perkins book and LOVED it! Her writing is so vivid and full of sensory details. I have a feeling I'll be reading many more of her books before the summer's over.

I've decided "set sail" and take on my library's summer reading challenge this year, so for all of you out there who are following along, but haven't commented yet, I need your help with suggestions.

These are the "checkpoints"

Theme: water

Theme: Michigan (either setting or author)

Theme: Travel

So give me some good suggestions - I especially need help with the Michigan one. I'm considering Mitch Albom for the fiction or non-fiction (or both) but I'm drawing blanks on movies that take place in Michigan.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Monsoon Summer by Mitali Perkins

Mitali Perkins is an unsung author in the YA lit world. Monsoon Summer was my first experience reading her work, and after reading this book, I am convinced that her books need to be marketed more. Her goal is to make multicultural literature available, enjoyable, and accessible to young readers, and I'd say she succeeds on all accounts with this beautiful work of multicultural, modern-day fiction.

When Jasmine "Jazz" Gardener learns that she'll be spending the entire summer in India with her family, she is less than thrilled at the idea. Her mother, the exuberant do-gooder, wants to return to the orphanage where she was adopted to help set up a clinic for the poverty-stricken women and children in the area. Jazz, who still can't shake her own charitable failures, decides to stay as far away from the orphanage as possible. This plan backfires when she meets Danita, the young girl the Gardeners have hired to cook for the family during their stay. Danita has a dilemma that only Jazz can help her resolve, and she slowly begins to let herself be open to the beautiful people who are a part of the Asha Bari orphanage.

Despite the fact that the plot is predictable, there is so much more to love about the book than knowing what will happen next. The writing is full of so much sensory language that you can feel the rain falling on you, can taste the tantalizing flavors of the Indian cuisine, and you can feel the warmth of the people. It's a book that makes you realize, if you hadn't before, that despite the abject poverty, so much of India's beauty is its people.

The last few chapters of the book had me smiling, laughing, and crying all at the same time. This is the perfect summer read.

Visit Mitali Perkins' author website

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Whimsical Berlin

Berlin is my absolute favorite city in the world. I would visit it every year if I could afford to. Here is just one more reason why it is the awesomest city on earth: A "Fast Lane" on the way down to the Alexanderplatz U-Bahn station. Despite its bleak history, it's good to see that Berlin doesn't take itself too seriously.

Originally seen on the National Geographic's Intelligent Travel Blog

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Once Was Lost by Sara Zarr

From Goodreads:
As a pastor's kid, it's hard not to buy into the idea of the perfect family, a loving God, and amazing grace. But lately, Sam has a lot of reasons to doubt. Her mother lands in rehab after a DUI, and her father seems more interested in his congregation than his family. When a young girl in her small town goes missing, the local tragedy overlaps with Sam's personal one, and the already worn thread of faith holding her together begins to unravel.

Once Was Lost is my first experience reading Sara Zarr and it certainly won't be my last. This book had the potential to be a complete disaster. A depressing premise and brooding first person narrator could definitely turn the reader off. But Zarr writes with such lyrical simplicity that it works without making you feel completely bummed out. Once was Lost is not just a coming of age story; it's also a faith-seeking journey. When the girl in the story goes missing, Sam, the first person narrator, also realizes that her faith in God has also gone missing. Having to deal with an alcoholic mother in rehab and a pastor father who makes more time for his parishoners than his own daughter, Sam has to make sense of all the trauma and difficulty on her own. As the novel progresses, the reader slowly realizes that there's more to Sam than just being a mopey, solitary teenager; she has managed to deal with all her family baggage with grace and dignity.

Something else I really appreciated about this story was how Zarr threw away many of the possible predictable elements of the plot and took the reader on a truly authentic journey. There were so many moments that I thought that Zarr was foredhadowing foreboding, but I was pleasantly surprised that what I predicted didn't happen. Bravo Sara Zarr for going against a formula!

Friday, June 11, 2010

Big Green Purse: Use Your Spending Power to Create a Cleaner, Greener World by Diane MacEachern

With all that is going on in the Gulf right now with this BP disaster, many of us feel angry and powerless as to what we can do to make a positive impact on the environment.

This book is the ultimate reference guide to teach us how to use our wallets to drive consumer demand for greener products. MacEachern's thesis espouses that when we start demanding better products, and we use our money to purchase them, we're telling businesses what we value and they will start providing what consumers want.

The chapters are divided into the following ideas/products:
1) Why your big green purse matters
2) Principles
3) Beauty products
4) Cars and transportation
5) Hot stuff: coffee, tea, cocoa
6) Food
7) Cleaning products
8) Clothing and accessories
9) Lawn and garden
10) Kids
11) Lights, appliances, and electronics
12) Furniture, paint, flooring, fabrics

I checked this book out at the library, but I will definitely be purchasing my own copy as a reference to use whenever I need to make a purchase from one of the categories above.

For those people who think that environmentalism hurts business, they need to crawl out from under the rock they've been living in. Once upon a time, it was thought that if you were for the environment, you were against business. But now being Green is a business, and if you don't jump on the bandwagon, you're going to find yourself losing money. People are starting to understand the need to make more sustainable choices, and therefore, our purchases are beginning to be motivated by that understanding. I think fairly soon, we're going to see a paradigm shift (actually, the shift is happening right now as we speak). What was once thought as hurtful to business will become the status quo. Bravo to MacEachern for helping to make this shift all the more easy for consumers.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Lessons You Will Never Find in a Textbook

I made myself vulnerable in front of my students this week. I shared with them a piece of writing that was in desperate need of revision, and I asked them to give me their critiques. It was a humbling experience. It helped me to remember the anxiety and heart-racing nerves I experienced whenever I used to get a paper back from a teacher or professor in school. But it also helped the kids to see that ALL writers, even their "all-knowing" teacher, are not perfect. I showed them my flaws, right there on the page for them to fix.

It was so tempting to edit out some of the more abominable sections of the piece, but I decided it was more important for them to make their own discoveries that all writers need to revise. It's not enough for me to just preach the virtues of revision. I needed to make it real to them. Given their willingness to tell me exactly what I needed to fix, I think they got it. With the school year ending next week, it's good to know they've been paying attention to me this whole time.