4/16/15

Things to Read - On the Bookshelf (April 2015)

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Some are most definitely better than others. I think from now on I'll star my favorites.

1. The Book of Unknown Americans - I didn't love this book, the main characters were likable enough (a Mexican couple who moves to America in order to find better schooling for their recently-disabled teenage daughter), but they didn't have much depth, nor did anyone else in the book - as if the world was simply divided into "good" people and "bad" people; although the novel is marketed for adults, it read like a young adult novel.

*****2. Spoiled Brats - SO FUNNY. At times I laughed out loud. Life through the perspective of a classroom pet. A man who accidentally pickles himself in the late 1800s and thus is forced to endure modern society (i.e Rip Van Winkle meets 2014). Though beware these stories definitely have an edge to them - is the author laughing at us or with us?

3. Friendship: A Novel - I didn't finish this book, despite finding it well written. The plot centers around the friendship of two girls in their mid-twenties. And reading it made me realize how very very far I am from my mid-twenties. So I stopped reading. When I feel a need to get back in touch with the younger generation, I'll watch a few episodes of HBO's Girls and call it a day.

*****4. The Reluctant Fundamentalist - READ THIS BOOK. Of all the books listed, The Reluctant Fundamentalist is BY FAR my favorite. In a Pakistani cafe, a local man decides to tell his story to an American tourist. This is the whole plot. But why is the American there? And why does the Pakistani feel a need to listen to him? As day turns to night, everything starts to seem sinister. Or does it? Or should it? I COULD NOT PUT THIS NOVEL DOWN.

5. Alias Grace - I'm a fan of Margaret Atwood, so I assumed I'd like this book. But it wasn't one of my favorites (I much prefer the Blind Assassin). Atwood based this novel on the true story of Grace Marks, a house maid in the late 1800s who killed her employer and his mistress. Atwood succeeds in making Marks a sympathetic character (Grace's backstory was my favorite part of the novel), but a lot of the story still seems unfinished somehow. As if Atwood herself couldn't decide on the guilt or innocence of the character she created.

6. Creative Block: Get Unstuck, Discover New Ideas. Advice & Projects from 50 Successful Artists - Fifty artists (all very different). Fifty interviews. Lots of project ideas. I'm slowly making my way through it all, but so far, this is a great book to pick up when you're feeling "stuck".

4/14/15

Things to Make - Make & Engineer Your Own Toys with ThinkFun's New Maker Studio Kits

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After our return from the spring break road trip, Thinkfun sent us three of their new Maker Studio kits - the perfect activity to fill our afternoons before school started again.

The kits come in three different varieties - winches, gears, and propellers, which worked perfectly for our family - one set for each child. The kits contain sets of plastic parts that you attach to various recyclables (plastic bottles, mac and cheese boxes, toilet paper rolls, etc), along with detailed instructions on how everything comes together. And once your child finishes one or more of the detailed projects, he/she can try some of the recommended "challenges" in order to create on his/her own terms.

Thinkfun recommends Maker Kits for children 7 and up and I'd take that recommendation seriously; even my 9 year old found the kit hard to complete independently. In retrospect, I wish I would have made this a 1 on 1 activity (rather than a 1 on 3 activity) because the kids really liked seeing how everything came together but they all wanted a lot of help with assembly (though I kept trying to explain since we're using things out of the recycling bin, there's no problem if someone messes up).

In our experience, the winches kit involved the easiest assembly; whereas gears was by far the hardest (lots of measurements). So I'd recommend starting with winches or propellers and working your way up.

And the best part? Watching T play for hours with his new toys!! Plus, it feels great to know that when these toys fall apart we can just build more.

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4/13/15

Things to Do - This Untamed Life (Nature) & Random Links

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This week on This Untamed Life we're posting nature photos. I'm not sure if our family dog walks really count as "nature", but I'm going with it.

Happy Monday everyone!! If you have a chance, don't forget to click on over to This Untamed Life to see everyone else's images.

RANDOM LINKS:

* 20 of the world's best photos taken with a camera phone. wow.

* An easier approach to summer fitness.

* 3000 miles with no screen time for kids. "Instead of memories of a crazy long car trip where they escaped the dullness in videos and games, they’ll have memories of a crazy long car trip where they formed a more complex relationship with each other and with me. They got a sense of the country, its vastness and variety, its future and past, and a sense of themselves at the same time, what their minds are capable of when allowed to roam in the deceptive bleakness of boredom. The perfect road trip."

* Turkey is so cool.

* Disturbing vintage advertisements.

* America's Top 50 Playgrounds. #2 is in DC and I can't find anyone who has ever been there. Anyone? Anyone?

* Strong is the new pretty. Love these images and love the message that goes with them.

* The Smiling Victorian. The funny thing is that very few of these people, under a modern definition, would be considered "smiley".

4/10/15

Places to Go (Vacation) - On the Road Again - Spring Break in Chicago, Part III (the LONG drive home) & Cherish This Day


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We spent our last morning of vacation walking the shores of the Lake Katherine. T's new best friend is apparently Murphy the dog.

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We hit the road in the late afternoon, intending to drive 5.5 hours to Cleveland. The first few hours or so went relatively well (easy drive, no traffic) until F started projectile vomiting in the car.

After cleaning out the minivan to the best of my ability, I stopped at a rest stop to feed the other children dinner and find a closer hotel in Toledo (thank you Homewood Suites, for amazing service and patience). The rest of a night was a blur as F couldn't even hold water down and I had to keep calling the front desk to replenish our towels and take away nasty linens. P alternated between sadness for her sister's distress and elation that they both could watch TV at 3 am. T slept through it all.

Luckily, by 11 am the next morning, F said she felt well enough to travel (though still not exactly "well").

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For our last stop on the way home, we spent a few hours in Pittsburgh at the Carnegie Museum of Art & Natural History (I think they're technically two separate museums, but they share a building and the same admission price).

F still didn't feel great, but she REALLY wanted some time outside the car, so the museum was somewhat of a mixed blessing (i.e. enthusiasm was low). Luckily, the combination of art (especially really cool contemporary art), dinosaurs, and mummies kept the (tired, cranky) children enthralled. Plus, it wasn't crowded at all, which seemed incredible as DC museums are always packed. I wish I would have taken more photos, but we were all rather done by this point.

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After fighting non-stop for a week, apparently all these two needed to get along was a giant playpit of dinosaur "bones".

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One last group picture before the final 4 hour push home.

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We arrived in Arlington around 9 pm and headed straight to the Silver Diner as I had no energy left to cook dinner and none of us felt like eating pizza.

So that was our spring break. Fun, but exhausting. Now we're ready for spring and all the fun that comes with it (hopefully).

If you have a chance, don't forget to check out today's collaborative post on Cherish This Day, lots of gorgeous images this week!

HAVE A GREAT WEEKEND!!

4/8/15

Places to Go (Vacation) - On the Road Again - Spring Break in Chicago, Part II (downtown Chicago)

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After road tripping to the Chicago suburbs, we spent one night at my mom's house and then drove downtown to the Embassy Suites for a mini-vacation in the big city. Because tall buildings are fun ("mom, this is like New York, well sort of").

First stop - The Art Institute, rated the #1 museum in the world according to Trip Advisor (yay for Chicago!!). The Chagall stained glass wall and the miniature rooms fascinated the kids, just like they used to fascinate me when I was their age (nothing like a trip down memory lane).

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Lunch at the museum's restaurant. So. Much. Light. I could have stayed forever.

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We walked the bridgeway into Millennium Park. Actually, "ran" may be a more appropriate verb.

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I have no idea why the giant bean is so fascinating. But it really is so fascinating.

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For spring break, P REALLY wanted to shop at Claire's and see Cinderella. We spotted the Claire's on the cab ride back to the hotel and immediately jumped out because best friend necklaces and feather earrings are a necessity (or so I've been told).

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Just some shots of hotel room life. The crazy crowded and unnaturally blue pool was too insane to photograph (so. many. children), but the fantastic breakfast buffet coupled with the nightly happy hour made up for everything.

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Walk to the Italian Village for dinner. Loved watching T point out everything of interest (basically everything he saw).

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Crazy good meal at the Italian Village (who doesn't love a whole restaurant decorated like a foreign town?} Apparently my mom used to have date nights here with my dad, years ago. But this was my first meal at the Village.

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Night at the Chagall wall. Chicago is so cool.

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Loving these views.

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Another day, another museum. I practically lived at the Museum of Science and Industry as a kid. Almost nothing is the same now, but still fun to take the kids to one of my favorite places ever.

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The museum had a new exhibit called "the Maze", where you walk through this crazy mirrored world. It's really cool and if it weren't for the crowds, it could almost be scary. Finding your way in a mirrored in world proved much more difficult than expected. We spent a lot of time bumping into ourselves.

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P's second wish came true - Cinderella in the theaters (so. much. cheese.). I spent the rest of the trip telling everyone "have courage and be kind", but nobody ever listens to me. On the upside, the theater had a bar, as all theaters should.

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And, finally, on our last night, dinner with my aunt, uncle and cousin at Pepe's (home of the stuffed nacho). I let the kids loose with my camera, not many shots came out, but they were really fun to sort through.

HAPPY WEDNESDAY EVERYONE!! I'll post the final set of photos on Friday and then we'll return to ordinary life (and the beginning of soccer season).

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