A Holiday Read: A Boy Called Christmas by Matt Haig

I am always on a lookout for good holiday-time reads as my family has a tradition of reading special holiday stories every December. The newest addition to our “Book Advent” library is “A Boy Called Christmas” by Matt Haig. We opted for an audiobook this time, read by Stephen Fry.

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The book is a take on a story of Santa Claus, who he was and where he lived before he became, well, what he is now. It is a story of a small boy Nikolas, nicknamed Christmas for being born on Christmas Day. He lives in Finland with his father, until his father goesaway in search of evidence of an elf village. Nikolas heads in search of his father and goes through plenty of trouble before he reaches elf village. He has to deal with his awful aunt Carlotta, help a stray wounded reindeer and fight a murderous troll and a crazy elf. There are cute sidekicks such as tame mouse, a kidnapped elf-child and little Nush (another elf) and her grandpa. The story was exciting and kind, there were moments that almost brought my kids to tears, and those that made them roar with laughter (i.e. a reindeer getting a sweet revenge on a dreadful aunt).

Overall impression in my son’s words: “I enjoyed the story, except the part with Aunt Carlotta. It taught me that people are not what they seem and that things that you believe can actually be real.” My daughter says: ” I loved this book because it was full of wonderful adventures.” They are listening to it again as I type it, so it’s definitely a favorite for this holiday season.

I received this book via Blogging for Books in exchange for a fair and unbiased review.

Goodbye November +Advent Calendar

November is over. And thank goodness. Somehow it turned out to be so much more stressful than I was hoping it would be. There were quite a few shocks close to heart and there were and are a lot of things to ponder and re-evaluate.

What have we been up to:

-Lots of field trips: We went to Denver Art Museum and saw Glory of Venice and Japanese Fashion Exhibits. We went to Denver Museum of Nature and Science and saw Extreme Mammals exhibit, as well as Mummies (D. loved it so much, C. on the other hand hated it, “too many dead bodies”, I must say it was interesting but I didn’t enjoy it as much for the same reason). We went and listened to an awesome Drums of the World performance by Colorado Symphony. Even got to do Mannequin Challenge with them. We took a tour around Denver Center for the Performance Arts. D. and I did it once when he was in the first grade, but we had an awesome guide this time around and, since I am so much more in touch with my artistic side now, I achieved new levels of appreciation for the backstage workers, designers and craftsmen.

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-The weather was fickle, with winds, first snow and some icy rain. But plenty of sunny days too.  We were busy with extracurriculars too- both kids had a dress rehearsal for the choir concert (C. can’t wait to debut, I unfortunately will have to chaperone and watch her from the backstage instead of the audience), both participated in karate tournament. C. did extremely well, was brave and endured long waits. D. did well too, but he also got hurt, not seriously but enough for me to consider taking him to the ER. He was ok in the end, very thankful for that.

-Also thankful for friends that we were finally able to have over for dinner, thankful for everyone being overall okay and even husbands medical concern isn’t serious and very treatable.

-We have two intense weeks ahead of us, two concerts for each of the kids, tournament training at karate, I will most likely cancel our mid-year testing, I don’t think kids will handle 4 hours and then a long rehearsal all in the same day. We all need rest.

-As usual I have made an advent calendar for kids, they ask for it and really look forward to simple activities we do. The list is pretty much the same as last year, the only thing I added is “grant each other’s wish” (with a reminder to keep it realistic and kind)

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Kids read a lot in November: D’s favorite was “Marvels” by Brian Selznick and C. loved Grace Lin’s “Starry River of the Sky”. I am hoping to do a little book advent as well as the one with the activities we’ll see how it goes.

Hopefully, December is kind to all of us

BOOK REVIEW: FAR AFIELD by Shane Mitchell and James Fischer

Have you ever wondered about this or that faraway place? What it would be like? What are the people like? What foods can be found there? I know I have. Although at the moment a mere armchair traveller, I am fascinated with tales of places beyond my reach, faces and flavors. Shane Mitchell and James Fischer, both contributors to  Saveur bring their amazing experience traveling the globe and exploring the food in their new book Far Afield.

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The book allows us to glimpse into life in India, Uruguay, Kenya, Mexico, Hawai’i, Iceland, Peru, France and Japan. Shane’s almost diary-like travel notes were very interesting to read, especially Kenya, Uruguay and India bits, as I have the hardest time imagining what life must be like in these places. The Calais Jungle in France was the most powerful part of the book for me. Now, the photography is amazing in this book! Gorgeous vistas, small details of everyday life, people’s portraits made me feel like I almost know them. The food notes were fascinating as well, some ingredients I have never heard of and now even more curious to try. Although some dishes I won’t even attempt to re-create, a handful is quite do-able and the list of places providing ingredients can be found in the end of the book.

Overall impression: this book is a treasure and a rare chance to learn more about life in regions most people never get to visit. The photography is gorgeous, even if I wasn’t curious about the food, I would have gotten this book just for the photography. This book would help with my children’s multicultural studies as well. 5 stars.

I received this book via Blogging for Books in exchange for a fair and unbiased review.

BOOK REVIEW: Classic German Baking by Luisa Weiss

Classic German Baking, the recently released cookbook by Luisa Weiss brings back the old-world nostalgia for me for sure. There is nothing like a comfort of a good cake or cookies full of flavor. A hot fresh from the oven roll or potato pie on a  cold winter day brightens up your day immediately. I appreciate all that this book stands for and what a perfect timing for it to come out- just before the holidays!

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The book includes famous treats and some less known (at least to me) recipes. Here are the sections the book consists of: Cookies, Cakes, Yeasted Cakes, Tortes and Strudels, Savories, Bread and Rolls and (most importantly this time a year) Christmas Favorites. All recipes are fairly straightforward and adapted to the produce available in US stores. More unique ingredients such as quark can be made at home, and recipes are included as well. I love the photography in this book (although I wish every recipe was accompanied by the picture, insecure baker here) it gives me a “diary vibe” with the mix of recipe photographs and postcards of German towns.

Overall impression: This book will be treasured in our household, the recipes are easy to follow and can be re-created even with limited baking experience. Terrific collection of holiday baking recipes.  I highly recommend this book for anyone, be it someone craving European baking goods, or someone looking for family friendly, no too sweet baking goods. Excellent gift idea.  5 stars.

I received this book via Blogging for Books in exchange for a fair and unbiased review.

Goodbye October+ First Week of November

October is over, whaaat?

That was one crazy month. Even though we didn’t have a particularly heavy schedule life seemed busy.

What have we been up to in October:

-We had guests: D’s godfather and his wife came to visit and spent nearly a week with us. We were so happy to see them and their visit gave us the longed-for opportunity to take a small break in our studies.

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-I received kids’ MAPS test scores and was pleasantly surprised to see how well kids did, especially C. who tested as a third grader (to have her sip the grade was a spontaneous decision and I am still questioning it from time to time),  D. did wonderfully, but he almost always does, good job to both of them.

-Studies at home went well for the most part. We hardly had time for much besides core subjects for some reason, I am glad kids take science and history at co-op, this way at least  there they got their electives covered. They did lots of art on their own. But that would be my major goal to get beyond core in November.

-C. had her choir camp, D. was working very hard in Concert Choir and helped his friends there learn a song in Russian. They sound really good, can’t wait to hear them at the concert as well.

-We all got through a stomach bug, that makes it two times we got sick this school year. Something needs to be done.

-The weather was gorgeous, we got to see some amazing colors. The trees are getting bare now and we are ready (well, almost ready) for winter.

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First week of November was loaded with things to do and thoughts to process:

-C. is heading to her first karate tournament next week, so she’s working very hard on learning her forms and practicing sparring. D. is going too, but it’s his 10th, so he’s more relaxed this time around.

-We went to Denver Art Museumimg_20161102_114234

-Just a handful of practices remains for choir before the big concert. Looking forward to that a lot.

I finally opened my Etsy store, YAAAAY! I have put a few cards out already, so come and check it out.

 

What my kids read in October:

C. read “The Invention of Hugo Cabret” by Brian Selznick and it took her all month to get through the book, but she loved it

D. read

The Archer’s Goon by Diana Wynne Jones,

Call of the Wild by Jack London, and

From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E.L. Konigsburg

There were also tons of re-reads, which I didn’t keep track of.

Mama read:

Across the Universe Trilogy by Beth Revis. I read quite a bit of Young Adult novels this year, not just because they’re fun, but also to add to D’s “to be read” pile, this trilogy, although it was fast-paced and interesting read will have to wait for a couple of years.

 

Plans for November:

We have A LOT going on outside of home. I will need to try and balance it out so our school at home doesn’t suffer. But personally, I hope to reach the level of calm that will support me throughout the winter months.The past weeks were anything but calm, there was anxiety, there were struggles with children and general uneasiness about certain matters. Health wasn’t the best either, especially for kids. I crave the sense of calm and simplicity, so I will work on that this month.  I am already preparing for our December celebrations and hopefully will make an advent calendar slowly instead of at the last minute like past years.

 

 

BOOK REVIEW: Doodletopia Fairies by Christopher Hart

We adore fairies in this household. And we adore art. Kids love books that teach them how to draw and Doodletopia Fairies by Christopher Hart came into our house just in time. I have heard of Doodletopia books before, but haven’t had a chance to look into others before.

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The book is full of cute fairy characters  and there are 8 sections on each little feature: Heads and Faces, Fairy Bodies, Magical Clothing and Accessories, Wings and Poses, Fairy Personality, Magical Powers, Musical Instruments and Fairy Dwellings. Each section contains very clear and easy to understand directions on how to draw this or that feature and then an exercise is offered to help develop your own characters.  Readers are eased into each new lesson with the skill they have acquired on previous pages. Initially I thought of this book as a kids’ book, but as an illustrator I found I can learn from it as well. We will make it a family activity book, I say.

Overall Impression: Enjoyed looking through this book quite a bit, children are very excited about learning more about drawing fairies and elves with this book. Instructions are straightforward and easy to follow, exercises are fun and helpful. 5 stars.

I received this book via Blogging for Books in exchange for a fair and unbiased review.

BOOK REVIEW: Natural Color by Sasha Duerr

As someone who enjoys needle felting I was always curious if (or rather how) can I dye my own wool and, although a number of chemical dyes are available, natural colors always seemed more attractive . For that reason Sasha Duerr‘s book “Natural Color” immediately caught my attention. I used to look through blogs and natural dyeing videos and tried to systematize all the information somehow, and it is nice to see there is an actual book that got all the questions I had covered. Let’s take a look.

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The book discusses the entire process of natural dyeing, from finding the plants, getting the color out and until the final result is ready. Truly it is a wealth of information, presented in a friendly, accessible manner . And not just basics, the book touched various techniques too. The recipes are very straightforward and precise, quite easy to follow. I loved how the recipes were organized by season , and although not all the plants are available in my region for foraging specifically, some are and I can’t wait to try. There is a section on mordants that I found very helpful, different options are discussed and the process is explained so well, I really appreciate the meticulousness. The photography is beautiful and  I am getting inspired by merely looking through the book.

Overall impression: I am in love with all the projects in this book, not just for wardrobe, but for the house too. I am looking forward to trying them one by one. The book is a valuable asset to anyone who is interested in natural dying. 5 stars.

I received this book from Blogging for Books in exchange for a fair and unbiased review.