Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Bloggy Friends Book Club: Midwives

Rather than just write a review of the book Midwives, by Chris Bohjalian, I am hoping to have more of an online book club discussion for anyone who read the book and wants to participate.

This was not a book I picked out. I do not follow which books are selected to be part of Oprah's Book Club. Although this book was first published 12 years ago, I had actually never heard of it that I could recall. This book came into my possession from a 20-something coworker who listens to me talk about my kids and nursing and childbirth and pregnancy and lack of sleep and all the other joys and frustrations that come along with parenthood. Although young and dating, my coworker's mom has young children and she's seen her mom go through so much of the same things with her half-siblings. She kept telling me that I had to read this book, and finally lent it to me to read.

I loved it.

Because of our infertility troubles and need for specialists, my husband and I went with OB doctors for the pregnancies and deliveries. My sister, however, had midwives and even attempted the birth of her first child in a birthing center. Before reading this book, I fully supported people's decision to go with midwives and give birth in birthing centers or even at home. While reading the book and after reading it, I more than support it. I wish I had gone with midwives. My guess is that some people who read the book might actually feel the opposite, and I was surprised by how strong and consistent my own reaction was, even when the book discussed the negatives of going with midwives or birthing outside of hospitals.

The book itself was really well written. I was unsure about how the story would come across because it was written by a man, and the main character was a woman and the story line very female focused. But he did a great job of making me forget it was a man who wrote it. By using a main character who, although a woman, had not had any kids herself and was remembering a time during her youth, he was able to speak about women's issues from an interesting perspective of an intimately involved "outsider," which is a voice that I think would be similar to a man whose wife had beent through childbirth (Chris Bohjalian has a wife and daughter).

I also felt that by having this main character and by putting the main story in a "remembering" voice, he was able to provide just that touch of distance that I needed to read about certain situations without becoming so emotionally involved that I would have to put the book down. You see, I am still so close to the pregnancy/childbirth experiences that I generally can't read news stories, blog entries or even fiction about bad things happening to mothers or children. But I didn't put this book down once. Not because it didn't move me or touch me or reach me emotionally, but because the voice he used and the way he wove different pieces of the story together through the trial details, memories and journal entries that gave just enough distance (this isn't the right word, but something close to it) for me to not be overwhelmed.

And the story... I thought it was just amazing. Obviously well researched and definitely something the author came across as passionate about. All those aspects I mentioned in the preceding paragraph and more was woven together well, and the story really kept me guessing. Some things I saw coming, but not everything.


As for the very end...

I really did not know which way the jury would go. I liked the reason he basically gave for why the jury went the way it did. But he kept me guessing, and then the relief I felt was, well, upended. The very end of the book? Wow. Just wow. I am getting shivers right now thinking about it. But even with the twist at the very end, I didn't think it cheepened the story at all, unlike some other books I read. I mean, I like a good twist in general, but I hate it when I feel like the twist is just to pull the rug out from under you or to trick the reader in some way. I didn't feel this twist was like that. I thought that this twist actually was crucial in explaining some key parts of the book. It helped let everything fall in place.


All in all, I really enjoyed this book. I felt like I learned a lot, I went on an interesting ride, I liked the characters and the plot. And most important to me in books, movies and TV shows: It was well written. I am totally going to recommend this book to others.

What about those of you who read the book? Do you agree with what I said? What did you like about the book? What did you dislike? What will stay with you over time? Did your feelings on midwives and birthing outside hospitals change or strengthen? I'd love to hear everyone's opinions!

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Rocking Pony Shirts

In conjunction with this review, I'm having a giveaway for a Rocking Pony shirt on my blog! Go there for details, and leave a comment there to enter!

A couple years ago, I made online friends with Karen and subsequently discovered her Etsy store: The Rocking Pony. What a great discover that was! I could go on and on about how awesome Karen is as a person, but since I'm doing a review of her site, I'll try to stick to Karen's customer service and work.

Over the years, I've ordered I think 4 shirts from her, including two for gifts to my niece and nephew, and I've gotten one shirt for free. Karen worked with me to be sure she had the right size and color, and that I was fine with the kind of shirt she had (an adorable hooded t-shirt, instead of a regular t-shirt).

The free shirt I got was because she was trying to do more shirts for girls and was making some samples for pictures on her site, but she didn't want the shirts to go to waste, not having any little girls herself. So on her blog, she offered free shirts to those who commented saying they wanted one. She is thoughtful and kind, and she provides the kind of customer service that seems to be lacking in most places today.

As for the shirts themselves, I've loved every single one of them. They are all hand-made shirts, well made, unique and high quality. They are also absolutely adorable! Check these out:

monster shirt

That is Niles, and there's a cute story behind his creation. That's the shirt I initially fell in love with.

flower shirt

Although a little blurry and not a great angle (it was at a time when she rarely held still for any pictures), this might be my favorite shirt I've gotten for my daughter. It's such a cute flower, and I love it on my favorite color purple.

teapot shirt

This teapot and tea cup shirt is the one I got for free. Oh how I wish it still fit my daughter, because she and I both loved it.

I have had wonderful experiences with The Rocking Pony Etsy store, customer service and the shirts themselves. I've loved the shirts for my daughter (and soon my son will be getting one) and for gifts. Karen also makes bibs, blankets and other things. You should really go check out her site. And if you don't believe me, you can read all the amazing feedback she's gotten on Etsy!

Disclaimer: When discussing doing a giveaway on my blog with Karen, she offered me a free shirt from her store for each of my kids. Because I love her stuff so much, I am taking her up on the offer. Karen did not know I was planning a review of her store now that I've started writing reviews on my review site again. When I told her, she didn't offer me anything in exchange for the review. My review was in no way influenced by the offer of free shirts in conjunction with this giveaway. I would not be doing this giveaway if I didn't love her and her store so much. I think that covers everything.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Cake and Muffin Recipes

Since we found out for sure that my daughter has a peanut allergy, our lives have changed. We have to check every package, every baked good, every food item for peanuts and if they were processed in facilities which also have peanuts. With a peanut allergy, taking a chance with something is literally gambling with your child's life. This is especially hard when we are getting invited to birthday parties left and right, including my own kids' birthdays, my hubby's and mine!

It's a good thing I love to bake! I'd rather not chance most store-bought baked goods or even packages of mixes, since they either state that they are processed in a facility that also processes peanuts or they don't say anything (and that's a gamble, right there).

For my kids' birthdays, I found a cake recipe on, a site I have used and loved for years. (My favorite part of the site is its interactive-ness, with commenters who give you tips and hints and substitutions.) For this recipe, I substituted butter for the shortening, which worked out fine. I've made cakes and cupcakes from this recipe, and both turn out great. It's easy to make, and really yummy to eat!

This weekend, I'm going to try this chocolate cake recipe for my birthday cake! I'll update after I make it to let you know if we like it.

I also stopped using muffin mixes or buying the delicious store-bought or bakery-bought muffins for the family, but we still love to eat muffins. A couple weekends ago, I used this recipe to make blueberry muffins, with a few modifications: I used 1/4 c. oil, added I think 1/2 c. brown sugar and put in extra blueberries. They were really delicious! In fact, I think we'll make them again tomorrow.

Monday, October 13, 2008

It's Definitely Baby Signing Time

Did you know that Baby Signing Time now has Volume 3 and Volume 4? I was thrilled when I found out, thanks to an exceptionally well-targeted email sent to me from Two Little Hands Productions asking if I wanted to review these DVDs. The Communications Manager had noticed that I have before mentioned Signing Time and Baby Signing Time as shows that my daughter watches.

But let me expand a little about my daughter and these DVDs before I get into my review. The Pumpkin is not one for TV. I think it's more than just her age. It's that things on TV rarely hold her interest. Baby Signing Time not only holds her interest, but she has even begged (and signed!) to watch it! This from the child who usually barely notices what cartoons are on TV while kids around her are glued to it.

There is just something very engaging to her about Baby Signing Time, something about the singing, the kids, the animated Leah, Alex and Hopkins, the signs themselves (which we continue to practice later), and Rachel that my daughter loves. We tried Signing Time, but the Pumpkin was not as interested in that. Granted, we only tried the first one, so the others might have grabbed her. But we knew that she loved the Baby Signing Time Volume 1, so we got Volume 2.

I hate to even say it, but the second volume was not as engaging to the Pumpkin as the first. I myself wasn't as fond of the songs, although the signs were good ones to learn. The Pumpkin started wandering off in the middle of the show, like she does for other TV shows. I said to my husband that I wish they made more so that I could find another she liked. A few days later, I get an email about Volume 3 and 4 of Baby Signing Time! I hopped on that quicker than Hopkins catching a fly!

Baby Signing Time Volume 3, A New Day, includes songs about it being a new day, going outside, taking stroller rides, bugs, stars and nighttime. Not only does my daughter enjoy the songs and signs, but I love to sing the stroller song when I'm taking her for a walk in her stroller or even when we're walking her toy stroller around inside! The Pumpkin has learned most of the signs, which amazes me, because I hadn't really mentioned grass or clouds to her until watching this, and now she knows those words and the sings for the words.

Baby Signing Time Volume 4, Let's Be Friends, includes songs about being friends, feelings, opposites, foods and toys. When I first watched this DVD with the Pumpkin, I wasn't sure if she was ready for some of the concepts. She totally was. In fact, this was a great way to really get her to begin to understand sharing and what opposites are. I'd already been doing facial expressions with her, but to also have the signs as a way to express the feelings is a great idea. She also loves to watch the kids express themselves with their faces and signs.

Both Baby Signing Time volumes 3 and 4 were really well done, with a good flow, engaging concepts, cute animation, and really great songs. The Pumpkin may be ready for Singing Time (the older versions) soon, but she's just not ready yet. Until then, we are now able to enjoy more Baby Signing Time shows with new signs and songs.

I highly recommend these DVDs for parents and babies to toddlers who are interested in signing. Although my daughter speaks pretty well, and developed her oral communication early, she loves to sign and is able to express herself more clearly when she uses the signs and words together--because anyone with toddlers knows how understandable toddlerese can be! I think that it is so important to teach children another language, and this is a fun and entertaining way to teach sign language to young children and their old parent.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

The Impact of The Pact

My July read for the TBR Challenge was The Pact, by Jodi Picoult. I finished it in mid-July and am only now getting to the review. But that's nothing compared to how long I've had it and been meaning to read it.

This was another book that was part of a Christmas present from my sister probably 3 years ago. As I've mentioned before, my sister is a great gift giver, but the subject matter of this book (which is explained on the back of the book and in the early pages of the book, so I don't think it's a spoiler, but here it is: a teenagers suicide pact) made me hesitate to read it, even though the subtitle of the book is "A Love Story." It sounded dark and depressing. While I figured it would be a good book, I knew I had to wait until the right mood and the right season to read it.

Boy am I glad I read it. It was fantastic! It wasn't even so depressing like I thought it would be. It moved to fast to let you get too overwhelmed by the sadness, and it kept me guessing as to what had happened and what was going to happen. I was completely sucked in to both stories. I say both because the book was structured in a Then and Now fashion, with the start of the book containing the action that the Then leads up to and results in the Now. Does that sound confusing? It wasn't. It was beautifully put together.

In addition to the interesting plot and wonderfully constructed structure of the book, the characters were really fleshed out. While I didn't personally relate to any of the character and in fact would not likely not hang out with them in real life, they were very realistic and just about everything they did was true to their characters. I once read an author's response about readers who say that something a character does in a book is unrealistic, that they (the reader) would never do something like that. She said that it does matter whether or not the reader would do the thing they are complaining about, but would the character in the book do it? Is it true to the character, not the reader? In this book, there were things I thought were silly or even outrageous actions, things that I never would have done. But those actions usually did fit the characters. Picoult makes these characters so realistic that you just know that the actions are true to the characters.

I know I had little issues with the book. Little things not being truly discovered as I had hoped they would be. But it's not my book, not my story to decide how it should play out. And none of the issues were so great that they even left much of an impression on me. In fact, I'm searching for some negatives to balance out the raves I feel for this book. And not coming up with anything.

I really thought this book was fantastic. This is the first book I've read by Picoult, and I am excited to read more. My understanding is that this book is typical of her other books, both in the topics it deals with and in the settings. If that is true, my bet is that her other books will also have this kind of impact on the readers. I'm left thinking about this book for weeks after I finished it, both things that happened in it and the way it was written. Reading this as a parent, I'm constantly thinking about this book in terms of what I can do to protect my child and look for warning signs that are probably easily hidden from people who don't want to see them. Hopefully, I will see them because I don't just want to believe that everything is sunshine and roses if things are truly wrong. I don't want anything bad to ever happen to my child(ren), so I will hopefully also be looking for those things and be able to protect them from most of the ills in the world. But what happens when there is something I didn't see, something I was unable to protect them from?

I imagine I will continue thinking about this book for a very long time.

Monday, June 30, 2008

The Nostalgia Mirror

I took a trip back to my youth for my TBR Challenge June book. The book I read was The Blind Mirror, by Christopher Pike. I say this took me back to my youth because when I was in my early teens, I discovered Christopher Pike.

Christopher Pike wrote thriller mysteries for young adults, but he wrote as if he was writing to adults. He did not talk down to his audience, and he wrote mysteries that I could not figure out. There was always a twist, a surprise that I didn't see coming. There were adult themes and interesting plots. I loved his books. After being introduced to his books, I discovered Lois Duncan, and then R.L. Stine came onto the scene and L.J. Smith (although I read only her early books). I really enjoyed all these books, but I thought nothing was as good as Christopher Pike.

As I got older, I stopped reading his books and moved on to other, older material, but my love for him and his books remained in my heart. He did come out with a few adult books, and I read and really enjoyed Sati and The Season of Passage. He took a few years off (there might have been a book or two I missed in there), and I stopped looking for him.

A couple years ago, I was telling my husband about how much I loved Christopher Pike books and mentioned that he had written some adult books. Londo asked me if he'd written anything recently, so I checked. And I found this book, The Blind Mirror, on Amazon. I immediately ordered it, but I didn't read it right away. It had been a long time since I read scary books and I wasn't quite up for a thriller, nostalgia or no.

I finally read it for my June book. And I'm glad I did.

The Blind Mirror was a good book. It had interesting characters, an intriguing plot, mysterious twists (including a couple I didn't see coming), and some classic Christopher Pike themes (which I enjoyed but did see coming). The book was about a man who left town after his girlfriend broke up with him, but on his return he discovers a dead body on the beach. Is it his girlfriend's body? The one who is calling him and wanting to get back together again? And what's going on with his old high-school crush who is suddenly all over him? And there is also some unanswered questions from the man's friends who died back in his high school days.

The book keeps you guessing about many different subplots. It kept my interest and kept me constantly guessing, wondering if anything was connected and in what way. I was able to keep up with all the different characters and themes, and in fact I thought they added interest.

I must say that it wasn't a perfect book. I was a little bit dissappointed in the end of the book. Not because it left me hanging, because he did answer all the different unanswered questions and mysteries. But some things were never adequately detailed. I never did understand why some of the things happened or what were the motivations of certain characters. I was left seeing what happened, but not always understanding why they happened.

Overall, I really liked The Blind Mirror, for all the reasons I've always liked Christopher Pike. I think it was a good book, one that could have been great. It was pretty short, and a definitely fast-paced read that was worth the time. If you like interesting thriller mysteries with a side of paranormal, I suggest you try this book and others by Christopher Pike.

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Bread, Pancakes and Low-Sugar Cake

I've always loved to bake. However there have been times when I haven't had much time to bake from scratch. Instead, I've turned to some excellent mixes for cookies, cakes, pancakes and much more. But lately, in my effort to be more healthy and use more natural and organic ingredients, I've gone back to baking with a vengence! I've told a few people that I would share some recipes that I've gotten from others, and I'm finally going to do it.

First, I would like to thank Jen at Amazing Trips for this fantastic recipe for the best homemade bread I've ever eaten. In fact, as soon as I get to the store to buy more yeast, I'm making this bread today. Everyone who tries it loves it, and it's SO EASY to make! Check it out by clicking here.

Second, I tried the whole wheat bread recipe on the back of the King Arthur whole wheat flour bag. It was not hard to make, and it turned out quite good. I used molasses to sweeten it, which worked well. I will make this recipe again and recommend it to others. The one not-so-great thing was that it didn't seem to keep as long as I expected, which wasn't long. But maybe if I'd covered/sealed it right away it would have kept better.

Third, when I asked online somewhere for good bread recipes, I received a recommendation for The Tassajara Bread Book, by Edward Espe Brown. While I have not tried it myself, I plan to buy it soon and it sounds fantastic. I will review it after I try it out.

If you haven't discovered All Recipes yet, you are missing out. I have found some great recipes on that site, including some pancake recipes.

For a really excellent pancake mix recipe, check this one out. You mix up all of the dry ingredients and store the mix in an airtight container. I've actually been using a big Ziplock bag, which is working fine. When you are ready to make a batch of pancakes, you add the egg and milk. Prego! Delicious pancakes! It's better than Aunt Jemima, Bisquick or Hungry Jack... and as an added bonus, it does not contain aluminum, unlike some of those others! (Don't believe me? Check the ingredients on the back of their boxes.)

I've also made these pancakes! I used butter instead of shortening, and they really turned out fluffy and really good. They were pretty easy to make, too, and they froze well.

A friend recommended another recipe, which she posted in the comments here. I have to be honest, I have not tried these because one of the main ingredients is bananas, which I didn't realize at first. I have a real aversion to bananas and can't stand the smell or taste. But if Dana says it's good, I trust that it is good (for people who like bananas).

For the Pumpkin's first birthday, I wanted to make cupcakes for her and other toddlers at her party, but I wanted something low in sugar that wasn't a carrot cake. Someone recommended this site to me, and I made the Vanilla Cake as cupcakes. They were excellent! They did taste more like muffins than cakes because of the low sugar, but they were scrumptious muffin/cakes. I highly recommend it for anyone who wants to make cakes for their little ones but don't want to deal with a major sugar high!

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