Friday, February 26, 2016

book review: the rooftop growing guide by annie novak.

I may have mentioned this before, but I am SOOOO ready for spring. Winter and I are just not that close, you know? I enjoy winter's company for a few weeks, generally the weeks surrounding the holidays, but then? Welcome. Worn. Out. Bring on spring.

And as I recently shared, dreaming of spring means dreaming of the fun outdoorsy things I'm going to do this year with my hubby and my nearly-toddler. I'd love to improve on our outdoor space at home. That's why I decided to check out Annie Novak's new book, The Rooftop Growing Guide.

No, I don't live in an urban area. I live in the suburbs, have a decently-large yard, and don't have a rooftop that is usable for gardening. But according to the other book reviews I glanced over, this book is highly recommended for anyone who is looking to do some small-space gardening. Since I'm historically not a great gardener, and I don't have a lot of time to devote to a large backyard garden, I figured I could glean some good info to use toward strategic container gardening at home.

The photographs in this book are so pretty and full of green, growing things...I could just flip through and gaze over them all as I daydream about spring. But I guess I am also supposed to read the book, too, right? Well, luckily, I did. This book is dense with detailed information on growing things, including irrigation methods, pros and cons of different types of containers, hydroponic systems and DIY greenhouses, and so much more. There are chapters that get down and dirty on germinating seeds, planning your planting, harvesting, tools, and everything in between. Also throughout the book, the author shares snapshots of urban rooftop gardens in different cities. I loved reading about and seeing such a wide variety of rooftop gardens.

In all, I really liked this book! It is definitely a serious, technical gardening manual--no coffee table book--and would obviously be most useful to the urban rooftop gardener, but there is plenty of info for all kinds of gardeners! I plan to get out my post-its and mark many pages to refer to once spring is a little closer. Or, maybe now, so I can daydream about my future container garden!

If you'd like to know more about the author, check out these links:

**Disclaimer: I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review. However, all opinions are my own!

Thursday, February 25, 2016

spring bucket list, 2016 ed.

I am so ready for spring. Last weekend we had some unseasonably warm weather, and it was nothing but a tease because the snow is back this week. But it got me thinking about all the fun things I want to do this spring with my little family, and I want to squeeze every drop of fun and sunshine I can out of this spring! So I thought I'd compile a spring "bucket list" for my little familia and me.

1. Gardening.
Okay, I will be the first to admit that our past gardening attempts have not gone all that well. We are pretty notorious for starting out the season gung-ho with gardening fever...and then letting other priorities take over, letting our poor little garden get all thirsty and dead. At least, the parts that don't become a bird-and-bunny-buffet. BUT this year, I have some vague ideas of scaling back our efforts to a reasonable level and doing some small-scale container gardening. Namely herbs--I do love to grow and cook with rosemary especially, and I have had good luck with it surviving in spite of my gardening neglect. Also, I would love to start a tradition of gardening as a family and involving Avery in the whole deal. I am a firm believer in getting kiddos outdoors to play and learn and soak up all those wonderful outdoor experiences! And it will just be a fun activity for us to do together.

So, stay tuned--soon I'll be reviewing a new book on the topic of container gardening, and then I'm sure I'll be sharing pretty photos of our little plants as they progress (and hopefully not die).

the beginnings of a past spring garden that went south...RIP little plants...

2. Family walks.
This sounds like such a silly little thing to add to a bucket list, right? Like, of course we will take walks--that's not exciting enough to plan for specially. But with how busy life can get and how wrapped up in the grind we can get, it never hurts to plan for even the little things, to help us remember! We are so very much looking forward to spring weather so we can reinstitute our evening family walks around our little neighborhood.

Our dogs Bean and Link need it BADLY. They are so tired of being cooped up indoors all the time and they've become little balls of pent up frustration and energy. Of course we don't have as much attention for them as we used to before Avery came along, so that doesn't help!

Mike and I need our evening walks just as badly. It's an easy, enjoyable form of exercise we can do as a whole family, and we need all the help we can get in squeezing in exercise. And! It's more valuable time for Avery to spend outdoors, which, again, I believe is an integral part of childhood. So, bring on the family walks!

3. Park adventures.
We are lucky enough to live in a sprawling suburban city that is home to many city parks. We've frequented a few of them--Mike and I even spent some time at one of them on our first date--but there are parks in our city we have never visited! We certainly need to get on that this year. Whether it's to check out playgrounds or take the dogs along for one of those family walks, parks are definitely on our to-do list this spring.

And, added bonus: a new city park has been planned to go in just down the road from our house, and should hopefully be completed this summer! I see many walks to this particular park in our future.

Avery's first trip to a park. OMG, I can't believe she was ever that small!!!

4. Zoo adventures.
Avery's first birthday is coming up (gah!), and Mike and I have decided our big gift to her this year will be a family zoo membership and, weather permitting, her first trip to the zoo on her birthday proper. But, of course, we will want to make good use of our yearly membership and visit as often as we can manage! It's not too far away in downtown Indy, but it's enough of a trek that it will be a special sometimes-activity. Perhaps we will be able to periodically take a weekday off work to visit the zoo when there are fewer people between us and the animals!

5. Farmers Market trips.
Our city holds a weekly Farmers Market on Saturdays beginning in the spring! I can't wait to get up on a Saturday morning, have breakfast together, and then go amble and poke around at the Farmers Market. It takes awhile into the season to really get going with much produce to offer, but in the meantime it will be fun just to have yet another outdoor activity on the docket.

6. Yard sales.
I love hitting the local yard sales to search for treasures! And now that we have a kiddo, we will be in the market for gently used clothes, books, and especially outdoor toys for her. I'd love to find her some small-scale toddler play equipment this year! Crossing my fingers for an elephant slide.

7. Turning our yard into an outdoor living space.
It's one of those catch phrases you always hear on HGTV type shows: outdoor living space. Well, I want one, dangit. Our backyard is currently just a backyard...and a dog toilet. (Ew.) It is going to remain a dog toilet, and there's nothing we can do about that besides keeping on top of the pickup doody duty. (Ew.) But I would also love to do some things to our backyard to make it an inviting play and hangout area for our family. A patio would be a nice start! Hopefully we can get a quote on one this year and see if we can work it into our budget.

I'm sure I will come up with more items to add to the list, but this is a great starting point, I think!

What's on YOUR spring to-do or "bucket" list?

Monday, February 22, 2016

current nerding.

Let's face it. The tail end of 2015 was a doozy for nerdkind, what with the release of Star Wars: The Force Awakens. And now that we're nearly through the second month of 2016, things have quieted down on the geek front considerably. Yes, it's a little bit of a letdown to come off that excitement and not have anything quite that big to look forward to for awhile. That said, this winter and spring still have plenty of nerdy fun to offer!

Here is a bit of what I've been nerding out over lately:

The Walking Dead.

Hooray, TWD is back! It so stresses me out to watch it, even after allowing Mike to share all the detailed spoilers with me that he somehow manages to find online. But I still love it. I love the characters, love the drama...could live without as much gut-wrenching suspense, but I can deal with it for the sake of the show. If they ever do anything to Judith, though, I won't be able to stomach watching it anymore.

Right now, I am crossing my fingers and hoping a more minor character ends up being the one who meets "Lucille." I'm especially fond of Michonne and Denise right now, and I'm kind of fed up with Carol in spite of her feats of covert badassery which were pretty awesome. I'm hoping her story takes an upturn this half of the season.

by moi

Downton Abbey.

The mister and I bought the season on iTunes so that we could binge-watch all the episodes as quickly as possible after the full season release. Ain't nobody got time to wait on PBS to air them all. I must say I am quite sad that Downton is over, though I was pleased with the way it was tied up. Now I am desperate for another period drama with characters as wonderful/awful/funny/charming as the Downton characters! Hook me up with a good lead, somebody!

by moi

Game of Thrones.

I can't wait for the next season of Game of Thrones to air. I have to say, I'm a little bit tired of the Lannisters (except for Tyrion, of course) and Danaerys, but I am so looking forward to seeing how Sansa & Theon and also Arya fare, what's going on with Bran ("Hodor."), and how the Jon Snow thing plays out. My money is on Jon Snow being reanimated by Melisandre. And I have a feeling Lady Stoneheart is going to finally make an appearance! This is all coming from someone who has not read all the books (I got through about 1.5 of them) but is all about cruising the internet for rumors, spoilers, and Wikipedia plot synopses of the books. I know, shame! But we have come to embrace all things spoilery in our house. It's my husband's fault. He can't bear to wait and see how things play out. He has to be in the KNOW. And I can't let him know things that I don't know! So I've accepted the way of the spoiler.

by moi

Call the Midwife.

So, here's another British period drama, and while Downton is on a whole other level, I do love me some Call the Midwife. I mean, Chummy is my spirit animal. I love the drama, the heart warming humor and the babies and Fred and the babies. I was worried how the show would continue on without its main character, but last season was pretty good without miss Jenny. Honestly, I don't think she was ever my favorite character, but I didn't realize it. I hope good good things happen for Trixie this next season, which I believe starts in March.


Honorable mentions:
--I plan to see Deadpool at some point.
--We are also going to need to go see The 5th Wave at some point because the hubby read the book and loved it.
--Would like to find time to see Pride & Prejudice & Zombies with the bestie.
--Lots of other things I can't think of right now, so we will have to revisit this topic again soon!

What are you currently nerding out on?

Friday, February 19, 2016

happy friday!

Happy Friday, folks! Enjoy your weekend!

What will you be up to this weekend? Our plans include a visit from some out-of-town family, odds and ends errands, housework (poo), and enjoying some unseasonably warm temperatures while they last! Also, I hope to squeeze in some reading. My book of the moment is for my next library book club for kids:

Cover image via Goodreads

Enjoy your weekend!

Thursday, February 18, 2016

little baby book monster.

When Avery was littler, she didn't seem to care much about books. No, I take that back. She couldn't have cared less about books. She didn't have the patience for being read to at all. To her, books were square objects to be chewed on, and nothing more.

This made me feel kind of bad. I mean, I am the Library Faerie, darnit! I heard other people talk about how much their little ones loved books so much...and then here was Avy, wanting to play boisterously and chew on toys and giggle at the dogs, but not wanting to be read to. I felt like maybe I was doing something wrong? Maybe I wasn't trying hard enough? Although something else told me it was okay, too--that maybe she just wasn't ready yet to have the patience for reading books.

And then, over the past month or so, it's like a key turned. Now she is OBSESSED with books. She's like a little baby book monster. She just wants to devour every story she can get her chubby little hands on.

Reading some Seuss with Dad & Yoda.

You can't begin to imagine how happy (and relieved!) this makes me! I finally have my own little baby bookworm.

So, naturally, my mind is now working overtime trying to think about ways to bank on Avery's new-found bookishness. The former teacher and current children's librarian in me immediately thinks: teachable moment! Turn this into some sort of structured learning system to employ at home! Hit Pinterest and find all sorts of activities with printables and...

Yikes. Hold yer horses, lady.

I am frequently having these thoughts about how I need to turn our life into a walking, talking preschool curriculum, and then reigning myself back in. I know know KNOW and will sing the praises of letting kids be kids, do their own thing, and learn from genuine, spontaneous, unadulterated, self-driven play. Their brains are wired to learn from every little thing they do. I once heard small children referred to as "research and development" on a TED Talk, and it's so true. Play is the work of childhood. Kids get a good thing going, and we adults think we need to nose in and do it for them.

Uh-uh. Not this mama. It may be in my nature to want to constantly be controlling the flow of things so I feel less anxiety, but as in nearly all things in my life, I am consciously working on practicing the go-with-the-flow wu-wei que-sera-sera method. That's not to say that when Avery gets older, I won't be constantly coming up with crafts for us to make and activities for us to do! That's definitely my thing, so for sure I'll be keeping us busy. But right now, and in the spaces between planned activities, I have to remind myself that JUST playing and JUST reading books are enough.

On that note: I think the best thing you can do to bank on your kiddo's love of books is to frequent your local library and check out buttloads of books to read to him/her. Simple as that. And if your wee one is still little and not into books yet, take heart; I think that's something that might just take time. My two cents!

/end rant! Sorry to be so meta and talk so much about books, but lately they've been at the forefront of my mind more than ever. And all over my living room floor!

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

book review: The 4 x 4 Diet by Erin Oprea.

Okay, so exercise and diet plan books are not exactly my usual fare. My focus tends to center around children's fiction, fantasy and sci-fi, and if I go for nonfiction, then it's generally on some sort of artsy-fartsy topic.

That said, I am in need of some help in the health department. With a ten month old baby and a 40-hours-per-week job, I am short on time. I have very little time to devote to my physical or mental health, let alone my creative endeavors. That's why I opted to read and try The 4 x 4 Diet by Erin Oprea. 

The idea of 4 areas of focus for my diet and 4 minutes per day of exercise caught my attention. Yes, I know, fad diets don't work, and you have to be willing (or able, in my case) to put time and effort into your health to see changes. But this book sounded more like a simplified common-sense strategy than an unrealistic fad diet. So I figured I'd give it a go.

I did have to think a little bit about how to proceed with this review. I can review the book, and my thoughts and impressions, without completing the 4 week plan, or I can try to follow the 4 week plan and give a legit evaluation. After a little bit of consideration, I decided to do both; I'm going to do a first cursory review of the book itself now, and share a brief follow-up post later to complete the review with my results.

When it comes to health, diet, and fitness, I tend to gravitate toward simple strategies that embrace overall wellness without being too stringent or unrealistic. This book definitely cuts the mustard in that respect.

The book starts with Erin building up by giving her background as a personal trainer and nutritionist, along with some of her personal background that has influenced her research and her ideas. Then she gives you 4 diet habits to work toward creating, but she doesn't insist that you stick to them 100% of the time. She has realistic expectations that readers and clients will allow themselves cheat meals, as she does herself, but that the new habits they create will make them want to eat well most of the time. It's all about eating healthy, clean foods, not about crazy restrictions that make you want to give up. The 4 diet habits are pretty straightforward: cut out starch in the evening, cut back on sodium, cut back on sugar, and cut back on alcohol. 

Erin does not say you have to completely give anything up. You just have to retool your diet to be smarter, cleaner, and healthier. Sounds reasonable! That said...I think I will have a hard time going fully gung-ho for a few reasons, namely: the time and cost of preparing everything from scratch that she suggests, and the tricky part of finding low or no-starch options for dinner time when we are used to eating potatoes or rice many nights per week. So, I may have to approach the diet portion of this by breaking it down into more attainable versions of what she recommends. We'll see. I will give it a shot, anyway!

Now, on to exercise. This is something that I desperately need in my life. I have so very little time and energy for exercise, but it's gotten to the point where my body is actually craving it. For someone whose natural state is to embrace the couch potato life, that is saying something. But let me whine again about how I have no time. So! I saw that Erin actually says that 4 minutes per day of exercise, in the form of simple, high-intensity tabatas, will make a difference, I thought, I'm in! THAT I can do.

Basically, tabatas are 4 minute sessions of HIIT, which break down to 20 seconds of intense exercise, followed by 10 seconds of rest, repeated 8 times. Simple enough for an exercise novice like me to handle. Erin breaks down exercise suggestions with small black and white photos (I wish they were larger photos, but I'm sure I can find better examples of her workouts online). [more on this]

Finally, the last portion of the book is devoted to giving the reader a nice, simple, ready-made plan for easing into the 4 diet habits and daily 4 minute workouts. I am a fan of the idea of easing in to such a lifestyle change as giving up my potatoes and forcing myself to exercise. The plan looks easy enough to follow; I'll update the blog once I've given it a shot!

I'd definitely recommend this title. I enjoy reading through the background information on Erin's strategies. She has done her research, and the nerd in me rejoices in the solid evidence backing up her claims. I do think this title is more for me, a person who is pretty much starting from scratch and needing a lot of help, than someone who is already a health food and fitness enthusiast.

For more on Erin Oprea and her 4x4 Diet, visit these links:

I'm going to start giving this 4x4 plan a shot next week, so if you're interested, check back in a month for more on how it went!

**Disclaimer: I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review. However, all opinions are my own!

Monday, February 8, 2016

book review: Doodletopia: Cartoons by Christopher Hart.

I'm always on the lookout for tools to help me practice my artwork, and anything that seems like it might help me squeeze some sketching into my very busy life is automatically intriguing. Pair that with the fact that I have specific areas I want to focus on improving--namely expressions and movement in my drawings of people--and you'll see why I was interested in checking out Doodletopia: Cartoons by Christopher Hart. While its focus is cartooning, which is sort of the stylistic cousin of the type of drawing and art I dabble in, I still figured I could customize my use of this sketch activity book to suit my needs.

So far, I've enjoyed doodling around in this book! The drawing activities are varied, the text is cheeky, and the style tends toward a retro feel that is one element I often try to incorporate in my own drawing style. The book offers a wide range of drawing exercises, including finishing half-drawn people, objects, and animals; working on expressions (the most useful part to me!); practicing various styles of hand-lettering; and more open-ended pages that challenge you to exercise your own style and skills.

All that said, there are a few limitations to this guy if you're hoping to use him for some serious sketching practice. While the author suggests putting your own spin and style on the exercises if you want to stretch yourself beyond just copying his cartoons, the activities can still be just a bit limiting and boxed in if you are wanting to exercise your own artistic style. On the converse, a drawing novice might find the book a little bit lacking in detailed instructions to help guide them to emulate the author's style in the drawing exercises. I think this book might be best suited for older kids or teens who enjoy a good drawing book, or adults who are seasoned doodlers and lovers of relaxing art activities like the ever-popular adult coloring book trend. Perhaps more serious artists might look for something a bit meatier and more challenging to aid in drawing practice. Still, I think I'll keep going through and taking what I can from it--there's some good stuff to be gleaned, especially the section on facial expressions.

Drawing the penguin as shown, then putting my own spin on it.
Practicing facial expressions.

Does this seem like your cup of tea? If so, check out these links for more:
--more on Doodletopia: Cartoons
--more on Christopher Hart

**Disclaimer: I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review. However, all opinions are my own!

Thursday, February 4, 2016

book review: Nooks & Crannies by Jessica Lawson.

Well, folks, it's a miracle. It took me way too long, but I finished a book--my first start-to-finish audiobook, no less! I was going to do this one for an elementary school book club, but plans got changed; I was far enough into the book, though, that I couldn't not finish it. I enjoyed it, so I'm glad I did!

Without further ado: Nooks & Crannies by Jessica Lawson, illustrated by Natalie Andrewson!

Nooks & Crannies
Cover image via Goodreads

For starters, let's talk about the audiobook experience. I'm a complete audiobook n00b, and I have to say I'm not very good at the whole thing. I'm such a visual person, and I absorb things visually with a sort of partial photographic memory thing I have going on, whereas I tend to not retain enough or maintain attention with the audio route. Also, I kind of missed out on getting to see the pictures since this was an illustrated kids' book. All that said, the narrator was fun and did a great job with the voices and the pacing and everything. It took some practice, but I managed to pick up on the ins and outs of audiobook listening. I think the thing for me to get ahold of was that you sort of have to forfeit the ability to digest every tiny detail. You're going for the main gist without every morsel; otherwise you just keep backtracking and re-listening to the same bits over and over, and never get anywhere. It's a very different sort of reading experience for me versus what I'm used to with print. I'm one to reread paragraphs and pages to reabsorb and solidify my retention of small details.

Okay, onto the story itself. I can't really tell too much without giving away the mystery and spoiling the fun, so this will be brief. It's a sort of mixture of Matilda, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, and Clue. It stars a young girl named Tabitha Crum, who is a precocious Victorian wannabe-investigator who is mistreated and unloved by her family (re: Matilda) and whose only friend is a mouse named Pemberly. Tabitha and five other children receive a mysterious invitation to an eccentric countess's mansion, and adventure, mystery, and danger ensue. The book is a bit too-obvious at times, a bit too derivative (even though I do believe that's exactly what the author intended), and surprisingly macabre at points (though I don't complain about that juicy bit). That said, it was an overall fun read and I'd recommend it! Especially for kid lit-loving adults, teens who tend toward younger subject matter within their reading level, and precocious kiddos who can handle a bit of scary suspense and some pretty advanced vocabulary.

4 stars!