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Monday, May 25, 2015

Yay! Three reasons to celebrate at Stewart Central.

Super exciting news!

The fun comes to you in three parts today:

1. Benjamin was recognized as a top reader at his school awards ceremony. He was the 1st grader who passed the most Accelerated Reader quizzes out of all four 1st grade classes. He took (and passed) 62 quizzes, and read more than 535,227 words - more words than are in Brandon Sanderson's Way of Kings. I didn't know he'd be getting the award, and I was so pleased when he received it. That's my boy! Since then I've been on his AR account and noticed that I only recognize about half the books that he took quizzes on, which means he was doing a lot of reading at school that I didn't know about (no surprise there) and that he didn't take quizzes on a lot of books I know he read at home.
He's a reading machine.

2. I got my first check in the mail for affiliate marketing. So fun! I'm making just enough money from the advertisements and affiliate links on Everead to be able to pay for the hosting (roughly $15/year). Success! I think it would be fun to do a more in-depth post about the monetizing I've been doing. Comment to let me know what your questions are and I'll be sure to answer them.

we found a place to rent!

3. Jacob got his officially-official letter of appointment from Connecticut College! We move in three weeks.
signing the offer letter, back in January

Monday, May 18, 2015

Design Mom in Atlanta: Or, Why I Love Book Events.

"Did you really invent the blog giveaway?"

That was my burning question for Gabrielle Blair at her book event. Don't worry, I was very polite and did not ask it during the part where we were supposed to be talking about her book.

I attended the Atlanta stop of the Design Mom Book Tour at Lenox Square Mall a couple weeks ago, and it was so much fun, start to finish.

I showed up right on time (not too nerdy) and brought my tabbed copy of the book (pretty nerdy), and gave away a bunch of my blog business cards (definitely nerdy), and made so many germane comments about the book during the Q&A that Gabrielle's interviewer thought I was her publicist (off the charts nerdy-awesome!). I had so much fun! I met a bunch of cool new people like Faith and Stacey and Rachel and Bliss and Titania and of course Gabrielle.

I didn't take enough pictures though. This happens at every book event. I take out my camera, take some pictures, look at them and think, "that's good, that's enough" then get home and look at the photos and see that I only actually took two and they were both pretty horrible. Sigh.

Can't remember the name of this awesome gal from Lebanon. For shame!
At least I used my one picture on capturing happy faces? :D

My favorite part of the Q&A was when Gabrielle told the story of a trash can.  She had bought it because it looked so good. However, this trash can's lid was constantly getting stuck and making it difficult for her kids to properly dispose of their garbage. Just get rid of the trash can, she advised. "There's no object in your house that's worth you yelling at your kids."

One of the best things about good design, according to Design Mom, is that it scores you tiny wins. If you wake up in the morning and on your way to the kitchen you stub your toe on the dresser every time, that's a "friction point" and one of the small problems you can tackle from the perspective of design.

How do you even start? Gabrielle suggests taking it one room (or one part of a room) at a time. I have really enjoyed watching her live by this advice as she has posted tours of different rooms on her blog. She's a designer for a living, and yet it's so encouraging to me that when she moved to a new place it wasn't all done-up and blog-ready in 6 months. Just, phew! I've got time.

So. After the Q&A it was the book signing and crafting time. Since the event was held at a Pottery Barn, we got to personalize Pottery Barn plates:

We had a plate like this (but red) when I was growing up, and I've wanted one ever since one of my siblings broke it. I don't remember who did it or what the circumstances were, but it was so funny when Stacey, my partner in crafting, confessed that she had been the one to break the special plate when she was younger! :) No worries kids, now I know how to make us a replacement.

After the crafting and such, and with the encouragement of my new friend Bliss, I asked Gabrielle my question. "Did you really invent the blog giveaway?"

Yes, she said she had been credited with running the very first comment-to-win giveaway. Wow. So awesome. Her tracking software, Traxi (which pre-dates Google Analytics), had told her lots of people were reading but she knew not many were commenting. She wanted to get to know her readers, so she offered a prize for commenting. Within the week other bloggers were emailing to ask if they could copy her directions and companies were emailing to ask if they could give away their products through her. Pretty amazing.

I had one last question for Gabby: "Can we be best friends for life?" Affirmative. Hooray! Haha!

If you enjoy a recently released book, let me tell you that going to an event for that book is a fantastic idea. Not only will you get to meet the author, but you'll get to meet lots of other cool people who like the same book you do. I'm such a fan of book events.


more book signings I've been to: one, two, three, four, five, six.
my review of Design Mom: Living with Kids: A Room-by-Room Guide.


Tuesday, May 5, 2015


Firefight by Brandon Sanderson

This is the second book in Brandon Sanderson's Reckoners Series. The first one was Steelheart. This one was also so good! I won't say much about plot summary because this is definitely a series where you should read the first book first.

I will talk writing, though. I found myself appreciating the writing when our narrator, David, was describing a new place. Instead of smelling like something in particular, it smelled some way compared to what his past experiences would have been. I appreciate things like that. It really adds believeability to the narrator, and therefore makes it easier to believe the whole book.

This book was really enjoyable, and that's saying something for a second book. As we all know, second books are horrible about ending in a satisfactory way. This one did a good job though -- some super interesting progress was made in the storyline, for sure.

I probably can't recommend it more strongly than this: This is the only YA series I'm reading right now. I'm finding myself drawn more to other genres right now -- so much so that I've left other YA books that I'm interested in on the shelf. Not this one. Do yourself a favor and read it. I like it better than The Hunger Games, better than Divergent (for sure), and better than a bunch of other books too.

Ok guys. I blogged. Been having some hangups with that -- I believe they call it perfectionism when you just want to do everything right but it prevents you from doing the thing? Babysteps.
Edited to add: Here is an affiliate link to the book. If you make a purchase through this link, I earn a small commission at no extra cost to you. Happy reading!


Wednesday, April 15, 2015

The Easiest Bedtime Story Ever

So last night I was trying to think of a way to help Jubilee (almost two years old now) chill out. See, bedtime has been a little rough this last week (ever since she started consistently climbing out of bed).

Last night I put Jubilee in bed and she immediately swung her leg up to climb out. I knew if I turned around to get a book, she'd be dangling from the rail in no time.

"Hey, did I ever tell you the story of Spot??!?" I don't remember if this was exactly how I started the story, but it was something like this. Including my best ever attention-all-preschoolers voice.  The voice worked so well, in fact, that Levi (age 4) popped his head in the room.

As I started telling the story of one of her favorite board books, I could see she was loving it. She knew this one. Levi came and settled himself down in the room to listen.

Shortest bedtime story ever. Easiest story ever! Do you know how many times I have read her favorite books to her? I certainly don't.

Retelling a favorite book was such a hit that I went on to tell several more. Levi counted and told me that I did six in all. (The number of stories he gets at night is important to him.) I honestly don't remember! I was just looking at the bookshelf and picking favorites that I knew would work. I had to reject favorite concept books (a counting book is a little less exciting without the items to count) but I still had a good handful. Here are the ones I remember retelling: Where's Spot by Eric Hill, Rocket Town by Bob Logan, and The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle.

I didn't tell the stories word-for-word. I probably could have! Instead of aiming for accuracy, I was telling them quick and silly to distract Jubilee from her intention of climbing out of bed. I'm pretty sure my very hungry caterpillar ate some bananas, which is totally apocryphal.

Related: 5 Board Books that are Great for Groups also 6 Books to Give at Baby Showers

My storytelling was successful, and the baby-love soon settled down for the night. (After I kicked her brother out of the room, and sung a lot of favorite songs, and breathed calm breaths in hopes that she would be hypnotized by them). Let's not talk about how bedtime went tonight. Maybe I shoulda tried the same trick.

So, what do you think? Will you try this with your kids? Have you tried it already? Or maybe you've tried some other storytelling tricks? Leave a comment below.

Jacob says that he thinks this bedtime story hack would not have worked so well with Benjamin (age 6). I agree. He would have been very indignant and insisted on a REAL bedtime story. But for the preschool crowd? I highly recommend it!

Related: Benjamin helped me review Rocket Town when he was only three years old.

Also related: My e-book to help parents jump-start a storytelling habit with kids, Story Club, is undergoing another round of edits right now. So exciting! Visit the Story Club main page here.

Friday, April 10, 2015

Design Mom Book: review and giveaway [closed]

Photo by Jacob Stewart for Everead
Design Mom: How to Live with Kids: A Room-by-Room Guide by Gabrielle Stanley Blair

What a great book! I tagged its pages in three different categories throughout, as you can see. I'll tell you all about it! But let's begin at the beginning.

Reading this book was a lot of fun. I requested it from the publisher, Artisan, because I love reading Gabrielle Blair's blog: Design Mom. I would say if you like the blog, it is a safe bet you will like the book. The book isn't exactly like the blog. The book reminds me most of Design Mom posts like this one, about Christmas stockings.

But what if you don't already read Design Mom? Let me tell you more about the book.

It is very conversational in tone. It is a pleasure to read, and feels like a chat with a friend. The only problem with that is that it wasn't *actually* a conversation so I couldn't ask the author to tell me MORE! I mean, I could have read double as much. Wanting moremore stories, more detailswas my only complaint with the book. And that's not really a complaint, it's a compliment.

I loved the photos, all gorgeous and lovely, even when they didn't suit my personal design tastes. Some photos took up a whole two-page spread! A feast for the eyes. This reading nook looks so inviting . . .

This is the kind of lovely photography we are talking about.
Photo by Seth Smoot, styling by Kendra Smoot for Design Mom.
The book is all about designing your home to meet your family's needsassuming you have kids. That's cool because I have kids (currently ages six, four, and one). The Blair family has six children ranging in age from high school to preschool. (You may know them from my favorite online video series, Olive Us.) Because she has kids in a wide spread of ages, Gabrielle can share from experience needed contingencies for older kids, for younger kids, and for when older and younger kids need to work together in a space.

Each room detailed in the book is broken down into snippets of advicesometimes one page, sometimes a two-page spread. At times the advice is very concrete: "Let Your Coats Come Out of the Closet" is a snippet in the section of the book about the entryway. It makes a case for displaying your coats in your entryway, instead of keeping them in a closet. Other times, the advice Design Mom gives is quite abstract: "Aim for Function + Beauty" is a section dedicated to a formula for getting rid of clutter and surrounding yourself with items that will bring you joy and make your life easier.

Now, let me tell you about my sticky notes.

Thought about cropping this photo but then the dalmatian on the floor just matched so perfectly...

The purple notes mark pages I want to talk to my family about. Conversations to Have or Things To Do Immediately. They are things like "Choose Dinnerware that will Grow Up with Your Family"our dinnerware is definitely not coming with us when we move this summer, so I know replacing our dinnerware is an impending project. And I know I need to tell Jacob, so that he won't be surprised by that. Another example that I have tagged is a Do-It-Yourself project of making a "You are Special Today" plate. We had one of these when I was a kid, and it was the best! I definitely want to have one of these in my house, and don't want to shell out for a replica of the one I grew up with. I've looked into it, and . . . no. I'm not much of a DIYer but all the projects in this book are super simple and practical. I've already used tips from the "Foolproof Tricks for Styling Your Bookshelves" and "Simplify Your Bedding" sections. (EDITED TO ADD: I have now completed two projects from the book, which you can see here and here!)

The pink notes mark pages that I found myself thinking about when I wasn't reading the bookgreat ideas that I thought I could put into practice once we move to Connecticut, or just concepts I found myself mulling over while eating my morning bowl of cereal. For example, "Storing Artwork and Homework" is often on my mind at breakfast, because I sit and stare at the pile of stuff on top of our craft dresser as I munch. Gabrielle's advice from the section on task lighting came to mind when I was squinting over a project. And the Fabric-covered Bulletin Boards look so easy that I want to make several for our new place, once we get there. But I'm absolutely not hanging anything new on my walls nine weeks before we move.

The little mantra that this book gave me and which has been playing in my head ever since is, "Do what works now." It is reminding me to not tackle projects like the bulletin boards yet. It tells me not to give away the couch until we're a little closer to our moving date. And it is inspiring me to go whole hog for rearranging the furniture to shift where the library books belong, so that they belong right next to the couch where they always end up anyway.

The yellow notes represent times that I gave myself a pat on the back for already being awesome. By that I mean that these were the parts of the book where Gabrielle suggests doing something that I'm already doing. "Rotate the Toys" and "Don't Hide the Hamper" were sections I could have written myself, having learned those lessons from experience. "Play the House Librarian" is also marked in yellow because, well, that's pretty much my favorite thing to do. (You can find my posts about building a high quality home library for kids here.)

I'd say if the idea of Design Mom: How To Live With Kids: A Room-by-Room Guide intrigues you or appeals to you, go for it! It's $21 on Amazon right now. It's the same price at Barnes and Noble. (Yes, those are affiliate links. If you purchase after clicking them, I will earn a small commission from the bookseller.)

Good grief, I like it enough that I'm going to give a copy away!
(Not my copy. My beautiful annotated copy. It's miiiiiine.)

[This giveaway is now CLOSED, but you can still sign up here for future giveaways] If you would like to enter the giveaway, I'll need your email address before April 22, 2015 . It's infinitely easier to contact a winner when I've already got an email in hand. And the most private and convenient way for me to get that is for you to subscribe to my email list, below. I promise I won't bug ya. You can read more about my email list here. You can read the full giveaway policy here. Those who already subscribe are also eligible to win.

You should get a  confirmation email from me via MailChimp. Confirm your subscription and you know you are entered.

Now tell me your thoughts! What questions do you have? Leave a comment, below.

To be clear: I was provided with a copy of this book by the publisher with the understanding that I would review it here. I am not being provided with a copy to give away.** I'm just going to buy a copy for someone who wants it. I'll probably use my own affiliate link. Ha!

**update: Artisan has graciously sent a copy for our winner. Congrats to Jenni Livingston! And many thanks to Artisan.

Monday, March 30, 2015

One of my favorite books is now a movie: HOME

... and I haven't seen it yet. Aargh!  Gotta get there. Has anybody seen it yet? They were running a good ad campaign last week, I have to say. I saw at least two or three advertisements for it -- one a clip of the trailer that played in between angry birds levels that Benjamin was playing.

Here's the trailer, in case you haven't seen it. The movie is not called The True Meaning of Smekday, which is the title of the book. Nor is the movie titled Happy Smekday, as I originally thought it would be. It is called Home. And I think it's super funny that the real J. Lo is part of the film. That's just so cool.

It looks like it will be different from the book (of course), but I'm still excited about it. I heard from Linda at Gallery Nucleus that Adam Rex had done some work on the movie. Some of his art is available for purchase through Gallery Nucleus, here. And, it looks like there is a book about the movie's art, called The Art of Home.

In preparation for the release of Home, Jacob began reading The True Meaning of Smekday to the kids at night. They're not quite finished with it yet, but Benjamin, who is only six years old, is excited enough about the book that he has read ahead a little bit.

So, are you going to see it? If you've already seen it, what did you think?

Previous Smekday love on Everead:
The True Meaning of Smekday book review
Fangirling over the Smekday movie announcement
Smekday featured on my "Good Books to Read Aloud" post
Smekday featured on "Books for a 13 year old boy: 10 exciting titles to keep him reading"
The first pick on my "Books for 14 year old boys?" post.

By the way, I'm dying to get my grubby hands on the sequel to The True Meaning of Smekday. It's titled Smek for President and features a trip to New Boovworld.
This post does not contain any affiliate links. Just good ol' fashioned fun!

Monday, March 16, 2015

Both Silly and Soulful: Hey Natalie Jean by Natalie Holbrook

photo by Jacob Stewart
This book has soul.

Some parts of it are silly and some are serious.

But when I think of it, I think, "That book's got soul."

Hey Natalie Jean: Advice, Musings, and Inspiration on Marriage, Motherhood, and Style 
by Natalie Holbrook

I've been following Natalie Holbrook's blog, Hey Natalie Jean, for a long time now. I started back when it was still called Nat the Fat Rat (because that name!) and stuck around because her son Huck was born right around the same time Levi was born, and she was talking about life with a newborn, which is what I was living.*

Anyway, Jacob asked me some questions about the book (which led to me turning the tables on him) and I thought you might like to listen in.

Jacob: What's it about?
Alysa: It is a series of essays about motherhood, being a woman, and living in New York City and . . .  taking yourself seriously.

Jacob: What do you mean by that?
Alysa: Well, the book encourages you to take yourself seriously. It's also kind of silly at times, but the best essays are the serious ones, in my opinion. For instance, she talks about trusting yourself as a mother, helping your husband get through a tough time, being happy and present in your life.

Jacob: Okay. What was your favorite essay?
Alysa: My favorite was the one where she talked about Brandon having a nervous breakdown. It's titled On Grooves and has a section called "How to Beat the Blahs." As you know, I experience The Blahs with some regularity. So does Natalie, but her husband Brandon doesn't. And . . . so he did, and it really threw him for a loop. And she's like, "Oh I know exactly what to do." It was a vulnerable essay, and it helped me step into her shoes and imagine what that would be like for me. It was great.

Jacob: "The Blahs" here being a euphemism for mild depression? Or no?
Alysa: Yeah.
Jacob: Chad Orzel did a post recently about how blogging has helped him past his mild depression. he linked to a blog post about having high functioning depression, where everyday tasks are a chore, but not impossible.
Alysa: That sounds really interesting. Alysa makes a mental note to find the link.

Alysa: Ok, so, let me tell you more about the book. There are pictures.
Jacob: They're all taken by Natalie, right?
Alysa: No.
Jacob: Oh! Who took the other ones then? I know she does like to take pictures right?
Alysa: Yes. She does; and she took a lot of the photos, but there are also photos by Lesley Uhruh, Emma Kepley and Justin Hackworth (whose Instagram I love).

Alysa: So, some of the stuff I had read before. Some of it is taken from posts on her blog.
Jacob: So you could link to some of those as examples of what the book is like. Some of your favorite ones.
Alysa: Yeah. On Being a Queen is my favorite essay in the book that's also on the blog. It is a little different in the book, but the main thrust of it is the same. It's the first essay in the book, and she uses it to introduce the whole work. I've found myself thinking of it, and using it. I even told the boys one day, "I am the Queen." [Our sons are six and four. Our daughter is one and thinks that she's the queen.]

Jacob: Why should someone read this book? I was going to say "Why should I read this book," but I've already read parts of it.

Alysa: What did you like about it?
Jacob: I read a few chapters . . . I liked just hearing, or, reading, a different perspective on life.
Alysa: She doesn't seem very much like you, to me.
Jacob: First of all she's a woman. Secondly she is living in New York City. She cares much more about interior design than I do, considering I care very, very little. And about clothes, same thing. But it was very well written, and interesting to read. I didn't feel like it was a waste of my time or anything.
Alysa: I agree. Once you start reading it, it's very easy to keep reading it. You know, there's nothing that throws you out --
Jacob: No typos or odd phrasing that throws you out of the groove.
Alysa: Right. And there is plenty of soul that draws you in.

Alysa: Did it make you laugh?
Jacob: Yeah parts of it definitely did.
Alysa: Me too.

Alysa: I think it's interesting to hear your take on it, because you DON'T read her blog.
Jacob: I'm not the target audience. In a deep voice I'm a man.

Jacob: Ok, so why should someone read this book?
Alysa: You should read this book if you want to see things from a new perspective, or if you want encouragement in motherhood. If you want some mom-spiration. Or, if you're thinking about writing a memoir or about your own life experience. She does a really good job of that.

So there you have it! I edited the transcript of our conversation lightly, in case you were wondering.
Hey Natalie Jean is available for purchase, and I'm glad I have a copy -- I requested one from the publisher and received it with the understanding that I would review it. (Of course I would!) Anyway here are affiliate links, in case you'd like to shop for it.  


*plus also because her voice reminded me of my sister, who I missed terribly because she was serving a mission in the Czech Republic at the time. AND because once I found out her maiden name was Lovin I discovered we had lived only a block or two apart, back in Mesa, and our moms had known each other. I even played at her house once. And I remember it was immaculate and that her mom made me "cheep like a birdie" for a treat -- which was totally humiliating at the time, but which torture I have since inflicted on many a young child. So fun.
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