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On My Nightstand: Monday Book Review — “Skippyjon Jones and the Big Bones,” “A Perfect Mess,” “The Perfect Dog,” “Full of Beans” and “Coloring For Moms & Moms-to-Be”

August 22nd, 2016

The sun just keeps going down

(Photo by Steve Rawley)

* The Skippyjon Jones series was always popular with my students. The Spanglish bugged me at first, I thought it was a little much… (“Then, using his very best Spanish accent, he added, “My ears are too beeg for my head, and my head won’t fit into my bed…”) but the kids responded to it, and we would turn the books into fast Spanish lessons, along with a fun story time. Judy Schachner is the author and illustrator of the series. (Scholastic, 2007, $4.99.) Dinosaurs? A Siamese cat who pretends he’s a Chihuahua? A fun, fast rhythm to the words? We’re in.

* “A Perfect Mess,” written and illustrated by Steve Breen (Penguin Random House, 2016, ages 3-5, unpaged, $16.99) is a really cool picture book. (You may recognize the art of Breen, who also writes the comic strip “Grand Avenue,” and is the author of the children’s books “Pug & Doug,” “Stick” and “Violet the Pilot.”) Kids’ books are usually described as “heart-warming,” “tender,” and blah-blah sweetness deluxe, but this one is. Henry McHenry, “one messy rhino,” is so ready for class picture day. He’s wearing his nicest shirt, he has an emergency pack of wet wipes. He’ll be clean by the time pictures are taken… but what about the rest of his class? Good pick for back-to-school.

* “Who has the best dog in all the land?” I was cooing at our new puppy last week. My son, cheerful as heck, says, “I don’t know who, but not us!” He’s wrong. Wacky Dog 2.0 is pretty, pretty good. If only she would learn to stop peeing in the house. And eating the cat food. And devouring the garbage. (She’s got a lot in common with Angus, aka Wacky Dog 1.0.) So Kevin O’Malley’s “The Perfect Dog” has arrived at Wacky House at a very opportune time. And look! Open the bookjacket, look inside, lower right-corner… There’s a Yellow Labrador Retriever, just like our dear Wacky Dog 2.0. Hers a big girl, y’all. (Crown Books for Young Readers, 2016, $17.99.)

“My parents said we could get a dog. ‘And I know the perfect dog…’”

Uh. Is it one that doesn’t pee all over everything? Just wonderin’. Anyway. This book makes me happy, and I’m sure the kiddies will love it, too.

O’Malley also co-authors and illustrates the Miss Malarkey series, which is super fun. Check it out if you’re not familiar with the titles. #booksteachersandkidslove

* “Full of Beans” is the newest by dear, sweet and funny Jennifer L. Holm. Do you know the very talented Jenni Holm? If not, you should. She and her equally-talented bro, Matthew Holm, co-author the “Babymouse” and “Squish” series. Her book “The Fourteenth Goldfish” was a big hit, and she also writes some very cool historical fiction (“Our Only May Amelia”) and now, “Full of Beans,” (Random House Books for Young Readers, 2016, ages 8-12, $16.99, 208 pages), the sequel to “Turtle in Paradise.”

Now comes Beans Curry, a Depression-era kid whose family, along with lots of others, is destitute. He needs cash fast and doesn’t really care how he gets it. How far will he go, though? Who will he trust? And who will find out? Great read — one of those high/low’s I loved as a teacher. (High interest for low reading level.) Holm works in a lot of interesting info about Roosevelt’s New Dealers, along with a great story and funny sidekicks. “What in the history of cheese?”

* And now, the best for last: “Coloring for Moms and Moms-To-Be” (Doubleday Books for Young Readers, Little Tiger Press & Bethan Janine, 2016, $9.99.) I’m one of those freaks who never stopped coloring. I used to hide it from people, so now that it’s “a thing,” I’m super happy. Break out the colored pencils and start doodling in the butterflies, flowers and onesies, hot-air balloons, elephants and cupcakes. You may have to hide this one from the bigger kids. :) Awesome baby shower gift, of course. Pages and pencils or crayons would be cute decorating the tables.

Bon appetit, babies.

– wm

Saturday Book Review: For the Kids! “Day Dreamers, A Journey of Imagination,” “Ninja Bunny: Sister Vs. Brother” & “The Opposite Zoo”

August 6th, 2016

Capilano Suspension Bridge Park

(Photo by Steve Rawley)

New on the nightstand this week…

* We begin with “Day Dreamers: A Journey of Imagination,” by Emily Winfield Martin (a Portland, Oregon author!). (Random House Children’s Books, 2016, ages 2-5, $8.99.)
This really is a day dream of a book, all soft colors and lyrical words. (My former students were fond of yelling, “It’s a rhyming book!” when I would ask, What sort of book is this?) This is a rhyming book, and it’s darling.

* “Ninja Bunny: Sister Vs. Brother” is here! (Random House Children’s Books, 2016,32 pages, $16.99.) Even though I write, I sometimes do wonder where writers get their ideas. (Harlan Ellison said he got his from a “mail-order house in Schenectady.”) The premise of this book is pretty cute, hi-YAH!. The art is colorful, playful, and engaging. Ninja Bunny (aka a big brother who likes to dress up) is in search of The Carrot of Awesomeness. A little ninja (baby sister) decides to tag along because of course she does. “Play with your sister, dear,” calls Mom. How will it end?

* “The Opposite Zoo,” by Il Sung Na, is a very cool picture book for the littles. (Random House, 2016, 24 pages, $16.99.) Each page, with one or two animals, contains one word. AWAKE!, Asleep, Hairy, Bald, Shy, Bold and so one. I love the stripped-down approach — it gives kids a chance to fill in their own stories for each page. The detail in the drawings is exquisite, rich and inventive. This would make for a great bedtime story.

Bon appetit, babies!

– wm

On My Nightstand: Wednesday Edition… for the grown-ups! “Southern Gothic: A Celine Caldwell Mystery,” “Life Without a Recipe,” “Brain on Fire” & “War at Home: A Wife’s Search for Peace & Other Missions Impossible”

August 3rd, 2016

Now the time has come to review a few books for the majors, not the minors. Yeah, I read grown-up books. Sometimes. But let’s ease into it with a review of a young adult book that I really enjoyed:

* “Southern Gothic: A Celine Caldwell Mystery,” by Bridgette R. Alexander, is a quite cool novel. (Paris 1865 Press, 2015, $16.99, ages young adult and up, 310 pages.) It took me awhile to finish, because I read it at work during breaks and lunches in fits and starts. The tone of this book is just so different from anything else out there. It’s… I don’t know what, exactly. It’s conversational. Direct. Modern. Hip without saying, Look at me, I’m so hip! Heh. I liked the characters. Celine’s mom is a curator at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. This is a modern version of one of those “New York kid” books that I’ve adored my whole life. (“From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler,” “Harriet the Spy,” etc.) When some paintings go missing, Celine’s mom is blamed — or framed? Which is it? Great read. Looking forward to seeing more from this author.

* “Life Without a Recipe” is the newest book from Diana Abu-Jaber. This is her second memoir, and oh, man. I loved the first one so much, I didn’t know if it would be possible to top it. But this is a strong follow-up, genuine and true in its own right. Such beautiful writing.

* “Brain on Fire: My Month of Madness,” by Susannah Cahalan, was recommended to me by a co-worker. I’m glad I came across it. It’s a really different memoir — the writer lost her mind, and can’t remember much of what happened during that time, so she looked through her medical records, watched video footage from her hospital stay, and interviewed family and friends. She’s relentless and fierce and spoiler alert — she lived to write the book. Fascinating read.

* “The War at Home: A Wife’s Search for Peace (and Other Missions Impossible),” by Rachel Starnes is another intense memoir that was completely, unexpectedly, beautifully different from what I expected. I read this back-to-back with “Brain on Fire” and it made for an interesting week, lol. Oh, my God, the writing chops this woman has. It’s her story of being the wife of a Navy fighter pilot/Top Gun guy. Gripping, with insights into a world that I really know little about, and so, so, so good.

Bon appetit, babies.

– wm

On My Nightstand, Wednesday Edition… More for the Kiddos: “La Madre Goose,” “How to Mend a Heart” & “Sharing the Bread: An Old-Fashioned Thanksgiving Story”

July 6th, 2016

Mom and pup

“Mom & Pup”
Photo by Steve Rawley

And now… a few more reviews! (The stack on the nightstand is threatening to topple over, my friends.)

* Well, this one is pretty cool. “La Madre Goose,” by Susan Middleton Elya, illustrated by Juana Martinez-Neal (Penguin Random House/Penguin Young Readers, 2016, ages 5-8, unpaged, $16.99) Beautiful rendition of the classic stories, and in Spanish. Well, Spanglish, make that :) America has become a bilingual country, with our two languages being snark and slang. Kidding. English and Spanish, duh. And the more practice we all get in both languages, the better.

“This little cerdo went to market,
this little cerdo stayed home.
This little cerdo had roasted carne,
this little cerdo had none.
This little cerdo cried oink, oink, oink,
all the way home.”

OK, I don’t know why it never bothered me in English, but it does bother me in Spanish that the little piggy had roast beef, and shouldn’t it be “cerdito,” not cerdo? But let’s not quibble. I love that it’s bilingual, I love that people are making an effort at dual-immersion, and the art? Colorful and light, engaging and with a lot of movement and charm. (Especially for “Three Little Gatitos.” Sweetness.)

July 6th — as good a day as any for a much-overdue holiday round-up, right? Sure thing. Especially since I don’t have any Fourth of July books. So how about…

* Valentine’s! “How to Mend a Heart,” written and illustrated by Sara Gillingham (Random House Books for Young Readers, 2015, $16.99, ages 3-7, 40 pages). This one is a companion book to Gillingham’s “How to Grow a Friend.” I am a sucker for anything that reminds me of Colorforms, and the artist’s mixed media does that for me. (Do you know Colorforms? Plastic pieces of happiness.) This is a swell little book about how to deal with life, if you’re getting over heartache, having a big problem or small, what have you. Trim the loose threads, don’t give up! Life lessons. The art is super cute. (Paper/tape/glue? Collage? I don’t know what all Gillingham did to put this treasure together, but it works.) She also co-created the “In My…” series for Chronicle Books and the Empowerment series of board books for Abrams Appleseed, if you’d like to see more of her projects.

* Thanksgiving! “Sharing the Bread: An Old-Fashioned Thanksgiving Story,” written by Pat Zietlow Miller, illustrated by Jill McElmurry. (Schwartz & Wade Books, 2015, $17.99, grades preschool-3, unpaged.) The illustrations are pretty — McElmurry used gouache on watercolor paper. It has a “Little House in the Big Woods” feel to it.

Now, a quote of the day, for old times’ sake?

“I failed typing. I failed draping. I was fired from Anne Klein, rehired and fired again when I asked to design my own collection. Everything in life can’t be a plus. The minuses are equally important.” — Donna Karan, designer, visionary, failed typist

And with that, I bid you adieu.

– wm

Fleet of Flowers, Memorial Day, 5/30/16, Depoe Bay, Ore.

June 3rd, 2016

Herding fish

victory

Morning Star

47' motor lifeboats in their shed

Depoe Bay harbor and bridge

on the waterfront

World's smallest harbor?

Photos by Steve Rawley

On My Nightstand, Wednesday Edition: Kids’ Books Galore… “Pretty Minnie in Hollywood,” “Douglas, You Need Glasses!” & “Three Magic Balloons”

June 1st, 2016

2016-05-30_04-34-44

(Photo by Steve Rawley)

Books for summer, people… Here they are, all for the 3-7 set, and all sweetness and light:

“Pretty Minnie in Hollywood,” by Danielle Steel (the Danielle Steel), with illustrations by Kristi Valiant, for ages 3-7. (Random House Children’s Books, 2016, 32 pages, $17.99.) (A brief digression: Ms. Steel’s bio informs us that she has sold more than 600 million copies of her books, in 69 countries and 43 languages.) (Whoa.) This sequel to “Pretty Minnie in Paris” is pretty, pretty cute. I could have done with fewer! exclamation points! but I don’t think the kids will mind. Teacup chihuahua Minnie and her best friend, Francoise, travel to Hollywood with Francoise’s mommy, who is a dress designer. (Pretty clothes figure prominently in the book.) They meet the nasty, nasty Fifi. How will this end? Sweet, funny, reminiscent of the Eloise books, and the illustrations? They just couldn’t be more pink and sparkly. Darling book.

“Douglas, You Need Glasses!” written and illustrated by Ged Adamson, for ages 3-7. Random House Children’s Books, 2016, 40 pages, $16.99.) Doggie Douglas and his BFF Nancy love to watch TV. But he has to sit so close. Also? He sometimes confuses leaves with squirrels. And he walks into things a lot. So off to the optometrist they go. Funny story, cool illustrations, and a good way to talk with the littles about glasses. The publisher is doing a social media tie-in with this one: Use the hashtags #douglasyouneedglasses and #RandomHouseKids and submit pix of your kids wearing glasses. Ged Adamson also wrote “Meet the McKaws” and “Elsie Clarke and the Vampire Hairdresser.”

“Three Magic Balloons, as told to Julianna Margulies and Her Sisters,” by Paul Margulies, for ages 3-7. (Random House Children’s Books, 2016, 40 pages, $17.99.) Illustrations are by Grant Shaffer, who, by the by, is married to my boyfriend Alan Cumming. (Yes, I read every last word of the press release.) OK, this is a cool project. Ms. Margulies, who recently broke my heart when her show “The Good Wife” ended after a seven-year run (yours truly watched every damn episode omg i loved that show)… Anyway, my heartbreaker has a cool story to share with us. Her dad, Paul, was a writer (and an ad exec) who published two kids’ books in his lifetime: “Gold Steps, Stone Steps,” and “What Julianna Could See.” Ms. Margulies and her sisters, Rachel and Alexandra, found this manuscript after he passed, wanted a friend (Mr. Shaffer) to illustrate, and voila!

This is a magical little book about three sisters who love their trips to the zoo with their dad. One day, they’re gifted with three balloons. What happens next? Get a copy of the book and see :) I love the story, I love that the author doesn’t talk down to kids, and the illustrations fit in so well, I thought at first the author was also the artist who drew them.

Nice work.

Best, bon appetit, babies, and talk more soon.

– wm

hi, honey!

April 14th, 2016

The whites of her eyes

(Photo by Steve Rawley)

happy spring

April 6th, 2016

2016-04-02_05-15-09

(Photo by Steve Rawley)

Friday Recipe Club: Black Beans & Polenta

March 25th, 2016

The day afer

(Photo by Steve Rawley)

Denver, when it’s snowing. Crazy, cuz it’s almost April, dudes.

This one is from my friend Kimi, because the girl knows how to cook!

Black Beans & Polenta, a la Kimi

“Cheap, healthy, fast and easy. Always organic.”

Black beans, fresh squeezed orange, chopped jalapeno and onion over polenta, topped with avocado, vegan sour cream and Secret Aardvark habanero sauce (made in Portland, Oregon!). Mixed greens on side with balsamic vinegar & garlic dressing.”

oh, yum.

Thursday Book Review: A Big Stack of Everything on My Nightstand (“The Accursed,” Joyce Carol Oates; Sue Miller; “The Importance of Being Little,” Teacher Thai)

March 24th, 2016

Cherry blossom concordance

(Photo by Steve Rawley)

And what’s on the nightstand this week? I’m going with bullet points, because it’s a big stack.

* “The Accursed,” Joyce Carol Oates. I love Oates, which I guess explains why it’s taken me a couple of years or so to get through this book (I bought it when it was first released in 2013). It’s a cool book — based on the “true” story of Princeton, turn of the 20th century. I like historical fiction, and this one has it all — curses and vampires, goth and Grover Cleveland. It’s crazy good. So why the forever-read? Oates is like candy to me — I nibble a little here, a lot there. I don’t want the candy to go away, see? The way my reading mind works is God’s own mystery.

* Anything by author Sue Miller. I’m starting with “The Arsonist,” and “The Good Mother” and “Lost in the Forest.” My own good mother recommended her. Miller’s very good. Different. I like her style.

* “The Importance of Being Little: What Preschoolers Really Need From Grownups,” by Erika Christakis. Great read about preschool child development, language, bonding, etc. Doesn’t read like a textbook, but has loads of information, stats, facts and thoughts.

* “The Four Agreements,” by Don Miguel Ruiz. Again, still, always. This is single best motivational books I’ve ever read, and I’ve read a lot over the years. It’s astounding. You should pick up four or five copies and hand them out at parties, just sayin’.

* “Cultivating the Mind of Love: The Practice of Looking Deeply in the Mahayana Buddhist Tradition,” by Thich Nhat Hanh (I can recommend any other titles by Teacher Thai, too.)

Happy spring, my lovelies.

– wm

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