Monthly Archives: September 2015

Dead Wake: A Booky Mom Review

Dead Wake: The Last Crossing of the LusitaniaDead Wake: The Last Crossing of the Lusitania by Erik Larson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Erik Larson did it again.

I was first introduced to Mr. Larson when I read his book Devil in the White City. It is a wonderful book that follows the development of the Chicago World’s Fair and the progress of one of the earliest American Serial Killers. A creepy topic to be sure, but Larson ‘executed’ the story very well.

Next, I tried his book In the Garden of Beasts (which I was NOT as impressed with: link here for my review). In the Garden, Larson follows the American Ambassador to Germany in the days prior to WWII. Somehow that book did not have the cleverness of Devil in the White City. It was well researched, but book lacked something.

With these mixed feelings I embarked on reading Dead Wake. This time Larson rebounded with a fantastic book on the Lusitania. While the sinking of the Lusitania was not THE catalyst for America’s entry into the war, it played a big part in moving American public opinion to favor the war.

Larson’s impeccable research is showcased again in this historical work. His attention to detail is seen when he treats readers to a description of what passengers were wearing when the ship went down. However, Larson does not get bogged down in details.

He humanizes the story by focusing on the Captain of the Lusitania, the Captain of the U-boat and US President Wilson. He even notes that U-Boat Captain who sunk the ship, was also a man who rescued puppies from previous vessel he sunk. And, not only kept one of the dogs but gave other U-Boat Captains ship’s dogs. These details saw readers that the people who made major movements in history were, at the end of the day, people.

Larson marries the themes of war, humanity and sailing to create a captivating work of history. Anyone who enjoyed his previous work will not be disappointed with his current release.

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Happy Haunted Halloween Countdown…


One of my favorite creepy countdown boxes.

Nevada! You have to LOVE a state that joined the Union in the middle of the Civil War on Halloween!!!!  As you can see, we Nevadans take Halloween very seriously.  In fact, it’s a state HOLIDAY!!!!

Years ago at Pottery Barn Kids, I saw this really neat Halloween Countdown Calendar.  Really, I should have bought it.  It was a wooden haunted house with little doors and windows that opened so you could stuff treasures and/or candy inside to countdown the days until Halloween.  I was being cheap at the time and decided to pass it by.  BIG mistake, because all these years later, I am still dreaming of it.

I started searching the Net for something similar and really did not hit on anything that I really liked.  Or sure, they had a few items on Etsy and I did look at this year’s Pottery Barn Calendar (but it was fabric and you just move a little a pumpkin or ghost or some such thing to a new pocket each day).

IMG_2560Now to make our own!  Cinco and the Princess were immediately up for the challenge.  They LOVE to find old junk and try to make it into a craft.  Our first stop was Michael’s to see what we could get in the way of decorative items and or boxes to put our Halloween treats in.  I looked up DIY Christmas advent calendars to get some ideas. Several were very elaborate and well beyond our skill levels.  But, one suggested getting little wedding party favor boxes and stuffing those.  I liked this idea and was going to act on it.  But, then Queen Gram intervened.

Thank goodness we brought Queen Gram with us to the store because she found my new favorite toy a box maker!   IMG_2527Okay, super crafters may already know about this. But, I just found out about it and I LOVE IT.  We were able to make boxes in several sizes using some fun, decorative Halloween paper!

A few of my favorite boxes included:

Love the Creepy Google Eye and the Mummy coming out of the zeros!!!


Haunted House designed by Cinco!

Then we took the cardbox pallet from a case of water and decorated it to look like a haunted house.

With some cool embelishments, black paper and a white colored pencil we made our own nifty haunted house countdown calendar.

I , of course, filled the treat boxes.IMG_2531

Some with candy, some with toys, some with spooky junk.  Now, we are just waiting for October to hurry up and get here!!!!!

And, of course, I am already thinking all about making another one for Christmas and maybe even a New Year’s Eve countdown!  Oh what fun.

The Princess decorated the horizontal portion ans was obessed with the bone letters!

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Number the Stars.

Number the StarsNumber the Stars by Lois Lowry
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Somehow I missed Lois Lowry as an author until about a year ago. Now, I am reading many of her books to catch up on what I missed. Number the Stars is another one of her novels I am just encountering.

As a middle-grade book, I found this to be a very tactful way to deal with the issues surrounding Nazi treatment of Jews during WWII. Lowry addresses the issue for young readers without scaring or horrifying them (no easy task when you think about the topic she is covering).

It is a quick read for an adult and probably not something that would interest and/or captivate most an adult reader. However, I highly recommend it as a novel for parents and middle-age child to share and discuss as a gateway to talking to about some of the more horrific episodes of our recent past.

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An Okay Read If You Are Trapped in a Snow Storm….

The ExpatsThe Expats by Chris Pavone
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I received this at my book club’s annual holiday book exchange party. Everyone brings a book and we do a White Elephant exchange or as some people call it a Yankee Swap. Chris Pavone’s novel is one of two books I got my hands on.

The basic plot pretty simple… a woman working in the CIA quits her job and moves to Europe when her husband lands a job overseas. She has been lying to him about her job with the CIA for their entire marriage. Pretty soon she’s a little bored simply taking care of the kids and traveling all over Europe (how this can be I have no idea… haha) and she starts to believe some other American expats seem to be hiding something. That’s as far as I will go with the story line encase you actually plan to read the book.

For me, there was really nothing special about the book. The writing was okay, the story was okay. If you are bored on the plane or at the beach or trapped with nothing to do in snow storm I suppose the book will help you pass the time. But, there are so many other things to read out there…. I say just skip it.

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The Ludwig ConspiracyThe Ludwig Conspiracy by Oliver Pötzsch
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Potzsch’s The Ludwig Conspiracy seems to be a rather poor Northern European version of the Da Vinci Code. In his novel, a book seller and a young art detective roam through the castles of Bavarian King Ludwig II looking for clues to solve a hidden puzzle. The primary sleuthing revolves around the mysterious death of Ludwig II.

I was unaware of the strange and inconsistent circumstances surrounding his death. While the odd ‘facts’ of the case do lend themselves to a mystery novel something in Potzsch’s execution of the story is lacking. The book so closely mirrors Da Vinci Code in so many ways that it is a distraction to paying to attention to Potzsch’s plot. To be fair— I enjoyed the Da Vinci code for what it was worth— but I was not among its major fans! So for me, a weaker version of the story was a little painful.

Additionally, and I do not fault the author for this, the dialog came across as rather stilted. Something about the cadence of the speech was off putting. I am going to give the author the benefit of the doubt and attribute this to the translation. Perhaps, it was better in the original.

Finally, I really did enjoy Potzsch’s Hangman’s Daughter series and plan to read his upcoming release in October .

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Last Train to IstanbulLast Train to Istanbul by Ayşe Kulin
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Ayse Kulin’s book is an intriguing book about the troubles facing a Turkish family during the early days of WWII. Unlike many daughters of an aging Turkish pasha, Selva and Sebiha, choose different life paths to create the setting for this story.

Selva falls in love with a Turkish Jew. Her father is shamed and embarrassed by her choice. His unwillingness to accept her Jewish husband causes Selva and her husband to move to France.

Sebiha does exactly was is expected of her and marries a promising Turkish government official. She has one child and finds her self depressed and lonely. Sebiha soon makes friends with one her husband’s co-workers, Tarik.

All the while, Turkey is trying to avoid entering the war either for or against Germany. Tarik is posted in France and makes contact with Selva.

Through Sebiha’s friendship with Tarik, Selva encourages the Turkish consulate to issue “papers” to other Jews. Soon the Turkish consulate creates a plan to transport hundreds of Turkish and non-Turkish Jews out of Nazi occupied France.

Will the Turkish Jews make out of France? Will Selva finally be accepted by her father?

The emotions run high in this well written and compelling story of one family’s challenge during the war.

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One Summer: America, 1927One Summer: America, 1927 by Bill Bryson
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Hmmmm…. I know I am going to get into a lot of trouble for this review from Bill Bryson fans…BUT, I simply did not love the book. I am not sure if it’s because I expected more out of him or if the book simply did not click with me. Whatever it was, I sort of wish I had not wasted my time or money. So what were the issues I had with book?

1. I get the feeling Bryson really wanted to do a book on Charles Lindbergh, rather than the Summer of 1927. A LARGE portion of the book is devoted to aviation and Lindbergh’s flight and subsequent celebrity. Too much of the book in my opinion. That might have been the biggest thing to happen that summer… but it simply got to be too much. I feel as if the book was something of a bait and switch– if was going to be a long tale of Lindbergh Bryson should have just said at the outset.

2. I did not care for Bryson’s treatment of President Calvin Coolidge. His tone and disrespect for MY FAVORITE president was truly unfair. He presents Coolidge as something of a simpleton, when that is far from the case. Further more, he does not defend his depiction of Coolidge with hard facts. Rather he treats him as a fool without backing it up.

3. I am not sure that Bryson made his case as to WHY this was a critical summer in American history. He did a nice job explaining the summer and Lindbergh’s success spurred the American airline industry. But, this conclusion does not come until the afterword. Other than that, I am not sure that Byrson really closed the loop on WHY this summer mattered more than say 1926 or 1928. And, again he should have simply written a book on aviation.

All and all, the book was a unsatisfying for the genre. I wish I had picked something else.

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Mom Camp 2015 Signing Off….

Each year of Mom Camp is different.  But this year, I feel as if Mom Camp never really got off the ground.  We took a LOT trips (Ireland, Boston/Maine, Tahoe, LA)  and it was one big whirlwind of packing, traveling, touring, traveling, unpacking and laundry with a sprinkle of Mom Camp Days thrown in here and there.

I know the kids certainly missed our traditional Mom Camp activities and Cinco is still talking about how he simply did not get enough time with our Greek Days.  The Princess on the other hand was disappointed in general that we didn’t have more days spent on our activities.  I truly cannot blame them because we barely made it to 30 days of Mom Camp this year… YIKES!

All of our travels did lead one positive experience, lovely hard-bound journals for the kids.  Every Mom Camp I hit on a ‘thing’. One year it was paper stove-pipe hats.  It was as if every activity included a paper hat…..  Circus Ring Master,  4th of July and Uncle Sam, and on and on.  The following year I had an penchant for peg dolls.  We made a peg doll Ben Franklin, peg doll colonial solders, peg doll colonial women, and peg doll Egyptians,  Last year, I hit on paper crafts.  We made a paper Globe Theatre, a paper Big Ben, paper dolls (Romans, Vikings, Victorians and Elsa and Anna).   

 This year it was journals.

I created a hard-bound, personalized glossy journal for each child for our adventures.  They not only had a space to write about their experiences, but the journals included historical lessons, projects and other puzzles and game to keep the kids happy and engaged in their summer travels.  

 I love that they were hard-bound this year.  I tried something similar last year on the trip to Great Britain.  But, I used spiral notebooks and they did not fair very well when they came home.  I hope this year’s treasures will stay with the children for years to come and be a reminder of our Mom Camp 2015 Adventures. 

 This is Mom Camp 2015 signing off until next summer….

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Dad Camp…

We ended the summer with one final expedition to Great Basin National Park.  This was all The Captain’s idea and it even involved actual camping.

We arrived just in time to get the final camping spot on the mountain.  This was good because we got a spot.  But, it was bad because it was very cold and windy. In fact, we must have hit freezing temperatures because the water station had icicles around it in the morning.

After settling in at the camp ground, The Captain led us on a hike along the Alpine Lake Loop.  We saw Lakes Stella and Teresa.  We also collected several walking sticks on the trek.

Back at camp it we saw wild turkeys cooked dinner and made s’mores.  But the cold and wind drove the kids and I into the tent.   Once we were snuggled inside all was well.

A post-midnight potty break woke everyone up and we had a dazzling view of the stars.   It is amazing how many stars are hidden fr view especially in Las Vegas.

A chilly morning was made a little warmer with some hot chocolate and coffee plus a little oatmeal whipped up by The Captain.

Next, it was off to Lehman Caves.


All this was followed by a picnic lunch and a trip to an old mining ghost town.  Very little of the town is left and we mainly explored the cemetery.

Then came the long drive home.

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Like so many kids these days Cinco and The Princess really like the Percy Jackson stories and demanded a few Greek days at mom camp.  Sadly, with the end of the summer approaching the kids didn’t get nearly as much Greek immersion as I wanted.  But like all Mom Camp activities it just means there is something left for next year! 

We began with a little painting.   

 I explained to the kiddos that the old Greek and Roman Temples were actually very brightly decorated.   

 Today we only see white columns but back in the day they were painted many different colors. We also painted a few columns I purchased at Hobby Lobby for the kids. 

Next it was time for a little traditional Greek pottery.   

 This project took two days because we let our pottery dry overnight.  I also decided after all the painting the previous day— maybe we would try using markers on the pots.   

 Since the Greek pottery tends to be terracotta and black we drew our designs on the pots with black sharpies.  Much less messy than paint and we didn’t have to wait for the paint to dry! Plus it was pretty easy to work with the sharpies and the designs the kids wanted. 

Cinco made his own Greek helmet complete with ‘plumes’!  

 Of course each night of our Greek Festival we watch a different Percy Jackson Movie! 

We also went out for Greek food one night. I love Greek food especially the baklava!!!  The kids not as much.  But they took a bite of everything and I think they had a good time in the end. 

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