Friday, December 30, 2011

The Invisible Bridge by Julie Orringer

This book is not for the faint of heart. It's a tearjerker and will leave you pissed off that anything like this can even happen.

Ok, so now that we got that out of the way... ;)

I read this book for Emily's book club over at The Many Thoughts of a Reader - she has been keeping this book club going for TWO YEARS now and although I play along only occasionally, I really enjoy the discussion when I do!

This year could be dubbed the year I studied WWII in depth. Seriously. Who reads a depressing Holocaust novel the week of Christmas?! This girl.

I swear, I am not a depressing person. I'm a bubbly, happy, annoyingly positive person that will drive you nuts with her idealistic (although, not naive) ideas. I really enjoy learning about this period of history, though, and I learn history best through historical fiction. You better believe that if it's possible, I will incorporate it somehow into my curriculum someday when I have my own classroom.

You can read my Goodreads review of this post here. If you're not on Goodreads, you should be. It's perfect for adding the books you're reading, the books you want to read and for connecting with others and finding out what you want to read next. It's definitely the FIRST place I turn to when trying to decide if I want to read something. They even have a mobile app (who doesn't these days?) that is pretty awesome. I use it almost daily. Yep, I am a total and complete bookworm. I am not ashamed.

Now that I am done pushing Goodreads... The Invisible Bridge. This book follows three Jewish brothers that are from Budapest, Hungary in the late 30s and early 40s. The author focuses most of its attention on the middle brother, Andras, and it is so hard not to fall in love with Andras. He is such a well-rounded, neat person. This would be one character that I would NEVER want to see on the big screen, because the idea I have in my head of what he looks like cannot be ruined. Do you know what I mean?

Andras moves from Budapest to Paris to attend college and study architecture on a scholarship. Then the war happens and his visa is suddenly void due to his religious heritage, and he has to move back to Budapest leaving behind the love of his life, Klara. Klara is also from Hungary, but cannot return because of something that happened in her past, and if she does, she will be arrested.

At the train station, she decides she cannot let Andras go without her and she decides to risk it. Together they travel back to Budapest as the war begins to ravage Europe under Hitler's reign. Andras is called to serve three times, and life continues to get worse and worse for both families.

I highly recommend this book if you're interested in the Holocaust, and if you're interested in the differences for Jews in each country of Europe. In school, all I ever really learned about was Poland and Germany. There are so many facets to this era in history that you could study it for ages and still learn more about it.

The Invisible Bridge is so well written and the description is simply gorgeous. The text can be dense and long at times with little dialogue, as descriptive novels are, but it's too rich to ignore. I don't typically ADORE texts that have such solid passages, which is why I didn't give it five stars, but once you're past the first part, putting it down and ignoring Andras and Klara will be impossible.

If you're a fan of Sarah's Key, it's likely you will enjoy the The Invisible Bridge as well.

After all of these WWII books in 2011, I'm definitely ready for more light reading in 2012!

Do you tend to read books with heavy topics like this, or do you avoid them?

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Top Ten books of 2011

I cannot end this year without talking about my favorite books of 2011 - that would be just... silly.

Yesterday Lisa and Stephany both posted their top 10 lists and I just loved reading them - follow the links to read theirs! We have very similar tastes and I just love discussing books with these two. I wish we all lived in the same city so we could meet up and discuss more often. ;)

This year I read A LOT. At the beginning of the year I made a goal for myself to read 50 books, and I didn't think it would happen while being in grad school full time all year, but somehow it happened! I have read 57 books in 2011. A few of those books were for school, which I'm counting because I have a goal to read more non-fiction books. Many of the books are also middle grades and YA books, which several were for my children's lit class.

Narrowing down my list of favorites this year was pretty easy. In fact coming up with ten for the list was a little hard! There weren't many that I just absolutely loved, but for the most part all of these on this list are books that I always recommend to others.

I have noticed on Goodreads, that I am not generous with the five star rating - I rarely give a book five stars, in fact only a few of those books on my top 10 list got five stars from me when I finished them, but that doesn't mean I didn't love them. To me, for a book to get a five star rating, it needs to have me engaged the entire time, the writing should be impeccable and it should be a book I would consider as "couldn't-put-it-down."

I'm not sure what my goal for 2012 will be. I have gotten myself tangled up into three book clubs, so I think I will probably read my adult fiction with them and the rest will be middle grades and YA. I wish I could say I hope to read more in 2012, but know what my class schedule will be like, I don't know if that is possible. I guess I surprised myself in 2011, so who knows?

Anyway. I'll stop rambling. Here are my "Top Ten Books of 2011!" Enjoy!

10. Secret Daughter - this was the third book we read for Books 'n Bars, and I absolutely loved it! This year I began to really become interested in Indian culture and this book really contributed that interest. It's about an American couple that adopts an Indian girl. The father is of Indian heritage and the mother is American.

9. The Lover's Dictionary - this book was FANTASTIC! It's really a dictionary, but in the definitions it tells a story. It's heart-breakingly honest and real. Definitely a must read.

8. Lola and the Boy Next Door - oh, Stephanie Perkins. I don't think she can do anything wrong! Loved Lola - what a great character! If you liked Anna and the French Kiss, this is a MUST-READ.

7. Anna and the French Kiss - it took me a long time to pick this one up, but after seeing it float around the book blogging around and so many people raving about it, I had to see what the fuss was about. Boy, oh boy am I glad I did! What a wonderfully written, cute romance for a YA fan.

6. Saving CeeCee Honeycutt - I will always remember this book because, A. it was the first book that we read for Books 'n Bars and B. Beth Hoffman EMAILED ME TO SAY THANK-YOU! I think I literally squealed out loud when I got that email. This book was wonderful and if you're a fan of The Help, you will like this one too!

5. Divergent - Wow, the response to this book is unreal! This book is action, action, action and will you keep flipping the pages to the very end. If you like dystopians, like The Hunger Games, you will probably like Divergent too!

4. Delirium - Ahhhh, Delirium. I adored this book. I cannot wait for Pandemonium. It's time like this when I wished I put more into book blogging so I could get my hands on an ARC of the sequal. This book was so good - another dystopian that I just couldn't put down. Read it. Love it.

3. One Day - I admit, I didn't love this book until I saw the movie and it sort of brought it all together for me. Now, I think about this story all the time. It's realistic, heartbreaking and so rich. David Nicholls writing is superb and this story will make you happy, sad, pissed off, giggling... cheering for a romance that is real.

2. Sarah's Key - Ahhh, the book that started the WWII obsession this year. I-LOVED-THIS-BOOK and think everyone should read it. This book follows a little girl that is Jewish in Paris during the Holocaust. What happened to Jews in France during the Holocaust? Read this book and you will find out. Then see the movie - because they did a fantastic job.

1. The Help - I adored The Help. I adore Kathryn Stockett. She created a wonderful book about her own experiences being raised in the South by black maids. Although this isn't a memoir and is fictional, after hearing Kathryn speak about her novel and her own childhood maid, I love the book (and the movie) even more.

What was your favorite book of 2011?

Are you on Goodreads? If so, come find me. ;)

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Oh, How Pinteresting Wednesday!

It's the best blog day of the week! Another Wednesday, another Pinteresting post! Let me know if you linked up with Michelle at The Vintage Apple!

{Yesssssss! This is sort of what I picture for my "library" that I hope to have in my future house.}

{ Inspiring, no? }

{ YES! I try not to ask this, but some days it just pops out of my mouth and I always feel like an idiot... }

{ Haaaaa, this made me laugh. }

{ This drives me crazy! }

{ Did anyone else see this? Hilarious! }

{ This is on my bucket list! I am about halfway there. }

{ Amazing! }

{ London in the winter - someday I will visit! }
{ Side note: I don't know why I assume this is winter, because it's just rain, but for some reason I do. }

{ This. is. awesome. I want this done in my future home someday too. }

{ Annnnd, the obligatory Harry Potter post. Where can I find the versions like this?? They're gorgeous! }

Happy Pinteresting Wednesday, Friends!

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

It's a Christmas wrap!

Christmas was wonderful, but now that it's over, it's time for the wrap party! Errrr, wait. I hate wrapping. Is this a real wrap party? ;)

Aaaanywaaay. Here's how my holiday went...

Christmas Eve my sister and I always go to my parents house for a crab legs and Bailey's dinner and to open presents. This year my sister's boyfriend joined us for the first time, and I have to admit, I was kind of being a jerk about it at first. I'm really protective of that tradition, and for some reason I was just worried that the dynamic would change and it would feel different with him there.

{ My sister and I! I like to put the bows on my head... ;) }

Luckily, I realized what an asshole I was being (hopefully it was only my mom that noticed) and I decided to make the best of it. We ended up having a really good time! My sister and her boyfriend brought over lobster so in addition to the crab legs we always have, we had lobster too! I make the same mistake every year and I always snack too much and drink too much before the actual meal, so I usually end up just eating some of the crab and whatever side dish my mom made. This year was no different and I gave practically all of my lobster away because I was so full! ::faceplam::

{ Holy yum! The crab legs are my favorite part! }

The food was so good though, and the Bailey's this year was delicious! My dad decided to make it home instead of spending the $20+ on a bottle of it. I will never buy Bailey's again! This Bailey's was so good and so easy to make! After dinner we always play board games and this year we played a new game called Headbanz. Has anyone heard of it? You wear this headband thing and you put a card on the headband that has a word on it. You then have to ask the group questions to figure out what the word is. The group can only answer with yes, no, could be...etc. It was so hard! But, it was so much fun! I even ended up drawing Harry Potter and everyone cracked up laughing when they saw it!

{ I drew the word bookstore too - apparently this game knows me VERY well! }

We started this tradition on Christmas Eve around five years ago, when we decided that we enjoyed sleeping in on Christmas Day. I'm soaking up as much of it as I can, because it's hard saying what will happen to that tradition when my sister and I start having kids.

{My mom aaaalways says she isn't going to go overboard, but every year she does. ;) }

Christmas Day we all sleep in and then we go to my grandma's house out in the country. She used to live near my parents on the east side of Des Moines, but pretty much everyone is moving away from the area, my grandmother included. She now lives about 30 minutes west Des Moines in a really small lake community. It's really nice out there, but we hate that we don't see her as often anymore.
{Over the river and through the woods to Grandmother's house Lexi and I go! Quite literally over the river and through the woods too... Haaaa! }

There we had Christmas dinner and opened presents with the extended family! I didn't get a lot of pictures on Christmas day!

That evening some friends of mine had planned a Christmas pub crawl, and I kind of debated on whether I wanted to go or not, but eventually they won and I met them out for a few one too many drinks...
{Here we are the first bar - I don't know how they ate pizza (see the empty pan?) I couldn't believe I was even consuming beer, I was so full from dinner(s)! }

The pub crawl was so much, I was so glad I went! I even had an old high school friend of mine that was in town decide to join us which made the night even more memorable! This group of friends does this pub crawl every Christmas, but this was my first time joining them. I think I may have to join in on the fun every year now...

How was your Christmas? Did you start any new traditions this year?

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Dear Santa...

Each of the four Christmases I worked for Club Libby Lu we sold an adorable t-shirt that had this quote on it. I just loved it! We could hardly keep them in stock, especially the smallest sizes. I went searching for an image with that shirt, but couldn't find one. I still terribly miss this company and all of the people that worked there. Just typing that made me choke up a little. I guess today I'm still carrying out their mission statement, just in a different way...

Their mission statement was, "To make every little girl feel special." How can you not just melt at something like that?

Anyway, I came across that quote and just had to post it. I hope you all have done your "explaining to Santa" and he understands! May all your wishes be granted this holiday season! :)

Merry Christmas!

Friday, December 23, 2011

Winner, winner!

Chicken dinner! (you know you thought it in your head...)

Ok, so the winner's not getting a chicken dinner, but they are getting a signed copy of Baby Proof by Emily Giffin!

According to the lucky winner is comment number 2!

Congrats Cassie from Cat Lady in Training! Email me at with your address and I'll get your book right out to you!

Today I am guest posting over at The many thoughts of a reader! We're discussing the third part of The Invisible Bridge by Julie Orringer - stop by and check it out!

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Beer challenge + way too much food = how we celebrate Chritmas!

In my group of friends we take two things very seriously ... Christmas and birthdays. If someone in the group cannot make either of the two events we are immediately concerned.

Luckily, this year everyone made it to our Christmas party, hosted by our good friend Kristi and her husband Matt!

In the past years we have tended to be pretty creative with gifts and have given each other some amazing handmade birthday gifts and Christmas gifts, but this year we decided to start something new...

Pandora bracelets! Pandora is a jewelry company that carries mainly silver jewelry and their most popular item is the charm bracelet. We bought the basic silver rope bracelet and one inital charm for everyone. Instead of scrambling to figure out a "creative" gift for each birthday or Christmas, we now plan on adding a charm!

At first I thought the bracelets looked kind of gaudy, but now that I have been wearing it for almost a week, I've realized that you can make it as simple or as outrageous as you want. I can't wait to add more charms, but I don't want mine to have a bunch of things dangling off of it or a bunch of different colors.

I cannot wait to see what it looks like in a few years after I've accumulated more charms. Hopefully I have charms under the tree this year! ;)

A party with us isn't a party without drinks and food either! We all brought something for everyone to snack on, and we had plenty to go around! Lisa sent me an awesome recipe for artichoke dip and it was a huge hit!

Here's the recipe:

1 6.5 oz jar marinated artichoke hearts, drained and quartered
1 c. mayonnaise
1 1/2 c. grated parmesan cheese
1 8oz oz pkg cream cheese, softened
1 4oz can of green chile peppers

1. Preheat over to 350
2. In a medium bowl, mix the artichoke hearts, mayonnaise, 1 c. of parmesan cheese, cream cheese, and green chili peppers. Scoop mixture into a baking dish (I use an 8x8 pan). Top with remaining 1/2 c. of parmesan cheese.
3. Bake for 25 min or until bubbly & slightly browned. Serve warm.

**I made a couple of small modifications to this recipe. I added an extra package of cream cheese (I used one low fat, one full fat) to add volume, and then I added chopped spinach and for the parmesan cheese, I used the Kraft three cheese blend, that came in the regular jar but seemed a bit fancier? I didn't think it would make that big of a difference but I think it did!

After eating and chatting upstairs, we headed down to the basement to drink and play our annual beer challenge. Kristi and Matt had quite the assortment of beers in their basement that needed to be consumed so we took care of that!

Here's the deal for our Beer Challenge (I should make that a proper noun), one person - the bartender - see me below - pours beers into plastic cups and the participant has to taste each one and guess what they are. Usually, we have just four or five beers, but this year we had SEVEN!

Here were the options:

Bud Lite
Miller Lite
Busch Lite
Miller High Life (heavy)
Michelob Ultra
Bud Lite Lime

Sound hard? It really is!

Those walls are orange and blue - anyone guess why?? Hint: We live about five hours from one of the biggest cities in the US and Iowa doesn't have an NFL team...

I got four out of seven beers - which was shocking! Usually I do the worst! I think the winner got five out of seven? This one was really hard! The only easy one was really Bud Lite Lime.

Overall it was a great time! You know that feeling when you want something to get here faster, but at the same time you don't want it to get here, because that means it will be over soon? That's how I am feeling right now with Christmas and this break in general!

Merry Christmas! Hope your week is going well!

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Oh! How Pinteresting Wednesday!

It's that time again - Wednesday = Pinterest day!

Let me know if you linked up with The Vintage Apple! Happy pinning. ;)

Genius! Can I get a drawer like this please?

I have been searching for a cute animal print scarf. This one will do! :)

Yeah, I need to remind myself of this quite often.

Best. Advice. Ever.

I cannot tell you how many times people have said this to me.


You know I had to post something HP!

LOOOOOVE this quote! Who can tell me what book it's from? If you know me well, and you've read the book, you should know this. ;)

I'm making these. Soon. Very, very soon.

I REALLY like this!!

This made me giggle! The kid kind of reminds me of Chucky from Child's Play though... anyone else see it?

Bahahaha. I did this. Love it!

I will be here in less than one month!! Cannot wait to see some of my best bloggy friends! :)

Thank you for reading! I love you all!

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Urban middle school ramblings....

I have a million things I could be blogging about, but I just don't feel like it. I'm feeling very blah.

I'm subbing today, and I'm really bored because they're writing in their journals and then watching the end of The Polar Express. I'm also giving myself a headache because I've got one eye on the computer and the other eye on them. Ok, not literally. That would look crazy. It feels like it though.

Anyway, I'm just going to ramble. Go ahead and enjoy. Or leave now if you don't like rambling.

Today I'm back at the same middle school I have been at since Friday. It's another very urban school, which are my favorite schools. I love these kids. They're not touting the latest iPhone or iPad or wearing an outfit more expensive then my monthly salary (ok, maybe that's dramatic, but I wonder sometimes!) they're, in my eyes, completely normal. Being able to buy whatever you want or ask your parents for whatever you want is not average, and that kind of privilege just gets on. my. last. nerve. Don't get me wrong, I'm not angry with those kids that are wealthy, they have no idea how lucky they are. You can't be mad at someone for something they have no idea about. You can however be mad at the fact that innocent kids are growing up without as many resources or basic needs. And those kids? They're well aware of what they don't have.

These kids make me happy, but sad and sometimes angry all at the same time. Sometimes they're downright rude and disrespectful, but most of the time? If I tell them they're rude, they will shape right up. They hate to be told they're rude. Tell a suburban 8th grader she's rude, and she will probably smirk at you. Then smile.

Don't tell me that wouldn't piss you off.

I love being able to bounce around between districts and learn from multiple kinds of classrooms. Sometimes I think I'm getting just as much out of subbing, as I am from my classes. Wait, I know I am getting just as much out of it. Of course, there are days where I spend the majority of my time reading (for fun) or studying for my own classes while students watch a movie or work independently. That classroom management experience does not come on it's own though. Most of the time students are not going to automatically work for a substitute teacher.

The other day I was in the teachers lounge and another sub was asking me how I establish control right away. I had a really hard time articulating how I do it. I don't really know what I do. I do know, however, what I don't do.

I don't raise my voice. I don't make them do anything I wouldn't do. I treat them as adults (they're in middle school or high school!) until they've lost that privilege. I'm never rude first. I don't talk down to them. I don't tell them to do something without telling them why. I don't frown the entire day. I don't act all secretive or like things are confidential. I rarely send students to the office.

Which all translates to...

I make them feel as important as I possibly can. I'm constantly smiling and try to make myself approachable. I make time for a little fun. I remind them that if they are cool with me, I will be cool with them. (I say that line a lot). I use positive reinforcement sparingly and I make it meaningful.

The school I'm at today though? Two kids I have in class are on house arrest. One was talking about a time he brought a gun to school. Most of them do not come with paper and pencil. I doubt most of them have had breakfast. Several of them look like they haven't slept. I choose to be here though.

Not because I have to either. A district in the suburbs called me three times this morning and I love that district. There they can take the content up to a higher level with the students instead of keeping it at just the basic level. The teachers are extremely enthusiastic and can try new things. The technology is top of the line, and there are more resources than you could possibly need.

It feels good to have other substitute teachers ask me what my tricks are. It feels good to be there for students that may not get very much support at home. It feels good when they remember me, and want me to be their permanent teacher.

I may leave at the end of the day feeling exhausted and mentally drained from having to stay on my toes literally every second of the day, but 99.9% of the time, I leave feeling like I at least made some sort of impact on their day, week, month or possibly their life.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Emily Giffin Giveaway!!

Remember last month when I went down to Kansas City to see Emily Giffin at Rainy Day Books? Well, I got a book signed to giveaway on the blog, and .... I forgot about it! It's no wonder, I blame being so busy.

Better late than never though.

I have a signed copy of Baby Proof to give away to one lucky reader!

All you have to do is leave me a comment telling me what your favorite Emily Giffin book is.

You can earn an extra entry by tweeting this tweet: Enter for a chance to win a signed copy of Baby Proof from @AmberWDM and @EmilyGiffin

Please leave a separate comment letting me know if you tweeted and what your Twitter name is.

This is going to be short, so get your entries in. I'll choose a winner via on Thursday morning!

Good luck!