Monthly Archives: February 2014

It’s an all Angry Birds birthday!

A few weeks ago, I asked my youngest what theme he would like for his 6th birthday. His answer was instant: Angry Birds! He also decided he didn’t want a big birthday party with other kids, and instead he opted for a small birthday celebration at home, a fun outing around his birthday date, and party favors for all the kids in his class.

So we started the birthday preparations by buying a few Angry Birds birthday wall decorations, along with Angry Birds birthday plates and napkins.

Angry Birds birthday plates and napkins

Angry Birds birthday plates and napkins

When it came to gifts, my little man asked for a couple of Angry Birds Jenga knockdown games, but he had no further inspiration. The kid is always hard to shop for because he rarely finds a toy he falls in love with, and his wish list is often a bunch of maybes.

While shopping by myself at Target one day, I spotted a couple of Angry Birds items on the shelf, including an Angry Birds plush throw blanket and an Angry Birds lunch box. Suddenly, it clicked. How about making this an all Angry Birds birthday? And so the fun began. We started with an Angry Birds birthday countdown on our white board right after Valentine’s Day.

Angry Birds birthday countdown on our white board

Angry Birds birthday countdown on our white board

I gathered a number of Angry Birds funny gifts, including those Angry Birds Jenga knockdown games. I asked other people to contribute to the list. My sister gave him Angry Birds Star Wars pajamas. My mom gave him a nice collection of the National Geographic for Kids Angry birds books, and an Angry Birds puzzle.

National Geographic for Kids Angry Birds books

National Geographic for Kids Angry Birds books

Angry Birds Jenga knockdown and Angry Birds puzzle

Angry Birds Jenga knockdown and Angry Birds puzzle

Yesterday was the big day and we had the three blue birds from Angry Birds wish him a happy birthday (the kids drew the balloon and many confetti to make my drawing more festive). Note: I erased my son’s name in Photoshop.

Angry Birds blue birds

Angry Birds blue birds

I made my son a birthday card with his favorite Angry Bird character, the Mighty Eagle.

Angry Birds Mighty Eagle birthday card

Angry Birds Mighty Eagle birthday card

In the morning before school and then again in the afternoon, my son unwrapped one Angry Birds gift one after the other. I think the biggest surprise is the one I put on his bed while he was at school: an Angry Birds bed set! You should have seen the look on his face when he first saw his new bed.

Angry Birds bed sheet set and Angry Birds blanket

Angry Birds bed sheet set and Angry Birds blanket

Of course you can’t have a birthday celebration without a birthday cake. My son picked the perfect picture to have on his cake, and yes, it was as delicious as it looks on this picture.

Angry Birds birthday cake

Angry Birds birthday cake

In the end this birthday didn’t have a huge party or a lot of big presents but I have to say it must be the one birthday we’ve had the most fun preparing for. My oldest did a great job at keeping the many surprises secret.

Our outing consisted of a fun trip to Legoland and a visit of the original movie set used for the new Lego movie. This reminds me I want to tell you a bit about this Lego movie, especially if you haven’t seen it yet. But that’s for another post. After all, this one is all about Angry Birds. Take that, pigs!

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WWW Wednesdays – February 19, 2014

WWW Wednesdays

My bookshelf

The $100 Startup by Chris Guillebeau– What I’m currently reading
For the past couple of months, I’ve been reading several books at once. I usually don’t do that but since I’ve been wanting to read books on writing and business, as well as novels, I’ve figured the mix would allow me to learn about various subjects all at once, rather than being stuck in one genre for a long time.

The $100 Startup: Reinvent the Way You Make a Living, Do What You Love, and Create a New Future by Chris Guillebeau. I’m almost done with this book and I’ll share my thoughts in my next update.

Writing Picture Books: A Hands-On Guide from Story Creation to Publication by Ann Whitford Paul. This book is so simple and so good, I’ll probably purchase my own copy once I’m done with the library version.

Show Me a Story!: Why Picture Books Matter: Conversations with 21 of the World’s Most Celebrated Illustrators by Leonard S. Marcus. A very insightful book so far, in which illustrators share their life stories and explain how they became children’s book illustrators.

Becoming A Writer by Dorothea Brande. This book was first published in 1934 and I understand every aspiring writer should read it, so we’ll see.

– What I recently finished reading
Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jamie Ford
Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jamie Ford. I wish this book didn’t constantly switch between the past and the present, especially since it made the beginning of the story feel a lot slower than it could have been. That being said, I really enjoyed this book. It shows how friendship and love can be affected by war, racism, xenophobia, fear, and pure hatred. 12-year-old Henry and Keiko don’t see their different ethnic backgrounds as a barrier to their friendship, but the rest of the world does, including Henry’s Chinese father, who takes his hatred of Japanese people all the way to his grave, even if it means breaking his son’s heart over and over. This is one of the sweetest love stories (and historical novel) I’ve read in a long time and I highly recommend it.

The Tiger Rising by Kate DiCamillo. DiCamillo is a master of storytelling and character development for children and she doesn’t dumb down the difficult issues her characters are facing. In The Tiger Rising, Rob is still suffering from the loss of his mom, while newcomer Sistine is in self-denial about her father’s relationship with her after having an affair and her mom moving way with Sistine. I love how DiCamillo always uses adults as supporting characters, showing how children can find the support they need in the least expected people. This is a very quick read and I recommend it if you’re looking for a great story.

The Shining by Stephen King. King is one of my favorite writers and the master of horror for a good reason. This book is proof that he earned that title early on in his career. What a spooky, chilling, horrifying tale of a hotel taking possession of its guests year after year. I’m not sure what I found scariest: the potential ghosts inside the hotel, the thoughts penetrating the characters’ minds to control them and make them do specific things, the idea of cabin fever, or the moving hedge sculptures in the garden. I usually read at night before going to sleep but this book is a bad choice if you’re tired and need the zzzzz. It may keep you up all night!

Don’t Pigeonhole Me! by Mo Willems. I’m a big fan of Mo Willems as a children’s book author/illustrator so I was glad to find a book that covers the past 20 years of his life and his emergence as an artist. Every year Willems has put together a little sketchbook featuring his doodlings. Some of them are just silly and others were actually the inspiration for a few children’s books. The content of this book is definitely aimed at adults, not his youngest fans. All in all, it reminds all of us that doodling is a great activity we should do more of.

Daily Rituals: How Artists Work by Mason Currey. This is an interesting collection of daily rituals of famous artists, mostly writers and painters. As different as these rituals are, they seem to have the same items in common: these artists found a daily routine that worked for them. They worked at the time of the day or night they felt most productive, whether it was a couple of hours or 10. Some of them relied on drugs to function but most  actually lived pretty normal lives, with little outside entertainment. For many of them, their artistic career came first, often at the expense of their spouses and/or children. You can sense the author did a lot of research to gather a bit of information on so many artists, but he didn’t have much to write since most of the content is copied from other sources, whether personal diaries, letters or magazine articles.

Goals! How To Get Everything You Want by Brian Tracy. If you want to set goals for various areas of your life (career, health, finances and personal), this is a good book to use. Tracy tells you step by step what to do to help you create these goals and how to get them accomplished. Breaking down your goals into smaller steps and working on them every day are just a few pieces of advice you’ll find in this book. Goal setting can be a challenge and this book is inspiring and motivating.

The Power of Focus by Jack Canfield. If you’re looking to bring more focus into your personal, work and financial life, this book can offer a lot of guidance. Full of real life examples for everyday people who managed to turn their lives around, as well as many footnotes from the three authors, this book can be very helpful in identifying the reasons why you may be struggling in some areas of your life. Does this book answer all questions? Probably not, but it’s good enough to get you thinking and going, and hopefully know how to find help for the steps after that. Definitely worth your reading time.

I recently read several books on procrastination and getting things done. Some of them are definitely better than others at helping you identify the specific reasons why you may procrastinate and give you some advice to avoid procrastination. Overall, I think the people at Nike figured it out a long time ago. “Just do it” is the best advice you can follow to get things done, whether you enjoy the activity or not.

The Art of Procrastination: A Guide to Effective Dawdling, Lollygagging and Postponing by John Perry. This is a funny book on procrastination, written by a philosopher who happens to be a procrastinator. Full of quirky anecdotes and real-life examples, this book won’t tell you how to solve your procrastinating habit, but it will at least help you admit you may have a problem, and point out a few tricks. These include breaking things down the Kaisen way (many small steps), and making a list of everything you need to do and NOT do (e.g. not browse the internet when you’re supposed to be working on something important). It even recommends patting yourself on the back every time you get something crossed off your list, and associating yourself with non-procrastinators to make sure you get the most important things done. Above all, John Perry recommends you don’t let your procrastinating habit get in the way of enjoying life and stressing over deadlines you could easily avoid. In the end, happiness is key.

Time Power: A Proven System for Getting More Done in Less Time Than You Ever Thought Possible by Brian Tracy. A very useful book on how to regain lost time for productivity every day, from identifying and avoiding timewasters, to improving efficiency to creating a schedule and sticking to it. Plan your work and then work your plan is the way to go, so you spend most of your time on the activities that will get you when you want to go. This book includes tips of goal setting, thorough planning and execution. It’s worth spending a few hours reading.

The Procrastinator’s Guide to Getting Things Done by Monica Ramirez Basco. This is a simple little book on identifying which type of procrastinator you are, identify the reasons why you procrastinate and how to change your behavior and avoid procrastination. The identification process is well explained but I think this book doesn’t cover strategic solutions in enough detail. Brian Tracy’s “No Excuses!” book offers a lot more hands-on, practical solutions to procrastination, in my opinion.

The Now Habit: A Strategic Program for Overcoming Procrastination and Enjoying Guilt-Free Play by Neil A. Fiore. A good book on how we can fight procrastination one day at a time by noticing why we procrastinate and when, setting up new habits, finding a schedule that works for us, and measuring accountability. It even has a chapter on relaxing and how to find the flow. I’m not sure that really works for everyone but it could be worth a try for some people.

Procrastination: Why You Do It, What To Do About It by Jane B. Burka. If you’re looking for a book that explains the various psychological reasons for procrastination, this is probably a good choice. Full of theory and relevant examples to help you identify the reason(s) why you may procrastinate, it then goes into a solution to make things happen, including some exercises you can do every week to break the cycle. Examples include time management skills, strict scheduling breaking large tasks into smaller tasks, and finding the times of the day you’re most productive.

The Procrastinator’s Handbook: Mastering the Art of Doing It Now by Rita Emmett. If you’ve never read a book on how to stop procrastinating and how to plan better, this is a good start. If you have read on the subject, this book won’t tell you what you already know. You need to identify all the times you procrastinate and the reason(s) why. Setting goals and planning the steps to reach them will help, as well as declutter your environment. This book includes a lot of concrete examples and quotes to motivate you. I recommend reading Brian Tracy’s book No Excuses!: The Power of Self-Discipline for more thorough and helpful advice on the subject.

The Candymakers by Wendy Mass– What I think I’ll read next 
The Candymakers by Wendy Mass. Four 12-year olds are inviting to a candymaking factory to enter a contest and create the most delicious candy. If this sounds a bit like Roald Dahl’s Charlie And The Chocolate Factory, it’s meant to be. I can’t wait to read this middle grade story!

My kids’ bookshelf

I’ll skip my kids’ bookshelf this week and will focus on that exclusively in my next WWW Wednesdays post. We’ve read some excellent children’s books recently and I think they deserve their own post.

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WordPress Weekly Photo Challenge: Treasure

Today I’m participating in the WordPress weekly photo challenge and this week’s theme is “treasure”. Today is Valentine’s Day and I thought it was a great coincidence for this theme.

Love and a loving relationship with the people who are closest to you is something you treasure. At our house, we’ve been anticipating Valentine’s Day for about a week, the time when we hand made Valentine cards for one another. I didn’t glance at what my boys were working on but my youngest couldn’t resist looking. Do you know how hard it is to draw and color when you have to cover your artwork with one hand? My kids worked on their card together and they created the biggest Valentine card I’ve ever received.

Wordpress Weekly Photo Challenge: Treasure - huge Valentine card

WordPress Weekly Photo Challenge: Treasure – huge Valentine card

On my end, I made the same Valentine card for both kids. Nothing says love better than squirrels and nuts, doesn’t it? I complemented the cards with Toblerone chocolate and a couple of cute little monkeys with Velcro hands so the boys can hang them around the house. I think they were a hit.

I'm nuts about you squirrel Valentine card

I’m nuts about you squirrel Valentine card

And now I’ll be treasuring these Valentine cards by storing them in our “special boxes” for the memories.

Happy Valentine’s Day!

What is it with all the point of view and timeline changes in novels today?

I want to apologize ahead of time if this post ends up sounding like a rant. I don’t mean it to but I do want to ask for your opinion on the subject. Here’s my question to you: when was the last time you read a book that was written in the past 10 years that didn’t involve a constant change of point of view (POV) or a shift in the timeline? Is it just me or is every novel being written today structured this way? And why, oh why? Would you ever tell a personal story to someone that way?

Code Name Verity by Elizabeth WeinAs a fast reader, I find nothing more distracting that having to shift point of views every few chapters, or even worse, every chapter. The story may be told in the third person, but first you’ll see it from the mother’s point of view, then the father’s, then the children’s, and so on. Yes, Jodi Picoult, I’m talking about you! Every book that I read from her was written that way and it got old pretty fast. But it’s not just Jodi Picoult. Actually it seems to be almost everyone. As much as I liked The Night Circus by Erin Morgensten, the timeline shift got old by the end. The shifting point of views in Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn didn’t trick me. 30 pages into the book, I had figured out the “big twist” and the story was only disappointing after that. The ONLY point of view shift I found that was used brilliantly was in Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein, because it actually made the story’s twists reveal themselves very neatly. By the way, if you haven’t read this book, you should put it on your to-read list. It’s very, very good.

I’m now reading Hotel On The Corner Of Bitter And Sweet by Jamie Ford, and as much as I’m enjoying the story, it constantly shifts between the present and the past. Yes, the story is about remembering something that happened in the past, but why can’t the writer start with the present, go back to the past to tell the whole story, and then come back to the present? Is it really that hard?

So what keeps me interested in reading? A good story that doesn’t rely on the constant POV or timeline shift. A nicely threaded story with a continuous timeline tends to keep me on the edge more. Finishing each chapter with a little suspense will make me want to start the next chapter rather than put it down. I have no problem with a story that starts in the past to establish a past event, then shifts back to the present and stays there. The Green Mile by Stephen King is a great example of that. It contains tons of cliffhangers, as only a few writers seem to have mastered, and keep you turning the pages, even though the book is over 500 pages long.

The book thief by Markus ZusackOf course, there are other ways to keep my interest as a reader. An unusual narrator will also do the trick for me. Both The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold and The Lying Games series by Sara Shepard use a character that has been murdered as the narrator. The Book Thief by Markus Zusak uses Death itself as the narrator for the whole story. That was so unusual to me, and I personally found the idea brilliant, especially because of the violent and depressing World War II setting.

I only have one explanation for this trend of shifting point of views and playing with timelines: technology and the many distractions it brings. In today’s world, we’re used to talking on the phone while watching TV and browsing the web, texting while driving and listening to the car radio, talking with someone face to face while checking our voicemail or email. So here’s my theory: today’s writers think we’re so “good” at multi-tasking that the only way to keep our interest is to use this constant shifting, otherwise we may get bored.

Distracted driving

Image courtesy of the Sinnamonlawyers blog

All I can say is, I hope this is just a trend, and just like other trends, it shall pass and good storytelling will come back. Storytelling that doesn’t rely on this constant shifting to keep us interested but actually tells the events in a captivating way. If so many writers have been able to do so until recently, why can’t newer writers do it too?

I guess I’ll stop my rant here. Now I’d love to hear your opinion on the subject. Do you like shifts in points of view and time in novels? Do you think they add to the story or distract? Do you prefer a first person or third person point of view? What’s your favorite type of storytelling of all?