Thursday, July 3, 2014

Grandma's Gift: Belle, 55 lbs of Muscle and Slobber

If you’ve ever read Marley and Me or A Dog Year you know that life with a dog is an adventure, especially if that dog is energetic and smart.  My new dog happens to be both.  

My grandmother passed away, leaving my family with many things, including a five-year-old boxer.  Her name is Belle and she’s gorgeous, all muscle with a golden coat and white socks.  Belle has massive jowls, which help her create quite a mess.  We’ve owned a Belgian Malinois and an Australian shepherd and we’ve never had to deal with huge amounts of slobber.  Belle is a slobberifying machine.  She puts her head in my lap, on clothes, anywhere she can, and leaves behind a glob of drool.  When Belle drinks, the water drips from her jowls as she wanders the house; when she eats, her jowls catch the food and it’s left in the middle of the kitchen floor.

That’s another responsibility that comes with being a dog owner; taking care of your dog.  Through all her faults, Belle is great to have around.  She learns easily; stay, sit, and down are commands she responds to.  She may not play fetch (we still have some training to do), but Belle does not chew anything.  Shoes and other items are safe from dog jaws, unlike our last dog, who would rip to shreds anything he could get his mouth on.  Note to basketballs: You are safe now!  

When we first brought Belle home, we introduced her to Millie (our 14 year-old Australian Shepherd).  Millie has been alive for almost as long as I have.  Belle came over to say hi and Millie’s lips curled up and back and she began to growl.  Millie was proclaiming herself queen of the castle.  For the rest of the day, Millie stood guard over her water and the mud room, and if Belle came near, Millie made sure Belle knew who was boss.  

My Mom and I went out for a run, bringing Belle along with us on the leash.  At first, Belle did not understand that if she tried to run ahead she would be choked.  Halfway Belle had matched my pace and was running alongside me with slack in the leash.  Who says only puppies can learn new tricks?

Belle is smart, a quick learner.  Not all dogs are.  Consider the dogs from Marley and me and A Dog Year.  If you love dogs and would enjoy a laugh; read these books.  Both had scenes where I was rolling around laughing.  And it reminded me of my puppy Kaiser and all the trouble he got into.  

Belle came into our lives and filled the hole which had been left Kaiser’s death, our old Belgian Malinois with his puppy heart.  When I walked in the house today, Belle came and greeted me with her ears perked up and eyes wide, and shoved her nose and slobber all over my legs.  It was gross.  But it also left me smiling, since that was what Kaiser used to do, minus the slobber part.  We thank our grandmother for this last gift. 

Welcome, Belle.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

School’s Out! Drop the Books and Make a Bracelet

This is an easy-made bracelet, perfect for summers.  Made of hemp, it completes the summertime beach look.  


  • One 60 inch strand of hemp (or any type of string/yarn)
  • One 24 inch strand of hemp (or any type of string/yarn)
  • Clipboard
  • Glue (optional)

Step 1

Take both strands of hemp and fold them in half.  Tie a loop at the midpoints, so that the loop has four strands coming out of it.

Step 2

Put the loop under the clipboard to keep it in place.  Set up the strands so the two short ones are in the middle, with a long strand on either side.

Step 3

Take the long strand on the right, and put it loosely over the top of the two middle strands, so it looks like a backwards 4.

Step 4

Leaving the strand on the right in place, take the long strand on the left and loop it over the end of the backwards 4, under the two middle strands, and up through the loop of the backwards 4.

Step 5

Pull gently on the end of both long strands, until the knot reaches the top of the bracelet  and becomes tight.

Step 6

Now we do the same thing, except for in reverse.

Take the strand on the left, and put it loosely over the two middle strands so it creates the figure of a 4.

Step 7

Leave that strand in place, and take the strand on the right, looping it over the other long strand in the end of the 4, under the two middle strands, and up through the loop of the 4.

Step 8

Pull the two ends of the long strands until the knot becomes tight at the top.  Your bracelet so far should look something like this:

Step 9

Repeat steps 3-8, until the bracelet is long enough.

Step 10 (optional)

Tie off the bracelet in a big knot, small enough that it can fit through the loop, but big enough that it wont fall out easily.  Put a bit of glue on the loose end of the knot.  After the glue dries, cut off the loose ends close to the knot.

Tada! Your perfect summer bracelet is complete!

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Alliance - Mark Frost

After his mishap with Lyle Ogilvy, Will West is confused; the more he found out about the Paladin Prophecy and the Knights of Charlemagne the less he understood.  He and his roommates had figured out that they were all test-tube babies, and the scientists performing the operations altered their genetics to give them different powers and abilities.  Then at the end of their sophomore year of high school at the Center, the five roommates are once again plunged into the mystery of how the Knights of Charlemagne, the Center, the  Paladin Prophecy, and Will’s father fit into the puzzle.  They are sent on a quest a mile underground, where the teens figure out the truth about the horrible genetic mutations occurring.  All along, Will, Elise, Ajay, Brooke, and Nick discover more about their own abilities and their past.

In many series, the first book is the best; but I liked Alliance more than the Paladin Prophecy.  I was submerged in the world of Will West, living out his story as if it were my own.  I felt what he was feeling, pictured what he was seeing.  At times, my pulse started racing, as if I was stuck in the cavern a mile underground, attempting to escape while fighting off demons.  I was not just a reader, I became part of the story.  When I finished I had to stand up, shake my head, and tell myself, “Will West does not actually exist.” There is no evil scientist out there to mutilate the next generation.  While reading this book, I was convinced that somewhere in the middle of nowhere, everything Frost described was happening.  Or perhaps it was just wishful thinking that maybe there was a group of superhuman teenagers protecting mankind.  

Read more at Goodreads: The Alliance.

Monday, June 9, 2014

Kid Zillionaire Business Fair

Last year, my sister’s friend came up with the idea of setting aside a day where kids ages five to fourteen could market their businesses and sell their wares.  She and her mom decided to call this the Kid Zillionaire Business Fair.  I participated last year, excited about selling hand-painted converse, which I called TGIF shoes (Toes Go In First).  I had my own table to set up my merchandise, signs, and posters and TGIF Shoes received the award for the most business potential.  

Instead of participating this year, I volunteered and judged the businesses in two categories, the most creative and the best presented.  Among baked goods, rainbow looms, dog treats, and hairbands, there was a table with little on it and a table with a lot on it.  On the first was a 3D printer and a small sign, with a well dressed boy standing behind his MacBook, explaining his designs and how the printer worked.  He sold out of the red printed dice he designed.  

On the other there were numerous signs, a huge one suspended on two poles advertising their logo, Crafts for Cancer.  This table was full of potted plants, home-made magnets, and wood pencil holders.  When I approached this table, a small girl came up to me and launched into an explanation of her business, what she was selling, and where the idea came from.  She looked about eleven years old.  The other judge and I decided that Crafts for Cancer had the best presentation, and that the 3D printer table was the most creative.

The 3D Printer Table
In addition to providing a market place for crafts, the Kid Zillionaire Business Fair teaches kids the advantages of advertising and marketing.  They learn that not everyone who shows interest will buy something.  The kids experience the effort that goes into running a business; they found that if they were not paying attention and enthusiastic, they may miss customers.  The Kid Zillionaire Business Fair prepares the entrepreneurs of the next generation.

Learn more about 3D printing on another post, A Bit on 3D Printing.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Every Day - By Mark Frost

Ever heard of a person who wakes up in a different body every day, who does not know how they got to be that way or why?  That’s the life that A lives in Frost’s book, Every Day. But how can one really call that a life? A realizes what he/she is missing when he/she meets Rhiannon.  Inhabiting the body of Rhiannon’s neglecting crack-headed boyfriend, A gets to know her, and falls in love.  But is it possible?  A must find out his/her destiny, whether there are others with the same power and why.  That’s A’s journey.  To find the answer to the ultimate question.  Why?

Reading the back of this book, I was hooked.  I was curious.  Was the person a guy or a girl? Did it matter?  

I liked the beginning of this book.  It started off in a normal day in A’s life, and you learn what happened to A.  I liked reading how A coped with varied characters every day, what he did to change the individual’s life, for the better, like stopping a girl from committing suicide, or worse, like leaving Nathan stranded on the side of a road with no idea how he got there.  A let me see into and experience the lives of all different types of people.

The middle drags.  A wrote about his/her visits with Rhiannon, and they were much of the same thing, with Frost occasionally adding an interesting character.  

I cried at the end.  A’s choice left me melancholy and had me thinking of all the happy times I’ve had with loved ones, trying to remember details. Frost made me reflect on the choices I’ve made and the impact they had.

This book opened my mind and gave me a lot to think about.  I found how much one man’s life could be changed in such a short period of time.  I learned how precious the time we are given is, and the real definition of devotion and compassion through A’s journey.  And I discovered the meaning of love is not only to know you love someone, it’s doing something for them no matter how much it hurts.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

The Paladin Prophecy - By Mark Frost

Will West does not stand out.  Rule #3 (don’t draw attention to yourself) doesn’t allow him to.  Will lives his life by a set of rules; every decision he makes is influenced by them.  Until he accidentally slips up.  Now there are people tracking him, monsters hunting him, and an elite boarding school recruiting him.  How do these fit together? Will must figure out not only how to save his parents, but how to save the world from the Paladins, without letting the school find out what is going on.  

This book has a little bit of everything.  Frost weaves mystery, comedy, and thriller together.  His characters are entertaining.  You have Nick, the man who lightens the mood; he is always cracking jokes or pulling pranks, and you can depend on him in battle.  There’s Ajay, the short genius who builds video phones from broken down TV’s for fun.  Elise has eyes that can see into your soul, paired with a stand-off personality and a huge brain.  And then there’s Brooke, the one who makes sure all the others stay in line.  These characters made me laugh out loud when reading this, at how Nick annoyed Elise with one of his rude jokes, or how Ajay used formal language for things not formal.  

Frost hooks readers from the first, when Will finds a creepy black car on the road that seems to be following him.  As Will finds out more about himself and his stalkers, the mystery behind the secretive Paladins unfolds, creating a kick-butt book.  

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Extracted - By Tyler Jolly and Sherry Ficklin

After reading the summary of this book, I was fascinated by the authors’ idea, and looked forward to reading about time travel and the war between two bands of time travelers, who wouldn’t? I was disappointed at how the story played out.

Lex and Amber are two Rifters (time travelers) with no knowledge of each other or what their lives were like before they were pulled into the time-traveling world.  Lex is part of the Hollows, a band of scruffy Rifters whose mission is to stop the Tesla institute at all cost.  Amber is a student at the Tesla Institute, run by the famous (or infamous?) Tesla.  Their goal is to preserve the time stream, or so Tesla claims.  But as Amber and Lex embark on journeys that lead them to each other, they will learn things that will change their views forever.  Will they save time, or destroy it?

Sounds interesting, right?  And it was good, after about 200 pages.  Since it’s set in a complicated world, the authors took fifty pages to explain what is happening, where they are, and the background.  Then they introduced the problem.  The complaint I have with this book is that it’s just not captivating until the end.  As a LitPick critic, I had to read and review this book, otherwise I would have abandoned it.  The beginning is very confusing, you have no idea what is going on, who people are, how time traveling works, etc.  I like the idea, they just need to pick up the pace.  The middle was slow.  

By the end, I was into it.  The last 100 pages were packed with action.  I wanted to know how Amber was faring, and whether Lex had managed to save Stein or not.  If only the rest of the book was like that.  

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

I Made That! - A Bit on 3D Printing

The age of 3D printing is upon us.  We used to manufacture solid objects, now we print them.  Printing no longer means just words on paper, it means objects with three dimensions.  We print in plastic, some colleges and labs print in metal (printed metal parts are now used in Boeing airplanes), and one company is attempting to print a liver from live human cells.  By the end of 2014, the world will see the first printed human organ, a liver.

The head of our 3D club printed a part for a dishwasher that had broken.  It worked.  The MakerBots (produced by Stratasys) can be tricky to work with, I’ve managed to mess up mine at school three or four times, but when it works, it’s rewarding to think I designed this!  Plus, you can say, “I made that.”  I printed a set of chain links and carried them around for the rest of the day (they became my good luck charm, until I lost them).  A friend is printing a 3D chess set, another a phone case with spinning gears, another a toy car with working wheels, and I am printing a plastic dragon.  Here’s a printed phone case:

No, I did not print this, but we are in the process of printing one just like it.  The gears actually spin!

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Rangers Apprentice Book 1: The Ruins of Gorlan - by John Flanagan

Ranger’s Apprentice by John Flanagan had me laughing out loud, on the verge of tears.    

This book is for everyone:  guys, girls, and people of all ages will like it and end up laughing.  It’s fun to watch these characters solve mysteries and take on deadly missions.

The book follows the journey of a castle ward named Will, who knows very little about his past to include his last name.  The first twist happens early in the book when Will gets selected to be an apprentice to the mysterious ranger, Halt.  

Flanagan’s characters are well developed and their personalities make this book hilarious.  My favorite character, Halt, is not who he seems. Despite his gruff voice and tough reputation, he cracks many jokes at Will’s expense with a straight face, making fun of all the things he does wrong.  Flanagan pokes fun at teens through the character of Halt.  I ended up laughing at things I’ve done before.

You’ve got to love Baron Arold.  Because of his high-ranking position, everyone takes him seriously.  Arold enjoys making jokes and puns, but the others don’t get his sense of humor.  For example, Arold catches Will after he climbed up the outside of the tower into the Baron’s room.  Arold dismisses him and says “And Will? Use the stairs this time.” If it were anyone else, Will would laugh.  But he is puzzled and embarrassed.  

And Arold’s assistant is incapable of anything but yelling; Horace, Will’s friend, jokes around and teases Will and Halt about their secretive ranger ways; Alyss, tall and elegant, accompanies Will on journeys as a Courier; and Old Bob is the crazy farmer who breeds ranger horses.  The characters make this book.

And hey, if you read this and like it, you’re in luck, there are eleven more, book 12 just released this winter!

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Divergent Movie - Veronica Roth

I saw this movie twice, once with my friend and once later with my tennis team.  The second time I fell asleep. 

I liked it the first time but it was not the best movie I’ve ever seen.  The actors were well cast and the costumes were what I had pictured from reading the book.  The producers recreated the dystopian world Veronica Roth imagined; the graphics and scenery were realistic.  They left out some of my favorite scenes and lines which made the book special for me (i.e. the spinning of the ferris wheel when Four and Tris climbed it).  I didn’t like Shailene Woodley. Sure, she looked like a good Tris, but her acting was subpar.  Ok, I’m a bit prejudiced since I’m not Woodley’s biggest fan, but there were scenes in the movie that you could tell she wasn’t in character.  I watched an interview with her, and she said “Tris is just a normal eighteen-year-old …”  Tris is sixteen.  Read the book Woodley!

The second time I saw it, my opinion dropped even lower.  The scenery, the graphics, and the simulations were well done, but the music did not fit with what was happening in the scene.  During a solemn scene there would be random techno music and I thought what? 

When I compare the movie to the book, I’m disappointed. The movie had the potential to be great.

If you haven’t read the book, go see the movie.  If you have, wait for it to come out on video. 

Saturday, March 22, 2014

The Journey of the Marked - By Rebecca P. McCray

Many authors try to get their book published.  Not all make it.  Rebecca P. McCray’s debut novel, The Journey of the Marked, will.  The good writing, the setting, and intriguing story line make McCray’s book worth the read. I found this as a critic for LitPick, a site for new authors and teen readers.  After I read the summary, I downloaded it and finished in a day.  It’s new so you have to buy the eBook from Amazon for $3.99.  I prefer hard copy books, but this was easy enough to read and let’s face it, a quarter of book sales are digital.

Readers don’t like changing points of view and McCray rotates narrators each chapter between the five marked and their parents.   This lets the reader understand the characters in depth and get inside their head.   As I was reading I’d find I was longing to hear what was happening to them.  I feel like I know these characters and would want to know them in real life.

McCray writes formally and sometimes makes me laugh.

“They were probably traveling clothes common to Humans, though she lacked sufficient knowledge of the species to be certain.”  Chapter 1

It takes a couple chapters to get used to, but it’s entertaining.  It reinforces how different their world is from ours today.  

McCray’s setting makes this book, like how the setting in Harry Potter and The Hobbit makes the story come alive.  She creates her own planet (Zolei) with twenty different species.  She tells the story of the five marked, their parents, and what happens to them.  Eros, a human, is the leader and a strong fighter; Kenrya, a tenacious Arlian; Tip the Liput, an expert mechanic and tinker; Prizene the first female Krystic ever to be marked; and Azetan, a warrior who can breathe under water.  

Throughout their journey to a safe haven, they meet people who help them and people who want to kill them.  They make friends, help creatures, and save lives.  I liked how McCray had placed old men in the forest, whose purpose was to help the marked reach their destination.  She shows us there are people who will help those in need, regardless of the risk.  It also shows how even after you finish the most exciting endeavor, there is always another adventure. 

I wonder what will happen to Eros and the group; will they still be hunted?  Will they ever be safe?

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

The Strand Book Store (Broadway and 12th)

Have you been to the Strand book store in New York? If not, you’re missing out.  The Stand’s four floors hold over 18 miles of books:  new, used, out of print, and rare.  It also carries bags, journals, t-shirts, and ninja pens.  The basement has non-fiction and half-price books and the top floor has a collection of rare books, where my mom spent an hour and a half.  She bought Lang’s Crimson Book of Fairy Tales for thirty-five dollars, and drooled over a first edition of Winnie the Pooh going for three-hundred.  I spent way-too-much time in the two aisles of Young Adult, going title by title, reading book jackets.  The Strand is different from Barnes & Nobles because it allows people to sell books back to them and prices books below Amazon.  Most are about a dollar below list price.  I bought nine books, two used that cost five bucks each.  Next time you are in New York city, check out the Strand.

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Divergent - By Veronica Roth

On March 21 Divergent will be released in theaters.  I don’t know about you, but I can’t wait.

Tris gets the biggest change of her life when she transfers from the selfless Abnegation to the Dauntless faction, who live by the rule YOLO.   A short, fierce blonde, she is the first to jump off a building that leads to the entrance of the Dauntless cave.  Four is her instructor for the initiation. He maintains the tough guy attitude, even going so far as to nick her ear with a knife to teach her a lesson because she is so stubborn.  

What do they have in common? Both are Divergent and if anyone finds out, they are as good as dead.  

When my friends told me I had to read this book, I didn’t because it reminded me of the book Matched, which I disliked.  So I was wary when I first started.  Veronica Roth did a good job and I liked a few things in particular.  

Roth’s characters are normal people who are put in abnormal situations.  Any girl who has had to make tough choices that anger her family can relate to Tris, just like any guy who has ever been afraid of losing someone they loved can relate to Four.  And anyone who has ever feared being discovered, whatever the reason, can relate to the characters in this book.

Roth’s scenery is vivid.  On page 147 she writes, “For a few seconds I see only a dark blanket over the land in front of me, just faint differences between building and sky and street and ground.”  Let that sink in for a moment.  Roth describes the land at night from the top of a ferris wheel and I can see it:  the buildings, the trees, the trains, like the folds of a blanket.

Roth set up her world separating humans based on their traits.  The book shows the readers what would happen if every person were stripped to a single attribute, and whether or not the damage can be fixed.

See you in the theaters next week.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

The Lord of the Flies - By William Golding

Shout out to all the freshman across the nation who are reading The Lord of the Flies and are wondering why 

William Golding wrote this book to tell the story of boys stranded on an island and to say that without government or rules, humans would become savages.  The question is, do you think that’s what would happen? In the beginning, the characters are annoying.  They remind me of my brother who bursts into my room and shoots a Nerf gun at my head.  They are a bunch of twelve year olds stuck on a strip of land in the Pacific Ocean, what else would you expect?   Golding gives them a chance to be alone without adults telling them what to do, no bedtime, no bath, and writes about what happens.  I’ve read four books for English class and this ranks second behind Diary of a Part Time Indian because that was funny while Flies had me wanting to throw the book across the room.  Golding shows us how humans can act and the horrible things we can do to each other.  I was disappointed because maybe there is some of that in all of us.

Sunday, March 9, 2014

The Fault in Our Stars - By John Green

When I started reading this book, I forgot to eat.   

SPOILER ALERT.  OK not really, but you know this from the jacket cover.  Sick girl meets sick boy, they fall in love. Hazel is Cinderella who has to lug around an oxygen cart because her lungs don’t work like lungs.  She is a sixteen year old taking college classes and is addicted to television shows like America’s Next Top Model (ANTM).  She always argues with her mom about her life.  Hazel would spend her free time trying to set the record for the most episodes watched in a row of ANTM, while her mom tries to force her to ‘get a life.’  Which she does.

Augustus Waters is Prince Charming with one leg and a tendency to speak formally.  His parents place “encouragements” (positive sayings sewn onto pillows, painted on walls, engraved in wood) around the house.  Augustus has a habit of putting cigarettes into his mouth without lighting them.  His point is to put the killer in his mouth, but not give it the power to kill. Augustus is like Hazel because he also has cancer, but has been NEC (no evidence of cancer) for a long time.            

 On page 221, I had accidentally squished an ant, and looking at that page, I found an example of how Green makes serious stuff funny.  Augustus described his pain “… as a one-legged fat man wearing a stiletto heel standing on the middle of his chest.”  And it’s this kind of humor in the face of death, the sarcasm and wit, that made me finish this book in a day.

Green says dying is not a side effect of cancer but that “cancer is a side affect of dying.”  The book ends with a letter on how the choices people make in life affect them in profound ways.  If John Green were to ask me if I think I made a good choice by reading his book, I would reply:

I do John Green.
I do.

Wings - By Aprilynne Pike

Welcome to the carefree life of Laurel. Well it was carefree, until one morning she discovers a flower bloomed in the middle of her back.  Laurel learns she is part of a species of highly evolved plants. She is a faerie.  The gate to the faerie world is located on the land Laurel will inherit.  Unfortunately, the faeries are not the only species looking to control this gate.  Trolls will stop at nothing to get to the hidden gate.

Laurel meets David, a friendly guy who looks like a jock, but is a biology geek at heart; she also meets Tamani, the faerie who dyed his eyes and the roots of his hair green by eating river moss.  Laurel herself is not as interesting. She is the stereotype of a pretty fifteen-year-old, loathes everything about school except for the people and parties, gets frustrated when she can’t get something right, and doesn’t get the best grades.  She manages the challenges with grace and courage, while also protecting her parents.

I had difficulty putting the book down and I read it for five hours until I finished it.  Aprilynne Pike did a marvelous job developing her plot line.  Pike took the legends about faeries and changed them, creating her own species.  She wrote a modern faerie tale, complete with magical powers and mystical potions.  I recommend the rest of the series, but Wings was my favorite.