Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Junie B. Jones and the Unwarranted Reviews?

I decided I wanted to share the children's book series "Junie B. Jones" with you all, and went to Amazon to pull up an image and get an excerpt or two for you.  Junie B. books have been around since the early 1990's, and my stepmother and I began reading them to my younger brothers a few years later.  My brothers were probably between the ages of 5 to 8 {I think?} when we read them this series ~ old enough to be reading themselves, but young enough to still enjoy being read to sometimes.  It was also a series about a girl, which we were concerned might make them turn up their noses, but they were just as entertained as could be.  How great is it {especially nowadays} to have a child interested in reading a book or being read to, when there are countless overstimulating, electronic distractions available to them?  I think it's fantastic, which is why I was floored when I just went to Amazon and read negative review after negative review for Barbara Parks' series.

Junie B. is a spirited kindergartner, and the books are told from her point of view and in her voice ~ that is, the voice of a five-year-old.  This means words that don't exist but kids use anyway {bestest} and fragments/run-on sentences abound.  It also translates into laugh-out-loud one-liners from this fictional kid.  Junie B. is precocious, opinionated, and outspoken, and that's what makes her books so enjoyable for a parent {or older sister, or babysitter} to read.  She is sassy, she speaks her mind, and she gets into trouble ~ that's what creates an interesting plot line for the stories.  That is also what some parents seem to oppose to.  Some reviewers on Amazon cite Junie's "poor behavior", "atrocious manners" and "poor judgement", as well as "subject matter [that is] inappropriate" as reason to avoid the series.  Positive reviewers say that the Junie B. series has "propelled [their children] into the wonderful world of reading chapter books" and are essential for grade-school classrooms; one reviewer pointed out that they are "written to appeal to your child's sense of humor...and are not meant to be a Book of Virtues".  As of today, out of the 240 Amazon reviews on the first boxed set of Junie B. books, 105 are 5-star, 95 are 1-star, and 22 are 4-star reviews ~ a slight edge in the positive reviews department.

Now, disclaimer ~ I am not a parent.  I have been an actively-involved older sister {especially to my youngest brother, who is 13 years my junior}, a babysitter since the age of 10 or 11 {which is nuts now that I think about it}, and a nanny while I was in college.  But not a parent ~ and I fully appreciate that this means I don't know what it feels like to be a parent, and to make decisions day-to-day that will affect my child and may shape them into the person they're going to be.  That said ~ I don't think I would ever use a fictitious character {literary, cinematic, or otherwise} to teach my child what I feel they should know.  Like Dennis the Menace and Eloise before her, Junie B. Jones is a character intended to be entertaining and exaggerated, not an example of how a child should behave.  Show of hands ~ who here, as a child, watched the Dennis the Menace TV series {in syndication, of course} or '90s movie, and/or read about impish Eloise's exploits at New York's Plaza hotel?  What's that?  Just about everyone?  I thought so.  And did you turn out okay?  Yeah, I suspected as much. :)  {For the record, my brothers are currently upstanding citizens in their twenties, who never sassed their teachers or got into any amount of trouble that isn't normal for any child}.

So, what I intended to be a blog informing you about a children's book series you might enjoy sharing with your youngin's turned into more of an op-ed piece, but that's okay.  If Junie B. doesn't seem like the type of 5-year-old you'd like to introduce your grade-school age child to, that's okay {and younger than grade-school wouldn't be the right audience ~ the humor would go over their heads, and there are few pictures}.  And those parent reviewers have a good point ~ I would never use the Junie B. Jones books to teach my child proper grammar and sentence structure.  When I was growing up, our teachers actually taught us those things though {and also about poetic license, somewhere along the line}, and we just used books for entertainment.

But if you think your kids will get a kick out of Junie B.'s adventures and mishaps, and think they would enjoy reading silly stories about a kid going through the same things they are and, yes, learning from them in the end {First day of school?  New baby in the the house?}, you might want to give her a try.  Barbara Parks' series allowed my stepmom and I to spend quality time with my brothers at an age when they didn't "need" us quite so much any more, sharing belly laughs and forming memories that I still hold on to a good fifteen years later.

I'll leave you with an excerpt from Junie B. Jones' first book, "Junie B. Jones and the Stupid Smelly Bus".

My name is Junie B. Jones.  The B stands for Beatrice.  Except I don't like Beatrice. I just like B and that is all.

I'm almost six years old.

Almost six is when you get to go to kindergarten.  Kindergarten is where you go to meet new friends and not watch TV.

My kindergarten is the afternoon kind.

Today was my first day of school.  I'd been to my room before, though.  Last week Mother took me there to meet my teacher.

It was called Meet the Teacher Day.  My teacher was decorating the bulletin board with the letters of the alphabet.

"I already know all of those letters," I said.  "I can sing them.  Except I don't feel like it right now."

My teacher shook my hand.  Only our hands didn't fit together that good.

Her name was Mrs. - I can't remember the rest of it.  Mrs. said I looked cute.

"I know it," I said.  "That's because I have on my new shoes."

I held my foot way high in the air.

"See how shiny they are?  Before I put them on, I licked them."

Happy Reading!



{photo credit:}

Friday, September 23, 2011

Welcome, Autumn!

Aaah, it's finally here ~ AUTUMN!!!  Far and away my favorite season of the year.  Autumn in New England is full of good things ~ leaves changing color; jeans and cozy sweaters; a fantastic variety boots; yummy feel-good foods; pumpkin this and pumpkin that.  Fall starts in September when the air is getting a bit cooler {enough for a sweater, not enough for a jacket} and the leaves start changing; it ends {calendar-wise} in December, in the throes of the Christmas season {my favorite time of the year ~ not to be confused with my favorite season}. In between, October and November give New Englanders at least a few picture-perfect, straight-out-of-the-movies autumn days ~ crisp air that leaves your cheeks a bit pink; colorful leaves that crunch under your feet; pumpkins perched on every doorstep; clear, cloudless skies; and just enough of a chill to make you want to wrap your hands around a mug of something warm.

So, long story short, there really isn't anything not to like about fall in New England, in my opinion!  My top reasons?

1. BOOTS!  Any boots, really.  Uggs are comfy and casual; a pair of black stiletto boots can go with anything in your closet from jeans to dresses; cowboy-style boots are cute and a little different.  But my 2011 Autumn Boot Obsession is definitely riding boots!  I am loving riding boots right now ~ so versatile and comfortable.  Coming out of summer, I've thrown them on over skinny jeans and topped the outfit off with a flowy tank or a cami and light sweater.  I cannot wait for the crisp fall air to start blowing in around here so I can try the trend I've been seeing in magazines and on TV shows lately ~ knee socks and riding boots, paired with girly skirts and dresses.  It's been a little too warm around here for knee-socks lately, but as soon as that autumn crispness kicks in, I am trying this cozy and adorable look!

2. Fall Spices!  I whipped up a batch of pumpkin chocolate chip cookies the other day {they usually only make an appearance around the holidays}, and as they baked up in the oven I exclaimed "It smells like Thanksgiving in here!".  Autumn spices conjure up cozy, snuggly, family holiday feelings in me ~ spices like cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger and cloves.  They just smell so gosh darn good, and can be found in all sorts of recipes, from cookies and pies, to soups, to beverages.  Which leads me to the third reason fall is my favorite....

3. Hot Apple Cider!  Cold apple cider is yummy too, but a warm glass of apple cider sprinkled with cinnamon just says "It's Fall!".  I am head over heels in love with Starbucks Caramel Apple Cider {which I believe is actually warmed apple juice with a cinnamon-y syrup mixed in, topped with whipped cream and caramel sauce}.  I have to give it a good 10-15 minutes to cool off before I can actually sip it, but boy oh boy, is it good! 

4. Changing Leaves!  You just can't beat New England for picturesque falls and winters.  Spring and summer here may be a bit too rainy and humid to be considered ideal, but we have fall and winter locked down.  There are many breathtaking sights that nature gives us, and one of them is undoubtedly the changing color of the leaves in autumn {and the pristine hush of freshly fallen snow ~ but that will come in a "Welcome, Winter!" blog}.  ;)  Sometime in late September/early October, a day arrives when all of a sudden you notice the leaves have changed in color, seemingly overnight, from plain summer green to rich, brilliant reds, oranges and yellows.  For a couple beautiful weeks, driving down New England back roads feels a bit like driving through a postcard ~ both sides of the road are streaked with these top-of-the-rainbow colors.  You wonder if you should in fact pull over and take a picture because you may not see anything so picture-perfect again.  Then, as the weather slowly gets colder, the leaves slowly start to drop off the trees.  This is nice for two reasons ~ one, the bright, beautiful colors now line both the tops of the trees and the streets and sidewalks; and two, you can hear and feel that satisfying leafy crunch under your boots when you take a stroll.

So, autumn is upon us, friends.  Each season has something exciting and beautiful to offer, especially in the parts of the world where you experience the true change of seasons; but no matter how long I live and where my life and travels take me, autumn in New England will always be my favorite.  I'll meet you here next time with a cup of hot apple cider...


{photo credits:;;;;}

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Let's Get Crazy!

 ...or maybe Insane!

Side note ~ wow, it's been almost a week since I've posted!  And to think I thought I'd be so on top of things, I'd be posting every day.  Well, it was just one of those weeks ~ working as usual, my best friend visiting from out of town, and lots of going out and fun activities because of that.  But since we've last chatted, something exciting has happened...

It's arrived.

On Friday, my Insanity workout DVD came in the mail.  Have you seen the infomercials for Insanity?  They dub themselves the "hardest workout ever put on DVD", and from reviews I've read, that's quite possibly a fact.  The creator and instructor behind Insanity is Shaun T, who you may also know {and love} from the "Hip-Hop Abs" and "Rockin' Body" workout DVDs.  In those workouts, I've always found Shaun to be an ideal workout instructor ~ he's motivating without being militant, encouraging without being annoying, and he seems to know what he's talking about.  He is also too adorable for words, which helps!

So, it's here ~ a small cardboard box with the word "Insanity" stamped all over the outside {who knows what my mailman now thinks of me}.  Cracking open the box, I find it's chock-full of goodies ~ some to help me, and some to promote other Beachbody products {there is an insert for Shakeology, Beachbody's meal replacement shake product, and several mentions of their Results and Recovery Formula}.  There is also a guide explaining the science behind this workout {max interval training}; a nutrition guide they encourage you to follow while using Insanity {healthy eating without restricting calories or carbohydrates, basically...because your body needs fuel for this type of exercise}; and a calendar that outlines which workouts should be done on which days over the next 9 weeks of your 60-day challenge {a month of workouts, a "recovery" week that still involves working out, and another month of new intense workouts}.  There's also a pamphlet outlining how to get a free t-shirt if you submit your "before" and "after" pictures when you're finished with the challenge ~ who doesn't love "free"?

This little cardboard box is also chock-full of WARNINGS.  I don't believe any other workout video has ever tried so hard to scare potential users away.  In a nutshell ~ "Insanity" is not supposed to be an ironic moniker.  This is designed to be an intense workout, not for the faint of heart or faint of...muscles.  Or joints. They encourage you several times to have your doctor approve you before starting this program, although I doubt many people do.  In any event, Insanity is heavy on the disclaimers.  I have had knee problems for years, but my intent is to modify as much as I can and go at my own pace ~ fingers crossed!

So, I plan on updating you regularly over the next few months as I {along with my hubby, who is hoping to gain muscle mass} embark on the "Insanity Challenge".  Yesterday was Day 1, which is not a full workout, but rather the Fit Test.  The Fit Test takes about 25 minutes and is done several times over the course of the challenge.  It involves one-minute bursts of doing as many reps as you can of different exercise moves {power jumps, jumping jacks, plank oblique twists, etc}.  You record how many of each you are able to do, and {hopefully} see your progression as you revisit the Fit Test down the road.  They also warn you that if the Fit Test is too much for you, you should find a different workout.  Now, I'm not sure what "too much for me" is defined as, but I can say that the Fit Test is a challenge.  I started out confidently enough, performing switch kicks with relative ease {pretty much what it sounds like ~ you kick one leg out in front of you, then jump and switch to kicking the other leg out}.  By the time I got to the fourth {globe jumps} and fifth {suicide jumps} out of eight moves, I was definitely feeling a bit weakened, and was not able to rack up the reps as I had with the first few exercises.  But, the hubs and I both completed the Fit Test and will be moving on to the Plyometric Cardio Circuit video today.

So here's my plan ~ complete the 60-day Insanity Challenge and push myself to my limit every step of the way, while still being smart enough to modify when my body needs me to.  I want to see some amazing weight-loss and toning results, and I want to update you all regularly so you can see if it's a workout you're interested in too.  I began on Monday, September 19, 2011, so I should complete the challenge on Sunday, November 27, 2011 ~ three days after Thanksgiving.

I'm ready to get crazy with my workouts ~ are you?


{photo credit:}

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Jacqueline Kennedy: In Her Own Words

Jacqueline Kennedy: In Her Own Words airs tonight on ABC

I do love a fashion icon, especially one from the 1950s or 1960s.  I find the ladylike fashions {and manners} of this era gorgeous and inspiring.  One of the biggest American fashion icons ever, if not the biggest, was Miss Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy Onassis.  As First Lady in the early ‘60s, Jackie never took a fashion misstep.  From pillbox hats to pearls, and shift dresses to suits, she was always put together ~ the perfect politician’s wife.  Together with her husband, they became the closest thing America has ever had to our own royal family.  After the White House years, the widowed and remarried Jackie O continued to be a fashion inspiration, now in slim-fit t-shirts, tailored pants {skinny leg and flared}, glamorous head scarves, and of course, those sunglasses.

But Jackie Kennedy Onassis was more than just a fashion plate ~ most of us just never got to see the woman behind the couture.  Tonight, however, we are invited in Jackie’s private world, as ABC airs it’s two-hour special Jacqueline Kennedy:  in her own words.  We will hear for the first time about Jackie’s experiences in the White House, in Jackie’s voice.   Jackie recorded over eight hours worth of interview tapes several months after her husband’s death, and instructed that the tapes not be released until “the appropriate time”.   Her children, John Jr and Caroline, read transcripts of the death shortly after their mother’s death, and Caroline finally listened to the audio tapes recently.

In the tapes, Jackie talks with her interviewer about a range of topics, from what it was like to transition to the White House {she did not want to embarrass or disappoint her husband, and was thrilled for his sake when people took a liking to her}, to her husband's feelings about vice-president Lyndon Johnson {he wasn't a fan}, to their private conversations during the time of the Cuban Missile Crisis {she was determined to stand by her husband, literally and physically, in the event of a nuclear war; "...I just want to be with you, and I want to die with you, and the children do too ~ than live without you"}.

So I invite fans of fashion, politics, and history to watch with me tonight as the incomparable Diane Sawyer and ABC bring us “Jacqueline Kennedy: in her own words”.  Democrat or Republican, Kennedy fan or not, young or old ~ I think we are all about to become privy to some pretty fascinating information from the mouth and mind of one of our country’s most inspirational women.

{photo credits:;;;;;}

Monday, September 12, 2011

Are You Ready For Some Football?

Well, I'm not...that is, I don't really care. :)  But even though I couldn't really care less what sport is on the TV most of the time, I do enjoy that this time of year means football parties ~ and that means fun snacks!  Football viewing is synonymous with chips, dip, and beer.  {I might as well lay it all on the table now ~ I also don't drink beer.  I know, I'm sorry ~ I'm no fun!  I just don't like it!  But that means there is plenty more for YOU, and I'll be glad to play the perfect party hostess and keep the cold ones comin' for ya!}

Football viewers aren't looking for a gourmet meal to dine on while cracking beers and screaming at the TV...the simpler, the better.  But week after week, the same old snacks can get a little stale.  So if you're looking to mix it up, give these quick and easy dip recipes a whirl!  The first is a basic taco dip recipe, and it is so addicting!  I got this recipe from my father-in-law, who got it from my sister-in-law, who got it from her ex-boyfriend's mom... It's one of those much-loved, often-passed-on recipes, and it doesn't take much more effort than that old game day standby ~ ripping open a bag of Ruffles potato chips and swirling a packet of ranch powder into a container of sour cream. :)  The second recipe is a little bit fancier {for the football fan with a discerning palate} but doesn't take much more effort.  This one was given to me by my cousin E {another one of those recipes that gets passed around because it's just too yummy!}

Simple Taco Dip  

16 ounces whipped cream cheese
16 ounces sour cream
1 packet lower-sodium taco seasoning
1 package shredded Mexican cheese
Shredded lettuce, diced tomato, sliced olives, chopped jalapeno, etc.

Combine cream cheese, sour cream, and taco seasoning with a handheld mixer.  Spread mixture in a 13'x9' pan (or similar).  Top generously with shredded cheese and other dip toppings of your choice.  Serve with tortilla chips and enjoy!

{Minus the Spinach} Artichoke Dip

1 can artichoke hearts, drained and chopped
2/3 cup light mayonnaise
2/3 cup grated Parmesan cheese
8 ounces sour cream
8 ounces light cream cheese
2-4 shakes garlic salt (I probably do more like 6)
Small package sliced almonds

Mix all ingredients together {except almonds} in a mixing bowl with a spoon.  When ingredients are well-combined, spread into an oven-safe casserole dish {I use a Corningware} and sprinkle sliced almonds on top.  Bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes, until warmed throughout.  Serve with a sliced, toasted baguette for dipping or spreading.

I hope you can get some use out of these party dip recipes this football season ~ make sure your friends come for the football and stay for the snacks! :)  And I would be remiss if I didn't give a heads up to all you beer fans that Sam Adams Octoberfest is in stores {has been for a week or two}.  If history tells us anything, it's that Octoberfest will be sold out long before it actually feels like fall ~ so stock up now!


{photo credits:;;}

Friday, September 9, 2011

Get a Workout for Your Mind and Body

Do you namaste?  If you don't, you should!  Yoga is not just for hippies anymore, nor is it for pretentious yuppies.  Yoga is a workout that can fit your lifestyle, your schedule, and your fitness level.  It clears your head, relaxes you, challenges you {more than you might think!}, and stretches and tones your muscles for an all-over workout without bulk.

Now, I don't for a second believe models and actresses who claim they stay in silver-screen shape strictly by practicing yoga.  A healthy diet, a healthy dose of cardio, and a healthy serving of amazing genetics are needed for those results.  However, yoga is a legitimate workout, if done correctly.  When I forced my husband to try a yoga class with me, he was surprised at how fatigued his muscles got and how challenging {or impossible, in some cases} it was to hold certain poses.  I don't think yoga ever becomes "easy", because you are constantly challenging yourself to get deeper into poses and hold them for a longer period of time, and using your own body weight as resistance to get stronger.  On the other hand, don't think that you need to wait to be more "in shape" before taking up yoga ~ you can work at your own pace, learning your body's strengths and weaknesses, and slowly transform your body into one that is stronger and more flexible.

There are some truly fantastic yoga studios out there, and it is nice to be in an environment that helps you feel the "Zen" vibe of a yoga workout, as well as to have an instructor to make sure you're doing poses correctly and to modify poses for you when needed.  These days, if you don't have a stand-alone yoga studio near you {and you probably do}, you should be able to find a local gym that offers classes. But workout classes don't always fit the budget or the schedule, do they?  I have a local yoga studio that I love, but at $14 a class, it's hard to swing it sometimes {I snagged a Groupon deal last week though ~ very excited about that!}.  Or, maybe you can handle the cost no problem, or you get free classes at the gym, but the times offered don't fit your work schedule.  Or, you never have time to get to the gym with the kids' school/sports/nap schedules.  None of these should be a deterrent in getting a great yoga session in!  Thanks to the beauty of modern technology, you can practice yoga in the comfort of your living {or office ~ I won't tell!}.

My absolutely favorite DVD yoga instructor is Rodney Yee.  He was recommended to me by a yoga instructor and by a girl in one of my yoga classes ~ I have four of his DVDs (and he has plenty other to choose from}.  My favorites are "Ultimate Power Yoga" and "A.M. Yoga for Your Week" {both pictured below}.  Both these DVDs contain five unique yoga workouts, each lasting about 20 minutes.  You can mix and match different sessions back-to-back, or if you're short on time, just squeeze one in and feel better about yourself because of it.  Rodney guides you through each workout with a steady, soothing voice, and tranquil music in the background.  I've picked up his DVDs at Borders (may you soon rest in peace...) and Target, but you can probably find them just about anywhere you buy workout DVDs. {Here is a  list of his DVDs at Amazon}.

So if you haven't tried yoga yet, give it a shot.  It can make you feel stronger and more centered, both physically and mentally.  It's a quick and effective way to get a great workout in.  And, if nothing else, you can justify rocking some cute yoga pants!  

As we acknowledge the events of September 11th, 2001 this weekend, it's important to remember that especially in times of stress and chaos {but really all the time}, we need to take a moment to take care of ourselves.

Coming soon to a downward-facing dog near you....


{photo credits, in order:;;}

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Haute Couture at Half the Cost

Actually, at considerably less than half the cost, thanks to Karl Lagerfeld's new, limited-edition collection at Macy's.  As in, Chanel's Karl Lagerfeld ~ fashion icon, creative genius, living legend Karl Lagerfeld.  If you are not already aware, Chanel is my choice fashion house ~ but who can afford a wardrobe full of couture?  Well, thanks to Mr. Lagerfeld's chic new line, the everygirl can!  This line is limited-edition ~ once it's gone, it's gone...and it will probably go fast!  

Check out the Karl Lagerfeld for Impulse line at Macy's website here.  You can expect classic, ladylike pieces with a dash of modern flair ~ think shift dresses; structured-yet-sassy work-appropriate items like collared shirts, pencil skirts and tweed vests; and faux-leather skinny pants and funky t-shirts {emblazoned with Karl's likeness, natch} for weekends and girls' nights.  Prices range from $49 {aforementioned t-shirts and a scarf} to $169 {long-sleeve belted tweed coat} ~ try and find any House of Chanel piece for those prices!

Now excuse me, I have some shopping to do! ;)


{picture courtesy of and Karl Lagerfeld for Macy's Lookbook}

Tuesday, September 6, 2011


Well here it is ~ my blog.  I've wanted to start a blog for a while now, but wasn't sure what the "topic" or focus could be.  I have a friend whose blog centers around being a single girl in the dating world; another whose blog is tracking her weight loss, from the time of her engagement until her wedding day; and there are countless travel, cooking, and crafting blogs.  I have many interests, but I'm not really an expert at anything, and I thought I should be in order to have a useful blog.  And maybe that would make a more successful blog -- I guess we will see!  I just know that I love to write, I love to give and receive information with my friends, and I am looking forward to the creative process of creating and maintaining a blog.

So here is a place we can have those "whispered conversations" together ~ girl talk moments, venting sessions, inspirational stories, beauty product information, and more.  Boys are invited too, of course, but I see this as being more of a chick blog ~ and that's okay by me!  We girls need to stick together. ;)

Who knows what topics we will cover together -- your guess is as good as mine!  But I ask you to join me on this adventure ~ comments and suggestions are more than welcome!  I look forward to meeting you and hearing your whispers.