My Convertible Life

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Friday's 5: Book Recommendations for Grown-Ups

Some friends recently complained that I post favorite children's book titles, but not lists of favorite books for grown-ups.

This is not true, I said. I have posts about grown-up books. There just aren't many of them.

I don't read nearly as much as I'd like to these days because I'm still not good at pacing out a book -- and it's hard to ignore my job, family and house ALL the time in order to immerse myself in everything I want to read. So I find myself reading The New Yorker (occasionally) and blogs (sometimes) and the newspaper (most days).

So, in case you missed those few moments where I did actually list some books for grown-ups, here they are:
  1. Bibliophile: My personal history with reading.
  2. American Lit 101: Books you should have read in high school or college, but they're worth reading again.
  3. What I Read in 2010: Okay, so some of them I listened to, but we take what we can get.
  4. Short Good Reads: Short stories, because you don't always have time to binge read a whole novel.
  5. Good Reads: Five favorites from my high school and college days that I'd read again if I didn't have 4,782 new books still on my to-read list for the first time.
And because it's been awhile since I've had a Friday's 5 (and because I'm posting this on Saturday anyway), I'll give you a double (which technically makes it 10, I realize, but Friday's 10 loses the alliteration and I do so love alliteration). Here are the five books I've read so far in 2012:
  1. The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins: I was late to the Hunger Games bandwagon, but once I jumped on there was no turning back. Dropped everything else to finish this one in just under two days. My primary recommendation is that you shouldn't start reading it until you can disappear for about 24 hours. Also, you have to read it through your 14-year-old self instead of your mom-self who naturally worries about all the children.
  2. Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins: Book two in the series -- not quite as good as the first, but still worth reading.
  3. Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins: Book three in the series -- wraps up a little more neatly at the end than I think I wanted it to, but maybe I was just sad that it was over.
  4. Diary of an American Au Pair by Marjorie Leet Ford: This one I actually did read piecemeal at a chapter or two a night. It was good enough to finish, but not so good that I devoured it. Probably enjoyed it more because I've lived in the UK and understand the fish-out-of-water feeling of being there.
  5. Let the Great World Spin by Colum McCann: Really, really good book that I got from my dad's bookcase. Takes place in 1974 when Philippe Petit completed his surprise high-wire walk between the Twin Towers in New York. The book isn't so much about Petit as it is about the seemingly unrelated and then magically intertwined stories of other New Yorkers who were there at the same time. In some ways, it's a 9/11 novel that isn't about 9/11. Best to read this one when you can get 75 pages in before you have to take a break.
What are you reading now? Or what favorite can you share from your reading list? Leave a note in the comments to let us know.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Recipe: Brussels Sprouts and Carrots

My friend over at Pretty*Swell is working hard to eat healthy -- not only is she doing a great job, she's sharing her tasty recipes with the rest of us. Her recipe from earlier this week inspired me to share this one for brussels sprouts and carrots -- a friend brought it to a group dinner a few years ago and everyone loved it. I've made it instead of green beans for Christmas the past two years with great success, but Suzanne's post reminded me that sprouts aren't just for the holidays.

  • 2 tablespoons chopped shallot (or use a little onion and a little garlic, if that's what you have on hand)
  • 3 tablespoons unsalted butter, divided (I generally have pretend butter in the house -- or "oleo," as my grandmother called it -- and it works just fine)
  • 1 pound carrots, cut diagonally into 1/2-inch-thick pieces
  • 1 pound brussels sprouts, halved lengthwise
  • 1/3 cup water
  • 1 tablespoon cider vinegar
  1. Cook shallot in 2 tablespoons butter in a 12-inch heavy skillet over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally, until softened, 1 to 2 minutes. 
  2. Add carrots, brussels sprouts, 3/4 teaspoon salt, and 1/2 teaspoon pepper and cook, stirring occasionally, until vegetables begin to brown, 3 to 4 minutes.
  3. Add water and cover skillet, then cook over medium-high heat until vegetables are tender, 5 to 8 minutes. 
  4. Stir in vinegar, remaining tablespoon butter, and salt and pepper to taste.

Cooking note: Vegetables can be cut 1 hour ahead and kept at room temperature. They also keep well for leftovers in the fridge.

Word nerd note: You'll sometimes see "Brussels sprout"spelled with a capital "B," but I've opted for the lower case here. In general, style manuals prescribe a streamlined style for capitalization of words derived from proper names but used with a specialized meaning. This means that regardless of the style manual you consult (I like AP, myself), you are likely to decide to lowercase the "B" in brussels sprouts just like with the initial "F" in french fries. In case you were wondering. [Puts Grammar Police badge back in pocket.]

Have a favorite healthy veggie side dish recipe? Share it with us in the comments, please!

Monday, April 9, 2012

Redshirting in Kindergarten

High on my long list of worries as a mom was when to let Junius start kindergarten.

When he was born in early July, North Carolina's kindergarten cut-off date was in mid-October -- no reason for worry. But a couple years later, the state shifted the line to the end of August. Suddenly my summer baby was on track to be among the youngest kids in his class.

During his two-year-old preschool class, I met several moms who were already planning on holding their sons (and it's almost always sons) for an extra year of preschool because their birthdays were in (...wait for it...) APRIL. Under that plan, if Junius started school on time, he'd be 15 months younger than those kids in his class.


A year later, we moved and nearly all of Junius' friends -- even those with August birthdays -- started school on time. He was ready to go to kindergarten, and his preschool teacher confirmed that there was no reason to hold him back. Now as a fourth-quarter first-grader, he's doing fine, both socially and academically.

I'm not the first parent to wrestle with when to start my child in kindergarten -- and I certainly won't be the last. This article in the LA Times or this piece from a March episode of 60 Minutes show what a widespread issue redshirting has become. For some families, in the words of the 60 Minutes producer, deciding when to start your child in kindergarten feels like a bigger decisions than selecting a college.

So here's my caveat before I climb on my soapbox (you knew the soapbox was coming out, right?): All parents have to make decisions based on what is best for their family and for their children. Period. I fully recognize that the criteria I use for making those decisions may not apply in the same way for your family.

And now for the soapbox: Redshirting feels like an arms race. You have a child with an August birthday and you don't want him to be the youngest kid there, so you hold him back a year and he's 13 months older than his youngest classmate. So another mom gets nervous about that and she holds back her July baby and so her friend holds back his June baby and before you know it there's an 18-month age spread in one class.

Fast-forward a few months into kindergarten -- the kid who started at age 5 is just learning to read, while his classmate who started at age 6 1/2 is bored with early readers. Now the teacher in that classroom has to differentiate instruction across an even wider spectrum, making an already tough job even more challenging.

Redshirting is also an arms race in which only those with the luxury of child care can afford to participate. Holding your child out of public school for an extra year means that you can afford to stay home with that child or put that child in a private preschool or daycare.

The research on whether there's a real and lasting impact from school-start age is split. But I question how any study that examines the results for students who start on time versus those who start late can separate out other factors like family income, parent education levels and the like -- because if low-income families (which often corresponds with lower parent education levels) can't afford to redshirt their kids, then there's no way know what differences are caused by redshirting and what is simply the result of having parents with the resources to give a child every possible advantage.

The bottom line? Unless your child has a true disability -- like a physical impairment, cognitive disability or emotional delay -- then the cut-off date applies to you and you should abide by it. The date is arbitrary and it varies by state, but it's there for a reason. Worrying that your child might be smaller than the other kids in his class or might not be the fastest reader in her class are not legitimate reasons for holding them back. Kindergarten is all about growth -- while they're in school, they'll get taller, they'll learn, they'll develop, right along with their classmates.

And if you want to avoid the issue altogether, invest in some serious family planning to ensure that your baby is born in January.
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Okay, I'm off the soapbox now and bracing myself for the hate mail. What about you? Have you faced this issue with your kids? Or were you the youngest or oldest in your class growing up? Leave a comment to let us know your thoughts.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

I'm Walkin on Sunshine

I won't lie to you -- I'm competitive and I love to win. If I were a member of the Dunphy family, I would most definitely be Alex. I like getting good grades, big prizes and lots of positive reinforcement.

And so that's why my friend over at Old Dog New Tits (which, by the way, is one of the best Twitter/blog names ever) totally made my day for giving me the Sunshine Award. Clearly, I am deserving of this random prestigious honor for which there appear to be no actual criteria.

Also, you're welcome for sticking Katrina & the Waves in your head for the rest of the day with this post title. It is my most favorite song (cue mental image of me with big hair and leg warmers).

But enough with the speeches. Here are the rules for this award:
1) Include the award logo in a post or in your blog.
2) Answer 10 questions about yourself.
3) Nominate 10 to 12 other fabulous bloggers.
4) Link your nominees to the post and comment on their blog to let them know they are nominated.
5) Share the love and link the person who nominated you.

And here are my answers to these random questions:

Favorite color: Carolina blue (duh). And sunny yellow, plus a little hydrangea pink and that gray-green shade that isn't anything at all like seafoam green.

Favorite number: 8 -- because it's so lovely, even and curvy. Also, 4 because it is fun to write. And never ever 7. Ick.

Favorite animal: My children. Honestly, they're like puppies with a bigger vocabulary.

Favorite non-alcoholic drink: Chai latte, which I can almost never drink anymore because the black tea and the caffeine make my third kidney unhappy. But I should add that, thanks to my Indian friends in college, I was drinking them before Starbucks made them cool.

Prefer Facebook or Twitter: Twitter via Hootsuite. It's so much snarkier than Facebook.

My Passion: The beach. And napping. Especially napping at the beach.

Prefer giving or getting presents: Can I pick "exchanging"? Because I love finding just the right gift to give to someone, but who in their right mind doesn't love getting presents?! And by "exchanging" I mean I give you a gift and you give me a gift -- I don't mean returning it to the store to get something else.

Favorite pattern: For china? wallpaper? I'm not really sure what this means.

Favorite day of the week: Saturday. Which is why I am passionate about the beach, because everyday there is Saturday. Except for the Saturday when we have to leave the beach, and that Saturday is the only one that feels more like a Monday. Blerg.

Favorite flower: This one changes, but at the moment it's white hydrangeas. And always yellow roses.

And here are the bloggers I am nominating for this award:
Now go blog visiting, share some comment love -- and tell them I sent you.