29 May 2011

38 Weeks

Added this pic the day after
I wrote this entry - 38w, 1d
How Far Along?
38 weeks today - 14 days until my estimated due date,but could be up to 28 days yet.

Appts coming up?
NST appt on Tuesday and another NST/prenatal visit Friday.

Thoughts about where you're at in your pregnancy?
Looking forward to meeting Tex, but not in a rush for the pregnancy to be over. Want this Baby to keep baking as long as she/he needs to! Also, really glad I am only on modified bed rest. I HATE not going to work and being restricted in what I am allowed to do, but at least I can go out once in a while. Completely restricted bedrest (like my friend, B, had with her first pregnancy) would have driven me stark, raving mad!

What are you working on?
We got a great Baby book at the thrift store, so I have been filling out the parts of that it's possible to do before the Baby gets here.  I've been doing a little laundry at a time. Went through the 10 boxes of children's books I have packed away and pulled out a few (most are developmentally a year or two away). Been cheering on my Sweetheart and in-laws as they work to get Tex's room ready (while I sit like a slug - ugh).

Complaints or worries?
Sleepy, sleepy, sleepy. Need to take advantage of the bedrest by napping more. Want Tex to stay put at *least* two more weeks.

Not much.

Happy moments/blessings?
My Sweetheart and Mother-in-Law finished painting the room on Thursday. Yesterday, my Father-in-Law came over and they put up all new trim. My Sweetheart set up the crib - it's starting to look like a real bedroom! :)  At our growth ultrasound on Monday, everything looked great. Baby is active and weighs about 6 pounds 9 ounces; will probably be under 7 pounds at birth, which is fine with me! My step-brother, Scott, and his wife, Kristen, welcomed their little boy, Christian Arthur to the world (29 days early!) - so cute; just wish they lived closer. Also, Gram was moved to a rehab facility, so we'll see what happens there. she doesn't seem to have much more energy, but there was nothing else to really be done at the hospital... Got some cool cards from postcrossing.com.

Any fun things coming up?
If I can muster up the energy, I hope to go to Half-Price Books tomorrow to get a few more board books. A visit to Gram on Tuesday. May order the throw rug for Tex's room. We still need to get a bookshelf and maybe a shelf or two for the wall, too. Looking forward to my Sweetheart being off work again so we can finish the room (sadly, that's not until Thursday), but there are a few smaller things I can start doing up there - put away some clothes, air out the mattress and wash the crib sheets, etc. Got permission from dr to go to the movies, so may go see Bridesmaids Tuesday or Wednesday. Want to bask in the sunshine if it truly does return, as promised. Also pleased that The Boy may come cut our grass tomorrow - not just because our lawn is way too long, but because I miss that kid! Also hoping for complete release from bedrest on Tuesday; I honestly think they are being overly cautious!

22 May 2011


How Far Along?
37 weeks today - That's officially full-term. Hooray! Due date is 3 weeks from now, but could be up to 5 weeks still.

Appts coming up?
Going for a growth ultrasound tomorrow, then an NST/dr appt on Tuesday and anothr NST Friday.

Thoughts about where you're at in your pregnancy?
Love feeling Tex kick and move. I have really enjoyed most of this pregnancy (could have done without heartburn and occasional aches).

What are you working on?
Right now? Nothing. I am on temporary bedrest, so not doing a whole heck of a lot except being frustrated at what I cannot do. Will probably order some stuff from our Amazon.com and Babies R Us registries using the completion coupons and gift cards we've received.

Complaints or worries?
Still exhausted, which is probably what led to a brief scare we had Wednesday night. Without going into detail, we ended up visiting Labor & Delivery after speaking to a nurse on the phone. All was well. I am healthy and the Baby had a dance party on the monitor, but that has led to my bedrest until Tuesday morning - I am hoping to be off house arrest after that! I feel so guilty for just sitting on my ass while other people work. Also have guilt around not being able to visit Gram. (On the positive side, heading to the hospital in the middle of the night was a good practice run; we had the bags ready and both stayed really calm.)

Also, yesterday, my mother (in Las Vegas) had a stroke and is in the hospital awaiting surgery on her carotid artery, so praying for her, too.

Been liking popsicles a great deal. Of course, part of that may be because they always get Tex moving!

Happy moments/blessings?
Have I mentioned how lucky I am to have a Rock Star husband and an awesome Mother-in-Law? On Wednesday (pre-bedrest), Mom H came over and helped me wash all the walls in the Baby's room. Thursday, my Sweetheart taped all the trim and Friday, he and his mom painted Tex's room. It needs a second coat of paint (the room is paneled), but it already looks awesome. The second coat will have to wait until my Sweetheart is off work again - probably next Thursday - but I am pretty sure the Baby's room can be finished by next weekend. Yay!

Any fun things coming up?
Release from bedrest (just in time for the weather to turn crappy again, natch) would be great! I would LOVE to go back to work Wednesday morning. Really wanted to see Bridesmaids this weekend. That didn't happen, so maybe sometime this next week. Bob Dylan's 70th birthday is Tuesday, so that's a good excuse to play some of my favorite music. :)  Maybe I can make a playlist to take with me for labor.

15 May 2011

One More Month!

Payton Raine can't wait
to meet her new cousin!
How Far Along?

36 weeks today - only 28 days to go!

Appts coming up?
Had to cancel one of my NST appointments (because after scheduling me at 9:45am they now want me to come in late afternoon, which will not work since I made plans around the appointment). I still have an NST and a prenatal visit on Friday. Since every ther NST has been "beautiful" until now, I am not concerned.

Thoughts about where you're at in your pregnancy?
Love feeling Tex kick and move. A little panicked about how much still has to be done and how little I am able to just do myself, though.

What are you working on?
I have a huge list for today. Ordered a crib mattress and tub this morning. Washing a few teeny clothes right now. Realized we have pretty much no clothing before size 6-9 months (except two sleep gowns I bought yesterday and 1 onesie), so I am going to have to do some shopping later this week. Today I hope to clean out the closet in Tex's room, wash the walls down, tape all the trim, clean the floor and maybe start painting (trying to decide if it will be worth the shitstorm from my Sweetheart if I do that part - it may be. I need it done!).

Complaints or worries?
Really worried that there is only a month until the estimated due date and there is nowhere for the Baby to sleep yet. Worst case scenario, I could set up the Pack and Play for a bit, but I would feel way better and way less stress if the room was done. It makes me want to throw up every time I think about it. Also tested positive for group B strep which, while not uncommon, means I have to have an antiobiotics IV throughout labor. Ugh. Also serious guilt that I am not going to visit Gram today, but I am beyond exhausted and have so much to do...


Happy moments/blessings?
Was relieved to realize that we had more than enough gift card credit to order some crucial items (mattress, tub, second curtain for Tex's room). It's been nice to see my brother, Jim, even if what brought him here is Gram's illness. Loved helping at the OneSight Vision clinic this past Monday. I got to spend the day with kids (which of course I turned into lots of book chat! ;) and even saw some of *my* park kids. It was pretty awesome to have them walk in, realize they knew me, and light up.

Any fun things coming up?
OneSight clinic again tomorrow. Jim will be hanging out with us on Tuesday before we take him to the airport, which should be fun. Dinner with our friend, KP, on Thursday. Everything else feels stressful and not fun at all.

08 May 2011

Roller Coaster...

Gram seems to be doing much better tonight. It's so hard to know what to expect right now. This morning I was sure she would not be here to meet the Baby. Now, I'm not sure. She still says she is tired and sick of fighting. I know she told one of my siblings she is ready to go and he told her that it's okay, but tonight she was in better spirits overall. Part of that may be because she was able to see or speak to all her kids and grandkids. She even got to Skype with my brother in Arizona (she told me about it multiple times).

It's such a roller coaster of emotion right now. Of course I want her to stay with us a while longer, but I also don't want her to linger in pain any longer than she has to. The only thing to do now is to take one day at a time and appreciate Gram while she is with us.


How Far Along?

it's the fabled 35/35 today - 35 weeks pregnant and 35 days to go! (Well, more or less, depending on Tex.)

Appts coming up?
Twice weekly fetal non-stress tests. That's it this week.

Thoughts about where you're at in your pregnancy?
Love feeling Tex kick and move. I have loved being pregnant, but can't wait to meet our Baby!

What are you working on?
I am moving the cat's food out of the Baby's room this afternoon and having my Sweetheart move the littlerbox, too. We had hoped to get furniture moved this week, but it may have to wait now, depending on what else is going on.

Complaints or worries?
Nothing pregnancy related. Some unavoidable stress/sadness as we accept that we may be saying goodbye to a loved one sooner than hoped.

I have been on a burger kick, specifically Wendy's jr. bacon cheeseburger (with no cheese). I've been pretty good about not giving in much).

Happy moments/blessings?
Always more than I can count (though I was just thinking that blessings are not always synonymous with happy moments). Spent some time with Grammy on Monday. Had our first childbirth education class on Wednesday night, which was pretty awesome. I am lucky to have a husband who is not ony amazing but who has taken the reigns in terms of researching and educating himself. (And who told the class how lucky he is to have a good wife!)

Friday night, I had the opportunity to see Mo Willems deliver the Zena Sutherland lecture at the Chicago Public Library. Not only was he hilarious and brilliant but - even better - I got to see many CPL friends I have been missing. I got so many hugs and so much love that I felt really special. Of course, I was forced to forgo the mountain of yummy (mostly mold-ripened) fancy cheeses offered, but the company more than made up for it. (Have I mentioned how much I miss my team?) Also had a chance to chat with the woman who filled my position at CPL and am glad to see that she seems very competant and that the program is going well.

Saturday was a day when blessings were not always happy. Well, the breastfeeding class I attended was amazing and I met a mama who is having a caesarean 3 days after Tex is due, so we are hoping we may be at the hospital together, so that part was happy. However, my beloved Gram also went into the hospital and does not seem to be doing very well. I visited with her last night and we had a long, important talk. Whatever happens now, I have no regret at all. I am confident that she knows how much I love her and I know that she has always loved me. The nurse let me stay well past visiting hours had ended, which was nice. Having that time with her, even just holding her hand or rubbing her back while she vomited was truly a blessing that I will cherish.

On a happier note, this morning, my Sweetheart came home with a beautiful bouquet of Mother's Day flowers for me this morning. He really is a keeper!

Any fun things coming up?
I hope to visit Gram tonight, depending on how many visitors she has and how worn Tuesday, I have the next NST and some time with my Sweetheart. Also Gram's birthday so we'll see if visiting her is possible. Wednesday with my Sweetheart and childbirth ed class. My brother, Jim, is hoping to come from Phoenix toward the end of the week, so that would be nice (even if it is sad that Gram's poor health is what beckons). I am sure there is more, but my brain isn't working well right now. (Big shock, I am sure!) Heading to church now to get hugs from my favorite teeny nieces!

Happy Mother's Day

Mother's Day has often been a hard day for me. Without going into details better left private, I was sometimes sad on this day. Then, there was the fact that despite all the love I gave to children over the years (including some who told me I was very much a mother to them), it never "counted." This day typically celebrates those who have given birth but not all those who have mothered.

Now, as I await the birth of our-much loved and longed for child, I want to be so mindful that giving birth alone is not what makes someone a mother. There are so many women in the world who love and nurture and support the children they love without ever having given birth. I think of dear friends who have adopted and are defnitely Mothers in the truest sense of the word. I also think of those who while, technically, "childlesss" have loved and cared for children with amazingly open and loving hearts, including some of my teachers and my dear most recent supervisor and beloved friend, B. She - and all these women - definitely deserve to be celebrated on this day!

I am also thinking about the women who have carried a new life only to have to say goodbye heartbreakingly soon. I have close friends who have endured losses I cannot even imagine and have carried on and loved other children - whether those they birthed or those they encountered and whose lives they enriched - with grace and strength.

One of the most important women in my life has been my beloved Gram. As her oldest grandchild, we have shared a special bond. We have spent countless hours together, including a trip to Europe some 16 years ago and the 10+ years I lived with her. I would love for her to meet this Baby, but it seems that that might not be in the cards. And that's okay. I love her too much to demand she stay here suffering. As I told her last night, if she is not able to be here, I will be very sad, but it's okay. Even if she is not here when the Baby comes, I am sure she will be able to see him/her and we will feel her love with us. She has given me so much love, my whole life, that how can I selfishly ask her to continue suffering? She deserves peace and freedom from pain.

Being a mother is more than just giving birth, and I am blessed by all the wonderful women who have loved me over the years. Happy Mother's Day to every woman who has ever touched the life of a child.

Poem o' the Day

I have already read several chapter books and a number of poems aloud to Tex. Can't wait until he/she is here for real so we can share books every day!

The Reading Mother

I had a Mother who read to me
Sagas of pirates who scoured the sea,
Cutlasses clenched in their yellow teeth,
"Blackbirds" stowed in the hold beneath

I had a Mother who read me lays
Of ancient and gallant and golden days;
Stories of Marmion and Ivanhoe,
Which every boy has a right to know.

I had a Mother who read me tales
Of Celert the hound of the hills of Wales,
True to his trust till his tragic death,
Faithfulness blent with his final breath.

I had a Mother who read me the things
That wholesome life to the boy heart brings-
Stories that stir with an upward touch,
Oh, that each mother of boys were such.

You may have tangible wealth untold;
Caskets of jewels and coffers of gold.
Richer than I you can never be --
I had a Mother who read to me.

(Strickland Gillilan )

03 May 2011

Happy 92nd Birthday...

...to the amazing Pete Seeger! I can't wait to introduce Tex to the cd American Folk Game & Activity Songs for Children and to sing Baby "Union Maid."

Pete has been a personal hero of mine for many years and I will never forget the time my sister and I were lucky enough to encounter him in Okemah, Oklahoma at the Woody Guthrie Folk Music Festival.

Thank you for all the beautiful music you have shared with us and for the fights you so bravely fought - against racism, McCarthyism, environmental damage - and for reminding us that EVERYONE can lift his or her voice in song!

"I feel that in my whole life I have never done anything of any conspiratorial nature and I resent very much and very deeply the implication of being called before this Committee that in some way because my opinions may be different from yours, that I am any less of an American than anyone else." (Pete Seeger)

02 May 2011

Quote o' the Day

"I will mourn the loss of thousands of precious lives, but I will not rejoice in the death of one, not even an enemy. Returning hate for hate multiplies hate, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate, only love can do that." (Martin Luther King, Jr.)

edited to add: I just learned that "I will mourn the loss of thousands of precious lives, but I will not rejoice in the death of one, not even an enemy," was not actually said by King. Regardless, it still echoes what I feel.

Also feeling Ezekiel 18:23, "Have I any pleasure at all that the wicked should die? saith the Lord GOD: and not that he should return from his ways, and live?" (KJV)

01 May 2011

Only 6 weeks to go!

How Far Along?

Today marks 34 weeks. Only 6 weeks until Tex's estimated due date!

Appts coming up?
Still get to go for fetal non-stress tests twice a week - yay. Friday I also have a "regular" visit with the doctor. We're definitely in the home stretch here!

Thoughts about where you're at in your pregnancy?
Getting close! I am very hopeful that Tex will continue to cook in there until she/he is ready. It feels both like June 12 will never get here and like it will be here before we blink!

What are you working on?
We finally bought the paint for Baby's room today. of course, my Sweetheart has no more weekend time off until the Sunday before Memorial Day - eek! I think I am going to start taping the trim in the room and see if we can get the furniture moved. Personally, I think I could do the darned painting y own self, as long as the furniture is out of the way!

Complaints or worries?
Nothing new. A little heartburn tonight, but that's all. Doing well, overall.

Still citrus juices - which I am still limiting because of the insane amounts of sugar. Really wanted a chocolate shake a little earlier this week, which my Sweetheart brought home for me, because he's awesome.

Happy moments/blessings?
SUNSHINE yesterday and today! Woot! Was able to help my Sweetheart with yardwork today (despite his objections, he did let me do some stuff!) and made it to the hardware store before they closed for paint. This was after an exceptionally lazy morning spent reading a brainless novel in bed and a late lunch.

Went to CPL Tuesday night, where I heard Rafael Lopez present to the fabulous Kraft Great Kids families. Besides the fantasticness of the program itself, it was also good to see and hug my former boss and chat with old friends. I have missed the library and my team there SO MUCH!

Had a prenatal massage Friday (courtesy of a Christmas gift certificate from my amazing in-laws). Had a fun visit with my teeny nieces at the shop on Wednesday. (Brooke-Lynn entertains me to no end. I had made the girls a snack and was eating some breakfast myself. I left them alone and went to the kitchen for a minute to take banana bread out of the oven. When I returned, my plate had been moved and the Swiss cheese was missing. I looked at Brooke-Lynn who stared back at me solemnly, cheeks poofy and mouth full of Swiss. I asked her if she stole my cheese and she just nodded.)

FINALLY caught up on writing book reviews tonight - if you scroll down below you will see seven new reviews. Hoping to stay on top of that a little better. Also sent out five postcards for the postcrossing.com project this week. (Reminds me, need to update my 101 Things blog, too. Maybe not tonight, though.)

Tonight, the President announced that Osama bin Laden has been killed. I actually feel somewhat bad that I am relieved by the death of any other human being. Still, considering all the pain he has caused to so many thousands of other people - of all faiths - it is hard NOT to feel relief that he is gone and hope that his absence will make peace more attainable. I am mindful of all the sacrifices made by the servicemen and women from the US and UK (and their families) to lead to this announcement. And while I know there will always be dangers, I am happy my child will be born into a world without bin Laden. I continue to pray for peace and that our nation does not become too arrogant.

Any fun things coming up?
Going to have dinner with the in-laws tomorrow. Also hoping to visit Gram tomorrow. We have our first Lamaze class Wednesday night. Woo-hoo! Want to go to Cone Cottage with my Sweetheart sometime before he goes back to work. Friday night going to CPL to see the hilarious and talented Mo Willems (and, even better, lots of library friends). If any theater even remotely near me was playing Jane Eyre, I would try to go see that, too.

Sweet Valley Confidential: Ten Years Later

For a large segment of the female population who came of age in the 1980s, the mere mention of "Sweet Valley" will conjure up memories of characters we grew up with: class clown Winston Egbert, rich and arrogant Bruce Patman, brave but doomed Tricia Martin. Foremost among this cast, though, were the perfect twins: Elizabeth and Jessica Wakefield.

Don't lie. Even if you are a brilliant feminist career woman now, there is a good chance you read and enjoyed at least a few of these books. I graduated to a deep love "classic" Literature, but I was still super excited to hear that all these years later, Francine Pascal was going to write a new novel telling us where the Wakefield twins ended up after high school. We'd caught a glimpse during the fairly short-lived (and soap operatically addictive) Sweet Valley University series, but nothing beyond sophmore year.

Finally, yesterday, my copy of Sweet Valley Confidential: Ten Years Later arrived at the library. Huzzah! This morning, as my Sweetheart slept, I laid in bed and finished catching up with the Wakefields and their crew.

Lots of changes since we last saw them! When the book opens, the twins are 27-years-old and have had a major falling out. Jessica has betrayed Elizabeth in the most appalling way imaginable and Elizabeth has fled to New York City, determined to never forgive her sister. (I am actually dying to tell you what she did, but if you care about Sweet Valley at all, you will likely pick this book up at some point and I don't want to wreck it for you.) Most of the book centers on this rift and the question of whether Elizabeth will ever be able to forgive Jessica or if the twins will forever be apart.

Along the way, we encounter other familiar characters - Steven Wakefield, now a married, successful attorney with a pretty serious secret of his own; Lila Fowler, still rich and spoiled and contemplating divorce from NFL star Ken Matthews; Bruce Patman, now Elizabeth's best friend; Winston Egbert, former class clown turned arrogant asshole; and, of course, Todd Wilkins, Elizabeth's high school sweetheart.

Being a Sweet Valley book, none of the characters are completely fleshed out. I was disappointed to read about Winston's transformation from lovable goofball to rich jerk, but it was really only mentioned in passing. Same with Enid Rollins, once Elizabeth's sweet best friend and now an arrogant, ultra-conservative doctor.

There's also no way this book will be mistaken for great Literature. And you know what? That's okay. No one expects it to be. It's a Sweet Valley book, for crying out loud! It's far-fetched and convoluted and ridiculous and trashy and quick and fun. Pure fluffy entertainment, for sure. If you are one of the many women who grew up alongside the Wakefield twins, reserve your copy of Sweet Valley Confidential: Ten Years Later (because, seriously, you do NOT need to invest in a hardcover of this; you'll read it once, be entertained and done) and look forward to an afternoon of mindless entertainment.

Two for One: Masters of Disaster and Liar, Liar

Anyone who knows me knows that Gary Paulsen is one of my all-time Rock Stars of Literature. Recently, I have been trying to catch up on his latest novels for young people. Luckily, Masters of Disaster and Liar, Liar were typically quick reads.

In Masters of Disaster, twelve-year-old Henry enlists his two best friends to “Undertake and Implement a Series of Daring Experiences and Grand Adventures” that will “Prove Our Manhood and Show us What We’re Made Of.” Henry will be the planner, the one who will develop the "Daring Experiences." Riley is the meticulous chronicler, recording all details for posterity. Which leaves Reed as the hapless hero/victim who must actually complete the tasks, almost every one of which results in his having an intimate encounter with poop.

With short and well-written chapters, this book will have enormous appeal to middle-school boys who will likely laugh out loud even as they wonder how difficult it might be to replicate some of the adventures undertaken by the trio of friends.

The second Paulsen book I just finished is Liar, Liar: The Theory, Practice and Destructive Properties of Deception. Eighth-grader Kevin is a brilliant liar. He doesn't lie to manipulate or hurt - rather, he sees it as common sense, a way to make life a little easier for everyone, including himself. As long as he sticks to his first rule, "Keep it simple," all should be well.

Before long, though, Kevin's lies start to spiral out of control. His lie to his classmate causes more work at school. His lies at home cause unrest between his siblings. His lies to his best friend may cost him the friendship. It isn't until he is babysitting one night that Kevin realizes he is facing his biggest challenge yet - telling the truth.

Less silly than Masters of Disaster, Liar, Liar is a sweeter yet still funny book about family, friends and the importance of honesty. "The truth really does set you free," Kevn discovers. "Who knew? Well, everyone, I guess, except me."

LOVE Gary Paulsen. Hope to have more of his recent books to review soon!

Close to Famous

Can I just say that I love Joan Bauer? I do. I don't remember which of her novels I read first, but once I'd found her I wanted to read everything, and did. Consequently, I was delighted to happen across her newest novel, Close to Famous at my local public library.

Twelve-year-old Foster has a dream - she wants to be the first kid with her own show on the Food Network. She also has a plan. She practices her television manner while developng and baking a variety of muffins and cupcakes. She knows that good things don't just happen, you have to work for them, so she gets herself a job with Marietta Morningstar "the muffin queen of Memphis" so she can hone her skills.

Unfortunately, Foster's mother has gotten involved with an abusive Elvis impersonator named Huck and they find themselves fleeing Memphis in the middle of the night. They wind up in the tiny town of Culpepper where they both have to start over. Nothing much seems to happen in Culpepper, but Foster refuses to let her dream die and sets about trying to figure out the best place to sell her treats. Along the way she meets Macon, who hopes to be a documentary filmmaker and Miss Charleena, an actress who was twice nominated for an Academy Award and who is afraid her time may have passed, even as she longs to make a Hollywood comeback.

Before long, Culpepper begins to feel like home. Foster and her mother begin to make friends and become a real part of the community. Foster's mom even starts to dream about coming into her own as a headlining singer and not just backup. Huck didn't take kindly to their flight, though, and they can't hide forever...

As usual, Bauer's characters ring true and find their ways into your heart. Rewarding intergenerational relationships are another strength found in just about every Bauer book and they are not missing here. A subplot about Foster's difficulties reading and how she begins to overcome that is especially noteworthy.

You'll find yourself cheering for Foster and her mother to find happiness in their new lives (and may find yourself googling a recipe fr pumpkin spice muffins with golden raisins!). I loved this novel and can't wait to see who Joan Bauer will introduce us to next!

note: Joan Bauer will receive the Chicago Tribune's Young Adult Literary Prize as part of the Printer's Row Lit Fest, June 4. As long as Tex doesn't come early, I plan to be there!

The Year Money Grew on Trees

Set in the 1980s, The Year Money Grew on Trees by Aaron Hawkins introduces us to 14-year-old Jackson Jones and his unforgettable crew of siblings and cousins as they teach themselves how to grow a healthy and profitable apple orchard.

The story begins when Jackson finds himself tricked into signing a seemingly simple contract with the eccentric old lady next door - Jackson will do all the work, bring the orchard back to life, and sell the harvest. He will pay Mrs. Nelson the first $8000 of any profit. In return, Jackson can not only keep any remaining monies but he will receive the deed to the orchard.

Having entered into the contract (and signing it in a lawyer's office, lest there be any question about the contract's authenticity) Jackson realizes the enormity of the task he has undertaken. He enlists the help of his sisters and cousins, promising each of them a percentage of the profits (based on age - so his 11-year-old cousin will get 11%, etc.) while keeping the truth of his obligation a secret.

With little more than notes from a library book and information from his Sunday School teacher - who also grows apples - Jackson teaches himseld and his motley crew all about pruning, weeding, irrigation and more. As the summer progresses and the trees begin to flourish, Jackson begins to believe that maybe he will succeed, even as he stresses with the secret that all their hard work will be for naught if the orchard doesn't earn at least $8000. Jackson fears that he may be in over his head - and starts to wonder if Mrs. Nelson will hold up her end of the deal.

With a focus on hard work, The Year Money Grew on Trees was suprisingly engrossing. It reminded me a little bit of Gary Paulsen's Lawn Boy, although the story is much more realistic. There is no easy way out here for Jackson and his crew; readers will be on the edge of their seats waiting to learn if the kids will succeed or if all their work will be in vain. This book isn't for everyone, but the readers who give it a chance will be rewarded with an unforgettable tale.

Numbers: The Chaos

When I got the galley of Numbers by Rachel Ward last year, it blew me away. I didn't realize it was the first book in an intended trilogy until a friend mentioned that the sequel was coming. Eee! I placed my hold and waited anxiously.

Numbers: The Chaos lives up to the promise of the first book. Adam has inherited his mother's strange, curselike "gift" - when he looks into someone's eyes, he sees the date of their death. Even more, he feels what that person will feel at the moment of their death, whether it is a sense of peace as they slip into eternal sleep or the searing pain of a more violent end.

After moving to London with his grandmother, Adam cannot help noticing that the same number is showing up in a large number of the eyes he sees - 01012027. New Year's Day. What could possibly be fated to happen on that day that will claim so many lives? Is there anything he can do to prevent it? And who is Sarah, the lovely young women who he sees will die many years in the future, a peaceful death with Adam by her side, but who currently believes Adam is from her nightmares and flees from him in terror?

I couldn't put down this gripping story. While I didn't entirely love the ending, I am still eager to learn how the whole story will play out - so much so that I suspect I may splurge and purchase book 3 from the UK this summer instead of waiting for another year for it to come to these shores. Highly recommend.

A Cup of Friendship

A Cup of Friendship, by Deborah Rodriguez, centers on a group of women who come together at a coffee shop in Kabdul. Sunny is the American who owns the shop which caters to a locals as well as ex-patriates. She hires Yazmina, a young woman who is pregnant with her dead husband's child, a situation which has saved her from the thugs her uncle owes money to but will also put her life in serious danger should the wrong people find out. Wealthy American, Candace, uses her connections to educate and assist Afghan women while refusing to recognize the true motives of her aloof lover. Isabel is a hard-hitting journalist with the BBC who is working on a story about the Afghani poppy fields and discovers the terrible circumstances female workers in the opiate trade - and their babies - are trapped in. Finally, there is Halajan - a rebellious Afghan widow who hides her cropped hair and blue jeans hidden under her burqa and a forbidden love hidden in her heart, lest her own son rise against her.

The stories of these women - and some of the men in their lives - intertwine and unfold against the backdrop of wartorn Afghanistan. While some characters could probably be fleshed out a bit more and the book, as a whole, could be longer and more complex, I did find myself caring deeply about the characters. I worried especially about Yazmina (and the sister she hoped to save from a future of forced sexual slavery). It was fascinating to glimpse inside a world where a woman who conceived a child within wedlock would still be persecuted because her husband was no longer alive when it was time for that child to be born.

I recommend this book to anyone who is interested in learning a little more about the plight of women in Afghanistan (although I imagine most women there do not have the type of haven Sunny's cafe provides the women who populate her novel). I also intend to look for something else set in Afghanistan to deepen my understanding of the culture.