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Erika Robuck is Back With Her New Novel “The House of Hawthorne”

May 12, 2015

I think it’s safe to assume that every reader of American literature has read Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter at some point. I remember so clearly reading this masterpiece in my junior year high school English class. I love the story of Hester Prynne, and am still drawn to the story today. It’s fascinating how the references to the novel have continued to penetrate popular culture, movies and literature since it was published centuries ago. I think that’s the sign of a great story, for which we have an equally talented writer to thank.

house of hawthorneI haven’t read many other of Hawthorne’s works, but I’ve always been interested in him as a writer. So I was thrilled that Erika Robuck’s latest novel, The House of Hawthorne, was a personal story about Hawthorne himself.

You may recall I’ve written about Erika and her previous books on this blog. I loved Call Me Zelda, Fallen Beauty and Hemingway’s Girl. She has an incredible knack for creating fascinating stories around these literary giants. I am so lucky that I’ve gotten to know Erika through the wonderful world of social media and blogging. So of course I jumped at the chance to read The House of Hawthorne for this blog.

I know I’ve said this before of her books, but I really think Erika’s novels just keep getting better. And this story stands out for another reason. With her other novels, Erika created a fictional character to tell the story. In The House of Hawthorne, she told the story in the voice and perspective of an actual person, Sophia Peabody Hawthorne, Nathaniel’s wife.

Here’s a look at The House of Hawthorne (from Penguin):

The unlikely marriage between Nathaniel Hawthorne, the celebrated novelist, and Sophia Peabody, the invalid artist, was a true union of passion and intellect.

Beset by crippling headaches from a young age and endowed with a talent for drawing, Sophia is discouraged by her well-known New England family from pursuing a woman’s traditional roles. But from their first meeting, Nathaniel and Sophia begin an intense romantic relationship that despite many setbacks leads to their marriage. Together, they will cross continents, raise children, and experience all the beauty and tragedy of an exceptional partnership. Sophia’s vivid journals and her masterful paintings kindle a fire in Nathaniel, inspiring his writing. But their children’s needs and the death of loved ones steal Sophia’s energy and time for her art, fueling in her a perennial tug-of-war between fulfilling her domestic duties and pursuing her own desires.

Spanning the years from the 1830s to the Civil War, and moving from Massachusetts to England, Portugal, and Italy, The House of Hawthorne explores the tension within a famous marriage of two soulful, strong-willed people, each devoted to the other but also driven by a powerful need to explore the far reaches of their creative impulses. It is the story of a forgotten woman in history, who inspired one of the greatest writers of American literature.

I highly recommend you add The House of Hawthorne to your “to be read” pile. It’s a fascinating story and really gives you an understanding of the man behind one of America’s most popular and pervasive stories. Thanks, Erika, for another amazing read!

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Disclosure: I received a complimentary copy of The House of Hawthorne to review for this blog post.  All opinions are my own and I only endorse books that I am proud to recommend to others.

Teach Your Children Well … Words to Parent By

April 10, 2015

I’ve been thinking a lot about parenthood lately (the status of being a parent, not the television show). Even though I’ve had so many things to write about, I haven’t been writing about the parenting journey has much as I used to do on this blog. It’s not that I don’t want to share my thoughts, or worry that Sophie will read this one day (she probably will and that’s fine with me). I think the reason is because as Sophie gets older, it’s harder to put some of these parenting struggles and thoughts into words.

The milestone moments Sophie had in her early years were easy to capture: putting away the baby monitors, moving to a “big girl” bed, finally becoming potty-trained, and entering kindergarten. Those things were universal, easy to articulate and joyous celebrations, if you will.

My parenthood struggles of late are not as simple. As Sophie gets older (7-years-old now!), the issue constantly on my mind is whether I’m raising a good human being. Things like making sure my daughter is respectful, isn’t absorbing attitudes she sees on the playground on on television, and has the life skills necessary to survive in this world. These are not subjects taught in the Common Core curriculum. And they are not milestones like losing the first tooth. These are ongoing struggles that are exhausting and often leave me feeling like I’m failing as a parent.

no moms allowed

The biggest struggle for me lately revolves around issues of respect and listening. More specifically, being assertive is a great skill to have (and Sophie certainly has it). But there’s a line between assertive and continually asking for things from other people (especially after mom has said no). What I mean by this is Sophie asking another parent for a playdate when I’ve already said five minutes before the playdate can’t happen that day. Or asking a relative for money or things when I’ve already told her not to ask for that. This is something that really bothers me. I find it rude to others, and I feel like I’m not being listened to or respected. We seem to have these issues on a regular basis; and when it’s really bad, she loses a privilege.

I try to be proactive and talk about expectations and being really clear before we get into the situation. And that does work occasionally. But I guess with kids (this one in particular), emotion overpowers logic. She does recognize her behavior and knows why she’s getting the consequence she does. So I guess that’s a good step, right?

Sophie and I are very close, which is probably why these struggles are so hard for me. It truly breaks my heart when a conflict arises between us, or the time she told me she doesn’t want our relationship to be like Merida and her mother from the Disney movie, Brave.

sophie and butterflies

I can already hear the voices of the dissenters:

But they’re just kids!

They don’t know better.

Don’t be so rigid!

If that’s all she does, you should be grateful for what you have.

And yes, they are kids and sometimes they don’t know. But that’s exactly why it’s up to us as parents to teach them what’s appropriate and what’s not.

I want Sophie to know she can always be honest with me. I tell her it’s okay for her to be angry at me, and that it’s normal for her to feel like she hates me at times. What matter to me is treating people respectfully. Listening to our words, and acknowledging our hurt or anger. I truly feel if you don’t set boundaries and expectations now, it will only get worse as they grow older.

I do feel like Sophie is a good person, has a heart of gold and values honesty. She cares for a backyard pillbug with as much tenderness as she does our cat. And I’m so grateful for that. But the respect and listening is an ongoing struggle, and it’s something we’re working on. Some days it’s really hard for me. But all I can do is appreciate all her wonderful qualities and hope I’m doing something right.

Leah and Sophie

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Books on the Shelf and “The Traveling Tea Shop”

March 19, 2015

I think it’s safe to say that my TBR (to be read) is a bit out of control. Not that I’m complaining, mind you. There’s nothing I love more than a big stack of books by my bed. It’s almost like having a comforting friend who is always waiting for me.

The last time I posted a photo of my book stack, I had requests for a close-up so readers could more easily make out the titles. Clearly I have many bookish blog followers. Since you asked, here you go!

Here are the hardbacks. Yes, they have their own table.

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And the paperbacks.

bookshelf 1

What I Just Read
I recently finished reading The Traveling Tea Shop by Belinda Jones. Here’s the description:

traveling tea shopLove isn’t always a piece of cake…

Laurie Davis has always followed her passion. After escaping family drama to start a new life in New York City, she’s up for whatever challenges life brings. So when an opportunity arises for her to use her travel industry expertise and serve as an assistant and tour guide for her idol, Pamela Lambert-Leigh, star of television’s Tea-Time with Pamela, she jumps at the chance.

But Laurie’s exciting adventure ends up entailing a lot more than scouting locations for the cake queen’s new cookbook when Pamela’s sassy mother and sulky, rebellious daughter tag along for the trip. As they cruise around bakeries in New England trading local delights like Red Velvet Cake and Whoopie Pies for British specialties such as Victoria Sponge and Bakewell Tarts, more secrets than recipes are revealed.

Now, in between rediscovering romance, learning to forgive family, and finding the best dessert on the East Coast, Laurie, Pamela, and the gang might find there’s nothing a nice cup of tea, a sweet treat, and a little bit of friendship can’t heal.

—–

I really enjoyed the “lightness” of this book. And what I mean by that is many of the books I read lean more toward drama or memoir than dramatic comedy. The Traveling Tea Shop had a great story coupled with humor and comedy. If I were to describe it, I’d say it was a cross between the Shopoholic series and The Devil Wears Prada.

I also thought Jones’ writing was quite descriptive as I was able to really visualize the double-Decker English bus and tasty treats. One word of “warning” — don’t read this book on an empty stomach because you’ll soon be craving baked treats like never before!

What are you reading these days? Any good books to recommend? Have you read any in my TBR pile?

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Disclosure: I received a complimentary copy of The Traveling Tea Shop to review for this blog post.  All opinions are my own and I only endorse books that I am proud to recommend to others.

Get Ready to Read “Splinters of Light” {Giveaway}

March 12, 2015

It’s been forever since I’ve done a book spotlight and giveaway! But that doesn’t mean I haven’t been reading (you can check out the list of all the books I’ve read on the Bookshelf page). I’m excited to tell you about Splinters of Light by Rachael Herron.

Here’s the description from Amazon:

splinters of lightFrom the acclaimed author of Pack Up the Moon comes a poignant and beautiful novel about love, loss, and the unbreakable bonds of family—particularly those between mothers, daughters, and sisters.

Ten years ago, Nora Glass started writing essays about being a single mother of a six-year-old daughter. Her weekly column made her a household name, and over the years, her fans have watched Ellie grow from a toddler to a teenager.

But now Nora is facing a problem that can’t be overcome. Diagnosed with a devastating disease that will eventually take away who she is, she is scared for herself, but even more frightened about what this will mean for her sixteen-year-old daughter.

Now Nora has no choice but to let go of her hard-won image as a competent, self-assured woman, and turn to the one person who has always relied on her: her twin sister, Mariana. Nora and Mariana couldn’t be more different from one another, and they’ve always had a complicated relationship. But now the two sisters will have to summon the strength to help them all get through a future none of them could have ever imagined, while uncovering the joy and beauty that was always underneath.

My Thoughts: I really enjoyed this story! It was easy for me to relate to Nora because she’s a writer who published about parenting her daughter. And being one of four sisters, I’m always up for a good sister story. I also liked the structure of this book, which included Nora’s essays sprinkled throughout the chapters. I don’t want to give anything away. But suffice it to say, I definitely recommend Splinters of Light!

GIVEAWAY: I have one copy of Splinters of Light to give to one lucky reader. To be entered to win, leave a comment telling me what you’re currently reading. The giveaway closes Monday, March 16 at 5 pm Pacific time. 

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Disclosure: I received a complimentary copy of Splinters of Light to review for this blog post.  All opinions are my own and I only endorse books that I am proud to recommend to others.

Snapshots: Thinking, Reading, Doing, Snapping and Eating (February)

February 18, 2015

The last month has been pretty consumed with bringing Cody into our family. It’s hard to believe he’s only been with us for four weeks since it seems like he’s already a member of the family. He’s adjusting really well, and so is the rest of the crew. Casey seems to have warmed up and even plays with him occasionally. Tess is no longer afraid of him and will actually come right up and sniff him and be near him. She still won’t come downstairs, but I’ll take what I can get!

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Thinking and Doing …
So the big thing that I was dealing with the last few weeks was losing all my photos stored in iPhoto. Apparently I accidentally deleted them all when I was cleaning out computer files and applications. I have no idea what I did, but when I discovered it, I was in complete panic and cried hysterically. I’m still depressed thinking about it. This may seem trivial, but you have to understand that those photos were all the photos I’ve taken from 2012 – 2014, all categorized and put into months. And so many of those photos I use for my Red Tricycle work too.

I do have some photos from 2012 and 2013 and prior uploaded to Costco Photos and Shutterfly. But I hadn’t gotten around to doing 2014 yet. I had plans to upload the photos and even buy an external hard drive and back up every single photo. I am kicking myself for not doing this!

And before you ask if they still exist on my iPhone, the answer is, no, because I always upload the photos from my iPhone to the iPhoto on the computer and then delete from my phone (except for happy ones I like to look at regularly). So much for being organized and efficient!

I took my computer to a data recovery specialist and they were able to retrieve about 50,000 pieces of data that were on the hard drive. This includes every image that I’ve viewed on the Internet as well as whatever they found that I deleted. A lot of the photos may be there (and many probably are not). I haven’t looked at all the files yet because I haven’t had time, and quite honestly, because I’m scared to see what’s gone and what remains. Since then I’ve been barely able to boot up iPhoto because it’s been so depressing to me. Needless to say, BACK UP, people! Back up everything that’s important to you!

I will say this: I know so many people complain about and hate on Facebook. But I am so grateful so many of my 2014 photos were on Facebook and Instagram. Costco Photo, as well as Dropbox, has a way to automatically upload all the photos from social media sites, which you can bet I’ve done.

book on nightstand

Reading …
In more uplifting news, I feel like I hit the jackpot in terms of finding awesome books to start the new year. I guess it’s been the year of the memoir because I started with Brain on Fire: My Month of Madness by Susannah Cahalan. I read it in two days. It was fascinating and frightening all at the same time. SO good! I then moved on to Andie Mitchell’s It Was Me All Along. Also amazing! She details her struggles with food and weight so beautifully and heartfelt. Although I never struggled with binge-eating the way Andie did, I could certainly relate to SO many aspects of this book.

I then moved on to two books by Dani Shapiro. I finally read her writing memoir, Still Writing: The Perils and Pleasures of a Creative Life, and just finished Devotion: A Memoir. Devotion is a memoir of Dani’s struggle with faith, all set against a backdrop of marriage, motherhood and entering midlife. I didn’t expect to relate so much to this book, but I found myself dog-earing several pages (I never do this!) so I would remember the passages that spoke so much to me.

Here is one passage that jumped off the page at me. Dani is referring more to making the time for yoga and meditation. But this is exactly how I feel about writing for myself.

Writers often say that the hardest part of writing isn’t the writing itself; it’s the sitting down to write. The same is true of yoga, meditation and prayer. The sitting down, the making space. The doing. It sounds so simple, doesn’t it? Unroll the mat. Sit cross-legged on the floor. Just do it. Close your eyes and express a silent need, a wish, a moment of gratitude. What’s so hard about that? Except — it is hard. The usual distractions — the clutter and piles of life — are suddenly, usually enticing. The worst of it, I’ve come to realize, is that the thing that stop me — the shadow that cast a cold darkness across the best of my intentions — isn’t the puppy, the e-mail, the UPS truck, the school conference, the phone, the laundry, the to-do lists. It’s me that spots me. Things get struck.

And this was scarily familiar to me as I’ve been feeling this SO much lately!

I’ve been having trouble maintaining a sense of solitude. Oh, sure, I have the hours during the day when Jacob [her son] is at school, Michael [her husband] is at his office, the dogs are asleep on the kitchen floor. But solitude – the kind of silence inside of which one can transact some private business with the fewest obstacles, in Thoreau’s words — does not simply have to do with being alone.

There were several other passages, but many will become fodder for a future post or two. Anyway, it’s nice to find a writer whom it feels as if they’re speaking directly to you.

Now to start a new book!

Eating …
I have been eating, just not photographing and creating as many recipes. But if you’re looking for something yummy for Chinese New Year this week, check out my healthy and delicious Chinese fried rice recipe. This is one of the most popular posts on my blog. The post also contains a recipe for moo shoo pork burgers — also delicious. I also shared a recipe for cashew chicken and steamed shu mai. I love Chinese food! I think I need to redo my meal plan for Chinese New Year this Thursday.

fried rice

Snapping …
Here are a few photos I’ve snapped over the last few weeks A.C. (after catastrophe).

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sophie in a crate

dogs in the flower bed

sophie feetThanks for reading! So tell me, how was your January and February? What are you reading, eating, cooking and doing?

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