Monday, April 14, 2014

So Let Them Eat Cake...



As you have probably figured out by now, I like to take whatever has happened in my week and somehow connect it to the books I review. The past week involved my monthly get together at the library with my Cookbook Club. 



Cookbook Club Pals
Two of my Cookbook Club pals Crystal and Amy!

 
Each month when the Cookbook Club gets together, we have a theme. April's theme was spaghetti sauce. Now it is true that I love to cook from scratch, but spaghetti sauce isn't one of the items I attempt. My idea of spaghetti is to open a jar of Ragu, add ground beef, and pour it over cooked angel hair pasta. That being the case, I chose to bring a dessert that I thought would go wonderfully with the various versions of spaghetti, an Italian Cream Cake.

Not having made many cakes from scratch in the past, I boldly went where I had not gone before... my mother's house. Okay, so I have been to my mother's house before, but that just sounded so dramatic that I couldn't resist. The reason I had to go to my  mother's house was to borrow two nine inch cake pans. I had two eight inch pans, I had a ten inch pan, I had assorted sizes of spring form pans, but not a single nine inch pan did I posses.

I then went home and set about to bake my cake. The only problem I ran into was that the recipe called for the batter to be put into three pans. But, being the creative soul that I am, I simply split the batter between two cake pans, and put the remaining batter in a bowl. Once the first two cakes were done, I washed the pan and baked the third. Problem solved. It smelled great when I was baking it, looked delicious when I was frosting it, and tasted fabulous when I was eating it! Everyone else must have thought it tasted fabulous as well, because all I came home with was one small slice.



Italian Cream Cake
Italian Cream Cake

Since I had also attended a volunteer brunch that same morning (I am a library volunteer), I squeezed my book choosing session in-between the two feasts. Since I had so lovingly baked a cake to share with friends, I thought it would be fun to review a book involving a cake. The book I found was Splat The Cat Takes The Cake an I Can Read Level One book.



Splat The Cat Takes The Cake


Splat the cat wants to enter a cake contest, but his first attempt is a disaster. A very tired Splat goes to bed and dreams of a solution. He bakes a super cake and takes the super cake prize. His cake wasn't the tallest, wasn't the prettiest, and it wasn't the widest, so how did he win? To find out, you will have to be sure to read this book for yourself. And if you want to try your hand at an Italian Cream Cake, my recipe is as follows:

 Cake 
 
1 cup buttermilk 
1 tsp baking soda
1 cup butter softened
2 cups sugar
5 eggs
1 tsp vanilla
1 cup shredded coconut
1 tsp baking powder
2 cups flour

Icing

8 ounces cream cheese softened
1/2 cup butter softened
1 tsp vanilla
4 cups powdered sugar
2 TBS milk
1/2 cup chopped pecans                                                               
 
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease three nine inch pans and flour them. Set aside. In a small bowl dissolve baking soda in buttermilk. Set aside.

In a large bowl cream butter and sugar until smooth. Add eggs, buttermilk, and vanilla beating until well mixed. Add coconut, flour, and baking powder. Pour into pans and bake for thirty minutes or until toothpick comes out of center cleanly. Allow to cool.

To make frosting, combine cream cheese, butter, vanilla, and sugar. Mix well. Add milk a little at a time until desired consistency is reached. Spread between layers and then frost tops and sides. Sprinkle top with chopped pecans. (My picture doesn't show nuts because we have a member with nut allergies).

Well, that about wraps it up for this week. Join me next week for another exciting episode, same crazy time, same crazy channel. And feel free to drop by my personal website, Fun With Aileen, any day of the week for even more on reading, writing, my very own early grade chapter book, Fern Valley, and my soon to be released sequel, Return To Fern Valley, coming summer of 2014! I'm also on twitter @AileenWStewart if you want an extremely brief glimpses into my days.

Monday, April 7, 2014

Variety Is The Spice Of Life




Usually my weeks are pretty much a series of routines, which makes sense since I am basically a very organized type of individual. I take my daughter to school on weekday mornings, I pick up groceries on the way home, I return home to feed the cats, do the dishes, clean the house, and exercise, I wait for the bus to bring said daughter home, I help her with homework, I fix dinner. You get the picture.  But then there is this other whole side of me that sparkles, shimmers, and shimmies with creativity of every kind. The part of me that loves to learn or try something new, the part of me that wants to travel somewhere new, the part of me that yearns to build, bake, create, reshape, dream, and make something new. The part of me that craves variety.

That is why I spent most of last week looking forward to Friday. What did I do on Friday, you ask? Why I traveled to the Polaris Fashion Place outside of Columbus, Ohio to meet with some of the ladies from my Blog Ohio group. I love this group of ladies, and I sit humbly at their feet, or maybe just at the same food court table, reveling in the knowledge they so willingly impart about blogging. Most of it goes over my head, but sometimes a bit sinks in, and I put it to good use.

BlogOH Moms
Blog Ohio Moms


And the really great thing about meeting at Polaris was, that afterwards, I had the opportunity to explore the very lovely Barnes & Noble store. I was a woman with a mission. I was a woman bent on using the extraordinary book offerings to  make a spine poem in honor of April which is National Poetry Month. Now for those of you who have never created spine poetry, I heartily encourage you to do so. You can use books from your own collections, books from the library, or books at your local book store. Spine poetry is very addictive and once you get started, it is difficult to stop!


Barnes & Noble Spine Poetry
Spine Poetry

Friday was a lovely day of variety spicing up my routine life. So when it was time to sit down and write this post, something I do routinely every Sunday afternoon, I decided to review a few books that were random books, books without a theme, simple books to add a little variety to your upcoming week.

First I read Someday by Eileen Spinelli. I was sure I would just love this book, after all Eileen is so very close to Aileen. And do you know what? I did enjoy it. It was a beautiful book, a book of great aspirations, a book of dreams. It was a book about a child imagining what she would do "someday" in the middle of all the every day things she was doing right then. It made me stop and ask myself, As an adult, do I still dream of what I will do someday? Yes, yes I do. Someday I will go on a cruise, and someday I will visit Alaska, and someday I will be a traditionally published picture book author with an agent all my own. What will you do someday?

Someday by Eileen Spinelli


Next I read Perfectly Percy by Paul Schmid. It turns out that it is terrible to be a small porcupine when your favorite thing in the whole wide world is playing with balloons. That is unless you are Perry. Perry puts on his thinking cap and thinks long and hard until he comes up with a solution to his balloon popping problem. Perfectly Perry puts a new spin on the term, Thinking Outside Of The Box.

Perfectly Percy by Paul Schmid


Well, that about wraps it up for this week. Join me next week for another exciting episode, same crazy time, same crazy channel. And feel free to drop by my personal website, Fun With Aileen, any day of the week for even more on reading, writing, my very own early grade chapter book, Fern Valley, and my soon to be released sequel, Return To Fern Valley, coming summer of 2014! I'm also on twitter @AileenWStewart if you want an extremely brief glimpses into my days.


Monday, March 31, 2014

Meeting Friends At The Library__ Sort Of__ Part Two



Last week I wrote a piece about finding books at the library written or illustrated by friends. I also shared my friend Dandi's good news. On that same trip to the library, I saw the name Ohi on the spines of two books.  At first I thought it might be works by my friend, Debbie Ohi, the illustrator who  delights me with her daily doodle drawings. She is also the illustrator who is illustrating the new covers for the soon to be re-released Judy Bloom books.

Debbie Ohi Illustrations

The books I pulled off of the shelf, however, were written and illustrated by her sister, Ruth Ohi. It's not often that you find two such talented people in the same family, so I grabbed The Couch Was A Castle and Chicken, Pig, Cow and added them to my stack.

The Couch Was A Castle is an adorable book that reminded me of my very own living room couch that so often turns into a fort. You just have to love the imagination of a child who creates fantastic dreams from an ordinary every day item. Be it a castle, a leaky boat, or a dark cave, a couch can be an incredible thing. Ruth's book is also an incredible thing with adorable illustrations and incredibly cute characters.

Ruth Ohi Books

Chicken, Pig, Cow was also a fantastic book. I loved the characters, I loved the illustrations, I loved the drooly dog that solved the barn door problem. I loved the fact that cow passed out when the drooly dog cuddle up to him, but claimed he had made a new friend when he woke up. A very fun book for children four to eight.

Ruth Ohi

Not only do I find being an author incredibly fun, but I find exploring the works of my friends to be incredibly fun and rewarding as well.

Well, that about wraps it up for this week. Join me next week for another exciting episode, same crazy time, same crazy channel. And feel free to drop by my personal website, Fun With Aileen, any day of the week for even more on reading, writing, my very own early grade chapter book, Fern Valley, and my soon to be released sequel, Return To Fern Valley, coming summer of 2014! I'm also on twitter @AileenWStewart if you want an extremely brief glimpses into my days.


Monday, March 24, 2014

Meeting Friends at the Library__ Sort Of



I try to make a trip to the library every week or two in order to choose books for my reviews. And some of the best trips, are the ones where I meet friends at the library. I don't really meet my fellow authors and social media friends, but every time I see their names on the spines of the books I am glancing at, I feel like I have.

This week I found a book, I had yet to read, by my friend Dandi Daley Mackall. What made this find even more exciting was the news she recently shared. You see, not only is Dandi a fantastic children's author, she is also the author of, My Boyfrien'ds Dogs, a young adult  book which is being made into a Hallmark Movie. Currently, she is getting ready to fly to Canada to watch the filming. I am so excited for her, I can hardly express it with mere words. So while she is off learning the intricacies of  turning a book into a movie, I will be sharing with you her book, A Girl Named Dan.



And the amazement doesn't stop there because A Girl Named Dan is the true story of how Dandi won an essay contest entitled, Why I Want To Be A Batboy. Unfortunately, the Kansas City A's wouldn't let her be a batboy, because she was a girl. Despite this first taste of rejection at such a young age, Dandi has gone on to become an award winning author of over 400 books for children and adults. I'd say that is pretty amazing and the stuff dreams are made of.

I am so glad that I met Dandi at the 2012 Kentucky Book Fair. Not only is she a tremendously kind and interesting person, but she is an author worth emulating. I only hope I turn out to be half the author she is. So if you haven't read A Girl Named Dan, I suggest you do. Either that, or one of her many other fabulous books.

Well, that about wraps it up for this week. Join me next week for another exciting episode, same crazy time, same crazy channel. And feel free to drop by my personal website, Fun With Aileen, any day of the week for even more on reading, writing, my very own early grade chapter book, Fern Valley, and my soon to be released sequel, Return To Fern Valley, coming summer of 2014! I'm also on twitter @AileenWStewart if you want an extremely brief glimpses into my days.


Monday, March 17, 2014

Waiting For Spring...



Now that we've entered March, we know that spring is just around the corner. March, however is an unpredictable month full of roller coaster temperatures. Take, for instance, this past week in my beautiful state of Ohio, sixty degrees one day and twenty the next. So as I sit here writing this blog post, I am grateful that the books I chose to review this week are books that gently remind us of what awaits. Books that will hopefully linger on our minds like the delicate beauty of newly blossomed violets.


The first book in my lineup is Chicken In The Kitchen by Tony Johnston. Told in rhyme and accompanied by deliciously cute illustrations, this book takes us on Dog's journey to make his chicken happy. Dog's chicken runs willy nilly about the kitchen until Dog finally figures out what his chicken wants. Once he figures it out, Chicken is not only happy, but Dog's ends up with an unexpected surprise. Pretty sure both your boys and girlies from ages four to eight will enjoy this happy book.


Next I read The Imaginary Garden by Andrew Larsen. Such a great book to read as I notice small growing things begin to emerge in my flower beds. In The Imaginary Garden, Theo and Poppa enjoy passing the time of day sitting in his garden underneath a beautiful tree. But one day Poppa moves and there is no room for a garden in his new apartment. All is not lost, however, as Poppa teaches Theo to use her greatest gift, a glorious imagination. Children and adults alike will enjoy the imaginary garden that Theo and Poppa create, and who knows, perhaps it will inspire you to create an imaginary garden of your own!


Wrong Way, by Danish author Mark Macleod, turned out to be a delightful book about a mother and her three baby ducks. Wrong Way isn't like his siblings, and doesn't do anything quite the way Momma tells him. But even Momma comes to recognize that doing things differently isn't necessarily wrong. You might have a harder time fining this book unless you find a used copy, but it's worth checking to see if your library carries a copy.


And last but certainly not least, I read Fluffy and Baron which was written and illustrated by Laura Rankin.  Baron is a gorgeous German Shepherd who makes friends with a small duckling named Fluffy who comes into his life. Soon they do everything together, that is, until some wild ducks show up. will this be the end of Baron and Fluffy's friendship, or will Fluffy come back to him?


This last book reminded me a bit of the Fluffy that came into our life. Our Fluffy is a cat and not a duck, but we love her none the less. She likes to hide among Emily's stuffed babies. Can you find her?

Where In The World Is Fluffy?
Well, that about wraps it up for this week. Join me next week for another exciting episode, same crazy time, same crazy channel. And feel free to drop by my personal website, Fun With Aileen, any day of the week for even more on reading, writing, my very own early grade chapter book, Fern Valley, and my soon to be released sequel, Return To Fern Valley, coming summer of 2014! I'm also on twitter @AileenWStewart if you want an extremely brief glimpses into my days.


Monday, March 10, 2014

The Mazza Museum



As most of you know, I write about reading, writing, and life in general, and what could be more related to the three then a trip to the MAZZA Museum in Findlay, Ohio. What is the MAZZA Museum you ask? It just happens to be a teaching museum of book art. Created in 1982 during the centennial celebration of Findlay College,  the idea was to celebrate the often overlooked and under appreciated art that graces the pages of children's picture books world wide.

Surprisingly, until my local chapter of The Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators, more commonly known as the SCBWI, invited me to participate in a private tour of the museum, I didn't even know this Ohio gem existed. But believe me when I say, if I had known, I would have visited long ago!

The museum, has only three full time employees and a director, but is very well cared for by nearly seventy well trained volunteers. This, and many other interesting facts were shared with our small group by the director himself, Dr. Mallett, who was quiet entertaining. He told us stories of how he called up artists to ask them questions about their work and how the museum has over two thousand pieces of art but can only display about three hundred and fifty at a time.

Dr. Mallett

They started out with only four pieces of original art work, but as word spread they ended up with illustrators donating everything from single pieces to entire collections. There are five small gallery areas and each gallery shows different kinds of artwork like border art, paper art, unusual art, international art, informational art, mother goose art, books to movie art, and so much more. On the ledge below each piece of art work you will find the book for which the art work was created.






They have other interesting items like stamps of book characters, buttons promoting MAZZA, and even a children's loft. You do have to register to attend the children's loft since it is a teaching museum, but that seems pretty reasonable to me.





My favorite item of all, though, were the tiles that lined the halls on the way to the vault where they store and preserve the art not on display. Apparently, before a visiting illustrator leaves, they are asked to create a  tile. See any illustrators you recognize?





 
 
 It was a wonderful experience and one I hope to re-live when I take my daughter there. So if you live in Ohio, or will be passing this way, be sure to make time for the MAZZA.

Well, that about wraps it up for this week. Join me next week for another exciting episode, same crazy time, same crazy channel. And feel free to drop by my personal website, Fun With Aileen, any day of the week for even more on reading, writing, my very own early grade chapter book, Fern Valley, and my soon to be released sequel, Return To Fern Valley, coming summer of 2014! I'm also on twitter @AileenWStewart if you want an extremely brief glimpses into my days.


Sunday, March 9, 2014

The Great Snowball Fight Of 2014!




A friend of mine, the lovely Candice Simpson, came up with the idea of  having forty days of giveaways for her many author, artist, and bookish friends. Since in many parts of the country it has been a long and cold winter, she decided to call it "The Great Snowball Fight Of 2014". The idea was that every day, for forty days, someone would get hit with a snowball, and it would then be their day to host. It just so happens, that today, I was smacked by Author Vickie Johnstone. I was smacked virtually of course, and no people or animals were harmed, so we can all remain calm.

Candice even went so far as to create this lovely picture to go with the Great Snowball Fight. And I must admit, it is a work of art. And just look at all those lovely names of the creative people who are participating!




She started the whole thing off by smacking our mutual friend and a fellow children's author, Wendy Nystrom, who I had the privilege of meeting last year in Michigan. Wendy had a health scare recently, but I am glad to share that she is recuperating nicely. So if you have a minute, why not stop by her site and leave her some comment love to help her more speedily recover!

Since I am today's giveaway hostess, I should probably tell you what I am giving away and how you can enter. For my portion of the giveaway, I decided to offer three pdf copies of my first book, Fern Valley. If you enjoy it and decide you want an actual paperback copy or you are not a winner in today's contest, it is available at most online retailers including Amazon and Barnes and Noble.




To enter for a chance to win, simply follow my blog and leave a comment below.  It's that easy peasy. Then at ten o'clock eastern standard time tonight, I will randomly select the winners. There are absolutely no strings attached, but if you find you enjoy the stories in Fern Valley, a review would be more then appreciated.

I have one more bit of good news before wrapping this post up, and that is the upcoming release of my sequel, Return To Fern Valley, summer 2014. Just this past week, I received some character sketches from my illustrator. And I'm probably a bit partial, but I think they are simply adorable. How about you?





Signing off for now with wishes for a bright and beautiful day! Oh, and don't forget to check out my sneak attack on tomorrow's hostess, Author Tara Brown. I think I will smack her with an exceptionally large snowball to wash off some of that gruesome blood trail.