Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Ed King - Book Review

A modern day retelling of Oedipus Rex, Ed King by David Guterson is a strangely compelling read. I pulled out our copy of Sophocles' work but couldn't bring myself to read it. I did, however, reacquaint myself with the basics of the story. As far as I can tell, Guterson stays pretty true to the source while being imaginative, original and believable.

Married and a father to two young children, Walter Cousin's gives in to his lust and has a month-long affair/rape with the "au pair". He impregnates her and she then leaves the baby on a door step. The abandoned baby is adopted by an infertile Jewish couple. The baby, named Ed King, will become an Internet billionaire but even then he will be unable to escape his fate. It is ultimately as tragic as the forerunner.

I read Guterson's famous work Snow Falling on Cedars so many years ago that I can scarcely remember the details of the story. Impressively, Ed King is an astounding work while being drastically different from Guterson's earlier novel.

The characters in Ed King are reprehensible, amoral, and vile. It's hard to feel sorry for them yet impossible to look away from their dramatic and destructive lives. While the novel is dark, Guterson has a talent for wit and cynicism that made me laugh several times. Some passages were so clever and humorous that I read them aloud to Utah Dad.

Ed King is a dark novel and includes graphic scenes as well as foul language, for those reasons I would not recommend it to most of my friends.

**I received a complimentary copy of Ed King in exchange for an honest review. No additional compensation was received.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

The Winner of the McDonald's Play Date Give-away

We've been so busy celebrating Thanksgiving and various other family events that I almost forgot to pick a winner for the McDonald's Play Date Give-away. This seems to be a recurring theme lately. But it's not too late (it is still Saturday, after all).

Chosen randomly from the comments, the winner of the Play Date Give-away from McDonald's of Utah is . . .

Megan B.

Congratulations! Please send me an email with your contact information so that you can claim your prize.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

The Time in Between - Book Review

On the eve of the Spanish Civil War, Sira, a young dress maker, escapes quickly with her new lover to Morocco. She leaves behind her mother, her former fiance and the father that she has just met for the first time in her life. While in Morocco, naive Sira will have her heart broken, make new friends and find her own inner strength to succeed. Later, the world is embroiled in World War II and Sira is recruited as a spy.

I read the first 200 pages of The Time in Between by Maria Duenas in a single day. I was swept up in Sira's life and the richness of the descriptions of Morocco. Maria Duenas creates a  rich and sympathetic character and the reader is immediately entranced by her story and life. However, as Sira, heartbroken, holds off the potential lovers, so too the author seems to hold the reader at arm's length. There are huge sections where the details are told yet there is no passion, no life. The novel redeems itself in the third section and Duenas reclaims the earlier thrill only to have a rushed and incomplete ending. Given that the novel is over 600 pages long there seems little reason to have a quick conclusion.

I loved Sira's character. I loved the plot. I loved the setting. But there was no real passion. I don't enjoy reading "sex scenes" and I'm pleased that this book is free of them. What I mean, is that the scenes between Sira and her main love interest are flat. In fact, there is little intense emotion evoked in any of the scenes that should do so, including when Sira's life is in danger.

I have to admit that I'm holding this book to a higher standard than many. It was better than most books. It has so many great things going for it, I just thought it could have been even better.

**I received a complimentary copy of The Time in Between through the Amazon Vine program in exchange for my honest review. No other compensation was received.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

McDonald's "Play Date" Give-away

The kiddos and I were invited to join other local bloggers at a launch party for the new Happy Meals at McDonald's last week. I took Utah Dad along as the child wrangler so that I could peacefully enjoy the time with the other fabulous bloggers.

Since I had informed my children years ago that only grandparents could buy Happy Meals, this was a very special treat for them. My kids were munching on burgers and chicken nuggets and running around like lunatics in the Play Place either terrorizing the other bloggers' beautiful children and/or turning them into minions, I learned all about the new Happy Meals from the owner of the Herriman, Utah McDonald's and from a dietitian.

McDonald's has worked hard in recent years to change their image from a greasy fast food joint to a rather healthy place to eat. Offering salads, Premium chicken sandwiches, oatmeal and parfaits, they've become the stop for the healthier meal on-the-go. I personally LOVE their parfaits and smoothies. Utah Dad is still a sucker for their greasier and fattier cheese burgers.

In keeping with the desire to help people and especially children get more nutrition in their daily diets, McDonald's will now offer fruit with every Happy Meal. While apples have always been a choice, very few people actually substituted the fries for apples. After all, the fries are one of the main reasons to stop at McDonald's. Beginning in the Spring of 2012, apples will accompany all Happy Meals, in addition to the fries.

We also got a surprisingly fun and informational tour behind the counter and in the kitchen of the McDonald's. It was fun to see the employees hard at work during the dinner rush and see how each sandwich is made to order right when you order.

It was also fun to meet other bloggers in person. Good times. Really. And I enjoyed a delicious Premium Chicken Sandwich while we visited.

Now, you have a chance to have your own good time at McDonald's. Take your kids, some friends and your friends' kids and enjoy the afternoon out. McDonald's Utah is sponsoring a very special "Play Date" Give-Away to one of my readers.

One lucky winner will receive
10 gift certificates for the New Happy Meal,
3 gift certificates for the Premium Salads,
3 gift certificates for the Premium Chicken Sandwiches.

To enter simply leave a comment on this blog post.
Share this give-away with your friends on your own blog, Facebook and/or Twitter for up to three more chances to win. Just leave additional comments for each time you share.

The contest will be open until Friday, November 25th at 11:59 pm MST. The winner will be chosen randomly from the comments and will be announced on Saturday, November 26th.

**The gift certificates will only be honored by McDonald's in Utah.**

Friday, November 18, 2011

The Winner of the Eversave Give-away

I almost forgot to pick a winner (using the random number generator) for the Eversave Save Rewards Give-away today. I've got to get on that. My life is becoming increasingly more and more busy as we approach the holidays and Utah Dad and I both got hit by an unfortunate and unkind stomach bug today. Aren't you so glad I shared that.

Anyway, the winner of the $15 Eversave Save Rewards is . . .


Congratulations! Please send me your information so that you can redeem your prize.

Be sure to check out Eversave for the great deals.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Serenading the Kids

I regularly embarrass my children my making up silly songs. It drives them crazy. But today's little diddy actually got a smile from Neal and he added, "That one was pretty good, Mom." Since I had success with the ten year old, I decided to share it here.

                                    If you don't go to school
                           You'll be dumb all your life
                           You won't get a job,
                           You won't get a wife.

                          If you don't go to school
                          You won't be cool
                          And the only job you'll get
                          Is cleaning out the pool.

(No offense to pool cleaners, it was the only word I could think of that rhymed with school.)

Do you just love my skills with the lyrics? I foresee a new career. Haha! Ya, right!

Monday, November 14, 2011

Eversave Review and Give-away of $15 Save Rewards

We all like to save money. Right? I love an amazing deal and there are so many resources on the Internet to help us find them. Eversave is one of the great ways to save a buck or two or three. Eversave is organized locally so they give you the deals that are available in your local area.

Once you've subscribed to Eversave you get updates about the weekly deals--50-90% off the regular price. This week in the Salt Lake City, Utah area they have a great deal for 69% off a photography package from Decadent Photography. Last week's deal was 50% off a thorough house cleaning from MaidPro (I so need that).

Eversave is offering $15 Save Rewards to one of my lucky readers. The winner can use the Save Rewards towards any future "Saves" from Eversave.

To enter simply leave a comment on this post. You can earn extra entries by sharing the link for the give-away on Facebook and Twitter. Leave an additional comment for each thing you do.

The contest will be open to entries until Thursday, November 17th at 11:59 pm MST. The winner will be chosen randomly from the comments and will be announced on Friday, November 18th. Open to residents of the US only.

Don't miss out on another opportunity to save money. Check out the "Saves" at Eversave.

Friday, November 11, 2011

The Winner of GUBS Give-away

The winner of the GUBS game from Gamewright give-away, chosen randomly, is  . . .


Congratulations! Please email me with your information so that you can claim your prize. Thanks to everyone who entered the give-away contest. Be sure to check out the games from Gamewright this Christmas season. Lots of fun for the entire family!

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Just Being Neighborly

The other night I was hosting the neighborhood book club at my house. As the ladies were arriving my neighbor's little dog was in the front yard barking. I was surprised because the dog is never out without supervision. It's always in the house or in their fully fenced back yard. One friend coming to book club was trapped in her car because she was nervous about the dog. I decided I would just quickly put the dog back in the back yard. The dog barked at me and growled a little but when I opened the gate, it went right in.

Nuisance Dog Problem : Solved.

Yesterday afternoon when I got home from the grocery store, I noticed the same dog hanging around in the yard across the street. It was my neighbor's birthday and I had gotten her a little treat, so I walked next door to give it to her and let her know that her dog had escaped once again.

She wasn't home. I stopped by again a few hours later. She still wasn't home but her teenage daughter was home from school. She confirmed that both dogs were safely inside the house. The third time I stopped by with the birthday treat, I finally found my friend at home. We were visiting when her dogs ran in to the room. Imagine my surprise when I saw that the dog was shaved. My friend confirmed that her dog had been shaved and hadn't been out of the house.

With this revelation came two truths : first, the dog I had seen out earlier in the day did not belong to my neighbor and second, I put the wrong dog in her back yard last week.

Crossed - Book Review

Ever since I read Matched by Ally Condie last spring, I have been anxiously awaiting the next volume in the trilogy. Crossed released last week and since I had preordered it, I was happy to find a copy on my porch (via UPS) last Tuesday morning. I set aside the other book I am currently reading to devour every word of the highly anticipated young adult novel.

It is difficult for me to write reviews for the middle novel in a trilogy. The endings so rarely leave the reader satisfied (which is the point) that after a breathless reading there is that moment of realization that the story won't be complete for another year. This is the reason that I usually don't read series until all books have already been published.

Crossed takes the characters of Cassia and Ky from Matched and puts them in the next portion of their personal and societal conflicts. This novel has alternating chapters from Cassia and Ky's perspective and I must admit that it took me a few chapters of confusion to realize this, even though on closer inspection I saw that their names are clearly indicated with each chapter heading.

Crossed continues the action from the end of Matched. Cassia is searching for Ky who is now fighting to stay alive in the Outer Provinces. Their values and their hearts will be tested in the unforgiving landscape of the Carving.

I did enjoy Crossed, though perhaps not as much as I liked Matched. I especially enjoyed Matched because of the uniqueness of the very well organized socialistic society that didn't have such obvious breaches yet still restricts the freedom of the individual. It is often harder for people to rebel against this type of society and I feel more impressed by those who can "rise" up. I also appreciated the lack of violence in Matched. However, violence is to be expected in a war so I was not surprised to have it in Crossed, though it was minimal. The setting in Crossed is very different. While I love the "Southern Utah" setting that is described in those novel, I look forward to a return to civilization in the final novel of the trilogy.

As in the second act in a play, the conflict builds and the audience is left frustrated and anxious. Overall, I enjoyed the continuing action and direction of this story and I look forward to the conclusion of a well written, imaginative and intelligent dystopian series.

Monday, November 7, 2011

GUBS Game - Review and Give-away

We are big fans of Gamewright games. Over the last few years we have collected quite a few of their card games, including Sleeping Queens, Frog Juice and Zeus of the Loose. We especially love Rory's Story Cubes. You can read an earlier review of a few of Gamewright games **here**. 

Gamewright card games are fun for a variety of ages.The games win all kinds of awards and are unique and creative while teaching kids. They make fantastic stocking stuffers for Christmas. They even have a selection of party games for adults. We are fans of Who Would Win and Joe Name It. Their small size make them very portable and we took them along on our vacation last summer.

Utah Dad, Neal and I were excited to try out one of the newest games from Gamewright. It's a card game called GUBS (a fascinating little creature). It's a game of wit and luck. Keeping with the style of Gamewright games, the illustrations are colorful and fanciful. Really, this game is just so creative. Each player is trying to build the largest colony of Gubs. There are barricades and traps and hazards and events that happen along the way. Our initial assessment was that the rules were pretty involved and we worried that we might not have the attention span to "get it". It is definitely a game for older children (10+) and adults, but we caught on quickly and have enjoyed playing it.

We've been playing GUBS every evening since we got it (even though I consistently get beat by Utah Dad). We just played it again and I lost 2 out of 3 games. I obviously need to work on my strategy. I had to redeem myself by beating him soundly at Frog Juice. It really is a lot of fun.

And it's about to get even more fun for one of my very lucky readers.
Gamewright has generously offered one copy of GUBS as a give-away on my blog.
Are you so excited? Here's the deal :

1. You must be a follower of Utah Mom's Life Blog.
2. You must leave a comment on this post. (If you already own a Gamewright game, tell me which one. This is not required to win).
3. You can receive up to 3 extra entries by doing the following and then leaving additional comments about what you did:
   **  "Like" Gamewright on Facebook.
   **  Post and link to this giveaway on Facebook.
   **  Link to this giveaway on Twitter.

(I would include those cute little buttons to make it easier for you to put in on Facebook and Twitter but I haven't figured out how to make it work on my blog yet.)

The contest will be open to entries until Thursday, November 10th at 11:59 pm MST. The winner will be announced in the morning on Friday, November 11th. This contest is open to US residents only.

**I received a complimentary copy of GUBS in exchange for an honest review. No other compensation was received.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Girls' Night

Thomas has made a sweet little friendship in kindergarten this year. Most days we walk to and from school with the girl that lives just down the street. They are not in the same class so whoever gets out of school first waits for the other and they walk side by side.

Yesterday, as we walked home together, they tried to arrange a play date with each other. "Ask your mom if I can come over and play." "Ask your mom if I can come over and play at your house." We both had plans for the afternoon so we arranged to have them play together today after lunch.

Thomas quickly ate his lunch and then watched out the window for her to walk over to our house. He was so anxious. She finally arrived and the kids were all waiting at the door before she even had a chance to knock. Thomas immediately invited her upstairs to his bedroom to play Legos. She joined him.

However, she is also friends with Lilly. Lilly and the doll house were just too enticing and before long she had ditched Thomas to join Lilly in the girls' bedroom. Thomas tried to beg her to come back. She suggested that he play with the girls. He refused. He insisted that she come play with him in the boy room. She declined. He then appealed to me for help. Not wanting to force her to play Legos, I tried to explain that girls like to play with girl toys and that she and Lilly were friends too. He burst into tears and cuddled next to me on the couch sobbing.

He cried that she didn't like him any more. He cried that she had chosen his sister over him. He cried that she wanted to play with "stupid" girl toys. Through his sobs, he insisted that she no longer liked him and that he just felt so bad.

I tired to comfort him the best I could and assure him that she still liked him (I had seen her little smile when her mother teased her about waiting for her "boyfriend"). I really never thought I would be consoling him over girl trouble in kindergarten.

Then, I explained that even when he is grown up and married and his wife is his very best friend, she will still want to play with girl toys and hang out with girls. Utah Dad, who was by now involved in the conversation, agreed. Utah Dad knows and he understands, as he puts the kids to bed by himself tonight so that I can run off and join my girl friends for an evening out together. Wait. Make that two Girls' Nights--I get to meet my friends from college for dinner tomorrow night. Who knew that Thomas gets to learn this lesson at a very young age?

Oh, and do you want to know something absolutely disgusting. I cleaned out the garbage can in my bathroom today (that alone is disgusting) but today I noticed that there were special "drawings" on the inside of the garbage can. On closer inspection, I realized that Molly had used my lipstick to create the art. She must have done it the other day when I discovered my lipstick on the floor. The lipstick that I have been using for the past few days. Ewwwww!

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Favorite Halloween Picture

After Trick r Treating last night, the family was gathered in the kitchen. The kids were going through their candy. I was cleaning up when I realized that Molly was missing. I called out and she responded, "I'm in the family room." Utah Dad went to check on her and found this . . .

Easy and Very Cheap Halloween Costumes

We've been celebrating Halloween for so many weeks now that yesterday's festivities were almost anti-climatic. I woke up earlier than usual to get ready and help the kids get dressed and ready for the day at school.

Neal and his 6th grade performed a line dance to Michael Jackson's Thriller. Their performance was scheduled at 8:15 at his school. I dropped Amberly off at her school at 7:30 and told her to eat breakfast at school. Then I picked up the car pool kids and we hurried to their school. While I waited for the Thriller performance, I was thoroughly entertained by the costumed kids and teachers. Neal's school loves Halloween and it shows. Neal has been so excited for us to see his dance. He is the dead basketball player.

As soon as the dance was over, I bolted from that school to hurry home and get Thomas ready for Kindergarten. The Halloween parade at his school was just 15 minutes after kindergarten started. I sat with friends as we watched some very cute and scary children parade through the gym. The parade was well organized this year.

In the afternoon, the kids dressed in their costumes again to hit the neighborhood for some Trick r Treating. Our neighborhood is perfect for it and the weather was nice and mild. Our family is always one of the first families to set out but we were able to stay out for about two hours, go to most of the homes in our neighborhood and get loads of candy.

I don't love Halloween (we already know this) but I do want my kids to have a good holiday. However, this year I did my very  best to make the kids happy without spending much money. Tricky. Very very tricky.

Thanks to the box of costumes that we've saved over the years and some creativity, we were able to get through the Halloween season for just a few dollars. Really.

Amberly used the white tutu from her Corpse Bride costume and her wings from her fairy costume to put together an angel costume. She found the tinsel in our Christmas box. She was an angel when she went to the Daddy Daughter party, the family party and at school but last night she suddenly changed her mind. She wrapped herself in her pink pashmina scarf and called herself Aphrodite. Money spent : $0

Lilly was pretty indecisive about what she wanted to be for Halloween. For months she has talked of being Rapunzel and we let her continue to grow her hair out in preparation. I don't know exactly how or why it happened but earlier this month Amberly talked her out of being Rapunzel.  Some weird sister thing. Lilly still didn't know what she wanted to be until I dressed as a cat for the Transition Sister Carnival and for an Adult Halloween party that Utah Dad and I attended. Lilly decided that she too would be a cat for Halloween. She used the ears that I made by hot gluing card stock to a head band and we painted her whiskers and nose on with face paint. Money spent : $1.50 for a package of 4 head bands.

Molly recycled a costume that Lilly wore for Halloween a few years ago. It was one of our favorites and we decided to use it one more time. With the cute ribbon tutu and some ear barrettes, Molly made a very cute Minnie Mouse. Money spent : $0 (I paid $30 for the costume when Amberly was in dance several years ago but I think it could have been made for much less.)

Can you tell what Thomas is? Most adults were not sure but his little friend from kindergarten guessed as soon as she saw him. "You're a Nephite!" (Nephites are a group of people from The Book of Mormon.) Specifically, he is Nephi. Neal wore this costume when he was four years old and it has come in handy as a shepherd costume for several Christmas nativity pageants. Because I don't sew, it's the easiest costume ever. I just cute brown felt to fit over his body and cut fabric to tie around his waist and head. We had to make a new shield and sword. I cut them out of card board and spray painted them. Thomas then glued on jewels. Money spent : $3.99 for spray paint and $1.99 for the jewels (I had some in my craft room closet but was too lazy to look for them.) I can't remember how much I originally paid for the felt and fabric.

Neal dressed up as a dead basketball player. Since the NBA season won't be happening this year, we thought it was most appropriate. He wore the Jazz shirt that he won as a top reader at school several years ago and we painted his face and gelled his hair. By the way, he will be getting a hair cut tonight.
Money spent : $6.99 for a face paint set that included fake blood.

Utah Dad and I didn't dress up last night for Trick r Treating. We had already had enough of that. When we attended a party together last weekend, we went as the second scariest thing that came to mind--Occupy Wall Street Protesters. We looked online to see some of the signs the protesters were carrying and recreated some of our favorites. Money spent : $0 (I already had the poster boards.)

Hope you all had a Happy Halloween. Now on to my favorite holiday -- THANKSGIVING!