Movies, Books, and How I Spent My Winter Break

As someone who works from home, when all of the noise and commotion exited the door yesterday morning in a ball of chaos, it was stunningly silent. I was alone for the first time in over two weeks and the only noise was the background hum of appliances. It was surprisingly a little scary, but that only lasted a beat, leaving me ready to dive in.

What I did over the break:

I threw my back out for the first time ever at the start of break. I do not recommend this. In fact, I recommend you NOT do this. The next week was a blur of Advil, muscle relaxers and a heating pad, all of which made me feel like some of my elderly relatives who would fall asleep in front of the TV moments after sitting down. We tested the limits of my screen sleepiness by going to the movies.

urlAnchorman 2 – This was so sad because I wanted it to be funny, but really, the best parts are in the commercials. It pains me to write that (and I mean it pains my soul, not my back, which is recovering nicely).
tbn_d53321c12a0d7137American Hustle – This was fantastic. The story was good, the actors were good, and the hair was awkward. It’s worth getting a babysitter to go see.
tbn_28dd37a4b93b9e21The Secret Life of Walter Mitty – This was good, too. I really liked it, especially on the big screen due to the beautiful scenery. I didn’t enjoy the 12 year old next to me with a severe case of restlessness. He was in a party of about seven family members, who shared popcorn by having the mom get up and pour it into even amounts for each person, all while standing upright. That happened throughout the movie. No one passes anymore.

I read two books, one of which slipped out of my hands and landed on my face while reading in bed. Another thing I advise against trying.

How to Be a Woman. It ebbed and flowed, but I really liked the final chapters about abortion and getting older. Those were separate chapters, in case that wasn’t clear.

The second book I cannot remember. It was a paperback?

Where we’re going:

Literally, we’ll probably go to Colorado, New Jersey, and I hope to Disneyland and maybe on a long out-of-state road trip.

Figuratively, we’re going to know better and do better, a la Maya Angelou. We’ve pinned the stuff and read the books, now it’s time for action. This year I will drink more water and less Diet Coke, clean the garage, work better, read more (once again, I have a year’s worth of New Yorkers stacked up), take more photographs, and let my kids make mistakes, but help them in ways that will serve them long-term.

Last year, I started walking away from things, as in I finally realized I don’t need to be involved in every single thing. Saying no was liberating. I plan on continuing.

I finally remembered the other book! It was The 5 Love Languages. I read it to help me with one of the kids, only to get to the end of the book to find that there is a version specifically written with kids in mind (The 5 Love Languages of Children). Back to the library.

Setting All Movements Back in a Single Morning

Feeling fired up about being a liberated woman, I headed to Ikea alone this morning. This is what the Lean In book is all about, no? I haven’t read it. I’m hold number 44 at the library and I should expect to receive the book in a little over 200 days. That is the library’s real estimate. Maybe I should reserve the large print version because those are always less popular?

Anyway, the feeling that I was unconquerable carried me into the self-serve section. I smirked at Ikea’s illustration of two people lifting the box, as I reached over and tried to shift the box containing my small bookcase to one side to get a better grip. Then I knew: there was no way it was going to happen. Sure, the nice Ikea guy who asked if I needed help may have been able to get it on my cart, but was he going to help me get it in the car, then follow me home to take it out? It felt rude to ask. Now I’m left wondering if I can convince Kevin to take a half day off work tomorrow to pick up all of the heavy things I need.IkealiftingillustrationI’ve let down Sheryl Sandberg. And I forgot to marinate the chicken for dinner, so I’ve also let down whomever spearheads the roll back movement.


Review: Python for Kids, A Playful Introduction to Programming

9781593274078First she rejected nerds, then programming, but at the wise age of nine, she gave Scratch programming a chance after reading the Super Scratch Programming Adventure. Soon after, Python for Kids arrived, and she quickly picked up the book. 

Kevin could not have been happier. While no one mentioned the n-e-r-d word, Clover took a leap closer to Kevin’s interests. “You know, programmers at Google use Python,” he said quietly. Her eyebrows went up. Clover was more interested.

Normally, she zips through books, then will either try or ignore what was inside. With Python for Kids, she took it in parts, following the steps lined out in the book. Soon after she started, she called out, “Mom! I made a turtle!” The book is fun and filled with things that I would have thought to be really complicated, like adding movement to graphics or basic game development, but it’s broken down into simple parts. And of course, there are illustrations.

While the book is geared toward kids, it’s secretly for adults, too. When I figure out a new HTML trick, I feel like I’ve accomplished something huge, but when I see my husband’s large tomes on different programing languages, it may as well be written in Greek because the writing is just as foreign. Python for Kids made sense to me, which means it must be perfect for kids. It’s fun, and straightforward, building confidence as it moves. After entertaining activities, each chapter includes a summary of what was learned and programming puzzles to further try out those skills.

Scratch was a great entry into programming, but Python definitely feels like the training wheels are off. She’s moving into website design next, she said, which is something I don’t know she would have been interested in before she got in to the intro programming books. When her bookshelf was returned to her room recently during the remodel, Python for Kids was given a prominent spot. Just don’t call her a nerd.

Disclosure: The review copy was given to us for free. All opinions are our own. 

The Third Wheel Continues the Diary of a Wimpy Kid Saga

Book7-2While looking for sketchbooks on Amazon, I noticed the list of similar items others had searched and four were sketchbooks, but one was the latest Diary of a Wimpy Kid. This book is everywhere. My daughter has devoured each book in the series as soon as they hit the book shelves, and The Third Wheel (Diary of a Wimpy Kid, Book 7)
was no exception. She picked up her package after it arrived in the mail, went into her room, and stayed there reading until dinner time, when she'd finished the book. 

The Diary of a Wimpy Kid books are ones she wants to own, not check out from the library. She will read each book a few times, and will eventually pass them down to her younger brother, if we're lucky. He tries to sneak peeks of the books, even though they're above his reading level. 

The books are funny for all ages. I picked one when trying to determine if it was a book, a graphic novel, or what, and I found myself laughing, and reading page after page. I can see why it's so easy to lose an afternoon in these books. 

If you're looking for a holiday gift or a stocking stuffer, this is a clear winner. 

Disclosure: We were given a complementary copy to review.

Review: Super Scratch Programming Adventure

Super_scratch_programming_adventureMy daughter refused to try Scratch programming, despite my subtle suggestions. It seemed like something she'd enjoy, plus her dad is a software engineer, so I thought it would be a common interest they could share. She refused, so much that she wouldn't even walk near the Scratch booth at the Maker Faire in May. The girl can be stubborn. 

Her position softened a little when she took a week of video game design foundations at Galileo Summer Quest. She loved video game programming. She talked nonstop about details, drafted plans, thought about sound effects, and said she'd definitely be taking the advanced class next summer. I brought up Scratch again, but she said she was comfortable with the video game design program used at camp and would rather work more on that. I said nothing, but I subtly placed Super Scratch Programming Adventure on her dresser. In under an hour, she'd read the entire book and was asking to try Scratch.

The book was fun for her – filled with comics and humor – and she said it made Scratch seem easy to understand. She said it would have been even easier had she already seen the Scratch program, then would have better understood the references. Still, she was excited, and ready to go.

The bigger surprise is what happened next. At bedtime one night, my six year old pulled out Super Scratch Programming Adventure as the storybook he wanted me to read. Sure enough, the kid was having a chapter or two read to him a night. It's difficult to say if he was lured in more by the comics or the fact that his sister enjoyed it so much. 

Scratch is a free program, but I think the barrier for my daughter was that she didn't know where to begin. I like my kids branching into programming because it's another way to think, like another language, with rules, while also being another creative outlet. Scratch removed the frustration of learning programming by minimizes the rules, making development easier. She can make mistakes while she learns, and the only one who will know is her, which is important because despite my insistence that failure is crucial part of learning, she's failure-averse. Super Scratch Programming Adventure removed the learning curve, and showed that the program is simple, while making it seem like a lot of fun. 

Who knows, we may have three programmers in the house soon. 

Disclosure: Our review copy of Super Scratch Programming Adventure was provided for free by No Starch Press.