Tuesday, July 22, 2014

The Most Magnificent Thing (Review and Three Free Copies!)

I recently requested an opportunity to review a new children’s book called The Most Magnificent Thing. The title intrigued me, because it reportedly had a strong, smart, creative, female character and seemed to relate somewhat to science and engineering, judging from the cover. I received a copy of the book in order to review it, and by coincidence, I had three kids at my house to help me review the book, so I had each child read the story individually and then tell me what they thought without hearing what their siblings said. I asked them questions and typed their responses, which I’ll share before giving my own opinion and telling you how you can enter to win a copy of your own! But first, check out the trailer for a little background:

Vanna (age 9) and her assistant, Milo!

I think the story was great because I like the colors and how creative the girl is. I wondered what she was going to make, and at the end, when she tried again, I was like, “Hm…." I was shocked, because I thought it was going to be a boring thing that she made, like a wagon or something. I think the message is that you can always use your mind and be creative and use your imagination and see what things you can make, like recycling; you can make a piggy bank out of a milk jug or make a wagon out things you wouldn’t normally use. This book had suspense, because I wondered if she was going to give up, so it made me want to find out. I recommend this book for boys or girls, because just because the main character is a girl doesn’t mean a boy wouldn’t like it.

Kayley (age 10)

In the beginning, it was a little bit slow, but it turned out to be fun and interesting; I was thinking, “What is she going to do? Is she going to be successful or not?  She started off really nice and had fun and liked to do things but she got frustrated. She tried, and it didn’t turn out her way. The author did a good job of describing the character’s feelings. I think the message is that you can’t give up because if you give up you might not end up doing one of the best decisions you could make. I’d recommend this book for kids 7-10, both boys and girls.

Nate (age 11)

It’s about a really creative girl. The heart of the story is that if you put your mind to it, it can take you places that you’ve never been. It could inspire a non-creative person. She’s really is an active child, and she shows people how she works, even if it’s difficult, she finds a way to get it done. I think the author did a really good job with sequencing and the illustrations so she could show what the character was doing, putting imagery to the story. I’d recommend this book for anyone, boy or girl.

My Opinion:
I really liked the sense of humor the author conveys through The Most Magnificent Thing. As a teacher, I also appreciate the theme of perseverance. A “growth mindset" is one of appreciation for process and embracing mistakes as valuable parts of the learning process; teaching about a growth mindset is important, and this book does so beautifully. I really liked the solution-walk the character took when she got frustrated to the point of anger; such great modeling of a healthy problem solving strategy.  

“Bit by bit, the mad gets pushed out of her head.” I loved that part.  

I guess that by not having a name, the character becomes every child, sort of, but I still wish she had a name.  The Most Magnificent Thing would be a wonderful book for a classroom, as its message is powerful, and teachers reach a lot of kids. Its message is appropriate for both boys and girls, children or grandchildren. I think ages four and up could appreciate it, and it would make a great gift for any occasion.

The book has been published by Kids Can Press (how appropriate!), which has offered to send a copy to THREE Half-Past Kissin' Time readers. If you'd like to win a copy, simply enter via the Rafflecopter giveaway widget below. a Rafflecopter giveaway

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Menagerie Update

I adore our new kitten, Theodorable (Theo, Ted). He is soooo darling! Milo is getting used to sharing our bed with him; he's stopped whining at him and doesn't make as many fast moves to approach him. Ted, too, is getting used to Milo and doesn't hiss at him anymore when he so much as looks at him.

Steve....well, Steve has to get over his desire to eat Ted. He's most often just curious and interested in Ted, but about once per day, he starts literally drooling while watching Ted; last night he began to drool profusely and leaped towards Ted as if attacking prey (He spent the night in his kennel and woke up in the mood to respect boundaries, thank goodness.)

Don't worry that the dogs aren't getting enough attention. Here's 38 seconds of proof that Milo is still adored in this house.

And Steve, too, is getting plenty of lovin'...

I learned quickly that Ted is not easily photographed (because of his blue eyes), but our front porch, which has flattering light for everyone, also compliments Ted!  In this photo, he's nervous (not used to being outside, as he is a indoor cat), but still looks adorable, of course.

There is just something special about a *good cat; Mr.4444 is in "cat-loving heaven," as he puts it. He and Ted bonded right away and have spent much time cuddling and playing. True to his ragdoll breed, Ted is quite "floppy" and totally relaxes when we pick him up; it's so endearing! He has a delightful, loving, vocal personality and purrs all the time; especially at 6:30am. I had big plans for training that early-morning-wakeup thing out of him, but I forgot this morning and totally reinforced it by cuddling right back instead of feigning sleep. Oh, well...He's everything we hoped for in a kitten, and we couldn't be happier to have him.

Kendall, who is allergic to some cats, came home this weekend and fell instantly in love with Ted. So far, it appears that she is not allergic to Ted!

So that's our pet update! Stay tuned for more pics and videos as our pet family evolves; I'm sure it'll be entertaining.

*We've had six cats before Ted; incidentally, all mix-breeds: Si, Maddie, Mel, Max, Zoe and Gus. Two of them were incredibly personable and exceptionally awesome (loving, affectionate, verbal, and fun to play with), one was an absolute psycho (very wild and hyper), and two were standoffish and distant, only appearing for brief parts of the day and allowing petting only on their limited terms. We got one of those standoffish cats as a rescue and already had two other cats and two preschool children at the time. We eventually gave him to one of my mom's friends who had lost her own cat; remarkably, Zoe turned into an absolute lover with Kathy; he lived to a ripe old age, curled up in her lap every chance that he got, proof that sometimes it's the living situation, not the cat that's the problem. All of this said, I acknowledge some people's opinions about cats being standoffish or snobby; some are. However, I think most cats, when adopted as kittens, end up to be awesome.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Getting My Crafting on in Mexico!

While staying at an all-inclusive in Mexico on vacation recently, one of my favorite things to do was work on an art project at a little artisan's stand near the pool. A young Mexican girl named Christina and her uncle ran the stand, where they sold painted pottery, beaded jewelry, and miscellaneous trinkets. While many adults purchased ready-made pieces, children came regularly to paint small pieces of clay pottery that had been whitewashed and stenciled with pre-drawn designs on them for customers to paint. The procedure was that the children painted the dinosaurs, turtles, fish, bowls, etc. and left them overnight, during which Christina or her uncle added painted embellishments and then covered them in a shiny lacquer. In the morning, excited children picked up their creations, which were beautiful and looked somewhat like this:

I was interested in painting a platter. I've always enjoyed creative projects, and although the designs were predrawn, I thought it would be cool to create something to remind me of our trip. Sadly, Christina said they were all out of the plate design that I wanted, a big, bright display of fruit. I came back each day to see if they had restocked, but they hadn't; all they had left was one platter whitewashed and predrawn with something that didn't appeal to me. That's when I decided to see if they'd let me draw my own design on a plate. It took a couple of days of explaining (and finally an English-to-Spanish translation app), but Christina's uncle okayed it and said he'd bring a platter painted plain white the next day.

I went online to Pinterest and typed in contemporary, tree, paint; ever since I was a kid, I've liked drawing a certain kind of tree, but I'd never painted one and needed inspiration. I found it in work by an artist named Karla Gerard. Here's one of her paintings on which I based my design:

Once the platter arrived, I started sketching a plan

and started painting, very slowly.

Christina had to close up shop for the day then, 
so I came back the next day and worked some more.

[Since I'm sure you're curious...I received the GAP t-shirt at BlogHer Chicago about five years ago; it's soooo comfortable.]

Hours later, I again set the platter aside and returned the next day. I think everyone who crafts loves it for the way we can get lost in the process; I find it very relaxing. This project was slightly stressful, though, because I'm not really a painting person; I was a little worried about creating a mess, color-wise.

I enjoyed conversing (awkwardly) with Christina. At one point, I asked her what she does with her earnings from the shop. She looked puzzled. I tried again. She shrugged and said,"Nothing" but then added, "Give it to my mom." I felt kind of stupid, assuming that she was working the stand for spending money and not for her family's survival.

Two days later, my platter was done. It's not perfect, certainly; there are some messy spots, and you can see where I went over the beginning plan in Sharpie underneath, but I'm really happy with it.

All in all, I think I probably spent 10-12 hours at the art table, and I loved every minute of it. Being able to relax and create on vacation made this activity one of the highlights of my vacation. Another highlight was this moment...Christina (who speaks only Spanish), said, "Hey, Lady..." and showed me this note:

"Do you want to get a drink with me?"

I was puzzled (Who would mind the store?), but I politely said, "Sure" and stood up. (It was kind of awkward, as she didn't get up.) Then I suggested, "Would you like me to go get the drinks?" She laughed hard and said,"Yes!" It was then that I realized she was thirsty, poor, and knew that, as a resident of the all-inclusive, I could get as many drinks as I wanted for free; she had meant "Will you go get a drink for us?" meaning herself and her friend who was helping her that day. (They wanted Cokes.] When I got back with the drinks, I explained why I'd been confused, and we had a good laugh together over it. In the days after that, I didn't wait to be asked :)

Here's a pic of Christina and me on the last day of our vacation. I told her I would send her a photo and put it on the Internet, which made her light up, so this one's for her! Gracias, Christina!

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Friday Fragments: Episode #310

Half-Past Kissin' Time

I'm baaaaaack!
Thanks again, Unknown Mami, for blogsitting!
I'm anxious to frag again, so let's get started!
[To learn more about Friday Fragments, please click on the FF tab above.]

Mr.4444 and I have a lot of sympathy for parents flying with children. We only did it once or twice, and the kids were fine, but it can be a nightmare for everyone.  If you know anyone who is planning an airplane trip with a baby, you should check this product out.

I find something very annoying and can't mention it on Facebook, so I'm sharing it here. I can't stand it went people who have strong opinions don't attend meetings and then call me (who did attend the meeting) to unload their opinions. DUDE--DON'T CALL ME TO TALK MY EAR OFF ABOUT WHAT YOU COULD HAVE COMMUNICATED PUBLICLY; I'm not going to take a single action on your behalf! I have a life. This same person asked me to write something to share with others. Not being gullible (or a secretary), I suggested that since he has specific verbage in mind, he could write it and then email it to me for insertion in a public doc that I manage. He said, "I would, but I don't have time." Then he continued talking for the next 20 minutes.GRrrrr Thanks for letting me get that off my chest.

I wrote a complete review of the resort we stayed at in Mexico, including photos, and shared it here for people like me who have no clue about all-inclusive resorts and what to expect about the Iberostar Cozumel. Overall, we thought it was very nice, but if we were returning to that area would not stay in that location.

Speaking of vacations, when it comes to major vacations (out of the country), it surprises me that people would return over and over to the same locations (as did many we met in Cozumel). I'd rather go to a new place, given how big this world is. How about you?

Our visitors are having a ball, of course, and we are enjoying their company very much. 

(I guess by the time she got to "Mark and Ted" her chalk-hand was tired.haha)

On Sunday, they head to Camp Unahliya, at which they are sure to have the time of their lives. I can't wait to hear all about that.
Why there is glitter in the butter is beyond me:

For an update on how our menagerie is evolving with our new kitten, check back tomorrow; I've got a cute post with a couple of sweet videos with Milo, Steve, and our house guests.


And now, for our most exciting fragment news, KYLE IS HOME!!!!!!! After four months in Argentina, Kyle has returned home to Wisconsin to embark (in the fall) on his last semester of college at the U.W. Milwaukee. He's coming home for a visit Saturday (and bringing his wonderful girlfriend Alayna, too)!!! Kendall, too, will come home from camp to see everybody. Clearly, we will have an even more-full house, and I look forward to it!

Starting on Monday, I'll have an empty house (not counting pets, of course), and I look forward to catching up with all of you. Please leave a trail of breadcrumbs with your link below:  ALL links (not just FF) are welcome this time, but please note if it's a FF post when you add your name, thanks.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Everything You Wondered About the Iberostar Cozumel But Couldn’t Find on the Internet

This is obviously not one of my typicial posts, but because it was so difficult to find stuff online specific to the all-inclusive at which we stayed in Cozumel, I've written this guide for guests and potential guests of the Iberostar Cozumel, Mexico. To be clear, we enjoyed our stay very much. However, there are a number of points potential guests and/or future guests will appreciate knowing ahead of time, especially if you're a vacation newb like I was. If nothing else, you may find them interesting, along with some relevant photos from our trip.

First, the positives, of which there are many...

*Location: If you love to dive or snorkel; it’s perfect. As the southernmost resort on the island, it’s the closest to one of Jacque Cousteau favorite reefs, after all. I snorkeled here for the first time in my life and absolutely loved it.

*Beds--Ours were awesome. The pillows, too, were great!

*While there are no yoga classes or nearby studios at Iberostar Cozumel (which really bummed me out), they do have a small, air-conditioned gym with treadmills, two stationary bikes, a stepping thingy, and several weight machines. Watching two maids clean at a snail's paces in this gym (which they do every morning) is also kind of entertaining.

*The bungalows/rooms have air conditioning, and two of the four restaurants have it, too. We were told by the desk clerk we complained to that the A/C in the rooms is on “automatic.” My advice is to not expect to be able to adjust it; just pack a pair of long-sleeved pjs to lounge in, and you’ll be fine. On the first night, we were uncomfortably cold, but we soon got used to it and were perfectly comfortable by the third night. Something that really impressed us was that we never heard any air conditioner noises; I'm not sure how they accomplish that, but it was nice.

*Dressel’s Dive Shop is on-site of this resort--It’s an excellent location for them. While we were very content with our Chac Choc Tour, we’d probably go with Dressel next time; they are competitively priced and offer a 20% discount to Iberostar guests if you book before you arrive.

*High-speed Internet (yay!) is available FOR SALE. $40 per week, $11 per day, and one other option in between. We were told there was WiFi “in the lobby,” but it was never explained what that meant or how to access it (and we tried).

*Cost:  I wouldn’t normally share this info, but as someone who’d never taken such a trip, I had no clue how much it would cost, and I think it’s helpful to know. Mr.4444 and I had never taken a trip together, without kids (other than one weekend for a wedding in California), in 24 years, so this was a special occasion and one that’s not likely to be repeated for a very long time.  In July, we were able to pay $2600 for flights, transfers, and seven nights at a great all-inclusive; I think that’s a pretty great deal, which we got via a travel agent. I’m told the “Redneck Riviera” has a remarkably different clientele in the winter months (when the prices are higher), but we felt very comfortable.

*More on Cost: In regard to price and length of stay, I think we would have been just as happy staying five nights, rather than seven. Because it's an all-inclusive, we only went off-site twice, and my husband's attention span for laying around being lazy is short. I chose seven nights simply because I didn't know for sure if we'd ever do it again, and I wanted to milk it for all it was worth! Seven nights was fine for me, but everyone is different.

*Dining--The food was very good and all-you-can-eat at the buffets. They vary the cuisine in the dinner buffet, too; Mexican, Italian, Asian, from night to night. I don’t eat a lot of meat and was more than happy with the offerings all day long. I also loved having guacamole at every meal!

My husband is a meat eater and was very happy, too. Breakfast is great, too.

In addition to the buffets, there are two other fine-dining restaurants at which you are guaranteed a reservation for one night each (and you may be able to get in again). The food at these two restaurants was especially excellent. Dining at these restaurants feels like you're leaving the resort in a way; they were special nights for us.

Our waiter, presenting my husband's flaming beef kabobs.

*Our room/bungalow came stocked with a coffee maker, TV, stocked mini-fridge, and an umbrella (which we never needed, btw)

*Creatures--A friendly tropical bird visits the lobby and lets you pet him. The many iguanas you will see will not. Flamingos are always near the lobby. Watch where you step when out and about, or you may find yourself screaming in response to something under your foot suddenly moving! (I stepped on an iguana’s tail, rounding the corner of our deck and screamed bloody-murder.) Fortunately, he was very forgiving.

*Although we came armed with plenty of Imodium, we never needed it; the only food issue we had to deal with was occasionally feeling bloated from eating too much! We were completely safe drinking the water and food on the resort. (Knowing this ahead of time would have made me more relaxed.)

*The “Star Kids” are basically a group of summer-camp type employees whose jobs it is to make sure you’ve got plenty of options to keep busy (if you want to). They are charming and sweet and do their best to involve guests without pressuring anyone. My husband enjoyed playing beach volleyball and a little pool basketball. The front desk and valet staff were all very courteous. The maids are very sweet and leave special towel creations like this one daily:

*Panhandling: I had braced myself to be pressured by children begging, but we never saw a single such child, at the resort or in town on the one day we were there.

Some Negatives...

*Location: If you want to stay-put, never go into town (Cozumel) or even check out a nearby resort, you’ll be completely satisfied staying at the Iberostar Cozumel. If that’s not the case for you, know that it’s $20 one way to take a cab the 25 miles into Cozumel. It’s even $10 to take a cab five minutes down the road. If money is no object for you, that’s not an issue, of course, but if you’re on a budget, this matters. If yoga is something you’d like to do while on vacation, you can certainly do it on the beach near the Iberostar, but if you want to practice yoga in a class setting, you’ll need to stay further north on the island.

*Watered-down alcoholic beverages (thought they’ll cheerfully make a drink stronger if you ask them to). As proof, I’ll share that I almost never drink a drop of alcohol, because it doesn’t agree with me. However, on one occasion I threw caution to the wind and ordered a strawberry margarita that did not so much as make me blush (I drank it quickly, too.)  I’m sure they’re not the only all-inclusive that does this.

*No swimming after 7pm. This is a deal breaker for me for next time. I wanted to make out with the hubs a little, like the good old days! No kids in the pool...a little quiet time. Don’t get any wild ideas...I’m just saying it would have been nice to be in the pool at night.

*Kids--I love kids; I’m a teacher, and I have to young adult kids of my own. Kids are great. However, kids don’t belong at a bar. On Sunday afternoon, one side of the swim-up bar had was overrun by children ranging in ages from six to twelve; they obviously weren’t boozing it up, but in my opinion, children don’t belong at the bar, adults do. This resort is kid-friendly, so if you're looking to have a different atmosphere, you may want to stay elsewhere.

*If you should choose to go with a different dive/snorkel tour company, they may charge a fee to pick you up from the dock, because Iberostar charges them. Just ask. We went with Chac Choc Tours and were very happy.

*In order to eat dinner in the finer dining rooms on the property, you need to go to the concierge “between 9am and 1pm” and reserve a spot for that night (and/or the next, if you want to reserve your two guaranteed spots). If you’re a planner, this works out great; if not, you may find it annoying.

*If you want a massage, they’re $90 for 50 minutes; I think that’s crazy; it’s Mexico, for crying out loud. I pay $60 at home (once or twice per year) for an hour and a half, and the lady comes to my house!

*I just didn’t feel like enough helpful information was explained to us when we arrived. I don’t regret staying there at all, but I would have appreciated being able to find some of this information on the Internet beforehand, either from our travel agent or Iberostar’s website. When you check in, you’ll get a map with some other information on it. On the back is a lot if info intended to be helpful, but text on the whole left side of our page was cut off significantly, and we were told that all of the copies were like that; it would have been nice (seriously) to be able to read all of the info and not have to seek out more info elsewhere. After we booked our trip, we heard absolutely nothing from the resort until the moment we pulled up; I would have felt a lot more comfortable, had I received specific info ahead of time to read at home or on the plane on the way there.

Other Helpful Bits:

*As with most hotels, don’t expect to be able to check into your room before 3pm if you arrive early. It’s Mexico, it’s hot, and it’s an open-air lobby, so figure out what you’re going to do in the meantime or carefully choose your flight times.

*“Cable TV” in our room (two beds, partial ocean view) meant two channels, one in English with Spanish subtitles and the other in Spanish (with no subtitles). We weren’t there to watch TV, so it wasn’t an issue for us, but I think it’s worth mentioning, since they do advertise that “cable” is in the rooms.

*Expect inconsistencies with water temperature in your shower; we learned to laugh it off and never went without!

*You can grease the desk clerks to get a room upgrade/improvement; fifty bucks got us a room with a slice of an ocean view.

*As you read everywhere on the Internet, protect your valuables. In the week we stayed, we heard first-hand of one burglary and one theft and heard second-handedly about a theft from a bungalow patio. Be smart: Use the safe in your room, lock your doors and windows, and don’t leave valuables unattended.

*If you're staying at one Iberostar resort, you can swing over to another of their Iberostars to spend the day and eat for free just as you do at the other. That sounds terrific; however, to get from Iberostar Cozumel to the Iberostar Cancun or Riviera Maya, you have to take a cab plus a ferry; the costs of which add up quickly.

*What they don’t tell you when you pay for Internet use: You may log out of one device and use the same Internet username/password to log into a different device.

*Floaty rafts are available for the asking at the towel desk

*The little artisan cart near the pool is run by a man and his niece. They’re hard-working and pleasant and may be willing to cut you a deal if you’re reasonable. You may enjoy painting some pottery; bring a little bubble wrap if you have room in your suitcase!

*Expect to see a few cats in the main buffet (open-air) dining area at dinner and sometimes breakfast. They will never jump on your table or anything like that; if you don’t like cats, ignore them, and they’ll go away and probably not return to you (They quickly learn which table visits pay off and which don’t.)

*Expect to never flush toilet paper; you are expected to put used toilet tissue in a waste receptacle that you’ll find next to the toilets. It’s not a big deal, but I am told this is not the norm at all Mexican all-inclusives.

*Here’s a great tip: If you have a favorite cup from which you like to consume beverages, feel free to bring it. The cup on the left is what drinks are otherwise served in; it probably holds about 10 ounces. The “cup” on the right holds at least a quart and is a nice way to keep hydrated with any beverage.

The bartenders cheerfully filled ours without blinking an eye. It was nice, because my husband didn’t have to keep getting in the pool or walking to the dining area to refill a small plastic cup.

*Take the time to download an app that translates your language to Spanish if you're not bilingual; speaking Spanish makes natives really smile. I really liked the Google Translate app for android, which helped out a lot when having conversations beyond the basics.

*If you must have a room near the pool, ask that your room be on the non-pool side of the building. Our building was right next to the pool, but our room was on the back side of it. Remarkably, we never heard a peep from the pool, day or night, from our room.

*Plan your cash-stash carefully and you’ll avoid needing to use the ATM in the lobby, which does reportedly dispense American dollars but also leaves you with about $15 in bank fees for the privilege. I was unable to get it to cooperate, for some reason. Maybe because I have the Star logo on the back of my card and did not see that one on the machine. Oh, and be sure to let your bank and credit card companies know that you’re leaving the country; it could save you a lot of headaches.

*And last, but not least, if you’re staying as a couple, be prepared to make out a lot. You’re wearing very little clothing most of the time, and you’re on vacation. Prepare accordingly, enthusiastically, and creatively to make the most of this relaxing time together :)

Stuff to pack: 

*Bug spray--One can of the good stuff lasted us the whole week; we only needed it on the beach at night and for just a few other times.

*Sunscreen--We are Caucasian and tanned a few times at home (in our back yard) before coming. 50 SPF worked great the first few days, and then we switched to 30. I’m told that sunscreen is expensive if you wait til you arrive to buy it.

*Sunburn gel (We missed a few spots!) My absolute favorite is Solarcaine Cool Aloe. It has pain-relieving lidocaine in it, and I’ve never peeled after applying it on burned areas (a few times each day).

*At least two swimming suits; you will find an extremely limited supply of swimsuits for sale in the area, for some odd reason, and since you’ll be basically living in one while you’re there, it’ll be nice to have more than one.

*A good hat. For what it’s worth, I bought my husband his first Tillie hat for this trip, and he absolutely loves it; it’s comfortable, protective, classy-looking, has a little compartment inside for a little cash/ID, etc. and is guaranteed to be awesome. They even give you a huge discount if you lose your [registered] hat! Plus, the instruction manual is entertaining to read!

*A little clothesline on which to hang wet clothes.

*One dressy outfit, though women can technically get away without wearing a dress, it's fun to dress up a little at least once.

We were told that there "isn't really any night life" in the area, but that didn't bother us in the least, so we can't corroborate that.

*Medicine, especially antihistamine. (The hubs got stung by something and had a swollen foot for days, even though he was able to buy some Benedryl from the resort gift shop for $8.) Remember, if you have to run to the pharmacy in town, it's going to cost you a $40 cab ride.

That about covers everything that I jotted down while we were there. As I mentioned, we had a really great time and will consider staying with an Iberostar again in the future, though more likely in a different location, simply because there's so much more world out there to explore! If you needed this post for vacation planning, I hope you found it helpful!

Read my Trip Advisor reviews specific to local Cozumel attractions by clicking on the appropriate links here.