Author Archives: charlesprogers
Post by Mark T. Locker.
The Bartimaeus Trilogy, Book One: The Amulet of Samarakand by Jonathan Stroud.
So this is a book I have been kind of wanting to read for a very long time. I’m a big fan of the author; I’ve reviewed his Lockwood & Co. books here in the past. This series of books, told partly from the perspective of a snarky demon by the name of Bartimaeus, has been sitting on my shelf for a dozen years. The only thing stopping me from diving into it? The footnotes. There were SO many footnotes! It was hard for me to constantly tear my attention from the story to read the bits of supplementary information offered after the asterisk. What finally did it for me was getting the book in audio format. The narrator adds the footnotes in such a seamless way that you can hardly tell he’s reading from the bottom of the page. It works. And it’s a great story.
As a young child, Nathaniel in sold to the passably accomplished wizard Arthur Underwood, brought up to be his protégé. Treated poorly by his new master and humiliated by his colleagues from the Ministry, Nathaniel takes solace in learning. Despite his Master’s belief, Nathaniel is a brilliant wizard and by the age of twelve has a great deal of advanced knowledge under his belt. All of which he channels into seeking vengeance against Simon Lovelace, a nasty but powerful wizard who humiliated Nathaniel in front of several wizards. So Nathaniel summons a djinni, a moderately powerful demon named Bartimaeus, and charges him to steal a valuable amulet from Lovelace.
Told from the point-of-view of the demon, who has a wonderfully wicked sense of humor, the story sets up a world of magic and monsters in modern-day London. Once you get past the footnotes, the story is fun, unique, and captivating. Great to read aloud to older kids or to read in bed on your own.
Post by Tracy Kaler.
Bedrooms in big cities don’t need to be tight, cluttered, and compact. In fact, some urban sleep spaces can be roomier and more comfortable than those in sprawling suburban houses. As a city dweller for most of my life and a New York City resident for nearly nine years, I can honestly say that I haven’t felt starved for space in my city bedrooms.
Let’s take a look at five stylish and well-designed bedrooms in different cities around the US.
New York City
Although it’s far from oversized, this Union Square bedroom with bright white walls gets plenty of natural light. We don’t miss the headboard since the artwork creates a colorful backdrop. A pair of pendant lamps keeps the design uncluttered in this simple Manhattan loft.
Sleek and modern, this “Windy City” bedroom boasts dramatic lighting that becomes the focal point. You would never know that a busy city lies just beyond those windows. Sheers provide the right amount of privacy without completely sacrificing the light.
Tailored and comfortable, an eclectic San Fran bedroom pulls out all the decor stops introducing pattern, texture, rhythm, and harmony. I can’t imagine needing much more in a bedroom.
A black bed wall brings depth to this eclectic bedroom, which gracefully adds pinks and purples in the accessories.
Bold and funky, you have to love the creativity used in decorating this Texas home. From the Pepsi clock to the little witch pillow, this apartment bedroom is filled with fun and whimsy.
Post by Alison Hein.
We’d been trying to get together with our wonderful neighbors Ann and Frank for ages. (You may recall Frank for his tantalizing Frittata Italiana-Mexicana posted here a few years back.) But with daily responsibilities, weekend commitments, and intermittent travel plans, we have been finding it increasingly difficult to coordinate all of our hectic schedules.
We finally decided to simply invite them, spur of the moment, for a glass of wine and some snacks. They immediately accepted, but offered dinner in return. We, in turn, immediately accepted, and offered to bring dessert. Thus, a mini-progressive dinner was born. (Anyone out there remember progressive dinners – appetizers at Neighbor A, soup or salad at Neighbor B, entrée at Neighbor C, and dessert at Neighbor D?
We decided to go with an Italian theme. I kept it simple and served fresh melon with prosciutto to go along with Ann’s amazing fresh pasta with Bolognese sauce, eggplant parmesan, and chicken parmesan. Dessert was fresh berries with zabaglione.
My breakfast recipe lightbulb went off the next day. How about a savory frittata (homage to Frank), replete with a few bites of delicately aged and salted prosciutto, and finished, Italian-style, with some zesty parmesan? A sprinkling of green basil at the finish, and a sweet side of juicy cantaloupe made a delightful spur-of-the-moment breakfast in bed.
2 tablespoons high-heat olive oil
1 large onion, chopped
1 large tomato, chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
4 slices prosciutto, cut into small pieces
½ cup plus 1 tablespoon grated parmesan cheese
Salt and pepper, to taste
Fresh basil sprigs, for garnish
Fresh cantaloupe slices on the side (optional)
Pour olive oil into a 10-inch ovenproof heavy frying pan, and place on stove over medium heat. Add chopped onion to pan, and sauté until soft, about 5 minutes. Add tomato, garlic and prosciutto and cook for about 2 minutes more. Reduce heat to low.
Break eggs into a large bowl, and whisk until smooth and thickened. Stir in ½ cup grated parmesan cheese and season with salt and pepper. Pour egg-cheese mixture over onion-tomato mixture. Continue to cook, gently moving uncooked eggs back around the sides of the pan, until edges are set, about 7 to 9 minutes. Sprinkle frittata with remaining parmesan cheese. Place frying pan under broiler, about 5 inches from direct heat. Broil frittata until eggs are firm and do not jiggle, about 2 to 3 minutes. Garnish with fresh basil and serve immediately. Place a serving of fresh cantaloupe on the side, if you like.
Makes 4 – 6 servings.
Post by Mark T. Locker.
Maude: The Not-So-Noticeable Shrimpton by Lauren Child. Illustrated by Trisha Krauss.
Maude Shrimpton comes from a large family. And not only is her family large, they all absolutely ADORE being different and standing out. Mother wears outrageous outfits like live peacock hats. Father has an outrageously long, curly mustache. Her siblings all stand out in their own way: beauty, laughter and dance. Maude just kind of blends in. Her family is horrified, and horrified that Maude is okay with it. When her birthday comes around, all she wants is a little goldfish. But that’s not nearly outrageous enough for the Shrimpton family. So they get her a tiger. Perhaps blending in can be better than standing out sometimes.
This beautifully illustrated shout-out to all the kids who like to be low-profile, the wallflowers and the introverts is an unexpected delight with a wickedly funny and unpredictable ending. Lauren Child is perhaps best known for her Charlie and Lola books. If you have read any of these you will know that Lola is anything but a wallflower; her stubborn, imaginative and flighty personality is the opposite of Maude. If you haven’t read Charlie and Lola, you are really missing out.
Maude and her celebration of the quiet child is a refreshing read, though if you are worried about the suggestion of getting eaten by a tiger, then perhaps you should stick with Charlie and Lola.
Post by Mark T. Locker.
Ever wonder how a flip book, or for that matter, a movie can take still images and create the illusion of movement? Have you seen that cardboard dinosaur that appears to turn its head to follow you? How do those sleight of hand experts make a coin disappear?
These are the sorts of questions tackled by this National Geographic show, available streaming on Netflix (maybe on other streaming hosts as well). I’m not sure if it is for kids or for adults but we all enjoy watching the show together. My son is the one who discovered it and thought, what the heck, let’s give it a try. I was blown away. The first episode we watched was all about focus and how the human brain will ignore a bunch of really wacky things going on in the background while it pays attention to something else. The show does a lot of public performances to show how these brain teasers work on most people. You’d be surprised how many people feel pain when a fake hand is hit with a hammer!
It’s a fun blend of magic and science working together to amaze and inform. Each episode has a different theme, from memory to focus to deception. The science behind it is pretty interesting but what’s great is seeing your own brain get tricked by these illusions. Especially when you know your mind is fooling you but you can’t do anything about it!
This is a fun, kinda silly, informative show that is great to watch with the whole family as pre-bed brain food.