Month: June 2013

Book Club July: The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

With my recent book review and giveaways, and my new sponsors from Greatbooks.me, I decided to add a new focus to my blog, a monthly book club. I love to read, it is a daily past time for me, and love any opportunity to discuss a good book. I have tried to join book clubs here and there, but the impossible scheduling conflicts when trying to get more than two people together have prevented me from sticking to it long term. It then dawned on me that I should start an online book club. People can comment as they see fit, share ideas, and start discussions, all from the comfort of your home and according to your schedule.

The_Book_Thief_by_MukachishisanFor the very first book club book I decided to choose my all time favorite, The Book Thief, by Markus Zusak. Although typically assigned for middle school and high school summer reading, this amazingly well written book is enjoyable at any age.

The Book Thief follows the story of WWII Germany, a foster child, and the family that takes her in. It’s a story of heartache and survival, during a time when survival was no guarantee. I loved the perspective of a non-Jewish family, trying to cope during the Nazi regime, who didn’t agree with Hitler’s principles, but for fear of their lives couldn’t go against them.

As Zusak puts it: “It’s just a small story really, about, among other things: *A girl, *Some words, *An accordionist, *Some fanatical Germans, *A Jewish fist fighter, *And quite a lot of thievery”.

Zusak has an undeniable talent in painting vibrant imagery through black and white pages. Immediately after cracking open the first page I knew this book was going to land in my top ten, after reading a few more it had already moved to my top five, and by the end it became my absolute favorite. In addition to the amazing story, his unusual writing style, interrupting standard paragraphs with single sentence statements, has since inspired a drastic shift in my own writing style.

I love how his one-liners grab your attention.

The first few sentences of the book:

“First the colors.

Then the humans.

That’s how I see things.

Or at least, how I try.

***HERE IS A SMALL FACT***

You are going to die”

Book Thief

If that doesn’t pique your curiosity and set your fingers twitching to speed through the pages, I don’t know what will. The next hook came when I discovered the book was narrated by  death. This intrigued me, the idea of a typically sinister, “bad guy” turned story teller was a unique interpretation. As I read on it was apparent Zusak’s “Death” was no bad guy, but simply a necessity of the end, the collector of souls, the last glimpse of this life, and careful transporter into the next. Rather than presenting death as something to fear, seemingly innate to the living, Zusak presents him as a curious, gentle soul.

This book was the type of book whose end I dreaded. The end meant the story was over, and the characters I had come to love and view as living would cease to exist. This was the type of book where every now and then I would look to the page number to see how much longer until the end, so I could slow down and take it all in.

While reading I even found myself highlighting a handful of sections, which is something I never do. I was so touched by these sections and so loved the imagery I had to make a notation, a reminder to return and re-examine. One such highlighted sentence described the book thief herself, Liesel, reading to a scared group taking shelter from the threat of dropping bombs, attempting to distract them from the impending doom: “She didn’t dare to look up, but she could feel their frightened eyes hanging on to her as she hauled the words in and breathed them out”.

I hope you decide to pick this book up give it a read, and I hope you love it as much as I do. I hope when you get to the end you go back and re-read the last chapter because you aren’t ready for it to be over as I did. If you don’t have a copy of this book yet you should check out Greatbooks.me, if you sign up for their silver plan you get 20 books of your choice for $1.99 each. I wouldn’t push it if I didn’t think it was a great program for avid readers like myself! And remember by supporting Greatbooks.me you are also supporting my blog!

Thanks for reading about my very first book club suggestion! I will have another synopsis up for my August book selection at the end of July. Feel free to post questions, discussion, topics, or your favorite quotes as you run across them. Thanks for stopping by!

signature


 

 

Adorable Website + Discount Giveaway: Style Outside the Box (closed)

SOBlogo

Recently I was contacted by Marketing Manager, Emily Horn, regarding a new online shop, Style Outside the Box. As an independent blogger, artist, and avid shopper I am always intrigued by up and coming shops, especially those that support local art and crafters like me. As I read through the e-mail one line caught my eye: “We are an exclusive site whom work with and promote independent designers from around the world”, I immediately searched their site to take a look.

Style Outside the Box is exactly what she described, an online shop that offers a variety of products from small start ups and independent designers, like myself. It has a nice, clean design, similar to the popular and growing Etsy and Pinterest tile style layout. As you click a category a full page of products pop up, with easy to browse images, titles, and prices.

Style Outside the Box also offers a wide variety of products. I expected to find a website that focused only on jewlery, handbags, and similar accessories, but I found products for children, men, and the home. Although not every category is as “beefed” up with products as their jewelry and handbag section, I do expect the site will continue to grow and add products.

Fish necklaceWhen I first visited the site I immediatly went to the jewelry section to see if anything caught my eye. They have a range of styles and colors, and I quickly discovered an adorable fish inspired necklace, check it out here as well as other products by Tweak. It is a very unique piece, and is tantalizing enough for me to bookmark for possible future, cute-jewelry-induced spending.

In addition to the adorable necklace I discovered I loved how I could click the “More Tweak Products and Bio” button and find more jewelry by this designer and learn about her.

LAVENDER_sand_BACK_medium

After the ever tempting jewelry section I moved to the handbags, the equivalent of crack to a purse enthusiast like myself. I saw cute clutch, after cute handbag, after cute tote, until I stumbled upon my new obsession, the Lavender Hobo Sand Handbag. I love the large size and unique cut out design at the top. If only I had the funds to buy it, if I did it would already be gone… Once again I bookmarked this item for future drooling over until I save up my money! Go here to check out this adorable bag and other products from Vanessa Boulton.

As I continue to explore the website I was very pleased to find a category, Gifts under $30. When buying from independent designers you get more detail, higher quality, and a one-of-a-kind item, but often at a higher price. I am all about supporting local and independent, so I am more than happy to shell out a couple extra bucks for a quality item. However, it is still nice to find items at a reduced price.

crab-cloth-napkins-1_medium

My favorite item from this section was the set of Happy Crab Blue cloth napkins. They are an adorable touch to any table and a great gift, for a friend or even for yourself. Once again I found myself bookmarking another future purchase. Check out this adorable napkin and other products from Wabisabi Green here!

All in all I really enjoyed Style Outside the Box. It has an Etsy feel, with the tiled images and independent designers, but all housed under one company. If you have questions about products you contact employees at Style Outside the Box, who then contact the designers. Although it may seem like a round-a-bout way I think it will take away the unreliability that exists with many Etsy shop owners.

I encourage everyone to visit the website and take a look for yourself! In addition to their great products they are also offering a 10% discount to one of my readers! All you have to do is check out their site here and share your favorite product in a comment below. I will randomly selected a winner in one week (7/4/2013) using the plugin And the Winner Is….

Thanks for checking out my blog and participating in my giveaway! Help my blog grow by sharing with others, tweeting, liking, subscribing, and commenting, I couldn’t do it without you! Thanks for stopping by!

signature


 

Giveaway: GreatBooks.me Silver Plan-20 Free ebook Downloads (closed)

greatbookslogo

This giveaway has been closed and the winner has been contacted. If they don’f confirm in the next 24 hours I will select a new one! If you didn’t win I hope you decide to sign up for a greatbooks.me subscription anyway, if you go through my blog to sign up I receive funding for my blog. Thanks for your support!

This week I have an amazing giveaway to offer thanks to a newer ebooks corporation, GreatBooks. They have not only offered to giveaway one of their silver plans to my readers (which comes with 20 book downloads!) but they have also become my very first blog sponsor, giving me the ability to do what I love and continue to share my crafts, DIYs, and art with my readers!

By now most of you are aware of my love for reading and books in general. Stacks of books are continuously “decorating” my bedside table, coffee table, and lovely bookshelf, strategically placed just outside of my bedroom. In addition to my many stacks of to-be-read-books I also have an ongoing list of books to read in the back of my mind and in my iphone. I enjoy nothing more than curling up with a good book at night or reading continuously when I visit the beach, completing 3-4 novels during a week long visit.

As an avid reader, and one who goes through at least 1-2 books a month, GreatBooks was made for me. It is a one time payment, or you can opt for the month-by-month reading program, which offers cheaper priced books the more you read. The basic, and cheapest plan, their silver plan is $39.95. After paying this lump sum you have access to 20 ebooks, which comes out to $1.99 per book. After this you can go up to the Gold Plan, $99.95 for 100 ebooks, which comes to $0.99 per book, or for $14.95 per month you have unlimited access, with a “downloading ebooks within reason” clause. fiveFactsBanner2

 

The website is easy to use and includes step-by-step instructions on how to download an ebook to your device, whether it is an Ipad, Nook, Kindle, computer, or something similar. The large and colorful book icons make it easy to browse their selection and find what you are looking for.

As I searched for my favorite books I was pleased to find The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon, The Book Thief by Markus Zusak, and The Art of Hearing Heartbeats by Jan-Philipp Sendker. If you haven’t read these books yet, I must demand you do so, each one is touching, interesting, and truly soul changing.

GreatBooks offers thousands of books in a range of categories from fiction and nonfiction to children’s books and how tos. I searched recent titles I had read, and was happy to find them all in their listings. However, as I began searching less known titles I had less success and as I went through my Mom’s book club list, I was a little bummed to only find one title on the list.

Although GreatBooks doesn’t have every book I searched yet they are continuously adding titles and expanding their library.Every “big name” book and New York Times bestseller I searched was found, if these are typically the titles you read this would be a great fit for you. For those who read the lesser known titles I hope you check the site to see if they carry what you are interested in, and if they don’t, I hope you check back to see if new titles are added!

To enter the giveaway all you have to do is visit the GreatBooks page here, “like it” and comment below to let me know you liked the page! I will randomly select the winner in one week using the plugin, And the Winner Is…

If you don’t win the giveaway but are still interested in this great website try out a free trial, and get two free books immediately! Go here to read the details. In addition to the free trial GreatBooks also does weekly free books, most recently listed is the last book in the Fifty Shades of Gray series. Remember when you sign up at GreatBooks you are also supporting my blog!

Thanks for visiting my site and entering this week’s giveaway! Help me spread the word about my blog by sharing, tweeting, liking, commenting, and subscribing! I couldn’t do it without you. Thanks for stopping by!

Check out my other giveaway from styleoutsidethebox.com here!

signature


 

Review and Giveaway: Photobox Canvas Print (closed)

DSC_0205

A few weeks ago I was contacted by Roy Bainbridge, the PR Manager of a UK company Photobox, about doing a review and giveaway of their canvas print line. Photobox is an online digital photograph company, specializing in photograph based gifts. They offer a range of items, from photo albums made from your uploaded files to clothing, calendars, and stationary, to a wide range of canvas print styles and sizes. When I first began looking into the company I expected a small boutique, start up, looking for some outside-of-the-box PR opportunities. What I found was an already established company, with over 116,000 likes on their Facebook page.

After researching the company and seeing what they offer online, I couldn’t wait to partner with them and review one of their canvas prints. I quickly went to my extensive Iphoto library, and began sifting through pictures to find the perfect one to convert to a canvas print. Once I found the perfect photo, one of Nick and my engagement pictures, I created a username on Photobox, and e-mailed Roy my information. He very quickly credited my account for one Classic Canvas print, 60cm x 40.6cm (in non-metric terms a 24″ x 16″ x 1.5″) plus shipping.

Once he notified me of my credited account I couldn’t wait to get started. I logged back into Photobox, and got to work. I selected “Canvas” at the top of their website, scrolled down to “Classic Canvas”, and selected my size. I first attempted the “drag and drop” upload option to insert my picture, but it continued to give me an error message. I finally went through the traditional, “upload and select your file” option, and it worked perfectly.

DSC_0209

I was bummed to find out my original plan of having a wrapped image print (where the image continues on the sides of the canvas) was not an option with the image I chose. By having the sides wrap it caused the image to crop in too much, and our feet ended up wrapping around the side. I considered switching pictures all together to achieve this look, but decided I was too attached to this one to change. I reluctantly decided to have a non-wrapped image, and have since considered either framing it or painting the edges black, both which are easy to do. As you order your print keep this in mind, if you want a wrapped image make sure your original photograph is able to be cropped.

The remainder of the ordering process was a piece of cake, overall their website was very user friendly. I placed my order and eagerly awaited it’s arrival.

A week later the box finally arrived. I ripped it open and pulled out my greatly anticipated print. At first I was very excited to see our picture enlarged so much, but then I was bummed when I realized the canvas was very loose on the frame. When I looked at it at the side it had a distinct ripple affect. I immediately e-mailed Roy and explained the situation, and asked how it could be fixed. In no time at all he responded with a sincere apology, explanation, and solution.

Apparently a few recent orders of the Classic Canvas prints had calibration issues with the joint measurements, which affected the tightness. By the time he e-mailed me back he had already been in contact with customer service about the issue and re-sent my order through. If there is ever an issue with an order, the re-order is automatically sent through quality control, where it is reviewed and looked at by and actual human being (amazing!) before it is re-shipped. It’s nice to know that with such a large company they take care of their customers.

Although I was bummed that I had to wait another week for my canvas to come in, in a way I was also glad that I experienced their customer service department. This gave me a more comprehensive experience with the company, and I now feel I can give more than one perspective on my overall experience with them.

DSC_0207

Less than a week later my new, new canvas print showed up on my doorstep. Once again I ripped open the box and discovered my beautiful, high quality print. It still had a slight ripple in the canvas, but not nearly to the extent of the first one. After 24 hours the ripple was gone, leaving a tight, perfect print. I believe the long shipping process from the UK to the States with heat, etc. caused it to temporarily loosen. If you experience something similar with your order I suggest you wait at least 24 hours before contacting them.

All in all my experience with Photobox was a wonderful one, and I LOVE my print! I have it proudly displayed in my house and I can’t wait to pick out the perfect frame to finish it off. What I love even more about the company was their willingness to not only send me a free print, but also offer one to one of my readers. Enter below for your chance to win your very own Classic Canvas print, at whatever size you desire!!

To enter this giveaway all you have to do is:

1. Tweet about the giveaway and include a link to Photobox (http://www.photobox.co.uk/shop/wall-decor/canvas-prints)

2. A tweet is preferred  but if you don’t have a Twitter account please mention the giveaway on Facebook, and include the link: http://www.photobox.co.uk/shop/wall-decor/canvas-prints

3. Comment below and include a link to your tweet or facebook page! The winner will be randomly selected next Tuesday (6/25/13)! All tweets and likes will be checked before the winner is notified.

If you don’t win this amazing giveaway try using Photobox for your next canvas print, they are a great, reliable company and they continuously offer specials and discounts on orders! Click here to purchase your own photo canvas

Thanks for reading my review of Photobox and entering my giveaway! Help me spread the word about my blog by tweeting, liking, e-mailing, and sharing with others, I can’t do it without you! Thanks for stopping by!


 

DSC_0210

Backyard Chickens: My Journey from Chicks to Chickens

Chicks

For the past year my husband, Nick, and I have talked about getting chickens. Neither of us have ever owned chickens, or for that matter even known someone else who has had chickens, but the idea was appealing. I love the idea of having a new pet, and a pet that lays fresh eggs. Backyard chickens is definitely on the rise on my area, and I was ready to jump on the bandwagon

After one of my friends bought three hens I began thinking about it more seriously. After perusing Craigslist and finding a couple of chick sellers, my husband said, “well why don’t you just go buy some today?” That was all I needed, next think I knew I was in the car driving towards adorable, 1 week old, baby chicks.

At the first stop I bought a Buff Orpington, Rhode Island Red, and Sex Link chicks. After bringing home my three babies I decided to go out yet again and buy a Barred Rock chick, because I loved the black and white striped pattern they get as adults. I was assured by both sellers that all chicks would grow up into egg laying hens, and I was feeling pretty good about my decision.

IMG_0684

Our babies were set up in a very large, blue plastic storage bin bought at Lowe’s. I put pine shavings in the bottom (apparently you need to stay away from cedar based shavings), and until I got to a chicken store I bought a bird feeder and waterer, which worked very well temporarily.  I also made a small roosting pole using flat pieces of molding and 1/2″ dowels. I spray painted the pieces, drilled holes into the molding, and attached the dowels. It was a very simple process and my babies loved their mini perch. I was able to get a bag of Tucker chick starter feed from one of my chick sellers, and I was set up and ready to raise my babies.

The chicks slept A LOT at first, however each day they seemed to get a little more chiper and active, except one. Our little Rhode Island Red, Gretchen, never seemed to grow or develop like the rest, and she began sleeping more and more, rather then less like the others. Unfortunately we woke up one morning in the first week to find Gretchen hadn’t made it, which was truly heartbreaking…. but I was glad to see our other chicks were still thriving.

IMG_0721

I loved seeing all of their personalities come through. Richard Parker (Sex Link) was the calmest, and happily allowed us to hold him and snuggle him, Zachary Binks (Barred Rock) had attitude, didn’t like to be held, and was a little tough guy, Amy (Buff Orpington) seemed like mama hen, and was growing the fastest, I think she is a week older than the other two.

I did have some issues with pasty butt with Amy and Richard Parker (where their poop sticks to the feathers around their butt, which can cause backup, and even death). I had to clean them up everyday for the first couple of weeks. Zachary Binks never had a problem, probably because I bought him with a bare butt. I believe his original owner pulled the feathers around his chick’s butts to prevent this from happening. Although it was nice to not have to worry about him I must say I was relieved when his feathers finally began sprouting down there. I was convinced I was going to end up with a bare butt hen.

IMG_0730

Although it was tough losing Gretchen, I think I will always raise my chickens from chicks. It’s fun to watch them grow, and they get used to you. We made it a point to handle each one of them daily to make them used to us, although Zachary still doesn’t like it.  Each day I would go in and visit with my babies, and each day it seemed like they grew a little bigger or sprouted a new feather.

IMG_0694

After the first week the babies and I took our very first field trip to the backyard. We live in the city of Atlanta, which has a notorious city hawk problem. I was terrified of every squawk and flapping I heard, and continuously hovered over my precious babies. It was amazing to see them teetering around in the grass, exploring the great outdoors, and seemingly pecking and tasting everything. After a successful first outing I made sure to get them outside every day for a little fresh air, with serious supervision of course.

IMG_0720

Amy (Buff Orpington) was the first to sprout her big girl feathers, and they started coming in at full force around the middle of the third week. As her feathers pushed through it looked like she was growing red dreadlocks on her head and around her neck. I was surprised to see the chick that I assumed would be light tan, or a buff color, hence the name, growing red feathers.

Soon after Amy’s feathers began coming in Richard and Zachary started losing their baby feather on their wings, I was thrilled to see Zachary’s striped pattern coming through.

IMG_0764

I was becoming mama hen to my chick-a-dees and I loved it! I would drag their enormous bin outside daily, and release them in our backyard to explore. As soon as I would sit near them they would hustle over and fight for a perch spot on my legs. It was so sweet, until one of them would leave a very smelly surprise behind. The one downside I have discovered from owning chickens is the smell, their droppings aren’t like a hamster’s, a small annoyance, a chicken’s surprise is a VERY smelly one. We kept our chickens inside until they were around two months old, and by the end I was changing their shavings out every other day because the smell was so bad. Needless to say I was relieved when they moved outside.

IMG_0826

I love their little dinosaur feet! It’s crazy to see their scaly legs against their soft feathers! Zachary always seemed to have sores on his feet. I read that sometimes the other chicks will mistake toes for worms, or other food, and will peck each other. As they grew up and moved outside it became less of a problem.

IMG_0825

Their awkward teens was a constant source of entertainment. Their feathers grew in as soft looking spikes until they eventually spread into wide feathers. The combination of their spikes and baby down was ridiculous looking. It was crazy to think just a month prior I was able to hold all three in one hand, and now It took two hand to pick them up.

IMG_0811

IMG_0925

If you are a regular reader, by now you know I have a Beagle mix, Jacob and Husky-German Shepard mix, Kody Bear. I was very nervous about introducing the dogs to the chickens, and at first they were both very intense and wanted nothing more than a little chicken taste. However, over time, by slowly bringing them out (on leashes) and eventually letting them off leash, watching with a close eye, they seemed to get along. Jacob will sniff them for a minute, and then mind his own business. I can trust Jacob enough to turn my back on him, and work in the garden, however Kody Bear will never get to that point. I think he has too much killer instinct in him, and he never gets enough of sniffing our chickens. I don’t think Kody and the chickens’ relationship will ever go beyond a very controlled environment.

IMG_0934

After a little over two months the chickens made their transition outside! I was very excited to move them out, the smell was overwhelming in the house. I will post about the coop building process soon! It’s still a work in progress, but we are closing in on the end! Another great option for a pre-made coop, which is also a lot less work, is a shed. They can easily be converted into a coop by adding a nesting box and a few roosting poles. Check out Steel Chief for great customizable options.

IMG_0947

Sometime in week 11 a dread began creeping in my belly. I began noticing differences between Richard Parker and the other two. “Her” comb and wattle was twice as large as her sisters and was quickly turning bright red. I tried to push the worry aside, after all sex link chicks are breed specifically to easily tell them apart. “She” couldn’t be a rooster, she was definitely a hen.

However, in week 12 I discovered, to my horror, a lovely, shiny, green feather sprouting from her tail. I could no longer deny it, my Sex Link hen was turning into a rooster, and what I assume is a Rhode Island Red. I immediately began my research and discovered that in the city of Atlanta I can have a rooster, and if you grab fertilized eggs within the first few days of them being laid they are just like any other egg. For now Richard is staying with us, his crow will begin in months 5 or 6. The main issue is my attachement to him. From the beginning he has been my favorite, and still lets me hold him with no protest. He is the first to run over and say hello, and I can’t give that up yet. We still haven’t broken the news to our neighbors…

IMG_0974

After discovering we had 2 hens and a rooster we decided to add a new hen to our flock. We did some research and found someone selling 4 month old Americaunas. It was the perfect fit. She was close in age to the others, and I was dying to see what these blue and green eggs would look like.

Introducing a new chicken to a already existing flock can be tricky. The pecking order has to be reestablished, and the newcomers are often outcasts for awhile. I was concerned with possible bloody fights, and was very nervous about putting Wendell through that (lovingly named by Nick). We kept her inside the first night, and put her in an enclosed space outside the next day. We did the “seeing but no touching” approach and planned to sneak her into the coop that night.

Apparently by placing them in with the rest while the others are sleeping makes the acceptance process easier. Somehow by waking up together the other chickens assume the newbie has been there the whole time. We were set and ready to go to sneak Wendell in after dark… at least that was the plan…

Later in the evening I went out to check on Wendell and I couldn’t find her in her enclosed space! I had a minor heart attack until I peeked in the coop and saw her already in with the rest. I immediately went inside and blamed Nick for putting her in too early… but he had no idea what I was talking about! Some how Wendell got out of her space and into the coop completely on her own. I guess she was ready to introduce herself to the others before we were.

The following days were tough on Wendell and me. The others pecked her any time she approached, and she mostly hung out by herself. I felt so bad taking her from her family, to a strange place, only to be bullied. But with each passing day the foursome began spending more and more time together, and now two weeks later they are inseparable.

IMG_1036

Our hens should start laying around 5 months old and I can’t wait! If you are thinking about chickens, but can’t decide, just do it. They are adorable, have ridiculous personalities, and are so much fun to watch. At this point I think I will have chickens forever. We will just have to find a way to move our 3 ton coop to our next house!

Thanks for visiting my blog and reading about my chickens! Look for my coop how to post in the near future! Help me spread the word about my blog by liking, tweeting, sharing, and commenting! Thanks for stopping by.