Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Book Review: Promise Me

Richard Paul Evans knows how to nail a great Christmas story. He has done it again in this brief novella, Promise Me. I'm so glad I selected two audio books to listen to during the holidays (since my first choice left me somewhat disappointed). This was a beautiful story of love. similar in flavor to The Time Traveller's Wife.

On Christmas Eve of 2008, Beth Cardall is finally going to share a secret she has carried for eighteen years. The story fades back to the year 1989, a horrible year for Beth when her daughter was stricken with a perplexing illness, her marriage was falling apart at the seams, her job was threatened and her ability to hope and trust had been completely maxed out. Then on Christmas day, she bumps into a strange man in the 7-Eleven, and her life changes course in ways she could never have imagined. He knows things about her that he cannot possibly know. He draws her in and weaves his way into her life, altering things permanently.

Spoiler alert - There were a few things I found uncomfortable: the likelihood of a betrayed woman plunging into a new relationship so quickly on the heels of her failed marriage, the idea of a mother pursuing a relationship, while knowing full well that the man will one day belong to her daughter, and the use of inside information to play the gambling games and win a fortune. Still, I was fully sucked into the story and the air of romance and longing. The seams were tied up nicely and I did really enjoy the tale. It was a wonderful holiday read.

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Book Review: I Work at a Public Library

Gina Sheridan is a librarian. She's seen some crazy stuff go down at the public library. When she began blogging about her experiences, other librarians began to write in with their own stories. Thus, I Work at a Public Library: A Collection of Crazy Stories from the Stacks, came to be. Although it wasn't as funny as I had anticipated (I guess I've seen a lot more wacky stories from my times living with Salvation Army officer parents and my short time working in a Salvation Army thrift store), it was the perfect read for my time waiting for my boys to jump for an hour an a half at a trampoline place.

The book is organized by call number, telling stories about computer usage, reading habits, communication failures, telephone conversations and other topics. I think my absolute favorite stories were found in the Volumes of Gratitude chapter. Those stories melted my heart. Still, the rest was mildly amusing and worth a quick read. The blog features photos to accompany the stories (ex. three things found in returned books ... a pancake, $20, and a corn husk). Not sure why she didn't include photos in the book. It might have made it a tad more colorful.

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Book Review: Little Fish

Little Fish by Ramsey Beyer pulled me in for three different reasons: 1) it is a YA book; 2) it is a memoir; and 3) it is about a young girl's first year away from home at a big-city art school. My niece recently shared the news that she was accepted into the Art Institute of Chicago. She acted like it was no big deal, but I'm pretty sure that is a big deal. I wanted to check out this book to see if I might want to recommend it to her.

Ramsey Beyer grew up in a very small Michigan town and leaves to attend art school in Baltimore. She chronicles her adventure, highlighting who she is and where she comes from, as well as her impressions of the changes occurring in her life. She meets and makes new friends.

It was a quick and easy read, if a little boring at times. The list-making (a trademark activity for the author) sometimes bogged the story line down instead of enhancing it. Still, it was a fairly interesting story of growing up and facing new challenges. I do think my niece might enjoy it as she is departing from a small town, headed for the big city and the specific challenges of art school (criticism, endless projects, demands for constant creativity). Being a graphic memoir, it should make for quick reading even if she decides she doesn't like the book.

Friday, December 26, 2014

My Favorite Christmas Presents to Myself

Not the best picture, but it does show one of my new mosaic necklaces made by my friend Lori O'Connor. I purchased two of these for myself for Christmas from her Etsy store and I love them! The purple is so rich and sparkly. They go really well with a pair of earrings I recently bought.

Go check out her Etsy store for yourself (or for a wider selection of photos of her necklaces go to her Facebook page where she posted photos of her products with a pre-Christmas sale on a December 15th post - sorry that deal is no longer available)! Who knows maybe you'll find something for yourself as a post-Christmas gift.

Thursday, December 25, 2014

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Book Review: You Should Really Write a Book

When I began to consider drafting a memoir instead of a novel for my 2014 Nanowrimo efforts, I sought out books about writing memoir. I was thrilled to find that my own library had a copy of a book written by Regina Brooks (author of another writing book I enjoyed called Writing Great Books for Young Adults). Brooks is one of New York's top literary agents, working with Serendipity Literary Agency. If you're looking for an expert on writing, selling, and marketing a memoir, you can't do better than advice from an actual successful agent.

You Really Should Write a Book is an excellent source for the basics on memoir. Its goal is to take you through the process entirely so that at the outset you will think "big picture" rather than merely writing a tale which might appeal to interested family members and friends. You must write with your mind centered on the selling and marketing aspects of a book if you expect to achieve anything significant with your manuscript.

I appreciated that the book highlighted several key memoirs and evaluated their marketability. This is the bird's eye view offered from someone within the machinery of the publishing process. This taught me to think like an agent about my manuscript, while I was in the process of writing. The book emphasizes the importance of building an audience and a platform prior to seeking publication. Doing this guarantees more success when approaching agents and publishers.

The book is broken into three parts: 1) An introduction to the popularity of memoir; 2) An outline of the major memoir categories (I only skimmed the ones which didn't pertain to my manuscript) with advice for each sub-genre; and 3) Advice for contacting an agent (a necessary step in this day and age when publishers refuse to accept unsolicited manuscripts). This final section was the most productive part of the book for me. It offered advice on preparing the query, the proposal, and the verbal pitch. Most people don't realize that you cannot simply sit down and write an absorbing story and immediately end up with a book deal. You have to master the difficult steps of pitching and marketing your finished work. For me, that has always been the greatest challenge (a mountain I cannot seem to climb).

As I've said before about other books on the craft of writing memoir, I don't know if this is the absolute best book on the subject. Moreover, my own experience with the book was difficult to peg because I started the book several weeks ago and left off for a span, then picked it up to finish it only a few days ago. This interruption may have detracted from my take-away from the book. However, if you are looking for a book about memoir, especially from the perspective of the bottom line (marketability), this is certainly a good place to start.

Monday, December 22, 2014

Book Review: Family Blessings

In looking for a Christmas audio book to enjoy, I stumbled upon Family Blessings by Fern Michaels (an author of over seventy novels, yet I don't think I've ever read anything else by her). It certainly didn't rank as high as the inspirational Christmas novellas by Karen Kingsbury (in my book). It is merely an average, quick holiday read. The action of the novel takes place primarily over the Thanksgiving holiday and merely ends with a Christmas wedding (so if you are looking for a Christmas read, you'd probably be more satisfied with another book).

It is not only a tornado stirring up trouble in the small town of Larkspur, Pennsylvania. Loretta Cisco and her three triplet grandchildren (annoyingly labeled "the trips") enter a whirlwind of difficulty on the heels of mother nature's shattering blow. Cisco's beloved house is lost. Sam's wife is leaving him. Hannah and Sara are convinced that their doctor husbands are both having affairs. The back cover proclaims "As the citizens of Larkspur help to rebuild Cisco's home in time for Christmas, she vows to work a holiday miracle that will hold her family together."

I guess I didn't really see any work done on the part of Cisco in healing the situations her grandchildren are dealing with. In the end, most of it came down to miscommunication and a whole lot of bluster over nothing. The characters were not terribly endearing and acted in a quite juvenile manner. The best I can say is that the book managed to hold my attention and was a quick and easy listen. If I had a choice, though, I'd choose Kingsbury's Red Glove series over this one any day of the year.

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Caroling on K-Love

I mentioned in an earlier post that I was given the incredible opportunity of playing with an ensemble on K-Love's national radio station. Last night, my niece in Kentucky sent a message saying that she heard me on the radio. How cool is that!

Here's a photo of our group:

I'm holding my $60 Craigslist instrument and I'm the only one in the group not wearing an official Salvation Army uniform (gave mine away back when I got married and joined my husband's church; not to mention, that one probably wouldn't fit me now anyway).

If you want to hear the brief blurb you can either click here for the sound cloud bite or go to the K-Love Morning Show blog. At the blog site, you can find a second carol. (I'm the one playing the second part - in the harmony line-up.) I don't know if they'll end up playing all four carols at some point, but it was thrilling just to have this rare opportunity to play with the group on the radio.

Merry Christmas from our small Salvation Army band ensemble!

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Book Review: Dash & Lily's Book of Dares

I was all set to love this book. I mean, what could go wrong, right? It has the trail of a secreted notebook with clues for adventures, left in none other than a bookstore. It has a girl seeking a boy. It has Manhattan at Christmas time. It has a lover of words. I loved the idea that two authors worked together (Rachel Cohn writing the female voice and David Levithan writing the male voice). Yet, somehow, I didn't love this book.

Sixteen year old Dash is wandering the aisles of his favorite bookshop when he happens upon a red moleskin notebook with a challenge to join in a mutual dialogue with various dares thrown in. He is transfixed and cannot leave the notebook there. He must follow the clues and discover more about the female owner of this notebook, Lily. The notebook travels back and forth between the two characters with each one pouring out their authentic souls into the notebook. Will they still maintain this chemistry when they actually meet? Will true love descend at Christmas time?

I was truly worried I would get to my young adult book club to find that everyone else adored the book but me. Thankfully, that was not the case. Most of the others felt just as meh about it as I did. I didn't want to hear the descriptive word "snarly" one more time. And really, Dash isn't so much snarly as he is endlessly snarky and full of attitude. His love of words, while commendable, seemed to end up bogging down the dialogue instead of enhancing it. Moreover, the dialogue was a bit of a stretch for teen speak.

The willful suspension of disbelief was challenged to the limit (the notebook never falls into any other hands than it is intended for, the clues are followed without confusion, the one who happens to find the book happens to fit what Lily is looking for, etc.). If the brother knows beforehand that Lily's parents intend to uproot her to move to an exotic location, why would he send her on this wild goose chase hoping for a true love connection? Moreover, we decided in our discussion that it would have made more sense if the one who answered the notebook was in cahoots with her brother to begin with, thus having an inside view to what is going on. For whatever reason, the novel just left me wishing for more. I liked the idea and it held promise ... it just didn't deliver on all that it could have.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Book Review: Good Pictures, Bad Pictures

If you are a parent of boys these days, chances are great that you are deeply interested in finding a way to porn-proof your sons. Who isn't aware of the devastation wreaked by involvement with pornography? It is tearing apart our marriages, destroying our families, and sucking in our children at staggering rates.

According to statistics listed on Enough. org concerning Internet safety, 70 percent of children have encountered pornography on the Web accidentally (Kaiser Family Foundation, 11/2006). An even worse statistic, gleaned from the London School of Economics in January of 2002, estimates that "9 out of 10 children between 8 and 16 have viewed pornography on the Internet. In most cases, the sex sites were accessed unintentionally when a child, often in the process of doing homework, used a seemingly innocent sounding word to search for information or pictures." Our children are in danger. That is clear.

Kirsten A Jensen, MA, and Gail Poyner, PhD, have addressed this mounting problem with a book written specifically to assist parents in introducing the topic for discussion with young children, Good Pictures, Bad Pictures: Porn-Proofing Today's Young Kids. In the introduction to the book, the authors admit to their own discomfort with feeling led to write the book: "You may be asking yourself, 'Talk to a seven-year-old about pornography? You've got to be kidding! Shouldn't I wait until they're twelve or thirteen?' But the sad reality is that many American children begin viewing hard-core Internet pornography at the age of seven and even younger, long before most parents consider discussing the dangers."

You may feel like you've protected your child adequately because you've put in place the technology to block sexual content. Nonetheless, our sons are able to access it in ways we've not considered, perhaps through the phone of a friend. In the end, the best thing we can do for our sons is to assist them in developing their own internal filters. This book is key to opening that conversation. The authors stress the importance of "empowering kids by teaching them what pornography is, why they should avoid it, and how it can damage their brains and become a progressive addiction."

This book is effectively structured to introduce the topic and provide a solution for a child to master. The first seven chapters talk about the brain and how it functions in regard to the images they might encounter. It breaks down the information to a level a young child can grasp and appreciate. It highlights the dangers involved in opening the mind to these images which will be seared on their memories like the image of the space shuttle explosion will always be seared on my own memory. It teaches the child how pornography tricks the brain into an addiction. But, it doesn't stop there.

In chapter eight, the authors introduce children to an acronym to assist them in battling against the lure of pornography. They provide a CAN DO plan. C - The child is urged to Close their eyes immediately, even to shut down whatever device they are on, rather than continue to view the images. A - The next step is to Alert an adult. N - is for Name it as pornography. D - is a highly important phase, urging the child to Distract themselves with something different or some physical activity to divert the brain from focusing on the images. Finally, the O is for Ordering the thinking brain to take charge of the feeling brain. This is a conscious effort a child can make to extract themselves from the pull of pornography.

It is inevitable. Even with exceptional vigil, our children are bound to encounter this deadly evil at some point in their lives. This book offers an avenue for discussion and a plan of attack for a child to memorize and execute when faced with this foe. If you want a tool to help your children fend off the temptations of looking at pornography, you cannot go wrong by investing in this book and sharing it with your children (the authors highlight the dangers for both girls and boys in their introductory comments).

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Book Review: Walking Across Egypt

Walking Across Egypt wouldn't have been on my radar if it hadn't been for my book club. I had never heard of this author before or any of his books. I decided to check it out in audio form and I think the narrator did a great job of telling the story, infusing the characters with their own voices and pausing in just the right moments. It was a bit slow at times, but I did enjoy it. It reminded me somewhat of the tales of Grandma Dowdel in Richard Peck's books. With an old fashioned flair and the clear character of an elderly woman, I was swept into the tale and felt I knew Mattie inside and out.

Mattie Rigsby, at age 78, is slowing down.  When an old dog wanders into her yard, she realizes she has about as much business taking in a stray dog as she has of "walking across Egypt," (apparently the name of an old hymn). She calls the dogcatcher and ends up learning of his nephew, Wesley, a boy familiar with the hard knocks of life. Raised in an orphanage and now in a youth detention center due to the theft of a car, Wesley appears to Mattie to be "one of the least of these my brethren." She determines to take him a slice of pie and pound cake. What follows is a hilarious adventure as we delve further and further into the mind of this elderly woman and the plight of this wayward young man. She yearns for grandchildren, but her own children refuse to cooperate and get married. She serves up a helping heap of good food to everyone who comes her way.

With plenty of laughter injected into the story, this is a tale from yesteryear full of Southern charm. It includes ruminations on the necessity of good manners, the importance of family, the duty of compassion, the trials of children not taking the road you desire, and the need for a purpose in life. I delighted in the voice of Mattie and the imagination of Wesley. The whole cast of characters appealed to me.

Although the book is considered a young adult novel, I think it would probably appeal more to an older crowd than to teenagers today. It wasn't labeled as young adult at my library, but does have a review by the School Library Journal and has a special binding for school libraries. I noted at the end of the book that there is a sequel, called Killer Diller (which my library has, thankfully). Plus, it might be interesting to look into viewing the 1999 movie version of this book available on YouTube (although the casting of Jonathan Taylor Thomas as Wesley seems a bit too attractive for the character I saw in my mind's eye). I'm so glad this was our book selection for December.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Book Review: The Silent Sister

The drama unfolds seamlessly in Diane Chamberlain's novel, The Silent Sister. She carefully weaves each clue into the tale, one at a time, until the truth is revealed and the final crisis moment arrives. The suspense is palpable, but I figured out the truth too soon. Plus, I thought the resolution was a bit too quick and undefined. In the end, we are left wondering whether or not the silent sister meets her tragic end or not.

Riley MacPherson and her brother Danny have been told that their older sister committed suicide, as a teen, over the stress of being a child prodigy on the violin. Their family has been reeling ever since. The deceased mother spent the rest of her life as a shell of the woman she once was. Danny is angry and volatile in the aftermath of all the attention given to his older sister.

Now Riley is forced to confront the past as she clears things out of her family home after the death of her father. Danny is no help at all, wanting nothing to do with the past or his family. When information is uncovered suggesting that her sister Lisa's suicide was faked, Riley must uncover the clues of the past and discover much about herself in the process. Feeling alone in the face of loss, she is desperate to find out anything she can about this much older sister (15 year gap) even if her brother is determined to bring this attention thief to justice.

The beginning was a bit slow getting going, but once I reached the 100th page, I was deeply engrossed in the novel. This author does a fine job of maintaining the reader's interest and slowly unveiling the truth. I would be willing to attempt another suspense novel from this author. From the reviews on Amazon, it sounds like many have liked her other books even more.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Book Review: Remember Me?

I always love how Sophie Kinsella can craft a believable, strong female protagonist, inject ample humor, and weave an interesting journey of a tale. I adored the Shopaholic series. I knew this would be another example of a great story with memorable characters.

Remember Me? tells the tale of twenty-eight year old Lexi Smart, who wakes up from a jolt to the head to find that she has lost three years' worth of memory. One would think things couldn't change much in such a short amount of time, but for Lexi, her whole existence is different and she has to figure out how she got to where she is now. At first, it seems like she has won the lottery. She has a drop-dead gorgeous, wealthy husband, lives in a beautiful, expensive loft, and is no longer a clerk at her company, but actually the boss of her department. It would seem that life couldn't get any better than this. Only problem is, she is a different person and her past is riddled with questions and secrets she must uncover.

While I did thoroughly enjoy the story and really liked the main character, I simply could have done without the sexual part of the story. For one thing, I could only listen to the story when my boys were at school (since I checked this out in audio form to ingest while exercising). Even then, there were moments when my husband walked into the room and definitely gave me looks to say, "What on earth are you listening to?" This was awkward and embarrassing. Yikes.

If all the sexual details don't unnerve you, then you can't go wrong with another Sophie Kinsella offering. She remains one of my favorite authors (just learned that Sophie Kinsella is a pseudonym - didn't know that). So glad my mom recommended her Shopaholic series to me so many years ago. I'm hoping the next installment of that series, Shopaholic to the Stars, will be one I can listen to in any company.

Monday, December 8, 2014

Book Review: Lulu's Lunch

Here is yet another children's book my friend Anne is launching in time for Christmas purchases. Lulu's Lunch tells the age-old story of the bully who takes the lunch with a twist on the solution. When I read the book to my seven year old, he said his favorite part was that the children came up with the solution to the problem on their own. He also loved the illustrations of Brutus, the bully, who is three times the size of the other children. This book provides a great conversation opener for kids trying to deal with a bully.

I received this book in exchange for an honest review.

Saturday, December 6, 2014

In the Christmas Frame of Mind


I have managed to get things moving for Christmas in a reasonable manner this year. This has not always been the case. I used to be the kind of person who sent Christmas cards closer to New Year's Eve every year. Then, one year something happened to trigger a change. Someone, who used to be a casual acquaintance friend back when we lived in DeKalb - you know, the kind you make through your child's friends, but they just seem to stand out more than the rest - responded to my Christmas card with a card of her own and a few choice words.

Her note read something like this: "I don't know why you still send us a card. You don't live here anymore. Plus, we always get your card way after Christmas, like it was something you just did because you received our card in the mail. Feel free to take us off your Christmas card list in the future."

I was speechless. It was especially puzzling since she had sent a letter thanking me for my newsy Christmas card in February of the year before (probably another year when I was far, far behind). In that note, she had responded to almost every bullet point I had made in my Christmas letter, had included a note of greeting from her daughter to Bryce, and had gone on to say, "Some people might not like holiday letters, but I really enjoy them & reading how everyone is." Was she feeling that I share too many tidbits about my family? Did she think I only sent the card out of obligation? Do you really stop sending cards to old friends when you move away from a place? Is the friendship just supposed to stop because there is no immediate contact any more? To this day, that note of hers disturbs me.

Thus, I have taken to attempting to get my cards out shortly after Thanksgiving, lest anyone think they are on my list out of obligation. This year, I sent them on December 1st. If I only sent them to current friends, my list would be quite short. No, I continue to send them to old friends I haven't seen in years (all except for the one who basically requested I remove her from my list). They go overseas, to about ten different states, and to a wide range of individuals I have met and come to care about over the years.


The decorations are now up. Our big tree is up on the back porch, where we can turn up the heaters and sit and enjoy the tree as if we were outside with it. Usually, this is the place where we all congregate when we have the big gathering with my side of the family. (We are taking a year off from hosting my family's Christmas gathering this year and my boys are already moaning about missing seeing their cousins.)

Trevor put almost all of the ornaments on and remarked over the various special ornaments (I always try to buy a special significant ornament each year for each of the boys, with the intention of passing them on when they marry.) He noted that the last few years, Bryce has received football ornaments (because of his involvement with his h.s. football team). I had an extra football ornament (a Hallmark keepsake one snatched up at a resale shop) and Trevor has claimed that as his ornament for 2014. I found another resale store find in a Purdue ornament for Bryce. Now I must find something to represent Sean's year. I doubt I can find something with stitches (he fell on the school bus steps and required four stitches to his chin last month), but I will probably look for something with a roller skate (since he just had a field trip to a roller rink and discovered that he loves skating ... this was quite an accomplishment because he was quaking in fear about the whole thing for weeks before the trip).

I've pared back quite a bit of our decorations (things I was simply tired of, like the singing Christmas tree which used to so amuse the kids and so annoy me). The biggest issue has always been the stockings. We had purchased three matching ones back when there were only three of us, but after the two little guys came along, I just couldn't bring myself to spend a heap of change on five new matching ones. Thus, we've always had a mix-match mess of a stocking display. If only one of the matching ones wasn't an angel, I could simply use the three matching ones for the boys and two others for John and me. This year, I finally settled on something which looks a bit better. I had the stockings my mother used to use when we used to have family gatherings at their house (now that they're in Florida, in a tiny house, this isn't feasible). John and Bryce's are both red, so I added a third red one for Sean and now have an alternating theme. It still isn't the way I want it to look, but it is better than it has been.

The stockings make me think of a funny story. A few years ago, my sister was aware of my stocking dilemma and so whenever she was out and about and saw a set of stockings she thought I might like, she took a picture with her phone and then sent them to me. When we gathered that year for Christmas, she asked why I never responded to any of her stocking suggestions, I shook my head and chuckled. Then, I pulled my old-fashioned flip phone from my pocket to let her know that I'm so far behind the times that I couldn't even receive the photos she was sending to my phone. Ha!

One of the decorations I still put out every year is one we acquired from my husband's work, when they were getting rid of it (it is fully functional, so I'll never get understand that). It is a ceramic village display with lit up trees and houses. I love it. But this year, in my eagerness to get things moving more quickly, I tried to carry the whole thing to the back of the piano, without taking each piece separately. Note to self - Don't ever do something that stupid again! One of the sets of trees fell off and shattered to the ground. Thankfully it was only in a few pieces and I was able to superglue the whole thing back together again. Now, I'm waiting for my husband to look at one of the bulbs which will not light this year.


Another favorite decoration is one I only just received last year. It was displayed in our library's Christmas shop and I came home and added it to my husband's list of gift suggestions for me. It is a beautiful snow-capped house cookie jar. I have already baked up a small batch of cookies to fill the jar (simple peanut butter cup ones from a fundraiser the boys participated in at school). Sadly, I am practically the only one eating the cookies. I may need to add a new wardrobe to my Christmas list, if I continue with my cookie baking plans.

I'm hoping to make up at least five different types of Christmas cookies this year. My paternal grandmother always greeted us with trays of Christmas cookies which she baked in advance and froze to have ready for our visits. I'm talking wide variety! She would bake up a dozen different kinds and freeze them in little baggies, then array them on her special Christmas trays. It is a happy memory I would love to duplicate for my kids ... even if they don't end up eating very many of them.

At least, if I manage to bake the five types of cookies, I will be able to take a tin of cookies to the guy who hunts in our woods every year. He always favors us with a fruit basket or a tray of cookies (or dark chocolate - because he knows how much I adore dark chocolate) and I like to be able to reciprocate in some small way. He is always good to keep an eye out for trespassers on our property and he feeds the deer to keep them coming back.


I have all of the Christmas presents purchased for my boys. This is the first year I failed to buy them books. There are a few reasons. Primarily, it is because we have just participated in the school's book fair and they both picked out a selection of books they had been wanting (including the newest Diary of a Wimpy Kid book - which was another good one - a Weird But True book, a Minecraft book and an Eye Twister optical illusions book). Plus, it is just heartbreaking, when they are allowed to open one present early on Christmas Eve and they happen to grab for the book box and then groan because they were expecting something better. Even my youngest, who is an avid reader, doesn't seem to care for receiving books as a gift. Sob, sob. What's a book lover to do when the rest of her family scorns her passion?

For my part, I did put a few books on my gift suggestion list for my husband. My husband and I don't share the same view on gifts. The other day, I mentioned a gift I had purchased for Trevor and he immediately replied, "That wasn't on his list of things he wanted." Another comment he recently made was "would you like a new set of Cutco knives for Christmas?" Cutco knives? Really?

His list of gift suggestions always includes things that he is in need of (and most of them are things he could really just pick up himself). Here's his list for this year: "work out gloves, sweatbands, black belts, ties, pictures of the boys in frames, sweatpants, nutcracker; and holiday blend coffee." Have you ever heard such a boring list?

Thus, I tend to buy things I think he would like which don't appear on the list. So far, I have purchased a squirrel-proof bird feeder (because he is all about feeding the birds), the nutcracker, and a word-a-day calendar (he loves learning new words). I can list these purchases because he never reads my blog. I have also been keeping my eye out for another Uncle John's Bathroom Reader (he loves those books, filled with tidbits and anecdotal stories). I like to veer off the list. He remains glued to his and only adds things which are practical needs ... like the knife set.

I have to spell out exactly what I would like and where he could find it (example - the special seasonal flavor of Lindt truffles with the snowman on the blue package which offers milk chocolate on the outside with white chocolate on the inside - yum - available at Walmart or Walgreens). But then, I tend to only get what I already listed and that feels like something of a let-down. I always find myself hoping he will have taken the initiative to pay attention to the things I might like outside of my list (I've collected monkeys for years and thus my list often has things like a monkey flash drive). Alas, that doesn't happen very often.

Then, there's the half-way joking comment I made the other day about a trip to London-Paris-Rome. He immediately gets incensed that I would even think about making such an expensive journey (despite his intention to fly us all to Mexico this year for his niece's wedding - that doesn't count as frivolous in his book ... only my dream trips are frivolous). This is definitely another area where we don't see eye-to-eye. Groan.

But, although I won't receive a ticket for my dream trip in my stocking this year, and I won't be surprised by anything I receive, I still enjoy the process of the gift-giving. I love to find the choice treasures and wrap them and see bright faces when they are unwrapped. I enjoy sending unexpected gifts to friends out of the blue. One year, I sent a loaf of my banana-chocolate-chip bread, along with an alto horn pin, to an old Salvation Army friend who used to play alto horn with me in the band when I was a teenager. This year, I'm thinking about sending a soccer door-knob hanger to a college- age girl who used to be Bryce's best friend back in DeKalb (she is an avid soccer player and won a soccer scholarship for her first year in college). I just enjoy doing little things like that. It warms my heart to give.


This year, I had the unexpected pleasure of participating in a Salvation Army ensemble as we played a spot for the K-Love radio station's morning show. I listen to K-Love all the time, so it was quite thrilling to meet the DJs, especially Kankelfritz (because his name is so unique) and to put faces behind the voices I hear on the morning show. Our little quintet had never played together before, but, of course, we're all familiar with the music from the Salvation Army carol book. We each introduced ourselves and the instrument we play and played four little carols. They are supposed to air sometime during the week of December 13th on national radio and our photo will be up on the K-Love Morning Show's Facebook page. How exciting is that?

Thus, my Christmas is off to a good start. How about you? Do you still send cards to old friends from long ago? Do you manage to get them sent prior to Christmas? Do your stockings match? Do you bake reams of Christmas cookies? Do you only purchase practical gifts? Have you ever played or sung on national radio for the holidays? All these things are on my mind. What's on yours?

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Book Review: The Crooked House

My friend Anne is launching her second children's book on Amazon today and I agreed to be a part of the launch team and post reviews of her new book, The Crooked House. Once again, this book is also illustrated by Anne's talented daughter, Jessica. The illustrations burst with color to pair with a rhyming tale of a girl who is ashamed of her house. The main character is transformed when she learns the true story behind her crooked house and begins to feel less crooked herself. The story has a great moral and the illustrations are superb.

I received this book in exchange for a review.