Wednesday, January 31, 2007

As if Three Posts Here Isn't Enough

I'm blogging over at Faithlifs today. See how I Missed Jesus.

I am Woman, Hear me Roar!

Maybe word has gotten out about my drug-free (and easy) labor with daughter number one. Maybe my prowess of juggling Bible study, rearing children in different stages of life, a silly very part-time job, and keeping an immaculate house (or not) has gotten out, because I've been nominated in the Woman Power!--Best Representative of Women category.

Nominations are still open until midnight today, so click HERE and read all about it. Then voting will be open starting tomorrow. Feel free to nominate me in other categories. Feel free to go and vote for me tomorrow. Yes, I said it, right out loud. It's a shameless plug. But seriously, think of those favorite bloggers of yours. The categories are really great, and all the nominees are listed, so all can see, so even those of us who don't win get a little plug.

And thanks for sharing the love with me!

Photo Screensaver

This may be one of those, "yeah, we know that" kind of Works for Me Wednesday entries, but here it goes anyway.

As I was uploading digital pics one day, I thought that there must be some way to be able to use the pictures, to see them on a rotating basis. I should be able to use them as a screensaver. I went to START/Control Panel/Display. Then clicked on the screensaver tab, and one of the options there is My Pictures slideshow. If you save your pictures in the My Pictures folder, you'll be all set. So, now when I'm not working at the computer, I can look up and I might see this blast from the past:

or this cute grin

or this girl who is growing up so fast.

You can use a photo on your desktop, too, by following those same steps, and going to desktop instead of screensaver and adding and selecting the picture that you want to feature, but there's an even easier way that perhaps you didn't know. Just open your photo folder, right click on the photo that you want, and click, "Set as Desktop background." I should probably change more often, but I have had this beautiful picture that I took almost a year and a half ago on my desktop all this time.

If this tip was dumb and useless, just click on over to Rocks in my Dryer for more helpful hints.

Monday, January 29, 2007

L is for Life

We live life just by breathing, but there's a difference between breathing and really living life. We so often forgo the present for the future:

"I can't wait until the baby can talk."

"When I finish school, then. . . . "

"Once all my kids are in school. . . ."

"When we've paid off the ________, then we can. . . . "

We put in hard work while we're in school so that we can get a good job. We put in hard work on the job, so that we can make more money so that we can retire comfortably one day. Bill Butterworth, author of Balancing Work and Life cautions us not to stay confined to one of these boxes at a time, but to experience all of them together.
Our motto should be:
Lifelong Learning. . . Lifelong Labor. . . Lifelong Leisure
What a great concept! In the podcast with Jim Burns on Homeword that I listened to, Bill summed up his thoughts on leisure by explaining why recreation was his favorite word for downtime. The words so clearly conveys the intended effect: re-create.

Here's my take on the three L's in that motto.

By learning we add to our enjoyment of and expertise in our labor and our leisure. When learning is pursued as a lifetime goal, there's no test. This is good for me, because although I have always loved learning, even when I was in school, where there were tests, the results part of learning was not as important to me. In life, you learn what you want to learn. It could be modeling after someone's success--Jesus, Lance Armstrong, or Oprah (that list was fairly random at first, but after reading it, I think that the last two probably think that they have more in common with the first than I would). You could teach yourself a new skill--knitting, writing, or cooking.

Labor is a way to showcase our talent and also to make a meaningful contribution to the world. Your labor could come in the form of financially, intellectually, and emotionally satisfying work. I would call that a Dream Job, and unfortunately it seems like most jobs don't fill all three categories at once. Your labor could be in volunteer service or in taking care of home or family.

Sometimes labor or learning can run our batteries down. Leisure, or recreation, is what charges them back up. Some people may have to be forced to experience leisure, but almost everyone could agree that there are definite benefits to leisure, in addition to the pleasure that comes from the activity, including bonding with others and reduction of stress. This is what people crave when they talk about balance.

This has helped me discover why I am enjoying reading so much. It combines learning and leisure quite nicely. If I could find a paying job as a reviewer or a book jacket writer then I could squeeze work in there and it would qualify for my Dream Job.

Saturday, January 27, 2007

The Husband

A couple of months ago, I picked up Stephen King after a long hiatus from his work. You can read my review of Lisey's Story if you want to find out how that turned out for me.

Sometime after I stopped reading King, I also stopped reading Dean Koontz. I don't think it was because of the subject matter, but because of boredom. I had enjoyed his mix of suspense and a type of science fiction or fantasy for a good suspension-of-reality sort of read, and so I promptly read novel after novel end to end. I think that every writer has a type of pattern, to an extent, and so although each novel was different, they started to seem the same to me. I think that I got into my head that I had quit reading because of content. At the recommendation of a friend, I recently read The Husband. It was a great page-turning read. There was no sex and very little bad language. There was some violence, as befits the genre, but it was not gory (save one brain-splattering scene).

Thank you, friend, for the Dean Koontz reminder. After I began this book, I added Watchers to my favorite reads in my aStore, remembering it as one of my all-time favorites. I recommend that one especially for suspense readers who are also dog lovers. I'm going to try to read it again soon, since it's probably been ten to fifteen years since I first read it.

By the way, I found a Dean Koontz podcast last week and promptly subscribed and downloaded all eleven episodes. I have listened to about half of them, including a very sweet one about being a husband, and his own love story, the inspiration for The Husband. In other episodes, he speaks about the writing process, or the process of taking a book to the big screen. My first thought as I listened to him was, "He sounds so normal."

Incidentally, I know that some of you may think that all of this podcast chat is useless to you, since you might be pod-less, as I was until Christmas. I do want to let you know that anyone can upload itunes and you can use it to save podcasts and listen to them on your computer (or burn them to CDs and listen to them during your commute). I think I knew that it was going to be a favorite topic of mine when I made an ipod label when writing that first post on the topic. So, I will go back to the philosophy I shared in the Blog Meme, and say, "It's my blog, and I'll write what I want to." I trust that some will find the information useful, and those who don't can skip over it.

Friday, January 26, 2007

A Two-Cup Morning

From the moment that the whine of the burr grinder stops and the rich smell of the brew fills the air, coffee takes me somewhere. I'm not a complete coffee junkie, but I do love coffee--fresh whole bean coffee, strong and full-bodied, lightened with some half and half.

But that first cup of coffee isn't just about the rich aroma, the creaminess of the half and half, the warmth, the caffeine. For me, it's about the quiet. The moment. I can enjoy a cup of coffee as I begin my day reading my Bible, answering email, checking my blogs. Some mornings I'm lucky to get through half a cup and a quick devotional reading before getting distracted with the morning routine which leaves me with tasks unfinished and a cold cup of coffee. Other mornings I wake early, or the kids sleep late, or time stands still, and I am able to linger over two full cups of coffee. A few days this week have been those glorious two-cup mornings.

I think more than I love coffee itself, I love what coffee becomes as I enjoy it:

It's the peace of being the only one awake in the house.

The perfect afternoon pick-me-up on a cold winter's day, paired with a book or a chick flick.

Coffee is the nightcap after a fun evening with friends or family.

It's the completion of a great restaurant meal, accompanying dessert or on its own.

It can be an escape: a special sugared and frothed treat in a coffeehouse with a girlfriend, bringing with it laughter and fun or serious open-hearted sharing.

It's an invitation. Coffee isn't always just coffee.

What is coffee to you?

Thursday, January 25, 2007

9.4 Things

Katrina at Callapidder Days wrote today that the average mom thinks about about 9.4 things in any 5 minute period. I thought it was sort of interesting, so I thought I'd write it up for a quick blog post:

  1. How am I going to keep track of the five minutes? grabbing notepad and checking watch.
  2. Are the boys okay? I'm babysitting and I always worry more about other people's children than my own.
  3. I hope the babysitter doesn't think that she's supposed to come tonight. She's supposed to come tomorrow, but the conversation yesterday left me wondering if that was communicated clearly enough.
  4. I wonder if my other babysitter can come next week?
  5. I wonder if I'll find a purse I like and actually bring myself to spend the money on it. (The babysitter for next week is to arrange a potential outing with my handbag expert friend).
  6. The boys sure are having fun. Fun = Mess
  7. How should I respond to this email I just got?
  8. Where's Kyle's other shoe?
  9. Oh no--he took the train track apart. I often think that I need a degree in civil engineering to help with the train interest.
  10. Where did Daniel go?

Seriously--wrote that last one down, looked at the watch, and it had been five minutes.

How many things do you think of in five minutes?

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Getting Around a Destination City

I have written a couple of travel info posts (like this one about Portland) and have really been wanting to write about New York City, but I'm having a hard time sorting out the wealth of information. However, here's one tip that I can share with the whole Works-for-me-Wednesday crowd.

Any time we go to New York City, I pull up a central spot on mapquest, like our hotel if we are staying overnight, or in this case, the theater at which we saw Mary Poppins. I use the zoom button to get the map at just the right size to include all of the locations where we will be. I number them at the top, including any additional information, like the time of our reservation at Tony DiNapoli's, and add the number to the map.

Since we mostly walk while in NYC, it's really helpful to just pull this one sheet out and know where I am going. I've never used it on another destination, but I'm thinking that it would also work to print the one page map of a city with our hotel mapped and any other spots to which we would be driving.

I still want to do a piece on Destination: NYC, but it seems so overwhelming. If anyone has any specific questions (or generalized inquires) that you would want to see in a travel piece, let me know. That might help me get started, or make me feel even more aimless in tackling the whole piece. Who knows.

Pop over to Rocks in my Dryer to see even more WFMW tips.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

When to Quit

Last week at Faithlifts, I wrote about making A Fresh Start. Fresh starts are important. A new year and all of the ideas of ushering out the old and ringing in the new cause us what we're doing and why. Is there a grudge I've been nursing that needs to be released? Forgiveness that needs to be offered? A hopeless situation that I should look at from a new angle? At the close of the post, I asked: If God’s compassions never fail, if they are new each morning, then with whom or with what situation should we remain faithful? What needs a new beginning with a new resolve or dedication in your life?

That is worth thinking about. But how about the other side of the coin? How do you know when to quit?

Last week on the Apprentice, Michelle quit. Not surprisingly, the Donald thought it was a bad idea. Here is what he had to say:
Doesn't that make you a quitter? Doesn't that make you a loser? You are making a very big mistake. When you look back on our life, you will not be proud. When I speak, I tell people, "Never ever give up. Never quit. You can never be successful if you quit."
I would imagine that most of my blog readers make their decisions very differently from Donald Trump. Who we are is more important than what people think about us. Does quitting make you a loser by default? My boardroom speech, or the speech that I give when someone hires me to give advice would be a little different than his.
Sometimes it's okay to quit. Sometimes stepping down isn't forfeiting success--it's making the way for a new opportunity in which you can succeed. Giving in isn't the same as giving up.
What is it that gives you a lump in your stomach each time that you think about it or have to do it? Is it something from which you can resign? I'm not only including something you think that you could quit, but anything you are able to quit. For example: The thought of going to sleep at night fills you with dread, because you know that the baby who has decided not to sleep will inevitably destroy your sleep. You can't quit motherhood. Sorry. Unless there are extreme circumstances of abuse, I would put your marriage into the same category.

But there are some things that our internal voice keeps telling us, "You've always done this. It's who you are. You're good at it. It's perfect for you." If each time you drive to work (and even when you are at home) you worry about how disastrous your day will be, that is something you can quit. No matter that you are the sole breadwinner (you might want to find another job first), or that the job is "just perfect," because the salary is good, the hours are good, it's an easy commute. . . .Things can look good on paper, but still not be good. Katherine at Raising Five shared her own gut-wrenching decision here. She made some excellent points, so instead of repeating them, I will link to her thoughts on her Homeschooling Burnout.

I've been there. I've quit jobs, I've dropped classes, I've scaled back hobbies, I've restructured friendships. After I made the hard choice to quit, I have almost always felt that pit in my stomach melt away. I didn't feel like a loser. I felt as if I had won myself back.

Some signs that it might be time to quit (a relationship, a job, a ministry, a committee):
  • You worry about it--a LOT. While you are there, when you get home, and any time you know that you are going to be there.
  • While you are there, you are conflicted. You feel like you are doing things that you shouldn't be doing or it's causing you to react in ways that make you uncomfortable.
  • You have tried to change the situation to no avail.
  • You begin to feel as if there is no hope for change at all, and this hopelessness leaks into other areas of your life, leaving you feeling defeated in general.
So, I'll ask again, but a little bit differently: How is what you are doing affecting who you are? If it is not a positive affect, what in your life needs a new start or a clean break?

Monday, January 22, 2007

What's New in the Blogosphere?

Ultimate Blog Party

It seems like there's a lot these days! One thing that I am excited about is over at 5 Minutes for Mom. The Ultimate Blog Party sounds like fun. Click the link to read the instructions on how you can be a part of it--by publicizing, linking up, and then visiting around and winning prizes to boot! If you want to publicize your blog or your business, you can donate a prize as well. I have donated a free book (up to $20) from my aStore.

Faithlifts will be unveiling a new look in a couple of weeks as well. They are also looking for writers for new subjects by category (and a few hosts, too). Pop on over to see how you might get involved. I will still be posting every other Wednesday, but instead of a monthly topic, we will be writing devotions on whatever we'd like.

A Group Blog for Christian Moms

Sunday, January 21, 2007

The Blog Meme

Barb at a Chelsea Morning left an open tag for this blog meme, so I took her up on it.

Do you like the look and content of your blog?

Love the look! Thanks to Susie at Bluebird Blogs. I am little bossy opinionated at times. I have loved so much of her work, that I just told her that I liked blues and reds and greens, but I didn't want it to look like 4th of July or Christmas. I had envisioned pictures, you know Snapshots, of my life across the header. I found the one of the books, and told Susie that I liked the colors there. The church is really my church. The kids are really my kids. Since the header is permanent and I can't switch out the picture as they grow (too fast), I loved this picture that I took of them sitting on the front porch looking out. From the back, they haven't changed that much, yet.

I'm pleased with the content. I think that I hit my groove after blogging a couple of months, and then I was totally bitten with the writing bug. Since it was summer, I had fewer commitments, and I threw myself headlong into the whole writing/blogging thing. With summer over, it got harder to make the time to think and to develop the thoughts that were still swirling in my head. I'm trying to find a balance between just slapping any old thing up here and forgoing all other responsibilities in my life completely. I think I'm doing pretty well at that this new year.

Does your family know about your blog?

Yes, I think everyone knows. My dad and my sister-in-law and my sister-in-law-to-be are regular readers (and regular to occasional commenters).

Can you tell your friends about your blog?

Sometimes. Several of my friends know and read regularly (and comment rarely). If the subject of writing or blogging comes up, I sometimes feel free to tell them about the blog, but it's hard to do so without feeling like they are getting the unintended message of, "You must read my blog. It's really great and will truly change your life if you spend 2 minutes a day reading what I have to share."

Do you just read the blogs of those who comment on your blog?

No. I'm in a quandry about my personal blogroll on my sidebar. I just deleted it, but am going to decide how to bring it back. I want to include the must-reads--the ones that I check them daily, or at least every few days (one way that I have substantially cut down my blog reading time is to check most blogs only a couple of times a week. It's easy to catch up that way). On top of those, there are probably 20 or more blogs that I check in with, and enjoy, less than once a week. Some of these are commenters. If you comment here, and have a blog, I will probably stop in to check out your blog.

The blogroll is a very sticky issue. Yes, at times it seems like a popularity contest. I don't mean it to be that way, or hurt anyone's feelings. The reason that I have decided to keep mine is because if there's a blog that I really am enjoying, I like to see which blogs she enjoys, and I check them out. I think that my personal blogroll should be fairly short, because if there were 50 blogs on there, it would be hard to peruse them. Additionally, once you add someone to your blogroll, it's hard to take them off (if I read less because I'm reading fewer blogs in general). So, before adding someone to the permanent list, I want to read them for a number of months and make sure that it's something that I really really like and want to endorse. So, I'm thinking that I will post the top 10 blogs that I absolutely read on a regular basis, and then include some rotating spots. They will be blogs that I am really enjoying, right now, and I will encourage people to check them out.

Stay tuned in the next couple of days. My sidebar, blogroll included, needs some serious housekeeping, so I'll announce when I have the new info available.

Does your blog positively affect your mind?

Probably. I enjoy doing it, and the practice of writing almost every day has definitely fed that creative part of me that should be fed. I like the comments--not just as empty puffed-up praise, but to hear how what I wrote made you respond or think. The downside would be that it sometimes overtakes more of my mind than it should.

What does the number of visitors to your blog mean?

It means that all the time that I am spending on the blog is appreciated by someone. I won't lie and say that I don't care how many people read my blog. Would I still do it if half the people came by? Yes.

Do you imagine what other bloggers look like?

Yes. I really like it when someone has a picture in their little blogger profile, so that the pic comes up with their comment. I understand that some people don't like to have their picture out there and that's fine, but I like to put the real face with the real "name."

Do you think that blogging has any real benefit?

I like the community that's created here. People care and share and it's fun. It's a group of people who have decided to pursue the same hobby is the bottom line. Many of us share interests other than blogging: our faith, or children, or reading, or cooking.

Do you think that the blogosphere is a stand-alone community separated from the real world?

Yes and no. Yes, authentic relationships can be created. I think of the blogs as sort of a gateway. Maybe there will be people with whom you really connect, and begin "real-world" relationships, via personal emails or phone calls or meet-ups. If not, I think that there is a definite connection and fellowship, but it is indeed separated from the real world.

Do some political blogs scare you? Do you avoid them?

I don't even read the newspaper or watch the news, so I certainly don't read political blogs. I try to avoid things that raise my blood pressure and extreme blogs on politics (or other topics) fall into this category.

Do you think criticizing your blog is useful?

I don't really get this question. If someone had an honest constructive criticism, I would invite them to comment or email me, but in general my mantra is, "It's my blog and I'll write what I want to . . . . "

Have you ever thought what would happen to your blog if you died?

Ha! Yes. Katrina at Callapidder Days is my real life friend, so I think that she would be sure it was laid to rest properly.

Which blogger has had the greatest impression on you?

That would again be Katrina. I had only read one blog, after hearing about it when a book was released. It was sort of a project blog, and ended after the project was over, but I was intrigued. I decided to start my own, but I think it died after a couple of posts. Then I found out that my real life friend Katrina had one, and somehow I decided to follow along in her footsteps. It's been a lot of fun to go through things together in the blogosphere. She is a great writer, with a talent for humor and instruction, writing about deep topics as well as light ones, and I'm proud to consider her as a sort of mentor.

Which blogger do you think is the most similar to you?

Oh, I think that I'm funny like Boomama and Big Mama, I'm warm and genuine like Bev and Barb, deep like Heather at L'Chaim, a wise Mommy like Katherine, and organized like Laura. If that last one didn't alert you to the joke, then I'll tell you I'm just pulling your leg. I do think that there are a lot of people who I would love to meet in real life and would probably get along with really well, and there are so many things that I admire about each of you.

Name a song you want to listen to.

I'm with Barb. I don't get this question, but when I was listening to our newest TMBG CD with my kids today, it sort of reminded of that song, "I get knocked down, but I get up again. . . . " I'd like to hear that one again. It always lifted my mood.

I will also leave this as an open tag. I would encourage any of you newer bloggers to do it (or just do a few of the questions--it is a long meme), and anyone else who wants to examine their blogging life. Please let me know in the comments if you do it.

Saturday, January 20, 2007

Mary Poppins

First we saw the movie.

Then we saw the broadway show.

Now we are reading the book.

It's a great way to compare and contrast the differences in how a story is told. They are all very different. The movie is the frame of reference for most of us. Julie Andrews is Mary Poppins and Dick Van Dyke is Bert. Who has gone through life without singing Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious? All thanks to the movie.

The broadway musical is fantastic. I've seen many shows on Broadway, and I can't say that I enjoyed any more than I enjoyed this one. The one drawback is it that is in the giant theater that Disney has purchased (and until this show featured Lion King, which has moved to a different theater). The story is classic, the dancing is amazing, and the music truly puts a smile on your face. If you get to London or to New York City and have the opportunity to see this, whether you are eight or thirty-eight, I recommend it highly. I would predict that it will go on tour to other US cities in the next couple of years as well.

One great thing about this book is that it works well as a read-aloud. P.L. Travers is a fantastic storyteller. The idea that Mary Poppins, complete with umbrella and some type of mysterious magical powers, came to straighten out the Banks children is the same in all three portrayals of the story. Other than that, the book is quite different, so it's a new experience for everyone. Because it was written so long ago, there is a bit of advanced vocabulary, that would be unfamiliar to a six or seven year old, but other than that, I think that this is the type of book that could be read to younger children all the way up to older readers.

Check out other book recommendations for kids and adults and my 2007 reading list at my astore.

This review is linked to Semicolon's Saturday Review of Books.

Friday, January 19, 2007

The Great American Novel

I once told a friend as we were discussing writing, that fiction writing seemed so trivial and meaningless, and I couldn't see using my gift or talents writing it. She replied that she would love to write a good novel, because she loved escaping into a good novel herself and would love to be able to give others that same satisfaction.

When I first spoke those words almost two years ago, God was impressing upon me that I should be writing, specifically writing Bible studies or something with life-changing discipling content. In my zeal, I forgot that one person's call is not the same as another's. I forgot that in the beginning an impression might be stronger or more singly-focused. I also forgot that I don't know everything, and that little sensitivity and silence on a subject can go a long way. Those careless words haunt me. I know that my friend doesn't hold them against me, but they make me feel as foolish as those pre-parenting absolutes: "I'll never let my child ______ (fill in the blank here with whatever you now regularly let your child do).

At the time I had this conversation, I was also a little bit out of the fiction reading habit, and had forgotten the wonder of a created character, or a world, or just a thought or a conversation in that character's world. I still don't know if I'll try to pen the Great American Novel, but I'm back to reading fiction as voraciously as possible while taking care of a house and two kids and nurturing a writing habit. In feeding the habits of reading and writing, I've learned that words resonate and take on lives of their own, sometimes to instruct or exhort or inform and other times just to entertain. Sometimes if you don't capture them on paper quickly, they die. Other times the process of taking them captive renders them lifeless.

I still enjoy writing essays and articles and Bible truths, but there are voices inside who won't be totally silenced. They have stories to tell, complete with personality quirks and noble or ignoble character. The truth is that while I can hear conversations and internal dialogue, I can't imagine actually plotting a novel from the introductory scenes through a crisis or two while building suspense and an eventual climax and resolution and conclusion. Yes, I have ideas. Yes, I've written a page (or twenty), but do I have that burning desire to get a specific story or any story down on paper? No, not right now. But just as I resolved after having children, I've learned never to say never.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Not Your Mother's Slow Cooking Thursday

I bought this book last spring, and I have really loved the recipes that I tried out of it. Many other slow cooker cookbooks have the same old recipes that sometimes end up lacking in taste. Since it's (finally) cold here in Connecticut, I've been craving this type of food. Last night was chili, and today I was looking for a good bean soup, and I found it quickly here. I have never participated in Diary of a SAHM's Slow Cooking Thursday, although I've enjoyed recipes that I've seen at Laura's and Susanne's blogs. Since I had a success tonight, I thought I'd share. Click here for more recipes.

White Bean Soup with Bacon

from Not Your Mother's Slow Cooking Cookbook
2 cups dried navy or great northern beans, presoaked
2 to 3 strips of bacon, cooked until fat is rendered, but not crispy, and chopped, or 1 ham bone
1 small yellow onion, finely chopped
1 rib celery, minced
1 small carrot, minced
1 bouqui garni (1/2 tsp dried oregano, 3 sprigs fresh parsley, 1/2 sage leaf, and 1 bay leaf, wrapped in cheesecloth and tied with kitchen twine)**
6 cups chicken broth or water (I used 2 cans of broth and less than 1 can of water)
salt to taste
1/4 tsp freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup heavy cream, optional (I did use this, and it was good, but might add less than 1/2 cup next time)

**I have never made a bouqui garni. I know it's not hard or complicated, but cheesecloth is not kitchen staple around here. I put in a whole dried bay leaf, and the parsley sprigs, which I fished out after cooking, and then just added some ground spices to the soup.

1. Combine the beans, bacon, onion, celery, carrot, bouquet garni, and broth in slow cooker. Cover and cook on low for 8 or 9 hours.

2. Remove the bouquet garni and bone, if using, and discard. Puree about 1/3 of the soup in a food processor or with handheld immersion blender. Season with salt, then add pepper and cream, if using, and continue to cook on Low 15 minutes longer.

More true confessions: I actually cooked this on the stove top, because I didn't decide to make it until after noon. It worked well, but I like that this recipe can truly cook all day, which some slow cooker recipes don't allow. I used a handheld potato-mashing tool to just mash some of it up.

I would post a picture, but the camera is, um, missing, and it looks like you would think white bean soup would look. The two-year-old didn't want to try it, and the 8-year-old didn't want to try it either, but once she did, she really liked it.

Causing a Stink

Chris at Come to the Table recently posted a cute story. Read it and come back for my take.

The comment I left said, "Next time I am tempted to yell, I will think about how I might respond if there were baby skunks around." Why should I treat skunks with more consideration than I treat my own kids? When I yell at them, they may hurt on the inside, even if they don't give off an offensive spray. I need to think about that very real hurt and be as diplomatic as I would be in dealing with baby skunks.

We actually had a real run-in with skunks earlier this month. The dog was outside barking up a storm. When we looked out the window and realized what was making her bark (not "another little dog" as my husband initially thought), we opened the door, and then quickly and quietly, yet firmly and gently, called the dog. My husband was calling her name, but then I suggested, " Tell her 'come.'" We did invest in obedience training when she was a puppy and those commands have stuck.

In thinking about my reaction to the real-life skunk and my real-life reactions to my kids, I was struck with how crucial it is to have clear expectations. In those situations where my kids know the expectations, I can calmly remind them of the rules, expect them to respond, and move on. Even if they don't respond right away, I don't usually get all worked up, because I have "right" on my side, and I just continue insisting. The times I get all worked up are usually consequences of all those gray areas where a little whining and wheedling convince me to change my stand. How can they know that this time I really mean "Do it, and do it now"? It's confusing. For all of us.

The "come" command worked for the dog. We avoided a big stink. In obedience training (for kids and dogs), consistency and clear expectations are so important. I have tried to teach my two-year-old that when I give a command, I expect him to follow through. I have tried to help my daughter understand that just doing it is much easier than arguing about it.

This happens to tie in to some great advice that I heard on the 1/12/07 podcast of Homeword by Jim Burns about defeating disrespectful behavior in kids. From that link, you can download it, or listen to it right on your computer. This was my first time to the website, and it looks to have a wealth of information. If you need a little podcast tutorial, or want to see how to specifically subscribe to the Homeword podcast, they have a great article with very clear instructions.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

A Fresh Start

What in your life needs a fresh start today? I'm blogging about beginnings over at Faithlifts today. Please join me.

Reading Incentives

Some people don't like to read. Or they like to read, but realize that they like to do other things more, so they don't read. Or they read, a good bit, even, but realize that there are about forty more books that they would like to read if they had the time (this is me right now!).

Even if as adults, we've decided to put reading books on the back burner, we usually don't allow our children the same luxury. If they're early readers, reading is good for them. If they are older, they probably have to read for school, whether they like it or not. Some reluctant readers need incentives. I've thought of a few. My daughter has never been a reluctant reader (she's a bookworm just like I was), but we have some practices that have encouraged her to read. Additionally, I have changed some practices that have pushed me along in reading more to my toddler, and reading more for myself. If you need help in any of these areas, read on. If you have something that has worked for you, then please leave a comment and share with all of us.

The Marble Jar--In one of my first WFMW posts, I shared about the marble jar system that we used for behavior/chore incentives around here. Since it's such an easy and effective way to keep track of something, I thought that it could be used for a reluctant reader--one marble per chapter, or perhaps one marble per book, with a reward after a certain number of marbles. I have decided that since when it comes to reading to a toddler, I'm the reluctant reader. He would sit and listen to books for much longer than I give him. So I thought that I could use the marble system in reverse for myself. If I set a minimum of 5 books per day (at least two at nap and bedtime and then some spontaneous reading when he asks), I can fill the jar with the marbles and take them out as I read. I could increase the marbles as a challenge to myself. By the way, if we are potty training, we read lots and lots of books. I don't mind the reading in that context, but I still hate potty training. . . .

Turn it off--the Gameboy, or PSP, or whatever the coolest latest hand-held gadget is called. My daughter always takes a book in the car. She does it because she likes it, but what if a child who didn't like it read in the car, instead of complaining or terrorizing siblings. . . . ? On a weekend or a holiday or snow day, she knows that after so much TV, she will be told to turn it off and do something else. Watching less TV has really helped me to meet my personal reading goals, as well. I'm still tempted to turn it on the afternoons for some downtime, but if I have a book (or forty) waiting to be read, I remind myself that I have a book waiting that I really want to read.

Listen--this is new to me, so I would love feedback from those of you who do enjoy audiobooks. I don't have any sort of daily commute, and when I'm in the car with the children I can't really focus on listening to a book, and I'm fighting for the radio, but this month I tried out For the first three months I can download one book each month for only $7.49 a month. (Whether or not this really "counts" as reading is of no concern to me. It helps decrease the titles in my to-be-read file, so it counts in my book, yes pun intended). My library has a netlibrary lending program for downloadable audiobooks which is FREE, but doesn't support the ipod platform. Now there are some programs that you can download to get around that, such as soundtaxi, but it feels sort of slimy to me, although it is supposedly not illegal. Does anyone know more about this? Also if anyone has a book that they particularly enjoyed in the audio format, or a type of book that hasn't translated well to an audio, or tips for squeezing in more audiobooks, I'd love to hear them. I'm about 3 1/2 hours into The Worst Hard Time. That's 3 1/2 hours that I would not have spent reading, because I've listened to it on my ipod while I was cleaning house or in the car--don't worry, I can hear just fine over the spoken word. I like listening to this nonfiction book, because getting through fiction is never a problem for me. While I like non-fiction, it sometimes takes me a while, so to be able to listen to a book in a time that I can't read a book is a big incentive to "read" more of the non-fiction that I can't wait to get to.

How do you squeeze more reading into your life, for you or your kids?

Click the banner for all sorts of tips from others.

Do you want to see what else I'm reading? Check out the categories in my aStore.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007


The Bible study that our women's group is doing at church is a little different this session. It's from a publisher of small groups, Serendipity House, and instead of it being an intensive at home study, it's mostly meant to be discussed together as a group. There are icebreakers at each meeting. For this week it was to fill in these blanks: "Disguised as a mild-mannered (your occupation), my secret identity known previously to no other mortal is (your favorite childhood superhero)."

Well, I have never been much of a superhero type, but growing up I did like the Incredible Hulk. The thought of him getting mad, turning green, and busting out of his clothes still gives me a bit of a giggle. The unsettling fact is that once I began to think of it, I decided that I may be a bit like that at home. A mild-mannered homemaker, getting fed up and short-tempered. Before I know it I am raging and heaving. I'm working on that.

You may have heard that our strengths magnified can become our biggest weaknesses. For example (and you will know that I am not talking about myself here), if you are compassionate and gentle, you will handle difficult situations with love and understanding. That's a good thing. However, to the extreme, you become a doormat and anyone can start playing their little violin and get you to do anything for them. If you are a natural administrator, (um, maybe I am talking about myself here), then you will be able to guide a group of people into action. To the extreme, you are a steamroller, making decisions willy-nilly as a dictator and squashing anyone else's attempts to contribute.

Being good at something is important. Knowing what we are good at, and using it, is equally important. What are your gifts? Have you ever crossed that line in causing them to become a weakness?

I saw this quiz back before Christmas (sorry, I don't remember where so I can't credit my source). It was fun.

Your results:
You are Spider-Man

Wonder Woman
Green Lantern
Iron Man
The Flash
You are intelligent, witty,
a bit geeky and have great
power and responsibility.

Click here to take the "Which Superhero am I?" quiz...

I wish I had been Batman, because I love the scene in Batman where Michael Keaton is saying, "I'm Batman. I'm Batman." I think he was psyching himself up to tell Nicole Kidman about it.

I especially think that Daniel (who always likes a blog mention) should take this quiz and leave me a comment about who he is. Dana too.

Sunday, January 14, 2007

I Say Maybe

Rachel over at Home Sanctuary asked, "What's Your Slogan?". Since I go around telling you when I said yes, I think that it's only right to share the thoughts that this post brought about for me.

I say "Maybe," or "We'll see". . . a LOT. The eight-year-old has it figured out. She knows that "We'll see" usually means "no." In a sense, she's right, but actually what it really means is, "The answer is no right now, and I don't want to argue about that, so I'm going to hold off on issuing the no, because I might feel like a yes later, but if you begin arguing with me, you will lose that possible yes opportunity."

The "Maybe" is usually for the two-year-old. He likes routine. He likes to know what's coming up next. So, as we're driving home ("Home? Going home now?"), he then starts in with the other questions, "Watch Thomas? Watch Thomas at home?" or if we've had donuts any time recently, the question might be, "Eat donuts?" Honestly, I don't know what kinds of things I put him off with Maybe about, because most of his activities are completely approved and welcomed. I think that some of the Maybe's come from areas in which I am truly uncertain. "Dora? Dora coming on next?" If I'm not sure, and don't have the remote handy to check the guide (That is my absolute favorite thing about Direct TV!), I have to say, "Maybe." But I know that it is an expected response for him, because now he will often answer his own questions. "Watch Dora? Maybe? Maybe later." So I'm going to listen to myself more to determine where all of these Maybes are coming from. (Between the time I started writing this and now, I was putting him down for a nap. He was telling me the books he wanted me to read, in addition to the two I already read to him. I told him, "Maybe".) It's an answer he accepts, which is likely why I use it so often. Remember I'm dealing with a two-year-old now, and since he has hit two-and-a-half, if he doesn't like the answer he gets, he has been known to throw himself down in a full-blown fit.

Another disturbing little phrase that the parrot has picked up is, "I'm busy. Busy now." He will give this answer to his big sister if he doesn't want to do what she wants him to do, "Not. I busy. Busy now." He gives it to me when it's time for lunch and he's playing with his trains. When he first started saying that, of course I thought, "Where in the world did a two-year-old learn to say he was busy!" I quickly decided that it must be from me. But I'm fairly certain that I don't often tell him that. He has been able to work the DVD and VCR players for almost a year. So, if he decides he doesn't like what he's watching, he fixes that himself. No need for me to make him wait with an "I'm busy" (on the computer, fixing dinner etc). Amanda thinks that he may have learned it from her, so I'll have to listen. I think he may have picked it up from me telling her that. Because while an eight-year-old is more self-sufficient than a two-year-old, she is also more argumentative and insistent, and if she wants something she wants it now, not Maybe Later, so she might end up getting the "I'm busy right now," as a final answer.

So, you've heard my slogans, and Kyle's. Amanda's is probably "But Mom. . ." going along with that argumentative thing. What's yours?

Saturday, January 13, 2007

We Love Beverly Cleary, Too

Heather over at Mom 2 Mom Connection has a great post up today called Beverly Cleary, the Storyteller. Go read it.

I have been working up a post about why I like Amanda to read kids' classics, which I define as a book published at least twenty years ago. I think about what I read when I was a child, and I make it available to her. Additionally, we've discovered many older books, published in the fifties and even before. When I post it later this week, I'll tell why I find these books so appealing (and a few things to watch for).

Since I brought it up, if you'd like to list some books or authors that fall into this category (like Beverly Cleary and Laura Ingalls Wilder), I will include them in a comprehensive list of these types of books for kids. When I post, I'll tell why I find these books so appealing (and a few things to watch for).

The Shakespeare Stealer Series

A couple of months ago when I was shelving books while volunteering at Amanda's school library, an interesting looking book jumped out at me: The Shakespeare Stealer, by Gary Blackwood. I wanted to review this three-book series all at once, but I've had a hard time waiting. I am glad to see that it is available in one volume, which is always a thrifty way to purchase this type of series.

From the first, I was pulled into the story of Widge, an orphan working as an apprentice to the inventor of a type of shorthand. He ends up working for Shakespeare's play company (in a role that evolves over the three-book series). I don't like to give too much away, so I will stay away from details, only to say that this is a well-written series with some flat characters, yet others (such as Widge) which are fully developed and quite likeable. Each book carries a type of suspense that is effectively shielded from the reader until the appropriate dramatic moment, even when reading a first-person account. I thought that the first two books were much stronger than the third, but I had to keep reading to find out how Widge turned out.

As regular readers know, I enjoy learning something while I'm reading fiction. Reading this series of books taught me about the time and circumstances during which Shakespeare wrote and made me want to find out more about Elizabethan England (after reading the Royal Diary, Elizabeth I, I was already curious). It also peaked my interest in the Plague (which figures prominently in the second book), and in Shakespeare's plays in general. I'm not sure that as a mom I have the energy to read Shakespeare, but when I stumbled across Tales from Shakespeare at one of my favorite discount bookstores, I figured that would tide me over. The book is interesting, and I was particularly taken by the introduction, which implied that the book was written to expose children to Shakespeare's original stories, without the verse.

I think that Shakespeare Stealer series would be a great read for a junior high student, or a freshman in high school (or an adult Shakespeare lover looking for a light read). After reading a fictional account of Shakespeare's players (and starring Shakespeare himself), their interest couldn't avoid being pricked, which might lead to more enjoyment of the plays that they will inevitably be assigned in high school. The second and third books in the series, Shakespeare's Scribe and Shakespeare's Spy, deal with the life of an actor and the life of a writer, so I would also recommend it it to a child with artistic ambition. Because Widge is an orphan, an adopted child or an orphan who struggles with identity could probably relate as well. The reading level and the subject matter would probably be fine for any proficient reader, age 10 and up.

Check out some of my other favorite recommendations and what else I hope to read in 2007 in my aStore.

This book review is linked up to Semicolon's Saturday Review of Books.

Friday, January 12, 2007

The Panera Experience

I received an invitation in the mail earlier this week:
This is an invitation. An invitation to come in and enjoy hand crafted-loaves of bread. . . to try inventive hot and cold sandwiches. . . . It's also an invitation to come in and unwind. At a spacious booth with a group of friends, in a big leather armchair, or a table where you can work with soft lighting and free Wi-Fi. This is an invitation to linger as long as you like, with your family for dinner, or by yourself any time of day. This is more than an invitation for a meal. This is an invitation to find comfort in every bite, every seat and every time you visit.
It was from Panera bread, with which I am familiar from Houston, but which is new to Connecticut. One has opened less than ten minutes away from me. I've already been four times. Each time I enjoyed my meal or bagel. One time, when my husband and I went for breakfast with only my two year old, by some amazing twist of fate, we were even able to linger--he over his newspaper, and me emailing on my laptop! Yes, we could unwind, we could relax, we could sip coffee and enjoy the experience. Panera does not just want to create a place where I can come in and get a bagel (which are quite good). They want me to crave the whole experience. And I do. I think back to the days when I could go there after dropping Amanda off at preschool, get a cup of coffee and a cinnamon chip bagel, and take a book or my Bible study, and linger--alone. It all made me feel a bit carefree and sophisticated.

As a contrast, I will describe our experience last night, when I took the kids for dinner since my husband had a meeting at church. It was more crowded than expected, but we found a booth, and I parked the children there and went to order. I returned with Kyle's muffie (muffin top), and we waited for our other food. "Aaaaeeeee--no!" screeches Kyle to Amanda, who is filching his muffin. "Amanda, quit it!" says Mom to daughter, who is grinning like the Cheshire cat. I go to pick up our food and hear the protesting across the restaurant. I return with the directive, "Leave him alone." The filching, and the screeching, continues. When Kyle finishes eating, it is a struggle to keep him seated, instead of standing and peering over the back of the booth (which fortunately only faces the window and not another table of sophisticated people trying to enjoy the Panera experience). It wasn't a horrible experience. I've certainly had less pleasant outings with the kids. It's just life. But there was no lingering. The trip from my driveway, to the restaurant, and back home took less than an hour, and it would have been less than that, except that we had a longer than normal wait for our soups and sandwiches. Incidentally, does a pumpkin muffin and some of Sister's chips count as dinner for a two and a half year old? I mean, pumpkin is full of beta-carotene and all sorts of good stuff, right?

It confirms my suspicions that being a mom, especially a mom to young children or to many children of any age, is not a sophisticated endeavor. Sophisticated ladies sip coffee or iced tea calmly and leisurely. They have intelligent or light conversations with others. Unsophisticated moms try to make sure that she can finish a meal before it gets cold, that her children eat (even if dinner is a pumpkin muffin) and strive to keep the noise level low enough so that it doesn't disturb diners on the opposite side of the room. They chase and they corral. They cradle the phone, their lifeline to sophisticated society, on their shoulder while performing a decidedly unsophisticated chore--changing a dirty diaper.

As we were rounding up and moving out, we passed a table with two sophisticated ladies, enjoying a night out. One of them was Amanda's school librarian, for whom I volunteer. I greeted her in the unsophisticated mom way, with one hand holding onto my son's hood, and frequent "hurry up" glances to the daughter. She said, "Ah. I remember those times," she said with a mixture of relief and nostalgia. "Yes--remember," I emphasized the past tense. "It will come soon enough," she encouraged me.

Yes, it will. This I know. I don't want to forsake this time for the next. For now I will forgo the Panera Experience for some unsophisticated living.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Focusing on a Theme

I am helping to teach my son's class in Pioneer Clubs at church. He's in the two-three year old Skipper class. The curriculum is great. This month, their memory verse is "God is good to everyone," and throughout the month we learn about how God provides for us. In addition to that, there are very toddler-appropriate tie-ins to each unit. Last week we focused on the fact that God hears us, and also talked about animal sounds, and how God made the animals and God hears the animals. It's a lot of fun, and a good reminder as a mom about what might be interesting or appropriate for him at his age. In order to prepare, I did a search on the online catalog (a great idea when you have to take a toddler to the library with you) on "animal sounds." I wrote down the locations of the books, and selected several when I got there. It's great to see the different presentations of animals and sounds in several different books. I got a basic board book where I just showed them the picture and let them make the sound, and two interesting picture books for a different take: The Cow Who Clucked by Denise Fleming, and Mommies Say Shhh by Patricia Polacco. (When my daughter saw that book, I felt as if I had somehow missed out on something when she shouted out, "That's by Patricia Polacco!!" She ended up telling me that they were doing an author unit at school on her, so she took it to school so she could share the picture book aimed at younger kids.)

Have you ever noticed how once you read or hear or see something about a certain topic, it often seems to be all around you? I often noticing overlapping themes in Bible studies when God is trying to teach me something--I'll read it in one book of the Bible, then a friend will bring it up, or my pastor will preach on it, and then I'll come across it in another context in another book of the Bible. It becomes obvious to me that I need to focus on that area. So then I can actively choose to find out more about that particular topic, by finding some sort of non-fiction book, more scripture readings or Bible studies. When I read a book (either fiction or non-fiction), I often find myself more curious about the time period, style of writing, or something else, so I delve into more works by the author, or other novels written in the same time period, or other books of that genre while my interest is peaked.

This type of topical layering approach adds interest and reinforces my learning as an adult, so it only makes sense that I should use it with my kids. Knowing that my daughter enjoyed reading Molly's American Girl series from World War II, might enable her to get interested in the slightly more historical Dear America books that cover the same time period, or even a non-fiction title.

Toddlers easily accept this saturation theme. If they love Dora, and you can find an animal book with Dora in it, it will facilitate their learning about animals as well. Sherry Early, blogger at Semicolon, has written a book called Picture Book Preschool, which focuses on a different character trait each week and a different subject theme with many picture book classics recommended for that unit of study. I bought this book as a way to help me direct our home interactions, and I think that it would be a great book for anyone looking to try to have some sort of formal teaching at home, as well as for preschool teachers or daycare providers who would like some easy themes. I think that I'm going to select one or two units a month and focus on those. Some of the activities are a bit advanced for a two and a half year old, but I think it's a perfect time to start introducing the themes and character traits. This book would actually be a great guide for Kindergarten homeschooling, I think.

My focus for this year, as in years past, seems to be to make my time count. So, whether that applies in selecting books that I'm reading for myself, or making the most of my time at home, and with my kids, it bears thinking about. Saturday night I was able to focus on playing and reading with my daughter. Setting the focus helped me be open to saying yes. Today I'm supposed to be focusing on laundry and decluttering (because it's beginning to get in the way of my being able to focus on anything else), but in reality, getting this post done and answering emails and phone calls seems to be disrupting that goal. Now that this is done, I can hopefully focus on making some real progress on the theme of having clean clothes to wear and clear surfaces in my home.

My favorite reads and books to be read in 2007

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Six Weird Things About Me

Katrina tagged me for this meme, and I was really glad, because I was thinking that I really wish I had a quick easy post that I could get up today. Whenever I read other people's answers to this type of thing, they seem so clever, so I don't want to fail. . . . That leads to number one:

  1. I'm a pretty competitive gal, but I don't cheat. See, I don't just like to win, I like to earn the win. In fact, I'm a pretty no-fun stickler for the rules in many cases, just ask my husband.
  2. I've only kissed a handful of guys in my life. I started dating my husband when I was twenty, and I had two serious boyfriends before that, so I just didn't really date around.
  3. I've totalled a couple of cars and scraped, scratched and dinged many more. Lest you feel unsafe if ever you have the opportunity to ride with me, I would say that most of my priors occured between the ages of 16 - 25. I've been relatively safe the last ten years (except for recently when I crashed into a mailbox and took off my side mirror and then a couple of months later, crashed into the side of the house when I overshot the garage--denting both the car bumper and the garage).
  4. I've never ever seen Home Alone (the movie). This kind of became a private joke with my husband, because when it was in its heyday, we thought we were the only ones, and then it hit the TV with a vengeance, and we had to actively avoid it.
  5. I have never really cared what people think about me. Even in high school, there were people who rubbed me the wrong way because I thought that they had a "cool complex." Like, they wanted to be cool. Aren't you supposed to want to be cool in high school? Perhaps everything about me is weird, but because I don't care, I think I'm normal.
  6. To finalize things how about a list of things that probably are weird to which I have never given a second thought? I've never colored or highlighted my hair, I wore a headgear in 6th grade (and I don't even think I cared about that), I talk to myself, I answer myself, I have big feet (size 9 or 9 1/2), I've never had a pedicure and only had a manicure once (for my wedding), I admitted in my last post to singing and dancing at home, but I have an unnatural aversion to dancing in general. I've just never really liked it. A little bit of two-stepping in my high school and college years was acceptable, but not much beyond that.
I'm supposed to tag six people, so here it goes. If you've already done it, or just don't want to do it, no problem. However, if you want to take the plunge, go ahead:
Lindsey, Big Mama, Laura, because sometimes a new mom appreciates the ease of a tag, Laurel, Heather (who embraces her uniqueness), and how about if DAD does it in the comments, because he's not at all shy, or weird, but he'll come up with something.

Sunday, January 07, 2007

Can You Guess What I Did Tonight?

Overheard by the fly on the wall at Snapshot House:

"Oh my goodness, that was bad."

"Is he for real?"

Along with a few outbursts into song, "Go greased lightin', you're burning up the quarter mile. . . ." and a little dancing too, to be honest.

Then, an hour and a half later. . . .

"Look at that headband!"

Look at his hair.

Even My Guy got into it, "This is LA, he doesn't have to yell."

"I vote for the Olympian."

Oh, yeah. And there was a little bit of dancing. I can't listen to "Money, Money, Money. . . ." without singing along and dancing.

Yes, we watched Grease and then the Apprentice, Season 6. We've missed the last few (and haven't really missed missing them), but we're in for these shows. Even though I am still watching less TV, that doesn't mean that I can't appreciate the finer points of some reality TV trash talking.

Saturday, January 06, 2007

I Said Yes

"Mom, will you read to me while I take my bath?"
"Yes." (we read, and enjoyed the first chapter of Mary Poppins)

"Can I have dessert?"

"Will you read to me in bed for just five minutes?"
"Yes." (another half chapter and six minutes of reading)

It's not that hard. Why do I struggle against it so often?

On the way home from dinner, I had not only decided to say "yes," (in keeping with what I want to do this year anyway), but I went a step further.

"Amanda, when we get home, do you want to play Sleeping Queens?"

As she was getting the game out of the closet, she had her own idea, "Can we play that new Lego game with Kyle?"

After that game, not just waiting for her to ask, but inviting her:
"Do you want to try to play Lucky Ducks with Kyle?"

Being prepared is half the battle. This is what I want to do, but instead, oftentimes I answer her request for me to read to her for "just five minutes," with "Why don't you just read your own book?" or "No! It's already late." Playing games is a great way to spend that last hour before bed, but oftentimes I just let us all pile on the sofa, or let Amanda and Kyle run around and work each other up before bed. I want to play offense in creating the kind of family I want, not just play defense by deflecting attitude flare-ups and giving in to the past of least resistance.

I'm glad that I decided to say yes tonight. Here's hoping that tomorrow will bring more invitations (from her to me and from me to her) and many more yeses.

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If you didn't catch the great series on playing games at Callapidder Days, you should check it out. Katrina wrote very informational reviews on all sorts of games--for young children, couples, and varied age groups. I bought Sleeping Queens on her recommendation, and I agree that it's lots of fun. Another new Christmas game that Amanda has really been enjoying is Guess Where (which is a cross between Guess Who? and Battleship).

All the Fishes Come Home to Roost

This was my first read of 2007, and I enjoyed it so much! I've always enjoyed an interesting personal non-fiction account, be it an adventure story, like Into Thin Air, or a travel memoir, or a biography about an interesting person, because I am able to learn about a culture or occupation or hobby without opening a history book, or a newspaper, or a periodical. In this book I learned a good deal about the life and customs of middle-of-nowhere, India, in addition to the cult-like following of Baba, a spiritual guru, who her parents moved to India to worship full-time.

The memoirs that I have most enjoyed are well-written, containing elements of fiction such as a strong "plot," which even leads to a crisis point, making it read like fiction. When I find books such as those, they trump even a good novel in my book. All the Fishes Come Home to Roost is exactly that kind of read. Rachel Munija Brown is an American misfit in India, as the subtitle proclaims. She writes about her less-than-ideal childhood, most of which was spent in an ashram (religious commune) in India. What I admire most is that the story is told for the most part without blame. She knows that it influenced who she was as a child and who she became as an adult, but she does not harbor bitterness or resentment. She tells her story in a straightforward manner, including the ups and the downs with a liberal dose of humor to lighten what would otherwise be seen as quite an unfortunate situation. It's not meant to be a tell-all, or a self-help book, or an attempt to prove what the author has overcome. I think that the dedication of the book reveals much of her motive in writing it:
If you're opening this book for the first time, it isn't dedicated to anyone yet. But if you've already finished reading it and you've turned back to the beginning, feeling a little less lonely, a little less strange, or a little more cheered than you did when you began, then you will know. I wrote it for you.
It's just a story of one person's life. We all have our stories. We all have things we've had to overcome. We have things for which we are sorry--in choices we made and in choices that were made for us. We are all alike, but we are all different.

One way in which I could identify with Brown was in her love of books. She grew up reading, and throughout her memoir, she is reading, and she mentions the titles of the books, and sometime the plot if it helps to further her own plot. I couldn't help but smile when she mentioned books that I have read, like Cherry Ames, Student Nurse.

The final assurance that I had in knowing that I loved this book, and that it will probably earn a place on my own notable books list, is that even before I finished, I wanted to know when she would be publishing something else. There is a free downloadable reader's guide available HERE, or at her own site HERE (on which she incidentally offers to come to your book club or address it over the speakerphone, and also personally recommends other memoirs). I think that this book would be great for a book club, or even just one that you choose to read and discuss with a friend. I know that I will be thinking about it for a while, and it may not be last you hear of it here on this blog. If you've read it, or do read it, please let me know your thoughts.

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One of the first books that got me hooked on the memoir genre was Abraham Verghese's My Own Country, coincidentally about an Indian man, but one who came to the United States to practice medicine. He observes life in rural Tennessee, living as an immigrant and treating the first cases of HIV as they emerged in 1985.

Check out some of my other favorite recommendations and what else I hope to read in 2007 in my aStore.

This review is linked up to Semicolon's Saturday Review of Books.

Friday, January 05, 2007

Do You Detect the Aura of Coolness??

Well, you should, because thanks to my generous husband, who decided along with me a few months ago that we didn't really "need" one, but bought me one for Christmas anyway, I am now sporting this:

In the long history of not being happy with a generous unexpected (but secretly-hoped for gift), I was really hoping for the full-blown ipod that stored video as well, especially as a method of entertaining unruly children, but in the vein of not even knowing what's really best for me, I really love the small size of this one. It's the 4GB version, so it holds a LOT.

Terry was right that neither of us "need" an ipod. He is a runner, and so I had suggested that he could use one running, but he enjoys silence. For those of you who have any doubt, I am not a runner. However, I love listening to talk, and talk radio, and so the podcasts were a feature that I was really looking forward to. So a couple of days ago, I downloaded some podcasts, and have been loving them even more than I thought I would. I can listen to them while fixing dinner or doing laundry, and unlike music, it doesn't block out all other important things that I should be listening to (like the shrieking of a brother being tormented by his sister, or the phone ringing, on which I could complain to the person at the other end of the line about the shrieking).

Now, lest you overestimate my intelligence judging by the fact that I am reading Pulitzer Prize winning novels, I have to admit that I never read the newspaper and rarely watch the news, so I am quite uninformed about the issues. I enjoy listening to NPR because they give some of the stories a human-interest type spin. But I only catch it here and there when I'm in the car (and when there is not shrieking coming from the backseat about wanting to hear children's music). So, the podcasts are cool.

Some of my podcast subscriptions (I don't know how to link to them easily, but go to itunes, then to podcasts/NPR and you can find them, or for an mp3, go to

Wait, Wait Don't Tell Me, which is a humorous news quiz program featuring people like Paula Poundstone and Mo Rocca. I get my news from this program, much as I have also gotten my news from SNL Weekend Update, the Daily Show, and the Colbert Report.

Driveway Moments
are some of the highlighted human-interest type stories of the week.

Pop Culture because I don't read People either.

Are there any podcasts that you can recommend?

**Incidentally, I am truly one of the least cool people that any of you know. Really. And I'm okay with that.

Thursday, January 04, 2007

More Book Recommendations

A couple of months ago, I announced my participation in the Cybils' awards. It's the first annual children's and young adult bloggers' book award. Many nominations were read, and now the finalists have been chosen. As a judge in the middle grade non-fiction category, these are the five books from which I will help choose the first ever winner of this award. As a side note, it thrills me to be a part of a groundbreaking event. When it's as big as the Newberry's, feel free to say that you knew me when. . . . I have already read and reviewed two of the books, but will hold off reviewing the others until we pick a winner (in early February).

If you are looking for some great reads for your kids (or yourself), check out all the lists. If you decide to purchase one of the books, and you use an amazon link on the Cybils' site, it all goes into the Cybils' fund, as far as maintaining the site and depending on what kind of money comes in, "real" awards might be given out, and a better infrastructure set up for next year's awards.

Here are the finalist lists in each category:

Graphic Novels

Fantasy and Science Fiction

Middle Grade Fiction

Young Adult Fiction

Fiction Picture Books

Non-fiction Picture Books


Middle Grade and YA Non-fiction

Also, if you are interested in keeping up on new releases and old favorites in children's publishing, check out the links of the judges and those on the nominating committee in the sidebar. There are some great book blogs listed.