Friday, January 30, 2009

Come On In -- Look Around

Wow!

Was that your first impression? Mine too.

Thanks to the hard work of designer extraordinaire Jo-Lynne at DCR Design, I have a new look.

I've been wanting to have 3 columns for a while, and though I loved my old look, I was ready for a change. I know it will take me (and you) a while to get used to it, but I wanted to assure you that you were in the right place.

I'm going to have to spiff up and add to my sidebar, but it's the new me. I have not worked with new Blogger yet, since my old template was made in old Blogger, so that might be new for me, but I've heard people like it.

How do you like?

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Anne of Green Gables

So, I took up Carrie's challenge to read a book from one of her favorite authors. Since I've been blogging which led to reading other people's thoughts and memories of books, Anne of Green Gables has come up numerous times, reminding me that I had never read it, so Lucy Maud Montgomery's flagship work was the obvious choice.

Now, I've heard that she was wordy, and that there was lots of narrative in her books. That's not necessarily a determent to my literary-fiction loving self, but I laughed when the first sentence -- the very first sentence - was 16 lines long, with 139 words with 9 commas and 3 semicolons.

But it was a simple sentence at the end of the third chapter that caused my eyes to fill with tears that made me know that I was forever a member of the Anne with an "E" fan club: "And upstairs, in the east gable, a lonely, heart-hungry, friendless child cried herself to sleep" (p. 36).

And the rest defies words. I loved this imaginative girl, and the spinster and her brother whose lives she cheered, and the kindness and joy of bosom friends, kindred spirits, friendly competition, happy tears, sad tears, dresses with puffed sleeves and flounces, and second chances.

So, yes, I finally read this book that has been beloved by many. They might have had a jump start on me, knowing and loving Anne for twenty years or so, but now I love her too.

Amanda Read Anne, Too

I always hear all about how much Anne of Green Gables was a part of people's reading childhood, so I encouraged my ten-year-old daughter Amanda to read it. I found a Great Illustrated Classics version of Anne of Green Gables, and she read it two or three years ago. She started to read it, and said it was "boring," so she put it aside. My sister-in-law (an Anne-lover) had told me about all the narrative and said maybe she was too young. Amanda later decided that the abridged versions "dumb it down" too much.

After I read it for the Lucy Maud Montgomery challenge, I knew that this would be right up my imaginative daughter's alley. When I finished it, she started. Here's her review (in her own words, save some spelling correction from me):

The Cuthberts are an old couple who have lived in their house for many years, taking care of green gables, their house with a beautiful view. When they decide to adopt a young boy to help at the farm, their lives change when young imaginative Anne Shirley shows up at their home in Avonlea. Along with her ‘Bosom friend’ Diana Barry, she will change Avonlea and the people in it for the better.

Matthew, the man who received young Anne from the station, is in love with sweet little Anne. Marilla, a strict woman in charge of Anne, is trying to keep Anne's imagination at bay and hides her admiration of the smart young girl. Diana Barry is Anne’s true Bosom friend, and will always be friends with Anne, even if its hard with her strict mother not approving of Anne.

This book was fantastic, 369 pages of wondering what vain little Anne will do next! I enjoyed the book immensely, and realized there is a little bit of Anne in every body.

*****

Then my mom encouraged me to read Much Ado About Anne, a fantastic book about four 13 year old girls: Meghan, a girl who loves fashion; Cassidy, a sporty kid who loves almost any sport; Emma, a great student who loves poetry; and animal loving Jess, who lives at Half Moon farm. All of these girls have one big thing in common, they are all in the mother daughter book club. In this book, they are reading Anne of Green Gables for the club, and so they compare it to what's going on in their lives, so I was glad I had read Anne before it.

All is great, except for one problem. Becca the bully of the school, and her mother, Mrs. Chadwick, are joining the book cub, and Megan is becoming better friends with Becca than with her old friends. But, when a sudden tragedy involving Half Moon farm comes up, all the girls can do is work together to save Jess’s home.

Mark Driscoll is not Rick Warren

Jo-Lynne has a new weekly carnival at Musings of a Housewife: What I Learned This Week. It's supposed to be on Tuesdays, but I think I can link up whenever I want, and this week she has a cool prize for one of the participants. Tuesday is our carnival day at 5 Minutes for Books, and I usually participate there, but I know that I'll want to do this one sometimes as well -- which is fine, because I know that some of you Snapshot readers do not care for the book talk, so I'm always aware of the fact when I get too bookish and make sure to provide some posts for your (non-book) reading pleasure.

So--this week I learned that Mark Driscoll is not Rick Warren. You might remember that a few months ago I admitted that I learned that Joe Biden is not Joe Lieberman. So--same song, second verse. Last week I was being so-very 2009 and tweeting some of my impressions of the inauguration, and I said "I know that Mark Driscoll was a controversial choice to pray. I enjoyed his prayer and am glad he honored Jesus."

Then I noticed (after logging back on to Twitter almost a week later), that both Sheila and Dianne would have saved me several days of thinking that Mark Driscoll looked much more rotund than I thought he was, because they both replied "You mean Rick Warren?"

Oh -- yeah. Well, you've seen one post-modern mega-church pastoring, book-writing non-suit wearing preacher, you've seen them all (although I was glad he forsook his Hawaiian shirt for a suit and overcoat for the inauguration -- wait am I glad? Does that mean that he thinks that the President deserves more respect than God???).

So, back to Twitter. Yesterday, in one of my record 5 tweets or replies, I asked "How do you do the @ thing? It's not a Direct Message, right?" and Dianne came to my rescue and told me to use the arrow on the message. See, I don't usually click on the message -- just read it on the screen, so that's why I never really wondered what the arrow was for.

So, in summary -- not only did I learn (again) that my feeble mind makes erroneous associations and confuses people's identities, but I learned more about using Twitter effectively, and I think I might like it now.

I am tweeting more regularly now, so you can follow me at www.twitter.com/jenndon if you'd like to.




Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Snow Day -- Again

The storm was supposed to hit after midnight last night. When Terry was up this morning getting ready for work, I opened one eye. It was still dark outside, so I whispered, "Did it snow?"

When he answered yes, I reset my alarm, knowing that school would be delayed at least and I wouldn't have to get Amanda up.

I don't know when it started snowing, but I was a bit dismayed at the cancellation. Not only is this our third snow day (which will be tacked on to the end of the year), but it didn't even appear to be snowing anymore. I saw later that they made the right call, since it continued to snow and then it turned to slippery sleety rain.

When I found out that school was canceled (underlying meaning: I don't have morning parental responsibilities), I returned to my room to read the book that has pulled me in tight (The Help -- I started it Sunday. I probably spent too many hours reading it yesterday, so I might as well go ahead and finish it today so it doesn't distract me another day, right?).

So, the trip to Panera for free coffee day didn't happen this morning, but we did stay pajama-ed for a while (in fact, the children are still pajama-ed, but I've told them that getting dressed and bathed sometime before dinner is imperative.

I might be complaining at the end of June when Amanda's still in school, but today wasn't half bad all things considered.

Oh by the way, in a couple of days when I'm wondering where the bruises on my back and elbows came from, please remind me that I slipped on the second-to-last step and landed hard on the bottom step on my back. I should remember because I knocked the wind out of myself and had to lay there a minute before I got up, but I usually forget until Terry notices and asks why I'm black and blue.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

How Can I Argue with that Logic?

A week or so ago, Kyle sidled up to me one morning and said, "Oh, Mooommmy. . . . You know we haven't been to Panera in a very long time. I think that we should go. A muffie would be so good. We don't want them to have to take their sign down, do you?"

You see, there was a KB Toys in the same shopping center that houses Panera, and when it closed last year (taking down its sign), Kyle was sad. He wanted to know why it closed, and at some point I probably said "Because Mommy buys all her toys on amazon not enough people went there."

So, he wants to support the local economy -- how can I argue with that? Little does he know that his mommy has been supporting Panera quite well while he's at preschool each week.

We didn't end up going that day, but I think that we may go tomorrow before school, because tomorrow at Panera is FREE COFFEE DAY.

You're welcome.

What's on My Nightstand -- January

I recently wrote in the On Reading column about what it is that encourages Amanda to read, the same goes for me. I am reading more than normal now because I have a giant TBR stack full of great books that I can't wait to read!

Here are the books in progress or patiently waiting their turn to be read:

  • Les Miserables for the Classics Bookclub. I got started on this last week. It's been more than 10 years since I read it, and the story is a favorite, so I'm glad that it's not disappointing me this time around. I might even be enjoying it even more. Is anyone else reading it?
  • The Irrational Season (The Crosswicks Journal, Book 3) by Madeline L'Engle. Yes, I'm still reading it, but after I wrote about it last month in my Nightstand post, and so few of you had heard of her Crosswicks Journals (non-fiction real journals), I decided that I'm going to do a Madeline L'Engle series on 5 Minutes for Books. So stay tuned.
  • Why Women Should Rule the World -- This book was recommended to me last spring, and I noticed it's coming out in paperback soon. It's by Dee Dee Myers, and I have to say that my fascination with the West Wing (oh yes, I'm still watching my DVDs) led me to wonder if she spills any secrets there (she was a consultant for the show).
  • Waiting to Score -- I want to read some more Young Adult books for 5 Minutes for Books, so when this (and several others) were offered to me, I jumped on them.

Two others that I'm not sure I'll get to, but would be next in line (and are calling to me, so they may even end up jumping ahead in line):

  • Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese -- I read his medical memoir My Own Country: A Doctor's Story years and years ago (6? 8? 10?), and it still stands out in my mind as an excellent and informative read. I read another true story, and it was okay, but I am really looking forward to his first novel. This is bad news, as my expectations leave much room for disappointment, but we'll see how it goes.
  • The Laws of Harmony by Judith Hendricks
  • And since I wrote this another two have snuck their way into the pile. . . .

Monday, January 26, 2009

My Bloggy Giveaway

The Bloggy Giveaways carnival is one of my favorite bloggy events. It's fun to check out other people's giveaways and blogs (be sure to check them all out at Bloggy Giveaways), and of course I love welcoming all of the visitors here to Snapshot.

If this is your first time -- hello and welcome! My name is Jennifer. I'm a Texan currently loving life in Connecticut. I have a ten-year-old daughter and a four-year-old son. If you want to learn more about me, subscribe to my feed, and you'll probably find out more than you ever wanted to know about the books I like, the TV and movies I watch, and the tween hormones and preschool mischief that permeates my home.

I write for 5 Minutes for Mom and am the managing editor at 5 Minutes for Books, so what am I giving away -- books, of course!

So, here's the deal. I get a lot of review books. Some of them I don't read because they don't interest me. Most I read quickly, because it's my job -- and they look good as new.

So here's my giveaway offer. I will send at least 5 books to a U.S. winner via media mail. I have all sorts of books -- parenting books, memoir, popular fiction, chick lit, Christian fiction, picture books, teen and pre-teen fiction. I can totally surprise you, but if you tell me what you like, I'll try to send you something you love.

Enter by leaving a comment. I'll draw a winner on Sunday. Please be sure that there's a way to contact you if you win. If your comment does not have a blog OR email address (in your blogger profile or in the comment), I will redraw another winner.

This giveaway is CLOSED. Thanks for all the interest! The winner is #136 Life More Abundantly.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Read and Reviewed

I don't always do a good job of linking over to posts and reviews at 5 Minutes for Mom and 5 Minutes for Books, and since I don't know if all of you regularly check those sites, I'll try to do it weekly to give you the option of clicking on over to see what I'm writing elsewhere. So here are some you might have missed if you don't read those sites:
  • Mrs. Kimble is a great book by an author I'm really enjoying lately.
  • The most exciting news is I recorded my first podcast! This one was an interview with nutritionist Monica Bearden. It's only eight minutes long, so click on over and find out what it's all about. I also linked over to it from 5 Minutes for Books and asked the readers their opinions about future book podcasts, so if you have an opinion on that, please leave a comment over there.
  • I wrote about my love of audiobooks at 5 Minutes for Books, and reposted my review from two years ago of Freedom Walkers in honor of MLK Jr. day.
  • As I mentioned, Amanda just read the Princess Bride. We wrote up a Books on Screen column that just posted at 5 Minutes for Books (you might also have missed last week's post on the brand new Electric Company that premiered this week).

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Living Up to His Name

Yesterday morning I was preparing to take Kyle to preschool when I heard the familiar sound of the dog's toenails scittering and scratching on the porch.

I hear it often when she's about to tear off at a run towards the street, where she can faithfully defend our home by barking at the poor jogger or dog-walker who dares to pass by our home.

I've also heard it less frequently when she's seeking protection on the front porch from something that startles her -- another dog on her property, a raccoon on the front porch, or in one very close call -- a skunk right in the front yard.

I opened the front door, and she scrambled through the make shift doggie door (the bottom part of the screen door which has no screen). And a little short-haired brown dog tried to come through as well! I shut Shadow into the house and went out on the front porch to check out this friendly-looking dog.

He was wearing a collar, but didn't look familiar to me. I checked out the tags, and there was a rabies vaccine and a SPCA identification tag, but no address or phone number, so I called the SPCA number. They said that they couldn't access the records, but they could come get him in about an hour, and hope that someone at the shelter recognized him or the owner called in. I wondered aloud if the vet rabies tag would help. He asked about the information on the tag, and said that it was their vet and it would lead back to them.

Last week on one of the very cold sub-zero mornings Amanda had called me from the bus (yes -- from one of her ten-year-old friends' cell phones):

"Mom, there was a cute German Shepherd dog following me around from our house to the bus stop. Can you go find him?"

I didn't go look for him (did I mention that it was below zero outside and I was in my pajamas?), and we didn't see any more of the dog that day, but when this dog appeared on our doorstep almost a week later, I had to wonder if it was the same dog who had either been wandering all this time or was in the habit of escaping from his home.*

I couldn't wait an hour for them to come get him, but he mentioned the vet's location and said that they might recognize him or the SPCA could pick him up there. Since it happened to be just a short jag out of the way of Kyle's preschool I decided to drop him off.

I picked up the dog and put him in back of the Suburban. After I buckled Kyle in and went around to get into my seat, Kyle said, "He's so sweet and cute. He likes me. He doesn't jump over the seat like Shadow does."

Because this little adventure made us a little bit late, I decided to take Kyle to school first and then take the dog to the vet. Kyle made some valiant suggestions on the way, including the fact that I could just "drop him off" in the parking lot and he could go in himself (I have to walk him into his classroom). He also said that he liked the dog and wanted to take care of him.

When I got back into the car, he had jumped over the seat and tried to crawl into my lap. At that time I noticed a shaved spot on his flank, indicating a recent surgery or injury repair. By the time I got to the vet, I decided that I agreed with Kyle. I wouldn't mind taking care of this dog myself either.

The vet had no information in their system on the rabies tag, but both of the vet techs said, "He looks so familiar. I feel like we just saw him."

Then she saw the scar. "L----. It's the L's dog!"

The other tech typed in the last name that her coworker had given, pulled up the record and said, "Lucky!"

As it turns out Lucky lives at least a mile away from my home. I'm not sure how he got out or how long he had been gone, but I'm glad that I could help him find his way home.

---------

*After Amanda got back home, I determined that she actually did see a German Shepherd that day, not this small brown dog.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

I'm not Mean -- Just Crazy

One of the things that God has been prompting me to change is my temper with my children. He worked as He generally does -- first bringing awareness of this sin to me, then helping me to work to overcome it by showing me what MY part is in the whole cycle (namely selfish guarding of "my" time and not having the proper expectations of my children's behavior).

That's the short story, but the fact is that this has been a years-long process, and one in which I finally seem to be making some progress.

But then last week, I was irritable. My children annoyed me. I just couldn't seem to get it right. I shared my shortcomings with a close friend, and said I just didn't know what was wrong with me.

"PMS?" she suggested in seriousness, knowing the havoc that a woman's hormones can play on her in her late 30's (oh, how it hurt me to write that, but at 38, I guess it's fitting).

"No. I don't think so. I guess I'm just mean."

Well, a day or so later, Mother Nature showed that those feelings of irritations over the past few days probably were due to PMS, and I rejoiced a little bit.

Not that it's an excuse to behave however I wish, but at least I understand the loss of control over my emotions.

I am not good at keeping up with my cycle, obviously, but Christina Tynan-Wood gave a fun use of the internet in her book How to be a Geek Goddess, which I think I'm going to start using: Woman Calendar (compatible with all sorts of devices, and available for a free trial), and Advanced Woman Calendar (I'm using a free trial) can each predict when you will receive your monthly visitor up to a month in advance.

So next time I'm feeling irritable with my children, I can apply the proper remedy: some quality time with them, a scheduled a break for me, or a Midol.

(I'm editing this to add it to Works for Me Wednesday. Last week I talked about throw up, this week another fluid, but I don't plan on making it a weekly feature).

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Inaugurated

Yesterday Janice put up a linky at 5 Minutes for Mom asking "Are You Blogging the Inauguration?" I didn't think that I would be, although I am so pleased as an American to see the face of American politics have such a visible change. But about half an hour ago I turned on NBC, and I'm hooked.

Honestly over the weekend, I already felt like I had seen and heard enough about this inauguration, but when I turned on my TV, the images got me:

  • One of the scenes that began playing (over and over)on the television was the Obama's arrival at the White House to have coffee with the outgoing Bush's. And my sadness at seeing the Bush's leave hit me. I am, or at least I once was, a fan of the Bush administration. George W. Bush took charge of this country when we were attacked on September 11, 2001 in a way that we haven't been since perhaps Pearl Harbor in the much-more remote territory of Hawaii. I have admired his strength, his faith, and his personality. And I love Laura Bush -- the quiet presence that she lent to the office of the President.

    More recently, I suppose that I have agreed that it is time for new leadership, but George Bush is my President. I voted for him -- twice -- and not since George H.W. Bush has a candidate I helped elect held the highest office in the nation. So I am sad to see them go, although I cannot help but think that they are also ready to move into a slightly more private sphere of life.

  • The arrival of past president George H.W. Bush and family. Nothing about his presidency is memorable to me -- I was young and not paying much attention -- but they have adopted my home-town of Houston, and put his presidential library at my alma mater, and for that I love them.

  • The first glimpse of soon-to-be President Obama. One of the talking heads (Brian Williams I think) said that Obama is marked by his internal and external calm and composure. I agree, but I am hoping to see a little glee. Not only is he about to become President -- an unattainable dream of so many children, but he's an historic President. (updated at 11:40am) Updated again after the swearing in and the speech -- I DID enjoy seeing his big smiles after he was sworn in, and before President Bush got on the helicopter, he was cracking them both up. Nice to see laughter.


Some quotes that resonated with me:

  • Tom Brokaw said that this is a new page in history, a turning over of America -- not only because of the inauguration of the first African-American president, but as a result of the increased interest of the youth and other groups in politics.

  • The African American governor of New York David Paterson said that he has been amazed at the support and interest and emotion-level of White Americans -- specifically those (like me) who don't agree with his politics and didn't vote for him. That's me, and yes I'm amazed. I'm emotional. I'm surprised. I'm happy.

Perhaps I've been inaugurated as well -- if not into Generation O, into the importance of keeping myself informed and invested in my country's politics.

(Published at 11am. If I have additional thoughts to share I'll edit this after the speech etc etc instead of publishing a new post)

Even though I'm a horrible tweeter in general, I am tweeting a bit: www.twitter.com/jenndon.

My Kids' Reading Picks -- January

Like last month, Kyle (age 4) is still enjoying the Big Book of Poetry, edited by Bill Martin Jr. We read something out of this book at almost every naptime. We've almost read all the way through it (we just mark our place and keep going), and I know he'll want to start again, but can anyone else recommend some good poetry anthologies?

We are reading other things -- both easy readers that he has to help me read, and other books, but knowing how he likes the rhythm of rhyme (and how pleasant it is for me to read, even if I'm feeling grouchy), I've used that as a selection criteria at the library.

Amanda (age 10) read a lot this month -- seeing as how she had a few weeks off from school at Christmastime and we've had several snow days as well. When she doesn't have to go to school, she will stay in bed for an hour (or three!) reading her book. Because of a fairly busy schedule, she doesn't read every night before bed, but she binges on the weekends, and I think that she gets in a lot of reading at school. They always have to have a book for free-reading, and the teachers are always encouraging it.

Life As We Knew It

I know nothing about this book other than what I read on amazon. It sounds pretty heavy -- an apocalyptic disaster -- but when I asked Amanda what she liked about it, she said, "It really kept me guessing and wondering." I long-ago relinquished control over what she's reading -- simply giving her guidelines -- but as in-touch as I am with reading about books, I've usually heard of a hot title or am familiar with the author. Not so with this book, but she's a discerning reader so I have to trust her. However, I see that it's about a fifteen-year-old girl, and one way I've guided her selections is by letting her know that in general if the book is about someone out of jr. high, it might be too mature for her. I do want reading to broaden her horizons, but there are some horizons that are fine to stay as hazy as far-off mirages, right??

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (Book 4)

This was her favorite in the series so far, and it was still one of her favorite books this month, even though this was a re-read. When she reads the Order of the Phoenix, it will be her first time reading it. She can't wait, but since I haven't read book six yet, and want to stay ahead of her, I have held her off.

The Princess Bride: S. Morgenstern's Classic Tale of True Love and High Adventure

This was definitely a favorite as well. She just finished this book, and has helped me write up a Books on Screen post, so look for that Thursday at 5 Minutes for Books.

The City of Ember

She really liked this one, as well as the second in the series, The People of Sparks, but she just recently started the third in the series The Prophet of Yonwood, and put it down to read something else. She said that this is a book she didn't like, because the characters are all different. When I was looking for the links just now, I found out why -- it's a prequel set 50 years before! I had asked her if she thought she'd go back to it sometime, and she said she probably would.

Inkdeath

Another "third in the series" book that didn't thrill Amanda. She loved Inkheart and Inkspell, but she said that this one was more boring and didn't hold her interest as much. She also said that her friends agreed -- that they were all reading other books at the same time they were trying to finish this one.

Find out more Kids' Picks from across the blogosphere at 5 Minutes for Books.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Mind over Matter


We've had a lot of snow this year, and even though Kyle had been theoretically excited about winter bringing snow, during our first real snow he decided that as in years' past, he didn't really like playing in the white stuff. In fact, he would sometimes cry when he had to walk through it, and this wouldn't do.

Terry and I tried to get him excited about it -- citing the fact that we were going to take a little winter vacation getaway with his best buddy William who DOES like playing in the snow, and that appeared to work. When we visited William's house last week, Kyle wanted to play outside in the snow that day. However, they were both recovering from colds and it was frigid outside, so his mom and I discouraged it.

This weekend we got more snow, and lo and behold, he played outside with his big sister -- not once, but twice throughout the weekend -- even making his first snow angel.






I don't know if he's "cured" or not, but I'm glad that they could enjoy some healthy winter fun.

Speaking of which, I want to clear up any misconception that I might have created. I do not like to shovel snow. The point I was making in that post was that if there's something I enjoy doing (or should be doing, like snow-shoveling), and it has the added benefit of exercise, that's a good thing, because I can feel less guilty about not "exercising" regularly.

*******

In honor of Martin Luther King Jr day, I reprinted my Freedom Walkers review (that I first published two years ago here) over on 5 Minutes for Books. Check it out. Reading it over, I reminded myself what an excellent book it was.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Now If Only I Had to Work the Fields

I don't like exercise.

I don't mind activity -- hiking, skiing, running and playing with the kids (okay, so I'm not big on running no matter what form it takes) -- but exercise just for the sake of exercise is just not my favorite thing.

"Exercising" is a relatively new invention. Back in the day, people got their activity from walking, working in the house and the fields, and whatnot.

But things are different now.

My dishwasher washes my dishes (with water that just appears from the pipes), my vacuum cleaner beats the rugs, my washer and dryer take care of the clothes, requiring only the effort from me that it takes to bundle them up, dump them in, grab them out and deliver them to their proper homes. I drive to the supermarket to buy meat and vegetables, and I stand at a quick-cooking electric stove to prepare them.

We have a guy that plows the driveway since it's pretty long and 4 inches of snow would take a LOT more time and energy than we want to expend, but when we just get a couple of inches, we're on our own. So, twice in the last week, I have spent 30 to 45 minutes outside giving myself sore muscles and heart-pumping activity the way that nature intended.

Now I can't say that I enjoy shoveling snow anymore than I enjoy hopping around and grapevining and bending to a DVD, but at least it accomplishes something other than exercising for the fact of exercising.

Friday, January 16, 2009

News from New York(ish)

No, no -- it's news all right, but I'm only New York(ISH). I don't live in the state of NY, and I'm not within a normal commute of NYC, although it is the closest big city to me here in the rural(ish) areas of Connecticut.

So, first news from my little corner of Connecticut. It was nine degrees below zero when my husband woke me up at 5:45, and said, "Don't flush!"

We are "city folk" and have just barely stumbled through all of the knowledge needed for things such a septic tanks (we try to think of this system as little as possible) and wells and oil-heated furnaces. Somehow Terry figured out that the breaker switch had tripped on the water well pump (one big drawback with a well is that you need both electricity and water to actually use water). So, he reset it, but we still had really low water pressure. He decided that it was worth the cost of a service call to have peace of mind, so I called someone and he was here within twenty minutes.

Even better, everything checked out fine, and he just charged me $50 for the service call. Who only charges $50?? Local small-town business owners, that's who.

And in the weather front, by the time we had to leave home, it was up to 0, and now it's sunny and 14.

********

But the real news that captivated Terry while he was on-line last night was what all the news show are calling "Miracle on the Hudson."

I'm sure that you've heard this story about the small plane whose two engines failed yesterday afternoon. The pilot did an emergency landing in the Hudson river. Chesley Sullenberger is being hailed as a hero -- not only for his skill and quick-thinking in landing the plane, but in verifying that no one else was on board before he left the aircraft.

This story has really gotten to me -- reminding me that there are true-life heroes, and giving me pride in my adopted home. There were Circle Line tour boats that came to the aid of the passengers, as well as quick action from other rescue services.

It also reminds me that the flight attendants and pilot are really there for safety -- not to bring us drinks and act as a taxi service, but to get us where we want to go safely.

My friend Alicia had a short career as a flight attendant. She said that she was (only a very little) disappointed that she never got to use her emergency training. She never got to use it for real, but if you got her going (which wasn't hard to do), she would do her whole flight attendant routine:

"Come on, right here, out this door," ("You have to use a really loud voice," she told us).

"Now SLIIIIIDE. SLIIIIDE."


It is a miracle, and I hope that others out there are crediting the true source of all that protection -- the Creator God who gave that pilot wisdom and a calm heart; the Protector God who equips those rescue workers; the Sovereign God who knew the timing of that incident -- and in His care, it happened in the afternoon, not this following evening when it was much much colder, and dark. . . .

Thank you Chesley Sullenberger, but thank you most of all my God in heaven.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Zero, Two, Four, Six, Eight, Ten

This week, Kyle is "friend of the week" at preschool. It's designed to help the children's self-esteem because they are spotlighted that week. It also increases confidence since they get to stand in front of their class and share about themselves. It sounds a bit like psychological mumbo-jumbo, but let me tell you that Kyle has been waiting for his turn to come ever since the schedule came out in October, and he's been thrilled to go to school each day this week and participate in a different component of the program. Monday he had to bring in a favorite book, an item for show-and-tell, and a poster with pictures of himself -- which meant that I spent most of the day Sunday going through random pictures I had in drawers and clicking through my online albums.

I didn't even recognize baby Kyle. He doesn't look like the same child to me, and what's worse, I don't really remember him from those early years. Oh, I can remember that when we drove here from Texas when he was three months old that he grew to hate the car, and that even then I could see that streak of stubbornness as he angrily cried and yelled at the injustice of being confined in the car. I remember, but I can't see that bawling red angry face.

Well, maybe I can. . . .

Images of Amanda bombarded me. She's such a big tweenager now and often looks more like an adult than a young child, but as I saw pictures of her at five or six with her baby brother, I was amazed. She looked like herself of course, but seeing her through the filter of the Amanda I now know provided a different perspective.

Her arms and face were fleshier and stubbier. Her eyes definitely gleamed with that happiness that young children have, unencumbered by responsibility or self-doubt, and yet in one of the pictures the six-year-old looking out at me wore exactly the same expression I might have seen on her face earlier this week.

I can remember a friend of ours giving Amanda a hard time about talking so much, and then loving the unapologetic response that the four-year-old offered, "Oh yes, I talk aaaalllll the time." I remember that even though her exaggerated antics on her baby brother's behalf sometimes annoyed me, it always made him laugh.

Kyle seems so big and child-like to me now, but I know that when I look back at pictures of these years, he too will seem fleshy and babyish in comparison the boy he will become.

I'm thankful for pictures, but I'm even more thankful for memories.

Reviews and Contests

I try to link to my work in other places, but I often forget. Here are some current contests and reviews I've written:

Many people (including me!) resolve to get their act together food-wise in the New Year. You can win a copy of The Baby Fat Diet over at 5M4M. It's NOT just for new moms, but I did love how it was written with a mom's lifestyle and responsibilities in mind.

This giveaway is over, but I never linked to How to Be a Geek Goddess, which is a great book that helped me learn my way around the computer.

Have you checked out 5 Minutes for Giveaways? I have three current reviews there, and one ends Friday:

The Crock Pot eLume: I can't even tell you how happy I was to get this product for review. Wait -- I can show you! Meet my beautiful new Crock Pot as she outshines my sixteen-year-old wedding gift Crock Pot whose knob fell off this year, and whose lid is cloudy and whose exterior is stained. I won't miss her!



Mamma Mia DVD: This movie just makes me smile.

Chrissa Stands Strong
is the first time that American Girl has made a movie in conjunction with the new girl of the year DVD. You can read mine and Amanda's thoughts and enter to win one of five copies.

And over at 5 Minutes for Books, I posted a schedule for upcoming months for Children's Classics and Classics Bookclub. See if you might want to join us. Start reading Les Miserables now. You won't regret it -- I promise.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Surviving the Stomach Bug

Since we survived the bout that ravaged through our family last week, I thought I'd share some tips. Most are probably common knowledge, but I did want to share about one new product that I found.

My four-year-old (the first offender) was just fine when he woke up the next morning after throwing up a few times. He wanted breakfast, so I gave it to him, and he was fine.

SURVIVAL TIP #1: Do not feed them unless they specifically ask.

When my husband and I were sick, we didn't take one bite until well into the afternoon. My ten-year-old daughter felt the same way later in the week. However, she did want something, so I went shopping for popsicles, because small sips (or licks as it might be) won't usually come back up. She gave me very specific instructions on flavors (no grape or cherry or strawberry). I found something that not only fit the flavor instructions, but solved the drippy mess that popsicles generally become:


Popsicle Mighty Minis
. They are advertised as "bite-sized" and "long-lasting." and they are. They are a bit smaller in diameter than the bullet pops about 3 inches long. The truth is I'm a bit of a popsicle Scrooge, even in the summer time, but I think that I'm a convert now. These are perfect!

SURVIVAL TIP #2: Antibacterial or bleach wipes. These are SO convenient, and while I don't use them for my routine cleaning, I loved being able to swab down the toilet and the sink throughout the day (although it apparently didn't keep the rest of us well this time around).

SURVIVAL TIP #3: Teach the kids to use the bucket.

SURVIVAL TIP #4: Remember it's almost always over in 24 hours, which makes it a bit more bearable.

For more (less icky) tips, visits Rocks in My Dryer each week for Works-for-Me-Wednesday.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Brown Works for Us

Ah yes, the life of a book and product reviewer is so very sweet. I receive deliveries from UPS (not to mention FedEx and the good ol' postal service) at least three times a week. And even though it's usually something I've requested or I know is being sent to me, the thrill is still there as I rip into the bubble-wrapped envelope to see what it might contain.

As frequently as Brown delivers here, I'm still disappointed when I see the truck slow and then drive right on past my home. I'm not the only one. Just last week, the neighbors were getting a delivery, and Shadow was as close to their driveway as the electric fence would allow her to get, wagging and whining away, as if to say, "What about me? Aren't you going to come see me?"

Today I had just put Kyle in his room for naptime, when Shadow jumped down from the purple chair that she had claimed for her naptime ("It's a dog life?" Sign me up for that one).

She ran to the front door, whining excitedly and wagging her tail.

I opened the door and she bolted towards her favorite person: our friendly UPS driver. This is the first time that the drop of the packages on the doorstep has caused her to go outside, but I think she's generally outside to begin with at delivery time. The driver (I think her name is Cheryl? I've asked, but I always forget) was halfway across the lawn returning to her truck parked in the street.

Shadow wasn't about to let her escape. She ran out to meet her, as I called "She heard you, and just had to come see you," with a big grin on my face.

"I left your treats with the packages," she told her black furry friend. "Go get your treats."

"I'm not sure if it's the treats she came out for, or the ear-rubbing," I explained. I called her back to the porch, waving a treat, so that she might have an incentive to leave the friendly gloved hands of her friend in brown so that Cheryl (?) could go on to make someone else's day with a delivery.

Green Eggs and Ham

Can you get any more classic than Dr. Seuss? We all grew up on him, and our children are all growing up on him as well. I mentioned yesterday that 4 1/2 year-old Kyle is learning to read (notice that I did not say that I am teaching him to read. He's just learning, and I'm now doing my part to help him along).

He recently asked to read Green Eggs and Ham. I hadn't read it in a while, but honestly -- it's never been one of my favorite Dr. Seuss books. All that "I will not eat them in a box; I will not eat them with a fox" repeated over and over (and over) again is enough to drive a mother crazy.

Ah, but for a beginning reader, how perfect is that? Certainly after being shown a few times, Kyle was then able to read along with me as I pointed to the "I will not eat them" and with the predictability of the rhyme, he could fill in fox after reading box previously.

So, it's all good -- not to mention the inimitable rhythm of Dr. Seuss which makes the reading of such a book palatable even when I didn't think I was up for it.

We'll be reading Green Eggs and Ham again in the near future, I'm sure.

To see what other Children's Classics people are recommending, click on over to 5 Minutes for Books.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Things Have Changed

I have spent some time thinking about what being four means to Kyle (now he's more than halfway through this fun year), and how it's changed from the time Amanda was four, so perhaps for the sake of posterity you'll indulge me a bit of Mommy pride?

Kyle is a quick learner, and his knowledge is growing by leaps and bounds. At Christmas, Terry's grandmother gave him an easy-reader book, and later said, "I thought you would have taught him to read by now" (This wasn't a judgmental statement, but more of one of appreciation for his skills and mine). I told her that he actually did know a lot of sight words and surprised me with filling in words in context. When we sat down with the book she bought him Little Bear (An I Can Read Book), he did quite well. I love those "I Can Read" books, because they teach in a whole-language way (I like phonics, too, of course). Even if he didn't know the word "snow," by the time he finished the short story where it was mentioned a few times, it was familiar to him.

The other day he was playing at the computer (it's a constant battle for computer time around here now), and Google was pulled up, with "thomas" typed in the search box. "Did you do that," I asked, "all by yourself?" He did indeed. Not only did he type in "thomas," but he understands what Googling is and how to do it. I remember being amazed when Amanda did that a year or so ago. I don't know how we are going to keep up with kids and technology. I guess we just have to hang on for the ride.

I've finally been consistent with giving the children regular chores (and expecting them to do them). One of Kyle's is feeding and watering the dog. He was able to get to the food bin, but the water was an issue, so I keep a water bottle in the fridge that he can use to fill her bowl. He emptied it, and tossed it in the recycling bin, "I recycled it, Mom!" he said. So many things blow me away about that. I love his responsibility to throw it away (he's also a self-starter about clearing the table after he has a snack or a meal). And of course the fact that he knows that a plastic bottle goes into the recycling bin and not the garbage (in reality, we refill it, but that's okay. I fished it out, and put it back in the fridge). Again -- let's just try to keep up with these kids as far as environmental responsibility.

How are the realities of your kids' lives vastly different from when you were a kid, or even different from your older children at the same age?

Friday, January 09, 2009

Our week in a nutshell (or a bucket, as it were)

The week between Christmas and this Monday was a week of Loafin'. Terry was home from work on New Year's Day holiday, and worked fewer hours the rest of the week. We had no schedule, and really took on no responsibilities. It was really wonderful R&R, but I was ready to get back to a schedule. Unfortunately, that's not how it worked out.

MONDAY:
Everyone back to school. I did some chores around the house. All was well -- until Kyle woke up sick Monday night.

TUESDAY:
Pretty much back to normal. Even though Kyle didn't feel ill, I kept him and his germs home, which meant that I didn't get out either.

WEDNESDAY:
Snow day. Actually it was an ice day, so we were homebound once again, and since it was yucky ice and not fun snow, there wasn't even any recreation. Three days into my new year's schedule, I was not physically or psychologically ready to be homebound, again. I was a little short-tempered and not much fun.

THURSDAY:
Wednesday night Terry awoke at 2:30am, succombing to Kyle's virus. An hour later, I joined him.

We were both sick. Although the illness didn't manifest itself again after the morning, we both felt rotten all day, staying in bed as much as possible. Amanda was a great help with Kyle that morning and after his nap when she got home from school. The TV was a good friend to him as well.

There are some things that you don't want to share, and your sick bed is one of them. It was kind of funny that we were both lying around, moaning, dozing, etc, and not really communing with each other much at all.

FRIDAY:
Amanda woke up at midnight. Yep. Unlike her brother, and like her parents, the illness has hit her hard. Like her brother, she learned to use the bucket, and I feel a little bad, because I went back to sleep after forty-five minutes or so, and thought I heard her once or twice, but she told me she was up every half-hour. I'm not sure if that's true, but I am glad that she took care of it herself.

I'm also glad that I felt just as badly as she seems to be feeling just a day before. Otherwise, I might have thought she was being a bit dramatic. As it is, I have empathy.

Due to all factors mentioned above, I had not been out in my car since before the ice storm on Wednesday (I had gotten out in Terry's car with no problem for a quick trip Thursday afternoon to pick Amanda up at school). So, when I tried to get out to take Kyle to preschool, I couldn't. I was iced in (this happens frequently because of my heavy SUV without 4 WD and our uphill driveaway, but usually I don't really "have" to be anywhere). However, due to the fact that Kyle has been homebound along with me, and I wanted to drop him off and pick up sick supplies for Amanda, I was determined. After almost an hour, we managed to free ourselves from our property.

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

On call

Last night -- 10:25pm: I go to bed with the intention of spending some quiet time with my husband. As I reach the hallway landing, Kyle races out of his room, wearing that confused and upset look that marks the face of a child suddenly roused from sleep. At first I mistook the countenance for one of chagrin for being caught out of bed, so I said, "It's okay honey," and then I noticed the urgency as he paused to address me, and I said, "Go -- go," directing him to the bathroom.

As he reached the bathroom, he left evidence of the problem on the tiled floor. I followed him in.

"I threw up," he said on the verge of tears. "It got on Blankie. Can you wash her?"

At this point my heart broke along with his. I encouraged him to wash his face and hands while I went to his room to survey the damage. I cleaned up and got his bed ready.

He got into bed, and I gave him a towel to hug in Blankie's absence. I also placed a bucket beside his bed and instructed him of its purpose (Kyle has an overactive gag reflex, but this is his first bout of dealing with this type of throwing up). Then I got in bed and read and waited.

Thirty minutes later, and again twenty minutes after that, I met him in the bathroom. One time he had carried the bucket along for his short walk to the bathroom.

This morning he still is dealing with the bug, but from the other end. I'm hoping that my thorough handwashing and frequent wiping down of all surfaces with antibacterial wipes will prevent further infestation.

I've had recent flashes of realization that he is growing up as I've observed his increasing maturity, and this little illness has clarified it. He used the bucket (and due to evidence I found this morning, it appears that he used the bucket once on his own in the night). He didn't fuss too much as he waited patiently in the middle of the night for me to ready his bed. He (begrudgingly) let a towel stand in for Blankie, although she was the first thing he asked for when he woke up.

When a mom goes to bed, we never know for what we'll be called into duty in the night or when we awake. It could be sickness, a forgotten homework assignment that is remembered that morning before school, or perhaps our role will simply be that of drill sergeant, inspiring the troops to get moving to tackle whatever the day holds. Sometimes we bring good news, and sometimes we have to share bad news, like this morning when I had to explain to Kyle that we wouldn't be able to go to the mall today, as we had planned.

But it's all in a day's work -- a twenty-four hour day's work.

Sunday, January 04, 2009

Anne of Green Gables

Can you believe I've never read Anne of Green Gables? As much as I read growing up, I can't believe that no one recommended this book so that I inhaled it as I did so many others over the years.

A few months ago, I read Much Ado About Anne (reviewed HERE), the delightful second book in the Mother-Daughter Bookclub series, in which the young teens and their moms read Anne of Green Gables, so that sort of whet my appetite for the story.

Carrie
, my most prolific contributor at 5 Minutes for Books, is sponsoring the Lucy Maud Montgomery challenge at her blog Reading to Know this month, so I'm going to join in and try to read it. I'd love for Amanda to read it with me (or for us to do it as a read aloud), but she tried to read the Great Illustrated Classics version a year or two ago and declared it "boring." Amanda is an adventure/fantasy/mystery lover, and doesn't like my beloved Laura Ingalls Wilder either, so we'll see.

Saturday, January 03, 2009

Bookish Observations from 2008

Every week Sherry at Semicolon hosts a Saturday Review of Books. It's an invitation to link up to any book review you posted or bookish thoughts you shared from that week.

This week is a special book list edition in honor of looking back.

For me, 2008 was a good year in books. Mostly thanks to my "job" reviewing books, I found some new authors and read some new books. I enjoyed audiobooks, library books, advanced reader copies and reprints.

I read memoirs, straight nonfiction (although a lot less than in previous years), chick-lit, literary fiction, and juvenile fiction.

Sherry also provided a link to a great article by Karl Rove about the President's love of books and reading, and a friendly competition that ensued in 2006 when Rove said that he was sort of a lapsed reader and wanted to commit to reading more books. It's a neat article, and it reminds me of how thankful I am to have the encouragement and ability to read more books each year than I did the year before.

I also think about President Bush's mother, former first-lady Barbara Bush who took on reading and literacy as her cause, and I think about Laura Bush, the librarian who he married. I can only hope that in forty or fifty years, my children will take the seeds of the love of books that has been planted and will still be making an effort to read, perhaps because they are surrounded by friends and family who also value reading.

So, after that sentimental lead-in, I wanted to share about some books and authors that stood out to me this year:

Best new (to me) author of 2008: Jennifer Haigh

I was offered her book The Condition (briefly reviewed HERE) through amazon's Vine program, and loved the literary feel of it, as well as her portrait of a family. Just last month, I read an earlier novel of hers, Mrs. Kimble, which I hope to review next week at 5 Minutes for Books. I look forward to her future works of fiction.

Books from 2008 that stuck with me:


Scratch Beginnings by Adam Shepherd -- reviewed HERE

Too Small to Ignore
by Wess Stafford, president of Compassion International -- and it's not even why you might think. I haven't even finished this book that I started on my trip to the Dominican Republic with Compassion, but his thoughts about American vs. international child-rearing and care has made an imprint on my mind and heart.

The Year of the Animal -- Books about animals abounded and touched me or entertained me

I listened to Merle's Door, read Marley and Me (and the various Marley kids' books -- all reviewed HERE), and even read The Art of Racing in the Rain, a novel written from the point of view of a dog.

There was Dewey the cat and Hannah the Elephant (Diane Hammond was another wonderful new author I found, but I've yet to read another of her novels to know if that opinion will stick).

It was a good year in the pages, and I look forward to yet another one.

What about you? Do you have a stand-out book or author or theme from 2008?

Friday, January 02, 2009

Loafin' (or the alternate title given after I wrote it -- Ramblin')

We have so enjoyed this very low-key week. I haven't left the house much since we returned from our Christmas trip last Sunday night late. We have NOT spent every day Pajama-ed, but I'm not sure if upgrading to fleece sweats is much of an improvement.

We had a great New Year's Eve with friends. All the kids came up from the basement where they had been playing Wii (loudly) all night long in order to do the midnight countdown, and shortly thereafter Kyle totally lost it. This boy loves his sleep, and even asked "How come we have to stay up early?" (he gets confused about the whole staying up/getting up early versus late issue). I asked if he was ready for bed, and he said yes, so I put him to bed at 12:15. I understand his need for sleep, but what kid asks to go to bed when there are eight other kids, including his best buddy William indulging in mayhem in your house?

In addition to eating lots of food contributed by all (recipes below), we played the game Identity Crisis which I reviewed (before playing it) on 5 Minutes for Mom. It was a LOT of fun. We played three on three and laughed a lot. There are lots of pop culture references, but many old standards, including classic actors and cartoon characters -- but the way the game is played, even if you don't know the people and don't do well in round one, you can still clean up in round two. I'd definitely play this one again. It's a mix of Taboo, Password, and Outburst.

Terry and I have had a bit of a West Wing a-thon, and finished up Season 1 last night. Fortunately, I received both season 2 and season 3 for Christmas, so Season 2 will begin tonight.

It's been like falling in love all over again. By the time it ended a couple of years ago, it was one of our few "can't miss" shows. But going back to the first season has been such a treat. We've fallen in love with these characters all over again. I didn't realize I had missed out, because I had caught an episode here and there on Bravo over the years, but it's just not the same. I know that some were bothered by the liberal politics of it, but honestly much of the political plotlines go right over my head. I enjoy the snappy dialogue and characters, and who can complain about Rob Lowe? Incidentally, I've decided that the fact that Rob Lowe was cast as basically a geek -- and that he pulls it off -- is one of the underestimated brilliant moves in the show.

Now I'm debating whether to go ahead and buy Season 4 or not. I think that I will, because the price is still right around $20, with a list price of $60. I don't think I'll ever have to pay full price, but I think that the chances are good that it will go up to $30 or $40. I'm sure we won't polish off Season 2 in less than a month as we did with Season 1, due to our indulgent holiday schedule, but even if it takes 6 weeks, we could be cruising right through them.

I told Terry that when (if?) thirtysomething comes out, he'll have to watch it with me, but he said I was on my own. Seeing Timothy Busfield has made me wish for it even more. Speaking of Timothy Busfield, I always pictured him as a shorter person, but seeing him stand up beside Allison Janney (CJ) who is over 6 feet tall made me realize that he's not, and this has sort of rocked my world.

I could go on and on, because we've really (really) been enjoying this, but since this isn't called "The West Wing blog" I guess I'll stop right now, although any of you can feel free to gush along with me in the comments. And if you disagree, feel free to float that comment as well. But I did just find out (from my amazon browsing) that series creator Aaron Sorkin also wrote The American President, and basically built on that to create this show, which makes a lot of sense. So, I may convince some of you West Wing naysayers who love The American President (who doesn't love that movie) that the series is worth a try.

We ate some of our New Year's Eve leftovers for lunch while we were watching, and I thought I'd bring the post back around to the "loaf" theme by sharing my recipe for my hot sandwich roll:

Hot Sandwich Roll (I don't know what the real name is or was -- no doubt it's more appealing than the one I gave it), and I don't use a recipe so hear ya go:

1 refrigerated pizza crust (found by the biscuits and stuff in a tube)
sliced ham
salami
sliced provolone cheese
shredded mozzarella and/or parmesan cheese
sliced green onions

Spread out the pizza crust into a rectangle. Cover with a layer of ham, a layer of salami, and a layer of provolone, then sprinkle mozzarella and/or parmesan cheese and green onions. Roll it up (from the long side across), and then tuck the ends under. Slash the bread across, and bake for at least 20 minutes at 375 (the tube instructions called for 400 or 420 for about 14, but the dough was not cooked inside, so I would lower the temp to below 400 and cook it longer.

Cut into slices and serve. It's so good.

My friend Nicole brought a hot dip that I really pigged out on as well.

Hot Mexican dip (again I am making up my own name and estimating the recipe) -- Edited later because Nicole emailed the real recipe to me, but she liked my name so I'm keeping it:

Spread 2 pkg light cream cheese on the bottom of a 9 x 9 oven proof pan.
Cover with a can of Hormel Hot Chili.
Cover with shredded cheese -- (1 block of each of sharp cheddar and she mixed cheddar and monterey jack or pepper jack)
Optional -- put diced green chilis or sliced jalapenos on top

Cover and bake at 350 for 15 minutes or until bubbly.

Serve with tortilla chips or fritos.