Thursday, April 30, 2009

All By Myself

For the past few days I’ve been in Chicago. All alone. Me minus children, laundry, dishes, meal prep -- in a beautiful hotel with a beautiful view. I had visions of reading chapters of books in the evening, catching up on book reviews and blog posts and other administrative details. Did that happen?

The chirping crickets here at Snapshot indicate otherwise. The fact that 5 Minutes for Books’ Wednesday giveaway posted without announcing the winners from the previous week, because I completely forgot about adding that information in that morning confirms it.

So, what did I do instead in the incomparable Four Seasons hotel in Chicago in my hours of downtime (a fair amount, considering I woke up early since my body clock was on East-coast time, had a couple of hours in the afternoon before dinner, and I stayed up late – really late – giving myself a couple of hours in the evening)?

  • I did some bare-bones administrative stuff on my site.

  • I wrote and posted the Stop & Shop/Giant gift card contest for the 5 Minutes for Mom Mother’s Day giveaway.

  • I tried to stay on top of my email.

  • I luxuriated in the plush comfortable bed. Really plush. Really comfortable. Need I say more?

  • I stayed up way too late channel surfing from bed (see above).

  • I spent much more time than usual grooming myself and changing clothes. Now this may be far TMI for many of you, but it was an interesting development in my child-free, husband-free getaway. I am a utilitarian showerer. I usually shower once a day. I don’t revel in it; I just do it. However, with downtime in the afternoon one day, I took the opportunity to take a shower and it was the best shower ever. Perhaps it’s because it was followed by a relaxing facial at Allyu Spa, but it was a great experience. The bathtub was nice as well. It was surrounded by beautiful tile and was deep and clean and serene.


One of the devices that never fails to crack me up is the use of a dramatic song sequence. Eric Carmen's All by Myself is a perfect example of such a song. Now, in this song, he's a bit mournful about being "all by myself," and I have not a twinge of sadness or doubt about it, but since it's my blogpost, I'll choose the soundtrack that I want, so click on over and smile along with me.

I am actually wishing for more peaceful Four Seasons kind of solitude as I sit here in O'Hare airport waiting for the plane, which was delayed inbound. It's actually not too bad here, and thanks to airport WIFI, I'm able to post this.

Are there any songs that totally crack you up when you hear them on a commercial, TV show or movie?

How do you spend your time when you're all alone (ARE you ever all alone?)?

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Delightful Dominicans

When I got out my little purse-sized notebook to jot down some thoughts about my arrival in Chicago (more on that adventure later), I flipped through looking through a blank page and was stopped by a little drawing -- a primitive person. You know the type, all smiley face and arms and legs and no body (at closer inspection, this one also has ears and hair). It didn't look like something that Kyle had drawn, so I couldn't place it.

Then I truned the next page and saw the careful child-like scrawl:

Pipi
Neyi
Rita
Leni -- 11

My heart skipped a beat, and I was back in the Dominican Republic in a crowded meeting space listening to a long program that the children of that Compassion project had put together just for us. I sat on a bench along the side wall and was surrounded by children. They begged for my notebook and pen, my camera, and my attention.

When I'm home and my own children are climbing on me or hovering and peeking over my shoulder while I'm on the computer, I'm less than gracious. In fact, I am often downright annoyed. And yet, there I was literally engulfed with children. They grabbed my hand, my arm, and even attempted to fix my hair.

After I returned from the Dominican Republic on my trip with the Compassion Bloggers, my heart was full of love for the people of that nation. I felt like JFK when he gave a speech in West Berlin saying "Ich bin ein Berliner, only "Yo soy una Dominica."

I loved the people I met there: the Compassion employees with a heart to help the people of their country, the hotel staff who enjoyed practicing their English with us as they welcomed us to their country (and poured that delicious Dominican coffee with the hot milk), every one of those children who were so open to us as they invited us to share their day.

I'm thankful for the memory. I'm also chastened and shamed, because I had let myself forget. I know that I'm not doing as much as I should for my two sponsored children, but before I beat myself up too much, I remind myself how thankful for the children are for the support, and in the end I'm humbled that I have the opportunity to do anything at all.

You can read all of my posts from my November trip at my Compassion Trip page. But there's a new group in India right now. Please pray for them. Read their posts. Consider sponsoring a child of your own. Or another child. I can't overstate the privilege of being involved with this ministry as a whole and the life of a child as an individual.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Nightstand -- April

Before I get to my list of reading goals for this next month, here are some reviews I've recently published:

First, it's been fun posting new giveaways each day in the 5 Minutes for Books Mother's Day Giveaway. You can enter through Thursday to win any or all of these books. I personally reviewed a couple of books over there, but check out the whole list.

And I posted the very first entry in the 5 Minutes for Mom Mother's Day Giveaway -- for a programmable Crock-Pot Smart-Pot. Check out that contest, and all the others as well.

The Red Leather Diary

The Spare Wife


I read several more books on my list from last month, but the reviews haven't published yet.

FICTION:

Rose House -- by Tina Forkner -- I'm halfway through this now, and I'm enjoying it.

The Great Gatsby -- just starting this for Classics Bookclub on May 5 over at 5 Minutes for Books

Everyone is Beautiful -- This is for 5 Minutes for Books. We are mixing up our Classics Bookclub a bit by adding in some current fiction works. Join us on June 2 to discuss this great book.

A Thousand Splendid Suns--I still haven't gotten to this, but I'm hoping to get started soon. Really.

Rooftops of Tehran

Invention of Hugo Cabret (currently in progress -- with Amanda for Read Together)

MAYBE:
Dating da Vinci

Wings

NON-FICTION:
The Purpose of Boys: Helping Our Sons Find Meaning, Significance, and Direction in Their Lives by Michael Gurian

The Book Whisperer: Awakening the Inner Reader in Every Child by Donalyn Miller

Dear Mom: Everything Your Teenage Daughter Wants You to Know But Will Never Tell You by Melody Carson

Take Joy: A Writer's Guide to Loving the Craft by Jane Yolen

Check out what everyone else around the blogosphere is reading the fourth Tuesday of every month at 5 Minutes for Books' What's on Your Nightstand.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Family Size: How We Decided

When I was in junior high school, my best friend was one of five kids. Brynna was the second oldest, and shared a room with the only other girl, her sister who was the youngest and at least 6 or 7 years younger than she was. In junior high friends are very important, and we spent a lot of time together -- her with my family and me with hers, after school, on the weekends, and even on summer vacations.

I loved all the activity at her house, and the way that Brynna stuck up for her younger siblings. It made me wonder if I would like to have a large family. By the time I was grown and married, I knew that I wanted children, but was sure that two or three would be plenty.

At my husband's urging, we waited for five years after we were married before we got pregnant with our first child. I felt like I was ready to have a child much sooner than that, but honestly, it was as much an excuse to quit working and become a full-time homemaker as anything, and I ended up agreeing with Terry that job dissatisfaction was a bad reason to have a child.

Since people begin asking right away, "When are you going to have another child?" Terry and I started the dialogue, and he was unwilling to commit to another child. Knowing him as I do now, I know that he was not ready to start the discussion, but when he was ready, he broached the subject. In the meantime, how did I decide? How did I come to terms with the fact that we disagreed on when/if to have another child and that this is an issue which has no compromise?

I did just as Mary Ostyn suggests in her book, which I just reviewed on 5 Minutes for Mom, A Sane Woman's Guide to Raising a Large Family. Wait and pray. Eventually we both reached agreement. Kyle and Amanda are 5 1/2 years apart, and while I would not have thought that it was an ideal span, it has turned out to be a great thing for me and my husband.

Yes, it's easier. I still struggle with patience, and I know that moms of many are quicker learners in this desirable character trait. Financially, college tuition will be spread out. Activity-wise, we haven't had any conflicts because only Amanda is involved in sports and clubs for now. I had thought that sibling rivalry and bickering wouldn't be an issue, but it is, although probably not as much as in closer siblings. They don't play together as much as siblings closer in age (or same sex), but I'm surprised at how close they are. In addition, as in a larger family, Amanda is responsible for helping me out with her brother. She's not quite babysitting yet, but will be soon. The fact that she's been a helper since he was born will help her with babysitting other children in the future.

Since Amanda was an only child for so long, one mistake I made was putting some things off. Things that I thought would be better to do if we were a bigger family -- a "real" family -- such as family activities. Many people mistakenly assume that single child families result in spoiled children, and I can honestly say from my experience that our family was probably less child-centered then than it is now.

I know that this is the perfect God-given family for us. That certainly doesn't mean that we are perfect or that I am a perfect mom. Far far from that. However, it confirms that one family-size or means of growing that family are not for everyone. If two people agree and seek God's leading about the how's and why's and when's of building a family, then I think that ultimately that family will be blessed.

What about you? Did your initial thoughts about family size change over the years? Was it difficult for you and your spouse to come to terms on the how's and why's? Do you know for sure that your family is complete, or are you unsure?

Read my thoughts of Mary Ostyn's book A Sane Woman's Guide to Raising a Large Family. I found it delightful and whether or not you are familiar with her Owlhaven blog, I think that you will find her writing to be informative and accessible. You can also enter to win a copy.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Are you Reading Together?

Amanda and I finally finished our first read-aloud book for the Read Together challenge. We started strong with Pieces of Georgia, but then we had Spring Break last week, and with our regular schedule thrown out the window, we stalled. Fortunately, we picked back up.

This was a great book to share together. I especially enjoyed reading a whole novel of free verse for the first time (in National Poetry** Month, no less). At first I read a little differently, because of the way it was written, even though it didn't rhyme. But then I settled into a more natural rhythm, still taking some cues from the ends of lines and stanzas.

Thirteen-year-old Georgia's voice was strong. She was sweet, talented, shy, and curious and questioning.

The book is her journal, which her school counselor has asked her to keep as a way to connect with her mother, who passed away years ago. Georgia finds that there are a lot of things she's wanted to share with her and it proves to be important as she enters her teen years to help her figure out who her mother was and who Georgia is now.

On her 13th birthday, she receives an anonymous gift -- a membership to the nearby art museum. Her art teacher has also encouraged her to apply for a special art program, so the months are filled with her experimenting with different techniques, often inspired by her visit to the museum and the Wyeth's works along with Georgia O'Keefe (her namesake). This would be a great book to read alongside a study of some of these American artists, because getting a youngster's perspective on them piqued my curiosity as well as Amanda's.

Speaking of the Read Together challenge, I think I'm going to make it a monthly thing. I know that accountability is always good for me, so on the first of May, when you post your results from Read Together, if you want to post May goals, that would be great.

If you didn't officially join-in this month, you can jump in anytime in the future.

I have found the accountability great in encouraging my perseverance. When we finished this book, Amanda said, "We need to get another book we can read together." I was glad that she is enjoying this effort as much as I am. I was already prepared with The Invention of Hugo Cabret, which we started today.

Keep on keepin' on!

**Are you checking out the 30 new poems from great poets each day this month at Gotta Book? If not, go catch up. I especially enjoyed a recent one from Jane Yolen.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Up and Down, Round and Round

The metaphor seems a bit tired, but I can't help but compare my recent experiences as a domestic engineer with life on the playground. Since it's still mostly cold and rainy here I don't have much recent real playground experience, but the thrills and chills and spills of everyday life -- I have in abundance.

Parenting:

A tranquil evening of playing games with my son leads to an exhilarating high of feeling like Supermom -- fun, patient, attentive. I'm the nice kid on the playground who includes everyone! Twelve hours later, feeling backed into a corner by that same preschooler in a public place, I sink to new lows. I'm either the bully or the victim, I'm not sure which.

Domestic Engineering:

In this case, bathroom remodeling, has put me through the mill! A couple of weeks ago I felt as if I was stuck "up" on the seesaw, as if someone was playing games with me, and I had no control to get myself out of the situation. Burdened with decisions, I was paralyzed. Twenty-four hours later I was euphoric -- swinging higher on the swing than I ever had. I found what I wanted! I put colors and pieces together! It was going to look great! Needless to say, that project has continued to be a series of ups and downs.

Marriage:

Marriage is like those mulch chips surrounding the playground. All the fun and mayhem that occur on the playground of life disturb that safe surrounding. Without regular and purposeful maintenance the playground becomes a dangerous place as the cushion erodes away.

Is it just me, or is your life a playground? Are you thrilled with a new skill or intimidated by a new piece of equipment you have to face? Are you exhilarated or so over-excited that you feel like you're going to throw up? Does it feel like fun or work?

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Scaredy Squirrel at Night

We are die-hard Scaredy Squirrel fans around here. We've enjoyed the other books about this fearful little rodent, and have taken the not-so-subtle messages about moving beyond your comfort zone in the original Scaredy Squirrel, SS Makes a Friend, and SS at the Beach (all linked to my previous reviews -- the friend one is my personal favorite).

When we received this latest Scaredy Squirrel book, Kyle (4 1/2) insisted that we read it over and over again. Then he got all all the other Scaredy Squirrel books, and we've read Scaredy Squirrel at the Beach (see review) over and over again as well these last few weeks.

In Scaredy Squirrel at Night Melanie Watt once again tackles an issue which affects young and old. Scaredy Squirrel is afraid of his bad dreams, so instead of sleeping, he does other things, like catches up on his scrapbooking.

When his horoscope says that all his dreams will come true, he sets a plan into action to foil all of his (bad) dreams. In the end, all his hard work and worrying causes him to finally get a good night's rest, and he realizes that he's much more alert, pleasant and capable after getting a good night's sleep.

The use of a horoscope is likely to trouble some parents. In the end, he puts the horoscope into the recycling bin, and says that he will rely on something more trustworthy . . . . fortune cookies (which shows a "sweet dreams" message). Even if you avoid this book because of the horoscope angle, I highly recommend that you check out Melanie Watt's Scaredy Squirrel books. They are the kind of books that appeal to older preschoolers on up to my ten-year-old (and me), since the two of us were just as excited to see what the little rodent was up to.

Amanda's Kid Pick for the month was Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (Book 5), hands down. She discovered a new author this month, Caroline Cooney, and loved her books, but when I suggested that she include those as well, good ol' Harry Potter trumped it. She tore through this longest-so-far book in just over two days over Spring Break last week.

See what other children have enjoyed this month at 5 Minutes for Books Kids' Picks Carnival.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Spring is here at last

. . . bringing with it -- allergies!

I've been waiting and waiting for it to be warm enough for me to sit on the deck outside and read while the kids play in the driveway. We have had a few warm days the last couple of weeks, but they've all been so breezy that it wasn't quite cozy enough to sit out in the sun and read.

But today with nice sun, little wind, and temps in the 70's it finally reached the perfect critical mass for enjoying some R&R outside (that would be Reading and Relaxing).

However, as a result of the budding trees and flowers, and green grass, I am all sneezy and itchy. I guess I'm not going to complain about it just yet. I'll hope that it passes soon, and that the warm weather doesn't.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Easy Egg Salad

Is anyone else using up hard-boiled colored eggs? We didn't actually color ours until Easter Sunday afternoon, and then we were gone the last couple of days, so this morning I made egg salad.

I read this tip somewhere, and so I thought I'd pass it along. Use your pastry blender to "cut" up your hard boiled eggs. I think that I tried it with my older one, which had the more flexible wires without such good results, but this was the first time I had used my more sturdier model (similar to the one shown). It worked great!

I just peeled the eggs into a tupperware dish (the same one I'd store it in), mashed with the blender, added some seasoned salt, dijon mustard, and mayonnaise (about half and half -- a little heavier on the mayo).

Guess what's for lunch?

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

The Incredible Journey

This month's topic at 5 Minutes for Books' Children's Classics carnival was dog stories. Read more reviews at this month's Children's Classics carnival.

There are so many books I could relive from my elementary years: Where the Red Fern Grows came to mind, but I think that Amanda will have to read that in school, so I thought I'd wait. And then something brought The Incredible Journey to my mind.

It's short (less than 150 pages), so I thought that I'd do it as a read-aloud for the Read Together challenge. However, I was only ten pages in when I realized that would not work. I've realized that one way to ensure success in Reading Together (especially for a book I'm trying to read to both kids) is to cut your losses when it's not going well. The Incredible Journey is all narrative, and full of very descriptive (but not very exciting) phrases. It was not a good read-aloud.

However, I remember reading the book in school and then watching the movie at a school-wide assembly, so I made asked Amanda to read it, and I read it too.

I think that I was remembering the movie (called Homeward Bound) -- where the animals talked (or thought aloud), and that didn't happen. The story is sweet -- about an old dog, a young dog and a cat, who travel hundreds of miles to their home. The young dog and the cat take good care of the older dog, which is a good lesson, but all in all I don't feel like I needed to revisit this one.

I am proud of Amanda (age 10), who did read it, even though it wasn't very exciting. She said it was okay, but she thought that someone a bit younger might enjoy it more.

Even though the language is not dated, it still doesn't read like today's juvenile fiction, but the story is simple, so it might appeal to a high-level reading second- or third-grader. It also could appeal to animal-lovers or nature-lovers. It might be a good crossover for a child who usually prefers to read non-fiction.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Overheated

You know those mornings (or afternoons, or evenings), where everyone seems to be overheated? Testy or tired or troubled? Moods running hot?

Well yesterday morning was one of those days. We were trying to get off to church, leaving a bit early so that we'd be able to park and sit in "our spot" on the most crowded Sunday of the year. We made it to the car (with some whimpering and complaining still going on), and we were about ten minutes from home when Terry said, "That's weird. The car is overheating." He swung into a school parking lot and turned back towards home, fearing that a belt or something would snap at any moment and leave us stranded.

My car was full of a vanity and a stone top for the bathroom remodel, so switching cars would have caused quite a delay (not to mention the fact that we didn't want to do manual labor while dressed up for Easter Sunday).

The day just wasn't off to a good start.

But once the fan started blowing through the engine, the heat came way down, so we turned back around and proceeded (All is well, but we have an appointment later in the week to have it checked out).

The only thing that wasn't running hot yesterday was the weather. It was nice and sunny, but windy and cold. I think that the temperature fell throughout the day, ranging between 42 and 48 degrees.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Happy Easter

Low in the grave he lay, Jesus my Savior,
waiting the coming day, Jesus my Lord!

Up from the grave he arose;
with a mighty triumph o'er his foes;
he arose a victor from the dark domain,
and he lives forever, with his saints to reign.
He arose! He arose! Hallelujah! Christ arose!


Lyrics courtesy of hymnsite.com (where you can also hear the music).

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Boys' Night Day Out!


Even though children think that Mommies and Daddies enjoy ruling with an iron fist, and being mean "just because," most of us will agree that it's not our favorite part of the job. What's much much better?

Surprises! Really, really great surprises.

Last week my friend Lee and I created an extraordinarily fun day for Kyle and his best buddy William. For the two of them, just the fact that we were hanging out together would inspire squeals of joy, but it didn't stop there. Wednesday morning, after getting all the big sisters on the bus, we hopped in the car and headed to Hartford. They didn't know why, but when Kyle got dressed, I put out his Thomas t-shirt, and told him that was his second clue (the first had been that William was coming too).

"Are we going to Day Out with Thomas again? If we are, that would be a good surprise."

Kyle's love affair with Thomas is ending. He still loves the books and still watches it on TV, but ever since we took apart his last big track, he hasn't rebuilt another one, and hasn't played much (and the reason that I took apart the last sprawling railway is because he hadn't been playing with it). So, when I saw that Thomas and Friends Live! -- the Circus Comes to Town was going to be in a nearby town, I had asked my husband about going while the interest was still there. He reluctantly agreed that we could go, but as I was looking into details, I saw that they had a 10:30am showing on a Wednesday: a perfect reason for a Boys' Night Day Out!



We got to the venue, and they were pretty excited by the parking garage and the wide open spaces in the sports arena, and the hockey mural (above). Then they saw the "Thomas and Friends" sign and went crazy.

The show was good. When Amanda was about 2, I thought it would be delightful to see Sesame Street, Live! I was wrong. Seriously, has anyone ever had a two-year-old enjoy one of these experiences?? There were sets of grandparents and parents, a 4 to 1 ratio, and one young toddler trying to take in the show, and it didn't seem to be working for them either.


But our two four-year-old guys loved it. Even their moms thought it was pretty cute. So if you have a Thomas fan in your family, I'd recommend this particular event. When I asked Kyle afterwards if he liked that or Day Out with Thomas better, he said that he liked the show. I agree, although perhaps for a younger fan, the Day Out would still be tops.

But the fun didn't end there -- oh no. We had decided to take them for a special lunch. Living in a smaller town, we do not have any fast food places with the big play area, but I knew that we'd pass by one on our way home from the event, so I plead on the boys' behalf to go there instead of somewhere that we might enjoy more. It was a little late for a preschool lunch by the time we got there, so it wasn't too crowded, so we were able to talk while they played.

When William was telling his sisters about the day, did he speak of the once-in-a-lifetime big show? No, he said, "We went to McDonald's!" However, he was awed by the show, and kept asking his mom, "Is Thomas real?" (in contrast to movies, we assumed).

It truly was a great day.

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Out with the Old

Kids' bath -- before

Powder room -- before


The bathroom remodel starts today. Well, the demolition part anyway. I still haven't decided quite what I'm going to do, but I have a few days to get that all figured out, right? I do appreciate your feedback on the slate colors.

For more (semi) Wordless Wednesday, visit 5 Minutes for Mom.

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Small Talk

Do you like small talk? I do not. I'm all about deep meaningful conversations and relationships, but unfortunately it takes a lot of small talk to get to that point.

When you meet someone or are standing with an acquaintance with nothing to talk about (or if you have nothing to blog about -- ahem), the weather's always a safe conversation, right? And the weather here has given me plenty to talk about. It's been springy and sunny, then rainy and cold, sun then clouds. And windy. It's been really windy.

Strike one. I was wrong. The weather might be safe, but it's pretty dull.

I need to call the Guinness World record accountants, because I may be on the verge of breaking a fiction reading record. I am always reading more than one book at once, but they are usually different genres: a novel, a memoir, a children's chapter book, and maybe a non-fiction book or two (and not ever ALL of those at one time). BUT according to my nifty reading journal in which I've been recording my reading habits over the last six months -- these are all the books that I'm currently reading (defining current as in-progress, and having read it in the last two-weeks):

Children's Literature:
Novels
Non-fiction books
Oh I see you've glazed over, so as a good conversational tactic, I will change subjects and ask you a question.

We are about to start a bathroom remodel. Do you know anything about bathrooms? Remodeling them, that is? Picking out fixtures and tile? Is there anything that you'd caution against.

I really like the look of some of this Datile Slate for the kids'/guest bath. I'd use it on both the walls and the shower wall. Do you want to see my samples? I like the Sunset Glory and Autumn Mist and Indian Multicolor. I'm a pretty casual person, so I think I like the natural look, but might it bug me in the long run?

I know that we'll love the results, but the getting there is no fun for me (picking a contractor -- done, picking all the pieces -- not done, dealing with the mess and noise -- not even started).

Now I've left it to you -- give me your feedback. Speak honestly, even though it's just small talk. Do you have a horrific remodeling story to share? Perhaps a bit of encouragement?

Monday, April 06, 2009

Family Movie Night

We were finishing dinner when my husband turned on the TV. "Amanda, I think that I'm going to impose family movie night," he announced.

Amanda (and I) love family movie night: turning down the lights, having special snacks, and sharing a movie together. When Terry -- who is not really a fan of family movie night -- announced this plan, we were both surprised.

Amanda also knew that if he was "imposing" the activity, it would probably be a movie that she didn't think she'd like. I often convince her to give certain books and movies a try (and Mama is usually right on target), so it seemed that Dad was following in my footsteps. As the ending credits of another movie rolled, we tried to guess what he had in mind.

"Star Wars?" I guessed, incorrectly.

"Madagascar?" Amanda tried.

Then, the movie started. A black screen and a distinctive font with "Random Production Company Presents," and I yelled out, "Father of the Bride"!! Yes, I guessed a movie from the font.

"Amanda this is a movie about a Daddy who loves his daughter," Terry explained (with uncharacteristic sentimentality).

"Do I have to watch it?" she asked.

We all snuggled up on the sofa. I had the remote in my hand to mute the one questionable line that I remembered from this PG-rated movie. Steve Martin tells his daughter and her fiancee, "Don't forget to buckle your cond*m -- um, seat belt! I mean seat belt!"

Amanda loved it. Terry and I loved it too. It's definitely on my top-10 list of movies.

More than just enjoying the movie, it reminded me of my own movie-dates with my dad. My parents divorced when I was nine-years-old, and by the time I was Amanda's age, or perhaps a bit older, one of the way we filled our time together was seeing movies.

There were typical family-friendly movies like Empire Strikes Back and Superman, but others such as The Coal Miner's Daughter and The Color Purple. I was fifteen when that one came out, but I remember we both thought that was a pretty grown-up "date."

I wonder if Amanda will remember this movie as a step towards growing up. If she'll remember this glimpse into the future when she'll get married and leave us for another man. I know I will.

Sunday, April 05, 2009

The Reading Remedy

My day was already off to a bad start, and it was only 9:30 a.m.

The heavy feeling in my chest came from the burden of all I had to do. Looking around my house I had a visual reminder of those to-dos: bills to pay, books to put away, papers to trash, toilets to clean, floors to sweep, laundry to put away.

Read about my Reading Remedy at 5 Minutes for Books today.

Friday, April 03, 2009

Where Everybody Knows Your Name

One thing that's been interesting about living in semi-small town Connecticut is the "Norm factor." Paths cross. People know each other.

For example, one time I was in a park, and I kept seeing this familiar couple. "Who are they? How do I know them?" I racked my brain until I remembered that they ran our favorite pizza place.

For over a year now I've been going to the dry cleaner that is between our home and Kyle's school. Terry is sort of restless on the weekends, and so in spite of the fact that I could go there easily several times a week, he often ends up dropping clothes off on Saturdays. The dry-cleaner knows us by name. He knows both of us, and knows that we go together, even though he's never seen us together.

This is totally foreign to me, having grown up in the massive-sprawl of Houston suburbia. It's so dense and so fluid that no one knows anyone. Oh, sure you might have a relationship with your hairdresser or manicurist. You probably know the school secretary, but it's different.

Case in point: we've lived here almost five years now. This winter Terry and I had some concerns about the well pump (which is also completely foreign territory for us). I called the service company whose sticker was on some of the equipment in the house. I gave him the address, and he said, "Oh, that was the "Smith's" house, right? It's down toward the end of the road next to the yellow one?"

Okay, how in the world would this guy remember that? Yes, he installed the well, but it was over fifteen years ago. He may have done service on it, or on one of the neighbor's, but again -- it was over fifteen years ago.

This has happened more than once with service providers, and it never fails to amaze me and remind me that instead of living among a densely-packed suburb of 45,000 (suburb to the 4th largest city in the U.S. of four million), I live in a large and rambling town (area-wise) of only about 25,000 (which is twenty minutes away from the "big city" of only 80,000), many of whom have lived here forever. In fact, half of them can volunteer this fact as well: "Your neighbor had that landscape business, right?" That business was defunct by the time we moved in -- five years ago -- and yet they all know this.

Another case in point: my daughter's elementary school bus driver has been driving this bus route for years. And when I say years, I mean that I've met people who say he was their bus driver in elementary school. Those people now have children who are riding his bus. When we were having some work done to our lawn, he commented on the sign in the hard, because the owner of the business used to ride his bus.

There are things that suburbia lacks, and things that we would never have experienced in the master-planned-community South. In Texas, rural is -- to put it bluntly -- hick or country (and not country as in wide-open spaces -- country as an upbringing). Here, there are small towns all over the state that offer the benefits of commuting to work, but having a smaller school system, and the sense of pride that comes with the kind of identity that these communities offer. We love the ability to experience the best of both worlds.

It's why we can't image moving back -- in spite of family and friends and a much (MUCH) lower cost of living. These are just a few of the reasons that we've come to see this little corner of Connecticut as home.

Clutter-Free Christianity

I don't accept many books for blog tours for my blog here anymore, since I review at 5 Minutes for Books and receive more books than I know what to do with (Is that really possible?), but the publisher's info about Clutter-Free Christianity piqued my interest:

Your greatest desire is to please God, but with each passing week, your spiritual to-do list grows longer. As you strive to fulfill a never-ending inventory of requirements for being a godly parent, spouse, voter, employee, and more, you feel increasingly disconnected from the God you’re trying to serve.

It’s time to cut through the clutter and get to the heart of what it means to please God. In this liberating look at the core principles of faith, Dr. Robert Jeffress reveals the truth about what God really wants from you–and what He wants to do for you.

You’ll learn how to partner with God in the process of spiritual transformation as you choose to follow Christ in forgiveness, obedience, trust, contentment, service, and prayer.


Based on that description, I was hoping for some real practical advice on how to do this, and the first few chapters on "Connecting to God's Power," "Experiencing Heaven on Earth Now," and "A Forgiving Heart" did not deliver in my opinion. The information was good, but it was nothing I hadn't read before.

I did enjoy the practical advice and Biblical encouragement in a few of the chapters at the end on having a content heart, a serving heart, and a praying heart.

Another issue I have with the description of the book is that the "Bible Study and Discussion Guide," is not really a Bible Study. It's a good discussion guide, and would be helpful for use in a small group, or even reading one on one, but each chapter just has one Bible verse to apply (if that--quite a few have none). This isn't a bad thing, I just wanted to clarify that it's mislabeled in my opinion.

That said, if you haven't read many Christian discipleship-type books, you will probably enjoy and benefit from this clear teaching. If you are always looking (as I am) for ways to focus less on yourself and more on others, the sections on being content and serving are excellent.

You can learn more or purchase the book at the Random House website.

Thursday, April 02, 2009

I Lied. . .

. . . or maybe because it was April Fool's Day, I can say I fooled you. Yesterday in honor of the day of pranks, I reviewed Gotcha! 18 Amazing Ways to Fool Your Friends on 5 Minutes for Books. In my review, I implied (by saying it straight out) that "anything that causes a child to let out one of those contagious and melodic belly laughs is okay in my book."

Later that night my children were full of life. Amanda was "fooling" Kyle by pretending to be a monster knocking on his door. There was lots of running around, lots of screaming -- and oh yes, the effervescent sound of children's laughter. Was it "okay in my book"? Not so much. In theory, I love it. In reality, at the end of a long day when I want to wind down and the children are ramping up, I wish for complete silence, peace, stillness.

I know one day I'll be sorry that I didn't relish the shrieking, or join in more often. But I can say that I didn't stop them, and I didn't yell (I just sat downstairs trying to read and sort of gritting my teeth and taking deep calming breaths).

Not only was I a bit frustrated by my children (by my reaction to them), but I was also feeling a bit frustrated with my reading. I was restless. I've been reading Cutting for Stone. It's still slow-going. However, I know that when it's all said and done I'll be glad I read it. The setting is interesting -- Indian expat doctors working in a poor Ethiopian town -- and around page 60 it did pick up considerably, but I wouldn't cry if I lost it and couldn't finish it. So I decided, 168 pages in, to set it aside for a bit.

I decided to start Things I Want My Daughters to Know, which I need to finish in the next couple of weeks. I've read a few chapters, and it's good. I think that I'll like it, but I still felt restless.

When Amanda left for school yesterday, she said, "I really really want you to read 11 Birthdays. Will you stop reading your book and read it?"

"I'll read it," I promised.

"Today?"

"Probably not today, but soon."

So, I decided to put my money where my mouth is and read it instead. Wednesday nights I read a lot (now that Top Chef isn't on), because Amanda's at church and Terry comes home late after picking her up from church. So I put Kyle to bed, and I read.

"Do you like it? Isn't it good?" she asked, when I told her on the way to church that I had started 11 Birthdays.

Yes, it's good. And it was just the thing I needed to get me out of my slump. Many children's books are so well-written. They aren't too heavy (usually), and they offer immediate gratification -- I read the entire book in a few hours. That's the ultimate in escape reading.

So I feel somewhat redeemed in my parenting. Not only did I already cross one book off mine and Amanda's Read Together list, but this morning we started one of our read-alouds: Pieces of Georgia. It's written in free verse, so it's just a bit more lyrical than a normal book. I am confident that we'll be able to finish it (we got about a fourth of the way through this morning).

It's also a perfect way to celebrate National Poetry Month. The other thing that I am doing (that dovetails with Read Together) is reading Amanda and Kyle the poem each morning that is printed at GottaBook for 30Poets/30Days. Yesterday was a great poem by Jack Prelutsky and today I was introduced to Rebecca Kai Dotlich.

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

Read Together 2009 Sign Up


I'm so excited to welcome you to this event.

There's safety in numbers, and accountability is a good thing, so I'm quite sure that by the end of April, we will all be able to pat ourselves on the back for the extra attention we gave our children this month.

And if not, there's always next month, right?

If you need more information, check out the Read Together 2009 post, but basically all you have to do is write up a post sharing your specific (and challenging) goals to read to and/or with your children.

On April 30, I'll publish another linky for you to post your results sometime that week. Two participants who publish their goals by April 5 and their results by May 3 will win a prize.

Feel free to grab the big button here to use in your own post, or you can use this smaller one. You can also put it in your sidebar as well as a reminder that you are committing to Read Together this month.

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