Wednesday, March 31, 2010

American Idol -- Top 10

I jotted down some notes last night when the top 10 performed, and I didn't post them this morning. So now I'll post my thoughts on their performances as I watch the elimination.

My guess (now, at 9:02 p.m.) at who is is going to go home: Didi or Tim

There were some great performances last night.

  • Casey James -- I've always liked him and was happy he did well
  • Andrew Garcia -- I think he's a good performer, and I've actually thought his performances the last few weeks were fine, but nothing's drawn me to him. I totally agree with Simon that it's a personality issue.
  • Katie -- I disagreed with the judges, I thought she did great. I like her. I don't know how long she'll be around. I know she was in the bottom 3 last week, but she had a good night, so I hope she doesn't go home.
  • Aaron Kelly--I've not been a huge fan, but I thought this was a GREAT performance, and as usual, when I really like something, the judges don't.
  • and of course Crystal. She's great. Talented, accessible. However, I don't know why the judges don't dog her for not being "commercial," when they do say that to Katie etc.
There were also some not so great performances:
  • Siobhan -- She's talented, she's quirky. I don't love her, but I don't hate her either. She didn't have a good night.
  • Didi -- She did okay. It was an okay song, but there was something missing. I think it's a connection thing at this point. With two bad weeks in a row, I think she's in danger. I would be surprised if she's not in the bottom 3.
  • Tim -- It wasn't great, but it wasn't at all awful. I like him, but his day is coming.
The two I didn't mention were Lee DeWyse and Michael Lynch. Big Mike's fine, but again, just not my style. Sweet guy, great smile, but his music doesn't grab me. I do love Lee, and ironically this performance didn't do much for me, and the judges loved it. We disagree often, and that's okay.

9:13 p.m. I really really like their Ford Focus video.

9:19 p.m. I didn't mention who I thought the third was, but I'm going with Katie. So, I predict Didi goes home, and Katie and Tim join her in the bottom three. I wouldn't be surprised if Andrew is there. I think he's been hovering towards the bottom, so it just depends.

My husband doesn't like Casey's ponytail and think he should go.

He does like it when Ryan talks smack.

Oh no, Katie, standing up. Will she be going to the chair. Maybe Siobhan will join her?? I don't feel like she has a big fan base, but what do I know?

9:22 p.m. No surprise for Katie.

Now we're arguing about Siobhan. I said that the judges would save her if she got voted off at this point, and Terry (who sort of sits in the room while we are watching) said, "No, they don't like her." He's wrong. They do like her.

9:37 p.m. Didi's up, and I'm still thinking she'll be sitting down beside Katie. Her hair looks awesome, though, and red is a great color on her. And I was right. . . .

Amanda just said, "I think that Tim guy will be out too," (not having heard my predictions). This is the first results show that she's seen since they do the bottom three, since it comes on at 9 p.m. following a late night when she stays up to watch most of the show until 10:00 p.m.

9:40 p.m. Ryan Seacrest with the fake out.

9:43 p.m. Tim joins them. I'm 3 for 3 on my predictions. Who is going to safety? I'm thinking it's Katie. Right again. I'm awesome. This does not bode well for Didi, the one who I predicted to go home.

9:58 p.m. I am absolutely right, and there's no way the judges are going to save Didi.




Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Lord of the Flies

I finished!

I know that William Golding's work was revolutionary and shocking in 1954, but with all the violence perpetuated by and towards children today, it just doesn't seem that "new." Not that I'm calloused to the fact that young boys so quickly turned savage in the face of no adult control, and fear, and uncertainty. It's not that. In fact, maybe instead of being shocked, I was in disbelief. Thinking that life is shocking enough and Golding leaned too far into hyperbole. . . . I don't know.

The text was pretty dense, and the beginning was pretty hard to get through.

I wonder if kids are still reading it in high school, and if so -- if their reactions are different. I asked my very business-minded husband, who hated the English classes he had to suffer through in college because everyone was always talking about what it meant and the foreshadowing, if he had read the book, and he said, "Yes. It had some guy with a weird name."

"Yes," I responded. "Piggy. But it's not a weird name. He was fat; that's why they called him Piggy."

That was the extent of our book analysis, English major to Finance major.

I did have to scrape up an image of the exact cover that I remember from high school English (the same cover graces the copy I checked out from my library). Oh yeah, that reminds me of the second part of our conversation:

"Did the book you read look like this?" I asked the finance major.

"No. Ours didn't have that weird guy on it."

Anyone else have any thoughts or memories of Lord of the Flies?

Check out other Classic reviews at th e 5 Minutes for Books Classics Bookclub.

Links and Likes

I am cramming right now. My book report for Lord of the Flies is due today, and I haven't quite finished reading it!

Of course, I don't have to do anything. It's a voluntary bookclub, and just because I manage the site that's hosting it doesn't mean I have to post. But I will. I plan to have my review up before nightfall. I do like this encouragement to re-visit the classics. Feel free to read some of the reviews that have already linked to the Classics Bookclub post. You might find some books you want to read.

I've been a bit scarce around here, not because of lack of ideas, but lack of time to get them down in writing. I have written two more pieces for Newtown Patch.

I covered the Battle of the Books at our town library, and it was a lot of fun. I began to feel more comfortable about approaching people, partly because I was interviewing tweens, and people from the library who want the publicity. That part of reporting is difficult. Any of you have any interviewing tips??

I also wrote What Do You Like About Spring? about a certain exotic creature who has become synonymous with my little patch of land here in town.

I encourage you to check them both out, as well as the following reviews that have recently posted:

  • Mandy and Pandy Play Sports is a fun book designed to help kids learn Chinese. The giveaway is open through Sunday.
  • Carrie's giveaway of Bookish Board Games is also still open through Sunday. They look cute and fun, and playing a board game is a way that I love to connect with my kiddos.
  • I reviewed A Good Day board book (and a cute "If you give a Mouse" Easter board book"), and also waxed on about my love for board books in general.
  • And, though I don't think picture book reviewing is my strong suit, I also reviewed 3 other Spring Picture Books. I think I'm getting better at it, and since I've been receiving some unsolicited shipments, I'm glad I can do them justice.
  • I also finally posted a review for one of the Cybils' finalists that Amanda and I both loved. I highly recommend it to tweens and young teens: Written in Bone: Buried Lives of Jamestown and Colonial Maryland
  • Dana from Windows Wide Open wrote a great guest post for us On Reading called I Don't Forbid, I Discuss, about parenting her teens through reading. We are SO there right now. It's only going to get tougher as Amanda gets older.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Call Me Scoop

Have you heard of Patch.com? If you live in California, Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Jersey, or New York State, see if your town is a part of Patch, or if it might be coming soon.

It's a local news site designed to fill the gap of covering news in your own little patch. As newspapers' resources are stretched, local area coverage suffers. Even if there is local coverage, nothing is as immediate as online coverage. In addition to adding the value of immediacy, interactivity is unique to online media.

I'm excited to be one of the contributors to Patch in my town. I will be covering a little bit of this and a little bit of that: local literary news and trends, some school news, and human interest stories. It's already made me feel a bit more like a "real" writer, but more than that, it's borne a feeling of connectivity to this town that I already have grown to love in my 5 1/2 years here.

Please check out my first story: Why Are These School Library Shelves Empty?

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

What Is and Was on my Nightstand

Since I just posted my Spring Reading Thing list, broken down by month, I thought I'd just do a quick recap and then review a couple of books from last month.

I'm so excited to see how April turns out. I'm doing a "month of nonfiction." Other than what I read with and to my kids, I'm only going to be reading nonfiction. I have some memoirs on there, a couple of parenting books, some humor, and some other straight nonfiction type of titles. I'm curious to see if I end up reading significantly less than usual because of it. I think that I may just be reading more books at one time to keep my interest up. You can see my full April list HERE, and while I might not read all of those books, it is my goal to cross each and every one of those nonfiction titles off my list by the end of June.

I've also been doing some binge fiction reading, trying to cross some of those titles off my list before April begins. There are two books that I'm reading for the South Asian Authors Challenge: Half Life (which I'm partway through now), and before the end of the month, I hope to read Secret Daughter.

The two books that I finished up last week that I'd like to review are from that challenge as well. I am keeping my original goals updated with my progress.

I listened to The White Tiger by Aravind Adiga on audiobook. I liked the audiobook version, but I didn't love the story. Actually, I think I liked the story, but didn't necessarily like the novel if that makes sense. It lacked whatever it is that classifies a book as "great" in my mind.

It's the story of Balram Halwi. He is telling his story (which is one thing that always makes an audiobook translation work well for me) in the form of a letter to a dignitary who will be visiting India. He wants him to know the story of the real India -- his India. Because of this, I'm glad that I read it for the purposes of the challenge, because it did a great job of portraying the current poverty, class struggle, and obstacles and opportunities presented to Indians today.

One review classified it as "darkly comic," and I would agree with that.

Another book that I read for the purposes of this challenge is Chef: A Novel by Jaspreet Singh. Combining food imagery with a South Asian setting drew me to this book. The food imagery came through. Kip spent most of his adult life as a chef to a high-ranking military official. Food is his skill, his gift, his way of connecting with the world. This part of this short novel gave me what I expected.

However, other parts fell short. The basic structure is fine, but I felt like I needed a glossary for some of the terms, and I have recently read some Indian literature, which helped, but other terms needed to be explained more thoroughly.

In addition, while the plotline that highlights the conflicts in India will interest some -- conflicts between India and Pakistan; Men and Women; Hindu, Muslim, and Sikh; meat-eaters and vegetarians; high caste and low -- they too felt muddled and as if they needed more explanation and context.

Find out what is or was on other Nightstands the 4th Tuesday of every month at 5 Minutes for Books. Peruse more lists now.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Three Back at Me

I was standing in line at Lowe's in the checkout lane adjacent to customer service. When the cashier finished my transaction (carpet ordered -- yay!), she turned to a woman who was standing about 4 feet away from the customer service counter and asked, "May I help you?"

The woman looked at her, then looked around and looked up at the customer service sign, and said, "I need customer service" in a tone clearly reserved for idiots.

"Well that was rude," I thought heading to my car. The woman was trying to help her, and she was rude. What's up with that? Is that really necessary?

After surviving the home improvement store, I rewarded the kids with McDonald's. They found a table and sat down while I attempted to place our order. I didn't really start off on the right foot. "Do you still have the Star Wars Happy Meal toys?"

I was met with a blank stare. "The toys -- for the Happy Meal -- are you still giving out the Star Wars ones, or have you run out?" I asked again, since I don't order the higher-priced Happy Meal unless it's a toy that they want, so I didn't want to pay for it, and receive a Shrek VI figurine left over from some other promotion instead of the toy we wanted.

My cashier stared helplessly and another employee came to my aid, showing me the Star Wars toys that were available. After giving the cashier the kids' orders, I tried to order an "Angus Beef Mushroom Swiss Wrap" for myself.

"The combo?" the cashier asked.

I looked up at the menu. "I don't think that there is a combo. Just the wrap."

"The mushroom swiss -- that's a burger," she said.

Looking at the prominently placed ad signage, which is actually what encouraged me to order this new item, I said, "It's a wrap. The Angus Beef Mushroom Swiss wrap."

"It's a burger," she insisted.

"I want THAT," I said pointing up at the sign hanging off the menu, and trying to take a deep breath so I didn't lose it completely. I wasn't very successful in being kind or patient when I continued to be met with a blank stare.

I looked around, and caught the eye of the formerly helpful employee. "Can you help her?" I asked, hearing the frantic tone creep into my voice as I felt my heart race.

As I waited for my order, I began to feel guilty, and I remembered my mental finger-pointing at the rude customer earlier that evening.

But isn't it different? That woman was rude to an employee who was trying to help her (and in fact moved the short distance over to the customer service counter after she got the rude answer). My employee appeared to be not quite-recovered from some sort of brain trauma.

Seriously.

FYI -- the Mushroom Swiss Angus Burger Wrap wasn't worth all the fuss. I like the idea of it, and the meat tasted okay, but the mushrooms were very fake and the sauce (mayo?) was sort of concentrated down at the bottom of the wrap.

Maybe it was the taste of my own anger that spoiled it for me?

*****

Coincidentally, Carrie wrote a review about a great marriage book, in which she uses this exact same analogy about finger pointing. She even has some visuals. So go look at her pictures and read her review of What Did You Expect? and enter to win her giveaway.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Spring Reading Thing 2010

How is that I am now planning for June. June?? Already?? As dismayed as I am over the passage of time, I will soldier on and reveal my list of books that I plan/hope/will try to read during Katrina's Spring Reading Thing.

For the remainder of MARCH, I'm trying to finish up some fiction:


APRIL

This excites me. I'm going to TRY to make this an all-nonfiction month. I always put nonfiction on the backburner, even though I always enjoy it while I'm reading it. I will include memoirs (which people other than me seem to unabashedly classify as nonfiction, whereas I think it toes the line. Not because I doubt the verity of the words on the page, but because most memoirs read to me more like fiction, although maybe that's just me -- so it's not going to be all dry and factual, since I reach for memoir as readily as I do novels).

I was all set to read (finally finally) Toxic Friends: The Antidote for Women Stuck in Complicated Friendships, after I asked my readers to tell me which nonfiction book they wanted me to read in March, but then I got this idea of devoting a month to nonfiction in April, so I needed to finish some novels in March.

So it's at the top of the list. I also ended up carrying over the memoir that I was really looking forward to reading

Audiobook:
I'm even sticking to the goal in this category, since I recently bought Columbine on sale at audible.com. I've heard that it's an excellent nonfiction book, and I think I'm really going to enjoy it.

Exceptions -- are books that I read to/with my kids.

I am curious to see if I will end up reading less this month, or maybe more (because I am pushing towards my goal?).

MAY--

I'd like to get around to reading The Book Thief, which I bought when I saw it on sale, but who knows?

I also might read a Hardy Boys book for the Children's Classics Mystery Challenge. I already met my goal (of 1 book over the 6 months!), but I might try for this one too.

Some novels sitting on my shelf:

Secret Daughter: A Novel
A Good Confession
North of Beautiful
As Young As We Feel

I will probably need to catch up on some review novels that are offered to me in April, and I'm sure I'll still be chewing on some of the nonfiction.

JUNE--

I'd actually like to make finishing all of that nonfiction sometime this Spring as a primary goal. So I'll probably focus on that, along with the fiction above, and any review copies that I have accepted. Seeing this list, I think that I will be careful about what I accept.

Friday, March 19, 2010

The Best Day Ever

I don't even know if I can call it the best day ever. I might have to say the best week. This week has been lovely, and slow-paced and perfect, and it's all because of the sunshine.

On warm spring days like we've had the last few days, the sun absolutely beacons me outside. I want to encourage the kids to get some Vitamin D the natural way, and some physical activity, and to just enjoy the beauty of a perfect day, neither too warm nor too cold.

Kyle and I have been taking batting practice, but what has really catapulted the last few days into "the best day(s) ever" is indulging in my absolutely favorite nice weather pasttime -- reading outside. Yes, I may be repeating myself, but it's been a repetitive action that seems to get better day after day. Wednesday, I stayed outside on the back deck for much much longer than Kyle lasted outside, stuck in a great book.

When Amanda got home, I invited her out, and we finished reading the Mysterious Benedict Society and the Perilous Journey. We made quite an effort, and finished the last 250 pages in 17 days. That's not bad for us, considering that our reading comes in bits and fits.

It explains my relative silence here on the blog, and even this post which seems somewhat pointless and incoherent. My husband has called me twice, interrupting my reverie on the back deck, and I've barely been able to string together a sentence. I feel like a dog or a cat, drunk on sunlight and heat.

It's gone to my head, but it's something I hope I can repeat again in the near future.

******

Did anyone else start humming when they read the title? If not, you don't have a Disney XD-watching tween in your house (nor a 5 1/2 year old boy who sometimes behaves like a Disney-watching tween). Kyle and I were sent a couple of new Phineas and Ferb toys for review by JAKKS. They're pretty fun. The skateboarding brothers' helmets come off, and bodies move, and I think that my husband may have taken the eye-bugging Dr. Doofenshmirz stress-doll to work.


Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Signs of Spring

As even Kyle is learning in Kindergarten, March is "in like a lion and out like a lamb." I've come to expect my own signs of spring that come along with turning the calendar page to March:

Unpredictable Weather

We've had some horrid and some quite nice weather over the last couple of weeks. The beginning of last week brought the first days that were pleasant enough to beacon us out of our little winter cave, but the end of last week brought cold rain. Today we had another day that almost reached 60. Kyle and I sat outside enjoying it, and I took part in my favorite pasttime -- enjoying beautiful weather and a good book simultaneously.

Spring Reading Thing

Speaking of books, I absolutely know it's Spring when Katrina hosts her Spring Reading Thing, and that time is here. If you've never joined in, it's a great way to connect with other readers. You link up your list of goals and can visit around as well. She's posting the master linky on Saturday.

I'm excited about it this year, because I have some interesting reading plans for the next couple of months.

Baseball

Terry's a baseball fan. He thinks that little boys who play baseball are cute. I think that baseball is sort of boring, and I also know that Little League takes a lot of time. Since Terry's job and commute does not get him home until well-past dark, I'm the one who handles weekday practices and games, and thinking of what baseball becomes after the age of 8 or 10 (a couple of loooong games and practices a week) has made me resistant.

But when one of his Kindergarten classmate's parents emailed us asking if any other boys were playing T-ball or baseball, and I found out that most of them were, and that there was a alternative to the dreaded T-ball that Amanda played when she was six (it was awful--seriously -- painstaking for me to watch), I bit the bullet and signed him up.

I do like organized sports: the scheduled exercise opportunities, the discipline and potential to develop skill, and I like how it gets us out in the community and helps us to get know other kids and families in the area.

So we'll see how it goes. I have to agree that he'll look cute, and for now the commitment is one I can handle -- one weekday practice and one Saturday game -- but for the first time we'll be juggling two sports when Amanda's Spring soccer starts. With both kids in school now, I know this is just the beginning of the juggling.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

You MUST Read Toy Dance Party

I have become an evangelist. I have firmly decided that I know what is best for families who love the read-aloud, and so I'm doing my duty to spread the word.

What is best is that you absolutely must start off by reading Emily Jenkins Toys Go Out (briefly mentioned in that post). Then read Toy Dance Party. You could go ahead and buy them now (as I did after checking out Toy Dance Party from the library and finding out that the both hardcovers are under $7 at amazon to make way for the paperbacks). These are books that are staying in my permanent collection. You know -- books to read again and again and to save to read to the grandchildren.

These books are about 150 pages, with large-print text filling the page, and about one (really beautiful pencil-type) drawing per chapter. They are marked for grades one to three, and I think that's about right, but I can say with certainty that my Kindergarten loved it, and appreciated it in its fullness, and that my 6th grader was delighted to revisit the toys which she was familiar with from a school-wide read of Toys Go Out.

When I read it with her for the school project two years ago, I was delighted with it. When I read it to Kyle this fall, I was reminded of my love for this funny and heart-warming story.

In Toys Go Out: Being the Adventures of a Knowledgeable Stingray, a Toughy Little Buffalo, and Someone Called Plastic, we meet the toys. The subtitle says it all. Each toy has a personality (one which children will readily identify in themselves or a family member), and the toys are perfectly innocently confused and assured all at once.

I think that it was reading the second book featuring these characters that spurred on my need to insist that others discover these books too. Even though I wrote about the fact that series are often an easy read, I think that with a second book, we are immediately drawn into the story and deeper into the characters (I'm experiencing this same epiphany with The Mysterious Benedict Society and the Perilous Journey, which Amanda and I WILL finish this week). Actually, the similarities don't end there. They both feature humor that is ironic and true. They feature characters who try to do their best. Characters who are brave, true, fearful, and optimistic. These qualities do not come across as stereotype, but as characters drawn essentially true to themselves and their nature.

I did love Toy Dance Party more, but I don't know if it's because it's a better story, or because it's a deeper layer (subtitled: Being the Further Adventures of a Bossyboots Stingray, a Courageous Buffalo, and a Hopeful Round Someone called Plastic). But you must start with Toys Go Out.

Did I convince you yet?

Find out what other books that kids enjoyed (and their enthusiastic parents are pushing) over at 5 Minutes for Books Kids' Picks carnival.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Don't Miss It (Keep reading -- don't miss the meat of the post either)

There are a few giveaways that I wrote up for 5 Minutes for Mom that I don't think I linked over to, and there are some good ones!

I just wrote up a post pointing people to them, so I won't repeat myself. Some of them end tomorrow, like the $50 Target card, and Tales4Tomorrow. That one doesn't have many entries, but let me say that Kyle loves his little rhino that he got for the review. He's not a huge stuffed animal person, so his attachment is cute.

You can also win a $100 Visa Card, which is offered in conjunction with Boston Legal starting on TV Land. I didn't watch the later seasons, but I watched in in syndication as a guilty pleasure while Amanda was at school and Kyle was napping.

With both kids being in school full time next year, I feel like my whole life next year will be one big guilty pleasure. Fortunately (or unfortunately for my lazy self!), some more work opportunities have come up recently, so I will be a wise steward of some of those hours (and maybe I'll use some of that money to treat us to a housekeeper so that I don't feel so badly about the other things).

I don't feel like I've linked over to my book reviews in a while, but a friend was asking about the Postmistress, which I reviewed in February, so I thought I'd link to it. And there's a giveaway that just went up for One Good Dog. If you like animal stories, you'll like this one.

Don't forget--check out the links and click through and enter. And for you NY-area locals, you must enter the Miracle Worker giveaway. It was such an excellent show.

Tuesday, March 09, 2010

Tuesday Night TV

Was this theme "boring slow song night"?

We got started late. With the show only being one hour, they got started without all the introductory recaps, and so we missed Katie's whole performance. However, in general I like her more than the judges do. I liked what I saw on the recap at the end of the show.

I've just never been a fan of Siobhan, and the "House of the Rising Sun" did nothing for me.

I agree with Simon that Lacey is a great performer, but I don't think she has enough to make it as a singer.

Didi--I did agree with the judges and liked her performance, but I pretty much was opposite of what all the judges thought all the way to this point. They were slamming people who I thought did well (Katelyn!), and liking people who I did not really like.

Terry (who is getting pulled in against his better wishes, apparently) says that Crystal is going to win, and while I agree she has talent, I'm not sure she can get the votes once it gets down to just a few.

I did not think that this was Lilly's best performance, but she's still one of the top 5 of the night.

I've never actually voted, but I think that I will cast a vote for Katelyn, one who I liked and who might need it most (and as I'm typing this, I'm sort of surprised, because I haven't disliked her, but she's not ever been one of my favorites).

How many get voted off this time -- one or two? I think that Paige and Lacey would be the ones to go.

(Jo-Lynne uses that button on her posts. I don't know if she made it, and if it's up for grabs, or what. Hmmm. We'll give it a go this week, and if I'm exposed as a big internet intellectual property thief, I'll repent)

*****

And then we watched GLEE! First time ever. Obviously I'm just jumping in in the middle, so I know that could affect my opinion, but I'm not loving it yet. I want to love it, and maybe I will. I'm just a little lost now. I'm also not crazy about the amateurish hand-held camera work (I'm not a professional, so I don't know what it is, but it's that different semi-documentary style, and I can do without it in general).


Hello Trixie Belden, Old Friend!

I revisited an old friend this month, reading Trixie Belden and the Mystery Off Glen Road with the Children's Classics Mystery Challenge at 5 Minutes for Books.

Oh, I'm so glad that I did! What a fun trip down memory lane. I immediately remembered things like Honey's "adopted brother Jim" (and yes, that's how the refer to him, but in their defense, he wasn't adopted until he was a teen, recently in the book's timeframe), and the "Wheeler Estate" which borders "Crabapple Farm," and their little club, the Bob Whites, whose treasury was funded only by money they earned themselves, even though Honey's dad was "very rich" (again, that's the way that they refer to him).

One thing that surprised me was that Honey and Trixie are only 13. They seem much older in my memory, but maybe because I was 10 when I was reading them, and even then 13 seems so old and wise. But the more I read, the more I realized that they were quite "Free Range," taking on responsibilities that only older teens take on now (and much more responsible than my 80's self as well). Honey sews curtains for their house, they both roam around on horses on the Wheeler's estate (because remember, they are very rich), and in this book I even learned that Trixie is an expert butcher, taking over the responsibility of getting the chickens ready to be cooked!

In this particular installment of the series, the Beldens and the Wheelers (Honey, and her "adopted brother Jim") are taking over the game warden's responsibilities, since he is gone, and they need money to repair the roof of their clubhouse. Altruistic Brian takes the $50 he was saving to buy an old jalopy from Mr. Lytell, the shopkeeper, and Mr. Lytell is going to send the car to auction. Gleeps! He'll never be able to get a deal as good as that one. Fortunately, his sweet sister Trixie has a diamond ring that Jim gave her (he's super-rich too, but never knew it until recently) after she solved another mystery. She puts it on deposit until they can turn over their game-keeping funds so that Brian can get the car after all. In the midst of all of this, there's a caper involving a fake romance between Trixie and Honey's cousin Ben (also rich -- and spoiled), and of course solving the mystery of the poacher!!

*****

Carrie had mentioned that she liked a certain version of Nancy Drew books, and I do admit that if I saw that same buff colored Trixie Belden with the oval-shaped picture on the cover somewhere, that I'd buy it for old time's sake, but the reason that I opted to read Trixie Belden and the Mystery Off Glen Road, the 5th in the series, is because I have a 1965 version that my grandmother gave it to me. It was supposedly my mother's, but in 1965 I would have thought that she was too old to read Trixie Belden, but who knows.

When I was googling trying to find a cover image of the book, I found a fun site -- Amy Action. She reviews Classic children's mystery series, and in her post about this particular book, she posts all the book covers. My beloved beige book is the second, and the classic 1965 book I read is the third one. Fun!

My 11-year-old daughter had tried to read some Trixie Belden a few years ago, since 5th grade was the year that I remember reading and re-reading and buying and swapping Trixie Belden books with my friends, and she declared them "boring." How dare she! She said that she might try again. She was in 4th grade when she tried the first time, so she thinks she might like them more now that she's "older."

*****

I had committed to read this book, and only this book, for the challenge, but it goes all the way through June. Jump in anytime! In fact, I found a Hardy Boys mystery that I had bought on sale a while ago, so I think that might try to read it in May. I've never read the Hardy Boys. Maybe I'll like them a little better than Nancy Drew, because as I confessed earlier, I have never read an entire Nancy Drew mystery. As a child they never appealed to me, and I tried to read one aloud with Amanda when she was reading them, but I couldn't do it. . . .At least with the Hardy Boys I can picture Shaun Cassidy and Parker Stevenson!

Monday, March 08, 2010

Investing in the Future

Most people who have children think and plan for their future. Whether the child is four or fourteen, there are wishes and hopes we have for them, regarding their future livelihood (may they find something they love), their future spouse (may that spouse love us and we love him/her), and so much more.

College is a biggie. I have friends who either recently sent kids off to college or will be doing so soon. It's a huge decision. Giant. It is during their college years that our children will likely meet that person who they spend the rest of their lives with (I know I did). They will declare a major and set a career path and find a job, which will lead to where they live.

More than that (or perhaps because of all of that), those college years are when a person really becomes who they are. They have to do all of the things that we've tried to teach them on their own. Their faith has to become their own. Their eating and exercise habits have to become their own. Their self-discipline, study habits, responsibility.

Terry and I both went to Texas A&M (as did our fathers and his grandfather). Amanda says that she's going to go there, and while the old Aggie parent joke of "You can go wherever you want, but I'm only paying for Texas A&M" is funny, it's not really what we think. We'd love for her to go there, and I think that the chances are good that she will, but I know when the time comes God will direct her and direct us.

But just in case, Terry and I are investing in the future. Texas A&M is not a Christian school, and it's giant (which scares a lot of people), but there are probably as many or more opportunities for Christian fellowship as at a smaller Christian college.

Breakaway Ministries
started up as a small group in 1989. Terry and I were there through 1992, but neither of us were aware of it. But a couple years ago, Terry started downloading the podcasts of Ben Stuart and Breakaway Ministries (search itunes and listen). We've both benefited from them. We enjoy listening together (but separately) and discussing them. I am jealous for the excellent teaching that these college students are getting and excited that they are being challenged and built up at exactly the time in their lives when they are forming their characters and figuring out who they are and how they are going to live.

Recently on the backend of one of the podcasts, they mentioned that they had made a video so that people who weren't there would know what Breakaway is really about. Check it out -- remember that this is not a Christian school and this is very much a Christian organization. They meet weekly and have thousands of students there. I believe at the first meeting of the 2009 Fall semester they had about 9000. Nine thousand students. Choosing to go and worship God on a Tuesday night.

BREAKAWAY 2009-2010 from Breakaway Ministries on Vimeo.



Gig 'em, whoop, and to God be the glory.

Sunday, March 07, 2010

Hap Bir to Amanda


All week Amanda has been saying, "Sunday is my half-birthday." I'm not sure why eleven years into her life she's started to think that a half-birthday is signifcant. But she is (maybe she finally figured out the whole calendar thing).

On the way to church today, she said, "Kyle, it's my half-birthday. Aren't you going to tell me happy birthday?"

Terry suggested, "Since it's your half-birthday, maybe he should say Hap Bir."

I thought that was a good suggestion, and I'll go so far as to honor her request for celebration here on the ol' blog.

Eleven and a half. It's been quite a half-year already, with more growing up to come.

We've never "celebrated" half-birthdays before (and beyond this mention, we aren't starting now), but I know some people do.

Do you?


Thursday, March 04, 2010

GOOD Customer Service

Many people think that bloggers like to use their forum to complain about everything -- companies that don't meet their expectations, stores that don't treat them right, prices, politics, their own lives.

Maybe some of that is true, because venting is alive and well, and while I don't do it on my blog that much, I do find it to be necessary and therapeutic in life at times.

But what would you think if I complained about service that was too fast??? Well, I'm about to. You see, we are undergoing yet another little home improvement project. We are painting the kids' bedrooms, we are buying some new furniture for Amanda, and Kyle is taking Amanda's furniture -- and her room. The really daunting part is that we are replacing all the carpet upstairs (downstairs are hardwoods, which we refinished two years ago in another home improvement project). If anyone has any carpet-selection advice (do's or don't's) I would love to hear it!

But I digress. . . .

I ordered a daybed for Amanda from Daybeddeals.com a week ago. The product page said, "Order now, and it will ship when available in mid-March." The timing worked for us. It would give me time to reorganize and purge the kids' rooms, and line up painters. But a few days later, I received an email telling me that it was on its way. And sure enough, it arrived on March 2.

It actually worked out fine, because Terry was out of town so the boxes could hang out on his side of the garage. But March 2 is not the middle of the month!

While we are talking about good customer service, can I toot Apple's horn? Amanda's ipod touch was not holding a charge, after just 2 months of use. I took it into the Apple store at the mall, and after examining it, they gave me a new one. They didn't ask for a receipt. They didn't ask me what she had done to it, or how long it had been happening or what I had done to remedy it. It was defective and they remedied the situation.

The way they handled it impressed me. To add to that, I had signed up for the free trial of Mobile Me, but I don't really need to be synced up, so I wasn't going to pay for it. The email reminding me that my free trial was up came while we were on vacation. I didn't cancel it and thought about it again today. My free trial expired on 2/21, and per my agreement when I signed up, I was billed the yearly fee. I went in to cancel on 3/3, a week and a half late, and a message popped up saying that my fee would be refunded. Just like that.

Thank you, Apple (I am still a PC, but I did not invent Windows 7).

What company has shown you GOOD customer service recently?

Tuesday, March 02, 2010

Reading is Great, BUT. . . .

Reading is great. We are a family of readers, but even so, we don't always end up reading as much as we'd like.

No one would dispute Amanda's bookworm status, but this grading period she almost didn't make her AR (Advanced Reading quiz points) goal. Her goal is always high enough to challenge her, but because she reads some books that do not have AR quizzes (either re-reads that she already has taken the quiz for or some of the ARCs that I receive), we never want to make the goal so high that she's unable to read beyond what books are in her (very-well-stocked) Intermediate school collection.

Since this is the last week to take quizzes, she was scrambling this week. She did it -- and it wasn't like pulling teeth as I'm sure it is for a child who finds reading difficult or unpleasurable -- but she realized that she had made some bad choices this quarter that affected her quiz scores. One thing was not taking the quizzes on time, and thus possibly forgetting some, or not getting the full 100% (Tween-brain at work -- can anyone help me??). The other was that she was spending more time with her new ipod touch than books.

I was glad that she realized this on her own, and I can't condemn her at all, because in addition to the fact that she still reads much more than most 11-year-olds, I am guilty of exactly the same thing. In fact, it's impacted our "Read Together" plan as well.

Reading is great, BUT --
  • We've been watching American Idol together instead of reading a few pages at bedtime.
  • I like to spend the evenings with my husband, and since Amanda goes to bed later now, that creates a time conflict.
  • After-school reading aloud doesn't happen that much, because of after-school activities -- good activities, but even so, it
Also today is Read Across America day -- a day in honor of Dr. Seuss' birthday, the goal of which is for every child to be read to. You can read Dawn's post at 5 Minutes for Books to find out more about Read Across America, including links to fun activities and e-cards. For no other reason that we love it, and we need to do so anyway -- today we WILL be reading together.

(Edited at noon to add this fun link from Chicken Spaghetti's blog that features an awesome song/event at a Jr. High --Gotta Keep Reading, a la the Black-Eyed Peas and Chipmunks "I Gotta Feeling." Excellent and Fun!)

What will we be reading? Well, none other than books recommended by other bloggers out there.

Amanda and I are 200 pages in to The Mysterious Benedict Society and the Perilous Journey, heartily heartily recommended by Carrie (linked to her review). And we are loving it so much -- revisiting these characters is just delightful.

I read Miss Spitfire: Reaching Helen Keller this month, which I will review on Thursday at 5 Minutes for Books, in conjunction with a very-special Books on Screen column (to avoid too much suspense -- it's a great book!). I don't know who exactly recommended this book, but I do know that the general buzz from fabulous kidlit bloggers brought this book to mind when I was looking for a contemporary book about Helen Keller. Amanda is going to read it this week as well.

Be sure to see what other book bloggers reviewed this month, with I Read It! and link up your own books that you read at the recommendation of another blogger the first Tuesday of each month.

I'll leave you with a question: How do you preserve and encourage reading time, for yourself and for your kids?

Monday, March 01, 2010

The Olympic Letdown

I never get into the Olympics big-time. I'm not a fanatic, but I watch it when it's on. I watch it, but I don't live and die by it. There aren't athletes that I watch in order to see if they can overcome their family tragedy or heart-breaking injury or upset.

That's why I'm surprised at how much I enjoyed it this year. I'm really going to miss it, and am having a bit of an Olympic Letdown. I think that one reason is that it's real family-friendly entertainment, so we can all watch together, and how much does that happen anymore? We spent the last few weekends watching together and listening to Kyle's exclamations of "cool!" and "all right!"

We most enjoyed curling, which after making fun of -- I was sort of pulled into. The downhill skiing literally made my heart pound with excitement.

But can I tell you what else I liked that is highly underrated? The commercials. During the Superbowl, that's all we hear about it -- commercials, commercials, commercials. But what about the fun, poignant, and encouraging spots that are produced specifically to honor Olympians? They honestly pull the broadcasts together with the theme, making it a great viewing experience.

Did you watch? Will you miss them? Do you prefer Winter or Summer Olympics?

Only two more years until summer in London. . . .