Saturday, March 31, 2012

Reading About Reading . . .

Time to clean up the Draft file again.  I found three articles/ideas I had planned to make into complete posts, but can't think of enough to say about any of them, so I'll just share them here in brief.

Who Reads Books?

According to an article on Mental Floss, which got it's statistics from a 2003 survey conducted by a company called The Jenkins Group, readers are a dying breed.  Here are the figures they quoted:

• One-third of high school graduates never read another book for the rest of their lives.
• 42 percent of college graduates never read another book after college.>
• 80 percent of U.S. families did not buy or read a book last year.
• 70 percent of U.S. adults have not been in a bookstore in the last five years.
• 57 percent of new books are not read to completion.

If these numbers are even close to realistic, I'm stunned! 80% of families did not read a book last year?  I understand that shopping online has drastically cut the number of people who set foot inside a physical bookstore, but at least they're reading. And I understand books not being completed.  I give up on a few each year myself - my motto: "Life's too short to read bad books."  Or I check books out of the library and then get busy with other things and don't get them read so they go back unread.  But a life without reading? - that I can not fathom!

Reading Prejudices

I don't remember where I read this article, so my apologies to whoever I'm plagiarizing. The question of the article was "Do you have reading prejudices?"  Are there genres, authors, settings, subjects, etc. that are deal-breakers for you?  I'm sure we can all say yes to the genres and authors.  In general, I'm not a science-fiction fan, though I have read some good science-fiction titles over the years.  I like a good Louis L'Amour western, but I don't normally browse the Western section of the book store.  And of course there are authors whose books I have read and disliked, so haven't tried any more.

But what about settings and subjects?  My first response was "No, I'm a pretty open-minded reader.  I don't rule out specific topics or places."  But not long after, I caught myself dismissing two bestsellers for just those reasons.
THE SHADOW PATROL, by Alex Berenson.   The former C.I.A. operative John Wells returns to Afghanistan to pursue a possible leak from the C.I.A. station. 
I love a good thriller, but not interested in anything about Afghanistan or the CIA.
SONOMA ROSE, by Jennifer Chiaverini.  A California woman fleeing an abusive husband hides with a former lover in Sonoma County, where winemakers struggle under Prohibition.
"Abusive husband", "prohibition" - Two words/phrases that kept me from even slowing down to look further.
Now that I've discovered some of my reading prejudices, I'm not sure what I'll do about them.  Is it ok to have certain topics/places you don't want to read about?  Is ignoring an entire genre acceptable? Should we try to break them, or just accept them and move on? What are your reading prejudices?

Reading Fiction Helps Your Career

An article on Ragan's PR Daily quotes an article from Scientific American which claims that reading fiction makes business sense.  
1. Reading stories can fine-tune your social skills by helping you better understand other human beings. 
2. Entering imagined worlds builds empathy and improves your ability to take another person’s point of view. 
3. A love affair with narrative may gradually alter your personality—in some cases, making you more open to new experiences and more socially aware. 
So if you're job-searching, tell them you're a reader.  If you're interviewing, ask about their reading practices.  That's all - just thought it was interesting.

Friday, March 30, 2012

The Rose Garden by Susanna Kearsley

Eva Ward returns to the only place she truly belongs, the old house on the Cornish coast, seeking happiness in memories of childhood summers. There she finds mysterious voices and hidden pathways that sweep her not only into the past, but also into the arms of a man who is not of her time.
But Eva must confront her own ghosts, as well as those of long ago. As she begins to question her place in the present, she comes to realize that she too must decide where she really belongs.

Not your average romance, which is what I thought I was getting into.  I read this book on the recommendation of a friend, not really expecting to like it because I "don't do romances".  Not that I'm against romance, I just don't want it to be the ONLY focus of a book.  So I started my walk through The Rose Garden with a bit of an attitude, looking for things not to like.  But I searched in vain.

Trelowarth House, where Eva goes to scatter her sister's ashes, is the typical dark, forboding house of gothic novels.  It is set in the damp, gray English countryside - a setting I always enjoy - and I was expecting the typical Lord-of-the-Manor/Damsel-in-Distress romance, but it took an unexpected shift into time travel.  Eva moves back and forth - with no control over her entrances or exits - between the present and the time of pirates (Can't remember the exact date, but I'm thinking 1700's).  As expected, she falls in love with the tall, dark and handsome Lord of the Manor, but he's been dead for 300 years.  That puts a kink in things!

In spite of my anti-romance bias, I liked this book - a lot.  It's got mystery, science fiction AND romance.  Enough of each to satisfy most readers, regardless of their usual reading choices.  As hard as I looked, at least initially, the only negative I could find was that the characters seemed to accept time travel a bit too easily, but I soon became so engrossed in the story that I didn't care.

I would recommend this book to fans of romance, time travel, or mystery.  I have already pre-ordered Ms. Kearsley's newest book - due out in April - and will pick up her past books when I can.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Reality TV Wrap Up

Joshua Ledet
American Idol

Once again, I thought Joshua Ledet was the clear winner on American Idol.  That kid can sing!  Randy called Josh's performance "flawless" and I agree.  On my scale of 5 stars, Joshua got a 10!

Nipping at Joshua's heels, with 5 of 5 stars, were:
Elise Testone - Her rockin' Led Zepplin number showed a new side I liked.

Hollie Cavanagh - Hollie managed to take a song I don't like and make me love her performance anyway.

Phillip Phillips - A little different style for Phillip and the first time I thought he was enjoying himself.  In spite of Phillips protestations that he doesn't want to be made into a star (thus his refusal to listen to Tommy Hilfiger) - that he just wants to be himself - he always strikes me as working a little too hard to convince us that he's being natural.  Last night he let go of that andhad fun and I liked it.

Jessica Sanchez was close behind with 4 stars.  Jessica may have the best voice of the bunch but, in my book, she lost a point on basic technique.  Breathing and phrasing are essential and every time she sucked in a breath mid-word, it grated on me:  "beautiful night [gasp of air] mare." 

At the low end of the spectrum were Deandre Birkenstick and Skylar Laine.  The few notes Deandre sang in his normal voice were beautiful, but enough already with the squeeky falsetto!  Dave's review: "I never want to hear him sing again.!"  Skylar actually did a nice job, but it was just the same ol', same ol'.  She has one style, one volume, one tempo.  Time to change it up.

A couple of side notes:

  • Dave requests that bouncers be placed in the teen crowd at the front of the stage and that they immediately evict anyone who waves their arms in the air during a song.  At the very least, please require that the cameraman not line up his shot to intentionally show the waving teens and that contestants be disqualified if they stoop to touch waving hands during their performance.

  • We are aware of our age and we try not to let it affect our opinions of the performances.  Contestants frequently choose songs we've never heard, which is understandable since we really haven't listened to much pop music in the last 20 years.  But a bigger issue is when these little whipper-snappers announce that they're going to do "Without You" by Mariah Carey and we scream at the TV, "That's not a Mariah Carey song, that's a Harry Nillsen song!"  I'm not really sure what my point is here, except that it makes me feel really old and I don't like it.

Dancing With The Stars

We were slightly sad to see Martina Navratilova go home first - even though she was probably the worst dancer - because the name of the show is Dancing with the Stars and she's actually a star rather than a model who slept with George Clooney, or an actor who's biggest role was in a music video.  Our point being that the producers seem to be either struggling to get real stars to participate (unlikely) or they are choosing some contestants based on how they look half-naked (more likely).

There are more exceptional dancers this year than in past seasons, so it's hard to pick a clear front-runner, but my favorites so far are:

  • Katherine Jenkins - she's just so blonde and adorable and so totally NOT what you expect from an opera singer.
  • Jaleel White - so talented and so NOT Urkel
  • Gladys Knight - talk about a star! And still beautiful, elegant and talented at 63.  Love her!

And of course, Jack Wagner, who gets my vote just for being half of Frisco and Felicia, the soap opera "super couple" from General Hospital (circa 1980's). 

Ok, here's where you tell me how wrong I am and who you think should win . . .

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Talkin' Turkey

Sitting in the living room last night, I kept thinking I heard "a noise".  I do this frequently and, of course, Dave can never hear what I'm hearing.  I think it's a mom's ear attuned to hearing a sniffling child in the night or a teenager's phone conversation from three rooms away.  I hear the rattle that means the washing machine isn't "quite right" or the low hiss that means the outside faucet is on.  Mom hearing diverts a lot of disasters, but it can also be annoying when you can't find the source of the sound.

Every time I shushed Dave and the dogs so I could hear more clearly, it stopped. I finally had to walk around the house to determine where it was coming from.  I glanced out the narrow window in the front door and this is what I found:

Tom Turkey (or maybe Gretta Gobbler, we weren't properly introduced) was strolling across the yard, not twenty feet from the door.  The picture is poor quality because I had to 1. tell Dave to get to the window, quick 2. scramble for a cell-phone and 3. try to get the shot through that narrow little window before the turkey strolled out of the frame.  The result was a blurry picture with a portion of the door and the reflected flash obscuring parts.  But the enlarged section above at least proves my story.  I tried to step out the door to get a clearer picture but, naturally, I startled him and he made for the pond like it was the day before Thanksgiving.  We could hear Tom and his buddies, probably gathered around the Turkey Bar, listening to the retelling and chortling over his close call.

In my excitement, I texted the kids: "A turkey just walked across the front yard."  Mitch's response was immediate:  "SHOOT IT!".  Amanda's took a few minutes, but was similar: "Did you shoot it?"  We raised such rednecks!  I answered "No, we just took it's picture."  Amanda: "Well, ok, but I don't know how you're going to eat that."  Ya gotta love 'em!

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Food: Fresh, Frozen and Forbidden

Updates on a couple of food-related things in my life.

NutriSystem:  Going very well.  I hesitate to use the word "easy" lest it conjure visions of Magic Weight Loss Fairy Dust.  That's not what NutriSystem is about at all.  What it IS about is learning portion control, a balanced diet, and a healthier attitude toward food.  So, as life without lemon cupcakes goes, this is easy.  After ten weeks, I've lost 27 lbs.

Eating It Real:  This is a challenge issued by Trish at Love, Laughter and a Hint of Insanity, in which we attempt to cut processed foods from our diet - focusing on more nutritious fresh and frozen foods, and avoiding chemicals and preservatives. Since a large portion of our diet right now is coming from NutriSystem, we adapted the challenge to cover the foods we add to the NS plan.  I have to admit, this has been a bigger challenge than I was expecting.

Switching to fresh or frozen fruits and vegetables was a snap. . . except for green beans.  I eat a lot of green beans and our small-town grocer doesn't stock fresh green beans out of season.  I have picked them up whenever I'm in a larger town, and I've used frozen, but I have slipped back to the canned ones on occasion for convenience. 

Dairy products - about the only dairy I'm consuming at the moment is yogurt - lots and lots of yogurt.  I haven't got a clue how to make yogurt from scratch and, frankly, the thought of making something that involves "live cultures" without a good handle on safety issues makes me a little squeamish.  

Breads and Grains - I'm not eating bread except hamburger buns and tortillas. Tried to make buns from a recipe I found on-line which included calorie info (unlike Grandma's proven recipe). Not successful.  I love making pasta, but I'm not eating it right now.  I did switch to brown rice (point for me).

Attempted homemade hummus from dried chickpeas cooked according to package directions. Evidently the package directions were approximate because they weren't cooked clear through so they didn't blend into the smooth hummus I've come to know and love.  I went back to buying my hummus.

Then there is pop (or soda, if you prefer).  Hello, my name is Tami, and I am a diet pop addict.  I've cut down, but just can't let it go.  

So basically, I stink at this challenge and would probably die of some disease caused by the many artificial ingredients in my food - if it weren't for the fact that I'm not eating much food any more - so I'm hoping it evens out.

My Kind of Reality TV

This week we added Dancing With the Stars to American Idol so that pretty much lays out our Spring TV viewing.  Here's what I thought this week.  Feel free to disagree - my husband does.

American Idol

Erica is the clear winner this week.  Loved her makeover, loved her song.  She put the appropriate grit into New York State of Mind.

A close second was Joshua who did his usual phenomenal job, I just wished he had chosen a more well-known song.

My choices for bottom three were Skylar, Heejun and Colton.  Here's my reasoning:  Skylar should have listened to the pros - both in wardrobe and singing.  She has a nice voice but tends to try too hard to always be a powerhouse and it verges on screaming.  Heejun sang My Life, which is one of Billy Joel's best, but he killed it - and not in a good way.  The key was too low, which gave him pitch issues and there was no passion.  If you're gonna sing a song about telling the world where to get off, you need to have some fire behind it.

And, yes, Colton.  The judges raved and Dave gave him the top spot but, while I can't deny that Colton's an incredible musician, he could have taken a lesson from JLo.  She talked about how Billy Joel writes his life into his songs and they need to be sung with the appropriate emotion.  Piano Man is the story of a piano player in a bar, playing for "the regular crowd".  The mood of the song matches the mood of the bar - laid back, simple, perhaps a little melancholy.  Colton's version took that mood out of the song and that ruined it for me.

One final note:  Why, oh why, did only a couple of the contestants listen to the fashion advice they were given?  This is Tommy Freakin' Hilfiger!  He might know a thing or two about fashion.  And you'll avoid wearing a dress that makes your hips look like an artichoke.

Dancing With The Stars

This is going to be an amazing season.  There were really no bad performances on the first night.  I was amazed by Jaleel "Urkel" White's musicality and showmanship.  I'm going to enjoy watching Melissa Gilbert square off with Max.  She handled Nellie Olson - Max will be a cakewalk.  And good golly, Miss Molly, but Gladys Knight can still move!

But the guy who gets my vote is Jack Wagner.  Doesn't matter if he spits on the judges and falls on his face, he's still Frisco Jones (General Hospital 1983-1995).  Gotta vote for the 80's heartthrob!

Monday, March 19, 2012


Regular readers will remember our many escapades with Amanda's car.  This is Karen - a 2000 Pontiac Grand Am.  Amanda received Karen for her 16th birthday - four years ago.  She has held up amazingly well, considering, but as you can see, she's seen better days.

Karen has over 180,000 miles, missing trim, peeling paint, chipping window tinting, and fewer knobs than places for knobs on the dashboard.  While she still purrs along - like an asthmatic, overweight cat - she's beginning to show her age.  And since Amanda will soon be leaving her teens years, it was time for a "big girl" car.

Enter the yet-to-be-named G6 Convertible.  I have always thought it would be fun to surprise one of the kids with a new car, and I got to check that experience off my bucket list.  

Saturday night we met Amanda at the Prairie Band Casino north of Topeka to have supper with family.  We arrived early and talked the valet attendant into letting us park the new car, complete with bow, right next to the valet lane where she would see it when she pulled up.  Then we attempted to look inconspicuous as we all milled around on the sidewalk, awaiting her arrival.

When she finally pulled in, she was so busy looking at her family perched like expectant vultures, that she didn't even notice the car with a bow - the car she had looked at and drooled over and mentioned...repeatedly.  When we directed her focus the other direction, we got just the reaction we were hoping for - squealing, jumping, hugging, grinning, more hugging, laughing, more squealing...

Of course everyone was so excited to watch her reaction, that no one got a snapshot of it.  Picture a cross between Tigger, the Energizer Bunny, and an operatic soprano, but dressed cuter. It will certainly be in our memories for a long time.  One family member commented that she didn't know who was grinning more - Amanda or Dave.  An experience you should try to have if at all possible!

Friday, March 16, 2012

Mini Reviews

The Comforts of Home by Jodi Thomas

In Harmony, Texas, twenty-year-old Reagan Truman has found her place, and found her family. But with her uncle taken ill and her friend Noah lost and disheartened with his life, Reagan is afraid of ending up alone again, and she's not the only one. When a terrible storms threatens the town, the residents of Harmony are forced to think about what they really want. Because making the connections they so desperately desire means putting their hearts at risk.

Well written, interesting people, but a lot of individual story-lines at once that never seemed to connect. Third in a series so possibly I just needed more background info, but the multiple plots and number of characters - though each one was a good story - made for slow progress and little tension.  3 out of 5 with a footnote that I haven't read the first two.

Hollywood Confessions by Gemma Halliday

Allie Quick has high aspirations - much higher than reporting on the latest celebrity gossip for the L.A. Informer.  But she needs a headline-worthy story under her belt. When the producer of the trashiest reality shows on TV winds up murdered, and Allie convinces her editor that this story has her name written all over it. Between an aging dance-off judge, a family with sextuplets and triplets, and the star of a little person dating show, Allie has no shortage of reality stars to question. But when she finds herself falling for her prime suspect, Allie's relationship with her editor is suddenly on the rocks, and her life is in danger. This is one deadline Allie can't afford to miss! 

One blurb on Amazon states that fans of Janet Evanovich will love it - and well they should, because it's Stephanie Plum does Valley Girl.  It's got too many vulgar words, redundant phrases and cliches; but not enough originality.  A "little person" in the story - check, Stephanie's done it.  Car issues - check, Stephanie again.  Empty cupboards, extra layers of mascara - check and check, done and done.  The clues seem to come awfully easy, as does access to Hollywood film studios, so it's difficult to get invested in the story at all.  Sorry, but it's a 2 out of 5 for me.

Great Cat Mysteries: An Anthology of Feline Capers

Intrigue, crime and murder create suspense in this edge-of-your-seat collection of stories whose plots are all centered on a beloved feline, by some of the finest bestselling mystery writers of all times. The audio features The Adventures of 7 Black Cats by Ellery Queen, The Duel by J.A. Jance, No Hard Feelings by Larry Segriff and Nine Lives to Live by Sharyn McCrumb. Performers include Jean Smart, Jamie Farr, and Eleanor Mondale. 

There are some advantages to driving an old car to work - I still have a cassette player (I'll be taking it to Pawn Stars soon to see if it's worth anything as an antique) so I can enjoy some lesser-known books from years gone by that don't rank reproduction in CD.  This was a fun collection read by many recognizable voices, including that guy from the Smuckers Jelly commercials.  The down side to 15-year-old cassettes is that they wear out, which was the case here, so there was a couple stories I didn't get to hear - but 4 out of 5 stars for the ones I did hear.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

American Idol

For the second week, Joshua Ledet was the big winner on American Idol.  His rendition of When a Man Loves a Woman was phenomenal!  He had emotion; beautiful pitch; was individual without making the song unrecognizable; and his performance had that "big moment" that gives you goosebumps.  I loved it!

Colton and Holly tied for the other spots in my top three.  Holly sounded great, but the song had no dynamics.  As soon as she hit the first note, I thought "Wow, that's amazing, but where do you go from there?" And I was right, it went nowhere.  It didn't go downhill, but it didn't build either.

I'm not a hard-rock girl, so it's always difficult for me to measure the rockers in the group, but even I could tell that Colton did well.  

The rest of the pack was just that - one big group of decent but not outstanding.  And that's what I have to say about that this week!

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Trail of the Spellmans by Lisa Lutz

For the first time in Spellman history, Isabel Spellman, PI, might be the most normal member of her family. Mom has taken on an outrageous assortment of extracurricular activities—with no apparent motive. Dad has a secret. Izzy’s brother and sister are at war—for no apparent reason. And her niece keeps saying “banana” even though she hates bananas.
That’s not to say that Izzy isn’t without her own troubles. Her boyfriend, Henry Stone, keeps wanting “to talk,” a prospect Isabel evades by going out with her new drinking buddy, none other than Gertrude Stone, Henry’s mother.
Things aren’t any simpler on the business side of Spellman Investigations. First, Rae is hired to follow a girl, only to fake the surveillance reports. Then a math professor hires Izzy to watch his immaculate apartment while he unravels like a bad formula. And as the questions pile up, Izzy won’t stop hunting for the answers—even when they threaten to shatter both the business and the family.

The fifth "document" in the Spellman series is right on par with the first four - tangled, clever and a hoot!  Izzy Spellman is a mix of the best parts of Stephanie Plum and Harriet the Spy.  Her entire life is mysteries and cover-ups - at least from her point of view.  What most families would solve with a few direct questions, the Spellmans solve with stake-outs, bribery and recording devices.

I thought Document 4 was going to be the final installment, so I was thrilled to hear about #5.  I hope there are many more to come. I would recommend that you read the five books in order because they build heavily on each other but, most importantly, read all five books.  

Thursday, March 8, 2012

American Idol

I'm starting a new feature - a weekly roundup of our favorite reality/game shows:  American Idol and Dancing With The Stars (new season starts Monday, March 19).  Disclaimer: This is purely for entertainment. I don't have any degrees in music, any experience in music performance or production, or any inside information on these shows.  However, I still think I know more about music in general, and current pop music specifically, than those record-producer/rock star types.  

Last night's top dog, hands-down winner was Joshua Ledet, who sang "I Wish".  Josh was in a class by himself for vocals, performance and originality.  

Our second spot went to Jessica Sanchez, who sang "I Will Always Love You".  That's a big song, recorded by two very powerful icons, so it was a gutsy choice.  Loved the acapella beginning, but she got too caught up in flamboyant runs and fake vibrato.  She's  got the power and the voice to just stand there and sing that song - sing the beautiful melody that Dolly Parton wrote without attempting flashy embellishments and everyone would be bowled over.

Deandre Brackensick was much better than usual; he avoided the constant falsetto and kept his hair in a ponytail so he didn't look like Cher doing the hair flip.  Skylar Layne was also above the pack - she got three "beautifuls" from Stephen Tyler.   Hollie Cavanaugh was the final contestant to make my "above average but didn't blow me away" rank.  

This is the first Idol performance I can remember (and we've watched every season except #1) that I didn't think there were any really bad performances - just varying grades of forgettable.  The low end of the spectrum, in my opinion, was Elise Testone (unfairly, because the judges forced her to switch songs and, I think, killed her chances in the process), Colton Dixon, and Heejun Han.  The remaining contestants are just kind of a mediocre blur.  

Dave disagrees with my rankings slightly - he's a much bigger Colton fan than I - but he agreed that there were a lot of "meh" performances, and sometimes the show really misses Simon Cowell's dissenting voice (though not his attitude) when the current judges say basically the same thing to every contestant.

Who are your favorites? And who earned your thumbs down?  

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Read With Someone You Love . . .

Today is World Read Aloud Day, sponsored by LitWorld.  
World Read Aloud Day is about taking action to show the world that the right to read and write belongs to all people. World Read Aloud Day motivates children, teens, and adults worldwide to celebrate the power of words, especially those words that are shared from one person to another, and creates a community of readers advocating for every child’s right to a safe education and access to books and technology.
I have wonderful memories or reading aloud to our children.  When Mitch was first old enough to get the concept of words and numbers, everything he "read" said "BR9".  Although he was still too young to string letters into words, he understood that we read the letters on a page.  We never really understood what "BR9" meant, but we were thrilled he was looking at books.

When Amanda wanted to hear a story, she would find a book, open it to the first page and grip it in both hands, then silently back up to a seated adult and wait to be lifted and read to.  If they didn't take the hint, she would glance over her shoulder and demand "Read!".

When Harry Potter-mania started, our kids were too young to read them on their own, and we had concerns about content amid all the hype.  So, when Mitch wanted to be "in" on the craze that everyone was talking about, we spent hours on the porch swing and I read the first book aloud.  Not sure if it was the story or my reading, but he never seemed interested in reading further - perhaps he read the others on his own? -  but it's a sweet memory and a great way for parents to know what their kids are reading.

Even in high school, Amanda liked to be read to, and seemed to focus better when the story was read aloud.  We read To Kill a Mockingbird and several other school-assigned books, cuddled on her bed - usually with me reading while rubbing her back. 

On a side note: I read nearly every book our children were assigned, from kindergarten through high school, just to be aware of what they were learning and to be able to discuss it.  When Mitch's 4th-grade class read Holes, I was appalled at the idea of 9-year-olds reading this dark, frightning story of a boy who is wrongfully accused and sentenced to a juvenile prison camp where he is forced to dig holes all day.  I feared nightmares!  He loved it and found nothing scary about it.

Regular blog readers know that Dave and I continue to read aloud - mostly in the car.  We travel enough that we keep a "together book" for road time.  Sometimes we'll continue it in the house if we're at a gripping point in the story and there is no road trip in the forseeable future.  Our favorite "read together" books have been Stephen King's Under The Dome and 11/22/63.  We strongly encourage this practice - it promotes a shared interest and starts interesting discussions.

Please check out LitWorld's site, see how you can be part of World Read Aloud Day, and - most of all - read aloud with someone you love.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Abby Finds Her Calling by Naomi King

The Lambright family's eldest daughter, Abby, runs her own sewing shop. There, she mends the town's clothes and their torn relationships. But the town maidel has sworn off any suitors of her own because of her unrequited love for James Graber, who is about to marry her younger sister, Zanna...
On the wedding day, Zanna is nowhere to be found, breaking James' heart. Zanna has brought shame to her family, but there's more in store for them when they discover how far she has fallen. Long-buried secrets come to light, and they test the bonds of the Cedar Creek community. Abby is at the center of it all, trying to maintain everyone's happiness. But will she ever find her own?

Up until a few months ago, I hadn't read any of the immensely popular genre of Amish Romances, so I decided to try a few by agreeing to review them.  Abby Finds Her Calling is, by far, my favorite of the three I have read.  It connected with several themes that are close to me.  The problem in writing a review is how to tell you about the things that touched me, without giving away the entire story, but I'll give it a shot.
Aging parents:  There is a scene between James and his father, who suffers from the dementia so common to aging.  When his father speaks out during a church service, James doesn't react with anger or embarrassment.
The world went still.  Time crystallized.  James suddenly saw this moment through the bright shine of sunlight on an icicle...something told James to cherish this fine moment when his father was mentally clear - and to believe every word Dat had said.  A sweetness flowed through him.  For the first time in weeks, James felt peaceful and right with the way things were.
The bond between mothers and daughters, and the friendships of women:  To tell you about my favorite mother/daughter moment would reveal secrets I can't tell, but Ms. King accurately depicted the way love overcomes a mother's anger or disappointment.  The women of the community also overcome their differences to join together to help a friend.
As she looked around the table, at familiar faces lined with love and laughter, Abby realized that gatherings like these were the batting and backing that held the crazy quilt of their lives together.  Every one of these women had her own talents and strengths - added her own colors to the community - yet despite differences of opinion and age, they fit together all of a piece, like the multipatterned squares of this crazy uilt they would complete today.
Faith:  Naturally, faith would play a part in any story based on an Amish community, but this book seemed to touch it more, or maybe it was just my personal mood.  Either way, there is deep wisdom in this story that teaches lessons beyond the usual platitudes.
"But you who gossip and place blame - whether upon Zanna Lambright or each other - stand just as guilty in our own way...After all," he continued, "we're quick to consider [spoiler] a big sin while we minimize the sin of gossip and speculation.  Truth is, bearing false witness is breaking one of God's commandments, same as if we engage in infidelity or lewd behavior."
There is also a scene in the book, featuring one of my favorite scriptures, "But Mary kept all these things and pondered them in her heart."  It teaches a lesson in really hearing God's word.  There are many verses we know by heart because we've heard or read them so many times, but do we really know what they say? 

Most of all, this is a story of incredible forgiveness and acceptance, and the way God can use open hearts to work miracles.

This review is part of a blog tour organized by Tracee at Review From Here.  I received a free advance copy from the author as part of the tour.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

This, That and The Other

Posts have been a bit sparse lately, mostly because life is plugging along pretty much as it always does and nothing much has inspired me to write.  Instead, here's a roundup of the minor things that are bouncing around in my head:

Nook:  Loving it!  I have become one of those annoying people who is never seen without an electronic gadget in hand - but rather than a smart-phone, it's a Nook.  I use it for everything - grocery list, calender, notes on books, phone #/addresses, entertainment (Words With Friends - user name mrschupa - let's play), email, Twitter . . . oh, and I can read books on it, too!  It has made time on the treadmill much less torturous.  The convenience of purchasing books with a touch is, perhaps, a bit TOO convenient, but I've managed to keep myself under control for the most part.  I recently signed up to review mystery books for Partners In Crime Virtual Book Tours, and the ease of receiving the book via an e-mail within minutes of scheduling the review is far preferable to waiting for a hard copy to arrive and then rushing to read. Naturally, a few weeks after I bought mine, B&N dropped the price by $50 and the tablet is now available for the same price I paid for the Nook Color.  I'm told the only real difference is speed, so I'm good where I am.  

Nutrisystem:  Speaking of time on the treadmill.  We are almost to the two month mark in our Nutrisystem journey and still doing well.  That is amazing for me - who has never stuck to a weight loss plan for more than three days. I'm not a chronic weigher - in fact I don't own a scale - so I'm not sure of the current number, but I do know I can breath and button my pants at the same time, and a couple jackets that wouldn't close are now at least closer.  I'm not going to carry on about the details, but if anyone has questions about the Nutrisystem program, I would be glad to give answers, information, or encouragement via e-mail ( or Twitter (@mrschupa).

American Idol:  Are you an Idol watcher?  I'm not a fan of the audition shows - too much time spent on backstory and drama, and I HATE that they let applicants who obviously can't sing get through to the judges so we can laugh at them (can you say "schadenfreude" ?*) - but now that we're down to the Top 13, I'm intending to write a short weekly post about the competition and my favorites.  So far, I'm rooting for Shannon - 16-year-old girl with a great big voice, who sang "Go Light Your World" by Kathy Tricolli.  That has been a favorite of mine for many years and I thought she was brave to choose an older, less known song, and one with a Christian message.

Crafts:  I have always been a crafter, beginning when my mom taught me to embroider many, many years ago.  She had multiple pictures on all of her tea-towels to supply me with projects.  I later moved on to cross-stitch and did some pretty major projects - including Christmas stockings for each of our kids and for Dave.  My plan was to continue that tradition with the grandchildren. I purchased a kit when Amy was expecting her first, but then our little angel, Tali, was stillborn just two weeks before her due date.  Amy asked me to complete the stocking as a keepsake, but I just couldn't get myself to work on that one, so I chucked it and purchased a kit featuring adorable angels.  It's still sitting in the package.  I purchased two more kits when the boys came along, and Treyvin's is approximately 3/4 finished.  Zerrik's is out of the bag, thread colors separated and a half-a-dozen lonely stitches taken, but I just don't enjoy it any more.  A large part of my frustration with it is eye-sight, and carpal tunnel doesn't help.  Anyway, I made the announcement this past December that after seven years of taking a few stitches between September and Christmas, I'm giving up.  I'm assuming (hoping) that there will be more grandchildren down the road and it's obviously a tradition I just can't keep up with.

     I took up quilting eleven or twelve years ago, and have enjoyed making a few simple projects.  When I went back to work full-time in 2005, I set the quilting aside and haven't touched it again until yesterday.  I still love quilting and want to continue, but it is a high dollar craft so I'm looking for other projects to fill some time and creative energy without emptying the pocketbook.  I've tried scrapbooking, but that also runs into money and it's just not my thing.  I am ordering a couple felt sewing projects - Christmas ornaments - to see how I like that.  Anyone have other suggestions?  I would really love to hear what you enjoy creating.

Gardening:  I'm looking forward to our second attempt at raising a garden.  Last year had mixed results, but we learned a lot so this year will be better.  In fact, as soon as I finish this post, and Dave wakes up from his nap, we're going to get our tomato and pepper plants started indoors.  It's about eight weeks to the average last-frost date in our area, so it's time to get things sprouting so they'll be ready to go in the ground in May.  Do you have gardening plans?

That's a roundup of life at Green Acres.  Now you see why I haven't been inspired to write much lately.  What's going on in our world?

* Schadenfreude - A malicious satisfaction obtained from the misfortunes of others.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Eatin' it Real

Trish at Love, Laughter and a Touch of Insanity is challenging us all to go natural for a month . . . in the food department that is.  During the month of March, Trish and her family will be eating no processed foods, and she's inviting everyone to give it a try along with them. There are no specific rules, you can individualize your "go natural" plan to fit your life.  Here are the guidelines Trish will be following, to give you a starting place:
1. We will not consume any pantry food that comes from a box or a can (the exception might be canned tomatoes or dry pasta).
2. We will not consume any processed fridge products other than dairy items.
3. If a recipe calls for a processed condiment (such as ketchup), we will carefully analyze the feasibility of making said condiment from scratch
4. We will limit our eating out together and alone but will not avoid social gatherings such as family dinners.
Everything else should be as natural and unprocessed as possible. Yup—we’ll even attempt to make our own bread. Though we will not be grinding the wheat to make the flour. 
 Since our household is currently on NutriSystem, we can't avoid all processed foods, but at least we are certain that the prepared meals we are eating are nutritionally balanced, low sodium and low fat.  With the provided meals, we add fruits, vegetables, grains, dairy, etc.  That is where we will focus on "eatin' it real".  Here are my personal goals:

  • No canned fruits or veggies.  This is the majority of our discretionary diet at the moment, so it will get the most attention.  We will have to make more frequent stops at a Mega-Mart because our small-town store does not carry some fresh produce, such as green beans, year round, or adjust our menus to what fresh veggies are available.  This also means no packaged fruit cups in my lunch - especially the "parfait" type with some mysterious custard-like substance.  They are delicious, but of course they contain less actual fruit in order to keep the calorie count similar to a plain fruit cup.  Fresh fruits only.
  • No packaged pasta - what little we are eating I will make fresh from whole-wheat flour.
  • Homemade bread - again we're not consuming much right now, but I will make our own IF I can determine how it compares in calories/portion size to the ready-made stuff.  Tortillas will have to be an exception, but I already buy whole grain, low fat.
  • Dairy - Since I don't know how to make cheese, nor do I have a cow, that will have to come from the store, as will milk, obviously.  
  • Peanut butter - don't know how to make my own, so I will look for natural varieties in the store or just eliminate it all together since I don't eat much anyway.  
  • Salad dressing - I know there are tons of recipes out there to make it myself and regulate the fat/calories to boot.
  • Hummus - This is one of my favorite snacks, so I'll be looking for recipes to make my own.
As you can see, we aren't able to dive into the all natural challenge completely, but we'll take a dip where we can and, hopefully, develop better, healthier eating habits.  If you want to give it a try, visit Trish's blog (link at the top of the page) to sign up and see what others are doing.