Friday, June 29, 2012

The Birdhouse by Kelly Simmons

When Ann's granddaughter Ellie, asks for her help on a school project on family history, Ann thinks this will be the perfect opportunity to spend time with her. But as they work together uncovering the past, questions about Ann's early life begin to emerge. What did happen to Ann's first child? Was her life with Theo quite as idyllic as it seemed from the outside? And what happened to cause her mother and father's acrimonious split, can she really trust her mother's version of events? And as secrets from the past seem in danger of being exposed, new secrets emerge about Ann's son and daughter-in-law, secrets which threaten to tear the whole family apart. As events unfold in the present day and we learn what happened during a summer thirty years ago, Simmons depicts the unravelling of a family in this gripping psychological thriller.

Love, love, love this book!  That's my highest rating. :)  There are actually two stories within this book - the present, when Ann is trying to connect with her granddaughter and battling signs of dementia; and the past, with it's secrets.  As the reader is enjoying the present story, bits of the past surface slowly enough to create intrigue and tension, but frequently enough to avoid frustration.  Ms. Simmons is a master of pacing.

Frequent visitors know that Alzheimer's disease is an issue our family is dealing with and one I find, perhaps ghoulishly, fascinating - especially the early stages.  The book is written from Ann's point of view, so when her moments of confusion or memory loss are revealed, we experience the agitation and disorientation with her - never quite sure if her recall is accurate.  Is she experiencing the beginnings of dementia or is she being "gaslighted" by her family?

Through the two stories and time frames, we see Ann - and she sees herself - as almost two separate people.  That sense of disconnection, combined with the memory questions, makes an absorbing story.  I can't wait to read more from Ms. Simmons.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

"Zenitizing" Life

I've never been a fan of noise or speed.  Oh, yes, I have my moments when I crank the car radio and just enjoy driving down an empty highway, but the older I get, the more pronounced my aversion to noise and rushing.  In Dave's car, as in most newer vehicles, the radio remains on after the key is switched off.  I hate that!  When the car is no longer running, the radio volume is jarring, and I like that little moment of quiet - just for a second or two - before I open the door.

I seem to be looking for more of those moments - a more "zen" lifestyle.  A little over a year ago, Dave and I moved to Green Acres - a two-acre patch of ground away from town, with a 2-bedroom house.  We chose the place mostly for availability and price, but the move has had some added benefits.  Moving to a smaller house, and one without children at home, necessitated major downsizing of possessions. (More on that topic in a future post.)  The new location has offered unexpected opportunities to "zenitize" our life.

I recently discovered a website called ZenHabits and I'm working my way through years of information on how to declutter not only your house, but your time, your body and your mind.  One article gave the following list called "A Brief Guide to Life" and I decided to rate myself against it and see how I'm doing and where I could improve.

less TV, more reading - DVR is the best invention for helping to break the couch potato habit.  I deliberately choose almost everything I watch and record it so I can watch when it's convenient (and FF past commercials).  Cuts down on mindless clicking and wasting time on shows I really don't care about.  We're getting more mindful of our viewing choices and comfortable without the TV as constant background noise.

less shopping, more outdoors - I'm trying to avoid "recreational shopping", which means don't go into a store unless you specifically need something.  Browsing is the No. 1 cause of all that clutter.  I've also never been big on the outdoors.  Green Acres has changed that - to an extent.  I love spending time in the garden, or just sitting outside to read without hearing multiple a.c. units, lawn mowers, traffic etc.  I can actually hear and identify the birds.  Peaceful evenings with a fire are amazing!

less clutter, more space - We've made a good start, but we need to make further cuts in the "stuff" we own.

less rush, more slowness - Busy-ness has become a status symbol. As a mother, if you don't have every minute of your kids' lives, and consequently your own, booked to overflowing with classes, sports, clubs, or scheduled activities at home, you are considered negligent. With our kids grown, I no longer face that standard.  Moving cut out my social and church obligations and I'm being very selective about replacing them.

less consuming, more creating - Fail! I need to look for areas where I could be making this trade-off.  

less junk, more real food - Nutrisystem and my weight loss journey have made this a necessity.  And raising our own garden has added to the pleasure of eating fresh food.  I have a different attitude about the junk that used to comprise my diet.

less busywork, more impact - This one requires more thought. What constitutes "busywork"?

less driving, more walking - Living twelve miles from town doesn't make walking to work or on errands practical, but I've been logging miles and miles on the treadmill.  I could make more effort to park and walk to all errands within an area.

less noise, more solitude - Noise isn't limited to the TV and car radio.  There is the "noise" of technology.  I can easily occupy hours with blogging, Twitter, Words With Friends, Pinterest, and a dozen other electronic activities - usually all at once.  I need to do better at unplugging and focusing on reading, prayer, face-to-face time with Dave (and kids when they're around).  There is also the "noise" of pointless drama.  I hoped that we had waved goodbye to that noise with the last high school graduation, but it continues on.    So many people are determined to make life strident. We recently attended a "nut fry" (if you don't know what that is, it involves frying the personal parts of a former bull) and spent the evening playing cards and visiting.  But the arguments, cursing, and general "drama" over who was wearing what or going where and who with spoiled the evening.  Solitude doesn't have to mean loneliness, but I seriously need some friends my own age who are beyond the racket of all that.

less focus on the future, more on the present - Guilty!  I spend too much time on the future - both fretting and anticipating.  Need greater focus on the joys of here and now.

less work, more play -  For me, the key is in standards and focus.  I like a neat house, and decluttering makes that easier, but I would rather have a little dust and more time for pleasurable pursuits.  However, I need to be better at setting a block of time to focus on chores so I can focus on play when they're done.  T
rying to do chores between chapters or during commercials keeps from focusing on either.  Multi-tasking is the hottest trend, but not always a good thing.

less worry, more smiles. - Progress on all of the above would make this one easier.

How do you "zenitize" your life?

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Mary, Mary, Quite Contrary . . .

. . . how does your garden grow?  Very well, thank you!  This is our second year of gardening and much more successful than last summer.  And it's a little silly how excited we are about it.  We walk out to the garden every evening after work to gaze on our hard work (mostly Dave's hard work - but, hey, I drew out the diagram and decided what to plant in each row) and see how much it's grown.  We had some issues with Flopsy, Mopsy, Cottontail and Peter helping themselves.  They ate our entire pea crop, but we didn't care enough to replant.  But when they started on the green beans, something had to give.  After the addition of a 2 ft. fence, the rabbit children are safe from Mr. McGregor, and we're enjoying fresh beans for supper every night.  
We also have tomatoes:
Black Cherry and Cherokee Purple tomatoes

Great White, Roma and Peach tomatoes
and watermelon
and canteloupe

and because Dave grew up in Texas and Oklahoma, we have Okra.  Not only did I never eat okra growing up, I had no clue how okra grew.  So for those of you from non-okra families, this is an okra plant and those little spiky things you can barely see in the center of the leaves will eventually be the okra that you eat.  That is, if you have a clue how to cook okra, which you probably won't if you never ate it growing up.  So we're all in for some fun.  


We also have lettuce, spinach, yellow squash, zuchini and some puny peppers that may or may not ever produce.  How is your garden growing?

Meet Me at the Movies: Double Feature

I watched two of my chosen classic movies this week - one an all-time hit and one a total flop.  First the flop:

Kiss Them For Me
Three decorated Navy pilots finagle a four day leave in San Francisco. They procure a posh suite at the hotel and Commander Crewson, a master of procurement, arranges to populate it with party people. Lieutenant Wallace is trying to get the pilots to make speeches to rally the homefront at shipyard magnate Eddie Turnbill's plants, but they're tired of the war and just want to have fun. While Crewson begins falling in love with Turnbill's fiancée Gwinneth Livingston, he tries to ignore the distant call of war.

Not even Cary Grant could save this bomb.  Silly plot, unbelievable situations, and Jayne Mansfield's annoying voice made it tough to watch.  But, did I mention Cary Grant?  

Based on the book Shore Leave by Frederic Wakeman (1943).

he second half of the double feature was a hit - but that wasn't a surprise because I've seen this movie many times.  It's always rewatchable!

Bye Bye BirdieA rock singer travels to a small Ohio town to make his "farewell" television performance and kiss his biggest fan before he is drafted.

Dick Van Dyke, Ann-Margaret, Bobby Rydell, Janet Leigh, Paul Lynde, Ed Sullivan . . . this movie is full of big names and catchy songs that get stuck in our head.  It was inspired by Elvis's induction into the army in 1957 - at the height of his popularity - and his "one last kiss" to an Army WAC.  The movie is an adaptation of the Broadway musical that premiered in 1960 and won Tonys for Best Musical and Best Performance by a Male (Dick Van Dyke) in 1961.  There is also a mid-90's remake with Vanessa Williams, Jason Alexander and Tyne Daley that is almost as good.  But you just can't beat Dick Van Dyke, in my book.

Put on a Happy Face is probably the best-known song from the movie, but there are others that make you want to sing, and maybe even dance:  One Last Kiss, One Special Boy, Everything is Rosie and, of course, Bye Bye Birdie.   Highly recommended  - it's fun and lighthearted and . . . just fun!

Monday, June 25, 2012

All He Saw Was The Girl by Peter Leonard

Rome: McCabe and Chip, two American exchange students, are about to become embroiled with a violent street gang, a beautiful Italian girl, and a flawed kidnapping plan.

Detroit:  Sharon Vanelli’s affair with Joey Palermo, a Mafia enforcer, is about to be discovered by her husband, Ray, a secret service agent.

Brilliantly plotted and shot through with wry humor, ALL HE SAW WAS THE GIRL sees these two narratives collide in the backstreets of Italy’s oldest city.

Stories of mafia dons and kidnappings are usually not my thing, but the humor in this story takes All He Saw Was The Girl out of the typical suspense genre.  The twists and turns of the plot kept my interest and made this an enjoyable read.  There were some issues with tense and sentence structure - not necessarily wrong, just unusual - that bothered me at the beginning, but as I got involved and into the flow of the story, I no longer notice because I was so interested in how the multiple plot lines were going to come together and resolve. It was a fun and entertaining read.

Peter Leonard’s debut novel, QUIVER was published to international acclaim in 2008, and was followed by TRUST ME in 2009, and VOICES OF THE DEAD in 2012.  Find out more about Peter and his books at

I received a free copy of this ebook as part of a promotional tour sponsored by Partners in Crime Virtual Book Tours.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Wicked Wildfire Read-A-Thon Update

So far, I have completed two books and read approximately half of #3.  Ok, it's true that I was past the half-way point on both of the first two before the read-a-thon started, but that's beside the point.  My goal was to finish 7 books - 5 of which were already started.  So, I finished the two on my Nook but then my Nook charger bit the dust, so I can't complete the third until the new charger arrives - approximately Tuesday.  I had also intended to complete the audio book in my car - but my car got backed into in a parking lot and is spending the week at the body shop - with the audio book.  I have a paperback book to finish but, for some reason, rather than doing that, I started a whole new book.  Cause I'm rash and unpredictable that way.  

Dave and I are leaving this afternoon to visit Son at college, which means we'll have 8 hours of car time to read something - hopefully Wicked Business by Janet Evanovich will be in today's mail.  Otherwise, I'll have to scour the TBR pile for something Dave could deal with.  Speaking of our trip - other than travel hours, my reading time will be limited for the duration of the read-a-thon, so it's not looking promising for my goal.

However, I've had fun so far - entered three challenges, attended a Twitter party and met cool new people. And I'll keep plugging along to catch up with my Goodreads goal by the end of June - I've read 34 out of the needed 37, so I've still got a shot.  But only if I get off the computer...

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Slake Your Thirst Challenge

Kimba at Caffeinated Book Reviewer is sponsoring the Slake Your Thirst challenge as part of the WWRead-A-Thon.  The challenge? - Post a picture and recipe of your favorite summertime drink and your most anticipated summertime read.

My favorite summer drink (or any other season) is Pioneer Woman's Perfect Iced Coffee. It takes a little time to prepare, but worth every moment.  Unfortunately, it's not worth every calorie for me this summer.  Not exactly compatible with trying to shed a few pounds - but oh, so delicious.

Image from
If you're looking for a drink for a summertime party, try a Tapshoes.  I swiped the recipe from the Improv Club in Kansas City when we were there last week.

Improv Tapshoes = Coconut rum, melon liqueur, pineapple juice and lemon/lime soda.

You're on your own for the proportions - but it should be fun and tasty experimenting.

My most anticipated summer reads can be found here.  Today I'm starting Stardust by Carla Stewart.

WWRead-A-Thon Kickoff

Today begins the Wicked Wildfire Read-a-Thon. Yea for extra reading time!  Obviously, there's no more time for reading than usual, but I'm making an increased effort at ignoring the rest of the world in order to read . . . especially the electronic part of the world.  The read-a-thon runs through Sunday so I am limiting my TV and computer time until then. I need to finish 5 books by the end of the month to keep up with my yearly goal.  I currently have 3 in progress on the Nook, 1 in paper form, and an audio in the car, none of which are far from finished, so I'm going to set my goal for the read-a-thon at 7 books...

UPDATE:  I wrote the above paragraph to post this morning for the start of the read-a-thon.  Then my Nook refused to charge.  The best laid plans... and all that.  I'm relatively sure it's just the charger cord and a new one has been ordered, but delivery takes up to six business days.  This could actually be a blessing in disguise.  It will certainly help my pledge to cut down time on Twitter, Words With Friends, Pinterest and other assorted internet distractions.  And I think there is enough charge left to finish two of the books I've started - less than 40 pages each.  The third book on Nook will just have to wait till the new charger arrives and I'll concentrate more on paper books.  

So here is my reading line-up for Wicked Wildfire Read-a-Thon:

Books to finish:

  • The Silent Girl by Tess Gerritsen - Reading with Dave - less than 40 pages.
  • All He Saw Was The Girl by Peter Leonard - Come back Monday, June 25th for Blog Tour 
  • Broomsticks and Brownies by Bailey Cates - past 1/2 done - in paperback form
  • Demon Rumm by Sandra Brown - listening to audio in car.
New Books:
  • Stardust by Carla Stewart
  • Wicked Business by Janet Evanovich
  • Porch Lights by Dorthea Benton Frank
  • Jackie After O by Tina Cassidy
There's still plenty of time to sign up.  There will be Twitter parties, prizes and lots of fun.  WWRead-a-thon is sponsored by  Rebecca @ Kindle Fever and April @ My Shelf Confessions.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Healthy, Wealthy and Wise

Wealthy is all in your perspective, and wise is a nonstarter, so I've been focusing on healthy.  I woke up one morning to find myself past 50 and with that many+ lbs. to shed.  I'm not sure how that happened, I was a size 7 just the other day, but anyway here I was - overweight, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, totally sedentary and unable to walk up a flight of stairs without being winded.  Not good.

In the years since high school, when I was a twig who thought she was fat, I have attempted - and I use that term loosely - several diets.  None of them lasted more than a couple days and none of them were successful.  There was the one time I did the whole shake for breakfast and lunch thing - finally lost 10 lbs after an eternity of trying, then discovered I was pregnant.  No wonder this wasn't working well.  I repeatedly told myself "It's not your fault.  You have to cook for your family and they NEED cookies and peanut butter and chips." (Please refer back to the statement on wise, above.)  "I will do this when the kids are gone."

Well, the last one left in August 2010, so in January 2012 I realized I was out of excuses and made the phone call.  I signed up for Nutrisystem with the goal of taking off 60 lbs. I followed the meal plan, I started walking and lifting weights.  So far I am down 40 lbs., I can walk two miles before I get totally winded, and my pants are two sizes smaller, which is amazing!

Then, last Thursday, I was sitting at my desk, reading book blogs like always, when I started feeling dizzy and then the nausea hit.  In a matter of a couple minutes it got bad enough that I headed for the bathroom to toss my cookies - or my Nutrisystem-approved breakfast bar, as the case may be.  I made it approximately ten feet from my desk when the world began to close in.  The next thing I knew I was waking up on the floor with blood dripping down my forehead and two male co-workers kneeling over me.  My first response was "I'm going to throw up." and, yes folks, I then puked in front of the entire office staff - repeatedly (into a trash can at least).  Do I know how to win friend's and influence people, or what?  The EMT's arrived and carted me away in a very bumpy, swervy, nausea-enducing ambulance (more puking into a little bag I was trying to balance under by chin) while they asked me silly questions to see if I was coherent.  It's difficult to vomit and answer questions at the same time.  Someone should teach that at EMT school.

Blood work, repeated attempts to start an IV, another fainting spell and a CAT scan later, it was determined that my potassium level was dangerously low (probably due to blood pressure medication) and with some pills the size of the proverbial breadbox, I would be fine.  I have no memory of most of that, including the doctor's discharge instructions, but I drove home, so you're glad you weren't on the roads of SE Nebraska that day.  I returned to work this week, where everyone now sees me as the little-old-lady who can't be trusted with her meds. I've felt really crappy all week, so my exercise has been minimal.  But I am returning to normal, and I have a doctor's appointment later today to follow up and probably make some medication adjustments, so I assume my health is back on track.

However, there's still that next twenty lbs. to lose and I gotta tell you, I'm really tired of this. I wish I could say that the last four months have been a piece of cake (or pie or cheese danish).  I wish I could say that I no longer dream of lemon cupcakes with buttercream frosting.  I wish I could say that I'm ready to run marathons or looking forward to a lifetime of walking to nowhere on the treadmill - but I'm not.  I do not "embrace my sweat" as the workout gurus advise. The progress is getting slower and slower even though I am consistent with the food and exercise.  Logically speaking, if I continue to eat approximately 1300 calories/day and exercise for 45 minutes, 5 days/week, the fat will burn.  But I'm not sure where logic figures into the weight-loss process.

One plan says 30 minutes of exercise/day is enough.  Another says it needs to be 60 or more.  One says "a calorie is a calorie" and as long as you're burning calories it doesn't matter how you're doing it.  Another says "Never do cardio and resistance training at the same workout.  Vary your workout and start a whole new routine every three months."  One says "less weight, more reps to tone muscle rather than build muscle mass".  Another says vice versa.  I'm clueless and frustrated and tired.

But, I refuse to quit. A healthy body helps keep a healthy mind, so I will not revert to old eating habits.  If I can walk 2 miles, I can walk 3.  If I can go 3.5 mph, I can go 4.  If I can do 40 crunches, I can do 50.   And eventually I will make my goal, and possibly have just ONE lemon cupcake to celebrate.  Maybe that wise thing isn't as far-fetched as I thought.

Meet Me At the Movies: Summer Stock

1950 - As a favor to her actress sister Abigail, New England farmer Jane Falbury allows a group of actors use her barn as a theater for their play. In return, the cast and crew have to help her with the farm chores. During rehearsals, Jane finds herself falling for the show's director, Joe Ross, who also happens to be engaged to the show's leading lady-- Abigail.

Starring Judy Garland and Gene Kelly

This wasn't the greatest start to my Meet Me at the Movies feature.  With the exception of "Get Happy", the music didn't have any memorable tunes. In fact, some of the songs barely had a tune - memorable or otherwise.  The story was cute - although terribly stereotypical about farm folk as overall-wearing, chewing on a straw with what teeth they have left, hicks.

Still, watching Gene Kelly dance is reward enough for sitting through even the most mediocre movie.  He's handsome and smooth and makes me want to dance.

Part of the fun of watching old movies is finding familiar actors in early roles.  Gloria DeHaven is one of those familiar faces.  She went on to guest on nearly everything on television - from westerns (The Rifleman, Wagon Train, Gunsmoke) to detective shows (Mannix, Murder She Wrote, Hart to Hart) to 80's standards (Highway to Heaven, Love Boat, Falcon Crest).  She even played in several soap operas (As the World Turns, Ryan's Hope and All My Children). Do you recognize her?

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Wicked Wildfire Readathon

I have signed up for the Wicked Wildfire Readathon, June 20-24th.  Unlike the other readathons I've been in, this is not a 24-hour marathon, but rather a five day period of concentrated reading time.  There will be prizes and challenges and a Twitter party.

My reading goal for this year is 75 books, which means I need to read 37 (and a half) by the end of June. So far I've read 32.  Finishing five books by the end of June is actually feasible - I have an audio going in the car and two in progress on my Nook and one in paper form.

To facilitate more reading during those five days, I am limiting my TV, Twitter, blog and Words With Friends time (my biggest distractions).  I'm not deluded enough to think I'll cut out any of them completely, but I do hope to minimize them and concentrate on books.

If the stack of books waiting for you is getting out of hand, or if you just need an excuse to ignore the dishes and read, go HERE and sign up. Wicked Wildfire Read-a-Thon is sponsored by Rebecca @ Kindle Fever and April @ My Shelf Confessions.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Lots of Candles, Plenty of Cake

In this irresistible memoir, the New York Times bestselling author and winner of the Pulitzer Prize Anna Quindlen writes about looking back and ahead—and celebrating it all—as she considers marriage, girlfriends, our mothers, faith, loss, all the stuff in our closets, and more.   Along with the downsides of age, she says, can come wisdom, a perspective on life that makes it satisfying and even joyful. Candid, funny, moving, Lots of Candles, Plenty of Cake is filled with the sharp insights and revealing observations that have long confirmed Quindlen’s status as America’s laureate of real life.

The publisher's blurb (above) is pretty spot-on.  This book actually delivers what is advertised  - funny, moving, insightful, revealing - a
great book for women of a certain age.  I'm not sure what that age is, exactly, just that I don't think it would be as interesting to younger women as it is to those who have experienced at least some of what Anna is writing about.

The book is divided into four sections, corresponding with the stages and topics of life.  The final section, dealing with faith and mortality, wasn't my favorite - perhaps because our views on faith differ, or perhaps because I don't want to dwell on mortality - but I loved the first three sections.  I'll let Ms. Quindlen tell you in her own words:

On Aging:  

We build our lives bit by bit of small bricks, until by the end there's a long stretch of masonry . . . [and] we become aware of how random the construction is, how many times it could have gone a different way, the mistakes that you averted, not because you were wise, perhaps, but because you were lucky.

On Baby Boomers and Women's Rights: 

But sometimes I think that my entire genera
tion of women adopted, for a time, that childlike point of view, that the women who raised us did things that were tedious and beneath notice.  You had only to listen to us to know that this was true . . . We invented natural childbirth. Also toilet training and time-outs . . . We invented balancing work and family and spousal divisions of labor and sexual harrassment and equal pay for equal work.  Or at least we behaved as though we had.  Occasionally someone would call us on all this...a mother of six who had taught high school Spanish for fifty years wrote me...suggesting that baby boomer women were not the first humans ever to have both a job and children.

I wonder now how we dared to criticize and condescend to a generation of women who soldiered on through the Depression, a world war and a world without much in the way of family planning or job opportunities.

On Memory: 

One of the great things about being the age I am now and having a reliably unreliable memory is that I can reread mystery novels.  I either don't remember whodunit or, when I do figure it out, I convince myself that it's because I'm canny and wise.

On the trend of "Micro-Managing" Parenting:

Keeping up with the Joneses turned into keeping up with the Joneses' kids.  Whose mothers, by the way, all lied.

You can't learn from mistakes and disappointments if your childhood is engineered so there aren't any.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Meet Me at the Movies

Image from
Break out the popcorn and Milk Duds, we're going to the movies!

If you read yesterday's post, you know that I'm frustrated at the amount of money we're paying each month to receive hundreds of TV channels that we don't watch.  Since shutting off the unused channels doesn't seem to be an option, I decided to go the other direction and find a way to use the nearly 400 channels we receive that do not involve extra fees (pay-per-view or shopping).  So what to watch?  All "reality" shows were immediately ruled out, as were crime shows involving initials (CSI, NCIS, etc.), and action/adventure movies.  But I love classic movies - romances, comedies, musicals and the occasional drama involving Hollywood's timeless stars.  Unfortunately, they aren't usually aired during prime time.  Thank heaven for DVR, the greatest invention since the library.

Using the search feature, I found ten movies featuring my favorite stars and set them to record.  Throughout the summer, I will be watching/reviewing at least one per week (I'm not good at schedules).  Here are the movies/stars I selected:

  • Easter Parade - Fred Astaire
  • Summer Stock - Gene Kelly
  • Bye Bye Birdie - Ann-Margret and Dick Van Dyke
  • Kiss Them For Me - Cary Grant
  • Rio Bravo - Dean Martin and John Wayne
  • Rear Window - Jimmy Stewart and Grace Kelly
  • That Funny Feeling - Sandra Dee and Bobby Darin
  • Love in the Afternoon - Audrey Hepburn
  • Change of Habit - Elvis Presley
  • Rope - Jimmy Stewart, Directed by Alfred Hitchcock

So what are you doing to stay out of the heat this summer?  How about joining me?  
If classic movies aren't your thing, how about movies of the 80's?  Movies featuring a specific location?  Movies based on books?  Pick your category (or a variety of categories), grab the button if you like, then come back and leave a link to whatever you post when you Meet Me at the Movies!

Monday, June 11, 2012

Classic Movie Summer

It is common at our house to hear one of us lamenting the fact that we pay for over 700 satellite channels and we watch very few of them.  First there is the basic package- not the cheapest, but the one that came with the most sports networks.  Then there is the HD package because, seriously what's the point of having an HD TV if you don't get HD channels?  Then there is the additional sports package we added on so we get the majority of K-State games.  In total - a little over $100/month for 720 channels.  

Now - remove the On Demand movie channels that we rarely use, the shopping channels (who knew there were so many!), and a few other random things we knew we would never watch, and we're down to 372 channels in our "Favs" list.  When we sit down to scroll through the TV guide, 372 channels are displayed.  And usually there is nothing on.

The other day, I ran across an article about Apple's newest plan for television - a platform that offers "a la carte" channels.  If I understood correctly, you would be able to select channels individually - and thus be charged only for the ones you actually watch.  Naturally, they are running into some backlash from networks that survive by getting their network bundled in with the big networks that everyone wants.  But, I'm hopeful that this is the wave of the future and will be available in a reasonable amount of time.  

In preparation, and mostly out of curiosity, I browsed through the guide to see what channels we would select if the menu were a la carte.  The results were sad.  I would want ABC to keep up with General Hospital and Dancing With The Stars.  We would need the sports channels, of course, and Dave would want TruTV (also known as The Stupid People Channel) to keep up on schadenfreude.*  Other than that, we were hard put to name channels we watch on a regular basis.

In the "occasional" category we decided we might pay for:

  • News channels for the occasional crisis.
  • CLOO because they show House and Monk reruns - but we've seen them all so many times that I'm not sure it's worth money.
  • BBC America - in case the Royal Family gets married, jubileed or some other thing I would find interesting.
  • TV Land - for M*A*S*H reruns 
  • CBS, NBC and FOX in case thy are hosting special events like the Olympics and in case I get over my boycott of American Idol.
  • PBS for the occasional Masterpiece Theater or music special
  • History Channel for Pawn Stars
  • Lifetime for Project Runway

But paying for a channel 24/7 because we might watch one program a week?  Not the best use of money.

Then there's the "used to watch" group - channels we always wanted before, but don't use any more:

  • Bravo cause they used to show West Wing, but I have it on DVD now.
  • HGTV - watched a lot back in the day that it was actually about decorating and not about real estate and greed.
  • Food Network and Cooking Channel - gave those up with the weight loss program, not sure I'll ever return.
  • AandE because they showed Nero Wolf, but that's a thing of the past
  • Nickelodeon, Cartoon Network, Disney - but the kids are grown now.
  • USA because they had Monk - but it's been cancelled.
  • When we were first married - and cable was still a new thing - we were so excited to get TNT, TBS and WGN because they were the "super stations" - but no more.
So, in order to feel like I'm getting something for all my money, (at least until Apple gets their TV to market) I've decided to have a Classic Movie Summer.  Using the search feature, I found  movies containing many of my favorite classic movie stars - Cary Grant, Dean Martin, Fred Astaire, Gene Kelly, Dick van Dyke, Grace Kelly, Jimmy Stewart and more. I am recording 10 movies over the next couple months and will watch at least one per week and review it here.  So watch for Classic Movie Summer posts and join me if you want.  Details tomorrow.

Armchair BEA Wrap up

Last week was an action-packed week of Armchair BEA.  Since this was my first time participating, I wasn't sure what to expect.  There was a tremendous amount of information and blogs thrown into a small time frame - it got a bit overwhelming at times - but I learned a lot and had fun, so I'm sure I'll join again next year.  Here's what I learned this year:

1.  You can't do it all.  There were over 600 participants, most of whom posted at least twice during the week.  There is no way to visit/read every post, every day.  You need to have some sort of system - even if it's as simple as "visit every 12th blog"  - to manage the tsunami of info. Which leads up to:

2.  It would be helpful if the list of participants were "tagged" or grouped according to the main focus of their blog, e.g. YA, mysteries, books+, over 40, etc.  That would make it much easier to visit blogs that have a higher chance of interesting me, rather than just clicking randomly.  I and several other bloggers submitted this idea to the hosts and hopefully the'll come up with a way to implement it next year.  And along that same vein:

3.  I am blown away by the number of YA bloggers out there.  It's fantastic that reading is so popular among the under-30 crowd!  Though fantasy and dystopia are not normally my favorite things to read, I'm all for any trend that can get this many young people reading.  

4.  The Twitter Parties were a blast - hard to follow, dizzying, and confusing - but a blast.  This was the time for all types of bloggers to be together and share ideas.

5.  Prizes!  The organizers and sponsors of Armchair BEA put together an impressive list of prizes.  (I won on the last day - I'll share that when it arrives.)  Also, hundreds of bloggers sponsored their own give-aways.  I appreciate everyone's generosity, but got tired of filling out Rafflecoptor forms, so I didn't enter nearly all of them.  Each blogger is free to set up their blog give-away however they like, but some blogs had way too many hoops to jump through for my taste.  I don't care for forcing people to follow your blog, twitter, facebook, etc in order to get a chance at a prize.  I want readers who are here because they get to know me and enjoy what I write.

6.  I'm glad I wrote - or at least sketched out - my posts in advance.  Taking time to write during the week would have meant I missed even more blog entrants.  Thanks again to the hostesses for putting up the daily topics way in advance.

7.  Visiting all those blogs made me aware of the importance of blog design.  As each blog opened, I made a judgement within the first few seconds if this was a blog I wanted to explore further.  When I began blogging, I used a pre-fab background and color scheme.  They were pretty, but they weren't "me".  Eventually, I made my own theme.  I chose the vintage kitchen design because it conveys the mood I want - come into my home and let's discuss books and life over a cup of coffee.  I appreciated the blogs whose design made a definite statement about the content and mood.

If you have a book blog, or begin one within the next year, or if you just want some great info on the upcoming books and trends in publishing, follow along with Armchair BEA next year.

Friday, June 8, 2012

Armchair BEA - Day 5 - Experts

It's the final day of Armchair BEA.  Today's topic is Ask the Experts: Ask your burning questions of your fellow participants or share your own personal tips about blogging. I've been blogging for just over 2 1/2 years and I've developed my own system, so can't say I really have any burning questions.  Not sure I have any tips for a successful blog either, but since when does not having anything helpful to say stop me? 

First, define "successful"  If your definition involves fame, fortune and free stuff - I can't help you. Not that those are bad goals, they're just not mine. I blog to have a place to write, to have someone to talk to - about books and about life - and to make friends.  If I'm accomplishing those things, I consider my blogging a success.  If that's your goal then here are my tips:

1. Be yourself - don't try to sound like anyone but you. If, like me, your normal speech contains sarcasm and obscure references, include them in your blog.

2. Don't check your stats - they'll drive you nuts.

3. Write about what interests you - it will interest someone else, too.

4. Respond to every comment - the only way to make friends and start conversations.

5. Don't worry about posting every day - that will also drive you nuts. And your readers don't mind if you skip a day - less stuff in their reader.

6. Do what makes you happy. Just to pick a totally random example - if you like to create puzzles about books, tv and movies, do it.  If you had fun making them - that's enough. If you like memes - join memes.  If you want to post nothing but reviews of mystery books by female authors with an R in their name - go for it.  It's your blog - be happy!

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Armchair BEA Day 4 - Beyond the Blog

Today's assignment at Armchair BEA is to "share your tips for getting beyond your blog".  This could include freelance writing, monetizing, etc.  I have no experience with those areas, but I do get "beyond" being a book blog by sharing about daily life, gardening, parenting, crafts or whatever else comes up.  Although this blog started out to be strictly about books, it has expanded and usually the posts about family life garner far more responses than the book reviews.  If you are a blogger, I encourage you to broaden your horizons and write about your life beyond books.  When I'm behind with my reader (when am I NOT behind?) I find myself reading the life posts and skimming past the book posts.

If you're new here and want to know more about our life beyond the books, here are a few posts that will give you an inside glimpse:

"Musical Vehicles" - Part 2 of our ongoing vehicle crises.

"I Know When I've Been Insulted" - Trying to parent college-aged offspring

"Hallelujah, Holy S**t, Where's the Tylenol" - Thanksgiving vacation catastrophe

"Give Me Park Avenue" - My experience with farm life . . . and snakes

"Muskrat Love" - Further exploits with wildlife on the farm

"Gabby's Post" - Goofy guest post by the dog we adopted from a rescue shelter

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Armchair BEA Day 3 - Networking

Today's topic at Armchair BEA is Networking. Have you ever wondered how bloggers get so involved outside the nuts and bolts community of book blogging? Well, now's your chance to learn from the experts! From partnering with their local indie bookstores to coordinating events at their local libraries, we've got tips to share with you to help you become more involved with your local bookish community.  Visit the website to learn more.

I'm on the learning end of this topic.  I've been blogging for 2 1/2 years, but haven't gotten heavily involved in networking or partnering, so I'm anxious to learn more. My limited experience was while I was working at the library - I teamed up with a fellow blogger and another library to create Library Bingo.

The originial idea came from Jenners at LifeWithBooks.  She created the "Take-A-Chance Challenge".  With Jenners' permission, I adapted her idea to work as a reading program for library patrons.  We featured six categories:

  1. Random library location - draw a shelf number and read a book found on that shelf.
  2. Random word - draw a word from the hat and read a book with that word in the title.
  3. Random author - all fiction authors available at the library were thrown in the hat - draw a name and read anything by that author.
  4. Random year - draw a year and read any New York Times Bestseller from that year.
  5. Judge a Book By It's Cover - select a book you are unfamiliar with based solely on the cover design.
  6. Read a non-fiction book.
Patrons who completed all six challenges received a prize.  The challenge was such a hit that the next year I "borrowed" an idea from a library blog (again, with their permission), combined it with Jenners' idea and created Take-A-Chance Bingo. 

Each patron received a standard 5X5 bingo card containing 25 different book categories - romance, mystery, 2010 bestsellers, staff recommendations, Kansas authors, foreign setting, etc.  Reading five books, one from each category in a row, made a BINGO and earned a prize.  A blackout - reading all 25 categories - earned a larger prize plus immunity from library fines for 1 year.  The program was a huge success.  One high school English teacher used it in her classroom, several area libraries hi-jacked the idea for their own reading programs.  I even sent sample cards to libraries and bloggers outside our area because they read it about it on this blog.  And all because I read a book blog . . .