Friday, January 30, 2009

Birthday Freebies

Happy Birthday to Me!

It's my birthday but you get the gifts.

Here is a whole list of birthday freebies that I've received this year. Follow the links and sign up for them yourself.

http://www.redrobin.com/ - free burger for your birthday (click on join eclub) Kids can also sign up for a free burger for their birthday under the Kids Club

http://www.coldstonecreamery.com/ - free icecream - sign everyone up!

http://www.houlihans.com/EmailClub.aspx - free entree

http://www.lonestarsteakhouse.com/ - sign up for their e club receive a $15 gift card for your birthday!

http://www.macaronigrill.com/ - sign up for their Mac Pack, get a free dessert for your birthday & anniversary

http://www.sonicdrivein.com/ - sign up for their cruisers club (you don't have to have a My Sonic Card to register) get a free meal for your birthday. Also - sign your kids up for their kids club, they get a free wacky pack for their birthday.

Here are some more goodies that are just for the kids:

Spaghetti Factory - http://www.osf.com/ - free meal on their birthday

Applebees - free meal, get card to fill out from Applebees

Sonic - http://wackypack.kidsbirthdayclub.com/about_the_club.cfm - free wacky pack for their birthday

Target - free birthday goodies - https://sites.target.com/site/en/spot/page.jsp;jsessionid=OIQ1MJIZIHAJNLARAAV5X5Y?title=birthdaycentral_signup&_requestid=2058311

http://www.chuckecheese.com/ - free tokens for their birthday

Have a great day....I know I will.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Jughead


If you are anything like me these were your comments during LOST last night:

1. Stay on the boat Desmond! Desmond, DO NOT LEAVE PENNY!

2. Yeah right. A shaggy haired toothpick of a guy with a black string tie really looks like someone from the US military. (Thoughts echoed later in the show by cute petite British girl with rifle.)

3. Aaaaaahhh, he named his son Charlie. That's sweet.

4. They raised a baby on a boat!!????!!!!

5. *gasp* Whidmore!!????!!!!

6. *gasp* Charlotte!!????!!!!!

7. A hydrogen bomb? That explains the giant concrete hatches and fertility issues, I guess.

So here is what we know now:

It is currently 1954 and there is a small group of "Others", led at least partially by Richard, living on the island. The US military has been storming the island, I assume in an attempt to retrieve their H-Bomb. Dharma has not entered the picture yet as far as I can tell.

I have a feeling that Whidmore, knowing of the island's power......when he is booted off for insubordination or leaves or whatever.......creates Dharma and sends them to the island to discover all of it's possibilites. Or it could be that Whidmore has spent 50 years looking for the island and just found it for the first time with that freighter and Dharma is led by someone else.

I have no great new theories after last nights episode except for this:

Ben told John that he was to become the new leader of the island. Could it be that the island has therefore sent John back in time to a time before Ben arrives so that John can assume his leadership before Ben ever has the opportunity to?

What year did Ben arrive on the island? Late 60s, early 70s? Could it be that Whidmore was a leader on the island and was displaced by Ben the same way that Ben is being displaced by John?

Theresa Whats-Her-Name in the coma looked an awful lot like Charlotte....and so did the girl in the picture that Desmond found in Daniel's old lab. Are they one in the same? I think so. Remember how Desmond would pass out on the ship while he was time traveling around Scotland?

I really liked this episode, but I think it may be the first one in the history of the show that didn't have either Jack or Kate in it. Weird. It was nice to be on the island almost the whole time though. I enjoy the island story lines better than all of the suffering going on back on the mainland.

(Strange that the people with indoor plumbing, refrigeration and fast food are the ones suffering, but hey, Ben warned them not to go, right?)

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Diet Tip

I haven't participated in Works for Me Wednesday for a while because I didn't have much to contribute, but here is a little tip that I have found to be very helpful when dieting.

Just because you are dieting doesn't mean you have to (or are able to) give up all of your favorite treats. You and your family will still want to indulge occasionally, but the trick is to make sure you don't overindulge.

I've found that if the good stuff (i.e. chocolate, cookies, pastries, etc) are in the house I will eat them. But if they are only in the house for a few hours I can just eat one, satisfy my craving, and then not worry about it anymore.

The idea is to only make goodies when you have someone else to give them to. For instance, when I'm hungry for Maple Cinnamon Rolls I make them for my Sunday School class. I get to eat one or two and then they are devoured by other people and out of my house. Any time I'm invited to a party I take foods that I can't eat on a regular basis like Bacon Bites or Tuxedo Cake. Once again I get a small sample and everyone else gets the rest. Even a trip to my parent's house gives me an excuse to make Bread Pudding or Cranberry Cheesecake.

If you do something nice for me, have a baby, undergo surgery, look down in the dumps or have been offended by me in some way I'll be there on your doorstep with Pumpkin Gooey Butter Cake, brownies, Apple Caramel Cheesecake Bars or Rice Krispie Treats....with one missing of course.

I guess you could say I just like to have my cake and let someone else eat it too. It works for me.

For more great ideas head over to Rocks In My Dryer.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Shannon on Snow Days

If you haven't read this post at Rocks In My Dryer you need to.

Especially if you need a laugh...

Or love Strawberry Pop-Tarts....

Or shop exclusively at Wal-Mart....

Or had a snow day today.

Bacon Bites

Tuesday is here again and it's time for another yummy recipe.



Today I've got the perfect Super Bowl snack for you to take to your parties this weekend. It's super easy to make and can be done ahead of time too, if you need to. I give you Bacon Bites:


Sandwich bread (white or wheat)
Bacon
Flavored Cream Cheese (I used onion and chive)
Shredded Cheddar Cheese


Cut the crusts from the bread slices (save them for your Bread Pudding). Using a rolling pin, roll the bread slices until they are flat.


Spread the flattened bread with cream cheese and sprinkle with cheddar. Then roll it all up into a cigar shape.


Wrap bacon around the rolled bread, tucking the end under to keep it from unrolling.


Place in freezer for 30 minutes (or up to 3 days) to firm up. Remove from freezer and cut each roll into 3 pieces. Stand pieces on end on a baking sheet and bake at 350 for 35-40 minutes.


Notes: You'll notice there are no amounts listed with the ingredients because it really just depends on how many you want to make. Also, instead of flavored cream cheese you can just use plain cream cheese and add in the spices, veggies and flavors you want.


I got this recipe from the King Arthur Flour Blog. The clever people that work in their test kitchens blog about their latest and greatest recipes. If you haven't seen their site you should check it out. There is always something yummy there.


For more great recipes and tips head over to both of the recipe carnivals I'm participating in:


Kitchen Tip Tuesdays at Tammy's Recipes and Tempt My Tummy Tuesday hosted by Lisa and Lana.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Manic Monday


Friday, January 23, 2009

The LOST Books Challenge


I've recently joined my very first challenge!


Apparently a lot of avid readers also really enjoy watching LOST. They are particularily enthralled with finding literary references within the show.


Many times real books are being read by characters on the show or they appear on the bookshelves in different locations on the show. Other times the title of a well known book (A Tale of Two Cities, for instance) is actually used as a title for an episode and sometimes different literary works are referred to by characters through their dialogue on the show.


Anyway the LOST Books Challenge encourages participants to read at least 5 of the books mentioned, or alluded to, on the show between the first episode and the finale of this season. The list of books is long and distinguished and I had already read several of them....but here are the five that I chose to read in the next 4 months.


The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoevsky: It's a classic that I've never had time to read (or never been required to read by a college professor) and I know a friend of mine that just read it, so I thought I'd give it a try. This is my most ambitious selection.


The Coalwood Way by Homer Hickam: I loved the movie October Sky and I've seen it several times. I am thrilled to read a book written by the real life Homer Hickam. I might even get Brian to read this one with me.....what am I saying?....maybe he'll let me read it aloud to him.


Evil Under the Sun by Agatha Christie: I like Christie's novels and this happens to be one I haven't read. Easy choice.


Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck: I recently read "The Grapes of Wrath" and didn't particularly like it that much so people have been telling me to give Steinbeck another shot and try Of Mice and Men. That's what I'm doing.


The Invention of Morel by Adolfo Bioy Casares: Hey, what's the point of a challenge if you don't challenge yourself? I've never heard of this book or the author, but the story line sounded interesting so I chose it. A total wild card.


If you want to join the LOST Books Challenge....or you just want to see the list of books that have been referenced on the show....you can go here.


Of course I'll review all of the books I read and keep you posted on my progress in the challenge.


Now I promise not to post anymore about LOST until next Thursday. Cross my heart!

It's Shocking!

The static electricity around my house this time of year is ridiculous.

If I walk within a foot of my TV the hair on my arms stands up. If I reach to turn on a light switch blue lightning shoots from my fingers. Kinley's hair is perpetually plastered to her poor little face.

To combat this I try to "discharge" myself whenever possible. I'm forever walking around slapping walls, etc. in an attempt to release the static before I have to reach for something metal....like a door knob or the refrigerator.

I try to avoid certain fabrics, like flannel, wool, and especially fleece. No one wearing fleece is allowed to touch me at all. Kinley is so used to seeing me walk around with my can of Static Guard that she automatically brings her coat to me to be sprayed before she puts it on.

I require all members of my household to "discharge" themselves before touching me and particularily before kissing me. The kids actually said to me, "Why do you hit us every time we try to kiss you?" (It's just a little quick smack on the arm to get the shock on my hand instead of on my lips. No big deal.)

But yesterday things dropped to an all time low. Despite my best efforts and all of my "discharging" I was shocked anyway....by a banana.

A banana!

Oh, come on!

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Addicted to LOST?

I couldn't help myself.

Once I saw this hilarious YouTube video I had to post it.

It cracks me up....and hits a little too close to home, too.

Season Five is Finally Here



Well, it's back. The best show on television since Seinfeld (which is techinically still on 47 times a day in reruns)is back for it's 5th season and it started with a bang.

Time Travel. We all suspected it, the writers have given us glimpses of it, but now I think we've got an entire season in front of us of characters bouncing in and out of the past, present and future. Thank goodness they've got a quantum physicist running around the island with them to explain it all.

It was great to have some "old stuff" brought back and worked in again...like Eko's brother's plane and finding a dead boar in the jungle, etc. And I am looking forward to, in the immortal words of Haley Joel Osmet, "seeing dead people". I had heard that Libby would be back this season and I suspect we can anticipate appearances by Boone, Shannon, Charlie and several others. Of course we've got to get back to Walt and Michael at some point to, I guess.

Of course the season premier left me with more questions than answers, as usual.

Who wants Aaron so badly, and why?

Is Charlotte going crazy and having nose-bleeds (the first signs of upcoming death)from too much time travel and the lack of a constant, like the poor guy on the freighter?

Why don't the rules apply to Desmond? Because he isn't part of Dharma (technically) or the Others? Because he got himself, with Penny's help, off of the island?

Is Ben desperate to get back to the island so he can overthrow Locke?

Is Sun still a "good guy"? She's scaring me a little.

Who was the lady in the butcher shop, Jill? Was I supposed to recognize her from the island?

So many questions and only two more seasons to get them all answered. Aaaaahhhh!

On to miscellaneous observations:

I must say that I'm glad Jack is clean shaven and off the pills, at least for now. I couldn't take much more of that beard.

I love that Hurley is the only one smart enough (or insane enough) to confess to quadruple homicide instead of walking outside with Ben. His (Hurley's)recap of events to his mom was great, too.

I think Ms. Hawking is Daniel's mother and I'm glad that she's back. I love it when they bring back someone that you thought was a "one timer" and turn them in to a main character. That just makes it so awesome! I also think it is awesome that she can boss Ben around.

I can't wait for next week....and the next week....and the next week.....and the next week.....well, you get the point.

Until then.......Namaste!

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Winter Food

I saw this cute, easy and creative idea on Heavenly Homemakers.
Just cut the top tortilla like you would a piece of folded up paper into a snowflake then sandwich it with some cheese and the solid tortilla. Fry it in the skillet or in your quesadilla maker to make a cheesy melt.
Yum Yum!

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Maple Cinnamon Rolls



I love cinnamon rolls.

Actually I love all forms of pastry.

So I was anxious to try this new cinnamon roll recipe from The Pioneer Woman.

There isn't anything dramatically different in the recipe itself, but there are two wonderful aspects to these rolls.

#1 They can be refrigerated overnight and finished in the morning so that they are warm and fresh for breakfast.

#2 The icing is amazing. It has maple flavoring and coffee in it. Very Yummy!

So I give you Pioneer Woman's Cinnamon Rolls

(Note: The recipe as written makes approx. 7 dozen rolls. Adjust as needed.)

For step by step instructions and lots of beautiful pictures go here.

For more great recipes and kitchen tips head over to Tammy's Recipes.

Monday, January 19, 2009

9 Year Old Politics

Last night to celebrate MLK's contribution to education (a day off) we watched a movie together after church. The kids picked Evan Almighty. A great family movie that I recommend if you haven't seen it.

It is about a junior congressman named Evan Baxter who, in addition to learning the inner workings of Washington, is asked by God to build an ark. Of course chaos ensues, but he learns the valuable lesson that God is teaching him and saves some endangered wetlands in the process.

Anyway, to celebrate his election and entrance into the public spotlight he buys a new big house and a Hummer. I made the comment that his vehicle was unreasonably large. Ryker explained to me that,

"He had to buy a new one because he is a Republican."

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Manic Monday


Friday, January 16, 2009

Late Night Confessions

A few days ago Ryker came to me with a very serious conversation.

R: Mommy, I've got to tell you something.

C: Ok. What?

R: I've been doing something in my bed at night.

C: Okaaaaay. What?

R: Well, late at night after you tell us to go to sleep I hide under my covers and....read....with my flashlight.

C: (exhaling for the first time since the conversation started) Well......you really do need to get your sleep, but as long as you get up in time in the morning for school you can stay up and read under your covers for a little while.

I am secretly happy that Ryker is so engrossed in his books that he can't put them down. He has always been a good reader, but he never enjoyed reading for long periods of time before.

On vacation this summer his great aunt gave him a series of Charlie Brown books (published comic strips) and he read those, literally, all the way from Kansas City to Colorado Springs. He wanted to read a lot of them out loud to us. It was a constant chorus of, "Hey, listen to this one!" We were both impressed with his voice inflections and animation as he read about poor old Charlie's troubles, but it got to the point where we were sick of them and had to ban The Peanuts out loud.

Then last night I put the boys in bed and told them they could both read for awhile with their flashlights. I came upstairs 15 minutes later and found them both huddled around their little nightlight on the wall squinting to read their books. They couldn't find their flashlights and they couldn't not read before bed so what else were they supposed to do?

I guess if one of my habits is going to rub off on them I'm really glad it is reading. There are a few others I really wouldn't want them to inherit.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

I Love My Garage

It is ugly and cluttered and it stinks.

It is full of useless junk that falls under my husband's domain, so therefore I cannot throw it out.

After almost 7 years it is still the main entrance into our house. Ugh!

But on days like today when at 8 am we've already reached our high of 0 degrees for the day.....

I'll take it!

No heating up the car or scraping the windshield.

Just jump in and go.

Priceless.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Do-It-Yourself

I just found the coolest thing!


Well, it's cool if you are a purse addict like me.


I can't justify buying any more purses when I already have so many. I've even given up getting my purses at consignment shops. I just really don't need anymore. But I still like to LOOK.


Anyway, have you heard of Miche Bags? They are a simple black or brown bag with exchangable covers. You can buy one bag and then change the look of it as much as you like. What a great concept!


Their bags are sold in retail stores (mostly smaller salons and boutiques) and through home demonstrations and shows. The average bag costs $35 and each "shell" costs $25. That is too pricey for me.

But I got to thinking....."I bet I can make something like that myself."


I've made lots of purses before. That should be no big deal. The shells are just held on with super strong magnets, and luckily I have access to a physics teacher that plays around with magnets that will hold things through a human hand. So why not?


I think it'll be my next project.

Now, don't tune in to the blog next week and expect to see the amazing new "Crystal Bags". It'll take me awhile. But I'll keep you posted.



In the meantime if you want to check out Miche Bags click here.

I found retailers nearby in Highland, Effingham and Marion, Illinois if you'd like to see some of their merchandise in person.



Note: All purses pictured in this post are Miche Bags.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

"I Got the Hummus!"


Friends fans will recognize the title of this post. Phoebe spilled hummus on her gown just before the gang was to leave for Ross' big party for work. She ran through Monica's apartment yelling, "I got the hummus!"

At the time I had no idea what hummus was. I assumed it was something very "stainy". Come to find out it is a really yummy dip made from chickpeas...a.k.a garbanzo beans...and it is very pale in color, not "stainy" at all.

Anyway, hummus is my new favorite dip for veggies. I try to eat as many raw veggies as possible...(and get my kids to eat them too, but I'm only having success with one of them right now)...but I like them with dip. You know, dip. Made out of sour cream or some other massively fattening dairy product. Veggies just aren't as appealing to me plain.

Hummus to the rescue! Hummus is extremely flavorful and much better for you than French Onion dip. It is basically mashed beans with some garlic and spices mixed in, which makes it a good source of fiber and protein.

You can buy hummus at Wal-Mart for $1.97 per tub. It is in the refrigerated case next to the deli counter. But you can make your own hummus very cheaply, too.

Here is my basic hummus recipe:

1 15 ounce can garbanzo beans (chickpeas), drained, reserving liquid
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 T. olive oil
salt and pepper to taste

Saute garlic in olive oil in skillet for approx. 3 mins until browned. Place beans in blender or food processor with 1 T. reserved liquid. Process until smooth. Mix in the garlic, salt and pepper. Blend until desired consistency, adding additional reserved liquid as desired. Chill until serving.

That's it. SO easy!

You can experiment with different flavor add-ins until you get the type of hummus you like. Here are some variations on hummus from http://www.allrecipes.com/

Mediterranean Hummus

Jalapeno Hummus

Pumpkin Hummus

Italian Hummus

For more great recipes and kitchen tips check out Tammy's Recipes.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Manic Monday


Friday, January 9, 2009

The Christmas with "No" Presents

People have been asking me how the Christmas of no presents went.

It was GREAT!

But before I go any further I need to clarify a few things. There were presents. There just were not any presents from Brian and I, my parents, or my siblings and their families. And even that is misleading. The "present" that we all gave each other in my family was a ski vacation in Colorado. So there was a present...a very, very good present....just not a physical item to unwrap.

I also need to point out that while Brian and I did not get the kids, or each other, anything..."Santa" did. He got Kinley a kitchen (at a garage sale for $20).....

and he got each of the boys a Razor scooter.

But no, we did not unwrap any gifts on Christmas morning. As a matter of fact we didn't even have any presents sitting under the tree because I didn't wrap the few presents we bought for Brian's family until Christmas morning. And to tell you the truth I don't think any of us noticed.

Instead of unwrapping mountains of gifts and sifting through trash and unpackaging and assembling dozens of toys we just played. I made a big breakfast, the boys rode their scooters and Kinley "cooked" in her kitchen. It was so nice!

Now just so you don't think my kids were totally deprived...and so you'll realize why they don't need any presents from us....we did go ahead and take our annual individual pictures with the gifts.

Here is Kinley with everything she got. (And that innocent little pink circle on top of the couch is a 4 foot tall circular princess tent. Not to mention the fact that we forgot to put out the other baby doll and her diaper bag and stoller.)
And here is Cainan with his haul.
And last but not least here is Ryker with his Christmas bounty.
Keep in mind that this is only about half of what they would have gotten on a "normal" Christmas year. Usually they have to sit on the big couches instead of the love seats to fit all of their gifts in the picture.

And here is the pile of toys I made them remove from their toy room and give (or throw) away before the new toys could go in. 25 toys in all. I gave them a break and counted each set as one instead of counting each individual item. Too bad. I could have doubled the amount of give away toys if I had done that. Maybe next year.

Up until Christmas morning I still questioned if I was doing the right thing. I knew deep down I was but I still felt a little guilty about it. I was afraid the kids would be sad and bored after they came down and found their ONE present sitting on the hearth with the remains of the cookies and celery (for the reindeer, ya know). But they were totally unphased by the whole thing and Brian and I were completely relieved to have to do almost no shopping and best of all....no building of new shelves to house all of the new toys.

The final reward for our decision and the justification for it all came on January 2nd. We were riding up a lift, looking out across the mountains as the snow fell around us and Ryker said,

"This is better than ANY present!"

AMEN!

We are already brainstorming ways we can do the same thing next year. I wouldn't change a thing....except.... I wouldn't use every egg in the house for the big Christmas breakfast...even the ones I needed for the cheesecake I had yet to make...thereby sending Brian on a mad dash throughout Bond county looking for eggs on Christmas morning again...but other than that I would totally do it ALL again!

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Christmas Projects

I made a few items for gifts this year, but this project was by far my favorite (to look at, not necessarily to make...it was actually really hard!). I made my sister-in-law this laptop case.

I absolutely loved this fabric! The case is padded and zips closed. I gave it a pink lining and a pocket on the inside too. I even put a cute little leather flower on the zipper pull.
She seemed to really like it. (I was kind of hoping she wouldn't so that I could keep it for myself....even though I don't even have a laptop. ha ha ha)


I also made about 20 of these fleece ear warmers. They were super simple and cute so I made them for all of my cousins (pictured) and all of Brian's cousins.

I love them because they don't mess up your hair like a stocking hat does, you can wear a ponytail with them and you can wear them over a ballcap. I made some pretty flowered ones for the girls and brown camo ones for the boys. I had less than $1 in each of them.

And of course as I was shopping for fabric I came across these adorable prints and patterns so I just couldn't resist making this shirt/dress for Kinley too.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

2009 Reading List

Well, another year is upon us so it is time for another Reading List to begin. You can still read the reviews of all of the books I read in 2008 here. I'll be keeping a list of all of the books I read in 2009 on my sidebar and the reviews of all of those books will be in this post. You can link back to it any time you want.

The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood: I really enjoyed this book. It isn't a cheery type of book and there isn't a happy ending, but it is very well written. The language is beautiful and the story is completely engrossing. I couldn't put this book down. It has a couple of twists/mysteries in it, which I always love. I love a book that keeps you guessing until the very end. This book is a novel inside a novel. "The Blind Assassin" is a novel published posthumously by the narrator's sister. So in some chapters we have the narrator telling us the story of her life in early 20th century Canada and in other chapters we have excerpts from the published novel. The story itself focuses on the lives of two sisters growing up in a wealthy, but dysfunctional, family outside of Toronto. Family is a major theme of the novel but it delves in to communism, war, revolution and economic depression as well. A really good novel, over all.

Here is one of my favorite quotes from the book: "Farewells can be shattering, but returns are surely worse. Solid flesh can never live up to the bright shadow cast by its absence."

Odd Hours by Dean Koontz: I love Odd Thomas. He is one of the purest, sweetest, most lovable characters in literature. As a twenty something fry cook with psychic abilities he gets himself into some unlikely situations...usually involving aliens or sadisitic mad men trying to destroy the world with nuclear bombs. Koontz' writing is so clever and witty and easy to read. If you are squeamish or opposed to a few supernatural forces in your books you might not enjoy the Odd Thomas series, but I'm betting you just might find Odd's character so intriguing that you can overlook the "ugly" things that are happening around him. I highly recommend an Odd Thomas book. I think there are 4 of them.

Housekeeping by Marilynne Robinson: This wasn't a bad book. It had its good moments, but overall it was really weird. I love, love, loved Marilynne Robinson's book Gilead so I had high hopes for this novel as well, but no such luck. Robinson tells the story of two sisters, abandonded by their mother (she committs suicide) and left to the care of their slightly senile grandmother. When she dies they fall under the care of two old spinster aunts that simply cannot deal with the responsibility so they call in a long lost aunt who prefers the life of a boxcar riding vagrant to living in an established home, but decides to take the job of mother to these two girls anyway. The family is SO dysfunctional and sad. The younger sister is finally driven away to live with a kind teacher and the town begins to demand that the older sister be removed from the home as well. Instead of losing her last remaining charge the crazy aunt takes the girl on the road with her and they become hobos....never telling the other girl that they didn't actually die in the fire that engulfed their house the night they ran away. (Of course they set the fire.) It was just weird and depressing and too wordy. I don't reccomend it.

The Boleyn Inheritance by Philippa Gregory: This is the second Gregory novel and I loved this one just as much as the first. I was completely ignorant of the history of the English monarchy before I read these books. Their true stories are like a train wreck....you just can't look away. It is unbelievable how self-centered and paranoid and powerful these people were. The books are so well written and make the characters really come to life. I would recommend any of her books. She makes history so personal and interesting. I really enjoy her work. My only complaint is that it is difficult to determine what order the books should be read in. I think it would make more sense to read them in chronological order or the events they portray...but she didn't write them in that order....so it makes it difficult. I think there may be some explanation of the chronology on her webiste but I haven't checked in to it yet.

Sail by James Patterson and Howard Roughan: I did not like this book. James Patterson needs to give up the co-authors and get back to writing the suspensful thrillers that made him famous (i.e. Kiss the Girls and Along Came a Spider). This story is about an evil stepfather that sets out to kill his wealthy wife and stepchildren by blowing up their sail boat. The family survives and grows closer in the process of living on a deserted island. Boring, predictable, and blah in general. Don't waste your time.

The Road by Cormac McCarthy: I liked this book, however, I don't necessarily recommend it. It was dark and depressing and likely to cause nightmares about cannibalism and killing your own children, but if you can see past all of that to the beauty of the father/son relationship then it is a good book. They story is about a man and his son struggling to survive in a post-apocalyptic world. There is no hope that they, or anyone else, will survive on the dead planet, but in times of desperation McCarthy shows us that we all revert to our true natures. Would you resort to evil or remain good if all was ultimately lost? It is an excellent commentary on the true nature or man and the innocence of children. If you can handle the graphic content the writing is absolutely stunning. I will warn you that most of my book club did not enjoy this book at all.

The Choice by Nicholas Sparks: This is the worst Nicholas Sparks book I have ever read, but....it was still good. I was expecting "the choice" to be the whole focus of the novel and expected to come upon it at every turn of the page. Instead, the heartwrenching choice doesn't even come in to play until the very end of the book. The rest of the novel is just background information. It was a touching love story in typical Sparks fashion. I recommend it...just go into it knowing what to expect.

Mississippi Solo by Eddy Harris: This is a book by a local author about his experiences as a black man travelling the entire length of the Mississippi River in a canoe in the fall of 1986. The St. Louisan learns a lot about himself and the human race in general as he makes his month long journey. I enjoyed the book (even though it isn't the type I would normally read. It was a book club selection.) because I learned a lot about the river. It was so intriguing to hear all about the workings of the lock and dams and the history of man's attempt at harnessing the mighty river. Harris' experiences with people along the way were interesting too. There was plenty of excitement as he fought off a wild dog pack and drunken rednecks. He had a gun and wasn't afraid to use it....let's leave it at that. Overall I would say that the book was "interesting". I don't know that I would highly recommend it, but I don't have any reason to discourage you from reading it either. I guess I'm rather ambivalent about it right now.

The Story of Edgar Sawtelle by David Wroblewski: YOU MUST READ THIS BOOK! It is so beautifully written and the story is so touching that you just won't be able to put it down. The story centers around 14 year old mute, Edgar Sawtelle and his family. The Sawtelle's breed and train an amazing group of dogs in rural Minnesota in the 1960s. I don't want to give away what happens but I will tell you that the story is a re-telling of a well known Shakespearean tragedy. The family relationships and canine relationships are really wonderfully portrayed. If you love dogs....or teen aged boys.....or books about dogs and teenaged boys then you will absolutely love Edgar Sawtelle. READ IT SOON! Then come back and let me know what you think.

Wicked by Gregory Maguire: I really loved this book. It started out kinda weird and it was a little raunchy in some spots, but overall it was a really great book. As you probably already know, it is the story of the Wicked Witch of the East, the Wicked Witch of the West and Glinda the Good Witch before, during and after Dorothy enters the picture. It is a history of Oz politically and socially. It is a story of friendship and family and love. If you really like the beauty and childhood innocence of the movie "The Wizard of Oz", you may not like this book. If you love the "Lord of the Rings" trilogy and "The Chronicles of Narnia" then you will probably like this book. It has a very dark, mystic feeling. The story is wonderfully written and makes you take a whole new look at the version of events portrayed in the movie. I've never read the Baum Oz books but I get the feeling that "Wicked" is more true to the books than to the movie. It definitely left me wanting to a) watch the movie again with a new perspective, b) go see the musical, and c) read another one of Gregory Maguire's books.

The Yada Yada Prayer Group Gets Down by Neta Jackson: This is the second book in the Yada Yada series. It closely mirrors the first book (see review below). It, like all of the books in the series, has a good message and a good story line but it is slow to get started and has a lot of repition, presumably so those that missed the other books in the series will be kept up to date. It is a little fluffy, but the characters are very real and so are the conflicts they experience. It isn't like typical christian fiction where everything turns out great in the end...and I, for one, think that is a good thing.

The Yada Yada Prayer Group by Neta Jackson: This book is about a multicultural group of women who are randomly assigned to the same prayer group at a women's conference. They decide to continue meeting after the conference and end up supporting each other through all sorts of circumstances. The book is written from the point of view of Jodi Baxter, the white, middle class, conservative, born and raised Christian good girl. She discovers that her view of God and her brand of worship isn't the only kind and isn't necessarily the best kind either. Her journey through faith is interesting and inspiring in some ways. This is an easy read that you can get through really quickly. It is also the first book in a series of 7 or 8 others about the Yada Yada group.

Evil Under the Sun by Agatha Christie: read my complete review here.

The Appeal by John Grisham: I'm not sure what to say about this book. It's not that I didn't like it, or it wasn't well written, it just kind of bored me. I wasn't that eager to keep reading it. The story just wasn't that gripping. I think the biggest thing that bothered me was that there isn't a clear good guy, a hero. I knew who the bad guys were. I knew I wanted them to be defeated and exposed and arrested, but I had no clue which character was fighting them. As it turns out nobody really was. It isn't that kind of book. I'm used to the Grisham storyline of a small town lawyer who is just barely scraping by defeating the wealthy and corrupt corporate moguls. In this book several characters battle their own demons related to the corruption of a wealthy mogul but none of them have the power, wherewith all or money to fight him. I guess it is more of a realistic look at the justice system, not a feel good underdog story. But it was still good and had an interesting plot. I guess I just can't slog through all of that legal jargon without a big fairy tale payoff at the end.

The Other Queen by Philippa Gregory: This was an excellent book. Gregory is also the author of The Other Boleyn Girl which was recently released as a movie starring Scarlett Johansen. She writes historical fiction about the English monarchs and their many trials and tribulations. I learned SO much from this book about a time period and a part of history that I had never really studied before. The Other Queen is about Queen Elizabeth's imprisonment of her cousin (and rightful heir to the English throne...hence the animosity) Mary Queen of Scots. Both being queens and relatives and held to a certain standard of decorum, Elizabeth couldn't just lock Mary in the tower and throw away the key. Instead she "imprisons" her at the palatial estate of one of her faithful English lords and enlists him and his wife as her guards and keepers....at their own expense.....for 16 years!!! The book is full of Mary's escape plots, uprisings against Elizabeth, Elizabeth's quest to hold her throne and force protestantism on all of England, and the personal struggles of Lord and Lady Shrewsbury who alternately love and hate their queen and the other queen. I highly recommend this book and any of Gregory's other historical novels.

Pavilion of Women by Pearl S. Buck: I loved this book! I hadn't read any Buck before and I completely fell in love with her literary style. The book is about faith, family, marriage (arranged and otherwise), life, death, and above all love in 1930s and 40s China. It is beautifully written and is as educational as it is entertaining. I learned so much about Chinese culture and traditions that I never knew before. It amazed me how easily Buck got in to the Chinese mindset. Her life in China didn't fail to have a brilliant effect on her writing. The characters are very believable and I felt very close to them all by the end of the book, even though we had absolutely nothing except a human soul in common. I highly recommend this book and any of Buck's other novels, which include Portarit of a Marriage, The Promise, Dragon Seed, Today and Forever, Other Gods, The Patriot, This Proud Heart, A House Divided, The Mother, The Good Earth and East Wind: West Wind, among others.

Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck: I really liked this book and completely recommend it. it is much better, in my humble opinion, than The Grapes of Wrath. You can read my complete review of this book here, at The LOST Books Challenge.

The Lost Recipe for Happiness by Barbara O'Neal: This book was just OK. It is about a female chef trying to start a new restaurant while dealing with excruciating pain from old injuries, falling in love with her boss, and being haunted by the ghosts of her dead family members. The story line is pretty good but there are some graphic scenes in it that I skipped and some bad language too. The one redeeming factor is the recipes that are interspersed throughout the book. There are recipes for several Mexican dishes and drinks. I actually want to try quite a few of the recipes from the book.

Time is a River by Mary Alice Monroe: There isn't anything necessarily wrong with this book, it just wasn't my type. It's one part romance, one part mystery and one part female empowerment. It's about surviving breast cancer and adultery and learning to fly fish. Lots of fly fishing, actually. It was a weird combination. You can read it if you want to but I wouldn't waste a lot of time on it.

The Last Lecture by Randy Pausch: *sniff*sniff* Please read this book. Check out my post about it here to see why.

The Abstinence Teacher by Thomas Perrotta: I don't recommend this book. I read it as part of my book club and it did inspire a lot of great discussion about our responsibility as Christians to represent God accurately. In the book a woman has a very skewed view of religion and God because the radical evangelical Christians that have been harassing her. I was mad most of the time during this book, but it did demonstrate some real truths about the secular view of God and of Christians in general...not just on the sex ed question.

The Coalwood Way by Homer Hickam: The Coalwood Way was a beautifully written book. It reminded me of John Grisham's "other" novels, like The Painted House. Hickam's photographic memory of the home of his childhood and the characters that filled it is remarkable. The descriptions of rural America, and particularly small mining communities in the backwoods of West Virginia, in the mid-1950s are excellent. The reader comes away with a real sense of the people and the times.

The story centers around the author, Homer "Sonny" Hickam. Sonny, through the help of a favorite science teacher and the press coverage of Sputnik's flight, develops a great interest in the space program and rocketry in general. He and his like-minded friends begin to design and build their own rockets and plot their trajectory using complicated algorithms and trigonometry. For a bunch of teen aged boys in the a coal mining town in West Virginia this endeavor is completely unheard of and viewed as slightly crazy. Sonny's own family has doubts about his new found interest.

Homer Hickam Sr. is a supervisor in the local coal mine and takes his job, and the lives and livelihood of his employees and neighbors, very seriously. So seriously that he puts his own health and well being on the line daily. He also leaves very little time for his family in his schedule, especially his awkward second son that is more of a brain than a jock....or a coal miner, for that matter. Sonny is also surrounded by his no-nonsense, long-suffering mother and a host of townspeople that know his business practically before he knows it himself. The "Rocket Boys", as Sonny and his space loving friends are called, spend all of their spare time thrilling the town with rocket launches and dreams of going to Cape Canaveral to work after college (a dream that Sonny realizes, while many of the others never make it further than the coal mine down the street).

Throughout the book Sonny is desperately trying to identify the source of the gnawing sadness that overtakes him occasionally. Following the advice of "Little Richard", the preacher of the local African American congregation, Sonny finally discovers that his desire for his father's approval, and fear that he can never attain it, are causing his melancholy. As he tries to deal with these feelings he finds it difficult to keep the Rocket Boys supplied with the properly crafted parts and maintain straight-A's for the first time in his academic career.

This is a beautiful novel about teen aged self-discovery, family dynamics and small town mentality. Sonny sees discrimination, domestic violence, murder, and labor strikes play out in his town, but he also sees generosity, kindness, and an amazing example of community spirit. Hickam is quick to point out the good, the bad and the ugly in his hometown and it's people.
I would highly recommend this book, and Hickam's other two books Rocket Boys and Torpedo Junction as well as the movie October Sky, starring Jake Gyllenhall, Laura Dern and Chris Cooper which was based on Hickam's life. It is a great movie that really captures the feeling of the novels.

Playing for Pizza by John Grisham: At my book club we were discussing all of the Grisham books we have read. One girl said she had read everything he had ever written except for his brand new one that just came out, The Appeal. I've read a ton of Grisham so that made me curious as to how many of them I had missed along the way. I discovered that I had never read The Summons, An Innocent Man (non-fiction), The Appeal (of course) and Playing for Pizza. My library didn't have any of these (probably why I haven't read them) except for the latter. Playing for Pizza is one of Grishams little forays in to lighter, more relationally driven novels, similar to The Christmas Train and The Painted House (both of which I enjoyed). This book is about a washed up NFL player that goes to play in the "Pizza League" in Italy. He explores the culture, food, and language as he learns about being a true team player and the importance of integrity....something he didn't pick up from his NFL coaches, teammates or agent. There was a little bit too much football (descriptions of games and plays, etc) in the novel for me and the ending was a little unresolved, but overall it was a nice book. The characters and plot were not nearly as developed as I am used to with Grisham but it was a short, easy read with a fairly predictable plot and a lot of education into the Italian mindset and even architectural history. I got the feeling Grisham took a vacation to Italy, fell in love with it, and decided to hang out for a couple of months and write a little novel about it. As a matter of fact, the last Grisham book I read, The Broker, was also mainly set in Italy. I think he really likes the food there.

The Inheritance of Loss by Kiran Desai: This book was just OK. It was interesting to read from an Indian-American point of view, but I didn't enjoy it a whole lot. A lot of it was pretty depressing and most of the characters were hopeless. The writing was very good and the perspective was thought provoking but the overall feel of the book was very "blah". Nobody turns out happy in the end...which isn't a prerequisite for a good book....but it helps if at least one character has some hope. I did learn a little about Indian history and mentality, so I guess it wasn't a complete waste of time.

Gilead by Marilynne Robinson: READ THIS BOOK! I loved it so much I devoted an entire post to it here.

The 19th Wife by David Ebershoff: This book is very unique...not so much for it's subject matter (polygamy), but rather for it's layout. It is really two books in one. The first is a historical account of the life and trials of Ann Eliza Young, the 19th wife of Brigham Young and a lecturer on the horrors of plural marriage and campaigner for anti-polygamy legislation. The second is a fictional novel about a young boy who escapes a polygamous home and tries to rescue his mother from it's clutches (and a false murder charge) as well. The two "stories" are intertwined very well and interestingly play off of each other, but the real-life story of Ann Eliza was much more interesting to me. Ebershoff recreates (not quotes, this is historical fiction) passages from Ann Eliza's book Wife No. 19 (really published in 1875), Brigham Young's sermons, and other historical documents. The whole history of the LDS church, and polygamy specifically, is covered in this part of the novel. I found it very, very informative and interesting. The story of young Jordan's escape from the Firsts (the radical Mormom branch that still practices polygamy) was fine in and of itself but it was full of crude language and homosexual references. I have to recommend one half of the book without the other. Or you could just read Ann Eliza's own book and get the same information, although not as much of the background and the other side of the story.

The Mermaid Chair by Sue Monk Kidd: I really liked Kidd's book "The Secret Life of Bees" so I thought I would try another one of her novels. I didn't like this one nearly as well. It was pretty predictable and a little trite. It is the typical story of a middle aged woman who is discontent with her life and her marriage and sets out to "find herself". In the case of this book she falls in love with a benedictine monk while visiting her mother who has mysteriously chopped off her own finger with a meat cleaver. Yeah, I told you it wasn't great. This is one I think you could skip.

The Glimpses of the Moon by Edith Wharton: In college I read Wharton's "House of Mirth" and I've seen the movie of her novel "Age of Innocence" so I thought I would try another of her novels. This one is very reminiscent of Fitzgerald. Set in the fashionable set of the 1920s it follows the lives of Susy and Nick, two hangers-on who prey on the rich for the small gifts and trips they can get from them. In the process they find that they have to compromise many of their own beliefs and moral standards. Finally unable to do so any longer, they find that being poor and scrupulous is better than being rich and amoral. I really liked the book and the love story of Susy and Nick. The lesson they learn is a good one and the message timeless.

New Year's Skiing

We had a great time on our Christmas Vacation. It's good to be home again, but we are all missing the beautiful Colorado snow and visiting with all of our friends and family.


On the Jewett's back deck, with a view of Pike's Peak in the background.


We got a chance to visit friends in Colorado Springs before riding the train to the top of Pike's Peak. It was 55 or 60 degrees in The Garden of the Gods at the base of the mountain and 30 below (including wind chill) at the summit.


Brian and I in front of the Cathedral Spires at Garden of the Gods.





The cog wheel train to the top of Pike's Peak.



The wind was blowing at 50 mph and it was turning pebbles and snowflakes into stinging projectiles, but we still managed to take in some of the magnificent views. Cainan couldn't even walk in the tremendous wind so we had to pull him along. Brian and I took turns roaming around outside and taking pictures while the other one stayed in the Summit House with the frozen children. We sampled some of the world famous high altitude doughnuts and hot chocolate and then headed down again.


All of us at the summit of Pike's Peak.


The next day we arrived at our condo in Winter Park. We rented our skis and equipment and headed out to a local sledding hill. We rode tubes up and down the mountain for an hour. It was a lot of really speedy fun. By the time we got back the rest of the family (Mom and Dad, Jill and the girls, Eric, Kari and Kira) had made it in and we were ready for supper.

On January 1st we all hit the slopes at 9 am. The kids went to ski school while the adults skiied all day. We stopped by around midday to check on the little students. We never got a chance to see Ryker at school (he was already up the mountain by that point), but I have to say that I wasn't too impressed with the 5 year old ski school program.


Cainan and Claire at ski school.



Cainan (and his cousin Claire) were busy preparing for their first venture on to the real lift. Cainan wasn't quite tall enough to jump on and he ended up sliding off and hanging on by his arms to the seat while his feet dangled over nothing. Brian and I were both screaming and the lift operator stopped the lift and ran out and lifted Cainan back on. After that we decided to follow the kids up the lift and see if they could get down the slope safely....all 10 of them with only one teacher....none of which could stay on their feet for more than 5 seconds at a time.


No, it's not an alien. It's Ryker in full ski gear.



We ended up going with the teacher and helping her for 45 minutes or so as she tried to get all of the kids down the mountain....5 of which were crying and rolling around on the ground half the time. Brian actually took over Cainan's instruction himself while Mom helped Claire and I helped whoever needed me. Thankfully some reinforcement teachers arrived and we were able to turn the kids over to them eventually. Cainan ended up getting one-on-one instruction from a really great guy for the last 30 minutes and he really did learn a lot.



Ryker and I under the High Lonesome lift at the summit.




When we met up with Ryker at the end of the day he was doing really well and had apparently had a very productive ski school experience. He was getting the hang of skiing down, he just needed to work on his turning. Brian and I took both boys up the mountain for 2 runs with us before the lifts shut down for the day. Over all it was a good day.



All of us on the "bunny slope" on day two.



The next day we all took all of the kids to another "family ski area" that has a small lift with 3 easy runs off of it. We were able to ski for 3 hours with both boys and really help them develop their skills. Thankfully Cainan wasn't too traumitized by his near fall from the lift the day before...and in fact, Jill and Claire had a similar exprerience and both ended up falling off of the lift and landing in a pile under it. By the end of the morning Ryker was going off on his own down the mountain and riding the lift back up alone too. He was progressing so much that we told him we would take him up on the big mountain and let him ski with us the rest of the day after the little kids went home.



Cainan, our little ski bum, chillin' in the snow bank.


And that's just what we did. Cainan and the little girls went home at noon and Ryker, Brian, Dad and I stayed and skiied the rest of the day. Ryker was unbelievable! He looked like he'd been skiing for years. He went on every run we did and went faster than us most of the time. He went off of the groomed trails and sped over bumps and through trees with my Dad. By the end of the day he was going down blue (intermedieate difficulty) runs with us like a pro. He was traversing through moguls and down steep faces. We were having so much fun that we were the last ones off of the mountain...literally. We made sure we were at the summit at 4 pm when the lifts shut down and there was no one else up there. Only the ski patrol came down behind us. It was a GREAT day!


video


Video of Ryker skiing in and out of the trees. (I was the skiing videographer that was trying to keep up with him without running into any trees myself.)



In addition to skiing we spent the evenings watching movies, cooking, eating and playing games together in the condo. It was crowded (7 people in one bedroom) and noisy (6 kids in one condo) but it was really fun. We hadn't all been together for that amount of time in a really long time. Everyone (except us) went on a horse drawn sleigh ride and enjoyed some sightseeing around the area too.

A really BAD picture of the whole family with my sunburnt face front and center.


Unfortunately on the 3rd we had to pack up and head for home. Ryker was so disappointed that we couldn't ski "just one more day", but we had to get back so that Brian could get to work on Monday. Our experiences confirmed that we should take skiing vacations more often.

It was definitely one of the best Christmases we have ever had.

Monday, January 5, 2009

Manic Monday

It's hard to be demotivated when you've just returned from a week in Colorado...but I'll try.


Thursday, January 1, 2009

Christmas Vacation

Sorry I haven't been blogging this week.

I'm too busy climbing mountains and skiing.



Details when we get home.