Friday, May 31, 2013

Vacation Planning On the Mind

As school ends and summer begins, one of the things at the front of my mind is our family vacation.  We are still trying to figure out where we are going to go.  Chatting with my sister-in-law, Julie, she also is unsure of where they family will be traveling this summer.  The planner in me wants to know and have it all figured out NOW, but we just can't decide for sure.  I am not the kind of person who can just jump in the van and say...turn here, turn right...and drive until we decide to stop.  I need to know WHERE we are going and WHAT we are going to do.  

This quote inspired me today: 

"After all, a vacation is not a matter of place or time. We can take a wonderful vacation in spirit, even though we are obliged to stay at home, if we will only drop our burdens from our minds for a while. But no amount of travel will give us rest and recreation if we carry our work and worries with us."

- Laura Ingalls Wilder, essay September 1919

This quote led me to remember a line from one of our favorite family movies:

It really isn't about where we go, it is about all of us being together and having fun. So, I'm going to relax and know that the vacation will fall into place, as it always does.  Having family discussions and getting the kids involved in the planning now that they are older will give them more ownership in the vacation and take some of the pressure off of me.  Maybe this will be the summer that I just "go with the flow".  Boy, that will shock my family! :)

Do you have any great ideas for us?  We live in Iowa, can only be gone a week and need to be able to drive there.  Share your favorite vacation destinations with me!

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Drugs Made to Look Like Candy - Parents Be Aware

I get regular emails about different drug/alcohol issues going on in our area.  As the parent of a teenager (gosh, did I just say that?) and an employee of the school district, I am constantly hearing about kids making poor choices and parents who have no idea what to look for.  I would much rather be aware than clueless and wanted to share this knowledge with all of you.  Parents, here is your heads up:

Cheeba Chews are THC (marijuana) candy and look like taffy.  These have been found in our area and if they are in our small communities in Iowa, they are in your community too. THIS is what scares me.  My kids may not be interested in drugs but a "friend" offers them "candy".  It looks like candy...caramel and grape flavored...but is no where near candy. They eat it, like how it makes them feel, they want comes the cycle.  I'll be showing this photo to our kids and that's why I am putting it on here.  

Another new technique is to "smoke alcohol" using dry ice rather than drinking it.  Apparently it offers less calories that way?!?!.  

photo credit

Take the time to go through your medicine cabinets and throw out or return to your pharmacy any old or unused prescription medication.  Teens are abusing and selling prescription medication at high rates.  If you take a prescription medication, you may want to consider keeping it locked up.  It isn't just your kids but the kids you allow into your home who could be looking for it.  I just did this last month and was shocked at the meds we had in our cabinets.  Medicines we never finished or never even took from as far back as when I had our youngest....8 years ago.  YIKES!

For more information on these or any other drugs or how to talk to your kids about drugs and alcohol, check out or your local substance abuse organization.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Summer Planning Made Simple With The Confident Mom

This is the beginning of the last week of school for us.  Just 4 days left and frankly, I am freaking out.  I don't have all the projects done that I wanted to accomplish during the school year.  I don't have everything figured out for our summer yet. In years past, I had given the days of the week a theme and lined up crafts and activities for us to do each day.  But, the kids are older and busy with sports and camps and other activities with their friends.  But, I still need to have some ideas ready for rainy days and ideas for our youngest.  I know it will be a busy summer and I want to be sure it is one of our best!

2013 Summer Survival Calendar

Some of the ideas from this calendar that I am excited about involve cooking.  This summer I want to spend some time cooking with our older boys to help them get ready to be a bit more independent.  Another activity that definitely has me curious is June 19 - Watch Raisins Dance.  With something scheduled for every single day, you won't be wondering...what should we do today?

If you have younger children and want to make sure your days are full of fun and not just full of sitting in front of technology or the TV, then I have the perfect planning tool for you.  The 2013 Confident Mom Summer Survival Calendar and Action Guide is exactly what I would have been looking for when our kids were younger.  Even though our kids are 13, 11 and 8, there are still several ideas I am taking from this calendar to work into our summer.  There are even ideas I can carry into the school year with the after school program I run.  Susan, of The Confident Mom has done all the work for you and makes it easy to have the best summer ever with your kids.

2013 Summer Survival Calendar

The calendar is downloaded immediately to your computer and can be saved there and/or printed off for your convenience. By, saving it to your computer, each day's activity includes links to a recipe or website for how to do that activity.  Like I said, The Confident Mom has made this as easy as possible for busy moms like you and me.

Even though this calendar starts with the month of May, there is still plenty of time to work in the numerous activities for your summer.  Don't delay and purchase this calendar today!

For $7 you can get 2013 Summer Survival Calendar AND the Action Guide.  You will never have to hear "I"m bored!" again!  The best deal includes 4 years of Summer Survival Calendars and the Action Guide for just $10.  

Check out this summer calendar now and get your summer started wit h a bang!  Click HERE for all the information.

Susan Heid is the creator of THE CONFIDENT MOM.  She is impacting the lives of many women, including mine, with her advice, support, praise, and confidence building tools.  She isn't a perfect mom and doesn't expect you to be.  She understands the stress and overwhelming duties that go along with being a mom and has a passion for helping moms make small changes that can make a big difference in their home. 

I was given the Summer Survival Calendar and Action Guide for free in order to offer this post.  This post contains my honest opinion about The Confident Mom and her products.  As an affiliate, I may be paid a small amount for products purchased through the links in this post.

Monday, May 27, 2013

My Thoughts on Phillipians Chapter 1
This post is part of a four week Bible study of the Book of Philippians.  Each week I will be sharing my thoughts on one chapter and linking up with others who are also studying with me.  This Bible study is hosted by Mom's Toolbox.  If you are also reading along, please share how these verses spoke to you as well.

I will be using the SOAP method to write my thoughts about Philippians.  To learn more about the SOAP method, click HERE.  SOAP stand for Scripture, Observation, Application, and Prayer.


The author of the Book of Philippians is Paul.  He wrote this as a thank you letter to the Christians of Philippi while he was in prison.  It was also a letter of encouragement to them for their faith.

First of all, just the fact that Paul wrote this as an encouragement to his fellow Christians while he was in prison is a surprise.  You would think he would be the one needing encouragement.  But, instead Paul is more worried about them losing faith and all his work spreading God's word to not continue to be shared.  

Chapter one is such a short chapter, only 30 verses, but those verses say so much.  It was hard for me to focus on just one verse, but there was one that stood out to me and relates to my life right now.

S- Scripture
Philippians 1:10 so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless for the day of Christ. NIV

What stood out to me was discern what is best - what is right and what is wrong. Making choices that will make Jesus proud.  This is something that I talk to our children about almost daily.  I am constantly saying, "Make sure you are always kind." "Be helpful." "Do unto others as you would want them to do for you." Am I giving myself the same lesson?  Are MY choices making Jesus proud? 

A- Application
 I don't expect our kids to be perfect.  I know I am not.  I know there are going to be some right and wrong choices in the future, but I pray there is more right ones.  I don't expect to be "blameless" but I know that I will be forgiven.  I know that someone believes in me and knows that eventually I will get it right.  I know there is someone cheering for me and wants me to make the right choices.  And, I want to make sure our children know that too.  There is one right choice they can make right now and that is to follow Him; striving each day to discern what is best and make Jesus proud.  By continuing to discuss with the kids about situations they are facing and how to best handle them will be helpful in them choosing the best path to take.  

Dear God,
We are so grateful to have amazing children who are so loving and readily offer help to others.  I humbly ask you to guide my husband and I as we raise our children to make the right choices in life.  Helps us to weed out the bad stuff and replace it with the good.  Don't give up on us when we make the wrong choices, but continue to believe in us and show us that the only right way is on your path.  Thank you for loving us unconditionally and providing us with your grace as we continue on.  May our faith in you grow each time we are faced with a decision. 

Friday, May 24, 2013

Book Review: The Storyteller By Jodi Picoult


By: Jodi Picoult

Published: February 26, 2013

Sage Singer befriends an old man who's particularly beloved in her community. Josef Weber is everyone's favorite retired teacher and Little League coach. They strike up a friendship at the bakery where Sage works. One day he asks Sage for a favor: to kill him. Shocked, Sage refuses…and then he confesses his darkest secret - he deserves to die, because he was a Nazi SS guard. Complicating the matter? Sage's grandmother is a Holocaust survivor.

What do you do when evil lives next door? Can someone who's committed a truly heinous act ever atone for it with subsequent good behavior? Should you offer forgiveness to someone if you aren't the party who was wronged? And most of all - if Sage even considers his request - is it murder, or justice?

Always a fan of Jodi Picoult, I had no doubt about reading this novel.  What I wasn't expecting was to be completely blown away and left speechless.  Picoult has outdone herself and this book will be hard to beat  as my favorite of hers.  

I have always loved historical fiction and especially those set during WWI and WWII.  Even though it is hard to "love" a story about the horrors of the Holocaust, they have always hit me to the core.  This one was no exception. Picoult has a new way of telling the stories of victims and survivors and giving us a different perspective to contemplate.  

Picoult expertly tells the stories of Sage, her grandmother Minka, and Josef taking us into their past and bringing us to their present.  There are tragedies, horrors, bits of hope, and a fairy tale that keep you turning the pages.  You will gasp, cry, and cringe as the story of Minka is told. Knowing she makes it through is what keeps you reading and reminds you to have hope in the midst of evil. 

The underlying theme of forgiveness spoke to me the most.  I've personally learned that harboring anger and resentment only continues to feed the monster in your head and in your heart.  Picoult's message of forgiveness rang true to me and reminded me of one of the best decisions I have forgive and let it go.

This was our book club choice for the month and I think all of us could have talked about this book for hours.  Unfortunately, we had to go back to the reality of motherhood.  But, each one of us commented on how much this book affected us emotionally.  I don't think I have ever highlighted so many passages in one book.  Picoult has an expertise in telling a story with life quotes and lessons that you want to remember forever. 

Without a doubt, pick up this novel at your local library or bookstore and set aside a day or two to read it.  The story will linger with you for days and it may even change you.


Thursday, May 23, 2013

Join Me in the Four Week Study of Philippians

A blog I frequently read, Mom's Toolbox, decided to offer a four-week Bible Study.  The study will look at one chapter of the Book of Philippians each week.  I decided it was time to really get back into the habit of reading and studying God's word and what better time than the summer to get into it.  Each week, you read one chapter of Philippians and then reflect, if you choose to, using the SOAP method.  Learn more about that method HERE.  You can reflect by commenting on her site or by posting your own thoughts.  I will be posting mine here each Monday.  I hope you'll join in. To sign up or learn more about it, click HERE.

The schedule posted from Mom's Toolbox site:

Here’s the schedule:

  • Monday, May 20- Sunday, May 26- Read Philippians 1 and journal your thoughts, potentially using the SOAP devotional format
  • Monday, May 27- Post your thoughts from Philippians 1 on your own blog and/ or here on the weekly Philippians post on MomsToolbox and begin reading Philippians 2
  • Monday, June 3- Post your thoughts from Philippians 2 on your own blog and/ or here on the weekly Philippians post on MomsToolbox and begin reading Philippians 3
  • Monday, June 10- Post your thoughts from Philippians 3 on your own blog and/ or here on the weekly Philippians post on MomsToolbox and begin reading Philippians 4
  • Monday, June 17- Post your thoughts from Philippians 4 on your own blog and/ or here on the weekly Philippians post on MomsToolbox

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Book Review: Stories in Uniform

A Look at the Heroics, Sacrifices, and Triumphs of Our Soldiers

A Reader's Digest Publication

Published:  May 2, 2013

STORIES IN UNIFORM is a chronological retrospective of the best military pieces Reader's Digest has run; pieces that will make you weep, make your heart sing, inspire you, enrage you, and make you laugh. Beginning in World War I and continuing though to the war in Iraq, readers will follow soldiers into the trenches, peer in on emergency surgery taking place in the depths of the ocean, watch heroes carry the bodies of fallen brethren, trail Eisenhower for the three days leading up to  D-Day, and be inspired as men and women rise above and beyond normal human limits to preserve our rights and save  their friends.

I was offered the opportunity to read and review this book.  As the daughter of a Korean War vet, I was honored to be able to read and share these stories with you.  As I turned the pages, I tried to imagine my dad in situations like these.  I wondered what he was thinking as he fought for his life and for the lives of many others.  Did he worry about his family back home and how did he cope as he dreamed of seeing them again?

Beginning with WWI, I started reading the stories of amazing heroism, friendship, devotion, and camaraderie.  Many times my eyes filled with tears.  After reading many novels of historical fiction set among the different wars, I had to remind myself these were true stories of real men and women and their bravery.  

One of my favorite stories was "No Medals for Joe" from WWII.  Joe worked tirelessly to save his fellow men.  He was a Navy shipyard worker and was shocked when he saw overhead, Japanese planes setting loose a pandemonium that will forever remain in the history of our nation.  After the firestorm, destruction was all around him.  He was ordered to the ship, Oklahoma, to save trapped men.  After hours of drilling, cutting, chiseling, and eventually crawling through, he was able to save 32 men by carrying each one out on his back.  After receiving a Navy citation, it was then stolen along with his suitcase.  Many unsuccessful attempts later he never received his medal but didn't finally get a copy of his citation.  But, more importantly, he was able to meet three of the men he saved just months before he died in a Navy reunion.  That was all the medal he needed.

My other favorite story came from the Korean War, 1000 Men and a Baby.  It was the story of a blue-eyed baby left behind on a Korean street.  The baby, taken to an orphanage, would never survive being half-American.  Finally, thanks to a American Chaplain, the baby "George" was sent to live on the USS Point Cruz and was raised by 1000 Navy men who changed his diapers, bottle fed him and cooed over him for months.  "George" was eventually adopted by an American surgeon who had also met him at the orphanage and "George" became Daniel and grew up in America.  In 1993, Daniel was able to be reunited with many of the men who cared for him and essentially saved his life.

As you can see, this book is full of heartwarming stories that will remind you of all the sacrifices our men and women are making every single day.  We can't forget all those who served in the years past and those who are serving to protect us now.  This book is one small way to honor them and inspire us.    

If you would like to read about how I was able to help my dad get his medals, click HERE.

Thanks to FSB Associates for sending a copy of this book for review.  This review is my honest opinion. I was not compensated in any other way for this review.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Book Review: Sweet Salt Air By Barbara Delinsky


By: Barbara Delinsky

To Be Published:  June 18, 2013

Charlotte and Nicole were once the best of friends, spending summers together in Nicole's coastal island house off of Maine. But many years, and many secrets, have kept the women apart. A successful travel writer, single Charlotte lives on the road, while Nicole, a food blogger, keeps house in Philadelphia with her surgeon-husband, Julian. When Nicole is commissioned to write a book about island food, she invites her old friend Charlotte back to Quinnipeague, for a final summer, to help. Outgoing and passionate, Charlotte has a gift for talking to people and making friends, and Nicole could use her expertise for interviews with locals. Missing a genuine connection, Charlotte agrees.
But what both women don't know is that they are each holding something back that may change their lives forever. For Nicole, what comes to light could destroy her marriage, but it could also save her husband. For Charlotte, the truth could cost her Nicole’s friendship, but could also free her to love again. And her chance may lie with a reclusive local man, with a heart to soothe and troubles of his own.

My book club gals and I were lucky enough to win copies of SWEET SALT AIR thanks to Reading Group Guides.  This book will be available from your favorite book seller on June 18, and would make an excellent summer beach read.  We read it during the month of April and had an excellent discussion around the book.  Even though the book was predictable and a bit "soap operaish" we all still liked it.

The story of Nicole and Charlotte and their two separate secrets draw you in but what kept me turning the pages was the rich details around the food, the herbs, and the scenery.  I've never liked clam chowder, but after reading this book I feel like I could eat bowls of it.  

All of us felt the story was a bit repetitive...telling the same scenario over and over again. But in each of those scenes were true and raw emotions that made the characters real to each of us.  The pressures on Nicole, Charlotte, Julian and Leo were very different, but equally heart-breaking.  Throughout the pages, you were rooting for them and crying with them.  I think the most emotional section for me had to do with this conversation:

"A baby isn't a downside"
"It is if you grow it for nine months and feel it move inside you, then watch it being born and hold it in your arms and love it even when it's covered with blood, and just when you're thinking you can't give it up, a nurse takes it away and you know you'll never see it ever again -"

This is why I am a fan of Barbara Delinsky.  Her writing hits at those deep emotions that the reader can relate to.

MS (multiple sclerosis) makes an appearance in this novel and unfortunately my own family has been touched by this disease as well as many others that I know.  I found Delinsky's research in this area and the direction she took this disease in the novel fascinating.  I did wonder though, why she didn't incorporate the healing of medicinal herbs (that were such a main focus in the novel) into the healing of MS.  But at 400+ pages, I suppose something had to be left out.  I certainly enjoyed reading about the healing power of different flowers and herbs either through their scent alone or through their use in recipes.  

With Nicole being a food blogger, I found myself nodding my head while she was up late blogging, or finding that her blogging was truly her therapy.  I find that to be true myself.  I think it was a neat way to bring Charlotte and Nicole together after all these years - in the creation of her cookbook. With both of them being writers in very different ways, they were still able to use their talents together to create the cookbook.  I found myself salivating over the food and wanting the recipes.  Maybe Delinsky needs to publish a Sweet Salt Air cookbook full of the food described in the book.

All three of us really liked the cover of the book and the title.  We felt like we could feel the breeze and smell the air while reading it.  Delinsky's descriptions of the area, the people and the homes on the island made all of us want to visit.  

Overall, this book is full of emotion, triumphs, tragedies, love and friendship.  All are excellent qualities in a good summer read and one that should be read with your girlfriends.  Warning: Reading it will make you hungry for Clam Chowder!

Barbara Delinsky has written twenty NY Times bestselling novels with over thirty million copies in print. Her books are highly emotional, character-driven studies of marriage, parenthood, sibling rivalry, and friendship. Barbara’s newest novel, SWEET SALT AIR, is a June 18, 2013 St. Martin's Press release. 

Her first foray into non-fiction occurred in October 2001 with the publication of UPLIFT: SECRETS FROM THE SISTERHOOD OF BREAST CANCER SURVIVORS. UPLIFT is a handbook of practical tips and upbeat anecdotes that she compiled with the help of 350 breast cancer survivors, their families and friends. A breast cancer survivor herself, Barbara has donated the entirety of her author proceeds from three editions of UPLIFT to fund the first six years of a fellowship at Massachusetts General Hospital that will train a surgical oncologist in research. A new Tenth Anniversary Edition of UPLIFT went on sale September 27, 2011.

Barbara lives with her family in New England.

For more on Barbara Delinsky, "Like" her Facebook page, HERE or visit her website,

Thanks to Reading Group Guides for sending us copies of SWEET SALT AIR.  This review is my honest opinion.  Neither I nor our book club was compensated in any other way for this review.  

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Too Busy to Write

The last few weeks have been especially busy and I don't see a slow down in my future.  We ended track season and are moving right into baseball season this week.  At least this year the boys are on the same team.  I spent last week substitute teaching and will finish my school year tomorrow (hopefully). The kids have just two weeks of school left with many of those days full of field trips, talent shows, and a spelling bee, which means my days are full too.  Our nights will be busy with baseball games and hopefully getting some flowers planted which I have yet to do.

I still want to get some summer planning figured out....chore assignments for the kids, fun stuff planned, book reading incentives, vacation chosen and planned, and getting our home ready to house our niece for a month.

Then I have this huge stack of books staring at me every night when I go to bed.  I have so many books I need to review, but lately finding time to read seems to come at the bottom of my To Do list.

The books I am most excited about reading and reviewing in the coming weeks are:





Stay tuned for my thoughts on each of these books and several others.  

My life is full and I wouldn't have it any other way.  Our children keep me smiling and keep me running, and I am trying to savor each of these milestones.  As we are attending numerous graduation celebrations this weekend, the reoccurring theme I am hearing from the moms is that these years go by so me....I am figuring that out the hard way.

Have a wonderful week and savor each moment!

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Recipe: Chocolate Cherry Coke Cake

I have been wanting to try this cake for awhile and decided that Mother's Day was the perfect day for it. It is super simple, starting with a chocolate cake mix.  This cake is extremely moist and full of cherry chocolate flavor.

Serves 12-15
1 Box Chocolate Cake Mix
1 Cup Coca-Cola
1/3 Cup Vegetable Oil
1/4 Cup Maraschino Cherry Juice
3 Large Eggs

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Spray a 13x9 inch pan with nonstick baking spray.
With your mixer, combine cake mix, Coca-Cola, oil, cherry juice, and eggs.  Beat at low speed until dry ingredients are moistened.  Then beat at medium speed for 2 minutes.  Scrape sides of bowl as needed.  Pour into pan. Bake for 25-30 minutes or until a wooden pick inserted in the center comes out clean.  Cook completely.

1/2 Cup Butter, Softened
3 Cups Powdered Sugar
5 Tablespoons Coca-Cola

In a large bowl, beat butter at medium speed until creamy.  Add sugar and Coca-Cola, beating until smooth.  Spread over the cooled cake.  

Garnish each piece with cherries.

Frankly, I thought the frosting was too sweet.  So, next time I think I will just frost it either with regular chocolate frosting or with Cool Whip.  But, the cake was delicious and everyone in the family just loved it.  I would definitely make it again.  This recipe is adapted from Semi-Homemade Magazine.

Friday, May 10, 2013

Reagan's Fairy Garden

I have been wanting to make a Fairy Garden for some time and with Reagan being 8, I thought she was old enough to help and be responsible for it.  We went shopping for the items together and then I helped her build it.

Most all of our items were purchased at Earl May.  They have an excellent supply of Fairy Garden items.  Amazon also has a number of Fairy Garden items HERE.  I decided to make our Fairy Garden in a pot so that we can bring it inside over the winter and not have to start completely over each year.  We chose a nice big round pot and first layered it with pebbles for drainage and then potting soil.

I let Reagan chose all the pieces for the Fairy Garden.  We placed more of the pebbles underneath the patio set to give it a little more support.  

Earl May has a whole section of "Itty Bitties" or small plants perfect for Fairy Gardens.  We used marbles for the path and the pond which we got in the craft section of Walmart.  We also got some alyssum in both purple and white to put around the bird bath.  Then in Earl May's succulent section we got a Hen and Chicks.  We just used the Chicks to place along the path.  Finally, a bag of moss from Earl May gives it that perfect pillowy touch.

Earl May has a number of Fairy Houses to pick from.  Each has an opening in the back where you could place a battery operated candle to give it a soft glow.  

Our garden is located right out front in our flower bed.  It does need a regular spritzing of water for the moss and water for the plants.  We haven't gone through our first rain storm yet, but hoping it is protected enough by the steps and house that it won't damage the arrangement too much. 

The total cost of the Fairy Garden was about $125, but next year all we will need to replace will be the plants.  We are certainly hopeful that a Fairy will stop by soon for a picnic! 

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Book Review: Mom's the Word: The Wit, Wisdom, and Wonder of Motherhood by Allen Klein

The Wit, Wisdom and Wonder of Motherhood

By: Allen Klein

Published: June 6, 2013

Heartwarming and humorous, this tribute to moms of the world gathers the best things anyone ever said about motherhood. From Dolly Parton to Dear Abby, women (and a few men) crack wise on the subject of the center of every family, Mommy dearest!  Mom’s the Word celebrates all motherhood with wise and witty words from the famous (Oprah Winfrey: "Mothers are really the true spiritual leaders.") and the funny (Erma Bombeck: "In general, my children refuse to eat anything that hasn't danced on television."). Also included are thoughts that are meaningful (Jewish proverb: "God could not be everywhere and therefore he made mothers.") and memorable (Nora Ephron: "If pregnancy were a book, they would cut the last two chapters.").

In honor of Mothers everywhere this weekend, I wanted to share a delightful little book with you.  Even though it doesn't come out for a few weeks yet, you can always preorder it and have it shipped right to your mom and surprise her.

This book will make moms and kids feel appreciated and loved.  It will make you laugh and make you cry.  There are stories that will warm your heart and quotes that you will want to remember forever. There is even a section devoted to mothers-to-be.  What a perfect way to celebrate a new mom in your life, but sharing this book with her.  Even Grandmas would love thinking back on their motherhood days.

With a whole section devoted to Mother's Day, one that I found particularly familiar was:

The Mother's Day Muddle By Bruce Lansky
1. Your children serve you breakfast in bed on Mother's Day
2. They also spill coffee, burn the toast and wreck your kitchen.
3. You spend all afternoon cleaning up.

This book is a wonderful way to celebrate all the moms in your life.  Remember to thank them this weekend for their patience, devotion, and love.

To purchase this book, click the photo below:

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Book Review and Author Meet and Greet: Ordinary Grace By William Kent Krueger


By: William Kent Krueger

Published: March 26, 2013

From New York Times bestselling author William Kent Krueger comes a brilliant new novel about a young man, a small town, and murder in the summer of 1961.

New Bremen, Minnesota, 1961. The Twins were playing their debut season, ice-cold root beers were at the ready at Halderson’s Drug Store soda counter, and Hot Stuff comic books were a mainstay on every barbershop magazine rack. It was a time of innocence and hope for a country with a new, young president. But for thirteen-year-old Frank Drum it was a summer in which death assumed many forms.

When tragedy unexpectedly comes to call on his family, which includes his Methodist minister father, his passionate, artistic mother, Juilliard-bound older sister, and wise-beyond-his years kid brother, Frank finds himself thrust into an adult world full of secrets, lies, adultery, and betrayal.

On the surface, ORDINARY GRACE is the story of the murder of a beautiful young woman, a beloved daughter and sister. At heart, it’s the story of what that tragedy does to a boy, his family, and ultimately the fabric of the small town in which he lives. Told from Frank’s perspective forty years after that fateful summer, it is a moving account of a boy standing at the door of his young manhood, trying to understand a world that seems to be falling apart around him. It is an unforgettable novel about discovering the terrible price of wisdom and the enduring grace of God.

I was anxious to read ORDINARY GRACE as there had already been many wonderful reviews for it.  I met Krueger in 2008 and even though I haven't read his Cork O'Conner series, I was still a big fan of his.  I'm not typically a mystery reader, but I just may have to try out that series after hearing him talk about it again. To read about my chat with him in 2008, click HERE. He was a delight then and stardom hasn't changed him one bit.  He was still charming, witty, and modest.  

ORDINARY GRACE is a bit historical fiction and a bit mystery.  Even though murders are happening in this small Minnesota town, the novel still leaves you feeling good about family, friends and having faith.  I read this book in a day and a half after hearing that Krueger was again coming back to our area.  I couldn't pass up the chance to see him again.  But, I think I would have read it quickly regardless.  The book worked its way into my mind and heart.  While reading in between loads of laundry, I couldn't stop thinking about Frank and Jake.  As the mom of 2 boys at the same age as these boys, it made me wonder about how my own boys would have handled such circumstances in the book.  Jake is a stutterer and this also make Jake reside close to my heart.  

William Kent Krueger reading from ORDINARY GRACE
There were numerous twists and turns in this story and just when I thought I had it all figured out, a new angle was brought into the story and left me rethinking all that had happened.  Krueger truly has a gift for storytelling in a way that brings your heart and your head into it.  When reading a book, I'm always looking for the way the title is brought into the story and I loved the subtle way he worked it in.  Krueger fits it in when you least expect it and makes the least expected person shine as the hero of the story.  

When tragedy strikes, many of us feel we can't go on,  that our life is over, but I think Krueger said it best in this novel:

"We keep doing what we always do and someday it'll feel right again." Pg 196  

"I thought if a man who'd lost everything could still see the beauty in a sunset then sooner or later things would look up for Jake and me and our family." Pg 198 

I really fell in love with this story and have thought about it many times after finishing it a week ago.  I am quite confident this will be a top book of 2013.

William Kent Krueger and me
William Kent Krueger, or Kent as he allowed us to call him, stated the story idea for ORDINARY GRACE came to him about 5 years ago.  He was looking for a way to join his spiritual journey and his writing journey  together.  The story for ORDINARY GRACE is partly based on his own summer that he was 13.  He wanted to be able to draw up some of those memories and dig deeper into his spiritual journey.  He spent 3 years working on ORDINARY GRACE, much of it listening to music from the 60's to get into the spirit of the novel.  Kent truly feels this is the best thing he has ever written.  

Kent is best known for his Cork O'Conner series featuring a detective in the Northwoods (Northern Minnesota).  His 13th in the series, TAMARACK COUNTY, comes out August 20, 2013. For more on William Kent Krueger, visit his website HERE or "Like" him on Facebook HERE. If you get an opportunity to see him speak in your area, I highly recommend it!

To purchase a copy of ORDINARY GRACE, click the photo below:

You can also see all of William Kent Krueger's books HERE.

Thanks to the publisher for sending a copy of this book for the purpose of this review. This review is my honest opinion. If you choose to purchase this book through the above link, I may receive a small commission without you having to pay a cent more for your purchase. Thanks for supporting 

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Prom Thoughts

This is my mom at her senior prom in 1956.  Even though it isn't very clear, it is still one of my favorite photos.  There are so many parts of this photo that are classic 1950's: the microphone, the dress, the backdrop, her glasses.  I truly wish I would have grown up in that decade or just to be able to transport myself back to that time for a just a bit.

With all the proms going on this spring, it caused me to bring this photo out at one of our family events and show it off.  Mom had just turned 17 and was the only girl in her senior class of 5.  Yes, she went to a very small school and luckily there were girls in other grades so she wasn't always outnumbered.  My mom graduated shortly after prom, went on to be married to my dad that summer and then just a year later lost her mom (my grandma) to cancer.  But, what mom remembers most about this photo is how she was so excited to have this dress, but it was originally strapless.  My mom told how her parents were in no way going to allow her out of their house in a strapless dress.  So, my grandma, took some of the tulle from underneath my mom's dress and made sleeves so that she was "covered".

In looking at prom photos over the last few weeks, I noticed that the modesty from the 1950's has gone by the wayside.  I saw many beautiful gowns with beading and sequins.  Many in bright colors, some long, and some short.  But, I also saw many that could have used a little more...ahem......coverage.  I am certainly glad I wasn't shopping for my daughter this year as I think it would have been very difficult to find a dress I would have deemed appropriate.  I am hoping over the next 8+ years the dresses go back to a little more modest styling.  And when that time comes, I am going to remember the actions of my grandma and make sure our daughter looks as beautiful as my mom did nearly 60 years ago.

Monday, May 6, 2013

Book Review: The Happiness Handbook By Jenn Flaa

A User's Manual for Living Your Extraordinary Life

By: Jenn Flaa

Published: May 10, 2012

We arrive on this planet naked and without operating instructions. We live our lives and learn from trial and error (lots of errors) what works, what doesn't work, what makes us happy and what pisses us off.

Each new person that comes into our lives gets no user's manual and has to figure us out the hard way. But what if we changed the rules? What if we wrote our own user's manual, The Happiness Handbook, about what makes us tick and gave it to the people we love most?

Imagine how that would change our interactions and our lives. People would begin to do what makes us happy and ... we would be happy! If someone received our Happiness Handbook and chose not to follow it, well then, we could choose not to hang out with them more quickly.
The Happiness Handbook is about empowering the reader to discover their own unique ways of being that lead to unlocking their full potential and becomes their guide for leading the extraordinary life they were born to fulfill.

The Happiness Handbook is written in a warm, friendly and informal tone; as if a girl friend were guiding the reader through their process of self discovery. Peppered with humbling, humorous anecdotes and stories; the reader has a practical, seasoned guide and partner in crime as they work the exercises and use the tools to move from unhappy to happy!

I am reviewing THE HAPPINESS HANDBOOK as part of the Virtual Author Book Tour.  When I read about it, I knew this would be a book that would fit into my focus of being happy, worrying less and letting the anger go.  Even though this book is a quick read, it does encourage a lot of thought, reflection and journaling.  So, it certainly isn't something you should rush through if you want to get the full benefit of its material.

Flaa starts off by telling the reader that there are 3 Steps to Happiness:  

  1. Deciding what makes you happy
  2. Communicating that to others
  3. Doing your "Happy Dance"
By taking each of the steps, Flaa walks you through your own process of finding out what makes you happy and then how to respond when others do things that make you happy.  It sounds so simple, really, but after reading and writing my way through the book, I found myself having several "AHA" moments. For example, actually naming the things the make you happy and thanking the giver immediately...when someone does something like empty the dishwasher without being asked....that makes my heart happy....and it is important for me to show that happiness.  By saying, "Thanks! Emptying the dishwasher without me having to ask you makes me so happy!"  By doing that, you are much more likely to have it given to you again and again!

This book has several pages for you to journal your own personal happiness.  With pages devoted to your needs, wants and your favorites, you can truly think about what makes you do your own personal "Happy Dance" and then focus on how to get more of those things into your daily life.  I know for me, it was just helpful to answer some of those questions, like my favorite wine, favorite flower, favorite dessert, etc.  Then once you have gotten your journal pages complete, it is your job to make sure those people in your life know what will truly make you happy. As someone who LOVES giving gifts, I would love to have one of these for each of the people I give gifts to.  Being able to give a loved one a gift that is something that truly makes them happy is what I strive for every time I shop for gifts.  You can also refer back to these pages when you need a reminder of all the things that make you a gorgeous sunset, a baby's giggle, or watching a favorite movie...and then making the time to find or do those things.    

If you are struggling with a loss of a job, a relationship or have lost someone you love and are trying to work happiness back into your life, this is an excellent book to help you place the focus on the positive.  One idea the book gave was a vision board/collage.  I have found that taping photos of my family, as well as favorite verses and quotes, to my bathroom mirror helps me stay positive.  

If you are trying to get your happiness back, find a new happiness, or just want to focus more on the positive side of life, this is a great book to get you back on track.

Jenn Flaa is a serial entrepreneur with deep roots in technology and a passion for music. Jenn merges creativity and tech with fun and energy. After starting her career as an engineer at NASA and a stint in Silicon Valley as a Quality Assurance Manager, Jenn started her first of four companies.  Vettanna provides high tech resources and communications training on-camera. Not content to use one side of her brain, Jenn is also the rock vocalist and song writer for the band Urban Fiction, the author of THE HAPPINESS HANDBOOK and the Better Boyfriend blog. Check out her website HERE. Jenn Flaa can also be found on Twitter HERE and Facebook HERE.
To see more sites on the Blog Tour for THE HAPPINESS HANDBOOK, click HERE.
To purchase THE HAPPINESS HANDBOOK, click the photo below:

Thanks to Teddy at the Virtual Author Book Tour for sending a copy of this book to me.  I was not compensated in any other way for this review.  This review is my honest opinion.  

Sunday, May 5, 2013


I've been a tad absent here on the blog lately.  It isn't that I haven't wanted to be here.  I have PLENTY of things to be writing about, but my focus has had to be elsewhere.  Even though I love to blog, that has to take a back seat to many other things in life.

You see, I am a mom, a wife, a daughter, a sister, an aunt, a volunteer, and an employee.  All of these duties have taken over the last few weeks.  I'm still reading and have plenty of reviews to come, but just no time to write them.

So, you will have to understand, that if I am absent here for days at a time, please know that it means I am busy being a mom or any of my other duties and will be back just as soon as I can.

You can give me an "excused absence" right?

Coming up very soon on the blog:
Book Review for THE HAPPINESS HANDBOOK by Jenn Flaa
Book Review for SWEET SALT AIR by Barbara Delinsky
Book Review and Author Chat with William Kent Krueger, author of ORDINARY GRACE
A look at our new fairy garden
Thoughts on Prom
and, of course, Things I Love and Inspiration to get you through your crazy day.