Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Book Review: Wild By Cheryl Strayed

From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail

By:  Cheryl Strayed

Published:  March 20, 2012

Wild is a memoir that tells how Cheryl Strayed tried to overcome first her mother's death and the distancing of her siblings, and then her divorce.  By chance she spies a book on hiking the Pacific Crest Trail.  After some thought, she decides to hike the trail, with no previous hiking experience ever.  The trail extends from California all the way to Washington State and without even a shred of an idea of what she was undertaking she starts off with "Monster" her pack, so heavy she can't put it on without sitting down with support, and begins an adventure to find herself and heal the wounds that were so severely marked on her soul.

I had heard and seen much about this book, but never thought that it would be my type of book.  Even though I am very fond of memoirs, I was a bit afraid that this would be like the book, EAT PRAY LOVE.  But, the more I saw and read about the book, the more interested I became.  This was our book club choice for this month and I am so glad I had the opportunity to read it.

The beginning of the book was a little slow for me as she recounted her childhood and struggles with poverty and with her siblings.  Since I am familiar with the Minnesota Northwoods, I did enjoy her descriptions of growing up there and their simple lifestyle.  The cycle of drugs/sex/more drugs got old fast and her poor me attitude was frustrating.  She wasn't the first to lose her mother and get divorced and the world didn't stop because of it. The Pacific Crest Trail was just what she needed.

Once Cheryl begins the Pacific Crest Trail, the more interested I became in the story.  I was rooting for her every step of the way.  As she lost each toe nail...I cringed.  I was prodding her along even when the normal person would have given up, like when she was using duct tape to keep her sandals together and getting by with just twenty cents until her next stop.  While she walked through the groceries stores dreaming of drinking a Snapple Lemonade or eating a bag of chips it reminded me of all that we all take for granted and how easy it is to get whatever we want.  If I'm hungry for pizza I order it, if I want chocolate, I go to the cupboard and grab a candy bar.  Her boxes of goodies waiting at the next checkpoint became her lifeline and reason for moving forward.

As she finished the trail, I wept and cheered at the same time.  I was disappointed because she skips right ahead to the present.  I would have liked to known more about her recovery from the trail, including how her body healed, how it was to be sleeping in bed again, eating the food she dreamed about, and mostly being in the city where it is loud and busy.

I was hoping for a few photos inserted in the book along the way.  She carried her camera along for the whole trip and I would have loved to see documentation of the hike and the scenery.

Ultimately, we follow along as Cheryl intimately lets us in on her feelings and we witness her letting go of her anger and allowing herself to forgive.  Being willing to forgive and let go can really be the ultimate healer, but a life changing one thousand plus mile trek across the wilderness can do the trick as well.  Watching her process her mother's death, her loss of contact with her family, her divorce and her loss of herself will lead you to take note of your own failings in life and maybe even come to grips with some of them.  I'm thrilled she was able to share her journey with us.

Cheryl Strayed

Cheryl Strayed is the author of the critically acclaimed novel TORCH.  She has had stories and essays published in numerous magazines.  She is also the author of TINY BEAUTIFUL THINGS: Advice on Love and Life from Dear Sugar. She lives in Portland, Oregon.  For more, visit Cheryl Strayed at http://www.cherylstrayed.com/.  Follow her on Twitter, HERE and "Like" her on Facebook, HERE.

Cheryl offers her thoughts on the book and shares photos that I wish had been in the book, check out this YouTube video:

Monday, June 24, 2013

A Little Monday Inspiration

Remember the feeling you get from a good run is far better than the feeling you get from sitting around wishing you were running.
Sarah Condor, runner

Even if you aren't a runner, I'm certainly not....yet.  This can apply to you for many things.  Even if you don't like to workout, a good workout feels better than wishing you had.  Even if you have been putting off a major task like cleaning out your closet, completing it feels so much better than wishing you had.

It is so easy to say, I will do it later....tomorrow...on Monday.....next week....next year....on my next birthday.

Just think...next Monday you will be glad that you did it TODAY!

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Why I Read

I am often asked, how do I find time to read? How do I read so much?  I wanted to share with you why I read and have always read books, why I started reviewing books, and why I am still finding the time to do it.

A few of my favorite books growing up
I have always been a reader.  I was the only child at home growing up since my sisters were so much older than me.  There is only so much you can do as a kid at home by yourself.  Reading was the natural choice.  We always had plenty of books at home and I made lots of trips to the library as well.  I continued reading through my teenage years and into early adulthood.  For awhile, I was into reading every Danielle Steel book that came out.
Some more of my favorites

Then once I was married and started having children, my reading changed a bit.  I started reading to our children.  Even as infants, every night we would rock and I would read books to them.  We had our favorites and we would throw in a new one every once in a while.  That became our routine.  Reading to the kids and rocking them and then ending by singing songs to them until they were asleep.  Just thinking of those days warms my heart.  It was my favorite time of the day.  Soon my husband and I knew the books by heart and the kids did too.  Patrick surprised us by reading at age 4.  We thought he was just memorizing the words on the page and so we gave him a book he had never read, and sure enough he was reading.  Reagan also was an early reader at age 4.  Bennett had more trouble with reading but once he got the hang of it, he sped right on ahead.
Some of the ones we read over and over again to the kids.
As the kids have gone through school, they have continued with their love of reading and so have I.  I wanted them to see me reading and model that behavior of "always having a book". When we go for a long drive, I'm sure they kids would say that I holler, "Grab your book." If they aren't going to look out the window anyway, I would much rather than have their head in a book.

Through their years in elementary school, we have come to realize that Spelling seems to come easy to them.  Either Patrick or Bennett has won their Spelling Bee at school for the last 5 years.  Now they are off to the middle school and it will be Reagan's job to carry on the title. Reagan even won her first classroom spelling bee this year.  I absolutely attribute this to reading.  When you are reading old and new words, they start to stick in your brain and spelling just comes easy.  Of course, my husband would say it is also hereditary (he was a champion speller as well).  But, reading books will surely set you up for success in comprehension, grammar, spelling, and composition.  You can't go wrong being a reader.

Bennett after winning the 5th/6th grade Spelling Bee this year.
A few years ago when I realized there were places I could post reviews of books, I became excited.  I have always loved telling people about the books I read, and now I could do it on a bigger scale.  I already had a blog started and found that I could actually post reviews there and then publishers started sending me books, and the rest is history.

I recently was contacted about having a quote from one of my reviews used in an NY Times ad.  They stated that due to space issues, they likely wouldn't be able to give me the credit for the quote by using my name.  At first, I was miffed, but then when I took a moment to really think about the reason behind why I review books, it didn't matter.  My reviews are also being printed in our Sunday newspaper and no, I don't get paid...yet. I don't review books for the notoriety.  I review them to share my love of reading and encourage others to read.  If my review or my quote, helps someone decide that they would also want to read this book, then my job is done.  It isn't about whether I was quoted, paid, or praised.  It was that someone bought or checked out a book, opened it, and started reading.
NY Times ad for SWEET SALT AIR
Mine is the top left quote.
So, why do I read....I read because I love to read, I read because it is important to me, I read because I want our children to be readers, I read because it works my brain, and I read because through a book you can live your dream, find yourself, laugh and/or cry...all in the same book.  It passes the time and stops all time.  You can read anywhere at any time.  All you need is a book.  There is so much to learn, see and do....in the pages of a book.

I hope that you after you have read one my reviews, you stopped by the bookstore or your local library and picked up that book and read it.  We may not have felt the same way about it, and that is what is so fabulous about books.  We don't all have to agree on how we felt about the book.  We just have to agree on a love of reading! I hope that you are sharing your love of reading with someone today.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Book Review: The House at the End of Hope Street By Menna van Praag


By:  Menna van Praag

Published:  April 4, 2013

The house on Hope Street in Cambridge, England, is a magical house where women have gone for centuries.  They go there to escape, for advice and to find hope for their future.  Of those who have stayed in the house, you will find many well-known literary figures who continue to offer advice through their portraits.  You see, this isn't an ordinary house, it is a magical house.  One that the average person can't see.  Just those who need the house. In this story, Alba, Greer, and Carmen come for healing and hopefully, new beginnings.  Through their story, those of many others will also be told.  

What initially drew me to this novel was the cover.  I love the colors and the whimsical feel it gave to the story.  But, I wasn't sure I was going to fall in love with the idea of talking portraits, a house no one but the residents could see, and long-dead ghosts talking to the living.  Even though this isn't usually my type of book, I was quickly drawn in to the characters and their struggles that brought them to the house in the first place.

The author is very careful in her storytelling, not giving too much away too early, so that you are eager to keep reading and find out what is going to happen next.  Alba, Greer, and Carmen all have different "ghosts" to heal and each one is revealed in their own way and their own time.  Peggy, the landlord, is the one who continues to encourage the women in their stay at the house.  After just 99 days, the women must leave - forcing them to focus on planning their next step rather than hiding out in their room.  Even though Peggy has lived in the house for years, she too must come to grips with her own past and how to move forward.

My favorite lesson from the book came from the portrait of Daphne du Maurier, the author of the famous novel, REBECCA.  Her lesson to Alba was quite fitting for all of us:

" There is no going back in life. No return. No second chance. When you waste your days, they are wasted forever. So be honest about the things you really want, and do them, no matter how fearful you might be." Page 90

There are many issues in this book that would make it an excellent book club choice and there are questions available as well.  Some of the topics that you could discuss include family relationships, domestic violence, love, mental illness, forgiveness, and magic.

Aside from the magic of the house, Alba also has special abilities that include seeing colors that express the true emotions of those who she is interacting with.  This was also very interesting and gave me a new perspective into how I express myself with my body language and imagining the colors that would be floating around me.

Even though this book is magical, there is very much that is real.  The emotions and problems the women in the story are facing, the lessons given and received, and the loved that is shared will all stir up your own feelings of anger, sadness, and hope.  After reading this book, you may even wish you had a House on Hope Street in your neighborhood that you could run to.  But, even if you don't, remember that what ever it is that you think is the worst that could ever happen, you may just find it was the best thing that has ever happened to you.  

Menna van Praag, author of The House at the End of Hope Street, is a freelance writer, journalist and Oxford graduate. She is also the author of Men, Money and Chocolate, an international success, already translated into twenty-six languages. She lives in Cambridge, England, with her husband and son. 

For more on Menna Van Praag, visit her website, HERE.

Like Menna Van Praag on Facebook, HERE.

Follow Menna Van Praag on Twitter, HERE.

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

Monday, June 17, 2013

My Thoughts on Philippians Chapter 4

I'm joining up with MOMS TOOLBOX for a Four Week Study of Philippians.  Today, I am sharing my thoughts for Week 4 - Chapter 4.  For more on the study of Philippians and to read other thoughts, check out MOMS TOOLBOX.

My thoughts from Chapter 1 can be found HERE

My thoughts from Chapter 2 can be found HERE

My thoughts from Chapter 3 can be found HERE.

Chapter 4 is Paul's final appeal for us to know Jesus Christ even more.  Six out of the just 23 verses in Chapter 4 held so much meaning for me it was hard to narrow it down.  But, from those verses, I am reminded to be Thankful and be Content, and He will meet all my needs.  What a blessing that is!

S - Scripture
Philippians 4:6 NIV
Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.

O - Observation
Nothing can be done without God.  Without him life is chaotic, distressful, and without peace.  He is waiting for us to turn to Him with our worries, our hopes, our dreams, and our successes.  He will listen and give peace.

A - Application
There is no doubt this verse screamed at me with red flashing lights.  I have ALWAYS been a worrier, but lately, I have been more anxious about even little things.  I keeps me up at night, it turns my stomach, and adds unneeded stress to my already busy life.  I KNOW I need to go to Him in prayer and I do....sometimes, but other times (most times) my worry and anxiety consumes my mind and heart and I can't focus on anything else.  This verse was just the reminder I needed to hear and in going to him, I will be able to Let Go and Let God....wait....wasn't that my theme for this year????

P - Prayer
Dear God,
I know I am to go to you with my worries, my hopes, and my fears, but instead I let them fester and get bottled up inside me.  I want to think that I can handle things on my own but this reminded me today that it isn't possible.  If I truly want peace, calm, and contentment to enter my mind and heart, I need to remember to turn to you in prayer.  Thank you for that reminder today and thank you for loving me, even with all my faults.

Thanks to MOMS TOOLBOX for offering this great Bible Study and helping me get back into the Word!  If you are just stopping by, take out your Bible today and read the short, but full Book of Philippians.  You will be richly blessed by Paul's words.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Getting My Dishes Super Clean with Cascade Platinum

I participated in a campaign on behalf of Mom Central Consulting for Cascade. I received a product sample to facilitate my review and a promotional item as a thank you for participating.

It has only been about ten years since I have had a dishwasher.  I remember that first time I actually loaded our dishes in the dishwasher and hit the start button.  I was giddy.  It was such a treat to not have to was the dishes two or three times a day.

When I first started out with a dishwasher I wasn't sure what was the best brand/type to use.  I tried gels and powders, generic and brand name versions.  But, from the beginning the only brand I have found to be the best and have used for years is CASCADE.  I have pretty much always used the powder detergent.  But, at times, it has left residue on my dishes and sometimes even left a clump of detergent behind in the dishwasher.


Through this opportunity, I was able to test CASCADE Platinum and tell you my thoughts.  I love the less messy aspect of just dropping a pack into the reservoir of the dishwasher.  No mess, no measuring, no over flow.  The promo states that CASCADE Platinum Pacs will give your dishes an ultimate clean.  It will scrub away tough 24-hour stuck on food and prevent residue on your dishes and film on the inside of 
your dishwasher. 

Cascade Platinum Pac
Dirty Dishes

I made a point to have some of my toughest food to clean off of my dishes including dried pancake batter, dried spaghetti sauce, and peanut butter. I didn't pre-wash or rinse any of the dishes beforehand.

I dropped in a pac and let CASCADE do the work.  

Clean Dishes

Every dish was sparkling clean after using a normal cycle on the dishwasher.  Nothing had to be set aside to rewash by hand and the glass dishes sparkled with absolutely no filmy residue.  I also really like the ease of using the Pacs.

I think I have become a new convert of the CASCADE Platinum Pacs.  There are so simple to use and do an excellent job of cleaning the dishes. At my most recent visit to Target, I spotted these CASCADE Platinum Pacs on the shelves:

From these photos you can see that purchasing the Platinum Pacs might be a bit more expensive than using the regular powder dishwasher detergent, but for less hassle, the price is worth it to me.  I have really been loving just dropping in the pac and hitting start! No measuring, no spilling, and no mess left behind on my dishes or the dishwasher!

In light of the social media craze and Instagram, people are sharing their love of food in new, creative ways.  People are sharing their favorite foods, recipes, and restaurant dishes on blogs, facebook, twitter, pinterest and instagram.  Many are trying new recipes and sharing photos with their friends.  Plating has become a new buzzword relating to how you present your food.  

Cascade has partnered with Gail Simmons, Top Chef Judge and editor of Food+Wine Magazine to share why having clean and sparkling dishes in your food presentations are just as important as your food preparations.  

You can find other videos by clicking HERE.  You can also "Like" CASCADE on Facebook, HERE.

CASCADE is offering a "My Platinum" Four-Week Instagram contest encouraging you to upload photos related to the weekly contest themes.  Be sure to visit the contest page for information on how to submit images and for all the contest rules by clicking HERE.  Each week, two contestants will be selected to receive a brand new Whirlpool dishwasher from the submitted photos with the #MyPlatinum hashtag and tag of @MyCascade and one lucky grand prize winner of this contest will receive a $10,000 KitchenAid kitchen makeover!  Each week will have a 6-day entry period where Instagram users can enter the contest with their #MyPlatinum photo.

  • Week 1: My Platinum Plate (6/3-6/9) - Best dish styled from the sparkling plate up!
  • Week 2: My Platinum Bite (6/10-6/16) - Best bite and most creative use of sparkling silverware!
  • Week 3: My Platinum Clink (6/17-6/23) - How you serve up creative concoctions in sparkling glasses!
  • Week 4: My Platinum Table (6/24-6/30) - Sparkling tablescape for your most special celebrations.

Thanks to Mom Central and Cascade for providing me with Cascade Platinum Pacs to sample.  This review is my honest opinion. I was not compensated in any other way for this review.  

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Children's Book Review: Nalah and the Pink Tiger By Anne Sawyer-Aitch


Author and Illustrator: 
Anne Sawyer-Aitch

Published:  March 5 2013

NALAH AND THE PINK TIGER is the story of a little girl and her great imagination.  Her imagination involves numerous animals that live in her home and cause chaos leading her to get into trouble.  Then a pink tiger follows here home from the zoo and the other animals are not too happy.

I received this book as part of the PUMP UP YOUR BOOK Publicity Tour.  To visit other stops on the book tour, click HERE.

Since I lead Storytime at our local library, children's books are always part of my book search. I am always looking for unique books that I can share that are also fun to read aloud and get the kids interested.  NALAH AND THE PINK TIGER is just that kind of book.  There are even coloring pages and crafts available on the website to go along with the book!

As you can tell from the cover photo and from this page, the illustrations are bright and colorful. This is key to getting the child's attention right away.  The pictures are also fun and the antics of the animals in the story will easily bring out the giggles.

I also like how a unique animal, like a emu, is used in the story.  This allows the opportunity to teach the child about a new animal.  

Nalah has a vibrant and wild imagination.  She finds all kinds of ways to explain messes, disruptions, and mishaps that happen in her life by blaming them on the animals.  This book will encourage the child in your life to have a vivid imagination. After reading this story, I bet your child will want to have a pig living in their bathroom too! 

Anne Sawyer-Aitch

Anne Sawyer-Aitch is a puppeteer and stilt-walker.  She creates puppet pieces of all kinds: parade floats, giant stilt puppets, and intricate color shadow shows.  She is a Minnesota State Arts Board Roster Artist, which means she teaches puppetry all over the state and has a lot of talented friends with strange skill sets.  She lives in Minneapolis with her computer genius husband and a pack of imaginary dogs.  NALAH AND THE PINK TIGER is her first book.

To learn more about NALAH AND THE PINK TIGER, check out http://nalahandthepinktiger.com/.  You can also find Anne on Facebook, HERE.  There is also an iPad app for NALAH AND THE PINK TIGER,  available HERE.

This book was provided to me for free from PUMP UP YOUR BOOK for the purpose of this review.  This review in my honest opinion.  I was not compensated in any other way for this review. 

Monday, June 10, 2013

My Thoughts On Philippians Chapter 3

I'm joining up with MOMS TOOLBOX for a Four Week Study of Philippians.  Today, I am sharing my thoughts for Week 2 - Chapter 2.  For more on the study of Philippians and to read other thoughts, check out MOMS TOOLBOX.

My thoughts from Chapter 1 can be found HERE

My thoughts from Chapter 2 can be found HERE

Paul's desire to know Christ and share His message becomes stronger in this chapter.  He wants to press on even more diligently in winning the prize, which is a life with Jesus. At just 21 verses, the message is clear that your destiny can either be destruction or glory, and it is your choice.

S - Scripture
Philippians 3:14 NIV
I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.

Philippians 3:13-14 The Message
By no means do I count myself an expert in all of this, but I've got my eye on the goal, where God is beckoning us onward - to Jesus. I'm off and running, and I'm not turning back.

O - Observation
Both of these versions tell me that I can't take my eyes off of my one main goal - to know Christ.  He already knows me.  He knew me before I was born. He knows each of the hairs on my head. He knows my mistakes, my faults, and my heart.  Now it is my job to know Him.

A - Application
By being in the Word more, I will begin to have a more personal relationship with Christ.  I need to make time for more conversational prayer time and more applying His Word to our life.  This is the only way I can attain the goal of knowing Him.

P - Prayer
Dear God, I am so grateful that you know me and my family.  I know that I have many distractions and I need to be stronger in avoiding them and making time for you.  Please help me follow Paul's example and guidance so that I can listen to your voice calling me to spend a moment with you.

Monday, June 3, 2013

My Thoughts On Philippians Chapter 2

I'm joining up with MOMS TOOLBOX for a Four Week Study of Philippians.  Today, I am sharing my thoughts for Week 2 - Chapter 2.  For more on the study of Philippians and to read other thoughts, check out MOMS TOOLBOX.

My thoughts from Chapter 1 can be found HERE.

Again, another 30 verses that are so full of lessons.  There were several I could have focused on, but again, from a parenting perspective, the following are the verses that stood out to me.  This time I chose to use version from The Message Bible.

Philippians 2:14-16 The Message
Do everything readily and cheerfully - no bickering, no second-guessing allowed! Go out into the world uncorrupted, a breath of fresh air in this squalid and polluted society. Provide people with a glimpse of good living and of the living God. Carry the light-giving Message into the night so I'll have good cause to be proud of you on the day that Christ returns. You'll be living proof that I didn't go to all this work for nothing.

Daily we are met with societal pressures that lead us away from our faith and our values.  TV Shows, commercials, friends, family, etc can all encourage us to turn away from God.  We need to stand out from all of that and be leaders. 

These verses remind me to stand my ground, especially with our children.  They don't always like that they are different.  Their other friends may not have "rules" or "expectations" but we do and we expect them to lead by example and stand tall, readily and cheerfully.  We expect them to be bold and stand up for "the right thing" when necessary.  And, as teenagers, that can be a tough choice.  By modeling this behavior myself and encouraging, praising, and teaching our children to be the light in this polluted society, there will be praise and living proof that it was all worth it!  What a day that will be!

Dear God,
Thank you for our children who continue to believe in your Word and know that everything you say is TRUE.  We know there will be temptations ahead for all of us, but reminding us through your Word that we can face them and transform ourselves into a witness of your love is such a powerful thing, Lord.  Thank you for your unconditional love and grace and may the lessons I learned today stay with me in times of trial and temptation.