Tag Archives: books

Tales from My Christmas List

I hate buying gifts just to buy them.

I like when gifts have a meaning and a purpose.  I like when they fit the personality of the receiver.  I love when their potential impact is so much more than a casual glance on Christmas morning during the rush of wrapping paper ripping.

Dear Hubby and I braved the mall on Saturday and found some good deals on clothes for the kids on our list.  But my real shopping success came on Sunday when I found the neatest site EVER online.


I officially swear by it for finding unique gifts.  It’s like having your own personal shopper pointing you in all the right directions.  And much to my delight, many of the shops practice green giving with tons of recycled and handmade gifts that are as beautiful as they are functional.

So what did I get?

My Top 2011 Picks

  • Through Heifer International, my kids will learn that not all gifts are created equally.  If you have expendable cash–even a teeny bit–or your annual gift giving has hit a wall and you find yourself buying simply to buy, please consider this fabulous organization which strives to educate, not just donate.  The money we would typically spend on my extended family will go toward the purchase of animals.  Thanks, Mom, for this great idea.
  • National Geographic Magazine.  Whether you are an itty bitty or a moldy oldy, you can appreciate the beautiful pictures and the enlightening stories found within the covers of a variety of National Geographic choices.  And it’s cheap.  Seriously.  A year subscription to one of the most gorgeous and educational magazines out there is $15.   And you can order online. 
  • Step Into Reading books for beginners.  These amazing books cater to any literary taste and reading ability.  Nonfic is hugely popular with boys (sharks, bugs, whales, dinos) while the classic Biscuit books and Amelia Bedelia are great choices for girls.  And the best thing?  When you shop at Barnes and Noble, you can quickly add a Step Into Reading book to your purchase which then gets donated to local children in need.  How cool is that?  During the buying frenzy, you won’t even notice the missing $3.00, yet the child receiving a brand new book of their own will be eternally thankful for your generosity.
  • Teen Pics are a bit trickier, but I’ll share my purchases with you.  Both my big kids are rounding out trilogies this season or starting new ones based on beloved authors.  Dear Daughter: Beautiful Chaos by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl, as well as Silence by Becca Fitzpatrick.  Eldest: The Dragon Heir by Cinda Williams Chima.  Next up for him, the first novel in the Seven Realms series, also by Chima.
  • And if I haven’t mentioned it enough, Want to Go Private by Sarah Darer Littman is the must have book for teens this season.  If you’ve never heard of it, check out my #WTGV tab for reviews and your chance to win a free copy.  Think it’s only for girls?  Think again.  I’ve had several boy readers tell me this was a great book and that everyone should read it.  “Everyone,” was the recommendation from a non-reader who just got snookered into it because I bug him so much about reading.  He finished it in three days.
  • Discovery Channel dot com is AWESOME for educational toys that challenge little brains while keeping them so busy they don’t realize they are learning.  Lots o’ great gifts were found there for the nieces and nephews.   Additionally, puzzles are known for their role in honing fine motor manipulation and practicing preliteracy skills.  Melissa and Doug (brand of nicely crafted wooden toys) make fabulous puzzles for tiny fingers while places like Discovery Channel and National Geographic have amazing educational puzzles for expanding minds.
  • Lastly, JC Penney’s online turned out to be a rockin’ place for finding unheard of deals.  For the little Rembrandt in the family, we found a fully loaded art desk for a fraction of the price.

Another online site I found, I liked, but didn’t buy from was Build A Dream Playhouse.  This ground floor business (started by a daddy and his posse of tiny testers) provides unique cardboard creations for hours of imaginative play.  Castles, snack shops, vehicles and more are all a click away.

All in all, I’m much more satisfied this year with our Christmas purchases than I usually am.

How goes your Christmas battle?  Are you finished or just getting started with your shopping?    Please share any fun, unique sites with the rest of us, as well as any gift buying tips you may have for those less jolly about commercialized Christmas giving.


Get Off Your Soap Box: Literacy

I have a few soap box issues.  Namely child welfare and literacy.  Now, child welfare is a pretty big soap box and can include things like food, shelter and literacy, which means I very likely have stacked my soap boxes on top of each other.  Not a good thing if I ever need to climb down.

Which is exactly what I’m doing this week.  I am finally getting off my soap box and doing something about the things I believe in.


This could be my biggest soap box issue and likely stems from Eldest’s struggles with dyslexia.  It could also be from watching adults settle into a life of poverty and crime because they never reached their potential due to their own struggles with reading.  Or, it’s possible that my desire for a literate world is due to the fact that I’m a writer and firmly believe that everyone deserves the pleasure of escaping into a good book.

Regardless of why, I have a big literacy soap box.

 A Few Horrifying Facts

  • Libraries recycle their books that they unshelve or that don’t sell at book sale fundraisers.  Last year, my local library recycled three pallets of books.  Recycled, not recirculated.  As in trashed.  Never to be read again.  Wasted.
  • Books are expensive.  Yeah, I know.  Even discounted books cost more money than some people have.  In some ways, reading is a luxury.  A rich person’s hobby.  Don’t believe me?  Consider this choice: feed your kids or buy a book?  How about this one: pay rent or buy a book?  Read a book or take a shower?  Jeans or words?
  • Go to the library, you say?  Well, a lot of families living pay check to pay check work when the library is open.  And when they are not working, they are raising children–which includes grocery shopping, cooking, cleaning and homework.  Not to mention, not all towns have libraries.  And not all people have reliable transportation.  And public transit costs money.
  • Illiteracy is symptomatic and genetic.  Okay, not 100% true, but if Mom doesn’t read and there are no books in the house, what are the chances that Junior will read?  If Dad is functionally illiterate and can’t read a bedtime story to Junior, there is no positive behavior for Junior to model.  Literacy, or the lack thereof, is a vicious cycle.
  • Poverty and crime are linked to literacy levels.  Pages of statistics support this.  I would like pagest of statistics to celebrate the success of communities sharing literacy, instead.

I could go on and on, but I won’t.  Because I’m getting off my soap box.  Right now.  I’ve finally put my brains to good use and said, “Self, who has the least access to books?”

To which I answered, “People who can’t afford them.”

And where will I most likely find people who can’t afford to read?  At the food shelf.  If you can’t buy milk, you sure as heck can’t buy a book.

So, how did I get off my soap box?  I spoke with the director of our local food shelf about putting a bookshelf in their building.  I have a gorgeous oak bookcase that has nowhere to reside in my home.  It will look stunning filled with free books.

Additionally, I have boxes of books in my basement that I’ll never read again.  Hardcover and paper back alike.  Romance, mystery, thrillers, poetry, memoirs, westerns, YAs, middle grade, adult…all just sitting there in darkness.  Over the next few months, I will cull them and rebox them to take to the food shelf.  When people come in, they can add some brain food to their bags.

I’ve also talked with our librarian.  After our annual book sale, the remaining, gently-used books will also grace the shelves in the food shelf.  If–if–our food shelf can relocate to a spot big enough to house these books.  But that’s a whole ‘nother soap box and one I’ll be looking into.  If the food shelf fails to be a viable option due to financial/space issues, I have an alternative in mind.

So, dear readers, is literacy a soap box issue for you?  If so, how do you actively address this need?  Share your tips with other like-minded folks.  If you haven’t considered being actively involved until now, what ideas do you have to get off your soap box and make a difference? 

What do you think of the food shelf literacy program?  If you’re willing to contact all the right people and get one started in your area, give us a shout out in the comments.  We’d love to cheer you on!

My challenge for the week: if you are passionate about something, don’t just talk about it.  Get off your soap box and do something.


Hodge Podge

I turned 40 on Monday, watched my two godson’s, went school shopping for my own four children, picked up Eldest Son’s senior picture proofs (now that made me feel my full 40 years) and am packing and cleaning for the Holiday weekend. 

I’m guessing next week’s blog will be sporadic at best, as our kids start school on Tuesday, I have a meeting on Wednesday, football starts Thursday and I’m flying out to visit my Big Sister for my birthday present.  (Thanks you, incredibly awesome Dear Hubby!)

Also, my computer has been acting its age–who knew it wouldn’t make it out of toddlerhood?!?!?–and throwing temper tantrums.  Needless to say, I’ve been reading more than writing lately.

So what have I read:

POSSESSION by Elana Johnson: great, dystopian YA

GERMS, GENES AND CIVILIZATION: don’t ask.  My Big Sister ordered it on Kindle and since we share accounts I ran across this monster of a science book…and got hooked.  Who knew the ologies could be so fun?

Pete Morin’s short stories: UNEASY LIVING.  Run, don’t walk to find this anthology.  I love his wit and charm and the way his stories really make me think. 

Also just finished THE DARK AND HOLLOW PLACES, another YA, though this is the third in Carrie Ryan’s trilogy.  Lovely writing, though a bit of a downer before you get the pick-me-up at the end.  But, of course, you say.  It’s a post apocalyptic novel…

Next on the list: THE PRAIRIE GRASS MURDERS by Patricia Stoltey.

And that’s a wrap. 

Hugs to all!

Memorial Recap

This weekend was bitter sweet. 

We headed up north for our annual get-together with my DH’s family.  The littles water skied, swam, had bonfires and played with their cousins.  We big people relaxed, reminisced and had a great time.

I read three books.  Great books.  Incredible books.  I guess that’s what bad weather for one of the days and eight hours in the car can do.  I’ll try to recap those for you later.  I also picked up a few books on my TBR list for me my big kids, thanks to the reviews from some of my blog buddies.  

In addition, we celebrated DH’s 40th birthday.  Not surprisingly, he had a golf theme.  We ate a Titleist Pro V golf ball cake, shared stories (please, God, don’t let my children share his childhood adventures) and sang Happy Birthday twice.  All in all, a sweet weekend.

The bitter part occurred far from our vacation, yet too close to home.  Our little town was the unfortunate site of one of Minneosta’s holiday weekend fatalities. 

Sadly, three children in Eldest’s grade were directly and significantly affected.  My heart and prayers go out to these children and their families. 

I would also like to honor our victims of war.  May they always be remembered for their bravery, courage, loyalty and patriotism.  I do not take their gift of blood lightly and embrace the freedoms they have given me.  My world is a better place for their sacrifices.

For those soldiers still on foreign soil, thank you for your willingness to fight for the freedom of others.  May you return home safely to those who love you. 

God Bless~ cat

For the Love of Books

Last night, youngest got a new pair of shoes.  Once he got them tied he refused to take them off.  Play time ended: he had them on.  Snack: yep, still wearing them.  Teeth brushed: check.  Jammies:???

Last night youngest went to bed in his undies, socks and tennies–because he refused to take off his shoes and they didn’t fit through his jammie legs. 

There is something so tenacious and unconditional about a child’s love.  They instantly find something to cling to and then refuse to let go. 

Do you find yourself instantly drawn to a book, where the first sentence rocks your world so much you can’t take your shoes off?

As a busy adult, do you still find those books so magical that you forget the world around you until the last page is read?

Or, are you more responsible or embarrassed by such antics as reading yourself silly?

I used to have a girlfriend who would read one page a night.  One page.  I don’t know if this is humanly possible for me.  In book reading, I’m kind of an all or nothing gal.  If I can ration out a book, then it means I’m lukewarm about it. 

How do you fit reading time into your life?  Does reading ever compete with your writing?  And win?  Have you ever defended your reading time by calling it research–whether it was or wasn’t?

What book are waiting to get your hands on now?

Book Reports and Baked Bread

When I was a kid, book reports were dull, lifeless regurgitations of novels.  They lacked all creativity and excitement.  Yet how could they be anything different when we simply filled out the same dumb form for every book? 

The English teacher in my kids’ school comes up with amazing book report ideas.  Once, Eldest made a movie poster for his latest Artemis Fowl read.  Arnold Schwarzenegger played Butler.  His Book in a Bag sported snippets of all the pertinent information from Inkheart along with lively illustrations.  DD’s book jacket gave 19 Minutes a whole new look. 

Even their timelines on non-fiction are no longer the straight and boring lines with dashes slashed across the page to denote significant events.  Run Baby Run careens across DD’s poster from immigration to the mean streets to church spires.  The background is a dark sketch of a concrete jungle opening to lightness for the end of the book.  Nicky Cruze’s life was not easy.

I love how this makes kids really consider the words they read.  It connects ideas and vibrant pictures with the written word and allows them to express the impact a novel has on them.  These book reports are no longer summaries, formatted to bore children to tears.  Instead, they create a physical and intellectual connection with the reader and the novel.

They are a visual reminder that we all experience things differently.  Which, of course, is the beauty of literature.

Another book that has as many interpretations as there are readers is the Bible.  Tomorrow is DD’s confirmation, where she will stand before the church and declare her intent to walk in her faith.  I’m proud of her.  Not for memorizing Bible passages or her ability to recite the Lord’s Prayer.  Rather, I’m proud of her because she taken information, her experiences and created her faith.

I will never know exactly what that means to her.  Just as I will never know what it means to my DH, my MIL or my next door neighbor.  Faith and spirituality are sacred to everyone in their own ways.  We all believe, or disbelieve, for a reason.  There are no right answers.  There are only life experiences, hope, love, happiness and the search for personal meaning.

Today I am baking bread for DD’s celebration.  It is something I love to do.  I thoroughly enjoy shaping the bread into edible reminders of an event.  For Valentine’s Day I made hearts.  Today, I shall twist and mold the dough into crosses, hearts and doves. 

Faith, love and hope.

They symbolize my interptretation of the Bible.  They are the words that form the poem for my DD.  They are my wish for her as she steps forward tomorrow and declares the journey of her life.

If I were a teacher, I would take book reports to a whole new level.  I would ask my students to make a food that symbolizes the essense of the story. 

Think of your favorite book.  What shape would your bread take in this delicious version of a book report?

Books In Review

I haven’t done much writing lately–okay, virtually none at all–but I have been reading.  I’m in between manuscripts and have a heavy edit to do on one.  This is the time I like to read.  And read I have.  I’ll highlight a few of my recent favorites.  Please check out the links for in-depth summaries or more info.

Currently, I am reading Jodi Picoult’s The Pact.   I started yesterday and could barely put it down last night before bed.  When I finally fell asleep, the characters haunted my dreams.  If you haven’t read Miss Picoult, I highly recommend you do.  Her books are amazing.  As I am not finished yet, I can’t give you a full run-down, but I will say this: the characters are fully fleshed out, each with their own gripping story, voice and reactions to the devestating events.  In a nutshell, it is a story of two families twined together over eighteen years and how the unresolved death of one of the children blows them apart. 

Beautiful Creatures is a YA paranormal romance that differs from many of the other books on the shelf in this genre.  It is a love story like no other, with a male protagonist, a grisly future and an impossible mystery that needs to be solved and resolved.  I really enjoyed the social aspect of this book regarding the repurcussions of stepping outside the box in high school.  Small towns, small minds, ancient history and a plethora of paranormal characters combine to create a satisfying read.

If you’re in the mood for some light reading, turn to Never After, a Kindle anthology of fractured fairy tales.  I read this book between some of my others, savoring each new story and delighting in the lyrical romps found within.  Like all fairy tales, love is the central theme.  What’s different?  The non-traditional telling of them.  The only drawback of this book: there weren’t enough stories.  I could have read a dozen more.

Michael Crichton’s posthumous Pirate Latitudes: A Novel delivered everything you would expect and more.  I love how Mr. Crichton weaves fact and fiction together.  Whenever I finish one of his novels, I am always left wondering just how much is real.  Especially neat for me was that this book took place in the Caribbean, my newest vacation spot, so I could really feel the setting.  It also made me want to go back and dig for the treasure I am sure is still there…

Another YA that caught my attention and held it to the very end was The Maze RunnerLike many of the newer books in this genre, it encompassed a dystopian world, children fighting for their survival and their race against time and authority.  The setting of this novel was unique, the premise unsettling.  If you choose to read this book by James Dashner, strap on your tennies: you’re in for a fast paced adventure.

Serial is an ebook I don’t outright recommend to just anyone.  It is gritty and dirty in the classic sense of a horror novel.  Written by two experienced authors in the horror genre, this collaboration between Jack Kilborn and Blake Crouch was the buzz in the writing community for a while.  This three part novella is unique in every way.  For the first two sections, each author wrote from the POV of their character.  The final section was a tit for tat–writing that took place over the net with each author responding to the other and no insight into how they were thinking–as if the drama was unfolding in real time.  If you can stomach some murder and mayhem, it is well worth the read. 

And lastly, Neil Gaiman’s The Graveyard Book, a MG/YA tells the story of an orphan living with the dead.  Raised from toddlerhood to adulthood by ghostly creatures, the MC struggles to make sense of his life in regard to the real world.  Unique, satisfying and provacative (as in thought provoking, not sexual), this PG novel is a great book to share with boys.  Particularly upper middle graders reluctant to read. 

What books do you think should grace the night stands of your fellow readers?  Tell us about your recent reads and why they should be ours.