Saturday, March 30, 2013

Sunday Salon - March 31

Happy Easter to those of you who celebrate it! We're having dinner today for my family. It will be a much shorter drive for my sister than previous family dinners - she moved this weekend to a house that, if you make the light, is only about a minute away from me driveway-to-driveway.

Here's What I'm:

Listening To: I'm still listening to Louise Erdrich's The Plague of Doves and enjoying it a lot for my driving book. On Pandora, I've moved to classical music this week - Bach, Handel, Corelli. Very soothing.

Watching: We watched "Flight" with Denzel Washington and "Argo" with Ben Affleck this week and would give both of them two thumbs up. Excellent performances by both actors.

Reading: I'll be racing to finish Amanda Coplin's The Orchardist today. I hate that I'm having to race through it; it's such a good book and I would love to be able to draw it out longer. I'm going to start The Windup Bird Chronicle by Haruki Murakami this week as part of an April readalong, hosted Ti of Book Chatter. I'll also start Sarah Vowell's The Wordy Shipmates which is the Omaha Bookworms April selection.

Making: I tell you, I have been incredibly lazy when it came to meal time this week. I did make a chocolate cake but that's about it.

Planning: On getting back to Project: Things That Feed My Soul. Once again, going through other people's stuff (and still working on finding homes for all of the things we've inherited from The Big Guy's mom) has me thinking about what things are important to me...and what things are weighing me down.

Grateful for: For having such great kids. All three of them cleared their schedules yesterday to help with the move. I'm not surprised, because family is so important to all three of them. Still, at their ages, there are a lot of distractions in life and they all worked hard and put in a full day.

Loving: Seeing my sister move into her dream house. She and her husband have worked so hard and often struggled. It's wonderful to see them so happy.

Thinking: I'm glad my daughter had to learn CPR in lifesaving class. She had to use her training to save a customer this week who had a piece of food stuck in her throat.

Looking forward to: Okay, this week I really am hoping to get back to a "normal" life. I think, I really do think, that there is nothing exceptional to look forward to this week. Which is a good thing. What are you looking forward to this week?

Friday, March 29, 2013

Fairy Tale Fridays - A Challenge


"Thursday, March 21st begins the seventh annual Once Upon a Time Challenge. This is a reading and viewing event that encompasses four broad categories: Fairy Tale, Folklore, Fantasy and Mythology, including the seemingly countless sub-genres and blending of genres that fall within this spectrum. The challenge continues through Friday, June 21st and allows for very minor (1 book only) participation as well as more immersion depending on your reading/viewing whims."

Carl, of Stainless Steel Droppings, is once again hosting the Once Upon A Time challenge. Last spring I joined the fun, thinking this would be a cake walk for someone with an interest in fairy tales and mythology. Dang, people, I struggled to add that reading to the reading commitments I'd already made. But this year, by golly, I'm going to make it. Carl prefers not to think of this as a challenge, and I'm all for that (you know how I struggle with challenge!); instead, he prefers to think of the levels as Quests. This year, I'm planning on doing the Short Story Quest and Quest on Screen. I think this is just the thing to help me get my reading mojo back!

Won't you consider joining in the fun?

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Cat Thursday

Cat Thursday is hosted by Michelle of The True Book Addict 

It's a good thing we have the cutest cats in the world after the allergic reaction I had to them on Saturday. But how could I ever get rid of them? Look! They're spooning! 


Tuesday, March 26, 2013

All Things In Common - Terezin

Last November I read and reviewed Alyson Richman's The Lost Wife. While I didn't love it as much as some other reviewers, I did appreciate, that it taught me something new about World War II.
Richman managed to bring something new to my understanding of what happened to the Jews during this horrible time by putting Lenka's family in Terezin. By putting Lenka and her mother into work assignments that allowed them interaction with the artwork done at Terezin, she allowed me to learn not only about the artwork the Jews were forced to do for the Nazis but about the way the Jews used artwork as a means of rebellion.
Here was this part of World War II that I had never heard of and didn't know for sure was real until I did some research.
Art really was used as a way to rebel and the children really did create artwork. After the war, over 4000 works of art created by the children and hidden by their teacher, Friedl Dicker-Brandeis, were discovered.

One of the works of art discovered after the war was painted by Milena Deimlovd, a cousin of Madeleine Albright. In Prague Winter, Albright devotes the better part of a chapter to Terezin as she explores the fate of her uncle, aunt and cousin. Of Terezin, Albright writes:
"Only the Nazis would think to improve their public image by establishing a concentration camp. Terezin was a prison disguised as a town. In addition to the post office, there was a coffeehouse with a band called the Ghetto Swingers, but the "coffee" was made from a blend of herbs and turnips. The one food consistently available was mustard. There were shops, but most of the merchandise had been confiscated from prisoners. The joke went round that Terezins boutiques were the world's finest, because only there could you buy a shirt that already had your own personal monogram."
At Terezin "The Nazis deprived inmates of their physical freedom but not of their capacity to think - and to do so about far more than the terrors of the situation." Prisoners exchanged ideas, produced musical programs, and insured that their stories would reach the outside world through artwork smuggled out.

It astonishes me that, despite a severe shortage of food, terrible overcrowding, an utter lack of hygiene, and the constant fear of death, so many of the people who passed through Terezin managed to hold onto their humanity and to summon up a strength most of us cannot begin to imagine.

Monday, March 25, 2013

The Enchantress of Florence by Salman Rushdie

The Enchantress of Florence by Salman Rushdie
Published May 2008 by Random House Publishing Group
Source: Bought this one in an airport bookstore then bought the audio at the library book sale

Publisher's Summary:
A tall, yellow-haired young European traveller calling himself “Mogor dell’Amore,” the Mughal of Love, arrives at the court of the real Grand Mughal, the Emperor Akbar, with a tale to tell that begins to obsess the whole imperial capital. The stranger claims to be the child of a lost Mughal princess, the youngest sister of Akbar’s grandfather Babar: Qara Köz, ‘Lady Black Eyes’, a great beauty believed to possess powers of enchantment and sorcery, who is taken captive first by an Uzbeg warlord, then by the Shah of Persia, and finally becomes the lover of a certain Argalia, a Florentine soldier of fortune, commander of the armies of the Ottoman Sultan. When Argalia returns home with his Mughal mistress the city is mesmerised by her presence, and much trouble ensues.

The Enchantress of Florence is a love story and a mystery – the story of a woman attempting to command her own destiny in a man’s world. It brings together two cities that barely know each other – the hedonistic Mughal capital, in which the brilliant emperor wrestles daily with questions of belief, desire and the treachery of sons, and the equally sensual Florentine world of powerful courtesans, humanist philosophy and inhuman torture, where Argalia’s boyhood friend ‘il Machia’ – Niccolò Machiavelli – is learning, the hard way, about the true brutality of power. These two worlds, so far apart, turn out to be uncannily alike, and the enchantments of women hold sway over them both.

But is Mogor’s story true? And if so, then what happened to the lost princess? And if he’s a liar, must he die?  

My Thoughts:
I know it's an overused phrase but I think the fact that I bought this one twice proves the point is valid: I really wanted to love this book. Rushdie is so respected, I've always enjoyed listening to him speak, and this book sounds so interesting.

If you follow me on Twitter, or remember my comments on Sunday Salons, you'll already know that I didn't love this book. It was just so darn much work. So many characters who appear for only a paragraph or two, so many digressions, so much philosophy. I have nothing against philosophy in a book, really I don't, but when it completely stalls the action of a book, then I have a problem with it.

I have mixed feelings about having listened to this one rather than having read it. While the narration was very good, like Junot Diaz' The Brief Wonderous Life of Oscar Wao, the book was both enhanced by the listening experience and held back. If I'd been reading many of the names, I might well have gone through the entire book struggling to figure out how they should be pronounced but they were beautiful as narrated, for example. On the other hand, the first sentence of each chapter is also the name of the chapter; when narrated one right after another, it sounds rather silly. And, let's be honest, it can be hard to focus on a book you're listening to when you're also trying to do something else, like drive without running into anything. This book demands that you pay attention.

Did you catch the part in the summary where it mentioned sorcery? Yeah, that could have been part of my problem, too. I struggle with magic in books (although I've always, inexplicably, loved Isabel Allende). Oddly, I sometimes found myself thinking this book might have benefited from more, rather than less, magic.

I would have liked the chance to linger over descriptions and little gems ("from her perfect nose there emerged the faintest little ghost of a snore) and the opportunity to skim over sections that were taking me out of the story. Or, perhaps, when I was able to fully focus on these sections, I might have enjoyed them more.

While I didn't end up loving this one, I did find quite a lot about it to like, particularly after doing some research to find out how much of the story is based in fact (quite a lot of the characters were real people and many of the events actually happened). Still, I doubt it's one I would recommend despite Rushdie's amazing writing.
"-then the prison of silence was unlocked, and trumpets burst out, and cheers, and people were finally able to tell each other everything they had been obliged to keep unsaid for months on end. I love you. My mother is dead. Your soup tastes good. If you do not pay me the money you owe me I will break your arms at the elbows. My darling, I love you too. Everything."

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Sunday Salon - March 24

Happy first weekend of spring, although temps in the 20's and snow aren't really very encouraging signs that we'll soon be wearing pastels and shorts.

Here's What I'm:

Listening To: The Plague of Doves by Louise Erdrich. Yes, yes I am finally finished with The Enchantress of Florence. As much as I whined about it, I'm not sure I really realized how much work it had become until I stuck in the first disk of Plague and remembered what it was to enjoy listening to a book again.

Watching: Lordy me, I'm watching a lot of college basketball, cheering on the hometown Creighton Bluejays (both the men and women's teams made the tournaments) and the Husker women. I don't watch much basketball the rest of the season, but I do love to watch the tournament.

Reading: The Orchardist by Amanda Coplin. Just getting started with this one. I've been reading so slowly this month that Mystery March has been a complete bust, only one mystery book read. I'm not sure Mystery June has quite the same ring to it but that's just what may happen.

Making: A lot of guacamole and everything else I can think of using avocado in since they've been a great price in the store this week and we love them so. I highly recommend avocado in chicken salad!

Planning: Some spring spruce ups around the house - a little painting, some rearranging, and a lot of cleaning. It may not be warm enough to throw open the windows yet but I'm getting started anyway.

Grateful for: The sunrise I saw Friday. I'm telling you it was one of the most beautiful sunrises I've ever seen and a wonderful reminder that there is beauty in everyday.

Loving: Laughter with my family. Four of us got to go out Friday evening to celebrate some good health news The Big Guy had and we had so much fun together.

Thinking: The world is a very scary place. Listened to a retired detective talk about a book he wrote about a crime in Omaha that scared the sh*% out of me the other day. Little Pollyanna out here in the burbs - I know that there are very bad people out there but it still takes me by surprise any time I'm confronted by just how bad they can be.

Looking forward to: My sister is moving this week; she'll only be a few blocks away from me now. I'm, believe it or not, looking forward to helping her get moved into their new place.

What are you looking forward to this week?

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Bloggiesta Ole!

More like "Bloggiesta Oh my how did that sneak up on me?" I don't have much time for it this spring (I really must get everyone's taxes done today plus all of the student loan applications) but I have several things I'd either like to get done. I'll make myself a little list here and hope you'll keep me responsible for getting caught up on some things that have "piled up" in the past few months.

1. Read all posts in my reader.
2. Research a new reader (curse you, Google!).
3. Clean up my email.
4. Get back to using my blogging notebook. All updated
5. Write 4 posts.
6. Update my favorite books of 2013.
7. Set up a "loose" reading schedule for the spring.
8. Get "The Windup Chronicles" downloaded to my Nook for the upcoming readalong.
9. Clean up my blog roll.
10. 2 mini-challenges.

Are you joining the fun this weekend? If so, what's your number one goal for the weekend?

Mini-challenge #1:
Jenn, aka The Picky Girl has done the research for us regarding new feed readers. I must admit that I may be even more confused than I was to begin with. I didn't even know there were so many options! I think I'm leaning to either Bloglovin or Feedly but both have advantages and disadvantages. I really only just got around to using a lot of the features of Google Reader and I'm not ready to give some of them up. It does seem like Feedly is working to add some of those features for those of us looking to make a switch. But I like the look of Bloglovin better. What's a girl to do?? Maybe I'll just close my eyes, plug my ears and pretend I don't have to make a change? Or hope that Google hears our cries?

Mini-challenge #2
Jenn of Jenn's Bookshelves previously hosted a mini-challenge for organizing your books. I'm pretty surprised to find that I've never done this one, given how much I love to organize things. Perhaps I didn't have that many review books at the time she hosted this one. At any rate,  I now have a Google Doc spreadsheet to track my review books. I'm not sure that I'll be using all of her tips but I definitely needed a better way to track review books and I'm very excited to have it ready to go.

Friday, March 22, 2013

Spoken From The Heart by Laura Bush - Guest Review

Spoken from the Heart by Laura Bush
Published May 2010 by Scribner

Once again, my mom's come through with a great review - and just in the nick of time; I haven't been finishing many books lately!

Publisher's Summary:
With deft humor and a sharp eye, Laura Bush lifts the curtain on what really happens inside the White House, from presidential finances to the 175-year-old tradition of separate bedrooms for presidents and their wives to the antics of some White House guests and even a few members of Congress. She writes with honesty and eloquence about her family, her public triumphs, and her personal tribulations. Laura Bush's compassion, her sense of humor, her grace, and her uncommon willingness to bare her heart make this story revelatory, beautifully rendered, and unlike any other first lady's memoir ever written.  

Mama K's Thoughts:
I very much like to read biographies and autobiographies of women that have had an impact on the development of our country. It is not often one reads a biography or autobiography that shares history that matches your own life span and that you well remember and can identify with the characters and actions involved. Thus is the case of Laura Bush’s autobiography, SPOKEN FROM THE HEART.

Laura includes her entire life in this book. I found the first part of it not extremely interesting. In my opinion, there were too many details of things that were not relevant to her life and what she would become. I didn’t care who her parents ate Christmas dinner with, etc. Perhaps if I had been one of those characters, I might have changed my opinion and felt highly regarded to have been included.

The book (at least for me) became far more interesting when she met George Bush and her life became entwined with that family. Here she seemed to have omitted details that would have added more clarity (and perhaps truth) to the book. This is not to say her book was not truthful–just not full and complete with all of the facts. She seemed to gloss over these years, and in many ways, they were the formative years in what would become George W.’s life in the presidency.

As anyone would expect, Laura tended to put a shine on anything that George did, starting with his definite win of the election versus Al Gore. Most of us remember that as not being so shining or squeaky clean. But George is her husband–and I often felt she had written the book to glorify him.

There were several sections of the book that I enjoyed very much starting with the 9-11 attack and the events around that time frame. Details were made available that the general public did not know and I found extremely interesting. There are few people today who will not relate to this section and find it highly informative.

I also was amazed at how much Mrs. Bush did to elevate her husband’s presidency. I think this gives a very good first-hand look at the life of probably almost any of the current first ladies. She was passionate in her likes and worked extremely hard to make things happen that would enhance education and later the life of women in the disadvantaged countries. She had an open door to many of the world leaders and she used this wisely and correctly in order to be able to gain benefits both in education and in health. The First Lady was full of charm, wit, intelligence and abilities and she used them all very well.

Another section of the book that I very much enjoyed was the stories about Camp David. We hear of this all the time but few of us are privy to knowing what life is like there. She did a good job of making this a real place.

 Even though I thought the book was a bit too long and perhaps a bit too detailed, I enjoyed reading it. I did not always agree with her assessment of the President, but that was not necessary to find the book entertaining and educational. Laura writes well; perhaps she just needed a better editor with a bit sharper pencil to cut out minor parts.  

Thanks, Mom, for an honest and thoughtful review!

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Enchantments by Kathryn Harrison

Enchantments by Kathryn Harrison
Published February 2013 in paperback by Random House Trade Paperbacks
Source: the publisher and TLC Book Tours in exchange for this review

Publisher's Summary:
St. Petersburg, 1917. After Rasputin’s body is pulled from the icy waters of the Neva River, his eighteen-year-old daughter, Masha, is sent to live at the imperial palace with Tsar Nikolay and his family. Desperately hoping that Masha has inherited Rasputin’s healing powers, Tsarina Alexandra asks her to tend to her son, the headstrong prince Alyosha, who suffers from hemophilia. Soon after Masha arrives at the palace, the tsar is forced to abdicate, and the Bolsheviks place the royal family under house arrest. As Russia descends into civil war, Masha and Alyosha find solace in each other’s company. To escape the confinement of the palace, and to distract the prince from the pain she cannot heal, Masha tells him stories—some embellished and others entirely imagined—about Nikolay and Alexandra’s courtship, Rasputin’s exploits, and their wild and wonderful country, now on the brink of an irrevocable transformation. In the worlds of their imagination, the weak become strong, legend becomes fact, and a future that will never come to pass feels close at hand.

Grigori Rasputin

My Thoughts:
When I was young, I became fascinated with Russian history after reading a biography of Catherine The Great. Mini-me, likewise, became fascinated with Rasputin in high school, resulting in much discussion around our kitchen. Then, of course, there's the movie Anastasia which Miss H and I just rewatched recently. I'm not sure why I find the history of the Russian royalty so much more interesting than that of, say, English royalty, so you can imagine how excited I was to be offered this book for review.

Working with the known facts about Grigori Rasputin and the Romanov family, Harrison uses Masha's stories to weave together an intriguing fictional account of Rasputin and the last of the Russian Tsars. In fact, Harrison is helped by the fact that so little of the truth of this time and place is known; she is able to let her imagination run wild. The result is an interest historical work that had me looking to learn more and a lovely story the allowed me think of the Romanovs as real people.

For other reviews of Enchantments, check out the full tour; opinions are definitely varied. Kathryn Harrison is the author of the memoirs The Kiss and The Mother Knot. She has also written the novels Envy, The Seal Wife, The Binding Chair, Poison, Exposure, and Thicker Than Water; a travel memoir, The Road to Santiago; a biography, Saint Thérèse of Lisieux; and a collection of essays, Seeking Rapture. She lives in New York with her husband, the novelist Colin Harrison, and their children.

Thanks to TLC for including me on this tour. I'll definitely be picking up more works by Harrison...and looking for more books about Russian royalty.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Sunday Salon - March 17

Happy St. Patrick's Day! Are you celebrating today? The Big Guy has some Irish ancestry so we usually try to do something to observe that heritage on this day but we steer clear of bars most years. I'm planning on making Irish soda bread, we'll probably tip back a Guinness, but no corned beef and cabbage for us.

Here's What I'm:

Listening To: I've been going old school this week, listening to Tony Bennett, Andy Williams, and I'm continuing to love the Nat King Cole station on Pandora.

Watching: Friday night I watched "Valmont" starring Colin Firth then "Cruel Intentions" starring Ryan Phillipe and Reese Witherspoon. Both are based on Les Liaisons Dangereuses (1782) by Choderlos de Laclos. It was interesting to watch the more faithful adaptation immediately followed by the modern take on the story.

Reading: Reading's been tough the past few weeks. I'm almost finished with The Enchantress of Florence on audio and this week I'm reading Enchantments by Kathryn Harris for a TLC Book Tour. Hoping to get back into the swing of reading this week.

Making: Not a thing this past week but today I'm cooking some chicken thighs so I can cook for the week and then I'll start some steel cut oats.

Planning: A massive purge at my house. After being stunned by the amount of paper, photos, and "stuff" in my mother-in-law's apartment, I'm hell bent to further reduce the amount of stuff we have in our house and get it organized.

Grateful: To have such wonderful friends and family who have been a great support during these past few weeks.

Loving: All of the time I've spent this week going through old pictures.

Thinking: You never know people as well as you think you do and stressful situations bring out the best in some people and the worst in others.

Looking forward to: A normal week, getting my house back in order, and spring which is really and truly almost here.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

A Lesson In Secrets by Jacqueline Winspear

A Lesson In Secrets: A Maisie Dobbs Novel by Jacqueline Winspear
Published March 2012 by HarperCollins Publishers
Source: the publisher and TLC Book Tours

Publisher's Summary:
In the summer of 1932, Maisie Dobbs' career takes an exciting new turn when she accepts her first assignment for the British Secret Service. Posing as a junior lecturer, she is sent to a private college in Cambridge to monitor any activities "not in the interests of His Majesty's government." When the college's controversial pacifist founder and principal, Greville Liddicote, is murdered, Maisie is directed to stand back as Scotland Yard spearheads the investigation. She soon discovers, however, that the circumstances of Liddicote's death appear inextricably linked to the suspicious comings and goings of faculty and students under her surveillance. To unravel this web, Maisie must overcome a reluctant Secret Service, discover shameful hidden truths about Britain's conduct during the Great War, and face off against the rising powers of the the Nazi Party in Britain—all as the storm clouds of World War II gather on the horizon.

My Thoughts:
Last March I had the pleasure of reading both Elegy for Eddie and The Mapping of Love and Death as part of Maisie Dobbs month. With the idea that this March would be Mystery March at Lit and Life, I quickly said "yes" when offered the chance to read another Maisie Dobbs book.

As with the other two books, Winspear does a marvelous job of bringing the reader up to speed in the series without rehashing everything that's happened in the previous books. This being the book that came right
before, Elegy for Eddy, it was sometimes disconcerting with this one to take just that one step back in time. I continue to wonder, too, if I would find all of that "catching up" annoying if I were a regular reader of the books.

I've enjoyed getting to know Maisie and her companions through these books but I'm beginning to feel a little bit like Maisie is just too good to be true. Have you ever watched "CSI: Miami?" In it, all of the other people in the CSI unit work very hard collecting evidence and investigating crimes but only David Caruso's character seems able to solve the crimes. I feel that Maisie is headed down that path; in A Lesson In Secrets only Maisie is able to accurately foresee what will happen as the result of the rise of fascism she sees around her.

Still, I can't help but be fond of Maisie, an intelligent female character set in a time when women didn't have as many options, who is still to recovering from the emotional scars of her time as a World War I nurse, and who struggles to find her place as a person of means after growing up as a member of the household staff. A Lesson In Secrets is, like the other books in the series, a comfort read with smarts.

Plus, Winspear keeps me guessing and I love that I can't figure out whodunit. For more opinions about this book, check out the other reviews of Maisie Dobbs books on the tour.

To learn more about Jacqueline Winspear and her work, check out her website or like her on Facebook.

Jacqueline Winspear was born and raised in the county of Kent, England. Following higher education at the University of London’s Institute of Education, Jacqueline worked in academic publishing, in higher education, and in marketing communications in the UK. She emigrated to the United States in 1990, and while working in business and as a personal / professional coach, Jacqueline embarked upon a life-long dream to be a writer. She has won numerous awards for her work, including the Agatha, Alex, and Macavity awards for the first book in the series, Maisie Dobbs, which was also nominated for the Edgar Award for Best Novel and was a New York Times Notable Book. She now lives in California and is a regular visitor to the United Kingdom and Europe.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Sunday Salon - March 10

This week The Big Guy's mom passed away. We spent her last day sitting with her and the family and have spent the last two days planning funeral, cleaning out her apartment and helping each other heal. Today we're taking a mental break and catching up with life.

The Big Guy's mom and dad when they were still courting
Here's What I'm:

Listening To: My mother-in-law singing on DVD. Several years ago, she recorded/video'd herself singing songs she would like for her funeral. She hasn't been able to talk much with us in the past month so it was nice to hear her voice.

Watching: Basketball. Lots of basketball. We've watched the high school championships and both men's and women's college ball. The Shepp family loves its basketball; my brother-in-law coached for many years and it's always interesting to watch with him.

Reading: Almost nothing. Which feels so strange. I'm going to take a couple of hours today and curl up with a month. It will be just what I need to recharge my battery for the next few days. I'm starting (finally) my Maisie Dobbs book and I think it's going to be the perfect read for a distracted mind.

Making: Decisions. Who gets what, what to keep. My mother-in-law didn't have much and even so, there have already been some little tiffs. I don't know how families survive when more is at stake and there is less love.

Planning: A funeral that will be both what the original Mama Shepp wanted and what her kids need to help them find peace. She had made a lot of decisions ahead of time. I strongly urge all of you to do this and to keep it updated. So much easier for families at a time when making decisions is so difficult.

Grateful for: Thirty-three years with a woman who welcomed me into her family with open arms. She was a wonderful example of how to live your life.

Loving: All of the laughs we've had in the past couple of days. I cannot tell you how often I've laughed until I've cried.

Thinking: Spring cleaning cannot come soon enough to my house. I am more ready than ever to pitch and throw.

Looking forward to: Getting back to a normal life. The past few months have been stressful and busier than normal. I'm looking forward to being able to look forward.

Yesterday it was springlike here, in the upper 50's, sunny, smelling of the cleansing rain we had on Friday. Today - 6-8" of snow. Welcome to March in the midwest.

Thursday, March 7, 2013


My friend Mari (The Partyka Project) has been working on The 100 Day Happiness Project. When she saw this picture I'd posted on a Pinterest Board, she contacted me right away to let me know that she was going to do this as a post and wanted to know if I'd be interested in doing it, too.

I've been working really hard the past few months to maintain a more positive attitude and this fits right in to remind me what I have to be positive about. Here's my list; I've lumped some things (I felt it would be cheating to put the names of all of my family members and friends!).

1. Family
My book club and my parents
2. Friends
3. Chocolate
4. Coffee
5. Gerbera daisies
6. Fresh cut grass
7. Fields of wildflowers
8. Beaches
9. Blue
10. Sunshine
11. My cats
12. Homemade ice cream with homemade chocolate syrup
13. Vanilla
14. Lavender
15. Books and everything about them
16. Movie theater popcorn
17. Being silly
18. My faith
19. Office supplies
20. Candles
21. The perfect pillow
22. Smiles
23. Laughter
24. My kids being friends
25. Having my house full of kids
26. A few hours of quiet
27. Being surrounded by the things my ancestors touched
28. Head massages
29. The perfect haircut
30. My favorite necklace
31. Refurbishing furniture
32. Musicals
33. Nebraska sports
34. NPR
35. Fluffy snowflakes
36. Lightening
37. Nebraska sunsets
38. Pouring rain
39. Chives
40. Homegrown tomatoes
41. Cheese
42. Newborn babies
43. Memories of my grandparents
44. High school football on a beautiful fall evening
45. Sitting around the firepit on a beautiful summer evening
46. Hugs
47. The internet
48. Organizing supplies
49. Dolce and Gabanna Light Blue
50. Walks in fall leaves
51. Daylight savings time
52. A perfectly clean room
53. The possibilities of a full pantry
54. A toasty warm house on a cold day
55. Watching my kids succeed
56. Resting my head on my husband's chest
57. Old wooden boxes
58. Frogs - NOT live ones!
59. Going bare-footed
60. Taking care of my family
61. Finding the perfect gift
62. Watching people open gifts from me
63. Music - in general
64. Johann Sebastian Bach in particular
65. Crossing things off my to-do list
66. Being in control
67. Learning
68. Playing the piano
69. Swimming pools
Le Bourgeois winery - Rocheport, Missouri
70. Sitting on a bluff over the Missouri River valley with a glass of wine
71. Flea markets
72. Turning up the music and dancing
73. Volunteering
74. Gardening
75. Blogging
76. A blank journal
77. Noodles
78. The afghan my mother-in-law made for my husband
79. The sound of mourning doves
80. Cookie dough
81. Breckenridge, Colorado in the summer
82. Champagne
83. That a-ha moment
84. My postcard collection
85. Fast boats
86. Truth
87. Rearranging furniture
88. Back rubs
89. White
Mini-him, Miss H, and Mini-me, circa 2012
90. A good day dream
91. Sarcasm
92. Movie nights
93. Inspiration
94. Girls' nights
95. Writing
96. TCM - old movies
97. Boudin's sourdough bread
98.Crawling into bed at night
99. Waking up and realizing it's Saturday
100. Finishing things

What would you put on your list?

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Prague Winter: A Personal Story of Remembrance and War, 1937-1948

Prague Winter: A Personal Story of Remembrance and War, 1937-1948 by Madeleine Albright
Published February 2013 by HarperCollins Publishers
Source: the publisher and TLC Book Tours in exchange for this review

Publisher's Summary:
Before Madeleine Albright turned twelve, her life was shaken by the Nazi invasion of her native Prague, the Battle of Britain, the near-total destruction of European Jewry, the Allied victory in World War II, the rise of communism, and the onset of the Cold War. Drawing on her memory, her parents' written reflections, interviews with contemporaries, and newly available documents, Albright recounts a tale that is by turns harrowing and inspiring.

In Prague Winter, Albright reflects on her discovery of her family's Jewish heritage many decades after the war, on her Czech homeland's tangled history, and on the stark moral choices faced by her parents and their generation. At once a deeply personal memoir and an incisive work of history, Prague Winter serves as a guide to the future through the lessons of the past—as seen through the eyes of one of the international community's most respected and fascinating figures.

My Thoughts: 
Let me just be honest up front and tell you that I'm not finished with this book; I've got about a hundred pages left to read. I thought I could read it in four or five days. I know better than that; there's no way I'm reading 480 pages of non-fiction in four days. Particularly when it's something as dense as Prague Winter. Don't take that the wrong way - I mean dense in the most flattering of terms (if that's even possible).

I've admired Albright for some time; she is a smart lady who has achieved much in her life and who seems to have a sense humor. Heck, this is a lady who has written a book about her ubiquitous pins!  I rightly assumed that I would enjoy this book when it was offered to me for review. Perhaps if I weren't enjoying it less, I'd be done by with it by now!

By no means would I claim to be an expert on World War II. Still, I feel I have a pretty good grasp of what happened in those terrible years. "Not so fast, Missy," Albright seems to be saying. "Have you even thought about the role Czechoslovakia played in this war?" Why no, Ms. Albright, no I haven't. I had no idea, for example, that, after the Rhineland, Czechoslovakia was Hitler's second conquest. (You, Mr. Smartypants, in the back row, stop snickering at me.)

Albright combines her family's history with the Czechoslovakian experience throughout WWII, including her family's escape to London just prior to the German invasion of Czechoslovakia and her father's work while there to aid in the recognition of the plight of his country and the government in exile.

Some of what I've learned so far:

* Molotov cocktails were names after a Soviet foreign minister - by the Finns who developed the weapon to defend themselves against Soviet tanks. Love that.

* Yet more evidence of the incompetence of several world leaders at the time. Had the English and the French supported the Czechoslovakians before they were invaded, Hitler would have been, at the very least, slowed in his efforts.

* Had the British been able to make a decision sooner, the Soviets might have sided with them instead of the Germans, reducing the supplies of the Germans greatly. Of course, this came back to bite the Soviets in the butt later, as we all know.

* The Blitzkrieg was not planned. Hitler had no intention of bombing London to begin with. A lone German bomber got lost and dropped his payload on the city. When the British retaliated, Hitler used that as an excuse to bomb the city and a rallying cry for his own citizens.

For more opinions about this book (most of whom will actually have finished it on time!), check out the full TLC tour.

Madeleine Albright served as America’s sixty-fourth secretary of state from 1997 to 2001. Her distinguished career also includes positions on Capitol Hill, on the National Security Council, and as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations. She is a resident of Washington, D.C., and Virginia.

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Sunday Salon - March 3

If you follow me on Twitter, you know I got a new phone this week, a fancy new phone that does a lot of things my other phone didn't do, partly because it couldn't and partly because I chose not to add a data plan to it. If you're a person who likes to have the latest gadgets or a person who changes phones every year, you'll be surprised to read below that my new phone is not the thing I'm grateful for or loving. I hate new phones. I'm an old dog; I hate learning new tricks. At least when it comes to something that's supposed to make my life easier.

Here's What I'm:
Nat King Cole

Listening To: The Nat King Cole station on Pandora. Why did I not think of this one sooner? Love, love this for unwinding at the end of the day. Oh, and I'm back to The Enchantress of Florence. I've resigned myself to the idea that I'll just be lost some of time.

Watching: "Smash" - although I must say that there are so many new characters and things going on that I'm a little lost (that does seem to be a theme for me lately, doesn't it?).

Reading: I started Madeleine Albright's Prague In Winter this week, my third non-fiction in a row. So far it's not exactly what I was expecting but I'm learning a lot and happy to see Albright's voice is really showing through; she is a smart and surprisingly funny lady.

Making: A Tex-Mex feast for Miss H's birthday dinner: soft and hard shell tacos, cheese & onion enchiladas, refried beans, guacamole and Key Lime mini-cupcakes. Forgot to make the rice. Darn.

Planning: On finding some time this week to play with my new phone and find more apps I can have fun with.
The Original Mama Shepp
Grateful for: Having thirty years with a woman who has treated me like one of her own. I know how rare that is and never forget that I've been blessed.

Thinking: That there is no such thing as "enough" time.

Looking forward to: Right now we are not looking too far forward. We won't have The Big Guy's mom with us much longer and all of our thoughts are on the here and now. I feel a little bit as though we are about to be set adrift.

Saturday, March 2, 2013

Pin It And Do It - February Challenge

Thanks, Trish (Love, Laughter & A Touch of Insanity) for hosting another Pin It And Do It challenge in February. I'll admit I've been taking something of the easy way out this round (more viewing than doing) but these challenges are always a good reminder to review what I've pinned. In addition to the movies I watched this month, I also read three books that I'd pinned (The Painted Girls, Half The Sky, and Midnight In Peking).

I finally remembered to check out some of the cleaning ideas I've pinned and found that an idea for cleaning stainless steel using cream of tartar works really well (although it is a bit messy). I haven't linked the picture because the blog site has changed but it's just 1 tablespoon of cream of tartar to a few drops of water and scrub. Very effective without scratching.

Inspired by what was on sale at the grocery store this week and what I had on hand, we decided to have a Tex-Mex dinner to celebrate Miss H's 18th birthday this weekend. Squeezing in just at the last minute, I used a pin to make homemade taco seasoning.

Homemade Taco Seasoning

Taking inspiration from all of the crockpot ideas I've seen on Pinterest, I kicked off March by making the taco meat in the crockpot using the homemade seasoning. So easy, so tasty and you get that finely chopped texture that works better in tacos.

Although I would probably be excused for not actually "doing" much, as the month drew to a close and I was looking at what I might still do, I did get fired up to start actually organizing, painting, and crafting again. Bring on March, I'm ready to go!

Friday, March 1, 2013

Half The Sky: Turning Oppression Into Opportunity For Women Worldwide by Nicholas D. Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn

Half The Sky: Turning Oppression Into Opportunity by Nicholas D Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn
Published June 2010 by Knopf Doubleday Publishing
Source: the wonderful Nadia of A Bookish Way of Life

Publisher's Summary:
From two of our most fiercely moral voices, a passionate call to arms against our era’s most pervasive human rights violation: the oppression of women and girls in the developing world.

With Pulitzer Prize winners Nicholas D. Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn as our guides, we undertake an odyssey through Africa and Asia to meet the extraordinary women struggling there, among them a Cambodian teenager sold into sex slavery and an Ethiopian woman who suffered devastating injuries in childbirth. Drawing on the breadth of their combined reporting experience, Kristof and WuDunn depict our world with anger, sadness, clarity, and, ultimately, hope.

My Thoughts: 
I've been wanting to read this book for more than two years. At the same time, I was terrified to read it, fearful that it would be overwhelmingly depressing.

When Nadia was talking about the book on Twitter, I mentioned that it was a book I'd like to read some time, and she was nice enough to send it to me.Still I was afraid to pick it up. In January, again on Twitter, I saw that some bloggers were getting together to make February Social Justice Theme Read month. It was the kick I needed to read this book.

Is is depressing? Yes, very much so. But it is also amazingly hopeful and incredibly thought provoking. I would defy you to read this book and not want to rush out and donate to every charity or organization working to improve the lives of women worldwide.

Kristof and WuDunn cover the many ways that women are oppressed (sex trafficking, honor murders and rapes, rape as an implement of war, maternal mortality, and the ways in which religion has impacted the lives of women in negative ways). They also explore the effect different types of aid impact the lives of those in need, explaining why some work so well while others fail so spectacularly. They certainly have opinions on which are the best ways the collective "we" can help but are able to provide ample evidence to support their conclusions.

Here are some of my takeaways:

1. Women are as much to blame as men in many ways, from brothel owners to mothers-in-law who   physically abuse their sons' wives.
2. We cannot allow political forces, particularly those formed by religion, to influence aid decisions.
3. What we think works in the United States doesn't necessarily work every where.
4. Thinking outside of the box is often the best way to help.

I may have more sticky notes in this book than any other book I've ever read (well, except for Ron Chernow's Washington). Have you read this one? I'd love to talk with you about it.