Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Christmas is For Children

Gabe is wearing his very fancy Christmas outfit from China, and Roman is modeling the latest in baby hats this year. Uncle Chris and Aunt Marie were the good sports that played the new Christmas games with the boys this year. Notice their mom is also playing but in the other picture we see that their dad is reading his Christmas book!

A Two Table Family

The little boys table, and the big people table. The boys are enjoying their gingerbread men which apparently was their favorite part of their table theme. That and the little house that played music and had dancing lights. The big boys table included 2 babies but they didn't really stay at the table much.

Christmas Take Down

Here are a couple of pictures from Christmas - which was wonderful this year. We are so glad our married,home-owning,live-nearby, grownup children still sleepover for Christmas. Since they bring our grandsons they are invited every year. Here they are waiting on the stairs. Dawson came into our room at 4:45 am with eyes wide and asked "Grandma can we go downstairs now?" I tucked him right back into his bed with the Christmas pillowcases and said not until 7 is the first number on the clock

Monday, December 29, 2008

Book Look Review "In the Time of the Butterflies"

“In the Time of the Butterflies”
by Debbie Balzotti

There were four courageous Mirabal sisters - Patria, Minerva, Maria Teresa, and Dede. They lived in a family under the rule of the brutal Dominican dictator Trujillo. They were known as Las Mariposas, “The Butterflies,” and three of them were murdered. That is the true part of the story.

The author Julia Alvarez then weaves fact and fiction to create a novel that you cannot put down. Using the memories of the surviving sister, Alvarez draws us into the world of The Dominican Republic in 1950. The citizens are at first enamored with their dictator and most submit to his rule. Similar to other countries under the rule of dictators, Trujillo rules with a malicious and capricious hand. As the corruption of his regime becomes more evident, young students begin to protest. The students are imprisoned and murdered as a lesson to others. But like all people, the desire for freedom is greater than the fear of even death and the revolutionary activities escalate.

In the beginning of the story the young Mirabal sisters live a sheltered life in the countryside where their father has a farm and a successful store. When the girls are allowed to attend a convent boarding school they are exposed to the ideas of young revolutionaries. Soon a couple of the sisters are caught up in their dangerous activities, and even marry these young men. Family members are arrested and imprisoned and eventually some lose their lives for the cause of freedom.

Each chapter changes voice between the sisters, which gives the reader an opportunity to view the historical events through the eyes of different ages and personalities. Occasionally, the surviving sister brings us back to the present and what has happened to the Mirabel family.

November 25th, the day of the women’s’ murders, is observed in many Latin American countries as the “International Day against Violence towards Women”. The sisters who died long ago have become martyrs to rally others in our time. There is hope that their story will stop the violence that victimizes women in all countries still today.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Dave & Anne's Snowy December Wedding

In the middle of a huge snowstorm, Dave and Anne were married on Friday December 19th. We all agree that they are a perfect couple and send our love and best wishes as they honeymoon in San Diego, Mexico and Hawaii. What?! Yes these love birds have left the snow behind and are enjoying some warm beaches for the next couple of weeks. You will notice that I take pictures of my family and leave the bride and groom photos for the professionals, or at least talented. Hopefully we will see Dalan's pictures posted soon since we love the pictures he takes.I am enjoying my new Christmas music from Sarah as I type "Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow."

Friday, December 19, 2008

Book Look Review "The Christmas Sweater"

Book Look
Debbie Balzotti
“The Christmas Sweater”

This book is #2 on the New York Times fiction list today!

I admit I was a bit confused about what was fictional and what was autobiographical in this new Christmas Novel by Glen Beck. In the author’s forward, he states, “It has taken me more than thirty years to feel comfortable enough to share this story. And while some of the names and events have been changed, what follows is at its core, the story of the most important Christmas of my life.” Then he signed it. So is it a mostly true tale, or a mostly fictional fable? It seems to be a combination of fact and fiction with the intent to focus the reader on a message. In the conclusion Beck gives us a small glimpse into his motivation and clarifies some of the fiction based on fact. This is my dad’s Christmas book this year because he’s a big Glen Beck fan. I hope he enjoys a relaxing evening reading on the couch – while rubbing mom’s feet.

The main character 13 year old Eddie (Glenn Beck) thinks his life stinks. I agree with him. He has reason to be mad at the world and the Creator of it. No child should have to suffer the losses he has. The only problem with his angry attitude is that it isolates him further from the grandparents who dearly love him. He turns toward a neighbor family that has everything he doesn’t. They eat in restaurants, their son has every toy he wants, no rules to obey and to top it all off they drive a nice car. From Eddie’s perspective they are living the good life while he has been denied all of the things that make life happy. Of course he comes to learn that what really counts is the unconditional love of family.

Beck uses an imaginary neighbor as the character to bring redemption to Eddie. In a vivid dream, not unlike Scrooge, he finds the meaning of life before it is too late. There is a definite underlying tone of regret in Eddie’s story. As readers we all share the feeling that our actions have not only caused our own misery, but made those we love unhappy in the past.

Like many Christmas stories written for gift giving in mind, “The Christmas Sweater” is a short novel. I think the publishers believe we don’t have time to read a real book during the holidays. Sometimes the author just doesn’t have enough to say so a novella is the better choice as a vehicle for their message. Glen Beck has an inspirational short story to tell. It is worth an evening reading on the couch while showing love to someone by rubbing their feet. Merry Christmas Dad!

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Tips for Holiday Survival

Mark took this picture of me at Niagara Falls just before we were married. Ah the memories. In an effort to regain my youth, which cannot be done, I am procrastinating a writing assignment and blogging. I should be writing an inspirational news article for "The Foothill Breeze" about New Years. Not gettin' that inspiration. I do have a couple of holiday survival tips learned over the years that you won't find on any website or Good Morning America. I fully confess I have done many of the following crazy shortcuts - or at least thought about it.

1. EMERGENCY a neighbor is coming over to bring a plate of goodies and your house looks like it was messed up by the children, only you don't have children at home anymore. Throw all dirty dishes in the oven, run out in the snow in your socks and scoot around the tile floor until it shines.

2. PANIC you don't have any home baked goodness to give to the neighbor who is now coming up the sidewalk. Grab a book off the shelf in the den, tie a ribbon around it from one of your gifts then add an ornament off your Christmas tree. If you have written your name inside the book, even better - just add from!

3. EXHAUSTION you really cannot order pizza again. I found a good easy meal website at, but if that thought is overwhelming, rotate your food storage. Take a can of that tomato soup and serve it with carrots, celery and a grilled cheese sandwich. Dinner together as a family - Check.

4. DESPAIR it will never all get done in time. First of all, you are right, it won't. Get over it. You survived the fashion disaster called the 80's so you can survive Christmas. This is where I confess that one year I hid chocolate marshmallow Santas for the stockings and found them in April while cleaning the top of my kitchen cabinets.Just last year I frantically cleaned up the guest room/gift wrapping room and apparently shoved Alyssa's cool book for the France trip in a craft bin. Again, found in April while cleaning out that closet.(Note to self, do spring cleaning the day before Christmas.)

Merry Christmas and remember in just a week it will be Christmas Eve...

Monday, December 15, 2008

Book Look Review "A Christmas Journey"

Book Look
Debbie Balzotti

“A Christmas Journey”
An Audio (or Paper) Book Recommendation for Christmas

There is something so Dickens Christmas about listening to the voice of Terrence Hardiman read this story by Anne Perry. Really, what can call up the Victorians better than a talented Brit describing bustles that rustle? He talks about tea and crumpets with such enthusiasm that it is tempting to hold a tea party. The correct accent placed on the correct syllable makes names like Omegus and Lady Vespasia sound positively enchanting. No American reader could pull that off! I have listened to several of these Christmas Victorian mysteries by Perry but I will review only the first one and let you discover the rest at the library.

“A Christmas Journey” is a winter tale that ends on Christmas Eve. The cast of characters are all members of the Victorian gentry and so bound by their society’s rules and regulations they seem at first superficial. It does require some understanding, or at least tolerance of 19th century England to believe these characters and their interpretation of honorable behavior.

Following an evening dinner party at Applecross, a country home in Berkshire, Isobel makes a cruel remark about Gwendolyn. The two widows are rivals for the affection of Bertie (honestly, why do the Brits call grown men Bertie!). The next morning the guests are told of Gwendolyn’s suicide and they all blame Isobel. As Isobel enters the breakfast room the group treats her as if she were invisible. She is about to be cast out of society by their self-righteous judgment.

Omegus Jones, owner of Applecross, proposes a medieval solution that could allow Isobel to redeem herself and keep her part in the suicide a secret forever. All present would agree to her assigned journey of expiation which would allow Isobel to stay a part of their society. Isobel would admit guilt in the death and deliver a sealed letter to Gwendolyn’s mother in Scotland and inform her of the death. Upon completion of the pilgrimage, the guests would gather and confirm their pact of silence.

Lady Vespasia Cumming-Gould, a friend to both women, agrees to accompany her on what becomes an arduous winter journey. The two women eventually meet the most fascinating character in the story, Gwendolyn’s mother. The true cause of Gwendolyn’s suicide is revealed and the three women all return to Applecross for Christmas Eve. Their Christmas now celebrates forgiveness, mercy, charity and friendship.

If you are getting a little weary of listening to Christmas music on the radio, you will enjoy improving your “journey” with this book on CD. There are a couple of risks if you listen to more than one of these novels. The British accent may cause you to imprudently purchase figgy pudding to give as gifts to your family and friends!

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Our Christmas tree is naked from the waist down

Due to a busy week of newspaper deadlines, substitute teaching and babysitting grandchildren, our tree is 1/2 naked! Our tree is so tall that I decorate the top and then Mark puts it together. The idea being that then I finish the bottom half. On the same day. Or at the latest, the next day. A week later and it is still waiting. We did put up dad's beautiful outdoor painting of the shepherds looking up at the star ( a perfectly placed spotlight in the trees) at the beginning of December. Our neighbors all say that it starts the Christmas season for them. Next door they have a life size nativity on their front hillside that includes the wise men, but they left out the shepherds in tribute to dad's painting. When a new home was built 2 down from ours, they bought large angels for their front balcony to complete the tableau.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Christmas Traditions The Gingerbread House

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Mike and Tyfani make a Christmas gingerbread house each year with their boys. Dad starts with the construction stage. Dawson and Haydon use a variety of candy - some left from Halloween! There is a lot of candy on this house despite the amount that gets eaten during the decorating process. Tyfani supervises the final touches and the gingerbread house is completed. Alyssa was indispensable this year holding the trees upright while the frosting stiffened up. Good team work!

Friday, December 5, 2008

Book Look Review "Grace"

A New Christmas Gift Book by Richard Paul Evans

Any book by Richard Paul Evans is not a good Christmas choice for the cynical or Grinchical in your gift giving circle of family and friends. It is perfect for those who feel that the worth of a book is measured by the tears shed. Yes mom, I am referring to your famous phrase, “I really got my money’s worth”. I am somewhere in the middle of these two groups. I resent obvious emotional manipulation by an author, but I cannot help crying anyway. I see it coming, I have been alerted by the description on the back, but I read it anyway. I confess I am a sentimental sucker at times. Go ahead and read “Grace”. Just admit you are a sap - especially at Christmas.

“Grace” opens with an abbreviated version of “The Little Match Girl” by Hans Christian Andersen. I hated this classic story because it tormented me. Stories, fictional or real, about the suffering and abuse of children really upset me. I almost stopped reading “Grace” after the introduction, but knowing I had this review hanging over my head, I persevered. Evans must have known about my hesitation because although the story is poignant it is not traumatic. I appreciated his sensitive approach to the painful reality of child abuse and teenage runaways.

The year is 1962. The Welch family has recently moved from southern California to a rundown house in Utah due to their father’s disability. Eric, a shy fourteen year old, “with acne and a bad hair cut”, notices Grace searching for food in the dumpster behind the restaurant where he works. This kind hearted Samaritan takes her home and hides her in his clubhouse. Eric explains how the experience of these few weeks changes his life forever and determines his later career path.

You will see the tragedy coming but the story is worth the tears. Have a box of Kleenex beside you and plan on staying up late to finish this short Richard Paul Evans novel.
I am giving this book to my mom for Christmas – she will definitely get her money’s worth from this one. Merry Christmas, I love you mom. (The photo is my mom age 21)