Tuesday, December 29, 2009

A Few Christmas Pictures to share

Dawson came into my room at 4:37am too excited to sleep. I convinced him to wait a couple more hours. The boys are lined up youngest to oldest for "Diddly,Dee" or the longest march to the Christmas tree thanks to the tradition brought to our family by Mariel.

Tyfani brought us her family tradition of acting out the Christmas story on Christmas Eve.Since the host of our Christmas Pageant won't make costumes, the 2 angels had to use a mu mu from Hawaii, and...is that a granny slip?

Mary and Joseph and baby... Beans. This year we had two pregnant girls for the part of Mary, but no baby for the manger so Baby Beans made another appearance.

Cousin Conner with the boys. You just can't have enough frosting and sprinkles on those sugar cookies!

"The Friday Night Knitting Club" supersize me

BookLook January 7
“The Friday Night Knitting Club”
You don’t have to read the fine print if you check out a large print edition. I don’t need Depends or a walker quite yet, but I do have to watch my cholesterol – and slip on those reading glasses to enjoy a library book. “The Friday Night Knitting Club” by Kate Jacobs isn’t the best book, or the worst book I’ve ever read but it was certainly the easiest to see thanks to the bold black type. And the other benefit of the large print books is that you get a nice workout for your arms while trying to balance the super-sized volume and your glass of Metamucil.

Knitting Club is definitely a chick book. I am not much of a chick book fan but I did try to read more objectively than I would usually since it has been such a popular novel. The story was interesting and some of the characters were delightful. Unfortunately the main character Georgia Walker really grated on my nerves trying to prove that she wasn’t whiny and dependent while she complained and had to be bailed out by everyone around her. Georgia is a single mom and the owner of a yarn shop in New York City. A Friday night club brings a small group of disparate women together to share tips on knitting and advice about life.

As the lives of each character connect, or knit together, a sisterhood develops. Periodically at the beginning of a chapter the metaphor is enhanced with knitting definitions like the one for casting on. “The only way to get going is to just grasp that yarn between your fingers and twist. Just start. It’s the same with life…Casting on is as much leap of faith as technique.”

So if you don’t feel too embarrassed to be seen with a large print book, check one out and enjoy it’s bigger and bolder font. Although the shelf selection is scanty compared to the smaller print versions for the non-reading glass wearers, you don’t have much competition from other library patrons for these titles that are seldom on a waiting list.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

"The Christmas List" Don't Put it on Yours

BookLook December 23
“The Christmas List”

Richard Paul Evans has discovered something very important. There is a recipe for Christmas books. You may think that the recipe you have for your granny’s sugar cookies is priceless, but if you had the recipe for best selling Christmas books you would really have something valuable. Evan’s first sugary treat was delicious. “The Christmas Box” was something new with an inspirational message for all readers. We ate it up. Unfortunately, “The Christmas List” tastes a little too similar to his other books and we were hoping for something more.

The main character of this little book, and it is a little book with lots of blank space on the pages, is based on Scrooge. Dickens introduced us to the idea that a pathetic miser could be redeemed and we love his story. In this updated version, James Kier reads his own obituary in the newspaper and is naturally alarmed. I had a similar experience a couple of years ago when my BookLook column was placed on the obit page. With the book title “Left to Tell” and my picture the same size as the gentleman’s obituary printed right next to me, it was a bit unsettling.

Now, back to the story. Kier tries to make amends for a life focused on money but discovers that every damaged relationship cannot be mended. Some mistakes can be fixed, but some come with unalterable consequences. It is a sad but true lesson. Fortunately, having lots of money seems to help make things up to people though. Buying someone a house, giving a big pay raise to an employee, or paying for something your son wants will get you some forgiveness. Is this part of the lesson Evans wants us to learn? I think his message of “good will toward men” is a good one and we do need reminders about what is important.

We can read “A Christmas Carol” by Charles Dickens every year and enjoy the experience. “The Christmas List” is a once read then re-gifted book. I know there are many fans of Richard Paul Evans (the Utah author with three names) so I can make someone very happy if I put it in a basket with a batch of granny’s delicious sugar cookies to sweeten the read.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Five Gold Rings

Let's just say that experience is gold.I have five gold "rings" of Christmas advice to share.If you have any golden tips, please feel free to comment. Maybe we can learn from each other so the holidays can be um, less stressful?

The Golden Treasury of Five Christmas Success Tips

I’m pretty sure they are unique to me and may or may not be based on my own experiences and there may be more but I will not confess to them, I mean make them up...

1. Don’t write out your cards after preparing salmon for supper.

2. Don’t hide chocolate covered marshmallow Santas for the kids’ stockings above the kitchen cupboards to find during spring cleaning in April.

3. Don’t put your daughter’s only gift that she requested away in the craft box as you frantically swoop up all the wrapping stuff in the guest room last minute Christmas Eve. Again, it won’t be found until spring cleaning in April and after her trip to France.

4. Don’t forget to buy stuff for your husbands stocking. He may notice that he got teenage sized mittens and the candy the neighbors brought over and catch on.

5. And finally, don't let Santa pull you onto his lap and kiss you in front of hundreds of people when you are writing a news story about his arrival in town - even if you have known him for 20 years (look how tight his grip is on me so I couldn't escape!)

Hope these are helpful - or at least let you laugh at someone (me) with their permission and that is bound to relieve stress.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Hangin' Out With Movie Stars

Interviewed two movie stars, which is not my usual newspaper assignment so that was fun. Edward Herrmann (The Gillmore Girls etc.) and Krista Swanson (star of movie version of Buffy the Vampire Slayer etc.) are starring in a Christmas movie being filmed in Mapleton at the Model A Cafe. Big news!

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Mark in the News

Mark's school, Cherry Creek Elementary was the only Title 1 school in Nebo district that achieved "High Achieving Title 1 School" so this is a very big deal! This is the article from the Daily Herald (unrelated picture from the summer)

Springville's Cherry Creek Elementary earned a $1,500 grant and state recognition as a high-performing school this month, achievements the school's administration credits to proactive teachers that keep a sharp eye for the individuals within their classrooms.

"We create pretty individual programs to try to help those children to be more successful," principal Mark Balzotti said. "It's a school-wide effort, and it takes everybody working hard to identify specific needs."

Cherry Creek is classified as Title I, or a school with a large low-income population, and is thus entitled to extra federal support. The school, now four years old, has been Title I since its creation.

"The United States Congress has long recognized that higher poverty schools face unique challenges in educating students. ... Schools that meet high levels of achievement and close the learning gap despite these challenges are to be commended," the Utah State Office of Education stated in a letter to Cherry Creek.

Cherry Creek has stayed abreast of the science, math and language arts benchmarks set forth by the 2001 federal No Child Left Behind act, which outlines a nation-wide goal to have every child, regardless of sex, race or economic background, performing at or above grade level by 2014.

In order to overcome any socioeconomic hurdles standing in the way of federal standards, Balzotti said the administration encourages teachers to get creative in finding tailor-made solutions for their classrooms.

Third-grade teacher Tiffany Searle, of Payson, secured a $1,500 grant from the 100% For Kids Credit Union Education Foundation to buy document cameras for each of the school's three third-grade classrooms. The $500 apparatus is like a cross between an overhead projector and a video camera. Searle said the device, which also runs through a computer, where it can be manipulated, will help her better display things like hands-on projects.

"If one of my kids does something that I want to show off, I can say, 'Oh, look how this kid is doing this,' " Searle said. "I can put it up there and that will motivate them."

The foundation, which has donated more than $5 million to Utah schools since its 2002 inception, is funded by credit unions, credit union members and other individual donors. 100% For Kids donated computer projectors to Cherry Creek for third-, fourth- and fifth-grade classrooms in 2008. Searle applied for her grant in June of this year, but didn't get accepted until this month due to a few snags in the application process; her resilience paid off.

"She's a young teacher, she saw a need, but didn't whine about it; she just took it to task," Balzotti said. "It's that kind of people that I have on my staff. They're go-getters, they're not just going to sit around."

It's that kind of initiative, Balzotti said, that has kept Cherry Creek above the federal standards, which not only demand high performance as a school average but high performance within subgroups, such as race and wealth, as well. Failure to meet these standards, which climb each year en route to 2014's 100-percent mark, can result in penalties for the school. Performance is measured each year by the Utah Criterion-Referenced Test.

"If you fail in any of those population groups, you fail as a school," Balzotti said. "It's pretty high stakes. However, hopefully what we're doing is not driven by just a test, but driven by children learning."

Friday, December 11, 2009

Indiana Jones - the Christmas Book

I had to clip Amazon's jacket photo since this is too new for my library.It is listed as young adult fiction at the library so that's interesting. I guess since there is no sex,or swearing only violence?
“Indiana Jones and the Seven Veils”
Indiana Jones is the best action hero ever. He’s a brilliant archaeologist, a dashingly handsome international adventurer and he knows how to use a whip. He reminds me of my son Chris. Well, ok Chris works with archaeologists at their sites as a botanist but he is also brilliant and a dashingly handsome international adventurer. I’m not sure how great his whip skills are but he is amazing with a GPS and a machete in the jungles of Guatemala. Mark and I enjoyed a trip to the ruins of Tikal with Chris a few years ago and it is a remarkable place. He has traveled back to the site several times to complete his Masters degree so when I saw that this Indian Jones book began in Tikal; it had to be Chris’ Christmas book.

Though it’s not a brilliant piece of literary prose, the Seven Veils is a fun read. Author Rob MacGregor has carefully included the important ingredients of Indydom. The book begins with the typical crisis involving booby-trapped entrances to lost grave sites. “Tikal, Guatemala-March 7, 1926. The torchlight flickered in the close quarters. The tunnel was tight, the air choked with dust and the dank smell of earth. After two days of slowing removing one stone after another….a hole the size of his arm now opened into a dark chamber inside the pyramid.” See what I mean? You’re hooked right away just like the movies.

MacGregor continues to combine the true mysteries of history with a liberal sprinkling of fantasy. There is a prologue containing an excerpt from the diary of real-life British explorer Colonel Percy Fawcett who disappeared searching for the legendary lost city of Z. His mystery forms the basis of the Seven Veils book and makes you want to read more about what could have happened to Fawcett in the Brazilian jungle. The fantasy part of the book is pretty fantastic. While searching for the colonel and the city of Z, Indy is captured by a mystical tribe who can control his mind. These blue-eyed tribesmen seem descended from the druids and live in a world where reality is blurred by dreams. Of course the exciting escape involves poisonous blow darts, jumping into river rapids, and cannibals.

I know Chris already has a GPS and a machete, but I may need to get him a whip and a hat to go with this book for Christmas. The next time he goes down to Tikal I am sure he will want to pack the book, wear the hat and use the whip.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Don't Judge Too Quickly

What would you think if a child in your class drew this and showed it to you? Yes, that is what I thought too! But actually, her mom sells snow shovels at Home Depot...

Thursday, December 3, 2009

BookLook Review for a Favorite Book

“The Help” by Kathryn Stockett is my number one gift book for Christmas 2009. I can’t give it to my dear friend Rosemary since she is the one who raved about it until I read it a few months ago. When you find someone who knows the books you like to read always listen to their recommendations! She wasn’t alone in her enthusiasm. My entire book club gave it their unanimous A+ rating. This is remarkable since these12 women rarely agree whole-heartedly on any book choice. Since the novel is set in the south, it is perfect for my mother from Virginia. Since it is about a young woman who is creative and caring, it is perfect for my daughter and daughter-in-laws. Since it has a beautiful cover … you get the idea.
The help are a group of black women working as maids in Mississippi in 1962. As the book begins, we hear the voice of the main character Aibileen as she describes her latest charge: “Mae Mobley was born on a early Sunday morning in August, 1960. A church baby we like to call it. Taking care a white babies, that’s what I do, along with all the cooking and cleaning. I done raised seventeen kids in my lifetime. I know how to get them babies to sleep, stop crying, and go in the toilet bowl before they mamas even get out a bed in the morning.” Right away the musical rhythm of her speech transports the reader into Aiblileen’s southern world. It is a place filled with fascinating characters and many wrongs and injustices.
Aibileen’s friend Minny is also employed by a white family. Every day she leaves her own large brood of children to work for less than minimum wage as a maid. She has a reputation as the best cook in town, but she has a “sassy” mouth and a sense of fairness that overrules her position in society. “Civil Rights” is a new and dangerous phrase. These women are joined by other maids to secretly tell their stories of prejudice and abuse. They are trusted with the daily care of the children, but not with the silver. The guest bathroom is off limits and they must never drink out of cup or use a spoon, even though they are the ones doing all the washing and drying every day.
When twenty-two year old frizzy-haired Miss Skeeter returns home after graduating from Ol’ Miss. she searches for something meaningful to do that summer. Her friends are all married and the mothers of small children. She desperately wants to get out of the south and work in New York. She is in many ways, as trapped as the maids who work in her home and the homes of her friends. When a New York editor challenges her to write about something meaningful she decides to secretly interview the maids and tell their stories.
These three women begin a risky journey together to reveal injustice and improve conditions for the future. As they cross their societal barriers of race and position, they discover the courage and faith they all share. It is an unforgettable book. If you are giving a book to a woman on your Christmas list (and you had better be!) this is the perfect choice.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Post Thanksgiving Pictures

Here are a few pictures from Thanksgiving. Mark and I were the orphans at the Gleave feast since our marrieds were all at the in-law/outlaws this year.

After only one night of neices and nephews...the Granats look like this!

Dave and Dan are living proof that pie increases facial hair.

Eli and mom four wheelin' after turkey dinner.

Ava wants to go four-wheelin' too like her cousin. This is the 3rd picture I took because she checked the other 2 and told me to take another one she would like.

Monday, November 23, 2009

The 12 Days of Thanksgiving

If you have the 12 days of Halloween, and you have the 12 days of Christmas, you should also have the 12 days of Thanksgiving. Just think if for 12 days you "acted" your gratitude. I am grateful for... and then tell that person, thank someone, pass it forward... you get the idea and it's only for 12 days so that's pretty easy. You can't tell anyone you are doing it or it doesn't count. It's not too late to start because it is still the week of Thanksgiving - go for it. It is really fun.

I kinda like her take on the Pilgrim costume for Thanksgiving

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Mark's Christmas Book

“A Bell for Adano”
My Christmas shopping went from park, to neutral and is now revved up to first gear. I don’t know if it’s all the negative economy news or what, but this year I had trouble getting out of the garage – until it snowed. That really jump-started my engine! As you might suspect, everyone in our family gets a new book for Christmas. The book I found for Mark is one that he will absolutely love. It won the Pulitzer Prize in 1945 so it’s very well-written. It is set in Italy and has a cast of great characters. I admit to being more of a plot reader but Mark loves stories filled with unforgettable people. And “A Bell for Adano” by John Hersey is packed with colorful characters you hate to say goodbye to at the end of a book.

Major Joppolo has been assigned to preside over the small Sicilian village of Adano at the end of World War II. He is an Italian-American from the Bronx whose parents came from Florence. A far-from-perfect man, he tries to administer justice to the long oppressed villagers and treat them with fairness and compassion. Although “Mister Major” is the authority figure, he is soon loved as much as he is respected.

His supporting cast of characters includes a few American soldiers who represent the good and bad in occupation forces. The author says in his forward: “There were probably not any really bad men …but there were some stupid ones. You see, the theories about administering occupied territories all turned out to be just theories…” One sub plot involves a general issuing the ridiculous order that carts must stay off the roadways when his car is stopped by one. After shooting the poor cart man’s mule, he sends out his decree. Major Joppolo soon countermands it as the villagers cannot get food or water without the carts! All through the book the report of the countermanded orders travels from post to post as army clerks try to misdirect it away from the general by hiding it under stacks of paperwork or by even sending it in the mail pouch to Algiers.

The most unforgettable characters are of course the villagers of Adano. Some are somewhat stereotypical portraits but they are all entertaining and thought provoking. When the old mayor stumbles back into town after he hid in the nearby hills as his town was invaded, a crowd of townspeople gathers to jeer at him. The cruel mayor had ruled with an iron fist for nine corruption filled years. Major Joppolo sentences him to come every morning for repentance. Each day he must admit publicly to the various crimes of fines unjustly levied, false imprisonment and worse as the people mock him.

Major Joppolo’s crowning achievement was to be finding a bell for Adano. When he first arrived, town officials listed the many needs for the people. They were starving, they had lost family members but what was even more devastating was the loss of their beloved bell. The bell told them when to eat, when to pray, when to marry. Adano’s bell had been confiscated by the Fascists at the beginning of the war and sent to a munitions factory to be melted down to make cannons. Joppolo represents what one good, humble man can do under pressure. A best seller as soon as it was published in the 1940’s; it is still a great book filled with the richness of humanity and valuable lessons for all generations.

*Don't worry, Mark doesn't read this very often. Thanks Alyssa for finding this book and knowing dad would love it (I did too).

Friday, November 20, 2009

Painting the Gigantic Family Room Before and after

Terrible pictures I know, before and almost after but the velvet curtains are not floor length yet or de-wrinkled, the art is not above the piano, but you get the idea. Mark was quite the super painter painting next to the ceiling on those multi-story walls.I can tell you they won't change again!

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Historical Fiction Family Style

My poor family - since I write for the newspaper they have a lot of "public exposure". Hey, write about what you know best? Anyway the editor loved this and said she cried at the end. Hmmm, I didn't. I was smiling. Mark wanted me to publish a correction since he is thinks he is portrayed incorrectly. If it was him, not saying it was, he would be busy putting 2 antique tables together from storage, setting up chairs etc. not watching football. I was trying to make it universal - something everyone could relate to...are you in here? HAPPY THANKSGIVING

Thanksgiving Day Feast of Family Memories
This year, like many families we’ll all sit down to an enormous feast. Assembled around the long dining room table extended by a couple of tipsy card tables, we will enjoy traditional favorites served up with a few Martha Stewart creations. We must have Uncle Mark’s marshmallow topped yams, Nate’s ribbon jello, Tyfani’s rolls and Alyssa’s chocolate raspberry pie. There’s too much turkey, too many side dishes and way too many pies. Well, no you can’t have too many pies on Thanksgiving. According to Chris it is absolutely the best holiday because it is all about food. He may have missed some of those great teaching moments in his early years.

As we go around the group seated at the table, each expresses something they are grateful for during 2009. The memories are often related to the age of the speaker. Grandma is tearful as she thanks everyone for coming and being together as a family again this year. Of course, some of her emotion might be related to her exhaustion caused by cleaning and cooking all week – but she really does love this eclectic crew assembled before her. Grandpa, who is not tired out by cooking and cleaning, is also happy to see everyone come over to watch football with him and eat and then nap while watching more football. He tenderly expresses his gratitude for the kindness of family members in helping each other. Building a shed together, fixing a car, tiling a bathroom, raking leaves, providing transportation and babysitting are on the long list of loving acts of family service he is grateful for.

The next generation, the moms and the dads, the aunts and the uncles, tell each other how grateful they are to be brothers and sisters in an eternal family. This can change back and forth throughout the year, but on Thanksgiving Feast Day they feel a little kinder and more forgiving of those siblings that drive them crazy like no one else can. The rule about no politics at the Thanksgiving table also helps keep the love alive through the rest of the meal.

Our singles set, or the twenty-somethings, are grateful that everyone is recycling more and trying to save the planet. They appreciate the opportunity to get an education, own a car and hope to be able to find a job – soon. Teenagers mumble under their breath “this is dumb, we do it every year…” but manage to come up with sincere expressions of gratitude that astonish their entire family. They are grateful to their parents for all their love and support. Wow, record and cherish that moment. Finally from the kid’s table, the little ones entertain everyone with their one-liners. “I gwateful for my brover Dawson not hit me.” “I thankful I getting for my Chrithmas a Wii and a Nintendo and a Play Station and a…” And the best one-liner of all, spoken with arms extended wide: “I love you everybody!”

Thursday, November 12, 2009

BookLook Review of a sappy sweet book

Some book club members used to get annoyed at me because I was critical of the sappy sweet books. Now I can tell even more people how much they annoy me by publishing it in the newspaper- and I know it is just a matter of personal taste.

“Sundays at Tiffany’s”

It’s that time of year when the sap starts to run. When I was young it was a fun treat to see the taps on the Maple trees with their tin buckets hanging below and anticipate the sweetness produced after it has been boiled down. In Canada maple is the national flavour (Canadian spelling of course). We love our maple syrup, our maple sugar candy our maple fudge…you get the picture. I read a book this week that would qualify as sappy and syrupy but not maple flavored or delicious.

Author James Patterson writes two types of books apparently - the thrilling murder mystery and the sappy fairytale. I stopped reading his mystery books awhile back, and after just one taste of his romantic fiction, he is off my list for good. He also couldn’t come up with the unbelievable plot or characters without help. Gabrielle Charbonnet was his assistant author. Her name is printed so far away from his and in such tiny print that I almost missed it. She may ok with it now that the book is published and it is so bad it won’t do anything to help her career.

The beginning of the book is the best part. Eight year old Jane is a precocious only child dining with her imaginary friend Michael while her famous neglectful mother sits across the restaurant with a business client. This is a great premise, and the reader wonders what will happen to Jane as the story progresses. Will love conquer all? Will the girl get the man of her dreams? Can the poor little rich girl buy happiness and the love of her mother? If it sounds too predictable and too unbelievable that’s because it is. Since there is so little plot I don’t dare even write a paragraph to sum it up. I was hoping for “City of Angels” or at least “Velveteen Rabbit” but instead it was just a collection of stereotypes struggling to escape from a soap opera.

One of the best things about this book is that it is short – but too bad it isn’t short and sweet. The aftertaste of artificial flavoring just about ruined my day. Sometimes you read a book that just isn’t your taste and “Sundays at Tiffany’s” is way too sweet for me.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Can you pass this quiz?

One of my responsibilities (and honors) is to serve my community as the vice president of the Springville Museum of Art Board of Trustees. It is an elected position, but you have to get talked into even running first. This happens when Dr. Vern Swanson (museum director)calls you into his office and lies to you. OK, that is a bit overly dramatic but he certainly down plays the level of commitment until you are voted on the board and begin serving. I love the museum and am happy to contribute what I can which is a lot less than those with a. money or b. influence or c. actual artistic ability. One of my assignments is to present board training at 6 am. to a group of 14 somnolent attendees. I of course subject them to my irreverent humor but only for 5 min. Here is the "end of the year quiz" at our annual retreat.

THE BIG MUSEUM BOARD TRAINING (or 5 min. x 4 min. = 20 min.)
September, October, November, December combined

Pretest (if you reviewed this year’s 5 min. training lectures you know this!)
1. Board meeting is held at 6 a.m. once a month because?
a. Vern never sleeps so he needs company in the wee hours.
b. We like to get up in the dark and try to drive down in our sleep.
c. It is the best time to assure attendance of board members.

2. How do I serve as an ambassador of the museum to the community?
a. Wear a badge at all public functions I attend including church.
b. Ride on a float in the Art City Days parade and wrist wave.
c. Talk to those I know or come in contact with in positive ways.

3. What is the membership program and my responsibility?
a. Stand on the corner wearing a large wooden sandwich board.
b. Start a new network marketing scheme for memberships.
c. Make sure my membership is current at the level I choose.

4. What are my responsibilities to support museum objectives and goals?
a. Either produce a painting to donate or buy one every year.
b. Go door to door fund raising with frozen cookie dough.
c. Help by serving on committees, attending functions etc.

The picture is one of the paintings from the current Spiritual show - come and see it along with the amazing Victorian show upstairs!

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Gabe the Babe Turns Two

Gabe playing on the deck with "Moon Sand" while the party is set up inside. Dad (Jon) is using the birthday/Halloween decorating scheme which is balloons and green spider webs.

Two boys setting up (playing with) Gabe's surprise.

Gabe with his cool new train set - at the party and before the 4 hour set up at home.

Gabe pouting when the gift he just opened is taken away because he has more to open - that's right folks he is 2 now and has feelings and opinions!

Gabe and Big Papa (grandpa) and the train birthday cake

Marie & Mariel: "We're pregnant, barefoot and in the kitchen - how did this happen?!" Mariel is stirring her yummy turkey chili.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Halloween is for Kids?

The trick or treat group - Tyfani is a chicken farmer (she claims that chicken fat makes your hair shiny?), Dawson and Roman are chickens, Haydon is a "woof what eats chickens" Gabe is a shark and Gabe's cousin Jake is a mad scientist. We asked Jake if he had anything at all to do with the genetically altered chicken standing next to him.

Mike and Tyfani and family (Jon in the background) at the Tracy Aviary Trick or Treat. It was a great way to start the celebration with a live bird show featuring cool vultures (including the King Vulture) and owls that wooted loudly, and crows and other birds. Then we even got candy at tables placed around the park.

Gabe is a shark - complete with back fin. He wasn't so sure that grandma had made a good choice but once the older cousins were ready to trick or treat so was he. I think he objected to seeing his cute face in the teeth of a giant shark when he looked in the mirror.

It all started with Dawson wanting to be a chicken. Then Tyfani thought if ya' make one chicken costume you might as well make two, so baby Roman got a match. Haydon, well he insisted that he wanted to be a "black woof what eats chickens". That kid keeps us all laughing!

Friday, October 30, 2009

More Halloween

Tyfani, Aunt and Cousins dressed "To Kill" for the "YaYa Sisterhood" party at Thanksgiving Point. They got together to make hats at Tyf's before the party, since hats were required attire. Tyfani won 2nd place for her hat out of hundreds of contestants. The red satin shoes were a nice touch since they matched the glittery red bird ornament she glued to her hat design!

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Halloween Dinner

Our Annual Halloween Dinner
The little boys dressed up and baby Roman wore Dawson's first costume-notice Tyfani's prize winning hat that she made! The food is to appeal to kids. Some of what our special menu included:
Spaghetti and Eyeballs (black spaghetti from Target, sauce and meatballs)
Bony Breadsticks
Witches Fingers (green beans)
Eyeballs in Gore (plastic eyeballs sitting on red jello - it made the perfect sucking sound with each serving!)
Witches Brew (usually fancier but this year orange soda)

Close up of the black Spaghetti and Eyeballs on Dawson's plate

Jello (Gorey Eyeballs) is so hard to eat with a fork!

After studying the problem, Gabe decides to just pick up the plastic eyeball and suck the jello off of it.

Monday, October 26, 2009

BookLook Review is Poe -tic

Book Look October 30th
“The Gold-Bug and Other Tales” by Poe
Edgar Allan Poe is required reading for Halloween. Poe is an American author born in 1809 who wrote macabre tales probably due in part to his own suffering and addictions. Considered the master of the American Gothic horror story, he created chilling nightmares and hallucinations that seemed to spring from a tortured imagination. Largely shunned (gee, I wonder why) by his contemporaries and abandoned by his friends and family, only 10 people attended his funeral – in October 1849. How dramatic of him to depart during the month celebrating all things ghoulish. A do-over funeral was held this month in Baltimore as the highlight of a yearlong festival marking the 200th anniversary of his birth and hundreds of “mourners” attended. Actors portrayed his fickle friends and family and a local special effects artist created a mock-up of Poe in his casket for the event. I wish I could’ve traveled to his funeral since it sounded really entertaining but I read him instead.

“The Gold-Bug and Other Tales” is an anthology containing nine of his best-known short stories, some of which have been made into movies. The first story, “The Gold-Bug” is set on an island off the coast of South Carolina, where an unusual bug leads three men on a treasure hunt. But I can’t say much more (except there are pirate codes and invisible ink. . .) or the surprises may slip out. “The Murders in the Rue Morgue” influenced later writers including Conan Doyle who closely patterned Sherlock Holmes on Poe’s Monsieur Dupin, and Dr. Watson seems based on the narrator – did Doyle plagiarize?! “The Fall of the House of Usher” may sound familiar since this is one of the more famous movies made from an Edgar Allan Poe story. Melancholy insane twins trapped by agoraphobia wander until death in the House, dun . . . dun …dun . . . of Usher. There are more of course but the last one, “The Cask of Amontillado”, was one that haunted my dreams when I was a young girl. I don’t remember how I ever got a hold of this twisted tale. I was always sneaking books off my parent’s book shelf to read before I understood that they were above my grade level. I am still not sure what Amontillado is, but I do know that when you are drunk you never, never, never follow a rival Italian into his wine cellar/catacomb/crypt under his villa. Especially after you ask him to exchange Masonic signs and he laughs and holds up a trowel!

My only complaint is that I could not figure out what some of the words meant even reading the stories as an adult. They for sure were not on spell check. Footnotes might have been helpful to explain what nitre is, or how a roguelaire looks. Even without fully understanding some of these out of date words, I definitely understood the malice and mystery involved. So if you missed the Poe funeral party, celebrate Halloween reading a dose – not poisonous, of the truly chilling Edgar Allan Poe stories.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Which Table is Best?

Here are the two table choices for the family room. Dark brown leather furniture, beige carpet but light oak mantle and soon to be new paint. Do I match the dark wood on the couch, or the light wood on the mantle? Or does it matter? Step one updating family room is table, step two is drapes, step three is paint. I like to spruce up a room a year, and I have to count the basement guest room (known as the honeymoon suite) as last years' project delayed until new furniture this summer. Anyway, back to this year's room freshener question. Which table is best?

Monday, October 19, 2009

Girls Night Out in Naperville

Alyssa and I were Kelly's guests at a book signing for the latest in the Outlander Series. For a good time call Kelly! We laughed so much I was afraid she would start contractions. In this picture we are getting books signed - we were #130 in a very long line. Alyssa had her camera ready when Mr. "I will be taking the one allowed picture" took the camera away. Apparently he makes sure his author-wife looks good and doesn't care about the others in the shot.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

I'm the Man for the Job

As requested, by popular demand, due to constant nagging... here is a list of some of my recent favorite books,in no particular order. I didn't do a list of my favorite classics, maybe if I am nagged? These are safe for book clubs and would be considered "clean reads" - as far as I can remember.I like all of them for different reasons but consider them all good literature and worth reading.

1. The Story of Edgar Sawtelle (long beautifully written book for dog lovers etc.)
2. The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society (a bit rough to start since letter style, British)
3. Hearts of Horses (horse whisperer gal during the war)
4. These is my Words (early settlers story)
5. The Bee Keepers Apprentice (Sherlock Holmes has a young girl neighbor)
6. Crocodile on the Sandbank ( British spinster goes to Egypt back in those days)
7. Austenland (light weight humorous story of a Jane Austen fan)
8. At Home in Mitford (begins a great series about a small town but can just read one)
9. The Book Thief ( some language but YA and great writing - death is the narrator)
10. Wish You Well (story of city children being raised in the Smoky Mountains)
11. The Persian Pickle Club (Persian Pickle is a quilt pattern so they are quilters)
12. A Long Way From Chicago (YA but funny for all ages about a grandma and grandkids)

Inspirational and Non-fictional
1. Left to Tell
2. Founding Mothers
3. Barefoot Heart
4. The Wednesday Letters
5. The Invisible Wall
6. The Zoo Keepers Wife

If you want to know what they are about, check my past blog reviews or if you are really lazy just go to Amazon and read the description. Of course that won't include my opinion but do what ya gotta do.

Book Look Review "The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde"

"The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde”

Monster Fest continues here at BookLook. A classic thriller-chiller is required reading as the wind scrapes branches against your windowpane. Add a flickering fire set against the chilly night air and open a musty tome to complete your October evening! Most of us are familiar with the movie versions of Jekyll and Hyde but have never read the short novel by Robert Louis Stevenson upon which they are based. The famous movies show the general idea of his story of divided self but use additional Hollywood fare to turn this thoughtful tale into popular horror films.

As a young man, author Robert Louis Stevenson had a recurring nightmare in which he lived a double life similar to the character he later created. In his terrible dream he was a respected doctor by day but by night his evil split personality lurked in dark alleys. He produced the story based on his nightmares in just three days and published it as “The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde” in 1886. It was an instant best seller with 40,000 copies sold in the first six months alone. Queen Victoria and other famous British authors and playwrights of the time heralded it as one of the best tales written. Similar to Frankenstein and other early “monster” stories, the villain Mr. Hyde generates both pity and loathing in the reader. The setting is a bit of history combined with the social concerns and comments of the Victorian author.

The story begins as the lawyer Mr. Utterson catches a fleeting glimpse of a dark character unlocking a door and slipping inside late one evening. His reaction is revulsion mixed with curiosity. Who is this cold-hearted malevolent man? Of course we know that it is in fact his friend and client Dr. Jekyll. The lawyer recalls Dr. Jekyll left a will in his keeping, which names Mr. Hyde as the inheritor of his estate. Mr. Utterson suspects there is something amiss in this bequest and tries to convince Dr. Jekyll to confide in him. Of course the doctor refuses and becomes more reclusive and mysterious.

One evening Utterson is summoned by the faithful butler and discovers a terrorized household staff huddled in the kitchen. It seems there is a monster barricaded in the surgery at the back of the house with Dr. Jekyll. For days the butler has tried to get his master to come out, but is told to go away. What is happening behind that door? Only Dr. Jekyll can tell us the rest of the story.

Our imagination fills in the gaps intentionally created by Stevenson. Although we do not live in Victorian times, we share their fears of drug experimentation and the fragility of self control. He knew that we could draw scenes and characters from our own nightmares to make it more frightening. He didn’t know, writing in the time before moving pictures, that we would have an additional vault of movie memories to produce even more chilling visual images in shadowy black and white.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Swashbuckling Shenanigans

Dawson the Daring, Haydon the Reckless, Gabe the Babe (may have to find something more pirate-like for him now)

All For One and One for All

Dawson and Gabe are wearing shirts by Alyssa for 1st Day of Halloween

Again, parents I must caution you strongly about my babysitting. I adore these little grandsons but I will spoil them and even provide them with inflated swords for Swashbuckling.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Can You Spin Straw into Gold?

This is not the birthday girl, but her older sister katie who is almost 5. She was holding straw and I asked, "Can you spin that into gold Rapunzel?" (In my best mock English aristocratic accent). She said no, but she would throw it at her brother instead!

Princess gift wrap and gift boxes made by Lady in Waiting Alyssa

the Queen Mum looking great after surgery(Grandma Donna)

Birthday princess Lucy and Queen Kelly (mommy)on the hayride.

"O Prince Jake, thou art so handsome!" sighs Princess Julie.

Somehow big sister has more birthday toys than Lucy does!

It's true, Alyssa looks much better in her princess crown