Friday, January 30


I'm feeling blah. I'm not sick. I'm not pregnant. I'm just a little down. Everything I'm excited about just doesn't seem so exciting. The things I've planned to do aren't working out the way I'd planned.

Take today for instance. Adam has a day off, so we were planning to visit the library book sale that was scheduled for Wednesday, yesterday, and today. As we were getting ready to leave, I wanted to double check the website just to be sure I had the directions right since the sale wasn't at our regular branch. On the library home page they'd posted a big ad for the sale. This morning, however, the ad had a notice: SOLD OUT. Adam called to double check and, yes, they were out of books by noon, yesterday.

We were all ready to head out the door, though, so we decided we'd take a drive instead. Adam took our daughter downstairs as I went to grab a couple of extra items for our planned car trip. I was surprised when I got to the garage that he hadn't pulled the car around to meet me by the door. As I walked closer, I found he hadn't even started the car. I opened the door to get in and he told me I might as well not; the battery was dead. A light had been left on overnight.

Now we're waiting for the towing company to send out a truck for a jump start. Maybe once we make it to the open road I'll manage to leave the blahs behind for a bit.

Wednesday, January 28

Lia's Surgery

The operation took nearly six hours, but everything has been replace in it's proper position and they found no adhesions at all. The surgeon made the external incision so small it didn't require any stitches. The x-ray taken after surgery shows both lungs inflated and no free air in the chest cavity.

I'm not sure what happens next, but I know the goal is for Lia to be breathing on her own, so please be praying for that.

Tuesday, January 27

A Specific Prayer (updated 8:18 pm MST)

Baby Lia is scheduled for surgery on her diaphragm this evening at 8:00 PM MST. Please be praying with me that this operation will allow her to begin breathing on her own. You can continue to follow Lia's story at her CaringBridge page here.

Surgery has been pushed back to tomorrow afternoon at 1:00 PM.

Some Crazy Numbers

I was thinking the other evening about how often I've moved from one house to another. Because I'm me, I started doing some math about it. Here's what I came up with:
  1. The number of permanent home addresses I've had
  2. The number of temporary home addresses I've had
  3. The longest number of years I lived at one "permanent" address
  4. The shortest number of months I lived at one "permanent" address
  5. The lifetime average number of months I spent at one "permanent" address
  6. The number of moves I've made as an adult
  7. The average number of months I spent at one "permanent" address as an adult

Monday, January 26

Chocolate Pancakes

Monday's a good day for chocolate, right?

4 eggs
1½ c milk
2 T oil
2 c flour
¼ c sugar
¼ c cocoa powder
2 t baking powder
½ t salt
  1. Beat eggs in milk and oil.
  2. Stir together dry ingredients.
  3. Mix wet ingredients into dry until smooth.
  4. Pour by 1/3 c measure onto greased griddle over medium high heat.
  5. Cook on one side until bubbles burst at center of cakes, then turn.
Makes 12-15 pancakes.

Variations and serving suggestions:
Add ½ c chocolate chips or chopped walnuts to batter
Top with sliced fresh strawberries

Sunday, January 25

Do You Suppose They'd Want to Know?

Well, it's been quite the afternoon at the Gray household. A three-post day doesn't happen too often around here. We now join your regularly unscheduled program, already in progress.

I was on my way down the hallway past my daughter's room. She jumped in front of me to stand with her arms across the doorway.

"Don't come in here," she announced. "Don't play with me."
I laughed, "That's a new one."
"What?" She scrunched up her nose in confusion.
"Usually," I explained, "you're pulling me into your room wanting to play. This time you're barring the door telling me to stay out."

I should have been suspicious by then, but I was on my own errand. A few minutes later the warning bells in my brain finally kicked in.

"Why didn't you want me in your room?" I asked my daughter.
"Did you pee in your bedroom?"
"And pooh."

I ran to her doorway. Sure enough, a slightly squished pile of brown goo was on her carpet. I imagined it steaming, but it wasn't really. Thanking God once again for the inventor of rubber gloves, I cleaned up the mess for a second time in two weeks. We ran out of my go-to cleanser, Formula 409 the last time, so I tried some Easy-Off BAM.

The bottle promises to cut grease on any number of surfaces, but doesn't mention anything about carpets or bodily waste. Which led me to wonder, if I wrote a letter to the Easy-Off people, would they add this use to the label?

Hey, Mark ... (um, nevermind) ... FREE COOLNESS!

I know most of you who read this blog don't know any more about the web and technology issues than I do, but for the one of two of you who do, maybe you can help me out. I seem to have broken my computer.

I've had no problems watching video ever since I installed my speakers. My daughter has been enjoying the shows on JellyTelly (all free now--check it out!) since the week they started. This week, they added a new section to the site which included links to some of the character/video websites. I clicked on her current favorite and was taken to I was trying to play some of the sample videos there, but could only get the audio to play. I checked the setting on my QuickTime player and it looked like it hadn't been set to play video, just audio. I clicked on the "play video" button, and nothing has worked since.

JellyTelly won't play. Videos I've embedded on my own blog don't even show up. I keep getting this message that I need to install the QuickTime player version 5 or later. I've uninstalled and reinstalled QuickTime twice (both with iTunes and without). I've reinstalled Adobe Flash player (since I think that's what I was using to view JellyTelly videos before). I've reset my Firefox preferences several times. Nothing is working.

Anybody have any ideas?


Well, I can't remember what terms I searched to find this page, but I followed the suggestions and something I did must have worked because JellyTelly is back. YAY!!

Now, seriously, all of you who haven't checked it out yet, you need to go watch JellyTelly. They've changed the format slightly so you don't even need to sign up now--it's free for everybody, at least for the next couple of months. They've got some really great little features. I think my favorite is The Bentley Brothers (which my daughter calls "The Medley Brothers"). My favorite song of theirs is the description of 2nd Samuel (see a preview here).

It Happened Again

I had all kinds of symptoms. I was feeling nauseated, tired, achy. I knew their origin was not sure, and yet, I'd been hoping ... and now that hope is dashed and I'm feeling rather stupid for having hoped at all. Again.

Maybe the hardest thing for me to understand is that my daughter's conception was so quick and easy. She missed being a "honeymoon baby" by mere days. We weren't planning or trying or even feeling ready (at least I wasn't).

Someday, when I get to heaven and all things will be known, I've got some big questions for God.

Friday, January 23

Another Reading List Update

I have added a review of Lost & Found by Jane Sigaloff to my reading list.

From My Reading

A couple of interesting quotes I have read in the last couple of weeks.
         "You're worried about something that may or may not happen six years from now?"
         "Do you think that's a good use of your emotional energy?"
         "No. But on the other hand, it's the whole Boy Scout thing about how you should always be prepared. If you anticipate what things might go wrong, you can take steps to avoid it."
         "You have to stop worrying. Worrying gives you the false impression you have control over things. You don't. You don't know what the future brings. Anything could happen."
~Theresa Alan, Getting Married
    I think I have always had the misguided sense that worry and fear serve as an insurance policy of sorts. On a subconscious level, I subscribe to the notion that if you worry about something, it is somehow less likely to happen. Well, I am here to say that it doesn't work like that. The very thing you fear the most can still happen anyway. And when it does, you feel that much more cheated for having feared it in the first place.
~Emily Giffin, Baby Proof

Thursday, January 22

Do You Hulu?

TV shows ...
Films ...
Sports ...
Movie Trailers ...

oh, and did I mention ...


Check it out.

(N.B. Still not sleeping well here, so the blog forecast is for light, fluffy posting through the weekend)

Wednesday, January 21


Someone *ahem* has been getting to bed 2-3 hours after her bedtime all week, but still waking up at her usual hour. And she has the audacity to actually have energy.

I, on the other hand, have been sleeping an extra few hours each morning and I'm still feeling like I could take a three-hour nap every afternoon.

It's just not fair. She doesn't have anything she needs to do with all that energy. I could totally use some extra. The bathroom needs to be cleaned, and there are always extra dishes in the sink I could wash. The floors desperately need to be vacuumed ... I wonder if I could teach her to vacuum. Hmmm ....

Until then, anybody know where I can sign up for a robot clone to do the housework around here?

Tuesday, January 20

New Book Review Up

I posted the review I promised for Getting Married by Theresa Alan on my 2009 reading list.

Top Ten Tuesday

I had always thought that humans were born with an instinctive understanding of common sense. Really, I should have known better. Please enjoy these conversational tidbits from the last few months.

Top 10 Explanations I Never Knew I'd Need
  1. Why jelly beans don't have protein
  2. Why we can't hang from the towel bar/shower rod/refrigerator door
  3. Why the flashing red light on the "smoke protector" means it's keeping us safe
  4. Why we need money in the bank before using the ATM/debit card -or- Why Daddy needs to keep going to work if we want to keep eating
  5. Why we won't be going to Sunday school on Thursday
  6. Why wrapping up in a blanket (instead of getting dressed and putting on a snowsuit) will not be warm enough to go outside in the below-zero cold
  7. Why we shouldn't climb onto the bookcases/stove/washing machine
  8. Why washing without soap will not get grease off our hands
  9. Why we need to get more sleep when we're sick
  10. Why it's not a good idea to take batteries out of the TV remote and chew on them
If you want to play along, leave a link to your Top 10 list in the comments.

Monday, January 19

They Call This "Customer Service"?

Once upon a time, back in December 2002, I wanted to have a cell phone. I'd never had one before, so I went online to research. I compared service plans available in my area, I looked at different phones, and I chose to go with T-Mobile. Conveniently, there was a T-Mobile store on my way home from work.

I stopped in one evening and the saleswoman was quite helpful in getting me all signed up for service and showing me the options for free phones. I was so excited to be joining the wireless age!

For nearly 6 years I loved their service. I told anyone who asked that T-Mobile was a great company and I was so happy with them I'd never considered another provider. What impressed me the most was their excellent customer service. A few years back, they even helped me lower my monthly bill by switching to a different plan. Unfortunately, they seem to have changed their standards lately.

I was a bit bummed when we moved to Sioux Falls because T-Mobile doesn't offer coverage here. We were able to use our phones, but only because everything was forwarded through local companies. Our plan was to stay with T-Mobile until the contract ran out next fall, then switch to a company that provided regional coverage for South Dakota.

Meanwhile, Adam got a list of employee discounts for which he is eligible from work. We were pleased to find that one of the companies offering a corporate discount was T-Mobile.

Early last month, we called to add the 15% off discount code to our plan. Two-and-a-half hours and half a dozen representatives later, the discount was applied to our account in about five minutes. When Adam asked what the company would do for us to make up for the fact that they wasted the entire afternoon with their crummy customer service, he was transferred to yet another representative, this time in the Customer Relations department. She offered him 600 extra minutes which would expire in 90 days (mind you, we weren't even using the minutes included in our plan as it was--for this to be beneficial, we'd have to spend an extra 45 HOURS on the phone over the next three months) or a $5 "courtesy refund."

Adam suggested we would like a month of service for free or perhaps have our contract ended now so that we could sign up for a company that has local service. This was when we discovered that our contract had been extended for an additional two years, without our knowledge, as a part of the discount sign-up process. Adam explained our situation of having just moved and not having T-Mobile coverage in this area. The woman gave him an address to send a letter with this same information and a date to terminate our service.

We've mailed our letter and, so far, have only received a one notice marked "Final Bill." I'm not so sure we're in the clear yet, though. My brother and sister got the very same advice from T-Mobile when they moved here almost a year ago. They mailed and faxed their information multiple times, as requested. Still, they are arguing with the company over the response they received: a bill for several hundred dollars in contract termination fees.

On the plus side, we've now had almost a full month of service with Verizon and have yet to encounter any problems. Our phones get better reception, there is a big store right at the mall if we have any concerns, and with the 22% discount we get through Adam's work, our monthly phone bill is lower. And, as my sister put it, "At least with the Network following you around, you won't get lonely there."

Sunday, January 18

The Sunday Sermon and Other Notes

I cried in church today. It's been a while since that happened. What set me off today? A single line.

You can never beat yourself up enough
to get rid of the guilt.

Last night I finished reading a book. The main character gets herself into some serious trouble trying to stay on top and in control of her increasingly overwhelming life. I could really relate. That scared me. She wasn't really somebody with whom I was pleased to identify. I'll get a review up in the next day or two.

Meanwhile, did I mention that I found a local source for Pecorino Romano, Manchego, and goat's milk cheddar and mozzarella? It's prohibitively expensive, of course, but at least I know where to buy them now. I did actually pick up a block of mozzarella this afternoon. We're having pizza for dinner! Yum.

We took a family trip to the library yesterday. We got a selection of DVDs (how cool are free movies from the library? I mean, really, does it get better than this?) and the original Mary Poppins book by P.L. Travers. This is the first chapter book we're trying to read to our daughter. It's only been in the last year or so she's really shown an interest in books and she's been mostly into books she can interact with (i.e. books with lots of bright colorful pictures). My only real concern is that the movie strays significantly from the book, so the story won't quite be what she's used to from Mary Poppins. I guess we'll just have to see how it goes. I'll let you know what she thinks once we've finished.

Finally, a sermon illustration this morning made me think of the song "Beautiful in My Eyes" by Joshua Kadison. You can listen here. Even though I know this song is written from a man to a woman, I like the image of God saying to each of us, "You'll always be beautiful in My eyes."

Saturday, January 17

Car Seat Safety

If you are involved in a car accident while your child's car seat is installed in the vehicle, you may need to replace the seat--even if it was not in use at the time of the accident. I didn't know that until a couple of weeks ago. Just yesterday, I discovered that broken glass in the seat is a cause for replacement as well, even if you've vacuumed it up. In most cases, your car insurance will cover the cost of purchasing the same or similar make and model seat.

Minor accidents may not require a replacement seat, if ALL of the following conditions are met:
  • The vehicle was able to be driven away from the crash site
  • The vehicle door nearest the safety seat was undamaged
  • There were no injuries to any of the vehicle occupants
  • The air bags (if present) did not deploy
  • There is no visible damage to the safety seat
  • (source National Highway Traffic Safety Administration)
I found all of this out because our daughter was starting to outgrow her seat. Again. I told Adam when we installed that car seat, it was probably the last one we'd have to buy, since the weight limit went up to 80 lbs. Unfortunately, our daughter has quite a long torso, so while she's no where near the weight limit, she was getting to tall for the harness straps.

We didn't have a spare $100+ to get her a new seat, so I was checking out some online resources to see if she would really be safe in just a booster seat (the short answer? no). While I was reading up on boosters, though, I found out about the replacement guidelines.

Adam had been involved in a car accident a few months ago, so we went to see our insurance agent whether a new seat would be covered under our policy. As it turns out, the accident fit into the "minor" category described above. However, we did have the back window of our car broken over the summer, with much of the glass falling into the car seat. When we had the window replaced, the technician vacuumed out the seat and we didn't think anything of it. Turns out we should have replaced the seat then.

So, yesterday afternoon was spent car seat shopping. We were able to find a seat that fits much better--and has room to grow. On Monday, we're taking our old seat in to the insurance agents' for disposal. It feels good to be safe!

Friday, January 16

Infertility and Me

I feel myself caught between worlds.

On the one hand, Adam and I have been officially "trying" for 2½ years now. Two pregnancies have both ended in miscarriage. Grief, loss, pain, hope; it's all in there.

Conversely, I have a wonderful little girl who is turning four next month. I have experienced pregnancy, birth, nursing, teething, the terrible twos, and more.

Though we've not been successful in bringing another baby into the world, we've chosen not to pursue additional medical treatments which might increase the odds of a little sister or brother for our daughter.

Still, we have an only child, yet our plan was never to have just one.

This all hit home to me yesterday while I was spending quality time with my daughter in the bathroom (I was there on business, she was just visiting). She gave me a big hug and poked me in the tummy, asking, "Do you have a baby in your belly?"

I just wanted to cry.

Instead, I hugged her back, choked back my tears, and we had a delightful conversation about babies not coming out from their mamies' belly buttons.

Thursday, January 15

I Saw It on JellyTelly!

A week or three ago, there was the coolest little music video on JellyTelly. I just discovered it's on YouTube. Woohoo!

Here you go. Enjoy!

Wednesday, January 14

Reading List Update

I have a new review up on my list for Dreaming in Black and White by Laura Jensen Walker.

Apparently it's a light and fluffy chick-lit season this winter.

The Woes of Having Children

When one wakes up at three o'clock in the morning to one's child wandering out into the sitting room, and one notices said child is generously smeared with a dark, viscous substance, concentrated near her midsection ... what is one to do?

Particularly when said child had previously chosen to sleep on one's own plush-carpeted bedroom floor.

This writer suggests utilizing generous quantities of disinfectant, well-padded towels, and the scaldingly hot temperature setting on one's automatic washer. This writer also recommends that a tepid shower followed by the generous application of lather and a thorough scrubbing in a hot-water bath will remove all remnants of said substance from a child's skin and hair. Rubber washing gloves may be employed at one's own determination.

Furthermore, one may share one's travails with a well-chosen gathering of like-minded individuals. Upon completing one's recitation, one may gently encourage said audience to respond with affirmations and sympathetic communiques to restore one's spirit and strengthen one's inner being.

P.S. My daughter bounces next to me as I write this commenting, "Say 'pooh'! Say 'pooh'! Are you going to say 'pooh'?"

Tuesday, January 13

Bread Bowls

For years, Adam and I have enjoyed the bread bowls at Panera. He decided to try making some on his own for a chili I made one evening. Since he doesn't like sourdough (crazy man), he used a french bread base. They turned out quite well that night and we've used this recipe ever since.
click photo for larger image       
6-7 cups flour
2 t salt
2¼ t yeast (1 package)
2 cups very warm water
  1. Mix together 6 c flour, salt, and yeast.
  2. Stir in water and mix until blended, adding up to 1 c more flour if needed to make dough workable.
  3. Knead 10 minutes or until smooth and elastic.
  4. Place in a greased bowl, covered with plastic. Allow to rise 2 hours or until doubled in size.
  5. Punch down dough and divide into 6 pieces.
  6. Shape into rolls and place on a baking sheet sprinkled with cornmeal. Let rise an additional 10 minutes.
  7. Preheat oven to 400°F with a shallow pan of water on the lowest rack.
  8. Bake rolls 18-22 minutes or until crusts are golden.
  9. Remove to a cooling rack and allow to cool 15 minutes.
  10. Cut into tops of rolls at a slight inward angle to about ¾ down. Pull to remove top and center of roll.
  11. Scoop out additional bread if you wish, taking care not to break through the crust.
  12. Fill with soup or chili and serve immediately.

Nutrition Facts
Serving Size 1 bowl (130 g)
Serving per Recipe 6
Amount per Serving
Calories 466 Calories from Fat 12

% DV
Total Fat 1.5g
Saturated Fat 0g
Monounsaturated Fat 0g
Polyunsaturated Fat 0.5g
Cholesterol 0mg
Sodium 818mg
Total Carbohydrates 97.5g
Dietary Fiber 4g
Sugars 0.5g
Protein 13.5g


Monday, January 12

It's Monday, How About a Little Poetry

If you asked Adam, he'd tell you I claim not to like poetry. Lately I've been writing it again, though, so I'm not sure what that means. This one seemed to have been living in my brain for a while before it emerged, fully formed, like Athena from Zeus's head.


Stuck here
Stuck in the middle of here
No way to get from here to there
I want to fly
I want to cross this barren desert
I want to get to the other side
I want to be out of the dry landscape
No rocks, no trees
Nothing to hold onto
Nothing to grasp
There is no escape
I cry, I pray, I laugh
At myself
I am so absurd
I am here

Are you there?
Is anyone out there listening to me?
Can you help?
Will you?
I ask, I pray, I cry
I don't have the energy
I don't have the strength
I don't have the faith
What must I believe?
How can I hope?

I am here
There is nothing
My world is empty, tiny, insignificant
The universe is shrinking
Am I lost?

I can't hear you
I can't move
I can't sit still anymore
I can't think
I can't do
I can't just be
I want it to stop
I want to stop waiting for the worst to come
Will it?
Must it?
I have no hope
I am afraid
Even to fear takes energy

I am too still
I am cold
I am hot
I am restless
I am

I am
I am?

What do you mean?
How can I be?
I can't
I don't
I won't
Must I?

You are
You are?
I am
I am here
You are here
I don't know why
I don't want you
I do
I am afraid
You don't want me

Even now
You do

I don't understand
I can't
You do

I am here
I don't know
I am tired
Yet ...
You are

And we
We are

I am amazed
I am tired
I am loved
I am still

Copyright ©2008 by Amy James Gray. No part of this text may be copied or reprinted without the prior consent of the author.

Sunday, January 11

Real Love

I wrote the following as a note to Adam the other morning, while I was up with our daughter and he sleeping in. He was quite amused, and suggested I post it. Enjoy.

Love ... When I'm Grumpy

Love is patient ... I've been waiting and waiting for you to get up.
Love is kind ... What, I let you sleep, didn't I?
Love is not jealous ... I wish I were in bed sleeping instead of up with the bouncy one.
Love is not easily provoked ... Wanna make somethin' of it?
Love bears all ... I can manage, you just do what you have to do (raises hand to forehead, heaves dramatic sigh).
Love believes all ... I can't believe you're still in bed!
Love hopes for all ... I hope you get up soon.
Love endures all ... Even wives in a crummy mood (but trying to make light of it!).
Love never fails ... Which is a darn good thing, 'cause the same sure can't be said about me.

Saturday, January 10

Update to My Reading List

Check out my 2009 Reading List for a review of Paper Moon by Linda Windsor.

Have You Been Lurking?

Come on, admit it. It's National De-Lurking Week this week. All of you non-commenting visitors, leave me a comment.

Pretty please?

Oh, and while I'm at it, a special thanks to all of you who regularly comment. I love getting your thoughts, encouragement, jokes, and so forth. Thank you!

As for the rest of you--cat got your tongue? Come on, comment!

Friday, January 9

For the Woody Woodpecker Fans Among Us

I've been singing this since mid-morning:

I'm chilly Amy the Mamie
I cough until I'm blue
My head is hot and my feet are cold

To which my daughter responds, "Bless you!"

My Honey

Adam is out cough to buy some groceries that we can hack prepare quickly. Both of us are sick with cough, cough yucky, nasty head colds. Vertical is a sneeze challenge; cooking is completely out of the cough question.

One of the items on his shopping list is orange juice. We've both been craving it. Vitamin C sounds absolutely wonderful. In the meantime, I did come up with a solution to get a little C and sooth our tattered throats (and it's so much nicer to drink than just water).

Amy's Lemony Yumminess Hydrator and Sore Throat Soother*

12 oz hot or tepid water (Adam prefers the former, I prefer the latter)
2 t lemon juice
1 T honey

Mix well to dissolve the honey and drink up. Mmmmmm.

*Doesn't that just sound like one of those 1920s health remedies?

Thursday, January 8

2009 Reading List

I sort of forgot to keep up with my 2008 reading, so I thought I'd get a jump on 2009. I'll update this list as I finish my books.

A note on the reviews and recommendations: I do read and enjoy books with mature themes, coarse language, and explicit sexual depictions. I may or may not make note of their occurrence. If you are trying to avoid any of these, make sure you consult a reputable source to discern whether or not any given book might be suitable for your collection.

**Update** I added a section of books I've begun but chose not to finish. Click here to check those out.

Books I've Read

12. Ramona and Her Mother by Beverly Cleary
Ramona is feeling left out of the mother-daughter bond she sees between her sister and their mother. Beezus is older, she's allowed to do more, and Ramona overheard Mrs. Quimby tell a neighbor she couldn't get along Beezus. Ramona doesn't remember her mother ever saying that about her. Adding to these difficulties of being seven and a half, Ramona is having trouble with her spelling and she's not sure she likes her new teacher. The trouble with being the youngest, but no longer charming just for being young is a common theme, but the author handles it with realism and humor. As usual, four smilies. (reviewed 3/14/09)

11. Ramona and Her Father by Beverly Cleary
Of all the Ramona books, this stands out to me as the darkest. Not that any of the stories are particularly dark, but on the whole, this one is more serious than the others. To begin with, Mr. Quimby loses his job, requiring some major changes for the whole family. Then, Beezus, Ramona's older sister, complains about Mr. Quimby's smoking. Ramona worries about his lungs turning black and the girls mount their very own in-home campaign to convince their father to give up his cigarettes. Interspersed with the more serious themes, however, are many more lighthearted moments. As usual, by the end of the book, all has been resolved. Four of five smilies. (reviewed 3/14/09)

10. Theodora's Diary by Penny Culliford
I've read this book several times. Each time, I realize I have forgotten just how funny it is. Theodora lives in a small British village and attends the local Anglican church. She worries that her football-loving boyfriend is spiritually degenerate, that her parents marriage will break up over one moussaka too many, and that she'll never make it through Lent without chocolate. Her boss is an inveterate practical joker, her assigned prayer partner has five (or is it six?) children and wears dresses that match the draperies, and she has just been called on by the church's self-appointed minister of visitation to the sick (who bears an uncanny resemblance to the grim reaper). I defy you not to laugh. Four of five smilies, laughing out loud. (reviewed 2/25/09)

9. On a Whim by Robin Jones Gunn
I've read 40 of the 57 books Robin Jones Gunn has written. I'm currently waiting (highly impatiently, I might add) for two more to be published. I think it would be safe to say I'm a big fan. This story is the second book in the Katie Weldon series. Katie was first introduced in the Christy Miller books and her story continued in the distance throughout the Sierra Jensen series. Though all these collections are directed to teen readers, I read them all as an adult and find them quite good reading. The story picks up in Katie's senior year of college, she and Rick are now officially dating, but their heavy schedules, especially Rick's business trips to Arizona, keep them from seeing each other too often. Rick wants Katie to get to know his roommate better, and quit acting so strangely around him. I really can't say much more about the storyline; after the first chapter or two, it is quite predictable. Still, I enjoy these characters so much, I don't mind that their lives are not unexpected. The single thing I like best about all of this author's work is, to quote the Publishers Weekly review of this novel, "religious faith never feels sentimentalized or tacked on, but is integrated beautifully." Total score: four of five smilies. (reviewed 2/25/09)

8. Ramona the Brave by Beverly Cleary
In case you've been living under a rock for the past 30 years or so, the Ramona books are modern classics of children's literature. This is the third book in the series chronologically, however, each novel stands alone. Ramona is entering the first grade and she has exciting news for show and tell: workmen came to her house over the summer and broke through the back of the hall closet to start adding a new bedroom! Unfortunately, the rest of the class doesn't respond with the gasps of awe she expects. This one incident on the first day of school sets the tone for her whole semester. Ramona's teacher doesn't seem to understand her, one of her classmates copies her art project, and she discovers that sleeping alone in a dark room is scary. Beverly Cleary does an amazing job of capturing the essence of childhood joys and frustrations. I enjoyed this book as much reading it to my daughter as I did when I was a kid. I give it four of five smilies. (reviewed 2/25/09)

7. Baby Proof by Emily Giffin
I read this author's books Something Borrowed and Something Blue last year and really enjoyed them (the second a little more than the first). I didn't know how well I would like this novel, however, because I wasn't too sure I could relate to the premise: Claudia and Ben agreed when they married that neither wanted to have children. It seems to have been their defining characteristic as a couple. When their close friends announce a pregnancy, Ben starts to wonder if maybe there is something to procreating after all. Claudia feels betrayed. She tries to talk to her friends and her sisters, but no one seems to understand. The underlying theme of the book seems to be: at what point do you give up what you always wanted, to get what you always wanted? Although I didn't really understand not wanting a child, the story is written in such a way that I found it easy to relate to Claudia's feelings of betrayal and confusion. Overall, it's a well-written book with interesting plot twists. I give it three smilies. (reviewed 2/25/09)

6. Secret Confessions of the Applewood PTA by Ellen Meister
This is a book that should, by rights, have joined the list below of books I didn't finish. I'm not sure what prompted me to keep reading beyond the wide-eyed fascination with which you associate disasters. The story was little more than Mean Girls, all grown up. To keep the readers' interest, the author has included a generous helping of varied sex scenes, drug use, and references to George Clooney. Unfortunately, even that didn't really keep it interesting. In the end, I couldn't even muster one smiley for this one. (reviewed 2/6/09)

5. Lost & Found by Jane Sigaloff
Sam accidentally leaves her diary in a New York hotel room when she returns to London. Visiting New York with his sister, fellow Londoner Ben finds the diary and is immediately entranced by its author. He shows up at her door, has a few dates with her roommate, then joins Sam's friends in convincing her the two of them should be an item. Reading this book for the first time, I felt like I'd read it before. The plot seemed very similar to Sophie Kinsella's Can You Keep a Secret? I don't suppose I can hold that against the autor, though, since Lost & Found was published first. Still, the story seemed somewhat uninspired. The plot was predictable and the characters weren't quirky enough to hold much real interest through to the last page. I was still rooting for Ben and Sam to get together in the end, however, which is about all that pushed it out of one-smiley territory and earned it two smilies. (reviewed 1/23/09)

4. Getting Married by Theresa Alan
It's packaged as a fluffy chick-lit romance, but it's not really. The story starts out rather lightly as the heroine, Eva, has a minor panic attack in the bathroom stall of her regular happy-hour haunt upon reading the graffiti scrawled on the door, "You are not the first, and you are definitely not the last. And probably, you are not the best." As the story continues, we learn that Eva is a successful business owner and is all but engaged to her boyfriend of several months, computer programmer Will. After a childhood of never feeling good enough for her demanding father, Eva is worried that she won't be able to compete with Will's ex-wife, with whom he is still friends. Soon, the wedding plans start (even without a proposal), and Eva takes on a high-pressure consulting job for a client who is in over his head. She is overworked, stressed out, and as insecure as ever about becoming the wife Will really wants. This volatile combination of factors explodes one evening on a business trip when she engages in some self-destructive behavior which she quickly finds addictive.

As I mentioned in my previous post regarding this book, I found the character of Eva very identifiable, and this made me uncomfortable. I don't like to think that, in a similar situation, I would be tempted to make a similar choice. Yet, I know that I would. I found the book fascinating. It is quite well written and almost all of the characters are well-developed as individuals, rather than simply flat stereotypes. I was a bit put off by the overabundance of four-letter words and I could have done without a conversation or two of thinly veiled political commentary, but overall, I felt the book was a good, interesting, thoughtful read, well deserving of four smilies. (reviewed 1/20/09)

3. Dreaming in Black and White by Laura Jensen Walker
I've read this novel before and, frankly, I don't remember liking it as well the first time. Phoebe really seemed to grow on me more this time. The story is pretty standard Christian chick-lit fare: Girl meets boy, boy fires girl, girl hates boy, girl is surprised when God drops boy back in her lap. The characters are likable, if sometimes a bit one-dimensional. The movie references were a lot of fun, and I, personally, have to give a bonus credit to any couple whose love story started over Trivial Pursuit. Another nice, light fluffy read with a moment or two of depth thrown in for good measure. I give it three smilies. (reviewed 1/14/09)
See here my thoughts on the sequel.

2. Paper Moon by Linda Windsor
Caroline, a single mom, and Blaine, a single dad, chaperone their daughters' class trip to Mexico. As you might imagine, the rest of the story is about how they clash, spark, and fall in love under the watchful eyes of a bus full of teenagers and other parents. Their whirlwind romance struck me as a bit contrived, and the subplot involving an international smuggling ring seemed a bit over the top. It was almost as if the love story wasn't enough to carry the book, so another, heavier plot line needed to be added to make it more interesting. The story itself wasn't so bad, but the inlaid concepts of Christianity felt a little heavy handed. However, if you can make it past the periodic theology lessons, and you're willing to suspend your disbelief at the time it takes their romance to blossom, you may enjoy this story. Unfortunately, I couldn't quite manage both. My verdict: just one out of five smilies. (reviewed 1/10/09)

1. Remember Me? by Sophie Kinsella
A woman wakes up from a coma to discover she can't remember the last three years of her life. She has to get to know her new husband, friends, and high-powered job while trying to figure out just who is this woman she has become.

I liked it. Not a fantastic piece of literature, but it was a fun story. I'd consider it a decent companion for the beach or a long flight. My biggest complaint was that the ending seemed a bit abrupt compared to the pacing of the rest of the story. Overall, I give it three out of five smilies.

Books I Didn't Finish

4. Paperback Writer by Stephen Bly

I don't really have anything bad to say about this one, just that I wasn't in the mood to read the story after I'd started. The premise is of a novelist who has just finished his 98th paperback detective story. He's headed home from his writing nook (a low-rent hotel) and encounters a series of extraordinary events. The only problem is, he's not sure which are real and which he has imagined.

3. This Charming Man by Marian Keyes

I got about halfway through this one. I've really liked Marian Keyes's books in the past, including Lucy Sullivan Is Getting Married, Watermelon, and Last Chance Saloon. Her writing is still excellent, unfortunately, I couldn't get past the subject matter: domestic violence. Despite the compelling prose, I didn't feel the need to read colorful accounts of fictional abuse.

2. Dreaming in Technicolor by Laura Jensen Walker

Ah, yes. This is why I remember not liking Dreaming in Black and White. I only got through about a half-dozen pages this time. The quirky, spunky heroine from the first book has landed the man. Unfortunately, this seems to have made Phoebe clingy, whiny, and irritatingly insecure. It's no wonder her new boyfriend heads halfway around the world to be rid of her.

1. Mary Poppins by P.L. Travers

I knew the movie was based on the whole collection of stories, not just the one book, but I didn't realize just how incredibly different they would be. In particular, the character of Mary Poppins (in the book) was haughty, vain, and quite disrespectful of both her employers and the children in her care. We stopped reading after three or four chapters.

Wednesday, January 7

100 Things

I've seen this on two different blogs today and it seemed like a nice way to ease myself back into blogging.

The rules state: Below are 100 statements. Bold or change the color of the ones you have done.
  1. Started your own blog
  2. Slept under the stars
  3. But woke up in the rain.
  4. Played in a band
  5. I was in the school band for ... three years? I played clarinet and, very briefly, coronet.
  6. Visited Hawaii
  7. Watched a meteor shower
  8. Given more than you can afford budgeted to charity
  9. I disagree with the original statement on principle.
  10. Been to Disneyland or Disney World
  11. World, 1991 with a bunch of kids from youth group after we'd spent all week offering disaster relief to victims of Hurricane Andrew.
  12. Climbed a mountain
  13. I've told this story, haven't I?
  14. Held a praying mantis
  15. Maybe. I liked bugs as a kid, but don't specifically remember what I caught over the years.
  16. Sang a solo
  17. In my church a few times when I was in high school.
  18. Had stitches
  19. Once in my head and once, um, elsewhere, after my daughter was born.
  20. Visited Paris
  21. Watched a lightning storm at sea
  22. Taught yourself an art from scratch
  23. Kinda. I was taught how to chain and make a single stitch, but otherwise I taught myself to crochet.
  24. Adopted a child
  25. Had food poisoning
  26. I was pregnant at the time. One of the two times I vomited during that pregnancy. I haven't been interested in Navy Bean Soup since.
  27. Walked to the top of the Statue of Liberty
  28. Back when they still let you.
  29. Grown your own vegetables
  30. My parents had an enormous garden when I was a kid. I haven't grown much as an adult, but I discovered that a local church here has a community garden, so we may grow some veggies this summer.
  31. Seen the Mona Lisa in France
  32. Slept in an overnight train
  33. On my way to my brother's wedding.
  34. Had a pillow fight
  35. Hitchhiked
  36. Not really on purpose, but I've taken a couple rides from strangers when I've gotten lost or had car trouble.
  37. Taken a sick day when you’re not ill
  38. Mental health days are my friend. I just wish the benefits plan for motherhood came with a few more.
  39. Built a snow fort
  40. Held a lamb
  41. Gone skinny dipping
  42. Run a marathon
  43. Ridden in a gondola in Venice
  44. Seen a total eclipse
  45. Lunar only.
  46. Watched a sunrise or sunset
  47. Hit a home run
  48. Been on a cruise
  49. Only the lunch-around-the-harbor kind, though.
  50. Seen Niagara Falls in person
  51. Visited the birthplace of your ancestors
  52. Mousehole, Cornwall, UK
  53. Seen an Amish community
  54. Shipshewana, Indiana
  55. Taught yourself a new language
  56. I've forgotten most of it, though. I studied Italian on my own before my trip to Italy. I learned enough to find the bathroom, order dinner, ask how much the postcards cost, and say "thanks" when given my change.
  57. Had enough money to be truly satisfied
  58. Then I got married and had a kid.
  59. Seen the Leaning Tower of Pisa in person
  60. Gone rock climbing
  61. No sheer rock faces where I needed ropes, though.
  62. Seen Michelangelo’s David
  63. He was taller than I expected.
  64. Sung karaoke
  65. Seen Old Faithful geyser erupt
  66. Bought a stranger a meal at a restaurant
  67. Visited Africa
  68. Walked on a beach by moonlight
  69. I wish we lived closer to the beach.
  70. Been transported in an ambulance
  71. Had your portrait painted
  72. Gone deep sea fishing
  73. Seen the Sistine Chapel in person
  74. Well, okay, technically not. We tried to, but they'd closed early that day.
  75. Been to the top of the Eiffel Tower in Paris
  76. Gone scuba diving or snorkeling
  77. Snorkeling when I was a kid.
  78. Kissed in the rain
  79. Probably. Not in some sort of romantic "moment" though.
  80. Played in the mud
  81. Gotten a speeding ticket
  82. On my way to church for a volunteer appreciation breakfast.
  83. Been in a movie
  84. Sort of ... you can see where my car was parked in My Fellow Americans and I was inside the restaurant behind it.
  85. Visited the Great Wall of China
  86. Started a business
  87. Taken a martial arts class
  88. Visited Russia
  89. Served at a soup kitchen
  90. Sold Girl Scout Cookies
  91. Gone whale watching
  92. In Massachusetts and New Zealand.
  93. Got flowers for no reason special occasion
  94. I got flowers because my husband loves me!
  95. Stayed the night in jail
  96. Cried so hard you threw up
  97. Visited a Nazi Concentration Camp
  98. Bounced a check
  99. Unfortunately.
  100. Flown in a helicopter
  101. Saved a favorite childhood toy
  102. I saved a bunch of stuffed animals, dolls, books, two Little People play sets, and my toy box.
  103. Visited the Lincoln Memorial
  104. Eaten caviar
  105. It's very salty.
  106. Pieced a quilt
  107. Does it count if I'm working on one (that I've been working on for, oh, about 10 years now)?
  108. Stood in Times Square
  109. But never on New Year's Eve.
  110. Toured the Everglades
  111. Been fired from a job
  112. Technically, but I'd sort of already quit.
  113. Seen the Changing of the Guards in London
  114. Broken a bone
  115. Been on a speeding motorcycle
  116. Seen the Grand Canyon in person
  117. Published a book
  118. But only through my elementary school library
  119. Visited the Vatican
  120. Bought a brand new car
  121. Walked in Jerusalem
  122. Had your picture in the newspaper
  123. Read the entire Bible
  124. Visited the White House
  125. I've never done the tour, though.
  126. Killed and prepared an animal for eating
  127. Had chicken pox
  128. Saved someone’s life
  129. Sat on a jury
  130. Met someone famous
  131. Robert Fulghum, author of All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten.
  132. Joined a book club
  133. Lost a loved one
  134. Had a baby
  135. Seen the Alamo in person
  136. Swam in the Great Salt Lake
  137. Been involved in a lawsuit
  138. Owned a cell phone
  139. Been stung by a bee
  140. Read an entire book in one day
  141. Is there any other way?
You can go visit some other lists up today at Purple Puzzle Place and One Thing. If you decide to do your own list, leave a comment so I can come visit!

Tuesday, January 6

Journey to the Center of the Universe

Originally published January 6, 2008

I had a sort of revelation the other night. I was on my way to sleep and thinking God-thoughts when it suddenly occurred to me that all of those verses that encourage us to be looking outside ourselves as we build our relationship with God are there for a reason.

Consider God as the Center of the universe. In order to journey closer to the Center, I have to reach beyond and outside myself. Because I am not the center of the universe.

And it only took me 32 years to figure that one out. How long it will take me to actually make it practice? I'm hoping it will be less than another 32.

Have a blessed Epiphany Sunday.

Sunday, January 4

Making Tracks

Originally published 12/22/07

When I was single, housecleaning was a reasonably rare activity. Unless people were coming over or I was out of dishes, there didn't seem to be much point. When I would finally get it all together and clean, it would stay that way for weeks ... or, well, days anyway.

Now, I'm married with an almost-three-year-old kid. Adam and I can spent hours cleaning and tidying the house, only for our daughter to start messing it up--before we've even finished cleaning. It's very demoralizing.

We had a date last night, our first real date in months and months. Our daughter's godmother graciously offered to babysit for us, so we needed to make an effort to tidy up the house. We'd been a bit lax about it the last several weeks; we'd all been battling illness and hadn't gotten back on track yet. But we put a few hours of work in and got things organized, swept, dusted, toys put away, and the bathroom clean. It felt really good to come home last night and have the living room look all tidy and inviting.

Within 20 minutes of waking up this morning, the wee one had already started leaving tracks of her progress around the house. There is currently a pair of discarded shorts in the corner, two books on the coffee table, her purse with its contents scattered on the easy chair, a toy ball resting on top of the TV stand, and the backing from a page of stickers crumpled on the floor. The stickers themselves are plastered to her bare tummy. She was dressed less than an hour ago.


I know this stage will pass. They even tell me it will be over all too quickly. But some days, I'm just discouraged that I'll ever have a clean house.

Friday, January 2

Appearing Foolish

Originally published October 20, 2006

My daughter loves to dance. She'll dance to classical, country, pop, advertising jingles, Silly Songs with Larry. She's even been known to wiggle her little hips to train whistles. It got me thinking.

At what age do we start feeling self-conscious? What sets us off? Do we one day wake up and see people looking at us in a way we never noticed before? And, why is it so hard to go back?

In my previous life, before marriage and kids, I was an event planner for a trade association. I traveled around the U.S. setting up and helping to run conferences. As part of these events, we would often have a banquet night with dinner, dancing, and an open bar. While my personal convictions don't prohibit me from an occasional drink, I felt it was inappropriate to be drinking while I was technically working. That attitude kept me in the minority, however, especially as the evenings would progress. So, with some regularity I found myself having the opportunity to dance among a large group of people who were as likely as not to remember it in the morning.

How incredibly freeing that was! I learned to rarely worry about missteps and the near constant fear of making a fool of myself. I loved it! And, amazingly enough, I would often get comments the next morning from people who did, in fact, remember and had been impressed with my "skill."

It makes me wonder...could this be what Jesus meant when He said, "I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven" (Matthew 18:3, NIV). Do we as a society spend so much time focusing on how we look, how we might appear to others, that we're missing out on the greatness God has stored up for us? Do we distract ourselves (and, worse yet, others) from the blessings of God by our own fear that we will look a little strange?

What is that verse about the wisdom of God appearing foolish to men? In I Corinthians 1:18 Paul writes, "For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God." (NIV)

I love to dance. I love the feel of moving in time with the music, the rhythm bouncing up from my soul and cascading out around me. Maybe it's time I learn a lesson from my daughter and rediscover the joy of dancing with abandon. And, maybe, I should look at some of the other areas of my life where I'm concerned about what other people are thinking of me. Maybe God's tying to pour in some grace there too.