50 Happy Things: Because Gratitude is Contagious

There’s a whole lot of grateful going on out there on the interwebs. I just happened to catch the wave of it when Dawn over at Tales FromThe Motherland started a whole gratitude blog party. The gist is simple. Write down as many things I am grateful for as I can in 10 minutes. I had to start this a couple of times. First time around, I came up with “sticks,” and “trees.” Because apparently there was too much pressure, or I am a squirrel. So I tried it again. None of it is in any particular order

Stuff I’m grateful for:

My computer. It takes me places.

My husband. We were meant for each other. At a recent Christmas party white elephant exchange, a gift was opened, our eyes locked, and we both knew without speaking that we had to have it. When it was my turn, I took it for our own. We high-fived. It is beautiful.

It's a redneck plunger. It's beautiful. It goes perfectly with our Leg Lamp.

It’s a redneck plunger. It’s beautiful. It goes perfectly with our Leg Lamp.

The Girl-child. She is home for the holidays, and without getting all maudlin, I’ll just say that I forget how helpful and funny she is. It’s good to be a family of five again.

The Padawan. He’s a funny one, and he always makes me laugh.

Squish. He made me late for work. Because he needed to put on a fresh roll of toilet paper.  I have passed on the sacred knowledge.

NaNoWriMo. I made some real strides this year. I needed the prod back into writing, and it has taken my students to places they never thought they’d go.

Gas range. Which I guess officially makes me a boring grown-up. I’m okay with that. It cuts cooking time in half sometimes.

Tech savvocity  I never used to think of myself as tech savvy, but I  am now. I can hate on Windows 10, not because I am afraid of new things, but because it has actually given up functionality.

New things that hatch. Images are borrowed mostly from previous posts, which is why the captions are weird, but I’m almost out of room for photo storage here. Click to enlarge.

My job. I love going to work every day. Who wouldn’t?

My camera. I take thousands of photos every year. I love to catalog stuff.

The blogosphere. Referring specifically to the wonderful people that have come into my life because of blogging, in person sometimes.

Pesky cats. I don’t have words for the weird little fuzzy things that share my space. Pixel is such a kids’ cat. She hears a crash and is off to see how she can help stir things up further. Loki is her spirit-deity.

Maturity My new computer has something wrong with the display, and I had some things stolen from the mailbox at Christmas. But it’s just one of those things, a series of inconveniences, not tragedies like they might have been two years ago. 

Grocery shopping  Don’t get me wrong. I hate grocery shopping because it’s a chore, but it is also a privilege not everyone has.

Holidays. Family fun time is the best time.

Humor. I like to laugh. I NEED to laugh. I discovered The Bloggess this year. I approve. She even retweeted some of my tweets in her awkward fest a few weeks ago.

Good books. There is nothing better than losing myself in a good book. What’s the best book you read in 2015? My e-reader is hungry.

Writing. If I don’t like the world I am living in, I can write myself a new one. I need to do that more.

My friends. They keep me grounded AND encouraged.

Music Trite, but true. Sometimes somebody else sings the songs of my heart. This year I discovered Poets of the Fall.

Free books  My used bookstore has a free bin out front. I find all kinds of treasures in it, like a hardcover Lord of the Rings. Also? Kobo store has some free gems now and again.

E-readers.  I got a new one for Christmas – shiny, back-lit, glorious. I love tree books, but e-readers mean that when my sad hands get all crampy and useless, I can still read.

Getting rid of crap. After Christmas, I try to get rid of at least as much stuff as I brought into the house. I aim for more this year.

My faith. It pulls me through hard times.

My blood family. They’re weird and funny and nutty and wonderful.

My church family. See above. Family is family.

Iwako Erasers. If anyone wants to send me a bag of fifty, I’ll give them a good home.

Harry Potter. This book series has brought much joy into my life and some incredible people. It is made of magic.

SPP. The best little online game that you’ve probably never heard of. I met wonderful people there, some of whom are sisters from other mothers IRL.Also, the first time I had to come to terms with the fact that nothing lasts forever.

This is also the place where I learned that people will complain about ANYTHING. It was a giant education in a little, fun game.

SPP. This is also the place where I learned that people will complain about ANYTHING. It was a giant education in a little, fun game.

My school. I can be in the worst mood ever, but the moment I walk in, I feel the love and joy. My school feeds my soul.

Toys. I like fun. I am naturally attracted to toys.

Lego sets This morning, Squish spent several hours putting together his Mystery Machine Lego set. So I got to sleep in and then READ.

My Chemex. I’m not a hipster, but I do appreciate good coffee. I can’t go back to auto-drip now that I’ve used a Chemex.

Old dogs that can learn new tricks, like how to use a Chemex.

Storage containers As a kid, I dreamed about what Santa would bring me for Christmas. As an adult, I dream about putting it all in clear plastic boxes.

When my kids read my blog and laugh.

Being a recommended humor blog. I think that ship has sailed, but I was on WordPress’s nice list for a nice, long stint.

Good movies

The ability to like what I like without caring what anyone else thinks. This ability was a long time in coming, but better late than never.

Used bookstores.

Wool socks If it ever bothers to get cold again. It’s just after Christmas, and it’s over 70 degrees.

Family photos, especially the ones that hold family secrets. We have a hundred years’ worth of photos, and they are priceless. 

Blogs. My lunch hour is spent reading blogs. Some of my faves are The Middlest Sister, The Kitchens Garden, and 2 Brown Dawgs. I read dozens. There are more, I’m just running out of room here!

Good customer service. The champs this year – Lego Store, Chuck E. Cheese, JCPenney, Mostafa at Hewlett-Packard, and Shutterfly.

New editing tools on WordPress. And also the ability to write in the old admin format. The new one is too minimalist for these eyes to read. So thanks for looking out for us old-timers, WordPress.

Punctuation. I know it doesn’t seem like it from looking at my list, but WordPress wouldn’t play nice with punctuation and formatting today.

There are forty-something on here, I think. The numbered bullets went all nutty when I added images, so I removed them. Too much to do tonight to spend longer than twenty minutes wrestling with the formatting. Want to join us? I hope you do!

Instructions, copied and pasted from Dawn’s blog:

If you’d like to join in, here’s how it works: set a timer for 10 minutes; timing this is critical. Once you start the timer, start your list (the timer doesn’t matter for filling in the instructions, intro, etc). The goal is to write 50 things that made you happy in 2015, or 50 thing that you feel grateful for. The idea is to not think too hard; write what comes to mind in the time allotted. When the timer’s done, stop writing. If you haven’t written 50 things, that’s ok. If you have more than 50 things and still have time, keep writing; you can’t feel too happy or too grateful! When I finished my list, I took a few extra minutes to add links and photos.

To join us for this project: 1) Write your post and publish it (please copy and paste the instructions from this post, into yours) 2) Click on the blue frog at the very bottom of this post. 3) That will take you to another window, where you can past the URL to your post. 4) Follow the prompts, and your post will be added to the Blog Party List. Please note: the InLinkz will expire on January 15, 2015. After that date, no blogs can be added.

 

Pretend this is a blue frog and click here to join the party.

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Nearly Wordless Wednesday: Pixel Gets a Job and a Winner

A couple of months ago I announced a giveaway for a remarkable debut novel. And then I took an unannounced break from blogging due to carpal tunnel. My bad. And then we adopted Pixel’s sister, Bellatrix, which brings the cat-count up to four. Cat food is expensive, so I decided it was time for Pixel to get a job. She decided she’d like to be a life-coach because she likes telling people what to do, so I said to myself “Self, why don’t you combine the giveaway with Pixel’s career aspirations and let HER pick the winner?” Good enough!

Now, Rafflecopter did its little job and picked three names for us. They are:

Very Bangled

Beth B.

Linda G.

Pixel’s assignment was to choose the grand prize winner. The name of each winner was written on the bottom of a different color Christmas bow – her favorite toy of all time. All she had to do was pick one up.

 

She looks ready, doesn't she?

She looks psychotic  ready, doesn’t she?

Sometimes I forget she has the work ethic if a cat.

Taking a break. Is it time for lunch?

Taking a break. Is it time for lunch?

 

10 minutes, a quart of catnip,  and endless attempts later, nothing doing. Pixel was summarily released from her contract. I’m pretty sure she doesn’t care. But wait! Who is that in the wings, ready to pounce? It’s BLOSSOM! 15 years old and ready to do the job! (click to enlarge)

Very Bangled and Linda, you guys win e-copies of Mixed Feelings. Beth, you win the grand prize pack! Congratulations!

Kate from Candlemark & Gleam will be in touch via the email address you guys used to enter the drawing. Thanks for playing! And worry about Pixel. She still gets to tell me what to do.

 

Of Cookies and Books

Ever bake something amazing from scratch? Something so good, so rich, so satisfying that you can’t wait to try it again, but the next time you tweak the recipe to try to make it just a little bit better. Sometimes it works, and you produce the most deliciously gooey double chocolate chip cookies, but other times, you’re left with a pile of dried out, brittle briquettes are more suitable for acts of vandalism than human consumption. Books are like baking.

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When I come across a story I love, it’s natural to want more, but sequels are a risk. Sequels change the story, for better or for worse. At its best, a sequel strengthens our relationship with a character and gives the author an opportunity to explore and develop larger plotlines. Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets is a great example. But a poorly written sequel has the power to turn readers away from a burgeoning series, and even characters they love forever. Jan Karon’s Father Tim series falls into this category for me, and Jim Butcher is headed down that path with his Dresden Files. Sometimes it’s better to stop while you’re ahead.

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When I was offered an ARC of the sequel to Justin Robinson’s Mr. Blank to review, I didn’t hesitate. I loved the first book so much. It was fast-paced and hilarious, and Robinson’s writing style is so engaging I had to quit trying to find quotes from his work to fit the title because every time I try to find one, I get carried off in the story again. I was eager to read it, but I did have to wonder if he could do it again. Just in case you’re wondering, he can, and he did. And you wanna hear something really crazy? Get Blank is even better than the original.

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It will come as no surprise to some of you that I am not always the sharpest crayon in the box, and it’s not hard for me to get lost among the twists and turns of a gumshoe novel. I’ll be the first to admit that I got tangled up a few times in Mr. Blank, but Robinson deftly set me back on the path every, single time. I never stayed lost for very long. This time around, I had no trouble at all in keeping up, and I could see where I was being led without anyone spelling it out for me. That is not to say the ending is predictable. It is not. But I could connect the dots on the significance of each event this time all by my own self.

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Robinson knows how to develop his characters. Even when they aren’t human, even when they’re pretty much identical to every other one of their species, Robinson manages to make them stand out, to make me care about them. And maybe even cry over them.

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The book isn’t perfect. The resolution was a bit abrupt, and the pursuit of the identity of “Mr. Blank,” the thread that ties this book to its predecessor and is the premise of the series is weak. But the writing is so solid, the story at hand so well developed that I look forward to other opportunities to revisit this world. And while it is a sequel, Get Blank really does stand on its own two feet.

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I devoured this book in a weekend, in one fabulous, children-raise-yourselves-because-Mommy’s-not-putting-this-book-down kind of weekend. It’s urban fantasy, it’s noir, it’s bizarre, it’s a delight. I give it 4.5 stars. I haven’t given an ARC a rating that high in a long time. It was my pleasure to do so this time.

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Want to win it? You know you do!  There are two ways to enter. I recommend both! Go here to learn about and participate in tomorrow night’s drinkalong. Go here to the contest’s main page.

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And what goes better with books than cookies? Nothing. Here’s the recipe for the double choco-chip cookies I made to eat while I read Get Blank. I futzed with the recipe so you don’t have to. You’re welcome!

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2 C bread flour
½ C cocoa powder, unsweetened
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
2 sticks salted butter, softened (not melted)
1 ½ granulated sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 eggs

6 oz semi-sweet chocolate chips

 

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Preheat oven to 375F. Combine flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, and salt in a small bowl and set aside. In large bowl beat butter and sugar on high for 1 minute. Add vanilla. Beat to blend. Add eggs one at a time, beating for one minute between each. Slowly add dry ingredients to butter mixture and beat. Batter will be thick. Add the chocolate chips and mix until evenly distributed.

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Place batter on ungreased baking sheet in heaping teaspoonsful. Bake for 9 minutes. Remove from oven, allow to cool for 1 minute, then remove cookies to a wire baking rack.

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Makes: not nearly enough

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Now, make some cookies and read this book. It’s my top pick for summer reads. And don’t forget to click here to vote for my zoo to win $5K. Comment on yesterday’s post to let me know you voted.

Raising the Dead

I haven’t posted in a bit. Lots to say, just not a lot of time in which to say it. I’ve been teaching camp at the zoo, and I’ve been too tired to put any thoughts together. Until now. I read a rather infuriating blog post a couple of days ago, and it inspired me to resurrect one of the favorite characters I have ever created, my redneck philosopher friend Bill. I’ll tell you his story sometime. I owe him a great deal.

For now, go and visit him here:

http://booksnobbery.wordpress.com/2013/06/20/dont-be-a-sexist-pig-a-psa-from-your-buddy-bill/

A warning. The blog link that is referred to in Bill’s post isn’t suitable for kids in my opinion, and it contains language you’ll never hear from me (or Bill). Open that part with caution.

Update: the link has been fixed. I hope.

Dear Haters

Dear Hater,

I read this post yesterday about Stephen King’s latest book release, and at first the quotes contained in it made me mad. And then it broke my heart. Because some of you are really mean, but also because you may find 10 years down the road that you’ve changed your mind, and you’re really putting your foot in it. Like I did.

I used to be like you. I thought I was open-minded, too. But at the same time, I thought my way was the only way, that anyone who thought differently was a loser wrong. And then I met sj, and my eyes were opened.

It didn’t happen overnight. We’ve been pals for over three years now, and it took almost that long before I would even hear her out, and even longer for me to admit that she was right. But she is. I am here to confess. I’ve gone over to the dark side. I love my e-reader.

I should have trusted her sooner. She had, after all, brought such delights as Firefly and Ready Player One into my life and changed my heart forever. But I am nothing if not stubborn.

When we first started talking, she’d mention her e-reader and how awesome it was. I did the smile-and-nod that you do when you’re pretty convinced that people are idiots misguided, but you’re too polite to say. We had discussions about reading pretty often because she and I spend a large number of our free time with our noses in a book. Well, my nose was in a book, hers was in a stupid electronic device. Not a book.

God help me, I felt like I was somehow superior. Because I read actual, physical books. I used to be you, hater.  I was better. I loved books more than those people tied to electronic devices. I loved the smell of books, the feel of books, the blah-blah-blah.

And then somehow it happened. Talking to sj one day, I actually experienced a moment of envy. Through NetGalley, she had access to all kinds of advance reader copies of incredible books. What? Books I couldn’t have? NO! I made it a goal to acquire a device of my own. Two hours later, I came home from the used bookstore with a Kobo I had purchased with trade credit.

I wasn’t hooked immediately. I read a few things, did a review for sj’s blog on something she hadn’t gotten around to reading yet. But over time, I’ve come to depend on my little Kobo. It’s nothing fancy. I can’t play Angry Birds or surf the net on it. It’s just for reading. And here’s a secret. In some ways, it’s better than a regular book. 

When I was ill recently, I lost some of the use in my hands. Whenever I went out for a walk, I’d return home to find my arms were too weak to even hold my e-reader, much less a hefty book. But I could prop that Kobo on a pillow and use one finger to poke the page-turner. When my eyes get wonky, I can actually change the font. So I can still read. And I currently carry 200 books with me at a time. In my purse. Need to disappear into Avonlea? I’m all set. Want to get cracking on the latest book for review? It’s right there.

Lest you dismiss the e-reader as a device for the disabled, I’ll tell you why I don’t have my e-reader all the time. My 10 year old steals it so he can use a flashlight and read under the covers at night. To him, it’s technology. It’s the future, and it’s exciting.

I think the quote contained in that post that gets under my skin the most is this:

“To those complaining about the fact that King didn’t release it on e-book, quit your whining. Reading an actual book (not a screen) is FUN. As an adult now with kids of my own who love to read, ebook are strictly for school or literary emergencies (only real book lovers know what I mean) in our house. Holding a book in your hand, cracking the spine, creasing the corners, getting water wrinkles on the pages from falling asleep with it on your chest while you float around the pool… It’s all part of the charm. If you have to have it explained, you wouldn’t understand anyway.”

It bugs me because, while I was never quite that sanctimonious, I once had similar views, and I’m embarrassed. Hater, let me dissuade you of the notion that only people who read paper books exclusively love books more, that it has to be either/or.

So don’t go there. It makes you sound narrow-minded. And elitist. And more than a little silly. I know. Because I was you.

Fortunately, books are not as judgmental as the people who read them. Harry Potter doesn’t care if I am turning a page or pressing a button. He welcomes me. So does Anne of Green Gables. And Tom Sawyer. And all my other friends. They’re happy to see me no matter how I got there.

And as for e-readers just being for literary emergencies, I don’t know about you, but my whole life is one big literary emergency. Waiting in line to pick up my kids, riding in the car when my husband is driving, all those times when I am dying of boredom. I no longer have to hope my husband hasn’t cleared out all my car-books. Because I have an entire library with me.

So hater, I invite you to open your mind a little bit, to see that your way isn’t the only way. I don’t expect you to believe me right now because you’ve just made a horse’s patoot our of yourself and are pretty much wed to your opinion. For now. But maybe one day you’ll decide to dabble on the electronic side. And we’ll be here to welcome you.

This post is much longer than I intended for it to be,  so I’ll end it here. With an apology. I’m sorry for ever doubting you, sj. You were the rightest. You always are.

Signed,

The Convertedest Convert in the History of Conversion

The One Where I Keep a Promise. And Use the Word Bowels.

You may remember that sj and I started a book club, one you might even want to join. Welcome to the first official meeting. From the Bowels of Obscurity Children’s Book Club is now in session!

It has been a while. I had big plans, but then I got sick and was too concerned with my actual bowels and various other body parts to do much with a book club. But I’m back, baby, and I’m ready to roll!

Anyone is welcome to join. It’s easy to participate. Have some favorite books from childhood? You can either write a post, or share with us in the comments. If you write a post of your own and include pingback by including a link to this post, your post link will appear at the bottom of this one, and we’ll be able to find and read other participating blogs.

I’m not big on rules, but the main one is that the books you track back should be ones you read as a kid. There are tons of great books hitting shelves everyday. This club is for dusting off the old ones that might have gotten buried. Unless you are an actual kid, under 18, in which case you are free to share your more recent faves.

And now the moment you’ve all been waiting for! *insert drum roll here*

Victoria

First book like this I ever read.

When I was a kid, I read the old standbys. I devoured Superfudge and rolled around in the Ramona series. But I also liked stalking the shelves for books none of my classmates had read. There was nothing I loved more than finding a book that hadn’t been checked out in ten years. This was one. I may, in fact, have been the only kid to ever check it out.

It was my first real taste of historical fiction, taking place at the very beginning of the Great Depression. That’s all I can tell you without giving too much away. This book still gives me chills. I gave an oral book report on it, and I got my first B+ because the teacher thought I gave away the ending. Little did she know.

MiltonI love this book. We received it in the mail from Weekly Reader. I remember my mom tucking me in bed and reading it to me. The words were simple, and the illustrations were adorable.

Fast forward 35 years and all my experience with dogs and the adult in me is shocked to pieces! <spoiler alert> What do you mean Milton knocked up the Great Dane next door?! He’s a year old! Anybody ever heard of hip dysplasia? Has he CERF’d? What about his patellas? Get responsible when you breed, people! Oh, yeah. I found a copy to read to my kids. Because it’s still precious.

And last, but definitely not least:

caleb

My favorite time in elementary school was library time. Long after we had graduated from picture books, our librarian found great things to read to us. This was one.

It’s the story of two brothers growing up in the Ozarks. Since the library only had one copy, none of us were allowed to check it out during the six weeks or so she was reading it to us. Waiting to get my hands on it nearly killed me. I was first on the list to check it out. I squirreled it away in my backpack and rushed home to savor every tidbit in my own comfortable bed.

I found the sequel at the public library, and it was like my birthday had come early. It’s as delicious as the original, but freakishly hard to find. I made a few half-hearted bids for it on Ebay over the years, but my limit was $30, which was over a hundred bucks shy of the winning bid every time. Imagine my surprise when I discovered a copy in the free bin at my favorite used book store.

If there’s a book you’re looking for, keep wishing. It will hear your heart and come find you one day.

Now it’s your turn! What’s on your favorites list? Don’t feel pressured to get them all in one post. I haven’t even scratched the surface of personal favorites. We can pace ourselves!

Some folks are way ahead of the game and have already shared some of their childhood favorites with us. Be sure to check them out!

Meet Nerija. Check out her reviews here and here.

And there’s Amy, who shared some goodies with us over at sj’s place!

And last but not least, pay a visit to M and to see her favorite kids’ books!

 

If you’re on Goodreads, you are welcome to join the club over there, too! Click the widget over on the bottom left. It will take you there.

Is This On Your Summer Reading List?

I am really getting into the NetGalley ARC thing. I pick some books that look like a good fit for my brain, I get sent an advance reader copy for free. I read it. I review it. I have nothing to lose, right?

Yesterday I reviewed Amity & Sorrow by Peggy Riley over at sj’s place. If it’s on your summer reading list, stop over and check it out. If you’ve read the book already, what did you think?

 

I love this cover. But...

I love this cover. But…

spoiler alert: There’s an image on my review that I may one day come to regret. I’m pretty sure of that, actually.  I invite you to post a similar image of your own. So I’m not alone out there.

 

Where There’s a Will, There’s a Way

I wrote a post today. The internet doesn’t love me and keeps disappearing on me so that I can’t share it with you, and my hands have decided that actually working the way they are supposed to is soooo last Saturday, which is about the time they turned in their notice and quit. Despite these setbacks, I persevere. I am sitting in the back of an FBI surveillance van because their internet connection is sweet (to get full effect, you have to sing that last word). A chicken is doing my typing for me. A little more corn on the keyboard, and pretty soon I’ll have Hamlet.

Come read my little guest-y post-y type thing over at sj’s place. Because I asked really nicely, and I went to a lot of trouble to bring it to you. I did. There are feathers everywhere.