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The Enchanted Castle. E. Nesbit. 1907. 291 pages. [Source: Bought]
I really enjoyed reading The Enchanted Castle by E. Nesbit. I had started this one at least twice before, but, I had never been in the right mood to properly appreciate this children's fantasy novel. I was in the right mood this time.
If you enjoy adventure fantasy novels, you'll probably enjoy spending time with Jerry, Jimmy, Cathy, and Mabel. Jerry, Jimmy, and Cathy are siblings. When these three first meet Mabel, they mistake her for a princess. At the time, they are having an adventure looking for an enchanted castle. So finding a princess within that castle makes complete sense! Mabel is actually the niece of the housekeeper. She confesses that a bit later on. That first meeting is magical enough! She shows them a secret room behind a paneled wall. This room is fabulous if you're looking for treasures. While in the room, the children find (and pick up) a ring. This ring is central to all their further adventures. And Mabel is their new best friend. She's always part of the group.
This one was a very fun read. It reminded me of why I love E. Nesbit in the first place. It wasn't a perfect novel. But flaws and all, it worked well enough for me. It was a joy to read of their adventures and misadventures. The ring gets them into trouble more often than it gets them out of trouble.
“Go then, and be not more naughty than you must.”
“If we were in a book it would be an enchanted castle — certain to be,” said Kathleen. “It is an enchanted castle,” said Gerald in hollow tones. “But there aren’t any.” Jimmy was quite positive. “How do you know? Do you think there’s nothing in the world but what you’ve seen?” His scorn was crushing.
“I think magic went out when people began to have steam-engines,” Jimmy insisted, “and newspapers, and telephones and wireless telegraphing.” “Wireless is rather like magic when you come to think of it,” said Gerald. “Oh, that sort!” Jimmy’s contempt was deep. “Perhaps there’s given up being magic because people didn’t believe in it any more,” said Kathleen. “Well, don’t let’s spoil the show with any silly old not believing,” said Gerald with decision. “I’m going to believe in magic as hard as I can. This is an enchanted garden, and that’s an enchanted castle, and I’m jolly well going to explore.
“I am so hungry!” said Jimmy. “Why didn’t you say so before?” asked Gerald bitterly. “I wasn’t before.” “Then you can’t be now. You don’t get hungry all in a minute. What’s that?”
“Well, then — a detective.” “There’s got to be something to detect before you can begin detectiving,” said Mabel. “Detectives don’t always detect things,” said Jimmy, very truly. “If I couldn’t be any other kind I’d be a baffled detective. You could be one all right, and have no end of larks just the same. Why don’t you do it?” “It’s exactly what I am going to do,” said Gerald. “We’ll go round by the police-station and see what they’ve got in the way of crimes.” They did, and read the notices on the board outside. Two dogs had been lost, a purse, and a portfolio of papers “of no value to any but the owner.” Also Houghton Grange had been broken into and a quantity of silver plate stolen. “Twenty pounds reward offered for any information that may lead to the recovery of the missing property.”
You know pretty well what Beauty and the Beast would be like acted by four children who had spent the afternoon in arranging their costumes and so had left no time for rehearsing what they had to say. Yet it delighted them, and it charmed their audience. There is a curtain, thin as gossamer, clear as glass, strong as iron, that hangs for ever between the world of magic and the world that seems to us to be real. And when once people have found one of the little weak spots in that curtain which are marked by magic rings, and amulets, and the like, almost anything may happen.And what more can any play do, even Shakespeare’s?
For this American, my favorite holiday has always been Thanksgiving. Why? I have an image in my mind of Native Americans and colonists meeting and sharing food together; they share knowledge and stories. In the midst of their concerns about each other, they found respect for each other. Their spirit of sharing is a great inspiration.
As an economist in this upside-down world of people stressing over their future and present, I find answers in that image of Thanksgiving. People eventually survive by sharing with each other as a community. The poor are fed. The sick are cared for. The struggling are helped, and communal ties are strengthened.
There is a term in economics, social capital. This term refers to the cultural interactions within a society forming cohesion, coordination, and cooperation that allow an economy to function better. An economy relies on people from diverse backgrounds talking, sharing concerns, negotiating, making plans, and working toward common goals. The social quality of their communication determines the true strength and potential of their economy.
When the Native Americans and the colonists met and shared, I see social capital being built. The society became stronger. People would be better able to have their needs met. There would be less conflict and more enjoyment of work. The societuy would be able to grow in potential.
The focus of my research as an economist is in the area of labor share, which is the percentage of the income from production that is shared with labor. I research how changes in labor share affect such things as potential production, employment, productivity, investment, and even monetary policy from a central bank.
In almost all advanced countries, even in China where labor share was already low, labor share has fallen in an exorbitant way since the turn of the century. What has been the effect of labor receiving less share of a national income? Potential output has fallen. Unemployment will be higher than before. Productivity growth will stall much quicker, or even fall as in the United Kingdom. Nominal interest rates from central banks will be stuck near 0%.
The fall in labor share represents a problem in the social capital of advanced countries. Labor is being excluded from economic development. Their concerns are not being heard, while corporate profits extend to new records. Labor’s wages are expected to fall in order for companies to be more competitive globally.
Stop. Take a moment of silence.
Acknowledge the growing problem of inequality, and return now to celebrate this holiday of Thanksgiving. Within this day exists the answers to our economic concerns. As societies, we only need to share more. And in sharing, we show our respect for the value of people within society.
A man can’t get rich if he takes proper care of his family.
The Navajo, or Diné, have a saying: “A man can’t get rich if he takes proper care of his family.” The wisdom embodied in this saying is immense. The wisdom not only assures the strength of each member of the community by building social capital, but it assures a stronger economy.
Now we need to answer the question: Who is family?
Here comes the true meaning of Thanksgiving: We are all family. The poor, the rich, the uneducated, the educated, the powerful, and the powerless, as well as those of different races and cultures. Families, friends, and strangers are invited into our homes to celebrate Thanksgiving. The abundance is shared and ties of respect are celebrated.
The extent to which a society can see everyone within the society as family determines the potential of their economy and eventually the quality of life. So Thanksgiving is a moment to celebrate how different people can embrace each other in a spirit of sharing. In that sharing, a broader vision of family is cultivated. In that vision, sick economies can be healed.
Featured image ‘Home to Thanksgiving’ litohraph by Currier and Ives (1867). Public domain via Wikimedia Commons
I remember distinctly the last time I held it in my hands. Shiny, yellow, beautiful – a huge exhaust pipe rolling out the back billowing imaginary smoke as my hotrod peeled rubber and raced away topping speeds of 210 miles per hour. I set my favorite Hot Wheels car on top of my dresser one night, went to bed, and never saw it again. I’m sure there is a logical explanation – factory recall, aliens, jealous friends, Hot Wheel collecting criminals. I looked for it everywhere to no avail. Whenever I read Robert Frost’s poem, Nothing Gold Can Stay, I think of my car. It was just too good for this earth.
Did you ever lose something and it drove you nuts?
I lose stuff a lot. Big stuff, little stuff.
I had a jean jacket once. When I wore it, I was invincible. Cool like James Dean. All of my friends had them. When we felt cocky, we’d flip the collars up. In truth, we always felt cocky so they may as well have been starched. Those were the days
By the time I settled down into a job, that jacket had lived a pretty good life and didn’t really fit into a young professional wardrobe. It hung in the closet alone. Every once in a while, I would get it out just to smell it. It had the scent of autumn, the great outdoors, cheap perfume, debauchery, friendship and youth all rolled into one. I never dared wash it, lest I forget.
Then it was gone. On a chilly night, my girlfriend took it from my closet to warm her on her way home. I married the girl, but never saw my jean jacket again.
Was she jealous of the jacket? I don’t know. There are two predominant theories:
She tried to wash it but couldn’t make the smell go away or the collar go down.
She washed it and realized it would never be the same. Ruined.
She swears she never took it. (It’s not like I have a history of losing stuff…)
And then, there are these polka-dotted shoes she owned. I hated those shoes. Somehow, in a move, they disappeared. Although I shoulder the blame, I will go to my grave denying I had anything to do with their demise.
What happens to the stuff we lose? When we get to heaven, will there be a pile of it waiting for us? If so, I fear my pile will be huge. However big my mansion is, the closets are likely stuffed full already. Maybe when I show up, St. Peter will hand me jean jacket so I can inhale it in pure oxygen while I vroom my little yellow car across the clouds. I hope it smells the same, although they probably filter debauchery scents.
My wife can dance through the mist in her shoes I did NOT destroy.
Who knows where all of the stuff goes. One of the great mysteries of life.
The question is: does it matter? Am I the poorer for losing stuff?
Nah… Stuff is just stuff and most times, the memories are better than the stuff ever was. I never filled out that jacket as well as I remember. The collar should have stayed neatly down. But in my memory and a couple of pictures I have yet to lose, I was legendary.
It’s that time of year again. Everyone is going around being all grateful for everyday things, like underwear and spare keys. Some people even go so far as to be grateful for other people. Isn’t that astounding?
I know I’m grateful for all the people who liked, retweeted, purchased, complimented and otherwise glanced at or sneezed in the general vicinity of Sparky Firepants art. You guys are super awesome.
What are you grateful for? Who are you grateful for?
Searching for fun ideas that will bring the family together this Thanksgiving? Me, too. My family doesn’t know it yet, but I plan to go vintage this year.
I love traditions, especially during holidays. However, our current technology is threatening to exterminate one of our most cherished traditions—family time. This post is not a ranting against technology. I’m actually thankful for it. It actually keeps me connected to family and friends.
However, when we are able to come together in the same place, I want face-to-face, heart-to-heart, talking, laughing, and everyone-fully-engaged-time.
So, we’re going vintage—the pre-cell phone, pre-computer, pre-iPod, pre-satellite dish, pre-electronic gaming system era.
True vintage items must be at least fifty years old. Some may say we’re going prehistoric!
No need to panic. You may be surprised how long many of your favorite things have been around!
Want to go vintage with us? Challenge your friends and family to turn off the distractions for at least three hours this Thanksgiving. Focus your full attention on the people that are gathered in your presence and enjoy the blessings.
The idea is to find something all ages can do together. Conversations are always nice, but games, crafts, and other activities are fun, too. Older folks can teach the younger ones, and vice versa!
Here are some vintage ideas to get you started:
Vintage Board Games:
Scrabble, Candyland, Chutes & Ladders, Clue, Monopoly, Rick, Life, Operation, checkers, Stratego, Aggravation, and Pick Up Sticks, Bingo, and Twister.
Vintage Card Games:
Rook, Gin Rummy, Old Maid, Go Fish, War, Hearts, Snap
Children still enjoy weaving those potholders we made back in the sixties! You can find those plastic looms at Target and craft stores.
Red Rover, Tag, Basketball, Softball, Frisbee, Marbles, Hopscotch, Charades, and Musical Chairs (played with vintage music of course)
Of course, football has been around since the late 1800’s. A reward, foreveryone staying tuned in to the people at your gathering, could be an opportunity to view football on television later. Televised football is true vintage. According to the Pro Football Hall of Fame, NBC was the first to televise a pro football game on October 22, 1939.
If not everyone is a football fan, there are other viewing ideas.
Vintage Family Movies:
Jungle Book (1942); Dumbo (1941); The Wizard of Oz (1939); Mary Poppins (1964); The Jungle Book (1967); A Charlie Brown Christmas (1965); 101 Dalmatians (1961); Alice in Wonderland (1951); Peter Pan (1953); and How the Grinch Stole Christmas (1966).
However, try to save the vintage viewing for later. Savor the moments of talking and playing with visiting family members and friends. Interact without any electronic distractions. Dig below the formalities and chitchat. What’s that person across the table thinking and feeling?
Every year, things change. Time seems to go by a little faster. Carve out some time for family fun. Be fully engaged with those who are with you at this moment—that never goes out of style.
Alex Field‘s talents as an author, publisher and speaker, her love of Christmas pudding, and her overt enthusiasm for Jane Austen all cleverly amalgamate in the latest of her series, Mr Darcy and the Christmas Pudding. Having previously featured her beloved Pride and Prejudice characters in Mr Darcy and Mr Darcy the Dancing Duck, Alex […]
Every year as more and more retailers are opening up earlier than ever on Thanksgiving, I look forward to the P.C. Richard & Sons advertisement they publish in many newspapers across the nation at this time of the year.
I applaud them...
Don't shop on Thanksgiving. Don't fret, the almighty sales will be there long past Thanksgiving day!
It's time to take back the Thanksgiving holiday!
Best wishes, Donna M. McDine Multi Award-winning Children's Author
A Sandy Grave ~ January 2014 ~ Guardian Angel Publishing, Inc. ~ 2014 Purple Dragonfly 1st Place Picture Books 6+, Story Monster Approved, Beach Book Festival Honorable Mention 2014, Reader's Favorite Five Star Review
Powder Monkey ~ May 2013 ~ Guardian Angel Publishing, Inc. ~ Story Monster Approved and Reader's Favorite Five Star Review
Hockey Agony ~ January 2013 ~ Guardian Angel Publishing, Inc. ~ Story Monster Approved and Reader's Farvorite Five Star Review
The Golden Pathway ~ August 2010 ~ Guardian Angel Publishing, Inc. ~ Literary Classics Silver Award and Seal of Approval, Readers Favorite 2012 International Book Awards Honorable Mention and Dan Poynter's Global e-Book Awards Finalist
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The most disingenuous three words in the English language. Unless you are the ultimate cynic and cast your lot with I love you. I hope that’s not the case.
Do we ever mean it when we ask? Really? When is the last time you passed someone in the hall and said “how are you” and truly wanted to take the time to know how they were? I’ll bet it’s been a while.
I’m not holier than thou. I say it all the time and rarely care. If some slick gunslinger is quicker on the draw than me, I even add the oft-disregarded, “I am well, and you?” Of course, I don’t want to know.
I get these wild hairs – often they involve really stupid things, but this one actually had redeeming potential. I decided to spend my lunch hour in the lobby of my building asking people I saw, “How are you?” and giving them available time and a proper interest to see if they would answer.
Most people don’t stop long enough to notice my disarming voice beckoning them to unburden themselves. The first seven I asked kept moving and gave the appropriate return without so much as an upward glance.
I don’t believe that anyone is “fine” like these seven told me. Pawn your lies and rote responses elsewhere.
Number eight seemed to think I had serious mental problems and eyed me warily while reaching into her purse for either a small handgun or pepper spray. Needless to say I decided against an elevator ride with this charmer. “I’ll take the next one, Bonnie Parker.”
You can trap the elderly.
In walked a slow, older gentleman. Number nine. He began scanning the directory and seemed somewhat confused.
“How are you?” I asked in a very welcoming and reassuring tone.
“I’m fine young man, just fine,” he replied. Something was different, though. Before he spoke, he turned and made eye contact.
He was rather unkempt, smelled like my high school gym teacher, and had a thick bushel of hair growing out of each nostril. But he smiled warmly. In fact, he smiled all over… an infectious smiled that started at his lips, slowly ran through his eyes and worked its way off his person and onto me. I liked this old dude.
“Say, would you know where the office of Litton & Driscoll is located,” he asked.
“I think that’s on the fourth floor.”
He patted me gently on the chest with some paperwork he had rolled into a tube, like a kid’s telescope. “Thank you, friend.”
“Don’t mention it.” Judging from his demeanor, this might be my first victim who actually was okay. He might just be fine. I had to be certain, though. “Are you sure you are fine?”
He looked at me long whilst I returned my best, biggest, dopiest smile.
“Well, I am headed up to settle my wife’s affairs. So, if you want an honest answer, I suppose I’m not fine.”
Oh boy… Panic! In over my head… I thought I would learn about a foot ailment… or a wayward kitten. Not this. Why am I so stupid? All of me wanted to say, “I’m fine, and you?” But I got myself into this.
“I’m sorry to hear that. I can’t imagine.”
“Yes, sir. For 22 years now.”
“Seem young for that.”
I really liked this old dude.
“How long were you married?”
“Fifty-three years last August….”
And so began a wonderful story of love and loss.
You know what? I’m glad I asked. In fact, I’m going to break the habit of asking when I don’t care. From now on, I will only ask, “how are you” if I have time and interest in the answer. Try it yourself. Better yet, come join Joseph and me for coffee tomorrow morning and see that infectious smile.
Bo at Ballard Creek. Kirkpatrick Hill. Illustrated by LeUyen Pham. 2013. Henry Holt. 288 pages. [Source: Library]
I loved Bo at Ballard Creek. Did I love, love, love it? I'm not sure. Time will tell. I certainly loved many things about it.
I loved the setting, that it's historical fiction, set in Alaska, set in a small mining town, in the 1920s. I loved the perspective, Bo, the heroine is young adopted girl. For most of the book, she's too young to attend school. So perhaps in the four to six range throughout the book. Readers meet Bo, her two fathers Jack Jackson and Arvid Ivorsen. (One is black. One is Swedish.) Readers meet the whole community: other miners and former miners mostly men, of course, all ages and ethnicities; Eskimo families, and the dance-hall girls. I loved the narration and the amount of detail. I love that the book covers a whole year, if not a little more. So readers see the community in detail throughout the year. One gets a real sense of what was like on a day-to-day, week-to-week, month-to-month basis. On ordinary days. On special days. Special days being not just holidays, but, also days where airplanes stop and land, the days when supplies arrive. I love the vignettes of the whole town. I loved the strong sense of family and community in this one. It just felt right from cover to cover. I also loved the illustrations. I'll be honest. It was seeing LeUyen Pham's name that made me pick this one up. That being said, I may have loved her illustrations. But I also LOVED the text itself.
If the book lacks anything, however, it may be a strong plot. Think Little House In the Big Woods. The chapters are strong in description and characterization and little happenings. I loved it. I did. I loved meeting Bo. I loved some of the relationships in the book.
It felt like time to pull this post out again, as I’ve gotten questions of late. Here’s the inside scoop.
Because it seems to come up often during school visits and while chatting online (there’s even been some confusion at Random House), I thought I’d explain my name today, specifically the Starr business.
Starr is my middle name. It’s not my maiden name. It’s not hyphenated. Just my plain ol’ middle name. I know my email address doesn’t help make things clear (I don’t use my last name, just my first and middle). I was named for my grandmother, Gene Starr, and my mother, Polly Starr. As I don’t have any daughters, my boys have graciously named the dog Boudreaux Starr.
When I was a middle schooler, Starr felt like a curse. I was always asked if my parents were hippies and if I had sisters named Moonbeam and Sunshine at home. Now I like it. A lot. It flows so nicely with Caroline and Rose.
It was so, so lovely to talk a few weeks ago with Sarah and Beth Anne of Brilliant Business Moms. They sought me out after reading this guest post at Modern Mrs. Darcy. Here are a few of the things you can expect in the podcast:
01:15 – Roald Dahl, the Oregon Trail, and My Journey
04:24 – The Most Honest Thing I’ve Ever Written
07:48 – What about Mr. Chapman?
09:59 – The Apprentice Stage
13:34 – Maniacal Optimism
16:54 – Why a Traditional Publisher?
19:29 – How to Get Published
22:50 – Finding an Agent
24:59 – Advice for Apprentice Authors
29:31 – Does a Web Presence Matter?
31:02 – A Day in the Life
34:34 – How Much Does an Author Make?
38:56 – Resources for Aspiring Authors
44:30 – What My Boys Think About Having an Author for a Mom
When I was in college, I had a thing for Vanna White.
Thing – (n) An odd desire or inkling of unknown origin and without rational basis that impels one to make poor decisions.
Everyone has a thing for someone else at some point. You can’t dismiss them, nor can you describe them. Things are just things. Boys especially get things because we are so visually driven. My thing happened to be for a letter-turning model who wore evening gowns.
It’s best when a thing isn’t an acquaintance. That way, you have little opportunity to make a fool of yourself. Also good is when your thing is a celebrity because they have 300 pound security officers to keep fools with things away.
I never got the chance to meet Vanna. A friend had a similar thing for her and we decided to drive to Charleston when Wheel of Fortune went on the road. Our jalopy broke down somewhere in Tennessee and we never got close. Probably best.
By the time I met my wife, I thought I was over my thing. Little did I know that Vanna would rear her finely-styled locks into my life again. Searching for something to watch, I paused on Wheel of Fortune far too long, which elicited a comment from my Future Lovely Wife, who knew about my thing for Vanna.
FLW: It’s okay, you can watch her.
Me: No, I don’t want to watch her.
FLW: Seriously, nothing else is on and I know you like her.
Me: I don’t like her.
FLW: It’s okay to think she’s pretty.
(Before I type my response, you have to understand that I am and always have been an idiot.)
Me: Oh, you’re nowhere near as pretty as Vanna White.
Yup. That is actually what I said. I fully intended to say, “Vanna White is nowhere near as pretty as you.” But I didn’t. Stupid Thing! That comment has been etched in family lore ever since. Somehow, she still met me at the altar.
In breaking news, my wife is HOT! I’m sorry if that offends anyone – I don’t mean it to be demeaning. I asked if I could say it and it doesn’t offend her. She got the chance to wear an evening gown a few weeks ago and WOW! I always knew she was gorgeous, but WOW! Of course, in the pictures, there is a gorilla in a tuxedo beside her who looks too dumb to know he is the poor side of the unequal relationship.
There is a point in this post.
I decided to change the background of my phone to the picture of us in our swanky clothes. Since there are six of us, I couldn’t lay it out without cropping one or two of my kids, which could cause problems (especially if it were one of the middle children who always feel cut out). So I made just my stunning wife in her blue gown my background. Now that doesn’t seem like a big deal, but it has been for me.
You see, every time I finish a call or close an app, no matter what I’ve been doing or seeing, I go right back to my wife. Remember our visual nature. Wherever I allow myself to wander, this picture on my phone gets me revved up about my wife… which is kinda the way it’s supposed to be.
Take note guys. Find a picture where your wife, fiancée, girlfriend looks absolutely gorgeous and put it as the background on your phone. Too often, we get stuck looking at other things.
Things aren’t real and will get you nowhere. Just ask me about Vanna.
Our brains seem to want comparisons. Every time a new book comes out, editorial blurbs sing, “For fans of….”, or “Blank meets blank in this striking new novel…” I am both attracted to and wary of these comparisons, because they often create a false hope. After all, a significant amount of connection to a story comes by what we bring to it. I was first struck by the gorgeous cover of The Greenglass House, by Kate Milford and then I started hearing the buzz. I started to heartalk of The Westing Game . Now, if you don’t already know, any time someone asks me what my favorite book of all time is, The Westing Game slides quickly from my mouth. No questions asked. Over the adult titles that I have swooned about, the Newberys I have loved, the picture books that spawned the art that is matted and framed on my walls, The Westing Game is still firmly on the tippy top of the pile. So the talk worried me a bit.
Milo and his family have just settled in for the holidays at their inn, The Greenglass House. The guests have all departed, school is out for a couple of weeks, and it’s officially family time. Imagine Milo’s surprise when the bell rings to alert the family that a guest is ready to come up the hill in the rail car called the Whilforber Whirlwind. Situated on the top of Whilforber Hill, the inn is somewhat iconic in their town. Nagspeake is a smugglers’ town, and Milo’s parents are as likely to get paid in goods by the folks passing through as they are money. But smugglers have seasons and the winter holidays are not smuggler time. Who could be coming to stay now?
Milo and his family are even more surprised when the bell keeps ringing! More than one guest? What is going on?
After the passel of guests shows up, Milo’s folks call on their regular help to come and help with meals and rooms and such. Since it is break, the cook brings her kids and even though Milo has never met Meddy before, the two get along famously even starting to role play using Odd Trails -- a game Milo’s own dad played when he was young. Milo’s personal of Negret comes in handy when guest’s belongings start disappearing.
This is such an atmospheric, multi layered story -- I just can’t say enough about it. When you put all of the aspects of the story into writing, they can seem overwhelming. We have the mythos of the town, the rules of the game, the mysterious guests, the criminality afoot, Milo’s own adoption story and sense of self, the lore of the house...it goes on and on. But in Milford’s deft hands all are perfectly balanced and unfurled just so. I started to slow down as I read this one, because I didn’t want it to end. I ache to see this on the big screen, and am anxiously awaiting the first real snow of the season so I can hunker down and treat myself all over again! Add a Comment
Countdown by Deborah Wiles. 2010. May 2010. Scholastic. 400 pages. [Source: Review copy]
I first read and reviewed Deborah Wiles' Countdown in 2010. I loved, loved, loved this documentary novel. If you love historical fiction, or, if you love coming of age stories, you should consider reading this one. It's a great read.
1962. October 1962. The world waits. Will there be war? Can the situation in Cuba be resolved peaceably? Or is this the beginning of the end?
Franny Chapman is the heroine of Countdown. She's eleven. She feels like she's invisible. She feels persecuted. Her sister assures her these feelings are completely normal. Franny herself isn't too sure. Franny struggles with issues big and small in this novel. Of course, there is the shared experience of worrying about the Cuban Missile Crisis. (Franny knows that everyone--adults and kids alike--is worried about this.) But of a more personal nature, Franny is struggling with several things. First, her forever-best-friend, Margie, is acting strange, different. Franny wonders if the two will be able to stay friends. It's more than just drifting apart. Margie seems to suddenly hate her. Second, Franny is worried about Uncle Otts (is he her great-uncle?). He's getting older. His mind isn't always great at distinguishing between past and present. The threat of war isn't helping matters any. He has his own way of reacting to threats and dangers. And to Franny, those ways are just EMBARRASSING, extremely embarrassing. Third, Franny finds herself in love with the boy next door. (His name is Chris. Many girls find themselves in love with Chris).
Readers see Franny at home, at school, at play. I loved meeting Franny and her family. I loved how the novel was put into context through the format itself. This documentary novel is packed with images, photographs, quotes, lyrics. (Everything from photographs of JFK and other world leaders, other politicians, other leaders to Miss America, to images from the Civil Rights movement, to a cover of a Nancy Drew novel.) So while Countdown is a novel, it also serves as a scrapbook. (You can see some of what the book looks like on the author's blog.) I think this one does a good job of capturing a time, a place in American history. It is rich in detail. (For example, I loved hearing about the wonder, the novelty of McDonald's hamburgers--for Franny and her family.)
Jo Ellen has the world's best 45-rpm record collection. Since I can remember, I've sprawled across her big bed when she's in her room doing homework or talking on the phone to her girlfriends, and Jo Ellen has let me play her records, as long as I don't get fingerprints on them or let the needle scratch them. I'm not allowed to touch her albums, but the 45s she lets me rifle through to my heart's content. I've memorized the geography of every one of those records. "Johnny Angel" has a yellow label, "Twistin' the Night Away" has a tiny scratch at the beginning edge, and "Runaway," which is my current favorite, by my favorite singer, Del Shannon, has a heart drawn on the label--by me. Jo Ellen doesn't know this yet. (75-76)
My first concrete remembrance of church is going to revival with Miss Mattie in Halleluia, Mississippi. I like revival. It's entertaining. I know almost every hymn in the Methodist hymnal by heart, every verse, and I can play most of them on the piano. Revival lasts two weeks, so we go every night to church, and every night there is tarnation preaching and seventeen verses of "Just As I Am," until someone walks up to the altar to be saved. Trouble is, Halleluia is a small town, and most everybody in church has already been saved. So unless somebody new shows up, or an older kid is pushed into the aisle by his mother, we just sing and sing that hymn, until my grandmother stands up and ambles in her square shoes up the aisle with a half-exasperated look on her face, and gets saved once again. Mostly she is saving all of us, and she knows we know it. (130)
"Nobody's the favorite, Franny," she says. "Of course you're important. Just because they don't broadcast it--" "You're not around enough to notice," I interrupt, standing up straight. "You're all grown up, you're in college--you have loads of friends--you even have new friends! You can do whatever you want." "That's certainly not true," says Jo Ellen. I sigh. "I just want to skip all these years in between and go off to college like you, only I want to live in the dorms like Lannie does." "This, too, shall pass. You don't know how lucky you are, Franny. You go to a good school, your dad's an officer in the military, you eat, shop, play wherever you choose, you can go to any college you want when you grow up. You've got it made. You're privileged." I toss the tissue in the trash. "I'm invisible around here. I could disappear for days and nobody would miss me." Now it's Jo Ellen's turn to sigh. "Franny, you're eleven. That's the problem in a nutshell." She pulls an envelope out of her purse. "Everybody feels persecuted when they're eleven. It will pass." (85)
The Fourteenth Gospel. Jennifer L. Holm. 2014. Random House. 208 pages. [Source: Library]
Ellie gets the unique opportunity to hang out with her grandfather, Melvin, when his scientific experiments succeed. Ellie has grown up knowing--observing--that her mom and her grandfather don't get along very well. But she'll get the chance to know him much, much better when his experiment reverses the aging process and he becomes 13 again. They'll live together. They'll go to school together. It would be hard to judge who has a harder time: Ellie, Melvin, or the mom/daughter. (Though my guess would be the mom/daughter. By all appearances, he's a kid, he's living in her house! She has to make sure he's doing his homework! But he is still very much her father. He has OPINIONS on everything she does.)
Ellie is growing apart from her best, best friend. Her friend has some new interests. Ellie has new interests as well. Ellie is meeting people she likes and though she hasn't made a new best friend overnight, Ellie is learning that change can be good, that meeting new people can be a good thing. One of Ellie's new interests is science. She really enjoys it! And she loves hanging out with her grandfather and their new friends. (Yes, they have friends in common.)
I would definitely recommend Karen Harrington's Courage for Beginners. This middle grade novel is a compelling coming of age novel. It would pair well, I think, with The Swift Boys and Me by Kody Keplinger.
Mysti Murphy is a seventh grader with special challenges. Her mom is agoraphobic; for as long as Mysti can remember her mom has been that way. Her dad does it all: all the driving, all the errands. But the fall of her seventh grade year, her dad has an accident, and ends up in the hospital in a coma for several months. The guy who has been her best friend--by all appearances--decides to drop her. She won't fit in with his new "hipster" persona. He's decided that by wearing a hipster hat and being a huge jerk, he'll become more popular with people who count. Mysti definitely doesn't count. At least when there's a small chance that others are watching. Mysti struggles. No doubt. The book is about her growing pains--everything going all wrong at once. But does she have the strength and courage to face her problems and cope with them?
I have no idea when I perfected it. The snot rocket is an art boys learn early on. We had our share of cold winters in Kentucky where I grew up. Winter, where the snot rocket is born…
You might say there is no skill involved in expelling phlegm from your nose. That’s where you are wrong. Anyone’s nose can run. The question is: can hold your nose just right, tilt your head and force it out properly so that it doesn’t land on your face or clothing? Because that would be embarrassing. Further, can you aim it while on the run so it doesn’t freeze and become a dangerous icy patch to those who come after you?
I don’t mean to brag, but I’m pretty good – darn good. I feel like if we could get this added as an Olympic sport, I could medal. Where is the SRAA (Snot Rocket Athletic Association) to champion this cause? Imagine that, a Southern boy winning gold in the Winter Olympics.
I got to test my skill Sunday. It dipped to freezing in Georgia for the first time this winter. I love cold runs. In fact, I planned on doing 8 miles and stretched it into 10. There weren’t many people on the greenway with me while I plied my phlegmy craft. Unbeknownst to me, there was a new factor at play.
Kylie has decided that she no longer likes the shape of my head and wants me to cover it with hair again. In fact, she decided she would like me to cover my face, as well. I don’t know what that says, but I am happy to comply. Just like I had always wanted to shave my head, I have always wanted to try to grow a beard. My lovely wife objected to both, but we do pretty much whatever Kylie wants while she is in treatment. So I have a week’s worth of stubble on my head and face.
I think it is going to come in. It looks slightly patchy on the cheeks, but a goatee will not be a problem. All the online beard-growing advice I’ve found says you have to give it a month before you decide. I can hold out. I’m actually kind of excited about it. Right now, with stubble all over, I feel dangerous – like a European bad guy in a James Bond film.
This new growth plays havoc with the snot rocket, however. I didn’t know it when I started running. I launched away for the 5 miles out. When I turned around, more people had joined the run and I noticed quite a few stares. I chalked it up to my new shady appearance. They must be afraid – wondering if I was planning dastardly deeds that only MI6 can thwart. Dangerous.
Little did I know until I got to the truck that I was stockpiling snot rockets on my new facial hair. Like twin demented antlers, they had collected and grown in a downward spiral shape from my upper lip. Yuck…
I have a challenge before me this winter of adapting the game to my new look. Don’t worry, part of being a professional is overcoming obstacles that stand in the way. And if the SRAA comes calling, I will shave and probably wax my upper lip to be competitive. Nothing can get in the way of an Olympic dream.
I got to be party to pure, absolute joy this weekend. I have seen such displays on television after a big win in sports or gameshows. This time, it was my little girl who celebrated. After so many losses in the past six months, it was a much needed win.
As a parent, one of the worst things about cancer is being totally helpless. We are forced to sit and watch as one thing after another is taken away from our little girl. Ballet, plays, school, vacations, little things and big things are plucked away as she lays in bed.
Wonderful organizations are out there to give back to these kids. Groups such as the Make-a-Wish Foundation come beside them to give them something to look forward to during their treatment. A very introspective child, Kylie debated long and hard over her wish, finally deciding she wanted to see Aladdin on Broadway.
A few weeks ago, Kylie was asked to be the honored child at Make-a-Wish Georgia’s annual fund-raising Wish Gala. The chairperson of the event took her on a shopping spree for a gown. This day of shopping was unlike any that my girls have been on – especially Kylie. As a fourth child, hand-me-downs are the rule of thumb. If it isn’t obscenely high or dragging the ground, it fits.
Not this time. She was treated like a princess. After a six month hiatus, I saw her old friend, “excitement” start to creep back into her life.
The big night came. We all got dressed up for the Gala.
She knew she was going to sing with her sister. She knew I was going to speak. She thought of herself as the entertainment and the face of wish-children for the evening. What she didn’t know was that Make-a-Wish had planned a big surprise for her. They had a video from her favorite Broadway performers who granted her wish to go to see Aladdin. Here is her reaction:
Priceless. Pure Joy.
After so many months of seeing her disappointed, I can’t look at that video without tears.
You might be wondering if I embarrassed myself and my family in front of the trendier set. I believe the answer is no. With a stern admonition from the start, I spent the evening minding everything I did and said carefully. I paused three seconds before any word escaped my lips. I didn’t spill or break anything. My online tux-buying escapade was made unnecessary by a friend exactly my size who owns a tuxedo. I did not step on anyone’s dress or trip on my way to the stage. I didn’t try to fit in by discussing the beach chalet I own in Vermont.
It was a lovely evening. Kylie was the star…. And she deserves it.
My Dad is a FIFO Dad, an uplifting story that has already touched the hearts of many families, has beautifully encapsulated the highs and lows of the life of a child with a father who ‘flies in and flies out’ for work. (See Review here). But let’s not forget the strength, courage, commitment and perseverance […]
This may just be my favorite time of year. In my head, I return to streets filled with leaves raked into big piles by adults, lit afire and then crowds of kids hunched shoulder to shoulder holding marshmallows poked onto thin tree branches in hand. Spirals of smoke went skyward as we and the marshmallows toasted to a golden brown – or sometimes, outright BURNED. As the huge piles turned to small nests of ash, we trudged home, our clothes reeking of smoke – but with smiles on our faces. Those leaf burnings are no longer allowed because of the environmental impact, but they sure were fun.
I saw an ad recently. It showed a family gathered about, each with his or her own technology device and the caption read, “The modern family is plugged in.” It sort of begged the question – to what and to whom?
First, let me begin by saying, I am NOT anti technology. Smart phones, ipads and their offspring have their place in our culture. They provide vehicles for communication, information and reading, unheard of in MY childhood. What concerned me was the image of a family, their heads and eyes, COMPLETELY captured by the device and NOT each other! To what degree are we completely engaged with devices and NOT with the people that share our lives.
True, there are many ways of sharing and communicating. And to that end, a young father recently piqued my interest in a big way, as he inspired me with the way HE shares and communicates with his two young children. They share something called “Campfire Fridays.” It’s a great idea!
This is how it goes. On Fridays, they sit around a campfire with each other, outside – or in – and share the week. They swap stories, events and happenings that occurred to each during the week. S’mores and similar edibles are added to the mix. But the important thing is they are plugged in, for that space of time, TO EACH OTHER.
Amazing things can happen in such a space. Barriers fall that separate us over our busy fast forward lives and for that amount of time – we can unite over hot chocolate, a s’more and a story. Kids love ritual and traditions. When crummy things happen during their week, their minds go to the small event at the end of the week that can make whatever happened loom not so large. Why? Maybe because it is shared with those that love and support them. And THAT can make a big difference for kids.
Maybe meals are not shared every night in many families today because of cobbled together schedules of extra curricular commitments, but hey, what about a “Campfire Friday?” I guess my version of Campfire Friday were those leaf burning rituals that I so looked forward to.
May I suggest during picture perfect fall Fridays left to families everywhere, that you plug into each other and unplug the devices? As batteries run down on a device and need to be recharged, so too does the energy surrounding the quality of our family life and relationships. Please plug in to each other with a Campfire Friday and a book!!
Here are a just a few suggestions to read around a campfire or a cozy chair pre Halloween:
“The Runaway Mummy: A Petrifying Parody” by Michael Rex
“Pumpkins” by Mary Lynn Ray; illustrated by Barry Root
“Ten Orange Pumpkins: A Counting Book” by Stephen Savage
“Halloween Night” by Marjorie Dennis Murray; illustrated by Brandon Dorman
It would not have surprised me if this had won this year’s Man Booker Prize. My heart was supporting Richard Flanagan’s magnificent The Narrow Road To The Deep North but I had a feeling this was going to get the nod. In the end it didn’t win but it would have been a deserving winner […]
At first, I wasn’t sure quite why. I get what they meant. It seems like Ebola’s everywhere! It’s constantly on the news, all over the internet, and everyone’s talking about it. It makes sense to be sick of hearing about it. We’re bound to get sick of hearing about anything that much!
But still, I couldn’t shake the discomfort that rung in my head over that status. Ebola seems far away, after all, it’s only been diagnosed four times in the US. It’s easy to tuck it away in your mind as something distant that doesn’t affect you and forget why it’s a big deal.
It’s even become a hot topic for jokes on social media:
Because so many see this very real disease as a far away concept, we find safety in our distance and it’s easy to make light of it.
4,877 deaths. 9,935 sufferers. That’s not funny. That’s not something to ask to “omg shut up.”
The idea of disease never really hit home for me until my little sister was diagnosed with cancer. Yes, Ebola and cancer are two very different things. But I know what it’s like to watch someone I love very dearly suffer. I know what it’s like to hold my sister’s hand while she cries because she can’t escape the pain or the fear that comes with her disease. I know what it’s like to cry myself to sleep begging God to take her illness away. And I can’t help but imagine a sister somewhere in Africa in a situation very similar to my own, watching her loved one suffer, hearing her cries, and begging for it to all be over- but without the blessings of medicine and technology that my sister has access to.
We are quick to throw on our pink gear for breast cancer awareness and dump ice on our head for ALS because that kind of awareness is fun and easy. I’m not trying to diminish those causes- they are great causes that deserve promotion. But I mean to make note of the fact that when another very real disease with very real consequences is brought to light and gains awareness, people groan that it’s in the news again and make jokes about it on the internet. Because Ebola doesn’t have the fun and cute promotional package, we complain and make light of it and its need for awareness and a solution.
People are suffering and dying from Ebola. Just because that suffering seems far away, doesn’t make it any less significant.
This is a guest post from my oldest daughter, Meredith. I begged her to let me post it.
I was pretty excited to see this pretty cool new product available through Amazon. This is a HOT PRODUCT! The all-new KindleFire HD Kids Edition Tablet also comes with 1 year of Amazon FreeTime Unlimited (which means kids get unlimited access to 5,000 books, movies, TV shows, educational apps, and games—at no additional cost!). It includes a quad-core processor for great performance, a vivid HD display, front and rear-facing cameras, and Dolby Audio PLUS comes with a Kid-Proof Case, and a 2-year worry-free guarantee – if they break it, return it and Amazon replaces it for free. No questions asked! Um… can you say Christmas present?
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10 Fat Turkeys by Tony Johnston & illustrated by Rich Deas “Looky!” says a silly turkey swinging from a vine. Gobble gobble wibble wobble. Whoops! Now there are nine.” Girls and boys will gobble up this hilarious counting story about ten goofy turkeys roller-skating on a fence, doing a noodle dance, and more! Give …