Thursday, December 30, 2010

It's Your Call: What Are You Doing Here? by Gary Barkalow


Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the B & B Media Group as part of their blogger book review program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.



Title: It’s Your Call: What Are You Doing Here?


Author: Gary Barkalow

Format: trade paperback

Genre: Christian non-fiction, Spiritual Growth

Source: Review copy provided by the B & B Media Group

Published: David C. Cook/ October 1, 2010/ ISBN: 9781434764393220/ 220 pages/ $14.99

Buy the Book: David C. Cook / Noble Heart website

Find the Author Online: Gary Barkalow / Facebook / Twitter / YouTube / Linked In



Why I Read this Book: It’s no secret that I’ve been dissatisfied with my current job for quite some time now and I feel like God is calling me to do something different.  Unfortunately, I'm still trying to discover what that calling may be in my life.  I was doing a Bible study that focused on my purpose in life and I thought that It's Your Call: What Are You Doing Here? would be a perfect companion to the study.


What I Liked:  How long do you have to read this post?  Seriously.  I took a lot of notes while reading this book because so many different points that were brought up resonated within me.  There were several times when I had been praying and asking God for guidance that I would read another section in the book and there would be an "answer" for me.  (Isn't it cool how God does that?) 

I also liked how Mr. Barkalow brought out personal experiences and related them to the points he was making in the book.  While I have not experienced half of the things he has, it was encouraging to know that other people had gone through (or are going through) the same experiences and questions that I am.

I also enjoyed the quotations throughout the book and of course the relation to the scriptures in the Bible.

What I Didn’t Like: There were a few typos here and there throughout the book--although I must say I did not catch them upon the first reading of it, so it was not a detractor/distractor while reading.  (Don't use it as an excuse for not reading the book--after all, there are probably many mistakes in this posting and you're still reading it aren't you!?) 

The only other thing I didn't really like about the book is that now I have even more questions than when I started.  The good news is that Mr. Barkalow offers solutions for getting at the core of your calling.  The bad news is that you will have to do a little work to get there.  (Isn't that always the case when you want something badly enough?)


Overall Impression:  Mr. Barkalow is very passionate about helping others find their calling in life.  In fact, he has started a new ministry called The Noble Heart, in which he and his wife Leigh, help men and women understand their calling. 

If you are looking to figure out what you are meant to do in this life, start with Gary Barkalow's book It's Your Call: What Are You Doing Here?  I think it would be a fabulous way to bring in the New Year--and the new you!

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Let me know what you think!  Happy Reading!

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

The 60-Minute Money Workout: An Easy, Step-by-Step Guide to Getting your Finances into Shape by Ellie Kay

It is time for a FIRST Wild Card Tour book review! If you wish to join the FIRST blog alliance, just click the button. We are a group of reviewers who tour Christian books. A Wild Card post includes a brief bio of the author and a full chapter from each book toured. The reason it is called a FIRST Wild Card Tour is that you never know if the book will be fiction, non~fiction, for young, or for old...or for somewhere in between! Enjoy your free peek into the book!

You never know when I might play a wild card on you!


Today's Wild Card author is:


and the book:


The 60-Minute Money Workout: An Easy Step-by-Step Guide to Getting Your Finances into Shape

WaterBrook Press (December 14, 2010)

***Special thanks to Cindy Brovsky and Staci Carmichael of Doubleday Religion/ Waterbrook Multnomah, Divisions of Random House, Inc., for sending me a review copy.***

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:


ELLIE KAY is a financial expert on Good Money (ABC NEWS) and best-selling author of more than a dozen books and hundreds of magazine articles. She’s a regular media guest on CNBC, CNN, and Fox News, and has been featured on ABC Nightline, Your World with Neil Cavuto, and Fox and Friends. Her radio commentary for Focus on the Family airs on more than two thousand radio outlets around the world. She and her husband are the parents of seven children and live in Southern California.

Visit the author's website.

Product Details:

List Price: $14.99
Paperback: 224 pages
Publisher: WaterBrook Press (December 14, 2010)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0307446034
ISBN-13: 978-0307446039

AND NOW...THE FIRST CHAPTER:


60 Minutes to

Financial Freedom


Thirty years.

That’s how long it took to achieve the dream.

When I was at the ripe old age of ten, my parents won a trip to Germany because my dad bought a certain number of air conditioners for his part-time building business. They promised to bring me back “something special.” I imagined a Bavarian costume, a crown that belonged to a real princess, or maybe even a china teacup. Instead, they brought me a book and a rock. The rock came from the lake where King Ludwig allegedly killed himself, and the book was a compilation of his castles and treasures. They were a little odd, but those gifts ended up serving me well.

At school, I used the book to write a report on King Ludwig that earned an A+. And the rock inspired a dream to one day see Neuschwanstein, also known as “the Disneyland Castle.”

Three decades later I was able to fulfill those travel dreams, thanks to my international work with military families. As I walked through the castle’s gilded hall, my imagination wandered to what life must have been like for people such as King Ludwig, who had only known a life of wealth and privilege, then to have that life cut short through suicide or murder. I decided that my life as a mother of seven wasn’t that bad after all. I may not have been at the pinnacle of wealth and privilege, but I was fulfilling my dream, which also happened to be squarely in the path of another of my dreams: helping military families achieve their financial dreams.

Along the road to a dream fulfilled, there was hope deferred, justice denied, and paradise lost. But one thing remained true: there was a plan and purpose for the ten-year-old version of me, and my dreams—some material, some personal, and some spiritual—were worth keeping.

What were some of your childhood dreams?

Do you still dream, or did you stop dreaming a long time ago?

Would I trade my dream trip to see Neuschwanstein for anything else? Of course I would! There are boatloads of things in life that carry far greater value than a trip: my husband, kids, friends, health, and an entire host of far more meaningful things than the material ones. But the point is that if we are purposeful, principled, and proactive about money matters, then we can still hang on to those longtime dreams and watch them come to pass.

Maybe your dream is to stop fighting about money with your mate.

Maybe you want to buy a home or go to Paris.

You might dream of putting your babies through college without a mountain of student-loan debt.

Or you might want to be able to sponsor a third-world child and give her a life she couldn’t have without your help.

While many people know they need to be proactive about money matters, few know the secret to putting feet to fiscal concepts. Knowledge alone is not enough to make a difference in a person’s financial picture. This knowledge has to be put into action regularly in order to reach your goals.

So move over money “makeovers,” it’s time for the money workout.

Makeovers fall short of truly revitalizing your financial picture. While they address the problem and suggest solutions, implementing those concepts on a day-to-day basis can feel like driving a Honda when you were dreaming of a roadster. Another challenge of a makeover is that you don’t know how to do it on your own after the experts leave.

But my money workout method will teach you how to have self sufficiency once this book is closed.

Maybe you’ve tried to work on money issues but instead ended up fighting with your spouse. It might be that the thought of sitting down with all your bills is so overwhelming that it falls into the realm of impossible. Maybe you’re convinced that you will never get out of debt, live in financial harmony, or own a home. It’s not about how much time you spend working on money issues; it’s about the quality of that time. So let’s get started with your own money workout.

It’s time to do our first pre workout quiz. It will only take ten minutes. The quizzes throughout this book serve to prepare you for the main workout, and you’ll get a lot more out of your sixty-minute money workout if you take the time to prepare. While our dream quiz seems to be a lifestyle quiz rather than a money quiz, it’s important to understand that almost every area of our lives is impacted by some financially related area. For example, an educational goal or dream coming true is often related to a work ethic, which is a financial skill. Personal goals that deal with family, marriage, and kids are definitely related to finances because of the impact that money matters have on families. Spiritual goals highly influence us in the way we use or view money. So try to fill out these dreams with that financial element in mind, and you’ll get more out of the quiz. Once you’ve finished this exercise, it will help you focus on past dreams or expectations, current realities, and future possibilities.


Pre-workout Quiz


1. What are some dreams you had as a much younger version of yourself? List a dream for each category:

Personal

Professional

Spiritual

Material

Educational


2. If you were to rank these “dreams come true” from 1 to 10, with 1 meaning that it did not get fulfilled in any way and 10 meaning it came to pass as you dreamed it or better, then how would you rank the dreams in question 1?

For example, maybe you always wanted a bachelor’s degree from the University of Southern California; instead you earned a master’s from the University of Texas. If you are satisfied with the fact that you received a better degree from a different college, you could indicate a 10 for that dream. Or maybe you always wanted to be a pilot in the air force but didn’t have the requisite eyesight. So you got rated in a Cessna and went on to have a fulfilling career in real estate. You might give that dream a 5. This is your test. Although it’s subjective, it represents your life and your level of contentment with your dreams.


3. Go back and add up your dream scores from questions 1 and 2.


4. Repeat the exercise, but instead of listing childhood dreams, list your current financial dreams for your future and/or your family’s. For example, buying a house, helping third-world children, putting your kids through college with minimal debt, building an adequate retirement fund, going to Paris, having a zero balance on all your credit cards, being in a position to help others in need. You get the idea.


5. If you can, put a “dreams come true” ranking next to your current dreams using the same scale as in question 2, but base it on how likely you think it is that your current dreams will come true.


Quiz Results

In step 3, you added your scores for the dreams of your youth. See below to determine where you are with those.

25 points or less: You’ve had a severely average life as opposed to the life you dreamed of having as a child. Or maybe you just had a very creative imagination and dreamed of becoming a dinosaur—talk about an impossible dream(unless you’re an archaeologist and you dig up dinosaurs, thus finding fulfillment by working in the same category of that childhood dream).

Another interpretation of this score can indicate an absence of exposure to key elements in your life. For example, maybe your family didn’t value education, so you didn’t have educational dreams. Consequently, you’ve either had to made adjustments and become a better person in the process of some dream-shattering realities, or you may have given up on the whole idea of dreaming and emptied your pockets of hope.

26–35 points: Either you weren’t very imaginative as a child and didn’t day dream about life in the future, or you had an above average culmination of your dreams coming true. This score could also indicate that you were purposeful and realistic in ways to make your dreams come true, even though you fell short of the youthful version of yourself. It might be that you’ve had some challenging life-changing events, but you’ve recovered from them enough to be able to take the second chance this world has given you.

36–45 points: You might be a lot like my husband, Bob, whose dad took him to a Blue Angels air show when he was a child. After the show Bob told his dad, “When I grow up I want to fly those jets with the funny noses.” He grew up to fly the F-4 Phantom, the same jet he saw at the air show. You have had most of your dreams come true and/or you’ve been very satisfied with a different interpretation of your childhood dream. Even if your real dream came true almost exactly the way you imagined it, you still may not be content, because contentment is often a choice. But it appears you have had every opportunity to be satisfied with the results of your childhood dreams.

45–50 points: You might be one of those people we know as someone who is “living the dream.” You were prescient or intuitive as a child, and it seems you followed your passions to see these dreams to fulfillment. Very few people can say that they’ve had most of their dreams come true, but you are one of that minority. With great privilege comes great responsibility, so you are now in a position to help others set goals and make their dreams come true. You can’t do everything for others, but you can help and give them hope. Congratulations on living the dream.

In step 5, you were to rank how likely you believe your new dreams will come true. This exercise measures the realistic nature of your goals and expectations as well as your optimism about your future. So add up those results and then go back and read the result descriptions above to see what areas may need to be adjusted in order to set yourself up for success in your financial life.


Boundaries for the 60-Minute Money Workout

As we prepare for the workout, it’s important to establish boundaries and do a little mental preparation as well. Some of the workouts in this book will be done alone, but other chapters will involve your mate, an accountability partner, or your family. The guidelines, however, are the same whether there’s one or ten people involved. Here are some boundaries to keep in mind:

No condescension or negativity. Don’t talk down to anyone who’s involved in the process, and if you’re alone, do not allow your mind to entertain any negative self-talk. It doesn’t matter if you’ve failed in the past, lack knowledge about certain aspects of finances, or have a bad self-image. For one hour, you are going to be focused on learning, keeping a positive mind-set, and making progress in the workout. In fact, that’s why it’s called a “workout,” because you are working out some of these things in your life to have a positive result.

No interrupting others when they are talking. If you have trouble with interrupting others, then sit on your hands. It will serve as a reminder that you are to listen in an active manner and not spend the time thinking about what you’re going to say next. If sitting on your hands fails to keep you from interrupting, then get a tennis ball and pass it back and forth. If the ball isn’t in your hands, then your lips should be still. And if you are talking and the other person starts to interrupt, just wave the ball and smile.

No name-calling. For one hour you are going to be part of the southern genteel class, an aristocrat born and bred with good manners. For a measly hour, you’re going to say nice things and not throw around labels.

No throwing food. Okay, this may seem like a funny and random boundary—it is. During my husband’s military service, a formal dinner could turn into a food fight if one wayward roll got out of control. So if you are prone to this kind of behavior, then maybe you shouldn’t do your money workouts over a meal.

If you truly have a problem with throwing golf clubs or Scrabble boards when you are frustrated, then you will need to do your money workouts with another mature person (or couple) or even a professional counselor.

Begin each workout by saying one positive thing. Most of us have negative self-talk tapes that run through our heads, and sometimes we just need to destroy those. I haven’t ever been able to stick to a budget. You’re such an idiot, how can you possibly get it together at your age? These are trash talk negative statements that should be thrown out. Instead, tell yourself something positive about yourself. Or tell your partner one positive thing that you like about him or her. It will be more beneficial if these positive things are financially related, such as, “You have a good work ethic” or “You really saved a lot when you bought that new notebook after shopping around.”

End each workout by saying one positive thing. You started on a positive note, and now you’re going to end on a positive note. If your positive statement can relate to the workout, that would be ideal. For example, “I didn’t quit. I stayed and finished the entire thing.” Or if you’re talking to another family member, “You really did a great job of listening, and I appreciate that you didn’t interrupt.”

Create an environment that encourages comfort and success. If you hate Mondays, then maybe you shouldn’t make Monday your money workout day. You want your workout to be set up for success, which means you should do it at a time when you feel rested, the kids are not underfoot, and you are in a place that is conducive to conversation. Part of this boundary point is to put this money workout on your calendar at a time and in a place that promotes a relaxed yet purposeful atmosphere.

Gather workout folders. One major positive about these money workouts is that you don’t have to purchase any journals, financial kits, or other expensive materials to make this work for you. The basic supplies you need are minimal and inexpensive. You will need to invest in a dozen pocket folders from a local office supply store (less than $10) and label them for the different workouts. For example, if you are working on a spending plan, then when you are finished for the hour, you can place the notes you made into the folder and later easily pick up where you left off.

Keeping your working materials separate also allows you to put other related materials into the folders and keep them organized, which makes your workouts easier. For example, if there’s a new Web site you want to check out for “The 60-Minute Travel and Fun Guide Workout,” then throw it into the appropriate pocket folder, and you’ll have it at the ready when you need it. If you have a college scholarship application you want to help your student complete, then place it in “The 60-Minute College Plan Workout” folder. This is all very low tech and simple.

Have a timer on hand. You need to stick to the times listed, even if you’re “on a roll” and want to keep going beyond the hour. Do not go overtime. It’s the same as a too-long workout at the beginning of a physical fitness routine. An extended workout will do you in and make you sore the next day, and a workout marathon defeats the purpose of the exercise. If your “money talks” have an established start time and a set finish time, they are going to be a lot less painful. Realize that you won’t get all the problems solved in just one hour. That’s okay. You still will make progress in that hour. Then you can come back to it and either make a little more progress or finish it. Part of the benefit of The 60-Minute Money Workout is that you’ll make the best, most productive use of those sixty minutes. A set hour is a wonderful motivation to stay on topic and move through each section quickly, without getting bogged down by any of the negatives listed above in the boundaries section. The regular part of the workout will keep you busy enough, because there’s no time for squabbling, condescension, or negativity.


The 60-Minute Money Workout

This is how the sixty-minute money workout works: every chapter has a different goal for the workout, such as retirement planning, vacation trips, or paying down consumer debt. You will have a timer and specific materials for each workout (such as calculators, Internet access, bills, etc.).The prep work for each exercise will list the materials you need. At the end of each chapter, you will find a tip sheet that will serve as an outline when you have the weekly topical workouts.

As with a physical workout, the keys to your success are consistency and intensity. For this workout to facilitate the miraculous in your life and revolutionize your finances, you have to practice it regularly (at least once a week) and you have to abide by the boundaries. So let’s get started.

Pick the goal you want to work on. Then grab a timer. You can set it for one hour and watch the time for each section. Or you can set the timer for the minutes available in each section, and when it goes off, it’s time to move on to the next section.

Here is how the times are broken down and what you do within each section.


1. Make-Up-Your-Mind Warm up (5 minutes)

This part of the exercise is listed in the boundary section as “Begin each workout by saying one positive thing.” There’s a proverb that says, “As a man thinks in his heart, so is he.” This is where you are going to begin to get focused on good things. If you are alone, then you will begin by closing your eyes and breathing deeply to relax your body and to get rid of any distracting thoughts from a busy day. If you are in the habit of praying, this would be a good time to meditate in order to think about what you want to accomplish during the next hour.

If you are with a family member or your mate, begin by saying something positive to him. For example, you could take your spouse’s hands, look into his eyes, and say something affirming. Then you will make a commitment to work on the issue in the session in order to get back into good financial shape. For example, “During this hour I want to work on a plan to have a debt-free vacation for our family.”


2. Strength Training (10 minutes)

It usually takes more than one mistake or circumstance to get into financial trouble. Whether you are working out alone or with someone else, you need to realize that this is the part of the workout where you move from being a victim of your choices or circumstances to taking the necessary steps toward having victory over them.

While step 1 was to start with affirming words and a commitment to work on your money topic, this section is a time to write down your goals so that you will have a tangible and objective standard to work toward. This gives both of you a temporary focus for today and a long-term focus for the next few months, as well as a big-picture view for the future.

Your goals will depend on your topic of the day. For example, if you are discussing a budget, your goals might include (a) setting up a budget that is real and workable, (b) staying on that budget for the next six months in order to learn how to spend less than what you make, and (c) establishing a budget habit that is a financial vehicle that will get your family out of consumer debt, help you pay for your kids’ college, and fund your retirement. Each chapter will guide you specifically through each section of the workout.

This is also the time for you to jot down any obstacles that have come up in the past and to plan how you can overcome them. For example, you may want to budget, but you keep going off budget, which is an obstacle. You could add, “Have accountability about budget” as a means of overcoming that obstacle. Or you could write, “Review budget monthly to stay on task.”


3. Cardio Burn (20 minutes)

In this step, you give feet to your goals. Basically, underneath where you wrote out your goals in step 2, you will write down the steps involved in how you plan to get there from where you are now as well as delegate who is going to be responsible for what, specifically. For example, if you’re setting up a budget, write down the specifics of what your budget needs to include, how you plan to implement your budget, and how often you’ll check in on your progress toward this goal. This may not seem like a lot of time to do all this during this section, but realize that you may not accomplish your goal during your first workout.

You can also carry the work from this section over to the next section— if you don’t have extra work to do in the next session. The key is to keep your discussion moving and to work on what you can. Whatever you don’t finish, you can get to the next time around. There are tools for every chapter in the “Tool Center” link on my Web site, www.elliekay.com.

Discuss and work on a plan for your topic of the day. Yes, this section and the next are the two hardest sections, but they are also the “fat burning” phases where you get the most benefit. When you write down the step-by-step plan for your topic, make sure your approach is realistic, and be sure to give and take when it comes to discussing this topic with your mate.

If you find the discussion stalls or otherwise gets bogged down, then you may want to table a particular point and get back to it later, or you may even need to agree to disagree.


4. Take Your Heart Rate (20 minutes)

This is the point where you do any of the specific work after you’ve written out the step-by-step plan from the previous section. It’s also a time to crunch the numbers and fill in the details (facts and figures) on any tools or work sheets you are using. For example, if you need to get the facts on your credit and debt information, this would be the time to do it. That means you may need to have a computer and Internet access. Don’t worry about the specifics now; this chapter is just an overview of how the program works. Each chapter will list the specifics of what you will need to do for this section. The examples I use here are just to familiarize you with the concept.

If your topic concerns credit and debt, then this would be the time to order a free copy of your credit report at www.annualcreditreport.com. Or if the workout is about saving money, you could use this time to set up an automatic allotment from your paycheck or from your checking to savings accounts. If your plan for the day is debt reduction, you may decide to cut up all but two or three credit cards and cancel some of your open credit accounts (be sure to cancel the most recent cards first and keep the cards you’ve had for five years or longer in order to maintain the longevity part of your FICO—Fair Isaac credit score).

Don’t procrastinate. Do this during this “work” part of the workout. This will help minimize the temptation to procrastinate on the practical aspects of your workout and also keep you on track with your goal for the day. If you don’t have any outside work to do during this time, then feel free to expand your discussion from step 3 in order to reach closure on your topic of the day.


5. Congratulations Cool Down (5 minutes)

Sit back and grab a glass of something cool to drink and reflect on all you’ve accomplished in just one hour! You started on a positive note, and you’re going to end on a positive one as well. If this is an individual workout, tell yourself something that is truthful and encouraging. For example, “I finished the first hour, and if I continue to do this workout, I will master this topic.”

If you are working out with someone else, then take this time to tell your partner one thing that you appreciate about today’s workout to end the discussion on a positive note. For example, you can say, “I noticed you gave my ideas a lot of respect. I appreciate that.” Or, “When I got upset and started to cry, I appreciate the way you weren’t condescending. Thank you.”

Keep in mind that just as you don’t get physically buff after one workout, your finances aren’t going to be in perfect shape after this first effort either. So during this step you will set the topic and the time for your next workout. Maybe you’ll have a continuation of today’s workout, or maybe you’ll look at a new area. Whatever the case, decide what you’re going to cover next time and put it in writing. After you and your mate have exercised with this money workout a half dozen times, you’ll find yourself stronger, smarter, and sweeter.


Workout
Tip Sheet

At the end of every chapter is a “Workout Tip Sheet” that you have on hand to help facilitate the workout and keep it flowing, without wasting time to look back and forth in the chapter. Here’s a sample Workout Tip Sheet.


1. Make-Up-Your-Mind Warm up (5 minutes)

• Say something positive.

• Commit to work on the topic.


2. Strength Training (10 minutes)

• Write down realistic short-term and long-term goals.

• List means of overcoming obstacles.


3. Cardio Burn (20 minutes)

• List specific steps to accomplish each goal and delegate

responsibility.

• Research topical tools at www.elliekay.com.


4. Take Your Heart Rate (20 minutes)

• Implement work on each specific step.

• Fill in facts and figures.


5. Congratulations Cool Down (5 minutes)

• Say something positive.

• Set topic for next workout.


Dynamic Uno here: I am really enjoying working through The 60-Minute Money Workout. I know that sounds a bit crazy, especially during this time of year, but I am really trying hard to whip my finances back into shape and this book is helping me along the way.

I decided to read through the book first and then go back and do the workouts. Yes, there are actual workouts, but they do not require spandex or yoga mats--unless you need padding on the table from beating your head against it from all of the money mistakes you've made. (Don't ask how I know this...) Each workout requires about 60 minutes to complete. Some may take a little less time and others a little bit more (especially if you've "hidden" your financial issues throughout the house like I have). The workouts apply to both singles and to couples and there are pieces of advice given to both groups throughout the chapters.

Overall, this has been a great book to give me perspective on my financial issues. If you or someone you know is looking to get finances back into shape (I'm not talking about the round "zero" either) and learn practical ways to save money, you may want to pick up The 60-Minute Money Workout by Ellie Kay to get a head start.

Let me know what you think. Happy Reading!

Sunday, December 5, 2010

December Already?!

Whew!  November was quite a crazy month! 

The craziness actually started the last weekend in October because my sister's wedding was that weekend.  My dad in Texas flew over with his wife and my aunt for the big event.  The day before the wedding, my dad and I spent the day at Busch Gardens and had a lot of fun.  Aside from riding one of the roller coasters, we were able to see lots of animals and we even took the safari out and fed giraffes!  It was quite fun, but we had to cut our day short to drive over to Lakeland for the rehearsal dinner. 


The bride to be and me!

My niece and my dad (Grampy) carving her pumpkin for Halloween.


My niece was in the wedding and she took her part very seriously as she had a ring ceremony too with her new step-father.  She was still a little freaked out over the whole experience, but after goofing off with me at the reception, she calmed down a little bit.

The girls and I.  (We just made it before the ceremony started.)

My niece walking her mother down the aisle. 

My niece starting to realize the seriousness of her role.


My niece and her ring ceremony with her step-father.

My niece and her mom "cuttin' a rug."

My niece and I at the reception.



Homecoming was the second week of November, which means we had spirit week in which we dressed in crazy "outfits"  each day. 






We also had our Homecoming Pep Rally.

As Sophomore Class sponsor, I had to help guide my sophomores as they created their float.  We had absolutely no money to build it, so I also had the job of begging all of the parents for items so they would at least have something to show during the "Parade of Floats" at the halftime show of the game.  To my overwhelming surprise, the parents really came through.  The kids worked after school for many weeks to try and get everything exactly the way they wanted it.  (Paint and glitter will mark the library's back room and outside area for many years (?) to come.)  Our theme this year was "Once Upon a Candy Shop" and my "babies" decided that they wanted to do "Candyland " for their float.  It turned out pretty well in my opinion.


The good news is--we won 1st Place! 

Ok, we technically tied for 1st Place, but since we let the "freshies" have half of our supplies, I think I can brag a little bit.  The Student Government Advisor told me that this is the first time in school history that the Seniors did not win. HA!HA!  :)

After Homecoming Week, we had a week left before the Thanksgiving Holiday (we had a WHOLE WEEK off)!!!  I for one am certainly glad we had a week because I am still tired from all of the shenanigans.

Since  my niece's Mom went on her honeymoon over the Thanksgiving break, we decided that we were going to take my niece's birthday trip during that time as well.  After all, Mommy was on a trip, why couldn't she go?  So, we headed over to Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure for a couple of days.  We had a blast! 

Harry Potter's hangout at Hogwarts and Hogsmeade are exactly as you envision them.  (Although, if you plan on visiting, make sure you do not leave until you've done everything you want to do because you will not be able to get back in because the lines are atrocious!)

Another entrance to Hogsmeade through Jurassic Park.

Hogsmeade
Station 9 3/4


The entrance into Hogsmeade.





Hagrid's Cottage


Now that my sister's wedding is over I finally decided to do something I have wanted to do for a very long time.  I decided to get my hair cut and dye the tips pink!!! 

The style is similar to Reese Witherspoon's in Sweet Home Alabama:
    

The color is compliments of Brian at Ulta!  He seemed a little nervous at first, but he did a FABULOUS job with my hair and I completely recommend him to anyone!
Front "Before"

Back "Before"

















Side "After"

Front "After"



Back "After"



Tomorrow is the "BIG" day in which everyone sees my "new do."  It's going to be quite a busy week with the Poetry Jam on Wednesday, my niece's concert on Thursday, our church's Christmas play on Friday and then the TSO concert on Saturday!  WooHoo!  Have a great week!

Thursday, December 2, 2010

The Baby Bible Christmas Storybook by Robin Currie



Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from B & B Media Group as part of their blogger book review program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.




The Baby Bible Christmas Storybook brings the Christmas story to life for young children.  The story begins with Mary learning that she will have a baby and continues through the time of Jesus' birth and the visit from the wise men.  Youngsters will get to take place in an interactive storytime because each Bible lesson includes scripture references with age-appropriate translations, actions to illustrate each verse, a picture that depicts each passage, and a prayer to end the lesson.


Title:  The Baby Bible Christmas Storybook (part of the Baby Bible series)
Author: Robin Currie
Illustrator: Constanza Basaluzzo
Format: Board book
Genre: Toddler; Bible Study; Christmas
Source: Review copy provided by B & B Media Group.
Publication Information: David C. Cook / October 2010 / ISBN: 0781403685 / $9.99
Buy the Book: David C. Cook
Find the Author online: Robin Currie / Twitter / Facebook

Why I Read this Book:
I have several nieces and now a nephew that I would like to encourage in their Christian walk--despite their ages.  Since Christmas is right around the corner--what better way than to bring out The Baby Bible Christmas Storybook and get them to read and interact with Jesus' life as a baby in the manger.

What I Liked:
I love the illustrations in the book.  They're perfect for little kids and clearly show what each passage of scripture is about in the book.

The Bible stories are written clearly for young readers to understand their meanings and are exactly the perfect length to hold short attention spans.

The prayers at the end of the lessons are short enough for toddlers to understand and each one relates to the lesson for that day.

What I Didn't Like:
The only thing that stuck out to me were the interactive directions.  Some of them were inconsistent  throughout the book.  For example, when Mary and Joseph were travelling the directions are:
"Tap your hands on your knees."  Later in the book the directions state: "Tap your hands on your knees quickly."  However, this is only a picky inconsistency and does not detract from the book in any way.

I would have also put the explanation of "Baby Bible Moments Together" at the beginning of the book instead of the end; however, if someone receives it as a gift, chances are ,they will flip completely through the book and find it before they start reading it with their young one(s).

Overall Impression:
I loved the book and I think it will be a great bonding experience for families with children.  If you enjoy this book, there are other books in the Baby Bible series.

Rating: 5 out of 5


Let me know what you think about this book.  Happy Reading!

Saturday, November 27, 2010

BBC Reading Meme

As I was catching up on my reading of blog posts, I came across this meme on A Library Is A Hospital for the Mind's blog.  I thought it would be interesting to see exactly how many books I've read on their list.



BBC READING MEME:Have you read more than 6 of these books? The BBC believes most people will have read only 6 of the 100 books listed here.

Instructions: Bold those books you've read in their entirety Italicize the ones you started but didn't finish or read an excerpt. Tag other book nerds. Tag me as well so I can see your responses!



1. Pride and Prejudice – Jane Austen


2. The Lord of the Rings – JRR Tolkien


3. Jane Eyre – Charlotte Bronte

4. Harry Potter series – JK Rowling


5. To Kill a Mockingbird – Harper Lee

6. The Bible


7. Wuthering Heights – Emily Bronte

8. Nineteen Eighty Four – George Orwell


9. His Dark Materials – Philip Pullman

10. Great Expectations – Charles Dickens

11. Little Women – Louisa M Alcott

12. Tess of the D’Urbervilles – Thomas Hardy

13. Catch 22 – Joseph Heller

14. Complete Works of Shakespeare

15. Rebecca – Daphne Du Maurier


16. The Hobbit – JRR Tolkien


17. Birdsong – Sebastian Faulks

18. The Catcher in the Rye – JD Salinger

19. The Time Traveller’s Wife – Audrey Niffenegger

20. Middlemarch – George Eliot

21. Gone With The Wind – Margaret Mitchell

22. The Great Gatsby – F Scott Fitzgerald

23. Bleak House – Charles Dickens

24. War and Peace – Leo Tolstoy

25. The Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy – Douglas Adams


26. Brideshead Revisited – Evelyn Waugh

27. Crime and Punishment – Fyodor Dostoyevsky

28. Grapes of Wrath – John Steinbeck


29. Alice in Wonderland – Lewis Carroll

30. The Wind in the Willows – Kenneth Grahame


31. Anna Karenina – Leo Tolstoy


32. David Copperfield – Charles Dickens

33. Chronicles of Narnia – CS Lewis

34. Emma – Jane Austen


35. Persuasion – Jane Austen

36. The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe – CS Lewis
37. The Kite Runner – Khaled Hosseini


38. Captain Corelli’s Mandolin – Louis De Berniere

39. Memoirs of a Geisha – Arthur Golden

40. Winnie the Pooh – AA Milne


41. Animal Farm – George Orwell


42. The Da Vinci Code – Dan Brown

43. One Hundred Years of Solitude – Gabriel Garcia Marquez


44. A Prayer for Owen Meaney – John Irving

45. The Woman in White – Wilkie Collins

46. Anne of Green Gables – LM Montgomery

47. Far From The Madding Crowd – Thomas Hardy

48. The Handmaid’s Tale – Margaret Atwood

49. Lord of the Flies – William Golding

50. Atonement – Ian McEwan

51. Life of Pi – Yann Martel


52. Dune – Frank Herbert

53. Cold Comfort Farm – Stella Gibbons

54. Sense and Sensibility – Jane Austen

55. A Suitable Boy – Vikram Seth

56. The Shadow of the Wind – Carlos Ruiz Zafon

57. A Tale Of Two Cities – Charles Dickens
58. Brave New World – Aldous Huxley


59. The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time – Mark Haddon

60. Love In The Time Of Cholera – Gabriel Garcia Marquez


61. Of Mice and Men – John Steinbeck


62. Lolita – Vladimir Nabokov


63. The Secret History – Donna Tartt

64. The Lovely Bones – Alice Sebold

65. Count of Monte Cristo – Alexandre Dumas

66. On The Road – Jack Kerouac

67. Jude the Obscure – Thomas Hardy

68. Bridget Jones’s Diary – Helen Fielding

69. Midnight’s Children – Salman Rushdie

70. Moby Dick – Herman Melville


71. Oliver Twist – Charles Dickens


72. Dracula – Bram Stoker


73. The Secret Garden – Frances Hodgson Burnett

74. Notes From A Small Island – Bill Bryson

75. Ulysses – James Joyce


76. The Bell Jar – Sylvia Plath

77. Swallows and Amazons – Arthur Ransome

78. Germinal – Emile Zola

79. Vanity Fair – William Makepeace Thackeray

80. Possession – AS Byatt

81. A Christmas Carol – Charles Dickens

82. Cloud Atlas – David Mitchell

83. The Color Purple – Alice Walker


84. The Remains of the Day – Kazuo Ishiguro

85. Madame Bovary – Gustave Flaubert

86. A Fine Balance – Rohinton Mistry

87. Charlotte’s Web – EB White


88. The Five People You Meet In Heaven – Mitch Albom


89. Adventures of Sherlock Holmes – Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

90. The Faraway Tree Collection – Enid Blyton

91. Heart of Darkness – Joseph Conrad

92. The Little Prince – Antoine De Saint-Exupery

93. The Wasp Factory – Iain Banks

94. Watership Down – Richard Adams

95. A Confederacy of Dunces – John Kennedy Toole

96. A Town Like Alice – Nevil Shute

97. The Three Musketeers – Alexandre Dumas


98. Hamlet – William Shakespeare


99. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory – Roald Dahl

100. Les Miserables – Victor Hugo


I've completely read through 31 of the titles listed--although several are more than one title (Harry Potter, etc.).  I also find it interesting that the BBC decided that Hamlet is separate from Shakespeare's completed works, but maybe they couldn't come up with more works of "literature" to equal 100. 

There are many titles that I've never heard of and even more that I've started reading and decided not to finish for various reasons.  How many have you read from this list?  Leave a comment or link up with your own listing.

Friday, November 5, 2010

The Perfect Blend by Trish Perry

It is time for a FIRST Wild Card Tour book review! If you wish to join the FIRST blog alliance, just click the button. We are a group of reviewers who tour Christian books. A Wild Card post includes a brief bio of the author and a full chapter from each book toured. The reason it is called a FIRST Wild Card Tour is that you never know if the book will be fiction, non~fiction, for young, or for old...or for somewhere in between! Enjoy your free peek into the book!

You never know when I might play a wild card on you!


Today's Wild Card author is:


and the book:


The Perfect Blend

Harvest House Publishers (September 1, 2010)

***Special thanks to Karri James of Harvest House Publishers for sending me a review copy.***

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:


Trish Perry is an award-winning writer and editor of Ink and the Spirit, a quarterly newsletter of the Capital Christian Writers organization in the Washington DC area. She has published numerous short stories, essays, devotionals, and poetry in Christian and general market media, and she is a member of the American Christian Fiction Writers group.


Visit the author's website.




Product Details:

List Price: $9.99
Paperback: 256 pages
Publisher: Harvest House Publishers (September 1, 2010)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0736930159
ISBN-13: 978-0736930154

AND NOW...THE FIRST CHAPTER:



Steph Vandergrift was jilted in a truly beautiful place.

She focused on her surroundings so she wouldn’t break down and openly sob in front of people passing her on their way to work. Eyes blinking and chin quivering, she desperately sought distraction in the old stone buildings, lush spring greenery, and fragrant wisteria and lavender from the well-tended landscape nearby.

Rick told her she would love Middleburg, one of the most charming little towns in northern Virginia. When he proposed—

She breathed deeply against the urge to wail as if she were at an ancient European funeral.

When Rick proposed, he said she would even love his law firm’s stately, historic building. This was where she sat now, her dark bangs in her eyes. Despite the warm spring air, she huddled outside on the front steps, certain her brain—or surely her heart—would burst if she didn’t stop and collect herself.

A sudden leave of absence. That’s what the receptionist told her. Rick had taken a sudden leave of absence. And Steph knew she was whom he had suddenly left.

She swallowed hard. She stood and dusted off her short flared skirt in an attempt to look nonchalant while she sized up her situation. Where was she going to go? Where? She wiped away a tear, but another one swiftly took its place. She needed to not do this here, in the middle of this quaint old town.

God, what do I do now? Please tell me.

Distraction. She needed another distraction right now.

Across the street a middle-aged woman stepped out the front door of a small building, the white-painted stone of which was gorgeously weathered. She bent to lift a watering can, and her loose blond curls fell forward. She tended to the flower boxes that hung, moss-laden, from green-shuttered front windows. Then she seemed to sense someone watching her. She turned around and smiled at Steph before calling out to her.

“Good morning, dear. Are you all right over there?”

Steph took a few steps away from Rick’s building and tried to look purposeful. She managed to say, “Yes, I—” before her throat seized and then released a torrent of weeping and incoherent babbling.

So much for her stoic resolve.

Within seconds the woman was across the street and at Steph’s side. She smelled like vanilla and strawberries.

“You poor girl. Whatever is the matter?”

Steph tried to speak between heaving sobs. “…were s’posed to elope…left everything…job, family, friends…he’s not here…leave of absence…what…gonna do?” And then full-on wailing obliterated any further at-tempts at communication.

The woman enveloped Steph with her free arm, the other still holding the watering can, and steered her toward the little stone house across the street.

“You just come with me this instant. You mustn’t stand out here all alone like this.”

Yes. That was it. She was all alone. Rick had lured her away from everyone she loved. Everything she knew. She had left them all to marry him. It seemed like such a romantic notion, to elope after her parents had expressed their disapproval of Rick. And then what did the dirtbag do but desert her here?

The enticing smell of fresh-baked bread wafted all around them when they entered the little shop. Despite her anguish Steph sensed a rumble in her stomach. She thought she must be more beast than damsel to actually harbor hope for a pastry or two in the middle of this catastrophe.

“You have a seat right there.” The woman coaxed her into a wicker chair at one of the lace-covered tables in the dining area. “What you need is a nice, soothing cup of chamomile. Just give me a moment.” Before she went too far away, she stepped back to the table and placed a box of tissues within Steph’s reach.

Once Steph was alone again, reality descended. What was she going to do? Granted, she hadn’t walked out on a stellar career. She could get another job selling men’s suits in just about any department store, she supposed. But she didn’t know anyone here in Middleburg. Should she hang her head and drag herself back home to Baltimore? Why had she made such a scene before leaving? She hadn’t quietly sneaked away. No, she had to pull an all-out, in-your-face confrontation with her parents. A dramatic disconnect with her friends and roommates. And all of them had simply been trying to save her from exactly what just happened.

As she had always feared, her judgment was completely whacked. She had forgotten plans for any long-term career once she and Rick became serious. She thought she would spend the rest of her life married to an up-and-coming real estate attorney and raise their two perfect children and faithful dog in this adorable, classy town. Why had she believed that would happen simply because Rick said it would?

“Here we go, dear.”

It finally dawned on Steph that the woman had a faint accent. British? That would fit with this cute little shop, with its delicately flowered wall-paper and elegant china cabinets. The small, framed paintings hanging here and there looked like scenes of the British countryside.

The woman set a serving tray on the table and placed each item in front of Steph. A white porcelain china pot, painted with miniature violets, from which she poured tea into a delicate rose-covered cup and saucer. A plate with a couple of triangular biscuits on it. They smelled like butter and sweetness. And two dainty bowls: one holding strawberry preserves, and the other holding what looked like sour cream.

Steph realized she was able to stop crying as long as she stopped focusing on herself for a moment. She looked up and pressed a tissue against her nose. “Thank you so much. You didn’t have to—”

“No need for that. Go on, now.” The woman gestured at the food and tea and sat down across from Steph. Her gentle blue eyes reminded Steph of her mother during better times. “You’ll feel better if you have a bit to eat and some nice, relaxing tea.”

As soon as Steph lifted one of the biscuits, the woman said, “I’m Millicent Ashford Jewell. Everyone calls me Milly.”

“Steph.” She spoke around an absolutely delicious bite. She rubbed crumbs from her fingers and shook Milly’s hand. “Steph Vandergrift. Thank you for being so kind.”

Milly smiled and put a spoon of the cream on Steph’s plate for her. “Clotted cream. One of God’s great gifts, in my opinion. Marvelous on the scones.”

Clotted cream. Now that sounded downright nasty. But Steph was a self-admitted people pleaser, and she had never been one to ignore God’s great gifts. So she put a little of the cream on her next bite of scone. And then nearly moaned, it was so fantastic.

“But that’s just really thick whipped cream!”

Milly said, “I think you like it, right?”

“I love it.”

Milly stood. “I have a few matters to tend to in the kitchen. Feel free to walk back and get me if you need me. We don’t stand on ceremony around here.”

The shop door opened as Steph swallowed a sip of tea. She followed Milly’s delighted gaze toward the door and took another nibble of scone. Mmm. “Absolutely yummy.”

A crooked smile spread across the face of the young man who walked through the door. He looked directly at Steph and acted as if her comment were all about him. With a lift of his eyebrows and a tilt of the head, he said, “Well, thank you very much.”

Milly laughed and approached him. They hugged each other.

“Welcome back, stranger,” Milly said. “How was vacation?”

Steph didn’t pay much attention to their conversation after that. The man seemed to be in a hurry, which was fine by her. Otherwise she feared Milly might want to introduce them. She’d rather a man that attractive not look at her too closely right now.

Steph watched his warm brown eyes, which never seemed to lose their smile. She noticed he never once messed with his short, tousled blond hair or fussed with anything else about his looks. Yet, when he walked with Milly toward the kitchen, Steph saw how perfectly, yet casually, he was dressed and groomed.

Her heart was broken, thanks to Rick’s wimpy, childish retreat from her life. But Milly’s chamomile tea and warm scones made her feel a little better. And despite her circumstances and the many question marks in her immediate future, she was still able to appreciate a good-looking man. She leaned sideways to watch him at the kitchen door until he disappeared from view. He and Milly were out of earshot, so Steph surprised only herself when she whispered it again.

“Absolutely yummy.”




Dynamic Uno here: When I first heard about The Perfect Blend through the FIRST WildCard  email, I thought that I would enjoy it.  After all, having a romance set-up around a tea house is pretty exciting for this non-coffee drinker.  Meeting Steph at the front of her ex-fiancee's job site, bawling her eyes out over her non-marriage made me wonder if this was going to be a story where the main character mopes for most of the book and then meets "Mr. Wonderful" and they have a whirlwind romance, get married, and live happily ever after.  Thankfully, that was not the case. 

Yes, it is a romance. Yes, Steph mopes every now and again. (Wouldn't you if you had been left at the altar?)  But there's plenty of humor in this book--provided by Milly, Liz, Christie, and even Steph in certain situations.  (And I thought I was the only one who had bad timing and acted on impulse.)    I enjoyed the quirky characters and their spin on the happenings of Steph's life at that moment.  The "niceness" of the townspeople seemed a little far-fetched at first, but having lived in a small town, I must say that Trish  Perry pretty much nailed the stereotypes.  Needless to say, this is a cute chic-lit romance.

If you are interested in a quick, light-hearted read that focuses on how God works in unexpected ways and sometimes uses the people around you to help, then this is the book for you.  Aside from a few bouts of tears, I think I laughed and smiled all the way through the book.  The Perfect Blend leaves you with a warm, satisfied feeling after you read it, much like a warm mug of herbal tea and scones on a cool day.

Let me know what you think!  Happy Reading!

Monday, November 1, 2010

Happy NaNoWriMo!

Yes, today is the first day in November which means there are a great many people out there pounding the keys on their keyboards trying to maintain their word count quota for each day in hopes of writing a 50,000 word novel by the end of the month  I finally made it to my word count goal for the day, although I don't have much of a story at this point.  I'm more telling than showing, but I think eventually something will click and my story will sprout from there.  At least, that's what I'm hoping.  Did you make your word goal for the day?

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

It's Almost Here!

Despite all of the craziness with work and my personal life, I still decided to sign up for NanoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) again this year.  Yes, that means I'm going to attempt to write a novel in a month.  That's 50,000 words in one month.  Am I insane?
Last year I only made it to about 3500 words over the course of November, so I have much higher hopes for myself this year.  The problem is--I still don't have a storyline, which is the same problem I had last year. 

Joel C. Rosenberg came to our church this evening and was discussing scripture and how it relates to the End Times, in addition to telling us about his latest book The Twelfth Imam.  I've always found this topic fascinating and his enthusiasm for sharingGod's Word brought back my own thirst for knowledge.  He also mentioned how he came up with some of his topics, which I thought was pretty neat too.  I went ahead and signed up for his newsletter, so maybe something that comes across will spark ideas for my story's plot.

Did you sign up for NanoWriMo this year?  (It's not too late.)  If you did, let me know and I'll put you on my buddy list.  Maybe we can all succeed in our 50,000 word goal through the buddy system.  Good luck and happy writing!

Sunday, October 24, 2010

One is the loneliest number...

Have you ever been so stressed out that you couldn't even form coherent words or thoughts?  That's the way the past couple of weeks have been for me.  It's pretty scary when my students have learned how to interpret my hand-gestures and grunts to figure out what I'm trying to tell them.  (It's like charades every day.)

I thought things were getting better because my anxiety and stress were decreasing, and then my Principal dropped the bomb on me this week.  Due to budget cuts and a decreasing student population (we have 1837 students now), my secretary is being moved from the Media Center to the Guidance Office.  That means I have to run our HUMONGOUS library on my own.  Really? 



I guess I have a cape hidden somewhere on my person and that I embody some superhero power (at least that's what I'm telling myself) because our Guidance Office has 7 people in it that could feasibly rotate for an hour each day to cover their secretary position, and there's only me in the library. Really? 

So, tomorrow will be my first day trying to run the library without help.  Please pray for me because there are many things I have to re-learn how to do because my secretary always did them for me.  Please pray for my secretary because she doesn't exactly want to go to Guidance either--they're not the friendliest bunch.  And please pray for our students because ultimately they're the ones that are going to suffer as a result of this change.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Two Tickets to the Christmas Ball by Donita K. Paul

It is time for a FIRST Wild Card Tour book review! If you wish to join the FIRST blog alliance, just click the button. We are a group of reviewers who tour Christian books. A Wild Card post includes a brief bio of the author and a full chapter from each book toured. The reason it is called a FIRST Wild Card Tour is that you never know if the book will be fiction, non~fiction, for young, or for old...or for somewhere in between! Enjoy your free peek into the book!

You never know when I might play a wild card on you!


Today's Wild Card author is:


and the book:


Two Tickets to the Christmas Ball

WaterBrook Press (October 5, 2010)

***Special thanks to Ashley Boyer and Staci Carmichael of Waterbrook Multnomah for sending me a review copy.***

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:


Expertly weaving together fantasy, romance and Biblical truths, Donita K. Paul penned the best-selling, fan-favorite DragonKeeper Chronicles series. After retiring early from teaching, she began a second career as an award-winning author and loves serving as a mentor for new writers of all ages. And when she’s not putting pen to paper, Donita makes her home in Colorado Springs and enjoys spending time with her grandsons, cooking, beading, stamping, and knitting.


Visit the author's website.

Product Details:

List Price: $14.99
Hardcover: 240 pages
Publisher: WaterBrook Press (October 5, 2010)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0307458997
ISBN-13: 978-0307458995

AND NOW...THE FIRST CHAPTER:



Christmas. Cora had been trying to catch it for four years. She scurried down the sidewalk, thankful that streetlights and brightly lit storefronts counteracted the gloom of early nightfall. Somewhere, sometime, she’d get a hold of how to celebrate Christmas. Maybe even tonight.

With snowflakes sticking to her black coat, Christmas lights blinking around shop windows, and incessant bells jingling, Cora should have felt some holiday cheer.

And she did.

Really.

Just not much.

At least she was on a Christmas errand this very minute. One present for a member of the family. Shouldn’t that count for a bit of credit in the Christmas-spirit department?

Cora planned out her Christmas gift giving in a reasonable manner. The execution of her purchasing schedule gave her a great deal of satisfaction. Tonight’s quest was a book for Uncle Eric—something about knights and castles, sword fights, shining armor, and all that.

One or two gifts purchased each week from Labor Day until December 15, and her obligations were discharged efficiently, economically, and without the excruciating last-minute frenzy that descended upon other people…like her three sisters, her mother, her grandmother, her aunts.

Cora refused to behave like her female relatives and had decided not to emulate the male side of the family either. The men didn’t buy gifts. They sometimes exchanged bottles from the liquor store, but more often they drank the spirits themselves.

Her adult ambition had been to develop her own traditions for the season, ones that sprouted from the Christianity she’d discovered in college. The right way to celebrate the birth of Christ. She avoided the chaos that could choke Christmas. Oh dear. Judgmental again. At least now she recognized when she slipped.

She glanced around Sage Street. Not too many shoppers. The quaint old shops were decked out for the holidays, but not with LED bulbs and inflated cartoon figures.

Since discovering Christianity, she’d been confused about the trappings of Christmas—the gift giving, the nativity scenes, the carols, even the Christmas tree. Every year she tried to acquire some historical background on the festivities. She was learning. She had hope. But she hadn’t wrapped her head around all the traditions yet.

The worst part was shopping.

Frenzy undid her. Order sustained her. And that was a good reason to steer clear of any commercialized holiday rush. She’d rather screw red light bulbs into plastic reindeer faces than push through a crowd of shoppers.

Cora examined the paper in her hand and compared it to the address above the nearest shop. Number 483 on the paper and 527 on the building. Close.

When she’d found the bookstore online, she had been amazed that a row of old-fashioned retailers still existed a few blocks from the high-rise office building where she worked. Truthfully, it was more like the bookstore found her. Every time she opened her browser, and on every site she visited, the ad for the old-fashioned new- and used-book store showed up in a banner or sidebar. She’d asked around, but none of her co-workers patronized the Sage Street Shopping District.

“Sounds like a derelict area to me,” said Meg, the receptionist. “Sage Street is near the old railroad station, isn’t it? The one they decided was historic so they wouldn’t tear it down, even though it’s empty and an eyesore?”

An odd desire to explore something other than the mall near her apartment seized Cora. “I’m going to check it out.”

Jake, the security guard, frowned at her. “Take a cab. You don’t want to be out too late over there.”

Cora walked. The brisk air strengthened her lungs, right? The exercise pumped her blood, right? A cab would cost three, maybe four dollars, right?

An old man, sitting on the stoop of a door marked 503, nodded at her. She smiled, and he winked as he gave her a toothless grin. Startled, she quickened her pace and gladly joined the four other pedestrians waiting at the corner for the light to change.

Number 497 emblazoned the window of an ancient shoe store on the opposite corner. She marched on. In this block she’d find the book and check another item off her Christmas list.

Finally! “Warner, Werner, and Wizbotterdad, Books,” Cora read the sign aloud and then grasped the shiny knob. It didn’t turn. She frowned. Stuck? Locked? The lights were on. She pressed her face against the glass. A man sat at the counter. Reading. How appropriate.

Cora wrenched the knob. A gust of wind pushed with her against the door, and she blew into the room. She stumbled and straightened, and before she could grab the door and close it properly, it swung closed, without the loud bang she expected.

“I don’t like loud noises,” the man said without looking up from his book.

“Neither do I,” said Cora.

He nodded over his book. With one gnarled finger, he pushed his glasses back up his nose.

Must be an interesting book. Cora took a quick look around. The place could use stronger lights. She glanced back at the clerk. His bright lamp cast him and his book in a golden glow.

Should she peruse the stacks or ask?

She decided to browse. She started to enter the aisle between two towering bookcases.

“Not there,” said the old man.

“I beg your pardon?” said Cora.

“How-to books. How to fix a leaky faucet. How to build a bridge. How to mulch tomatoes. How to sing opera. How-to books. You don’t need to know any of that, do you?”

“No.”

“Wrong aisle, then.” He placed the heavy volume on the counter and leaned over it, apparently absorbed once more.

Cora took a step toward him. “I think I saw a movie like this once.”

His head jerked up, his scowl heavier. He glared over the top of his glasses at the books on the shelves as if they had suddenly moved or spoken or turned bright orange.

“A movie? Here? I suppose you mean the backdrop of a bookstore. Not so unusual.” He arched an eyebrow. “You’ve Got Mail and 84 Charing Cross Road.”

“I meant the dialogue. You spoke as if you knew what I needed.”

He hunched his shoulders. The dark suspenders stretched across the faded blue of his shirt. “Reading customers. Been in the business a long time.”

“I’m looking for a book for my uncle. He likes castles, knights, tales of adventure. That sort of thing.”

He sighed, closed his book, and tapped its cover. “This is it.” He stood as Cora came to the desk. “Do you want me to wrap it and send it? We have the service. My grandson’s idea.”

Cora schooled her face and her voice. One of the things she excelled in was not showing her exasperation. She’d been trained by a dysfunctional family, and that had its benefits. She knew how to take guff and not give it back. Maintaining a calm attitude was a good job skill.

She tried a friendly smile and addressed the salesclerk.

“I want to look at it first and find out how much it costs.”

“It’s the book you want, and the price is eleven dollars and thirteen cents.”

Cora rubbed her hand over the cover. It looked and felt like leather, old leather, but in good repair. The book must be ancient.

“Are you sure?” she asked.

“Which?” the old man barked.

“Which what?”

“Which part of the statement am I sure about? It doesn’t matter because I’m sure about both.”

Cora felt her armor of detachment suffer a dent. The man was impossible. She could probably order a book online and get it wrapped and delivered right to her uncle with less aggravation. But dollar signs blinked in neon red in her mind as she thought how much that would cost. No need to be hasty.

Curtain rings rattled on a rod, and Cora looked up to see a younger version of the curmudgeon step into the area behind the counter.

The younger man smiled. He had the same small, wiry build as the older version, but his smile was warm and genuine. He looked to be about fifty, but his hair was still black, as black as the old man’s hair was white. He stretched out his hand, and Cora shook it.

“I’m Bill Wizbotterdad. This is my granddad, William Wizbotterdad.”

“Let me guess. Your father is named Will?”

Bill grinned, obviously pleased she’d caught on quickly. “Willie Wizbotterdad. He’s off in Europe collecting rare books.”

“He’s not!” said the elder shop owner.

“He is.” Bill cast his granddad a worried look.

“That’s just the reason he gave for not being here.” William shook his head and leaned across the counter. “He doesn’t like Christmas. We have a special job to do at Christmas, and he doesn’t like people and dancing and matrimony.”

Bill put his arm around his grandfather and pulled him back. He let go of his granddad and spun the book on the scarred wooden counter so that Cora could read the contents. “Take a look.” He opened the cover and flipped through the pages. “Colored illustrations.”

A rattling of the door knob was followed by the sound of a shoulder thudding against the wood. Cora turned to see the door fly open with a tall man attached to it. The stranger brushed snow from his sleeves, then looked up at the two shop owners. Cora caught them giving each other a smug smile, a wink, and a nod of the head.

Odd. Lots of oddness in this shop.

She liked the book, and she wanted to leave before more snow accumulated on the streets. Yet something peculiar about this shop and the two men made her curious. Part of her longed to linger. However, smart girls trusted their instincts and didn’t hang around places that oozed mystery. She didn’t feel threatened, just intrigued. But getting to know the peculiar booksellers better was the last thing she wanted, right? She needed to get home and be done with this Christmas shopping business. “I’ll take the book.”

The newcomer stomped his feet on the mat by the door, then took off his hat.

Cora did a double take. “Mr. Derrick!”

He cocked his head and scrunched his face. “Do I know you?” The man was handsome, even wearing that comical lost expression. “Excuse me. Have we met?”

“We work in the same office.”

He studied her a moment, and a look of recognition lifted the frown. “Third desk on the right.” He hesitated, then snapped his fingers. “Cora Crowden.”

“Crowder.”

He jammed his hand in his pocket, moving his jacket aside. His tie hung loosely around his neck. She’d never seen him looking relaxed. The office clerks called him Serious Simon Derrick.

“I drew your name,” she said.

He looked puzzled.

“For the gift exchange. Tomorrow night. Office party.”

“Oh. Of course.” He nodded. “I drew Mrs. Hudson. She’s going to retire, and I heard her say she wanted to redecorate on a shoestring.”

“That’s Mrs. Wilson. Mrs. Hudson is taking leave to be with her daughter, who is giving birth to triplets.”

He frowned and began looking at the books.

“You won’t be there, will you?” Cora asked.

“At the party? No, I never come.”

“I know. I mean, I’ve worked at Sorenby’s for five years, and you’ve never been there.”

The puzzled expression returned to Serious Simon’s face. He glanced to the side. “I’m looking for the how-to section.”

Cora grinned. “On your left. Second aisle.”

He turned to stare at her, and she pointed to the shelves Mr. Wizbotterdad had not let her examine. Mr. Derrick took a step in that direction.

Cora looked back at the shop owners and caught them leaning back in identical postures, grins on their faces, and arms crossed over their chests.

Bill jerked away from the wall, grabbed her book, rummaged below the counter, and brought out a bag. He slid the book inside, then looked at her. “You didn’t want the book wrapped and delivered?”

“No, I’ll just pay for it now.”

“Are you sure you wouldn’t like to look around some more?” asked Bill.

“Right,” said William. “No hurry. Look around. Browse. You might find something you like.”

Bill elbowed William.

Simon Derrick had disappeared between the stacks.

William nodded toward the how-to books. “Get a book. We have a copy of How to Choose Gifts for Ungrateful Relatives. Third from the bottom shelf, second case from the wall.”

The statement earned him a “shh” from his grandson.

Cora shifted her attention to the man from her office and walked a few paces to peek around the shelves. “Mr. Derrick, I’m getting ready to leave. If you’re not coming to the party, may I just leave the gift on your desk tomorrow?”

He glanced at her before concentrating again on the many books. “That’s fine. Nice to see you, Miss Crowden.”

“Crowder,” she corrected, but he didn’t answer.

She went to the counter and paid. Mr. Derrick grunted when she said good-bye at the door.

“Come back again,” said Bill.

“Yes,” said William. “We have all your heart’s desires.”

Bill elbowed him, and Cora escaped into the blustering weather.

She hiked back to the office building. Snow sprayed her with tiny crystals, and the sharp wind nipped her nose. Inside the parking garage, warm air helped her thaw a bit as she walked to the spot she leased by the month. It would be a long ride home on slippery roads. But once she arrived, there would be no one there to interrupt her plans. She got in the car, turned the key, pushed the gearshift into reverse, looked over her shoulder, and backed out of her space.

She would get the gift ready to mail off and address a few cards in the quiet of her living room. There would be no yelling. That’s what she liked about living states away from her family. No one would ambush her with complaints and arguments when she walked through the door.

Except Skippy. Skippy waited. One fat, getting fatter, cat to talk to. She did complain at times about her mistress being gone too long, about her dinner being late, about things Cora could not fathom. But Cora never felt condemned by Skippy, just prodded a little.

_

Once inside her second-floor apartment, she pulled off her gloves, blew her nose, and went looking for Skippy.

The cat was not behind the curtain, sitting on the window seat, staring at falling snow. Not in her closet, curled up in a boot she’d knocked over. Not in the linen closet, sleeping on clean towels. She wasn’t in any of her favorite spots. Cora looked around and saw the paper bag that, this morning, had been filled with wadded scraps of Christmas paper. Balls of pretty paper and bits of ribbon littered the floor. There. Cora bent over and spied her calico cat in the bag.

“Did you have fun, Skippy?”

The cat rolled on her back and batted the top of the paper bag. Skippy then jumped from her cave and padded after Cora, as her owner headed for the bedroom.

Thirty minutes later, Cora sat at the dining room table in her cozy pink robe that enveloped her from neck to ankles. She stirred a bowl of soup and eyed the fifteen packages she’d wrapped earlier in the week. Two more sat waiting for their ribbons.

These would cost a lot less to send if some of these people were on speaking terms. She could box them together and ship them off in large boxes.

She spooned chicken and rice into her mouth and swallowed.

The soup was a tad too hot. She kept stirring.

She could send one package with seven gifts inside to Grandma Peterson, who could dispense them to her side of the family. She could send three to Aunt Carol.

She took another sip. Cooler.

Aunt Carol could keep her gift and give two to her kids. She could send five to her mom…

Cora grimaced. She had three much older sisters and one younger. “If Mom were on speaking terms with my sisters, that would help.”

She eyed Skippy, who had lifted a rear leg to clean between her back toes. “You don’t care, do you? Well, I’m trying to. And I think I’m doing a pretty good job with this Christmas thing.”

She reached over and flipped the switch on her radio. A Christmas carol poured out and jarred her nerves. She really should think about Christmas and not who received the presents. Better to think “my uncle” than “Joe, that bar bum and pool shark.”

She finished her dinner, watching her cat wash her front paws.

“You and I need to play. You’re”—she paused as Skippy turned

a meaningful glare at her—“getting a bit rotund, dear kitty.”

Skippy sneezed and commenced licking her chest.

After dinner, Cora curled up on the couch with her Warner, Werner, and Wizbotterdad bag. Skippy came to investigate the rattling paper.

Uncle Eric. Uncle Eric used to recite “You Are Old, Father William.” He said it was about a knight. But Cora wasn’t so sure. She dredged up memories from college English. The poem was by Lewis Carroll, who was really named Dodson, Dogson, Dodgson, or something.

“He wrote Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland,” she said. “There’s a cat in the story, but not as fine a cat as you. He smiles too much.”

Skippy gave her a squint-eyed look.

Cora eased the leather-bound book out of the bag. “The William I met at the bookstore qualifies for at least ancient.”

She put the book in her lap and ran her fingers over the embossed title: How the Knights Found Their Ladies.

She might have been hasty. She didn’t know if Uncle Eric would like this. She hefted the book, guessing its weight to be around four pounds. She should have found a lighter gift. This would cost a fortune to mail.

Skippy sniffed at the binding, feline curiosity piqued. Cora stroked her fur and pushed her back. She opened the book to have a peek inside. A piece of thick paper fell out. Skippy pounced on it as it twirled to the floor.

“What is it, kitty? A bookmark?” She slipped it out from between Skippy’s paws, then turned the rectangle over in her hands. Not a bookmark. A ticket.


Admit one to the Wizards’ Christmas Ball

Costumes required

Dinner and Dancing

and your Destiny


Never heard of it. She tucked the ticket in between the pages and continued to flip through the book, stopping to read an occasional paragraph.

This book wasn’t for Uncle Eric at all. It was not a history, it was a story. Kind of romantic too. Definitely not Uncle Eric’s preferred reading.

Skippy curled against her thigh and purred.

“You know what, cat? I’m going to keep it.”

Skippy made her approval known by stretching her neck up and rubbing her chin on the edge of the leather cover. Cora put the book on the sofa and picked up Skippy for a cuddle. The cat squirmed out of her arms, batted at the ticket sticking out of the pages, and scampered off.

“I love you too,” called Cora.

She pulled the ticket out and read it again: Wizards’ Christmas Ball. She turned out the light and headed for bed. But as she got ready, her eye caught the computer on her desk. Maybe she could find a bit more information.



Dynamic Uno here:  Christmas is my favorite time of year.  The weather is cooler and everyone just seems to be in a great mood.  My problem is, I don't catch the Christmas spirit until a day or two before Christmas Day.  Maybe it's because I stress myself out at work or maybe it's because there's always one or two unexpected people that show up at the last minute that I hadn't planned for, but I can never really let myself relax and enjoy Christmas with the family.  If you're like me you're always looking for a way to start feeling Christmasy so you won't be looked upon like a grouch or a "scrooge."   If you want  that warm-fuzzy feeling then you need to read this book!

Cora Crowder is trying to finish her last-minute holiday shopping so she can mail her packages and be done with her obnoxious family for Christmas.  While she's searching for the perfect gift, Cora stumbles upon a bookstore on Sage Street and decides to go inside and she if she can find something to use as a gift.  As she pays for her book, one of her co-workers (her boss's boss to be exact) ,Simon Derrick, stumbles through the door searching for a gift of his own.  Later, both discover that they've been given a ticket to the romantic Christmas Ball held on Sage Street each year.  Over the course of a few months, Simon and Cora end up bumping into each other several times and strike up a friendship.  Will they become something more or will past problems prohibit any romance?  You'll have to read Two Tickets to the Christmas Ball to find out!

Two Tickets to the Christmas Ball is a very quick and light-hearted read.  I enjoyed finding out more about Simon's family--especially is sister Sandy.  (She's a hoot!)  Cora reminds me a bit of me in that she's single, has a cat, and doesn't really get out and about too much.  Seeing the friendship develop between the characters was neat because it gave me hope that there would be someone just as charming as Simon out there for me.  (They do exist, right?)  I especially loved the two sisters at the dress shop.  I would love to go there and try on all of the dresses and costumes that they have in the shop--especially if I was able to interact with them :)  If you hadn't already guessed, I really enjoyed reading this book and I think you will too!

Let me know what you think!  Happy Reading!!