Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Happy New Year

These are not my grandchildren, just kids I love.  And this picture is too beautiful not to share.


Saturday, December 7, 2013

Homemade Eggnog Latte

It was a sad day for me when they closed our local Starbucks.

But it was a happy day when I discovered I could make something pretty darn close to the Starbucks Eggnog Latte at home.

So simple.  I just choose the cup I want to drink out of and fill it halfway with the delicious Kroger lowfat eggnog I found in the store last week.  I heat that up in the microwave for about 30-40 seconds, then pour in my coffee.  A little stir, a little sprinkle of nutmeg, a little happy.

Now.  Off to dig out the rest of my Santa mugs.


Friday, December 6, 2013

My Sound of Music Live Review.

Loved it.  I really did.  But then, I love all live theater.  I am very seldom disappointed.  (Wait.  Urinetown really disappointed me.  But that's 1.)

I know.  I am a horrid critic because my mother taught me to look for the good in everything.  She could say something nice about anything or anyone -- even if a production was horrid, well, "at least those people got up there and did it.  That's something not everyone can do."

There has been a lot of flack on the internet this morning (and even before the production) about Carrie Underwood.
Nope, she wasn't Julie Andrews.
Yep, her acting isn't the greatest.
But she was sweet.  And she seems to be very sincere -- I think those were real tears in her eyes as she listened to the fantabulous Audra McDonald sing "Climb Every Mountain."  (They were definitely real tears in my eyes!)

AND, if casting Carrie Underwood as Maria prompted kids to tune in (as I'm pretty sure was the whole plan), great.
If kids tuned in and loved the production, better.
And if this production has sparked an interest in live theater, best.
Because for live theater to survive and thrive, theaters need to be filled.  People need to buy tickets.
Let's face it -- popular celebrities sell tickets.  Nick Jonas as Marius, Reba McIntire as Annie Oakley and even Greg Brady as Captain VonTrapp.
It might not make the disapproving critics happy, but if it keeps Broadway busy, touring companies touring and regional theater suceeding, it makes me happy.

So, more live theater on TV, please.


Thursday, December 5, 2013

A Very Happy Thought

When I was 6, Debbie and Denise Norris (the ultra-cool daughters of my dad's best friend) took me to the Vondee Theater to see The Sound of Music.

Nothing has ever been the same.

My grandma had this album, and I probably wore out the grooves.  I knew every word, every orchestra swell, every sigh.

Inside the album was a booklet -- the story of the making of the film.  I read it over and over.

I wanted to be a nun.  And a governess.  And Julie Andrews.  And marry Christopher Plummer.
I watched Lost in Space just to see Angela Cartwright.
I encourage brides to walk down the aisle to Maria's Processional.
Salzburg, Austria and Stowe, Vermont are on my travel bucket list.
I have seen many stage productions of the show, including one in which Greg Brady (Barry Williams) was the Captain.  Eek!

And tonight is the LIVE television production starring Carrie Underwood.  NBC, 8:00 PM.

I am so excited!  The DVR is set!
I watched the "making of" program on Bravo this week and teared up -- it is going to be so so sweet.

Be there!   Auf wiedersehen, darling!


Wednesday, December 4, 2013

My 10 Important Books

On Facebook, writer Susan Braun  (her blog is here) asked her friends to list 10 books that had touched them in some way -- maybe not changed-your-life sort of books, but ones that have stayed in your heart.

I started to write a response, but had a need to explain all my choices.  So I thought I would just blog about them:

1.  The Dictionary.  For Christmas 1971, my grandma and grandpa gave me a big Webster's Dictionary, complete with the finger tabs for each letter.  I loved it, and read it.  I still love it, but don't read it.  Much.

2.  Harriet the Spy by Louise Fitzhugh.  Mom let me order this from Scholastic when I was in the 3rd or 4th grade.  I read it so many times the color on the cover wore away (mine looked just like the one on the left).  I asked for a notebook like Harriet's, ate tomato sandwiches, wished I had a nanny and wrote down everything I could.

3.  All of  a Kind Family by Sydney Taylor.  One of my favorite people ever was Mrs. Mildred Graves, the children's librarian.  My librarian.  When our house was struck by lightening and caught fire, my library books were ruined by water.  I was so afraid I wouldn't ever be allowed to check out books again.  But when mom and I explained what had happened, all I got from Mrs. Graves was a hug, and the assurance that I would always be able to check out my beloved books.  And then she recommended this one to me -- the very first chapter is about a lost book and a loving librarian.

4.  The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck.  My grandma had a beautiful hardbound edition of this book, and I remember reading it, serialized- fashion, every other week when we went down to Sunday dinner with her.  I was probably about 13 when I first read it, but didn't fully understand why I ached for the Joads until I studied it again in high school and again in college.   For me, this is The Great American Novel.  Enough said.

5.  Plainsong by Kent Haruf.  I'm listing this book for two reasons.  One, it is one in a long list of great books that have been recommended by my three dear friends who belong to book clubs -- Jeannine in Indy, Jill in PA and Pam in Tennessee.  They share their lists with me, and I share great books I've read with them.  When we get together (in May for the 500, every other July at 7Springs, and every once in awhile for a Girls' Weekend), we try to choose a book we can all read and discuss together; we read Gift From the Sea for a trip to Amelia Island, Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil when we went to Savannah, and a recent favorite of mine, Me Before You this last May.  I love and look forward to our discussions.

Two, this is just a great book.  Read it if you haven't.

6.  Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen.  My Master's thesis was "Patterns of Politeness in the Domestic Novels of Jane Austen, Barbara Pym and Anne Tyler:  A Linguistic Study."


As boring as that unfinished thesis was, I did fall in love with Jane Austen, and try to read at least one of her novels every year.  Plus, I think I have seen every movie and television production of her books.  I haven't (and won't), however, read Pride and Prejudice and Zombies.  Ick.

7.  The Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan.  When I went to the University of Akron, everyone was required to take two classes:  Western Culture and Eastern Civilization.  Ugh.  I was finishing up the second degree I had started at Purdue and didn't think I needed these.  But they turned out to be two of the best classes I had ever taken -- eye-opening jump off points to all sorts of amazing history and ideas I hadn't studied before.  I ended up taking another elective in Chinese culture, and have been a little obsessed with China ever since.  (And yes, I am extremely jealous that Clay has walked the Great Wall.)  So when I first heard about this book, I bought a copy ASAP.  If someone asks me about my favorite authors, I always say "Amy Tan" first.  She illuminates Chinese culture plus beautiful human stories.  Plus, she rocks.  Really.

8.  When I Was Young in the Mountains by Cynthia Rylant.  I really like this book, and everything by Cynthia Rylant, but the coolest thing about this pick is that she is the first author I actually knew.  She taught at the University of Akron at the same time I did, and her office was right down the hall from mine.  While there, she married one of my favorite professors, and they lived right around the corner from us.  Did she ever speak to me after we were first introduced?  Well, no.  Except for a "hi" in the hallway.  Did she know I lived around the corner?  Probably not.  Did she even know my name?  I don't think so.

But I'm still counting it as knowing her, and it was still very cool.

9.  Harry Potter by J.K. Rowling.  I wrote about these books the very first month I started blogging -- July of 2007.  You can read my Harry Potter post here -- I wouldn't change a word of it, except that I called Outlander "Highlander" -- what a difference 6 years can make.

10.  Outlander by Diana Gabaldon.  Yes, I did balk at this book.  For almost 10 years, Pam (see #5 above) begged me to read this.  I understand -- when I find a book I love, I want someone else to read it ASAP so we can talk about it.  But it was fantasy/time travel/romance.  Ick.  I don't read that stuff.  Correction -- I didn't read that stuff.  I finally gave it, became hooked and read or listened to the entire series.  Clay started in as well, but he finished much more quickly than I did (he, weirdly, only reads one book at a time).  He now needed someone to discuss the books with while waiting for me to catch up.  Sweet geek that he is, he went online and found a community of Outlander lovers, and Diana Gabaldon herself, who shares his birthday and who we met a couple of years ago.  (I know!  Yowsa.)

We read these books at a time when we needed an escape; the books gave us something to talk about besides ourselves and our troubles.

These books led us to new and amazing friends.

These books were truly life-changers.  Thanks, Pam.

11.  The last book I finished.  (Let me clarify this by saying that I don't always finish a book I start.  This is another difference Clay and I have -- even if a book is uninteresting, he will finish.  I agree with Will's 7th grade English teacher and my friend, Mrs. Lemming, who advised the kids that if they get 50 pages in and the book doesn't catch their interest, abandon it.  There is another book out there for you.)

So if I finish a book, it probably means that I loved the book.  Or that the story caught me.  I wouldn't say that I loved Gone Girl, but there was no way I could abandon that one -- the characters were all creeps, but the narrative was incredible.

Right now, the last book I finished was The Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jamie Ford.  It was just lovely.  And heart-wrenching.  And I know it will stay with me for a long time.

And what am I reading now?  Jamie Ford's Songs of Willow Frost.  And The Next Time You See Me by Holly Goddard Jones (from a Slate article -- "The Best Books You've Never Heard Of."  True.)  And Vonnegut's Cat's Cradle, because Will is reading that one.  And Tapestry of Fortunes by Elizabeth Berg which I picked up at the library last night, just because.


Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Disney Craftiness

I'm still in that post-Disneyworld glowing state.  How best to keep that glow alive?  Read Disney blogs and get crafty.

A wonderful woman helped us plan our vacation -- Deborah Breneman of Life Candy Travel (I can't wait to plan our next Disney trip with her!)  I wanted to give her a little something in thanks.  But is her home full of souvenirs from WDW?  Did she need another Mickey ornament for her tree?   So I decided to make her a little something.

I've been experimenting with raw-edge machine applique lately, and really like the look.  It's very easy to do, using the darning foot on the sewing machine -- you can just sew anywhere you like.  And, I really liked this pillow I saw on Natural Life:

So, I gave it a try myself, with a few Disney variations.

"Welcome Home!" was our greeting at the resort gate on our first day.  I cried a little.  (Surprised?)  I sewed a "Hidden Mickey" on the front door -- just sew round-and-round three times!

I had all these fabrics and trims in my crafty stash.  I made the appliques using iron-on adhesive, then just sewed around them and embellished.  If you sew around each element 3 or 4 times, it gives that shabby chic look that I love.

I made my first pillow in the shape of the house, as in the example, but for the second one I added some strips of fabric to make it into a square, which I liked better, and which I sent to Deborah.

Then, because I was really cruising with this machine embroidery technique thingie, I designed a pillow myself:

This one was much easier.  It's just a simple envelope-style pillow.  I chalked on the words, then machine-stitched over them 3 or 4 times.  Using the darning foot, you can sew back and forth a few stitches at the end of a word to lock your threads, then move to the next area you want to stitch, lock a few stitches and go -- clip and trim up the loose threads when you are done.  I made an applique of the star, ironed it on and stitched around it with black thread.  

I made two more pillows using this same technique, but I'll have to wait to show you those until after I give them away.  

And just because, here's Annie, lounging in the library chair:


Monday, December 2, 2013

This Is Why We Do It

Yesterday Chuck and I had a book signing at a holiday show.  We sold all the books we had brought along with us (yippee!) and I promised more to friends.  Chuck was on Cloud 9 -- partly because of our sales  and partly because he was told about a million times that he doesn't look 85 years old!  So it was a good day.

But here is the highlight.

We had a little time to sit and talk, and he told me a story.  He is very good at stories.

A few weeks ago -- the Saturday before Veterans Day, to be exact -- Chuck had spoken at a breakfast for veterans at a church in Fishers.  A troop of Boy Scouts was assisting at the breakfast, and one of the scouts was completely fascinated with Chuck's story (as we all are.)

This boy has Asberger Syndrome, and really isn't comfortable around people -- particularly, he doesn't like anyone to touch him.

The scout went home and told his dad, a local physician, about Chuck, and couldn't stop talking about his story of capture and escape.  The doctor happened to know Chuck, and called him up right away to get a copy of the book.

The following day, when the doctor got home, he gave his son the book.  The son's eyes got huge, and then he hugged his dad.

For the first time in two years.

I told Chuck that if that was the only good thing to come from writing this book, then it was worth it.

This is why we do it.

PS  If you would like to have a copy of our book, just let me know and I'll get you one.  We are also having another signing here in Seymour on December 14 at the Southern Indiana Center for the Arts from 11-3.    You can get it on Amazon or Barnes and Noble, but Chuck makes more profit by selling them himself.  And of course, you know that his portion of the profit goes to the Wounded Warriors program, because that's just the kind of guy he is.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Any Happy Little Thought

So, that's my December theme.  Happy things.  Enough of the bleh and ugh of yesterday -- all yippees and ooohs and aahs from here on in.

Am I going to post every day?  Probably not, but maybe my posts will be so happy that the glow will last for a couple of days.