Saturday, March 18, 2017

Secrets of a Charmed Life by Susan Meissner

Kendra Van Zant arrives at an old English cottage in Cotswald, England to interview famous watercolor painter Isabel McFarland who is actually celebrating her 93rd birthday.  Isabel is a survivor of the London Blitz but up until now has never talked about it so it was a bit of a surprise that Kendra's professor was able to secure an interview for her.  As a visiting student at Oxford studying history, Kendra is writing a paper for the 70th anniversary of VE day with a chance for it to be published.  Kendra firmly believes that information is only half the story of an event and personal experience of people involved is the other half.   She's done her research and has her questions all lined up but before she can even ask any of them Isabel drops the bombshell that she is not even who everyone thinks she is.   And so starts the story of 2 young sisters who lived in London at the time of rumors of war in the 1940's.

Emmy Downtree is only 15 but has her dreams all planned out.  She has been drawing brides and bridal dresses and wants to design them.  When she has a chance to work in a bridal shop she takes the job even though her mother is very opposed as she needs to help look after her  much younger sister Julia while her mother does whatever she does when she is gone from them.  But Emmy's ambitions and dreams come to a halt as London orders the evacuation of all children to foster families in the country side to keep them safe from the threat of bombs.  Though she tries to fight it, Emmy is shipped off by train with her sister.  But she is determined to make her once in lifetime opportunity a reality and sees only that she has no other choice and steals away in the middle of the night to make her appointment with a designer in the city.  But this determination will have ramifications not only for her but for others in her life as well.

I loved this book.  It  grabbed me right  from the beginning.    As the story of the two sisters starts to build it was very easy to lose myself into the story.  A portion of the story towards the back is told in letter and diary entry form and though this is a format that I usually really do not like in books it worked for me in this story.    The author was really able to convey the terror and emotions of two young girls going through the Blitz as well as the adult characters and what they were going through.  The long term ramifications of trauma were really presented in a believable and realistic sense.  I really don't know a lot about the war as it affected England so I really learned a lot.  I didn't even have any idea that children were evacuated out of London.   As I was reading and the Blitz was happening I wondered what on earth the title had to do with the actual story, they seemed on opposite ends of a very large spectrum.  But under the reader's guide author  Q & A she poses the question "if there really are secrets to living a life that has happily ever after written all over it...and to being able to have everything you've always wanted".    In the beginning both Emmy and Kendra seemed to have their p's and q's all lined up for that life.  But as the story shows some things you just cannot control and it's the very choices during those times that may be the ones determining where your life goes.

Beautiful writing, realistic emotions,  wonderful characters earns this story a 10/10 for me.

Linked to Semicolon Saturday Review of Books

Friday, March 17, 2017

Friday's Fave Five #422

Is it Friday already?  Wow, how did that happen?  Especially when I was totally mixed up what day it was all week long?  This daylight savings time change always royally messes me up.  I am so tired from not getting enough sleep all week long.  I just wish they would get rid of it and not mess with the way God made things.  But no matter, there is still good things to be looked for and noticed.  Even better to do it as it would probably pass me by in my tired state.  Please join us!

1.  This devotional.   Ann Spangler's Devotions for Women - Becoming a Woman At Peace.  At the end of last year, I thought for 2017 I would really like to learn how to pursue peace and come to a point where I was at peace no matter what was swirling around me in my or my family's life.  I found this devotional and though I don't get to it every day I have been working my way through it.  I'm loving it and getting lots out of it as seen by all the underlining I am doing it.  There is much to chew on and think about, lots of practical thoughts and lots of approaches to peace that I wouldn't have thought of.  All connected to scriptures and the pursuit of God and His peace which is far richer and deeper and more satisfying than what we think.  

2.  More decluttering.  As I have been going through my stuff trying to declutter, I came across a huge file containing recipes in my file cabinet.   Seeing I had totally forgotten the thing was even in there for who knows how long, I knew I really didn't need all those recipes taking up the space.  So on a quieter afternoon this week, I did a quick run through of the file and honestly answered the question:  Will I ever make this recipe?  Well that cut it down by at least half.  Then I resolved to try at least one recipe a week and if I liked it it would go into a recipe file on my computer and if not, out it goes.  

3.  Keeper Recipe.  Well, the first recipe I tried is a keeper.  This week I made Spinach and Almond Topped Chicken.  It was cut from some calendar I came across in 2010 but I had never made it.  I had all the ingredients on hand, it was easy, done in half an hour and it was delicious.  And is good enough for company.  Checks all my boxes.  I'll post the recipe in the next few days.

4.  Holiday days decided.  This makes my list because the process of it totally stresses me out.  I have dayhome parents who are already asking me in January.  Yikes I don't even know what we're doing never mind when we want to do it.  I only close for 2 separate weeks, not back to back.  One of them is a given and never changes but it's that 2nd week that is so hard to decide on.  Who knows what the weather will be so far ahead of time?  Once I state the dates I pretty much cannot change.  But once the decision is made it's like a huge weight off my shoulders.

5.  On a reading role.  I've really had a great string of books I've read lately and that always makes me happy.  

What have been your favorite blessings from this past week?

Saturday, March 11, 2017

Keep Quiet by Lisa Scottoline ~ Book Review

On the surface the Buckman's seem to be the perfect little family.  Jake is a financial planner who's fairly new business is doing well.  After having had a shocking lay off when he was an accountant he is finally back on his feet and moving forward career-wise.  His wife, Pam, is also on a great career path.  She is a appelate judge who loves her job and has just been offered a huge career opportunity.  Their only child, Ryan is in high school and is on track to earning a basketball scholarship with his talent and good grades.  The one thing marring everything is Jake's relationship with his son.  When he started the financial planning business, he devoted all his time to making it successful and his marriage and relationship with his son suffered.  Now after counselling his marriage is doing well but he needs to work out the relationship with Ryan.  At Pam's suggestion he picks Ryan up from the movies so he can have some alone time with him and against his better judgement he allows Ryan to talk him into letting him drive the car.  At 16, Ryan is quite capable but his partial license has time restrictions on it.  But Jake wanting to keep the bonding open, thinks that the road they are on is deserted and therefore safe so after much pleading on Ryan's part he allows Ryan to take the wheel.  Then the unthinkable happens and Jake makes the split second decisions to protect Ryan's future at all costs and convinces Ryan to keep quiet.  But the life altering secret is eating away at both of them and it's events are threatening to blow it all up.  One lie leads to another and before Jake knows it the plan to keep Ryan protected might be the very thing that will destroy them all.

This was a very fast paced story.  The timeline is less than a week but so much happens within that timeline.  There was much to like about this book.  I liked the exploration of the father's role as provider and what happens when that is shattered.  I also liked the exploration of father/son relationships and the idea of how far would a parent go to protect their child.  I also liked the raw portrayal of guilt and shame and panic that Ryan is forced to live with and not reveal.  The story never let up.  That said, though,  other than Ryan, I did not like the characters at all.  Pam's character was what some call a helicopter mom, which in my circles is called a smother mother.  She micromanaged Ryan so much that it was driving me nuts and I had to periodically stop and remind myself that Ryan was actually 16 in the story and not 8.  She was also hypocritical.   I wanted to shake Jake at times as he dug them in further and further and just wouldn't stop even though he could see the weight of the secret was eating Ryan up.   I did like how this author though didn't hold back on the consequences of dishonesty.  Sometimes you see characters rewarded and not really paying consequences for their moral failures but this story did not hold back on that aspect...and I liked that.  For a reading group there would be much discussion opportunity on the various things brought out in this story.

I gave this a 8 out of 10

Review linked to Semicolon Saturday Review of Books

Friday, March 10, 2017

Friday's Fave Five #421

Hi everyone and welcome to a very snowy March Friday.  At least in my neck of the woods.  Hard to believe at this moment that spring is right around the corner but hopefully old man Winter will have this last hurrah and then the warmth and sunshine will stick around.  This has been one long, snowy winter.  Especially when compared with the very mild one we had last year.  But though the weather might not make my favorites list this week, there is still blessings and good things to be found.  Please join in.

1.  Hard working hubby.  With all the snow we've had you can imagine how much shoveling we've had to do.  and I'm so very thankful for my hard working hubby who has been out there before my alarm even goes off shoveling and clearing the driveway and sidewalks.   I so appreciate everything like that that he does around the Living to Tell household.

2.  Homemade popcorn.  Along with being a grandmaster shoveler, ( is that a word?), hubby makes the best homemade popcorn in the world and this last weekend I was treated to a wonderful batch just the way I like it.  Yummy.

3.  Massage.  I so appreciate my massage therapist.  When I was young, I was involved in a car accident that made my neck and shoulders have some issues and this wonderful lady has really worked hard to get my back muscles all into good working order.  Sometimes I had such knots you could literally see the bump but with regular visits for massage and a regular exercise routine to strengthen those muscles, over time my back is much improved.

4.  Baby Shower.  A lady in my bible study group is going to become a grandma in a couple of months.  So we blessed her as a group by blessing her daughter and some of us attended the baby shower.  So fun to bless the new mommy and oooh and aaaah over all the pink stuff.   She knows she's having a girl.  Children are a blessing from the Lord and it's such a privilege to welcome another little one into the world.

5.  Goose Down Duvet.   Sure makes the bed comfy and cozy on these cold nights and we've really liked how warm it keeps us without a lot of weight to it.  Very glad we bit the bullet and got one after debating about it for years.  Don't know what took us so long.

What have your blessings been from the week?

Saturday, March 04, 2017

The Forgotten Garden by Kate Morton

In 1913, a 4 year old girl is found all alone on a dock in Australia by the Hugh, the dockmaster.  All she had was a little white suitcase with some clothes and a book of fairy tales.  When they couldn't find her family, Hugh and his wife Lil, take her in, name her Nellie as loved and raised her as their own daughter, never telling her about her past.  Now she's all grown up, engaged to be married and about to celebrate her 21st birthday.  Lil has passed away, and against Lil's wishes Hugh feels he must tell Nellie the truth.  As her world and her knowledge of who she is is set spinning, Nell breaks her engagement and sets herself on a quest to find who she really is.  With nothing to go on except the book of fairty tales, she heads off to England in pursuit of who the author is.  She never finishes her quest to find answers as her life takes another turn when she has to care for her teenage granddaughter.  But after Nell passes away,  her granddaughter, Cassandra, is surprised to learn Nell has left her a cottage located on the Cornish Coast.  Not knowing anything about this from Nell before hand, Cassandra heads to England to deal with the cottage but finds she too is taken up with the mystery that surrounds her grandmother.

I loved this story.  Though it is a hefty book at 548 pages, I found I couldn't put it down and finished it quite quickly.  A family saga that spans 3 generations the story is told in the narrative of 3 people from the 3 generations:  Eliza, Nell and Cassandra.  It's a maze of a story, kinda like the maze in the garden mentioned in the title, but is worth it to reach the end.  At first nothing seems to do with anything else, but the author brings it all together in lovely detail.  It's a complicated story but I found the author just drew me in with her descriptions and her ability to really make me feel for the main characters.  I mostly had a heart for Eliza whose story was heartbreaking and had me near tears quite a few times.  The mystery of who Nell really is grows as the story progresses and though I had a small inkling of who she was I never would have guessed the circumstances surrounding her beginning years.  Themes of identity, family history, friendship, family, entitlement, grief, loss, love and decisions affecting generations are all woven into the story beautifully.  Though usually as a reader I tend to  skip date/location notes at beginning of chapters for some reason, I would definitely suggest to make sure you take note of these as you read the story.  It really helps to move the story along and keep the timeline straight in one's thoughts as you read.

I gave this story a 10/10 because of the author's ability to draw me right in to all three women's stories and the involvement of my feelings the author was able to bring out.

Linked to Semicolon Saturday Review of Books

Friday, March 03, 2017

Friday's Fave Five #420

Welcome to Friday and another round of being intentional in looking for the good blessings woven into the everyday of our lives.  Some weeks it's super easy to do this and others, well, not so much.  That's where being intentional comes in.  It develops a discipline that looks for good things in spite of hard circumstances, in spite of the ho-hum of the normal everyday.   I'm having one of those tougher weeks.  Busy and not feeling well, it's been a bit tougher to find anything to talk about but I know there are good things and I just need to take note.  Please join us.

1.  Quick, simple recipes that use ingredients on hand.  Not feeling well this week I totally relied on simple recipes and leftovers to get us through the evening meal.   Hubby offered to run for fast food but in the time it would have taken him to run for those I had fajitas made, or soup thrown together or leftovers warmed.  And there is nothing like homemade soup when you don't feel good.  

2.  Hot tea with lots of lemon and a touch of honey.  Funny when the colds hit, my taste for coffee go out the window and I start craving tea.  That huge box of tea my son got me for Christmas has come in very handy this week.

3.  Smooth transition.   The new child started in dayhome on the very day this durn head cold hit full force.  I was dreading the day because sometimes those first days are a tough change for the little ones.  But this little girl, who's 3 1/2, walked right in and fit in as if she'd always been coming here since she was small.  That is no small  gift of mercy I tell ya and one for which I am very thankful as I was fighting for the energy to get through the work days this week. 

4. The purge continues and it hit my shoes next.  Yikes, if you knew me and shoes, you'd know why I put this one off.  But I went through the one by one and got rid of a few, tidied up the rest and the closet looks a whole lot better.  There are a few more that will go but I'm just going to wait on sandal season to get rid of those ones.    It feels so good.   

5. More open playroom.  To make a long story short since my daughter was about 4 or 5 (she's now 27), we've had a Little Tikes playhouse in the playroom downstairs.  This week I just really felt the urge to break it down and see how the dayhome kids get along without it.  While it is a nice thing, it does take up a lot of room and just makes the playroom appear so much smaller.  I loving the openness in that room now.  And in all honesty, none of the kids really complained that it was gone or even said that they missed it in any way.  I'm going to give it one week and then I'll probably put it up for sale.  I would say it might be time.  

What were your favorite blessings from the week?

Friday, February 24, 2017

Friday's Fave Five #419

Hi everyone!  Welcome to Friday's Fave Five.  It's been a bit of a busy week this week here at Living to Tell household.  It's a week off from school for the kids so the dayhome has been a bit of kilter with some kids not showing, some coming late and an extra sibling here and there.  Throw in an after hours interview for a new family and whew, I'm more than ready for the weekend.  And ready to find & take note of my blessings from this busy week.  Please join in.  Guidelines are linked in the sidebar if you are new.

1. Phone call from Hungary.  Sunday morning I was given a treat with a phone call from my uncle who lives in Budapest.  He's been my favorite uncle since I was a kid even though in reality I've really only met him twice.  Once when I was 10 when we went to Hungary and a 2nd time sometime in the '90's when my Dad paid for him to come here for a visit.  He calls once a year or every couple of years (very expensive for him) and it's always nice hearing his voice.  It's also quite the interesting conversation because he speaks no English and my Hungarian is passable and gets me by but it definitely is not what I would call fluent.  So I end up accidentally saying in English what my mind can't find in Hungarian and I always get a confused reaction which sets us to laughing.  And when he gets talking and using bigger and more complicated phrasing and because I'm trying to keep up it seems he is talking so fast I find myself doing a lot of "mmmhmmmm and oh? and ahhhs.  LOL.  But I love when he phones so it made my day.

2.  Finding a deal.  I'm a deal kind of gal.  I get very excited when finding a great buy and the thrill of the hunt when we need something specific is something I enjoy as well as coming across an incredible deal that was unexpected.  We have been needing a cupboard in the kitchen.  I don't have an official pantry and some of the bigger dishes or even the big family sized bags or boxes of stuff don't fit into the cupboards.  We've been looking for a couple of years but have never found anything that would work.  Well a couple of weeks ago we came across one in Costco and were very excited when we saw what we thought was an incredible price.  But by the time I went to get the big cart and came back, Hubby had figured out we were reading the wrong sign.  No wonder it was such a great deal.  It was about 3 times more.  With much regret, we left it there and walked away.  And thought about it lots over the coming weeks.  This week Hubby made a Costco run for me and couldn't find one of the items.  At the till he inquired and was told where to find the item.  He paid and stowed the groceries in the car and went back for my bag of snap peas.  In the process he pass the cupboard and glanced at the sign and saw they had gone down to half the price which made it only $50 more than when we had gotten so excited before.  So we nabbed it.  And it is a perfect fit and goes wonderfully in the kitchen!  So thankful I finally have that cupboard I've been looking for for so long and at a great deal.

3.  Opening in the dayhome filled.  In January I was given an unexpected immediate notice with no payment due to unfortunate circumstances for the family involved.  Which in turn made it unfortunate circumstances for me.  Usually, according to contract, family's are required to give me 30 days notice.  This gives me time to try to refill the spot.  So I have gone 2 months with less of a wage as I have been scrambling trying to find another family.  Well this week I interviewed with a wonderful mom and I think it will be a lovely fit and they are starting next week.  So relieved and thankful.

4.  Dinner and a movie with good friends.  Friday night we had good friends over for a delicious beef on a bun dinner and then Hubby made his awesome homemade popcorn and we watched a movie.  It was a fun, relaxed evening and I'm grateful for friends we can totally be ourselves with.

5.  Being taken care.  Saturday and Sunday I was not feeling well.  On Saturday I woke up with a raging headache and when Advil didn't help Hubby volunteered to run out and get the Lay's plain chips and Herb & Spice Dip which for some reason always helps my bad headaches.  And once again it took the sharp blinding edge off and reduced it to a dull roar.  Have no idea why it works for me but it does. Then in the afternoon he picked up some delicious comforting wor wonton soup so that I would not have to cook.  Very grateful for a hubby who takes good care of me when I'm not feeling good.

What were your blessings from the past week?