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The Woman UpstairsFirst up, The Woman Upstairs.

The protagonist, Nora, is a third-grade teacher in her 40s, remembering a period of time in her late 30s. But don’t be deceived by the fact that she’s an elementary school teacher. This is no denim-jumper-wearing, sweet lady. Well, she may appear that way. But appearances can be deceiving, as she lets us know, quite beautifully, I might add. She speaks for all of us quiet, “nice” women everywhere:

  • (We) swerve and step aside, unacknowledged and unadmired and unthanked … We’re not the madwomen in the attic — they get lots of play, one way or another. We’re the quiet woman at the end of the third-floor hallway, whose trash is always tidy, who smiles brightly in the stairwell with a cheerful greeting, and who, from behind closed doors, never makes a sound … not a soul registers that we are furious.
  • The person I am in my head is so far from the person I am in the world. Nobody would know me from my own description of myself.
  • My mother … was only 31 when I was born, but she knew what she’d have to give, and knew, too, that like Sleeping Beauty she’d waken from the baby dream to find that years had elapsed, and herself pushing forty (wow — this rings so true and I have noted it before).

I found reading the prose to be kind of like flying — I looked forward to it, because it flowed, and I could relate to so much that Nora said, and she used big words that although I’d never heard them, I could tell the meaning from the context: amanuensis. Bonhomous. Preprandial. Rictus. Otiose. Ewer. Etiolated. You get the idea.

Nora becomes fascinated with a foreign boy (Reza) in her class, and with his parents as well. The mom, Sirena, is an artist (which Nora has always wanted to be). The dad, Skandar, is intellectual and has great conversations with her. She falls in love with all three of them, not as a family  but individually. The air moved differently between us; time passed differently; words or gestures meant more than themselves. If you’ve never had this experience — but who has not been visited by love, laughing? — then you can’t understand. And if you have, you don’t need me to say another word.

Nora wants to “make my nothingness count,” and feels that through these people she can begin to do that. But, despite her hopes, she eventually realizes that they don’t see her much differently than anyone else apparently does: “You seem wonderfully calm in your life, as though it’s in enviable order. As though there’s nothing extra that you would require. You don’t have messes, or make them. You’re so generous to everyone — to your school, to Reza, to Sirena — even to me. You don’t look like a ravenous wolf,” (says Skandar).

“Well, I am,” I said. “I’m starving.”

I wasn’t a fan of the book’s cursing (I get that Nora is angry. Please, show it with words and not profanity). It also annoys, as always, that she is anti “Dubya” and a fan (of course) of Obama. Maybe this is just Nora, and not the author. But still, it always, always seems that fancy schmancy authors can’t conceive of a main character who would be conservative (hey, I just had an idea! Maybe we christian conservatives are the real “women upstairs”!)

Overall, really enjoyed. Great psychological look at the trauma of having someone mean more to you than you mean to them.

It was a different, smaller sort of love than I’d wanted — not so much a glacier or a fireworks display as a light shawl against an evening breeze. Recognizably love, but useless in a gale.


Keep It PithyI like watching Bill O’Reilly on TV. My favorite part of his show is probably his opening Talking Points Memo, where he gives a practical, no-nonsense take on a current event that I usually agree with.

Keep It Pithy: Useful Observations in a Tough World is short — small in size and 140 pages with plenty of white space — and consists mainly of dialogue that looks like it is pulled directly from Talking Points from his show. I don’t know; I admire O’Reilly because he does give huge amounts of money from his books to charities, and as I said early, I do largely agree with him. But to just publish a “book” of your on-air discussions seems like a bit of a cop-out.

If you’re conservative, you’ll probably enjoy this brief book — especially if you don’t see the show and thus haven’t heard his thoughts before.


killing jesusI must be on a Bill O’Reilly kick this month, because I also read his Killing Jesus. It was a good Easter week read. Similar to his previous books, Killing Kennedy and Killing Lincoln, O’Reilly tells the story of memorable moments in history. He attempts to get away from a religious perspective and go for the historical aspects of the events of Jesus’ life, and especially his crucifixion.

I liked this. I’m reading through the Bible this year, and since I have done that so often, I find myself many times going over the words that are so familiar, and not really paying attention. This book took me out of my “zone” and made me think about things I hadn’t before. O’Reilly considers that Judas may have tried to force Jesus’ hand when he ID’ed him to authorities — he may not have forseen that this act would lead to Jesus’ death; rather, he might have thought that the confrontation would have pushed Jesus into declaring himself King openly and therefore led to an earthly reign. I like things like this — new ways of thinking that shake us out of our 20-20 hindsight view.

The book has information on the times Jesus lived in, and the conditions. You’ll learn more about the practice of crucifixion — for instance, about Roman crucifixion death squads, called “quaternio.” They consisted of 4 men plus a centurion who oversaw the group.

Killing Jesus begins with lots of history of the time, and this went over my head at times — so many Caesars, so many Herods, and I must confess I’m not as knowledgeable about the history of that part of the world as I should be. Still, recommended.

Also YA/children’s book — Alone Yet Not Alone — come enter to win a copy, through April 30.

Check out what others have been reading this month at 5 Minutes for Books.

Happy (Peeps) Easter

peepsPeeps — the ultimate Easter candy. Honestly, I don’t even like them. But, I can’t deny they capture the Easter season, with its color and sweetness. I thought I would wish you all a Happy Easter with some fun marshmallow creations.

Peeps church dioramaSince we’re celebrating the Lord’s resurrection, let’s begin with a Peeps diorama of a church — complete with graveyard.

A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte Seurat PeepsHow about some art? Here is  Seurat’s “A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte” — made from Peeps.

White House diorama Peeps

Yes, marshmallow rabbits can even be used to create a White House event.

peeps penguinsMarch of the Pen-Peepguins, anyone?

Van Gogh Starry Night PeepsTie-dye marshmallow chicks to re-create Van Gogh’s “Starry Night”

Peeps balletWhile we’re artsy, maybe you’d enjoy a ballet scene with the dancers soft and fluffy.

Wagner opera PeepsPeople out there have even used Peeps to re-create scenes from one of Wagner’s “Ring” operas.

peeps royal weddingOf course, I had to include a Peeps Royal Wedding. See, they even included Beatrice and Eugenie in their weird hats (on the right).

Many of these creations were made for the Washington Post’s annual Peeps Diorama Contest, now in its 8th year. More Peeps fun

Thanks to Purex Insiders for Purex No Sort detergent to review, and also for coupons to give away. All opinions mine.

Purex No Sort DetergentI’ll admit it: I was a bit nervous when I got the Purex No Sort detergent. Tossing jeans into the laundry with a white shirt? Pastel towels with black leggings?


Nevertheless, like the good Purex Insider I am, I did just that — dumped everything from the laundry basket into the washer, poured in some Purex No Sort detergent, and held my breath.

I’m happy to report that the laundry came out clean and with colors intact and bright.

How does this work? The detergent features a breakthrough Anti-Color-Transfer technology which traps loose dyes in the wash and reduces color bleed accidents in mixed color loads (they do caution that the detergent isn’t a miracle — don’t try washing dark or strongly-colored items mixed with lights if the darker items haven’t been washed at least a few times previously).

I like this detergent. And although I have to be honest — I still think I’ll sort lights from darks most of the time — it’s nice to have this detergent available for times when something needs to be clean but I don’t have a full load to put in.

Purex also has a sweepstakes to celebrate the roll-out of this detergent. You can enter and perhaps win $1000 and a year’s supply of detergent. That means a lot of clean clothes!

Would you like to try this amazing detergent? Purex has sent me coupons so some of you can. Enter using the rafflecopter below by April 23, and I’ll choose 2 random winners April 24.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Alone Yet Not Alone Review may contain affiliate links. Thanks to Flyby Promotions for a copy of the book and CD to review, and for the book for giveaway as well. All opinions my own.
Alone Yet Not Alone: Their faith became their freedomI’ve always enjoyed reading about America’s pioneer days. For instance, the Little House books by Laura Ingalls Wilder are favorites. Now, I have another pioneer book to recommend for children (ideal for ages 10-13, although I think adults would enjoy it too): Alone Yet Not Alone: Their faith became their freedom.

There’s action right off the bat for sisters Barbara and Regina, who live in a Pennsylvania cabin with their parents and brothers in 1755. One day, two Indians break into the family’s cabin, and life will never be the same for any of the family members. I won’t tell more to avoid spoilers, but this is a book with something for everyone: adventure, action, history, the great outdoors, and most importantly, a strong faith in God that carries the sisters through some unbelievably hard times.

I think it’s interesting as well that the book is based on a true story which happened to ancestors of the author. The story will come out as a movie in June of this year. The soundtrack is wonderful also — I received a copy for review, along with the book. I popped it into my CD player and was surprised by how much I enjoyed it. Most of it is instrumental music, but the theme song is sung by Joni Eareckson Tada, who you probably know from the Christian world — she became a quadriplegic after a diving accident years ago. The song was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Original Song, but the nomination was famously rescinded after the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences found that the songwriter had improperly contacted other branch members for support. At least that’s the official line. It’s been suggested that another reason for the pulling of the nomination is because of the movie’s Christian theme.

Would you like to win a copy of this book, either for a child you know or (shhh!) for yourself? Enter using the rafflecopter form below by April 29, and I’ll choose a random winner April 30.
a Rafflecopter giveaway


Menu Plan Monday

menuplanmondayHappy Menu Plan Monday! It’s a special week as we lead up to Easter and celebrating the Lord’s resurrection. It’s also a really busy week, with several daytime and evening activities. That always makes menu planning a challenge, but it makes me extra glad that I have a plan so that cooking is less stressful on busy days.

Monday: Chicken Parmesan

1 jar marinara sauce

4 chicken breast halves

2/3 c. shredded mozzarella

1/4 c. bread crumbs

2 T. olive oil


Pour marinara sauce in bottom of ungreased 12 x 8 dish.

Place chicken over sauce.

In small bowl, mix cheeses, bread crumbs and oil. Sprinkle evenly over chicken.

Bake at 350 30-35 min.

Serve over noodles.

Tuesday: Baked Rigatoni Primavera – in the family favorites cookbook, although I haven’t made it in a long time.

baked rigatoni primavera

Wednesday: Chicken and Noodles — no real recipe, but made with chicken breast (cut up), homemade noodles (if I have the time; otherwise I will use ready-made), carrots, celery, broth, etc …

Thursday: Calico Beans — I ate lunch with a friend last week at a place that makes good baked beans and it reminded me to make these again.

Friday: Sweet and Sour Chicken with Rice — copping out and using the Chicken Helper version . It’s pretty good :)

More menu planning ideas at OrgJunkie‘s. Happy Easter, everyone!


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Childhood Memories FridayRemember penpals? The whole concept of writing a letter to someone in another city, state, or even country seems almost quaint now, with our instantly-connected world. But I remember doing just that.

My first penpal experience, I think, came via the TV show Big Blue Marble. I don’t remember much about the show, but I do remember that it offered a way to connect kids as penpals. I had one in England named Christina Higgins. I wonder how she’s doing. We wrote for years, and I remember her once sending me an Agatha Christie paperback, Giant’s Bread. I learned interesting things from her, like what a “loo” was.

Later, I had penpals in Germany, land of my ancestors. In high school German class, the teacher matched us up with — naturally — German penpals. But, for every so many who paid .50 or so for a penpal, one “bonus” penpal was offered. I was chosen for one of these bonus folks, and she was an Italian girl named Monica.

Monica and I wrote each other for years. The summer after I graduated from high school and went to Europe with a band, I was able to meet her in Venice. What a thrill!

The next summer, Monica and her friend Olga (who was penpals with my friend Devin) came to America and lived with us for several weeks. What a fun and educational experience that was!

Italian penpal visits US 1984Here I am in my preppy attire, welcoming Monica to my room. I was so impressed with her visit that I even covered the Charles and Di picture (although, just behind me, you can see the royal dolls on the top shelf). I also am amused at the stereo on the table behind us — and my doll bed full of favorite dolls and stuffed toys is sweet.

Monica and Olga spent the summer learning about life in a small American town.

Italian penpals in America 1984They even hung our laundry out to dry.

They visited me at my Dairy Queen job and saw movies. They seemed to enjoy everything we did, and if they were overcome with culture shock, they didn’t let on.

A few years later, I went to visit Monica in her home near Florence, Italy. I will never forget how embarrassed I felt that while I’d been showing her the county fair and the dime store, she took me to the Vatican, the Leaning Tower of Pisa, and to see Michelangelo’s “David.”

Monica went on to have a successful career with Moody’s Financial Services in London. She’s married now with a little boy, but we’ve lost touch in recent years. Olga is married with a son and daughter (her daughter and one of my girls were born just a day apart), and she and I keep touch on Facebook.

Did you have a penpal as a child? Do you still write to each other?

rebellious teenAn article has been making the online rounds, purporting to answer the question Why do Teenagers Rebel? It made me think about how to raise a teen who won’t rebel.

I imagine moms of young kids reading this article, nodding eagerly as they think of their own family devotions and the way their kids skip happily into Sunday school class each week. I can relate.

Thirty years ago, I could have written this, in fact. I was that cute, perky, non-rebellious teen (minus the cute and perky part; I was more the somber Eeyore version of non-rebellion). Probably the edgiest thing I ever did during my teenage years was wear a surly frown of protest during youth church choir performances that I was made to participate in against my will each Sunday night.

With age and experience come wisdom. Now, I’m prone to wonder: is nurture given too much weight here at the expense of nature? Sure, you may have passed on good non-rebellious genes to your kids. But what about your spouse? And what about the genes the kids picked up from weird Uncle Charlie or crazy great aunt Mabel? Or maybe your kids were adopted — then who knows what genetic disposition you’re dealing with?

We all come with varying personalities that are surly, contrary, and oppositional to varying degrees. Raising a child to love the Lord and not rebel in other ways either is no doubt a good thing, but given the Lord’s generally non-interventionist style, He gives each child — and each teen — free will. I’ve known many “good” parents who had kids who rebelled. And I’ve known many wonderful kids and teens whose parents have seemed uninvolved and generally “bad.” We can’t all be the Duggars (although even among all those “perfect” kids, I see signs of simmering rebellion and resentment on the faces of at least a few).

conservative teen girl

The Bible is full of examples of godly parents who’ve had kids who ‘went bad,’ and likewise, non-godly parents who appear to have won the conscientious child lottery.

Ruth Bell Graham, who had a prodigal child of her own, wrote this:
They felt good eyes upon them
and shrank within—undone;
good parents had good children
and they—a wandering one.

The good folk never meant to act smug or condemn,
but having prodigals
just “wasn’t done” with them.

Remind them gently, Lord,
how You
have trouble with Your children,

So if your teens don’t rebel, I’m so happy for you. But I won’t say congratulations, because I’m not sure that your actions had a lot to do with it. And if your teen has rebelled, I’m so sorry. But I won’t blame you, because forces beyond your control are probably involved.

How to raise a teen who won’t rebel? Pray. Not just for the teen, but for wisdom and grace for yourself as well.


Recently, I attended a performance downtown with one of the girls. As we were making the obligatory trek to the car afterwards, my daughter was moving significantly faster than I was along the city sidewalks.  I enjoyed watching her leap ahead of me. Apparently, though, she wasn’t enjoying it as much as I was, because at one point she turned around and said with exasperation, “Mom! Can you walk any slower?

Well. It was intended as sarcasm, but still I got the point: I don’t move as fast as I used to.

walking fast walking slowI used to walk fast, as I suppose most young people do. After all, knowing that in 5 or 6 minutes a bell will ring, and you’ll be in trouble if you haven’t reached your destination, can put a little speed into your step, for sure. I remember needing to consciously slow myself down when I was walking with someone who didn’t have quite my speed or urgency.

I think I began to slow down once I had kids. I remember walking with three young kids to parades and vacation destinations, as my husband would turn around frequently to ask if I couldn’t speed up. That felt strange, because usually I was fast.

I remember walking my oldest daughter’s first high school schedule with her before school started. She covered the high school halls faster than I did, to the point that I really had to concentrate to keep up. Again, it was strange: the tables had turned, and I wasn’t the fast walker anymore.

Why did I slow down? I’m sure age plays a role. When we’re teens, we just don’t realize that we possess all that energy, until we don’t.

And also, as adults we have the … luxury … of moving slower, as well — usually. No one at the grocery store has ever told me to hurry up.

Can I walk any slower? Maybe — and some days, it feels nice to try.

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Prince William, Kate, and Prince George arrive in New Zealand for royal tourIs there anything cuter than photos Prince William, Kate, and Prince George arriving for their 3-week tour of Australia and New Zealand? I don’t think so.

Here are some fun facts about the royal tour:

  • The tour is the debut for the family’s new nanny, Maria Teresa Turrion Borrallo. She has lived at Kensington Palace with the family since last month, getting used to George. She is 43, and is from a well-to-do Spanish family. She’s a graduate of Norland Nanny College (where I briefly considered attending — yes, it’s true), and has lived in the UK for 20 years.
  • For me, the trip is a reminder of a similar trip Charles and Diana took 31 years ago. They also visited Australia and New Zealand, with baby Prince William, who was almost exactly the same age as George is now. I remember loving all the photos that came from that trip.
Charles, Diana, William in Australia New Zealand 1983


  • William and Kate were “understandably nervous” about taking 8-month-old George on the 24-hour flight to Australia, and then the short hop to New Zealand. I have to admit, it was funny — in a cute way — to see George’s apparent opinion of all that travel:
  • Prince George grumpyKate is thought to have brought about 30 dresses for her 3-week trip. George’s wardrobe will likely be more practical: “smart/casual khaki pants, short-sleeved shirts, cute sun hats,” are predicted.
  •  William, Kate, and George all have passports. But, the Queen doesn’t — she is the only British citizen who doesn’t require one.
  • This is Kate’s first time to visit Australia and New Zealand. William has been to each a few times (first, as mentioned earlier, as a baby in 1983, and most recently in 2011, just before his wedding).
  • Prince William Kate in New Zealand royal tour
  • During Charles and Diana’s royal tour, Charles became disillusioned by the effect Diana had on the crowds. It’s so nice to see both William and Kate being appreciated by the crowds this time.

Kate Middleton rubs noses in New Zealand

  • One of the things to learn on a royal tour is local customs. Here, Kate rubs noses with a New Zealand official.
  • Kate Middleton royal tour New Zealand naked warrior MaoriAnd the sight of the locals — in this case, a barely-clothed Maori warrior — can never evoke a laugh.
  • Kate and Prince George on royal tour cuteThe family will spend Easter at the zoo! After attending church services in Sydney, Australia, they’ll visit the nearby Taronga Zoo. Can’t wait to see photos from that …