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Guests on Earth

I think we’ve all had the experience of beginning a book, thinking we’ll love it, and then … not. Such, sadly, was the case with Guests on Earth. I picked up this historical fiction set at Asheville’s Highland mental hospital in the ’30s, based largely on the reviews saying that Zelda Fitzgerald, who’d spent time at Highland, was a character.

The book began well. The writing is good. I got to know Evalina, a girl who ends up at Highland although she probably wasn’t mentally ill at all. She’d just been through a lot in life. She was even a pianist, an accompanist, which I related to as well: I’d rather listen to others. I do not wish to have the spotlight focused upon me; I really do prefer to be the accompanist.

But then. More and more (and more and more) guests kept appearing at the hospital. Many seemed to only be mentioned a few times. Often, I’d begin a new chapter and read a few character names, and while they were vaguely familiar, I couldn’t remember anything about them. This went on and on for a few hundred pages, and I’m  unsure why the author did this — especially since only a few of the main characters were “real life” people. When she wrote, I glimpsed familiar faces … but not many, and not for long … or anybody I really knew, she could have been describing her own book.

As for Zelda Fitzgerald, you won’t learn much about her here, as she’s a very peripheral character. I kind of felt cheated that the author even used her as billing for the book. I was also surprised when, after so many pages devoted to a whole bevy of minor characters, the truly big event at the climax of the book takes up only about 10 pages and leaves many loose threads.

Good potential, but falls short.


A Town Like Alice

A Town Like Alice was recommended to me by a friend. When I first picked up the book from the library, I was struck by the cheesy ’70s-looking cover! It took me back to the “Thorn Birds” or something :) Anyway, in this book the story is told by Noel (an older guy who is an attorney dealing with the heroine) — a bit of an odd point of view, but moving along … Jean, the heroine, is in Malaya during WWII when unfortunate circumstances lead to her being captured, along with many other women, children, and men, by the Japanese. They send the men to prison camps, but not knowing what to do with the women and children, they tell them … to march to the next town. They do this, and then — no one knows what to do with them there. This continues and continues, with about half of the group dying, until finally after months a town agrees to let the remaining group stay until war’s end and work in the rice paddies (all this, incidentally, is based on history, although it happened in Sumatra rather than Malaya).

Jean meets Joe Harman, a hunky Australian guy. Romance ensues, and a bunch of other stuff, but eventually they end up married in Australia, with Jean putting Hillary Clinton and other modern-day female try-hards to shame with her spunk: she begins a business, an ice cream shop, and a pool in the isolated town — and late in the book, from her hospital bed where she just gave birth, she goes on with plans for a grocery store. This lady has got it goin’ on! Joe kind of cracked me up — he said “oh my word” about twice each page (is that an Australian thing?), and I also got my fill of “bonza” and “crook” as an adjective.

Good story overall, although I far preferred the first part to the last.



The World of the Trapp Family: The Life Story of the Legendary Family Who Inspired "The Sound of Music"

You’ve probably picked up, from the name of my blog, that I’m a “Sound of Music” fan. So I was excited when my sister gave me  The World of the Trapp Family: The Life Story of the Legendary Family Who Inspired “The Sound of Music” as a birthday gift. This is the story of the “real” (as opposed to the movie) Von Trapp family. There are tons of pictures, too. Some things I learned —

  • the real family did have 7 children, and then Maria and the Captain had 3 more after they got married. The names of the kids in the movie are not the names of the real-life kids, though.
  • the movie timeline is far different from reality — Maria and the Captain married in 1927, 11 years prior to their coming to America (and no, they didn’t escape over the mountains as the movie shows)
  • the entire family disliked the way the Captain was depicted in the movie — stern and aristocratic. In real life, he was far more gentle and kind. One daughter said, “Wow! Is this my life? It was much different from what I remember living.” Another daughter didn’t see the movie at all, preferring to keep her memories as she remembered them.
  • the family was highly talented in many areas. Of course they were musical — at one point in America being Columbia Concerts’ most popular attraction, giving over 100 concerts per year. Various of them were also talented at various skills and crafts — making items to sell, building buildings on their land in Vermont, heading overseas to do long-term mission work, you name it. They were not an idle bunch, for sure!

The family’s faith really came through, which I liked. Maria said, “The most important thing in life is to find out what the will of God is, and then go and do it.”

Really interesting book for the Sound of Music fan!


Menu Plan Monday


Happy Menu Plan Monday! It is another freezing cold, snowy, windy day here in the midwest. But at least this week will take us to the end of January, and then February is shorter :)

In addition to my 17 piano students, this week I’ll be practicing with 10 students I’m accompanying at ISSMA contest the next 2 Saturdays. Two of my girls are also competing. It’s always a fun, exciting contrast to January’s drudgery.

Here is our menu plan for this busy week:

Monday: Pesto Chicken Pizza — new recipe, doesn’t it look good?

Tuesday: Pasta with Mushrooms and Peas — a favorite from years back

8 oz sliced mushrooms

1/4 c. chopped onions

1 clove garlic

16 oz. tomatoes with liquid

10 oz frozen peas

1 T. basil

8 oz. cooked pasta (we like gemelli twists)

In skillet, cook mushrooms, onion and garlic until onion is tender. Add tomatoes, peas, and basil, bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer, stirring occasionally, 20 min. Toss with pasta.

Wednesday: Crockpot Chicken Enchiladas — looks easy. That is important this week.

Thursday: BBQ Ranch Chicken Casserole — I’ve made this and it’s great!

Friday: Parmesan Crusted Bruschetta Chicken — I’ve made this as well; a winner.

Parmesan Crusted Bruschetta Chicken

For the weekend’s Super Bowl party at a friend’s — Cowboy Caviar and chips.

What are you cooking this week? More menu plan Monday ideas at OrgJunkie‘s.

Fisher Price Little People Tales

On last week’s Little Tales post, KJ mentioned having a Little People RV (somehow I missed that particular toy), and the fun she’d had with the little toilet that was included. That’s one of my favorite aspects of Fisher Price Little People toys: the attention to detail.

Fisher Price Ferris Wheel

Here is my ferris wheel, nearly 50 years old and some worse for the wear, but still basically working. The music still plays; even before I cranked the knob this morning I knew what the melody would be: “In the Good Old Summertime.”

Fisher Price Ferris Wheel details

Beneath the wheel, how’s this for a detail? A lazy rabbit, watching the action.

Fisher Price Ferris Wheel details

And if you look carefully near the gears, you can even spot a nest, complete with a mama bird and her babies!

Fisher Price Ferris Wheel details

The back features all kinds of neat details — the balloon man, the happy kids, and I love the way the top of the hot air balloon fits the shape of the top of the wooden piece. In the background, off to the right, the unhappy ferris wheel operator, who we always called Butch. No wonder he’s scowling: his job looks like hard work!

Fisher Price Ferris Wheel details

And some detail from another view: these are the old-style Little People, and I love that a dog character is even included. The round sticker with the dog’s face is something I guess I added myself, and I’m not sure of its origin. I do remember that I considered stickers very special as a child, and if I had an especially good one, I gave a lot of thought to where I would stick it. No random putting stickers all over a paper for me! Sometimes, I took this proclivity a little too far. I recently discovered several German stickers from a penpal. Apparently, they were so special that I never put them anywhere at all, because they were in a box with some stationery. At this point, where will they go? Ah, dilemmas.

If this post spurs any Fisher Price memories for you, fire away in the comments. I love hearing your thoughts!

You may also enjoy:

Little Tales: The Evolution of Fisher Price Little People


Thanks to SheSpeaks/P&G for sponsoring this post. All opinions my own.

Here in the Midwest, and apparently across the nation as well, flu season is brutal this year. I just read that 22 in my state, and 8 in my own city, have died from the flu this year. That’s scary!

At our house, we do our best to stay healthy with lots of hand washing. I also like to push Vitamin C consumption, either through vitamins or those cute and juicy little clementine mandarins. Still, even with the best of intentions, at least once each winter it seems I’ll develop that pesky sore throat that’s a harbinger of (bad) things to come … as a piano teacher with 17 students, and as a mom of three busy teens, I come into contact with lots of people and lots of germs each season.

I’m grateful that there are products we can buy over the counter to help combat flu symptoms, and hopefully knock them out before they become more serious. Two of those products? Vicks NyQuil Severe Cold & Flu and Vicks DayQuil Severe Cold & Flu. #ReliefIsHere! How can they help?

Vicks NyQuil Severe Cold & Flu

  • Maximum symptom-fighting ingredients to relieve your worst cold and flu symptoms.
  • Maximum strength nighttime cold and flu relief, so you can take back your night.
  • The powerful NyQuil relief you trust now with a decongestant.
  • Available in caplets or liquid.

It temporarily relieves common cold and flu symptoms such as

  • Nasal congestion
  • Sinus congestion and pressure
  • Cough due to minor throat and bronchial irritation
  • Cough to help you sleep
  • Minor aches and pains
  • Headache
  • Fever
  • Sore throat
  • Runny nose and sneezing
  • Reduces swelling of nasal passages
  • Temporarily restores freer breathing through the nose
  • Promotes nasal and/or sinus drainage

Vicks DayQuil Severe Cold & Flu

  • Maximum symptom-fighting ingredients to relieve your worst cold and flu symptoms.
  • Maximum strength nondrowsy cold and flu relief so you can tackle your to-do list.
  • Available in caplets or liquid.

It temporarily relieves common cold/flu symptoms the same as NyQuil, and also helps loosen phlegm (mucus) and thin bronchial secretions to rid the bronchial passageways of bothersome mucus and make coughs more productive.

You can buy Vicks DayQuil and NyQuil at @Walmart — and, you can buy everything else needed to get you through the flu season there as well. You probably already count on Walmart as your one-stop shop for Vicks Severe, Puffs tissues, ingredients for chicken soup, and even a warm blanket … you can’t beat Walmart’s prices!

DayQuil NyQuil WalMart

A display just inside the door at my Walmart made them easy to spot.

Glossy Finish Can Be a Challenge to Maintain
I was so excited to get a grand piano several years ago. However, I quickly learned that its high gloss finish attracted dust faster than honey draws bees. I wanted a clean piano. How could I effectively dust a piano with a high-gloss finish?

Micro-fiber Cloth

My first method for piano dusting was to use a micro-fiber dusting cloth, because this is what I use to dust other furniture. For my high gloss piano, a dusting cloth was not very effective. It seemed to just push the dust around rather than removing it. This was frustrating! Additionally, I began to notice tiny scratches on the finish which can only be caused by the dusting, since I don’t keep anything on the piano. I’m not sure if the dust itself was abrasive, or the dusting cloth. On to another method.

Kawai piano

my piano — see the fingerprints? (sigh)

Feather Duster

I asked Brian Doepke of A.A.A. Piano Works for his advice on how to dust a piano with a high gloss finish. He suggested a polish made specifically for high-gloss pianos made by Cory.

He also suggested using a feather duster. When I tried the feather duster, it was indeed more effective at removing dust than the dust cloth had been. This is the way I usually dust my piano currently.

Removing Interior Dust

With all the dust building up on the outside of my piano, I was sure that dust was getting into the exposed interior as well. I dust the interior as well as I can with a feather duster. You may also want to purchase a string cover (fabric which can cover the exposed strings and prevent dust build-up).

Mr. Doepke recommended having the piano interior professionally cleaned every four or five years. He said that this involves taking the piano apart, cleaning it, and reassembling it. This is something a professional should do.

Dusting Your Grand Piano

To conclude: a feather duster is the most effective tool for keeping your high gloss finish piano dust-free. If you use a cloth, you may wish to dampen it first so that it picks up dust rather than pushing it around.

If you decide to use a polish, use one specifically designed for your type of piano finish so that it will not harm the finish or the piano itself. Enjoy your clean piano!

You may also enjoy:

How to Choose a Piano Teacher

Buying a Piano: Digital or Acoustic?

Piano Lessons as Therapy

Shared at Works for Me Wednesday.

Menu Plan Monday


Menu Plan Monday arrives again, after a nice weekend that actually saw the temperature climb to 40 degrees! It’s amazing how warm that can feel during the winter.

frozen fog ice on tree

A week ago, we had frozen fog/ice. Slippery, but so pretty on the trees.

Still, it was great over the weekend to go to a local greenhouse with my daughter for our monthly bonsai club meeting, and experience green and growing things.

kids in greenhouse looking at plants

Here’s the menu plan for the week:

Monday: Italian Pasta — made once; very good meatless meal

16 oz. gemelli pasta (or your choice of pasta)

2 cups peeled potatoes, cut into thin strips like French fries

8 oz. green beans

3/4 c. basil pesto sauce (I make this)

1/2 cup shredded mozarella

1/4 cup Parmesan cheese

salt and pepper, to taste

Cook pasta in boiling water for 2 minutes, then add potatoes and cook 3 minutes more.

Stir in green beans, cooking an additional 4-5 minutes or until pasta and potatoes are done.

Reserve 1/2 cup of pasta water.

Drain pasta, potatoes, and green beans in colander. Transfer to large serving bowl.

Add pesto sauce and toss to coat. Use reserved water to moisten, if desired.

Sprinkle on cheese and season with salt and pepper.

Tuesday: Taco Spaghetti — new recipe, looks good. Taco salad merged with pasta,  yum!

Wednesday: Cheesy Tater Tot Casserole – easy to put together, turn on the crockpot, and done.

Thursday: Soup night — Vegetable Lentil Soup, probably with bread from the bread machine.

vegetable lentil soup

Friday: Tortellini (at one daughter’s request), probably with some type of vegetable. This should be quick and easy, which is good since I need to go to a school at 5 to practice with a vocalist, which will make dinner prep a challenge.

What are you cooking this week? More menu plan Monday ideas at OrgJunkie‘s.

Fisher Price Little People Tales

Today, I begin a new feature on Girls in White Dresses Blog: Little Tales. These feature the beloved Fisher Price Little People of my childhood. I’ll share memories, but I’m hoping some of you will join in as well.

There’s just something about these toys. Check them out in the blog button (made by my talented and helpful daughter) — don’t you just want to pick up a few and start playing? And I love that they don’t do anything other than what children make them do. They’re wonderful for imaginative play, for sure.

Fisher Price Little People Tales

I thought it would be interesting to look at the evolution of Little People. The first two, on the left, are two of my earliest Little People. They are wood, and I think the guy came from my Old Woman in the Shoe toy — although I’m not sure. After all, why would a man be in that toy? The second one might be a girl from the afore-mentioned shoe, or she might have come with my Ferris Wheel.

The girl in green is wood as well, but has the more updated features that a majority of  my Little People share.

Then, the girl in orange is the newer, plastic type. I know the people that came with my Houseboat were plastic — after all, they had to float.

And finally — the farmer on the right belonged to my girls. Yes, believe it or not, this is what passes for a “little person” today in Fisher Price toys. He’s undoubtedly cute, but I have to think he’s a step back from the originals. Why did they change the design so radically? Fear of choking hazard? I guess that’s really the only reason I can think of. Or maybe they wanted them to be a comment on the way we Americans have super-sized in the past generation or so …

Do you have any Little People memories? Or do your children enjoy little people? If so, leave a comment and I’ll get back to you. I’d love to share photos of today’s kids enjoying the Little People, or hear stories from your childhood.

Camilla Parker Bowles has been called the most hated woman in Britain, due to her long-standing relationship with Prince Charles. In many ways, their love story led to the end of Charles and Princess Diana’s marriage. How did the prince and Camilla first meet?

Camilla Shand was born in 1947 (a year before Prince Charles) to aristocratic parents. She was a descendent of Alice Keppel, who became a mistress of King Edward VII. Camilla and Charles met in 1971, by some reports at a polo match, by other accounts introduced by a mutual friend at a party.

As an ice-breaker, Camilla reportedly said to Charles, “My great grandmother and your great-great-grandfather were lovers, so how about it?” The Prince, accustomed to dating young women who were members of royalty and often from foreign countries, found Camilla to be “a breath of fresh air.” She loved horses and the country, as he did. She spoke her mind freely, which was also probably welcome to him after dealing all day with servants and yes-men.

The two began dating.

Their romance seemed to end in 1973, when Charles moved overseas to train with the Royal Navy. Young and immature, Charles neglected to ask Camilla to wait for him to return. When he did come back eight months later, he found that Camilla had become engaged to Andrew Parker Bowles, a cavalry officer who had previously dated Prince Charles’ sister, Princess Anne.

Camilla and Andrew married on July 4, 1973. She was twenty-six years old. The wedding included 800 guests, including Princess Anne, Princess Margaret, and the Queen Mother. Also invited? Prince Charles, although he did not attend due to “another commitment.”

Andrew and Camilla went on to have two children, Tom and Laura, before divorcing in 1995.

Charles and Camilla visit the US in 2005 (photo public domain, FEMA library)

Charles and Camilla visit the US in 2005 (By Robert Kaufmann – FEMA Photo Library, Public domain via Wikimedia Commons)

Despite Camilla’s marriage, she and Charles remained on friendly terms. She helped him select Highgrove House as his country home; it is close to the home when she and her husband lived. Charles and Camilla put their relationship on hold once Charles and Princess Diana married in 1981, although it always simmered: Diana was reportedly furious when, during their honeymoon, she discovered Charles wearing a gift from Camilla.

Diana was jealous of Camilla throughout her marriage to Prince Charles, nicknaming her “the rottweiler” and referring to her in a television interview as a third person in her marriage. In another television interview, Charles admitted to committing adultery, although he did not mention Camilla by name.

In tapes she made, Diana described a moment in 1989 when she confronted Camilla over her relationship with Charles while at a party.

According to Diana, she said, “I know what’s going on between you and Charles and I just want you to know that.”

She said Mrs Parker Bowles told her, “You’ve got everything you ever wanted. You’ve got all the men in the world fall in love with you and you’ve got two beautiful children, what more do you want?”

“So I said, ‘I want my husband’,” Diana said. “And I said to Camilla, ‘I’m sorry I’m in the way… and it must be hell for both of you. But I do know what’s going on. Don’t treat me like an idiot’.”

Sigh … I actually am sympathetic to Camilla. I just wish Charles had married her in the first place and spared Diana the pain she went through. What do you think about Camilla?

You may also enjoy:

Things You May Not Know About Camilla Parker Bowles

The Diana  Chronicles: Review

Fun Facts About Prince Charles

Thanks to Livionex for a tube of toothpaste to review. All opinions my own.
Livionex toothpaste
With age comes … work. Hard work.

I remember a few years ago reading something about back fat. Back fat??? I thought. Some people actually have fat on their backs? How could this be? It almost seemed like a moral failing.

And then, one day I hopped into bed and wrapped my arms around myself to conserve warmth. I soon noted that my fingers had something to grab. Oh no! I was apparently developing back fat!

My back becoming flabby is apparently not my only bit of decline. About a decade ago, the dental hygienist asked if I flossed every day. Hmmmm. I’d never been asked that before.  Did my gums not look so good?

In the last year, the same hygienist presented me with dental picks and suggested I use them.

Oh dear. How much further can things go downhill? Apparently, more upkeep is necessary as we age for various body parts — one of those being our teeth and gums.

No longer can we skip brushing or flossing. They become necessities if we want to keep our mouths healthy for the years to come.

So, a mention of Livionex toothpaste caught my eye in a magazine recently. Why? After all, there are many toothpaste choices in the stores. And honestly, most all of them are far less expensive than Livionex.

But Livionex has some powerful inducements in its favor:

  • it’s over 2.5 time more effective than leading toothpastes in removing plaque from teeth, which results in better gum health and less gum bleeding
  • it remineralizes teeth better than other toothpastes (think: it strengthens tooth enamel)
  • it doesn’t contain abrasives, but it does contain edathamil, which breaks up bacterial biofilm (plaque) quite effectively

Livionex seems a bit different from “regular” toothpastes in that it’s runnier. You don’t use much of it. It doesn’t foam. It’s more a liquid than a paste.

Livionex toothpaste on brush

My teeth felt really clean after using it.

The real “proof in the pudding” will be what my hygienist says at my next dentist visit, in a few months. I’m going to see if she notices a difference in my gums’ condition, and if so, I think I’ll be investing in Livionex as a gift to myself this year. The reviews on their site, written by dentists, are pretty convincing. I plan to update this post in late April with my findings, so be sure to check back.

If you have issues with your gums or with excessive plaque, check into Livionex and see how it works for you.

Menu Plan Monday: Leftovers


Menu Plan Monday arrives again, and a cold one it is. Last week struggled to even reach freezing, and we had 2 days out of school. This week, we’re climbing out of that, but it still doesn’t look great. Oh well, what can you expect from January, I guess.

So, one night this week will be the famous “leftover buffet.” Leftovers here have evolved as the kids have gotten older. In past years, often an entree I made would last for two dinners. No more — now, frequently everything is eaten the first night. No second night, no leftovers, even. But, we do have enough leftovers now to have a leftovers dinner night. Does your family enjoy leftovers? I like not cooking, but I’ll admit it can be a pain to microwave each item individually, etc. Usually, I open up all the containers and set them on the stovetop, and then people choose what they want and microwave it.

Here is the plan for this week:

Monday: Chicken Stir Fry – I just cook chicken, a bag of alfalfa sprouts, a chopped carrot or two and snap peas  in soy sauce, and serve with rice. Happily, there are still snap peas from the summer’s garden in the freezer. I love it when winter meals can still feature produce from the garden.

Tuesday: Cheeseburger Wraps – made these a while back and they were delicious.

Wednesday: the infamous Leftover Buffet



16 oz. refried beans

14.5 oz. chicken broth

5 oz. chunk chicken (I usually just cook 1 chicken breast)

15.5 oz. black beans, rinsed

3/4 cup salsa

Combine all ingredients.  Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer 10 min.

Crumble a few tortilla chips in the bottom of each bowl.

Ladle soup over chips and sprinkle with cheddar cheese.

You can also cut tortillas into strips and bake them for a few minutes to serve with this.

Friday: Skillet Chicken Pot Pie with Cheddar Crust – new recipe, and I’m not sure I’ll be making it in a skillet — but it looks good, doesn’t it?

View from the front window today -- not great for drivers (either students or adults), but pretty ...

View from the front window today — not great for drivers (either students or adults), but pretty …

Any leftovers on your menu this week? More menu plan Monday ideas at OrgJunkie‘s.