Snowman’s Story: Review

Thanks to Will Hillenbrand for a review copy of Snowman’s Story.
Snowman's Story Hillenbrand

As a former teacher, a mom, and — well, just as a human being, I love children’s picture books. I love looking at them and appreciating the skill and effort required to produce the artwork they contain. That’s just what “Snowman’s Story” by Will Hillenbrand is full of. What a perfect book for this frigid time of year!

I won’t tell you about the story, because this is a wordless book. So, you (or the child in your life) can make up the story. Sure, there is a basic outline that becomes clear, but a nice thing about wordless books is that you can give the story your own personal touch.

Basically, one wintry day, a hat lands on the head of a newly-made snowman and brings him to life. Hiding inside the hat is a rabbit, who listens to the snowman read a story to some animal friends. When the snowman falls asleep, the rabbit hops away with the book. But the snowman isn’t about to let his story—or the mischievous rabbit—get away. The chase is on!

Who is Will Hillenbrand? He lives in Ohio with his wife and son, and he has illustrated over 50 other books. Learn more about him, and get a feel for his art, at his beautiful website.

Have I mentioned how much I love this book? The artwork features beautiful, wintery colors. The animals are whimsical and fun (and the bunny lover in me loves that a rabbit is prominently featured). The snowman is friendly and good-natured. I think this is the perfect book to “read” with a child during these long, cold, winter days.

My copy is currently standing on my foyer table, where it adds a beautiful touch to my home decor.

Snowman's Story Hillenbrand

You can’t go wrong with “Snowman’s Story.” Have you read any books by Will Hillenbrand?

Random Act of Kindness

random act of kindness

It was just another Sunday lunch. Church was over, and we were sitting at Fazoli’s.

“Where’s our food?” asked someone. “This is taking SO long!”

Someone else began critiquing the sermon … and I drifted off mentally to my “happy place.”

But this was interrupted by a little boy and girl, maybe 5 and 7 years old. They approached our table and held out a little jelly jar to me.

“Here,” they said. “This is for you. You use it to wash your hands.”

And then they turned and left, heading out the door and into a van, where I looked at the driver — presumably their mom. She waved at me and smiled, and I did the same.

I studied the jar, feeling pretty excited, because we had been victims of the much-vaunted random act of kindness. You know, when you do something nice for someone, preferably a stranger, just for the sake of being nice.

The hand scrub now sits on the downstairs bathroom counter, where it gives me a happy feeling each time I use a bit.

Because despite the headlines, and despite our daily discouragements, there are still good people in the world.

Do you have a random act of kindness story?

Menu Plan Monday


Welcome to the first Menu Plan Monday of 2015! 2014 certainly passed by quickly.

This week, the kids are back to school, and we have an aunt visiting for dinner Monday. The piano students all return as well, so it will be a busy week. I enjoy getting back into the routine again, though.

Monday:  Cheeseburger Buns – a favorite of the girls; they take a bit of time but are worth it. Basically, hamburger and cheese baked into bread dough.

Tuesday: Wendy’s Chili – should taste good on a week when temps are predicted in the single digits.

Wednesday: Oven Roasted Chicken and Veggies

Cut up a couple of chicken breasts, a couple of carrots, a couple of potatoes – put in a roasting pan, then top with 1/3 c. olive oil and a packet of dry onion soup mix.  Bake 45 minutes around 400.

Thursday: Cannellini al Gratin — good vegetarian recipe, and I have a friend who swears by all that garlic to keep you healthy.

Friday: Chipotle Turkey Chili — I’ve made this before and it is good. I don’t think there will be complaints about chili twice in a week this cold.

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

Thanks to Family Christian for providing a review copy of this book, and the giveaway certificate. All opinions mine; no financial compensation was received.

No doubt about it: kids love animals. So, what better way to introduce kids to Bible stories than to use animals, right?

Right. How about a rat?

Before you immediately turn up your nose at this, have a look at Theo, The Tales of Little Overhill: The Good Rat.

Theo Good Rat Overhill


This book, the first in an eventual series, teaches the story of the Good Samaritan in a charming way, with illustrations featuring animals: Simon the shrew, Luther and Belfry, the church mice; Matilda, the hedgehog, and Wigglesworth, the good Samaritan rat. That’s right: Theo isn’t the rat. He’s the one human in the book, who plays the role of the innkeeper.

The illustrations are sweet and have a vintage-y look that I love, and the text has a decidedly English flair (the animals are going to market, things are “dreadful,” etc.)

There is some odd formatting of the text, which will hopefully be cleaned up in a future edition. However, that likely won’t put off children from enjoying this sweet book. Listed at the end is the Scripture reference where they can turn to get the “real story.”

You can find Theo at Family Christian Stores, and Family Christian would like to offer one of you a $10 appreciation certificate (like a gift certificate) to use at one of their stores, either brick-and-mortar, or online.

You can enter using the rafflecopter form below by January 9. I’ll choose a random winner January 10.
a Rafflecopter giveaway

I don’t normally make New Year’s Resolutions, but I do have a plan for the new year.

I’m going to devote an hour each weekday to a project I want to accomplish.

You can get a lot done in an hour a day. Think about it: there are 260 weekdays in a year, and even if you take off some for life’s inevitable interruptions, that’s, say, 240 hours spent doing something. During that amount of time, you can become pretty good at something, or get quite a bit of something done.

I believe in the power of an hour, because it’s how I wrote each of my books: working for an hour each day. I like breaking down seemingly huge tasks into small “bites” that are easier to swallow. It makes big tasks look do-able, and it’s a way each of us can be kinder to ourselves, as well — always a good thing.

What is there in your life that you need to do, but have kept putting off? Why not devote an hour to it each day? You can begin today, and a year from now I bet you’ll be amazed by how far you’ve come.

Now, I need to get out of here. I have an hour’s worth of something I’m ready to get started on :)

Happy 2015, everybody!

You may also enjoy:

Lose a Pound a Month

Book Chat

book chat
This month’s book reviews:

37 Days of Peril Everts YellowstoneWe visited Yellowstone last year and it was amazing. One of the things that surprised me was just how huge the park was. Being from Indiana, I’m used to a “park” being something you can walk across in thirty minutes. Not so out west — I was shocked at how often one would enter a park (via car), only to learn that a certain destination might be 30 miles further in. That’s big!

Also in the past year, I enjoyed the Ken Burns PBS special on our National Parks. While watching this, I learned about Truman Everts, a man who went exploring Yellowstone (before it was a national park) with a group of friends in 1870. Things went well, until he became separated from his companions. He remained lost in the vast park for 37 days, nearly dying before he was rescued. He wrote about his experience in “37 Days of Peril,” which you can read for free thanks to Project Gutenberg.

One thing that impressed me, apart from the fact that he survived for over a month in freezing temperatures and by eating thistles and while evading animals like wildcats, was Everts’ vocabulary. The way he wrote, just as a normal guy, showed me just how far our language has deteriorated in the past 150 years.

When Everts was discovered, he weighed just 55 pounds. Just before his rescue, he had begun to lose his mental stability as well, imagining he saw a companion (see the picture). The “book” isn’t long (it was originally printed in a magazine), but it is a tale you won’t soon forget. I read it after dinner to the family.



Like last month, most of my reading time this month was spent with the 900+ page “Gone With the Wind.” I feel I learned a lot of history from the book — what it must have felt like to be a Southerner during the Civil War and reconstruction. It’s one thing to read a few paragraphs about it in a history book, but when you see characters go through it, and the trials they suffer on account of the Yankees, it really gives you (or at least gave me) some sympathy for them. I could see the civil rights movement and racial tension of the 1950s building up in the book, and much of what happened did make more sense when I read this background. The book amazed me with its constant description of the family’s slaves as “ape-like” and so on: Sam galloped over to the buggy, his eyes rolling with joy and his white teeth flashing, and clutched her outstretched hand with two black hands as big as hams. His watermelon-pink tongue lapped out, his whole body wiggled and his joyful contortions were as ludicrous as the gambolings of a mastiff.

And yet, for as derogatory as these descriptions sound to us today, the slaves in the book were devoted to their masters, and most didn’t want to leave. It was also pointed out that, while the Yankees did offer the slaves freedom, most Yankees still disliked them at heart and looked down on them, while the “evil” Southerners were the ones who truly cared for them. Interesting …

I really enjoyed “Gone With the Wind,” and perhaps because it took me six weeks or so to read, the characters began to feel like friends. The first day I didn’t have the book to read anymore during my daily stationary bike ride, it felt like friends were missing. For all the annoyances and nasty traits of Scarlett, the heroine, I can’t say I totally disliked her. She was very tough and was able to deal with everything life threw at her (which was a lot). More than once over these past few weeks, I’ve adopted her mantra: “I’ll think about that tomorrow.”

You can find bits of everyone you know in the cast of characters — the too-good-to-be-true Melanie, the “bad boy” Rhett, the crush who maybe wasn’t as great as you dreamed him to be Ashley, and so many more. Their tales unfolded against the vast background of the Civil War, and I came to see each character as representing a part of that conflict. The book contains many layers which reveal themselves, I am sure, the more times one reads it.

So, if you, like me, haven’t yet read this one, I urge you to. I don’t think you’ll regret it!


Nature Girl book

Do you have a daughter aged 8-12 who loves nature? Animals? Healthy eating? I do, and “Nature Girl” was a great reading choice for her. This book offers fun information on God’s creation and ways we can enjoy it responsibly. It’s full of information on topics like water, air, energy, and recycling. It also includes crafts, Scripture, games, quizzes, and interviews with experts on the topics discussed.

I appreciated the book’s Christian perspective, since many “earth friendly” books and sites don’t have that background.

Thanks to BookLook Bloggers for a review copy of Nature Girl.


Storm Inside WalshMy sister gave me “The Storm Inside,” by Sheila Walsh. Walsh’s name was vaguely familiar to me. I recommend this book. As the title suggests, it deals with the trials we experience in life, and it’s written specifically with women in mind.

I’ve read many books of this type — motivational, self-help from a Christian perspective. Most begin to blur together, but this one stands out as excellent and I do recommend it. Sheila has a way of relating that is easy to read, and helpful. So many times I’ll read a book like this and feel like, while everything it says is on-target, I’m not really taking much away. I felt this book was truly relevant and helpful, and I think I’ll return to it again.



I was recently a guest at a local writers’ group, where I learned about another local woman writer who has a lot in common with me — Margaret Griffin Porter. She teaches in the same school district where I taught, and, like me, she also was the fortunate recipient of a Lilly Teacher Creativity Fellowship. She used hers to research the life of Theodore Roosevelt. Since I’ve recently become interested in him, thanks to the Ken Burns Roosevelt TV program, I decided to read Porter’s book about Roosevelt’s early years: “The Amazing Bird Collection of Young Mr. Roosevelt.”

This is an enjoyable read! Even if you’re not particularly enamored of Theodore Roosevelt, it’s a fascinating look into the way children (at least some of them) were raised in the late 19th century.

The Roosevelt parents encouraged their children to be the best they could be, although the children did have hurdles. Theodore had severe asthma, and on at least one occasion snuffed out his bedtime candle with water because he didn’t have the breath to blow it out. His father urged him, “You must make your body,” and “Teedee” tried hard to do that, taking up boxing and other sports that perhaps he wouldn’t have had the temperament or urging to do otherwise.

Roosevelt and his siblings were a precocious bunch, acting out various historical events, visiting museums, and the like. Young Teedee was fascinated with animals and birds, and began writing journals and books documenting the various species. He shot and stuffed many to study them more closely, and even began a “museum” of his own. He “never seemed to know what idleness was,” and perhaps not surprisingly, he wasn’t always the most loveable person: “Theodore always thought he could do things better than anyone else,” remembered a cousin. Then again, he went on to become President, and surely such drive is needed for a job such as that.

Many photos from original sources and extensive references — recommended.

Phew … all of you who are still reading, you can see what others are reading, too, at 5 Minutes for Books.

Menu Plan Monday


Happy Menu Plan Monday! I hope you all had a Merry Christmas and are looking forward to a happy 2015. It has been nice, with Christmas travels, to have a few days off from cooking. But, now we’re back. I asked the girls what they wanted and CHICKEN LASAGNA it was. They requested it AGAIN for this coming week, so you’ll find it on Friday. It’s a good “white” lasagna recipe that I first had when our pastor’s wife made it and brought it over when my oldest daughter was born. We’re still enjoying the recipe.

Monday: Pasta Alla Genovese — Tracy Pollan (married to Michael J. Fox)’s recipe; torn from OK! Magazine — unfortunately, I can’t fine it online to link to. I’ll report whether it’s a keeper or not.

Tuesday: Daughter #2 offered to make dinner — yay! Creamy Baked Potato Soup with Vegan Hamburger Buns as bread, and Vegan Spice Cake for dessert. I am so glad that all three of my girls are good at cooking and baking, and that they even sometimes offer to cook for the family.

Wednesday:  Daughter #1 volunteered to make quesadillas. Not sure what this will involve, but probably just tortillas, cooked, chicken, black olives, and cheese. When someone volunteers to cook, I don’t ask too many questions :)

Thursday:  Calico Beans — a favorite around here, and easy to throw into the crockpot. I will also probably make bread dough in the bread machine to make into bread sticks.

Friday: White Chicken Lasagna — requested twice in a week!

More Menu Plan Monday ideas at OrgJunkie‘s. Happy New Year!

I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day“I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day” probably isn’t in your Top Ten Christmas carols. As a piano teacher, I can attest to the fact that hardly a single child today has ever heard of it. If you’re among the few who has, you may know it with either this melody (here, sung by Burl Ives. Interesting side note — I noticed this week that this melody plays during the opening to the Christmas “Rudolph” special, which also features Ives) — or this one (which was the one I learned to play on piano as a child).

Editing to add that my mom and cousin let me know of another version of the melody, this time by the group Casting Crowns. Very pretty as well!

But no matter the melody, the words were written by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, and, as is often the case with hymns, there’s an interesting tale behind how these lyrics came to be. First, enjoy them:

I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day
Their old familiar carols play,
And wild and sweet the words repeat
Of peace on earth, good will to men.

I thought how, as the day had come,
The belfries of all Christendom
Had rolled along the unbroken song
Of peace on earth, good will to men.

And in despair I bowed my head:
“There is no peace on earth,” I said,
“For hate is strong and mocks the song
Of peace on earth, good will to men.”

Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:
“God is not dead, nor doth he sleep;
The wrong shall fail, the right prevail,
With peace on earth, good will to men.”

Till, ringing singing, on its way,
The world revolved from night to day,
A voice, a chime, a chant sublime,
Of peace on earth, good will to men!

Most of us know Longfellow as a famous poet. But he experienced some tragic life events. In 1861, his beloved wife Fanny was cutting their 7-year-old daughter, Edith’s, hair. She wanted to save the locks, but while melting sealing wax to close the envelope, she ignited her own clothing. Henry tried extinguishing the flames, and in the act severely burned his own arms, face, and hands. It was all to no avail, as Fanny died from her burns the next day. The familiar photos of an older Longfellow all feature beards — grown to hide the scarring from this incident.

A ‘merry Christmas’ say the children, but that is no more for me, he wrote in his 1862 journal.

Longfellow’s troubles were not over. The Civil War was waging, and his oldest son Charles (“Charlie”) enlisted in the Union army, against his father’s wishes. “I have tried hard to resist the temptation of going without your leave, but I cannot any longer. I feel it to be my first duty to do what I can for my country and I would willingly lay down my life for it if it would be of any good,” the 17-year-old wrote.

Within months, Charlie contracted typhoid and was sent home to recover. Joining again, he was hit in the shoulder and back while fighting in the Battle of New Hope Church in Virginia. Barely missing being paralyzed, the war was over for Charlie. His father wrote the words to the now-famous carol as he helped his son recover.

He also wrote two additional verses which are not sung anymore, but their allusion to the Civil War is clear:

Then from each black accursed mouth

The cannon thundered in the South,

And with the sound,

The carols drowned

Of peace on earth, good-will to men!


It was as if an earthquake rent

The hearth-stones of a continent,

And made forlorn,

The households born

Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

Clapping in Church

Do you clap in church?

Perhaps I should clarify a little. Do you clap along to the music played in church? If you attend a charismatic church, you’d probably say, “Sure!” If you’re Episcopalian, more likely you’d answer, “Of course not.”

But there’s a vast in-between out there. Growing up, I went to a mostly non-clapping church. Occasionally (usually at revivals), clapping would break out. I never felt comfortable with it, though — blame it on my German heritage or natural reticence.

At my current church, there’s about a 50/50 split. Interestingly, the clappers tend to sit in the front half of the sanctuary, while their quieter brethren usually congregate closer to the back.

I’ll never forget a church service I attended during my 20’s, with a friend, at her decidedly “wilder” church. It was in a strip mall (no, I am not making this up), and to my horror, my friend guided me up to the second row, front and center. The music was quite spirited, and the congregants were not only clapping, but swaying and — dare I say it — “dancing” a bit as well. I stood there, hugely uncomfortable. The pastor stepped up to the pulpit and spoke over the music, urging us, “Don’t stifle the Spirit!” I was now not only feeling awkward, but I had the added burden of suspecting that I was a suspected Spirit-stifler as well.

There’s another time when the issue of clapping in church surfaces. After a musical group performs “special music” (or whatever your particular flavor of church calls it), is there applause? It’s always seemed wrong to me — clapping seems more fitting for a concert. And no one ever claps after the sermon. Yet, often when the solo ends, there’s an uncomfortable pause. Should I clap?

I was on the other side of this recently. I played O Holy Night during the offertory at church. I played it on the piano in front of the church, not on the organ up in the balcony, where I usually sit. I would venture that this resulted in the applause that broke out after I finished. I was pretty surprised; this a community of very non-showy, quiet Lutheran farmers.

I kind of did a (hopefully) subtle nod from the bench and hurried back to the organ. After church, I was walking across the parking lot, when a lady looked up at me. “That was so beautiful!” she said. “Thank goodness someone clapped!”

Hmmmm. Thank goodness someone clapped?

“Oh, I don’t know,” I said, “I’m never comfortable clapping in church.”

She nodded. “Oh, me neither!” she said, and we went our separate ways.

church from the organ balcony

The view from the church balcony — where there’s no clapping going on!

I don’t honestly have any idea whether God would be a clapper or not, but I figure He must have a good laugh about the arguments His people get into over the issue. After all, He made us with all different temperaments and personalities — clappers and non.

So: do you clap in church?


You may also enjoy:

Walking Where Jesus Walked: Visiting Israel

Christmas Music

50 Questions


Menu Plan Monday


It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas this Menu Plan Monday, and that means that menu planning is rather rushed. The way I planned the meals this week was to sit on the couch with a piece of paper, while watching National Lampoon Christmas Vacation on Saturday night (highly recommended). I just thought of foods that sounded good, jotted them down, and now I present them to you — enjoy!

Monday: Chicken Pot Pie — a favorite

Tuesday: Foil Packet Taco Chickenanother family favorite; easy to individualize so it’s great for picky eaters

Wednesday: Cheesy Lentil Loaf – a good meatless option

Thursday: Lasagna Soup — great for cold days; just add bread sticks :)

Friday: Make your own pizza, in which I make pizza dough and each person makes their own pizza with toppings of choice

As promised, here are photos from Saturday’s Christmas piano recital/party. It went very well!

Christmas candy bark

kids playing gamesRudolph peanut butter reindeer cookies

The kids played wonderfully, and had fun playing games. Here were some recipes that went over well, in case you are looking for ideas:

Peanut Butter Reindeer Cookies

Easy Christmas Candy

Christmas Bark

Have a great week, everyone — more Menu Plan Monday ideas at OrgJunkie‘s.