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Monday, January 30, 2017

Resolved by Lina Abujamra

Resolved: 10 Ways to Stand Strong and Live What You Believe 
     I just finished reading Resolved by Lina Abujamra.I received a copy of this book through Goodreads via Baker Publishing Group.  This book asks readers to examine their resolve in living out their faith. Abujamra challenges Christians to resolve to 10 things in order to grow closer in their relationship with Jesus.  These include: Believe Then It Looks Ridiculous, Love When It's Inconvenient, Obey When It's Not Popular, Yield When It's My Right, Speak Up When It's Easier Not To, Give When I Barely Have Enough, Be in Community When I'd Rather Be Alone, have Joy When Life is Depressing, Hope When it Hurts, and Rest in the Midst of Chaos.
     There were some things in this book that I thought were really simply said but there were also some good reminders, thinking points and nice challenges.  I thought it might be a great book for new believers, but I wonder if they might feel a little lost with some of the Bible references. 
     One thing I appreciated about this book was Abujamra's application of living her faith. As an ER doctor, she often relates some of these points to her job. It is nice to see some real world application of her points and examples. There are many times where I have learned about my faith through interactions with people in my profession, so I appreciated hearing her experiences. 

Reading Challenge Updates:
Keyword Reading Challenge: 1/12 (2 books in the first month, but 1 out of 12 months is completed)
Mount TBR: 4/24
Goodreads Challenge: 6/50

Sunday, January 29, 2017

Lettermo 2017

     Month of Letters Challenge (Lettermo) 2017. Who's in?  The challenge is to:
1) Send at least one thing through postal mail for each day it runs in February.
2) Write back to everybody who writes to you.

      I love doing this every year. I'm a little behind on my penpal responses, so I'm responding to all of those first. However, one of the reason I do this challenge every year is to connect/reconnect with new/old friends.   If you would like a letter, comment here and add your address to my Postable account (only visible to me. I don't share your address with anyone).  If your name here is different than the name you've left on my address book, please let me know who to look for.
Month of Letters Participant badge 

   I have already challenged a few of my friends (and one of my students too) to participate. If you feel like you've lost touch with friends/family or if you want to devote some time to building relationships with people, consider joining. I've met some amazing people through Lettermo. 

Saturday, January 28, 2017

Ancestry.com DNA kit

   For Christmas this year, I got a DNA kit from Ancestry.com. I have been working on my family tree for years. Not many people in my family are interested in knowing their backgrounds because "it doesn't matter," but I would really like to know what kind of people I was related to. If possible, I would like to learn their stories.
    When I opened the package, I didn't know how involved it would be. I thought there would be some intense directions about how not to contaminate your sample. When I took everything out, there was a collection tube, a cap, a bag and a box to mail it in. The basic directions are "spit in the tube, put on the cap, shake, put in the bag, mail it back to us." Really easy (thought you did have to actually tighten the cap.) I thought about doing a little "how to video" before I read the directions. I'm sorry I decided against the glamour pictures of my depositing my spit into the small tube for you. I just know that you're all intelligent people.
      I sent it in a few weeks ago and should get the results in 6-8 weeks. Ancestry.com is cool enough to actually confirm that they received your sample, as well as having a tracking number on the box so you can track it yourself too. I anticipate that I will have lots of Irish in me. There is rumor that I have some native American blood on my mom's side, but only a little. (Anyone know how to look up genealogy for the Passamaquoddy tribe in Maine?) I haven't found any proof of that yet. I would be pretty shocked to find background outside of Europe. Oh, remember that book I wrote about- The Greatest Knight (both of them..lol). Well, I have one ancestor that did do a ton of research and William Marshall, the knight the book is about, it in her research. She went WAY back and on multiple sides so I'll have to take a month and just follow her info from me back.
   Here are some other mysteries. If anyone has any genealogical tips on how to get past these hurdles, please share. I'm getting close to hiring someone to help me.
1) My maternal great grandmother- died shortly after giving birth to my grandmother.  When she died, my great grandfather left his kids with other people and didn't contact my grandmother for about 50 years. The short version is, my great grandmother doesn't seem to exist other than her tombstone, marriage record, my grandmother, death record and 1 census. None of the relatives alive right now even remember her. None of the children of her siblings remember her or have any pictures. She was 1 of 13 kids, so I was wondering if she might have been an illegitimate child of one of the oldest children. (I just found out that the 13th child was actually her daughter... which was unknown by my grandmother.) Child 13s married name kept coming up associated with my grandmother's brother's name. I finally located some documents and was shocked when I figured it out. Also, child 13s dad is reported as one name, but her kids think it was my grandmother's dad. Hmmm. Ideally, I would like to show my grandmother a picture of her mom.  Some days she really wants to know about her family. Other days she is sad that she was basically given away to be raised by friends. (Who were very good to her, but she discovered in high school that she had relatives that knew about her but never told her she was related to them.)

2) My other mystery is my paternal great grandfather. I have heard 2 stories- a) he was given up for adoption as an infant. His parents came from Canada. He was dropped at an orphanage in Superior, Wi. He grew up there and really disliked it. He later joined the military and lied about his age so he could be enlisted early. He changed his surname.  b) His parents died when he was a teenager. He changed his surname.  
     I don't know what the original surname was. I can confirm that he seemed to lie on military records because I have him coming from Superior, Wi and Ohio. I traced him back to a 1920 census, which seems to be the first time he was in Ma. I am trying to see if there is a connection to the people he was living with at the time.
     The good note is that my dad's cousin wants to know this too so maybe I will find some answers.

      I'm excited to see the results I get from Ancestry. I was a little disappointed to see that they have "26 ethnic regions"  that seemed really broad to me, but it's scientific evidence that will help point me in the right direction.  Here are the regions that the test covers. I'll let you know what I hear.


  • Native American


  • Europe East
  • Europe West
  • European Jewish
  • Finland/Northwest Russia
  • Great Britain
  • Iberian Peninsula
  • Ireland
  • Italy/Greece
  • Scandinavia


  • Africa North
  • Africa South-Central
  • Africa Southeastern Bantu
  • Benin/Togo
  • Cameroon/Congo
  • Ivory Coast/Ghana
  • Mali
  • Nigeria
  • Senegal

West Asia

  • Caucasus
  • Middle East


  • Asia Central
  • Asia East
  • Asia South

Pacific Islander

  • Polynesia
  • Melanesia
      Have you researched your genealogy? Any challenges you are running into?

Friday, January 27, 2017

The Yellow Envelope review

    I received an ARC copy of The Yellow Envelope by Kim Dinan.   This book is the story of Kim and her husband, Brian, who decide to quit their jobs, sell most of their possessions and travel around the world. This move was prompted by Kim realizing that she just wasn't truly happy with life the way she was living it.  With that being said, she realized that she had a pretty good life and was grateful for it.   She decided to follow her dream to become a writer and to travel.
    Before leaving, the couple is given a yellow envelope filled with $1000 cash by a couple that they were friends with. They are given the opportunity to give the money away to people in any way that it made them happy. There were 3 rules- don't overthink it, share your experiences if you'd like and don't feel pressured to give it all away.

The book followed their travels through Ecuador, Peru, Nepal, India, Germany, Vietnam, etc. Along the way, you encounter their interactions with other travelers as well as "natives." You read challenges and success stories about their relationships and their travels.
     There were quite a few things I really liked about this book:

1)   Kim seems like a person I'd like to sit and have coffee with- or exchange letters with. I liked her sense of humor and I could relate to her a lot (except for the running... I hate running.) There were a couple of times I was slightly annoyed that she didn't seem happy with her life, even though nothing was wrong, but I think we've all been there at times, haven't we? I think it's healthy to examine this at times. I also want to acknowledge her vulnerability at times. Sometimes it's hard to admit that our problems might be caused more by us than they are by other people. I think it's brave to take ownership for things that you feel are within your realm of fixing. I also think it's brave to use what you can to make the world better- whether it's making somebody happy, giving them money or serving them with your time or gifts. I like people that I feel like I can learn things from while sharing my own life. Kim also has a blog, www.so-many-places.com
2) I love traveling vicariously through the stories of others. I have never really desired to visit some of the places that she visited, but I am more curious about those places now. I enjoyed learning about places I had never heard about and learning cultural tidbits about daily life. The book kind of reminded me of how I felt while I was reading Eat, Pray, Love... but not at the same time.
3) The opportunity to make a difference and have an extra $1000 that you can just give away. What a gift!
 The Yellow Envelope: One Gift, Three Rules, and a Life-Changing Journey Around the World   
Thanks to NetGalley and Sourcebooks for a great read! I would highly recommend this book to my friends.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

mentally decluttering

     I don't know if it's my growing to-do list, my busy schedule or the fact that I have not been able to sit down to write a letter in a long time but I'm feeling super stressed out. Everything is fine, I just need to mentally declutter a bit. So, I'm going screen free for a week (other than 1 check in for e-mail per day and incessantly checking work e-mail because I have to.) With no tv, no social media, way less e-mail and no wasted time there, I think I'll be able to catch up with my to do list and feel a bit more like myself. See you in a week!

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Feeling artsy

    As part of their Christmas gifts, each of my sons got a box of pre-planned "Mom Dates" for 2017. Over the past few years, I have really enjoyed the opportunity to take each boy out individually to just hang out. January's dates were both artistic.

Timmy and I went to a place called Wicked Art Bar. They are a local place that hold paint nights. Once or twice a month, they do family days. I wasn't sure if Timmy would like it but, based on his interest in his painting from Thanksgiving, I thought I'd give it a try. We painted "Snowy Bunnies." Here's how they came out:
Tim, hard at work.

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 Tim and I:
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 Finished product (check out Tim's snow bunny on the left.):
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Ironically, my sister-in-law, Sarah, gave me a gift certificate for this same paint place. I had seen a painting that I thought my mom would like so I invited a friend and we went to paint it last Friday night. Here's the finished painting. Don't show my mom, I made it for her birthday. (I know, I sound like a 5 year old but I hope she likes it.)
Image may contain: 2 people, people smiling, people standing

    My date with David was on Monday. We went to Clay Dreaming, which is a pottery studio. You can either go to the wet studio and legitimately put together a piece of pottery, or paint pre-made pottery which will then be glazed and put in the kiln. David developed an interest in pottery in his elementary art class. I think he was slightly disappointed when we got there and he realized he wasn't making the pottery, but I thought we'd check it out before we really got invested.

David painted a mug. The inside is green and the outside will be a darker blue once it's fired.  He was having a nice time at this point.
Image may contain: 2 people, people sitting and child
Still good:
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Then we had a bit of a meltdown. He was working really hard on the mug and everything was going well. He tried to draw a Minion and things came unraveled...fast. I saw a lot of myself in him right then. He had an idea of what he wanted, couldn't do it- but wanted to try. When he tried and it didn't go well, he got super upset. He didn't want me to do it for him, didn't want help, but he also was really stressed about how to finish without ruining his final piece. It was sad. We changed the Minion body into a face. We worked together to make the face, eyes, goggles and he did the smile. I hope he's happy with it when it is finished.
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Here's my plain plate. (Which will be very dark blue with a coral-ish color around the edge) I would've done very well if I had just copied an idea someone gave me, but I'm not very creative with blank space. Also, my snowflake stamp rebelled. I wish I knew some cool techniques- next time. Oops- I didn't post because I had written my last name across the plate. Sorry! I'll let you know if I like it. 

Sunday, January 15, 2017

The Land of Stories

The Land of Stories- The Wishing Spell by Chris Colfer

The Wishing Spell (The Land of Stories, #1)  
    On a recent trip to Barnes & Noble, Timmy and I saw this book.  I immediately recognized Chris Colfer's name as the author and realized that he was the actor who played Kurt on Glee. I didn't know that he was an author as well. Tim ended up buying the book and when he was done with it, he told me I should read it.So, you'll get a 2 for 1 deal- Tim's thoughts and my own. 
     Timmy's review- "The Land of Stories is about 2 children who fall into The Land of Stories. They have to find a certain spell to get back to their world. I liked it a lot because it was exciting and suspenseful. I would recommend it to 12-14 year olds."

     My thoughts- Overall, I enjoyed the book. If you have seen Into the Woods, it is very much like that. The Wishing Spell, is a spell that will grant any wish.  In order to do the spell, certain items must be collected. The items are found throughout the kingdoms in the Land of Stories. The 2 kids in the tale- Alex and Conner- are twins who are very different from each other. (I often chuckled at Conner's sarcastic comments.) In addition to the challenge of the quest to find each item, they are also under pressure since the spell can only be used twice and this would be the second time. Oh, I forgot to mention that the Evil Queen is also seeking to perform the Wishing Spell.
      There were some parts of the books that I found a little predictable but I enjoyed the backstories of many of the fairy tale characters. There were a few unexpected twists too.It was entertaining throughout most of the book but I enjoyed the end chapters the best.  I think many people who enjoy fairy tales would like this book. 

Reading Challenge updates:

Keyword Reading Challenge 1/12 (2 books for January-)
Goodreads Challenge 3/50
Mount TBR challenge 2/24

Saturday, January 14, 2017

2017 mail and Secret Christmas RR#3

I haven't written much about mail since the new year. I have received some beautiful cards that I wanted to show off:

Secret Christmas RR#3
 From gzechanka in Ukraine
 From Rodzinka in Russia. I loved the stamps on this one too.
 From Liisa in Finland. Thanks for telling me about the traditional decorations with the Finnish flags. I didn't know that.
 From Alevtina in Russia Thanks for the great stamps too. Love the braid on the snowman!

This is from Jacque in Az. I love it.  Because she's awesome, she also sent me the next card.
 I love Nouvelle Images!!!
 Keeping with the music theme. She also sent an Elvis stamp and Edith Piaf too. That would be a really interesting duet, eh?
Naoko sent this yummy card from Japan.
    This next one made me giggle a bit. It's from Marilyn in Texas.  I have never been to Tx, but I've heard "everything is bigger in Texas," so I guess this fits. I'm right on the "Damned Yankee" and snafu border.  

Friday, January 13, 2017

My first NetGalley Review

The Happiness Effect: How Social Media Is Driving a Generation to Appear Perfect at Any Cost     
     This month, I received an advanced reader copy of The Happiness Effect by Donna Freitas. This is also the first book I have received from NetGalley (Thanks!).  
      When I first saw this book, I was very interested in the topic. This book deals with social media and its effect on people, centered around college aged students. Freitas has surveyed and interviewed college students on thirteen college campuses across the United States and asked questions about anything from sexting to addiction to their smart phones.  As and educator and a mother, I have often wondered if the interactions with social media that I notice are as harmful as it can sometimes seem. This book made some really interesting points and observations. 
     Here are some specific points that got me thinking:
1) The topic of "likes."  Being a woman in my late 30s who is teaching teens, I didn't feel like I was really "out of touch" with the next generation, but this chapter made me wonder if maybe I am. I have always thought of my photos on sites like Facebook or Twitter to be like an online photo album; something to share special moments with people I care about. They are a way for me to connect with distant relatives and people that I don't see often. If I am looking at someone's social media and I 'like" a post, it is usually to acknowledge that I have seen the post or to let a friend know that I enjoyed looking. I assumed it was the same for everybody else too. The concept of comparing the amounts of likes that a picture I post to the number of likes a friend gets on their page is totally foreign to me. I can understand doing this if you are somebody who is marketing or promoting something, so you can see that your posting is effective, but doing this for a personal site was a little crazy to me.   Another thing that was a little disturbing was the fact that there are many people just posting things for the purpose of obtaining likes. If I go out to dinner with a friend, take a picture and post it, I don't care if people like it or not. I do not make the effort to go to a specific event or destination only to get likes. Lastly, the importance of likes quantifying self-worth was kind of discouraging. I didn't realize that some of these actions/attitudes were this prevalent. I was especially surprised that many people seem to go through their social media posts at the end of the day to delete anything that didn't get "liked."
2) Branding yourself- I am on Twitter and Facebook. I have never tried Instagram or Snapchat, and probably won't. I use social media to connect with other people. This book mentioned how many high school guidance counselors and college professors have emphasized to students that people will examine them on social media, so they should be aware of the image they are sending out. This has led to many people only putting up "The highlight reel" of their lives, which has a few implications. The first thing that can be noticed is that many people are putting out an "online version" that is different from the in person version of themselves. Secondly, if a person is told that they can only put positive things on their page- or to never make a mistake, is that carrying over to life offline, where they think they have to be perfect all the time? Lastly, constantly comparing how happy/adventurous the lives of everybody else seem to be is not usually healthy for anyone who has ever felt lonely or longed for something better in their own life. I think it is easy for many people, myself included sometimes, to watch other people live their lives through the lens of social media and wonder why our life seems a little drab in comparison.
3) What are the implications of social media in the long run? How will it affect relationships and face to face communication? Do people have to be "on" 24/7?  Is it healthy to feel like you cannot be without your phone at any time? I particularly liked what she said about this. "The burden we are carrying around because of our phones would be lifted if they would only disappear if they dropped off the face of the earth. These tiny, light, pretty, shiny devices have come to represent an outsized weight upon our shoulders- we look at them and see our to do lists, our responsibilities and other people's needs, o ur perpetual inability to keep up, the ways in which others constantly judge us, everyone's successes amid all our failures, among so many other stresses- stresses that feel more like thousands od pounds than a few ounces."
 4)Faith and social media- How does being a person of faith impact your use of social media, if at all? I loved this chapter and really enjoyed seeing the perspective of other people. 
    One thing that Freitas mentioned, that I had never really considered, was that college aged kids are truly the first generation growing up with "no precedent for a life lived and celebrated and picked apart on a virtual scale." Freitas says that this fact alone makes them explorers and pioneers who are trying to navigate the same way that all the rest of us are and adjusting accordingly. 
     This is a good read for anybody who works with students or has children on social media.
     I would be curious to hear some of your views on social media. What are some things you like and dislike? What social media sites are you on? Are there any things you have wondered regarding the long term use of technology? What is your relationship to your smart phone?

Sunday, January 1, 2017

January Keyword Challenge Book Review- The Death of Sweet Mister

    In January, the keywords for the 2017 Keyword Reading Challenge were: Court, Fall, Of, Way Deep, and Thousand. I took all books with any of those words out of my "to read" pile" and ended up reading The Death of Sweet Mister by Daniel Woodrell.
The Death of Sweet Mister by Daniel Woodrell  
 The Death of Sweet Mister is about a 13 year old boy named Morris Akins, nicknamed Shug by his mother and names like "Fat boy" by his mother's boyfriend.  It tells what life was like for Shug, growing up in the Ozarks surrounded by adults who are bad moral influences on him. Glenda, his mother, is an alcoholic who is in an abusive relationship with a man named Red,  who may or may not be Shug's father. Red is a career criminal with an addiction to anything that can seem to give him a high- booze, prescription pills, gambling, drugs, etc.    Shug is often brought along on these criminal escapades and witness to many events that he shouldn't have been, "Men stuff."  Life is bad, but changes when a man named Jimmy Vin Pearce shows up in a green Thunderbird and develops an interest in Glenda. 
     This book is hard to say that I "liked" because of the subject matter. I thought the writing was good and I know that it has been read in many book clubs. I just found it to be bleak and depressing. I Not the cheeriest way to start 2017. I gave it 3/5 stars on Goodreads because I thought it was written well, despite the story.  I'm not sure I would recommend it to anyone.   American author, Dennis Lehane, wrote a foreword in this edition of the book and he says:
     "Most of us remember parts of ourselves that didn't survive adolescence. At some point, to make our way in the world, we did as the Good Book suggested and put away childish things. And so it is in   The Death of Sweet Mister, where the death in question is not physical. In some ways, though, it's worse. It's the death of the "sweet," the death of the soul, the end of anything approximating childhood or innocence." (xi) 

Progress in The Monthly Keyword Reading Challenge: 1/12 months completed 
Progress in MOUNT TBR Challenge 1/24 books