Friday, June 29, 2007

22 Things to do with your Kids and No (Little) Planning

  1. Make paper airplanes
  2. Host a video game tournament with your favorite racing game
  3. Watch the clouds go by
  4. Have a movie night, complete with popcorn
  5. Have a picnic lunch in the living room
  6. Take a bike ride together
  7. Make cookies (yum!)
  8. Color a picture
  9. Write a story together
  10. Put puzzles together
  11. Make flash cards
  12. Sing songs and record the session
  13. Read a book
  14. Act out the story
  15. Then make a video of it
  16. Write a letter to a relative in a different city or state
  17. Build a city for your Hot Wheels cars
  18. Practice impressions of people or animals
  19. Blow bubbles
  20. Make a daisy chain with dandelions
  21. Play a board game
  22. Celebrate a half birthday

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Savage Run by C J Box

Title: Savage Run

Author: C J Box

Genre: Mystery

Summary: Joe Pickett is called to the scene of an explosion. The local sheriff wants the input of the game warden since several cows were damaged and their owners will need to be contacted. Neither expected to find a body in the rubble.

The Take-Away: Box makes the most of the Wyoming back drop in this title. I never understood how to use setting to the advantage of the story, but Box makes it seem simple. To a fellow writer, that translates into lots of hard work.

Box also places Pickett in danger this time, sparing his wife and daughters. I appreciated that distinction in this title, instead of relying on Pickett to be the hero that saves the day.

Recommendation: I'm really enjoying the slow, steady pace of this series. Off to get the next one.

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Wednesday, June 27, 2007

The Art of Seduction

Do women send signals that indicate their intent to have sex? Scott Adams had a boss who believed so.

I once had a boss who shared his theory for seducing a woman. I’m not sure if it was genius or insanity. His theory is so simple it has to be one or the other. His two step secret to seduction:

  1. Take her to your place.
  2. Get her to take off her shoes.

That’s it.

In Scott's post -- Footwear Theory of Motivation -- he explains that his boss came up with the theory after years of playboy behavior. In typical Scott-fashion, he expands the theory and refers to some interesting back-up.

I was reminded, however, of the "crucial" date with my now husband. You know, the date where you decide if he is going to get further than just kissing. The shirt that I wanted to wear was a button down. I had a safety pin securing a gap. I recalling standing in front of my bathroom mirror, debating about whether or not to leave that pin in.

So, dear reader, do you have a similar type story? Or is Scott's boss washed up?

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Hide by Lisa Gardner

Title: Hide

Author: Lisa Gardner

Genre: Thriller

Summary: Six murder victims are discovered during the demolition of the mental hospital in Massachusetts. Detective Bobby Dodge is haunted by the similarities to another case that almost ended his life and his career. The only lead is the necklace belonging to a woman who has been on the run her whole life.

The Take-Away: Wow. I stayed up way too late to finish this one. It was terrifying all the way to the end.

The related title,Alone, is handled well. The references are few, and left me wanting to read that title as well, but not so vague that I felt like I was missing part of the story.

The story is told from two points of view, Bobby Dodge in the third person, and the Annabelle, the woman who has been on the run, in first person. The balance of the two is fantastic. Jumping between the two points of view is very well done. The story was well-supported by the changes. In fact, I'd go as far as saying that having only one point of view would leave the story wanting.

Recommendation: Check out the back story in Alone then this title. If point of view jumps typically irritate you, try this one out for how it is done well.

Monday, June 25, 2007

This is cute

Online Dating

Mingle2 - Online Dating

My offenses were "Bitch" x 2; "Ass" x 2; "Abortion" x 1

Super Foods for Allergies

The next time my allergies start acting up, I'm going to review this site -- Allergy Fighting Super Foods at

It's a quick slide show reviewing seven foods and the studies that back them up. Most of the suggestions (apples, canola oil, spinach) coincide with other healthy eating advice.

Actually, instead of waiting for the next allergy attack, most of these could be wedged into my current diet with a few small adjustments. I need to think this over.

Friday, June 22, 2007

Story Writing for Kids

Last Friday, I shared my scavenger hunt with you and left a teaser of how I expand that activity into another one.

After a couple of scavenger hunts, I decided to take a picture of the child with the scavenger item as a way of recording the memory and getting some great candids of them. I started taking photos of them running after they spotted the items, and as they checked it off. Really, the photos were telling the whole story.

Why not make a book of them?

Digital prints are inexpensive either at home or at a local photo shop. Three of them in my city regularly have specials for $0.10 copies. If you wait for one of these to run, this project should come in under $4.00.

I have the kids select the photos that they like the best. Just because I took it, doesn't mean that they liked it. In fact, the seven-year-old has told me a time or two that I take bad pictures of him.

Once they have their story in order, and the pictures have been printed, I dig out a photo album purchased from the dollar store.

The first time we did this, I had a wordless book from our library. I wanted to make sure that our book was just like the professionals and coached the kids into realizing we needed a cover, a title page, credits for our author and illustrator, along with acknowledgments.

We inserted the photos on the right hand side only, leaving the left hand side for our text. Adjust as needed, depending on the layout of the photo album. Our happened to have space for one 4x6 photo per page.

For the first book, I wrote the story, but the seven-year-old chipped in on the second one. Even the three-year-old added his contributions.

The boys love to share their stories with family and friends who come to visit.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

The Bitch Posse by Martha O'Connor

Title: The Bitch Posse

Author: Martha O'Connor

Genre: Fiction

Summary: Three high school girls commit a single act that haunts them into their thirties. Each reacts in their own way. Each story is told.

The Take-Away: I have mixed feelings about this book. It's very "in your face," both in the writing, the actions and the personalities of Cherry, Amy and Rennie. The story is told by each, and setting flips from 2003 to 1988 continuously.

The three girls are best friends who do typical teenage girl things -- hang out, give advice about relationships, smoke, etc. But they also do the things that parents pray that they will never do: skipping school, drugs, sex and cutting. Each page reveals actions that lead into further destructive behavior. Each action pulls the three of them tighter.

Their parents' have just as many faults as the girls. Secrets are kept when they shouldn't be. Truths are told that shouldn't have been. Roles are reversed when daughter is forced to take care of parent.

O'Connor states on her website that she...

longed for a book about the girls I remembered from growing up, girls like the one I had been. Girls with multicolored hair and pierced noses, who would cut school and head to Chicago in combat boots and miniskirts, Pixies t-shirts and ripped fishnets. Girls who ditched P.E. to grab a smoke in the parking lot, who carried around poetry books and wrote about death and hate and high emotion, things that mattered.

The limits are pushed when 0'Connor shows what happens to these women grow-up. Do they become normal? How do the actions of one night of high school reach into the future?

The book stays with me, as to the characters. While their story was told, there wasn't a warm, fuzzy closure and I hope that things do turn out well for them.

Recommendation: I have mixed feelings on this one. I liked the writing, but it's probably one you'd need to check out for yourself and decide if the style works for you. Luckily O'Connor has an excerpt available on her website.

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Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Math, the Business Way

I can't thank my ex-college roommate enough for forwarding this. I got it the day after a really bad meeting. It was twice as funny as it should have been, simply because of the timing.

The Real Truth About Math

From a strictly mathematical viewpoint it goes like this:

  • What makes 100%?
  • What does it mean to give MORE than 100%?
  • Ever wonder about those people who say they are giving more than 100%?

We have all been to those meetings where someone wants you to give over 100%.

How about achieving 103%?

Here's a little mathematical formula that might help you answer these questions:



is represented as:

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26



8+1+18+4+23+15+18+11 = 98%



11+14+15+23+12+5+4+7+5 = 96%



1+20+20+9+20+21+4+5 = 100%



2+21+12+12+19+8+9+20 = 103%

and, look how far ass kissing will take you:


1+19+19+11+9+19+19+9+14+7 = 118%

So, one can then conclude with mathematical certainty that while Hardwork and Knowledge will get you close, and Attitude will get you there, Bullshit and Ass Kissing will put you over the top!

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Open Season by C J Box

Title: Open Season

Author: C.J. Box

Genre: Mystery

Summary: Wyoming game warden Joe Pickett is having a bad month. A dead body is found on his wood pile, his daughter is dreaming of monsters and his judgmental mother-in-law comes for a visit. If it wasn't enough having find a murderer, Joe is being warned off the case from several angles.

The Take-Away: This was a decent start to the series. Joe is a man of few words so most of the story is conveyed through his thoughts and actions, as well as his daughter Sheridan. The pace isn't break-neck fast, but a steady beat that has a variety of curveballs.

Joe's life is probably much like yours. Just when it seems like things are looking up, life knocks your foundation out from under you. Joe keeps a level head, and a gun in his truck (but only uses it when the situation calls for it.) While he explains his lack of words, I did get a bit frustrated. In one scene especially, I wanted him to stand up and take control. At the very least, to confront the guy that was firing him. Joe rolled with the punches, however, and bides his time.

Joe's daughter Sheridan almost stole the show. She is a charming character and well-written for her youth. The scenes with her kept my attention better than the scenes with Joe.

His mother-in-law is a woman that I'm going to enjoy hating, I think. She played a small role here, but if she returns, things could get really nasty between her and Joe.

Recommendation: There are several books in the series and this one has a promising start. I'm checking out the next one.

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Monday, June 18, 2007

Frugal or Wrong?

Everyone bends the rules, right? Taking the cashier's pen from the grocery store or nicking a handful of candy from the receptionist's dish don't seem to bad. But are they?

Wisebread explores the topic further in the post "Frugal or Just Plain Wrong."

You know what I love? Getting something for nothing. Oh, it's rare. It's also sort of greedy and raises all kinds of ethical questions. How far would YOU go to save, or make, a dollar or two?

Here are some examples of 'something for nothing' that fall into a morally gray area. I'm not endorsing, advocating, recommending, encouraging, or promoting any of these, but I'm curious as to how our readers feel about them. Like taking an extra piece of candy from the porch bowl in Halloween, everyone probably has a different perception of what constitutes right or wrong.

Some of the scenarios include sneaking candy into a movie, keeping incorrect change, and taking office supplies for home use. There are 20 items total and loads of comments, confessions and condemnations.

The post made me pause. I've been very guilty of some of these crimes. And I've justified my way out of some of them. (Isn't a bigger crime that the movie theater forces you to buy the same Nerds rope for $3 that I can get at Festival Foods 3 for $1? I could have gotten nine of them at Festival.) Others I can't imagine doing. (Just set-up your own cable. It's less of a hassle.)

What about you? Do you have a line that you wouldn't cross?

Friday, June 15, 2007

Scavenger Hunt for Kids

I love taking walks in the summer. My oldest would rather ride his bike. My youngest would rather search for bugs in our backyard. I figured out a way to keep the three of us entertained, spend some quality time together, and let me get some much needed exercise.

We have scavenger hunts.

It's such a simple idea and requires 30 or 40 minute of prep work. I create two different lists, appropriate for each age level and interest of my boys.

The seven-year-old's list looks something like this:

  • A blue pick-up truck
  • Three skateboarders
  • A red slide
  • Two dogs
  • A maple leaf
  • Baseball players
  • Soccer players

Note: We live near several athletic fields and finding teams on a weekend is pretty easy.

The three-year-old's list looks something like this:

  • A ball
  • A yellow flower (dandelion)
  • A squirrel
  • Ants
  • A smooth rock
  • A jagged rock
  • Leaves

Once you've done this a few times, challenge them to write lists for each other. Helping each other out is easy as well. You'd be surprised what one will see without effort and will be challenging for the other.

Because the two lists are different, I can easily re-direct potential fights about who is done first or who has the most. Developing their sense of team work could be cut to a single word that is only used to remind them. Our is "peanuts" since each of them needs help from someone else to open the shells.

The next time we go scavenger hunting, I'm going to take along our digital camera. Tune in next Friday for that activity.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Ptolemy's Gate by Jonathan Stroud

Title: Ptolemy's Gate

Author: Jonathan Stroud

Genre: Fantasy, third in a series

Summary: The war in American is going poorly, as is Nathaniel's ability to keep his promises to Bartimaeus. In fact, almost everything is going poorly in Nathaniel's life as he not only loosing his golden boy sheen, but is the scape goat of numerous failures.

The Take-Away: Totally stunned. After I finished the second book, I really hoped that Nathaniel wouldn't continue down the path of greed and political games. He did, but redeems himself by the end of the book. I don't want to say too much and give away the ending, but I was proud of the boy.

I haven't said much about the magic or world that Stroud weaves his story in. Being a newcomer to the field of fantasy, I don't always know what is truly new and what is new to me. The action takes place in England, with a nice balance of English mannerisms and culture. Magicians are capable of magic only through the strength of the demons that they call. To be a powerful magician, one must command a powerful demon. Herbs and other trappings often used in fantasy novels are useful, but do not have any magical properties of their own. Think of them like vitamins; helpful, but not the real thing.

Stroud's writing is crisp and clear. I was lost in the books and didn't notice much about his techniques. Always a good thing for the reader and speaks volumes for the author's ability.

Stroud did leave the possibility of more books about Bartimaeus. He isn't vanquished and Kitty knows how to call him from The Other World. I hope that another trilogy is in the works.

Recommendation: Savor the finale of this series.

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Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Ranting about Sprint PCS

My husband got a new, better cell phone and plan when his contract expired. I weighed my options and discovered that if I canceled my Sprint PCS phone, I would save money by joining his plan with Alltel, even after the early termination fee was applied to my account.

So I found an excellent phone at Alltel that I really liked and switched to his plan. The next day I called Sprint, disconnect my phone, and confirmed my final bill amount.

The next month I received my email notice, like always. I attempted to logon, mainly to make sure that what they told me the final amount would be matched what the statement said. No dice. My log-in had been disabled.

I deleted the message, and figured that I would receive a paper statement.

I didn't. Earlier this month, I received a call from Sprint, asking when I was going to pay the final billing. My bill is outstanding by three months. I explained that I would be happy to make a payment if they could get me a bill.

So now I wait.

Really, should it be this difficult to get your bill?

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

The Golem's Eye by Jonathan Stroud

Title: The Golem's Eye

Author: Jonathan Stroud

Genre: Fantasy, second in a series

Summary: Nathaniel reneges on his promise to never summon Bartimeaus again when political pressures mount from the Resistance. Nathaniel is two years old, and has been appointed as the assistant to Internal Affairs. When he doesn't produce results fast enough, he summons Bartimeaus to bail him out again.

The Take-Away: Nathaniel turned from a likeable little kid to an obnoxious teenager. His political development is astounding; he plays office politics like a fiddle. Nathaniel even manages to annoy Bartimeaus. Given the number of masters he has known, annoying Bartimeaus is not an easy task.

My alliance shifted to Bartimeaus in this title. Nathaniel was sympathetic in the last book, but any redeeming quality he had then has vanished now. Three characters return, members of the Resistance with whom Nathaniel had brief run in last time. The story is also told from their point of view, and gives the reader a complete picture, along with the ability to put clues together faster than Nathaniel.

Recommendation: Start with Book One, The Amulet of Samarkand, and have Book Three, Ptolemy’s Gate, on hand.

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Monday, June 11, 2007

Wishing I was Teaching Still

Wisdom of Harry Potter author to offer fall college course

Students at Lawrence University in Wisconsin will be able to enroll in a course titled "Thinking about Harry Potter" next year. Edmund Kern, author of "Harry Potter: What Our Favorite Hero Teaches Us About Moral Choices," will teach the class.

Or maybe I should audit the class. I am just down the road from there.

Friday, June 08, 2007

Building with Kids

Summer days are great for playing in the park, walks and bicycle rides. But for those occasional rainy days, a new activity is needed.

I love open-ended play that building blocks bring. But when that's all the kids have been playing with, they need something new.

One of my favorite alternatives to building blocks is building with gum drops and toothpicks. No matter what the age range, everyone can jump in. Mom's and Dad's contributions are welcome too.

I got my supplies at a dollar store. A box of 1,500 toothpicks (enough for the kids and for the kitchen) and a bag of gum drops or spice drops were $1.00 each and supplied plenty of materials.

I start the session with a challenge. I make it easy enough for the youngest in the group. Some suggestions are

  • Can you make a square?
  • Can you make a triangle?
  • etc.

The next step is to expand and challenge the kids. Can you turn a square into a house? Or a cat? What about a horse? Mom and Dad can really be creative here. I recently built a soccer ball when my seven year old challenged me.

What are you waiting for? Get out the toothpicks and gum drops! Have fun.

Thursday, June 07, 2007

The Amulet of Samarkand by Jonathan Stroud

Title: The Amulet of Samarkand

Author: Jonathan Stroud

Genre: Fantasy, first in a series

Summary: Nathaniel, a young magician's apprentice, seeks not only revenge but also power beyond his assignment. To meet these ends, he summons Bartimaeus, a smart-mouthed djinni. (See his journal for a flavor.)

The Take-Away: Nathaniel immediately is over his head with Bartimaeus. It was great way to raise the stakes. Bartimaeus tells the story initial, in first person. My initial reaction was confused. I liked Bartimaeus, but he was the demon, and therefore the bad guy. I didn't want to like him.

And I was also wrong.

The rest of the story was told in the third person. The switches are entertaining and well done. The whole story couldn't be told from Bartimaeus' POV, and you'd miss his colorful language if it was all told in third.

By the end of the book, Nathaniel's character is starting to develop. He is sympathetic, but easily influenced by others. When he is assigned to a new master magician, you know he's going to take a turn, but you aren't quite sure what direction. Stroud effectively leaves you hanging for the next adventure while and more of the characters.

Recommendation: Get all three and read them back to back. You'll love the changes in Nathaniel.

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Wednesday, June 06, 2007

My Next House Will Be a Tree House

But I can't decide which one. TreeHouse Workshops has some really great ones. I'm leaning to this one, because of the staircase.

It would make a great writer's retreat. Now I just need a tree...

via J-Walk

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

The Thief Queen's Daughter by Elizabeth Haydon

Title: The Thief Queen's Daughter

Author: Elizabeth Haydon

Genre: Fantasy, second in series

Summary: A young Nain explorer, Ven Polypheme, begins his second quest at the king's request -- What is the history of an artifact inherited from the previous king? Ven's search starts in the Gated City, on Market Day. Will the mystery be solved before the day ends and Ven is trapped inside?

The Take-Away: As stated, this is a second in the series, but Haydon doesn't spend unnecessary time with the previous story. I didn't feel like I was missing out by not starting at the beginning. Ven's circle of friends must have been established in the first book, however, and it's a vast circle. The variety leads me to believe that this will be a longer series with good adventures.

The target audience is young adult, however, it has the feel to the book as the first Harry Potter titles did. Fun, adventurous, but easily developed into something more. This is a series I would keep my eye on, depending on how the stakes are raised in the next book.

One of my favorite characters was McLean, a StorySinger who knows the histories, songs and stories of various people of the land. His role is minor, but he is interesting. McLean is completely trustworthy; StorySinger take an oath to never lie. I'm hoping that this is a set-up for a future book.

Recommendation: Keep an eye out. This could have the same cross over effect that Harry Potter did, depending on how the series continues.

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Monday, June 04, 2007


A couple of writing friends and I have an informal group called "The Chocolate Cake Club." We are mostly a goal setting group with critiques upon request, discussion at random meetings, and cheerleaders at all times.

My goal last month was three hand written pages per day, or a total of 93 pages. As you can see by the progress bar below, I didn't meet that goal.

But those 93 pages weren't just to fill pages with words that would need to be edited out. No, those 93 pages were meant develop enough scenes that I would have a basic outline and direction of my book.

Typically, I write in a linear fashion; start at the beginning and continue to the end. But this time, the story was coming to me in scenes. I knew the chunks would work, and I could fill-in the missing bits after the scenes I knew about were complete.

It was a refreshing change. I enjoyed it. But I didn't accomplish my quantitative goal, but the story goal. Depending on how you count it, I either failed miserably or passed with flying colors.

Setting goals is good. I probably could have pounded out the other pages, and (most likely) tossed them out later. I achieved my goal, I believe, by using the three pages a day to motivate me to get my butt in the chair.

The good news is, The Chocolate Cake club agrees with me. Adjusting goals as you go is fine. The story goal should always take precedence over the quantitative goal. It's that quantitative goal that keeps your butt in the chair.

And when your butt is in the chair, your writing gets done.

Friday, June 01, 2007

Bookworm Report, May 2007

My allergies have kicked into high gear. I'm stuffy and sound like a frog. But I've been baking alot lately, and found some great new recipes. It's been nice to have a break from reviews, but I'll probably start again next month. I kinda miss it.

And I'm posting at Starting Write Now. Today's post -- My love of Series Characters.

Bookworm Review
Year Pages Books
2001 4,659 20
2002 1,517 5
2003 3,803 8
2004 3,977 11
2005 3,417 7
2006 3,340 10
2007 5,304 13

  • Pretties by Scott Westerfeld
  • The Witches' Hammer by Jane Stanton Hitchcock
  • Specials by Scott Westerfeld
  • A Breath of Snow and Ashes by Diana Gabaldon
  • Dead Witch Walking by Kim Harrison
  • The Book of Bright Ideas by Sandra Kring
  • Prep by Curtis Sittenfeld
  • Every Which Way But Dead by Kim Harrison
  • A Fistful of Charms by Kim Harrison
  • Send : the Essential Guide to Email for Office and Home by David Shippley and Will Schwalbe
  • Prep by Jake Coburn
  • The Thief Queen's Daughter by Elizabeth Haydon
  • It's Not You It's Me by Allison Rushby

For the year, I've read 64 books, or 22,645 pages, which averages to 13 books a month, or 4,529 pages per month, and an average book length of 354 pages.

What do you have planned for your summer?