The Survival of the Gingerbread Girl

My girls and I were looking forward to reading Illana Barran’s The Survival of the Gingerbread Girl since we had only read tales of a gingerbread male in the past.  We quickly huddled together on the couch once our copy arrived in the mail.

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The girls at once enjoyed looking at the colorful childlike drawings throughout.  The pop of colors, especially the shade of blue, scattered throughout the pages led the eye from one page to the next.

My oldest chose to read the book aloud to my youngest, but initially was having a difficult time finding a rhythm.  Since the title’s subtitle is “a Lullaby,” my oldest was hoping for some additional sheet music included at the end in order to read along to the author’s desired beat.

All three of us were more than pleased with the unexpected ending, and I will leave it at that in order to prevent a spoiler.

Having a love for baking, I was overjoyed to find the addition of two gingerbread-themed recipes in the back of the book.  So, I decided to try the Gingerbread Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Muffins.  Gathering my ingredients, though, I realized that there was no pumpkin required for the batter even though the title would assume otherwise.  Stumped, I reviewed the recipe again and again to ensure I was reading it correctly.  I then prepared one cupcake pan as the recipe claims to yield 8-12  muffins.  Twenty-seven muffins later, I had concluded my baking.  In addition, the recipe called for a cook time of 45 minutes, but hockey pucks I did not want.  My muffins were ready after 15-20 minutes and were quite tasty.

muffins

Overall, a good story with beautiful grammar, but the muffin recipe needs to be revised, and an addition of sheet music or hint to the melody as in “sung to the tune of . . .”  would be more than helpful.

Five Minute Friday: Forget

Forget.  This past week I filled in for the hub as an assistant to one amazeballs coach of my daughter’s basketball team.  The players were engaged and genuinely having the time of their lives.  One player begged for even more Ups and Downs (running of the stairs) after they had already completed Killers (line runs).  His enthusiasm was contagious, and I couldn’t help but join him in the running of the stairs.

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At the end of practice, the team scrimmaged.  Short a few players, Coach Sarah put me in, and I was pumped.  Running from one end of the court to the other seemed anything but work.  I wasn’t worried about counting my steps or wondering the number of calories I was burning;  I was plain and simple having fun.  With the busyness of life and adulthood, it’s easy to forget the joys of play.  Because of that one practice, I am planning a women’s basketball pick-up game in an effort not to ever forget again.  Thank you, Coach Sarah.

Standing in the Rainbow

When an avid reader and dear friend recommends a novel, her favorite one at that, I gladly agree to read the loaner.  In this case, Fannie Flagg’s Standing in the Rainbow does not disappoint.

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Following the lives of residents from the small town of Elmwood Springs, Missouri, through generations, the reader becomes emotionally engaged, and, in essence, a member of middle America.  Visualizing Bobby Smith, the only son of the Smith family, overcome his fear in order to climb the water tower as a young boy and his coming to the realization of his smallness in this vast universe offered the reader his raw humanity:

Could it really be possible that . . . [I] was nothing but just another small dot among a bunch of other small dots? . . . always thought . . . [I] was something different, something special.  Now . . . [I] was thrown for a complete loop.  (21)

Furthermore, reading of Bobby’s school work struggles which resulted in the repeat of sixth grade allowed me to bond with this young man, and I found myself silently cheering him on.  His eventual enlistment in the Korean War caused me great tension because I was so invested, fearful he may not return, so I proceeded slowly and with caution while reading as my buddy who had given me the loaner has probably been wondering when I was planning to return her novel.

Flagg writes with such humor as in her depiction of the Oatmans crammed in their car travelling cross country to their next singing gig.  With the older brothers and daughter, Betty Raye, in the back, and the chaos and noise from the front seat, the reader learns, “Chester the dummy was out of his box, yammering away at Ferris and complaining because Floyd had also wanted to stop at the gas station and get himself a cold Dr. Pepper”  (100).

Flagg, in her writing, is able to capture such a simpler time, bringing forth a sense of nostalgia for the reader.  When Bobby’s Cub Scout field trip is canceled due to rain, he is not bothered or unable to entertain himself.  Instead, he spends the day on the porch watching the rain and listening “to the sounds of the cars swishing up and down the wet streets” (102), no cell phone or computer needed.  Later, when his grandmother joins him on the porch, and he inquires about life when she was a child and whether she was bored with no electricity, movies, or radio,  Mother Smith explains, “We had books and we played games and sang and went to parties.  You know, you don’t miss what you don’t know”  (103).  This brought to mind my many weekends spent with my own grandparents feeding the geese, helping grind meat, and walking around their farmhouse in the ice and snow pretending I was on quite the explorer’s adventure.

Just a friendly suggestion, but towards the end of Standing in the Rainbow, be sure and keep the tissues within an arm’s reach.  As the reader concludes following roughly four decades of life, there is the inevitable end of life and reflection on what has been, what could have been, and what inevitably remains.  Thus, take the time to meet Tot, Macky, Neighbor Dorothy along with the other residents of Elmwood Springs and really listen to their stories.

Tricky Twenty-Two

You know your hub loves you when he comes home from a business trip bearing the latest novel in the Stephanie Plum series, Janet Evanovich’s Tricky Twenty-One.  Not even knowing Evanovich’s latest installment of Mmmmmorelli and Ranger was out, I was beyond elated.

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Always hoping Stephanie Plum, the protagonist of this series, makes a final choice between the two hotties in her life, I must continue to read until there is a resolution.  By book twenty-two, again, I was hoping for resolution, but (spoiler alert!) I’m not convinced with the “finality.”  I wonder how many more I have to read until I finally, once and for all, know with whom Plum chooses.

Entertaining as always with a mystery and much humor involving Grandma Mazur and Lula, for the love of humanity, please Evanovich put an end to my desire to know:  Ranger or Morelli?

The Invention of Hugo Cabret

As mentioned earlier, my youngest is hooked on Brian Selznick novels.  So, I went to the library and picked up Selznick’s The Invention of Hugo Cabret, winner of The Caldecott Medal in 2008.  After she finished reading The Invention of Huge Cabret, she passed it on to me so that we could then watch the movie, Hugo Cabret together.

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Again, Selznick’s drawings do not disappoint, but help draw me into the story.  What differs in this book than from Wonderstruck is how the drawings follow the plot versus the pictures creating a storyline of their own.

What I appreciate is how Selznick weaves historical truth into his fiction, so I learned a great deal about early films and specifically about Georges Melies and his collection of automata.

More than anything, though, is my joy at how these novels mesmerize my seven-year-old reader.  In fact, tomorrow I am being sent back to the library in order to find more Selznick novels.

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Although hesitant at first to watch the movie Hugo Cabret due to a friend saying how scary it was when Hugo turns into a robot (spoiler alert: it was a dream), my seven-year-old and I snuggled and watched with much anticipation.  We enjoyed how the majority of the movie followed the book, but felt bad when we realized Etienne never made an appearance.  Personally, I preferred the overall pace of the movie as compared to the book, but as always, I do believe the book was better.

Five Minute Friday: Dwell

Dwell.  When I think of the word dwell, what immediately comes to mind is Dwell Magazine, an American magazine which explores the interiors and exteriors of modern design.  The glossy pictures within this magazine show clean lines and a place for everything, and while reading, I think how soothing it must be living in such an existence.

Then, I peer over the pages of the magazine and see a game of Monopoly in mid-play strewn all over the game table in our family room.  I see a shredded bra and socks lying on the floor which our adorable Labrador Retriever fetched from the dirty clothes.  I see dining room chairs splattered with grape juice stains, children’s artwork strung across the fireplace, and deep scratches in the hardwood where the girls rode their Plasma Cars in circles time and time again.

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I think to my myself;  I wouldn’t want it any other wayDwell.

Does Anyone Revise Anymore?

I read a lot of books and magazines, many of which are self-published.  As I have always told my students and my own children, you can always glean something from a work, even one in which you do not particularly care for, one which does not immediately engross you and cause you to stay up at all  hours of the night.

You are probably thinking, “Why would I continue reading said work which does not capture my attention?”  The answer is simple . . . a reader, in my opinion, learns more about himself or herself by acknowledging what calls to him or her within the pages and, in the same manner, what deters one’s reading.

For me, spelling errors and grammatical errors make me wince which, in turn, leads to heart palpitations.  The rules set in place for proper grammar and spelling are black and white much like mathematics.  So, if in doubt, simply check the rule out . . .  Years ago, I would say, “Look it up in a dictionary, make use of a thesaurus, have a quality grammar book handy (I still have the edition my dad used years ago as a young student), and most importantly, revise.”  Now I say, “Google it!”  At the very least and for the love of humanity, “Google it already!”

So, with the ease of the use of Google, why don’t people take the time to revise in order to present the cleanest copy possible?  I find myself often curled into a metaphorical fetal position asking the question, “Why?” over and over again, much like Nancy Kerrigan did after being struck in the knee by a tire iron, after reading an error-riddled work.

I recently purchased Life’s 100 Women Who Changed the World.  Thinking this would be an excellent resource for use with my Girl Scouts promoting the ideal Girls Can Do Anything, I was anxious to preview this work and had high expectations based on the reputation of the magazine alone.

Thus, I was horrified to read about Impressionist painter Mary Cassat’s “1800 self-portrait” (35) when she was not born until 1844.  In addition, I was surprised to learn Amelia Earhart disappeared “July 3, 1937 . . . over the Pacific” (59), but according to Life did not die until 1939.  How is this possible?  Did someone (gasp) fail to revise?

What I do know is that I will continue to revise and continue advocating for revision in all writing, a feat which can be accomplished by all.  We may not all have the physical capabilities to be a professional basketball player or the intellectual prowess to research a cure for cancer, but every one of us has within us the power to revise.

This Is Why People Don’t Volunteer

. . . or at least one of the reasons.*  When people volunteer, instead of thanking these volunteers, people complain.  This Christmas season I was sure to thank my volleyball co-coach, Girl Scout co-leader, my girls’ teachers, and the school security team (especially in this day and age).  When my best friend and I facilitated various children’s religious classes, we were sure to thank parents for being so supportive and for making sure their kiddos attended the classes.  When  a friend stepped up at a recent Girl Scout meeting and showed close to 30 girls how to bake stuffed croissants, I thanked her.  I wanted her to know her value to my co-leader and myself as well as our appreciation.  When a woman blessing at our church took on the task of organizing a women’s conference, not once, but twice, I thanked her.  She did not have to partake in such an endeavor, but she did this out of her kindness for others and her willingness to create memorable experiences for others.

My point here is that there are endless chances to thank others, others who may never have been thanked before for their service, time, and effort.  Think about this, never been thanked before, not ever.  So, if you are bored, thank someone.  If you are depressed, thank someone.  If you are feeling lonely, thank someone.  If you are on Cloud 9, thank someone.  If you are frustrated, find someone . . . anyone to thank.  Have you thanked your postwoman or postman?  Have you thanked those who haul away your garbage?  Have you thanked the pediatrician who heals your kiddos?  Have you thanked the rescue where you found the latest member of your family (no matter how many pillows your new pet has destroyed)?  Have you thanked the faithful readers of your blog?  The friends you consider family?  The neighbor who gifts you with her coupons every week?  The people who feed your children day after day in school?  The children who allow you to experience childhood the way it should be experienced?

You could change another human being’s outlook if only for an instant, and this person may then decide to pay it forward.  Wouldn’t this world be a much better place if everyone took the time to thank AT LEAST one individual a day?

Who is that one person you are going to thank today?  C’mon, you can do it!

*This post is dedicated to my WalMart cashier who said she sends in cookies instead of cupcakes for her daughter’s school parties so that her daughter can manage the cookies on the bus.  She said she’s afraid if she sent cupcakes she would have to walk them into the school and stay and volunteer.

An Extra Cheesy Thanksgiving?

Watching my girls’ anticipation of Thanksgiving makes me think of my own Thanksgiving experiences while a child.  I cannot remember a Thanksgiving where my parents were married as they divorced when I was eight.  I can remember the years my dad drove my sister and me to Jackson, Mississippi, for a yearly celebration with my paternal grandma, Zella.  Zella (one of the coolest names I have ever heard to this day) lived with her sister Irene and several little dogs who liked to bite at each other and our dog, Cleo.  Charlie, a Lhaso Apso, I recall as being the worst of the pack.

Every year we would eat the Thanksgiving meal at Cousin Lou’s, Irene’s daughter’s house.  She was a nurse and quite the creative soul.  There were usually piles of projects stacked around the house with one year clay jewelry being her interest of choice.  That year she gave me an emerald green glazed medallion with my name carved on the front which hung from a black velvet rope.  I wore that necklace with much pride for years as it was difficult to find any items with “Courtney” engraved on them, and I now wonder whatever happened to it.

The counters in Cousin Lou’s kitchen were always overflowing with food, but I was a picky eater, so I usually only ate the mashed potatoes and yeasty rolls with butter all the while anticipating dessert and the return to my grandma’s house.  Since we only saw Cousin Lou and her much older children once a year, I did not know anyone while my extreme shyness did not help the situation.

Cousin Lou had three sons and a daughter.  At one point her younger sons became addicted to drugs and robbed my grandmother and great aunt’s house.  My grandmother and great aunt have since passed, and the last time I saw Cousin Lou was when she came to say a final good-bye to my dad when he was dying from cancer.

After my dad remarried, I went solo with him and his wife one Thanksgiving to my stepmother’s brother’s house.  He and his wife at the time were artistic, and as I think back, had an interesting house filled with colorful creative pieces.  I believe my dad was dreading the idea of having to go to their house from the start.  When we arrived, the house was full of people, but the turkey had yet to be put into the oven which meant we would not be eating for several hours.  My dad pulled my stepmother aside, and I overheard him say, “You set me up!”

Within the hour we were driving the streets of St. Louis looking for an open restaurant in which to eat our Thanksgiving meal.  Finding a Pantera’s we ordered pizza, and I ate while they sat in silence.  This, without a doubt, was my most mouth-watering childhood Thanksgiving dinner complete with extra cheese.

Now as an adult, my heart swells at my children’s joy as Thanksgiving nears.  They embrace the stability of a meal comprised of their favorites (as they compose the menu) year after year seated next to their mom and dad.  On this Thanksgiving I wish you and yours a blessed Thanksgiving filled to the brim with much gratitude and, perhaps, some extra cheese.

Use Your Words for the Better Good

The other day I was discussing with my longtime loyal friend the lack of filters people seem to have when they speak to others with no thought to feelings or lasting repercussions of their words.  Words, I believe, should be utilized to build people up, encourage them, and make a difference in a positive manner.  Thus, a FREE means of making a difference in the world in which all people are capable of participating. . . amazing.  So, why such a lack of membership in such a tangible fraternity?

In discussions with my class over the social media Yik Yak, they were explaining how the posts were anonymous and typically negative in nature.  My response was, “Sounds as if people have too much time on their hands,” and “This could be a phenomenal medium used to encourage and praise,” without any need for author recognition.  So, why do people, regardless of age, use their words to bully others?

Believe me, I have been a victim of verbal bullying on more than one occasion as simply a human being, but also as a volunteer leader, volunteer coach, and volunteer teacher.  While informally researching this post, I talked with my salt-of-the-earth friends who never hesitate when it comes to donating their time and talents for others.  One friend told of how she and her husband were accused by a parent of bullying their child during a summer softball season.  This is the same woman who drove 3 1/2 hours with two young girls and a newborn to surprise me on my birthday and then turn around and drive 3 1/2 hours back that same evening.  Another mentioned a complaint by a parent when she cancelled a preschool soccer practice due to rain, and she responded with a reminder, “These kids are not training for the Olympics.”  A further woman blessing whom mentored me my first year of coaching over fifteen years ago advised of closed practices as a means of eliminating parental harassment from the sidelines, and she was oh so right.  It is no wonder people look away when asked to volunteer.  Yet, one rarely sees those who complain or critique stepping forward to answer the need for volunteers.  Brian Gotta wrote a Letter from a Coach which eloquently explains this phenomena.

I have had parents suggest I plan field trips and then fail to show with their child.  I have had parents complain about their child’s playing time, but then arrive for the games with player in tow late, time and time again.

This longtime loyal friend of mine who sat for hours in the waiting room with my husband while doctors removed my breasts, who allowed me to trim her hair after school in her classroom, who demanded I participate despite a carbuncle growing on my eyelid, who has been my voice of reason for over fifteen years, who uses her words for the better good ended our conversation with, “Sometimes I see all the mean and negative ways people act and wonder how much society disappoints God.”