Friday, March 30, 2012

Visaprint Helps You Create Affordable Personalized Holiday Gifts



I’ve used Vistaprint for years for everything from business cards to calendars to notepads. What I love best about them is that with a few clicks, I can create customized products that fit perfectly into my lifestyle.

As our family has grown, my life has gotten more hectic. I don’t always have the time to visit the mall to buy gifts. I don’t, however, want to resort to gift cards all the time. This is where Vistaprint comes in. They have great holiday gifts you can put together in a jiffy. From t-shirts and mugs to tote bags and key chains, you can use your digital photos to create special mementos for family and friends. I’m partial to creating calendars for the girls’ grandparents. I go for either a desk calendar so they can see it when they are working or a calendar magnet, which they place on their refrigerator so they can see it throughout the day.

Holiday gifts from Vistaprint are affordable and fun to make. You can choose one of their designs or create your own. You can also create matching products to make a gift set. Visit Vistaprint today to get started.

This post brought to you by Vistaprint – Make an impression.

Free for All Friday - Michaela MacColl Giveaway



Free for All Friday is back. Today features another great giveaway. Lately they've been books, but I'm on the lookout for some other products for next month.

This week the prize is two books from Michaela MacColl. I was given these books as thanks for hosting the author at my children's book blog. MacColl's website says she writes "Modern Historical Fiction for Teens and Young Readers." I'm all for getting these ages groups into historical fiction.

The first book is Prisoners in the Palace. Here's the blurb from the author's website:

Young Elizabeth Hastings knows about suffering. At seventeen, she has lost her family, her home and her future. In desperation, she takes a position at Kensington Palace working for the sixteen year old Princess Victoria. But nothing is as it seems at the palace. The heir to the throne is practically a prisoner. A mother schemes against her daughter. Sir John Conroy, a man with no power or connections, is playing for the ultimate prize. And the servants - they know everything of course!

Liza's journey will take her through the bowels of the Palace and to the deepest slums of London. She'll learn about the power of the press and the attractions of one particular newspaperman. How far will Liza have to go to restore her fortune and put the Princess Victoria on the throne? Will she find independence and romance or find herself a prisoner in the palace, too?

The second book is Promise the Night:

Immediately compelling and action-packed, this carefully researched work of historical fiction introduces young readers to the childhood of the famous yet elusive Beryl Markham, the first person to fly solo from England to North America. As in her debut novel, Prisoners in the Palace, MacColl propels readers into a multilayered story with an unforgettable heroine and evocative language that brings the backdrop of colonial British East Africa to life. A fascinating read for anyone with a thirst for adventure.

Use the Rafflecopter form below to enter.  Good luck!

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Getting Ready for the Growing Season with Burpee


The raised beds for the garden came in on Monday, so now my mind is focused on what is going in those beds. Handled correctly, you can plant a significant amount of food.

Whenever I think of seeds, I think of Burpee®. In the years we've been in the house, I've never been disappointed with the seeds I've gotten from them. I receive their emails, so I am thrilled to learn of the great sales they run. Today's offer allows you to save 10% on tomato and pepper cages and supports. Promo code: FLW86 is good until midnight on March 30, 2012. I don't plant a lot of tomatoes, but I usually have two plants. The only spaghetti sauce my husband likes is the one I make from scratch, so I don't mind having a plentiful harvest, and then freezing the sauce.

I also learn about new plants and flowers in my newsletters; and while I don't usually have time for it, Burpee's Backyard is an online community of garden lovers for those who like to chat and share with each other.

The Lil Diva (10) has her selection of seeds all set. Now the Lil Princess (8) and I need to get moving before all the good ones are gone.

What are you planting this year?

Residential Address Plaques Add Curb Appeal


I have long admired residential address plaques as a way to add instant curb appeal to your home. Whether attached to your house, mounted on the lawn, adhered to a mailbox or hanging from a lamppost, a custom address plaque will be admired by many, while making it easy for everyone to find your home.

We live at the end of a cul-de-sac. Our house is 140 feet from the road, so not many people can read our house number. I put small reflective numbers on the mailbox, but they are easily missed. How nice it would be to have an address plaque in the flower bed along our curb to increase visibility and add an elegant touch.



I thought this illuminated oak leaf arch address plaque would be a lovely choice. This Whitehall address plaque features durable recycled cast aluminum, making it lightweight and durable. It is also rust and maintenance free. An internal light sensor automatically turns the plaque on at dusk and off at dawn. The Illuminator is painted with a UV protected paint that makes it scratch and chip resistant. This also means it won’t fade. Available as a wall mount or lawn mount, it comes in five beautiful finishes to match any home.

Looking for more than one line? Whitehall address plaques come in one, two, three and four line options. With more than 65 years of providing homeowners with original designs, you’re certain to find just the piece you’re looking for. Think of all the compliments you'll get when friends see a custom address plaque adorning your home, mailbox or lawn.


This post sponsored by JustAddressPlaques.com.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

WSJ Wednesdays - Leftovers


All my thoughts about self-sufficiency and reducing waste drew me to this article about leftovers in the Wednesday, March 21, 2012 edition of The Wall Street Journal. According to journalist, Sarah Nassauer, high food prices cause guilt over throwing food away, but making the leftovers disappear can be a challenge.

Based upon researchers' estimates, the average American family of four spends $500 to $2000 on food they never eat. Wow! That surprised me; though it shouldn't when I consider some of the left over food I've tossed.

Produce was always a big money waster for us. Even though I toss old fruits and vegetables in the compost bin, I still feel it's a waste of money to buy produce and never eat it. I've tried freezing berries, but my husband tends not to like the texture once they are defrosted. Mentioned in the article is Rubbermaid’s® Produce Saver--which we use at home. It's said to keep, "fruits and vegetables fresh and crisp for up to 33% longer." I would definitely recommend it.



Nassauer's article states that Brian Wansink, professor of marketing at Cornell University's Charles H. Dyson School of Applied Economics and Management claims when you shop without a well-researched grocery list, shoppers overbuy. I can't shop without my list, but I have to admit, I often buy things not on the list. Shoppers buying in bulk can also create waste. According to a 2009 report from the Waste & Resources Action Programme in the U.K., just over half of avoidable food and drink waste happens as a result of products not being used in time. The article states that in America, confusion over "sell-by" dates and concern over food-borne illness also leads to waste.

What I like about this article is that it provides tips on how to deal with leftovers and also explains what food dates mean.

The other thing that brought this topic to mind is the Nickleback song, "When We Stand Together." It truly puts our waste in perspective:

"When we could feed a starving world,
With what we throw away.
But all we serve are empty words,
That always taste the same."

I'm usually the leftover eater at our house; and thankfully, I love cooking, so if we eat out three times a month, that's a lot for us.

How do you handle leftovers? Do you have any tips to share?

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

We Lived in Heaven by Sarah Hinze Giveaway at Linda Weaver Clarke's Blog




Blog: Linda Weaver Clarke’s A Family Friendly Blog

Title of book: We Lived in Heaven

Author of book: Sarah Hinze

Genre: Christian Non-fiction

Open to: U.S. and Canada

Giveaway Dates: March 26 – April 2

Spring Cleaning Giveaway Hop Winner!



Congratulations goes out to Caitlin, who won the children's book pack offered during the Spring Cleaning Giveaway Hop. I have emailed the winner. She has 72 hours to provide a mailing address before I select a new winner.

Thanks to all who participated. Please check out our giveaways page to see what else we are giving away.

Mean to Be Series Giveaway Winner!



Congratulations goes out to Elisha G. our winner the Meant to Be series by Richard Alan. I've contacted the winner by email. She has 72 hours to respond with her mailing address before I select a new winner.

Thanks to all who participated. Check out our Giveaways page to see what other giveaways are running.

Monday, March 26, 2012

You've Got Mail Mondays



It's that time again. Time to peek into my mailbox. I try to head off the mail before my hubby sees what's inside. That way he doesn't know how many books are arriving.  I think he might beginning to wonder if books are more exciting to me than he is.  Okay, that's a joke, but I do get a lot of mail.

Last week, two books made their way here:  Super Luke Faces His Bully by Dr. Jackie C. Cogswell and Pearls of Wisdom: 30 Inspirational Ideas to Live Your Best Life Now! by Jack Canfield et al. I am coordinating the virtual book tour for Dr. Cogswell and participating in the blog tour for the other book.


Some great catalogs arrived last week too.  Gardner's Supply Company is offering a chance to win a $1,000 Dream Garden gift card. Details appear on their website. I'm thinking a customizable soaker hose system might be the way to go this year with the raised beds. I'll have to see what the budget looks like once I get all the seeds and raised beds put in.

The Pottery Barn Kids catalog showed up at the end of the week. I'm looking for new seating for the girls in the family room. I'm wondering if their Anywhere Chairs would be a good choice. When the girls were little, we had those fold out character couches. Then we graduated to bean bag chairs--which while comfortable, aren't easy to store or get around in our family room. The problem is we have a couch and a love seat, but the way the floor plan is laid out, it would be better to have a couch and a chair. That would give us more room to add seating for the girls. Looks like I'll be rearranging furniture soon.

I also received a package from Christian Book Distributors. I did some early Mother's Day shopping for my mother-in-law, and picked up a Veggie Tales DVD for the Sunday school kids. Christianbook.com is currently running a Spring Fever sale with prices up to 96% off.

That is it for this week. Hope your mailbox was filled with fun stuff too.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Movie Review: Geek Charming (2011)


Film geek Josh Rosen (Matt Prokop) is looking for a project that will help him win the Woodlands Academy 10th Annual Film Festival. When he rescues popular girl Dylan Schoenfield's (Sarah Hyland) Serge Sanchez bag from a fountain, Josh convinces her to let him film her for his documentary on high school popularity. As they get to know each other, Dylan realizes nerds can be cool sometimes, and Josh discovers there is way more to his subject than good looks and designer shoes.

The Lil Princess (8) and I watched Geek Charming when it originally aired on the Disney Channel. Now available on DVD, this movie breaks down the barriers created by stereotypes.

Dylan seems to have it all. She's rich, popular, and has the coolest boyfriend at Los Angeles Woodlands Academy. Most of the school doesn't know or care how much she misses her deceased mother, or have a clue to the real reason she wants to win the Fall Formal Blossom Queen crown. Dylan and her A-List friends have made assumptions about Josh and his film geek friends too. They are so uncool, they can't even eat in the same section of the cafeteria as the popular kids.

What is also great about this movie is it teaches kids about knowing who your real friends are. They aren't always who you imagine them to be.

The ending of Geek Charming is superb. It's a funny family movie with talented actors who bring these characters to life. The DVD also includes 10 bonus episodes of the Disney hit show, Shake It Up.

Format: Closed-captioned, Color, Dolby, Dubbed, DVD, Subtitled, Widescreen
Language: English
Subtitles: English, French, Spanish
Region: Region 1 (U.S. and Canada only.)
Aspect Ratio: 1.77:1
Number of discs: 2
Rated: G (General Audience)
Studio: Walt Disney Video
DVD Release Date: February 7, 2012
Run Time: 90 minutes
SRP: $26.99

This review is based upon seeing the movie on TV. I received no monetary compensation for this review.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Stainless Steel Fire Pit is Attractive and Sturdy


I have wanted a fire pit for years. Many of our neighbors have them. Not only are fire pits attractive, they help you extend your outdoor entertainment season. Early spring and late fall can be cool in New England, but with a fire pit, you can snuggle around, enjoy S ‘mores or cocktails, and still be comfortable.

This stainless steel Cocktail Fire Pit by Fire Sense is attractive and sturdy. The 30” hand-hammered stainless steel fire bowl sits in a decorative black steel base. This is complemented by a domed high temperature black powder coated fire screen. Also included is a screen lift tool and wood grate.

You’ll be ready to entertain long into the night with such an attractive fire pit to sit around.

PoolGear Plus® reminds you it is not recommended to use this fire pit on a wooden or other combustible surface or on any surface that is not entirely resistant to high heat. However, if you intend to use this fire pit on a wooden deck or other combustible surface or on any surface that is not entirely resistant to high heat, you must use a non-flammable and heat-resistant material such as concrete pavers, brick, or stone between the fire pit and the surface.

You can visit PoolGear Plus online at www.poolgear.com. They are the fastest-growing catalog and Internet company in the US.


This post sponsored by PoolGear Plus.

Free for All Friday: Special Delivery by Kathi Macias Giveaway



It's time for another Free for All Friday. Today we are running a giveaway for a paperback copy of Special Delivery. This is the second book in Kathi Macias's Freedom series, which tackles the issue of human trafficking.


In book two of the “Freedom” series, readers find Mara fighting against her attraction to Bible college student Jonathan Flannery, even while wrestling with risking her own precarious safety to become involved in the rescue of another girl who is pregnant and desperately wants to escape her captors and save her own life, as well as her child’s.

Halfway around the world in a brothel in Thailand, a young girl named Lawan is rescued with the promise of being reunited with her little sister who was adopted by an interracial couple in the States, friends of Jonathan’s family.

Meanwhile, Jefe—Mara’s uncle, who held her as a sex slave in his brothel in San Diego for years—seeks revenge for Mara’s testimony that put him behind bars for life. Will his underworld connections be successful in kidnapping and killing the girl who believes she has finally won her freedom?

Read an excerpt!

Prologue

It was good to be back in San Diego, though Mara made it a point to avoid going anywhere near the area where she’d once lived as a modern-day slave. The memories were too ugly, and she did everything possible to block them out. When the topic came up—which it did all too often these days, as the general public became more aware of its prevalence—Mara immediately changed the subject or walked away. It was an evil best left for others to combat.
The early summer sun shone warm on her dark hair, cut short now in a modern style that complimented her dainty features and accentuated her large hazel eyes. Her good looks and trim figure often drew whistles and comments, but she ignored them all. Having a man in her life didn’t even rate at the bottom of her priority list.
Mara closed her eyes and let the mild breeze toss her hair and caress her skin. There was nothing she liked better than coming to the beach and finding a deserted spot to sit and listen to the waves rush in and break on the packed, wet sand. It was nearly impossible to find such a private place on the weekends, but this was mid-morning on Monday, and the place wouldn’t start filling up until closer to lunchtime. By then she’d be at work.
She smiled at the thought of her new job. She was a waitress now, making enough in wages and tips to rent a room and meet her basic needs. Though she’d taken advantage of UI benefits, specifically designed to help people from other countries who had been victims of crime while in the United States, it had still taken her nearly two years to get all the necessary paperwork cleared so she could not only come to the States legally but do so as a U.S. citizen. But she’d been persistent, determined to leave her homeland of Mexico, with all its violence and corruption and poverty, behind. Even with all that had happened to her here in Southern California during her youth, she knew that America held more promise for her than the country of her birth. And besides, what did she have to hold her there? It was her parents who had sold her into slavery, and her own uncle, her tio, who had stolen her innocence, held her captive, and served as her pimp until at last he was captured and sent to prison. So far as she was concerned, her family was dead to her. She had no desire ever to see any of them again.
Mara opened her eyes and watched a tanned, bathing-suit clad couple stroll along the sand in front of her, the waves lapping at their bare feet. Arms wrapped around one another’s waist, they seemed oblivious to anything or anyone else, talking and laughing together as if they were the only human beings on earth. The thought skittered through Mara’s mind that she might have a relationship like that one day, but just as quickly she excised it from her realm of possibility. At barely twenty years old, she’d already had enough of the male population to last her for several lifetimes.
Affirming that thought with a quick nod of her head, she grabbed the towel she’d been sitting on and stood to her feet. She didn’t have a car yet, but it was only a ten-minute walk to the seafood cafĂ© where she was now employed.
Gainfully and respectably employed, she reminded herself. Tio used to tell me I’d never be anything but a prostitute, and that he’d kill me before he’d let me leave. But look at me now—free as a bird while he rots in prison. Maybe there really is a God after all….

Read the reviews!

Kathi Macias draws us into the world of sex trafficking, showing how it sometimes, believe it or not, is right under our noses—in our own communities. She sheds a bright spotlight on the emotional and spiritual effects of not only the victims but those called by God to help victims and be a source of deliverance to them. A timely book.
~C. S. Lakin, author of Someone to Blame

In Special Delivery, Kathi Macias explores the troubling realities of human trafficking in a powerful and emotional new novel that puts a face on the women and children involved in this all-too-real world.
Lisa Harris, author of Blood Covenant, a Christy Award Finalist


Special Delivery by Kathi Macias handles a tough subject with compassion and an intriguing story that sweeps you from the United States to Thailand. The three-dimensional characters make you care what happens to them in this hard to put down book.
Margaret Daley, ACFW President and author of Saving Hope


Special Delivery continues Kathi Macias' important and captivating series dealing with human trafficking and sexual slavery in which she highlights the reality and inhumanity of a very real world issue. As a survivor of long-term childhood sexual abuse, I have a small sense of what these "slaves" suffer and I applaud Kathi for her willingness to tackle this topic, enlighten readers with truth, and offer the hope of our Rescuer and Healer, Jesus Christ. Thank you, Kathi!
Ginny L. Yttrup
Author of Words and Lost and Found

Kathi Macias really cares about the victims of sex trafficking. If you didn’t know that before, you will after reading Special Delivery. Interwoven stories from Thailand to Mexico to the USA show the horrific plight of girls caught up in this vicious web. Their combined story is sure to move your heart.
Kay Marshall Strom
Award-winning author of 40 books, including two fiction series: Grace in Africa and Blessings in India.



Enter for your chance to win a copy of this powerful book using the Rafflecopter form below.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

TV Show Review: Father Murphy, Season 2


When we left Father Murphy at the end of Season 1, the residents at Gold Hill were embarking upon new adventures. With John Murphy (Merlin Olsen) and schoolmarm, Mae Woodward (Katherine Cannon), now man and wife, and legal guardians to all the children at Gold Hill, there are due to be some ups and downs.


In these 13 unforgettable episodes, families can enjoy the love of family that is destined to win out against the trials of frontier life.

At the opening of Season 2, our favorite characters--Murphy, Mae, and their friend Moses Gage (Moses Gunn)--find life changing. Gage experiences a bout of jealousy when the children want to make special presents for Murphy on Father's Day. Gold Hill opens its doors and hearts to an angry young boy who has gotten expelled from school. Will runs away after the birth of Murphy and Mae's baby girl. Eli, David and Ephram (Scott Mellini) send away for a mail-order bride for Moses, hoping he'll be happy like the Murphys.

Despite winning awards and receiving multiple nominations during its two season run, Father Murphy  was cancelled. Having watched both seasons after more than 20 years of the show being off the air, and considering Little House on the Prairie (LHOP) was still on the air at that time--even if it was at the tail end of its run--I can see why Father Murphy didn't make it. While the acting was superb, how much frontier family drama did viewers in the early 80's want? It didn't have a TV sweetheart like Melissa Gilbert to be the focus of the series. While Will Adams (Timothy Gibbs) definitely had talent and has successfully transitioned into an acting adult, he didn't grow on viewers the way Gilbert did.  I think part of that is because the relationship between Murphy and Will is very different from the one between Charles Ingalls and his daughter, Laura. There wasn't as much crying in Father Murphy. I only mention that because so many LHOP fans talk about the tear-jerking episodes of this classic family television show. The characters in Father Murphy also weren't seen in church all the time.

As I said in my review of Season 1, Father Murphy  was an edgier version of Little House on the Prairie. Murphy was a very different father figure than Charles Ingalls, even though they had some of the same traits. If the show had aired after LHOP was cancelled, I wonder if it would have been more successful. The Young Pioneers Christmas, which is based upon a book written by Rose Wilder Lane, spurred a short-lived series in 1978 titled, The Young Pioneers. Maybe the family western drama was dying out in the late 70's and early 80's, but LHOP being on the air may have impacted those shows. Dr. Quinn Medicine Woman starring Jane Seymour and Joe Lando ran for six seasons and two movies, starting in 1993. I believe it was the only frontier family series on during that time.

For whatever reason, Father Murphy didn't catch on. It's definitely better TV than what is on today, but at the time, it didn't make the cut. Merlin Olsen and Moses Gunn are both gone now. Katherine Cannon has retired from acting, as have many of the child stars from the series. James Cromwell, who guest starred on Little House on the Prairie and Father Murphy, is perhaps one of the biggest names connected with show. Other notable guests include: Shannen Doherty, Christina Applegate, Tina Yothers, Eddie Quinlan, and Kellie Martin.



  • Format: Box set, Closed-captioned, Color, Dolby, DVD, Full Screen, NTSC 


  • Language: English 


  • Region: Region 1 (U.S. and Canada only.)


  • Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1 


  • Number of discs:


  • Rated: NR (Not Rated) 


  • Studio: Image Entertainment 


  • DVD Release Date: January 25, 2005 


  • Run Time: 624 minutes


  • Limited availability through eBay and Amazon sellers.


  • I purchased Season 2 of this series through an Amazon seller last year. I received no monetary compensation for this review.

    Clearing Out Magazine Clutter



    I am a magazine and newspaper article hog. There, I admitted it. I save magazines I might get to read one day; magazines I see a cute craft idea or home decorating project in; and newspaper articles I find interesting.

    At this point, I don't subscribe to any magazines. I get a gardening magazine as part of my lifetime gardening club membership, but other than that, the only magazines that come into this house are ones I buy infrequently at the grocery store. My magazine pile, however, is rarely less than knee high. I toss my catalogs in that pile too, but still, it's a bit much for that corner of the kitchen.

    This morning, I pulled out all my magazines and catalogs from the rack. I immediately sent any old catalogs to the recycling bin, which included at least seven American Girl ones. I decided I would keep all my gardening ones--they are free after all--and my Thriving Family magazines that come from Focus on the Family. The rest of the magazines I spent a half hour going through, pulling out craft ideas, indoor and outdoor games I might use for Vacation Bible School this summer, and a few interesting articles. I don't clip recipes anymore. I have a mountain of cookbooks, and after more than a decade together, I've realized my family is made up of creatures of habit. I have a few staple dishes that appear each week, and even when I make a new dish, I use many of the same ingredients I have on hand. I'm not about to shop for recipe specific ingredients I might never use again.

    When all was said and done, my knee high pile was closer to mid-calf and I had a 1/2 inch pile of clipped articles saved from the mountain of magazines I discarded into the recycling bin. These clippings go into files that I keep in my office cabinet so I can find them easily when I need them.

    Magazine clutter doesn't have to take over one corner of your house. By going through it regularly, you can stay on top of it and still keep what you need.

    How do you deal with magazine clutter?

    Wednesday, March 21, 2012

    WSJ Wednesdays: Thanks to E-Readers, Women Can Hide What They Read


    Every once in a while, you read a news story and it makes you chuckle. Such was the case when I read, "Books Women Read When No One Can See the Cover," by Katherine Rosman. This article appeared in the Wednesday, March 14, 2012 edition of The Wall Street Journal.

    According to Rosman, the privacy provided by electronic readers has resulted in a boom in sales of sexy romance novels (romantica). I have to admit, I hadn't heard the term "romantica" until this article. Shows you how much I follow what's going on in the romance genre. Rosman says these novels contain the love story and pop culture references found in "chick lit," but they contain a lot of s-e-x. Unlike erotic novels, however, they always have a happily ever after.

    A married mother from Florida, who was interviewed for this article, reads 10 to 15 books a week, with about half of those books being erotic titles. She says she wouldn't read these books if they were in print because some of the covers are explicit.

    The ease of downloading is also said to be a factor in the growth of erotic titles. Rosman says romance fans were some of the early adopters of e-reading. Kelly Gallagher, vice president of Bowker Market Research, states nearly 40% of all new romance books purchased are in digital form. I didn't find that to be a huge surprise. At this point, my digital book TBR collection surpasses the number of printed books I have to review.

    What the article does not address is the sheer number of free digital titles available. I subscribe to a site that lists free digital titles on a daily basis. It certainly has helped to grow my book collection. As an author, free titles concern me. As a reader, I love them. The romance genre appears quite often in the lists of free titles I receive. How does this skew the numbers? I don't know, but I can say there are more free titles available than I could ever hope to read. I literally never need to buy another book again.

    Do you find yourself reading more romance novels thanks to your device? Are you willing to explore genres you haven't in the past thanks to the privacy your e-reader provides?

    I realize this isn't exactly a family friendly topic, but the women interviewed for this article are moms. I also happen to be a curious gal who enjoys seeking the opinions of others on a variety of topics. That's how WSJ Journal Wednesdays got started. Hope you enjoyed this post.

    Book Spotlight: Little Did I Know by Mitchell Maxwell

    Here is the story of an unforgettable summer. Set in Plymouth, MA in the late seventies, Little Did I Know is the tale of a young man with an outsized dream ? to refurbish a dilapidated but historic theater and produce a season’s worth of vibrant musicals. A recent college graduate, he fills his cast and crew with people he has come to love and trust in his university life, and with others whose talents and personalities prove undeniable. Yet, while the productions drive his ambitions, a local woman drives his passions, and their romance is fateful, star-crossed, and ultimately more than either of them expected. Told with with, compassion, and the kind of insider’s access to the theater that only someone like Mitchell Maxwell can provide, Little Did I Know is a novel about coming of age in the spotlight and embracing one’s entire future in a single season.


    Read an excerpt!

    I drove south on route 3 toward Plymouth. It was yet another perfect New England evening, more midsummer than late spring. I was headed to the theater compound, knowing it would be my home for the next hundred days. The past week had been an all-out sprint, and I thought about how my life had changed in just seven days. I would be sleeping at PBT tonight for the first time. It would be a sign that this was real, authentic, and tangible, no matter how wildly insane, no matter how circuitous the path to its front door had been. As I drove through downtown Plymouth, I felt as if I were part of the community. I held a certain fellowship with all these other vendors who were now my neighbors.

    It was May 10th. The company would be arriving in two weeks and the first rehearsal was a few days thereafter. On Monday, I was heading to New York City to “steal” a press rep. Secunda would travel with me and we’d secure the band.

    Veronica had agreed to meet me for a casual dinner. I had promised to proffer no expectation; tonight we’d be just an old couple visiting and catching up on the events of the day, sharing a burger and a bottle of red. As I parked my car down by the wharf, I saw her waiting for me on a bench overlooking the bay. I realized that, although I had only been away for two days, I felt as if it had been a long, long time since I had seen her smile.

    Veronica didn’t appear as pleased to see me as I had hoped. She was awkward and her eyes looked everywhere but at me. She gave me a quick hello and darted to the railing that overlooked the bay, doing anything, it seemed, to avoid connection.

    It was early evening and the sun was setting behind the dozens of boats that danced gently in the bay. The wind off the sea was refreshing and pungent. They say that sometimes feelings lie, but often so does the weather.

    Atop the knoll sat the stoic Barrows Building, which watched over the bay with disdain. I found it telling that whenever the sun disappeared and the air chilled, it was because it was blocked by the Barrows fortress rather than by a cloud moving within a sweet summer breeze. I sat on a bench and waited to see when Veronica would finally turn and address me. Sensing bad news, I was anxious, but in no rush to see how this would play out.

    The harbor bell clanged long and strong. It was seven o’clock. She turned, but stayed by the railing. She leaned against it as if needing support. I would have moved to her, but her energy was that of a force field keeping me at a distance. Her face was drawn and she looked tired and deeply sad.

    “Hi,” she said in a whisper. “Hello. It’s nice to see you.” “I’ve been thinking about you a lot,” she offered, still barely audible and still not moving.

    “Okay then. And what were you thinking?” I asked, more afraid than curious. “That I will miss you and . . .” Her words hung in the air like poison.

    Breathing was hard. “That I will miss you, and that I am so sorry and sad, because I think you are so special and I want to know you, to . . . but I can’t.”

    “Can’t what Veronica?”

    “I can’t see you, Sam. I’m not brave enough. I said you’d break my heart, but that’s not what I’m afraid of. It’s that I will disappoint you, and that would stay with me forever.”

    She had turned back toward the sea and away from me. I could no longer read her eyes. The ambient happy sounds of the village mocked me. “Veronica, what are you talking about? What happened? Are you fucking Sybil, for Christ’s sake?”

    She turned to me, and with contempt overtaking any kindness she said, “While you were gone, I thought about it all again. Us.” Her voice cracked with emotion. “I spoke with some people . . . some friends . . . and they told me to stay away . . . that I should stay away, that I had better stay away.” Her last words were caught in the wind and stolen before I could be sure she had actually spoken them.

    Frustration got the best of me. “Okay, Veronica,” I shouted across the distance, “play the part of some freak in a bad melodrama. Bravery and courage go hand and hand and you have neither. Disappoint me? You already have.”

    She looked at me as if for the last time, wiping away tears that covered her cheeks. “You are so stupid, Sam! Pay attention. You think I work at that shithouse motel because it’s the best I can do? Someone like me?”

    She didn’t wait for an answer. Instead she shouted, “goodbye!” and ran down the shore.

    The sun disappeared behind the Barrows Building, and the warm, late spring evening suddenly turned cold. I remained still for a long time. I had nowhere to go and no inclination to seek company or solace.

    What had happened, really? A girl I had known for a week had dumped me without explanation or reason. I was momentarily stunned. It would pass. I hadn’t come to Plymouth to meet Veronica Chapman. I had come here to work, to find my way. If I let this girl distract me from that task, I was a fraud. I would have convinced my friends and my investors to participate in a charade. I would have lied to those who believed in me and, worse yet, deceived myself.

    Yet I did meet her and that reality held on long after the sun was gone and the midnight blue waters of Plymouth Harbor reflected the glow from shore. Finally, at way past nine, I stood and examined my surroundings. I walked slowly to the large granite mausoleum that housed the famous rock. I walked aboard the Mayflower and looked out toward England. I looked up at the sky to find a star to wish upon, but the options were far too many and I could not choose one that promised hope. Then I wondered what I was actually hoping for.

    I wasn’t ready to return to PBT. I thought I’d sit and think some more, try to put the thoughts of lost possibilities behind me. I saw that the bench was occupied by an elderly gentleman wearing a Red Sox cap and an oversized Sox sweatshirt. He seemed relaxed, at peace and happy. He was enjoying an ice cream cone, savoring each lick as if it would be his last. On second look, I realized that I knew this man. After a moment’s hesitation, I elected to sit down next to Dr. Anderson Barrows.

    Read the reviews!


    "Mitchell Maxwell has show business in his blood! His theatrical passion courses though every delicious and compelling page"
    —Rob Marshall, Multi-Tony award winning choreographer and the Director of the Oscar winning Best Picture Film Chicago

    "LITTLE DID I KNOW that Mitchell Maxwell’s first novel could be as titillating and epic as his award winning, tumultuous theater career. It’s an unforgettable summer, chockablock with passionate love, small town corruption and unbridled determination.
    This book is truly too good to be true, but it is!"

     

    —Jeff Calhoun, Tony-nominated choreographer and director of the world premiere of Disney’s High School Musical on Stage

    "With wit and wile reminiscent of Moss Hart’s seminal Act One, Maxwell spins a tale of theatre in the provinces that will entertain, amuse, beguile, and inevitably move you."

    —Frederick Zollo, Multi Tony, Oscar, Emmy-nominated TV, Film, Theatrical producer for Mississippi Burning, The Quiz Show and The Goat by Edward Albee


    "From the first page of this titillating novel, Maxwell weaves a story of summer musical theater on a grand scale. His prose is filled with rich descriptions, sports references, and plenty of sex, drugs, and profanity. Sam is a strong and engaging narrator. It's 1976 and he's graduated from college and looking for the next best thing. His friends are eager to support his endeavors, so they go along for the ride. The reader follows them through ups and downs, fun-filled nights and argumentative days where super sized egos threaten to bring the house crashing down."

    --The Book Connection


    Mitchell Maxwell is an accomplished producer, director and 35-year veteran of the entertainment industry, known for his ability to spot the next theatrical innovation. He is the visionary producer behind the percussive theatricality of Stomp!, the rollicking Broadway revival of Damn Yankees featuring the legendary Jerry Lewis – which was nominated for multiple Tony Awards including Best Revival of a Musical – and the Pulitzer Prize-winning drama Dinner with Friends. He has produced the Broadway musicals Play On!, Bells are Ringing (Tony nominated for Best Revival of a Musical), Blues in the Night (Tony nominated as Best Musical) and Brooklyn.

    Maxwell’s productions have been honored with nominations for ten Tony Awards, six Olivier Awards, 15 Outer Critics Circle Awards, nine Drama Desk Awards and three Obie Awards and have won in each category. He directed the critically acclaimed Angry Housewives on London’s West end and later off-Broadway, and produced the motion pictures and off-Broadway performances of Jeffrey and Key Exchange.

    Off-Broadway he developed Harvey Fierstein’s Torch Song Trilogy and produced David Mamet’s Oleanna, Paul Rudnick’s The Most Fabulous Story Ever Told and Scott McPearson’s Drama Desk-winning Marvin’s Room. In total, seven Broadway shows, more than 30 off-Broadway and regional productions, four national tours, three West End productions and six major motion pictures. He has directed in New York, London and regionally, built five entertainment companies, and for more than 20 years owned and operated three off-Broadway theaters.

    Maxwell attended Tufts University, where he later served as an adjunct professor, and has been a guest lecturer at Columbia and New York universities. He is the president, CCO and director of MCrew Media LLC. LITTLE DID I KNOW (Prospecta Press, October 5, 2011) is his first novel. For more information, visit www.mitchellmaxwell.com.

    O'Green Day at Soule Road School: The News Story That Ran Away


    Isn't that puppy adorable? I wonder if he's the reason the story of O'Green Day at Soule Road School has garnered such attention. Someone sure ran with it. Type "O'Green Day" into Google and check out the results.

    Our local ABC/Fox channel ran a story--the video of which no longer appears online (at least I couldn't find it)--reporting the principal of Soule Road School, Mrs. Curtin, had changed the name of St. Patrick's Day to O'Green Day in an effort to be "'inclusive and diverse' and ease any discomfort that may go along with celebrating St. Patrick’s Day." The article further stated that Mrs. Curtin declined comment and the Superintendent of Schools, Martin O'Shea was not available for comment. Channel 40 said they reported the story based upon complaints from numerous parents.

    If one looks at the school calendar posted on the Hampden-Wilbraham Regional School District's website, it clearly states "Happy St. Patrick's Day," on Saturday, March 17th--which is the actual holiday. There is also "Happy St. Patty's Day" in the top right, decorated with clovers. If one then goes to the school's lunch calendar, she will also see traditional symbols of the holiday clearly depicted.

    Confused yet?

    One can also notice that there are other Fridays on the school calendar with silly names: "Anything Wacky Friday" (2nd), "Lunch Time Luau with DJ Chris Hamel" (9th), and "Team Spirit Day with DJ Chris Hamel" (30th). Last year at Soule Road School we had similar PTO sponsored activities for the students. I don't know the reason for choosing March, but I am guessing it has something to do with MCAS, the Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System. These are the annual standardized tests required by the Education Reform Law of 1993. The students and staff work their tails off to get ready for these tests, so it's nice to give them a treat.

    Even though Superintendent O'Shea and School Committee Chairman, Scott Chapman, issued statements stating the name of St. Patrick's Day had not been changed, that didn't stop pundits from hopping on the bandwagon to condemn this attempt at political correctness. Glenn Beck said the school administration had removed the name St. Patrick's Day "from all the flyers and everything else." He called it another attack on the Catholics. On Monday, March 19th, Rush Limbaugh also commented on the story. You can read the short transcript on his website.

    What Limbaugh touches on, which Beck did not, is the name of St. Valentine's Day at Soule Road School being changed to "Caring and Kindness Day." Now, I had heard some of the teachers wished to celebrate this in their classrooms, but I never witnessed it firsthand. Perhaps this is where the problems arose for some people--assuming this is true.

    I've been a fan of Rush Limbaugh for more than a decade. I also enjoy listening to Glenn Beck. It seems, however, that an incomplete initial investigation led to this issue being blown out of proportion. And the fact is that O'Green Day, like the other themed days in March, are sponsored by the PTO, which is run by parents, not the school's administration or the school district. I wouldn't have any qualms complaining about political correctness in my child's school, but in this case, it appears the school's reputation and that of the principal has been unfairly called into question.

    Tuesday, March 20, 2012

    Spring Cleaning Giveaway Hop - March 20th - 25th!



    It's time for some spring cleaning. The weather in Massachusetts has been lovely with temperatures today reaching 80. It looks like it will stay warm and bright most of the week. Just the thing to encourage me to do some cleaning up around here.

    The "Spring Cleaning" Giveaway Hop is sponsored by I Am A Reader, Not A Writer.

    Books, Products and More! is featuring 14 children's picture books for this giveaway. One lucky winner will walk away with the whole bunch. Up for grabs are:

    • The Suburban Dragon by Garasamo Maccagnone (paperback)
    • Jack's Dreams Come to Life by Sara Jackson (paperback)
    • The Adventures of Oliver the Clownfish: Invitation Slip Up by Stephanie Guzman (paperback)
    • Marie and Her Friend the Sea Turtle by Nicole Weaver (trilingual - English/French/Spanish) (paperback)
    • A Winter Solstice Celebration by DiDi LeMay (paperback)
    • The Little Candy Breathing Dragons by Gloria Clark (paperback)
    • The Adventures of Oliver the Clownfish: Acting Cool by Stephanie Guzman (hardcover)
    • God Has A Purpose for Me by LaRonda Koffi (hardcover)
    • A Carousel Tale by Elisa Kleven (hardcover)
    • A Dog Is A Dog by Stephen Shaskan (hardcover)
    • Monkey Made Dream by Tom Listul and Heather Listul Hewitt (paperback)
    • Naughty Toes by Ann Bonwill (hardcover)
    • My Little Troublemaker by Thierry Robberecht (hardcover)
    • I Have Two Homes by Marian De Smet

    Enter using the Rafflecopter form below.

    Monday, March 19, 2012

    You've Got Mail Mondays


    What a crazy week it was. I had things dropped off by the postman, UPS, and Fed-Ex. It seemed like every time I turned around the doorbell was ringing.

    Several books arrived last week. Mr. Postman brought: Falling for the Fireman by Allie Porter and two books in Ally Carter's Heist Society series: Heist Society and Uncommon Criminals. These are books I won from blog giveaways. Our UPS driver dropped off another book I won: Four Sisters, All Queens by Sherry Jones. I'm really excited about this one. For review, he also brought Happy Easter! from one of my favorite children's authors/illustrators Liesbet Slegers.

    Two neat catalogs arrived. The first was Lowe's Creative Ideas for Home and Garden. I love looking through these catalogs for great ideas on how to improve and decorate our home. This one hosted 27 easy projects under $50. That fits the bill for a thrifty person like me.

    The other catalog was from Womanswork. They are a woman-owned company that sells gardening supplies. I have to admit, until I really got into gardening, I would buy the cheap equipment. I've found, however, you just can't compromise quality when it comes to working with the earth. The back cover featured a glove with arm saver. The elbow-length cuff has a pull cord to keep the glove secure. I'm seriously thinking of buying these because of the ticks and mosquitoes around here. I also thought their sun hats were attractive.
    Our Fed-Ex driver delivered the Rubbermaid® Hidden Recycler this past week. It's installed and already in use.

    That's it for this edition of You've Got Mail Mondays. Make sure you check in with us tomorrow, as it's the kick-off of the Spring Cleaning Book Giveaway Hop. I'll be giving away 15 children's picture books from a variety of talented authors.

    Book Spotlight: The Canker Death by James Bottino

    When the reclusive, cynical systems administrator, Petor Fidelistro, discovers that one of his own servers has been cracked late one night, he makes it his personal business to track down the perpetrator. What his search uncovers thrusts him, unaware, into a mad shifting between worlds, time and alien minds.
    Fighting to keep his grip on reality, and forcing him to cope with his past, Petor finds himself uncontrollably transitioning between sentient minds that range from semi-conscious to dominant, from beings whose bodies and identities he can control, to those who control him so fully as to be unaware of his presence.

    As the story unfolds, Petor gathers clues in a twisting mystery that sends him shifting between the mourning child Nanzicwital; the golem giant Faskin; the lascivious, female ambassador Desidia; and Nokinis, an insane prisoner with whom Petor battles for mastery of his own memories. As he struggles to make sense of what is happening to him, Petor finds himself embroiled in the tumultuous upheaval of a ubiquitous society that transcends life, itself.

    Read an excerpt!

    I’m not writing this damn thing because I really think you ought to care – though you should. Everyone should, everywhere. Hell, I don’t even want to care, myself.

    Now, I don’t know when it all started, so I’m going to begin from when I first began to notice stuff happening, out of the blue. I didn’t have any warning. There were no portents, no eerie feelings that made my hair stand on end. There was just me, working, like I always do, on a computer.

    Let’s get something straight: I’m not some half-witted, hip web jockey who meanders around the Internet squandering time looking for “cool” web sites. I work on the net. I design the computers that house the sort of useless information absolutely everybody just has to see these days. I design the networks the world’s lusers use to instantly message their lame-o friends about lame-o garbage.
    So there I was three days ago – was it only three days ago? Was it a week? How many days? It’s so hard to tell sometimes. Well, whatever it was, I was still at work, and damn tired.

    As a matter of fact, I had just dozed off and had had yet another one of those flying dreams, where I feel as if I am myself and yet somehow not myself. I remember the color of everything seemed wrong in that dream, like I had been wearing some trippy purple shades, or something, but I hadn’t been. And then, as I was flying, I changed again and was someone else, but, somehow, still, I was myself.
    Dreams. I’m sure mine are no more or less strange than anyone else’s. I remember I awoke with a start and instinctively glanced at the clock. I was relieved to see that it was just a quarter past eight. I’d only drifted off for a few minutes. I was alone. All of the lusers had already gone home.

    Well, Yury was still there, pushing three squeaky-wheeled trash cans past my door on his way out. It was the sound of the trash cans that had woken me up. I rubbed my eyes and smiled at him. His jacket was on, and he looked about ready to call it a night.

    “Hey Yury,” I said, for some damn reason.

    “Hello Mister Fidelistro,” he said as a smile flickered across his thin lips.
    “How’s Kirill? How’s he doing?”

    “The same,” he said, while looking hard at some empty spot on the floor and absent-mindedly placing his right hand on his heart.

    “If there’s anything I can do…”

    “Only pray, Mister Fidelistro.”

    “I’ll do that,” I said. Maybe someday I would. “Night, Yury.”

    He nodded and wheeled the trash away towards the freight elevator.

    Poor Kirill, such a sweet kid. He has this incredibly wise, quiet look about him, like he knows absolutely everything in the world. I’ve gone to visit him in the hospital a few times since he started living there.

    There’s no better proof that life isn’t fair than what happened to Kirill. All the rat bastards in the world just keep screwing us all while an innocent kid like him gets a short life of tubes, needles and pain.
    So, anyway, I was working, as I said, and I had just remotely accessed my servers at home to check the logs when I noticed a username I didn’t recognize: erudire1. Intrigued, I started snooping through the log files to see when the account had been created, and by whom.

    It only took me a few seconds to figure it out. I leaned back in my chair, nodded and smirked to myself. The answer was all too obvious: I had been cracked.

    After a minute of mad pounding on my crappy Microsoft keyboard, I found out how it had been done. I had been running several services. The one in question was the file transfer protocol daemon (ftpd).
    I had the server daemon running wide open, so any anonymous person could log in and see what files were there and download them. I code for a number of open source projects, and my site is directly linked to those same projects, as well as being routinely indexed by every search engine on the net. It’s not as if I were keeping it secret.

    Of course, I knew leaving the sever open for any anonymous person to access was something of a security risk. However, I didn’t have any top secret data on that particular machine. Besides, no one had ever tried to break in before.

    I looked up and skimmed through the specs on the exploit. The weird thing was, this was an old hack; I thought this security hole had been plugged upstream. It was kind of a pain in the ass to tell for certain, what with certain vendors backporting patches but leaving the version numbers unchanged. Damn broken package systems … Still, if it hadn’t been plugged, I was certain that hacking the ftpd wouldn’t be hard to do, but there really was no reason to, nothing to gain. It would sort of be like trying to break in through the back door of an abandoned church when the front door was hanging open.

    So, I was more intrigued about why anyone would bother to break into my server than upset about the fact that it had been done. Overall, it took me just under ten minutes to reverse all the damage I could find and lock out the person who had “broken in”. Plus, of course, I uninstalled the vendor’s version, downloaded the latest source code for the daemon straight from the project’s development page, then compiled and installed that one. And then, just to be sure, I changed the config, moved the port to a non-standard value, cycled the daemon, and plugged the NAT hole so the standard port was shut off to the world. I figured I’d setup something better, later. As things stood, it was just too damn bad for scanners and bots.

    Maybe I should have stopped there. Maybe I should have left well enough alone. Maybe then I wouldn’t be in this mess, and she would still be alive.

    Read the reviews!
    "The Canker Death by James R. Bottino is a mystery, a spiritual awakening, a suspenseful and funny book with complex characters and worlds. This book reminds me a bit of Roger Zelazny’s Chronicles of Amber series and also reminds me that good ideas are still out there amidst the plethora of over-worked, tired concepts prevalent in our world today.

    How did the author slip in symbolism and deep themes all the while entertaining us with the “full monty” of sex, drugs, rock ‘n roll and stuff that explodes? I’m not sure, but by the time I’d finished The Canker Death, it made me laugh, cry, hang on by the seat of my pants, and shout “SEQUEL!!!” (although the book does stand well on its own.)

    Also, while reading, I found the Vitruvian Man map full of symbols, character names and concepts to be a provocative and neat little extra feature. I highly recommend this original tome!"

    - Amazon Reviewer RIBH

    "The Canker Death takes a hold of the reader and doesn’t let them go until the end."

    --The Hot Author Report

    PURCHASE AT AMAZON!

    James R. Bottino’s life-long interests mix esoteric and disparate fields of study. By day, his foremost influences have been the study of literature and the art of writing. Following these pursuits led him to read anything he could in these areas and to complete every under-graduate and graduate course available to him in the field of creative writing. Following this line, he taught high school English throughout the 1990’s, focusing on the teaching of writing.

    By night, when no one was looking, he studied computer systems / networks, computer languages, and operating systems, learning anything he could in these areas, first as a hobby, and, finally, as a career. This mixture of literature and technology served as the inspiration for the The Canker Death’s protagonist, Petor.

    James currently lives in a suburb of Chicago, with his wife, daughter, two Australian cattle dogs and far, far too many books and abstruse computers.

    You can visit his website at TheCankerDeath.com.

    Friday, March 16, 2012

    Textured Spa Step Looks Great and Offers Storage


    Most of time when I see spas, they are set up next to decks to make hopping in and out easier. I've even seen some makeshift stairs put together. Maybe that’s good for the kids, but what about the adults? I don’t want to kill myself getting into the spa and I don’t want the rickety stairs I’m climbing on to collapse. With wood stairs, you also have to worry about rot and pests.

    This textured spa step from DreamMaker Spas is an attractive alternative. Made from durable, weather-resistant material, the texture makes it look like stone. Flip up the top step and you find a place to store your spa accessories. No more running out to the pool house or shed to find the accessories you’re looking for.

    Available in sandstone and silver, this textured spa step with storage will blend well with any hot tub or spa.

    The DreamMaker Spas textured spa step is available at PoolGear Plus®, the fastest-growing catalog and internet company in the US.

    This post sponsored by PoolGear Plus.

    Free for All Friday: Two-Book Giveaway!


    To make up for not holding a giveaway last Friday--though I never promised a giveaway every Friday--I am offering you writer type folks a two-book giveaway. These books are for my fellow writers or those who aspire to be writers. I enjoyed these books and I hope you will too.


    A powerful motivator for aspiring writers, Grit for the Oyster offers wit, wisdom, and inspiration to take that first step and persevere through the writing journey. More than a how-to, this confidence-building book is designed to draw readers to a closer relationship with God, to affirm their calling to write, and to offer pithy practical guidance from successful writers like Terri Blackstock, Martha Bolton, James Scott Bell, Liz Curtis Higgs, Dr. Gary Chapman, and David Kopp.

    Words to Write By: Author Devotionals compiled by Robin Bayne (autographed)

    Join a variety of well-known authors as they share the Scripture or quotations they find inspiring to their writing. The devotionals they ve contributed reflect all aspects of the writing life: basic motivation, rejection, publishing and succeeding. Spend some time with the writers you love and discover what words they write by.


    One lucky winner will take home both of these books. Fill out the Rafflecopter form below for your chance to win.

    Good luck!


    Thursday, March 15, 2012

    TV Show Review: Father Murphy, Season 1


    Father Murphy was created and produced by TV great, Michael Landon. It tells the story of frontiersman John Michael Murphy (Merlin Olsen), who partners up with prospector Moses Gage (Moses Gunn) to mine for gold. Having met orphan Will Adams (Timothy Gibbs), they take the boy on to handle domestic chores like cleaning and cooking while Murphy and Gage pan for gold.

    Schoolmarm Mae Woodward (Katherine Cannon) came to the mining camp with a local priest to provide schooling for the children. When a large gold nugget is discovered, the man who owns most of the town, Mr. Garrett (Burr DeBenning), blows up the mining camp, leaving the priest dead and most of the children, orphaned. When Miss Woodward, Moses and Murphy attempt to set up an orphanage to care for the children, they soon find Mr. Rodman (Charles Tyner) and Miss Tuttle (Ivy Bethune) knocking on their door. If the church doesn't take over financial support of the orphanage, Rodman will see the children are sent to the workhouse. Unable to wait for word from the diocese, Murphy poses as a priest, which temporarily saves the day. But the worst troubles are still ahead of them.

    Father Murphy ran for two seasons. Michael Landon, who made pioneering western era TV famous with his roles in Bonanza and Little House on the Prairie (LHOP), created and produced this series, which starred Merlin Olsen, who worked with him on LHOP. Anyone familiar with both series, will see many actors played roles in both.

    While LHOP had a somewhat romanticized view of the pioneering era, focusing more on the love of family, how pulling together could make anything possible, and the importance of faith, Father Murphy portrayed an edgier side to the 1870s. While both shows had similar themes, it is how they approached them that made them different. Charles Ingalls didn't drink, but Murphy is seen visiting the saloon in the first episode. He's not opposed to the occasional beer for refreshment. Charles is a man of deep faith, but Murphy, who was orphaned as a child, is not one who will be quoting Bible verses left and right. The latter is also not opposed to using his brawn when it's helpful. When Charles got into a fight, it was usually to protect or defend a family member. Charles never seemed to have a problem expressing his feelings, but Murphy can't find the right words or wonders if he should pull up stakes when things get rough.

    In addition, the towns are very different. Walnut Grove is this nice quiet place. There's no saloon. The townsfolk are happy. They all love their little town with the grove of trees that gave the town its name. Jackson, on the other hand, is a rough place. Not only does it have a saloon, night time there means, fights and guns. The number of good people in Jackson are definitely outnumbered by the not so nice ones. They don't even want a church in town, because then the saloon would need to be closed on Sundays.

    I remember being more enamored with Father Murphy when it aired in the 80s, but it's still quality family television, which doesn't exist much today. I'm glad I purchased both seasons last year.

    Format: Box set, Closed-captioned, Color, Dolby, DVD, Full Screen, NTSC
    Language: English
    Region: Region 1 (U.S. and Canada only. Read more about DVD formats.)
    Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
    Number of discs: 6
    Rated: NR (Not Rated)
    Studio: Image Entertainment
    DVD Release Date: October 26, 2004
    Run Time: 1175 minutes
    SRP:  $49.99

    I purchased this DVD set from Amazon. I received no monetary compensation for my review.

    Conserve Energy When Using Your Clothes Dryer


    Our subdivision does not allow residents to put up clothes lines, so I usually use a drying rack when I need to handle clothes that can't go into the dryer. It's a small one, so I can't put too much on it. This means I have to depend on my gas dryer more than I would like.

    According to the California Energy Commission, consumers can conserve energy--and money--by following these tips:

    • Keep your dryer in a heated space. Cold, damp basements and unheated areas make the dryer work harder.
    • Clean your lint filter after every load. This improves air quality. My appliance guy also suggests cleaning the filter regularly with soapy warm water.
    • Dry two or more loads in a row. Most energy is used in heating up the dryer, so take advantage of retained heat.
    They also offer more energy saving tips at their Consumer Energy Center.

    Wednesday, March 14, 2012

    Stepping Toward Self-Sufficiency - Gardening

    It's been unseasonably warm in Massachusetts. Highs have been in the low to mid-60s and one day this week we hit 70. I'm afraid this means we'll end up with a blizzard in April.

    The nice thing about the warm weather is that I have been gearing up for spring--at least in my mind. I'm determined to put in a small vegetable garden this year. With the poor soil here, raised beds are the way to go. If I set it up now, covering the grass with newspaper, I can keep weeding during the growing season to a minimum.

    I found these raised beds at Home Depot. They are made from a composite material that saves 16 pounds of plastic and wood flour from landfills per bed. According to the website, they will not rot. That's a plus. I am going to order three of them--one for me, and one each for the Lil Diva and the Lil Princess. They've helped me garden since they were little, so they want to try their hands at growing their own vegetables. 

    I haven't worked out everything I'll put in my bed, but I know it will include:
    • tomatoes,
    • carrots,
    • cucumbers,
    • green beans,
    • onions.
    I am also considering lettuce--which did well in my earlier garden despite the poor soil--and some herbs: rosemary, basil, marjoram. I would like to surround the raised beds with plants that deter deer. At least maybe I can keep some of the wildlife out of the garden.

    Do you have a vegetable garden? What are some of your favorite vegetables? Can you recommend any natural products to keep the pests away?

    WSJ Wednesdays - The Metric System and Grocery Shopping



    It's another edition of WSJ Wednesdays. Saturday/Sunday, March 10 - 11, 2012's edition of The Wall Street Journal had an excellent article by Carl Bialik on how limited the metric system is in the grocery aisle.  For decades, the federal government has mandated nutrition labels list nutrient quantities in grams, despite that not being the standard measurement in America. As Bialik states, "many may not really understand how much fat, protein, and--in particular--sugar is in their food."

    Back in the 1970s there was a movement to make a national shift to the metric system. I remember learning it in school. My kids have learned or are learning it in school. This shift was foiled. If Americans have no idea what grams means, then how useful are those nutrition labels we're reading? We want a healthier society that lives longer, but do the majority of Americans know that 25 grams of sugar and six teaspoons are equivalent quantities? I didn't. Here I am thinking buying a cereal with only 10 grams of sugar is a good thing, when it still means the kids are getting 2 teaspoons of sugar with every serving. Who eats only the serving size anyway?

    According to Bialik's article, a 2010 survey conducted by the Center for Science in the Public Interest, a Washington D.C.-based advocacy group, found 72% of Americans wanted to see sugar content measured in teaspoons on food labels, and more than half of the participants wanted grams to be removed completely. While some still believe America should make the move to metric, does anyone ever see it happening?

    I feel like I have been a lazy consumer. I could have found out at any time I wanted to that a cereal with 10 grams of sugar means my family is eating a bowl of cereal with a minimum of 2 teaspoons of sugar in it. Was it not important enough to me? Is buying my kids what they want more important than the negative impact to their well-being? Most importantly, now that I know, am I going to change my buying habits? I stopped buying soda. My favorite brand in a 12 oz. bottle has 41 grams of sugar or the equivalent of 8.2 teaspoons. Would I put that much sugar in a bowl and eat it? No. This is going to be a slow transition, but Bialik's article definitely got me to thinking.

    Do you know grams/teaspoon equivalents? Do you read nutrition labels when you shop? How much do you think the lack of knowledge over the metric system contributes to obesity in America?

    Movie Review: Love Begins (2011)


    I won a copy of this DVD a few months ago. This is what inspired me to hold Movie Review Month in March. I haven't watched more than a few minutes of any of the Love Comes Softly series or read the books by Janette Oke--though I am eager to. I'm not one to start a series in the middle, either, so I thought it would be perfect to start at the beginning.




    A young Clark Davis (Wes Brown) is traveling with his childhood friend, Daniel (David Tom) to California to try their hand at finding gold. They stop at Millie's in Trinity for a hot meal. When a fight breaks out, Clark finds himself stuck in town to work off his debts.

    Sheriff Holden (Jere Burns) brings him to Barlow farm, where sisters Ellen (Julie Mond) and Cassie (Abigail Mavity) are struggling to keep the farm running after their father's passing. Young Cassie is immediately taken with Clark, but Ellen only agrees to hire him as a farm hand because she has no choice. Still hurting from Jake's (David Hoflin) decision to race off to California in search of gold, Ellen isn't kind to Clark, another fortune hunter. As time goes on, however, she sees the good man he is and can't deny her attraction to him.

    Not having seen any of the other movies, I can't say how this one compares to the others. I will say, I was totally captivated by Clark Davis's story, despite the sometimes stiff dialogue, the over the top mentions of faith, and the clunky ending.

    Wes Brown delivered a fine performance as Clark Davis. Out of all the characters, I was drawn to him the most. Ellen is portrayed as a stubborn, obnoxious young woman who slowly opens her heart to Clark. I felt they could have eased back on her obnoxious behavior and instead played up the difficulties of running the farm and caring for her younger sister alone. Nancy McKeon was fabulous as the older and wiser woman who provides Ellen advice.

    I realize this is a Christian story, but in this movie it seems they wanted to pound you over the head with it. The more subtle expressions of faith came off better than the moments when you felt like it was shoved down your throat. I love faith-based films, but when faith is added to the story through unnatural sounding dialogue it doesn't work. The subtle expressions of faith--asking Clark to Sunday services, saying grace together at suppertime, and Ellen admitting she prayed for Clark after he is injured--worked best. One thing caught me as off too. Clark says he came away from the church at some point in his life. He didn't know why. That's modern-day thinking weaving its way into a period piece. He might admit he lost his faith, but he wouldn't say he came away from the church.

    Overall, I enjoyed this movie enough to wish for the rest of the Love Comes Softly series, including Love's Everlasting Courage, which is coming to DVD this May. It will be interesting to see how they compare to this prequel.

    Format: AC-3, Color, Dolby, DVD, Subtitled, Widescreen, NTSC
    Language: English
    Subtitles: English, Spanish
    Region: Region 1 (U.S. and Canada only. Read more about DVD formats.)
    Aspect Ratio: 1.77:1
    Number of discs: 1
    Rated: NR (Not Rated)
    Studio: 20th Century Fox
    DVD Release Date: November 22, 2011
    Run Time: 88 minutes
    SRP:  $14.98


    I won a free copy of this DVD from a blog giveaway. I received no monetary compensation for this review.