Friday, June 29, 2012

Free for All Friday



With us leaving on vacation and my upcoming participation in the Christmas In July Giveaway Hop, I won't be running a giveaway this week. Instead, here are a few sites for you to check out freebies:

http://www.shop4freebies.com/

http://www.thunderfap.com/

http://absurdlycool.com/

http://www.heyitsfree.net/

Solar Powered Outdoor Shower Makes Rinsing Off a Breeze



Our neighbors host tons of pool parties. It's not unusual for there to be 20 people or more hanging out by the pool at these shindigs. Having a large number of people in your pool can lead to cloudy water because of all the residue from sunscreen, lotion, hair care products and makeup.

While clarifiers and enzyme products will help clear up cloudy water, it's best to have guests rinse off before swimming. The G.A.M.E. Outdoor Solar Shower with Base is the perfect solution. Easy to assemble, this eco-friendly shower uses the sun's energy to warm up the water inside the shower cylinder tank. Mount the shower anywhere it is close to a garden hose, hook it up, fill up the tank and let the sun warm up the water.

The G.A.M.E. Outdoor Solar Shower features a swivel shower head and hot and cold temperature adjustment. It mounts to most surfaces and connects to a standard garden hose. Its non-corrosive PVC construction will stand up to the elements.

Your guests will also appreciate rinsing off with the G.A.M.E. Outdoor Solar Shower after taking a dip in your pool. Keep your water clear and your guests smiling with the G.A.M.E. Outdoor Solar Shower. 


This post sponsored by Pinch A Penny.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Product Review: America Album by Michael Paul Scally





I had the opportunity to review this eclectic music CD by Michael Paul Scally published by Salvation Rock Music Company. This is Scally's second album. The first was released in 2009.

Overall, America has a folk song type of feel to it. Scally has written an album that looks upon the world from a Christian point of view. From trials and tribulations to war, from dreams to giving God your heart, and from a troubled world to our heavenly reward, this album captures many aspects of our lives. With the exception of "Give Him Your Heart," Scally wrote and provided the vocals on this album.

My favorite song is "Reward." It speaks of living life according to God's will and keeping focused on our heavenly reward. "Stars in Orion" has more of a light rock feel to it. There is also the song, "America's in Trouble, which has sparked a bit of controversy. You can view a video for this song here.

Scally sounds a great deal like Bob Dylan. Like Dylan, his music digs deep and forces you to take notice. There are also songs where he sounds similar to Axl Rose from Guns N Roses fame. He's versatile, which is great.

America isn't an album that I would have thought to purchase for myself, so I am thankful his publicist contacted me about reviewing it. I truly enjoyed it and am glad to add it to my collection. The entire CD is available from Salvation Rock Music Company or you can opt for MP3 downloads of individual songs from them or at Amazon. Vinyl albums are available upon request.


I received a free CD from the author's representative in exchange for my honest opinions. I received no monetary compensation of any kind for this review.

Is the Formal Living Room Passé?



When we built our home, one of the things I was most thrilled about was having a formal living, in addition to, a family room. I had a loveseat and chair set that worked well in the living room, and bought three small elegant looking tables. To give it a more formal feel than the rest of the house, the builder add two floor to ceiling pillars--which you can see in the picture above (sorry, best shot of those is this Christmas photo).

Before the girls came along, the living room was fairly unused and easy to maintain. We would use it for entertaining a few times a year (though most people congregated in the kitchen). Putting our main Christmas tree in that room also meant anyone walking in the front door would have a festive view. I felt, however, that the space was underutilized and began thinking of converting it to a reading room. So, I bought some bookshelves, put the loveseat into the family room along with our sofa, and took a comfy chair from the family room and put it in the living room (now called the reading room.)

Problem. Between the dark walls and the front porch blocking light from getting in, it wasn't the best room for reading.

Then the Lil Diva was born and it soon became known as the play room--or more appropriately, an unsightly room filled with toys and other childhood things. See below.


Don't ask. It's just much easier to let the Lil Diva do her own thing.

Daughter #2 comes along. Add more toys and childhood things.


Even before she could read the Lil Princess loved books. 

At some point, I grew weary of having a messy room being what our visitors saw when they first walked in, so I moved the majority of the toys and two bookcases upstairs. That left two comfy chairs, one bookcase, one toybox and three elegant tables.

What do we use the room for now? Not much. We had added French doors a few years ago because the doorway was framed for them when the house was built. They look nice, but the room isn't any more formal than it used to be. The girls put their backpacks on the chairs when they are in school. Other than that, the only use the room gets is as an easy walkway from the family room to the front door or upstairs.

Many of our neighbors have converted their formal living rooms into offices or other usable spaces. My hubby and I each have an office now that our son moved out and got married, so I don't need to use it for that. I'm still searching for ideas.

What do you think--are formal living rooms passé? Do you have a formal living room? Do you use it or have you converted it to something else? If your house doesn't have one, would you like to have one?

Competing with the Big Guys



When it comes to blogging, there are days I still feel like a baby. While I don't suffer from blog envy, I still wish there was an easier way to attract sponsors. I remember my friend, Ellen, over at Confessions of an Overworked Mom getting frustrated over being a little fish in a big pond. Now, she's the whale in a vast ocean. She knew what she wanted her blog to focus on, made some tweaks here and there, and is now a social media expert whose opinions are sought after and respected. She also proves the term "Mommy blogger" isn't just for those with kids in diapers. Both her children are teenagers.

I've struggled to define this blog. Originally, I was thinking it was going to be another book blog, but I found myself wanting more and more to talk about other things. Then I started reviewing more products, so the original name didn't fit. I changed the title to Books, Products and More! I was so sure I would stick with that, I created social media accounts at FacebookTwitter and Pinterest. I've joined different sites like BlogFrog. Then the doubts came in again and I wondered if having "mom" in the title would make more sense. Most of my life centers around being a wife and mother.

I seem to be stuck at a certain number of followers everywhere I go. Even when I spend time retweeting other posts and commenting at other blogs, the uptick is miniscule. Offering giveaways hasn't helped much because I can't afford to offer the types of giveaways the bigger bloggers do. I've reached out to potential sponsors, but they aren't great about responding.

I would appreciate some advice. What have you done to make your blog more attractive to readers and sponsors? What do you look for in a blog? Do too many ads make you unsubscribe? If you're a regular reader here, what do you like most?

Thanks for your help. It is greatly appreciated.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

WSJ Wednesdays - Newly Built Homes Climb to Highest Level in Two Years



More good news for the housing market. In Alan Ziebel and Dawn Wotapka's article on Tuesday, June 26, 2012, it is stated that newly built homes climbed to the highest level in two years. The reason: limited supply of previously owned homes and record-low mortgage rates.

I can't say I haven't considered building again. As a first time home buyer, I wasn't quite sure of what I liked or wanted in a home. Now, I can look back and see the mistakes we made. I would do a few things differently, but overall I'm happy with our home. A larger kitchen, an entrance to the deck from the kitchen instead of from the family room, a smaller half bathroom in order to create a larger laundry area, and a slightly larger master bedroom and bath would make a huge difference.

Last week we talked about how bigger homes are making a comeback. This new Wall Street Journal article states the housing sector seems to have hit rock bottom this spring. With a weak monthly growth rate in May and worries over Europe's fiscal health, the authors feel the road to recovery will be bumpy. Still, it looks like things are improving. I sure hope so. While low interest rates allowed us to refinance, selling a home has become tougher. One of our neighbors was hoping to move this year, but the bids aren't coming in. Maybe buyers aren't eager to settle for a home that doesn't have everything they are looking for. That's one of the reasons we ended up building in 1999. Our house only cost us a few thousand more built to our specifications than the houses we were looking at that didn't have what we wanted. We came close a couple of times with previously owned home, but renovations would have costs thousands more. I'm glad we decided to build.

Did you build your home or did you buy a previously owned home? Would you do the same again?

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Katrina & Winter by Nancy Stewart Winner



Congratulations goes out to Elisha G. She won a copy of Katrina and Winter: Partners in Courage by award-winning author Nancy Stewart. The winner has been emailed. She has 72 hours to respond with her mailing address before we select a new winner.

Thanks to all who participated. Hope you'll visit again soon.

Amazon Gift Card Winner



Congratulations goes out to Evie. She won the $10 Amazon Gift Card giveaway. She has been emailed and has 72 hours to respond. After that, a new winner will be chosen.

Thanks to all who participated. Look for more giveaways coming soon. Also, don't forget that once we reach 500 followers, we'll release a bunch of great prizes.

Quincy Moves to the Desert by Camille Matthews Giveaway at Linda Weaver Clarke's Blog





Blog: Linda Weaver Clarke’s A Family Friendly Blog

Title of book: Quincy Moves to the Desert

Author: Camille Matthews

Genre: Children’s

Open to: International

Giveaway Dates: June 26 – July 2

Movie Review: Disney - Pixar Brave (2012)

In a world of legends and magic, Princess Merida  works to change her fate, not knowing that an ill-fated wish will toss the kingdom into chaos.

The Lil Diva (10), the Lil Princess (8) and I went to go see Disney - Pixar's Brave this weekend. I rarely go to the opening weekend of a movie, but the warm weather seems to have kept the crowds away.

This is a funny, often tender, sometimes crude story of Princess Merida (voiced by Kelly Macdonald), who is confronted with a lackluster life filled with marriage and duty. Her overbearing mother (voiced by Emma Thompson) has spent years showing Merida how to act properly, so that she will be prepared, but Merida would much rather let loose, riding her beloved horse, Angus, and perfecting her archery skills.

Merida's three little brothers (or devils as she calls them) get to create mischief around the castle; no doubt encouraged by their father, King Fergus (voiced by Billy Connolly). But Merida's mother expects her to be the dutiful daughter. Very unfair.

The story behind Brave isn't a new one: mother and daughter don't see eye to eye on the future; an independent mind is eager to defy the conventions she was born into; what seems to be a good idea at the time ends up being a disaster (think of all those wishes Timmy Turner made in Fairly Oddparents). With Pixar's amazing animation and classic Disney appeal, Brave is an exciting, fun time for the family. Like Mulan before her, Merida makes a choice. It's when Merida realizes what that choice might have cost her and her future kingdom, that she becomes the brave soul who will make a difference.

If your family only sees one movie this summer, it should be Brave.

Rated: PG
Run time: 100 minutes
Released: June 22, 2012

My girls and I saw this movie in the theater. I was not compensated for my review in any way.

Changes on the Way



There are a few changes coming in the days ahead--probably not until after vacation, but they are coming. The first change is that I will be buying my own domain. I may or may not stay with Blogger. Right now, I'm still leaning toward WordPress. Since the new dashboard, there are too many things that have become difficult to manage. I can't simply cut and paste--even from one blog to the other. The formatting gets messed up and I don't have the time to keep messing with it.

The title is going to be (and stay) The Busy Mom's Daily. Thanks for your feedback on that. I'm going to be starting a new feature too. Now is the time to let me know if there is anything special you would like to see. I'm doing my best to bring you more product reviews. Once we come back, I'll have more time to dedicate to reaching out to sponsors--God willing.

Hope you're having a great summer so far.


Guest Blogger: Essential Support for a Healthy Birth by Katie Moore

Essential Support for a Healthy Birth

by Katie Moore


Expecting moms face many challenges, from symptoms that change with each trimester, keeping track of the many appointments and accurately using pre-natal supplements. Strong organizational skills are always a plus, but there are plenty of support resources available to help those who need a little help. Check lists are available online to help a woman know when labor is imminent and what to pack for delivery day. There are also many classes to choose from to learn about all aspects of delivery and motherhood.

Seeing the doctor regularly and taking a class or two during pregnancy will help out tremendously, but there is another step to begin planning for early. Childbirth classes will get mom ready to face the challenges of delivery and help focus awareness on the most important aspects of not just the big days but the weeks thereafter. Many hospitals will provide free childbirth classes, and it will help to enroll early. The US Health Department and various pregnancy organizations, such as Lamaze, also provide childbirth classes.


What Does a Childbirth Class Provide?

 

The goal of childbirth classes is to give mom a greater awareness of the birthing process. More understanding of what will happen, what could happen, and the options available will contribute to lower stress levels. Classes will differ in some aspects, but the common curriculum of childbirth class almost always includes:

  • Discussion of the distinction between common complaints and warning signs of complications
  • Tour of the birthing facility
  • Pain relief options provided by the clinic
  • Alternative pain relief and birthing procedures provided by the facility
  • Standard medical interventions for mom and baby
  • Policies on what and who is allowed in the delivery room
  • Breastfeeding support and alternative feeding options available
Besides this in-depth look at labor and delivery, there will be a question and answer session, along with time to socialize with other moms. Some of the best information will be revealed in this way, and moms typically leave with lots of new topics to research. Cord blood banking, the benefits of meditation during pregnancy and labor, alternative procedures like water birthing, breathing methods, and more topics will possibly be discussed. Having note-taking materials handy is a must when attending all pregnancy and childbirth classes to remember details about alternative options like cord blood banking, where the umbilical cord blood is collected and stored in a cord blood bank for potential future use in a medical treatment.

 

Getting an Early Start


Most preparations for the hospital and the following few weeks of bonding with baby can be started any time. Certain items need to be purchased before the baby arrives, such as an infant car seat that meets federal safety standards, nursery equipment, and diapers. Techniques for strengthening the pelvis and managing pain are best learned early and practiced often.

 

Getting a head start on preparations is a great way to reduce stress and maintain high levels of optimism. Learning to manage stress well is taking a big step toward a delivery free from complications. Mom will be more confident taking baby home with the right preparations. 


"This article was written by Katie Moore. Katie is an active writer within the blogging community who discusses maternity, motherhood, prenatal health, childbirth and other topics within this niche.  If you have any questions or would like to connect with Katie please contact by visiting her blog, Moore From Katie or her twitter @moorekm26."

Monday, June 25, 2012

You've Got Mail Mondays



Yes, I am very late with this today. The girls have camp and the oldest came down with pink eye in the afternoon. What fun.

Not much from the mailman last week, but what did come counts. I picked up a copy of James Garner's memoir, The Garner Files, as an extra Father's Day gift for the hubby. This is one of those gifts that I'll enjoy too, so it worked out.

Also received my July 2012 issue of Children's Writer. I've subscribed for years. It's the one trade publication I receive. I sometimes forget to mention it, but it's a great resource for children's authors. I liked the cover article, "Debut Authors Doing It Right."

We're heading to the Outer Banks at the end of the week. I should be blogging from the beach too. I also need to consider what I am going to offer as a giveaway item for the Christmas in July Giveaway Hop that starts July 16th. I also have some winners to announce for other giveaways that have ended, so stay tuned.

Mystery Novel Month: Cop with a Wand by Jim Hartley

Daisy Hudson is a newly reinstated plainclothes cop, but more importantly, she has just come to the realization that she’s a witch. Not just any witch, but a very powerful witch.

After reuniting with her partner Inspector Herb Farrell who eventually catches on to Daisy’s powers—as well as falls for her charms—together they conclude that the ordinary crimes of their city have become overshadowed by the evil conspiracy of a sinister group of gray men.

From petty crimes to those committed at the highest level of government, it becomes apparent that these tall, ugly, gray-skinned men known as the Warlocks harbor a far-reaching, ominous plot...an alien takeover of the Earth.

Even with the aid of the forceful local coven, will Daisy and Herb have the fire power to prevent the Warlocks’ impending overthrow of the government?

Read an excerpt!

Then there was the big fire at an apartment building. According to all the reports, there had been an explosion, and shortly after, the place was engulfed in flames. When we arrived, there were several fire trucks, and firemen were going in with Scott Packs to try to rescue people. Others were on ladders, trying to get people out through windows.

Herb asked me, "Daisy, have you ever trained on Scott Packs or other similar breathing apparatus?"
"No, I haven't."

"Well, I have. I did a stint with a fire company a couple years back. I'm going to go ask if I can suit up and help with the rescues. You stay far enough back, do whatever you can to help."

He turned and walked over to one of the fire trucks. Apparently, they agreed with him. I saw him struggling into one of those yellow suits, and a minute later, he had the Scott Pack on and was walking toward the door of the building. I wasn't sure how I could assist, but I suspected that a little magic would help more than anything else I could do. I found a place where I wouldn't be seen easily, and then got out my wand and held it at the ready.

Several of the firemen had now gotten people out through windows and were bringing them down the ladders. Suddenly, as a fireman and the person he had rescued were opposite a window on the sixth floor, something inside exploded.

A cloud of smoke and flames shattered the window and burst out, hitting the fireman and knocking him and the victim he was carrying off the ladder. The six-story fall would probably be fatal to both of them.

I pointed my wand and cast a quick levitation spell. The only such spell I knew was designed to work on a single person and would not support two, but it slowed their fall quite a bit. Someone had been trying to get a net under them, but there would not really have been time. Now, with their fall slowed, the net was in place in time, and both fireman and victim were saved. I could see people talking, pointing up, waving their arms to mimic the fall. I couldn't hear them, but I could tell they didn't really believe what had happened.

All the activity, clustered around the falling bodies, was in front of the building, and none of the firefighters there could see around the side. But I could, and I suddenly saw a bunch of people pressing up against a third-floor window. There was a stairwell near them, but it was engulfed in flames; they would never make it out that way. I wasn't even sure if the men with Scott Packs could make it through there, and the area below the window was jammed with dumpsters—getting a ladder in would be damned near impossible.

Show time for Daisy. I waved my wand and was instantly encased in a shimmering shield. Scott Packs, ha! I headed in the door to the stairs. I could hear the roar of the flames, but I was cool, and I could breathe without any trouble. I swung my wand back and forth in front of me, and the flames flickered and vanished. Up two flights and down the hall until I reached the apartment where I had seen the people. I opened the door and called to them, "Follow me. I've got a safe way out for you."
They hesitated and then moved toward the door. I led them down the hall, knocking out the flames that were beginning to spring up again. I took them down the stairs and out into the parking lot where they would be safe.

As soon as I saw they were all clear, I ducked out of sight, dropped the shield, and tucked my wand away. Then I walked out and asked them, "You people okay? If you need help, all the EMTs are around front."

Most of them started in that direction, but one man turned to me. "Who, what, was that that led us out? I've never seen anything like it."

"Experimental," I answered. "But the guy wearing it had to get back to the truck and turn it off; he was starting to lose his air. The thing still needs work."

"Guy? Sounded like a woman's voice."

This guy was getting to be a pain. "Yeah, the field distorts sound. Like I say, it still needs work."
I guess I finally satisfied him, because he turned and followed the others I had rescued. I waited a moment and then went over to where all the activity was.

Herb was just peeling out of his yellow coveralls. "Hi, Daisy. Ran out of air and had to get out, but I think we have everyone. There was a report of people on the third floor, but when we got there, they were gone. The flames there had died down for some reason, gave them a chance to escape."

"Good," I said. "Glad you got everyone. Do we need to stick around here, or does the fire department have everything under control?"

"Somebody needs to get statements, but it's all routine. The uniforms can handle it. Let's head back and write up our reports."
When we got back to the squad room, my report was simple. I wasn't trained for firefighting and hadn't done much, so I finished quickly and sat back to wait for Herb.

PURCHASE FROM MUSEITUP PUBLISHING OR AMAZON!

James Hartley is a former computer programmer. Originally from northern New Jersey, he now lives in sunny central Florida. He has published two fantasy novels, The Ghost of Grover's Ridge and Teen Angel, and has a third, Magic Is Faster Than Light, due out soon. He has had stories published in the Desolate Places, Strange Mysteries, Book of Exodi, Christmas in Outer Space, Aurora in the Dawn, Free Range Fairy Tales, and Uncanny Allegories anthologies, and in various e-zines and print magazines. His website is http://teenangel.netfirms.com.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Fourth of July Sale at PoolGear Plus!


PoolGear Plus®, the Internet's #1 choice for discount swimming pool supplies and accessories, is having a 4th of July Sale! From chlorine tablets to pool chemicals, from floats to pool toys, from select maintenance gear to solar heating products, PoolGear Plus has everything you need to make your 4th of July pool party a blast!

Save 15% on select pool chemicals and select pool chemicals from Natural Chemistry®. Save 15% on select floats, pool games and toys, like this CoolJam Pro Poolside Basketball game. Check out the mail-in rebate offers available for their already low priced automatic pool cleaners.

Have you been thinking of purchase a spa lately? Be sure to take a look at their selection of Dream Maker spas available in a variety of sizes. An infrared sauna is a perfect way to relax. PoolGear Plus offers one-, two-, three-, and four-person sauna options to fit your needs.

Easy online ordering allows you to place your order any time, day or night. They now offer shipping via FedEx®. Have a technical pool question? Contact tech support via their website. PoolGear Plus makes it easy to take care of your pool or spa while saving you money.

Take advantage of the tremendous savings during the 4th of July sale at PoolGear Plus!


This post sponsored by PoolGear Plus.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Free for All Friday: Celtic Run by Sean Vogel


It's Free for All Friday again. I am offering one lucky winner a chance to win a paperback copy of Celtic Run by Sean Vogel.

Jake, a 14-year-old gadget whiz, didn’t plan on a summer full of treasure, thieves, and danger. He just got lucky.
While in Ireland on a class trip, Jake stumbles upon the first clue to a treasure missing from the Spanish Armada. Jake sees the riches as his chance to buy back the family sailboat and restore a piece of the life he enjoyed before his father was critically injured in an accident. Desperate to find the treasure, Jake teams up with Zach, his nemesis and class bully, and two girls in a clue-hunting chase across the Dingle Peninsula.

Dodging would-be thieves, exchanging wisecracks with Zach, and concocting ingenious devices to get them out of scrapes, Jake leads the team as they connect piece after piece to the 400-year-old mystery.

Read an excerpt!



Celtic Run

© Sean Vogel

Chapter 1

Jake clenched his fists. Zach was sauntering down the airplane aisle as if he were the best thing since the iPod. Everyone has an archenemy, Jake thought. Luke Skywalker has Darth Vader. Harry Potter has Voldemort. Me? I have Zach.

Zach plopped into the seat in front of Jake and poked his head around to talk.

“Hey, twerp, having a good flight?”

Just my luck. Five and a half hours to Ireland behind the goon of the eighth grade. “I’d be having a better flight if you’d test the emergency exit.”

Zach’s eyes narrowed. “Okay, Spanky, you’ll pay for that with your leg room.” He stuffed his duffle under his own seat until it infringed on Jake’s space. “Oh, wait, you’re only three feet tall, so my bag won’t bother you.” Zach chuckled and turned back around to watch a movie on his LCD television screen.

Instinctively, Jake stretched his legs to see if he could reach the duffle with his feet. Shorter than the average student, he felt like a dwarf compared to Zach’s football-player physique. He glanced at Zach’s seatmate, Julie. Why doesn’t she ever see this?

Jake’s heart pinched as Julie adjusted her position to rest her head on Zach’s shoulder. Her blonde hair lay draped between the seats, its strong berry scent sending a slight tingle through Jake’s body.

Jake and Julie had grown up together. They’d been friends from hide-and-seek to Guitar Hero, which made it the ultimate blow when she started going out with Zach. Why can’t she see him for the jerk he is? Jake kicked Zach’s bag out of anger. Good thing no one’s sitting next to me. Then, grinning, he bent forward and slowly opened the zipper.

The first thing he found was a stack of papers. A cover sheet said “The Visitors, by Zachary Maguire.” Laughing inwardly at his good fortune, Jake tucked the manuscript into the seat pocket in front of him for future retrieval. Never pass up good blackmail material.

Next, he found Zach’s security-compliant bag of liquids. Jackpot! All that bragging about being the only eighth grader to shave is going to haunt him. He pulled out the travel-sized can of shaving cream and some dental floss and then pried the tab off his empty soda can.

He knew Julie wouldn’t approve of what he was about to do. Like a referee who flags the guy returning a punch, she had a knack for seeing only Jake’s retaliations and not Zach’s instigating offenses.

After jamming the metal tab into the tight gap behind the button, he gingerly pulled forward on the makeshift lever. Mint-scented goo dribbled out. Perfect. Next, he strategically placed a couple of airline blankets inside the duffle to hold the shaving cream can up toward the opening of the bag. He zipped it closed as far as he could, leaving just a little access for his fingers. Using a fisherman’s knot, he tied the floss to the metal tab, pulled the slack out, and tied the other end to the zipper.

He bit his lower lip as he pulled the knot tight. Probably the last time I’ll tie that knot since we no longer have a boat. The feeling of loss that he experienced on the day his dad sold their sailboat to pay the medical bills had been monumental. He slid the duffle back under the seat and glanced up at the movie. Seen it. With his dad laid up, watching movies was about all they could do together now.

*          *          *

Hours later, the pilot announced their descent into Ireland. Jake finished scanning the “Trace Your Heritage” homework instructions and folded them into his backpack. He hadn’t wanted to leave New York for the entire summer, but his dad had urged him to go on this school trip, saying it would be good for him to see where their family came from.

Jake tossed his backpack onto the empty seat next to him and peered between the seats as Zach wrapped up the cords of his expensive headphones. Showtime. Pretending to sleep, Jake watched through slits in his eyes as Zach pulled out his bag.

Zach tugged at the zipper. It didn’t budge. He grunted, tightened his grip, and yanked again. A greenish geyser of minty foam erupted from the bag, lathering Zach from head to waist.

“Argh!” Zach’s arms flailed as he struggled to wipe the slime from his face. He stopped and blinked several times. Then he stood up, turned, and fixated on Jake.

Uh-oh. At ten thousand feet, options for escape were slim.

An attendant spoke into the intercom. “Sir, please sit down. We’re making our descent.”

Temporarily thwarted, Zach pointed at Jake before making a fist and smacking it into his other palm.

“Zach!” Julie scolded.

“But look at what he did!” Zach removed the cream from his face with the last dry part of his shirt.

“Well, what did you think he’d do if you put your bag there? You know he can’t resist a practical joke!”

Jake’s heart pounded. She noticed. There is hope.

“And Jake, you’ve got to stop with the pranks.” Jake looked down, not wanting to gaze into her disapproving blue eyes. She’d once confided to Jake that Zach had some insecurities and issues with his dad, but Jake didn’t think that gave him the right to be a bully.

Once the plane landed in Shannon, the group of ten students made their way through customs and baggage claim. They purchased some cookies and drinks at the café and then walked outside into the mid-morning sun to eagerly await their sponsors. Although most of the students would be going to different villages, such as Ballyferriter and Castlegregory, Jake knew that Zach, Julie, and he would be staying in the town of Dingle.

He remembered the glint in Julie’s eyes when she talked about her dad pulling strings to keep them all close to each other. She wants me to be friends with her boyfriend? No way.

Jake’s name was called. He turned to see a man in faded pants and a colorful sweater
bounding toward him. The powerful energy in his trim frame was clearly evident.

Dia daoibh, Jake. Mo ainm Gerald O’Connell,” he said, warmly extending his hand.

Zach stopped dabbing the shaving cream from his clothes. “Whoa, I thought they spoke English here.”

“We do.” A girl with long red curls and a china-white complexion stepped out from behind the man. “Hello. My name is Maggie O’Connell, and this is my ‘da,’” she said with a charming brogue.

Jake recognized her from the photo she’d sent when they exchanged introductory e-mails. He remembered she was fifteen, only a year older than he was.

Mr. O’Connell inclined his head. “Welcome to Ireland.”

Not wanting to pass up the opportunity to upstage Zach, Jake said to Maggie, “That was Irish that your dad—uh, da—was speaking, right?”

Maggie beamed. “That’s impressive. Most Americans would have called it Gaelic.”

“My dad drilled me on Irish knowledge. He didn’t want me to bring shame on the McGreevy name.”

Maggie smiled in appreciation. “Speaking of names, remember you wrote to ask if there were any McGreevys listed in our area? Well, I was able to find a few near Killorglin—just about an hour away.”

Go raibh mile maith agat.” Jake hoped he’d pronounced the Irish translation for “thank you” correctly.

“Nice.”

“’Fraid that’s all I’ve learned so far,” Jake grinned.

When Julie’s and Zach’s names were called, two well-dressed couples approached them. Jake noticed that as each person shook Zach’s hand, his or her nose twitched, probably trying to figure out where the minty smell was coming from. Jake snickered and Zach mouthed a threat at him.

In the parking lot, the O’Connells led Jake to a beat-up hatchback. Mr. O’Connell pounded on the latch to open it and began loading Jake’s bags. As Zach’s and Julie’s sponsors packed their luggage into their respective luxury cars, Zach called to Jake, “Hey, twerp. Want me to upgrade you to a donkey cart?”

Maggie squinted at Zach, as if to better understand what he’d just said.

Jake turned to her. “What’s Irish for caveman?

She giggled, mischief sparkling in her eyes. “Try fear pluaise.”

“Catch you later, fear pluaise!

All the sponsors laughed. And when Zach’s face deepened to a dark shade of red, Jake could barely conceal his pleasure. I am definitely going to like it here.

The car’s exterior may have been dilapidated, but its engine fired right up. Jake struggled to keep his stomach steady as Mr. O’Connell sped along the highway for the two-and-a-half-hour trip south. Their lively conversation made the time fly. It didn’t take long for Jake to get used to their accents, but much to his embarrassment, a few times he found himself unconsciously mimicking their inflections.

“When we get home, you can call your mum and da and tell them you’re here,” Maggie said.

Jake stared out the passenger window. “Just my dad. My mom died when I was young.”

Maggie twisted in her seat to reach out and touch his arm, hesitated, and then put her hand back by her side. “Tá brón orainn. I mean, I’m so sorry.”

“So this is your first time in Ireland, right, Jake?” Mr. O’Connell said, gently changing the subject.

“Yes. My dad and I have sailed to a few places on our schooner, but we’ve never made it this far.”

“Where have you been?” Maggie asked.

“Caribbean mostly. The sea down there is amazing.”

“I’ll bet. Well, my da and the other sponsors thought you might enjoy seeing a bit of scenery before settling in. We’re now on Slea Head Drive. Very soon you’ll be able to get your first glimpse of Blasket Sound, okay?”

“Of course.” Jake inched forward in his seat for a better view.

As they rounded the next corner, Maggie stretched her arm out the window and said, “Welcome to Dingle.”

Jake’s jaw dropped as the infinite ocean unfolded before him. Soaring cliffs hugged the coastline to stand guard over white-capped waves racing toward the shore like wild horses.

“It’s awesome,” Jake said, hoping he didn’t sound too corny.

“The National Geographic Traveller guidebook proclaimed it ‘the most beautiful place on earth,’” Maggie added with pride.

“I can see why.”

Thankfully, Mr. O’Connell slowed down a bit to make the curvy ride more enjoyable.  Jake glanced back and saw that Zach’s and Julie’s sponsors were managing to keep pace with Mr. O’Connell. After twenty minutes, everyone pulled into a small parking lot on the western tip of the peninsula.

Several families were gathered at the overlook, all taking pictures of the breathtaking view. The sight of the water overwhelmed Jake, and he swallowed hard, suppressing memories of his father’s sailboat and better days. Maggie guided the group to the best vantage point. Unlike some of the spectacular cliffs they had passed on the way, this section of the peninsula was only fifteen feet above the ocean. The water appeared calm, but Jake recalled his dad’s many lectures on strong currents and sudden waves.

He looked around at the other tourists and caught sight of a toddler dressed in a thick pink sweater and matching pants. She tottered after a butterfly, swinging her arms in an attempt to catch it. The insect fluttered away from the throngs of people, toward the edge of the cliff, with the child still in pursuit.

Jake swiveled his head around. Nobody is paying attention to her. He took off toward the girl, screaming for somebody to stop her, but before anyone could move, the child vanished over the edge. At full speed, Jake shed his shoes and plunged off the cliff.

Romance, danger, intrigue, and personality clashes between peers—all make Celtic Run a vivid coming-of-age novel, drawing direct connections between life’s changes, opportunities, strife, and the process of maturity
.
Teens—and many an adult—will find Celtic Run a vivid, memorable adventure story.

Diane Donovan, eBook Reviewer, Midwest Book Review


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Growing up in a small town in Michigan during the 1980s, Sean was provided with an excellent garden for cultivating his writing career. With only a few simplistic video games and three television channels, he became an accomplished daydreamer and a creative outside adventurer.

A son of a garbage truck driver, Sean often received “gently used” items from his father’s route. With a bit of imagination and a little tinkering, these items were reborn as tools for battles against backyard bandits. These childhood experiences would later serve as the foundation and inspiration for Jake McGreevy’s gadgetry expertise.

Seeking his own adventures, Sean joined the Army via an ROTC scholarship at Colorado State University. Living in Germany for several years gave him the opportunity to travel extensively in Europe. During his time in the Army, he served in the Field Artillery and Signal Corp, rising to the rank of Captain and receiving the Bronze Star Medal for his service in Iraq.

Sean started drafting novels out of boredom during long deployments in the military; a pen is easier to carry than a guitar. But he soon fell in love with the frustrating, yet satisfying science called writing and has been hard at work ever since.

When he’s not helping his main character Jake get out of tangles, Sean is a department manager for a large aerospace company. He lives in Denver with his wife and their two dachshunds.

Visit Sean online at http://www.seanvogel.com/

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Mystery Novel Month: The Carousel Ghost by Andrea Pelleschi

Fourteen-year-old Kate's traditional first day at Wildwood Lake Park couldn't get any worse. Besides problems with her best friend and the obnoxious, but cute, boy from school named Tommy, there's the new haunted carousel ride. When Kate goes for a spin, she finds herself transported back in time and into the body of a ghost named Isabelle, circa 1928. Isabelle's husband carved the horse, and the rumor is that he also murdered Isabelle.

Back in the present, Kate teams up with Tommy to solve the mystery of how Isabelle died, even if it means more terrifying rides on the carousel. As the investigation goes on, Kate finds herself growing closer to Isabelle than she is with Meghan. So when the carousel is slated to be dismantled for the park museum, Kate hurries to solve the mystery before Isabelle is doomed to wander the park--and Kate's dreams--forever.


The Story Behind The Carousel Ghost by Andrea Pelleschi

The Carousel Ghost is based on a real ghost story from Cedar Point Amusement Park in Sandusky, Ohio. Many years ago, I went up to Cedar Point and rode a lovely old-fashioned carousel, the kind with the carved wooden horses covered in ornate decorations. Afterward, I toured a small museum in Frontiersland, which had a beautiful black warhorse on display.

The tour guide told us an intriguing story about a ghost that inhabited the horse. Supposedly the carousel carver, a famous carver named Mueller, had murdered his wife because she'd been cheating on him. Then he'd cut up her body and placed it inside the horse. At least this is the story as I remember hearing it.

Over the years, people said they heard the horse gallop down the midway after the park closed or saw carousel lights come on all by themselves in the middle of the night. Ride operators even claimed the carousel was never in the same position in the morning as they’d left it in the night before.

This story sparked my imagination. What if it really were haunted? And what would happen to someone who was sensitive to ghosts when she rode the horse?

After doing some research, I learned that carousel horse carvers came to America in the late 1800s and worked on the east coast, primarily, for companies like the Philadelphia Toboggan Company. There was usually a head carver and others who worked for him. Many of the carvers were German. From this, I decided to make the carver German and have the ghost, his wife, be from the late 1920s.

I also learned that horses were made from solid blocks of wood, so it would be impossible for a body to be stashed inside one! This was not a problem. A solid horse can still be haunted!

If you want to learn more about the inspiration horse, this website has some information: http://www.ghostsofohio.org/lore/ohio_lore_18.html

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Andrea Pelleschi has been editing and writing children’s books for over 12 years. As an editor, she's worked on everything from coloring and novelty books to picture books and textbooks. As a freelance writer, she’s written primarily nonfiction, but her passion is scifi, fantasy, and paranormal. She has an MFA in creative writing, and The Carousel Ghost is her first novel. Currently Andrea lives in Ohio with her cat Ella, who, unlike her namesake Cinderella, never does any housework.

Visit Andrea online at:

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Product Review: World's Best Cat Litter™



I recently had the chance to review World's Best Cat Litter™'s Multiple Cat Formula. We have four furry little beasties here--though our Maine Coon just got groomed and is now less furry--and that means multiple litter boxes. While cleaning the litter boxes every night isn't my favorite chore, it's not the worst thing I've ever had to do. Still, I'm always on the lookout for products that are better.

We were using a corn cob cat litter when the opportunity arose to try out World's Best Cat Litter. Unlike when I switched to the corn cob litter, the cats took to World's Best Cat Litter right away. This litter is whole-kernel corn based, making it pet and planet friendly. There is no dust, which makes life much better for me because of my allergies. According to the packaging, it clumps the quickest, which means there is no sinking to the bottom or sticking to the sides. I found this to be true. Cleaning up the litter box is a quick job thanks to World's Best Cat Litter. In addition, World's Best Cat Litter is slightly better than my current litter at controlling odors.

When we first switched to corn cob cat litter, I didn't think I would mind the mess created by how light it is. I was wrong. Having to sweep up around the litter boxes every night is a pain in the neck. We used to have litter boxes with covers, but our cats don't like them and they began leaving me presents in the corners of the basement, so I took the covers off. World's Best Cat Litter, while still light, doesn't seem to be flung around as much as corn cob litter, which means less floor clean up.

My one challenge is not with the litter itself, but in purchasing it. World's Best Cat Litter is not available at the store where I usually grocery shop, so it means an extra trip. The closest place is only 2.5 miles from where we live, but with my busy schedule, it can be hard to justify stop there to pick up only one product. In addition, this litter is more expensive than what I am currently buying. I found a 17 pound bag of World's Best Cat Litter Multiple Cat Formula at Amazon for $23.99. I can buy two 10.5 pound bags of my current cat litter for $17.98 plus tax at my regular grocery store. I don't mind paying for quality, but with four cats, price is definitely a consideration.

I'm glad I tried World's Best Cat Litter and I would definitely recommend it to cat owners everywhere.


I received a free sample bag of World's Best Cat Litter in exchange for my honest opinions. I received no monetary compensation of any kind for this review.

Mystery Novel Month: Rip-Off by Mar Preston

High-tech burglary and murder are bad for business in the upscale, tourist-destination beach city of Santa Monica with its leftist politics, rich homeowners, and huge homeless population. Bad for Detective Dave Mason of the Santa Monica Police Department. 

A deadbeat burglar has been found in the upscale Santa Monica beach condo of a playboy studio exec. The dead body must link up with a string of high-tech burglaries, and the Chechens Mason keeps meeting must link up with each other somehow, but how? 

The investigation leads him down mean streets into the dark world of embezzlement and an explosion that almost kills him. The stakes rise as the investigation send Mason to the Hollywood Russian community where he is warned off by the FBI and Homeland Security. A bungled take down results in two murders of key informants. Fingers are pointed. Mason is outranked and the Department blamed.

While Mason brings an international whodunit to an end, restoring his own and the Department’s reputation, he finds his relationship with his community activist girlfriend teetering on the edge.


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I grew up in northern Ontario and love its lakes and forests. But I lived in Santa Monica for decades watching big money, land development, and politics clash. 

Getting a good murder mystery novel out of what goes on behind the scenes in grassroots politics, glitzy businesses, and developer skullduggery makes all those dreary Santa Monica city council meetings worthwhile. 

I live now in a village in the California mountains not that far from the edge of the Los Angeles sprawl. There's too much to do here: I'm writing crime fiction seriously, but I can't get away from the SPCA, local environmental politics, and the writing community.  

Life is good.


Author’s website: http://marpreston.com/