Tuesday, December 31, 2013

In the News: Common Core



Last year, I used to have a weekly feature titled, WSJ Wednesday, where I would share my thoughts on articles I read in The Wall Street Journal. As the year got busier, my favorite feature fell by the wayside. In 2014, I am reinstating it in a new way. Now on Tuesdays, this will feature commentary on any news item I find of interest. I hope you feel free to engage in respectful discussion over anything you read here on In the News....

Common Core State Standards (CCSS) initiative has become a hot topic. According to the website, the initiative's mission statement is:

The Common Core State Standards provide a consistent, clear understanding of what students are expected to learn, so teachers and parents know what they need to do to help them. The standards are designed to be robust and relevant to the real world, reflecting the knowledge and skills that our young people need for success in college and careers. With American students fully prepared for the future, our communities will be best positioned to compete successfully in the global economy.


Currently, 45 states, the District of Columbia, four territories, and the Department of Defense Education Activity have adopted the Common Core State Standards.

Opposition to Common Core has come from various sides: parents, educators, opinion writers, organizations, etc. Locally, we have also seen opposition. The "Falcons for Educational Freedom" want to remove the Common Core State Standards initiative in the Hampden-Wilbraham Regional School District and retain local control over curriculum. A public forum held at the Wilbraham Public Library this month featured Dr. Sandra Stotsky, who is credited with helping to develop those academic standards for K-12 students. According to The Wilbraham-Hampden Times, Stotsky was one of only five members of the former Common Core Validation Committee who didn't sign off to validate the standards.

During this public forum, Stotsky discussed how the Mass. Frameworks were developed "to raise the floor for all students and the Common Core was mainly established to close achievement gaps for struggling students." At this forum, she proposed a three-point strategy that would raise the floor for all students and stress content knowledge in every subject. She also stated higher standards require stronger teachers.

Superintendent of Schools for the Hampden-Wilbraham School District Martin O'Shea says the Frameworks and the Common Core Standards work together to provide students the skills they need for high school graduation. O'Shea claims how teachers teach and the specific content they teach remains a local responsibility.

I have to admit that national standards scare me more than a little. The federal government still can't gather enough intelligence in a timely fashion to protect us from terrorists threats (even after 9/11), as the Boston Marathon Bombing so easily shows. And one thing George Will pointed out in his opinion piece from March 9, 2012 is truly frightening:
We have been warned. Joseph Califano, secretary of health, education and welfare in the Carter administration, noted that “in its most extreme form, national control of curriculum is a form of national control of ideas.”

Might sound ridiculous now, but we have legislators out there trying to ban us from drinking 32 ounces of soda or ingesting foods with trans fats. Is it too much of a stretch to believe in 25 years they will want to control our minds, too?


Monday, December 30, 2013

Mailbox Monday - First & Last Post for 2013

As I mentioned in my Blogging Goals for 2014 post, I'm retiring You've Got Mail Monday and joining onto Mailbox Monday.


Mailbox Monday has gone on tour since Marcia at To Be Continued, formerly The Printed Page passed the torch. December’s host is Rose City Reader.

***The Mailbox Monday poll found that most bloggers preferred the Mailbox Monday blog to be the permanent home for the meme beginning in January.***

The meme allows bloggers to share what books they receive in the mail or through other means over the past week.

Just be warned that these posts can increase your TBR piles and wish lists.

Here is what I received this week.


The value of any new venture or sound new idea needs to be developed out of the nothingness of silence, ignorance and darkness. It ignites and illuminates the world only when the great storytelling entrepreneur lights the flame. “STORYTELLING: The Indispensable Art of the Entrepreneur” shows, with startling clarity and practical know-how, the process by which wealth and other things of exceptional value can emerge into the world literally out of nothing—nothing, that is, but the Art of Storytelling.

STORYTELLING takes you on a journey which reveals how the development, progressive modification and adaptation of your story is the golden thread and foundational core management practice which ties together all the others: building, focusing and motivating your management team, navigating through troubled times or excessive growth, maintaining positive momentum with investors and Boards of Directors and positioning the venture for a potential exit.

Award-winning author and entrepreneur, Rudy Mazzocchi, exposes his greatest secret of success and provides an enormous amount of “experienced-based” illustrations and nuts-and-bolts practical advice. He reveals how to create and evolve the story of your new venture in a way that energizes and breathes life into what may have started out as just an idea.

Everyone can benefit greatly from reading this book—whether or not you envision yourself as an entrepreneur. STORYTELLING: The Indispensable Art of the Entrepreneur applies universally to ventures of all types and is an essential element in the fulfillment of any dream—dreams which depend upon capturing the interest and sustaining the highly-motivated commitment of others.

*

Narrated in Lincoln’s own voice, the tragicomic I Am Abraham promises to be the masterwork of Jerome Charyn’s remarkable career.

Since publishing his first novel in 1964, Jerome Charyn has established himself as one of the most inventive and prolific literary chroniclers of the American landscape. Here in I Am Abraham, Charyn returns with an unforgettable portrait of Lincoln and the Civil War. Narrated boldly in the first person, I Am Abraham effortlessly mixes humor with Shakespearean-like tragedy, in the process creating an achingly human portrait of our sixteenth President.

Tracing the historic arc of Lincoln's life from his picaresque days as a gangly young lawyer in Sangamon County, Illinois, through his improbable marriage to Kentucky belle Mary Todd, to his 1865 visit to war-shattered Richmond only days before his assassination, I Am Abraham hews closely to the familiar Lincoln saga. Charyn seamlessly braids historical figures such as Mrs. Keckley—the former slave, who became the First Lady's dressmaker and confidante—and the swaggering and almost treasonous General McClellan with a parade of fictional extras: wise-cracking knaves, conniving hangers-on, speculators, scheming Senators, and even patriotic whores.

We encounter the renegade Rebel soldiers who flanked the District in tattered uniforms and cardboard shoes, living in a no-man's-land between North and South; as well as the Northern deserters, young men all, with sunken, hollowed faces, sitting in the punishing sun, waiting for their rendezvous with the firing squad; and the black recruits, whom Lincoln’s own generals wanted to discard, but who play a pivotal role in winning the Civil War. At the center of this grand pageant is always Lincoln himself, clad in a green shawl, pacing the White House halls in the darkest hours of America’s bloodiest war.

Using biblically cadenced prose, cornpone nineteenth-century humor, and Lincoln’s own letters and speeches, Charyn concocts a profoundly moral but troubled commander in chief, whose relationship with his Ophelia-like wife and sons—Robert, Willie, and Tad—is explored with penetrating psychological insight and the utmost compassion. Seized by melancholy and imbued with an unfaltering sense of human worth, Charyn’s President Lincoln comes to vibrant, three-dimensional life in a haunting portrait we have rarely seen in historical fiction.

What did you receive this week?

Saturday, December 28, 2013

New Blogging Goals for 2014




Every year around this time I consider this year's accomplishments and set goals for the coming year. As I got busier in 2013, I let go of some of my favorite things about this blog: product reviews and special features. Since I don't plan to let 2014 get as crazy as this past year has been--hopefully I'll stick to that--I want to get back into focusing on this blog more.

I've gone through my sidebar and updated some of the affiliate ads. I don't make much--if any--money off of them, but I think they spruce up the place. I've changed the look to get ready for the new year. What I also want to do is get back into regular features. Here's my plan, but it could change based upon popularity and time.


  1. Monday - Mailbox Monday or Inspiration to Start Your Week. I plan to tag on to this original meme instead of continuing with my own You've Got Mail Monday. The second one is new. I'll post an inspirational quote, picture, or maybe even a YouTube video. There won't be any explanation or commentary, just that little bit of inspiration to start your week off right. 
  2. Tuesday - In the News. I used to do this on Wednesday, but I'm switching it to Tuesday. I'll post about an article I've seen and provide thoughts and questions.
  3. Wednesday - Wordless Wednesday. Don't know who started this one, but it's a picture and nothing else. Most of them come from our large database of photos the hubby has taken over the years.
  4. Thursday - This Day in History. I'll share a little historical tidbit. 
  5. Friday - The Friday 56. Freda's Voice has been running this meme where you turn to page 56 in your current read or 56% on your ereader and post something from it. If she continues this for 2014, I will join in. If not, I'll try to think of something else. Fridays will also be the days I run any giveaways when I have them.

Hope you'll let me know what else you would like to see here. Wishing you all a happy, healthy, and safe New Year!

Plan Early for Outdoor Entertaining



During the summer, we entertain outdoors often. Between birthdays and summer holidays, we dine outside almost as much as we do in. That's why finding deals on outdoor furniture is so important. What we don't want to do is sacrifice quality. Design Furnishings offers wholesale outdoor patio furniture at cheap clearance prices. From entire collections to dining packages, accessories, special deals, and more, you'll find a style that's just right for you.

They offer free shipping on every order and you can take advantage of their personal shopper assistance, which is available 24/7.




Friday, December 27, 2013

Book Blast: The Next America by Don A. Holbrook - Win $25 Amazon Gift Card (Ends Today)


The economic chaos of the 2008 Global Financial Crisis that has created so much destruction of wealth for regular Americans is far from over. This book examines problems and possible solutions within national, international, and local realms that will help us navigate these times and set a course toward calmer waters. While some clamor for more taxes to cover our government's programs, The Next America shows how we can restructure our tax code so it positively affects all aspects of our communities: education, businesses, innovation, political transparency, environmental issues, investments, and more. Concerned citizens and economic players alike will be inspired and motivated to act to reestablish the American Dream during this transitional time. The Next America believes an informed citizenry can create a solution to hold our elected officials accountable for real change that will be robust and beneficial to all American’s not just the elite few at the top, without moving away from our free market and capitalism based economy.

Excerpt:

From reading the newspaper, watching television, or listening to the radio, it should be clear that the unsettling situation America finds itself in today has presented us with several conundrums. We are concerned about where our nation is headed, how to make a living, how to prepare for retirement, how to create a better life for our families today, and how to leave our posterity with an inheritance of economic opportunities.

The global economy has created more chaos and hardships than most of us have previously experienced. Not since the Great Depression have folks been so beleaguered by so many tumultuous problems. Even more devastating is the degradation of our main pillar of humanity, our core: the family unit. With the massive amount of unemployment and underemployment that has arisen in this perfect economic storm, many of us have burned through our benefit claims, extensions, and options. We face loss of income and also hope and self-dignity. These immense problems have made many of us rethink our values and dreams. In the worst of cases, we have given up the ideal of aspiring for a better life—not only for ourselves, but also for our children. The economic pressures are not the only problems in this perfect storm. We face burgeoning pressure from religious zealots who are not tolerant of religious differences. We face environmental calamities,

both natural and man-made. In addition, the resources that we depend on to fuel our global economy, such as energy, are peaking in costs and diminishing in availability.
To further frustrate and annoy our already overloaded psyches, we have a complete lack of trust in our governmental systems. People are weary of the either/or partisan politics and government’s failure to look out for our best interests.

WATCH DON DISCUSS MOVING BEYOND A FRAGILE ECONOMY:



Purchase your copy at AMAZON


Don Holbrook is a private economist consultant involved in economic development public policy, site
location decisions for private sector investments of new facilities, strategic destination tourism development feasibility and public-private partnership conceptualization, including public sector incentives to entice business investment into local economies. His non-fiction books on local economic development efforts to rebuild, renew and sustainably balance economic development public policy to create world-class communities have been groundbreaking successes within economic development. His first book, the “Little Black Book of Economic Development” has spawned a series of follow-up books on how communities, companies, individuals and families can navigate these treacherous economic times.

Holbrook is one of the worlds foremost thought leaders and public speakers on the subject of how communities can build smart and sustainable local grassroots driven economic development strategies to achieve maximum success in what he refers to as “The Art of the Deal Today.”

Holbrook was formally indoctrinated as a Fellow Member of the International Economic Development Council, for his lifetime achievements by his peers in 2008.

He lives with wife and two sons in Las Vegas, Nevada.

In 2010, Holbrook was formally Knighted at West Point USMA as a member of the modern day Sovereign Military Order of the Temple of Jerusalem, a modern day Knights Templar Order.


Connect & Socialize with Don!


Pump Up Your Book and Don Holbrook are teaming up to give you a chance to win a $25 Amazon Gift Card!

Terms and Conditions:
  • By entering the giveaway, you are confirming you are at least 18 years old.
  • One winner will be chosen via Rafflecopter to receive one $25 Amazon Gift Certificate or Paypal Cash.
  • This giveaway begins December 2 and ends December 27.
  • Winners will be contacted via email on Monday, December 30, 2013.
  • Winner has 48 hours to reply.
Good luck everyone!

ENTER TO WIN!


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Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Gifts for this Busy Mom



Merry Christmas, everyone! I hope you had a wonderful holiday. My son and daughter-in-law joined us today, along with my in-laws. We all had a great time and enjoyed some yummy food. I am so full I don't think I can eat another bite.

Books must have been on many minds, as I am now the owner of nine new titles thanks to my family and my Amazon Wish List. Here is what I received:


  • The Alpine Path by L.M. Montgomery (Lucy Maud Montgomery's autobiography),
  • Inside Laura's Little House: The Little House on the Prairie Treasury by Carolyn Strom Collins and Christina Wyss Eriksson,
  • The Twelve Clues of Christmas: A Royal Spyness Mystery by Rhys Bowen (recommended by a literary agent whose blog I follow),
  • White as Snow, Rock of Refuge, and In Green Pastures by Donna Westover Gallup. These are the three books in her Mysterious Ways series,
  • The Christmas Cottage by Samantha Chase (Kindle version),
  • Twelve Days of Christmas by Trisha Ashley (Kindle version), and
  • Christmas Carol by Michele Gorman (Kindle version).


My son and daughter-in-law bought me a new 4-quart slow cooker. I have a larger one, but it's old and difficult to carry around to church potlucks. I can't wait to try it.

I also received The Bonanza Collection, a five -disc set of the series starring Lorne Greene, Michael Landon, Pernell Roberts, and Dan Blocker. I can't believe all of the stars are gone now. Did you know the Bonanza theme song actually had lyrics? The original version was sung by Greene, Landon, and Blocker. It was--well, to put it kindly--awful, so they went for the instrumental version for the rest of the show; though Greene recorded a version of it changing the lyrics. Johnny Cash also sang his own version with different lyrics.

The family also bought me Gettysburg and Stories of Valor, a Civil War Minutes™ III DVD. It is narrated by Keith Carradine and features interviews with Michael Kraus and David M. Neville, bonus trailers, and commentary. Other nice gifts were a Yankee Candle votive sampler pack and a gift certificate to the local spa.

I hope you had a lovely Christmas. What are some of the special gifts you received?



Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Christmas Eve Check-in



It's almost 10 p.m. here. The baking is done. Food gifts have been passed out to the neighbors. Earlier tonight we attended a candlelight Christmas Eve service at church.

Up until today, Boots, Killer, and Giggles (above) have been making their home under the Christmas tree. They had to relocate as we started putting gifts there instead. See that gold snowflake by the side of Giggles' head. That's no more. One of the cats (probably Giggles) bit it into a bunch of tiny pieces before deciding it wasn't digestible. Good thing that was a cheap ornament.

The Lil' Diva making cut-out sugar cookies for friends

In about fifteen minutes the girls will head off to bed and hopefully Santa's elves will take over and transform our living room into a beautiful showcase. In the morning, we'll sing Happy Birthday to baby Jesus before opening our gifts. What Christmas morning traditions do you have?

Wishing everyone a blessed Christmas.

Monday, December 23, 2013

You've Got Mail Monday



Christmas is almost here and I'm running around like a chicken with her head cut off. Got some wrapping done Saturday, but nothing Sunday. The Lil Diva' baked sugar cookies in the kitchen, so my jellies and honey butter for the neighbors didn't get done either. My plan is to spend today grocery shopping and canning. Wish me luck.

This week, as you can imagine, last-minute Christmas gifts are arriving. I'm hoping the gift cards I ordered arrive in time. If not, I'll owe my son some gift cards. I already know I'll owe the hubby one last neat gift that won't be here.

The catalogs have calmed down, except for the gardening ones. Those are just starting. Last week I received one from Henry Field's®. I don't think I've ever ordered from them before. I'll have to check it out. My to-be-saved gardening catalog pile is growing.

The only book that arrived was The Economy of You: Discover Your Inner Entrepreneur and Recession-Proof Your Life by Kimberly Palmer. I forgot I had agreed to review it several months ago. That's the problem with saying yes when the release date is so far out. I think I'll like this one. It sounded interesting when the publicist emailed me about it.

A lovely gift came from one of my clients last week, too. It was such a nice surprise. I've placed it on my desk in a helpful spot. I'm sure it will get lots of use.

I'm not sure of my blogging schedule for the week, so I hope you'll bear with me. There is a lot to do and only two days to accomplish it.

Hope everyone has a Merry Christmas.


Saturday, December 21, 2013

A Multitude of Best Tips for Working Moms



I love blogs because they provide a wealth of information for busy moms like me. But sometimes I wish there was an easy way to find the tips I am looking for to help make my life as a working mom easier. Now there is. The article “80 of the Best Tips for Working Moms” provides links to blogs that share tips on a variety of topics:


  • Meal preparation,
  • Choosing childcare,
  • Self-care,
  • Breastfeeding,
  • Wardrobe,
  • Travel,
  • Organization, and
  • Housework.

Friday, December 20, 2013

Hidden Valley® Ranch Fest House Party



Last month, my Hidden Valley® Ranch Fest party pack I received through Crowdtap arrived. It included a Hidden Valley Team Ranch T-shirt, a bottle of Hidden Valley Ranch Original Dressing, a packet of Hidden Valley Original Salad Dressing and Seasoning Mix, a packet of Hidden Valley Original Ranch Dips Mix, packets of Hidden Valley Farmhouse Originals Italian with Herbs Dressing, and a party insert with activities, recipes, and a coupon. It also came with samples for my guests, inserts with coupons, and a surprise gift.

Because it's tough to get everyone together this time of year, I opted to use Thanksgiving Day as my party date. We invited family and friends to join us. In all, there were nine of us. Next to Christmas, Thanksgiving is the largest meal I prepare each year. We had standard Thanksgiving Day fare, starting out with cheese and crackers, chips and salsa, and cut vegetables served with Hidden Valley Ranch Original Dressing (because they think ranch dressing is the perfect companion for them), then moving on to the main meal of salad with Hidden Valley Farmhouse Originals Italian with Herbs Dressing, turkey, mashed potatoes, bread stuffing, gravy, squash, and rolls.



I set the table so that every guest had a package of Hidden Valley Farmhouse Originals Italian with Herbs Dressing in their salad bowls. We're all game to try just about anything foodwise, so the rest of the group was on board.

My sister-in-law loved the individualized packets of dressing because they were the perfect size and amount for her salad. I liked that I didn't have to find room in my crammed refrigerator for yet another open bottle of salad dressing. I sent my guests home with some Ranch to Go packages I received. They are the best size to tuck into a lunch bag or bring up to my desk while I'm working so I can catch a quick and healthy snack. Guests also received coupons that came with party pack.



Finally, I used the remaining packets of Hidden Valley Farmhouse Originals Italian with Herbs Dressing in a slow cooker recipe this week. You can find the recipe for Slow Cooker Chicken Cacciatore at https://www.hiddenvalley.com/recipe/962/slow-cooker-chicken-cacciatore/ With the exception of pizza, no one but me is a huge fan of tomato based meals, but everyone ate this one up. The best thing for me is that it took very little time to prepare, and then I turned on the heat and left it alone to cook for four hours.

I've usually stuck with Wishbone or a store brand for dressing, but this party convinced me that Hidden Valley dressings need to be regular purchases for our household.


I received my Hidden Valley® Ranch Fest party pack through Crowdtap. This review contains my honest opinions, which I was not compensated for in any way.

Product Review: The Dwarf in the Drawer by L. van King




Are you one of those parents who is tired of The Elf on the Shelf? Just yesterday, there was an article featured in The Gazette out of Colorado Springs, Colorado that discusses the backlash from parents about this mischievous little elf who wreaks all kinds of havoc on your house and belongings and then reports all your family's misdeeds back to Santa.

L. Van King and illustrator Chuck Gonzales have decided it's time for a new tradition. Like the troublesome elf, The Dwarf in the Drawer comes with a book and a plush toy. But that's where the similarities end. The dwarf lived in the house before the elf even arrived, and instead of flying back to Santa and appearing in a different place each morning, the Dwarf--we've named ours Billy Bob Joe--hangs out in your clean underwear drawer. He doesn't insist you behave with plans to rat you out if you don't. Instead, he wants you to appreciate the love of friends and family and believe in yourself.

OMG! I haven't laughed this hard in a long time. Our dwarf has been so much fun to have around. While my girls don't see their Elf on the Shelf in the unflattering light that the book portrays, we all got a kick out of reading The Dwarf in the Drawer story and making our dwarf part of our daily lives. Our dwarf pops up in someone else's clean underwear drawer (Do they make a drawer to hold your dirty underwear?) each morning. So far it's just been the dwarf, but I think you could be quite imaginative with the dwarf by adding reading material or snacks; even if that's not the point of the story or the toy.

The Dwarf in the Drawer matches humorous rhyming text with colorful, sometimes zany, illustrations to come up with a winning product that might just become a new Christmas tradition. Its simple, yet meaningful, message is one that is so important to remember as we rush through the holidays. Highly recommended.

Find out more at http://page.macmillan.com/mcpg/dwarfinthedrawer/!




Hardcover: 32 pages
Publisher: Square Fish; Har/Toy edition (October 1, 2013)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1250041430
ISBN-13: 978-1250041432


I received a copy of this book/plush toy kit from the publisher. This review contains my honest opinion, which I have not been compensated for in any way.

TV Movie Review: Angel in the Family (2004)

When widowed father (Ronny Cox) collapses, his daughter Sarah (Tracey Needham) calls her estranged sister. Beth (Natasha Gregson Wagner), feeling like she is jeopardizing her job, begrudgingly leaves her husband and a major account behind to be with her father in Los Angeles.

Their father convinces them that they need to return home to Trinity for Christmas. The house has been closed up since the death of Buddy's wife. When a frustrated Sarah cries out to her mother, the miracle of Christmas returns Lorraine (Meredith Baxter) to her family to help heal the wounds that have torn them apart.

Hallmark Channel has been running this 2004 movie as part of its Countdown to Christmas lineup. It features a fractured family that soon realizes their late wife/mother is what held them together. Sarah feels like the unappreciated older daughter who has been left behind to care for her widowed father; while Beth, the one who got everything--including all the love and attention, is pursuing a great career and is happily married. What Sarah doesn't know is how fragile Beth's marriage is. Their father, Buddy, has struggled to let go of his late wife, and is unable to move on.

This is a touching, heartwarming seasonal story. There are a few subplots that branch off of the main story, giving Angel in the Family a great deal of depth. This is an emotional story; one that will require a tissue or two. It will also force you to suspend a bit of common sense. It's touching to see how Lorraine comes back to help her family and the magical things that she can do, but other things she can't do make no sense: she can cause a tree with no lights strung on it to light up, can make the beds and cook hot chocolate without being seen, but she can't find an old phonograph so she and Buddy can dance together to music. I have to admit, I didn't care for Beth at first, but she grew on me as the movie progressed. I feel the best part of this movie is that everyone is able to step back and reflect on how their actions contributed to the distance between them--even Lorraine. If you like movies about second chances, this would be a good choice.

Angel in the Family is available on DVD and Blu-ray. It will also air again on the Hallmark Channel on Monday, December 23rd at 6 a.m. EST.

Format: Color, NTSC, Widescreen
Language: English
Region: Region 1 (U.S. and Canada only. Read more about DVD formats.)
Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1
Number of discs: 1
Rated: NR (Not Rated)
Studio: Echo Bridge Home Entertainment
DVD Release Date: December 5, 2006
Run Time: 88 minutes
ASIN: B000ION27G

I watched this movie on Hallmark Channel. This review contains my honest opinion, which I have not been compensated for in any way.



Thursday, December 19, 2013

TV Movie Review: Window Wonderland (2013)

Photo credit: Hallmarkchannel.com


Chyler Leigh plays Sloan Van Doren, a driven young woman determined to become the next window dresser at McGuire's Department Store. Also interested in the job is artist Jake Dooley (Paul Campbell). Mr. Fitch, who heads up advertising and promotion, challenges Sloan and Jake to create a series of seasonal storefronts. The creator of the window that gets the most attention from passersby will get the job.

As the competition moves along, a mutual attraction develops between the serious and professional Sloan and the happy-go-lucky Jake, which is hampered by the contest and Sloan's rich boyfriend. With support from the store's window washer, Mac (Terence Kelly) and bathroom attendant Rita (Naomi Judd), it's anyone's game to win.

This romantic seasonal comedy is another new movie in Hallmark Channel's Countdown to Christmas lineup. I loved every minute of it. Sloan and Jake work for an extravagant department store in the city vying for a chance to become the new window dresser. Sloan has the college education, but Jake has natural artistic ability, which irritates Sloan to no end.

Sloan's boyfriend, Kenneth (Cameron Mathison) is a wealthy businessman. He doesn't take Sloan's job seriously and can't understand why she does either. It doesn't help that Sloan is so embarrassed by her family that she can't even bring herself to introduce them to Kenneth.

Window Wonderland has all the trademark elements of a great Hallmark Channel movie: romance, conflict, humor, a great setting, and a cast of actors who play their parts superbly. This seasonal movie would be nice to unwind with by the fireplace or to watch while trimming the tree. The storefront windows definitely inspire. And the surprise ending is a nice treat.

You can catch it again on Christmas Day at 6/5C.

I recorded this movie through my cable provider. This review contains my honest opinions, which I have not been compensated for in any way.

Book Spotlight and Giveaway: Thy Will Be Done by Ronald W. Kirk


The world cries out for an imaginative but realistic Biblical guide to the life foreshadowed in Christ’s model prayer. No foolish utopia, here is a powerful, comprehensive portrait of a sinful world redeemed and transformed by Christ—including the tools needed to hasten the day.

The author weaves a tapestry of possibility–Christ’s people growing as salt and light, putting flesh on the Bible’s vision of blessing in every aspect of human life and endeavor, bringing joy to all peoples and glory to the One who came to save the world.

“Ron Kirk comprehensively applies the Lordship of Christ to all areas of life” (Peter Hammond, The Reformation Society, South Africa).

Purchasing information:

Nordskog Publishing: http://www.nordskogpublishing.com/book-thy-will-be-done.shtml

Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/Thy-Will-Be-Done-Blessed/dp/0988297655/

Book excerpt:

Jesus said we know a tree by its fruit. What fruit might we expect when the world has fully given itself to Christ on His terms? How would the world then appear when Jesus Christ generally establishes in the highest degree His Gospel among a receptive mankind, and men systematically apply that Gospel to every area of life?....

Thy Will Be Done thus attempts to present a crafted approach to biblically directed living. In this, applied-faith thinking in each area of life uniquely expresses itself in real life upon Biblically defined life objectives. Everything builds upon a simple set of coherent Biblical principles that speak comprehensively to God’s goals for men in this life in anticipation of eternity....

Rather than seeing this present life as a mere holding tank for eternity, Thy Will Be Done views this life as the first fruits, the down payment on the promises of eternity with Christ.


Jesus Christ graced Ron with salvation late in his college career at the University of California, Berkeley, graduating in 1974. In entering his first church ministry, a lack of a Biblical material on education led him to the Christian History Movement and the works of R.J. Rushdoony. Since 1980, Ron has studied and taught the Biblically and historically identified applied-faith theology and philosophy outlined in this book.

God gave Ron a voracious appetite for learning about everything. Ron studied math and physics in college, and then pursued professional landscape architecture—design is a central component to his calling. He gained a passion for education after finding that a full-orbed Biblical treatment of education was nowhere to be found in contemporary literature.

Ever since about 1977, Ron devoted his life to understand God’s earthly and eternal purposes for mankind, to help others know them, and to derive and spread a thoroughly Biblical system of education aimed toward God’s ends for His people.

Ron’s success in pioneering day and home schools has long proven the effectiveness of systematic Biblical thinking. His work has been published internationally and translated into Spanish. Gloriously married since 1971, Ron and Christina have five children, five more sons- and daughters-in-law, and eleven grandchildren, all walking with Christ. American Heritage Christian Church ordained Ron in 1984.

Ron’s educational and worldview ministry website is www.getwisdom.us. He’s also on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/GetWisdomMakingChristianHeroesOfOrdinaryPeople.


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Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Are We There Yet?: How to Survive the Holidays when Traveling with Kids



Traveling with kids around the holidays isn't always easy--no matter how old they are. Boredom sets in on long trips. I remember when the girls were younger and I would try to pack everything we might need while away. Just thinking about all I used to lug around makes my back hurt.

Then there's the arguing.

"Her foot's on my side."

"No, it's not."

"Is too."

Smack!

"Mom, she hit me."

"Did not."

As the girls got older, I learned to plan better and pack better. Keeping them busy while in the car leaves them less time to complain about how long the trip takes.

"How to Survive the Holidays when Traveling with Kids" provides tips and tricks that make holiday travel easier on everyone. You can find the full article at http://www.gonannies.com/blog/2013/how-to-survive-the-holidays-when-traveling-with-kids/

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood – Snowflake Day – EP Available for iTunes!



Just in time for the holidays, PBS KIDS and The Fred Rogers Company announce a brand new Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood holiday album! The album is a mini 5-song holiday album based on the special “Snowflake Day” episode that recently aired on PBS KIDS channels across the country.

Daniel Tiger is joined by award winning singer Matt Dusk, one of Canada's most beloved male vocalists. Dusk has four critically-acclaimed studio albums under his belt, including two gold albums, and has had three number one radio hits. He studied under jazz piano legend Oscar Peterson at York University.

Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood – Snowflake Day – EP is available on iTunes now.

Kindle Fire HD raffle for Charity from Author Graham Parke


“I'm very polite by nature, even the voices in my head let each other finish their sentences.” – from Completely Flappable


Don’t you just hate it when you have a thousand little thoughts rattling around your brain, good for nothing but keeping you up at night? Ideas, worries, mental reminders for the next day? My voices can get pretty insistent, and mostly this is a nuisance, but sometimes it’s okay, when there’s a story idea or two among the ramblings. And rarely, very rarely, I get what I think is a really good idea, but one that I don't know what to do with.

For instance, a while ago it occurred to me that it’s probably not governments or big corporations that wield the world’s greatest financial power. I think it’s us. All the little people together. Then I started wondering what could happen if we all decided to set 1 month of our incomes aside towards fixing this place up a bit. How many of the world’s problems could we actually solve permanently? Half of them, maybe? All of them? That's a pretty cool picture.

But I’m a pretty dim light when it comes to implementing even small ideas, never mind the big ones. So I’m not sure how to get that ball rolling (heck, I'm not even sure where we keep the balls). But I can certainly start with myself. That’s easy enough (I’ve been in close contact with myself for years; I didn't have much trouble convincing myself.)

So, this December, all proceeds of all my novels will go to Child Helpline International. The CHI is pretty cool because they support toll-free child helplines worldwide and they help highlight gaps in child protection systems. They do all this on donations (click the image below for more information.)


But what does all this have to do with you? Well, I'm raffling off some prizes and giving out some freebees to boost the donation (expenses out of my own pocket, not the donation :P )

So what's in it for you, besides that warm, fuzzy feeling you'll get knowing the Xmas presents you’re buying include an automatic donation? Well, how about I give you the new edition to the award winning No Hope for Gomez saga completely free?
And how about a Kindle Fire HD raffle ticket with every purchase while we’re at it?
Simply forward your receipt emails to nohopeforgomez@gmail.com to participate.

And now, on to the pitch. This is the bit where I try to convince you, using only my words, that my novels don’t suck (or at least, not too much.) That they won’t only tickle your brain, but they’ll actually make your life better, if only marginally. That they are, in fact, worthy donation material. Here goes (fingers crossed)...


Paper: $6.08
Kindle:$2.99
(uk paper, kindle)

No Hope for Gomez!

Winner of the Forewords Book of the Year Awards, featured on Kirkus Best Indie List 2011, IBA and USA Book News Award nominee.
It's the age-old tale:

  Boy meets girl.
  Boy stalks girl.
  Girl already has a stalker.
  Boy becomes her stalker-stalker.

We've seen it all before, many times, but this time it's different. If only slightly.
"Extremely witty writing containing keen insights into human nature." --California Chronicle
"Challenges the way we think about, and interact with, the world around us." --Kirkus Discoveries
"The antics in this book will leave the reader laughing. Graham Parke is a genius."--Reader's Favorite

Unspent Time

Warning: reading this novel may make you more attractive and elevate your random luck by about 9.332%*
(*These statements have not been evaluated by anyone of consequence)
Permeating the cracks between the past and the present is the realm of Unspent Time. Time that was allotted but never spent. In this realm we find the stories that could have been true. Such as the story of the designer of the color scheme used inside your shoe, or the story of Goki Feng Ho: the Chinese art of decoding the secret meaning of car license plates.


Paper: $6.08
Kindle:$2.99
ePub : $2.99
(uk paper, kindle)
“Captivating. Each story fired up my imagination.” – Alan H. Jordan, author.
"Delightfully mad. Graham's vibrant characters shine from the first page." --Tahlia Newland, author.


Free with this event

Completely Flappable

“He’s completely flappable!”
“Don’t you mean he’s unflappable?”
“Not really. He can very easily be flapped.”
Gomez has never been on a date. In his 27 years on the planet he’s never been able to quite close the deal. For some reason, circumstances always conspire to make his meet-ups with women less than official dates. But now a blond German girl with freckles has moved into his building and he decides it’s time to get his act together.

If you've read this far, you're already my hero ;)
I hope you like my idea enough to join me in this fun adventure. Let's see how much we can raise this Xmas ;)

Kind regards,

Graham Parke

Monday, December 16, 2013

Guest Blogger: How to Stop Childhood Obesity by Stephanie Ingram

Obesity is a medical condition that refers to having too much body fat. You may be considered obese if you weigh 20% more than your normal weight range. Obesity is a global problem leading to numerous physical and psychological health issues. Weight is a very sensitive topic for people and becomes touchier if it’s more than desired.



Childhood Obesity Effects

Agility allows kids to exhibit their intelligence and enhance their learning. Look at the obesity matter from a child’s perspective. In our normal communication, we avoid everything that might hurt our child’s feelings. Doesn't obesity hurt the child's mind? Obesity is one of the least acceptable conditions in social life. It leaves children with low self-esteem and excludes them from a variety of playful activities. Their physical limitations keep them away from a number of normal activities and competitions, and don't allow them to build self-confidence for adulthood. Depression makes them introverted, which can lead to a decrease in academic performance. Apart from all of the psychological matters, obesity develops a lasting impact on physical health, including serious health conditions such as high cholesterol, diabetes, cardiovascular ailments, and high blood pressure. Shortened life span is one of the grave impacts of childhood obesity.

How to Stop Childhood Obesity

Primary preventions are needed to enhance the standard of life. As parents, it’s our duty to make positive changes in our children's lives to keep them active, healthy, playful and confident. It’s important to make positive choices for your family life and create an environment that makes those choices easy, natural and enjoyable.

Balanced diet is the foremost prerequisite to live an active and agile life. Avoid those quick breakfast fixes and unhealthy school lunches that may harm their eating habits in the long run, as well as their health. Processed and refined foods do harm by containing sugar, fats and excess calories. Homemade food items should be a priority from a very early age. Stop showing intimacy via sugary treats, fast foods and sweetened beverages. This is the unhealthiest attitude that may harm your child's eating habits for life.

Start making changes in your personal diet and begin workout habits to be a role model for your children. The good thing about dealing with obesity in childhood is that kids are playful by nature. You don’t have to compel them much in order to get them to move more. Create an interesting exercising program with your kids to burn more calories, enhance stamina and build muscles. Make them aware of healthy living and dietary habits.

Avoid using gadgets as much as possible, especially if they are used just for fun. Limit television time and social media networks on the Internet. Encourage physical activities as pastimes rather than video games. Get yourself involved in any kind of sports to hearten kids to do so, too. Ample parental supervision is imperative to understand the consequences of sedentary life and the value of healthy living.


Stephanie Ingram is a blogger, writer at Fitnessrepublic.com, enthusiast spending her efforts and time in learning, applying and writing articles on fitness, food and nutrition, Pilates, health care and green living. She is passionate about learning and sharing the ways to improve fitness and maintain optimal health in order to live an active life.

You've Got Mail Monday



This post would have been up earlier, but I've been gone most of the day. After our first snowstorm of the season dumped 5 inches on us--more in many areas of Massachusetts--I had some catching up to do. This weekend, we finally decorated the family Christmas tree. Now, I have to get the remaining decorations up. Most of the trees are done. I ran out of lights for the last tree and forgot to pick them up at the store today. Not sure what I'll do, as the thought of shopping again isn't very appealing. It might go up with only one strand of lights. Gasp!

The Lil' Princess snapped this one of me and the Lil' Diva.

Other than Christmas presents arriving on a regular basis--thank you Amazon Prime--our family photo card designed by the Lil' Diva arrived from Walmart. My annual Christmas letter is now ready and the cards will go out this week. 

The mail carrier delivered catalogs from L. L. Bean, Helleborus, and FrontGate. I recently won a digital copy of The Great Fruitcake Bake-off by Vicki Batman. She also sent along a lovely hand-crafted eyeglass case she made, which arrived last week. Three books also came my way: The Amazing Adventures of Chilly Billy by Peter Mayle, While We Were Watching Downton Abbey by Wendy Wax (releasing 12/31), and Bedtime Prayers that end with a hug by Stephen Elkins.

That's it for now. Hope you had a great Monday. Enjoy your week!



This Week's Countdown to Christmas Schedule



I've been enjoying some of the great seasonal movies that are part of Hallmark Channel's Countdown to Christmas. Here is this week's schedule.

Week Seven: Monday, December 16 - Sunday, December 23

Monday, December 1612a/11c: Help for the Holidays
2a/1c: Farewell Mr. Kringle
4a/3c: Twice Upon a Christmas
6a/5c: Karroll's Christmas
8a/7c: Let it Snow
2/1c: Christmas Dance

4/3c: Twice Upon a Christmas
6/5c: Help for the Holidays
8/7c: Window Wonderland
10/9c: Farewell Mr. Kringle

Tuesday, December 17
12a/11c: Christmas Dance
2a/1c: The Santa Suit
4a/3c: Karroll's Christmas
6a/5c: Once Upon a Christmas
8a/7c: Angel in the Family
2/1c: The Santa Suit
4/3c: Window Wonderland
6/5c: The Christmas Spirit
8/7c: A Bride for Christmas
10/9c: A Boyfriend for Christmas

Wednesday, December 18
12a/11c: Christmas With Holly, from the Hallmark Hall of Fame
2a/1c: Once Upon a Christmas
4a/3c: Angel in the Family
6a/5c: It's Christmas, Carol!
8a/7c: The Christmas Spirit
2/1c: A Bride for Christmas
4/3c: A Boyfriend for Christmas
6/5c: Christmas With Holly, from the Hallmark Hall of Fame
8/7c: Hats Off to Christmas!
10/9c: Santa Switch

Thursday, December 19
12a/11c: A Season for Miracles, from the Hallmark Hall of Fame
2a/1c: Debbie Macomber's Trading Christmas
4a/3c: It's Christmas, Carol!
6a/5c: Gift of the Magi
8a/7c: A Season for Miracles, from the Hallmark Hall of Fame
2/1c: Lucky Christmas
4/3c: The Wishing Tree
6/5c: Debbie Macomber's Trading Christmas
8/7c: All I Want for Christmas
10/9c: Finding Christmas

Friday, December 20
12a/11c: A Christmas Wish
2a/1c: The Christmas Ornament
4a/3c: The Wishing Tree
6a/5c: A Carol Christmas
8a/7c: Lucky Christmas
2/1c: Annie Claus is Coming to Town
4/3c: All I Want for Christmas
6/5c: A Christmas Wish
8/7c: The Christmas Ornament
10/9c: Moonlight & Mistletoe

Saturday, December 21
12a/11c: Let it Snow
2a/1c: Annie Claus is Coming to Town
4a/3c: A Carol Christmas
6a/5c: Santa Jr.
8a/7c: The Santa Incident
10a/9c: Moonlight & Mistletoe
12/11c: Hats Off to Christmas!
2/1c: Let it Snow
4/3c: Finding Christmas
6/5c: Fir Crazy
8/7c: The Christmas Blessing
10/9c: The Most Wonderful Time of the Year

Sunday, December 22
12a/11c: Christmas Magic
2a/1c: Hitched for the Holidays
4a/3c: The Santa Incident
6a/5c: Naughty or Nice (2012)
8a/7c: The Most Wonderful Time of the Year
10a/9c: Fir Crazy
12/11c: Finding Christmas
2/1c: The Christmas Blessing
4/3c: Christmas Magic
6/5c: Naughty or Nice (2012)
8/7c: A Boyfriend for Christmas
10/9c: Hitched for the Holidays

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Is Raising Your Child as a Vegetarian Healthy?




Have you considered raising your child as a vegetarian? I remember when the Lil' Diva was a baby. When I went back to work and couldn't pump as often as I would like, I supplemented breast milk with formula. The regular formula made her stomach upset, so she drank soy formula the rest of the time she was on the bottle. It definitely made a difference.

My husband and I aren't vegetarians, but I wonder if I had gone that route if our children would be better, healthier eaters. A growing trend in parenting is raising vegetarian children, but some critics argue children might not get the nutrients they need with a meatless diet. "Raising a Vegetarian: The Growing Trend – Is it Healthy for Children?” shares Lauren Schmitt's opinion on the matter. Schmitt is a registered dietitian, nutritionist and certified personal trainer with Healthy Eating and Training, Inc. and is in favor of children being raised as vegetarians. You can read the entire article at http://www.fulltimenanny.com/blog/raising-a-vegetarian-the-growing-trend-is-it-healthy-for-children/

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Guest Blogger: Holiday Stress Busters for Moms by Paul Taylor



The holidays can be a stressful time for moms. You are always in charge of making sure no one is forgotten, everyone has a gift they will love, and every gathering turns out perfectly. That kind of stress can make the holiday season seem less a joy and more a pain in the neck. However, there are some ways you can bust this stress and get back into the spirit of the holidays:

1.      Quiet Time – The first thing I always tell my friends and myself is to make sure you have some quiet time every day. This can be first thing in the morning or any time during your day. Just have some time without any other distractions to calm down and let your brain de-stress. A few minutes of quiet time can help you unwind enough to reset your thinking and have a great day.
2.      Keep It Simple – It is great if you have the resources to buy a bunch of gifts or throw a dozen parties, but it is also stressful juggling all that too. Why put that all on yourself? Keep things simple and cut down on your to-do list for a less stressful holiday season.
3.      Remember the Meaning – Another thing we often forget in all the rush is the meaning behind the holidays we celebrate. Holidays were made to remember the love of friends and family. Do not get so caught up in gifts or gatherings that you forget it is the people that matter. Take time to remember what is really important and your stress levels will go down.
4.      Do Something for You – Many moms get caught up in the cycle of buying and thinking about everyone else. What about you? Take a moment to enjoy the holidays. Get a massage, get your nails done, stop to enjoy a cup of coffee, or even buy yourself a nice gift. It is the little things that can help to make us feel like people again and more than just the mom machine!
5.      Let Go of Perfection –Last, but certainly not least, let go of the idea that you have to make everything perfect. It stinks, but you can pretty much be guaranteed something will go wrong or someone will be unhappy. Do not make perfection your goal. Instead, work to make your goal enjoying yourself and providing an environment where others can feel your love. Your heart is what matters, not your gifts or the perfection of your gatherings.       

Don’t turn into a Scrooge. Instead, let yourself enjoy the holidays for what they are: a chance to be with friends and loved ones. Take the time to make the holidays something to remember and not something to stress about. Spend time with your kids and your family and take a break from shopping and decorating to really sit down and enjoy your holiday. You deserve a break too!


Paul Taylor started www.babysittingjobs.com which offers an aggregated look at those sites to help families find sitters and to help sitters find families easier than ever. He loves writing, with the help of his wife. He has contributed quality articles for different blogs & websites.

Friday, December 13, 2013

Book Spotlight and Giveaway: Closet Words by Kim Hilton


Title: Closet Words
Genre: Christian inspirational
Author: Kim Hilton
Publisher: WestBow Press
Pages: 174
Language: English
ISBN: 978-1449774530

Taken word for word as heard from God, Closet Words is a collection of powerful and penetrating words written down in the stillness of a prayer closet. Hearing from God for several years, Kim Hilton began writing down what she heard. Encouraging, uplifting, and challenging words with a clear message to His servants, Closet Words gives a renewal and refreshing word to the Christian believer.

Excerpt:

Closet Words is a collection of words from God. What began as an earnest journey to seek God in prayer became a journey of God answering and speaking to me. Through a simple pen, God has spoken to me many times. Although it happened one time before, I consider an August morning in 2002, after I prayed the following prayer, to be when God began speaking to me.
My written prayer to God on the second day of a fast:
Do I have the courage to seek you, God? Do I have the strength the prophets of old had? Do I have the wisdom of the kings of old? Do I have the power to rebuke like the apostles? I seek this courage, I seek this strength, I seek this power, I seek this wisdom! Fill this vessel, oh God, to overflowing. I desire you and only you. Help me to be blameless, to keep myself from sin. Help my heart to be full of love for others. Help my hands to serve others. Help my lips to teach of you. Help my mind to be filled with your wisdom. May I find every ounce of strength, every beat of my heart, every word of my mouth, every step of my walk…all come from you and only you.
After that August prayer I began regularly hearing from God while in my closet praying. I have kept a prayer journal for many years, and as the words flowed to me from God, I began writing them in my journal. Many were given to me while on my knees in the dark of my closet. Most were scribbled quickly to grasp each word and phrase. I’ve also been awakened in the night and reached for the pen beside my bed to scribble down words as God was speaking to me.
I have been seeking a deeper walk with God for many years. Like any Christian, I have journeyed with simple issues and I’ve struggled through tough problems. I have overcome, and I have failed. Throughout my walk as a Christian I have searched to get to the deepest level possible with God. This journal, these closet words from God, did not come easily. They are the product of years of yearning and earnestly seeking God through hours of fasting, tears, and prayer.
I have also given words from God to people. I’ve been asked, “Can you give me words from God?” and after praying, he has given me words that have impacted people’s lives. Many times I have been asked how I hear these words. I can only say, “When I hear God, I write. When he stops, I stop.”
The following words are written word for word as they were given to me. My earnest prayer is that these Closet Words can be a comfort to you.




Kim Hilton, MCC, PCC, has a master’s degree in Christian counseling. Founder of Closet Words Ministries Foundation, Kim is a teacher on prayer and listening to God. An avid writer of several books, Closet Words was chosen as the first book to be published with the proceeds going to Closet Words Ministries Foundation. A sought-after speaker and Bible Study leader, Kim has spoken at both national and local events. She resides with her husband on a farm and enjoys spending time with their six grown children and grandchildren. For more information on Kim Hilton or her work, please visit: www.KimHilton.org.

Enter for a chance to win a copy of Closet Words by Kim Hilton. Use the Rafflecopter form below. Good luck!

Terms and Conditions: Winner must be 18 years of age or older and reside in the United States. Winner will be notified by email and have 72 hours to claim the prize. Prize will be shipped directly to the winner by the author or her representative. This blog is not responsible for items lost or damaged in shipment. Void where prohibited.




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