Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Hadlock Brook Carriage Road in Acadia

The good news: I finally started my goal to hike the carriage roads in Acadia. My kids and I drove nearly 3 hours to Acadia to hike the Hadlock Brook Carriage Road. It's one of the shorter carriage roads--only 4 miles--but the trail guide said it had "one of the steepest carriage road grades in the system" so I thought it would be challenging enough.

The bad news: It was gorgeous. It has to be one of the prettiest carriage roads in Acadia. There were a lot of side trips that were fun and exciting. And I forgot my camera!!!!

We started off at the Brown Mountain Gatehouse. The park ranger told us that this amazing building was originally built as the servant's quarters for the Rockefeller family. I couldn't find a picture that did it justice on the web. Did I mention that I forgot my camera?

The trail was wide and well maintained, and the kids were frequently distracted by the blueberry bushes on the side of the road. I kept telling them to save some for other hikers and for the bears, but they ignored me. The bushes were completely loaded with ripe berries this year. Then we passed Upper Hadlock Pond and took a side trail to get closer. We watched tiny fish dart from the sun shine to the shadows for a while. I startled a frog, who startled me back when he jumped into the water.

Then came the steep part. It was hot, humid and a little bit dusty, but even so, this was not a steepness that would cause people driving carriages to get out and guide the horses or to fervently wish for oxen. It wasn't tough at all. That doesn't mean we weren't hot and dusty by the time we got to the bridges. There are 3 bridges on this loop--the Hadlock Brook Bridge, the Hemlock Bridge and the Waterfall Bridge. These are gorgeous stone bridges. The waterfall next to Waterfall Bridge was just the right size for playing in. D and I stood right underneath it! Man, I wish I'd remembered a camera. We went off the carriage roads and onto the trails until everyone was thoroughly wet, and then we started the long, gradual descent back down to the car.

Roger made me promise that if "I dragged the kids all the way to Acadia for a boring old carriage trail", I would do something at the ocean as well, so we stopped at Seal Harbor and played in the waves for about 45 minutes before heading back home. It was a perfect ending to a perfect day. Even if I have no photographic proof that we did it.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Things I Love--Memoirs

On the surface, autobiographies and memoirs are very similar. They are both true accounts about the author's life told in the first person. An autobiography is the entire story of a person's life, from birth until the time of writing. On the other hand, a memoir is much more intimate than an autobiography. It is usually about a much briefer span of time, and focuses on one theme or circumstance.

For example, in the book She Got Up Off the Couch: And Other Heroic Acts from Mooreland, Indiana, Haven Kimmel focuses on the transformation of her mother--a woman who lived in abject poverty, weighed 268 pounds and rarely moved away from the couch until the day she decided to go to college, get a driver's license and lose half her body weight. That transformation changes Haven's own life in profound ways, but the book covers only a few years of Haven's preadolescence.

Today I promised to do some sample book reviews, so I'm going to review all the memoirs I've read so far this year for you. As I wrote these reviews, I stumbled across many, many reviews that put mine to shame. If you want that kind, go to goodreads or amazon and be swept away by the dissertations some people write. I'm not trying to show you how amazingly profound book reviews can be. My goal is to show you how easy it is to let another reader know whether or not another book is worth picking up.

She Got Up Off the Couch: And Other Heroic Acts from Mooreland, IndianaShe Got Up Off the Couch: And Other Heroic Acts from Mooreland, Indiana is the sequel to the delightful memoir A Girl Named Zippy: Growing Up Small in Mooreland, Indiana by Haven Kimmel. Haven says that she never planned to write a sequel, but as she went to book signings so many people wanted to know what happened next. To her surprise, one of the most frequently asked questions was, "Did your mother ever get up off that couch?"  Haven's answer is a resounding, "Boy, did she ever!"

Told in the same child-like spirit as the first book, Haven talks about poverty, depression and other heart-wrenching subjects with humor and wide eyed innocence. This book is the kind that has you rolling on the floor laughing when you know you probably should be crying, and will help you to remember that anything is possible. Recommended.

French By Heart: An American Family's Adventures in La Belle France
French By Heart: An American Family's Adventures in La Belle France is a travel memoir written by Rebecca Ramsey. It is the story of the four years her family spent living in France while her husband worked for Michelin. I have never been to France, but I studied French in school, have French relatives and have always been fascinated with all things French. I loved this book because Rebecca captured the essence of being a stranger in the French culture with good humor. Although the culture is so different from the South Carolina neighborhood she left, and not all the French people are kind to her or her children, you can tell that she truly learned to love France and the people there. This book is fun and light-hearted. Highly recommended.

Eat, Pray, Love: One Woman's Search for Everything Across Italy, India and Indonesia
Eat, Pray, Love: One Woman's Search for Everything Across Italy, India and Indonesia by Elizabeth Gilbert isn't exactly a travel memoir, although it contains elements of that. It is the story of one woman's spiritual journey--her transformation from a "soul-sucking" woman who needs to have a man, but is never happy with one, into a woman who is at peace even when she is alone. After a bitter divorce and a whirlwind love affair leave Elizabeth in complete inner turmoil, she decides to spend a year off from her real life, traveling and finding peace. She spends 3 months in Italy, learning to speak Italian and eating great food; 3 months in India at an ashram learning mental and spiritual control and finally 3 months in Bali, learning to find balance between pleasure and spiritual rigor. The language is a little too salty for me, but Elizabeth's struggle to figure out why she was not happy when she had all the outward trappings of happiness struck a chord in my soul.  Eat, Pray, Love is told with good humor and an honesty that took my breath away. Recommended with some reservations.

Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life (P.S.)
I've already done a review of this one, so I'll keep this short. In fact, let me show you the very basics:
1. The title: Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life (with a link--always a nice touch, but not necessary).
2. The author: Barbara Kingsolver (who is most famous for writing The Poisonwood Bible)
3. The genre: memoir
4. A short synopsis: A year in the life of the author and her family, when they move to their old family farm and spend an entire year eating only food that they grow themselves or that was grown locally.
5.  The tone of the book, how it made me feel and whether I would recommend it: Parts of this book--especially the parts with the turkeys (!!!) made me laugh until I cried. This book has it all--facts and figures that will make you want to become a "locavore" and even make your own cheese, comedy enough to keep anyone's attention, and interesting stories that will stay with you long after you shut the book. Highly recommended.

Monday, June 28, 2010

How To Write A Book Review

Some book reviews are better than the book itself. I love to read these after I've read the book. They make me "ooh" and "ah" all over again as the reviewer points out things I hadn't noticed or says the things in my heart that I didn't have the words for. I am NOT against these kinds of book reviews. I think they are amazing. But that's not the kind of book review I'm writing about today.

The main purpose of a book review is to help the potential reader see if the book you are talking about is one they want to read. The reader should also be able to find the book you are talking about if they decide to read it. Keeping those two objectives in mind, a book review only needs these elements:

1. The book's title
2. The author's name
3. The genre
4. A short synopsis
5. The tone of the book
6. Your recommendation

1. A title, including subtitle, if there is one. Pretty self-explanatory, I think.

2. The author, including any information you think is interesting or pertinent about the author. If you don't have anything, don't worry about it.

3. The genre. You can find the genre of your book by imagining where you'd get the book at a book store--the science fiction section? the young adult section? the mystery section? If you still don't know what to put, you can probably figure it out by going to amazon.com and looking at some of the reviews of the book. Some examples of genre are fantasy, sci-fi, chick-lit, thriller, mystery, romance, christian, literary, classic, young adult, middle grades... The list is quite extensive, and can get very category specific. There is no need for you to get this specific, unless you want to.

Let's use the book The Hunger Games as an example. It's probably enough information to say that it fits into the young adult genre. If you know genres well enough, you'll be able to figure out that it's young adult science fiction. Cool--but an astute potential reader will be able to figure out the sci-fi part when they read your synopsis. If you want to seem REALLY smart, you can mention that The Hunger Games is a dystopian young adult science fiction book. But is that really necessary?

4. A short synopsis. Short is the hardest part here. Especially if you have very strong feelings about the book, brevity is not easy.  At the most, you want to give as much information as you might find on the back of the book, but keeping it even shorter is not a bad thing. Let me use the book Lark by Sally Watson as an example. Lark is young adult historical fiction. Here's my synopsis:

When Lark runs away from her uncle's Puritan family, she meets James, a royalist spy whose annoyance at being forced to protect her from the perils of Cromwell's England gradually turns into friendship, and possibly romance. They get into all sorts of perilous (and sometimes hilarious) adventures with gypsies and Roundhead soldiers as James struggles to figure out which of his conflicting duties deserves his loyalty.

5. The tone of the book, how it made you feel. Was the book hard to get through? Did you laugh a lot? Was one theme particularly meaningful or distasteful to you? Words like "light-hearted," "humorous," "exciting," "dry" or "deeply moving" are useful here. You're trying to convey a sense of what the book was like that might be missing from your synopsis. If you think your synopsis covered all the salient points, you can skip this part.

6. Would you recommend it? To whom? This is a good place to mention what kinds of people might not like it. For example, "I recommend this to anyone who has a strong stomach," or "If a lot of swearing turns you off, this might not be the book for you." There will be books that make you say, "Everyone get a copy of this, right now!" and that's alright too. We're mature enough to figure out whether or not we agree with you all by ourselves.

Tomorrow I'll post some reviews of books I've read recently.

Friday, June 25, 2010

July's Serendipity Challenge

This month we are going to do a couple of things differently. I'd like each person to post how many points they think they can earn here. You can earn points by completing the 3 monthly reading tasks, reading other books, writing reviews and in other ways. I'm always looking for feedback, so let me know how this works for you. (FYI: My own personal goal for July is to earn 80 points. Your goal may be larger or smaller depending on your own personal circumstances.)

Earn points by completing the 3 major challenges!
1. 10 points--For me, 2010 has been the year of the memoir. In honor of my new found love, find a memoir that interests you and read it.

2. 10 points--America's Independence Day is July 4th. To celebrate, choose a book from one of these goodread's lists.
Best American Plays
American Literature At the Movies OR
Best Books About The American Revolution

3. 10 points--I can't wait for the new books by Suzanne Collins and Cassandra Clare that both come out in August, so I thought July would be a great month for us to reread some of our favorite books.

4. 5 points--Books over 100 pages each that don't fit any of the above categories can still earn 5 points per book.

Other ways to earn points:
1. 10 points--(This comes from the Seasonal Book Challenge) There is an age old saying...If a tree falls in the woods, and no one is there to hear it, does it make a sound? Likewise if a person reads a book and no one is there to see them...did the book ever get read? For this task you must read a book of at least 100 pages in public...at a park, or the beach, or on a plane, or a bus, or at a library...any public place will do. (Note from Melanie: I picked this one because I had such a hard time finding a book someone else was reading in June. :-)

2. Every time you review a book for one of the Serendipity Challenge tasks, you earn 10 points. If you're afraid to write a book review, don't be. It's a great way to help those of us who are searching for books to know if we want to try yours or not. Perhaps my next blog post will be about how to write book reviews.

3. I ALMOST had a task about soccer and the World Cup, but decided it keep it at 3 tasks. An optional way to earn 10 points would be to tie the books you choose to soccer in some way.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Review for Enormously Foxtrot

Enormously FoxTrot

June Goodreads Serendipity Challenge Task #2: Be a spy. Go to a public place and find someone reading a book. Without them noticing you, figure out what their book is and get a copy of it. Read it.

This was the most challenging task of all, I am disappointed to tell you. I went so many places, and never saw anyone reading a book. It was bizarre. Track meets, doctor's offices, t-ball games, parks, libraries...where have all the readers gone? I feel like I cheated a little on this one, because I finally had to use the books my own kids were reading.  L was reading Princess School: If the Shoe Fits at the track meet. I felt bad choosing this book though, because I've already read it several times. To my relief, at the library a few days later, I saw D reading Enormously FoxTrot.

It's a cute comic strip--sort of along the same lines as Calvin and Hobbes, but not quite as amazing. The mother is an aspiring writer, and some of the strips about her really struck home. Her name is Andy, and her husband's name is Roger. Here's my favorite:
Roger: You look happy.
Andy: Are you kidding? With the kids back in school? I'm ecstatic! FINALLY I'll have some quiet around this house. FINALLY I'll be able to get some decent writing done. FINALLY I'll be able to do what I've dreamed of doing all summer.
Roger: Ironing my shirts?
(Next frame) Ironing SOME of my shirts?
Andy: Let's see...Now I THINK the Pulitzer Committee meets in March...

The next line shows her diligently working at her desk. She's thinking: The kids are back in school...Roger's off at work...Time to get some serious writing done...Great, brilliant writing...Pulitzer-winning writing...Starting today, Andy Fox is going to write like she's never written before...Just as soon as she finishes this crossword puzzle.

HA HA HA HA...Ouch. That kind of hurt. On a less personal note:
Knock Knock
Who's there?
Swamp Thing.
Swamp Thing Who?
Swamp Thing WHO??? Is that any way to greet your long lost identical twin?

Review for Hotel On The Corner of Bitter and Sweet

Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and SweetJune Goodreads Serendipity Challenge Task #3: For this task, read a book that has been featured on your favorite book/reading related blog. When you post this task include a link to the blog and a review of the book.

I've never met Jamie Ford, but I feel invested in this book because he and I frequent several of the same writer forums, and I have found him to be both classy and helpful, with a great sense of humor. His agent is Kristin Nelson, the author of a popular blog called Pubrants, and she talks about him all the time.

I often mention that I'm stuck in a young adult fantasy rut. That was one of the reasons I wanted to start a book group that would force me to expand my horizons, and it's books like this that make me glad I did. This is a beautiful book. It is about a boy named Henry Lee, a Chinese boy living in Seattle during World War II. He befriends a Japanese girl named Keiko, and quickly falls in love with her. The story switches back and forth between the story of Henry Lee, the boy, and Henry Lee more than 40 years later, right after his wife Ethel's death. The story begins when a middle aged Henry Lee sees a press conference being held at the Panama Hotel, a hotel that has been boarded up for years. The new owner has discovered the untouched belongings of several Japanese families in the basement of the hotel, where they had been stored when the Japanese were forced into internment camps during World War II.  When the owner opens up a parasol that Henry recognizes as Keiko's, all of Henry's memories of Keiko and the difficult choices he made as a child come flooding back.

This book is not just a love story though. It is about the relationships of fathers and sons, and the power of stories to heal and bind us together. I recommend this book highly, and hope that you enjoy it as much as I did.

Review for Scaredy Squirrel

Scaredy Squirrel Makes a Friend
June Goodreads Serendipity Challenge Task #1: Read a book that has your name in the title or the author's name.

This was hard for me! I looked at several books: Dragon Prince, by Melanie Rawn; Confessions of Supermom, by Melanie Hauser; and The Diary of Melanie Martin, Or How I Survived Matt the Brat, Michelangelo, and the Leaning Tower of Pizza, by Carol Weston; before choosing Scaredy Squirrel Makes a Friend by Melanie Watt. Some of you may think choosing a children's book was a copout. I don't. This challenge isn't about the word count. It's about finding good books in any genre. This was a very cute children's story about a lonely squirrel whose fears keep him from finding a friend. He decides that a goldfish who lives nearby might be the perfect (i.e. safe) friend, and finally works up the courage to go meet it. This is the story of his adventures on his journey to the goldfish. I won't ruin the ending for you, but it's cute.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

#16--Travel all 45 (ish) miles of carriage roads in Acadia National Park

John D. Rockefeller bought a summer home at Seal Island in 1910. It was the beginning of the era of the automobile, and he feared that automobile roads would ruin Mt. Desert Island. His dream was to create an elaborate system of auto-free roads and bridges that would provide access to the most beautiful parts of the island, which would later become Acadia National Park. Between 1913 and 1940 he worked tirelessly to oversee construction of 51 miles of roads, 17 bridges and 2 gatehouses. He presented the carriage road system and much of the land that would become Acadia as a gift to the people of the United States. The roads are made of broken stone, and follow the contours of the land to take advantage of the scenic views.

Today, you may occasionally see a horse drawn carriage or a horseback riders on the carriage trails, but you are more likely to see bikers, joggers and hikers. In the winter, many of the roads are groomed for cross country skiing.

Acadia is about 2.5 hours from my house, so getting there to hike more than once or twice a year is an issue. I have a book called A Pocket Guide to Carriage Roads of Acadia National Park that breaks the roads into 11 loops plus one long loop that goes around the whole park but uses pieces of the other loops. I can skip that long looped trail, but it's impossible to not backtrack on the trails occasionally, so by the time I'm finished with the 11 loops, I will have traveled 57 miles.

Here's the plan:

1. Eagle Lake Loop - 6 miles (bike)
2. Aunt Betty's Pond Loop - 5.9 miles (hike)
3. Witch Hole Pond Loop - 6.8 miles (bike)
4. Jordan Bubble Loop - 8.6 miles (hike)
5. Jordan Stream Loop 4.0 (cross country ski)
6. Day Mountain loop - 5.5 miles (horseback ride)
7. Little Long Pond - 3.5 miles (hike)
8. Redfield Loop (is actually 2 loops and can be either 2.3 miles or 4.3 miles. 4.3 for me!) Maybe I'll ride an actual carriage for this one.
9. Hadlock Brook - 3.9 miles (hike)
10. Ampitheatre Loop - 4.9 miles (hike)
11. Giant Slide Loop - 8.2 (hike. This is the hardest hike, as well as one of the longest)

If you're keeping track, that's 2 bike rides, 1 horseback ride, 1 carriage ride, 1 skiing trip and 6 hikes.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

National Parks Part 2--Acadia

My first trip to Acadia National Park was on my honeymoon. I'd never been to the East Coast before, and the rocky shores of the Atlantic Ocean riveted my imagination. I could have spent hours meandering around Pebble Beach or Thunder Hole, but Roger was looking for something a little more exciting--maybe The Beehive, or possibly even The Precipice.

At this point, I should mention that I LOVE peregrine falcons. I'm absolutely devoted to them, and if I had a million dollars I would donate money to their cause. I love them because they were nesting near the hike called The Precipice, and so it was closed to all hikers that day. Otherwise, I probably would not even be here writing this blog, because The Beehive nearly killed me, and apparently the Precipice is even more precipice-y. The picture at the top of this blog post is one small section of the Beehive. It's not a long hike--only 1.5 miles, but it feels like it's straight up. Metal rungs are dug right into the side of the cliff. I learned a lot about myself as I followed my husband up the cliff. Mostly about how I'm terrified of ledges, which I didn't really know before, but which has since become an important part of my life. Tears poured down my cheeks the whole way up the Beehive. Roger kept asking if I wanted to go back down, but I refused. I kept muttering to myself, "My mom may have raised a crier, but my dad didn't raise a quitter. My mom may have raised a crier, but my dad didn't raise a quitter." Somehow, I made it to the top without a stray gust of wind knocking me to my death on the rocky crags below. The views of Sand Beach and the Atlantic Ocean were spectacular, and we took the longer hike down the backside of the mountain.

Acadia National Park seems much more accessible than the National Parks I grew up with. You can pick wild blueberries as you hike, and people stop to chat with you wherever you go. Even after spending a summer in Bryce Canyon, I didn't feel at home there. The landscape is too stark and surreal to make it my own. But Acadia was instantly home-like. The trees, the ocean, the mountains, the flowers--it's all stuff you see out in the world, just more so.

Last summer we went to Acadia with my dad, my grandmother and 2 of my Utah nieces. My 5 year old son, J, wanted to stay at Thunder Hole all day. The waves crash in and out here--with spray as high as 40 feet when the conditions are just right. It was gentle the day we were there, and mesmerizing to watch the water level rise and fall. The next week, someone was swept off to sea and killed standing in the very spot J and I had stood for so long.

One of the more challenging things on my list is to travel all of the carriage roads in Acadia National Park--47 miles worth of trail. I've been to Acadia National Park at least 10 times since my honeymoon, but I have yet to do more than stare longingly down the carriage trails. There are always so many other things to do (like standing at Thunder Hole for hours) and somehow we've never made the time. That's about to change. Tomorrow I'll tell you about these amazing roads and my plan for traveling all of them in the next 16 months.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Things I Love--National Parks

I love national parks. I guess that's not too surprising, since I was born and raised in Utah, which has a whomping 5 national parks and is only a stone's throw from Yellowstone and the Grand Canyon (this is a hypothetical stone. Do not throw stones near the Grand Canyon. Thank you.)

Some of my earliest memories include seeing a baby bear wander across the road in Yellowstone. A few minutes later a moose ran across the road as well. It somersaulted off the hood of our car and continued on its merry way.

Once, while hiking through a river in Zion's National Park, I fell and hit my forehead. I think I bled everywhere, but I remember that hike fondly because I was hiking through a river, for Pete's sake! How cool is that???

We got to the end of the hike--a pool created by a waterfall, I believe, and my mom and Grandma convinced me to change into my swimsuit while they held up towels for privacy. It was only after I'd completed the switch that I realized that the top of the waterfall was a scenic overlook. *Blush*

After my freshman year of college, I took working in the Lodge at Bryce Canyon National Park, a place I love so much that I made it the setting of one of my (as yet unpublished) novels. In an ironic twist, we took our kids there this summer, and I was miserable. I spent the whole time so panicked about my children near those steep drop offs that I wished I had a couple Valium (actually I often wish I had some Valium, but that's a topic for another time.)

Friday, June 4, 2010

The Hunger Games Series

The Hunger Games Catching Fire (The Second Book of the Hunger Games)Mockingjay (The Final Book of The Hunger Games)

I know there are still members of the Serendipity Book Challenge that are looking for a book that has been talked about on a blog. I don't want to unduly influence anyone, but READ HUNGER GAMES, READ HUNGER GAMES, READ HUNGER GAMES! Mockingjay comes out on August 24, 2010 and I think it will be THE book to have read in 2010. It's worthy of staying up until midnight just to be one of the first people to buy the book. Seriously.

It's a story about a girl named Katniss who lives in a futuristic version of America which is controlled by the Capitol, where people live in wealth and luxury. The 13 districts that rebelled against the Capitol seventy five years ago are kept on the brink of starvation. Each year, to remember their defeat, they are forced to send two tributes--a boy and a girl to the Capitol to compete in The Hunger Games. The victor of the Hunger Games is the last one to survive.

This book is told in present tense, first person. I tried to copy her style once, and it's not easy to do. But it creates such a sense of immediacy that you feel like you are right there in the middle of the action. This is one book that won't take you all month to read. I'd like to see you try.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

The June Serendipity Challenge is open!

The June challenge has begun! To see a list of the tasks for the June challenge go here. I hope you have some good books picked out. Me--not so much. I read the first pages of Confessions of Super Mom a few days ago (CHEATER!!! I know, I know) and realized that anyone who could rave about a swiffer mop for that many pages couldn't possibly have anything to say that would hold my interest.

Dragon Prince is not what I thought either. It's 574 pages long, for starters. And based on the reviews I've read, I might not like it either. So I'm back on the hunt for a good author named Melanie.

Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet hasn't arrived yet, but that's OK, because I'm deeply immersed in Eat, Pray, Love: One Woman's Search for Everything Across Italy, India and Indonesia which I'm loving, except for some occasional language. If Hotel doesn't get here in time, Eat, Pray, Love works for the third task, because I did read about it on someone's blog. Unfortunately, I read about half of it in May. Do you think that should count?

Sad to admit, but I STILL haven't been anywhere public to spy on people reading. What are YOU reading?

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Someone already wrote it...

I've been thinking about writing about #5 on my list of things to do before I turn 40--lose 40 pounds. I had some fantastic things to say, but lo and behold, someone beat me to it! You should read this amazing post at  The Simple Dollar.

This is my favorite part:
"Major changes to how we behave are almost impossible to perfectly implement. Going from spending thousands a month on unnecessary stuff to spending nothing at all will rarely work for more than a week or two. Why? Because whenever you make a major change like that, you’re derailing a lot of tiny routines and habits, not just one. Humans are creatures of habit, and derailing even the simplest routine can be hard. Derailing lots of simple routines all at once can be incredibly hard. Make small changes, observe small victories, and be patient. It’s far better than yo-yoing, where you make a radical change, see some great success immediately, then fall off the horse and find yourself back where you started."

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

My Mom

Tomorrow is the 2 year anniversary of my mom's death. I find I miss her more than ever as time goes by. She had a special gift of helping people see themselves the way God must see them--loved, valued and infinitely important.

But that's not what I want to talk about today. My mom also loved food. We had a special drink that we made in our house. We called it a "Lemon Juice Drink." (Wow. Weren't we creative?) We squeezed the juice out of a lemon, added water, sugar and salt and stirred it up. Those of us who liked this drink had a sixth sense about when someone was getting a lemon out of the fridge, and we'd hurry into the kitchen to say, "Will you make me one too?" Often I'd get stuck squeezing the lemons while my mom made the actual drink. There was no set recipe to follow, so making the drinks was the best job because the maker would have to sip from each glass until it tasted just right. One time we bought a whole bunch of lemons and sat around the kitchen drinking pitcher after pitcher full. It didn't seem that special at the time, but now that I'm a mom myself, I realize that moments of abundance like that don't come naturally to me. Lemons are expensive, and squeezing them takes time. Sometimes I find myself sneaking lemons out of the fridge when the kids are asleep so that I don't have to share. How sad it would be if this bizarre family drink died with me because I was too selfish to share it with my children.

My mom loved cream cheese wrapped up in pastrami. She said it was almost the only food she ate when she was pregnant with me. She also loved baked potatoes slathered with cheese, sour cream and lemon juice. Perhaps you're noticing a trend here. She liberally seasoned nearly every food she made with lemon pepper. I used to tease her about that mercilessly, but now I'm the same way with garlic.

She never did things in a small way. When I was a kid, we used to make bread--but she always tripled the recipe. She was big on letting us sneak tastes too. We'd take a small bit of dough and dip it in melted butter and then dip it in cinnamon and sugar. Yum. With that bread dough we might make bread, or we might make cinnamon rolls, or maybe even scones (not the British kind--the fried bread dough kind.) But whatever we made, some of it went to a neighbor or two.

My mom hated breakfast. If she was trying to be a good example she could force down a few frosted mini-wheats, but I don't think that was her daily routine. Her favorite breakfast food was Pepsi. She was a Pepsi connoisseur who swore there was a difference between the stuff in the can and the stuff that came out of a soda fountain. It was one of the few things she hated about Maine--there are no soda fountains in the gas stations. A whole state full of deprived people!

I remember how excited she was to eat a lobster in Maine. But when it came, she could hardly eat it because the eyes were staring at her. Still, every time she came to visit, she would say, "We've got to go to the Weathervane restaurant." Restaurants are places to return to--places to get into a routine with. That's the way to make a memory. Whenever we went to the Weathervane, she'd have to stop at the cute little shop next door, and then we'd have to walk down the wharf and look for star fish. I think she had similar routines with all her favorite restaurants.

She always ordered her big macs with extra sauce. She saved the ketchup/mayonnaise packets from Arctic Circle until she learned how to make her own. She would often stop at Su Casa to pick up an order of freshly made chips and salsa and bring it home to snack on as we made dinner.

I'm stopping now, not because I'm out of memories, but because this is already too long. I haven't even mentioned the Green Mint Cookies (we really weren't very good at making up names for our foods, were we?) or the fondue dinners yet. I hope people will share some of their food memories of my mom, because she used food as a tool to do her favorite thing--making memories with the people she loved.

Monday, May 24, 2010

The Serendipity Challenge for June

 I'm too excited to wait until June to give you your challenge. Besides, you might need a week to find and get a copy of your books.

Task #1: Read a book that has your name in the title or the author's name. For example, my name is JD or Jessica so I could read a book by JD Salinger or I could read the fantabulous book Jessica by Kevin Henkes.

Task #2: Be a spy. Go to a public place and find someone reading a book. Without them noticing you, figure out what their book is and get a copy of it. Read it.

Task #3: "(This one comes from the seasonal reading challenge, and is in honor of my brand new blog). Blogs have an important role in the world of books and reading today...they've even been the inspiration for books themselves. For this task read a book that has been featured on your favorite book/reading related blog. When you post this task include a link to the blog and a review of the book."

Note: You don't have to do all 3 tasks. Heck, you don't even have to do one of them, but I hope you will. Do as many as you have time for, but if you do all 3 I'll think you're really cool! Make sure and tell us which books you've chosen.

Here are my books:

For task 1: Confessions of Super Mom by Melanie Hauser OR Dragon Prince by Melanie Rawn. I've ordered them both from the library and we'll see which one gets here in time. There aren't many writers named Melanie, so I feel lucky to have found these.

For task 2: Haven't been anywhere public yet. Stay posted!

Task 3: Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jamie Ford from the blog PubRants and because he's a classy guy.

 If you want to join the challenge, go to The Serendipity Challenge. See you there!

Thursday, May 20, 2010

The Serendipity Challenge

After long hours of debate and pouring over the many great ideas, the overwhelming pick for our book group's name is:
The Serendipity Challenge. 

Go check it out! This is going to be so much fun!

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Name That Book Club

There are a few days left in the Spring Seasonal Book Challenge at Goodreads. I've only earned 5 points so far. Not so great in a contest where everyone else seems to be in the hundreds. So I'm leaving the 5 point challenges behind and jumping straight to the 15 pointers. If you're doing this with me, you need a goodreads account and at least a goodreads friend or two.

Here's the task:

15.6 - Friends and Friends of Friends
A.For the first part of this task read a book that is popular among the lists of your Goodreads friends that you have never read...to see a list of these books click on this link Popular Books
B.For the second part of this task click on this link (Friends Of Friends) and select the first person on this list and read a 5 star book from their list.

I picked Sun and Moon, Ice and Snow  by Jessica Day George for the first part of this task. I've ordered it from the library and hope it will get here in time.
I got Catering to Nobody (Goldy, Book 1) from a friend of one of my friends. I picked this up at my little library here in town and read it yesterday. I've been meaning to read a mystery for quite a long time. This one was better than I expected, but I'm not rushing out to get the next one.

Next month, I'll be starting a book group for people like me who are up for one or two reading challenges a month, but aren't interested in wading through the mountains of e-mails this popular group gets. We'll pick one or two challenges from their list each month.

All I need before I start the book group is a name. Some play on Seasonal Reading Challenge--something that says that we are trying to build diversity into our reading.

Monday, May 17, 2010

20 Things To Do Before I Turn 40

1. Start a blog.
2. Get published.
3. Get a passport
4. Use it.
5. Lose 40 pounds.
6. Try water skiing
7. Spend 40 hours working in the temple
8. Take a college class
9. Attend 10 free community events.
10. Get passionate about a cause and spend time helping it
11.  Memorize an amazing song on the piano
12. Go horseback riding.
13. Climb Mt. Katadhin
14. Volunteer at the school for 40 hours
15. Write another book
16. Walk, bike, horseback ride or take a carriage through all 45 miles of carriage trails in Acadia National Park. (extra credit if I do the 10 miles outside the park!)
17.  Donate blood
18. Find a farmer's market and start using it.
19. Play 25 different card/board games
20. Read 500 pages with each of my children

Friday, May 14, 2010

Life, the Universe and Everything

I was bummed that someone had already taken the blog name Life, the Universe and Everything, because I didn't want to find a niche market, I wanted to be able to talk about everything! And I still do, but I'm beginning to find my focus. This list. It could take over my life. I read a book a month or two ago, and I wish I could recommend it, because it was a fun read. But the language was too trashy, and I've got high standards about what I'll recommend here. It was about a woman who was trying to complete a 20 Things To Do Before I Turn 25 list, and it inspired me to create my own. Unfortunately, I turned 25 a long time ago, so I had to revamp the title.

Starting this blog was one of the things on my list. Look at that. I haven't even finished making the list yet, and I already accomplished one thing on it. I'm on fire! I'll post my list in the next day or two. 

Do you like my new background? I spent a long time picking it out, and then realized that it's the exact same background as one of my favorite author blogs... http://janette-rallison.blogspot.com/ I guess I know what I like, and hopefully she can forgive my unintentional copycatting.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Animal, Vegetable, Miracle

A few posts ago, I mentioned that I'm reading Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver for the Seasonal Book Challenge on Goodreads. Well, I'm still reading it. It might be the only book I read for the challenge this spring, which is a pretty pathetic showing. I'm reading it for one of the 5 point tasks, which is the smallest number of points you can earn at one time.
It's a life changing book though. Her premise is relatively simple--we should buy food from local sources. Then she tells us about the year her family strove to do only that while explaining why in great detail. There are so many reasons--better flavor and nutrition, a smaller carbon footprint, economics, our health...the list goes on and on, and it sounds so boring when I tell it to you, but she makes it come alive. I read the section about turkeys out loud to my whole family. We laughed until we cried and then we had a very serious discussion about the implications of eating mass produced turkeys. I'm still not sure what we're going to do about it, but we'll never look at turkeys the same way again.

I completely recommend this book. Yes, it does have some strong opinions, and you may not agree with all of them, but isn't that the beauty of a book that makes you think? It's one of those books that I find myself constantly inserting into conversations.

Still, it's not the kind of book I would usually choose to read on my own, which is the whole point of the Seasonal Book Challenge--to get people out of their comfort zones, expanding our horizons. Which is a great idea, but the Seasonal Book Challenge is a massive project, and I mean that in more ways than one. Although they specifically say that there is no minimum commitment for the challenge, most of the people in it earn a lot more than 5 points--I'm talking numbers in the hundreds. The number of people participating is the other huge factor in the Seasonal Reading Challenge. It's become a national phenomenon, and I don't feel a sense of connection with these women.

Which is why I'm considering starting my own group--both here on my blog and on goodreads. It would probably involve doing only one challenge a month instead of dozens. I hope you'll get involved--starting right now with any suggestions about how to get started!

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

November 2008? Let Me Introduce You To May 2010

Every November since 2007, I embark on a crazy adventure, right in my own living room. Nanowrimo promises me 30 days and 30 nights of literary abandon, and it delivers. The goal is to squeeze writing 50,000 words into an already busy month. I pull more all nighters in November than I ever did in college. Truthfully, until I went insane, I knew the value of a good night's sleep.

I'm currently looking for a home for my 2007 novel, Earth's Gate. You might ask if it's really worth it to write so recklessly if it's going to take three long years to clean up the mess. The answer is YES. The beautiful manuscript wouldn't even exist without Nanowrimo, even if it looks nothing like the original. It's kind of like a baby in that way.

In 2008, I wrote the sequel to Earth's Gate. Well, not the whole sequel, just the love story part. I fell in love with a brand new character who didn't even exist in Earth's Gate, and he took over the whole story. In Earth's Gate, Jenny falls in love with Arram. In the 2008 sequel I forgot to mention them. It was all about Drew. It was a problem of such epic proportions that I squirreled the whole story away and waited til the opportune moment to dig it back out.

Now Karen, I ask you--is May 2010 really the opportune moment? We're trying to get our house ready to put on the market, it's the last month my youngest son will ever be in preschool, and therefore home during most of the day with his mom and I started a blog last week. Oh yeah--and everyone knows a writer should never write the sequel before she's even sold the first one.

But apparently it is the opportune moment. Karen challenged me to write a book before summer vacation started. I've had several ideas swimming around in my head for novels, but this is the one I feel passionate about. My goal is to write a one sentence summary of each of the chapters, just so I can make sure I have a real story arc. This time my main character will be a real main character. That's not the point of Nanowrimo though. Cohesive story lines are just a lucky bonus. The word count is what matters. So in addition to creating a real story arc, my goal is to write 5000 words a week, and share the process on my blog. It wouldn't win at Nanowrimo, but not even I am crazy enough to try that twice in a year.

Monday, May 3, 2010

The Glitzy Side of Writing

I haven't gotten much accomplished since I started this blog. I've fiddled with it for hours, adding cool little gadgets and then taking them back off, visiting other blogs so I can figure out what I like about each one. Important research. If this is going to be the best blog ever, it needs to be done.

I'm not sure what happened to all my fantastic ideas for blog posts. Ran away with my list of vital things that had to get done today, I guess. Unfortunately, I'm sure I'll figure out what was on the to-do list, but the other list might be gone for good.

I went to the LDStorymaker's Conference last week, and heard an off-the-cuff statistic that intrigues me. Writers need their own blog, these presenters said. They need to be active on Facebook and Twitter as well. But they should only spend about 10 percent of their writing time on these sites. Assuming that this statistic is accurate, I'd say that in the past week I've used up my blog time for the rest of 2010. So I'll be back with a fresh and funny post in early 2011--maybe this time I'll write down all those brilliant ideas before they can fly away.

Friday, April 30, 2010

The Seasonal Reading Challenge

Leave me alone in a room full of books, and when you come back I'll have found the YA Fantasy section--and that's where I'll stay. When Mockingjay comes out at the end of August I'll be ready to party, and the very next week I'll be dancing in line while I wait for The Clockwork Angel. The last book I finished was Halt's Peril from the Ranger's Apprentice series--and it's not even out in the U.S. yet!

I hate to admit it, but my reading has become distinctly one dimensional, which is why I was so excited to learn about The Seasonal Reading Challenge from Goodreads. For the Spring challenge, you can earn up to 980 points. You earn points in increments of 5, 10, 15, 20, 25, 30. There is one 50 point task. The tasks are designed to get you reading outside of your comfort zone.

Some of these people are hard core readers! To complete this challenge I estimate that you would need to read almost 70 books in three months. I have no idea if anyone has ever won before or not, but I can guarantee this quarter it won't be me!

The challenges sound fun though--Go to a public area and spy on someone reading a book. Read the same book. It only counts if they don't catch you though.

Another challenge: In honor of Arbor Day--read a book with a tree on the cover. How about: Read a book from pages 3, 4, or 5 of the goodreads list Books That Everyone Should Read Once.

My first book is Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver, and it goes with challenge 5.2: "Read a novel featuring gardens." I can't believe it's only worth 5 points!

No way I'm going to get to even 100 points. But I bet I can beat you!

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Testing, testing 1, 2, 3

It's nearly impossible  to decide what I want to write about on this blog. Should I talk about my family? music? books? being an author? religion? politics?

If I waited until I knew what my niche market was, I would probably never start a blog at all. At least we can cross out politics. For right now, I'm just going to be random.

My cousin and friend Brittany has an amazing family blog, and she doesn't use her children's names on it--only their initials. Since there's no way I can have a blog without mentioning my family, I need to decide immediately if I should adopt this strategy. The real question is--am I on the ball enough to catch myself before I use their real names? Since discretion is the better part of valor, I'll give it a try. I have 4 children--J, D, J, and E. Dang, I already have a problem. Maybe JA, D, JT and E? Perhaps I'll have a brilliant flash of insight while I'm cleaning up the breakfast dishes.

I guess just starting a blog was a big enough step for today.