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Saturday, January 2, 2010

More Bethany House publishing

If you follow my blog, you know that I've been participating in a program through Bethany House Publishing where they send me free books and I read them and post reviews. This last batch was all historical fiction.

The first book is Though Waters Roar by Lynn Austin.
Harriet opens the book lying on a cot in a jail cell, reflecting on the irony of her arrest. Through reflection (flashbacks) she tells the stories of the women in her life. Her grandmother, Grandma Bebe, her mother and through them, her own story. The stories begin in 1848 and cover such important issues of slavery, war, prohibition, and women's suffrage. Each character plays a vital role in Harriet's life and how she has developed into the young woman she is today. Harriet is struggling with her life. She looks at the lives of her mother and grandmother and feels she has nothing important to offer the world. Her grandmother defies every traditional woman's role for the time, and her mother spent the majority of her life conforming to those roles. Harriet struggles with understanding how to grow into the woman she is meant to be based on the strong influences of her grandmother and mother.

The stories are very engaging and as a woman, daughter and mother, I related to the individual stories of each woman and their relationships with each other.  I highly recommend this book.

The second book to review is The Silent Gift by Michael Landon and Cindy Kelley.  I enjoyed this book but I felt the plot had too many twists and turns, too much drama and not enough story development between Mary Sinclair and her son, Jack.  Some of the events just seemed too unrealistic and far fetched to make the story believable.  It is overall a sweet story and will keep you entertained and interested.

Mary's son Jack is labeled a "deaf mute" in the book, but it was my impression that today, he would be considered autistic.  The year is 1938 - the end of the Great Depression and Mary's husband, Jerry, has been struggling to make ends meet for many months.  Mary does her best to keep things together, but Jerry is not content making meager wages and continues to search for "something better." Mary soon discovers that Jerry has found "something better" in the arms of another woman, and the business trip he has told Mary about, is actually a trip to get a quickie divorce.  He has emptied his bank accounts and Mary realizes she is going to be left penniless and helpless.  She manages to take the money Jerry has liquidated and she and Jack make their get away.

Just as soon as Mary thinks she has gotten away and gets set up in a new city, she loses the money she stole from her husband and is left penniless.  At the Salvation Army, Mary learns that Jack has a gift.  He is able to meet with a person and give them a "prediction" so to speak.  These predictions come in the form of numbers that are associated to the book, chapter, and verse in the Bible.  Jack becomes notorious for his "predictions" and through a series of coincidences, he and Mary are recognized by con artist who both befriends them and exploits them.  Unexpectedly, Jerry shows up and claims custody of Jack, devastating Mary.  She is prisoned and Jack manages to escape from Jerry and is placed in a mental health institution.  Mary eventually is released from prison and she continues her desperate search for her son.  Just when she gives up hope, an unexpected ally comes to her aide and by chance, they eventually find Jack and the Mother and Son are reunited.

The third book to review is A Measure of Mercy by Lauraine Snelling.  This book is the first in the series Home to Blessing.  It is apparent very early on in the book that the characters and location are written about in another series.  Snelling does a good job of making you feel familiar with the characters, but you do get the sense that you are missing something from not reading the previous books.

A Measure of Mercy focuses on the life of Astrid Bjorklund as she completes her medical training under the instruction of her sister in law, Elizabeth.  She is faced with the choice of remaining in her home town of Blessing, North Dakota, or traveling to Chicago to formalize her training at the Alfred Morganstein Hospital for Women and Children.  She eventually decides to make the trip to Chicago, much to the dismay of Joshua Landsverk, who has returned to Blessing in the hopes of being remembered by Astrid and perhaps courting her.

The story of a young woman training to be a doctor is interesting and Astrid's struggle to make a choice based on God's calling is dynamic.  She is relatable in that she struggles greatly with knowing and understanding what God is telling her.  She tries to turn to her mother, a faithful example, but feels that she must be lacking something because of her mother's unfailing faith.  On top of her struggles with medical school, Astrid struggles with the thought that she is being called to become a medical missionary in Africa.  In the meantime, Joshua struggles with attempting to have a long distance relationship with Astrid, made even harder by the fact that Astrid is not aware of his intentions towards her.

Overall, this is a very interesting story and left me anticipating the next installment.  In the meantime, I will definitely be reading the previous series about Blessing.

The fourth and final book to review is part of another series (Diamond of the Rockies).  The Rose Legacy follows Carina Maria DiGratia as she leaves her home in Sonoma and travels to the legendary Crystal Colorado.  She leaves behind a doting Italian family, her culture, and betrayal by her sister in an attempt to show them all that she is just fine and will make a new life for herself in beautiful Crystal.  A series of unfortunate events leave Carina, a victim of false advertising, with no money, no assets, abandoned in a corrupt mining town.  An unscrupulous lawyer, Berkley Beck, befriends Carina, telling her that he is her only hope.  As Carina works for him as his secretary, she uncovers the web of lies he has told.  She struggles with trusting anyone, but finds that for some reason, she instinctively trusts Quillan Shepard, the freighter that sends her wagon full of her most precious belongings to their destruction over the mountainside.  Carina wants to hate Quillan, but finds that he is the only person she can truly rely on.  In the midst of a town full of corruption, greed, and lacking God, Carina struggles with her faith and uncovers the beautiful love story of Quillan's parents.  The end of the book is left with a bit of a cliff hangar leaving you anticipating the next book in the series.  While I struggled sometimes with what seemed like inconsequential details, the story was engaging and was a great combination of romance, faith and historical drama.

Happy reading everyone!

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Maggie's preschool program

Friday, December 18th, Maggie had the opportunity to perform in her preschool program. I knew that they were doing certain songs because they were the only songs I heard her sing for about a month.
I don't think I'm ever prepared for how adorable the program actually is. My heart beat a little bit faster as the children filed into the gymnasium and the teachers lined them up on stage.  Maggie got up on stage, scanned the crowed and waved at us. She was so excited. Once the music started, our dancing girl got her groove on, swaying to the beat and going along with all of the hand motions. I was overcome at how small yet big and young yet mature she seemed up there on that stage. She was completely unaffected by the crowd or by the children around her that had stage fright and forgot the songs and the motions they had practiced for so long. It always surprises me that my children are able to perform so easily since I am very bad at preparing them for what the program actually entails - getting up on stage in front of about 100 or so people and singing and dancing.  I'm so glad that they seem to enjoy performing and do so with gusto.  I'm very proud of how hard the practice and how much they want to please.

Maggie just melted my heart yet again that night.  That's such a great feeling.  I'm so grateful to have been so blessed.

I wish that for the preschool portion of the program the school would leave the house lights up so we could get good pictures. Unfortunately, the ceiling of the school gymnasium/auditorium is painted a dark blue gray, so there is no chance for my external flash to be of any help in lighting the cast. The first song was Jingle Bells followed by Away in A Manger, God Made Me, and the grand finale was Skidamarink.

Many family members have asked questions about the origins of the song - I remember hearing it on a TV show my sisters watched called Sharon, Lois and Brahm. Here is a little information I found on Wikipedia on the song.

Skidamarink is a very popular children's song with a long history. It was originally the grand finale song of the 1910 Broadway musical, "The Echo". Since the title is gibberish, it has had various spellings over the years.
Though the original musical only lasted a few months, the song endured and was re-popularized in the 1950s by Jimmy Durante.
The song began appearing on many song collections for children's shows in the 1980s. The most popular versions were by the Australian show, Bananas in Pyjamas, and the Canadian show, The Elephant Show.
Several years after the conclusions of The Elephant Show, in the late 1990s, the original performers on that show, Sharon, Lois & Bram, briefly had their own show entitled, Skinnamarink TV.

[edit]Typical Version of Lyrics

Skidamarink a dinky dink,
Skidamarin,ky doo,
I - love - you!
Skidamarink a dinky dink,
Skidamarinky doo,
I - love - you!

I love you in the morning
and in the afternoon,
I love you in the evening
and underneath the moon;

Oh, Skidamarink a dinky dink,
Skidamarinky doo,

I love you, Maggie May!

Monday, December 28, 2009

Puppies and kittens and Christmas . . .Oh My!

You've probably noticed I haven't blogged in quite a while. The reason for this is that I am not good at keeping secrets - especially when those secrets involve my daily life.

Shortly after Thanksgiving, Erik & I drove North and picked out a puppy to give to Travis's family for Christmas.
Meet Holly. She was named on Christmas after her family officially received her. During her three week stay at our house she was referred to as "puppy," "blackie" and "Sissy." She may also believe her name is "Treat" because I was always yelling that when I wanted her to return to the house.

About a week after we picked up Holly, Erik, his mom & the kids travelled to Ohio to get another puppy for Erik's dad. Here is Maggie holding the yet to be named puppy. He was called "Brownie" for the time he was at my house.I could fib and tell you these puppies overtook my life and I spent every moment caring for, cleaning up after and training these two beasts. But, that would be an obvious lie. As evidenced by this picture.
The pups quickly adapted to crate training and this became the normal state of puppiness at our house. Can't you tell they were just horrid? I don't know how I got anything decorated, baked or bought for Christmas because all of my time was spent caring for puppies. Yeah, right. My kids were harder to wrangle this month!

Holly's first night with us we were afraid she would be lonely, so we brought Roscoe/Hank in to live with her. He was not so thrilled about learning to crate train two years into his life. His expression here is: I AM NOT A PUPPY!

Little "Brownie" is about 7 weeks younger than Holly so he had a lot to learn. Holly was an angel, never making a mess on the floor, eating her food properly and lady like, leaving her crate and heading right out the door and promptly scratching the door when she wanted back in. Brownie would take two steps out of the crate and would mess on the floor. (Did I mention how grateful I am for the concrete floor in my sunroom?) He also liked to use his paw to tip his food bowl over and spill food all over the floor to eat it. Messy. We had to carry him to the door, shove him outside, and hurridly shut the door on him so he wouldn't sneak back in. He was not fond of the snow and cold.
I don't think we were able to pull our secrets off. Travis saw the pups one night after I tried SO hard to keep them secret. I had threatened the kids within an inch of their lives about keeping the puppies a secret. I didn't blog because I was afraid I would accidentally say something about the puppies in a post. One night while Erik & Travis were helping a friend with some car problems, I left the pups out for their final bathroom break before bed and I didn't know that Travis was coming back to the house and he saw them outside. Bill also saw the pups before the big day, but we tried to convince him that we got two puppies - one for Taylor and one for Chet.

Bill seemed pretty surprised Christmas morning and most of the other Schwalm's were excited to receive Holly. We also gave Taylor a kitten, so she was way more interested in that little ball of fur.

Thus ends the story of why I didn't post for over a month. Things are going to change! I've got lots of pictures and even some video to post of our Christmas activities. Lots of fun! Here are some preview pictures. My little angels had a wonderful Christmas and we're looking forward to an amazing New Year as we anticipate the arrival of baby #4 in June. I'm already 17 weeks!

Thanksgiving weekend at the Lezzer Farm

Christmas Morning waiting on the stairs for Mimi & Papa Ralph and Donna & Danny to arrive to watch us open our gifts.

Christmas morning after the gift opening and all the gifts shoved under the tree.