Friday, November 29, 2013

Black Friday

This is not going to be an opinion piece on whether or not one should participate in the shopping experience of Black Friday, instead it is going to be a look at the season that Black Friday rings in … Christmas!

Christmas is by far my favorite holiday. I look forward to it all year and love everything surrounding it -  cold, snow, lights, gifts, and some great books for read-alouds and just for fun. There are also a number of movies I have to watch again each year because they symbolize everything Christmas is about or at least are highly entertaining.

In this first section I want to mention a few read-alouds my family enjoys:

1. The Best Christmas Pageant Ever by Barbara Robinson - this is a fun seven chapter read that is funny and hart-warming. The Herdmans with their cigar smoking and swearing are hard to forget characters who entertain each time we read it.

2. A Christmas Carol  by Charles Dickens - While many kids know the movie, oftentimes they haven't been introduced to the rich language the novel holds. It is a great read-aloud and a good reminder on what the Christmas season is all about.

In this next section I want to share a few favorite Christmas movies:

1. It's a Wonderful Life - this is a favorite for so many reason…I love George Bailey and his reluctant heroism. This is always a holiday season must.

2. A Muppet Christmas Carol - this hilarious take on Dickens classic is worth it again and again. Rizzo the Rat and Gonzo are a great entertaining duo as they relate such a classic tale.

3. Holiday Inn & A White Christmas - These movies relate to one another and are a fun movie-marathon night. Bing Crosby's voice is associated with Christmas for me and I can never get enough over the holidays.

Are there any books or movies your family loves for the holidays?

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Author Highlight: Alexander McCall Smith

Alexander McCall Smith is an author I have mentioned in previous posts because he has become one of my absolute favorites. I watch his website ( to keep track of any new books coming out so I can be sure to get on the waiting list at my public library.

It was about 8 years ago that I stumbled upon his series, The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency and I haven't looked back. I love moments of serendipity, when you are walking the stacks in the library and discover a diamond…a book that becomes a favorite. The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency was just such a book and I quickly read through every book available in the series and moved on to his other series: Corduroy Mansions, Isabel Dalhousie, 44 Scotland Street, and Portuguese Irregualer Verbs. I have thoroughly enjoyed each and every one.

McCall Smith was born in Zimbabwe and was educated there and in Scotland. He became law professor both in Botswana and Edinburgh. His experience in Africa and in Scotland is evident in his writing, which makes for rich and unique works and characters. It is his characters that I am most in love with. He is able to create characters that you have to laugh at and sometimes with, but who also teach about life and offer wisdom albeit witty and a bit sarcastic. The characters are oftentimes over the top in some respect, which helps to bring out a piece of human nature we all notice and can appreciate.

As an 80's kids, I am a Seinfeld kid. Seinfeld first aired in 1989 and ran until 1998, and it is the "show about nothing." So why am I mentioning Seinfeld? Because Alexander McCall Smith's writing reminds a lot of Seinfeld. Both the books and the show take human quirks in thinking and behavior and create over-the-top experiences and situations that a person can't help but see themselves in and laugh. Life is better when we all can laugh at ourselves!

If you have a chance this Thanksgiving holiday to relax, I encourage you to pick up a book from Alexander McCall Smith…or put on a Seinfeld episode - I promise you will smile and that is something we can all be thankful for.

Sunday, November 17, 2013


I have been noticing the trend on Facebook, in stores, in conversations, etc. of voicing thankfulness, so I thought I would jump in the mix.

I found this little excerpt on the "Psychology Today" website:

"Gratitude is an emotion expressing appreciation for  what one has—as opposed to, say, a consumer-oriented emphasis  on what one wants or needs—and is currently receiving a great deal of attention  as a facet of positive psychology. Gratitude is what gets poured into the glass to make it half full. Studies show that gratitude not only can be deliberately cultivated but can increase levels of well-being and happiness among those who  do cultivate it.  In addition, grateful thinking—and especially expression of it to others—is associated with increased levels of energy, optimism, and empathy."

(You can find it here:

Apparently there is something in this whole thankfulness business! I am usually the last one to jump on bandwagon ideas, but this is one I can get behind. So here goes a few things I am thankful for:
  1. My family (who appreciates and supports my love of books and libraries:-))
  2. Friends 
  3. Books
  4. Libraries
  5. Snow
What things are you thankful for?

Thursday, November 14, 2013

"Elementary, my dear Watson"

I have already shared with you my love of a good mystery and mentioned Sherlock Holmes, but after a recent discovery I felt that I needed to mention him again.

My family is a Netflix family. We enjoy the $7.99 a month that offers a great variety of movies and T.V. shows we wouldn't otherwise catch and all commercial free. We have decided that because our T.V. watching habits are minimal, it doesn't pay to have cable or anything other such expensive offering. Instead we get whatever channels come through the antenna (PBS is a family favorite!) and Netflix. Once in a while in the evenings after a frightfully long day of busy in whatever form, my husband and I like to find a good show to unwind with.

It was on such a crazy day that we discovered the BBC's Sherlock Holmes. First off you have to understand that I love myself a good British drama…it's the humor, dry and ironic. Second off they take a classic character and recreate him and his good friend Watson in 21st century London. It is masterfully done! Last, the cinematography is artistic and unique. We have not exhausted the series by any means but we are looking forward to our next evening of unwinding. I have been very impressed with how they have been able to keep the heart and soul of Sir Author Conan Doyle's writings and characters and yet bring all of it into our world. It is genius.

So, if you are interested in a night of unwinding with a good series, I suggest you give Sherlock Holmes a try!

Monday, November 4, 2013

Learning from Russia

I have to confess my love of Russian writers - particularly Tolstoy and Dostoyevsky. My favorite Russian novels are Anna Karenina and Crime and Punishment, although War and Peace is quite amazing too. Why are these my favorites? Well, some of it may have to do with first reading them in high school when I was full of teenage angst and found myself within the deep emotional angst of the characters. It was also a time when I was making decisions and choices that could alter my future course significantly and it helped to see the ultimate destination of the characters' particular choices, both good and bad. I must confess though that even as an adult I still refer to these novels and use them in teachable moments with well…just about everyone who is willing to listen!

I would like to meet the person who isn't affected by the parallel stories of Anna Karenina and Konstantin Levin. Anna - beautiful, intelligent, extraordinary - but choice after choice after choice leads to destruction. Levin - ordinary and a bit of an outsider - but his choices lead to prospering and love. Or who isn't anguished along with Rodion Raskolnikov as he withers, morally and physically, because of his choice. The Russian writers seem to grab a hold of human emotion and character and ream everything from them. They create characters whose depths no know bounds. They also speak to social conditions and how they can alter choices and lives simply by existing. The plight of women, poverty, war, etc. affect and alter lives. Each one of us live in a real world with social situations that exist, whether positive or negative, that, when combined with our person - character, moral bearing, beliefs, etc. - create our scenario. This is what I love about Russian writers: they write about life with depth and emotion.

I encourage you to grab one of these novels and enjoy! I hope you too will see yourself in the novel and learn something new.