Thursday, January 9, 2014

Christmas Spirit Reading Challenge -- Wrap-Up

And so we come to the end of another Christmas reading challenge. My holidays went out with a bang when I was down with what I thought was the flu, but turned out to be a severe sinus infection. I'm still recuperating. It really put a damper on the rest of my holiday reading. What I did end up reading was The Snowman Maker by Barbara Briggs Ward (read my review) and Winter Solstice by Rosamunde Pilcher (great book, very comforting). I watched a million movies, of course. With the Hallmark Channel playing all those Christmas movies, plus the ones I own, it was all Christmas movies, all the time for me. haha!

I hope you enjoyed the challenge again this year. Of course, we will be back next year and I'll be saving your review link ups so I can direct people there for reference on future Christmas reads. If you do, or have done a wrap up, you can leave me the link in the comments.

Now, for the winners of the giveaway.

Winner of the mystery box of Christmas books is...

Bev @ My Reader's Block

Winner of the International $5.00 Amazon is

Jane @ Jane's Book Blog

I have contacted the winners.

Happy New Year again and I'll see you at the next Rudolph Day on January 25th!

Always in spirit....

Friday, December 27, 2013

Sharing the Joy: Friday Baking and Movies

We made so much food for our dinner Christmas Eve and to take to my grandparents on Christmas that we didn't get around to making these delicious pies. Mom and I are going to make them tonight. Yum!

Five Layer Pecan Pie

  • 1 unbaked 9-inch pie shell
  • 1 cup pecan halves
  • 6 ounces semisweet chocolate chips
  • 1/2 cup caramel ice cream topping
  • 8 ounces cream cheese, softened
  • 8 ounces sour cream
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 3 eggs
  • unsweetened cocoa powder, optional

  • 1 unbaked 9-inch pie shell
  • 1 cup pecan halves
  • 6 ounces semisweet chocolate chips
  • 1/2 cup caramel ice cream topping
  • 8 ounces cream cheese, softened
  • 8 ounces sour cream
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 3 eggs
  • unsweetened cocoa powder, optional

1 unbaked 9-inch pie shell
1 cuppecan halves
6 ouncessemisweet chocolate chips
1/2 cupcaramel ice cream topping
8 ouncescream cheese, softened
8 ouncessour cream
1/2 cupsugar
1 teaspoonvanilla
3 eggs
unsweetened cocoa powder, optional

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

2. Sprinkle pecans evenly in unbaked pastry shell.

3. Sprinkle chocolate chips on top of pecan layer.

4. Drizzle caramel topping on top of chocolate chips. Set aside.

5. In a medium mixing bowl combine cream cheese, sour cream, sugar and vanilla. Beat with an electric mixer on medium speed until smooth.

6. Add eggs, beating on low speed just until combined. Pour over caramel topping in crust.

7. Bake about 45 minutes or until center appears set.

8. Cool on a wire rack. Cover and chill for at least 1 hour before serving. Sift cocoa powder over pie, if desired.

--from RecipeLion

I finally watched the Hallmark Hall of Fame movie, Christmas in Conway last night. It was a wonderful movie, but also quite a tear jerker. Be sure to have plenty of tissues on hand when you watch this one. The DVD is available for purchase.

Hope everyone had a wonderful Christmas! Keep stopping by because I'll have posts up periodically through Twelfth Night/Epiphany on January 6.

Always in spirit....

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Merry Christmas!

Wishing you all a happy and safe Christmas! Hold your loved ones close. *hugs*

Always in spirit....

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Sharing the Joy: Weekend Lit - Barbara Briggs Ward's The Snowman Maker

More than Pine Boards Smelling of Lacquer
by Barbara Briggs Ward
Santa Claus knew I wanted to be a writer when I was 7 years old

The dining room in my grandparents’ farmhouse was on a slant-turning the room’s wood floor into a perfect slide when in sock feet and seven years old and told to stay out of the kitchen because my grandfather was making Christmas presents. I could hear his saw. I could see the sawdust come flying from underneath a door which had been in place forever in that old home-situated beside tall poplars lining the cinder driveway. Speckles of the stuff would get in my eyes but it didn’t matter. Christmas was coming and when you’re 7-anything can happen. And that year, it did.

We’d visit the farmhouse on week-ends and every week-end that year leading up to Christmas was full of extreme anticipation. What was my grandfather making? Even at a young age, I noticed his hands. They told his story-strong yet gentle; worn yet kind. He farmed surrounding fields yielding hay and oats. Relaxing to him was reading a Saturday Evening Post or Zane Grey novel. Grampie loved to read.

This particular Christmas he’d taken over the role of Santa Claus, spending whatever time he could creating in that large kitchen. After dinner was over and the dishes were put away, the dining room became a playroom for my cousins and me. Although we played very hard, our ears and eyes were geared to the commotion on the other side of that closed door with its marble handle.

I knew it was something made out of wood. Besides the saw, we heard the hammer. We smelled a heavy lacquer. I remember thinking there was nothing on my Christmas list that was made out of wood. The only thing I wanted was a little doll with small blonde braids all over her head. Maybe it was a doll bed! I convinced myself it was a doll bed. By the time I was finished it was doll bunk beds complete with little quilts made by my grandmother. If I was really lucky there’d be doll clothes too. I knew where I’d put the beds; to the right as you go down the few stairs leading into my bedroom. I didn’t tell my two cousins that I’d figured it out. One was a boy.

He probably wouldn’t care.

My mother always made oyster broth on Christmas Eve. She’d set the dining room table with linens and china, tall-stemmed, etched crystal glasses and a silver soup ladle. My grandparents would join us. I wasn’t surprised there were whisperings amongst the adults that year. I was on high alert, aware of fresh boot tracks leading from Grampie’s old pick-up into our side porch off the kitchen. We didn’t use that entrance much during the winter. But I guess when you’re Santa and your sleigh is a truck, you can bring doll bunk beds in any way you please. Besides, we didn’t have a fireplace.

To say the wait from Christmas Eve to Christmas morning was the longest wait ever in anticipation of the doll of my dreams does not suffice. It was sheer agony. I’d been so wrapped up in thoughts of this doll and her bunk beds that I hadn’t thought what else might be under that tinseled tree. That’s when I fell asleep.

I heard my brother race down the front stairway. I smelled cinnamon coming through the register near where the bunk beds would soon sit. The morning had dawned despite my doubting it would ever arrive. The moment had come. It was time to go down the stairs to see what had gone on behind that closed door.

I heard my mother telling my brother he had to wait for me. I heard my father walk in from the kitchen. And then it was quiet, except for the wind moving the snow into little heaps and the stairs creaking as I reached the bottom step. I stopped for a second. I knew when I turned my head it might be sitting there, waiting for me. Probably wrapped with a big, red bow I thought.

The smell of that lacquer convinced me of my suspicions. Slowly I peered through the archway. The tree was lit. The stockings were overflowing. Standing in a single line were three smiling faces. They didn’t say a word. They didn’t have to. I knew they were keeping the bunk beds from my view. Into Christmas morning I rushed. My brother was the first to move aside, and that was when my eyes became set on what has remained my most favorite Christmas present ever. There were no bunk beds. Not even a doll bed. It was a desk; a simple pine desk with a single drawer and a stool with a carved design.

Something happened to me at that moment. None of the other gifts mattered, not even the ones from Santa wrapped in red or green tissue paper and held together by stickers that never stuck. Slowly approaching my desk, I danced my fingers along the lacquered boards. Visions of my grandfather in that farmhouse kitchen measuring and sawing filled me with an appreciation of this labor of love. Pulling the stool back I sat down. Opening the single drawer, I found a pad of white, lined paper and one yellow, #2 pencil-sharpened. How did he know I wondered? How did my grandfather know that at the young age of 7 I knew I wanted to be a writer; that I spent hours cutting and folding paper into little books? How did he know that the smell of crayons and pencils and pages of words put together stirred my imagination?

I did get that baby doll with blonde braids all over her head that year-and the pine desk became the focal point in my bedroom, sitting to the right as you go down the little stairs. We became the best of friends.

My grandfather is gone now. So is that farmhouse with the slanted dining room. Over the years I’ve come to realize how that Santa with his old pick-up delivered more than just pine boards smelling of lacquer that year. It seems Santa knew what I really wanted, despite dreams of doll bunk beds with little quilts.

Barbara Briggs Ward grew up in the country surrounded by relatives and a backdrop made for inspiring a young imagination. Barbara and her cousins were constantly playing in their chicken coop clubhouse filled with the remains of an abandoned one-room schoolhouse. It was in that clubhouse where Barbara read her favorite authors including Louisa May Alcott and Laura Ingalls Wilder - and began writing her own little stories. When her grandfather made her "most favorite Christmas present ever" - a simple pine desk with a single drawer which held a pad of lined paper and a #2 pencil - Barbara knew she wanted to be a writer.

Barbara began writing for children, having been published in Highlights for Children and She is the author/illustrator of the Snarly Sally picture book series.

Barbara's writing took a turn in October, 2010 when she published, "The Reindeer Keeper", a heartwarming story of Family & Christmas chosen by both Yahoo's Christmas Book Club Group and Yonker's Riverfront Library Book Club as their 2012 December Book of the month.

Barbara's story, "In Anticipation of Doll Beds" was published in the Chicken Soup for the Soul book, "Christmas Magic" October, 2010. In March, 2012 her short story, "A Brown Boy of Our Own" was included in the Chicken Soup for the Soul book, "Family Caregivers."

In October, 2012, Barbara released her first work of Amish fiction, "A Robin's Snow" on Kindle. The book was recommended reading by Amazon September, 2013. Barbara's second work of Christmas fiction, "The Snowman Maker," was released October, 2013.
Visit Barbara at her WEBSITE.

My thoughts on The Snowman Maker
Once again, Barbara has written a poignant and heartwarming tale. As she did with The Reindeer Keeper, she has illustrated the importance of families, especially at Christmas.

In The Snowman Maker, we learn about a family who is affected by a history of adoption. The story shows us how an orphanage can be like another family and that the relationships fostered there can be lasting. It shows us the importance of finding out where we come from and that it's never too late to forgive and make a new beginning. All of this mixed in at Christmas time brings even more magic to the season.

I love stories set at Christmas, especially ones about family and traditions. Barbara is a master at telling these stories and I eagerly await her next Christmas book.

Read my review of The Reindeer Keeper.

About the book
Over the years Ben and Ellie never had a problem communicating. So when Ben seems distant, Ellie's confused. Her instinct tells her it has something to do with the contents of an old cardboard box his father insisted Ben take before he passed away. With the children grown, Ben's evasiveness adds to Ellie wishing the holidays were over.

But it's Christmas-the season of hope and love rekindled-especially when going back to a wondrous place on a winter's night in the old sleigh decorated in pine boughs and silver bells-the very sleigh that carried a little boy and that cardboard box on a Christmas Eve journey so long ago.

Always in spirit....

Friday, December 20, 2013

Sharing the Joy: The Best Book-to-Film Classics by Kate Voss


Film adaptations of books are always a touchy subject with book lovers. Everyone has their own interpretation of what characters, places, and things should look and sound like so when Hollywood decides to make them into movies, in a different way than you imagined, it’s easy to get disappointed. Then there is the plot, or rather a deviation from it. Hollywood is notorious for tinkering with the plots of books in order to make them “better suited” for film, usually involving a romantic twist, or a happy ending. However, there are some moments when Hollywood does a great job of adapting a book for film thanks to big budgets and incredible special effects.

Let’s take a look at a few Christmas books Hollywood did get right.

A Christmas Carol (2009)
The classic Charles Dickens tale has been adapted to film more times than anyone would care to count, but never like this before. The $170-200 million budget for this film made it one of the most expensive animated films ever. Thanks to this extraordinary budget, the CGI animation breathes new life into the nearly beaten-to-death story of Ebenezer Scrooge and the ghosts that visit him. Despite the fact that the film is animated, it’s more than entertaining for adults who can enjoy it with their children during the holidays.

The Polar Express
The best-selling book about a magical train to the North Pole by Chris Van Allsburg has been a perennial favorite for children since its release in 1985. When it was made into a film in 2004, no expense was spared to make it an IMAX 3D visual extravaganza. The Polar Express was also the first ever film to use all-digital captures of digitally recorded acting, then to be replaced by computer generated images. The result of the nearly two-and-a-half year production is truly a sight to be seen.

How the Grinch Stole Christmas
Dr. Seuss films seem commonplace now, but this was the film that started it all. It seems that movie studios were a bit afraid of tackling such a well-known and beloved author’s stories in a live action format instead of an animated one. Luckily they took a chance with the Grinch, and the results were amazing. Jim Carrey was transformed into the grouchy green anti-hero thanks to daily 3-hour makeup sessions while filming. While this video isn’t of Jim, it will give you an idea what the lengthy process looked like. His portrayal of the Grinch was over the top, wild, and pitch-perfect. The humor of the film and incredible set design, makeup, and costumes make this a favorite for adults and children alike. Its dark humor and overall message makes the perfect film to play for the kids on your tablet or laptop during the trip to Grandma’s if you have DirecTV on demand or Netflix.

A Christmas Story
Many people don’t know that the now classic A Christmas Story, which follows little Ralphie’s quest for a Red Ryder BB gun, is actually based on short stories that appear in the book In God We Trust, All Others Pay Cash by Jean Shepherd. Thanks to 24-hour marathons on TNT and TBS almost everyone in America now knows the Parker family and all of their eccentric hijinks. The film had a relatively fine run in theaters, but it’s a film that reached iconic status in the years following its theatrical run due to the aforementioned TV marathons. Almost anyone now knows never to lick a frozen pole, that you can in fact shoot your eye out with a BB gun, and that “fragile” has nothing to do with Italy.

Visit Kate on Twitter @Kateevoss

Always in spirit....

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Sharing the Joy: 12 Pearls of Christmas | Perfectionism | Steven Estes


Welcome to the 12 Pearls of Christmas blog series!

Merry Christmas from Pearl Girls™! We hope you enjoy these Christmas “Pearls of Wisdom” from the authors who were so kind to donate their time and talents! If you miss a few posts, you’ll be able go back through and read them on this blog throughout the next few days.

We’re giving away a pearl necklace in celebration of the holidays, as well as some items from the contributors! Enter now below. The winner will be announced on January 2, 2014, at the Pearl Girls blog.

If you are unfamiliar with Pearl Girls™, please visit and see what we’re all about. In short, we exist to support the work of charities that help women and children in the US and around the globe. Consider purchasing a copy of Mother of Pearl, Pearl Girls: Encountering Grit, Experiencing Grace, or one of the Pearl Girls products (all GREAT gifts!) to help support Pearl Girls.


by Steven Estes

(Excerpt from A Better December***) 
When my wife was little, her family was Amish. Barn raisings, buggies, high-stepping horses, shoofly pies—the whole postcard. Later, they left that life and became mainstream farmers. The suspenders and bonnets were gone, but they remained hard-working, no-nonsense, sweep-the-porch folks. As good-natured a family as homemade jam and bread.

I grew up taking in the city. Mom and I would hop the streetcar into downtown Baltimore. Lights, crowds, noise, action—the busier, the better. Birthdays were a big thing, Christmas, bigger yet. Whoop it up. Break some eggs, make an omelet.

My wife and I met in college. I first saw Verna from across the cafeteria. Popular as a lemonade stand in summer. Prettier than an evening meadow blinking with fireflies. I was hooked. Proposed on the beach. We walked the aisle, started life together.

Verna kept everything worthwhile from her childhood and folded the rest into a drawer. Worked circles around any woman you’d know. Line dried the wash, taught the kids, pinched the pennies. Joined me in whatever hoopla I wanted, but—in her mother’s meat-and-potatoes tradition—NEVER got exotic in the kitchen . . .

. . . until one December.

Wishing to please—wanting some memories for the kids—she found a recipe book. Brimming with color photos. Promises of the perfect Christmas. The kind, no doubt, her husband recalled from urban days of yore.

Sugar plums in her head, practical impulses stuffed away in an apron pocket, she purchased the ingredients to yuletide bliss. A concoction to bless the family forever.

The evening has arrived. The fortunate are assembled about the table. There is to be a holiday surprise:

“Festive Yule Log.”

Candles aglow, faces upturned. The platter of glory is borne to the table. Mother seated. Nod given.

Trembling forks sink into the first sampling mouthful. Eyes closed for concentration. The pregnant pause. . . . A searching for words. The furtive glances. The first stifled chortle. Then,

Oh, the hooting and howling.

The slappings on the table.

The witticisms.

The criticisms.

Centered on the table, the Yule Log sulks—rolled in a fine gravel posing as crushed nuts. A taste akin to cream cheese blended with toothpaste—perhaps Crest, no, Colgate. As if sautéed in soy sauce, glued into shape by an application of Crisco. The look of a food item suspected of disease, held in quarantine at Customs.

Verna smiles weakly. Rises. Whisks the mistake into exile. All the while carols from the record player begin straying off-key . . . and Misters Currier & Ives are ushered to the backyard, blindfolded, and shot.

Solomon foresaw that many designs for Christmas Eve would go awry. Why else would he write:

“Do not boast about tomorrow,
for you do not know
what a day may bring forth”?

Proverbs 27:1

Or . . .

“You can make many plans,
but the Lord’s purpose
will prevail”?

Proverbs 19:21 NLT

God has bigger plans for you than the perfect dinner. That’s why he lets things go wrong. He’s saving your appetite for the perfect eternity. He notices you smitten with this short life, feeling it slip through your fingers, trying to shake a snow-globe Christmas out of every December.

The true holiday magic is reserved for heaven. Every delight down here is a mere taste and teaser.

Knowing that, doesn’t it ease the pressure just a bit as you flip through recipes on the 24th—biting your lip . . . pondering a go at that Festive Yule Log?

(By the way, Verna recovered nicely.)

**This excerpt is reproduced from A Better December Copyright © 2013 by Steven Estes. Used by permission of New Growth Press and may not be downloaded, reproduced, and/or distributed without prior written permission of New Growth Press.

Steven Estes is a pastor who has known “better Decembers with my family than either Currier or Ives,” but also understands a gray Christmas. A Better December draws on Estes’ twenty-three years of counseling church members through the holiday season as well his other writings on the topic of human suffering. He teaches a preaching class at Westminster Theological Seminary (Philadelphia) where he completed his M.Div and Th.M. degrees. Estes is a conference speaker and on the board of the Christian Counseling & Educational Foundation (CCEF). Estes is the author of Called to Die (the story of slain missionary Chet Bitterman), and co- author (with friend Joni Eareckson Tada) of When God Weeps and A Step Further. He and his wife, Verna, have eight children. Learn more about Estes and his books at

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Always in spirit....