Month: December 2018

Christmas Shopping Challenge

‘Tis a week before Christmas and my Christmas shopping is only half done. While my greatest wish is for good health, happiness and World Peace, I also hope to give meaningful gifts to those I love. This is tricky. My gifts tend to be practical and perhaps not always appreciated. I confess to having traditional tastes.

 Practicality

For some oddball reason, I came equipped with a practical outlook on life. One Christmas my greatest wish was for a new dishwasher. Not jewelry, not clothing but a dishwasher. I had four hungry youngsters at home not to mention neighborhood friends. My small town offers primarily fast food. Furthermore, certain dietary conditions meant I cooked a lot. From scratch. The result was three loads a day in the dishwasher in a town of water so hard the softener could not keep up.

Furthermore, I am practical with my gift giving. Books are always on the list. Knowledge is power. But reading is enjoyable as well. So finding books that will be read and treasured is a challenge that I will cheerfully continue to face. Fortunately there are many lists one can review including Econogal’s Top 10 Favorite Books of 2018.

The gift of clothing is also practical. I live in rural America but am lucky enough to have three good women’s shops located in and around the county seat. So all the women on the list are covered. But I always fear my tastes are too old-fashioned. This perhaps gives me the greatest heartache since both my grandmothers and my mom were fantastic at picking out clothes I loved.

I fear I sometimes fell short. I refused to buy holey jeans for instance. No way would I spend $60.00 for jeans that were too ripped up to even make into jean quilts. The practicality gene at work.

Fun Gifts

Kids are easy to find gifts for. Even for those of us striving to stay away from electronics. (Although I fear that becomes more difficult each year.) My favorite fun gifts tend to be classics. Lego’s, dump trucks, stuffed animals and dolls are items I love to give. Puzzles and board games also make the list.

Teenagers can be trickier. Sports nuts can be given the appropriate gear. But not everyone is into athletics. So, again much thought is needed if you are Christmas shopping for an individualist. Those able to give the greatest gift throughout the year-the gift of time will be in a better position to find a thoughtful gift.

However, if this is not possible, the challenge remains. So as lame as it may sound, a gift certificate may be the best solution. Just make it fun. Perhaps to a movie theater, a clothing store, or even if must be, an electronics outlet. I hope the teenager on my list doesn’t roll her eyes too much Christmas morning.

Christmas Shopping Challenge

Adults are the hardest to buy for in my opinion. For one thing, they have spending power. So Christmas shopping for adults can be just as complicated as for kids. My biggest problem is I have great ideas of what each grown child would like, but find out they have already filled the need or want. This problem only increases with age.

I have yet to buy anything for either the two most significant older men in my life. Fortunately, the eldest is a regular reader of this column and mentioned how much he liked the review of Where the Crawdads Sing. But that still leaves the most important person of all. So I have a week of braving crowds to find something with enough meaning to convey my feelings. Christmas shopping at the last-minute. I hope I am up to the challenge!

Alaskan Holiday Book Review

At Christmas time I like to indulge in sweet romances. One of the best writers of this genre is Debbie Macomber. Her recent release, Alaskan Holiday fit the bill. I’ve never been to Alaska, but would love to go since it is the only state in the United States of America I have not stepped foot in. In the meantime I enjoyed reading Alaskan Holiday.

The point of view for the book switches back and forth between the two main characters. Palmer is a native of the state and appreciates the isolation of Ponder, Alaska. The last ferry out of Ponder is due and Palmer must work up the nerve to ask Josie to stay and marry him.

Josie is on the career path to chef stardom. Her first “real” job is in Seattle at a new restaurant. But she wiles away the time waiting for the opening by cooking at a summer lodge. She didn’t count on a marriage proposal. Thus, Palmer’s attempt at a romantic proposal throws her off-balance. She misses the boat, literally.

Characters

In addition to Palmer and Josie, there is a colorful cast of support. Jack, a bush man with an incredible appetite tries to patch things up between the lead characters. His suggestions and (failed) experience for romance keep things light. Jack is a good sidekick for Palmer.

Angie is a transplant to Alaska. She spends her time writing and raising a family during the long dark winters. Josie is appreciative of the friendship they develop.

Chef Anton is Josie’s boss. And the restaurant owner. He fails to meet Josie’s expectations.

Plot

Like many romances, Alaskan Holiday has a plot which begins and ends with a happy couple. However, the two must overcome various obstacles. Macomber does a nice job of bringing the characters to life. She also presents plausible problems and solutions. Alaskan Holiday is an easy evening read by the Christmas tree. Just grab a cup of cocoa, turn on the tree lights and immerse yourself in a sweet romance.

Craving Christmas Cards

Two Christmas cards on display
Old-fashioned Christmas cards via snail mail.

One of my favorite things about Christmas is sending and receiving Christmas Cards. So far, I have mailed out three dozen with another dozen or so to go. Alas, only two have made their way to my doorstep. Both are on display. But I fear Christmas cards are a dying tradition.

In times gone by, Christmas cards were a method of sharing school pictures or the latest family news to cousins, aunts and uncles. And childhood friends. Now that sharing is often done via social networks. Personally I limit the number of people photos I share on the World Wide Web. As a youngster, I read biographies and Charles Lindbergh’s left me with an irrational fear of kidnappers. So I have “hidden” the faces on the card displayed on the left.

Buying Christmas Cards

My mom always ordered the most beautiful cards with the family name printed inside the card. One of my favorites had an old map of the world embossed in gold with a message of world peace. Then my dad would write a handwritten message on the back cover.

Today, I buy my cards at the local discount store. However, I pick them out early so I can get the four dozen needed to all match. I lean toward nativity scenes but sometimes I will buy ones with winter scenes or with cardinals.

Some years it is difficult to mail Christmas Cards. This is especially true after the death of a family member. In this case the cards often are mailed with a simple signature and no news.

Other years, so many great things have happened I am tempted to print out a letter. But the tradition of handwritten notes continues. In 2012 I even mailed out a collage of photos from key events. That was a fun year! But most of the time our life is humdrum so the stock cards suffice.

Receiving Cards

The best part of course is receiving the cards. I know this is selfish and usually believe it is better to give than receive. But I really like Christmas cards! Each day the mail comes in December, I stop whatever I am doing and hurry out to the mail box. I look forward to seeing school pictures. Or vacation pictures.

My two cards (so far) this year have both been from cousins. Both are Texans although that may or may not play a part in the promptness of getting cards out. The first arrived December 1 with a comical cover and a handwritten note. A perfect start to the Christmas season! The other was delivered on the 11th.

This second card is from a cousin with many artistic talents. The two kids are featured with a background of the Brooklyn Bridge. Absolutely gorgeous-the kids, the back drop and the photography. My heart swelled as soon as I opened the envelope.

Christmas cards connect us with friends and family. Geographical distance makes it hard to see everyone on a regular basis. While the social networks help fill these gaps, Big Data may become the downfall of these networks. The quest for profits by selling information to advertisers has left a bad taste in many mouths.

I am connected via the same social network to both these cousins. However, the artsy photographer has not logged in for over a year. The other cousin is a bit better at keeping on top of things. My own log-ins are sporadic.

So I encourage all of you to consider sending some old-fashioned Christmas Cards. Ones that can be picked up and re-read over and over again. Cards that will not result in pop-up ads. Mail some Christmas cheer this year!

If You’re Missing Baby Jesus Book Review

 Children’s Christmas books are among my favorite gifts to give. Prolific authors like Jan Brett and Mercer Meyer and even Lemony Snicket have written Christmas themed books. There are also books such as Christmas Counting by Lynn Reiser and alphabet books such as B is for Bethlehem by Isabel Wilner. But my favorite tale is If You’re Missing Baby Jesus: A True Story that Embraces the Spirit of Christmas by Jean Gietzen with illustrations by Lila Rose Kennedy.

The setting for If You’re Missing Baby Jesus is a small oil field town of North Dakota in the early 1940s. A family has lost their nativity in moving from one small town to another while following work through the oil patch. So the mother buys a new nativity set at the local dime store. Once the nativity set is unpacked, the family discovers a major error. The set contains two figurines of the baby Jesus.

Family Reaction

The members of the family differ in their reaction to the extra baby Jesus. The father is quite pragmatic. He realizes the set that is missing baby Jesus could be anywhere in the country. The children like having twin babies in the manger. But the mother is adamant that they find the proper home for the extra figurine.

Thus a sign is displayed by the remaining nativity sets stating If You’re Missing Baby Jesus Call 7162. (For those of you too young to remember or in big cities, small towns on the Plains only needed four or five numbers dialed as late as the 1990s.) As Christmas draws closer, the mother becomes more anxious that the extra baby Jesus has not been claimed. Finally, on Christmas Eve she sends the father and children down to the store to see if any nativity sets remain.

The sets are all sold. But upon returning home, both the mother and baby Jesus are missing. Gietzen presents the true meaning of Christmas in the ensuing pages. The children embrace a chance to help others. Even the father loses his grumpiness and creates some miracles of his own.

I love this simple story. I have given many copies away to the younger generations in my family. If You’re Missing Baby Jesus is a wonderful story to read aloud to children during the Christmas season. Buy a copy this Christmas season and enjoy sharing the story with the little ones in your family.

Nativity Set with copy of If You're Missing Baby Jesus

Econogal’s Top Ten Favorite Books of 2018

I have been contemplating a blog post on the top ten book reviews of the past year. However, there are several problems with this idea. Among them is the criteria used, the plethora of top ten book lists and perhaps the greatest challenge of all; limiting myself to just ten!

Criteria

I have often wondered how the top ten lists are compiled. Many times I have disagreed with the choices. For example, the Wall Street Journal recently released The 10 Most Intriguing Travel Destinations for 2019. Locations across the globe were on the list. Including Missouri.

Now I happen to love Missouri. I lived there long enough to graduate from one of the best public high schools in the country. I drive through there on occasion. Usually on the way to a vacation destination. Although I have attended weddings, conferences and a reunion, I never took my family there just for vacation. How did it make the list? Missouri must have met some criteria.

So what criteria should I include? Maybe I should count most likes. Or I could rank by most visits to the individual reviews. Or even the books I cite the most. What about the ones I like the most? Or books I found indispensable in real life? Finally, do I mix non-fiction and fiction together?

The Lists

A quick Internet search not only results in numerous lists, but indicates I am not alone in my concern to choose just ten. In fact, lists of both fifty and one hundred top books of 2018 appear in the search listing. Some lists are just fiction, others non-fiction and others a combination. I like the idea of a combination.

Some lists give a short review of each book. Since I have already reviewed each of my choices I will merely link to them. Just click on the title and the review will appear on a new page. Not all of my choices were released this year. So that may throw some readers into a state of confusion. These are my favorite reads of the year. The fiction side is a bit top-heavy with stories of twentieth century war. This I believe is a reflection of what is being released. Also, there are multiple debuts.

Fiction

Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens

We Were the Lucky Ones by Georgia Hunter

The Clarity by Keith Thomas

The Nightingale by Kristen Hannah

The Alice Network by Kate Quinn

Non-Fiction

Raised Row Gardening by Jim and Mary Competti

Educated by Tara Westover

The Case Against Sugar by Gary Taubes

Zero Waste by Shia Su

New Sampler Quilt by Diana Leone

As always feel free to comment. I would love to hear your favorite book of the year.