Thursday, November 29, 2012

Holiday Pin It/Do It: Pins 4 & 5

These pins are so easy that I almost feel bad about counting them for the challenge - especially since Dave actually did one of them - but "almost" doesn't count.

Pin #4 was Tomato Cage Christmas Trees.  Simply turn the cage upside down and wrap with Christmas lights - instant tree. To make them with varying heights, Dave stacked 2 cages together for the tree on the right.  If you want them to look more "tree-ish" during the day you could wrap with artificial greenery along with the lights and add bows or ornaments.
Original Pin from               My version            
Our trees and Santa ($8 at Dollar General) will be moved to the yard in front of the porch as soon as Dave makes stakes to anchor them to the ground. I would hate for Santa to go flying before Christmas Eve.

Pin #5 was another felt ornament - this time a snowman.  As usual, I did things my own way: I glued the nose on rather than stitching; and, rather than assembling the hat separately and sewing it on as instructed, I glued the stripe pieces to the hat front then glued it to the front of the snowman.  I left the hat back plain and glued it to the snowman back - making sure it lined up with the hat front - and stitched around the entire thing - snowman and hat. I would like to say that stitching in black rather than blue was an aesthetic choice, but honestly, I just didn't pay attention to the instructions and had it half done in black before I realized it was supposed to be blue (to look like snow - duh!)  I also added some beads as buttons, just for kicks, and glued a ribbon loop to the top of the hat for hanging.
Original from Better Homes & Gardens           My version
My blanket stitching could use some practice, but a few more of these and some felt cardinal ornaments (see yesterday's post) and I'll be a blanket stitch expert.  These are simple enough for beginning crafters and could even be adapted for kids by drawing on the face and gluing edges rather than stitching - or making the front only.  

One final note: The pattern, when printed from the BHG website says "enlarge to 133%", which I did on the copier at work (why they didn't just make the original that size is beyond me - it easily fits on one sheet of paper).  The finished snowman is about 6" tall.  For use as tree ornaments, I think I would like them slightly smaller, so will try the next one without enlarging the pattern.

Have fun - and please come back and leave a link to your versions if you give them a try.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Holiday Pin It/Do It: Pin #3

I have some sort of weird infatuation with cardinals, especially in Christmas decorating.  They're so bright and cheery, I guess.  Whatever the reason, as soon as I saw this pin for felt cardinal ornaments, I knew I had to make some.

These ornaments are really very simple to make - just felt, glue, black thread and a small bit of polyfill.  The trickiest part was transferring the stitching lines to the felt.  I printed the pattern on standard printer paper, cut it out and used a marker to draw around it on the felt.  However, the felt is too thick to allow tracing the interior lines on the wing (maybe with a light box?) so I just free-handed the stitching on the wings.  The beak can be cut from felt or stitched with embroidery floss.  I chose the felt option and I glued the black and gold pieces on with craft glue rather than stitching.  I'm pleased with the outcome and hope to find time to make a few more.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Holiday Pin It/Do It - Pin #2

Pin #2 for the Holiday Pin It/Do It Challenge is a Rustic Stocking Holder.  We've lived in 16 houses in our marriage, but not one has had a mantel.  I've hung our Christmas stockings in every conceivable place - door frames, windows, tv stands ...  So, when I ran across some pins for stocking holders, I re-pinned a couple, then combined them to make my own creation.  Here are my inspirations:
I loved this idea of using a curtain rod to hold all the stockings rather than having individual hooks.  Still lacking a mantel, I began scheming alternate locations to use this idea.  Then I saw this pin:
I liked two things about this holder:  1. it hangs on the wall - no need for a mantle or other shelf and 2. the primitive theme, which goes along with some other decorating I'm planning (see future Pin It/Do It entries).  So, I combined the two ideas - a primitive style, free hanging stocking holder with a single rod to hold all stockings.

Dave found some extremely weathered barn board that had once been painted red - perfect.  Then all we needed was a rod.  A shiny, new curtain rod didn't seem to fit the primitive theme, so we scoured the shelter belt and found a branch that was the right length and relatively straight.  A little bailing wire to attach the branch and voila!  

But it was a little plain, so I decided to add some greenery and pinecones (some from Wal-Mart, some from the yard).  As it turned out, it didn't really matter what I used for the hanging rod, because it barely shows in the finished product, but I love the look.  So here's my new Christmas stocking holder:

Since I know someone is going to ask.  I made the three cross-stitch stockings for Dave and the kids.  My stocking is the one my mother made for me when I was in grade school - or even earlier.  I wouldn't trade it for anything.

More Christmas crafts and decorations to come.  Holiday Pin It/Do It is sponsored by Trish @ Love, Laughter and a Touch of Insanity.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Holiday Pin It/Do It - Pin #1

We are 12 days into the most recent Pin It/Do It challenge and I have accomplished two of my promised eight pins.  Project #2 will be posted tomorrow.

Woven stars made from book pages may be my favorite craft of the year.  They are so simple, but look complicated.  They can be adapted to fit any decorating scheme and sized to fit any tree.  Here is the original pins - single star and double star:
Of course I had to make my own alterations.  The original is made from strips of book pages, folded lengthwise into thirds.  I did this on my first one, but for the rest of my stars I just used slightly heavier paper cut into 1/4" strips. The necessary weight of the paper depends on your intended use.  The single strips were sturdy enough to hang on the tree (with very careful packing when storing), but if you want to use them as package decorations or sitting in a bowl, they might need to be heavier.

I was instantly in love and started making them from every paper I could find.  I used vintage book pages:
and gold craft paper
and pages from an old hymnal

I also made a couple from double-sided card stock - different Christmas pattern on each side. I liked the 2-color effect, but the card stock was almost too stiff.  It worked well for larger sizes, but for smaller ones it needed to be more flexible.  Scrapbooking paper would work, but remember that both sides of the paper are going to show, so papers with a white flip-side might not be as pretty - unless you want to use plain red and make a candy-cane effect.

Speaking of sizes, the original directions call for 8" strips.  This makes a finished star of about 7 inches - allowing for the curve.  This was a bit bigger than I wanted for tree ornaments, so I made the rest of mine from 5-6" strips.  I like this size much better.  I'm going to try smaller ones, also - I'll let you know how that goes.

The original pinner embellished her stars with glitter and pom-poms to cover where the hanger is attached.  I am hanging my stars with ribbon or pretty beaded hooks I found at Hobby Lobby, so I left off the pom-poms.  Always looking for ways to simplify, I decided not to mess with regular glue/glitter.  I bought Krylon Glitter Blast spray paint in a shade called "Diamond Dust".  The paint adds just a dusting of glitter that twinkles in the tree lights, but doesn't cover the design on the paper.  The spray also adds some sturdiness to the thinner papers.

Here are the supplies I used - all easy to find and inexpensive. A quilting ruler makes for quick marking of 1/4" lines and if you happen to have a rotary-cutter blade you don't mind dulling, you could even cut your strips that way.  I just marked my lines in pencil and cut with good old scissors. I used craft glue, but Elmers would probably work fine.   I recommend making several stars at once, working assembly line fashion, to allow time for glue to dry a bit before moving on to the next step.


Have fun and be creative.  Let me know if you invent your own adaptations.

Pin It/Do it is sponsored by Trish at Love, Laughter and a Touch of Insanity

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Thankfully Reading Weekend: Wrap Up

Between traveling for Thanksgiving and putting up Christmas decorations when we got home, I don't have great stacks of books to report, or hours and hours spent reading - but I did get some reading done and enjoyed keeping up on Twitter. I plan to start checking out the blogs of fellow readers tomorrow (free time at work - yeah!).  Here's what I got read:

Silent Night - a novella by Deanna Raybourne - read on my Nook while at Son's house.
Poseidon's Arrow by Clive Cussler - Dave and I read approximately half while in the car.
Notorious Nineteen by Janet Evanovich - It was in the mailbox when we got home and I know this series is a guaranteed easy read - so I read it this afternoon between spurts of decorating.

Thank you to Jennifer @ Jenn's Bookshelves and Jennifer @ Literate Housewife for hosting the event and the challenges.  

Thankfully Reading Weekend: Day 2 Challenge

For today’s challenge, I invite you to write about the book you are most thankful for this year. Is it a book written by one of your favorite authors or one you just happened to come upon? Tell us about it! 

This is Jenn's Challenge for Day 2 of Thankfully Reading weekend.  This is an easy one, since I've been preparing my Top Ten list for 2012.  The book for which I'm most thankful this year is The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey.

This book has all the ingredients necessary for The Perfect Read (see previous post), including that illusive X-Factor - that magical ingredient that you can't describe, yet means the difference between a good book and a great book.

You can read my review here.

Thankfully Reading Weekend: Thankfully Reading Recipe Challenge

Jennifer at Literate Housewife sponsored this mini-challenge to create your own Perfect Reading Recipe.
What ingredients when combined together make for a perfect read for you? This could be any combination of time, place, book, or refreshments. Does this book and that meal make for sweet reader’s bliss? Or is it this room, that recliner with this type of book that make you scheme for reading time to yourself?
 The main ingredient for a Perfect Read is, of course, the book.  So what constitutes the perfect book?  I have written before that I judge a book on three criteria - pacing, characters and plot.  Sounds pretty obvious, right?  But there are so many variations on these themes that finding the prefect blend is tricky.  A thriller needs a full measure of pacing, but only a dash of character development.  The romance may need only a splash of plot, but a healthy handful of character insight.  The book for a Perfect Read can be any genre, but it must have a good balance of these key ingredients plus that X-Factor Simon Cowell is always talking about - that something-extra that is indescribable, but you know it when you find it.

Once you have secured the main ingredient, blend it with a comfy chair - my current favorite is this chair that belonged to my grandma, next to a table that belonged to Dave's  grandmother.  (The story of how these things got to our house recently is in this post.)  

The Perfect Read usually calls for the perfect side dish.  Before my recent change to more healthy eating and watching my weight, this would have been a bag of cheese puffs (slightly stale), Dove chocolate, and a Diet Coke (for balance).  These days it's more likely to be air-pop popcorn, apple slices, and a Diet Coke.

The icing on the cake - or the whipped cream on the pumpkin pie - is a dollop of quiet.  I am capable of reading while Dave watches TV (or even during the commercials of a show I was watching in the pre-DVR days), or with some Christmas music playing in the background, but when I sit down to devour the Perfect Read, the only seasoning it really needs is peace.

Thankfully Reading Weekend

Those who know me in "real life" will not be surprised that I am three days late getting going on my Thankfully Reading Weekend. Dave and I did read over 200 pages of Poseidon's Arrow by Clive Cussler while traveling, but once we were there, all time was devoted to visiting, cooking and yes, I'm ashamed to say, some Black Friday shopping (but that's another post).   We got home yesterday afternoon, but the  evening was spent putting up Christmas trees, so today is Thankfully Reading Day!  

For those of you unfamiliar with Thankfully Reading, it is sponsored by Jenn @ Jenn's Bookshelves.  You can find all the details on her blog or in my earlier post.  Part of the fun   - beyond an excuse to devote time to reading - is interacting on Twitter and joining mini-challenges.  I was able to keep up with Twitter from my phone, but the challenges had to wait until I had a real computer - so I'm doing all three challenges and the wrap-up today.  Here we go . . .

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Oh There's No Place Like Home For the Holidays . . .

...but none of us will be home.  Our Thanksgiving celebration begins tonight with a family gathering at the nursing home where Dave's mom lives.  Then tomorrow we head to Hays, KS for Thanksgiving dinner with Mitch.  Once again, he's on call with his job, so we are taking the food to him - and to any of his fraternity brothers who also had to stay in town for jobs.  Amanda is headed to Kansas City to have turkey with her boyfriend's family - and then attend the Chiefs/Broncos game on Sunday.  Go Broncos!!

We will return home on Saturday and I intend to devote Sunday to Thankfully Reading Weekend sponsored by Jenn @ Jenn's Bookshelves.  

There are no rules to the weekend, we’re simply hoping to devote a good amount of time to reading, and perhaps meeting some of our reading challenges and goals for 2012. We thought it’d be fun if we cheered each other on a bit.  We’ll also be checking in on Twitter using hashtag #thankfulreading. Join in for the weekend or for only a single day. No rules, no pressure!  Once again this year, we will be doing some fun Thankfully Reading mini-challenges over the weekend.  Be sure to check back Thanksgiving weekend for more details! - Go to Jenn's blog to sign up.
Then I'll hit the ground running on Monday for a jam-packed December:

A multitude of gifts to make and wrap
14 days at work
12 dozen cookies 
11 Christmas movies
10 books to meet my yearly goal
9 people at our house on Christmas Day
8 pins for the Pin It/Do It Challenge
7 pounds to lose
4 weeks of Advent
3 trees to decorate
2 Christmas Concerts
1 Cross-stitch picture to complete 
1 office party
1 KSU football game
1 (wishful thinking) shopping trip
1 trip to my mom's
... And a Partridge in a pear tree.

But all are things I enjoy and I'll be loving every minute and humming Christmas carols as I go.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Totally Random Book Puzzle: The Answers

The ballots are in, we've double-checked for voter fraud and recounted Florida - and the winner is:

Congratulations, Peggy!  I'll be contacting you by email for the details on your prize.

Peggy correctly identified all 24 books in the puzzle.  Marie from Daisy's Book Journal was a close second with 20 correct - and also the only participant to include the author's name.   Bybee @ Blue Hearted Bookworm identified twelve, and Diane from Bibliophile by the Sea found seven.  

Here are the correct answers - top to bottom; left to right - or as close as possible -
Row 1:
  • Ann of Green Gables by Lucy Maude Montgomery
  • Charlotte's Web by E. B. White
  • 11/22/63 by Stephen King
  • Clan of the Cave Bear by Jean Auel
  • How the Grinch Stole Christmas by Dr. Seuss
  • Little House on the Prairie by Laura Ingalls Wilder 
Row 2:
  • The Scent of Rain and Lightning by Nancy Pickard
  • The Cat Who Could Read Backwards by Lilian Jackson Braun (No one got this exactly right - but close enough)
  • The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern
  • The DaVinci Code by Dan Brown
  • Julie and Julia by Julie Powell
  • A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens
Row 3: (with a zig-zag in the middle)

  • Harriet the Spy by Louise Fitzhugh
  • The Language of Flowers by Vanessa Diffenbaugh
  • Tim Gunn's Fashion Bible
  • The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
  • Gunn's Golden Rules by Tim Gunn
  • "...And Ladies of the Club" by Helen Hooven Santmyer
  • The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey
Row 4:
  • The Quilt by T. Davis Bunn*
  • Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen
  • The Weird Sisters by Eleanor Brown
  • Let's Pretend This Never Happened by Jenny Lawson
  • The Racketeer by John Grisham
*The Quilt was a bit of a trick question.  I showed the entire title in the little bitty picture in the lower left corner because it is not a well-known book and there is nothing distinctive about the cover that I thought should be a hint.  However, I wanted to include it because it has been one of my favorites since it came out in 1993.
The Quilt is the story of Mary, an elderly grandmother whose gnarled, arthritic hands have a beauty all their own. They represent so many skills, so many memories, so many stories to be told. In the twilight of her days, Mary felt a gentle yearning in her heart - there was something left undone. When Mary becomes convinced that the task still unfinished is to make one more very special quilt, with every stitch sewn in prayer and thankfulness, the impact on her family and the surrounding community cannot be contained. No one who gets involved with this quilting project will ever be quite the same again!
It's the perfect story for Thanksgiving week - and can be read in an evening.  I'll be pulling out my worn and underlined copy for a re-read this week.  I recommend you join me if you can.

Thanks for playing.  There will be a new puzzle featuring Christmas movies and TV specials coming on December 1 - so start studying up.

Friday, November 16, 2012

A Puzzling Post: The Totally Random Book Puzzle

Hadn't made a puzzle in ages and just felt the urge - but couldn't come up with an appropriate theme that I haven't used before.  So, here you have a puzzle containing 24 random books I've liked in my lifetime.  How's that for vague?  Some are pretty obvious - a couple are more obscure.  How many can you name? Title and author, please - and it's acceptable to use Google.

This time there's a prize - a handmade journal cover and matching bookmark - lovingly crafted by yours truly.  The cover fits a standard 9x7 composition book (included).  When the journal is full, just slip off the cover and insert a fresh notebook.  Winner will be selected by random drawing of all participants that identify all the books - or the one who comes closest.  Entries accepted until Monday, November 19th when I get to work and have time to determine the winner - a vague deadline to go with a vague puzzle.  Comment moderation will be turned on temporarily so there's no peeking.  Good luck!

Click to enlarge

Thursday, November 15, 2012

The Racketeer by James Grisham

In the history of this country, only four active federal judges have been murdered.  Judge Raymond Fawcett has just become number five.  Malcolm Bannister, former attorney, is currently in the Federal Prison Camp near Frostburg, Maryland, but he’s got an ace up his sleeve.  He knows who killed Judge Fawcett and he knows why.  The FBI would love to know and Malcolm Bannister would love to tell them, but everything has a price —especially information as explosive as the sequence of events that led to Judge Fawcett’s death.  And Malcolm wasn’t born yesterday.  Nothing is as it seems and everything’s fair game in this wickedly clever new novel from John Grisham, the undisputed master of the legal thriller. (condensed from publisher's blurb)

A Grisham legal thriller is never a bad thing - but this one rates a spot among my "Best of 2012".  The plot twists and turns till the end.  Even though we could see parts of the solution coming, there were still surprises that made us slap palm to forehead.  

Dave and I read this one on our recent road-trip to Hays.  Actually, since Dave does most of the driving and tends to fall asleep when he's not driving, I read - he listened.  Maybe reading nearly the entire thing out loud is what made me notice the "quirk" - not a problem, just an oddity.  Portions of the story are told in, what I believe is, first person-present tense -- "I walk into the room.  He looks at me." -- with the first person being Malcolm.  Other portions are told from the perspectives of various FBI agents, attorneys, etc.  But the entire thing has minimal dialog - especially the first-person sections.  It is more a general narrative -- "I explain that I will carry my own bags." -- rather than a word-for-word translation.  The writing axiom "Show, don't tell" is thrown out the window.  But it works.  Well, of course it does -- It's Grisham.  Only a master could pull it off and still keep you flipping pages.  

I'm betting this is a movie soon.  I kept picturing Tom Cruise and Holly Hunter, from The Firm, as we were reading.  Even among Grisham's own works, this one gets high marks and my highest recommendation.

Virtual Advent Blog Tour

Sign-up is open for the 7th Virtual Advent Tour, sponsored by Kailana from The Written Word and Marg at The Adventures of an Intrepid Reader.  It works just like a standard Advent calendar, with a lovely surprise to anticipate every day from Dec. 1 through Dec. 24 - but the treat comes in blog form.  Participants are assigned a date - usually 3 or 4/day - to share something about their holiday celebration:  a recipe, tradition, book review, funny or heartwarming story, craft....whatever they choose.  Visit the Virtual Advent Tour site daily to find links for that day's goodies.  

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Tis the Season to be Pinning . . . and Doing

Trish at Love, Laughter and a Touch of Insanity has announced the Holiday version of her now-famous Pin It/Do It Challenge - so start decking those halls!   For the October version, I did mostly craft pins.  For Christmas, the pins will be more focused on decorating . . . but you know I won't be able to resist crafting.

I am signing up at the "Pin Obsessed" level, which means I will accomplish eight or more pins between Nov. 15th and Dec. 31.  The majority will be Christmas-related, but I may throw in a few Thanksgiving and New Year ideas as well.

Here's what's in the planning stages so far:  Christmas trees made from books and tomato cages (not together); ornaments made from felt and book pages (again, not together);  decorations made from wrapping paper scraps and old magazines (you get my drift); creative re-uses of summer porch decorations; quilting; and my FAVORITE pin idea ever -- You've been RACKed!

RACK stands for Random Acts of Christmas Kindness.  Details in a later post but, basically, I will be bestowing random bits of Christmas cheer on unsuspecting friends and strangers during the month of December. Can't wait!

Trish will be posting a link-up on Thursday, so start lining up your holiday pins. 

Monday, November 12, 2012

Happy New Year

I am not a fan of celebrating New Year's Eve.  In our younger years I dreamed of the perfect New Year's Eve - it would be fun and romantic and just like in the movies.  Never happened!  And every year I was disappointed and vowed that NEXT YEAR would be better.  I finally outgrew that.

Then came the years of making New Year's Resolutions - or more precisely THE New Year's Resolution.  For twenty years, no matter what else I hoped to do in the next 365 days, losing weight was at the top of the list.  Until about January 15th when I returned to my unhealthy, self-indulgent habits.  But NEXT YEAR would be different.  And it was - I had MORE weight to lose.

Why am I talking about New Year's Eve when we haven't even celebrated Thanksgiving yet?  Because this year IS different.  This year I made a commitment - I went "all in" as Dave likes to say - and I'm doing it.  On January 19th, 2012, I began Nutrisystem and have, to date, lost 52 pounds.  It's been difficult and rewarding and exhilarating and frustrating and painful.  And it's not over.  There are seven weeks left in 2012 and I have 8 lbs to lose to reach my goal weight.  The New Year's Eve of my dreams is in sight and I'm putting this out here for all to see as additional motivation for myself.  It would be so easy to say "52 lbs is good enough.  I can quit here and be satisfied."  And I could.  I'm happy with the way I look.  I don't have to shop at Plus Size stores any more.  I don't cringe when someone pulls out a camera.  But I have to finish it.  I am determined to end 2012 by saying "This was the year I did it!"  Not "the year I did MOST of it". 

And, hopefully, I can encourage any of you that set the same goal year after year - not just weight loss, but whatever makes you stop every December 31st and think THIS will be the year, THIS time I'll do it.  I would appreciate your prayers for the rest of the year.  I need to work hard to ensure I make it and I can't finish this without God's strength.  But I can do all things through Christ, who strengthens me (Philippians 4:13).  And on January 1, 2013, I will be looking for the next challenge.

Timber . . .

One evening last week, Dave and I stopped by the farm pond where we fish occasionally in order to retrieve some gear that had gotten left behind when the grandsons were here in October.  Of course, as long as you're standing on the bank of a well-stocked pond and holding "fish poles" (as Dave calls them), you can't resist casting just a few times.  When our short angling outing was over (does anyone know why they call it "angling"?) the scoreboard looked like this:
First fish:      Tami
Biggest fish:  Tami
Most fish:      Tami
ALL the fish:  Tami

Dave feigns ignorance of the existence of a fishing scoreboard, but his recollection improves when his name is on it.  To be fair, he gave me the pole with the best lure and then he removed all three fish from my hook and returned them to the pond - so we'll call it even.  

All that aside, my fishing prowess isn't really the point of this post.  The point is the mystery of nature we discovered among the trees.  Everyone knows beavers gnaw down trees and build dams - we learn that in grade school - but I had never seen it.  
And so it begins . . .

. . . and continues . . .
                 . . . Timber!
. . . and this is all that's left.
Since there were several stumps but no fallen trees (whole or partial) lying about, I assume they have been drug into the water and strategically placed to snag my fishing lure . . . but how?  I don't know how big a beaver actually is, but how does it drag an entire tree?  I couldn't do it!  Guess I'll just file that under "Things that make you say . . . hmmmmm."

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

A Leapfrog in Times Square

You may remember the story of Navy Seal Lt. Michael Murphy who was killed in Afghanistan in 2005.  Lt. Murphy was part of a four-man team caught in a firefight with more than thirty Taliban militia.  The Navy's summary of Lt. Murphy's actions includes these words:
Despite the intensity of the firefight and suffering grave gunshot wounds himself, Murphy is credited with risking his own life to save the lives of his teammates. Murphy, intent on making contact with headquarters, but realizing this would be impossible in the extreme terrain where they were fighting, unhesitatingly and with complete disregard for his own life moved into the open, where he could gain a better position to transmit a call to get help for his men. 
Moving away from the protective mountain rocks, he knowingly exposed himself to increased enemy gunfire.  This deliberate and heroic act deprived him of cover and made him a target for the enemy.  While continuing to be fired upon, Murphy made contact with the SOF Quick Reaction Force at Bagram Air Base and requested assistance. He calmly provided his unit’s location and the size of the enemy force while requesting immediate support for his team. At one point he was shot in the back causing him to drop the transmitter. Murphy picked it back up, completed the call and continued firing at the enemy who was closing in.  Severely wounded, Lt. Murphy returned to his cover position with his men and continued the battle. 
You can read the entire summary here.  In recognition of Lt. Murphy's heroism, the Navy commissioned a guided-missile destroyer - the USS Michael Murphy - on October 6, 2012.  The week-long celebration in New York included a demonstration by the Navy Leapfrog  Parachute Team, who jumped into Times Square and posed for pictures with members of FDNY Engine 53.  Lt. Murphy wore the Engine 53 patch on his military uniform in combat.
Our future son-in-law, a member of the Leapfrog team, is second from the right in the front row.  We are so proud of his participation in this amazing ceremony.

Monday, November 5, 2012

12-21 by Dustin Thomason

For decades, December 21, 2012, has been a touchstone for doomsayers worldwide. It is the date, they claim, when the ancient Maya calendar predicts the world will end.

In Los Angeles, two weeks before, all is calm. Dr. Gabriel Stanton takes his usual morning bike ride, drops off the dog with his ex-wife, and heads to the lab where he studies incurable prion diseases for the CDC. His first phone call is from a hospital resident who has an urgent case she thinks he needs to see.  Meanwhile, Chel Manu, a Guatemalan American researcher at the Getty Museum, is interrupted by a desperate, unwelcome visitor from the black market antiquities trade who thrusts a duffel bag into her hands.

By the end of the day, Stanton, the foremost expert on some of the rarest infections in the world, is grappling with a patient whose every symptom confounds and terrifies him. And Chel, the brightest young star in the field of Maya studies, has possession of an illegal artifact that has miraculously survived the centuries intact: a priceless codex from a lost city of her ancestors. This extraordinary record, written in secret by a royal scribe, seems to hold the answer to her life’s work and to one of history’s great riddles: why the Maya kingdoms vanished overnight. Suddenly it seems that our own civilization might suffer this same fate.

With only days remaining until December 21, 2012, Stanton and Chel must join forces before time runs out.

With 12-21-12 only a few weeks away, the end of the Maya calendar is getting lots of press, which made this book even more exciting than it otherwise would have been.  And it would have been a top thriller even if the premise was entirely fictional.

Dave and I read this together and both give it top ratings.  My three criteria for judging a thriller/mystery are a bit of a balancing act:  pacing - keeps me anticipating the next page without feeling left behind; characters - enough detail to like who I'm supposed to like and hate who I'm supposed to hate without slowing down the pace with excess bios; and plot - complex enough that I don't foresee the ending too soon, but without impossible solutions or a peripheral villain that couldn't possibly have been predicted.  Not asking too much, right?

12-21 hits all three criteria - as did Mr. Thomason's first novel, The Rule of Four.  Highly recommend them both - and you better get reading, just in case. ;)