Playlist for the holidays

I love making gift tags or baking Christmas cookies when I'm listening to festive music. It doesn't hurt to have a candle burning either (I'm loving this new fragrance from Yankee Candle. Or, try the amazing Frasier Fir candle from Minnesota company Thymes).

Here are some whimsical, yuletide tunes that are worth a listen:
  • Breath of Heaven. Amy Grant's beautiful song that envisions Mary's thoughts and feelings during the first Christmas.
  • Silver Bells. Andy Williams does a simply sweet version that makes me want to shop in a charming downtown.
  • Up on the Housetop. This song details children's Christmas wishes and American Idol contestant Kimberley Locke did a rollicking version of it.
  • O Holy Night. This song captures the peaceful essence of Christmas better than most and it's just gorgeous.
  • Sleigh Ride. I haven't heard a bad version of this song, but I like Deborah Gibson's version.
  • Santa Claus is Coming to Town. Remember the magic of Christmas as a child? Bruce Springsteen clearly does.
  • ANYTHING from A Charlie Brown Christmas. I love everything about Charles Schulz's Peanuts, including the music. "Do they even make wooden Christmas trees anymore?" Classic.
  • We Wish You a Merry Christmas. My personal favorite is the version by John Denver and the Muppets: "Did you say Piggy pudding?" 
  • Silver and Gold. This is the perfect song to play while decorating the tree during a blizzard when you have no other place to go. Burl Ives' voice is iconic.
  • 2000 Miles. I can listen to this song by the Pretenders any time of the year, but it's particularly poignant at Christmas. 
What are your must-listen-to Christmas songs?


Icky songs of the season (revisited)

Last year, I wrote about my least favorite Christmas songs. Recently, I discovered that I omitted a few and in good conscience, I cannot let the travesty stand. Here is my addendum to last year's list.*
  • The Chipmunk Song. Here's all I'll say about this one: it's a good thing that Alvin, Simon and Theodore aren't relying on me to purchase that hula hoop for them. (Sort of in the same way that my nieces are relying on me to buy them Bratz dolls.)
  • The Chimney Song. San-ta's de-com-pos-ing in my chimney and isn't it CUTE? My rational self always asks, "Where are this kid's parents and why don't they do something about this?" Are they just running around, spraying Lysol to cover up the problem?
  • The Christmas Shoes. This represents the cheapest theatrics of the holiday season. It's emotional manipulation, pure and simple. I have perfected the technique of changing the radio station in fewer than three seconds when this dud comes on.
  • ANY version of the 12 Days of Christmas--and that including (and especially) parodies. There's only so far jokes can take you when a song isn't that great in the first place.
  • Cherry, Cherry Christmas by Neil Diamond. Full disclosure: I am not a Neil Diamond fan, but this song is just...strange. Add in the blatant self-promotion and it's a recipe for holiday nausea.
  • Wonderful Christmastime by Paul McCartney. It's fitting that this song--complete with Casio keyboard sound effects--made the list, since John Lennon made the list last year. Is there any redeeming musical value in this song?
I don't want to be a Grinch this holiday season, so tomorrow, I'll post my favorite songs that put me in the mood for shopping, gift wrapping and tree trimming. :)
    *If this list is used for evil like last year, you're looking at 2025.



    I made it. Barely. Check out the aftermath!

    Here's my recipe for a full Friday night:
    Take 10 giggly girls, add colorful crafts and generous helpings of pizza, soda, chocolate chip cookies and cake. Sprinkle a small, but potent dose of prankster brothers with scary masks for best results.


    Crafting with coach

    This fall, I coached a fifth and sixth grade volleyball team, so tomorrow, I'm having 10 middle school girls over to my house for craft night. We're celebrating the end of the season. I expect lots of giggling, chatting and squealing. Maybe I should find some earplugs!

    As I was thinking about a project to do with the girls, I was reviewing my crafting supplies and recalling how I got started. The blame for my obsession rests primarily on Jen: a Close to My Heart consultant, talented scrapbooker and very dear friend. :) She introduced me to CTMH nearly 10 years ago and their products are among my favorites when it comes to scrapbooking and crafting. I especially love their beautiful coordinating inks (the design of their swivel ink pads is genius) and papers (the best cardstock I've ever used, with a white core).

    I'll post an update from craft night tomorrow and let you know if my eardrums are still intact. :)


    Mascot week: Special bonus!

    Reading Phillies vs. New Britain Rock Cats - June 19, 2010
    Since it's Halloween, my gift to you is a bonus extension of mascot week. I can see young children having night terrors because of this dude's vacant stare! Trick or treat? I'll let you decide.


    Mascot week: are you a phan?

    This is the world-famous Phillie Phanatic. What happened here? I know he's a baseball tradition, but here's my two cents' worth: he's like a Muppet on steroids with a grudge against Tommy Lasorda. (I guess if a mascot is going to take steroids, it's only fitting that it's a baseball mascot.)


    Mascot week: It's time to vote!

    Presidents Race, Washington Nationals

    It's that time of the year. Our televisions and mailboxes are full of political ads. In fact, my telephone just rang with a campaign call. (I didn't answer.) Maybe you could use a lighthearted look at politics.
    Here are the Washington Senators' mascots: Teddy Roosevelt, Abe Lincoln, George Washington and Thomas Jefferson. This sports tradition is known as the Presidential Race. They do look very presidential, don't they? :)


    Mascot week: World series edition

    Time for the fall classic. The San Francisco Giants will battle the American League champion Texas Rangers. The minor league team for the Giants, the Fresno Grizzlies seem to be channeling their inner Berenstein Bear. Their mascot is Parker and he has personality. Read his profile here.

    Fresno Grizzlies,  Chukchansi Park May 7th 2010

    Fresno Grizzlies,  Chukchansi Park May 7th 2010

    I don't know if this is Parker's girlfriend or Parker himself!


    Mascot week: This is how it's done

    Since I am a life-long Detroit Tigers fan (like Thomas Magnum, P.I, but without the 'stache), I had to include a picture of Paws. I think he's pretty cute.


    Mascot week: The start of basketball season

    Pitman Day 2009-0610 (399)
    Today is the start of the National Basketball Association's (NBA) 2010-11 season, so it seemed fitting to feature a basketball mascot. This is Hip-Hop. He's officially listed as part of team's front office personnel on their website. Clearly, both he and the Sixers' organization take his job seriously. In this photo, it looks like he's wearing a knee brace. Hip-Hop is scheduled for knee replacement surgery. Too much jumping around.


    Mascot week: Meet the sausages

    Miller Park Sausage Race
    Here are the famous Milwaukee Brewers' racing sausages. This tradition is fairly recent (it began in the 1990s with three sausages). At first, I thought this was a strange ritual, but after going to a game at Miller Park, I began to understand their odd appeal. Plus, the marketer in me can't help but admire this perfect promotion for Klement's Sausage of Milwaukee.  The sausages even have names: Brett Wurst (a bratwurst), Stosh (a Polish sausage), Guido (an Italian sausage), Frankie Furter (a hot dog) and Cinco (a chorizo). You can even schedule an appearance with the sausages. Only in Wisconsin!


    Mascot week kickoff: Trax

    Meet Trax. He's the mascot for our local semi-pro baseball team.

    At a baseball game at Carson Park over the summer, I observed that Trax frightened young fans, albeit unintentionally. I can relate.

    Describing Trax is problematic. To what species does he belong? The closest I've come to an accurate description is "a carrot with mumps." 

    A friend of mine asked him what he was. The mascot craftily evaded answering the question by answering, "An engineer." Well played, Trax. And the mystery remains unsolved.    

    So, this post officially kicks off Mascot Awareness Week. Visit each day to meet a new mascot.


    My kind of weather

    I spotted this sign during a recent visit to a local winery. Sounds perfect! :)


    With a little help from my friends

    The Beatles nailed this one, all right. Time is a precious commodity for me lately and one result is that some things get put by the wayside. Staining my deck was one of those things. Fortunately for me, I have friends--friends that excel in the area of home improvement and generously gave their time to get it done. Words can't properly express my appreciation, so I'll keep it simple. Thanks, guys. :)


    New directions

    Ahh, life. Every time I think I have you figured out, you throw me a sinking curve ball.

    I've written before about how much I love school supply shopping and I'm kind of excited to say that I actually have a real reason to indulge. I'm teaching literature and composition to fifth through eighth graders this school year. It's a part-time position which feels a lot like full-time right now. (I'd like to introduce the lack of posts on this blog as evidence, your honor.) The last several weeks have been filled with lesson planning, apprehension, butterflies, and brainstorming. I'm balancing my business with this new venture, so I never have a dull (or free!) moment.


    Artistic leanings

    Sometimes, one of the hardest things to do in life is to take a chance. We wade through self-doubt, risk defeat, and are often disappointed. It's hard to stay the course when there are so many bumps in the road. It's easy to get derailed. What gets us through? Persistence, courage and support.

    This is my sister's story: Completely self-taught and totally gifted, she is an artist. Most of her work is very personal. She has a way of capturing the sweetest sensibilities of children.

    So today, I'm celebrating her art and her courage. She recently exhibited at a local art show. I'm hoping it's the first of many.


    A strange marketing decision

    I saw this ad last week. I did a double-take, then laughed incredulously. It reminded me of those tests where you pick the one which doesn't belong.

    Who thinks, "Hey! We're getting a divorce! Let's get some fireworks to commemorate the occasion!"


    Championship game

    After advancing through the second round of the tournament, the Tigers had home field advantage vs. the Bronx Bombers on August 11 for the championship game.

    Manager Joel Carstensen brought out a semi-familiar defensive set with Paul Tiefel Jr. as the starting pitcher and Rebekah Carstensen behind the plate at catcher. The infield showcased Elizabeth Plath at one, Hannah Tiefel at two, Jer Gurgel at short and Tim Burns at third. Paul Tiefel III played left field, while Jill Tiefel was in left-center. Jarrod Lentz played right-center and Emily Tiefel was in right field. 

    The first three batters for the visiting Bombers were summarily retired. In the bottom of the inning, Jer Gurgel led off with a single. Lefty Rebekah Carstensen flied out to left field, which was followed by singles by Jarrod Lentz and Jill Tiefel. Paul Tiefel III and Elizabeth Plath each drew a walk, before Paul Tiefel Jr. hit a double to score some runs. At the end of the first inning, the score was 4-0.

    Jarrod Lentz's defense provided the first two outs of the second inning, as he snared a fly ball hit to right-center for out one. The next batter also hit the ball to right-center and Jarrod threw a tight rope to first base for out number two. The next three batters reached first base, but Jer Gurgel scooped up a grounder at short and made the force out at second to end the top of the second inning.

    Similar to previous weeks, the second inning proved to be a red-hot one for Tiger batters. The team batted all the way through the lineup, starting with Emily Tiefel. Singles and doubles were plentiful and the inning was topped off by a grand slam by Jarrod Lentz. At the end of the second inning, the score was 16-0.

    The Bronx Bombers staged a minor rally in the third inning, scoring two runs. Paul Tiefel III scored for the Tigers in the bottom of the inning on a hit by Tim Burns. The game ended at the end of three innings because of the 15 run lead acquired by the Tigers. The final score was 17-2.

    BOX SCORE: Jer Gurgel (2 1B), Bek Carstensen (2 BB), Jarrod Lentz (HR, 2B, 1B), Jill Tiefel (2 1B), Paul Tiefel III (1B, BB), Elizabeth Plath (1B), Paul Tiefel Jr. (2B, 2 1B), Hannah Tiefel (1B, BB), Tim Burns (2 2B), Emily Tiefel (2 BB)

    Tiefel Tigers statistics for the 2010 season:
    Record: 11-0
    Total runs scored: 133
    Total runs allowed: 35
    Average runs scored: 12.1
    Average runs allowed 3.2

    And so the sun has set on another memorable softball season. Thanks for your support!


    Meet Corky

    My sisters and I have a tradition. Instead of having coffee together, we have craft night. The hostess provides the craft supplies and general directions, then it's off to the races. Craft night is hilarious, but it's not designed for the thin-skinned. Prepare to handle good-natured jabs, mocking, and irreverent laughter.

    When I hosted a recent craft night, everyone brought something to use in the creative effort. I set up a card table and piled on the supplies: empty bottles, glue guns, wire, beads, soap molds, bits of ribbon, corks, bottle caps...in short, whatever might fuel an idea.

    Corky was made by my sister Rebekah, created with her three-year-old daughter in mind. Take a cork, draw an animated face, hot glue a magnet to the top along with yellow rick-rack for hair and place a bottle cap at a jaunty angle and presto...a new doll! I took one look at Corky and cracked up. My sister mischievously placed her in my curio cabinet where I discovered her the next morning.

    We laugh at each others ideas and truthfully, the end result of some ideas may be unfortunate or just plain awful. But you can't get good ideas without some bad ones. You never know if the project you're creating will turn out to be "craftastic" or "craptastic"--but it's fun to find out!


    DC Metro

    After arriving in Washington D.C. for our family vacation this summer, we parked our vehicles and relied on alternate transportation around our nation's capitol. Outside of our primary mode of transportation (our feet!), the secondary mode was the Metro. And let me tell you, it is difficult to navigate through a large city on the week before a big holiday with 30+ people, many of whom are under the age of 12. We didn't need the additional challenge of trying to decipher the kiosks in the station! This is one of the machines where riders can purchase a fair pass. Sorta makes one's head spin, doesn't it?

    I found myself befuddled by how the passes were used too. A columnist for our local paper also visited D.C. this summer and in her article, she mentioned that they threw out their metro passes after a day--before they realized they could redeem the card balance on their next pass. I did the same thing, spurred by the fact that the gates will not accept a pass that has less than $1.60 on it. To make it even more confusing, users can add to a single pass, but can't combine more than one pass.

    I'd be surprised if there was a user experience designer involved in this project. If so, I guess I wasn't the target audience. It just felt counter-intuitive to me, especially for a city that has masses of tourists.

    Shouldn't it be easier?


    Tigers advance in tournament play

    The Tiefel Tigers rolled into the post-season single-elimination tournament with momentum from the previous week's double-header. Their undefeated record in the regular season earned them a first round bye.

    As the Tigers' players showed up to the field a few at a time, they witnessed the first round game between Wisconsin Metal Fab and A.H. Bennett with interest. Wisconsin Metal Fab pulled away with a victory and the Tigers were set to face them for the third time in two weeks.

    As the home team, the Tigers took the field. Veteran pitcher Paul Tiefel Jr. started for the team, with Eileen Tiefel behind the plate. Lefty sisters Elizabeth Plath and Rebekah Carstensen were the first and second basemen, respectively. Jer Gurgel was back at shortstop and Tim Burns at third. Paul Tiefel III returned to left field, Jill Tiefel in left-center, Jarrod Lentz in right-center and Emily Tiefel in right.

    Wisconsin Metal Fab was warmed up and ready to go in the first inning. A combination of hits, four walks and an error in left-center found the Tigers behind the eight-ball and behind by 8 runs in the first half inning.   The Tigers gained two runs back in the bottom of the inning. Relief pitcher Jill Tiefel took over in the middle of the second inning, as Paul Tiefel Jr. pulled himself from the game. WMF scored one run in the second inning, but it was the Tigers' bats that made some noise. The team put together a 13 run rally. The highlight of the inning was Jer Gurgel's in-the-park home run, where he slowed down lest he pass Mom on the base paths. The Tigers lead 15-9 at the end of two.

    The team's defense proved to be key during the rest of the game, as left-fielder Paul Tiefel III tallied up several outs and left-center fielder Paul Tiefel Jr. made several semi-routine catches look exciting. In the final inning, Tim Burns helped ensure victory by fielding back-to-back ground balls and threw them to second baseman Rebekah Carstensen for the outs. The final score was 20-12.

    Noteworthy on the night:
    • Emily's on base percentage was 100% (4-4); on the bases, she had a textbook slide into third base (she was out, but she looked smooth!).
    • Mom played her first complete game of the season, sans rhinestone belt.
    • Paul III stated how much he loved the new softball jerseys. "I'm ready to wear them for the next 9 years," he reported.

    BOX SCORE: Jer Gurgel (HR, 3 1B), Elizabeth Plath (3 BB), Paul Tiefel III (2B, 1B), Rebekah Carstensen (1B, BB), Paul Tiefel Jr. (1B, BB), Jill Tiefel (BB), Jarrod Lentz (2B, 1B, 2 BB), Emily Tiefel (4 BB), Tim Burns (2 1B, BB), Eileen Tiefel (1B, 2 BB)

    The Tigers are scheduled to play in the championship game on Wednesday on field 10. See you there!


    Summer afternoon pursuits

    Take clear skies and warm sunshine, add in the company of a great friend and top it all off with a trip to the Munson Bridge Winery and the result is my idea of a perfect summer afternoon. Discovered by my dear friend Leah last fall, the two of us made a return trip recently. The winery is located in Withee, Wisconsin and it's a true delight. It's owned and run by a local family. Their specialty is fruit wine and they have several varieties from which to choose. I highly recommend the Mango Symphony. Besides wine, they have a fabulous selection of gourmet olive oils and balsamic vinegars.

    The ambiance of the winery is charming; the decor, eclectic. I especially loved how this old upright piano was transformed into a wine rack.

    Leah and I relaxed in their expansive backyard on a swing suspended from a large tree. That's what summer is all about!


    From the archives...

    By special request, here is a picture of the Tiefel Tigers from the 2001 championship season. Come out to support the Tigers in their single-elimination tournament tomorrow! The game is at 8:00 on University field 10.

    Double-header to finish the regular season

    Sporting new uniforms for the first time in nine years, the Tiefel Tigers had their work cut out for them last Wednesday night. Undefeated thus far in the season, the Tigers faced their main rival, Wisconsin Metal Fab, winner of last season's tournament in back-to-back games.

    The first game was a continuation of the rained-out game from two weeks before, so the Tigers started the first game with a 0-3 deficit. (WMF led after one inning of play.) With home field advantage in the make-up game, the team took the field. Paul Tiefel Jr. started at pitcher, with Gretchen Tiefel filling in at catcher. With SS Jer Gurgel and second baseman Hannah Tiefel out of town, the infield had a different look. Elizabeth Plath played first base, Rebekah Carstensen covered second base, while Paul Tiefel III plugged the gap at shortstop and Tim Burns played third base. The outfield was comprised of Jarrod Lentz, Emily Tiefel, Jill Tiefel and Mark Tiefel.

    The defense held the opposing team scoreless in the second inning. The offense started strong with a lead off single from Paul Tiefel III. An out-of-control Paul Tiefel Jr. sparked the team with a single which he stretched into a double...triple...home run. At the end of the second inning, the score was tied 3-3. The Tigers held WMF scoreless in the third inning and went on another mini-offensive burst, scoring four runs in the bottom of the inning. Following a lackluster fourth inning (too many walks!), the score was 7-9 in favor of WMF. However, the Tigers scored two runs in the fifth inning and one in the sixth and went on to win the game by the narrow margin of 10-9.

    BOX SCORE: Paul Tiefel III (2B, 1B, BB), Elizabeth Plath (2 BB), Jarrod Lentz (3B), Jill Tiefel (1B), Paul Tiefel Jr. (HR, 1B), Rebekah Carstensen (BB), Tim Burns (2 1B), Emily Tiefel (1B), Mark Tiefel (2B), Gretchen Tiefel (1B)

    After a brief breather, the Tigers began the second game, this time as the visiting team. With two outs, the team staged a rally with three consecutive singles by Paul Tiefel Jr., Rebekah Carstensen and Jarrod Lentz. Jill Tiefel drew a walk and Paul Tiefel III had a double to bat in some runs. The score after one inning was 3-1.

    Defensively, Elizabeth Plath and Tim Burns covered the right side of the infield. Brothers Paul Tiefel III and Mark Tiefel shored up the left side. Girl power (Rebekah Carstensen, Jill Tiefel, Emily Tiefel) carried the outfield, with left-fielder Jarrod Lentz as the sole male representative. Paul Tiefel Jr. took the mound for the second game, with Gretchen Tiefel ably catching foul pop-ups behind the plate.

    Once again, the fourth inning proved to be the Tigers' kryptonite, as WMF scored five runs. At the end of four, the score was 5-6. But the Tigers didn't give up, digging in on defense, lead by a determined Emily Tiefel with a catch in right field and Jarrod Lentz's diving grab in left field. On offense, the team squeaked out a run in the fifth to tie the game, and a run in the sixth to take the lead. Two more insurance runs in the top of the seventh inning (and an almost fatally wounded gazelle) left the final score at 9-6.

    BOX SCORE: Mark Tiefel (2 2B, 1B), Elizabeth Plath (1B), Paul Tiefel Jr. (3 1B), Rebekah Carstensen (2 1B), Jarrod Lentz (2 1B), Jill Tiefel (2 1B, BB), Paul Tiefel III (2 2B, SAC), Emily Tiefel (1B, BB), Tim Burns (1B, SAC), Gretchen Tiefel (1B)

    (P.S. Apologies for no report on week 9. No statistical sheet was available. The Tigers did walk away with a victory, however.)


    New neighbors

    I was at the kitchen sink when I was distracted by movement outside the window. (My attention span is extremely short for domestic chores!) I stood captivated for several minutes, watching these two young deer in my backyard.

    Next thing you know, I'll be bird-watching.


    Guard dog

    My dear friend Leah loves ugly things. A few years ago, she found a heavy stone poodle at a flea market and decided that I needed to have it. I have stubbed my toe on the zombie poodle a few times, but couldn't bring myself to get rid of the dog. With the help of Leah's incorrigible mother, the poodle now has an outfit for every season.

    Now, things have come full circle. My nieces and nephews come to visit me and one of their favorite activities is to dress the dog. I heard one of them last week: "I want a puppy just like this." I guess this is just further proof of the old adage: beauty is in the eye of the beholder.


    The Sears Tower

    Traveling with my father on a road trip was always an adventure. I'm sure it was a cacophony of noise and questions for my parents. As we drove through Chicago fairly frequently, one of the things we always wanted to see was the Sears Tower (recently renamed Willis Tower). We were captivated by the idea of the tallest building in the world. My father's favorite joke on the road was to point out the window on the Skyway at this building. "Look, girls! It's the Sears Tower!" You would think that we would not fall for this trick more than once, but we did. So it was with a small smile and a heaping helping of nostalgia, that I pointed out the building to my nieces on the recent road trip. "Look, girls! It's the Sears Tower!"


    Game 8: Flooded fields

    Missing key players and having had a week off, the Tiefel Tigers were unsure what to expect in the 7:00 game against Trinity Equestrian Center last Thursday, July 7. Clouds were rolling in and a storm appeared on the horizon. Jill Tiefel started as pitcher, with Gretchen Tiefel subbing as catcher. Elizabeth Plath took first base, Tim Burns filled in at second base, while Mark Tiefel covered third base. Jer Gurgel handled his usual position at shortstop. The outfield was comprised of Paul Tiefel III, Rebekah Carstensen, Jarrod Lentz and Emily Tiefel.

    As the visiting team, the Tigers struck first by scoring five runs in the first inning. Light sprinkles turned into steady showers as spectators scurried for cover during the second inning. At the end of the second inning, the sky opened up and a fierce downpour caused the game to be halted. After the rain abated and the field drained, the Tigers continued the game. The final score was 12-1.

    Noteworthy on the night:
    • Bek Carstensen would like it duly noted for the record: She was on base all four times she batted. 
    • Mark's comment summed up the evening's playing conditions. "This may be the only time my armpits have been the driest part of my body." 
    • This was Gretchen's first game of the season, as she subbed for Joelle, sidelined with a shoulder injury from a tubing accident.

    BOX SCORE: Mark Tiefel (2B, 2 1B), Elizabeth Plath (BB), Jer Gurgel (2B), Jill Tiefel (1B, BB), Jarrod Lentz (2 1B), Rebekah Carstensen (3 1B), Tim Burns (2 1B), Emily Tiefel (BB), Paul Tiefel III (2B, 1B)


    Library of Congress

    Dear readers...you know I have an affinity for libraries. So you can imagine how I felt as I stepped into the largest library in the world, the Library of Congress.

    The Library of Congress was established in 1800. Thomas Jefferson sold his personal library (over 6000 volumes) to the Library of Congress after the war of 1812 destroyed most of the original collection. Many of these books were destroyed in 1851 by another fire, but the remaining books are still on display. I was misty-eyed as I viewed those books in person. And seeing the Gutenberg Bible was astounding.

    The size of the library is mind-boggling. About 10,000 items a day are added to the collection. Thirty-two million books are in the catalog. Three buildings make up the library: the Jefferson (seen below), the Madison and the Adams.


    For a bibliophile such as myself, it was a near-spiritual experience.  I only had 40 minutes, but it was a great 40 minutes. Beautiful.


    Game 7: Slugging out a tough win

    The Tiefel Tigers ate a big portion of humble pie in week 6 as nothing seemed to go right. Despite fielding gaffes, bad base-running and mediocre batting, the team won 6-5.

    BOX SCORE: Paul Tiefel III (2 1B), Elizabeth Plath (1B), Jer Gurgel (3B, 1B), Hannah Tiefel (1B), Jarrod Lentz (1B), Jill Tiefel (2 1B, BB), Tim Burns (2 1B), Joelle Noeldner (BB), Rebekah Carstensen (1B)


    Toy sword

    At Ford's Theater, my sister pointed out this toy sword that was owned by Tad Lincoln, Abraham Lincoln's son. I was amazed. Can you imagine this sword being sold as a "toy" nowadays? If my nephews used this sword, I'm sure there would be some serious repercussions. :)


    The cost of freedom

    For me, Sept. 11, 2001 dawned like any other day, but by the time the sun set, the world was changed for millions of Americans, including myself. I remember the incredulous horror, the suspended disbelief and the subsequent confusion in the days following 9-11.

    Recently, I had the privilege of going to the temporary Flight 93 Memorial near Somerset, Pennsylvania. As I listened to Wendy, the National Park Service ranger on duty, somberly and respectfully recount the timeline of the day, I was moved anew. We are blessed to live in a country where ordinary citizens stand up for our nation and for each other.

    The permanent memorial is under construction and will be dedicated on the ten year anniversary. I hope see the finished project one day, but in the meantime, if you can see the temporary memorial, do so. It's worth the trip. Sometimes, the word "history" conjures up thoughts of ancient Rome or the Revolutionary War: events that happened long before we took our first steps. This memorial reminded me that each of us is part of history. We're shaping it one day at a time.


    The importance of punctuation

    I saw this sign on a restaurant register last week. Apparently, there is a statute of limitations on apologies. But don't worry. The management will let us know when it ends.


    First official day of summer

    Two chatty little cousins, both wannabe ballerinas and princesses-in-training, reminded me of this simple childhood truth: There's nothing like eating a popsicle on a sweltering summer afternoon.


    Double-header for games 5 and 6

    June 16, 2010 – On a perfect day for softball, the Tiefel Tigers started playing game one with full daylight and blue skies and when the second game ended, the outfield grass was damp with dew and a silver sliver of moon brightened the dark sky.

    Game one of the night was a rematch against A.H. Bennett. Paul Tiefel Jr. was feeling the groove and pitched the entire game. Southpaw Elizabeth Plath covered first base, Hannah Tiefel played second base. Difference-maker Jer Gurgel played a stellar defensive game at shortstop and Tim Burns handled third base. Paul Tiefel III and Jill Tiefel covered the left side of the outfield, while married couple Joel and Bek Carstensen defended the right side. After a slow start, the Tigers scored 7 runs in the top of the third inning to take a commanding lead. The final score at the end of the sixth inning was 13-2. 

    BOX SCORE: Paul Tiefel III (1B), Jill Tiefel (1B, 2BB), Jer Gurgel (3B, 2B), Bek Carstensen (1B, BB), Paul Tiefel Jr. (2 1B, BB), Tim Burns (2B, 2 1B), Elizabeth Plath (1B), Joel Carstensen (2 1B)

    The second game saw the Tigers meeting Trinity Equestrian's team for the first time this season. A minor adjustment to the batting lineup was the only successful* change that Manager Joel Carstensen made. Warmed up and ready to go, the Tigers struck first in the bottom of the first inning, scoring 5 runs and batting through the lineup. The hot streak continued through the second inning, when Burnsy let out a diabolical laugh as he ran to first base after placing a perfect pitch inches from the right field line, and into the third inning when the team batted through the lineup for the second time in the game. The defense held tight and the Tigers walked away with a win, 17-1.

    BOX SCORE: Paul Tiefel III (2B), Jill Tiefel (2 1B, BB), Jer Gurgel (2 HR, 2 1B), Bek Carstensen (2 1B), Joel Carstensen (2B, 2 BB), Emily Tiefel (1B, BB), Tim Burns (3B, 2B, BB), Paul Tiefel Jr. (1B, BB), Hannah Tiefel (1B, BB)

    *Astute readers are asking "What unsuccessful change did the manager want to make?" Joel was ready to go to the bullpen for the second game, but in a shocking development, the pitcher refused to abdicate the mound. After back-to-back walks were delivered to the first two batters, Jer Gurgel summarized his feelings. "He may be feeling it, but he's not showing it," he said. Fortunately, the pitching performance improved and a leadership crisis was avoided.

    Noteworthy on the night:
    • Eileen Tiefel (Grandma Leener) kept up her perfect record of not playing in any games so far this season. (She did, however, make a run to the store for fruit snacks.)
    • Jill Tiefel was called a "gazelle" by a player on the opposing team who was impressed by a leaping catch in left-center field. (Pause. If the first rule of journalism is accuracy and truth in reporting, the second rule of journalism is impartiality. I can't help myself. I have to say this. I never thought I would be called a gazelle. Ever. Okay, unpause.) 
    • Left-fielder Paul Tiefel III almost performed a smooth tuck and roll after making a catch in the outfield but felt like he couldn't do justice to Jarrod Lentz's trademark move.
    The Tiefel Tigers are in sole possession of first place in the city's standings.


    Game 4: Alone at the top

    The Tiefel Tigers met A.H. Bennett last Wednesday, determined to distinguish themselves from the other teams in the league. A.H. Bennett scored two runs in their first at bat. Lead by birthday boy Paul Tiefel Jr. in the lead-off spot, the Tigers matched those two runs in their turn at bat in the bottom of the first inning. After a scoreless second inning, the Tigers took a three run lead in the third inning. But it took the fourth inning to break open the game. The team batted through the line-up and continued on to victory. The final score was 12-2.

    The Tigers lead the league in average runs scored (12) and fewest runs allowed (2). Next week's double-header could be an exciting highlight of the season.

    BOX SCORE: Paul Tiefel Jr. (1B), Joelle Noeldner (BB), Paul Tiefel III (2 1B, 2 2B), Emily Tiefel (2 BB), Jer Gurgel (2 2B, 1B), Jill Tiefel (1B), Tim Burns (3 1B), Jarrod Lentz (2B, 1B), Rebekah Carstensen (1B)


    Logo designs

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    Week 3: On cruise control

    Although the ranks of the Tigers were decimated by Messiah School's Entertainment Night (parental and teacher obligations), the remaining team members were motivated to score 10 runs in the first inning against Immanuel. 

    Paul Tiefel Jr. pitched a no-hitter in the three innings. Rebekah Carstensen took over at first base, Hannah Tiefel remained at second, while Tim Burns anchored third base. Emily Tiefel handled the catcher's duties. Jer Gurgel ably held down shortstop (and on offense, he had two in-the-park home runs). Jarrod Lentz subbed in left field, while Mark Tiefel covered left-center. The right side of the outfield was blanketed by Joelle Noeldner and Jill Tiefel.

    The game was over in the bottom of the third inning, as the 20-run rule was invoked. The final score was 21-0. The team is set for a showdown next week against fellow league leader AH Bennett.

    BOX SCORE: Jer Gurgel (2 HR, 3B), Jill Tiefel (1B, 2 BB), Mark Tiefel (3 2B, 1B), Bek Carstensen (2B, 3 1B), Tim Burns (2B, 2 1B), Emily Tiefel (1B, 2 BB), Jarrod Lentz (2 1B), Hannah Tiefel (1B, BB), Paul Tiefel, Jr. (2B), Joelle Noeldner (2 1B)

    UNI-WATCH: Tigers' front office is considering a move to a throwback uniform. Stay tuned for details.


    Momentum continues in game 2

    The Tiefel Tigers took the win from last week's opening game and used the momentum to propel them forward in game two. The Tigers were the visiting team in this first ever meeting against the Bronx Bombers.

    Using his secret (and sometimes controversial) formula*, manager Joel Carstensen shook up the batting lineup from the previous week. Shortstop Jer Gurgel was the lead off batter, followed by first baseman Elizabeth Plath and left fielder Paul Tiefel III. Right fielder Bek Carstensen batted cleanup, followed by third baseman Tim Burns and left-center fielder Jill Tiefel. Pitcher Paul Tiefel Jr. took the number seven spot, Joelle Noeldner, eight, and right-center fielder Mark Tiefel, nine. Second baseman Hannah Tiefel, Jarrod Lentz and catcher Emily Tiefel rounded out the order.

    Game two highlighted a few cracks in the team's veneer:  Some hiccups in the team's base-running, a little controversy in the infield, and a little resentment about the lineup shakeup.  But a strong showing in the top of the sixth inning capped the game. Lead by Mark Tiefel's grand slam, the Tigers scored nine runs. The final score was 17-5.

    BOX SCORE: Jer Gurgel (2 1B, 2B), Elizabeth Plath (1B), Paul Tiefel III (2 1B, 2 2B), Bek Carstensen (1B, BB), Tim Burns (1B), Paul Tiefel, Jr. (2 1B, 2B), Joelle Noeldner (1B), Mark Tiefel (2 1B, HR), Hannah Tiefel (1B), Jarrod Lentz (2 1B), Emily Tiefel (1B) - P. Tiefel Jr. pitched entire game

    * Here's my best guess at this formula: who shows up to the game earliest + balancing gender requirement that every other batter must be female + whatever else is going on in Joel's head = game lineup


    Scouting report: 2010 Tiefel Tigers

    Hey, sports fans! I used to send out a weekly write-up about the Tiefel Tigers via email. Last summer, I made a half-hearted attempt to write about the games here. This season, I am recommitting myself to the task. Without further ado, here is the scouting report for 2010.

    Paul Tiefel, Jr. (P, OF) - Dad. Is. Back. And looking as if he has hardly lost a step. One of the three original Tigers in uniform (the others are Jill and Jer), he's transformed from shortstop into starting pitcher. The sight of Dad on the mound strikes fear into the hearts of opposing teams (and sometimes even into his fellow teammates).
    Prediction: Dad will get thrown out at second twice during the season. (I feel like I'm phoning this one in, because it already happened once during the first game.)
    Eileen Tiefel (C) - No one rocks out a uniform like Mom. Last season, she was the best dressed player on the Tigers, sporting a glam rhinestone belt with her khaki capris. In true superstar form, she wears her oversized sunglasses and maintains her perfectly coiffed blond hairstyle, even under intense game time pressure.
    Prediction: Mom will find a way to avoid playing in eight out of the 11 games and develop a love for post-game chatter.
    Jill Tiefel (OF, P) - Seen turning cartwheels in right field. Clearly washed up.
    Prediction: Batting number two at the beginning of the season, she will be batting number ten by the end.
    Jeremy Gurgel (SS) - Dartman lives up to his nickname. He cruises around the base paths he's being chased by his kids. He also is an industrial strength vacuum cleaner, hoovering up every hit that comes his way. Short stops don't get any better than this. (Sometimes taller, but not better.)
    Prediction: By week three, Jer's knees will be a bloody, scabbed-over mess.
    Elizabeth (Tiefel) Plath (1B) - Louie doesn't know the meaning of the word "quit," and after her determined showing at the Eau Claire Marathon, we're not about to doubt her. Wait a minute. She missed the first game of the season?  No longer a contender for the Ironman award.
    Prediction: Could hit the ball over the fence if Jer offers a $100 incentive.
    Joel Carstensen (OF, IF) - Manager, scorekeeper and substitute player...Wednesday was the first game of the season and Joel's already sporting the weary, frenzied look of a man put through the ringer. People, please show up early so he doesn't die of a heart-attack.
    Prediction: Joel will try his hand at pitching before the season's over.
    Rebekah (Tiefel) Carstensen (1B, OF) - Fresh off maternity leave, Bek's rejoined the Tigers in a regular capacity. The team's counting on her to produce an offensive spark at the plate.
    Prediction: Bek will get run over on the basepaths by either Jer, Paul or Mark due to the batting lineup. The larger question: Is this is a conspiracy by the manager? Hope not, because we're looking forward to Famous Dave's lunch on Rebekah.
    Mark S. Tiefel (3B, OF) - On defense, Mark longs to tame the hot corner at third base. On offense, he could possibly be a powerhouse hitter. But swinging for the fences has its perils. On opening night, he popped out to the shortstop. He is his father's son when it comes to running and coaching the bases.
    Prediction: By season's end, Mark will be in a groove, cracking the bat like a lion-tamer cracks a whip. 
    Jarrod Lentz (OF) - Jarrod is the only member of the Tigers who cheers for the Minnesota Twins (at least openly). He's either gutsy or foolish, we're not sure which. This year, our affable friend is not sporting the scruffy facial hair. We'll see what effect--if any--this has on his performance.
    Prediction: If he eats his Wheaties, we may see a home run.
    Joelle Noeldner (OF, 2B) - Joelle returns to the Tigers for the second year in a row. The first game showed that she needs to readjust her batting timing, but her outfielding was in mid-season form. Diminutive Joelle is proof that good things come in small packages.
    Prediction: You're still stuck on diminutive.
    Tim Burns (OF, IF) - Timmy. Burnsy. Whatever name you use, you know who we're talking about. Mild-mannered Burnsy has been a staple on the Tigers. He's frequently late to games, but still is number one in our hearts. His favorite move is the shallow single to right field.
    Prediction: All purpose player that he is, Tim will see action in no fewer than five positions on the field.
    Paul Tiefel III (OF, SS) - PT3 took last season off after being unable to come to terms with the Tigers' front office. Now back and rededicated, Paul's prowess in left field causes opponents to flinch. While running to first, batters go from thinking "Yeah. Sure double," to "How'd he get to THAT? Who is this guy? Inspector Gadget?" All that in 50 feet.
    Prediction: Besides conducting a fielding clinic in several games, Paul's also working on world peace.
    Emily (Roehl) Tiefel (C, OF) - Emily is a fresh face on the Tigers' roster this year. Her speed on the bases is a favorable match to the team's trademark recklessness and daring. She could be a worthy candidate to carry the "crazy-legs" tradition first made famous by Nathanael.
    Prediction: A little more practice and Em could be a master at the full-swing bunt AND have the highest batting average on the team.
    Gretchen (Noeldner) Tiefel (OF) - Gretchen stepped down to a supporting role this season and is the official substitute. If she gets into the game, she'll hold her own. It's also helpful to know that we will have medical personnel on site at each game.
    Prediction: Gretchen will see action on the field in two or three games. She'll see action as a nurse in five or six.
    Hannah Tiefel (2B, OF) - The most recent product of the farm system, Hannah made her long-anticipated (by her) debut on the family team. The rookie held her own at second base in the season opener.
    Prediction: H will have no trouble making the adjustment to slow pitch. After all, she has 12 coaches to inform her of what she's doing wrong.

    The Tigers kicked off the 2010 season in the Caribbean league last week. They defeated rival Wisconsin Metal Fab 11-3. You can view league standings on the city's website.


    What's cooking?

    My best friend is a gourmet cook. She's fearless in the kitchen. I am amazed at the concoctions she puts together. Not to say that everything she makes turns out terrific--but her courage and creativity are unmatched.

    So when Leah invited me to join her at the Taste of Home Cooking School recently, I was intrigued and decided to give it a shot. Attendees troll the expo, then find their seats in the auditorium, where recipes are cooked on the stage kitchen. Two large screens on either side of the stage broadcast feed from the camera suspended above the cooking area. Each attendee received a goody bag full of coupons and recipes. On each chair was a five pound bag of potatoes.

    The room was absolutely packed and after finding our seats, we quickly realized we weren't going anywhere until the show was over. There was no room to move. We were literally crammed into this hotel conference room elbow to elbow and thigh to thigh. However, once the show began, I was able to put my claustrophobic feelings on hold and despite my reservations, I found myself enjoying the evening.

    I will take this time to issue an official apology to the serious cooks who were in my immediate vicinity. I was completely irreverent. (My excuse is that Leah makes me laugh and I can't help it. I know. Very mature.)

    So we're sitting there as we watch someone cook and Leah's getting hungrier and hungrier. The room is filled with a savory aroma, which doesn't help. We can't leave our seats, so Leah finally breaks down and eats a raw potato from her bag. I tried not to giggle, but I couldn't get over the irony of being at a cooking show and starving. 

    I'll leave you with this recipe for Orange Chocolate Tart, which we saw demonstrated at cooking school. 

    P.S. I'll let you know if I pass the class. :)


    Road trip to Nelson

    Isn't this a classically lovely vignette? You never know where you might find bits of beauty. Here's how I captured this one.

    I've been running in the rat race lately and finishing in last place despite my best efforts. A few weeks ago, my boyfriend and I decided to jump in the car and hit the road. We didn't know where we were headed, but I was tired of planning and tired of details and Ryan didn't mind not having an official destination. 

    We ended up at the Wisconsin/Minnesota border at the Nelson Creamery. If you're not from Wisconsin, you might scoff at the idea of cheese factory in the middle of "nowhere," but it's not passe. Far from it. Ryan and I enjoyed a glass of wine in the fireplace room before browsing the delectable selection of gourmet food and drink. I'll definitely be making a return trip soon. 


    Tying the knot

    My father is a pastor and one of his favorite lines can only be used after a wedding. "Everything went well, it went off with just one hitch." (Bah-dum-dum). There's a good chance I inherited my love of corny jokes from him. Weddings bring out the crazy in me. (Incidentally, family get-togethers have the same effect. Two for the price of one! Good times all around.)

    Anyway, my younger brother got married a couple weeks ago. Mark and Gretchen's nuptials were uniquely theirs, from the altar flower arrangements to the ceremony itself. My father preached the wedding sermon  and my sisters and I sang a hymn. Paul returned the favor of speaking at the reception, as Mark had done for him only five months earlier. My mom made the cake and cupcakes. Gretchen's sisters and brothers all participated in the wedding as well. It was a true family affair.


    Erin Designs

    One of my favorite things about having my own business is the opportunity to meet and work with people. One such person is Erin O'Brien, a talented interior designer and owner of Erin Designs, LLC. Erin has an incredible eye for color and a creative gift for expression. One of her recent ventures is hand-painting silk scarves. Each one is an original, gorgeous piece of artwork. I am fortunate enough to own one of her scarves and I've gotten compliments every time I've worn it. Erin recommends Texeresilk.com's scarf tying guide for ideas on how to accessorize with scarves. 

      (Not that this picture can do it justice, but I just had to try.)


    Just released

    I'm excited. One of my favorite authors, Harlan Coben, just released a new book: Caught. Between that, and the library book sale this weekend, I may be incommunicado!


    Up in the Air

    March 11 marked an anniversary in my life. As anniversaries go, it's not one of those ones that you'd traditionally want to remember. This was the first anniversary of the elimination of my job and the first day of a year filled with ups, downs, and incredible, unbelievable growth.

    I look back and imagine what I would tell myself if I were given the chance. I think I'd summarize it with this: Even though your equilibrium might feel precarious--even though you will feel like your entire foundation is shifting under your feet--keep your head up and stay focused. It won't always be this way.  

    Being told your job has been eliminated or that you've been laid off or that you're being downsized is hard. Several months ago, I read about a new movie called Up In The Air starring George Clooney. In particular, I was intrigued by how director Jason Reitman used footage from real people affected by job loss and I knew I would have to see it. I found the movie to be remarkable. In fact, I cried cathartic tears throughout most of it.  I recently watched it again and found that it still moved me deeply the second time around.

    George Clooney plays Ryan Bingham, a man with few attachments and lots of frequent flyer miles. He lives out of a suitcase and his job as a consultant whose job is to inform unfortunate souls that "your position is no longer available." Anna Kendrick is the young protege that he reluctantly takes out on the road to teach the business.

    I realized how much my personal journey resembled bits and pieces of the movie. It's so authentic. Sometimes we'd like to isolate ourselves from the tough circumstances of the reality of life. But the amazing thing is that I didn't feel bad after seeing the movie. The growth that we go through in the shadows of life adds depth to our experiences.

    One thing I've learned from all this is to treasure the small moments. I can honestly say that I wouldn't change anything about the past year, even I could. I find myself truly rejoicing in my circumstances, which is the most implausible, unexpected blessing I could have received.


    In the blink of an eye

    Today was moving along and everything was business as usual. I was driving home from running a few errands, crossing things off my to-do list in my head, when I hit a patch of ice. I lost control of my car going 50 miles an hour, slid from the right lane to the left one and turned 180 degrees in the process and landed in a ditch. Just as quickly, I was thinking about something else. Funny how that happens.

    The LORD was watching out for me today and I'm guessing that He sent me a few extra guardian angels. I wasn't hurt at all. No one else was hurt. My car was completely drivable. During the time I spent waiting for the tow truck, I said several thank you prayers.

    I'd also like to say thank you...
    ...to the three motorists that stopped to see if I needed help. (A kind lady with a teenage son and two dobermans in the back seat, two young men in short sleeves who looked like linebackers and a gentleman in a sport utility vehicle.)
    ...to the two policemen that pulled up. The first one chatted with me to make sure I wasn't hurt, while he circled the car and talked to the dispatcher to check on the location of the tow truck. The second officer helped slow traffic while...
    ...the one tow truck driver cheerfully hooked up my car and gently pulled me out.

    Sometimes, blessings come in the strangest wrappings.


    Sense of humor

    I love silly, dumb jokes. A dear friend's father knows my weakness and e-mails me a joke every day. This one made me laugh out loud and I had to share it.

    Did you hear about the neurotic octopus?

    He was a crazy, mixed-up squid!
    P.S. Just don't ask me to tell a joke in person. I'm a terrible joke-teller. I telegraph the punch line. If I can even remember it.


    Unfinished stories

    One of my favorite authors, Robert B. Parker, recently passed away at the age of 77. (This article from Spectator magazine provides a view on Parker's literary roots and his legacy.) It's hard to explain how I felt about Parker's work. When I first started reading his books, I remember getting to the end of one of them and thinking, "What? This is it? This is how it ends?" I wanted the story to be tied up in a nice, neat package. Now that I'm older, I realize that life is seldom a nice, neat package. It's chaotic. It's messy. It's unfinished. And I appreciate Parker's books so much more for that.

    Parker's most famous character is Spenser, a Boston detective who lives by his own code. He's a tough guy who is well-read, a good cook and a wise-cracking sense of humor. I'm sad that there will never be another Spenser novel. I always enjoyed reading the next chapter in his life. But I think I'm also glad that there's not a novel that neatly wraps up the story.


    January 26 feature: Bridge to Terabithia

    Another recent Newbury award winner, the title of Bridge to Terabithia drew me in. From the title, I figured it would be a story like the Wizard of Oz, a journey to a magical fantasy land. But Katherine Paterson's book is nothing like that. The main characters meet up the summer before fifth grade begins. Jess Aarons, practicing to be the fastest runner in school the previous summer, is also a sensitive boy who harbors a secret love of art and drawing. New girl Leslie Burke is bold, imaginative--and fast. After Leslie consistently defeats the fifth grade boys in sprints at recess, the two become best friends. Leslie convinces Jess to create a secret kingdom in the woods that they call Terabithia. I was particularly touched by how Paterson paints Jess and his family life. The book's climax is tragic and while I loved Paterson's writing style, I wouldn't recommend this book to younger readers. At the least, read it first to prepare yourself for some hard questions that younger readers may have.


    January 22 feature: Poppy

    My sister suggested that I read Poppy by Avi. She raved about the clever writing and plot nuances. So, with high hopes, I opened the book. Scarcely do we meet Poppy, a little mouse, when her fiance Ragweed is eaten by Mr. Ocax, the owl who rules over the woods with clever intimidation. This event sets the stage for the little tale, as we see Poppy develop into an independent, courageous mouse. She questions Mr. Ocax's authority and puts it upon herself to seek out new living conditions for mice. I enjoyed the characters, especially porcupine Ereth. I confess that I have a hard time romanticizing mice since I waged a battle with them in my basement this fall! Therefore, I liked Poppy best when I forgot she was a mouse. :)


    January 18 feature: Autumn Street

    Yes, this is the second Lois Lowry book I've featured this month. But Autumn Street is so different from the first one, in both writing style and character descriptions. It's written from the viewpoint of seven-year-old Elizabeth, who along with her mother and sister, lives with her grandparents while her father is fighting in World War II. Elizabeth's best friend Charles is the grandson of her grandparents' black cook. I found the thread of race relations that runs through the book to be open and plain. We learn about discrimination through a child's eyes. The book's end surprised me, but the pragmatic tenderness throughout the book is wonderful.


    January 16 feature: Fairest

    Gail Carson Levine is arguably best known for Ella Enchanted, but I thought I'd check out one of her lesser known books first. Some people say that Fairest is loosely based on Snow White. The moral of the story is a good one: don't focus on your outward appearance, but focus on your inner beauty. The problem for me was that I didn't find the story as compelling as I'd expected. Heroine Aza is the adopted daughter of an innkeeper, with a lovely voice. She develops a talent called illusing, which is the ability to "throw" her voice to make it seem as if it's coming from another object--or person. Aza is pressured into illusing for a scheming queen. When the deception comes to light, Aza is forced to flee the country. It's a fairytale, so the story does end well for Aza, but I wasn't fully captured by either Aza or her special ability.


    January 14 feature: Catherine, Called Birdy

    When I laughed out loud after reading the first couple pages of Catherine, Called Birdy by Karen Cushman, I knew immediately that this book would be a gem. Birdy is a 14-year-old daughter of a nobleman in medieval England. The novel reads like a diary and we get a fascinating sense of how it might have been years ago through Birdy's honest eyes. The reader admires Birdy's independent spirit and understands her revulsion of her father's plan to marry her off. She also has a wry sense of humor which really adds to the story immensely. The book might not be an easy read for those under age 11, depending on the reader's skill level. Of all the youth books I've read recently, this is one of my favorites. It's great historical fiction.


    January 12 feature: The Whipping Boy

    A light, amusing, fairytale story is Sid Fleischman's The Whipping Boy. In this 1987 Newbery Medal winner, whenever the prince does something wrong, Jemmy is on hand to take his punishment. Since the prince is universally known throughout the kingdom as "Prince Brat", we get a sense that Jemmy's job is the roughest one in the castle. Before Jemmy can devise a way to escape, Prince Brat leaves the castle and Jemmy must go with him. The story cleverly twists and turns as Jemmy and Prince Brat weave through the kingdom meeting interesting characters and learning more about each other. The entertaining tale also has a bit of a moral lesson too. It's a fun, easy read.


    January 10 feature: Million Dollar Throw

    I wanted to cover a variety of authors and time periods, so I took a look at one that was published at the end of 2009. Author Mike Lupica is an experienced sportswriter and syndicated columnist, but I didn't know he wrote sports-themed books for younger readers. Million Dollar Throw is about eighth grade quarterback Nate Brodie and the opportunity of a lifetime. Nate is balancing his worries about his family's finances, his best friend's health, and his team's quest to win their league, when he wins a contest to throw a football at halftime of a New England Patriots game. If he throws the ball 30 yards and hits the target, he wins one million dollars. Nate wonders if he can handle the pressure like his hero Patriots quarterback Tom Brady. The writing is clean and direct and Nate is a realistic and engaging character. I found myself really cheering for a happy ending for him.


    January 8 feature: Ozma of Oz

    My niece Katie recently told me that one of her favorite books is The Wizard of Oz, by L. Frank Baum. She's right. It's a great story. Of course, the movie filmed in 1939 made this story an enduring part of popular culture, but may also cause us to overlook Baum's other creative books. Dorothy went on to have other adventures. Ozma of Oz is one of those. From start to finish, I was taken with imaginative way Baum weaves the story. Dorothy anchors the story with her positive outlook and "midwest nice" manners. We're introduced to new characters like Tiktok, the bronze man (an early twentieth century robot!) and a yellow talking hen Dorothy dubs Billina. Tiktok and Billina help Dorothy and her friends (the Scarecrow, Tin Man and the Cowardly Lion) rescue the Queen of Ev and her ten children from the Nome King. It's a light, enchanting story.


    January 6 feature: The Bronze Bow

    I fell in love with Elizabeth George Speare's storytelling ability with The Witch of Blackbird Pond, so I was interested to read The Bronze Bow, the Newbery Award winner of 1962. This is the story of orphaned Daniel, a 17-year-old Jewish boy living at the time of Jesus. Daniel's desire for revenge leads him swear an oath and  join a band of rebels dedicated to overthrowing the Romans. The book describes both the political climate of the time and the actual physical climate and landscape of Israel. As a Christian, it was an interesting fictional look at how some Jews wanted to view Jesus--as military general posed to deliver the Jews from the Romans. Over the course of the book, Daniel's encounters with Jesus lead him to a different view. My reservation with the book was that it doesn't focus on the grace that God gives. It has the tendency to look at Jesus only as a good teacher and not as the Savior. Nevertheless, I found myself wondering how I would have viewed Jesus had I lived during that point in history, a tribute to the author's engaging style.


    Sweet 16

    My youngest sister turns 16 today.  Happy Birthday, H!


    January 4 feature: Anastasia Krupnik

    Lois Lowry is a talented author who has published many books for young readers. One of my favorites when I was 11 was Find a Stranger, Say Goodbye. Somehow, I missed reading the Anastasia Krupnik series. I truly enjoyed making up for this lapse some 20+ years later. Anastasia is a 10-year-old girl, daughter of a poet father and an artist mother. She keeps track of her likes and dislikes in her green notebook, always reserving the right to change her mind. Anastasia's struggle to understand her elderly grandmother suffering from dementia and her feelings about a coming baby are handled with tenderness and strike a nice balance. However, the chapter on Anastasia wanting to become a Catholic left me wishing that Lowry would have treated the subject of faith in God differently. Lowry's greatest accomplishment is that she remembers what it's like to be 10 years old.


    Aunt Jill's book club

    I love giving thought-provoking, creative and--dare I say--educational gifts to my nieces and nephews. This past Christmas, I decided to start a book club for five of my nieces, ages 8-10. The plan is to read four books in 2010. The girls have the months of January and February to read our first book, Beezus and Ramona, and I'll host a sleepover in March where we will talk about the book.

    In the second quarter, we'll read Trumpet of the Swan by E.B. White. Our third book will be Island of the Blue Dolphins by Scott O'Dell. After that, we'll vote on the book for the fourth quarter.

    In preparation for the book club, I put away some of the technical manuals (whew) that I've been wading through to read some great books geared toward youth readers. For the month of January, I will be featuring some of those books. Do some reading in 2010. :)