Category Archives: family

Book Review: The Skeleton Garden – Airplanes, bodies, gardening..Great Mystery!

The Skeleton GardenThe Skeleton Garden (Potting Shed Mystery #4) 
by Marty Wingate

Long lost brother and sister, Simon and Pru are reunited in adulthood. Pru was raised by their parents in the United States, while Simon was left behind in England to be raised by his mother’s relatives, Birdie and George Parke. He was told his parents died in a car accident. Even though he was brought up in a loving home, to find out his family left him behind had a devastating effect on him to say the least.

Pru  and her new husband Christopher move to Chelsea to spend a year house sitting and working on a proper English garden. The current gardener is actually her brother, and she is thrilled to share her love of gardening with him, but everything isn’t coming up roses. She and her husband settle in, she in the garden, Christopher working with the local police but there are skeletons in the garden, both figuratively and literally .

Things are not always sweetness and light between brother and sister, they are learning to get along as siblings and gardeners. Simon is thrilled to be chosen to show off the garden in an upcoming issue of a very prestigious gardening magazine, but Pru has a bad feeling about the whole idea. There is so much to do the pair wonder how it will be possible to get done. Then Christopher’s teenage nephew is sent to live with them because he got in a bit of trouble and his parents want him to be removed from the situation. Orlando isn’t too keen on working in the garden. As a matter of fact, Pru spends more time fixing the problems he creates by taking short cuts.

Things change for everyone when a plane from the war and a skeleton is found buried in the garden. Christopher is working the investigation to see if they can find the identity of the bones. Then one of the locals winds up dead in the garden, this crime casts suspicion on almost everyone in the village.

Pru can’t help herself – she has too many questions and not enough answers so she quietly talks to the people she has become close to hoping to help Christopher crack the case. But will this happen without more murders?

This is the fourth Potting Shed Mystery, but the first one I’ve read. It worked perfectly well as a standalone novel. I was not confused about the characters and their relationship to each other.

I love the cast of characters. They were interesting and well developed. Pru’s relationships with her husband, brother, friends and cook brought so much life to her character I felt like having a cup of tea with her telling her everything would be ok! Evelyn, the cook, has a hard shell, but inside she is a soft, caring woman who loves her husband Peachey. I want her to cook for me, the recipes she whipped up while the other characters moved in and out of her kitchen sounded delicious.

Wingate wrote a solid mystery with as many twists and turns as an English garden maze. I enjoyed every minute of this book and will seek out the previous books in this series.

Copyright © 2016 Laura Hartman

DISCLOSURE OF MATERIAL CONNECTION: I have a material connection because I received a review copy for free from House Party that I can keep for consideration in preparing to write this content. I was not expected to return this item after my review.

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Filed under cooking, England, family, history, House Party, Mystery

Book Review: Trish’s Team – A Great New Tween Book

Trish's TeamTrish’s Team

Part of the Lady Tigers Series

By Dawn Brotherton

Trish loves softball. She is a twelve-year-old dynamo on the field and a pretty great kid off the field. She is serious about the game, but not obsessed with winning. Overall, she is mature for her age, but when she makes one bad decision it affects all aspects of her life.

In order to join the Lady Tigers Softball team she has to give up her violin lessons. Giving up her involvement in the orchestra that has been a part of her life for several years would be a hard thing for Trish to do. She loves playing the violin, and her parents have invested a lot of money in lessons and her instrument.

Her parents are very busy. They are too busy to be around on the weekends and evenings due to meetings, golf games and exhaustion from their demanding lives. Most of the time this has worked out ok, but unfortunately Trish takes advantage of their inattentiveness to deceive them.

She feels guilty and conflicted after making this choice, and soon it becomes a house of cards, threatening to crumble. Will she be able to make amends before it is too late?

This is the first book in Brotherton’s Lady Tigers Series. It is a solid story with interesting and engaging characters. The interaction of  Trish with her friends and parents is refreshingly honest and reads like She shows empathy and feels guilty when she does something wrong. When her lies start to catch up with her she becomes physically sick.

It is written for young readers, deftly showing how one decision can affect many other things and people without being “preachy”. It also demonstrates how conflicted tweens are; mature and childlike while struggling to find their way to adulthood. This is not a heavy book, but it addresses many social issues in interesting ways. For example, the kindness of Trish and her friends to a new girl that someone else is not being nice to is understated but very important.

At the end of the book there is a glossary of softball terms in case the reader isn’t familiar with the game. The descriptions of the games add excitement and action to keep the pace quick and interesting

This is the first book in Award Winning Dawn Brotherton’s Lady Tigers Series. She also writes the Jackie Austin Mystery Series. She is currently serving as a colonel in the United States Air Force Reserve and is married with two daughters.

I am looking forward to the next Lady Tigers book, and highly recommend it to tweens. I am also adding the Jackie Austin Mystery Series to my list of books I want to read. I can’t wait to read more of Brotherton’s books.

Copyright © 2016 Laura Hartman

DISCLOSURE OF MATERIAL CONNECTION: I have a material connection because I received a review copy that I can keep for consideration in preparing to write this content. I was not expected to return this item after my review.

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Filed under baseball, Book Review, books, children's books, family

Book Review: Caught Dead by Andrew Lanh – Magnificent Multicultural Mystery

Caught-Dead-cover-70x106Caught Dead – A Rick Van Lam Mystery

Andrew Lanh

Private eye Rich Van Lam is a man with no country and two countries. Being the son of a Vietnamese woman and a U.S. soldier living in Hartford, Connecticut isn’t easy. He isn’t always accepted by the Americans, not even the father he has never met. As a matter of fact, he doesn’t even know his father’s name.

The large Vietnamese community shuns him, distrustful of the mixed race man who they feel has forgotten his heritage and is considered “one of the dust” to them. The forgotten offspring the military left in Vietnam when they came home from the war.

But now they are calling him to help solve the murder of one of the most loved members of the Vietnamese community. Mary Le Vu is found dead in an area that no person, unless they are looking for a drug deal or hooker would be caught dead. Yet that is exactly where Mary is murdered.

Van Lam and his partner Hank Nguyen begin the difficult job of talking to families and friends that don’t fully trust either man. The only way they are getting any information is through the doors Nguyen can open due to the fact he is full-blooded Vietnamese.

Just when the case starts to move forward, Mary’s sister is murdered. Is this a family vendetta? The same person must be responsible for these deaths, but there aren’t many connections between the women. Sure, they spend time together, tell each other secrets and obviously are related. But one sister is poor, the other is rich. One leads a life of service, the other “hosts” fundraisers. Both have children that are troubled at best, worst case they might be criminal. More questions arise the deeper the PIs dig.

 

The twists and turns kept me reading late into the night to see what else was going to happen. The struggle Van Lam has trying to establish his identity within the Vietnamese community is both heartwarming and sad.  Lanh brings this conflict into the story with beautifully haunting prose, “…the man would never like me, I knew, blaming me for the death of his serene life in the old homeland…”.

I wanted to read this book quickly because the mystery intrigued me, but the beauty of the words made me slow down to enjoy it more. I really enjoyed Lanh’s easy style of writing that tells the reader volumes with his perfectly chosen narrative. Both Van Lam and Nguyen are likeable, fallible characters that I can’t wait to read about again.

Caught Dead is the first book in this series. The second of the series, Return to Dust has been added to my reading list.

Copyright © 2016 Laura Hartman

DISCLOSURE OF MATERIAL CONNECTION: I have a material connection because I received a review copy that I can keep for consideration in preparing to write this content. I was not expected to return this item after my review.

 

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Filed under Book Review, family, Mystery

Christmas Craft is Always a Blast!

I have posted before about our annual Christmas Craft. To catch you up, it is always a surprise until after Thanksgiving dinner. The craft has to be easily completed by the youngest person participating (the youngest this year is 3) and has to have the ability to be personalized so all of the projects turn out differently.

When this tradition started many years ago, we didn’t have the HUGE advantage of Pinterest. This year I found a couple of ideas using wine glasses. One was creating a snow globe effect and the other was painting the outside to use either as an actual glass to drink from or as a candle holder.

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There were lots of different designs. Our youngest artist painted a blue snowman as well as a plastic wine glass instead of the glass one the grown-ups used. We also helped her make a snow globe out of one of the plastic glasses.

The craft didn’t cost much. I purchased the wine glasses at the dollar store for $1 each. The plastic wine glasses were 6/$1. I got paint brushes in a package of 12 for $1, then just threw them out instead of trying to get the paint out of them.

The paint was .79 – $1.50 each, but I only purchases primary colors, black and white with a 30% off coupon at Michael’s. I also got all of the little snowflake, tree and reindeer stickers and figures 50% off with the additional 30% from Michael’s. The glitter, glue and cotton balls I had at home as well as the rubbing alcohol that is needed to clean the glass before painting. For under $20.00 we had an afternoon of fun and everyone has a Christmas decoration or wine glass to take home.

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She was not happy with the camera flash interrupting her painting. 🙂

 

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It is a messy, noisy, fabulous way to spend Thanksgiving!

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Concentration….

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And sometimes you have to take a break to play with a few toys 🙂

This is one of my favorite traditions, what are some of yours?

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Filed under Christmas, Crafts, family, Family fun, memories, Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving

I am thankful for any day I get to spend with family and friends. Today was a perfect day. We shared food and fun, shared memories and made a few more.

Tomorrow I’ll share pictures of the Christmas Craft. For now here is the picture of my original blog post idea – the roaster that was my grandma & grandpa’s from the early 1950’s. The first pic is my aunt watching my grandpa check on the bird in 1955 (the date on the side is 1956 – but the film must have sat in the camera a while. The back has the date my grandma wrote when she gave it to me).

CindyWhen we plugged the roaster in this year, only one side heated up and when it clicked on our lights dimmed. So we decided to put the bird in the oven instead and throw out the roaster that cooked our family so many delicious dinners, it warms my heart to think of them.

Roaster

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Christkindlmarket

KrisKindlemart 3

Under the Picasso in Daley Plaza in Chicago the annual Christkindlmarket is in full swing. We made the trip into the city with our youngest son and his wife today. It was a really fun and chilly day, but we visited all of our favorite shops, tried some wonderful sweets and purchased several handcrafted items.

KrisKindlemart

They kids are standing in front of one of my favorite stops – Glaszauber -Lauscha (http://glaszauber-lauscha) that features hand painted ornaments made in Ernsttahl – Germany. I try and get one every year, they are beautiful.

Other shops I like to visit are The Sweets Castle, – aka Hermann the German (candies), TeaGschwendner (fabulous teas) and a new vendor this year St. Roger Abbey French Patisserie (delicious French Pastries).

We stopped and admired handcrafted ornaments, blown glass, knitted hats, toys….too many things to cram into a list that just isn’t doing the market justice.

The shoppers are happy, the vendors are patient. I have never had a bad experience other than the rain last year, and no one can control Mother Nature.

If you happen to be in Chicago this holiday season, stop in and shop, have some German chocolates, pretzels, hot chocolate or strudel. Enjoy lunch or dinner with a brat or a knockwurst served steaming hot with spicy mustard.

KrisKindlemart 4

If you go, I hope you have as much fun as we did today.

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Ahhh Monday

Mondays are mostly stinky. I stay up too late on Sundays, usually reading just “one more chapter” for an hour after a sensible person would be asleep. The alarm at 5:30 is abrasive and unforgiving no matter how late I’ve stayed up, so most Mondays are not fun at all.

But today was awesome. My youngest son and daughter-in-law arrived for a visit, which is enough to make me very happy. I am lucky enough to talk to them a lot on the phone, but only get to see them a couple of times a year. We have all kinds of things to do while they are here. That is just icing on the cake for me. Anytime I can spend with our kids makes me very happy.

We had a great dinner with them and our oldest son tonight (the middle son had to work – we missed him but will see him on Thursday and hopefully Friday).

So even though I got up at the crack of dawn. N0- before the crack of dawn, it looked dark as midnight. I finished what had to be done at work until next Monday. Our family will be together at Thanksgiving and lots of other times this week. And I can sleep in the rest of the week. I know that doesn’t sound like much, but it is the little things I like. Sleeping until 7 tomorrow and dinner with the kids tonight. It was a great Monday.

 

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What’s Cooking for Thanksgiving?

Thanksgiving is the holiday that has the most food prep and cooking involved in our household. I rely on old family recipes most of all and a few newcomers that have been found on Pinterest, magazines and the internet in general. My most favorite recipes are here:

cook book

My mom got me this blank journal the first year I was married (1976) to write favorite recipes in. Obviously I use it a lot. There are stains and notes on the pages, the edges are brown and the front fell off. The pages are loose and that yellow pony tale holder is used to keep it together so nothing is lost.

Making these recipes reminds me of the people who are no longer sitting at our Thanksgiving table. Their memories and love in the form of the recipes handed down to me are with us.

I’ll share one that my kids like the best. I am not sure where my Mom got the recipe, but is it quick, easy and my sons absolutely have to have it at a family dinner.  What food = holiday love in your family?

Mom’s Veggie Dip

8 oz cream cheese – softened

2-3 T mayo

2 good dashes ketchup (don’t question mom’s recipe LOL)

1 tsp horseradish (I use the stuff in the jar – but NOT the creamed)

1/2 c finely diced chopped onion

garlic salt to taste

Mix all ingredients (I use a mixer because it is so much easier on your hands). Chill until firm. I usually make it at least 3 hours ahead or the night before. 

Serve with raw veggies of your liking.

 

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Filed under cooking, family, NaBloPoMo, recipes, Thanksgiving

Saturday – Family , Friends & Fun

Today was chocked full of things to do and things that got done. If you read yesterday’s post I had a long, long, laundry list of things to do this weekend.

So far so good. I did a few of the necessary things to do. The yearly mammogram – done. Bills paid – done. Both necessary evils.

Now for the fun stuff. The hubby and middle son worked on my cousin’s car this morning, so I got to visit with my aunt and cousin. I love just chatting and laughing with my family 🙂 While we chatted, I knitted. So I am 1/2 way done on the last project for a friend of mine. Hope to finish this week.

After they got done we went to lunch with 2 out of 3 sons (the 3rd son lives in Maryland, so he gets a pass on joining us) at the newly opened McAllister’s Grill in Naperville. We loved the one in Missouri so were super excited when this one opened locally.

mcallisters

Since it was so nice out we decided to clean out the flower beds. Our youngest dog, Mea, decide she would rather have us playing with her instead of getting the yard ready for winter. After we ignored her, she finally tossed her Frisbee on the grasses we were cutting down then laid on them to prove how neglected she felt.

Mea grass 11.14.15

Eventually she looked sad enough for my hubby to play a bit of fetch before it got too dark out since daylight savings time rolled in last month.

Mea _ Jim 11.14.15

Tonight we are going to a concert, so the rest of the day will be spent relaxing and enjoying the show and good company of our best friends.

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Filed under concert, family, friends, Knitting, NaBloPoMo

Friday the Gateway to Weekend Fun

weekend

Fridays are the springboard to the weekend. I think of all of the things I have to do and want to do over the next two days and the possibilities are endless. Ok, not endless, I have to sleep a bit. And do a few things I really don’t want to do that have to be done. You know, pay a few bills, grocery shopping and perhaps something like routine blood work.

But we try and do some fun and/or relaxing things on the weekend also. We have some friends that we usually see on Saturday nights “date night”. Usually we have dinner and a movie. This weekend we are going to the Paramount in Aurora to see the Christmas Performance of Mannheim Steamroller. I am really looking forward to it even though it is breaking my rule of no Christmas shows before the day after Thanksgiving. Sometimes I need to be flexible, especially where live performances are involved.

1322402951_mannheim-steamroller-christmas-front

This weekend will also include Family Night on Friday. This is dinner with my Dad, Great Aunt, Aunt and Uncle and assorted cousins and sons depending upon who is available. It is the perfect start to the weekend. And tomorrow after some car repairs for my cousin, we plan to have lunch with 2 or our 3 sons.

Sunday we are going to see the newest Bond movie with my Aunt and Uncle. We’ve been to every Bond movie with them since the 70’s. It is a tradition!

bond

Sometime this weekend I have to get my new treadmill hooked to the WiFi and set up. Our old one konked out after a mere 15 years of use. LOL I was impressed we used it enough to wear it out. My key for walking everyday on it is to watch a series that i will not allow myself to watch unless I am walking on the treadmill. I am just starting the third season of Game of Thrones and am totally hooked on it!

I will squeeze some writing time and some knitting it – oh and of course read a bit. I guess that is about 3 & 1/2 days of things to do that will have to be squeezed into the 2. I’ll need a weekend to get over my weekend of fun.

What are your plans?

(all photos found on Google Images – what would I do without Google?!)

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Filed under exercise, family, family night, NaBloPoMo, Treadmill, Wandering Weekends