Monday, December 31, 2018

A Free "Chaser" Audiobook Giveaway...Hurry And Sign Up!

If you love books with a great message for your kids and your kids love stories about dogs, space, and adventure, now's your chance to sign up for a free audiobook! The incredible author Dave Butler (and he's a better person than author...) is holding a giveaway on his website for a chance to win an audiobook copy of Chaser: an Interplanetary Tale of a Boy and his Dog!

Both the novel and the audiobook were released in 2018 through Immortal Works Press. It's gotten fantastic reviews and is a great book for your reluctant middle-grade reader, or anyone who loves an exciting story.

Here's a taste of what the story's about:

How far would you go to be with your best friend? Would you give up a chance to travel to a new planet? Would you disobey your parent? How important would it be? 

Twelve-year-old Kennedy Barnes and his dad are on an interplanetary mission to transfer Earth’s animals to Planet X489-B, a habitable world without animal life.
But one animal not on their spaceship’s manifest is Kennedy’s dog Chaser. Unable to part with his beloved Chaser, Kennedy smuggles the Labrador Retriever onto his father’s ship.
What follows is a story of strength, deception, harrowing escapes and painful lessons learned.
Join Kennedy, Chaser, and the entire crew of Trinity Base as they travel billions of miles from home on an adventure as big as the universe, and find out just how far one boy will go to save his best friend.

The audiobook is narrated by the ΓΌber-talented Mark Sanderlin who captures both the fun and the seriousness of the story.

If you'd like a chance to win, go to Dave Butler's website by clicking: HERE or HERE. And while you're at it, please check out any of Dave's amazing books--you can find them by clicking: HERE.

Hurry--this giveaway will only be available until the 6th of January! And if you want to order the audiobook yourself, you can go to the Audible website: HERE and just order it. It's a great book, and you'll be glad you did. Start 2019 with an amazing story! Check out Chaser today!

Sunday, December 30, 2018

Gave Kids The Resources...And They Built A Gingerbread Jail

Last year our family began a new tradition--we let the kids build a structure made of gingerbread for Christmas and on New Years Eve, we use fireworks to blow it up.

What a blast!

Last year we had a lot of fun both in the construction and deconstruction of the edible building. So, we made plans to do it again. We bought all the construction materials--graham crackers for the walls, floors, and ceiling, chocolate snowmen, candy canes, licorice, M&Ms, Nerds, gummy bears, and a big chocolate Santa for the accents. Christmas afternoon we dumped them all on the counter and let the kids go to town.

The first thing they realized was many of the graham crackers were cracked. Any dream of a multi-storied building was dashed. But because our kids are resourceful, they quickly decided on another type of building they could build.

They chose to construct a prison.

Yeah...a prison.

I'm not sure why they came up with that, but, hey--you raise your kids then turn them loose.

They found enough undamaged pieces to build a guard tower. They also gave Santa red M&Ms for eyes and shackled him up in black licorice, to make sure he won't escape the graham prison in which he's held.

Last year, the kids built a castle. They built it so well the fireworks we used didn't do too much damage. This year's structure presents another pyrotechnical issue. Short of putting the entire thing atop some gunpowder, I don't know how much damage the gingerbread prison will sustain.

Still, we'll try. We'll learn from this year's edition, and endeavor to make next year's holiday food-building experience even better.

Saturday, December 29, 2018

Dame Maggie Smith...Happy Birthday!

It's winter break for all those students out there, from kindergarten to college. We have a couple of college students living under our roof, my son is close to earning his first degree--my daughter just started her college career. And because my daughter no longer is attending classes, doing homework, or performing in shows, she's spent time with my wife and me bing watching shows.

And one of those shows is Downton Abbey. She's never seen it and we thought it would be something she'd like.

We were right.

It is an amazing show where the acting matches the writing and both are stellar--it's not often that happens. Based on my daughter's reaction to the show, I believe her favorite character is that of Violet Crawley, Dowager Countess of Grantham, expertly portrayed by Dame Margaret Natalie Smith, who just happens to have a birthday today.

She is an absolute joy to watch.

I can't say that I'm a "super fan" of the actress. I know I've seen her in several movies, but before she embodied another classic character, Professor Minerva McGonagall in the Harry Potter series, I probably saw her in several productions and didn't know it was her. In Downton Abbey, Dame Smith has the best lines, and looks to be having the most fun of any actor on set. Of course, I don't know that for sure, but we'd like to think so. 

And so I'd like to wish a very happy birthday to an actress who has entertained millions and will continue to do so as long as people watch her shows. May you have many, many, many more.

Friday, December 28, 2018

A Tale Of A Christmas Fox, A Scarf...And Chocolate

Three days after Christmas I found a story of a fox and a scarf, and had I paid more attention, I would have discovered the story on December 1st.

You see, the story was printed on the Advent Calendar we picked up at Trader Joe's--didn't expect I'd be treated to a tale of discovery...and advertising. Last year we picked up Advent Calendars. I took mine to work and every day I opened the little paper door, thus earning my chocolate prize left exposed. This year, I set mine on the chest of drawers and basically forgot about it.

Until tonight, that is.

It was then I noticed there was more to this box of chocolates than I first thought. Each of our calendars were different. The kids chose theirs and I got what was left. My calendar showed an adventure of a "Fearless Fox and His Tangled-Up Scarf." As the calendar owner follows the scarf's trail, they would open up another window each day, gobbling up the chocolate, and moving the Fearless Fox one step closer to the end of the scarf, where it will naturally meet up with a turtle.

I had a coupe of thoughts as I looked at the adventure presented before me. It's not very Christmasy. I don't associate foxes and turtles (or even scarfs, for that matter...) with Christmas. It does say there are "24 chocolate days 'til Christmas," but that's it. Also, I found out this particular fearsome fox loves Trader Joe's more than his scarf and that he also loves Trader Joe's World's puffiest white cheddar corn puffs. I've gone my whole life not knowing these interesting bits of nature trivia. And once the fox passes beyond the twenty-fourth day, the turtle exclaims, "You did it!! Now, it's off to Trader Joe's!" I suppose eating all the chocolate is not reward enough--they get to go to Trader Joe's.

As far as adventures go, the fearsome fox tale is not very exciting. It lacks an adequate (or meaningful...) beginning, middle, and/or ending. I suppose it might be different for a child--you know, its intended audience. To be honest, I only wish it had more to do with Christmas. The chocolate pieces were shaped in Christmas themes, stars, drums, bells, and the like.

Funny, there were no chocolate foxes or turtles. I guess we'll just have to go back to Trader Joe's.

Thursday, December 27, 2018

So...It Was Our Puppy's Turn To Go Under The Knife

We adopted a puppy in the summer. One of the conditions of adopting this particular puppy was we would get him fixed when he was old enough. A week ago today was the day, and he's worn that big, obnoxious cone ever since.

Oh, what a pain!

Now, I've never worn such a device. Then again, I've never had that particular procedure performed, and I'm not a dog, so I don't know exactly what our dog's going through. But I can imagine. Years ago, we took our other dog to the vet, except for her she was spayed and our puppy was neutered. I don't remember getting a small cone for our little shih tzu.

I thought we would be ready for our dog to have one of those cones around his neck. I mean, how hard could it be?

Turns out, there's a lot more to consider than just having a piece of plastic attached to a dog. You see, the dog is getting big--about fifty pounds--and our house is pretty small. And when a big dog runs through a small-ish house with a dog collar on, things smaller than the dog can get pushed around.

Since he's worn the collar, we've been woken up by the sound of plastic scraping on the walls, we've been physically moved around like a bulldozer by the cone, we've had furniture moved and knocked over. I never anticipated those kinds of things. I really should have. Another thing I didn't realize was how long the cone had to be worn. Ten days. I thought it would have been max five.

The good news is we're past the halfway point in the process. By this time next week, the plastic will be gone, just a memory, and we'll get back to being woken up and pushed around by just the dog and not the annoying piece of plastic he has now.

Wednesday, December 26, 2018

Goodnight Diane...Sleep Well

As we hurried about to prepare for Christmas, a quiet Facebook notice showed up in my announcements. It was from a cast member from a show I did in 2015. The show was Harvey and there were eleven of us that shared the stage. On Sunday, one of us passed away.

Over the years I've been involved in several theatrical productions. Even if you work with the same people, each show is different--each cast its own personality. You work toward a goal of making the best show possible for the patrons and for yourself. And by doing so, you make strong friendships that last forever, because you worked, you sacrificed, you endured something together. When bad news hits, the memories of that shared experience return, and it becomes closing night, and you miss them all over again.

Diane Robbins was in the cast of Harvey. She and I had probably the least amount of stage time, but it didn't matter. Diane was a lovely person on stage and off. She always had a smile and for the life of me, I can't remember her saying anything that wasn't positive. Within days of the show closing at the beginning of July, 2015 Diane was in the hospital and the news was not good. Because the show had ended, we no longer saw each other, could no longer encourage and uplift each other in person. That was the hardest part. We received a notice in December 2015 that Diane was in remission--the best news possible.

In the three and a half years since, Diane many times commented on posts or pictures of mine. The last time I saw her was after a show I did this past summer. It was great to see her and give her a hug. On Sunday, we were given the news that she had passed away. The last thing she posted on Facebook was a simple meme, perhaps the most famous words ever written by Charles Dickens. "God bless us, everyone!" How appropriate.

I didn't know Diane as well as others, but I felt a emptiness when I heard the news. Tears have been shed and many more will fall because of her wonderful spirit. Goodnight Diane...the curtain has fallen for the last time and the world's a darker place. Sleep well.

Tuesday, December 25, 2018

So, Now What Do They Do...With All Those Gingerbread Houses?

So, we're shopping at Walmart last week and the first thing I see (after saying, "hello" to the greeter...) are gingerbread house kits. There's a display with several dozen of them. We had already made plans for our own gingerbread creation, so we didn't need to buy one. 

Usually, I don't notice things like this, especially at Christmas where there are holiday-themed items all over the store. But, we take ten steps and what do I see? Another several dozen gingerbread house kits.

We go another ten paces, and there it is again--more kits.

We turn down another aisle, another display. All in all I counted six displays in the front corner of the store and there may have been more that I missed.

It got me thinking...just how many of these kits do they sell, anyway? I know the store moves an unbelievable amount of product every single day. In fact, I'd probably be blown away if I saw the actual numbers of what the store beings in. There's a lot of people that shop at this Walmart, and not every family will buy one of those kits. Plus, it was fairly close to Christmas so there were limited days to shop.

I'm sure the employees who order the kids have a good idea of how many they'll need and how many they'll sell. It would be interesting to know how many of these things were still on the shelves when the store closed for Christmas. I hope they guessed right and everyone who wanted one got one and they had hardly any remaining. But if not, I wonder what happens to the gingerbread houses that nobody wanted.

Monday, December 24, 2018

A Few Things I Saw...Christmas Eve...2018

I've explained before that when you write a daily blog, you have to think ahead and "store up" ideas that are somewhat interesting. Christmas is a fantastic time to generate blog post ideas. I have several I could write about for today's post (which I'm sure you'll see in the coming days...), but I decided to share some of the things I saw this Christmas Eve, 2018.

First off, it was a wonderful day! I spent time with family (and those at the grocery store...). What could be better than that? I began the day by getting up and walking to work. It's easy when you work in the basement of your house. As I walked I glanced across the street and saw the home where I lived for almost three decades. Even though I see the house everyday, it's not everyday I'm triggered by memories, but it happened this morning. Each year the new owners wisely place their Christmas tree in the same spot as we did, all those many years.

A tradition in our neighborhood (and many others, I'm sure...) is sending yummy treats to those who live close by. This was from our wonderful neighbors to the east, who also have a couple of dogs that have become friends to our puppy.

 I had planned on working the entire day, but the big boss closed all state offices at noon so once 12 o'clock hit I was done. I did snap a picture of two with a Beanie Baby Santa. I see only a slight resemblance.

Of course, the season would not be complete without watching It's a Wonderful Life, again, memories of doing a live stage version two years ago came flooding back. What a wonderful story!

And as watching George Bailey overcome his demons is tradition, so it seems is visiting the local grocery store. We needed rolls.

On the way to the store, I passed yet another lighted home. This one's special for not only does it have colorful twinkling lights, it's the only time I've seen Cthulhu used as a Christmas decoration. Personally, it's something I'd like to see more.

Why was I sent to fetch rolls? For the family party, of course! I have two siblings and thankfully, they were able to come and bring some of their family along for soup, treats, and visiting with each other. It's not every year we are able to get together, but we did this year and it was fun.

Once the family left, those who call our address home opened our presents of pajamas, dimmed the lights, fired up the DVD player, dusted off Muppets Christmas Carol and watched another Jule classic.

The kids--and animals--are headed off to bed. Yes, there's only one more sleep til Christmas. May you and yours have a wonderful day full of love and friendship. God bless us everyone!

Sunday, December 23, 2018

The Annual Ward Christmas Program...Wonderful

When you're part of a congregational church choir year after year, there are certain things that take place year after year. One of those is singing in the annual Christmas program. Today, being the last Sunday before Christmas, was the day of the program. And my daughter and I participated.

What an incredible experience!

For those of you familiar with LDS ward Christmas programs, you've probably seen some good ones and some not as good. Of course, I'm sure those involved wanted to present the best program possible. The same can be said of ours today, and of the programs we've had over the many years we've lived here.

If you bring together a couple of hundred people, you'll be shocked at the talents contained within the group. There's singers and dancers, artists and comics, even former accordion players. In our congregation, well...let's just say, we're overflowing with talent when it comes to putting on a Christmas program. We have not one but two harpists, several string players, and a Tabernacle Choir on Temple Square organist. 

And I'm always amazed at how many people are natural singers, many who don't even know it. We ave wonderful singers in our group. Throw in a chorister with an actual degree in choral directing and you've got yourself the makings of a really beautiful program.

We had solos, duets, instrumental numbers, along with testimonials and stories of Christ's birth. The pews were filled with neighbors and family, some who attend every week--pardon the term--religiously, and others who are not so regular. We gather and experience worship through word and song. I can't speak for others, but I know I left inspired, enlightened, humbled. 

The final word of, "amen" was spoken at the pulpit. We stood and wished each other a merry Christmas and said we'd all meet next year and do it all over again. Until next year, may your days be merry and bright, and my all your vocal pitches be right.

Saturday, December 22, 2018

There Once Was A House...

It's amazing how much a person doesn't see. We drive here and there and barely notice things not associated with obeying all the traffic laws. I suppose that's good, in a way. Of course, we'd notice so much more if we walked instead of drove...

The thought made me laugh a little.

 Last week I took a different way home from church--not my usual route--and I notice a big nothing where once stood a house. A house I, at one time, was a welcomed guest when visiting friends.

It's cliched to say "things were different years ago--the town was so much smaller," but it's true. I first became aware of the house when the Sopers moved in. Their son, a year younger than me, was my best friend. They moved from a small, almost tiny, pioneer rock house across the street. They then moved next door the south, then eventually built a beautiful home in a vacant lot next door to that.

When the Sopers moved out, the Salimbenes moved in and they lived in the house for years. That's the last time I knew who lived in the house and that was decades ago. For the life of me, I can't remember what the inside of the house looked like. It doesn't matter now--the building that once was is no longer.

I remember the huge tree in the front yard, a tree where one of the Salimbenes (I believe it was Julie...) fell while climbing and was hurt--she could have been killed the tree was so tall. Whoever owns the property now and is building a new house kept the tree--something I'm glad to see happen.

I snapped a few pictures as I drove past the house. It's been a while since the existing structure disappeared forever. The basement has been dug and the foundation poured. Soon a wooden skeleton will rise followed by walls, floors, windows, doors, and a roof.

There's a good chance that I'll never know or meet the people building the new house they'll soon call home. It's not practical to think so. But as a child who biked and walked everywhere, I knew the people who used to live at that address. Now, the house is gone, my friends have moved, and all that remains are the memories.

Friday, December 21, 2018

Dropping Off The Christmas Bread...

Some traditions are long-standing, others, not so much. There's one that we observe that's been going for the past ten or so years.

In involves a loaf of bread.

In years past, we used to bake our own bread, we even had three bread makers going several times a week to make the bread our family consumed. Eventually, we stopped eating so much bread and now the bread makers are residing somewhere in the basement. Back when we did make several loaves a week, we gave out freshly baked loaves of bread as Christmas gifts to friends and neighbors.

That tradition ended years ago.

Except for one loaf, one solitary loaf.

We still give out gifts of goodies--we haven't stopped that tradition. But there's one neighbor who gets the bread. Years ago my son and I were assigned to visit their house every month as part of a church calling. Last night I took the bread my wife picked up at the store (I said we no longer make it ourselves...) over to their house and dropped it off. Like the rest of us, they're getting ready for Christmas. They have a youngster and they're looking forward to experiencing the magic of the holiday with him and with family. 

Some traditions are long-standing, others, not so much. This one, I'll keep doing as long as they'll let me.

Thursday, December 20, 2018

More Lights For Elora...

Last week my wife and I stopped at a beautiful decorated light at a park in our home town. Last night we took the family and saw all the other lights in the display.

Elora's Lights

The rest of the lights were not as elaborate or decorative as the Tree of Hope. Mostly they were inflatables and dancing lights. They were fun and whimsical, but couldn't hold a candle to the tree. We loaded up the van--puppy included--and went for a walk. The displays and lights were on the edge of the park, just on the other side of the fence that separated a city park from homes.

There were glowing Minions, Disney castles and characters, Star Wars villains and heroes, and a couple of dragons, among other things. My kids were a little older than the intended age group, but they had fun. I have no idea what the puppy thought of the illuminated bags of air.

As we walked and took it all in, I asked my wife just how long Elora's Light had been in existence. We have no idea. Of course, the display was no where near the lights on Temple Square in Salt Lake City, or even the fun display put on by Layton City. But it was a nice way to get everyone outside in chilled December Utah air and to appreciate the work put in to honor Elora. She must have been someone very special.