Friday, June 12, 2015

Review of the Musical & Play "Wicked"

A few years back, I had the pleasure to attend the Broadway musical production of Wicked.  As a child, I loved the movie The Wizard of Oz and I will admit, I had never given much thought to what happened before the infamous tornado when we were all hurled into the land of Oz.  I didn't realize that the book, The Wizard of Oz had a prequel until I saw the musical Wicked.

What caught me even more by surprise was that it was funny and extremely entertaining!

This is definitely a production that I could recommend to anyone of any age.  It would be the perfect opportunity to introduce a child to Broadway and to musicals.  Oh, lest I forget to tell you later,  you simply must wear green to the production.  And, fear not, the Wicked musical is definitely child friendly!


The Untold Story of the Witches of Oz 

Only a teaser, I will not give away the whole story

Like me, you may wonder what to expect, and like me, you may also be surprised by your reactions.  You will be amazed at how your heart will react to a young Elphaba, a child who has an unusual birth defect.  She was born green.

You will be humored when a very unpopular Elphaba becomes friends with the very popular Glinda when they are forced to be roommates at Shiz University.  You will follow their friendship as it struggles through their opposing personalities and viewpoints.

You will discover how Elphaba becomes known as the Wicked Witch of the West, how Glinda becomes the Good Witch of the North and the true identity of the Great Oz.

via Wikimedia

You will even be surprised by who the Cowardly Lion, the Tin Man and the Scarecrow really are and how they were changed.  The best one word description for this musical is "spellbinding."


Highlights of Wicked 

The Music 

For this production, the music was perfect!  It was mostly light and entertaining.  Often very humorous.  Apparently very catchy because the little girl sitting behind us during the play, sang along.

The song "Popular" (video featured above) is one of the lighthearted songs and does an excellent job of reflecting and portraying the personalities of the two girls.  Glinda was Popular, but Elphaba defied expectations.  

The song "Defy Gravity" gives you insight into how the two friends reached a crossroads and must make the choices that will forever change their future.


via Wikimedia Commons
The costumes and stage effects were outstanding.  Throughout the production, the outfits matched the characters personalities and the scenes.  Even the drab, darker costumes like Elphaba's black "witch" costume, were totally appropriate, and supplied the perfect compliment to her green skin.

All of the costumes were wonderful but my personal favorites were the costumes worn by Madame Morrible, the head mistress of Shiz University.  The brilliant colors and elaborate details of her gowns stood out among the navy, blacks and whites of some of the other costumes.

Madame Morrible Photo by Emily Darline on Pinterest


As I stated in the introduction, I was actually surprised by how much I really enjoyed this musical.  I didn't really expect to be so thoroughly entertained.

While I might not list this as my #1 musical, I would place it at 3rd, just behind Les Miserables and The Phantom of the Opera.

I would highly recommend this musical to families with children or anyone who is simply looking for a fun night at the theater.

Oh!  Do remember to wear green!

Wicked: The Soundtrack, The Book, and a Great Way to Wear Green to the Musical

Note: The author may receive a commission from purchases made using links found in this article. “As an Amazon Associate I (we) earn from qualifying purchases.”


Thursday, June 11, 2015

Photographing on a Rainy Day

If you love to take photographs, a string of rainy days can dampen your spirits.  But have no fear, with a bit of creativity you can get some great shots, even on a rainy day.  The photo above was taken on one of those weeks when the rain just wouldn't quit.  It was shot from my covered front porch using a 70x 300 lens set on aperture priority at 5.6.  I moved around the various sections of leaves on our Japanese Maple tree to capture the raindrops on the leaves and the gentle rain in the background.

Tips for Photography in the Rain

  • Carry a raincoat for your camera ( you can purchase a rain covering for your camera at a camera shop or online)
  • A gallon sized plastic bag...this can work in a pinch, just cut a hole for the lens and put your hand in the back and your camera is safe and dry.
  • Look for porches or awning to stand under and shoot.
  • Shoot from inside your car.  This is a great way to capture scenes when you travel in the rain.
  • Try to get the light behind the raindrops to bring them out.

Objects to Look for on a Rainy Day

  • Food at an outdoor market covered with raindrops
  • Umbrella's as a backdrop
  • Flowers and leaves with raindrops
  • Reflections in puddles
  • Emotions on on children playing in rain...frustration of commuters hurrying about in the weather
  • Raindrops on interesting objects or parts of objects. 
The photo below shows raindrops on a section of the wind sculpture in our front yard.  I shot several pictures of this wind sculpture first taking the whole item and then just sections of it.  I was trying to capture the raindrops as the gathered on the metal.

So the next times you have a rainy day go grab you camera and see how creative you can get!

Note: The author may receive a commission from purchases made using links found in this article. “As an Amazon Associate I (we) earn from qualifying purchases.”


Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Country Porch Site Review

Looking For Porch Ideas?

I've been working on decorating my front porch and during that journey I discovered a wonderful resource of ideas and products at Country Porch World.

Many of my first memories are from my Grandmother's front porch where the family gathered every evening after supper and the chores were all finished. That was back in the days before homes had air conditioning, the porch was cooler and just the obvious place for the family to gather. Sometimes neighbors would stop by for a chat to share news (gossip) about the small town we lived in. It was the social meeting place for the family but mostly it was just a comfortable place to be. That is the feeling I want for my front porch. A comfortable gathering space for my family and neighbors.

For Me It Starts With Seating

Grandma always had a couple of rocking chairs on one end of the porch, a swing on the other end and several chairs dispersed in between. I don't have a good space for a swing but I do want at least two rocking chairs on my own porch.  Country Porch World gave me some great ideas on how to place my rockers and a few products to consider in their article: Add a Rocking Chair Vignette. I like the way they explain about using cushions and throws which adds to the comfort in both eye appeal and the physical comfort of the people who will be sitting in the chairs. I, also, absolutely love the Jack Post Knollwood Classic rocker shown in the article. I believe that is where I will begin my decorating venture on my own porch, with two of those rocking chairs. I will probably crochet a couple of throws in colors that coordinate with the cushions that I choose. That will add to the warmth of the country look that I will be going for. 

Suggestions For Design Elements

Country Porch World goes beyond suggesting products for a country style porch with design element ideas, ideas for color schemes and so much more. I found their ideas quite helpful and inspiring. What I am going for on my own porch is an inviting place for people to gather and that can be accomplished with the ideas presented on the website. Adding little things like fabrics to tables, small accent pieces and other interesting things, just makes people want to go out to the porch and sit a spell. Even though Grandma had her porch set up out of necessity she nailed that comfortable and relaxing atmosphere for us all to enjoy and relax after a hard day.

The Sound of Wind Chimes

Example of DIY wind chimes found at
I don't know what it is about hearing wind chimes when there is a slight breeze in the air. I find it so appealing and calming. So, I do want at least one set of chimes on the porch. 

There are times when I would rather not hear the chimes, though. When the birds are singing in the trees or when I'm trying to concentrate on reading something; the chimes can be a little distracting. 

Country Porch World has a wonderful suggestion in their article about wind chimes! I would have never thought to do this but it makes so much sense. They suggest that you take an old elastic bracelet to wrap around the chimes when you want them silent. Now, how clever is that? Don't have a bracelet on hand? I think a large rubber band would work or even some twine. Choose something that is easily placed and removed when you want to silence your chimes. 

I have found so many wonderful ideas for decorating my porch at Country Porch World and I think you will enjoy it, too. Not only is it a place to find interesting products to decorate your porch, patio or deck in a country look but the articles about how to accomplish the feel of comfort and relaxation are very helpful. 

Note: The author may receive a commission from purchases made using links found in this article. “As an Amazon Associate I (we) earn from qualifying purchases.”


Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Murder in Wine Country: A Review of Deadly Vintage by William Relling Jr.

I live in wine country and I love to read mysteries. This mystery takes place in the Santa Ynez wine country that I often drive through on the way to Santa Barbara. So, of course, I had to read it.

Why I Chose to Read This Book

Vineyards, ©B. Radisavljevic
I love reading mysteries, and I love living in wine country, surrounded by vineyards. I even had the opportunity to observe my neighbor's wine making process after harvest. So when I was searching the mystery section at the library for a new book to read, Deadly Vintage by William Relling Jr. immediately caught my eye. As I scanned the dust jacket, I became even more interested. When I actually read the book, all I had learned about the wine industry brought the book to life for me. I'd seen the machines that process the grapes in action (as you will if you follow the link above.) I am personally acquainted with the owners of many local vineyards.

Los Angeles Freeway Traffic, © B. Radisavljevic

Before reading Deadly Vintage, I had just returned from a trip through the Santa Ynez valley, so I was able to visualize all the places mentioned, including those in Southern California, where I was raised and spent a good part of my life. I have driven the same Los Angeles and Orange County freeways and experienced the traffic exactly as Relling, who lived in Los Angeles when writing the book, described it.

A Review of Deadly Vintage

This book is set in the Santa Ynez Valley in the fictional town of San Tomas. If you click that link, it will bring up a map that will show you  the scenery Jack saw during his investigation. The protagonist, Jack Donne, a former Treasury agent, is now a vintner. He works with his father, Raymond Donne, referred to as Dad in this first person narrative, who had been an architect in nearby Santa Barbara, before retiring to make wine. They have one full-time employee, Jesus Fonseca, who was born in Mexico. The other important family member is Uncle Gerry Donne, Dad's brother, a financial lawyer in Santa Barbara who handles the Donne Vineyards account, besides being a partner in the business.

The action begins when Ozzie Cole the son of another wealthy winery owner, Perry Cole, now retired, barges in on Jack unexpectedly and implores him to investigate the possibility that someone is counterfeiting his expensive wine and selling it in Southern California. Jack does not want to get involved. He has never liked Ozzie, though he respects him as a wine maker. Ozzie's two brothers, June (short for Junior) and Grant, are working together and competing with Ozzie, who has his own operation and produces expensive boutique wines. June and Grant make cheaper wines.

Uncle Gerry finally convinces Jack to work for Ozzie by sharing with Jack a possible connection between the person selling the counterfeit wine and a mobster who is well-known to all of them. A couple of days later, Perry Cole, who is living in a nursing home and is assisted by his long-time servant, Zeke Carlin, an ex-boxer, is murdered on Carlin's day off.

Ozzie is arrested for the murder, since Brad Fitch, the Lieutenant investigating the case, thought Ozzie had the knowledge, opportunity, and motive to kill his father, the motive being money. The Perry family lawyer, Daniel Wikert had let it slip to police that Ozzie stood to inherit almost all of Perry's sizable estate. Ozzie had also been trained as a medic in the National Guard, giving him the knowledge it took to kill Perry in the way he had died. Jack had also witnessed Perry leaving his father, still arguing loudly, the night before Perry was murdered.

Jack doesn't like Ozzie much, but he doesn't believe he killed his father. Jack smells a rat in Wikert, and also learns that the sleazy lawyer has connections with the underworld. Jack continues his investigation to not only uncover the counterfeiting operation, but also to find the real murderer.

The characters in this book are developed just enough to make me care about them. The plot moves in such a way that I'm not really surprised by the outcome, since the author dropped just enough clues to enable me to think with him. In fact, I was pretty sure who had killed Perry before Jack seemed to catch on. I don't like it when I've been trying to think with a detective or investigator and then at the end all kinds of new elements appear that change everything that seemed to follow logically before. I'm looking forward to reading the next and only other book in this series. There won't be any more, because the author committed suicide in 2004 when he was only 49.

I have linked to both formats of the book below, should you want to read it.

Understanding How Wine Is Processed

Croad Vineyard owner Martin Croad invited me to tour his winery during harvest day in 2011. He showed me all the machines used to process the wine, and I have included them, along with his explanation of what they do and a demonstration of each. Watching this video will help you to understand the plot of Deadly Vintage better, since the process of wine making, and the machines used, are important in the plot.


I recommend this book to mystery loving wine aficionados or anyone who enjoys thinking along with investigators to solve murder mysteries. The book is even more fun if you are familiar with the Southern California area and can visualize where the action is happening.

Note: The author may receive a commission from purchases made using links found in this article. “As an Amazon Associate I (we) earn from qualifying purchases.”


Sunday, June 7, 2015

The Mysterious Death of Tom Thomson - Canadian Artist

Path Behind Mowat Lodge Canvas Print by Tom Thomson
Path Behind Mowat Lodge Canvas Print
Available Via Amazon
The Life, Death and Art of Famous Canadian Artist Tom Thomson

Tom Thomson is one of Canada's most famous Artists who died mysteriously, and whose death is still talked about today.
I can't quite put my finger on why I find the lives of famous artists so intriguing. However, I do think it has something to do with an artist's plight to fulfil their calling while their lives are plastered with difficultly. Added to the fact that, in many cases, their work isn't valued or appreciated until after they die - Upsetting and incredibly unfair.
Tom Thomson was absolutely one of those artists. He only lived to the age of 39 and died under mysterious circumstances. To this day the suspicious speculations of his death are still labelled inconclusive.
Northern Light
Tom Thomson:
Born: August 5, 1877, in Claremont, Ontario, Canada
Died: July 8, 1917 (aged 39), Canoe Lake, Algonquin Park, Ontario, Canada

NORTHERN LIGHT - The enduring mystery of Tom Thomson and the woman who loved him - This is VERY Interesting!

The details of Tom Thomson's life story, Authored by Roy MacGregor in "Northern Light", are very intriguing. He speaks about Thomson's life as well as his untimely death and the mystery surrounding it.
If you appreciate the journey of artists you will enjoy listening to this.

Tom Thomson and The Group of Seven
Tom Thomson, The Early Years

At 22 years old he was an Apprentice at an Iron Foundry and was fired because he was always late. He then attempted to join the armed services that same year, but due to a medical condition was denied entry.

In 1901 he was accepted into Business College in Chatham, Ontario but dropped out after eight months to go to the business college his brother operated in Seattle, Washington. While in Seattle, he had a brief romance with Alice Lambert.

He returned to Canada in 1904 and in 1907 he joined a Toronto design firm named Grip Ltd where many of the future "Group of Seven" also worked.

The Group of Seven

The Group of Seven were a famous group of Canadian Landscape Painters in the 1920's. Tom Thomson was never an official member of the Group of Seven, however he is recognized as having greatly influenced them.
The members of the Group of Seven were, Franklin Carmichael, Lawren Harris, A. Y. Jackson, Franz Johnston, Arthur Lismer, J. E. H. MacDonald, and Frederick Varley.

Heffel's record $2,749,500.00 sale of Tom Thomson ~ Early Spring, Canoe Lake

Tom Thomson's Major Source of Inspiration & Art Career

Tom Thomson was inspired by Ontario's wilderness. His first visit to Algonquin Park was in 1912. That year he began working along side members of the Group of Seven at Rous and Mann Press, but he left later in the year to become his own full time artist.

His first exhibit was with the Ontario Society of Artists in 1913 and he later become a member in 1914. That same year the National Gallery of Canada purchased one of his paintings. His exhibits continued with the Ontario Society of Artists until his mysterious death in 1917.

He eventually moved to Canoe Lake in Algonquin Park. He worked as a fire fighter, ranger, and guide in Algonquin Park, but gave that up as he found it didn't give him enough time to paint. From 1914 to 1917 before he died, is when he created his most famous work; The Jack Pine, The West Wind and The Northern River.

Tom Thomson's Art & Artistic Talent

The Death of Tom Thomson
Tom Thomson was another one of those "mostly self taught" artists. He was very young when he began drawing and painting, but didn't pursue it as a career until he was in his thirties. Of course, his untimely death at the age of 39 would cut short the number of paintings he would become famous for.
He did produce hundreds of sketches between 1912 and 1917 (the year he died). Today these sketches are considered part of his portfolio of works and are featured in the Art Gallery of Ontario, and the National Gallery of Canada in Ottawa.
He transformed from Graphic Designer to Professional Painter, with the help of Dr. James MacCallum between 1914 and 1917.
Many of his famous paintings began as sketches and later evolved into large oil paintings at his "Studio". His studio was an old shack, with a wood stove on the grounds of Studio Building.
With his use of broad brush strokes and his liberal use of paint to capture color, his art resembles post-impressionists, Vincent Van Gogh & Paul Cezanne.
Thomson was provided the same level of respect and prominence as Renoir, Picasso and The Group of Seven in 2002 when the National Gallery of Canada staged a major exhibition of his art.

The Mysterious Death of Tom Thomson

On July 8th, 1917 at the age of 39, Tom Thomson disappeared on a canoeing trip on Canoe Lake in Algonquin Park. His body wasn't discovered until eight days later. Although there were reports that he had his fishing line wrapped around his feet seventeen times, and signs of a head injury, the official cause of death was deemed accidental.
The speculation on the cause of his death continues today. Numerous scenarios have been put forth, including murder and suicide. 

Note: The author may receive a commission from purchases made using links found in this article. “As an Amazon Associate I (we) earn from qualifying purchases.”


Friday, June 5, 2015

Gifts for Father's Day Reviewed

Father's Day Gifts
About this time each year, I start searching for a Father's Day gift for the most wonderful man in the world.   It needs to be something really special and something unique.  Something he will really enjoy.

I frequently seek recommendations from people who own a particular item before I buy it.  I depend on reviews to help me make my selection.

Dad is not really hard to please.  He is actually a pretty easy going fellow that has a wide variety of interests, and always appreciates whatever gift he is given.

Truthfully, it is not the man that is hard to please, it is me.  I think he deserves the best gift I can possibly find.  After all, his best is what he has always given our family.

Each article, review or recommendation below is linked to it's place of origin. Simply click the blue text link in the content of this article to visit the referenced review.

For His Car

I guess all men love their cars, and my father is certainly no exception.  Few things are more annoying than the first few scratches on a new car.  We all want our cars to stay as perfectly beautiful as they were the day we drove them off the dealers lot.  As the car ages, we may tolerate certain imperfections, but none of us wants to see obvious scratches on our cars.  For as long as I can remember, I have watched my father take excellent care of his cars and keep them as pristine as humanly possible.

A few weeks ago, Barbara, our own Brite-Ideas contributor here on Review This, recommended this Scratch Removal Compound for removing scratches from cars.

I think my father would love to receive a gift basket full of car care items starting with this awesome scratch removal compound. 

A Vacation
Once he has his car all scratch free and shiny,  I would love to be able to give him a little vacation.  Something not too far away.  Somewhere he and Mom could drive just to get away for a few days.   A little trip to Savannah, Georgia would be perfect!

Dad has always loved any place with water.  As a youth, many of our family vacations were spent near oceans, rivers, or lakes where we enjoyed a variety of activities that included boating, fishing, water skiing, sailing, rafting, swimming and more.

Savannah would be an awesome vacation destination for Mom and Dad.   Dad would enjoy the day trips to Tybee Island, Hilton Head Island, and the beaches of St. Simon Island.  Mom would appreciate the romantic charm of Savannah described in Wednesday Elf's article.

Or, maybe I could set it up for them to go to Rhode Island where he could have an all new experience as described by Mary Beth in her article, "You Too Can Be a Lighthouse Keeper"!  I feel certain he would love staying overnight in an actual lighthouse.  I can easily imagine him standing at the top of the lighthouse, binoculars in hand and scanning the surface of the ocean, spotting things he would never be able to see with the naked eye.

Plus, I know the perfect gift box for either of these vacations!  In lieu of a basket, I could place his travel plans and reservations in new Luggage, which he could also use on his vacation.  The handle and spinning wheels on the luggage recommended by Heather426, would make this the perfect new suitcase for Dad as he tours from place to place.  Why lift luggage when you could simply pull it along behind you?

Books to Read

Whether he is on vacation or staying at home, Dad loves to read.  He is constantly in search of a good book or a recommendation for a book that he will enjoy reading.  BarbRad recently reviewed the book "Detective" by Arthur Hailey and I immediately thought of my father.  He seems to really like detective stories, especially one with twists, turns and surprising endings.  This sounds like a great choice to add to his library of books.

Books For His Kindle

Dad does own a Kindle and he does frequently use it when he is reading instead of grabbing the printed book.  Bev recently reviewed 11/22/63 about John F. Kennedy which also sounds like a book Dad would enjoy reading.  My father was an adult with children when JFK was assassinated and I am quite certain he has his own opinions about what actually happened that day, but I don't know if he has ever read a detailed accounting of the weeks before the assassination.  I think he would find that very intriguing indeed.


Movies and Goodies for Movie Night
A Good Marriage is also based on a Stephen King book.  Since I, myself, have seen and reviewed A Good Marriage, I know Dad will enjoy watching this movie.

It is an excellent suspense thriller that is written from the perspective of the wife of a serial killer.  I personally found it to be well considered and the characters realistically fleshed out with several unexpected reactions.

It is not just a run of the mill serial killer movie.


Chocolate & Coffee

With a movie, we also need a gift basket of chocolate.   Not only does Susan Kennedy recommend a great gift basket for Father's Day, she also explains how dark chocolate is actually good for us.  I definitely want my dad to stay happy and healthy.  Therefore, an excellent movie, a basket of chocolate and a cup of coffee sounds like the perfect gift for my father when he wants a relaxing evening at home.



For the Garden

One of the Small Gardens in My Parents Backyard
I would tell you that my father gardens because my mother makes him, but in all honesty, I am not sure that is completely true.  He enjoys working outdoors, and playing in the garden gives him an excuse to be outside.  It also gives him an excuse to play with a few new gardening tools.  The tools that Olivia recommends definitely look like gardening tools my dad would love to own, especially the Hori, Hori.  Dad just might dream up the excuse of needing to divide the hosta lilies with that tool!  That would make both Dad and Mom happy.

I am equally certain he would enjoy having his own Composter.  We all get tired of paying for fertilizer.  That can get quite expensive when you have a large garden. Thankfully, Coletta recommended an excellent composting system that I think would be perfect for their yard and would not draw unwanted criticism from neighbors.

To beautify the lawn area in his yard, I think he would also like some Mosaic Stepping Stones for his backyard.  Dad has always liked brightly colored ornamentation and  Mickie_G's recommendations would certainly fit that bill.  I also think he would love the mosaic pots she features in her article.

An Insulated Mug

After Dad works in the yard, he is going to need a nice, cold drink.  As a matter of fact, I can well imagine he would take the Man Mug that Dawn Rae recommended,  fill it with ice and water, and carry it right out back with him.  Not only could he stay hydrated while working, he could sit back in a lounge chair with his Man Mug and admire his work when finished.

The Amazon Echo
I had not heard of the Amazon Echo until Susan Deppner reviewed it here on Review This!

Susan's description of it's various functions, as well as her suggestions for games, sold me on the Amazon Echo immediately.  Not only do I think my father would like it, I think it would be a great gift for our children to give to their dad.  I love the idea of getting the news and weather forecast by just verbally requesting it.  I also know we will all love being able to start playing music by simple verbal request.  That sounds like a pretty cool gadget indeed and one the whole family will enjoy.

Just don't tell Mom you are moving "Alexa" into their home to play with Dad without letting her see Alexa's picture first!



More Father's Day Gift Ideas

Just in case you are shopping for your dad for Father's Day and didn't see exactly what you wanted above, we have created a board just for you with this easy way of shopping by looking at the catalog of images.


Pinterest Board is hosted by Sylvestermouse, 

You may also want to check out the entire
for a collection of safe and reliable websites for online shopping.

Note: The author may receive a commission from purchases made using links found in this article. “As an Amazon Associate I (we) earn from qualifying purchases.”


Thursday, June 4, 2015

Playing Games with the Amazon Echo

The Amazon Echo looks like a black Pringles can and fits in with any decor.
The Amazon Echo looks like a black
 Pringles can and fits in with any decor.
Have you heard of the new electronic gadget called the Amazon Echo? I wrote a review about it that you can read here, but let me quickly tell you a little bit about the device, then I'll let you know how you can have fun playing games with your Amazon Echo.

This awesome gadget looks a lot like a Pringles can, but it's actually a speaker that responds to its name, plays music, wakes you up in the morning, tells you the weather forecast and sports scores, reads the news to you, turns your lights on and off, and even orders stuff for you from, all with just a voice command from you.

You can have fun with the Echo (most people call her "Alexa;" her alternate wake name is "Amazon"), too. She has quite a sense of humor (well, as much as an electronic assistant can have) and is very cooperative if you just want to have some fun with her. Here are a few games you can play with your Echo.

"Alexa, who is singing that song?"

Play a game of "name that artist" or "name that tune" whenever you listen to music on your Echo. If you're not sure who's singing the song, just ask Alexa! Not sure of the song title? She'll answer that question, too.

"Alexa, how far is it from here to the North Pole?"

How about a game of trivia. Gather your friends and try to stump each other on facts, with your Echo as the final authority. Have your friends guess the answer to questions such as "How tall is Mount Everest?" or even "How many tablespoons in a cup?"  Closest to the correct answer wins!

Use the Echo's magnetic remote control from another room when you're too far away for the device to hear your voice.

"Alexa, Simon Says..."

Use the Echo's remote control from another room to play a game of Simon Says. Put Alexa in a room with your friends then, from another room where they can't hear you, speak into the remote control's microphone. Say, "Alexa, Simon says..." followed by whatever message you would like Alexa to repeat.

For instance, if your Echo is in a room with the kids, have Alexa say, "Kids, dinner's ready. Report to the kitchen!" They'll come running to find out how you did that!

"Alexa, I love you!"

Okay, we know she's not human, but everyone likes to feel appreciated. Let Alexa know that you love her. She'll let you know that she thinks you're pretty special, too.

"Alexa, tell me a joke." 

In the mood to laugh? Seriously, Alexa has quite the joke repertoire and most of them are pretty funny. If you need cheering up, just say, "Alexa, tell me a joke," and she will. Here's an actual joke that Alexa just now told me:
Knock knock.
Who's there?
Kanye who?
Kanye believe it? I tell jokes, too!

These are just a few ideas for games to play and fun things to do with your Amazon Echo. Get creative and come up with your own ideas, or use the "Things to Try" section of the Echo app to find more ideas. Don't have an Echo yet? Here's that Amazon Echo review link again where you can learn more about this fascinating and useful gadget and find out how to order one for yourself.

-- Susan Deppner
Read more of my reviews.

Note: The author may receive a commission from purchases made using links found in this article. “As an Amazon Associate I (we) earn from qualifying purchases.”


Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Book Review: Get More Work Done With Scrum

Book review of Scrum: The Art of Doing Twice the Work in Half the Time by Jeff Sutherland (review by Coletta Teske)
Want to help your co-workers become more productive? Learn how your team can do twice the work in half the time in this book review of Scrum by Jeff Sutherland.

Project managers have always struggled to help companies make more product, to complete projects on schedule, and to avoid employee burnout. It was a constant battle until the early 1990s.

In 1993, Ken Schwaber and Jeff Sutherland developed a new way of managing projects. Their work with software developers paved the way for a faster, more reliable, and more effective way to create software. This tool can be used to help any company, not just software developers, become more productive.

Implement Scrum and create productive teams

Purchase Scrum by Jeff Sutherland on
Available on Amazon
Hardback, Kindle, and
Audiobook Download
This project management tool, called Scrum, increases team output and productivity through accountability, interaction, and continual improvement. It is a framework that helps teams get organized and get more work done.

Scrum uses visual tools to show team members the work that needs to be done and implements problem solving techniques to eliminate those things that prevent a team from getting the work done efficiently.

Want to learn how you can implement Scrum in your organization? Jeff Sutherland, a co-creator of Scrum, takes you on a journey of learning in his book, Scrum: The Art of Doing Twice the Work in Half the Time (Crown Business, New York, 2014).

Find tips to do more work in less time

This book doesn't tell you how to become more productive, it shows you. All through the book, you'll find examples of how teams used Scrum to overcome obstacles, find their strengths, and create a harmonious workplace.

You'll see how organizations went from failure to success by implementing Scrum. You'll get a peak inside the problems these organizations faced, see what strategies worked, and find out what strategies didn't work. Sutherland doesn't hold back and takes every opportunity to show how Scrum can work in a variety of industries.

Here are some of the other features that make this an enjoyable and helpful book:
  • The writing style. This book is easy to read and easy to understand. Sutherland uses plain writing  to deliver his message in a way that is effortless to comprehend.
  • The chapter takeaways. Each chapter ends with a summary of the important points covered in that chapter. These takeaways not only provide an excellent recap, but also provide a checklist that can be referenced later when you need a refresher.
  • The problem-solving approach. Sutherland shows how problems can be overcome by implementing Scrum. He tells how companies have rejected Scrum, only to come back later to try Scrum with success.
Scrum is recommended reading for anyone that wants to increase their productivity, decrease distractions, and have more time for fun. You'll enjoy this book if you are:
  • A manager searching for new ideas to increase the amount of work your teams output and for productive ways to improve employee morale.
  • An employee wishing to be a valuable asset within your organization and to advance within your profession.
  • An independent contractor desiring to increase the efficiency of your client's projects and to gain an advantage within your industry.
  • An individual looking for ways to remove the distractions that keep you from getting your work done and from having more fun time to spend with family.

Get your copy of Scrum and get more work done

Scrum by Jeff Sutherland available at in hardback, Kindle, and Audiobook Dowload formats
Available at Amazon in
Hardback, Kindle, and
Audiobook Download
I give this book 5 stars because it is full of ideas that will help individuals, small businesses, and large organizations become more productive. After 230 pages of easy reading, I saw an increase in my ability to get more work done. I found new ways to get rid of distractions and better ways to organize my workload.

If you manage a team of people, need to increase their productivity, and want to give them more playtime, get a copy of Scrum. By practicing the sound project management techniques in this book, your team will be getting more work done in the office and having more fun at home.

DISCLAIMER: I received a copy of Scrum: The Art of Doing Twice the Work in Half the Time by Jeff Sutherland (Crown Business, 2014) from Blogging For Books in exchange for this review. My opinions are my own.

Note: The author may receive a commission from purchases made using links found in this article. “As an Amazon Associate I (we) earn from qualifying purchases.”


Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Review of Detective by Arthur Hailey

Review of Detective by Arthur Hailey

Politics for Police Detectives

I have never read a book by Arthur Hailey that I could put down for long to do something else. This one was no different. As usual, Hailey is using a book to expose what goes on behind the scenes in different professions and occupations. In this book he tackles police and homicide detectives and the politics at work in police departments.

Police Work VS Family: Why Malcolm Must Go to Florida

As the book opens,  Detective Malcolm Ainslie is called to work at a crucial time in their family life because of a call from the Miami Police Department. He is supposed to be leaving the next morning to fly with his family to Toronto to visit his wife’s parents to celebrate her father’s 75th birthday and their son Jason’s eighth  birthday.  His family has been looking forward to the vacation for weeks.

Review of Detective by Arthur Hailey

Yet late on the night before Malcolm is to leave for Toronto he gets a call  from the prison chaplain at the Florida State Prison in Raiford saying that the serial killer Malcolm helped arrest, “Animal” Doil is scheduled to be executed in the morning and that he wants to confess. Doil and the prison chaplain both know that Malcolm had once been a Catholic priest and that he had left the priesthood before going into law enforcement.

The prison was located eight hours away from Miami and there was barely time to make it before the execution. The only reason Malcolm wants to go is because some of the murders were not tried, since only the one that could be proved beyond the shadow of a doubt was taken to court. Malcolm is hoping to find out about the rest of them. One of them had not fit the pattern of the rest. Malcolm was afraid that killer still might be at large.

The department furnishes a driver to leave with Malcolm immediately. His boss promises to try to get him a flight to Toronto from Jacksonville  so that he can still make the family party, although a bit late. Malcolm’s wife Karen had been more than a little upset about the change in plans. He was seriously afraid missing this trip might be the last straw in their marriage.

Prison Priest VS Former Priest

Another conflict rears its head between the prison chaplain, who is jealous of his territory and wants to be sure Doil doesn’t think Malcolm is still a priest who can do anything for him spiritually. Malcolm has no intention of acting as a priest. He only wants the kind of confession that will let him know what really happened.

Malcolm arrives in the nick of time to see Doil before the execution. The priest was wasting time interfering religiously until they were able to get him to leave the meeting. Doil confesses to every one of the murders except the very one Malcolm himself has doubts about – the murder of a former colleague Cynthia’s parents.

 Doil gives Malcolm some information about a murder they didn’t know he committed so they could verify it. Doil wants Malcolm to witness his execution, and when he does, he notices Cynthia is also there to witness, along with her new boyfriend, a novelist, Patrick Jensen. Malcolm had had an affair with Cynthia earlier, but had broken it off when Malcolm would not leave Karen for her. Cynthia had found subtle ways to get her revenge since then.

The rest of the book deals with the confession of Doil, the execution, the party, which Malcolm does get to, the history and details of the serial killings and Malcolm’s quiet investigation into the murder of Cynthia’s parents. Readers will need a strong stomach as they view the crime scenes with the detectives.  I could have done without that part, since they were grizzly. What is most interesting are the undercurrents in relationships and politics on the police force and the influence they have on the cases and how they are handled.

My Analysis

As a thriller this did not disappoint me. Although I thought I’d solved the case, there were still some twists and turns toward the end I did not expect. What most disappointed me was the human weakness Malcolm displayed at the end. I was very disappointed that he seemed to have learned little from his past experiences in human relationships.

This is a first-class thriller with complex well-developed characters. It also offers insight into how police departments operate in large cities. If that's the sort of book you appreciate, you should definitely read Detective.

Note: The author may receive a commission from purchases made using links found in this article. “As an Amazon Associate I (we) earn from qualifying purchases.”


Monday, June 1, 2015

Gift Idea for Dad - the Man Mug

The Man Mug
What to do when the Father in your life doesn't wear ties and Father's Day is fast approaching?  As I am browsing for items that would make great gifts for dad, I have found something that, based on the reviews, I am also considering buying for myself.  I think the Man Mug would be a great gift for many of our Dads. 

What is so special about the Man Mug?

This is the description of the mug from the folks at Man Mug 

"... 16.9-ounce beauty is made of top quality stainless steel designed to hold a pint of beer with room for a thick, foamy head."

In addition to holding a pint of beer, the mug is made with double walled construction in order to keep cold drinks cold (or hot drinks hot). This construction also keeps the mug from sweating. No need for coasters (or Mom yelling at Dad because he forgot the coasters.) The thick handle doesn't transfer the cold or heat. 

The Man Mug

I own a stainless steel mug. I love my mug. There is something good about drinking a cold beer from it. Or making a root beer float in it. But my stainless steel mug, as much as I love it and will continue to love it, is not insulated. As a result, it sweats everywhere. Including dripping onto my lap. This Man Mug seems to be an awesome improvement in an already awesome mug idea.

The Best Gift for Dad

Let's not forget the very best gift for dad. The best gift we can give a parent is the gift of our time. My father is many miles away and I will not be able to spend time with him in person.  But if I could, I would consider taking him this mug, and one for myself, along with a six pack of beer so that we could just sit and chat.  

He may or may not love the mug as I think he would, but I guarantee he'd love the beer and the visit.

Note: The author may receive a commission from purchases made using links found in this article. “As an Amazon Associate I (we) earn from qualifying purchases.”


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Review This is Dedicated to the Memory of Our Beloved Friend and Fellow Contributor
We may be apart, but You Are Not Forgotten

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