Wednesday, January 15, 2020

A Very Special Fifth Anniversary Edition of the Tales of the Traveling Tote *plus* an AMAZING Giveaway!

Happy Wednesday, My Lovelies!  

Welcome to my blog, and Happy New Year!

Today is the Fifth Anniversary Celebration of the Tales of the Traveling Tote; this is a very special, one-of-a-kind Tales of the Traveling Tote post.  The Traveling Tote ladies all enjoy MacKenzie-Childs: The whimsy of the line makes us smile, and we actually found each other via collecting MacKenzie-Childs.  As a family, we have enjoyed how MacKenzie-Childs has made our home happy and fun everyday for thirty-one years.  Perhaps my favorite MacKenzie-Childs memories are afternoon tea parties with our daughters.  Our oldest daughter will be getting married next month, and she has registered for MacKenzie-Childs locally at Christine's.

I'm also enjoying making memories with the Traveling Tote Group: You can read more about us on my Tales of the Traveling Tote Page.  I'm honored to be a part of such a dynamic group of women!

So what, exactly, makes this post different from other Tales of the Traveling Tote posts?

It all started a few weeks ago when I received a special package in the mail.

What in the world could be in the large bag?  I didn't order anything large...

...from MacKenzie-Childs!

Let's open it up, shall we?

L@@K!!!  It is a lovely, one-of-a-kind tote!
I am so touched!
I especially like the little red flowers peeking out of the pocket!

Two artists who work for MacKenzie-Childs looked at my blog and created a beautiful tote that reflects my blog and personality.  I think they nailed it!

It matches lots of things in our home!

I love my tote so much.  I love the pretty fabrics the ladies, Joan and Julie, chose for me.  Because of the interlocking squares, I have named my tote Miss Square Peggy.  Isn't she perfect?

 I'm using my tote to carry my art supplies...

 ....and my library books.  Miss Square Peggy will also go with me to my favorite Indie bookstores!
Plus, she even matches my favorite book of 2019!

She's perfect for field trips to my favorite flower markets, too.

I can take her everywhere!  She even has handy dandy exterior (as well as one interior) pockets!

Finlay is curious about my excitement over the tote.

Sorry Little Buddy!  There's nothing in there for you!

I can also put prizes in it from my friends.  My friends spoil me with prizes!

Check it out!  Miss Square Peggy matches my favorite Christmas present, the MacKenzie-Childs Bazaar Coffee Pot.  

Let's take Miss Square Peggy on a field trip, shall we?  Let's take her to where I purchase MacKenzie-Childs in Birmingham:  Christine's in Mountain Brook Village.  I want to see what's new and popular in the MacKenzie-Childs line at Christine's.

Jean Clayton, owner of Christine's, says her customers love the new Royal Check line by MacKenzie-Childs.  

Miss Square Peggy and I like it, too!

The Flower Market Collection blends beautifully with it, don't you think?

I am so grateful for Miss Square Peggy.  I want to thank MacKenzie-Childs and Joan and Julie for their very generous gift.

The other nine members of the Traveling Totes also received one-of-a-kind totes based on their blogs and personalities.  You can see the ladies with their totes in the collage below.

And now it's YOUR TURN!
One lucky reader of the Traveling Tote Blogs will receive a one-of-a-kind tote.
This is what it looks like:

Isn't it pretty!  
This tote has been provided to us (Tales of the Traveling Tote Bloggers) by MacKenzie-Childs, or Aurora Holdings, LLC.

In order for a chance to win this beautiful tote above, please leave a comment on this post.  You will then be entered to win in a random drawing that is officially a sweepstakes.  Please see legal, above.  Winner will be announced January 27, 2020.

Sorry, Mustang Sally....I know you love Miss Square Peggy, but you can't enter!

Please visit the other ladies' blogs.  Here are the links!

Debbie with Miss Tassie @ Mountain Breaths
Emily with Miss Lulu @ The French Hutch
Patti with Miss Tizzy@ Pandora's Box
Jenna with Miss  Hello Gorgeous @ The Painted Apron
Linda P with Miss Gigi @ Life and Linda
Rita with Miss Penny @ Panoply
Sarah with Miss Poppy @ Hyacinths for the Soul
Jackie with Miss Pansy @ Purple Chocolat Home  
Ricki Jill with Miss Square Peggy @The Sketchy Reader
Cherry Kay with Miss Waverly  @ Entertaining Women

I hope you will join Miss Square Peggy and me on our next adventure soon!

Until next time...

Ricki Jill

Tuesday, January 14, 2020

Blog Update 1/14/2020

Happy Tuesday, My Lovelies!  I finally finished putting way the rest of our Christmas decor over the weekend.

It feels nice to have a clean, uncluttered space!
Our breakfast room has very little on the table, and that's okay with me.

I updated our living centerpiece by removing the cyclamen and poinsettia, and adding a lily and another fern.

I'm loving the sunshine because we haven't seen much of it lately.

I added the pretty frosty fern

So far the lilies haven't bothered anyone's allergies yet!

We brought the side table back in after we took down the tree.  It's nice to have things back to normal!

My main reasoning for popping in today is to share what I've been working on that will be live here on my blog tomorrow:

I hope you will come back tomorrow!  The giveaway is fantastic!

Finlay wants you to come back tomorrow, too!

Until next time...

Ricki Jill

Friday, January 10, 2020

Literary Friday: My Favorite Books of 2019

Happy Literary Friday, My Lovelies!  Today I want to share with you my favorite books from 2019.  I have already shared the book Stay HERE, so I won't repeat that one!  I'll also keep my reviews brief.

The Book Charmer by Karen Hawkins

According to Goodreads:

New York Times bestselling author Karen Hawkins crafts an unforgettable story about a sleepy Southern town, two fiercely independent women, and a truly magical friendship.

Sarah Dove is no ordinary bookworm. To her, books have always been more than just objects: they live, they breathe, and sometimes they even speak. When Sarah grows up to become the librarian in her quaint Southern town of Dove Pond, her gift helps place every book in the hands of the perfect reader. Recently, however, the books have been whispering about something out of the ordinary: the arrival of a displaced city girl named Grace Wheeler.

If the books are right, Grace could be the savior that Dove Pond desperately needs. The problem is, Grace wants little to do with the town or its quirky residents—Sarah chief among them. It takes a bit of urging, and the help of an especially wise book, but Grace ultimately embraces the challenge to rescue her charmed new community. In her quest, she discovers the tantalizing promise of new love, the deep strength that comes from having a true friend, and the power of finding just the right book.

“A mesmerizing fusion of the mystical and the everyday” (Susan Andersen, New York Times bestselling author), The Book Charmer is a heartwarming story about the magic of books that feels more than a little magical itself. Prepare to fall under its spell.

My Review:

Picture this:  A Hallmark town with moody Main Street flowers that change colors depending on the town's events; books that literally talk to the town librarian, so there's no doubt if Librarian Sarah recommends books patrons should read them; and complex, well-drawn characters who are charmingly flawed...Yes, please!  Sign.  Me.  Up!

Sarah and newcomer to Dove Pond Grace are unlikely friends, yet both need the other in order to grow and become the woman each is meant to be.  I love their odd friendship, and Grace is one of my favorite characters ever.  Other than unforgettable characters, this book also has plenty of suspense surrounding a festival (of course) and romance.  It is also poignant as it addresses dementia as well as aging.

If you enjoy Southern fiction, family drama, magical realism, and a well-written story, you should love The Book Charmer.

Evvie Drake Starts Over by Linda Holmes

According to Goodreads:

In a small town in Maine, recently widowed Eveleth "Evvie" Drake rarely leaves her house. Everyone in town, including her best friend, Andy, thinks grief keeps her locked inside, and she doesn't correct them.

In New York, Dean Tenney, former major-league pitcher and Andy's childhood friend, is struggling with a case of the "yips": he can't throw straight anymore, and he can't figure out why. An invitation from Andy to stay in Maine for a few months seems like the perfect chance to hit the reset button.

When Dean moves into an apartment at the back of Evvie's house, the two make a deal: Dean won't ask about Evvie's late husband, and Evvie won't ask about Dean's baseball career. Rules, though, have a funny way of being broken—and what starts as an unexpected friendship soon turns into something more.

But before they can find out what might lie ahead, they'll have to wrestle a few demons: the bonds they've broken, the plans they've changed, and the secrets they've kept. They'll need a lot of help, but in life, as in baseball, there's always a chance—right up until the last out.

My Review:

One of the reasons I hate winter is because there is no Major League Baseball until mid-February when spring training begins.  This book helped me a little because one of the main characters, Dean, is a former MLB pitcher.  When he escapes New York to hide-out in Maine for the winter, he moves into newly widowed Evvie's back apartment, and both agree not to ask the other about either topic: Evvie's deceased husband, and Dean's inability to throw straight.

Evvie's story and her marriage is not what I expected, and it isn't what the good people of her town think, either.  Even Andy's best friend (the very one responsible for Dean's relocation to Maine) doesn't even know Evvie's true story.  Dean and Evvie are drawn to one another, and they maintain their agreement until Evvie starts meddling into Dean's midnight pitching practices.  (Evvie!  Why can't you just butt out!)  I absolutely loved this book: the pace of the story, the secondary characters in addition to Evvie and Dean, the struggles of both of the main characters, and the hope and strength that comes from weathering life's storms.

The Beekeeper of Aleppo by Christy Lefteri

According to Goodreads:

The unforgettable love story of a mother blinded by loss and her husband who insists on their survival as they undertake the Syrian refugee trail to Europe.

Nuri is a beekeeper; his wife, Afra, an artist. They live a simple life, rich in family and friends, in the beautiful Syrian city of Aleppo--until the unthinkable happens. When all they care for is destroyed by war, they are forced to escape. But what Afra has seen is so terrible she has gone blind, and so they must embark on a perilous journey through Turkey and Greece towards an uncertain future in Britain. On the way, Nuri is sustained by the knowledge that waiting for them is Mustafa, his cousin and business partner, who has started an apiary and is teaching fellow refugees in Yorkshire to keep bees.

As Nuri and Afra travel through a broken world, they must confront not only the pain of their own unspeakable loss, but dangers that would overwhelm the bravest of souls. Above all, they must journey to find each other again.

Moving, powerful, compassionate, and beautifully written, The Beekeeper of Aleppo is a testament to the triumph of the human spirit. It is the kind of book that reminds us of the power of storytelling.

My Review:

I confess I almost didn't read this book.  I thought it would be political because it's about Syrian refugees who've fled to the UK.  The refugee crisis is one of the many issues that led to Brexit, and I didn't want to read about a crisis caused by poor decisions during the last American administration.  But I am so thankful I read it: I needed this book.  Nuri and Afra's story is heartbreaking.  I can't imagine the horrors that they witness as they leave Syria by crossing the border with Turkey, make their way across treacherous waters to Greece, and then on to England.  

I need to keep this review short because this post is already long enough, and I don't want to give any spoilers away.  But I will tell you what I love about this book.  I love the theme of blindness.  Afra is blinded by a bomb, and her husband Nuri has a few "blind spots" of his own.  There are many shocking plot points in the story that I was not expecting.  This book is not the least bit predictable, and I loved that about it.  Also, I love bees, and I enjoyed that Nuri is a beekeeper. Bees are amazingly efficient creatures, their work ethic is unsurpassed, and they impact every aspect of an ecosystem.  When their habitat is destroyed, it has a domino affect on all others.  I also love that Afra is an artist, yet I can't think of many situations more tragic than a blind artist.

If you want to be a better human being with empathy, you really should read this book.  Read it for Afra and Nuri's story because theirs is one I shall never forget.  Love can overcome everything.

If you're still with me, thanks for reading this post!  Of the three, which one sounds best to you?  Please let me know it the comments section.

Below are IndieBound affiliate links for the books.

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Until next time...

Happy reading!
Ricki Jill