Thursday, December 19, 2013

On the Table This Week

Here is the weekly update on what we're eating here at Faerie Gardens. I had to adjust the menu plan several times this week to keep it in budget while still planning for our Solstice party! I am proud that I have stuck so closely to a food budget this month (with my family's help of course!)

Thursday - hot dogs, french fries, mixed vegetables

Friday - pesto spaghetti w/chicken, winter salad, cinnamon bun cake

Saturday - Solstice Party: homemade buns, barbecue-cheddar meatballs, macaroni and cheese, salad, fruited gelatin salad, peanut butter fudge, candy cane fudge, festive velvet cake, soft ginger cookies

Sunday - chicken-stuffing casserole, creamed spinach, biscuits

Monday - bottomless Mexican casserole, baked sweet potatoes, homemade bread

Tuesday - Christmas Eve party at my brother's

Wednesday - Christmas dinner at my mother's

Thursday, December 12, 2013

On the Table This Week

I haven't been making meal plans as strongly as I was for awhile. A bit less money for food had me scrambling to create 3 or 4 day plans and go from there. I think I am back to a regular schedule now. Here is our plan for this week!

Thursday - chicago style hot dogs, tater tots, buttery garlic broccoli w/parmesan

Friday - chicken pot pie, chocolate chip cookies

Saturday - baked potato & bacon soup, sandwiches

Sunday - dinner at my sister's house

Monday - cheese ravioli, salad

Tuesday - pizza

Wednesday - beef stroganoff

Still less planned out than I use to do, but I am just adding vegetables from what we have in the house or what is on sale. Tonight's dinner was quick and easy. I love hot dogs topped with pickle spears and thin tomato wedges. They taste so fresh and make one hot dog feel like a real serving.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Book Review: The Mermaids Singing by Lisa Carey

“The Mermaids Singing” by Lisa Carey starts slow. Three women of different generations, Cliona, Grace and Grainne, provide the focus for this winding tale that switches between various points of view and points in time. By the fifth chapter, I was hooked and not wanting to pause for other things between chapters.

Lisa Carey’s first strength is an excellent portrayal of sensuality and sexuality. Her description of lust describes perfectly the feeling of intense longing brought about by that rush of hormones that accompanies desire. Beyond that, “The Mermaids Singing” exemplifies the strength of emotion caught in anticipation that typically becomes diminished by actual sexual contact. Underneath blatant displays of sensuality, we sense a drive for true connection to meet each person’s need to know and to be known.

As we get to know Cliona, Grace and Grainne, we see periods of both growth and stagnation in their lives. Their lives together and apart show three very different woman connected by fierce loyalties to their own personal values. Unfortunately, none are able to share themselves in a way to truly connect and understand each other.

In the end, themes of both family bonds and alienation work together to bring the individual story lines together in a way that shows the universal conflict between expressing one's individuality and experiencing personal growth while remaining a loyal and loving family member. I recommend this book to those who enjoy entwining tales about strong women, myths about the sea, and picturesque descriptions of quaint Irish villages.

Always Learning: Seals

This morning, Diana was looking at images of an art doll by Rosa Grueso that featured a seal. We got to talking about seals, and I was wondering if seals only live in saltwater so I decided to do some research. It turns out that there is one species of seal that lives in only freshwater, there are two subspecies of the ringed seal that have evolved to live in isolated bodies of freshwater, and most seals will chase prey into freshwater without any ill effects.

The Baikal seal is the only species of seal that lives exclusively in freshwater. This small species is found only in Lake Baikal in Siberia. It is the smallest species of true seal. It thrives in the lake which continually holds about 100,000 specimens in spite of its polluted state. Hunting of the Baikal seal is legal and common, but the numbers never drop. This may be due to the hardiness of the Baikal oilfish which is the seal's primary food source.

Baikal Seal

The freshwater sub-populations of the ringed seal include the Ladoga ringed seal and the Saimaa ringed seal. It is hypothesized that the subspecies developed when populations of ringed seals got trapped in freshwater lakes when pursuing prey. The Lagoda seal consists of a population of around 3000 seals in Lake Lagoda, Russia. The Saimaa seal, which is endangered, includes only around 300 specimens in Lake Saimaa, Finland. 

Because I am always interested in organizing and categorizing information, I also looked into the classification of the seal group in general. Seals are divided into two groups: eared seals which include sea lions and fur seals, and true seals which include ringed seals, spotted seals, harbor seals, harp seals, leopard seals and many other species. Together with walruses, they make up the clade known as pinnepeds. (A clade is a group of animals that is believed to have all descended from a common ancestor.)

Seals are closely related to both bears and musteloids. The musteloids include red pandas, weasels, otters, martens, badgers, skunks, raccoons and several raccoon-like animals that I don't know much about like coatis and olingos.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

On the Table This Week

Thursday - spaghetti, salad, homemade cookies

Friday - party food: pizza, chips & dip, cider, diet soda, layer cake

Saturday - pumpkin pancakes, Polish sausage, fall fruit salad

Sunday - sauteed boneless chicken thighs, mashed potatoes, roasted carrots

Monday - chicken & stuffing bake, broccoli & cauliflower, muffins

Tuesday - chicken stroganoff over spaghetti, salad, french bread

Wednesday - chicken potpie, green beans, coleslaw

***
We are running out of meat. This week the plan is heavy on chicken which I hope they have at Price Chopper. Last week, there were some last minute menu changes due to having to get rain checks on sale meat items.

We are having a mini-Halloween party on Friday with Esme and Joseph as guests of honor. Josie and I have been in the mood for a layer cake so that is our dessert. We are also having Halloween-themed pizza, potato chips and homemade dip!

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Menu Plan Thursday

Dinners
Thursday - Fish Sticks, Mac & Cheese, Green Beans

Friday - Pork & Sausage Stir-fry w/Cauliflower, Pesto Pasta, Salad

Saturday - Baked Chicken Legs, Mashed Potatoes, Salad

Sunday - Leftover Baked Chicken Legs, Fried Potatoes, Roasted Garlic Broccoli

Monday - Spaghetti, French Bread, Salad

Tuesday - Creamy Mexican Rice w/Chicken, Tortilla Chips, Salsa

Wednesday - Hamburger & Potato Hash, Squash, Brownies

*****
In our house, we make a lot of food for dinner. This is partly because we are three adults & two teens. It is also because we rely on leftovers for other meals and snacks. Another reason is that we don't all eat everything. Diana and I choose low-carb foods. The kids eat more of a variety. Everyone has some things that they just don't like. (For example, Josie dislikes peas, Lia would rather not eat fish, and Toni only has about 20 foods that make up 99 percent of his diet.) The last reason is that I do not enjoy cooking very much. I cook a lot to tide us over until I feel like cooking again. Once a day is pretty much my limit for preparing anything other than Diana's daily scrambled eggs!

This week we are going to my sister's for a Halloween/Birthday Party on Sunday so I may not make that meal at all. We shall see how hungry we are when we get home! Also, I do not want to stop at Wegmans on Sunday since we are busy so I focused our menu plan on sale items at local stores. Luckily Price Chopper has a decent selection of meats on sale this week, and Aldi is featuring several produce items with rock-bottom prices.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Book Review: "Await Your Reply" by Dan Chaon

Lately, nearly every book I read leaves me in tears as it draws to a close. This seems to happen regardless of the quality of the book or even the type of story. I have tried to analyze the feeling so that I can explain it to others, for it is not quite something so simple as not wanting the story to end. It is more a feeling of sadness for the characters in the book. The inevitability of their lives. Their moving on, regardless of which direction they are traveling in.

This book left me in tears for those reasons, but on top of that it was an amazing book. I am not sure I liked it. I am not sure it is the kind of book that I like in general, but it was definitely amazing. The author drags you along through a multi-dimensional story with a desperate and lonely cast of characters, all of whom come across as real to me.

The central characters in the story are identical twin brothers Hayden and Miles Cheshire. A twisted timetable garbles events in such a way as to keep the reader reeling without losing any one thread to the point of confusion. The overarching theme is the adult Mile's search for Hayden who has a history of mental health problems. All the rest would be spoilerish to share. (Some may think that spoilerish, but I think that much does not take away from the elements of intrigue in the plot.)

Besides the intrigue, the twists and turns, and the characters, the themes of dealing with desperation, isolation and loneliness pulled me along. The author does a great job of showing how these things drive people to make decisions that are difficult for others to understand. The story pushed me to explore my own identity and ultimately my own purpose in life. I thought deeply about my ability to create myself, my priorities and the interplay between my identity and my desires.

After all was said and done, this is the type of story in which not much actually happens. The point being that often, no matter how hard we try, not much happens in each of our lives, and yet, we affect so many other people. Then again, perhaps the point was that nothing we do really matters because when we move out of anyone's life their life goes on regardless. It is a tricky circle, and I will probably be thinking about these themes for awhile.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Holiday Discussion: Columbus Day

Pretty much everyone has a somewhat negative opinion of Christopher Columbus in spite of a U.S. National Holiday in his name. It is now common knowledge that he didn't discover that the earth was round and that he didn't discover "America" and that he was a brutal leader. Some states even call Columbus Day something else to de-emphasize his relationship to the holiday.

Although I have my own doubts about having a holiday in Columbus's name, it does exist, and I do believe that we can learn lessons from nearly every situation. I set aside some time today to learn about any good traits or actions or lessons available from the remaining historical account of Columbus's life. Here I present the results of my reflection and study.

Lessons from Christopher Columbus

1. After failing to receive funding for his proposed voyage west, three times, from Portugal, France and England, Christopher Columbus just kept trying. He was refused each time because educated advisers to the various monarchs stated that Columbus was underestimating the distance to the West Indies and that he would fail to get there before running out of supplies. It turned out they were right about the distance, but nonetheless, Columbus's relentless pursuit of funding eventually panned out in Spain regardless of the misgivings presented by their royal advisers.

Lesson - Determination can get you what you want.

2. In 1503, Columbus found himself and his crew stranded in Jamaica. Although the natives were at first friendly and helpful, after the sailors proved untrustworthy and thieves, the natives decided to stop helping them. Christopher Columbus had access to an almanac and knew that their would soon be a lunar eclipse. He used this upcoming event to scare the natives into providing further help.

Lesson - Books sometimes contain useful information that can help you out of difficult situations.

3. For most of his life before his landing in 1942, Columbus studied about the lands of the East: the East Indies, India, China, etc. He was not classically educated, but he studied much on his own about those things that interested him. He was well versed in what things he would find in the Far East and was eager to experience everything firsthand. When he actually landed in the Caribbean, his eyes searched for those things he expected. He was often upset that he did not know the right names for things in spite of his study. He doggedly believed until the day he died that he had landed in Asia. At this point, most educated Europeans were quite sure that the place Columbus and others sailed to was actually a new place, not Asia, a closer place. They were of course right. The evidence was right there in Columbus's face, but he chose not to face it and to instead overlay his expectations onto the situation.

Lesson - Keep an open mind. No matter how much you study and think you know, the information may be useless in a novel situation.

*****
I have read a lot more and thought a lot, and really do not have time this day (which is a work day for me) to write things out neatly. I would like to add that Columbus was certainly an excellent sailor and navigator. Also, although he was a cruel leader in the West Indies to Europeans and natives alike, things went further downhill for the natives when his tribute system of leadership was replaced with a system where natives and land were more fairly distributed to settlers.

Probably the biggest other lesson that I had reinforced during my period of study and reflection was to beware of ethnocentrism and to welcome freedom in all its trappings.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Menu Plan Thursday

Wheee! I have been working so hard the last 2 days, I am seriously worn out.

Menu plans are ready on schedule though! I even wrote the grocery list and sent my family off shopping.

Thursday: Flounder Chowder, Coleslaw, Homemade Bread

Friday: Buttery Sausage & Rice, Oven-roasted Root Vegetables, Sweet Potato Pie

Saturday: Dinner Out (Pagan Pride Fest!)

Sunday: Sauteed Chicken Breasts, Oven-roasted Brussels Sprouts, Homemade Pear & Applesauce

Monday: Meatloaf, Baked Potatoes, Sauteed Green Beans & Onions

Tuesday: Tacos, Sauteed Spinach, Buttery Baby-cut Carrots

Wednesday: Buffalo Chicken Wing-style Mac & Cheese, Buttery Peas, Grape Tomatoes

Friday, September 13, 2013

Menu Plan Thursday (The Late Version)

Thursday - leftovers

Friday - hot dogs, french fries, brussel sprouts

Saturday - pizza, cottage cheese, crudités

Sunday - pot roast, beets, salad

Monday - hamburgers, spinach, sliced avocados

Tuesday - baked flounder, sautéed green beans, sliced avocados

Wednesday - spaghetti sauce soup, roasted cauliflower, coleslaw

*****
This weeks special item is plenty of avocados. The prices are so low lately!

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Sweet Wheat Dinner Rolls

So, I have been learning to bake bread from scratch without the assistance of a bread machine since our super old budget bread machine broke! We have decided as a family that we are not going to get another bread machine. Instead, we hope some day to be able to afford a heavy-duty stand mixer.

Anyways, I use to make the absolute most delicious buns in the world in with the assistance of our bread machine, and until today, I had not been able to get anything even close in my opinion. Today I think I achieved success! Here is my recipe!

Sweet Wheat Dinner Rolls

1 cup warm water
1/3 cup light brown sugar
2 teaspoons bread machine or quick yeast
1 1/2 teaspoons Kosher salt
1 cup whole wheat flour
all purpose flour as necessary

Pour 1 cup of warm water into a bowl. (I simply used room temperature water, but it was 86 in the kitchen.) Add the brown sugar and yeast and stir to mix. It is not necessary to completely dissolve the yeast. Let the mixture sit for 10 minutes

Add 1 1/2 teaspoons of salt and 1 cup of whole wheat flour. Stir vigorously until the mixture sheets to form a sponge.

Add about 1 cup of white flour. Stir in to form a loose dough. Dump onto a smooth surface. Knead briefly adding more white flour as necessary to keep it from being too sticky. At the same time do not add too much! The dough should still be slightly sticky, but smooth when you stop kneading. I probably kneaded for about 4 minutes and maybe added 3/4 cup extra flour, but it was very humid here! I imagine I'll add less to future batches on drier days.

Grease the dough ball with soft butter, and place it in a large bowl covered with plastic wrap. Let the dough rise at least 2 hours. (It was very hot here. In the winter, I may wait 3.)

Shape the dough into round buns. Place them on a baking sheet about 2 inches apart. Cover with a towel, and let rise for another hour. (Longer in cold weather.)

Bake in a preheated 350 F oven for 20-25 minutes.

Saturday, September 7, 2013

Under the Weather & Future Plans

Today is my day off, and I feel just a bit under the weather. I do not know if it is the pollen, which is high, or if it is a virus or part of my normal health fluctuations. I am hoping it is not the virus option.

Last night, the kids headed off for their once-a-year overnight with their dad. Diana and I had the house to ourselves from 8 p.m. to 12:45 p.m. today. The kids had fun at the ARC race. They brought home chips. I got to see Esme.

I have started trying to get my social life in order (or create it perhaps) because I was getting to the point where all I was doing was working which is no fun, at least not when you do work you pretty much don't like. Joseph has an open invite for dinner on Friday nights. I am going off with Joseph, Lia and JoAnn to the Pagan Pride festival in Syracuse in a couple of weeks. This year it is on Mabon so it feels like a double festival for me. In October, we are hosting a Halloween gathering, in November we are having a Chanukah gathering at the end of the month, then in December, we are having a general gathering early in the month and a solstice party later. I do love Yule time festivities!

Friday, September 6, 2013

Total Randomness on Curiousity

I am a curious person. I always want to know the whys. I am pretty good at figuring them out when they exist. I search and search for patterns. I usually find them because that is what humans do.

I am sure I sometimes find patterns that don't really exist. I try to watch out for that too.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Menu Plan Thursday

I use to participate in an internet meme: Menu Plan Monday. Unfortunately, it was rather inconvenient because we make our menu plan on Thursday when we do our grocery shopping. I do enjoy reading other people's menu plans though so I thought I'd go back to sharing mine, on Thursdays, when it is convenient for me.

For a long time, about 3 years total, I didn't make dinner for the family as a whole on a regular basis, and we forewent our meal plans. Recently, our grocery budget plummeted, and I decided that a return to menus was the way to go.

With no further ado, here is the plan for this week:

Thursday: leftover soup, coleslaw, honey-apple bread

Friday: tuna mac & cheese, steamed baby-cut carrots, cornbread

Saturday: pancakes, bacon, pears

Sunday: chicken salad subs, steamed broccoli, chocolate-chip brownies

Monday: Polish sausage stir-fry, sauerkraut, Swedish limpa

Tuesday: roast chicken, roast sweet potatoes, pumpernickel

Wednesday: salmon bake, tomato-avocado salad, whole wheat buns

The highlight of this week is that I have a 5 pound bag of rye flour I am going to start experimenting with. I am going to try for a Swedish limpa and a loaf of pumpernickel. I have perfected bread with wheat flour. I can make all different kinds without a recipe. Now, I want to move on to something new!

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Life Update as I Head Into Fall

It has been up and down between busy and not busy around here. Lia spent a week visiting: a night with my sister, two nights with her older sisters, another night with my sister, and three nights with her friend Shamara. Josie and Lia went to the fair and saw Austin Mahone. Lia went back to the fair with Sadie and rode rides and with Shamara mostly to browse and shop.

Ant has been super active riding his bike, mowing the lawn, talking a mile a minute and thinking up projects. I don't hear from Esme much, but she is off for an adventure in Oregon soon!!! Emma is healing still and taking care of the babies and putting in many hours at work. One of her good friends just moved back to the area from Florida. That gives her extra on the social front.

I have been working hard. I usually work 5 and 3/5 days a week for pay, and a lot not for pay in the times between. I also study French and math on a regular basis to relax my mind. I'd like to study something more challenging, but by the end of the work day, I am so tired! I have read a lot of books. The one that stands out is "My Sister's Keeper" by Jodi Picoult. Really, it was a book with the theme: "Everythings ends so everything matters;" very similar to "Everything Matters" by Ron Currie, Jr. That theme runs around my head a lot because I think there is a lot of truth to it.

This past weekend we sent the summer off with a corn roast here on Saturday night and a picnic at my mother's on Monday. Both were fun. The picnic was the most fun because I have not seen my family in so long. I wish I could have stayed for a few days! I did stay a long time, but it was a full day because I had to work a couple hours in the morning before I left and a few more when I go home. The time pressure was definitely on and that is never fun for me.

Soon church starts back up for us. Diana and I are teaching RE in the fall this year. I think we have to be there for 9 or 10 classes. More than previously, but maybe it will help us bond with the students better. Diana is definitely the winner at that, but I know how to get to the heart of the lesson plan and make sure the kids understand as best as they can at that moment. On the other hand, Diana rocks the crafts 100%.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Super Simple Lemon-Raspberry Pie

1 box instant lemon pudding mix (3 ounces)
1 3/4 cup 2% milk
12 ounces fresh red raspberries
1 ready-made graham cracker pie crust (6 ounces)
1 8 ounce container nondairy whipped topping, thawed

Mix the pudding mix and milk together on low with an electric mixer until the pudding starts to thicken, about 3 minutes.

Reserve 9 raspberries for garnish. Fold the rest of the raspberries into the pudding.

Spread the pudding/raspberry mixture in the pie crust. Chill for at least 2 hours.

Spread the whipped topping over the pie. Garnish with the reserved berries.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Oven French Fries

5 large red potatoes
1 tablespoon canola oil
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
1 teaspoon Italian seasoning
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder

Preheat the oven to 425 F.

Grease a large baking sheets.

Cut the potatoes into 1/2-inch French fries. Toss the potatoes in all the other ingredients. Place them in a single layer on the baking sheet.

Bake for 15 minutes. Turn over. Bake for 15 minutes more.

Balsamic Chicken With Mozzarella & Tomato

We had a version of this recipe tonight and like the general direction. Here are my tweaks for next time.

5 boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cut in strips
2 cups balsamic vinaigrette salad dressing
1 handful fresh spinach
8 ounces shredded mozzarella
1 teaspoon dried basil leaves
1 large tomato, quartered & sliced
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
kosher salt to taste
fresh ground black pepper to taste

Marinate the chicken in the balsamic dressing overnight.

Preheat the oven to 350 F.

Pour the chicken, marinade and all in a baking dish. (I use a 10-inch quiche pan.) Bake for 20 minutes.

Arrange the spinach over the chicken. Top with the shredded mozzarella. Sprinkle with the basil. Return to the oven for another 5 minutes.

Arrange the tomatoes over the mozzarella. Drizzle with the balsamic vinegar and sprinkle with the salt and pepper. Return to the oven for 5 minutes.

*****
I'm still not sure it will be exactly right. The spinach could be replaced with fresh basil if you have it available.


Friday, August 16, 2013

Super Sweet Cornbread

For a long time, I searched for a cornbread recipe that would mimic the super-sweet, cake-like corn muffins I got at my grocery store bakery. I finally found it a few years ago, and my family loves it!

2/3 cup sugar
1/3 cup butter, softened
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 eggs
2 cups flour
1 1/3 cup milk
3/4 cup cornmeal
1 tablespoon baking powder

Preheat your oven to 400 F. Grease an 8 inch square baking pan.

Mix the sugar, butter and vanilla thoroughly with an electric mixer. Beat in the eggs one at a time mixing well after each addition. Add the rest of the ingredients. Mix in all at once.

Spread the batter in the prepared pan. Bake in the preheated oven for 35 minutes.

*****
This recipe can also be doubled and baked in a 9x13 pan. Cook for 50 minutes.

To make muffins with this recipe, divide the batter between 12 muffin cups. Bake for 20 minutes.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

What I Ate Today

Breakfast @ about 9:15

Snack @ about 11:45

Lunch @ about 2:15

Dinner @ about 7:00

Snack (courtesy of JoAnn) @ about 9:15

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

World War II Literature-Based Curriculum

I have long thought of developing a World War II literature based curriculum for youth about ages 9 - 13 (roughly 4-8 grade). I have some novels that I think would go well in just such a unit.

First, there is the classic "Number the Stars." This is the type of book that intermediate readers often read. It makes it onto many general reading lists for both social studies tie ins and simple literary selections. It is certainly a great book, but I would go beyond that.

I would want to include "Somebody Named Eva." I think when discussing the Holocaust, it is important to include more. It is necessary to show a complete picture, and kids at this age-level often don't get that. They get a list of goods and bads. Nazis are bad. Germany was bad. Many people went along with bad things. This of course is true, but I would like to see more philosophical discussion on why people go along with bad things. How does it happen? People talk about putting an end to bullying in the classroom, but it will never happen if kids aren't empowered to think about difficult issues and make their own decisions. "Somebody Named Eva" by Joan M. Wolf is the story of the Lebensborn Project, a program designed to make more pure Aryan people. This different angle to the atrocities of the Nazis in Germany during World War II adds dimension to the study.

Then there is the book I just read, "Milkweed" by Jerry Spinelli. This is a great book in its own right! It also gives a lot of history about Warsaw during World War II, particularly the Jewish Ghetto. The book doesn't tackle the Warsaw uprising other than as a passing aside. I think that is a good thing. It keeps it from becoming another cliche. The book is about people. Real people dealing with life, difficulties and moving on. I am surprised I had not heard of the book before.

To add an American side to the unit, I'd select "Lily's Crossing" by Patricia Reilly Giff and "The Green Glass Sea." One tells the story of a girl vacationing at Rockaway Beach and the other is about a girl living with her scientist father in Los Alamo. Both give different views to the things that happened during the war and provide excellent bouncing off points for discussion.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Cheddar-Garlic Biscuits

These biscuits are so flavorful they don't require butter! My son thinks they are a little salty, but everyone else enjoys this variation on my regular spiky biscuit recipe. This rich biscuit make a nice change from traditional garlic bread with Italian cuisine.

Biscuit:
2 cups flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
6 tablespoon cold butter
1 cup shredded cheddar
3/4 cup 2% milk
1/4 cup heavy cream

Topping:
3 tablespoons butter
1/2 teaspoon dried parsley
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
pinch kosher salt

Preheat your oven to 425 F.

Whisk together the flour, baking powder, salt & garlic powder. Cut the butter in with a pastry blender. Stir in the cheddar. Stir in the milk and cream all at once. Batter should be heavy and on the dry side.

Scoop 1/4 cup portions of dough onto a baking sheet. Bake in the preheated oven for about 15 minutes or until biscuits are browning on top.

While biscuits are baking, place topping ingredients in a microwave safe bowl. Microwave for thirty seconds. Stir until the butter is melted and the ingredients are combined. When the biscuits come out of the oven, immediately brush them with the butter mixture. Use all of the mixture.

Spinach Casserole

This is a family favorite. Every member of our family gobbles this up, including those who hate spinach!

2 tablespoons canola oil
1 onion, chopped
2 10-ounce boxes chopped spinach, thawed and well-drained
8 ounces cream cheese
2 eggs, well-beaten
1 cup shredded cheddar
2 teaspoons ranch seasoning powder
12 buttery round cracker, crushed

Heat the canola oil in a large skillet. Add the onion, and saute until tender and starting to brown. Turn off the heat. Add the cream cheese and ranch powder, and stir until the cream cheese is softened. Stir in the eggs, one at a time. Stir in the spinach. Stir in the cheddar.

Turn your oven to 375 F. Grease an 8 inch square cake pan. Spread the spinach mixture in the pan. Sprinkle with the cracker crumbs. Bake for 25 minutes.

Cut into squares, and serve. Makes 9 servings.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Meat

I struggle with eating meat.

I especially struggle with eating non-humanely produced meat.

Sometimes, I struggle with eating period. I often think that eating mindfully is impossible for me. Maybe I need to start at the beginning. I often feel called to do that. To start eating mindfully. To not eat until I figure out something I can eat mindfully, and then to add things until I am OK.

On the other hand, I have addictive, compulsive, rule-following tendencies which lead to disordered eating very rapidly. But if I was eating mindfully, could that possibly occur?

I often wonder if mindfulness is easier for others. To me, it is always work. Not the kind of joyful work that I pursue relentlessly either. The kind of work that wears me down. I see it though. I see this mindful path. I see that it is really the foundation of all of the worlds renowned religions and many of the most well developed philosophies, and when I practice, I do experience its benefits.

Unfortunately, I think that good things are not always as easy as many would like us to believe. (How is that for a vague statement?)

I heard this today: Everything in moderation, including moderation. I am not sure who said it first, but I like it. I am not a fan of moderation. (That is my unschooling brain. Moderation isn't inherently better than non-moderation.) But that quote drives it home better. Moderation is an absence or control of excesses or extremes. That sounds good to me, as long as that is in moderation too. There are times which call for excesses or extremes. Who doesn't love the occasional moments full of excessive laughter or joy?

Most people have things they do that ignite them. They may change over time, but there is often a theme. I have some. I am ignited when I learn foreign languages. I have trouble stopping. I want to go, go, go. It is pure bliss to me no matter how many frustrations present themselves. I also am ignited by research. I use to love old fashioned research at the library plowing through books. Access to a huge number of research libraries was the absolute best part of attending Syracuse University to me. Now, I have access to innumerable research journals through the libraries of which I am a member online. It is so easy for me to fall into research mode wanting to know more and more and more.

I also enjoy more personal research. You need a lost person found? I can do it. I can do it fast. I can do it when you have been trying for 5 years. (Yes, this has happened to me over and over and over again.) I have a kind of logic coupled with just the right amount of intuition to put together information and follow leads. To know which words are necessary in a search. To know which search tools to use. When I am in this flow, I don't want to stop. Even if I never knew this person I am looking for because I am researching for someone else, even if I am researching a topic that is not of personal interest to me, my brain steps in and starts cataloging and organizing the knowledge and desperately wants to fill in any gaps.

Those are probably not the things that grip you, but I bet something does.

Those passions should probably be pursued without moderation from time to time.

*****
I got a little off track there!

I am uncomfortable with meat, especially non-humanely produced meat, but I am not sure where to go with that discomfort. We have somewhat reduced our intake of non-humanely produced meat. We do occasionally when the budget allows support humanely produced meat. I think I want to work further in those directions. That was the real point of this post.

Citrus Poppy Seed Biscuits

Today, I developed this variation of my classic spiky biscuits. The have a crunchy exterior and tender crumb and a mix of butter & canola oil adds some healthy fats. The citrus is obvious without being too tart. They are not a sweet biscuit but not exactly savory either. Next time, I may try sweetening them up a bit with a sprinkle of coarse sugar before baking.

2 cups all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons poppy seeds
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 tablespoon sugar
1 teaspoon grated lemon rind (I use jarred.)
1 teaspoon grated orange rind (Again, I use jarred. I think it has more flavor than freshly grated.)
1 teaspoon kosher salt
3 tablespoons butter, softened
1 cup 2% milk
3 tablespoons canola oil
1 tablespoon honey

Preheat your oven to 450 F. Whisk the flour, poppy seeds, baking powder, sugar, rinds and salt together in a bowl. Cut in the butter with a pastry blender until the mixture resembles coarse meal. Add the milk, oil and honey. Stir just until the dry ingredients are all moistened.

Scoop dough onto a baking sheet to form seven medium biscuits. Bake in the preheated oven for 10 minutes.

Random Ramblings About Relationships

Tips on Dealing with Frustration and Anger in Yourself & Others

*Compassionate Listening - Listen, listen, listen and listen some more. Listen deeper. The goal of listening is both understanding and giving the other person the opportunity to express themselves and feel heard. Also to give the other person a basic sounding board as they work through their problems.

Compassionate Listening is work. It requires practice. It requires deep mindfulness and peace.

*Loving Speech - Speech must be slow to come. Words should be weighed. Each word should be spoken with deep love. The goals of loving speech are validation for the other person and increasing understanding both ways in the relationship. Loving speech should always be honest. If an honest thought is found to be unloving, it should not become speech.

*Place Understanding of the Other Ahead of Being Understood - A friend of mine once wrote that in any relationship one should always plan on doing 75% of the work. If you set out in that direction, accepted that premise, the relationship would proceed much smoother.

This is true with understanding also. The goal of your relationship should always be to understand the other person better. Yes, we all long to be understood. The point is that that will come better from the loving place of trying to understand deeply than from a continual effort to explain oneself or a continual dissatisfaction in how well understood you are.

*****
Why should we deal with anger? What is wrong with anger and frustration?

In relationships, anger often leads to separation. No one wants to be around an angry or frustrated person. Anger is at least partially directed at oneself anyways. Relationships require togetherness.

Anger and frustration have their place as a foundation for change.

Relationship anger and frustration rarely are directed towards change. So listen well, practice at it, work on mindfulness at other times to better let go of your emotional response during difficult interactions. Weight your words and restrain speech when necessary. Share loving speech. Validate. Validate, validate, validate. (Yes, I am an unschooler.) Validation, seeing, being present - those are the foundations of healthy relationships.

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Almond-Poppy Seed Brownies

I modded one of my favorite brownie recipes to make these delicious dessert bars.

1 tablespoon instant coffee
1/4 cup hot water
3/4 cup butter
1 1/2 cup sugar
1 tablespoon molasses
1 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon almond extract
3 eggs
3/4 cup flour
1/3 cup cocoa powder
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
3 tablespoons poppy seeds

Mix the instant coffee and hot water together in a small cup until the coffee dissolves.

Microwave the butter in a large, microwave-safe bowl for 30 seconds. Swish to mix. Microwave for another 30 seconds. Butter should be very soft and partially melted.

Add the coffee, sugar, molasses, vanilla and almond extract to the butter. Whisk together. Whisk in the eggs one at a time. Add the rest of the ingredients and whisk well.

Pour into a greased 8-inch square cake pan. Bake in a preheated 350 F oven for 45 minutes.



Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Birthday Update

Birthday week moves on.

Today, Joseph is taking Diana & me out for Diana's birthday. We were suppose to go to Thai Rose, but we may go elsewhere because Diana is not sure of her wants at the moment.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Birthday Fun

I am here.

Today is Diana's 43rd birthday, and the start of birthday week. JoAnn will be 17 on Thursday, and Ant will be 21!!! on Saturday.

Yesterday, we went to the beach at Fair Haven. Joseph came and Emma's whole family. Jenny and Aaron and Sadie came too at the last minute. (Lia was staying with them.) I grilled a bit, and we swam. We are going to go back in a couple of weeks, probably just the 5 of us, just to relax.

Today, Diana had special food for every meal. (That is what she wanted. :) ) She had super sweet cereal for breakfast, sushi for lunch, watermelon sherbet for afternoon snack and a hot dog bar for dinner. Her birthday treat was homemade chocolate chip ice cream sandwiches.

I am still not sure what we are doing for JoAnn's and Ant's birthday. We shall see.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Thoughts

Writing is a way for me to explore and hold onto my thoughts.

Maybe that isn't quite right. Writing is a way for me to put my thoughts into words, to play with them using a combination of logic and flow, and eventually to let go. Sometimes forever. Often, probably, forever. Sometimes just for a while.

Lately, my time has been filled with earning money. We have problems supporting ourselves even though we are quite frugal. Lately though, I have been feeling like I am making poor decisions and need a path. That isn't quite right either. Lately, I have been feeling like I need a path, and decision making is excruciatingly painful.

I am hoping to take a short retreat in August. Right now, it is difficult for me to see how this will occur, but I feel that I would benefit from it so I am still walking in that direction.

My brain suffers from stress. My body does too. It is very hard to combat. I am looking forward to a few days at the beach this summer. Last year, I only went to the beach once, Green Lakes for my grandchildren's birthday party. If I manage to work hard and there continues to be adequate work and I don't get fired, I think I can slowly improve our financial situation. Any way that Ant of Diana helps out will be just that much better. I struggle though.

And often I cannot see the path.

That might be because I do not know what path I am following.

Monday, July 8, 2013

Random, Nothing Important

OK, I told Lia I was going to write a blog entry.

She asked what I was going to write about.

I replied that I didn't know. Probably how tired I was.

Today, I think I am twice as tired as I was yesterday. I am done though. And I had a hamburger although I don't remember it well.

Diana went to town today and got some library books and some groceries, and I finally had my hamburger! I need to figure out how to eat before so late though.

The End

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Random Blog Post 'Cause I Like Blogging

Here I am, finishing up another long work day. I took a half day off Friday and all day Saturday. It was, for the most part, good.

I am tired now. (Yes, a trend.) I am done fairly early. I pushed myself very hard. I worry a lot about the quality of my work. I always try my hardest, but I do fear being fired.

Now, I make dinner for Diana and me. We are having tilapia (which is baking in the oven) and coleslaw (which is chilling in the fridge.)

I can't think of anything interesting to write.

Oh, I was doing some research on colleges, and I was a bit jealous. Things were so disorganized and took so long when I went to school. Today, there are online resources that give you so much information! Many colleges have these online registration systems that search for courses to fulfill your unmet requirements. Everything is so laid out in black and white. There is no guesswork involved in any of it: application, acceptance, financial aid, academic planning, course registration, graduation, etc. I like things being all lined up in a row like that!

My ideal job would involve a few hours a day manipulating, organizing and using information in a non-hostile environment, and then another few hours doing something physical outside like building building stone walls by myself. Yes, I am an odd one.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Rudy's, Tiredness, Friends and More

So I am once again tired, and it is also really hot here.

I did have a good evening. Joseph treated us to Rudy's and Bev's, and we met with Karen, Nicki and Marie, and met Aaron and Mike. (Any of those names may be spelled wrong!) I was tense. Oddly enough, I think it was because I wore a bra, and I realize that some may find that too much information and others may think it simply odd! I may have to once again re-evaluate wearing bras in terms of my personal comfort levels.

I did somehow manage to get all my work done, even with going out. But I am more tired and out of it than I have been all week.

Tomorrow, I need to go out again to a bbq at Diana's mom's house. I wish I was staying home because the thought of two days in a row like this one is seriously intimidating! I will somehow deal though. I always manage to muddle through. I believe everyone does.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

More Random Tired Ramblings

Well, it may be that it is just a wee bit earlier tonight, and I am just a wee bit less tired!

We have been plagued with mosquitoes all week. Usually the mosquitoes don't start attacking until around 7 p.m., but if it rains they come earlier, and it has been wet nearly every day! I am dealing, but I always feel itchy.

Today, Diana went to town to visit her mother. She did our laundry because our aging washer is failing rapidly. They also went to a funeral. That was her real reason for going. Aunt Mary died. I believe I only met her 3 times, but she was a nice lady, funny and interesting.

Monday, July 1, 2013

Tired Again

Perhaps someday, I will return to more interesting blog topics than how tired I am. Right now, it is get up at 7:15 and work all day. I am lucky if I can complete all my work in time to get in bed by midnight!

Sunday, June 30, 2013

Totally Random

I am tired this evening. Sometimes it feels as if I have no energy for real blogging any more.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Happiness, Life, Tough Times, Resilience, Etc.

Diana sent me a link to this rather humorous and a bit cynical article about all those happiness type lists you find on the internet.

I have trouble with happiness myself.

I have described myself as a rather bitter optimistic person. I do feel like I have drawn the short straw a lot in life, and even when that short straw is clearly the result of my own choices, I do feel that I always make the best choices I am capable of in any given moment; therefore, if I am biologically or environmentally programmed to make bad choices, I obviously have drawn the short straw on those fronts too! And yes, you can probably tell from my whining that I tend to have trouble seeing any part of life as involving much real free will.

But I am the eternal optimist! I can fight with a level of determination you would not think possible from a short, fat middle-aged woman whose mind and senses often seem to be ebbing!

When I am not fighting ('cause really I hate fighting), I am going with the flow, working so hard on mindfulness, laughing in the face of problems and living to my fullest in the face of all the rocks and sticks strewn through the current. I am one of the first to notice the beauty amid the chaos. I call others out on their negative thoughts and say, "Hey! Stop and smell the roses! Glory in the sunrise! See the beauty in those things that others scorn!"

I solve problems left and right but still find struggle nearly every single day. I am the one who figures out how and understands why. In the end, I never think it is enough. Of course, it is never really the end.

I like happiness. Who doesn't? I have seen the results of a lot of research about happiness though, and they make sense to me. It seems people are born with an innate level of happiness, and they rarely stray from it. Resilience is tied to happiness also. I consider myself not resilient, but when I did deeper, I suppose I do OK after the initial shock of a huge unexpected change or problem. Smart people are less happy overall than less intelligent people. Yeah, then there is that.

Life often seems pointless to me. Then you can embrace a spiritual system to give your life meaning while at the same time realizing that you will never really know much of anything. As I have aged, I have had a growing longing to do something to make a difference in the world. I feel like I have gifts that I am meant to share on a broader plain. At the same time, the daily grind wears me down, and I am not sure of even what baby steps might lead me in the direction of sharing my gifts with more of the world.

Yet I choose to charge on! Following a philosophy of positivity, passion and play! For those are things I understand. Negativity never seems to lead to growth or joy. Passion ignites me when I am able to find it. Play is the foundation of those moments when life seems worth living and when coupled with curiosity, the route to all new discoveries.

Yeah, rambling post is rambling.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Shine Trip

I was going to spend 30 minutes today writing a long blog post about my past week at the We Shine Unschooling Conference, but somehow my time has dwindled down to about seven minutes! I'm still catching up on laundry, housework, quality time with the kids, quality time with Diana, enjoying the early summer in my gorgeous yard, spending time in self care, and catching up on money earning.

Anyways, last week we did attend the fabulous We Shine conference for the fourth time. We started with a little side trip to visit our friends Bill and Rachel who were celebrating their seventh wedding anniversary with a house party. We hadn't seen them or their daughter Becca for a few years, and it was great to have a few hours to catch up.

Then we spent a night in a hotel in Latham. The hotel was full, and they bumped us up to an especially luxurious room, but there was a negative side. The room was noisy, over a bar. They don't usually rent it out. It wasn't too bad because most of the noise was dwindling off by the time we went to sleep, and we concentrated on the good things like extra room for sleeping and play, and the fact that because we were in a rarely used room they were easily able to extend our check out 2 hours to 1:00. Also, when we complained just a little bit at check out, they took some money off our bill which is always a help.

The drive down to Shine was on a road that is unfamiliar to me, and the view of the Catskills was comparable to the view of the Blue Ridge Mountains when you first catch a glimpse, traveling down I-81 in the middle of Virginia. Breathtaking! We stopped in Kingston to pick up enough food for dinner & breakfast and headed to the campground. I was so anxious when we got there. That first brush with a large group of people is really difficult for me, but I took a deep breath and concentrated on unpacking, and the adjustment was quickly over!

The RV was pretty great; we probably won't go back to the two room cabin. There was plenty of space. The bathroom was of course tiny, but it was adequate. The fridge almost inadequate for the needs of 6 people for a week, but we had some serendipitous luck in that area! Some of my pay that I was expecting on Friday did not transfer to our bank account on time. We only had $14 for groceries until Monday so we didn't buy a lot of things before seeing the RV. If we had bought a week's worth of groceries, we would have been hard pressed to store it all!

Monday was grocery shopping, swimming and the luau/birthday party for everyone who had a birthday that year! It was fun watching the limbo contest. Lia was one of the winners, and Esme was only out in the round before that. Ant was the most fun to watch though, him and the other taller guys! I was so impressed by how good they all were at it!

Tuesday was talks and chats and a huge rainstorm. The evening included delicious baked pasta made by me with my family, and a dessert buffet with the community. There were so many delicious cookies! We were able to reconnect with a few people but soon retired to bed. We did a really good job of getting enough sleep this year (Ant and Lia and Josie too!) Lia stayed in a friend's lodge for the week, but we had plenty of time to de-brief on a regular basis and many heartfelt conversations.

Wednesday was more talks and chats and family time, jumping on the jumping pillow, and the Shining Street Faire. Oh, and more time at the pool! Ant played some badminton and basketball, and JoAnn and Ant were both part of an epic Nerf battle. (JoAnn is happy her team won.)

Thursday, the last full day, came all too soon. I really relished in the talk and chat that day. I was feeling very comfortable with the community. We went swimming one last time, and I swam a few laps in the chilly pool. We also played a bit in the splash pool and had one last long hot tub soak. The dance was the highlight of the day. I wasn't completely feeling in a dancing mood though and thought we might only stay a little while. In the end, I chose to stay until the end, and it was definitely worth it. The last hour was the best part!

Friday I packed and packed and packed, went to an impromptu closing circle with a very shiny pizza cutter and a sacrificial baby, then packed and packed and packed some more. We had some really, really great good-bye conversations with people who stopped by our site while we were packing up. I am not sure how to hold onto connections during the year to come, but maybe you don't need to. (This is where I write something really deep comparing our relationships to quantum mechanics but really I don't because my time is short!)

Other noteworthy things I forgot to include: JoAnn connecting with an online friend for the first time in the outerweb, Ant playing Smash Brothers Brawl nearly every night with friends he hadn't seen in two years, lots of soaking in the hot tub for me, aquatic basketball for Ant, Jo, Es and Li all at the same time, meeting new people, Es spending almost a whole day drawing in the snack bar, the girls finally performing the Shy Boy dance and really nailing the synchronicity,

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

What a Week!

Tired. It is already feeling like an overwhelming week. I am working hard to stay in the moment. I am doing a good job of finishing my goals today, even though I did go out with Joseph for a bit this afternoon. Now past time to finish up & head to bed!

Monday, June 10, 2013

Book Review: "Wake" by Amanda Hocking

"Wake" is the first book in a new series from Amanda Hocking. Hocking has a writing style which is very straightforward. I really enjoy it for casual reading. The plot of "Wake" was super interesting and filled with excitement. I was really pulled into the story.

Unfortunately, the book also had some graphic violence. I am pretty sure it wasn't necessary to the story. It might not have bothered me quite as much if there had been some warning, but the book cover and cover description were really pretty tame. The same with the second book in the series. This is your warning if you are bothered by things like that.

With the exception of those highly visual depictions of violence, this book was really good! I don't want to give any of the plot away. Official summaries of this one do a great job of avoiding spoilers, and I don't want to ruin its track record. I am now nearly done with "Lullaby" the follow-up book. I can't wait to find out how it ends!

Sunday, June 9, 2013

A String of Work Days

Today was a work day. I expect that every day this week will be a work day. I am hoping to at bare minimum take off a couple of hours Tuesday evening, but I am not committed to it if I feel behind. I would love to take off Friday morning too, but we shall see.

What is a work day? A work day is a day when I get up at 6 a.m. and start working and am not done until after 10:00 p.m. It is not really that pleasant, but one does what is necessary.

Right now, I am very tired. My eyes are dry after a lot of hours online. I am looking forward to reading for a bit and then going to sleep!

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Time Management

I have been working on a time management project this week. I am pretty unhappy that I can't accomplish more each day. Everyone in my family tells me that I work harder than anyone should, but I never feel that is true. I always feel like if I just pushed harder, I could do enough.

So, I am trying to approach the problem logically. I am tracking my time sort of like I track my food. I have had some revelations. The first is that my income isn't consistent. I work pretty close to eight hours every day, and my income varies from between $55 and $100 for that period. Also, working eight hours with everything else on my plate really stresses me. Ideally I would work six hours five days a week. Unfortunately that isn't an option right now. I am working eight hours five days a week, 4 hours the sixth, and 2 hours the seventh. We are not quite making ends meet. The reality is not matching up with the ideal.

The second is that I spend way to much time preparing food. I don't even like cooking. I don't regularly cook for my whole family. Yet, I spend an average of four hours each day dedicated to preparing and eating foods and beverages. I have some ideas about how to reduce this. They cost money.

Everything else seems OK. I spend about an hour a day on laundry. That isn't bad when there are five of us, and I hang everything to dry and need to assist the washer which works poorly. I spend about an hour a day doing housework, mostly dishes. Lia and JoAnn help a lot with the other things. Ant has been doing a great job with the yard work. I love looking outside now. I keep my personal care time down to 30 minutes, and my walk takes an average of 30 minutes. (Longer with nice weather and super short today when it was raining!)

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Book Review: "The Darkest Minds"

"The Darkest Minds" by Alexandra Bracken is a wonderfully complex science fiction novel. At some point in the future, the youth of American are struck with a horrible disease. The outcome is either death or the development of an extrasensory power. America takes swift action as this deadly disease sweeps the nation. Unfortunately, it isn't the death toll that is the true tragedy; it is the treatment of those who survive.

The novel explores the futures of a handful of those youth: Ruby who is taken to a "rehabilitation" camp and lives there for six long years, Liam who masterminds a breakout at a less secure facility, Chubs who would have been destined for greatness had the epidemic not occurred and Suzume who at the tender age of 11 tragically became mute as she struggled to face a future as a freak on the run.

The plot is full of twists and turns. The book remains a page turner right to the very last page. I don't know if it is intended to be the first book of a series, but I do know that I'd love to read more and find out what happens next! At the same time, there was enough conclusion to make it a satisfactory standalone story.

Characterization was both a strength and a weakness. Some of the characters, particularly Ruby, Liam and Chubs are very well developed and three dimensional. Others leave me wondering if I really know them at all. Of course, if it is a series there may be more to come to fill me in on the missing pieces. I haven't even begun to think of themes. This is a plot intense story, and I think the themes may bubble up as I ponder plot elements in the next few days.

This dystopian science fiction book does portray some characters as quite evil. Again, I think additional novels in the series might create more realistic characterizations. It is odd to think that some modern articles might paint stories several volume works right from the beginning. I am not opposed to it, but as a writer myself, I have always heard that you should never pitch a first novel as part of a series, and I wonder if the publishing world is moving in a new direction.

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Book Reviews: Maggot Moon & Rootless

Reading Nook
This is my reading nook where I do a lot of my reading. I like to read here in the late afternoons watching the sun play across the yard, and the shadows lengthen. Recently, I picked up four dystopian, young-adult novels that I wasn't familiar with. I have finished first two and am working my way through the third.

"Maggot Moon" by Sally Gardner had an interesting enough plot premise to get me to bring it home in spite of the awful name. Standish Treadwell lives in an America that is quite different than the one we know. Although the author never states the foundation of the society, many clues make it seem that the book takes place in an America that might have existed if the Nazis had won World War II.

The prose of the book has a sing-song quality the mimics the wandering mind of the main character, who can't read or write, but who is really quite bright. Standish lives with his grandfather and deals daily with bullies at school as well as general fears from being somewhat of an oddity in a totalitarian state. The book moves back and forth between incidents in the past and the present which continues to move forward.

I really wanted to like this book. It had a good premise and a great plot and some terrific characters. I was able to move past the prose which isn't really my style but is OK for the tone of the book. My problem was the level of evil in the society. It didn't feel realistic. The book really wasn't desolate, and there was certainly hope, but bad things happened on a level that didn't quite feel right. Of course, you could say the Holocaust was a bad thing that happened on a level that certainly doesn't feel right, but in my head, I still see the villians of the Holocaust as people. The villains in this book were not people to me; they were simply evil monsters. I would think characters like Standish and his grandfather might try to think more outside the box.

The second book was "Rootless" by Chris Howard. This book was a winner. It had unique a plot, three dimensional, well-developed characters, thoughtful themes, and just the right flow to keep me pulled in to the story.

A couple of quotes to share:

"Because even when there is no hope, somehow you can still find a place to pin inside the things that you need."

"It was sort of beautiful. In its own horrible way. And I remembered what I'd said to Crow about heaven and hell and how they're maybe just the same thing anyway. Glory and hunger. Fear and love. All looped together so there's no place where one ends and the next one's beginning."

Now I am reading "The Darkest Minds" by Alexandra Bracken, and I should have a review up for that in a few days. All three of these books were pretty dark, and I have a problem with that. I think when people in books start looking too evil, it is time to step back and make sure we are showing reality instead of painting a portrait of a future no one wants.

View From My Reading Nook

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Pesto Pasta Salad

Summer has arrived, and it the time for grilling and slow roasting meats in the crockpot and accompanying both with cold summer salads. Here is a favorite pesto pasta-tossed salad which is great for a bit of a change.

8 ounces rotini
1/3 cup pesto sauce (I buy it cheap at Aldi; homemade would be fine too!)
1/2 cup grated parmesan-romano blend, plus a bit extra for topping
1/2 cup mayonnaise
1/2 cup sour cream
1/4 cup milk (I use 2%.)
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1 head romaine, torn into bite size pieces
1 cup grape tomatoes, halved
1/2 cup black olive, halved
4 ounces mozzarella, cubed
4 tablespoons toasted pine nuts

Cook the pasta. Drain it, and let it sit in the colander to dry for a bit. (I usually let it sit about 30 minutes while I chop and prepare the rest of the ingredients.) Toss the pasta with 4 tablespoons of pesto sauce until pasta is well coated. Toss in the parmesan-romano. Set aside.

Whisk together the rest of the pesto sauce, mayonnaise, sour cream, milk, salt and pepper. Set aside.

Toss together the romaine, tomatoes, olives and mozzarella. Add the pasta and toss lightly. Add the dressing and toss until lettuce glistens. Sprinkle with pine nuts and additional parmesan-romano.

Friday, May 24, 2013

How I Spent My 46th Birthday

Birthday Morning

9:00 a.m. I hopped out of bed fairly well-rested. I slept in! I am pretty excited because I have been having my usual spring insomnia, and the previous three nights I wasn’t able to sleep until after 3, woke frequently and still woke by 8. I recorded my weight in Diet Power. Time to head into the bathroom to brush my teeth and take a shower. The house is quiet. Even JoAnn isn’t up!

10:00 a.m. I have finished my usual morning hygiene routine. Diana woke up after my shower, and then, when I came back into the living room, JoAnn was up with joyful happy birthday wishes. The sun popped out to play with me for a moment. I have some water, but it’s time to make the coffee!


JoAnn with Brithday Greetings


11:00 I spent a few moments finishing my water and reading my facebook happy birthday posts! I tried to get some music queued up through youtube, but it keeps crashing. Coffee is started. Laundry is started. I took down the portion of yesterday’s laundry that is dry (it was hanging in the living room) and folded it and put some away. Josie put hers away, and Ant’s and Lia’s are waiting in neat piles on the table for them to get up! I made Diana some iced coffee, and I have mine here hot. I am getting hungry! It is hard to believe that it is already 11:00. That is what happens when you sleep late!


Diana with Her Coffee

12:00 Breakfast is made, & Lia is up! Josie took a shower. I did some housework. I have some more housework to do, & I want to start some bun dough in the bread machine for dinner. My favorite dinner buns will be my birthday treat!

2:30 OK, I got sidetracked. I opened my email, and there were writing jobs to be done so I started in on those. While I was working, we had a huge thunderstorm! I hope the sun returns soon. Diana took a shower, & Ant got up! Lia and Josie are doing their computer stuff. I checked my email and realized that Ant hasn’t RSVP’d for dinner tonight. I hope he joins us! I have written for 2 ½ hours straight! Time for a break!

3:00 Buns started! A ton of dishes washed! Banana eaten! I am moving right along with the productivity. I have a pot of dark roast coffee on, and I am going to enjoy some iced when it is done. I am not sure what I will do now, but it will probably involve housework and laundry.

3:45 House is all the way clean for my birthday celebration! I was going to take some more photos, but Diana is busy with the camera. I can’t wait to see her photos! Ant & Jo have played some Super Smash Bros Brawl and Lia has been hooping. Rain threatens once more!

4:15 I spent a few minutes with Lia & then a few minutes with Diana. Next, I frolicked outside for a bit and took a short walk. The sun has broken through the clouds, and all of nature is drying from her bath.

4:45 Laundry hung, and buns shaped and rising. Still nursing my iced coffee. Josie is busy writing her annual prom story. Diana is editing photos, and Lia is skyping with her Shine friend, Edan.

5:00 I had a half a chocolate cupcake for a snack. I am not eating with health in mind today, but I am not over eating either. Coffee is now done.

5:10 I got up and did the few dishes that had accumulated. I am feeling restless, wishing the weather was consistent enough to sit outside in a dry chair and read.  I have book reviews I want to write, and it would probably be in our family’s best interest if I worked some more today, but I am lacking motivation. I think I will just take a step in that direction and hope some writing flows.

6:00 I got one more article done then my computer crashed! Buns are in the oven, and the celebration is about to begin!

9:15 My celebration is done. We ate salmon sandwiches, sauteed green beans and fool. We played three rounds of Uno. I won the first won, Diana won the second, and Lia won the third.  I had two cups of lime cola with gin for a treat.

10:45 Day is done. I have read my email & tidied the kitchen. Time to sleep.