Tuesday, August 23, 2016

July Books: A kindle post

Usually, when I let my stacks of paperbacks and hardcovers go stale, it's because I'm on the kindle. This is my second one, the first having broken down while traveling. I believe this is the regular Kindle. It uses e-ink, instead of a computer-like screen, and I really like that.

Having a kindle is both great and awful at the same time. The Whispernet thing they use means buying the books is instantly gratifying and horrible on your wallet. It's addictive. Anyway, I've downloaded quite a few books, as I used to travel a lot for work, and having the kindle meant not hauling four books in a suitcase. Also, it's easier to read while lounging. Kindle - the lazy book. Probably not the tagline they were going for.

Some kindle books I've read lately:

I've been binging on pretty much everything by Susanna KearsleyThe Rose Garden was the first book I found from her. Loved the time travel element, which was actually pretty mind-bending. Also, loved the setting in Cornwall. The next one you should read, should you fall down this rabbit-hole, would be The Winter Sea, which delves more into local Scottish history, and the abilities of the mind to see and hear the past, and after that, go ahead and fall right into The Firebird, which infuses the history of Russia with telepathic minds of two would-be lovers. I read the last two in the wrong order, and was kind of bummed I hadn't known about the connection earlier. Not only are the settings beautiful, and the characters strong and interesting, but she also does her homework, and includes notes at the end for you to help sort out the history you learned from the elements of whimsy.

One book I come back to far too often is The Royal We, by Heather Cocks and Jessica Morgan, also of the famous GoFugYourself.com blog. Confession time: I'm an avid fan of WhatKateWore.com. Susan (the author) does a bang-up job on covering not only the stylings, but the events that Kate Middleton, now the Duchess of Cambridge, attends and their meaning to the country, and she handles the commentary extremely well. So, when she mentioned she was working with the GoFugYourself girls on a giveaway of their book, loosely based on Kate and Wills' courtship, well, I was intrigued. (I also became a fan of their blog. It's a slippery slope.) The book does a nice job of painting a picture that, while not accurate to their personal situations, is certainly fun, humorous and entertaining albeit in a respectful way. It reminds the reader that behind all the glitz and glamour and pomp and clothes and events, is a real couple, a boy and a girl that fell in love despite the circumstances. And that's pretty important for us to remember about every public figure, really. Also, I love that they made the not-Kate into an American, and she's from Muscatine, Iowa. Woot!

One new thing I read on kindle, that I kind of wish I'd read in book form instead is The Blue Tattoo: The Life of Olive Oatman, by Margot Mifflin. I picked this up because we're watching Hell on Wheels on Netflix, and the show has an Olive Oatman character. Not surprisingly, the tv show bends the facts on her a bit. The book, however, is a pretty scholarly treatise without being dull about it. It examines her life, and how things were written about her and her family. Local tie - the family started out in Whiteside County, Ill. And then things went south, both literally and figuratively. Excellent read, though, and while kind of sad near the end, the very last finish is both uplifting and a hat tip to the author. Fun stuff!

This last book is one I'm buying for sure at some point, because it is such a neat idea. The Time Traveler's Guide to Medieval England: A Handbook for Visitors to the Fourteenth Century, by Ian Mortimer. Honestly, I'm pretty sure I would have died of sickness fairly early in life. Or lived in a hovel. Or crawled into a hovel and died. I am not built for the 14th century - those people were tough. And Ian (we're on a first-name basis) breaks it down from the travel to the food to the clothes to the houses, to what you'd see on the "street" of a small hamlet to a larger-sized town. He's a big fan of Chaucer, and quotes him on various linguistic issues, and so you'll learn some local slang as well. Just when you thought you forgot high school English, am I right? 

So there you go, a tour of my Kindle. I have a bunch of stuff on there that you've already heard of, since I like to take certain book buddies along when I head out of town - Big Magic, Let's Pretend This Never Happened, Oracle, that kind of thing. What's your favorite ebook? Let me know!

Back to real live paper next time, possibly a recipe, maybe some photos? See you then!

Friday, August 5, 2016

Blueberry Crumble Pie

I know, I know, I owe you a July books post, and I promise, it's underway, although it may well be the Kindle post I mentioned earlier.

In the meantime, I offer humble pie. And by that, I mean blueberry.

I've emailed/texted my sister for this so many times, that this last time she just took a photo of the magazine recipe and texted it to me - maybe she thought that would just solve the issue? In any case, I made it not twice, just for us and then for book club, but three times in the last two months. Suffice to say, I'm finally satisfied with the amount of blueberries in my life. But if you are not, here is the solution: Blueberry Crumble Pie.

Notes: The original recipe calls for plain breadcrumbs where I've used graham cracker crumbs - it's just a matter of what I had on hand. But either will work just fine. If you do use plain breadcrumbs, add about 1/4 c. of sugar to that crumb/butter mixture to taste.

All you need:

4 cups blueberries
1 9-in. graham-cracker crust
3/4 c. brown sugar
3 T. flour
1 t. vanilla extract
1/4 t. lemon zest, optional
1 8-oz. container sour cream
1/4-1/2 c. graham cracker crumbs
2-4 T butter, melted

All you need to do:

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
Wash, let dry and pour fresh blueberries into graham cracker crust.
Crush graham crackers in gallon-size ziploc bag until fine. Set aside.
Melt butter, and mix in graham cracker crumbs until the texture of wet sand. Set aside.
Mix brown sugar, flour, vanilla, lemon and sour cream until smooth. Pour over blueberries. Sprinkle over graham cracker crumb mixture. Bake at 375 for 40 minutes or until lightly browned. Cool 1 hour on wire rack.

This was a hit not only for book club, but also for breakfast. It is also excellent with vanilla ice cream.

Book recommendations to come!

Note: The original recipe came from Cooking Light, roughly circa 1997ish. Don't hold me to that, however, as I apparently can't be trusted to keep track of this recipe outside of the internet...

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

June books

Phew, that was a hot one! Not in books, exactly, just the weather. Really glad for the 70s and 80s of the past week. We had a busy month - lots of trips to see family! Training for the Bix 7-mi. road race has kicked into high gear, so there's lots of ibuprofen being consumed, and we're heading out soon for more Gardening on the Farm, which I will try to take photos of this time. In the meantime, our local garden is buried in weeds. Too bad you can't make salsa out of those.

All that, but we still had a big stack this time. This one required extensions at the library, including a third week on guess which book (sigh) that I'm sure was a gift from the nice library women. There were some good ones and some others that tested my endurance. A mix for June.

Smart Cookies' Guide to Making More Dough, by The Smart Cookies and Jennifer Barrett: So, I picked this up because I signed up for the Live More Weigh Less challenge, and then the owner of that, Sarah Jenks (who's a genius) did a video with Sandra Hanna, who runs the Smart Cookies site, and anyway, rabbit hole later, I got the book. The book did sort of lay out some foundations, but I like the website better. The videos are great - I saw some preview to her program, and basically that alone saved me something like $200 because I called the bank and got a lower rate on my credit card. Sandra is indeed a smart cookie and I may yet sign up for her deal. We'll see.

Neil Patrick Harris: Choose Your Own Autobiography, by (guess who) Neil Patrick Harris: This is the best book. So sorry I finished it. I kept going back to see if I'd missed anything. The format? Genius. The stories? Poignant and told so well that you forget it's a famous person telling it. The stories? Awesome, both the real and not-real ones. Did you catch that? He mixes in some doozies. Also, it's a great thing to read something by somebody who truly loves the people in his life. So much love. All good things here.

Maeve's Times: In her own words, by Maeve Binchy and Gordon Snell: This is a collection of columns and observations on the daily grind, which were published in The Irish Times, where Binchy worked for several years. Just read a particularly hilarious memoir of a forgettable ski trip that turned out fabulous, and there is more in there just like that. If you've read any of her books - Quentins, particularly - you'll enjoy this read. (If you haven't read Quentins, what are you doing with your life? Go get it immediately! If that is too much, at least watch Circle of Friends.)

A Clatter of Jars, by Lisa Graff: Primarily a young adult novel apparently, this was kind of an interesting read. Really neat concept of talents, or Talents, being something bestowed on people, and kept in jars, and the ensuing mess of summer camp amid the Talent trade. A neat book about telling the truth, friendship and family, really.

Didn't finish:

Bad Feminist, by Roxane Gay: Some really good points on what the heck we read and why we're drawn to books and stories that don't necessarily help the womanhood all that much (looking at you, 50 Shades). She also goes through a bit of what feminist used to mean, and how it's being defined now. This is a key book, I would think, for anyone who is studying the subject, and also who can concentrate longer than I, because ... I didn't finish it. Bad feminist.

The Trip to Echo Spring: On Writers and Drinking, by Olivia Laing: Got through a part about Raymond Carver and John Cheever drinking in Iowa, and the general premise, which is that many famous writers are connected, and that one of those connections is alcohol, and almost as I was reading I closed the book, and I haven't been back since. Maybe this is a book for winter?

One Wild Bird at a Time, by Bernd Heinrich: Yes, still reading from last month. Got an extension. Didn't finish. Don't even start - it's a vortex, man. I may have to buy this one, or I'll be out of quarters for late fees. Birds. Unbelievable.

That's this month. Coming up, there will be a Kindle books post, as I find when I've abandoned my usual stack, it's because I've taken up my on-again, off-again affair with the Kindle. Also, more on the road trip! Click on for Part 1Part 2 and Part 3.

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

California to Iowa, Part 3

Well, we drove out of Zion National Park, and decided - we want more! - so off we went to Bryce Canyon National Park because why not. Turns out it was right down the road, and even more beautiful, if more packed with tourists.

But the red rocks are gorgeous.

There are several pocket trails if you're into that, and also if you're not trying to drive across country and get back home in a reasonable amount of days.

Some folks are more adventurous than others.

From there, the land began to come down from its height, into the lowlands and desert. 

We saw the strangest things. This sign that said no services for 100 miles, lovingly set off by the "No Bull" header. Cars off the road at random. People walking. (From where?) The solar panels in a field. Like, huge ones. And then, finally we drove north, because it seemed like a good idea at the time.

And we landed in Colorado in great weather, which turned cloudy, then gray, and then slightly worse than bad. Long story short, we got stranded in Vail. Because of this.

Might not look like much, but it was enough to close Vail Pass. We ended up overnight at a great place, considering we found it in a snow storm - the Christie Lodge. They were super nice, and had a fabulous Thai restaurant and bar on site - bonus! The next morning, I woke up to check the roads. Turned out Vail Pass was open. We got ready in a record-breaking 15 minutes, and white-knuckled it through the pass, side-eyeing the trucks putting on chains and trying not to think about our California tires, getting to Golden about two hours later, exhausted. From there, let's just say our patience wore thin with the trip. We barreled home through the rest of Colorado, Nebraska and Iowa, chasing trains and eating the best fast food we could come up with on the way,
including Zombie Burger in Des Moines.

At last, we made it home. The next day we picked up the dogs. Who licked us, and then promptly fell asleep.

The End.

Monday, June 27, 2016

California to Iowa, Part 2

When last we spoke en route, we were headed out of Hurricane, Utah, and into Zion, 
fueled with breakfast pastries and coffee. 

Almost immediately out of town, the red rock began to rise up out of the distance.

Pretty soon, we were in Zion National Park, and if you have a bucket list, I'd add this one to it as soon as humanly possible. Because, it is beautiful.

Now, granted, we went at about the perfect time - late March/early April, good weather, about 9 a.m. in the morning. A dusting of snow had just fallen, making everything look like Christmas.

It was, in a word, enchanting. 

We drove through the rest of the park, and it seemed, all too soon, that we were headed east again. We made another stop before heading to Colorado, but that's fodder for another blog post. 
Until next time, keep it in the road.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

California to Iowa, Part I

So, we went to California in March, to help my aunt and uncle move, and bring back some family heirlooms. While we spent most of the time with family, hearing stories of the things they had collected over the years and reminiscing, we made sure to focus on priorities. And by that, I mean the best burgers ever.

I kid, I kid! But for the love of grease, why isn't there an In N Out in the Midwest?? 

When we weren't eating fast food or packing or talking family history, we were driving, and our route took us from southern Cali through Utah to Colorado and back across the grain belt to Iowa.

There were orange trees and almond trees.

There were organic farms and roadside stands selling produce at unbelievable prices - avocados 10 for $1!

And there were local nurseries with cats and beautiful plants, the likes of which should never live here, but somehow an orange tree made it inside the car?

And of course, there was a brewery: Sequoia Brewing Company.

We had a flight of several choices, but I want to say the Big Horn Red IPA and the Black Oak Porter were both favorites. We also picked up a few brews to take home at the local grocery store. 

Then, at long last, there were foothils, and mountains and higher elevations. 

We ended up in Hurricane, Utah, the first night, before driving into Zion. Two things to not miss in Hurricane: Triple TJ's Cafe, a family-owned joint with excellent sour cherry cobbler and super nice people, and River Rock Roasting Company - just buy all the coffee and food you can carry, especially coffee beans for later and the delicious breakfast croissants that can feed two people for hiking. Holy moley. 

From there we journeyed into Zion... but that's another blog post. Until next time!

Saturday, June 4, 2016

May Books

Another month, warmer weather, slightly better wrists, a bit more activity and a new stack of books. Thus, with sun and actual warm weather (yay!), we end May.

I haven't been blogging because my wrists still aren't up to snuff, and I'm supposed to be resting them on the weekends, instead of, you know, trolling the internets, writing blog posts and making jewelry, etc., and so on. So I haven't been doing much of that - just the usual chores. Lifting a tasty beverage is an approved activity, so that's been helpful.

I can, however, lift my laptop with one hand, so there has been improvement. Also, walk the dogs and hold a leash without wincing, mostly. However, this blog post is being written in stages, so we'll shoot for sometime in early June... 

Lemony Snicket's Series of Unfortunate Events, Books 2 and 3: Because that's what they had at the library. Picked them up to see what all the fuss was about, and it's surprising how addictive these little tomes are! Going back for more... 

Spark Joy, by Marie Kondo: Picked this up, and promptly cleaned out my closet, packed up some books into boxes and cleared out three boxes of paper. I'm not sure what I was waiting for - a permission slip? - but in any case, the book boils decluttering down to one thing - does it spark joy? And if not, chuck it. There's also a bit about how to fold everything, if you're into that kind of thing. Really enjoyed this one, as she has such happy writing, and came back to it as a reference often over the month. Was sad to return, so may be a book buy later this year.

Above the Line: My Wild Oats Adventure, by Shirley MacLaine: I can't say why I picked this one out of the stack. Hadn't read anything by her before, although she has a few books from over the years. In any case, this is a hodgepodge of thoughts, ranging from the present moment to past lives and historical (?) context. Have not seen the movie - can't quite tell if it is released? Anyway, I kept reading mostly to see what the conclusion was, and while the movie wrapped up, I can't say that the book did, really. Pretty much what you'd expect if you picked up a book by Martha Levinson from Downton.

The Creative Tarot: A Modern Guide to an Inspired Life, by Jessa Crispin: If you've never really understood tarot, or what the cards mean, this is an excellent book to solve all that. She writes in a way you'll understand, explaining what the different cards mean with life examples. Easy to read and well-written. Also more of a reference, than a read-all-at-once deal.

One Wild Bird at a Time: Portraits of Individual Lives, by Bernd Heinrich: Think what you would do if you had all the time in the world to watch and study birds, and then by some chance, you also had a scientific background to back those observations up, and then to top it off, you were able to write all this down in such a way as to bring the reader into the experience, rather than fob them off with dry facts and such. Then you would have this book. By the time I got partway through, I was thoroughly invested in this starling couple's lives and what happened to their offspring, and also had learned exactly what a starling chick eats. Amazing. Got an extension at the library for this one! 

Eligible: A modern retelling of Pride and Prejudice, by Curtis Sittenfeld: I'm a bit of a P&P junkie - I own the BBC boxed set, have opinions about the most recent movie (the hair! the language! URGH!) and may have read the book a few (hundred) times. So, when my friend Amy brought up this new element, I had to try it out. Really impressed by the modern workover Sittenfeld gives the characters - and I think she did a bang-up job translating the family situation into the current world. At first blush, I thought her Lizzie possibly too outspoken. However, we have to remember how little it took to step out of decorum in the 1800s, versus the range of decorum today, and so she had to make it fairly out there to match up. I could go on, but really, P&P fan or not, quite a good read.

Figge Art Museum: Celebrating 10 Years, various: Having reported on the funding streams for this museum, I was curious what this book would entail. A lovely tribute, really, with a nice section on the history of the museum and how the collection started. Also, excellent photos and detail on the collections the museum has, which in the new building can be shown properly. I believe this is only available locally, so this is a library link. However, I imagine it might be in the local bookstores as well. 

So, there you have it. May books! ALSO, a quick note: I've mentioned my friend Darla's book, Oracle: Divination for Magical Babes on this blog a time or two. She is doing a MONTH of giveaways right now, to celebrate her second journal volume, Divina: A Journal for Magical Babes, Vol. II, being released later this month, and also some courses she is teaching for her School of Dreams and Divination. Free tuition! Also, jewelry, books, good stuff. Click on over to get the details. :)