Tuesday, January 31, 2017

The magic in every day

Hi there.

Today I'm finding, per Carol, the magic in every day.

Today I had fabulous customer service from the local AAA - couldn't be fixed, but they gave it the college try. Maybe even the graduate try. In the 32-degree cold.

River City Tire called when my car didn't show up right away - wanted to know if everything was okay. Called back to make sure they had it right about the problem.

Duluth Trading Co. was willing to send me a second order - for free - when the post office lost my order. Order was found - no worries, they said. Just send the second one back. Trust. 

Went to Crossfit tonight and was not super happy about it. Kept hearing Phil say, come on, team! Part of a team? At Crossfit? Yep. Caring. 

What does this show? It's people who matter. People who care. As Maria of Northern Star fame said so long ago, you've got to take care of your people. I think if we keep taking care of our people, we'll be okay.

We are one of many on a planet of billions in a galaxy of amazement and stars. We aren't going anywhere. We're here for the long haul.

Go forth, folks, and care for your peeps.

Saturday, January 28, 2017

Risotto over the fire... in print (!)

Hi there.

Today's blog is not on this blog. It's over here, on the Radish website. There's also a lovely print copy of the Radish at a Quad-Cities magazine rack near you.

Enjoy! :)

Monday, January 23, 2017

November books

The remainder of 2016 proved to be tough, but we got through it. In December, we ended up in Costa Rica. More on that later. :) But before all that, there were books.

All the books.

Naturally, there's another pile for December, and some for early January when I was dealing with post-trip bronchitis/sinus infection/the plague. But that might be too much for one go. Let's start with November first, shall we? 

House of Hawthorne, by Erika Robuck: If you liked anything you had to read in high school - Little Women, The Scarlet Letter, Walden, etc. - you'll be intrigued by this book. It centers on the relationship of Nathaniel Hawthorne of Scarlet Letter fame and his wife, artist Sophia Peabody, who were good buddies with the Alcotts, Emersons, Thoreau and others. Less on drama, the plot observes the couple in their daily life, their challenges and successes, and their view of how to live. Lots of tidbits in here. One can almost see the dusty desks, fireplace and surrounding plant life that both inspired and ebbed away. Excellent read.

The Kitchen House, by Kathleen Grissom: We start with Lavinia, an Irish orphan who can't remember much of her terrifying journey that led her to being a slave at a Southern plantation, and from there the cast of characters is plentiful and varied. Troubles are many at this house, and sometimes just when you see a potential escape, the victims and survivors seem to go the opposite direction. Lavinia's path is where many twists occur, from moving to the kitchen to learning from the white family, to a nearly destructive end. Not, however, the one you think. Educational, and worth reading to the end, particularly the note from the author.

Deadlocked, by Charlaine Harris: Picked this up for a quarter at the library book sale. Eh. It was the usual - vampires, love issues, Sookie has to clean up another mess for someone. A good little brain candy break. If you liked the True Blood series, all these are worth a read.

It Didn't Start with You, by Mark Wolynn: Whoa. This book basically states that if you're having some kind of trauma or sickness, you might take a gander into your family history and see who else had some issues at the same age or time. Super interesting concept, and it got me curious enough to dig out the ancestry pages. For instance, one example was a guy who always felt cold at a certain time at night, and was horribly depressed. Turns out his uncle had died freezing to death. Had to take it back before I was entirely done, but I think this might be a book to buy. 

Belgravia, by Julian Fellowes: Do you miss Downton Abbey? Feel like you lost a friend? Then Belgravia is here to help you through this terrible time. Another family, another mass of drama polished with the thin veneer of Victorian manners and society. Of course, it's excellent. And the ending is almost as fabulous as Mary and Matthew in the snow. Almost. Go to, darling, and don't forget the sherry. 

Star Wars Aftermath, Life Debt, by Chuck Wendig: Up in the top shelf of my childhood bedroom are a stack of Star Wars books that my sisters owned and I never read. Fast-forward to today, and the nerdist in me is strong, especially with the most recent movies. However, I have never read the books. This was an attempt to right that wrong, but sadly, I didn't get through hardly any of it before it was due. More research to come, there is. 

The Water's Edge, by Sara Gruen: This is a slow starter, and you begin to wonder if this chick will ever get off her ass, and then she does, and watch out! It takes place during the war, which brings a unique perspective to the plot - imagine learning about the atrocities of WWII from the newspaper? I'd never thought about how that must have been. There's your typical rogues as well as very good people, and the interaction of decisions in between. Really quite liked the ending, and I re-read it almost as soon as I finished.

Day Shift and Midnight Crossroad, by Charlaine Harris: Ugh, I kind of hate myself, but these are the continuation of brain candy I promised back in October. It's a series, I found, and the correct order to read them in is Midnight Crossroad, Day Shift and Night Shift, and of course it's going to be a TV show. Is the plot genius? No. Is the writing beyond all things? Nope. But it's an easy read and kind of fun and interesting and hey, there's a witch, a very verbose cat, a vampire, a mind-reader, angels and werewolves. You know, the kind of tight-knit neighborhood everyone dreams of. Enjoy! (No, I don't know when the next one is coming out. Yes, I checked. *facepalm)

The Outlander Kitchen, by Theresa Carle-Sanders and Diana Gabaldon: Surely I've mentioned the Outlander series here? The one that takes over your life and steals the hours away, page after 700 pages? Well, this is the cookbook to take those dreams into the reality of your kitchen, albeit without the time travel and the hot Scottish guys or whatever floats your boat. And, there's a recipe index online. I made the apple pie, I think? And something else. All excellent. Although, I'd buy this one. Better to get apple pie filling on your own book rather than trying to clean the library's copy. Not that I have any experience with such things.

As I say, I have more for December - might be that I'll combine that with January. We'll just call it winter books. I still have some January and plenty of winter left, by my watch. So, we shall see. Oh, and Costa Rica. Right! I will get on that. So, there you have, plenty to read and more on the way. See you then!

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

August, maybe some September, books

Well, we're back, like just waking up from a long sleepless night. Clearly, it was spent reading.

Let's just get it out of the way - I didn't finish several of these books. It's like confession - feels better to be upfront about it. So here we go:

Till We Have Faces: A Myth Retold, by C.S. Lewis: Love this guy. Made it maybe past the fifth page. What can I tell you. Nothing. Because it's like I didn't even try. Honestly, it was right after I was trying to read Chaucer because a friend is teaching a class on it, and I never read it, and good lord, it's like a horse pill if you pick it up on the wrong day, so then I picked this up and.... Urghh.

At the Edge of the Orchard, by Tracy Chevalier: First off, huge fan. Loved the Unicorn one she wrote. This one was harder for me to get into. I got partway through. Let's face it - maybe I just didn't want to know what happened? Maybe later. Will put it on the list. I'm sure it's great. *facepalm

All the Light We Cannot See, by Anthony Doerr: Wild acclaim! Best novel ever! But, sadly, massively depressing, and according to my book club, it got even more so after I abandoned it, so... perhaps it's just better this way. However, the writing is tremendous. Just excellent imagery, and allegory and vocabulary usage. All excellent. Worth picking up! Bring tissues. Side note: apparently Kristin Hannah wrote a book on the similar topic, The Nightengale. I've heard recommendations to read both. I could make a claim that I will, but I think we all know the truth here... let me know how it is...

A Series of Unfortunate Events: The Austere Academy, by Lemony Snicket: Yep, escaped back into the kid's section again. Didn't finish this one - what is it with the wildly depressing books this month - but it started out strong! I did finish the first one in the series, which you'll see there camped out at No. 2 in the stack. Did you hear they are coming out with a movie? Super curious at how they are planning to pull that off!

The Ultimate Bicycle Owner's Manual: The Universal Guide to Bikes, Riding, and Everything for Beginner and Seasoned Cyclists, by Eben Weiss: I'm not sure what possessed me to pick this up. Full disclosure - the bike I own was free. It's an orange beach bike with a couch-like seat, five dubious speeds and touring handles, which currently sports flat tires and let's face it, a missing basket. However, I'm appreciative those two times a year I break it out and take it for a 10-mile spin (cough). That said, I have dreams that I own a Trek and ride it like the wind. Miracles happen. This book is hilarious. Eben is great, and he makes you think you could not only own said Trek, but in fact fix it and have educated conversations at bike shops. Well, certain bike shops. He understands there are different types of bike shops. Anyway, it's great. Give it a go. And for pete's sake, don't lease a Subaru. (Book joke.)

The first phone call to Heaven: A Novel, by Mitch Albom: Is there anything this guy writes that isn't great? This is a fast read - also, it has an unexpected ending. And like most of Albom's books, it makes you really think. I found myself pondering this long after I put it down. Basically, it starts with a phone call to a woman... from a relative who is dead. The story moves in way you can't imagine from there.

Night Shift, Charlaine Harris: She of the Sookie Stackhouse/True Blood books. I picked this up on a whim, looking for (apparently) some brain junk food, and I hit the motherload. Witches, vampires, werewolves, intrigue - check. Set your mind to Easy, and sit down with some candy for a real Halloween treat. Fyi, went looking for more when this was done, and sure enough, I found it. Will update you next time!

I saved the best for last. Get ready.

Rise of the Rocket Girls: The Women Who Propelled Us, from Missiles to the Moon to Mars, by Nathalia Holt: Folks, get yourself to the library, or better yet, just buy this one. Give it to your sisters, nieces, daughters, aunts and anyone. This book, written by a science writer with a Ph.D. (!), is excellent. Ever wondered where they came up with the word "computer"? From the women who computed the earliest math for rocket propulsion. Ever wondered how we got to space, or how long that took? It's in here. This is the real battle not only for science, but for women in science, and the rise of mechanical computers in that journey. From the earliest testing of rockets in the desert to the launches into outer space - made while we were doing calculations by hand, by the way - this is truly a work of art in revealing the geniuses behind the curtain. I was blown away, no pun intended, that I didn't know these things before. This is what science education looks like, folks. Get yourself some.

And there it is. Much more for the September-October stack, which is currently due at the library any second. See you next time!

Thursday, October 13, 2016


We have a lot of yarn now. It came from my dad's house.
It was Bonnie's. She died about a month and a half ago now.

She was so many things, and did so many things. She had a life well-lived.
And, she was fearless. We were in France, and she admired the coffee cups we were using in a restaurant. She said, I think I'll see if he would give some to me, and I laughed.

Guess who got the coffee cups.

We all went to Ireland several years back. We ended up sitting next to a family in a bar in Limerick. The father and daughter were at the head of the table, drinking and telling stories. They were there post-funeral, they told us, and they were singing songs and crying and sharing memories. They brought us in and we laughed and cried with them. I kept thinking about that night when we were having dinner after Bonnie's service.

She framed a picture of a cat I did freehand so long ago. She put it up right next to all the other art in the house, done by real live professionals. 

It felt weird to write another blog post without saying something about this. So, instead, I'm crocheting my fingers off. And reading library books. And taking a course. And drinking wine. And so on. More later.

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...