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...

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. :)

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

April Books

April went quick, with far more rain than necessary. Also, cold. Hello, spring? You can arrive any time now. Really.

Of the books I attempted this month, I only owned one. Go, go library card! Seriously, though, this was a mishmash at best. I just picked up things that looked interesting. You know, similar to how you pick out wine. (Just me?) I was about 75 percent right this time. So, here we go.

First up, Love, Loss and What We Ate, by Padma Lakshmi: Um, I had no idea who this person was until I read the book and she spelled out that she was on Food Network. But her entire story is kind of interesting. She gets extremely personal, and she mentions some super famous people. Really, this is just an exercise in how much pop culture I don't know, I guess. What I enjoyed most was the contrast of her childhood in India not only to the U.S., but also to the India of today. The description brought me into the cool marble floors of her family home and I could picture the kitchen vividly. Clearly she has a gift, not only for food, but for writing.

Lab Girl, by Hope Jahren: Did not finish, and I now have an extension at the library. Pressure's on!

Tricky Twenty-Two, by Janet Evanovich: Another excellent tome featuring Stephanie, Lula, Ranger and Morelli. Does your brain need a vacation? Preferably one filled with some donuts, crime-fighting, beer, hook-ups and family meals (not your own)? If so, this series offers the kind of brain candy you're after. Fun fact - similar to Nancy Drew, everyone gets introduced in each book, so no need to start at the beginning. Although, you might want to after reading one of 'em. A hat tip to my oldest sister for introducing me to this addiction series.

The Forgotten Room, A Novel, by Karen White, Beatriz Williams and Lauren Willig: Genius. Really loved this book, and the concept. Basically, three generations, all connected to the same family, house and the "forgotten" room in the house. Excellent story-telling, and I was hooked. Don't try to keep it all straight - it will be explained in the end. Just enjoy the journey, the drama and the unexpected ends to all three stories in one!

Do Unto Animals: A Friendly Guide to How Animals Live, and How We Can Make Their Lives Better, by Tracey Stewart: Whoa, is that title a mouthful! But the book is much easier to swallow, and had a wealth of information on how to "read" cat and dog behavior, how to handle wildlife and things we all can do to make the wild world we inhabit a better place. This might be a book I buy, as I have things I want to refer to later, actually. Also, yes, this is the Tracey Stewart that is married to Jon Stewart, and they have a ton of animals. Also, bonus, the illustrations by Lisel Ashlock are gorgeous!

The Bee-Friendly Garden, by Kate Frey and Gretchen LeBuhn: Um, I really wanted to read this - we just released mason bees in the yard (more about that inspiration here) and I was interested in what flowers we should plant. This book has all that and more... in really, really, really small, gray type. I mean, I got a headache just trying to read it. The signs of age... they are all around us. I'm sure, if you can read it, though, that it's lovely...

The Artist's Way, by Julia Cameron: This has been around forever, and I've had this forever, and just on a whim, I picked it up the other day. Have already started Morning Pages, and making Time to Create, and it's clear that in the remaining 80 percent of the book there is far more to learn and appreciate. Looking forward to the rest of the book.

So that's it. In the meantime, we've planted all the plants in all the places, and will blog about that and our trip. In which we took the most gorgeous photos by sheer coincidence. Haven't been writing a whole lot, since I injured my wrist(s) about a month ago, so this is about enough for me! Am doing exercises, and seeing the chiro, so will be back at it soon. :) 

Monday, April 4, 2016

March Books

Well, this was a long short month, as we traversed the wilds of California to Iowa last week, and nary a book was read along the way. We did see some fabulous sights, which you'll see in another blog post down the road a bit. So, the list is a bit light but here we go.

This month, I read:

Come Rain or Come Shine, by Jan Karon: Wow - I thought I'd missed a book in the series somewhere in there, because there is so much catching up in this one. Updates on main characters, as well as the sons and daughters, mainly Dooley and Lace. What I love the most about Karon's writing is the subtle, yet direct, descriptions. There's just enough to explain the situation and you don't need to know more, which is great, as you'd feel impolite asking. There's a gentleness there, and in a way, that's the overarching theme of her books: A gentle look at life, hard as it may be, and the way the characters come through their challenges. Anyway, there's a wedding and a surprise ending and a potluck, and you're invited. :)

Breaking Wild, by Diane Les Becquets: This one's for book club this month, and I got finished and said to myself, "that's IT??" It ends rather abruptly, well before you're ready for it, mostly because the culmination of the book takes a bit to get to. However, the sheer grit in this not-true-but-could-be story is something else. Good, simple writing, with a view of the outdoors coming in, and a gentle fire stoking as each page turns. Worth it. Bring provisions.

Mastering the Art of French Cooking, Vol. 1, by Julie Child et al, and Smitten Kitchen, by Deb Perelman whose blog of the same name is well worth it: Okay, I haven't read them yet, but I got them for my birthday, and cannot wait. The suspense is madness. :) Also received Vol. 2 from my aunt's collection recently, so prepare for butter-laden dishes...

Big Magic. Again. Have you read this yet? Will see if I can avoid mentioning it at all during the April books (but it is fabulous, so...).

The Sword of Shannara, by Terry Brooks: Just started this, really, but seems good - all the delights of the Tolkien-like worlds in a thick paperback. The grade school library beckons!

More later!

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Chocolate coffee stout cupcakes

It's that time of year, the time to be Irish even if the blood is thinner than water! For my end, that blood is eight generations past, but no matter - we will celebrate anyway.

This year's celebration comes with a 5K, corned beef, social gatherings, nary a green item in my wardrobe, Guinness and some fine Coffee Stout from New Glarus Brewing Co.

I wanted to make some homemade cupcakes for a work function this past week, and had a fabulous recipe printed out for a coffee or regular stout beer cake, complete with layering and all that fun stuff. However, once the night before, it was clear that measuring, etc., wasn't going to happen. It was either mix it up, or throw in the towel. I chose a mix.

So, this is a riff on a devil's food chocolate cake mix with (sigh) canned frosting because Pillsbury gets that this stuff just happens sometimes. Paired with the sleeve of Thin Mints from the fridge, it even looked like I tried. Kind of...

So here you go - cupcakes and a side of beer. Slainte!

Chocolate Coffee Stout Cupcakes
Makes 21-24

1 devil's food chocolate cake mix
1 cup coffee stout, or regular stout (replaces water)
1/8 cup sour cream (replaces half the oil)
1/8 cup oil
3 eggs
1 can cream cheese whipped frosting
1 sleeve Thin Mints plus a few extra (you have extra Thin Mints just hanging around right? Har har)

Preheat oven to package directions. Be sure to measure the stout after the beer settles to make sure you have a full cup. Mix all ingredients for a few minutes - batter may be a bit lumpy. Line cupcake tins with papers, and divide batter evenly. Bake as directed for cupcakes. I believe mine took about 18 minutes.

The stout adds a richness to the flavor and the sour cream makes these unbelievably soft in texture. It's a great combination, and I really can't be sure the original recipe would have been as good. Well, possibly...

Cool completely and frost. I packed the entire can of frosting into a large ziploc bag, then cut one of the corners to pipe it on there. Start small with the cutting, by the way - you can always make it larger. And "piping" for me is a loose term, but it's way faster than trying to spread it on there.

Fun fact about Thin Mints - there are only about 16 or so cookies in a sleeve. So, some of my cupcakes were cookie-less. :/ Ah well.

And now, that pesky extra four ounces of stout. What will you do with it? Such a quandary...


Monday, March 7, 2016

Everyday winter magic

As I referenced in my first post, this is the year of finding magic in the everyday. (We're calling it winter for kicks. Yes, I know it's 60 degrees - just roll with it.)

It's not always easy to do. Today, for instance, was a tough day. Phone calls with doctor's offices - for routine crap. (Really? On hold three times? Seems excessive.) Phone calls with repair people. Organizing upcoming events. Traffic on bridges. Leaky faucets. Nothing major, but kind of a combination of crap. Not exactly the kind of day for magic. More the type of day for cursing the minutiae of everyday life, really. (Why hellooo, bitter barn! :) )

And yet, there is magic. That's the thing - it's there, every single day, repairs or not, waiting for us to notice. So, here we go!

First off, miracle of miracles, the seedlings are blooming! Under the glare of an LED grow light, but still - tomatoes!

While we're at it, let's give some props to the hibiscus that won't quit. This is an end-of-February/beginning of March bloom we've got going on here. Way to be, plants!

Peace between our dogs.

This doesn't seem like a big deal in the photo, but just recently our youngest has been a terror on walks, prompting us to start obedience training this month. Nice to see the calmer side!

Girl Scout cookies. Yay for February! (Sadly, this is our second order. :/ )

And let's give it up for some funny cats. Gollum was posing nicely for the camera when he got distracted.

Turns out he was staring at Charlie, pretending to be a ballerina.

You can't make this stuff up, kids. More next time!

Sunday, February 28, 2016

February books

And we're back, with another edition of Books I Read This Month, this month being a mere 29 days of reading, which is more than most Februaries, but still. Quite the stack this time, evidence I bit off more than I could chew, and a few doozies in the mix.

For the upcoming book club, we're reading Big Magic, which I covered in last month's post, but which I re-read this month in preparation. Must buy! ALSO, I've been re-reading a few Jan Karon novels, which are like a nice tea before bedtime. Now, to the new books:

As You Wish: Inconceivable Tales From the Making of The Princess Bride, by Cary Elwes: LOVE. Picked this on a recommendation. Might make sure you have the movie at the ready because you will want to watch it immediately after reading this and hearing Cary's voice in your head narrating all the nuances of making this classic film. And if you don't have the movie at hand (sigh), you'll be sad. Great stories about his own experience, and about those involved and those who have passed, including Andre the Giant. Fun notes from others in the film, including Wallace Shawn, Billy Crystal and Robin Wright and director Rob Reiner. A bit of a heartfelt tearjerker, with funny moments, drama and everything in-between. (Guess what's coming next from Netflix...)

Noah's Wife, by Lindsay Starck: Well, sorry for the spoiler alert - Alert! - but this is kind of a downer of a book. One of the reviews said it was written with "wit and creativity". I'm not sure which book that person read, but there is nary a wit in this tome. I think the thing it does shed some kind of light on is the decisions of a community and how they come to be. When you read the news, and you say, "how could that happen? How could that town have made that decision?", well, this book brings that conversation to the table. Did not anticipate the ending, so that was something, but also had to go watch a comedy directly after reading... not my idea of a good time in the booking world.

The Girls' Guide to Hunting and Fishing, by Melissa Bank: I finished this and I didn't think I would. A little tough to keep up with - new chapter, new people? Okay. But you catch up and get the connection. A great read on the interactions, so often awkward, of families and couples and so on. Really enjoyed the ending, and the journey, which is basically a woman's experiences from teen to adult, almost as an observer in her own life, of how relationships work. Cool.

After Alice, by Gregory Maguire: Loved all the Wicked Witch books he wrote, although I read them a few years ago. Which is why I'm bummed that I'm having trouble sticking with this one. What it reminds me of most is Vanity Fair by William Makepiece Thackeray. Have you read that? It's like the one book I haven't finished because the most annoying narrator keeps interrupting for pages on end and by the time you get halfway through, you're like, "Will you SHUT UP so I can finish this godforsaken book already!" And that's kind of where I am with this book at page 100 and something. We'll see. Still trying.

Hyperbole and a Half, by Allie Brosh: So awesome. Such a funny read and easy to pick up and start in the middle. Comics about her life growing up, stories about dealing with tough feelings and general hilarity illustrated by what looks like Microsoft Paint. If you've never been to her blog, I highly recommend it. Also, bonus - new book coming this year! Looking forward to Solutions and Other Problems.

Better Than Before: What I Learned About Making and Breaking Habits, by Gretchen Rubin: Used to read all her articles on Slate.com, and thought I'd get to more of this, but super interesting - talks about people fall into four general categories - Upholder, Obliger, Questioner and Rebel - and the different challenges each type has making habits. Might be a buyer rather than a loaner book, honestly.

Go Set a Watchman, by Harper Lee (not pictured): This was such a controversial book, and I hardly remember the original, although it came back while reading. It's one of those super '50s speak books, so there's definitely a lingo and cadence that's reflective of To Kill a Mockingbird. Was a challenge in parts to understand just what was happening - had to re-read a few times - but the end answered the questions I had in the middle. Interesting commentary on the growth of a child's mind and the changing relationship of parents with children as adults.

Other books I got from the library this time, and didn't read:

Fallen Land, by Taylor Brown: A story about an unlikely couple of teenagers surviving the Civil War, etc., and so on, and it seems fairly historically accurate, at least the part I've read through. Frankly, after some other stellar, depressing picks in the stack, I didn't have the stamina to get through this, although I'm sure it's lovely. Maybe next time!

Methland: The Death and Life of an American Small Town, by Nick Reding: Really wanted to read this, but have room in my brain for happy fiction only at the mo. So, have put this on The List, when I'm feeling interested in facts and such.

I Totally Meant to Do That, by Jane Borden: Couldn't quite stick with this one, although it might be a good summer read. A bit Janet Evanovich, but more in your face. Maybe next time!

More next month - happy reading!

Monday, February 22, 2016

Divina Dream Magic: Crystals

So, guess what? Today's blog post is not on this blog. It's over here, on Darla's Divina.tion blog! You might remember me mentioning Oracle and Divina, the book and journal she wrote, about a month back. I've been using the journal just about every night, and it's been fun to turn back and read about the dreams I've had...

So, when she asked me to do a guest post for her Divina Dream Magic blog about crystals, I was pretty excited! In addition to typewriters (that's a whole blog post in itself) I'm into collecting rocks, crystals, geodes, you name it, and I appreciate their many properties as well. If you head over to Divina, you can read all about them.

We'll be back here in about a week, with a shockingly large number of book reviews and more fun stuff, including seedling (!!) photos. See you next time!

Monday, February 15, 2016

Planting seeds

Well, we did it. We planted our seeds in our tiny seedling planters. Now, to wait.

You have to use a blend of peat moss and potting soils, or so I've been told, and this year, we bought them from our local Teske Pet & Garden center, where we go on weekends sometimes to look at aquarium fish and various doggie toys and bones.

The tomatoes are in, as are the peppers and kale. That whole stack of stuff, really. And it doesn't look like much now, but I have visions of jars and jars of salsa... Soon!

A couple fun things coming up before the end of the month, including a surprise post and February books! Stay tuned...