Sunday, December 25, 2011

Pawn in Frankincense

Pawn in Frankincense (The Lymond Chronicles, #4)Pawn in Frankincense by Dorothy Dunnett
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I'm reading the Lymond Chronicles in order, this being #4. Pawn in Frankincense is one of the best books I've read. I can see why people read Dorothy Dunnett's books over and over. She is masterful in her descriptions, characters, and plotting. I rarely cry when reading fiction, but there was one scene in this book that undid me. Bravo!

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Thursday, December 15, 2011

Not Bah Humbug

Last summer on vacation in Maine, my husband got me the sweetest souvenir from a store in Bar Harbor called "The Man Store." She's perky AND she has a bad attitude. He said it reminded him of someone.

Not quite "Bah Humbug" but it does an accurate job of describing my attitude to Most Things Holiday this year. I'm still a fan of egg nog and long spells in front of the fireplace. But some of the other things have got to go!

One thing that's gone: the tree. Last year all the joy went out of the tree for me. Right about the second week of January when I had to take it down, put all the decorations away, and drag the crispy corpse out behind the shed. So this year I said, "No tree!" My daughter nearly fainted. For the next two weeks, she tried to talk me into changing my mind. She's finally accepted my decision, grudgingly. We are putting the presents on the hearth with the stockings. The mantle has some evergreens and candles. (I know: Dangerous!!) And, best of all, I won't be spending much time un-decorating in January. What a great way to start the New Year! Almost as good as a glass of bubbly.

Saturday, November 5, 2011


I have nothing to say, I am saying it, and that is poetry.  --John Cage

Friday, September 30, 2011

Jordan Pond, Acadia National Park

Nature study: busy beavers have been at work.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Cartoon Network, You've Been Missed

Free breakfast and mind-altering drugs...

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Challah 102

I know, I know, "Challah 101" is supposed to come first. Well, sometimes, life doesn't work that way. Rosh Hashanah is coming up and I thought I'd share how I make the special challah bread that is part of the New Year celebration.

I use a recipe that I adapted from I have tweaked the recipe over the years, but since the "change 10% and call it new" idea might not hold up under close scrutiny, I've included the link to the original recipe.

My challah recipe:

1 cup water (or 1 1/4 cups if you are making whole wheat/white flour -- see below)
2 eggs
1 heaping tsp salt
1/3 cup cooking oil
4 1/4 cups bread flour (or 2 cups whole wheat + 2 1/4 cups bread flour)
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 Tbsp bread machine yeast
1 egg, lightly beaten
1 cup raisins (optional)
cinnamon sugar (optional)

I use a bread machine to make the challah dough. You can also make the dough the old-fashioned way. I'm just too fond of my modern conveniences.

Place the first seven ingredients in the bread machine according to manufacturer's instructions. Process the ingredients in the Dough cycle (or "Raisin Dough" cycle if using raisins).

When the machine beeps at the end of the cycle, immediately remove the dough to a floured surface and flatten into a large semi-rectangle.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Divide the dough into three sections and roll each into a long strand (approximately 24 inches).

Pinch ends of strands together at one end and braid tightly. Pinch other end.

Shape into a circle and tuck ends together to form a continuous braid. This doesn't have to be perfect. When the bread rises and bakes, it will look fine.

Place on a lightly greased baking sheet.

Cover the dough and leave to rise in a warm location for 45-60 minutes.

Brush the raised dough with beaten egg.

Sprinkle the dough with cinnamon sugar, if desired. Bake for 25-30 minutes. Remove from oven and allow to cool for several minutes before transferring to wire rack to cool completely.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Shark Tooth Beach

Prehistoric shark teeth wash up on Chesapeake Beach. Our Brownie troop took an afternoon to explore. My son is young enough not to mind being the troop mascot, as long as the sandwiches hold out.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Love with Nutella Smudges

It's the gooey-love I love the best.

Nutella Picnic

Sent from my iPhone covered in hazelnuts & chocolate.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

1000 Gifts

One Thousand Gifts: A Dare to Live Fully Right Where You AreOne Thousand Gifts: A Dare to Live Fully Right Where You Are by Ann Voskamp

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A great gift from blogger Ann Voskamp. Her writing style was a bit difficult in book format (compared with her blog), but her ideas stuck with me. While it might sound cliche to start your own personal list of gifts, don't knock it until you try it. Sometimes we are too "smart" for our own good.

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Saturday, August 13, 2011

The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You're Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You AreThe Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You're Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are by Brené Brown

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I loved this book and learned a great deal from it, so the perfectionist in me has been procrastinating writing a review. How could it be good enough? Ha ha! Seriously, this book is one of the best non-fiction books I've read.

"Shame is the intensely powerful feeling or experience of believing that we are flawed and therefore unworthy of love and belonging." (p. 39) Are we flawed? Yes. Does that mean we are unworthy of the truly good things in life: love and belonging? No. (And don't believe anyone who tells you differently, even if that person is you.)

"The Gifts of Imperfection" is a concise guide (130 pp.) outlining the research of Brene Brown, writer and professor at the University of Houston. Dr. Brown avoids presenting a typical self-help list of "easy-to-follow" steps to solve the problems of perfectionism, anxiety, fear, and other things that "get in the way." In fact, she has a story about a disastrous speaking engagement where the organizer insisted that she keep it "light and breezy" for her audience: "The women in the audience just smiled, nodded, and ate their chicken. It was a train wreck." Rather than completing a checklist, the goal is what she terms "Wholehearted" living: courage, compassion, and connection.

Dr. Brown offers 10 guideposts for the journey toward a more shame-resilient life, emphasizing that the process is meant to continue for the rest of our lives. For each guidepost, the reader is encouraged to cultivate a Wholehearted gift by letting go of something that gets in the way. For example, cultivate authenticity by letting go of what people think; cultivate creativity by letting go of comparison; cultivate laughter, song and dance by letting go of being cool and always in control. Ironically, the length of the journey, and its comprehensiveness didn't leave me with a dark and heavy feeling, (think "Gotta make the donuts..") but a more positive outlook on life. It also reminded me of what evangelist Joyce Meyer has said, "You will know the truth about yourself, and the truth will set you free."

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Brave Sunflower

Facing the oncoming storm clouds this seems to know that the rain will probably only last a few minutes.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Seedless Yellow Watermelon

Got one of these in my CSA share this week.

Who'd a thunk it?

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Friday, August 5, 2011

A Broken Vessel

A Broken Vessel (Julian Kestrel Mysteries, #2)A Broken Vessel by Kate Ross

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

An enjoyable read of the historical-mystery-fiction genre, #2 in the Julian Kestrel series. I thought this was a tighter book than #1. The plot progressed at a nice pace and the characters were well-written. I liked the new character Sally. It's fun trying to figure out the Cockney phrases that she and her brother, Dipper (Kestrel's streetwise valet and ex-pickpocket) use in conversation. The three suspects are wildly divergent in background and motive -- discovering whodunit is fun without being so outlandish that you conclude by asking, "How on earth did that happen?"

There are a number of historical mysteries that fail to work on many levels: plot, timing, and especially dialogue. Kate Ross keeps the elements in balance and executes a fast-paced and original mystery. A Broken Vessel is just the ticket for a light, entertaining mystery read.

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Thursday, August 4, 2011

The Lessons of Procrastination

There are many areas of life where I can procrastinate without seeing much damage as a result. The garden is not one of those areas.

This used to be Lemon Basil. After a month of not pinching off the blooms I have created a crazy masterpiece of basil flowers. The bumblebees seem to like it, but it's not much use in the kitchen anymore. When it dies, it will probably make a great tumbleweed, too.

Tomorrow I go back into the fray, recovering my kitchen garden from its Planet of the Apes overgrown state.

I'll post an "after" photo when I get it done. Until then, the sunflowers are pretty.

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Thursday, July 28, 2011

Dedicated Pie

This Peach-Blueberry Pie is dedicated to my oldest friend (oldest in that I've known her since junior high school, not oldest chronologically.) I found the recipe on the Taste of Home website, notably low-brow cooking, but who the heck cares? We're talking fresh fruit, sugar, and spices. What's to get uppity about? I opted out on the lattice top option because the sooner it's in the oven, the sooner it can cool and then I can be eating it.

Here's the gooey, fruity filing:

My friend is an extraordinarily gifted cook. She's not afraid to try stuff that makes me weak in the culinary knees. At holidays she makes delicious pies and an incredible fruitcake that redeems the much-maligned staple of great-aunts and corporate fruit baskets.

The only thing that would make this pie sweeter would be if I could share a slice with her this evening.

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Monday, July 25, 2011

Rain, Glorious Rain!

It's hard to take pictures of rain.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Thought for the Day

"Solitude never hurt anyone. Emily Dickinson lived alone, and she wrote some of the most beautiful poetry the world has ever known... then went crazy as a loon."
~Matt Groening, The Simpsons, spoken by the character Lisa Simpson

I suspect that poetry, rather than solitude, had something to do with it.

"For, though shy, he did not seem reserved; it had rather the appearance of feelings glad to burst their usual restraints; and having talked of poetry, the richness of the present age, and gone through a brief comparison of opinion as to the first-rate poets, trying to ascertain whether Marmion or The Lady of the Lake were to be preferred, and how ranked the Giaour and The Bride of Abydos; and moreover, how the Giaour was to be pronounced, he showed himself so intimately acquainted with all the tenderest songs of the one poet, and all the impassioned descriptions of hopeless agony of the other; he repeated, with such tremulous feeling, the various lines which imaged a broken heart, or a mind destroyed by wretchedness, and looked so entirely as if he meant to be understood, that she ventured to hope he did not always read only poetry, and to say, that she thought it was the misfortune of poetry to be seldom safely enjoyed by those who enjoyed it completely; and that the strong feelings which alone could estimate it truly were the very feelings which ought to taste it but sparingly."
~Jane Austen, Persuasion

Friday, July 15, 2011

Better Than Botox

I was stung by a wasp at the park this morning. It got me on the forehead, just to the left of the frown line between my eyes.

If only the wasp had tagged me right in the middle of that frown line, the swelling might have erased the wrinkle for a little while. Just my luck.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Thought for the Day

Nowadays most men lead lives of noisy desperation. ~James Thurber

Monday, July 4, 2011

My Own Little World

On weekends, my husband likes to relax on the couch in front of the TV. He and the kids watch a variety of programs on Netflix Instant Watch: wacky anime series, MythBusters, PBS documentaries. He usually logs a number of hours playing his latest favorite XBOX 360 game, too.

I like to spend weekend outdoors, if at all possible. Ideally, I also like to churn through a list of projects, or at least knock one or two off the list.

Is it any wonder that I spent the first ten years of my marriage mad at my husband for not wanting to do what I wanted to do on weekends? And also a bit ticked off that both my kids preferred to sit inside with him, rather than join me outside?

Fortunately, this is Year 11, and I've wised up. I used to mourn that I had virtually no time to read. When I was single I had several hours a day to read, in addition to most evenings free. Young children cured that in no time. While I could recite "Goodnight Moon" from memory, my adult reading dwindled to almost nil. And over time, I got grumpy about it.

I got grumpy about all kinds of things during this time. I used to get cheesed off if there were toys scattered on the floor in the family room... if I had to unload the dishwasher... if one of the kids spilled a drink... if I had to go to the store for milk. I was a ton of fun. Didn't anyone else in my family realize that there was so much important work to do? 24 hours in a day wasn't nearly enough time. But I was going to try to do it anyway. And get grumpy in the process.

"If Mama ain't happy, ain't nobody happy." I thought that eventually my husband would notice I wasn't happy and decide to change, thus making me happy. Instead, our relationship was strained by my near-constant foul mood. Not that anyone outside our home would have known it. I can put on a show with the best of them, especially at church. But finally, I knew that I had to let it go or ruin my marriage and our family. It took more than a year to well and truly stop wanting what I wasn't going to get: other people making me happy by doing everything the way I wanted. Things have gradually changed for the better, especially my moods.

Don't misunderstand, I still get grumpy from time to time. But it's so much less frequent. My household and personal standards are a shadow of their former selves. I came to realize that my standards were a way of feeling superior to other people: my house was cleaner than theirs, my kids had better manners and vocabularies than theirs, my spices were alphabetized in the lazy susan. Can you say Nutso-Mama? Now, if there are groceries for the day's meals and a few changes of clean clothes per family member, things are A-OK. And instead of trying to complete my to-do list every weekend, I usually spend most of the time reading, cooking or baking something new, or noodling around on the computer. I still spend lots of time outside if the weather is nice, and most of it by myself. The kids come out to "check" on me periodically and ask for a snack. My husband is happy indoors, blowing up bad guys in a video game. A mood of contentment reigns.

Another exciting benefit of this adjustment: I'm halfway to my goal of reading 50 books this year for the Goodreads 2011 Reading Challenge! And I'm not reading "Goodnight Moon" 50 times.

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Sunday, July 3, 2011

Ultimate Cookie

"I suppose I could have stayed home and baked cookies and had teas, but what I decided to do was to fulfill my profession which I entered before my husband was in public life." — Hillary Clinton

"The homemaker has the ultimate career. All other careers exist for one purpose only - and that is to support the ultimate career. " — C.S. Lewis

I Want a Refund

My son informs me this morning, "You're not the mom I wanted! I want a mom who doesn't hate children!" from the time-out corner.

Less than 30 seconds later he's coming over to me and saying, "I want to say I'm sorry."

If you don't like the emotional weather in our house, just wait a few seconds.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Black-Eyed Susan?

‘O Susan, Susan, lovely dear,
My vows shall ever true remain;
Let me kiss off that falling tear;
We only part to meet again.
Change as ye list, ye winds; my heart shall be
The faithful compass that still points to thee.'
--Sweet William to his Black-Eyed Susan
(John Gay, 1685-1732)