Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Ghosts of the Titanic by Julie Lawson

Ghosts of the Titanic
168 pages

I plucked this title from the library shelves on a recent visit.  I was thinking of my students who just love anything to do with the sinking of the Titanic.  As I've written about in other posts it is always fitting to find out a book is worthy of its price tag before I buy it for the library.

I wasn't sure this one was going to be with it until I'd made it more than half way through.  I often tell my students that the best part of the book doesn't come until the middle of the book-good thing I took my own advice.  I struggled with the narration, which gave me little empathy for Kevin Messenger, the young man telling the story.  He seemed whiny and filled with negative energy and his relationship with his father is particularly difficult.  But I love stories that intertwine and this one does just that.  Mixed in with Kevin's story is Angus Seaton's tale, a 17-year-old seaman who was on the Canadian ship first on the scene to rescue Titanic survivors.  Through Angus's early actions he forever connects his life to the Messenger family.  This insider look at those days immediately following the Titanic disaster are little known treasures of information and will delight my students.  The fact that this also becomes a real ghost story for Kevin Messenger will make this tale even more thrilling!

Random quote:

Angus had lost count of the number of trips they'd made to the ship.  Ten? Twelve? Back and forth to the ship, pulling hard at the oars or taking his turn at the tiller, breath steaming into icy clouds, the grim task never easing up.  More bodies to be numbered and recorded, more personal effects to be bagged and tagged.  He longed to be back in port, to tear off his clothing, peel away his skin, throw himself into something that didn't scream of death. (36-37)

The difficult task of pulling bodies from the freezing water and then recording their personal items so they could be identified was a horrific experience for this group of seamen and one that affected many for years after.  Angus is overwhelmed and because of his weariness he ends up with an object in his pocket that should have been tagged for one of the bodies.  This object links him to the woman throughout his days and makes him crazy with grief, regret and her ghost.

Pick up this book to find out how Angus and Kevin are connected through time.

Happy Halloween.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Weekend Cooking; What's good and right.

The family gathered.

Last week while the book fair was taking up all my waking hours I got a phone call from Teenage Boy, which is big in the first place as he texts but doesn't "talk".  The reason for his anxious phone call was about dinner; specifically where everyone was for dinner?  His voice belied that he was a teenager at all but more like the middle school boy I think of fondly.  He was concerned that he was at home by himself and it was dinner time.  At first I was less than amused because I thought he was asking why I wasn't home to make his dinner.  I kindly reminded him that he could easily make himself dinner, was quite capable of making a good meal for himself and tried not to sound annoyed.  To that his response was "No, I can make my own dinner, it's just that I didn't know where everyone was and we usually eat dinner together."  Oh, yea, right.

We do usually eat dinner together.  It does feel odd when one or more of us is missing from our vintage (old) linoleum table.  And even though I think he's listening as my husband and I make plans for the week he's not always tuned in to the hum drum of what will transpire this week, like I'm won't be home until after 8 on Tuesday and Thursday and my husband says I won't be home Thursday night either and I'll bring Groovy Girl to you at school.  How he misses all that at said table I don't know but we are making a new resolution to alert him to scheduling issues that will affect him.

The greater idea though was that he missed all of us being here at the same time, sharing a meal together. It is a tradition he's had for the part of his life he remembers and I appreciate that this is important family time to him.  He often is the one to start the "So what was the best part of your day?" even though when it comes back around to him he shrugs his teenage shoulders leaving that as his answer.

I made him happy this week by leaving 1/4 of a pan of these brownies at home when I made them for my 5th grade book club.  Book club boys fought over the chocolate ones-I'd interspersed blondies I'd made for a funeral at church and Teenage Boy was thrilled to hear me say they were so easy I'd make more this weekend.  He and his sister polished off the leftover goodies after school, leaving none for their dad much to his dismay. I guess I need to make sure big Daddy gets his fair share from this next batch.

I'm off to scrub potatoes for tonight's dinner and once I have those boiling I will whip these up for late night happiness.  What is your dinner hour like?  Are you able to eat together or is it in shifts?

From The Mom 100 Cookbook by Katie Workman

Fudgy One-Pot Brownies

Makes 12 huge or 24 reasonably-sized brownies

1 cup (2 sticks, unsalted) butter, plus butter for greasing the baking pan
3 ounces unsweetened chocolate
1/2 cup unsweetened Dutch-processed cocoa powder
2 1/2 cups granulated sugar ( I used turbinado since the color wouldn't matter)
1/2 tsp coarse salt
1 T pure vanilla extract
3 large eggs
1 1/2 cups all-purpose (unbleached) flour

1. Preheat the oven to 350*F.  Butter a 13 X 9 baking pan.
2. Place butter sticks and chocolate squares in a medium-sized saucepan over low heat and let melt, stirring until smooth.  Remove the saucepan from the heat and stir in the cocoa powder, sugar, and salt, then blend in the vanilla.  Beat in the eggs one at a time, stirring to mix quickly so they don't have a chance to cook at all.  Blend in the flour.

3. Scrape the thick batter into the prepared baking pan and smooth the top with a spatula.  Bake until the edges just begin to pull away from the sides of the pan and a wooden toothpick comes out clean, about 25-30 minutes.

4. Let cool in the pan on a wire rack.  When completely cool, cut them into 12 or 24 squares.

(It should say hold the family back while they cool-they made the house smell delicious and people were hanging close to the kitchen.)  Enjoy...

This post is linked to Beth Fish Reads Weekend Cooking post.  Click to her link to find many other eclectic food-related posts.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Weekend Cooking; Recipes Galore

My new trick is searching for recipes on my Kindle while standing in my kitchen.  Who knew this would be my new favorite thing?  My only wish is that I could figure out how to put a pin-button on my kindle-there must be a way so if any of you smarties out there know how it's done I would be pin-happy!  It's been a busy week and yet I've accomplished some good meals throughout-even some that everybody liked.

Last Sunday I cooked the last of our farm chickens from Shamrock Farms.  We had a very traditional meal of roasted chicken, baked potatoes, and a salad.  I love grabbing potatoes from our pantry in the basement. They arrived a few weeks ago as my mother dug the last of her potato piles up, tossed them in a box, dirt and all, and brought them to me.  I have a hard time ever purchasing store bought potatoes after our supply runs out.

From the leftover chicken scraps I made this Chicken Alfredo which made the family absolutely swoon.  They were mesmerized by the carbs and chicken combination as I don't usually make this dish.  It was far from the overly-drenched saucy thing I picture in my mind, the recipe was easy to follow, and it took me less than 30 minutes to make since the chicken was already cooked.  I didn't have fettucine noodles but I didn't let that stop me and just substitution another pasta shape and I'm pretty sure my peeps didn't even notice.  Obviously not my photo then above either for those quick thinkers. On the side we had these delicious zucchini oven chips-which took longer to make than the pasta but were pretty worth it.  It was our last zucchini from our very own garden also so we celebrated that.

My mom brought me venison steaks from well, a deer, my step-father shot with his manly bow and arrow last season.  For a girl who's been vegetarian her whole life this was a reach but  you can't get more local than his farm so I gave it a try.  Other than some jerky he shared with us last year none of us had ever had venison before and yet it was a winner.  I found this great marinade recipe and soaked the four steaks overnight.  My mom gave me very specific instructions that I should cook them only 3 minutes on each side or they get too dried out and I didn't listen. Or more accurately I didn't believe her.  I did 5 minutes but I think the marinade counter-balanced that a little bit because except for the smallest piece they were all moist and readily eaten up even by the ever-picky Groovy Girl.  I only ate half of mine, choosing to focus on the leftover salad from Monday.  If my mom chooses to share again I will take them because the family ate them up, especially Teenage Boy.  I thought they were gamy tasting but then I'm happy with salad and potatoes.

Yesterday I used the chicken bones and made a delicious chicken noodle soup for dinner.  I had my own recipe in my  head and yet I have to admit I googled a recipe just to check if I was missing anything major and found this great post and Hyacinth's recipe  @ PW.  I might go back to that recipe next time I want to make broth-I loved that she left the onion skins on!  Bold move.

I also whipped these cookies up last Sunday night to serve at our Teacher Preview book fair event. I made these into stars with yellow frosting for the theme of Every Reader's a Star!  I wanted a super easy recipe that would not require two hours of refrigeration and this recipe rocked.  Making Christmas cut-outs will be so much easier this season.

This post is linked to Beth Fish Reads Weekend Cooking meme.  Click to her site to find many other food-related posts.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Where cooking conversations lead...

It happens so easy, a conversation about books and food leads to the inevitable discussion of cookbooks which is exactly what happened this morning when our school's lead, Mrs. Spratt, stopped in to pick up her saved book pile which included a cookbook.   We've discussed our mutual love of food and recipes before and she happened to mention that another cookbook at the book fair, The Mom 100 Cookbook by Katie Workman had been written about in Cooking Light magazine.   Interesting I said.

Now I'm spending all my free moments paging through it reading Ms. Workman's cooking stories.  I might have to purchase this one.  Naturally I started paging through it back to front and the dessert section had several recipes I would love to try this weekend like a caramel sauce or the  chocolate peanut butter squares.  Yes.  I can hear my kids now.

As we chatted more about food I explained about a recent baking fail I had with a cinnamon roll recipe that failed to rise.   She said I need to google Ree Drummond's cinnamon rolls.  She said they are easy to make and make a lot.  Just what I need.  Don't you just love that kind of gossip.  I'll be googling it later today.
What's got you and your coworkers chatting today?

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

3 Sweet Picture Books

Like many book lovers I adore the public library for many reasons one of which is it gives me the chance to preview books! I can fill my library bag up with all kinds of picture books from the new shelves, read them slowly at home, and then put my favorites on my order for our school library.  If I could figure out how to make a button I would make a button flair for the public library.

Yes, I love buying books with the school's money but with dwindling budgets every dollar is precious and I'm wary about ordering books at expensive prices before I've thumbed through them. There are many authors that I trust to give me a good product but I've had my share of bad order mistakes.

Groovy Girl, with her keen eye, has become a big help in this process. She weeds out the top few for me to focus on. I always page through to make sure she hasn't overlooked something but she is generally right on about what students will like. Here are our top four picks from last week's library bag:

Do You Know Which Ones Will Grow? by Susan A. Shea and Tom Slaughter. (2011)

Love this book. Bright, beautiful paintings created by Slaughter showcase comparisons like if a duckling grows into a duck then does a car grow into a truck? The illustrations are big with pages that open and I can see a use for this on many different levels. As I lesson planned this past weekend I considered "borrowing" this book and using it as part of a lesson. I decided to wait until our own copy comes in as I will get excited about it all over again when it does and then students will actually be able to check it out.

Jane Brocket's Clever Concepts; Spotty, Stripy, Swirly (What are patterns?). (2012)

Another brilliantly cool book and this one sits on the nonfiction shelf. The bold photographs make this stand out as the author explains the difference between chaos and order. When things are set in a specific order or repeated they form a pattern. We-and by we-I mean, kids like patterns and repetition and this book shares a huge variety of unique patterns; from knitted stocking caps to garden lettuce, everything can be put in order.  Even the title, according to Groovy Girl, has a rhythmic funky pattern to it!  As I browsed the author's website I was intrigued by several of her other concept books like Ruby, Violet, Lime; a book about colors.  I can see pre-k, kinder and 1st grade teachers using her books frequently.

ABC Dentist; healthy teeth from A to Z by Harriet Ziefert and Liz Murphy. (2008)

This book makes the dentist seem fun instead of the pain center it really is.  This would make an excellent tool to talk about the visiting dentist that spends a day or two at our school.  Alphabet books are wildly popular especially when we create  them on the computer.  We do a lot of comparing and contrasting of ABC texts.  And who knows there might even be a kid or two, like Hermie, who want to be a dentist! I see on good reads this duo have another catchy title-ABC Doctor.

Take it from Groovy Girl and I these three titles are worth the bucks you would shell out to add them to your  home or school library.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Kristen Bell's sloth obsession-hysterical!

This video has me laughing and laughing so I had to share.  I showed it to my teenager the other day and he hadn't seen it yet which was a good sign.  Usually when I show him something I think is funny or new he tells me it is old news.  Enjoy and try not to repetively click on it.  I love Ellen and the fact that she fakes her out at the end is hysterical.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Weekend Joy.

I've had a great weekend. We picked out two lovely pumpkins on Friday and we've taken several walks to admire Fall colors.  I'm almost finished reading Iron Hearted Violet by Kelly Barnhill and I'm at a point where I don't want to put it down.  I read four more chapters this morning before going to church. I have to really push for other times in my days to read other than bedtime because then I only get 2-3 pages read before my eyes drift dreamily shut.

I finished the post about four of my favorite ARC's from September's reading.  It is frustrating to plan a post in my head, finish the books, but not get to my computer all week long to write it.  I have a certain glee over finishing and finally completing the post.

The best part of my weekend though was spent curled on the sofa with Groovy Girl and the dog, watching two movies on Friday and Saturday night. 

My husband and I awarded her 2 movie nights for how well she prepared herself for a recent Social Studies test on Native tribes.  She studied three different times with us and her hard work paid off-she scored 100 % on the test!  My husband took her to our local movie store on Friday night even though we have a Netflix acct., somehow now going to the movie store is more thrilling that pulling it from the ole queue.

Friday we settled in with a big bowl of popcorn and watched We bought a Zoo with Matt Damon as the adorable widow with two adorable children. I don't get out much apparently because I didn't pay attention while this was at the theater so when the credits started flowing I knew we were in for something interesting with Cameron Crowe as the director.  His other big movie, Almost Famous, is one of my favorites.  I teared up a few times during the movie as the family struggles with the mother's death.  I know my family would also completely fall apart if something tragic happened to me. For Real-we joke about it all the time here. I appreciated the teenage son, well-played by Thomas Ford, as he tries to cope with his mother's death.   Plus who could resist Maggie Elizabeth Jones as little Rosie!  We loved her impish look.

Saturday we watched Big Miracle with our favorite Office character, the handsome John Krasinski, plus Drew Barrymore and Kristen Bell.  This is a great story of three whales, a mother, father, and baby California Grays, stuck in an ice swell off the coast of Barrow, Alaska. Ted Danson plays against type as the owner of an oil company angry about the whales and the environment who finally sees the reason behind trying to save them.   The local indigenous tribe is in favor of killing the whales so their traditions are shared with their children.  This incident did take place in the 80's during Reagan's administration yet the arguments are still timely as we struggle with natural resources vs. the natural world issues.

Both stories are based on real events and they were great picks by Groovy Girl.  I have a whole cleaning list that didn't get finished this weekend but I'm grateful for the time spent relaxing and sharing good stories.  How did you spend your weekend?  Everyone in my family is now quietly working on projects which means it must be time for me to steal away to finish Iron Hearted Violet!  

Saturday, October 6, 2012

4 New Books to LOVE!

At the beginning of September I challenged myself to read through my big and beautiful, ever-growing pile of ARC's from Little, Brown and Company. I aimed for ten and finished seven.  Here I bring you the top 4 realistic fiction titles to look for.

Ask the Passengers by A.S. King:  This was my absolute favorite story.  I'm now a huge fan  of A.S. King and her coming-of-age, coming-to-grips tale of Astrid Jones.  She's unusual and knows it yet longs for the shelter of a loving family and honest friends.  She struggles with her own identity, familial disfunction, her sexuality, and what it means to be a good and true friend.  This story is a marvel and Astrid is a character that I think about often.  Buy this for your library or a teenager in need. Booklist Online has a very creative interview with A.S. King - read it, it will make you laugh.  (ARC provided by Little, Brown, and Company, release date October, 2012)

My Sister Lives on the Mantelpiece by Annabel Pitcher;  The Matthews family is broken in every way.  Jaime, the youngest, narrates the story of this family's critical loss.  Rose, Jaime's sister and twin to Jasmine, dies from a terrorist bomb in a local park.  Jaime's mother, trying to heal herself, attends a local grief group, meets someone else and leaves the family.  In order to douse the overwhelming pain Jaime's father drinks.  Eventually Jaime, his sister, Jas, and father move to the country to get out of London and away from the Muslim's.  Jaime's father blames all Muslim's for the death of his daughter and he emotionally abandons his two living children while grieving for Rose.  This book brings out the blanket racism that clouds good judgement as Jaime, in his little country school, befriends a local Muslim girl.  This book by debut author Annabel Pitcher is beautifully written with rare wit about a topic that will have people talking.  (ARC provided by LBC, August, 2012)

DJ Rising by Love Maia; Music is Marley's world.  With a scholarship to attend a prestigious school and a job busing tables at a hip restaurant he has his hands full just trying to make it on his own. In the midst of his own teenage life he juggles caring for his drug-addicted mother who never recovered from the death of her husband, Marley's music-loving dad.  Marley has two dreams: one is to DJ at a fancy club and the second is that the beautiful Lea Hall will talk to him. When his mother tries to recover, and the DJ world starts to suck Marley in, will he be able to accomplish any of his real goals as he learns to figure out what is most important?  This book is well worth reading as you want Marley to triumph over the life he's been handed and Maia's lyrical writing make it a quick read. Soundtrack to come according to her website. (ARC provided by LBC, Feb., 2012)

The Boy Recession by Flynn Meaney;  At first glance this could appear to be a fluff YA chick read but there is much deeper stuff below the surface.  Budget cuts leave Julius P. Heil High without a football coach or a team causing several affluent families to take their young players to private schools.  With so many young men gone the girls start looking at the second and third tier of eligible guys.  The theatre geeks, the band boys, and the stoner dudes suddenly all have a place at the table. Through this new adventure Kelly begins to see her old band-friend, Hunter, in a new light; he could be truly crush-worthy if the plastic girls (the "Spandexers") can keep their hands off him.  I enjoyed this story as it explores high school stereotypes and told through Kelly's and Hunter's alternating chapters.  Hunter is a boy I would have loved and you will cheer for him as he finds his true voice.  Flynn Meaney is also the author of Bloodthirsty.  (ARC provided by LBC, August, 2012)

These four easily captured my attention.  I have several others still to review including an elementary fiction title and four picture books and I am happy to share these exciting titles.  The common denominator is identity which is something teens struggle with whether gay, straight, male, female, rich, or poor and  these titles raise awareness for this angst.

 Thank you Zoe!! You make my day with your monthly emails.