Sunday, December 29, 2013

My library visit.

I picked up quite a bag full of books the last time I was at the library and have been reading furiously since then and guess what, I still can get them finished!

My life next door by Huntley Fitzpatrick (2012);  Great YA fiction.  Loved the relationship between Jase Garrett and Sam Reed.  Samantha's mother is a piece of work and easily could go down as one of the top ten terrible fiction examples for mothering.  She's a single mom with a big trust fund so she's snooty and has never embraced the more earthy Garrett family, the next door neighbors.   Sam, on the other hand,  is fascinated with the Garrett family and spies on them from her bedroom rooftop.  The Garretts are the polar opposite of Mrs. Reed; messy, loud, affectionate, and kind and Samantha quickly becomes one of them as Jace befriends her.  There are several different surprises in this debut tale.

Rules of Summer by Joanna Philbin (2013); Rory McShane has had a tough life so far.  She also has an inssuferable mother who chooses terrible men over motherhood.  Rory takes a job as an errand girl for the wealthy Rule family and even though she hasn't had a parent to look up to she certainly has a strong moral compass. Set against the backdrop of East Hampton, NY Rory learns a few new lessons but leaves with a sense of purpose about her own life and what kind of person she truly is.  Philbin is a wonderful writer and I've enjoyed her Daughters series as well.

Hattie Ever After by Kirby Larson (2013); Amazing historical fiction, a sequel to Hattie Big Sky, that continues her journey as she heads to San Francisco with an acting troupe.  Hattie is full of spirit as she meets new friends and gets a job at the famous San Francisco Chronicle.  It may not be as a star reporter as she would like yet for now she's just happy to walk through the heavy doors everyday.  Hattie is such an enjoyable character that I would love to see a third book chronicling her next adventure as she moves to the Pacific Northwest!  What do you think Kirby Larson?

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Merry Christmas (Eve) to All and to all a good night...

We've had a lovely day amidst the hustle to get everything finished.  I actually had to go to the mall today to exchange something, stop at the pharmacy, and our dairy for fresh cream but it was an easy hour of doing errands.  Most of the grocery shopping had already been done-thank you sweet husband.

We had our early service at church with lots of children involved including Groovy Girl singing  The Little Drummer Boy (a bit of trivia; it is actually called Carol of the drum and has an interesting story to go with it) and her older sister accompanied her on the rum-pum-pum drum.  I made clam chowder this afternoon from this Food Network recipe although I should have doubled it as there was just barely enough.  It was perfect  to come home to on this very chilly night and the only suggestion was that it needed more clams and that they shouldn't have been minced up.  My husband went the extra mile and purchased a pound and a half of good cherrystone clams for my recipe and I guess next time I will not mince them up.  We had big chunks of bread with our soup and a bottle of sparkling cider to share.

It is tradition to read a few of our favorite Christmas stories on this wondrous eve and we did just that; around the table we read The Polar Express, each of us taking a page and passing it around.  My husband does a dynamic job of reading The Grinch and Twas the Night Before Christmas.  All three kids are glued to listening as he dramatically reads both stories.  I love this part of our evening; its our own simple tradition and I'm glad my teenagers still love it.

We had to make the trip upstairs my husband and I to do that last look through the gifts to see what still needed to be wrapped and what will be set out for the big guy to deliver.  Our kids all understand but choose to believe in the magic still.

I hope you have a blessed holiday whatever you choose to celebrate, spending time with family is the true joy.  I'm off to hold my husband's hand as he runs lights for the 11:00 service.  The moment when the lights go out and the candles are lit is part of the magic.  Peace be with you.

Monday, December 23, 2013

Baby, It's cold outside; Picture books to snuggle with...

Cuddle in by the fire and read!

I have a few picture books I checked out from the library and they are lovely and perfect gift ideas!

Mo's Mustache (2013) by Ben Clanton

This is a very humorous look at copy cats and trendsetting-a fine line to be sure!  Mo appears with a mustache and all his crazy friends follow along which eventually makes Mo unhappy and feeling very un-special!  He puts his beauteous mustache away and sports a fantastic new scarf.  His friends copy him again.  This is perfect book for the little trendsetter in your family!

Glamorous Glasses (2012) by Barbara Johansen Newman

Bobbie and her cousin, Joanie do everything together so when it comes time for Joanie to get glasses Bobbie wants a pair to wear.  It's always greener on the other side of the fence as Joanie doesn't really want to get new glasses.  The two girls problem solve a solution that ends up mixing both of them up.  This would have been a perfect book for Groovy Girl in kindergarten when she struggled with finding anything glamorous about wearing glasses.

Year of the Jungle (2013) by Suzanne Collins

Suzy's father heads to Viet Nam and from a child's perspective we hear about how his absence affects the whole family through the year.  Full page illustrations show Suzy's imaginative idea of the jungle. This is short and perfect to use for parents who are deployed today as a way to explain their long absences and may help them to draw their own journals through writing and pictures.

The Littlest Evergreen (2011) by Henry Cole

Full circle for a tiny tree; from the tree's perspective we learn how this tiny shoot no taller than the glass blades transitions into a Christmas tree.  His roots are dug up and surrounded by burlap and purchased by a family.  In the springtime the tree is planted again in a big hole dug just for him.  This is especially relevant to our family this year as this is exactly what we did.  We plan to plant it where another evergreen died around the border of our yard.  Our kids are adjusting to the fact that it is not a full-sized tree this year but we are giving it back to the earth and that they can live with.

Happy Holidays.
I had plans to have many other fantastic Christmas posts done before this but it just hasn't happened.  I did have a great last few days of work handing out cookies and sharing books with students and now I will enjoy my family back together for the next week or so.  I hope the holiday is filled with many blessing for you and your family.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Weekend Cooking; Happy Holidays!

I feel like I've been working in my kitchen all day long!  And I have.  I started my day making several dozen cut-out cookies for the reception of our Christmas play.  And I'm ending my evening making this coffee cake before I head to bed.  The cake baking while I'm typing has me feeling hungry!

Here is my stepmother's cut-out cookies recipe that I've used for years now.  Whip these up and decorate them with a small person.  I guarantee it will put you in the Christmas spirit.

Also I am NOT a fan of cooking with shortening and this time of the year is my one exception as I make many dozens of cookies for receptions and such and then  Janice and I make dozens of cookies for the kids at school so that many sticks of butter is not an option.

"Happy Day" Cut-outs ~{Diane's recipe}

1 cup shortening
1 1/2 cup sugar
3 eggs
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp vanilla
1/2 tsp almond
4 1/2 cups flour

Blend together and roll out on floured board.  Bake @ 350*.  That's it.  Easy Peasy.  That's all she wrote on the scrap of paper and I know how to put them together but of course you will add ingredients in increments after creaming together the sugar and the shortening.  I put the soda, salt, and flour together and add slowly to mixing bowl after that.  Decorate with icing and lots of red and green sprinkles!  One might ask why they are dubbed "happy day" cookies? Because this is my stepmother's idea of what to do on a rainy, snowy, quiet, or sunny day and that any day then would be made happier just because you are making cookies!  You knew that, right?

I made these bars this week when my husband needed treats for a Christmas Opening Night event.....Monster Magic Cookie Bars.  They tasted great and looked like one of the elves threw up-perfect holiday treat.  I did discover this great blog, Life and Kitchen, though while searching for the Christmas-looking recipe.

While browsing the internet this week I found this well-written article by Musing Mamma to be interesting and accurate.  Reading the article really made me wonder how we can get toy companies to make changes to be more representative of all children.

This post is linked to Beth Fish Reads Weekend Cooking meme. Click her link to find many other food related posts.  I'm off to bed.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Weekend Cooking; Fresh pizza dough

I made pizza this weekend and it turned out fantastic.  The dough was triple light and airy because I rolled it out early and let it sit on the pizza stones in the oven for 3 hours while I went to another event.
When I came home and pulled the stones out of the oven to decorate the pizzas and let the oven heat up the dough was this puffy, airy mass.  I poured some red sauce on and set it in the middle of the table.

One of our little guests, Jackson, took a break from petting Sadie the rabbit to help me put topics on the pizza.  YES, mother, he washed his hands thoroughly before adding straight  cheese and a few tiny mini sausages to the kid's pie.  He liked helping so much he topped the adult pie as well with sautéed mushrooms, black olives, fresh spinach, and plenty of cheese!  I didn't want to seem like a dweeb as we made these pizzas but they were picture-worthy.  Thank you to Jackson for you pie decorating abilities.

Here is the dough recipe I used

Pizza dough 
adapted from Rodale's Basic Natural food's cookbook

2 cups warm water
2 T. local honey
2 full T. of yeast
3 T. vegetable oil
5-6 cups unbleached flour-can use a mix of white and whole wheat

In a large bowl combine warm water, honey, and yeast and let proof.  (Proofing means let it get active, it will be bubbly) Then add oil and enough flour to make a firm dough.  Turn dough onto floured surface and knead until smooth and elastic., adding flour as need.  Place dough in a well-oiled bowl, and turn over to coat.  Cover bowl with a damp warm towel and let rise in a warm place until doubled, about 1 hour.  

Punch down dough, knead briefly in bowl and let rise again. Then divide dough into two balls.  Form each ball into a flat circle and roll out into a circle. I use my Pampered Chef silicone mat for this and it makes it so easy to lift up the dough flip it and turn it over.  

We used most of the dough up last night but the rest is going to be turned into a calzone for tomorrow's lunch box main dish for Groovy Girl!  I'm off to create that with her now.  This holiday time make some dough and have an easy pizza party. I had all my ingredients prepped and in lidded containers so I could just whip them out and let Jackson go to town.  It made for a very easy entertaining trick.

 Have a holly jolly week!

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

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Knock Knock; My dad's dream for me.

I came home to two brown paper packages on my living room floor.  I ripped into them like it was an early Christmas treat.  Books are like that.  Inside one of the packets was this lovely book by Daniel Beaty and Bryan Collier (on shelves Dec. 17th).

Knock Knock; My dad's dream for me (2013) from Little, Brown, and Company is a beautiful story told well both through Beaty's writing and Collier's illustrations.  A young boy shares his joy of his father's presence in his life; their morning routine and what his dad means to him.  And my first thought was "how nice, the book is going to share the loving relationship between dad and child."  Did not happen; dad is suddenly gone and the young boy is sad,  misses his dad.  He writes his feelings down for his dad in a letter and leaves it on his desk.  I loved this illustration as Collier sends the boy flying up into the sky, searching for his father, on his paper airplane letter.

I was left wondering what happened to this daddy and because of that, as a reader, I was even more affected.  I missed the dad too; I could feel the son's confusion and loneliness.  Dad answers the son back in an letter on his desk, telling the young boy that he is sorry he can't be there too and gives hiim important growing up instructions and we see the son emerge as a young man, wearing his father's ties, maturing into a man.

This story stunned me because I teach all these wide-eyed beautiful children, many of whom have something in common with this young man; they miss their dads.  They easily talk about it often blurting it out during story time or when the topic of family comes up.  "My dad's in jail."  "My dad doesn't live with me." "I don't have a dad."  My heart shudders for them.  Ive read other books about loss to my students but this one sends forth a more raw emotional connection between the reader and the father/child relationship.

End notes are included for both illustrator and author and Beaty writes that his father was his caregiver until he was incarcerated.  I think it is easy to feel that emotion throughout the book.  I received my copy from the publisher and still my thoughts on this book are my own.  Always.