Friday, December 30, 2011

Book bag synopsis

I brought home a book bag filled with a few titles from my school library that I wanted to read over break.  Most of them are from a Scholastic order from the beginning of the year and haven't received much student attention.  I thought I could book talk them in the new year and it would give me my last few titles to reach the 100 mark for books read in 2011.  Here's what I've read over break so far:

Drums, Girls & Dangerous Pie (2004) by Jordan Sonnenblick;
Steven Alper is a middle school student who loves playing the drums and is annoyed by his little brother, Jeffrey. When the family discovers Jeffrey has cancer things get a little crazy.  Jeffrey suffers through the physical aspects of cancer and Jeffrey wades through how it must feel to be the child left at home, the healthy but ignored child.  Sonnenblick portrays both sides really well and has the middle school lingo down pat-he sounds like he never left middle school really...a bonus for him.  I can't wait to read his other two titles on my pile; Notes from the Midnight Driver and Zen and the Art of Faking It.

Ways to Live Forever (2008) by Sally Nicholls;
This is the story of Sam McQueen, an eleven-year-old in the last stages of leukemia and the story is presented to us through his eyes through an assignment his at-home-teacher gives him and his friend, Felix. My favorite aspect of this tale is that Sam is a list maker.  He has a few things he'd like to get accomplished before he leaves this earth and once he figures out he can do more than just dream about doing them he does!  He learns an important lesson about how one looks at a problem to solve.  The author is English and the story is filled with references like torches, sledging and Mum's and duffle coats-it makes the story interesting but will make it more difficult for one of my students to comprehend.

Radiance (2010) by Alyson Noel;
Wow; three in a row!  Riley dies in a car accident before the book basically opens-wham.  She's trying to figure out where to get in the happy field of flowers; to follow her sister, Ever, back to the Earth plane or across the bridge where her parents and dog have happily gone.  She's an interesting character with very defined thoughts about the world around her as she learns to live where she is and take on an assignment back on Earth.  She meets Bodhi; a nerdy but cute angel in desperate need of a victory and she's able to save a few lost souls along her journey, which is just what she needs to do to rise to the next level.  The next level of what though is a question she can't help asking!  I'm anxious to read the next one, Shimmer, as well as Noel's other series, The Immortals.  This is a fast read-one day-starting early, early this morning when I couldn't sleep.

The Daughters (2010) by Joanna Philbin;
This is a hot series in my library right now so I had to remove it from circulation and hide it for my holiday break-wielding my power as the librarian with supreme force over the hold shelf!  This one gave me a break from all the death and dying of my previous choices and was a perfect light read.  I wouldn't label it fluff though as Philbin tackles the personalities of three famous daughters trying to be themselves!  I thoroughly enjoyed their struggles and thought she had a lot to say about real beauty and celebrity worship.  I plan to read the next few in this series as soon as I can snatch them back from student readers.

Up Next:

Breadcrumbs by Anne Ursu
Wonderstruck by Brian Selznick

What are you reading into the new year?

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Holly Jolly

Loads of game playing. These have all been played or attempted over the holiday.

Lots of eating.

Christmas afternoon-opening family gifts.

We've even redeemed a gift card already!  Groovy Girl felt so grown up, getting her hair cut at my favorite Aveda salon.

We've snuggled up for movies and watched two episodes of Downton Abbey and several 
episodes of Arthur. 

Oh, the joy of everyone together!

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Christmas Eve

We had a cozy day hanging out today. Even though we hoped to be all done with our shopping we still had a few things to finish up.  My husband and I went out to look at a local appliance store which turned out to be closed so we continued on to get guinea pig food and a few other last minute gifts.  While we were driving around with NPR on the radio David Sedaris read to us from his Santaland Diaries.

So there we are driving around, concerned with our day but laughing our troubles away as Sedaris' recounts his brief (and hysterical) stint as an elf at Macy's.  I can't get it to load on my computer for some reason or I'd have it here for you to listen to but the link is here if get the chance to listen.  It was just what we needed.  And right before that we heard Neil Gaiman on Wait, Wait don't tell me.  Love public radio!

Why, you ask, were we searching out an appliance store on Christmas Eve day?  I know your curious...
The beautiful Sub-Zero that came with our old house died a sad and pitiful death two days ago.  Now if it was a snowy Christmas we could use the outdoors to store our holiday groceries but that is not the case here-it has been balmy!  No snow.  Luckily our friend, Jason, saved us by bringing over his garage fridge and we are using that for the next month or so until we can research the best refrigerator for our galley kitchen.  Thank you Jason!!

I hope you have a wonderful holiday however you celebrate-celebrate in style!
Merry Christmas to all!

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Anne Ylvisaker and The Book Club

Author Anne Ylvisaker

I was the host of our book club last night and we had a a fantastic time.  Through a round of chance encounters (one of our members worked with Anne's husband in Cedar Rapids a few years back) and after I'd read and loved Little Klein we cooked up a plan to read a few of her books and see if she would skype with us. We're so happy she agreed.

Ylvisaker grew up in Minnesota; in the St. Paul area, her father was a minister and she spent time in Iowa as an adult as well.  All three of her fiction books take place in these Midwest settings.  She had a lot of good stories to tell; some about her family and some about her writing process.  I particularly loved this one...her writing group at one time gathered words and shared them with each other; using them to write with that week.  She could pick them out of Little Klein and demonstrated how they raised the story up.  She also shared many of the personal family stories that have became part of her books.

It was one of the best book club experiences we've had and it had nothing to do with the delicious food or the wine.  It was the lively conversation we had with her and the discussion we had after we hung up the camera.
I'm a huge fan of hers and hope you will take time to read any of her fiction books for fun.

I read  Dear Papa recently (2002) a wonderful elementary/middle grade fiction that shares the letters Isabelle writes to her deceased father and other family members as she deals with her grief and her mother's eventual remarriage.  The book is filled with daily joys and disappointments...just like real life.  It takes place in Minnesota around the second World War.
Here's a snippet:
"Dear Papa,                                                                               Jan. 1, 1944 It's a brand-new year.  I have made some resolutions: Help the first time Mama asks.  Hang up my clothes before bed.  Go to church with a willing heart.  Keep our family together.  Your daughter,Isabelle, nine and a half today" (15)

I also read her latest book, The Luck of the Buttons (2011) about a young Iowa girl, Tugs Buttons, who is cursed with an unlucky family.  Tugs changes her stars as she wins a three-legged race, an essay contest and a raffle all at the 4th of July celebration.  She suffers some hard times but in the end she is able to show her family sometimes you got to make your own luck happen.  Tugs is another positive young heroine!
Another snippet to share:
"Tugs shrugged into yesterday's clothes, which still lay in a heap on the floor, slipped past Granny, who was writing a letter at the kitchen table, and collected five pennies from her mother on her way out the door.  Wednesday mornings were Granddaddy Ike's checkers mornings. and in the summer, Tugs was in charge of walking him from his house to Al and Irene's Luncheonette..."(60)
We found out she has two more books in the works about this Button family and the next one up is Button Down, featuring Tugs' cousin, Ned. Read my review of Little Klein here, which features an adorable boy and a dog combo that will make you smile to the heavens.

There was a grand moment for me when Ylvisaker recognized the "Peaceful Reader" name and asked if we were not on twitter together...I was over-the-moon-thrilled!

Thank you to Anne for taking time out of her busy schedule (her children had just returned home for the holidays) to talk with our group and to all authors who make themselves available to us, their adoring readers.
Thank you to my book club friends for willingly taking this leap of faith with me and Kay!
(now I'm thinking why didn't I ask her for a preview copy of Button Down...silly me)

Saturday, December 17, 2011

You're A Good Man Charlie Brown

We have a busy weekend.  My husband's play is up and this scene is one of my favorites.  So free and happy, celebrating the joy of Christmas.  Groovy Girl has been Woodstock in two of the four shows and we have family in town enjoying the play.

I did finish two books today; The History of Love by Nicole Krauss-what a beautiful story-I could have started all over again and Lucky Cap by Patrick Jennings, which has been Groovy Girl's story time book but her late nights with rehearsals have delayed our reading so this morning we cuddled in the big bed and finished the last 8 pages.  Love those mornings.  Then I got up and grocery shopped and cleaned house.  My book club meets here Monday night and we are skyping author Anne Ylvisaker, the author of Little Klein, Dear Papa and The Luck of the Buttons.  I'm very excited about this event...I just need to make it through this weekend's performances.

 Have a very love-filled weekend.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

I did something revolutionary this week!

(photo courtesy of Chez Us)
Don't you get tired of buying cans, boxes, jars or cubes of veggie, beef or chicken stock?  On my ongoing quest to bring less "stuff" into my house, especially the kitchen, I started to re-evaluate my constant need for stock.  While searching through my favorite crock pot book, Fresh from the Vegetarian Slow Cooker by Robin Robertson I ran across an easy recipe for stock and thought I should give it a try.

Maybe some people do this all the time but it was a revelation for me-how ding dang easy it was to make and how great it made my house smell.  It made enough for me to use for the next two weeks with some to freeze.

Give it a try-here's the recipe.  I no longer have to worry about purchasing too salty or expensive boxes of organic stock.  Thank heavens.  I also set up my mise en place for this recipe which made me feel extremely cooking cool.  

Light and Easy Vegetable Stock

A 5 1/2-to 6-quart cooker is best.
8 to 10 hours cook time
Low setting
Makes 8 cups

1 T. olive oil
2 medium-size yellow onions, quartered
2 large carrots, cut into 1-inch pieces
1 celery rib, cut into 1-inch pieces
2 or 3 garlic cloves, left unpeeled and crushed
Peels from 2 large well-scrubbed potatoes (I actually used the whole well scrubbed pots)
1/3 cup coarsely chopped fresh parsley leaves
1 large bay leaf
1/2 tsp black peppercorns
8 cups water
2 tsp tamari or other soy sauce (might be nice to make sure it is wheat-free)
1 tsp salt (I kind of thought this was unnecessary and didn't add it)

1. Drizzle the oil in the bottom of a the slow cooker.  Add the onions, carrots, celery, garlic, potato, parsley, bay leaf, and peppercorns, pour in the water, and add the tamari.  Cover and cook on Low for 8 to 10 hours.

2. Allow the stock to cool slightly, then strain it through a fine mesh sieve into a pot or bowl, pressing the vegetables against the sieve to release all the juices.  Store the cooled stock in tightly sealed containers where it will keep for 3 to 5 days in the refrigerator or in the freezer for up to 3 months. 

As I came down the stairs that  morning there was a delicious smell filling the house.  Now I'm ready to make the several soup recipes from Moosewood that I was interested in as well as the No Hurry Vegetable Curry on my menu for this week.  

How 'bout you?  Do you make your own or buy the box, cube, jar or can of stock?  Do you have a favorite stock recipe?

Monday, December 12, 2011

Porcelain Unicorn; directed by Keegan Wilcox-Grand Prize Winner of Tell It Your Way Competition

My mother sent me this and I love it.  It is emotional and startling to me every time I watch so thought to share it out to you.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Moosewood Restaurant; Cooking for Health

I've spent my weekend joyfully running from store to store picking up items for my Secret Santa school family.  I had to hunt down school uniform outfits (not easy since it is not beginning of school, I guess-who would know they would NOT stock all year).  I bought the two-year old a wee baby that cries-my groovy girl said "can I just play with it for one night?"  I must have picked a good baby. It warms my heart to shop for someone in need and I love participating in this program every year.  It always makes me sad when under the mom's wish list are things like this; any  cleaning supplies, laundry detergent, toilet tissue, dish soap.  So I got them all for her and a box of chocolates just because she deserves it.  

In between shopping and Groovy Girl's skating lesson I've been nourishing my food soul with Moosewood's latest cookbook.

Packed full of goodness this one has me scribbling down ingredients and recipes.  It also made me drop a HUGE hint to handsome husband that it was on my Christmas list.  He is pretty health conscious and is always excited about me cooking him food so it is a win-win situation for him.  With fantastic intro information the book begins with Organics, Eating Locally, Nutritional Analysis, and a wonderful chart showing pesticide levels for non-organic fruits and vegetables.  Did you know peaches rank the highest?  

As a runner my husband was most interested in "The Glycemic Index; Bad Carb, Good Carb, Fast Carb, Slow Carb section.  Recipes include a wide variety of choices from vegan to gluten-free and food allergies are  discussed as Moosewood as a restaurant now caters to many food choices beyond just vegetarianism.  I was impressed with the amount of tofu recipes and the wide variety of grains they've chosen.  

While I haven't cooked anything from the book yet I will leave you with a sample list of what could become some new favorite recipes:

Scattered Sushi Salad
Ginger Tofu Soup (the veggie's equivalent to chicken noodle soup)
Latin Corn Soup
Sweet Potato, Apple, and Chipotle Soup
Chunky Guacamole Sandwich
Curried Red Lentil Burgers
Spinach-Tofu Burgers
An Easy Baked Tofu (all my years of cooking with tofu-never have I baked it:(I've already bought the tofu for this one)
Quinoa and Collard Leaf Dolmas
North-South Chili
Oaxacan Green Mole Stew
Tunisian Chickpea Stew

See the list goes on and on and I haven't even read through the dessert (Fig and Pecan Baked Apples, anyone?) section.  There is a two-page spread made for busy nights here:  "Fourteen Ways to Embellish Brown Rice."  Each one of these beg to be tried in my kitchen.  

Don't you want it on your Christmas list too??

This post is linked to Weekend Cooking hosted at Beth Fish Reads.  Check out all the food-related posts over there.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Beautiful Holidays

(Nephew with Groovy Girl)

I've recently been holiday bashing because I had to go buy new lights.  Our old wonderful blue lights that have circled our house for a mere four years started to fade to a pale yellow and then blah to nothing.  Went to Target to replace those lights and brought a name brand kinda light.  Name brand is the key word and I was disgusted as I was only buying one set of lights to cover a large-ish bush in our front yard. (we made a new plan to cover some of the greenery out front instead of the's cold here now, you know.)  Truthfully I didn't expect to cover the whole ding dang bush but I did think I would cover more than one fourth of it.  Seriously.  You buy a box of lights that shows an entire big bush covered and you expect certain things. Don't.

(Teenage Boy, College friend, Handsome Husband
walking over break)

Wow.  The light buying business totally sucked the Christmas spirit right out of me for a couple of days.  That was it though.  I'm done with the rant.  This is just my public service announcement, for you.  Don't go buy Christmas lights and expect them to cover what you want.  I  do  remember my parents with this huge long rope of multicolored lights for our large tree.  It does not exist anymore. They now measure what would be half or a fourth of a tree or a bush and give you that amount in the box so you are forced to buy two to four more boxes of lights to decorate said tree or bush.  Ugh.  I'm done.

(My sweet brother) 

To remind me of happier holiday moments I went back to my Thanksgiving photos.   Viola.  I feel better.
p.s. I had to wait a week to write this post so it would not be full of true holiday anger.  This is my tamed down version of today's greed and commercialism.  The photos = true bliss.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

The Red Garden by Alice Hoffman

It begins:
The town of Blackwell, Massachusetts, changed it's name in 1786.  It had been called Bearsville when it was first founded in 1750, but it quickly became apparent that a name such as that did little to encourage new settlers.  True, there were nearly as many black bears in the woods then as there were pine trees, but there were also more eel in the river than there were ferns sprouting on the banks.  You could stick your hand into the murky green shallows and catch half a dozen of the creatures without using bait.  If you ventured in waist-high you'd be surrounded in moments.  Yet no one considered calling the village Eelsville...(1)

and so begins the reader's journey into this small village in the woods.  The bears, the eels and the weather all play into the theme of man vs. nature.  The book is filled with short, connected stories about the town's inhabitants; some of the events are linked and some are not but they all take place in Blackwell and they all demonstrate how small towns emerged all across this nation.

Hallie and William Brady lead the first expedition out of Boston with several other adventurous families and Hallie quickly becomes their champion.  William turns out to be a worthless salesman.  Each story goes forth often reminding us of a previous story by some note or wisp of gossip about the crazy town founders.

I found each story delightful-Hoffman's writing is vivid and descriptive and each character human.  There is a magically element with mermaids,, a garden graveyard, and one or two ghosts creeping about the riverbanks but nothing every small town doesn't already have!

Alice Hoffman makes it on to my favorite author list! We read this for our November book club choice and it was not everyone's favorite but other's put it up there with Stockett's The Help.  Happy Reading!

Other thoughts:

The Halifax Reader
Just Joywriting
Smallgood Hearth

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Weekend Cooking; Gluten-Free Girl and the Chef and other menu ideas

I browsed the new nonfiction shelves of my local library and came up with two cookbooks and two parenting books in under two minutes.  I had to quickly walk away after that because I go on these binges and bring armloads of nonfiction home only to let it sit and sit and sit until I return it two days late.

This time one recipe stuck out like a yummy thumb just waiting to be cooked.  I had a beautiful small pie pumpkin from the last farmer's market and I didn't know what to do with it;  no one here really likes pumpkin pie.  So I thought what the hey, I'm sure they'll love pumpkin soup.  Ha.

I've enjoyed reading Gluten-Free Girl's blog a few times on my recent quest to explore and understand celiac disease so her name popped out at me as my neck twisted sideways at the new cookbook spines. I would own this book if I were to indeed become gluten-free just for the stories splattered among the recipes. I've enjoyed understanding more about Shauna's journey and their sweet love story.
How can you resist headings like; Grocery Shopping as Foreplay and Honey, remember to eat.

Many of the recipes are too complicated for me or include ingredients unavailable to me in my sleepy small town but there is much more to this cookbook than just recipes.  In a small section at the front Daniel explains the importance of "mise en place"-a perfect three paragraph summary of my cooking life.  He describes Shauna in the beginning like this "she'd put a hot pan on the burner and then start chopping her onions with the oil getting hot in the pan.  She'd run from the stove to the refrigerator while a dish was simmering, always a bit frantic." (14)  That's me-most of the time.  I do not set up ingredients first.  I want to be that organized and now I can name it; mise en place.  Daniel gently reminds the reader that is why the ingredients list tells us what to do; chop, dice, cups, tsps so it can be there ready!  I feel enlightened.

If you are gluten-free this book would make a great holiday gift to yourself!

I made pumpkin muffins last night while I put the finishing touches on the soup and on Wednesday afternoon I had a brownie craving and made a pan of them just like my mother used to.  I thought her recipe was magic when I was growing up.  She admitted to me just a few years ago that she peeled that recipe from the back of the Hershey chocolate can.  How deflating.  I've cleaned it up a bit and made it my own.

Click for recipes:

Pumpkin Soup
Chocolate Chip Pumpkin Muffins
Judy's Chocolate Brownies
Butternut Couscous (tonight's menu with salmon from the co-op)

p.s. my kids disliked the soup but loved the muffins even though I told them (after the fact) that the muffins also had pumpkin in them.  They didn't care.  It's all about the dark chocolate!  My husband, with a more discernible palate, had several bowls of soup and then,  three muffins.

I discovered a new foodie blog this week while searching for the above butternut and Israeli couscous recipe.  Meet Peter and Keith at Feast.  I scrolled through a few recipes and they all look wonderful.  I hope they keep going.

This post is linked to Weekend Cooking.  Click over to Beth Fish Reads for more food-related posts.  Happy eating!

Thursday, December 1, 2011

November Reading Recap and a few mini-reviews!

Teenage Boy exclaimed the other day: "This year is going by so fast!" and I agree.  December is just around the corner.  We had a wonderful Thanksgiving spent in Deephaven, MN with my younger brother and his family.  The weather was gorgeous and the food was spectacular!  My brother has emerged as quite an eclectic chef and we had a non-traditional meal with King Salmon as the main course.  The salmon was caught in Lake Superior this past summer by my 9-year-old nephew!  A truly amazing feat and he was all smiles as we ooh'ed and aaah'ed over his tasty fish.

My reading in November was quirky:

 Bright Young Things by Anna Godberson (my shelf):  Ugh.  So wanted this to be as good as The Luxe series.  It was not.

 The Red Garden by Alice Hoffman (library):  This deserves a much longer review but suffice it to say I loved Hoffman's writing and will search for more of her prose.

 Spellbound (The 2nd book of Elsewhere) by Jacqueline West (library):  I loved this little series-perfectly creepy with a strong young female heroine. I reviewed it here.

 The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of her own making by Catherynne M. Valente (library):  I waxed poetically about this book here after just a few chapters.  The book stayed consistently superb.  The vocabulary alone puts it in a category all its own.  I had to look words up.  Such a treat.  The author's website offers a preview of the book.  Go on click and check it out!

Organizing the Disorganized Child by Martin L. Kutscher and Marcella Moran (new purchase):  Trying to help my Groovy Girl out a little here-this is filled with many great tools like this clock.

The Red Pyramid by Rick Riordan (my shelf):  I don't love it as much as The Lightning Thief but it is a good adventure with mixed race siblings.  I love learning about ancient Egypt.  I've had this on my shelf since it was first published-glad to be finally crossing it off my list.  The same nephew that was responsible for bringing in the salmon was a little disgusted with me-he's read ALL of Riordan's books-some more than once!  He was all like "well, have your read The Son of Neptune??"  Ahh, not yet.

What have you been reading??
Happy December.