Wednesday, December 30, 2009

The First Book I've "Kindled" - Book #104 for 2009

The first book I've read on my Kindle is Sense and Sensibility.   I enjoyed the experience of using the Kindle.  I especially found it easier to get comfortable reading in bed with the device than with the actual book.   I think my only "complaint" about the Kindle was not having the ability to see how far I'd read or how much further I had til the end --- you do lose that piece of seeing the pages stack up on the "read" side of the book and diminish on the "to read' side.   My other "complaint" with the Kindle is the spottiness of the wireless coverage in my rural area.  I get only 1 bar at home.  I do go to the pool at our local Wellness Center 3-4 times a week, and the coverage there is better (3 bars) so that's probably where I will do most of my downloads.    Now I will go back to the usual reading experience to read Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters which Elder Son bought me for Christmas!

Sense and Sensibility Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen

My rating: 2 of 5 stars
I got Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters as a Christmas gift.  Because I don't think I ever read the original, or if I have, it's been so long that I don't remember it, I decided to read Sense and Sensibility first.  This is definitely not Jane Austen at her best.  Her characters all have potential, but it's unrealized potential.  None of them came across as being fully developed, and the whole novel felt too passive.  The "rightness" of the final marriages didn't ring true enough for me; I didn't feel the connection between Edward and Elinor was strong enough. And there was never enough interaction between Marianne and Colonel Brandon to make that connection feel right either.  I am looking forward to seeing how the novel plays out in its new incarnation!

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Monday, December 28, 2009

My Husband Hit a Home Run!

This is what my husband got me for Christmas!  A total surprise - which is hard to do!


I love it so far!

#103 for 2009

Play with Fire (Kate Shugak, Book 5) Play with Fire by Dana Stabenow

My rating: 4 of 5 stars
The fire-ravaged woods hold more than a bumper crop of morel mushrooms. Kate Shugak stumbles across the partially decomposed nude corpse of Dan Seabolt, a teacher who has been missing for more than a year.  He's the son of a charismatic fundamentalist preacher, and father of a 10 year old boy who has hired Kate to find his missing father.  Kate's investigation into Daniel's death uncovers larger issues:  Who controls local education? What's the role of organized religion? Where is the line between faith and fanaticism? 

I really like this series, and I especially enjoyed this entry.

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Friday, December 25, 2009

And a Very Merry Christmas to All

I'm taking a few minutes to post a book review, while Elder Son puts together his specialty potato broccoli soup to accompany our Christmas ham.  We've had a leisurely morning opening our stockings and gifts.  Younger Son wasn't able to be home with us this year, which was hard on me since it was the first time we weren't all together.  But he and his girlfriend put together terrific stockings for the 3 of us.  We had a great time opening them!  If I can find the camera, I'll grab a picture of the non-traditionally decorated stockings they bought to put all the loot in!  I have a flamingo on mine.

Edited to add photo:

  Later we'll enjoy the above-mentioned soup, ham, parslied potatoes, green beans, and a maple cream pie.  That last is a new recipe that sounded delicious, but after spending a long time stirring custard yesterday, I'm not sure that it will live up to its promise.  We'll see!!  

Great minds think alike.  I bought Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters for Elder Son.  He bought me the same book!  I also got him a new copy of Watership Down.  He wore out my original copy that my best friend gave me back when it was first published.

Here's the book review:

A Cold-Blooded Business (Kate Shugak, Book 4) A Cold-Blooded Business by Dana Stabenow

My rating: 3 of 5 stars
In this outing Kate Shugak is asked by the CEO of the Royal Petroleum Company to investigate dope dealing along the Alaska Pipeline.  Kate finds a surreal world of excess --- very hard work, harsh climate, luxury lodgings, gourmet food, and hedonistic recreation.  In the process of uncovering the dope dealers, she also uncovers a ring of archeological artifact smugglers.  I once again enjoyed the way the Dana Stabenow brings an unfamiliar to me setting alive. 

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Wednesday, December 23, 2009

And the Race is On!

It's the day before the day before Christmas, school is out, and it's time for the final sprint.   School is out, and now I have time to get some things done that should get done.  Last year we were still without electricity due to the ice storm, and I was freaking out about how I'd do Christmas dinner, etc.  But last year both my sons were coming home.  This year, our "baby" (28 years old) won't be home.  That's the first time for both of us!  I realized last night that it's bothering me a lot more than I expected.   I'm tearing up even as I write this!  I'm guessing that's why I'm not super anxious that a lot of stuff isn't done.  Of course that's not fair to Elder Son who WILL be here!  

So, on today's agenda:
  • grocery shopping, once I finalize the menus
  • gift-wrapping
  • looking for the tree skirt to go under the lighted, but decoration-less tree so we can put the wrapped gifts under the tree.
  • cookie baking or "Best Buttermilk Poundcake baking.  (What doesn't get baked today, gets baked tomorrow)
  • water aerobics at 5 pm - a MUST!
Wish me luck!

Sunday, December 20, 2009

A Fairly Typical Weekend

Saturday:  Out of bed rather late -- 7:30 ish.  Started a load of laundry,  did some basic bookkeeping chores, and had breakfast.  Organized a shopping list for husband, and delegated a couple of errands to him.  Off to nearest shopping area with a good friend at 10 am to do some holiday shopping.  (That's actually atypical.  Normally I'd be running multiple errands and/or working on some major monthly tasks like the business bookkeeping or billing.)  Home about 3 pm.  Elder Son called to inquire about weather as a major storm was heading up the coast, and he had weekend travel plans.  He decided to come to our home for Sat night and then leave for his ski trip from here on Sunday rather than chance being snowed in in southern New England.  Meanwhile:  washed the sheets and vacuumed his room; did another load of laundry, and some school work.  At 6 pm, Elder Son arrives and we took him out to dinner.  Home about 8 pm and we watched a Netflix disk.  Off to bed about 11.

Sunday:  Up at 7, showered, dressed, breakfasted, more laundry and basic housekeeping chores.  Off to church at 9:30 for 10 am service followed by an extra-long church council meeting.  Got home at 1:30 and cooked the main meal of the day.  Now the kitchen is cleaned and it's just 3 pm.    Choices for the rest of the weekend include:  more schoolwork, bookkeeping, present wrapping, some secretarial work for business, and I hope some TV, knitting and Netflix. 

And then the week begins again.. . . At least this week, we have 2 days of school and then break.  I can do it!
I can do it!  I can do it!

I've decided that the older I'm getting, the longer it takes for my battery to be recharged, and the faster it runs out of juice!!

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Book Review #102 Jane Austen Book Club

The Jane Austen Book Club The Jane Austen Book Club by Karen Joy Fowler

I was disappointed in this book.  I never really connected with any of the characters.   If the book's organization was intended to link each character's story with one of Austen's novels, it didn't succeed.  It wasn't an awful book, but it wasn't particularly engaging or thoughtful.  I did find the chronological reviews of Austen's work at the end of the novel fascinating.  To see how  opinions of her work have evolved and changed over the years since their original publication was fascinating!

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Christmas Traditions - Friday Five

The Friday Five at  RevGalBlogPals is all about Christmas traditons"
So for this Friday Five, tell us five things about the traditions in your family. Think of

  • traditions you always do
  • traditions you always cook or eat
  • traditions you would like to start
  • traditions you would like to discard
  • anything about your family Christmases

My Christmas traditions are in transition now as my children are now adults, and for the first time ever, the Younger Son will not be home for Christmas.  Over the past few years our traditions have evolved as our sons left home for college, graduated, and started independent lives in other states.  But for many years our family traditions were pretty much what I grew up with.  (My husband is Jewish, so all the traditions were mine!)

In MY growing up home, we put the tree up about a week before Christmas, but we always kept it up til Ephiphany.  This was important to my Cuban father whose tradition was gift-giving on Jan 6th when Los Tres Reyes arrived.     I carried on this tradition in my own home although my tree goes up earlier each year.  This year the tree has been up most of the month, but it has only lights on it still ----  I've decided I love the lights more than the hassle of unpacking all the ornaments!!

For most of my growing up years we lived away from other family members, so we'd get huge boxes of presents mailed to us.  Mom wouldn't open the boxes til Christmas Eve. We looked forward to the grand opening of the mailing boxes and loved the pile of wrapped presents that grew under the tree. Despite my mom always warning us it was "going to be a slim Christmas", that never seemed to happen.  Of course with 5 children, and generous parents and relatives, that was quite a huge pile of gifts!   I broke this tradition with my own family  --- as soon as the boxes arrived, we'd unpack them.  I've always enjoyed the anticipation as much as the actual unwrapping, and I like seeing gifts piled around a tree!

Santa brought stockings and wonderful toys to us.  We'd hang our stockings on the fireplace or stair railing, depending on the house we lived in, and sometime during the night, Santa would fill them and put them at the foot of our beds.  We were allowed to wake up as early as we wanted to and open our stockings BUT we had to stay in our rooms/beds!  Nobody was allowed downstairs until Mami and Papi were up and dressed, and then we had to line up from youngest to oldest before heading downstairs. I think my folks were brilliant --- we had the surreptitousness of opening stockings by the light of the electric candles in our window, to hold us over until about 7 am!  I was the oldest though, so I was always last to see what Santa had left under the tree.  Santa's gifts were never wrapped, and most things were removed from their packaging. My parents were smart about that too, I think.  Trying to wrap things like dollhouses and ice skates and tricycles would have been difficult!   This was one tradition I definitely kept!

A twist on the stockings that emerged when my sons were in high school was that they started to fill stockings for husband and me.  I really looked forward to that.  I think that might not happen this year, since the 2 boys would go out shopping together to put the stockings together.

Food that has to be part of Christmas now includes:
Swedish meatballs on Christmas Eve  (from  my childhood)
Farm Journal's "Best Buttermilk Poundcake" on Christmas morning  (from my teenage years on)
Mrs. Greenhill's Shortbread cookies (for most of my childhood)
Crissy's Butter Cookies (since #2 son was about 5)
Ginger Crinkles (for most of my adult life)
Cranberry Almond Biscotti (relative new comer to tradition -- only about 5 years so far)

My kids never really liked Swedish meatballs, but one year, in what I thought was deference to their tastes, I made something else for Christmas Eve.  They were so upset!!!

A tradition that has been lost, that I dearly miss, was having a huge family gathering on Christmas Eve.  Mom would serve a buffet featuring the Swedish meatballs, we'd all sit in the living room and talk and sing Christmas carols,  budding musicians would play a carol on the instrument being learned, a child would read the Nativity story from the Bible, and last of all, Mom would gather us around her and read "The Night Before Christmas".  We'd hang our stockings and head for bed, and listen to the grownups below laughing and talking, and much later, we'd hear the rustling of what I was sure was Santa, but was really the adults setting out all the "loot".  With my own family, we never had the large family gathering since we lived 1000 miles away, but I did read the poem to my kids from the book my mom read from.

This year will be very different I think ---- we'll see!  I have been discarding some traditions, partly through attrition, and partly through change of circumstance.  I've already asked First Son if he'd be upset if I made something other than the meatballs. . . ..

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Book Review #101

Once in Every Life Once in Every Life by Kristin Hannah

My rating: 4 of 5 stars
 Despite the fantastical premise of the book, once the core story started, I couldn't put it down. And this was in spite of the fact that this novel is actually from the romance genre that I generally avoid.

Tess is a lonely microbiologist.  She became deaf at age 7 from a bout with spinal meningitis, and spent her life being shunted from foster home to foster home.  On her way home from work one evening, she's hit by a bus, and dies.  During the death experience she's given a 2nd chance at life, this time as the estranged wife of a Civil War vet suffering from post-traumatic shock syndrome.  Because it's a romance, it has a satisfying happy ending.  In the author's note at the end, the author says the story was inspired by a real-life incident in her family's history.  I have to admit, that I didn't like the title.  I think Second Chance would be a better one.

I like Kristin Hannah's books, but have only read her contemporary fiction.  This is apparently from her early days as a romance writer. 

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Friday, December 11, 2009

A Few Random Thoughts

1.  A year ago we were just beginning our 13 days of no electricity.  It's been the topic of conversation all week, especially among my 6th graders.  I suspect that when they are my age, they will be regaling their children/grandchildren with stories of the the 2008 ICE STORM.    One of the good things to have come out of that experience has been the deepened appreciation of all the things I used to take for granted:  Christmas lights, our washer and dryer, lights at the turn of a switch, to name some of the biggies. 

2. This was a relatively calm week at school despite a snow day.  Today we had a blast in one of my science classes.  The kids finished their work early and we still had just under 1/2 hr left. I really couldn't stand the thought of giving them the paper and pencil assessment I'd planned, because I just couldn't add one more thing to my pile of papers to be graded.  They also needed to get up and move.  So I "improvised" and adapted a colleague's activity.   We've been talking about ecological succession, and I wanted to be sure the kids understood the difference between primary succession, secondary succession, and climax communities.  I told them to divide themselves into teams of 2,3, or 4.  Each team had to create a song or rap that defined/explained ecah concept and present it to the class.  They had 20 minutes to create and practice, and we took the final 10 minutes of class for their performances.  They had so much fun!  Most of the teams created a rap-type song, and one enterprising duet combined rap and "opera" for their presentation.  It was clear from their attempts that they understood the concepts and we all laughed a lot while they performed.  I have to keep remembering to address these other learning styles and offer them more opportunities to show what they know in ways other than paper and pencil.

3. I thought I was behind on my reading for this year, but as I was looking back over last year's book lists, I'm just about even with my pace.  That surprised me.

4.  My plans for this weekend include finishing my out of town shopping, going to the town craft fair, going to church, getting a few Christmas cards done, and relaxing.  I wonder what I'll actually accomplish!



Wednesday, December 9, 2009


So just what do I do on a snow day 2 weeks before Christmas? I get up very early, my usual time in fact, and spend the better part of the day baking. Since my husband runs the bus company that provides the transportation for all of our students, he's up by 4 on mornings that are potential snow days. He turns on the outside lights to check the weather, turns on the TV to check the forecast, and then waits until the superintendent calls, usually about 5 am. Meanwhile, my alarm goes off at 4:45. I stay in bed, hoping that what the decision is, it's made early enough that I don't HAVE to get out of bed and start getting ready. Sometimes, depending on the storm's timing, the decision to call off school doesn't come until I'm up, showered, dressed, and making lunch. Today, the decision was made at 5:05, but I was awake, thinking about what I could be doing. And the phone calls start: all of the drivers have to be called, we get phone calls from people who for some reason, aren't on the automated call system the district has in place to notify teachers and parents of snow days, and then my husband and his assistant make numerous calls. So it's pretty hard to go back to sleep. Today, I got out of bed and decided that I would do this:

Don't look too closely at the oven floor - I need to run the self-cleaning cycle one of these days!

Those are my Ginger Crinkles, only one tray didn't crinkle! They taste great, however, probably my #2 favorite cookie.

And I also made these:

These are Cranberry Almond biscotti -- a relatively new Christmas favorite.

Then I made Younger Son's favorite cookies - his aunt's butter cookies. I really dislike making rolled cookies, but for him . . . .even though he won't be home, they will be sent to him.

I also made the dough for "Mrs. Greenhill's Shortbread" which is my favorite cookie. This recipe came from my brother's 2nd grade teacher, way back in the late 1960's, and they've graced the table every Christmas. I like them because they're not too sweet, and I can make the dough way ahead of time and keep it in the fridge or freezer until I have time to bake them.

And of course, now my kitchen looks like this:

From cookies

From cookies

I also put the lights on our Christmas tree!
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Sunday, December 6, 2009


The Lost Symbol (Robert Langdon, #3) The Lost Symbol by Dan Brown

My rating: 3 of 5 stars
I enjoyed this wild chase through Washington, DC. A great escape from the stresses of job and holiday hoopla. I especially enjoyed the very short chapters which suited the fact that I just have bits of time to read, no long periods of sustained reading available. Of all Dan Brown's books, I enjoyed Angels and Demons the most, however. This is not great literature, but it's a fun read, and it poses some interesting questions.

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A New Day, A New Frame of Mind

I feel much more relaxed today, despite the still-too-long list of To-Dos.
The play last night was terrific. We saw "Peter Pan" performed by Theater at the Mount, a community theater located at Mt. Wachusett Community College in Gardner, MA. We have season tickets with our friends and there are 5-6 plays per season. This one was a lot of fun, and brought back really good childhood memories -- of my sister "crowing" and Mary Martin flying, etc. My middle school also performed it a couple of weeks ago - this time the Disneyfied version, and they did a nice job too.

I am skipping church today --- I really need the time to get some things done, but I've been having my own Advent preparation. I spent some time with the lectionary, and I've been listening to John Rutter's "Music for Christmas". I got my creche put up too.

Now it's time for some work: science planning, new seating charts, and some language arts prep. Nevermind the piles of papers to grade. That's not going to get done today.

And it's really pretty outside. We got about 2 inches of snow yesterday/last evening. It looks like December, and the sun is shining brilliantly.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

It's Just One of Those Days . . . .

I am feeling super stressed today. I have a list of things to do that seems endless, and so far everything I've worked on has either taken longer than it should have or I've run into a complication that made usually simple tasks difficult.

On my to-do list:
Monthly billing
Business check book reconciliation
Education association bookkeeping
Put up the window candles and set all the timers (the 2nd part's the worst)
Buy tree and put up (not decorate, yet!)
Plan this week's science and reading/language arts
Finish Dan Brown's The Lost Symbol
Bring creche down and set it up
Go to church
Go with friends to see play at theater for which we have tickets. Dinner first!
Laundry (It's in progress)
Christmas shopping via online
Wrap already bought gifts
Watch Firefly Netflix disc

It's snowing too.

I just realized that I totally spaced the church Christmas fair! I was supposed to bake something for it, and not only did I forget that, I didn't even go to the fair! The first time in 30 plus years that I didn't buy my door wreath at the church fair. Now I don't have one.

I know that some of the stress is from work -- some big changes on the horizon that are scary, even though most of them are probably needed changes. I'm also disappointed that the best Younger Son I've got won't be home for Christmas.

Well, it's almost 3 pm and I haven't gotten much done on the list, but at least the billing and tree are accomplished. Now that I've had a break, I guess I'll tackle some school work before I think about what I'm changing into for dinner out and the play. I don't think my pjs will work!

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Annoyed with Myself

I am annoyed and frustrated with myself right now. I started a new knitting project over the Thanksgiving holiday, the Winding Road Henley from Creative Knitting. I cast on 123 stitches and went to work. I've knitted about 4 inches of the pattern, and last night went to double check my stitch count. I have 157 stitches on my needles. I counted it 4 times, and each time it came out to 157 stitches. My pattern is perfect, so it's not that I added extra stitches during the yarn overs, or that I skipped a decrease. I just have 34 extra stitches on my needles. ARGHHHHH!!!!

So tonight I will be visiting the frog pond.