Friday, December 31, 2010

Friday Five: New Year's Eve

From RevGalBlog Pals:

For some of us, this has been an incredibly difficult year; for others it has been a year of many joys. For all of us, there have been challenges and questions and there have been blessings and--maybe even an answer or two! As we say our goodbyes to 2010 and look towards 2011, share with us five blessings from 2010 along with five hopes or dreams for 2011.

My blessings for 2010:

1.  Having a chance to visit with all my sisters and their families over the July 4th holiday.  We all live in different states - NH, NY, MI, and IN- so it was a wonderful blessing to gather in MI with all 3 of my sisters and enjoy some wonderful family time.

2.  Having a chance to visit with my "little" brother and his family also in July.  He wasn't able to join us for the MI reunion earlier in the month, but my husband and I were able to go down to Virginia Beach to help his daughter celebrate her engagement.  

3.  Having my 2 of my sisters and their families, both my sons, and one son's girlfriend spend Thanksgiving with us.  I miss having big family gatherings.  My MI sister and my NY sister and their families were able to come for Thanksgiving, as was my Los Angeles son and girlfriend, and our MA son.  We had a wonderful time and everyone when home with a great story "The year Aunt Debbie (Mom, Deb,) tried to burn the house down."  I had a huge grease fire in my oven as the turkey cooked.  My MI sister gave me a fire extinguisher for Christmas.

4.  Having our health is always a blessing.  My husband had a heart attack 10 years ago, and I appreciate every year we have together.

5.  Being able to complain about work!  With so many people unemployed or under employed, it's a blessing to be able to have a job to complain about.  And my husband is an employer so it's a blessing that he can offer 35 people jobs.

Hopes and Dreams for 2011:

1.  That  Elder Son find new work quickly.  His job was eliminated as of Dec. 23rd.  He was told Dec. 21st.  He is optimistic, and in relatively good financial shape at the moment.  My dream is that he finds the type of job he wants, quickly.

2.  That both my sons find happiness with someone who loves them.

3.  That I am up to the task of taking on a new role as church moderator.  It's a huge responsibility, and I have huge shoes to fill.  

4. That I can find a way to be happier with my current work situation.  

5. My hope is that I will take better care of myself -- physically, spiritually, mentally, and emotionally.  I need to find balance, and I need to find ways to feed my spirit.

Not too much to hope for, and mostly things that I have to rely on others and lots of prayer to accomplish!

Monday, December 27, 2010

Blizzard Books

A couple of great reads to keep you occupied while the winds howl and the snow piles up!

The first is Fannie Flagg's new book. I've read all of her books, and this one is terrific!

I Still Dream About You: a NovelI Still Dream About You: a Novel by Fannie Flagg
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Hysterically funny, quirky, and vintage Fannie Flagg.  Maggie Fortenberry, former Miss Alabama and current real estate agent is planning a major life change.  She's closed her bank account, given away her belongings, and has left messages for all her friends.  Now is the big day!  But wait!  Babs Bingington, aka "The Beast of Birmingham", and Red Mountain Realty's archenemy, is about to obtain the listing for Crestview, Maggie's dream home. Crestview symbolizes all the best that Birmingham offers, so she delays her departure in order to steal the listing from Babs.  A mysterious skeleton and Turkish Whirling Dervishes also get in Maggie's way.  As Maggie tries to wind up her affairs and sneak away we get to know her friends:  Brenda, her African-American partner in the real estate agent, and aspiring mayoral candidate, Ethel, the nonagenarian purple-haired office manager, and Hazel, the midget who founded Red Mountain Real Estate and who rescued Maggie from failure.  I really loved this book!

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And other favorite author of mine:

My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Once again Lindsey Davis delivers a fast-paced novel of intrigue featuring Marcus Didius Falco, Procurator of the Sacred Geese, and imperial informer.  Falco and his entourage (Helena, his daughters, his sister Maia and her children) are still in Britain.  They are now in Londinium, visiting Helena's relatives, when Falco is asked to investigate the odd murder of a disgraced British courtier.  Petronius is also involved in the investigation, and we meet Chloris, the famed ropedancer and an important former girlfriend of Falco's.  Needless to say, Falco's investigative powers land him into trouble but as usual, he is able to disentangle himself and solve the puzzles presented. Along the way,a major tragedy brings Petronius closer to his new love.  I will be sorry when I run out of the books in this series!!

Friday, December 24, 2010

Twas the Day Before Christmas

And all through this house lots of busy-ness.  I was up at 6 making my final lists.  I wrapped 2 gifts by 7 am, showered, and got a load of laundry going.  I headed out the door about 8 am to finish up some shopping.  One of the difficulties I have each year is getting a chance to go shopping in a timely fashion.  Aside from a local Walmart,  and a few speciality shops, I have to travel 20 miles or more to go to a store that stays open past 6 pm.  And when I don't get home most nights till at least 6, that limits my shopping opportunities.  Someday I will get to Christmas Eve day with all my shopping done and all the gifts wrapped. . . but that won't be for a several years at least!  I have this "vision" that when I retire, I will have my house tastefully decorated, my Christmas cards written, and all my shopping and wrapping done by Dec. 15th or earlier.  I will spend the week before Christmas baking goodies to share with friends and family.  I will sit in quiet peace in the late afternoon with a cup of tea basking in tree lights and Christmas music.  That's my fantasy at least!!  Instead I rush around the 2 days between end of school and Christmas trying to shop, bake, wrap, etc.  My tree didn't get home until last Saturday, and then the lights went on it Sunday.  That's it.  No other decorations.  It's the most beautiful tree I've had in years with perfect branches for my ornaments, but it's just not going to happen.  It smells heavenly, and at night with the lights on it, I'm completely content.  During the day, it's a bare naked tree!

I'm waiting right now for the Best Buttermilk Pound Cake to finish baking.  This has been a tradition in my house for almost 30 years.  It came from a recipe my mom found in a Farm Journal magazine at least as long ago.  It's really simple -- butter, Crisco, sugar, flour, eggs, good vanilla, and buttermilk, and it makes the most tender rich pound cake I've ever had.  I dust it with confectioner's sugar and serve it for breakfast on Christmas morning.  It's one of the must have recipes in our household.  I try to bake it a couple of days before Christmas because the flavor improves with age . . .

Other must have offerings include Swedish meatballs on Christmas Eve.  I started making these years ago.  I put them in my crockpot, and then it didn't matter when they got served.  It's not really a recipe - it's ground beef with onion, celery, nutmeg, garlic, etc. shaped into meatballs. I usually bake them and then throw them it into a crockpot with a cream of mushroom soup base, with a little sherry, paprika, and sour cream.    We serve them over egg noodles. My kids used to complain that they hated them because of the mushroom soup.  One year however, I decided not to make them since they complained so much.  I served ham instead.  My kids were livid -- how dare I not make the meatballs!    So ever since, I have to make them.  My sons are now 29 and 30 and they say the meatballs are a dish they love to hate!    There are 4 kinds of cookies I "have to have" on Christmas too --- "Mrs. Greenhill's Shortbread"  which are a recipe my little brother came home with one year from his 2nd grade teacher,  Ginger Crinkles which are a basic molasses cookie, "Aunt Crissie's Butter Cookies" which are an icebox cookie that you roll out and cut into shapes, and the newest member of the must-haves, "Cranberry-Almond Biscotti."  I used to make Pecan Tassies, too and Magic 7 Layer Bars, but we've pared down over the years!   This year's baking has been off --- my shortbread tastes terrific, but the cookies themselves cracked and crumbled when I sliced them before baking.   The biscotti crumbled too.  I'm not sure what the problem is/was.  They look awful, but they taste good!

So now I'm waiting for Elder Son to arrive.  He's actually in town, at the office with his father, setting up a new office computer.  Younger Son stayed in California.  He and his girlfriend were here at Thanksgiving, and couldn't afford a 2nd trip back east.  We plan on a quiet and relaxed holiday.  My church service is at 6 tonight which is a bit of an awkward time for us this year.  It's always been at 7 or 7:30, and for some years we had both an early service and one at 11 pm.  I miss the 11 pm service -- it was the final cap on the best day of the year.   I actually like Christmas Eve better than Christmas Day. I've decided that it's the anticipation I enjoy -- I love seeing the wrapped gifts under the tree, thinking about how my family will enjoy what I've gotten them.  I love the waiting.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

More Book Reviews

ImpossibleImpossible by Nancy Werlin
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

One of my 7th graders read this book as part of her independent reading program.  Her comment on her reading log intrigued me.  "I loved, loved, loved, loved this book. I've read a lot of books and this is definitely the best.  You HAVE to read it!"  So she loaned me her copy.

Lucinda Scarborough is cursed as were her mother, grandmother, great-grandmother, and so forth, ever since Fenella refused the advances of the Elfin Knight.  Until a Scarborough woman can fulfill the impossible tasks listed in the ancient ballad we know as Scarborough Fair, all Scarborough women will bear an illegitimate  child and go mad.  Lucy has been raised by a loving foster couple, and when she is raped on prom night, they stand by her as she chooses to keep the baby.  Along with Lucy's best friend Zach, they also help her try to break the curse.  Is Lucy able to make her true love a seamless shirt without any needles?  Is she able to find an acre of land between the sea and the strand and plow it with a goat's horn and one kernel of corn?  Can she accomplish all these tasks before the birth of the next Scarborough female?  I found the writing strong and the characters quite likeable.  I was really drawn into the story.  I certainly understood why the book appealed to my adolescent student so much!  I can't put this on my classroom library shelf although I know other girls who would enjoy this book -- the rape and later, the  references to marital sex (although very subtle) would not meet school criteria.  I will say that the author handled the rape scene very sensitively, and I think that some of my more naive girls might not "get it" until later in the book when the characters talk about it.

I love being able to "talk books" with my student readers, and I especially love it when they recommend a book to me!

View all my reviews

My rating: 2 of 5 stars
I chose this book because two colleagues recommended it.  I also love historical fiction set in ancient times so I looked forward to reading it.  As my 2 stars indicate, it was okay.  I wanted to like it more.  It's a detective story set in ancient Egypt.  Nefertiti is married to Akanaten who has dared to start a new religion, with himself as the center of it.  Rahotep, a detective from Thebes, has been hired by Akanaten to find his missing wife.  Several gruesome murders occur before Rahotep finds the missing queen, and he is tangled up in a life-threatening web of intrigue.  The author creates a believable setting, and captures the flavor of ancient Egypt well.  But I found the story itself plodding and not particularly compelling, and I didn't really feel connected to Rahotep who is telling the story.  I have the 2nd book on my kitchen counter since I checked both of them out from the library at the same time.  I haven't decided if I will read it. 

Sunday, December 19, 2010


Here it is the fourth Sunday in Advent, and I am still at Thanksgiving as far as preparations physically, emotionally, and spiritually.  I hate the relentless pace I set, yet it seems there is little I can control as far as slowing down.   I put in long hours at school, and then work what amounts to a second part-time job in my husband's business.  I try to get to our Wellness Center at least twice a week for some serious cardio exercise.  Those are the have-to's.  In between, I try to put decent evening meals on the table, occasionally do some laundry and basic table/counter clearing, and get to bed at an early enough hour that I can get 6.5 hours of sleep.  I wish I could find time for more sleep, but 6.5 hrs is all I can eek out.

I hate that the weekend before Christmas I had to spend 4 hours doing the business bookkeeping, rush to finish the shopping  and wrapping for gifts that have to be mailed, and then rush to get to the bank and post office before noon to get everything mailed and deposited.  I had to find time to do several loads of laundry, grade several sets of papers, and run a number of errands.  We FINALLY got a tree yesterday, and we got it put up.  It's not decorated--it's a beautiful ceiling scraping balsam fir, perfectly shaped, very fresh -- and it's bare naked.  I don't think it will get decorated, although I hope to get a string of lights on it tonight . . .maybe.
I wasn't able to get to church this morning, although I made it to our council meeting.  Then we went to a gathering to honor a young couple who were married earlier this year in CA but are home for the holidays.  So now it's Sunday night, and it's back to work, and I still don't have a decorated tree, or cookies, or cards done, and I'm just not ready for it to be Christmas.  I'm not ready in my heart either - I need time to sit and be still and be silent . . . .and there has just not been the space for me to do that.

I'm not sure where I was going with this -- I got interrupted by a phone call and then a minor crisis which is resolved.  I was going to delete it all, and then decided to let it go out into the ether.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Books #110 and #111

The Cruellest Month (Armand Gamache, #3)The Cruellest Month by Louise Penny

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The Cruellest Month is the third book in the Armand Gamache series. Gamache returns to Three Pines to investigate the death of a woman who was apparently scared to death at a seance. The more compelling part of the story is the turning point in the "Arnot Case" plot line. The previous subtle attacks on Gamache become very public, and Gamache must deal with the fallout. His enemy is revealed, and in a very interesting plot twist, those who are loyal to him are also revealed. The familiar inhabitants of Three Pines all make an appearance, and Ruth Zardo shows a completely different side of her personality. I stayed up late one night to finish this one!

For something completely different, this book definitely fits the bill.  Aside from the odd choice of topic, the writing is brilliant.

Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human CadaversStiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers by Mary Roach
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is one of the most fascinating, interesting, funny, serious, and gross books I've ever read. Mary Roach researched the "after-life" of human cadavers and all the various ways they have been put to use.  From organ donations, to medical school anatomy labs, to industrial research, and military research, human remains have been an important resource.

Her writing is clear and descriptive, and she has a knack for imagery which can sometimes be off-putting.  The book is infused with a wry humor also, some of it from the people who actually work with cadavers, but often it's her own humor. Yet the reader never loses the sense of the enormous respect, Roach and the various researchers have for the real people who (usually) allowed their remains to be used.  A warning:  there are some passages that can make one squeamish.  I think the best line in the book is at the very beginning, when Roach compares a human head to the size of a roasting chicken.

View all my reviews

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Some Middle School Reads

The Red Pyramid (Kane Chronicles, #1)The Red Pyramid by Rick Riordan
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

The Red Pyramid is the first book in Rick Riordan's new adolescent series Kane Chronicles.  Carter and Sadie Kane are brother and sister who have been raised in different homes since their mother's death.  Carter has been accompanying his Egyptologist father around the world, while Sadie lives with their mother's parents in England.  Each teenager wishes they had the life the other has.  Carter and Sadie are reunited when their father takes them to the British Museum where he causes an explosion and disappears.  The two are questioned by the authorities about their role in the explosion and the disappearance of the Rosetta Stone.  They are rescued by their uncle Amos who divulges a family secret.  Carter and Sadie are direct blood descendants of the last Egyptian pharaohs, and they have an important task:  prevent the ancient god Set from destroying North America.  The book catapults the two protagonists across time and space to ancient Egypt, the Egyptian House of Life, and to modern America.  It's full of suspense, magic, Egyptology, and lots of action to please most middle school boys.  There's some romance too, to please the girls.  I had a hard time with this book.  I wanted to really, really like it, the same way I loved the Percy Jackson series.  But I just couldn't get into this.  I think it was partly because of the dual narration.  I think it's also hard to write the same great story twice.  Teenagers who are part ancient gods who have to save the world has been done by Riordan already.  I know it appeals to my middle school readers though.

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And this one is not only terrific reading, but it's a wonderful resource for modeling good writing!

My rating: 5 of 5 stars
This is one of the best pieces of nonfiction writing for young people I've ever read.  In Chasing Lincoln's Killer James Swanson paints a vivid, engrossing picture of the Lincoln's assassination and manhunt for James Wilkes Booth.  His description of the actual assassination pulls the reader right into the scene.  My middle school boys especially are glued to the book.  The research is meticulous and my readers are fascinated by the sepia toned pictures of Lincoln, the conspirators, and the newspaper accounts.  One young man even asked if I had a magnifying glass so he could see all the fine print in a newspaper clipping pictured.  Swanson has written an adult book Manhunt about the same subject.  Both are riveting.

A New Mystery Series!

Still Life (Armand Gamache, #1)Still Life by Louise Penny
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Still Life is Louise Penny's debut novel and introduces Chief Inspector Armand Gamache from the Surete de Quebec.  He is an intelligent, highly literate, and confident man who believes in teamwork and collaboration.  He is sent to the small village of Three Pines, a village so small that it doesn't appear on maps. to investigate the mysterious death of Jane Neal, the retired village school teacher.  Three Pines is a very close-knit, friendly community where doors are always unlocked, and everybody knows everybody else's business.  Despite its closeness, it's an open and welcoming community; its leading citizens include Olivier and Gabri, gay B&B owners, a famous angry feminist Canadian poet, a set of bohemian artists, and a black woman who gave up a lucrative psychiatric practice to run a used bookstore.  Who would want to murder a well-loved neighbor?  That is the puzzle facing Gamache.  He reminds me a bit of Hercule Poirot and Jane Marple.  He uses his innate knowledge of human nature as well as well as forensic evidence to solve the puzzle. As he ferrets out his evidence, he mentors the members of his usual team, as well as a very unsatisfactory new agent.  I really enjoyed the start of a new series, and I am looking forward to reading the rest of the series.

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Saturday, December 4, 2010

My Friday Five: Christmas Traditions

This is the current RevGalBlogPal Friday Five:  Whether a RevGal or a Pal most of us in this cyber community have enhanced responsibilities during this time of year. We also have traditions - religious and secular - that mark the season for us in a more personal way.

For this Friday Five please let us know five of the things that mark the season for you.
1.  Music:  I have an enormous collection of Christmas music which I do not allow myself to play until the Friday after Thanksgiving.  I held out until Advent this year which is a goal I had set for myself.  I have to admit that reaching that goal was more an accident of circumstances.  Had I not had Thanksgiving company, a Saturday full of busy-ness, I most likely would have caved.  My husband complains a bit about my collection because it's 97% traditional carols, classical, and religious, and only 3% secular holiday music.  And by traditional carols, I mean carols sung by choirs or by the great standard vocalists of yore: Andy Williams, Tennessee Ernie Ford ,  Perry Como, for example, or instrumental versions (Windham Hill recordings, Manheim Steamroller, and recently the Transiberian Orchestra) of the same. My absolute favorite Christmas album is one from childhood.  It's a recording of a concert by the Harry Simeone Chorale.  The music selections followed the scripture readings for the season --and the carols are interspersed with the readings.  Unfortunately the vinyl is scratched in several places, but I still listen to it several times a season.  A couple of years ago, a CD with the same name by the same choir was released, but the music selections were changed and the scripture readings were omitted.  Not nearly as good!  Another must-listen is also from the past - John Denver and the Muppets Christmas album based on a TV special from way back when.  I've branched out a bit, with Jewel, Charlotte Church, and a few other more modern musicians, but I definitely trend traditional.    The last time I counted, I had more than 50 CD's and about a dozen vinyl recordings on the Christmas shelf.  

2. My tree:  Our tree is huge, and it's live. I prefer balsam fir which is readily available here in New England.  We plan to go pick it out today, but it probably won't be put up until next weekend.  My tree never comes down until Epiphany, or the Saturday after Epiphany.  My  Cuban father taught us that the Three Kings didn't arrive on Christmas, but on January 6th when they arrived bringing gifts for Jesus.  If he had had his way entirely, we wouldn't have received presents until then, but my stubborn Yankee mother convinced him that Santa Claus arrived on Christmas Eve after we were fast asleep!  We did occasionally put straw out for the camels on Epiphany Eve when I was really young.  Our tree is full of a grand mishmash of ornaments - many handmade by our sons over the years, some collected over the years on their behalf --- for many years our tree was full of Star Wars ornaments, but they have found a new home with the son to whom they belonged, assorted antique glassblown creations, and sundry others.  Every year I think I want to do a theme, but every year I realize that the pastiche of ornaments represents our life.  And the lights on the tree have to be multi-colored, tiny, and non-blinking!

3. Stockings:  In my childhood home, we hung our stockings on the mantel or stair banister in the houses that didn't have a fire place.  Sometime during the night Santa came and filled them.  He placed them at the foot of our beds.  We were allowed to wake up early (but not before 4 am!) and open our stockings, but we had to stay in bed until at least 7 am!  I have such wonderful memories of tiptoeing over to the windowsill to turn on the electric candle in the window, and then my sister and I (we shared a room) would go through our stockings in that warm, dim light.  When my parents FINALLY awoke,  all 5 of us children would all gather on their bed and share the delights of our stockings with them.  They were always, always convincing in their surprise over the treasures we'd received. That's probably one reason why naive, trusting me didn't know for sure the truth about Santa until I was 14!   My own kids enjoyed a similar tradition but they went one better once they reached high school.  They started filling a stocking for us.  We love the stockings our kids fill for us!  They give us the most ridiculous gifts which we thoroughly enjoy!

4. The Manger:  Growing up my mom had a cardboard stable with a fold down flap.  Inside were plasterish figures of Mary, Joseph, and the Baby Jesus.  On the fold down flap were the stable animals, shepherds, and the Three Kings.  Somewhere along the line, Mom acquired 3 plastic Wisemen on brown camels.  So our Nativity had SIX wisemen.  Over the years, the plastic camels lost a leg or two, and were propped up with matchstick or popsicle legs.   Who took ownership of that manger scene when we were clearing out my parents' house after their deaths was one of the toughest decisions we made as siblings!  A couple of years before my mother died, she bought me a Willow Tree nativity which I treasure.  It's on the sideboard in my dining room where we can see it daily.  It's the first decorating I do for the season.

5: Window lights:   I have 24 windows that need window lights during December and most of January.  It's the chore I hate most about decorating, but it'a also a must.  I spend the better part of an afternoon plugging in all the lights and setting all the timers, and then spend the better part of the week, getting all the timers synched.  Some day I will splurge and buy the automatic battery operated candles, but so far, the budget doesn't stretch to the outlay of cash, although I think in the long run they will cost me less.  My lights have to be warm white too.  And no twinkling!!

And the bonus? Tell us one thing that does absolutely nothing for you.

Blinking, flashing, garish light displays, especially when accompanied by music.  A new local tradition is a huge light display on the local Catholic school that has been choreographed to music. It's a donation from a prominent business in town, and it draws many visitors. But it does nothing for me.   I don't like garishness, I guess.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

A Proposal

I posted this on my FB account earlier this week, partly in jest, but partly in earnest.  I propose that Congress move the date of Thanksgiving into early October.  It really bothers me that Thanksgiving gets lost in the Christmas shopping advertising blitz that starts right before Halloween.  I am sick of going into the grocery store or the big box store Halloween week and hearing Christmas music.  I'm already sick of seeing the poinsettia and Santa decorations in those places too.  I want to see turkeys and Pilgrims and pumpkins!  So if we were to move Thanksgiving into October, the merchants would have free reign to advertise all they want for 2.5 months!

.  In my own way, I try very hard to keep to more traditional practices.  I don't start decorating for Christmas or play Christmas music until Advent begins.  I rarely even begin to think about gifts until Thanksgiving weekend.  I have never participated in Black Friday sales, and don't ever plan on doing so.  My tree goes up usually the about 10 days before Christmas, and remains up until Epiphany. I light an Advent wreath, and I participate as much as possible in all the Advent events at church (music, services, study groups, crafts, etc.)  My choice for Christmas music skews way towards the religious carols and hymns and classical pieces. I want to keep Christmas special  with the emphasis on the spiritual aspects.  Don't get me wrong.  I love the decorations, and the lights, and a lot of the hoopla --- but I like it during the month of December, and during the season of Advent.  

I'm not sure if moving the date of Thanksgiving would make things worse as far as the commercialization of Christmas, but I suspect that it might help make Thanksgiving a major holiday again, instead of the bump in the road in the marketing season.

Another Book Review

Red Herring: A Joe Gunther NovelRed Herring: A Joe Gunther Novel by Archer Mayor
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

It's been a long time since I've read one of the Joe Gunther novels.  Joe, the former police chief of Brattleboro, VT is now the head of the Vermont Bureau of Investigation.  The series follows Joe's career and relationships with his staff as well as the relationships in his personal life. It's set in VT and Vermont's culture and politics are very much present in all the novels.

In Red Herring, Joe and his team are investigating three suspicious deaths that turn out to be the work of a serial killer.  The plot is pretty straight-forward, involving solid police work and some high tech forensics.  There's a shock ending too.  I think that my enjoyment of the book suffered because it's been so long since I've read something in this series.  It took me a long time to reawaken my memories of the subplots and backstories which makes reading a series so enjoyable.  I also was really disappointed in the denouement.

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Friday, November 26, 2010

Friday Five: Pie-ola!

Rev.Songbird posted some questions about pie this week over at RevGalBlogPals:  

1) Are pies an important part of a holiday meal?
Definitely!  They are the highlight of Thanksgiving in our family.  We always have apple, pumpkin, mincemeat, and pecan, no matter whether there are 2 people or 20.  In the last few years I've also had to have a chocolate cream pie for younger son.  His first Thanksgiving break from college he came home and insisted that I make chocolate cream pie since it was his favorite.  So 10 years later I'm still adding that to the repertoire.  Yesterday we had 2 pumpkin, a mince, a pecan, and chocolate cream for 14 people.  We particularly enjoy pie for breakfast on the day after Thanksgiving.2) Men prefer pie; women prefer cake. Discuss.
That is certainly true in my household.  I actually did  a non-scientific survey this morning which supports my hypothesis.  The females unanimously chose cake, all the males chose pie, except for one who replied ice cream.  It's not that I don't like pie, but when there's a choice, I always take cake.  My favorite pies are pecan, lemon meringue, and key lime -- all made from scratch.  
3) Cherries--do they belong in a pie?
Why not?  But I can't say that I have a real like or dislike for it.4) Meringue--if you have to choose, is it best on lemon or chocolate?
Definitely on lemon.  You have to have real homemade whipped cream on chocolate.
5) In a chicken pie, what are the most compatible vegetables? Anything you don't like to find in a chicken pie?
Carrots, potatoes, and peas, most definitely.  You can add celery and/or green beans too if you want.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

One Hundred Books

I've reached 100 books read for 2010.  It's too bad that Book #100 wasn't worthy of that milestone!  I didn't hate it, but I would have preferred to at least really like it!

A Taint in the Blood (Kate Shugak, Book 14)A Taint in the Blood by Dana Stabenow
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I was disappointed in this installment of the Kate Shugak series.  Kate is hired to clear a dying woman's name of a deadly arson conviction from 30 years past.  She heads to Anchorage to investigate which is where the book takes place.  She is accompanied through most of the book by Jim Chopin.  The mystery was only mildly engaging, and I missed the park and wilderness setting in this one.  I also felt like the book's purpose was more to develop the sexual relationship between Jim and Kate than to investigate a mystery.  It's my least favorite book in the series.

View all my reviews

Tuesday, November 16, 2010


Party ShoesParty Shoes by Noel Streatfeild
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Somehow I missed this one when I was growing up.  I devoured many others in the Streatfield's "Shoes" books. It's World War II in England.  Selina's parents are in an internment camp in the Far East so she is living with cousins in rural England.  She receives a package from her godmother which contains a beautiful party dress and shoes.Of course there's no place to wear them.  The children hit upon the idea of staging a pageant that will allow Selina to wear the dress and shoes.  Over the course of the year, the children write and rehearse the pageant which grows from a small production to one involving what seems like a cast of 1000s.  It's not one of Streatfield's more engaging books, and I never really connected with any of the characters.  I do enjoy the descriptions of the mundane events of life:  tea, chores, school tasks, etc.  I also enjoy her writing style and tone, very "stiff upper lip" and proper.  It probably won't appeal to most of the readers in my class because it is dated.  But a few might enjoy it.

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Sunday, November 14, 2010

98 and Counting

I set an ambitious goal for the year - to read 125 books.  I don't think I'll make it, and may not even make my last year's total.  Oh well.   Maybe a more interesting goal would be to count the number of pages read!

At any rate, here's book #98.  I really enjoy Bill Bryson's writing.

At Home: A Short History of Private LifeAt Home: A Short History of Private Life by Bill Bryson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Bill Bryson's book is a fascinating compendium of social history.   Using his 1851 Victorian parsonage as the organizing structure of the book, Bryson proceeds to share a wealth of research about the development of "life as we know it."  As he travels room by room in his house he covers such topics as plumbing, garden design, concrete, telephones, the buttons on suit jackets, evolution, archeology, architecture, the treatment of the poor, hair styles, sanitation, heating, and spices, just to name a few!  I think I drove my husband crazy with all the interesting tidbits of information that intrigued me.  It's packed with information that might sound dull and dreary, but his breezy,conversational, and humorous style is quite enjoyable.  One of the bits of information I learned was that Thomas Edison bought a concrete company and attempted to build concrete houses.  I was also fascinated by the engineering involved in the construction of the Eiffel Tower.  Some of the connections he makes between the room he's in and the topics he's covering are little stretched, but it doesn't really matter.  Sometimes this book reminds me of the current commercials on TV for the Bing internet search engine, where some hapless information consumer wanders off into stream-of-consciousness linkages.  But it's all good!

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Saturday, November 13, 2010

And Now For Something Different . . .

It was actually a good week, especially at school.  We had a 4 day week due to Veteran's Day which made it a short week, but what made it "good" was the fact that I had 2 days in a row of relatively well-behaved students. Most days I've considered myself lucky to make it through a class without a disciplinary write-up, but I actually made it through 2 whole days.  I'm not sure what the difference was - I certainly wasn't doing anything different management-wise.  Maybe the message is starting to get through that disruptions to learning aren't tolerated, or maybe the moon was in the right quarter, who knows?  I am grateful for it!

Other little things made me happy this week too.  I ordered 2 dresses from an online source (Vermont Country Store) and they arrived promptly and they fit.  They are way too long as are all my clothes since I'm barely 5 ft 1 inch, and clothing manufacturer's don't grasp the fact that very plus-size women can also be very short.  I can hem pants and dresses if I'm so inclined, and for most of my life I've done all my hemming, but I discovered a local seamstress who hems pants for $6 and skirts/dresses for $8.00.   It's an easy decision:  take an hour to pin up a hem myself using the guess and check method, hunt up the fabric sheers to cut off excess material, drag out the ironing board to press in a new hem, and then take another 1/2 hour or so to actually stitch the hem or, spend a few dollars and let a professional do it!    The dresses got dropped off at the alterations shop.  Meanwhile I took a chance and ordered a pair of tall leather boots from  Now this was a risky venture.  As a short fat woman, I have very round calves, and I've never been able to wear tall boots.  Over in Ravelry,  one of my groups was having a discussion on wide calf boots, and several people recommended Zappos.  I took the challenge, and these arrived on Thursday:

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They fit perfectly!  Another "good thing" as Martha Stewart might say.  I've never owned a pair of boots  that went above the ankle.  They literally fit like a glove, and they are comfortable.  Pricey, but I know I will get years of wear out of them.

Other good things which I really can't mention yet occurred too.  Suffice it to say, that if all goes well, two members of my family will have some celebrating to do.  (No, there are no weddings or births involved!)

So here's to a good week for a change!

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Book Review Alert

Turn and Jump: How Time & Place Fell ApartTurn and Jump: How Time & Place Fell Apart by Howard Mansfield
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Howard Mansfield is a local author.  My husband regularly runs into him at the local wellness center, and one day came home and asked me to get him a book Mansfield had written.  My husband is not a reader, so when he asks to read a book, it is a momentous occasion.  I immediately purchased another of Mansfield's books, The Bones of the Earth, which my husband devoured.  When Turn and Jump was published, I was sent back to the bookstore to buy a copy of that.  I haven't read Bones of the Earth yet, but I just finished this newest one.  I really enjoyed it.  Mansfield uses local history to illustrate the concept of how our ideas of time and place have changed.  His first essay traces the development of how we measure time: first, by the placement of the sun, moon, and stars; next by clocks with each village keeping its own local time; and the eventual standardization of clock time.  Along the way, he comments on skills that are lost or changed.  Another essay describes the evolution of a store, from a general store to a department store to its demise.   The development of vaudeville is described and its relationship to the railroad which gives the book its title.  Part of my interest in the book of course comes from the local history aspect, but I've always been interested in how concepts/places have evolved and changed.  I am looking forward to reading The Bones of the Earth and other books by Mansfield.

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Thursday, November 4, 2010

Home before Dark!!

I had my annual mammogram appointment today so I had to leave school "early" -- about 45 minutes after the kids left. I got my appointment early, was taken immediately (didn't even get to sit in the waiting room and read a 6 months old magazine!), and was finished with the appointment five minutes past the original scheduled time.  I stopped to get gas on the way home and walked into my sparkling clean kitchen (cleaning lady day!!) at 4 pm.  It was still light outside despite the pouring rain.  I actually made a lovely cup of tea (Upton's Cranberry Black) and read the newspaper.  I also found time to use up some leftover rice and extra eggs in rice pudding, and we feasted on shrimp pad thai.    It's barely 6 pm and I feel relaxed.  My husband did a great job cleaning up the cooking debris I leave behind, and I can actually take some time to enjoy a stressfree evening.  Wish I could do this more often!  Of course, I'm not as ready for tomorrow as I'd like, but I'm not going to think about that now. I will bask in the extra time!

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Book #96 Another Installment in a Series

Watchers of Time (Inspector Ian Rutledge, #5)Watchers of Time by Charles Todd
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Watchers of Time is the 5th book in the Inspector Rutledge series, and so far, it's the best one I've read.  Rutledge is called to investigate the death of a Catholic priest, ostensibly murdered during a house burglary. In fact, he uncovers a much more sinister plot.  Charles Todd evokes a realistic post WWI atmosphere superbly, and weaves the local environment into the web of the story.  Rutledge continues to wrestle with his demons, most notably Hamish, the voice in his head.  This series is dark and moody, but I've been hooked.

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Saturday, October 30, 2010

What IS It About Book Series?

I am trying to figure out why I have been on such a book series jag the last couple of years.  It seems like they are making up the bulk of my reading.  Perhaps I've always enjoyed them, but I don't think I was as conscious of the fact that they were series. (For some reason the plural of series doesn't look right!)  I know that when I enjoy an author I want to read more of his or her books.  Perhaps there are more series nowadays?  I realize that many classic authors wrote books featuring the same lead character (Agatha Christie for example, with Hercule Poirot, or Miss Marple, or even Tommy and Tuppence) but I don't think I was aware of a sequence.  It didn't seem to matter in which order they were read as much as series do now.  Perhaps earlier series concentrated more on the plot of the moment rather than the character development subplots?  I'd have to do some serious re-reading to see if my hypothesis is correct!  I do think that as the stress in my life has increased, my desire to stay in my comfort zone for reading relaxation probably has increased.  It's helpful to know that characters will act in certain ways, and that plots will unfold in a predictable fashion.  (Although, there have been a couple of times where an author veers into startling new areas -Dana Stabenow's series comes to mind with Hunter's Moon, #9 in the Kate Shugak series).  At any rate, here are my comments on Lindsey Davis's Ode to a Banker,  #12  in her Marcus Didius Falco series!  And it's book #95 for me this year.  I sure don't do a lot of heavy reading!

Ode to a Banker (Marcus Didius Falco, #12)Ode to a Banker by Lindsey Davis
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This 12th installment in the series examines the publishing and banking industries of Vespasian's Rome.  As usual, Lindsey Davis makes this period come alive.  Marcus Didius Falco is investigating the brutal murder of Chrysippus, the owner of a publishing house interested in Falco's satires.  Falco discovers Chrysippus also owns the Aurelian Bank which has been involved in some shady investment schemes.  Anacrites, the Chief Spy, and erstwhile partner, continues to be a thorn in Falco's flesh as he romances Falco sister, and provides investment advice to Falco's mother.  More family problems crop up when Didius Geminus, Falco's father, loses his grip on his business.  The involved plot kept me guessing and intrigued!

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Saturday, October 23, 2010

Keeping My Head Above Water - Barely

Most days I feel like I'm drowning or trying to swim against a rip tide.  The amount of work this year is incredible. Changing grade levels has been draining.  It's not just the work of learning new curriculum and creating new-to-me units/lessons.  The change in classroom behavior from one grade to the next has been a real surprise (and CHALLENGE) for me.  The classroom management skills that I've used over the years, aren't working so in many ways, I feel a bit like I did when I first starting teaching many moons ago.  It reminds me a bit of when I did a long term substitute stint as a 2nd grade teacher.  I remember describing that experience as being the ringmaster of a nine ring circus where you had to change the acts every 10 minutes.  It's a bit like that only now the kids are a lot bigger!  Yesterday was tough.  I felt like I was playing the "Whack-a-Mole" game -- as fast as you cover one hole, another head pops up in another spot on the board!  The other challenge this year has been a change in schedule and working conditions.  My planning period is first thing in the morning, and then we teach straight through for 5 hours without a break.  We have some new reporting requirements too, this year, that take an enormous amount of time.  So aside from the increased workload of the grade level change, there is an additional hour or so of work required every week.  This weekend's agenda has book projects, essays, vocabulary packets, social studies quizzes, and assorted late work to grade for 38 students, plus the usual planning for the week ahead.  I'd like to catch up on some TV too.  My DVR is getting full!

I haven't done much knitting lately.  By the time I get home and have dinner, I sit down on the couch to watch some TV, pick up my needles, and promptly doze off.  I've been in bed by 9 pm most nights if not earlier.  I've managed to read a couple of books, but haven't had time to post reviews.   I'm looking forward to Nov. 2nd  --- no not the election, but the fact that it's a day off!  I'm hoping to spend the day with a friend shopping for shoes!

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Slogging On

It was a calmer week than the last one.  I'm keeping my nose to the grindstone, hand to the plow,  feet on the path,  etc. etc.  I'm trying to do what several mentors have told me in the past: "Sometimes all you can do is close your door, and do what you do best -- teach."  Next week should also be somewhat low-key.  It's a four day week for us, and we have 3 days of state testing.  So while the testing is high-stakes, there's not much preparation to do, since for much of the day, it's proctoring the tests.  We have Friday off for the state teachers' conference, so that's why it's a 4 day week.  I do have a lot of work to do -- a major social studies  project is due Monday so I will have 40 of those to assess, and I need to decide what's next.

Our teachers association has a project to work on also.  Our contract did not pass last March.  It's been renegotiated, and the vote on that is coming up.  We need to work on getting out the positive vote on that.  We are working without a contract, and the new one needs to pass. The proposed contract freezes our current salaries for another year, and then in the second year, the only raises are "step" increases - the increases in salary that we have traditionally gotten for experiences.  It's highly probable that those increases will be eaten up entirely by our increased health insurance contributions, at least for most of the teachers.  Many teachers will go "backwards".  Nobody is thrilled with it, but we also don't want to be without a contract.  And most of us are happy that we have jobs with decent health insurance.  What makes me a little annoyed is that many people forget that many of the teachers in our district live in our district and are taxpayers too.  We are VERY conscious of how school costs impact our property taxes since we pay them too.  In our state, the local school budgets are almost entirely funded by local property taxes.  It's a pretty uneven distribution of burden across the state.  Our state does not have an income tax or a sales tax so property owners and business owners bear the brunt of paying for services.


Fifty Acres and a Poodle: A Story of Love, Livestock, and Finding Myself on a FarmFifty Acres and a Poodle: A Story of Love, Livestock, and Finding Myself on a Farm by Jeanne Marie Laskas
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I enjoyed this saga of how a city-bred woman fulfilled her dream of moving to the country and living on a farm. Jeanne Marie Laskas, a columnist for the Washington Post, takes a humorous look at how she and her boyfriend Alex other bought a fifty acres of farmland in Pennsylvania, about an hour from Pittsburgh, based on the fact that it had a perfect view.   In a collection of beautifully breezily written essays she chronicles the purchase of the land, the gradual move from city to country, their wedding,  and their adaptation to country life.  Along the way her deep faith in God is also revealed as she shares her hopes and fears.  I especially loved how Marly, the poodle, becomes the symbol for how her world view changes. I'm looking forward to reading more of her story in the subsequent chronicles.

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My knitting has slowed to a standstill, as has my reading.  Most nights I'm in bed by 8:30 pm which has put a huge damper on both activities.

I did finally finish 2 books - #89 and #90 for the year:


One Virgin Too Many (Marcus Didius Falco, #11)One Virgin Too Many by Lindsey Davis
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Marcus Didius Falco has finally been rewarded for his continually outstanding service to Vespasian.  He's been raised to equestrian status and had been named Procurator of the Sacred Poultry.  This has put him in a bit of quandary as his higher social standing precludes his work as a lowly informer.   Or does it?  In this installment, Falco is asked to assist in the sensitive case of the missing 6 year granddaughter of a retired priest. The missing girl is a potential Vestal Virgin and she must be found before the lottery for the appointment is held. And Helena's brother (the one who doesn't like Falco) needs his help when he stumbles across the corpse of another priest.  Lindsey Davis explores the world of Roman religion in this installment, and it's a fascinating world as usual.

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Saturday, September 25, 2010

Congestion, Sleep Deprivation, and Other Obstacles

It's 6:30 am on a Saturday morning, and I am sitting here at the computer, totally bummed.  I needed to sleep late this morning, I actually had the time to sleep late, and as usual when these conditions exist, I just couldn't do it.  I woke up at 4:30 am (close to my usual time), dozed until 5:12 when I absolutely had to go make a trip to the bathroom, came back to bed and tossed and turned until 6:05 when I gave up.  Part of the reason that I couldn't get back to sleep is the cold I have.  Once all the congestion gets disturbed, the coughing and sinus draining starts to interfere with sleep.  And then my brain starts whirring.  I start thinking of all the chores and errands I have to do, all the school work I have to do, and this morning, I also started thinking of the meditation I still have to prepare for church tomorrow.   So, here I am, with a great cup of coffee, sitting at the computer.  The bright spot is that I was able to connect to the internet at a faster rate than we've been able to of late.

We don't have high speed internet here.  This summer, Fairpoint brought high speed access to 2/3 of my road, but I live in the 1/3 that didn't get it.  We have 2 options for internet access:  dial up or purchasing satellite services.  We've lived with the dial up connection for years.  When my neighbor chose the satellite option we were very interested in his experience.  He has had many problems with it, and has been extremely disappointed in the speed.  Plus, it's really expensive.  Our dial up never connected at top speed of 56 kbps, but we usually connected at 52 kbps.  Since the upgrade however, our usual connection speed has dropped to 26-28 kbps which means we usually can't connect to many websites before timing out.  I have trouble connecting to my bank services, and trying to shop on line has been problematic.  Even email can be extremely frustrating, especially when friends send us photos!  We've called Fairpoint numerous times, and finally were told that because of the upgrade, there's less bandwidth available for dial up accounts.  In addition, there are no plans at this time, to expand the high speed availability.  So, not only are we deprived of the high speed access, our dial up access has been drastically reduced.  Does anyone else see a problem??   Occasionally we can connect at 41-42 kbps, which is what happened this morning.  So today, you get a blog post!  (And I probably won't log off the computer until Monday morning!!)

Work has been pretty stressful.  It's been a real culture shock for me to switch grade levels.  Aside from the expected burden of learning new curriculum and developing completely new units,  there is a huge difference between 6th graders and 7th graders.  My tried-and-true classroom management tricks aren't working, so I've been putting a lot of energy into learning new management skills. I've been getting to my classroom about 45 minutes before my contracted time, and I've spent 3-4 hours at school after my contracted time.  I've spent most of my weekends doing school work too.  Despite the fact that I've been in the classroom 17 years, I've been feeling much like I did my first year teaching.   I have some other serious issues to deal with also, which have made it difficult to be positive about work right now.  So that's been interfering with sleep too.

Maybe the clogged internet is a metaphor for my life right now -- an overload of information trying to pass through a very limited conduit.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Book #86 Catching Fire

As part of my job as a middle school teacher, I need to stay current with adolescent literature.   Most of the time, I understand why the kids like a particular book, or I can see where I would have liked it at 12 and 13.  I really like it though when I find books that I enjoy despite the fact that it was written for a much younger audience.  I'm reading The Hunger Games trilogy because it's such a favorite in 7th grade right now.  And I'm really enjoying it!

My rating: 4 of 5 stars
This is the riveting second book in the The Hunger Games series.  The Districts in Panem are full of unrest,  and Katniss discovers that she has become the catalyst for rebellion.  In an interview with President Snow she is told that if she doesn't figure out a way to stop the uprisings, her family and friends will be destroyed.  It's also the 75th Quarter Quells and in a special edition of the Hunger Games, all of the tributes for these games are survivors of previous games.  Of course, Katniss and Peeta are the representatives from their district.  Once again they are fighting for survival.  But this time, are the other tributes really their enemies?   Suzanne Collins has created a tightly woven net of government conspiracy and control that reminds me of the 1960's series "The Prisoner" as well as George Orwell's 1984.I can't wait to read the final installment of this series.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Nine Days In

I feel like I'm drowning in work already.  I knew this year was going to be tough, and so far, I'm not wrong.  Changing grade levels is hard, harder than I expected.  Even though I am teaching what I love, English language arts(ELA) and social studies, it is a new curriculum with new expectations.  Although I have GLEs for ELA (Grade Level Expectations), there is no set curriculum guide.  The other 2 ELA teachers approach their subjects differently, and seem to assume that I know what I'm doing!  And I do, but it sure would be nice not to have create ALL my own curriculum.  It's kind of the same deal with social studies too.  I have the general topics, but no guide.  I've asked for copies of units, but so far I haven't gotten any.
So I'm back to spending 9 hours in the classroom each day , and a huge chunk of the weekend time, reinventing the wheel.    The schedule is hard too --- we start the day with our prep, and then have our kids for 5 hours straight without a break, for them or us!  I know that it will get easier with time, but . . .

To try to de-stress I read this first book in Alexander McCall Smith's newest series:

Corduroy Mansions (Corduroy Mansions, #1)Corduroy Mansions by Alexander McCall Smith
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I enjoyed this gentle slice of life in the Pimlico section of London.  Corduroy Mansions is inhabited by a likeable group of folks:  a middle-aged wine merchant who's trying to get his adult sponger of a son to move out; Marcia who is trying hard to get William to notice her; several young women who share an apartment, a less-than-notable Member of Parliament, among others.  There is even Freddie de la Hay, the dog William adopts to try to get his son to move out!  As in other Alexander McCall Smith books, the characters display all the foibles we humans possess, and it's well-seasoned with accurate observations of human nature.   The chapter titles are especially humorous - "Don't Try This at Home"  was very well-chosen!  I also appreciate the well-chosen names for several of the characters.  Terence Moongrove is a perfect name for someone who is attempting to connect with Beings of Light through sacred dance, and what else could Oedipus Snark be named?  While I prefer the #1 Ladies' Detective Agency series with its more focused narrative, I will look for the next books in this series.

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Monday, September 6, 2010

The Eventide Scarf

I finished this knitting project last night.  It's the Eventide Scarf by Laura Nelkin.  I made it from Audrey, by Shaefer Yarns which I purchased from Jimmy Beans Wools.  the color is called Indira Gandhi. It's beaded too! I used these beads which were part of the yarn kit I purchased.This was actually a pretty easy pattern, although when you start it's a bit fiddly.  There is a knack to placing the beads so they fall on the correct side of the scarf.  I purchased the pattern on Ravelry, here.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Book #84

The Darling Dahlias and the Cucumber TreeThe Darling Dahlias and the Cucumber Tree by Susan Wittig Albert
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I really enjoyed this first book in Susan Wittig Albert's new cozy mystery series.  The Dahlias are members of the Darling, Alabama gardening club.  It's 1930, just at the beginning of the Depression, and there is a great deal of worry that the town's only bank may be failing.  The rather wild young woman who works the cosmetic counter at the local pharmacy, has been discovered shot to death in a wrecked car.  There has been an escape from the local prison farm, and is Ophelia Snow's husband having an affair with his brother's beautiful young wife? And is there really a ghost haunting the Cartwright mansion, home of the Darling Dahlias' garden club? This is a VERY gentle story told from several different points of view.  Life in the small southern town is lovingly portrayed, and a real sense of place is evoked.  I loved the details of everyday life:  the party line phone and switchboard (I used to work a switchboard in college), the lovely summer dresses and hats, the cosmetics; and the recipes were an added bonus. The feel of this book is very different from the China Bayles' series. I am looking forward to the next installments.

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Saturday, September 4, 2010

Back on the Treadmill

I can't believe it's been so long since I posted!  All I can say for myself is that I have been incredibly busy.  As you might have guessed, school started.  All of us teachers had to report back on August 25th for 3 days of meetings and inservice.  But I actually started going in everyday the previous week.  My room was moved and it was necessary to go in BEFORE my start date to unpack what felt like billions of boxes and to arrange the layout of my room.  If I had waited for the August 25th, my students would have come into a room filled with boxes and stacked desks.  The kids arrived on August 30th for a full week of school.  We used to have the kids come in in late August for 3 days, followed by a 4 day week (the week after Labor Day), and then a full-fledged 5 day week.  This is the 2nd year we've started with 5 full days in a row.  I don't know who ends up more tired - the kids or the teachers!  And this week was horrible, weather-wise.  We suffered through 5 days of 90° F weather in unairconditioned rooms.  My room temperature hovered between 92°F  at 7 am to 97°F by noon.  Not exactly conducive to learning.  And both the kids and I were adjusting to new schedules at school.  They start the day with their Unified Arts (p.e., music, art, world language, etc.) and I have prep.  Then the academic core classes start at 9 am and except for a 30 minute lunch/recess break, go until 2:12.  Try holding a 7th grader's attention in social studies at 1:45 pm in a 95°F degree classroom on a Friday afternoon!  And that of course is another piece of my busy-ness.  I am teaching a brand-new grade level.  After 16 years as a 6th grade teacher, I've been "promoted" to 7th grade!  This is a big adjustment for me.  I get to go back to teaching social studies instead of science, thank goodness, but I  really LOVED 6th graders.  I have a few of the same students, but most of them are new to me.  I think that's good for them, and for me.  I am a bit apprehensive about the drama of 7th graders --- but I'm looking upon it as a good challenge for me.

I've been busy on other fronts too.  I was "contact person" for my church this past month.  That means when someone calls the church office during non-office hours, they get my phone number.  If they have an emergency they call me and I put them in contact with the folks they need.  We maintain an emergency shelter and a food pantry in our little church, and I had quite a few calls for help on those fronts.  I'm also the vice moderator (soon to be the moderator) of my church, and our administrative team has been quite busy with developing a policy and procedures manual, and with helping our new pastor and the congregation get acquainted.  This month is busy with the installation service for our pastor, and with a number of other meetings.

All of this has interfered not only with my time for blogging, but also for my knitting and reading time.  The first 3 days of school, I came home, grabbed a quick dinner, and then I was in bed and asleep by 8:30 pm.  It  seems to take longer to adjust to the daily routine each year!

This weekend is off to a lazy start --- I have managed to get my laundry finished, and I did manage to get a few phone calls taken care of. I even finally read the daily paper from Thursday, Friday, and today!  I hope to  get my lessons planned today, and maybe get a start on the bookkeeping for my husband's business, so that I can have the rest of the weekend fairly free.  We shall see.  I am also a great procrastinator at times!!  So wish me luck as I transition back on to the fast-moving treadmill that the school year becomes!

Friday, August 13, 2010

Friday Five: Dog Days of August

As posted by Singing Owl at RevGalBlogPals:
Here in the snow belt state of Wisconsin we long for the first signs of spring--perhaps a crocus poking up through the snow, or a pussy willow bud popping out even beneath ice. The first appearance of robins, that most cheery little hopper of birds, causes widespread rejoicing. Spring is followed by summer, a time for home-grown tomatoes, watermelon, corn on the cob, all sorts of "fests," back yard "fry outs" (what they call a barbecue here, for some reason) and trips near and far.
I love summer, and wait anxiously for it every year. So how is it that we have arrived at the hot and humid "Dog Days" of August, and I have not done nearly enough of what I planned to do? I want to pack in as much as I can before snow flies once again. 

How about you? And what is happening for those of you who are in a different hemisphere than I, and it may be cold?

1. What is the weather like where you live?Today, is sunny, cool, and dry for a change.  We've had a record-breaking summer here in this corner of NH.  We usually get a week of above 90° weather, with really high humidity.  This summer most of July was very hot and VERY humid.  The last official word I heard was that we had had over 20 days of above 90°.  The prediction for the next 3 days is what I call perfect summer weather -- highs in the low 80°s, sunny, and dry.    August typically gives us lovely summer days, and comfortable sleeping nights, with just a hint of what is coming up.

2. Share one thing you love about this time of year.

Generally, it's the weather at this time of the year.  The warm days and the cooler nights.  I also love the garden produce -- the corn, tomatoes, and beans are peaking, and blueberries are all over the place.

3. Share one thing you do NOT love about this time of year.

The feeling of stress that starts to build.  I'm a teacher, so when August 1 rolls around, I realize that my free time is fast coming to an end.  I have this metaphor in my head:  the end of June is like a Friday night - the whole weekend beckons, with lots of time to relax, and get errands done, and have fun.  July is like Saturday -- getting some stuff done, having that 2nd cup of coffee in the morning, making plans for the afternoon, knowing there's still lots of time to relax.  August is Sunday - the chores you haven't done loom for the afternoon after you get back from church, the papers you haven't graded need to get done.  By about the end of the first week of August, it's Sunday night, and the stress really starts to build -- you forgot that you meant to get a head start on the new unit you have to do, etc.  You never did get to take the paddle boat out on the lake, and now there's no time left to do that, etc. etc.  And the back to school nightmares (the bane of every teacher I know!) make their annual appearance beginning about Aug. 15th for me, earlier for those who start school earlier than I do.  

4. How will you spend the remaining days leading up to Autumn?

I will be (and have been) attending planning meetings with my teaching colleagues, unpacking and setting up my classroom, and writing letters to parents.  I will be attending some meetings at church.  I also hope to finish a knitting project, read a few more books, and enjoy a few more leisurely mornings without having to be somewhere specific at a designated time.

5. Share a good summer memory.

Here are 2 summer memories:  
This summer I will remember as the "road trip" summer.  We took 2 shortish road trips.  The first was at the beginning of summer when we drove 1500 miles round trip for a mini-family reunion.  Four out of  the 5 Siblings were able to get together at a sibling's house  for the July 4th weekend.  We had a great time visiting with each other and we laughed a lot.  The 2nd trip was also family-related.  My niece (daughter of the 5th sibling who wasn't able to make the previous gathering) had an engagement party and we drove the 1400 mile round trip to attend that party.  Although we didn't get as much time as we would have liked to visit with my youngest sibling, it was great to see him and his family -- it had been over a year since we'd been together.  

The 2nd memory is from childhood.    For several summers in the late 60's we lived in central NJ.  My father, in an effort to save money and to eat well, would visit the farm of someone he knew from work and he would buy  50 dozen ears of corn.  We'd ride to the farm in our station wagon, watch the corn being picked, fill the back of the wagon with the corn  (and in the days before seatbelts, the younger siblings would actually lay on top of the corn!), and bring it back home.  Meanwhile my mom would have gathered freezing supplies, and when he got back home, we'd spend what seemed like hours husking the corn, blanching it, and then scraping the kernels off each ear, packing the liberated kernels into quart-sized freezer bags.  My father, ever the enterprising engineer, designed a production line.  My mom manned the stove, that had 3 pots of water boiling in rotation.  She'd dump the blanched corn into the kitchen sink.   From there a lucky sibling, usually my brother because he was the youngest, would pick up each ear and shoot it through the open kitchen window into a brand new metal garbage can (purchased for just this reason) that was filled with ice water.  Then an UNLUCKY sibling fished ears out of the ice-cold water into pans on the picnic table. (We did rotate this position!) My father and 2 more siblings would sit at the picnic table and scrape the kernels off the years and the last sibling filled the freezer bags with the kernels and ran them in batches into the huge freezer in the garage.  Let's just say, we NEVER ran out of corn to eat!

Bonus: What food says SUMMER to you?

Tomatoes.  Fresh picked, big, juicy, flavorful tomatoes.
Oh, and green beans (or purple!)
And summer squash and zucchini
And anything from my garden!!!