Monday, December 31, 2012

I Did It!

I managed to complete my goal of reading 125 books this year.  I just finished the last one of 2013, an early Jodi Picoult, Picture Perfect.   I have to admit I didn't much care for it.

Looking at what I've read this year, I can count 12 nonfiction titles.  I read 2 books about American military nurses during 20th century combat,  a fascinating but devastating account of life during the Dust Bowl, a challenging book about genetic research, a book about where creativity comes from, an anthology of true-live survival stories, a humorous look at our Puritan heritage, and a couple of theological/spiritual books.

I did  most of my reading (62 books) on either my Kindle or my Ipad!  While I do miss the physicality of a book, I really appreciate the convenience and ease of ebooks. And it's done wonders for keeping my counters and kitchen table clear of book piles.  I have fallen in love with my state library's ebook collection too.  I miss going to my public library, but their open hours aren't always convenient which is a problem now that the book collection bin outside the library is gone.  I have had too many overdue books this year because the library isn't open when I go past it in the morning or in the evening after work!

I read series, mostly police procedurals.  I started began to read Tess Gerritsen's Rizzoli and Isles series, started re-reading Elizabeth George's Inspector Lynley series, continued with Louise Penny's Inspector Gamache series and Charles Todd's Inspector Rutledge series,  and read some of C.J. Box's Joe Pickett series. I also read Ann Perry (Thomas Pitt) and Jacqueline Winspear (Maisie Dobbs).   I tried some new authors: Karen MacInerny, Elin Hilderbrand, Leslie Meier, and Peter Lovesey to name a few.  I enjoyed some Mark Schweitzer  and Alexander McCall Smith.

What am I looking forward to reading in 2013?  I would love to discover a new series from a prolific, interesting writer!

Some books that are on hold at the state library are:
A Discovery of Witches   Deborah Harkness
This Body of Death  Elizabeth George
Berried to the Hilt Karen MacInerney
Perfect Hope Nora Roberts

Others I want to read:

Dana Stabenow's new Kate Shugak novel Bad Blood due out in February
Maeve Binchy's A Week in Winter due out in Feb.
Jacqueline Winspear's Leaving Everything Most Loved due out in March

And I am still working away at the The Fall of the Roman Empire: A New History.  I got a bit bogged down in the Balkans(!) and have to have some time to get myself clear about where everything is.  ONe of the drawbacks I've discovered with an ebook is that it's hard to use the maps which are referred to often!

I haven't decided if I'm going to set a reading goal this year.  I don't want reading to be a chore!  I do like keeping track though of what I've read.  It IS a lot!  And I don't keep track of magazines, blogs, and journals I also read either!  (Time, Real Simple, Cooking Light, Education Week, the Huffington Post, Money, Sojourners, etc.)

I wish good reading to all in 2013!

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Merry Christmas 2012 - Food Tidings to You!

Our traditional Christmas Eve meal - Swedish meatballs over egg noodles with green beans.  The one year I branched out and did something different (because the boys complained that they didn't like the meatballs), I almost traumatized them.  So when either or both are home on Christmas Eve, these are on the menu.
Dessert is almost always an assortment of cookies and maybe ice cream.

Definitely good, and different, but when I figure in the effort, not sure I'll be making it again soon.  My usual "Farm Journal Best Buttermilk Pound Cake" gives more bang for the buck!  (Effort wise AND cost wise!)  Our traditional Christmas breakfast is the cake, bacon, and orange juice.  And of course coffee!  Simple and quick to prepare, this evolved out of the kids' impatience to get to the present opening.  No presents until after everyone is up, dressed, and fed!

No pics from our dinner, unfortunately, but it was a continuation of tradition.  We usually splurge and get something like a standing rib roast.  This year we splurged on a spoon roast instead because it was "only" $4.89/lb instead of the $7.99/lb for the rib roast.  I worried a bit that it might not be as good, but frankly, it was one of the best roasts I've made.  It was a huge roast (over 9 lbs!) but a lot of it went home with others. It took about 3 1/2 hours at 325° F.  I seasoned it with garlic, marjoram, thyme, rosemary, and black pepper rubbed into the meat which I had lightly misted with olive oil.  I then sliced some onion thinly and laid the onion over the meat surface.  I poured in about 1/2 can of beef broth, and then tented it with foil.  After it finished cooking, I made a beefy onion gravy from the pan drippings and a little more broth, thickened with some corn starch.  This was served with Yukon gold mashed potatoes and steamed carrots, and homemade horseradish sauce.  For dessert (yes, another splurge!) we had this Raspberry Walnut Tart from Simply Recipes.  (their photo, not mine.)

This is all that was left!

This recipe is DEFINITELY a keeper!

As I told my family, I'm done cooking for the rest of the year.  We have tons of leftovers, and when they're done, we're going out to eat.  I feel like I've spent the past 4 days in the kitchen. Not that I have to, it's because I want to.  But it's still exhausting!!

Merry Christmas to All!

Monday, December 24, 2012

Relatively Relaxed

Most of the preparations are done.   The presents are wrapped and with the exception of tonight's meal, and the actual cooking of tomorrow's feast, the cooking/baking is done too.  I only made one batch of cookies this year - our usual Cranberry Almond Biscotti ---

-- and my son made our traditional Ginger Crinkles.  A friend gave us a huge platter of cookies too, so I decided not to make the rest of our usual cookies.  I did try a new recipe for tomorrow.  For years I've made a buttermilk pound cake (one of the best recipes I've ever baked) but I'd made it recently for a party and wanted to try something new.  So this year we will have a Cranberry-Orange and Coconut cake with our Christmas morning breakfast.  I hope that it's as tasty as it smells because it involved both the food processor and the mixer, as well as a spilled bowl of orange glaze!

Now I just have to start the Swedish meatballs which I'd hoped to skip this year.  Unfortunately for me, the family insisted!  I would have been happy with takeout Chinese!

I was pretty minimal with the decorating this year too.  The tree has only a few ornaments on it.  It looks prettier in real life than the photo above shows. I have about 50 small red teardrop shaped crystals on it as well as 100 silver twists.  A few choice ornaments:

This Santa belonged to my mother.  It was originally part of a light set, I think.

This one we bought for Eldest Son's first Christmas!

I truthfully don't know from whence the crystal bird came, but I really like it!

This cheerful bird was a gift from some friends a Christmas or two ago.


And Christmas isn't Christmas without at least one pointsettia!

So I will get the meatballs made while listening to a variety of Christmas music, and then settle down for a bit of knitting.

Merry Christmas!

Saturday, December 22, 2012

The Holidays Can Begin!

I did something yesterday I RARELY do.  I left school precisely at 2:42 pm which is the official, contracted end of our  teaching day.  (It's usually between 4-4:30 that I leave.)  I was home by 3 pm!  Very weird. We had a good week considering how hyped up the kids were.  We ended the week with our annual observance of the winter solstice.  We start with a grade level breakfast, followed by the grade-level geography bee.  After that is usually about 40 minutes of a science lesson on the seasons and the solstice.  This year we tried something new.  After an inservice on Flipped Classrooms, our team created a short video explaining the winter solstice.  The kids were assigned the task of viewing the video for homework and taking notes on it.  After the geo bee, kids were asked to use their notes, and demonstrate their understanding of what they'd learned from the video.  We asked the kids to define a couple of vocab words presented in the video and to make a model of the earth and sun showing their respective positions at the winter solstice in the northern hemisphere.  My partner and I got a huge chuckle at an almost universal misunderstanding.  One of the words we asked kids to define was "ellipse".  The definition given in the video was "an elongated circle or curve."  The definition was written in the video, but as we know, why would a 6th grader read something when she can listen to it.  Almost every student wrote that an ellipse was a "long dated circle."  One student wrote - "It's an long, gated curb."  Definitely will be a teachable moment after the break!!

On the way home I got to see the progress on our house.  For the past couple of weeks, the only time I've passed the house has been in the dark!  

As usual, I was up at 4:30 am this morning - a morning I could have slept --and now the holidays can begin!

Sunday, December 16, 2012

How Can It Be?

That it's already mid-December!

I have been really busy as you might have guessed from the lack of publication!  Between school, the holidays, dentist appts, a  routine medical screening, and life in general, I haven't managed to keep up.

November was a long month of choppy weeks.  The school calendar is such that the only full week of school in November was the very last week of the month.  We had Election day off, Veterans' Day off, and the kids had a whole week off at Thanksgiving.  We teachers had 2 days of workshops that week.  So that last week seemed endless as the only 5 day week in the whole month.  Since then however, we've managed  complete weeks, and we're keeping our fingers crossed for this week.  The weather is threatening to interfere with school tomorrow, so we'll see.  I've got a Breakfast with Books planned for my ELA classes tomorrow so I spent yesterday baking banana bread as part of the offerings.  My 6th graders present short book talks about books they've recently finished, and then we munch on breakfast goodies.  They enjoy it as do I!
Then on Friday, the 6th grade celebrates the Winter Solstice.  We start with a breakfast, then hold the 6th grade geography bee, and then do a hands-on science activity based on the solstice and how the seasons occur.  We end the day with a video loosely connected with social studies or science curriculum.

On the home front, I've gotten most of my Christmas shopping done, and the tree is up and semi-decorated. I haven't done any of the holiday baking yet however, and I need to clean!  I am trying to look seriously at what I can start finding new homes for as the reality of moving within the next year starts to set in.   Here's the latest photo of progress.  I haven't had a lot of pics lately because it's dark when I pass the house at 6:30 am and it's dark when I go past 12 hours later!  I snapped this with my phone on the way home from church - the aforementioned weather interference has begun!

The roofing is almost finished, and the windows and doors arrive this week.

Friday, November 30, 2012

And the Roof Has Been Raised!

The final roof trusses were placed yesterday.   I wish I'd had my camera so that I could have taken a wider lens shot.  Complete with the traditional tree on the last rafter.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Scenes from the Feast

The star of the show:

A 17.24 lb bird roasted for 30 minutes at 400°F and 3.5 hours at 350°F.  Perfect!

Some of the supporting cast:

Stuffing baked outside the bird, mashed turnip, and mashed butternut and acorn squash.

Younger son's mashed potatoes!

The cranberry sauce is homemade from cranberries I picked out on the new property!

Pumpkin Pie!

Apple Pie!

Mince Pie!

Pecan Pie!

I didn't take picture of the apple cider sangria, but boy was that tasty!!

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Our Traditional Thanksgiving Menu

Despite all the cooking shows I watch, all the Pinterest recipes I pin, and despite all the "Holiday Meal" articles in Cooking Light and Real Simple, the Thanksgiving meal in this household doesn't change much.  At least not as far as the what MUST be on the table, no matter how many people are around it.

First and foremost is the turkey.  It has to be large, at least in the 16-18 lb range, even if it's just the 4 of us, like this year.  We have to have tons of leftovers to split between at two households at the very least.  This year's bird weighs in at just over 17 pounds.  I roast this the way my mom did:  in the oven at 325°, covered in foil, until the last half hour.

The bird is stuffed with a relatively plain stuffing.  The stuffing HAS to start with Pepperidge Farm herb seasoned CUBED stuffing.  As my mother taught me, I had celery, onion, some more herbs (a tad of sage, thyme, FRESH parsley, a bay leaf or two), and it MUST have capers in it.  Occasionally I get "fancy" and I've been known to add some pecans, cranberries, or walnuts, but I'm generally booed when I do that.  My mom always stuffed the bird with it, but my husband and sons prefer the stuffing baked outside the bird.  So I do both.  I don't like the dry stuff -- I like the soggy, juicy stuffing!

Accompanying the bird:  mashed potatoes, mashed butternut squash, and  mashed turnip(rutabaga!).   Nothing fancy.  Just those root veggies, boiled or pressure cooked, mashed with real butter, and salt and pepper, and milk in the case of the potatoes.  This year I'm trying something new!  Since my RA diagnosis, I am having a hard time "slicing and dicing", and peeling squash can be a real chore.  I am roasting my squash whole first this year, and then peeling and mashing.  I don't know if my family can stand the innovation.
 If my sister's family shares the meal with us, we add green bean casserole with the crunchy fried onions on top, and rolls.  We have 2 kinds of cranberry sauce - whole berry and sliced, mixed sweet pickles and olives, celery and carrot sticks, and most years, creamed pearl onions.  And of course, the gravy.

And the pies.  NO VARIATION ALLOWED.  Even with only 4 people.  One pumpkin, one apple, one pecan, and one mince.  As my husband states:  "You NEVER make pie, except at Thanksgiving."  That's not entirely true, but I dislike pie making as a rule.  I don't exactly know why, because with the availability of good "ole Pillsbury Ready Dough . . . .

The only place I get to try new things are on the unessentials like beverages.  We traditionally have cider available, water, and wine.  This year I am trying something that sounds really good to me - Apple Cider Sangria.  Here's the recipe, which I gleaned from Pinterest.  This recipe comes from this blog HOW SWEET  IT IS.

Apple Cider Sangria



1 bottle (standard size) of pinot grigio
2 1/2 cups fresh apple cider
1 cup club soda
1/2 cup ginger brandy
3 honey crisp apples, chopped
3 pears, chopped


Combine all ingredients together and stir, stir, stir. Refrigerate for an hour or so (or longer!) before serving.
[Regular brandy can also be used, I simply used ginger brandy to give it more autumn flavor.]

I will let you know how it turns out!

I don't have any pics to share today.  Maybe tomorrow!
Happy Thanksgiving to all!

Friday, November 16, 2012

And Some Constructive Stills

My First You Tube Video

So, today was the day they started setting the roof trusses on the new house.  I stopped at the house on my way home from work.  I just so happened to have my  iPad with me and decided to try my hand at a video.  A learning experience for me!  The first truss I "videoed" didn't record.  Although I'd set the iPad to record, I forgot to press start!! Of course I didn't realize that until I'd videoed for about 2 minutes.

This is my 2nd attempt!

Friday, November 2, 2012

In Which Our Heroine Survives a Stressful Day

My day started about 3 am when I woke up and couldn't get back to sleep.  I started worrying about how I was going to accomplish everything I needed to accomplish, and I couldn't turn my mind off.  I was also concerned about a tricky meeting I had first thing, and due to somebody's else's poor planning, I wasn't ready for my social studies classes for the day.

I arrived at school at 6:30 am carrying 6 doz mini muffins, 2 pumpkin breads, 2 gallons of cider, and my usual lunch box, water bottle, Ipad, and bag.  Do I make 2 trips from my car, up the stairs to my room?  Of course not!  I made it successfully to my room and plopped everything down.  All the way to school, I'd been trying to come up with an activity for social studies, and finally made a decision.  I went to make some copies, and the copier had been turned off which means an almost 20 minute wait for it to warm up.  Meanwhile at 6:45 am I had to meet with a teacher from another school about a possible grievance.  (I am the grievance chair for our educational association.)  The teacher was extremely upset and I had to try to get as much info from the teacher as I could, give the teacher some advice, and decide what the next steps were.  That meeting lasted till 7:15 and then I had to go out to bus duty, making sure the stuff I needed copied had gotten copied.  Classes started at 7:30 and the teaching part of my day began.

The reason for the breakfast goodies was because today was my first "Breakfast with Books" day.  My kids are required to read 30 minutes a day, 5 days a week.  They keep journals, and instead of doing traditional book reports, they write weekly letters to me about their books.   About every 6 weeks, they are required to do a book talk.  So today was their first book talk.  We arranged our chairs into a circle, and then each student presented their talk.  I gave everyone a chance to ask a question, and kids got excited when they realized someone else had read a book they liked.  After everyone had shared, they had a chance to munch and sip on cider.  During the 2nd period class where I did the same thing, the principal came in to see what was happening, and he got into the act and shared a book he liked.

The day continued -- social studies was a bit looser than I like, a fire drill, but we finally got to the end of core classes.  We were scheduled to have an assembly at the end of the day. To make a long story short, the planned assembly didn't happen, and the principal shot from his hip to fill the time.  The whole school ended with 40 minutes of recess on a pretty chilly afternoon.  And then I had afternoon bus duty.  By the time I got back to my classroom it was 2:30 and I had exactly 1 hour 45 minutes to grade 42 timelines, 15 vocab assignments, 5 miscellaneous ELA papers, and 42 sets of social studies questions,  bring my grades up to date on the computer, and do my report cards!  I left my classroom at 3:55 (and left it quite a mess!) with all of that done and headed to a 4:00 meeting at church.  I had called the meeting so it would not have been good for me not to show!  Fortunately, it was an easy meeting - we are working on revising our by-laws, and I was home at 5:00.  Dinner was on the table at 5:30.   And now . . . .I am done!

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

No Power but . . .

We survived the storm quite comfortably.  We received almost 4 inches of rain in less than 12 hours and we had wind gusts up to 45 mph with sustained winds of between 30-35 mph.  Our power went out about 5 pm yesterday and it's still out (9 am Tuesday), but since we have a generator we are enjoying "luxury camping."  We have heat, hot water, shower, refrigeration,  a few lights, and a couple of "live" outlets to use.  So I can plug in my Keurig, a toaster, or other small appliances - just not all at the same time!  No word yet on how long the power will be out.  Only about 10% of my town lost power, but I live on the outskirts and our power line comes in from the west whereas most of town gets there power from the east.  NH has over 200,000 people without power (out of 1.1 million).  We didn't get any damage on our property.  Most of our big trees came down during the 2008 ice storm.  The new construction also survived unscathed.  However a friend of mine got a tree through her roof and there are a lot of trees and limbs down elsewhere.  School is cancelled for the second day in a row - not a wonderful prospect for getting out early in June!!

Monday, October 29, 2012

A Couple More Construction Pics

I'm just hoping that these walls are still standing once Sandy get through with us.  The prediction is for steady winds between 35-45 mph with gusts up to 60 mph and 3-5 inches of rain.  School was cancelled today even though Sandy isn't expected to actually get here until early this evening.  It IS blowing and raining, but neither very dramatically . . . yet.  I'd prefer to keep it that way.  I have family on the coast in Virginia and Connecticut, and our son is in southeastern MA where winds are expected to be be MUCH harder.

From the foot of the driveway . . .

In back of the house - walk in cellar door, looking westerly.

And also from the back looking toward the east.  

We will have a slider in our master bedroom going to a deck.  Behind our new house are 10 acres of woods and wetland which we also own, so we will have lots of privacy.  And a chance to see lots of wildlife.  We walked out a bit on the land last week and found a small cranberry bog.  We picked a few handfuls of berries - maybe 2 cups worth which I will use on Thanksgiving.  We saw many deer trails and LOTs of bear scat. 

Saturday, October 27, 2012

More Progress!

Progress is being made!  The house is being built by high school students in our regional building trades program.  They work under the guidance of a teacher who is also a professional contractor.  He hires other professionals to guide the students in the various aspects of construction.  Considering the fact that students work only 2 hours a day, the house is coming along rather quickly.  We've had a couple of weather delays to contend with.  (Hope the potential superstorm fizzles as have the last couple of other potential threats the last few years!)

Here's the front wall.  There will be double windows on either side of the front door.

And from the inside looking out the front door:

Turning around and looking out what will be a sliding door out the back from the dining area to a deck.

This is a view of what will be the master bedroom - also with a slider out to a deck!

And this the garage foundation being poured.  We will be able to walk into a mudroom from the garage, and then into the kitchen.  A nice change from 30 years of walking across the driveway to the garage --- no more soaking wet trips with grocery bags!

The roof trusses are coming Nov. 14 so that will probably be the next batch of pics!

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Busy as a Bee

There just doesn't seem to be enough time in the day!

You'd think that after teaching nearly 20 years I'd have figured out how not to have so much planning, grading, and organizing to do.  I find myself heading into the classroom at 6:45 am and leaving it most days at 4:30 -5 pm.  I've had few days even longer.  I do try not to bring a lot of work home, at least during the week, and have been fairly successful with that.    The year has gotten off to a good start student-wise, and things seem to be on a fairly even keel school-wide.  I do have outside the classroom responsibilities that sometimes get to be a bit much.  I chair our district's staff development committee which is responsible for tracking recertification hours for all teachers/administrators.  I'm also an officer in our local education association (aka "the union.")  Both those groups have hit a few snags that take up time. I was training a team member to take over as staff dev chair after this year, but due to one of the "snags", that person resigned from the team.  Everyone else is brand new!

On the personal front my job as the moderator for my church has been quite stressful.  We are dealing with a couple of issues, and just as soon as I think something is finally resolved, another wrinkle appears.  We are currently dealing with some trespassing teens - not a major problem yet, but it's just one more thing.  As long as I've been in town (over 35 years) my church has had an open door policy.  We've never locked the sanctuary, believing that anyone who needs it should be able to come in.  A few local teenagers have recently been hanging out --- not in a respectful way, but also nothing majorly wrong.  As far as I know the worst thing they've done is race a wheelchair down our ramp from the chancel. Obviously they shouldn't be playing there.  Most of the congregation is elderly and they are quite nervous.  A few parishioners have been startled by their presence, but nobody has identified who the kids are which makes it hard to solve.  And of course, nobody's called the police.  I contacted our school resource officer because the kids are either in my middle school or in the adjacent high school.  I think he'll be able to sort things out once he has a chance to do some nosing around.  

I've also been attempting to participate in a book study group at church.  We're reading and discussing Brian McLaren's book , "A New Kind of Christianity."  I have been hungry for this kind of discussion group, and it's been very enriching and nourishing.  There are 8-10 of us who meet each week --- a fairly diverse group of folks, and it's led by an ordained member of our church (tho' she's not our pastor.)  I've had to miss a couple of meetings due to sheer exhaustion.  The group meets from 6-8 pm every Thursday and have just been some days, that I couldn't push myself to get there.

We've also been getting the new house built.  Here are a couple of photos I took this afternoon:

The first wall --- the window is in my master bathroom and the other end of the wall is part of the pantry.

This is the basement looking out toward the back of the house.  We'd had a driving rainstorm which is why there's water on the floor -- not all the floor has been installed overhead.

More basement.

From the back of the house looking into the basement.

Standing in my mudroom looking across my open concept dining/kitchen/living room to the non existent bedroom walls!

The leach field for the septic tank.  I guess we will have a green front lawn!

From the road, looking at the front of the house.

And finally I have been knitting!  I made a couple of Christmas gifts that I am not sharing here, not yet anyway.  I've also started this scarf.

I bought the pattern and yarn at the NH Sheep and Wool Show in May 2011, and finally got it started.  It's an alpaca cobweb lace from Long Ridge Farm.  The pattern is called "Two Rivers Wrap."

Finally, the meds for RA seem to finally be having a positive effect, so while I am not painfree, it's not the debilitating pain I was enduring earlier this year.  I still struggle with fatigue, and I am certainly not where I want to be, but things are improving.

So as I said in my title, I have been busy as a bee . . .though I'm not sure how busy this one was.  It was on the brick path to my front door --- it was alive, though probably just barely.

By the way, my first name, Deborah, means BEE!