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.