Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Virtual Cookie Exchange - Graham Cracker Treats

The Results of Last Year's Christmas Cookie Baking
This weekend will be all about Christmas baking at our house.  When I saw Mari's post about a Virtual Cookie Exchange, I thought that I would post the recipe for a family favorite - Graham Cracker Treats.  They are the chocolate-covered wonders pictured in the top right of the photo.  Hope that you enjoy!

Graham Cracker Treats

2 Cups Graham Cracker Crumbs
1 Box Confectioner's Sugar
1/2 Cup Peanut Butter
1 Cup Coconut Flakes
2 Sticks Margarine
1 Cup Chopped Pecans
1 Teaspoon Vanilla
1 6-ounce package Chocolate Chips
1/3 cake of Paraffin Wax

Mix graham cracker crumbs, sugar, peanut butter, coconut, margarine, nuts and vanilla well.  Measure rounded tablespoons of mixture and roll into balls.  Melt chocolate chips and paraffin wax in double boiler.  Dip graham cracker balls in chocolate and lay on wax paper to dry.  Enjoy!

Friday, November 04, 2011

Sneak Peek

Here is a sneak peek at a few things that I have been working on lately. 

New and exciting things are coming to PeetSwea!

Monday, September 19, 2011

New Back to School Normal

Today has reminded me how wonderful it has been to be able to work from home.  Even though I have spent about one week per month in Houston over the past year, I still enjoyed the convenience of a 10 step commute for the rest of the time.  This morning, I started a new routine:  Commuting to the office, working all day,impromptu meetings (just because I'm there and available), racing to after care, Tae Kwon Do lessons, cooking dinner...  And that's as far as I have made it.

At least two days a week, I will be joining the majority of working moms with a trip to the office.  This requires not only getting my husband and daughter out the door, but also a shower and some type of presentable attire at a very reasonable hour.  I realize only now what I have not been missing.

I am frequently asked, "How do you like working from home?"  My standard response is that it can be rather lonely and that I miss the face-to-face interaction with my co-workers every day.  I'm going to tell myself that tomorrow morning at 5:45 when my alarm goes off again.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Library Dreams: Inspirational Writing

I dream that one day I will live in my forever house, and that house will have a beautiful library.  Until that day, that library lives in my dreams... 

Library Dreams is my own series, where I will show photos that have inspired me.

One goal for my future library will be that it provides a place of inspiration.  This photo shows a beautiful desk, which is surrounded by shelves of books.  I can picture myself in the gray chair either journaling or with my laptop writing away.  This photo would be a lovely model for my 'one day' library!

Photo courtesy of Shelterness

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Book Review: The Violets of March by Sarah Jio

Paperback, 304 pages
Plume (April 26, 2011)
I received a copy of this book from the publisher for my participation in the Manic Mommies Book Club

Summary from Goodreads:
A heartbroken woman stumbled upon a diary and steps into the life of its anonymous author.

In her twenties, Emily Wilson was on top of the world: she had a bestselling novel, a husband plucked from the pages of GQ, and a one-way ticket to happily ever after.

Ten years later, the tide has turned on Emily's good fortune. So when her great-aunt Bee invites her to spend the month of March on Bainbridge Island in Washington State, Emily accepts, longing to be healed by the sea. Researching her next book, Emily discovers a red velvet diary, dated 1943, whose contents reveal startling connections to her own life.

My Thoughts:
The Violets of March was a quick and entertaining read.  Anyone who understands my reading preferences, would know that I would enjoy the embedded diary entries within the novel.  Reading books which include letters or diary excerpts are included among my favorite things.  I especially enjoyed the anonymity of the diary's author - I thought that it was interesting that had to wait to discover who was telling the story.

Emily's interaction with her Aunt Bee was very sweet.  Bee provided Emily with a very different relationship than the one that Emily had with her own mother.  Yet, despite their closeness, Bee has a secret that placed a strain on their relationship, and on Emily's ability to move on.

I enjoyed the book very much.  While the ending was not completely predictable, I did have a sense of where the characters would end up.  I wasn't deterred by this and took time to enjoy how the story unfolded.  I would recommend this book to lovers of women's fiction.  I am looking forward to discussing it with the Manic Mommies Book Club tonight!

Thanks to the publisher for allowing me to review this book as part of the Manic Mommies Book Club.

4 Stars!

Monday, July 18, 2011

Book Review: 22 Brittania Road by Amanda Hodgkinson

22 Britannia Road by Amanda Hodgkinson
Hardcover, 336 pages
Penguin Group (USA), April 26, 2011                   

Personal Copy

Summary from Goodreads:
"Housekeeper or housewife?" the soldier asks Silvana as she and eight- year-old Aurek board the ship that will take them from Poland to England at the end of World War II. There her husband, Janusz, is already waiting for them at the little house at 22 Britannia Road. But the war has changed them all so utterly that they'll barely recognize one another when they are reunited. "Survivor," she answers.

Silvana and Aurek spent the war hiding in the forests of Poland. Wild, almost feral Aurek doesn't know how to tie his own shoes or sleep in a bed. Janusz is an Englishman now-determined to forget Poland, forget his own ghosts from the way, and begin a new life as a proper English family. But for Silvana, who cannot escape the painful memory of a shattering wartime act, forgetting is not a possibility.

My Thoughts:
22 Britannia Road was an accurate and intriguing work of historical fiction.  The novel alternated between sharing the story of reunited couple Silvana and Janusz, after the end of World War II and telling their separate experiences during the war.  Their stories during the war were extremely rough - they are situations that I cannot even imagine having to endure. 

The book itself fell a little flat for me.  The approach of switching between wartime and post-war narration was very distracting.  Even though I understood how this method allowed the stories and secrets to unfold, it did not flow as seamlessly as I would have liked.  The horrible experiences that Silvana and Janusz encountered were often extreme, yet I did not feel the emotional tugs of sympathy, outrage and horror that would be appropriate.

I appreciate the story that was told and I think that the author's research into the time period was extremely good.  Personally, I think that it was an amazing idea for a story.  Unfortunately, I just wasn't as invested in the characters as I would have liked to have been.

Have you read 22 Brittania Road?  Is there something that I missed that I should reconsider?

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Week in Review: Books, Cooking, Home and Family - July 17, 2011

Last weekend, we were up to our ears with family visits and birthday parties - I'm still trying to catch up!  Here's what's been happening lately...

Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity22 Britannia Road: A NovelThe Violets of March: A Novel
Since my last Week in Review, I have finished three books:  Getting Things Done, 22 Britannia Road and The Violets of MarchGetting Things Done (review here) was an ode to my recent struggles with feeling organized.  I really appreciated the practical approach that the author illustrated - I'll be spending a little more time with this book in the near future.

The Paris Wife: A Novel
Right now, I am listening to The Paris Wife, which almost makes me want to do laundry and clean the kitchen a little longer so that I have more time to listen.  Only two hours into the audiobook, I am loving it - such beautiful writing.

Dragonfly in Amber (Outlander, Book 2)
I picked up the next book in Diana Gabaldon's Outlander series:  Dragonfly in AmberOutlander was a fantastic read and I am enjoying learning more about the characters in this next installment.  At over 700 pages, it's a bit of a chunkster, so it will probably be on my 'currently reading' list for several more days.

Move along...Nothing to see here.

No really, cooking hasn't been very exciting here over the past few weeks.  Lots of old standbys and meals on the run.

Home (and Health)
The house is getting back to normal after having my parents in town last weekend.  Plus, there was an influx of new toys from our daughter's 6th birthday.  I really need to have a weekend set aside to sort through and set aside many MANY toys for donation.

I am now nearly halfway through Week 4 of the Couch to 5K running plan - 5 more weeks to go!  I am really very proud of myself.  This week has included two three minute runs and two five minute runs, which is longer than I have ever been able to run.  I've been encouraged by a Twitter friend who started at the same time - it's good to have someone to encourage me, and frankly to be accountable to.  I still have a long way to go, but that 5K doesn't seem too far out of my reach now.

Our daughter's birthday party last Sunday was a great success and we were very happy that my parents were in town to share the big day.  I still can't believe that I have a six year old!  J is already talking about when she turns 7 - I do hope that she won't force this year to fly by as fast as last year!

On Saturday, we will be packing up the car and heading to Tennessee for vacation with my husband's family.  While the vacation couldn't come at a worse time for me work-wise, I am hoping for many hours by the pool, soaking up the sun with a frosty beverage and a good book.  I can't tell you how much I need this time off.

How about you - how was your week?

Friday, July 15, 2011

Book Review: Getting Things Done by David Allen

Paperback, 267 pages
Penguin (Non-Classics), December 31, 2002

Personal Copy

Summary from Goodreads:
In today's world, yesterday's methods just don't work. In Getting Things Done, veteran coach and management consultant David Allen shares the breakthrough methods for stress-free performance that he has introduced to tens of thousands of people across the country. Allen's premise is simple: our productivity is directly proportional to our ability to relax. Only when our minds are clear and our thoughts are organized can we achieve effective productivity and unleash our creative potential. In Getting Things Done Allen shows how to:
  • Apply the "do it, delegate it, defer it, drop it" rule to get your in-box to empty
  • Reassess goals and stay focused in changing situations
  • Plan projects as well as get them unstuck
  • Overcome feelings of confusion, anxiety, and being overwhelmed
  • Feel fine about what you're not doing

From core principles to proven tricks, Getting Things Done can transform the way you work, showing you how to pick up the pace without wearing yourself down.

My Thoughts:
I happened upon Getting Things Done when I was trying to spend available credits on Audible.com.  It had wonderful reviews and the thought of "stress-free productivity" frankly appealed to me.  Allen's book is a step-by-step guide to organizing all of the actions that you have, both professionally and personally.  I was expecting some standard, fluffy fare about personal mission statements and time management, but Getting Things Done is much more practical than that.

Allen begins with instructions for gathering everything in your life - yes EVERYTHING - into an in basket.  Every task that needs to be completed, every nagging chore that you have been putting off, even those lists of potential vacations that you think might be nice someday.  The goal is to spend dedicated time processing all of these actions, in order to develop a complete list of items that need to be completed, each placed into their proper category.  Allen admits that the idea is full of common sense, however most individuals fail to implement the approach without proper guidance.  And for those who have successfully prepared their immaculate to-do lists, they do not continue to maintain their system.

Since listening to the audio book, I have purchased the paperback version.  The steps and checklists will serve me much better in print.  While I haven't yet taken a weekend, or a few quiet days to kick start the plan from the beginning, I have already implemented a few of the recommendations:
  • I bought a label maker and hundreds of file folders.  The top drawer of my filing cabinet is now beautifully organized.  It was a great start for all of the papers that needed to have a permanent home
  • I purchased a three ring binder with tabbed dividers.  While this wasn't a specific recommendation of the book, I thought that it would be the ideal way for me to organize my list of projects, next actions, agendas, and someday/maybe lists.  This approach has already helped me stay organized for the ten (yes TEN) recurring meetings that I personally facilitate each week.
  • I am working to keep my email boxes near empty, by filing or deleting anything where I do not have an immediate action.  This has proven the most difficult task so far, because of the sheer volume of mail that I get each day.  But I'm trying.

Getting Things Done is a very practical, helpful tool to assist individuals with organization.  I plan on a reread this summer and am hoping to take the time for a start-to-finish implementation.

If you're interested in hearing more about this book, I would recommend a visit to Simon at Self-Helpless.  He has started his year-long journey through twelve popular self-help books with Getting Things Done.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Library Dreams: Colors

I dream that one day I will live in my forever house, and that house will have a beautiful library.  Until that day, that library lives in my dreams... 

Library Dreams is my own series, where I will show photos that have inspired me.

Isn't this beautiful?  The conservative side of me might hesitate to organize my library by color, but I think that this picture is very inspirational as well as artistic.  I also think that this approach might tempt me to pick my next book based upon my mood.  Feeling blue?  Blue shelf.  Feeling sassy?  Red. 

Do you like this approach, or have you seen it implemented in living color?  How do you organize your shelves?

Photo courtesy of Shelterness

Thursday, July 07, 2011

Library Dreams: A Room to Myself

I dream that one day I will live in my forever house, and that house will have a beautiful library.  Until that day, that library lives in my dreams... 
Library Dreams is my own series, where I will show photos of libraries that have inspired me.

When I was growing up, I babysat for a family with a library sealed off in a room of its own.  In addition to hundreds of wonderful books, their room also had a white baby grand piano, but that is another dream entirely...

This photo brought back memories of that home, and my dreams of one day having a room filled with books.  Wouldn't it be nice to replicate the smell of a bookstore within your own home, and to have a quiet place to read while surrounded by books?
Photo found on Shelterness

Tuesday, July 05, 2011

Book Review: The Soldier's Wife by Margaret Leroy

The Soldier's WifeThe Soldier's Wife by Margaret Leroy
Paperback, 416 pages
Hyperion (June 28th 2011)

I received a copy of this book from the publisher via Shelf Awareness

Summary from Goodreads:
As World War II draws closer and closer to Guernsey, Vivienne de la Mare knows that there will be sacrifices to be made. Not just for herself, but for her two young daughters and for her mother-in-law, for whom she cares while her husband is away fighting. What she does not expect is that she will fall in love with one of the enigmatic German soldiers who take up residence in the house next door to her home. As their relationship intensifies, so do the pressures on Vivienne. Food and resources grow scant, and the restrictions placed upon the residents of the island grow with each passing week. Though Vivienne knows the perils of her love affair with Gunther, she believes that she can keep their relationship and her family safe. But when she becomes aware of the full brutality of the Occupation, she must decide if she is willing to risk her personal happiness for the life of a stranger.

My Thoughts:
Simply put, I adored this book.  The characters, the setting, the time period, and the themes of this book drew me in from the first page.  The book's main character Vivienne de la Mare was richly drawn, and the novel captured so many different aspects of her life.  I think that it was a perfect illustration of how the roles of wife, mother, mother-in-law, friend, citizen, and woman can stand in stark contrast to one another. 

Like The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, which I also loved, the book was set in Guernsey during the World War II German occupation.  As an American, my first inclination is to be judgemental of the German soldiers:  Germans Bad, Allies Good!  However, the author invoked not only the political and nationalistic arguments for the occupation - she also strongly captured the human element.  The citizens of Guernsey had different approaches to coexisting with the Germans, and the Germans, some of which who were accidental soldiers, did not all feel the same way about their circumstances.  I was impressed with how this book moved me to think about some items with a different perspective.

Even then, however, the book included horrific aspects of the war including the Organsation Todt, where prisoners were sent to Guernsey and lived in wretched conditions.  These things were not glossed over and were given the respect and attention that they deserved within the story. 

I have so many feelings for this book, and how it wove so many stories, conflicting duties and feelings together so well.  It was exciting and heart-wrenching, entertaining and educational.  And, like a cherry on top, it had a perfect, perfect ending. 

I would highly recommend The Soldiers Wife to lovers of historical fiction and women's fiction.  Please read it.

Saturday, July 02, 2011

Week in Review: Books, Cooking, Home and Family - July 2, 2011

It has been a great week.  I am hoping to soak up lots of free time during this long weekend.  Free time, away from work, isn't something that I get very often anymore. 

Here's what happened this week...


The Soldier's WifeSometimes I think that I was meant to be born in World War II-era Europe, because the books that I read from that time period make me all warm and fuzzy inside.  This week I finished The Soldier's Wife, which was phenomenal, and I started 22 Britannia Road

22 Britannia Road: A NovelI also partcipated in the Manic Mommies Book Club on Wednesday night, where we discussed The Love Goddess' Cooking School (review here).  Hearing the author's story of how the book came to be was fascinating.  We also had a lively discussion after the 'real' book club was over, which was so much fun.  It is wonderful to be able to talk to other moms for book suggestions.  After the book club, I picked up a few recommendations for chapter books for J, which I'm looking forward to researching. 

I started a new feature on my site called Library Dreams.  I'll be showing pictures of beautiful libraries that are inspiring to me.  Here is a link to the first Library Dreams, which I hope to make a recurring series.

You can also check out my review of The Bee-Loud Glade (3 stars) here.

On a last-minute whim, I signed up for a Knife Skills class at a local cooking school.  So on Thursday night, I packed up three of my knives and headed out.  It was a really great time and I think that I learned a lot.  For instance, I have been holding my chef's knife completely wrong.  I am going to have to concentrate for a while, until the correct way becomes a habit for me! 

We spent three hours practicing our techniques for slicing, brunoise and julienne cuts.  After we had chopped through carrots, bell peppers, mushrooms, spring onions, ginger, garlic and onion, we learned how to break down a whole chicken.  Then the instructor threw everything into a wok and made a delicious stir fry.  It was so much fun!

Home (and Health)
I've been keeping up with my Couch to 5K running program and started Week 2 on Friday.  I am working to get out of the house as soon as my husband and J head out the door, so that I beat the heat and humidity.  So far, it hasn't been too bad, but imagine that July and August will be brutal.  Running outside has been much better for me than running on the treadmill.  We have beautiful trails near my home and the trees and lakes are pretty to look at, and keep my mind off the time.  I am still getting used to running on hills - that's something that I didn't encounter on the treadmill!  I'm determined to see this through and as an extra motivation to myself, I signed up for my very first 5K race on October 8th! 

My little girl, who I swear was just born yesterday, will be turning 6 on July 11th.  We'll be getting ready for her big day and for her party.  Before that happens though, we'll be prepping the house for my parent's arrival on Thursday.  It will be nice having them here for a long weekend visit and to share in the birthday festivities.

Like I said, it was a great week, and the upcoming long weekend and week look very promising. 

How was your week?

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Library Dreams: Somethings Got to Give

I dream that one day I will live in my forever house, and that house will have a beautiful library.  Until that day, that library lives in my dreams... 

Library Dreams is a new series on my site where I will show photos that have inspired me.

Somethings Got to Give Library
I loved the movie Somethings Got to Give and I drooled over the beautiful home in Martha's Vineyard.  Search 'somethings got to give house' on Google and you'll find many people who loved it as much as I did.  I think that the built-in bookshelves are just gorgeous and could definitely be a model when styling my one-day library.

Photo found on Hooked on Houses site.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Book Review: The Bee-Loud Glade by Steve Himmer

The Bee-Loud Glade by Steve Himmer
Paperback, 224 pages
Atticus Books (April 4th 2011)

I won a copy of this book in a giveaway at Erin Reads

Summary from Goodreads:
When Finch, a recently fired marketer of plastic plants, takes a vow of silence to live as a hermit on an eccentric billionaire's estate, he finds that his attempt to contemplate nature and deeper truths is foiled by his noisy inner thoughts and his new employer's booming demands.

My Thoughts:
The Bee-Loud Glade is not the kind of story that I would find myself drawn to, purely from the summary or the words on the back cover.  The book oozes eccentricity and an off-the-beaten-path story line.  Despite these differences from my normal fare, I did enjoy it. 

Himmer is a fantastic storyteller and expertly drew the reader into Finch's head and into his experience.  In Finch's first day as a hermit, he described his tunic to be "prickling like millions of dagger-sharp fibers were sticking and stabbing my cotton- and nylon-spoiled skin, and I burst into bright hives all over."  This one sentence, so effectively written, instantly made me itch.  This type of description - of Finch's physical experience, his emotional state, his thoughts and reaction to the world outside of his glade - were prevalent throughout this novel. 

It was beautifully written.  Of that, there is no doubt.  And I appreciated the book for this beauty and Himmer's ability to weave my mind into Finch's experience.  I struggled though, because I couldn't get out of my own head enough to take the leap of faith that this novel required.  Could it have happened?  Absolutely.  Was it realistic enough for me to believe it and be part of it?  Almost, but not quite.

For fear of giving away the ending, I can't expand too much on how I felt about it.  It wasn't what I expected. It wasn't what I'd hoped for.  Is it selfish of me to hope that Himmer will give us a sequel, so that I can see more of Finch's life unfold.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Week in Review: Books, Cooking, Home and Family - June 26, 2011

Yesterday was my husband's birthday and we spent a fun day checking off his list of plans - Lucky Charms for breakfast, swimming at the pool, watching Top Gear reruns, 'playing adventure royale' with our daughter, a steak dinner, a cookie cake with ice cream and catching fireflies.  It was great day!

Here are a few other things that happened this week...

The Bee-Loud Glade
Unfortunately, it has been a slow reading week for me.  I am reading The Bee-Loud Glade, which I am enjoying very much - there just wasn't enough time to dive into it.  I've got 20 pages left to go as of this morning, so there is no doubt that I will finish today.

You can also check out this week's reviews of The Happiness Project (5 stars) and The Love Goddess' Cooking School (3 stars). 

The New Best Recipe: All-New EditionCooking
Last weekend, I tried out a new recipe from Cooks Illustrated's The New Best Recipe cookbook:  Chicken Marsala.  It was divine.  The sauce was just perfect.  I have tried at least half a dozen Chicken Marsala recipes, each falling flat for different reasons.  It was nice to put one of my husband's favorites in front of him and be proud of the results!

We'll call this section Home and Health this week.  I re-started the Couch to 5K running plan on Friday.  I have had a goal to run a 5K for quite a while.  This time I found a Twitter friend to run along with, and I think that the accountability will help quite a bit. 

J had her last day of school on Tuesday and voila! I am now the mom to a first grader.  I do not know where this year went.  Frankly, I am glad that this year is over.  While J learned a ton and made a few new friends, we weren't entirely pleased with the school this year.  I think that summer break will be good for all of us.

We are also officially signed up for one year of Tae Kwon Do lessons.  J is loving the activity, which she's doing two times per week.  She also had her first gymnastics lesson this week, which was amazing to watch.  My husband said that he has never seen J that happy.  She was cart-wheeling, trampoline-bouncing, ladder-climbing, and bar-flipping for an entire hour. 

We are all still trying to settle into our new area - even after almost a year.  I am hoping that these new routines will help it feel a little bit more like home, instead of a really long vacation near Washington, D.C.

How was your week?

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Book Review: The Love Goddess' Cooking School by Melissa Senate

The Love Goddess' Cooking SchoolThe Love Goddess' Cooking School by Melissa Senate
Paperback, 352 pages
Gallery (October 26th 2010)

I received a copy of this book for my participation in the Manic Mommies Book Club

Summary from Goodreads:
Holly Maguire's grandmother Camilla was the Love Goddess of Blue Crab Island, Maine--a Milanese fortune-teller who could predict the right man for you, and whose Italian cooking was rumored to save marriages. Holly has been waiting years for her unlikely fortune: her true love will like sa cordula, an unappetizing old-world delicacy. But Holly can't make a decent marinara sauce, let alone sa cordula. Maybe that's why the man she hopes to marry breaks her heart. So when Holly inherits Camilla's Cucinotta, she's determined to forget about fortunes and love and become an Italian cooking teacher worthy of her grandmother's legacy. But Holly's four students are seeking much more than how to make Camilla's chicken alla Milanese. Simon, a single father, hopes to cook his way back into his daughter's heart. Juliet, Holly's childhood friend, hides a painful secret. Tamara, a serial dater, can't find the love she longs for. And twelve-year-old Mia thinks learning to cook will stop her dad, Liam, from marrying his phony lasagna-queen girlfriend. As the class gathers each week, adding Camilla's essential ingredients of wishes and memories in every pot and pan, unexpected friendships and romances are formed--and tested. Especially when Holly falls hard for Liam . . . and learns a thing or two about finding her own recipe for happiness.

My Thoughts:
The Love Goddess' Cooking School was an enjoyable read and combined two of my favorite things - reading and cooking!  The book was a fast read, which I sailed through in a few nights.  I enjoyed the interaction between the characters, the struggle of the main character Holly to learn more about herself, and her aspirations to become the cook that her grandmother knew that she could be.

The book is sprinkled with descriptions of authentic Italian dishes, which made me quite hungry and anxious to try out the recipes offered at the back of the book.  And while I found that the story line was fairly predictable, I think that many lovers of women's fiction will enjoy it.

Thanks to the publisher for allowing the Manic Mommies Book Club to read this novel - it was a cute and fun summer read! 
3 stars!