Monday, May 30, 2011


Happy Memorial Day
Thank you to all the men and women in the Armed Services who have dedicated their lives to our freedom!

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Week in Review: Books, Cooking, Home and Family - May 28, 2011

Hello everyone!  Welcome to new visitors that found my site this week during Armchair BEA.  My Week in Review posts summarize the week's happenings in four of my favorite areas:  Books, Cooking, Home and Family

This was a fun week for book bloggers!  I joined in on Armchair BEA with about 500 of my closest book blogging friends.  As I mentioned in yesterday's wrap-up post, I have stuffed my Google Reader with lots of new book blogs and had a chance to see what I was missing - and what I was not missing - at BEA in New York City.

I finished Exit the Actress early in the week and it is certainly one of my favorite books this year.  You can see my thoughts in my review post here.

After finishing Exit the Actress, I turned back to The Happiness Project.  I find myself stopping after certain sections so that I can contemplate how I could incorporate some of Rubin's approaches into my own life.

The New Best Recipe: All-New EditionI was asked about my favorite cookbook, earlier this week when I was interviewed by Jennifer at My Life with Books.  When I am looking to cook or bake something that I have never made before, my first stop is the Cook's Illustrated Magazine The New Best Recipe cookbook.  Even though cooking is the best part, I also enjoy learning about the trial and error that happened in the test kitchen in order to achieve THE best recipe.  It's amazing how a little bit of sour cream or buttermilk or combination of sausage and ground beef can make a big difference to the recipe results.  I haven't tried anything new from this cookbook in a few months - I think that it's time find a new recipe and report back here, don't you?

Only two more weeks until my sister arrives!  I was able to make a run to Target this week to get sheets and blankets for the kid's beds.  We had a funny discussion this week about how the bathroom assignments would work.  J seemed to think that her bathroom could remain "her" bathroom and the remaining seven humans could happily coexist between the master bath and the half bath downstairs.  I love how it is perfectly reasonable for a 5 1/2 year old to rationalize how the master bath - with both a shower and a tub - can accommodate two people at a time.  Obviously, we had a little discussion about sharing our space and privacy.

Date night at The Capital Grille last weekend was amazing!  We splurged on a very nice bottle of wine and the steaks were fantastic.  Most of all my husband and I had the best conversation that we have had in months.  It is always wonderful to be reminded about how much you love your spouse! 

We have been using a babysitting service since we moved to Virginia.  We have been pleased with each of the three sitters that have been sent, but I would feel more comfortable if we could find a sitter that we could use consistently and less expensively.  I have to get on that...

Today will be J's first Tae Kwon Do lesson - something that she has been talking about for months.  Since she was only a few months old, I have been able to envision her in the little white martial arts uniform, even more so than a tutu or tap shoes.  I can't wait to see her try one on.  I am hoping that she loves the experience - I think that it will be very good for her!

That's a little glimmer of my week.  Hope that you have a happy and enjoyable Memorial Day Weekend!

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Book Review: Exit the Actress by Priya Parmar

Exit the Actress: A NovelExit the Actress by Priya Parmar
Paperback, 464 pages
Touchstone, (February 1, 2011)

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

Summary from the publisher's website:
While selling oranges in the Theatre Royal, Covent Garden, sweet and sprightly Ellen "Nell" Gwyn impresses the theater's proprietors with a wit and sparkle that belie her youth and poverty. She quickly earns a place in the company, narrowly avoiding the life of prostitution to which her sister has already succumbed. As her roles evolve from supporting to starring, the scope of her life broadens as well. Soon Ellen is dressed in the finest fashions, charming the theatrical, literary, and royal luminaries of Restoration England.

Ellen grows up on the stage, experiencing first love and heartbreak and eventually becoming the mistress of Charles II. Despite his reputation as a libertine, Ellen wholly captures his heart—and he hers—but even the most powerful love isn't enough to stave off the gossip and bitter court politics that accompany a royal romance.

Telling the story through a collection of vibrant seventeenth-century voices ranging from Ellen's diary to playbills, letters, gossip columns, and home remedies, Priya Parmar brings to life the story of an endearing and delightful heroine.

My Thoughts:
I have been looking forward to reading Exit the Actress for months.  My friend Mari from Bookworm with a View introduced me to author Priya Parmar's blog.  I followed along with Parmar's experiences with publishing, cover design, photo sessions and the big publication day - it was so much fun to see an author's excitement about giving birth to her first novel, and seeing her be showered with praise over the book!
When the book was announced as the May selection for the Manic Mommies Book Club, I was thrilled.  I resisted the urge to pick up a copy when I saw it on the shelf at Target and waited patiently for it to arrive on my doorstop in late April. 

Exit the Actress is the first book in a long time where I have sacrificed much-needed sleep in order to read.  Historical fiction is my favorite genre.  When you combine that genre with an epistolary writing style, as Exit the Actress does primarily through journal entries and letters, it makes me swoon.  This format offers a unique insight into the writer's emotions and personality.  There is also an familiarity that I enjoy - possibly a slight voyeuristic look into the character's head. 

I now understand why Parmar often wrote about being able to introduce Nell to new readers. After reading the book and learning about Nell's character through her diary, I do feel like I was introduced to a living, breathing person.  It was quite extraordinary.  Nell was an amazing woman and I would have loved to have been her friend.

This novel also allowed me to learn a great deal about 17th century England.  The letters between King Charles and his mother and sisters provided clarity on the setting and time period.  In the history books, royalty and historical events are often overly sanitized.  Exit the Actress successfully showed the humans behind the events.

I would recommend this book to lovers of historical fiction, those who like a good love story, or enjoy seeing a strong woman persevere.  Exit the Actress was well worth the wait - Congratulations to Priya Parmar on her first novel.  I am looking forward to what comes next!

4 Stars!

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Week in Review: Books, Cooking, Home and Family - May 21, 2011

Here's a look at what has been happening in my life over the past week in all the areas that mean so much to me:  Books, Cooking, Home and Family

Happily, I'm able to say that I have carved out some time for reading this week.  I've been bouncing back and forth between two very different books, both of which have me captivated.

Exit the Actress: A NovelExit the Actress by Priya Parmar is a novel that I received for the Manic Mommies Book Club.  Don't you just LOVE the cover? 
I missed the call on Wednesday night (boo).  I hadn't yet finished the book, so it's probably best that I didn't hear any spoilers.  I'll be wrapping up the last 80 pages today - can't wait! 

The Happiness Project: Or, Why I Spent a Year Trying to Sing in the Morning, Clean My Closets, Fight Right, Read Aristotle, and Generally Have More FunI've also be reading Gretchen Rubin's The Happiness Project.  Although I don't review non-fiction very frequently on PeetSwea, it's a genre that I have been sprinkling in more and more frequently over the past year.   I watched a segment on the CBS Sunday Morning show about happiness and was drawn to this book.  I've only just started, so I have a lot more to read and learn.  I'm really intrigued by Rubin's approach to finding ways to bring additional happiness into your life.

Coming up next week is an event that I'm really looking forward to - Armchair BEA.  For those of us who are not fortunate enough to be at Book Expo America or the Book Blogger Convention in New York, Armchair BEA lets book bloggers commiserate, collaborate and just have fun.  Check back for posts next week and a giveaway!

Nothing fancy, nothing too exciting, just home-cooked meals every night but Wednesday.   I changed up the weekly schedule a bit, and was thankful for the very easy pot of Chili on Thursday after a rough day at the dentist and at work.

I will be looking to spruce up our extra room over the next few weeks in preparation for my sister and her family's arrival on June 10th.  We haven't had too many visitors at our new home in Virginia, so I'm looking forward to having all the rooms overflowing with people and I'm very thankful that we have lots of space in this house to spread out!

Last Saturday, we took a trip to Delaware to go to the NASCAR Nationwide Series race.  My husband is a huge car freak - don't ask me how many episodes of Top Gear have been played over the past few months!  In Florida, we were only an hour away from Daytona and my husband attended the 24 Hours at Daytona every year.  Unfortunately, schedules didn't work out for him to fly down in January, so he went looking for a relatively-local race so that he could have his fix.  It was the first car race for J and I, and I have to admit that it was a fun.  Once the rain went away - thank God that we brought ponchos - it was a great time.  Only one complaint:  I know that NASCAR has to cater a bit to its fan base, but couldn't they get rid of smoking in the stands?  I can't remember the last time that I sat in a public space next to a smoker - that really detracted from the experience!

The military are very prominent sponsors of NASCAR racing, and there were several military vehicles, aircraft and displays for us to look at.  Our very favorite part was a Marine Explosive Ordinance Disposal (EOD) robot.  The Marine who was operating the robot took about five minutes to interact with J, showing how the robot could pick up a water bottle and hand it to her.  It was really amazing.  My husband commented that he could have kicked himself for not capturing it on video, especially since the DJ was blasting Lee Greenwood's God Bless the USA in the background - it would have been a truly memorable video!

That's a glimpse of what happened in my life over the past week - what do you have planned for your week?

Monday, May 16, 2011

Menu Plan Monday - May 14, 2011

Last week was a very boring and basic dinner week.  My husband and I have been very busy at work, so I sprinkled in breakfast for dinner and quick prep meals for dinner.  We're back on track this week with a few family favorites and a one new experience for me!

For other great meal ideas, be sure to visit Menu Plan Monday, hosted by I'm an Organizing Junkie.

Here's what's on our menu for this week:

Sunday:  Roast Chicken, New Potatoes and Corn - this was my very first time roasting an entire chicken and it turned out delicious!!  I kept it simple by brushing it with a little olive oil, sprinkling in some thyme and pouring orange juice into the cavity to keep it interesting.  The flavor was wonderful and I'll be enjoying the leftovers this week for lunch!

Monday:  My Mom's Easy Chili

1 lb. extra lean Ground Beef, crumbled and browned
1 28 oz. can tomato sauce
1 15 oz. can diced tomatoes
1 15 oz. can dark red kidney beans, drained and rinsed
1 TBSP Chili Powder
shredded cheddar or Mexican cheese for topping

Brown ground beef in large pot.  Add tomato sauce, tomatoes, beans and chili powder.  Simmer for 10 minutes and its done!  Sprinkle with a little cheese before eating, if desired.

Tuesday:  Taco Tuesday - a family tradition

Wednesday:  Pizza Night

Thursday:  Pork Chops, rotini pasta and green beans

Friday:  Brushetta Chicken Bake

Saturday:   Date Night - we'll be trying The Capital Grille for the first time!

Enjoy your week.  I am still looking for a few great crock pot recipes - let me know if there is something that you recommend.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Book Review and Blog Tour: A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens

A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens
Version Read:  Public Domain Books (December 1, 2010)

Original Publication:  1859


I downloaded a free copy of this book from to my Kindle
Summary from Goodreads:
'Liberty, equality, fraternity, or death; -- the last, much the easiest to bestow, O Guillotine!'  -- A Tale of Two Cities, Charles Dickens
After eighteen years as a political prisoner in the Bastille, the ageing Doctor Manette is finally released and reunited with his daughter in England. There the lives of two very different men, Charles Darnay, an exiled French aristocrat, and Sydney Carton, a disreputable but brilliant English lawyer, become enmeshed through their love for Lucie Manette. From the tranquil roads of London, they are drawn against their will to the vengeful, bloodstained streets of Paris at the height of the Reign of Terror, and they soon fall under the lethal shadow of La Guillotine.

My Thoughts:
As I mentioned a few weeks ago, A Tale of Two Cities has been the classic that I have wanted to read, started to read, but yet never fully read. I will say that no more!

Do I like historical fiction? Most definitely

Do I like stories about love triangles? Roger that

Do I like tales of good overcoming evil? Uh huh

Do I like stories where I learn something? Yep

Do I like plot lines that take me somewhere that I didn't expect? Can I get a Hell yes?!

I finally finished it - but, why oh why was I so scared? A Tale of Two Cities started off slow - yes, even the fifth or sixth time in my life, it was still slow. But I was committed, and I pushed through, and then I was happy. The language was sometimes difficult and required more concentration than my tired brain could take in the late hours of the evening. (It was then that I was thankful for the built-in dictionary offered by my Kindle.)

Dickens was smart and talented - but I'm not telling you anything that hasn't been said for 160 years. I felt the fear and the hatred that was conveyed about the French Revolution. I experienced the pain of the characters as they were rejected, imprisoned, and misunderstood. I really liked this book. I feel smarter and a wee bit more sophisticated for having read it.

I'm thankful that I didn't decide to make you suffer through do a comparison of Jane Austen to Charles Dickens. For me, A Tale of Two Cities cannot be compared to the love affair that I had with Pride and Prejudice . They are so different that I cannot stand them beside one another for evaluation. I'll let them keep there own unique place in my reading history.

I did it - A Tale of Two Cities crossed of my reading bucket list..I am so glad that I finished this book!

Here are a few others that took on A Tale of Two Cities for the tour:
The Story Girl (May 9)
The Time of Your Life (May 16)
Bread Crumb Reads (May 18)

Friday, May 06, 2011

Sewing Project: Mixer Cover for my Mom

It's been over a year since I successfully completed a sewing project.  When my mom visited us in December, she commented that she would like to have a cover for her mixer, like the one that I made for myself.  She's a big fan of Polish Pottery, so I set out to find material to compliment her collection.  Just in the nick of time on Wednesday morning, I finished up and shipped it to Florida.

Happy Mother's Day Mom!

Mixer Cover

Mixer Cover with Polish Pottery

Now I've got the itch for my next project...

Tuesday, May 03, 2011

Book Review: Room by Emma Donoghue

Room: A Novel
Room by Emma Donoghue
Hardcover, 336 pages
Little, Brown and Company (September 13, 2010)
I received a copy of this book for my participation in the Manic Mommies Book Club

Summary from the author's website:
ROOM (2010) is the story of a five-year-old called Jack, who lives in a single room with his Ma and has never been outside. When he turns five, he starts to ask questions, and his mother reveals to him that there is a world outside. Told entirely in Jack’s voice, ROOM is no horror story or tearjerker, but a celebration of resilience and the love between parent and child.

My Thoughts:
Unlike most books, I did not read a synopsis of Room before I started the book.  I heard all of the buzz and critical acclaim for this novel, and looked forward to the opportunity to read it.  On a trip to Houston this year, I tossed it in my bag and found myself completely engrossed from page one.  It was the fastest three-hour flight that I had ever experienced.

Told from the perspective of a five-year-old, Room was really breathtaking.  It took me several pages to adjust to Jack's perspective, but once I understood the approach, I was hooked.  Donoghue's ability to convey very adult situations using both Jack's description, as well as dialogue between Jack and his mother was very interesting.  Admittedly, I found myself imagining the world through my daughter's eyes - with limited vocabulary and limited understanding of human motives, a child's abilty to describe their world is very simple, but often very enlightening.

It is difficult to offer a fully critique of Room without providing any spoilers, but in order to really enjoy the book I think that it is crucial that the reader not know what is going to happen.  Personally, I would have preferred that the first "part" had been extended, because this storyline felt the most real and raw to me.  However, I do appreciate Donoghue's approach to telling the story and understand the importance of exploring the emotions that occured during the second phase of the novel.

When I finished Room - on the flight back home - I wished that I had someone that I could have chatted with about the book.  It was such a powerful story and Jack's perspective made such a great impression upon me.  The novel is very deserving of the attention that it has received!

4 Stars!

Monday, May 02, 2011

Menu Plan Monday - May 2, 2011

Last week I was back in Houston for work.  I did the eating out routine, while my husband and daughter did easy "Daddy Dinners" - sometimes it's bettter if I don't ask...  This week we're back on track with a menu plan.  I'm sprinkling in a few new recipes, which I'm looking forward to!  For other great meal ideas, be sure to visit Menu Plan Monday, hosted by I'm an Organizing Junkie.

Here's what's on our menu for this week:

Sunday:  Dinner out with our good friends who are moving to Aberdeen, Scotland at the end of the week!

Monday:  Cheesy Chicken and Rice Casserole

Tuesday:  Taco Tuesday

Wednesday:  Pizza Night

Thursday:  Sour Cream Chicken Enchiladas

Friday:  Hot Dogs and Baked Beans (and probably a beer to celebrate the weekend!)

Saturday:   Dinner Out - It's my birthday!!

Next week I will be looking to break out the crock pot once or twice.  Any great crock pot recipes that I can try?

Sunday, May 01, 2011

Petit Fours: The Results

Last week I shared our daughter's desire to make beautiful petit fours - just like the Harry and David catalog.  Well, on Easter weekend we were able to don our chefs' hats and do our very best Top Chef: Just Desserts impression.

I thought that I would share a few photos of our results.

I picked out twelve of the very best looking specimens and stunned the neighborhood with my baking prowess.  While I will not be getting an offers to decorate cakes for the next Royal Wedding, I did feel just a little like Super Mom through the eyes of my little girl.