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!

Monday, June 20, 2011

Book Review: The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin

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 FunThe Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin
Paperback, 336 pages
Harper Paperbacks; Reprint edition (March 1, 2011)

Personal Copy

Summary from Goodreads:
Gretchen Rubin had an epiphany one rainy afternoon in the unlikeliest of places: a city bus. "The days are long, but the years are short," she realized. "Time is passing, and I'm not focusing enough on the things that really matter." In that moment, she decided to dedicate a year to her happiness project.

In this lively and compelling account of that year, Rubin carves out her place alongside the authors of bestselling memoirs such as Julie and Julia, The Year of Living Biblically, and Eat, Pray, Love. With humor and insight, she chronicles her adventures during the twelve months she spent test-driving the wisdom of the ages, current scientific research, and lessons from popular culture about how to be happier.

Rubin didn't have the option to uproot herself, nor did she really want to; instead she focused on improving her life as it was. Each month she tackled a new set of resolutions: give proofs of love, ask for help, find more fun, keep a gratitude notebook, forget about results. She immersed herself in principles set forth by all manner of experts, from Epicurus to Thoreau to Oprah to Martin Seligman to the Dalai Lama to see what worked for her—and what didn't.

Her conclusions are sometimes surprising—she finds that money can buy happiness, when spent wisely; that novelty and challenge are powerful sources of happiness; that "treating" yourself can make you feel worse; that venting bad feelings doesn't relieve them; that the very smallest of changes can make the biggest difference—and they range from the practical to the profound.

Written with charm and wit, The Happiness Project is illuminating yet entertaining, thought-provoking yet compulsively readable. Gretchen Rubin's passion for her subject jumps off the page, and reading just a few chapters of this book will inspire you to start your own happiness project.

My Thoughts:
Five stars.  Hands down. I really loved this book.  In fact, this is the first time that I have read a book on my Kindle, and then went out to purchase the hard copy, so that I can have it for reference.  The Happiness Project is not the kind of book that you start, finish, and then put on the shelf.  It is a book that opened my eyes to many of the ways in which I have been stuck.  It is also a book that I will pick up for a periodic refresher on how I can take charge of my own mood.

I heard about The Happiness Project while watching the CBS Sunday Morning show.  I have been in a bit of a funk lately about work and how I can possibly fit in everything that I want to do in life.  You know - how can I be happier?  So that evening, I downloaded the book and started to read. 

I enjoyed how Rubin walked through her own happiness project.  Instead of being a self-help book where the reader is told how they can improve their life by a know-it-all, plastic, perfect author, Rubin instead was honest about her life and how she was working to change her outlook.  Some suggestions and exercises that Rubin followed will apply to all readers, but some will not - she was very up front about the fact that this was a happiness project that was her own.  She was exploring ways to make herself a happier person.

The takeaways for me are countless, however I think that one of Rubin's Twelve Commandments - to Be Gretchen - really struck a chord with me.  How many times do we consider activities that we should be doing, or working to achieve things that we should be achieving instead of focusing on things that make us who we are?  A few years back, I developed a list of goals for myself and when I looked back on those goals, a few were things that I didn't even want to do - they were there because I felt that a should do them.  Getting an MBA is one of those things.  I dedicated several semesters in pursuit of this goal that I hated.  Despite a 4.0 GPA, I felt as if I was contributing more to the learning experience of those in my team (read: doing all the work to get the high grade) than I was to my own education.  So I stopped.  And I crossed that goal off the list.  There are more things in my life that I need to put in this bucket.

Rubin also dedicated an entire month of work to Lighten Up!  My inner control freak wanted to skip right past that chapter.  But I didn't.  I think that The Happiness Project held up a much-needed mirror in front of my face, so that I can realize how I really need to stop being so serious all the time.  J won't care if I don't play Barbies just the right way - she just wants me to play.

I'm so glad that I took a bit of a break from fiction to read this book.  I have become a faithful follower of The Happiness Project blog, which gives me new perspective almost every day.  This book won't be for everyone, but I truly enjoyed it.  It's always nice to learn a little bit more about yourself by seeing what others have learned in their own lives.

5 Stars!

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Week in Review: Books, Cooking, Home and Family - June 18, 2010

You might have noticed that I took a bit of time off.  I'll see if I can get you caught up on what's been going on...
Reading has been a great escape for me over the past few weeks and I am looking forward to all of the great books that are stacking themselves up on my shelves!

Outlander: with Bonus ContentThe Bee-Loud GladeThe Love Goddess' Cooking School

I finished Outlanderthis week and I absolutely adored it - you can read my review here.  You can be sure that I will be inserting other books from the series into my reading schedule very soon! 

In the mail this week, I received a copy of The Bee-Loud Glade, which I won as a giveaway from Erin Reads.  I'm looking forward to diving into this one, since it came so highly recommended.  I also received a copy of The Love Goddess' Cooking School which is the June selection for the Manic Mommies Book Club.  I'm already two chapters in and am liking how this novel combines two of my loves - books and cooking!

As you'll read below, we had a full house this past weekend, so my cooking audience grew from three to eight!  With four kiddos to cater to, I kept it very simple with sandwiches, tacos and grilled chicken.  We also opted for a picnic when we went into D.C. on Saturday.  Peanut Butter and Jelly never tastes better than when it enjoyed on the National Mall!

Last weekend, I was so tickled that our home was bursting at the seams with family when my sister, brother-in-law, nieces and nephew arrived.  There are few things that I like better than entertaining.  I planned to have two kids sharing our extra room and one kid in with J in her room.  Of course, the kids had their own idea and packed themselves into J's room for the first night.  I'm kicking myself that I didn't get pictures of all the sleeping cuties!

I miss having my family here - our visit went by entirely too fast!  Here are a few shots from our whirlwind weekend...


Friday, June 17, 2011

Book Review: Outlander by Diana Gabaldon

by Diana Gabaldon
Paperback, 656 pages
Delta (August 10, 1998)

Personal Copy

Summary from Goodreads:
The year is 1945. Claire Randall, a former combat nurse, is back from the war and reunited with her husband on a second honeymoon--when she walks through a standing stone in one of the ancient stone circles that dot the British Isles. Suddenly she is a Sassenach--an "outlander"--in a Scotland torn by war and raiding Highland clans in the year of Our Lord...1743.

Hurled back in time by forces she cannot understand, Claire is catapulted into intrigues and dangers that may threaten her life...and shatter her heart. For here she meets James Fraser, a gallant young Scots warrior, and becomes a woman torn between fidelity and desire...and between two vastly different men in two irreconcilable lives.

My Thoughts:
Outlander is by far my favorite book this year.  I am a proclaimed historical fiction lover, so the way that Outlander dipped one toe in post-World War II Scotland and then stepped backward over 200 years to the Scottish Highlands was fascinating. 

I know that many readers shy away from time travel or books that require you to suspend a bit of reality, however I believe that the flow of this novel will appeal to many.  While Claire Randall did take a trip back in time, it was not overdone, or even boldly unrealistic.  In fact, I was often very excited by the way that the author was able to weave in tidbits of the 20th century into Claire's thoughts and her choices.  One passage stood out to me in this respect:

"Looking down on the assembly, standing patiently in the drizzle awaiting a verdict, I suddenly had a vivid understanding of something.  Like so many, I had heard, appalled, the reports that trickled out of postwar Germany; the stories of deportations and mass murder, of concentration camps and burnings.  And like so many others had done, and would do, for years to come, I had asked myself, 'How could the people have let it happen?  They must have known, must have seen the trucks, the coming and going, the fences and the smoke.  How could they stand by and do nothing?'  Well, now I knew.

...Because to step outside the group, let alone to stand against it, was for uncounted thousands of years death to the creature who dared it.  To stand against a crowd would take something more than ordinary courage; something that went beyond human instinct.  And I feared I did not have it, and fearing, was ashamed."
This novel was also a very powerful love story.  I was moved more than once by the details of emotion and love between the characters.  Gabaldon has a true gift for conveying desire and longing and the strong want for protection.  As a warning, there are quite a few pretty racy scenes in the novel, so this book is not for those who are easy to blush. 

I highly recommend this novel to lovers of historical fiction, love stories, and books where strong women are central to a book's story.  I can't believe that I had not heard of Outlander until now.  It is very much my kind of novel, and I can picture myself this summer by the pool with my nose poked into the next books in the series. 

Saturday, June 04, 2011

Week in Review: Books, Cooking, Home and Family - June 4, 2011

Where did this week go?  I will be flying out to Houston tomorrow evening and I have a mile-long list of things to do before I go.  The house has to be ready for my sister and family to arrive on Friday!  Here's how my week shaped up...

I finished up The Happiness Project early in the week.  I am still compiling thoughts for my review, but I really enjoyed this book.  It made me reconsider many things and their impact on my happiness or unhappiness.

Outlander to One More Page Books in Arlington, VA for the first time.  I picked up Outlander while I was there and have been reading it in every spare moment.  The writing is beautiful and I love the Scottish Highland setting.  It's a long one, so it will be making the trip to Houston with me next week.J and I ventured

The Soldier's WifeI als received a copy of The Soldiers Wife.  An exerpt from the summary: 
"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."
Now doesn't that something that I would like to read?

We had a barbeque with our neighbors on Memorial Day.  I whipped up our family favorite Potato Casserole - so not healthy, but oh so good:

Potato Casserole
1 package frozen hash browns (thaw for 2 hours)
1/2 Cup melted butter
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp pepper
1/2 Cup chopped onion
1 can cream of chicken soup
1 pint sour cream
2 Cups grated cheese (1 medium and 1 sharp)

1 1/2 cups Cornflakes (crushed)
1/4 cup melted butter

Combine potatoes and butter in large bowl.  Add salt, pepper, onion, soup, sour cream and cheese.  Mix well.  Pour in 13 x 9 inch baking pan.  Mix cornflakes and butter in bowl for topping.  Sprinkle on top of potato mixture.  Bake at 300 degrees for 1 hour 45 minutes.

The guest bedrooms are ready!  I ran around the house yesterday between work, an unplanned vet appointment and Tae Kwon Do lessons.  I was able to set up two twin air mattresses for the kids and get the sheets changed out in the guest room for my sister and brother-in-law.  Now we just need some people to fill them!

On Memorial Day we visited Arlington National Cemetery.  While we had been there before, the special changes for Memorial Day were very moving.  Each of the military personnel were in their dress uniforms.  There were survivor families at the entrance distributing fans to visitors and there were roses being given to visitors to lay at grave sites.  And the flags...  Every grave was marked with an American flag.  Beautiful and breathtaking!

My father-in-law's best friend passed away in 2007 and is buried at Arlington.  We visited his grave to pay our respects.  I can't think of a better way to have spent the morning on Memorial Day.

Wednesday was J's first official Tae Kwon Do lesson and yesterday she earned her white belt.  There is a lot of emphasis on respectful behavior, being helpful around the house, schoolwork and reading - I think that this will be great for all of us.  And just like I thought, I LOVE how cute she looks in her uniform!

You might notice the big puffy lip.  This is not Tae Kwon Do related - although that would make a more interesting story.  J had a filling on Thursday and bit her lip really hard while she was still numb.  It blew up like a balloon.  She is not objecting to the supplemental popsicle treatments...

Hope that you had a great week!