• 2010 Reading List

    What I've read this year:

    "The Other Queen" by Phillipa Gregory (Rating: C)

    "The Welsh Girl" by Peter Ho Davies (Rating: A)

    "Mistress of the Sun" by Sandra Gulland (Rating: A)

Book Review: “The Other Queen”

I recently finished reading “The Other Queen” by Phillipa Gregory. Last year, I kept a list of the books I’d read conveniently available in the margins for those of you who care about that sort of thing. This year, I’m uping the ante, with…wait for it…a rating system! Impressive, I know! ūüôā Let’s keep in mind that opinions on books are like food reviews. This is entirely subjective, and easily disagreed upon. Something that I love can be utter garbage in your eyes.¬† Keeping this in mind, here are my thoughts on “The Other Queen.”

I have read almost every book Phillipa Gregory has written. I enjoy historical fiction immensely, and her novels tend to be a good combo of light-hearted story telling and historical accuracy. This was the first book by her that has truly disappointed me. Overall, I’m giving it a C-, which may actually be generous. Had she been an author who was unknown to me, I probably wouldn’t have finished the book. I kept reading, though, waiting for the story to pick-up. Unfortunately, it never did.

This book should be incredibly interesting. It is the story of Mary Queen of Scots, and her life has enough drama for multiple novels. She was crowned Queen of Scotland at the age of 9 months, married at the age of 16 and crowned Queen of France shortly thereafter.When her French husband died, she returned to Scotland and married her 2nd husband, Lord Darnley. Eventually, he was found dead after an explosion at his home, and many rumors circulated that Mary was part of the plot to kill him. She then married the Earl of Bothwell, who was the likeliest suspect in the death of her previous husband. It is possible that she was forced to marry him, but we really don’t know.

Mary was soon  forced to give up her throne to her 1 year old son, and flee to England, seeking protection from Queen Elizabeth. After arriving in England, she was held captive for close to 20 years. Eventually, Mary was executed after being caught plotting to have Queen Elizabeth murdered so that she could take the throne of England.

This has all of the makings of a great story, however, in this novel, Gregory’s story-telling is weak and fragmented. The story is told from the perspective of Mary, and her ‘keepers,’ George & Bess Talbot. The chapters rotate from one character’s narration to another. The reader is unable to get immersed in the story because of the constant change in perspective. Also, Mary is incredibly whiny (which could very well be accurate, but is annoying nonetheless).

It seems like Phillipa Gregory focused more on switching from one character to another, rather than writing a compelling and engrossing story. Overall, it was a disappointment. However, given the fact that I’ve read many other of her novels, and enjoyed them, I will be reading “The White Queen” soon, and hoping that she redeems herself in that one!

Spring, vintage & humility

I’m loving the touch of spring that is in the air this week! Yesterday was a beautiful day, with blue skies and temperatures very comfy, and today is looking to be more of the same. I’m not quite ready for the end of winter, which is one of the benefits of living in the Carolinas. We know that the seasons like to dip in and out around here. One day it is winter, the next it is spring, and then we are back to winter for a few more weeks. However, the sunny skies and warm air are giving us some much-needed outside play time (the sidewalk chalk and bikes were out in full force yesterday).¬† When the weather starts flip-flopping like this, it makes me start planning ahead, looking forward to the things that the next season brings, and building excitement. We’ve started discussing what we want to plant this year in our garden; I’m staring out of the window while cooking, picturing where I want to plant additional flowers; I’m starting to see more birds visiting our yard, and snacking on the treats we’ve left out for them. It is a very exciting time!

And, to top off my desire for spring, this weekend a friend and I went shopping, and I found the cutest dress at Hong Kong Vintage & Recycled.(They do have an ebay store if you are interested – the link will take you there.) It was the first store we went in, so I had to hem & haw for a little while. I ended up getting them to hold it for me while we continued shopping, but I didn’t find anything else, so the dress came home with me! Now I’m just waiting for the weather to be consistently warm so that I can rock my new dress! We also had lunch at The Penguin (a Charlotte tradition), but that place really deserves a post all to itself.

And, even though the week is officially half-way over, here is the thought of the week…

(I’m still working on that part about humility…it’s not so simple.)

I hope it is warm and sunny in your neck of the woods!

Make ahead (yummy) meals

Today Stefani, from Blue Yonder Ranch, was sharing her recipe for Chicken Noodle soup, using a¬†rotisserie¬†chicken. This made me think of one of my favorite recipes, which happens to use a¬†rotisserie¬†chicken, and creates multiple meals for my family with easy prep on my end. I’m sure some of you are always on the prowl for a simple (and inexpensive) meal for your family, and this one certainly meets those requirement.

I make this recipe every month, and we get at least¬†4 meals out of it, if not 5. The original recipe is from America’s Test Kitchen. As usual, I followed their directions to the letter the first time I made the dish, and then have adapted and simplified it afterwards. I love this recipe for many reasons. 1 – It is YUMMY! 2-It is easy 3-It can be made ahead 4-All three of us love the dish, making it a crowd pleaser (If everyone is happy, then mama is happy!)

Here is my modified version of ATK’s Make Ahead enchilada’s

Ingredients:

olive oil (1-2 T)

1 onion, diced

1-2 T chili powder

3 garlic cloves, minced

2 t ground coriander

2 t ground cumin

1  rotisserie chicken, meat off of the bones, skin discarded

10 oz shredded cheese (we use a combo of mozzarella & cheddar)

1 can black beans, strained

corn tortillas

2 8 oz cans tomato sauce

1/3 c water

Sautee onions in olive oil until soft and lightly brown. Stir in chili powder, garlic, coriander, cumin, and cook 30 seconds Р1 minute, stirring constantly. Stir in the chicken until thoroughly coated. Add tomato sauce and water, and bring to a simmer for 8-10 minutes.  Strain out excess liquid into a bowl, and allow chicken mixture to cool. Add black beans and mix.

Spritz¬†tortillas with olive oil and place in 300 degree oven spread out on a cookie sheet, 2-4 minutes until pliable. Fill tortillas with chicken and black beans mixture, roll, and place seam¬†side down on a cookie sheet. Once you’ve assembled all of the¬†enchiladas, place the cookie sheet in the freezer for 30 minutes until slightly frozen. Store one meal worth of enchiladas in a freezer-safe container. Save the liquid that you strained from the chicken, and keep as your enchilada sauce, or you can use store bought in place of this.

To Serve: Move enchiladas to a casserole dish, place in oven set at 350 degrees (no need to preheat). Bake uncovered 25 minutes. Remove, cover with sauce (1 cup +/-), and sprinkle tops with cheese. Bake 10 more minutes until cheese is melted. Serve with rice.

New year, new goals

Like so many other people, we view the beginning of the new year as a time to reevaluate. As 2009 was coming to a close, we were finding ourselves feeling bogged down by so many things. We were unintentionally focusing on things other than ourselves, our family, and the things that matter the most to us. So, with the opportunity at a clean slate right around the corner, we began crafting our 2010 goals. I have never been one to set “resolutions.”

How many of those live to see a day in February or beyond? Most fizzle out and die before the end of January. We want these goals to be things that will make us a stronger family, increase our contentment day-to-day, and help keep us focused on the values we really want to be teaching our son. I’m sure many of these will see ups and downs throughout the year. Very few of these will be scratched off and marked as complete. The majority are not things to accomplish, but rather mindsets and long-term goals. So, to help with accountability, here they are!

2010 Family Goals:

  • Eat minimum of one vegetarian meal per week
  • No cable/satellite for one year
  • Make 3 monetary donations to a charity¬†(We’ve made our first donation to CARE, helping educate a girl for a year. For more info, go to ¬†¬†https://my.care.org/site/Donation2?df_id=4183&4183.donation=form1)
  • Take a beach vacation with our extended family
  • Plan and/or make ahead meals – plan our weekly/monthly menu
  • Take a family vacation to a National Park, Historical Site, etc.
  • Resume weekly game/craft/reading nights
  • Stick to daily cleaning (We have one thing that we are supposed to do each day to help avoid Saturdays turning into a day of work.)
  • Freeze/preserve Farmer’s Market produce during the appropriate seasons
  • Add allowance options to the Peanut’s responsibility chart
  • Plan budget for the year, using the “envelope system” to reduce wasteful spending
  • Build vegetable garden on back hill
  • Make a conscious effort to love eachother the way we to be loved
  • Organize the garage (this is the only one that I’m not looking forward to…)
  • Plant one or two additional trees in yard
  • Take 2 or 3 day weekend trip as a couple
  • Write our wills
  • Focus on buying used rather than new
  • Sit down together at the beginning of the month to review last month’s spending

I think that we’ve been realistic about our goals, and we are feeling really positive about the things we’ve decided to emphasize this year. One more thing that we’ve decided to do is to have a “Thought of the Week.” These will be things that help us maintain our focus on the truly important things, and add a little more appreciation to our daily life. I’m posting the thoughts in the kitchen, where we spend the majority of our time, so that I can glean a little wisdom while washing dishes, making lunches, etc. I’m going to try and remember to share these thoughts with you in the coming weeks and months. That being said, here is the thought for the week…

Blog pulse check

Yes, I have been missing from this space for quite awhile. I knew that it had been awhile, but looking back, my last entry was the beginning of September. Wow…that was a long time ago, yet at the same time, it feels like just a few short weeks.

Our family has spent the past four months getting adjusted to being in school, and the incredible number of changes that has resulted in for us. The experience has been positive overall, but also a lot to deal with. My hubby and I both work outside of the home, and, as I’ve mentioned before, my hours can fluctuate greatly week to week. On average, I’m home around 6:15. That makes dinner, bath & bed a rapid process, as we try to have the Peanut in bed by 7:30-7:45. Needless to say, there were many nights that we were feeling frantic, not really communicating with each other, and overwhelmed with our new reality.Over the past month or two, we have been focusing on ways to reduce the stress and increase the quality family time.

Now that we are feeling a little more put together, I’m thinking that I may be able to return to this place. Not only have I missed sharing my world, but I’ve missed reading about yours. I’ve been completely removed from the blog world for four months, and am eager to return to catch up on what so many of you have been doing. So, forgive me for my absence (if any of you are still out there), and be prepared to forgive me if I disappear again a week or two at a time. I am going to make a conscious effort to take the time to visit you weekly (and more, if life allows), but I am sure that there will be ups and downs throughout the coming months. I’m okay with that, and I hope you are as well!

Although it is a little late, happy holidays, and I wish you all peace and happiness in 2010!

We survived…and maybe even had fun

Breakfast before school

Breakfast before school

 

No, really, try to look excited!

No, really, try to look excited!

 

Arriving at school

Arriving at school

 

Leading the line to the classroom...and away from the crazy lady with the camera

Leading the line to the classroom...and away from the crazy lady with the camera

No country for clean floors

I spent Saturday outside walking (first with a friend, and then on a family hike), and yesterday in the kitchen. All in all Рa good weekend! I am coming out of my summer work schedule (off on Mondays, but late hours every night), and trying to take advantage of my last two weeks to help myself feel ahead of the game and slightly organized.

I don’t think I’ve mentioned it, but Seth is starting school tomorrow (excuse me while I go grab a tissue). And, yes, that was said with sarcasm. I am well aware that this is boardering on a “Back to School Blog,” but, while its on your mind, any little prayers that could be said on my behalf at about 8:00 am, EST tomorrow would be greatly appreciated!¬† Anyway, I am nervous about what this new phase is going to do to our schedule. We already have a precarious schedule that shifts daily depending upon what work events I have, whether or not I’m working late, and if I have pre-planned dinner.

Identifying a bug in the field guide (it was a cicada)

Identifying a bug in the field guide (it was a cicada)

Over the past few months, I have gotten significantly better with that last one. I keep a dry erase board on the door of our pantry. After each grocery shopping trip, I list out what our options are for dinner, which helps tremendously. All I have to do is look at the list in the morning, and take out the specific item to defrost.

Having the options listed out greatly increases the likelihood that we will have a nutritious and balanced dinner, rather than me just rooting around and throwing together some concoction.

I’ve also become a collector of quick & easy meals for weeknights, and make ahead options. Yesterday I made make-ahead quesadillas from America’s Test Kitchen. It is my favorite freezer-friendly meal, and it is incredibly easy to prep. The other bonus is that I get three meals out of it, so it is definitely worth the prep time. After they’ve been made, they take 20 minutes in the oven, which give me time to get the rice cooked, and make a salad. Twenty minutes of prep work is my goal during the week. (It is not always achieved, but I’m getting better.)

Rescuing a worm from the middle of the trail

Rescuing a worm from the middle of the trail

Other than the quesadillas, I also made two recipes with boneless pork ribs that can stay in the freezer, be taken out to defrost overnight, and then left in the crock-pot all day. (We love crock-pot recipes in my house, and I cannot wait until the weather cools off and I can start making soups again!)

I also went ahead and prepped a big batch of eggplant Parmesan (thank you farmer’s market for the lovely and interestingly shaped eggplants). That is going to be dinner tonight, and I’m interested to see how it comes out. The eggplant is battered and then baked rather than sauteed, which should cut down on the greasiness, and also the cholesterol for my dear hubbie and his heart. We will see how it turns out.

 

August 2009 006

Eggplants in egg white wash

Apparently Shalet & I are thinking similar thoughts this week. On Friday she posted this about domesticity, and balancing work and motherhood. It is a precariously balance – at least in my house. But, it is always nice to see what other people love, loathe, and struggle with. It makes me feel better to know that maybe I’m not the only one who has been known to scrub the toilet with one hand, while brushing my teeth with the other, and trying to get¬†a child¬†dressed so that we can get out of the door and not be late. Ahhh…the joys of working outside of the home.

 

And, for the record, if you ever want to hear how dirty your floors are, just buy a bug scope for your child. Last week, while I was making breakfast for Seth, he crawled around on the floor of the kitchen, looking at all of the crumbs through his scope, and pointing out the things that he discovered.

Seth, “Oh, did you make rice?”

My mental response, “Uhhh…yeah, maybe last week…or was it two weeks ago? I am absolutely sure that it was this month…”

Seth, “Wow – what is this from?!”

Me, “Well, that would appear to be a small piece of a blueberry peel that got smashed, and has affixed itself to the floor with an insanely tight seal…yummy. Here – use this butter knife and see if you can get it up.”

Seth, “Look over here!”

Me, “Oh, no…he’s in the baking corner…this isn’t going to be pretty…” (My rule of thumb: egg spills absolutely get cleaned up. Flour and other powdery substances get a once over with the whisk broom. Anything else should get eaten by the dog.)

So, before we left the house, like a good wife and mother, I took the time to dutifully take care of my floors…

“Alan – please mop the floor when you get home – PLEASE!”