Monday, December 31, 2012

Books Read in December

I thought I would sum up the month of December before taking a look back at the whole year. After reading so few books in November (because I tackled the lengthy Middlemarch), I made up for lost time in December. I also made a last ditch effort to make some progress in my 2012 Reading Challenges, so I chose my books accordingly, with a strong focus on reading off my over-full TBR shelves (and tackling some shorter books!). It turned out to be a good strategy - I read some really great books this month that I've been meaning to get to for ages. Here's what I read this month:

  • The Big Burn by Timothy Egan, nonfiction read for my neighborhood book group.
  • Greetings from Planet Earth by Barbara Kerley, a middle-grade novel.
  • Time and Again by Jack Finney, a classic time travel novel my husband gave me for Christmas last year.
  • The Fault in Our Stars by John Green, the teen/YA novel everyone was talking about all year.
  • The Santa Trap by Jonathan Emmett and Poly Bernatene, a picture book (it counts!).
  • The Bean Trees by Barbara Kingsolver, a novel my best friend has been raving about for years - why did I wait so long to read it?
  • The Thirteenth Child by Patricia C. Wrede, a teen novel my son has been telling me to read for years! This one is a bit of cheat because I haven't finished it yet, but I will by tomorrow at the latest with a bunch of airport/airplane time, so I'm counting it for 2012!
Wow, seven books - possibly my best month of the year! Of course, one was a picture book... And I am a bit behind in writing reviews - plenty of reading time this busy month but not much writing time!

The quality was spectacular this month - every one of these books was excellent, and I have really enjoyed reading all month. It's hard to choose a favorite, but I think The Bean Trees comes out on top - I finished it and immediately wanted to start its sequel, Pigs in Heaven (but I left it at home).

As I mentioned, I specifically chose books this month to help my 2012 Reading Challenges, so I made lots of progress there. I added 5 new states to my Where Are You Reading Challenge (Montana, Virginia, Indiana, Kentucky, and South Dakota). South Dakota was a bit of an educated guess since The Thirteenth Child takes place in an alternate world similar to the old West, but I think that's about where they are in the Great Northern Plains, don't you think?

Best of all, I added four more books to my 12 in '12 Reading Challenge to read 12 books from my TBR shelves!

What great books did YOU read in December?

It's Monday 12/31! What Are You Reading?

Happy New Year's Eve! Do you have big plans for tonight? Fancy parties? Times Square? We bought our little New Year's Eve party pack at Target and will celebrate here in Oklahoma with my father-in-law. I love being in the Central Time zone for New Year's Eve, so we can watch the ball drop on TV and be in bed by 11:10!  So, that gives you an idea of our wild plans. At least we now celebrate at 11 - we used to celebrate at 8 pm for the kids! I've included a photo below of a happier time when both Grandma and Grandad were still with us.

Well, it may be New Year's Eve, but it is also Monday and that means it is What Are You Reading Day! Despite our very hectic holiday week, we have all been able to read quite a bit, thanks to travel time:
  • I finished The Fault in Our Stars by John Green, and it was just as good as everyone said it was!
  • To choose my final books of the year, I scoured the overflowing To-Be-Read shelves in my bedroom, trying to satisfy as many of my 2012 reading challenges as I could!  One of my personal challenges was to read 12 books from my TBR shelves, so I reluctantly ignored some of the newer books I got for Christmas. I started to read Pigs in Heaven by Barbara Kingsolver, which good friends have been recommending to me for years, but I quickly realized that it wasn't the first book in the series (the books can stand alone but I prefer to read them in order), so after 20 or so pages, I switched to The Bean Trees (the first book) by Barbara Kingsolver, which has also been languishing on my shelves for years! I loved, loved, loved this book and can't believe it took me so long to get to it!! Now I am dying to get back home, so I can go back to Pigs in Heaven.
  • I am now reading The Thirteenth Child by Patricia C. Wrede, a teen/YA novel that my older son has been telling me to read for years (see the pattern here?). It's an alternate history set out on the Western prairie in pioneer times where there are dragons and wooly rhinoceroses, along with the bison, and magic is used to keep people safe from the big creatures. It's kind of like Little House on the Prairie meets Harry Potter - I'm enjoying it so far.
  • My husband, Ken, just finished The Knife of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness, another YA novel our son has been begging us to read. Ken absolutely loved it and can't wait to get home to read the rest of the trilogy!
  • Since that was the only book he brought on our trip, Ken is now reading a novel on his Kindle, West of Sheridan by Dean Ross, a post-apocalyptic story set in the West, near Yellowstone. It sounds interesting.
  • Jamie, 18, finally has some time to read, though games on the computer and his new Kindle Fire are distracting him! He finished City of Fallen Angels by Cassandra Clare (book 4 in the Mortal Instruments series) and is now - finally - reading book 5, City of Lost Souls. He wanted to read this months ago, when it was first released, but first he re-read the rest of the series!
  • Craig, 14, is definitely distracted by all the games, TV shows, and movies on his new Kindle Fire!  He did download two books - much to my surprise - and has started reading Fast Track to Sailing by Steve Colgate.
I actually managed a few blog posts this week, once we arrived at my father-in-law's house. I posted a review of Time and Again by Jack Finney (which I loved) and a fun summary of the books we gave and received for Christmas.  I also wrote a Weekend Cooking post about the southern tradition of eating black-eyed peas for good luck on New Year's Day, with my recipe for Hoppin' John. Check it out - there's still time to get your good luck for the new year! Finally, I posted some photos from a very cool display at my local library called The United States of YA - perfect if you need inspiration for the Where Are You Reading Challenge!

What are you and your family reading this week?

(What are you reading Monday is hosted by Sheila at Book Journey, with a kid/teen version hosted by Teach Mentor Texts.)


Sunday, December 30, 2012

Weekend Cooking 12/30

Each weekend, Beth Fish Reads hosts Weekend Cooking.  This is perfect for me since I love food and cooking almost as much as I love books!

I haven't had time for a cooking post the past two weeks with all the hustle and bustle of the holidays, but I thought today would be perfect for a post on the southern custom of eating black-eyed peas for good luck on New Year's Day.

Now, I grew up in the northeast (Rochester, NY), and we didn't eat anything special on New Year's Day. In fact, every year, we went to a party at a friend's house on January 1. When I married a guy from Oklahoma, I discovered that southerners have a tradition of eating black-eyed peas on New Year's Day - it's supposed to bring good luck for the new year. I had never eaten a black-eyed pea in my life up to that point, but I was up for joining in this food-based tradition!

Over the years, it has become tradition in our family for me to make Hoppin' John, a dish of black-eyed peas and rice, each year for New Year's Day.  All of us - including our two teen boys - love this meal! We are usually visiting my father-in-law in Oklahoma at this time of year, so I make it for him, too. Sometimes, as is the case this year, we will be back home by January 1, so I plan to make Hoppin' John tonight so that my father-in-law can have good luck left-overs on New Year's Day. We will just make do with getting our good luck a bit early.

My recipe for Hoppin' John is listed below. Do you have any food traditions for New Year's Eve or New Year's Day?
Hoppin’ John
(Black-eyed Peas & Rice)

1 1/2 cups dried black-eyed peas
6 cups water
1 large onion, chopped
2 tsp. olive oil
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 medium green pepper, diced
1 cup uncooked long-grain rice
1 tsp. oregano
1 bay leaf
1/2 tsp. thyme
ground pepper, salt, and Tobasco to taste
1 cup cooked ham, diced

Wash black-eyed peas and add to Dutch Oven with water.  Bring to a boil.  Cover, reduce heat to medium-low and simmer for 35 minutes.

Heat oil in skillet and sauté onion, green pepper, and garlic until soft.  Remove from heat and add to cooked peas and remaining liquid.

Add rice and seasonings.  Cover and simmer on medium-low for an additional 15 minutes.  Add ham and cook an additional 10 minutes or until all liquid is absorbed.

Remove bay leaf and serve with Tobasco.

Serves 6.

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Saturday Snapshot 12/29

At Home with Books hosts Saturday Snapshot.

Whew, it has been a whirlwind of activity here for the past 2 weeks. We had house guests for 5 days straight, then jumped right into a long day of travel to see more family. Trying to relax and recover a bit now!  Here are a few highlights of our holiday season (so far):

Amazing decorations near our home - we stop every year on Christmas Eve!
Our 14th annual Cookie/Grinch party with family and friends

"Before" on Christmas morning...

....And After!
I hope you are all enjoying a lovely holiday season with your family and friends. Happy New Year!

Friday, December 28, 2012

Books Given and Received for Christmas

My holiday week has been so hectic and busy that I almost forgot to tell you about the books we gave and received as gifts.  Obviously that is the best part of the holiday season!

I really love picking out books to give as gifts, choosing just the right book to delight the receiver. Here are the books we gave this holiday season:
  • For my brother-in-law who is a high school history teacher and loves to read: Thomas Jefferson: The Art of Power by Jon Meacham. He was so excited, he took it right to an empty room ( a real challenge with 10 people in the house) and started reading as soon as we finished opening gifts!
  • For my mom, who likes many of the same books I do: Arcadia by Lauren Groff, one of the top books of the year, about a boy growing up on a 70's commune in New York (we are from New York state).
  • For my mom's husband, who likes nonfiction, sport, and politics: The Signal and the Noise: Why So Many Predictions Fail but Some Don't by Nate Silver.
And we received some great books as gifts, too.  My husband gave me:
  • The Age of Miracles by Karen Thompson Walker (dying to read this one!)
  • The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey
  • Blog, Inc. by Joy Deangdeelert Cho (watch for blog upgrades in 2013!)
And I gave him:
  • The Likeness by Tara French (he really enjoyed In the Woods)
  • Ransom River by Meg Gardiner (one of Stephen King's favorite authors)
  • ....and a paperback mystery/suspense novel set in Amsterdam (where he travels for business sometimes) that I can't recall the name of right now!
We gave our son Jamie, 18:
  • The Lost Heiress by Catherine Fisher (#2 in The Dark City series)
  • Merlin by Stephen Lawhead (#2 in the Pendragon Cycle series)
We also got both of our teen sons a Kindle Fire HD for Christmas, and - wonder of wonders! - our 14-year old (who hasn't read a book voluntarily in years) has already downloaded two e-books on sailing (on a how-to and one a memoir). It's a Christmas miracle! I figured he would use his Kindle exclusively for TV, videos, and games, but he got excited about downloading some books after talking to his grandfather.

So, that was our bookish holiday season!  How was yours?

Fiction Review: Time and Again

I am a huge fan of novels with a time travel theme. Two of my favorite books are Replay by Ken Grimwood and The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger. So when I heard that Time and Again by Jack Finney was a time travel classic, I knew I needed to read it. My husband gave t to me for Christmas last year, and I finally got to it this month. As expected, I loved this novel!

Simon Morley is a 30-year old single guy living in New York City in 1970. Though he wishes he had the talent to make a living as a painter, he instead works as a commercial artist at an ad agency.  Si has a new girlfriend and is reasonably happy with his life, though he does feel as if there must be something more meaningful out there. One day, a stranger shows up at his office and introduces himself as Ruben Prien. Ruben takes Si out for lunch and tells him he is part of a secret government project that wants to recruit Si to join them. Ruben entices Si with all sorts of promises but won’t tell him more about the project unless he joins.
Si does join the project, and it lives up to all of Ruben’s promises. Dr. Danziger, the elderly head of the project, has developed a way to go back in time, and Si seems to meet all the criteria of the perfect candidate to try it out. The goal is for Si to go back to New York City in 1882. Not only is Si successful, but his experiences exceed all of their expectations. Complications ensue, however, when certain members of the project want to take it further and intentionally change history.
And therein lies the main reason I so enjoy time travel plots – the considerations of how minor changes in the past might possibly affect the future are fascinating. I know people who won’t read any time travel stories because they claim not to like science fiction, but – like my two favorite time travel novels mentioned above – Time and Again is so much more than what people generally think of as science fiction. It is a historical novel and a romance and an in-depth character study and a mystery/suspense novel, all wrapped up into one amazing package. Real photos and drawings from 1882 add even more depth to this story.
Most of all, I love the thought-provoking quality of time travel stories, and this one is no exception. How can one man’s careful actions in 1882 affect life in 1970? What are the moral implications of someone with future knowledge living in the past? It is all thoughtful and fascinating, and I enjoyed every moment of it. In addition, Finney’s attention to detail adds layers of interest to the engaging plot. Like any good novel, I came to know and care about the characters. I was fully immersed in their lives – in both 1970 and 1882 – and never wanted the book to end. And that is the ultimate measure of a great novel in my mind.
399 pages, Scribner Paperback Fiction

Monday, December 24, 2012

It's Monday 12/24! What Are You Reading?

Busy, busy, busy holiday week!  No time for blogging. I probably shouldn't even by typing this, but I couldn't stand to miss a Monday post!  So, just a quick one, then back to wrapping gifts and cooking.
  • I finished reading Time and Again by Jack Finney, the last of my Christmas gift books from LAST Christmas!  I loved this novel about traveling back in time to 1882 NYC so much that it's characters are still with me days after I finished it - that's the sign of a great book!
  • Now I am FINALLY reading The Fault in Our Stars by John Green, one of the year's top YA (and adult) novels that I have been wanting to read for many months - fitting it in just before the end of the year!
  • My husband, Ken, finished Defending Jacob by William Landay last week and loved it! He said he can't tell me much about it without giving away surprises - I can't wait to read it!
  • Ken has now started The Knife of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness - both he and I have been wanting to read this trilogy for a long time - our son says it is great!
  • Jamie, 18, is still re-reading City of Fallen Angels by Cassandra Clare, book 4 in the Mortal Instruments series. He's been busy playing with his brother and cousins so hasn't had much reading time since coming home.
  • I am still listening to Wildwood by Colin Meloy and Carson Ellis, a middle-grade audio book, though I don't have much time to listen with a house full of people!
What are you and your family reading this week?

(What are you reading Monday is hosted by Sheila at Book Journey, with a kid/teen version hosted by Teach Mentor Texts.)

Monday, December 17, 2012

It's Monday 12/17! What Are You Reading?

I am waaaay behind today, but the whole week is going to be like this - not much time to squeeze in blogging this week.  My son and I made our trek to the Lyme doctor today (90 minutes away) - nice to have him feeling well enough to do the driving!  But that is just the beginning of a very busy week that will end with a large group of family members arriving for the weekend.

Good thing we have our books for a little downtime here and there:
  • I finished Greetings from Planet Earth by Barbara Kerley, a very good middle-grade novel set in 1977 - you can read my review here.
  • With Christmas quickly approaching and new books on my wish list, I decided I better finish the books I got as gifts LAST Christmas! So, I am now reading Time and Again by Jack Finney, a classic time travel novel my husband gave me that I just never found time for. I love time travel plots and am enjoying it very much.
  • Last night, we read a new holiday picture book with our sons. Yes, they are 14 and 18 now, but they still enjoy our traditions of watching holiday movies and kids' specials and reading from our collection of holiday books together (see a list of our favorites). We read The Santa Trap by Jonathan Emmett and Poly Bernatene. It's clever and funny, though quite a bit darker than our usual holiday fare! I will post a review this week.
  • My husband, Ken, finished The Big Burn by Timothy Egan, after I read it and raved about it. He enjoyed reading about the formation of the U.S. Forest Service and the suspenseful scenes of the Great Fire.
  • Ken is now reading one of his birthday gifts from October, Defending Jacob by William Landay, a novel he and I have both been wanting to read.
  • Jamie, 18, is home from college, with no responsibilities for a few glorious weeks! He is looking forward to enjoying some reading time and is currently re-reading City of Fallen Angels, book #4 in Cassandra Clare's Mortal Instruments series.
  • Craig, 14, is reading The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros for his freshman lit class. He says it is good so far but a little hard to follow because it doesn't follow a chronological order. I'm looking forward to reading this one when he is done!
I posted two new reviews last week: Middlemarch by George Eliot and Greetings from Planet Earth by Barbara Kerley, a middle-grade novel.

I also posted a Top Ten New To Me Authors I Read in 2012 list (for grown-up books) and a similar list of new to me kids/teen/YA authors. And, in this season of Best Of lists, I posted a link to the New York Times' 100 Notable Books of 2012 and a discussion of BookPage's Best Children's Books of 2012 (and 2011 and 2010!).

What are you and your family reading this week?

(What are you reading Monday is hosted by Sheila at Book Journey, with a kid/teen version hosted by Teach Mentor Texts.)

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Saturday Snapshot 12/15

At Home with Books hosts Saturday Snapshot.

I have finally finished most of my work-type obligations this week and am beginning to get ready for Christmas! College son finished finals and came home this week, and we are going to get our tree today and decorate it tomorrow. Plus, cards to write, decorations to put up, gifts to wrap, etc. Next Friday, my family will arrive here for the weekend (and beyond). Busy, busy, busy.

Despite getting wrapped up in all the busy preparations, I get very nostalgic this time of year (well, OK, I'm like that all year-round but especially now). Here are two Christmas photos of our boys who are now young men. Time sure flies...but I have loved every minute of it!

Jamie and Craig, Christmas 1991

Craig and Jamie, Christmas 2012 (same fireplace and stockings!)
Hope you are all enjoying your own holiday preparations!

Friday, December 14, 2012

Fiction Review: Middlemarch

--> One of my book groups met last month to discuss Middlemarch by George Eliot. I was pleased with the choice of book because Eliot was one on a long list of classic authors I’ve never read. It is a hefty book, though, at 800 pages of dense text, and I was only halfway through by the time our group met! I was enjoying it, though, so I persevered and finally finished it last week…a month after I started! It was well worth the effort and time.

Middlemarch is about a fictional English town called Middlemarch, starting in 1829. It really is about the entire town; there is no single main character. The novel is a far-reaching character study, encompassing all sorts of citizens of the country town. Dorothea, despite her youth, is serious and passionate, wanting to “do good” in the world but relegated by the times to focus her energies on being a lady. Her sister, Celia, is more conventional and shares the dreams of most young women to find a suitable husband and raise a family. Though orphaned, the two young women have been taken care of by their uncle, Mr. Brooke.

Fred Vincy has a cheerful disposition but struggles to find the right path for his life; his father has paid for him to study to be a clergyman, but Fred wants to just have fun and ride horses and hopes to simply inherit his wealth in the form of land from a beloved uncle. His sister Rosamond, well-known as the prettiest girl in the area, is self-absorbed and a bit spoiled. Dr. Lydgate arrives in town, excited to apply the very latest in medical science in this country outpost. Additional characters  – both old and young, wealthy and struggling – fill out the story.

I am not typically a fan of Victorian literature, but I was immediately struck by Eliot’s exceptional writing talent.  Though this novel was written in 1871, so many of her sentences are clever and witty that my copy of the book is filled with turned-down corners. Some of the quotes I tagged are funny just because they describe a world so different from our modern one (particularly with regard to women’s roles), but other observations of life and human nature are surprisingly relevant even today.

Here, Eliot reflects on whether the strong-minded and unconventional Dorothea is suited for marriage, while also commenting on the need for conformance in those times:

“Women were expected to have weak opinions; but the great safeguard of society and of domestic life was that opinions were not acted on. Sane people did what their neighbors did, so that if any lunatics were at large, one might know and avoid them.”

See what I mean about Eliot’s dry wit?

Here she shows her remarkable insight into human character as a young woman named Mary, who is adored by the idle and carefree Fred, explains to him, “But selfish people always think their own discomfort of more importance than anything else in the world…”

Here, with both wit and insight, another character muses about how to convince her friend and neighbor,  Mr. Brooke, not to run for public office:

“There is one good chance – that he will not like to feel his money oozing away,” said Mrs. Cadwallader. “If I knew the items of election expenses I could scare him. It’s no use plying him with wide words like Expenditure: I wouldn’t talk of phlebotomy, I would empty a pot of leeches upon him. What we good stingy people don’t like, is having our sixpences sucked away from us.”

I smile every time I read that line about phlebotomy and leeches.  So, you can see how her amusing turns of phrase helped me to keep working through such a lengthy book. In addition, she made the characters come alive, even though I knew little of life at that time. I came to care about the characters and to root for them (and to want to shake them when they did stupid things!). Their lives were real and complex, fully fleshed out through Eliot’s delightful words.

799 pages, The Modern Library

P.S. The Readers podcast is hosting a monthly classics book club that will be discussing Middlemarch in March 2013.  Better get started now if you want to join in!


Wednesday, December 12, 2012

NYT 100 Notable Books of 2012

Here is a link to the New York Times' list of 100 Notable Books of 2012.  Lots of great titles here, but I have read a single one of them yet!  Quite a few are already on my TBR list, though.

Have you read any of the NYT's 100 Notable Books of 2012?

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Top Ten New To Me Authors I Read in 2012

I don't have a lot of blogging time this week, but it's Tuesday and this week's Top Ten list at The Broke and the Bookish sounded like one I could manage: Top Ten New To me Authors I Read in 2012
 Interesting. When I started going through my list of books read this year, I figured that most of them were new-to-me authors, but I did read quite a few from favorite authors also.  I enjoyed all ten of these very much and would certainly be interested in reading another book by any of these authors.

How about you?

What new-to-you authors did YOU try in 2012?

(For my list of new-to-me kid/teen/YA authors, check out my list at Great Books for Kids and Teens).

Monday, December 10, 2012

It's Monday 12/10! What Are You Reading?

Ahhhh...Monday morning and I am all alone in a quiet house.  We saw friends and had some fun on Saturday, but Sunday was a busy, exhausting day.  Ready to catch up today and start a new week!

I did have a satisfying reading week:
  • I finished The Big Burn: Teddy Roosevelt and the Fire That Saved America by Timothy Egan just moments before my book group meeting.  Unfortunately, I was too sick to go to the meeting and was very disappointed because I loved the book and was looking forward to discussing it.  Here's my review - I still want to discuss it so be sure to leave comments!
  • After that, I went back to my book-in-progress and...I FINISHED MIDDLEMARCH!  Woohoo!  Yes, it only took me a month, but I did finish this hefty classic...and enjoyed it very much.  Review to come this week.
  • My reading strategy for the rest of the month is to focus on beefing up my 2012 Reading Challenges (especially reading from my TBR shelves) and reading as many books as possible to wrap up the year!  I was also craving some kids/teen/YA reading after my month-long relationship with Middlemarch.  So I am now reading Greetings From Planet Earth by Barbara Kerley, a middle-grade novel about a 12-year old boy in 1977 who is obsessed with space travel...and with learning more about his father who was MIA in Vietnam.  It's great so far.
  • On audio, I went back to a middle-grade audio book I started many months ago and then set aside, Wildwood by Colin Meloy and Carson Ellis.  I picked it up where I left off and am enjoying it so far.
  • My husband, Ken, finished The Fifth Witness by Michael Connelly. 
  • Ken is now reading The Big Burn by Timothy Egan, after hearing how much I liked it!
  • I think both of our sons have been too busy with school work for much reading lately.
I finally found some time and energy to catch up on blogging last week.  I posted two reviews:  The Big Burn by Timothy Egan and The View From Saturday by E.L. Konigsburg.  I also posted my November Reading Summary and two wish lists: Top Ten Books I Wouldn't Mind Santa Bringing Me and another Top Ten wish list for kids/teen/YA books. And finally, I posted my weekly Weekend Cooking post.

What are you and your family reading this week?

(What are you reading Monday is hosted by Sheila at Book Journey, with a kid/teen version hosted by Teach Mentor Texts.)

Sunday, December 09, 2012

Weekend Cooking 12/9

Each weekend, Beth Fish Reads hosts Weekend Cooking.  This is perfect for me since I love food and cooking almost as much as I love books!

I had a few bad days this week (due to chronic illness), so I didn't cook as much as I have been.  We relied a bit on left-overs and Chinese take-out.  But I did manage to cook a few meals, using mostly recipes from Cooking Light, as usual!

On Monday, we had a very simple, easy family favorite: Chipotle Bean Burritos.  I absolutely love anything with chipotle flavor in it.  Even though we've made this recipe many times, I still haven't been able to find the chipotle chili powder called for, so I always just substitute Tobasco's Chipotle Sauce (which is fabulous!).  We use whole-grain tortillas to boost the nutrition.

Friday night I was feeling better but we were still busy, so we had another quick and easy meal - Blackstrap Pork Chops, with a whole grain rice mix and steamed cauliflower on the side.  Oh, shoot, the recipe isn't available on the Cooking Light website.  Well, it is very simple.  You just pan-fry the chops (salted and peppered) in a skillet with cooking spray, then add a sauce of 1/3 cup molasses, 3 Tablespoons A-1 sauce, 2 Tablespoons cider vinegar, 1/4 teaspoon Allspice, and 1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper.  Cook for another 2 minutes, until sauce is reduced.  That's it.  It sounds like an odd combination of flavors, but it's very good.

And last night, I made Chicken, Leeks, and Plum Tomatoes with Linguini.  I added a couple of small zucchini (sliced) with the leeks to make it a complete meal.  It was good, but the recipe makes a lot - leftovers for lunch today!

And tonight, I am attempting Split Pea Soup for the first time.  College son loves pea soup - but only the Healthy Choice brand - so I am starting with a recipe from a magazine and making some tweaks to try to duplicate his favorite.  Wish me luck!

Hope you have enjoyed some cooking and good food this week, too!

Saturday, December 08, 2012

Saturday Snapshot 12/8

At Home with Books hosts Saturday Snapshot.

We've had unseasonably warm weather this week, so on Wednesday, I got out for a short hike with a good friend at a local nature center and enjoyed the warm temperatures, the walk, and the company!  Though I miss the brilliant colors of fall, I found beauty in the winterish landscape:

Most of the leaves have fallen, except these that turned brown and stayed on the tree.

This huge sycamore tree is my sons' favorite for climbing

The stream and waterfall are beautiful anytime of year

Our beloved local covered bridge.

 Hope you got outdoors to enjoy nature this week!  Have a great weekend!

Friday, December 07, 2012

Nonfiction Review: The Big Burn

My neighborhood book group just read The Big Burn: Teddy Roosevelt and the Fire That Saved America by Timothy Egan, and though I wasn’t well enough to go to the meeting on Wednesday night, I did thoroughly enjoy reading this fascinating historical book.

Teddy Roosevelt’s love for the outdoors is well known, but I didn’t realize that he was the person who created the National Forest Service while he was President.  He also set aside large tracts of primeval land as National Forests in the last days of his office, in direct opposition to the Forest Service’s many enemies who wanted the rich reserves of timber for their own purposes.  The book also focuses heavily on Gifford Pinchot, Roosevelt’s Chief Forester and another key force in the creation and maintenance of our National Forests (and whom I’d never even heard of).

However, the center point of this story is the Great Fire of 1910, a raging inferno that destroyed over 3 million acres of forest and towns, an area about the size of Connecticut, spread across Washington, Idaho, and Montana.  Roosevelt’s and Pinchot’s fledgling Forest Service, starved of resources by its opponents in Congress, was helpless against a natural force so large and destructive.  But the forest rangers were the real heroes of this story, as they persisted against impossible odds to try to save the towns and people they felt responsible for.

Although this is a nonfiction book – history, even, the subject I found driest when I was in school – it reads like a novel.  Egan tells the story with the compelling pace of a good suspense story, with the fire serving as the unstoppable villain.  The historical background surrounding Roosevelt, Pinchot, and their drive for conservation of public lands is fascinating, especially for someone like me who loves the outdoors and spends her vacations in National Parks and Forests.  I had no idea that Roosevelt was a good friend of John Muir or that there was such opposition to the very concepts of public lands and conservation.  I was also fascinated to learn that the forestry concepts that Pinchot laid out for his rangers in the early 1900’s persisted with very little change until just recently.  These men – both the leaders and the rangers – created a lasting impact that still affects our lives today.  Why wasn’t history in high school ever this interesting and exciting?

283 pages, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

Another excellent historical book about Teddy Roosevelt was The River of Doubt by Candice Millard.


Thursday, December 06, 2012

Books Read in November

November was a lovely month here in Delaware, with bright colors in the trees and lots of blue skies.  It was also a good reading month for me, but a very unusual one.  I spent most of the month reading just one book!  Technically, I shouldn't include it on my November list because I'm not completely finished yet, but I plan to finish it this weekend, and I need to have something to show for the month of November!

This month I (mostly) read:
  • The Night Strangers by Chris Bohjalian, my spooky Halloween read, finished in early November.
  • The View From Saturday by E.L. Konigsburg, a middle-grade audio book.
  • Middlemarch by George Eliot, read for one of my book groups, with still about 70 pages left to go now!
See what I mean?  Thank goodness I had an audio book going at the same time as Middlemarch or I wouldn't have finished anything in November!  As it was, I read one modern novel, listened to one kids' audio book, and have worked my way (almost) through one very hefty classic.  I enjoyed them all, though The Night Strangers was probably my favorite for this month.

I made only a little progress in my 2012 Reading Challenges.  I added New Hampshire (The Night Strangers) to my Where Are You Reading Challenge.  But I read nothing at all off my TBR shelves last month - very bad!

What was your favorite book read in November?

Tuesday, December 04, 2012

Top Ten Books I Wouldn't Mind Santa Bringing Me

I haven't had the time to participate in The Broke and The Bookish's Top Ten Tuesday meme in quite a while, but I couldn't resist this week's topic: the Top Ten Books I Wouldn't Mind Santa Bringing Me.  Wish lists are always fun, and though I don't actually want to receive 10 books for Christmas (just because I have so many good ones already waiting to be read here), I got into the spirit of dreaming about the books I most want to read:
  • The Age of Miracles by Karen Thompson Walker - this is #1 on my list, just sounds right up my alley.
  • The Light Between Oceans by M.I. Stedman - my book group is actually reading this for January, and I can't wait!
  • Blog, Inc. by Joy Deangdeelert Cho - since my blogs have been a bit neglected this year and are due for an upgrade.
  • Because You Have To: A Writing Life by Joan Frank - I just heard about this one yesterday from Melissa at The Betty & Boo Chronicles - it combines two of my favorite things: memoirs and writing.
  • Love Anthony by Lisa Genova - because I loved Still Alice - I'd also like to read her novel, Left Neglected (does that count as 2?)
  • City of Women by David R. Gillham - because it sounds like a different kind of WWII novel.
  • The Red House by Mark Haddon - I have LOVED everything of his I've read.
  • Wild by Cheryl Strayed - once again, I love memoirs and I also love hiking and backpacking.
  • Love and Fatigue in America by Roger King - because it is so rare that someone writes a novel about my illness, CFS, and everyone says this is a wonderful novel.
  • The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey - it got so many fabulous reviews.
Oh, is that 10 already?  I take it back - I want them all!  Plus a month-long vacation snowed in a lodge with a warm fire, good food, and nothing to do but read.  Yes, that will do the trick.

What books do YOU want from Santa this year?

((If you are interested in the kids/teen/YA books I want to read, check out my list at Great Books for Kids and Teens).

Monday, December 03, 2012

It's Monday 12/3! What Are You Reading?

Whew...busy weekend!  I'm actually glad it's Monday, and I am alone in the quiet house.  I really need to do better at finding time for fun and relaxation on the weekends - I definitely have trouble letting go of the to-do list and just chilling.

We had a pretty good week, though a rough start.  I think we were all exposed to a virus during our Thanksgiving week visits, so my youngest son was home sick for several days last week.  Fortunately, it only affected my older son and I for a day each, though.  So, I felt like my week started on Thursday!  No wonder the weekend was so busy.

We did enjoy some reading time last week, though:
  • I am STILL reading Middlemarch by George Eliot, though I had to set it aside a few days ago....just temporarily!  I am less than 100 pages from the end now, and I do plan to finish it later this week.
  • Since my other book group meets this Wednesday, I decided I better start that book!  We are reading and discussing The Big Burn: Teddy Roosevelt & the Fire That Saved America by Timothy Egan. I bought this book for my brother-in-law last Christmas, and I am thoroughly enjoying it so far.  We are huge National Park fans, so this book is right up my alley.
  • I finished the middle-grade audio book I was listening to, The View From Saturday by E.L. Konigsburg. I enjoyed it very much and will write a review this week.
  • My husband, Ken, is reading The Fifth Witness (a Lincoln Lawyer novel) by Michael Connelly and enjoying it.
  • Jamie, 18, is still reading City of Fallen Angels, book #4 in Cassandra Clare's Mortal Instruments series, I think...he seems very busy at college.  I'm sure he'll make up for it during his long winter break by reading non-stop!
  • Craig, 14, has been reading short stories for his freshman literature class, including classics like The Most Dangerous Game, The Gift of the Magi, and one of my favorites, A Sound of Thunder by Ray Bradbury (the story that coined the phrase "The Butterfly Effect").
I posted one review last week: Rule Number Two, an excellent memoir by a psychologist who served in Iraq and is also a wife and mother.

I also posted a discussion of the Washington Post's Best Books of 2012 list and the New York Times' 25 Notable Children's Books of 2012 as well as my weekly Weekend Cooking post (I did a lot of cooking this week!)

What are you and your family reading this week?

(What are you reading Monday is hosted by Sheila at Book Journey, with a kid/teen version hosted by Teach Mentor Texts.)

Sunday, December 02, 2012

Weekend Cooking 12/2

Each weekend, Beth Fish Reads hosts Weekend Cooking.  This is perfect for me since I love food and cooking almost as much as I love books!

After returning from our Thanksgiving trip to visit family, I did a lot of cooking this week, including both old favorites and some new recipes, with a focus on quick and easy (as well as healthy and tasty!).

On Monday, with little fresh food in the house after our trip, I made a simple one-pot Rice and Beans dinner.  This is so quick that we often make it when we are camping, so it is a family favorite that reminds us of our camping trips!  I've included my recipe below.  The three of us were all craving something sweet (and my son was sick and craving comfort food), so I made up a new dessert, S'More's Pudding.  I made a quick microwave chocolate pudding (it's a Cooking Light recipe but so old it isn't available online!), crumbled graham crackers on top of the pudding cups, then toasted mini marshmallows in the toaster oven (use cooking spray or you can't get them off the foil!) for the top.  Sooooo good!

Tuesday night, we tried a new Cooking Light recipe, Roasted Chicken with Balsamic Peppers, from the most recent issue.  It was fairly easy and absolutely delicious, with a great blend of flavors.  I served roasted potatoes on the side. Everyone loved it - a definite keeper.

Wednesday, I used another Cooking Light recipe, for Mongolian Beef.  This one is super quick and easy, and a family favorite.  I add frozen broccoli florets with the scallions, to make it a complete one-dish meal.

I had two nights off from cooking; we ate out one night since we had to pick up my car from the repair shop.  The other night, my husband was at a work function for dinner, so Craig and I just ate quickie frozen meals from Trader Joe's.  Last night, I tried another new-to-me Cooking Light recipe, Jamaican Chicken Stew.  It was very tasty, but next time I might add a bell pepper and cut the cayenne pepper in half (my husband said it was a bit too spicy for him). Left-overs for lunch today!

And tonight, I am making one of our all-time family favorites, Beef Bourguignonne.  The recipe calls for a pressure cooker, but I have always made it in a regular dutch oven over low heat and just doubled the cook time.  The mix of flavors in this dish is SO GOOD!  I can't wait for dinner tonight.

Hope you are enjoying your food and cooking this weekend!  My Rice and Beans recipe is below:

Rice and Beans
Serves 4
Vegetarian, gluten-free, dairy-free

1 tsp olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
1 medium bell pepper, chopped
2 tsp minced or crushed garlic
1 tsp cumin
1 tsp chili powder
1 can chopped tomatoes
water (see recipe)
1/3 cup salsa
1 cup quick-cooking (10 min) brown rice
2 cans beans, rinsed and drained (any variety – I like to use 1 can of black beans and 1 can of pinto or kidney beans)
Fresh ground pepper
Shredded cheese (optional) – we like cheddar or Monterey Jack

  1. Saute onion, bell pepper, and garlic in oil until soft. Add spices and stir.
  2. Drain juice from tomatoes into a glass measuring cup and add water to make a total of 3/4 cup liquid, and add to pot, along with salsa. Bring to a boil.
  3. Add rice and tomatoes, cover, and simmer for 5 minutes or until liquid is mostly absorbed.
  4. Add beans, replace cover and heat through.  
  5. Serve with shredded cheese, if desired.

© Suzan L. Jackson 2012
(Do not reprint or publish without written permission from the author)

Saturday, December 01, 2012

Saturday Snapshot 12/1

At Home with Books hosts Saturday Snapshot.

We spent most of last week in Rochester, NY, my hometown, visiting all branches of my family and meeting up with friends.  It was a busy holiday weekend but lots of fun!  Here's a quick glimpse into our Thanksgiving weekend celebrations:

Laughing with family at old Seinfeld clips on Thanksgiving Day

Meeting up with old high school friends

The kids (the 2 oldest on the right are ours) with more cousins

Family portrait with my Dad and his wife
Hope you are enjoying the weekend!