14 December 2012

DIY Ugly Christmas Sweaters

Well, all of my Christmas projects have been on hold this week.  We were invited to an Ugly Christmas Sweater party.  Because they cost way too much on Craigslist and you can't find them in the thrift shops and my mom already got rid of hers (and I didn't want to buy them from Wal-Mart either), I decided to make my own.  Here's a sneak peek, I can reveal the rest after the party.

The raw materials:

His sweater
My Sweater

Picking Fabrics:

Finally using some of the vintage fabrics I inherited from my Great Grandma

Digging deep into my fabric stash

Adding Details:

Can't have a Christmas sweater without sequins
I will post the finished products after the party.  Maybe we will win the prize.

08 December 2012

Getting in the Christmas Spirit

Well, it's been nearly a month since my last post and I was all gung-ho about writing more.  I haven't really been writing, but I have been busy.  You can read about my Christmas crafts last year on my Headless Angel post.  I had forgotten all about the headless angel until I opened the box of ornaments and there she was - still headless (no little elves visited me over the summer).   I decided not to put her on the tree until she had a head.  I also realized when I opened the box that I still don't have a Christmas stocking for my now 15 month old.
These projects got added to the Christmas Crafting To Do List, which never seems to get shorter.  Also on the list are Christmasy throw-pillow covers for the couch, outdoor hanging somethings for the basket hooks by the side door and an indoor wreath made with yarn balls or bells or something cozy and creative that looks like it should be in Better Homes and Gardens or Martha Stewart.  The calendar bent in my favor this year with Thanksgiving being so early I had a whole week of already being in the Christmas spirit and it wasn't even December yet (great for feeling like you've got a head start on things).
So here's a look at my crafting so far.  As you can see the angel is no longer headless!

But as my husband points out, she is now bald; and back on the Christmas Crafting To Do List.

In the summer I have two hooks for hanging flower baskets by our side door.  I wanted to make something festive to hang on them.  The tree farm we went to had a huge pile of boughs to choose from so I grabbed an arm load.  Let's just say it has been a process of trial and error, with a lot of error.

Attempt # 1
Attempt # 2
Attempt # 3
 and where I'm stopping

The project I'm really pleased with is the throw-pillow cover I've finished (yes, that's right I said finished!).

Birch trees


Still no stocking for Cora and I've just remembered we need a tree skirt, but hey it's only December 8th.  I've got loads of time.

12 November 2012

My Very First "Con"

Convention that is, or was it a conference.  Still not clear on that, but I was there at AnthoCon 2012 (you can add the synthesizer echo in your head).  Overall I'm glad I went.  I'm also glad I didn't spend money on it, or at least not really.
Last March I won tickets at my school's silent auction.  I was the only bid.  So for $40 I won four tickets.  I didn't really know what they were tickets for, neither did other bidders I think, but as a teacher we make sure all items get bids.  Eight months later I still didn't know what I was in for and the website wasn't very helpful in telling me what I wanted to know.  In my typical style I didn't google what 'speculative fiction' was until last night and it turns out I've read a ton in that genre.  

The conference, or maybe convention, was interesting.  It was encouraging and depressing at the same time.  Encouraging because I see that I have time.  If I am diligent and write like crazy now, some day when my life doesn’t include toddlers and grad classes I can put in the time and effort to getting published.  The authors on the New Writers Panel had been writing “their whole lives” but had only been published in the last 5 years.  They were all at least 10 years older than me.  Okay, so I have time.  But, there are already so many authors and only more to come.  And the future is ebooks (bleh) and no one will want to put my book on a bookshelf.  It’s depressing because it’s all been said before and if I wait, anything I had to say will be said by the time I’m ready to seek out publishing.  

So really the question becomes ‘why do I write?’  There’s a big part of me that writes for recognition (I think that is true of many writers, and really of everybody in whatever field they are in - why do athletes want to go pro?  Why do crafters start blogs?)  But I know I write for me.  I write because there are words in my head and I can’t retain them.  If I don’t write them down I will loose them.  I write because to keep it all inside would make me crazy.  Though from the outside I might already look like I’m crazy because I talk to myself so much (gotta get those words out).  

I went into the conference claiming I knew nothing about speculative fiction.  Seeing the blood-spattered gothic book covers and plethora of black clothing seemed to confirm my view.  But really speculative fiction was largely what I read growing up.  Besides the more recent pop-hits Twilight and Hunger Games, there’s Frank Peretti and George McDonald, not to mention Lewis and Tolkien.  Madeleine L’Engle for crying out loud - one of my favorite authors of all time.  Fairy tales, all books by Robin McKinley, old English lore - King Arthur, Merlin - all fall under the vast umbrella of speculative fiction.  AnthoCon leaned heavily towards the horror/thriller genre with a little bit of paranormal romance (I don’t want to ever go there), but according to one of the founders they are hoping for it to expand, for the other genres of speculative fiction to be included soon.  

The most important piece of advice from the whole weekend: if I put it on my blog it is self-published and a publisher won’t want it.  

I can hear that nap time is over, which means so is my time to write....at least for now.

26 October 2012

Being A Real Writer

A writing mentor gave me a book last Sunday.  She said its a book she's found helpful in her writing and wanted to pass on a copy to me.  Writing Down the Bones: Freeing the Writer Within by Natalie Goldberg.  I've been in a writing funk for a while (hence no posts), and this was exactly what I needed.   I was at class all day today and, for some wonderful reason, had brought the book with me.  I read a bit at lunch.  Here are my thoughts after the first chapter:

This woman knows me.  Did she sneak into my head?  Thoughts I’ve never acknowledge, possibly didn’t know I had and she is writing about it.  Every sentence is ‘yes’ or ‘oh dear, so true’.  Even the title: Freeing the Writer Within.  My writer is trapped, shackled by dirty dishes, spit-flecked mirrors and a whiney dog.
How many times have I stood in a stationary store, handling the journals and notebooks?  Paging through, feeling the cover, feeling the weight of the page, does it fit right, does it feel right.  Switching pens, fancy, plain, blue ink, black ink, not a fan of rainbow ink.  Heavy pens, light pens, fat pens, thin pens.  I’ve written on steno notebooks, blank-sheeted sketch pads, wishing for an old-fashioned typewriter rather than a computer because that would make me feel more like a writer.  I would be a real writer if I could use a typewriter.  Spending tons of money finding an old typewriter, keeping it working, searching the internet for supplies.  Would Pete be able to fix it if it broke?  Dealing with correction tape and white out instead of a delete key.  That would make me a real writer.
When I write on the computer I feel I should be writing with pen and paper.  That’s how to really write.  Goldberg even says this: Handwriting is more connected to the movement of the heart.  See, I should write longhand.  It’s more creative.  I need more journals.  Journals that are all the same, lined up on the shelf years from now with the dates on the spine.  A collection of my ideas.  My life’s work.  My masterpiece of ...  Of what?  What do I really write?  No one would read that.  Well, my biographer will have to wade through all the random thoughts to find the nuggets of actual writing.  But how will they do that if I type everything.  I have to write with pen and paper.  That would make me a real writer.
And then there’s the business of where to write.  Do real writers write in cafes with endless supplies of caffeinated beverages?  Do real writers cloister themselves away in attics?  I need an attic.  I can’t be a real writer unless I climb a rickety staircase to the top of a house.  I must not be a real writer, I live in a ranch.
I didn’t want to call the third bedroom the office.  What a boring name.  Yes it has books, a desk, computer, printer, etc.  But I wanted to call it the ‘den’.  It’s a better name.  A name that brings to mind coziness.  A writerly name.  I can write in a place called the ‘den’.  I can’t write in a place called the ‘office’.  Maybe I should be calling it the ‘studio’.  Do writers have studios?  A studio means creativity and inspiration.  A room called a studio doesn't have to be at the top of a flight of stairs.  (Although, you could say our den is at the top of the basement stairs.)  I sew in that room too.  Maybe I should call it my studio.  That would make me a real writer.

14 September 2012

Nature Pee

       I drove to a flat stretch of road to do my run today.  From where I live I have to run hills no matter what, and they are killing my ability to finish a 3 mile run.  So today I drove.  I got Cora strapped in with a snack and a drink.  Phone, check.  Keys, check.  Off we went.  I think I took two steps before I realized I had to pee.  If I was at home, it would have been no big deal, just turn around and unlock the door.  But out here, where was I going to pee?
       I wouldn’t consider myself a girly girl, but I like the conveniences of modern life.  Running water and indoor plumbing are wonderful things.  Peeing in the woods is not something I remember doing as a child.  We went on enough hikes as a family, I’m sure I did at some point.  But I remember holding it, waiting until we got to the parking lot and using an outhouse or holding it even longer until we got to the nearest McDonald’s.  I was never a good squatter.  The thought of getting pee on my shoes or legs grossed me out.  And what do you wipe with?  And where do you put it?  It’s ok, I’ll just hold it.
       While spending a year doing voluntary work in England I went on a mission trip to Ukraine.  We landed in the modern airport and took a normal bus to the modern train station in the capital of Kiev.  A number of girls had to go to the bathroom so of course we went as a group.  The innocuous looking white stall doors held a surprise - squatters, also called Turkish toilets.  I locked myself in and closed my eyes, please God, help me do this (not my usual prayer).  The stall proved helpful, something to hang on to, and I managed to do my business.  Throughout that trip it was a mix of Western toilets and Turkish squatters.
       A few years later, on a trip to France with my sister, I encountered another squatter, this time in a bistro in Paris.  I took a deep breath, I’ve done this before, and did what I had to do.  When I returned to the table my sister said she needed the toilet.  I let her know it was a squat toilet and she immediately said she was fine.
       Despite two trips to Morocco where they primarily have squat toilets I still would not consider myself very good.  But today I did it.  I nature peed.  It wasn’t easy finding the right spot with a stroller, the woods had to be thin enough to get the stroller off the road, but thick enough hide me, but I managed to find a good spot.  I nearly turned around and went home when I realized I had to pee, but I’m glad I didn’t because I had a great run.  I will be doing that run again soon, though making sure I pee before I go next time.

31 August 2012

New School Year

The pencils are sharpened and the materials in place.  This year I'm still technically an intern (hopefully earning my Montessori Credentials by the spring) and my head teacher has assigned Practical Life and Sensorial as my responsibility.  Since I am a forgetful person, I am taking pictures of the shelves each time I put work on them.  These will go in my albums as a reference for when I have my own classroom someday and can't remember what to put on the shelves in September.  It's not a requirement of the albums (they've already been graded) but I think having a full year's sequence including holiday ideas will be really helpful.
Here are the shelves I put together for the first day of school:

Practical Life

Care of Environment and Care of Self

Sensorial Shelf 1

Sensorial Shelf 2
School starts next Wednesday and we have seven new 3 year olds starting this year.  Maybe I should take pictures of what the shelves look like after the first day - that way I remember that part of September too.

24 August 2012


I wrote this early one morning after a dream.  I'm not sure yet if this is it, or if there's more before or after.

I fly, dance, spin.  Twist, jump, hang suspended in the air for what seems like minutes before tucking and rolling back to the stone.  Trying to pass the time.
Asoph has told me to wait.  He gave me the names of those I should wait with.  His instructions do not make sense.  The rest of the city was told to go to the palace docks.  There they would be processed and board the ship.  The evacuation plans have been in place for years.  We learn them the first year of school and every year after that there are reminders and drills.
After having the procedure drilled into me for ten years, it is difficult to blatantly abandon it.  But I must trust him, I have trusted him with everything so far, including my life, this is not that much of a stretch.  
There are twelve of us waiting.  We cannot jump too soon, he told us to wait for the signal.  

.    .    .

There is a lot of shouting as the ship passes the balcony.  The youngest jump first, into the waiting arms of those already on board the ship.  The gap widens.  Sheer walls leading to jagged rocks and hideous surf are the answer to a missed jump.  There are two of us left.  
“You go”, I tell him.
“No, I’ll get you across.”
“You wont make it.”
Split second.
He jumps.
The ship is pulling away.
There is only one way.
Asoph is standing on the stern of the ship, robes flapping in the hot wind coming off the city.  I retreat from the edge, ten feet then twenty feet, then I begin to dance.  Everything inside me is screaming to run, forget all this.  But I know I must.  I will not make it if I don’t do it all.  So I dance, spinning, twisting, leaping across the space I created, moving towards the ship.  One final leap lands me on the stone orb of the railing.  As I balance before leaping out into the air, my mind makes the realization that the ship is no longer where it was when I started, it is further, much further.  The gap has widened, doubled maybe.  The thoughts whip through my mind, but I cannot hesitate.  I jump anyway.  
I fly, twist, find an air currant and propel myself towards the boat.  It is still too far.  The panic begins to rise.  I need an updraft.  I twist to find it.  There’s nothing.  I am no longer flying, I am falling.  
I feel his words rather than hear them.  His voice inside my head rather than being heard outside.  Then the explosions begin.  Thats the power I need, if only the force will hit before, well, before I fall too far.

I twist and flip one more time, sideways, searching for an air current to bear me up.  There’s a tiny one, I gained maybe a foot.  Another one?  Can I find one more?  I’ll take whatever I can get.  The rumbling hits my ears at the same moment the updraft hits my body.  That’s it, what I need.  I twist into it and propel my self upward and forward.  It’s not enough, there needs to be more.  
The city is exploding, the ship needs to move away from the collapsing walls and boulders that are becoming shrapnel.  One more updraft.  I feel the weightlessness of free-fall again.  I’m not going to make it.  I’m still above the side of the ship.  I can still see him, our eyes lock as I begin to fall.  I am not even trying any more.  I can’t.  I know the ship needs to go, I am holding them back.  He stretches out his hand to me, I stretch mine to him, a silent wave, salute, to the man who drew me out of the shadows and gave me wings.
I feel the heat behind me.  The fire must have reached the balcony.  The explosion took out all sound.  In the silence my body took over, the heat on my back was too intense, but with it came power, wind.  I felt it and made one final attempt to fly into the current.  The firey air propelled me forward.  My fingers grasp solid material.  My last coherent thought is to hang on, don’t let go.  My ears are still silent, I feel a hand grasp my arm, then my eyes close and I give in to the firery heat behind me.

10 August 2012

I Remember: Grandma

My grandma looks like the Queen of England.  Short white hair, thick framed glasses.  
I remember her sternness, her attention to propriety and politeness.  
Drink all the milk in your cereal bowl, there are starving children in Africa.  
I remember her generosity.  I stayed with Grandma and Grandpa ‘B’ (as opposed to Grandma and Grandpa ‘C’) for a week the summer I was 10.  A week with grandma and grandpa.  I remember dinner on TV trays in the den watching Jeopardy.  I remember Grandma putting my suitcase in Uncle David’s old room.  The room where everything matched.  The bedding matched the curtains, which matched the arm chair (an arm chair in a bedroom!), which matched the pads of paper on the twin built-in desks flanking the window.  That was Alissa and my favorite spot.  We wished we had a room like that at our house.  A room so big it contained twin beds, twin dressers, twin desks and still had room for an arm chair.  And everything matched.  
I liked the room, but I didn’t want to stay there.  I remember screwing up my courage.  Can I stay in Aunt Anne’s room?  Aunt Anne’s room was blue and white and full of light.  There was a trunk full of dolls I knew I couldn’t touch.  There was a desk and a chair and a big white bed.  Grandma said I could sleep there instead.
I remember she asked me if I’d had a “BM” and I said no because I didn’t know what it meant.  She called my mom to inform her I wasn’t well, Mom told her I probably didn’t know what BM meant.  
I remember her sitting next to me on the bed, holding a gold locket with two pictures inside - herself and my Uncle David.  This is for you, she told me; it was given to me by my mother (in-law?).  The locket was slightly larger than a quarter.  The engraved heart and scrollwork drew me in, my ten-year-old self loved hearts.  This is for you, she said.
Grandma informed me we were going shopping when she found out that not only did I not bring a bathrobe, but I did not own one.  I don’t remember what department store we went to, it seemed fancy to me.  We rarely shopped at department stores at home.  The clothes were new, and beautiful.  We didn’t find a suitable bathrobe (I would get a blue, zip-up one for Christmas the following year), but while walking through the racks of beautiful clothes, I couldn’t resist touching.  (I do it now when I shop, fingering the cloth, tracing embroidery, even on a garment I don’t like.)  Grandma stopped.  Do you like that skirt? she asked.  Oh boy, did I like it?  How could I not have liked it.  It was a twirly skirt.  I could tell on the hanger.  The kind if you twirled around it would spin in a circle until you stopped.  Tiered fabric of black and white check and pink roses alternated.  It was so ‘90s.  It was so beautiful.  Do you like the skirt? she asked again.  Yes, I managed, it’s prettyOkay, we’ll get it.
Just like that.  She picked it up.  We’ll need a shirt too, what about this one?
She picked up a white peasant shirt with an elastic neck and blousey 3/4 sleeves.  Oh my.  My ten-year-old heart melted.
Yes.  My grandma was very generous.

03 August 2012

Finding My Fabulous

On Wednesday I had gum surgery.  It was my fourth, but I have found an excellent periodontist so it wasn’t too bad.  The best part about Wednesday was after the surgery.  Yes, I had the novocan/swollen lip/drooling feeling, but I was alone.  Cora was at Grandma’s and down for a nap.  Which meant I had a few hours to myself.  The periodontist is in Kittery so what better to do than go shopping at the outlets.  Before I got to the outlets however I decided to stop in at a cute looking thrift called The Fabulous Find, and boy was it!  It’s become my fabulous find of the week!
It’s a small store, but full of cute second-hand items.  My buy of the day?  J.Crew ‘Matchstick’ jeans for $4.99.  Followed up with a pinstriped button down and a tank-top.  Total for the three items: $16.25.  What I liked best about The Fabulous Find was their philosophy.  After they pay rent and their two paid employees the rest of the profits go to local charities.  They have a long list of charities in Dover, Kittery, Eliot, Berwick (and others) that they have written significant checks to.  What a great way to help the community.  If you live in the seacoast/southern Maine area, take your donations to The Fabulous Find.

So I skipped the outlets and stopped in another thrift shop Full Circle in Eliot.  This one wasn’t as good; a little dingy, a little dirty and yet I still managed to find something to buy.  A couple of books, wood blocks for Cora and a milk white bowl.  Total: $11.03.

I like these thrift shops.  Lately I’ve been disappointed with places like Savers.  I feel like prices have been going up and are ridiculous for second-hand clothes.  Who wants to pay $11 or more for Target brand jeans?  Not me.  I bet I could find new jeans on sale for the same price.  
For me, it’s sayonara Savers and hello Fabulous.

27 July 2012

I Didn't Cry

I didn’t cry.
Me.  The emotional basket-case of the family.  
I didn’t cry.
The one who cries at everything.  I cried when Charlotte dies, a spider for crying out loud.  And I hate spiders (sorry Maria Montessori, but I just don’t like some of Nature’s children).  I cried when Jim Craig had his horse shot out from under him.  I cried when Dan and Ann died (getting misty now just thinking about it).  I balled my eyes out when my friend Tabitha moved the astronomical distance to Florida when we were 7.  I cried when I flew to England for a year.  I cried myself to sleep from homesickness. 
Can you imagine what I was like during pregnancy?
I cry for every sob story article people post on facebook.
I cried when I had to leave in the middle of my best friend’s wedding in Morocco just so we could catch a flight that ended up being cancelled.  I cried a lot that day.
I cry a lot.
But I didn’t.
Not this time.
Why not?
It’s goodbye.
The distances are not as astronomical (financial maybe, but not astronomical).  We will visit.  Tacoma is not that far away.  Is that why I didn’t cry?  
Maybe I’m just in denial.
Maybe the tears are around the corner.  Maybe they’re just waiting for the right time.  
Maybe I’m not going to be an emotional basket-case any more.
Um, yeah right Rachel.
I can tell as I write this, I will cry, just not yet.

26 July 2012

Turning a black thumb a little greener

I learned something new today.
     This year I only planted two types of vegetables, four cherry tomatoes and two zucchini.  It was a good thing that was all I planted because they have grown enormous; one tomato plant is nearly as tall as I am.  
Glad I didn't plant any more!
     A few weeks ago I was really excited because they were all doing so well.  The tomatoes had many flowers and clusters of green tomatoes, both zucchini plants had huge yellow flowers too.
Cherry tomatoes!

     Then one night I went out to water and realized the zucchini flowers were on the ground but nothing was growing from the stem, as if they had been eaten off.  I’ve had slugs before so I put out a dish of beer (don’t worry, it’s a kind I didn’t like).  The next morning no slugs had showed up for my party, but more flowers were on the ground or ‘bitten’ off.
Two flowers and a 'bitten' off stem

     We went on vacation for a week and when I came back it seemed the same, one or two flowers about to bloom, most ‘bitten’ off at the base and no zucchini.  I know enough about botany to know the fruit grows from the flower.  No flower, no fruit.  I was bummed.  
I’ve not had great success with vegetables.  Last year I got a decent amount of cherry tomatoes from potted plants but in the past it’s just been a lot of effort for little result.  Even this year I had started seedling zucchinis in the spring but they died before they were big enough (or it was warm enough) to plant outside.  When I planted the bought tomatoes, I also put in four zucchini seeds ‘just in case’.  It seemed despite my best efforts and enormous plant size, the second time wasn’t going to be successful either.
     Then on Monday I was watering, moving the prickly leaves to get the water to the dirt.  Nothing again.  I blinked.  And there they were, as if by magic.  Not just one but two good size zucchinis, just the right size to pick right away.  Where did they come from?  How did I miss them?  How did they grow when the flowers kept falling off?
     What do you do when you have a question?  Most of the time I ask my mom, but this time I looked it up on the internet.  Good old Google helped me out with this website.  Did you know zucchini plants have male and female flowers?  The male flower sits on long stocks and blooms, is hopefully pollinated by helpful insects, then falls off.  The female flower sits closer to the ground and carries the potential to grow a zucchini.  When there is cross pollination the zucchini grows from the female flower. 

Female flower with baby zucchini behind

Fascinating.  Now I don’t have to worry about slugs, but I do have gross beer in my fridge.  Anybody want it?

13 July 2012


I have written about Caroga Lake many times before.  I write about it when I’m here, when I miss a summer, and when I am asked to write about a favorite memory.  Sitting here at camp, there is no better topic.

View from the porch

"Did you know it would be like this?  Is this what you envisioned when you bought the place?  Did you know we would love it so much?"
There are few places in my memory that are so engrained as this one; few places with as much tradition.  Like a liturgy: you sleep there, I sleep here, this is where we have breakfast, this is where we toast marshmallows.
The paint is peeling.  Peeling in straight geometric lines that indicate lead paint.  Some people might call it a death trap, I call it camp.  Everything squeaks and creaks, if you need something in the kitchen you better look through every drawer, don’t use anything in the medicine cabinet - it’s probably been out of date for at least 10 years, the oven is quirky - don’t trust the temperature reading, the faucet is lake water - don’t drink it.   A realtor would describe it as ‘charming’.
The breeze is beautiful, the air smells wonderful, of pine needles and mountains.  The birdsong is clearer, the water bluer.   

Breakfast Hair
Great Grandpa Carnrite,
When you bought Ja-Mari-Ette 5 generations ago, did you know it would be like this?  Did you know we would cry the summers we missed?  That it wasn’t really summer without time at camp.  Did you know that we would do our best to get here every year even for just a weekend?  Or a night?  Did you know your great, great, granddaughters would be swimming off the same beach where your children swam?  


Aunt Marion kept talking about selling the place.  When I was in high school it seemed a very real possibility.  I cried about it.  Now I realize she would never have sold camp, she never could have sold it.  Camp is a gift.  Great, Grandpa Carnrite might not ever have known me, but he knew I might happen, and that’s why he bought the place.  
Camp will eventually be sold.  I know this.  My adult mind knows this.  But until that moment when I actually do have to let go, I will not loosen my grip.  One day it will happen, another family will be here.  Or the place will be torn down (more likely).  Caroga Lake summers will end.  
But right now, I’m sharing it with my daughter.

First Morning at Caroga

What topic do you return to again and again in your writing?

05 July 2012

3 Books

The last few books I’ve read have all been recommendations.  A few months ago my mom gave me a stack of books; one of the perks of being the closest child when she is in a purging mood.  My mom doesn’t really get books out of the library and, even though she has an iPad and is thinking of getting a Kindle, I don’t foresee her buying ebooks any time soon.  Instead she buys books.  Old fashioned, wonderful books.  (Real book versus Kindle is still a daily dilemma for me.)  My mom also only reads books once.  She is not like me, re-reading parts of Mara, Daughter of the Nile or Seven Daughters, Seven Sons every time I dust.  Given her habits: acquiring books and always trying to get rid of ‘stuff’ from her house, she gives stacks of books to me (which I never refuse).  

Among the latest stack was The Help.  I had heard all the reviews and saw the movie previews and was interested in reading.  And there it was, plopped in my lap.  A road trip to Pennsylvania was all I needed to read most of it.  It was a good, quick read.  I kept waiting for something really bad to happen but thankfully it never did; I like happy endings.  And it was for the most part.  Almost too happy, which is one of the criticisms I’ve heard.  I found the novel had a decent ending, but the movie ending was sappy with a neat little ‘cheese’ bow on top.  
The core of the novel is powerful even if the events might be far-fetched (according to one person I talked to).  The story forced me to remember that this isn’t just history, but really happened, and not that long ago.  (I find it easy to forget that history happened.  Maybe it’s because I read so much fiction.)
Best line: “Bosoms [...] are for bedrooms and breast-feeding.  Not for occasions with dignity.” p.379
Bottom line: I really liked The Help and would recommended it.
The next book I read is actually a trilogy.  Yes, I jumped on the bandwagon too.  I read The Hunger Games.  Actually it was the first fiction ebook that I bought on my kindle.  I was flying to Colorado and had finally finished my last seminar of school (i.e. no homework), also the ebook was $15 for the trilogy - hard to beat.  I started reading with too much skepticism.  I had heard too many opinions.  But I got into it.  Overall I was entertained and enjoyed being sucked into a book series, that hasn’t happened in a while.  Collins’ writing did bother me a little bit, there were sentences that jarred me out of my book coma, but what annoyed me the most (spoiler alert) was how many characters she kills off in the last few chapters.  Couldn’t there have been some left?  I’m a sucker for happy endings.  I did like that Katniss kills President Coin instead of Snow, it’s a gutsy move and I liked it.  Also, by the end of the books I wasn’t a fan of Gale anymore.  He was too brutal, war-ready and blood-thirsty.  Peeta became the better choice.
I’m still not sure I love them, and the jury’s still out on whether I will see the movie, but I am glad I read them for myself.  Now I can be one of those opinions too.
Worst line: “If I don’t show up, worry they will.” Chapter 11, para 3 Catching Fire (Since when does Yoda live in District 12?)
Bottom line: Eeh, it will keep you entertained if not en-grossed (pun intended).
Maeve Binchy’s Evening Class was also in the stack of books my mom gave me.  I had never heard of it, but picked it up while I was dusting and started reading it.  It took me a while, I think I started it soon after reading The Help and finished it this month, but it was a good book.  There is a large cast of characters that are all intertwined in one way or another.  It takes a bit to unwind them all, especially when reading it over a few months.  Although it isn’t a whodunit, it reads similar to an Agatha Christi mystery.  There is no great moral message, just a group of unhappy Dubliners who come together to learn Italian in the evenings.  Again, I kept expecting something terrible to happen, but it all ended very calmly.  I like happy endings!
I don’t have a favorite line.
Bottom line: A little slow for a beach read, but the character development/intertwindness (new word) was good.
What books have you read lately?

25 June 2012

Don't Read Book Reviews

I shouldn’t read reviews before I read the book.  I wouldn't say they are necessarily wrong, but they color my opinion going into it.  Then I have pre-conceived ideas about the book, author or theme before I’ve even given the book a chance.  Talk about judging a book by its cover.

I did this with the Hunger Games Trilogy.  I listened to friends opinions on Collins' writing ability, I read amazon.com reviews focusing on the thematic content and how horrifying it is when you really look at it.  I decided to buy (after weeks of going back and forth) the trilogy on my kindle and read it anyway.  I’m glad I did.  They weren’t my favorite books, and the violent themes did stick with me longer than I wanted them to (including in my dreams), and she did have some pretty poorly written lines (her Yoda line being the worst).  But I was engrossed.  They were a compelling read and it was a really good thing I decided to wait till after all my Montessori work was handed in before I started them.  

I didn’t learn my lesson with the Hunger Games.  I did it again with my most recent book.  My sister’s best friend started a book club.  We will read 3 books over the summer months, get together over food and chat about them.  It’s a diverse group age-wise, newlyweds, new moms, and grandmothers (including my mom).  The first book is MWF Seeking BFF by Rachel Bertsche; a book about a women’s search for a new BFF after transplanting to Chicago.  I read the reviews.  There are lots of people who like the book, but I gravitate towards the 1 or 2 star reviews, I guess I want to hear the negative.  Most people didn’t like the author because she seemed flighty or juvenile for seeking out a BFF (and for calling it a ‘BFF’, but what else do you call it?  Bestie is just as middle-school.)  The reviewers point out that she has best friends just not living around the corner.  

Is she selfish for wanting a bestie around the corner?  My best friend lives in Morocco.  I wish she could be around the corner, like she used to be when we grew up.  But I also wish she could be in Boston again, cause it’s a lot easier to visit than Morocco (so suck it up Bertsche). Morocco also just banned skype (#@*holes) making it even more difficult to have a chat.  And I do have good (fabulous really) friends around the corner.

Back to the book.  I’m half way through (book club tomorrow night, eek).  It’s a good read.  I’m glad I did end up buying it.  It’s making me think a lot about friendships and creating new ones.  I’m an introvert.  Its hard to talk to new people.  I’ve improved dramatically over the years, slowly perfecting the question asking and offering information about myself without being asked.  I’m getting there.  This book challenged me.  I need to follow up with people I’ve met and said ‘let’s get together sometime’.  I need to be a better friend to those I already have.  

The one thing I don’t like about this book: reading about friendship makes me miss Sus more than ever...

12 June 2012

Actually Using all Those Pinned Recipes

I’m addicted to Pinterest.  What an amazing invention.  All those ideas, recipes, funny pictures and weird internet links all in one glorious spot.  I can finally do away with all the bits of paper and sticky notes that have websites listed on them but I don’t remember why they were interesting.  My various piles of papers are not really smaller, they just don’t include these random notes.

I have found Pinterest really helpful with my Montessori training too.  I have Montessori board and a board for the Quilting Unit I did (read about it here).  I’ve gotten loads of ideas for the classroom from other Montessori pinners.  But the most helpful (well, I suppose it’s yet to be proved helpful) part of Pinterest is all those delicious recipes.  I scroll down the daily pins of friends and acquaintances and drool over the pictures, repinning nearly all of them.  I have 38 pins on my ‘Savory Recipes’ board and about as many in ‘Breakfast’ and ‘Sweets and Treats’ combined.

So a while back, while in the throws of end-of-school papers, I looked up a crock-pot recipe I had pinned on Pinterest and finally put it to use.  It’s a bit daring really.  You don’t know if the “It’s delicious” comment is from the person you know or someone 10 pins ago who didn’t actually try it either.  The recipe was for crock-pot fajitas. We love Mexican in this house and fajitas are always a hit.  I’ve been moving away from the seasoning packet and more towards making my own spice blend.  (This is as much from forgetting to buy the packet and wanting fajitas as an aversion to what’s put in the packet.)
Ready for Culinary Greatness
Here’s the recipe:
(original found Stacy Makes Cents here)
Crock Pot Chicken Fajitas 
1 yellow onion, sliced
3 sweet peppers, sliced
1 ½ pounds boneless chicken breast or thighs
½ cup chicken broth
½ teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons cumin
1 ½ tablespoons chili powder
Squirt of lime juice
Fajita fixings

Combine sliced onion and peppers in the bottom of a greased crock-pot. Lay chicken on top of veggies. Pour chicken broth over top. Sprinkle everything with cumin, salt, and chili powder. Give a nice squirt of lime juice over the top. Cover and cook on low for 8 hours (or on High for 4-6 hours). When meat is done, shred with two forks and stir back into juices. Serve meat mixture with slotted spoon on tortillas with your choice of fixings.
Looks promising
Finished product before shredding

It wasn’t bad.  But it wasn’t amazing either.  One thing I did take away from this: I now shred my chicken for all mexican meals, fajitas, gorditas, it’s all shredded.  It is so much easier to keep the tortilla wrapped without chunks of meat.  Shredding it also means I can use bone-in chicken which is cheaper and cook the chicken ahead of time and freeze if necessary.
But I didn’t stop pinning.  Every recipe with a drool-worthy picture was/is repinned.  So I knew I had to have another go and today I did.
It was 4:45, The Ellen Show was ending and I was on Pinterest wondering what in the world I would cook for dinner.  Then I saw it.  Creamy Garlic Pasta.  Wow.  That is drool-worthy.  I had all the ingredients (well, sort of) and it looked like it would be quick.
It was quick.  It was fabulous.  Creamy, Dreamy Garlic Pasta with Fresh Basil?  Yes, please.
Here is the recipe: 
Originally from The Cheese Pusher here (no pushing needed for me :)
This photo is from The Cheese Pusher.
I forgot to take a picture before we dug in.
But it looks this amazing in real life too.

Creamy Garlic Pasta
2 tsp olive oil
4 cloves garlic, minced
2 tbsp butter
¼  tsp salt
½ tsp pepper3 cups chicken stock
½ lb spaghetti or angel hair pasta
1 cup grated parmesan cheese
¾ cup heavy cream
2 tbsp chopped fresh parsley
In a pot, bring the olive oil to medium-low heat. Add the garlic (I included 1/2 large onion) and stir, allowing it to cook for 1-2 minutes. Mix in the butter until melted. Add the salt, pepper and chicken stock. Raise the heat to high and let it come to a boil.
Once it is at a rolling boil, add the pasta and cook for as long as the box’s directions indicate. Reduce the stove to medium heat and mix in the parmesan until completely melted. Turn off the heat and stir in the cream (I only had half and half.  It worked fine.) and parsley (I used fresh basil instead). Serve immediately
I think it took me about 20 minutes from start to finish.  If I had some chicken it would have been good too.  Or with bacon it would have been a pseudo Carbonara.  Whatever you do with it, make it.  It is delicious.  My husband had four helpings.


03 June 2012

20 Things I Miss

On the day of the Jubilee I drink a cuppa to the Queen, and list 20 things I miss about England. 
 In no particular order:
  1. Rain
  2. No one complaining because it’s raining
  3. The accent (really, it just sounds cool)
  4. Public transportation that’s not a ‘special treat’ to take
  5. Trains
  6. Cheaper PG Tips
  7. Chocolate Digestives
  8. Walking to Safeways then Alexandria Park for a picnic lunch
  9. Walking to Hastings seafront
  10. Walking around London without a map
  11. Walking
  12. Telling people you walked and not getting the reaction “you walked?!”
  13. That park in London Evie took me too
  14. And Cafe Mozart nearby
  15. Fewer commercials
  16. Real news
  17. British Bookshops and Sussex Stationers
  18. Cadbury Creme Egg McFlurry
  19. Free museums in London
  20. Student discounts that actually amount to something; like watching Patrick Stewart in Anthony and Cleopatra from the middle of the fourth row for only £10
Oh, and 21. People, so many wonderful people.

26 May 2012

What I've been doing instead of blogging

I started this blog as a way to practice writing.  And also to give voice to my thoughts.  My plan was to write once a week.  That seemed to rarely happen.  Especially this spring as due dates for my Montessori Training course loomed.  My last training weekend was last week and I was able to hand in 2 curriculum albums (Practical Life and Sensorial), my Cultural Studies Album (including History, Science, Geography, Music, Art and Peace Education) and presented my Cultural Unit Project on Quilting.  Despite having months to put these together I must admit much of the work was done in the last two days before the seminar. 
It feels good to have passed so much in.  I still have some to do, Language and Math albums, a couple of papers and classroom observations.  But there is light at the end of the tunnel.  At our closing ceremonies we pulled words out of a jar.  Mine was ‘hope’.  There have been many times through this school year when the thought of actually finishing not only the training course but my Masters degree was daunting.  The moment I click open on the paper, Cora cries, waking from her nap early, again.  When I pulled the word hope out of the jar I realized I may not be done, but there is hope.  I will finish.  All the money, time and gas has a purpose.

Here are some pictures of what I've been up to.  My Unit on Quilting went over really well in the classroom.  It is a Montessori Primary classroom (ages 3-6).  I developed material for each area of the classroom and we did two group projects together.

Quilt Block 3 Part Matching for Language

Paper Quilt Art Project

"Color-by-Number" Pattern Grid for Math

Running Stitch Work for Practical Life
We did a sewing project as a class.  The quilt top was pieced by my mom's quilt group Winding Ways. The children helped lay out the 'quilt sandwich' and baste.  Then they had the choice of tying, sewing a button or quilting.  The Extended Day children (kindergartners) had to quilt first before choosing something else.

Laying out the 'quilt sandwich'

5 year old sewing a button

3 year old sewing a button

I had so much fun doing this unit.  The children did so well sewing.  I love that sewing is a part of the Montessori curriculum and I hope to emphasize it more in my own classroom.

The unit has also inspired me to do more quilting projects.  Stay tuned...but don't hold your breath.