Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Holiday baking - a retrospective

I did a ton of holiday baking this year.  A ton.  So I thought I'd share all my projects with you & recipes.  Overall, I'm pleased with how everything turned out.  However, I don't think I'll do so many baked good gifts next year.  I usually wait until the last minute to make sure everything is as fresh as possible, but that meant that I was in the kitchen baking all day on Christmas.  Literally, all day!

This year, I gave a few batches of my favorite new recipe, homemade granola.  I never thought of giving granola as a gift, but then I saw this post on SouleMama's blog & it seemed like a great idea!  I discovered this recipe sometime this Fall & eat a bowl of granola with wild blueberries & almond milk for breakfast almost every day.  It is sooo good!  Here's the link to the recipe - thanks, Martha!  I omit the dried blueberries & add wild blueberries instead.  I also add a handful of chopped walnuts.  It's so good & pretty healthy, too!

Another great idea courtesy of SouleMama is the peppermint bark we made.  Here is the link to her blog post about the peppermint bark.  This recipe is so great - and so easy to gobble up!  I had to try very hard to forget all about the peppermint bark sitting in the fridge.  In fact, my daughter's teacher e-mailed me the day we gave her some peppermint bark & fudge in a tin for a teacher's gift & said she NEEDS (her caps, not mine) that recipe!  Here is the original recipe, in case you don't go through SouleMama's blog to get it.  One thing about it: I found the easiest way to crush the peppermints (pulverize, actually) is to use a big 'ol hammer from DH's collection.  I think it worked better than the can crusher.  Anyway, here's a pic:

Yes, you heard me mention fudge.  I made a few different batches of one of our favorite fudge recipes & put it in tins with the peppermint bark.  This is a marshmallow fudge, so it's pretty hard to mess up.  I like traditional fudge a bit better, but I hate all the frantic stirring & I always botch it anyway!  I got my recipe from Martha Stewart, & it goes fast!  See......

And finally, I made peanut brittle.  This recipe is finicky - when it turns out, it's irresistible, but when it doesn't, it's just meh.  I've made this quite a bit & I think the amount of stirring you do has something to do with the final outcome.  I've also read that you shouldn't make candy on a humid day!  I still haven't figured out all the perfect conditions for this brittle, but even when I get a meh batch, it's still good.  Buttery & sweet with a touch of salty.  Yum!

In addition to making these goodies for pre-Christmas gifts (teacher gifts, neighbor gifts, my Aunts & cousin we visited with at a family party), I also made all these recipes on Christmas day, in addition to breakfast for everyone, pumpkin pie, homemade whipped cream & mashed potatoes.....and cheesecake.  It was brutal!  Maybe next year's gifts will be knitterly - at least then, I can be off my feet while I do the last minute gift-crunch!

Did you do a lot of baking this holiday season?  How did everything turn out?

Monday, December 27, 2010

Book Nook - A Perfectly Kept House....

If ever there was a book that appealed to me on title alone, it's this one:  A Perfectly Kept House is the Sign of a Misspent Life, written by Mary Randolph Carter.  The title comes from a doormat the author found once while shopping.  She bought 9 of them for each of her siblings and herself & one for her parents.  I need to know where that store is so that I can get one for each of my entries - a forewarning to all those who enter!

The book is set up with 9 case studies - people the author knows (or knows of) with photographs & a write up about their house & how they live in them.  The author's own home is the last case study.  Each of these case studies focuses on a main area of the homeowner's life.  There is a study on a photographer & how he melds his work space & his home space; a study on a family of 7 & how they cope with lots of people in a small space.  There is a study on an artist living outside of Paris & how she keeps her studio.  The study on the author deals with her love of junk.  I liked these little glimpses into others' lives and homes & appreciated their honesty & openness.  The couple living in London, for instance, obviously didn't try to tidy up before their photo shoot!  But really, that's the whole purpose of the book - to show real people & their real living spaces.

In between the case study chapters, Carter (as she is known) has chapters on topics like comfort, ambience, the unmade bed, the purposeless room, etc.  She discusses these topics using the case study "subjects."  It just gives you a further understanding of the case study participants & how they live their lives.  I liked the chapters with these random topics, & I love her description of her own purposeless room - "our happy, lazy room."  I want one of those!

The author also did all the photography in the book - and there are tons of photos!  She's a really good photographer & I think her visual style added a lot to the book.  Mary Randolph Carter seems to be quite an interesting person - I'd like to meet her!  There are a couple of photographs with blatant product placement - her other books are displayed a little too prominently.  But I think we can overlook that!  I also found the same blue bag pictured in two of her case studies - one in NYC & the other outside of Paris.  Could it be that these 2 families actually have the same (unusual & eclectic) canvas bag, or is it Carter's bag that crept into the shot?  I wonder!

Keep in mind that this is not really a hands-on instructive kind of book.  Carter is not trying to teach the reader how to tidy up, or how to hide your mess, or how to do anything for that matter.  Rather, I think she is trying to show us real people and some of the challenges they face.  This is a great coffee table book, one that is perfect for sitting & perusing through when you just don't feel like doing the dishes.


Saturday, December 25, 2010

Merry Christmas

Hope you are having a wonderful Christmas day!  (Photo inspired by Lisa Leonard)

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Our Winter Solstice

I know the official first day of Winter was a couple of days ago, but we just couldn't get to any fun activities to celebrate until today!  So, the Bach Family decided to celebrate our first (officially celebrated) Winter Solstice a couple of days late.

While I wanted to recognize the event, I also wanted to keep everything as simple & easy as possible.  We started our Solstice day by cutting out paper snowflakes and decorating the house with them:

Our house looks beautiful...but very snowy & cold!  We found a great website where you make your own online snowflake that you cut & design by clicking your computer mouse.  It's really cool - here's the link.  Of course, we also did some the old fashioned way!

After our morning craft, we went on a winter hike at Three Creeks Metro Park here in Columbus, OH.  It was a chilly day & there was still snow on the ground, but it wasn't too cold to keep us away.  I packed three big travel mugs with homemade hot chocolate - a definite must!  Here are a couple of pics of our excursion:

And finally, this evening we read a few Winter-related stories.  All of them were very sweet & perfect for our Wintery day.
Grandmother Winter
Lucia and the Light
The Shortest Day: Celebrating the Winter Solstice

I'm glad we were able to take a little time during this crazy holiday season to slow down just a little and have some Solstice-y fun!


Tuesday, December 21, 2010


Blow, North Wind, Blow
All the leaves are falling;
Cold, frost and snow
Winter comes a-calling.
Mother Nature sleeps now,
All the earth is bare;
Deep in the ground
She guards her treasures rare.
-Margaret Morgan

Happy Winter!

Monday, December 20, 2010

Book Nook - The Shortest Day

DH and I both come from families that celebrate Christmas and now that we have our own little family, we continue to celebrate the holiday.  But lately, we've been re-evaluating our traditions and have tried to incorporate things that are important to us.  One of those new traditions (for us, at least) that we are going to try to include in the season is the recognition and celebration of the Winter Solstice. 

The Shortest Day by Wendy Pfeffer is a great introduction to Winter Solstice.  The science behind the solstice is explained, as well as the history of many Solstice celebrations in different parts of the world.  The text informs without being too complex or lengthy for its intended audience - children being read a picture book.  There's a lot in here that grown-ups might not have known.  For example, I didn't know that the Incas of Peru used a reflective surface to light a fire from the rising Winter Solstice sun & kept it burning all year.  I also find it so interesting how we continue to hold onto some traditions - such as decorating with evergreens, putting lights on a tree - that are thousands of years old.  Interestingly, these traditions are associated with Christmas, but they're really a combination of different cultures all celebrating the same thing - a celebration of light and the joy of knowing that warmer, longer days are just ahead.

At the end of the story, there are a few pages with "Solstice facts" and activities.  These are really interesting, science-based observations and activities that kids can do.  I also love the pages on "have a Winter Solstice party" and "have a Winter Solstice party for the birds."  These are all great ideas for kids to explore the topic even further.  The pictures are lovely and colorful while at the same time invoking the subtle colors & soft light of Winter.

I've been thinking a lot about how our family can celebrate the solstice & what kinds of activities we might do.  It's really like a blank canvas & we can choose to celebrate it however is the best fit for the Bachs.  I'm sure it will take a little trial & error, but I really think it will be a lot of fun!  DH and I are true nature lovers & we are hoping to instill that into our children.  Solstice is a perfect celebration because it's all about nature and the rhythm and cycles of our world.

I'll blog later this week about our first Solstice Celebration!

Monday, December 13, 2010

Book Nook - When It Starts to Snow

It is currently about 11 degrees here in Central Ohio, and we have a bunch of snow from yesterday's storm.  It was so pretty, but very cold, this morning & Little Dude and I just sat on the couch and watched the beautiful soft light of a mid-December sunrise.  Tiny snowflakes were gently falling & it was so cozy & wintry.  He & I were just chatting & he asked about "Crawly," his woolly bear.  Did I blog about our woolly bears?  I can't remember, but in case I didn't, we currently have 2 woolly bear caterpillars hibernating at our residence.  I explained to Little Dude that Crawly is hibernating, and I couldn't help but think of this week's Book Nook book.

When It Starts to Snow by Phillis Gershator is a sweet book about what various animals do when the snow starts to fall.  Throughout the book, there is a very catchy phrase that keeps repeating:  "what if it starts to snow?  What do you do?  Where do you go?"  And then each animal tells us how/where it hibernates.  Or maybe not - some animals (like the barnyard animals featured) just hang out in a warm place.  Did you know that turtles and frogs go deep into the mud to hibernate?  I didn't know that & had never really thought about what they do in the Winter.  Or how about stoats?  What's a stoat, you ask....check out this link.  There's lots of great information in this book, so even adults can learn a thing or two here - I did!

There is a little boy we catch glimpses of throughout the book & at the end, he gets a chance to tell us what he does when it snows.

I just love the illustrations, done by Martin Matje.  All of his animals are interesting to look at & cute, but not over-the-top cute.  I like the fact that there's a great deal of browns & grays, along with the white snow.  It feels just like a cold, snowy day.  Just like the one we experienced yesterday, as a matter of fact!

This is a very timely read about animals in the Winter.  I really like how the book approaches the subject - the rhyming words and variety of animals in it are just right for little ones.  Read it to your child on a cold, blustery day (while all the woolly bears snooze away)!


Sunday, December 12, 2010

Snowy pics and a special gift

When I woke up this morning (around 9:30, an absolute treat), it was raining.  By noon, it was a complete blizzard!  I was amazed at how quickly it was coming down (the snow and the temperature).  I thought I'd share a few snowy pics from our winter wonderland:

Obviously, it was just starting to snow when I took the pic of the Christmas lights.  And then it just kept going and going and going!

I also wanted to share a very cool gift that I recently received.  My camera club gave me my Best of Show picture framed, with an engraved title.  It was such a thoughtful, completely unexpected gift and was so sweet!  Thanks again, Lens & Leaves - I love it!

I hope you are all staying warm & cozy on this cold, blizzard-like evening!

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Buckeye Balls

Today, we made buckeye balls for a holiday potluck at my camera club meeting.  When I was rolling the buckeyes, Little Dude came into the kitchen and asked me if I was making a "yes-cipe."  He laughed, but if you think about it, if ever a food should be deemed a "yes-cipe," buckeye balls are indeed that food.  Oh yes!

It's been a long time since I made buckeyes, as I purposely do not want them lingering in my house (they don't linger too long - that's the problem).  Little Dude asked, "eye balls?"  No, buckeye balls!  He was so cute, I need to write his little quotes down on my "cute kid quotes" page I have hanging on the fridge.

Anyway, here are a few pics of the buckeye balls, in all their glory.  And, we have some extras, hanging out in the fridge.  Not for long, of course!

Do you have any yes-cipes?

Monday, December 6, 2010

Book Nook - The Best Recipe

I suspect that most people who cook homemade meals on a regular basis have some sort of tried & true cookbook that they refer to over & over for some of their favorite recipes.  Probaby more than one cookbook,  really.  I am no exception.  The following is one of my go-to cookbooks:

I love The Best Recipe because it provides tons of basic recipes that you're going to need if you cook regularly.  This would be the perfect gift to give someone just starting out on their own, or maybe a bride-to-be at her wedding shower (or, you could give it as a gift for the happy couple, along with a gift certificate to a cookware store).  But this book is not for newbies-only.  More established cooks would probably appreciate the book's take on all the standards.

When I say "take on all the standards," this is what I'm referring to: each recipe comes with a lengthy introduction that explains how the cookbook authors took a bunch of recipes for any given subject (say, mashed potatoes) and broke down what works, what doesn't work & why.  So, for mashed potatoes, they explain first of all which kind of potatoes work best for mashed potatoes (high starch potatoes) & the science behind this ("the full starch cells of high starch potatoes are most likely to maintain their integrity and stay separate when mashed").  They go on to explain the best methods to cook the potatoes & what happens when you don't follow those methods!  That's what makes this book so great: instead of just giving you a recipe, they provide a recipe with explanation - why this works best, why you should do this or not do that, etc.  They are arming the home cook with knowledge, so you'll know the hows & whys behind the recipe.  They do this all throughout the book, for every recipe!

Here are some of my favorites, recipes that I go to again & again: the mashed potatoes, (as previously mentioned) are great!  This is a really yummy, basic recipe that every cook should probably have up their sleeve. I know it sounds silly, but not everyone knows by instinct how to hardboil an egg!  I love the egg salad recipe because they give you the instructions on how to do it right.  I use the master recipe for pizza dough every time I make homemade pizza - it couldn't be easier!  The banana bread recipe is really sweet & yummy.  It's perfect for when you have a bunch of over-ripe bananas demanding your attention!  The Quiche Lorraine recipe is great & could easily be made vegetarian if one chooses.  The rich & creamy cheesecake is wonderful!!!  Beware if you make it, you won't be able to stop eating it.  I purposely don't make it very much because of this, but when I do make a plain cheesecake, this is the one I make (and devour)!  One of my favorite recipes here is the creme brulee recipe: it's my dorky little tradition to make "creme brulee on New Year's Day" every year!  So that's coming up & I'm really looking forward to it!  It's a very easy recipe & the authors give almost a whole spread of discussion on all their creme brulee trials - again, making it all the easier for the reader to learn from their mistakes!

There are more recipes that I've tried from the book, but these are the ones that I have post-it-notes marking the pages, or that pull open to that page easily from all the use it's gotten over the years.  I should mention that this version is the older one - the Cook's Illustrated people came out with an updated version a couple of years after I purchased my book.  I checked it out at the library once & there are lots more recipes in it.  The one for oatmeal is really good, I've used it so much that I don't need to refer to the actual recipe anymore!  But the older version is great in its own right (and it's cheaper now, I think)!  The only complaint I can give is that there aren't photos of the recipes.  But since many of them are standard recipes, you probably don't need a photo to know how it should look (like the mashed potatoes).  There are excellent black & white illustrations given when there's a technique that needs to be enhanced by a visual.

All in all, this is a really excellent cookbook.  I highly recommend it!

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Best of Show!

I can't believe it's taken me so long to share my good news - but between our computer being down for a couple of weeks & then the craziness around Thanksgiving, it's been nutty.  So, here I am, finally sharing what is definitely the best news I've had in a long time:

I got Best of Show in the annual Columbus Metro Parks photo contest!

There were a record number of entries this year: 275 entries from 63 photographers.  I am thrilled that the judges chose my photo as their #1 pick out of 275!  The photo that won is a photo I took while we were at Hocking Hills in July.  We were hiking the lower trail of Conkle's Hollow and the light was beaming down from above.  I stopped to take a pic of a damselfly and right beside that area was a spider web, fairly horizontal.  My daughter actually pointed it out.  I hunched down to get a shot from underneath, capturing the light, the web & its resident (who had the coolest yellow body with green legs).  I tried to get a second shot (I usually take several, really), but the Bachsters had started walking ahead & I just couldn't get a good focus again.  I was pleased with the shot I got, so I moved on at that point.  The picture is SOOC (straight out of camera).  In fact, I don't even think I sharpened it!

Anyway, here it is, displayed at Blacklick Woods Metro Park in November, along with the other entries:

DH & the Bachsters were so sweet about my win that they told everybody: his boss, the girls' play friends, etc.  It really warmed my heart that they were so proud of their Mama!  My oldest made a homemade blue ribbon, that is proudly displayed with my other one (apparently, I dropped my placing, though - now I'm #10):

See her soccer trophy peeking out from behind?  How cute!

Anyway, I just wanted to share my good news!  I am so thrilled!  This win has really re-energized my desire to create the best nature photography I can.  And it also reaffirms my belief that you don't need the highest-end professional equipment to produce images that others appreciate.

I'll definitely be getting out there this Winter to get some shots (hopefully good ones), so you'll be seeing more nature photography from me in the near future.  Last year, I was lazy & didn't get out much when it was cold.  I'll make sure this season is a productive one! 

Take care!

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Book Nook - Owl At Home

Last night, I actually fell asleep at the computer.  When I woke up, I dragged myself upstairs & into bed & as soon as I laid down, I thought....oh no!  Book Nook!  So, today, I bring you a special Tuesday edition of Book Nook!

When I wrote my posting last week about baking & thanking, I asked myself - are there any books that I'm thankful for?  A book (or books) that enhances and enriches the world.  A book that things just wouldn't be the same without.  That's a lot to ask out of a book, but I think there are many that fit that bill.  But for me, there is one book that really stands out, and mostly for the reason that it is from my childhood.

  I remember reading Owl At Home by Arnold Lobel as a child & loving it.  There are several stories in the book - the guest, strange bumps, tear-water tea, upstairs and downstairs and owl and the moon.  I think my favorite one has always been owl and the moon.  In this story, owl befriends the moon.  But when he says goodbye to the moon & leaves for home, the moon follows owl like a little lost puppy!  Reading the book to the Bachsters, they seem to request strange bumps the most.  In this story, owl is in bed & sees two strange bumps at the foot of his bed under the blankets.  Strangely, when he moves one foot, one of the bumps moves too.  This story cracks my kids up, and I remember reading it as a child & laughing about it too.

The illustrations are done in soft muted earth tones.  Owl's house is very adorable and cozy - you want to go inside and have a cup of tea with him.  Owl himself is very friendly and warm - I love that he is in his robe and slippers for most of the book.  The story and the illustrations pair up nicely - both are soft, sweet, warm and inviting.  No wonder I have always loved this book!

Interestingly, I asked my Mom about this book several months ago to see if she and my Dad still had it at their house.  If they did, I was going to "borrow" it.  But my Mom couldn't recall the book & I didn't see it on the bookshelves when I looked.  About a month later, the Bachsters and I were at a book sale at our local library, and there it was: Owl At Home.  The same hardback version I had as a child (a different book though, as it was inscribed with someone else's name).  It was fate - and only a buck!

Do yourself a favor: if you've never read Owl At Home, please do.  It is a wonderful book, one that I truly treasure.

Is there any special book that you treasure and are thankful for?


Thursday, November 25, 2010

Baking & Thanking

Happy Thanksgiving everyone!  I hope you & your family & loved ones all had a wonderful day!

DH and I decided to spend the day with both sides of the family this year, which makes for a very busy (but nice) day.  In preparation, I had planned on making 3 recipes, all new, to take to our Thanksgiving locales.  I'm happy to say that 2 out of 3 were great recipes....the third, not so much.  It was too embarrassing to take!

The first successful recipe (and I'm sorry I don't have any pics to share) was a from-scratch green bean casserole.  I'm sort of the designated green bean casserole person in our family, so I usually bring it to the feast.  But this year it occurred to me that you don't have to make it with canned soup (why it took me so long to figure this out, I don't know).  So I found, and made, this recipe, which absolutely rocks!  I'll never make green bean casserole the canned-soup way anymore.  It was soooo good & everyone loved it.  Many thanks, as always, Martha!

The second successful recipe was a pumpkin roll.  I love all things pumpkin, and pumpkin rolls are no exception.  But I don't think I've ever made one before.  Couldn't have been easier or any more delicious than it was.  Everyone gobbled it up at my DH's family get-together, and no one touched the pumpkin pie that was there!  Here is where I got the recipe.  Thanks, Libby!

I won't say who the culprit is that provided the "turkey" among my 3 Thanksgiving recipes, but let's just say that it was for pecan pie and that it's bound for the trash can.  Oh well, you can't win them all!

I've also been thinking about a few things that I'm thankful for.  Of course I am thankful for my family, and good health and happiness (not to mention food and shelter and yarn).  But there are a few other things that I've thought about recently that I'd like to share.  So, here goes:

I am thankful for.......

  • the fact that I don't have a raging case of poison ivy.  Very, very thankful for this!
  • the fact that you never stop learning.  I feel like I've been learning and growing a lot lately.  Thank goodness you CAN teach an old dog (and 30-something SAHM) new tricks!
  • friendly Autumn Meadowhawk dragonflies that will land right on your arm and entertain you & your kids for hours on warm days in November:

  • any time the kitchen sink is empty
  • any time the park's recycling bin is full (yay for recyclers)
  • all the pages of original artwork the Bachsters have created that are scattered all over our house.  They are wonderful!
  • that my DH works so hard so that I can stay home with the kids.  I am grateful for this every single day.
  • that there are no current leaks in the ceiling of the kitchen.  Also thankful that DH is so handy!
  • very thankful that we were not involved in the accident we drove by on the highway tonight
  • - I'm on there almost every day!

On this Thanksgiving, what are some things that you are Thankful for?


Monday, November 22, 2010

Book Nook - Mad Hungry

Well, it's Fall and I've been cooking up a storm (one thing I love to do when the cold weather hits).  Cooking for a family of 5 can seem like a rather hum drum task at times, so I'm always looking for new recipes to please the crowd - and the cook.

Mad Hungry by Lucinda Scala Quinn is a great cookbook to have on hand.  There are tons of great recipes here, many of which I've tried.  Want to hear about them?

First, the lentil vegetable soup is just delicious.  I was worried that it would be bland & boring, but the recipe has just the right amount of salt & seasonings.  The croutons are a nice addition too.  Definitely recommend this one!  Last night, I made the creamed spinach.  I really liked how the author coaches you on how to steam spinach properly - her advice was very helpful & the recipe turned out great.  I also made the cheddar corn bread.  I thought this one was just so-so, but the kids liked it!  I also made the apple crisp, which was good.  The busy day chocolate cake was good & really easy to make.  As it's a vegan cake, you can't help but think, there's something amuck with this cake (anyone seen the movie Two Weeks Off with the Hugh Grant character asking that about the cheesecake?  Anyhoo....).  The cake does stay very moist for a couple of days & is a great recipe not only for those who are vegans, but also those that are short on basic baking ingredients!  The final recipe from the book I've tried is the oatmeal chocolate chip cookies.  These are soooo yummy!  Just the right combination of sweet & salty.  This recipe just might replace my usual go-to chocolate chip recipe.

While I've made several recipes from the book, there are a bunch that I'd like to try: the Italian fries look really tasty; I'd like to try the fat girl red rice (I love sun-dried tomatoes); the Chinese celery salad looks good, although I don't think I could get the kids to go for that one.  And the author gushes about pies so much that I just have to try one!  Many of the recipes seem like solid recipes to have on hand for feeding a hungry family.  There are lots of basics like hot chocolate (which is also on my to-try list), but none seem boring.

One thing I love about this cookbook is the photography (of course)!  The photographer uses what is known as an "action" to finish his photos in a uniform style, with muted colors.  The plates are styled on gauze & linen fabrics, or well-worn wood.  I love the look of it all!  Plus, I really appreciate when a recipe comes with a photo, and most of the recipes in the book do.  Also, most of the recipes (in fact, I think all of them) have their own devoted page, so that you don't have to flip back and forth among pages when you're following the instructions.  I'm so glad, because I hate "flipping" when I'm trying to be cooking!  I also appreciate all of Lucinda Scala Quinn's intro's to each recipe, her advice on cooking in general that is scattered throughout and the personal stories she tells about her family.  All that adds up to the feeling that you have a friend in the kitchen with you!

I must admit, there is one thing I dislike about this cookbook: I don't like the marketing schtick about cooking for men & boys.  Honestly, this cookbook would be perfect for anyone, not just Moms cooking for boys.  I think they should have just marketed the book for what it is: great, solid recipes that you'll go to again and again for delicious, homemade meals. 


Monday, November 15, 2010

Book Nook - Harry Potter

I'm happy to report that my computer problems are a thing of the past!  Hopefully, I can get some pics on the blog soon, as I have some exciting news to share!  I'll keep you in suspense for a day or two, though!

If you were to ask me what my favorite book is, I'd have to say Harry Potter.  But it's hard to pick just one.  That's why I've picked 7 - all 7 of the Harry Potter books.  So this week's Book Nook is dedicated to my favorite book(s) - the Harry Potter series.  And this will be a short post.  Because if you've read the books, you already know how great they are.  And if you haven't read them.....well, you must.  It's that simple.

I've read each book at least twice and they are such an enjoyable read.  I love JK Rowling's writing style, her sense of humor and her amazing ability to write 7 books with such strong, fascinating characters, complicated & interesting plot lines and a whole new, magical world for us Muggles to enter into again & again.  I know many people who say they have not read the books but have seen the movies.....the movies are great, don' get me wrong, but you are really missing out if you don't read the books.

I've recommended books on CD before, but these are probably my favorite stories to listen to on CD.  Read by Jim Dale, he gives each character their own distinct voice & the imagery that will present itself with his reading & Rowling's excellent writing is like watching a movie....only better.

So I will leave it at that!  There is a good reason the Harry Potter series is so popular & for those who haven't read the books, you will see what all the fuss is about once you do!

PS - As you probably have heard, the 7th Harry Potter movie is opening on Friday.  DH & I are going this weekend - I'm so excited!  If you are planning on seeing it too, have fun!

Monday, November 8, 2010

Book Nook - More Last-Minute Knitted Gifts

I apologize for not posting since my last Book Nook - that means it's been a whole week!  Our computer has been down, but luckily, will be back home in a few days, all patched up.  Even more fortunate is the fact that I won't lose any of my pictures - I was sweating it there!  Most of them are backed up, but not all.  Backing pics up is now on the top of my to-do list!

Speaking of to-do lists, if yours consists of knitting some goodies for the holidays, I would suggest you check out this week's Book Nook selection: More Last-Minute Knitted Gifts by Joelle Hoverson.  This is a beautiful book with lots of great ideas for knitted projects.  They are categorized by how much time they should take you to complete, which is very thoughtful especially if the reader is looking through this at the 11th hour, as is usually the case with me!

Since my pc is down, I can only provide this link to instead of my usual nifty link + picture.  There are several projects which I have post-it-noted that I'd love to make: kelly's mittens & the big lace scarf (for myself, ahem), and the kid's vest.  I also love the fingerless gloves, and usually I don't like fingerless gloves at all.  She has me interested in making a pair (again, for myself.....blush).  I've never actually knit anything for myself before, but I think I need to get started!

Other patterns that I really like, but probably won't be making in the foreseeable future are the bookmarks, pointy elf hat, coasters, house (this is a cute knitted toy idea), toe-up socks and all the baby-related projects in the book.

The photography is gorgeous & spot-on.  I love that many of the projects are photographed in a beautiful outdoor setting or with rustic wood as the backdrop.  I was intrigued when I read through the list of model names that the photographer is actually one of the models.  I've been trying to guess which one since!  I also really loved the last section, with some neat ideas on how to wrap up your handmade gift to make it extra special.  The cards with the extra yarn & buttons is a great idea that I'll definitely be using in the future!

I should mention that this is the 2nd book the author has done on knitted gifts (you probably figured that out by the title).  I'd like to check out the first one, as I have not done so yet.  I'm sure it's packed with great little knitting projects just like this one.


Monday, November 1, 2010

Book Nook - The Spooky boo.....k

This week's Book Nook selection is very special - and very spooky!  This book was recently (= yesterday) published and actually has 3 authors - my Bachsters!  It is by far the best book I have ever read & I highly recommend it to you.  Can't find it at your bookstore?  No problem!  Here it is, in its entirety!

This was a true sibling collaboration, with everyone doing at least one page & sissies helping their little brother make a scary face on his page.  I'm not sure the dates of the upcoming book tour, but I'll keep you posted.  I know for certain that they will gladly come to your hometown on tour, as long as they are promised leftover Halloween candy. 


Sunday, October 31, 2010

Happy Halloween

"When black cats prowl and pumpkins gleam,
May luck be yours on Halloween."
-Author Unknown

Hope you had a great Halloween!

Monday, October 25, 2010

Book Nook - The Guernsey Literary Society

I can't help but compare this week's Book Nook selection to a cup of chamomile tea.  It's nice & comforting, but rather mild.  You might have a cup at your Great Aunt's 75th birthday brunch, but it wouldn't be your beverage of choice if you were at a club in NYC, say.

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows is a nice book.  I wouldn't call it a great book, but it's a nice story (if a bit predictable).  It's the kind of book that you can easily set down for several days & then pick back up & get back in it.  Not a page turner, but is certainly the chamomile of books.

Juliet Ashton is a writer living in London in 1946.  She is looking for her next writing project & starts a correspondence with Dawsey Adams, a resident of the island of Guernsey.  Eventually, Juliet starts regular correspondence with several other islanders, and through those letters we learn of the Nazi invasion of Guernsey & what life was like for those living there at the time.  Juliet also writes regularly with her friend Sophie, Sidney (Sophie's brother & Juliet's publisher), & Marc (Juliet's would-be suitor).  The novel is told in epistolary style, meaning it is comprised entirely of letters to & from characters.  Word of the day!

I really enjoyed the style of unfolding the story through letters.  Many of the letters back & forth seemed very natural & real.  There were only a couple of times it seemed that the authors pushed the envelope - I couldn't resist the pun -  (Letter: would you like to have dinner with me tonight?  Letter back: yes, that would be great.  What time?  Letter back:  how about 7:00.  Where would you like to go.......).  You get the point.

Now, about the characters.  I think the authors are trying to create a handful of quirky characters, and they succeed in a few spots (I thought Ysolda's head bump reading was funny), but overall I thought the characters were a little mild. Yes, like chamomile tea!  And a few of them changed course a bit too much - Marc at first seemed like a nice guy, not the demanding jerk he ended up being.  I would have liked seeing the Juliet/Dawsey story line played out a little differently.  And there was much discussion about Elizabeth, but I only have a blurry vision of her as a character - she seemed a bit flat for being so important to the story line.

I know I sound like I'm being a bit hard on the book.  I really did enjoy it, but I feel it's important to say again, that it's just sort of....mild.  Mild isn't always a bad thing, but sometimes you just have to be in the right mood for it to appreciate it.  I would like to add that I read the book on CD (as usual!) and really enjoyed the different characters getting a different actor playing them.  I think the actress reading Juliet's part is the same person who read The Eyre Affair: A Thursday Next Novel (Thursday Next Novels (Penguin Books)), which is a really great book incidentally.  In fact, there's a line in this book that says something about "Thursday next" & the actress even accentuates it rather noticeably.  Anyone know if it's the same person reading both books on the book-on-CD versions?

If you are looking for a real page turner, skip this one.  If you are looking for a high-adrenaline, complex storyline, stay-up until 3:00am to read just a little more, I'd look elsewhere.  But if you're looking for a nice story that is quietly entertaining, then this book just might be your cup of tea.  

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Another FO (Finished Object)

I couldn't resist - I made another candy corn hat!  I actually have enough yarn to make a third, but I think I'll stop here.  This one's for my Bachsters:

Click here for the link to my ravelry page, to see more pics & my notes on the project.  Actually, I didn't change much at all from the original pattern.  This hat is so cute & easy to do!

Have a great day!

Monday, October 18, 2010

Book Nook - The Very Best Pumpkin

The Very Best Pumpkin written by Mark Kimball Moulton & illustrated by Karen Hillard Good is a sweet story about a little boy who tends to a little pumpkin growing all by itself on the edge of the pumpkin patch.  This pumpkin grows to become the perfect pumpkin, perfect for giving to a new friend.

There are two things I love about this book...the story and the illustrations!  The story unfolds nicely & it is very touching to watch Peter & Meg's friendship grow.  I actually got a little teary-eyed the first couple of times we read the book when Peter gives the pumpkin to Meg.  It was such a kind, selfless act.  I don't think it was the intention of the author, but I also thought the story was rather....romantic.  I know, I know, it's a children's book!  But when Peter gave the pumpkin to Meg, it just struck me that these two just belong together.

And the illustrations....oh, the illustrations!  They are quaint & whimsical, with a vintage feel to them.  There are little curlicues everywhere - for flight paths of butterflies & bees and tendrils of plants & pumpkins.  Mustard yellow, burnt orange & moss green permeates the palette.  The ladybugs are perhaps the cutest I've ever seen illustrated.  And the coolest part?  The illustrator used watercolors along with instant coffee & bleach to create the pictures!  Even if you don't actually read the story (which would be a pity) just looking at the pictures is a treat!

Like Peter's pumpkin, this book is just perfect.  And also just like that special pumpkin, it's perfect for sharing!  Enjoy!


Saturday, October 16, 2010

Food Pantry

A couple of days ago, the Bachsters & I took a bunch of canned goods to our local food pantry for donation.  The girls both had birthday parties earlier this year and we asked their friends to bring canned goods instead of presents.  I wanted to make sure to bring the Bachsters along so that they could be involved & maybe understand the importance of the Food Pantry a little more.  They were all for it & each of their little hands carried a bag or two of canned goods.  We definitely got a little workout because we had several bags!

Wouldn't you know it, when we got home, I found a couple of bags that we had forgotten!  I'll get some more canned goods from the store so that we can add to those bags & make another hefty donation.

I hope you're having a great weekend!

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

A plethora of pumpkin treats

This time of year, I can't help but make homemade pumpkin goodies.  And I've been cranking them out lately!  Here are a few of the pumpkin desserts & dishes I've made this Fall:

This is the pumpkin bread I mentioned a few posts ago.  It is so yummy - and the recipe makes 2 loaves, which makes the Bachs happy.  I just finished the last of it this morning, with cream cheese on it.  So good!

These are pumpkin pancakes!  They are really easy to make and smell wonderful as you are preparing & cooking them.  I've been making these so much lately that one of the Bachsters said "pumpkin pancakes, again?" the other morning.  It was said as a comment & not a complaint, because no one ever complains about pumpkin pancakes for breakfast!

I modified this recipe for rigatoni with pumpkin and bacon to make it vegetarian.  It's still really great & is one pumpkin recipe that I really look forward to making every Fall.  I stock up on a few pie pumpkins because I know I'll want to make it more than once.

All of the above recipes are from Martha Stewart.  Thanks Martha - these recipes are keepers!

Pumpkin ice cream is also on my Fall must-have list, but I can't make it at home since my ice cream maker broke.  Last year on my birthday, I treated myself to pumpkin ice cream at Jeni's - I think I just might make that an annual tradition!

What pumpkin treats do you enjoy in the Fall?  Let me know, as I am always on the search for excellent pumpkin goodies!


Monday, October 11, 2010

Book Nook - Coraline

I read Coraline by Neil Gaiman earlier this Spring, but this would actually be a much better time of the year to read it.  It's creepy & spooky & just the thing for a chilly October evening (well, it's in the 80's here today, so I'm not sure about "chilly" but you get the point).

To give you a brief summary, Coraline is a young girl who has just moved into a new flat with her parents, who are always busy working (from home) or making complicated recipes.  To busy herself, she explores her new surroundings & meets her new neighbors (who are all a little quirky).  She finds a door in the flat that has a brick wall behind it, but finds it fascinating enough to go back and check again - and when she does, this time the brick wall is gone and a tunnel is in its place!

On the other side of the tunnel is a sort of bizzaro-world.  Everything sort of looks the same, but it's even better (at first, that is).  There is an "Other Mother" & an "Other Father" who seem loving and want to please Coraline.  They have these weird button eyes, but that's no biggy - they don't make Coraline eat strange food from complex recipes!

Coraline leaves the "other" reality, back through the tunnel.  But she eventually goes back.  When she does, it becomes clear that the Other Mother runs the show in this world, and she wants Coraline all to herself, for good.  She'll even give Coraline her very own pair of button eyes!

Coraline is a smart girl & she refuses.  When she heads back home, however, things are askew.  Her parents do not come home after a shopping excursion!  After some time, she figures out that the Other Mother is not playing nice anymore and goes back through the tunnel to get them back.  This is where things get especially creepy & Coraline must be brave & smart if she wants her old life - and old parents - back.

There are 2 things that will stay with you for a long time if you read this book:  the imagery, and the creepies!  I still can picture in my mind's eye the tunnel, the perfect sitting room with the snowglobe on the mantle, the Other Father in the basement (that one gets filed under both imagery & creepies).  The author does an excellent job of creating lavish images that tend to reverberate.

Then there's the creep factor, another skill the author puts to good use in this book.  There's the aforementioned Other Father in the basement scene (seriously, that was the creepiest/scariest scene), being alone in the house when one suspects evil things have happened to one's parents, a multitude of rats....and of course, the Other Mother's hand!!!!  I won't go into too much detail, but there are many scary & creepy things happening here.  But, you've got to hand it to Coraline....she keeps her wits about her & tackles her problem with courage & intelligence (and some help from the talking cat).

I know this book is marketed to children, but I would think twice before reading it to young children or even letting tweens read it.  I think it's more of a PG-13 (and up) kind of read, but it all depends on the individual.  I also have not seen the movie, but have it on reserve at the library!

On a final note, Neil Gaiman is a wonderful performer on the book on CD, so if you enjoy audio books, definitely listen to it vs. reading the hardcover.  So there's yet another attribute Mr. Gaiman posses - painting a lively image, giving us the creeps, and reading us a really great story!


Sunday, October 10, 2010

Check out my pic in Pickerington Magazine

A few weeks ago, I submitted several photos for the annual "shutterbug" feature in Pickerington Magazine.  I'm happy to say that one of my photos made it in!  Mine is the picture of the geese:

Here is the link to Pickerington Magazine's website, although I couldn't access the article online.  I guess this is an annual feature for them, so I'll make sure to keep taking shots in Pickerington & hopefully, I'll get more pictures in the magazine in the future.  I was fortunate to have 2 photos in last year's magazine.....and one of those was the cover shot!!!!  Here is the shot that was on the cover of the Oct/Nov 2009 issue:

I've been deleting photos off the computer to make more space & the Geese at Sycamore file was one of those.....sorry, I wanted to show it a little better.  But if you are in Pickerington, Ohio this Fall, pick up a copy of the magazine & check out the article.

I just wanted to share my good news with you!

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Candy Corn Hat

If you guessed candy corn hat from the hint in my last post as to what project I'm working on, you're correct!  And now it's a FO, or finished object.  It's so cute, too!  It's a present for a friend's baby, but once the Bachsters saw it, they all wanted one.  So, I might be making a few more in the near future - good thing it was quick!

Here is the link to my ravelry page & you can check out the size modifications I made (I think you need to register with ravelry to see the page, however).  I hope it fits the little one I made it for!

Have a great evening everyone!

Friday, October 8, 2010

A new WIP

I keep adding new Work In Progresses!  I currently have 3 knitting projects going on & I've just added a 4th!  I'm leaning a new technique for this one - knitting with double pointed needles.  I had to rip out my first attempt,. but I'm happy to report that attempt #2 is going well.  Here's a pic of the yarn I'm working with:

It's Cascade 220 - I've never used it before.  I'm loving the yellow & keep thinking to myself.......this would make a great sweater.  But there's just no room for a 5th WIP right now!

Based on the colors, do you have any guesses what I might be making?   Mmmmm.......I mean, hmmmmm!


Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Book Nook - Fletcher and the Falling Leaves

The other day, Little Guy & I were at the park & we saw some of the first leaves of autumn falling.  I commented on this & he said, "poor little trees."  I couldn't help but think of this week's book.....

Fletcher and the Falling Leaves is a sweet book about a little fox who has some serious concerns about his favorite tree.  As autumn turns the leaves to brown, and then they start to fall, Fletcher worries that his tree is sick and does everything he can to help it.  His efforts include tying leaves back on the branches, calling for help loudly & tucking the last leaf into bed to make sure it is safe & sound.

The story is rather soft & gentle and the illustrations mirror the tone nicely.  I love that you can actually see the texture of the watercolor paper - it's as if you are holding the original.  The colors are soft & muted & lovely.  And our main character's illustrations are as sweet & cute as his personality.  There's also a nice, sparkly surprise at the end.

There are 2 more Fletcher books, apparently - a Spring-related one and a Christmas-related one.  I haven't read them, but I would love to check them out.  I love trees, & I would be happy to share a book (or in this case, all 3 Fletcher books) about trees & how cool they are with my Bachsters.

By the way, on a little side note, I realize this is Tuesday & Book Nook is a Monday tradition.  All I can say is, the dog ate my homework!

I hope you are enjoying the first weeks of Autumn!

Sunday, October 3, 2010

French Week wrap-up

Like all vacations it seems, there just wasn't enough time to do it all here at French Week(s).  I really wanted to seek out authentic French cafe au lait, but didn't get the chance (I'm not a coffee drinker usually, but the cafe au lait in Paris was fabulous & if/when we go back, the first thing I'm going to do is get coffee)!  I also didn't get a chance to watch my favorite movie of all time (which happens to be French), Amelie.  And I'm working on a little France-related knitting project that I was hoping to have wrapped up for the French Week(s) finale, but malheureusement, it is not ready.  So, we may have a petite French Week coming soon!

Here is a teaser of the knitting project I've been working on:

I think it will turn out cute - I'll post it as soon as it's done!

Anyway, on our last full day in France, we visited Versailles!  It was wonderful, beautiful, gorgeous, amazing, etc, etc.!  I am so glad we went there!  It was one of my favorite parts of our trip.

The palace itself is beautiful & huge and you can walk through various rooms & see works of art & furnishings (like Marie Antoinette's bed).  DH took a picture of me standing in front of a fireplace & the log is twice the length of my body - everything there is so grand!  And then there's the outside of the palace - the fountains (which we saw running) & the gardens are so opulent.  If you explore even further, you will come across the Grand Trianon Palace, which was King Louis XIV's palace-on-the-side.  I think we were the only ones there, so we pretended that it was all ours!  Outside, there were brides everywhere - we came across like 3 or 4 of them, all getting their professional photos done!  What a gorgeous setting for wedding photography!

We also explored the Petit Trianon (I regret that we didn't go in - next time, we will for certain!), the temple of love, which Marie Antoinette had built for her husband & Marie Antoinette's hamlet.  If you go to Versailles, you must check these out!  It's sort of off the beaten path, but these areas are not only beautiful, but they also give you a well rounded view of Versailles as a whole.  We were practically the only tourists in all these parts of Versailles - it was just us & the brides!

That same day, we also went to see Sacre-Couer.  As you can see, we had perfect September weather:

The funny thing about Paris is that there are so many opportunities for a good view.  You can go up in the Eiffel Tower of course, but also in many of the cathedrals, departments stores, museums, etc.  So, we could have gone up in Sacre-Couer, but we chose not to - next time we will!  We did go inside the cathedral & there was mass, so we popped in & out - it was beautiful!

We did ride up the big Montmartre hill on the funicular, which was cool.  Seriously, we did so much walking on our trip that any time we saw an elevator or a funicular, we jumped at the chance!  We stayed in the Montmartre area that evening for dinner & DH asked the waiter to take our picture (gasp!  I didn't think French waiters were open to that sort of thing - but he politely obliged & my eyes are closed for the pic)!  We also took a Seine river cruise that night, which was neat at night.  I particularly loved seeing the buttresses of Notre Dame from the boat, as we did not see them when we visited the cathedral.

My intention today was to watch Amelie & eat creme brulee - I only got to the creme brulee part!  But it was delicious!

I got the recipe from The Best Recipe - very quick & easy and I always tell myself that I need to double it because it goes fast around here.  I usually make creme brulee on New Year's Day - that's my goofy little tradition because it rhymes!

In conclusion to French Week(s), if you ever get a chance to go to France, go!!!  I hope we can go back someday.  It is so wonderful.  I just don't have the words to do it justice.  And if you go, please share your pics with me!


Saturday, October 2, 2010

More French Week

French Week has been somewhat postponed this week due to a technical difficulty - I've maxed out our computer with my pictures!  So, I've been saving them onto disks and deleting, but honestly, I'm a delete-phobe.  That's what got me into this predicament in the first place!  I'm happy to report that I've cleared enough space to save some of my French week photos & share them here......quelle joie!

On day 3 of our Paris trip (9 years ago), DH and I did the following: visited Napoleon's tomb & Les Invalides museum, visited the Rodin museum, went to Rue Cler & went all the way up the Eiffel Tower!  Another busy & fabulous day!

Here's a pic from Les Invalides museum:

There were hundreds of suits of armor at this museum, so if you are at all interested in that sort of thing, I definitely recommend going.  It was so interesting to see all of the detail that went into the armor.  Also interesting was the size - many of them were quite small!  There were a couple of rooms in which they had all the suits of armor just lined up, sort of staring at you - very cool!

We headed over to the Rodin Museum next, which is housed in the artist's home.  It was really beautiful & you can wander around among all the sculptures inside & out.  The Thinker is there, as well as a great view of the Eiffel Tower.

I don't have a great photo of Rue Cler to share, but if you go to Paris, you must go there!  It's just a street with lots of little food shops, but it is so...."authentic" is the best word.  You will come across lots of nice people who cannot speak English at all.  You will get a glimpse of real Paris, not the touristy one.  We also got the best meal of the trip at Rue Cler - a crusty baguette, some French wine, some cheese & chocolates.  We ate it in our hotel room that night and it was divine!

Speaking of wine, I popped open a bottle of wine earlier this week in celebration of France.  It's Red Bicyclette & I just got it at my local grocery store.  But it's good & it is French!

Little Guy & I went to La Chatelaine a few days ago - they are a French bakery/bistro/restaurant here in Columbus, OH.  They have the best croissants, which are a must when one celebrates French week, n'est-ce pas?

We took some home to the Bach Haus, but they didn't last long.  We also got a napoleon (also a must for the occasion) as well as a chocolate mouse, which caused some trouble when it was revealed that he was to be divided up!

All week, we've been listening to some vintage French music from a CD called Vive la France.  The Bachsters really seem to like it, which proves that they got my French-lovin' genes.  The songs are all from the 1930s & 40s.  One of my favorites is Bel Ami by Tino Rossi.  My 5 year old commented that they were singing about a fairy & I had to explain that no, it's Paris, except in France they say it like pear-eeeee.  Fairy - isn't that cute!

I told DH the other day that we need to start saving up now, because I want to go back!