Monday, December 30, 2013

Book Nook - Best of 2013

Looking back at 2013, it wasn't my best year for reading.  I just didn't have as much time as usual to read and I also didn't knit as much as usual (therefore greatly reducing my books-on-CD time).  But, despite this, there were still a few books that I just loved - here they are, my favorites from the year:

Favorite Biography: Storyteller
I absolutely love Roald Dahl's work, and over the past year or two, the Bachsters and I have read just about every book of his that we could get our hands on.  So, it was only logical to move from reading books by Roald Dahl to reading books about him.  He really led an amazing life and was quite an interesting character.  And since reading the book & posting about it on Book Nook, I've discovered his favorite color was yellow!   Here's the link to the post.

Favorite Non-Fiction book: The Creative Habit
Reading books on the subject of creativity was a big thing with me in 2013.  And this was one of my favorite books I read from the year, on any subject.  Twyla Tharp is intelligent, honest, encouraging and inspiring.  Her insights into creativity were real eye-openers for me.  This is definitely one that I will re-read.  Here's the link.

Favorite work of fiction: tie (and both YA)!

The Fault in Our Stars - don't you just love it when you can remember details from a book months after you read it?  The imagery from this book strongly resonated with me: the church basement where the group therapy is held, Isaac's crazy glasses, the back yard swing set, the flowers everywhere in Amsterdam.  What's more, I can remember conversations from the book, as if they were coming from my own life.  The guy who bought the swing set ("I just want them to go outside" he said of his kids) - I can remember a few more, but they contain spoilers!  This book is a wonderful story that will stay with you long after you finish it.  Here's the link.

I Capture the Castle - I loved getting lost in this book over the summer.  I loved Dodie Smith's writing, I loved our narrator Cassandra, I loved the quirky life she and her family lead.  Reading it felt like hanging out with a friend.  Here's the link.

Favorite kid books:  The Penderwicks
We discovered the Penderwick series this year, and had a blast reading the stories at bedtime.  We quickly worked our way through the first 3 books, and are anxiously awaiting the next installment.  This story of 4 young sisters was pure pleasure to read aloud: everyone laughed along with the story, our oldest DD found a character she could relate to (Skye), and we squirmed when a character got herself into a fix.  These are great books to be shared and read aloud.  Here's the link.

Honorable Mention: 

Howl's Moving Castle - this is only an HM because I didn't actually put it on Book Nook in 2013 (it showed up in 2012).  The funny thing is, when I first read it, I loved it so much that I wanted to re-read it right away (which, of course, I did)!  Earlier this year, I read it as a bedtime story to the Bachsters, and it quickly became one of their favorite books, and they also wanted to re-read it again right away (which, of course, we did)!  DD just got her own copy of the book, and she's been reading it again on her own.  This one is one of our absolute favorites.  Here's the link.

Harry Potter - this series has been a big part of our Fall this year.  We're currently on the third book, and I haven't decided if we'll just read them all now or wait until everyone gets a little older (they do get a bit dark later in the series).  Actually, as I write this, I already know the answer: read it now!  Our oldest is going through a big HP phase right now, and if it weren't for her new Howl's Moving Castle copy, she'd be re-reading one of the HP books.  This series is just pure fun to read aloud.  Here's the link.

What are some of your favorite books from 2013?


Sunday Brunch - {best of 2013}

Like most people, at the end of the year, I can't help but do a little reflecting.  Thinking back on the past year, what was good, what wasn't so good, what do I take with me to the next year, and what have I completely forgotten.  This is where having a blog comes in handy, as I can can just peruse through my post titles to jog my memory!

Anyway, every year, I look back on certain features of my little blog and do a "best of" - books, recipes, photos, etc.  My foodie interests were divided this year - half of the year was devoted to ice cream, the other half to other recipes.  So, here are a few of my favorites from 2013......

From Ice Cream Sundays:

Crème brûlée ice cream - I'm especially thrilled about this "recipe" since I thought of it myself - vanilla ice cream treated like crème brûlée, with carmelized sugar on top of rich vanilla ice cream.  Every New Year's Day, I make crème brûlée (solely because it rhymes - I'm goofy like that); perhaps for 2014 I'll branch out and make crème brûlée ice cream!  Here is the link to the post.

Brown butter ice cream - Goodness, this ice cream is wonderful!  I tried the recipe back in the Spring, made it for DH for his birthday in June because he loved it so much, and then recently considered making it for homemade Christmas gifts (instead, I went with the far more transportable homemade caramel sauce from here).  But that's the thing about brown butter ice cream.  When you ask yourself what is a really great ice cream to make for a special celebration or holiday, this one always makes the list.  Here's the link.

Peanut Butter Milkshakes - Just the other day, the subject of milkshakes came up, and every single person in the Bach family waxed poetic about my peanut butter milkshakes.  Everyone, including Ranger.  The easiest recipe ever (vanilla ice cream + peanut butter) somehow transforms into this magical concoction.  It was so worth getting robbed out of my fair share of babysitting money just to get the recipe. Here's the link.

From Sunday Brunch:

You might have picked up on the fact that I have a sweet tooth, with all these sweets and desserts I go on and on about!  I do love my sweets, but I'm also trying to eat healthy (er, not until 2014.  You don't have to do your resolutions until after the new year, right?).  Anyway, I'm always really excited when I find a savory recipe that I love - here are a few:

Butternut squash soup - I ate this entire recipe myself, with the exception of one tiny bowl I allowed DH to have (don't worry, it wasn't all in one sitting!).  This is how real cooking feels to me: simple ingredients and a lot of work, with amazing results.  Here's the link.

Caprese salad - DH and I went to a wedding a couple of weeks ago, and they served caprese salad at the reception.  Why had I forgotten all about caprese salad?  It's so simple and so delicious and so good for you.  Here's the link.

Broccoli Slaw - I'm cheating here a little because this recipe was on Book Nook, not Sunday Brunch.  No biggie, because I really need to tell you how great this recipe is.  I make it all the time.  This is the only recipe that will get me to eat raw broccoli, something I've never liked before.  DH commented the other day, "I don't think I'll ever get tired of this."  I agree!  Here's the link. 

Favorite tried-and-true recipe:
Buttermilk pancakes - I make these pancakes probably once a week.  One of these days (soon) I'm going to need to double the recipe for my little big eaters.  I love that I'm passing down happy-pancake-memories to the Bachsters, just like my mom did with me when I was a pancake-eating-kid.  Here's the link.  

 Favorite new recipe:
Butterscotch pudding - The other day, I made traditional chocolate pudding (with milk and cornstarch).  While I was making it, I was actually dreaming about this recipe for butterscotch pudding, and wishing I was making it instead.  It's so fabulous, and delicious, and marvelous (and any other positive -ous words you can think of) that it felt a little sacrilege to be making something other than butterscotch pudding.  Here's the link.

What are some of your favorite recipes from 2013?  


Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Christmas 2013

We've made our Christmas lists.............

We've counted down on our Advent calendar (a new tradition for us)...........

We've made our gingerbread houses...................

We've put out the cookies (peppermint bark, yum) and carrots for the reindeer..............

Santa - we are ready!!!

Wishing you a very Merry Christmas!


Sunday, December 22, 2013

Sunday Brunch - {buttermilk biscuits}

I hesitated to put this picture on Sunday Brunch because when our oldest DD saw it, she scrunched up her face and said "ewww, what is that?"  These are never good comments where food photography is concerned.

But the more I looked at the picture, the more I liked it and the more I realize that it showcases the biscuits at their best - moist and flaky, with lots of honey drizzled on top.

We've been making and enjoying these biscuits for years now.  They are a snap to make, and bake in less than 20 minutes.  They work for breakfast as well as supper, and snacks in between.  Make sure you have lots of honey on hand (we use local honey from Conrad's Hive and Honey). 

The recipe is from Martha Stewart (of course!) - here's the link.  By the way, I never mess with rolling out the dough and using biscuit cutters.  Just plop a big spoonful on your baking sheet, and you're good to go!  Some Bachsters may be a little finicky with how the biscuits look in a photo, but no one has ever turned their nose up at a less-than-perfectly-shaped biscuit on their plate!


Monday, December 16, 2013

Book Nook - books I'm reading now

I always have a few books sitting around in various stages of being read (ok, it's usually more than a few).  I thought I'd share some books from my latest pile!

Curious Critters by David FitzSimmons:


I just love a well-photographed nature book geared for children.  When I spotted this book at the book fair this Fall at the Bachsters' school, I made a beeline for it - that perfect froggy shot on the cover was "croaking" to me.  How in the world does FitzSimmons do it?  Gorgeous photos of animals, all on a white background......but how did he get the blue jay there?  How did he clean up that turtle?  And where did he find a pink katydid?  Luckily, there is a website for the book, and I'm definitely going to check it out.  I was especially pleased to discover that the author/photographer lives in Ohio!

Feed Your Face: Younger, Smoother Skin and a Beautiful Body in 28 Delicious Days by Jessica Wu, M.D.:

I can't believe that the medical community thought that what you eat has no affect on your skin (until recently, that is).  It seems so logical that our diet impacts our skin.  Yet many doctors don't know this, or focus on diet when meeting with a patient.  And that's where Dr. Wu comes in - her whole focus is on improving your eating habits to improve your skin.  Rashes, rosacea, eczema, wrinkles and other dermatology concerns are all discussed.  Do you have rosacea?  Avoid spicy foods.  Worried about aging and your skin?  Eat anti-aging fruits like strawberries and blueberries.  In addition to lots of great information about specific foods in relation to specific concerns, there's also great advice on topical solutions, a section on cosmetic procedures and lots and lots of real life stories from her patients (& some of her celebrity patients).

How to Read Novels Like a Professor by Thomas C. Foster:

I keep renewing and renewing this book at my library - it's made a permanent mark on my ottoman because it's been sitting there so long.  But I really want to read it (sadly, I have yet to give it any time other than some quick flip-throughs).  But in those few minutes looking through it here and there, I love what I've seen - well known novels discussed for their plots, characters and other attributes that make a great novel.  I'm hoping to make some time for this book soon (if not, I still have several renewals at my command).

Knit Your Own Zombie by Fiona Goble:

Shhhh....can you keep a secret?  A certain 10 year old might just be getting a knitted zombie made by her mama this Christmas.  If not Christmas, then a New Year's gift (hey, nothing rings in the New Year like a handmade knitted toy.  Even if it is a bit disturbing to look at).  DD loves zombies, and when I came across this book, I knew I just had to make her one.  Zombie is next in line after I finish my current toy, but I'm happy to say that he will be a stash buster!  So, here's a book I've been reading, but a little covertly, and it certainly isn't on display on the coffee table.  It's quietly tucked away in a big pile of papers, where DD's wandering eyes never peek.  Sounds like a perfect place for the zombie apocalypse to begin!

What book(s) are you reading (or intending to read) right now?


Sunday, December 15, 2013

Sunday Brunch - {blueberry muffins}

Have I told you about these yummy blueberry muffins yet?  They're our favorite, and whenever I want to make muffins, this is the recipe I'll pull out. 

The recipe is from Martha Stewart's Baking Handbook (here's a link to an old post about the book - I knew I had talked about this recipe before!).

The are really easy to make - I use frozen wild blueberries in ours, but I think they'd be just as delicious with other berries.  The batter is especially good - the Bachsters always call dibs on the beaters.

The trick to getting the blueberries not to sink to the bottom of the muffins is to toss them in a bit of the flour mixture.  What a simple idea, and it works like a charm every time.


Monday, December 9, 2013

Book Nook - Christmas Crafting with Kids

Christmas Crafting with Kids: 35 projects for the festive season, by Catherine Woram:

You know what I love best about Christmas Crafting with Kids?  DD, age 8, picked it out herself at the library and proceeded to find an interesting craft project all on her own, and completed it without any help from me.  How's that for autonomy?

This is really a neat little holiday craft book.  There are lots of fun projects in it, and most of them seem pretty easy for kids to pull off on their own (there are some sewing projects & a gingerbread house that might be a little more intensive).  Most of the projects are easy-peasy, with darling, I-made-this-myself results.  DD's project was a homemade snowglobe from an old jelly jar.  And as I mentioned, she did everything herself (including wrapping it - it's all ready to go for DH to open on Christmas).  Because so many of the projects are simple, and use easy-to-find materials that you probably already have, this is a great book to get crafty gift and decorating ideas from.  And it would be especially handy to have during those several days when the kids are off of school, before Christmas arrives.  They are always looking for fun holiday activities then.....well, here's 35 of 'em!

Of course, I can't not notice the photography, and I really like the photos here, especially because all the child models see to really be enjoying themselves (and also, many of them are concentrating on their project with a lot of intensity!).  They seem to be having a lot of fun, which is what this book is all about.

Have you & your family been doing any holiday crafts this season?


Sunday, December 8, 2013

Sunday Brunch - {butternut squash soup}

Actually, the name of this recipe is butternut squash soup with brown butter, sage, and nutmeg creme fraiche.

Or, if you want to get really technical, soupe de courge au beurre noisette et a la creme fraiche muscadee.

The recipe is from Bouchon by Thomas Keller, and it is, I'll admit a more complex recipe.  As I was making it, DH kept asking, "are you still making that soup?"  But sometimes, complexity yields amazing results and this is one of those times.  It's a remarkable soup, sweet from the butternut squash, with lots of flavor from the "back of the house" ingredients.  I've tried other butternut squash soups before, but this one's a keeper.

I did things a little different on some of the steps.  I forgot all about the "bouquet garni" (see, I told you it was complex), so a quick google search led me to a dried-ingredient version that I ended up using.  I also didn't allow the soup to cool and reheat - I'm far too impatient for that!  Finally, the addition of the creme fresh with nutmeg was nice, but not a must.  Serving the soup plain, with no creme fraiche or sauteed sage leaves was fine by me, in fact omitting them just got me to the soup faster.

And since it took so long to make, that was just fine by me.


Monday, December 2, 2013

Book Nook - The 13 Clocks

The 13 Clocks by James Thurber:

A few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to do a photo shoot at the Thurber House here in Columbus, Ohio.  This is the home where writer and illustrator James Thurber once lived (more about it here).  As soon as I got home, I immediately got online to check out two things: first, to see if any historical homes were for sale in our area (seriously, I just fell in love with the house and all its nooks and crannies).  And secondly, I logged on to my local library's website to check out books by James Thurber.

Published in 1950, The 13 Clocks is a wonderfully inventive tale, a sort of dark-fairy-tale I suppose.  There is a princess locked up in a castle; there is a threatening villain; there is our hero, a prince in disguise.  But even though the premise has been done before, what makes it inventive is Thurber's wit and confidence in his words.  Seemingly out of nowhere, you'll get a sentence like this: "the brambles and the thorns grew thick and thicker in a ticking thicket of bickering crickets."  It's like the equivalent of characters bursting into song in a musical.

Here's another good example of Thurber's fine writing: "her voice was faraway music, and her eyes were candles burning on a tranquil night."  Even Thurber's foreword is endearing: "Miss Williams, who is four, insisted on oleanders in the Princess's hair instead of freesias, and there were several grueling conferences about this, from which I barely emerged the winner."

My biggest take-away from this book is that it reminds me just how much an author infuses (is that the right word?) the work with themselves.  To enjoy a good book is almost like enjoying time spent with a good friend - the work is merely an extension of the person who created it.  Reading one of Thurber's stories, spending time in his childhood home, it all helped me figure out who James Thurber was.  I like him very much and look forward to the next adventure!


Sunday, December 1, 2013

Sunday Brunch - {thanksgiving edition}

Oh, what a great Thanksgiving this was!  We visited both sides of the family (which meant a lot of driving around the state of Ohio, but also lots of car knitting - bonus!).  Because we had two dinners, we made twice the amount of goodies as usual.  And because the Bach family is usually running late, we offered to bring desserts!

One of the things we brought to both family dinners were these cute Oreo turkeys.  They were a big hit with the family.  The Bachsters and I had a blast making them (and eating all their pieces and parts) the day before Thanksgiving.  I got the recipe here.

I made this wonderful apple coffee cake for the dinner with my side of the family.  The recipe is from the September issue of Country Living.  In fact, this is the shot that ran in the issue!  This cake is so moist and super-sweet, and it actually holds up for a few days.  I was so happy we had leftovers!

DH made sourdough bread for the dinner with his family.  His bread is always amazing, and he never needs to look at a recipe, which boggles my mind!

I've got to admit - I was so excited about my turtle cheesecake that we took to DH's family dinner.  It's the one thing I was really looking forward to.  And it did not disappoint.  I made a fabulous cheesecake that turns out perfect every time, from The Best Recipe.  I substituted their crust for a crust with Newman-O's and melted butter.  Then, I topped it with toasted pecans, a drizzle of bittersweet chocolate, and (the best part) creamy caramel sauce from The Perfect Scoop by David Lebovitz.  Seriously, if all we were having for Thanksgiving were creamy caramel sauce, I'd have been happy.  But it did make quite a pairing with the cheesecake - it was wonderful!  I hoarded all the leftovers for myself!

And, our families both had big, wonderful meals for everyone with all the traditional dishes.  It was a very delicious day!

I hope you had a wonderful Thanksgiving, too!

Monday, November 25, 2013

Book Nook - The Big Year

The Big Year: A Tale of Man, Nature and Fowl Obsession by Mark Obmascik:

I had no idea that Big Years existed until I saw an article in an old magazine (Country Living, actually) and heard about the movie based on the book.  When I came across that old article again recently, I was reminded about Big Years and wanted to read about something completely new to me: the world of birding.

A birder who sets out to see as many different types of birds as possible in North America in one year (the record being 745) is said to be doing a "big year."  There is a huge amount of travel involved, as you can imagine, as well as expense (one of the competitors in the book spent $60,000).  There are quirks that one must try to work around, such as getting the bird identifications correct, and making sure you have some proof that you actually saw this bird, like a witness.  A common bird in your area might end up being tough to find, and you'll spot it several states away.  You'll probably need to charter a helicopter to spot a Himalayan snowcock (and might even have to find it in its mountain home in a snowstorm).  You might return home after days or weeks of non-stop travel, only to receive an urgent phone call that a rare bird you need for your list has been spotted across the country - and you pack your bags and head right out again.

All of these scenarios happened to the three birders in this true story: Greg Miller, Al Levanthin and Sandy Komito.  I'm not sure which is a better description of these three men: determined or insane.  The lengths they go through to find specific birds is mind-boggling to the non-birder.  Birders reading this book, however, will probably find themselves quite envious of some of the rare species found in far-flung places (a great knot at Attu....terns, boobies and noddies at Dry Tortugas).  There are birds spotted in strangers' backyards, birds spotted at the dump, in parking lots, in National Parks, on pelagic trips, in fields in the middle of nowhere.

I was chatting with a birder about this book and he said that birding isn't really competitive.  But I could see how Miller, Lavanthin and Komito fell into serious competition: each was giving up a lot of time and money to see if they could break the record.  They also happened to be competing in 1998, year of El Nino and crazy storms that washed up all sorts of unusual birds on Attu and elsewhere.  They were in the right place at the right time, and would stop at nothing to win.

I think I'll stick to just photographing local birds, but I loved reading about the great lengths some people will go just to spot a once-in-a-lifetime bird.  As the book's title shows, it is an obsession.


Sunday, November 24, 2013

Sunday Brunch - {butterscotch pudding}

"Whoa, that's rich.........I like it."

That's what DH had to say when he first tried the butterscotch pudding from the excellent The Craft of Baking.  And they were my thoughts, exactly.

These dreamy little puddings are made with heavy cream (not milk) and egg yolks (not corn starch) - very different from traditional pudding.  You also bake them in a bain-marie.  I wonder if this recipe is identical to pots-de-creme?  Hmmm, I must look into that (and do some baking research to compare as well!).*

One note on the recipe: there must be a typo on the part where you make the butterscotch.  Cooking the sugar/water mixture on high for 15 minutes is a tragic error.  My house smoked up and all was lost about halfway through (the ingredients, that is - not the house!).  So, I re-did the sugar/water combination and set it at medium high and just kept a close eye on it.  Again, about halfway through it was done....but this time it was perfect!

These were delicious both warm and cold - if you can keep them around long enough without being eaten, all they need is a quick stir to restore their consistency.  But it's very difficult to keep them for any length of time after you eat the first one, so this probably won't be of concern.

This is one of my favorite recipes of the year.......I'm never making traditional pudding again!

*I couldn't wait to look up some recipes, so I can tell you - these are pots-de-creme.  Our author just calls them pudding.  I really don't think the word pudding does them justice.  I don't think my photo does them justice either - perhaps I should make them again to re-shoot?  Brilliant idea!

Monday, November 18, 2013

Book Nook - Do What You Are

Do What You Are: Discover the Perfect Career for You Through the Secrets of Personality Type by Paul D. Tieger and Barbara Barron-Tieger:

DH found a really funny thing online somewhere that shows you which Harry Potter character you are based on your Myers-Briggs score (I'm Luna Lovegood).  There's also one out there for Star Wars characters (Luke Skywalker here).  We got such a kick out of these, that it got me thinking about Do What You Are, a book that I have pored over in the past and still get out from time to time.

The book starts by giving you a mini Myers-Briggs test to determine your personality type.  There are four dimensions: extraversion vs. introversion; sensing vs. intuition; thinking vs. feeling; judging vs. perceiving.  Your answers in relation to these four areas make up your personality type.  After you determine which type you are, the next part of the book gives a run-down on each type.  There's also some interesting information about your dominant vs. auxiliary function and type in relation to your age.

Then, the next chapters are devoted on more in-depth information about each personality type, specifically how each relates to work.  Examples of individuals with your type are given, as well as your career strengths and weaknesses, what career satisfaction would look like for your specific type, good occupations for your type and pathways to job search success (and potential pitfalls).  This section is really in depth and takes almost the rest of the book.  But this is what you came for: to read all about your own type and how things are for you out in the real world.

Obviously, this book is going to appeal most to people who are looking to make a career move or switch jobs, someone hunting for their very first job, or someone who might wonder what their true calling is.  I used this book a lot when I was first out of college (my edition is older, obviously - I think it's been updated a couple of times since then).  But, even if you don't fall into any of those descriptions career-wise, it's still a really interesting book, and may open your eyes on why you chose the career or job you are in.  For me, I found it very interesting that almost all of the careers I considered at one point are listed in my pages (except for astronaut.....I really wanted to be an astronaut when I was a kid!  It must have been a personality "fling.").

So, which Myers-Briggs type are you?  I'm an INFP - anyone else?


Sunday, November 17, 2013

Sunday Brunch - {pumpkin crisp}

When I made apple crisp earlier this Fall, I wondered if I could find any similar recipes, but with pumpkin.  After some internet searching, I found some interesting recipes for pumpkin crisp that incorporate yellow cake, but nothing like what I was envisioning.  So, I decided to create it myself!

I used the same topping as the apple crisp from Martha Stewart (see the above link).  Why mess with perfection?  Here's what I used for the pumpkin part:

3 pound sugar pumpkin
3/4 cup sugar
3/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ginger
1/8 teaspoon cloves

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.  Cut up the pumpkin into small 1/2 inch cubes.  Toss pumpkin with the rest of the dry ingredients.  Bake pumpkin, without the topping, for 10 minutes.  Add Martha's topping and bake the whole thing for 55-60 minutes (cover with foil about halfway through if it starts to get too brown.  I always have to do this with crisps).

Serve warm - and here's the most important part - with ice cream!  Seriously, the ice cream is a definite must.  The crisp is a little dry because pumpkin doesn't have as much natural juices as other crisp fruit, like apples or peaches.  Also, I like this better the day after I made it.  Letting it sit out for a while gave the flavors a chance to develop and get even better.


Friday, November 15, 2013

The gift of time

Marie Antoinette.....Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.....Vincent Van Gogh.....Sylvia Plath.....Anne Frank.....Joan of Arc.....Princess Diana.....Caravaggio.....John Keats.....Alexander the Great.....

What do all these great historical figures have in common?  They all died at an early age.  And it seems rather strange to look at it this way, but I have spent more time on this Earth than any one of them did.

Earlier this week, I celebrated my birthday......a big one (4-0).  I try very hard not to think about age as a specific number.  Rather, I try to focus on being grateful.  I have something none of these great people had: my forties.  And each of them made a big impact in the short time that they lived; I can only hope and try to make my own impact too.  Entering my forties doesn't feel like "getting old."  It feels like I've been given a remarkable gift, one that, sadly, not everyone is given.  And while some have changed the world in less than 40 years, I've been given a little more time to make a difference.

The best birthday gift ever: the gift of time.  I intend to use it well.


Monday, November 11, 2013

Book Nook - Charmed Life

Charmed Life by Diana Wynne Jones:

Usually, when I read stories to the Bachsters at night, we're all one big happy group enjoying a great story together.  But with Charmed Life, our oldest just didn't like the book*, so she chose to read by herself in her room while I read it with the other two Bachsters.  And I can see her point: it got off to a slow start.  But once you get into the story, it just takes off and is most amazing.

A little about the story: in the opening chapters, Cat Chant and his older sister Gwendolen, a witch, become orphans.  They go to live with kind Mrs. Sharp, until it is arranged that they live with the very mysterious Chrestomanci and his family in his castle.  There, the children are to receive an education, and Gwendolen magical studies.  But things don't go smoothly for headstrong Gwendolen, and Cat tags along as she plots and schemes one magical act of revenge after another, until things get out of hand and everyone's lives are changed dramatically.

There are elements of Harry Potter in the story (Charmed Life was published in 1977, so it's like the original Harry Potter): there is a mysterious, powerful figure whom people refuse to utter his real name; there are students receiving magical education (and doing magical hocus pocus); there is a main character who is an orphan who isn't aware of who he really is.  I hope I haven't given away too much of the story!

As we started the story, I thought it was interesting, but I could have set it down and been content to start something else.  But after a few chapters, the story gets better, and about halfway through, you're hooked.  Things all come together in a wonderfully unexpected way.  We're along for the ride, and the capable Diana Wynne Jones is our guide.  I actually got chills when the character Janet was introduced: our author knows her craft well and is a pleasure to spend time with (check out Howl's Moving Castle for another great Diana Wynne Jones book).  I'm getting ready to start the second Chrestomanci book, and am very excited to get back to this magical world.


*DD didn't want to join, but as she heard our excitement about the story, and probably overheard some of it, she couldn't help but ask question after question: so what happened to Gwendolen?  Was Chrestomanci good or bad?  I might just leave the book in her room, to see if she'll read it after all.  I hope she does - I hate to think that she's missing out on the fun!   

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Sunday Brunch - {applesauce muffins}

Applesauce muffins with cream-cheese's like having cupcakes for breakfast!

These muffins are so easy to make, and what I really love about them is that the recipe makes a lot - we got 21 muffins.  So, we enjoyed them two days in a row.  And they're easy to customize - I made half the batch without the toasted pecans (in response to Little Dude asking me not to put any in his).  And, if you don't have the time or desire to make homemade applesauce, no problem - you can use store-bought (we did).

Probably the best part, though, is that delicious cream cheese frosting.  As our 8-year-old was licking the frosting bowl, we decided that it would be wonderful with my pumpkin bread (have I shared that recipe yet?).  But not everyone in our house wanted the frosting on their muffin, so we kept it on the side - another way this recipe is so easy to make work for everyone's tastes.  Of course, it's from Martha Stewart (and my favorite issue of Living, October 2004.  I'm keeping this issue forever!).


Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Panther - part 2

A few weeks ago I blogged about this little stray kitty we've been taking care of, whom we named Panther.  She has just captured our hearts, this little one.  She has a squeak instead of a meow, she is absolutely tiny (6 pounds, we discovered), has little specs of gray scattered throughout her fur and is quiet a purr-er.

We've been feeding Panther and putting her in our garage at night, all while trying to find a good home for her.  DH and decided that we just can't have a cat right now - it would be way too difficult with Ranger.  One big dog + 2 lizards + all their crickets is enough for us (our 16-year-old cat, Cosmo, passed away in August).  So, we've been trying to find her a good home for a few weeks, by posting her picture everywhere, and telling everyone we know about her.

I feel really fortunate that I was able to secure her a place with a Central Ohio organization called Colony Cats.  They are a no-kill shelter that brings cats to our local pet store for adoption, as well as adopting cats out of their location.  I can't tell you how grateful I am to have her going to Colony Cats, where she will be in good hands while waiting for the right family to adopt her.  And she's such a sweetie, I have no doubt that it won't take long.

Unfortunately, right after Colony Cats contacted me to accept her, there was an accident in our garage during the night - a tire (with the rim) somehow fell on Panther.  When I found her in the morning, her leg was trapped underneath.  I got her out immediately, and she spent the day resting on her bed in the garage.  I'm happy to say that her leg appeared to be fine the next day, and that she was walking around and moving without any difficulties.  I think she might have got hit in the face with the tire as well, but her little face was looking back to normal after her day of rest.  She's a resilient little thing, for certain.  We figure she only has 8 lives left at this point.

This morning, we took Panther to the vet to have her tire-injuries looked at and to get her vaccines and get spayed.  This was the last time we will see her, as she will be at Colony Cats from now on, until she finds her forever-home.  Can I tell you how sad I've been all day to give up this little one who has touched our hearts so very much in just a few weeks?  I thought the Bachsters would have a hard time giving her up, but it turns out, that I'm the one who is missing her the most (and seriously, I'm not even a big "cat person").

It's really amazing how pets can touch our hearts - which brings me to the next subject - Book Nook.  In all my worries about Panther, I forgot to do my usual Monday post.  And this week, I thought the perfect book would be one that celebrates animal warm-fuzzies.

True Love: 24 Surprising Stories of Animal Affection by Rachel Buchholz:

The stories are about animals and their devotion to other animals - siblings, parents, friends and mates for life.  Wild animals, pets and even a toy tortoise are featured.  One of the stories that melted my heart was the story of the mother lion who saved her lion cub.  There's also the goose that protects a Highland bull named Hamish, the brave donkey who rescued her sheep friend from an attacking dog.  Also, Jake the duck who traveled 8 miles through snowstorms and rough terrain to reunite with his true love after Jake was given to a neighboring farm.

There are lots of sweet, heartwarming stories in this little book, all with pictures of these amazing, loving animals.

While we are all missing Panther now, I feel a little better knowing that she is being well taken care of, and that one day soon, the right family will adopt her.  And looking through True Love has lifted my spirits quite a bit, too.


Sunday, November 3, 2013

Sunday Brunch - {apple vs. pumpkin}

Pumpkin pie is obligatory in our house every Fall.  And since we went apple picking recently, I wanted to make an apple pie with all our apples.  Making two different kinds of pie within a couple of days of each other gave us the chance to compare which pie we all like better.  It was an apple pie vs. pumpkin pie smackdown!

Our first competitor is a from-scratch apple pie, with a mixture of Winesap and Granny Smith apples.  I used a new recipe for a homemade crust that uses a lot of butter, and one that I immediately over-mixed because the crumbly stage never quite turned into the roll-it-out stage.  But I'm new to pie crust making, so perhaps I did something wrong.  This recipe is from Martha.

Next up is pumpkin pie, a Bach family perennial favorite.  I cheated and used a store-bought crust.  I made two and they were gone in a flash.  The recipe is from Libby.

And the results......3 Bachster votes for pumpkin pie.  1 Rhodesian Ridgeback vote for apple pie (he snatched the last couple of slices from the pan on the counter and gobbled them up while we were away).

3 against 1......pumpkin pie is declared our official winner!

Which do you like better - apple pie or pumpkin pie (or both!)?


Thursday, October 31, 2013

New yarn!

I have no business buying new yarn.  Like many knitters, I have a big stash of yarn from various projects completed, hibernating and plotted.  I have enough yarn in my stash to keep me busy for a very, very long time.  But where's the fun in that?

Recently, I was going through some stacks of old papers and came across a design for an afghan that I had forgotten all about.  I've been wanting to do another afghan lately, this one for the 8-year-old, and this design was just perfect for her (maybe I even created it with her in mind, but I just can't recall).  Starting on a new creative endeavor is so invigorating, and with cold weather around the corner, I wanted to get started right away.

I've been wanting to try Quince & Co. yarn for a long time, and it seemed like a perfect fit for my project.  I received my big 'ol box of yarn last week.  The yarn is sturdy yet soft, and I think it will knit up wonderfully.  The colors are beautiful, very true to the pictures on the Quince & Co. website. 

Here is my very colorful selection of Chickadee yarn: crocus, poppy, Carrie's yellow, cypress and parsley:

And the more subdued palette of Osprey yarn: bark, glacier, twig and egret:

I'm going to do some marathon knitting for this afghan, so hopefully I can show you the results soon.


Monday, October 28, 2013

Book Nook - Halloween books

The last couple of weeks have been a busy time for our family, gearing up for our Halloween party that we had yesterday.  I've been getting lots of books at the library on crafty Halloween activities - I thought I'd share a few!

Spooky & Bright: 101 Halloween Ideas from the Editors of Country Living (the national magazine, not the regional one that is near and dear to me):

So many cute ideas here!  I especially love the "finger" pen, mouse in a maze cake and the pumpkins.....all of their pumpkin ideas are great (but I especially love the fireplace pumpkins - genius!).

A Ghastly-Good Halloween: 201 Spooktacular Recipes, Crafts & Decorating Ideas by Gooseberry Patch:

I've heard of Gooseberry Patch before, but I didn't realize they are located in Central Ohio!   I was so excited to discover that!

There are so many great ideas in this neat book.  The one thing that made a big impression on me was all the recipes, and the beautiful food photography.  Perfect lighting, delicious-looking recipes - the majority of the book seems to be dedicated to food.  But that's ok, because it's all goodies you will want to make (especially the s'mores brownies...oh my goodness!).  I also love the candy corn pumpkins (there are also lots of other great pumpkin ideas here, too).  There's also a really cute owl costume for kids that looks suspiciously like my very own fabu-owl (which I promise to show pics soon).  Finally, there's a table with bones for legs that is just too cute!

Finally, I just had to use some of Martha's great ideas for our party - this book of hers was very useful.  We did the big-candy-favors and the bat-on-moon treat bags - pics coming soon!

Have you done any fun crafts to celebrate Halloween?


Sunday, October 27, 2013

Sunday Brunch - {Halloween cupcakes}

We just got back from our big Halloween party a few hours ago.  The past few days have been a whirlwind of crafty activity, all leading up to today's big event.  From cutting out bat templates, to making my owl costume, to heading up to the craft store for a last minute muslin purchase (that we didn't end up even using), it's been busy and crazy around here!

But not crazy enough to stop me from making cupcakes!  Normally, I would just figure that those last few days before the party will be hectic enough, and I spare myself any future stress by just ordering cupcakes or whatever party dessert we're having.  But this time, the Bachsters saw these cute little tiny murderous knives and just had to have them.  So, I found myself making 5 dozen cupcakes this morning.

I've made David's yellow cake from many, many times.  It's my go-to birthday cake, and it's delicious.  But I've never made the recipe as cupcakes before.  No problem - just cook them about 15 minutes, and keep checking them if they're not quite done.  I definitely wanted to make a tried and true recipe - no last minute recipe experimentation here.

A few tips I learned from the many comments about this recipe on the allrecipes website are first, have all your cold ingredients at room temperature.  Also, make sure to cream together the butter and sugar really well.  I usually just let it go for a few minutes with a hand mixer.  I follow the recipe to a T and it's always great.

I did cheat a little: I bought icing from our grocery store's bakery department.  And it saved me loads of time, time that I spent learning how to make pipe cleaner spiders and making giant candy shaped favors.  I promise to share some shots later this week!


Friday, October 25, 2013


"Panther is an older kitten - very fuzzy and very cute."

This is what my 8-year-old wants me to tell you about Panther.  I would like to also mention that she is a stray kitten who first made an appearance in our back yard early last week.  We've been feeding her since then, keeping her in our garage on cold nights and searching all over Columbus for a good home for her.

If you live in the Columbus, Ohio area and would like to adopt a really sweet, adorable & friendly kitten, please let me know.  I will meet you wherever is convenient, and will be happy to supply a bunch of food along with the little one.

Here's a picture of Panther from last week.  I can honestly say she's gotten a little bigger since this was taken.  We can attribute this to all that good food and snuggles from an adoring 8-year-old, I would imagine:


Monday, October 21, 2013

Book Nook - The Dirty Life

The Dirty Life: On Farming, Food, and Love by Kristin Kimball:

DH and I were talking a while back about moving into a different house, one that maybe had a little bit of land to it, or maybe some great fixer-upper deal, or even something just a little less 70s.  I joked at the time that maybe we should buy a farm.  We could have bees!  And chickens!  And a cow!  And all the organic local veggies we could eat!  I was only half serious, but the idea does have merit - you can eat healthy, homegrown food without having to pay a fortune for it.  Kristin Kimball addresses this very idea in her book The Dirty Life, when she tells us "the only way he [her future husband, Mark] would be able to afford the quality of food he craved, he said, was to become a banker or grow it himself, and he couldn't sit still long enough to be a banker."

The book is just as much about food as it is about farming.  Kimball details many of their cooking adventures.  I loved reading about what foodie-farmers eat - meals like pigeon with rice and caramelized onion, nettle soup, scrapple (pig parts) and black pudding (a mousse made from blood).  There's also wild strawberries, salad greens that don't need dressing and rich, golden butter.

In addition to telling us all about their love of good wholesome food, the author shares all the labor that goes into every bite.  And it's a whole lot of labor.  She writes, "in my experience, tranquil and simple are two things farming is not.  Nor is it lucrative, stable, safe, or easy.  Sometimes the work is enough to make you weep."  Weasels will kill your farm kittens, owls will kill your chickens, you will have to kill your lame horse.  And it's not just the life and death struggle that happens every day either.  From what our author tells us, farming is almost-impossible physical work.  The kind of work where you wake up after only a few hours of sleep, throw on yesterday's dirty clothes, and work until you practically fall over from exhaustion.  And the toll farming takes on a person's health can be a great one, from farmer's tans and permanent dirty fingernails to an elderly neighbor who "was a short figure on legs so insulted by decades of labor they hardly bent at the knee at all."

The book details their first year on the farm, all the struggles the author and her husband had to get there, and all the difficulties they had when they moved in.  It's a very real look at farming.  While it certainly made me second guess my half-hearted suggestion of buying a farm, it also gave me a renewed appreciation for our local farmers and all that they do.


Sunday, October 20, 2013

Sunday Brunch - {pumpkin muffins}

Over the last couple of weeks, I've had pumpkin muffins and pumpkin cupcakes on different occasions (I find it pretty impossible to say no to a pumpkin baked good).  They were delicious, and perfect for Fall.  It took a while, but it finally occurred to me that I could make something similar at home.

I got this recipe for pumpkin doughnut muffins from Martha Stewart (of course!).  I had all the ingredients on hand, including 3 hungry kids and a pumpkin-loving mama.  The best part is the cinnamon-sugar coating (but you could conceivably omit that part to make them a little healthier).  I loved how sparkly they were sitting on our kitchen table - I tried to capture that sparkle in my shot:

Sugary, sparkly, pumpkiny - I'm definitely making these again!


Friday, October 18, 2013


I have some good news to share - my shots are on the covers of Country Living Magazine's September and October issues!

Here's the September issue:

This shoot was done at Lynd's Fruit Farm in Pataskala Ohio in late July.  I had the whole orchard to myself and shot away contentedly for a couple of hours until it started to rain.  Then, I visited Lynd's market and bought some of the best cheese ever, and delicious peaches for our peach-loving 10-year-old.

I didn't realize how huge that wooden crate actually was until I started filling it with apples!  I had purchased a bunch of apples at the store, but I ended up gathering up lots of fallen apples to fill up that big crate.  I actually had two crates, but it took so long to fill up the first one, I decided to let the other crate sit it out in my car!

Thank you again, Lynd's!

For the October shot, DH and I went to Mansfield Ohio to shoot at the Ohio State Reformatory.  DH was a real trooper, carrying some of my gear and agreeing to be a "ghost" in some of the shots.  I even made him run back into the building and go up 3 or 4 flights of stairs because I didn't get one of my shots just right.  Not to mention we were there for several hours shooting - thank you again, DH!

The Reformatory is an abandoned prison.  If you've ever seen the movie The Shawshank Redemption, this is where they shot it (very good movie, by the way).  Of course, it doesn't look anything like it did in the film.  There is rust, dust, peeling paint, asbestos, broken windows and such.  But it is a really fascinating place.  I processed most of my shots as HDR, and for some reason, I can't save them as JPEGs.  So, you'll just have to settle for a few out-takes - sorry!

This shot was on the way up to the tuberculosis ward, which us normally closed off to visitors.  The folks at the Reformatory gave us all-access, however, which was so incredibly nice of them.  I just really love this shot for some reason (this is SOOC - straight out of camera):

I tried to get some spooky shots for the magazine, since it was for the October issue.  The Reformatory is pretty spooky as-is, so it wasn't too much of a challenge!  This shot was in the solitary confinement area, which was one of the creepiest parts of the Reformatory.  I definitely wouldn't want to get trapped in there!

Here is the link to Country Living Magazine, if you'd like to see the October cover shot (there's also a second shot in the article about the Reformatory).  If you do check out the magazine, please check out some of the past issues - I also have shots in Food Scene in the Jan.-Sept. issues.


Monday, October 14, 2013

Book Nook - The Creative Habit

The Creative Habit: Learn it and Use it for Life by Twyla Tharp:

If you read any of my regular Book Nook postings, you might see that I'm somewhat a creative-book-addict.  I've read Daily Rituals, The War of ArtIgnore Everybody and one of my favorite books, Steal Like an Artist.  I'll share a secret with you that will hopefully explain why I gravitate towards this kind of book.  Probably about 5 years ago, I had a mini-creative-Renaissance.  Creative ideas were popping into my brain and I was jotting them down (and executing some of them) as quick as I could.  My mind entered a wonderful period of time where everything was inspiring to me, and nothing was out of bounds for my creativity.  I hummed along and I created and I loved every minute of it.  And then it stopped.

I'm not sure where that creative muse went, but I really want her to come back.  So, I've been looking at creativity from all sides, hoping to find some kind of pattern, some solution that really creative artists know, and that some book authors will share.

Lucky for us, Twyla Tharp is a wonderfully creative person and she's approached the subject of creativity with a lot of thought and experience.  Her book, The Creative Habit, is so insightful.  She shares her many ups and downs in her long and successful career as a choreographer.  Her personal stories are all tied in with her lifelong learning of the creative process, and creativity as a whole.  Reading the book feels like learning something significant from a mentor.

Whenever I read a book these days, I have a pen and paper nearby to jot down quotes or thoughts.  Here are a few great ones:

"Destiny, quite often, is a determined parent." (page 8)

The conversation on zoe vs. bios - how far away do we view the world vs. how close?  Are we a wide angle lens photographer or are we a macro photographer, for instance - (topic on page 42)

"I read for growth, firmly believing that what you are today and what you will be in five years depends on two things: the people you meet and the books you read." (page 110)

"When it all comes together, a creative life has the nourishing power we normally associate with food, love and faith."  (page 243) - I've seen this quote of hers before, I think in one of the other creativity books listed.

"Even in the worst of times, such habits [doing your creative thing] sustain, protect, and, in the most unlikely way, lift us up." (page 243)

My words can't do this book justice.  If you are interested in reading about creativity, then this book is an absolute must.  The author has spent a lot of time thinking about creativity, looking at the creative habit in those artists that inspire her, reflecting on her career and her relationship with the creative muse.  I don't know if Twyla Tharp can help me find my way back to my own muse, but I can't think of anyone better to lead the way.



Sunday, October 13, 2013

Sunday Brunch - {pumpkin pancakes}

Fall just wouldn't be Fall around our house without pumpkin pancakes.  This recipe, from Martha Stewart, is from my favorite issue of her magazine - October 2004 (I even wrote about it here).  We are such pancake people, and I do love me a good pumpkin recipe, so it was only natural that this one would become a favorite.  I double the batch because the Bachsters always compete with one another to see how many they can eat, and now that they're getting bigger, those numbers are getting impressive.

I wrote about these pancakes last Fall too - here's the post.   They are a Fall staple around here!


Monday, October 7, 2013

Book Nook - Edible

I really missed Sunday Brunch yesterday - did you happen to stop by and see it missing?  Last week was a crazy one, as this week is as well, but I hope to be back with Sunday Brunch again next Sunday.  I cannot wait to share all the fantastic pumpkin treats I've been cooking up!

Anyway, on to Book Nook: Edible: A Celebration of Local Foods by Tracey Ryder and Carole Topalian:

Do you ever read your local Edible magazine?  Ours is Edible Columbus - here's the link to the Edible Communities website.  I just love the magazine and always make sure to get the latest edition when I see it at my favorite farmers market.

Surprisingly, I didn't find the Edible book at the bookstore or farmers market: I found it at my local grocery store.  They had a big bin of clearance books and because they accidentally charged me full price for the book, they ended up giving it to me for free when I asked about it at customer service.  Quite a deal!

The book is broken down by stories that have run in various issues of Edible Communities and are broken down by area of the country.  Most of these articles are just what you see in the magazine: profiles of farms, the people that grow our local food and local food initiatives.  There are lots of recipes, too, categorized by season.  I haven't tried any yet, but since Fall is here, that's the section I've been perusing the most (creamy pumpkin grits with brown butter - I might have to try that!).

Sometimes the neatest books can be found in the most unexpected places!  I'm glad this one found me!


Monday, September 30, 2013

Book Nook - The 101 Dalmations

The 101 Dalmations by Dodie Smith:

The Bachsters and I were going through stacks of books recently to donate, and I came across a big book with a bunch of Disney stories in it.  I've got to admit, when I saw it I felt a bit smug, because we had recently read the excellent novel by Dodie Smith.  My Bachsters were way beyond the imitation stuff; they had read the real deal.  Call me a book snob, I won't argue!

One can't help but compare the stories, however.  If you've seen the movie version, or read any of those Disney compilations, you'll see that there are only two main Dalmations, rather than the three in Smith's original novel.   Mr. de Vil makes an appearance in the book, but I believe he is absent from the movie.  But other than a few other little things, from what I can remember from seeing the movie years ago, the movie stays true to the novel for the most part.  But as just about all readers know, movies can never compare to novels because of the way you can immerse yourself in a good book.

Anyway, in case you're not familiar with the story, it's about Pongo and Missis (that's right, not Perdita), two Dalmations who have had their puppies stolen by the evil Cruella de Vil.  They journey into the country to save their pups, but when they arrive at the de Vil mansion, they find more pups than they were expecting - quite a few more!

I really love Dodie Smith, and am so glad to have recently discovered her.  Her writing style is perfection, with just enough details, plots that move along nicely, wonderfully believable characters and humor throughout.  I really loved I Capture the Castle & I hope to read more books by this author soon.


Sunday, September 29, 2013

Sunday Brunch - {dark chocolate tofu mousse}

I am really on the fence about this recipe.  Normally, I would only put things on Sunday Brunch that I have tried and loved.  This one.....well, I've tried it - can't say I loved it.  But there are some really great things about it, such as - it has no sugar, so it's a pretty healthy dessert.  The recipe consists of tofu, cocoa powder, unsweetened almond milk, vanilla and almond extracts and your choice of sweetener.  That's it.  And the texture is just perfect - exactly what you'd expect a creamy pudding to be like.

So, on the plus side we have healthy for you, easy to make and great texture.  The downside is the taste.  I used Stevia packets, which I can never get used to.  I can taste the Stevia hours after I eat something with it.  So, in this case, I went a little light on the sweetener, and it just wasn't as tasty.

So, the verdict is: if you like non-sugar sweeteners, then this would be a great recipe to try.  If you don't like them, it still might be worth trying - just find a sweetener that you like first.

This one is from Wheat Belly by William Davis, MD, by the way - great book!

Which do you think is better: enjoy all the desserts you like, as long as they are sugar-free, or limit your sweets to the real stuff, only occasionally?


Monday, September 23, 2013

Book Nook - knitting selections

The Handknitter's Yarn Guide: A Visual Reference to Yarns and Fibers by Nikki Gabriel:

I've got a new knitting project in mind, but am having trouble deciding on just the right yarn for it.  I want something light and lofty, easy to work with & all natural fibers if possible (all while keeping it affordable).  So, when I came across this book at a local bookstore, I was thrilled.  It provides a wonderful break-down of all the different yarn options out there.

After a brief description of yarn weights (super fine, fine, light, medium, bulky & super bulky), the book examines the properties of animal fibers, vegetable fibers, synthetic fibers and textured & curious/rare fibers.  Each chapter is devoted to a specific fiber.  So, starting with the ever-popular wool, the author provides a description of the fiber, the specs (like source and relative cost), use and care and general qualities (such as stitch definition, drape, resilience, etc.).  Pros and cons on each fiber are also given, as well as other facts and pictures of swatches knit in fine, medium and bulky yarns.  Then, all the above information is given again for wool blends.  Each fiber has a chapter just like this, and just about every fiber I can imagine is in the book: mohair, camel, angora, rayon, boucle, etc.

There is even a burn test given for each yarn (how it burns, how it smells when it burns) - I thought this was curious information, but considering this book gives you every bit of info you'd ever need, I suppose it's really right at home.  I love that the author includes a sustainability factor for each yarn, something I really appreciated & will definitely consider when buying yarn.  While she touches on how heavy items are with certain yarns, I do wish that was a consistent category for all yarns - this is one area that I usually am concerned about, so I'd like to know which yarns are loftier than others.  There is some information on this, but again, it's not consistent.

If you are using the recommended yarn for a project, you probably won't need this book.  But if you are substituting a yarn, or would just like to get a better understanding of the different kinds of yarn, then this book is a great one to have.

November Knits: Inspired Designs for Changing Seasons by Kate Gagnon Osborn and Courtney Kelley:

Maybe it's because I'm particularly fond of November since it's my birthday month, or perhaps because November is all about prime knitting.  Whatever the reason, when I saw "November" in the title while perusing knitting books at the library, I grabbed it, and loved it, right away.

These projects are gorgeous.  There are several things in here that I would love to knit - such as the chunky Bozeman Jacket, the feminine Burdock Cardigan, and the cozy Cobblestone Trenchcoat.  I also love the sweet Savannah Cardigan and the flirty Barton Springs Skirt.  Oh goodness, where will I find the time?

The projects are divided into 3 separate looks - farm hands, ivy league and southern comfort.  I found something in each look that I would just love.  I think the editors and designers did a wonderful job of providing looks that fall into each of these categories, but would please just about any knitter.  In addition to all the sweaters I mentioned, there are also patterns for hats, scarves, socks, mittens & such.  Many of the designs are classic looks, but personally, I think that when you spend so much time knitting the item, you want to be able to wear if for years and years.  This is the first knitting book that I've picked up in a long time in which I found so many queue-worthy projects.

Now, as I mentioned, the challenge is just to find the time to knit them all!


Sunday, September 22, 2013

Sunday Brunch - {apple crisp}

A few weeks ago, the Bachsters and I went apple picking.  It was a hot day, and I was a little more excited about apple picking than they were, to be honest.  Thankfully, it didn't take us long to fill up our bag and head home with our yummy apples, all set for one of our favorite recipes - apple crisp.

I've made this recipe, from Martha Stewart (of course!) many times and it's always delicious.  Sweet baked apples topped with sugary, buttery oats.  So delicious!  It's really just begging for a big scoop of ice cream, and this time we had Whit's Frozen Custard, which we all went crazy for. 

I think I could eat this every single day and be happy - it's absolutely perfect!


Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Goodbye, bees

I'm sad to tell you that my bees didn't make it this year.  I'm not sure exactly why - I have many theories, but nothing solid to work with.  My hive was never a strong one - I had gone through 3 queens, and the numbers of bees never expanded much.  All I can tell you is that one day, I had a queen who was laying eggs and lots of happy bees.  A week later, I only had enough to fit into my cupped hands (don't worry, I didn't actually try that!).

After many conversations with experienced beekeepers, I decided to stop feeding the bees because it became apparent that the bees hanging out in my hive were robber bees.  Checking the hive every few days after the feeder went dry, I knew the ones that remained were my girls, and they were doomed.  I figured the least I could do was provide them shelter until the end.  The last time I checked on them, I decided to not wear my jacket and veil, because I knew there wouldn't be many left.  As I opened the outer cover and peered in, I could have actually counted the remaining bees, there were so few.  One little honey bee looked up at me (I swear she did!).  A few days later, all the bees were gone:

My theory is that it was pesticides.  We all went out for ice cream one evening in August, and we saw several honey bees on the patio of Graeter's, writhing around.  Something was clearly wrong with them.  We were so close to our house, for all I know, those were bees from my hive.  I checked the hive the next day and saw that the hive was almost gone.  It also could have been mites or hive beetles (although I never saw anything major happening with those); it could have been that my hive swarmed (but none of the signs of swarming were present); it could have been a bad hive location, weak queen, or many other factors.  I'll never really know for sure.  If you are interested in learning about some of challenges bees and beekeepers face, I really recommend the documentary The Vanishing of the Bees.

The good news is that I learned a lot this year, and I'm going to get bees again next year and try it again.  There are things I'll do differently (like checking them every week instead of every two weeks).  I'm optimistic about having bees again, and overall, it was a wonderful experience.  I never knew I would care so much about them, and feel so much responsibility for their well being.

Here are some shots of the hive in happier times.  Each of the Bachsters visited the hive with me at least once, and they all loved the experience.  Here's our 8-year-old on her first beekeeping excursion:

Here's our oldest DD - she wanted to hold a frame with a lot of bees:

Here's Little Dude, who just enjoyed hanging out close (but not too close) to the bees:


Monday, September 16, 2013

Book Nook - photography books

If you stop by my blog now and then, you might have noticed the Sunday Brunch posts, where I chat about a favorite recipe.  Maybe you noticed it missing yesterday.  I do apologize - I was unfortunately up until the very wee hours in the morning, working on a photography assignment, photoshopping like a mad woman.  So, I thought in honor of photography, which has been taking up a lot of my time lately (but that's a good thing, in general - not so much in the wee hours of the morning, however), I wanted to share some of the books on the subject that I've been enjoying lately:

Light: Science & Magic - An introduction to Photographic Lighting by Fil Hunter, Steven Biver & Paul Fuqua:

My assignment was to photoshoot a ceramic mug.  Piece of cake, right?  I have spent two weeks of my life trying to figure out how to photograph a mug!  A mug, people!  The problem is, it's very reflective and curved.  So, when you shoot it, you see yourself, your room, your camera, everything on the surface of the mug.  The very nice guy at a local camera store told me that this is one of the hardest things to shoot.  I was so relieved to hear that, because I thought I was doing something wrong.  He suggested this book, Light: Science & Magic, specifically for a chapter on this very subject.  Straight to the library I went and two weeks later, I have a much better understanding of what it takes to photograph a simple mug.  Better understanding yes; better skills, still working on.  This book is a must for any photographer needing to understand studio lighting.

Pro Secrets to Dramatic Digital Photos by Jim Zuckerman:

I liked this book right away because of the topic of the first chapter: shoot great subjects.  Is a photo of a wild African lion better that a portrait of a house cat?  Why?  The author gets us thinking about our photography in new ways right from the start.  I don't always agree with his opinion, but I really appreciate the debate.

There's a lot of technical tips that you might find in other photography books, like how to work shutter speed, how to compose your shots, etc., but even after years of doing photography, I feel like I'm learning from this book.  And the author has included lots of gorgeous photos to inspire.  Dramatic photos, here I come!

A Beautiful Mess - Photo Idea Book: 95 Inspiring Ideas for Photographing your Friends, your World, and Yourself by Elsie Larson and Emma Chapman:

This is a fun book for anyone with a camera, not just pros.  The authors throw out one cute idea after another, anything from how to take a outdoor portrait, how to make your own homemade filters, how to photograph your reflection, wardrobe tips & crafty photo ideas, like making a storybook locket or a photo coaster set.  Our sister-authors have a great eye for photography and they share what works with us.  I got a handful of ideas I'm going to keep in my pocket, and I think just about anyone with a camera (so, everyone then) could get some new ideas after looking through this book.  This one's all about fun with photography - I love that!