Thursday, October 29, 2009

Keeping Up

All kinds of uproar here in my world...we are redecorating/refurbishing the office ("we" being the partners/directors of the firm) and I have to pack up everything to vacate my office as though to move out by Monday mid-day. (I learned my "time" was up today,'s being done in phases, of which I'm apparently in the third phase.) This, while about four cases "come to a head" and have various pleadings, etc., due. To do this would be impossible without the help of good office staff, and I think, because of the support staff who work so hard, I'll be able to make that deadline.

On other fronts, I went children's book shopping this evening. I have a reputation for giving really great books that kids and parents alike love.... The truth is, I prepare (or "cheat") depending on how you look at it. This afternoon, I researched all kinds of children's books to get some recommendations; who's won what awards, which books are "reader's choice," etc. I ended up with a list of at least 20 books I considered highly recommended and potentially good choices.

When I went to the bookstore, though, out of the approximately twenty books on my list, there were only 2 in the store. How can "brick and mortar" bookstores complain about losing sales to internet outlets when then don't even have award winning children's books in stock? I know it's a "catch-22," but it sure would be nice to have a broader selection available when you go to a bookstore.

Before making a choice for a child I'm giving a book to, I absolutely always read the book, and I must love it. These aren't meant to just be books, they are precious moments shared between parent and child.

Of the two on my list which they had available, I liked one of them. So, I did my usual digging, read about 23 children's books, and found one additional book which was very nice and another which made me laugh all the way through it. (I'm not positive a three-year-old will get all of the humor, but truth is, parents have to enjoy the books too!) With a beautiful photographic animal book on the sale display, my mission was complete.

I very much enjoy finding books for my young relatives--all the while imagining the joy with which both parent and child will read the book (if I'm successful, they will read it many, many times.) I can't help but warmly recall, while searching for good books, the uncountable number of times I sat with my own small boy, reading his favorites over and over again. I'll always fondly remember how perfectly he fit into my own crossed legged lap on the floor, or in the crook of my arm reclining on his bed as we read book after book together.

I hope beyond words that my loved ones also enjoy these times--and then the memories--of cuddling with their children while reading good books.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Intimidating or Inspirational?

It starts on Sunday. The National Novel Writing Month. I signed up, hoping it would push me into really "doing it," but now I'm nervous. I have read some articles on character development and creation; a couple on the process of writing and also several success stories from NaNoWrMo "winners."

Do I have a creative idea for a novel? I've often thought about writing books, but they usually tend to be more non-fiction. Maybe this is the wrong place to be. But maybe, just maybe, I can do it. I have been trying to think of plots, characters, and conceive of how a full length novel could play out. There are ideas...I think that's the point of the whole project. Those of us with some ideas and some desire to write a book are put to the deadline test. It's like when you know the legal arguments you need to make in your appeal brief and you know the pertinent facts, you sometimes need the looming deadline to start scratching paper with pen (figuratively speaking) to get going on it.

Then, completely out of the blue, a blogger I follow (the same one who proposed and hosted the "Solace of Leaving Early" book club) wrote a potential opening chapter for a mystery novel on her blog...and it was really good. She has imagination and writing talent. Intimidating or inspirational? Let's try for the latter. (Her blog is the creamery, here).

So, preparation continues, along with all of the rest of life. Wish me luck!

Monday, October 26, 2009

Italian Neighbors

by Tim Parks

Another book motivated by my love of Italy--and good thing, too, or I would never have made it through.

Friday, October 23, 2009

A Big Weekend

The latest excitement around our house is my teen's first Homecoming Dance. When I was a teen, Homecoming was not such a big "thing." In school, we elected the Homecoming Court and Queen, and at halftime of the football game, they rode around the track on Corvettes (courtesy of the "A" County Corvette Club), had a crowning ceremony on the 50 yard line, then took a victory lap. I'm not even sure there was a Homecoming dance throughout high school...I do remember one being held in the gym after the football game my senior year. It wasn't the greatest of moments for those of us in the band--how do you fix long hair (fluffy, 80's long hair) after having it up under a band hat all night??

Here, Homecoming is quite an event. Tonight was the football game; I dropped my son and one of his friends off earlier, after the town-wide parade and before the start of the game. I don't think another car could have parked within half a mile of the high school!

Tomorrow night is The Dance. It's such a big event my son asked me about going several weeks ago, bought tickets 2 weeks ago, and has actually thought ahead about what he will wear. The girls all have pretty dresses for the event (my son's date is wearing chocolate brown), and corsages and dinner are part of the plan. I was slated to drive them until I found out that she wanted her parents to drive. (Oh well...I've offered to take them home, so we'll see).

My son even "needed" a new dress shirt and wanted a new tie...I was able to shop in the city and found what he wanted...he wears the smallest mens size, which isn't always readily available. His suit is a charcoal grey and she's wearing brown, so I got him a white shirt and a funky Jerry Garcia tie with an abstract pattern of browns and greys with yellow highlights. (I also got a very geometric brown and blue tie, in case he didn't like Jerry, but luckily he has better taste than his father).

We ordered the corsage/boutonniere by phone yesterday. They had several possibilities, so I turned to my son to find out if he wanted to get her the rose or the carnations. His look of bewilderment didn't really surprise me, so I translated quickly: "Is she a friend or do you really like her?" Without hesitation he answered the latter, so I ordered the rose corsage with brown ribbons.

This afternoon, I made sure that he was aware that when his date and her parents come to pick him up, everyone's coming inside (since it will be raining, there will be no pretty pictures outdoors with the fall leaves), we're taking pictures, getting to meet her and her parents, etc. He said he knew....

It's so exciting! He's actually going on his first real date, and he told me really likes this girl. How can my baby be that old already! It's been like the blink of an eye.

Everyone can tell you but you can never realize, when you hold your baby in your arms, even as you enjoy all the moments of their growing up, that they really will be grown in the blink of an eye.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Anniversary Musings

Earlier this week was my first wedding anniversary. So, as any good nostalgic would, I spent last weekend reflecting on the wonderful memories I have of last year’s events.

When we decided to get married, place was always important. I like to tell the story of what can only be termed “the negotiations” back and forth between us. Church was important, but we each had our own, an hour drive apart, with issues attached to each, so both of our own churches were fairly quickly ruled out. Every few days another idea would bubble up and we’d send a quick email, or bring it up over dinner….a chapel in the National Cathedral (not just any Episcopalian can get married there) …Williamsburg….the Lee Chapel….the first Methodist church in the U.S…the only Methodist church in Rome (yes, Italy)....and many many more. I was beginning to despair that we would find the place which would be meaningful to us both. At one point I made a brainstorming list of every idea we could come up with, just to see if I could think of any more possibilities, and the list of rejected places wasn’t short.

One afternoon in August, I remembered a quaint little town near his ancestral home where we had spent an enchanted weekend almost 4 years before. It was beautiful, we both loved it, and it felt like home to us both. A quick email exchange led to an excited phone call--and we had found our place!

Two months later he proposed to me.

I have developed some pretty strong opinions about weddings over the years; what’s important and what’s not, and of course what’s a waste of money (so much of it!) So...there was never going to be a $500 cake, thousands of dollars' worth of flowers, or any grown women parading down an aisle in matching peach/pink dresses. There would be no tuxeudoed ushers, no wedding singer, no garter belt, no making 150 favors the weekend before. And, as a woman of a certain age with a lot of common sense, there was absolutely no way I was going to do the whole white gown thing again—and luckily my hubby-to-be was ok with all of this.

What was important? Family. Church. Being with the people who meant the most to us. Having FUN!! Not being stressed out, going overboard, or being self-centered. Not going crazy or worrying about making it "our day" or "perfect." And forgive my immodesty, but I'm quite proud that that's exactly what we did.

Since I've been behind in actually posting here, and I must get to bed now, I'm going to post this tonight with an awful "TO BE CONTINUED" ...and hope you return for the next installment.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Is this a good idea?

I don't know if I'm nuts, but I'm going to join the craziness that is the National Novel Writing Month! (Thank you, Monda, at No Telling, for introducing me to this insanity!)

This is a project of the non-profit Office of Letters and Light, where unsuspecting wanna-be writers sign up to join in the madness of writing a 50,000 word novel in one month. You almost have to read about it to believe it--and please do: at the NaNoWriMo website.

I'm not sure if it's an online competition or a source of encouragement, but all involved are expected to put out about 1667 words per day in the pursuit of the goal. But more importantly, to not "self-edit," to toss away all expectations of "quality" writing in pursuit of pure output. For many, (probably like me), this could be the chance of a lifetime (or at least this year)--it could be the "push" we need to simply get past the myraid of distractions, excuses, and insecurities we need to overcome to actually get something written.

I think the plan is to schedule an hour or so each day of November to sit down and pump out the words. Since I signed up, I've been trying to think of a plot...or even an idea to start me out. Steven King's book "On Writing" described his process as basically coming up with an idea and sitting down and writing about it. Maybe that will work for me!!

Anyone else have the desire to just give this a try? (How about it, Mom?) The concept of having a 50,000 word novel scrached out by December first is quite enticing, isn't it?

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

An Herbal Harvest

Yesterday was the day appointed to harvest the basil. My husband decided that his poor patch of heirloom tomatoes which we raised from seed had suffered enough, and needed to come out. (The unfortunate things caught some kind of withering disease in mid-August and slowly died with very little production.) Following that well-known wisdom of the ages, we had planted the basil among the tomatoes for better tomato flavor.

Luckily, the basil was resistant to whatever it was; it did well and didn't succomb to the withering disease. This is only one of the 7-8 plants which grew to almost four feet; a bit taller than usual because hubby fertilized his tomatoes.

After hubby's pronouncement that the tomato beds had to come out, (and anyway, fall is here, and basil will not tolerate frost), I picked it stalk by stalk, piled the stalks gently in my gathering basket, and brought in about 3 big baskets-full.

I've decided that washing all of the leaves while on the stems is best, so with a freshly sparkling sink (scoured with a bleach-based cleanser to kill germs and of course rinsed thoroughly) I loaded the stalks into the sink a half-basket at a time and rinsed them thoroughly, one by one, under the faucet spray because of the higher pressure. Then, to dry, I think it works well to put them in vertical containers. (I've tried upside-down, flat, and several other methods.) Here's a picture of the 4 vessels of air-drying stems.

And this is a closer view, just because I love basil:
Then, over the rest of the evening, we picked each green leaf off each stem, putting them onto a bed of towels to absorb any remaining water. (If you're using it right away, elmination of all moisture is nowhere near as important.) Here's one of several times we filled up the towels. (That's our cat Storm, sitting on the barstool in the background, and yes, bottles of red wine within reach are an absolute requirement for this type of tedious work.)
Our favorite way to preserve basil (and in my opinion, the best way to retain that "fresh basil" flavor) is to freeze it. I have done this for many years. After the above, we put the clean dry leaves into a food processor with several tablespoons of good olive oil (I don't measure, just pour a stream on top first, and again when it looks dry) and process. I do not take it down to a homogenous paste but instead leave it at a point where it looks like minced leaves. At this point it's coated by olive oil, which seems to lock in the natural basil oil and thus preserves the flavor of fresh basil.

The final step is to spoon the basil/oil mixture into ice cube trays. I then wrap each tray tightly in plastic wrap and freeze immediately. The next day, the cubes can be popped out and put into a ziplock bag for ease of use. I so love being able to pull out a cube or two of home raised fresh-frozen basil in mid-winter and add it to my spaghetti sauce--or anything else I cook. It's delicious and gives the full summertime flavor of fresh basil.

My first day of harvest (the "yesterday" referenced above) began around 3:30 pm and wound up around 8, resulting in 4 ice cube trays full. The next day, for some reason (??) I had a craving for spaghetti with fresh pesto and brought in another basket of stems; I processed the basil and re-filled one of the ice cube trays, seasoned a pot of tomato sauce, then made a nice big batch of pesto with the rest. Here are some basil cubes in a bag after removal from the ice cube tray.

We used another few stems to make dinner tonight, but there's still a bit more to harvest out there. I'm so happy to have nearly all of my basil preserved for the upcoming year!

Saturday, October 3, 2009

The Solace of Leaving Early

by Haven Kimmel

Suggested by a fellow blogger who ingeniously proposed an on-line book club, this novel is the first by Kimmel I've ever read

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Archives of "Learn Something New Every Day"

10/23/09 Journalism ideally would be free of bias, but this is not the case. For those inclined to want to know the truth instead of just to believe the claims of whomever they follow, there are great websites such as and (the latter focuses on checking politicians' claims). Many universities also study bias in news coverage, such as U. Michigan at , which has a page of links to other interesting sites.

10/7/09 Did you ever wonder about "stink bugs?" Since they seem to take up residence in my house each fall, I did, and I learned that there are dozens of varieties, including the brown, green, harlequin, and some others that are beneficial insects (preying on crop pests) such as the Spined Soldier Bug. They are from the order Hemiptera (including true bugs), family Pentatomidae (meaning 5-sided), and are generally hard to kill. In Pennsylvania, they have recently found an oriental import, the "Brown Marmorated Stink Bug" in several counties, which may become an agricultural pest. In the end, the stink bugs in my house were just plain Brown Stink Bugs.

10/1/09 Angiotensin Converting Enzyme inhibitors (ACEI) are the most important medication in heart failure, and are commonly used for hypertension. An often unrecognized side effect is abdominal pain from intestinal swelling and/or from pancreatitis. This should be considered in new onset abdominal pain in a person on ACEI after ruling out the "major" suspects.

9/20/09 Today I saw photos of the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius in March 1944. I never knew that there was such a major eruption in modern times! Nearly a foot of ash, as well as rocks 5-15cm large fell on the surrounding area. Eighty five allied planes were destroyed when hot ash fell on them, burning the fabric shells and otherwise rendering them useless. Lava flowed 1.5 km from the cone, damaging at least 3 nearby villages.

9/2/09 In 1913, an international prize was offered for creation of "the best fuel, other than gasoline, capable of being used in internal combustion engines." The $100,000 prize (over $2 million today) was offered to combat rapidly increasing gasoline prices and to create a fuel which couldn't be "cornered by any nation or combination of national interests." Hmmmm.

8/30/09 The U.S. healthcare debate over universal coverage is not new. In 1943, President Roosevelt called for universal coverage in his "economic bill of rights" which included the right of all people to health care. FDR renewed this plea until his death. President Truman continued to work for universal coverage, but all of the many bills proposing universal coverage died in committee.

8/27/09 I remember learning in high school that Edward Jenner devised the first smallpox vaccination from cowpox in 1798. However, in 1776 in Boston, families (including that of John Adams) were innoculated against this dread disease: a physician would slice the upper arm and spread drainage from an active smallpox case into the wound. This would induce a more mild form of the disease, creating life-long immunity against all forms. In 1777, smallpox innoculation was mandatory for members of the Continental Army fighting the Revolutionary War. (sources: website, John Adams by McCollough, His Excellency by Ellis)

8/24/09 A British merchant, Peter Durand, invented the first cans for food in 1810 (see Archives for canning process). In 1858 the first can opener was invented. Before the can opener, instructions on the can were to 'open with hammer and chisel'! How would you like to do that while making dinner?

8/21/09 The method of canning of food was invented in 1809 by Nicholas Appert, a French man competing for Napoleon's 12,000 franc Food Preservation Prize, which was first offered in 1795. Some sources say that he worked for 10 years on his method of boiling food, placing it in a sealed bottle, and then heating the bottle before he won the prize in 1809. Those of us who can food know that the process hasn't changed in 200 years!

8/18/09 The traffic light predates the car! In 1868, British railroad signal engineer J P Knight invented the first traffic light, a lantern with red and green signals. It was installed in front of the British House of Commons to control the flow of horse buggies and pedestrians.

8/16/09 A caterpillar does not breathe through its mouth and does not have lungs. They have pairs of spiracles on each body segment which are small round holes covered by flaps with muscles to control their opening and closing. The oxygen flows into tiny tubes and directly to each cell.

8/14/09 Australia is the world's largest exporter of coal, while China is the world's largest consumer of coal, using more than twice that of the U.S. Japan is the world's greatest importer of coal. (China produces nearly all of the coal it consumes.) Verified at the U.S. Dept. of Energy (

8/12/09 The Tilapia is a fresh water fish that has been farmed in Isreal for over 2500 years. Farming of tilapia is strictly regulated to prevent escape because it could take over habitats due to its prolific reproduction and fast growth. Tilapia is low in good Omega-3 fatty acids and high in bad Omega-6 fatty acids. Uh-oh.

8/5/09 The Tercel is not just a car made by Toyota. From the 14th century it has been the name of the male of a hawk species, especially the falcon.