Where I’ve Been

You go away for the weekend, and the whole house falls apart. Ok, it wasn’t very together to begin with, but any chance of blogging was on hold from last Thursday on, and I’m just now coming back to it.

Here’s where we went:

My favorite place in the world.

My favorite place in the world.

It's hard to see, but that's the waterfall back there.

It’s hard to see, but that’s the waterfall back there.

I am lucky enough to have an aunt and uncle who own a beautiful piece of land in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Sparta, NC, only 3 hours from Durham. I grew up going here in the summer, usually around the 4th of July, and now my kids are lucky enough to get to visit 2-4 times a year. It is a kid and dog paradise (and partly a paradise for my kids because there are dogs, which we don’t have at home). There is a creek in which to play (not this time, it was only in the 60’s and my kids are not at the “stand back and watch” stage for playing in water yet), lots of room to run around, several pretty paths for taking walks, and (also not this time) berries and vegetables to pick. On this trip, my daughters spent a good deal of time excavating gravel from the driveway (and then getting in trouble for dumping it in the garden), and we got to visit with some cousins who have an adorable 11 month old girl. We ate hamburgers and hot dogs, played with the dogs, and took several long walks. A good time was had by all.

Back at home, the kids have been busy:

House built by my son.

House built by my son.

Cinderella's castle, by my daughter. Apparently, Cinderella is standing on the front porch, but I couldn't see her, either.

Cinderella’s castle, by my older daughter. Apparently, Cinderella is standing on the front porch, but I couldn’t see her, either. She’s not either of the two cylinders in front, or the higher rectangular block just behind–we asked.

And one last note. We have a visitor, who likes to hang out near our rosebush:

Much too brave baby rabbit.

Much too brave baby rabbit.

He’s been in our yard for the past two weeks or so. He’s very cute, and very bold–I got pretty close when taking pictures, and we’ve had him sit only feet from us while we were standing (with children) on the back porch. I am somewhat worried that he’s going to get eaten, since he doesn’t run from much, but we’ll enjoy him in the meantime (especially since we haven’t planted a vegetable garden this year!).

So, I’m back for now.


Backyard gifts

Just a quick post, as life does not include a lot of blogging time this week. (I’m skipping this week’s customary library book post.)

I love roses; it’s inherited from my mother, but also a result of always having roses around when I was growing up. My mom’s love of roses led her to grow roses herself, so I always remember having rosebushes in our garden.

I, however, do not like to garden–we have had some form of herb or vegetable garden for about the last 6 years, but it’s always my husband who initiates and does 99% of the work for it. So one of the best things about our current house is that it came with a rosebush right outside our dining room window. The bush was not in great shape when we arrived, but my husband cut it back a whole lot and it started producing beautiful white roses. I have mostly taken over caring for the rosebush–which basically means calling my mother when things go wrong (it got black spot last year) and dead-heading old blooms. I apparently have just enough gardening impetus to take very basic care of one rosebush.  The rosebush amply repays my haphazard care, and has already started blooming this year.


First blooms of the season.


Already in full bloom. I need to get some up-close pictures of the blossoms–maybe on the next round.

Cookbook Recommendation: Cheap, Fast, Good

I would say that I like to cook in the same way that I like to do laundry: as chores go, neither is terribly onerous, I get a certain satisfaction when I do them well, and I occasionally enjoy the work itself. However, I’m not a passionate cook, nor am I a brilliant one.

That’s why I like this cookbook so much.


Cheap. Fast. Good! by Beverly Mills and Alicia Ross, 2005

My mom gave this to me as a gift several years ago, buying it off-hand because she thought it looked interesting. It has become one of the cookbooks I go to most regularly, and I have learned a lot about cooking from it.

The premise is just what the title states: the authors tried to put their heads together and formulate a collection of recipes designed to feed families economically, conveniently, and healthfully. In addition to the recipes, there are features about how to shop frugally, how to get out of a take-out/eat-out mindset, how to use up certain ingredients (a whole ham, the backyard garden/CSA bounty), and how make such decisions as whether your time or your money is more valuable on a given day.

I love using this book because it didn’t just give a basic recipe, but the directions demonstrated how to make the recipe most efficiently, which is something I badly needed help with. I now roll my eyes when I see recipes that call for all the ingredients already chopped, because they are cheating on the time estimates they give! Simple things like heating the oil while you start chopping onions, then adding onions (or other ingredients) to the pan as you chop, can save a good amount of time. I also like that many of the recipes discuss how to substitute less expensive ingredients or just what you happen to have on hand.

It’s not perfect–some of the recipes rely on batch ingredients that you have to prepare first, and while many of them have a substitution available if you haven’t or don’t want to make the whole batch, not all of them do. Also, because I liked this cookbook so much, I specifically asked for Desperation Dinners by the same authors, but I didn’t like that book nearly as much–it relied much more heavily on convenience foods, and not convenience foods that my family tends to have in our kitchen. Cheap. Fast. Good! does NOT rely overly on convenience foods, and even has suggestions for making your own batches of cut veggies, buying large cuts of meat and what to do with them, and otherwise using real food.

I learned how to make a good pie crust from this book, and I use many of the recipes regularly. I think it’s perfect for those cooks who face the daily task of feeding your family without wanting to spend all day on the task. Many of the recipes are very kid-friendly, and those that are less so have suggestions for variations to make them palatable to the under-20 set. The book is listed for about $12 on Amazon, but my public library has 4 copies available, so yours may have it, too.

To finish up, here are some of my favorite recipes from the book: Summer Stew, Orange Marmelade-Glazed Chicken over Rice, Grown-up Sweet and Sour Chicken, Good Ol’ Beans and Rice, Pasta with Creamy Tomato Sauce, Fresh Corn and Tomato Salad, Southern Buttermilk Pie, and Ron’s Favorite Sweet Potato Pie.

Library Books Enjoyed, 5/15/13

Diego Saves the Sloth!Diego Saves the Sloth! by Alexis Romay

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I’m not a huge fan of either Dora or Diego, but my kids love them, so we check them out pretty regularly. I like Diego better than Dora because you do actually learn a few animal facts along the way. In this episode, Diego has to save a sleeping sloth from getting knocked off his tree by a windstorm. It feels shorter than some of the other Diego and/or Dora books, so that’s part of why I liked it!

Carl's Summer VacationCarl’s Summer Vacation by Alexandra Day

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I’ve always had reservations about Carl–my innate unease about really big dogs meant I’ve always felt a little nervous about leaving the baby with a Rottweiler. However, Carl has always proven trustworthy (about the baby’s safety, at any rate!) and now my kids have discovered and fallen in love with him.

This is a newer Carl adventure, and the baby has grown up to be a preschooler named Madeleine. Aside from the joy of skipping out on naptime to play with the dog, I think part of the appeal of this particular book is that Carl and Madeleine do many of the things we did last summer–go out in a canoe, pick berries, play on a playground and at a lake, and stay at a cabin. I personally feel like the pictures are brighter and more interesting than some of the older Carl books.

BluebirdBluebird by Bob Staake

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Sweet, but sad, wordless book about a boy and a bluebird that befriends him. I liked it, but the kids loved it and requested it multiple times this week–I don’t think the sad part got to them as much as it got to me.

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Cinnamon Oatmeal Cookies

A good friend made some delicious oatmeal cinnamon-chip cookies for us recently, and when I asked how to make them, she explained that the cinnamon chips she used are only available at the winter holidays–so she stocks up then, and saves them to bake with all year.

I do not have any cinnamon chips or, apparently, patience to wait until Thanksgiving, but I really liked the cookies and wanted to try to make something similar–not least because oatmeal cookies aren’t usually my favorite. I feel like they need something in them, but I don’t really like raisins, Craisins are fairly expensive, and if I’m going to put chocolate chips in a cookie, I’d just as soon make regular chocolate chip cookies. We did have some butterscotch chips on hand, so I used a basic oatmeal cookie recipe, doubled the amount of cinnamon, and included the butterscotch chips. The result, while not identical to the cinnamon chip cookies, was quite excellent.

The base recipe is “Classic Oatmeal Cookies,” from Better Homes and Gardens Biggest Book of Cookies, 2003. Here is the recipe with my modifications:

3/4 cup of butter, softened

1 cup packed brown sugar

1/2 cup granulated sugar

1 teaspoon baking powder

1/4 teaspoon baking soda

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon ground cloves

2 eggs

1 teaspoon vanilla (or 1/2 teaspoon ground vanilla bean)

1 and 3/4 cups all-purpose flour

2 cups rolled oats

1 cup butterscotch chips

  1. In a large mixing bowl beat butter with an electric mixer on medium to high speed for 30 seconds.
  2. Add next six ingredients and beat until combined, scraping sides of bowl occasionally.
  3. Beat in eggs and vanilla until combined.
  4. Use a spoon to mix in the flour and the oats. Stir until well combined.
  5. Stir in butterscotch chips.
  6. Drop dough by rounded teaspoons 2 inches apart onto an ungreased cookie sheet.  Bake at 375° for 8-10 minutes or until edges are golden.
  7. Cool on cookie sheet for 1 minutes. Transfer cookies to wire rack and let cool.




Cinderella Update

Here are some further thoughts about Cinderella versions that we recently checked out of the library:

The Egyptian CinderellaThe Egyptian Cinderella by Shirley Climo

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I *loved* this book as a child–I think partly because it was my first introduction to the idea that fairy tales can have different versions. Reading it to my kids as an adult, I still enjoy the story and the pictures, and I think it’s interesting that Climo did some research and that the story apparently has some (small) basis in history.

BUT, I think that there are some racial overtones that I didn’t pick up on as a kid and that I don’t like. Rhodopis, the Cinderella figure, is described as “red” and “rosy” (hence her name), because she burns under the Egyptian sun, but she is essentially a white heroine with brown bad guys. I don’t think the book should be altogether avoided; after all, the Pharoah who she marries is also Egyptian. Still, the overall casting and the description of Rhodopis’ coloring as “the most Egyptian of all” at the end of the story is something readers should be aware of.

One good way to share this might be to do it as part of a group of Cinderella retellings (and I actually checked it out most recently because of my 2 year old daughter’s current obsession with all things Cinderella) and be sure to include some of the versions that don’t have a white Cinderella: Yeh-Shen, Cendrillon, or The Rough Face Girl, for example.

CinderellaCinderella by Barbara McClintock

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This was a nice retelling of Perrault, and I think was a good update from Marcia Brown’s similar retelling. The pictures, although they show the characters in 17th century clothes, do look more modern in the style of artwork.

(I am learning about WordPress, and having trouble getting any extra spaces I add to stay added…so here’s an extra line of text to make the pictures display correctly!)

Cendrillon: A Caribbean CinderellaCendrillon: A Caribbean Cinderella by Robert D. San Souci

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This was an enjoyable French Caribbean version of Cinderella, and it was largely unique because it was told from the point of view of the godmother (who is not a fairy, but does have a magic wand). I liked the cultural details included–especially how it didn’t have just a generic Caribbean setting, but was obviously one of the French Caribbean islands–and I liked how magic was shown to have a definite limit on how it could help. Brian Pinkney does the pictures, and they work wonderfully with the story.

(More extra text to keep WordPress happy.)
Cinderella/CenicientaCinderella/Cenicienta by Francesc Boada

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This is a fine retelling of Perrault, and the pictures, while not stellar, are engaging. However, as a bilingual book, I don’t think it’s fabulous. It’s of course very long to be read in both languages in one sitting; the main problem, though, is that Cinderella is still obviously European (and not Spanish or otherwise Mediterranean), and it doesn’t highlight or celebrate Latino culture in any meaningful way.

(And still more text…)
Cindy Ellen: A Wild Western CinderellaCindy Ellen: A Wild Western Cinderella by Susan Lowell

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I liked this one more than I expected to–I’ve never been a huge western fan, but the cowgirl-themed Cinderella retelling was just fun.

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We also checked out
Cinder-EllyCinder-Elly by Frances Minters

the rap version listed in the previous Cinderella post, and I think the kids all took turns looking at it–but it was very long, and I never got around to reading it.

Library Books Enjoyed, 5/8/13

We had a good crop of library books this week, and while I didn’t personally enjoy all of them, my kids did:

Where Is Home, Little Pip?Where Is Home, Little Pip? by Karma Wilson

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I have liked almost everything by Karma Wilson, and so have my kids. This is a sweet story about a penguin who gets lost which talks about the meaning of home…the “moral” at the end of the story is still confusing to my 4 year old (but aren’t they going to go home?), but he enjoys it nonetheless.

Who Will Haunt My House on Halloween?Who Will Haunt My House on Halloween? by Jerry Pallotta

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I did NOT like this Halloween book (and not just because it’s May). The girl basically talks about all the things she is scared of at Halloween, and seems to be having a horrible time–but then goes out trick-or-treating happily with her friends, all dressed like these scary things, at the end.

BUT, my kids loved it–I don’t know if was just that Halloween and trick-or-treating are so amazing that no book on the subject can go wrong, or if I’m missing some other appeal factor, but they have either been asking me to read it or looking it over themselves all week long.

Hence the compromise rating of 3 stars.

Who Wants to Be a Poodle I Don'tWho Wants to Be a Poodle I Don’t by Lauren Child

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I was looking forward to this one, since I enjoy Charlie and Lola so much, but it turned out to be only ok. The idea of a poodle who does not want to behave very poodle-y is cute, but it was a very long read-aloud, the human in the story was very annoying, and it was just not one that charmed me. The kids enjoyed it but don’t seem to be asking for lots of rereads.

(Extra text to make the pictures space out correctly…feel free to let me know if you know a better way to do this! All my line break tags disappear after I save…)

Who Needs That Nose?Who Needs That Nose? by Karen Clemens Warrick

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Very fun read-aloud–kids see a nose and hear a description (in fairly free rhyme), then guess which animal it belongs to before turning the page. N. LOVED it during storytime at the library (he guessed all of the noses right), and we then had to bring it home and reread several times this week. I like that there is some information about each of the animals at the end of the book, for those who are inclined to want a little more.

Split! Splat!Split! Splat! by Amy Gibson

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Cute onomatopoeic about playing outside in and after the rain–at times, the rhythm and sounds become a tongue-twister for the adult reading it, but if you can manage it and/or practice a lot, it can flow very nicely.

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