Monday, May 31, 2010

Book Acquisitions (not quite Mailbox Monday)

It has been a great Memorial Day weekend here!  On Saturday my husband and I went to the Half Price Bookstore in Westport, MO and then we ventured to a "new-to-us" but rather established local Dive (as Guy Fieri would call it) called the Westport Flea Market Bar and Grill.  Well, the flea market was nothing to sneeze at but the grill --- oh my word, one of the best hamburgers I have ever eaten!  I don't think I will have  problem coercing Geoff to go to Half Price Books any longer - if I promise him lunch in return.

On Sunday we went to a Hot Air Balloon festival in a small town about twenty minutes away.  When we left our house around 5:30 it was sunny; when we arrived at the park it was cloudy; thirty minutes before take-off they canceled the show.  There was a chance of two inch hail and sixty mile per hour winds!  (this would be typical Kansas threatening weather, so we really weren't too concerned...but totally understood the reason for the cancellation).  Fortunately we had enough time to taste a delicious pulled-pork sandwich and take a couple of pictures.  Hopefully we will have better luck next year.

Today I volunteered to help a friend scrapbook an album for her daughter's upcoming wedding.  It has been nearly two years since I scrapbooked (and I used to be a consultant!) and it felt really good to be in that creative mode again.  In fact, I was so inspired that I came home and printed off a couple of photographs from a previous European vacation that I hope to develop into some kind of Mixed Media art project (are you familiar with this term?  It was new to me until this weekend, but I am anxious to try it out).  Anyway, that will be my focus for this upcoming week.

In the meantime....I did not let the Half Price Bookstore 20% off Sale go to waste.  I managed to visit all four stores in my area and I found four great bargains.  I think I was rather selective because I know the annual library book sale is coming up on June 8-12 and I am saving my pennies for that one.  The books I managed to bring home from this week's sale include:

  • unopened audiobook on CD of To Kill a Mockingbird with Sissy Spacek as narrator.  I have had several bloggers recommend this as a great audiobook,  and since I read this book every year in anticipation of teaching it to my 9th graders, I thought an audio experience might be a nice change.  The Half Price price was $14.98 and I was able to take another 20% off of that!
  • A Christmas Memory, One Christmas, and The Thanksgiving Visitor by Truman Capote.  I have read this book before and really enjoyed it.  I knew I wanted to have it in my own personal Christmas collection, and the condition of the book is nearly new.  I simply could not resist.
  • We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson.  I read this book last year for Carl's RIP Challenge and I knew I wanted to have it in my own personal library.  I would like to re-read it each fall - it was just that good.  I have been on the lookout for this book for well over six months and with the added 20% off --- it was another "steal" as far as I am concerned.
  • Looking at Pictures by Joy Richardson.  I mentioned my trip to the Nelson Atkins Museum last week and the hour I spent in their bookstore.  I hemmed and hawed whether to by this book for at least half an hour.  Instead I opted to come home and request it from the library.  Once I received the book a couple of days later, I instantly knew that this was a book that I had to have.  I can't tell you how ecstatic I was to find this at Half Price - and with an additional discount.  I felt as though I had brought home the mother load!!
I also managed to receive three books this week in the mail -- a rare occurrence for me.  One of the books I won - and the other two I received from Paperback Swap.  Yes, I have decided to try this book swapping site - mostly due to the accolades of Cathy and Kim - and I must say that it is a pretty amazing.  It has taken me a while to get acclimated.  I have managed to mail 8 of my own books, but have only received 2 from other participants.  Although I am learning that the key is to keep you wishlist filled (and Paperback Swap helps you with that task by sending you a wish list every weekday with approximately 2,000 books that are available for you to peruse - you can even set your own parameters - and "wish away")  and to check the "just listed" queue on a regular basis.  I can see where this site could become very addicting in the future!  The books received in my mailbox include:
  • Real Murders by Charlaine Harris.  I am not really into the Sookie Stackhouse series, but this one focuses on Aurora Teagarden, a librarian who finds herself in the midst of a who-done-it.  Librarians are more my style.
  • Farm Fresh Murder by Paige Shelton.  This was a win from Rob at Books are Like Candy Corn and it is an autographed copy no less!  I am very exited to read this first in the series!
  • Miss Julia Speaks Her Mind by Ann B. Ross.  This was my second Paperback Swap receipt.  I can't remember where I heard of this author, but I was instantly intrigued by her story.  She did not write this series until well past her forties, and it is now a highly successful series.  She  gives this middle-aged teacher some hope in life!
So there you have it -- a list of seven new books brought into the household to stay.  This does not include the fifty plus library books I have strewn all over the place - but that would be the subject of another post.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

TSS: An Idea....

This has been a fabulous book blogging week!  Armchair BEA was a huge success and many, many thanks go to all those who were behind the scenes to create such an awesome "virtual" experience.  I participated each day of the event with postings on my "ideal" BEA schedule, an interview with Sarah of Green Bean Teen Queen, a book giveaway (that continues through June 4 -- so there is still time to enter), and an inspiration for blog posting.  I am very anxious for all the "real life" BEA-ers to rest, relax, and then post all their wonderful experiences, photos, and book acquisitions for the rest of us to see.

On Friday I read several of the posts that focused on blog content and there seemed to be a general theme:  while we are book-focused blogs, we are not solely book bloggers.  Does that make sense?  These bloggers, in particular Florinda, Suey, and Aths, made mention that they would like to get to know the person behind the post.  That while book reviews and such are a great focus, they also want to read some personal content.

This reminds me of a lesson that I try to instill in my students at the beginning of each academic year.  We always start off with a list of Elements of Fiction - terminology that is useful when discussing literary content.  While the five basic elements include Setting, Characters, Plot, Conflict/Resolution, and Theme --- there are various components of each.  When discussing characters we learn that there are Round Characters (those who have several different character traits creating a complex, real-to-life character) and Flat Characters (those who typically exhibit only one character trait).  Inevitably the students interpret this to mean that Round characters are exciting and Flat characters are dull.  They are hesitant to label a character as "flat" and "static" because they feel they are insulting the character (what can I say - I have sensitive students).  So, I quickly try to dispel that myth with an example.

I tell them to  pretend that this classroom is a novel - and we are all characters in the novel.  To them, I am a rather flat, static character:  all I do is teach and grade; there is really nothing more to me in the classroom.  That does not mean, however, that once I leave the classroom (the novel, as it were) --- I am a very round, dynamic individual.  I have many other interests and hobbies.  I am NOT a boring person - I just exhibit only one trait in this given circumstance.  Once students realize that they are not insulting the character, they are more willing to use the labels "flat" and "static" --- they no longer feel that they are making a judgment call.

So, in that vain, I thought I would try to represent myself as a more "dynamic, round" blogger - rather than the flat, static blogger that perhaps I have portrayed up to this point.  One way that I thought I might do this is with a special feature, perhaps a meme.  But what?!  My creative juices are rather static themselves right now.

And then it occurred to me.  I love to travel.  In fact, I had high hopes of traveling to London and Paris this summer, but that fell through.  So instead, I have decided to try to find some local places of interest that I might visit:  still travel, but in a smaller circle.  And that is the inspiration for my idea....

This summer I plan to learn a lot about my hometown and the surrounding area.  Each week I will post a little about my traveling adventures, and perhaps I might entice you to want to visit one of these places if you are ever in the neighborhood.  In return, I would LOVE to read about your local hometown --- both the typical tourist sites (that I have probably yet to visit) and the out-of-the ordinary spots that you have found and learned to appreciate.  In this way we can begin to recognize our country (and for my international readers - our world) a little better and in the meantime I can begin to keep track of all the future vacation destinations I wish to visit when I have more time and money at my disposal.

So what do you think?  Would you be interested in reading these kinds of posts?  Would you be interested in contributing to this type of meme on a regular or even infrequent basis?

Obviously there are some details to work out, but I thought I would take an opinion poll first to test the waters, so to speak.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Library Loot: Part 2 - Cookbooks

I mentioned last week - prior to the fabulous Armchair BEA event - that I have made several online visits to my local library, requesting books like there is no tomorrow.  The first group of library books posted had to do with my newfound hobby of photography.  Today's loot, in honor of Weekend Cooking, will focus on an old past-time of mine, cooking.

I used to love to cook - before picky eaters and full-time job entered my life.  But I am finally at a point where the picky eater fix their own meal (on the rare chance that she is actually home for dinner), and I feel that my teaching life is at a point where I do not have to focus on it constantly.  I am hoping to find some new recipes to add to my old collection, so that come fall I can easily plan a week's worth of meals, cook about 3 nights out of 7, and enjoy leftovers the remaining days.

The cookbooks that I focused on this time are Food Network stars that never fail:  Rachel Ray (I need to master the 30 minute meal), the Barefoot Contessa, and Paula Dean.  I also added a Taste of Home book to the mix as well as a Chinese book by Martin Yan to hopefully help me utilize my new wok.

I quickly discovered while skimming these books that I will have to make the recipes on a rather infrequent basis or my waste-line will expand exponentially and all the money I saved by eating in - will soon be spent on a new wardrobe.  But...not to fear...I just went online and ordered several "lower fat" cookbooks that should be ready for pick up next week.  So....I will obviously not run short of library loot postings over the summer months!

Do you have a favorite low-fat summer recipe (or cookbook) that you would like to share?  I would love to hear!

Friday, May 28, 2010

Armchair BEA: Inspiration for a Blog Post

What to write about?  I know for several bloggers that can be a pesky question.  Sure, there are some wonderful memes available to help us write a post --- but sometimes the questions posed do not relate to me, or it is a topic that I have just discussed and do not wish to repeat.  Sure, we can write book reviews, but if life has kept us busy from reading, then the reviews are lacking.  Sometimes there is a thought-provoking post from another blogger that begs us to respond.  And sometimes it comes from other places.  Here is a peak into my inspiration for today's post.

About three weeks ago my brother and his wife came into town to help celebrate Mother's Day with my 82-year old mother.  While they spent quite a bit of time socializing with her, she does tend to need an afternoon nap, which left us with enough time to visit the Nelson-Atkins Museum here in Kansas City.  Now both of them are far more knowledgeable of art than me, but I was anxious to go with them in the hopes that some of that knowledge and insight would transfer over.  I enjoy Impressionism, their true love is modern art.  So, they entertained me while we walked through the European Art collection, and then we sauntered over to the new Block building to gaze at the modern, contemporary works.

Be-still my heart!  The first painting I saw was this one:  Interior with a Book by Diebenkorn and I was instantly transfixed.  In fact, I could almost think of nothing else for the following two weeks.  I finally drove myself to the museum this past Wednesday just so I could look at the painting again.  It is the beach lovers, bibliophile's dream come true.

Now hold that thought......

I thoroughly enjoy Cathy's blog, Kittling:  Books, and anxiously await her Wednesday interviews at Scene of the Blog and her weekend Weekly Round Up posts.  Cathy always has an opinion poll in which we can submit our vote, and there is always some "bookish" art that is showcased.  I am not sure how long she has had this picture posted, but it caught my attention for the first time last weekend.  I was immediately smitten.  So much so, that I researched the artist (Deborah DeWit Marchant), discovered that she had a book published entitled, In the Presence of Books, and I immediately ordered it through the inter-library loan system.

Let me tell you - this book is a treasure trove for all those who love books and want to be reminded of the peace and serenity that comes from curling up with a good book (and perhaps a blanket, or cup of tea, or a writing journal).  And for those who think that reading is strictly a solitary activity?  There are several paintings that prove otherwise.  It is a feast for the eyes and for the soul.  I plan to order a copy for myself immediately - in the hopes of always finding just the perfect painting to view at the end of a hectic day.  (there are over 55 paintings in the book, so that is more than one painting a week to muse and mediate)

Finally I must say that I was completely taken with one particular painting:  The Exchange.  I shows the transformation of a book into a bird that soars into the sky with a flock of blackbirds.  For those of you who have read Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury, you are aware of his constant compariso of birds and books.  I think this will be a fabulous way for me to introduce this symbolism to my 9th grade class when we start reading the novel.  It is absolutely true:  a picture can be worth a thousand words and this illustration will certainly help these young students understand the relationship that Mr. Bradbury is trying to make.

Let me leave you with a few chosen passages from the introduction of the book, written by Kim Stafford:
This is a book of spells:  Light falls on an open book.  you gaze, read, pass beyond.  A message smuggles from the writer's hand to the reader's soul.  From the book you turn, look far away.  In a moment, you will read that last sentence again, and again your pulse will quicken.  What you long sought has arrived, and you will not be as you were.
In these paintings, the reader has put down her book and walked forth, seeking in the evening sky what was hinted on the page.  The reader has left  a stack of books beside the chair, where lamplight pools, where all is possessed of calm, to seek at the window something not yet known, but palpable.  The reader has left the bed, where a book lies waiting, face down, to love again.  The book is the meal before us....the offering before a painting in the painting that is the world beyond the book, and before.  The reader is on a journey, and the book, open in hand, offers a parallel quest that carries the traveler into the past as the train or the car or the life moves forward.
I realize that this may not be a book for all, but I appreciate you allowing me to share it with you today.

PS - this post has been slightly edited as I decided that perhaps the content did fit into the Armchair BEA boundaries.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Armchair BEA: Novel Destinations Give-away!

As many have already discussed on "real" BEA posts as well as these "virtual" posts --- meeting the authors and having them sign their newest books is always a highlight of the Expo Experience.  Now, I am a rather shy person, so it was a big deal for me just to stand in line - try think of something to say to the author that didn't sound like a bumbling idiot - and then not trip over myself as I walked away.  But last year I attempted something even more daring:  I asked a couple of the authors if they wouldn't mind signing two books -- one for me and one for a giveaway on my blog.  And do you know what I discovered?!  They are only more than happy to do so!  In fact, many of them talked about how much they enjoy book blogs, how integral book bloggers are to the success of authors, and they requested that I send them a link to my review.  I was in awe and learned that the truth of the old adage, "The worst that can happen is that they can say no."

Well, once I returned from BEA 2009 life happened and as a result, I still have a couple of those books that I received last year sitting on my shelves.  So, I plan to give away one here in honor of BEA 2010 -- and then I plan to give away the other this fall during Carl's RIP challenge (which I will assume that he will host again!)

The autographed book that I am giving away today is Novel Destinations:  Literary Landmarks from Jane Austen's Bath to Ernest Hemingway's Key West by Shannon McKenna Schmidt and Joni Rendon.  I have read this book - twice - from the local library and I was thrilled to finally receive my own copy.

I love to travel - and I love to read - so this book is like paradise to me.  In fact last year I hosted my first reading challenge, the Summer Vacation Reading Challenge, where I encouraged participants to take a literary vacation to any destination of choice.  While there are several "novel destinations" detailed in this book that I would love to visit someday (Jane Austen's cottage in Chatsworth, the Brontes house is Haworth, Thoreau's Walden Pond and Alcott's Orchard House, both in Concord, MA -- just to name a few), I am content with reading about them in detail and daydreaming about the tours that I would take, the bed-and-breakfast where I would sleep, and the meals that I would eat.  There are even suggestions for other sites of interest in the area.  To read a more detailed description of my experience with these two lovely authors, please visit my summary post here.

If you love reading - and armchair traveling as much as I do - then I encourage you to enter this modest give away.  In the comments section, please tell me which "novel destination" you would most like to visit and why.  Be sure to leave a valid email address so that I contact the winner.

This contest will be open for one week (just in case any "real" BEA attendees would like to enter) and I will select the winner using on Friday, June 4, 2010.  Good luck to all - and I look forward to hearing your literary vacation dreams!

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Armchair BEA: Blogger Interviews

One of the wonderful planned activities of Armchair BEA was to schedule blogger interviews.  Each of us willing participants was paired to interview one other blogger --- and then a separate blogger was paired to interview us.  Rachelle at Bibliobabe interviewed me  and I, in turn, had the pleasure of interviewing  Sarah of Green Bean Teen Queen.  This was a double-barrel opportunity for me, as I did not know either of these women prior to Armchair BEA -- and now I have two more book blogs to follow!

Well, call it fate - kismet - or just plain coincidence - but one of the first things I noticed when I visited Sarah's website for the first time was that she lives in Missouri.  I thought that it was interesting that the interview arrangers paired two bloggers from neighboring states (I live in Kansas).  So I opened my interview by voicing our close proximity.  Come to find out.....Sarah's mother teaches in my town!!  We do not live in her particular district, but I thought it was just amazing that Sarah and I already started off on common ground.

Anyway...on with the interview:

I noticed on your website that you are "teen and tween librarian"  How did you decide to major in library sciences?  

I have an undergrad degree in Communication/Radio. After college I had a random thought that I wanted to be a librarian and it just seemed to make sense.  I'm not sure how I came up with it, but I love to read and talking about books and helping people, so it was the perfect job! Now I'm finishing up my Master's in Library Science.  I've worked in the library for almost four years and I'm still in the first library system I started in, although I've worked in children's and teen/adult reference and at two branches.

With the advent of all the eReaders lately - and technology in general, what do you see as the future of library sciences? 

People always seem to say the library is going to fade away, but I just tell those critics to visit the library.  Every day our computers are full, our circulation is up, and the library is not just for books. We have downloadable e-books and e-audiobooks (and they're free!), music, DVDs, and lots of free programs.  Google doesn't have every answer and as technology adapts, the library adapts too.  Just like not everyone has a computer, I don't think everyone will have an e-reader, at least not for a very long time.  Plus, the library has free resources and if e-readers take over, then you'll see e-readers in the library as well as books. 

Would you mind sharing what is involved in being a tween/teen librarian? 

 I plan programs for teens, run events, make booklists and book displays, I'm the branch reader's advisory person for teen books, and I answer teen's reference questions.  I give school tours of the library, help with research, and do school visits to promote the library.  My job is ever changing!  I don't do the book ordering, but I assist with it and make suggestions to our collection department.  Since I work in a public library setting, we can order more than a school library would and don't have to worry about age guidelines because the teen department covers all teens.  As for what teens are reading, I think the books themselves have changed, not the teens.  When I was a teen, it was a lot of TV tie-in novels, Sweet Valley High and Fear Street.  YA today doesn't talk down to it's readers and I think the books are more real and relateable-from drama to humor-and there's more to pick from.  As for library service, I think it's grown for teens. I never had a dedicated teen librarian, and the teens at my library do. They have someone to ask for help with homework, talk books, or just hang out at the library with.  I think it's the best job-and important because these teens have a love for the library.  

How long have you kept this blog?  How did you come upon the name Green Bean Teen Queen?

I've had my blog for two years.  I came up with name because my maiden name is "Bean" and it was funny that I worked with teens and it all rhymed.  Plus green bean just sounds fun!

What would be some top recommendations that you would have my readers (who more likely have children in the tween/teen category)?  What do you see as this year's popular pick?

The final book in the Hunger Games trilogy is out in August and that seems to be the top of everyone's wish list.  Paranormal is still really big and my teens are loving it.  I've been doing school visits and they've been telling me that they love series-no matter the length! I've seen lots of readers with copies of The Red Pyramid on their desk this year too. 

What other genres of books do you enjoy reading?

When I do read adult books, it's most likely chick-lit. I love a fun fluffy romantic read! 

Have you always been an avid reader?  What do you think sparked that interest?  What advice would you give parents today whose children seem to balk at reading?

I've always loved reading!  I grew up going to the library every week-sometimes daily.  My parents read to me and I saw them reading when I was growing up.  They're both big book lovers as well, so they shared that with me.  I tell my teens there's no such thing as a non-reader, they just haven't met the right book yet!  For parents, I would tell them don't force a book on your child, don't force reading levels, let them read what they enjoy-even if that means manga, comics, graphic novels, or audiobooks! We all have different learning styles and reading styles.  If they don't like a book, don't finish it-life's too short to waste your time on bad books!  If you don't like one, try another one.  Ask a librarian for suggestions-that's our job!  And most importantly, model reading-read at home by yourself in front of your children and read with your children.  That's the biggest part of growing a reader!

I so enjoyed this opportunity to meet Sarah and I thank armchair BEA for pairing us up.  

I encourage all of you to visit Sarah's blog soon - and check out her new "pink hair"  I am sure it is a hit with the Teen/Tween crowd.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Armchair BEA: 1st Post

Last year I was privileged to attend BEA 2009 at the Jacob Javitz Center in NYC.  It was a fabulous experience on many fronts.  First of all, my husband and I stayed at the apartment of great friends and were able to rest, relax, and reconnect after nearly a decade.  Each morning I would catch the cross town bus to BEA and spend the day, and then each night we would go out for dinner and visit old stomping grounds (I actually lived in Greenwich Village from 1984-1988 and it is always fun to revisit the old neighborhood to see how much has changed....and how much has stayed the same).

The highlights of last year's BEA for me included:
  • meeting fellow book bloggers.  It was truly amazing to me how their blogs are such an extension of who they are in person.  I easily recognized each and every blogger - and their personality is just as warm and genuine in person as it is on the page.
  • being a part of the Netgalley booth to answer any questions about book blogging
  • attending autograph sessions --- which included Novel Destinations by Shannon McKenna Schmidt and Joni  Rendon,  The Physick of Deliverance Dane by Katherine Howe, and Zig-Zagging:  Loving Madly, Losing Badly, How Ziggy Changed My Life by Tom Wilson (he hand drew a Ziggy cartoon in each book he autographed!).
  • collecting countless free books and ARCs of every genre imaginable (unfortunately I did not accurately calculate the shipping charges for all those "free" books)
  • attending the break out session about book bloggers and watching the panel of my peers do such an awesome job representing us to the trade.
I would not give up that experience for the world - and I am very grateful to have had that opportunity.  But I must say....I am looking forward to this Armchair BEA event just as much.  I tend to communicate better in a writing format rather than an in-person situation (I do not think well on my feet and I tend to be shy and tongue-tied), so I expect to have great fun visiting all your blog sites and learning bookish things from the comfort of my own home.

I did create a "virtual" BEA schedule, though, that I am more than happy to share with you.  I managed to glean most of this information off the BEA website, but also from Jen's wonderful post.

On Wednesday I would arrive at the convention around 8:30 and register early as I would like to attend a couple of morning autograph signings:
  • 9:30 - 10:30 --- Barry Brunonia will be signing her newest book, The Map of True Places (I just loved the Lace Reader and look forward to reading this newest book)
  • 10:00 - 11:00 --- Louis Gosset Jr., will be signing his newest book, An Actor and a Gentleman (I love him as an actor and a food connoisseur.  His roles in An Officer and a Gentleman and The Shawshank Redemption are stellar)
  • 11:00 - 12:00 ---- Nancy Pearl will be signing a galley of Book Lust to Go
  • I am sure I would be ready for a hot pretzel and coke from a local street vendor by this time.  I would hope that I could meet up with some of the same gang as last year:  Kathy, Candace, Amy, Julie, Dawn, and Stephanie.  I would also hope to see Nicole and Lenore again.  And I would love if Wendy and Carey could join us so that I could finally meet them in person!
  • 1:00 - 3:00 -- I would spend the time perusing the floor. I would look at all the new releases being advertised for fall, and pick up a few brochures of selected publishing houses (I particularly enjoy Sourcebooks, Hachette, Penguin Classics, Harper Collins, Random House Algonquin, and Chronicle Books).  I imagine that there would be one or two book giveaways that I could not resist.
  • 3:00 - 4:00 --- attend the champagne toast for the 50th Anniversary celebration of Harper Lee's classic, To Kill a Mockingbird (I teach this book and look forward to re-reading it every year with my 9th grade class).
  • Since this is a fairly early day - I would spend the rest of the afternoon browsing the wonderful bookstores of NYC.  Most notably I would want to revisit one of my old favorites, Kitchen Arts and Letters on the Upper East Side, Partners and Crime in the Village, and the quintessential.....Strand Bookstore.
  • At this point I would probably be dog tired and would like nothing more than a slice or two of great New York Pizza, perhaps a glass of chianti, and call it a night.

Thursday's Schedule would look something like this:
  • arrive around 9:30 or 10:00 and read Publisher's Weekly morning edition
  • 11:30 - 12:30 --- Laurie Halse Anderson will be signing copies of Forge (I absolutely loved Speak and am anxiously waiting to read Wintergirls.  I know that my own teenage daughter would love an autographed copy of one of this talented author's works).
  • 1:00 - 2:00 --- Rick Sammon will be signing copies of Confessions of a Compact Camera Shooter (for those of you who are regular readers of my blog, you know that I am developing a newfound passion for photography and I have borrowed several books from the library by this talented author and photographer)
  • Lunch would be in order right about now....
  • 3:00 - 4:00 --- do a final tour of the floor before calling it a day.
  • 4:00 - 7:00 --- visit the New York Public Library (the Ottendorfer Library on 2nd Avenue) where Melissa Sue Anderson will be giving a talk and then signing copies of her newest book, The Way I See It (I loved watching Little House on the Prairie in re-runs with my son.  Last year I purchased Melissa Gilbert's book, Prairie Tale, and this would make a nice companion novel).  
  • Since I would already be half way there, I think that dinner would probably be an Italian Feast in Little Italy or great Asian cuisine in Chinatown.
At this point in the trip my head would be swimming with new books I want to read, new authors I want to investigate, and new blog posts I want to write.

How about you?  Where have you traveled in your virtual BEA journey?

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Library Loot: Part 1

I don't know what it is about my personality --- it is as though I am in a constant state of "all-or-nothing" mode.  Inherently I know that I have twelve more weeks of summer vacation.  I know that is a lot of time.  And yet...I am acting as though I must accomplish a year's worth of activities each week.  I am sure whatever my condition has the suffix -aholic attached to it:  Workaholic - Vacation-aholic??

It is for this reason that my Library Loot post will not be one....not two....but actually three different posts (and possibly a fourth!).  Why you ask?!  Because in one week alone I brought home over 25 books and I still have another 30 books on hold.  Now in my defense, not all of these books are novels or I really would be certifiably crazy.  No, they can easily be divided into 4 or more categories, which is why I am dividing my posts.

The first series of books are devoted to the theme of photography.  I believe I shared with you in the spring that I would like to be able to take a decent photograph.  No aspirations of becoming a photographer, just the ability to take a photo that others wouldn't mind viewing.  When I thought I would travel to Europe this summer, I borrowed my daughter's digital SLR and experimented a bit over Spring break.  Now I have chosen to view the postponement of my travels abroad as the opportunity to hone this craft.  To that end, these are the books that I selected to read first (I am sure others will be forthcoming in the weeks ahead):

I have also discovered another addiction in my life --- similar to book blogs:  Flickr.  Are you familiar with this amazing social network site with an educational element?! Oh my, I know it has been in existence for quite sometime, but I had no idea what fun it could be!  I have only uploaded a few photos, although I plan to do lots more of that this summer.  I have also used the How to use Flickr book to discover some amazing photo groups like the bookshelf project (what each bibliophile just drools over), cream of the crop (only the top photos are a part of this group and the amazing thing is that you click on details for each picture and learn how they captured the shot!), and moleskine notebooks (I have wanted to keep one for quite a long time, but never thought I was creative enough.  Well, these photos will give even me inspiration!)

If you haven't checked out flickr -- you really should (even if you don't take pictures it is fun to just look at them all) --- and if you would like to view my photostream (such as it is) - please feel free to do so.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Recipe: White Gingerbread

Weekend Cooking is a weekly event sponsored by Beth Fish.  Anyone can participate and it is a lot of fun (plus a great way to find new recipes to add to a familiar repertoire).

I know many of you know JoAnn of Lakeside Musing, but did you know that she and her daughter have started another blog devoted to cooking?  It is called, appropriately, Lakeside Kitchen and I think it is great that two generations can work collaboratively on such a fun project.  Last week they posted about some new cupcake cookbooks received and the impromptu purchase of a mini-muffin tin.  I can't tell you what memories this brought back for me!

When we were still living in Connecticut (circa 1989), my husband was a branch manager for a local bank.  One day he said that he would like to do something for his regular customers who drop in on Saturdays, but he wasn't sure what.  He thought maybe donut holes, but for some reason I piped up and suggested mini muffins.  Well, that one suggestion provided about 5 years worth of Molly's Muffins.  If I didn't bake muffins for the bank, I was baking them for women's Bible study or some other social gathering.

I would typically make about 3 different varieties each week, about 6 dozen of each variety (a double batch of each recipe).  I think I had a rotating group of about 20 or so recipes, so that people wouldn't eat the same muffin twice in one month.  I thought it might be fun to post a couple of these recipes for this weekly meme over the next couple of Saturdays.

Today's recipe is actually a coffee cake of sorts.  I am not sure where the recipe originated, as my mom made it while I was in high school and then I absconded with the recipe after I married.  I adapted the measurements to suit the mini-muffin tins, but typically I make it in a 9x13 Pyrex dish.  This is a very good, basic, rather bland cake that goes well with brunch fare, an elegant luncheon, or just a mid-afternoon snack with a cup of tea.  I hope you enjoy it as much as my family has over the years.

White Gingerbread


  • 4 cups sifted flour
  • 1 cup butter
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 2 beaten eggs
  • 1 cup sour milk or buttermilk
  • 1/2 teaspoon soda - dissolved in milk
  • 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt


  1. Crumb together the flour, sugar and butter.  Reserve 2 cups
  2. To remaining crumbs, add eggs, milk, soda, and spices.  Mix well.
  3. Grease a 9x13 pan.  
  4. Sprinkle half of the reserved crumbs (approximately 1 cup) on the bottom of the pan.
  5. Spread batter over these crumbs (batter will be thick - so I normally place 1/3 at either end and 1/3 in the middle and then spread that way)
  6. Sprinkle remaining crumbs on top.
  7. Bake at 350 degrees for approximately 25-30 minutes - or until tests done.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Mid-Life Crisis (?)

I had a stark realization the other day.  I was surfing the net to find some parks and recs programs and local places of interest when my eye was drawn to the Activities section.  I was scanning the various options which included Hobbies and Interests, Nature and Outdoors, Special Events, and then I came upon it --- the three little words that stopped me dead in my tracks:  50 Plus Programs.

Oh my word -- for the past two decades I have never given that section a thought.  That was for the gray-haired old ladies who want to play bridge.  But now???  Now I am officially a member of 50 Plus age group. How did this happen?  How did I get here?  I still think of myself as late thirties, early forties --- when did I enter the AARP demographic group?

Perhaps I have subconsciously known this shift in life is occurring.  Perhaps this is why I have embarked on so many new interests lately:  writing, art appreciation, and photography.  Perhaps I have come to realize that the expression, "I will do that some year" now has a sense of urgency.  There are only so many "some years" left and while I feel young and have good health, I should take advantage of every moment available to me.  While some may choose to experience a mid-life crisis with an extra-marital affair or plastic surgery to recapture their youthful looks --- I choose to celebrate this "crisis" by enriching my life and my mind with new artistic pursuits.

I am currently reading a small little book entitled, Creating a Charmed Life by Victoria Moran.  I first learned about this book several months ago when Jenners gave it such high praises, but I have only just now made the time to leisurely read her common sense advice.  Just yesterday I read the chapter entitled Live Your Life in Chapters and I found myself nodding in agreement with each passing paragraph.  I think this is what I have done - without knowing what to call it.  I think for me each chapter of life was not only based on a certain age, but also on certain expectations:
  • education chapter:  I not only learned to benefit myself, but I was also compelled to earn good grades to please my parents.  This was something that I wanted to do, but nevertheless, it was an added responsibility.
  • newly married chapter:  I not only became a  responsible adult who could support myself, but I also wanted to support and nurture my husband.  Learning to live "with" someone is entirely different than just dating someone.
  • young parent chapter:  I had yearned to be a parent for as long as I could remember.  I wanted to be a stay-at-home mom and give them my undivided attention.  The personal sacrifices made were made out of choice - but I felt that choice necessitated I put my own life on hold.
  • second career chapter:  while I did not go seeking this late-in-life career option, I simply cannot imagine my life without teaching as a major component.  However, the learning curve has been great and the personal free time has been solely devoted to that one area of life.
But now...I find myself in a new phase of life.  I don't like the sound of 50 Plus....but I like the benefits.  I like that my children are grown (well, nearly grown - the youngest will graduate high school next May), and that they have full, productive lives of their own.  That was my goal all along - and now that it has been achieved, I can begin to focus on me.  

I like that I now have a professional career that gives me a great deal of satisfaction - and one in which I now feel confident and comfortable.  While I will always seek to improve lesson plans and enrich my own learning, I do not feel that I have to devote all my free time to this one exclusive area.

I like that I have found other interests that stimulate my creative side -- a part of me that has lain dormant for far too long.  I like that the internet allows me to find others who are in similar life situations and we can encourage one another to try new activities and soar to new heights.

And...I like the fact that I can see retirement at the end of the tunnel.  I anticipate another decade or so of working, but that gives me time to research and plan all the trips that I hope Geoff and I can take before we become too feeble to travel to far-away destinations like England, France, and Italy.

Am I experiencing a mid-life crisis --- or just excited to be coming into my own?  I don't know, perhaps a bit of both, but I think I like it.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Not Quite "Wordless" Wednesday

One of the goals I hope to accomplish this summer is to learn to take a decent picture.  I have no aspirations of becoming a photographer, but I do want to learn how to compose a shot that someone besides myself wouldn't mind viewing.

I have borrowed my daughter's Canon Rebel camera until I decide which digital SLR I want for myself.  Yesterday was the first sunny day in Kansas in days (although it felt like months!).  I decided to venture to the local children's petting zoo, The Rose Deanna Farmstead, and take a few shots.  Actually, I took about 200 pictures, but I was pleased with about 15 of them.  I set up a Flickr account and experimented with the photo editing software, Picnik, to help 'pop' some of the colors.  Here are a few examples of my debut photography outing.

The quintessential Kansas barn - I wanted to try to capture the reflection in the water

I took countless pictures of the windmill full height, but I liked this photo best

One room schoolhouse from the turn of the century

I recently read a photography tip:  try to capture the small details.  This was my attempt

I really enjoy this photo of the chicken peering out of the coop.

The goats are a hoot!  They are trained to think that humans are synonymous with free food.

If the weather holds out tomorrow (yes, we are supposed to get another 2-3 inches of rain by Thursday night!), then I plan to take the camera to the local Arboretum to try my hand at floral and fauna pictures.

I hope you are having a lovely week!

Preparing for BEA?

This time last year I was twittering madly every night - finding out who was going to be where at the BEA in NYC.  I had the opportunity to go and it was such an amazing experience.  Geoff and I stayed with long-time friends in their apartment on 1st Avenue and I rode the cross-town bus to the Jacob Javitz center where I met Stephanie and we learned the lay of the land together.  I fondly remember our impromptu lunch outside at the nearest hot dog vendor with Amy, Dawn, Julie, Kathy, and Candace.  I was so amazed at the elaborate booths, the fantastic book give-aways, and the terrific opportunity to meet so many authors!  I had high hopes of attending again this year and even pre-registered; but alas, plans fell through.

However....what is a book blogger to do when she can't attend the event in person?  Well, attend the virtual event of course!  I am super excited to be a part of the Armchair BEA festivities.  If you haven't signed up for this online spectacular, there is still time to do so.  While I am not sure who all is behind the scenes of this unique event, I know that I am grateful to each and every one of them for putting in the hours for us to have a great "at home" BEA experience.

I still have a couple of autographed ARCs that I received last year that I hope to give away during the armchair BEA 2010 celebration, so be sure to check back next week for the particulars.

And for those who are attending the real deal, know that I will be there in spirit.  Please have a "dirty water dawg" for me :)

Monday, May 17, 2010

Review: The Book of Lost Things

The Book of Lost Things
by John Connolly
published by Atria Books
copyright:  2006

rating:  3.5 out of 5

One of the first things I chose to do when I learned I would not be going to Oxford this summer was to sign up for a few more reading challenges; and one of the first reading challenges I chose to join was Carl's Once Upon a Time challenge.  I had so much fun with his RIP challenge this past fall that I knew I wanted to be a part of his fantasy festivities this spring.

Now, I am not a fan of fantasy fiction -- yet --- but this is just one area in which I would like to expand my literary horizons.  I chose to read The Book of Lost Things because I had heard such lovely reviews from fellow book bloggers (namely Nymeth, Robin and Chris), and I had purchased a copy of the book at a used book sale several months ago.  This would allow me to "double dip" and use the reading of this book towards Carl's challenge as well as the TBR Lite challenge.

I found the basic premise of the story to be fascinating!  David is a young child and a part of an idyllic family, that is, until his mother becomes very sick.  David is very close to his mother and strives to do all a young child can do to help heal a parent:  he is obedient, he prays, and he embraces her love of reading.  Unfortunately, her illness is more than his efforts can handle, and she eventually dies.  David's father eventually remarries and with his second wife, Rose, he has another son, Georgie.

David's reaction to this new family is to be expected:  he is jealous of his half-brother, he is leery of his step-mother, and he is mournful of the family life he once had.  David retreats into his book-filled room and soon discovers that he can hear the books whispering.  At one point, he even hears his dead mother's voice beckoning him into the woods behind the house.  She is in trouble and she needs him to save her.  He immediately follows.  Our unlikely hero has now embarked on his adventure!

The woods are indeed enchanted, as one would expect of a fairy tale, and David finds himself in the middle of a quest:  to save his mother from peril and to return to his original home.  Along the way he meets a mentor, the Woodsman, who befriends David and promises to take him to the castle where he will learn how he can return home (this was reminiscent of the Wizard of Oz  - and at one point reference was made that story).

The wolves and loups are evil creatures and are determined to kill David before he reaches the castle.  They are certain that he is to be renamed the King of the forest - and they have plans to claim the throne for themselves.  David also meets a knight, Roland, and David becomes his squire.  David agrees to accompany him on his personal quest, and in return Roland will lead David to the castle (this was reminiscent of the great knightly tales of King Arthur).

Other well-known fairy tales, Snow White in particular, are referenced, but with an altered storyline than we are accustomed.  I laughed out loud at the retelling of Snow White, but most of the other familiar stories had far darker undertones than the original.  In fact, this entire story has rather gruesome, and somewhat graphic, depictions of the evil that lurks within the enchanted forest.

As all good fairy tales end, David eventually finds his way back home and he is now grateful for the family that he has.  In the woods he has been forced to grow up and discover strengths and talents that he never knew he possessed.  He truly does become the hero of the story and the reader is left satisfied that he will return to his world a confident, mature, and upstanding member of society.

I enjoyed the storyline.  While it was a bit darker than I would have liked, it definitely held my attention.  The fantasy portion of the book had enough elements of reality, that my black-and-white brain could truly grasp the meaning and enjoy the story.  The ending was expected and yet quite thought-provoking.  The author not only resolves the conflict, but all the loose ends of David's life are beautifully knitted together.  The storyline receives a 3 out of 5 in my opinion.

What truly stands out for me with this book, however, is not the plot, but the eloquent way in which it is told.  The author is a master at word images and lingering metaphors.  I was instantly drawn into the book because of the lyrical language.  Often times I would re-read a section just because of its beautiful writing - not because it was difficult to understand.  The book will remain on my shelf because I believe I can use it in the classroom as an example of excellence in writing, which in my opinion, earns a rating of 5 out of 5.

Let me leave you with buy one of the many examples of this lush writing style:
Stories....came alive in the telling.  Without a human voice to read them aloud, or a pair of wide eyes following them by flashlight beneath the blanket, they had no real existence in our world.  They were like seeds in the beak of a bird, waiting to fall to earth, or the notes of a song laid out on a sheet, yearning for an instrument to bring their music into being.  They lay dormant, hoping for the chance to emerge.  Once someone started to read them, they could begin to change.  They could take root in the imagination, and transform the reader.  Stories wanted to be read, David's mother would whisper.  They needed it.  It was the reason they forced themselves from their world into ours.  They wanted us to give them life.  (page 3)

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Open House Cookbook

It has been a while since I have taken part in Weekend Cooking hosted each week by Beth Fish Reads.  Actually, it has been quite a while since I have taken part in any cooking activity - be it on the weekend or during the week.  However, I hope to change that this summer.

I used to LOVE to cook (hated the clean up, but loved to cook).  Then I had kids.  And my kids were picky eaters.  And I found that I enjoyed a meal without complaints more than I enjoyed gourmet food.  So...the blue box of macaroni and cheese won out over homemade - and fish sticks won out over salmon. youngest is now entering her senior year of high school and it occurred to me that #1 - she is no longer as picky as she used to be and #2 - she is rarely home to enjoy a meal with us anyway.  So, I think it is high time that I organized my life where I can begin to reclaim my kitchen and start preparing fun, tasty, homemade meals that are not only better for me, but better for my pocketbook as well.

This led me to browse my cookbook shelves and discover some long lost friends.  One of my favorite cookbooks of my BK life (before kids) was Sarah Leah Chase's Open-House Cookbook.  Sarah owned a quaint food shop, Que Sera Sarah, on Nantucket Island in the 1980s (isn't everything on Nantucket quaint?  That is my impression anyway), and the recipes found in this book are the tried and true favorites of the weekend vacationers.  What I love about this book, however, are not only the wonderful recipes (with seafood being a featured ingredient of many of them), but the actual prose in which she introduces each one.  At one time in her life Ms. Chase studied language philosophy - and her love of words equals her devotion to food.

The vast majority of the recipes in this book are geared toward summertime fare (she has written another cookbook, Cold Weather Cooking, that concentrates on the hearty winter soups, stews, and casseroles), and I hope to find several must-try recipes.  The most memorable recipes from this collection that I know I will try again are her Chicken Salad variations:  Curried Chicken Salad, Chicken, Apricot Salad with Double-Mustard Mayonnaise, and Classic Chicken and Grape Salad which I will share here.

The introduction to this recipe, which is indicative of her wonderful writing style, states:
While ingredients such as dried thyme, garlic powder, and store-bought mayonnaise reflect the culinary naivete of my adolescence, the ensuing years of food sophistication spent cultivating window boxes of fragrant fresh herbs and whisking together countless varieties of homemade mayonnaise have yet to  yield a more perfectly comforting and soothing chicken salad than this original "Ritz" rendition. (page 164)
Classic Chicken and Grape Salad


  • 3.5 pounds boneless, skinless chicken breasts - poached and cooled
  • 5 ribs celery, coarsely chopped
  • 1.5 cups seedless green grapes, cut in half
  • 1.5 teaspoons dried thyme
  • 1.5 teaspoons garlic powder
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 3 Cups (or to taste) Hellmann's mayonnaise


  1. Cut the chicken breasts into 3/4 to 1 inch chunks, removing and discarding any tough tendons as you go along.
  2. Toss the chicken, celery, and grapes together in a large bowl.  Season with the thyme, garlic powder, salt and pepper.  Bind the salad with the mayonnaise.  You want to use a lot of mayonnaise to make the salad very moist and creamy.
  3. Transfer the salad to a serving bowl and refrigerate covered at least 1 hour before serving.

I hope you enjoy this recipe as much as I do.

I look forward to making it myself --- once the weather in Kansas decides to warm up!

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Time to Relax.....

The 2009/2010 academic school year is now officially over.  I attended graduation last night and begin my summer vacation this morning!  I realized the other day that this will be my first summer off in 5 years; my second summer off in 8 years.  I now know why I am so excited to just stay home.

I am allowing myself this weekend to decompress and then I hope to start some new summer routines on Monday - which include house cleaning, meal planning, fitness walking, daily writing and lots and lots of reading!

Interior with a Book (Diebenkorn)
In the meantime I want to share a painting with you that I saw at the Nelson-Atkins Museum last week when my brother and sister-in-law came into town.  As I have mentioned before, my education in the area of art appreciation has been sorely lacking in my life, but that is something that I want to remedy.  I have taken it upon myself to learn more about Impressionism, and the artistic eras that come right before and right after.  Somehow, however, modern art eludes me --- which just happens to be the specialty of Rodger and Liz.  So....we spent some time in the European Painting section of the museum, and then ventured over to the new wing which houses the modern art.  I was particularly struck by this painting, and have found myself pondering its image all week.

There is something so very peaceful, tranquil, serene about this single chair on the porch of a beach house with a well-worn book on the table. I can almost hear the ocean's waves lap the sandy beach and feel the soft shore breeze on my neck. This is heaven on earth to me.  This is my ideal form of retirement.  The only thing missing for me would be a cup of coffee on the table (if it were morning) - or a glass of chardonnay   (if it were evening).  This is all I need for total contentment.

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