Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Wordless Wednesday: Watch Your Step

The British have such a pleasant way of saying things...

To view other Wordless Wednesday posts, please visit here or here.

Monday, February 23, 2015

Inspire Me Monday: London (Part 2)

Last week was my first foray into the Inspire me Monday meme, hosted by Create-with-Joy.  I decided to capitalize on my excitement for the upcoming European trip by showcasing a few photos from past journeys "across the pond"

Today I will focus on the iconic images of London.

I suppose the first image that flashes across my mind when I think of London is the red double-decker bus, and then my immediate second image is the red phone booths.  They are indeed everywhere, although they never become commonplace to me and always bring a smile to my face.

While we rode the tube more often than any other form of transportation, we did delight in taking a brief sight-seeing tour around town on an "open" upper deck (brief because the air temperature hovered around forty degrees which made the wind chill absolutely frigid).

Buckingham Palace was not the regal castle that I had hoped to see (that was found in Windsor... about an hour's distance outside of town).  The changing of the guard was certainly filled with pomp and circumstance, but I enjoyed the serendipitous occasion to see the marching band practicing for the Queen's upcoming birthday celebration.  We could literally reach out and touch the plumed hats, if we so desired.

Tower Bridge, however, is regal - in my humble opinion.  It is more stately in person than I ever imagined from viewing a photograph.  We did take a tour of the Tower of London and learned all about the gory details of past inhabitants.  For history buffs, the rooms filled with old-fashioned weaponry and suits of armor are a must see, but I much preferred sitting outside on a park bench, staring at the bridge, imagining the stories of all those who have traversed to the other side.

Of course, what Brit Lit teacher wouldn't consider the Globe Theater to be iconic - but quite frankly, even if you aren't a bibliophile, it is well worth a visit.  Sam Wanamaker wasted no expense or time on recreating the Globe exactly as it was in Shakespeare's time.  The tour guides are not only knowledgeable, but humorous and personable.  We even had the opportunity to attend A Midsummer Night's Dream from the groundlings' point of view - which was delightful (but also a bit tiresome on the feet).

Finally, the London Eye is a modern-day icon that should be at the top of everyone's "must do" list.  We went in the evening and witnessed the most spectacular view of the city.  The wheel travels at a very slow rate, so we barely noticed the climb until we reached the top - and then we were completely mesmerized by the aerial view.  The twinkling lights below reminded me of the play Peter Pan as he whisked Wendy, John, and Michael to Neverland... and the stately architecture of Big Ben and Parliament nearly took my breath away.

I am excited to return to London ... and while I will never tire of seeing these images of historical significance, I hope to concentrate my photographic endeavors on the culture of the city - the modern day stories waiting to be told.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

TSS: February 22, 2015

This has been a rare week:  few appointments on the calendar and lots of free time.  I'm not gonna lie, I have LOVED every minute of it.  While I don't have much to show for it, I did begin several projects and promised myself I would learn to enjoy the process rather than focus solely on the outcome. Come to find out... that is beneficial to cultivating DELIGHT in life.

Reading:  While the reading pace has slowed a bit, I am still plugging away at my stack of library books.  I managed to finish:

... and I am about half-way through

Quite a varied list, yes?

I have not yet written the book reviews (although I did develop a manageable review system, I hope), but I have maintained a book journal, where I keep track of pertinent notes and ideas.  I hope to start publishing a few of those later this week.

Writing:  Most of my writing these days is focused on scrapbooks.  I want to complete the family cruise album, but I also had the idea to start a series of digital books.

Many of you may remember the solo trip to Paris I took in July, 2011 (I chronicled the fourteen day event here on the blog).  While I uploaded the 3,500 photos as soon as I got home, I did very little else besides a bit of editing.  I have not done any kind of permanent documentation of the trip, and I feel now is the time.

Originally I thought I could just copy the blog entries into a Shutterfly book and select appropriate photos, but I quickly realized that I want to add the perspective that four years provides.  So I have started to revise those posts in a word document, and then I will conduct the copy-and-paste method.

Europe 2015:  Three weeks from today I leave for a two week trip to Europe with 38 of my closest students and their parents :)  This trip has been about fifteen months in the making, so it still seems more like a dream than a reality.

In preparation for the trip (and a healthier lifestyle) I started walking on the treadmill, which has a dual benefit: helps build endurance and... provides time to view KelbyOne photography videos.  I am currently watching the four videos which focus on travel photography, and then I plan to transition to videos that help me fine-tune my composition skills.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Weekend Cooking: The Mediterranean Diet

It has been a very long while since I last participated in Weekend Cooking, hosted by BethFishReads, but I have never stopped reading the series.  In fact, a regular part of my Saturday routine includes reviewing the various linked posts while sipping my morning cup of coffee.

Since retiring last May, I have thought more about cooking.  Mind you, that thought has not yet translated into action, but I am mentally preparing myself to spend more time in the kitchen.

I enjoy cooking, but the hectic life of my thirties and forties, combined with children's finicky palates, led to a lifestyle of frozen conveniences and fast food.  My body is now craving more healthy food options.

I am not looking to diet in order to lose weight, although I think it is possible with this system.  Rather, I am looking to adopt a healthy way of life - one that includes lots of variety, full of flavor, and adheres to my motto of "moderation in everything".  When I heard about the Mediterranean Diet, I knew I had to check it out.

My husband is 100% Italian, and I love all things French.  We are already entrenched in the Mediterranean mindset.  Over the past few years, I have slowly tried to shift from a meat-and-potatoes dinner fare to more chicken, fish, and vegetables.  What I really need is not necessarily a system, but a jumpstart to creating weekly menus that foster creativity rather than boredom.

I must confess that I have not thoroughly researched this topic.  I found the book at my local library and checked it out.  I enjoyed reading the benefits of this kind of diet, and I think I have discovered a few tips to help me incorporate this way of eating in my own life.

  • Color is key.  Rich, brown whole-grains are better than colorless white.  A variety of vegetables on a plate is better than a large chunk of protein.  Food that is pleasing to the eye is also pleasing to the tummy.
  • Olive Oil is a good fat.  Not only are there health benefits to adding this ingredient to my "fat free" diet, it also adds flavor to an otherwise bland menu.  I am so excited to have an excuse to visit The Tasteful Olive and Penzeys on a regular basis.
  • Almonds and/or Walnuts should be a part of a daily snack regimen.  Again, moderation is key (no more than 10-20) ... but these flavorful nuts are filling and add a delightful crunch to the day.  
  • Fruit for dessert.  I struggle with eating enough fruits and vegetables, especially in the winter when I seem to crave stick-the-ribs comfort food.  But in reading through the sample menus, a simple fruit dessert is a great way to add the sweet at the end of the meal without adding empty calories.
  • Reduce sugar.  I have always assumed this meant reduce "sweet", but as I learned above, it is not the sweet flavor that needs to be eliminated from a healthy diet.  Honey and pure maple syrup can also be used (in moderation) to bring out natural sugars.  I will say, however, I am not an advocate of using artificial sweeteners, as the author suggests.
  • Moderate exercise.  I do believe it is easier to walk everywhere when you live in the small, picturesque villages of Tuscany or the large cosmopolitan cities of Paris or Rome.  Living in the suburbs of Kansas City requires a car.  However, I can be purposeful in my daily life to get up and MOVE.  I used a fitbit this summer to track 10,000 steps a day, and I think it is time to do that again.
  • Restful Sleep.  The author highlighted the Mediterranean habit of taking a daily nap after the noon meal (which by the way, tends to be the largest meal of the day).  I'm not sure that will become a part of my routine here in the states, but I do try to get seven hours sleep a night.  An herbal afternoon tea, however, is a custom that I can easily adopt.
While there are several other components to this lifestyle, these are the highlights that I will focus on first.  I thoroughly enjoyed reading the sample 14-day menu, which I copied into a word document for easy access.  I think once I adjust to the system, finding my own recipes will become a natural way of life.

I am hoping to observe the people in France and Italy on my upcoming trip - what they eat and how they live life - so when I return home, I can fully adopt this diet and this lifestyle.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Wordless Wednesday: Door of Opportunity

Door of Paris apartment - July, 2011

I took this picture as an after-thought, yet it remains my favorite photo of the trip.

There is a blog post here, or perhaps an article, or maybe even an entire book hidden within this image.  But for today, it will remain "almost" wordless.

To view other Wordless Wednesday posts, please visit here or here.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Book Reviews ... a manageable system

I don't want to make the same mistake twice.

The last time I tried to maintain a "book review" blog, I quickly found myself over-whelmed.

  • I would read recommendations from other sites and immediately want to add those books to my TBR list (but I was adding at a far greater rate than I was actually reading)
  • I would enter book give-away contests and often win - adding still more books to my overflowing shelves.  
  • Authors would contact me and offer to send a copy of their recent work in exchange for a review.  I was honored to be asked and of course said yes.  I now had even more books piling up all over the house.
  • I wanted to be thorough and honest in my reviews.  This, I thought, required me to take copious notes as I read the book, and then include several memorable quotes in each review.  It would often take a couple of hours to write one single review.
Soon my pleasurable pastime became a stressful responsibility.  The last thing I needed in life was one more task on the to-do list.  So... I quit.

I don't want to overwhelm myself again.

I want to commit to this for the long haul.  I want to continue to love reading, and I want to continue to share that love with others.

So I am developing a simple system for writing book reviews.  I am sure that it will need tweaking as the weeks go by, but for now I will focus on four areas:
  • Brief plot summary 
  • WHY I originally chose the book - what appealed to me about the work to make me want to read it.
  • What were my EXPECTATIONS for the book - and were these expectations met
  • RECOMMENDATION - would I recommend it (and for which audience) - why or why not
As difficult as it might be for this retired literature teacher, I am going to try to refrain from writing detailed character descriptions - theme developments - and quoting significant passages.  I want to streamline the process so I can duplicate it year after year.

That is the goal anyway.

I hope the reviews are adequate for this audience.  

Monday, February 16, 2015

Inspire Me Monday: London (part 1)

I must confess:  I am twitter challenged.

I have maintained a blog - off and on - for the past six years and feel comfortable connecting with cyber-friends in this venue.

I understand FaceBook and probably spend too much time connecting with others via this medium.

But Twitter is a bit over my head.  There are so many people to follow - so many hashtags to consider - too many conversations happening simultaneously for this one-track mind to keep up.

But recently I challenged myself to take part in a Twitter conversation hosted by Joy Weese Moll.  We discussed our New Year's Resolutions regarding creativity - and encouraged one another to stay the course.  Participants were few (the Super Bowl seemed to take precedent) but I did enjoy chatting again with Janel, and meeting Create with Joy, who encouraged me to take part in her weekly meme:  Inspire Me Monday.

Since I love all things creative (rubber stamping, scrapbooking, photography, art museums, etc) I thought this would be the perfect meme for me.

So today I will dip my toe in the water.


2007 EF Tour Group
Since several of you expressed interest in my upcoming trip to Europe, I thought I would countdown these next four weeks (we leave March 15th) with some anticipatory photos.

The first time I led a group of students overseas was in 2007.  There were thirteen students and two chaperons (myself and my husband) and we stayed in London for six days.  I booked the trip through EF Tours, and I cannot praise this company enough!  They have been in the business of introducing students to worldwide travel for fifty years - and they do it right!

Since I taught Brit Lit, I wanted to focus our attention on British authors and their surroundings.

We were fortunate enough to visit Bath ... where the Jane Austen Centre gave us insight into the author's life as well as served us a delicious "high tea"  There was simply not enough time to immerse ourselves in the culture of the Regency Time Period.

We also took time to travel to Stratford-upon-Avon, birthplace of the Bard himself, William Shakespeare.  I absolutely adored taking the tour of his childhood home, and enjoyed walking the cobblestone streets of the town even more.

I am now inspired to schedule a return trip to this area, which is part of the Cotswold's.  I hope to one day stroll along the pathways, traverse through the backyards, and stay overnight in the small villages that comprise this picturesque English countryside.

We were also lucky enough to take an hour's time to visit Oxford.  While I may be too old to realize my dream of studying at one of the 36 colleges of Oxford University, I still adored the academic environment of the village.  To think that C. S. Lewis and J. R. R. Tolkien walked these same streets is mind-boggling - and to visit The Eagle and Child pub where the Inklings would meet each week to discuss their current Works in Progress was reverential.

My favorite British author is the incomparable Charles Dickens, but alas, the museum was closed the last time I visited London.  I am hoping to add that literary stop on this upcoming trip.

Next week I plan to showcase some of the iconic London sites, and the following two weeks will focus on my visits to Paris.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

TSS: Returning Home...

I have finally found my reading groove!

It was in hibernation for the last five years while I struggled to find time to fit other life priorities. It wasn't until I retired last May that I realized the extent of stress in my life.  In fact, I am certain if there was an image to represent "burn out" in the dictionary, my mugshot would be front and center.

While these past nine months have been a welcome relief, for the first time in my life I seem to have difficulty focusing. It is as though the day-to-day work schedule helped to keep me in line:  I knew what I needed to accomplish and I did it.  Now that I have freedom, I am not quite sure which activity to pursue first.

This lack of focus - inability to see a project to completion - has been frustrating.  And yet, I think it is part of the necessary transition from a human doing to a human being.  And over the past couple of weeks, I have learned to accept this process.

To that end, I have started to read again.  To read for fun, not for educational purposes.  I now read without pencil in hand; I no longer have to underline key passages and write insights in the margin.  I simply read to enjoy.  And it has been DELIGHTFUL (my word for 2015).

Books that I have enjoyed over the past two weeks include:
Over the next few days I will write short book reviews of these 10+ novels I have read.  I am SO looking forward to returning to the book blog community - I have missed you all!

I will also use this blog to discuss my writing endeavors.  I am still working on First Impressionism, a Middle Grade historical fiction novel set in Paris circa 1880.  But I am also working on Milestone Memoir, an idea I have of marrying one photograph from my past with a personal essay to leave a life legacy for my descendants.  There may be other fiction and non-fiction works thrown in as well.

Additionally, the retired life is affording me the opportunity to travel - my heart's desire since I was in second grade.  I will certainly document the trips I take, as well as share a few photographs of the special places I have visited.

And lastly, the Nook is also a place of creativity.  I enjoy paper crafts of all kinds including rubber stamp greeting cards and family scrapbooks.  I am sure to share a few of these artistic endeavors with you.


I left this blog 2.5 years ago because I felt like a fraud.  I began My Cozy Book Nook to be a part of the book blogging community and yet over time, few of my posts discussed literature.  While many of you encouraged me to stay, I could not live with the deceit.

But recently I have come to realize that my Nook at home is more than a place to read.  As the blog  tagline now states, it is a place where I retreat not only to read, but also to write, meditate, and create.  If the physical space can allow for that kind of diversity, I think the blog can too.

I feel as though I am the prodigal daughter, but I am now home.  And it feels good.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Coming Full Circle...

A lot has happened in the 2.5 years since I last posted here.

I won't lie.  I feel as though I have struggled with some kind of identity crisis.  And yet at my core, I am still the same Molly.

* Even though I have retired from teaching (and grading), I still love learning.
* Even though I have interests outside of books, I still love to read.
* Even though I am a seasoned "grandma", I am still young at heart.
* Even though I still love my puppies, we have had to say a fond farewell to two of them.
* Even though travel, scrapbooking, and photography are now a significant part of my life ... I can still use My Cozy Book Nook to share with other like-minded people.

Rather than give a lot of backstory, I will instead just tell you about the present.

While I retired from teaching last May, I will be leading a group 38 students and parents on a two-week tour of Europe next month.  This will be my last hurrah as "Mrs. Totoro" and it will be a terrific final farewell to a rewarding career in the field of education.

It is my hope that this trip will be the first of several domestic and international journeys which I plan to share on this blog.  Travel writing, as well as photography, is a real passion.  I love the idea of marrying photographs with text and hope to use this platform to share thoughts, memories, and insights from these various travels.

Now that I have more free time, I have returned to my love of scrapbooking.  I recently renewed my contract with Creative Memories and am working on a personal project that I call Milestone Memoir. Again, it is the idea of marrying photographs of my past with personal essays to create a lasting legacy to leave for my children.  I am sure to share a few layouts here from time-to-time.

I drafted a Middle Grade historical fiction novel during NaNoWriMo 2013.  First Impressionism introduces this young audience to Degas and Cassatt, and life in Paris circa 1880.  I thought drafting the novel would satisfy my writing itch, but I am now feeling compelled to revise and possibly write a sequel.  While writing fiction is a stretch for me, it is wonderful way for an ex-English teacher to spend retirement - and I am sure to share a few scenes here on the blog.

Because of the above writing interest, I have started reading more Middle Grade fiction.  Surprisingly, I have thoroughly enjoyed this genre and desperately desire to read more.  It is now time that I return to writing (simple) book reviews to share this joy with others.

I have missed this blogging community.

I do feel as though I have come full-circle... and it is wonderful to return home.

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