May 25, 2011

Fragile Beasts by Tawni O'Dell

Lately, I have been reading good, quiet books that don't really cry out to be reviewed. Such as Miss Read books (happiness! READ THEM!), a Dick Francis, and a re-read of L M Montgomery's A Tangled Web. They were all as good as expected, made me contentedly happy, and I would recommend them to anyone and everyone.

The same can not be said about Fragile Beasts. It is a super book, just not one I would recommend to everyone. It is definitely rated R due to language, subject matter, and an "intimate" scene. Nothing horrifying, mind you, but it is about teenage boys.

Fragile Beasts is the interwoven story of two boys, Klint and Kyle who just lost their father and the Spain obsessed, rich, and elderly Candace Jack. Once upon a time, this Candace was in love with a Spanish bullfighter who was killed in front of her by a bull. Don't worry--I am not spoiling anything here. The book starts out in Spain, 1958 and the first line is "Manuel Obrador knew he was dead but understood he had not yet finished dying." (I wasn't sure I wanted to continue to read at this point.) Candace says she did not stop living when he died, she just stopped participating in life. Taking in two teen age boys she doesn't know gives her life a long needed shake up. Her main reason for taking them is that her idiotic, overbearing nephew told her that she was not allowed to under any circumstances. Don't you like her already?

The book is written in the first person, with variating narrators, Kyle, Candace, and Luis, her Spanish houseman. Although this isn't a format I generally love, it works. Through the book, the boys deal with their loss, the potential reappearance of their mother in their lives, after she ran out of their lives with their sister to Arizona a few years ago, and inevitably, grow up a little. Candace learns a lot about life, kids and herself.

This book doesn't whitewash human nature. It doesn't try to prove a point (I didn't think). It just is. And that is partly why I like it so much. It deals with some pretty depressing stuff, but manages to come out of it all unscathed. It doesn't make you feel uplifted or inspire you, but it makes you feel there is hope yet for human decency.

Tawni O'Dell is an author I found while walking through the library one day--the cover of her book Sister Mine is bright yellow with a large flamboyant cowboy boot on it. I couldn't resist. Her books, the three I have read anyway (I couldn't struggle through Back Roads, her first one--too depressing), are all set in the coal towns of Western Pennsylvania and filled with people who used to or whose parents used to work for the coal company before it was shut down. Part of the reason I enjoy these books is because the people in them are so recognizable and real. If these books didn't have so much about coal in them, you could easily convince yourself they were about NNY. The people in them aren't perfect and they aren't probably going to be the next president, but there is a resiliency in them that is part of what makes America what it is.
 ".... complaining about life in the good-natured way of guys who don't mind the problems because they know overcoming them gives them something to do."  (p29)

I love this paragraph from the acknowledgements:

"Writing a novel is a solitary experience filled with frustration, bewilderment, and the constant nagging feeling that you should be doing something else. Each day you are alone in your head trying to convey a fictitious story using words you hope will stir a bunch of people you will never meet while never fully understanding why you want to do it. This is the fourth time I have sat down to pen acknowledgements for a novel, and each time my initial reaction has been to write: I'd like to thank myself for writing a book all by myself for no good reason."

I like authors who aren't pompous enough to think they are somehow making the world  a better, richer place by writing their precious books. She is as unpretentious (well here anyway) as her characters.

A good, well worth it read.

May 20, 2011

I shouldn't have, but I am glad I did!

I blame it on the rain. It makes me think that yes! life would be easier/better for me if I did that. So I have. And so far, I have no regrets.

The first descent into self-indulgence was to buy three little books from Paper Coterie. They are a newish photo book site. It seems like a new one comes out every week or so. The reason I tried Paper Coterie however is because they had an offer for $40 off a purchase of $40 or more. I had to pay for shipping and the additional $11 that I spent because I just HAD to have three. Actually two are gifts, so there. Anyway, they have recipe books! 5.5 x 5.5, a rubber band across the hardish clear front cover to hold it all together, and 40 pages of rip resistant paper. I am in love! I could have put pictures in it and made it much cuter, but I wanted to fill it up with recipes. I wanted something that I could tuck in my back pocket for my world travels, so if I happened to be in Timbuctoo and got the craving for Mom's mustard sauce for ham, Voila! There it be. Or, more realistically, I can take it to Clover and Evan's for the weekend, so Clover and I could pretend all weekend that it actually wasn't completely redundant when placed next to Clover's two large recipe boxes. But still! I am glad I have it! :-)

VERY pleased with the quality! And the discount. The next ones are of the gifty ones. Shh. But they are so cute, I can't help but show you pictures!

My second I-must-have-this are these bins. Totally, completely cute and on clearance at Wal-mart. Our toy storage situation has been dire--a mismatched assortment of various bags, purses, containers they came in (that are falling apart) and baskets that I would like to use elsewhere in the house. Now they are all put in matchy-matchy bins and I get to label them and they fit perfectly in the toy armoire.

This armoire is originally from my Aunt Anna's house and we got it when John and Hopie were moving and were so very generous with funiture. It is fabulously huge and oversize. Dad remembers hiding in this when he was a kid, a teenager, and probably, even as an adult because he would probably still like hide and seek if he wouldn't get a wicked cramp by crawling in here. Before I got the cute bins, it had a lot of wasted space because the shelves are about 2-3 feet apart. When you are dealing with misshappen bags, little people houses, polly houses, and my little pony houses, they don't stack well. So now I have just moved the nasty stacking suff to one part of the armoire and I plan on ignorning it. I have now fulfilled a childhood dream of mine, which is having a kids room like Brother and Sister Bear.

Sigh. How nice. Mind you, I never would have wanted to pick everything up and put them in boxes as a kid. I simply like the idea of them.

Yes, I just admitted that I get more decorating inspiration from kids books than from Pottery Barn. It is much more in my budget. Plus, kids books have awwwwesome rooms. When I get old and much wiser at sewing, I plan on recreating the quilts from all the Eloise Wilkin books.

These are the third impulse buy. I spent quite awhile choosing a swimsuit for Orianna from Lands' End, one that is modest, cute, and not flashy. And then I saw these in Targe for $15 less than I paid for the Lands' End one. They have polka dots and tutus. Who wouldn't love them? The girls have worn them non-stop since we got home from Plattsburgh yesterday. Matter of fact, Lily has already marked hers up with permanent marker.

This is Gilbert just being cute and talking to himself in the stove window.

So there, confession time is done. I feel no remorse. I am a hardened criminal.

Now for the, I shouldn't have and I wish I hadn't.

I have been wanting to make this recipe for ages. (It was in the Cusine at Home I got 3-4 months ago, but I am too lazy to type it out. Noblepig is a cool food blog, but lately, there has been an excess of recipes that use wine since she and her family own a vineyard.) I have bought about 5 bunches of radishes and ended up feeding them to the pigs because I never had everything together at once to make this. Last night, the stars were aligned, and I finally had it all together. The dough is really easy, just whiz it up in the food processor.
Then chill it for 30 minutes--I feel domestic at this point.
Then press into the pan--fun, I don't have to roll it!
Then freeze 15 minutes--alright, I feel slightly gourmet now.
Then remove, cover in foil, fill with pie weights--I have never used pie weights--how fun!
Then bake for 25 minutes--finally will be done
Remove foil and pie weights, poke with fork and bake 15 min--starting to wish I had fed the radishes to the pigs again.
Remove from oven, brush with egg whites and bake 2 minutes more

Then, after those easy 73 steps, the crust is done. AND CRACKED. After having danced in and out of the fridge and oven in an intricate kid-on-leg tango with this crust for the better part of my life, I decide that I am going to use it anyway. Definitely not starting over. Ever. So I pour the filling, custardy stuff in, sprinkle with radishes and green onions and bake.
The end result is a tart thing with weird brown peaks sticking up from near the edge.

It actually tasted pretty good. A lovely brunch dish. But I highly, highly recommend being lazy and using a regular pie crust or one from the store. Or skipping the crust altogether. Just to save your sanity. And mine. I might get hives if I hear you have been making this crust.

May 16, 2011


It has been raining steadily since Friday night. Sometimes it is pouring, sometimes it is drizzling, but it is always raining. And this is all after a week of steady sunshine. Mother nature is schizophrenic. In April, whenever you discuss the rain, someone will always tell you that April showers bring May showers, until you feel you will have to hit the next persion who tells you that. But we have gone past April. We are in May. So what do May showers bring? A mess. Just ask Potsdam, Saranac Lake, and any number of towns along the Mississippi.

One of Alexander McCall Smith's more recent books was The Right Attitude to Rain. It takes place in Scotland, so they might have some sort of legitimacy in rain endurance. But I bet whoever came up with that silly idea didn't have to run errands in the pouring down rain with three kids and then come home to a basement 6 inches underwater. With little bits of Justin's wood shavings floating around, just waiting to attach to something so it can dry there like water grafitti.

I had to go out and move the sump pump hose and this is how much water it is pumping out at a continuous rate. When it is pumping. Our sump pump is old and elegant and pumps only when prodded to duty.

Of course, life isn't all bad. A rainy Saturday meant a morning of errands with Justin. We generally tend to errand in tandem rather than in togetherness. He ttook Orianna and went to Giroux Brothers while I hit up Rite-Aid with the others. Then quick trips through the grocery store and Wal-mart while Justin watched the kids in the car and a lovely hour all together in tractor supply, wandering around looking at animal type stuff. Have you ever seen the Schleich animals? Plastic molded animals. I love them. (Yes, I am a geek.) So do the girls. I let them each pick out one of the cheaper ones. Lily was sure her baby ducklings needed a Mommy, so I was a terrible parent and gave in. They each got two.

These are Orianna's lynx and cheetah. I told her it was a leopard because I don't know any better. She wanted to name them Tinkerbell and Sleeping Beauty. (How can my kids be that Disney-fied? I blame it on story tapes.) I told her that they needed fiercer names, so she went with Princess Potatohead Fierce (the lynx) and Prince Lion Fierce. An improvement on the originals anyway.  

They go everywhere with Orianna.

This is Mrs. Tiddlequack with her ducklings, Widdle, Waddle, Piddle, and Paddle, courtesy of Justin. Lily loves them and telling people which one is which.

Mrs. Tiddlequack is apparently right at home in the Polly Pocket carriage.

Part of my Mother's day present from Tractor Supply. I love them!
They match bleeding hearts.

My tulips are such wusses that they refuse to open up unless it is sunny. Are all tulips like this? Apparently dandelions are all like this. Flowers these days! I never noticed dandelions and their pickiness until this year. They close at night and stay closed in the rain. Fair weather flowers.

May 10, 2011

I feel the need to blog

Not because I have something wise or intelligent to share with you. Instead I just need to get it over with. Hahaha! No I don't have some weird, personal revelation to share with you (if only I was that interesting!) (Actually boring might be good in this respect) We went to Ottawa this weekend and I was planning on a tulip-y, colorful post. But alas, no such luck.

For the past three years, I have wanted to go to Ottawa to see the Tulip festival. Each year, something has happened, sick kids, sick car , etc. So this year, I decided to take Olivia and Tori, since they were more interested in it than Justin, and just go. So we did. We made some mistakes. Mostly by not printing out a little map to tell us where to go and by going too early in the season. We all had this idea of what the Ottawa tulip festival would be. A city chock a block full of tulips and color against bright blue spring skies.

Mom loaned us her GPS, we changed into jean skirts at Connie's, sent Gilbert home with Daddy, and took off, expecting great things. It was all very exciting for Orianna and Lily, two bridges and CANADA. They asked about 15 times if they were in Canada yet/still.

I know the way to Ottawa, but it had been 2 years since I was up there, so I decided to trust the GPS. (I hate trying to pit my brain aginst a machine that was made to be smarter than me.) Apparently the GPS likes backroads. Not bad backroads, just not as fast as 401/416. And that, is pretty much how the whole day was. Nothing really went truly wrong it just wasn't as expected.

Anyway, Ottawa was there, being itself. The million tulip bulbs they have are spread out all over Ottawa, not congregated in one glorious, kaliedescopic mass. The cold spring made the tulips buds, not blooms. The sky turned from fluffy clouds and blue to a disheartening gray. Having yearned to see this for years, it was disappointing. Still, we wandered around Parliment Hill, which is beautiful. And we got to drive down one way streets the wrong way. Twice none the less. Olivia and Tori are probably scarred.

Awesome wrought iron fences

Aged copper roof (isn't that what makes green?)

This flower bed was as tulip-y as it got near Parliment Hill.

I think a lot of my disappointment has to do with the fact that I realized that I am much more of a country bumpkin than I thought. I just simply did not enjoy the city. I loved the beautiful parliment buildings with their stone and green roofs. But I didn't like all the modern buildings juxtaposed next to them. As we wandered around trying to find some tulips, ANY tulips, or a place to park, I decided I would really just be happier if we went home. I have never been too citified, but I loved Anchorage, and so I just always thought that I liked cities. To most people though, Anchorage does NOT qualify as a city. Which just shows what a hick I am. I just like greenness. And space. And streets that aren't one way. And having my husband doing the driving. I think my independent, sophisticated self vaporized sometime around.... well, to be honest, maybe it was more of a vain sort of illusion than a part of me.

So what made my Mothers Day weekend? Staying up late talking with Justin. A gorgeous fluffy sky-d Saturday. Meeting Owen's outrageously aggressive and haughty llama. Watching the kids play outside. New spring leaves. Doing taking-care-of-our-lawn stuff with Justin. Mowing the lawn. Rocking Gilbert to sleep. Garage sale. Sweet little hugs and kisses.

We tried this once. Senor Llama definitely thought it was beneath his dignity.

Immediately previous to Senor Llama biting Justin. Look at those long eyelashes though!

I will take all of that over Ottawa any day, every day, all day long. I love, love, love all that.

I will admit that I am slightly ashamed of how provincial and small town hickish I am.

So there you have it. No beautiful selection of tulip pictures, no enchanting city stories. Just sweet life.

There is some saying from a Mary Engelbreit Calendar that has hung on our fridge from CO, AK, to NY.

Just to be is a blessing. Just to live---is holy.

I am so lucky.

May 5, 2011

Oven Baked Chicken Chimchangas

It is Cinco de Mayo today. As if you didn't know that. I find it very interesting that Americans get so into celebrating other countries holidays. St. Patricks Day, Cinco de Mayo, Chinese New Year, Oktoberfests, etc. Mostly, I think it has more to do with Americans desire to get drunk during the week than actually paying tribute to those cultures. But it is mostly all in good fun! So go ahead, feel slightly Mexican today.

(I had to google Cinco de Mayo, beacuse I was spelling cinco in the french way. Duh. Anyway I learned that Cinco de Mayo is celebrated only regionally in Mexico, mainly in the state of Puebla for when they conqueored the French, so that cinque could always be cinco. Ha! Anyway, I never knew that Cinco de Mayo is actually more of a big deal in America than it is in Mexico. I wouldn't be surprised if St. Patricks Day was more popular in America than it is in Ireland. We Americans are so nostalgic for our forebearers cultures. I wonder why?)

In honor of Cinco de Mayo, I am giving you one of my favorite Mexican-y style food recipes. (well behind salsa!) This is Americanized, so I don't think it strictly qualifies as Mexican. Don't let that stop you though. These are yummy! Also, I have never had a chimichanga in real life, a deep fat fried one, so I wasn't deterred by expectations. I really don't know how they compare to regular Chimichangas. I am happy enough with this! Cooks Country, where this recipe is from, has a new recipe for the deep fat fried ones in the magazine I got a few days ago. I might have to try them. But I don't see the sense in adding all that fat, when these make me perfectly happy.

These pictures aren't great, since the top generally browns more and I used sausage. I wasn't even going to put them up, but I decided that was silly and vain, so here they are.

Oven-Baked Chicken Chimichangas
Serves 6

1/4 cup vegetable oil
1 onion, chopped fine
1 (16-ounce) can black beans , drained and rinsed
1 (8.8-ounce) package Uncle Ben's Ready Rice
1 rotisserie chicken , skin discarded, meat shredded into bite-sized pieces (about 3 cups)
2 teaspoons minced chipotle chiles in adobo sauce 
1 cup shredded Mexican cheese blend
1/2 cup finely chopped fresh cilantro
Salt and pepper
6 large flour tortillas (10 inch)

1. Place rimmed baking sheet in oven and heat oven to 450 degrees. Heat 2 tablespoons oil in large skillet over medium-high heat until shimmering. Cook onion until just softened, about 3 minutes. Stir in beans, rice, chicken, and chipotle and cook until heated through, about 3 minutes. Off heat, stir in cheese and cilantro. Season with salt and pepper.

2. Stack tortillas on plate and microwave, covered, until pliable, about 1 minute. Top warm tortillas with chicken mixture, leaving 2-inch border at bottom. Fold in sides and roll up tightly. Brush wrapped tortillas with remaining oil and arrange, seam-side down, on preheated baking sheet. Bake until crisp and golden, 8 to 10 minutes.

That is me copying and pasting from Cooks because I am lazy. I will now give you tips, hints, and technique. Pretty much, I will let you know what you can substitute or change. I generally don't have the perfect ingredients on hand, so recipies have to be flexible or else, they are pointless for me. The recipe adherers in my life tell me that recipies are scientific and you can't just slosh in what ever you like, willy nilly. And this is true. I have made very inferior stuff, assuming that a little of this will compensate for none of that. But generally it works all right.

There is no getting around the onion, black beans, chipotle peppers in adobo sauce, salt and pepper, and oil. You have to have them, so just buy them if they aren't pantry staples in your house. 

I think ready rice sounds disgusting and I never have it on hand, so I just make regular rice and put in about 9 oz of the stuff. That is about 2 cups. This is also nice, since the kids don't like spicy stuff, but they adore rice with a little butter. The rotisserie chicken is also something I never have on hand, so use whatever chicken you like. Or turkey. Or even sausage, which is what I used last night. Chicken does taste best though, so be warned. The Mexican cheese blend I never have, so I just use cheddar. The flour tortillas work better when you have large ones, but they also work if you have smaller ones, so don't sweat it!

You have to pre-heat the oven AND the baking sheet though. Very important. Otherwise, you wouldn't have that yummy crunchy bit on the bottom. Instead of trying to brush the oil over the top and bottoms of the finick-ily folded chimichangas, I just brush the top and put the rest of the oil on the baking sheet, which crisps the bottom. And if you forget the salt, like I did last night, just salt the top.

I adore these things. I am looking forward to lunch and leftovers.

May 4, 2011

Weekend of May 1, 2011

(I am getting so much more precise and original in my titles.)

This past weekend was full and busy! Thrusday night (I know, not technically the weekend!), we went over to Mom and Dad's, walked up to see how the woods were looking in the spring, and picked leeks. Picking leeks in the woods is such a nice way to feel self-sufficient and fool yourself into thinking you suddenly have a deeper bond and kinship with women through the ages.

Then, I convinced Mom to let Olivia and Tori spend the night on Thursday at my house, so we could get up early to see the Royal Wedding. There were a lot of snarky comments (mostly from the men in our family) that it was all totally unimportant frou-frou. And really, it was. But such delightful unimportant frou-frou! After a groggy, sleepy day, we went to Crafts for a hymnsing. I stupidly decided half an hour before we were supposed to leave to make mini-quiches to use our leeks. It was tricky. But thanks to a husband who only occasionally rolls his eyes as I order him around, we did get there before the hymnsing actually started. It was so nice. Well getting there before it started AND having a hymnsing! We haven't had a sing in a long time and I had forgotten how much I appreciated them. Just knowing what hymns have been on people's hearts and minds is so special. Then, since Andrea was the hostess, she decided to inflict a round of hymn #54 on us. Hilarity ensued, and after several attempts we managed it. Then visiting and talking. Wonderful, wonderful friends and food.

Dave, Lori, and David Weaver came up for the weekend to see Caleb, since this was his last weekend here. Can you believe colleges are already starting to let people out?!?!?! Fiona came over for the weekend as well, so our Saturday was filled with weeding, mulching, and planting with nice people breaks to exclaim over another instance of youthful stupidity, the cuteness of lambs, kids and pygmy goats or Mom and Lori's cooking.

Sunday was Union meeting, which means a potluck at Mom and Dad's. Owen and Justin convinced Mom to do a BBQ. It was a gorgeous day for one.

It was a perfect spring weekend!

And then, back to real life, 50 degree temps, rain, and a lot of laundry. This week has been perfectly frigid. Well in the 40's and 50's with a cold rain. Which is right next to frigid on the miserable scale. Bleah. But it IS spring, so it is hard to be downhearted about such things for long! Last week Orianna was standing by the open window when a warm breeze blew in and ruffled her hair. She told me that when that happens, it makes her think of princesses. But I understand her. The first warm breeze always seems a bit magical to me too.

Now for pictures. From the camera that was actually on the sideboard, not at Mom and Dad's like previously thought. I should clean my sideboard more apparently.
My pictures seem to skew more to the incomprehensible pictures of tree buds than to people this time. My apologies.

This is a woodland lily or something like that. Doesn't it have bizarre leaves?

Dutchmen's Breeches, relative to bleeding heart

I love them!

The leeks we were after

Lily finding the Dutchmans pants, shirt, arms, and head.

Owen runs a free rein Establishment

Except for Miss Piggy

Alex and Tori's pygmy goat, Ginny

Lily working away with a hoe

Gilbert pretending to be a bull with the two horns


I know, it is just water. But look how perfectly it is on each point of the leaf. It makes me happy!

Robins nest that Justin evicted from the Sugar House.

Doing that manly thing.

This kid is CUTE!

Kids and Ginny

Doing that woman thing

The daddys.

Raggedy Ann (or is it Andy? How do you tell?)  learned a lot more about Politics than she knew before.

Those nice Daddys and their boys.

Orianna is in love with this tricycle. I was thinking about getting her a bike for her birthday in June, but why ruin a good thing? A bike will wait until next year.