Thursday, December 04, 2003

I don't know if anyone is still reading this blog but I will try to post more often.

Reading: I am about halfway through Not All Tarts Are Apple. I have to finish it by Sunday. It is an easy read but I am just not going very fast. It doesn't seem to be going anywhere.

Still reading Ben Franklin's autobiography. It is interesting but I read it so slowly I may never finish.

I think I pick next for book club. No ideas yet.

Eating: I am trying to plan new and different meals. The other day we tried some frozen fish that was quite tasty. It was just cod but it was frozen in these little individual servings with a cheesy au gratin sauce. It was quite yummy with some fresh steamed seasoned rice.

Next week, Deb and I are trying Let's Dish where you can go and prepare 8 or 12 meals (6 servings each). They prepare the ingredients for you and supply snacks and beverages, as well as containers to take your meals home in. You spend about 2 hours and $125 (for 8 meals) and supply the freezer space and go home with ready to pop in the oven/crockpot/microwave meals. I will let you know what I think.

Sunday, November 09, 2003

Reading: I went to the store the other day to buy the next book for bookclub, Not All Tarts Are Apple by Pip Granger (love the title!). It was out of stock so I ordered it and then browsed. One of the little gift books on display caught my eye, AstroCats: The secrets of your cat's star sign. I picked it up and started reading the section on determining your cat's sign (when you don't know his birthday). It seemed kind of fun so, for a couple bucks, I bought it. As I was checking out, buying only Astrocats, the guy working at the checkout asked me if I found what I was looking for. I started laughing and when he looked up to figure out what I was laughing at, I said, "Yeah, because I was looking everywhere for a book on cat astrology!" Fortunately he got the humor in it and laughed too. I hate it when people don't get me. 'Cuz really I am quite amusing.

Eating: No new recipes tried lately but I see that has a recipe for Chicago-style pizza that I will try sometime soon.

I saw an excellent movie this weekend, Pieces of April. I had never heard of it but it sounded interesting and the friend I was going with was interested in it. It had Katie Holmes (for Dawson's Creek, if there are any DC fans reading this) and a small part for Sean Hayes (Jack from Will and Grace) where he was surprisingly not gay, though still very odd. Anyway, the summary in the paper was something along the lines of "Young woman cooks Thanksgiving dinner for her family and things go wrong". The summary made me think of Home for the Holidays, which I also liked very much, so I thought we would check it out. It was WONDERFUL! It was an independent film and there were some moments of shaky camera (not like Blair Witch Hunt or anything, just a couple times) but it was touching, it was funny, it was interesting. We laughed, we cried, we would go again! 2 very enthusiastic thumbs up!

Cold Mountain the movie will be out soon (we read the book for BC, so will go see the movie and then pan it as "not as good as the book") and some other BC book will be a movie too, but I can't remember now which one. We saw Under the Tuscan Sun last month and my opinion was that not only was it not as good as the book, it was not anything the same as the book. If I could enthusiastically "thumbs-down" it, I would like to.

Friday, October 31, 2003

I read in the paper today (yesterday's paper, but nevermind that) that Ikea is coming to Minnesota next summer! I can hardly wait. If they had clothes, they would be my next Target. Yippee!

Tuesday, October 28, 2003

Reading: Still working on Soul Mountain. I don't think I am going to finish. I am a quarter of the way through it and have 5 days left. It is over my head. I look forward to hearing what others think, though.

I've had to set aside The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin again. It is extremely interesting but every time I get it from the library, something else interrupts and I have to return it unfinished.

Eating: Same meals, different days. We did try Betty Crocker's Macaroni and Cheese recipe. I liked it, though it is more work than Kraft. E's reaction was, "Eh?" He didn't think it was any better than Kraft, which is admittedly less work. I don't care. I will still make Betty's recipe occasionally. I like the crispy noodles on the edges.

Gardening: Only gardening in my dreams.

I have this idea for a craft group. I may only be projecting my feelings onto others but I have this theory that there are a lot of us who don't take or make the time to work on our own projects. The crafts and hobbies we enjoy, be it knitting, scrapbooking, beading or painting, get pushed aside while we busy ourselves with the chores of everyday, the activities of children and spouses. Work and housework come before our hobbies and the hobbies get pushed off for another time. We also don't get to socialize with our women friends as much as we need to. What I envision is a once a month get-together where each works on her own projects or hobbies while chit-chatting with others. If there was an interest, maybe we could teach others our crafts or take classes together to learn new ones.

Still working on the details and fishing for interest.

On another note, a blog I have begun to read and find very entertaining is Speaking as a Parent. Robin, who is the dad that is "speaking as a parent" has some great observations and a terrific way with words.

Saturday, October 11, 2003

Long time, no blog, I know.

Reading: The Sweet Potato Queens' Book of Love was very fun. And so was our bookclub meeting, with Deb dressed as Ms. Sweet Potato Queen Minnesota, me in a pink feather boa (thanks, Deb!), Fat Mama's Knock you Naked Margaritas and plenty of trashy talk.

This month, our book is more serious and also more difficult. I will have to think when I am reading instead of laughing. We are reading Soul Mountain by Gao Xingjian, a Chinese writer who has won a Nobel Prize for Literature. I have just started it so I will try to keep you posted. I am looking forward to it, if only to learn more about Chinese culture.

We are planning a girl's night out to see Under the Tuscan Sun. We read the book a couple years ago and liked it pretty well as a group. From the reviews of the movie, I know that the storyline has been changed a bit, taking out our favorite character, Ed. In the book, the author and her husband (or maybe they weren't married) buy an old villa in Italy and fix it up. It is along the lines of A Year in Provence but in Italy instead of France. Anyway, there are great scenes in the book, where the author paints vivid pictures of life at their villa: Ed, sweaty muscles glistening in the sun as he prunes the olive trees; Ed, sweaty muscles glistening in the sun as he rebuilds the stone wall; Ed, sweaty muscles... You get the picture. We all loved Ed and wondered where we could get our own. He works hard and looks good while doing it.

I read Prodigal Sons and Material Girls a couple of weeks ago. The author has some very interesting things to say about advertising and how they spend billions targeting children, starting with toddlers. Some of the facts and figures were appalling to me. He had some good advice on how to counteract the "three-headed monster" and get your children to think about how and where they spend their money and how you, as a parent, can avoid the "mom as ATM" role. Very interesting reading. I will file it away for when I have kids.

Eating: New favorite to add to our meal rotation: Betty Crocker's recipe for Chicken Pot Pie. 1 package (10oz) frozen peas and carrots (we used chopped cooked potatoes and frozen corn)--rinse and drain. Melt 1/3 C. butter in a saucepan over medium until melted. Stir in 1/3 C. flour, 1/3 C. chopped onion, salt and pepper. Cook stirring constantly until mixture is bubbly; remove from heat. Stir in 1 3/4 C. chicken broth and 2/3 C. milk. Heat to boiling, stirring constantly. Boil and stir 1 minute. Stir in vegetables and 2 1/2 to 3 C. chopped cooked chicken. Heat oven to 425 degrees. Prepare pastry for 9" two-crust pie (or cheat like I did and use 2 frozen pie crusts, thawed). Roll 2/3 of pastry into 13" square and place in ungreased 9x9x2 square pan. Pour chicken mixture in. Roll remaining crust into 11" square and place over filling. Turn edges under and flute. Bake 35 minutes, until golden brown. We both agreed this was very good, filling and tasty.

I finally returned the bowl to Matt (of the Pasta Salad). We have had it since July and it was in the way. He had already replaced it but I made him take it anyway. It is big and I don't have anywhere to store it. It has been sitting in the kitchen so it wouldn't be forgotten and was starting to get a little annoying.

Gardening: Just pulling up the dead ones, wondering what to do with my 3 perennials and my strawberries. Do I chop them off? Do I put mulch over them? Won't do much of anything with them today, as it is rainy and windy.

Eric has constructed a leaf composting thingy in the back yard. He saw it on some home-improvement show. It is made of posts and wire and will be full of leaves by the end of the season, then full of nice composty-stuff (whatever that is called) next year. He is excited not to have to haul it to the city yard-waste place.

Saturday, September 20, 2003

Hello, my bloggians! I hope there are some of you remaining. I know that one should never neglect one's bloggians for spans of time as I have. I would understand if you told me to take my blog and blog it. Please, though, give me another chance. And I will never call you bloggians again (I made up that word, by the way.).

Reading: I finally finished Bel Canto by Ann Patchett. Excellent book! I would highly recommend for all readers. Excellent writing, extremely interesting story and well-defined characters. It takes place in an unnamed South American country and starts out with terrorists busting into a birthday party being given by the Vice President of the country for a Japanese business man. They have arranged for the Japanese man's favorite opera singer to perform at the party. Anyway, so the terrorists come in and take the whole bunch of them (over 100 people) hostage. The rest of the book details the next 4 months in which the terrorists and the hostages are in the house, while the people outside try to negotiate the release of the hostages. Meanwhile, the singer performs, people fall in love and everyone learns a good deal more about themselves than they ever would have without the hostage situation. Good good good reading. And picked by a member of the book club whose pickings I always approach skeptically (she has selected The Sparrow by Mary Dorian Russell--disturbing sci-fi-- and The Last Day by Glenn Kleier--millenium scare trash) though this is two good ones in a row now. Last year she picked E=Mc2 by David Bodanis. That was the very interesting, well written, easy to read story of the famous equation, Einstein and the A-bomb.

The book we are reading this month is The Sweet Potato Queens' Book of Love, A Fallen Southern Belle's Look at Love, Life, Men, Marriage, and Being Prepared. It is a hoot! Chapters include: The True Magic Words Guaranteed to Get Any Man to Do Your Bidding, The Five Men You Must Have in Your Life at All Times, Men Who May Need Killing Quite Frankly, What to Eat When Tragedy Strikes or Just for Entertainment. There is a recipe for Fat Mama's Knock You Naked Margaritas. The Sweet Potato Queens are a group you absolutely must meet. You may already be a Sweet Potato Queen and just not know it. Deb, my Southern Belle friend (though she has admitted she more be more Po' White Trash than Belle) is both the chooser of this book and the hostess for the book club meeting where we will be discussing it. I am anticipating lots of southern hospitality, plenty of Fat Mama's Knock you Naked Margaritas, and maybe, just maybe, some grits. Y'all must check out this book! While you are at it, look for The Sweet Potato Queens' Big-Ass Cookbook (and Financial Planner) too.

Eating: As the weather cools, my stomach's thoughts turn toward warm comfort foods: meatloaf and baked squash, tator-tot hotdish, beef stew, chili with corn bread. It was a cool day last weekend when we planned our next 2 weeks' menus so many of these things found their way into my grocery cart. We must start now if we are to build up enough fat to make it through the winter. I think I would like some warm apple crisp and fresh from the oven monster cookies too. Just in case I run low on carbs.

Gardening: My sunflowers did bloom, though the ones that were supposed to be 6-8 feet are about 3 feet and the 3 foot ones reached about 6 inches. Next year I will plant them earlier. The butterflies are wildly in love with my flowers right now though. I can't walk two steps without stirring up a half dozen of them in my wake.

I picked about 8 apples off my tree today (well, 8 good ones and a whole bucket of wormy ones). They are nice and crisp and sweet. Very good apples. The first year we were here, there were a ton of apples on the tree but all were bad. Last year, there were just none there. This year, there are a fair amount and some are good. Next week there should be more. I will try to freeze them this year because I just don't have anywhere to keep 2 bushels of apples until I can use them all. I like to make applesauce (with brown sugar) in the crockpot (it smells so yummy while it is cooking), and apple crisp but my favorite recipe is for Fresh Apple Cake. My former roommate Steph still talks about this apple cake. Here it is for you, my loyal blog readers. So easy even my cooking impaired relatives (you know who you are!) can whip this up in no time. Add together: 2 eggs, slightly beaten, 1 1/4 C. oil, 1 tsp. vanilla, 3C. peeled cored and sliced apples. Fold in: 3 C. flour, 2C. sugar, 1tsp. cinnamon, 1tsp baking soda. Bake 1 hour at 300 degress in a 13x9 pan. Delicious served warm or cool, with or without a scoop of vanilla or cinnamon ice cream or whipped cream.

Bon appetit, mes amis!

Thursday, August 28, 2003

I'm back! Back from the land of forest fires and smoke--Montana.

Reading: I read a book by one of my favorite writers, Susan Minot. I love her writing style. The book, Rapture, was weird though. I don't know if I recommend it. Monkeys and Evening are her best novels. Lust and other stories is a collection of short stories and is also very good.

I am also working of Bel Canto, this month's bookclub selection. Interesting so far, though I am only about 20 pages into it.

Eating: I haven't been cooking for the last week. Grandma and Grandpa were cooking for me and the aunts and cousin were taking me out to eat. Lots of yummy food, all week long.

Gardening: Sad, sad, sad little flowers.

Friday, August 15, 2003

Hello! did anyone miss me?

Reading: I had to return Hillary's book unfinished. Someday, perhaps, I will pick it up again. Since we were in Chicago this weekend and have been busy since then, the only thing I have read in the last week is a map.

Eating: We had some really good pizza in Chicago at Gino's East. It seems to be a chain, at least within Chicago. Yummy deep-dish, Chicago-style pizza. If you are ever in the Windy City, be sure to check it out. Speaking of the Windy City, did you know that nickname has nothing to do with the weather? Seems it refers to some blowhard politicians. I can't remember what they were campaigning for (maybe to get the World's Fair to be in Chicago?) but they talked and talked until finally the committee (or whoever) said, "Fine!" and let them have whatever it was they were asking for. Thus, the Windy City. I learned that on the audio tour we had at "Big John"--John Hancock Building, that is.

Gardening: Oh, how they wither and fade! Some of the plants are doing okay (the hanging geraniums, for example) but others, like the impatiens are not liking this dry dry weather. I got a few more berries on my strawberries, though someone, or something, ate them while I waited for them to fully ripen. Same thing always happens with my apple tree too.

Yesterday, I had a garage sale. Today, I am not. Tomorrow I will again. I didn't want to be out there alone today. I made $18.80 yesterday. Considering the most expensive item I sold was $2, I would say that is not too bad. I am just glad to be rid of some of this stuff!

Today, I am painting. Over the weekend, we purchased bookshelves, CD shelves and a TV stand (they call it a TV bench) at Ikea. There are 5 bookcases, including a corner unit so it will fill up the area in our TV room downstairs where there was a hodge-podge, mismatch of shelves and other things to store our books, games, CDs and videos. So Monday, I took all the stuff out of the old shelves. Then we decided we should paint that wall now, before we get all the shelves in there. It has never been painted since we moved in and is kind of scuffed and scribbled and dirty from the previous owners. So Tuesday I painted the slanty wall under the stairs and that night, we moved the other shelves out of the area. Wednesday I was busy with garage sale stuff, Thursday was the sale. So today, I will paint that area. Hopefully then over the weekend, we can set up the shelves and fill them. We will paint the rest of the room later. I always love how these projects multiply.

Wednesday, August 06, 2003

Long time, no blog! My computer at home is not nearly as fast as the one at work and therefore makes blogging a little less easy and convenient. Enough with the excuses, on with the blog!
Reading: Still working my way through Hillary's book. They just moved into the White House. It took 130 pages for them to get there. It is pretty interesting. I don't remember paying very much attention to politics then (just knew we had to get Bush the First out of there!) so it is interesting to read from the standpoint.
Also still reading Galileo's Daughter. Not moving too quickly in this one, either, though it is interesting. Since I know very little about Galileo and his times, I am learning some as I go. Can't imagine living in a time when people still think the sun moves around the earth. Years from now, maybe someone will read my memoires and say they can't imagine a time when we sat around and watched reality TV so much.
I am kind of working on redoing my scrapbook from when I was in France. I want to write more about the pictures and stuff so that it might be interesting for someone other than me to look at. In the process, I looked through and sorted my huge box of letters (some from 1984, if you can believe it) and found those I received while I was in France. Hoping to jog my memory on some of the things about the trip that I might have forgotten. Mostly it is just making me wonder whatever happened to all these people I so eagerly corresponded with. Why don't I hear from them (or contact them, for that matter) anymore? There are huge numbers of people that just completely fall out of my life and I never figure out what happens to them later. Would it be weird to track down people I haven't heard from in over 10 years and say, "so what the heck ever happened to you anyway?"
Eating: I don't think we have tried anything new recently. However, I do have a recipe sent to me by my friend Matt from Prudential (that is where we worked together. Neither of us is there anymore, thank God.) The e-mail was so amusing, I am going to copy it here. I had e-mailed him after July 4th to ask for the recipe. Here it is.
'The salad is quite easy, really. I'm so flattered that you'd ask for the recipe. :) It's basically one unit of each thing, except for a few things.
1 box of rotini. I greatly prefer Barilla brand, in the blue box.
1 can of black olives, I use medium-sized olives. Dunno exactly what size the can is, but it's the standard-sized can that's about the size of a normal can of Spaghetti-O's.
1 10-oz. jar of green olives.
1 little plastic container of grape tomoatoes. I eat around the tomatoes, myself, but as I understand it, there are people who like them. They also give some nice color to the finished product.
1 3.5-oz. package of sliced pepperoni.
Okay, that's all that's whole units. I also have on hand:
Oregano leaves, mostly for looks since I can't really taste it myself.
Kraft shredded three-cheese blend of romano, asiago and parmesan cheese. My local Cub has it, but it's not next to the Kraft shredded parmesan cheese in the green can.
And the mystery dressing, which I'm not telling you yet.
What I do is open up both kinds of olives and dump them in a colander together. I then put the tomatoes in with them. I rinse them to get all the various olive juices off of them, and let them drain while the water boils for the rotini.
When the water comes to a boil, I put in the rotini and set the timer according to the directions. I try not to overcook it, because who likes soggy rotini?? Then I put the olives and tomatoes into my salad bowl. I shake a lot of the shredded cheese onto them, and a lot of oregano leaves. As the rotini cooks, I cut the pepperoni slices in half. I've found that they don't stick together in the salad quite as much if you cut them, as they do when they remain in a disc-like shape. As I cut the pepperoni, I'll separate the pieces and toss them in the salad bowl. If I don't finish before the rotini is done, it's no big deal, because I can finish later while the rotini drains.
When the rotini has finished cooking, I drain it using the same colander in which the olives and tomatoes drained. There's no real reason to use the same colander, it's just that I only own one. If I owned more than one, I'd still probably use only the one, because I like to minimize the amount of required clean-up. Run cold water over the rotini as soon as you get it into your colander. I'll keep it under the running cold water until the water draining from it is cold. It starts out quite hot, so be cautious if you stick your hand under the draining rotini.
While the rotini drains, I'll finish cutting the pepperoni and tossing it into the bowl. Before I add the drained rotini to the bowl, I'll stir it around thorougly, being careful not to squish or stab any of the tomatoes. When the rotini is done draining, I'll add it to the bowl, then I'll add the dressing.

The dressing is Kraft Roasted Garlic Vinaigrette dressing, from their "Special Collection", according to the label. I couldn't find it at the store one time, and I tried using olive oil vinaigrette instead, but it wasn't nearly as good. I end up pouring in about half of the 16-fl. oz. bottle. If you're making the salad a day ahead of time or something, wait to add the dressing. It tends to soak into the pasta, and the salad ends up a little dry. Since I usually make the salad at the last minute before I leave for the event, it isn't a problem for me. :)

After I've added the rotini and the dressing and mixed it all up, I usually end up adding more shredded cheese and oregano. I just estimate both, until they look about right.

That's really all there is to it. It's simple, and doesn't even take very long to make. You might consider variations, such as a different pasta, or colored rotini, or adding other things like sliced red onions or
pepperoncinis. I suppose that next time you invite me over for a party, you're going to make this salad, and I'll be back to being the teenie weenie man...."
Maybe you have to know Matt to appreciate this but I found it quite humorous. This is a man whose idea of cooking is to make toast. The reference to "teenie weenie man" is that for food days at Pru, he almost always brought a crockpot full of barbecue cocktail wienies and earned the nickname "The Teenie Weenie Man". Not a nickname he cared for, mind you.

Gardening: Apparently this is the time of the summer when I grow great crops of weeds and dead plants. Time to get out there again. Not very motivated...

Monday, July 28, 2003

Reading: I finished the management book I was reading and passed my test this morning (91%). 6 down and 4 to go on the road to that designation (more letters behind my name). Living History is interesting enough. I have read about Hillary's childhood, high school years and she is now in college (just got an internship in DC).
Eating: New recipe last night: Chicken Cordon Bleu Casserole. I found it on the Lutherans On-line site. Very easy to prepare, though you have to think ahead because it bakes for a long time (1 hour and 45 minutes). In a casserole pan (I used a 9x13), place 4 large chicken breasts. Cover with 4 slices of ham (deli sliced) and then 4 slices of Swiss cheese. Stir together 1 can cream of chicken soup and 1/2 C. water and pour over chicken. Melt 1/2 C. (1 stick) butter or margerine (the recipe said "oleo"!). Mix melted butter with 2 C. (1 package) Stove Top Stuffing. Spread stuffing over chicken. Sprinkle with 1/2 of the package of seasoning mix from the stuffing (though I discovered Stove Top is now "1 step" so the seasoning is already in the stuffing part). Cover and bake at 325 for 1 hour. Remove cover and bake for 45 minutes more. Eric rated it, "I would request it again, maybe even on a Sunday," though he thought the cheese should be added later because it was hard to tell it was even there. I thought it was good and would make it again.

Gardening: Not much new here. My flowers in pots in the front are looking a little dry (yes, I have been watering them, thank you very much) so I may trim them back and see what they do. Everything is blooming very nicely though, even the thistle back behind the fence (gotta chop that baby down one of these days).

Thursday, July 24, 2003

Reading: I am only happy if I have a big pile of books to slog through (is slog a word?). Wish I had thought that in college. Anyway... in my pile I have: Galileo's Daughter, The Cliff Walk, Living History (Hillary Rodham Clinton's latest--got it from the library), History of France, Grammaire Francais (yes, on a recent French kick), What Color is Your Parachute? and Discover the Best Job for You (also need a job). Diverse and different, wild and weird, eclectic and eccentric. Maybe that is just me, in a nutshell (why are we always packing things in nutshells anyway?) No comments on any of them except History of France--seems the French and British have NEVER agreed on much of anything (if you ever want to piss off a French person, refer to The Channel as "the English Channel"). Once, when I was in France, Molly the travel companion and I wandered into a bookstore to browse. They had wine and cheese there and were apparently having a party of some sort (grand opening, perhaps). One of the employees had been sampling a great deal of wine and stumbled over to us. He offered us wine and when we replied (in French of course) he noticed our non-native accents and asked if we were British. We said, no, we are americaine. He said, "C'est pire, mais ce n'est pas grave."--That's worse, but that's not serious (which here means something like when we say "but that's okay").

Eating: The other night we made Party Pasta Bowl from the Pampered Chef Celebrate cookbook. It was good but what the heck was I thinking making a whole batch? It serves 12 so I would advise halving it unless you actually are making it for a party. Here is the recipe, proceed with caution.
1 lb. uncooked pasta (ziti or manicotti)--cook according to directions and drain. Brown 1 lb ground beef, 1 medium chopped onion and 3 pressed garlic cloves. Stir 1 48 oz jar (2 standard size jars, in other words) spaghetti sauce, 2 T. Italian seasoning and 1 14.5oz can of diced tomatoes (with the juice). In a large casserole (I used my 9x13 stoneware baker), pour in cooked, drained pasta. Add 6 cups of the meat/sauce mixture and stir until well mixed. In a bowl, lightly beat 1 egg. Add 15oz ricotta cheese, 1/4 C. freshly grated parmesan and 1 C. shredded mozzarella to the egg and stir until mixed. Spread egg/cheese mixture over pasta/sauce. Top with remaining meat sauce. Bake at 350 for 1 hour. Sprinkle with 1 C. shredded mozzarella and 1/4 C. grated parmesan. Bake an additional 10 minutes, until cheese is melted. We had ours with garlic toast. It is a nice easy lasagna-like dinner without the work. Although I have a very very easy lasagna recipe... stay tuned for that.

Gardening: The strawberries are weeded. Everything is weed-free for the moment. I wish I had a digital camera so I could post some pictures of all the planting and growing we have done this year. Maybe I will get one of those someday...

Monday, July 21, 2003

Reading: I did not read much this weekend. Now I am working on Management Principles and Practices. I will take the test for this next Monday and still have a lot left to read. Snooze!

Eating: Did not cook much this weekend either. What exactly did I do this weekend? We will be trying a couple new recipes in the next 2 weeks so stay tuned for more exciting food news!

Gardening: Mom says in her comments posted below that Mrs. Quackers may have laid an unfertilized clutch. Sort of a practice nest.

I finished weeding around the deck this weekend. I need to weed and mulch my strawberries. Weeding is okay sometimes. You just turn off the brain and weed.

My black-eyed Susans (rudbekia) are blooming! They contrast nicely with the hot pink Cosmos which are still blooming like crazy--I love them for that.

Friday, July 18, 2003

Reading: I gave up trying to find Galileo's Daughter and bought another copy for $5. I am just starting it again so I will let you know more as I read.

On my list "to read someday" are: the rest of the Anne of Green Gable series (have read the first 3), The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin (I had started this, found it fascinating, had to return it to the library before I was done because some fool had placed a hold on it), Little Women (should read it, loved the movie), Wicked: The life and times of the Wicked Witch of the West (the life of the Witch before she became the WWW in Oz).

Eating: Lazy eating/cooking days lately. Last night we had frozen fish filets (after they were cooked, of course). Tonight is tacos. Summertime... and the cookin' is lazy...

Gardening: No sign of Mrs. Quackers. E cleaned up her nest and there were no eggs left in it. Apparently something got to them. I still miss seeing that crazy duck in the yard.

Another of the gardens we toured last weekend had a cottage garden in the front. It was quite overflowing, as cottage gardens tend to be, and it may have been a little much for my taste. Then on the side of the house (which was a two-story), they had built what looked like the frame of the end of a barn. It had chicken wire on the square (bottom) part of it and was covered with clematis in a variety of colors. It even had a weather vane on the peak of it Then in the back, the patio was surrounded by flowers and they had a hill that sloped up from the back yard. That hill they had planted and transformed into a waterfall (or really more of a series of smaller waterfalls). There were two winding mulched paths up to the top and a bench about half-way. It was all very beautiful and relaxing. I need a big hill... hmmmm... something to do with my rocks??

Tuesday, July 15, 2003

Reading: I can't find my Galileo's Daughter book. I think there is a blackhole in my house somewhere that sucks books into it. I want to read that book!

I am currently reading A Woman's World which is a collection of writings by women about traveling. According the the introduction, women travel differently than men. Women, it is said, look for different things, stop for different reasons, take different things from our travels. "[W]e pause more to listen, assimilate, to move in and out of the lives of those we meet on the way," says the editor MaryBeth Bond. "Where women go, relationships follow." It is fun to read. Some of the women travel to places I long to go, some visit places I try to avoid. They travel to escape, to explore, to learn. Sometimes they learn lessons other than those they set out to learn. Travel is about discovery, of other people and places but also of oneself. When confronted with a completely new way of living, you cannot help but examine yourself and your own beliefs.

Eating: Last night we tried a new recipe from, Cheesy BBQ Skillet. E gave it a "I would request it but not on a Sunday" rating. 1 lb. boneless skinless chicken breasts, cut into strips. Cook in a large skillet, 4-5 minutes or until cooked through. Stir in 2 C. Minute Rice (uncooked), 1 1/2 C. barbecue sauce (they say Kraft, I say whatever your favorite sauce is), and 1 C. water. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low, cover and simmer 5 minutes, or until liquid is absorbed. Stir in 1 C. canned black beans, rinsed and drained, and 1 C. cheddar cheese. Sprinkle with 1/2 C. cheese and cover. Cook on low until cheese is melted. It was pretty good, even without the beans.

Gardening: Mrs. Quackers has left. She is not coming back. We have no ducks or ducklings. What we have is a big pile of mulch with a bunch of feathers in it. So long Mrs. Quackers. We hardly knew you. :(

Over the weekend we went on some garden tours as part of Maple Grove Days. We saw big beautiful gardens. The first one was on 4 acres, in the woods. They had a cute little log cabin in the back of the house. Very nicely laid out, a little pond with some goldfish in it (a little girl was telling us all about "Finding Nemo") and a very cool waterfall under the deck. It was very nice, though a little mosquito-y. I will tell you more about the others later (there were 5 of them).

My own gardens need to be weeded.

Friday, July 11, 2003

I think Mrs. Quackers has moved out. Yesterday, when I got home, there was an egg out of the nest and broken open. It was filling with ants and I told E we should get rid of it before it started to stink. We didn't want to scare Mrs. Quackers so we waited. This morning, she was not in her nest and there were 2 or 3 more eggs shoved out of the nest and broken open. E went out, got rid of the shells (which were now empty and not yolky anymore), filled up her little dish with some more cracked corn (we think she was nibbling at it some) and watered the shrubs (which is hard to do when you have a duck sitting in them). He saw her waddling back to the nest when he left for work. When I got home this afternoon, she was not in the nest but it was covered as we have seen it before so I just figured she was out for lunch (or wherever she goes). It is 4 hours later and she has not returned. Also I noticed some of the mulch is dug up and scattered around. I don't know if she came back and noticed the shells missing and smelled our scent and has now abandoned her nest. I hope not. I will be very sad if Mrs. Quackers does not come back. I will be very sad if we don't get to see some cute little ducklings in our yard.

Wednesday, July 09, 2003

Reading: I just found 2 more books that I could be reading! I have such a pile of books now to read but none are beckoning me. These 2 are ones that I have borrowed from other people who probably want them back sometime, don't you Deb?

Eating: The Easy Pasta Skillet last night was good. E gave it the rating, "good, I would request it again, but not on a Sunday." Let me explain the rating system: "I would not eat it if you made it again" is the lowest rating. "I would eat it if you made it again" is a slightly higher rating. "I would request it" is a more encouraging endorsement. And "I would request it on a Sunday" meaning it is good and worthy of serving to guests.

Here's the very simple recipe: Brown 1 lb ground beef in a large skillet and drain. Add 2 1/2 C. water and bring to a boil; reduce heat to medium low. Stir in 3 C. pasta (they say mostaccioli, I used penne); cover. Simmer 15 minutes or until pasta is tender. Stir in 1 jar of spaghetti sauce and 1 C. shredded mozzarella ( says to use Kraft cheese, I used Crystal Farms. I am probably going to Kraft hell now.). Sprinkle more mozzarella and 1/2 C. grated Parmesan (I cut back on some of this cheese 'cuz we don't need more cheese in our lives.). Cover and cook 3 minutes or until cheese is melted. Only one pan to clean and no need to drain the noodles (like Hamburger Helper but hopefully a little less sodium).

Tonight is Cashew Chicken from the Pampered Chef Casual Cooking Cookbook.

Gardening: Mrs. Quackers is now incubating her eggs. We gave her a dish of cracked corn yesterday which freaked her out (she was freaked by us giving her the dish, not the corn itself) and she waddled over in front of the steps and pretended to be dead until she was sure we were gone. She has not yet eaten any corn. I hope she doesn't die of starvation. I don't want to raise these ducklings myself. I can't swim.

Today I peeked out the window to check on her and she was carefully turning the eggs. Then she bustled up her skirts and settled back in, pulling the wood chip nest in around her with her beak, as if pulling the comforter up on her bed. She fussed with the wood chips until they were just right, then tucked her head around backwards (looking back at her behind) and appeared to go to sleep. I have this idea that she is bored and maybe would like something to read while she sits. Any recommendations? Maybe "What to expect when you're expecting"? "Make Way for Ducklings"?

Tuesday, July 08, 2003

Reading: I am feeling restless and can't decide what I want to read. I have started 3 different books in the last couple of days but none are holding my attention.

Eating: Tonight we are trying a new recipe I got from It is a ground beef skillet dinner. Will let you know recipe once we try it.

Gardening: The sunflowers are coming in! Well, some of them anyway. I don't know if something ate the seeds or nibbled the plants or what but there is a section where none of them came up.

I planted some new flowers to replace the verbena that didn't really take. They are white vinca. They are really very pretty and seem to love their new sunny home. I also planted the rest of the dusty miller I bought way back when and then didn't get planted. I filled my 2 deck boxes with them. They look pretty cool.

Mrs. Quackers is doing well. She left for a while yesterday afternoon but was back before sundown so maybe she is back to stay? It may be time to incubate!

We had our second application of organic weed control applied yesterday. It is sticky (something about being made of molasses) and smells like something, though I have not yet figured out what. One more application--I will let you know how it works. There is a woman who lives along the bus route who was out with a blow-torch, burning her dandelions down to the root. Apparently she is opposed to chemicals. I didn't see her do it but a guy on my bus did. I had just seen the aftermath and thought that a terrible fungus or something had infested her lawn. It looked like big ugly blackheads. The grass has filled in now and it looks much better so she may be on to something.

Monday, July 07, 2003

Reading: I finished Harry Potter over the weekend. Oh my gosh! I loved it! I can't wait for the next one. I think I will go back and re-read the others because there is a lot I have forgotten (for example, is Wingardium Leviosa the spell for opening doors or for making things float?). Anyway, my recommendation is for everyone to read this series! Run now and get started!

Other than another book for work (trying to squeeze one last exam in before I get laid off), I do not have anything new started. I may re-read The Cliff Walk which we read for bookclub a few years back. It is the memoir of an English professor who is not granted tenure (laid off) and how, after 100 rejections, he gets a job helping build houses, something that he never would have considered before. The full title is The Cliff Walk: A Memoir of a Job Lost and a Life Found.

Eating: We had lots of wonderful food for the Fourth. As soon as I get the recipes, I will share.

Gardening: We have a duck who has made a nest and laid at least 8 eggs in our new landscaping! We have named her Mrs. Quackers and are now learning more about ducks. I found this site about the reproduction of ducks (see the section titled "April and May"). We discovered the nest last week when Eric scared the duck (and she scared him) while turning on the spigot to water the shrubs. We called the Humane Society because we were afraid we had scared her off while she was incubating the eggs (there were 7 eggs at the time). We learned that they can only lay 1 egg per day (so she had been there a week without us knowing!) and that they do not starting incubating until they have a full "clutch" which is 8 to 13 eggs and at that time she will sit there until they hatch (29-31 days!). We thought it was a little late in the season to be laying eggs but the Humane Society guy said that maybe her previous nest got disturbed or destroyed. I will keep you updated on Mrs. Quackers and her family.

Thursday, July 03, 2003

"When we lack proper time for the simple pleasures of life, for the enjoyment of eating, drinking, playing, creating, visiting friends, and watching children at play, then we have missed the purpose of life. Not on bread alone do we live but on all these human and heart-hungry luxuries."

I found this quote on someone else's Blog and either forgot to copy who said it or it was not there. I apologize for not giving proper credit, though I suspect I am not the only person to do so on-line. Anyway, I love this quote and think it applies to everyone of us, but especially those of us who get caught up in all the stuff we think we have to do and forget to take the time to do that which we would like to do. Take time right now (yes, I am talking to you!) for the simple pleasures. Don't put it off until you have finished cleaning the kitchen. I seriously doubt there is a person alive who, when reflecting on her life at age 99, says, "I really wish I had kept my house cleaner. I would like to have mopped more often."

And now, a quote from the all-too-quotable Mark Twain: "A classic is something that everyone wants to have read and nobody wants to read." Wuthering Heights, anyone?

Reading: I am reading Harry Potter at work. Is that illegal or something? Does it matter that there is nothing to do?

Harry is so cool. Everyone thinks that I may be Hermione but I don't think I was ever that bad, was I?. Ron Weasley is quite possibly my favorite. Apparently I go for dorky and a little clueless. No, E, this does not apply to real life--I do not think you are dorky or clueless. Anymore.

Eating: We had Pasta Salad last night. I am addicted to those flavored sliced almonds you can get (check the produce department, near the bagged salads). I could munch the whole bag... But then the Husband makes me share. Phfffffffftt!

Gardening: I watered everything very thoroughly yesterday evening, only to have it pour holy buckets of rain.

Wednesday, July 02, 2003

Reading: I love Harry Potter! The big buzz with this latest book is that "somebody dies". When I pointed out that somebody died in Goblet of Fire, and somebody died in Sorcerer's Stone, and somebody died in Chamber of Secrets, and probably, somebody died in Prisoner of Azkaban, I was told that this time it is one of the main characters. That is a somewhat bigger deal, though we know that it will not be Harry, Hermione or Ron. I'm predicting maybe Cho, maybe Dumbledore, maybe Hagrid.

Eating: Try the Turkey Noodle Stew! It is so good, so good you see. Tonight we were supposed to have the Enchilada Casserole but I forgot it needs to defrost (thaw?) for 24 hours before. So pasta salad it is.

We are making burgers for our 4th of July party and I have a request for Spinach Dip, from The Spinach Dip Addict. So here is my Spinach Dip recipe, which actually is my aunt Julie's recipe. It is equally delightful with vegetables or bread. 2 C. sour cream or plain yogurt, 1 package Knorr's Leak Soup mix, 1 C. chopped cooked and drained spinach, and, if desired, 1 small can water chestnuts, chopped (the water chestnuts, not the can). Mix together and let chill for a few hours to soften the dry soup mix and let the flavors marry (I feel like Martha when I say that).

Gardening: I picked a strawberry off my new strawberry plants last night! Yahoo! It was pretty good, too. I think I have a couple more berries coming but not many. The plants are doing well and spreading, as I assume they should. The sunflowers are growing, though I wish I had some of that Insta-Gro stuff they always had on Tom and Jerry or Woody Woodpecker cartoons. I want them tall and I want them tall NOW!

The Rudbekia (black-eyed Susan) is about to bloom, though the leaves look a little chewed up. The Coreopsis is blooming and sprouting new growth all over the place. I may regret my wish for this to get big and full quickly. The impatiens are all a-bloomin' so that I can see them from the path behind the yard now. The zinnias are back from the near-death they were hanging around at a couple of weeks ago. Not sure how their situation changed but glad to see they are back.

Tuesday, July 01, 2003

You know you're bored read blogs of people you don't know. Every once in a while I go to and they have (on the left side, near the top) "Fresh Blogs" which is the most recently updated public blogs (mine is not public so it will never be there). I pick one with an interesting name and see what it is like. My conclusion is that Lissa the sparkle girl needs psychiatric help. Soon.

Reading: This weekend, I finished Undaunted Courage and A Painted House. Part of what I really enjoyed about Undaunted Courage is how the author portrayed Merriwether Lewis (and Thomas Jefferson, too). It was very balanced. Obviously, Stephen Ambrose really admires Lewis and what he did but the book is not merely a rave review of all Lewis did. Ambrose points out the mistakes Lewis made, both on the journey and in his life. He never tries to soften or pass over character flaws. These are very real people with very real flaws--alcoholism, bipolar disorder, racist attitudes. And yet, Ambrose doesn't dwell on those things. He gives the perspective of the time they are living in and also shows their vision and drive.

I enjoyed A Painted House. It never seemed far-fetched, always very real. The day-to-day struggles of cotton farmers in Arkansas--their struggles with the land and the weather, their relationships with the hill people and Mexicans who come to help with the harvest, their worry about Ricky, Luke's uncle, who is in the army in Korea, their worry that the people of the little town might find out that the poor sharecropper neighbor's daughter just had a baby she says is Ricky's, the secrets Luke is forced to keep about a death he witnessed, Luke's mother's dreams that they won't have to farm forever, that her son can have a better life.

I have now started Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. Eric got it and the 2nd Harry Potter movie for me the other day. I am about 200 pages into the nearly 900-page novel and like it a lot! I am a big Harry Potter geek, though.

Eating: Nothing new. I need to work on this.

Gardening: It sometimes pays to procrastinate--the hanging pots at Lynde greenhouse, which originally were about $15, are now only $6.99! I bought 2 gorgeous red ivy geraniums. The annuals are now only 79 cents so I can replace the plants that have not survived.

Thursday, June 26, 2003

Reading: I am almost done reading Undauted Courage. It is excellent and I would highly recommend it. Also, I have almost finished A Painted House. Also very good and recommended. The story really clips along and I don't even mind all the baseball details (Luke is a huge Cardinals fan). I am plugging along in the Foundations of Customer Service and will take my test next Thursday morning. This isn't a big test like the underwriting exam I took in April (and passed!) so is not a big deal.

I am very much looking forward to reading the new Harry Potter book!! Brian, a guy who rides my bus, is reading and says it is really good. He didn't even want to talk today, which is very unusual for him.

Eating: Check out the Pampered Chef website. You can use recipe search to find recipes by type (desserts, appetizers, etc.), by ingredient (if, for example, you have a huge bunch of zucchini and need some ideas what to use it for), by tool (if you have some Pampered Chef products you have never used and can't remember why you purchased) or by specific recipe name (if you tried something at a Pampered Chef party and want to duplicate it yourself).

Gardening: Some of my mulch in the backyard washed into a pile with the storms the other night so tomorrow I get to push it back where it belongs. All the plants survived, though, and my sunflowers are coming up! How long does it take for them to get tall?

One note about the comments--it make take more than one attempt for your comment to post. If at first it doesn't post, try and try again. Thanks for reading!

Monday, June 23, 2003

Reading: No reading this weekend. Proceed to "Gardening" to find out why.

Eating: Home-made (or "Ho-made" as they say in Door County WI) Pizza. Betty Crocker once again! Crust: disolve 1 pkg yeast in 1 C. warm water. Stir in 2 1/2 C. flour, 2 T. olive oil, 1 t. sugar and 1 t. salt. Also I like to sprinkle in a little Italian Seasoning (I have some from Pampered Chef but I think other companies make it too). Beat vigorously 20 strokes. Let it rest after the beating for 5 minutes. In the meantime, preheat oven and pizza stone (you do have a pizza stone, don't you?) to 425 degrees. Knead dough slightly and roll out onto pizza stone. Sauce: 1 can tomato sauce (the little one, however many ounces that is) mixed with 2 T. Italian Seasoning. Top with your favorite toppings and lots of mozzarella. Bake for 15-20 minutes until crust is golden and cheese is bubbly. Yum!

Gardening: We spent all day Saturday (10am until 9pm) outside working. Eric hauled another load of rocks to the compost/yard waste site. We removed the top layer of sand/clay from along the house, between driveway and steps. We "garden clawed" the compacted soil and removed stray stones. We weeded. We purchased and planted 3 shrubs (2 Ivory Halo Dogwood and 1 Bird's Nest Spruce). We topped it all off with good black dirt. We watered. We purchased and placed 5 bags of cypress mulch. Eric covered the remaining pile of dirt with tarps (it was supposed to rain). We took much needed showers and collapsed into bed.

Sunday, we went to a movie.

Friday, June 20, 2003

Reading: I am not reading anything new/different so I will write about some books I have read in the past that stuck with me. Gap Creek was an Oprah book but don't hold that against it. It takes place at the turn of the last century (weird to have to specifiy which century was turning) in Appalachia and is the story of Julie's first year of marriage. The descriptions of Julie's daily life in the hills and all the work she has are very vivid. I found myself tired just reading about slaughtering pigs and chopping wood and hauling and cooking and... You get the picture. I was also talking like I was from the hills when I got done. "There is snakes dancing! I ain't seen no snakes dancing." Anyway, I liked the book a lot and thought it well written.

Eating: A couple of quick summer recipes from Pampered Chef! I will leave out the references to which PC tools you should be using. Perfect for lunch after a trip to the Farmer's Market for fresh produce: Strawberry Spinach Salad The dressing: 2 T. lemon juice, 2 T. white wine vinegar (or whatever kind of vinegar you have), 1/3 C. sugar, 1 T. vegetable oil, 1 t. poppy seeds. Whisk all together, cover and refrigerate until ready to use. The salad: 1/4 C. toasted sliced almonds, 8 oz. strawberries, hulled and quartered, 1/2 of a cucumber, sliced and cut in half, 1/4 small red onion (I don't add this because I don't like raw onion in this salad), 6oz baby spinach (or shredded regular spinach). Combine all salad ingredients (except almonds) in a large bowl. Whisk dressing and pour over. Toss to coat. Sprinkle with almonds and serve immediately. Very tasty and refreshing.

Picnic Sausage and Potato Kebabs 3/4 pound petite new (red) potatoes, cut in half. Cook in microwave with 1/4 C. water for 5-7 minutes, until fork-tender. Drizzle with 1 t. olive oil. Add 1 clove garlic, pressed, 3/4 t. dried dill weed, salt and pepper (actually add the salt to the water when cooking potatoes) and gently stir together. Cut 6 large green onions into 2" pieces. Cut 1lb of bratwurst or Polish sausage into 1" pieces. Using six 12" skewers, alternately thread bratwurst, potatoes, onions and cherry tomatoes. Grill uncovered 6-8 minutes until brats are browned, turning frequently. Can be served with a mustard sauce made with 1/4 C. mayo and 2 T stone-ground mustard. I don't like mustard so I have never made the sauce. This is an easy grill recipe but nice enough to serve guests.

And for dessert, Candy Bar Parfaits. Coarsely chop 1 (1.55 oz) chocolate candy bar, 1 C. mini pretzels, 1/4 C. peanuts and mix together (freeze the candy bar for 5 minutes for easier chopping). Whisk together 1/3 C. chocolate syrup and 2 T. peanut butter. Place 1 scoop vanilla ice cream in each of 4 parfait dishes. Top each with one fourth of the candy bar/pretzel/peanut mixture and then another scoop of ice cream. Drizzle with chocolate/peanut butter sauce and sprinkle with additional pretzels and peanuts. This is SO GOOD! And I do have to say it is perfect for PMS cravings. I keep a sealed dish of the crunchy topping and one of the sauce on hand to have these whenever I need one.

Gardening: The cosmos are blooming their heads off. The coreopsis is growing like a weed. Speaking of weeds, that is what I will be doing this weekend.

Tuesday, June 17, 2003

I did it! I made the pink kitties go away AND I got all the other features I want! I will test out the comments now...
Reading:I am reading to try to figure out how to enhance my Blog. I have added a counter to it so I can tell if anyone reads this, besides me. I have also changed the format and have added a place to click if you want to e-mail me. I am working on adding a comments feature but since I don't know how to read/write HTML, I am having a little difficulty with this. E-mail me and let me know what you think of the changes. The obnoxious pink kitties may go away.

Eating: We had pasta salad last night. I was glad that was on the menu because I was too hot to cook.

Gardening: My flowers were a little sad looking yesterday. I have to remember to water more frequently. I lost 2 more salvia to the rabbits (squirrels? other vermin?). My heliotrope looks a little burnt. My cosmos, which I thought were red, are hot pink. They clash with the red and purple salvia (though if the rabbits keep eating the salvia, I won't have to worry about this anymore).

Monday, June 16, 2003

Reading: Currently in the "active" reading pile are: Undaunted Courage, A Painted House, and Foundations of Customer Service. Undauted Courage is excellent. I am completely sucked into it. I am awed by the courage and tenacity of the explorers. They are paddling and pulling heavily packed boats UPSTREAM! They have no medications (even though they have all picked up venereal diseases from the friendly Indians who share their wives), they are working hard all day everyday and need to consume 9-10 pounds of meat each day to keep their energy. I don't eat that much meat in 2 weeks! This book doesn't have a lot to say about Sacagewea but she really amazes me. She is 15 years old, just had a baby, is the only woman in the group and is hauling her baby on her back over the plains (they are not yet to the mountains). I think I will read about her next.

A Painted House is by John Grisham and I would not have picked it up if it weren't for Mom insisting. It is very good, so far! I generally don't read Grisham because once you have read one, you have read them all. This one is different, though. Not a lawyer in sight. It takes place in the 50's, in rural Arkansas, on a cotton farm. The narrator is a 7 year old boy, son of farmers who rent their land and therefore do not have a painted house. It makes me glad I am not a cotton farmer or a Mexican or "hill person" hired to pick the cotton.

Foundations of Customer Service is one I am reading for work. It is boring. I get $50 if I pass the test after reading it. (I wish I got $50 for every boring book I pulled myself through)

Eating: I don't think I have written about Enchilada Casserole yet but I can't remember the whole recipe so I will come back to that one. We had chicken fajitas last night. I use the Schilling season packet to make them. Not too difficult.

This weekend I hope to go strawberry picking. The berries should be ripe. Last year, the berries at Bauer Berry Farm were absolutely beautiful. Big, juicy and sweet! I froze a bunch of them on cookie sheets and then packed them in freezer bags so I could have a few at a time. The smoothies I made were delicious. I keep a big tub of vanilla yogurt in the fridge so they are a breeze to make. A couple big spoonsful of yogurt, a splash of whatever juice available, a handful of frozen strawberries, another of frozen blueberries (also from Bauer Berry) or half a frozen banana or a kiwi. Puree until smooth. The frozen fruit is easier on your blender than ice and the smoothies don't get watered down.

I also would like to go to the Minneapolis Farmer's Market. Besides all the good fresh produce, there is a stand there that has excellent tortillas in a variety of flavors (garlic, herb, tomato, etc.) and in a couple different sizes. I think I may have missed asparagus season but there is always something in season. My rule at the Farmer's Market is to avoid the stands where they sell pineapple. They are not selling local products and if I wanted California produce, I would go to the grocery store.

Gardening: On my day off on Friday (I work 80 hours in 9 days and get every other Friday off), I finished planting my shade garden. Finally! I only had a dozen or so plants left to put in--polka dot plants, begonias and coleus--and then I finished mulching the area. It looks lovely, if I do say so myself. I don't think I will ever be DONE but I am done with the plants I had already purchased. Saturday I planted my long-planned sunflower hedge and got a sunburn on my neck and shoulders. When will I learn?!

Thursday, June 12, 2003

Reading: Same books, nothing new to say there. I am also "reading" a few websites: The Renegade Gardner has good info about gardens in northern climes and he has some fun ideas about gardening in general. Take some time to browse. He has opinions to spare.
Bailey's Nursery has a very comprehensive plant list that you can search by common name, Latin name, hardiness, soil type and lighting needs. They also have pictures for a lot of the plants.

Almost everyday I check out the conversations going on at the St. Paul Pioneer Press Bulletin Board. My comments have been published a couple of times, under the name "Don't Call Me Sallie! in Maple Grove".

WebMD is a good general site that I use for work a lot (especially to figure out why people are taking certain medications. It doesn't make you spell the names right, which is great for those weird drug names that are nearly always misspelled) but also if I just want more info on medical issues.

Dean Haagenson's website is fun if you like looking for houses. He is our realtor and my husband's cousin. It is fun to search and look at the houses. Once there was a townhouse for sale that was painted all pink inside. The dining area was hot pink (think Pepto-Bismol) and the living room was pink with black accents (think Barbie dreamhouse). The pink inside matched the crabapple tree in bloom outside. Lovely.

My friend Steph has a blog too. She is a librarian and reads a lot of interesting books. I notice that she recently read Lemony Snicket's book, around the same time I read it. Great minds read alike.

If you want to virtually try clothes on, check out My Virtual You can create a 3-D model of yourself and then shop at stores such as Land's End and LLBean. Beware, though. When you create your model, she (or, of course, he) shows up in her (or, of course, his) skivvies. If you are trying this at work, it is difficult to get her covered up quickly enough. It is even more embarrassing because she will look very much like you.

Have you always wanted your very own Blog? Go to and start one today! And then let me know and I will read it.

I really need more work to do...

Tuesday, June 10, 2003

Reading: I am about a quarter of the way through Undaunted Courage and am enjoying it, learning more about Merriwether Lewis and Thomas Jefferson. Funny story--when I was younger, I always thought Thomas Jefferson was black. I was surprised when I discovered he was not. For years I have been trying to figure out what made me think he was. I now think it is because of George Jefferson, of "The Jeffersons".

Eating: Last night's dinner is today's recipe: Thai Chicken and Noodles. I don't know how authentic this recipe is (can't imagine they use spaghetti in Thailand) but it is good and easy. It comes from a cookbook that is apparently created by Kraft. The book was a shower gift. 1 C. Oriental salad dressing (I made mine from Betty Crocker's recipe, which I will post below--would be even easier if you buy some premade but I have not found any), 1lb chicken sliced into thin strips, 2 T. peanut butter, 2 T honey, 1/2 t. crushed red (cayenne) pepper, 8 oz spaghetti cooked, 1/2 C. shredded carrots. Marinate the chicken for 1 hour (or however long you have--I did for about 15 minutes) in 1/3 C. of the dressing. Stir together the remaining dressing, peanut butter, honey and red pepper. Cook the chicken until no longer pink. Stir together the chicken, spaghetti, carrots and peanut butter mixture and serve immediately. You can top with chopped green onions or chopped peanuts. It is a little spicy and you can adjust the amount of red pepper to taste.

Betty's Oriental Dressing--1/3 C. rice wine vinegar (whatever! I use whatever vinegar I have--red wine or plain old white vinegar), 1/4 C. oil, 1 T. sesame seeds, 3 T. soy sauce, 1/4 t. ground ginger. Place all ingrediants in a small jar and shake well.

I think Betty Crocker is the greatest ever.

Wednesday, June 04, 2003

Reading: Yesterday I finished The Handmaid's Tale. Can I just say again what a terrific, interesting book that is?

I have now started the selection for next book club, Undaunted Courage. I look forward to reading this rather daunting tome because I like Lewis and Clark, probably partly because my grandparents live in "Lewis and Clark country" in western Montana. So far, I find the reading easy and interesting.

Life of Pi was enjoyed by everyone who attended bookclub this past Sunday. Here is an interview with the author. I may re-read this book. There is a lot in there.

This weekend I started and finished the first book in The Series of Unfortunate Events: The Bad Beginning. I picked it up for cheap, just curious what the appeal is. Very clever, very fun. I can see how it appeals to the 10-14 age range. The description of the author cracked me up. I will copy it in here later. I look forward to reading more of these silly, terrible books.

Eating: We are somehow out of ground beef. We have worked our way through 70 pounds in about 2 years. Now we have to buy it at the store!! Yuck!
Anyway, no new recipes or tips here today.

Wednesday, May 28, 2003

Reading: I am still working on that pile of books, and I have now picked up The Handmaid's Tale to re-read. This, of course, is the book that I am flying through. It has probably been 8 years since I first read Handmaid's Tale. It freaked me out then and is doing so again on this reading. It is just so real and so many things, especially lately, seem to be similar to events in the book.

This weekend was so beautiful that I spent the whole weekend outside, planting, weeding, mulching, ripping up grass and putting in flowers. I love this time of year! My lilac bush, only a year old, is covered in buds and I noticed this morning that it is starting to bloom! Maybe I will change this blog to Reading and Eating and Gardening.

Eating: Summertime is a whole different eating experience than winter is. Last night, we grilled steaks and potatoes. We are still working out way through the quarter of beef that we got a while back and have about 5 packs of steaks left. We marinated the big T-bones overnight so they were extra juicy, tender and tasty. This is the marinade I use for many things: 1/4 C. soy sauce, 1/4 oil, 2 cloves of garlic pressed, fresh ground black pepper, 2 T. ketchup, 1T vinegar. The potatoes I peel and slice with my Apple Peeler/Corer/Slicer from Pampered Chef. Using a piece of foil for each serving of potatoes, I spray the foil with oil from the Kitchen Spritzer (also Pampered Chef). Salt, pepper, fresh pressed garlic, whatever seasonings I find (I have a salt-free dried herb mixture I bought at the Farmer's Market that is excellent for potatoes), a little onion, chopped carrot (if desired. This is the great part about these potatoes--everyone gets his own packet so they can be made to taste.). Seal up the foil and put on the grill a little after the steaks. They cook in the same time the steaks take and taste delicious.

Another great easy summertime "recipe" is pasta salad. In the time it takes to boil noodles, you can have a hearty summer meal! I used rotini pasta, chopped carrots, cubed ham from the deli, real bacon bits, shredded cheddar (I keep big bags of cheese in the freezer to use as needed. Handy and no worries of green cheese). Drain and cool the pasta under cold running water. Mix all together and add dressing. I used Ranch but I would think any kind would be good. I sprinkled sliced almonds on top (Dole now has seasoned sliced almonds--look for them in the produce dept. at your grocery store!). Yummy! We ate this as a meal.

Friday, May 23, 2003

Reading: I finished Life of Pi earlier this week. I liked it a lot and am glad we read it for bookclub. I think there will be some interesting discussion. I laughed and laughed, I was grossed out, I was awed at how he was surviving on this lifeboat with the 450 pound Bengal tiger, I was inspired by his perseverance and continued faith.

One particular funny moment had more to do with my memory skills than with the actual book. The reader is introduced early on in the book to the tiger, Richard Parker. Then the book goes on and we learn about how he became a Hindu with Christian and Islamic beliefs, and in general more about his life. Then, he is on the boat, crossing the ocean to get to Canada, when it sinks (I am not giving anything away--this you can learn from the blurb on the book). He is in the lifeboat and encouraging Richard Parker, who is in the water swimming, to get in the lifeboat too. Cheering Richard Parker on, throwing the lifebuoy to him, etc. and all of a sudden he realizes what he is doing and tries to whack Richard Parker on the head with an oar and then, when Richard Parker finally climbs aboard, Pi jumps off into the water. The reason this was so funny to me is that I forgot who Richard Parker was and mistakenly though him to be a classmate of Pi's, which made it very confusing when he started trying to hit him and yelling at him to stay away.

And yes, the tiger is ALWAYS referred to by his whole name, Richard Parker

Eating: This has not been a very exciting eating week. Nothing new.

Tuesday, May 13, 2003

Reading: I am in the middle of at least 3 books right now, all very different. On the bus I am reading The Power of a Praying Wife. It was a wedding shower gift over 3 years ago now but I just picked it up. I've never felt I was very good at praying and it is really challenging to pray for someone else. It has some really interesting ideas to think about and even if the power of prayer isn't enough, the thinking that I am doing about my husband, our relationship and myself is helpful in itself. The book is not for everyone (I wasn't sure it was for me which is why I have just now picked it up) but if you are in a relationship, even if you think it is the best relationship in the world, I think there is always at least one aspect of life your husband would appreciate a prayer for.

At lunch time, I am reading Life of Pi--very interesting so far. I enjoyed the argument in favor of zoos (not a commonly heard viewpoint) and in learning how he became a Hindu that also practices Christianity and Islam. I really wish I could remember more of what I learned about Hinduism and Islam in college. I don't have the books anymore either because I had borrowed them and had to return them after the class. I remember we read the Bhagavad-Gita and parts of the Koran and that I decided that of all the "world religions" that we learned about, I most wanted to be a Hindu. I don't now remember why.

At bedtime, I am reading The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde (no relation to Wild Oscar, my cat). This is another bookclub book that I did not finish.

I also have in my stack of books I have started but not finished: Pride and Prejudice, Galileo's Daughter and Virginia Woolf's A Room of One's Own.

Eating: Dinner last night was a repeat recipe but one I have not yet written about: Ham and Cheese Mashed Potatoes. It was a perfect after-Easter recipe and used up the leftover ham. This time, I had some diced ham in the freezer and that made the preparation quite easy. Would be even easier if I had leftover mashed potatoes... Mix together 2 C. mashed potatoes and 1 tsp garlic salt and spread in the bottom of 1.5 quart casserole. Sprinkle 1 C. diced ham over the potatoes. Whip 1/2 C. whipping cream, fold in 1 C. shredded cheddar and spoon the mixture over ham. Bake at 450 degrees for 15 minutes or until golden brown. Very tasty, easy and filling. My opinions on mashed potatoes--Yukon Gold make the tastiest mashed potatoes and a ricer is the preferred method of mashing (results in fluffier, non-lumpy, non-starchy potatoes). I don't care for potatoes whipped with an electric mixer because it releases too much starch and makes the potatoes less flavorful. With a traditional masher, there are too many lumps left and you might as well just serve boiled potatoes and let everyone smush his own. It seems like a stupid thing to have such strong opinions on but I do. And it is my blog. So there.

Monday, May 12, 2003

Reading: Last night when I couldn't sleep, I finished a book I have had hanging around for a good 6 months. It was a bookclub selection in October maybe? and I hadn't finished it in time for bookclub because I hadn't been reading much that month. And then when I didn't finish it in time for the discussion, other things got in the way. The book, Wild Life by Molly Gloss, was interesting. It is a story of Charlotte Bridger Drummond, a feminist, single mother of 5, a writer and an adventure seeker at the turn of the last century. I enjoyed her musings on the writing process and some of her observations on marriage, family and men (though do not agree with them necessarily) but the story really picked up when she got lost. She had joined some rough lumberjacks in the search for a little girl and then she herself got lost in the woods. Starving nearly to death, cold, alone and without shoes, she is taken in by a group of Saskwatches (Bigfoot, not people from Saskatchewan). Among them, she reflects on wilderness and the "civilized" life of man. It is part feminist writings, part ecology commentary, part fairy tale. All very interesting and I am glad I finally finished it.

Eating: This was not a very adventurous eating/cooking weekend. I was kind of tired and lazy. We had take-out Chinese on Friday, leftovers on Saturday, frozen pizza Saturday night (too lazy to even make homemade pizza!) and then on Saturday, went out with my mom for lunch (Don Pablo's--I enjoyed the spinach enchilada but like Chevy's tacos better) and then to the in-laws for dinner.

I am thinking of adding a gardening section to this blog. We will see what I have to write about that.

Friday, May 09, 2003

Reading: Last night I went with some friends to hear/see a discussion with Margaret Atwood. It was part of the "Talking Volumes" bookclub sponsored by MPR, the Star Tribune and the Loft, and this month we, as a state, had read The Handmaid's Tale. Atwood is one of my favorite author's and this was one of my favorite of her novels. I had high expectations because I respect her so much as a writer and the discussion only improved my view of her. She is intelligent, witty, well-spoken and well-informed. This novel freaked me out when I first read it but I can really see the events happening. The novel has been made into an opera now and there was an interesting article by Atwood in the paper about how the opera came to be. Check out the article--it has much of the same material and points she made in the discussion last night.

Eating: We ate out last night before the "Talking Volumes" discussion. I don't know downtown St. Paul very well so had no opinion on where we ate. We ended up going to Christo's, a Greek restaurant in an old train station. Very cool restaurant and good food too. There is also a location on Nicollet Ave. in Minneapolis. I ordered the Greek Hash, just because it sounded a little different. It was Gyros, potatoes, peppers, onions, mushrooms and tomatoes with feta cheese on top. It was pretty good but it was HUGE! I ate quite a bit and still have leftovers enough for easily 3 more meals.

Wednesday, May 07, 2003

Reading: I let my friend borrow one of my favorite children's books, Underwear, to read to her son. He had already heard it at school but it never ceases to amuse me to read the book. You can't help but smile as Orfo the Orangutan and Zachary the Zebra challenge Bismark the Buffalo to say "underwear" 10 times without smiling. Underwear (the clothing article and the book) is funny, no matter how old (or what species) you are.

Eating: Another yummy recipe from the Thrivent cookbook (are you sick of that one yet? I will try some other cookbook and recipe next week, I promise): Turkey Noodle Stew. Start with about a half pound of turkey breast tenderloin (or chicken breast which is easier to find at the store and in my freezer). Slice into 1/4" strips and brown in 1 T. oil with a small chopped onion (or not). Stir together 1 can of cream of celery soup, 1 can (14.5oz) chicken broth and 1 T. lemon pepper seasoning. Pour this mixture over the turkey and bring to a boil. Add 2 C. frozen mixed vegetables and 3 C. uncooked egg noodles. Reduce heat, cover and simmer for 10 minutes, until noodles and veggies are cooked. Serve with fresh biscuits or bread. This just has a really good taste to it. I think it is the lemon pepper seasoning.

Tuesday, May 06, 2003

Reading: Nothing to report here today. I am in the middle of 2 books and will write about them when I finish. One that I look forward to reading is called " Prodigal Sons & Material Girls: How Not to be Your Child's ATM" by Nathan Dungan. I read about it in the Thrivent Magazine and then the next day in the St. Olaf Magazine. I have a connection to the author--he is my husband's cousin's wife's brother (I didn't say it was a close connection) and he also used to work at Thrivent Financial back when we were Lutheran Brotherhood (ah, the good old days!). He was VP of marketing and often spoke about the "Share, Save, Spend" philosophy. He has now written this book discussing that and more.

Eating: We made this recipe for the second time last night. The first time, I ended up with pasta sauce all over my white shirt (yes, it is still there after 3 washings including bleach) and all over the kitchen. Apparently, I am blonder than I appear because I shook the jar after I had loosened the lid. Anyway, here is Cheesy Beef Spirals. It tastes a lot like lasagna but is a little easier to make and you won't have a huge pan of lasagna to eat for a week. Brown 1lb ground beef (the recipe says 2 lbs but that is just too much meat) with 1 clove of garlic, freshly pressed, and 1 small onion chopped. Stir in 1 26oz jar of spaghetti sauce, bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer for 20 minutes. Meanwhile, cook 2 cups rotini (spiral) pasta and drain. In a 2 1/2 quart casserole dish, spread 1/2 C. of the meat sauce. Then layer 1/2 of the pasta, then 1/2 C. sour cream. Next, spread over 1/2 of the remaining sauce, the rest of the pasta and then a layer of cubed Velveeta (1/2 lb). Spread the remaining sauce and top with 2 C. shredded Mozarella (this may be too much, in my opinion). Bake at 350 degrees for 25-30 minutes, until the cheese is bubbly. Serve with garlic bread (we buy the pre-sliced frozen garlic bread and make a couple slices at a time in the toaster oven) and a green salad. It is very filling and we have leftovers for at least 2 more meals so I would say it serves 6-8. This recipe is also from the cookbook I got from Thrivent and I am happy to report I did not throw any sauce across the kitchen this time!

Monday, May 05, 2003

Reading: Our next book for bookclub is "Life of Pi" which looks interesting. I thought it might have something to do with the number/symbol pi (as in "pi times r squared") but it does not. Maybe I should write a book about that...

I have a few books I found that I have started and never finished so I may read some of those in between bookclub books. I may never ever finish reading Wuthering Heights, though. I have started that one about 7 times and never made if much past 20 pages. What is classic about that book? I may never know. Maybe I should start in the middle or something.

Eating: As promised, the recipe for Beefy Hashbrown Bake. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a 8x8 pan, combine 4 cups frozen shredded hashbrowns, 3 T. oil and some black pepper (don't measure pepper, as I have said before). Bake for 15-20 minutes. Meanwhile (back at the ranch...), brown 1 lb. ground beef. Drain and stir in a little garlic powder, 1 C. water and 1 pkg. brown gravy mix. Bring to a boil and cook and stir for 2 minutes. Add in 2 C. frozen mixed vegetables (or corn, in our case) and cook and stir for ~5 minutes more. Stir in 1/2 C. shredded cheddar and half of a 2 oz can of French fried onion thingies. Spread over top of hashbrowns (which will probably not be brown) and bake for 10 minutes. Sprinkle 1/2 C. shredded cheddar and the rest of the onion thingies over top and bake another 5 until the cheese is melted. Voila!

Wednesday, April 30, 2003

Reading: This weekend I consumed Sea Glass by Anita Shreve. My mom insisted that I read this because her "bookclub" (consisting of her co-worker and her co-worker's 16-year-old daughter) had read it and given it 2 thumbs up (the daughter apparently was indifferent in that way only teenage girls can be). I often share my books with my mom and she with me. Sometimes we agree and sometimes a book that I have raved about gets a "not so much" from Mom. This one she has been talking about for months and I have previously read The Weight of Water and liked that, so I finally read Sea Glass. I enjoyed it greatly. At first, I was confused by all the characters because they each had their own chapters and I couldn't see yet how they came together for one story. When they did, the story flew and beautifully so. The image of the sea glass that Honora collects on the beach is woven throughout the story, symbolic of many things including Honora herself and her new marriage. The characters are as vivid and unique as each piece of sea glass and the story was captivating. I learned a lot about mill work in the 1920's, about life right after the stock market crash and how people survived (interesting food ideas), about unions. I would definitely recommend this and will now seek out other Shreve novels (I really should read The Pilot's Wife one of these days).

Eating: I did not cook last night. But I highly recommend brie with fresh baguette. Tonight will be a repeat of a new recipe we tried a couple of weeks ago: Beefy Hashbrown Bake. This is another one from the cookbook I got through Thrivent Financial. Recipe to follow tomorrow (can't think of it off the top of my head).

Tuesday, April 29, 2003

Reading: Last week, I finished reading The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency and thought it was very interesting. I knew nothing about Botswana and thought the author did an excellent job blending a mystery (though really more of a series of small cases thoughtfully solved by the very likeable Precious Ramotswe) with a historical and cultural portrayal of Botswana. I would recommend this and look forward to reading more in the series.

Eating: Last night's dinner was 2 new recipes, both of which we enjoyed. The recipes are in a cook book I got FREE through Thrivent Financial for Lutherans (formerly Lutheran Brotherhood and Aid Association for Lutherans). It is no longer available but if you are a Thrivent Financial member, check out the other FREE things you can order. Chicken with Creamy Gravy was good and simple. We made it low-fat but couldn't taste a difference. To prepare, brown both sides of 4 chicken breasts (I always use boneless, skinless) for about 10 minutes. Meanwhile, stir together 1 can of cream of chicken and broccoli soup (I used reduced fat crm of chicken), 1/4 C. milk, 2 T. lemon juice and some pepper ("don't measure pepper", I told my husband last night). Pour the sauce over chicken, cover and simmer for about 5 minutes or until juices run clear. The Lemony Linguine (say that 5 times fast!) was very tasty too (don't tell anybody but we used spaghetti instead of linguine). The sauce was easy to make: 3 T. butter, 1 T. lemon juice, 1 1/2 t. dried basil, 1/2 t. garlic powder, 1/2 t. lemon-pepper seasoning--cook together until butter melts, then pour over 8 oz. linguine, cooked. That is it! Both recipes were so simple I remembered them without looking! Bon Appetit!

Monday, April 28, 2003

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