pen rainbow

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Wednesday—Good for You, Good for The Home

No-Streak Glass Cleaner
Spring Cleaning!  Non-Toxic, Homemade Cleaning Solutions


Store-bought cleaning solutions are usually pretty expensive, especially if you buy non-toxic, aromatherapeutic cleaning products like I do.  My favorites are the Caldrea products (check out their new fragrances) and Mrs. Meyer's Clean Day products (love the lemon verbena and lavender scents).  I've used the Method line of cleaning products for a long time, and I especially like their wood cleaning wipes.

As part of my on-going battle against general household grunge, and I'm going to try out a couple of homemade cleaning solutions.

Here's a recipe for No-Streak Glass Cleaner from easy~homemade~recipes.com:

1/4 c. white vinegar
1 T. cornstarch
2 c. warm water

Don't use too much vinegar or the acid will etch the glass surface and cloud the glass over time.

Mix the ingredients & pour into a spray bottle.  Wipe with crumbled newspaper for no-streak results.

Peppermint Wood Floor Cleaner
For wood floors, from eartheasy.com:

Mix equal parts of white vinegar and warm water.
Add 15 drops of pure peppermint oil.
Shake to mix & use with a damp mop to clean wood floors.

Results
Great news!  Both of these homemade household cleaners did a pretty good job!

No-Streak Glass Cleaner — I used this inside and out on a deck door window that hasn't been totally cleaned since last Fall.  There was a lot of dirt build-up on the outside glass, so it took a couple of extra swipes with the newspapers to erase all of the grime.  But, it lived it up its "no-streak" claim, for the most part.  I added 3 drops of peppermint oil to the solution to give it a minty scent, and that may have caused some noticeable streaking.  It buffed right out with a clean, dry cloth.  Without the oil, there should be no streaking at all.

Would I use the glass cleaner again?
Yes, it is great on heavily soiled windows.

Peppermint Wood Floor Cleaner 
Pros

  • Dries quickly
  • Leaves a nice shine (Leaves a very light film, less than most commercially available wood floor cleaners; could be easily dry mopped to buff up the shine even more)
  • Cost-effective
  • Environmentally-friendly
  • No toxic chemicals 
  • Pleasant minty scent while you're mopping.  It has a very crisp, cleaning-day kind of smell
  • It will clear out your sinuses


Cons

  • There are equal parts vinegar to water in this, so it has a pretty strong vinegar smell.  The peppermint drops cut the vinegar a little bit, but it is still pretty strong.  I opened up a couple of windows while I was cleaning the floor.  Most floor cleaners leave a fairly strong smell that lingers, so it's a matter of how tolerant you are of vinegar.
  • As with any wood floor, you don't want to let this pool up while it's drying.  So, go light and use a damp mop, not a wet one.  I did have a couple of spots on the wood after it dried; these were easily removed with a damp rag.
  • Fragrance sensitive folks would be overwhelmed by the smells
  • If used on a regular basis, the vinegar might not be so great for the laminate finish 

Would I use the wood floor cleaner again?
I'm not sure.  I used the wood cleaner on a Hartco wood laminate floor.  (I'll pause a moment while any wood floor contractors who might be reading this can gnash & wail about using the wrong cleaning solution on a laminate floor.)  My Hartco wood floor happens to be the James Brown of wood floors.  I swear, it can stand up to anything, including cats, dogs, kids, husbands, appliance installers, hard flying objects, water, and indirect sunlight.  I keep the shades down in the afternoon so that direct sun does not hit the wood.

Wood laminates don't require a lot of wet mopping, but I like to keep my floors really clean, so I sweep and use a Swiffer dry mop every day, then damp mop it once a week.  Manufacturers of laminate flooring discourage wet mopping because pooling can cause the wood to warp as it dries.  However, all sorts of dirt and other household grunge (cat barf, cat pee, street grime, etc.) collects in the fine crevices of the wood, so I give it a thorough cleaning once a week.

On the one hand, this stuff really did a good job cleaning the floor.  Otoh, I was not crazy about making my house smell like vinegar.  Using half as much vinegar might reduce the strong smell, and it would probably be as effective for light cleaning jobs.

Tuesday's Cupboard—Oven BBQ'd Citrus Marmalade Chicken

Oven-bbq'd Meyer lemon marmalade chicken
A great way to use orange or lemon marmalade!


SPRING is here, and it's time to start thinking about chicken recipes that make the most of the season's invigorating flavors.


Serves 4
Prep Time:  About an hour


Preheat oven to 450°F


ingredients
1 pack of chicken drumsticks (about 8 drumsticks)
kosher salt
freshly ground pepper
1/2 c. any kind of citrus marmalade

directions
1.  Clean chicken legs & remove skin layer at the base of the bone with a sharp knife.  Dab most of the water off with a paper towel.

2.  Line a baking sheet with foil & spray it with a light layer of PAM.  Arrange chicken legs in a single layer & season with salt & pepper.  Bake for 10 mins. on 450°.

3.  Brush with half of the marmalade & return to oven for 20 mins.

4.  Carefully remove chicken from oven & reduce oven temp to 350°.  Brush chicken legs with remaining marmalade & return to oven.  Bake for 10 more mins. until marmalade is carmelized to a dark brown & meat is starting to separate from the bone.

5.  Serve on a bed of seasoned couscous or lentils & rice mixture.

What's great about this recipe is that chicken legs are inexpensive ($2.29 for a package at Safeway this week), and it's a wonderful way to use the fresh, crisp flavors of citrus marmalades.

(non-organic) heritage strawberries from Safeway
Heritage Strawberries—Something new!

Yesterday, I bought a container of strawberries from our local Safeway (on Broadway), and it was tagged as a variety from 1975.  Pretty neat!  I hope that major grocery chains continue to get with the heritage food movement.  Safeway should market a new line of heritage produce under their "O" organic label.

heritage seed varieties
Farmer's markets usually have a spectacular supply of organic strawberries this time of year.  Or, head to your local nursery and start growing your own.  I got these heritage veggie packs from Orchard Nursery in Lafayette.






Monday, March 28, 2011

Monday—The Reading Corner—NYT Kindle Covers—Lethal People

Something new for your Kindle!  New York Times Photo Archive Kindle Covers by Verso—$49.99 each


In celebration of over 100 years of photojournalism, the New York Times has partnered with Kindle and created three Kindle covers from the historic NYT photo archives.  These are iconic black & white images of New York City—the Flatiron Building, the Statue of Liberty & the Twin Towers, and a panoramic view of the city from the River House.  These covers fit the 6" display latest generation Kindles.

Note:  These covers do not have the attached retractable LED reading light.  The Verso clip-on reading light can be purchased separately through Amazon for $19.99 each.

I like the plain-color Amazon Kindle covers for $59.99 each, which do include the retractable light.

Lethal People, A Donovan Creed Novel (Kindle edition) - 99¢  ★ 1 star out of 5
This book is a detective story about a former CIA assassin who does not seem to have a moral compass.  He is a cold-blooded contract killer, along the lines of Jason Bourne before he lost his memory and gained a conscience.

But, this guy never loses his memory, and from the beginning, I was hoping that his not-so-subtle public murdering spree would lead to his unspectacular arrest, and he'd have to endure the supreme torture of sitting in a courtroom every day listening to his lawyer plod through the American criminal justice system.  Unlike Jason Bourne, Donovan Creed has zero appeal.    

On the positive side, the book grabs your attention in the prologue with an action-packed, vividly written house fire.  It's a great start!  After that, everything becomes ridiculous.  Apparently, Donovan Creed is such a brilliant and insane assassin that he voluntarily tests weapons on himself for the US military, and when he's not getting zapped with lethal doses of secret weaponry, he's off working for the Mafia and for strangers he's just met on the phone.  He kills terrorists, as well, but so far, there aren't any in the story.  

I am 51 percent of the way through, and I seriously hope that all of the female characters—his ex-wife; the insane model-slash-blond-assassin partner; the heart-of-gold hooker; Aunt Helen; and the 6-year old burn victim—get together and stage a misogynist intervention.

Then, there are the male characters—his disfigured insane BFF; the insane limo driver; Lou, the insane CIA contact; Victor, the borderline personality little person; and the chummy, but insane Mafia guy.  Did I mention that they were all insane?  I may have forgotten somebody, but they are likely to be insane, also.

I bought this book because it was on the Kindle best sellers list.  On the strength of that listing, I bought the sequel, Lethal Experiment, as well.  It was only 89¢.  For less than a bottle of Two-Buck Chuck, you can get both of these books.  It's a good read, if you like trashy novels, and you can ignore graphic scenes of violence toward women.

Maybe, the little girl will turn out to be a terrorist-slash-casting director, and she will force him to be in the next Sex In The City movie.  I hope that Big beats him up, and then, Carrie takes him shoe shopping.  I would enjoy that ending.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Saturday Bonus—Earth Hour Today!


A global event to raise environmental awareness—Earth Hour  

Participate on twitter (make your twitter icon go dark for an hour)

Earth Hour starts at 8:30 p.m. (in your time zone) today!  Power down for an hour and see what a collective difference you can make.  

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Mini-Post Thursday—What A Dame

Tweeted by Elizabeth Taylor on July 22 last year...

RIP Elizabeth

"Every breath you take today should be with someone else in mind.  I love you."

Wednesday—Good for You, Good for The Home

Rockin' Roller Coaster Museum — DisneyWorld
Music for the Soul


Oh, man—I triple❤ this new album by Steve Martin & The Steep Canyon Rangers, called Rare Bird Alert.  Git yerself over to that iTunes link and listen to these songs!  They're really great.

Jubiliation Day is hilarious, about a guy breaking up with his girlfriend:

You know you're right
We should stay in touch
I'm walking away
This is your new email address, right?
Cheatin' psycho dish-throwin' ho dot. nut


Best Love is a beautiful ballad elegantly performed by a shiny new bluegrass penny, Sir Paul McCartney.  Wow, exquisite.  I swear he sang this one for Linda.  Listen for hints of Wings in the last few bars.  In the beginning lyrics, I can picture Linda & Paul driving their convertible down the hazy California coast highway.

Things were nice in California
Loved our trip out to the coast
Did I say your mother phoned us?
You are my best Love


You look good in fancy dresses
Wish we bought that one that day
I even like your old ex-boyfriend
You are my best Love


You, featuring the Dixie Chicks, is like caramel—smooth, sweet & delicious.

Steve Martin's mastery of the banjo soars along with the heavenly voices and instrumentals of The Steep Canyon Rangers in Yellow-Back Fly.

This is serious good music.  It'll put the wind back in your sails.


My SIGG bottle
A Better Water Bottle—SIGG Reusable Aluminum Bottle


It's time to switch to something better than recyclable plastic bottles.  We're throwing a lot of them away.  According to the Earth911.com, an environmental services company that addresses end-of-product life issues, more than 2.4 billion pounds of plastic bottles were recycled in 2008.

"Although the amount of plastic bottles recyled in the U.S. has grown every year since 1990, the actual recycling rate remains steady at around 27 percent."

Besides that, it takes energy to produce all of those bottles in the first place.  According the non-profit, environmental Clean Air Council—827,000 to 1.3 million tons of plastic PET water bottles were produced in the U.S. in 2006, requiring the energy equivalent of 50 million barrels of oil.  Crap.  76.5 percent of these bottles ended up in landfills.  That is a gigantic load of plastic crap dumped onto the ground.

So, what are we going to do instead?  Reuse, that's what.  Here are some very hip beverage bottles that are a blast to carry around, as well as to use.  The Swiss company, SIGG, has been making household and sports items since 1908.  Take a look!  The cost is $21.99 for the .6 liter (20.3 oz.) bottle, which is what I take with me for a 3-mile walk.  They go on sale for around $15, and they have design collections, including my favorite, the Yoga Mojo group and a pretty neat line for kids.  Sizes range from .3 liter (10.1 oz.) to 1.5 liter (50.7 oz.).

Tuesday's Cupboard—Louisiana Red Beans & Rice

Louisiana Red Beans & Rice
i ❤ Southern food


In celebration of my sister's move to Gainesville, Florida, this Spring, I'll be showcasing Southern things that I love, starting with Louisina Red Beans & Rice.

I've already reviewed a great book that takes place in Florida called, Swamplandia, by Karen Russell.  Be sure to check it out.  It's a fun read—and it has a red alligator!

Louisiana Red Beans & Rice
Troi's spicy version adapted from 2 recipes: EatingWell Magazine & KalynsKitchen.com


Prep time:  1 hour
Serves 4 to 6


ingredients
1-1/2 c. brown basmati rice (or white basmati)
2 T. extra-virgin olive oil
1 large sweet yellow onion (Vidalia, Maui, etc.)
4 tsp. jarred, chopped garlic (or, minced fresh garlic)

1 c. chopped celery, including leaves
1 c. diced green bell pepper (1 lg. bell pepper)

1. 5 pounds lean Cure-81 spiral-sliced ham (or less, between 1.25 & 1.5 lbs.), chopped into 1" cubes
3 15-oz. cans red kidney beans or pink beans, drained & rinsed


1 tsp. M&B Spices Cajun Spice Mix (or your favorite Creole/Cajun spice mix)
1 tsp. dried oregano
1 tsp. dried thyme
1 tsp. green Tobasco
1 T. Worcestershire sauce
1/4 - 1/2 tsp. kosher salt (to taste; remember, the ham adds saltiness)
1 tsp. red wine vinegar
2 c. water

directions
Cook basmati rice in rice cooker, as directed.  This should take about an hour.  While the rice is cooking mise-en-place:

  • onion & garlic (put in a bowl together)
  • celery, green pepper, ham (put in a bowl together)
  • 1 can of red beans, mashed with a fork (in a bowl)
  • 2 cans of red beans (in a bowl)


About 15 minutes before the rice is done cooking, assemble the red bean & ham stew.  Heat oil in a soup pot over med-high heat.  Add onion & garlic and sauté until onion is tender & translucent, about 3 mins.  Stir often to prevent garlic from burning.

Add the mashed & whole beans, ham, celery & green pepper, Cajun spice mix, green Tobasco, Worcestershire sauce, salt, red wine vinegar, & 2 c. water.  Simmer, stirring occasionally, until the liquid has thickened, and the vegetables are tender (about 15 minutes).  Serve in shallow bowls topped with a 1/2 c. scoop of cooked rice & a glass of cold chocolate Silk soy milk.

1 can mashed red kidney beans

2 cans red kidney beans

1.47 lbs. Cure-81 sliced ham

1 c. celery with leaves, chopped

Yummy seasonings!
crockpot version
Except for the rice and the olive oil, put everything into a crockpot.  Set on high for 5 hours.  About an hour before the stew is done, cook the rice as directed (I use a rice cooker).  Serve in shallow bowls topped with 1/2 c. scoop of cooked  rice & a glass of cold chocolate Silk.

yummy side
Corn bread & honey-butter

Mix equal amounts of softened butter with your favorite kind of honey.  Set aside.

Mrs. Cushing's Corn Bread (an old recipe from Steve's grandmother, Ethel Mills)

2 T. melted butter — Put it in a square, 8"X 8" non-stick baking pan & set it in a preheated 425°F oven while you quickly mix up the batter.  Gotta be quick (5 to 10 minutes)!  Watch your butter so that it doesn't burn.

In a bowl, mix together the following:

3/8 c. sugar (a scant 1/2 c. of sugar)
1/2 c. cornmeal
1 egg, beaten (I use 1/4 c. egg substitute)
2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 c. nonfat milk
1/2 tsp. kosher salt
1 c. flour (I use 1/2 c. whole-wheat + 1/2 c. white flour)

Pour into hot pan with melted butter & bake for 20 - 25 mins.  Remove & cut into squares with a knife that will not scratch your nonstick pan.  Serve with honey-butter.  Enjoy!

Monday, March 21, 2011

Monday—The Reading Corner—Writers for The Red Cross

Bibliophiles To The Rescue!

Good books for a good cause


I saw a Write4Red tweet this morning and thought I'd pass along the info to anyone who would like to help with disaster relief in Japan.  It is an online fundraiser for The American Red Cross, and since it is American Red Cross Month (March 1-31), it's a good time to get involved in some very much-needed relief efforts.  

First, a little patriotic, red-white-and blue, all-American history background on the Red Cross.  Clara Barton—nurse, teacher, civil rights activist, and superwoman—founded the first American branch of the Red Cross on May 21, 1881, in Dansville, New York.  She was a Victorian-era woman, and they had what it takes to get the job done.  They were educated and fearless, and they transformed their ideas into actions that to this day represent what is good and right about benevolent causes.  

She got the idea from a Swiss businessman and social activist named, Jean-Henri Dunant, who after witnessing the suffering of soldiers left on the battlefield in Italy, launched the formation of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) in 1863 and began the process which led to the creation of the Geneva Conventions in 1864.  He was recognized for his global humanitarian efforts with the first Nobel Peace Prize in 1901.  

Writers for the Red Cross is an online fundraising event organized by a eclectic group of accomplished women, mostly from the South.  Donors who give $25 or more are given the opportunity to select 1 free book from a list of books that are being donated and shipped by the publishers for the event.  If you're a Kindle reader like I am, you can choose to forgo the book and simply donate funds.  

Part of the funds go to the host chapter (the Nashville Area Red Cross) and part go to the American Red Cross Disaster Relief Fund.  

In addition, for every book purchased separately (aside from a donation) through the Writers for The Red Cross website, partner bookstores are donating 5% of the purchase price to the Red Cross.  Plus, you get a second book for free.  This buy-1-get-1-free offer is part of a program sponsored by the Southern Alliance for Independent Booksellers.  Two books for the price of one using the W4RC website!  Not bad, if you like to read books the traditional way.

Here's the American Red Cross link, if you want to donate directly through the ARC site.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Wednesday—Good For You, Good For The Home

Where to begin?
Digging Up Your Roots


If you're already a family genealogist, you know two things:

  1. How time consuming it is, and 
  2. How addicting can be!

Depending on how long you've been at it, you might also know that uncovering the past can reveal amazing, and sometimes startling, answers to questions about your family and about yourself.

What separates good research from crappy research is accuracy and documentation.  Facts have to stand up to cross-referencing, and when it comes to family history, the documentation is often either incomplete or missing.  Actually, that is part of the fun, to separate facts from fiction and to shed light on events that may have been either forgotten or deliberately removed from the timeline.

With all of the great technology we have today, pictures and documents can be shared, reviewed and discussed online.  Free online genealogy research sites like, FamilySearch.org (a genealogical resource provided by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints), the U.S. National Archives (a powerpoint tutorial and access to federal records of all kinds, e.g. census, military, immigration, naturalization, passport, land & bankruptcy), and the U.S. GenWeb Project (state-by-state research tools & state historical background info) are great places to start.

The largest and most well known of the paid subscription sites is Ancestry.com together with all of its associated properties, including RootsWeb (a user-contributed database).  The advantage to using Ancestry.com is the extensive database and the organized search tools.  I would recommend ancestry.com for experienced genealogists, but not for beginners.  It's too easy to get lost and overwhelmed if you don't already have some idea of how to look and where to go.  You can sign up for a free trial subscription, and if you decide to sign up for a paid subscription, the rates are as follows:  $89 for a 6-month subscription or $159 for a 1-year subscription for U.S. records and $169 for a 6-month subscription or $299 for a 1-year subscription for international records.

Cyndi's List has a good selection of genealogical websites to utilize, both paid and free.

Genealogical research takes years, and it is always a work-in-progress.  The nature of the work is start & stop, which makes good documentation a requirement if you don't want to keep retracing your steps.  Genealogy is also a shared hobby, and good documentation makes it possible for others to confirm and contribute to the database.

My rule of thumb is this:  Document sources (dates, names, contact info) or Die!  ;o)

Have fun & enjoy the treasure hunt!

Good for The Home—Reusing Eggshells
Real Simple magazine's April 2011 issue listed 28 Spring cleaning short-cuts, and I liked #5.  What a great way to recycle eggs shells!  The trick is to crunch them up evenly so that it doesn't look like you just threw your garbage into the garden.  

Thank you, chickens!  
#5.  New Uses for Eggshells—Pest Deterrent
"Sprinkle eggshell shards around the stems  of outdoor plants.  The shells will keep snails and slugs at bay."

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Tuesday's Cupboard—Simplify St. Patrick's Day

Grilled Corned Beef Sandwiches with Pickled Cabbage




From Bon Appétit, March 2011
Makes 4 sandwiches
Prep Time:  15 minutes (for deli-bought corned beef)
If you make your own corned beef, add several hours.




Equipment:  1 large nonstick skillet; a non-scratch spatula; 1 zip-loc bag & a mallet or hammer; a sharp knife for slicing sandwiches
Troi's extra side:  Spring greens & fresh baby carrots on the side.
To make this a pub meal, serve with salt & vinegar chips and a dark Guinness beer  


The Spread — Whisk mayo & Dijon in a small bowl & set aside.

  • 1/4 c. mayonnaise (real mayonnaise, not light)
  • 2 tsp. smooth Dijon mustard (I use classic, smooth Dijon; okay to use course, country-style Dijon)

Pickled Cabbage

  • 2 tsp. vegetable oil
  • 1—8 oz. package shredded green cabbage (or thinly slice your own to make 3 cups)
  • 1 c. thinly sliced sweet yellow onion
  • 2 tsp. whole coriander seeds, coarsely crushed in a zip-loc bag with a hammer or mallet
  • 1 tsp. whole celery seeds
  • 2 T. white wine vinegar
  • 1 tsp. sugar

Sandwich Fixin's

  • 8 slices dark rye bread
  • 4 slices 2% sharp cheddar cheese
  • 12 oz. sliced corned beef
Heat vegetable oil in large nonstick skillet over medium heat.  Add cabbage, sliced onion, crushed coriander seeds & celery seeds.  Sprinkle with kosher salt & freshly ground black pepper & sauté until wilted and crisp-tender (about 6 minutes).

Stir in white wine vinegar & sugar.  Sauté until all liquid is absorbed (about 1 minute).  Don't freak out if your cabbage/onions start to carmelize a little.  They'll be just as good.  Transfer to a medium bowl; set aside.

Assembly

Place slices of bread on work surface.  Place a slice of cheese on 4 slices of bread.  Top each with corned beef.  Divide cabbage-onion mixture evenly over the top of the corned beef.  (cheese > corned beef > cabbage)  

Spread about a teaspoon of mayo-Dijon mixture over remaining slices of bread; place mayo-Dijon slices on top of cabbage, mayo side down.  Spread another teaspoon of mayo-Dijon over the top slice of each sandwich.

Heat same skillet that you cooked the cabbage in to medium heat.  Add 2 sandwiches to the pan, mayo side down.  Spread another teaspoon of mayo-Dijon on the top of each sandwich while they are in the hot pan.  Cook sandwiches covered for about 2 minutes, then carefully flip with a large non-scratch spatula & cook on the other side for about 2 mins., until toasty.    

Carefully remove each sandwich from the pan & slice with a sharp knife.  Repeat with remaining 2 sandwiches.  Serve with salt & vinegar chips and a frosty glass of dark Guinness beer.  Add a small handful of fresh Spring greens & a few baby carrots for a healthy, refreshing side salad.

Try this if you have leftovers:

Spray a glass casserole dish with nonstick PAM.  Place leftover corned beef (leftover from your crock pot) in the bottom of the dish.  Top with leftover cabbage mixture.  Lay slices of sharp cheddar on top of cabbage.  Pour about a half of a can of dark Guinness in the bottom of the dish, enough to steam the beef & cabbage.  Seal with foil & bake in oven for 30 minutes on 350°F (long enough to heat through).

Whip up a little more mayo-Dijon & make regular (non-grilled) sandwiches with the hot corned beef & cabbage.  Add a slice of cheddar to each sandwich.  We liked the leftovers as well as we did the original grilled sandwiches.  And, they were less trouble to make on the second night.  

Have a Great St. Patrick's Day!

Monday, March 14, 2011

Monday—The Reading Corner—Swamplandia!

A Disney World Seth
Slow As Molasses, but Interesting

SWAMPLANDIA! by Karen Russell

I'm about 15 percent of the way though this book, and I'm not sure whether I like it or not.  I've learned not to judge a book too early, though, so I'm going to keep slogging through this weird little first novel about a family-run amusement park in southern Florida.

The family calls itself the Bigtree family (a stage name), and the father is delusional, as far as I can tell.  The mom dies in the beginning, but I think she was delusional, as well.  They're all a little off, for that matter.  And, not in a fun, cute way.  More in a "Child Protective Services needs to come and help this family" kind of way.  

Before she dies of cancer, the mom is their star alligator wrestler.  She does not get chomped by a Seth—every alligator is called a "Seth." Business is booming until a Hell-themed mega-park moves into town and takes away all of their tourism.  The three teenaged kids were all home-schooled out on the island where they live, which may explain the creepy, backwoods, bayou thing they have going.  
Available on Kindle $12.99

The story has a fantasy element to it, like the 1998 novel, Big Fish, by Daniel Wallace.  I keep expecting a fun twist (heh, get it?  Alligator death roll...), but so far, it's about a bunch of semi-distrubing swamp dwellers.  I like the colorful descriptions of the marsh wildlife, but how many ways can you describe a moth?  What about the other animals?  There must be a swamp rabbit swimming around somewhere.

I'll keep reading until one of the Bigtree kids finally takes a shower.  It's been days, weeks, or possibly years since one of them has been near a bar of soap.  And, I want to know what happens to the red alligator.

This book is interesting enough to make me want to finish it.  It's campy—I like that.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Wednesday—Good for You, Good for The Home

There is more than one way to say, "thank you"
A Simple Thank You & Becoming Unplugged


thank you: "An expression of gratitude"

A simple thank-you goes a long way!  How far, and why bother these days, right?  Is thanking someone an outmoded behavior?  Is there no longer an expectation that we should show our appreciation?  Why is it important to say, "Thanks"?

Adam M. Grant (associate professor at the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School) and Francesca Gino (associate professor at Harvard Business School), looked at thanking behavior and wondered what it does for the person who is being thanked.  How are people affected by gratitude?

In a series of studies published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology (June 2010), they found that thanking people makes them want to help again in the future, while a neutral response made them a whole lot less likely to want to extend themselves again.  The people who received expressions of gratitude were also more likely to go out and do something nice for a complete stranger.  In each study, those who received thanks reported an increased sense of self worth.  Bottom line, expressions of gratitude increased prosocial behavior by enabling people to feel socially valued.

That's saying a lot.  In the face of the daily onslaught of influences that discourage the desire to interact in a positive way (e.g. traffic, morning news, spam, grocery shopping, constant interruptions, solicitors, users, aggressive sales reps, flakey coworkers, family drama, etc.), a simple thank you—either verbal or written—could make a big difference.

The only time that you shouldn't thank someone is if you are being either passive-aggressive or sarcastic.  Otherwise, get a little pack of thank you cards, some stamps, and a fine-tipped black pen.  Or, sit down at the keyboard and take ten minutes to thank someone for their contribution, their work, their kindness, their thoughtfulness, a Christmas/birthday/wedding gift, or whatever it is.  Or, pick up the phone and make the call.  Just don't forget, and do not put it off.  A thank-you is a powerful thing.

National Day of Unplugging 2011
How many of you unplugged for this year's National Day of Unplugging (from sundown on March 4 to sundown on March 5)?  I did about 95 percent of the time, albeit unintentionally.  I don't blog on Fridays, and I spent most of the weekend working on the house and the yard.  I'm pretty sure that I checked my email at the end of the day on Friday and then dove into my sweats for a night of Star Trek Voyager episodes on Saturday night.  I was mostly unplugged, except for checking my email.

On the topic of self-worth, I wonder if the results of the Grant-Gino study have anything to do with the soaring popularity of facebook.  Do people race like a pack of lemmings into facebook every day because it increases their sense of self worth?  Expressions of gratitude are commonplace, immediate, and plentiful on facebook.


Expressions of gratitude increase prosocial behavior by enabling people to feel socially valued.


Could it be that a nerdy guy bogged down by the usual collegiate sophomore angst was so lacking in self-worth that he built an alternative social network to take the place of the one that eluded him in real life?  22,000 hits during the first two hours of facebook translated into 22,000 very potent and highly motivating thank-you's.

Go ahead, be daring—unplug a little more often, and then thank yourself.  ❤

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Tuesday's Cupboard—Dreamy Lasagna

i ❤ lasagna

Comfort Food Extraordinaire! 

The weather is still cool, but the days are getting longer, which means that there is more to do.  The last thing I want to do after a busy day is cook, so I like to make casseroles ahead of time.  

Bon Appétit did their entire issue this month on comfort foods, so here is one that I highly recommend.  This hefty dish made 3 night's worth of dinners, and it is super yummy for the tummy!  


I stuck to the recipe and used no-boil lasagna noodles.  I soaked a few extra noodles and overlapped the edges to fill in the gaps.  My casserole did drip a little because I added extra pasta.  Just be sure to put a piece of foil on a lower shelf in the oven to catch any spills.  This was delicious reheated on nights 2 & 3!

Lasagna with Turkey Sausage Bolognese


8 to 10 servings


  • PREP TIME: 45 minutes
  • TOTAL TIME: 1 hour 30 minutes



    Preparation

    • Heat oil in large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add onions, carrot, and fennel seeds; sauté 5 minutes. Add sausage and garlic; sauté until sausage is cooked through, breaking into pieces, 8 to 10 minutes. Add wine; boil 1 minute. Add tomatoes, 1/2 cup basil, and oregano. Bring to boil. Reduce heat; simmer until sauce thickens, about 10 minutes. Season with salt and pepper.

    • Combine ricotta, mozzarella, 1 cup Parmesan, and 1/2 cup basil in medium bowl; stir to blend. Season with pepper.
      DO AHEAD Sauce and cheese mixture can be made 1 day ahead. Cover separately; chill.


    • ASSEMBLY
      Place noodles in large bowl; cover with hot water. Soak until pliable, separating occasionally, about 30 minutes. Drain well.

    • Preheat oven to 375°F. Spread 1 cup sauce over bottom of 13x9x2-inch glass baking dish. Cover with 4 noodles, arranging crosswise. Drop 1/4 of cheese mixture over by tablespoonfuls; spread out. Top with 1 cup sauce, then 4 noodles and 1/3 of remaining cheese mixture. Repeat 2 more times with 1 cup sauce, 4 noodles, and 1/2 of cheese mixture. Spread any remaining sauce over. Sprinkle with 1/4 cup Parmesan.

    • Bake lasagna uncovered until heated through and puffed, about 50 minutes. Let stand 10 to 15 minutes and serve.


    More comfort foods at:  Bon Appétit, March 2011