Monthly Archives: December 2017

Reading Materials: December 2017

56. The Girl Who Takes an Eye for an Eye, David Lagercrantz. (Borrowed) While still not as good as the original Millenium trilogy, I liked this second follow-up offering by David Lagercrantz better than the first one. It seems he is more comfortable with the characters and has found his own style.

57. Daughter of Time, Sarah Woodbury. (Kindle, Free) Ms. Woodbury has clearly also read Life in a Medieval Castle and wants you to know it. I did not mind this aspect, although some Goodreads reviewers did. This is another time-traveling romance in the vein of Outlander, but a very PG version – there’s no depiction of sex at all. And honestly, I found that kind of refreshing. After reading books like Outlander and Song of Ice and Fire, I am a little weary of graphic sex – especially the violent kind. Aside from that, the book was stubbornly fine. Not great, not awful, no typos. It was a decent time-filler, but I doubt I’ll read the rest of the series.

58. Secret of Nightingale Wood, Lucy Strange (Borrowed, Book Club). This book was recommended for the 8 and up set, but there were definitely some tense situations that made me question that designation. I really enjoyed this story, which was told gently but effectively. It reminded me a bit of Lemony Snicket’s “A Series of Unfortunate Events,” without the dry asides. I would definitely recommend it for the older elementary school or early middle school reader.

59. The Golden Compass, Philip Pullman. (Library) This book was tremendous. It was a wonderful adventure story with great characters and a quick pace. I loved the world created by Pullman. It was different enough from ours to be interesting, but similar enough not to require pages and pages of explanation. I will definitely read the other books in this series, and will probably force my kids to read them, too.

60. A Duty to the Dead, Charles Todd. (Library, Book Club) This is a murder mystery set in and around Kent, England, during World War I. Bess Crawford is an Army nurse who was raised in India with her Colonel father and has just survived the sinking of the hospital ship Britannia. While on leave, she’s pulled into an old family drama surrounding one of her former patients. It’s a quick, satisfying read – perfect for Christmas break.

2017 Totals
Fiction: 52
Non-Fiction: 8

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Spinach and Mushroom Lasagna

In recent years, we have found ourselves attending multiple services at church on Christmas Eve. We go to the children’s service for Hazel, and the candlelight service for me.

All that church means that preparing an elaborate Christmas Eve dinner is out of the question, so I’ve started making lasagna every year. This was an excellent decision. Last year I tried the Pioneer Woman’s lasagna recipe (with modifications), to much applause and cheering. This year, I made up a spinach and mushroom lasagna that also received rave reviews. Since I’ve been asked for the recipe twice, I figured I’d write it down. Here goes:

Spinach and Mushroom Lasagna

1 box lasagna noodles

2 boxes frozen chopped spinach

4 TB butter

1 tsp. Minced garlic

1 onion, chopped

8 oz. sliced mushrooms (I used baby bellas)

1/4 cup flour

4 cups milk

Salt & Pepper

15 oz. container ricotta (I used whole milk ricotta, because I’m Team Full Fat Dairy)

1 egg

1 bag shredded Italian cheese blend

Preheat oven to 350.

Defrost your spinach and wring it out in a towel.

While your spinach is defrosting, melt the butter in a large skillet. When it’s hot, add the garlic, chopped onion and sliced mushrooms, and cook until the vegetables are soft, about 5 minutes. Add the flour and stir until no lumps of flour remain, then cook and stir another minute. Add the milk, and heat over medium to medium-high heat until mixture bubbles. Season with salt and pepper. Stir in defrosted spinach.

In a bowl, combine the ricotta and egg, and add a pinch of salt.

ASSEMBLE

Ladle a few spoonfuls of the spinach sauce into a 9×13 casserole and spread that action around. Lay three lasagna noodles down, and top with dollops of the ricotta mixture (use about 1/4 of the mixture). Sprinkle about 1/4 of the shredded cheese over, and top with 1/4 of the remaining spinach sauce. Repeat these layers three more times, but on the last layer, put the shredded cheese on top.

Bake at 350 for 45 minutes to an hour, or until lasagna is bubbly and you begin gnawing your fingers in anticipation. Let stand 30 minutes to firm up, then serve.

NOTE: I do not pre-cook my lasagna noodles. If you are assembling it to bake later, you should go ahead and cook your noodles.

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I DID A THING

I am a short-distance writer. I grew up writing articles for the school newspaper and short fiction for the literary magazine. When I went to college, I wrote for a political magazine and then had an op-ed column in the student paper. After graduation, I was an honest-to-goodness newspaper reporter, and transitioned to a decade as a paralegal, writing legal-type stuff.

I’m not sure when National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) appeared on my radar, but I think it’s been at least three years ago. Last year, I took a pathetic stab at it, turning out only 10,000 words over the month. I have almost as many excuses as words, but the sting of that failure stayed with me for the next eleven months.

This year, I decided to try it again. In and of itself, this is remarkable for me – usually, if I’m not completely awesome at something on the first try, it is dead to me. But I knew I could do it if I approached it like my newspaper job. Way back then, we were all expected to write several stories a day, and I’m sure my daily word count easily exceeded the NaNoWriMo goal of 1,667. I tried to imagine my book as 30 vignettes of 1,667 words apiece.

It worked.

By November 30, I had written 50,144 words.

There were days when my word count was zero, but I made sure to keep my average up. Over Thanksgiving, when I was ensconced in a cabin in the woods with Jason and Hazel, I made up a lot of ground. It was pretty easy when this was my writing area for the week:

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As I said at the outset, I chose to write about my journey with my mom through the last two and a half years. It was a valuable experience, and looking back over the whole experience gave me much better perspective on both the bad parts and the good. I giggled some. I cried a lot.

I used half a box of Kleenex. A whole box would have been unseemly.

Writing the whole story has helped me grieve. Forming my mother’s death into a narrative allowed me to wrap my brain around its edges, instead of feeling like I was drowning in it.

On a technical note, I used a private blog on WordPress to write my book. I simply started a new blog post for each chapter. Most chapters were one or two days long. I don’t know if I’ll do this again next time, because it was hard to keep track of posts – they’re published chronologically, not in the order in which they appear in the finished work. I’d like a little more flexibility to re-arrange sections. Also, in order to officially “win” NaNoWriMo, you have to copy and paste the complete text of your book into a text box. That would have meant copying and pasting around 25 separate posts. Honestly, the Facebook badge just wasn’t worth it.

So now what?

I’ve put the whole thing aside for the last week, but will probably pick it up soon to begin organizing it, refining it, and maybe even adding to it. And then I’ll let someone read it (spoiler alert: probably Jason). After that, I’ll ask his opinion on its fitness for public consumption.

I may publish it serially on the blog, or look into self-publishing if Jason is blown away (spoiler alert: not likely).

I consider this to be a big personal accomplishment. I’ve always, ALWAYS, wanted to write a whole book – and now I have. I really don’t care if it’s amazing, it’s mine.

 

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Reading Materials, November 2017

51. The Orphan’s Tale, Pam Jenoff. (Library) Confusingly, the pull quote on the front of this book is by the author of Orphan Train, and one of the biggest shows on TV right now is The Handmaiden’s Tale. So I really had no idea what I was getting into when I opened this book, which was picked by my book club. I really liked it – the characters were fully formed and behaved in reasonable ways, the story was entertaining, and the ending still managed to be a surprise. It’s set in WWII Europe, an area I visited many times over last year, book-ily speaking.

I was a little worried that my less-than-impressive reading streak would continue into this month, but I’m pleased to report that it’s not. I read more in the first week of this month than I read all of last month. Whew! I don’t know what I’d do without books.

52. A Gentleman in Moscow, Amor Towles. (Borrowed) This book was delightful, from start to finish. It covers decades, so it feels somewhat epic, but it’s set in one location – so it feels intimate. The main character is one for the literary ages – I loved him and really felt like I would recognize him on the street were I to see him. Immediately after I finished it, I made Jason read it. He enjoyed it as much as I did.

53. In Cold Blood, Truman Capote. (Bought at used bookstore) This book is considered the first “true crime” novel, and I was surprised by how well it’s held up. I mostly know Truman Capote from his off-the-pages persona – appearing on game shows and in movies like Murder by Death (which is EXCELLENT, by the way). I guess I never gave much thought to his talents as a writer, which are immense. The story was riveting – I’ve seen Capote, and I knew the basics of the murder story anyway, but I still found myself flipping pages to find out what happens next. This is one that’s been on my to-read list for a long time, and I’m glad I’ve crossed it off.

54. Today Will be Different, Maria Semple. (Borrowed) I read Where’d You Go, Bernadette? when it came out a few years ago, and was drawn to the deeply flawed, yet very funny main character. This main character is similar, but the book is different enough not to feel repetitive. I enjoyed this read and plowed through it quickly over Thanksgiving break. A good vacation read.

55. Life in a Medieval Castle, Frances and Joseph Gies. (Bought at used bookstore) This is the book George R. R. Martin relied upon when building the world of Westeros for his A Song of Ice and Fire series (that’s Game of Thrones to you TV watchers). I did not expect to enjoy the book so much. Refreshingly uncluttered with opinion or analysis, this is a fairly straightforward account of the development of castles themselves, as well as the men and women who lived and worked in them. And there are pictures – a rare treat in a grownup book. During the same used book store trip, I also picked up Life in a Medieval City, and I look forward to reading that next year.

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