What I’ve Read Lately

I’ve been trying to read more fiction lately, as I got out of the habit for awhile. Here are some of the books I’ve read and enjoyed recently.  As I wrote about these books for you, I had to laugh at myself, because most of these ‘fictional’ stories are actually true stories, based on true stories, an exploration of other cultures, or exploring a facet of humans and their relationships that I would like to learn more about. No escapist fiction here, sorry!

Radium Girls: The Dark Story of America’s Shining Women— During World War I, radium was  discovered to glow in the dark, and was painted on the dials inside military airplanes.  Since not much was known at the time about the dangers of radium, the girls doing the painting suffered terribly. Though this was a fictionalized account, the women and their challenges were real. This is the story of their fight to hold their employers accountable.

Indigo Girl— A fascinating story of a young girl in the 1700’s who was left in charge of her father’s plantation.  This was based on a true story and the fictionalized story was interspersed with letters that the girl had actually written.  The protagonist is strong and capable and very atypical of (my imaginings of) a woman in that era.  Woven into the story of the plantation was the story of her longing to find a marriage match of her own choosing, and how all of it was a fight against conventional expectations of that day.

The Forgotten Seamstress— This is a story set in two different times.  A modern day woman gets curious about a quilt that has been in her family for generations, and discovers that the quilt maker was doing more than just quilting when she created this heirloom.  She was trying to tell people about her life, while locked up in an insane asylum. Definitely adult themes in this one, but it is a fascinating read.

The Namesake— This one is a multi-generational story of a family who came to America from India.  I am fascinated with the immigrant experience, and found this description of life lived with your heart in two worlds to be both mournful and intriguing.

The Girl with Seven Names– this is the true story of a girl who escaped from North Korea.  I found it to be an interesting view into the country, and into the struggles of the North Korean people, and I cheered with the woman when she finally made it to a place of safety.

Turtles All the Way Down— This one was an interesting view into the mind of a person struggling with extreme anxiety and obsessive thoughts. It did a great job portraying the endless thoughts that hound folks with extreme anxiety, and gave me a new sense of compassion and understanding. Definitely a young adult book– I would have appreciated a little more depth.  But still interesting.

180 Seconds— This story is based on a fascinating experiment where complete strangers are set face to face to look into each other’s eyes for 180 seconds.  The main character in the book is a college age girl who has spent the majority of her life in foster care, and is struggling with issues surrounding attachment and trust.  This is definitely a romance and gets downright steamy at times.  But I found the protagonists believable and the big question in the book very intriguing– what does it take to break down walls in a person who has been very wounded?

Have you read any of these books?  What did you think of them?  What have you been reading lately?

Family and Christmas

Christmas is coming!  With the help of our youngest daughters and some of our grandkids, I finished all the wrapping a couple days ago– always an accomplishment with this big crew.  The little ones were sworn to secrecy– we’ll see how well that works!

Way back in September I had the fond idea that I was going to do a lot of the wrapping in cloth gift bags, but that didn’t remotely materialize, tho a few gifts do have cloth bags.  Ah well.  Paper bought on last-January-clearance prices worked nicely too.

We already had a nice early Christmas dinner with John’s family which was lots of fun. We made pulled pork and cheesy potatoes for dinner, along with lots of lovely sides and salads brought by our guests. So that left me time to fuss over the table which was fun.

Above is a photo of the table– all 20 feet of it– before everyone arrived, and another of it full of family.  I think there were 27 of us there.  What a blessing!

 

I also tried a new fudge recipe that we ended up liking pretty well.  It was much easier than other fudge I’ve made– and sometimes had failures with.  Here’s the website with the recipe.  All I did to get the dark chocolate version was substitute dark chocolate chips instead of white.  I also did a tiny dusting of sea salt for that sweet- salty flavor.

Here’s the family photo we got this fall.  Last year two of our clan were working and couldn’t make it.  This year we were only missing one.  Maybe next year we’ll get everyone!  In any case, here are some of the most precious faces in the world to me– love seeing so many of us together.

John and the girls and I have been watching a Christmas movie or two a week during this month.  Our perennial favorites are ones probably very familiar to you as well: White Christmas, Eloise at Christmas, It’s A Wonderful Life, The Nativity, Muppet Christmas Carol, Miracle on 34th Street and The Santa Claus  (1 and 3 are our favorites.)  Though I know lots of people love it, Elf gets mixed reviews at our house — 15 year old Emily can’t get over a grown man acting like a little boy.  Home Alone is not a hit either– 13 year old Julianna still finds it horrifying that the poor little kid got left.  🙂

We’ve also watched a few newer movies on Netflix that I thought might be fun to mention.

Last night we watched Back to Christmas, which gets 1 star for the acting, but there was a bit of funny dialog that brought it up to MAYBE 2 stars for me.  Not a total loss.

Last week we watched A Christmas Prince, which we gave a good solid 3 stars.  This one kinda reminded me of the Princess Diaries, but it was cute and the ending was not as predictable as we expected.  We enjoyed this one.

Last year a new favorite was The Spirit of Christmas. We enjoyed this one a lot and rated this one 4 stars.  It would be a little scary for younger kids, as it is also kind of a murder mystery, but we liked this one enough to watch it twice.

Have you watched anything on Netflix that you’ve enjoyed recently?

Here’s hoping that your Christmas is warm and enjoyable and family-filled!

Just squeaking in with a July update

playing frisbee at the beach

Grandkids helping me peel carrots

Wow, I didn’t realize it had been so very long since I’ve been here. We’ve been busy with all things summer-related including time at the beach, setting up a little pool here in Idaho, attending graduations, weddings and other family gatherings, going to camp, having the grandkids over, gardening, and painting the living room.

Garden ingredients prepped to go on a light summer pizza

Here are a few pictures of some of the happenings.

 

 

 

We decided to paint our Idaho living room Sea Salt since we liked it so much at the beach house. Love it here too!

 

Napping with auntie

 

Trying out the new pool

 

 

 

At a family wedding with some of our kids

 

 

And hey, I even have a couple of recommendations for you!  One of the things that I’m trying to do more this year is read fiction.  It’s not something I’ve done much in recent years and I decided I have been missing it.  Here are a few of the books I’ve read lately.

~ The Winter Sea  I’m only halfway through, but really enjoying it so far.  It is a story within a story, and is set in Scotland in two different time periods.

~I Am David  I read this in three days flat as I found the story very interesting, about a boy who escaped the concentration camps during World War II.

~A Quiet Life in the Country  This one is a detective story and has clever insights into characters and a delightfully surprising humor.  I borrowed it for free on my Kindle.

Then finally I have a bit of cleaning advice to share, compliments of the ladies in charge of cleaning our beach house between guests.  They lined our oven with this Non Stick Oven Liner   I never even knew these things existed, but I wish I’d known about them MUCH sooner!  Just set one on the floor of an electric oven or on the bottom rack of a gas oven, and it will catch all the spills and be incredibly easy to wipe clean as needed. Have you heard of them?  Do you use them?

Enjoy your last month of summer!!

 

A Week of Easy Food for Entertaining

As you have probably noticed, I am obsessed with all things beach house lately.  Sorry–  I’m probably boring some of you!! But in preparing for our next beach trip where we will be entertaining our biggest crowd yet. I thought it might be interesting (and of more general interest) to share a typical menu plan for times when I’m feeding a bunch of people with various eating styles for several days in a row.

I’ve found that the best meals are the flexible ones– ones that people can fine tune for themselves as they serve up. And often these types of menus tend to be the easiest for me to pull together as well. So here, for anyone entertaining this summer, or the next holiday, or maybe on a camping trip, is a week of easy meals for easy entertaining.

 

BREAKFAST

We make most breakfasts DIY.  I make sure we have fixings for cereal, eggs and toast, yogurt, and instant oatmeal, and leave the type and timing of breakfast up to everyone else.  Usually every few days I will supply something sweet, like muffins or cinnamon rolls, to supplement the DIY morning offerings, and usually at least once on a trip John or I will serve pancakes and bacon.  But mostly breakfast is on your own.

LUNCH

Lunches are a mix.  Sometimes I will do soup, salad and bread.  Other times I will set sandwich fixings alongside whatever leftovers are around from other days of meals.  This will again give folks flexibility to choose what sounds good to them, and also is economical by offering extras from other days for folks to finish up.

DINNER

Dinners are where I tend to spend the most time, though many meals still have a DIY element so that people can customize their dinner for what they most enjoy.  Here’s a typical week of dinners for a crowd.

#1– Taco bar.  Cook up some hamburger with an onion, a generous mash of garlic and some taco seasoning.  (I usually do this before the trip to decrease vacation kitchen time.  Then I freeze it to add a cold item for the cooler on the drive over.)  When serving, add tortillas and taco chips and all sorts of other fillings  (homemade guacamole if I have avocados on hand) and let folks make their tacos as they like them.

#2- Clam chowder and fresh biscuits.  I like to have at least one meal at the beach feel like proper beach fare, and clam chowder is a great affordable thing to make for a crowd.  I don’t have my exact recipe written out  (and sometimes I even buy canned) but you can use this recipe and substitute canned or fresh clams instead of chicken. You can even do it in the crock pot ahead of time if you know you’ll be busy all afternoon.   And then biscuits–who doesn’t love biscuits?

#3– Chili and cornbread.  I plan this strategically AFTER taco night, so I can toss the leftover taco meat into the chili pot along with a bunch of cans of beans and tomatoes.  Here’s one recipe that I like, but I sometimes make it with fewer ingredients and it still turns out fine.  This is wonderful with cornbread (or perhaps leftover biscuits) served with honey or jam.  Yum.

#4- Baked potato bar.  This meal comes strategically after chili night, because lots of folks like chili with their baked potatoes.  Add in ham and cheese, butter, sour cream, and a nice salad, and you havve a whole meal for just a few minutes of prep.  And again, it’s a meal people can customize as they see fit.  Sure to be a crowd pleaser.

#5– Pizza night. I make homemade crust right after lunch and let it rise all afternoon.  At dinner time people gather in the kitchen with an assortment of pie pans or throw-away tins.  They spread crust onto pans and top pizzas as they wish.  Our favorites are pepperoni, sausage, cheese, peppers, mushrooms, and cream cheese (this last one spread in little dabs across the top.).  Again, because folks are choosing toppings for themselves, they get what they want, and most people really enjoy doing pizzas for themselves, especially once they see how easy it can be!

 

#6- Chicken enchiladas.  Here’s my favorite recipe.  I usually make a couple casseroles before a trip and pack it over frozen in the cooler.  I’ve listed this one out of order, but it is likely to be served one of the very first nights, since it will be half thawed by the time we arrive.  I usually serve these with salad, sour cream, chips and salsa on the side.

#7- Molly’s 10 Minute ChickenThis is a great easy chicken recipe that tends to please a crowd.  You can make it with just legs, or a mix of legs and thighs to suit different appetites.  I will serve it with bread and salad, or maybe even homemade mac and cheese if I’m feeling ambitious.

What about you?  What are some of your favorite meals to serve when you’re entertaining?  I would love to hear your best ideas!

 

 

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Easter Vacation

We had a lovely escape to the ocean this past week.  Usually we go expecting lots of rain, because that’s how the Oregon beaches are, especially in the springtime.  But this week we had tons of sun mixed in with just a little rain.  It was gorgeous.  We even had a lovely Easter morning rainbow– a perfect reminder of God’s promises of provision and protection and salvation.  The tomb is empty! (more on that here)

EasterRainbow

Our youngest two outside the house.
EmJul

Little Meg enjoying her great-grandma, John’s mom.
GreatGrandma

John’s happy place is definitely the ocean.
HappyPlace
The house where we stayed had wonderful, huge public gathering areas, as well as 7 bedrooms and a theater room that slept 4 more kids.  We had 18-22 people in the house each and every night and were well and truly spoiled.
House
The little ones had fun hunting for Easter eggs on Easter, and on the next day, and the next, and the next.  We may even have left a few eggs there for the next renters to find.
Hunting

My sweet grandbabies came shouting up to the stairs to greet me each time I came out of my room and down the stairs each morning. Talk about feeling like a VIP!
Kiddos

Lidya and Ben clowning around
LidyaBen

John enjoying sweet Meg
MissMeg

Ranger admiring the fish at the aquarium.
Ranger

Wilona showing off her treasure trove of eggs.
Wilona

My parents and John’s mom were able to be there for part of the time, along with a few other members of our extended family, and 9 out of our 10 kids and their families.  It was a great joy and a true highlight of the year.  For a few of the days we had 8 kids in the house ages 4 and under, with half of them being under the age of one.

Little Cousins

Little Cousins

(Yes, it was loud!)  But, oh, the cuteness!  And there were lots of babies to share around.

The first few years that we did a big gathering on the beach like this, I planned the food like crazy.  This year we just made sure there was easy breakfast food for breakfast, and lots of sandwich fixings for lunch, and really only fussed over dinner each evening.  It worked beautifully– I think we hit just the right mix of structure and relaxation.

One day we took the kiddos to the aquarium, and another day John and I went house hunting.  (We are still trying to decide whether to build on the lot we bought or possibly buy something already built.)  But most of the rest of the days were filled simply with walks on the beach, pinochle and Up The River and other games in the house, and just hanging out, eating snacks and being together.

It was very good.

This afternoon I’m off to the store to reprovision the food in the house here, then (ready or not) tomorrow it’s back to work.  I am also thinking about what I want to do next in the back yard.  I have a few pictures that I hope to show you soon!

 

More on the 36 hour sell

So. The house passed inspection and we’re on target to close by the beginning of March.  Crazy how fast this process is going. I’m holding my breath, aware that delays could still come.  But, wow it is looking good.  What a huge blessing.

After the inspect, we do have a second round of workers plowing through the house fixing things, but it’s minor stuff like broken window handles, and a wrong-sized breaker, and a singing toilet.  Hooray!  We feel really blessed.

Today we went to the house and grabbed a few of our last things out, including Em’s new bed that we’d used for staging– she was so excited to finally bring it home!  Next week our awesome staging company Graceful Designs is picking up the furnishings they added, and then it will be all up to the new owners.

I’m completely convinced that redoing the kitchen and then staging the house were a huge key to getting TWO full price offers within 36 hours of listing.  It just made it all that much more obvious that this house is a good place to live, a place to really be welcomed and comfortable.

We’re thankful also to our real estate agent brother in law Scott Dykstra, who helped us price it right– AND talked us into shelling out a couple thousand bucks to upgrade the sliding glass door and repair the foggy old windows in the house the day before listing.  We dragged our heels for a while– because $2200– yikes!!  But I’m sure that the sun shining in those lovely windows just sealed the deal for the folks whose (full price!) offer we accepted.

Speaking of the new owners, I hear that they are planning to raise goats and chickens, which makes me really happy. The place needed some new energy. We want it to be used and enjoyed and loved, and we’re thrilled to hear that they’re excited to get going with their life there.

As for this new house of ours, I could not be more in love.  It took mere days for it to feel comfortably ours.  It fits our furniture and it fits our people, and it’s just good. Right down to our dining room table– the one I was hot to replace while prepping to move.  Turns out it matches the new kitchen’s cabinets perfectly, and it was just perfectly made for the space.  I think we’ll be keeping it around for awhile yet.  I sigh in contentment each time I walk down the stairs in the morning.  It all just feels right.

There’s a bit of chaos going on in the garage right now, with John still working on getting his shop set up.  But glory hallelujah– it all fit in!!  And even the current mess feels completely doable.  John is planning on building a small additional storage shed in the back yard to handle the garage overflow, which I think will really help to make this last bit of moving in go smoothly.

And my kitchen.  I didn’t really realize how few cabinets I had at the old house.  This new kitchen has probably twice as many, along with having at least double the pantry space.  It is really nice to not have half my small appliances out in the garage– especially with John still working to get his tools stashed away neatly there.

So much to be thankful for.

I’ve been thinking about this past year, with getting adjusted to working again, and I am planning to write in a few days more about the ups and the downs involved in going back to work after 17 years at home.  But I think I’ll leave it at this for now– happy that another family is going to get a homestead adventure like we’ve enjoyed during the past couple decades, and grateful that we have exactly three tiny flowerbeds to weed this spring.

Life is good.

I’ll leave you with a photo of tulips from the old place, and a promise to keep you up to date on the adventures we have planned in this new place.  John has been teasing me because I already have a hummingbird feeder set up and ready to go at this new place, in hopes of luring the hummingbirds back unseasonably early.  But I, like the groundhog, am convinced we are in for an early end to winter this year.

Happy spring!

Tulips