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One move to America, one surprise pregnancy and a lot of fun later.

Thursday, January 31, 2013

Foodie Penpal January 2013




blogbadgeSTAMP Foodie Penpals

My Second month at Foodie Penpals.  If you are interested then read here.

I was allocated to Erika who writes the blog MCM Mama. She lives in Arlington, VA which only about 20 miles from me.

This is what I was sent.






Gypsy Hill soup mix which is made locally in Vienna, VA.  I added some chicken and made this into a pot of soup for dinner tonight with some fresh baked bread.  It is creamier looking than I thought it would be but smells lovely.

Rocklands Barbeque Sauce which is Erika's favourite local BBQ place.  It is manufactured in Va and distributed from DC.  I will need to look it up next time we are in DC.  I think I will save this sauce until we have better weather and can cook some juicy ribs on the grill.

Chipotle hot sauce.  I love all things spicy and add hot sauce to a lot of food.  We used this sauce on our Fajitas last weekend and it was delicious.  Just the right balance of smoky, hot and sweet.

Berres Brothers Coffee Roasters.  Quite an apt blend for a Scottish woman of Highlander Grogg!  This coffee is roasted/flavoured in Erika's hometown of Watertown, Wisconson.  I have not brewed it yet but it smells delicious through the packet.

Lundberg Black Japonica.  A blend of Black and Mahogany rice that I will use for a stirfry, although I am slightly scared of it as I am told it stains things and with a 2 year old it is likely to go flying around at dinnertime, lol!

Fruit squeezy pouches and dried fruit slices.  A lovely thought to include some on the go snacks for my daughter.  She loves the fruit slices as she thinks she is getting potato chips and I don't feel so bad letting her eat them as I count them as one of her fruit portions for the day.

So thank you to Erika for my package and the note..  Who knows I may even take up running!!!

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

The Beach House by Mary Alice Monroe

The Beach House

Known for her moving characters and emotional honesty, Mary Alice Monroe brings readers a beautifully rendered story that explores the fragile yet enduring bond between mothers and daughters.Caretta Rutledge thought she'd left her Southern roots and troubled family far behind. But an unusual request from her mother—coming just as her own life is spinning out of control—has Cara heading back to the scenic Lowcountry of her childhood summers. Before long, the rhythms of the island open her heart in wonderful ways as she repairs the family beach house, becomes a bona fide "turtle lady" and renews old acquaintances long thought lost. But it is in reconnecting with her mother that she will learn life's most precious lessons—true love involves sacrifice, family is forever and the mistakes of the past can be forgiven.

A book group pick and not one I would have picked up on my own steam.  However, it was a quite enjoyable read.  I would liken it to a wordy Elin Hilderbrand, the same type of beach setting, mixed characters, one gritty storyline but a lot of fun going on within the book.

It is no classic but a book that would be a good holiday/beach read.  It was a bit too wordy in places and I felt that a good 100 to 150 could have been edited out of the book without changing the story in the slightest.  Some parts I happily speed read through without losing anything from the book or story. I also felt that there was just one too many side storylines in it.  The main story of Lovie and her relationship with Caretta, her daughter, was strong enough without having to have several main side stories as well.  

I was very interested in the facts about the loggerhead turtles that started each chapter and this was a nice touch to focus your mind on the main story.  

Not a bad read, just not my cup of tea generally.  Not sure how good a book group discussion it will make as the storylines were quite plain without any hidden depth to discuss, in my opinion.  4 out of 5 for am entertaining read if this is your chosen genre. 

Thursday, January 17, 2013

The Rexworth Manifesto by G. T. Hilary

The Rexworth Manifesto

To start, in compliance with FTC guidelines, I must disclose that I received the book for free through Goodreads First Reads. 


What do a widow drunk, a brain-damaged divorcée, a despondent principal, and the delusional owner of an Easter-themed gift shop called The Bunny Barn have in common? Find out in this first collection of fiction by New York writer G. T. Hilary.

I hate short stories, so I picked this book up to read just so I could get rid of it off my shelves.  As far as short stories go this collection was not too bad, and would probably be well liked by short story fans.  I just came away feeling cheated, as I always do with short stories.  Each contained a great idea for a story and were well written but they should have been novels in their own right rather than short stories.  Particularly the last one, The Rexworth Manifesto itself.  The idea of the storyline was very interesting and the characters (as far as they could be developed in such a short story) had a lot of potential and were quite appealing.  I just was left unsatisfied at the end.

In terms of the publishing, I disliked the cover photos - front and back and the typeface used was not easy on the eye.  There was also something strange going on in the spacing between paragraphs and sections that annoyed me when reading.

3 out of 5 from me which is actually quite a high rating from me for short stories.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

The Fault in our Stars by John Green


This book was my Secret Book Friend book from one of my book groups.  We had set a challenge whereby we each put our names in a hat and then picked out the name of someone else.  You were then supposed to get them a book or book related product that would mean something to them or reflect who they are or that they would really like - not something you would necessary like or want but the person receiving the gift.  We then included a note saying why we picked the item and wrapped it in newspaper so that the giver would be anonymous.  We then tried to guess our giver, who was revealed to us at the end of all the gift giving.  It was a lot of fun and something, I am sure, we will do again long before next Christmas. 

I received the following book with the note "Because I know you hate happy endings!".  It was also more personal as the main character in the book was called Hazel (my name) and it is rare that I come across my own name in a book.

 


The Fault in Our Stars

Diagnosed with Stage IV thyroid cancer at 13, Hazel was prepared to die until, at 14, a medical miracle shrunk the tumours in her lungs... for now.

Two years post-miracle, sixteen-year-old Hazel is post-everything else, too; post-high school, post-friends and post-normalcy. And even though she could live for a long time (whatever that means), Hazel lives tethered to an oxygen tank, the tumours tenuously kept at bay with a constant chemical assault.

Enter Augustus Waters. A match made at cancer kid support group, Augustus is gorgeous, in remission, and shockingly to her, interested in Hazel. Being with Augustus is both an unexpected destination and a long-needed journey, pushing Hazel to re-examine how sickness and health, life and death, will define her and the legacy that everyone leaves behind.

Who would have thought that one could write about teenagers with terminal cancer and make it entertaining and witty.  This author got it spot on.  It was very well written in a lighthearted way that made it a very entertaining read.  I did shed a tear at the beginning of chapter 21, and I defy anyone not to, but overall it was not a depressing book, despite the subject matter.  The three main characters, Hazel, Augustus and Isaac were just trying to live their lives as best they could despite their awful diagnoses.  They made me realise that people with cancer are still people as well and should not be defined by their cancer.  I am guilty of avoiding the elephant in the room when I see a child that has cancer and trying to avoid them rather than have to face the issue or them as a person.  I hope that reading this book will change that.

I have dropped a star from the book as the character of Peter Van Houten was very annoying.  I realise that he was supposed to be a dick and very annoying but I felt the author went slightly overboard on getting that point across.  It was apparent early on and he did not need to labour the fact with some of the pretentiousness that was included.  It got so much at one point that I felt that the author was trying to get across how clever he, himself was rather than the character of Van Houten.

I also dropped another star as I thought the ending was not tragic enough.  Difficult to explain why without giving away a spoiler but I really wanted it to end the way the fictional book (mentioned throughout) "An
Imperial Affliction" ended!  I thought that would have been a more dramatic and poignant ending.


Despite only getting 3 stars from me, it was a good read and one I will definitely pass onto someone.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins

Mockingjay (The Hunger Games, #3)

Against all odds, Katniss Everdeen has survived the Hunger Games twice. But now that she's made it out of the bloody arena alive, she's still not safe. The Capitol is angry. The Capitol wants revenge. Who do they think should pay for the unrest? Katniss. And what's worse, President Snow has made it clear that no one else is safe either. Not Katniss's family, not her friends, not the people of District 12.

The third book in the Hunger Games trilogy.  I was really looking forward to reading this to find out what happened in the war between The Capitol and The Rebels and ultimately what happens to Katniss Everdene.

I was quite disappointed in the whole book.  It started off well and was very descriptive but I started to worry when I was more than half way through the book and there was still such a lot of ongoing stories to conclude.  I was worried that there was just not enough time left in the book to do so effectively and I was right.  Everything just felt a bit rushed towards the end and most of the stories were concluded by just killing off the person in various manners.

There were many parts that I felt could have been cut out and other parts that needed to be expanded on.  A prime example of where an author has a brilliant idea for a story but gets lost in the story and doesn't quite know how to bring it all to an end,

I am glad that the ending wasn't the predictable, happy ever after ending that I felt it was going to be apart from one aspect of it. 

Obviously, you are going to read it if you have read the first two books but do it quickly rather than savouring the wait so that you get it over with and minimise your disappointment.

It should make for an interesting movie, though, and I will be interested to see how much, if any, of it they change.  3 out of 5.

Sunday, January 6, 2013

My big bathroom project

Given some confidence from my recent smaller upscaling projects, I took on the task of revitalising my daughters bathroom.  Not wanting to spend a lot of money getting a whole new bathroom fitted while she is so young and capable of trashing a place in 10 seconds, I thought I would attempt to upscale the cupboards myself.

So this is what I started with.

A hole in the wall from removing an old metal medicine cabinet.  I got my painter to make a little shelf unit to fit into the alcove so I can put some decorative knickknacks on it.
The bathroom was actually split into two small rooms with a door in between which just took up a lot of the room when it was opened.  So we removed the door and turned it into an open archway.



This picture shows the internal door frame before we removed it.









I then had these ugly brown wood cabinets which were the original cabinets from when the house was built in the 80's.  They are good solid wood so I didn't want to get rid of them but just needed to give them a new lease of life.

I started by sourcing some lovely little handles and knobs for the doors and drawers.  I then removed all the doors and hardware and drilled the holes for the new handles.


A quick sand down and I then painted all the wood work with Zinsser Cover Stand Primer.  This meant I did not have to remove any of the wood finish and once covered in one coat of this I could just paint over as normal without any heavy sanding or stripping required.








This was a very thick liquid and was quite slow to go on properly but that was not a problem as I was just taking my time with this project.  I could see the project developing nicely even after the primer coat alone









After a lot of online research particularly the advice from the Centsational Girl blog, I decided on the top coat for the woodwork.  Who knew how many different types of paint was out there or even the differences between a Latex Enamel and Alkyd Enamel paint!  I certainly didn't before starting my research.

I went with Benjamin Moore Advance Alkyd Enamel paint.  It dries (cures) to a hard coat which stands a lot of knocks and can be washed clean, perfect for a bathroom setting.  It was pricey at $25 a quart but I did two coats and still have half the tin left as it went on very smoothly.
Located at my local hardwarde store, Strosniders, rather than the bigger ones.





I also learned to spend a bit extra money on some high quality brushes.  In previous decorating projects, I have always been frustrated by bristles shedding from my brushes and causing problems to my finish.  I invested in some good quality, angled brushes for this project and did not have one bristle shed.  I also made sure I cleaned them up well afterwards for future projects, another part I was always a bit lazy about in the past.

So then onto the hardware.  I had to clean up the old hinges as I couldn't find anything nicer in the hardware stores.



 








Good old fashioned Brasso to the rescue.  It didn't take all the tarnish away but enough to make them usuable.

So all that was left to do was to put on my lovely new handles and knobs and then put it all back together.  I wanted a fish theme so when I saw these on Amazon I thought they were just perfect and not too expensive either.



A new shower curtain, bathmats and towel purchase from Pottery Barn kids (Funny Fish theme) and the bathroom was almost completed.  So here is the finished project.

























I am pleased with the results and just need to create some artwork for the walls and find some knickknacks for the shelves and it will be all finished.

Now onto the study and dining room!

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn

Gone Girl

On a warm summer morning in North Carthage, Missouri, it is Nick and Amy Dunne’s fifth wedding anniversary. Presents are being wrapped and reservations are being made when Nick’s clever and beautiful wife disappears from their rented McMansion on the Mississippi River. Husband-of-the-Year Nick isn’t doing himself any favors with cringe-worthy daydreams about the slope and shape of his wife’s head, but passages from Amy's diary reveal the alpha-girl perfectionist could have put anyone dangerously on edge. Under mounting pressure from the police and the media—as well as Amy’s fiercely doting parents—the town golden boy parades an endless series of lies, deceits, and inappropriate behavior. Nick is oddly evasive, and he’s definitely bitter—but is he really a killer?

As the cops close in, every couple in town is soon wondering how well they know the one that they love. With his twin sister, Margo, at his side, Nick stands by his innocence. Trouble is, if Nick didn’t do it, where is that beautiful wife? And what was in that silvery gift box hidden in the back of her bedroom closet?

A friend of mine recommended this with the words "You have to read this book, it is insane!" and I am struggling to find a better word than insane (in a good way) to review this book.

An author I had never heard of until I heard of the phenomenon sweeping the nation that was the must read book of Gone Girl.  To me, this was enough to put me off reading it.  I hate books that are so hyped up that every bloody person is reading them but I trusted my friend and put my name down on the library hold list to read this book whenever it became free.  I was number 297 on the hold list so I left it there didn't hold my breath and got on with my life.

Anyway, just before Christmas I dully got the email from the library saying it was waiting to be picked up.  I very nearly didn't read it as I had a number of other books lined up waiting to be read (not in the usual way general way but in a more specific plan for various groups and series).  Obviously, I did end up reading this or I would be reviewing fresh air!

It is insane.  The story keeps you sucked in throughout and wanting to read just one more chapter, which was very easy as the chapters were varying lengths but all quite short.  To'ing and Fro'ing between Amy and Nick in each chapter it sets out a story of a whodunnit where you alternate between liking and hating each of the two main characters in equal amounts as you read another chapter.    At first I had no idea where it was going so the first twist was quite a surprise.  The second twist a bit predictable but I thought that was the point to keep you wondering how it was all going to end.

The ending was the weakest part as it felt slightly unfinished to me, although I get that was probably the authors point.  It just somehow was missing something for me.  Definitely a good book but not the best in the world. 4 out of 5 for the sheer uniqueness of it.

The Cellist of Sarajevo by Steven Galloway








The Cellist of Sarajevo 

In a city ravaged by war, a musician plays his cello for twenty-two days at the site of a mortar attack, in memory of the fallen. Among the strangers drawn into the orbit of his music are a young father in search of water for his family, an older man in search of the humanity he once knew, and a young woman, a sniper, who will decide the fate of the cellist and the kind of person she wants to be.

I had read this book a while ago and now recommended as the first read of a new book group I am setting up.  Two reasons I recommended it.  1)  It was the One read Maryland book for 2012 and 2) In my opinion, it is a must read novel.

I think the author just gets the style right in this book.  Writing it with a different chapter from the perspective of one of the four main characters just flows so well.  It is a haunting story that is unbelievable to a person that has not experienced a war torn country first hand.  What makes it even more haunting is that it is true - not a non fiction book - but based on an actual event both the siege and the existence of the cellist.  At first I thought it would be about the life and thoughts of the cellist and loved the fact that you never get to know his thoughts and motivation.  You have to use your imagination very heavily to understand what would make someone put themselves at so much risk to honour a number of strangers. 

The writing was such that you were able to get into the heads of the characters even though their lives and experiences are as far away from your own as one can get.  At one point I felt like I was actually inside Arrow's head hearing/reading her thoughts!

A very thought provoking novel that makes you truly appreciate the simple things in life, like having water without risking getting shot by a sniper to collect it, electricity and even simpler, being able to walk down the streets of the town where you live without being randomly killed.

4 out of 5 and the one star dropped because I think I would have liked the last chapter to be from the Cellist the way the first chapter was, it just seems a lot neater to me!