Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Hot Weather and Missing the Single Life

Posted by Carla B. at 11:48 PM
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I really do love my children, usually my stepchildren and mostly my domestic life. However, there are those few times that I miss my old single life. Hot weather in the South, especially during a heat wave summer like this year, makes up one of those times. When I say "hot weather in the South", I am talking about temperatures somewhere between 95 and 102 (our recent highs) combined with humidity anywhere from 45-72% (yes, it really can get that high and not be raining). The combination gives this delightfully oppressive feel, in which you feel as though you will implode upon the merest exertion. The kind of weather where you take a cold shower, and when you step out of the shower you are sweating.

Weather like this reminds me that old Marilyn Monroe movie The Seven Year Itch, a delightful comedy. There is this one scene in which her character explains how she keeps cool in hot weather - she puts her underwear in the freezer. It's not such bad idea, and one that I have actually resorted to using a few summers here and there. That brings me to today's thoughts which are how to keep cool in hot weather. Naturally that turned me to some of the things I used to do but that I can't anymore - they are the types of things that are best done as a single girl.  Here are a few of my favorites:

  • Underwear in the freezer: Seriously, don't underestimate this little gem.
  • Laying naked under the ceiling fan: This works very nicely, even in just your underwear
  • Cold shower and light duster: Does anyone even know what a duster is anymore? Probably not, and I am not really that old myself. But they are delightfully cool. In a temperature way. In a fashion way, you are not cool. You are more Endora from Bewitched.
  • A pint of ice cream for dinner: Not exactly the best example for your children, although it does have calcium and meets your daily dairy requirement. 
  • Doing absolutely nothing: While this is not necessarily best as a single girl, it's only literally impossible as anything other than a single girl. Children? Heaven forbid a man in your life? You will never know the pleasure of "doing nothing". 

These days? I just crank up the A/C and threaten bodily harm to anyone that dares to leave doors or windows open for more than the ten seconds it takes to in or out.  Yes, I realize I included windows in the concept of going in and out - I do have teens, remember? And in this heat? If they really want to sneak out the window at 2AM? Just be sure to close the window.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Me and the CSA: My New Adventure

Posted by Carla B. at 11:47 PM
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Recently I started investigating the trend of Community Supported Agriculture (CSA). I have heard about these around the Internet, as well as word of mouth. As I live in a relatively rural area of the South, and there are plenty of farms nearby as well as the agricultural university for our state (Clemson University), I figured there must be similar set-ups locally. It's not always easy to make it to the Farmer's Market, so I thought the idea of a CSA would be like a market more on my schedule.

I wasn't sure what to expect, so I started doing my own research at  Local Harvest. Their description is the simplest I have found:

Here are the basics: a farmer offers a certain number of "shares" to the public. Typically the share consists of a box of vegetables, but other farm products may be included. Interested consumers purchase a share (aka a "membership" or a "subscription") and in return receive a box (bag, basket) of seasonal produce each week throughout the farming season. 
The best part is there is a set delivery or pick-up schedule, so you aren't trying to rush to a market only to find they are sold out. You have already arranged and paid for your produce in advance, and the grower prepares your share. Nothing is risk-free of course, so the risk here is a bad growing season. You are paying for the cost of the farming - so a bad growing season means little or no produce and no refund. 


I wasn't quite ready to just jump in, since the local CSAs cost around $600.00 for a season. While that is still a good deal, due to the amount of food you receive it was a little steep for our initial step in this experiment. I look for some alternatives, and I found a wonderful one. One that is listed in our local area as a CSA is The Putney Farm. They require a flat fee for a membership, and this allows you to order throughout the entire year from their catalog of available products. The products change each week, and the members are sent an email during the ordering period of what items are available. The beauty of their system is that multiple growers and farms contribute to their "market". In fact, this is more of a direct order Farmer's Market than an actual CSA. 


My first order was this past week and it was picked up today. We received three pounds of range-fed ground beef (hormone free), goat cheese fudge, whole organic chocolate milk, granola, gluten free bread, fresh organic blueberries, whole organic buttermilk, and a homemade black bean hummus. We didn't have too many fresh fruits and vegetables this time. I ordered later in the available time allotted, so several items were already sold out for this week. I also wanted to sample several different items to get an idea of what was available across the board.

The skids and I tried several of the products this evening. The hummus was demolished in short order and all we have left is an empty container. The whole chocolate milk was a huge hit with the kids. We don't normally have chocolate milk in the house, but I decided to make a treat for them in this order. It comes from The Happy Cow Creamery, and it definitely made my own little calves very happy. I heard raves today about their cottage cheese at the drop off - so we will be trying that next time. So far, every single thing we tried we found delicious. The blueberries were the top of the pick, or they produce all perfect blueberries at that farm. They were gorgeous.

I can't wait to find out what our next fresh options are, and I will be sure to get my order in quickly. I have loved what I have discovered so far. There is an option with this farm to get a standard CSA box full of fresh vegetables. So far, I feel sure we will be ordering that next summer. This is an excellent option for obtaining quality organic produce in way that is both time efficient and cost effective. I'll keep you posted on how it goes.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Five For Friday: Five Things I Recently Enjoyed Eating

Posted by Carla B. at 1:06 AM
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Pizza Hut Breadsticks - They had a special on these with our order tonight. I had  forgotten just how addictive-ly delicious they are.
 

 


Deviled Eggs - What I consider a Southern treat. My daddy made some for my family the other night. I know why they are called Deviled Eggs - they are so sinfully good that only the devil could put them out there to tempt us off a diet.





Litehouse Blue Cheese Dressing on Mixed Greens: This was today's lunch, and even my four-year old had two helpings. It was cold and perfect for a dreadfully hot day.








Fresh Blueberries: I had a bowl the other day. They are so delicious and very healthy for you. Check out this Blueberry Council page - it's where I got the lovely image to the left.





Fresh Peaches: I love, love, love me some fresh peaches. Just peel, cut and eat - when from a bowl even better because you can still get out the last bit of that sweet juice. As to the picture, that is "The Peachoid" in Gaffney, SC. I am a good ole SC girl, and I don't live that far away. Contrary to popular belief, the state of SC produces more peaches annually than the self-proclaimed "Peach State".  Gaffney is also home to the Annual SC Peach Festival each year. Here's a link to a roadside Peachstand in SC for the next time y'all are here.




Thursday, July 22, 2010

I am all moved in... I think...

Posted by Carla B. at 10:51 PM
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Hello my friends! (My - that sounds a bit John MccCain-ish now doesn't it?)

I just migrated over here to Blogger from my former "won't reveal name" host. It wasn't bad, don't get me wrong. I just think Blogger fits my needs a little better. Besides, I already had my Fearless Stepmom site hosted here, so what was I thinking going elsewhere? Apparently I wasn't thinking.

I am still working on my layout, graphics, design, etc. so please bear with me. And please feel free to give comments, suggestions, etc. I am using a template, but I am working my way to my own unique design. Just keep that in mind as I wing my way through this project.

I have also put up some pics of the family, which you can see in the slideshow on my sidebar. Now you can start putting faces with the names (well, initials anyway). I'll be adding more so you can see a little more of my Domestic Life and, of course, the Chick.

My eyes are now blurred from staring at templates, coding, widgets, and more all day long. I think I'll go ahead and take a rest tonight. But tomorrow I'll be back with more tales from the home.

Hmm... that sounds kind of like "Tales From the Crypt".

That's probably not too far off a description... but as for describing me as the Cryptkeeper? I don't think so, thank you very much.

BOOK REVIEW: Shadow of Power by Steve Martini

Posted by Carla B. at 7:26 PM
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I enjoy a good legal thriller or suspense novel, and I am always looking for a new one to read. I had never, surprisingly enough, read any Steve Martini novels. The novel was okay but it did not make an overwhelming impression. If I had not read other reviews, I am not sure I would jump up to buy another novel by Mr. Martini.

The book started with some interesting scenes, just vague enough to leave you wondering what would happen. At the introduction of the "Jefferson Letter", I still held some hope this could be crafted in a credible way while also gaining momentum with the suspense. Unfortunately, this did not happen. I was disappointed in the premise that the language already existing in the Constitution would incite so many riots and public unrest. I just don't find this very plausible. I would have agreed that it might create much discussion as well as some interesting debates - just not to the level that the author created in the novel. As the book progressed, I realized that the "Jefferson Letter" bit would also stretch the limits of credibility. The book made a good point on this, since the characters spoke of it not being necessary for the letter to be authentic to be able to create the furor it seemed capable of generating. In this way, the letter (whether found to be fraud or not) would at least have to fit within my limits of credibility as a reader - and it failed.

I did like many of the characters in the book - even if I didn't like what they represented, I thought the author did a good job of fleshing them out and making them interesting. This is with one exception: Trisha Scott. I found her flat and uninteresting. Her character, along with the unreal plot twists at the end, made me sigh and want to throw up my hands in frustration a couple of times in the last chapter. Her character just was not believable to me. On the other hand, I loved Herman. I laughed out loud several times at his courtroom scenes, and I found myself mentally casting him with some Hollywood favorites. If a character "works" for me, that's something I end up doing.

I also liked the courtroom scenes in general. The descriptions were complete without being boring. The inner complexities of criminal litigation were explored without unduly boring the reader as well. The entire courtroom section of the book was extremely well crafted. Since that took up a large part of the book, it made the difference for me in a rating of "okay" versus "I didn't like it."

All in all, I enjoyed the book. For a reader wanting a light read, this could be an enjoyable diversion. For someone looking for an intense legal thriller, your better bet would be a different novel. For me - I am going to at least try another novel by Steve Martini and give the writer a second chance to impress.

My conclusion:  A solid "okay" in my book; grab it at the used bookstore or borrow a copy (library or a friend).

Maybe we just need a PO Box... you can't hit those.

Posted by Carla B. at 4:23 PM
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I promised yesterday that I would post about the tale of the mailbox. Over the last several years, we've seen the mailbox hit, mangled, repaired, bashed, and repaired again. It's like lather, rinse, repeat.

My first encounter with our mailbox was when I first met my husband, and I visited the house. It was a nice, small, black mailbox - tucked out-of-the-way so it would not get hit by someone in the driveway, far enough off our road to not be hit by random drivers, yet still accessible to us. What could go wrong? Apparently everything.

It was first hit by the friend of my husband's oldest daughter. Her friend, we'll call her S to protect the guilty, was backing out of the driveway when we heard a tell-tale shriek of metal. We turned around to see S stop her car, then get out to investigate any damage... to her car. Seeing none, she hopped in her car and with a cheery wave off she drove. We could see the damage to the mailbox from the driveway - a nice long streak down the side and a slight tilt to the post. DH corrected the tilt, reinforced the post, and tried some touch up on the paint. It worked.

A few months later, we came home from an outing. Attack number two had occurred in our absence. This time the post leaned significantly to the side, and the box was hanging partially off the post. Once again, tools in hand, DH corrected the tilt, reinforced the post and this time realigned the box. A few reinforcement screws to the mailbox secured it more tightly to the post.

By this time, we were scratching our heads over the poor mailbox. Then it was attack number three - this time by me. I was backing out of our driveway when I realized what a hazard this little black box presented. For such a little thing, it sure can make a nice long engraved slash in the paint on the car. I didn't damage the mailbox too much, so again DH went out to make the repairs. By this time, he was getting most frustrated and to this day I hear laughter regarding my encounter with our mailbox. My DH loves to say that I heard the shriek of grating metal and continued to drive on with a "What's that noise?" and shrug of the shoulders. Not quite accurate, but can be irritatingly amusing at times.

So, by now, I am seriously thinking we need a new mailbox. DH agrees, since he was actively eBaying at the time and receiving large packages on a regular basis. You know it's bad when the UPS man still asks about the kids and realizes the 7-year old is now old enough to start college in the fall. However we put it off for some reason - maybe our ESP at work? Yes, it was attack number five.

Number five came from a random truck in the neighborhood. We saw the moving trucks come into the neighborhood. We feared. We waited. We finally left the house on an errand. In our absence, yet again, the mailbox was hit - this time mangled. No note. It was as if the driver never noticed. How can you not notice a large post snapped at the top and the mailbox on the ground? I know... rhetorical question.

We replaced it this time with an extra-large box and reinforced post. It was fine for a couple of years. Yes, we actually made it two years. Then, we had this:

 

The local county workers were out paving the main road - the one you see beyond the mailbox on the other side. We live off that road on a side street. Somehow they found a way to mangle the mailbox and knock the post sideways. They did come back later and replace the whole thing - post, larger mailbox, new numbers, we were upgraded.

When we spoke to the driver, he said "I was trying to watch the mailbox when I heard a loud shriek of grating metal."

I looked at DH and said, "I think it's time we just get that P. O. Box. Nobody can hit those, can they?"

It's 4:00 am, I'm up, and good books rock

Posted by Carla B. at 4:18 PM
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Today (well, technically yesterday at this point) was rather exciting. Our mailbox was demolished for about the fourth (fifth?) time in the last five years. I have pics and will be posting about all that tomorrow.

Most of tonight has been spent working on my two blogs - yes two. There's this one, which is all about my domestic life. I figured out that it would be best to let this blog concentrate on my love of books, cooking, and general parenting and family life. So, all the little parts of my home will still appear on these pages. However, the part of my life that seems separated - the part of my with a fractured family - is relegated to my other blog: Fearless Stepmom. I started that one back several years ago, when I decided to blog about my experiences as a custodial stepmother. Later, it was those experiences that completely sidetracked that venture into near oblivion. Fortunately, it's still there, and I am now organizing content between the two sites.

The best part has been all the fun I have been having. I have been searching out lovely templates, backgrounds, stock photos and other goodies. There will be changes to both, but hopefully things will be settled soon and then I can really concentrate on awesome material - such as fabulous book reviews.
I have been an avid reader as long as I can remember - which is one reason I chose to major in English Literature in college. I guess I still dream on some level of being a writer - more glamorous to me than being discovered for Hollywood. Most women would dream of being an Angelina Jolie - personally I think Diablo Cody is much more cool as far as Hollywood goes. As far as writers, I think being Kathy Reichs would be about the ultimate. Can you imagine hanging with Booth and Bones for a season?

Right now, I am reading a good book on my Kindle. It was a promotional one, offered for free recently. Let's just say I am now a fan of Steve Martini thanks to the free promotional copy of Shadow of Power. What an excellent suspense story- the only bad part about working on my blog is that it is taking me away from finishing the book. Which would be why I am up at 4:00 am with relatively little complaint. The sun will be coming up soon, but there's still time for me to squeeze in a few chapters after finishing this piece.

That's the beauty and magic of a good book. Sometimes it can lull you into sleep, other times it can keep you awake with no complaints at all.

Magic.

BOOK REVIEW: The Book of Love by Kathleen McGowan**

Posted by Carla B. at 4:15 PM
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My rating: 3 of 5 stars


I enjoyed this book, but I preferred her first book The Expected One much more. I think all of the information was a fresh, and she had interesting twists on Dan Brown's theories in Da Vinci Code. I also enjoyed getting to know all the characters in that book, and I missed Maureen interacting as much with her group of friends. However, I think that is one of the aspects the author was trying to convey - that with that great knowledge and responsibility a person can be very lonely. I did like some of the layers of meaning in this book.

I also loved the story of Matilda. I understand that much of historical fiction is heavy on the fiction. While we may know facts here or there, we weren't actually there - so much of what is written is very good guesswork. In that respect, the story of Matilda was extremely entertaining within the loose framework of known history. I look forward to her exploration of other historical figures in upcoming books.

I LOVED her treatment of the Lord's Prayer. While I use a different translation, the concept of six petals and how to pray using those was very helpful. What I enjoy about books like this is that you take what you want and leave the rest. Whether you agree with the theology of this (or even Brown's book) or not, there is still that desire to look into things for yourself - to research a passage of Scripture, to check a historical fact, or to just use a piece of the book in your own life (as I am using her method of the Lord's Prayer).

All in all, it was a VERY enjoyable read and spurred my interest in many things both spiritual and historical. I recommend it highly to anyone who enjoyed Brown's Da Vinci code. I also recommend it to anyone who enjoys a good mystery. I am looking forward to the next book, The Poet Prince.

** This review was originally written on April 24, 2009, and it appeared on my other blog, The Fearless Stepmom. I have moved it here permanently as I reorganize both websites to their true purpose.

A Foray Into Julia Child

Posted by Carla B. at 3:44 PM
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Originally written on February 13, 2010**:

Tonight I decided to try my hand at creating a Julia Child classic: Potage Parmentier. Nice enough, but I have two teenage sons, and Mrs. Child evidently did not when perfecting this recipe. Teen boys means you need meat, so I settled on chicken.

I made a few adjustments, and the family loved it. Those teen boys both had second helpings, a silent approval as they are very picky eaters. The rest of the family (my husband, a pre-schooler, a tween girl, and a teen girl) also enjoyed the meal. For those of you willing to corrupt classic recipes or just like to try new things, here's my own take on this recipe:

A Fearless Chick's Potato Soup (makes approximately 8 servings)

Ingredients
  • 3 cups leeks, thinly sliced (white and tender green parts only)
  • 3 tablespoons Smart Choice 60% spread
  • 5 breasts of chicken, boneless, skinless, cut into bite-size pieces
  • 1 lb potatoes, peeled and diced
  • 4 quarts water
  • 1 tablespoon salt
  • 1 tablespoon freshly ground pepper
  • 1/2 cup fat-free half-n-half
Directions
  1. Melt butter in large 4-quart pot over medium-low heat. When melted, add leeks and cook until caramelized.
  2. Remove leeks to a separate dish.
  3. Add chicken to the pot, and brown on all sides.
  4. Fill the pot with the 4 quarts of water, and bring to a boil and cook until chicken is done. Remove chicken to a separate dish.
  5. Return leeks to the chicken stock, and add potatoes with seasonings. Simmer, partially covered, for about 20-30 minutes until vegetables are tender.
  6. Remove from heat, and mash the vegetables with the liquid (alternatively, you could puree this in the blender - not an option with teen boys who like to see food of substance).
  7. Add chicken, half-n-half and additional seasonings to taste. Heat on medium-low until chicken is warmed.
  8. Pour into bowls, and garnish with parsley if desired.
In the words of Julia Child - bon appetit! Let me know how you like it.

**This originally appeared on my other website - The Fearless Stepmom. I am moving it here as I am in the process of organizing the two websites and their content.

Friday Family Movie Night: The Jensen Project

Posted by Carla B. at 3:42 PM
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Yesterday while shopping at Wal-Mart, we received a flyer for Family Movie Night, sponsored by Wal-Mart and P&G products. This is the second in the "Bringing Back Family Movie Night" campaign: The Jensen Project.
The Jensen Project
The world is hanging by a string. Can this family pull it together?
After a 16-year absence, Claire and Matt Thompson are reintroduced to The Jensen Project — a secret community of geniuses conducting advanced underground research to solve the world’s most difficult problems. The former scientists, accompanied by their tech-minded teenage son Brody, are thrust into a frantic pursuit to keep a potentially dangerous technology from falling into the wrong hands. As the family races against the clock to stop the group's rogue faction, they discover an important truth. In this high-pressure, high-tech world, sometimes the smartest thing we can do is lean on each other.
The flyer had the movie information on one side and a shopping list for the perfect night on the other - all for only $10.00. The evening was complete with pizza, movie and typical movie-theater treats (soda, popcorn and candy). Since all four kids were with us, they cajoled, prodded and pleaded us into succumbing to the blatant marketing. Since we are a larger-than-average family, we ended up spending $20.00 for twice the product.


We first prepared our pizzas - Wal-Mart Marketside pizza for $5.00 each in two flavors: one five-cheese and one three-meat.   Around 6:30PM I served these with our 2-liter bottles of Pepsi ($1.00 each) purchased as part of the package: we chose regular Pepsi and Wild Cherry Pepsi. We devoured the pizzas rather quickly, with plenty of compliments from our, at times, difficult to please audience (two teens, one tween, and one preschooler). The pizzas were quite good, with fresh ingredients. The crust was similar to a "hand-tossed", a nice cross between thick and thin (very close to my homemade crust). The toppings were quite good, with a nice blend of cheeses on the cheese pizza. The meat pizza had large chunks of sausage, only mildly spicy, along with shaved bacon, pepperoni slices and mozzarella cheese. There was also thinly shaved grilled beef, a surprising addition that gave a unique layer of flavor to the pizza. We would have liked more pepperoni slices, but overall the pizza was quite good.

I then left open our two cans of Pringles (one ranch flavor and one multi-grain). These were advertised at $1.00 for a slightly smaller can, but we chose the larger can for $1.50 which was a better deal overall. This also worked better for our size family.


 

Around 7:30PM I put on the popcorn (Orville Redenbacher's Movie Theater Butter at $2.00 a tub), so we could settle in for the movie. This time, we all came into the master bedroom where we could all be comfortable. Our eldest son, who is 18 and has his own apartment, was visiting. He chose to stay in the living room to play Guitar Hero (something he greatly misses since moving out on his own). Our other teen boy, who is "too cool" for family night, chose to stay in his room alternating between talking with his girlfriend on the phone and playing his favorite computer game. Although I wish he would join us as well, at least he's not out making mischief or otherwise getting into trouble. I count my blessings.


At 8:00PM we tuned in to NBC for the family movie The Jensen Project.We enjoyed this with our popcorn, some Skittles (we tried the new flavor of Fizzl'd Fruits, which was sort of Pop-Rocks meets Sour meets chewy Skittles). We had two bags of Skittles, at $1.00 each, in the "theater box" size. The price for all of this was incredibly reasonable, and it was far better than what we would have paid at the theater. Not to mention our floors are not near as sticky (even with a preschooler) and the bathrooms are far cleaner (even with our teenagers).


The movie was very cute, and although it was a bit dark in places for our four-year-old, my younger teen girls enjoyed it. Could it be the hint of romance between Brody and Samantha? Or perhaps just them enjoying Justin Kelly as Brody?  Either way, our whole family enjoyed the movie and we do plan on purchasing the DVD/CD combo available at Wal-Mart today. The CD has the soundtrack from the movie, featuring Jordin Sparks, Brooke White and more.
Overall, we felt this was a good deal: fun, cost-efficient, and family oriented. In the fall, we will be ready and waiting for the next family movie night:  A Walk In My Shoes.


BOOK REVIEW: The Killing Room by John Manning

Posted by Carla B. at 3:35 PM
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This review is for The Killing Room by John Manning. I bought the Kindle version, as the title and premise sounded very interesting and it was on sale at the time. **Please note: This book is not the basis for the 2009 movie named The Killing Room, starring Nick Cannon and Timothy Hutton.**


I enjoyed this book, up until about 3/4 of the way through. The last quarter of the book really frustrated me. I felt the author took cheap and easy plot turns, bringing in paranormal elements that were not necessary although recently popular (i.e., zombies).

The characters were fairly well-developed, and I appreciated the way their backstory was woven into the plotline. There was not too much information dump, but when it was given in large chunks it worked as part of the storyline.

I believe the author's greatest gift is in building suspense and giving an edge of psychological suspense - at times I wondered, is this real or is it the character's imagination?  There were a couple of times near the start of the book that I looked over my shoulder when reading it at night. That, to me, is significant in the telling of a good ghost story. When overdone, you are laughing at the attempt and when underdone you are just not scared. This author managed to find the perfect balance, without going into scaring you so much you stop reading! Excellent storytelling.

If this had continued, I would have rated this book higher than three stars. However, the main characters took too long to realize the impact of the Young family on the ghost. There was also some inconsistencies in characterization. For example, the old uncle consistently withheld information - but although the main characters realized this, they never questioned (until the end) why he would do this. Also, with a background from the FBI, it seems our heroine would have cast an early suspicion on the Young family also being involved - and this should have grown with the increasing realization the family was keeping secrets. I was frustrated, and it seemed this was only serving as a plot device - I don't mind plot devices, but they must stay consistent with characterization already established.

Finally - the turning of David into a zombie at the end. There was no reason for him to return, and again I felt frustrated this was only a plot device. Once they realized he was a zombie, I felt it was almost a satire. However, there was no satire up to this point - so again I was left frustrated.

The strong beginning of this book, and the ability of the author to tell a good ghost story, kept this book at a solid three stars. It would have been five stars, if the above issues were resolved to this reader's satisfaction.

My review: Save your money for the paperback, and minus the zombie, hope for a movie version.

As Tired as a Dog on a Sunday Afternoon...

Posted by Carla B. at 3:30 PM
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I am so exhausted I can barely keep my eyes open, must less type. I am working on my next blog, which is about my favorite past-time: reading! I love good books, and I will read nearly anything I can get my grubby little paws on. I will go into more detail on that in my next post, which will be up sometime tomorrow.

Night all. Sweet dreams.

I'm in iLust

Posted by Carla B. at 3:30 PM
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I was in Atlanta (well, close enough) this past weekend visiting my mother-in-law. She's a delight, and we always get to shop while I am there. This time, DH went along and we hit the Best Buy (larger than the one closest to our home). I was meandering around the store while DH shopped with MIL. My teens were looking at cell phones and MP3 players (should I have guessed anything else?), so I took my four-year old (who was happy behind the wheel of her race-car shopping cart) and browsed around. Then I saw it.

The display.

A large table... a large gray board behind it. One white logo - an apple.

And on the table was my virtual playground - the iPad. I fell in lust immediately. For anyone that has just crawled from under a rock to read my blog - you can go here http://www.apple.com/ipad/ to learn more about it. Here's a nice little picture:


There were multiple iPads for customers to touch, feel, play, caress... oh I am getting carried away. Suffice it to say, after a few minutes whipping around that touch screen I was hooked.

Now, for most of you this could be "so what?". But you do not understand the full significance. The last time I touched an Apple was as an undergraduate (we won't specify just how long ago that was, but the comparison between a newly launched Windows and the Apple was the hot debate). When I say Windows, I mean a version prior to 3.1 - which itself was long before Vista. I had eschewed all things Apple and starting with an "i" before the name. I kept thinking how nothing is compatible with a Mac platform - I would never find programs, I wouldn't be compatible with any of my friends, and so on and so forth.Then there's the DH - a computer geek that has spent many an hour (even day) building and rebuilding all the computers in our house (do you know how frustrating it is to turn on your computer only to realize you must reload all your programs because your loving husband just upgraded your computer for the eighth time in one week?). Talk about having an iAttitude. I knew I had a greater chance of sailing with him on the Titanic than I did taking home an Apple. We all know the Titanic is a little less than seaworthy these days, so that should clue you in to my chances of success. So, compatibility with the DH would reach all-time low should I even consider an Apple.
After today's date with an iPad - I don't care who or what I am compatible with or what programs are available. I found plenty on that little device to keep me happy for a long time. And if I get bored? There are about a million more applications that I could download from iTunes.

I am a good little iSheep... I have been assimilated.

And that was before I found the grandbaby of them all. A nice 27" Mac... it had a gigantic screen. So glossy. So high-def. It was gorgeous... then I remembered. The screen is the hard drive and is the whole computer. No bulky box at my feet. And then there was that straight from the Enterprise deck keyboard and mouse - totally wireless, sleek metal gray. It was beautiful and bliss all packaged right up.

So I was still worrying about compatibility (the way I consoled myself since I was already reconciled to the fact I would not be driving away with one of these beauties).  DH was still wandering in other parts of the store but headed my way - so compatibility was definitely a concern. I still had a two-hour drive home with him in front of me. Like magic, there was the representative. And guess what he could mind read? You got it - and he erased all my concerns about compatibility.

Did you know today's Mac can run Windows programs?

Did you know it can even let you view Windows documents and spreadsheets and all that jazz?

Let me just put it out there, since there are some things you can't view.... Did you know it can even run Windows?

Yes, why yes it can. I am there. All I need is the Mac, the Mac Book and the iPad, and I am a happy little momma at home.

Fortunately, my DH loved the sleek design too. He said we would see what we could do for Christmas.

I love that man.

WoW - My Husband Turned 50

Posted by Carla B. at 3:26 PM
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My DH has always loved computers and things associated with them. It used to be eBay. Then it was building computers. Then we went through a dreadful phase of him upgrading our computers - no data was safe. I lived in fear. Finally, he was introduced to this harmless little game called World of Warcraft. I am sure some of you are familiar with this darling little role-playing game. It's harmless enough. You create a cartoon, or your "Alt", on a massive computer server where other people from all over the world have also created a cartoon of themselves. We are talking thousands of people. Which is why it is referred to as a MASSIVE role-playing game.

He has become addicted, and he has spent hours leveling and upgrading his characters. Yes, he has more than one. It has been relatively harmless. Although he does spend many hours on the game, it could be worse. He could be out drinking with the boys. Or playing endless rounds of golf. Or working multiple hours of overtime. At least this way he is home and accessible - at least most of the time. And it has been an effective stress reliever for him. So, while he has a mild "addiction" it's definitely the lesser of some evils.

He recently turned 50, and like a good enabler I themed his whole birthday around World of Warcraft. I mainly just put together a cake, inspired somewhat by Cake Boss (my own addiction). Not nearly as good, but I am nowhere near New Jersey to order one from him either.

Here's the cake with a top/aerial view:


I made a red velvet cake with buttercream frosting. The "addict's manual" is a white cake with buttercream frosting topped with yellow fondant. I used tinted buttercream and royal icing for the decorations (grass, river, plaque, etc.). The river rocks are chocolate, the scrolls are marzipan with fondant bows, and blue sprinkles give the river a sense of movement. I made the treasure chest with chocolate candy, and stuffed it with homemade strawberry-flavored rock candy, peppermint pearls, and gold chocolate coins. The Death Knight figure standing against the hill is a fondant and modeling chocolate replica of DH's character.

Here's a closeup of the treasure chest:


When playing the game, DH loves to drink Diet Coke and Monster. I used both of these as elements as well. In the game, there are potions for Health and Mana. These are pretty basic and almost all characters use them. I made replicas of the two drinks using rice crispy treats, carving them into the can shapes. I covered them with a thin layer of buttercream icing, then covered this with the appropriate color fondant. I cut all logos out of fondant and used royal icing to write on the cans and do detail work. The Diet Coke became Diet Health, and the Monster became Monster Mana. It all worked out rather well.

Here are pictures of the two drink potions:

                   


It's a start, so it's not perfect. Most of all it was fun and my DH loved it. Oh - and it was delicious!

Mom vs Mouse - The Bloody End

Posted by Carla B. at 3:12 PM
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I took a little time away from the computer for the Fourth of July so I never got a chance to update on Pierre, the aggravating mouse. He finally met his bloody end on Saturday morning.

By this time, he was venturing into other rooms. As a result, the mousetraps stalked him about the house. On early Saturday morning I heard a loud snap in my daughter's room. A quick check revealed an upside-down mousetrap inside the basket. Because I didn't want my hyperactive four-year to accidentally - and literally - run across the mousetrap, I placed it inside a shallow basket. With very slick plastic walls. I then baited a trail with birdseed and sunflower seeds - they love those - to the basket and inside. He climbed the wicker outer shell, fell into the basket and snapped the trap. I win!

I got DH to check the trap because the only thing worse than a rodent is a bloody rodent. No rodent in the trap but his bloody remains had been launched to the other side of the basket. So DH disposed of the mouse.  Despite his objections that we could clean it up (after all, it was "just a mouse"), I had him also dispose of the basket.

End result? Mom - 1 and Mouse - 0. Life is as it should be.

Mom vs Mouse: Day Two

Posted by Carla B. at 3:12 PM
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Here it is just past midnight and a few minutes into Saturday morning. My goal of posting daily has officially been shot down upon my second real post. Which brings me to Thursday's post about my furry friend Pierre - the house mouse squatter. It was only yesterday (it still feels like Thursday is yesterday so just bear with me) I battled with Pierre at 5 in the morning.

Two mousetraps, cheese and birdseed bait, and much frustration later it's been a two days since I have seen my furry friend. He disappeared sometime mid-morning on Thursday. All stayed quiet through the remainder of  Thursday and most of today (Friday). Until a few minutes ago.

Yet again the little beast chooses to wait until I am stressed to my last nerve before popping around to let me know he's still stalking the household. I was mentally preparing today's blog about the stress of having a tween and teen, both girls, living in the same house. Between their typical drama (which reached heights exceeding the entire soap opera industry today), I dealt with a hyperactive pre-schooler that is too smart for my own good. It's probably fine for her own good, but I can foresee her dancing circles around me by the time she makes it to the teen years. Heaven help me now.

After surviving the two girls getting to the point of strangulation with one another, neither completing their daily chores, the pre-schooler finding a new obsession with balloons that go POW! when you pop them (this happening repeatedly), a husband who had a bad day, an aunt who broke her ankle, and the oldest stepson (OSS) dropping in at the last minute with his former girlfriend who is back as his girlfriend because she got pregnant with what they think is his daughter who also came and is adorable, and feeding all these crazy people a decent meal... I was ready for a long hot shower, a quick blog and good book. Not so fast.

Before I can say "hot water", my oldest stepdaughter (OSD) has a meltdown of Three-Mile Island proportions. Let's just say bad day at work for DH now equals bad evening at home for OSD. And more stress for me, because really, is anyone ever calm after the firestorm? Nah, didn't think so.

OSS then calls back. He's at his apartment that he shares part of  the time with the girlfriend and their daughter but also apparently his mother (DH's EX) although she also lives part of the time a couple of cities away with her boyfriend that nobody claims is her boyfriend but is the same place that OSS lives when he's not living in our town with the girlfriend. Got that? Don't worry, I stay confused too.

So OSS was in the dark - literally. He said they had to catch up on the power but his mother didn't pay her part before she went to jail (she has more tales for titillating posts than this place has room) so now they are stuck with no power. Well, they could have power if they had the nearly $1000 it will take to turn it back on again. Don't even ask. He asked if he could come spend the night with us, since his girlfriend went to her parents' house to spend the night. One former bedroom, waiting and ready.

By that time, I am living the brief sanity a shower will bring because I dare DH to join me. He will get the pleasure of holding down peace in the Middle East while I take a shower, thank you very much. If I can do it for the 12 hours he is at work, he can do it for the 30 minutes it takes me to shower. Until, that is, Pierre makes an appearance. Everyone is getting settled down for the night, when pitter-pitter-pat his four little paws scurry across the floor of our living room and into DD's bedroom. I guess he fears a pre-schooler the least - oh little does he know. I think we've already established he's not the smartest mouse yesterday, but this was the final exclamation point of stupidity. It would have only been worse had he run towards the fire-breathing drama teen OSD.

So, mousetrap is now moved and placed in a place that is hopefully pre-schooler proof. Yeah right, in my dreams, and all that.  It's freshly baited. It's got a trail of breadcrumbs (not too much, not too little but juuust right for little Goldimouse). I am waiting. And yet, I still watch my door carefully because I have this odd feeling he will manage to eat his little delights, avoid capture and come mock me yet again outside my door.

Have I mentioned how much I hate mice?

I hate cats, but I hate rodents more.

I think I need a cat.

He's no Stuart Little...

Posted by Carla B. at 3:11 PM
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So, I was awake almost all last night - it's been a stressful week and yesterday just capped it off with a bang. DH left for work around 5:00 AM, and as I was still awake I put on Hell's Kitchen that I DVR'd recently. As I lay in bed, relaxing and about to go munch on some Doritos, I glanced toward the bedroom door that leads to the kitchen (yeah, yeah, idiotic layout). About that time, I see a furry nose - a tiny, brown, floor-level furry nose. It poked rather curiously around the corner, but disappeared before I could react. Well, other than to fly up to a sitting position. It was a house mouse - a field mouse until he apparently moved in with us.

The little nose poked around again, this time more boldly sashaying into the room as I instinctively tried to scare it. I barked - like a dog. (Hey, it was 5:30AM and I hadn't slept all night, okay?) He just waddles on in, cockily looking at me while he hugged close to the bookcase. Then disappeared - oh lovely. I suddenly thought "Wait! These guys are supposed to be timid. The old "more scared of you than you are of them", nocturnal, dark and quiet loving kind of creature." So, why was this little guy running toward the light, noise and big mean dog (that would be me, since I barked). Apparently, I have not only a house mouse, but a moronic house mouse.

At this point, I yelped. To my utter humiliation, I sounded like some helpless female from a bad romance novel.

What would a heroine do in those books? Well, definitely nothing heroic or brave - that's what her hero is for, right? So, I called up my local hero - that would be DH - for him to race to me in his chariot - that would be our ancient Toyota Camry.  Being the 21st century and all, I paged him. My knight in shining armor (aka clueless husband) laughed at me. He said, get this, "It's just a mouse."

Just a mouse?

Excuse me?

That's what they said in the Dark Ages about those little rodents of death carrying bubonic plague. Rats - mice - all carries of the Black Death. Today, they are still germ-infested, probably rabies-carrying, filthy vermin. If that things bit me, my needle-phobic body would have to endure multiple shots over multiple weeks. Not. Gonna. Happen. I wouldn't even feel clean after a full Silkwood shower.

At this point I am weeping. I have a cheeky mouse, a DH lacking empathy, and a body that has at last reached critical mass from all the stress. So, while DH laughs at me, the mouse doesn't go hide. No, he has to peek, run and cheekily turn and moon me while he whips his tail into what I swear was a rude gesture. Dh didn't believe me, so I hung up on him and called my mother. She has empathy. She told me to name him so I would feel better. I immediately thought, "dirty. cheeky. rude. French. His name's Pierre." (No offense to the French, well, okay - I used to live in Europe and was married to a Brit, so yeah, I guess there is some offense there.) So, I named him "Pierre", the cocky, cheeky, stinky mouse with the "Screw you, you dirty Ameri-cain" attitude. He was no Stuart Little, and there was no way I was adopting him like a son.

In the end, my knight bailed on me to stay at work. After having a hearty laugh at my expense. He didn't help by speculating on how Pierre got in the house - apparently through our back door. We would have to have the Michael Jordan of mice, so I felt better. Until DH politely corrected me by saying mice can jump quite high. As well as climb walls, kind of like Spiderman. Thanks DH. I am thinking of changing that D to an A.

As it turned out, my father (my original knight in shining armor) came to my rescue with mouse traps, bait and even a pellet gun in hand. It was better than the ballpene hammer he originally got - I put that idea to rest rather quickly. The only thing worse than a live rodent running around spreading germs is a dead rodent lying around spreading blood and brains all over your wood floors. We set the traps, I hid them so I don't see them - no sense actually watching the death sentence carried out.

I'll update tomorrow on me versus the mouse. Hopefully the new score will be me-1 and mouse-0.

Books: The good, the bad, and the so awful you can’t finish it

Posted by Carla B. at 3:10 PM
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I've loved reading for as long as I can remember. In fact, the first gift I ever remember getting was the number three in the Nancy Drew series. After that, I was hooked. On reading, on mysteries, on detectives (which would arise again in my infatuation with all things Law and Order, especially one Benjamin Bratt over whom I became hopelessly hooked but I digress), and on stories told well and beautifully.

I have always kept a list of favorite books, for they are the ones I generally keep and go back to read several times over. These are the ones that I will ultimately have on both my Kindle (oh, what a beautiful device) and in paper copy, to make the joy of reading them easy and instant. I have also started to keep a list of least favorite books. These are the ones that started out as just a mild case of avoiding, and then gradually evolved into "read at your own risk" warnings to friends. I avoided all things where death was a predominant theme, especially if an animal central to the story died. I always recall the Friends episode where Phoebe talks about the "happy endings" to all these tragic movies she saw as a child – Ole Yeller never died, etc. etc. This was true until the Harry Potter series and I still have not forgiven J. K. Rowling for sucking me in and then killing off Sirius. The series as a whole still makes my favorites list, but I always have a twinge of regret when I think about that one installment.

I have also always loved movies, and I found it amusing to compare the written story to the scripted one. It was always interesting to see what was removed or found unnecessary, as well as what was embellished or added. This reached a whole new level once I saw The Bridges of Madison County. What a beautiful love story, and it was one I resonated with at the time in a very deep and emotionally raw way. I could not wait to get my hands on the book, to see the whole story. The big red flag should have been the novel was the size of a short story. Short stories make fabulous full length movies with little change or editing – their length is ideal as witnessed by Stephen King's "The Body" which became the movie Stand by Me (beyond description good).

So, let's get back to Bridges. I ended up getting the book anyway, despite the fact that a quick peek at the first chapter didn't start out at all like the movie (red flag again!). By the time I slogged through the entire book, I had a whole new respect for Clint Eastwood who had managed to turn this trash into one of the best movies I had seen in a long time. He pretty much re-wrote the whole book into something much better, and I had a new top entry into my least favorite books list. At that point, I had not started The English Patient which made me nod off into naptime every time I started the first chapter. I finally gave up and just watched the movie. It wasn't the best (despite a gracious plenty of Colin Firth), but at least I stayed awake through it til the end.

So, here are my lists, good and bad, and including those that are so awful you just can't finish it. I've included a couple of links to my favorite books that you might not recognize. Oh, and the lists are in no particular order except the way they popped into my head for one reason or another. And if you disagree? In the words of Rhett Butler, "My dear, I don't give a damn." (That is the quote from the book, not the movie, which added "Frankly" to the beginning of the sentence.)

Favorite Books:

Least Favorite Books:

  • Ole Yeller (the dog dies, the kid cries, it was horrible)
  • Where The Red Fern Grows (see Ole Yeller)
  • Marley and Me (the dog dies… but this is based on a true story so….)
  • The Bridges of Madison County (LOVED the movie – Eastwood did an awesome job)
  • The English Patient (I couldn't even finish it – B.O.R.I.N.G.)
  • The Giving Tree (Hello – co-dependent nightmare anyone? Gives until it dies? No thank you.)
  • The Catcher in the Rye (I loathed this book – it makes my eye twitchy)
  • The DaVinci Code (I've actually read better versions on the same theme.)
  • Under the Tuscan Sun (actually a decent book, but another example of movie way better than book)
  • The Second Lives of Second Wives (not bad as a read, but terribly off the mark as far as "second wife life")
  • Bridget Jones' Diary (I discovered here that I don't like the diary entry type of reading experience)
 

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