Sunday, March 19, 2017

A Mid-March Sanibel Sunday

Hello, friends... remember me? It's been way too long since my last check-in, but that's the pattern I've settled into this winter. We've had a lot of visitors since my last update and I'm loving every minute  - plenty of day trips, biking, new restaurants, and, of course, long walks on the beach. Winter storm Stella wreaked havoc with travel plans... my sister extended her time in Florida, while my daughter ended up taking the train from New Orleans to NYC after her flight was cancelled. Hopefully, that was the end of winter weather.

Yesterday I attended the Southwest Florida Reading Festival. The highlight was hearing author Nathan Hill... what an engaging, funny speaker! I had him sign my daughter's book afterward. She loved The Nix and left it here for me to read. I've already added next year's event to my calendar.

Recently finished//

Behind Closed Doors by B.A. Paris
I kept turning the pages, but was only mildly entertained by this thriller. Maybe I should have listened instead? Most readers seem to love it... I'm definitely the exception.

Can You Forgive Her? by Anthony Trollope
What a treat to read Trollope with Audrey again! We read The Barsetshire Chronicles with a few friends back in 2015, but I didn't return to Trollope at all last year. Now we're tackling the Palliser novels. Can You Forgive Her?, the first in the series, is basically a love story, but the backdrop is politics, rather than the churches of Barsetshire.  As usual, I approached the novel as a read/listen combination. Listening to Simon Vance on my morning walk and reading in the evening, the 800 plus pages flew.

We'll watch the 1974 BBC adaptation of The Pallisers next... episodes 1-6 cover Can You Forgive Her? If you'd like to watch, too, we're using the hashtag #PalliserParty on twitter.

Current reading//

On New Year's Eve 1984, 85-year-old Lillian Boxfish takes a walk - a ten mile walk around Manhattan - and contemplates her life. This is such a good book! I'm enjoying it even more since learning that it's based on a real person. I'll finish today or tomorrow.

Her Royal Spyness by Rhys Bowen
Georgie, aka Lady Victoria Georgiana Charlotte Eugenie, is 34th in line for the throne of England, penniless, and such a fun character! The novel is set in 1930s London and is the first in a cozy series. I'm listening to it and Katherine Kellgren's narration is perfect! She reads the next few books, too. We'll see if I decide to commit to the series.

What's new with you? Do you have any good books to recommend?
I've been out of the loop for too long...


Friday, February 17, 2017

An Overdue Update: 2/17/17

Sanibel Sunrise

Good morning from Sanibel. It's been far too long since I last checked in here! So far this month we enjoyed visits from our oldest daughter, my brother and his girlfriend, and friends from home. We traveled across the state to visit old friends, and tomorrow my sister and brother-in-law arrive for winter break. Our popularity seems to increase when we're in Florida... and I love it!

Read recently//

Old Age: A Beginner's Guide by Michael E. Kinsley

Meh. I read this book now because it was written by Mike Kinsley, on my tbr list, and available on the shelf at the local library. Twenty years ago, while still in his 40s, Kinsley was diagnosed with Parkinson's Disease. While this slim book includes a lot about PD, it's not really about  PD. The focus is on aging, or the 'end-game' for baby boomers born between 1946 and 1964. Old Age is a quick read, but it didn't sit quite right with me... probably due to the final essay. In it, Kinsley proposes that boomers pay off the national debt. Our parents, the Greatest Generation, paid their debt to society with their lives through two world wars, while privileged boomers opted out of Vietnam. He feels boomers should leave a financial legacy instead. What?

"Is it simply long life that you covet, or is it long life with all your marbles? Isn't the final boomer game really competitive cognition?"

Behold the Dreamers by Imbolo Mbue

This is another book I picked up because it was available on the library's new fiction shelf, and I loved it! Set in NYC during the financial collapse of 2008, it juxtaposes the lives of a wealthy Lehman executive with that of his Cameroonian immigrant chauffeur. The immigration aspect is especially timely now and it offers an interesting perspective on the issue. I haven't read anything quite like it. Thank you, Susan, for the recommendation. This is my favorite book so far this year.

Current reading//

Can You Forgive Her? by Anthony Trollope 
The #PalliserParty continues. Progress has been embarrassingly slow this week; I am beginning chapter 32 today. If my sister is in the mood to hang out on the beach and read, then I'll definitely be more productive next week ;-)
 "It is better to have a false husband than to be a false wife." - Lady Glencora  
"... men and women ought to grow, like plants, upward. Everybody should endeavour to stand as well as he can in the world..."  - Alice Vavasor

Behind Closed Doors by B.A. Paris
After a false start a few months ago, I'm finally in the mood for a psychological thriller and this fits the bill nicely. Not very far in yet, but there's definitely something strange going on in this marriage. I feel a sense of dread settling in... should be an exciting ride!


It's hard to avoid getting sucked into political news... there seems to be something new every. single. day. BUT, this past week I've been enjoying college basketball (well, not so much Syracuse's loss to Pitt), the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show, and I finally watched Florence Foster Jenkins.

In the kitchen//

As we move into "high season" on the island, restaurants are becoming more and more crowded so we opted to have a special Valentine's Day dinner at home. I made this Sheet Pan Shrimp Boil from Damn Delicious ... and it was! This is an interesting twist on the classic low-country boil - parboiling the potatoes and corn-on-the-cob, then finishing them on a sheet pan in the oven with shrimp and andouille sausage. My photo isn't quite as pretty as hers, but you get the idea.

I also tried these Oven Baked Beef Tacos from Six Sisters' Stuff... yum.

Photo of the week//

Morning beach walk... love these two!!

The week ahead//
I'll be spending time with my sister and brother-in-law... that will mean biking, shopping, dining out, and, of course, plenty of time on the beach!

What's new with you? Have you read any good books lately?

Saturday, February 4, 2017

My New Favorite Kitchen Gadget: The Sprializer

I've always loved kitchen gadgets. From a cherished Cuisinart food processor purchased shortly after college, to various crockpots, a pasta maker, bread machine, waffle makers, and a panini press, various machines have made their way into my cupboards. Some have stood the test of time, while others have ended up donated or broken.

These days my primary concern when deciding whether or not to invest in a new kitchen is cupboard space... especially  here in my small Florida kitchen. (I'm still undecided about the InstaPot and welcome your thoughts.)  Last spring, after months of deliberation, I finally purchased a spiralizer. We have been trying to eat more vegetables and cut down on carbs, and spiralizing seemed like a creative way to advance the cause. I was right!

The spiralizer//

Many are available on amazon, and they vary widely in price, number of blades, and durability. I compared countless product reviews before purchasing the moderately priced OXO Good Grips 3-Blade Spiralizer with StrongHold Suction. (Please note: I am not an amazon affiliate.) The three standard blades offer all the variety I need... basically,  spaghetti, fettucine, and ribbon cuts. And I am especially impressed with the suction - it stays in placed beautifully!

I like this particular model so much, I bought a second one to give as a Christmas gift and then a third for my Florida kitchen.

The recipes//

There are entire cookbooks devoted to spiralized recipes and Inspiralized: Turn Vegetables into Healthy, Creative, Satisfying Meals by Ali Maffucci appears to be "the Bible." I bought a copy of this book for myself and one to go with the spiralizer I gave as a gift, BUT it wasn't necessary. All the recipes you need are available online.

Zucchini noodles, or zoodles, are quick and easy... heat some olive oil, sauté a little garlic, toss in the the zoodles, season, and you're done in 5 minutes.

Here are my current favorite recipes, all available online:

This is from (the best recipe source) and is a new favorite. I've made it twice in the last two weeks.

Recipe and photo from skinnytaste... so quick, so easy, so delicious! I used the orange fettuccine blade for this one.

... a perfect cold side salad from peas & crayons. Scroll down for recipe.

Recipe and photo from (again). Lots of ingredients in the recipe, but oh so good.

I've lost count on how many times I've made this one. It's from Cookie and Kate and is my daughters' favorite.

A vegetarian meal idea from next time I might try spinach instead of kale and use
gruyere cheese. I thought this was an excellent meal, but my husband missed having meat.

Do you spiralize? Would you like to?

Weekend Cooking, hosted at Beth Fish Reads, is open to anyone who has any kind of food-related post to share: Book (novel, nonfiction) reviews, cookbook reviews, movie reviews, recipes, random thoughts, gadgets, quotations, photographs. If your post is even vaguely foodie, feel free to grab the button and link up anytime over the weekend. You do not have to post on the weekend. Please link to your specific post, not your blog's home page.


Tuesday, January 31, 2017

An Invitation to the #PalliserParty

Audrey and I are throwing a #PalliserParty and you're invited! We had so much fun reading Anthony Trollope's Chronicles of Barsetshire in 2015 that we decided to give the Pallisers a try... and Audrey even created a badge to make us official!

Like the Chronicles of Barsetshire, there are six novels in the Palliser series. Unlike the ecclesiastical leaning of the #6Barsets, the Pallisers are sometimes referred to as Trollope's Parliamentary Novels.
The common threads throughout the series are the wealthy aristocrat and politician Plantagenet Palliser, and his wife, Lady Glencora. The plots involve British and Irish politics in varying degrees, specifically in and around Parliament. The Pallisers do not always play major roles, and in The Eustace Diamonds they merely comment on the main action.
The Palliser novels include:

Can You Forgive Her? (1864)
Phineas Finn (1869)
The Eustace Diamonds (1873)
Phineas Redux (1874)
The Prime Minister (1876)
The Duke's Children (1879)

With #6Barsets we read one book every two months, but plan to keep it even more flexible with this series. There will be no formal check-ins or discussion questions. We simply chat on twitter using the hashtag #PalliserParty as we read.

As a little teaser, here is the first paragraph of Can You Forgive Her?
The goodreads summary is here.



Mr. Vavasor and His Daughter.
 Whether or no, she, whom you are to forgive, if you can, did or did not belong to the Upper Ten Thousand of this our English world, I am not prepared to say with any strength of affirmation. By blood she was connected with big people,—distantly connected with some very big people indeed, people who belonged to the Upper Ten Hundred if there be any such division; but of these very big relations she had known and seen little, and they had cared as little for her. Her grandfather, Squire Vavasor of Vavasor Hall, in Westmoreland, was a country gentleman, possessing some thousand a year at the outside, and he therefore never came up to London, and had no ambition to have himself numbered as one in any exclusive set. A hot-headed, ignorant, honest old gentleman, he lived ever at Vavasor Hall, declaring to any who would listen to him, that the country was going to the mischief, and congratulating himself that at any rate, in his county, parliamentary reform had been powerless to alter the old political arrangements. Alice Vavasor, whose offence against the world I am to tell you, and if possible to excuse, was the daughter of his younger son; and as her father, John Vavasor, had done nothing to raise the family name to eminence, Alice could not lay claim to any high position from her birth as a Vavasor. John Vavasor had come up to London early in life as a barrister, and had failed. He had failed at least in attaining either much wealth or much repute, though he had succeeded in earning, or perhaps I might better say, in obtaining, a livelihood. He had married a lady somewhat older than himself, who was in possession of four hundred a year, and who was related to those big people to whom I have alluded. Who these were and the special nature of the relationship, I shall be called upon to explain hereafter, but at present it will suffice to say that Alice Macleod gave great offence to all her friends by her marriage. She did not, however, give them much time for the indulgence of their anger. Having given birth to a daughter within twelve months of her marriage, she died, leaving in abeyance that question as to whether the fault of her marriage should or should not be pardoned by her family.
Would you like to attend our #PalliserParty?


Sunday, January 29, 2017

Sanibel Sunday: 1/29/17

I can't believe I'm typing this, but it's a cold (low 50s), rainy morning in southwest Florida... I even turned the heat on for the first time this season! The rain should stop soon, but I'll definitely be wearing fleece on my walk today.

We enjoyed the rest of my SIL's visit... lots of beach walking, some shopping, and a couple of dinners out. Yesterday we visited Manatee Park but, with Gulf temperatures hovering around 70, we only spotted a few manatee. Last year we saw dozens, but this chilly weather may lead to better viewing next week.

I found myself totally unable to concentrate on fiction this week. The news coming out of Washington was just too distracting. Perhaps a media-free mental health day is in order... maybe even one per week.

Finished this week//

For Rachel's read-along... Part II discussion is scheduled for February 6, but I'll post my wrap-up then instead. Overall, Packer's thesis is nebulous and the reader is left to form their own conclusions, but I thought it was very well done.

Current reading//

God's Kingdom by Howard Frank Mosher

When I said I haven't been able to concentrate on fiction, I meant this book. It sat untouched on the nightstand all week. I finally picked it up and read another chapter last night. The subject matter is a little outside my norm, but it held my attention and the writing is very good.

Up next//

Can You Forgive Her? by Anthony Trollope

The #PalliserParty is about to begin. Audrey even made a badge! I plan to start Can You Forgive Her?  tomorrow. The ebook is on my kindle and the audiobook (narrated by Simon Vance) is on my phone, so I'm ready. Look for a formal kick-off post this week... though the readalong will be anything but formal.

On the blog//
A Readalong: The Unwinding, Part 1

In the kitchen//

With the weather suddenly cooler, I decided to make soup and ended up choosing a new recipe. This Creamy White Chicken Chili from Gimme Some Oven  was delicious. I used frozen corn instead of canned, and will add a full cup instead of just half next time.

And I really am working on a Weekend Cooking post about my spiralizer...

Photo of the week//

This week's beach find... a spiny sea urchin! The little creature was still alive, so I put him back. Zelda was  unimpressed.

The week ahead//

Our oldest daughter arrives on Friday for a long weekend... I'm so excited! She'll celebrate her birthday with us on Super Bowl Sunday, and has a list of her favorite restaurants and shops ready. And there will plenty of beach time, too! If I'm not around with a Sanibel Sunday post next week, you'll know why!

How was your week? What are you reading today?

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

A Readalong: The Unwinding, Part 1

The Unwinding: An Inner History of the New America
by George Packer

Shortly after Election Day, The New York Times published an article entitled "6 Books to Help Understand Trump’s Win".  I'd recently read one of the books (Hillbilly Elegy) and added another (White Trash) to my wish list when I discovered Rachel's year-long readalong of all six. While I can't commit to them all, I am on board for the first.

What's The Unwinding about?
I'll borrow from the goodreads summary... it's long, but explains it better than I can.
American democracy is beset by a sense of crisis. Seismic shifts during a single generation have created a country of winners and losers, allowing unprecedented freedom while rending the social contract, driving the political system to the verge of breakdown, and setting citizens adrift to find new paths forward. In The Unwinding, George Packer... tells the story of the United States over the past three decades in an utterly original way, with his characteristically sharp eye for detail and gift for weaving together complex narratives. 
The Unwinding journeys through the lives of several Americans, including Dean Price, the son of tobacco farmers, who becomes an evangelist for a new economy in the rural South; Tammy Thomas, a factory worker in the Rust Belt trying to survive the collapse of her city; Jeff Connaughton, a Washington insider oscillating between political idealism and the lure of organized money; and Peter Thiel, a Silicon Valley billionaire who questions the Internet's significance and arrives at a radical vision of the future. Packer interweaves these intimate stories with biographical sketches of the era's leading public figures, from Newt Gingrich to Jay-Z, and collages made from newspaper headlines, advertising slogans, and song lyrics that capture the flow of events and their undercurrents. 
The Unwinding portrays a superpower in danger of coming apart at the seams, its elites no longer elite, its institutions no longer working, its ordinary people left to improvise their own schemes for success and salvation. Packer's novelistic and kaleidoscopic history of the new America is his most ambitious work to date.
My initial thoughts:

I enjoy listening to nonfiction and borrowed this audiobook from my library via Overdrive. It begins with a short prologue (read by the author, the rest of the book is narrated by Robert Fass) which lays out his basic claim that the way of life we have known in America is "unwinding" before our eyes. Packer captured my attention with these few pages and I decided to purchase the ebook for a read/listen combination.

As Part I begins we are introduced to several Americans, both private citizens and public figures. The section continues as a series of alternating biographies. Each one is interesting individually and, taken together, represent a broad cross-section of American life.

About the structure:

This type of structure - the examining an event or time period through experiences of specific individuals -  has been successful for me in the past. The example that comes to mind is the 1985 book Common Ground: A Turbulent Decade in the Lives of Three American Families by J. Anthony Lukas, a Pulitzer Prize winner which tells story of the busing crisis in Boston. (I credit that book with my adult rediscovery of nonfiction... it's excellent.)

The life stories Packer chooses to highlight illustrate geographic, economic, and racial diversity. He seems to be painting an overall picture of economic, social, and political instability.

Bottom line:
I'm not quite sure how this book might increase my understanding of Trump's victory, or even how these personal stories connect to prove the author's thesis, but it certainly makes for interesting reading.

I'm curious to see what Parts II and III hold.

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Sanibel Sunday: 1/22/17

Our first full week in Sanibel has been a blur of sunshine, white sandy beaches, and time with the family. Readjusting to island life was surprisingly easy! I'm trying to get into a routine of  listening to an audiobook on my morning walk and reading (or at least trying) for an hour most afternoons.

Last night we helped friends celebrate their 50th wedding anniversary... a very memorable evening. Storms and high winds are in the forecast this afternoon and evening. The Sunday farmers market dinner will go on, but we'll avoid grilling just in case.

Finished this week//

The Mothers by Britt Bennett

Set in a contemporary southern California beach town, the main characters in this novel share ties to a black community church. "The Mothers" refers to a group of influential, but gossipy, older church women. Many serious issues are explored in The Mothers - family, love, loss, grief, friendship, secrets, and more - but it would be incorrect to say the novel is about any one of them.

The main thing to know is that Brit Bennett's writing is excellent! In fact, the writing is the real star of this debut novel. After reading just two or three pages, I already had several passages marked. The characters rang true and, despite some frustration with their bad choices, I enjoyed the story very much.

It's hard to believe the author was only 25 when she wrote this book. I'd say Brit Bennet's future looks bright!

My rating: 

Current reading//

God's Kingdom by Howard Frank Mosher

This is the first book from my Book Culture Selects quarterly paperback fiction subscription - a very thoughtful Christmas present from my daughter.

Set in a rural Vermont area bordering Canada known as Northeast Kingdom, the twelve chapters of this book make up twelve fragments of Kinneson family history. They are descendants of abolitionists and whiskey distillers, but the stories center on Jim Kinneson during his adolescent years in the 1950s.  Not something I would have chosen for myself but, after three chapters,  I am enjoying it.

For Rachel's readalong...  I'm approaching this as a read/listen combination and just passed the 50% mark. Look for my thoughts on Part I this week.

Up next//

Can You Forgive Her? by Anthony  Trollope
Remember how much I loved Trollope's Barsetshire Chronicles? Well, the #PalliserParty will begin at the end of the month. Feel free to read along... the more the merrier!

On the blog//
Review: Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi

In the kitchen//

My favorite meal this week came from I use my spiralizer frequently at home and decided to purchase one for my Florida kitchen, too. (I foresee a Weekend Cooking post in the near future!) Anyway, this Lemon-Dill Zucchini Pasta with Shrimp and Capers was absolutely delicious. After the prep, cooking took less than ten minutes.

Photo of the week//

Ibis on the beach

How was your week? What are you reading?


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