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My 5 Favorite Books of 2018

I read 80 books in 2018.  Some were great, some terrible, but most were actually good.  I have compiled a list of my 5 favorites.

  1.  The Immortalists by Chloe Benjamin: This one is my top pick for the year.  I had the privilege to meet the author at a Jodi Picoult event in October.  The story asks the question, do you have control over your future, or is it predetermined?  I feel pretty confident that we will be seeing more books from this Wisconsin author in the future.
  2. Heart Spring Mountain by Robin MacArthur: Three generations of women tell their story in rural Vermont.  The story begins when Vale returns to her home after Tropical Storm Irene to search for her mother.
  3. My Year of Rest and Relaxation by Otessa Moshfegh: A woman who decides to spend a year sleeping in 2000.  Actually a very sad story about a woman who needs to escape her depression.
  4. The Boy At The Door by Alex Dahl: This book from Norway tells the story of a mysterious boy who turns up in a small Norway town and the woman who takes him in.  I love books from Scandinavia, they have an eeriness to them that I don’t find in American books.
  5. Hope Never Dies by Andrew Shaffer: This one is just for fun.  Imagine Barack Obama and Joe Biden as super sleuths in Washington D.C. and the surrounding area.  I laughed a lot and felt an odd comfort reading about them as a team again.

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Recipes

Brussels Sprouts and Bacon

brussel sprouts and baconI know that the picture above is not the best looking food picture ever, but don’t let that dissuade you from trying my brussels sprouts.  We were almost done with dinner and when I thought to take a picture, so this is what was left.   As a general rule Brussels sprouts are healthy, these are probably not real great for the heart, but boy are they good.

When I was a kid, I hated these vegetables more than any other.  I avoided them like the plague and allowed myself to avoid them until recently.  My kids and I were at a restaurant for dinner and these were on the menu.  The bacon and blue cheese convinced me that they would be safe to try.  I am officially converted, however toxic the recipe may be.

Brussels Sprouts and Bacon

1 pound brussels sprouts

1 pound bacon

blue cheese

The instructions are easy.  Cut up the bacon and fry it.  Once cooked drain most of the fat.  Add the shredded brussels sprouts and fry in the bacon until crispy.  Add blue cheese to taste.

We ate these with salmon and quinoa in an effort to cancel out the bad fat.

 

Homesteading

So Many Eggs

eggs

Our chickens are having a very prolific first winter.  We are getting several eggs every week, which we are so grateful for. It has been several weeks since I needed to purchase additional eggs from the grocery store.   For years, I purchased brown eggs because I liked the color.  Our chickens are laying every color of the rainbow it seems.  It is hard to believe the shades of blues and tans that they are laying.  So beautiful.

This morning I hard boiled 6 eggs and made deviled eggs out of them.  I don’t know if they actually taste better than what I can get at the store, or if it is my imagination.  Either way, they are a true gift.

It is at least 40 degrees in Wisconsin today, so the chickens are wandering around the yard looking for scraps to eat.  I am confident that they appreciate the exercise and sunshine as much as any of us would.  Honestly, they are more trustworthy than dogs.  If I let my dogs out to wander, I would never see them again.  But those 4 girls are reliable and stay in our yard.

Eric also checked out the hives today, since the weather is cooperating.  He said all 4 hives remain active and he is optimistic that they will survive the winter.  Only a couple more months and we can venture back into the yard and enjoy the warm weather.

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Self Care

I recently finished the book Nine Perfect Strangers by Liane Moriarty.  It was a 5 star book, in my opinion.  As an author, she never fails to write great books.  That however, is not the point to what I am writing.  There was a line in the book, that I am paraphrasing, that has had me thinking.  A character had a heart attack and a nurse said that they always know which men will improve their health after such an event based on the condition of their facial hair.  A man who takes the time to groom himself is a man who will embrace the healthy lifestyle needed to survive.  The character immediately shaves her legs and for those who have read the book, takes a healthy lifestyle to levels of absolute crazy.

When I finished the book, I shaved my legs.  I also realized how true that statement is.  Self care and a healthy lifestyle should be the cornerstone of everything we do.  I know that I am guilty of indulging a bit too much on everything.  I don’t exercise nearly enough and I will let stress get to me more than it should.  Yoga, a form of exercise and relaxation, which I actually love doing, is nothing more than an occasional activity for me.  I also have been told a number of times that I need to start strength training.  I love it when 21-year-old personal trainers tell their 40 something clients that we are losing muscle mass due to our age.  I know that, I just hate doing it.  But, I should listen, she is just trying to help.  I will get on a treadmill, but tend to walk at a leisurely pace, I don’t actually think that is the point of a treadmill.

I think I need to really decide what kind of activities I love that will lead me to a healthier lifestyle.  I would love to hear what others do.  Is it yoga? Pilates? Hiking? NO RUNNING though.  The only time I will be seen running, a bear will be behind me.  I read over and over again that you have to find a form of exercise you love in order for it to truly stick, so I need to hear what people do, that they love.  I hate for this to sound like I am making some kind of resolution.  It just so happens that I finished the book December 30th (I think), so the timing is coincidental.

 

IMG_3870My dad walking on the beach on Lake Michigan.  His favorite self care ritual

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My 2019 Goal

mug and teaThis year for Christmas, my mom came through.  A mug and a box of tea.  This simple gift told me that she really knows me, understands what makes me happy and appreciates the activity that brings me the most calm.  A cup of  tea while reading a book.

Very few things in life bring me as much joy as reading a really good book.  I am a bit embarrassed to admit that when my children were little, I remember telling them to find something to do so “mommy can finish her book”.  This is no longer a request I have to make, but I would probably continue to do that if I had to.  Reading calms my nerves and relaxes me after a long day.  It is an escape when needed and takes me to places I have never been to.

2018 was a really stressful year.  As all families, we had our sources of personal sadness and stress, but those are not what I am speaking of.  The world as a whole has been a stressful place.  As an American, I am constantly on the edge of fear, never knowing what certain leaders, who shall remain nameless, will do.  I worry about the world we are destroying for our grandchildren.  I am not embarrassed or ashamed to say that these worries have stolen more than a couple of hours of sleep.  I tell myself I can’t do anything about what happens, so I shouldn’t worry.  Funny how that doesn’t work.  I am also very aware that we can all make a difference if we work together and make individual choices that will encourage change.  At this point, our awareness of the choices we make might actually make a noticeable difference.  Do I believe that one person choosing to enact Meatless Mondays will change the world?  No.  But a million people making that choice will.

My goal, not resolution, for 2019 is to calm these worries.  I plan on reading more positive books, enjoying a bit more tea, spending precious time with my family and friends and living in the moment.   I will continue to make lifestyle choices that I believe are healthy for the environment and will vote with my dollars.   That is really all I can do.  But, setting all that aside, I will continue hope that 2020 brings my nation a change of guard that might calm the worries of the last 2 years.

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Potato Leek Soup and Lavender Cornbread

Recently I decided that Sundays would officially be soup night in my house.  Winters are long and cold and nothing tastes better than soup on a winter’s night.  Tonight I made Potato Leek Soup.  It was creamy, delicious and not at all fattening (that’s a lie, I love butter).

Potato Leek Soup

3 tbsp salted butter

2 leeks

1/2 cup celery

3 pounds golden Yukon potatoes

4 cups chicken broth (I used Penzey’s chicken soup stock base)

1/4 cup heavy whipping cream

1 tbsp dried rosemary

salt and pepper

 

In stock pot, heat 3 tbsp butter.  Saute leeks and celery in butter about 3-4 minutes.  Add salt and pepper to taste.  Add chicken stock, rosemary and potatoes, boil  until potatoes are soft.  With immersion blender, blend to desired consistency.  Add whipping cream.

Potato Leek Soup

 

I also made Lavender Cornbread.  This recipe was made up and had it been a disaster, it would not be on this blog.  Instead, it turned out perfectly.

Lavender Cornbread

1-1/4 cup all-purpose flour

3/4 cup corn meal

1/4 cup sugar

1 tsp baking powder

1 tsp baking soda

1 cup buttermilk

1/4 canola oil

1 egg

1 tbsp dried lavender (I use Penzey’s lavender)

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.  Grease a skillet.  Combine the dry ingredients.  Stir in milk, oil and egg.  Once mixed, add lavender.  Pour into prepared skillet.  Bake 25 minutes or until golden.  Serve with honey and butter.

Lavender Corn Bread

This meal made the perfect Sunday dinner for a cozy night.

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Time Sure Goes By Fast

It has been several weeks since I have written.  Life has a way of getting in the way of our best intentions and before you know it, 6 weeks have passed.  Without getting into details, several things have come up which needed my attention.  We seem to have reached a point of quiet, so I can get back to the projects I wish to try, the recipes I can’t wait to make and my desire to enjoy the short days and long nights ahead.

Tomorrow is Halloween!  It was on Halloween night 1997 that I went into the hospital to have my first baby.  To the frustration of my doctor, my husband and myself, he did not make his appearance until November 4th!  It was not actually 5 days of labor, I went in at about 11:30 pm on Halloween and he was born just after midnight on the 4th, but 3 days was long enough.  Thankfully, his sisters did not need as much time.

We all say time flies, but I truly cannot believe how fast 21 years have gone by.  I remember when my son was a couple weeks old I was sitting on the couch with him and was watching Oprah.  A guest said “cherish your babies for as long as you can because they grow up so fast.” I looked down at him, tired, still in a lot of a pain and thought “there is no way this time is going to go by fast.”  Exhaustion has way of making you not see things so clearly.  Fast forward 21 years and here I am with 3 kids, 2 who are adults in college and one who got her driver’s license 2 weeks ago.   I am less than 2 years away from being an empty nester and while that makes me sad in a lot of ways, it also makes me excited about the future.

I have a bucket list started with all the things I want to do.  It has some of the obvious things, go to Paris.  But I also have read the book “Infinite Jest” by David Foster Wallace.  That will probably prove to be more difficult than going to Paris.  Have you seen the size of that book?  I have never seen the Northern Lights or been to New Orleans, both things that I have added to my list.  So much to do and just not enough time or money to do it all.  I am going to try to start knocking the easy stuff off now, we all know that tomorrow is not promised.  Accidents happen and sometimes we lose loved ones without notice.

I would highly recommend adding a bucket list to your journal so you have an idea of things you want to do on our one trip on this planet.

 

 

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Fall……My Favorite Time Of The Year

A few weeks ago, we had several days in a row of drenching rain.  With that, came so many mosquitoes that it is impossible to spend more than a couple of minutes at a time outside.  It feels like the start of summer instead of the end.  Mind you, I am not complaining.  Hurricane Florence had a way of putting this into perspective.  My heart goes out the people who have had to endure what true drenching rain is, we are merely inconvenienced right now.

I am however, anxiously awaiting Autumn.  This truly is my favorite time of year.  I like the crisp mornings, pumpkin everything (except the pumpkin spice bologna I read is a thing), apple cider and going to the local farms for apple and pumpkin picking.   When my kids were little, I used to take them to every fall activity I could find.  It seemed our days were filled with pumpkin patches, petting zoos, apple picking and corn mazes.  Now that they are older, 2 of them moved out, these activities are no longer a guarantee.   That doesn’t mean that I have not adapted to find my new fall routine.  A recent trip to Trader Joe’s reminded me of all the things this season has to offer, and I don’t have to share the Pumpkin Ice Cream with my son!41699993_10213262099772451_3586131180572901376_n.jpg

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The Zucchini Is Winning

Anybody who has ever planted zucchini in their garden, knows the struggle is real.  As of today, we are losing a battle against the zucchini that seems to appear out of nowhere, hours after harvest.  We plant it every year because it is a reliable vegetable, we know that when all else fails, we will have zucchini for weeks to provide us with vegetables.  However, this reliable plant is not easily preserved, so for several weeks from mid summer to early autumn, I find myself in search of creative and tasty recipes that call for zucchini.  Today, I found something in a cookbook, but changed it a bit so that I could use ingredients I have on hand.  Not sure what to name it, maybe Dammit, I Have More Zucchini.

2 Medium Zucchini, sliced

Several tomatoes, chopped

Handful of Basil

Bread Crumbs (I used the ignored end pieces of bread in my pantry)

Parmesan Cheese (As much as you want to help the zucchini taste better)

salt and pepper

 

Layer the zucchini and tomatoes as you would lasagna.  Top off with bread crumbs, basil and cheese.  Bake at 350 degrees for 20 minutes.

I have not baked it yet, I leave for work in a bit so my husband will cook it.  We will be eating this for dinner with a side salad of tomatoes and the other summer over producer, cucumbers.  My 16-year-old will be thrilled to be eating another meal that includes all these ingredients.

dish

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Zucchini Brownies

This is a great recipe for when you want to make something delicious out of a vegetable. I know that I am not a fan of zucchini, but I really like these brownies.

I got this recipe from crazyforcrust.com

Ingredients

For brownies:

2 cups of all purpose flour

1/2 cup of cocoa powder

1 1/2 teaspoons of baking soda

1 teaspoon of salt

1/2 cup of vegetable oil

1 1/2 cups of sugar

2 teaspoons of vanilla extract

2 cups of shredded zucchini (This would be one large zucchini or two small smaller zucchinis)

3-5 tablespoons of water

1/2 cup of chopped walnuts (optional)

For frosting:

3 tablespoons of cocoa powder

1/4 cup of melted butter

2 cups of powdered sugar

1/4 cup of milk

1 tablespoon of vanilla extract

A pinch of salt

Direction:

Preheat the oven at 350 degrees F. Spray a 9×13 baking pan and set it aside.

Whisk the flour, cocoa, baking soda, and salt together in a medium sized bowl and set it aside.

Use an electric mixer with a paddle attachment and mix the oil, sugar, and vanilla together until well combined. Then add the dry ingredients and stir. Fold in the zucchini and let it sit for  a few minutes so the moisture is absorbed by the zucchini. If the mixture is still powdery add up to 5 tablespoons of water, starting with 1. The batter should be thick. Add walnuts and then spread batter into the pan.

Bake for 25-30 minutes.

Make the frosting by whisking the butter, cocoa, salt, and powdered sugar. Whisk in the milk and vanilla. Allow the brownies to cool and then spread the frosting over them.

This is the whole recipe and it is very easy to make, and they are so good!

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