Friday, February 28, 2014

Doesn't Everyone Belong to a Book Club?

I love to read.  And it has always been that way.  Some of my fondest memories of childhood involve trading Nancy Drew mysteries with my friends or curling up to start a new book after the book mobile visited our neighborhood.  I took my love of reading with me throughout my life journey.  There is no doubt about it, books have taken me to places I could never have gone without them.

Several years ago, my daughter and I decided gather a few friends each month for a book discussion. We each invited a few friends who liked to read and soon we had a book club.  Our members range in age from 35 to 73.

Now, almost seven years later, we number 15.  We meet once a month, rotate houses, and, we actually DO discuss the book!

All but two of the original twelve members are still active in the group and we have a good turn-out each month.

Here are some  of our secrets to success if you are thinking about starting a book club.

** Invite people of different generations to join.  Having women from several different age groups has added an interesting element to our discussions and stimulated conversations we would not have had without the age diversity.

** Decide on a time and date for meetings and keep to the schedule.  For example, we meet on the second Tuesday of each month - no exceptions.  This eliminates the need to constantly decide on a day and time when everyone is free.


** Allow for socializing at the beginning of the meeting, followed by the book discussion, followed by more socializing and then a wrap-up (about the book) Our meetings run about two and one half to three hours.

** We meet in someone's house, and with 12 or more members the task of entertaining comes once a year or less. The hostess chooses the book(and the wine)

** Choose books that stimulate discussion and provoke opinion.

** Use email to communicate. I send out a reminder about two weeks before the meeting, with the name of the book, and the place where we are meeting.

** Wine.

** We have our December 'meeting' in a restaurant to celebrate  Christmas and another year of reading.  At the Christmas dinner, we discuss our favorites from the previous year and vote on the top book of the year.  We begin to plan the coming year and some years we do a book exchange.  Everyone who wants to participate brings a book that they have read and liked for a grab bag.

Some of our favorite books and the discussions that resulted were:

'Unbroken' by Laura Hillenbrand

'One Thousand White Women' by Jim Fergus

'Kite Runner' by Khaled Hosseini

'Room' by Emma Donoghue

'Still Alice' by Lisa Genova

'Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks' by Rebecca Skoot

'Book Thief' by Markus Zusak

'The Secrets of Mary Bowser' by Lois Leveen

'Poisonwood Bible'  by Barbara Kingsolver

'The Paris Wife' by Paula McLain

 At our next meeting, we are discussing a book called 'What Alice Forgot,' a story about a young woman who forgets the previous ten years of her life.  I can hardly wait to talk about it!

Do you belong to a book club?

Monday, February 17, 2014

Winter Skywatching

 Sometimes the sky is the only relief from the drabness of the winter landscape.  I distract myself a bit from dreaming of spring colors by looking up especially at sunrise and sunset!   These photos are straight out of the camera.

 Taken at sunset, facing east!

These trees seem to be glowing.

A striped sunset in the western sky.

Every evening, a different palette!

  This storm was truly epic! The flakes were the size of small snowballs and it actually looked like the sky was falling!  

Skywatching, a photographer's answered prayer, is for winter weary eyes!

Thursday, February 13, 2014

A Day At The Beach

It seems there are snow storms raging across a large swath of the country this
winter.  The frigid winds are even blowing across the southeast with a vengeance and many snowbirds who thought they had escaped are finding out once again what winter feels like.  

So, I see no reason to post photos of the snow that is piling up on my garden. You've seen one picture of snow, you've seen them all.  Today I'm taking you on a photo trip to an ocean beach not far from where I live.  

We were there a few weeks ago, on a mild winter afternoon, in between snow storms.  I am fascinated by the landscape, the vegetation and the endlessly changing sky at the beach.  

These beach plums shrubs will glow with lovely white blossoms in a few short months.  Right now they paint black lines across the winter sky.

The grasses continue to stand all winter turning to the color of wheat by mid-winter.

We were lucky.  There was no wind and the temperature was in the 40's.  We walked and walked until the sun hung low on the horizon and the sky became even more photogenic.

And just a glimpse of the golden sunset reflecting off the water, is enough to feed my spirit until spring.

A few days after we visited the beach, I read that there are some snowy owls wintering at West End where we walked.  Next time we are taking the binoculars!

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

A Stick-To-Your-Ribs Recipe For a Snow Day

    First it was a snow storm.  Next came an ice storm.  Winter has been showing its teeth the past  few weeks. (No surprise!  It is the middle of winter and I do live in the northeast!)

  As a result,  I have been digging into my recipe box for some hearty one-dish meals to warm us after an afternoon of shoveling.

We are blessed to have one of the daughters and her family staying with us for a few months while they wait for their new home to be ready.  It was hard at first for me to remember how to cook for more than two people, but I'm getting the hang of it.  Making soup is always a sure bet! And I've been making buckets and buckets of it! Delicious. Nutritious. And enough to feed an army!

This recipe is perfect for a wintry day. It has just enough meat in it to add lots of flavor and to satisfy the carnivores, but it is also loaded with healthy veggies and beans.  The Italians call it Pasta Fagioli.  I call it delicious!


3 tsp. olive oil
6 oz. canadian bacon  or cooked ham
3 onions
5 carrots
4 stalks celery
3 cloves of garlic
28 oz. can of chopped tomatoes
4 cups stock or water stock or water
2 15 oz cans cannellini beans
1 bay leaf
1&1/2 tsp rosemary
salt and pepper to taste
1 cup pasta 9uncooked)
Parmigiano cheese (rind)

Heat the oil add chopped veggies, garlic, chopped ham and saute for about 5-8 minutes.  Add bay leaf, rosemary and cook another 1-2 minutes.  Add all  the other ingredients except the pasta. Cook for about 30 minutes.  Season with lots of black pepper and salt if needed.  Remove rind and cut into small pieces and return it to the soup.  Before serving, cook pasta al dente and add to the soup pot.  Serve with grated cheese and a good loaf of Italian bread.

So while the snow and freezing rain were pelting down outside, we enjoyed the view from a nice warm porch while scarfing down big bowls of warm soup and watching our six month old grandson scarf down his oatmeal!

It went so fast, I didn't have time to take a photo - of the soup or the oatmeal!

Saturday, February 1, 2014

These Are a Few of My Favorite Winter Herbs and Spices

In winter, I keep both the teapot and the soup pot filled.  Warm liquids are, in my opinion, the key to staying healthy in the winter.  

After growing, harvesting, drying and blending my herbs, I find plenty of uses for them when the weather is cold.  

My favorite beverage is tea.  I enjoy my black tea in the morning because it has just the right amount of caffeine to get me going, but the rest of the day, I drink herbal teas.  Some of my favorite herbs for tea are listed below and I blend them, depending on how we are feeling that day.  

ginger 1,2,4,5
garlic 2,5
elderberry 2
lemon balm 1,2,3,4
cinnamon 1, 5, 6
turmeric, 1,4,5
rose hips 2, 6 
chamomile  1, 2, 3, 4
fennel 1,5,6
mint 1, 2, 5, 6
hot chili pepper (cayenne) 1,2,4, 5
hibiscus flowers 2,3,6
lemon verbena 1,2,3,4,5,6

1) warming, stomach soothing
2) cold and flu
3) sedating
4) aches and pains
5) cooking
6) flavoring for tea

Making Herbal Tea :  To make a  ginger, mint, hibiscus, rosehips, elderberry tea for signs and symptoms of a cold - use 1-2 teaspoons of each herb for a pot of tea.  Add fresh ginger to the cold water and boil. Then pour over the herbs.  Brew for about 10 minutes and strain.  Serve with sweetener of your choice. (I use stevia.)

Other favorite combinations:
Ginger, mint, fennel, chamomile - to settle the stomach.
Chamomile, lemon balm, lemon verbena - for sleep.
Lemon balm, ginger, hot pepper - to warm up after being out in the cold.

My favorite herbal recipe for a sore throat involves pouring boiling water over  a generous amount of thyme, sage and oregano leaves and steeping for 10 minutes.  This can be used in two ways.  If you have a sinus headache, cover the pot and your head with a towel and inhale the fumes, being careful not to burn yourself.  If your throat hurts, cool the 'tea' and gargle with it.  It works!


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