Check out my book reviews!

books

Hello everyone!  Just wanted to remind you that I have five book reviews so far this year, listed under the tab “Books 2016”, located at the top of the page.  I’ve read a few good ones already!!!!  I set a personal goal to read more and compute less (less computer time) and have been doing fairly well on that front I’m happy to report. I normally have at least two books going – one you can hold in your hand, and one on my Kindle.  I’m also listening to a delightful audio book at the moment, which I hope to review in the next week or so.  Just got a notice from my wonderful local library that a MUCH awaited book is ready for pick-up… it’s the brand new one by Pulitzer Prize winner, Elizabeth Strout called My Name is Lucy Barton. Keeping my fingers crossed that this new novel is half as good as the one that won the Pulitzer, Olive Kitteridge – what a great read that was!!!!

Making my own Kefir

I’ve done it!  I’ve successfully started culturing my own kefir!  So here’s a short Q & A on the basics of kefir….

  • What is kefir?  It’s a fermented milk drink full of very healthy probiotics.
  • Why not just eat yogurt if you want healthy probiotics?  Because kefir contains many additional probiotics, not found in yogurt.
  • Why do people want to ingest probiotics anyway?  Probiotics are excellent for immune health and particularly for me, they help keep my digestive system working properly. This is particularly important for folks like me with diverticulosis – we do NOT want diverticulosis turning into diverticulitis!
  • What does it look like?  I’ll post pictures below, but milk kefir looks like somewhat thickened milk.
  • What does it taste like?  I drink my milk kefir plain because I enjoy the slightly tangy taste. It also tastes a tiny bit “yeasty” and you can feel a bit of effervescence in it as well.  Many people like to disguise the flavor by adding fruit and making a smoothie. Since I like it plain, I don’t, but I won’t rule out the possibility for the future!
  • Why do you keep saying “milk kefir”?  Because there is also “water kefir”.  Water kefir is cultured slightly differently – I haven’t tried it yet, but plan to.  It makes a fruity, almost soda-like probiotic beverage.
  • Why did you start making milk kefir? Couldn’t you buy it at the store?  Yes, most stores carry kefir (plain and flavored) in the natural foods section of the store…. I’d heard it was easy to do at home, and so now, just for the price of milk, I’m making my own. Also, I started with milk kefir because it’s the easiest to do!
  • How long does it take?  It takes approximately 24 hours for about 1.5 cups of milk to culture into kefir. It sits out on the kitchen counter the entire time. If your kitchen is warmer it might culture faster, cooler may take a bit longer.

So here we go, let’s make some kefir!  First off, the photo below shows the kefir “grains”. They are not acutally made of grain, just for the record.  They are a culture of bacteria and yeast. I got mine from a company called Cultures for Health and they came to me in dehydrated form. I rehydrated them in milk over a period of about 3 days.  The kefir grains grow, the more kefir you make, so pretty soon you have MORE than you probably need – or you can start culturing more milk at a time.

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In the next photo, you can see the cultured milk that is now kefir on the left.  I’m about to strain those precious kefir grains out of the kefir, so I can start another batch. The jars are pint size, although they look more like quart size in the pic. The strainer is made of plastic, including the mesh. Apparently you should never touch your culture with metal of any kind.

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Below, you can see that I’ve begun the straining process, carefully saving the kefir grains for the next batch.

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Here is the strained kefir, in a clean jar, covered with a plastic lid, ready to go into the fridge.  I think it tastes better cool or cold, so I don’t normally drink the room temperature stuff.  Although one could if one desired to!

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And here we have the next batch beginning.  The kefir grains have been added to milk to begin the culturing process. I use a paper coffee filter over the top, secured with a rubber band.  This way the kefir can “breathe”. The instructions made it clear that the top needs to be left open while culturing.

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I’m pretty excited about this little project.  It’s good for me, and saves me money, and the kefir grains supposedly last a year (or longer) if cared for properly.  When I feel like I’ve got enough for a few days, I can put my kefir grains “to sleep” in the fridge in some milk for up to two weeks. I’m still in the process of learning to make cultured and fermented foods, so there will probably be more on this subject as the year progresses!

Just a reminder — my 2016 book reviews are now at the top of the blog, under the heading “BOOKS 2016”. :)

 

 

Beginning my de-clutter journey

So I’ve done it. I’ve read the very popular book about the magic of tidying up and keeping things that ‘spark joy’ (see my book review under “Books 2016” tab at top of page).  While I didn’t agree with or even understand the whole concept, I do know that I’m definitely IN for the de-clutter challenge of 2016.  Well, that’s what I’m calling it, anyway.  I also started a de-clutter challenge with a really sweet YouTuber, Jen.  She gives us (the viewers)  tasks to accomplish five days a week and so far I’ve done pretty good.  Which brings us to this:

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This is the contents of my junk drawer.  What a huge pile of….. junk!  Some of it is definitely useful, so it couldn’t all just GO.  By the way, the author of the aforementioned tidying book says she does NOT believe in junk drawers. Okay. That’s fine, but I wanted to keep my junk drawer – the deal is, I just wanted to open the drawer and be able to find my junk!  Here’s another view of the mass of stuff that had found it’s way into the drawer:

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Actually, it’s hard to believe I was physically able to cram all this paraphernalia into one single area. It’s embarrassing that I’d amassed such a conglomeration of useful things mixed in with total garbage. Shame on me!  But, this is not about shaming, it’s about keeping useful things and things that spark joy.  Here is a pic of me, trying to decide just exactly what that spark of joy feels like:

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The book’s author says to hold each item in your hand and decide how you feel about it. Just for the record, I kept both of the above shown items :)  A LOT of things did not make the cut. Some found better homes, with like items… but much of it ended up in the round file.  Here’s the finished look:

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Wow. I can see everything I’ve got now.  I no longer have to DIG and ROOT around for anything, and I love that feeling. I hope to keep it (and all my other drawers, cupboards, closets, and cabinets) neat in the future.  YAY!

Today’s YouTube de-clutter task was to clean out your under sink area. I should have done a before and after but I just did an after.

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Heck, it may take all year, but I am really determined to get this place into shape :)  My absolute WORST area (not counting the garage, because I am not “in charge” of the garage, someone else has to step up to that massive task…. well, I could do it, but the hubby is going to have to make some of these keep or discard decisions too) … oops, as I was saying, my worst area in the house is our home office.  It’s the 3rd bedroom that is a proverbial “catch all” for anything and everything. That’s gonna be a biggie. That project I’m saving for last. Oh my.

New Year, New Focus

 NYE SeattleHappy New Year 2016!!!  Wait.  What? 2016????  How can that be?  Seems like it was not long ago that we were welcoming in the new century, awaiting the Y2K bug, and partying like it was 1999….   yet here we are, a full 16 years later…. and happy to still be here, I might add!

Some years I enjoy documenting my New Years resolutions and this year I’m going to do just that.  To keep myself on track, I intend on doing fairly regular updates on how well I’m succeeding.  So, lets get started.

Numero UNO on my list is:  Decluttering my home.  I have spoken about this in the past, and have been marginally successful.  Maybe I should change that to minimally successful.  In the past month or so, I’ve donated two large garbage bags of clothes and the entire back end of our SUV was full of other stuff that I no longer wanted or needed. I have completely cleared out my kitchen of items I don’t use, yet there is still TOO MUCH STUFF! But friends, that is only the proverbial tip of the iceberg!  I still have closets and drawers full of (many different sized) clothes that I need to part with.  Our 3rd bedroom – AKA “the Office” – is a disaster area. From top to bottom it’s full of crap I don’t need.  Just this past weekend we gave away a large piece – a 5 foot tall “kitty condo”, lovingly made by hubby for our cat Jinx – who no longer uses it.  It’s moved about 50 miles away to our son and future daughter-in-law’s place where they have two new rescue kittens who apparently are in love with it already! :)  Yay!   Personally, I have found that when I clear out stuff, it makes me feel good.  I haven’t read the huge best seller book (yet) that’s out there about the “magic of tidying up”, but yes, it’s on reserve at the library. Since it’s so popular, I’ve been waiting for it for some time, but that’s okay. I understand she (the author) says that if something doesn’t give you “joy”, then it should go.  What gives me joy is seeing my cupboards, cabinets, and drawers cleared out to the point of being able to see what I have and access what I have and use what I have!  I will do some before and after photos of my horrendously messy office.

Numero Dos is to Eat healthier foods.  It’s easy to say that, but I’ve actually made a plan.  First off, let me divulge that I suffer from diverticulitis.  I’ve found that for me, the best way to keep “it” at bay is to add pro-biotics into my diet.  Of course there are numerous ways to do this…. Some people take probiotic pills, and while that may work well for some, it doesn’t for me.  So I’m in the process of learning about lacto-fermentation and will be making my first fermented veggies (I’m starting with carrots) soon.  I’ve been drinking kefir for months, and am just now starting to culture my own kefir using milk kefir grains and water kefir grains.  Kefir and fermented veggies provide a myriad of helpful bacteria for our bodies, our immune system, and intestinal health. When you consider that one bottle of store-bought kefir is anywhere from $3-5,  I’ll save a lot of money by making my own.  I also eat Greek yogurt which also provides a few probiotics, but not nearly as many strains as the kefir or fermented veggies. I downloaded a very informative book for my Kindle for only $2.99 called Fermented VegetablesI’ll keep you posted on how my fermenting and culturing goes!  I got my kefir grains from Amazon.com, from a company called Cultures for Health.   Not only do I plan on eating probiotics, but I’m really going to try and focus on preparing our meals from whole foods, and sometimes even organic when it’s feasible (and not insanely expensive).  I guess my main goal here is to cut out extra chemicals and additives from our diet.  I will update on that quest, as well.

Numero Tres is to compute less and read more!  I find it so easy to spend an entire afternoon on the computer, and I have a feeling that I’m in pretty good company here.  Let’s face it, fooling around on the computer is probably not the best way for one to spend their free time. I truly DO love reading.  Last year I set a goal to read 25 books.  I thought that was a reasonable, attainable ambition.  I failed.  I read 22 books, (I think).  Okay, that’s not so bad, but I’m resetting the goal for 25 books again for 2016. By the way, I do NOT count books like the Fermented Vegetables book in this list of “read books”.  I’m thinking I might put a new tab on the top of the home page here where I have an easy spot to document my reading progress and yes, I’ll call it “Books 2016”.

I think the above are pretty good goals for the upcoming year.  Oh yes, there are others, but not everything is brought to life on the blog ;-)      I’d love to hear what any of your goals, plans, hopes, and dreams are for 2016 – and Happiest of New Years to ALL!!!

It’s that time of year again……

old fashioned christmasWell, here we are again, it’s early December and it’s time for visions of sugarplums to dance in our heads…. or maybe not.   I don’t know about you, I can only speak for myself, but I’m pretty sure a lot of folks can relate – those sugarplums are NOT dancing in my head like they used to. I don’t want this to be a huge downer of a post, so if it is (to you), I apologize in advance.  So here goes….  I used to absolutely LOVE Christmas.  I loved everything whatsoever that went along with it.   I was a younger woman then, and full of energy. Before the days of computers and printers, I would simply take a piece of paper and draw a bunch of squares to make my own personal December calendar.  In each square, I’d notate which days were work days, which days we had “events” to attend, and then I’d fill the squares with tasks.  Shopping (there was no online shopping in those days), wrapping, card writing and addressing, and baking….. oh the baking!  I’d choose a cookie or candy for every free day.  If you threw in all my regular responsibilities as a wife, a mom, and a nurse, you’d see how full my days were.  The laundry, cooking, and dishes still needed to be done.  Somehow I pretty much did manage to “do it all”.  I’m quite sure neither my kids or my husband had any idea what it took to “make Christmas happen“.  What they WOULD have noticed however, would have been if it HADN’T happened.  I was young then, and thankfully full of energy.  I do distinctly recall though, that by the time New Years rolled around, I was SO GLAD it was all over.  I was exhausted. Not to say I wouldn’t pick up right where I left off and do it all again the next year…  These days things are different.  We all live through our own personal seasons of life and now all that folderol simply isn’t necessary anymore.  I used to really enjoy sitting at the kitchen table with the cards and paper spread out before me, Christmas music playing in the back ground, and doing those cards.  I still kind of enjoy it, but not like I used to. I guess I’ll blame social media for that.  We see each other regularly on Facebook, or Twitter, by text, or in emails with plenty of photo attachments.  All the news that I used to long to hear about friends and family, is now pretty much already out there.  People I send cards to also know MY comings and goings through social media… so why bother? Oh I know that’s a jaded approach.  I will still bother, mostly because it’s a tradition I like to hang on to.  But I’ve sure cut it back from years gone by.  Plus, the price of postage is ridiculous these days and that makes me think twice or three times about sending greetings either in or out of the country. We have friends and family in the US, Canada, the UK, and Australia – I adore all these people, but I won’t send each one a card like I used to.  To Canada (which is literally a stone’s throw from here!) it’s $1.10 per card.  Insane.

Many years ago, when I was just a kid, I used to feel bad about how stressed my Mom would get around the holidays. It took me becoming a mom and a full grown adult to really understand her.  She would really wig-out over preparing the big holiday dinners, Thanksgiving and Christmas.  I think the dark cloud of those dinners hanging over her head put a huge damper on how well she was able to enjoy  what should be the happiest time of the year.  Looking back, I wish I had encouraged her to skip the dinners that stressed her so.  We could go OUT for a meal {gasp!} or maybe visit someone ELSE’s home for the big get-together.  I think Mom would have enjoyed this time of year so much more, if she could have let go of those holiday dinners that she oh-so-stressed over preparing.  So, I’ve tried to learn from her mistake.  I’m cutting back on the cards.  I’m cutting back on the decor (it’s fun to put up but a royal pain to take down and put away!!!).  I’m certainly cutting back on the sweets and cookies.  We’re not hosting a Christmas party this year.  We’re cutting back on the gift-giving as well – which in turn cuts back on time shopping and wrapping!  These things make me feel so much more calm!!!  Unlike my dear Mother, I don’t stress over holiday dinners.  I still love preparing a great meal for friends or family.  I love the gatherings, I love the carols, I love just being together.  So it’s not like all of the trappings of Christmas are lost, they’re just somewhat subdued, which is really an okay thing. For me, I think it’s a great opportunity to focus a bit more on the real reason for the season, Jesus.

Mrs Sinclair’s Suitcase

mrs sinclairs suitcI recently finished this debut novel by English author Louise Walters. First off let me say that it is set during my favorite era, WWII – and particularly WWII in England.  I’d read some reviews before obtaining this book, and was pretty sure I’d enjoy it, which I did.  It succeeded in keeping my interest throughout with a few little twists here and there…. but…. (uh oh) I was somewhat disappointed in the premise of the novel – not because it wasn’t good, or even believable, but because it’s overused. Recently I’ve noticed so many of these historical fiction books tend to follow a similar pattern: Modern day woman comes across a {trunk, box, drawer, suitcase} that belonged to a very old {aunt, friend, stranger, grandmother} and discovers a secret that needs to be uncovered.  Hey, it’s a good storyline, but frighteningly worn out of late. At any rate, our modern day woman works in a used book store. She finds all sorts of things in the used books. One day her father brings in to the store a suitcase full of her grandmother’s old books. Inside one of those books she finds a letter….. let the story begin!  The novel flutters back and forth between modern day and 1940-41 and I had no problem following the flow of things. If you are a fan of this era like I am, you’ll like the book.  It’s not exactly “mind-blowing”, but still a good read.

The Taming of the Queen

tamingI just finished the latest in Philippa Gregory’s Tudor series, The Taming of the Queen – a book about Kateryn Parr, King Henry VIII’s sixth and final wife.  Ms Gregory calls this a book of fiction, and she does take some literary license when describing some of the “behind closed doors” scenes and dialogues, but that said, I know this book was meticulously researched.  Who knew Queen Kateryn was the first woman to ever publish a book in English, in her own name? Who knew how strongly she believed in the Reform movement in the church at that time in history? Who knew that there were plots within Henry’s court to have her tried as a heretic and removed?  I learned so much and enjoyed every single page along the way. If you are a Philippa Gregory fan; if you are a Tudor fan; if you are simply enthralled by English history, you will thoroughly enjoy this remarkable new novel.

Back in 2009, hubby and I made a marvelous trip to England and Wales. One glorious day we were able to visit Hampton Court Palace, Henry VIII’s favorite residence. That day we were able to watch and even take part in a reenactment of the marriage of King Henry to Queen Kateryn.  Here is the short video I took that day:

Oh my, how I’d love to go back to Hampton Court and see it all again.  This time I’d also like to stop by Sudeley Castle in Gloucestershire – where Kateryn Parr is buried.  Here’s a photo of Sudeley Castle and garden.

Time to make a trip across the pond and eat up some more very interesting history – I wish!! :-)