Thursday, September 30, 2010

In Death Challenge Post: September 2010

Interested in joining the Challenge? Anyone is welcome to join in at any time. See the sign up post HERE.

Welcome to the 9th monthly round up post of the In Death Reading Challenge.

Link up any In Death posts you made this month here. If you made a post on your blog whether it be a review or commentary, please grab the link to your post and enter in the Mr. Linky below along with your name so we can find each other's latest In Death posts easily.

If you're just keeping a running list of the books as you read them, grab the link to your list post and enter in the Mr. Linky so we can recognize your success this month.

If you're reading or rereading without documenting it on your blog, let me know in the comments which book(s) you read in this month. This will also help me keep track of who's eligible for the challenge giveaway in August.
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

After being late finishing my monthly In Death book two months in a row and noticing a drop in participation, I was considering suggesting we all take a breather from the challenge for a month or two. Maybe we've been overdosing on the goings on at Central and a break would give us the space we needed to crave more of Lieutenant Eve Dallas and the NYPSD. But then I went ahead and caught the bug and read the next three stories in the series and I nearly opened a fourth. I don't know what happened, but I just wanted to keep connected to Eve. And Peabody, too! I'm telling you, that girl's personal life just gets more and more interesting. LOL! 

"Interlude In Death" novella by J.D. Robb
Book 14
This story takes place off planet while Roarke accompanies Eve to a law enforcement conference at which Eve is a guest of honor. Of course, she gets pulled into a murder investigation, but what was interesting about this one is that she's not primary. Can you imagine Eve trying to solve a murder in which she's not calling the shots? Fun stuff.

Seduction In Death by J.D. Robb
Book 15
The murderers in this book are playing a deadly game using online chat groups to meet beautiful, intelligent young women luring them with promises of romance. They use date rape drugs on the women before murdering them. All murders affect Eve tremendously, but the nature of these murders is tearing Eve apart. 

Reunion In Death by J.D. Robb
Book 16 
In this book, Eve and her team are investigating the murders of wealthy middle aged men with no apparent connection to each other. They quickly determine who the murderer is--a woman whom Eve helped put behind bars nearly a decade prior who got out of jail on good behavior. Turns out she's been busy watching and waiting and scheming some serious revenge. Eve's investigation brings her to Dallas, TX to interview the suspect's step father, which is where Eve was found traumatized and orphaned as an 8 year old child. Roarke accompanies Eve to the room of the hotel where she last lived with her abusive father, which was extremely difficult and emotional for Eve to revisit her past like that. Difficult for Roarke as well. 

Next up is Purity In Death. I may just read it earlier this month than later because it's been two weeks and I miss Eve and Peabody! 

I think one of the reasons that I got the In Death bug this month is because it was a busy month for me with the start up of school and so forth, and these stories are great to read when you've got a lot of other stuff going on. You don't need to learn background information about the core characters because you know them already, you don't need much for world building after the first couple of books, the murder investigations are smart and suspenseful, but not so complicated that you have to concentrate so hard, and all of the personal interrelationship stuff is so genuine. You can just pick up the next book and straight away you're among friends and following Eve along her investigation. 

My question this month is what drives you to pick up the next In Death book off your shelf, whether it be a first time read or a re-read? 

REVIEW: Butterfly Swords by Jeannie Lin

Butterfly Swords is an historical romance novel set in 758 AD in China during the Tang Dynasty written by debut author Jeannie Lin. Two days ago, I reviewed Jeannie Lin's connected short story The Taming of Mei Lin which precedes Butterfly Swords by about 40 years. Mei Lin is the grandmother of Ai Li, the female lead of Butterfly Swords, so you can easily deduce who trained Ai Li in sword fighting!

Shen Ai Li is the youngest child and only daughter of Emperor Shen. The Emperor and Empress have arranged for Princess Ai Li to marry the powerful warlord Li Tao, who happens to be a long time rival of the Emperor. Driven by honor and duty, Ai Li is en route with a small entourage to Li Tao when her escape is staged by a trusted lieutenant and friend of her father's who has learned that Li Tao is intent on destroying the imperial court and may have even been responsible for the murder of Ai Li's brother. Determined to bring news of this terrible betrayal and danger to her father, Ai Li flees with "bandits" who are in truth her bodyguards in her escape, but she is soon to be the target of yet another betrayal.

An act of kindness, a bowl of poisoned rice and a sword fight later, Ai Li is traveling under the protection of an unusual foreigner called Ryam to the capitol city, Changan to warn her father of Li Tao's betrayals. Ryam is a white man who belongs to a legion of soldiers who survive along the western-most border of the Empire where they loosely serve the self exiled, but rightful Empress of China, Princess Miya. Ryam has found himself alone, in the middle of the empire after leading his soldiers on a mission that resulted in their deaths. Riddled by guilt and a sense of unworthiness, Ryam is on his way back to his people when his path crosses with Ai Li. He his quite taken by Ai Li's swordsmanship, her tenacity, sense of honor, and kindness, as well as by her simple beauty. The two are very slow to reveal their true identities to each other as one's allegiances in the kingdom can be either a life saver or a death sentence during turbulent times. Yet Ai Li and Ryam are intrigued by and curiously at ease with each other and as they spend time together, they fall in love.

The journey is dangerous and complicated for both Ai Li and Ryam in many ways. The most viable threat to their safety is the menacing warlord Li Tao who is in hot pursuit of his missing betrothed, but that's just the most tangible problem. Ai Li has a strong sense of honor and duty to her family and country, but struggles with all of that when it starts to look like she's the only one who maintains such pure values. When she finds herself a pawn in the politics of the empire, Ai Li must make some serious decisions on her own that will inevitably force grave sacrifices upon her. Duty and honor to her family and customs . . . or her chance at true love.

Butterfly Swords is a thrilling little adventure on a grand scale and I just loved it. The story is held together by so many threads that I love about a romantic adventure. A rich setting, a danger and intrigue, and star crossed lovers.

Ai Li is a wonderful heroine whom I admired from the beginning to the end of this novel. She's intelligent and courageous, and while she can be somewhat impulsive, her instincts are keen and she always stays true to her belief system. Plus she's amazing with her Butterfly Swords. 

Butterfly Swords is largely Ai Li's story for all she endures and has to come to terms with regarding herself, her family and her country. She really comes into her own in the story and acts with honor and courage. Ryam's character is not as deeply developed and it would have been nice to have learned more about where he was from and all that he's been through. I think I would have felt more empathy for his personal plight if I had a better understanding of his hardships and losses. However, since Ai Li is really the core character of the story, it didn't affect me so much.

I also would have liked if the denouement was a bit more elaborate. I think I expected a bit more from the characters' political and personal motivations and explanations, particularly regarding the Emperor. Then again, it's not over yet as there's a sequel!

All in all, Butterfly Swords is a fantastic debut novel from Jeannie Lin, and hopefully the first of many more Asian historical romances. If you have ever watched a 'Chinese hero' fighting film such as Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon Flying Daggers or The Promise (some of my personal favorites), then you know the beauty and vividness of that is portrayed in a story like this set in ancient China. The premise alone for a story like Butterfly Swords lends itself to an epic feeling. The ancient Chinese Empire in all its majesty, dangerous political intrigue, adventure, sword fights, and the love story of star crossed lovers. It all adds up to a romantic adventure that shouldn't be missed!


A sequel is in the works featuring two prominent characters from Butterfly Swords, currently with a TBD release date. I'm not going to say which characters will be leading in the sequel, because I was a bit surprised by one of them when I read about the book yesterday on the author's website. I actually suggest reading the blurb only after you've read Butterfly Swords. Not that it's terribly spoiler-ish, but I think it would have spoiled some of the suspense I was feeling at the end of Butterfly Swords had I read the blurb beforehand. I will say that the title is The Dragon and the Pearl and is along the lines of a "Beauty and the Beast" type theme. I can't wait!

I also have to admit a certain affinity towards Ai Li's happily ever after love story because it can be summed up just like mine! See the first line in my profile. I, too, was swept away by a handsome man from a far away land. Only I'm the white girl and my man is the Asian dude. And I'm not really a princess... and I've never even heard of butterfly swords until I came upon Jeannie Lin's books... but you get the idea. ;) Anyway, I really enjoyed reading about another interracial love story.

Visit author Jeannie Lin at her website at

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

REVIEW: The Taming of Mei Lin by Jeannie Lin

Once you've gotten over the shock that I've actually written a book review, sit up straight and pay attention, because you're going to want to take note of this one.

The romance book blogging world has been all a buzz lately over the Asian historical romance novel Butterfly Swords by debut author Jeannie Lin from Harlequin that releases today. It's not very often that a Harlequin Historical gets this much pre-release attention, but I assure you, it's all well deserved. I'm more than halfway through reading Butterfly Swords right now and I am loving it for several reasons that I plan to share in an upcoming review, but for now, I want to give a little bit of attention to the short story ebook, The Taming of Mei Lin by Jeannie Lin that has been available since September 1, 2010.

Don't let the clothing of the models on the cover of The Taming of Mei Lin fool you. It's not historically accurate as the story takes place in 720 AD China during the Tang Dynasty, which consequently is about forty years prior to Jeannie Lin's current full length novel, Butterfly Swords. The Taming of Mei Lin is not exactly a prequel, but it is connected in that it tells the love story of the ancestors of the family in Butterfly Swords. I encourage you to download and read The Taming of Mei Lin because it is a romantic and fierce little story that you will love, and because I think it's the perfect little sample of Jeannie Lin's work that will make you want to read Butterfly Swords right afterwards!

Butterfly Swords
[image from Wikipedia]

The Taming of Mei Lin is the fierce little story of the young and beautiful Wu Mei Lin, who having been orphaned as a child has been raised by her Aunt and Uncle, and minds her uncle's noodle stand in their village. At one time, Mei Lin caught the eye of a local magistrate who proposed to make Mei Lin is third wife. Disgusted by such a proposal, the headstrong Mei Lin declared she would only marry the man who could best her in a sword fight. Since then, men have come and gone, none of them able to defeat the mad, yet beautiful young woman with the butterfly swords, which quit frankly leaves Mei Lin at a loss. Until a mysterious swordsman walks into the village, a man who unnerves Mei Lin before swords are even raised.

I can't reveal anything else about the story because so much happens in so few pages that I don't want to spoil anything. What I can tell you is that in the span of five short chapters, author Jeannie Lin pens a sweet and dramatic love story full that is just as romantic as it is exciting. Mei Lin is a bundle of strength, energy and determination and yet behind her swords, she's also feminine, innocent and waiting for ... something. Something she doesn't quite understand that stirs within her when she meets the eyes of this honorable stranger.

I adored The Taming of Mei Lin. This short story is the perfect sampling of all that I love about romance. A strong, almost defiant female who, while she can hold her own, discovers a sort of personal contentment and fulfillment when she finally meets the man who complements her intelligence, skill, and passion. The historical setting is unique and the story is fun, exciting, and very sweet. Layered with sword fights, emotional tension, a sweet and sensual romance and of course, a happily ever after.

I haven't given a grade in a book review in a long time, let alone written a book review, but I loved this one so much...


Go ahead and download The Taming of Mei Lin by Jeannie Lin today. You could read it in its entirety during your lunch hour. It will make you smile and sigh and remind you why you love romance. Be prepared to want more. Lucky for you, you don't have to wait long because Butterfly Swords officially releases Friday, October 1, 2010! You may even be able to get a hold of it now!

Visit author Jeannie Lin at

The Taming of Mei Lin is available now from Harlequin Historical Undone through most ebook sellers.

I purchased my copy through iTunes using the iBooks app on my iPhone.

Butterfly Swords, releases Friday, October 1, from Harlequin Historical in both paper and ebook formats.

For a short video on Butterfly Sword defense, watch this YouTube video.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Library Loot XXV

Library Loot is a weekly event co-hosted by Claire from The Captive Reader and Marg from The Adventures of an Intrepid Reader that encourages bloggers to share the books they’ve checked out from the library. If you’d like to participate, just write up your post-feel free to steal the button-and link it using the Mr. Linky any time during the week. And of course check out what other participants are getting from their libraries! This week's Library Loot is at Marg's.

This is my first library loot in several weeks! That's partly due to the fact that I wanted to finish the pile of library books I had out already before borrowing more books because it was getting kind of crazy keeping track of multiple due dates, sometimes two or more in one week! Then it's partly due to the fact that things have gotten busier around here with the start up of school. Well, I finally got myself to the library for a 10 minute visit before closing time the other night and borrowed two books. Yay! 

The Godmother by Carrie Adams

I borrowed this one for the Authors by the Alphabet book club that I joined a few weeks ago, hosted by Paula at Tome's Devotee blog. This is the first book in the club and I really don't want to fail before we even started, so hopefully I'll read this one over the weekend. Our book club discussion will probably take place sometime next week, so the pressure is on! Why do I do this to myself? LOL.

Linger by Maggie Stiefvater
The Wolves of Mercy Falls trilogy, Book 2

This book is a re-loot. Would you believe I had to wait on the hold list for this book over the summer, finally got it in my hands, and by the time I was ready to read it, it was due back and I couldn't renew it because someone was waiting for it? I hate when that happens. Now it's my turn. Again.

I very rarely return books to the library unread. In fact, I think I've only done that three times this year, Linger being the only one of the three that I've gone back and borrowed again a few weeks later.

What about you? How often do you return books to the library unread?

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

First Day of Autumn and First... Tomato Flower?

Autumn officially begins today at 11:09 pm here in North America and look what I have...

It's the very first cluster of flowers on the only tomato plant in my garden!!!

I know the growing season is practically over in my zone 6 garden and most of my neighbors are already pulling up spent vegetable plants. Yet here I am with my first tomato flowers of the season. I confess that I am generally a last minute kind of gal, but this is a little ridiculous, don't you think?

This little sprawling tomato plant is a fighter!

My friend gave me eight tomato plant seedlings back in May that had sprouted in her vegetable garden from last year's fallen fruit. I intended to re-establish my vegetable garden in the backyard this year, but I never got around to it. These little seedlings took up residence on the cement landing by my side door and were trying to so hard grow in their little containers. I tried to keep them alive until I decided where to plant them, but those little containers dry out so quickly and once the days got hot, the plants quickly turned brown and died--or so I thought. I kicked them over the edge of the sidewalk and into the flower bed there, thinking I'd put them into my compost pile when I had the chance. Well, out of sight, out of mind, because one day probably weeks later, I see these tomato leaves poking through the mint and I think, "Oh yeah... those tomato seedlings." And here I am today with a thriving cherry tomato plant with flowers on the first day of autumn. Such a fighter.

I'm thinking that if the weather continues for a few more weeks any where near as warm and sunny as it's been lately, there is a strong possibility that this little fighter might just provide me with four or five of this year's first homegrown cherry tomatoes before it snows! :O)

Did you have a vegetable garden this past summer? How was your harvest?

If you live in the southern hemisphere, are you planning your vegetable garden for this summer already? What are you planning to grow?

Friday, September 17, 2010

Win a copy of MIND GAMES or DOUBLE CROSS by Carolyn Crane!

It seems like just yesterday that I was anxiously awaiting the release of Carolyn Crane's debut novel, Mind Games. That was back in March 2010, and now here we are only days away from the release of Carolyn's second novel Double Cross on September 28, 2010!

Double Cross is the second book in this fascinating, inventive and unique urban fantasy trilogy featuring the quirky Justine Jones. I read Mind Games back in April and found it just as creative, fun and sassy as I expected based on what I know of Carolyn's online personality and writing style.

Justine Jones is the heroine in this trilogy, and I use the word heroine loosely. Oh, she doesn't have a dark or evil side and isn't even that dangerous, really. She's just a regular kind of gal. If you consider someone with extreme hypochondria who can't keep her fears at bay as normal, that is.

Justine's extreme hypochondria is like a commodity to the eccentric and powerful mastermind Sterling Packard who takes up permanent residence in the Mongolian Delites restaurant. Talk about strange. He promises Justine relief from her extreme hypochondriac inspired fears if she joins his team of disillusionists-- a team of quirky misfits who fight the paranormal criminals in Midcity, USA.

Justine develops interesting relationships with both this disillusionist mastermind Sterling Packard and the dashing Midcity Chief of Police, Otto Sanchez all the while trying to save the relationship she has with her boyfriend Cubby and trying to figure out what the heck she's doing. Throw in cast of fellow misfit disillusionist crime fighters and you've got one mind bending whirlwind of a story.

Double Cross promises to be just as fun and fascinating as Mind Games as Justine Jones continues to wrestle with her conscience over the whole disillusionist stint while Midcity is terrorized by scary-assed serial killers.

How can you not be intrigued by The Justine Jones: Disillusionist trilogy?

Well, here's you chance to win one of FIVE copies of the upcoming release, Double Cross or one of a couple of copies of the first book in the trilogy, Mind Games!

Click over to Carolyn Crane's blog, The Thrillionth Page and enter the drawing to win!

Go, go, go!

But you'd better hurry!

The contest is a Happy Weekend Instant Contest and ends tomorrow, Saturday, September 18 at 10 am CST!

In the meantime, entertain yourself with the trailer for Double Cross:

The Disillusionists Trilogy featuring Mind Games, Double Cross and ???

You can also visit Carolyn Crane at her author website at

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Late Summer Organic Goodness

Today was the most recent delivery from the organic co-op. Just look at how colorful and plentiful it is! One thing that I really love about being in this co-op is the way the produce follows the seasons and this time of year is one of my favorites. It's kind of a transitional period between seasons in which we still get a lot of the bountiful late summer harvests such as tomatoes, peppers, eggplant and plenty of greens and we start to get a selection of classic fall produce such as acorn squash, apples, grapes and pears. I am a little sad that we didn't get corn, but I'm hoping the farm stand down the street still has some fresh corn from its sister farm an hour or so south. If they do, I'll buy some over the weekend.

Here's a picture of what came in this week's share:

From top to bottom, left to right:

broccoli rabe, green leaf lettuce and spinach
scallions and beets with greens (vertically along the left)
bananas, gala apples, and acorn squash
cilantro, tomatillos, tomatoes, deVoe pears, unknown fruit? and niagara grapes,
green peppers, hungarian hot peppers, carrots
and an eggplant

I'm disappointed about the broccoli rabe [also known as rapini]. We were expecting regular broccoli, which I LOVE, but the farmer didn't have any so we got broccoli rabe instead. Ugh. I'm not a fan.

I'll definitely be cooking Mexican one night using the cilantro, tomatillos, tomatoes and the green peppers. I'm thinking chicken enchiladas or fajitas--one or the other-- with salsa verde.

As for the unknown stone fruit, I'm not sure what it is. It wasn't listed on the newsletter we get with our order, so I'm thinking it's probably a makeup item for something from last time that arrived in poor condition or was simply missing. Especially since I just gone one lonely fruit. Or maybe someone special ordered some of those and accidentally dropped it in my box? I think it's some sort of plum or pluot [that's a hybrid plum and apricot, I think] because it looks like a plum and feels soft like a plum. It doesn't smell like much, though, so I'll have to do some research, and see if it tastes like a plum!

I also special ordered a whole case of red peppers to share with my friend who hosts our local group in the co-op. This is probably the fourth of fifth year we've done this right around this time. We both love red peppers and this way we get to buy organic red peppers when they are at their peak and least expensive and then enjoy them throughout the winter.

This variety is called 'lipstick' red peppers. Can you see that they're sort of shaped like lipstick? There is also some small, really round red peppers in there. I'm thinking those might be a different variety. They look like they'd be hot peppers!

I usually cut at least half of the peppers into strips and freeze in ziptop bags. Then I can grab as much as I want and use as is in stir fries or dice them for stews, soups or other cooked dishes. I'll roast the remaining peppers, then pack them into clean jars and top off with olive oil for roasted red peppers to use on sandwiches and salads. I'll keep one jar in the fridge to use for now and freeze the other bottles for future use.

I used several of the lipstick peppers in tonight's dinner in a dish that is a reinvented version of stuffed peppers from an old CookingLight magazine issue. In my version, I saute the peppers and combine them directly with the filling in a one dish meal. For a side dish, I sauteed the broccoli rabe and beet greens in olive oil with half an onion and some kosher salt.

Any ideas what that little unknown stone fruit might be?

I'd love to hear what you'd cook for dinner tonight if you had some of this produce in your fridge!

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

What's In a Name? 3 Reading Challenge COMPLETE!

I completed another one of my 2010 reading challenges recently: The What's In a Name? 3 Reading Challenge.

This challenge is hosted by Beth F of Beth Fish Reads and was really a lot of fun to do, and manageable at only six books, too! The requirement was to read one book from each of the following criteria, which I did plus a few extra by reading the following books:

1. A book with a FOOD in the title:
The Sugar Queen by Sarah Addison Allen

2. A book with a BODY OF WATER in the title:
Tomorrow River by Lesley Kagen

3. A book with a PERSON'S TITLE in the title:
Except the Queen by Jane Yolen & Midori Snyder
One Dance with a Duke by Tessa Dare
The Iron King by Julie Kagawa

4. A book with a PLANT in the title:
Bed of Roses by Nora Roberts

5. A book with a PLACE in the title:
Looking for Alaska by John Green

6. A book with a MUSIC TERM in the title:
Ballad by Maggie Stiefvater

It was a fun challenge to find books to fit these criteria, but not crazy hard that it was impossible. A few of the books were already on my list to read this year, one or two others were books that I more spontaneously chose to read and then later realized they met this challenge, and then one book-- Tomorrow River by Lesley Kagen, was chosen specifically for this challenge. I literally browsed the new release shelves at my library on several visits searching for a book that had the name of a body of water in the title. It was a good choice, too, because I really enjoyed the book!

Interestingly, I read books from a really wide selection of fictional genres, which for some reason really pleases me. I read three young adult novels--a paranormal, fantasy and contemporary; two romances--an historical romance and a contemporary romance; one fantasy novel, and two general fiction novels--one more chick lit and the other more general fiction. Pretty diverse, right?

I would tell you which of the six books I would recommend, but honestly? I loved all of them! I think it's even more difficult to choose a favorite because the books are from such different genres. Too hard to compare when they're so different. But, if I think hard on it, I can say that my favorites of the lot are One Dance with a Duke by Tessa Dare, Except the Queen by Jane Yolen & Midori Snyder and The Iron King by Julie Kagawa. How funny that those are the three books I read with a 'TITLE' in the title! Honorable mention goes to Tomorrow River by Lesley Kagen. And maybe also Ballad by Maggie Steifvater. See? I can't chose just one. ;)

This is one challenge that I'll definitely rejoin in 2011. I can't wait to see the criteria that Beth comes up with for next year!

Have any questions or comments about the books I read for this challenge? Ask away.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Summer wasn't quite over yet

I claimed summer was over last week on my First Day of School post the other day because school had started and there was no more summer vacationing to be done. Turns out I WAS WRONG! Shocking, I know. ;p Ha ha ha.

I couldn't be happier about this error, though, because it involved a gorgeous day at the beach, spending time with my best friend from childhood and her lovely family and bonding with my girls. My husband stayed home to take care of his dad and catch up on some work for his job, so this was a girls day out.

My dear friend from childhood, whom I know I've spoken of on my blog in the past {Surprise Birthday Celebration and Pit Stop }, called me last week to invite me to join her and her family on their last long weekend getaway at a beach house at the New Jersey shore. Not only could I not resist the opportunity to prolong summer a bit by spending a day at the beach, but most importantly, I didn't want to miss the chance to spend time with my girlfriend and her lovely family--especially since she lives two plus hours north of me in the beautiful Hudson Valley region of New York state, and it's just so hard to schedule time to see each other as regularly as we both wish. The beach at which she was staying was only an hour from us, so on Saturday morning, the girls and I packed a cooler, grabbed the sunscreen and beach towels and our cameras and headed to the beach.

We shared a picnic lunch of sandwiches, rolled up ham for my non-sandwich eating tween, grapes, pretzels and thin mints. I have a couple of boxes of girl scout thin mints stashed in the far recesses of the freezer for just such an occasion.

There was a whole lot of picture taking, sand rolling, boogie boarding, body surfing, jelly fish ... um... collecting?, frisbee throwing, sea shell seashell searching, sea gull chasing, sunbathing and girl friend hanging around going on...

my girl photographer

my beautiful girls

rolling in the sand

pet jelly fish

preparing for the surf

charge those waves

twins braving the surf, leading the way for their dad

riding the wave ALL the way in for her close up

my girl photographer in action

me and ange

I also managed to read a chapter of Seduction In Death by J.D. Robb somewhere along the line. Right before the nap. :)

Back at the house we snacked on some crackers with cream cheese and spicy jalapeno peach preserves that I made last week before we said our good byes and headed home. The weather was just perfect for a day at the beach and it was tempting to stay longer, but I missed my husband too much and wanted get home and have dinner with him. We ordered out Thai food, which was Ooo la la good. Curry Puffs and Pad Se Ew equals a happy me.

The only way this day could have been better would have been if my husband was with us, too. Other than that... a perfectly happy ending to the summer.

the end.

Now summer is over.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

First Day of School

Summer's over. Oh, I know we have a couple of weeks until it's officially over, but once school starts... let's face it. Summer's over. :(

Today is the first day of school for my daughters. Amazingly, everyone got up and out the door on time. I'd tell you that I'm enjoying the peace and quiet in the house this morning as I type this, but truth be told, I had this kind of peace and quiet most mornings this summer because both girls pretty much slept their mornings away, getting up to have breakfast at 11 am then lunch an hour and a half later. I think I will appreciate, however, the break from being a short order cook from 11 am to 1 pm most days all summer long. ;)

I had to jump through hoops to get these first day of school pictures this morning. My teen tried to slip out the door with the quick, "Bye, Mom. I'm leaving." But I was quicker and slung the camera over my neck and followed her out the door with a, "Wait! First day of school picture!" She rolled her eyes but at least she stood still and smiled for a brief ten seconds before she was off for her first day of her sophomore year in high school.

Getting a first day of school picture of my other daughter was not as smooth. Oh my word. The girl does NOT like getting her picture taken. AT. ALL. NOT. EVER. It is so frustrating how adept she is at avoiding the camera. Sometimes she even acts like she doesn't know you have your camera out and just when you're about to shoot, she quickly turns the other way or ducks or does whatever she has to do to avoid the camera and all I capture is a blur of movement. Drives me nuts.

What about those adorable photos of her in my Pacific Northwest Vacation post last month, you ask? Totally her fake smile. I believe I failed to mention in that post how on the first day of vacation, she was dodging the camera every single instance and we pleaded with her to just let us take candid shots for which she didn't even need to smile... or please, please, please, just give us a fake smile now and then. Trying to be funny and probably a bit sarcastic, she turned on the fake charm and started overdoing these fake smiles, and we loved it! She was quite cute, I must say. She got into the fake smiles and was having fun with it, I'm sure, and I'm so pleased that we at least now have some great pictures of her actually smiling. The first set of smiles in photos from her in probably four years. Anyway, she informed me this morning that those days are over and she's reserving her fake smiles for vacations only. It makes me sad, but what am I going to do?

I'll tell you what I'm going to do, and that's not give up. I'm going to point and shoot anyway and hope that I'll get some pictures of her adorable smiling face. I figure in the meantime, any picture of her is better than no picture at all. So here is her first day of school picture. It's the best I could do as she took off for her first day of 6th grade, which is also her first day of middle school!

It's hard to believe that this is the first year in a decade that I haven't had one or both of my daughters in the elementary school. They sure do grow up fast . . .

Want to see what I mean? Here are their first day of school pictures from only two years ago:

Growing up is a wonderful thing and I find joy in my children at every age... yet my heart aches at how fleeting childhood seems at milestones like this.

Friday, September 3, 2010

{Super Easy} Golden Raspberry Jam

If you love homemade jam but don't have the time for canning or are simply intimidated by the whole canning process, I have a super easy recipe for homemade jam just for you! Experienced jam makers will love it, too. You'll have fast, easy and delicious gourmet jam in 15 minutes. I promise!

I made this jam using golden raspberries that my youngest daughter and I picked ourselves at a nearby farm earlier this week. You might also find golden raspberries at local Farmers' Markets and specialty grocers. If you can't find golden raspberries, don't fret! While the color and flavor of the golden raspberries make for a special and unique jam, you can also make this recipe using red raspberries.

The ingredients are so incredibly easy, you'll be able to make this jam on a moment's notice from now on. All you have to do is weigh your raspberries and use the same weight of sugar. A half pound of raspberries and sugar make one 8 oz. jar. All you do is heat the berries and sugar until the sugar dissolves, boil and stir for 5-7 minutes, then pour it into a clean jar. That's it! I'm telling you, it's that easy!

{Super Easy} Golden Raspberry Jam

1/2 pound raspberries
1/2 pound sugar

In a medium, non-reactive saucepan, heat raspberries and sugar, stirring until sugar is dissolved.

Bring jam to a boil and stir continuously for 5-7 minutes, testing for gel set** after the first 5 minutes.

Ladle jam into a clean jar and let cool before storing in the refrigerator.

Jam will keep in the refrigerator for two weeks, but I bet it won't last that long!

Keep jam in the freezer for longer storage.

**How do you test for gel set?
+Put a small plate in the freezer for 2 minutes.
+After boiling the jam for 5 minutes, remove the plate from the freezer and spoon a small amount of jam onto the plate.
+Return to the freezer for 2 more minutes.
+Remove from freezer and push the little puddle of jam with your finger. If the jam is set, you the jam will "wrinkle" in front of where you pushed. See the wrinkles in my photo? No? Well, they're there on the side there to the right of my finger where the jam is light in color...
My jam set properly. :)

+If you don't get the "wrinkle," boil the jam for another 2 minutes and test again.
+Don't worry if you can't get the jam to set the second or third time. Just give up. LOL. No seriously... your jam will just be a little softer. I promise it will taste just wonderful whether it's too runny or too thick. Who cares? It's homemade gourmet jam! You'll love it just the same.

Serving ideas:
+On toast, crackers or french bread with a slather of Brie ...
+On plain or vanilla yogurt ...
+Use as a condiment on a turkey sandwich ...

Isn't that gorgeous?

What are you waiting for? Head to a farm or farmers market near you, get a hold of some raspberries and make some jam this weekend!

Enjoy! :)

A special little shout out and thank you to Tracy from Sugarcrafter with whom I consulted about modifying existing jam recipes. If you haven't already visited Tracy's site, it's a must for all your seasonal sweet tooth needs. She's already in full swing fall mode with amazing pumpkin recipes, like her Pumpkin Baked Alaska. Oh my.

So who's making {super easy} golden raspberry jam this weekend?

You know you want to! =)

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

My Project 365 Do Over

In the beginning of the summer, I started a Project 365 on Flickr. If you're not familiar with what that is, it's basically a photography project in which you challenge yourself to shoot and post one photograph every day for 365 days straight. Completing a Project 365 is also on my list of 101 Things to do in 1001 Days.

My teenage daughter and I started it together on her last day of school back in June. We thought it would be a fun project to do together and we'd be able to keep tabs on each other's progress. Well, it is fun... it was fun... when I actually did it, anyway. More on that in a minute.

My daughter is doing brilliantly with her project--both in her commitment and in her composition. I think she has some serious photography skills for someone who has only been behind the lens for a little over five months. She's very creative and takes some really amazing and beautiful photos--especially portraits. Really. See for yourself.

I, on the other hand, have pretty much failed on my first attempt at the project. I did okay with the first couple of weeks--18 days to be exact, but then fell behind in uploading my photos. Then I started to miss days without even picking up my camera, and soon I was so far behind that I lost hope of ever catching up. At first I tried to deny that I quit, because I never actually decided to quit, but the evidence was pretty clear that I had... whether I intended to or not. So I'm starting over and today is day one of my new Project 365.

This is my first photograph in my new project. A stack of books on a bedside table is such a welcoming, comforting sight.

You can visit my photostream HERE. Let me know if you're on flickr, too!

Wish me luck---I need as much as I can get! ;)

Do you like photography? What is your favorite subject to photograph?

I imagine most people take the most pictures of their friends and family. I do that, too, but also take a lot of photos of plants, bugs, animals and scenery in general. I also take a lot of photos of food with the intention of sharing recipes on the blog, but I never seem to get around to posting them!