Saturday, April 30, 2011

In Death Series Reading Challenge: April 2011

Interested in joining the Challenge? Anyone is welcome to join in at any time of the year at wherever in the series you currently are. See the sign up post HERE
and join the fun!

I just starting reading my In Death book for April today, so it looks like I'm going to miss this month by a couple of days. How did you do?

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 this month!

REMINDER: In order to be eligible for the challenge giveaway in April 2011, you must have read four In Death books between January 1, 2011 and April 30, 2011 and have documented that you have either on your own blog, on goodreads [please leave a link to your profile if we're not already friends there] or you can let us know what you read here in the comments of the monthly In Death Reading Challenge posts. See below for giveaway details!

I'm short on ideas for a discussion topic this month. I'm afraid to bring up anything that may be spoiler-ish in nature to any readers who are still in the early stages of the series. Here's a fun question:

Do you think the cat Galahad favors Eve or Roarke? 

I think Galahad favors Eve--he knows when she needs comforting and knows she's a sucker for handing over food from her plate!

As promised, I am going to do a little giveaway for the participants in this challenge. One randomly selected winner will receive their choice of a US $5 gift card to Starbucks, Dunkin Donuts, Amazon, B&N or the purchase of a US $5 book from The Book Depository. To qualify for the giveaway, you must do or have done the following:

1. Be signed up for the In Death Reading Challenge in this post HERE either with Mr.Linky or in the comments if you do not have your own blog.
2. Have read FOUR In Death novels between January 1, 2011 and April 30, 2011.
3. Have documented the In Death novels you have read for the challenge by:

Maintaining a running list somewhere on your blog
Posting reviews or commentary on your blog
Having notified me which book(s) you read in comments on any of the In Death Challenge posts
Any combination of the above.

Pretty simple. Read four In Death books between January and April 2011, leave me proof, and voila! You're in the drawing.

I'll select a winner at the end of next week! Good luck.

Fitness Challenge Report Card: April 2011

Interested in joining the Fitness Challenge? Please visit the Sign Up post for more information, including the challenge rules. You may leave a comment there or on this post if you'd like to join. Be sure to include your fitness miles goal in your comment.

So how did everyone do with their fitness challenge miles* this month?

*ONE fitness challenge miles = 1 mile walked or run for fitness OR = 15 minute increments of other exercise for fitness such as cardiovascular or strength training exercises.

I apologize for not having posted a mid month progress report this month. Blame the IRS.

I set my goal once again for 100 fitness miles and I ended the month at 113.6 fitness miles, which I'm pretty happy about. If you want to see what I did to keep moving all month long, you can see my April Workout Log.

I still haven't yet gone out for my first bike ride of the season. We've had a chilly spring so far and there are potholes everywhere from the brutal winter we had, so those have been my excuses. I'm determined, however, to get out on the road in May, for sure. I also need to swim more regularly because that triathlon is inching closer every day! eeek!

I'm going to bump up my goal to 115 fitness challenge miles for May.

How did you do with your fitness challenge goal for April?

What activities are you doing to keep moving?

I hope you all join me again next month! :)

Thank you all for participating. If you have any questions or suggestions, please let me know.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

REVIEW: Still Life With Husband by Lauren Fox

F This book is April book for the Author's by the Alphabet Book Club as members read our way through the alphabet by authors' last names. Still Life With Husband by Lauren Fox was chosen by BookBelle, this month's host of the book club who blogs at BookBelle. :) For links to other reviews of this book, as well as to check out our discussion of the novel, visit BookBelle's blog HERE. If you'd like to join the Authors by the Alphabet Book Club, we'd love to have you. Visit the sign up post HERE.

Thirty year old Emily Ross is a freelance writer with a part time editor position with a medical journal and has a bad case of marriage blahs. Emily and Kevin have been together for the last nine years since their senior year in college, married for the last five. Kevin, who is employed as a technical writer, is firmly resolved to start a family and buy a house in the suburbs, despite Emily's reservations. Not only that, but Emily is overall discontent with her dispassionate, stale marriage.

While having lunch with her best friend in their favorite coffee shop, Emily--who is not wearing her wedding ring at the time-- meets David Keller, a journalist for an alternative local newspaper with whom she shares an instant, electric connection. Emily and David meet again under the guise of discussing a potential job opportunity for Emily at the newspaper for whom David works, and the two spend hours talking and practically falling for each other as if they were on a spectacular first date. Emily is fully aware that she is crossing the lines of fidelity to her husband and at the same time also dishonest with David as she is slow to reveal her marital status to him. Inevitably, Emily has committed the first of many betrayals that ultimately lead to more poor decisions with irrevocable consequences.

Still Life with Husband is told from the first person point of view of Emily as she wends her way through the mess she makes of her life over several weeks. That's not to say that Emily was not already dissatisfied with her life, however the choices she makes specifically during this time frame actually force her to own up to what really wants out of life. The novel primarily centers on Emily's struggles with her marriage to Kevin, her conflicted feelings of her infidelity, the consequences of her decisions and how she handles it all. It's also about Emily learning to essentially take charge of her own happiness. There are also well crafted story threads involving Emily's relationships with her best friend Meg, her sister Heather and her parents, all of which added richness to Emily's story.

Still Life With Husband is adeptly written in an extremely compelling, articulate and very expressive voice. There's both fantastic humor and depth of emotion at every page and while the plot is not complicated, not once did it feel the least bit predictable and was, in fact, quite the page turner. I didn't want to put the book down, and when I did, I kept wondering what Emily was going to think, feel or do next. What were the consequences of those actions going to be, who was going to get hurt, and how was Emily going to straighten out her life? Would she even straighten out her life? What good could possibly come of this? All I could do was to keep reading.

Truthfully, when I read the book blurb after it was announced as the April book club selection, I was hesitant to read a novel about infidelity. I didn't want to empathize with a protagonist who was cheating on her husband and even worse, I was afraid that the author would glorify infidelity as a whole in some way. Thankfully, neither of those things happened, which I think is a testament to the author's skill at sharing Emily's journey in a way the she could be your sister or your friend. You like her, you know her, you even came to completely understand her even though you don't agree with her actions and yet through it all ... you were there for her.


Still Life With Husband is Lauren Fox's first novel. Her second novel, Friends Like Us, is due to hit shelves in February 2012.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Happy Earth Day and Whatever happened to that Sunchips bag in my compost pile?

Last year on Earth Day, I posted about my compostable Sunchips bag experiment. I'm sure most of you heard that Sunchips invented the world's first 100% compostable chip bag in 2010. I put the bag to the test in my backyard compost pile on Earth Day last year {April 17, 2010} and guess what? It worked!

According to Sunchips, the bag is fully composted in a municipal compost bin in as little as 14 weeks. In my little backyard compost pile, the bag has been decomposing for a full year now {52 weeks} and while there is still some small identifiable remnants of the Sunchips bag, it's almost gone! Keep in mind that I put the bag into my compost pile whole. If I had cut or torn the bag into pieces on the first day, it would likely be full composted by now. But I let nature do all the work on this one. Another reason why the bag is taking a long time to decompose in my backyard pile is largely due to the fact that my backyard compost pile is sometimes too small-- even smaller than the recommended minimum size for an active pile. That means that it's often not hot enough to be actively composting. The process slows down dramatically when the pile is too small.  Large scale municipal compost setups are much more productive.

Here are some photos documenting the decomposition of the Sunchips bag in my backyard compost pile:

Day 1 
April 22, 2010

Day 27
May 19, 2010

Day 41
June 2, 2010

Day 60
June 21, 2010

Day 71
July 2, 2010

Autumn came along and I dumped a whole lot of fallen leaves onto the compost pile....

Day 175
October 14, 2010

Then winter came along and Mother Nature dumped a whole lot of snow on me. And dumped and dumped and dumped... making it enough of a chore to trek through all that snow to dump my under-the-kitchen-sink compost bucket out there without having to carry my camera, too! So no winter compost pile photos. 

Then the snow melted and spring ever so slowly came along. Still working on that, actually. And voilá! My compostable Sunchips bag {nearly} one year later:

Day 360
April 17, 2011

I had to dig through the pile to look for those pieces of the bag still lingering. Perhaps another six months it will be completely gone.

All the while my chip bag was decomposing in my backyard, the scientists at Sunchips were busy redesigning their compostable chip bag to be quieter. Do you remember how noisy it was? Well, now you can cheat on your diet again without everyone in the house knowing. ;)

If you have even a small parcel of land to claim as yours where you live, why not start a compost pile? It's so easy and actually really fun to take all the dried leaves that fall in your yard and the fruit and vegetable scraps from your kitchen, pile it up in a corner, mix it up now and then and watch it turn into nutrient rich compost for your garden. Composting reduces the volume of trash in landfills and essentially provides you with free fertilizer for your yard that the earthworms and other micro-organisms are more than happy to make for you. Spread finished compost in your vegetable and flower beds, around shrubs and trees and even sprinkle it in your lawn.

The world's perfect fertilizer... the way Nature intended.

For more information on home composting:

For more information on Sunchips' --quieter-- compostable chip bag:

Happy Earth Day.  :)

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Library Loot XXXV

Lover Unleashed by J.R. Ward
A Novel of the Black Dagger Brotherhood

"You're still reading this series?" 

Why yes, as a matter of fact, I am. I'm not even embarrassed to admit it.

Library Loot is hosted over at Marg's blog this week. :)

Friday, April 15, 2011

Library Loot XXXIV

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 Claire's.

It's been weeks and weeks since I last posted my library loot. The books I've listed here have been borrowed from three different libraries at various times over the last several weeks--except for the last one listed that I just picked up yesterday. I've actually read and returned most of the others already.

Foiled by Jane Yolen, Illustrated by Mike Cavallaro
Amulet, Book 2: The Stonekeeper's Curse  and 
Amulet, Book 3: The Cloud Searchers by Kazu Kibuishi

Maximum Ride, The Manga, Vol. 1 by James Patterson, Illustrated by Na Rae Lee
Frankenstein the Graphic Novel: Original Text by Mary Shelly

Foiled was ok--not bad, but not terribly exciting either.

The Amulet series is great--beautiful artwork and an emotional and suspenseful story line in a carefully crafted fantasy world.

I've always been curious about James Patterson's Maximum Ride series so I thought reading the graphic novel for the first installment would be a clever way to get a taste for it. I actually gave up on it. I liked the story premise from what I could gather of it so far, but I just couldn't get the hang of the text boxes or who was who. I think I'd be better off just reading the full length novel.

The final graphic novel I grabbed was Frankenstein. It was so gratifying to read Jane Eyre the Graphic Novel in original text format last month, that I just had to expose myself to another classic novel via it's graphic novel adaptation. I'll let you know how it goes when I get to it.

The Persian Pickle Club by Sandra Dallas
This was the March book selection for the Authors by the Alphabet Book Club. It's a book about close friendships among a group of women in rural Kansas who quilt together during the depression era. There's also a bit of a murder mystery in the story. You can read my review here.

Still Life with Husband by Lauren Fox
This is April's book selection for the Authors by the Alphabet Book Club. We skipped the letter 'E', which in theory doesn't bother me, because this book club is a fun way to explore new to me authors and genres, discuss books and meet new friends. But I have to admit I feel kind of uneasy about skipping letter 'E.'

Anyway, this pick is a contemporary women's fiction, I think likely chick-lit, which is fine by me. :) I'm looking forward to discussing this one with the group.

And finally.... yay! :) 

River Marked by Patricia Briggs
This is the sixth book in the Mercy Thompson urban fantasy series. I am a huge fan of this series and have been anticipating this book release for months. And then impatiently waiting for my turn on the holds list for the last few weeks. I can't wait to dive in!

I currently have books out from three different libraries... and before I picked up River Mark, I had a book on hold at each one, no less. Crossing my fingers they don't all come in at the same time, especially since they're all new releases that I can only borrow for two weeks and not renew if there's someone waiting after me. In that case, I'd better read fast!

Do you borrow from more than one library? 

Do you have a particular method of keeping track of all your holds. borrowed books and due dates?

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Sweet 16

Once upon a time I gave birth to a sweet baby girl.

We blinked a couple of times and then PoOf!

Sixteen years later, she's a beautiful young woman.

Happy Sweet 16 to my beautiful girl.

She chose this Old-Fashioned Caramel Layer Cake for her birthday cake this year. The recipe is from the December 1999 issue of Cooking Light magazine that I've made a couple of times over the years. It's a simple, but delicious vanilla cake coated with an oh so sweet caramel frosting. You can find the recipe online HERE.

Prepare yourself for a sugar rush!

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

What I Read Last Month

March 2011

Here's a list of what I read last month and some brief thoughts.

Total books read: 8

General fiction .... 2
Graphic novel...... 3
Fantasy ..............1
Romance ............1
Crime fiction .......1

1. The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows
This general historical fiction novel published in 2008 became a very popular and widely read book. Now that I read it for myself, I completely understand its popularity and appeal. I read this as part of a world wide book tour hosted by Amy who blogs at Romance Bookwyrm and I still plan on posting about it. Stay tuned!  .... but I probably wouldn't hold my breath if I were you ;p .

2. Foiled by Jane Yolen {cover not shown}
Picked up while on my graphic novel kick. An decent first book to a fantasy series about a young girl who's a bit of a loner and loves to fence. She discovers she has some magical powers when wielding her precious sword. I think the story lacked a bit of depth or punch or something, but I would definitely read subsequent stories in this series to find out what might happen.

3. Amulet: Book Two The Stonekeeper's Curse by Kazu Kibuishi
4. Amulet: Book Three The Cloud Searchers by Kazu Kibuishi

The second and third books in the Amulet fantasy graphic novel series by Kazu Kibuishi. I love this series. It has strong elements of family, adventure, fantasy and surprises me with its ease at making me laugh, cry and of course, worry for the characters. Reminds me of the works of Hayao Miyazaki--what's not to love about that?

5. Elfland by Freda Warrington
I read this fantasy novel because it was the February pick for the Women of Fantasy 2011 Book Club and boy am I ever glad I did because this book was SO my cup of tea. The novel is definitely fantasy, but it is also very largely a family saga type novel and most of the story takes place the modern world. I loved the realistic characters, the love stories, the secrets and complications of their personal relationships and the challenges they faced being Aetherial, which is a sort of fae race of people. There is romance, family drama and Aetherial-human politics between peoples and worlds. I enjoyed Elfland so much that it landed itself on my all time favorite lists. And lucky for me, Ms. Warrington has a second Aetherial Tales novel already out--Midsummer Night.

6. Rogue Hunter by Lynsay Sands {cover not shown}
A paranormal romance novel from the Argeneau Family series. I started this series a few years ago, but have lost interest in trying to catch up and keep up. Not that it's not enjoyable--there are just so many other books I'm more interested in right now. Anyway, I was getting ready to pack this series up in a box and mail back to Tracy from whom I borrowed most of these books, when I flipped this one open and read the first few pages. The story was kind of predictable--which happens after you've read so many vampire paranormal romances--but you know? It was still fun, so I kept reading.

7. The Persian Pickle Club by Sandra Dallas
I read this book for the Authors by the Alphabet online book club. It is a women's fiction novel set in the farm country of Kansas during the depression era. It centers on a tight knit group of women who quilt together and share the ups and downs of the many hardships that they face during difficult times. You can read my review HERE.

8. Imitation in Death by J.D. Robb
I finally followed through and read my first In Death novel since last November! I hope my unintended hiatus from this series is over, because reading this book made me remember why this series is so much fun. Interesting crime fiction and the fascinating personal life of my favorite cop ever--Lt. Eve Dallas. She rocks.

And that's it! It was a great reading month. I hope April is just as great, which so far is looking mighty fine. I read two young adult novels so far this month and they were both A reads for me. In fact, one of them joined Elfland on my all time favorite list!

What was a favorite book you read last month? 

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

REVIEW: The Persian Pickle Club by Sandra Dallas

D This book was the March selection for the Authors by the Alphabet Book Club, representing letter D. For links to other reviews and a book discussion, visit Julie at Reading Without Restraint.

Published in 1996
The Persian Pickle Club by Sandra Dallas is a story of friendship in times of adversity in the small farming community of Harveyville, Kansas during the Great Depression era and has a bit of a murder mystery to it as well. The story is told from the point of view of a young farm wife named Queenie Bean who treasures time spent with her closest friends in their quilting club. The women name their quilting club The Persian Pickle Club after a treasured bolt of quilting fabric with a Persian pickle design on it, also known as paisley. The members of the club affectionately refer to themselves as "Pickles."

Queenie is the youngest Pickle and yearns for a close friend her own age in the Pickle Club. When newcomer and newlywed Rita Ritter joins the Pickles, Queenie is anxious to become best friends with her. Rita is friendly and nice, but very different from the farm wives of Kansas. Rita is a city girl and aspires to be a successful news reporter. In fact, Rita is determined to write her best news story ever that will land her a job at a major city newspaper and essentially be her ticket out of farm country. When the bones of one of the Pickle's missing husband is found in a shallow roadside grave, Rita believes solving the mystery of his murder will be her lucky break. She enlists help from Queenie who is all too eager to spend time with her new best friend, even when their investigating leads them to trouble and possibly heartache as secrets between Pickle members are unearthed.

The Persian Pickle Club is a charming Depression-era story that encompasses a wide range of important women's topics such as friendship, marriage, financial hardships, charity, death, widowhood and even infertility. The author adeptly draws the reader in to the hardships of this time and the lives of the families trying to survive with their dignity intact. A few scenes packed more emotional punch than I expected, and despite the fact that there is a murder mystery, the story is warm and uplifting.

For all it's strengths, however, I did feel the book could have been more for a few reasons. For one, the story started out rather slow. Considering the book is barely two hundred pages, I expected the story to be strong and engaging from start, not start to pick up speed and interest at the halfway mark. Perhaps contributing to the feeling of a slow start is the fact that there are so many characters in the story, most of them Pickles who are introduced at the same time, making it difficult to keep track of who was who. I tried to just read on, thinking I'd figure everyone out as I went along, but I still found myself flipping back to the early chapters to remind myself who was who. I think this was especially important for me to keep straight because the women were of different ages and stages of their lives--for example, I found it important to keep straight who was older, younger, related to whom, had children or not, were married, widowed, etc.--because these attributes strongly established their "place" within the community, their hardships and their relationships with each other. Eventually I got it, but I wish I didn't have to work as hard getting it straight. Also, although I enjoyed the murder mystery aspect of the story while I was reading the book and how it inevitably intertwined the lives of the Pickles together, when I closed the book I questioned its plausibility.

This is one of those cases for which I wish readers could give half stars for their ratings on goodreads. I rated The Persian Pickle Club three stars on goodreads, but would have given it three and a half if I could have.


Friday, April 1, 2011

One Year Later

Here I go again talking all about myself and my journey to a healthier me. I apologize for the self-centeredness, but posts like this are effective methods of reaffirming my commitment to myself. Hopefully, I'm also providing encouragement and inspiration to anyone else on a journey to a leaner, healthier self. :)

Exactly one year ago today I wrote a post called New Beginnings in which I made a commitment to myself to make changes in my eating habits in order to become the healthy and fit me that I want to be.

I had already been exercising almost every day already at that time, but I knew the final steps to reaching a healthier weight were to make permanent changes to my diet. Those changes were pretty simple-- in theory, anyway. I basically started counting calories. Every single calorie. For a whole year. I won't lie and say this is not driving me crazy at this point, but it works, so I don't want to stop. Anyway, I counted calories by using the Lose It app on my iPhone almost every single day in the last year. I relearned portion sizes by counting and measuring and weighing foods and I reduced and eliminated a lot of snacks and desserts. I found great incentive in exercising every single day so that I could 'earn' those calories back into my daily budget. Believe me, there were many days that I wouldn't have had enough calories in my daily budget for dinner if I hadn't gone on that 20 minute run or that 10 mile bike ride.

I had a lot of success with the Lose It app and lost 37 pounds between April 1 and November 1 last year. I feel great --both physically and emotionally being where I am now and am never going back to that weight ever again. I just know it.

But, I'm not done yet! I hit that dreaded weight loss plateau last November and haven't been able to break it until very recently and even then, it's slow going. In truth, I gained about 8 pounds between late November and early March of this year. It baffles me as I've been counting calories all this time with the exception of several days around the holidays. And while I indulged a little bit over the holidays, I didn't go crazy pigging out and partying and I was still working out during that time, too. I started strength training two times regularly starting in October, so it is likely that I've gained some muscle mass and we all know that muscle weighs more than fat per volume, but not 8 pounds worth! Two different fitness professionals have suggested that I may have gained some weight back because I am not getting enough calories. You read that right. The argument is that you can actually slow your metabolism down by not getting enough calories to sustain your activity level. So your body sort of goes into conservation mode and stores the calories you consume instead of using your reserves, i.e., burning the fat you already have on your body. It just feels so counter-intuitive to actually eat more to break the plateau and start losing weight again, but I thought I'd try it. So I adjusted my program in Lose It so that my calorie budget was higher each day by about 250 calories, and guess what? I've lost 2 pounds over the last three weeks. Slow, but at least it's budging. I also think I'm at the point where what I eat is as important as the number of calories I eat. I'm going to start reducing the frequency of "white" foods--i.e., simple carbs such as white flours and simple sugars, etc. in my diet. I know it's going to be a lot easier said than done, but I'm going to make a conscious effort to do so and hopefully see some results.

I have 25 pounds more to lose to get to my target weight. I know I look healthy now and most importantly, I feel it, too... but why settle for looking and feeling good when I know with some dedication and discipline I can look and feel amazing, right? It's what I want, so I'm going to do it.

Maybe it'll take a little less than 25 pounds to get there. I'm not exactly sure of the numbers. I figure I'll know when I get there. :)

As always, thank you for your continued support and encouragement as I made many self-absorbed posts like this one throughout the last year and I'm sure will continue to do so in the future as well. I've got the best team of personal cheerleaders right here in you guys.
Thank you!! xo

You can download the FREE Lose It app to your iPhone, iPod Touch or iPad at the iTunes store.

You can also sign up to use Lose It on your computer at

In my experience, the calories burned for the exercises in the Lose It app database are often largely inflated. I recommend using the calories burned calculator at for a more accurate estimate of calories burned for the activities you do and then creating a custom exercise for each activity in the Lose It app. Or purchase a heart rate monitor that has a calorie counting feature for even more accuracy.