Thursday, June 30, 2011

"The Lady Elizabeth"

"The Lady Elizabeth" by Alison Weir
Published in 2008
My rating: 5 out of 5

Most people know something about England's Queen Elizabeth I, whether it be that she was known as the virgin queen, that her mother was the infamous Anne Boleyn, or that she was a staunch Protestant. But Alison Weir's "The Lady Elizabeth" focuses on the Elizabeth that we don't always read about in novels, from her toddlerhood up to the moment she learns she is Queen of England.

I have also read Weir's novel "Innocent Traitor" and between the two books I can say I adore her writing style. Weir, a historian by trade who has written several nonfiction books on English royalty, is excellent at developing a plot that is gripping, suspenseful and intriguing even when we as readers know from history what the outcome will be.

I found the Author's Note section to be very interesting, in particular where Weir describes some of the rumors and theories that influenced the events in the book; some she seems to consider plausible and others she disregards as pure fiction, but she admits she enjoyed playing around with various facts and rumors to fill in the blanks left by history. About one critical event in the novel she writes, "I am not, as a historian, saying that it could have happened; but as a novelist, I enjoy the heady freedom to ask: What if it had?"
I enjoyed this book so much that I'm planning to read some of Weir's nonfiction works as well. If you like Philippa Gregory (author of "The Other Boleyn Girl" and many others), you will love Alison Weir. The subject matter and plots of the two authors' novels are similar and I enjoy both, but personally I think Weir is the better writer.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

What I Wore Wednesday #5, Part 2

Forgot one! The clothes in this outfit are alright; it's the gorgeous Hawaii beach that I wanted to show off!
Sunday (beach)
Teal swimsuit: Target
Black tank top: thrifted
Sweater-shaped thing made of t-shirt material: Charlotte Russe
Shorts: American Eagle

What I Wore Wednesday #5

This week was pretty uneventful. I was busy through the weekend, but the last couple of days I started feeling the boredom from not working starting to set in. I've been trying to keep occupied with some craft projects, knitting and reading. I just finished "The Lady Elizabeth" and will be posting my review soon. Anyway, I'm linking up with The Pleated Poppy again this week for WIWW.

Friday (job interview -- don't worry, it's a casual workplace)
Top (which has really cute tiered satin sleeves): The Limited, thrift shop
Jeans: Rock and Republic (the best clearance buy ever for $90!)
Shoes: Target
Gold aspen leaf necklace: mother-in-law, Sandy
Earrings: Target

Still Friday (lunch with friends)
Grey tank top (I love the little pink accents): American Eagle
White tank top: Target
Jeans: Seven For All Mankind, Nordstrom
Turquoise earrings: Bealls Florida

Saturday (dinner, movie and fancy bar/lounge place in Waikiki with friends where I felt horribly under-dressed. Too bad I don't even own a skintight black dress that ends half an inch below my butt, which appeared to be the dress code for ladies... Nevertheless, I had a great time!)
Top: American Eagle (looking back at pictures from the night, this shirt isn't really as flattering as I thought. I think it might benefit from a belt around the waist.)
Sweater: Target
Jeans: Paige, Nordstrom
Flip flops: Target
Pearl earrings: thrift store

Monday (doggie playdate with very frizzy hair, apparently)
Top: Target
Bermuda shorts: American Eagle
Necklace: Bead for Life, gift from my best bud Katie (this is my favorite necklace -- the colors are fantastic and it goes with everything!)

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Delightful Fruit

I made two delicious fruit desserts in the past week. The first, Strawberry Summer Cake from Smitten Kitchen, I made in honor of the first day of summer. My photo does not look nearly as mouth-watering as Deb's from Smitten Kitchen, but the cake was absolutely amazing. For one thing, the smell of the cake fresh out of the oven would probably make the list of the Top Five Best Things I Have Ever Smelled. And, just like the recipe promised, the strawberried got all soft and jammy and amazing-tasting.

The second fruity dessert I made is called Cherry Delight. It brings back memories of summers spent with my relatives in Indiana because my grandma made it often. I haven't served it in a while (I've been into cake-baking lately), but I needed a quick and easy no-bake dessert for a get-together my husband was hosting for some of his co-workers and his boss (and he had the oven tied up with his five racks of ribs). As I was throwing it together, I started thinking about all the variations Cherry Delight lends itself to. You could replace the graham cracker crust with chocolate cookies, attempt a real cherry filling instead of canned pie filling or even experiment with other fruits, and you could easily use blueberries to create an American flag effect.

Cherry Delight

-This recipe makes one batch, which fits well in a 2-quart casserole dish. For my husband's dinner, I doubled the recipe and put it in a 9x13 casserole dish.

8-10 graham crackers (depending on how much crust you like), smashed until fine (I do this by placing the crackers in a gallon ZipLoc bag and crushing them with a rolling pin)
1 Tbsp. melted butter or margarine
1 packet of Dream Whip
8 oz. cream cheese, softened (I use the 1/3-less-fat kind)
1 can cherry pie filling

Mix crushed graham crackers with melted butter in your casserole dish. Use a fork or your fingers to form crust on bottom of dish. Prepare Dream Whip as directed (you'll need milk and vanilla), then beat in softened cream cheese until mixture is fairly smooth. Spread over crust and refrigerate to set. Spread canned cherry pie filling over the cream cheese mixture and refrigerate until ready to serve. Enjoy!

Friday, June 24, 2011

Furry Friday #2

So much for just posting one picture of Conan and/or Lily on Furry Friday. Today I've got three pictures to share from our week.
I think this is going to be one of my all-time favorite pictures of Conan. In case you couldn't tell, he really loves pillows. You can see the big scar on his back leg, which is a new addition. He recently experienced a whole bevy of medical issues, one of which was some mast cell tumors that had to be removed. He had to wear an e-collar for a whole month and had two separate surgeries during that time, one for a hematoma in his ear flap and the other for the tumor removals.

Here's our kitty. Don't let her silken fur and huge gray-green eyes deceive you. She can definitely be a little terror. We had a bunch of guests over last night and before their arrival I was frantically clipping all the gazillion threads she had pulled loose on the couch with her razor claws.

Last Sunday we took Conan to one of his favorite places, the dog-friendly beach on base. Because of his surgeries, he hadn't been in quite a while and the expression on his face when we pulled up to the beach was pure bliss!

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

What I Wore Wednesday #4

Hello again! I'm linking up with The Pleated Poppy for another round of WIWW. The past seven days have been pretty good for me. I got my hair cut and highlighted on Thursday, and I totally love my new summer 'do. Jarrod returned home on Saturday and we ate our belated anniversary dinner at P.F. Chang's, where he proceeded to completely surprise me with some diamond stud earrings. And, speaking of jewelry, I managed to find an adorable necklace and a pair of earrings on clearance Tuesday and got both for under $6! On a side note, yesterday I really noticed WIWW achieving its purpose in my life. I was getting dressed to go run some quick errands and I was sorely tempted to just throw on a t-shirt. But then, with WIWW in mind, I grabbed one of my new shirts and put it on with a smile.

Saturday (anniversary dinner)
Tan embellished tank top: Charlotte Russe, thrift shop
White tank top: Target
Jeans: Seven For All Mankind, Nordstrom
Wooden bangle: Bealls Florida
Earrings: thrift shop

Sunday (errands and taking the dog to the beach)
Top: American Eagle
Jeans: Seven For All Mankind, Nordstrom
Earrings: new diamond studs from Jarrod!
Sandals: Target

Tuesday (errands)
Top: Calvin Klein, thrift shop
White tank top: Target
Jeans: Paige, Nordstrom (since these are the jeans I wear most often, I figured I would let you see the back for a change)
Earrings: new diamond studs from Jarrod

Monday, June 20, 2011

Mitts for Mary

I had hoped to have a book review and/or a post on my latest craft project (I'm making a scarf out of old t-shirts) this week, but I got side-tracked by a knitting project. Once a week for the entire time I've been working at the base thrift shop, Mary has volunteered with me at the register. Mary is 84 and has been volunteering at the shop for over 30 years. Her husband used to be the commander of Hickam Air Force Base, and before that her husband's military career took them all over the world. Just today she told me about living in Japan and working for a TV station there, translating shows from English to Japanese. Mary is full of stories, wisdom and advice, and she is one of the few parts of my job that I will really miss. My last day at the thrift shop will be Wednesday, but today was my last time working with Mary. I wanted to give her something to show my appreciation for her friendship and kindness these many months that we've worked together, so I decided to whip up a pair of fingerless mitts for her. The pattern I used is called Seeta on Ravelry.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Furry Friday

I decided to add a new feature to my blog called Furry Friday. Each Friday I'm going to post a picture of one or both of our furry family members. The idea came partly from my favorite non-fiction book, "The Daily Coyote" by Shreve Stockton. Shreve moves to middle-of-nowhere Wyoming and ends up adopting a coyote puppy, whom she posted pictures of every day on her website, "The Daily Coyote."

So today I'm introducing you to Conan and Lily. We got Conan at 11 months old when we were living in Florida. He came with the name Conan and, since it's a bit odd, we initially planned to change it. But then we realized that all the pop-culture references for the name Conan fit our dog's personality -- Conan the Barbarian, Conan the Destroyer and Conan O'Brien. (I think he was originally named after the latter Conan because his fur is a pretty close match to Conan O'Brien's hair.) Conan has been our furry child for almost four years now and we love him to pieces and spoil him far more than we will spoil any future human children.

We really wanted another boxer sibling for Conan, but our yard is pretty small and just the thought of air travel with two huge dogs when we move from Hawaii in 2012 gave me a headache. So last July we adopted Lily in the hope that she would become a companion for Conan. Her parents are feral cats and she and her littermates were rescued when they were about 2 months old. She's quite a handful and she is the subject of many glares, shoos, water bottle squirts and yelling fits (complete with hand gestures). But she has grown to be best buds with Conan and we're hoping that she'll settle down as she ages. (She just turned 1 in May.)

Incidentally, Lily's name was also inspired by a book. I really wanted to name her Artemis because her coloring and gray-green eyes reminded me of the moon, and I was reading one of the Percy Jackson and the Olympians novels at the time. Artemis is the Greek goddess of the moon and the hunt and I thought the name was fitting. But nobody else liked it, so we went with my second suggestion of Lily. I had recently finished "The Secret Life of Bees" (a fantastic book) and the protagonist in that book is named Lily. Unfortunately, as she's gotten older it seems like Lily really doesn't fit her. We should have stuck with the name the 10 Lives rescue gave her -- Miss Chiff!

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Making Lemonade from Lemons... Literally

To me, pumpkins mean fall, hot chocolate means winter, daffodils mean spring and lemons mean summer. Maybe it's my childhood Countrytime Lemonade stands, or the light, fresh smell and bright, sunshiney color of lemons, but I've always associated this particular citrus with summer.

Since summer is starting to set in, I've been craving lemon. I recently made some Vermontucky lemonade cocktails from my favorite cooking blog, Smitten Kitchen. And for my weekly doggie playdate with my friend Jessica today, I served fresh-squeezed lemonade. I always have some Simply Lemonade in the fridge, but there's something about homemade lemonade that makes it taste a little bit better and feel a little more special (maybe it's the elbow grease expended while juicing all those lemons!). To make my lemonade, I loosely follow this recipe from All Recipes. After juicing my lemons, I tailor the rest of the ingredients to the amount of lemon juice yielded. I usually add about 3/4 as much water and simple syrup as I think I need, then keep adding more splash by splash until I've achieved the perfect tart-sweet taste. Then, of course, I serve it in mason jars. Next on the lemon to-do list: lemon bars.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

What I Wore Wednesday #3

Once again, I'm linking up with The Pleated Poppy for What I Wore Wednesday. This has been quite the week for me, between giving my two weeks' notice at work, dealing with the emotional rollercoaster of finding out when my husband will be deployed to the Middle East, having him gone on a TDY (business trip, for you non-military people), more health problems with the dog, and lots of craft projects going at once. But on Sunday, I actually hauled my sorry butt to the mall (the real MALL!) and did some shopping. I had great success both with finding stuff I liked and with those things also being on sale, and I got seven new items for under $100. Since I got my new clothes on Sunday and am no longer dressing nicely for work (I'm now wearing t-shirts like everybody else), the only new purchase you get to see this week is Tuesday's shirt. Incidentally, Tuesday's outfit is my favorite for the week. I really like my new shirt, and I wore my favorite earrings and bangle as accessories. So without further ado:

Wednesday (quit work day!)
Ruffled tank top: JC Penney
Sweater (my favorite): Target
Jeans: Seven For All Mankind, Nordstrom
Watch: Fossil
Earrings (which, sadly, you can't really see): Kohl's

(dinner at Bubba Gump with Jarrod to celebrate our anniversary -- which is today -- since he's gone for work)
Shirt: Target
Jeans: Paige, Nordstrom
Earrings: handmade by my friend and (soon-to-be former) co-worker, Ming
Sunday (shopping!)
Shirt (which has a row of really cute heart-shaped buttons that aren't visible here): Macy's
Jeans: Paige, Nordstrom
Turquoise earrings: Bealls Florida
(lunch with a friend)
Shirt: American Eagle (I love this new top! I typically try to avoid horizontal stripes since they don't do anything for my wide -- or child-bearing, as Jarrod jokes -- hips, but I couldn't resist this one. Turquoise is tied with raspberry pink for my favorite color, and that turquoise stripe just won me over!)
Jeans: Seven For All Mankind, Nordstrom
Earrings: Bealls Florida
Bracelet: Bealls Florida

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

What I Wore Wednesday #2

This week I didn't have any special occasions that necessitated dressing cute like I had last week, so this is a more accurate idea of how I usually dress. Again, I reeeeally want to start shopping around more and putting together more interesting outfits. I have a lot of clothes that I don't ever wear and I want to try to incorporate those into my daily wardrobe. Wish me luck! (On a quick side note, I have such trouble getting the spacing right on my blog posts! I finally gave up, many accidentally deleted pictures later. I really need to learn to edit the HTML code!)
Thursday (errands)
Shirt: Old Navy
Skirt: Old Navy
Earrings: Target
Yarn-wrapped bangle: Hickam AFB spring craft fair

Friday (went to work and had a friend over for dinner)
Sweater: Old Navy
Camisole: Kohl's
Jeans: American Rag from Macy's
Earrings: Aloha Stadium swap meet

Saturday (Aloha Stadium swap meet and errands)
Shirt: JC Penney
Skirt: Old Navy, thrift shop
Sandals: Target
Earrings (which are actually really pretty with a white stone and pearl): thrift shop

Monday (work)
Shirt: Macy's
Jeans: American Eagle
Earrings: International Marketplace in Waikiki
Headband: ME! (See Tuesday's post for the project details.)

Tuesday (lunch with hubby and friend, errands)
Shirt: Target
Jeans: Silver from The Buckle (From college! It makes me happy that I can still fit into jeans that I bought 7 years ago!)
Yarn-wrapped bracelet: Hickam AFB spring craft fair

Monday, June 6, 2011

Getting Crafty!

I have shamelessly stolen another idea from my friend Veronica's blog, Life by the Skein. Last week she wrote about rosettes and I was so inspired by the gorgeous necklace she made that I decided to try my hand at one of these little fabric flowers. I used the same tutorial Veronica did from Portabello Pixie. To make this rosette, you need a strip of fabric, a needle and thread, a button or bead, an iron, and some patience.

I had planned all along to attach the rosette to an old headband I never wear anymore. It initially had long ties coming from the ends, but I clipped those off. My first attempt at the rosette was too three-dimensional and I thought it would look like a lone horn sprouting off the top of my head. On my second try, I went for a flatter, wider look and I was thrilled with the result. Then I hot-glued it on to the headband and wore my new creation to work today. For the whole outfit, check out this week's What I Wore Wednesday post.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

"I'm a Stranger Here Myself"

"I'm a Stranger Here Myself" by Bill Bryson
Published in 1999
My rating: 4 out of 5

I just finished reading Bill Bryson's compilation of weekly newspaper columns written for a British magazine about coming home to America after living in England for 20 years. The title, "I'm a Stranger Here Myself," is a very apt description of the book because it's obvious that although Bryson is American-born, he's British in culture and spirit.

The columns are mostly humorous, and alternate between self-deprecation, pointing out American eccentricities, and occasionally teasing the British audience for whom the columns were written. Bryson tags himself as kind of a bumbling idiot, and his column on getting a new computer up and running was one of my favorites. The column is written in the form of an instruction pamphlet, but says things like, "Congratulations. You are ready to set up. If you have not yet acquired a degree in electrical engineering, now is the time to do so," and "If you have not yet committed suicide, then insert Installation Diskette 1 in drive slot 2 (or vice versa) and follow the instructions on your screen. (Note: Owing to a software modification, some instructions will appear in Turkish.)" In other columns, Bryson details his incompetence in dealing with repairmen of all varieties, two different occasions in which he encountered trouble with airline travel, disastrous haircuts, difficulties with Christmas decorations and his adventures on a snowmobile, which he describes as "a rocket ship designed by Satan to run on snow."

Many of the columns deal with what Bryson (and likely his British audience) views as the eccentricites of American life. He describes the vast amount of cupholders in American vehicles, fast food drive-thrus (which I was surprised to learn don't really exist in England), the fact that Americans (even very fit and healthy ones who work out daily) seem to have an aversion to walking anywhere and would rather get in the car and drive across the street to a different store than walk. He asserts that Americans are accustomed to instant gratification ("To an American shopper, there are just three spans of time: now, tomorrow at the very latest, and we'll look elsewhere."), an abundance of choice ("I remember going to the supermarket for the first time [since arriving back in America] and being genuinely impressed to find it stocked with no fewer than eighteen varieties of incontinence diaper."), and a never-ending supply of junk food. This is all presented humorously (and often with statistics) and as an American reader, it was easy to admit that all of Bryson's observations on the quirks and uniqueness of American life were true. I laughed out loud when Bryson made a mockery of his income tax form, and nodded in agreement when he described renting a car and the rudeness of airline employees.

However, there were times when Bryson's teasing of American ways felt more like a harsh critique. These observations were mostly true as well, but these columns were on things such as excessive red tape, immigration, the ineffective war on drugs, government inefficiency and so on. When I read these columns I felt a bit resentful and angry and was thinking that Bryson spent pretty much all of his adult life in England; who is he to come back to America after 20 years and pick on the way we do things? Again, these arguments were pretty much all things I could understand and even agree with. But it's kind of like this: I have a little brother who's eight years younger than me. When I was a a kid and had friends over, he could sometimes be a bother. It was all well and good for me to tell him to go away, that he was being annoying. But if one of my friends dared jump in, I would immediately get defensive of him. It was much the same with these columns.

Overall, this book was a really enjoyable read and had many laugh-out-loud moments. I'm planning to read Bryson's other books about walking the Appalachian Trail and visiting Australia. And maybe I'll finally crack open his "A Short History of Nearly Everything," which has been sitting on my bookshelf unread since my sophomore year of college.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

What I Wore Wednesday #1

My friend Veronica has a great blog called Life by the Skein in which she writes about knitting, crafts, and other fun stuff. The main thing I look forward to, though, is her What I Wore Wednesday posts, in which she links up with the originator of WIWW at The Pleated Poppy blog and posts photos of some of her outfits from the week. I think the whole thought process behind WIWW is that it will make you put more time and consideration into your outfits, since you know you'll be posting pictures of them for all the world to see. My motivation is a bit different -- I've somehow gotten stuck in a shopping rut since we moved to Hawaii. I used to love shopping, but now almost all of my clothes (especially shirts) come from either Target or the Air Force base thrift store where I work. My goal is to re-expand my shopping horizons. So without further ado:

Dress (which I purchased especially for this occasion -- my husband's promotion -- and actually has a really pretty light black print that's hard to see with this lighting): Target
Pearl earrings: thrift store
Shoes: several years old and horrendously uncomfortable, Target

I wore this outfit to a poker party last Friday (which turned into an all-night affair!)
Sequined tank top: Target
Jeans: Paige Denim, Nordstrom (these are my favorite jeans and I wear them incessantly
Earrings: Target

This is what I wore to work today. It's a pretty typical work outfit for me; I usually wear jeans and a decent top.
Jeans: (same as above) Paige Denim, Nordstrom
Tank top: Target
Sweater: H&M (I sure wish we had one of these here in Hawaii!)
Necklace: The Vintage Pearl
Earrings: Kohl's

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