Tuesday, December 18, 2012

The Chess Table, aka When DIY Goes Wrong

Once upon a time, I bought a chess table cheap off Craigslist, and attempted to refinish it all on my own.  Sometimes things just don't work out according to plan.

 It all started with this little guy.  Cute, structurally sound chess table in need of a home and some love.

I totally misread the Craigslist ad though, and overlooked that it was only 15 inches tall.  That's barely taller than our kitten, Thor.  Thor is unimpressed.

At first I was in denial.  Certainly I could just find some short stools or chairs, and this would still be a great table!  Alas, my thrift store hunting left me empty handed.  I found one chair that would work, but chess is better played with two.  So then I had the brilliant idea to just get new legs.  A search of Home Depot, and I came home with four of these poplar 26 inch sticks.  The pre-made table legs all seemed to grand (read expensive).

I also walked out with two small jars of stain.  One in a color called Kona, the other Golden Pecan.  I started sanding, in preparation for application of what I thought would be beautiful new stain.  I sanded and sanded, and developed a new callous on my thumb.  Someday I will invest in a hand sander.

So the color on the can of Kona looked like a dark brown with darker areas of the grain almost black.  When I opened the can, I thought "wow, this looks really dark, I wonder if I should trade it for a different color.  But I want to stain this now! I'm sure it will be fine."  Someday I will learn that it is better to get it right than get it quickly.  That stain was black.  The instructions said to wipe off in 10-15 minutes, I started wiping in off after 5.  You could barely see the wood grain.

I carried on though, thinking that once the lighter squares were the Golden Pecan color, it would look better. It didn't.

Google told me that stain stripper likely wouldn't work on new stain.  I tried anyway.  It sort of worked.  It lightened the stain at least.  My options were to leave the thing in the garage for a year and try stripping it again, re-sanding the whole thing, or just carrying on.  I chose the later.

I went back to Home Depot and chose Black Cherry.  It looked like a warm dark brown.  I opened the jar at home, and the stain looked purple.  Having totally failed to learn my lesson with the Kona, I applied it anyway.  Yep, purple.  Argh.  At that point, I decided to just stick with the Kona.  The Kona over the Black Cherry ended up looking ok though.  I pretty much started wiping the stain off as soon as it was applied, but the purple under the black ended up looking fine.

I attached the new legs, gave the whole thing a coating of polyurethane, and called it done.  I'm calling it the daddy long legs chess table.  I suppose not every project can work out.  After the holidays, I may start cruising Craigslist for a game table again.  This time, we'll just put our existing board on top of it.

Saturday, December 8, 2012

How we used our parents' night out

The kids' daycare hosted a parents' night out last night.  For $45, they fed the kids dinner, played games, and had a party, until 10:30 pm.  Not a bad deal for all three kids!  We were going to go to a movie, but there wasn't anything at our local theater that we really wanted to see, and we were too lazy to go farther away.

Instead, when we got home from work we changed our clothes and went running.  We weren't sure if the park where my husband usually runs was lighted or not, so we just ran a loop around the neighborhood.  I loved seeing all of the Christmas lights.  We went running together on Veterans' Day as well (day off for us, but not for the kids!), and that was the first time I'd been running since the Too Hot to Handle race in July.  I am getting lazy.

I signed my husband up for the Too Cold to Hold 10 mile race, but wimped out and signed myself up for the 5 mile course.  I just want to run a race all the way through, without stopping to walk, and I know I'd be setting myself up to fail if I singed up for 10 miles.  I'm looking forward to the race though, and hopefully having the race to prepare for will encourage me to get off my ass and run more than two times in five months!

We did 4 miles, and my slow pace, but it was a nice run.  I could have made it another mile, but had set 4 as my goal, and was looking forward to going out to eat without the kids!

Thursday, December 6, 2012

2012 Reading Challenge - Book #25

Book #25 was The Mysterious Benedict Society, by Trenton Lee Stewart.  We bought this book for my oldest son last Christmas, and started reading it in February, after we finished a How to Train Your Dragon book.  We didn't read this book every night, but we also didn't take many breaks from reading it either - it is a long book to read aloud!  It was a change for us, as the How to Train Your Dragon books are clearly written with the idea that they are likely to be read aloud by the adult.  The Mysterious Benedict Society  is not as suited for reading aloud, but I also think many young readers would struggle to read it independently, so I'm left a bit unsure as to what age group the book is intended for.  My son, who was turning 6 when we started it, and is now almost 7, was able to follow along fairly well, although he did forget some characters who are prominent in early chapters and then disappear until the final chapter.  The characters are well developed, and my son found the children's plotting and tricks hilarious.  He is eager to start the next book in the series, but we have convinced him to take a break with this series, and we'll come back to it in a year or so. 

My son wants to read The Chronicles of Narnia next.  I'm excited to read them to him, but am also a bit disappointed that I won't be able to count them towards the 2013 Reading Challenge, as only new reads count.  My goal for 2012 was 30 books, and it doesn't look like I'm going to make it. 

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Craigslist find turned homework desk

Two or so weeks ago, I was searching Craigslist for a table.  We want to put a chess table in our developing game room, but really don't want to spend several hundred dollars.  I'd seen one on Craigslist that was just a regular end table, but had a hand painted chess board on top.  They also wanted $500 for it.  It gave me the idea of maybe buying a card table or larger end table, and painting on the chess board myself.  I hoped to find one with a drawer or two, so we could store the chess pieces there when we weren't playing.  My husband was less sold on the idea, but wasn't going to stop me from just looking, and I was sure I could convince him to at least let me try if I found a cheap enough table.  So as I'm looking, there is an add for a desk/table that catches my eye.  It was only $20, but wasn't what I was looking for in a game table at all.  But I do need a desk in our study, and thought it might make a nice table in the entry way too.  I thought about it for a few hours, then mentioned it to my husband.  He rolled his eyes and told me to just get it.  For $20, it was worth taking a shot.  I texted the seller, and arranged to pick it up after the kids' afternoon sports were over.

 This is what it looked like when we got it home.  You can't see the color really well here, but the bottom was painted a greenish blue, and the top was a lightly stained wood.  There was a spot on the top that looked like something hot had been left there, and the stain sort of melted and was peeling away from it.  The paint on the legs was a bit cracked and peeling, so even if I wanted to keep the color, a paint job was called for.  But then my plans were derailed by my older son.  He saw it, and immediately asked if it could be his homework desk.  I am a sucker, so I said yes.

 I asked him what color he wanted to paint it, and first he said rainbow stripes.  I told him that was beyond my painting skills.  He asked if we could do stripes at all, and I conceded that stripes on the top might be possible, but the bottom would have to be all one color.  He chose black, white, and grey stripes on top, with a black bottom.  First though, we had done a google image search for striped desk, and found this one.  It satisfied my son's desire for rainbows, but made me want to cry at the thought of taping off all those stripes.  After reading the blog, and learning it was all done with tape, I was almost willing to give it a shot, but decided that without a glass or fake glass top, the edges would get gummy too quickly in our house.  So on to black and white it was.  I took the desk outside to begin sanding it down, and found some bonus items in the drawer!  Potentially useful items included several lighters, some mini-cigars, and a screwdriver.  Neither of us smokes though, and the lighters were empty, but hey, the screwdriver works!  And I have always been of the opinion that you can't have enough screwdrivers.  There was also a lonely poker chip, and scorecards from an unidentified game.  Off to the trash went everything but the screwdriver.

 I went to Home Depot, and asked for a sample pot in black, and one in white.  As they were mixing the black, I wandered over to the "oops" paint shelf.  I should have looked there first!  There were quart sized cans of black and an off-white for $2 each!  The sample pots are only $3ish, but they are a lot smaller.  Lesson learned.  Always check the oops shelf first.  I always wonder how cans end up there.  The custom mixed stuff always comes with a "not returnable" label, and the paint guy is always careful to remind me that they can't refund me if I don't like the color once it is mixed.  Are other customers just more pushy than me?  Are the oops cans ones that customers left behind or forgot about while they were being mixed?  Or are they really oops cans, where the computer added the wrong amount of a colorant, or the employee used the wrong brand/size/finish paint?

I chaperoned my son's field trip one morning, then had the rest of the day off, so started things off.  I gave everything a good sanding, and then just jumped in.  The black took 3-4 coats.  The white top took 3.  I sort of messed up the white top at first, when I inadvertently went back over a coat that wasn't all the way dry.  The brush pulled up some of the paint, and there were gummy paint strings all across the top. I walked away for about an hour, then came back and sanded those down, and started the next coat.  When my son saw it, he was immediately mad, thinking I was not going to do the stripes.  I explained that it was easier to do the base all one color, then paint the stripes on that, rather than try to do stripes of every color.  He seemed satisfied.  He also changed his mind about the grey, and decided just black and white would work.

After a bit of discussion regarding how wide the stripes should be, he decided they should be exactly the width of the painter's tape.  Made it easy for me, as I just cut two small tabs of tape that I then moved down the table as I added strips of tape across the desk.  No tape measure needed!  I started painting, and my son was skeptical.  He thought it would all end up black.  He liked it when we pulled off the tape to reveal the stripes.  There were some areas where the black paint bled under the tape, but nothing too bad.  Some of the spots I touched up a bit with a small brush and the white paint.  If I knew I was doing a stripes project again, I'd go with the heavy duty painter's tape, but I just used the roll I'd bought when I painted the door.

With the paint on the top and base done, it was time to paint the drawer.  I thought I'd paint it white, and do the pulls black, but my son disagreed.  He waned the drawer striped too.  I was not about to try to paint vertical stripes on the drawer -- too many curves and corners for me to feel confident about taping it.  Then he asked if we could do the front rectangle face black, and the surrounding area white.  That seemed much less labor intensive, so I agreed.  He wanted the pulls black too.  I think they blend in a bit too much, and doing them white, or going to the store and choosing some silver or white would have been a better choice, but as he reminded me, it is his desk, and his choice.
I put a few coats of polyurethane on, and was surprised how hard I found it to get the coats nice and light.  No matter how thin I tried to apply it, I ended up catching drips off the side.  I may try a spray-on poly next time.  But the end result was nice and shiny, and I hope it will help make the desk more cleaning friendly.

I moved the desk in to the living room, and now we are on the hunt for a chair to go along with it!  I hope my son will enjoy his striped desk!

Friday, November 9, 2012

Book #24 - The Tourist

Book #24 was The Tourist, by Olen Steinhauer.  It was a fun spy thriller.  And I love finding a series after the author has already written a few books - the instant gratification of being able to pick up the next one in the series is great.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

The saga of our new door, or, how hard can this possibly be?

Back in the first week of August, the glass on our front door cracked.  The next day, one of the cracked sections fell out.  The door was old, needed a lot of work if we wanted to keep it, and we didn't really like it all that much anyway, so we decided to replace it.

What should have been a short process led to us not getting a new door until a few days before Halloween.  Home Depot dropped the ball a few times, by not returning phone calls, and not communicating between the retail staff and the installation team.  Then, once our door was finally ordered and delivered (one month after we ordered, rather than the two weeks they had estimated), we had to send it back, because they had pre-drilled holes for the hardware, but those holes didn't line up with the existing spots on the frame.  This was fairly obnoxious, as they require that an installation team come out and measure everything before you can even order a door (we have to pay for this), so I am unclear as to why the correct measurements weren't available.  We finally got the door installed, and the handle now sticks, and the deadbolt requires almost enough force to break the key to get the key to turn in the lock.  I am not pleased, and really don't think we'll use the Home Depot's installation services again.  Every person we dealt with was exceedingly polite and apologetic when things didn't work out they way they should, but there were just so many missteps, that I don't think we could confidently use them again.  Additionally, I felt as if we were being pushed to purchase an entire frame and replace the perfectly functional glass panels on the sides and top of the door frame.  The door we wanted to buy was actually a few hundred more than the one we ended up buying, but we could buy it only if we also replaced all of the panels around the door, which more than tripled the price.

The door was finally installed, but we had to paint it ourselves.  We debated between a dark green and a dark red for a while (turns out we had plenty of time to decide).  Our house has red brick, and we recently replaced our black shutters with forest green.  I was a bit worried that a red door with the green shutters would look a bit too Chirstmasy all the time, but I was also having trouble finding a green that I liked.  I took several walks around the neighborhood looking at doors, and almost all of my favorites were red.  So I brought home something like 30 red paint chips from the store (still Home Depot, I like shopping there).  We rejected most of them right away once we had them out in the sunlight, and narrowed it down to 3-5.

We decided on Raw Cinnabar, from Behr.  I had read a few blogs from people who painted their doors red, and almost all seemed to mention that the red they choose was not what they expected when they started painting.  So I bought a sample pot of the Raw Cinnabar, and of another red, Tuscan Rose, and painted some cardboard swatches.  We brought them outside, and still liked the Raw Cinnabar the most, so I bought a quart!  I think I probably could have just stuck with the sample pot, but wanted to get the paint & primer combination, and it will be nice to have extra in case it needs to be touched up later.

I started by taping off the hardware.  I really want to replace it -- not only does it now not work smoothly, but I think it is the original hardware from when the house was built, and it is showing its age.  I was shocked at how much replacing the door handle will be though!  The least expensive option I saw at Home Depot was $93.  Ugh.  I started to tape off the glass, but the oval shape made that very difficult, and I figured I would just be careful, and wipe off any mistakes.  That turned out to be an ok decision, but it was nerve wracking working around the edges!

I had purchased a small roller, but ended up using just the brush and a small foam brush.  There were so many small areas and trim areas, that by the time I was done with those, it felt like 80% of the door was done.  It seemed like a waste to use the roller for the small areas left to do.  Looking at the picture now, I see that there was more unpainted area than painted, but I swear getting to this point took 45 minutes, and the rest of the door took 5.

I finished the first coat, and let it dry for a few hours before shutting the door.  I was really excited by how well the paint & primer combination gave such good coverage.  I was trying to make the paint coat as thin as possible, but even after just one coat, there weren't many glaring areas where the door color still peaked through.  Up close you could definitely see that a second coat was needed, but from the street, it looked great!

As I began to paint, I realized that the door was going to move, and I didn't want to have to hold on to it the whole time.  I looked for something heavy to put behind it, and used our huge Rubbermaid storage tubs - one filled with flour, the other with brown sugar.  That seemed to do the trick.  I also realized as I started painting the top that I was in danger of getting a bit of the red paint on the white trim, so I added a few strips of tape to the top of the trim.  I also added garbage bag drop cloths to our floor.

For the second coat, I did not bother pulling out the rolling pan.  I hadn't used the roller yesterday, so decided to avoid the potential mess that comes when I pour paint out of a can, and just dip the brushes directly into the paint can.  I think it turned out well!

Monday, October 29, 2012

Book #23 - Bless Me, Ultima

I was looking for a book to read the other week, and saw Bless Me, Ultima, by Rudolfo Anaya.  I knew that the book had been through at least 2 cross country moves, and it seemed to be one that had been on our bookshelves forever, but I never picked it up.  I'd assumed it was one of my husband's from college, and shelved it accordingly.  I asked him if it was any good, and he looked at me as if I were crazy, and said he'd never read it.  He thought it was one of my books.

The receipt in the front cover proved him right.  I, or someone in my family, purchased it for $12 at the Barnes & Noble in my hometown, in 1995.  It was right before the school year started, what would have been my sophomore year in high school.  I don't think it was assigned in either of my English classes for that year (Banned Books*, and Great Villains), I didn't take Spanish, and I can't think of any other class where it would have been assigned.  And the book had never been cracked open, best I could tell.

So I did finally read it, and enjoyed it.  The day after I started it, I saw a newspaper article about the upcoming movie based on the novel.  It's strange how that seems to happen; as soon as you learn about something, it pops up in all sorts of places.  I am interested in seeing the movie, but will probably wait until it comes out on demand.  Our movie nights are limited here, given the lack of a babysitter!

*Ok, I went and looked at the trailer for the movie, and apparently the book was banned in several areas when it was published.  So I guess the book could have been on the list for my Banned Books class.  I know we never did read it though.  Perhaps we just ran out of time.  Anyway, the trailer for the movie looks awesome, and I may try and drag my husband to see it.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Book #22

Book #22 was Gallows View, by Peter Robinson.  It was ok, but I'm not going to go out of my way to find anything else by the same author.  The writing felt very heavy handed, and the final chapter seemed to exist for the sole purpose of beating the reader over the head with the Great Moral Lessons from the story.

I used to read a lot more mystery novels than I do now.  This book made me miss those previous books.  I think the only mystery-type books I've read recently are from the Dresden Files series, but those have morphed from mystery novels in an urban fantasy setting to urban fantasy with a side of mystery.  Great series though.  I'm looking forward to the newest installment in November.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Reading Challenge Books 19-21

Books 19-21 were from the Liveship Traders trilogy, by Robin Hobb.  My father-in-law had lent me the first book years ago, after I finished the Farseer trilogy from the same author.  I read about a chapter, excited to have another book from the same world, but put it down after that, disappointed that there did not appear to be any overlap in characters.  I returned to the series after starting the Rain Wild Chronicles.  It is sort of funny reading ostensibly stand-alone trilogies/series out of order.  You don't need to have read the Liveship Traders trilogy to understand the Tawny Man trilogy, but there are things that remain mysteries the latter series if you haven't read the former!  Likewise, I have enjoyed the Rain Wild Chronicles very much so far, but those books took some of the mystery out of the Liveship Traders trilogy.

One thing I think Hobb did an excellent job on in the Liveship Traders trilogy was keeping the characters complicated (I was going to say balanced, but that isn't quite right).  I tend to dislike when characters are wholly good or wholly evil, and the character's in Hobb's other series often suffer that weakness.  The characters in the Liveship Trader's are more nuanced, and I appreciated that.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Reading Challenge #18 - East of Eden

Book 18 was East of Eden.  Why did no one make me read this book before????  It was beautiful.  Due to an odd high school curriculum, I was never assigned a great number of books that most reasonably well-read adults have been made to read at some point.  I have to thank Mumford and Sons for writing a beautiful song that interested me in reading the book that inspired it.  I'm now off to find a list of other books that I should have read a long time ago, and am looking forward to some great discoveries.

Also, when reading a book that everyone assumes every other adult has already read at some point, be aware that people will try to spoil it for you.  I had to talk over two people on two different flights who wanted to talk about their favorite parts of the book -- parts I hadn't gotten to yet!  They both looked skeptical when I said I was reading it for the first time, and please don't tell me how it ends.

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Negative Calories

So I've been slowing chipping away at the baby weight from my last pregnancy, but have been stuck in the same five pound range for about two months now.  I haven't been watching what I've been eating well at all, and have been making a few too many batches of cookies.

I decided to try harder this week.  My coworkers did not make this easy.  On Tuesday someone brought in cookies.  The cookies from this bakery are so good, that they are usually gone within fifteen minutes of someone e-mailing the office and saying they brought some to the break room.  I resisted.  On Friday, someone brought in doughnuts.  I love doughnuts.  Thursdays are traditionally doughnut morning in our family, and I resisted then.  I resisted Friday too.

I should  get to count negative 800 calories, right?

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Too Hot to Handle 15K

Today I ran the Too Hot to Handle 15 K.  Texas, July, 15K, sounds fun!  It actually wasn't all that hot, and the course was nicely shaded for the most part.  I finished in 1:53 and some seconds.  I did some serious walking in the second half, but ended up running more than I thought I would be able to.  My training, once again, was subpar.  My goal headed into the race was to make it to the half-way point before stopping to take a walk break.  The course was a nice out-and-back, so judging halfway was easy.  I felt really good the first half, so then decided to go to 5 miles.  Was still feeling good shortly before the 5 mile marker, so decided to get to 6.  Runkeeper told me when I reached 6 according to GPS, but I couldn't see the mile marker on the course anywhere.  I ran for another minute or so, before deciding to walk.  Not two seconds later, I saw the marker.  I made myself start running again until I passed it.  At one point around the 5 mile mark, I started thinking of trying to run the whole thing.  I swear my legs heard my thoughts, and they immediately registered a protest.  It was as if they said "look bitch, if that's the way you're going to think, we'll just quit now!"  I reconsidered, and said I would evaluate how I was feeling at 6 miles.  My legs concurred that this was a much better plan.

I ran a lot of the race without music, which was less boring than I thought it would be. Around mile 2, my iPod decided it didn't really need to send a signal to my headphones.  I unplugged the headphones and replugged them several times, but that fixed it only the first time.  I unplugged them so I could at least hear the Runkeeper prompts every half mile.  There were still a lot of people running near me, and I enjoyed listening to snippets of their conversations.  Around mile 8, I plugged my headphones back in, and the iPod decided it could send me music again.  It was much appreciated!  I made myself run the whole last mile, and I was so glad to see the finish line!  I actually started crying when I finished, which made catching my breath difficult.

A few thoughts about the race set up:  the race is held on the trails around White Rock Lake.  While it was nice to run on the trails instead of the road, the trails were still open to the public.  Several bikers were trying to do their rides at the same time the race was going on, and some of the bikers were none to happy to have so many runners on the path.  Some of the runners definitely contributed to the problem by not staying towards the right of the path, so the bikers could easily pass on the left.  The course support was great - water and powerade around every mile, with sprinklers set up at several stations.  Whomever prepared the powerade made it very weak though. After spitting it out at the second or third station, I stuck with water the rest of the time.  There was a nice lady around mile 7 offering ice cold washcloths.  I'm pretty sure she was an angel.  People park like assholes.  We got there about 45 minutes before the start.  Much of the parking is just along the side of the streets surrounding the park.  We passed at least 5 spots where someone could have parked if people had parked another foot or so either forward or back.  It seems to me that if you are attending a popular event, and you know parking is limited, you'd park yourself in a manner that would allow your fellow runners to park as well.

The same race organizers run the same race in January, called Too Cold to Hold.  I'm definitely signing up.  I will be very curious to see how much faster I can do this race in less hot conditions!

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Reading Challenge Books #15-17

Book 15 was The Magician's Assistant, by Ann Patchett.  I enjoyed it, and managed to read it in under two days (difficult with three little kids!).  I'd previously read and loved Bel Canto by the same author, and so when I saw this one while unpacking books, I made sure to put it on my too-be-read-soon pile.  I still have no idea how this book ended up at our house though.  Neither my husband nor I have any memory of buying it.  Perhaps our books are breeding on the shelves or moving boxes, as the case may be.  Anyway, as in Bel Canto, I'll be pretending the ending just didn't happen.

Book 16 was The Age of Dreaming, by Nina Revoyr.  Interesting story, wonderful characters and plot, but a bit heavy handed on the foreshadowing.  I think this may just be a personal stylistic dislike, but I roll my eyes a bit every time the narrator flat out tells us there is something still to be revealed about his story.

Book 17 was A Gathering of Old Men, by Ernest J. Gaines.  Another book that appeared on our shelves apparently of its own volition.  This one came complete with highlighting and notes in the back.  The notes are not in either my or my husband's handwriting.  Neither of us recognizes the handwriting.  I really liked the numerous narrators.  Very good read.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Tomato Jam

We joined a CSA a few weeks ago, with a local farm called Comeback Creek.  We've been getting a ton of tomatoes, and have not been able to keep up with them.  I asked for suggestions, and someone mentioned tomato jam.  Perfect.  I googled for recipes, and settled on this one, as my husband said he'd prefer one that was more on the spicy side than the sweet.   I ended up adding a bit more cayenne pepper.  We started with this:

After 3 hours or so of simmering, I took out our stick blender to get rid of some of the larger pieces of skin:

All canned!

Saturday, June 23, 2012

2012 Reading Challenge #14

Book 14 was City of Dragons, by Robin Hobb.  I realized that I was wrong, and it is not a trilogy.   Bah.  That makes my assessment of the previous book worse.  Book 2 of a series of indeterminate length is too soon for a filler book.  Book 3 was better, but it was odd to go from a book focused on only one plot line, to one that developed 3-4 new ones.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

2012 Reading Challenge #13

Book 13 was Dragon Haven, by Robin Hobb.  It was pretty much what you might expect from the middle book of a trilogy:  it sets up the final book nicely, and has a few independent moments of excitement, but overall the reader is just settling into the story.  I'm glad I read it, and am looking forward to the final book, but I am also glad I decided to check the books out from the library rather than buying them.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

2012 Book #12

Book #12 was Dragon Keeper, by Robin Hobb.  My father-in-law and his wife gave this to me as a Christmas gift, and I just got around to reading it this week.  I loved her Farseer trilogy, and the Tawny Man trilogy that followed in the same world, but did not enjoy the Soldier Son trilogy very much.  Dragon Keeper returns to the same world as the Farseer and Tawny Man trilogies (and presumably the Liveship Trader trilogy, but I haven't read those).  My favorite part of this book was the point of view chapters from the dragons.  I sped through this book in about three days.  We're headed on vacation tomorrow, and I requested the two other books in the trilogy from my library.  That is the nice thing about finding a series after its is already written -- no waiting for the next book to come out!

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

2012 Book #11

Book 11 was In the Garden of Beasts, by Erik Larson.  I picked this one up at an airport book store after finishing another book earlier than I anticipated.  I had not brought any work with me, and my iPad's battery was about to die, and I still had a good two hours before my delayed plane was to take off, plus the hour and a half flight to look forward to.  Usually when I find myself needing something to read in an airport I go for pure escape reading.  This book is not that (the Nazis on the cover should be a dead giveaway).  I was excited to see it though.  My husband bought me The Devil in the White City several years ago, and I bought Thunderstruck later based almost entirely on my enjoyment of The Devil in the White City.

I enjoyed In the Garden of Beasts very much, although probably not as much as The Devil in the White City.  I think that is largely because I did not know the story in the latter, and well, we all know how Nazi Germany worked out.  My one quibble, and it is a quibble I've had with all three Larson books I've read so far, is with his tendency to end chapters with a sort of foreshadowing, but not getting to the subject again for ages, sometimes long after I've forgotten to be on the lookout.  For example, we're told at the end of chapter 8 that meeting the young and sexually assertive Martha Young gave Hanfstaengl an idea.  The sentence that ends the chapter -- "Which gave him an idea." -- is set off as it own paragraph, clearly emphasized.  But the idea isn't revealed until Chapter 19 - eighty pages later. There are enough moving parts to the story that by the time the idea was revealed, I had forgotten to be looking out for it at all, which sort of defeats the foreshadowing.

Overall though, I really liked the book, and have added other Larson books to my to-buy list of books.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Reading Challenge Book 10

Book ten was Crown of Stars, by Kate Elliott.  The last in the Crown Of Stars series, and I am glad I stuck the series out.  (I did inadvertently skip one of the books in the middle.)  This one felt a bit rushed, especially the last few chapters.  I liked the way the story wrapped up though.  I usually hate the endings of books, and I thought this one was perfectly adequate.  My husband kept asking me throughout my time reading the series if I knew who Alain was.  From the way he was asking, I figured there must be a big reveal somewhere, but then there wasn't. I'm glad there wasn't, and glad I didn't miss some huge glaringly obvious hint from somewhere around the book I skipped.

Saturday, June 2, 2012

What a difference ten degrees makes

I had a much better run Thursday.  I started off with a better attitude, and it was a good ten degrees cooler than on Monday.  My legs were a bit shaky the first half mile or so, but I stuck it out, and felt great by the end of the first mile.  Need to do another 4 mile run sometime this weekend.

I think I've found the audio alert timing I like on runkeeper.  I have it tell me distance and pace every 10 minutes, and every half mile.  I like it more than the every five minutes setting it was on originally, even though the timing ends up being different by only a minute or two anyway.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

You are behind your target pace

In a fit of insanity and frustration, I signed my husband and myself up for the Too Hot to Handle 15K in Dallas in July.  I really wanted to sign up for another race and wanted something longer than a 5K but shorter than a half marathon.  I wasn't finding anything that really appealed, and was getting frustrated, so I asked my husband if he'd do this one and when he agreed I signed us both up.  Now I have to get back into training for a long race right when temperatures are reliably in the 90s every day!

So I went for a run last night.  I was really disappointed in my half marathon and know that it was because I was not training consistently enough or hard enough.  I'm going to have to work a lot harder if I want to run well in this race.  My first training run was not a stellar success.  I intended to go 4 miles, but wimped out at just over 3. Actually, I wimped out before I even hit 2 miles, and had to walk for a bit.  I decided at the end of the run that that was the last wimpy run I get to do before this race.  If I need to stop and walk during a run that's fine, but I will not quit when I am short on miles.  I will run or walk the full distance every time.

I had wanted to work on my pace, because I know I can do 10 minute miles if I work on it.  Yes, I know, I'm slow.  Shut up.  A 10 minute mile is a good fast-ish pace for me, and I'll be ridiculously happy with myself when I manage to keep it up for five miles.

Anyway.  I was playing around with the runkeeper app again, and thought I'd try out the coaching.  I don't know what I was expecting, but I was not impressed with what it was.  I selected a 10 min/mile pace, and so every time an audio cue came on for time or distance, the voice would say in a very mean sounding way "you are behind your target pace by" however much per mile.  But really, no shit Sherlock.  The same voice just told me, in a much more pleasant manner, my average pace and current pace.  I think I'd rather have a voice that alerted me every time I was over/under my target pace by more than 30 seconds/mile or something.  I just hope I remember to turn off the coaching before my next run.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

2012 Challenge Book #9

Book #9 was The United States of Arugula, by David Kamp.  It was decent.  I thought the thesis could have been developed a bit better.  The latter chapters were excellent, and tied the history to the author's point, but I felt the first two thirds or so of the book was just back story.  Interesting back story, but a bit more than was necessary to support the author's positions.  I was also put off by the inconsistent use of footnotes.  I am a fan of the judicious use of footnotes, but the author here didn't seem to have a coherent strategy as far as footnote use.  Sometimes the footnotes had interesting or funny side tidbits of information that were worth reading, but not really essential to the plot, but others seemed to be less well edited paragraphs that would have  easily fit in the main narrative with a bit of work.  Not a huge issue, but distracting enough when I had to think about whether to break the flow of the paragraph to read the footnote or not.  I'd rather more consistency, so I know whether to skip them or read them.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Hiding tuition information

We're in the market for a new preschool for our younger son, and daycare for our daughter.  We like the current place, but it isn't an option for our older son next year as they do not do pick ups from his new elementary school.  Our recent house buying adventure moved us to the other side of the town where we live, so we're checking out the centers closer to our home.

Not a single one lists tuition information on their websites.  It drives me crazy.  I know the rough amount it should be from our search for daycare and preschool last year, but I'd really like to be able to narrow down our search a little bit.  It frustrates me to have to go on a tour of the place to find out how much it will cost.  I know they're hoping I'll fall in love with them, and then decide that even if the tuition is a bit higher than expected, I'll stretch my budget.  This seems like a potential huge waste of time though.  Last year we inquired at 4 places, and went on tours at 3.  One of the places we toured was just not going to work for us, even though it had the lowest tuition.  We just didn't like the feel of the place, and no amount of cost reduction was going to make us comfortable.  The other two places we toured were around the same price, and we liked them about the same.  In that case, the decision did come down to cost, but only because cost was a tie breaker.  The place we didn't tour at all did provide tuition information upon request.  It was a good $100 more a week between all three kids, and as we were very comfortable with the less expensive options, we weren't going to stretch our budget to afford this place.  If we'd had to wait to find out the tuition until after a staff member took an hour out of their time and ours to show us around, we'd have made the same decision, and we'd all have wasted an hour.  Hardly seems worth it.  I'd prefer to know the tuition amount ahead of time, so that if it was in the budget, and I fell in love on the tour, I'd be able to make a decision right away.

I can't think of many other goods or services that are not custom priced, but also difficult to discover.  I totally understand why a house painter or roofer can't say how much a job will cost until they see the house.  But daycare charges everyone the same amount per week or month, depending on the age of the child.  Why hide the information?

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Shut-up, Runkeeper!

So I actually like the Runkeeper app very much.  It gives me the freedom to sort of make up my routes as I go along, and I like the periodic updates on pace and distance.  Last night when I went for my run, it would not shut-up though!  The first 40 seconds or so of my run were constant updates from the app voice.  I couldn't figure out how to adjust the settings while running and trying to avoid others on the sidewalk at the same time, so I stopped to reset it.  Highly annoying.  The second time, it didn't do it constantly, but did pipe up with some extraneous reports on my distance and pace.

I had it set up last night to give updates on both time and distance.   I set the updates to tell me every 5 minutes, as well as every half of a mile.  I actually didn't mean to do this, I meant to just change the pace from average to current.  It worked out well for me though.  My next running goal is a speed goal, rather than distance.  I want to do a 5k in under 30 minutes.  Having the updates at every 5 minutes, as well as every half mile amused me, because my current pace at the every half mile was around a minute faster than the pace reported at the 5 minute mark just a few minutes earlier.  I guess I needed the reminder to pick it up some.

2012 Book Challenge #8

Book #8 was The Beach Street Knitting Society and Yarn Club, by Gil McNeil.  I don't have much to say about it, because it was boring and had no plot.  According to some of the reviews on Amazon, some people apparently like books to not have a plot, so if you are one of those people, this is the book for you.  I like plot.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Dallas Rock n Roll Half Marathon

So the half marathon was a week ago, and I'm just now getting around to writing about it.  We started the weekend of with the kids' fun run.  My older son was really excited to run, even more so when he learned that his dad could run with him.  We left pretty early, because traffic near fair park can be atrocious.  No worries on Saturday though, and we made it with plenty of time to spare.  The kindergarten runners went last, so my son was able to see the other groups start and end.  There was a teenage band providing entertainment, and both boys liked dancing.  I will say that nothing makes you feel old like listening to 14 year-olds sing songs that were popular when you were in high school.  It was a bit disconcerting hearing some of the lyrics come out of such young mouths though!

We had gone back and forth about whether to drive to fair park Sunday morning or take the DART train.  Finally decided on the train.  Reading other blogs after the race, I'm glad we took the train, as traffic near fair park was apparently horrible.  We made it to the start area with plenty of time to spare, and took the opportunity to use the porta potties.

We dropped off our bag, found our corral, and then were off!  I actually managed to keep up with my husband for a mile or so, but then he decided that his knee and quad were behaving, and he took off.  My plan had been to walk through all the aid stations, but I was feeling really good at the first one (less than 2 miles into the race), so just grabbed some water and kept running.  I walked through every other one though! I was happy the first 4 miles or so of the race, but after mile 6, I was walking much more than I wanted to.  I started making deals with myself - I'd walk through the end of the song that was playing, but then I had to run to the next mile marker.  When I got to mile 12, I told myself I had to run the last 1.1 miles.  I almost did it too!  But the route through fair park just seemed to go on forever, and before I knew it, my legs were walking.  About 10 steps later, I saw the mile 13 marker, and was pissed at myself.  I made myself start running again, and crossed the finish line just under 2 hours 44 minutes.  A good 10+ minutes slower than my first half marathon.  I was not happy.

I also felt like crap.  I grabbed a bottle of luke warm water, and drank it way too fast.  I was still thirsty, but didn't see any more water - just lemonlime gatorade.  Ick.  I grabbed one anyway, and slowly sipped it.  Finally located my husband (he finished in 1 hour 47 minutes), and we headed for the train station.  I felt sick all the way back, and lost it in the parking lot.  Felt much better after that!

There were some awesome posters along the race route.  "Run, total stranger, run!" "Worst Parade Ever"  "Don't Worry, You Are Way Ahead of the Zombies" were my favorites.

So, on to the next one.  I need to be much better about running during the week, not just doing long runs on the weekends.  I'm off to a terrible start though - no long run this weekend, but I did do the elliptical a few nights this week.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Rainbow Cookies

My son's preschool class has a cooking lesson every other week or so.  A few weeks ago, they made rainbow cookies.  He's been asking to make rainbow cookies or cupcakes at home ever since.  But then I'd offer to make them with him, and he was not interested.  That changed today though!  He started off saying he wanted rainbow cupcakes, but changed his mind and decided that cookies were the way to go.  We started off with Alton Brown's sugar cookie recipe.  This is our go-to recipe for sugar cookies.  The only thing I usually change about it is to add a bit of vanilla or almond extract.  I wanted to make sure I had enough dough to make six colors for the cookies, so I made a double batch of dough.

I divided the dough into six roughly equal portions, and scrounged around the kitchen for bowls.  I came up one short, so purple was mixed on a small plate instead.

I rolled each color out, using copious amounts of powdered sugar so the dough wouldn't stick to the rolling pin or parchment paper.  I think this step would have gone more smoothly if I'd actually let the dough rest in the fridge for 1-2 hours, instead of the half hour it was in there.  My boys vehemently disagree, and think any delay in rolling out the dough is silly.  They may or may not be sort of impatient when it comes to baking.  

We stacked the sheets as we rolled each color out.

There was some disagreement as to the order.  My older son insisted that blue comes before green, not after. I countered with ROY G BIV, and he thought I was silly and still wrong, but let me have my way.  He then helpfully pointed out that real rainbows have two purple colors, not just one.  Smart kid.

Once I had the layers all stacked, I lightly rolled them out all together, as I was worried the stack was too thick to roll into a log.  Once rolled out -- this helpfully smashed the layers together a bit too -- we carefully rolled into a cookie dough log.
Then the log went back into the fridge.  Cue more groaning from the boys.  I cleaned up around the kitchen while the boys ate the scraps of dough from the color mixing bowls.  Powdered sugar makes a terrible mess, and I've been trying to clean up after my baking more quickly so as not to exasperate my husband. I gave into the boys' harassment after half an hour or so, and got ready to put the first batch in the oven.

The slicing would have been easier if I'd waited until the dough was colder.  I put the dough log back into the fridge between batches, and it was easier to slice each time.  As it was, I had to clean off the knife blade after every slice.  I was a bit disappointed in the spiral of colors in the raw dough.  The colors ran into each other a bit more than I wanted them too.  When they came out of the oven though, they looked great!

I think the addition of the coloring gel, plus the almond extract, made the dough a bit stickier than it otherwise would be.  I didn't want to add flour out of fear that it would make the dough too tough though.  When we make these cookies without the extra color, they hardly spread at all -- a real positive when trying for different shapes with cookie cutters.  These cookies spread a lot.

The boys are thrilled with them though, and there was much wailing and gnashing of teeth when I told them they had to eat dinner before having cookies.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

One week until the half-marathon

The Dallas Rock-n-roll half marathon is next weekend!  I am really not ready.  I went for my long run this morning, aiming to do at least ten miles, and hoping to go twelve.  I made it just under 4.  My knee is giving me problems, and I was not wearing the right clothes.  Today was actually the first warm day I've been running this year, and I wore some running shorts that I haven't worn since before I was pregnant with the fat little rabbit.  Big mistake.  The skin on the inside of my thighs is so very chaffed, it isn't funny.  So I wimped out, and came home.  After the kids are in bed tonight, I'll go out again, and do another 4 miles, then try to fit in 4 more tomorrow.  I think for the race next weekend, I'll plan on doing a run 4 miles, walk 2-3 minutes, run again sort of thing.  I really need to find a way to fit in runs in the middle of the week, or get over my hatred for the elliptical.  Training just by doing long runs on the weekend clearly is not sufficient.

Cinnamon pull apart bread

I've been wanting to make cinnamon pull apart bread since reading this post from Smitten Kitchen.  I made the cheddar beer mustard pull apart bread a few weeks ago, and it was delicious.  This morning I decided to give the cinnamon sugar recipe she linked to a try.  Yum.  Next time I won't use quite as much sugar as the recipe calls for though.  A good quarter of the mixture ended up on the cutting board during the stacking process anyway, and it was plenty sweet.

I didn't get it out of the oven until after lunch time though.  My younger son refused to eat his lunch today, and we told him no dessert or snacks if he didn't eat lunch.  He agreed that was fine.  About half an hour later, this was ready.  When he learned that we really weren't going to let him have any, he was very sad.  He promises to eat his dinner tonight so he can have some then.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Countdown to half marathon

I received a registration confirmation sheet in my e-mail yesterday for the Dallas Rock-n-Roll half marathon.  I'm getting excited, but worried too!  When I signed us up, I thought I'd have enough time to train to try to get to a 10 min/mile pace.  Yes, I am slow, and 10 min/mile is pretty fast for me!  I wanted to have a decent chance of being able to keep up with my husband though.  I haven't been training as much as I should though, so seeing the expected finish time of 2:10 gave me a big laugh yesterday.  I can start off with that pace, but I doubt I'll even tie my time in my first half marathon.  My husband tore his quad muscle playing adult rec soccer last weekend, so he's not sure he'll be able to run at all.  I'm still glad I signed up for this one, and will enjoy the race, even if I have to walk part of it!

A trampoline park opened sort of near us, and has fitness classes on Wednesday nights for $10.  Kids under 7 can jump for free during the class, so I think I am going to start going.  May be a nice fun way to sneak some exercise in during the week.  Oh, who am I kidding.  I just think it looks fun.

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Book #7

Book #7 was Kate Elliott's In the Ruins.  I am enjoying the series, but am uncertain how the author is going to manage to wrap up the story in one more book.  Also, Hugh is just a despicable bad guy.  The existence of his character actively decreases my enjoyment of the books.  I know the bad guy has a role to play in most books, but I really want Hugh to fall off a cliff.  I don't even find him to be an interesting bad character - just evil.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Baked Brie and the Last of the Curtains

I love baked brie.  But I have a secret - I hate the rind on brie.  I can't make myself eat it.  When I order baked brie at a restaurant, I am careful to eat around the rind.  A few months ago, I tried making baked brie at home.  I carefully cut off the rind, arranged the gooey cheesy insides on sheets of puff pastry, and added dried fruit and honey.  It was a disaster.  A tasty disaster, but a disaster nonetheless.  The gooey goodness that is melted brie melted right out of the puff pastry layers I had tried to trap it in.  I did some looking on Google, sure that someone else must hate the rind as much as I do, but the internet consensus seemed to be that I would have to get over my dislike of the rind.  No way.  I had to try again.  This time, rather than making mini squares, I kept the puff pastry sheet whole, intending on wrapping the edges up around the cheese, leaving no room for it to escape.  I scooped the cheese out of the icky rind,  and added some chopped dried cherries and honey.

I wrapped it all up, and put it in the oven, hoping for the best!

20 or so minutes later, and success!  All of the gooey melty goodness that is baked brie, and it all stayed in the puff pastry.  It is possible to make a baked brie without the rind.

I finished the fat little rabbit's curtains several weeks ago, but did not have any rings to hang them up.  I finally remembered I needed them while I was at Target.  Her other nickname is "bug-bug" so I thought the print was appropriate.  And yes, I know they need to be ironed.  

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Six point something miles and book #6

My husband and I had Monday off of work, but school was still in session, so we enjoyed a nice adults only day!  My husband suggested we take our long run together, as we were visiting relatives over the weekend and had not had a chance to run.  He promised to stay in the same general area as me, but he runs a good 2-3 minutes per mile faster than me!  I lost him soon after we entered the park.  I was running faster than I usually do though!  I usually start at around a 10 minute mile, but by mile 2, am inching closer to the 11 minute mile pace.  Monday I was still at a sub 10 minute mile through three or so miles.  My husband had lapped me, and started running next to me for a few minutes.  Suddenly it felt like the earth tilted under me, and my vision was swimming.  I stopped to walk until it cleared.  I think I just hadn't had enough to drink all weekend (Houston tap water sucks).  We also had plans to go for Mexican or barbeque after our run, and I skipped breakfast to save room!  Bad idea, I guess.  Anyway, I walked for a hundred yards or so, then started running again, albeit much more slowly!  I think I terrified my husband though, as he stuck with me for the next three miles.  We were back in the main part of the park by then, and I stopped to use the restrooms.  I sent my husband on to finish his run, and started a run/walk rotation around one of the smaller ponds until he was done.  I got in around 2 miles.  So not the ten I had planned, but better than nothing!

We went to Houston to visit my grandmother-in-law.  She thought our boys might enjoy the Houston Children's Museum, and she was right!  When we lived in Boston, our boys had a membership to the children's museum, and we went fairly often. We haven't really found a good replacement in Dallas yet.  The Houston museum was awesome!  It had one of the multi-story climbing platforms, which I know our oldest son had missed from Boston.  The rules said you had to be at least five years old to climb though, so our youngest boy could not climb (although there were plenty of people blatantly ignoring the rule).  There was also a really awesome room called the Invention Convention.  There were stations for kids to make rockets, lego cars, and wind sails.  I loved watching the kids' imaginations at work.

I finished Catching Fire on our trip, and bought Mockingjay when we went grocery shopping Monday.  I finished it during my lunch break today.  I am very glad I read the series.  I felt the ending was a bit rushed, and though the resolution of the Gale vs. Peeta situation could have been fleshed out a bit more.  Overall, a very enjoyable series though.  I am looking forward to the movie next month.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

2012 Book Challenge #5

Unsurprisingly, book 5 is Catching Fire, the second book in the Hunger Games trilogy.  I picked it up at Target last night, then stayed up entirely too late reading last night.  I finished it this morning during a road trip to visit family.  I should have picked up the last book in the series while I was at the store -- now I have an extra errand to add to my list for tomorrow.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

2012 Book Challenge #4

Book 4 was a very quick read, and much more enjoyable than I anticipated.  I received The Hunger Games from my sister in law this Christmas.  I put it on the shelf, thinking maybe I would read it after I finished a bunch of other things on my list.  I grabbed it to take on a work trip a couple of weeks ago, because it was the only book in the immediate vicinity that would fit in my carry-on.  I never started it on that trip, as I was still finishing The Gathering Storm.  I had become intrigued, however, by the movie trailer, and bumped The Hunger Games up on my to-read list.

I started it this past weekend, and was soon hooked.  I brought the book to work with me today, and finished it during my lunch break.  I'm going to Target tonight to get the next two in the series.  I wish some of the characters had been a bit more fleshed out (e.g. Cinna, other stylists).  I'm also not convinced of the ability to have a new arena for every game, especially if each game is held in the vicinity of the capital.  The sheer size alone makes that a bit absurd.  So Katniss spends most of the first day running.  Assuming the tributes were released near the center of the arena, and she ran more or less in the same direction, she has to have gone at least 10 miles.  I am a slow runner, and can do 9 miles in under 2 hours.  Someone having all day to run, even with rougher terrain, should certainly be able to cover 10 miles.  So let's further assume that she made it to near the edge of the arena, although I recall nothing in the book that would indicate that was the case.  If the arena is a rough circle, and the radius is 10 miles, that puts the area of the arena at just over 300 square miles.  If all of the arenas are the same size, and all were maintained as tourist destinations, after 74 games, the arenas themselves would take a land mass about 1/4 the size of Colorado.

I don't mind suspending disbelief for magic in fantasy novels, or advanced technology for books like this, but the logistics should still make sense, darn it!

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Raising Money and Hurting Feelings

My older son's school sent home a flyer a few weeks ago about a Valentine's Day fundraiser.  For $1, a friendship bracelet could be sent to any student at the school.  My heart sunk.  I had sort of hoped that these fundraisers had gone the way of the dodo bird.  I mean, what better way to raise money than to show elementary school kids, in a very direct visual way, who the popular kids are?  What could possibly go wrong with that?

Another mom I know once bought each and every child in her child's class one of the tokens (a rubber duck in that case), so that no child had to be the one who didn't get a single one.  We contemplated doing the same for our son's class, but in the end, decided that making the fundraiser a success probably wasn't the best way to combat it.

But then we wimped out.  We made sure one would be sent to our kid, but we also let him pick a few friends to send a bracelet to.  He chose five friends - 3 in his class, and 2 in another kindergarten class.  So we did contribute to this awful fundraiser.  And today, when my son received only the one bracelet that we sent to him, his feelings were hurt.  And I feel like a bad mom.  I wasn't brave enough to speak out to the school about what a bad idea I thought this was, and I wasn't even willing to not participate in it.  Do I complain now?  Would it matter?  Or do I just refuse to participate in the future?  When this comes up again next year, do I pay the silly $1 so my son receives at least one? Or stand firm that this is a terrible way to raise money?

Sunday, February 12, 2012

9 miles

It was 40 degrees when I went for my run today.  I know in most of the country, that it a just fine temperature for the middle of February, but I moved to Texas to get away from the cold!  I couldn't find any long running pants either.  I did find a long sleeve t-shirt.  My top was cold through mile 2, hands through mile 3, and my legs were cold the whole time.

I didn't realize before I left how many streets in our city that are not in residential areas don't have sidewalks.  A good 2/3 of my run today was done on the road, jogging over to the side when cars were coming.  Not so fun.  I ran down to one of the housing developments with a totally pretentious name, and price tags to go along, and was not very impressed.  The houses were way too close together, and there was too much variation in the styles - it was really jarring.  There were English country estate homes next to red tile Spanish haciendas.  Not for me.

I had to make a pit stop around mile 7 - was very glad there was a CVS nearby, with an open restroom!

2012 Book Challenge #2 and #3

I'm going to have to pick up the reading pace to make my 30 book goal.  We read one chapter of a book to my oldest son almost every night, and I count those books, as well as the books I read for myself.  Last night we finished his book, and I finished the one I was reading this morning.

#2 How to Break a Dragon's Heart, by Cressida Cowell.  This is book 8 of the How to Train Your Dragon series.  I've really enjoyed reading this series with my son.  This wasn't my favorite of them though.  It felt a bit rushed and disjointed to me.  The next one comes out this July (it is already out in Great Britain, but we can wait until July when it is published in the US).

I'm curious to see which book my son will want to start next.  For Christmas, we bought him the first book in The Mysterious Benedict Society, and the first of the Percy Jackson books.

#3 The Gathering Storm, by Kate Elliott.  This is book 5 of the Crown of Stars series.  I inadvertently skipped book 4.  Skipping book 4 has confirmed something I've thought about long fantasy series for a while.  I think the authors write for their first audience - the readers who will be waiting months or years between books being published.  Because of the time delay between books, each new book has to recap enough of the previous book to reorient the readers.  I've thought that these recaps probably provided enough information that you could skip entire books, and understand the story just fine.  This was definitely true here. I was amused by the different pacing in this book as compared with the third book in the series.  I almost stopped reading the series after that book, as it was just so slow.  The entire book covers something like 6 months, tops.  And covers those months in tedious slowness.  Book 5 covers several YEARS.  And we don't get a ton of details - the point of view characters will catch glimpses of other characters, and through these glimpses we get 3-4 months worth of action.  Very odd.  At least the story is moving along!

Now, to be fair, I don't pay much attention to the details in the plot lines, and while I find reading various theories regarding the details in The Wheel of Time and Game of Thrones series, I enjoy the books separately from the intricate plots.  If I miss a small detail in book 3 that ends up being hugely relevant in book 7, I don't much care.  It makes re-reads much more interesting to me too.  Once I know how things are going to turn out, I enjoy re-reading and paying attention to the little details, and love finding new significance to details overlooked the first time.  But in series that are 6 or more books long, there are simply too many details to give them all importance in my mind, and keep them in memory on the chance that it will be the key to figuring out a mystery 3 or 4 books later.   This is, I suppose, why I missed the big reveal of who killed Asmodean until I read about it on Dragonmount later.  Oh well.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Dragon Cake

My oldest son's birthday is next week, and we had his party today.  He wanted the party at Chuck E Cheese, and until about two weeks ago, just wanted a plain chocolate cake from them.  Then he changed his mind and said he wanted a dragon cake.  I did some google searching, and hit the jackpot!  It is the Chinese year of the dragon, and as Chinese New Year was just a little while ago, there were tons of dragon cakes and dragon cake ideas out there.  We fell in love with this one, from a blog of a family who adopted twin girls from China.  I decided to make half the cake chocolate, and half vanilla.  I went to Smitten Kitchen to get my recipes.  One vanilla and one chocolate.

My son wanted a red dragon, but I haven't found a place here yet to buy no-taste red flavoring, and knew that the amount of red dye required to get a really red frosting tastes really bitter otherwise.  I was going to get bulk one-color M&Ms, but then my husband found cherry M&Ms at the grocery store.  Much less expensive!  I really liked the two different shades of red, and the fact that they were not all of a uniform size.  I don't know what I was thinking only getting one bag though!  One bag covered half of one bundt cake, so around 11 p.m. last night, I found myself driving around town to find more.  The CVS where my husband found them the first time was closed, the closest grocery store had only raspberry M&Ms which were more pink than red.  I found them at the third store though, and bought three more bags.

For the dorsal scales, I chose gummy butterflies, and cut them in half.  I bought a dozen of them, and ran out of them for the tail - I should have bought a few more.  They were a bit floppy, but when anchored with M&Ms on each side, held up well.

I made a cream cheese frosting (no recipe, just two blocks of cream cheese, a bit of milk, and powdered sugar to taste), and went for an orange color.  I could not believe how long it took to put all of the candies on!  The fat little rabbit kept waking up too, so there were some breaks in there.  The blog where I found this cake idea used some sort of snack cake to shape the tail.  I just cut down the end of one of the bundt cakes into the shape I wanted.  Half way there!

I used strawberry licorice swirls to make fire from the dragon's mouth, and stuck the head onto the cake with toothpicks.  Finally finished about six hours after I started!  I think it would have taken about 3 hours total, if I'd had all of the candies I needed, and had a baby who'd stay asleep!

It was a hit at the party!

Monday, February 6, 2012

4 miles and french toast

I intended to run 8-9 miles this weekend, but it didn't happen.  The run started off poorly as I was cold and hadn't waited long enough after eating breakfast.  About a mile and a half into the run, a woman with two big, poorly controlled dogs came up quickly behind me, and when I ran off the path to get out of their way, my knee twisted a bit.  I ran on a ways to see if it would work itself out, but it was still hurting.  I decided to head home, but I took a wrong turn!  I ended up doing just over 4 miles.  Once I got home, I did the elliptical for another twenty minutes.

During my wrong turn, I was amused by the placement of these light posts:

I suppose it is nice that the city added the extra pavement around the post so those with strollers or in wheelchairs have a fighting chance to get past it.  I'm just glad I didn't run right into one.  I run in a park near our house a lot of the time, and was running there this weekend.  There are a few areas where the path is a bridge over the pods or marshy areas.  One of the bridges partially collapsed, and the bridge is closed.  I didn't notice the big barrier and yellow tape until I was almost on top of it.  Clearly, I need to work on my situational awareness while out running.

I tried making baked french toast again.  The toast was only so-so.  It was too dry.  I think I needed to soak it a lot longer.  I also made a peach-raspberry sauce.  The sauce was great!

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Potato Chips!

I'd been wanting to make homemade potato chips for months, but never had a good opportunity.  The other night I just decided to go ahead and make them.  My timing wasn't great, as my husband was trying to make dinner at the same time, but it worked out in the end.

After slicing the potatoes, I grated some romano cheese and dried rosemary.  After the oil heated up, I started frying!  I put too many in the pan at the same time though.  It took forever for the edges to start to turn golden brown.

After they cooled, a bunch seemed not quite crispy enough, so I put them in the oven to finish.  They were tasty!