Sunday, August 7, 2011

Winter Garden

Winter GardenWinter Garden by Kristin Hannah

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Wow. That's all I could think when I finished this book last night. I listened to the audiobook and while I was a little frustrated with the characters at the beginning of the book I got pulled in and blew through the last 5 discs last night; I just couldn't put it down. I was also pleasantly surprised that I got a little bit of a history lesson regarding the Siege of Leningrad. I haven't read a book this good in a long time.  I've also tried to make this spoiler free so no specific details included  ;-)

View all my reviews

Monday, May 16, 2011


I've written about this before and it's something that I never quite get used to, although after working in Chicago for 14 years one would think I wouldn't even notice anymore.

I don't know what the PC term is, but I usually say panhandlers.  These are the people that hang around outside asking for money.  Some hold signs, some stand wordlessly with plastic cups in their hands, some drone on like carnival barkers "spare some change t'day?" others stand or sit in the midst of the commuter route which forces the throngs to either see them or trip over them.  Then there are the ones that bring their children with them which is particularly heart breaking.  The one woman I see frequently always has very nicely dressed children, so that gives me some comfort that they are being cared for.

There are the regulars that I get used to seeing every commute into the office and every commute out to the train; if they aren't there I notice it.  Two of these fixtures outside Union station are the elderly African-American man (he puts up a sign in July on his birthday which last year said he was 91 years old) and an older, hunched over Caucasian woman.  They each stake out their respective territories; she holds her Streetwise magazines for sale and sometimes can be seen sitting and reading.  He wears dark glasses (for the longest time I thought he was blind but have since figured out he is not) and has perfected the art of sleeping sitting up straight in his chair; now I know why he wears the dark glasses.  They are both at their stations pretty much daily, regardless of weather.

I noticed three new faces these last few weeks.   One was a nicely dressed woman in her 50s.  She wore a hat and held a sign that read "Lost my job, behind in my rent".  She placed herself in front of a large utility box, maybe as a wind break or maybe to give herself a place to lean against.  She was carefully made up and stood motionless, not saying a word.  The first time I noticed her she startled me because she was so very still until I met her gaze and she looked at me hopefully with her dark brown eyes.  She had a purse and a carry-all bag next to her, one that she may have used when she was still employed.  Something about her eyes and her quiet grace stuck with me.

Further on my commute, next to a Starbucks, was a young man who also held a cardboard sign.  His said "Out of work.  I just want to feed my Family".  He had underscored the word "Family" three times.  He didn't say anything as he stood there, shifting his weight from foot to foot, but he had a nice smile, a hopeful smile on his face, as he tried to catch someone's eye.

Then there was the older gentleman with the sign that said "Need to pay for daughter's graduation/prom".  This almost made me stop and say "are you kidding me?  Really?"  Then I thought, "well, at least he's honest".

After passing the quiet, dignified woman for several days I decided I would give her some cash.  It wasn't much, but I folded up a $5 bill and put it in my coat pocket so it would be easy to get to when I saw her.  But she wasn't there.  She wasn't there the next day or the following day either.  I wondered if she was OK and even thought that maybe she was able to find work and didn't need to ask for help anymore.

So today I walked with my $5 bill to the young man that just wanted to feed his Family.  I approached him and as I took my hand out of my pocket, he extended his.  I touched his hand and put the bill in it; he smiled and said "thank you, thank you".  I smiled and kept walking.  I heard him pause behind me and then call out "thank you so much!".  As I walked I imagined him gathering up the money he collected today and going to the store to buy groceries.  I hope that is what he is going to do and I wish him the best of luck.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Japanese Noodle Soup

I love noodles.  Love.them.  It can be cheesy, saucey Italian, sweet Pad Thai, chewy Kluski egg noodles, Spaetzle or Udon.  I won't turn down a plate (or bowl) of pasta.  Never.

Tonight we were craving Udon noodles.  There is no good noodle shop anywhere near us so we decided to try and make our own soup.  I found Asian Mushroom Soup on my favorite cooking website and decided to give it a try.  Here's what I ended up with:

It turned out great!  It was very simple to make and hearty too.  I didn't even add the chicken breast but we didn't miss it.  Seems my store didn't have anything smaller than a 4 lb head of cabbage so instead I used a bag of pre-cut cole slaw.  It was the exact amount I needed, a time saver and was even on sale.   I bought some fresh ginger to use but apparently the bagger missed it as it wasn't in any of my bags when I got home.  I'd like to know how much of a difference that would have made as I thought the seasoning was pretty good as it was.  Hubby did add a few drops of fish sauce to his bowl and deemed it "perfect". 

Monday, March 7, 2011


Good guesses!

Yes, it was a cardboard tube.  No it didn't have a slug trail on it and no it didn't used to be inside a roll of paper towels.

Drum roll please.....

It was the cardboard tube inside a roll of foil.  However, the cardboard tube was in the kitchen drawer where I keep the foil, waxed paper, etc.  The box (also empty) was found on the counter.  I don't even want to try to understand why my husband put the empty cardboard tube back into the drawer and left the empty box on the counter.  Wouldn't you at least put the tube back into the box before putting the whole (empty) thing back in the drawer for me to find when I went to pull out some aluminum foil?

Thanks for playing - it was fun to see your guesses :-)

Sunday, March 6, 2011

What Is It?

Any guesses?  Here's a clue:  I found it in the kitchen.

I'll post the answer tomorrow.

Friday, March 4, 2011

The F Word

My 6 year old daughter was recounting her day at school today.  She mentioned a few people and described them by their shapes - one woman in particular was the "F" word.  I asked her what that meant and here's the conversation that followed:

Me:  So, what is the "F" word?
DD:  You know - "fat" but I didn't want to hurt her feelings by telling her that.
Me:  Well, people are all sorts of shapes you know.
DD:  Yeah, some people are round like circles, some are like rectangles...
Me:  Yes, that's right.
DD:  And you, you're sort of a half circle.

I guess that's one way to put it. 

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Popcorn Cake

Ever feel like making popcorn balls at home?  Occasionally I do but the thought of having to fiddle with a candy thermometer to cook the syrup always puts me off.  Today I found this fabulously easy recipe for something called Popcorn Cake.  It's really just a giant popcorn ball but 100 times easier.  If you can melt butter and marshmallows (a la Rice Krispie Treats) you can make Popcorn Cake. 

I used our air popper; the 1/2 c measure yielded 14 c of popped corn.  The recipe called for 18 c so I made a second batch and my hubby and little boy ate the leftovers.  I was also able to use up a bag of marshmallows that had been languishing in the pantry since October, so everyone was happy.  I see more of this yumminess in our future.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

In the Kitchen

I have been cooking up new recipes left and right lately.

This is a spinach, mushroom and mozzarella Calzone.  The original recipe just called for mozzarella and pepperoni, which I made as well.  It was really good and the whole family enjoyed them.  I frequently use my bread machine to make dough and that was a great time saver here.  The ingredients were simple and inexpensive:

4oz Hormel Turkey Pepperoni - $3
Mozzarella, spaghetti sauce and dough ingredients were already in my pantry.

Today I was inspired to make two dishes for our out-of-town company:

Ricotta Gnocchi - so good!  It was easy (I had never made gnocchi) and delicious.  I used home-canned tomatoes from last summer which I think made the sauce bright and fresh tasting.  Another less than $10 meal; the only specialty items I had to buy were:

15 oz tub of low-fat ricotta cheese $3
Fresh basil $2.49 (which I also used for the recipe below).

Fresh Tomato Shrimp Pasta - another tasty dish but sampling it after the gnocchi made it seem bland in comparison.   This dish had a few specialty ingredients: 

Fresh mozarella on sale at $2.49 for 8 oz
Bag of fresh spinach $2.89
Fresh basil $2.49
Shrimp, which I already had in my freezer.  You could easily switch out the shrimp for chicken to make this a less expensive meal. 

One change I'd make next time is to eliminate the fresh mozzarella and add some fresh grated Parmesean before serving.

Each of these dishes made enough for four servings with leftovers.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Laundry Money

laundry money

January 1 of last year I decided I would save all the money I found while doing laundry.  This is what I ended up with by December 31; it's $7.08. 

Part of this reason I did this was to show Hubby how much money he loses by leaving it in his jeans.  I generally give him the paper money back out of pity.  This year I also returned a flash drive and various pieces of hardware.  I cringe at the havoc a metal screw would wreak on the rest of a batch of laundry; thankfully it did not.

I think the eight years of nagging him may have made an impact because overall this amount is less than past years.  It'll still buy me two tall mochas from Starbucks, so I'm happy.