Saturday, December 29, 2012

Season's Greetings

We are enjoying a very nice Christmas break.  We traveled back to our hometown to spend some time with our families--there was much eating, talking, laughing, and general laying about.  Also a bit of hiking, some reading, crocheting, and movie watching.  The weather was gray--ferocious winds on Friday night knocked down several trees in the area, and Jordan spent Saturday helping his dad saw up one that fell in the yard.  We got in our hike on Sunday while it was still fairly dry, though cloudy.  We meant to hike down into Linville Gorge, but started down the wrong trail and found ourselves in the Linville Falls park that we know so well.  We found the correct trail later, but it was already getting dark, so that will have to wait for another time.  The fog settled in on Christmas Eve, leading to many Rudolph references.

Jordan and I read some Grimm fairy tales on the way back home--2012 marks the bicentennial of the publication of their tales, and we recently heard a great NPR interview with Maria Tatar.  One of my favorite tales, one that I remember reading when I was little, was "The Six Swans"--sewing as a heroic act!

I have lots of plans for the New Year.  I get as excited about January 1 as any other holiday.  I have a new journal on order from Amazon, and new challenges I want to pursue. I completed my 2012 running goal in mid-December--366 miles in a year.  I still haven't decided for sure what I want to do for 2013, but I have just a few more days to figure it out!

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Mini Pecan Pies

I think pecan pie must be my daddy's favorite.  Any kind of pecan pie.  When my sister and I were little, he would buy us the little packaged pecan pies--were they Little Debbies?--that came in tiny tin pie pans.  Part of the charm there was the idea of eating a pie all by yourself.
These were actually quite easy to make.  I can't remember where the recipe for the pie filling came from, but it is fairly standard.  It is, however, delightfully sweet and nutty, with no corn syrup.  And the mini shape means you get one (or two!) all to yourself.

Mini Pecan Pies

1 box (2 crusts) refrigerated pie crusts (I used Pillsbury)
2 eggs
1/2 cup butter, melted
1 cup light brown sugar
1/4 cup white sugar
1 tbs. all purpose flour
1 tbs. milk
1 tbs. vanilla extract
1 cup chopped pecans

1.  Preheat oven to 350.  
2. Roll out pie crusts until they are thin, but still workable.  Cut out circles using 3.5 inch round cookie-cutter.  Grease two 12 cup muffin tins with cooking spray and press a crust circle into each cup.
3.  In a large bowl, beat eggs until foamy and stir in melted butter.  Stir in brown sugar, white sugar, and flour; mix well.  Last add the milk, vanilla, and nuts.
4.  Spoon one tablespoon of filling into each cup.  Bake 20 minutes (or until down), rotating halfway through baking time. Cool for five minutes in tin. 

 I am looking forward to seeing how Daddy likes this version--perhaps it'll be an improvement even on the Little Debbies!

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Our New Home

 Although it has been a few months since we moved in, I still don't feel like our house is "done."  There is, in fact, one whole room that is just stacked with boxes.  But, if I waited until everything was perfect, I would never get this post up, so here we go anyway.
 One of the things we liked most about the house was how open everything was.  The kitchen, dining room, and living room are all open and connected.  We knew that we wanted to be able to put a desk in the living room.  When we lived in our apartment, we originally planned for the office to be a separate room, but we always ended up carrying the laptop into the living room or working at the dining room table.  We don't like being separated, so it works best for us if everything is basically one big space.

 The guest room is still a bit bare.  The furniture belonged to Jordan's grandmother, and it is beautiful.  I really love the old, vintage feeling.  The duvet cover is one I made in college out of a set of sheets!  I am going to use the pillow cases that came with the set to make shams, but haven't gotten around to it yet.
 We really love our home.  We feel blessed to have found one so quickly and just where we needed it.  The move-in process was a real learning experience.  We were very lucky to have both Jordan's parents and my parents come at various stages to help--with unloading, cleaning, painting, and pulling off wallpaper border (nightmarish!)  At some point, I may post some before-and-after photos--the difference some paint makes is really astonishing.

There are still a few things we would like to do--the bathrooms need painting and there is a lot of work to be done in the yard--but I kind of like the fact that it is an ongoing process.  We are growing into our house, slowly making it ours.  It's definitely a nice feeling.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Disney World: Planning

Our family went on vacation to Disney World this summer.  The last time we went was about 19 years ago, so this trip was much anticipated, and excitement was high.  Disney World is amazing and really like a whole other planet.  And so, we put about as much time into planning this trip as would be necessary for a mission to Mars.  There are a couple of reasons that I think careful planning is important for a Disney trip:

1)  It is big.  Disney World covers more acreage than the island of Manhattan.  So clutching your map on Main Street in the Magic Kingdom with the seven other members of your party and saying, "I don't know, what do you want to do?" is burning time.
2) It is busy.  You can spend hours standing in line behind the 300 other people who also want to ride Space Mountain.  Restaurants are booked months in advance.

My mom masterminded the whole plan: she booked our rooms (we stayed at the Pop Century Resort) and dinners about six months in advance, and rented a fifteen passenger van.  With eight of us going, it was easier to ride together than to caravan it in three separate vehicles.  Staying in the resort has some great advantages: the bus service picks you up at the hotel and drops you off at the various parks; your room key is also your admission ticket which is also your Fast-Pass ticket (more on that later); and, you get to take advantage of early (or late) park hours (called Extra Magic Hours).

I took over planning the itinerary.  I found a copy of The Unofficial Guide Walt Disney World by Bob Sehlinger and Len Testa, which is a Type-A planner's dream come true.  The book has detailed itineraries for each park; descriptions of every ride, show, and event; a chart showing travel time between each park and hotel; a fright-potential rating for everything; and a lot more.  I devoured the book and used it to plan our itineraries.  The trouble with using their itineraries as they were was that our group was very diverse.  It included my parents (who don't do roller coasters); my sister (no coasters) and her husband (who would do roller coasters) and their two-year old (height restrictions); my 14 year old cousin (he's a roller coaster nut); Jordan (ditto), and myself (I ride baby coasters).  So basically, we had a group that wanted to hit the thrill rides and a group that wanted to watch the toddler.  But, a lot of the rides actually appeal to both groups.  So, what I did was create an itinerary that split the two groups and then brought them back together.  This is an example from our first day, at Animal Kingdom:

Monday: Animal Kingdom (Extra Magic Hours am)
Catch bus around 7:00 am; arrive around 7:20
Ride Kilimanjaro Safaris
Walk the Pangani Forest Exploration Trail in Africa
Get Fastpasses for Expedition Everest, then ride DINOSAUR
See It’s Tough to be a Bug! And exhibits at The Tree of Life on Discovery Island
Ride Expedition Everest
After the rest of the park opens:
Ride TriceraTop Spin
Ride Primeval Whirl
Play at The Boneyard
Ride Kali River Rapids
Watch Flights of Wonder (if wait more than 20 minutes, switch with Maharajah Jungle Trek)
Walk the Maharajah Jungle Trek
Take Wildlife Express Train from Africa to Conservation Station and Rafiki’s Planet Watch.  Tour the areas and take the train back to Africa.
Meet characters along the way to Camp Minnie-Mickey
See Festival of the Lion King
See Finding Nemo—The Musical in DinoLand
Anything else we want to do or see.
Return to hotel to swim, nap, refresh, as time permits
At 5:50, catch bus to Magic Kingdom and transfer to monorail or walk; Dinner at Chef Mickey (Contemporary Resort) 6:50

Yellow was the thrill group, blue was the chill group, and green was for the combined groups.  I also included our travel times and dinner times on the itinerary.  I should make clear that the itinerary represented an ideal: not absolutely everything on the list got done, but we made quick decisions in the moment, and really, we got to do and see everything we wanted.  And, here's the thing: we spent almost no time waiting in line.  We more or less walked onto everything, but our absolute longest waits were maybe 15-20 minutes.  And this was in peak season when the parks were filling up each day.  We were usually done a little after lunch and could leave about the time the park was getting crazy.  There are a few things that allowed us to do this:

1)  The order of the rides: I based this primarily on the suggestions from The Unofficial Guide.  They have done extensive research on crowd flow and movement at the parks and know which rides get busy quickest.  We followed their suggestions with some changes based on our preferences.
2)  We got there early.  Very early.  Like, a half hour before the park opens, even when we had Extra Magic Hours.  This was absolutely worth it.  And, at Magic Kingdom and Epcot they have cute "opening ceremonies."  We also ate lunch early, usually around 11am.
3)  We took advantage of Fast Passes.  For many popular rides, there are kiosks in which you insert your park admission card and you are given ticket with a time to return.  You come back and walk onto the ride.  Amazing.

I am including our full week's itinerary:

Domestic Scholar's Disney World Itinerary

Any tips on how you planned your Disney World trip?  Any questions you would like to see answered here?--I am not an expert (and there are definitely Disney experts out there), but I'll tell you what I know!

Work Referenced: Sehlinger, Bob and Len Testa. The Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World  2011.  Hoboken, N.J. : Wiley, 2011.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Book Review: Ann Patchett's State of Wonder

At first, I resisted Ann Patchett's recent best-seller, State of Wonder.  It begins with death, and I have a cowardly disposition toward such painful subjects.  But, it kept appearing on "must-read" lists, so I gave it a shot, and the novel proved worth it.  It does begin on a somber note: the protagonist, Dr. Marina Singh, a research scientist at a pharmaceutical company, learns of the death of her colleague Anders Eckman and must face, first, relaying the news to Eckman's wife, and then, traveling to the Amazon where Eckman died while trying to locate a rogue scientist.  The first part of the novel is uncomfortably morbid, as Marina reflects on the Eckman's death and the resulting destruction in the life of his wife and sons.

The novel picks up pace, however, as Marina transitions to Brazil, commissioned both by Eckman's wife and her employer to discover what happened to Eckman and locate Dr. Swenson, the scientist Eckman was trying to reach.  Swenson was also Marina's professor during her medical residency years earlier, and Marina harbors a deep reverence and also fear of her former teacher.  Swenson is formidable, growing almost legendary before she ever enters the novel midway through.  Her research centers around extended fertility among an Amazonian tribe--a pharmaceutical gold-mine that could deliver babies to women in their 60s or even 70s.  The company is then, understandably worried that Swenson has apparently gone AWOL.

Marina's adventures are many: breaking through the gates and gatekeepers Swenson has left behind her, surviving fevers, snakes, and angry tribesmen.  The novel, however, is not merely action-packed.  It raises a number of interesting questions, especially when measured against what obviously must have been the inspiration for the story: Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness.  The disciple-like reverence that so many develop for Swenson mirrors the devotion shown to Kurtz; thus, a good part of the novel is spent considering how Marina will, like Marlow, experience the disillusionment that comes from seeing the dark heart of the idol.  The novel, too, raises questions, if obliquely, about colonization and its effects, both on the  native populations and the environment.  Indeed, even the research that seems so miraculous, comes under intense and painful scrutiny.

The novel continues to unfold unexpected twists, and even if you have read Heart of Darkness, the resolution of the novel may come as a surprise.

Ultimately, an exciting story, but one that doesn't leave your mind behind.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

The Fourth

 Because the Fourth of July fell in the middle of the week, Jordan and I had a rare holiday on our own.  Although it was sad not to be with family, we did make the best of it.  We spent most of the day working on the packing up of our apartment (which has descended into a level of disarray that will probably persist until we totally move out in a few weeks).  However, we did dinner up right with turkey burgers with bacon, lettuce, and pineapple; corn on the cob; and sweet potato fries.
 For dessert I made a Peanut butter-banana-ice box pie; it has a cinnamon-graham-cracker-crust and layers of chocolate and bananas at the bottom.  It was delicious, but even better the next day.
 After supper, we walked over to the local Arts Center, where they were putting on a Music Festival (which was really just one band inside and a DJ out on the ball field).  The band was really great, very talented, and played an evening's worth of oldies and beach music
 The band wound up and directed us outside for the fireworks, which were impressive.  We had never been to this venue before for fireworks, so we weren't entirely sure which direction they would come from, so of course we parked ourselves under the only tree that could obscure our view.  But, it wasn't bad and we had a pretty good view of the show anyway.
Overall, a happy fourth.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Monthly Miscellanea

Good things in May:

1.  I have a job!  I interviewed at C University, and I am going to be brought on as an adjunct in the fall.  I am so, so excited that Jordan and I will be teaching at the same university.  After five years of heading in different directions every morning, how cool will it be to be at the same school!

2.  My birthday was great--so many sweet calls and notes from friends and family and a special dinner out with my husband.  We went to local restaurant and ordered homemade pita chips and hummus as an appetizer--the most amazing pita chips ever.  I am now keen to try to make some on my own.

3.  School's out!  I love summer-time.  I love having time to cook and crochet and swim and run.  I am trying to stay on a schedule and get work done as well--since I am going to be starting from scratch with my courses in the fall, I will definitely have plenty to do, not to mention all the packing that will commence later this summer.

Looking forward to June:

1.  Disney World!!  We will be headed to Mickey Mouse's House in a few weeks.  I have been put in charge (kind of self-appointed) of the itinerary, and I have had entirely too much fun poring over the guide-book and optimizing our experience by crafting the most awesome, carefully-calculated plan, ever.  I still have a few tweaks to make, but I think I will probably be sharing the itinerary later on, just because I am so proud of it.  I may also share some thoughts on packing for the trip.

2.  House-hunting.This is kind of nerve-wracking and exciting at the same time.  And, of course, calls for more intensive, type-A research and planning.

3.  Summer-fun stuff.  Already planning some photography trips (maybe some star photography!), movie-nights, cook-outs, and pool-time.  I have already gotten sun-burnt, which is not a good thing, but hopefully won't happen again.  Sunscreen is my friend.

So, what are you looking forward to this summer?

Monday, May 28, 2012

We Like to Eat Around Here

 Seriously, we love to eat.  I like to cook, so it all works out.  Here are some of the things we have been eating.  Above is the Lemon-Orange Chiffon Cake that I made for a church dinner (it won a Facebook poll for what I should make, over a banana-pudding).  I think it turned out great--the recipe was from Southern Living.  The icing was particularly spectacular, but nobody wanted to eat the candied orange slices.
 In the plate above is Herbed Chicken, Panko-Crusted Squash, and Creamy Russet Potatoes.  The chicken was a new experiment that turned out well.  I seasoned thin chicken breasts with a Mediterranean herb blend and pan-fried them a bit in olive oil until the outside browned, then transferred to a baking dish to roast in the oven with chopped garlic.  I poured some lemon juice into the frying pan and scraped up the bits that were left and then poured it over the chicken to keep it moist.
 Strawberry and Asparagus Salad: a mix of green leaf and spinach, roasted asparagus, strawberries, feta, walnuts, bacon, and a Vidalia onion dressing.
Roasted Veggie Quiche:  roasted asparagus, onion, carrots, and squash; eggs mixed with heavy cream, feta, mozzarella and Parmesan in a store-bought refrigerated crust.

I didn't take a picture of the blackberry cobbler I took to some friends' cookout last night, but it was tasty, though a bit of an adventure (way, way too much liquid in the berries, which Jordan helped me pour off).

I am so excited that summer is here and that vegetables are everywhere: we have been eating so much squash and asparagus and corn and tomatoes.  Love it!

What are your favorite summer recipes?

Friday, May 25, 2012

Housekeeping Routines

I considered starting here with a little philosophical musing about housekeeping--I do, after all, specialize in domestic fiction and wrote my master's thesis on a novel called Recollections of a Housekeeper.  But, if you indicate that you are interested in housekeeping, people often suppose that you are very strange (I may be) and have a freakishly clean house (I don't).  So, I will dispense with (most of) the musing and get to the basics.  Most people do some housekeeping.  I am generally interested in how people do it. I think those manuals and descriptions from the 19th century on housekeeping practices (or domestic economy, as it was sometimes called) are fascinating.

My favorite modern-day housekeeping tome is Cheryl Mendelson's Home Comforts: The Art and Science of Keeping House (Scriber, 1999).  The book is a wonderful reference guide, nearly 900 pages long with answers for nearly every conceivable quandary on laundering, polishing, laying out, and making up that you could imagine.  My favorite chapter is the first, in which Mendelson writes of her "secret life."  She writes, "An off-and-on lawyer and professor in public, in private I launder and clean, cook from the hip, and devote serious time and energy to a domestic routine not so different from the one that defined my grandmothers as 'housewives'" (3).  She goes on to describe those grandmothers, one of Italian ancestry and the other of British Isles descent who are equal in their passion for domestic arts, though they often conflicted on ideas of airing beds or ironing shirts.  Ultimately, housekeeping seems to be part of identity--how we do things tells us something about who we are and where we come from; but the purpose is unifying--we all seem to clean house because we enjoy having a comfortable, welcoming space in which to live.

So domestic routines both create comfort, and to some (myself included) are comforting in themselves.  When I was younger, I learned the nineteenth-century housekeeping litany from Laura Ingalls Wilder's Little House books: Wash on Monday, Iron on Tuesday, Mend on Wednesday, Churn on Thursday, Clean on Friday, Bake on Saturday, Rest on Sunday.  While some of these activities are obsolete (or have become hobbies, rather than chores), the idea of having a list of daily tasks makes sense.  I have tried the other method--clean when it gets dirty--but have found it to be far more exhausting than a pre-emptive routine.  After much experimentation, this is now my weekly routine:

Monday: Clean the Kitchen, Buy Groceries
Tuesday: Laundry (Clothes)
Wednesday: Dust and Vacuum
Thursday: Laundry (Sheets and Towels)
Friday: Clean Bathrooms, Buy Groceries

These activities are, of course, supplements to the daily "neatening" tasks of putting away items and making beds and so on. This list is specific to my needs, as it's just my husband and myself in a small apartment.  I put the lighter tasks (laundry) on Tuesdays and Thursdays because those are usually teaching days for me.  My very least favorite task is planning meals--for some reason, my brain freezes up and I look with dread at the refrigerator and drag my feet on the way to the grocery store.  It has become somewhat easier since I go to the store twice a week now.  Instead of having to plan seven meals, I plan meals for Monday through Thursday, and then Friday through Sunday.

I don't always get through the week perfectly, but it is easy enough to catch up and Saturday morning is a good time to pick up any tasks that were missed during the week, but your whole day isn't spent in drudgery.

So, what are your domestic routines?  Any tips on making meal planning less painful?  Any thoughts on housekeeping as identity? 

Friday, April 27, 2012

Favorite Favorites: Pimento Cheese and Strawberry Jam

Way back when I was in youth group, we played some kind of game that required us to choose the one food we would be happy eating the rest of our lives.  I don't remember the point of the game, but I do remember my answer: pimento cheese.  Back in those days, I was eating the spread on white bread sandwiches.  Since then, more wonderful things have happened.

First, homemade pimento cheese.  My grandmother and mother and aunts all make homemade pimento cheese, but for some reason, I had never tried it myself until recently.  It is ridiculously easy.  Although there are many different versions of the recipe, this is the one my mother taught me:

1 (8 oz.) block sharp cheddar (grated)
1 (8 oz.) block mild cheddar (grated)
1 (4 oz.) jar diced pimentos (drained)
1 tsp. Worcestershire sauce

Mix the grated cheese and pimentos with enough mayonnaise until it becomes a thick, creamy spread.  Add in the Worcestershire sauce and pepper (freshly ground is particularly good).  Momma recommends grating the sharp cheddar with one size of holes on the grater and the mild cheddar with a different size, just to make the texture more interesting.

Then, my brother-in-law introduced us to grilled pimento cheese.  Again, this is so obviously good that I can't believe I hadn't tried it before.  The crisp buttery bread, the melty cheese.  Mmmmm.  However, the February 2012 issue of Southern Living took it a step further by adding bacon to the grilled pimento cheese and suggesting serving with strawberry jam--what?  Strawberry jam?  Let me tell you, it is unreal.  Jordan is not a fan, but then, he generally doesn't like sauces and condiments--such a purist.  For me, however, a thin slather of strawberry jam on top of a grilled pimento cheese and bacon sandwich is amazing.  I have always been a big fan of cheese-and-fruit eaten together, so this is tops.

It is especially good with the year's crop of strawberry freezer jam.  We picked two bucket-fulls not long ago, and I made enough jam to fill up a dozen half-pint jars (one of which went to work with Jordan and disappeared inside of four days!)  Here is my previous post on freezer-jam making.

But, the pimento cheese and strawberry jam goodness does not end there.  Also in the February Southern Living was a recipe for pimento cheese rolls.  Super easy, very tasty.

Pimento cheese seems to be a very personalized food.  Any other variations out there that are your favorites?

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Sea Anemone

This is (was) my current crochet project, and, oh, is it epic.  It started as a gift for a friend from whom I will have to part in a few months when I move and she gets ready to transfer colleges.  She loves the ocean and bright colors, and so I picked out tones that reminded me of the beach: four different shades of blue, some green, orange, yellow, pale purple, and sand.  I am using Caron Simply Soft (my go-to acrylic), and this is going to be quite a warm afghan because of the density of the stitches.  I wanted to name it Sea Anemone because of the flower design.  However, when I looked up "sea anemone" I discovered that they are not, after all, flowers like the regular anemones.  They are strange, underwater creatures.  They are really kind of bizarre, but also beautiful, so I am keeping the name.

The reason for the epicness is the pattern.  It is very slow, very tedious.  Lots of switching colors, and you can see from the photo that I haven't woven in any ends yet.  It also takes a bit of time selecting colors for each patch so that I don't have the same color combination (each hexagon will be unique--Jordan helped me with the math) and also so that the same colors aren't touching, or even too close.  I predict that it will take me several months to complete, most likely more months than I have time for.  So, it is going into hibernation for a bit.  I have chosen a different afghan pattern for my friend (using most of the same colors), but I will actually be able to complete it before we part ways (and, you know, before she graduates college!)

Here is the Ravelry page for this afghan, and here is a link to a helpful tutorial on joining the hexagons as you go.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Homemade Beauty

 I am a fan of beauty products that come from the kitchen.  The chemicals and what-not in most tubes and jars kind of freak me out, and my skin is on the sensitive side, so it's prone to freaking out, too.  A lot of my homemade stuff I learned from my mom.  And, actually, I'm not sure if it even qualifies as homemade, since there is no making involved.  For example, an egg yolk face mask is just that--beat an egg yolk and apply it to your face.  It seems to tighten pores and smooth skin.  I also like adding a teaspoon of baking soda to my hair in the shower once a month.  I keep a small Mason jar in the shower, toss in the baking soda, swirl in some water so that it's somewhat paste-like and work into my hair.  Rinse, then wash and condition as usual.  This strips out any product build-up and makes my hair super soft.

Homemade stuff usually also has the added benefit of being cheap--usually, I already have this stuff hanging around.  The other day, I needed a body scrub, so that I could apply sunless tanner.  I had seen a few recipes online, and decided to mix some stuff together and see what I got.  Here is my recipe:

2-4 tsp. brown sugar
2-4 tsp. white sugar
1 tsp. honey
1 tsp. olive oil
1 tsp. coconut oil
1 tsp. lemon juice

I mixed it all together in a small, clean jar that once held diced pimentos (see, recycling!).  Honestly, the results were amazing.  I tend to have dry, eczema-ish skin, and this stuff made it super smooth and soft.  If you are not familiar with coconut oil, check it out.  It is about the consistency of Crisco, a white solid at room temperature, but melts when you rub it in.  I use it for so many things, including a substitute for after-shower lotion, face moisturizer in the winter, lip balm, and I smooth some onto dried hair to tame frizz.  I got an enormous jar from a health-food store something like two years ago, but I have seen it now at Wal-Mart with other cooking oils.
Bolstered by my confidence in kitchen beauty, I decided to try another experiment: homemade hair lightener.  I have light-medium brown hair that I actually rather like.  I think the color looks a bit like oak wood, because I have very subtle streaks of lighter blonde throughout.  I was completely blonde as a toddler, and even after my hair turned brown around age five, it would still bleach out to a bright blonde in the sun during the summer when I was a kid.  I don't want to dye my hair--like I said, I like the color.  But, I would like to intensify the highlights that are already there.  So, this is what I mixed up:

1 cup strong chamomile tea (steeped approx. 30 minutes)
1 tsp. honey (dissolved in tea)
1/2 to 1/3 cup lemon juice
1/2 oz. John Frieda Go Blonder Lightening Conditioner

I let the tea and honey cool a bit, added the lemon juice and whisked in the conditioner (which should keep my hair from getting too dried out).  I poured it all into a spray bottle.  I tested it out during a long run last week, spraying mostly the front layers and the top of my head until my hair was fairly saturated.  I was out in the sun during my run for about 40 minutes, and when I got back my highlights were definitely more noticeable.  It wasn't a drastic change--I think the process is a gradual one--but my highlights were definitely blonder.  I keep this concoction in the fridge--I'm not sure if the ingredients go bad, but I don't want to spray moldy liquid onto my head. 

So, there you are: homemade kitchen beauty.  I can't guarantee the results, but if you try these, let me know how they work out for you.  And let me know if you have any favorite homemade beauty recipes.

Friday, April 20, 2012

The Road Ahead: General Update

 When I was younger, I loved the American Girl series.  One of the books in each girl's series was about changes, so it was called Changes for Kirsten or Changes for Samantha.  I feel like I'm in Changes for Stephanie.  Or, I am about to be.  Jordan got a job.  He starts in August at a small private university that we believe we are going to love.  I have contacted the English department there about an adjunct position and was told I would hear something when they had their fall enrollment numbers in.  So, this means a move.  We will begin house-hunting in a few weeks, after going to the bank and meeting with real estate agents and all of that.  The area is pretty, but very rural and somewhat isolated.  And it is even further from our families.  But, we believe this is where God has called us to be.  We have learned even more clearly over the last few months and even years, that God has a plan for our lives.  He is at work and He wants us to join Him.  We prayed about the offer from C University, and received exactly what we prayed for: confidence that we were hearing His voice.  We believe that going to C University is God's plan and that He has things for us to do there.  So, we are excited, even though it means that we will have to experience a bit of heart-ache in the process.  Leaving our church is going to be painful.  We have become so rooted and entwined there that transplantation will be somewhat messy.  But that too, I believe, was part of God's plan for us--we grew and learned and served there--it was essential to our development.
I am learning to trust rather than control.  I have always been the girl with the plan.  I like knowing what I will be doing, when and where.  But, now, some things are up in the air--where I will be living, if and where I will be working, so many things.  But, it will be great, no matter what, where, and when it is.

But, I do know that the next few months are going to be a good deal about packing and cleaning and looking at houses and saying goodbye.  And saying hello.

OK, so what else is going on?  Lots of running.  I am keeping up with my New Years Resolution so far, and I am on track to run 366 miles this year.  I am hoping to get my long run distance up to 5 miles in the next month or so.  I am reading lots.  For fun, I have A Game of Thrones--it was a bit off-putting at first, but now I am loving it--a review will surely follow.  I am also reading Academically Adrift, which is a scholarly report on the status of undergraduates.  It is informational, if not the most riveting reading.  There is about a month of the semester left, so a lot of my time is spent reading things for class, grading papers, and planning lessons.  I think I can make it a few more weeks!  Honestly, this is a wonderful job.  We will be seeing the family soon, and, oh also, planning a trip to Disney this summer!  We weren't too sure when my mom first proposed the trip, but now I am getting increasingly excited.  We went once before when I was 10, but Jordan has never been.

The pictures in this post are from the Bog Garden in Greensboro.  There's a funny story there.  About planning this trip during spring break, getting up early to get good light, arriving, taking approximately 5 pictures before my batteries died.  Realizing that the two sets of backup batteries were also dead.  Driving to Harris Teeter to buy more batteries, driving back to the park, then realizing I had bought the wrong size batteries.  Banging head on steering wheel.  Eventually I just gave up and did my exploring without the camera.  The Bog Garden and Bicentennial Park are beautiful, and I also enjoyed Guilford Courthouse Military Park where an important battle of the Revolutionary War took place.

So, that's a bit of a rambly update, but that's what's going on! 

Monday, April 9, 2012

The Flight of Gemma Hardy: Book Review

An orphan girl, despised by her aunt and cousins, is sent to a boarding school where privations and abuse are mainstays.  The girl grows up and takes a position in a remote manor house teaching a little girl whose guardian is both charismatic and mysterious.  Sound familiar?  It should.  Margot Livesey's The Flight of Gemma Hardy (Harper Collins, 2012) is a retelling of Charlotte Brontë's Jane Eyre.  Set in Scotland in the 1950s and 60s, the novel is both clever and inventive in how it manages the parallels to the original work.  Gemma, born in Iceland, is taken to live with her mother's brother's family at Yew House when both of her parents die.  The opening chapters closely match Brontë's work, from the "not taking a walk" first lines, to the a "bird book" enjoyed in a secluded window-seat.  Claypoole (read Lowood) is a house of horrors: Gemma is taken on scholarship, and in return, she must serve as a "working girl"--basically an unpaid servant, which allows for interesting class dynamics as the divisions between the working girls and the regular students are severe.

In the first part of the book, the primary differences between Jane Eyre and Gemma Hardy are in the heroine's allies.  Unlike Jane, Gemma not only remembers but loves her uncle, who is a kindly minister who dies just before the beginning of the book.  No Betsy, but there is Mrs. Marsden, Gemma's aunt's housekeeper.  No Miss Temple, but, interestingly, a Mr. Donaldson, the teacher at Gemma's school before she leaves for Claypoole: he tries to warn Gemma off the boarding school, but becomes a victim of his own good intentions.  The Helen Burns character is rechristened Miriam Goodall, an asthmatic regular student who befriends Gemma.  She doesn't seem to have the same degree of influence on Gemma as Helen has on Jane, and lacks Helen's stoic faith.  Faith in general seems to be in short supply in this novel, despite Gemma's uncle's vocation, and, more crucially, despite the overwhelming importance of both Christian themes and images in Jane Eyre.

The second part of the book, Gemma's sojourn at Blackbird Hall (there is an extended bird motif through the whole novel), is perhaps the most enjoyable.  Gemma's advertisements land her in the Orkneys, the islands in northern Scotland, working for Mr. Hugh Sinclair, teaching his niece Nell (rhymes with Adele!)  It is in this section, however, that the story begins to spin away from the Jane Eyre story most clearly.  Gemma as adult is less like Jane than she was as a child.  She lacks Jane's unflinching self-possession, and this is demonstrated most strikingly in her reasons for running away from Blackbird Hall after Mr. Sinclair's secret has been revealed (Mr. Sinclair, by the way, is not nearly as much a bad boy as Mr. Rochester).  Jane leaves Rochester, not because he has deceived her and tried to trick her into bigamy--she forgives him the instant he asks before she ever leaves Thornfield.  She does not leave because she is angry with him.  She leaves because of a moral impulse--she is terribly tempted by his pleading that they remain together even though his wife lives.  She flees because she wants to be able to maintain her self-respect--she would rather risk starvation on the moors than to act on her passion for Rochester.  Gemma leaves because she is angry.  She leaves because she has been deceived.  There is no real moral compulsion to flee, so her reasoning takes on a self-righteous tone.  She leaves because she wants to "find herself."

OK.  Enough fussing.  The novel is actually really good.  I sped through it, intrigued to find out what would happen to Gemma (although, of course, you can probably guess).  The novel is an original work in its own right, and although I feel that the novel didn't truly capture the essence of Jane's character and choices (and I think it could have and still maintained it's originality), it is entertaining nevertheless.  It is fun to find the clever ways that Livesey alludes to the original work, and at times I was reading the novel with the memory of the corresponding passage in my mind, almost superimposed above the words on the page.  This is definitely a novel that I would love to dissect with another Jane Eyre fan---so, get on it!

Recommended if you love or even like Jane Eyre, enjoy coming of age stories, are interested in Scottish geography and a bit of history.

On a related note: my review of Fukunaga's film adaptation of Jane Eyre

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Early Easter Morning

 Citrus Spritz Cookies.  I usually make these at Christmas, but I had a cold and didn't get around to it then.  So, I decided that citrus was spring-like as well.  Especially since these are shaped like flowers.  I think I may have finally figured the cookie press out.  These also have a lemon glaze and tiny white nonpareils.
 My handsome husband getting ready for church.
 My Easter outfit.  Every since I was little, Easter was a special sartorial turning point.  I wasn't allowed to go bare-legged until Easter, and we never wore light colors until Easter.  I remember wearing some special Easter outfits as a little girl--hats, gloves, tiny lace purses.

My daffodils have finally bloomed!  I was afraid I had crowded them too much in the containers, but there they are, with their smiling, charming faces.

Our Easter Cantata this morning was one of the most powerful services I can remember.  Each song was so beautiful; the voices of those who spoke and prayed were overwhelmed with emotion; and it was uplifting to see the faces in the congregation clearly worshiping our Risen Savior.  One of the songs keeps playing in my head:
Living He loved me, dying He saved me
And buried He carried my sins far away
Rising He justified freely forever
One day He's coming, oh, glorious day, oh, glorious day
Lunch was so very nice, with friends who made wonderful things to eat.  I miss seeing my family today, but we'll be getting home soon.

Happy Easter, everyone!

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Of Queens and Castles: Book Reviews

I have not one but two books to review today.  The first is Becoming Queen Victoria: The Tragic Death of Princess Charlotte and the Unexpected Rise of Britain's Greatest Monarch by Kate Williams (Ballantine Books), which is an extremely long title.  I read this on my Nook, and I started it last summer and read it off and on, finishing a couple of months ago.  It is, as you may have guessed, a biography of Queen Victoria.  I was somewhat ashamed that I am a Victorianist, but had never read a biography, so this was my first.  I found it to be quite good.  As the title suggests, a good deal of the book is given to discussing Victoria's predecessors, beginning with George III, who finds himself the grandfather to 56 illegitimate children, fathered by his reprobate sons, and only one potential heir--Charlotte, the daughter of the Prince of Wales.  The first half of the book is devoted to her story, and the text makes clear that had she not died young in childbirth, Victoria herself might never have been born--the demise of the only legitimate heir to the throne left those reprobate sons scrambling to reproduce with their lawful wives.

The biography is interesting, filled with salacious details and honestly, at times, appalling portraits of the nineteenth-century monarchy.  It abounds with cruelty, bad feeling, and very little family warmth.  Even Victoria herself is denuded of her rosy glow, and painted as somewhat shallow and power-hungry and Albert is a bit of a self-aggrandizing martyr.  Although it matched with most of the details of the fairly recent film, The Young Victoria, the movie-version is certainly prettier than the biography version.

Recommended if you like historical detail, famous family drama, and seeing near-mythic figures made human.

The second book I have finished recently is Dodie Smith's I Capture the Castle.  This is a title that I had heard of before in a very vague way, but had absolutely no idea what the book was about.  I saw it on the shelf at our local used book store and noticed a blurb of praise by J.K. Rowling on the cover.  I read the description on the back and then the first lines and was hooked.  The novel was originally published in 1948, but is set in the mid 1930s, and is written as the diary of aspiring seventeen-year-old writer Cassandra Morton, who lives with her siblings, eccentric once-famous-writer father, and proto-hippie artist's model step-mother in a ramshackle old castle in "not-so-genteel poverty."  Cassandra's diary is intended for her to practice the art of writing, as she wishes to "capture" characters and settings, so she tries out her talents on her family and home.  In the meantime she tells the story of her coming of age, figuring out family and love and all of that.  Rowling's blurb of praise was for Cassandra as narrator ,and I have to agree--let me just give you a bit from the first paragraph:

"I write this sitting in the kitchen sink.  That is, my feet are in it; the rest of me is on the draining-board, which I have padded with our dog's blanket and the tea-cosy.  I can't say that I am really comfortable, and there is a depressing smell of carbolic soap, but this is the only part of the kitchen where there is any daylight left.  And I have found that sitting in a place where you never sat before can be inspiring--I wrote my very best poem while sitting on the hen-house."
The book is both funny and sad and beautiful.  I have some issues with the resolution, but truly, I loved it.

Recommended if you like coming of age stories, writing about writing, vintage British-isms, oblique references to the Modernist movement of the early 20th century.

I will be writing a review soon of Margot Livesey's new novel, The Flight of Gemma Hardy, which is a retelling of Jane Eyre set in the 1950s and 60s in Scotland and Iceland.  I considered adding it on here, but wanted room to do a more extensive review.

Right now, I am a bit between books.  I have two that I picked up used: Wayne Caldwell's Cataloochee, which is a multi-generational saga set in the Cataloochee valley near Asheville, NC, a place I have visited many times; and Diana Setterfield's The Thirteenth Tale, but I haven't a strong idea of the story--just something about England and Gothic and old books.  But, yesterday a friend forcefully recommended George R.R. Martin's Song of Fire and Ice series (a.k.a the Game of Thrones series), claiming that he likes them even better than Tolkien, which is utterly unthinkable to me.  I haven't quite decided what kind of reading mood I am in, so I don't know what I will read first. 

Let me know if you have read any of the books mentioned and what you think of them!

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Black Mountain Duet

 I made this simple scarflet/hat combo several months ago, but just now got around to posting it.  I liked the concept quite a bit--a rectangle with buttons to work as a neck-warmer, but it also has a ribbon drawstring that can transform it into a hat (here is the pattern on Knitty).  I really like the colors too, those muddy purple blues.  The yarn is an alpaca wool and acrylic blend, though.  I had read somewhere that alpaca would not itch like regular wool.  Maybe it's just me, but I think this is terribly itchy.  Oh well, this was destined to become a gift anyway, for someone with far less finicky skin.
And in other news: I am currently reading John Le Carre's Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (I haven't seen the film yet) and Edith Wharton's The Age of Innocence.  And, since Jordan is reading it now, I am also sneakily re-reading The Hunger Games whenever he puts the book down.

I have plans that involve scissors and potentially a good deal of regret.  First, I have a long coat that I think would work better as a shorter coat, so I am thinking of altering it myself.  Second, I haven't been able to get a hold of my hair dresser in over a week, so I am planning to trim it up myself--I think Jordan should be able to manage a straight line across the back, and I can do the layers in the front.  I've been cutting his hair for a few years now, so I think it shouldn't be too hard to do my own.  And anyway, it'll grow.  I just don't have time to track down a new hair dresser, especially since we are going to be moving in a few months and I would have to start the process all over again.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Gibson Tuck

I have had a problem since I started teaching at E University: nobody believes I am a professor.  I definitely don't mind being mistaken for someone younger, and I am not at all yearning to look aged, but it is a bit off-putting at times: when I went to the registrar's office to have a student's grade changed, the registrar seemed suspicious that I was a student trying to commit some kind of grade fraud.  I actually started pulling out my ID card before she gave me the paperwork.  And, I guess, when I think about it, my look isn't helping much.  The picture below was, ironically, taken the day of the grade-change-incident.  It wasn't a teaching day, but I am still wearing a button-up shirt and dressy jeans and boots.  But...the hair, the trendy jacket, and the multiple bags probably don't communicate authority.
If it were only occasional cases of mistaken identity, I wouldn't mind so much, but something I read by Malcolm Gladwell in his book Blink has made me reconsider.  He cites a study in which students viewed two-seconds of video of a professor they had never met lecturing with the sound off and made a snap-judgment of that professor's effectiveness.  These judgments were identical to the evaluations made by students at the end of a whole semester.  Clearly, something about appearance is forming students' judgments and showing up in course evaluations.  Which made me think about the few comments I received on last semester's evaluations where students mentioned that I didn't seem authoritative, or lacked confidence, or seemed shy.  I am curious to see how appearance might play into this.  I did, after all, write a dissertation on how dress and appearance shape identity and can be manipulated to gain power.  So, I am conducting an experiment: this semester, I have worn my hair up every time I step on campus, I teach wearing dressing, skirts, hose, heels, the works.  The trendy bomber jacket stays home, as does the puffy blue parka.  So far, there have been a lot more addresses as "Dr."  rather than "Mrs." and definitely no "Miss."

I have tried several different hair styles and try to rotate between ponytails (the grown up kind, sleek, low, with hair parted in front) and various buns and braids.  I like period-hair styles, like the Gibson tuck below, but try not to wear them too often--I want to look more authoritative, not nuts.

I like the Gibson tuck.  It is very elegant, but easy to do--a basic ponytail tucked into itself with a few pins.  It looks a bit messy, because this is at the end of the day, but it actually has good staying power.  And, bonus, when I take it down at home in the evening, beautiful waves.
So, this will be a long-term experiment.  I will have to see how reactions go and student course evaluations.  Hopefully, these few tweaks will help students see me as a more authoritative figure.  Maybe they'll even start doing their reading!

And PS:  I know, the real focus should be--and it is--on crafting my teaching practice.  The appearance-manipulation is just a fun side-project.