Monday, November 24, 2014

My Favorite Books - Julie and Julia

I actually found this month's favorite book(s) because I went to see the movie first, which is the one and only time that has ever happened.  The movie Julie and Julia came out in 2009, starring Amy Adams as Julie Powell and Meryl Streep as Julia Child.

The movie was so enjoyable that I immediately purchased the three books that made up the film, and as expected, I liked them even more.

"Julie and Julia", the book, is the true story of Julie Powell.  In 2002, Julie was working a dead end secretarial job and looking for new direction in her life.  To that end, she decided to spend 365 days preparing all 524 recipes in Julia Child's "Mastering The Art of French Cooking".  To add to the fun, she created a blog about it - back when blogging was just getting started.  The resulting story is exhausting, hilarious, poignant and so much fun.  I was endlessly impressed with Julie's willingness to take on even the most complicated of Julia's recipes.  This book is not a cookbook, but rather a story about rediscovering the "joie-de-vivre".

In the movie Julie and Julia, Meryl Streep is spot on as Julia Child - so good that I forgot she wasn't in fact Julia Child.  The movie is also partially based on the book "My Life In France", a memoir that was completed after Julia Child's death by her grand nephew.  In 1948 Julia moved to France with her husband Paul.  Finding herself bored, and with a tentative interest in cooking, she enrolled in a class at the Cordon Bleu.

This book is an absolute gem, and is equal parts a love story, a travel log of her many adventures in France, and a fascinating saga of the ten year process involved in publishing her encyclopedia sized cookbook.

Which leads me to that final book, "Mastering The Art of French Cooking".  As a confirmed disaster in the kitchen, this is the last book anyone would expect to find at my house.  But I just couldn't resist after seeing the movie and reading the memoirs - I wanted to know what all the fuss was about.

It really is a classic, and should be in everyone's library.  Not only are there 524 recipes, but there is information on how to purchase ingredients, detailed descriptions on technique, and step by step instructions to create a beautiful meal.  I've even been inspired to try a few things, and made a very successful Potage Parmentier (Potato Soup) that turned out delicious.

Happy reading and Bon Appetit!

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Grandma's Cranberry Salad

We're not having Thanksgiving with my parents this year, and there are a lot of things I will miss.  Especially my Grandma's Cranberry Salad, which either she or my mom has made every year I can remember.  It's a sweet jello salad full of fruit and nuts, and it's the perfect compliment to turkey and stuffing.  Sorry, there is no picture of the actual salad - we haven't made it since I started blogging, and before blogging I never took pictures of my food!

Grandma's Cranberry Salad

1 package fresh cranberries (from the produce section, not frozen)
2 C sugar
2 medium oranges
2 apples, peeled and chopped
2 C boiling water
2 small packages Lemon jello
1 C walnuts, chopped

Using a food processor, grind the cranberries.  Add sugar and let stand for 30 minutes.  Meanwhile, grate the rind from the oranges and squeeze the juice into a small bowl.  In a larger bowl, add the boiling water to the jello and stir to dissolve.  After 30 minutes, strain the cranberry/sugar mixture to remove as much liquid as possible.  Combine the strained cranberry juice with the orange juice and add enough cold water to equal 2 cups (you may have enough cranberry/orange juice and won't have to add water).

Stir the cranberry/orange juice into the dissolved jello, and put into freezer until slightly firm.  Time will vary, so keep an eye on it!  Remove chilled jello, and stir in cranberries, orange rind, apples and walnuts.  Pour into large glass serving bowl, and place into refrigerator to set.  Best if made one or two days ahead of time.

I found a picture from Thanksgiving dinner in 2012, with the cranberry salad on the table!

Have a wonderful weekend!

Friday, November 21, 2014

Favorite Winter Hat & Cash Giveaway

Today I'm linking up with the Style Me Bloggers, and we're sharing our favorite winter hats - plus we have a cash giveaway.  Be sure to scroll to the bottom and enter to win $215 - that would be a nice way to start your holiday shopping!

I'm not much of a hat wearer.  You may have noticed that I have a LOT of hair, and it just never seems to fit properly under a hat.  Having said that, while deciding on my favorite hat, I noticed that I seem to have quite a few of them.  Might be time to get rid of some to make more room in my little closet.

This is my go to winter hat for skiing or cold weather activities.  I love the patterns, it has warm and cozy fleece inside, and the best part is the little tassel on top.  See?

My hubby gave me this hat for Christmas years ago, and he has no idea where he purchased it (he looked at me like I was crazy when I asked him).  However, I did find some other cute winter hats to put on your gift list.  Could be time to replace my favorite hat!

Now for something exciting - I'm joining these lovely ladies to give away $215 cash, just in time for all of that holiday shopping!  Be sure to enter below.

The Mishaps and Mayhem of Solitary Life  Daily Style Finds  |  A Lovely Little Wardrobe

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Stop by today and visit the other Style Me Bloggers to see their favorite Winter hats!  I hope you'll link up with us, or come back in two weeks for some holiday meal inspiration.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

The Great American Smokeout - Elizabeth's Story

Today is the 2014 Great American Smokeout, sponsored by the American Cancer Society to encourage smokers to make a plan to quit, or decide in advance and stop smoking on this day.

I tried smoking once when I was 16, but it made me nauseous.  Since I'm not a smoker, I have no right asking anyone to stop.  That is a personal decision, and I can only imagine how difficult it is to quit.

Instead, I'd like to share Elizabeth's story.

Elizabeth is my mother in law, a strong, amazing woman that I've written about before, who passed away in February.  She started smoking in the 1940's when she was 20. Back then almost everybody she knew smoked, and her cigarette of choice was unfiltered Pall Mall's. So many of my memories of her include a cigarette in her hand.

Most of his life, my hubby tried to get her to quit.  He hated that she smoked, and he used every argument he could to plead his case.  She would look him right in the eye and say, "as long as the doctor says I'm healthy, I don't have a reason to quit."

And for a really long time, she was remarkably healthy.  Until the day she suffered a stroke. In the hospital, her doctor of many years told her she needed to stop smoking immediately. She shrugged, said okay, and never picked up another cigarette again.

My husband was surprisingly angry.  He couldn't understand why she hadn't quit sooner, if it was so easy for her.  She replied that the doctor had finally told her she wasn't healthy, so that was that.  Very matter of fact, my mother in law.

Unfortunately, it was too late.  Shortly after quitting, Elizabeth was diagnosed with emphysema, and tests showed that a very large portion of her lungs were irreparably damaged. She was prescribed oxygen, but she hated wearing it.  I'm pretty sure that as soon as we walked out the door, the oxygen mask came off.  Very quickly she went from vibrant and healthy, to being unable to walk more than a few feet without having to sit down and catch her breath.  

She became very reclusive.  Where she once loved to accompany us on trips to the beach, or visit the symphony or a musical, all she could manage to do now was sit in bed and read. She was very limited on what activities she could do with the boys, and they didn't understand.

Within a few years she developed dementia, and she spent the last three years of her life bed ridden, stuck wearing the dreaded oxygen twenty four hours a day.

Elizabeth lived to be 87, and I cannot say with certainty that cigarettes killed her.  What I do know is that smoking stopped her from being able to run around and play with her grandchildren, or take them to the movies, or attend their sporting events.  She missed all of that because she was stuck in bed, unable to breathe.  And it makes me really sad.  I wish her reason to quit had been us.

Today during the Great American Smokeout, I'm not going to stand on a soapbox and tell you to quit smoking.  I have no right, and it's none of my business.  But if you do smoke, will you at least think about quitting?  For you, for your family, for your grandchildren?

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Fall Trends: Ponchos

When I was ten, I had a favorite poncho that I wore to school almost every day. It looked a lot like this.

Eeeks.  So I was a little dubious when I saw that ponchos were back for fall.  I wasn't sure I could find one that I liked, or that it would fit in with my work from home lifestyle.

As usual, I was wrong.  I found this INC sweater poncho at Macy's, and it has become one of the most comfortable items in my fall wardrobe.  The cut is very forgiving, and it's perfect to throw over skinny jeans and a turtleneck for a warm layer.  I wore it with a mixed metal chain necklace, but next time I'll pair it with a scarf.  I know I'll be wearing this look all winter long.

Speaking of Winter, it's time for the Winter/Holiday Style Me Pretty Challenge! Registration opens this Friday, November 21st.

Winter/Holiday Style Challenge Square

I'm really excited about this one, because winter lasts for a long time around here.  This will be my fourth Style Me Challenge, and I cannot say enough good things about it! Alison has amazing style, and shares it all during the 21 day challenge.  If you don't have a lot of money in your clothing budget - no worries.  I usually find many of the items are already in my closet, and it's easy to substitute with pieces that you own. Plus, Alison's picks are always very budget friendly.  The girl knows how to shop a Target sale!  The best part? Not having to figure out what to wear every day - because Alison tells me!

Click on the graphic to sign up or find out more information about the Winter/Holiday Style Me Pretty Challenge - any questions, leave me a comment or shoot me an email!

**In the spirit of full disclosure, this is an affiliate link, which means I will get a commission if you decide to join the challenge.  I only recommend products and programs that I use and love myself, so I know you'll be in good hands!**

The Style Me Bloggers will be back on Friday, linking up to show you our favorite Winter Hats.  There will also be an exciting giveaway, so I hope you'll join us!

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Over The River And Through The Woods

Before 2012, the only traveling my family did for Thanksgiving was over the river and down the freeway to Grandma's house - twenty minutes away.

But then my parents retired to Arizona, and my father made it clear that if we wanted to see them for the holiday, we'd have to go to Phoenix.  Which isn't exactly terrible - compared to rainy and cold in Seattle, sunny and 80 degrees is pretty nice.

As I searched for tickets, I found that the cheapest alternative was to fly out Thanksgiving afternoon.  We all agreed that we could celebrate the holiday on Friday.  I was very apprehensive that traveling on Thursday was going to be a nightmare, but it was actually quite pleasant.

We stayed in Arizona for five days, and had a great time.  We hung out by the lake, and the guys did tons of golfing.

We drove to Tucson and visited Colossal Cave Mountain Park, where we toured the largest dry cavern in the world.

It was so much fun, we decided to go back in 2013.  Lots more golfing and fishing, and this time we visited Saguaro National Park and Tortilla Flat, an authentic old west town along the Historic Apache Trail.

Earlier this year my hubby asked if we were going back for a third visit this Thanksgiving.  I called my mom to run our plans by her.  Guess what?  They're driving over the river and through the woods to her father's house this year.  Well fine.  I'm not offended or anything :)!

Except now I kind of like traveling on Thanksgiving.  There's a built in four days off, so we only have to take two vacation days.  We don't have a reason to stay here - my sister and brother have plans with their in-laws, and G's family is busy too.  The boys wanted to go to Hawaii, but I almost had a heart attack when I priced airfare.

So instead, guess where we're headed?

If I can't have turkey with mom and dad, I guess Mickey will have to do!

Monday, November 17, 2014

A Better Human Being

My family spent Sunday with Todd, our friend who suffered a traumatic neck injury this summer while in Hawaii.  Todd continues to make remarkable progress.  I'm not surprised, because he's a remarkable man.

I'd like to think that if faced with similar circumstances, I would be as positive as Todd. But in reality, it would be very easy to go down the other road - the path of depression, what if's, frustration and anger.

Todd doesn't think that way.  This is a man who has had the most basic of human functions taken from him.  He cannot feed or dress himself, and he has to rely on others to scratch an itch on his face, or change the channel on the television.  His wife puts him to bed at night and gets him up in the morning.  He endures several hours of painful physical therapy every day, and long stretches of time when he has nothing to do but sit in his wheelchair and think.

Yet I have never met anyone with more love for life, and a bigger smile on his face.  I asked him if he ever has dark days.  He thought about it for a few seconds and replied, "no dark days, only dark moments.  And then I snap myself out of it, because things could be a lot worse".

We've been friends with Todd for a long time, so I knew he would understand when I laughed and asked him HOW things could be worse.  He told us a story.

Last week, Todd and his wife Tammi went to Harborview Hospital in Seattle for a doctor's appointment.  It was a miserably cold and rainy day, and traffic was terrible.  By the time they finally arrived, he was freezing, tired and DONE.  He knew that an uncomfortable medical procedure awaited him, so he sat in the waiting room feeling grumpy and miserable. Just then a cheerful man wheeled in and checked in for his appointment.  As he turned around, Todd realized the man had no feet and just one arm. Todd looked down at his own arms and legs, and he thought, "they might not work right now, but I'm lucky to have them". And just like that, his smile was back.

Remarkable man.

Todd plans to take his first step by New Year's.  Six weeks from now.  It's not even up for discussion that it won't happen.  He told us today that the only way he can take that step is if he believes he will.  I know I believe, and I can't wait to see it.

As we drove home, I thought about Todd's story.  Not only do I have both arms and legs, but they do everything I want them to.  I can feed and dress myself, and nobody has to put me to bed.  But maybe I need to spend a little more time thinking. 

This accident has made Todd a better human being.  He was already pretty great, but now he's truly inspirational.  He doesn't know what his purpose is yet, but I imagine he thinks about it a lot. 

And I hope that today I will be a better human being.  And the day after that, and the one after that...

Linking with Motivation Monday
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