Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Don't Go

I have a love-hate relationship with Lisa Scottoline. I think of her as the "Target author." Whenever I think of one of her book jackets, I imagine it on the paperback displays of Target shelves with a trademark red and white bull's eye sticker. I don't know why that is relevant... it's just what first comes to mind when I think of the author. And maybe too the fact that I have never been quite interested in one of her books enough to pay full price. Every once in a while I will (admittedly obnoxiously) grab a basket full of books at Target and find somewhere to park (seasonal displays of patio furniture work well, although I am not opposed to just plopping on the floor in the book aisle) and peruse through the stack to find which interest me enough to buy. Something by Scottoline usually makes the stack... but never makes it home. Those that have found their way to me shelf usually arrived via Habitat's 25 cent sale of the library's $5 bag-o-books sale. This specific one I spotted at the library when I took Benjamin for one of the summer programs, and I actually checked out, a rarity.
I felt about it like I did about most of her novels. There is this gossamer strand, thin, but just strong enough to pull me through the pages, intrigued to see where the story goes. I felt this way reading Save Me and Look Again, also by the same author. I wouldn't say it was "good" but it was just enough to keep me interested. In places the detail is too much. In other areas the writing is banal, a little hard to suffer through. The ending in this novel, as well as the other two is a bit Shakespearian though... and that's not a good thing. I have taught Romeo and Juliet more times than I can count. And it seems when Willie the Bard got to Act Five he felt like "Time to wrap things up" and jumbled together a bunch of plot elements to finish the play. It's much like watching a movie that keeps your interest throughout but suffers a rushed ending, often like with Don't Go, one that doesn't flow with the rest of the action's pace or development.
The novel is about an Army surgeon that has to return home from war because his wife suffered a fatal household accident, leaving his infant daughter to the care of the deceased mother's sister, who conveniently is barren, and oozing with maternal love to smother the semi-orphaned infant. Dr. Mike must decide whether to fulfill his military duty with a small regimen of doctors desperately needing his help or to hand up his camo lab coat to play Mr. Mom. Complicating that decision is a whole "second life" that he discovers about his wife during his deployment, including alcoholism and infidelity.
There were certain unexpected twists to the novel, which were good. I was pretty certain that at page 19, I had then entire book figured out... and I was completely wrong. I don't know if Scottoline intentionally led me- her reader- to that conclusion. I'd like to think so, but I question achieving that feat with her writing skill style. The thing is... I would have been beyond content to be wrong, and surprised... but the ending was so disjointing. It's as if she wrote 3/4th of the book, walked away a few months, and then picked it back up to finish... maybe she needed a paycheck. The "obvious" conclusion, although expected and trite, would have been a more fulfilling end to the novel than the fluster of activity that finishes its pages.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014


There are not enough hours in the day.
Days in the week.
Weeks in the month.
You get the point...

It's summer.
I'm a teacher.
I don't think I am afforded the luxury of feeling there is "too much to do" during the summer months.
(Of course, I realize this "luxury" is really a burden.)

I had to go back to school yesterday.
It had only been a week since summer school ended. Since I left.
What's funny though is that it seems so much longer.
That's a good thing, right? I must be making the most of my summer if it seems like I have been out longer.
(I have seriously checked the calendar three times to check that fact because it just doesn't seem right.)
Nevertheless, I was back at school yesterday. For a School Leadership team meeting.
And, I was just a wee bit bitter that I had to return already.
When I had promised myself a full month mental vacation from all things academia.
Once I was there though, things fell into place. I felt calm, in place.
How easy it was to swing back into the pace of school life.
I have had so, so... sooo... many jobs in my life.
It is unfathomable to think that I just finished my 10th year of teaching. At the same school even.
I think I will get a pin for my name badge (which I don't wear) this year for that.
So, it is a good thing that I feel so "in place" when I am there. Not a burden, just life. My life.
Yesterday, we also decided that the Leadership Team would come back together the Monday before the staff next month.
Which is two weeks before school starts. And later that same week I will have meetings to mentor a new teacher (I think).
That too made me a wee bit bitter. Thinking that summer, that has barely started, is ending a week earlier than planned.
Though not really planned because I knew about the mentoring, which would bring me in that week anyway (probably).

I thought that meant I "officially" have three weeks of summer left.
But here it is almost Wednesday, and I have done nothing this week. Plans made. Plans nixed.
Days wasted away.
So I knee-jerked and planned a family vacation.
At a campground.
I don't camp.
But we're in a cabin.
With no bathroom. Or "rooms" at all for that matter.
And no water or stove... or even chair.
I told myself that mentally removing myself from home, town, physical life would be good for me.
For us.
God, I hope I was right... I am having my doubts.
But the cabin is booked. Paid for. Nonrefundable.
But, I still have my doubts.
And now I don't look at the calendar and think I have 2.5 weeks of Summer. I think I have One Week of Summer after we get back!

I look at my Summer Bucket List. Good idea or No to make it a screen saver?
And I see those things that can be checked.
Some that are still lingering plans.
And several that have been done but I want to do again before time runs out.
Time Runs Out.
Now though, the Every Days are weighing on me.
Jason has gotten things aligned to be back in class full-time next month. Next Month! Very Full-Time!
I think about how crucial it is to get things cleaned and organized before Time Runs Out.
Then I waste some more days away.
I don't mean waste them away in a good way, which I think is quite possible. Quite therapeutic.
I mean waste them away in a fugue of disorientation, not able to get through a load of laundry or a recipe.

These days of  Nothingness, intentional and not, make me question how I spend my time the rest of the chaotic year.
School. Key Club. Relay for Life.
Question my roles in each. My time. My purpose. My reward.
Place the efforts and returns on a scale side-by-side and see which way it tips.
Ask myself if I am doing Enough. For every role in my life.
For family.
For myself.
I don't even know what that means.
I find myself often in this funk of dysfunction when I don't have Too Much to do.
I must thrive on chaos.
Or I just don't know what to do when the next immediate task to be done isn't immediately laying before me like a guillotine beneath my neck.
There is certainly much I Could do. There is certainly much I Should do.

I am talking in circles. Much like the carousel of my mind right now. My life.
Going in circles with no immediate destination in sight.
I suppose I need to just lean back, hold on, and enjoy the ride a bit? Breeze in my hair kind of metaphor?
I don't know.

There is no purpose in writing in verse tonight.
I am being a cheat. Taking the easy way out of not having to connect more than one thought to the next.
No logical progression of paragraph structure required.
Funny thing.
I wanted to use the word calliope earlier instead of carousel. For a moment I thought they were the same thing.
Thankfully, I Googled. Lord Google.
Not a carousel. However, Calliope was daughter of Zeus, lover to Ares, and a muse of epic poetry.
Just an ironic word blunder tonight for this "mythology" chic.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Maymont - Richmond, Virginia

Yesterday, I had to hitch up the wagon and drive in The City to pick up the awards our Key Club won at International Convention. Not wanting to waste a 3-hour round trip for just that venture, I sought out some type of sightseeing adventure to add to the agenda. I did not find too many options that would be appealing to myself and the 17 year-old and the 4 year-old.

And honestly? I was a bit lazy and last-minute about it and quickly decided upon Maymont as I was surfing around. It was the 100-acre Victorian country estate of James Henry and Sally May Dooley during the Gilded Age of the late 1880s through the 1910s. After completion of the Romanesque-style mansion, the Dooleys spent three decades filling its interiors with treasures from around the world and establishing the gardens and landscapes. Following Dooley's death, with no heirs to the estate, Maymont was bequeathed to the city of Richmond  and opened as a public park and museum. (Information is more than slightly plagiarized from the linked website.)

I know... it doesn't sound like a place to entertain the adventurous pre-schooler, but it really did make for a great day. We did not venture into the Mansion or Nature Center, but walked the overall grounds and checked out the various animal areas. It was simply beautiful, and not in the overly flowered and spruced-up kind of way. I was hesitant too when I saw the map at the entry gate and paths marking the 3-mile hikes were traced along the paths (just sections of the paths!). And there may have been one hill I just had Cameron take my hand and drag me up at the end, but in the end it was definitely worth the venture (especially the free venture).

So, here I give to you and posterity's sake and to Cameron (since he told me this morning about reading this blog) a Mommy-blogging-photo-roll of pics from the day!

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Blueberry Cheesecake Galette


I must confess that I am a bit intimidated by pies, so when I was stumbled upon this recipe on Kitchen Meets Girl I was intrigued.

Of course, I must also confess that I had never even heard the term Galette, much less knew what it was. Ashley (the Girl that Met the Kitchen noted above) conveniently described a Galette as "basically a round, flat, free-form crusty pastry.  I call it an open-face, easy to make and quick to get to my pie-hole…well, pie."

So a pie-like pastry without the pie-like intimidation moved this goodness to Recipe #1 on Operation Blueberry Madness 2014.

Blueberry Cheesecake Galette

  • 1 refrigerated pie crust
  • 1 1/2 cups blueberries
  • 1/3 cup plus 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
  • 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
  • 4 teaspoons cornstarch
  • Pinch of kosher salt
  • 1 8-ounce package cream cheese
  • 1 large egg, beaten, plus 1 egg yolk
  • Pinch of freshly grated nutmeg
  • Coarse sugar, for sprinkling
  1. Unroll the refrigerated pie crust and place it on a parchment or Silpat-lined baking sheet. Refrigerate until ready to use.
  2. While your pie crust is chilling, make your blueberry filling: in a medium bowl, toss together the blueberries, 1/3 cup sugar, lemon juice, cornstarch and salt.
  3. In a separate bowl make your cheesecake filling: whisk together cream cheese, egg yolk, the remaining 2 tablespoons of sugar, and the nutmeg.
  4. Spread half of the cheesecake mixture over the top of the unrolled pie crust, leaving a 1 ½ inch border. Top with blueberries, and fold the edges of the crust over the filling. Spread the rest of the cheesecake mixture over the top of the berries and refrigerate for 30 minutes.
  5. Place an inverted cookie sheet in the lower third of your oven and preheat oven to 425. Brush the edges of the crust with a beaten egg and sprinkle with coarse sugar (like sugar in the raw). Place baking sheet with the galette on it directly on top of the inverted cookie sheet. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes, or until crust is golden. Allow to cool slightly before slicing.
My Notes to Recipe & Instructions
  • I have no idea what a Silpat-lined baking sheet, so I used parchment paper. (Yes, I realize I could Google that and sound far less novice... maybe later.) I used the Pampered Chef baking stone and kept the parchment paper beneath it for baking. The crust was absolutely perfect after bottom rack, 20 minutes... the parchment though was burned to a cindered ash-crisp. Not sure if that was related to the stone or the temp, but duly noted to not bake it on the paper next time.
  • Fold the full 1.5 inches of border crust in and over the edges of the filling. This gap with instructions caused me great confusion for some reason, making me have to undo and re-do the fold, and not ending up with anything particularly lovely.
  • This is not a "hearty" dessert. In a family of 3.5, it is gone as quick as it is made. The pic makes it look far more "deep dish" than the reality. Cameron actually picked up his slice to eat pizza-style... It is delish though!

Monday, July 14, 2014


Skinnydipping, by Bethenny Frankel

This, the first (and last?) attempt at fiction by former New York Housewife (who left the show after marrying... which would be ironic IF any of them were actual "housewives") and failed talk-show personality, Bethenny Frankel.

I used to be a Bethenny fan. She was my favorite "housewife" but I never kept up with her after the self-titled reality spin-off that detailed her marriage to Jason and unexpected pregnancy and subsequent childbirth. I thought I would tune into her talk show... but I didn't. Much like I thought I would read her Health or Self-Help books, which I bought or downloaded... and then didn't.

I appreciate a good train wreck as much as the next reality television fan, but I didn't find her brand of crazy particularly entertaining. She's like the middle-age Miley Cyrus... with antics such as Instagramming a shot of her parading in her four year-old's "Hello Kitty" pajamas recently.

But, this novel is fiction, right? Well, for definition's sake, yes. However, if you are at all familiar with Bethenny "The Early Years," you are going to easily note many similarities between the main character, Faith Brightstone, and the author herself. From the distant horse track father to competing on a Martha Stewart-esque reality show (with a similar reality-to-fiction ending), to morphing from Muffin Maven to Cocktail Queen. Franklel has penned her own historical fiction, perhaps with a happier ending she wishes were true?

The novel is divided into the two stages of Faith Brightstone's life - the first as an assistant on a popular Los Angeles "The OC"-type drama. A life filled with borrowed clothes and car, fancy Hollywood parties, sexually-charged and cocaine-laced nights. A life of Hollywood glitz that is just out of her reach.

Then following a creative segue along the lines of "Five Years Later," Brightstone has returned to New York to manage a struggling vegan muffin business until the opportunity to fill the final remaining spot on a reality show to find the next "Domestic Goddess" falls right on her (muffin) platter... literally. Most remaining pages detail the culinary and decorative tasks and the no-longer-behind-camera catiness that causes the reality genre to proliferate.

There is, of course, too, a Prince Charming narrative that weaves Part One and Two together and wraps the novel in a neat little bow with a happy ending.

Ok, that being said, all snarking aside, it wasn't... bad. It's simply written and occasionally smothers the reader with extremes- whether it is in description of what characters are wearing or the unbelievable turns of the plot. It's a light read though, playful, good for a Summer Reading List.

For the record though, there is no "Skinnydipping" in the book. I am left to think this was meant to be a metaphor for "jumping in" and allowing yourself to be fully exposed to life's offering, which would aptly describe the main character's attitude in both parts of the novel. I am a bit iffy to give Frankel that much literary credit though.

In part, I think maybe it just allowed her the chance to superimpose her Peta image on the novel cover?

Saturday, July 5, 2014

Dancing in the Street

'Cause summer's here and the time is right for dancing in the street...

Not really though. I live on a main street "in town." So that wouldn't be very safe... or sane.
We have, however, been ticking lots of fun off the Summer To-Do List.

We visited the local library for the Summer Reading Program Kick-Off. There is a punch card for the kids to use each week when they attend the program and check out ten(!!!) books. Those who get all the punches will be entered in drawings for prizes, including an I-Pad Mini. We will not be able to check off every week due to some other plans this summer but plan on joining the weekly program often.

The theme for the summer program is "Paws to Read" so for the Kick-Off they made "dog tags." Unfortunately these summer programs fall at 10 a.m. or 2 p.m., and with the Summer School Schedule, it is only feasible to go at 2 p.m., which falls dead-center of nap time. So, having selected to skip naps for this day... and Benjamin being far more interested in the turned-off computers than books, this started out as a frustrated adventure. We persevered though (although there may have been some ineffective threats to "just leave" thrown in there), and once he had acclimated to the chaos of all that was happening we picked some (10!) books, crafted, and had a good time.
Cameron is volunteering with the library... for his third summer, I think? So, I was even able to park Benjamin in the Snowcones & Popcorn room for a while and check out some books for myself. After the library visit, the boys got much-needed (at least for Benjamin: see Pointdexter-parted hairstyle above) Summer haircuts. I have always been about cutting the boys' hair short-short in the summer and not dealing with "styles" until it was time for school again. Lots of times this even meant me pulling out the clippers. Benjamin may have inherited my unfortunately large head though, and I just couldn't bring myself to do that to his cuteness.
In addition to a Library Day, the boys and I have also made a trip to Busch Gardens. I really took a gamble heading on the 90-minute trek when there was 70% chance of thunderstorms. I just told myself that if I go and it's miserable, I will get over it... but if I don't go, I will spend days wishing I had... so we did!

It literally started raining just as we entered the park. It was near 3 p.m. and most visitors had already left for the day due to the pending weather. We were waved on to the preferred parking (for free versus the $15 normal cost) and parked right by the entry gate. After waiting a while in the car, I made the proclamation that were just going to take the umbrella and go for it! As fates would have it, the rain stopped before we even made it from the car to the gate.

Now the "Good" of going to the amusement park on a stormy day is that there were absolutely no lines to any rides. The boys rode ride after ride, with Benjamin often just staying on for three or more turns. The place was so uncrowded at dinner that we could look around and see so many "familiar" faces because we had seen them already in the park. The "Bad" of the day was although it did not rain, following the storm, in 95-plus degree weather, it was muggy shirt-clinging yuck weather (which was still highly worth it in trade).

We even got in a Beach Day. (I keep emphasizing the "even did" this & thats because I still teaching summer school every morning, but not letting that dominate my whole day, as in the past.) Kelby joined us and it was her first time being in Virginia Beach.

I was determined to get in a beach trip this week, even though I knew the holiday weekend would make it busier than it's busy summer-time normal. I even deluded myself into thinking that the impending Tropical Storm/Hurricane Arthur may stir some folks away from the beach... apparently not. It was definitely crowded. I keep going back and forth on whether I still prefer the crowded touristy spots. I like the anonymity of it... but am a little more irritated by the crowds as I grow closer to my crotchety old-woman stage.

At first, Benjamin was determined to spend our entire visit clinging to the umbrella pole avoiding the sand and the water. I think it may have been with sea shells that I lured him out? I spent the greater part of the afternoon hunched over, waiting for the waves to recede, and checking out any sea shells (or more often fragments of them). This entertained Benjamin for quite while too. So long in fact that the next day, I felt the way the Spring athletes complain after doing squats and squat-walks the first week of practice. I could even feel it in my upper back from having my arms perched ready to grab any gems I saw. Seriously, you would think I was culling rubies or diamonds. There was this old lady near me, who only after watching me, started to collect shells too (in a Ziplock bag shoved between the breasts of her bathing suit). Then, she got family involved. I started using a sand sifter... so did they. Then, she sent the young girl over to directly where I was to get shells. I was like "Bring it on Grandma!" Sea Shell Wars 2014. I can get ridiculously a bit competitive.

I also spent a morning yard saling last weekend. It was not a particularly fruitful quest. (I will avoid the details of a certain toddler clothes battle to not make my competitiveness border pathological.) Other than a few odds & ends, the big haul was 16 cookbooks... although I said I would stop buying cookbooks since you get sooo many recipes (any recipe) on The Internets for free... and since I don't cook.

So, Summer is rolling. We are getting out, staying busy, making the most of our 100 days.
(I would have never known Summer had 100 days if it weren't for the currently abused trending hashtag.)