Thursday, June 26, 2008

Dream Vacation

I'm going on a Dream Vacation in the Dells, complete with my in-laws. See you next week!

Been saving now for over a year
Let's pack the kids get outta here
We'll leave behind our troubles for a week
We'll borrow the pop-up from Phyllis and Steve
Just tell the boss I gotta leave
Be the best week of our lives as I can tell
We'll take our dream vacation in the Dells

We'll see the robot world and the water show
Go anywhere you wanna go
Circus world Museum in Baraboo
We'll play mini-golf at the Jellystone
And we'll finally see that house of foam
And if the kids wanna buy a t-shirt what the hell
It's our dream vacation in the Dells

And at night when the kids is all asleep
Then off to the lounge for a nightcap we can sneak
I know our lives they ain't the stuff of dreams
But for one full week we can live like kings and queens

So let's board the dogs lock the door
We'll roll down Interstate 94
Be the best week of our lives I can tell
We'll take our dream vacation in the Dells

And at night when the kids is all asleep
Then off to the lounge for a nightcap we can sneak
I know our lives they ain't the stuff of dreams
But for one full week we can live like kings and queens

So let's board the dogs lock the door
We'll roll down Interstate 94
Be the best week of our lives as I can tell
We'll take our dream vacation in the Dells
Gonna take our dream vacation in the Dells

Many thanks to the Gear Daddies for their lyrics.

Monday, June 23, 2008

In the Nick of Time

My book club is meeting tonight to have dinner and discuss Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel Garcia Marquez. I just finished the book last night. This is the closest I've ever come to not finishing a book for book club that I meant to finish, as opposed to one I gave up on. Wicked, for example.

I had a difficult time with this novel, and I think it was in the timing. I don't think this was a good book to have to read on a schedule. I didn't find the book especially gripping so it was a challenge to get much read at night when I was tired. When I began it, I was slowing absorbing and meandering through it, but I realized about a week ago that I really need to get a move on. There were parts of the novel that I actively enjoyed - the beginning up until Fermina marries the doctor, and again towards the end. I had trouble with the middle section that is primarily about Florentino and his life. I know I mention this often, but it was obvious that this novel was written by a man. I found much of Florentino's behavior unbelievable, at times bordering on stalker-like, at other times completely unacceptable. I did find the ending quite sweet, so I was satisfied at the end.

As always, I'll be interested to see what everyone else thinks. And if they finished it! Knowing my book club, I'll be surprised if anyone says they 'loved' this.

I'd be curious to know your opinion of this book or others by GGM. Any recommendations? Also, has anyone seen the film based on this novel? The reviews were not great, if I recall, and I avoided it since I knew I'd be reading it this summer.

In other news.....

Still working on the computer here and not sure what photo software the husband wants to use. The printer is now working - Yeah! But Ravi from India was not able to get the speakers to work and wanted to sell us a new set. Everything he tried my husband had already done. He's handy that way. This machine sure is fast though! The old computer used to take 10 minutes to boot up - I'm not kidding - and this one about 1 minute. It's amazing.

Friday, June 20, 2008

A Farmer Speaks

{This mama is working on getting her groove back. Being an introvert, I've gotten used to being by myself quite a bit, and so I'm just getting back into the old routine. It's good though, because I already feel closer to my girl than I have in a long time, just being at home with her, or the grocery store or with friends. It's that feeling you have at bedtime when you've been with someone all day and no matter how many struggles there were, you've made it through and it's time to snuggle. Our latest hurdle is that she broke out in that telltale fifth disease cheek rash yesterday, so we spent an hour at the doctor for a three minute appointment to get an all clear note (it's not contagious once you have the rash). I can see this is not the best thing to come down with in the summer because everyone can see it. She asked me what to say this morning if kids asked her about it. Poor kid. Well, on with the show.}

I'm not sure what made me pick up The Compassionate Carnivore by Catherine Friend. Well, that's not really true, I've been completely obsessed with food lately, and I've been reading vegetarian cookbooks like there's no tomorrow. This book has a unique point of view and that is because it's by a writer who also farms sheep. Not only that, but she farms sheep in southern Minnesota, and mentions farmers in the book whose products I buy both at the grocery store and at the farmer's market. Friend doesn't seem to take herself too seriously - this book definitely has a different tone from others I've read. She's learned about the various methods of farming, believes that compassionate, sustainable farming is best and that we owe it to ourselves and the earth and the animals to make wise choices about what we eat. We may not be able to do the right thing, or what we view as the perfect thing all the time - but do the best you can and set reachable goals. She seems to have an interesting view of vegetarianism - in that if everyone became vegetarian or vegan, there would really be no point in maintaining certain animal species - and that by becoming a compassionate carnivore and voting with your dollars, you really may be able to make a difference in farming practices.

Some of what Friend writes about, I already knew, but it's her take on things that kept this book interesting for me. It not often that you can read about what farmers think about raising their animals, how close they let themselves get, and what it's like to drive them to the slaughterhouse. I appreciated learning more about small, local slaughterhouse operations.

As for me, I'm still working on eating less meat. The last two nights I cooked from Deborah Madison's Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone - well, I used her recipes as a template anyway. So we're doing it, and some nights it's better than others. It helps when dinner is followed by leftover birthday cake. But tonight, the girl has requested tacos, 'regular tacos!' so tacos she will get.

Monday, June 16, 2008


I have to delay Farmer's Market Monday. My husband ordered a new computer for my birthday - tomorrow! - and he is still working on getting it fully operational. Picture loading is coming in low on the priority list, after internet service, file loading and itunes which is causing him a bunch of headaches, along with the fact that he cannot get the speakers to work. So, I'm in a bit of a holding pattern here.

Thursday, June 12, 2008


House-Bound by Winifred Peck begins with an interesting premise. Rose Fairlaw, a lady of leisure in Castleburgh, Scotland in 1942 has come to find that the office that supplies domestic workers has no one to supply. The women who had previously worked as domestics, have gone off to join the war effort and left Rose and other ladies like her with houses difficult to care for and no one to help. Rose considers moving to a hotel- can you imagine the idea? - but decides against it. She makes the unpopular decision to take care of her home herself. Unpopular with her friends as well as her family who want their mother to be 'a lady' and not a woman with rough hands.

Rose begins her new endeavor. It was amazing to me the sort of detail that was paid to every bit of the house. Perhaps this is because I am quite a poor housekeeper myself! Obviously it would be difficult if not impossible to maintain the standards of cleanliness and formality to have one unskilled person doing everything rather than many skilled people. But Rose tries to maintain and comes to resent her husband a bit for what seems an easy life - go to work and to the club, expect to arrive home to a hot bath and meal. Rose finds herself identifying with women of working class background, understanding what they go through. I really enjoyed this part of the book. It had a degree of humor that reminded me a bit of Monica Dickens' One Pair of Hands. Rose did get a bit of help with the house, which bothered me a bit, though I suppose she really did need some training.

Rose seems to have gotten a bit of a handle on things when we begin to learn more about her background and family including Flora, Rose's only daughter. Rose admits to herself that she never paid proper attention to Flora nor really got to know her. At one point Rose thinks , metaphorically speaking, that "All her doors and windows are locked and shuttered, and I've never been inside since she was a baby." Quite sad, really. Even more sad when we come to know Flora and what a disagreeable person she is. It is hard to know which came first - Flora's temperament or her mother's neglect. In any case, she is one of the most unpleasant characters I've come across. I didn't enjoy this part of the book quite as much. I think it was partially me and being tired and partially Flora.

I do find this novel a fascinating social document, being that it was published in 1942, and this is really what was going on in Britain and Scotland at the time. From what I understand, the lack of domestic help that had always been there changed lives for many people. For women like Rose, this situation sent them back into the home to care for their homes and family. For women that would previously have gone into service, they were afforded the opportunity to make their own way instead of cleaning up after others.

Well, I am a lady that need to clean her house and how well that will be done remains to be seen!

Monday, June 9, 2008

Farmer's Market Monday - Week 2

Here is the bounty from this week! I was hoping for peas and was happy to find sugar snaps and pea shoots - that leafy stuff in the middle. I sauteed some of the shoots last night with the blanched sugar snaps with red pepper and those green onions, and garlic. I overcooked it a bit. I'm going to try it raw in a salad with the spinach. There aren't any snow peas yet. Things are definitely coming in slower this year.

There are also 3 pounds of asparagus, spinach, radishes (I'm not a big fan, but they looked so pretty), bread from a local shop and meats. Okay, now you're thinking I'm a huge hypocrite by buying all this meat, but I did promise my very understanding husband veggie meals no more than 50% of the time and this will last for a while. And my daughter was telling me how yummy her sausage was last night. On the bright side, all the meat I purchased was grass fed, humanely raised with no hormones, antibiotics or animal proteins.

I think the weather around here has been making things harder for the farmers. Prices seem to be higher than they've been in the past and I hear people grumbling that things are 'expensive'. I don't see it that way, for a number of reasons, and I am happy to pay and be able to pay because I think it's worthwhile on many levels.

Did you notice the cool mesh bag my snap peas are in?

I bought it from Reusable Bags. They have loads of cool bags, bottles and other things that are helping me be green. They also have some canvas produce bags, but I was thinking I could use these mesh ones at the grocery store since they're see through. I also bought some safe(r) plastic water bottles to send for lunches to avoid juice boxes and some wraps to put sandwiches in.

What did you find in your market or garden this week?

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Schools Out!!! (Or Blah, blah, blah)

It's hard to believe that just last August I was so anxious about kindergarten for my little girl and now it is over and she's a first grader. Unbelievable. I asked her what she though we should do to celebrate the end of the school year - she suggested we watch a movie and eat some popcorn. I think that is a great idea.
It's especially unbelievable how far she has come this year. We started the year with a child who said 'Mo-O-o-O-o-M! Just read the book!!' And now we have a full-fledged reader- and writer. I love it. She decided our first stop today would be the library - which was completely packed. And who lets their kids run around in circles and yell there? Hmmm. We used to go weekly when she was younger but during the school year her visits have been few. She got to sign up for the reading program, as well. I asked her if she knew who always won the summer library reading programs when I was a kid - yep, yours truly.

I also asked her what she thought we should have for dinner last night. 'Cauliflower Cheese Pie - from your book' was the response. My book is my new personal cookbook that I'm still in the process of putting together. I wanted something special so I went to the Russell and Hazel store and picked out a pretty binder (I have the orange one) and picked up some heavyweight plastic page protectors (thanks everyone for the suggestion!) at the office supply store. I just love seeing all my recipes in one place. I also love that my daughter wants Cauliflower Cheese pie - basically a potato crust in a pie pan filled with cooked cauliflower, cheese and topped with an egg and milk mixture. (My version of the recipe uses 1 3/4 cups cheese and fresh herbs.) It fits right into the vegetarian cooking I've been doing this week. We've also had Alice Water's Pasta and Cheese Gratin (macaroni and cheese for the rest of us) from The Art of Simple Food and black bean tacos the other night from The New Vegetarian Epicure. Both turned out quite well but my girl was not so fond of the bread crumbs on the mac and cheese. Apparently, they are just not supposed to be there. Vegetarian cooking seems like more work to me. Not that I'm opposed to working in the kitchen which I love, but I'm having a hard time coming up with quick and satisfying meals. Any ideas from the vegetarians out there?

In other news, my peonies have still not opened. Here they are pictured last May. It's been so chilly here! I'm really wondering what this is going to do to the growing situation for farmers - how are we even going to grow tomatoes if we don't have heat? It was a long winter here, and summer still hasn't begun.

A Fatal Waltz

I have never been a big reader of books in a series as an adult. Besides Elizabeth Jane Howard's Cazalet books (must reread those), Sandra Gulland's Josephine trilogy, and the Maisie Dobbs books which are a new find for me, the only other ones I can think of that I've read are Patricia Cornwell's books that I borrowed from my mother when I was home from college. I had heard so many good things around the blogs about Tasha Alexander's mystery series about Lady Emily Ashton , that when Harper Collins offered me a copy of Alexander's latest book, A Fatal Waltz I was excited to try it. I hoped it would be an interesting perspective that I could give, not having read the first two books in the series.

A Fatal Waltz begins in late 1891 England. Emily is at a country house party hosted by Lord Fortescue, a man with whom she is often at odds with. When Fortescue is found murdered, Emily's good friend is arrested for the crime. Emily knows her friend is innocent and is determined to find the truth in order to set her friend free. This takes her to Vienna where Emily finds herself in great danger. As all this goes on, Emily has the additional problem of the Countess Von Lange - an ex-lover of her fiance whom he is working with.

I found A Fatal Waltz to be an enjoyable and entertaining read. The cast of characters at the beginning of the book went a long way in increasing my understanding of who everyone was. I thought the novel stood solidly as a stand-alone read, but I was intrigued throughout about what was being referred to in the past and definitely plan to go back and read the first two installments in this series.

This is a fairly traditional mystery in the sense that it is quite plot driven but at the same time it is a romance. I enjoyed the settings, the English countryside, Emily's home in Berkeley Square (made me think of that miniseries), and Vienna in the winter. I didn't feel that this was really 'pure' historical fiction in the way that more character driven or historical-event driven books seem to be. Emily is quite a modern woman and the conversation often feels more modern, as do some of the situations.

I will certainly look out for more books in this series and as I said, plan to catch up on Emily's past exploits.

What series books do you enjoy?

Monday, June 2, 2008

The Book That Blew My Mind

{Farmer's Market Monday will resume next week. I had to work this weekend, thus was unable to go. And what is the matter with Blogger??}

Warning:Some people may find this post too graphic.

Fast Food Nation by Eric Schlosser. Why didn't I read this book sooner? I guess partially because it was on those best-seller shelves (a turn off for me if there ever was one) or maybe because I figured, 'Hey, I know fast food is bad. Why do I need to read an entire book about it?'. Boy was I wrong. Fast Food Nation is a brilliant expose on the fast food industry but it encompasses so much more.

The first few chapters were a fascinating history of how fast food came to be what it is today. For example: Did you know that Ray Kroc (who made McDonald's what it is today) and Walt Disney knew each other as young men? Most of the founders of the big companies (Dunkin' Donuts, Taco Bell, Burger King, McDonalds, etc.) were just regular guys trying to make a living. The first McDonalds was opened by the McDonald brothers who found a hugely efficient way to sell burgers, fries and shakes. It's pretty easy to see that this sort of food isn't inherently bad - if portions are small and you eat it maybe once or twice a month. The problem is what has happened behind the scenes, what this food really is, what is does to our agriculture, and what it does to our bodies when eaten several times a week or even day.

A large portion of this book deals with the meat industry. I have read Michael Pollan's The Omnivore's Dilemma and had felt somewhat educated about the problems with feeding cows corn. Pollan writes about this at length and even discusses what goes on inside a slaughterhouse. Somehow, though, a piece of this picture was missing and though I am ashamed to admit it, I never even realized it. The missing puzzle piece is the people. The people that work in these slaughterhouses and meat packing plants who are for the most part immigrants who are not able to or are afraid to stand up for their rights. The jobs they do are horrific. Schlosser describes multiple cases of workers who have been injured. When these workers suffer an injury they are often forced to sign a waiver that relieves the company from legal action. The injured worker is sent to a company physician who generally discounts the problem and sends workers back on the line. Sometimes bleeding. Schlosser describes a slaughterhouse keeping two sets of injury records, the real ones, and the falsified ones which are provided to government agencies. Then we learn about the people who clean the slaughterhouses which Schlosser describes as the Most Dangerous Job. Workers who do not have protective gear spray a 180 degree water and chlorine solution to clean the plant. The machines have to be running in order to clean them. Human beings are sometimes caught in these machines. In addition, some have died from the fumes.

The government plays a terrible role in all this. The FDA and USDA are separate entities. The FDA has no jurisdiction to order a meat recall. Generally by the time these recalls happen, most of the meat has been eaten. The slaughterhouses are not being inspected as they should be. OSHA was cut back such that worker safety is not being monitored. Some of this is a result of the current administration - republicans receive the lions share of donations from these companies. Early on, the Bush administration actually decided to stop the testing of meat that goes to schools for salmonella. Fortunately someone overturned that.

And why is all this happening? To provide cheap meat for McDonalds and other fast food chains. And what really burns me? McDonald's actually receives federal money to train unskilled workers. Yet, they pride themselves on the fact that the jobs at McDonald's require practically no training. And my money that I pay to the government goes to McDonald's for this. It's maddening!

Then there's E coli. How many more people have to die from E coli before something changes? Cows that are sick, they have E coli in their gut and it gets in the meat. Slaughterhouses kill animals at such an unbelievably fast rate that it's really no surprise that the meat is compromised.

Let's not forget about the mad-cow scare. That's when we unsuspecting consumers learned that animals were being fed animal protein. Here is an article detailing how one woman lost her life to Cruetzfeldt-Jakob Disease (the human form of mad cow). This disease can incubate for years. I could have it right now.

In the epilogue Schlosser states:

The profits of the fast food chains have been made possible by losses imposed on the rest of society.

We know fast food fast is bad for us, but it's not really good for anyone involved in the cycle except the businessmen whose pockets we pad.

I've tried to explain what this book meant to me here and share what I felt was important, though as I re-read my review it it feels somewhat disjointed but long just the same. I'm sure as soon as I hit 'publish' I'll think of 12 other things I want to say. I haven't even touched on their advertising geared towards children! I cannot recommend this book highly enough. It's not just a burger and fries you're buying at McDonald's. It's a huge industry that is being supported and we consumers have the option to say No.