a nook, a book and keyboard

For my birthday (which occurred earlier this month) the man got me a Barnes & Noble Nook.

I know, I know.  I wax lyrical about books sometimes (you should hear me in real life … or just see the bookshelves that exist in our home that are packed full, plus the tupperware containers in storage filled with other books that didn’t fit on the shelves …. Two conclusions following that statement ~ a) I sound a little like a hoarder, which makes me want to go clear off my bookshelves immediately, and b) I love love love to read).

And yes, fundamentally, I was initally hesitant about the whole e-reader trend.  Books are more than just the words, they are the pages, the font, the feel, the weight … You get my point.

And then I got one. And my world changed.

Let me rewind a bit.

When I was younger, I was a bookworm.  The library was one of my favorite places to be, paging through books, making stacks of things I wanted to check out.  I read everything ~ I mean everything. Sometimes I wish I’d written things down, because so many of the stories still fill my mind and imagination, and I wish I could go back and re-read them.

Yes, I’m also a re-reader.  I have read Rosamunde Pilcher’s “Coming Home” more times than I can count and I also own far too many copies.  For some reason, I compulsively buy it at airports and read it while waiting for a plane.  (I can add this to my list of Really Quirky Things I Do).  I have also read (and listened to) most of the Harry Potter books more times than I’d like to admit.

But every once in awhile, a person hits a stagnant phase.  And the last few years of my life have been … well, they’ve been a myriad of things, at both ends of the spectrum of happiness and sadness and everything in between.  And sometimes, and this is just me hypothesizing on a dark winter day, when a person is struggling to put their life in order, some of life’s pleasurable pastimes end up on the sidelines, collecting dust.  Writing and reading were two of those things for me.

I was lucky enough to meet a man who saw through all the angst and confusion and rawness of me ‘figuring things out’ ~ and he both gave me the idea for this blog, which has helped me write again after far too long, and he gave me a Nook, which has re-ignited my excitement about reading.  I have a list of books to read that will last me quite some time … and I’m okay with adding to it.

Right now, after really struggling to stick with it, “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” is finally showing me why it became an international best-seller.  I put it down this year to read (amongst other things) Daniel Silva’s newest release, “Portrait of a Spy,” all three Hunger Games books, the beginnings of Diana Gabaldon’s #5 Outlander book, “The Fiery Cross” and Haruki Murakami’s “1Q84” (which I cannot wait to read, but I kept feeling distracted by the unfinished copy of “Dragon Tattoo” that has been sitting next to my bed for months).

Also on my list, George R.R. Martin’s Fire & Ice series.  I have a sample of “Game of Thrones” on my Nook, as well as an audio version (because I’d sorta like to listen to it driving to work with the man).

The thing about the Nook is this … you can carry multiple books with you, and read any time you want.  (This is also a little dangerous).  I have a Nook app on my iPhone and have found myself sneaking a few pages in every now and then throughout the day.  It’s such a sweet indulgence.

And when I get on the plane to Indiana on Friday, I will have every single book that I’m in the middle of reading with me … and I’ll still be able to carry all my luggage on board with me.  It’s completely crazy (my child-like enthusiasm might also clue you into how old-fashioned I am … it’s not like Nooks and Kindles are new technology).

I imagine that my Nook will be my best friend during Lent … the man and I are contemplating giving up TV.  But … Lent is still aways away, so I’ll check back closer to the time in question! For now, I’m heading back to Sweden, Mikael Blomkvist & his investigation into the Vanger family.  To everyone who is in the middle of a book (or contemplating starting one!), happy reading!

happy solstice, other mid-winter thoughts & a christmas movie countdown

December 21, 2011

This morning, as my alarm rang and I bemoaned the start of another day in the pitch black, I informed the man (in a monotonous tone) that today is the shortest day of the year.  In considering this, one can only look to the positive that slowly but surely, the sun will remain in the sky a little bit more each day until June 21st, when the cycle will begin it’s decline again to December.  Ah, the cycle of life.
December 23, 2011

As I hot-footed it around Center City earlier this morning on a mission to put together my boss’s Christmas (and Hanukkah) presents, I was a little depressed at the fact that I had to take my coat off because I was too hot.

In December.

Two days before Christmas.

Seriously, not to be crude, but WTF?

I struggled at Thanksgiving when the weather was spring-like; sunny, balmy breezes, chirping birds (well, that might be a small exaggeration).  But to have Christmas during a 60 degree warm stretch? Ugh.  If it were intentional, it would be different ~ say, Australia and Christmas on the beach.  But I live in Philadelphia, for pity’s sake.  It’s just wrong.

I really need some snow.  And it was looking so promising when we got a mini-blizzard at the end of October.  Now? Not so much.

So, to get in the holiday spirit, my top favorite holiday films.

Honorable Mentions:

Most Nostalgic Memories ~ Emmet Otter’s Jug Band Christmas (but I haven’t seen it in years) and Mickey’s Christmas Carol (the first video I remember my dad playing in our new VCR when I was about 5).

Best Christmas Chick Flick ~ While You Were Sleeping (I could watch this on repeat … I deeply love Sandra Bullock) and also worth mentioning: Four Christmases, The Family Stone and The Holiday

It wouldn’t be Christmas without watching ~ The Santa Claus, The Christmas Story

The Top Ten

1o. Fred Claus (Vince Vaughn makes this movie great, but the whole cast is pretty rockstar … Paul Giamatti, Rachel Weisz, Kathy Bates, Kevin Spacey … the list goes on, it’s crazy!)

9. Scrooged (It’s just so bad, it’s good!)

8. Home Alone (The original is still, in my opinion, the best).

7. Christmas in Connecticut: 1945 ~ (I am a sucker for old black & white Christmas movies, and this one is a doozy.  I wish I had it on DVD, but I try to find it on TV every year).

6. Love, Actually (So heartwarming, and so British … love it).

5. National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation (If you don’t love this movie, something is wrong. Seriously.)

4. George C. Scott’s “A Christmas Carol.”  (It’s hands down my favorite version, and I only watch it on Christmas Eve … everything else is fair game for watching ad nauseum, but there’s something special about curling up on Christmas Eve and settling in to watch Charles Dickens’ masterpiece).

3. Holiday Inn ~ (Bing Crosby is Christmas incarnate to me.  I love this whole, sweet story of a little country Inn and a couple performers falling in and out of love …. it’s also the origin of Irving Berlin’s  Christmas standard, “White Christmas”).

2. It’s a Wonderful Life ~ (Truth be told, it’s a toss up for spots #1 and #2 … this movie makes me cry every time, but I also love Clarence’s message … “No Man is a Failure Who has Friends.”  This isn’t just a great Christmas movie, it’s an all-out great film).

1. White Christmas (I love pretty much everything about this movie … Bing Crosby singing, Vera Ellen dancing, Rosemary Clooney sulking and Danny Kaye clowning … I love the songs and the dance numbers, and the Christmas-y spirit of everything.  But mostly I love that I remember first watching this movie with Jennie J … and every year, when I watch it, she’s with me, and I’m little again, in my pajamas and snuggled up next to her listening to Bing and Rosemary sing their worries away).

in the spirit

On the man and my first date, we discovered our mutual love for Christmas.  I spent many of my previous relationships with men who, in the mildest case, were disdainful of the holiday.  It was one of those (plentiful) moments at the beginning of things with John that made me feel as though we were right together in ways I had never felt before.  Less than a year into our relationship, he drove to my parents house on Christmas morning, and arrived on their front porch decked in a full Santa suit.  Maybe not romantic for some, but it made my heart burst with love for a man so secure in the things he loved.

For me, Christmas had always been a truly magical time.  We honored traditions from both sides of the family ~ seven fish on Christmas Eve with the Italian side … smelts, calamari, shrimp cocktail, baccala … aglio olio pasta with raisins and pine nuts, thin strips of fried eggplant, stuffed peppers … (my memory is slightly faded, as the large family Christmas Eve celebrations began to peter out when I was still young, but boy oh boy, the abundance was staggering), and turkey with all the trimmings on Christmas Day, with chipolata sausages, bread sauce, stuffing, brussel sprouts and gravy.

In our house, we hung stockings for Santa to fill, and left out an assortment of Italian Christmas cookies, milk and hot cocoa (in a Santa Claus mug, of course!).  When we got a little older, my brother and I also felt it was necessary to leave food for the reindeer, so there were carrots and apples as well. (These are the things young minds think of when their mother rides horses … which seemed, at the time, remarkably similar to reindeer).  As little tykes, we would bunk in the same room on Christmas Eve (Dave had twin beds).  I’m not sure if this was because we were so excited, or filled with nervous anticipation about a complete stranger sliding down our chimney in the middle of the night, or because it was a clever ploy by mum &  dad to try to keep us in our beds as long as possible in the morning.

Irregardless, morning inevitably came, and while our parents employed some fairly effective delaying tactics, we usually ended up downstairs and around the tree before the sun was up.  Dave and I would wait at the top of the stairs, and when my dad had had a chance to turn the tree lights on, and my mum had put a pot on to boil for coffee and tea, they would summon us, and we would shuffle into the living room with our eyes closed.  My dad would tell us when we could open them (possibly so that both he and my mum could see our joyous expressions at the sight of the booty under the tree).  As would be expected of most children, we dove right in, and ended with our stockings (the toe of which was always stuffed with a tangerine,  a tradition and huge treat in my mum’s stocking as a child).  Usually, there was a sooty boot print on the rug, and multiple footprints in the fireplace.  Sometimes, Santa would leave us messages, written in green calligraphy on crinkly, weathered paper.  He always ate the cookies and drank the milk and cocoa.

As grown people, we now arrive to view Santa’s delivery with the sun in the sky, and take turns opening presents (either Dave, my dad or the man serve as ‘Santa’ and hand out boxes to the family).  We still end with stockings, but we’re usually all sipping steaming mugs of hot chocolate and enjoying the tradition of it more than the magic, which can only really exist in it’s purest form when small people are present, and full of wonder.

Since setting up a home with the man, we have begun establishing our own traditions.  (It has necessitated some negotiation, as we both feel strongly about how we celebrate).  Tonight, we’re venturing into the city for the man’s work holiday party.  And tomorrow we start a new tradition … with our first Annual Holiday Party!  Let the magic of Christmas begin!

the kindness of strangers

Yesterday, by the end of the day, I was a touch tetchy.

First of all, I loathe dress shopping.  This is for many reasons (including that I don’t especially love shopping at all) but the bottom line is, I dread it deeply.

Second, the man is sick.  And he’s never sick, so although he soldiers on, it’s a little inconvenient for him to be sick when we have not one, but two holiday shindigs this weekend.

Third, I’d had an absolutely terrible dinner.  I mean, catastrophically bad.  But … that’s a story for another day.

Needless to say, I was grumpy as I made my way through the racks of clothing at Kohls on my endless (and still unfulfilled) mission to find a dress for the man’s office festivities tomorrow night.  I was trying (not very hard) to NOT look like I wanted to kill everyone in my path.  Out of seemingly nowhere, a Kohls worker appeared, laden with mismatched clothing.  She smiled and made a nonchalant comment.  I half heard her, and half-heartedly smiled/nodded.  She seemed to be in far too good a mood for the stormy tempest that my world had shaped into (admittedly at my own doing).

And then I noticed that she had the.most.fabulous.earrings.

And since I felt that I was in desperate need of some good karma my way, I flung it out into the atmosphere, with the idea that it might loop back to me eventually, like a boomerang.

“I completely love your earrings.  They are fabulous.”

She turned to me, and her whole face was lit up by her smile.  It was sort of amazing, how much happiness she radiated, in contrast to my dark cloud of grumpiness.

“Thanks!” There was just no way that her good mood wouldn’t have been contagious.  I genuinely returned her smile.  The earrings, long and dangly and looping through themselves, were the epitome of th kind of earrings that I love.  I repeated my compliment, staring almost lovingly at the wood and silver jewelry. She laughed at my expression, saying as she worked, “I have a bunch of pairs like this ~ I love them, too.  Just so much fun, y’know?”

I nodded.  “They are truly gorgeous.”  Somehow, my spirits, so heavy just moments ago, felt lighter.  Here was a person, putting chaos back in order at a department store during the holidays, who seemed so utterly sincere in her positivity.

She put down her pile of clothing, and reached up to her ears.  I thought she was going to let me look at them, and I hesitated.  I was distracting her from work and I should graciously excuse myself.

“Here,” she said, pulling not one, but both earrings from her ears.  “You can have them.”

I was caught completely off guard.  And no amount of saying no could persuade her to keep her earrings.  She put them firmly into my hand.  “Now,” she said, that smile wide and bright, “every time you wear these earrings, you think of me, okay?”

“I … Of course! I won’t just think of you! I’m going to tell people all about you!  That’s the nicest thing anyone has ever done for me …” I trailed off, because I could literally feel my eyes getting misty.  (I’m a sap, okay?).  I beamed at her, and she chuckled to herself.

“You’re welcome!  Enjoy them, okay?”  And I nodded, because I couldn’t think of a single adequate thing to say.

And this morning, when I picked out my outfit to go with my new earrings, I smiled and thought that the world works in mysterious ways.

disappearing acts

I have been woefully negligent in the upkeep of this space since before Thanksgiving, and there are no true explanations.

Well ….

I got a little sick over Thanksgiving break.  It made me fully appreciate what it means to be hydrated.  (My newest love = Zico Coconut Water … yum yum delish).

And work has been a little bit of a time-suck.  That’s about all I have to say about that!

I promised myself that when December 1st rolled around, I would start on a fresh page and blog all my Christmas favorites.

But …. I dropped the ball again.  December, I have found, is a little hectic when one has a few balls in the air.  Additionally, and this most profoundly affects the man, December happens to be the birth month of most of the significant females in our joint family.  His mama, me, my mama and my mama’s twin.  (I can almost hear the collective & sympathetic ‘oy vey!‘).

The truth is, what with work, and feeling slightly under the weather (and therefore infinitely less on the ball) plus having a To-Do list a mile long that includes Christmas cards (I’m boycotting the politically correct “Holiday” substitution), birthday pressies, Christmas pressies, holiday decorations, travel plans for NYE and … the man and my first Annual Christmas Party … things have just sort of spun out of control.
So, here I am, halfway through my second favorite month (weirdly, October out-ranks December for me by a nose!), finally taking a minute to update my sad, cobweb-laden blog with a few fun, holiday things.

But to start, a new recipe that the man and I have enjoyed a few times recently … most importantly on my birthday (which was Monday).

Everyday Colorful Gnocchi

What You Need:

1 bundle fresh asparagus

1 small zucchini

1 small yellow squash

1 pkg button mushrooms, sliced

1 bag large pre-cooked shrimp

2 pkg Gnocchi (I buy mine from Trader Joe’s and I use one regular, and one whole-wheat)

1/3 cup grated Parmesan (+ a little extra)

3 Tbsp Butter (separated into individual tbsp portions)

1 Tbsp Olive Oil (+ some extra)

Garlic powder

Onion powder

Salt & Pepper to taste
What to Do:

1.  Preheat oven to 375.  Defrost shrimp and drain.  Put water on stove to boil for gnocchi.

2.  Cover a cooking tray (you can use a cookie sheet or anything flat) with aluminum foil, and spray with non-stick spray.

3.  Chop asparagus into bite-size pieces, disgarding the bottom of the stalks (which are inevitably stringy and have zero flavor).  ***I usually use just the tips.

4.  Cube zucchini and yellow squash.

5.  Place asparagus and squash on cooking tray, season with salt and pepper and drizzle with some olive oil.  Set aside until mushrooms have softened (below step).  Place in oven on top rack for approximately five minutes (or until you hear sizzling).

6.  In a medium sauce pan, place sliced mushrooms and season with salt, pepper, garlic and onion powder.  Drizzle some olive oil.  Cook until mushrooms are softened over medium heat.  Fold in shrimp to season and warm up.

7.  Cook gnocchi according to package instructions.  Drain.

8.  In large bowl, combine gnocchi, veggies, mushrooms and shrimp with 1/3 cup Parmesan, 3 tbsp butter (which should be separated) and 1 tbsp olive oil.  Add additional Parmesan and butter until the sauce reaches your desired cheesiness.  Season with salt & pepper if you’d like.  Mix carefully … the gnocchi is delicate!

Other Optional Ingredients:

Cherry tomatoes, halved

Roasted Red Peppers (a favorite of mine, but the man doesn’t really love roasted red peppers)

Fresh English Peas (I loathe peas, but I know lots of people who don’t)

**My main guide is to add color to the dish.  A lot of nutrition guides offer the advice that you should be eating the whole rainbow color spectrum.  While the butter and parm sauce sort of negate the healthiness of this meal, I still like thinking I’m getting my veggies.  And as I’ve mentioned before, mushrooms make everything better for me!  Also, the man and I use shrimp, because he’s not a fan of cubed chicken -he thinks it’s almost always dry- and I can’t say I totally disagree.  BUT, if you want to make it healthier, you could make this dish with chicken, and a tomato sauce made by reducing fresh tomatoes in a saucepan, adding olive oil, salt, pepper, oregano and/or basil.

We enjoyed the birthday dinner in our living room, with the tree lit, “Holiday Inn” on the boob tube, and some truly fantastic wine in our ‘good’ goblets.  Any eastern Pennsylvanians, take note of Va La Vineyards.  The man and I have been a few times, but this bottle came courtesy of my Mother’s Day tasting excursion with Zia Leni, and was a present for the man.  He very generously agreed that it was an excellent choice ~ Cinderbox 2008 (a now defunct vintage).  Delish.  Finishing it was bittersweet … but will now necessitate another trip to Va La to find something new to enjoy.

Coming Soon

Top Ten Classic Christmas Movies (according to the man and I)

Jennie J’s Christmas Cookies (I hope … still haven’t found recipes yet)

John & Gwyn’s First Annual Holiday Party

Holiday Traditions

And … SimplyGwyn in Indiana!

Happy December Everyone!  ‘Til next time … xoxo.