Tuesday, July 24, 2012

On (Not) Maintaining an Online Presence When You're Away

I may have mentioned that we're away from our usual domicile for an extended stay in Maine. (Ahem. I think I've mentioned it about 100 times; but perhaps you missed that.) When I'm at home, I keep up a fairly regular online communique, via my blog, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, blog reading and commenting, email, and the like. In fact, in the last year, I've upped the ante in my online activities, for a variety of reasons. And I was under the impression that I'd be able to maintain that -- at about 90% capacity, so to speak -- while I'm here in Maine. After all, I have my laptop, which I take to the library for wifi connection, and I have my handy smartphone for regular FB, tweets, photo uploads, email, etc.

Well. Enter reality.

It's been more difficult than I'd thought.

For one reason, the girls aren't super excited to hang out at the library for more than two hours while I blog, read blogs, and carry on other online activity. I suppose I can understand that.

A few times, I've worked on posts at the cabin, writing them in Word and then copying them into my blog on my next trip to the library. That seemed really workable until recently. It seems that there's more of a vacation atmosphere at the cabin than there is at my "real" house. Quelle surprise, eh?

We have been visiting with friends. We've been boating, tubing, kneeboarding, and wakeboarding. We've been reading. My parents arrive tomorrow for a ten-day visit, and my cousin and her family arrive next week. We have lots of plans.

Perhaps this should cause me anxiety. Like other bloggers, I've read articles and posts on how to increase and keep readership. According to experts, I should write several posts at a time and then schedule them to publish over a period of days. Or I could solicit guest writers to post in my absence. I don't want to sound the death knell for my blog, do I?

Obviously not. I like my blog. I like to write. I like to provide interesting content for folks. But.

I wrote a post recently called A Celebration of Sabbath. If I really believe what I wrote (and I do), I need to be okay with sacrificing my online presence -- my virtual life -- for the blessings and benefits of living my real life.

So that's what I'm doing. While I won't disappear altogether, I'm going to downsize for a little bit.

And I hope you won't completely forget me.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

She Is Too Fond of Books: Revolution, by Jennifer Donnelly

I mentioned Jennifer Donnelly's Revolution in a recent post. I quite enjoyed her earlier novel, A Northern Light, so I was pleased to see this title at the library. Well. This is a different book. Here's a bit of background: Andi Alpers is a privileged Brooklyn teen who's recently experienced a great tragedy from which she has not recovered and which splintered her family. She happens to find the diary of Alexandrine Paradis, a girl her age living during the horrors of the French revolution who becomes the companion of the ill-fated Dauphin. The narrative bounces between Andi in present day and Alexandrine in the past, via her diary.

This is a dark book. I don't have an issue with dark, and, given this book's focus, dark is appropriate. However, the world Andi and her peers inhabit -- wealthy, privileged, decadent, libertine, often inebriated or drug-dulled, self-absorbed, cruel, and careless -- is dismaying and, honestly, appalling. One could argue that Andi's emotional state casts a dark veil over her entire world and how she sees it. But there's really too much grittiness to make this position completely tenable.

Of more interest to me was Alexandrine's world. Donnelly does a wonderful job bringing this era to life, both in the diary and in Andi's later experiences. I also enjoyed other parts of the book and was pleased with the ending, although such a recovery seems like a house built on shifting sands to me.

Another point: the "discovered secret diary" motif is a tired one. I realize its obvious usefulness for linking past to present, especially to a particular person, injecting meaning into an otherwise anonymous history lesson. But I have a hard time envisioning someone like Alexandrine having the time to write lengthy entries in a diary. Would someone of her background and family have even been literate? I doubt it. and where did she get the paper, the pen, the ink? So the diary is problematic in more ways than one. Let's figure something else out, okay?

All that being said, I'm glad I read Revolution. There's enough there to consider, mull over, and process, both for the present and the past. Apparently others think so as well, since the book has won some awards for YA literature.

I would not, however, hand this book off to a teenager without a word. Read it first and think about how your child might respond. The book's circumstances and setting would certainly spark meaningful discussions on myriad topics with your child. And it's written for an age group in which these types of discussions would perhaps be wise.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Confessions of a Mediocre Cook: Super Summer Supper

When it comes to summer meals, I much prefer non-fussy recipes that fling together in a few minutes. I’m thrilled to report that the girls and I found a new favorite that meets these requirements: Ham and Broccoli Pasta Toss. The basic recipe comes from Cheap. Fast Good!, by Beverly Mills and Alicia Ross, a wonderful cookbook that I highly recommend.

This recipe is quite flexible, so feel free to add other ingredients you have on hand. We’ve only made it with ham, but I’m sure chicken would be delicious, too. Other additions might include peas, sliced fresh mushrooms, or sliced black olives.

And talk about versatility! I served it for supper one night this week, and then breathed new life into it the next day for lunch.

Here’s the basic recipe, with my alterations in parentheses:

Ham and Broccoli Pasta Toss
(I halved the recipe since I was only cooking for the girls and myself)
1 pound short pasta, such as rotini (which I used)
1 ½ cups broccoli florets
1 cup diced ham
1 ½ cups cherry or grape tomatoes, cut in half or quarters (I quartered them)
2 cloves fresh garlic (I used garlic powder)
½ teaspoon dried basil (I used Italian seasoning)
½ cup shredded Parmesan cheese (I just threw some in)
2 tablespoons olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste

Cook pasta in boiling water according to package directions. Three minutes before the pasta is done, add the broccoli to the boiling water. If you haven’t yet diced your ham and cut your tomatoes, do it while the pasta cooks and then put ham and tomatoes in the serving bowl. Peel and mince the garlic, and then add it and the basil to the bowl and stir to mix well. When the pasta and broccoli are done, drain them in a colander and shake the colander well to remove as much water as possible. Add pasta and broccoli to the serving bowl and sprinkle with olive oil and Parmesan. Toss until the cheese melts. Season with salt and pepper and serve at once.

For lunch the next day, I served the pasta cold as a salad. I merely mixed together some ranch dressing and mayonnaise, which I stirred into the bowl of leftovers. I also added some chopped cucumber. To really jazz things up, you could also add grated carrot, diced bell pepper, chopped onion, shredded Cheddar, what have you. If I’d used chicken as my meat choice, a little seasoned salt would be a tasty option.

Quick, versatile, flexible, scrumptious. Yep, this one’s a keeper.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Weekly Happenings: Bliss!

Our second week in Maine and our first week of relaxation. A few days ago, I blogged about the gift of sabbath and our reluctance to accept it; but this week I've opened my arms wide with acceptance. So what have we been doing?

Reading, resting, swimming, a bit of boating, more reading, crafting. The girls have been enjoying a paper fashions kit we bought at A.C. Moore (which is just like Michaels). They've created quite a wardrobe.

Our next-door neighbors, who live in Germany over the fall and winter, have visitors from Germany for two weeks. These sweet teenagers, whom my girls love, brought us gifts, one of which was a lovely box of chocolates, packaged so perfectly.

One morning the lake was as smooth as glass.

When I write, I take my computer outside to the deck. Here's my outdoor office:

Here's my snowball bush, which was moved two summers ago for our construction project. I think it likes its new location.

And really, that's all. We started reading Oliver Twist after a break of several weeks, to Tiny Girl's delight. We read a chapter each evening. Here's an exchange that happened last night:

Tiny Girl: Are we reading Oliver tonight?
Me: Yep.
Tiny: Oh good! I am so worried about him!

Aren't books wonderful?

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

A Celebration of Sabbath

I’ve slept late the last two mornings. Shamelessly late. I’ve drunk coffee until almost noon. Flavored coffee with full-fat cream. I’ve read my books at brunch while munching homemade muesli with chopped nuts, dried cranberries, and brown sugar. I’ve savored chocolates brought to me from Germany. Soft chocolate drops filled with lime cream.

It feels richly decadent.

I’m writing this on my deck, sipping Lemon Zinger iced tea and watching the children swim in the lake. The temperature is perfect; the air is clean and clear. I’ve quieted the “shoulds” and “musts,” all the things I need to do, the remaining plans to make for the upcoming school year…

It feels quiet. Wonderful.

After months of a life that’s best described as reined-in chaos, I finally feel relaxed. An ahhhh has settled into my soul.

I know it won’t last. It can’t last. Like the speaker in Frost’s poem, I, too, have promises to keep. And I’m glad for those promises, those responsibilities. They are the best of privileges.

Is that perhaps why we feel guilty, like we're wasting time, when we say yes to the calm, the quiet, the peaceful? Shouldn't we be doing something? With our lists, our plans, and our responsibilities, we who are so used to doing much and filling our lives with busy-ness can actually feel anxious at the thought of basking in sabbath.

Jesus knows me, and He knows what I need, personally, to best fulfill all He has asked me to do. A time of rest and refreshment -- and a bit of chocolate – restores me.

I wonder why we often neglect to refresh ourselves in the gracious blessings the Lord sprinkles throughout our lives? Especially those of us whose lives are lived nourishing others, serving, reaching out, drawing in, encouraging, daily clasping to ourselves the things of God so that we may open our arms wide and offer it abundantly to other souls.

In the last couple of months I've noticed that my offerings have seemed small, not so much in the size of the service but very much in the spirit of my serving. Is reluctant service really service? Or is it merely another chore? I’m not sure.

But I am sure that it's time to rest.

So I say a resounding YES to this blessing of respite with a heart full of gratitude. And I pray you will, too, whenever respite is offered to you, in whatever form, small or large. This is one of God’s marvelous gifts to you.

This morning, my dear friend called to me from the beach, where she was wading in the lake. “The water is so gorgeous today! Isn’t this the life?”

Yes. It most certainly is.

Lovely photo courtesy Foter.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Confessions of a Mediocre Cook: Lobster Rolls

Did you see my photo of our supper Saturday night? Here it is again:

I thought you might like the recipe, just in case you get your hands on some lobster. My recipe doesn't have exact measurements; just mix it up to your liking.

Lobster Rolls
chopped up lobster
your favorite mayo (in Maine, I use Cain's)

Mix together.

That's the basic recipe. On Saturday, I added finely chopped celery and seasoned salt. Another superb addition is lemon thyme, if you have any on hand. I didn't. If using lemon thyme, leave out or be extra careful with the seasoned salt.

Serve the mixture on buttered, toasted hot dog buns. In Maine, I get the top-split variety. J.J. Nissen, to be exact. I can't find top-split buns in the South.

I also made a simple coleslaw. Himself thought it too simple (he still ate two helpings), but the girls and I enjoyed it.

Simple Coleslaw
1/2 head chopped green cabbage
2 teaspoons sugar
2 teaspoons cider vinegar
1/2 cup mayonnaise (I didn't measure this, I just mixed it in with the sugar and vinegar)
salt and pepper to taste

Whisk together sugar, vinegar, and mayo. Pour over cabbage and stir. At first, it'll look to dry, but keep stirring. It's the perfect amount of dressing. Salt and pepper to taste.

These lobster rolls, coleslaw, and potato chips are heaven on a plate, my friends!

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Weekly Happenings: First Week in Maine!

We've been at the cabin for one week, and I'm feeling weird. I haven't yet completely relaxed. I'm also having trouble staying connected to the online world. I have to go to the library to use my laptop as there's no internet at the cabin. I can read some emails, get Facebook and Twitter, and access the web on my smartphone, but that really only works for basic communication. I know it's better than nothing, but when one is used to a certain level of interaction. . . . Well, it takes some getting used to.

On the other hand, I'm also feeling good. (Himself always points out that "well" is the word I should use, but to me that sounds more like the opposite of "ill." So I use "good.") I'm back at the helm of our boat. Tiny Girl has had a big time kneeboarding and wakeboarding. (Miss Priss demurrs.) Both girls and our neighbors have had a blast tubing. We've eaten lobster and seen lots of friends.

Here are a few photos of some adventures, in no particular order:

Georgette's first trip on the boat. 

Waiting for AAA at Gettysburg National Military Park. The van overheated and needed a new battery. We only visited three stops on the audio auto tour.

Jasper likes to swim in the lake to cool off. So far, Georgette is not tempted. 

A quick break at a rest stop to stretch our legs.

A homemade lobster roll, chips, and coleslaw (also homemade by me).

We're reading a lot. I'm still at work on Elizabeth and Mary; the girls are re-reading the Sisters Grimm series. I also read Revolution, by Jennifer Donnelly, whose A Northern Light I really enjoyed. Her latest is interesting, but I didn't like it nearly as well as her first. I found the circumstances and characters so dark as to be dispiriting. And I don't mind dark. But the teenage characters, rich Brooklynites all, are irritatingly noir. I know there are better literary and philosophical terms for it, but such terms escape my feeble brain at the present time. Dissolute comes to mind. So does libertine. You get the idea.

I suppose as a homeschooling parent I should be feverishly planning our next year, but I'm not. I'm taking a break. And I'm not ashamed to proclaim it!

Happy summer!

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Traveling? Don't Go It Alone: Online Maps and Apps Get You On Your Way

We are car travelers. Himself drives, and I navigate. Most of our trips are under eight hours, but every year we drive to and from Maine, a three-day journey. In the past, I've always visited our local AAA office and had them create a TripTik for our route and also gathered Tour Books for each state we traverse. (You have to be a AAA member, which we've been for years. I can't recommend membership highly enough.)

Enter the internet.

Two years ago, I took advantage of AAA's online TripTik creator and made my own. Using click-and-drag, I could personalize our route, just in case we wanted to go a different way than the default route. This sounds easier than it is. Sometimes the click-and-drag assumed a certain route, and I'd have to really zoom in and fiddle around with the settings. According to the AAA employee I spoke with recently, they have the same problems in the office! Once I got the route just the way I wanted it, I printed out the TripTik, three-hole punched the pages, and secured them in a notebook. Voila!

This year I tried something different and used MapQuest's Directions to plan our route. By entering in various destinations, I was able to personalize our route. I was also able to print out maps to my preference, zooming in when I needed more detail and zooming out when something more general would do. I found MapQuest's click-and-drag function easier to use than AAA TripTik's.

Hard copies are great, but in this era of smartphones, apps are also a way to go.

AAA offers free apps for both Android and iPhone. I was able to download the TripTik app without giving my AAA number or any other information, so perhaps you can, too, if you are not a AAA member. This came in quite handy for locating gas stations and hotels.

I also used my Google Maps for my Android. My phone came with this app, but you can also download it. This was great. When we hit a spot of creeping traffic, we were able to find an alternate route around the problem.

Hungry? The TripAdvisor app has a Near Me Now feature. We've used this lots of times with great success. These free apps are available in many platforms.

And don't miss this one: the free USA Rest Stop Locator app. There are several of these types of apps from which to choose. Just run a simple Google search to find the one you like best.

IMPORTANT: Make sure you have a car charger for your phone. These apps eat up batteries!

With these tools at your fingertips, car travel is both easier to plan beforehand and manage while you're on the road. What could be better?

Happy traveling!

(Aside: I have no idea why some of the text has a different background color. In editing mode, it looks exactly the same as the other text, and nothing is different. )