Thursday, April 29, 2010

The Outlander by Gil Adamson

The Outlander
I don't know how many times I picked up The Outlander at Barnes and Noble last year, drawn to its stark but gorgeous cover art. Then I'd read the back of it, thinking that it sounded pretty good, but ultimately I'd put it back down with a sigh being distracted by the twenty some odd books waiting to be read on my bookshelf (ummm piled high on the floor beside my bookshelf). When I came across this novel in the stacks at my local library, I decided to give it a try. I'm so glad that I did.

This is a fantastic debut novel by Gil Adamson. I had trouble putting it down and read it in two days, which is no small feat considering I have two small children.

Here are the first few lines:
It was night, and the dogs came through the trees, unleashed and howling. They burst from the cover of the woods and their shadows swam across a moonlit field. For a moment, it was as if her scent had torn like a cobweb and blown on the wind, shreds of it here and there, useless. The dogs faltered and broke apart, yearning (3).
And then a couple of paragraphs later we learn who the dogs are after:
Nineteen years old and already widowed. Mary Boulton. Widowed by her own hand (4).
This novel takes place near and in the Canadian Rockies at the turn of the century. The recently widowed, Mary Boulton, is being pursued or rather hunted relentlessly by her large red-headed brother-in-laws who want to bring her to justice.

I think I'll just leave it at that and not tell anymore details, except just to urge you to go out and get this novel!


Adamson, Gil. The Outlander. New York: Harper Collins, 2008.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Happy Very Belated Earth Day! Vinegar Tips and Easy Green Living

For the past year or so, I've tried to stop purchasing and using cleaning products with harsh chemicals. In the process, I discovered the many uses of vinegar. I clean practically everything in my house with it as it cleans just as well as those commercial products. It's cheaper, safer, and I don't have to worry about my small children being poisoned by ingesting it. I also use it in substitution for fabric softener. It really works well and no, your clothes do not smell like vinegar. You can find more ways to use vinegar here.

Easy Green Living: The Ultimate Guide to Simple, Eco-Friendly Choices for You and Your Home

I was recently introduced to Renee Loux's book, Easy Green Living by my close friend, Allison, who had checked it out from the local library. We spent an afternoon in a mixture of excitement over Loux's ideas and anger over the amount of chemicals in our everyday products: soap, shampoo, conditioner, etc. The beauty of this book is that Loux doesn't leave the reader upset without a remedy. For each section of the book, she provides a list of recommended products or recipes. For example, I'm now using her Cutting Board Sanitizer Recipe. It works really well.

The book is divided into 9 sections:
Green Living is Easy
Green Cleaning Basics
5 Steps to a Green Kitchen
4 Steps to a Spic and Span Green Bathroom
Natural Beauty: The Simple 7
6 Steps to Eco-Fresh Laundry
4 Corners of a Green Bedroom
Energy Efficient Lightbulbs: Save Energy and Money
Sustainable, Ecological Home Furnishings and Materials

I highly recommend this book if you are interested in getting started with a greener healthier lifestyle.

This process has been a bit overwhelming to me, partly because there is so much to change and partly because it challenges the good mother/beautiful woman images I've learned all these years from advertisements. I'm thinking here of the smiling mother in the commercial who sprays cleaner all over her child's high chair while the baby sits there. Translation: Good, caring, loving mothers use this product. Now I'm becoming the good, caring, mother who doesn't want to spray chemicals in my children's faces or rub it into their skin or feed it to their bodies. I also care about the impact our actions have on our environment.

Soooo...Here are some of the changes I've made in my life ($$ indicates a money saver):

1. Vinegar as a cleaner and fabric softener $$

2. Line dry my clothes to reduce energy costs (I fluff them about 5-10 min in the dryer) $$

3. Use reusable shopping bags

4. Buy products made from recycled materials (Loux recommends CVS toilet paper, which is made of 70% recycled materials)

5. Buy organic whenever possible. I just made the switch to organic milk at over $6 a gallon. Ouch! But I'm saving money in other ways, so I figure it evens out. I am looking into a local farm that sells organic milk and eggs, but don't know their prices yet.

6. Stop using chemicals in my far I've used straight up vinegar as a herbicide and am trying out this homemade recipe as an insecticide: 1 gallon hot water mixed with 2 TBSP Castille Soap in a sprayer. Then add 1 cup isopropyl alcohol. I've used this mixture on my roses. $$

7. Buy bamboo products instead of wood and cotton. Bamboo can be harvested and used every five years! It is also very resistant to disease and insects, which means it doesn't need chemicals to grow making it very safe. I bought a new bamboo cutting board and plan to buy bamboo bath towels. Matt and I are also planning to eventually replace our carpeting with bamboo flooring.

8. Replace my non-stick cookware with enameled cast iron

9. Grow houseplants to improve indoor air quality

10. Replace beauty products with all natural ones. I've already started doing Burt's Bees

11. Recycle everything possible

12. Avoid plastics for food storage and staying away from #3, 6, and 7 plastics

13. Using a rain barrel to water plants $$

14. Shopping at our local farmer's market

15. Turning the lights off and unplugging when possible $$

I've also been using the lot next door to do my yard composting. However, once someone builds there, I'll have to compost in my own yard.

What green tips can you share?

Loux, Renee. Easy Green Living. New York: Rodale Inc, 2008.

Friday, April 16, 2010

My New Favorite Old Novel: The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas

The Count of Monte Cristo
Much like my Jane Eyre review, this one will also be a bit of a mess because I just loved this novel! My first experience with The Count of Monte Cristo was through the 2002 movie starring Jim Caviezel as Edmond Dante (The Count of Monte Cristo). I thought this film was really good, but to my surprise it wasn't quite like the actual novel. The basic plot of being wrongfully imprisoned and then seeking revenge is present in both, but so much more complex in the novel. My image of the Count though while reading was Jim Caviezel.

The book opens in the port city of Marceilles, France with the homecoming of the Pharaon, a merchant ship owned by a man named Morrel. The ship has lost its captain to disease and Edmond Dantes has taken control of the ship in his place. The captain's final wish to Edmond is to deliver a letter to the inmate of the Isle of Elba, who is Napolean Bonaparte. Edmond honors this wish and is given another letter to deliver to Paris. Edmond feels obligated to do this in honor of his dead captain's dying wish. Danglars, the ship's clerk, overhears this transaction and makes plans to use this information against Edmond as he is jealous of him. Upon arriving at Marceilles, Morrel suggests that Edmond take over as captain of the Pharaon permanently, which is a great honor for a nineteen year old man. However, this promotion only makes Danglars more jealous, and he puts his plan in to action.

Edmond meantime visits his father and his true love Mercedes. Everything seems to be going right for him, and this blinds him to people who seek his downfall. Danglars conspires with Fernand, who is in love with Mercedes, to have Dantes arrested for treason. They manage to do this during Edmond's wedding breakfast.

Edmond tells his story to the young deputy magistrate, Villefort, who feels pity for him and believes in his innocence. However, upon looking at the letter Dantes is supposed to deliver to Paris, he discovers that it is addressed to his father, Nortier, a fact that could ruin him politically. Villefort burns the letter and sends Edmond to the notorious prison, The Chateau D'If where Edmond spends the next fourteen years. He manages to escape and to seek his revenge as The Count of Monte Cristo.

This novel is definitely a page turner. His revenge while just, at times goes too far and has some unintended consequences, which he regrets. I think this is part of the reason why I loved this book because Edmond/ The Count maintained a sense of morality in his revenge. He plans his revenge with tunnel vision thinking himself an agent of God. Yet in the reality of pulling it off, he gets sidetracked by other characters who he comes to love, and he must adapt his plans. Awesome, awesome novel!

Monday, April 12, 2010

Microwave Mushroom Risotto

This recipe comes from the April 2009 issue of Everyday Food. I don't know that Chef Ramsey would approve of microwaving Risotto, but it actually turns out very tasty. Plus, I don't seem to be doing as much work as those donkeys on Hell's Kitchen when I make it. I'm pairing it with wilted spinach and strawberries.

2 TBSP butter
1/2 tsp dried thyme
10 oz button mushrooms, trimmed and quartered. (I use pre-sliced mushrooms, breaking up the big ones)
coarse salt and ground pepper
1 cup Arborio or long-grain rice
1 can (14.5 oz) reduced sodium chicken broth (or substitute vegetable)
3 garlic cloves, sliced (I just use the bottled minced garlic 1.5 tsp)
1/4 cup grated Parmesan

You must have a deep dish casserole with a lid. I use my largest Corning Ware.

1. Combine butter and thyme. Microwave covered on high 1 minute or until butter is melted.
2. Add mushrooms and season with salt and pepper. Microwave covered 8 minutes, until mushrooms release their water.
3. Put mushrooms aside on another plate and try not to snack on them.
4. Combine 1 cup rice, broth, and garlic. Season with salt and pepper. Microwave on high 9 minutes.
5. Add 2 cups of water and microwave 9 more minutes.
6. Stir in the mushrooms and microwave until heated through, about 2 minutes. Stir in Parmesan. (If risotto is too thick, add a little water.)