Daughter of Smoke and Bone

Stacy here!

That’s right.   Stacy, right here in Cynthia’s science fiction and fantasy book review category of Rolling Staircase.  I know, you thought (or hoped) I’d stop category hopping after I posted a recipe over in Catherine’s realm.  No such luck.  I am a huge fan of the other bloggers here and I cannot hide their influence.  They write about something and suddenly, I am on fire to check it out!

I was inspired to read some YA fantasy after reading a few of Cynthia’s book reviews.  I mean, I used to read young adult fiction when I was a young adult.  Why did I ever get away from it?  In sixth grade, my favorite book was A Wrinkle in Time.  After that, I read the whole series and every other book Madeleine L’Engle wrote.  I love the blend of science, religion, and fantasy.  It was such a dream world!

For my return to fantasy, I chose Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor.  I’ve followed Laini’s blog for several years.  I was turned onto it when she was writing about some crafty thing… and then I stayed because I was interested in her journey as a writer.  I love her spirit and sense of adventure.

Daughter of Smoke and Bone

I purchased the audiobook version of the book.  I like to be read to.  I’m not ashamed.  It’s glorious having someone read me a story.  Kristine Hvam does and incredible reading.  She breathes such life into the characters.

The story is about a college student named Karou in Prague.  Well, that’s just part of who she is.  She was raised by these other-worldly monsters who are each comprised of different animal parts.  Her world is magic and mystery.  And then she is attacked by an angel.  A lovely, beautiful angel to whom she senses a strange connection.

Karou’s world is captivating.  There are multiple mysteries to solve… about who she really is, this other world that she has never seen, and this angel and his mission.  I found myself in love with this imagined place even though there was a tremendous amount of violence.  But yet, violence brings pain, and it’s so often through pain that character is developed, which is exactly what happens in this story.

Alright, look.  I’ll admit.  I downloaded the second book, Days of Blood and Starlight the instant I finished Daughter of Smoke and Bone.  And I loved it just as much.  Annnnnd now I am checking in on Laini’s web site every so often to see if she has finished the third book in the series yet.  I can’t wait to get back into Karou’s life!

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The Farmers Market

BJ Here!

Today I’m going to teach you how to find a Farmers Market, AND what to do when you get there in 7 easy steps!

1) Do not under any circumstances look up directions. You’ve heard about its general location, or even better, have a friend that went there once a few months back. This is good enough.

2) Always go with a group. If you go alone, hippies will trick you into buying raw milk that will murder you and everyone you love.

at the market

3) Once parking near where you think the Market could be, walk at least a half mile before stopping and asking a local for directions. If you have the stamina, walk three miles, criss-crossing the neighborhood with a small child in tow.

4) Drive to the actual location of the market. You know you’ve made it when you spot checkerboard table clothes on tables. If the tables do not have checker board table clothes you should leave. You are in gypsy camp and will soon loose all your money in a game of dice.

5) Do not go with a grocery list, just buy everything that looks looks, smells, or you sample taste that is delicious.

6) Never visit each stall or table in an orderly fashion. Start by standing in the middle of the walkway and turning in a circle while giggling in delight. Once you have knocked over three people, feel free to dive into the front of the nearest sample line and hold out your hands like a small child begging for candy.

7) Before you leave do not bother to check if the market will be held in the same location the next time you visit. Doing so violates rule one.

Bonus Tip Step~ 8) Contemplate buying fashion forward canvas bags that will cost more than the food you put in them so that you can look down on people who carry their food in plastic earth murdering bags, just like a really farmers market foodie!

Stacy’s perspective:  BJ’s instructions are SPOT. ON. We had so much fun at the market. I was so surprised at how many vendors were there. There were a variety of meat, bakery, produce, and other vendors. The products are wonderful and the every vendor is knowledgeable and friendly. We sampled a little bit of everything: cheese made with port wine, chicken sausage, and parsley pesto. I came home with a little cilantro plant, brownie nut coffee , garlic herb cheese, and a loaf of French toast bread. It’s going to be good eating in our house until the next market trip.

If you’re opposed to rule #1, note that you can find the Worthington Market inside the Shoppes at Worthington Place (aka, the Worthington Mall). Don’t tell BJ I told you.

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Yoga perspectives

Today… a collaborative post!  One Saturday in March, BJ, Cynthia, and I spent our  morning together practicing yoga and talking blog stuff.  We have varying degrees of experience with yoga (and exercise, athletic training in general), so it was interesting to practice together and compare our experiences.

We practiced Ashley Turner’s Yoga for Stress Relief.

RS bloggers doing yoga

Cynthia’s perspective: I’m so glad I was not alone for my first yoga experince.  This particular yoga video wasn’t too difficult or too intense but still there were moves where I had no idea what I was doing.  The worst part for me, I think, was my inability to take it easy!  Flexibility is not my thing, but seeing the instructor (BJ and Stacy as well)  extending so far, I just had to push myself to do the same.  Haha, I complained about how some moves were painful afterwards and it was good to hear that it actually took BJ and Stacy awhile to be able to extend as far as they were able.  There were also some moves that were able to stretch areas I never knew were tense, and it felt so good.  I’d have to say that was probably my favorite part, just being able to stretch out and feel the tension melt away.

I stress myself out daily with worry about school, work and life.  The worst part about it is, I have a lot of physical menifestations of my stress, causing headaches, gastritis and even fainting (I know! Totally scary!).  Usually intense aerobic exercises well help calm by nervous and relax my mind but yoga was suprisingly calming.  I might have to get my own yoga video to keep my stress level at bay or maybe I’ll just make Stacy and BJ come over all the time for some nice relaxing yoga.

BJ’s perspective: Group yoga. I’ll admit, I’m a sucker for group experiments. Especially if it’s something I like to do already. I’ve been doing a vinyasa yoga (Basically a yoga cardio work out format. No time for “oms” and relaxation there, just sweat, breathing and feeling some nirvana burn, baby.) but I have never done much with Hatha yoga, which is what most people think of when they think “yoga” Stretching forms, focus on relaxation, slow stretching, and mental focus. I have to admit, I didn’t have a very good idea what to expect, and the vast majority of the poses we did I had never done before.

That’s one of the great things about yoga: there is always something new to learn. The other great thing is no matter what your fitness level is, or flexibility, you can do yoga. I have a back injury and I’m no slim-jim. My back injury stems from two factors, I have a hypermobile spine, and a few years ago I was in car accident which followed up with another car accident last fall (Neither were my fault, I swear! I’m like a magnet for bad drivers.) My chiropractor advises me to keep my work outs lower impact until my treatments are done (I have a few months to go on that) and also recommends that I strengthen the muscles in my back and core to help my vertebrae maintain the correct placement in my back. (My anti-slim-jim-ness stems from the fact that I am an amazing cook. As far as I know, there’s no real cure for that one.) That can be a tall order to fill, especially if you’re like me and get bored quickly of monotonous work out routines. Yoga serves up that tall order with no problem.

Physically, yoga has helped me be more conscious of my posture, more aware of what my muscles and tendons are telling me when I do other work outs, and helped my balance. These are all pretty mod benefits that I was expecting and am enjoying to no end. I wasn’t really expecting much from the meditation standpoint when I first started. It’s part of why I chose a yoga form that doesn’t focus as much on it; plus I consider myself a pretty laid back person most of the time and I’ve always made sure to include time to de-stress in my day so I didn’t consider it important. Despite those preconceived notions I found yoga helped me to focus better during the day. As much as I may consider myself laid back we are all in part the product of our surroundings, and being raised by parents who have a 50/50 chance of gaining them selves an Adult ADD diagnosis, and being married to an Adult ADD hubster I do have some attention span issues at times. I’m also always looking for something new to try. Those can be good personality traits, but sometimes unfortunate character flaws because I can have a hard time finishing projects.

I’ll admit, despite having reaped some of the benefits of “calm the frick down” from vinyasa yoga, I was expecting to be bored to death during the Hatha relaxation routine we did. Bent into a pretzel, yes, but a bored pretzel. I was pleasantly wrong and that’s part of yoga too; finding out new things about yourself and what you are capable of.

Stacy’s perspective:  It’s hard for me to keep quiet during a video when I know there’s more to a pose than what’s included in a video.  (But I think I only made BJ and Cynthia suffer a couple of my comments this time!)  I also held back, because I wanted to see what the experience of practicing just what’s on the video was like for each of them.  One of the quirky things about this video is the chant of om.  If you’ve never been formally introduced to chanting om, you might think, “Great, here comes the weird part…”

Om was explained to me as “the sound the universe made when it was created by God.”  I like that.  Wikipedia explains that om is the name of God, the vibration of the Supreme.  It’s chanted with a single exhalation (which can actually last a very long time in a roomful of yogi with well-developed lung capacity!)  It’s uttered in three syllables, sounding like Aaaaa-Uuuu-Mmmmm.  And truly, even as a Christ-follower, when I close my eyes and picture God creating the world, I can just imagine the power and intensity of the moment enhanced by this sound coming from Him.

At the end of the practice, we say, “Namaste,” meaning “the divine in me bows to the divine in you.”  I love practicing yoga with others.  There is fellowship in souls coming together to connect through breath and movement… without needing to utter a word.

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Do You Know What You’re Missing?

Hiya! Cynthia here!

I am thoroughly ashamed to admit it took me so long to get to this amazing author, Tamora Pierce.  I know, I know!  How could it have taken me so long to start reading them?  I don’t even know, some of my favorite authors list Ms. Pierce as their inspiration and I just never got around to picking up any of her many, many books.  Now that I’ve started, I can’t stop. I’ve gone through 11 books and am working on the 12th one, which is the last book in the Protector of the Small series.  I really want to promote all of her work but since I’m only working through it myself, I’ll only recommend the ones that I’ve read.  The Song of the Lioness series includes Alanna: The First AdventureIn the Hand of the GoddessThe Woman Who Rides Like a Man, and Lioness Rampant.  The Immortals series has Wild MagicWolf-SpeakerEmperor Mage and The Realms of the Gods.  The Protector of the Small series contains First Test, PageSquire and Lady Knight.

Untitled

So far it’s been an amazing collection of books.  All the ones that I have read take place in one universe, Tortall.  It’s a wonderful place filled with magic and chivalrous knights battling for justice and protection of the innocent.  A perfect place for young girls to fight for what they believe in and prove to the world that girls are more impressive than boys like to think.  These 3 series have had amazing female roles who were determined and strong, standing back on their own two feet no matter how many times people knocked them down.  The best part about the main characters—they were wonderfully flawed just like each and everyone one of us!  Alanna for example, in Song of the Lioness series, was known for her temper.  She was quick to anger and threw out harsh words, but it was the addition of these flaws that made her so likable.

I think the only complaint I have about Ms. Pierce’s books is that the love in these stories comes too slow. Haha, okay, I know that these aren’t romance focused books but they’re stories about believing in oneself, family and friends but I am just a sucker for love!  I just wish the love part came a little bit faster!  That hasn’t stopped me from speeding through her last 7 books though!

If you enjoy strong female characters set in a fantasy world like Graceling (Kristin Cashore) , or Crown Duel (Sherwood Smith), don’t hesitate to check these out.  They are totally excellent! Happy Reading!

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Garden Planning 101: Part 2

BJ here!

Last weekend we went over the bare bone considerations of gardening for those who have never done it before. This week I’m going to teach you how to not kill all the green things you have decided to plant! Whether you’ve chosen to container garden a few pots on the porch, or went full tilt and dug up half of your yard, the following tips will apply to all. Though we will really only be covering two main subjects: Watering, and Things that want to eat the plants.

How do I water a plant?

These seems like a no brainer, but is pretty much the most important factor in not killing a plant. First off, don’t dump water on the leaves, those don’t absorb water, roots do. Instead, water the soil and avoid getting the plant itself wet.

Different types of plants utilize different levels of water to stay healthy and grow, and over watering can kill a plant just as quickly as under watering. The effects of either can be hard to gauge. The dirt around your plant is the answer to this again. It’s the where the action happens. Looking at leaves to see if a plant is thirsty is like staring at someone’s hair to see if they are dehydrated; if it’s falling out, they are probably pretty close to dead already. It’s better to pay attention to the soil around your plant than the plant itself to gauge how much water it needs. When the top inch of soil near the plant is dry, it’s time to water. If the soil one inch down is still damp, leave the plant be!

The times you water, particularly with outdoor plants also affect the plant’s ability to use the water efficiently. Watering in the middle of the day when it’s sweltering out is hard on a plant. Instead water them earlier in the morning. You can water in the evening, but remember, plants can get sick just we can and while not all plants are prone to mildew and rot, it is gross when it happens, followed by a dead plant. If you were left out all night in the damp, you’d get sick too. Morning is best!

Things that want to eat the plants.

Indoor potted plant people, you are not exempt from this!  Dogs like to eat plants, small children like to eat plants, pretty much any thing with a mouth in your house will eat the plants, even cats will eat plants. In fact, we have a seed tray in a window right now. One of the plants is catnip. My cat tried to eat it. Unfortunately for him his dine and dash mode of plant murder resulted in bad aim on his part. He ran out of the room with a mouth full of neighboring baby rhubarb leaving everyone involved unhappy in the end.

The main point for you indoors people is this, research to make sure what you are planting is not poisonous to the various members of your household.

Outdoor plants will have your classic dinners of course, rabbits, bugs and so forth. Pesticides and rodent control are a huge topic to cover all by themselves but since we are going with way newbie intro with this series I’ll give you the spark notes version here.

Pesticides:  from conventional, to organic, there are endless options for you to chose from here. Plant nursery workers will be able to point you to what you need, all you have to decide is what sort you want to put on your plants based on your lifestyle. I prefer organic because we grow a lot of veggies and I like my food chemical free.  It is important to realize different insects are susceptible to different control methods and what works well for one may not have any effect on another for example, what works on aphids does not work well on slugs.

Rodent control. A chicken wire fence does really nicely, but can spoil the effect of all your hard work to make your plants look nice. Even if you are growing vegetables and aesthetics aren’t really a factor  it’s not always sure-fire to keep munching bunnies out. The two most effective anti’ munching methods I found are the following. Scatter the scooping’s of our cat litter around our garden. The “predator smell” freaks rabbits out. Seriously, this works, mostly. Sometimes the lure of the plant is too strong. Such was the case with the basil I planted. I mixed cayenne pepper in some olive oil and rubbed it on the leaves. Bunnies are not much for spicy food, they left the herbs alone after that. That may seem really out there, but keeping rabbits away from your hyacinth and petunias is an age-long battle that really has yet to be won.

 

Keep in mind, growing plants is a literally a science all its own and there is trial and error involved. You can spend from now until the day you die studying the best way to care for plants and never really be done. You may find you really like it and then again you may find that you hate plants like you never knew you could hate anything before in your life. You never know.

 

 

 

 

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J. Rooker, manatee

Stacy here!

Finding a book at a yard sale is such kismet.  There are a lot of books at yard sales.  Mostly, I find a lot of book fair paperbacks that kids have outgrown.  Not that there is anything wrong with those… they just don’t convey the magic of the “special” books that I find.

One of those is J. Rooker, manatee by Jan Haley and artist Paul Brent.    J. Rooker is a Florida manatee who was injured by a boat when he was young.  He is rescued and rehabilitated by scientists before being released back into Rookery Bay where he was found.

Manatee love

Folks.  I can’t read this story without crying.  And I don’t consider myself an animal lover.  There, I said it.  You’d never catch me sporting a “Save the Manatees” bumper sticker.

But oh, this book!  It’s long, by picture book standards.  The story is told full of emotion and compassion and with lots of details.  Kids find out what manatees eat and what dangers they face as the story unfolds.  They get a sense of the manatee’s size as people load the injured baby onto a truck.  It tells of the relationship between the manatees and between the manatees and the humans who care for them.  The story imparts on our kids why it’s so important for naturalists, scientists, and biologists to intervene on behalf of manatees to preserve their numbers and keep balance in our ecosystem.

What a story!The kismet is that we have friends who live near this part of Florida.  We’ve kayaked through similar waters to that of Rookery Bay…

JT has been to the aquarium in Tampa…

Riding a manatee

And we’ll go back.  In the meantime, J. Rooker is one of our favorite books.  Aside from the story – which is based on a true story, by the way – there is plenty of information about manatees and the zoos and foundations studying and helping wildlife in Florida.  There is room for my kid to grow into this book as he learns to read.  It’s one that we’ll have on our shelf for a while – inspiring adventures and learning every time we pick it up.

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Garden Planning 101 – Part 1

BJ here!

Spring is in the air and the garden centers across the nation are full to the brim with brightly colored bags of poop and dirt that cost more than your first-born child did. Plus those shiny ball things that look like big metal bubbles. Those are pretty awesome.

Gardening is one of my favorite warm weather hobbies. Most things that revolve around food, being outdoors, and pursing a healthy lifestyle are. Gardening has all three! Today I’m going to walk you through the steps to planning your own garden. You don’t need a lot of space, and you don’t need a lot time or a lot of money. If you do have all those things, feel free to go crazy, because that’s a neat thing about gardens, you can do them to any scale you want. There is no one size fits all. You can tailor it to fit your every whim and desire.

Garden Planning begins with Three Questions.

1) How much sunshine filled space do you have?

2) How much time do you have?

3)Do you want to be able to eat it?

When I say sunshine filled space, I mean someplace that gets a minimum of 6 hours a day of sunlight. More is better. Seed packets and info cards at your local plant nursery will tell you how much sun any given plants needs, but the vast majority want between 6 and 12 hours a day. The right spot for you may be a little herb garden around your mail box, maybe you till up a 4 x 10 plot of petunias in your back yard, or maybe you utilize window boxes and pots on your front step or balcony.

Gardening takes up both more and less time than people think. Setting up a garden usually takes more time than a person estimates, but maintaining one is significantly less of a hassle, especially if you take the time to do everything right when you set up your space. If you like low-key, low hassle hobbies, container gardening should be right up your alley. Buy a snazzy collection of pots, buy some dirt (packaged soil is sterile and eliminates seeds from weeds and little critters that will want to eat your dear little sprouts), buy some plants. The end. You can plant all sorts of stuff in containers. My favorite potted plants are mint and miniature roses.

If you’re up for a bit more elbows in the dirt sort of gardening, it can be as simple as a 4×4 space in the yard with a handful of larger plants or just more little ones. Whether they are tomatoes, marigolds, green beans or sunflowers; you can actually plant all of those together. Marigolds keep tomato eating aphids away, and sunflowers help protect plants from beetles. Mixing plants that help each other is called companion planting and is a great way to keep your garden both pretty and lower hassle.

Once you know the best place for your garden in regards to sunlight, and know how much space and time you want to devote to it, picking out your plants is the fun part. Whether you want a little row of herbs in your window for cooking, super meticulous rows of flowers to jazz up your front yard, or a big ol’ patch of strawberries in the back yard for little fingers ( and big fingers ) to enjoy it’s totally up to you.

There are lots of online resources for garden planning, from design software to video’s and blogs. Explore a little and find what’s right for you. After that come back next week for Part 2, where we will explore all the ways to not kill your newly planted garden!

 

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Eat More Potatoes

Catherine here!

This is going to be the shortest post from me you will ever get, but I read a blog post on my favorite food blog, happyherbivore.com, and HAD to just HAAAADDD to share it with you! Please go read it! I want potatoes now!!

Here is a link to the article:

http://happyherbivore.com/2013/04/why-you-should-eat-potatoes/

This post has lots of yummy ideas for how to mix up some new awesome potato recipes. I love it! As Stacy said, we are lovin’ on Mother Earth this month on Rolling Staircase. So here is a big THANK YOU to our beautiful earthly home for the amazing potato in all its wonderful varieties!!

YUM.

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In April, we are loving on Mother Earth

Stacy here!

This April, we are going to be loving on Mother Earth with stories among gardening, farmers’ markets, composting, recycling, environmental awareness, alternative energy, and maybe just some good ol’ fashioned dirt thrown in for good measure!

April theme

As always, we’ll feature book recommendations, yummy recipes, and crafts that celebrate our wonderful planet and all it has to offer.

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An adventure in healthier food

Stacy here!

Weekly Fresh Market BagFor several years now, I’ve had the opportunity to subscribe to a grocery delivery service that delivers right to my workplace.  It’s not just any groceries though… it’s a bag of local, in-season, organic, and pesticide-free vegetables, grains, and other goodies.  The Weekly Fresh Market Bag is curated by The Greener Grocer.  They offer a summer and a winter service.

I resisted the bag for a long time.  I’m not much of a chef.  (It’s an oddity that I am posting in our recipes section… believe me!)  But as a busy working mom, the bag appealed to me.  1) I wouldn’t have to shop for as many groceries.  I don’t like grocery shopping.  2)  I want my family to eat more organic and natural foods.  This is an easy way to accomplish that.  3)  It would be a bit of an adventure to figure out meals from the ingredients of the bag each week.

As it turns out, I LOVE the bag.  I’ve been introduced to so many great vegetables that I didn’t eat much before:  kale, parsnips, fennel and every variety of apples and oranges that Ohio and Florida have to offer!  I have been forced to learn new cooking skills in order to use up each week’s vegetables.  Catherine’s Sauté Sans Oil was an eye-opener for me and it’s become my usual practice now.  I freeze unused vegetables for making vegetable stock.  And I soak dried beans rather than pouring the less appetizing version from a can.

There are still challenges – the grains and different flours baffle me.  My boys despise the hearty pancake mix.  I think it’s a great alternative, but they just won’t eat it at all.  And in a busy week, sometimes I still opt for eating out rather than whipping up a fresh meal.

So today… a Sunday lunch/dinner that came together very quickly from contents of the market bag.  A kielbasa potato bowl.  Weird thing about me… I love food in a bowl.  If I could eat every meal from a bowl, I’d be thrilled.  Cereal for breakfast, salad for lunch, rice and veggies for dinner.  Single bowl eating is the way to go.

Kielbasa Potato Bowl

Here is the recipe for the Kielbasa Potato Bowl:

Ingredients:

  • 1 pkg Kielbasa
  • 2 cloves minced garlic
  • about 1/3 a fennel bulb
  • 1 bag organic fingerling potatoes
  • 2 1/2 carrots
  • caraway seeds
  • salt & pepper

Slice the kielbasa and place in pan over medium heat.  You can probably get this going while you cut up the veggies.  I like the meat to get a good head start.  Add the garlic and fennel first.  Then add the carrots and potatoes.  Season with caraway seeds, salt, and pepper to your liking.  Let it cook until the meat is thoroughly heated and the potatoes and carrots are tender.  Stir a few times and cover to keep the heat in the pan.  (The meat had enough oil to it that I did not need any cooking oil, but different meats may call for a little oil or water.)

These fingerling potatoes are the things dreams are made of.  I have never tasted a potato that had a more delicious flavor all of its own accord.  They taste absolutely buttery without any butter at all.  And what is wrong with standard carrots?  The carrots that we get in the market bag are an experience.  My husband and I tasted the carrots in this dish and marveled at the wonderful taste of carrots.

When’s the last time you ate a carrot, delighted in it, and then had a discussion with your spouse about it?!  Do you subscribe to a CSA (community supported agriculture) or other local food service?  Would you consider trying something like The Greener Grocer?

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