Monday, December 31, 2012

Happy holiday things -- a photo recap

Sweet nieces!

A cozy cabin in the Ozarks.

Gently falling snow.

And a Christmas wagon ride! (Aren't Gus and Woodrow handsome?)

Tonight we'll be snuggled up at home with our kitty, and I doubt we'll stay up until midnight. But that's okay!

Happy New Year!

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Notable books for 2012

For a few years now I've written a monthly book review for Book End Babes. Actually, "review" isn't quite accurate--since I always feature a book that I loved, it's more a monthly book recommendation.

I thought it would be nice to collect all my '12 recs into one blog post, but please note this isn't a comprehensive list. Sometimes I read something really great but it doesn't quite jive with my blogging schedule, and I end up recommending something I've read more recently. Or I read an older book that excites me to no end, but I don't review it because it seems more appropriate to choose a newly published book for the blog.

So, this isn't my "best" books of 2012; rather, it's the 11 books that seemed best for recommending at Book End Babes. Click the links for full reviews!

January -- How to Save a Life by Sara Zarr. (Contemporary YA)
February -- The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey. (Historical)
March -- The Aviary by Kathleen O'Dell (Gothic historical/mystery MG) and Perception by Kim Harrington (paranormal mystery YA).
April -- Radiant Days by Elizabeth Hand.(Time slip YA?)
May -- Bitterblue by Kristin Cashore. (Fantasy YA)
June -- went on hiatus to get ready for Oxford trip
July -- Code Name Verity** by Elizabeth Wein. (WWII-era historical, spy drama YA)
August -- Keeping the Castle by Patrice Kindl. (Excessively diverting YA Regency romance)
September -- The Diviners by Libba Bray. (Paranormal historical/mystery YA)
October -- Sparrow Road by Shelia O'Connor (contemporary MG) and Summer and Bird by Katherine Catmull (fantasy MG).
November -- Emily's Dress and Other Missing Things by Kathryn Burak. (Contemporary YA drama/mystery)
December -- Splendors and Glooms** by Laura Amy Schlitz. (Gothic historical/fantasy MG)

**I can safely say that Code Name Verity and Splendors and Glooms were my two favorite books of the year.

How about you? Any favorites to recommend?

Monday, December 17, 2012

Clinging to Christmas cheer

This past Friday was horrifying, I know. Others have shared wisdom and comfort much more eloquently that I ever could (including my friend Dr. Lisa Marotta, who offers thoughts on helping your child weather the storm of tragedy at her blog). My own form of coping is to refocus on the joy of the holidays.

First off, I wanted to thank people for their music/book/film recommendations. I'm excited to explore all your suggestions. For music, specifically, I've already added Dee Dee Chumley's recommendation of the Ware Patterson Duo's An Angel's Noel. XM radio's Holiday Pops inspired me to get Noels and Carols from the Olde World from Apollo's Fire and Joy to the World from the King's Singers. My favorite song from the latter is "What Child is This" -- you can listen to the audio on their Myspace Page, or you might check out their rendition of "Greensleeves" (same music, different lyrics):

Saturday was my crit group's annual Christmas tea at Inspirations Tea Room. It was wonderfully cheering to spend time with these amazing ladies, and you know I can't resist sharing a tea photo or two:

The tiered tray is always impressive . . .

and the company always divine!

I'm nearly done with Christmas shopping. This week I plan to buy those last few things, do some holiday baking, wrap presents, revise a short story, go ice skating with friends, and hopefully watch a few more Christmas movies. (Have already watch The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe and The Holiday (the latter twice!).

What are your special traditions for the week leading up to Christmas? And those of you who celebrated Hanukkah -- was it wonderful? I hope so!

[Cross-posted to Livejournal]

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

A tea for December

Last week I chatted about favorite holiday music, movies, and books. This week it's holiday tea!

As many of you know, my favorite holiday tea blend is from Harney & Sons and can be ordered online or found in Barnes & Noble cafes (as well as in many shops that stock specialty food items). You can order loose leaf OR sachets!

Described as "a black tea spiced with citrus, almond, clove and cinnamon," Harney's Holiday Tea is my favorite thing to drink on chilly December afternoons.

Some other options:
Adagio's Christmas Blend
Mighty Leaf's Holiday Blend (if you'd like something fruity)
Celestial Seasonings' Gingerbread Tea (if you prefer a non-caffeinated option)
Celestial Seasonings' Sugar Cookie Sleigh Ride (another caffeine-free option, suggested by Jessica McCann)
Do you have another favorite to recommend for the holidays?

The Holiday Tea pairs perfectly with Swedish Ginger Cookies (see recipe below--yes, I rave about these cookies every year!) or sugar cookies with homemade frosting.

Swedish Ginger Cookies

Contributed to The Kansas Cookbook by Mrs. Ernest A. (Eunice) Wall

1 cup sugar
1/4 cup butter or margarine
1/2 cup shortening
1/4 cup molasses
1 egg
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 cup sugar

In a large mixing bowl, cream the sugar, butter or margarine, and shortening together. Add the molasses and egg, mixing well.

In a separate bowl, combine the flour, soda, salt, cinnamon, and ginger. Add the dry ingredients to the batter and mix well. Cover and chill for 1 hour.

Roll the dough into 3/4-inch balls. Place 1/2 cup of sugar in a shallow bowl. Roll the balls in the sugar and place on a cookie sheet. Flatten each with a small glass or a smooth object. Bake at 350 degrees for 6 to 8 minutes.

Makes 5 dozen.

**My notes. Maybe I make my cookies too big, but I've NEVER managed 5 dozen cookies with this recipe! Also, I boost the spice amounts a bit and throw in a teaspoon of pumpkin pie spice for good measure. To ease the process of rolling the dough into balls, I separate the dough into halves and roll each half into a tube and chill it in parchment. Then I can just slice the dough to form the balls. (Maybe it's easier to use a scoop? I like the logs of dough because they're slightly obscene-looking. Fun times! Also, I bake about 9 minutes.)

(photos awesomized with the "leaded window" frame in Camera Awesome)

[cross-posted at Livejournal]

Friday, December 7, 2012

Friday Favorites: Christmas Edition

Hooray for Christmas!

As happens every year, my joy is tinged with panic. There's the panic of shopping lists and travel plans, yes, but there's also the fear that I'll let the season slip by without savoring every moment. With that in mind, I'd like to use this space to dwell on some favorite things and hopefully get your input, as well.

Christmas Music
I've never been a fan of the pop star Christmas albums, or anything too
contemporary (with the exception of Loreena McKennit or Vince Guaraldi, if you can even call the latter contemporary). I am more drawn to Rennaissance and Baroque music, or stuff that approximates them. Here's a sampling of what I've been listening to:

Mistletoe and Wine from Mediaeval Baebes (This is sort of a contemporary/Medieval hybrid, right?)
The Baroque Christmas Album
Baroque Christmas Masques
Renaissance Holiday, from Mannheim Steamroller (but not REALLY Mannheim, according to reviews?)

As mentioned above, I also love Charlie Brown Christmas, and many years ago when I worked for an indie bookstore in Milwaukee, WI (the now defunct Audubon Court Books), I bought Noel! by the Griffith-Hanser Duo (which isn't available anymore? Wah.). So I'm wondering . . . do you have any recommendations for me?

Christmas Movies
The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe--the book and movie always put me in the Christmas mood!
The Holiday--the first time I saw this one, I scoffed a little at its sentimentality. What a jerk! I adore it now. (Though I still have to look away when Jude Law is crying at the end.)
You've Got Mail--not exactly a Christmas movie, but the holiday bits are nice, aren't they?

What am I missing? I'm not a huge fan of It's a Wonderful Life, Miracle on 34th Street, or even A Christmas Story. I respect them as beloved classics, but I never personally connected with them. I know some of you would mention Love Actually, but the Emma Thompson/Alan Rickman story is unbearable for me. And I prefer stories with a more restricted cast, anyway.

ETA: Here's an exhaustive "Roundup" of Holiday movies! I didn't know In Bruges had anything to do with Christmas--I'm not a huge Colin Farrell fan, but Bruges is one of my favorite cities, so perhaps I should check this out? Oh, and I forgot all about Bridget Jones' Diary! Love that one. And The Family Stone. I might be ready to watch The Dead again, too. What a great list!

Christmas Books
Other than the aforementioned The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, I find myself at a loss. Little Women? Sort of Christmassy. I should probably read A Christmas Carol. (Performing in the play a 100 times is not the same thing.) Actually, the novel I'm reading now--the fabulous Splendors and Glooms by Laura Amy Schlitz--feels Christmassy because of its Dickensian orphans and villains. But what books am I forgetting? Anyone have Christmas related novels to recommend? Particularly COZY MYSTERIES? (Oooh, look at this! Seems like I've read Rhys Bowen before, but my memory is foggy . . .)

Next week: Christmas tea and baked goodies!

[Cross-posted to Livejournal]