Jul 162014
 

My book club recently met for a lovely summer dinner, potluck style. The host grilled up some chicken and beef kebobs, had fresh watermelon and a green salad. I made a caprese salad (fresh mozzarella, fresh basil, black olives, cherry tomatoes and salami with balsamic and oil). There was a potato salad and an amazing orzo salad. There was even homemade Syrah. Everything was so tasty! One person made watermelon cupcakes–like they actually tasted like watermelon bubble gum. It was kind of crazy.

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My friend’s house was a lovely oasis. She’s clearly worked really hard on her garden. Her house is on an acre and there’s trees and beautiful pathways winding through the garden. It was absolutely gorgeous! They even have wild peacocks roaming around their neighborhood!

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How crazy is that? Her cute cats were meandering around the yard while we chatted about our book.

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Unfortunately the book we read for the month was NOT my favorite. I hated it and actually couldn’t finish reading it. We chose “Silas Marner” by George Eliot. I like a lot of the Classics–Oscar Wilde is one of my favorite authors and Wuthering Heights is in my top 5 list. However, Silas Marner was so hard to read. It was a combination of writing style and format (humongous, long paragraphs that were often pages long, and dialogue that didn’t seem to move the story forward in any way). Despite not liking the book we still found topics to talk about for three hours!

Here are some good books I’ve read lately:

1. Dead Scared by SJ Bolton

This is the second book in the Lacey Flint series. The series takes place in London and I love the characters. This second book was even better than the first and the story premise was chilling! My only complaint was that I hated the last chapter and how it left off. I felt like it needed another chapter to wrap things up and explain a few things!

2. Lost by SJ Bolton

This is the third book in the Lacey Flint series and while I hated how the 2nd book ended, this book picked up where it left off and explained a little bit of what I felt was missing in the other one. It kept me on the edge of my seat the whole time!

Lost

3. Second Watch by JA Jance

I’m always wary of books that have flashbacks or several timelines going on at once. It’s rarely done well and just feels forced or clunky. This wasn’t the case. The flow was nice and it never felt awkward. I was equally interested in all three time periods that were telling the story. The mystery unfolded in a nice way. Good book!

4. Blood Harvest by SJ Bolton

I’m currently catching up on all her books. This one is probably one of my favorites of her books. The books that aren’t part of the Lacey Flint series are stand-alone books and usually take place on English/Welsh Moors. There is nothing creepier for a setting. It makes me think of Wuthering Heights; but it’s still a great setting for creating anxiety and dread in a horror book. This book in particular was VERY VERY dark. The last few chapters were so gripping and so crazy I couldn’t put the book down.

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5. An Available Man by Hilma Wolitzer

This book is about Edward, recently widowed, dealing with the grief and trying to move on. Despite the topic, it wasn’t a depressing book at all. The general mood was of sadness, but in a healing way. His adult step-kids decide after a year and a half that he needs to meet someone new so they put out a personal ad for him. The book is about his journey to find out who he is without his wife, coming to terms with the grief and meeting new people. It was such a charming, uplifting book and I was 100% satisfied with the story and the characters! Loved it!

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I hope you enjoy some of these books I’ve recommended. Several were good, fun “summer” reads.

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Jul 072014
 

I was a little apprehensive about the 4th of July this year. I was worried about how Bella would deal with the fireworks. Our street kind of shuts down and the neighbor puts on quite a show. We all get together, have a kind of impromptu potluck, Michael and I invite friends over…In the past when I just had the kitties, I’d check on them periodically throughout the evening when the fireworks started, they were clearly disturbed by the loud noises but didn’t seem too freaked out.

But Bella? I knew she’d be freaked out. She got pretty agitated in a thunder storm we had in the winter–not too bad but agitated enough. And the fireworks show was going to be right in front of our house essentially.

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I looked online to find some tips on how to take care of pets during the fireworks show and I also talked to our dog walker. She had some great tips. She suggested Rescue Remedy, to put a few drops in Bella’s water, as it’s a natural relaxer. She said to turn on all the TVs and radios to try and drown out the noise. She said Benadryl can be good too. Bella already takes Benadryl on occasion when her allergies start flaring up (per her vet) so I planned on doing that too.

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My poor baby. :( I guess it’s pretty common for pets to run away on the 4th of July because they are scared and somehow get outside and run off. We were having friends over for a BBQ and the fireworks so I put the cats in a room with the litterbox, food and water and shut the door just to be sure they couldn’t get out.

We had 7 people over for a BBQ. Bella was outside with us all working on her social skills! There were a lot of people over and that made Bella a little freaked out but once she got treats and pets and they threw the ball for her she was good. Michael grilled up hot dogs and one friend brought a delicious baked bean dish, another brought a Moroccan sweet potato salad and there was also an amazing potato salad (it was so good!). Everything tasted great. I made a quinoa salad that turned out well, too:

Red Quinoa and Carrot Salad with Currants, Chickpeas and Cashews

Prep Time: 15 minutes

Cook Time: 15 minutes

Total Time: 30 minutes

Yield: 6 servings

Calories per serving: 321

From: http://www.floatingkitchen.net/red-quinoa-and-carrot-salad-with-currants-chickpeas-and-cashews/

Ingredients

  • 2/3 cup red quinoa
  • 1 1/3 cups water
  • 1 cup shredded carrots (from 1-2 carrots)
  • 1 cup chickpeas, rinsed and drained
  • 1/4 cup currants
  • 1/2 cup cashews (I used roasted and salted cashews)
  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons maple syrup (use the REAL stuff, Grade B if you have it)
  • 1/4 tsp. each salt and pepper
  • 1 tablespoon parsley, roughly chopped

Instructions

  1. Cook the quinoa. Combine the quinoa and water in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat. Bring to a boil and then reduce the temperature to maintain a simmer. Simmer for 15-18 minutes, covered, until all the water is absorbed. Remove from the heat and let the quinoa stand covered for 5 minutes. Then fluff with a fork and set aside to cool.
  2. Transfer the cooled quinoa to a medium bowl. Add the shredded carrots, chickpeas and currants. Toss gently to combine.
  3. In a small bowl whisk together the olive oil, vinegar, maple syrup, salt and pepper. Drizzle the dressing over the quinoa salad, tossing gently to combine and tasting as you go. Stir in the cashews. Top with the chopped parsley and serve. Leftovers can be stored in the refrigerator in an airtight container for 1-2 days.

Notes

Notes: If you don't have red quinoa, any color will do! The leftovers are delicious, but the cashews do lose their crunch. If you want to maintain that crunch, divide the cashews and stir them into individual servings as you eat your way through the salad. If you don't have currants, raisins or dried cranberries would be a great here. And agave could be used in place of the maple syrup.

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I didn’t have parsley so added some chopped green onion and I really liked that addition. I think chopped celery would be really nice in this salad, too. When I make it again I’d probably skip making the carrots into ribbons and just chop them into small pieces. That would be easier to eat. (The quinoa salad was even better the next day for lunch.)

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Michael got these ridiculously large hot dogs from Costco–like bigger than the actual hot dog buns–but they were a hit and tasted great after being grilled. I’m not a huge hot dog fan but there is something tasty about a grilled hot dog that has a little crisp to it.

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We hung out for a bit drinking beer and finishing up dinner and then the fireworks started. I gave Bella a little Peanut-Butter-Benadryl treat and put her in her crate in the bedroom with her blanket. I turned on the TV and the radio and shut the door. I checked on her a few times during the evening and unfortunately the Benadryl didn’t put her to sleep. She was kind of wired and her eyes were really big but she didn’t seem too scared, so that was good. Our poor neighbor’s dog was another story. He was shivering and crying in their house. :(

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We set up our camping chairs in the neighbor’s driveway and they started the show. I’m not really sure what was happening here–it was kind of like the opening ceremonies of the Olympics. One of the neighbor’s friends did laps around the island holding a lit sparkler, running while everyone encouraged him, until it fizzled out. It was pretty hilarious. The kids did their fireworks first.

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The neighbor turned on properly patriotic hair metal and then the teenagers did their fireworks. The neighbor stepped in a few times to do some REAL fireworks and then we all called it good a little earlier this year. The fireworks were gone by 10:30 and while there were still some going off in other neighborhoods nearby, it was mostly done. It was more low-key this year, which was fine because I had been worried about Bella and I was also getting sleepy from the 2 beers I’d had that night. God when did we get so old?

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After everyone left I took Bella outside to do her business and Michael sat with her for a bit outside. She was overly excited and kind of spazzy but didn’t seem scared so that’s good! All in all she did great on the holiday. I slept like a rock and thankfully wasn’t hungover for Boot Camp the next morning. :)

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