Saturday, October 31

Books on Death for Your Halloween Reading Pleasure

Happy Halloween!  

I don't read a lot of proper ghost stories or other traditional Halloween fare, so I thought I'd take advantage of today's holiday to share instead three of the best books I've read related to death. If you can't get enough of the creepy, spooky, cryptic Halloween vibe, consider these a great way to extend your exposure to all things postmortem. If you're not a Halloween fan, turn off the lights, lock the door, and grab one of these to curl up with as you avoid the trick-or-treaters and other chaos tonight. They're well written, eye-opening, and fascinating - no matter when you read them!

The Smoke Gets in Your Eyes by Caitlyn Doughty
Now a licensed mortician, Doughty shares her first experiences working in the funeral industry at a crematorium. Full of fascinating stories, helpful information, and insightful reflections on attitudes towards death in America (and how they got to be what they are), this is a must read. Note: Doughty also runs a fantastic "Ask a Mortician" web series, which tackles very real and meaningful questions like why its illegal to have a viking-style funeral (you know, where they shove your body out into a lake in a burning boat) and whether or not coffins can explode (they can).  

Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers by Mary Roach
If you've ever looked at the back of your license and wondered what exactly you're agreeing to when you donate your body to science, this is the book for you. From medical school uses to crash test dummies, Roach gives readers a broad view of the many ways society (quietly) uses cadavers every day for a vast array of purposes. The tone is cheerful and the subject well handled, making this a good and worthwhile read. 

Death's Acre: Inside the Legendary Forensic Lab the Body Farm Where the Dead Do Tell Tales by William Bass
This one is for everyone who has ever watched and loved CSI, NCIS, Bones, or any other forensics show! All that great information those forensics geniuses have about how long it takes for processes to happen, what order bugs infest a corpse in, what happens when a body is sunk in a river/frozen/left in a trunk... well, you get the idea... all that info comes from Bass and his body farm! The book tells the story of a "farm" on which bodies (legally donated to science, mind you) are intentionally placed in every conceivable position and environment, and then tracked while they decompose. The information is meticulously gathered, recorded, and translated into the timelines, chemical signatures, and other foundational information on which so much of modern forensics is based. 

None of these books are particularly new, so your library should have them. (They're also available via Kindle if you prefer.) Enjoy!

Thursday, October 29

Design the Life You Love (A Book Review)

A friend recently introduced me to Blogging for Books, and I thought I'd give it a try. The first book
that caught my eye was Design the Life You Love: A Step By Step Guide to Building A Meaningful Future.

The first thing that stood out to me was the book's design; the cover and the pages are clean, uncluttered, and very much oriented towards visual/kinesthetic learners. There are prompts for writing, brainstorming, mind-mapping, sketching, and other interactive activities to help readers process and apply what they're learning. I thought this was ideal for this kind of book, because it forces you to go slow and really absorb and think about the material – not just blow through it.

The author effectively used metaphors and examples to help her points across, encouraged readers to only focus on a few things/changes at a time to prevent them from getting overwhelmed, and included a variety of helpful templates (mind map, manifesto, to-do lists, vision letters, poems, etc.).

While I did not work straight through the book start to finish, or use all of the tools, the book and its approach definitely prompted me to think deeply and creatively about how I'm living, what I love, and what kind of changes I could make to live better. Some people have books they re-read every year; I think this would be a great book to keep on your shelf and pull down every year on your birthday and around Christmas/New Years as a reminder to pay attention to where you are, and who/where you want to be. 

Disclaimer: I received this book from the Blogging for Books program in exchange for this review, but (as always) all opinions are my own, honest and unbiased. 

Thursday, October 22

Salmon & Salad with Dijon Dressing

For a very long time, I didn't eat salmon. I blame this entirely on my food service career. Fish is hard to do - and particularly hard to do well - in the catering, commercial, and industrial food service venues in which I was primarily exposed to it. Food safety regulations require that you cook it to death to begin with. Let it sit at all, on a buffet or plated while other meals are finished, and it gets even worse. I still won't eat the stuff cold. (Blegh!) 

Clearly not my photo, but appropriate.
It's pretty much impossible to get decent fish out here anyway, so for years it was just off the table altogether. But a few times we miraculously got our hands on some decent fillets of salmon, and my Prince grilled them for us. And that was eye opening. Under his skilled hands, it was suddenly flakey and buttery and divine.

While we still have a hard time sourcing salmon, I've been inspired by that grilled loveliness to learn how to cook salmon on the stove or in the oven. It's still a work in progress, but we recently tried this delectable (and stupidly simple) recipe and loved it. I wanted to share. 

This is from the Thrive Market cookbook, attributed to JJ Virgin.  It took far less time to toss together than advertised, and is a new favorite.

Pan-Seared Salmon Over Tri-Colored Salad with Dijon Dressing*

2 teaspoons lemon juice
1 tablespoon finely chopped shallots**
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
1/8 teaspoon sea salt
1/8 teaspoon freshly ground
black pepper
4 teaspoons extra virgin olive oil
1/2 small head radicchio, thinly
sliced, about 2 cups
1 Belgian endive, thinly sliced,
about 1 cup
3 cups baby arugula
1 teaspoon extra virgin olive oil***
2 6-ounce wild salmon fillets, such as King or Sockeye
1/8 teaspoon sea salt
1/8 teaspoon freshly ground pepper

Combine the lemon juice, shallots, mustard, salt, and pepper in a small bowl. Slowly whisk in the oil until well combined and set aside. 

In a separate bowl, combine the radicchio, endive, and arugula; set aside.
Heat the oil in a small nonstick skillet over medium heat.
Sprinkle salmon with salt and pepper and place in skillet, flesh side down; cook, until fish flakes easily with a fork, 4-5 minutes per side. Remove from skillet.
Toss the dressing with the lettuces and place on the two plates; top each with a salmon fillet.

*   Sub any type of greens or salad mix you like or have on hand.
**  I used regular onions, eyeballed them at well over this amount, and it was still excellent.
*** I subbed butter. (Yes, I know, I do that a lot.)

Wednesday, October 21

Hack Schooling

I think I first heard the term "hack schooling" a couple years ago when I listened to this TED talk. Generally speaking, I'm not a huge fan of the term "hack". I appreciate that for many people it has positive connotations, but it rarely works for me. In this particular case, however, I feel as if the term is the best one for what I'm doing: hack schooling myself on how to blog professionally and how to be a "solo-preneur" (another new word I wasn't initially sure I liked).

When I got my business degree a dozen years ago, the focus was on how traditional and formal businesses were run. The assumption was that most business majors would go work for Hilton or Disney or some other staid, high-end, highly professional employer. We practiced resumes, cover letters, business casual dressing, and other now-largely-obsolete aspects of corporate life ad nauseum. I'm deeply thankful for the deeply applicable background and skills I got in marketing, economics, product design/development, communication and basic accounting. I'm equally aware of just how little time we spent on many of skills I need now  like basic html manipulation, process development, and branding/materials design.

My Nutritional Therapy degree legitimately gave me everything I needed to get started, but there are so many ways to structure and run a career as an NTP that they simply couldn't dig very far into most of the behind-the-scenes mechanics. NTPs and other professionals have put together a variety of courses designed to cover these aspects, but I just can't see myself dropping $2,000 on something like that. Not when I have a business degree and a huge chunk of what would be covered is stuff I already know.

So I've decided to "hack school" myself, pulling together my own curriculum using a wide variety of free resources - books, articles, other bloggers' and professionals' tips and lessons learned, TED talks, tutorials... you get the idea! I've long believed in the power of self-education, and respected the fact that many of the most inspiring people in history - from the Founding Fathers to modern day entrepreneurs like Richard Branson - were largely or entirely self taught. I have spent enough time working alongside the higher education system (through food service and grant writing) to appreciate that I won't find what I need there anyway. With winter rapidly setting in, and the days getting shorter, it seems as if there's no better time to dig into studying.

I've already got a list of tools and resources lined up to start learning from, and a sweet friend sent me two of her top recommended books to explore. I'm staying open to other ideas as well, though, so tell me - what has touched you or blown your mind that you'd suggest I add to my list?

Tuesday, October 20

Mid-October Musings

I didn't realize that the official ides of October have come and gone until this morning. I've been elbow deep in projects as of late, and have done a terrible job of tracking time. But rather than focus on what I haven't done or been paying attention to, I thought I'd take a minute to celebrate the good things that have been filling my radar the last couple weeks.
  • Enjoying the Glorious Colors of Fall. That photo above/right is not our property (because I suck at photography), but it may as well be - it is abundantly gorgeous here. For all the stupid laws and ungodly taxes, I am blessed every day to live in the kind of place that most people have to try to vacation to.

  • Bedding Down the Garden. For the first time in my life, I actually got a garden properly bedded down at the end of the growing season! We ripped out the bedraggled remains of our tomato plants and pumpkin vines, tilled up the soil, then layered down compost, cardboard, and dried leaves. It was definitely a learning experience and I'll be more prepared next year, but I'm delighted to have done it (after years of thinking about it and not following through).

  • Planting tulip and daffodil bulbs. We planted a handful a couple years ago, but the spot we tried turned out not to be a good one; most didn't reappear this year, and none bloomed. So I grabbed a few packages from Lowes in September, and made time this past week to get them in the ground. I tried three new locations in the yard. Hopefully at least one will prove ideal for them, and I can get more and expand them next year. Spring comes late here, and I'm always more than eager for color, so I would love to eventually have a mass of lovely spring flowers.
  •  Shifting schedules and routines. I think I shared the Maker Schedule vs. Manager Schedule concept on here before. It is something I've been thinking about and playing with since I left grant writing, but what it looks like on a week-to-week basis has continued to change. Over the summer, fresh produce and house projects took precedence in my schedule. With the days turning colder and darker, and the menu leaning away from all-fresh-all-the-time, indoor and business projects have started to predominate. I feel as if I get a little more insight each week into how to make various actions, routines, and setups work for me, but every day still feels like a work in progress in some ways. 

  • Prepping for winter. Winter isn't my favorite season, but I try to enjoy the process of preparing for the change of seasons. Pulling out the rug for the living room floor, scouring the closets for where I randomly put the last few insulated winter curtains, and rotating quilts - it's a good exercise in gratitude and awareness as long as I don't let myself get stressed about the cold to come and everything I thought I'd get done in the summer and Fall but haven't! We had our first snow this past weekend, and that very much brought the reality of the coming winter home!
What are you enjoying this month?

Monday, October 12

Gretchen Rubin's “Power Hour” Re-imagined

I've discovered through trial and error that I much prefer reading Modern Mrs. Darcy talk about MMD explained how she'd re-imagined Rubin's weekly “Power Hour”.
Gretchen Rubin's work to actually reading it myself. One such post from last month really tickled my brain;

Rubin regularly designates an hour to knock out “tasks that are important but not urgent”. Those random things that pile up and can take literally months (or even years!) to do because we don't want to deal with the hassle and keeping finding reasons to put them off, even though we'd be much better off with them completed. Rubin used the example of taking clothing to be donated to a drop-off center. It doesn't actually take that long, and we're much better off without the clutter, but the energy investment of engaging with people and making time to veer off our usual routines can make it feel like a much bigger deal than it is.

MMD considered that idea, then adapted it to her current life situation – and I love the result! Instead of being overwhelmed with random small tasks cluttering her plate, she found that her biggest challenge was making time for larger tasks or projects related to things she wanted to learn/master but found it hard to carve out time for amidst a busy schedule. So she decided to try scheduling herself a Power Hour each week dedicated to pursuing a skill she wanted to learn.

That approach really got me thinking. If you dedicated one hour per week to something, by the end of the year you'd have invested 52 hours in learning and practicing it. As Josh Kaufman points out in his awesome TED talk, it may take 10,000 hours of deliberate practice to become a world-class Master of any given subject, but you can get more than functionally adept at something in as little as 20 hours!

Since functional adeptness is all most of us are shooting for in most areas anyway, in one dedicated hour a week is more than enough to add two new skills to your repertoire! As someone who has a lot of fascinating things I'd like to get into, that's an incredibly promising thought! I haven't settled on which skills exactly I want to focus on yet, but I'm determined to make up my mind and start experimenting with the re-envisioned Power Hour plan in November.

Would you consider adding this type of Power Hour to your schedule? If so, what would you like to learn?

Friday, October 9

Mandatory Kitchen Upgrade

I spent a LOT of time in the kitchen in August and early September. I didn't mind, but it was rough on my furry supervisors. Kitchens are dangerous places, full of knives and hot water and noisy appliances like mixers and blenders. God knows you can't leave humans unsupervised somewhere like that! But, of course, if you try to sit on Mommy's toes while she works you have other problems. Food scraps get dropped on your head (which is not fun unless it happens to be sausage or gravy or something), you get tripped over, and it's not uncommon to find the floor you're trying to nap on either chilly or damp until Mommy gets around to cleaning it. 
Arthas eventually decided to work around this mess using Geostrategic Napping positions. He'd nap on the end of our bed, or in the sunlight in front of the door where he had clear diagonal line of site to me moving around the kitchen. As long as I was visible whenever he rolled an eye open, we were good. 

Nenya has somewhat less faith in me, and insisted upon closer management. After I dropped yet another tomato peel on her sweet head and both of us nearly died for the dozenth time due to her insistence on being directly underfoot, we improvised a solution. Behold, the Nenya cupboard!  

With the mixing bowls evicted and her own personal quilt lining the bottom, she gave this new arrangement her seal of approval. I liked it so much that we're discussing creating a proper puppy cave in the corner of the kitchen when we eventually redo the kitchen. No one wants to deal with losing things in weirdly shaped corner cabinets anyway, right?

Turns out it's not an usual idea - Pinterest has lots of suggestions, like the one below. There's also a particularly adorable version for those of you with kitties.


Where does your house need a dedicated pet space?

Thursday, October 8

Quick Recipes Roundup

With as busy as the last couple months have been, I haven't done much in the way of experimental cooking. I've mostly relied an old stand-bys, or simple one-dish meals based on whatever CSA produce needs to get used up first. I have had cause to pull out a few new recipes, though, and thought I'd share.
Photo Credit

Tomato, Onion & Cucumber Salad
A friend introduced us to this, and my husband loves it. It's a fantastic way to use up that one random cucumber we always seem to get in our CSA!

Zucchini Fritters
I am incapable of making these properly stick together in lovely fritter shapes, but they are quite healthy and taste great... even when served in what I euphemistically call "explosion style"... aka piled on a plate! 

Pan Fried Sardines
From the Well Fed 2 cookbook, these are fast and amazing. I can never keep the sardines together, and they usually end up being little chunks rather than whole, but they are the epitome of comfort food. I like to throw them over garlicky sauteed kale, but they'd go well with just about anything. Since sardines are shelf-stable and relatively inexpensive, this has become one of my always-on-hand back-up meals.

Paleo Maple Carrot Cake
I confess to being terribly skeptical when I saw the book My Paleo Patisserie, but this recipe made me a total convert! I'm not doing wheat these days, but wanted to be able to eat the birthday cake I was making - and this was perfect! It uses only almond flour, and was much faster to put together than it looked like it would be! Tip: if you don't have the six inch cake pans called for, just make this in two regular 9 inch rounds or as cupcakes!

What's cooking in your kitchen?

Wednesday, October 7

Decorating for Fall

I'm pretty sure that my sister got about 98% of the decorating genes. Not only does she have an eye for it, she loves it. While I enjoy appreciating other people's decor, I haven't really been the type to put a lot of effort into my own. I can't stand clutter, and dislike the idea of having to store a bazillion totes of holiday decor year-round.

During our recent trip, however, we picked up some wonderful Fall-scented candles that we found for an excellent price. Finding myself with a few spare minutes and inspired by reigniting the wood stove and the luxury of having candles again, I decided there was no help for it. I'd have to do a few simple Fall decorating touches. 

Thanks to Pinterest, I've been pleased to discover decor options that require very little time and no storage which is perfect for me! I opted to go with Printable Apothecary Labels, since I've always got a variety of bottles and jars around for other purposes, and Printable Book Covers since of course I've got lots of books, too!

Tip: Milk makes an excellent, non-toxic and easy-to-remove paste for applying paper labels to glass surfaces.

The pictures aren't great, but I'm very happy with how these turned out. Hopefully we'll carve a few pumpkins for the front porch steps before the month is out, as well. 

What's your preferred style of decorating?

Tuesday, October 6

Best News Article

Photo Credit
I generally try to keep the news at arms' length. Spending too much time with uniformly depressing news articles causes my natural hermit-like tendencies to flare, and I end up wishing for a zombie apocolypse to come at cleanse the world. Not really constructive. 

I do try to skim through the headlines most days, though, just to make sure that if the world happens to catch fire or something I'll be in the know. On rare occasions, this results in finding something wonderful - a story that actually improves my faith in humanity!

Last week, for example, I ran into one of the best stories I can remember ever seeing in the news and I simply have to share it with you: Grandmother with an AK-47 Saves Cops Attacked by a Street Gang.

I have no idea how a 79 year old woman has been able to keep an AK-47 in California (which is nearly as restrictive as NY when it comes to gun legislation). But I am thrilled to see someone putting gangs in their place. I know it's too much to hope that legislators anywhere will see this and recognize the potential for cleaning up America's crime through appropriately arming responsible homeowners and supporting their rights to defend themselves and their property, but I am nonetheless delighted that someone did it and got credit for it rather than punished for it. 

Hope this story gives your faith in humanity a boost as well!

Monday, October 5

Book Review Roundup

Over the last couple months, I've racked up a lot of hours either on the road or in the kitchen. As much as possible, I've been stuffing those hours with audiobooks since reading time has otherwise been fairly rare. There have been some great finds, and a few duds, and I thought I'd take a minute to share about them in case anyone is looking to stock up on reading material before the cold weather properly sets in! 


Good Omens by Neil Gaiman & Terry Pratchett
This is hysterical in a dry, British humor sort of way. The misadventures of two long-time friends, one an angel and the other a demon, seeking to avert the apocalypse because they rather enjoy living on earth. The plan seems to be working... until they lose the Antichrist.

Conversion by Katherine Howe
You know a book is good when you can almost feel the character's headaches, panic, and exhaustion because the story has sucked you in so deeply it's like you're actually there beside them. 

The Secret Keeper by Kate Morton
Beautiful and complex, like all of Morton's works. The ending was superb. 

The Distant Hours by Kate Morton
Lush and enchanting, with a tragic undertone. A very good read. 

The House at Riverton by Kate Morton
My least favorite of her books so far, I think, but still quite good. 

Beautifully written and intriguing. Fair warning: it's the first book in an as-yet unfinished series, and the second book isn't as good as the first. As a read-alone, though, it's great!


Toxic Charity by Robert Lupton
This book should be required reading by anyone and everyone who gives to charity, volunteers with charities, or works with the non-profit, development, municipal management, government or church sectors of life. 

A very well done exploration of the social, physical and nutritional aspects of how and why the rates of ADHD have skyrocketed, and what we can do about it.

Books to Avoid

The Misfit Economy (Sounds promising, but doesn't deliver.)

The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat (Ditto) 

Five Questions of Christmas  (Seems like an interesting idea, but had serious issues with flow/cohesiveness and didn't really relate to Christmas.)

What have you been reading?

Friday, October 2

Tough Mudder #4

Last weekend, we had the privilege of getting away for a long weekend. After a summer that somehow turned out to be crazy busy, and that rolled straight into Fall without pause, it was amazing to step away and regroup.

My parents graciously took our furry babies who LOVE to stay with Grandma & Grandpa and play with their furry cousins; I'm quite sure neither of our babies missed us in the least.  

We started our trip by doing our 4th Tough Mudder - in Maine! Neither of us had ever been to Maine (a brief stop at the airport not withstanding), so it was a fun adventure. It was also new for us to have a mud run so late in the year; usually our last one is in August. It was interesting to try something different all around. 

Seeing as the rest of the Fall remains about as packed as the summer was, we were also celebrating both My Prince's birthday and our upcoming 11th anniversary this trip. (Side note: how do two confirmed introverts with no kids get such busy schedules? Seriously!?) Accordingly, although our meals were chaotic or skipped while on the road, our dinners were celebratory and divine. If you're ever in Portland, you must check out the Back Bay Grill. If you're in NY's Finger Lakes region, go eat at Kismet Bistro. Both are truly worthy of rave reviews - and coming from me, that's saying something! 

We're squarely back in the swing of things now, but I've found myself thinking much more often how easy it is to replicate so much of what b&b's boast about this time of year... if I'm willing to set aside my to-do list. I won't be replicating fancy dinners, but I'm perfectly capable of making (really good) hot chocolate and dragging a quilt outside to sit on the porch and enjoy the flaming colors of turning leaves or the stars glittering in crisp autumn nights. Even if it's only for 15 minutes here and there. 

So with happy vacation memories lingering in my mind, I'm challenging myself to pay attention to - and take advantage of - these opportunities to take mini breaks from the day and savor the Fall luxuries readily available to me. Will you do the same?

Thursday, October 1

Fitness and Fits

My Prince, after completing his 1st half marathon this summer!
Mel Joulwan, Paleo blogger and author the amazing Well Fed cookbooks, recently included a link in her digital newsletter to a fantastic 2013 blog post titled 10 Things I Want My Daughter to Know About Working Out

Written by the mother of a young girl, it emphasizes that fitness is not about looking great in a slinky dress or about checking yet another box off your to-do list every day. Her list also makes it clear that it's not about being a super-athlete or part of the gym-goers club. It's about taking care of yourself. 

She notes that she hopes her daughter will grow up in the habit of choosing to be physically active because it is part of cultivating larger schemes of good habits and opens doors to wonderful opportunities - hiking or biking in woods enjoying the fresh air, for example. I hope at some point to build on this post at my other blog, because I was struck by how many of her points were also true of clean eating. 

But I was also struck by the number of people in the comments section having fits! Not everyone can exercise, and certainly many of us don't enjoy traditional work out routines, and that's both fine and completely understandable. But I was shocked at how many people objected to simple ideas like wanting to take care of oneself. It is appalling to me that we could live in a society that not only doesn't value self-responsibility enough to consider it a virtue, but that actually bashes people for personally valuing it! I was reminded of an article I saw recently about how people are actually becoming disabled by choice (aka "transabled").

Rather than get depressed by how ridiculously warped people's ideas can be, I decided instead to take these things as a reminder to appreciate the people in my life with the kinds of values and motivations I love, respect, and aspire to.

So thank you. 

Thank you for modeling for me the kind of discipline it takes to learn a new skill, and the pride that goes with making something worthy and lovely using talents long honed. Thank you for the energy and creativity you pour into the challenges and opportunities you tackle every day. Thank you for showing me what it looks like to offer grace and encouragement when someone dives headlong into something they're passionate about, even if it isn't for you. Like the little girl the Wellfesto blog post was intended for, I am blessed to be influenced and encouraged by people who choose to offer their best, rather than trying to drag others down to a lower common denominator. And for that, I am thankful.