Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Book Review: The Dragons of Chiril

Having read and enjoyed Dragonspell by the same author, I was looking forward to reading this novel. I was not disappointed! The story is of a young girl named Tipper, who must journey with an unlikely group of adventurers to reunite three stone statues in order to save her father and their world. The storyline held my attention throughout, and most of the characters were delightful. Unfortunately, the main character, Tipper, was not my favorite, being constantly overshadowed by more interesting characters, such as the wizard, Fenworth. Aside from that, I enjoyed The Dragons of Chiril, and I look forward to reading more by this author.

I received a free copy of The Dragons of Chiril from WaterBrook Multnomah for my honest review.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Going Old School on My Fruits and Veggies

Let me start by saying that I am glad I am not Old Order Amish. After one day of canning, I really respect the work they do...and all without electricity! As idyllic as it sometimes sounds to live in the Amish way--living and working on a farm, traveling by horse and buggy, and coming together as a community to can, quilt, and build barns, I would really miss my modern conveniences. I guess I am a city girl with a farm girl's heart.

Well, back to my saga of canning. We have been getting a good bit of produce from our family garden this year, and although we have given some away, we still have plenty. So, I thought I would try my hand this year at canning. I first made some Triple Berry Jam, which is a freezer jam and doesn't need processing. I thought, "Wow! That was easy!" It tasted great and whet my appetite for putting up more stuff. My next attempt was pickled jalapeños and salsa. They were umm...not so easy. I think the neighbors two doors down could hear me coughing from the fumes of the boiling vinegar to go over the peppers. The hardest part was finding out a few minutes before I started that you can't use the canning pot on a glass surface stovetop, which is what I have. I truly had a moment of panic--then my inner Girl Scout kicked in. I could use our gas grill! It is pretty much like a gas stove, only outside. So, I placed the canner on the grill top and lit 'er up. To my surprise, it worked! The only problem was that I had to make about 431 trips from the inside stove to the grill to bring jars back and forth, and I probably used half a tank of propane. These are probably some expensive jars of salsa and peppers, but hopefully they will be good!

I just want to say that, despite the labor, the problems, and the hours of time it took, I will probably can some more. It is extremely satisfying to see the rows of my neatly labeled jars in my pantry and to know that we grew those and canned them ourselves. Maybe I will wait until David is home to help me--I'm sure he would love it! At the risk of sound overly "green", between our garden, the chickens (which will hopefully give us eggs this fall), and the canning, I feel "closer" to our food. There is something to be said for knowing where at least some of your food is coming from and also teaching your children the value of hard work and showing them that food doesn't just appear magically at the grocery store. We are quite happy with our little "Hardgrave Farm." As they say at McDonald's, "We're loving it!"

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Breath of Angel: The Angeleon Circle Book One

"Breath of angel, blood of man..."

Age-old debts demand repayment, the restoration of an ancient passage between heaven and earth hangs in the balance, and a feud between immortals and angels escalates. This and more await you in "Breath of Angel," the first book in the series, "The Angeleon Circle" by Karyn Henley. This young adult fantasy adventure features Melaia, a young priestess, whose life takes an unimaginable turn after witnessing the murder of a stranger in the temple courtyard. When she discovers wings on the victim, Melaia realizes that the myths and tales told in the temple are no longer fanciful stories...they are truth.

Even though most fantasy novels are written for YA, I still enjoy the opportunity to lose myself in another world so different from our own. Karyn Henley creates just such a world, and the premise of the plot is one I hadn't encountered before. The story was a little slow to grab my attention in the beginning, but I continued reading and was glad that I did. The characters were interesting, but unfortunately, I never felt like I got to know most of them very well. All in all, I enjoyed the book and look forward to the next in the series.

I received a free copy of "Breath of Angel" by Karyn Henley from WaterBrook Multnomah for my review. Please rank my review below. The higher my rankings, the more prizes I can win!

Is Chivalry Dead, or Just Lazy?

I live with a gentleman. And, yes, I do mean my husband. He opens and closes doors for me, lifts heavy objects when I can't, and even drives for me most of the time. His chivalrous behavior used to be the norm. When I was younger and working full-time, I remember the men in the office holding doors for the ladies, making coffee, and lifting the heavy bottles on to the water cooler so that we wouldn't have to. Although there are some places, like my church, where there are still knights in shining armor, chivalry for the most part seems to be a lost art.

You may be asking yourself, "Why is Angela thinking about chivalry when she's supposed to be soaking up the sun in Orange Beach?" Of course, if this is the first time you are reading this blog, you probably wouldn't have asked yourself that because you didn't know I was at the beach...or you don't care. Either way, I will answer the question with a little story:

"Once upon a time, on the beach sat a lady and her beautiful young daughter, chatting delightedly under several rainbow colored umbrellas. The lady's husband swam in the azure waters of the Gulf with their other two, equally beautiful, daughters. All of the sudden, a huge gust of wind blew towards the lady and her daughter, turning two of their umbrellas inside out! The wind was so strong, it threatened to rip the umbrellas out of the sand and blow them down the beach. With all her might, the lady held on to the largest umbrella, trying to keep it in place, while also attempting to get her husband's attention. While in the midst of this dilemma, to her surprise, she saw two men in beach chairs watching her. Surely these brave knights would rescue a damsel in distress! But, alas, what did she see on their faces? Not concern, but amusement. They were laughing! These were not brave knights at all! They were but court jesters. Not one lifted a finger to aid the lady. Finally, she gained the attention of her husband, and he began the long and arduous trek through the ocean waves. Finally, his journey ended, and he reached his fair wife. Then, with much labor, the lady's mighty husband righted the umbrellas and restored peace to the morning, all while the jesters watched. Only with much self control and his wife's staying hand did the husband resist running the rogues through. Afterwards, the lady left the beach saddened that chivalry and common courtesy had been banished from the land in which she dwelled."

I hope you got the point of this true tale. To any of you men who may have decided to read my blog and think that the behavior of the men in the above story was deplorable, let me just say that I appreciate you. To every man who has held open a door, pulled out a chair, or given up a seat for a lady, I want to say a huge "THANK YOU!" The world needs more men like you. Just remember, the world may tell you that chivalry is old-fashioned, and it very well may be, but just because something is old-fashioned doesn't mean it isn't right.

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Who Knows the Meaning of Fun?

Well, here we are on our 2nd full day at Orange Beach. The weather is perfect, the ocean breeze is refreshing, and the waves are crashing sufficiently for boogie boarding. Being here is wonderful but it has reminded me of the difference between my children's viewpoint of vacation and mine. When these two viewpoints collide, it looks something like this: zzzz..."Mom, wake up. Let's go to the beach!"...sip of coffee..."Mom, when are we going to the beach?"...one page turn of a novel..."Mom, when are you going to get in the water?" Don't get me wrong--we have great kids, and they probably don't badger us to do things as much as they could. We do, of course, want to play with them and hang out with them. But, I have learned over the years that their idea of vacation is go, go, go, and mine is slow, slow, slow. I guess I am painfully boring at 35 years old. All I want is to read a good book while reclined in a beach chair, a Diet Coke in my hand and the wind in my hair. And, maybe to sleep late, just once or twice (and by late I don't mean 7:30, which is my kids' definition of late). Even with our differing ideas of fun, we can still agree that we love being here together as a family at one of our favorite places on earth. I can't wait to see what the rest of the week holds!

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Summer Vacation...Oh How I've Missed You!

School's finally out, teacher workdays are over (at least for me!), and toward what end do my thoughts naturally turn? The beach, of course. Mmmmmm...I can almost smell the briny ocean air right now. I love the beach--I would live there if I could. I have heard people say many times, "You'd get tired of living there. The novelty would wear off in no time." Well, I don't think so, but I would love the opportunity to prove it. What could be better than waking up every morning (provided it's not raining) to a glorious, God-orchestrated sunrise over the surf, seeing the sun's rays turn the sugary-white sand a pinkish hue? Not even the men with their metal detectors can spoil that scene.

But, alas, I am not independently wealthy, so I can't buy a house on the beach. However, I can enjoy a great vacation with my family: soaking up the sun, playing in the waves, driving go karts, and shopping for tacky souvenirs. I know not everyone gets to do this every year, so I am thankful for the opportunity. It is truly a blessing! I will try to update my blog while I am there, but I'm making no promises. I tend to get kind of lazy in the beach atmosphere--plus I will have my Kindle with me. I may not even know what day it is once I start reading in my beach chair. So, anyway, even though we are not leaving just yet, I will say for now, in the words of the Von Trapp's, "So long, farewell, auf wiedersehen, goodbye!"

Sunday, May 22, 2011

So...You Want to be a Chicken Farmer

It all started with a dream...well, not really. It actually started with an email. David received an email advertising plans for a chicken coop. Now, I don't know about you, but we usually ignore most of the emails that junk up our inboxes, but for some reason, this one caught David's attention. Coincidentally, I had seen a chicken coop for sale on the side of the road the same day my husband got that fateful email. The streams crossed, and our lives exploded into a world of chickeness.

Our initial reactions to the idea of "backyard chickens," as they are called by those in the know, ranged from, "Would this work?", "Is this even possible?", to "Are we completely nuts?" As it turns out, yes, yes, and probably. Although we live somewhat in the country--you do have to pass two farms to get to our house--we definitely don't live ON a farm. I mean, we live in a neighborhood, with neighbors and everything. We weren't even sure that this was legal where we live (it is). However, our extensive research showed us that not only could we have chickens in our backyard and in our neighborhood, but that keeping backyard chickens is its own growing culture.

We initially decided to buy 6 or 7 one-day-old chicks from an online hatchery and then let them stay in a brooder in our living room for 4-6 weeks, until they were old enough to live in a coop. I know what you are thinking..."What is a brooder?" A brooder is basically a big box with food, water, and a heat lamp--this setup keeps the chickens warm and dry while they grow. We have gained a whole arsenal of new words since we started this process. Brooder, scratch, chicken tractor (not what it sounds like), and nesting box are now part of our vocabulary. Anyway, back to the story. Like I was saying, we were going to get the chicks from an online hatchery, but after finding out the shipping costs, we decided to try to buy them locally.

David and Sarah made the trek to two different feed stores and bought not 6, but 12 chicks of 6 different breeds: two Buff Orpingtons, two Ameraucanas, two Barred Plymouth Rock, two white Plymouth Rock, two Wyandottes, and two Rhode Island Reds. The chicks ranged from 2-4 weeks old, not the one-day-olds that we originally wanted, but that turned out to be a good thing--more on that later. They promptly put them in the brooder, turned on the heat lamp, and gave them food and water. Of course, the most important task, according to the kids, was naming them. (Yes, all 12 chickens have names, and yes, we can tell them apart). It had begun...we were now newbie chicken farmers.

At first the chicks mostly huddled in a pile out of shock, but they finally started running around and acting "chickeny". The chickens were cute, very cute, which kept me from killing them a few weeks later. They seemed really healthy, but there was one chick, Talitha, that we were afraid we were going to lose. She didn't move much, and she had a limp. We gave her special treatment--treats, medicated water, and her own little section of the brooder so she wouldn't get trampled. Just to put your mind at ease, she did not die, and now she is bigger than her "sister" and is very affectionate.

The first few days, the first week even, of caring for them, watching them, and listening to their sweet "peeps" was actually enjoyable. After that, not so much. The pine shavings that we put on the floor of their brooder to catch ummm...stuff was not working as well at masking the smell as it was at first. I also think that I developed an allergy to either the pine or the chicken dander, because I spent several weeks severely congested. Finally, the constant "peeps" that were once so sweet began to wear on my nerves. It was like water torture...peep, peep, peep...drip, drip, drip. There was hardly ever a quiet moment in our house. I was ready to get them out!

Finally after several weeks and a lot of backbreaking work on David's part, the coop was finished and we moved all the chickens out. I don't know who was happier, the chickens or me. Now, caring for them is enjoyable again. The girls have loved coming home from school everyday to check on them and give them treats. They can't wait until the chickens start laying eggs, which will probably be around September. All in all, even though it has been more money, time, and work to get this chicken train moving than we thought it would be, I have so far enjoyed the journey (most of it anyway) and am glad we did it.

Our finished coop and run

Inside of the coop complete with roosts, nesting boxes, and original artwork!