Thursday, February 24, 2011

Housekeeping Ain't No Joke

To all of the Louisa May Alcott fans, from whence I garnered the title of this blog ...

Want some help sorting through the everlasting list of chores you know you need to do?  This is the blog for you!

But first, allow me to congratulate Amanda, who was the randomly selected winner of the giveaway this week!  She won a nice little package including a book, an index-spiral of verses, and some bookmarks.  If you didn't enter in this giveaway, be sure to enter in the next one!

der prize, der prize!

Now, you may be feeling a wee bit jealous or just wishing for something free to brighten your winter day - so at the end of this blog, I am going to offer you a delightfully free treat - our first download!  Read on ...

Let's talk about every homemaker's favorite thing to do - chores!  And by favorite, I mean the thing she does the most.  Chores generally fall into a few categories: daily, monthly, seasonally, sporadically, and not-often-enoughly.

Every house needs to be maintained with some level of order - whatever is acceptable and functional for you. Now, this standard will vary from house to house based on the quantity of people, degree of manageable chaos, and personal level of OCD (obsessive-compulsive disorder).

Miz Carmen suggested using old spice tins for storage on the fridge!

Spotless: At Windsor castle there is a very high standard that must be maintained: daily chores may include dusting the baseboards, waxing the tables, changing the sheets, polishing the silver, clipping new bouquets of flowers, and meeting with the staff to discuss dinner service.

Happy Medium: At my own castle, where it is just my husband and I, I can maintain a nice standard of cleanliness since I have no children to take priority yet: daily chores usually include running laundry, making the bed, moving everything and wiping the counters, picking up the living room, preparing dinner, and doing the dishes.

Sheer Survival: At your house (let's just imagine for a moment you have scads of children that you home-school, which many of my readers do), daily chores may include taking out the dirty diapers with a forklift, washing enough laundry to clothe the US Army, shoveling the living room floor just to find the baby, pouring a seven-pound case of noodles into the pot for dinner, and ensuring that everybody completes their schoolwork on time - dusting the baseboards be hanged!  For you, the priority may be discipling your children and keeping dinner on the table.  As long as those things get done, all the other chores are relatively expendable!

But some stuff just needs to be done regularly! When my husband and I moved to the four-plex we live in now, we scrubbed our former apartment until the walls sparkled and the linoleum looked like a cleaner but still hideous version of itself.  I was appalled at how dirty some places got (the top of the cupboards were abhorrent; underneath the stove was atrocious).  I thought I cleaned my kitchen pretty regularly!

With this horrific memory in mind, I decided to establish a fail-safe system at our new house to make sure that no corner was left behind.  I created a monthly list of tasks for pretty much every room; this list works perfectly because I can do one task, by itself, whenever I have the time, and then date it and check it off.  I rarely ever have an entire day to devote to "spring cleaning", but by spreading these deep-cleaning tasks out over the course of a month, I know they will be completed regularly.  I hung each list in the corresponding room somewhere so that I can see it when I go in there.

I usually can't keep up with house management on a macro, day-by-day level because a schedule will go awry, my micro-managing will fall apart, something out of the ordinary will happen, I won't do everything I dreamed of and I'll feel discouraged; this monthly checklist gives me enough latitude to live life, prioritize daily,and just do what I have time to do.

the kitchen list, hidden in the cupboard ... 

Following is a sample of what I put on my kitchen list.  My list will vary from yours - you may have a much higher level of cleaning you want to accomplish and include washing the ceiling and replacing the hardwoods monthly, or you may have a much lower priority level for tasks and know that simply moving everything off the counter and washing them once a month would be a good start.  Additionally, if there is something I want to do a couple times a month - like scrub the toilet in the bathroom, say - I simply wrote it on my list a few times.  Then, it is done several times over the course of a month and I have a dated record of when it happened.

Kitchen List
Empty/clean fridge and freezer
Wash cabinet fronts
Mop floor/under table (this is a big task because we store a lot of boxes under the table!)
Wash microwave
Wash windows
Wash tablecloths
Empty and wash out cabinets
Run vinegar cycle in dishwasher (an empty load with just some vinegar, a cup or two)
Wash garbage can

Sometimes I get on a roll during the day and check off a few of the tasks at a time, such as washing cabinets, microwave, and windows all at once.  Sometimes it takes me a few days, working a bit at a time, to polish off a single task (such as emptying and wiping out the cupboards - a great way to familiarize yourself with where everything is at!  You'll never have another forgotten bottle of That Stuff again!).

In my bathroom, as I noted above, some tasks are listed a few times; like scrubbing the tub, toilet, counters, and mirrors, while others are only listed once, such as cleaning out the drain and mopping the floor.  Those things don't get critical as quickly here (although it may be different for you!).

And now for your free download!  I've created a PDF with a few chore charts ready to be filled out by you and posted around your house, or maybe just stored in your calendar where you can review them and, if you are lucky enough to have kids, assign them to people!

Download the monthly chore chart

Good luck, and happy housework!

Mrs H

Suggestions (please add your ideas in the comments below):
Clutter will not build up at your house because you'll be aware of it after moving it a few times - junk in cupboards and closets will be thrown out!  No rotting food ... no build-up in the trash cans and baskets ... and the dishes will always be pretty well organized! 

Laundry Room: 
Vacuum out dryer/lint trap
Run vinegar cycle in washer
Wash the plastic parts of the washing machine (i.e. soap tray)
Wipe out laundry baskets
Wipe down exteriors of the W/D
Clean and wipe down any shelves

Clean out drain thoroughly (pull out plug, pull up any hair, pour drain cleaner down)
Scrubbing, floor mats (put on the list as frequently as you think it needs it!  Different bathrooms within a house may vary, too)
Mop floors
Wash trash can
Empty cupboards and clean, organize

Change sheets (2 - 3 x a month - or more, if you have real zeal!)
Empty and vacuum/dust closet

Pantry and Root Cellar: 
Empty and wipe out cupboards
Rotate and sort through cold-storage produce

Please post ideas, suggestions, and comments!  Help other readers out with your genius! 

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Delightful Books!

Dear anxious readers,

Great news - I recently posted a review of His Word in My Heart.  Following that, I said I would give away a spiral-ring of verses to a lucky winner, for the joy of memorizing!

For those of you who have entered, and the rest of you who are cautiously considering ... the stakes just got higher!  Moody Publishers sent me a copy of His Word in My Heart to give away to you!

So, you will now win the verses and the book!  Take advantage of it!  In light of these new developments, I've extended the drawing date to February 22.  Click here to enter the giveaway!


Mrs H

February 23, 2011: And the fortunate winner was the randomly selected #5, which was Amanda! She chose to memorize Proverbs 31 in the KJV.  She'll receive the book His Word in My Heart, some bookmarks, and an index-spiral filled out with the verses from Proverbs 31, ready to memorize! 

Congratulations Amanda!

Friday, February 11, 2011

A Penny Found is a Penny Saved is a Penny Earned

Thanks for reading this post, I'm so excited to visit with you!  
After you've gleaned all the good information you need, visit our new blog platform at to read even more fascinating tidbits from the kitchen and the fields. 

Dear earth-bound travelers on this mortal coil,

It seems like I find an awful lot of pennies and other miscellaneous change on the ground wherever I go.  Once, after two hours of strolling through Seattle I ended up with almost a dollar of change!  That's a lot to find on the ground.

I don't necessarily walk with my head down, but I have developed a habit of watching where I walk.  I think this came from many many hours of running in Everett, and dodging everything from open diapers to dog feces, from needles to used feminine product.  Yes, that's right - you never know what you'll find when you go running in Everett!

So, I found it behooved me to watch my step.  I look a few feet ahead so that I don't have to strain my neck too hard, but watching for scattered possum also means watching for sparkling coins!  Perhaps I'm just more like a crow than I care to admit, and the glint of the coin attracts my eye; who knows?  Either way, money has a certain shine to it that gum wrappers and broken glass don't have, so it stands out to me.

Of course, there is the less shiny type of money - I found twenty five dollars on a short five mile jog, one fine morning.  More recently, I found ten dollars on a seven mile run.  I'm okay with being a professional athlete and getting paid to work out!

People ask me all the time - how do you find so much money?!  I think the answer is very simple.

I look for it - and I expect to find it!

This is more pervasive in my life than with just random money. I look for kindness from people, and I find it!  I look for blessings and favors from the Lord, and I find them!  I look for things to go my way, and the light to turn green, and a parking spot to open up, and a light to turn red and save me from an oncoming speeder, and a hurting person who may inadvertently treat me unkindly but desperately need me to return grace, and I find all of these things.

Any student of Psychology 101 will tell you that one of the most basic principles of understanding motivations and perceptions is all in how a person chooses to look at the world around them.  For instance, the phenomenon of racism or prejudice is studied in this light, both in how a person may expect someone to act ("All Russians are good cooks!") and what they see and justify ("I met a Russian who was a really good cook.  See, that proves my point!  But my Russian neighbor isn't a good cook - she's kind of the odd one out).  We see what we search for, and we ignore or explain away what doesn't fit the pattern.

In an infamous experiment, a researcher told her subject they wanted to examine how a person with a disfiguring scar on the face was treated by an interviewer.  So, she sat her subject down and used makeup to create a very realistic scar on the face.  She showed the subject her reflection, and then just before sending the subject out to be interviewed made a 'quick adjustment' to the fake scar - unbeknownst to the subject, removing the scar from her face!

The "horribly disfigured" (or so she thought) subject went out to the clueless interviewer, and they conversed for some time.  Afterwards, the researcher (still not showing the subject the truth about her now-absent scar) asked the subject, "How did they treat you?"

Responses varied, but were similar.  "He couldn't take his eyes off my scar! ... He was so uncomfortable about the scar .... I could sense his disgust ... He kept looking at it, and then looking away!"

The researcher now reveals to the subject that this entire time there was no scar!

How, then, did this poor subject see all of this mistreatment, prejudice, staring, gawking, disgust, which was all so apparent and visible in her interviewer?  Quite simply: She looked for it, and she found it! 

Looking for God's grace,

and finding it,

Mrs H

tweet us @_mrs_h for chewy nuggets
Pin us at Pinterest for pretty photos and intriguing articles
Follow us on Facebook for recipes, giveaways, and brilliant flashes of perspiration!

Closing thought: you may think that I am constantly finding money when I go running, but remember that I just pulled a few notable experiences - when I DID find money - from a long list of rather un-notable experiences ... the many thousands of times I've gone outside and NOT found money!   Looking back on my life, I see a string of beautiful events that worked out perfectly, and I discount the less felicitous things that I don't want to dwell on.  Again, we are looking for the exceptional, and we are finding it and choosing to ignore the unexceptional!  We are choosing to be narrow-minded ... And that's not all bad.  

Indian Fry Bread
This recipe is my absolute stand-by go-to lifesaver.  I adore it!  In fifteen minutes, a run-of-the-mill soup dinner goes from "OK" to "awesome!"  The chewy, fried breads are perfect for mopping up beef stew, curry, vegetable soup, spaghetti sauce, rice pudding, and anything else you can think of.  You can find the original recipe, as well as many other home-style treats, in Prairie Home Cooking.  

This will make 8 fry-breads
4 cups all-purpose flour or bread flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1-1/2 teaspoons salt
1-1/2 teaspoons canola oil, corn oil, or extra-virgin olive oil
Lukewarm water
Vegetable oil, for frying

Put a pan on the stove and pour in about an inch to two inches of oil and begin slowly heating it to about 350F.

Meanwhile, whisk together flour, baking powder, and salt.  Whisk in 1-1/2 teaspoons oil, and enough warm water to make a soft dough (I generally end up using a little over 1-1/2 cups total.  Add slowly).  Turn out the dough onto the counter and dust your hands with flour.  Knead the dough until it has some spring, about 5 minutes.

Cut or pinch the dough into 8 equal pieces and pan and stretch each ball into a round about 1/4" thick.

I added herbs to this dough (see variations below)
Fry the rounds in the hot oil, turning each one once, until puffy and golden - about 4 minutes total.  Remove with a slotted spoon or tongs and let drain on a paper towel.  Serve warm or at room temperature.

Variations: When whisking together the dry ingredients, mix in whatever flavors you like, such as ... 1-1/2 tablespoons Italian seasoning, cinnamon-sugar, chopped basil, coarse salt, etc.  Leave suggestions in the comment box below!

If you like this recipe, don't miss out on Fried Hobo Pockets with Hasty Dipping Sauce

Served with chicken tikka masala and raita (yogurt and cucumber sauce).
These fry breads were seasoned with almost two tablespoons of Italian seasoning!

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Memorizing Continued: A Giveaway!

Dear curious readers,

I recently reviewed His Word in my Heart here on the blog; the premise of the book is learning to memorize Scripture (even for those of us who can't remember what day it is, or in my case, much to the amusement of my husband, how old I am!).

As a part of the procedure, I use (as suggested in the book) a spiral-bound set of notecards, on which I write a verse; and when it is full, I flip it over and use the other side.

I now enjoy this method immensely.  I don't have time to sit down and memorize, but I do have time to put the note-cards on the counter, throw them in my purse, leave them on the passenger seat in the car - any time of day when my brain is not necessarily occupied, I glance at it and work on my verses.  It's easier, I've learned, to memorize passages instead of individual verses because in a chapter or Psalm, you can memorize the sequence, the story, the logical flow.  Scattered verses are harder to try to bring to memory.  But, Titus 1:1 prompts me to remember Titus 1:2, and so on down the line, until I have recited the entire first chapter with ease!  In this manner, I memorize approximately one verse a day.  It does take discipline - as ridiculous as it sounds, it is easier to sit in the car and passively listen to the radio, than to recite verses.  But guess what?  I am excited about memorizing!  That makes it enjoyable and rewarding, and so I don't mind having to work hard at all!

Additionally, at the bottom of each verse, after I have memorized it I put the date on it, so that when I flip through the book I can see how long it took me to memorize a given chapter.

You may be thinking to yourself that this sounds pretty doable, but you just don't have time to sit down and write out all the verses on the note-cards.  Or, you may be so busy bustling around that you don't really know when you'd get out to the drugstore or office store to buy some note-cards!  This is where my wonderful idea for the first blog giveaway comes in!

I purchased an extra set of note-cards like the one I showed you in my review blog:

You can very faintly see the date in the bottom-right corner of each of these cards!

A free giveaway!!  Win a copy of His Word in My Heart, and a spiral-ring of verses to memorize!
Now, here is what you need to do ... 

1.  Decide which passage or book you are interested in memorizing, as well as the version (KJV, NKJV, NIV...).  (If you are thinking of memorizing several short Psalms, list them all.)
2.  Post that in the comments below (i.e. Titus, Psalm 91, etc) and e-mail me your name and passage selection (andrea . globetrotter @ gmail . com).
3.  Wait for me to select one of the comments on February 22 - I will use to choose, so it will be completely arbitrary!!
4.  I'll then fill out the note-cards with your requested passage or book for you - one verse per card, and continuing on the reverse if the passage you chose is long enough!
5.  I'll get in touch with you by e-mail and either mail or deliver it to you, and you can start memorizing!

Best wishes!

Mrs H

The set of note cards is 50 sheets long, so with both sides we can do passages up to 100 verses.

Challenge yourself!  Don't be afraid!  And don't worry if you don't think Jude isn't your favorite book -  by memorizing a passage or book, you learn what is in it and realize why it was written, and it may very well become a favorite!  

Some suggested passages: 
Psalm 100 - 5 verses
Psalm 1 - 6 verses
I Corinthians 13 - 13 verses
Psalm 91 - 16 verses
Psalm 145 - 21 verses
Psalm 103 - 22 verses
Jude - 25 verses
Provers 31 - 31 verses
Titus - 46 verses
2 Peter - 61 verses
2 Timothy - 83 verses
Colossians - 95 verses

February 23, 2011: And the fortunate winner was the randomly selected #5, which was Amanda! She chose to memorize Proverbs 31 in the KJV.  She'll receive the book His Word in My Heart, some bookmarks, and an index-spiral filled out with the verses from Proverbs 31, ready to memorize! 

Congratulations, Amanda! 

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Me, Memorize? What a joke!

Dear readers and memory-impaired folk like myself,

You know how when you learn a new word that you've never heard before in your life (who knew schizothemia was a word!?) then suddenly you hear it about four times within the next week?  Okay, so I kind of doubt schizothemia will come up in the next casual conversation, unless you're the one broaching it.

But I digress.

It's the same way when something is moving in your heart that you need to begin; suddenly, prompters and reminders pop out from the proverbial woodwork, urging you from all sides to do something about what is on your heart.

I recently started coaching in JBQ (Junior Bible Quiz) and I enjoy seeing children memorize passages, chapters, and books of the Bible.  I was duly impressed with their skill, and thought how wonderful it would be if only I too could memorize!

My brain isn't broken, though, so why not memorize?  But I dismissed the idea; it seemed too difficult to memorize chapters and books of the Bible. That's a lot of words!

I thought to myself, maybe I can just memorize a verse or two?  Now, that was an absolute flop!  The verses wouldn't stick; I forgot them by the next day. "This isn't meant to be!"  Then our pastor preached a sermon out of a specific passage, and impressed upon us the importance of reading the verse within the context of the chapter!  "This is a commonly memorized and quoted verse," he said, "but the original meaning is often missed because we tend to forget the preceding verse."

Like my Pa says, A text without a context is a pretext!

It stirred in my heart that possibly I should be considering memorizing larger chunks of Scripture - but, remembering my failed attempt at memorizing one single verse, I soon forgot about this idea.

A few days later I attended a ladies' event and one of the women told me, with great excitement, that she had recently been inspired by Ann Voskamp to memorize the entire book of Colossians.  I almost shouted, "What's this, Lord - can I not escape You anywhere I go, even at a ladies' get-together!?"  These reminders were getting a little irritating!

When somebody starts lighting a fire underneath you, you eventually do one of two things: You sit there and burn, or you get off your rump and take action!

Earlier, before all of this rumbling, I had requested a book from Moody Publishers for review.  They sent me, free of charge, this book to review on the blog: His Word in my Heart, by Janet Pope

I hadn't read it yet, but after all of these preceding events, this book was the final straw.  I cracked it open and found it to be a book about memorizing Scripture - by the book, not by the verse!

I read it every morning after my devotions, and it didn't take long to get through it - it was so engaging I didn't want to put it down!

In the book, Janet tells her story - how she was getting a little ragged around the spiritual edges by dint of spending more time driving her kids all over creation than spending time with the Creator.  She wanted to remedy the problem, but she didn't want to sell her kids, so she decided to memorize Scripture so that she could meditate on it day and night!

In the book, Janet talks about a few good reasons to memorize scripture.

"No, the Bible does not command us to memorize Scripture.  But here are some of the commands and exhortations we do find:  Know God's Word. Remember His Word.  Do not forget His commandments.  Have His Word ready on our lips.  Meditate on His law day and night.  Dwell on Christ's words.  Store up His words.  Keep God's Word within our hearts... Memorizing is never the final goal, it is only a tool to help us reach the ultimate goal of knowing God and loving Him."

This book could not have come at a better time for me - what encouragement it is to be soaking up Scripture, pounding it into my brain, devouring this good meat as I prepare for my husband's departure to the Navy!  If you want to borrow my copy you may, but I would recommend eventually purchasing your own - I wrote all over this book!

Using the method she describes in the book, I made myself a little spiral-bound set of notecards began memorizing.  I was a bit nervous. 

I thought I might not actually memorize anything. But ...

So far, within the last few weeks, with diligent exercise and discipline, I have memorized Psalm 1 and the first chapter of Titus.  I am bound and determined to have the rest of the book of Titus memorized before long!

I have never been able to memorize or remember even the simplest things (ask Mr H, he'll tell you it's true!).  Memorizing Scripture isn't something I take lightly; and it isn't something that comes naturally or easily for me!

But it can be done.

Mrs H

Monday, February 7, 2011

Kitchen Understudy #2: Homemade Baking Powder

Dear mothers of small children who can't drop everything and run to the store every day,

Sometimes it's very convenient to be able to make things at home, be able to construct ingredients that are usually purchased pre-fab, from cheaper components that you already have laying around.  My father-in-law (the original Mr H) and I were discussing chemicals and ingredients in general, and he pointed out that "Everything is made up of the same basic chemicals, just more or less and in different combinations."

The magic key to making your own stuff is knowing how much more or less, and what different combinations to use!  This brings us to our important message of today: how to make baking powder!

More than once I have been at a friends' house, baking, and realized they had no baking powder ("I thought it was the same as baking soda!" they cry in disbelief, much to my chagrin).

In one respect, they are correct; baking soda and powder are both chemical leavening agents that build puffy, gassy bubbles in dough much faster than fast-acting yeast or sour starters do.  Hence, things like banana bread, Irish soda bread, and baking powder biscuits usually fall under the cookbook category of 'Quick Breads'.

Baking Soda (sodium bicarbonate, or alkali) is used in recipes with acidic ingredients it can interact with, like vinegars, lemon juice, buttermilk, non-Dutch processed cocoa, molasses, honey, and so on.  Baking soda is instant-acting and batters made with this leavener should always be baked immediately after mixing, with minimum stirring involved.

Baking Powder is a mixture of baking soda, an acid salt, and usually also a starch to absorb moisture so that the soda doesn't react with the dry ingredients until the wet components are added.  The acid salt can be cream of tartar or the less nutritiously desirable sodium aluminum sulfate.  The starch, which is technically optional, can be cornstarch - or arrowroot powder, if you are minimizing corn ingredients in your diet.

Double-acting Baking Powder is what you would buy in the grocery store, as prepared single-acting baking soda is generally only sold for commercial baking.  As the name indicates, double-acting baking powder leavens twice (hence the double-acting).  When the batter is initially mixed, there is the immediate acidic reaction with the wet ingredients of the batter and the baking soda, and carbon dioxide gas is produced.  The second reaction doesn't take place until the temperatures are elevated (that is to say the batter goes into the oven), and the gas cells expand and cause the batter to rise.  This is what happens in the overnight no-fuss coffeecake recipe.

Homemade Baking Powder (recipes below) is not double-acting - if you use homemade baking powder in a recipe I would recommend baking the batter right away and not delaying (so make sure you preheat the oven when you start mixing your ingredients!).

How long do these last in my cupboard?  
Baking Soda can sit in the cupboard, sealed, for an indefinite length of time.  If you are worried that it is too old and you want to test the effectiveness before mixing it into your ingredients, mix 1/4 teaspoon of soda with 2 teaspoons of vinegar.  It should bubble up immediately just like in science class.

Baking Powder should only sit in the cupboard for about six months; the components to homemade baking powder, however (soda, cream of tartar, arrowroot/cornstarch), can sit in the cupboard indefinitely so you can keep those handy and mix up smaller batches at a time. To test if baking powder is still active, mix 1 teaspoon powder with 1/2 cup hot water; it should bubble up immediately.

How much baking powder do I use in a recipe? 
If you are creating your own recipe, a good rule of thumb is 1 to 2 teaspoons baking powder to 1 cup of flour.  Too much baking powder, and the gas bubbles will expand too quickly and cause the batter to collapse in baking.  Too little baking powder, and there won't be enough gas bubbles and the batter will be dense and tough.

Aluminum-Free Baking Powder 
If you bought this at the grocery store, it would cost twice as much as regular baking powder.  Crazy, huh?  

Sodium bicarbonate: 1/4 cup baking soda
Acid Salt: 1/2 cup cream of tartar
Starch: 1/2 cup arrowroot powder or 1/4 cup cream of tartar (optional, and highly recommended especially if you are going to put this in your cupboard for storage)

Mix ingredients together and store in a cool, dry place.  I don't recommend storing unless you include the starch ingredient.

Good luck with your baking!  Do you know any handy recipes?  Please do share!

Mrs H

tweet us @_mrs_h for chewy nuggets
Pin us at Pinterest for pretty photos and intriguing articles
Follow us on Facebook for recipes, giveaways, and brilliant flashes of perspiration!

Friday, February 4, 2011

Interview: A Student of Literature

Thanks for reading this post, I'm so excited to visit with you!  
After you've gleaned all the good information you need, visit our new blog platform at to read even more fascinating tidbits from the kitchen and the fields. 

Dear fellow readers and conversationalists,

I love interviewing people; it's such a fun way to learn about somebody!  You don't have be Barbara Walters or meet a former president to find the opportunity to interview somebody - everybody has a fascinating inner life, some sort of story or idiosyncrasy to be explored, some knowledge about their field - be it changing diapers, the mechanics of housework, or past trips to Mars.

The following interview took place at my cousin's home in Seattle, Washington.

Name: Amanda
Previous Appearances: Billed as Mandatory, appears from time to time as kitchen assistant and helper extraordinaire
Age: 15
School: The living room
Earliest Memory: Passing out from fear that everyone was going to leave me behind, somewhere, when we were camping, I don't remember where [Montana]
Why we are interviewing her: Mandatory is a self-confessed bibliophile (a person who loves or collects books).  In 2010 she read 300 books; impressed by her accomplishment, we are here to discuss her love of reading, her thoughts on literature, and hear about her plan for 2011.

What is the first book you remember reading?
Shames me to say that it was the Cat in the Hat.  Shames me because I hate Dr. Seuss!  He makes up words for rhymes and that's so cheating, it's just cheating. Goes against my grain.

How many books did you read in 2010?

Where do you find all these books to read - titles, authors, recommendations?
I look at the authors that people compared the books [I've read] to, and [at the] library; I troll bookstores and pick up anything that looks interesting - and I take recommendations. I also look up lists online; Google "100 best books ever written" or "50 books you've probably never read," something like that.

Do you buy your books, or borrow them from the library?
I prefer to buy, but I borrow if I see something that catches my eye.

How big is your personal library?
I could look up the exact number - somewhere around the 400s.  I like to buy books because I like to re-read them whenever I want to, and I like to lend them to people that I want to have read them, and because I totally love books and they are very shiny, I just like having a tangible something I can look up.

You realize that you sound like Gollum.
Yeah. It borders on obsession, yes.

Do you like like e-readers, like the Nook or Kindle?
They're useful. I much, much prefer having actual books though. I can see the definite benefits in having [e-readers] but I'm old school. I wouldn't be against using one.  

What would make you want to re-read a book - what kind of story, what setting?
If the story was really good, obviously; if it's well written. Or if it's just a book that I read a long time ago and I remembered it was interesting.

What do you mean when you say a story is 'really good'? What would make a good story?
Lots of action - I mean, stories that are just describing the beautiful sunset are kind of boring. It has to have a good plot; something to keep you interested even on the boring part; characters that are real people instead of [the author just] telling you what they look like.

What do you think about pulp fiction, like Nancy Drew? Do you read or own any?
I don't think I have any ... Well, I've probably read quite a bit; usually it's ... well, I don't like to read a book if it's not well written, so usually I tend to avoid them, I don't know if I have any.

I guess the obvious question right now is, are you a speed reader?
... I read fast. "Speed reader" usually implies lots of skimming; and I do skim on occasion. But I just read quickly.

How long does it take you to read a book, say, the length of War and Peace?
I can tell you how long it took me to read War and Peace (laughs). Eleven days.

Was that reading all day, every day?
I usually read about 100 pages every night, maybe more. [War and Peace] is only like 1,400 pages.

How long would you be reading at night?
Maybe 2 hours, 'cause it was very thick reading.

How long would it take you to read a really engaging book, such as the books by Terry Pratchett?
Those books are usually about 300 pages long; [It would take] like 2 - 3 hours. If I was really into it.

How does reading so fast affect your re-reading - do you feel like you remember [what you read]?
I have pretty good comprehension, but sometimes I go back and read a book and I don't even remember a scene.  I think I remember most of what I read; I mean, to a human extent.

Do you consider yourself conversational on most books you read? Say, could you discuss a plot from last year.
Maybe; well, it depends on how much I liked the book.

Let's say; Poison Study? Could you discuss that?
Well I read it three times last year, so I could discuss that. I could probably discuss a book I read last year unless it was dead boring.

When you look at all the books over the past year, do you see a theme in what you were reading?
Lots of fantasy for sure; but I also really enjoy classics. Lots of British literature.

What attracts you to fantasy? Why do you like it?
I'm not sure; maybe its 'cause I really like the medieval setting and there are not many books about actual medieval life. I like dragons, so that plays a part of it; and I started out with Lord of the Rings so I guess I just went on with the theme. And I like swords.

And what do you like about British literature? 
I like the humor; the old, really dry humor. They usually use long words, which I like. And, I like reading books that lots of people have read because then it's, I think it's called taking part in the Great Conversation - you know, when you read the really good books that are popular.

Is there a book that you read all the way through, and felt it was a winner, and then the last chapter ruined it for you?  And What is the worst book you ever read - a book you would rather throw away than keep on your shelf?
I don't think I've really read any book like that, usually if a book is bad I can tell from the start.  Well ... Twilight was pretty bad. Twilight was really bad. I'm glad I didn't buy that one. We aren't really gonna go into that. Don't know any other books - that I've read recently, anyway - that are that bad. Oh, there was one, I don't remember what it was called; The Naming of the Dragon or something, and it turned out to be a romance novel.

What makes a book? Tolkien-esqe action, or Jane Austen social analysis? 
Well, the most important thing is that it's well written. Because if you have a great plot and you can't write worth a hill of beans then no one's going to read your book. If you have a kinda lousy plot and you write fantastic then its still going to sell.

Are you that person that, when they visit a house, sits and reads in the corner the whole time?
*thinks* I can be one of those people. I usually try not to be. But I usually want to be. If it's a party where everyone is doing something like playing a game that I don't want to do, I'll read a book.

Ever have a book so good you drag it everywhere?
Yes, I have done that. Usually people know to just leave me alone if I don't reply after the first few times.

Do people ever harass you about your reading - say you should be more social?
Not really. They harass me about it in other ways .... such as .... bringing up my reading speed as often as they can. Or, you know when you do something, like you [Mrs H] like to cook, and everyone makes a joke about it.

What is the most depressing subject ever to read about?
Mental disorders.

They say great writers were first great readers. Do you write?
Hm, I don't write very much. I used to write, Hm! Reading all those great works sort of depressed me.

What author influences your writings the most, and in what way?  
Probably Tolkien.  Definitely the language; and, well [I] would probably [write] fantasy, 'cause that's what I know.

With all your reading experience, you've developed a great filter for picking out fine literature.  Would you consider creating a career out of reading - working at a publishing house as an editor?
I would love to be an editor. That would be awesome.

Do you read multiple books at one time?
Yes.  I read as many as 10 books at a time.

What books are you currently reading?
I'm actually only reading one book right now, a Star Wars novel.

Are you going to try to one-up yourself this year and read over 300 books?

Do you set a goal? Or do you just read?  
Last year I didn't set a goal until about November, and then I saw I could read 300 [books] in a year.  But this year I'm gonna see if I can hit 365 just for the heck of it. Lots of really skinny books in my future.

You can also try to beat page counts, not just titles.
Yes.  [Last year Mandatory read 84,652 pages].

You can follow Mandatory's obsession with books at her site, Being a Bibliophile.  Explore her library, her consumed literature for this year, and her recommended books.

Thanks for enjoying our conversation together!  I'll meet you back here at the kitchen table for more chats very, very soon.

Mrs H

Extra: Mandatory's Top Rated Books

1. Anna Karenina - Leo Tolstoy
2. The Boy in the Striped Pajamas - John Boyne
3. The Han Solo Trilogy - AC Crispin
4. The Lord of the Rings Trilogy - JRR Tolkien
5. The Silmarillion - JRR Tolkien
6. Poison Study - Maria V Snyder
7. The Inheritance Cycle - Christopher Paolini
8. Guards! Guards! - Terry Pratchet
9. Anne of Green Gables - LM Montgomery
10. The Naming - Alison Croggon
11. Ender's Game - Orson Scott Card
12. The Harry Potter Series - JK Rowling
13. The Mistborn Trilogy - Brandon Sanderson (READ IT READ IT)
14. The Hyperion Cantos - Dan Simmns
15. A Series of Unfortunate Events - Lemony Snicket

Bonus Interview: Asking Mandatory fun questions about some of her favorite books.  

What is your favorite book of this past year? 
Can it be a series?


Off the top of your head, without even thinking, what is your favorite book of all time; or favorite series?
Lord of the Rings.  Closely followed by Harry Potter, that was good. Discworld was good.

If you had to decide any of the Lord of the Rings books to be unwritten, which would it be?
Counting the histories?

Not if that makes it too easy.
I would say Fellowship of the Ring.

And why?
Because it sets up too much, it doesn't really have any of the plot twists or anything; I think if you read the last two [books in the trilogy] you could sort of figure [it] out ..

You have to decide: one of them never picked up the pen - CS Lewis or Tolkien?
Well, C.S. Lewis

Have you considered writing a sequel to the LOTR trilogy?
No, I've written fan fiction, but ... never a sequel, I mean what would there be.

In the Redwall series - what would happen to you if it came out that Martin the Warrior was a bad guy? How would you re-read the books?
Ha ha.  It would be a lot more sinister, him appearing in dreams and all. It would be much creepier. Especially him guiding all the dibbuns. Very disturbing.

Who is the Tolkien "Fabio"?
If we were going by charming, I don't know if there is anyone really charming .... (shakes head). 

What is a character you would like to be out of a book?
Does it have to be a girl?

Okay; I am going to have to go with the most obvious answer of all time and say Aragorn, because he has the sweetest sword.

How do you feel about 3-D novels?
Just kidding! 

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

In Which We Have Neighbors, and Coffeecake

Dear watchful friends,

We live in an area of town that could be loosely described as "sketchy" - around the block from a halfway house, next door to a former drug den, and a half mile from downtown with all of the bustling things that come with a downtown area.  This is a good place to live because there is always somebody nearby that needs our ministering! There's no need for a Christian to live in a Christian neighborhood.

We've had some interesting interactions with our neighbors; once the gal next door wanted to borrow my cell phone so she could call her boyfriend and convince him she wasn't cheating on him, like, at all (I don't think it worked, I haven't seen him since).

Another time the lady upstairs rushed down to my apartment and frantically asked if she could borrow our toilet plunger (I wondered, when I got it back, if I should throw it away and get a new one - but I figured it's just going back in our toilet, so how much grosser can it get, really!?).

Most recently, a friend of our neighbor came over and asked if I could get her keys off my back porch - her boyfriend had apparently gotten mad at her and threw them on to our deck so she couldn't get them. "They're the ones with the little alarm button on them," she said, as if there were multiple sets of keys laying on my deck!

I've always made sure to rip our sensitive information into little shreds when I throw it out, or take it to our parents' house to be shredded in the high-tech wood-burning shredder they have.  This was always just because I was diligently following the admonishments one always hears to prevent identity theft - but who would ever look at our trash?!  As it turns out, when I was walking past our dumpster the other day I saw a man rooting through it who did not live in our four-plex.  I don't know if he was looking for cans to sell or identities to steal, but I was glad I was always careful to rip up credit card applications and insurance advertisements and everything else with our name on it.

Perhaps the most interesting occurrence of late was when I came home from working out and there was a car parked in my parking slot.  Not a big deal - our neighbors park there all the time, and it's just a matter of knocking on doors until you find who owns the car and asking them to move it.  Okay, so that does get annoying; but it's not unusual, to say the least.

This time, nobody knew who owned the car.  Mr H came out and looked at it and commented that it looked like a stolen vehicle.  It had out-of-state plates, the car mats were all flipped up and the contents of the car scattered all over the place, and most tellingly, the stereo system was ripped out.

Mr H was leaving to go work out, so I went inside and contacted the authorities and told them our suspicions.     Sure enough, it was a stolen car; the family picked it up shortly thereafter.

No matter where we live, excitement seems to find us - and I wouldn't have it any other way, of course!

Anything interesting happen to you lately?  Let's hear it!

Mrs H

No-Fuss Coffeecake
This is a shared recipe from one of my absolute favoritest blogs in the world, the King Arthur Flour blog (I love EVERYTHING I have tried from their blog - from gluten-free bread to this delicious coffeecake!) 
P J Hamel, the KAF blogger, suggested making this coffeecake for Christmas Day breakfast, because you can assemble it the night before and bake it in the morning.  I did exactly that - and made it for New Year's Day, as well!  It was a five-star treat.  Perhaps it is our new tradition! 
You can vary the topping ingredients as much as you like based on your taste, but the suggested one works quite splendidly. 

This is the King Arthur Flour photo - I forget to take a
 picture every time I make this! 

12 tablespoons butter
1 cup white sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar, light or dark, packed
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon strong flavor, such as butter-rum, vanilla-butternut, etc; or 1 teaspoon vanilla
2 large eggs
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup sour cream or yogurt (low fat is fine)

Streusel Topping: 
3/4 cup brown sugar, packed
3/4 cup chopped walnuts or pecans (optional - if you don't use these, add equal amount of chips)
1 cup chips (1 -3/4 cup chips if you don't use the nuts), a single kind or a mixture - chocolate, butterscotch, cinnamon, cappuccino, white chocolate, peanut butter ... I used more chips than the recipe calls for :) it was Christmas, after all! 
Optional: I mixed in some butter

Cake: In a large mixing bowl, beat together the butter, sugars, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, and flavor, mixing until smooth.

Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition.  Add the flour alternately with the sour cream or yogurt, stirring to combine.

Pour batter into a greased 9x13" baking pan.

Topping: Combine topping ingredients, stirring to combine.  Sprinkle the topping over the batter in the pan.  If you are adding berries, don't put these on until the morning, just before baking.  

Cover pan with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight.

The next morning, take cake out of fridge and preheat oven to 350F.  Remove the plastic wrap (!) and bake for 40 - 45 minutes, until it's golden brown on top.  Serve for a very special birthday, holiday, or just for a big fun breakfast.



Related Posts with Thumbnails