Inspiration: November

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Happy November!

I have really been enjoying the calm that November has brought to my life.  Now that the marching band/football season is over, I’m taking time to catch my breath and regroup before the holiday craziness begins.  It feels good to be eating suppers with my family again, baking cookies that disappear as soon as they come out of the oven, and cozying up my home for the cooler temperatures.  I’m also spending some time wandering around the Webosphere, seeking out inspiration to ignite my burned-out creative fire or boost my flagging gratitude.  Below are some of my favorite discoveries.  Maybe you’ll discover a bit of something that lights your fire, too.

Enjoy!

  1. Ashley Woodson Bailey.  A fellow flower lover who creates photographs with her iPhone that are reminiscent of the Dutch masters.
  2. Travel Destinations.  Yes, please!
  3. Vocabulary Expansion.  My favorites: Waldeinsamkeit, Komorebi, and Goya.
  4. A Fun (and short!) History Lesson.  I think an occasional duvet day would be delicious…
  5. A Timely Reminder.  I’ll be focusing on 1, 5, 6.
  6. Vivian Maier here and here.  It’s quite a story of an unknown but gifted film photographer who took pictures for the simple pleasure of it and captured history in the process.
  7. Somewhere Over the Rainbow – Kate Davis, Guy Mintus, and Gabe Schnider.  Wow.  Just wow.  (If the video annoys you, just listen to the music.)

Anything inspiring you on the Web these days?  I’d love to hear about it.

A Little Story

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Once upon a time, there was a song.  It was a fun, lighthearted song.  The tune was catchy and the music video was campy.  Many, many people liked it.

This is that song:

However, that little song became stuck in over-played pop music purgatory and grew sad because it knew it could be

so

much

more

than a Top 40 pop tune.

One day, a talented and very creative musician named Scott Bradlee happened upon the little ditty.  He saw past the pedestrian exterior to the real potential hidden beneath the surface.  He took the song and spiffed it right up with some classic jazz piano and cool percussion played by David Tedeschi. To complete the transformation, he added an upright bass and an exquisite bassist named Kate Davis.  In the hands of these magicians musicians, magic happened.  The song shimmered and sparkled and truly became “all about that bass”.

The result is a small piece of perfection:

Having surpassed its wildest dreams, the little song lived happily ever after.

And once I heard it, so did I.

(Warning: This song gets in your head and Does. Not. Leave.  Listen at your own risk.)

Maisie Dobbs

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To fulfill the Cozy Mystery requirement of the Eclectic Reader Challenge, I was originally going to review Maisie Dobbs by Jacqueline Winspear.  Since that time (several months ago), I’ve read six more books in the series and am currently reading book #8, A Lesson in Secrets.  At this point, Maisie and I are practically on a first name basis.  Discussing just one book feels like a cop-out; I would much rather gush about the whole series.  Thank you for indulging me…

Maisie Dobbs is a psychologist and private investigator living in London in the late 1920’s in the aftermath of the first world war.  Her own story is as interesting as the crimes she solves and more is revealed about her with each new mystery she investigates.  Not only is Maisie smart, she uses some unusual techniques to discern the truth.  She is adept at deep mediation, she practices posture mimicking to discern the feelings of her clients and the people she interviews, she uses some interesting tactics such as dowsing to help her locate clues, and she relies heavily on her intuition (which borders on the supernatural) to guide her investigations.  Maisie is a deep thinker and a very private person yet struggles with loneliness and longs for companionship.  I’ve enjoyed watching her grow and mature throughout the series.

Beyond liking Maisie, I’m drawn to this mystery series for several other reasons.  The plots are imaginative and intriguing and are always related to WWI in some way.  The recurring supporting characters such as Maisie’s assistant Billy Beale, her father Frankie, her mentor Maurice Blanche and her friend Priscilla provide depth, fertile material for sub-plots and continuity to the series.  The settings of London and the surrounding countryside satisfy the Anglophile in me. The history of the era is well-researched and permeates the stories in every aspect from fashion to social culture to politics. And, on top of all this, Jacqueline Winspear’s writing is a pleasure to read: artfully descriptive, empathetic to the human condition and compelling. Combine all these qualities together and the result is a fun, fascinating and informative reading experience.

I was destined to love this series.  It is excellent historical fiction written around a heroine I can rally behind in a time period I enjoy. The books are not heavy or difficult to read and I’ve been gravitating toward them when I find myself in need of escape from my frazzled life.  For this very reason, I’ve been spending a lot of time with Maisie lately.

I don’t know that the Maisie Dobbs series really satisfies the requirements of the Cozy Mystery genre.  Maisie is a professional sleuth, after all, who is usually employed by strangers and who travels a great deal to solve her mysteries.  What I do know is that when I read these books, I want to curl up in the leather chair in my living room with a snuggly blanket, a lazy cat and a steaming cup of tea and read the afternoon away.

And that, dear friends, is cozy enough for me.

Maisie Dobbs

{ via goodreads }

My progress in The Eclectic Reader Challenge:

  • Award Winning
  • True Crime (Non Fiction) – In Cold Blood by Truman Capote 4.5/5 stars
  • Romantic ComedyBridget Jones’s Diary by Helen Fielding  3/5 stars
  • Alternate History Fiction
  • Graphic NovelPersepolis by Marjane Satrapi  5/5 stars
  • Cozy Mystery Fiction – Maisie Dobbs by Jacqueline Winspear 4/5 stars
  • Gothic Fiction
  • War/Military Fiction
  • Anthology
  • Medical Thriller Fiction
  • Travel (Non Fiction)
  • Published in 2014

 

Weekly Photo Challenge: Signs

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I’m removing my nose from the grindstone for a few seconds to participate in the newest Weekly Photo Challenge.  It’s all about signs.  My interpretation of the Challenge was spotted on the way up to Pike’s Peak in Colorado Springs.  Sadly, this is probably the closest I’ll ever get to Big Foot.

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Best-Ever Oatmeal Cookies

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     There is something wonderful about discovering that someone or something is better than I expected.  To illustrate my point, I’m sharing a cookie recipe that at first glance seems rather ordinary.  When I first discovered it in the May 2003 issue of Parenting magazine, I was underwhelmed.  A plain Jane oatmeal cookie with no spices, fruit, nuts, or chips and only a hint of almond flavoring (which I don’t even like) to jazz things up – why should I even waste my time?  But the cookie’s hefty title kept nagging at me; I couldn’t let it rest until I found out why these particular oatmeal cookies were the “best-ever”.  After baking the first of many batches, I realized I needed to raise the bar on my idea of simple oatmeal cookies because the goodies coming out of my oven were anything but boring.

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     Everything about these mellow morsels is pleasantly surprising.  The dough is ridiculously easy to put together and the ingredients are probably already in your kitchen.  (Unless, of course, you are like me and have to make a special trip to the grocery store to pick up that exotic almond extract).  The cookies bake up really airy, are just sweet enough, and have a wonderful chewy texture.  And the almond extract, which I originally wrinkled my nose at, is the ingredient that I think takes these cookies from ordinary to extraordinary.

     Now, let’s be honest.  Best-Ever Oatmeal Cookies are not showy, frou-frou, center-stage cookies for baby showers and Christmas parties.  They are humble workhorse cookies meant for snacks after naptime and school and for lunch boxes and road trips and days at the beach.  They have no aspirations to be anything but utilitarian and that’s OK.  They can handle the ordinary every day cookie responsibilities – dipping in milk or hot chocolate, sandwiching a scoop of vanilla ice cream, popping in someone’s mouth straight from the oven or later from the cookie jar – and they do it with delicious grace.

    Go on.  Give them a try.  And be prepared to be pleasantly surprised.

Best-Ever Oatmeal Cookies (adapted from Cynthia Philips, Parenting May 2003)

1 cup brown sugar

1 cup white sugar

1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter

1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

1/2 teaspoon almond extract

2 eggs

2 cups quick-cooking oatmeal

1 teaspoon baking soda

2 cups flour

1. Preheat your oven to 350°F.  Cream both sugars, butter, vanilla and almond extract in a bowl for 2-3 minutes until pale and fluffy.  Add the eggs, one at a time, and mix well.

2. Mix the oatmeal, baking soda, and flour in a separate bowl; add to the butter and sugar mixture and stir together until everything is incorporated into the dough completely.

3. Drop the dough by teaspoonfuls onto ungreased baking sheets.*  Bake approximately 12 minutes, or until lightly browned around the edges.  Cool cookies slightly before removing them from the cookie sheet.  Cool completely on cooling racks.

Yields approximately 3 1/2 dozen cookies.

*I like to use parchment paper when I’m baking cookies.  It keeps the bottoms of the cookies from getting too dark, they don’t stick to the baking sheet and clean-up is a breeze.

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In Cold Blood

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You would never know it from my blog postings, but I’ve been mowing through the Eclectic Reader Challenge.  I now have five genres completed and sixth one started.  This translates into three books waiting patiently for their moment in the spotlight here at Whimsey Pie.  Over the next few days, I’m going to try to highlight all of them; I have a brief break in classes and want to mentally tidy up before diving back into school.  Besides, I am refusing myself permission to read any more books related to the Challenge until I catch up with my reviews.  Because I want to get reading, I need to get writing.

Let’s get things started with In Cold Blood, by Truman Capote, my choice for the True Crime category of the challenge.

 In Cold Blood

 { via goodreads }

The village of Holcomb stands on the high wheat plains of western Kansas, a lonesome area that other Kansans call “out there”.  Some seventy miles east of the Colorado border, the countryside, with its hard blue skies and desert-clear air, has an atmosphere that is rather more Far West than Middle West.  The local accent is barbed with a prairie twang, a ranch-hand nasalness, and the men, many of them, wear narrow frontier trousers, Stetsons, and high-heeled boots with pointed toes.  The land is flat and awesomely extensive; horses, herds of cattle, a cluster of grain elevators rising gracefully as Greek temples are visible long before a traveler reaches them.

In this small western town, on the evening of November 15, 1956, Richard”Dick” Hickock and Perry Edward Smith enter the of home of Herbert Clutter, with the anticipation of finding a large chunk of money waiting for them in Herbert’s office safe.  When they realize the safe is empty (Herbert never kept large amounts of cash at home) they tie him up, along with his wife, and his two children still living at home and shoot each of them in the head with a shotgun.  The murderers flee to Mexico and then Florida before they are finally arrested six weeks later.  At their trials, they are convicted of mass murder even though they both plead temporary insanity and are executed by hanging five years later at the Kansas State Penitentiary.

It is this seemingly senseless crime that propels Truman Capote to Holcomb where he takes the quadruple murder and its consequences and turns it into one of the very first (and very best) true crime novels in existence. To research the crime, he (with the help of his friend Harper Lee) interviewed townspeople from Holcomb, policemen and investigators and even Hickock and Smith; it is believed that he wrote over eight thousand pages of notes.  The end result is a book six years in the making that paints a thorough and sympathetic picture of the crime, its setting, the events that surround it and its participants – victims and criminals alike.

In Cold Blood is dark and disturbing, yet I really enjoyed reading it.  Capote’s meticulous research is obvious, his detailed portraits of the killers are thought provoking and his writing is superb (as you can see for yourself above).  I highly recommend this book for readers of all kinds.

My progress in The Eclectic Reader Challenge:

  • Award Winning
  • True Crime (Non Fiction) – In Cold Blood by Truman Capote 4.5/5 stars
  • Romantic ComedyBridget Jones’s Diary by Helen Fielding  3/5 stars
  • Alternate History Fiction
  • Graphic NovelPersepolis by Marjane Satrapi  5/5 stars
  • Cozy Mystery Fiction
  • Gothic Fiction
  • War/Military Fiction
  • Anthology
  • Medical Thriller Fiction
  • Travel (Non Fiction)
  • Published in 2014

The Small Joys of Summer

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Here in the US, Memorial Day weekend marks the unofficial start to the summer season.  This past winter wore me down for more reasons than just the weather, so I’ve been looking forward to summer even more than usual this year. In anticipation of the pleasures that lie before us, I’ve made a little list of the small things I relish during these warm and verdant months of the year. I must thank the Daily Post and Anna Fonté at girl in the hat for the inspiration for this post.  It was great fun and now I’m dying to get this summer thing started!

Small Joys of Summer

strawberries

the baking sun on my skin

the cool, dark shade of a tree

peonies

hydrangeas

plump, industrious bumble bees covered with pollen

hummingbirds

steak and onion kebabs on the grill

anything on the grill, really

eating al fresco every chance I get

watermelon

sweet corn with lots of butter and salt

peaches

homemade vanilla ice cream (preferably with strawberries)

brain-freezing Coke Slushies

bare feet or

flip flops

painted toenails

the smell of freshly cut grass

dips in the pool on a blistering day

biking, swimming, paddling

talking around the campfire

fireworks on the Fourth of July

picnics of all kinds – must include potato chips

free outdoor concerts

baseball games

lightening bugs at dusk

thunderstorms

Relaxing on the porch late at night (with or without thunderstorms, but hopefully with strawberries)

 

DSC_4274-2Should anything be added to the list?  Please let me know.

 

Weekly Photo Challenge: On Top

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Two fluffy, grey and white brothers named Jesse and Sam joined our family almost two years ago.  They spend a lot of time on top of things.  It’s what they do.  The photos for this challenge are of Jesse, who is the bigger, lazier, and my kids would say dumber brother.  I don’t know about dumb, but goofy?  Definitely!

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See what else is “on top” at the Weekly Photo Challenge.

 

Weekly Photo Challenge: Monument

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The National Memorial Arch in Valley Forge National Historic Park stands as a testament to the fortitude and perseverance of George Washington and the soldiers of the Continental Army during the winter of 1777-1778.  That winter was a deadly but pivotal time for the men of The Revolution.  Even in the midst of bitter cold and near starvation, they were able to rally under the passionate direction of Baron Otto von Steuben.  Because of the time spent at Valley Forge, the Continental Army ultimately defeated one of the most powerful forces in the world and finally gained the freedom they suffered and fought so long and hard for.

The Memorial was designed by Paul Phillipe Cret to resemble the Triumphal Arch of Titus in Rome (81 AD).  Originally, arches were planned for von Steuben and Washington, but lack of funding kept von Steuben’s memorial on the drawing board.   The remaining arch that honors Washington and his army is an impressive monument on its own.  It’s made all the more imposing by it’s situation on a hill and the open fields, gentle woods and tiny huts that surround it.  We visited the park on one of the hottest, most humid days of last summer so the irony of our situation was almost too much too bear.  We were actually praying for just a flake or two of the snow those soldiers endured for months so long ago!

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For more information about the National Memorial Arch or Valley Forge National Historic Park, wander over here.

And, if you would like to see other impressive monuments, wander over here.

Happy browsing!

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