Book review: The Hermit of Eyton Forest by Ellis Peters

The Hermit of Eyton Forest (Chronicles of Brother Cadfael #14)The Hermit of Eyton Forest by Ellis Peters
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I have been slowly but faithfully making my way through this series, which is so wonderful. (I am going to be really sad when I’ve finished them all.) I’ve taken only to reviewing ones that are unusual or resonated with me beyond the normal “I love this series” feeling.
This book is one that stood out, not so much for the quality of the mystery but because it gives great insight into how the medieval world valued honor and loyalty. There isn’t much of the medieval world that I’d trade for what we have today (medical care and standard of living come instantly to mind), but I think we could do well to emulate their code of honor.
At any rate, the musings towards the end of the book of the main characters, Brother Cadfael and Hugh Beringar, about what constitutes loyalty and honor are a good reminder of the values we should all live our own lives by.

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Hawaii (without the kids)

Somehow, we always gravitate to Hawaii when deciding where to go on our annual without-the-kids vacation. As a reminder, the goal of this vacation is a yearly exercise as to remember who the other person across the breakfast table is as planning for the day that we become empty nesters. Our joint requirement is that it be somewhere warm. Jim’s requirement is that there be things to do and good restaurants to eat in.
This stay was our most mellow visit to date. Most of the week was completely unplanned (including dinners!). We went for long walks around Diamondhead, spent time at the pool, watched the sun set over Waikiki, and saw the fireworks that happen every Friday evening. We didn’t even do any house/condo-hunting!! (You, too, are free to join in the great family debate and choose to be either part of Team House or Team Condo.)
The only downside of the trip was that Marcus went down with the flu while we were there. We offered to come back early, but he was insistent that all he really needed was Advil and Sprite—both of which were in plentiful supply at our house.
This photo of us makes me look like an alien, which only confirms Jim’s theory…

In the meantime, enjoy the scenery of one of the most beautiful places on earth!

Christmas in Hawaii (oh, and a wedding too!)

Once again, both children’s school calendars cooperated, and we were able to get away the week before Christmas to Hawaii for just over a week. The daughter’s finals schedule ended the same day as the son’s school break started, and we all met up in San Francisco before flying out to Honolulu.
In addition, Jim’s brother and fiancee got married while we were there, and her children also flew out to join them for their happy day. It was a beautiful ceremony at a beautiful place, on the beach at Sherwood Forest, with waves crashing in the background. We wish them a long and happy life together!
In a case of miraculous timing, we also got to meet up and have lunch with close friends the day we were departing back home, and they were taking a cruise through the islands.
As has become typical for us, we ate our way through Honolulu. Highlights include Chef Mavro, The Pig & the Lady (for pho French dip), Yauatcha (for dim sum), and Uncle Clay’s House of Pure Aloha (for shave ice).

with “Uncle Clay”

It was cold there (for Hawaii), sometimes dipping down into the mid-60s(!). We did not complain.
There is something about Hawaii that rejuvenates our souls and makes us feel like we belong. It is also a place of transcendent beauty. Photos do not do it justice, but I still had to try.

Honolulu Christmas lights

at Orchids (in the Halekulani) for Christmas Eve brunch

Waikiki

Waikiki at sundown

Book review: Her Royal Spyness by Rhys Bowen

Her Royal Spyness (Her Royal Spyness Mysteries, #1)Her Royal Spyness by Rhys Bowen
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is my first experience with the author, and it was an enjoyable one. The book takes place in early 1900s England, which is a period of British history that I usually don’t dabble in (it’s a bit recent for me). However, this was a fun romp of a read. The narrator and main character, Lady Georgiana, is a minor royal and has the worst of both worlds–a family reputation to uphold without any money to do so. She’s spirited, irreverent, bright and with no marketable skills. The queen asks her to do some digging into the relationship between her son, Prince David, and a Mrs. Wallis Simpson. In the course of doing the queen’s bidding, there are multiple attempts to kill Georgie. A mystery ensues that is ably solved by Georgie (with the help of a few coincidences).
I’d call this a fun beach read, except that it’s frigidly cold outside. So call this a lighthearted read, perfect when curled up in your favorite chair in front of the fireplace with a piping hot mug of tea beside you. I look forward to reading the next book in the series!

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Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

As is typical for us, our snail mail holiday cards are late (well, definitely late for Christmas, possibly late for New Year’s, especially if your last name starts with the letter z).  🙂

For those who are not into delayed gratification, this is the electronic version of our holiday greetings.  Best wishes for 2018!

And our christmas letter 2017

Thanksgiving 2017

We sat 41 people for dinner for Thanksgiving this year. Well, technically, 37 adults (if you include one 16 year old velociraptor) and 4 kids under 10.

The menu was as follows:
Thai pumpkin soup with gougeres
Smoked turkey
Roasted turkey with confit legs
Stock-braised turkey legs
Deep fried turkey
Roasted pork shoulder
Roast duck
Roasted beets with chimichurri sauce
Skillet roasted Brussel sprouts with mustard and brown sugar
Chickpea, arugula, and picked carrot salad
Sweet potato and star fruit chaat
Mom’s stuffing (that’s Jim’s mom, obviously)
Mashed potatoes
Orange cranberry sauce
Kimchi
Rice
Gravy
Hawaiian dinner rolls
Chocolate pumpkin cheesecake
Blackberry pie
Apple pie
Pumpkin spice cake

If there is a term for exhausted and stuffed at the end of a meal (stuffausted? exuffed?), that’s what we were. Thankfully, Jim’s nephew, Robert, came to help cook, and Robert’s girlfriend, Victoria, made the pumpkin spice cakes. (We had two of each dessert.)
And since Thanksgiving is all about thankfulness, I would like to say that we are extraordinarily thankful for our family and friends, who celebrate with us in good times and sustain us in bad times.
We hope your Thanksgiving was equally festive!

Thai pumpkin soup

traditional day-after-Thanksgiving sticky buns

 

 

Eagle Project: Part I

On a fortuitously cloudy but not rainy Sunday (November 5), Marcus and about a dozen of his friends embarked on Part I of his Eagle Scout project, which was to build a shed and water catchment system for a church in Purcellville, Virginia. The project took the better part of the day, but by the end of the day, both projects were completed.
There were certain conclusions to be drawn from this part of the project:
1. Boys, whatever the age, mostly eat like velociraptors.
2. Pizza is always acceptable nourishment to the aforementioned velociraptors.
3. Young boys (below the age of 12) and power tools are a combustible combination (fortunately, there were no trips to the emergency room—my only goal).
4. Boy Scouts are more punctual than school friends (unless school friends are also Boy Scouts).

Nonetheless, Part I was a great success!

project management

the new shed!

water catchment system

shingling the roof

all done!!

Note: the full Eagle Project is on behalf of the Saint Isidore Project (www.isidoreproject.org). Part II is to assemble garden-in-a-box kits and convince various houses of worship that their lovely country club lawns might be put to better use by creating a garden to grow food for the poor.  Stay tuned!

Parent Potluck 2017

One of the lovely traditions at the kids’ school is that of parent potlucks. During the fall, various parents volunteer to host potlucks at their homes for the parents of the grade. We always try to host at least one, but sometimes schedules get in the way.
After not being able to host last year, we did host one this year for our son’s grade. Jim is opposed to potlucks as a concept and since he likes to cook, we cook the entire dinner. Guests are asked to bring their favorite bottle of wine to donate to the school’s auction.
This past weekend was a rather hectic one. Both Jim and I had board meetings followed by a wedding and reception on Saturday. The day of the potluck was also the day of Part 1 of our son’s Eagle Scout project (more on that in a subsequent blog post). But we managed to fit it all in (although I’ve never seen 2:00 am before on a day where the clocks were moved back—a new experience).

The menu was as follows:
cheese, pate, & crackers
cucumber & carrot salad
chickpea, arugula, & picked carrots salad
tossed salad
fruit salad
beef bourguignon
spicy shrimp
buttered baby potatoes
baguettes
steamed rice
apple pie

We had four couples over for dinner, some we knew and some we didn’t (which is a perfect combination). It was a fun evening with great conversation and some memorable moments.

 

Book review: A Perilous Undertaking by Deanna Raybourn

A Perilous Undertaking (Veronica Speedwell, #2)A Perilous Undertaking by Deanna Raybourn
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Profound relief was my first reaction after reading the first half of the book. I was disappointed that one of my favorite authors (whose Lady Julia Grey mystery series I love) had created a heroine that I took an immense dislike to in the first book of the series (“A Curious Beginning”): the know-it-all, smug, and arrogant Veronica Speedwell. In this second installment of the series, Veronica has mellowed out significantly and while still opinionated and sometimes difficult, is *much* more likable and sympathetic. The series is narrated in the first person by Veronica, and in this book, she is more self-aware and less self-absorbed, to the benefit of the reader.
The other main character of the series, Stoker (short for Ravenstoke Templeton-Vane) is also less irascible, more sympathetic, and more likable than in the first book. There is additional information on Stoker’s background, which further rounds out his character.
Oh, and then there’s the mystery. Veronica and Stoker race to clear a man that has been convicted of a murder but that an important person claims is innocent. The mystery is complex, filled with interesting secondary characters (most of them suspects), and well plotted. I will say that the week or so that the main characters have to solve the mystery seems to move rather slowly (that is to say, there seems to be more activity than one might think could be fit into a week), but I wasn’t keeping particular track of the days, and it is possible that the temporal pace of the book might not require any time travel.
This second installment of the series was a TREMENDOUS improvement over the first, and I highly recommend it!

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Disneyworld Redux (thanks to Hurricane Irma)

Disneyworld!! We have not been since last September. We were planning to go again this September, as a combination birthday/going off to college trip, but Hurricane Irma vetoed that idea. :(. So we rescheduled the trip to last weekend, when Marcus had a 3 day weekend. He brought a friend, Matthew, along for the trip. It was Matthew’s first trip, and it reminded us that there are certain rides we love because of the memories that don’t necessarily appeal as much to a teenage boy going for the very first time (can anyone say “It’s a Small World?”)


Because we had to reschedule the trip, the only place available for us to stay was the Four Seasons (it’s a hardship, but someone had to do it!). The rooms at the Four Seasons are much nicer and roomier than at even the high end Disney resorts, but there is, obviously, much less Disney theming and the system is not as tied in as at the Disney resorts. For example, while you can get Magic Bands at the Disney desk at the hotel, you cannot put park charges on it, and they don’t serve as keys to the room either. All of which makes perfect sense. And it’s a great add for Disney because there are certainly folks who would come and stay at the Four Seasons who would not stay at a Disney hotel. (We are not one of them, as you might have guessed.)
The new Pandora ride—“Flight of Passage”—the more popular of the two Pandora rides—is amazing. It’s a cross between Soarin’ and Star Tours and is an order of magnitude better than either. The premise is that you are flying on a banshee through the world of Pandora, so there’s a big screen like Soarin’, but you are on a contraption that mimics being on a banshee (a kind of giant flying bird). The banshee even breathes as it sits between your legs. It’s pretty mind-boggling and definitely a fantastic addition to the park. (Time to update the Disney tome!)

in the world of Pandora

We also visited Disney Springs (formerly known as Downtown Disney), which we have not been to for years. It, too, has grown and improved and is a nice place to visit in the evenings or whenever you want a little down time from the parks (as difficult a concept as that is to imagine).

Disney Springs

With the older one off to college, it gives the younger one an opportunity to catch up on the number of trips to Disneyworld count. This is Marcus’s 55th trip, so he has only a few more before he ties his sister. (Not that this is a competition or anything!)