A Year in Books

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A few months ago, I posted about struggling to finish a book.  I used to be a voracious reader but I found, especially when C was an infant, that I had trouble fitting books into my schedule.

I read a decent amount of books in 2011, mostly before I had C in August of that year.  Here’s 2011’s list:

Anna Karenina – Leo Tolstoy

The Heart of the Matter – Graham Greene

The End of the Affair – Graham Greene

Paris 1919 – Margaret MacMillan

The Power and the Glory – Graham Greene (I really, really love Graham Greene)

Prisoner of Tehran – Marina Nemat

The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn – Mark Twain

Room – Emma Donoghue

A Thousand Splendid Suns – Khaled Hosseini

The Birth House – Ami McKay

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo – Steig Larsson

Hunger Games Trilogy – Suzanne Collins

Photo via Wikipedia

Aaaaand, here is what I read in 2012:

Drop Dead Healthy – A.J. Jacobs

Why Have Kids? – Jessica Valenti

How to Be a Woman – Caitlin Moran

The Love You Make: An Insider’s Story of the Beatles – Peter Brown & Steven Gaines

A Nation Worth Ranting About – Rick Mercer

Our Man in Havana – Graham Greene

1982 – Jian Ghomeshi

The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared – Jonas Jonasson

So that’s it.  It’s not much, but it’s better than nothing, I suppose.  If I included What to Expect the First Year /Toddler Years, Barnyard Dance and Animal Boogie, the list would probably be a better representation of what I actually spent my time reading.

I’ve decided that 2013 is going to be a better year, literature-wise.

And I’m hoping that you, readers, can give me some suggestions.  From my lists, you can see what I tend to gravitate towards.  I’m currently tackling a book about the Cuban Missile Crisis (the fantastic Armageddon Letters).  But I’m open to other things, and I think it’s important to branch out and broaden one’s horizons.  So, please, send me your suggestions!

Happy reading!

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Homemade Italian Wedding Soup

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One of my friends worked in Calgary, Alberta for a few years.  She gave me a cookbook from the Municipal District of Rocky View, with recipes contributed by municipal staff and local politicians.  I use it all the time, and it has some hidden gems inside.  It has an incredibly delicious cheesecake recipe submitted by the Honourable Ralph Klein.  The thought of King Ralph slaving over chocolate marble cheesecake amuses me for some reason.  Also, did you know that Stephen and Laureen Harper love Mexican food so much that they modify regular recipes, like lasagna, to make them more “Mexican”?  It’s true.

I adapted this recipe from the Rocky View cookbook is the latest big hit in our house.  Pete likes it, C enjoys the meatballs (the spinach, however, is thrown onto the floor) and I could probably eat it every day.  And who doesn’t love a hearty soup when it’s cold outside?

For the meatballs:

  • 1 egg
  • 1 lb lean ground beef
  • 1/3 cup bread crumbs
  • 2 tbsp parsley
  • 3 tbsp Parmesan cheese
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • pinch of pepper

For the soup:

  • 8 cups chicken broth
  • 1 cup miniature pasta
  • 1 cup chopped frozen spinach (thawed and drained)

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.  In a large bowl, beat the egg.  Add ground beef, bread crumbs, parsley, Parmesan cheese, salt and pepper and mix.

Form the mixture into small meatballs (roughly the size of a marble).  Place meatballs on a baking sheet covered in tin foil.  Bake for 25 minutes.

In a large pot, bring the broth to a boil and add pasta.  Cook for five minutes at a low boil.  Add thawed and drained spinach and cook for another five minutes.  Add the meatballs and bring to a simmer.  Serve and enjoy!

From Strain Theory to Strained Peas

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I’m a stay-at-home parent.  That’s a bit odd for me to write, because I don’t think of myself as a stay-at-home parent.  I think of myself as a college teacher.  But I had a baby sixteen months ago and I haven’t taught a college course since before that baby was born.  Hmm.  Is that cognitive dissonance?

I’ve been struggling a bit with my role as a full-time mother.  It’s not that I don’t love being home with C.  I do.  And I appreciate that I’m fortunate enough to have the means to stay home with her.  She’ll only be little once, and I have the rest of my life to work.

But sometimes, when I think about my former life, I feel wistful.  Because even though teaching was often difficult, stressful, and frustrating, it was never dull.

I’ve taught a variety of courses (Sociology, Political Science, English, Research Methods) to a wide range of students, but my favourite experience was always teaching Criminology to Policing students.

Photo via Simon Fraser University

As a Criminology instructor, I was fortunate enough to meet a Forensic Anthropologist, who investigates suspicious fires and skeletal remains.  He has some grisly stories to tell.  I’ve worked with a detective who has served in every policing branch you can imagine, from Homicide to Guns and Gangs to White Collar Crime.  He has even gone undercover.  Some of my colleagues worked on very high profile cases, like the Bernardo case.  I’ve spoken with the investigator who elicited the murder confession from former Colonel Russell Williams.

I now spend a large portion of my day building block towers and reading Barnyard Dance*.

I realized recently that I still needed to work and to give back, despite my decision to stay home with my daughter.  I’m not going back to teaching right away, but I have found a way to contribute that, I think, would work for a lot of parents in my position.  I joined the Board of Directors for a local non-profit organization.

This is why I think volunteering on a Board of Directors is a great idea for parents in a similar situation:

1) The hours are parent-friendly.  Meetings are usually in the evening and are typically held once (maybe twice) a month.  This is quite manageable, even if you have young children at home.

2) Giving back to the community is important.  It also sets a good example for kids.  I want C to be a responsible, involved citizen one day.

3) It’s a way to keep some work-related skills up to date.  It can combat the dreaded baby-brain that sometimes goes along with stay-at-home parenthood.

4) It’s a small step toward making the community a better place for the next generation.  This was always important to me but it has become even more so since having C.

I realize that not every stay-at-home parent is able to make this sort of commitment, but if you are, please consider it.  It’s a great way to give back.

*Barnyard Dance is an excellent book, the first 250 times you read it.

Greening My Cleaning

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I’ve made a New Year’s Resolution of sorts.  And I’m posting about it on January 7th, which shows the depth of my commitment.  I’ve been so busy sticking to my resolution that I haven’t had time for anything else.

I actually decided a few months ago that I would stop using commercial cleaning products around the house.  I had an epiphany one day last summer.  I realized that I only mopped the floors or cleaned the windows while C was napping upstairs, so that she wouldn’t be nearby to inhale all the fumes from the cleaners.  Then I thought “why is not okay for C to inhale all this, but it’s fine for me?” 

I decided to switch over to good, old-fashioned vinegar and water for a lot of my household cleaning.  Baking soda is my new best friend.  And for disinfecting, rubbing alcohol is up to the task.

So why did I wait until now to put this into effect?  Well, we still had lots of commercial cleaning products on hand, and, being thrifty people, couldn’t bring ourselves to throw them out.  Pete and I just couldn’t do it.  As much as we’re committed to our new, green, cleaning regime, we were just too cheap.  Life is full of dilemmas.

Life is also full of challenges, and this new green cleaning commitment has presented a new one for Pete.  I love my Swiffer WetJet, but I want to stop cleaning the floors with the liquid in their cartridges.  I asked Pete whether he could MacGyver me a cartridge for the WetJet that would allow me to use my vinegar and water mixture on the floors.  He is an engineer, after all.  It was on his holiday-to-do-list and he even made a special trip to Home Depot for supplies, but got sidetracked by another project.  I’m still waiting for my green, non-toxic, MacGyvered Swiffer WetJet.

Photo via Swiffer

Photo via Swiffer

So, while I wait, a question for all of you: have any of you undertaken a similar change?  I’m hoping to tackle household toxins in other ways, and I’m eager for tips.  Happy New Year (seven days late), everyone!