Friday, September 26, 2014

Laurie's Book Review--"Orphan Train"

I have some really great friends.  We don't see each other in person very much anymore, just on special occasions like class reunions, the county fair, things that don't happen on a daily, weekly, or even monthly basis.  We do keep up with each other on Facebook and other forms of social media, and always are there for one another whatever the need.  Recently, that need was suggestions of good books to read while a friend recuperated from a surgical procedure.

Another friend, a middle school media specialist, recommended the book "Orphan Train", by the author Christina Baker Kline.  Many more friends jumped into the conversation praising the book and what a mesmerizing, life changing, emotional experience it was.

About a month ago now, I came into possession of an Android tablet.  Since then, I have been trying out all the bells and whistles and becoming more familiar with the technology, including the Kindle app.  I got into the app and downloaded "Orphan Train" as my maiden voyage into the world of reading books online.

I was not disappointed.  I was stunned, emotional, changed.

I have been trying for a week to put words into sentences to describe what the book was about.  I even talked to myself out loud the other day in the shower, trying to compose a review for my blog.  I think the main gist of the story is lost and found family and just what the meaning of all that is.  The main character--Meevh, a nine-year old new immigrant from Ireland, is orphaned in a tenement fire and comes under the custody of the Children's Aid Society.  She is placed on an orphan train to the Midwest (the year is 1929) in hopes that she would be selected by a family for adoption or worse (i.e. indentured servitude in a lot of cases).  As a nine year-old, she is already considered too old to adopt for a family, so she undergoes a lot of miserable, terrifying experiences before the light of good fortune shines on her and a future begins to take shape.

The co-main character (the year is 2011) is Molly, a 17 year-old foster child who is about to age out of the system with no plans or prospects.  Her father is dead and her mother is an addict, and she doesn't really know if she is alive or not.  She has to perform community service in order to avoid jail time for the theft of a book from the library, and is matched up with an elderly lady who lives alone in a big mansion and needs help "cleaning" the boxes in her attic.

2+2=4, and Molly is matched with Meevh/Dorothy, who is now Vivian Daly.  The story follows both characters and their experiences through their formative years.  As they start to "clean" by going through each of the boxes, one at a time, the stories of both characters begin to weave themselves. Meevh/Dorothy/Vivian's life is a hard, horrible life full of loss, and in the nick of time--at thirteen years old--she finds a family.  But so many people leave her during the story--the baby she is forced to care for on the ride out west, the first family to pick her from the lineup, the horrible backwoods people, the teacher and boarding house owner who rescue her from the horrible backwoods people.  She meets again and marries a young man she met on the initial train ride out west, only to lose him in action in WWII.  She gives birth to their child a few months later, and decides to give the baby girl up for adoption.  She finds out that her youngest sibling did not die in the tenement fire, but lived and was adopted by the same neighbors who turned her over to the Children's Aid Society.

Molly, in turn, learns a lot about herself on this journey.  She is a kindred spirit to Vivian in the similarities of their lives, and gains some perspective on her life and where she needs to take it.  Vivian is comfortable enough with Molly to begin to share, to unravel all the issues of her past, and it helps Molly unravel hers as well.

Meevh's/Dorothy's/Vivian's life is a cycle of love and loss that would have done me in long before my time.  She developed an attitude of spunk and hardness that helped her survive her situation.  Although I was completely worn out emotionally by the time I reached the last page of this book, I know I will be forever changed for the better by having read it.  And I am so thankful for having friends with incredibly good taste in books.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Recipe--Polynesian Pull-Aparts

If you like to read recipes as much as I do, you are very well aware that monkey bread is enjoying a huge surge in popularity right now in the culinary world.  Monkey bread not only comes in the original cinnamon and sugar variety, but in all sweet shapes and savory varieties as well.

Pillsbury is releasing a lot of the 2014 Pillsbury Bake-Off winning recipes on Pinterest and other forms of social media right now, and I came across this pin for Polynesian Pull-Aparts.  Yummers!  Going to have to try this one very soon for a breakfast treat!


1 1/4 C sugar
3 T finely chopped macadamia nuts
1 can Pillsbury Grands! homestyle southern biscuits (8 total biscuits in can)
1/3 C butter, softened
3 oz cream cheese, softened (from 8 oz pkg)
1-2 T pineapple juice
1/2 teaspoon coconut extract

Heat oven to 350 degrees.  Spray 10" fluted tube pan with no-stick cooking spray.  In 9" pie plate, mix 1 C of the sugar and the macadamia nuts; set aside.

Separate dough into 8 biscuits. Cut each biscuit in half.  Dip both sides of biscuit halves into melted butter; roll in sugar mixture to coat all sides. Place cut sides up in bottom of fluted tube pan.  sprinkle any remaining sugar mixture over biscuit halves.

Bake 25-35 minutes or until light golden brown.  Cool 5 minutes; turn ring upside down onto serving plate; cool an additional 5 minutes.

Meanwhile, in small bowl, beat cream cheese and remaining 1/4 C sugar with electric mixer on medium speed 30-45 seconds or until smooth.  Beat in 1 T of the pineapple juice, 1 t at a time, until thin enough to drizzle.  Drizzle over hot pull-apart ring; serve warm.

Giving credit where credit is due--this recipe is the creative of Jane McMillen of Winter Garden, FL.


Recipe--Easy Veggie Beef Slow Cooker Soup

Although I have not tried this recipe yet, I am going to very soon.  It's full of lots of things I love to eat, and it's a very simple crockpot recipe, so no excuses.

I found this recipe on a great website called Recipes That Crock (also a Facebook page),  Talk about mouthwatering!  And practical as well, since the ingredients are those easily found in your pantry already or at the grocery store.  There's NOTHING like good old down home cookin'!


1 lb stew beef, cubed
1 T oil
4 potatoes, peeled and diced (use 5 red potatoes, skin on and quartered)
16 oz pkg frozen peas
16 oz pkg frozen corn
16 oz pkg baby carrots
2-12 oz jars beef gravy
2-15 oz cans tomato sauce (use Red Gold!)
salt and pepper to taste
Optional:  1 C tomato juice (again, use Red Gold!) if a more soupy consistency is desired.

Brown beef in oil in a skillet over medium heat; drain.  Add potatoes to skillet, cooking them until softened.  Put the beef and potatoes into a slow cooker.  Add all remaining ingredients.  Cover and cook on low for 8 hours or until tender, stirring occasionally.

Prep time:  20 mins
Cook time:  8 hours

As always--enjoy!

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Autumn Is a Perfect Time for Stitching

Wow, this fall fever stuff I have is REALLY bad.  I have a crazy nesting instinct going on right now.  I want to lay food in for the winter and drag out some cozy blankets. I'm collecting crock pot recipes like a crazy woman and shopping sales for replacement batteries for all the flashlights should a power failure happen on a cranky Autumn day.

"Autumn Jumble " by The Drawn Thread

"Cinnamon Stars" by Plum Street Samplers

"Harvest Time" by The Prairie Schooler

And--of course--there's the needlework to be done.  This is the time of year I look at all the beautiful counted cross stitch designs available on the market and try to convince myself I really, REALLY don't need another one.  But you need a stash to work on during the winter, you know...

Here are a few designs I found now and through the years that bring that autumnal warmth to my heart.  Although I haven't worked any of them into my stitching rotation yet, I hope you enjoy looking at them as much as I have!