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Saturday, October 29, 2011

Day 76: Statham, Georgia

I judged a Sonata Festival for the Athens Music Teachers Association today. It was a delight to hear so many wonderful students performing classical music to a high standard, meeting their teachers, and commiserating with my fellow judges. 

Driving home on University Parkway, eager to get home but my gas tank nearly empty, I grudgingly decided I had best get off the beaten path and find a service station before it was too late. So I followed a sign pointing to historic Statham, Georgia (never noticed it before) and a couple of short miles later I was there. I filled up my gas tank and followed Atlanta Highway and was rejuvenated by new sights and scenery (it looks just like the pictures) until I got to Winder and familiar territory.

Sometimes it's good to get off the beaten path.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Day 75: Ippolitos

I have dined at Ippolitos before; the last time was on my birthday, the weekend before I started this blog. But tonight I tried a new dish, Salmon Gabriela: salmon sauteed with fresh spinach, fresh tomatoes, and artichoke hearts in a lemon butter sauce.

The sauce was great for dipping garlic rolls in.
I also tried a glass of one of the featured wines, Ferrari-Carano chardonnay.

After a few sips.
Molto buono!

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Day 74: Avon Anew Ultimate Gold Emulsion Night Treatment

I recently used the last of my favorite nighttime moisturizer and don't have the funds right now to buy more. However, I found an unopened jar of Avon Anew Ultimate Gold Emulsion Night Treatment under my bathroom sink - I don't even remember where it came from - and tonight seemed like the perfect time to try it. Following the instructions, I smoothed the glittery gel over my freshly cleansed face and neck. Since I have sensitive skin, I was a little concerned about the possibility of "tingling" occurring, but I experienced no negative sensations. If I keep using this product for 14 days, I am promised skin that looks up to five years younger. We shall see!

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Day 73: Farewell to Stromness

There have been a handful of times in my life when, driving and listening to the radio, I heard a piece of music that I connected with so deeply that I literally had to stop the car so I could really pay attention. Samuel Barber's Adagio For Strings. Muse's Butterflies and Hurricanes. Kimya Dawson's I Like Giants. It's an eclectic mix, to be sure. My musical mind works in mysterious ways.

Well, a few weeks ago, it was Peter Maxwell Davies' Farewell to Stromness that stopped me cold. I couldn't find a piano rendition on YouTube that I liked as much as the one I heard on public radio, but I did enjoy this arrangement by the Los Angeles Guitar Quartet.

Anyway, I ordered the sheet music that afternoon; it finally arrived today. So this evening I spent a very pleasurable thirty minutes or so attempting to play it for the very first time. When it is polished and ready, I may record it and put it on YouTube myself. I think it might make a lovely mandolin solo, too.

Have you ever been so distracted by music that you had to pull off the road to listen to it?

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Day 72: Pillsbury Mocha Fudge Brownies

I love all things chocolate, especially with a cup of coffee. So when I spied this box of Pillsbury Mocha Fudge Brownie mix at Kroger over the weekend, I found myself unable to resist. This afternoon, I pulled out my edge brownie pan and made the batter, adding 1/2 cup of chopped walnuts to the recipe.

Fudgy and delicious, with just the faintest hint of coffee flavor. Bet you can't eat just one!

Monday, October 24, 2011

Day 71: Tazo Calm Tea

My habit is to unwind with a glass of wine or two at bedtime. But I think this might be contributing to some of my sleep disturbances and I know it isn't helping me lose this ten extra pounds I am carrying around, so tonight I decided to make myself a cup of Tazo Calm Tea instead.

I am ashamed to admit that the lovely tin was a Mother's Day gift from my son and his girlfriend - has it really been four months already? The tea bags themselves are small works of art, soft pillows stuffed with chamomile blossoms, hibiscus flowers, spearmint leaves, rose petals, blackberry leaves, peppermint leaves, safflower, lemon balm, lemon grass and natural flavorings. 

I heated a pot of water, I dropped the sachet in my favorite coffee mug, an end-of-year gift from a long-ago piano student, and let it steep for five minutes. Fragrant and delicious - and no calories!

I think I'm gonna sleep like a baby tonight. 

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Day 70: Once Upon A Time

Snow White & Prince Charming
Tonight I watched the series premiere of Once Upon A Time on ABC. Click HERE to read the plot summary. You might think a show based on fairy tale characters set in modern times wouldn't work, but does it ever; it looks like the creators of Lost have come up with another winner. Recommended! And if you missed tonight's episode, you can stream it from the link above. Let me know what you think!

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Day 69: Piano Festival

This wasn't the first time I ever judged a piano festival, but it was the first time I made decisions that resulted in students receiving cash awards.

Today I heard approximately 40 students play for North Fulton Music Teachers Association Fall Festival. Each and every child delivered beautiful performances, but eleven of them were exceptional (in my humble opinion) and each received $30 cash awards. Pretty cool, eh?

Day 68: Wendy's Hot 'N Juicy 1/4 Pound Hamburger

Yes, I am a pescetarian. But yesterday I tried one of Wendy's new premium hamburgers.

I had really tough day. My dog was diagnosed with a urinary tract infection and my car needed two new tires AND a battery; neither of these was in the monthly budget. For the sake of my children's privacy I won't go into the rest of it, but by 9PM my blood sugar had bottomed out and my trembling hands could barely control the steering wheel. The kids requested Wendy's, I was in no shape to argue, and will be the first to to admit that burger tasted pretty darned good.

Have you tried Wendy's new menu? Would Dave approve?

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Day 67: I shared a note from my Kindle

Yes, I've had my Kindle a long time. My brother gave it to me for Christmas last year, and I love love love it. I am not one to read instruction manuals, though, and until very recently I didn't know how to do anything with it besides load books and read them. So you can imagine my delight when, at my last Jane Austen Book Club meeting, Jennifer's husband Erick showed me how to add bookmarks and make notes and share them on Facebook and Twitter. I have been bookmarking pages like crazy ever since.

Then today I came upon a passage that was so striking I just HAD to take the plunge and share. So I did it! In case you aren't my friend on Facebook or a follower on Twitter (and if you aren't why not?), here it is.

We ought to be seekers as well as storytellers, a little mad sometimes, risking the pity and scorn of our fellows as we pursue the artistic vision. Then we park ourselves at the keyboard and strive to get it down on the page. Why go through it all? Because the world needs dreams rendered in words.

From Writing Fiction for All You're Worth by James Scott Bell

What about you? Do you read instruction manuals? Learn through trial and error? Need somebody to show you the way?

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Day 66: To-Do List Managers

Thinking it might be easier to track my daily, weekly, biweekly, and monthly tasks online, I experimented with a couple of to-do list managers this evening, Ta-Da Lists and Remember the Milk. Click HERE for an in-depth review of these and websites. While I appreciate the possibilities they represent, neither of them is going to replace the homespun biweekly checklist I created using Excel. The truth is I love checking off those boxes with my favorite purple pen and leafing through the completed pages as they accumulate. But at least I tried!

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Day 65: Teaser Tuesdays

Today I am participating for the first time in Teaser Tuesdays, a weekly bookish meme hosted by MizB of Should Be Reading. Anyone can play along! Just do the following.
  • Grab your current read.
  • Open to a random page.
  • Share two (2) "teaser" sentences from somewhere on that page.
  • BE CAREFUL NOT TO INCLUDE SPOILERS! Make sure that what you share doesn't give too much away and ruin the book for others!
  • Share the title and author, too, so that other TT participants can add the book to their TBR lists if they like your teasers!
Here are my sentences, from page 162 of When Beauty Tamed the Beast by Eloisa James.

"It was the sort of kiss that a gentleman never, ever gave a lady. Linnet loved it."  

Happy reading!

Monday, October 17, 2011

Day 64: 100 Push-Ups

My friend Denise challenged me to join her in the 100 Push-Ups challenge (click HERE). Today I took the initial test, during which I managed to complete only 10 bent-knee push-ups (forget military style). Supposedly, if I stick with the program for six weeks, I will eventually be able to do 100 push-ups - at least 55 after six weeks. It's just three days a week for a total of 30 minutes. It's worth a try, right?

While I'm at it, I figured I might as well go for the 200 Situps challenge (click HERE). During the initial test, I was able to eke out 20 curls, working towards an eventual goal of 200, at least 90 after six weeks.

What have I got to lose? At the very least, I will end up stronger than I am right now. Wish me luck!

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Day 63: Crunch Berry Frappuccino

Do you like Captain Crunch with Crunch Berries? When I was a kid, it was one of my breakfast favorites. And I learned today that Starbucks can create drink that tastes a whole lot like the cereal. It isn't on the menu. They might not even want to make it for you. Our barista sure fussed about it. But he did it anyway. In case your barista pleads ignorance, click HERE for ordering instructions and a link to a funny video in which a possibly over-caffeinated young man shares his passion for the concoction. It was a bit sweet for my taste; my fifteen year old loved it. But I think everybody should try it at least once!

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Day 62: Five Things

I experienced five new things today:

1. I had a pumpkin doughnut from Krispy Kreme.
2. I got a new hairstyle - cut and color.
3. I played chauffeur for a group of high school students - my 15yo, his date, and two of their friends - so they could go out for dinner and attend their school's Homecoming Dance.
4. I bought my first corsage - for my son's date.
5. I learned the back roads to the high school.

I hope all the kids will look back with happiness on this evening. I know it was a day I won't soon forget.

Day 61: Flip Flop Wine

It's going to get up to 81 degrees here in Atlanta today, and that's definitely flip flop weather. But with temperatures dipping down into the 40's at night, my inclination isn't to pull on a pair of flip flops first thing every morning. Nostalgic for the lazy days of summer, I grabbed a bottle of Flip Flip Chardonnay at my neighborhood Kroger yesterday, let it chill, and sipped a couple of glasses while I finished Jane Austen's Persuasion last night. The beverage complemented the book very well. And at less than $10 a bottle, these wines are a great bargain. Click HERE for another blogger's review. Recommended!

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Day 60: I built a snowman.

Out of beads, that is.

One of my jewelry customers requested snowman earrings, but she didn't like the hats on the pair I had in stock. So I found some Czech glass beads that, when combined, look more like a stovepipe hat.
I think they are adorable. I hope she will, too.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Day 59: Banana Coffee Cake with Chocolate Chip Streusel Topping

I had six overripe bananas begging to be baked into something delicious. Once upon a time, I would have used them to whip up a batch of my tried and true banana bread (click HERE). But now that I am constantly on the lookout for new things to try, I scoured the internet and found this recipe for Banana Coffee Cake with Chocolate Chip Streusel (click HERE) which first appeared in Bon Appetit magazine. It got rave reviews, so I decided to give it a go myself. Here is my version.


1 cup semisweet chocolate chips
2/3 cup packed dark brown sugar
1/2 cup chopped pecans
1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
1 1/2 cups unbleached flour
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup butter, softened
1 egg
3 large ripe bananas, mashed
3 tablespoons buttermilk

Preheat oven to 350. Spray an 8-inch square baking dish with cooking spray.

To make streusel, combine chocolate chips, brown sugar, pecans and cinnamon in small bowl; set aside.

Stir together flour, baking soda and salt. Beat sugar, butter and egg in a large bowl until fluffy; mix in mashed bananas and buttermilk. Add flour mixture and blend well.

Spread half of batter in pan. Sprinkle with half of streusel. Repeat with remaining batter and streusel. Bake about 45 minutes, until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool at least ten minutes before serving.

This cake is moist and delicious - so dense and chocolaty that it is almost too rich for breakfast. The next time I make it - and there WILL be a next time - I will probably reduce the chocolate chips and sugar by a third to a half. I think it would be good without the chocolate chips too, but then it would be an entirely different animal. One final note: the chocolate chips make this recipe almost impossible to test for doneness, and because my cake was getting so brown on top, I removed it from the oven a few minutes before the prescribed time, resulting it in not quite being done in the middle. My advice? Cover with foil after about 30 minutes of baking time but give it the full 45 minutes.

This was a big hit at my house. Let me know what you think!

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Day 58: Mandolin Companion

Okay, I admit it. I am still having a hard time tuning my mandolin. I am a pianist, for gosh sakes; I am accustomed to paying someone to tune my instrument for me. 

Once every six months or so. Not several times a day.

So I was happy to find a free app for my iPhone to help me. Thank you, Mandolin Companion.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Day 57: Damages

I got an automated phone call from DirecTV over the summer, announcing the season premiere of the series Damages. I don't watch a lot of television, but this program sounded intriguing, so I added it to my TiVo's to-do list. It is hard to believe it has taken me this many months long to get around to watching it, but I finally saw the first episode tonight. It was grittier than my typical fare (Desperate Housewives, 30 Rock, House, Grey's Anatomy) but the show is well written and I love the characters - well, some of them, anyway - so I just might be hooked. And if that happens, I will have a lot of catching up to do, since the series started in 2007.

What is your current television favorite?

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Day 56: German Chocolate Pie, Part 2

I failed to get Theresa's recipe Friday night, but after sampling her German Chocolate Pie I knew I would have to try making one myself. This version turned out different from hers, but with its gooey chocolate filling and crunchy topping it is definitely a winner. Here are the instructions.


10-inch pie crust (I use Pillsbury)
1 4-ounce package Baker's German's Sweet Chocolate
1/2 cup butter
1 12-ounce can evaporated milk
1 1/2 cups sugar
3 tablespoons corn starch
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2/3 cup flaked coconut
1/3 cup chopped pecans

Line a deep dish pie plate with pastry crust; set aside.

Melt chocolate and butter in a medium saucepan over low heat. Remove from heat and slowly stir in evaporated milk; set aside.

Combine sugar, cornstarch and salt in a large bowl; add eggs and vanilla, mixing well. Using a wire whisk, gradually stir in chocolate mixture. Pour into unbaked pastry shell and sprinkle with coconut and chopped pecans.

Bake at 375 degrees for 45 minutes. Cool at least 4 hours before serving. Great topped with whipped cream and chocolate shavings.

    Saturday, October 8, 2011

    Day 55: Pumpkin Spice K-Cups

    I am a big fan of Starbucks Pumpkin Spice Lattes, but I don't care for the pumpkin spice flavored coffee creamers I have tried. So I was delighted to find this limited edition pumpkin spice coffee at Kroger this afternoon. Designed for use with the Keurig coffee maker, it couldn't be easier; I came home, made myself a cup, sweetened it with a packet of Stevia and lightened it with a splash of half and half, and found it to be a satisfying substitute for Starbucks - and a lot less expensive.

    What is your favorite coffee flavor?

    Day 54: German Chocolate Pie

    I had dinner with my Jane Austen Book Club pals last night; for dessert, Theresa brought German Chocolate Pie. I had never tried it before, but it was delicious, dense and chewy, rich with chocolate and coconut and pecans. I didn't take a picture but I found a recipe online and as soon as I can get to the grocery store and gather the ingredients, I am going to bake one of my own and share the details with you. Soon, very soon!

    Thursday, October 6, 2011

    Day 53: Salted Caramel Mocha

    This morning I tried a new drink at Starbucks, the Salted Caramel Mocha. The verdict? My frothy concoction (tall nonfat no whipped) was worth every one of its 220 calories.

    What is your favorite decadent Starbucks pleasure?

    Wednesday, October 5, 2011

    Day 52: The "A" Chord

    If you have been following this blog for any length of time, you know that I am learning to play the mandolin. I am practicing faithfully every day - just ten or fifteen minutes at a time, all my poor fingertips can tolerate. After about six weeks, I can play a two-octave G major scale at a pretty good clip, a few simple tunes in the key of G, and a handful of two-finger chords: G, D, C, E minor. But today I hit a wall.

    In order to play the next tune in my self-instruction book, I need to master the "A" chord. And it is very different from the other chords I have learned, as it is in what is called "closed position," meaning that each string must be "fretted," or pushed down with a finger. As a matter of fact, this chord is best played with the first two strings (really eight strings, since the mandolin is double-strung) covered with just ONE finger. Struggle as I might, I simply cannot do it.


    I see this in my piano teaching all the time. New students progress rapidly with very little effort, then one day, BAM! a new concept is introduced that offers a bit of a challenge. It might be playing legato (smooth and connected) with one hand and detached with the other; it might be learning to use the damper pedal; it might be playing a triplet figure against two eighth notes. And when the going gets tough, some students simply want to give up. They enjoy doing things that come easily, not so much when they really have to work for them.

    My job as a teacher is to encourage those students to persevere through the tough times, because I know that doing so will take their playing to a whole new level. I remember two pieces that were particularly difficult for me as a beginning pianist: The Song of the Volga Boatman and Turkey in the Straw. It is amusing now but it sure wasn't at the time; I shed many tears as I struggled to learn those songs. But quitting wasn't an option and eventually I mastered both pieces and remember them to this day.

    I have faced similar stumbling blocks with every activity I consider myself reasonably skilled at today: playing the clarinet, cooking, baking, sewing, knitting. I wanted to master each of these badly enough that I simply refused to give up and, in time, I met with some degree of success. As a matter of fact, the only thing I can remember giving up on is the guitar. I learned how to play a few little songs and chords, then I gave up when I got to the "F" chord. Which requires one to play two strings with one finger. Sigh.

    Well, things were different then. Sure, I would have enjoyed being able to play the guitar, but I already had the piano and the clarinet, and wasn't sufficiently motivated do the work. But I feel an intimacy with the mandolin that I never experienced with the guitar. It defies explanation. So the battle isn't over. And I am determined to win.

    I learn something new on the mandolin almost every day, and most of it isn't blog-worthy. But that pesky "A" chord? It needed to be brought into the light.

    Tuesday, October 4, 2011

    Day 51: My Son, Concert Master

    Today I experienced the unique thrill of watching my youngest son, Nathan, perform with the Symphonic Orchestra in Mill Creek High School's Fall 2011 Orchestra Concert. First chair this year, not only did he fulfill his role as concert master, but he played an eight-measure solo in a spooky piece called The Ghost of John. Here is a link to the YouTube video I caught on my iPhone. Nathan's solo is about 3:28 into the piece.

    I am so proud of my boy! Congratulations, Nathan!

    Monday, October 3, 2011

    Day 50: The Pioneer Woman

    Someone at the Moonlight & Magnolias Conference mentioned this blog to me, and I finally got around to checking it out. Oh. My Goodness. The Pioneer woman is AMAZING. Run - don't walk - to her blog. Click HERE.

    This might have been the kind of blog I would have written if blogging had been de rigueur  ten - no, make that fifteen - years ago.

    Sunday, October 2, 2011

    Day 49: Age-Defying Skin Care

    My friend, critique partner and blog sister Lindy Chaffin Start has embarked on a new business adventure, and Saturday she surprised me with a goody bag filled with samples of some of the products she is promoting. This evening I tried the Artistry Time Defiance Anti-Aging Skincare: cleanser, toner and nighttime moisturizer. The cleanser took off my make-up leaving no traces; the toner didn't leave my skin with that parched, tight feeling that toners usually do; and the night recovery cream went on silky and smooth. I look forward to trying the daytime moisturizer tomorrow. These products aren't inexpensive but they rival anything I have tried in a department store and are undoubtedly worth every penny. Thanks, Lindy, for giving me the opportunity to pamper myself a little bit this evening!

    Day 48: I met a fan.

    Pam & Mary Beth
    Yesterday I attended the book signing at the 2011 Georgia Romance Writers Moonlight & Magnolias Conference. Wandering happily from table to table with a stack of books purchased onsite, I was gathering autographs from some of my favorite authors, old and new.

    Out of nowhere, my pal Bryonna Nobles-Stern came up behind me and tapped my shoulder. "There's someone here who wants to meet you," she said.

    "Who is it?"

    "A fan." She grinned.

    "Yeah, right." I snorted and turned back to collect my newly-signed book.

    "No, really. You've got to come with me. She's right over here."

    So I thanked the author, scooped up my new treasure, and followed Bryonna across the room. Sure enough, there stood Mary Beth Chickering, waiting to get a signature from Sherrilyn Kenyon.

    Mary Beth found out about my blogs from Bryonna; she hugged me warmly and told me she reads my writing regularly. That made me feel like a rock star. And who knows? Maybe someday *I* will be one of the published authors signing books at the M&M Conference.