Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Book Review: The English Girl by Daniel Silva

Once again, our hero-Mossad-super-agent Gabriel Allon is saving the world. Or at least in this case, saving the hide and political career of the present British Prime Minister.

The story begins with an odd kidnapping of a typical English girl while she is on vacation in Corsica. Yes, the kidnapping captures the imagination of the English population but they quickly move on as the world has a short attention span. It is at that point that we learn there is more to this kidnapping than meets the eye and in walks MI6. But lo and behold, the British spy agency is unable to save the day as it is a delicate and unusual situation, so "who ya gonna call?" Israel of course. (And you thought I was going to say Ghostbusters.)

Here comes some of our favorite factional characters to set the story into motion. We are treated to a short history lesson while on Israeli soil, well you can't talk the Middle East without historical context (not if you are an intelligent person anyway). We move deftly back to Corsica and learn about that little island enclave, complete with its brigands, superstitions and vendettas. But in true conspiratorial tradition,  it doesn't end there.

Gabriel, against common sense, ends up once again in Russia and this is when the story really gets good. Silva has a habit of interjecting real world politics into his novels. We become aware of some undercurrents that are happening in the world that most of us might miss.

Russia is a cruel nation. It always was. But this time it is not the communists or the Tsars that are ruining people's lives. Those brought up in the Communist system, the former elites of their society, who were suddenly thrust into a world that they had not prepared for when the Communist dynasty came to an end, have regrouped and have found a way to come out on top. They are evil and viscous in their pursuit of power. No one and nothing gets in their way.

The predators of the former KGB are alive, well and running Russia. We learn that Russia has returned to her former ways and has more spies in the west today than during the Cold War. But now she is interested in corporate secrets and compromising the western economy for her own financial glory not out of any political theory. Russia wants to rebuild her former Empire, and looks to accomplish that by holding western Europe hostage to her oil and gas dependency.

Russia, which has more oil in Siberia than Saudi Arabia, is poised to become a global oil superpower. She is stretching her tentacles out into the globe once again, in the hopes of destabilizing and ensuring her place as a master of the universe. Russia has resurfaced as our great enemy. The United States electorate, and especially the MSM, owes Mitt Romney an apology for belittling him when he pointed this out during the presidential debates.

As usual this is a fast paced thriller. It will keep you engaged. Twists and turns are the hallmark of many a good spy novel, and this one will keep you guessing til the end.




Elise


Just on a personal note: This entire novel begins simply because a politician with extreme power couldn't keep his pecker in his pants. While I know this is without a doubt more true to life than the exploits of one Gabriel Allon, I wonder if some politicos might take a look in the mirror and think twice about becoming blackmail bait, and endangering the nations they represent, merely because they want some illicit hoopdeedo. Just ask General Petreus what happens when your peccadilloes come to light. Guess in the real world, people really don't have a fictional superhero on speed dial that could save their hides afterall, even if they were the head of the CIA.




Monday, July 29, 2013

My New Louis Vuitton Obsession

Yes I admit it, I have a thing for Louis Vuitton handbags. Well a little more than a thing. I happily peruse their website and pick dream-bags for my wish-list that would make the giddiest fashionista happy. I know the name of all the styles and can even discuss the pluses and minuses of each bag.

One day I am fully expecting my pastime to be included in the DSM as a true psychiatric disorder. But until then, I am going to have myself a good time. Looking at handbags is really safe, sound and secure. The problem comes when you mentally lose it entirely and whip out that credit card, going into enormous debt, buying something so totally unnecessary, that you can't afford.

Anyway, the LV brand is making ready for its fall release and letting out its secret that Michelle Williams is its new spokesmodel/actress. They allowed the media to publish some rather nice pics of her holding some of their new fall line.




Yeah OK she looks great. Actually she does. But it's the bag that she is holding that has gotten my attention. It is simply terrificly fashion forward. I love the LV monogram wings and the soft leather middle complete with the black handles. Mix and match and use for anything and everything.  What a gorgeous handbag.

Am I going to purchase it? Well I haven't gotten that bad...not yet anyway. I did wonder though (for a split second) if the boys could really take a year off of school so I could buy the bag. It might do them some good, maturity wise, to work at any job they could find for awhile instead of studying .....



Oy vey, not to worry. I know its really, not a good idea to spend all my money on this very gorgeous, lovely exciting handbag. I guess into the wish list it goes.


SIGH.






Elise


Thursday, July 25, 2013

Slow Cooking in the Age of Instant Gratification

Well I finally did it. I bought a slow-cooker or what we used to call a crockpot. So far I have made beef-barley soup and some really good chili. And I did it without heating up the entire house. It is simply awful trying to cook in the middle of summer. The oven gets so hot that it heats up the entire second floor of my house. The kitchen/family living area becomes a sauna, and that is with a new air-conditioning system.

Now the impetus for this experiment basically came from me ruining a really nice eye-round-roast. I usually cook this piece of meat as a pot roast, steeping it for hours on top of the stove. Sort of my own version of Beouf Bourguignon. (That classic french dish is supposed to be cooked in the oven.) But I wanted  to not heat the house up by having the stove on for hours on end.

What I did was to try to cook the eye-round as a roast beef in the oven for a short period of time like the recipe I found on-line recommended. And VOILA...it... was... awful. The meat was not tender. It was overcooked. It had no flavor despite the myriad number of spices I used. Note: I saved the meat and actually added it to the beef-barley soup. By the time the soup was done the meat was tender and turned out great.

So the hubby suggested I try a slow cooker so the roast would be soft and the house not get overheated. The boys agreed. Rather quickly too. I do have to say that I am not a bad cook (maybe not a gourmet but a descent enough cook) and quite frankly they do tend to eat what I make for them. Except the oldest one does complain when I make chicken. (HERE are some of my recipes including for chicken.) My chicken generally comes out really moist if I do say so myself.

My take on this chicken issue is that he has simply gotten it into his head that he doesn't want to eat chicken. OK, it could be a textural problem associated with his "issues." But not everything your child doesn't deal with well is related to their sensory processing neurology, and not every quirk is part of their autism. He could just have decided he doesn't like chicken. For no other reason than he simply doesn't like chicken, just like anyone else in the world. Honestly don't know how that happened or during what time period actually, but we have finally come to an understanding that when I make chicken he has to eat a few bites at least. (The nutrients are important.) Funny he doesn't mind fish, which is usually the protein to which most people object. (This statement of course, does not to include veggans, either lacto- ovo vegetarians, or vegetarians of any persuasion.)


I did go online the next day after the roast  fiasco and order a nice slow-cooker. A Cuisinart to be exact. It came with a little recipe book. Well lo and behold I am enjoying myself with the slow-cooker. Though in the middle of summer you do not tend to cook stews or anything that takes along time in a pot. But it will be nice to explore using it in the future as the weather gets a little cooler.

The soup and chili I mentioned above were mere experiments.  Each item took over 6 hours to cook. You could smell the spices come together as the food cooked away. It simply wets your appetite for dinner. In this age of fast food and instant ramen noodles, it is nice to know that we are capable of waiting for food and retain the ability to enjoy a real meal once in awhile.

By the way people are sending me slow-cooker recipes too. If you want to add any of your favorite recipes in the comments below please do. Sharing recipes is always alot of fun.




Elise

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Positive Tweet/Post Day #3 More Flowers A-bloomin'

It's time for another positive tweet day.

My Rose of Sharon hibiscus tree is in full bloom:








And my Peace Lily, which did not flower at all last summer, has six beautiful white stems.



There is terrific lore about the meaning of the peace lily HERE.


Elise

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Book Review: The Cuckoo's Calling By Robert Galbraith-Simply Brilliant Fun

Yes by now you know that the author of this book was none other than J.K. Rowling. As "Robert Galbraith" this crime mystery was a critically acclaimed novel. I will honestly say though, that if I had not known that she was the author I would never have picked up the book. And without a doubt I would have lost out on a good read. In truth, Ms. Rowling really is a generational true talent.

When thinking about The Cuckoo's Calling think "A brilliant mystery in a classic vein." Think crime noir and The Maltese Falcon. Think Agatha Christie and Hercule Poirot. Think Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and Sherlock Holmes. Think the beginning of a new and exciting British mystery series.

Having been a huge fan of the Harry Potter series I wasn't quite sure what to expect in this very adult drama. I know Rowling can add mystery to any amount of information. She has an uncanny knack for weaving the minutest detail into her story and then making it a major part of the plot. She brings into play our esoteric understanding of society and then throws into it a mix of suspicion, intrigue and human failings.

Her hero, Cormoran Strike (can you think of any name more British), is not an anti-hero. Her hero is an actual injured Afghanistan war hero with a convoluted childhood, a dead drug addled mother and absent world famous father. He is the lost soul that every woman wants to save, who is hopelessly intrigued by selfish narcissistic unbalanced women. Of course what else does such a damaged human being become, but a private detective. His sidekick, and every good murder mystery needs a good sidekick, is a youngwoman forced out of college due to family issues, engaged to a rather austere boring youngman. She's smart, pretty and excited to walk on the dangerous wild-side.

Meanwhile into Cormoran's world of empty pockets, broken engagements and screwed up dreams, walks an old acquaintance from childhood. The client's sister had just committed suicide and he is not in agreement with the inquest findings. He wants Cormoran to find her killer. And off we go.....

Rowlings brings you into the world of London. You see the rich and famous alongside the down trodden. She shows you what its like to be hounded by the paparazzi, the world of chic parties, designer goods and multimillion dollar apartments. She also introduces you to the sordid world of poverty and need in one of the premier cities on the globe. (A world that she had inhabited while she wrote the beginnings of the Harry Potter novels.) When she writes, you know she has lived much of what is before you.

One of the fun aspects of this book was the language. Yes, Britain and the United States technically are both English speaking nations, but it is interesting just how different that expression can become. This book then is a bit of an incite into the English psyche that is simply fascinating. Even the way she describes attitudes and ideas are so thoroughly British that you do know and understand that you are also taking part in a bit of an anthropological expedition while reading this book.

So what more can I say about The Cuckoo's Calling? Just that it kept me guessing. Really kept me guessing. Every little detail is there for a reason. Every simple argument, description and idea has a meaning to how the whole entire story unfolds. Rowling gives you no unnecessary information. Follow along closely. I thought I had, but I truly was a bit surprised by the ending. Funny I had thought not much in books could surprise me anymore. I was completely wrong.



*****

In many ways, I am a book snob. I am loathe to try a new author, especially one that is critically acclaimed. I have been sorely disappointed everytime I have broached a new writer this way. I enjoy good literature, but simply I find that the critics have no idea whatsoever about what is and is not good authorship. I find that their overindulgence and lauding of lamentations and self-flagellation to be, to put it mildly, quite mentally unhealthy. Sorry, but I really don't need to review my inner psyche or discuss my dreams and failings. When I pick up a book it is to escape the real world and try to enjoy a fictional, and quite unrealistic look at the world around me. In other words, I don't need a lesson on what some literary critic thinks is morality and ethics. I simply need to have a good time.

But maybe after the contretemps about the writings of Robert Galbraith I need to take a closer look at what the critics think. Maybe I should not just assume that every critic is a self-important jerk thinking that us plebeians need a lecture about life from a more sophisticated and deserving strata of society. Maybe some critics actually know the difference between lecture and literature afterall.


Elise

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Update on That "Controversial" Cheerios Commercial

I had a previous post about a Cheerios commercial that had caused such consternation on You Tube that they had to close comments HERE. The controversy? The family was of mixed race.



Meanwhile a study was done with the younger generation to catalogue just what they might think of this commercial. This is the response below:



Combating Hate


It's good to know that at least some of the next generation are channeling a bit of good karma.


Elise

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Color Color Everywhere, Oh Which, Oh Which to Choose

I was not a huge fan of the black and white look this past season. Don't
know why designers thought that a world devoid of color somehow was very artistic or created an air of elegance. All it did was remind me of 1950s television. I expected half of the runway models to come out wearing TV rabbit ears and to have made-up faces to look-like the television snow of decades past.







Happily, some handbag makers are catching on that a life without color is simply not joyful. Color brings out happiness. Happiness is what leads to sophistication and elegance.

Life is meant to be lived in color. Live life to its full extent. Choose a color(s) and run with it...I have.

Enjoy!



The over-the-top expensive version.....

The Louis Vuitton epi leather neverful





The more down-to-Earth and realistically priced version...

The  kooba Jonnie



I know which one(s) I have my eye on.....

Elise

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Forgiveness

From Prager University....

Offering forgiveness -- we all want to to do it and we all find it so hard. Dr. Stephen Marmer of UCLA Medical School explains why this is so and how you can overcome the negative emotions that are holding you back from being a happier person.





Forgiveness.....my tuchas. I can count on one hand, losing a thumb and forefinger, the amount of times people who betrayed me (including family) actually apologized to me in life and truly meant it.

Listen, if someone hurts mine I will do everything in my power to take them out, alienate them and excommunicate them from my life.

However, Dr. Marmer is correct, in that it is important to move beyond what has happened so YOU can have a happy and fulfilled life. DO NOT let mean and evil people live rent free in your head.

Enjoy your life. Revel in your life. 

After all living well is the best revenge.


Elise

Friday, July 5, 2013

Luv Me Some Bluegrass

From TED talks.....watch these amazingly talented youngmen. PS They are from the bluegrass capital of the world...New Jersey.





Their bio:

These days your kid can get famous on YouTube for having water sprayed at him, for being duped about his Halloween candy, and for being high off laughing gas. But what if your 8-year-old gets famous on the Internet for being an absolute genius on the banjo? So goes the story of Jonny Mizzone, who first became a YouTube sensation in early 2011 for videos of him and his brothers tearing it up playing Earl Scruggs's Flint Hill Special. It wasn't long before the press started calling.

Now Jonny, Robbie (fiddle) and Tommy (guitar), known as the Sleepy Man Banjo Boys, are 11, 14 and 15 respectively. In 2011 alone they got calls from The Ellen DeGeneres Show, Jimmy Kimmel Live and The Tonight Show with Jay Leno, and in the summer of 2011 they appeared as musical guests on The Late Show with David Letterman and NBC’s Today Show.

While the trio grew up in New Jersey -- which is known more for rock music than for bluegrass -- they fell in love with the unique sounds of J.D. Crowe, Ralph Stanley, Clarence White and Earl Scruggs after some creative YouTube searching. Now, having become sensations on the platform themselves, the trio has accumulated more than 17 million video views. Their first album, America’s Music, was released in September 2011 and charted top eight on the Billboard Bluegrass Album Chart. In October 2012 they released their second album, The Farthest Horizon, which cracked the top three. The group is already at work on their next album.



Elise

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Hydrangeas Part Two

My hydrangeas are now officially in full bloom, so much so that I have a lovely colorful table centerpiece.





Elise

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Happy Birthday USA













IN CONGRESS, JULY 4, 1776
The unanimous Declaration of the thirteen United States of America
When in the Course of human events it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, — That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security. — Such has been the patient sufferance of these Colonies; and such is now the necessity which constrains them to alter their former Systems of Government. The history of the present King of Great Britain is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute Tyranny over these States. To prove this, let Facts be submitted to a candid world.
He has refused his Assent to Laws, the most wholesome and necessary for the public good.
He has forbidden his Governors to pass Laws of immediate and pressing importance, unless suspended in their operation till his Assent should be obtained; and when so suspended, he has utterly neglected to attend to them.
He has refused to pass other Laws for the accommodation of large districts of people, unless those people would relinquish the right of Representation in the Legislature, a right inestimable to them and formidable to tyrants only.
He has called together legislative bodies at places unusual, uncomfortable, and distant from the depository of their Public Records, for the sole purpose of fatiguing them into compliance with his measures.
He has dissolved Representative Houses repeatedly, for opposing with manly firmness his invasions on the rights of the people.
He has refused for a long time, after such dissolutions, to cause others to be elected, whereby the Legislative Powers, incapable of Annihilation, have returned to the People at large for their exercise; the State remaining in the mean time exposed to all the dangers of invasion from without, and convulsions within.
He has endeavoured to prevent the population of these States; for that purpose obstructing the Laws for Naturalization of Foreigners; refusing to pass others to encourage their migrations hither, and raising the conditions of new Appropriations of Lands.
He has obstructed the Administration of Justice by refusing his Assent to Laws for establishing Judiciary Powers.
He has made Judges dependent on his Will alone for the tenure of their offices, and the amount and payment of their salaries.
He has erected a multitude of New Offices, and sent hither swarms of Officers to harass our people and eat out their substance.
He has kept among us, in times of peace, Standing Armies without the Consent of our legislatures.
He has affected to render the Military independent of and superior to the Civil Power.
He has combined with others to subject us to a jurisdiction foreign to our constitution, and unacknowledged by our laws; giving his Assent to their Acts of pretended Legislation:
For quartering large bodies of armed troops among us:
For protecting them, by a mock Trial from punishment for any Murders which they should commit on the Inhabitants of these States:
For cutting off our Trade with all parts of the world:
For imposing Taxes on us without our Consent:
For depriving us in many cases, of the benefit of Trial by Jury:
For transporting us beyond Seas to be tried for pretended offences:
For abolishing the free System of English Laws in a neighbouring Province, establishing therein an Arbitrary government, and enlarging its Boundaries so as to render it at once an example and fit instrument for introducing the same absolute rule into these Colonies
For taking away our Charters, abolishing our most valuable Laws and altering fundamentally the Forms of our Governments:
For suspending our own Legislatures, and declaring themselves invested with power to legislate for us in all cases whatsoever.
He has abdicated Government here, by declaring us out of his Protection and waging War against us.
He has plundered our seas, ravaged our coasts, burnt our towns, and destroyed the lives of our people.
He is at this time transporting large Armies of foreign Mercenaries to compleat the works of death, desolation, and tyranny, already begun with circumstances of Cruelty & Perfidy scarcely paralleled in the most barbarous ages, and totally unworthy the Head of a civilized nation.
He has constrained our fellow Citizens taken Captive on the high Seas to bear Arms against their Country, to become the executioners of their friends and Brethren, or to fall themselves by their Hands.
He has excited domestic insurrections amongst us, and has endeavoured to bring on the inhabitants of our frontiers, the merciless Indian Savages whose known rule of warfare, is an undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes and conditions.
In every stage of these Oppressions We have Petitioned for Redress in the most humble terms: Our repeated Petitions have been answered only by repeated injury. A Prince, whose character is thus marked by every act which may define a Tyrant, is unfit to be the ruler of a free people.
Nor have We been wanting in attentions to our British brethren. We have warned them from time to time of attempts by their legislature to extend an unwarrantable jurisdiction over us. We have reminded them of the circumstances of our emigration and settlement here. We have appealed to their native justice and magnanimity, and we have conjured them by the ties of our common kindred to disavow these usurpations, which would inevitably interrupt our connections and correspondence. They too have been deaf to the voice of justice and of consanguinity. We must, therefore, acquiesce in the necessity, which denounces our Separation, and hold them, as we hold the rest of mankind, Enemies in War, in Peace Friends.
We, therefore, the Representatives of the United States of America, in General Congress, Assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions, do, in the Name, and by Authority of the good People of these Colonies, solemnly publish and declare, That these united Colonies are, and of Right ought to be Free and Independent States, that they are Absolved from all Allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain, is and ought to be totally dissolved; and that as Free and Independent States, they have full Power to levy War, conclude Peace, contract Alliances, establish Commerce, and to do all other Acts and Things which Independent States may of right do. — And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of Divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes, and our sacred Honor.
John Hancock
New Hampshire:
Josiah Bartlett, William Whipple, Matthew Thornton
Massachusetts:
John Hancock, Samuel Adams, John Adams, Robert Treat Paine, Elbridge Gerry
Rhode Island:
Stephen Hopkins, William Ellery
Connecticut:
Roger Sherman, Samuel Huntington, William Williams, Oliver Wolcott
New York:
William Floyd, Philip Livingston, Francis Lewis, Lewis Morris
New Jersey:
Richard Stockton, John Witherspoon, Francis Hopkinson, John Hart, Abraham Clark
Pennsylvania:
Robert Morris, Benjamin Rush, Benjamin Franklin, John Morton, George Clymer, James Smith, George Taylor, James Wilson, George Ross
Delaware:
Caesar Rodney, George Read, Thomas McKean
Maryland:
Samuel Chase, William Paca, Thomas Stone, Charles Carroll of Carrollton
Virginia:
George Wythe, Richard Henry Lee, Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Harrison, Thomas Nelson, Jr., Francis Lightfoot Lee, Carter Braxton
North Carolina:
William Hooper, Joseph Hewes, John Penn
South Carolina:
Edward Rutledge, Thomas Heyward, Jr., Thomas Lynch, Jr., Arthur Middleton
Georgia:
Button Gwinnett, Lyman Hall, George Walton
HAPPY BIRTHDAY USA

Monday, July 1, 2013

Think World War Z Couldn't Happen...Link to the CDC's Zombie Apocalypse Survival Guide

Click HERE for the link to the Center for Disease Control's Zombie Apocalypse survival guide.

Educators Website HERE
Preparedness Blog HERE

These are just a few items that the CDC recommends you make sure to have available in the case of a zombie attack:

  • Water (1 gallon per person per day)
  • Food (stock up on non-perishable items that you eat regularly)
  • Medications (this includes prescription and non-prescription meds)
  • Tools and Supplies (utility knife, duct tape, battery powered radio, etc.)
  • Sanitation and Hygiene (household bleach, soap, towels, etc.)
  • Clothing and Bedding (a change of clothes for each family member and blankets)
  • Important documents (copies of your driver’s license, passport, and birth certificate to name a few)
  • First Aid supplies (although you’re a goner if a zombie bites you, you can use these supplies to treat basic cuts and lacerations that you might get during a tornado or hurricane)

Make certain to have an emergency plan:

  1. Identify the types of emergencies that are possible in your area. Besides a zombie apocalypse, this may include floods, tornadoes, or earthquakes. If you are unsure contact your local Red Cross chapter for more information.
  2. Pick a meeting place for your family to regroup in case zombies invade your home…or your town evacuates because of a hurricane. Pick one place right outside your home for sudden emergencies and one place outside of your neighborhood in case you are unable to return home right away.
  3. Identify your emergency contacts. Make a list of local contacts like the police, fire department, and your local zombie response team. Also identify an out-of-state contact that you can call during an emergency to let the rest of your family know you are OK.
  4. Plan your evacuation route. When zombies are hungry they won’t stop until they get food (i.e., brains), which means you need to get out of town fast! Plan where you would go and multiple routes you would take ahead of time so that the flesh eaters don’t have a chance! This is also helpful when natural disasters strike and you have to take shelter fast.

In the end to be best prepared you might want to think about joining the CDC's  Zombie Task Force  HERE

Homeland Security even issued its own warning HERE

Now if any of this is real or not, no one will tell me. But here is a statement released by the CDC last year:




Yeah right.......no such thing as zombies.

It's a government coverup. Same for area 51, who really killed Kennedy and the moon landing.



Elise