Monday, June 30, 2008

The Nostalgia Mirror

I took a trip back to my youth for my TBR Challenge June book. The book I read was The Blind Mirror, by Christopher Pike. I say this took me back to my youth because when I was in my early teens, I discovered Christopher Pike.

Christopher Pike wrote thriller mysteries for young adults, but he wrote as if he was writing to adults. He did not talk down to his audience, and he wrote mysteries that I could not figure out. There was always a twist, a surprise that I didn't see coming. There were adult themes and interesting plots. I loved his books. After being introduced to his books, I discovered Lois Duncan, and then R.L. Stine came onto the scene and L.J. Smith (although I read only her early books). I really enjoyed all these books, but I thought nothing was as good as Christopher Pike.

As I got older, I stopped reading his books and moved on to other, older material, but my love for him and his books remained in my heart. He did come out with a few adult books, and I read and really enjoyed Sati and The Season of Passage. He took a few years off (there might have been a book or two I missed in there), and I stopped looking for him.

A couple years ago, I was telling my husband about how much I loved Christopher Pike books and mentioned that he had written some adult books. Londo asked me if he'd written anything recently, so I checked. And I found this book, The Blind Mirror, on Amazon. I immediately ordered it, but I didn't read it right away. It had been a long time since I read scary books and I wasn't quite up for a thriller, nostalgia or no.

I finally read it for my June book. And I'm glad I did.

The Blind Mirror was a good book. It had interesting characters, an intriguing plot, mysterious twists (including a couple I didn't see coming), and some classic Christopher Pike themes (which I enjoyed but did see coming). The book was about a man who left town after his girlfriend broke up with him, but on his return he discovers a dead body on the beach. Is it his girlfriend's body? The one who is calling him and wanting to get back together again? And what's going on with his old high-school crush who is suddenly all over him? And there is also some unanswered questions from the man's friends who died back in his high school days.

The book keeps you guessing about many different subplots. It kept my interest and kept me constantly guessing, wondering if anything was connected and in what way. I was able to keep up with all the different characters and themes, and in fact I thought they added interest.

I must say that it wasn't a perfect book. I was a little bit dissappointed in the end of the book. Not because it left me hanging, because he did answer all the different unanswered questions and mysteries. But some things were never adequately detailed. I never did understand why some of the things happened or what were the motivations of certain characters. I was left seeing what happened, but not always understanding why they happened.

Overall, I really liked The Blind Mirror, for all the reasons I've always liked Christopher Pike. I think it was a good book, one that could have been great. It was pretty short, and a definitely fast-paced read that was worth the time. If you like interesting thriller mysteries with a side of paranormal, I suggest you try this book and others by Christopher Pike.

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Bread, Pancakes and Low-Sugar Cake

I've always loved to bake. However there have been times when I haven't had much time to bake from scratch. Instead, I've turned to some excellent mixes for cookies, cakes, pancakes and much more. But lately, in my effort to be more healthy and use more natural and organic ingredients, I've gone back to baking with a vengence! I've told a few people that I would share some recipes that I've gotten from others, and I'm finally going to do it.

First, I would like to thank Jen at Amazing Trips for this fantastic recipe for the best homemade bread I've ever eaten. In fact, as soon as I get to the store to buy more yeast, I'm making this bread today. Everyone who tries it loves it, and it's SO EASY to make! Check it out by clicking here.

Second, I tried the whole wheat bread recipe on the back of the King Arthur whole wheat flour bag. It was not hard to make, and it turned out quite good. I used molasses to sweeten it, which worked well. I will make this recipe again and recommend it to others. The one not-so-great thing was that it didn't seem to keep as long as I expected, which wasn't long. But maybe if I'd covered/sealed it right away it would have kept better.

Third, when I asked online somewhere for good bread recipes, I received a recommendation for The Tassajara Bread Book, by Edward Espe Brown. While I have not tried it myself, I plan to buy it soon and it sounds fantastic. I will review it after I try it out.

If you haven't discovered All Recipes yet, you are missing out. I have found some great recipes on that site, including some pancake recipes.

For a really excellent pancake mix recipe, check this one out. You mix up all of the dry ingredients and store the mix in an airtight container. I've actually been using a big Ziplock bag, which is working fine. When you are ready to make a batch of pancakes, you add the egg and milk. Prego! Delicious pancakes! It's better than Aunt Jemima, Bisquick or Hungry Jack... and as an added bonus, it does not contain aluminum, unlike some of those others! (Don't believe me? Check the ingredients on the back of their boxes.)

I've also made these pancakes! I used butter instead of shortening, and they really turned out fluffy and really good. They were pretty easy to make, too, and they froze well.

A friend recommended another recipe, which she posted in the comments here. I have to be honest, I have not tried these because one of the main ingredients is bananas, which I didn't realize at first. I have a real aversion to bananas and can't stand the smell or taste. But if Dana says it's good, I trust that it is good (for people who like bananas).

For the Pumpkin's first birthday, I wanted to make cupcakes for her and other toddlers at her party, but I wanted something low in sugar that wasn't a carrot cake. Someone recommended this site to me, and I made the Vanilla Cake as cupcakes. They were excellent! They did taste more like muffins than cakes because of the low sugar, but they were scrumptious muffin/cakes. I highly recommend it for anyone who wants to make cakes for their little ones but don't want to deal with a major sugar high!

Understanding Animals and People

My May read for the TBR Challenge was Animals in Translation: Using the Mysteries of Autism to Decode Animal Behavior, by Temple Grandin and Catherine Johnson. I had been really looking forward to this book, and it didn't disappoint. I don't know why I hadn't read it sooner, other than my life had been consumed by pregnancy and the baby.

Here's the story behind my buying the book. I'm an avid researcher. I research EVERYTHING! It's what I do. So when Londo and I first got a cat, I bought all sorts of books about cats--raising cats, how cats were domesticated, why cats behave the way the do, etc. When we got a dog, I looked into dogs--training dogs, the history behind different breeds, how to read their body language, etc. This of course carried over into pregnancy and raising a baby, and I have shelves of books dedicated to all these things. But once I research until I'm comfortable with an area of knowledge, I usually stop reading about it regularly.

When I was pregnant, a coworker and I were talking about our dogs and I mentioned some interesting books I read when I was in my dog research phase, especially my favorite book in this area How to Speak Dog: Mastering the Art of Dog-Human Communication, by Stanley Coren. My coworker told me about the Animals in Translation book, which he had seen in passing at an airport bookstore. He didn't buy it because he didn't want to carry it on his flight, but he said it looked interesting. It sounded fascinating to me, so I found it and bought it. I didn't read it at the time, because I was busy with my pregnancy books and then baby books. But finally, I read it for my May read, and I'm really glad I did.

The author of the book, Temple Grandin, is a prominent animal behavior expert who is also autistic. She believes that in many ways the way animals see and experience the world is the same as autistic people. For example, she says that she and other autistic people think in pictures (she has another book about this called Thinking in Pictures: My Life with Autism, which also sounds fascinating), and she believes that animals also think in pictures. She talks a lot about how autistic people think and behave, how animals think and behave and how non-autistic people think and behave. I learned so much about all these areas, and just psychology in general, from reading this book, which I was immediately able to start using in real life.

In fact, the book made me realize that I need to think of things from my dog's perspective and keep realistic expectations of her. I realized that I've been trying to do that for my child, but since she was born, I've had much less patience and understanding for both the dog and cat. The rules have changed in our house since the baby was born, and the dog especially is having some trouble adjusting to it.

One great example of what I learned from this book that I'm trying to apply in real life is that dogs (and apparently autistic people) don't generalize. So if we are trying to teach our food-driven beagle that she can have the food that the toddler drops on the floor from her highchair but has to wait until the end of the meal, she does not understand that this will apply every single time for every single meal. She just doesn't get it. Food drops, she wants it, she tries to get it. We have to instruct her every. single. time. to wait outside the kitchen, and we have to have realistic expectations that she will try to sneak in when food drops. She wants the food, and she does not understand the human reasoning that we place on her waiting until the baby is done. We have to give her clear commands and reward her good behavior.

I learned that and much more. Because I'm now thinking about how animals think again, I find that I'm able to have more patience for the animals. I really needed to find my patience again, so I'm really happy that this has helped. I'm also much more creative in thinking of ways to train the dog and help both animals adjust to the constantly changing rules of having a toddler. One who now wants toddle around eating (and dropping) crackers that the dog is not supposed to eat--and especially not supposed to take from the toddler. Yeah, that one is tough, and I'm still trying to figure out how to work with the beagle on that one!

So, I highly recommend this book. I really enjoyed it, and I learned a lot. If you are interested in animals, autism or how people think, this is an excellent book.

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