Monday, September 28, 2015

Banned Books Week: Celebrate Your Freedom to Read

Happy Monday!  This week we celebrate our freedom to read.  If your a student of history, then you probably remember that the second thing the Nazis confiscated after guns was books.  It would take a really big Nazi to take a book away from me.  Maybe two….

I also believe that parents should guide their children in what they read and no one else. I've spent countless hours previewing books before making the decision of whether or not my daughters were ready to read them.

I hope you celebrate your freedom to read this week by reading either a challenged or banned book!
I'll be sharing one of my favorite banned/challenged books on this week's Literary Friday post.

I hope you'll join me there!

Until next time…

Ricki Jill

Friday, September 25, 2015

Literary Friday: The Copper Gauntlet

Happy Literary Friday, My Lovelies!

THANK GOD this is the last week of Piers the Ploughman (homeschool).  It has kicked our butts!  It's interesting that the book is so incredibly timeless, and it means more to me reading it now than it did when I was in college.  We as human beings haven't learned a thing since medical times, apparently.

This week I also read The Copper Gauntlet by Holly Black and Casandra Clare.  It's the second book in the Magisterium Series.  I reviewed book one, The Iron Trial, last week.  You can read my review here.

The book begins during the summer after Call's Iron Year at his mage school The Magisterium.  He's returned home with his chaos-ridden wolf Havoc which adds to the strain between his father Alistair and himself.  Both father and son seem to be at crossed-purposes, and finally a confrontation with Alistair forces Call and Havoc to run away to his friend Tamara's estate.  He's shocked to discover his friend Aaron and "frenemy" Jasper in attendance at a lavish party upon his arrival, and  he's mesmerized by the level of wealth Tamara and other mages enjoy.   After a couple of weeks of fun in the sun, the four return to The Magesterium to begin their second or Copper Year.  

At school Call learns about a sinister plot involving his father.  Recently an artifact called the copper gauntlet has been stolen from The Collegium, and Alistair is the number one suspect in the theft.  If caught, he will be killed without a trial.  The danger of the copper gauntlet is it can separate chaos magic from a mage.  The process is deadly, and it would threaten the life of their Makar Aaron.  The Makar is a rare (once in a generation) mage who can wield chaos magic, and Aaron must be protected at all costs.  Call is loyal to his friends, but he now questions his original judgment of Alistair's actions during the summer.  Can he get to his father before Assembly mages find and execute him?

Holly Black and Cassandra Clare are two favorite young adult writers, but this series is for middle readers, grades 3 - 7.   I enjoyed this second installment of the series even more than the first.  I would still preview the series first for younger readers as there are some frightening monsters and scary situations in the book.  This should be a hit for Black and Clare, and I'm already looking forward to book three!

What are you reading?  Please share!  This is a link party.

Pssst!  You can see what I'm currently reading by viewing the Goodreads widget in my sidebar on the right.

Until next time…

Happy reading!
Ricki Jill

Thursday, September 24, 2015

A is for Apple and Autumn!

Happy Autumn, Y'all!  Today is the first full day of autumn, and you won't find any pumpkins around here.....yet.  I like to ease into autumn with apples.

We have been crazy busy with field trips, riding lessons, senior portrait sittings, and church activities plus everyday academics.  But still I wanted to treat the family to a delicious, fun dessert.

I made Apple Upside Down Cake, but I cheated by using a cake mix.

Apple Upside Down Cake

1⁄3 cup butter, cut up
1⁄3 cup packed brown sugar
6 small cooking apples, halved, stems removed, cored (1-1/4 to 1-1/2 lb.)
1 box Simple Mills Vanilla Cake Almond Flour Mix
3 eggs
1/3 cup grapeseed oil
1/3 cup water
1 T vanilla


Preheat oven to 350°F Place 1/3 cup butter in a 9x9x2-inch baking pan. Place in oven 5 minutes or until butter melts. Sprinkle brown sugar over butter; stir. Arrange 9 apple halves in mixture, cut sides down. Bake in oven 10 to 15 minutes or until bubbly.  Remove from oven.

Whisk eggs, oil, water, and vanilla in a large bowl.  Add baking mix to the wet ingredients and stir until complete combined.

Spoon over apples and spread evenly.

Bake 35 minutes or until wooden toothpick inserted near center comes out clean. Cool in pan on wire rack for 5 minutes. Loosen edges; invert onto platter. Cool 20 minutes; serve with ice cream or fresh whipped cream. Makes 9 servings.

Let me know if you try this!  Upside Down Cake is an old fashioned dessert, but what makes this recipe nice is it's gluten-free, and the cake mix helps save a few steps!  Don't substitute the grapeseed oil.  It truly makes a huge difference in the flavor.   I served this to the family and my friend and her husband.  It was a huge hit!

Until next time...

Ricki Jill

Friday, September 18, 2015

Literary Friday: The Iron Trial

Happy Friday, My Lovelies!  I couldn't be happier that the weekend is upon us.  Shelley and I have been struggling through Piers the Ploughman in British Literature, so I read a fun children's book written by my two very favorite YA writers Holly Black and Cassandra Clare:  The Iron Trial.  It's the first book in their Magisterium Series that will include five books total.  You can visit the fun website over at Scholastic here.

Callum "Call" Hunt has been recruited to take entrance exams to a secret underground school for mages, "The Magisterium."  The competition is stiff as only a few students are accepted.

Call wants to fail.

Every other student is competing as hard as he or she can to gain acceptance into the school, but Callum's father has warned him his whole life about the dangers at the Magisterium, how the mage instructors or masters use their students in experiments to glean knowledge about magic.  Call's mother was killed during a mage war, and to complicate his life even further, he has a disability with a weak leg because he suffered a horrendous injury as a child.  But in spite of Call's horrible performance during his admissions testing, he's admitted to the Magisterium and placed with the mage who had instructed his father years ago.

I enjoyed this book in spite of the fact that the school is underground in a series of caves. The plot is fast-paced, something readers have come to expect from Cassandra Clare and Holly Black.  I had to pay attention to every word so I wouldn't miss anything important.  Call and his teammates Tamara and Aaron eventually bond and work together to face frightening foes in an unexpected climax.  The three friends' characters are well-developed, and I can't wait to read their next adventure in The Copper Gauntlet.

Fire wants to burn
Water wants to flow.
Air wants to rise.
Earth wants to bind.
Chaos wants to devour.

I took the quiz on the website and the element I'd master at the Iron Trial is earth....not surprising, LOL!

PARENTS:  There are some frightening scenes in these books, so you might want to preview before you allow a younger child read this book.   Its target audience is grades 3 - 7.

The Iron Trail book trailer

Magisterium Series trailer

I love getting in touch with my inner child by reading children's books.  Have you read any children's books lately?  Don't forget this is a link party!

Until next time...

Ricki Jill

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Sumi-e: Japanese Art

Happy Random Tuesday, My Lovelies!  If Japanese Sumi-e Art isn't random enough for you, then I don't know what is!

A couple of weeks go, Shelley and I took a class in Sumi-e.  Sumi-e literally means "the way of the ink," and according to the Sumi-e Society, SUMI-E is the Japanese word for Black Ink Painting. East Asian Painting and writing developed together in ancient China using the same materials —brush and ink on paper. Emphasis is placed on the beauty of each individual stroke of the brush.

Below are the Four Treasures used in Sumi-e:

Fude:  brush  (made from bamboo)

Sumi:  ink (comes in a block form)

Suzumi:  ink stone (Made from slate.  Ink block is rubbed vigorously on stone, and there's water in the bowl part to mix with the ink.)

Washi:  Paper (traditionally mulberry paper is used)

Sumi-e is a very difficult art form to perfect.  The reason it's called "the way of the ink" is because the ink finds a path of its own and it is almost impossible to control it. The ink oftentimes takes a random path.   The artist must build on where the ink leads.

The first subject an artist must master is bamboo.

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My bamboo painting on newsprint

We practiced on newsprint in class before we were allowed to use the mulberry paper.  Newsprint was super easy compared to the traditional paper.  The ink truly had a mind of its own on the mulberry paper!

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Shelley's painting on the traditional mulberry paper.  She used more water than ink.

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My painting on traditional mulberry paper.  I used more ink than Shelley.

We took the class at the Birmingham Museum of Art along with other students and parents in Shelley's homeschool cover school.  Before the class started, a docent took us on a museum tour of art from the Silk Road.  The tour was wonderful, and I fell in love with Korean pottery.

Below is a horse painted with the sumi-e technique.  I would love to take more classes and move beyond bamboo one day!

Until next time…

Ricki Jill

Monday, September 14, 2015

Shelley's Portrait

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Sorry about the glare.  The portrait isn't completely dry.

This summer I took a wonderful portrait class with Annabelle DeCamillis.  She's my art teacher's daughter and a college student.  Please click on the link above to visit Annabelle's website.

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Shelley After Art Class
11" X 14"
oil on linen

I can't wait to take Annabelle's class next summer.  I enjoyed it so much I'm starting a series of portraits of literary heroines.  

Until next time...

Ricki Jill

Friday, September 11, 2015

Literary Friday: The Guest Cottage

Happy Literary Friday!

It has been a great short week.  We stayed at the lake through Tuesday and went on a field trip to an art exposure class at Auburn University Tuesday afternoon.

Isn't the cover shown above pretty?  I saw this book at the library last week, and the cover caught my attention (I admit that I'm a sucker for a pretty book cover).  The Guest Cottage by Nancy Thayer was the perfect read for Labor Day Weekend: the perfect ending to the unofficial close of summer.

Sophie Anderson is a thirty-six year old soon to be single mom.  She has a fifteen year old son named Jonah and a ten year old daughter named Lacey.  When her husband confronts her and asks for a divorce, she's blindsided although no one else seems surprised.  Not one hundred percent happy in her marriage with her architect husband Zack, she has felt fulfilled if not content.  With summer quickly approaching, Sophie decides to rent her friend Susie Swenson's Nantucket guest cottage for the months of July and August.  She wants to spare her children from her husband's moving in with his partner and mistress.

Thirty year old Trevor Black, a software entrepreneur, widower, and father to preschooler Leo, is desperate.  Leo is showing signs of obsessive compulsive disorder, and both he and Trevor are not coping very well with Trevor's wife Tallulah's tragic heroine overdose.  A flighty actress, Tallulah never adjusted well to motherhood, yet both Trevor and Leo have mourned her death since the previous November.  When Trevor's friend Ivan Swenson offers him a steal of a deal on his family's rambling guest cottage on Nantucket Island (Ivan needs fast funding for a trip to India), Trevor jumps at the chance for a change of scenery for himself and his grieving son.

Unfortunately, Susie and her cousin Ivan don't communicate very well.  The cottage has been double-booked!

Sophie and Trevor decide to share the home (and chores) as it's large enough for both families.  They become attracted to each other in spite of distractions from visiting friends, family, and Nantucket acquaintances. They reluctantly fall in love, and as the end of August approaches, Sophie and Trevor must decide if there's a next step once the families ferry back to Boston.

I loved this book!  Each character is well drawn.  I like Trevor's confidence and vulnerability, but I don't think he's as well-defined as Sophie.   Sophie truly blossoms and starts enjoying music again after many years of not playing the piano.  The reader is given insight to her past which explains her actions in certain situations.  Plus the setting is dreamy: I would love to travel to Nantucket and visit the places mentioned in the book.  I wonder if some or most are fictitious.  I'd love the opportunity to visit the island and find out for myself!

Why I'm giving the book four out of five stars:  It bothers me that there are a couple of editing mistakes.  For example, Sophie arrived in Nantucket in an SUV, yet later everyone piles into her minivan.  Another thing that bothered me is Sophie's making such a big deal about the six year age difference between herself and Trevor.

Have you read any of Nancy Thayer's books? This is the first one of her books I've read, and I'd like to know which ones I should read next.

Don't forget that this is a link party!

Until next time...

Happy reading!
Ricki Jill

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Dreamy Stuff for Your Nest

It's almost that time of year for cocooning in front of a roaring fire, cuddled on a sofa with your favorite mug filled with something nice and hot….*almost* that time…..and since I haven't fluffed the house {much} recently, I've been dreaming….

The Cloud sofa from Restoration Hardware is covered in stark white Belgian linen.  Filled with goose down, it feels like its namesake.

Cuddle underneath Anthropologie's cottage throw

Place your favorite pumpkin spiced candle on this pretty Beau Block coffee table from Shabby Chic.

And just for fun, why not set a very pretty table with lovely stuff from Terrain?


I'm so going to make a centerpiece similar to the one in the video!

A girl can dream, right?!?  Now it's back to reality: homeschooling and laundry from an extremely long Labor Day Weekend (we didn't get home until last night).

Until next time…

Ricki Jill

Friday, September 4, 2015

Literary Friday: More Merry Muffin Mysteries *plus* A Muffin Recipe

Happy Literary Friday, My Lovelies!!!  I hope y'all have fantastic Labor Day Weekend plans with your friends and family.  I hope to do a little art, boating, and reading!

This week I read the first two Merry Muffin mysteries.  A couple of weeks ago I read the third one, Death of an English Muffin.  You may read my review here.

From Victoria Hamilton's Website:

  Merry Wynter didn’t know a lot about her family until she finally made her way to take possession of her inherited castle near the town of Autumn Vale, in upstate New York. 

  Though she intended to do a quick fix and put it back on the market, she realizes if she is ever going to find out her family history on the Wynter side, this is the place to do it. 

  Baking muffins, investigating murders, making friends... and enemies... among the quirky residents of Autumn Vale, keeps Merry busy, and local Sheriff Virgil Grace keeps her heart rate high.

  Though the widowed Merry still carries a torch in her heart for her late husband, photographer Miguel Paradiso, maybe there is enough room there for a new flame? 

  With her wonderful friends Pish Lincoln and Shilo Dinnegan, who have joined her at the castle, Merry is starting to find it hard to imagine leaving the ancestral home of her Wynter ancesters. If folks wouldn't keep getting murdered, it would be pretty much perfect! 

The first in the series, Bran New Death, introduces us to Merry and her friends.  I absolutely adore Merry.  She's a very well-developed character, and I feel like I know her.  She's the type of girl I like to befriend, and I really want her to find a way to stay in Autumn Vale in her lovely castle.  But first she needs to figure out who's vandalizing her property by digging deep holes all over the lawn.  Late one night, she finds a body in the bottom of one of the holes, and the victim is the very person she suspects is the vandal!  The very handsome Sheriff Virgil Grace is on the case, and he becomes a little annoyed with Merry because of her unsanctioned sleuthing, yet at the same time, he's worried for her as the body count rises on her estate.  Unfortunately the murder mysteries leave little time for Merry to renovate the castle and solve the mysteries haunting Merry about the Wynter side of her family.

The second book in the Merry Muffin series is Muffin but Murder.  This one is my favorite in the series so far.  Merry has invited potential buyers to her castle for a Halloween masquerade.  An uninvited guest is brutally murdered, and since several other costumed and masked guests are actual crashers, how can Sheriff Grace even begin to investigate potential suspects of the crime?  And you know that Merry will find the time to do some investigating on her own in between cooking muffins for the community and meals for her friends.  I like the cast of characters, and there are many surprises in this mystery.  Merry and the other quirky residents of Autumn Vale are so entertaining that I cannot wait for the next installment in this adorable cozy mystery series.

An added bonus:  recipes in the back of each book!  The recipe below is not from one of her books, but Merry does like to bake healthy muffins for the more senior members of Autumn Vale.  The series has made me crave my Oat Bran Muffins.  I hope you'll try it!  Although it's a basic recipe, you can make them more tasty with honey, molasses, jelly, jam, or curds. 

Plain Buttermilk Oat Bran Muffins

(Makes 12 muffins)

2 cups oat bran hot cereal, uncooked (I used Bob's Red Mill)
1⁄4 cup firmly packed brown sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
1⁄2 teaspoon salt
1 cup buttermilk
1 egg
1 egg white
2 tablespoons coconut oil

Pre-heat oven to 425 degrees F. Line 12 medium muffin cups with paper baking cups and spray with a nonstick spray.  Beat egg, egg white, and buttermilk in a large bowl.  Add dry ingredients and coconut oil and stir until moistened.  Fill muffin cups 3/4 full. Bake 18 - 20 minutes or until golden brown.

What have you been reading lately?  Link-up and share!

Until next time…

Happy reading!
Ricki Jill

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Autumn Beauty

clockwise from bottom: Dragonscale, Wizard, and Witch

Happy Pretty Wednesday, My Lovelies!  Autumn is upon us, and it's time to update our vanities!  ;P

I found some wonderful products I wanted to share with you….I love them all, and they're *perfect* for autumn.

At the top of the post, I chose these wonderful autumnal shades from Printcess.  Both my daughters and I love this line!  They are heavily pigmented and blend well with each other.  Cruelty-free and vegan friendly, none of the shadows have bothered my sensitive skin (a huge plus).  I love the literary references in the names of the eyeshadows.  Of course I do!  So do my daughters.  Shanley Belle chose Direwolf, and Shelley prefers Slippers and Mirror, Mirror.

The heady combination of water lily, evening lotus, and midnight jasmine is lovely without being too overbearing 

Autumn means bonfires and outdoor fire pits, so put away your light summertime fragrance for a slightly stronger fragrance that will withstand woodsmoke.  Moon Shadow by Library of Flowers is my fragrance pick for autumn.  The fragrance might remind you of a warm summer evening, but it's a bit too strong of a fragrance for summer.  A little goes a long way!

The Korres Greek line of skincare is fast becoming a favorite of mine.  The pomegranate facial moisturizer is fantastic, and it has never broken-out my sensitive skin.  It has a low SPF of 6, but at least it does offer some sun protection.  

I love the smell of the B├ęsame Brightening French Vanilla Face Powder.  It helps control redness and is gluten free.  Gluten is common in many facial powders, so this is definitely an added benefit for me.  

As the days shorten, I like to burn candles, and one of my very favorites is Aveda's Shampure candle. It's my favorite scent in Aveda's line, and all of their candles have an added benefit.  Did you know that as the wax melts you can dip your fingers in it and use it as a hand moisturizer?  I only burn soy candles in our home due to folks with asthma, and all of the Aveda candles are made from soy.

Well, there you have it!  My five favorite beauty items for fall.  

So tell me: what are your autumn beauty secrets!  You must share!

Until next time…

Ricki Jill

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Random Chores and Activities

Happy Tuesday and September, My Lovelies!  We are so excited about two art field trips this week and next week. I'm so blessed to have a daughter who's growing as an artist while learning about art history.  I think it's going to be a great year!

In between teaching, art lessons, riding lessons, and reading for school, I've had many chores and projects around the house.  One that really needed my attention: our planters.  The petunias and a few of the other plants were looking leggy and tired.  I wanted something to plant that would tide us over until pansy season...but I don't like planting mums because I never have good luck with them. So I decided to add (mostly) lantana, vinca, and plumbago to our planters until the first frost.  After the first frost, it's time to plant pansies here in the South.

Pink strawflowers are wonderful late summer flowers, too.

Plumbago, vinca, and marigolds

Of course Finlay must check out anything new!

I love tuna.  I love tuna salad.  I love tuna casserole.  Ask me if anyone else in my family likes tuna. Go on.  Ask.  The answer is heck no.  But too bad so sad because Stacey @ Poofing the Pillows posted a recipe that looked so delish I had to try it anyway.  *so happy* I did!

Called A Tuna Recipe for Fish Haters, you can find this wonderful recipe on Stacey's blog HERE.
For realsies it's called Tuna and Rice Salad with Avocado Dressing.  The dressing is one of the best I've ever tried!

Look at our roses!!!  I love how they open up all the way like this:

I haven't done much house fluffing this's al been about our patio and garden!

I have a large section of hydrangeas out front with awful black spots.  I'm so sad!  Usually I have trouble with roses in Alabama, but this summer, the hydrangeas are rotting.  I just don't get it, although we have had tons of rain.  Usually the rain makes my roses get black spots and powdery mildew....

And now it's time for a shameless plug for my art journal blog.  You can find it by clicking on the link on my sidebar.  Shelley is doing a lot of art journaling for school and working on her art portfolio for college.  I have a couple of art journals, and one is actually a prayer journal.  Here are two of my latest pages:

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The word "keys" was the prompt for last week's Journal52 challenge.  

I used Derwent Inktense watercolor pencils for the keys 

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from my prayer journal

It rained and stormed at the lake over the weekend, so we were without internet for several hours. We didn't even put the boat in the water, and Mr. Art @ Home broke his jet ski.  Again.  And had to be towed back to the marina.  ;P  Since I had all my work done (school and chores) I read two romance novels.  I liked them especially the second one.  The heroine in it was so strong, and she actually becomes laird of her clan (so cool) AND she is a very skilled archer.  No more spoilers, I promise! There was actually more action/adventure/intrigue in these than romance, but that's okay.  GREAT stories about two families, the Montgomerys and the Armstrongs.  Here's a trailer:

The Highlander Most Wanted is probably more about the heroine.  She's a Bad @$$!
The first book in the series is Never Seduce a Scot.  I can't wait for the third!

Tomorrow I'll share some of my favorites from Pinterest and other pretty things for autumn.  

What chores are you checking off your list this week?

Until next time…

Ricki Jill