Sunday, October 12, 2014

Subscription Boxes part 3

Boxes are still showing up - at a slightly slower pace now since I haven't signed up for many new ones recently. Both of the travel subscription boxes that I chose arrived recently.  These boxes take a destination theme and send items from that area ... the type of things that you might buy as a souvenir or taste if you visited.
Escape Monthly

The first was Escape Monthly.  I had signed up for the larger size box, and this month's theme was Puerto Rico.  It included a Moon travel guidebook to the area.  This was nice - definitely appeals to my researching nature and I can see that if the box inspired me to visit that area it would be very handy.  There were a number of food items - plantain chips, coconut pineapple candy bites, hot sauce, and coffee.  None of these are personally appealing to me.  I will probably try the plantain chips just to see what they are like (I don't like bananas though and am not expecting much) and the hot sauce.  The coffee and candies will find other homes.
More from Escape Monthly

Along with the food, there were a few smaller items.  One was a coconut scented candle somewhere between the size of a tealight and a votive.  With a very active kitty in my home, I expect this item will also be given away.  The last two items were unexpected - a small frog pin and a bottle opener with a frog on it - I had never associated Puerto Rico with frogs, but there was a card that came with the pin that described their significance to local culture.  I don't know if I will use the frog items, but I did learn something because of seeing them in the box.  My final verdict ... based on only this box, I wouldn't consider it worth the money; however, I'm going to try the next box (London) to see if a theme location that I am more interested in is more appealing. So, expect a second review on this company.
The anticipation of opening Hammock Pack

The other travel box was Hammock Pack.  They seems to have more USA based destinations, and this month's theme was Vermont.  I did a little guessing before the box came with what I associated with Vermont to see if it was included.  I was only correct with one item - maple flavoring. 
Hammock Pack revealed

The very first thing that I noticed about this box was how well it was packed.  The box was about the perfect fit for the items and the filler was packed so tight that I had a hard time getting the contents back in.  The other initial impression that I had was that the company does a very nice job with the explanation card.  All of the items get the same amount of space, and a website is included in case you want to order more of something from that company. 

There were four full size items included.  First, my correct guess on maple was reflected in a full size bag of maple granola.  I haven't tried this yet, but it looks yummy.  The other food item were some really good gluten-free vegan cookies.  Evidently the company sent multiple varieties out since I got the chocolate fudge, but the picture on the card was of a chocolate chip cookie.  These were some of the best commercially made cookies I've had - glad to see a company making something yummy that can be enjoyed by people with a wide variety of dietary needs. 

The other two items were more spa-related.  A very nice honey oatmeal soap - again a different scent that the picture on the card, but I was very happy to get the honey rather than the maple scent.  The last item was a jar of bath salts with a very interesting combination of scents - lavender, peppermint, grapefruit, and lemongrass ... all together - I've opened it to sniff several times trying to decide what it smells like.  I haven't come up with an answer yet.  I don't use bath salts often, so this will most likely make its way to someone else.  This was an interesting box and well put together, but it didn't inspire me to continue to subscribe.  I'm not sure why - maybe because they were all items that I would normally buy local from small producers I know.

The next box - SporkPack - challenged my expectations; the company sends kitchen gadgets and unique foods.  I had seen some very cool gadgets in other reviews online, but the food didn't move me.  However, I felt the opposite about the box I received.

There were two gadgets and two food items.  I was really turned off by both of the gadgets.  First, a sugar/creamer set ... I would expect that most people who need this sort of thing already own it.  I know I have a set lurking in my cupboard that I rarely use.  Plus, I don't really consider it a gadget.  The second was a oil and vinegar server for salad; again, I would think that you already own this if you need/want it.  Plus, it might look interesting on the table, but I bet it would be very hard to clean.  Not going to keep either one.
more SporkPack

The food, though, was very unique.  Freeze-dried corn for snacking.  It tastes just like corn on the cob but the texture is very different - crunchy, but not like popcorn.  It did highlight to me how much natural sugar is in sweet corn as it left a sweet aftertaste in my mouth (there were no additives).  The second food item was chocolate covered goji berries.  These were not as unusual a taste experience, but still interesting.  I would have preferred a higher berry to chocolate ratio because mostly what I could taste was the dark chocolate, but they were still good to try.  I think I'll try another box to see if this was an off one for gadgets ...

The last box is one that I haven't tried any items from yet.  Cocolectic sends tasting bars (full size) of high quality chocolates.  These are all high percentage dark bars.  The shipment was beautifully packaged, and the guide sheet gives ideas on what to taste for - similar to wine tasting notes.  I found it interesting that two of the bars got a long paragraph on the sheet and the other two had only a line with the flavors to taste for.  I expect that I will enjoy the chocolate, but I don't think I will continue this subscription as it seemed a bit pricey.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Subscription Boxes part 2

I am continuing my journey through the world of subscription boxes.  Most of the ones I received in this round were food-orientated.  I'm not sure if that has to do with the initial list that I made or if it accurately reflects the larger proportion of food items available in this manner or if the food boxes are simply mailed more quickly.
Graze - the second box.

First, I received my second shipment from  This one had four new snacks in it.  I've now tried 4 of the 8 snacks (overall) that they have sent. I really liked one - the super berry detox - which had a new food to me goji berries.  One was REALLY not for me - sour cream and onion cashews - this was a bit of a surprise since I've always liked cashews and also sour cream and onion potato chips.  The combination of the cashews and the flavoring didn't work for me though.  The other two I felt more neutral ranging to positive.  The fruit and seed flapjack (something like a chewy granola bar only more moist) tasted good, but I wouldn't go out of my way to purchase it alone.   The jalapeno fiesta mix was good; I like the combination and the spice level was just on for my tastes.  However, I'm eating these snacks at work and felt very self-conscious about my breath after eating this one.  I'm actually looking forward to trying the last four items this company has sent - I'm just trying to pace myself to make them last until the next box comes.
The Hatchery Box - nice packaging

My next box was the largest personal disappointment so far.  After watching Nina open her TasteTrunk box, I had high hopes for the Hatchery box I ordered for myself.  However, after poking through the contents (none of which I've been inspired to use yet), I've come to the conclusion that I'm not really a foodie.  This box contained sample sizes of paella spice mix, tea seed oil, mango habanero jam, bbq sauce, white truffle mayonnaise, and salted vanilla caramel sauce.  Only one recipe was included - for the caramel sauce which I thought was one of the easiest items to use without a recipe.  I went on the website hoping to find recipes for the other items - particularly the tea seed oil since I'm not familiar with it - and the recipes are not organized so I gave up. Since the guide sheet in the box listed 2 ideas to use each item, I had expected to see those recipes listed, but I couldn't find them.
Horatio looks at the Hatchery items

The cost of this box was slightly less than TasteTrunk - $25 with shipping as compared to $29 - and there was one more item but all the items were considerably smaller in size.  If an individual was truly a foodie (as we just established I am not), this could be an exciting way to find new companies.  All of the products were made in the USA; four of the six were produced in California.  The website did give information on each company, so you could presumably later order more (either through the Hatchery website or directly from the producer) of any item that you really liked.
The Treatsie box

The other food box that came since my last batch of reviews was the "sweets" subscription from Treatsie.  This company does more than one plan, and I am going to get a box of their chocolate subscription as well.  Be warned that their website says that this subscription is $12/month ... with shipping it is closer to $20.  There were three types of sweets in the box:  triple chocolate cookies, assorted caramels, and cherry & white tea preserves.  The caramels were really good.  I devoured the Celtic Sea Salt and Classic Soft ones almost immediately.  Some lucky soul will receive the salted mocha ones from the assortment since I don't like coffee flavors.  The cookies were good.  I could tell that they were commercially made as they were quite dry and powdery; however, I could also tell that there were high quality ingredients used in making them.  You could taste the different levels of chocolate from the dough and the chips.  I have not tried the cherry preserves yet ... holding out for a day when I have time to make waffles or something like that.  However, this was a pleasant surprise to find in the box - a little tartness rather than another very sugary item.  You can order any  full-size versions of the items from this box (or past ones) on the Treatsie website; I looked longingly at more caramels but restrained myself as I currently have many other treats in the house.
The Be Nice Box month of good deeds for September

The last box that I have to review is actually the one that started me on this plan.  I read about the Be Nice Box in Minnesota Monthly magazine and was fascinated by the idea of subscription boxes.  I was also particularly fascinated by this company.  When you subscribe you are sent a list of good deed ideas to try, supplies to do some of the activities on the list, and a little treat for yourself.  Diana (the company founder) has changed the pricing structure since I ordered, so check out the website for more information on costs and frequency of orders.
Coloring book, paper dolls and shaped crayons

Little theater, kindness seed coins and MY TREAT :)

Kit to make cards for hospitalized kids (or someone else)
My box was themed towards good deeds for kids (or the young at heart).  Some of the ideas on the list included buying school supplies to donate to a student in need, drawing a hopscotch grid on the sidewalk, teaching a kid a joke, and opening the door for parents (and everyone else) with their hands full.  Included supplies (they did all tie to something on the list) were a small sheet of paper dolls, a tiny coloring book, sea life shaped crayons, a matchbox theater, and a card making kit.  The treat for me was a bar of chocolate from Meadowlands Chocolate; I was quite thrilled to see this as I've heard about this company but haven't found a spot in my area of Minnesota that sells their product.

I don't know if I will use every item in the box with a kid - some may just get passed on.  However, they were all very sweet.   I did think that the shaped crayons would be hard to actually use to color in the very tiny drawings of the included coloring book, but they certainly looked interesting.  I had gotten some kindness seed coins as well - which look like great fun to hand out.  I love matchbox theaters, so that was a fun old-fashioned item to see.

The real centerpiece of the box was definitely the card kit though.  The small bag included prefolded cards, envelopes, craft paper, and felt stickers to make 6 cards.  There was also an informational sheet about the charity "Cards for Hospitalized Kids" which will take cards to give to kids in hospitals across America.  This sounds like a wonderful effort to support.  I have lots of card-making supplies already and am scheming for a card creation party for this charity early next year (when work slows down a bit).

Monday, September 1, 2014

Low Effort Retail Therapy - subscription boxes part 1

I haven't posted for a while ... nor have I been working much on Day Zero (though I would dearly love to have the time to work on my goals).  This is the reason why:
Photo: The new curbs surrounding the turn from Chapman St to the parking lot are in ... more concrete work will happen near the entrance and on the sidewalks.

Funds for the new building will be supplied in part with a Public Library Accessibility and Improvement grant from the Minnesota Department of Education using General Obligation Bonds under the authority of Minnesota Statutes, section 134.45.
I've mentioned that my city is building a new library building.  Two months from today is the contract completion date, and the photo above was taken 4 days ago.  My life is just a tad busy right now with planning how to move around 35,000 books (possibly after we have snow on the ground) plus other items to the new location and making certain that all the ordered new furnishings will arrive at the new building at the proper time and all of the daily tasks that go into running a small library.

I've been looking for ways to combat stress and discovered the world of subscription boxes.  For those of you who haven't heard this term, think "x of the month" club - only the contents are usually a surprise, sometimes run in a theme, and often you can just order a single box to see if you like the contents before committing to an ongoing subscription.  I like to get surprises in the mail, so this sounds like a great way for me to do a little retail therapy for stress without actually having to spend time ... well, shopping.

Horatio's box
I did a little research and came up with a list of about 25 boxes to try.  (Note, that I don't normally spend as much $ on myself as this little project is taking; however, working extra hours EVERY week for a couple of years has cut down on my frivolous expenses in the recent past by not giving me as much time to do recreational things, so I can afford to try a lot of different companies).  My plan is to use a random number generator to choose the next box to order from my (numbered) list of options every night that I come home from work and meet the following two conditions:  I'm stressed out or exhausted by the events of the day AND there isn't already a box waiting for me in the mail.  Then, I'll try to review boxes in batches on this blog - both to keep it active until I get a chance to start working on DayZero again AND because I found other blog reviews quite helpful when putting together my own list of things to order.
Horatio selects his first toy

So, the first box that came was Bunny's Furr and Feathers Funpack.  My cat, Horatio, was firmly in favor of receiving it and had no trouble helping me open it.  This company has products for various pets, and you fill out a little survey about your pet (age, activity level, etc.) to help customize it.  I was pleasantly surprised at the level of customer service.  I had written that Horatio is picky about treats, and they asked me if he had any special favorites via email and seemed genuinely motivated to get as good a selection of items for my cat as possible rather than just whatever they sent everyone else that month.

The toy he loves
The box came 4 days after I ordered it and contained a variety of 4 toys and 2 types of treats.  Horatio has play-tested 3 of the toys and sampled one type of treat.  He really likes two of the toys.  The first one he pulled out of the box was a very fat faux-fur mouse.  Sadly, the construction wasn't solid, and he managed to rip open a seam and extract a great deal of fiber fluff while I was at work.  He doesn't eat stuff like that, so this is not a huge deal to me but might be to other cat owners.
Other items in Horatio's box

The second toy (and his new favorite) is much more solidly constructed.  He "killed" it over and over the first night - purring loudly the whole time - and multiple times since.  The top is made of mop-like material, the bottom (blue) is faux fur, and it makes intriguing crinkly noises.  I think I laughed at his antics for almost an hour with it - well worth the cost of the entire box for me.  He's also played with the boa-like toy; he has others like this, so it wasn't as exciting.  We haven't tried the last toy yet or the package of dried whitefish treats.  He eats the chicken treats (I think more because of the novelty of getting them in the living room rather than the kitchen) but doesn't ask for them.  As I said, he's very picky about treats.  I will probably order him another box from this company at a later date.

The second box to arrive was, ironically, the other item on the list that was not intended for me!  I missed a gift for my friend Nina's birthday earlier this summer, and this company seemed like one made for her.  (Note that I did not take photos of the contents because it was her gift to open.)  The company, Taste Trunk, has 4 different types of boxes; I ordered her the gourmet variety.  It came in a week.  The contents were normal (though smaller) sized food items from small companies with a variety of tastes represented.  Everything was beautifully packaged and wrapped for safe shipment.  Included were cards with information on each item as well as a few recipes.
Nina's gourmet box

The item that I found the most interesting was chocolate pasta!  Something that I did not expect to see in this box since one of the other boxes you can order specializes in sweets.  The item that Nina exclaimed the most over was a grouping of 4 dip (or seasoning) packets with recipes in English and French.  Also included - an artichoke bruschetta spread, strawberry honey mustard, and ginger sesame dressing.

If you are a foodie, this is a good box.  The price seemed fair, and the choices were an interesting variety.  The company also allows you to make your own trunk by selecting individual items to combine from their website; however, I did not see the items from the box (went looking for that chocolate pasta) included so they must be exclusive to the subscribers.

The final box which I have received to date was Graze.  These little snack packs are less expensive than most of the other companies on my list, so I am going to keep my subscription going for a while here.  I've been looking for some portion-sized snacks for work, and this company may be my answer.  This is an actual on-going subscription service (though you can opt out at any time), so you can't order only one box to try.
My first Graze box

The interesting part of the Graze concept is how they determine which snacks to send you.  You have a profile and can choose to "trash" - i.e. ask them never to send you - any of their snacks that you don't like.  You can also "love" items - which I would guess means you will have a higher chance of receiving them.  Or, you can ask for only lower calorie snacks.  You can go in and rate snacks after you receive them or pre-rate based on the descriptions.  (For example, I went through and trashed everything that included pistachios since I don't like them.)  My first set of 4 snacks looks interesting.  I plan to bring the box to work (it's about the size of a book), so I haven't tried any of them yet.  I will be interested to see how the boxes change as I rate more items that I have had a chance to try.

More items discussed in future posts as I receive them ...

Sunday, July 13, 2014

#77 - I just know what I like

Have you heard that old saying ... "I don't know much about art, I just know what I like".  I feel that sort of applies to me.  Although it is possible to learn about the technical aspects that go into a work of art and you can research the artist's history to place a piece in context and you can find out if there are any awards associated with it - in the end, you are probably going to end up purchasing something that you like when you go out shopping for your home.  Or, as my friend Nina says, art is personal - and she should know as she works at an art gallery.

These thoughts on art have been very much on my mind over the past couple of months.  I haven't been posting much on this blog lately since I have been devoting so much time to my job.  The town where I work is building a new library building, and, I, as the library director, am very much involved.  One of the more interesting things in this process is seeing how the individuals on the committees approach the "look" of the new space - many different paths that are now all leading in one direction.

One committee is in charge of artwork for the new building, and they were invited to help judge a local artshow.  This judging was a great collaboration with a local arts group that allowed individuals to purchase and donate preselected (by the committee) works to the new building.  The committee made their choices in advance of the show - using computer images of the submitted works.  The discussion was very interesting as the committee chose 11 works that they thought represented a variety of artistic mediums and fit well with the area.  I tried hard not to influence the committee as they chose and so my favorite piece was not included in the final selections.  A fact that I was just fine with ... except ... I just couldn't stop thinking what an interesting shot (it is a photograph) my favorite was and how much I liked it.  I could see a story in the photo or several stories depending on my mood.

Fast forward a month and a half to this week, the artshow was going on.  I got a message that two of the library choices were sold to donate to the library on the first night.  And, I was still thinking about that photograph.  I went back and forth in my head and ended up going to the show mid-week and looking - to see all the works in person, to see what else might be headed for the new library building, and (you've probably already worked this last one out) to see if that photograph was still for sale.  It was, and I picked it up this afternoon.  It's already hung in my living room.  My cat is unimpressed, but I'm busy setting stories in between these trees...

Pictured Rocks Forest by Peter Pestalozzi

Sunday, April 13, 2014

#39 - Arts, history and culture

My library participates in a program (generously funded by the Minnesota Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund) that gives card holders free passes to local museums.  Every year, I tell myself that I am going to take advantage of this opportunity and then find myself only visiting the museums in towns where I go on vacation.  Completing this goal stuck to that pattern - all ten museums were visited on my last two vacation trips - one to the South Dakota Black Hills area and the other to Fort Worth, Texas. 

The first museum was Jeffers Petroglyphs Historic Site.  There is a small indoor interpretative center, but the main attraction is the actual petroglyphs on the rock nearby.  The oldest markings date from B.C. but there are many more recent additions as well - even up to the early 20th century.  I was there at midday on a sunny day which made spotting the carvings more challenging - the best time to see them would be dawn or dusk.
Petroglyph in situ at Jeffers National Monument - handprint shape near center of photo
The second was Pipestone National Monument.  Picture in your head a stereotypical Native American treaty scene ... did it include a "peace pipe" somewhere in your mental image?  This area would have been the source of those pipes.  Pipestone (or catlinite) is a soft rock used to form the bowls of tobacco pipes for quite some time.  As you can see, the quarry areas (still active - though only to members of local tribes) are not much to look at; most are only cuts about 10 feet deep and 3 feet wide into the ground.  However, the small museum was very interesting as there were several pipestone carvers working on pieces and willing to answer questions.  And, as I mentioned in a previous post, the walking trail among the quarries was quite refreshing on a hot windy summer day.
Quarry area at Pipestone

Crazy Horse Memorial is a spot that I would suggest as a stop to all travelers in the Black Hills area.  The scope of this project needs to be seen to understand what a large project is being undertaken.  It is all the more impressive to realize that it is mostly the work of one man and his family.  I wonder, though, what will happen to the project if there is a flaw inside the rock at some critical point - there doesn't seem to be much room for adjustments.  On the site there is currently a large museum devoted to Native Americans and future plans for many other buildings.  Watch the film about Korczak Ziolkowski and his early days of working on the mountain ...
Rendering at Crazy Horse of the final carving on the current area

Another spot for all Americans to visit is the Mount Rushmore National Memorial.  It was particularly interesting to compare this finished (though not to the sculptor's original vision) monument which used many men over a fairly short period of time to the unfinished Crazy Horse Memorial that has been in progress for almost 70 years just a few minutes drive away.  The interpretative center and audio tour for the walking trail focus mostly on the construction of the memorial and how those four presidents were chosen to portray.
A view of Mount Rushmore from the walking trail

To learn more about the sculptor for Mount Rushmore - as well as Stone Mountain in Georgia - I visited the Gutzon Borglum Museum in Keystone, SD.  Unless you have a particular interest in this sculptor, I would not recommend this museum as most of the facts were duplicated at Mount Rushmore.  There were some of the artist's other works, but no special context about his personal life.
Sculpture of Abraham Lincoln by the same artist who designed Mount Rushmore

The Big Thunder Gold Mine (also in Keystone) was much more interesting.  The tour of the gold mine was well-spiced by the guide with local legend and tidbits of mining facts.  The museum itself had a wide array of mining equipment including processing equipment from several eras.  What I brought away from my visit was how much work these men did for just a tiny change of becoming rich.  Although one of the owners of the Big Thunder mine did indeed become a wealthy man, it was due to a lucky card game rather than success in the mine.  If you are in the area in the summer and have kids, this would be a good stop to cool off (underground on the tour) and let them pan for gold in the sluice troughs.
A likely spot for gold?  One of the biggest finds in the Black Hills was inside this hill

My Fort Worth trip included a wider variety of museums to visit.  The first was the Texas Cowboy Hall of Fame.  I don't know a lot about the rodeo culture, so I have to admit that most of the exhibits on the inductees looked the same to me.  Lots of intricately tooled saddles and large belt buckles  However, this museum also housed Sterquell Wagon collection which I found fascinating.  Many of the wagons were specialized to different types of business - laundry service, meat delivery, etc - others were examples of more common vehicles.  I thought it was interesting that one was from the Studebaker company.  Another thing that fascinated me was how small some of the buggies were - tiny seats up on huge wheels - no wonder they were so popular for going courting!
Four seater bobsled at the Texas Cowboy Hall of Fame

The second stop in Texas was the Fort Worth Museum of Science and History.  The top floor was mostly dedicated to the area's history of a nexus for cattle drives and shipping.  The bottom floor focused more on science.  Through all exhibits there was a strong focus on interactive displays - particularly at a level that children could use.  I thought it was odd that an entire room was devoted to displays about the Wizard of Oz movie; I don't know of any connections between the movie and Fort Worth and none were listed in any of the displays.

Public art sculpture in the Fort Worth cultural district

The Amon Carter Museum of American Art was both what I expected and more.  I had expected the large collection of pieces from Frederic Remington and Charles Russell as well as other American art of the same era since these are prominently advertised on the museum's website.  I had not expected to also find a small collection of art that included a range of well-known artists through American history.  The current special exhibit on food was also very interesting and made a person think about what our pantry choices are currently as compared to what they have been for most of our history.
My favorite piece at the Amon Carter Museum - a small art deco bronze

The last museum for this goal was the Kimbell Museum in Fort Worth.  This museum reminded me in content and arrangement of those I have seen in Europe.  Although the website states they have a small collection, you would not suspect it from the displays - perhaps everything is out on display with no rotation.  There was a wide range of eras included and I (not an art student) recognized almost all of the artist names even though none of the paintings were familiar. 

I am glad to complete this goal; I had come so close on my last DayZero list - 9 out of 10 - before I ran out of time. 

Sunday, March 16, 2014

#12 - Carpe Vino

The selections ready for the party
It has been a while since I've had friends over for more than just a casual one-on-one chat, so I decided a few weeks ago that it was time to turn to my DayZero list for an excuse for a party.  I had already chosen March 15th as a possible date and wine seemed to be a good match to the Ides of March.  A wine and cheese tasting party was in the works ...
Looking at one of the choices ...

I know that my friends have a wide range of experience with tasting wine - I'm on the less knowledgeable end of that spectrum - so I decided to include some more unusual wines to give the more experienced a challenge and less experienced a taste of something new.   Along with selections from my personal "cellar" (and I use that expression very loosely), I had fun one afternoon at a wine shop with a young clerk choosing some varieties that are not as commonly tried.  This led to me buying way too many bottles and needing to narrow down the choices ... I eventually settled on 9 different types.  Perhaps I'll need to have another party to share some of the unchosen ones from this round.
Personalized wine glasses waiting to go to the table.

It was a learning experience for me to find out how to order the different wines for the tasting and the serving temperature for each - plus I read a lot about how to taste along the way.  This site was the most informative.  And I found a fun graphic of a wine tasting wheel that I printed out for people to have ideas on flavors that they might smell or taste.
In northern MN, March means wearing your toga with boots!

Since I had a Ides of March theme, we also had a costume prize for those guests who wanted to wear a toga costume.  I just love playing dress-up and so do some of my friends.  We had some very fun costumes.  I had a bit of spare time and wanted to do something period with my extremely long hair.  I found this wonderful article about a hair archeologist - - something that I never knew existed!  It had links to some great YouTube videos, and I ended up using one as a basis to do my hair up in the style of Agrippina the Younger. It worked very well!  I am used to having my hair done up and spending the rest of my day shedding pins or losing wisps from the style.  This hairstyle took a ponytail band and 2 bobby pins and didn't have any mishaps from when I put it in at 4 pm until I took it out after midnight.  Plus, it didn't feel weird on my head (unbalanced, too tight, etc.) while I was wearing it.
My "Agrippina" hairstyle

I also used my spare time to try out glass painting - with mixed success - on the base and stems of some inexpensive wine glasses so that all of my friends would have a souvenir of the evening.  I did extra glasses; a very good idea as my new kitty had a very active time last weekend and broke a couple that were sitting out to finish drying.
Intense concentration on the flavor

The tasting itself was blind - it was interesting to hear what my friends thought each wine was before the unveiling at the end of the night.  The first glass that I poured of each had everyone's eyes focused as they waiting to see what color liquid emerged.  The nine types that I chose - in order of pouring - were: sparkling moscato, sparkling pinot noir, riesling, sauvignon blanc, dry mead, moscato, summer blush (a rhubarb/strawberry fruit wine), a blended red, and zinfandel.  It was interesting to me that it seemed the least favorite of the group was one that the wine store clerk had encouraged me to buy - saying that people are hesitant to try it but generally like it a lot when they do - the sparkling pinot noir.  This was, ironically, the most expensive wine of the evening.

Some of the comments of the evening ... what is this! (about the summer blush), old band-aid! (listed as an aroma on the reference wheel I had printed), it's so clear (the dry mead), I'd go on a second date with this one (the sauvignon blanc).

Horatio watches his new mouse toy closely

Also "he's soooo cute" - in reference to Horatio, my new kitty.  I had been a little apprehensive about how Horatio would do with a group of people and lots of glassware as he has only met my friends one-on-one before last night, but he was a wonderful party member.  One of the highlights of his evening was that Heidi had brought a toy for him - a remote controlled mouse.  The other highlight was the profound relief that he showed for "his blanket"  when it reappeared on the couch after the party was over.
I encouraged guests to take home some of the opened bottles.

The cheese came out as the wine information was revealed - one of the bits of information I learned while reading about how to host wine tastings was that you should not serve more than bread or crackers (to cleanse the palate) if you are tasting specifically for the wine notes.  So, save the cheese for later in the evening and then make choices on which wines it pairs with the best.  The informal winner of the night for the cheese was the Saint Angel triple cream - a soft cheese from France.

Top group wine choices from the group were the moscato (Middle Sister winery in Argentina) and the blended red (Lost Angel winery in California) with the sauvignon blanc (Nobilo winery in New Zealand) as a close third.  I had offered a prize for the person who could identify the most types correctly; no one got more than 4.  I think some of the more knowledgeable were thrown by the information on the country of origin I had included on the tasting notes sheets; there were some expectations overthrown on which wines are grown in a particular area.  I had a great time - it was fun to try a bunch of types of wine in company.  I'd certainly host a wine tasting again - a very easy party to prep since it involved very little kitchen time - and encourage some more discussion among my friends on which wines they like most and why.
Top wines of the evening - the moscato is on the right

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Top Reads in 2013

My current DayZero list does not include a specific goal for the number of books to read in a calendar year; I decided that my volume is fairly consistent from one year to the next (and I could use that goal slot for something else).  However, I enjoyed the opportunity to make a highlights list of my reading in the past years, so I am going to continue that practice.  Here are the titles that stuck with me in some way from the past year (in roughly the order that I completed them) ...

Fated (Alex Verus, #1)Fated by Benedict Jacka
A wonderful new find for urban fantasy, this is the first in a series set in London (one of my favorite cities).  The hero is an ordinary guy who just happens to be a wizard.  Creatures from fairy tales and myths move in and out of the stories - but never quite as the storybooks portrayed them.  Sound like Jim Butcher's Dresden novels, well, they are ... and they aren't - definitely worth a read if you like this genre.

What the Cat SawWhat the Cat Saw by Carolyn Hart
I liked this one much less for the central mystery than for the skillful handling of the character of the cat.  How do our pets really see us as companions and do they grieve us when we are suddenly gone?

Tim Gunn's Fashion Bible: The Fascinating History of Everything in Your ClosetTim Gunn's Fashion Bible by Tim Gunn
I'm not a person who wears the latest fashions.  In fact, my wardrobe - both at work and at home - was chosen more for comfort than to make any sort of statement but reading this title made me realize that I do have some strong opinions on fashion.  And, it had some helpful tips for how to chose clothes that help you feel comfortable while looking your best.

The Hundred-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out of the Window and DisappearedThe 100 Year Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared by Jonas Jonasson
I picked up this book because I saw that it was at the top of the bestseller lists in several European countries.  I liked it because of its frank acknowledgment of the fact that the elderly can still feel young inside.

Tiny Beautiful Things: Advice on Love and Life from Dear SugarTiny Beautiful Things by Cheryl Strayed
This book made me feel hope.

Mrs. Lincoln's DressmakerMrs. Lincoln's Dressmaker by Jennifer Chiaverini
I never realized that Mary Todd Lincoln had her dresses made by a black ex-slave dressmaker.  This title gave a fascinating look into a well known period of American history from an unusual viewpoint.

Etiquette and Espionage (Finishing School, #1)Etiquette and Espionage by Gail Carringer
This title is the first in a new young adult series by the author of the adult Soulless series and set in the same world.  If you've read the young adult "Gallager Girls" spy school series, imagine setting it into a steampunk world with vampires, werewolves, and many other interesting characters.

On Basilisk Station (Honor Harrington, #1)On Basilisk Station by David Weber
The first book in the Honor Harrington series ... I have been reading my way through this science fiction series since March - picking them up when my pile from the library dwindles.  They are based on the Forester novels of Horatio Hornblower.  I have been viewing them as an odd sort of comfort read - no matter how bad the political situation that I am dealing with, Honor is surely dealing with something worse!

Coronets and Steel (Dobrenica, #1)Coronets and Steel by Sherwood Smith
This series is a light and easy wish fulfillment - a little fantasy, a little romance, and a secret (surprised) heiress to a tiny kingdom in Europe.

Product DetailsMoving Your Library by Steven Carl Fortriede
This book is not really of interest to a wide audience; however, I wanted to include it in this list.  My city will build a new library building this year, and I read over a dozen books in 2013 about library design, construction and various other related topics in preparation.  This one had the most concise and practical information of any of them.

Lady at the O.K. Corral: The True Story of Josephine Marcus EarpLady at the OK Corral by Ann Kirschner
I must admit that my main mental pictures of the famous shootout in Tombstone come from the movie starring Kurt Russell.  It was interesting to take a historical look at what happened from the view of the woman in his life (who was not his wife at that time) and what followed after.

I Could Pee on This: And Other Poems by CatsI Could Pee on This and Other Poems by Cats by Francesco Marciuliano
I savored this little collection of poetry.  It was a Christmas gift, and I made it last all the way into summer by only allowing myself one tidbit at a time.  Sadly, my cat just couldn't understand why I would read something from it to him and then laugh hysterically; at times, he even seemed a bit affronted.  If you've lived with a cat, you will recognize these poems.

The Astronaut Wives Club: A True StoryThe Astronaut Wives Club by Lily Koppel
I've read The Right Stuff and several other biographies and histories about the men in the space race; this book looked at what the wives were experiencing in the background.  I cringe to think of the amount of pressure that the media put on those women.

William Shakespeare's Star Wars: Verily, a New HopeWilliam Shakespeare's Star Wars by Ian Doescher
Kudos to the author - what a successful mashup novel.  It has the plot and even some of the lines from "A New Hope" but reads exactly like a Shakespearean play. I'm plotting to try it as reader's theater!

Platypus Police Squad: The Frog Who CroakedPlatypus Police Squad : the Frog who Croaked by Jarrett Krosoczka
My stand-out children's title for the year.  This was a fun mystery set in Sydney, Australia with the classic rookie/veteran cop pair ... they just happen to be platypuses.  A great way to introduce kids to the hard-boiled detective and police procedural subgenres.

The CircleThe Circle by Dave Eggers
 What does social media do to us?  Does it make us more connected to our friends, safer, happier?  Think you can easily answer those questions ... read this book and see if your answers change.