Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Back-to-Back adult novels

The Nest by Cynthia D'Aprix Sweeney (2016): 

Four Plumb siblings: Leo, Jack, Beatrice, and Melody fight over "The Nest", a small fortune left to them by their late father. Repercussions abound as the fortune never recovers after Leo makes a huge error in judgement and borrows money without sibling knowledge or consent. Each Plumb family member deals with this is a variety of ways and the fallout after is monumental.

I can relate to this story without the large inheritance. It seems my three brothers and I can't get along for 10 minutes anymore so this story hit close to home.  This story is better writing than ours with a very unique cast of characters.  Read this one if you like someone else's family drama.

The Guest Room by Chris Bohjalian (2016): 

This tale revolves around a bachelor party gone extremely wrong from the get-go yet there is so much more to this story. Good guy big brother Richard Chapman agrees to host his brother Philip's bachelor party without understanding that Philip's friend Spencer has hired a service providing the entertainment. Richard's wife and daughter are off spending the night in Manhattan with his mother-in-law. Philip's friends have Richard's beautiful house to themselves and are immersed in full enjoyment when the party comes to a crashing halt.

Bohjalian built a truly interesting tale around a timely topic and shows us the harsh reality of the sex slave trade. I enjoyed the alternating point-of-view as Alexandra's character will move you.

Happy reading!

Monday, August 22, 2016

Weekly Recipes 14

I love to cook in the summertime. The fresh flavors, the amazing produce, the tomatoes plucked right from the vines in my backyard, the craft cocktails to cool you's all perfect.

(this into that)

I've made a few spectacular meals the last few weeks that you might like. I've cooked meals and I've done some canning.  My mother brought me 3 large boxes of tomatoes from her farm and I turned those rosy reds into about 24 jars of salsa.  She also brought me two buckets of fresh-scented basil that I churned into pistou (pesto w/out nuts).  I will love pulling that fresh green sauce out in the winter to enjoy with crackers or over pasta; bringing summer rushing right back. 

One of the meal's that I had fun planning was a vegan meal for my son's girlfriend, Heather, who is vegan. On One Green Planet I found a delicious recipe for Stir Fried Brussels Sprouts with Ginger and Curry leaves.  I love all those ingredients and luckily I knew Heather like brussels sprouts from a previous meal around our table. I was excited that I even had curry leaves on hand from other Thai meals. I love it when a rare ingredient like that is actually inside my cupboard already.  The stir-fry was good and pretty easy to put together. I would add more sauce next time, more tomato to keep it altogether.

Groovy Girl and I experimented to make an interesting vegan dessert: donuts!  Never made donuts before-why not give them a try right before a celebratory meal!  Yes, yes that's just what we did and for first-timers it turned out great.  Next time we will spray the nonstick pan first.  It was a fun recipe to try and they enjoyed eating them even though our second batch stuck mostly in the pan. Thankfully Tristan just poured almond milk over and ate them like cereal or in our family, just like chocolate cake. Here is our donut recipe and the sugar glaze we used for some while others we just sprinkled with a cinnamon mixture.  Groovy Girl loved helping me with this meal, especially the donuts, and I think I love that she may move into being a talented sous chef for me.

I had book club last week and we discussed Alice Hoffman's The Museum of Extraordinary Things, which we loved. I had a large amount of bell-shaped yellow tomatoes from our garden and I used them to make these little mozzarella bites. I laid my tiny skewers on a bed of fresh greens and very peppery arugula and then drizzled a balsamic/olive oil mixture over the top. Getting to book club on time is always a major feat for me so no photo exists.  And we ate them all.  Love that.

Besides cooking I've finished my summer with voracious reading; I finished The Nest by Cynthia D'Aprix Sweeney and Chris Bohjalian's The Guest Room; both excellent reads.

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Where does the summer go?

At this time of the month I begin to wonder what I did all summer? Where did the time go? In just one week I will be back in school.  I haven't blogged nearly enough over the summer. I didn't finish writing any of the 3-4 stories I'm invested in finishing.  I didn't get enough closets cleaned out.  It's like panic mode.  I'm not done with my summer homework...

On the other hand I've taken an awesome vacation to Asheville, NC where we floated down the French Broad River, ate at many wonderful places, listened to bluegrass at Isis, toured the Biltmore, and tried many of the local breweries. We accomplished a lot in the short time we were there.

I've cleaned out clutter-what feels like a constant life job-and helped Groovy Girl and Best Friend host a garage sale.  I've helped a friend out by nannying her three children while she works this summer so I've been able to take them to the water park, the beach, and the library just to name a few fun days. I have spent some mornings writing but it is few and far between. How do I set up a practice of writing on a real regular basis? This question has plagued me for years.  I don't even get enough blogging done.

I've just gotten back into a good rhythm of doing some yoga in the morning and when school begins again I need to be ready to seriously get up out of BED and continue this yoga practice to stay with what I've built this summer.

I've read a ton which has been an amazing journey. Many summers I just try to keep up with books for school and this year I was introduced to the app @Litsy (thanks to @Librarydady) which has raised my reading to a new level. @Litsy gives me many adult titles to look for and order from our public library. I picked up a few from my own piles at home also and one of them was A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara, which is my favorite book this year now. I recommend it to anyone who loves good fiction and isn't concerned about 720 pages. It flies by.

It's been a good summer. I may never have a summer where I write every day. I have several stories that are important to me though so I'm going to have to find a way.  I did take time to play this summer. I've enjoyed time with Groovy Girl -a ninth grader this year. I did spend time in my beloved orange hammock.  I've spent time exploring nature, eating good summer food, picking tomatoes out of my garden, had frosty summertime drinks on the patio, and basked in the glory that is summer, my favorite season.

And in one week I need to be ready for school.

(Photos: Looking in at Lake Lure, Groovy Girl and me, The Biltmore, Prescott kiddos and me, former student Julia and I, Crosby walking)

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

August 3

Today is a special day. I had a delicious breakfast prepared for me by husband and Groovy Girl. Grits, scrambled eggs, 9-grain toast with raspberry jam and fresh sliced peaches. This was a feast compared to my normal breakfast of sea salt cottage cheese mixed with flax seed oil so now I don't need to eat lunch.

My husband read me a whole list of other big moments on this day in history from on this day website and a few of them stood out so I'll share 3 with you.

1. Naturalist Alexander von Humboldt lands at Bordeaux, France completing a 5 year expedition to Latin America. (1804)

2. Adolf Hitler mergers the office of German Chancellor and President, declaring himself "Fuhrer". (1934)

3. The Beatles held their final performance at the Cavern Club in Liverpool. (1963)

Tonight we have a fun gathering at a favorite watering hole on the Hill. It's a beautiful day out and I'm ready for an adventure. It's the simple things on a day like this; a phone call from my 21-year-old who is fishing in Colorado, a handmade birthday card from Groovy Girl, and tickets to John Hiatt at the Englert Theatre in October from my husband.

Several other famous people share this date with me: Rhett Booher, Carter Allen, John T. Scopes, Dennis the Menace, James MacGregor Burns, Tony Bennett, Martin Sheen, Martha Stewart, John Landis, Lucky Dube, Tom Brady, and Sonny Bill Williams.

Eat Cake!

Monday, August 1, 2016

August is here...(I wasn't really ready)

July was not a good blogging month for me. We were out of town for a long week, preparations for that trip, it just seemed like a short month with not a lot of free time. We were also in a whirl over my husband's production of Singin' in the rain. Let's just say it ain't easy making it rain on stage!  The play was fantastic and I'm glad it is over.

August, Oh August please be different. I need more days of reading in my lovely orange hammock. More days hanging with my soon-to-start-9th grade student. I need a few more pool days and hanging with friends days...

I did do a lot of reading in July. Vacation helped. Plus I participated in my first ever readathon-#24in48 sponsored by @Litsy. Just by chance I had that weekend free of children and husband so I literally sat around the house and read.

My July books:

The 5th Wave by Rick Yancy (2013): Great. Total sci-fi, aliens, and a large space ship. Kept me totally enthralled and a little freaked out.

Mr. Lemoncello's Library Olympics by Chris Grabenstein (2016): So totally fun! I want to figure a way to make a library olympics to start off the new school year. The second book to Mr. Lemoncello's Library, a series filled with the love of reading.

The Terrible Two by Mac Barnett (2015): Great school humor. Pranksters at the elementary level as only Mac Barnett could create. Loved the two character Miles and Niles! Perfect for 8-12-year-old jokesters, pranksters, or anyone with a funny bone.

One Second After by William R. Forstchen (2009): July book club choice. Very interesting look at how we would handle a major crisis in the US. Centered on Black Mountain and Asheville, NC which was cool because I was right there while reading it. I didn't agree with his one-sided military viewpoint but definitely lots to think about.

A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara (2015): AMAZING. You will feel many emotions as your read this 720 page book. I wrote more about it here. Cannot get Jude or Willem out of my mind. I want everyone I know to read this so I can discuss it with them.

Stella by Starlight by Sharon M. Draper (2015): Good basic story about Stella's father standing up for his right to vote and how the Klan doesn't appreciate that kind of thing. I liked the story but was unhappy with the ending. Too quick with no resolution; just another day.

New Kid by Tim Green (2014): This was suspensful but like Stella left me wanting for a much better ending. This kid should have stayed with his coach and stopped running with his dad.

Wolf Hollow by Lauren Wolk (2016): Recently at Dragonfly Books in Decorah the owner talked me into buying this one. She simple said "It's the best book I've read this year." I thought so too. A simple yet complex story that shows how our prejudice often gets the better of some of us. Timely for today as well. I feel like this is a book I could read again.

I read a lot of elementary fiction this month. I'm trying to make it down my list of titles for Iowa Children's Choice Award choices for next year so I will be ready to vote.  If I added the book cover-it's one you should pick up and read.  Enjoy!  

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

#24in48 Readathon

Over the weekend I had fun participating a mini-readathon that I found on @Litsy.  I read more than usual on both Saturday and Sunday and still didn't make it to 24 hours. I did have two lunch dates and a 2 year-old birthday party to attend but still...

I finished two books in this time period and that was my true main goal. On our Asheville trip I'd started A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara and I was anxious to finish it. The book brought out a lot of emotions and mixed feelings for me.

Her writing is brilliant and I can see why it's the talk of the town. I loved how deeply she explored the idea of friendship.  The entire book revolves around four roommates, Jude, Willem, JB, and Malcolm, that form a bond so tight that it lasts throughout their lives. Hanya gives us different perspectives through a few alternating chapters but Jude takes center stage. If you haven't already read this I want to leave Jude's character unexplained and even though I had a few criticisms of the Hanya's story I would encourage everyone to read this book to the end. Don't be frightened of the 700+ pages- you will turn the pages quickly and you'll be halfway through before you look up. When I finished on Sunday morning I cried a little and then danced a little.

I picked a much easier book for my second read for the weekend readathon. Stella by Starlight by Sharon Draper. I love the cover; oddly the cover on my library copy is very different-it shows a more modern-looking Stella-which doesn't fit the era. In Bumblebee, NC Stella and her brother witness a cross burning across the pond very near their black community. FDR is about to be elected and a few members, including her father, want to register and vote for the first time. Stella is asked to make the journey into town to go with them. Of course they are treated unfairly, have to pay the poll tax and take a test while several white men wander in and only sign their name to a piece of paper to register.

The KKK strikes out and burns a house right down the street from Stella's house.  The community bands together to help and are surprised when several of their white neighbors come out to help. I thought the civil unrest brought out in this book are not properly finished. The book ends with a Christmas pageant but no finish to the voting unrest or the KKK.

I did enjoy Stella's quest to be a better writer and thought it probably reflected a bit of Sharon Draper's own story. This is still a worthwhile story and can serve as an introduction to young readers (3rd-6th grade) of how difficult the civil rights journey has been and continues on today.

I really enjoyed participating in the #24in48 readathon sponsored by @Litsy.  I'm happy I had the weekend free and even though I didn't get in 24 hours I did complete two books. And now I'm reading New Kid by Tim Green. I have to balance in books from school with other books I'm interested in reading.

Sunday, July 10, 2016

Black Lives Matter

A few years ago our son, on the way to community college, reached to the floor of his car to get a kleenex and as he did this his car swerved, hit a small sign for the median. He was a young driver and he didn't know what to do. He wanted to get to class on time so he just kept driving. Unbeknownst to him an off-duty police officer was near him in traffic and took it upon himself to follow our son all the way to school; 20 minutes away. He called for back up at some point and when our son pulled into the parking lot he was met with two police cars.  The off-duty officer's reasoning was that he thought our son was drunk or high even though he followed him all the way to school and he made no other traffic errors. He didn't swerve, cross the yellow line, or any other traffic violations.

Tristan was freaked out by this incident. After the on-duty officers spoke with him and ascertained that he was not drunk (at 9:30 am) and that he just had a cold he was allowed to head in for class. Our family, while generally law-abiding citizens, thought the off-duty officer was a little overzealous. Why didn't he just snap a photo of our son's licence plate? After all that we paid a nominal fee to have a new sign added back to the median. Thankfully that was it.

When I think of this crazy incident though and think about how scared my son felt that this guy in the oversized black pick-up was purposefully following him and it makes me realize how all American citizens with many shades of brown/black would feel in this situation. My son might have been scared and confused but he didn't fear for his life.

The video above from the NYT encapsulates the bloodshed based on skin tone.  Each one is violent and freaks me out how easily guns are blasted off as if they are playing a video game and not real life. Reaching for your wallet, errant teenagers leaving a pool in swim suits, a man selling CDs, a boy playing with a fake gun, a young man throwing rocks; all just people going about their day, not one a violent criminal yet dead at the end of the day.

I know the teens in swimsuits were not shot at but why in God's glory would police officers need to pull their weapons on teens in bathing suits. Warn them and move on. It looks like a scene from the 1960s not 2015.

I attended a vigil for #Orlando a few weeks ago and I have to admit I felt fear as I stood in the park surrounded by many like-minded friends and neighbors.  Bordering the park were streets with drivers, some who honked and waved and some who revved their engines purposefully as they raced by us.

Years ago our family stood at many street corners protesting against Bush's Iraq war. We knew it was a senseless war, planned for oil, not weapons of mass destruction. Often as we stood there, vulnerable, we had people in cars harass us, point, curse, scream horrible comments to us yet it was important for us to make our stand.

Each one of us needs to take a stand now to make this better. We need police communities to become much more sensitive through training/education. We need officers who do shoot to kill to face criminal charges.  We need local governments to take this seriously. We do seriously need gun control. Citizens armed with a variety of weapons, police officers armed and ready to shoot; we are getting nowhere fast!

Most Americans are interested in real freedom for all. #blacklivesmatter because we all matter. We are human. We need to stand together even if we are afraid.

Monday, July 4, 2016

Happy 4th of July

It's been a quirky day. I made pancakes for Groovy Girl and her amazing sidekick.  And then the rest of the day, for real, I cleaned my refrigerator. Well, except for the hour I laid on the sofa and finished reading The 5th Wave by Rick Yancy.  It was so good and very alien science fiction.  It was extremely popular in my library and I'd heard that it had some b-a-d words; I only counted three.  There is a little kissing but who wouldn't kiss if you think it's your last day on earth?! I would. I'd find the first cute guy/alien and kiss him. I like kissing. I also like being alive.

I cooked up a nice organic chicken with yellow potatoes while I juggled the contents of my ice box.  Now I'm off to a baseball game-the best part of Americana-that and the freedom I cherish.  Freedom to say what we want, eat what we want, think the way we want, and elect who we want. It's' a VERY important year.  Go out there and make American good, happy, free for everyone, and kind. Don't forget to be kind.