Wednesday, August 29, 2012

The Amazing Gillian Flynn's Gone Girl

I devoured Flynn's previous book Dark Places (2009) but never got around to reading Sharp Objects (2006).  My husband read it and honestly I think it is too creepy for me. All three of her books feature dark characters with twisted, thoughtful, and non-linear plot lines.

Gone Girl
Gillian Flynn
415 pages

The opening line on the inside flap "Marriage can be a real killer" makes such an interesting opener for  the tale of a marriage gone strangely, crazily awry.  Nick and Amy meet at a party in New York City as two fairly young adults. They flirt and the flirting is cute.  They walk home together after the party but then don't meet up again for a few months.  When they connect the second time it seems like all the pieces fit snugly together and they end up marrying.

Their backgrounds are so utterly different that this may be a testament for sticking with your own kind.  Amy, an only child, has grown up sheltered and wealthy in the big city with two odd parents who've turned her life into a wildly popular picture book series.  Think Jane without Sally and Dick.  The books never fail to make Amy feel like a loser even though her parents are always there to boost her confidence.

Nick is from small town Carthage, Missouri with a rather dysfunctional family.  He has a twin sister, Margo, a smothering mother, and an abusive father.  Both Amy and Nick write for a living until magazine subscriptions and's start to go under.  They lose both of their jobs within a few short weeks of each other.  Luckily Amy has that trust fund to rely on and they meander around their NYC pad for months. Margo calls one day to say their mother has cancer Nick takes it as an opportunity to give up the big city and head back home to Carthage with Amy in tow.  Big city, pampered Amy does not do well with small-town, small-minded middle of the U.S. of A.

Nick and Margo use the last of Amy's fund to purchase a downtown bar and spend their days minding the bar and hanging out after their mother passes on.  Their father is in a nursing home where he causes lots of trouble and seems to flit in and out at crucial moments.  He adds this odd twist that makes you seriously wonder about Nick's mental stability.  Amy's parents are anther complex set of characters that add so much to the dynamic of what we know of Amy. 

Told in alternating chapters this book showcases Flynn's amazing ability to twist and turn the way we look at varying scenes in a person's life. There's more than two sides to any story.  I can't tell you more.  I just can't. There is so much more.   I didn't dislike one part of this book except that it came to an end.  I guess I was shocked by the ending.  Read it.  Read it.  You won't forget Nick or Amy.  It could be any of us on a given day just going off the deep end.


Amy Elliott Dunne
July 5, 2010
Diary Entry

I won't blame Nick.  I don't blame Nick.  I refuse-refuse!-to turn into some pert-mouthed, strident angry-girl.  I made two promises to myself when I married Nick.  One:  no dancing-monkey demands.  Two: I would never, ever say, Sure, that's fine by me (if you want to stay out later, if you want to do a boys' weekend, if you want to do something you want to do) and then punish him for doing what I said was fine by me.  I worry I am coming perilously close to violating both of those promises. (65)
You can see the complexity of Amy's character as she learns to make adjustments in her marriage; she suffers from an amazing ability to  over-think life.
Read Tina's review.
NY Times review
Gillian Flynn's site.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Weekend Cooking; Salsa Olympics

Sun-kissed girl and tomatoes

We spent another weekend up at the farm with my mom.  She called and said tomatoes were not selling at the farmer's market any more and we needed to make salsa.  She said this with such enthusiasm I couldn't resist even though I had so much to do at my own home, getting ready for school.  I tucked Groovy Girl into the car with the new Kindle Fire and a good book and took off for the wilds of Northeast Iowa.

We've prepared this same salsa for the last few years although last year my mom made it herself as we just couldn't coordinate a time to do it together.  This year my cupboard was completely bare of any salsa and I knew I couldn't make it through the year without this particular staple to my diet.

Groovy Girl collected ALL the tomatoes for our second batch of  salsa!
Friends of ours, our minister and his wife, passed this recipe on to us.  They also make it every year although I think we've changed our version up enough that they do not taste similar anymore.


Skin 20 cups of tomatoes.  To do this you need to boil a pot of water, place tomatoes into hot water and watch for skins to start "popping."

1 1/2 cup cornstarch
4 cups onions, chunked up
2 cups green peppers, chunked up
2 banana peppers, chopped
5 large garlic cloves, smashed
1 jalapeno, sliced
2 cups sugar
3 T. cayenne pepper
4 tsp chili powder
2 T. cumin
1 T. coriander
4 T. salt
2 1/2 cups white vinegar

Once the tomato skins have popped scoop them out and run a little cold water over and peel skin back.  Cut out the stem and down to get that odd white core out (about 1/4 down). Loosely chop tomatoes and add to food processor.  After each batch is processed add it a large pot.  (We only processed our tomatoes for about five quick spins-we wanted to it to be medium chunky)  Save out two cups of processed tomatoes and add the corn starch in and stir to dissolve.  After you finish processing tomatoes and they are cooking in large pot add onions, peppers, and garlic to food processor and quick pulse to combine.  Again only a few pulses because you want to see small chunks of greens and yellows.  Combine spices, peppers, and garlic into tomato pot.  Stir to combine. This is a great time to do a taste test to see if you want to spice it up more.  (The original recipe calls for more hot peppers and cayenne but I like it not as spicy because my kids eat it like this.  We've worked hard to make it kid-friendly without compromising flavor. )
Our pot was so full we had to scoop back and forth to really mix it up.  Slowly add the tomato/cornstarch mix and stir well.  Cook 20-30 additional minutes.

(My grandmother's canning pot)

Put in hot sterilized jars and seal. The tops should pop if sealed correctly.  What a satisfying sound as you hear them go "pop", "pop", "pop" 14 different times!  A glorious happy feeling.

This salsa-making session will always be remembered as our Olympics-

1. We made one batch and crazily decided "let's do it again!"
2. The Olympics played non-stop on my mom's kitchen television while we (I) chopped, stirred, pulsed, and poured.  I'm sure I took home a medal-14 in fact!

Our goal is to include Groovy Girl a little more each year. This year about all she wanted to do was gather the tomatoes but next year she will help a little more.  Eventually my mom will have taught me how to do all that fancy canning stuff on my own and Groovy Girl will by my helper.  I clearly remember making jam in my grandmother's kitchen.  She sat in her green chair while my mom and I took out samples to her so she could check our progress.  The cycle keeps turning.

This post is part of Beth Fish Reads Weekend Cooking meme.  Click her link to read many other food-related posts.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Where has the month gone?

Oh, yes, my blog...

Sometime during August I completely forgot for days that a blog is something I do, or did.  I love writing and getting responses and some weeks are busier than others but August-truly you slipped away from me.

My attention has been at school.  My school began with teacher work week days creeping up on me like a bad cold.  One minute your happily waking up late, making breakfast for everyone, and then sitting down and resting for like two hours with a book in your lap and then BANG-time to go back to work.

My attention has also been on getting Groovy Girl prepared for 5th grade.  Mostly that's me sulking for a few days on the fact that she is even old enough (how could it be!) to be in 5th grade.  Where did that time go?  She is sassy and smart and totally prepared for school days.  She has a new backpack from Target with a matching lunch box.  She has folders matched to notebooks in 5 different hues.  She has new colored pencils, markers, a big box of Kleenex and a medium sized scissors for her 5th grade fingers.  She has everything but a best friend ready for school.  I don't know why she has such trauma with friends she just does.  Mostly many of the other girls are already bossy tweenagers while she is insecure and small-ish.  She wants to play make-believe while other girls prance discussing training bra sizes or whatever and the others play kick ball.  One or the other no in-between.  She doesn't like kickball. Yikes.  It's been a rough couple of years for her in the friend arena but that's another story.

My attention has been on Teenage Boy who is going to grow out of his blog name soon.  He started at a local community college on Monday.  His high school began the process to close (big tears-me, not him) while he was a junior last year and he made the smart decision to graduate with the last seniors by taking two on-line courses.  He finished on the last day possible to graduate and began his first week at HCC with four classes.  Wow.  That's just about all the mother can say.  Wow.

My attention has been on working out more as I've added ten pounds to my smallish frame.  The summer of turning 50gave me an unusually shaped waistline and I'm not happy about it.  My kids still say I'm the
"skinniest mom they know" but I can feel this lump like a perpetual baby bulge.  I am trying to walk more and bring full time yoga back into my life.  For now I'm wearing multi-colored muu-muu's to school.

In other news:

My car was rifled through while I was volunteering at the Democratic office for two hours.  The important objects taken were a very nice water bottle, my black sunglasses, a bag of quarters (about $18), and our Garmin GPS!!  The strangest thing they took was a pair of Bob's  striped size 3 of Groovy Girl's that we had ordered and then needed to return because she discovered a small tear in the canvas. "They" got a brand new slightly ripped pair of shoes-tags still on them! I hate the idea of someone going through my stuff and I'm not happy with myself about forgetting to lock it but they are just objects  Lesson learned.

I finished Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn in like 3 days!  Review will be forthcoming but know that it was GREAT. My women's book group read James Joyce's Portrait of an Artist as a young man.  I couldn't get through it and don't know if I will ever go back. Joyce's stream of consciousnesses was not enjoyable.   It was my first free download to my Kindle Fire so there's that to celebrate!

Most of all I've been paying attention to my blessings.  This blog is one of them and I will bring myself back to it now.  It was nice taking a short breather but I could tell I missed it the last two days.

What's grabbed your attention this month?

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Code Talker by Joseph Bruchac

Code Talker
Joseph Bruchac
224 pages

Kii Yazhi is six years old when he is taken from his mother, from his land to go to boarding school governed by the United States.  His uncle drives him there in a wagon and gives him this advice:
Little Boy, he said, Sister's first son, listen to me.  You are not going to school for yourself.  You are doing this for your family.  To learn the ways of the bilagaanaa, the white people, is a good thing.  Our Navajo language is sacred and beautiful.  Yet all the laws of the United States, those laws that we now have to live by, they are in English. (8)
Boarding school takes away their beautiful Navajo clothes, their symbolic long hair, their language, and even their names.  Kii Yazhi becomes Ned Begay. His school journey begins and ends with disrespectful and mean teachers yet he survives and does well.  He chooses to follow the rules and gets sent on to secondary school.  He is 16 when war breaks out and he wants to enlist but waits until the next year with his parent's permission.  The U.S. Marines have a special use for Navajo enlistees and he is able to be specially trained to send codes using the exact language he had been beaten for using at boarding school; a wonderful twist!

The story is told from Begay's memory as he shares with his grandchildren.  Ned's journey shares such an overlooked part of history; one that I knew about but only on the barest surface.  Bruchac inserts such wisdom among the awful horrors of boarding school and the war.
You know, grandchildren, for a long time even after the war, it was hard for me to have any good thoughts about the Japanese.  What troubled me the most was the way they treated the native people of the islands they conquered.  They believed only Japanese were real humans.  Anyone else could be treated like a dog.  Never forget, grandchildren, that we must always see all other people as human beings, worthy of respect.  We must never forget, as the Japanese forgot, that all life is holy. (148)
This is great historical non-fiction and I plan to use it this year with a boy's book club.  They will love the war element and I will love that they are looking at it from a different angle.

Saturday, August 4, 2012

It's my birthday (well, yesterday) and I celebrated!

Beautiful hotel pool
I turned 50 yesterday.  I know.  It feels weird to me as well.  I remember when my parents were 50 and it seemed so dang old-seriously ancient-that I never contemplated reaching the age myself.  It's here.  When in doubt, celebrate or run away and celebrate.  Groovy Girl attended church camp for 3 days near Des Moines   and my husband came up with the idea to "whisk" me away for those few days.  We stayed in a nice hotel with a very comfy white bed.  This photo doesn't even convey how soft yet crisp the bed felt.

I had a white bed like this years ago when I was single and lived in St. Paul, MN. I didn't have kids or a husband or two big hairy dogs; just me and a simple bed with white sheets and a white down comforter.  I missed it just a tiny bit as I enjoyed this one but not enough to trade the kids, the dogs, or the husband!  It's just a bed after all.  Those other things make up my life.

  Here's my birthday photos to share...

Sushi at Hoshi's

Jasper Winery

The full moon graced my birthday days

                                              Cupcakes with our friends Rocky and Mary Kay

Love this platter from Mary Kay

Husband's homemade monster card

Want to know what gifts I was lucky enough to receive? 

My amazing in-laws (and I felt this way before yesterday) sent me a Kindle Fire!!  I played with it until 2:00 in the morning.  Our oldest daughter is doing an intern in NYC and she sent me a cool book bag from The Strand bookstore.  Our youngest made me a very colorful collage.  I gonna frame it.  Teenage Boy had a jingle writer write and sing me a Happy Birthday ditty.  Aren't they creative!

Beyond the wonderful  trip my husband put together for me, with lots of gifts along the way, he still had gifts at home; the new Gillian Flynn book, Gone Girl and a CD of Michael Kiwanuka (Home Again) because he heard Michael on NPR and loved his sound. 
 I ordered myself Planting Dandelions by Kyran Pittman because I've wanted it for awhile.
Groovy Girl's "Mama" collage
My little feet dragging at check-out time

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

The Wild Girl by Jim Fergus

I read several books while I was on vacation in Colorado and this one was by far my favorite.  About a year ago I finished One Thousand White Women by Fergus as well and loved it.  My friend, Rocky, lent me the book and then gave me this one to read. It's always interesting to me how some people hit upon an author they like; it's like the stars and the moon aligning just right as you search a book store which is how he felt.  I appreciate his trusting nature because both books sat on my to-read pile for a few months before I had the chance to read them.  He's been patient with me though because he knew it was worth the wait.  Thank you, Rocky!

The Wild Girl; The Notebooks of Ned Giles, 1932 (2005) shares two separate stories  that merge into one well-crafted historical fiction gem.  From the point-of-view of La Nina Bronca (a Native Apache girl) and Ned Giles we can fully appreciate each angle of the story.  La Nina is hunted by the evil Billy Flowers and his pack of mangy dogs through wild Mexican terrain. He is an expert tracker and she is exhausted and starving.  Once his dogs tree her he takes her in to the closest town and drops her off with the local authorities. It was all about the hunt for him yet Flowers' part in the story is not over-he'll be back!  Ned Giles encounters La Nina Bronca weeks later as he comes through town heading to Mexico for an Indian Expedition meant to bring home a young Mexican boy kidnapped by an  Apache tribe.

Fergus writes well from a female perspective and it is easy to fall in love and have the most empathy for La Nina Bronca because he's framed her with such a beautiful yet violent story.  Ned also is an easily understood character as he is a young orphan out in the world searching for his way.  Fergus adds in a memorable cast of characters that help both Ned and La Nina Bronca along on their journey.  Tolley, a gay socialite, is hysterical and balances well against Margaret, the more serious sociology student, sent on the expedition to learn more about the tribe.  Billy Flowers and Indio Juan serve as crazy antagonist's on both sides of the clan.  

I hope Fergus continues to write and that my friend Rocky will keep lending them to me.  I read this one faster than One Thousand White Women so I'm improving my turn-around time-now I know that inside the pages of a Jim Fergus novel lies a good and enticing story!

Find more about Fergus here at his website.