Friday Faves: A Bibliophile’s Hurricane Necessities

Happy Friday, all!

Gonna keep this one short and sweet since those of us on the southern half of the peninsula are supposed to be super busy right now scurrying about, filling the coffers at Home Depot and Lowe’s.

And I probably would be, were I not married to the most prepared, competent man on the planet. I say that well aware of the bias which informs it. Did I mention he’s also 6’2″ and super cute? But I digress.

Even though we’re seasoned natives who are well prepared, there are a few things a reader needs to be on top of for herself. In the event of no electricity for days on end, she needs to power her evening reading. So now that the grocery is stocked, gas tanks are full, and the generator’s been tested, what does a bibliophile preparedness checklist look like?

  • Charge all e-readers: Kindle, iPad, old Kindle, and the cell phone all need to be fully charged so that even when it’s dark and the lights are out, I can still read. My Kindle Fire is backlit!

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  • Booklights: You know, those little contraptions that snap on to the top of the book and then shine onto the page, however poorly. The key to those is to have several so you can use two at a time.

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  • Homework checklist and reading schedule for the kids. It’s highly likely they won’t have school on Tuesday and possibly Thursday, so it’ll be imperative that I make sure they stay on track with their assignments. That way, when they return to classes, they are prepared to turn in all assignments as scheduled. Things can get a little loosey goosey around here between Labor Day and the upheaval of the norm that hurricanes and power outages bring with them.

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  • Instant coffee (and tea bags): When you’re running on generator power, you must be selective about which components to divert the power to, and the coffee maker doesn’t make the cut. The stove might, though, meaning you can boil water. Morning reading feels better with a cuppa, so with instant coffee (I drink decaf) or your favorite tea bags on hand, you don’t have to forgo your hot morning drink.

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Well, that’s all I can think of at the moment. Dorian isn’t due till Tuesday, as he keeps delaying his visit, so if you can think of another useful item I may have forgotten, do tell!

Preferably before Sunday.

Rabbit Trail: Friday Faves!

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I hope to have time this weekend to write up the next installment in the Mating in Captivity series. Meanwhile, I figured we’d check out this rabbit trail and share some of our favorite things. I’ll go first!

Favorite Book:

That’s like asking me to name my favorite child. When you read as many books as I do, the favorite among them changes in relation to the genres and types of books that have been read in the last year. My favorite book at the moment is a tie between A Girl of the Limberlost, Barracoon, and How to Be Unlucky by Joshua Gibbs. I haven’t reviewed the latter book yet because I want to give it a re-read before I delve into it. This guy really resonates with me, from a spiritual point of view. I never cease to be amazed by that since he is Orthodox and I am what I refer to as a raging Protestant.

My favorite movie:

At the moment? Chef, starring Jon Favreau. I wrote about that one recently, complete with a couple of video clips. My favorite film of all time if I had to pick one is probably the BBC’s adaptation of Jane Austen’s Emma (I wrote about that one here before as well), followed lastly by the old Charlton Heston version of The Ten Commandments.

My favorite place to vacation:

The mountains win this one, hands down; The Smokey Mountains in particular. I live near the beach, so while I enjoy it, it’s not my favorite place to get away. That said, there is no place quite like the Florida Keys, my second favorite vacation adventure, followed up by our nation’s capital. There’s so much to learn in Washington D. C. that you could go there every year and learn something new almost every time.

Favorite school subject:

I suspect this one is a no brainer. Writing and literature, of course! I read mainly for pleasure, but I rarely read a book without jotting down my thoughts and opinions about what I am reading as well as any memories or feelings it evokes. I do that whether or not I post a public review of the book. Doing this is highly satisfying to me, which is why it isn’t particularly difficult or time consuming for me to review books here. I always made A’s in English and literature.

My favorite form of exercise:

High Intensity Interval Training, usually referred to as HIIT. My preferred version is a good hard run alternated with brisk walks. I used to think log jogs were the best, but I’m over those now, unless my kids rope me into doing a race. By race, I mean a race against myself. I’ve never run fast enough to win a race. Wait! I did take top place female in my age category at a 5K about 4 years ago. Hah! I am not a huge fan of weightlifting, but I do moderate amounts because it’s good for me and my husband will gently remind me of that if I start to try to avoid doing it.

My favorite beauty routine:

Currently, it’s using my jade roller, which I use after a pretty extensive skin care routine. It only takes about 20 minutes a night but my husband says it seems like it takes 45. The results speak for themselves though, so I continue to do it.

My favorite beauty product:

M.A.C.’s 24-hour concealer is my go to whether I’m getting made up or not. The stuff is awesome. My favorite –currently- hair product is Mielle Organics Pomegranate and Honey Leave-in Conditioner. This one is specifically formulated for tightly curly hair, so not a universal product. It makes my hair feel good, and it’s not unusual for someone to hug me and note that my hair smells good. Win-win!

Those are a few of my favorite things. Currently!

If you feel like it, take a minute to share your favorites in any of these categories. I’m most interested in your favorite books, movies, and vacation spots.

Have a great weekend!

Real Food, Chef, and Stream of Consciousness Food Thoughts

I’m currently reading Larry Olmsted’s Real Food, Fake Food. It’s an eye-opening expose along the lines of The Omnivore’s Dilemma, but with an emphasis on informing us of how much of the food we buy is actually fake. By that, I am not referring to the prepackaged, sugar-laden, man-made food that we all know is the antithesis of real, nutritious food.

No, Olmsted aims to reveal that a large percentage food we purchase at premium prices precisely because it is real food, is actually fake. Fake as in not at all what we think we’re buying. Grass fed beef that isn’t from cows which were grass fed. Maine lobster –most seafood, really- that isn’t, Kobe beef that can’t legally be that, and Parmesan cheese laced with wood pulp.

“All of the Kobe beef sold in this country, by chefs famous and anonymous, in ten-dollar sliders or three-hundred-dollar steaks, was fake, all of it, end of story. Every single restaurant and store purporting to sell Kobe beef—or any Japanese beef—was lying, including some of the country’s best-known chefs.”

Kobe beef isn’t a dish I have any particular interest in. In fact, a lot of the more high end food issues Olmsted delved into were less than riveting for me. Tuna, however, is a different animal; literally:

Consumers ordering white tuna get a completely different animal, no kind of tuna at all, 94 percent of the time. Your odds of getting served real white tuna in a restaurant are about the same as hitting zero/double zero on a Vegas roulette wheel, which is to say, not good.

I have a bit more to read before I finish the book, but seeing as my most diligent efforts still haven’t made me a bona fide book blogger, I’m following my instincts and writing about it now. It’s been so surprising in many respects that I am looking forward to doing some research of my own to validate Olmsted’s claims. I rarely take the findings of book authors at face value without corroboration.

Food and cooking is a huge part of our family dynamic. We cook a lot, and we take a lot of interest in cooking real food. Breakfast for us is as likely to contain kale or Brussels sprouts as eggs, as we make try to pack nutrition and real food into every meal. Quality ingredients are important when we cook, which is something we all do, from my husband to our youngest child. Reading that our food supply is more tainted than I already knew is a bit unnerving.

Nevertheless, we have to eat, and we all need to eat the best food we can afford. So we do what we can, give thanks for what is before us and trust that we’re getting what we need from the food we eat. Food is also an opportunity for feasts, fellowship, and fun, contrary to what some people would have us believe.

A few nights ago, I decided to watch the 2014 film Chef, starring Jon Favreau. I was in the mood for a movie, and I was in the mood to watch someone else cook. Since Chef is one of my favorite movies and I haven’t watched it in a couple of years, I gave it a re-watch. I can barely stay awake late to watch anything anymore. When I’m up late, it’s because I’m doing something other than sitting passively, so it took me two nights to watch it.

Sidebar: This is not a family friendly film. There is no sex and no violence, but there is rough language, which is the reason for its MPAA rating. I worked in a restaurant for four years of my young adult life and know that such language is common in a restaurant kitchen. When coupled with the fact that I am not sensitive enough to that kind of thing, it barely bothered me. However, not everyone is as jaded as I am, so consider this your cinematic content advisory.

There are lots of great food and cooking scenes in the film, but my favorite is the scene where the lead character makes his son a grilled cheese sandwich. Grilled cheese sandwiches were my specialty when I was dating my husband, and I made them for him pretty regularly. The care and attention the chef gives to such a simple dish highlights how food feeds us in ways far beyond taste buds and physical sustenance.

Incidentally, neither my husband nor I have eaten a grilled cheese sandwich in a very long time.

Until next time, fellow bibliophiles!

More Short Stories and Mid-year Roundup.

Where did the time go? It’s the first day of the third quarter of 2019. I have a birthday coming up very soon, even though it feels as if I just celebrated one. Preparation for the upcoming school year is well underway, and even though we’re still 16 months away from our country’s next major election, we received a political call at our a few nights ago. The mother’s encouragement trusim about long days and short years rings quite true today as I consider how quickly time  seems to be flying by.

Short stories worth a look:

In preparation for the new school year when our kids will be studying British literature (last year was American literature), I had the great pleasure of meeting with several women much smarter than me for a time of literature appreciation. We read short stories by British authors.

One of the best things about short stories (I’m certain I’m repeating something I’ve said before), is that they can be read quickly. Because of that, even those  who have limited amounts of time for leisure reading can read great literature which transmits time tested values of what is True, Good, and Beautiful. Others, such as the first one I will highlight, are just a light and fun good time, and there ain’t nothing wrong with that either.

  • Jeeves Takes Charge, by P.G. Wodehouse (read at link), is a story published in 1916 by the renowned British humorist. Wodehouse is one of my go-to writers when I want to read something that is not only funny, but intelligently so. This story is the one in which we meet the indomitable valet Jeeves for the first time. As the story suggests, he takes charge from the moment Bertie Wooster, the young heir, hires him into his employ.
  • The Red-Headed League, by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (read at link) first appeared in a magazine in 1891, and is one of many Sherlock Holmes short stories. A red-headed client appears with a fantastically bizarre and mysterious tale which has left him confused. Holmes, using his masterfully astute gift of deduction, figures out that what appears on the surface to be nothing more than a curious story is actually the beginnings of an elaborate criminal heist.
  • The Blue Cross, by G.K. Chesterton is the first of Chesterton’s Father Brown mysteries. Of the three stories I read this weekend, this was by far my favorite. Up until this point, I hadn’t read any of the Father Brown stories, but that is about to change. This story, filled with equal bits of mystery, humor, and profound -without being preachy- insights into the nature of man and nature itself, enveloped me from the first. I am very glad to be entering the world Chesterton’s fictional works, albeit a little late.

Mid-year roundup:

  • I took a minute to tally up the book reviews I’ve posted to date this year and I’ve written a grand total of 20. That isn’t many, especially when you consider that four of those were chapter installments of the Feminine Mystique throughout January.
  • In what counts as a pretty big departure from how I’ve handled this blog over the preceding three years, I’ve also written 21 discussion posts, covering everything from education to book trends,  genres and characters, and even a couple on current cultural trends. As I expected, when I began to add more of those kinds of posts, the conversations here were more animated and robust. I appreciated hearing all of your thoughts on the various topics. So thank you.

My favorite books of the year so far:

  • My favorite book that I’ve read so far this year is one that I haven’t reviewed here yet. I haven’t reviewed it for two reasons. The first is that I’ve picked it up and put it down so many times that it took what seemed like forever to read it. I often needed to set it aside and let the ideas marinate for a few days. Now, I want to re-read it and I have a friend reading it along with me so I hope to have a review up in August. At that point, I’ll divulge the title. I do have other favorites which I’ll break down by fiction and nonfiction.
  • My favorite fiction book for the first half of this year was A Girl of the Liberlost. The beauty, language, and deep relational insights of this book have stayed with me.
  • My favorite nonfiction books of the year tied for first place. The first is Digital Minimalism by Cal Newport. I find that I am still challenged by everything about this book. It is a magnum opus for the digital age. My second favorite nonfiction book to date at mid-year is Beauty Destroys the Beast, by my friend Amy Fleming. Yes, it’s a favorite because she’s my friend. More than that however, it’s a favorite because it speaks to a subject that I actually care about, and I agree with what she has to say about it.

Looking ahead to the second half of this year:

  • I am currently reading a few books, including a novel by the British humorist P.G. Wodehouse whose short story I reviewed above. In addition, I have three non fiction books in queue. However:
  • School starts around the middle to end of August, and we still have a lot of prepping to do for that.  At that time, my entire reading queue may be overtaken by British literature, so don’t be surprised if all the book reviews here are books by British authors -except for books I’ve already read but not yet reviewed.
  • What we refer to as “birthday season” in our family has meant we’ve been partying like it’s 1999 since May, partying overtime in June, and won’t really let up until the beginning September when all the of seven birthdays in our immediate family are wrapped up. I’ve eaten too much cake. Speaking of which, here’s one I made for one of my girls upon special request:

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This dark chocolate cake, with peanut butter frosting, chocolate ganache drizzle and Reese’s peanut butter cups on top was very good! It was also so rich that no one (guests and family alike) could finish an entire slice. I think that’s the sign of a good dessert; you only need a little of it to be sated. We’re on a sugar moratorium around here to recover, making exceptions for, and only for, each of our respective birthdays.

Summer in Florida is oppressively hot, but we’re still managing to have great fun because, why not? I still can’t believe that we’re half way through 2019!

How’s your year been so far? Read any good books lately?

 

 

Current Kid Read: The Omnivore’s Dilemma

Our 12-year-old is the only one of our five offspring who is not an avid reader. She reads the books she is assigned for school, with mixed reactions. Every now and again, she’s assigned a book she really enjoys, but most of the time, she grits her way through it. It is a source of angst to me at times, but I’ve learned to accept that there are people born into the world, even born of me, who don’t enjoy reading.

This week, however, she has been more engrossed in and talkative about a book than I have witnessed since she read Corrie ten Boom’s The Hiding Place, which she truly loves. This extraordinary book -in the sense that my kids is captivated by it- is Michael Pollan’s The Omnivore’s Dilemma, Young Readers Edition, which her sister picked up for her as a spontaneous gift.

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I’m not sure how she knew 12-year-old would like the book, or if she even knew the book would be such a hit with her, but it has really piqued her interest in myriad ways.

Sitting next to me as I try to recapture my inner student (I recently started taking online classes via Local University.) was this child informing me that we are all basically composed of corn. The first sections of the book assess the expansion of the corn industry and how it affects nearly every food we put into our bodies. Unless of course, we avoid processed foods and make as much as we can from scratch.

Before encountering the book, this child was the least likely of all our children to show much interest in what was in her food so long as it tasted good. This kis has always had trouble dealing with my propensity to have cabinets and a fridge with nothing but healthy fare. Now, she takes the phrase “USDA Organic” with a heaping grain of salt, and is infinitely more curious about where and what kinds of meats I buy when I shop.

Behold the power of books.

Hallmark Christmas Cultural Caricature

I probably won’t get back to The Feminine Mystique posts before the New Year begins, but I am reading and taking copious notes. At least I was, but now I need to take an extended detour to finish preparing for the last week of the Christmas season. I want to give the posts the time and thought they deserve so I’m putting them on hold for a bit.

In the meantime, one of our daughters shared this with me this afternoon and it is just too gosh darn funny not to pass on. Before you watch this short video (2:28 total length), a few disclosures:

  • We watch a few Hallmark Christmas movies every year, have watched one so far, and will no doubt watch a couple more. I can still make fun of myself, which I think is a good thing.
  • I know it’s fluff and the corniest version of romance ever created
  • There is one off-color word used in the video.
  • SNL is not usually family friendly fare, but they nail it this time. It’s an excellent caricature.
  • This is hilarious, to me at least. Enjoy!

 

Our love affair with magical nannies.

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There was a nanny debate the other night in our house. No, we’re not considering getting a nanny! The debate centered upon which is the most magical magical Nanny. Is it Nanny McPhee  (originally Nurse Matilda) or Mary Poppins? After this post at Of Maria Antonia recently reminded me of the similarly delightful Mrs. Piggle Wiggle, I came away wondering about our love affair with magical nannies, and began Googling in an earnest search for others I may have forgotten.

Including the delightful dog Nanna in J.M. Barrie’s Peter Pan,  it was clear that the magical nanny trope extends beyond my original limited imagination of what a magical nanny is. She’s not only characterized by the possession of literal magical powers, but also has a magical effect on the entire family as she serves. The literary blog Slap Happy Larry outlines the general story arc of children’s books which employ the magical nanny trope:

  • The parents are colourless and unremarkable except for their utter cluelessness.
  • The nanny might be actually magic, or seems to work magic due to being a ‘child whisperer’
  • The children are highly spirited tricksters
  • The nanny sees right through the children and although she may have a harsh exterior, has a heart of gold
  • The children are at least upper middle class
  • Nanny stories of the old-fashioned kind, set in large houses, are probably from an earlier era such as the Edwardian
  • The plots tend to be episodic rather than dramatic, with each day bringing a new adventure which is over and solved by bedtime. But there is still a character arc whereby the children become better behaved (or more morally upstanding) by the end of the story.

Mrs. Piggle Wiggle, an American story, necessarily demands a slightly different twist on the notion than we find in the the other renown stories, typically written by British authors. In contrast to Nurse Matilda, Mary Poppins, or even Nanna, Mrs. Piggle Wiggle doesn’t live with her charges. Instead, she is a kindly neighborhood lady whom all the children love and all the parents trust to know just the trick to rectify their children’s bad or detrimental behavior.

This short exploration doesn’t even begin to address the numerous nannies and nursemaids to be found in adult literature, who are far more likely to have a significant effect than magical powers. The unrefined but devoted Mrs. Wix from Henry James’ What Maisie Knew springs to mind here. I’m not sure I could even exhaust the list in a short post as short as this one. This leads  me to the question:

What is it about the magical nannies that grabs hold of our imaginations and makes us enjoy them so? I have my own hypothesis, but I’d much rather hear yours first!