Archive from August, 2014
Aug 30, 2014 - Uncategorized    Comments Off on One Promo at a Time

One Promo at a Time

I can’t remember if I’ve talked much about my time at Borders or not…have I mentioned that I worked there for ten years?  I loved it, too.  I was part-time, then full-time for quite a while, and then part-time again, and I still get melancholy about its demise.  I’m not saying it wasn’t brought about by some poor business decisions, mind you–I’m just saying that the world lost a good thing when it died.  Anyway, during the course of that ten years, I brought home quite a few freebies.  I have a killer Christmas cd collection (this is what happens when you’re pretty much the only member of the staff who loves Christmas music so much she doesn’t get sick of it when it’s in the overhead 24-7), my food storage is displayed rather neatly on surplus bookshelves, and I have a box of book promos that filled my husband with dismay when we were cleaning out the room my girlies are now sharing.  He was thinking I’d be okay to get rid of most of them; the problem with that is that I brought them home because they looked like books I’d be interested in reading.  On the bright side, I don’t necessarily feel the need to keep them once I’ve read them, and so I’ve been working Borders promos into my fourth book decisions when I can.

Enter How Opal Mehta Got Kissed, Got Wild, and Got a Life.  I don’t read a ton of adult fiction, but the title and plot of this one caught my eye. Opal is a senior in high school with an unparalleled academic record (complete with activities–like welding–to make her well-rounded) and her eye (and heart) set on getting into Harvard.  During her early acceptance interview, however, the Dean of Admissions sets aside her achievements for a moment and asks her some unanswerable questions, like ‘what do you do for fun?’ and ‘tell me about your friends.’  Her parents, who love detailed plans with acronyms, respond by coming up with HOWGAL–How Opal Will Get A Life–and thus begins Opal’s roller coaster senior year.  The ups and downs are slightly predictable, but the ending is satisfying, and Opal is a likable heroine.  The writing has faults (it’s a first novel), but I appreciate its refusal to dwell overlong on the bumpiest parts of the ride, and it made me laugh quite a lot.  I grew up on the east coast and I was part of the academic crowd (insofar as a school as small as mine had “crowds”–the lines are pretty fuzzy when there are only 84 seniors in your class).  The Ivy League was a big deal there, and while my school of choice was not Ivy League, I did want rather desperately to get in.  I could thus relate to Opal quite a bit, although I was never clueless in the same areas she was.  (I was also never as smart.)

If you can’t relate to any major plot points in this one, it’s not so all-encompassingly amazing that you need to run out and read it anyway; on the other hand, if something in the description strikes a chord, it’s worth the read.  It’s a little fluffy, maybe, but it’s funny and unexpected. Who doesn’t need that from time to time?

Aug 28, 2014 - Uncategorized    Comments Off on The More I Learn, the More Disturbed I Get

The More I Learn, the More Disturbed I Get

Seriously.  Before reading Deborah Wiles’ Revolution, what I knew about the Civil Rights movement in Mississippi basically came from the movie “Ghosts of Mississippi.”  I did know a bit more about the Civil Rights movement in general–we studied MLK’s “Letter from Birmingham Jail” in school, I’ve watched a few documentaries on the topic, and there are some excellent Newberys about it (think Christopher Paul Curtis’ The Watsons Go to Birmingham–1963, and Russell Freedman’s The Voice that Challenged a Nation, among others)–but really, I’m from RI and I live in Utah.  I know quite a bit more about the local history of those two states, but we never made it much past WWII in school.  (Also, when you’re from the Northeast, you can’t really escape the fact that you were squarely on one side during the Civil War, and the South was squarely on the other.  A vestige of “us and them” remains.)

Revolution, then, was a bit of an eye-opener for me.  I knew it had been bad in the South, and worse in the Deep South, and that the Mississippi Delta definitely qualified as Deep South, but I didn’t know as many details of how bad it had been, and I didn’t know much about how it went from that bad to whatever it is now.  (I’ve never lived in Mississippi, so I can’t offer an informed opinion on what it’s like now; I don’t ever expect to live there, either.  My hubby and I hate being hot, and I hate the summer sun, so we’ve pretty much marked off the bottom third of the country as “nowhere we need to live.”  Give me Alaska, Montana, Michigan, or Maine any day.)

Revolution takes place during the summer of 1964, called Freedom Summer; four major civil rights organizations joined forces that summer to try to register the black population of Mississippi to vote.  (At the time, Mississippi was 41% black, but only 5% of that population was registered.)  They worked hard, and people responded, but there was also violence and ugliness (predictably).  The story that best described the climate in Mississippi to me was that of the three civil rights workers who disappeared on the first day of that summer (two white, one black).  The governor suggested that they were just hiding out to cause trouble.  LBJ had to threaten J. Edgar Hoover with indirect political retaliation to get him to investigate; the FBI found the trio’s  burned-out station wagon almost immediately.  It took them 44 days to find the their bodies, but more than a dozen other bodies–all local black citizens–were found during the course of the search.

Like I said.  The more you learn, the more disturbed you get.

At any rate, Wiles takes this incredible backdrop and uses it to help tell the story of a blended family struggling to knit itself together. (Revolution is actually the second book in her “Sixties Trilogy;” the first, Countdown, is about the Cuban Missile Crisis.  It’s also excellent.  Both books are interspersed with pictures, quotes, and documents from the time period.  )  It’s hard to say much more than that–you’ll just have to read it for yourself.

Please do.

It’s amazing.

Aug 26, 2014 - Uncategorized    Comments Off on A Proud Mommy Moment

A Proud Mommy Moment

Today I grabbed a precious few minutes alone with my second grader while Daddy and the littles were out in back; she had mentioned earlier that a girl in her class named ‘Callie’ is her best friend now.  I asked her why, and she considered.  (She always considers before answering questions–even questions like ‘what kind of go-gurt would you like?’–and she rarely considers quickly.  I’d be more frustrated if I weren’t the same way.) “Well, her mom told her that she needed to make one friend, even though she mostly likes to play by herself.  She asked me if I would be her friend.  And I like her, and we have fun doing things together, so I just decided that she’s my best friend.”

Is it just me, or is that a fabulous story?  Kudos to the girl who had the guts to ask someone to be her friend–I certainly didn’t have that variety of courage in school–and kudos to my daughter for responding in such a positive way.  What a lovely story to hear on the second day of school!

 

Aug 24, 2014 - Uncategorized    Comments Off on There’s a First Time for Everything

There’s a First Time for Everything

Maybe this is TMI for my legions of faithful readers, but in the last year or so, my younger girl has grown old enough to introduce a new stage of development to our house–namely, two girls getting the giggles together until one (or occasionally BOTH) of them has a slight accident.  (It’s usually the younger, but not always.)  I don’t mind the giggles, but I could do without the consequences; such, however, is life with children.  This week, though, saw a new wrinkle in this development.  For the first time, we read a picture book that induced enough giggling in my middle to cause problems.  And while I wasn’t exactly pleased about the whole thing–the girlies’ pajama shorts happened to match, and they were excited about it–watching her giggle as we read the book was so fabulous that it actually made up for it.  You know those belly giggles that come (uncontrollably) straight from the gut?  Well, Mo Willems’ Can I Play Too? brought on a full-fledged fit of them.

In case you’re unfamiliar with Willems, he has at least three Caldecott Honor books and a whole slew of Geisel awards.  I must confess, I found Knuffle Bunny amusing while not particularly enjoying the illustrations; the Pigeon books are funny as well, but I still resisted Willems for a long time.  I suppose I tend more towards traditional illustrations, and so since his art wasn’t so much my thing, I didn’t pay much attention to how well it was done.  I have a friend who is a staunch fan, however, and so I finally caved and checked out a couple of Elephant and Piggie books for the girlies.  (The boy looks briefly, but since there are rarely wheels involved, they don’t hold his interest.)  We’ve been through several, now–I think We Are in a Book! is one of my favorites–but none of them has made quite the hit that Can I Play Too? did.  It’s hard to explain the plot without ruining some of the delight of discovery, so I will simply say this:  my middle STILL (upon multiple readings) giggles uncontrollably at the “bonks”.  What kills me about it is what Willems can accomplish with the illustrations I once scoffed at.  They may be cartoony, and there may be a good bit of white space on most pages, but they are, nevertheless, brilliant.  If you haven’t tried him, and you want to laugh, buy Can I Play Too? today.

Seriously.

(I don’t care if you have children or not–it really is that funny.  I’m pretty sure my middle will be getting it for Christmas!)

Can I Play Too? (An Elephant and Piggie Book)


New From: $5.40 USD In Stock

Aug 22, 2014 - Uncategorized    Comments Off on Dear Costco: That Was Below the Belt

Dear Costco: That Was Below the Belt

I wasn’t actually trying to hit the optimal sample time at Costco today, but I suppose by the time I got home from the doctor’s office and pharmacy, tidied and sat for a minute, and then rallied the troops, it was later than I thought.  And at first it was a pleasant surprise; we needed bread anyway, so we chose two of the four varieties they were sampling (all the same brand), and it’s always fun to try the Vitamix smoothie-of-the-moment.  The Creamies were a lovely treat, the hummus always enjoyable (unless you’re my two youngest, who were kindly given plain chips), and OH, the copper kettle Parmesan!  (If only, if only, the woodpecker sighed…).  The boy, of course, especially enjoyed the pulled chicken.  (He’s my carnivore.)  We all love trying different things at Costco (even if there’s usually at least one tree-nut containing sample that only Mommy gets), and I especially love the chance to try things before I buy, you know, a Costco-sized quantity of them.  I’ve always figured that’s why they sample so much–it takes some of the risk out of shopping, right?

Anyway, like I said, it was later than I thought (read:  closer to lunchtime), and while I was trying to be sensible–I really was!–I got sucker-punched by the Danishes.  I’ve split a package of cheese Danishes before (there are many advantages in making a trip to Costco a social event with a friend), but today the combo tray, with the two cheeses and the assorted fruits, reached out and grabbed me.

And wouldn’t let go.

So there we were, a tray of Danishes in the cart, heading toward the registers, when we see another sample stand.

Of Oreos.

I know, I know, this should be a good thing, right?  But I already caved on the Danishes, and I just wanted to PAY AND LEAVE, and did I mention that my barely two-year-old was wearing a WHITE SHIRT?  And so I felt unreasonably bitter.  Because after all, I like the samples because I can try things I’ve never tried before.  I would purchase the contents of the Costco cart of anyone in that store who had never tasted an Oreo.  And so I say to Costco–that was below the belt.

Yes, I know it’s a marketing strategy.  Yes, I can imagine it’s quite successful.  And yes, I support a company’s right to employ such a strategy–I worked retail, and I know they’re trying to make their living.  But still.  My hubby doesn’t even like most of the fruits represented on that Danish tray, and you had to sample the Oreos?

The inhumanity.

(Item:  I did resist the Oreos.  I’m eating Danishes as I write this.  And next on my list is laundry, which will probably involve spotting my two-year-old’s white shirt.)

Aug 20, 2014 - Uncategorized    Comments Off on My Middle’s Birthday Cake

My Middle’s Birthday Cake

When I asked my middle what kind of cake she wanted for her birthday, she said she wanted “chocolate.  With pink frosting.”  This was only a week or two after our neighbors’ granddaughter turned 9 and they invited us for cake–a chocolate cake from Sam’s, I think, resplendent with pink frosting and an impressive fondant bow.  She would have been thrilled if I had gone out and bought her the same cake; unfortunately for her young soul, this mommy likes to bake from scratch.  (I have no issue with buying a cake if baking from scratch is not your thing–certainly I buy things instead of sewing them ALL THE TIME–but it is my thing, at least enough for me to refuse to buy cakes for my family’s birthdays.)  I did want to make her what she wanted, however, and so I scrolled through my Pinterest cake recipes and came up with this Cocoa Cake, which called for whipped cream as frosting.  I thought–hey!  The cake looked rich enough to be tasty–I believe I’ve mentioned my preference for rich cakes, rather than basic cakes with rich frosting–and I love whipped cream.  (Not so much whipped topping, and woe betide the server at a restaurant who thinks the two terms are interchangeable.)  I even have a newly purchased (on a whim!) set of neon food coloring, which comes with an actual pink instead of just red.  (Although the practical difference between the two was negligible.)

So onward I forged with the Cocoa Cake, and I have to say–it was tasty.  (She was thrilled that it was “chocolate with pink frosting–just like I asked for!”)  All of the problems I had were execution problems, and they can be easily avoided if you

1)  Scrape the bowl well before adding the sour cream and vanilla, so the mixing process is truly successful

2)  Sift when it says to sift (although the weird tiny bits that seemed like miniature chocolate chips didn’t bother me)

3) Cover the two rounds well as soon as they are cool (although I was dealing with a giggling-induced accident of the wet variety; sometimes        circumstances are beyond your control)

I do regret just following the directions on the whipped cream; I should have done what I normally do, which is to add sugar and vanilla to taste.  (It didn’t call for vanilla, so I forgot, and I missed that.)  Other than that, it was lovely and rich and delicious; just make sure there’s room in your fridge to store the leftovers.

If there are any.

 

Aug 18, 2014 - Uncategorized    Comments Off on Birthday Breakfast of Goodness

Birthday Breakfast of Goodness

Once upon a time, my sister found this recipe for Mandarin Orange Breakfast Bites in one of those cookbooks that’s a collection of recipes from a certain magazine throughout the year; she passed it on to me, and–mmmmm.  Life got a little bit better right then and there.

The amazing thing is that I don’t actually care for Mandarin oranges.  I’m perfectly happy to eat a clementine, but Mandarin oranges have never really been my cup of tea (my girlies love them, though).  I love this recipe, I think, because the strongest flavor is the almond extract, for which I do care (very much!)–that, of course, and the fact that you dip the muffin tops in melted butter and then cinnamon sugar, and that makes almost anything taste amazing.  If you’re okay with almond extract, I’m betting you’ll like these muffins.  And as long as you have a pastry cutter, they are barely harder than an oil-based muffin recipe (and they are moist and lovely and delightful).  They make a PERFECT birthday breakfast.

(Note:  I generally just grease my muffin tins, but the logistics of dipping the still-hot muffins into the butter and cinnamon sugar make cupcake liners a good idea for these.  Who wants to wait to eat them long enough to get past the burnt-finger threat?)

Aug 17, 2014 - Uncategorized    Comments Off on Half a Birthday

Half a Birthday

Not a half birthday, mind you, but half a birthday.  As in, we have 9:00 church, and so let’s do your birthday breakfast tomorrow, and since Mommy and Daddy are BEAT from moving the entire basement around to move you and your sister downstairs, can we do cake tomorrow, too? It’s kind of lame, I know, and I feel badly for my brand-new five-year-old, but my hubby and I really are completely exhausted.  What did we do today, you ask?  Well, both girls got to try the apple pie bagels for breakfast (I ask you, who could pass those up in the store?), and then the birthday girl got to open her presents before church.  She and her sister played very happily in their new room both before AND after church, and then she got her birthday dinner.  She was, as usual, the last person done…probably because she had FOUR HELPINGS OF GNOCCHI.  (I honestly didn’t know her stomach was big enough for what she ate tonight.)  She picks homemade gnocchi (with homemade alfredo sauce) every year on her birthday, and I serve it with broccoli on the side, both because she likes broccoli and my hubby’s favorite (read:  most tolerated) way to eat broccoli involves dipping it into the alfredo sauce during this meal.  The upside to this, of course, is that I get to make something fairly awful for us once a year without guilt; the downside is that her birthday’s in August, and I have to stand at the stove cooking gnocchi in a pot of boiling water for what feels like about a decade.  Ah, well.  I’m sure it’s karma for all of the years I asked my mother for homemade deep-fried scones on my (July) birthday.  (Item:  my father finally cornered me and pointed out that my birthday was in, well, JULY, and promised we could have scones during a different season of the year if I would just pick something else on my birthday.  I do fully sympathize–we didn’t have air conditioning, and RI is not exactly a dry heat–but I don’t think we ever had scones again.  If you don’t HAVE to do something desirable but labor-intensive and not strictly necessary on a specific day, it has a way of not happening.)

At least we have central air.

Anyway, in honor of my girlie’s birthday, here’s how you make simple homemade gnocchi alfredo.

Gnocchi:

1 C mashed potatoes (with nothing added in–the sauce has plenty of cholesterol and salt already)

1 egg

1 1/2-2 C flour

Combine ingredients in a good-sized bowl and knead until the dough forms a ball.  (This is easier if the mashed potatoes have cooled some.) Roll small portions of dough into snakes on a floured surface.  Cut the snakes into 1/2-1 inch pieces.

Bring a pot of water to a boil; lightly salt it and drop in your gnocchi in batches.  (I shoot for at least 10-15 per batch).  Cook for 3-5 minutes, until they rise to the top.  Scoop out and serve with:

Alfredo Sauce (courtesy of Betty Crocker)

1/2 C butter (yes, that’s one stick)

1/2 C evaporated milk (you can use half & half, but I actually prefer the taste of the other–it’s less warm dairy, which I don’t love.  It’s also slightly less bad for you.)

3/4 C Parmesan cheese

1/2 t salt

Dash pepper

Melt the butter in a pot with the evaporated milk over low heat, stirring frequently.  Add cheese and seasonings (I often throw in a dash of nutmeg as well).  Toss with your cooked and drained gnocchi and serve immediately, preferably with steamed broccoli on the side.

There you have it.  The gnocchi are very filling, so go easy on the portions the first time.  (This is experience talking.)  I doubt it’s amazingly authentic Italian, and I don’t take the time to try and make them look pretty, but oh, it’s a tasty meal.

Even in August.

 

 

Aug 14, 2014 - Uncategorized    Comments Off on A Worthy End to a Series

A Worthy End to a Series

I just finished the last book in Elizabeth Enright’s Melendy Quartet, and I truly wish there were more; I find her writing so very enjoyable (and impressively not dated for someone who was writing in the 40s and 50s).  Spiderweb for Two:  A Melendy Maze was a lovely way to end the series, though…we can see glimpses of the Melendy children nearing adulthood, and the ending provides closure in an unexpected way.  This one features primarily Randy and Oliver, since their older siblings are away at school, and they make an endearing team as they follow clues to a mysterious treasure hunt into all sorts of unexpected places.

Unfortunately, even the amazing Salt Lake County library system only has certain titles by Enright–the Melendy Quartet, her two Newberys, and the sequel to one of them.  I put in an inter-library loan request for another title of hers that looks good, so we’ll see how that goes.  In the meantime, all of the ones in the library system are well worth your time!

 

Aug 13, 2014 - Uncategorized    Comments Off on Thoughts

Thoughts

I confess, I’ve spent more time than usual on the internet in the past few days.  I’ve read tributes to Robin Williams, I’ve read stories about him, I’ve read articles on depression and the idea of it being selfish and why that isn’t true, and I’ve looked at clips of Williams in movies I’ve seen and movies I haven’t.  (I tried a bit of his stand-up, but I generally can’t deal with the f-word well, so that didn’t last long.)  I just about died at the ‘John Wayne does Macbeth’ bit from “Dead Poets Society”–I’d forgotten all about that–and I’ve been continually impressed at the kindness in Williams’ eyes.  Everyone who knew him or met him seems to have good things to say about him, which is impressive for, well, anyone.

This morning I happened upon a reaction to Matt Walsh’s contribution to the current media focus, which I hadn’t seen.  The reaction piece criticized Walsh for choosing to write about suicide being a choice, and since someone I love deeply has struggled with varying degrees of depression for years, I looked up Walsh’s article to see if the reaction piece was more or less accurate (it was).  Now, my feelings about Matt Walsh are mixed.  Sometimes I sort of agree with what he’s saying but not with how he’s saying it; sometimes I guiltily rejoice at his willingness to be harsh (I’m thinking of his post about bad tippers, here–I sure made $2.15 an hour when I waited tables); and sometimes, as today, I think–he’s still pretty young, and he’s pretty free with strong opinions for one who has yet to experience a lot of his life.

And so, since I was strongly moved by the loss of Williams’ battle with depression, here are my thoughts on the idea of suicide being a choice. (The trending articles on depression and suicide not being selfish express their argument too well for me to need to add to them.)  Once upon a time–before I had children, when I still slept a bit more soundly–I had an extraordinarily vivid dream that there was a very, very large bug on my shoulder, right at the base of my neck.  The vivid quality of that particular dream was unusual for me, and coupled with the placement of the bug (bugs too close to my hair = AAAAHHHH in my world) I had the strongest reaction I think I’ve ever had to such a thing; I brought my hand up and RAKED my fingernails across my neck to remove the (phantom) bug from my neck, and in the process scratched myself so deeply that it bled.

Was that a choice?

I don’t pretend to know the motives of every suicide victim in this world, so I’m confining my opinions here to depression-related suicide.  I myself had a bout with postpartum depression after my first child was born, and while it was real and fairly awful while it lasted, it was temporary and–at the MOST–moderate.  (Possibly only mild; it’s difficult to judge after the fact.)  That, I think, is the level of depression Walsh is familiar with, and that, I assume, is where he’s getting his ‘suicide is a choice’ take on the situation.  The problem is that THAT is not the kind of depression, I suspect, that drives most people to suicide.

There is a kind of clinical depression so deep, so all-encompassing, that it alters your mental state in much more profound ways.  My vivid dream WAS my reality in that moment; I did what I felt HAD to be done.  Sure, I made a choice that resulted in a several-inch-long scratch on my neck (bleeding and surprisingly painful, no less!), but it was the only possible choice to be made in my mental state at the time.  The kind of depression that kills is that kind–the kind that alters your mental state in such a way that your perceptions of reality and of your choices are not in any way connected to those of a relatively healthy person.  I cannot believe that anyone who has truly watched someone struggle with that kind of depression would waste his or her time debating the morality of suicide.  (We have a loving Heavenly Father who is far more capable of that than anyone on this earth is; He sees the battle in its entirety.)  Instead, we mourn the tragedy when someone loses that battle–mourn for them, their family, their friends, and the world.

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