We all have books like that, right? I was really looking forward to Barbed Wire Baseball, which I saw on display and grabbed at the library weeks ago. It’s a picture book, so when its number finally came up it didn’t take long to read; sadly, it just wasn’t as good as I wanted it to be.
I’ve had mixed experiences reading about Africa. I read Things Fall Apart in college and hated it, although I’d probably get more out of it now; I studied Out of Africa in my Lit & Film class, but since I was married and waitressing at the time, I remember very little about the book (and not much more of the movie, although that may have been because I started it at 1:30 in the morning and ended up focused on trying–unsuccessfully–to count the number of times Meryl Streep says “I had a fahm in A-fri-ca…”). I thoroughly enjoyed Nancy Farmer’s A Girl Named Disaster, and while her The Ear, the Eye, and the Arm is not so much my thing, it was weirdly interesting. The Poisonwood Bible is moving and well done, but it’s still 500 pages of death, pain, abuse, injustice, and poverty in Africa, and DANG. (I stopped halfway through and read a romance novel before finishing it.) Left to Tell was unforgettable, with a bit of the same feel as a traditional Holocaust memoir. A Long Walk to Water was short but fabulous, and Home of the Brave, while technically about an African refugee in America, took my breath away.
Okay, I didn’t actually realize that I’d read that many books about Africa. I generally avoid hot places, even in literature (oddly enough).
The thing about Africa, though, is that much of what you read about it is painful in some way, and with good reason; it’s had more than its share of tragic history. (Once upon a time I was studying for a history final and parodied ‘Little Bunny Foo Foo.’ Few mnemonic devices have worked as well for me as singing “Little King Leopold, hopping through the Congo, picking up the Africans and bopping them on the head. Along came the European Powers, and THEY said–Little King Leopold, we don’t want to see you picking up the Africans and bopping them on the head…’) I love historical fiction, and so it is what it is, but it’s still a delight to read Alexander McCall Smith’s No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency novels, because the feel of them is so different from anything else about Africa that I’ve read. It isn’t that he ignores the more difficult side of life, but the Botswana he presents is a more fortunate country than some of its neighbors, and his characters are delightful. Mma Ramotswe’s quiet strength and kindness is lovely; Mma Makutsi’s swings between prickliness and insight are shared by most of humanity; and the men in their lives are varied and interesting in their own ways.
The newest installment in the series, The Handsome Man’s De Luxe Cafe, doesn’t disappoint. It has its moments of tangential philosophy (although McCall Smith’s variety of this is both down-to-earth and amusing), but there is also a case of a complicated nature, apprentice difficulty, and a new project of Mma Makutsi’s. I shan’t spoil it for you by giving away any more details, so if you haven’t read it yet, well–get going! And if you haven’t tried the series, give the first one a shot. It feels less like a mystery and more like a slice of culture very different from our usual fare; the series as a whole makes me laugh in a way that no other book set in Africa ever has.
Or new to me, anyway. I was at Costco this week with my littles and remembered that we were almost out of apples, so I checked to see if Fuji prices had come down–which they hadn’t. Gala prices weren’t terrible, but they weren’t fabulous either, so I circled the apple display hoping for something more exciting, and that’s when I spotted the Ginger Golds. Ginger Golds? I said to my friend Britt, who was there with her hubby and her littles. What are those? I’ve never seen those before!
After this month’s potato chip adventures, it shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone that I couldn’t resist buying and trying them, right? (In my defense, they were 80-odd cents a pound, and I figured that if they were mushy and bland like Golden Deliciouses–sorry, couldn’t resist making you say that in your head!–my hubby could put them into smoothies.)
I’m SO glad I did.
According to Wikipedia, Ginger Golds are a combination of Golden Delicious, Albemarle Pippin, and ‘some other unknown variety.’ (This amuses me.) They’re one of the first commercial varieties of apple to ripen, and they’re pale green to yellow-ish (without the dots that I associate with Golden Delicious). More importantly, they are delightful. I was afraid they’d be, again, mushy and/or bland, but they were beautifully crisp with a bit of a different sort of tang to them. I’m itching to buy more–seriously, 80-odd cents a pound!–and I sent one with Britt to try. Pick some up for yourselves, folks. You won’t regret it.
And what else is new in fruit, you ask? Apparently, Cotton Candy Grapes. A friend of mine from Borders days posted a picture on FB, assuring us that they are an actual thing, they do taste weirdly like cotton candy, and they’re worth trying. I was considering calling around to local grocery stores to see if they’re available–she got them in Lehi, which is far enough to spoil my baby’s nap on any given day–because really, I’m now WILDLY curious. Have you tried them? Anyone?
(Also, an honorary mention to this year’s new-to-our-family melon; Golden Delicious Melons really are, well–delicious.)
And the people in my life enable me, you know? It takes me two weeks or so to get through a book at this point in my life (treadmill books don’t count), because I read for 10-15 minutes before bed, and yet I KEEP CHECKING BOOKS OUT OF THE LIBRARY. My library shelf is full, I have a growing pile that needs to move, you know, SOMEWHERE, and I’ll never find the time to read them all. I need a Book-cation.
(Of course, I also need a Clean-cation, and an Organization-cation…)
I was looking for some sort of bars to bring to a family thing last month (yes, I forgot to blog about it then, summer happened), and I opted for these Chocolate Coconut Bars, because hey, we all like chocolate and coconut! I made them the evening before–following the recipe completely, believe it or not!–and they smelled A-MAZ-ING. OH my gosh. Even my hubby, who doesn’t have the Demars nose, noticed. We could hardly wait to try them the next day…and to be completely honest, I snuck a bite before we left on our Amazing Race (which, by the way, was pretty awesome–kudos to my brother- and sister-in-law).
They were fine, you understand. You can’t go THAT wrong with those ingredients. But they weren’t as moist as they wanted to be on the bottom (possibly my dry-ish sweetened coconut flakes didn’t help, but still), and the sweetness of the bottom contrasted strangely with the darkness of the ganache. The two layers didn’t quite belong together, if you know what I mean. And, unfortunately, my in-laws don’t go for dark-ish chocolate nearly as much as milk chocolate, which means that we brought home more than half the pan.
Which I then ate–with help from my hubby. Because again, you can’t go THAT wrong.
Still, though, I wouldn’t make them again. They weren’t bad, and someone else might actually appreciate the combination more; both my hubby and I agreed, however, that the smell while they were baking wrote a check that those bars just couldn’t cash.
It was a sad story.
I know, I know. That seems random, right? But I finished The Trumpeter of Krakow this week, and it really did give me a completely different sense of Poland. Up until now, Mel Brooks’ line from his “To Be Or Not To Be” (a movie worth enjoying, by the way) summed up what I knew of the country. “Poland, the doormat of Europe. Everybody steps on us.” I knew that England made Poland their line in the sand and declared war on Germany for invading it in 1939; I knew it had been under Soviet control after WWII.
That’s pretty much it.
Interestingly enough, Trumpeter was written before any of that took place; it won the Newbery Medal in 1929. Written by an American who studied Polish culture and obviously fell in love with the country, it takes place in medieval Krakow, which was apparently an impressive city. Andrew Charnetski and his small family arrive from their native Ukraine to find their looked-for refuge vanished and their lives threatened; the secret they guard ultimately touches the lives of most of the city’s inhabitants. Saying much more feels like a spoiler, so I’ll say this instead–as much as I don’t love reading about medieval times, this story captivates easily. It also moves quickly, despite its older writing style, and ought to appeal to adventure fans today. I felt initially that the Charnetskis ended up being too lucky in their friends, but the twists of the plot brought balance, and the ending was surprisingly satisfactory. Bottom line? It’s worth taking a look at, especially if you’re looking for books about boys.
This is not going to be a post on why I choose public school for my children; to be honest, I’m WAY too tired tonight to go there! Instead, I’m throwing my personal ambivalence about school starting again out there. Do with it what you will.
OH, the mornings. I’m a morning person by nature, but I’m also 36, with four kids…one of them a six-month-old.
I miss my kiddos. They need time away, and really, so do I, but I miss them when they’re gone. (Or when we’re on the occasional date. Etc.)
Less control over my personal schedule, especially when drop off and pick up mess with naptime.
No helpers who can buckle themselves and their siblings in. My 3-year-old was just learning how when he broke his thumb. BADLY. (That also messed up dressing himself.)
They love it, and they learn.
My son really, really needs more space from his sisters and more Mommy time right now.
NO MORE KINDERGARTEN PICKUP! WAHOO!
The joy of errands with only TWO children.
Pros and cons, folks–because nothing is perfect. I hope your school year gets off to a great start!
Today is my second girlie’s sixth birthday, and while there’s now only one family birthday left in the calendar year, I think I will start a blog tradition anyway. Because I can.
Six Reasons I Love My Six-Year-Old
1. Her smile lights up her entire face. It is transcendent.
2. She is sweet and affectionate. (She’s also a hothead.)
3. She loves her family and shows it.
4. She’s learned to eat new foods; she even learns to like some of them.
5. She likes to involve her baby sister when they play outside. (And she hasn’t dropped her. Yet.)
6. She surprises me. (By, for example, making a friend at a McDonald’s playplace BY HERSELF, even though she’s incredibly shy.)
And yes, her birthday food involved five sticks of butter. One for the cake; one for the frosting; one for the alfredo sauce at dinner; one for the muffin batter at breakfast; and one to melt and dip the muffin tops into (so the cinnamon sugar would stick, of course!).
If you have a learning-to-reader, you really need to check out Houndsley and Catina (and its sequels). (How’s that for hopping straight into the subject matter? Can you tell I’ve got a lot to do in the next 48 hours?) It was an impulse book at the library; I saw the author, thought hey, that’s the Bunnicula guy!, and figured it was worth a try.
Its three chapters give us a peek into the comfortable friendship between–you guessed it!–a dog and a cat. Houndsley likes to cook and is very considerate of his feline friend’s preferences (she’s a vegetarian), while Catina aspires to be a famous writer and asks for her friend’s opinion of her work. The honesty and kindness in their friendship is delightful, and Howe manages to be both moving and amusing in his storytelling. In a few months I suspect my almost-six-year-old will be reading this series by herself; for now, it’s perfect for reading aloud to her. Don’t miss it!
I was due for a post yesterday, I know, but my niece was moving out of her summer dorm and needed a place to stash her stuff for a couple of weeks. I got to go down to Provo, feed her and her poor roommate (the roommate was having a bad day already, and that thing she was sadly consuming looked like an abomination, not a pizza), and drive back with a stuffed panda half the size of Texas in my car…all the while remembering my aunt, who died of cancer just before I got married, doing the same thing for me. I still miss her–you’d be surprised at how much–but getting to be a little like her for an evening was a beautiful thing.
(I also missed some projectile vomiting at home. Sorry, honey. At least it was only formula…)