This year has been brutal. Snow, ice, polar vortex, repeat snow, more ice, another polar vortex. And tonight, apparently, we are looking down the barrel at what may the worst one yet.
So with this despicable weather, I’ve been working on shaving down my “To-Read” list, using the Goodreads tracker to remind myself what I’ve read this year. I set my goal for 35 books this year, and I’ve already devoured 10 of them. I’ve also set a personal goal to utilize the library more than I have in the past — part of it is to of course save money (FREE e-books!) and another part of it is to patronize a vital resource that is being threatened with budget cuts in so many places around our state and country. A library is a safe place for kids and adults to go and learn, or just have some quiet time. And I approve heartily of quiet time.
I’ve been very fortunate so far with most of my picks, with my favorites taking me to faraway places. My five favorites are:
5) Bridget Jones: Mad About the Boy by Helen Fielding
Full disclosure: I have read every Helen Fielding book ever. She wrote two prior Bridget Jones books, and I am a huuuuuge Bridget fan. I saw the movie while I was in high school, and I thought it was so funny and just right now, in the best chick lit kind of way possible.
Those movies kind of made Renee Zellweger’s career:
They are sickly sweet, billed as a modern-day Pride and Prejudice.
(The second Bridget Jones was not as good, btw. Just a fact.)
And now, all these years later, she makes a third. But we knew before we opened the book that her beloved Mark Darcy was dead, and she’s a bit older. She’s sifting through her widowdom.
Most of the book is written in context with text messages and tweets, and she has no idea how social media works. It sounds kind of trite, but it’s endearing. As a fan, I really enjoyed this. Out of context and not having read her other books, I don’t know that I would like it as much. If you’re looking for something a bit lighthearted and romantic, though, this isn’t a bad pick.
4) The Expats by Chris Pavone
Reading this was one of those books where you are literally annoyed when you have to go to bed, and work, and the grocery store because everyone. is. conspiring. against. you. just. so. you. can’t. read. your. book.
The book is about a CIA agent who leaves the agency and moves to Luxembourg with her husband, for his financial security job. As soon as they arrive, she starts noticing some things that set off her radar. Are they following her, or her husband, or is there an assassination in the works? This isn’t really what I normally read, but I loved the pace and the exotic locales. It was so refreshing, kind of like brain candy. Recommend.
3) Let’s Explore Owls with Diabetes by David Sedaris
This made me think that I feel like I have been robbed in life. Like, I have never read a David Sedaris before. And it is completely feasible that I would have lived my entire life and not read one of his books. And my life would have been lesser for it. That is how good of a writer he is.
I read this on a plane. And I guffawed, I chortled, I think I snorted at least once — my abs were sore by how much silent belly laughing I was doing during the flight. The guy next to me must have certainly thought I was insane.
So what I’m saying is you should read this book. It’s funny.
2) I Am Malala by Malala Yousafzai
This is the most important book I’m going to read this year. I read it, and it made so angry. It made me feel guilty and terrible that the things that this little girl lived through are happening in this world. And as an American, it makes you appreciative. We are still fighting lots of fights, but we don’t have to fight to go to school every day. She risked her life and spoke out against oppression. She was rewarded with a bullet in the head by a member of the Taliban. She was very lucky to survive, and months of rehabilitation followed.
I could write an entire blog post about this book alone. If you are moderately interested in women’s rights, or the aftermath of 9/11, or learning about other cultures, you need to read this book.
1) The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver
I have never read a Barbara Kingsolver book before this one. And now I’m adding all of hers to my To-Read list. The Poisonwood Bible follows a family of missionaries from Georgia to the Belgian Congo. The father, the mother, and their four daughters move there in the ’50s. This book shows the cultural shocks they endure, from the challenges in feeding themselves to the infrastructure. They are also a bit gobsmacked to find the villagers are not so eager to throw down their traditional ways and accept the new Christian teachings.
Kingsolver follows these characters throughout their lives, throughout their relationships, and throughout their travels. They all end up in very different places at the end of the book, and yet it seems that every character is naturally moving in his or her direction. It’s masterful writing, and no matter how many times your heart breaks for the characters, you know you have to keep reading.
This is one of my favorite books ever. Full stop. Executive decision.
I’ll probably have a few more weeks of this terrible weather, so I’ll be chipping away at a couple more books.
What have you read during the Deep Freeze?
On my trip to Chicago last week, the city thankfully had a small break in the weather. It was warm enough for me to walk outside without risking frostbite, so I consider that a win. I was unexpectedly met with an extra day in my travel schedule, so I decided to stomp around downtown and see what I could see on a Tuesday afternoon in February.
First I headed over to Millennium Park. The snow was still piled pretty high:
The last (and only other) time I was in Chicago, it was the dead heat of summer. It was quite miserable then, but there were definitely more people out and about then. But hey, one benefit of the smaller crowd: No one else is hogging the Bean Time:
I don’t really understand modern art. Like, some of it annoys me. But not the Bean. This piece is great. It doubles as a mirror:
Then I headed over to the Art Institute. Some very famous paintings are housed here, including American Gothic. You know the one:
But the best part about touring the Art Institute on a Tuesday is that everyone was having class:
As I walked past, the docent had everyone get up closer to the canvas to really look at the dots (this painting is famously done in the pointillism style by constructing a zillion tiny “dots”).
And then there were the college art school kids, taking notes on Picasso. I didn’t take a picture of them — they were a bit more self-aware than the rugrats studying Seurat (but who knows — maybe they would have appreciated it?).
I also enjoyed some paintings by some lesser known artists, particularly Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec:
Very Moulin Rouge, which was this artist’s place and time.
Other highlights of my trip included visiting Magnolia Bakery:
Seriously, I had the best cupcake of my life here. Hummingbird (not pictured) — bananas, pineapples, pecans, cream cheese frosting. Heaven.
Then, there’s always a little street art, one of my favorite parts of any city:
It was probably worth the trip for the cupcake alone.
A happy little dog on a happy little day. She is so ready for warm days, long walks, and bunny chases ahead.
We have been talking for a long while about making our own sushi, so we decided Valentine’s Day would be the perfect time to make a disaster in the kitchen.
I knew that I needed short-grain rice (preferably sushi rice) to make the correct consistency for our rice. ”The rice is the most important part of sushi” said the little How to Make Sushi pamphlet that came with our rolling mat. This is the kind I used — I bought a 5-lb bag off Amazon.
Overkill? Probably. But obviously I knew this was going to be a major success, resulting in many more sushi nights.
I also used a rice cooker (hey, the manual said it was fine, sushi purists).
But the hardest part in all of this is finding the sushi-grade fish to use with the main dish. I considered online alternatives (shipping starting around $20), and maybe if I wasn’t such a cheapskate in this post-Christmas time period, I would consider it. It’s still cheaper than going out on the town to one of the nicer restaurants. Buuuutttt… I thought I had better call Jewel City Seafood first. I had talked with the owner, Joe, months ago and he told me they had sushi-grade fish. So I made my way down there and they totally have it! I got a 1/2 pound block for about $10. It was flash frozen and only took a few hours to thaw.
1/2 pound of fish may not sound like a lot for two people, but when you are talking sushi, that’s like 5 rolls. It’s more than enough. Plus, I was making my favorite roll with the tuna — tamago.
A lot of my friends have never tried the tamago roll. It’s the yellow egg roll that you see at the sushi bar. Looks like a flat omelette. It’s sweet, sort of like a dessert egg. (And we all know how much I like eggs. And dessert.) Dessert eggs are the best.
Little did I know that there are special contraptions for making the tamago so perfect and rectangular. I did not have one of those. I thought — hmm… tiny omelette maker will work just as well. (Not exactly so.)
This is what it should look like after sliced:
Mine was more…
It still tasted perfectly delicious. Note: the above roll is my husband’s. His was a little *ahem* neater than mine.
Moral of the story:
Even dogs and cats can get along on Valentine’s Day — at least for 30 seconds. No really, though, the moral is:
Making sushi is exhausting, but a team-building exercise! Also, romantic. (??) A bottle of wine makes things go much more smoothly.
What did you do for Valentine’s Day? Have you ever made sushi or had a culinary adventure you’d like to share?
I love you, West Virginia, warts and all.
I love the way the Ohio gets muddy with every rainfall — how it isn’t perfect and clear like so many rivers you see in movies (where are those rivers anyway? Oregon? Wyoming? No one really knows).
I love all the people I have met here, and all the people I carry around in my heart that aren’t here anymore.
I’ve left, and more importantly, I’ve come back. Sometimes going away is a crystallizing moment. You have to leave home in order to miss it. You have to live and see the world in order to realize what is important — otherwise you just live your life with someone else telling you what is important.
So what have I decided is important, despite growing up in a small, poor town in rural West Virginia where being “different” wasn’t always an attribute?
I’ve decided being kind to people is important.
I’ve decided being decent to people is important.
These are basic things. To me, at least. These are things I understood before anyone had to teach them to me. They are innate. Everyone gets the same treatment in my book. I don’t base my friends on socioeconomics, or skin color, or who they choose to date. If I like you, I like you.
Several of my closest friends in the world are gay, and I would fight tooth and nail for them. I love them, plain and simple.
Thankfully, I surround myself with people where I don’t generally hear unkind words and the bigotry. But I have LGBTQ friends who do hear it, and who internalize it (or Facebook it later because they don’t want to start an argument in Aisle Three!). But they shouldn’t feel like they are part of a losing battle (because they aren’t) here at home. They shouldn’t feel like they should have to leave the Mountain Mama to find success and happiness (because they don’t).
My LGBTQ friends deserve every right I enjoy as a cornfed white girl from Appalachia. And it starts now. It starts today.
So say a kindness. Be a kindness. Or be a jerk. Whatever you would normally do. Just don’t pick and choose based on who loves whom.
Every emo kid of the 80′s (before they were called emo, but that’s totally what they were) loved The Cure.
Robert Smith is such a romantic:
I also love the Cure.
And one of my favorite songs of theirs is “Friday I’m In Love.”
Well, this Friday is Valentine’s Day. And I am in love with many things. (Some bloggers call this the weekly round-up or what have you, but I prefer to lift from a Cure song for this week’s post title.)
So this Friday I’m in Love with:
1) The Poisonwood Bible. I’ve been reading this 500+ page tome for a few weeks now, and I don’t want it to end. I’ve never read a Barbara Kingsolver book, and I’m totally taken in with this story of missionaries in the Democratic Republic of Congo at the end of colonialism.
2) Fresh Sugar Lip Treatment. I’ve never felt like winter wouldn’t end before like I’ve felt this winter. This stuff is seeing my poor lips through in one piece.
3) The days are getting longer. When I get home from work, I still have some daylight in which to walk my dog.
4) XBox One Fitness App and Zumba. It’s pretty cool because it tracks your movements and lets you know how well (or terrible) you are doing while you have to exercise indoors. A pretty neat companion to my FitBit I got for Christmas. If only it would stop freezing outside.
5) Hot and Sour Soup. I used a recipe I found that was adapted from Cooking Light and made this delicious soup last night. It had 14 oz of tofu, so it was very filling. Soups are pretty much the only thing keeping me going at this time in bleak mid-February.
6) 12 Years a Slave. I was having a hard time trying to decide which picture I thought should win Best Picture at the Oscars this year. I loved Gravity and American Hustle and Wolf of Wall Street. I solved my own problem when I saw 12 Years a Slave. It is everything you could want in a movie.
7) Pepper on popcorn. Who needs salt? Pepper on popcorn is so much better.
8) This guy. Hey, it’s Valentine’s Day. Think I could post about loving things on V-Day and leave the most important thing out?
What are you loving this Friday?
The Super Bowl is over. It’s months until Game of Thrones. It’s cold outside, though. Way too cold to spend the evenings grilling out and enjoying the sound of the katydids.
So we need something to entertain ourselves. Enter television show marathons.
This winter I’ve watched Alpha House (John Goodman is my favorite), American Horror Story (the first season only —- terrifying), and now I’m watching House of Cards. Can I say I’m officially terrified of Kate Mara now? She is a little creepy in AHS, and maybe even creepier in House of Cards.
This is after Orange is the New Black craziness that took hold over the summer (for me) — for some of you, much earlier.
My husband and I have cut (and then turned back on) the cable for the past 3 years. After football, we turn it off, then comes football and the feeling of fall, things turning colder — it feels like we should be watching TV. But we get by on Netflix, and this year we are adding Hulu Plus into the mix. (Amazon Prime is something that is adding more features and the exclusive TV shows, like the aforementioned Alpha House.) We also have an HDTV antenna on the wall that picks up all the networks, including PBS (Downton!)
This is the first year we’ve had a house, though, so maybe the 1,000 projects we have to do around here will keep us so busy this summer that we keep the momentum right into fall and totally forget to turn it back on. But there will always be those Marshall away games we need to watch on ESPN, so probably not!
I don’t know that I will ever be so happy to see spring as I will this year, though. The winter and freezing temps have been so brutal, even short walks have been painful. Arizona is sounding ever so nice.