Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Christmas Squash Wreathes

Tara told me a recipe for squash and goat cheese and basil. This was the result and looked great on the Christmas dinner table. It tasted good too. Now you can make your own!
Behold, delicata squash. I happened to have a bigger one and a smaller one and they combined nicely to make thicker wreathes.
Peel using the technique explained here. This picture gets the gist of it, though.
Slice into rounds and pull the gunk out of the center. I had an apple corer that worked great for the small size, but I used a small knife for the bigger rounds.
I was supposed to use goat cheese, but Fred Meyer was out of it. So I substituted cream cheese. I put mine in a pastry bag with a star tip to make those lovely stars, but you could just plop some in the center.
Toss the squash with some oil, salt and pepper in a bowl and then lay your Squash out on a baking sheet. Cook at 425 for 10 minutes, then flip over. Cook for 10 minutes more (or less, if they look like they are getting done.)
I let mine cool to room temperature, then stacked the smaller rings inside of the bigger ones. Then I took basil and chiffinad-ed it which I have no picture of, but this video nicely explains it. Use your star tip to make a few stars per wreath, sprinkle your basil over the top and enjoy.

Note, if your squash is too hot, the cheese will melt and ruin your lovely star effect.

Next time I will get a butternut squash with a very long neck, peel it, cut the neck into slices and then quarters, then cook as above and top with goat cheese and basil. I think it will also be yummy.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

The Wishbones. Tom Perrotta.

Engrossing story of a man over the age of 30 who learns to grow up. He loves playing in a wedding band, and has been dating the same girl for 15 years, "off and on" as he likes to say, but when he accidentally proposes to her, and the wedding is suddenly on, he has to come to terms with real life. How he does it isn't necessarily the textbook way, and I don't think his marriage will last long, but the story was very real and understandable. I enjoyed this book.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Funny Kid Sayings.

"My dad turns older today."--Cian

Don't we all...

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Accidental Happiness: a novel. Jean Reynolds Page

April Harris heard my plea for book recommendations and told me about this one. I read it in one day.

I think that fiction books can go one of two ways. One is to put people in weird situations and see how they react to them. The other is to put people in very normal situations and see how they react to them. I think the former is the plot device of the majority of books written today, and the latter is much less used but equally welcome, as long as the author can write well.

This is one of those people-in-weird-situation books. Gina is a 33 year old widow, too stunned by grief and living on her husband's boat. Late one night she hears someone board the boat and in a panic, fires her gun. The "intruders" turn out to be Reese, her husband's ex-wife and Angel, an Reese's 8 year old daughter. Angel takes a bullet in the shoulder and suddenly the widow's and the ex-wife's lives become entwined.

This was a very gripping book, and I didn't see coming the even weirder situation that develops at the end of the story. It was well written and had sympathetic characters all around.

Peeling a winter squash.

Occasionally, Matthew Card will contribute to the Oregonian's FoodDay section. I really like his features, because they are about eating economically and produce some yummy food. This week, though, in his feature about winter squash, he said he likes the taste of winter squash but "most varieties have crenelated exteriors that make it nearly impossible to peel them while raw, so they must first be roasted, and then the soft flesh scraped free of the skin and pureed."

To which I say, "Piffle." Winter squash can be peeled. Is it an athletic event? Yep. Are you sometimes in danger of slicing your hand open? Sure, if you aren't careful, but the danger can fulfill your sense of adventure. Is it a bit time consuming? A bit, but roasted cubes of squash sans peel are one of my favorite things, and I'm not going to let a little time get in the way of that. Plus, peeling winter squash is something that leaves me with a feeling of great accomplishment. Before there was a hard round object, now, bite-sized pieces of soon to be delicious food.

Here is your step-by-step illustrated process for peeling winter squash. *Note, the steps for butternut squash are a bit different, but I didn't have one on hand to take a picture of. I'll go through those verbally at the bottom. Special thanks to my old roommate Mary Kistinger, who saw me about to massacre my own self while peeling a butternut squash and walked me through her technique.

Start with a squash. This Long Island Cheese that I grew is ideal to peel because of it's smooth surface. Acorn squash is the biggest pain, especially if it has deep ridges. This is a huge squash so the scale is off, but you will get the idea.
Sharpen your knife. Firmly and carefully plunge the knife into the top of the squash and cut as far down on one side as you can. Rotate the squash around and cut the opposite side the same way. This is one of the steps where you can slice your hand open if you aren't careful as the skin is a bit thick and sometimes resistant to being cut. Sometimes rocking the knife a bit up and down helps, but keep your other hand out of the way. There aren't too many times in modern life that you can plunge a knife into something, so enjoy this.
Flip the squash upside down and plunge the knife in again, pulling it as far down as you can, ideally joining up with the cut you made above. Rotate and do the other side.
If your lines join up, you shouldn't have much trouble separating the two halves. In this case, mine didn't, as evidenced by the ridge on the right-hand side of the picture. The stem was also particularly difficult to crack open. I ended up flipping the whole thing upside down and using the knife as a sort of pry bar to split the two sides from one another. This is also another hand slicing opportunity, so be careful.
Scoop out the seeds and other gunky part with a big spoon. This always brings back happy memories of carving pumpkins. Interesting side note. Though we carved pumpkins every year I don't think I had winter squash in an edible form until I went off to college. I wasn't a pumpkin pie fan and I think that was the squash-i-est my family got.
You are left with the flesh of the squash and, of course, the skin which you now have to remove. This was the first time carving into one of my own squash and I can say that it really does sort of look like cheese.
Set the squash on it's bottom and carve a wedge off of the half. The size of this squash mandated big slices, but the smaller you cut your slices, the less waste there is.
At this point, you can cut the whole half into wedges, or do the rest of these steps and then cut another wedge and repeat from here.
Set you wedge on its side and use your knife to slice off a bit of the skin. I took this photo from the side, but I do this by standing in front of the wedge and leaning over the slice. I always start in the middle and work outward, but I don't see a reason why you couldn't start from a side and work around. Keep slicing until you remove all skin. I flip over the squash and get the tiny bits on the other side the knife missed.
Once the skin is gone, slice the wedge into slices.
Then take your slices and chop them into the appropriate sized chunks for your recipe.
The first time you do this, it might take a long time and you will be very sweaty, but ideally emerge unsliced by a knife. After that, you will become much quicker.

For butternut squash: Cut off the bulbous end. You now have the straight "top"side. Cut off the stem end. Stand this end upright (it will look like Devils Tower) and slice off the skin around the tower. You can then slice this tower of squash into what every you would like. Then cut the bulbous part in half and continue as above.

Easy roasted winter squash recipe gleaned from the FoodDay's feature on roasting winter vegetables:
Preheat oven to 425 degrees.
Throw 2.5 lbs of squash [this is flexible, don't stress if you have a bit more or less] cut into two-inch pieces in a bowl. Drizzle in 2 T olive oil, salt and pepper and toss. Put on baking sheet or in 9X13 pan. Sprinkle 2 teaspoons fresh chopped thyme over the top. Roast for 40 minutes, stirring a bit halfway through.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

The Year of Living Biblically. A.J. Jacobs.

Based on the author's own reporting in this book, I would guess that, of all the authors I read A.J. Jacobs would be most likely to Google himself and find this review. If he is reading this, let him rest assured that I enjoyed this book, the story of—as the subtitle informs us—“One Man’s Humble Quest to Follow the Bible as Literally as Possible.”

Parts of this books are laugh-out-loud funny, as when Jacobs describes boning up for an interview with Rosario Dawson by watching two of her movies rented from CleanFlicks or describing how his refusal to tell a lie by calling an English muffin a bagel results in the temper tantrum of his three-year-old son.

The book was also thought provoking, I especially enjoyed the part about not using the Bible as a self-help book, which is the opposite message I’ve heard over and over again. Other parts are sweet, such as his dealings with his neighbor and newborn twins. Jacobs is obsessive about his subject, devouring not just several versions of the bible, but many, many books about the Bible. Overall, an entertaining read.

One note. It used to be books had footnotes. You would read until you got to the little superscripted number sign and then shift your eyes down to the bottom of the page to read the little footnote. Somewhere along the line, we lost the footnotes. There seems to still be end notes in academia, resulting in a grumbled flip to the back of the book only to see “Ibid.” The nonfiction world seems to have embraced an even more annoying version. They let the author write the notes, and put them at the end of the book, and make no mention of them throughout the book. More than once after I’ve finished a book I’ve come upon several pages of end notes that I had no idea were there. Then I read some disjointed notes that would have been much more interesting if I had been able to read them while I was reading the chapter in question. How is the reader even supposed to know to go to the back of the book at that point? “Bring back the footnote!” Don’t let David Foster Wallace be the only one to indulge. Let our eyes jump around the page again. It would be like a video game. Or a web page. I beg you nonfiction book manufactures, bring back the footnote. Or at the very least the endnote. Footnote! Footnote! Footnote!

The story of General Dann & Mara's daughter, Griot and the snow dog: a novel. Doris Lessing.

This is the sequel to Maura & Dann which I read in 2001 or so. I liked the book, though it was long and I wandered off in the middle and then returned later to finish it. I didn’t like this one, so much though.

Both books take place in the far future where the ice caps have covered Yerrup and the south of Ifrick is a vast desert. In Maura & Dann, they walk and walk and try to survive for many hundreds of pages. For me, the most memorable thing I remember about their adventure is their clothing. It is some indestructible fabric that they wear for, no foolin’, ten years! They are trying to get to the North, where there is not as much drought.

This book takes place with Maura and Dann grown up. Maura dies (off camera) in the first 10 pages. Dann is General Dann and he lives in the Centre where many refugees come, fleeing wars and drought. Griot, his friend, manages everything while Dann wanders off on a journey. When he wanders back, Griot has a whole army ready for General Dann to command. Does Dann do that? No he mopes about.

Do you ever read a book and it just goes on and on and you wait for the big thing to happen and you realize that there are only about 30 pages left and the big thing isn't in fact going to happen? This is one of those books. Sadly, it wasn't that great.

Cooking: Greens and Tofu Goodness

I used to eat this every day for breakfast when I had a schedule that allowed for cooking breakfast in the morning. It's a great way to get some protein and vegetables early in the day. I like it without rice, but you could have some if that is your pleasure. I developed this while living at 85 Electric Avenue with a bunch of roommates. I'm not sure who thought of this combo first, but this is how it has evolved for me. Follow along as we make Greens and Tofu Goodness.

Your tools. Right now, I only have a microplane grater which is somewhat great, but tends to clog a bit and also include pieces of my knuckles in whatever I'm grating. I'm hopefully getting a box grater for Christmas. The compost bucket is optional.
The supplies you will need. Back row: olive oil, soy sauce (or gluten free, more expensive, tamari in my case) nutritional yeast. Do not skip the nutritional yeast. It is what makes the dish. I find it in our bulk section of the grocery store. I like the large flake as the small flake makes me cough. Front row 1/2 onion, whole or piece of carrot, greens, firm or extra firm tofu (not silken). For the greens: my favorite is kale, but any kind of greens work well here. Today for instance, I had chard and collards.
This is a prep-as-you-cook sort of recipe after the first few times you make it. You can start one step, and then chop for the next. It's also not an exact science. So you aren't going to read Tablespoon, or 1/2 cup here. It's based on how much you want to eat.

First heat your pan and put in some olive oil. Try Medium heat or just above. I read that for best non-sticking on cast iron skillets, heat the pan until the sides feel warm to you, then add the oil, then let the oil coat the bottom and only after it has heated do you add your ingredients. Note--my pan doesn't usually look this bad. There was a bit of soaking that did not do good.
Chop your onion. I like slices, but you might like it chopped into bits.
Chop your greens. Here, I am attempting to demonstrate the easy way of getting greens off of their stem I learned from America's Test Kitchen. I ran out of hands though, so you will just have to imagine. Hold the green upside down by its stem. Run a sharp knife along the stem. The greens will fall off and you will be left with the stem. So easy.
I usually pile my greens up and roll them into a cigar shaped tube. I then cut off slices of greens. dinosaur kale doesn't lend itself to that, so I just piled it up and chopped.

Grate your carrot. Avoid including knuckles.
Crumble your tofu.
Cook your onions. I like them a little bit dark and limp.Add your greens and carrot. Stir them around until the greens are bright green and a little smaller.

Add your tofu. I usually just crumble it in on top. Then it is time for crunch time. Stir the tofu around until it is warm, but not so long it sticks to the pan. Add the soy sauce and stir it around to distribute.
Throw the whole shebang onto your plate and sprinkle with nutritional yeast. Do NOT skip the nutritional yeast. It is yummy.
Eat and enjoy. After, cut up your remaining tofu and store it in water in a container. It will keep for awhile this way.
The recipe in short form without the pictures:

olive oil
1/2 onion
whole or piece of carrot
greens
firm or extra firm tofu
soy sauce
nutritional yeast

  1. heat your pan and put in some olive oil
  2. Chop your onion
  3. Chop your greens
  4. Grate your carrot
  5. Crumble your tofu.
  6. Cook your onions.
  7. Add your greens and carrot.
  8. Add your tofu.
  9. Stir the tofu around until it is warm, but not so long it sticks to the pan.
  10. Add the soy sauce and stir it around to distribute.
  11. Throw the whole shebang onto your plate and sprinkle with nutritional yeast.
  12. Eat and enjoy

Sunday, December 9, 2007

Hideous Kinky. Esther Freud.

I’m very guilty of judging a book by its cover. I chose this one for several cover-based reasons. 1) The title. Hideous Kinky is perhaps the best non-porn book title ever. 2) It was made into a movie with Kate Winslet who I like and who appears on the cover of the book. I hate it when they do that, but they do and I fell for it. 3) It was written by Esther Freud. I love that name. It is so repressed-sounding. Although the author sounds fairly libertine in her blurb.

Not many adult books are written from a child’s perspective and not many of those books are good. This is. The narrator is a five year old who travels with her seven year old sister and her mother to Marrakesh. It seems to be the 60s because everyone is very free. School? Not necessary. Brushing teeth? Not happening. Dental problems due to not brushing? Oh well. Money to pay the rent? It will get here, eventually.

The narrator chronicles the sister’s journey as their mother drifts around Marrakesh. It is a delightful story full of other drifters, Moroccans, and children. It’s also full of the sights and sounds of the markets and hotels of Marrakesh.

Mrs. Mike. Benedict & Nancy Freedman.

I read about this book in the Oprah magazine and got to it before there were a million holds on it at the library. It was great! A lot of times when I read books written pre-1960, I have to work to keep my attention on the page. It’s amazing how writing styles have changed in 50+ years. But this was a gripping book that kept me reading and reading.

It’s based on the true story of Katherine who, in 1907 at the age of 16 moved from Boston to Alberta to live with her uncle. She moves because the weather in Alberta is supposed to help her pleurisy. Once there, she meets Mike, a Mountie and they marry in short order. They move to the Northwest Territories where Mike is posted.

There, they encounter a lot of winter (my number one reason for not marrying a Mountie.) They also encounter illness, isolation and crime. They meet hearty pioneer stock and see a lot of tragedy as well as suffer some of their own. The transformation of Kate from a young, invalid girl to a mature, world-weary married woman (at the age of 20) is both charming and heartbreaking.

Be prepared for 1940s era descriptions of Indians (read: not very p.c.) Be also prepared for the main character to find her identity through her husband. But most of all, be prepared to like this book. A lot.

Saturday, December 1, 2007

November morning walk.

My week off afforded a morning walk when it was actually light out. I'm having a bit of trouble with the darkness and cold this winter. Highlights:

Long before I lived in North Portland I used to bike here a lot. I've always loved the small house/big lot combination that flourishes here. This is a nice example.
Oh my, what a pretty craftsman house. I love it!
Except from this direction where they have decided to add a carport-cum-drive-in. If the zoning changes, they can make a killing serving hamburgers and root beer floats. What were they thinking?
What would this hole be doing in this fence?
Ah, a hole left over from the days when the meter reader actually had to read the meter.
This fence surrounded this very box-like house. The very rectangular house takes up the whole lot and is surrounded by a tall fence. The roof is pretty flat. U-G-L-Y It don't need no alibi... It was for sale and the flyer said, "Must see inside." Judging from the outside, I think that was all they could say.

Tall Bikes

Portland is such a bike-y city that there are subsets of cyclists in town. One of the subsets is people who never refer to themselves as cyclists. Another is people with tall bikes.

Tall bikes are cool. They are cool because you pretty much have to make your own tall bike, or be friends with someone who does. They are cool because you get to ride far above cars. They are cool because small children gleefully point when they see them. I would love to ride one.

I had the chance. One of the parents of a first grader at my school has a tall bike. I was exclaiming over it, and he offered to let me ride. I automatically said, "Oh, no. I couldn't," and then kicked myself later. Next time he offers, I won't be so quick to say no.

This tall bike was locked up outside school on Friday. It's being a tall bike makes it cool, but most of them are better crafted than this. Still, can you imagine riding one?

More fun comics

The reason my tattoos are not in a visible place. It's going to be fun in the nursing home playing guess the tattoo. (Sorry it's a little blurry)

Get Fuzzy is one of my favorite cartoons. When I describe it (a somewhat loser guy and a cat and a dog) people say, "You mean Garfield?" But Garfield isn't funny and this is. This is from the week that Satchel was eating a lot of stuff. Darby Conley draws expressions so well.
ps. Who are these people who write entries on Wikipedia. Does the world need 9 paragraphs on Satchel. Do these people vote?

Read in November

I read 10 novels this month, which isn't bad. As usual, most of them were novels, with a few non-fiction thrown in for good measure. This month saw me very picky with my books. It was hard to settle in, especially early in the month. There were a lot that were started and not finished. In compiling this list, I realize that I read more books that are just so-so than I would like. I’m not sure how to fix that. I think I need some good recommendations, but I don’t seem to be tapped into any book recommending network. Maybe I’ll go back to my tactic of looking up the titles I like on Amazon.com and seeing what books other people bought. That might not work so well for fiction. It’s a very good tactic for non-fiction. I never buy from Amazon; I get the books from the library instead.

I’ll happily take any recommendations. I like good historical fiction a lot, but only if it is well written. I like modern realistic fiction, the better written the happier I am. I even like science fiction and fantasy, but it has to have a good plot line.

Read:(see the individual reviews)

Elizabeth Warren & Amelia Tyagi

Soon I will be invincible.
Austin Grossman.

The Invisible Circus

Jennifer Egan.

The god of animals.
Aryn Kyle.

Don't Die, My Love
Lurline McDaniel

Eleanor Rigby
Douglas Coupland

Rattled
Debra Galant

Storage & Shelving Solutions: Over 70 projects and ideas that fit your budget, space and lifestyle.
Reader's Digest

Metropolis: A Novel
Elizabeth Gaffney

Venus Envy
Shannon McKeldon


Started and didn't finish:
England, England.
Julian Barnes.
I started this after finishing Soon I Will Be Invincible and I think the happy glow of that book interfered with any small spark of interest that this book might have given out. I couldn't get into it.

My Life, Starring Dara Falcon.
Ann Beattie
See the England, England entry. Same deal.

Almighty Me.
Robert Bausch
And this was the third book I just wasn't into. Good premise, man gets the powers of god for a year. Execution? Not that interesting.

Oy pioneer!: a novel.
Marleetn S. Barr
I checked this out of the library and began reading it only to discover I had already read it. I must really like the title.

Mainlines, blood feasts, and bad taste: a Lester Bangs reader.
Ed by John Morthland.
I would like to say I knew who Lester Bangs was before I saw Almost Famous where Philip Seymour Hoffman portrayed him as a slightly manic semi-gonzo Rock Journalist who delivers my favorite line in the entire movie: "The only true currency in this world is what we share with someone else when we're uncool." However, I was in elementary school when he died and I had no idea who he was.

So this book introduced me to his writings. He is an electric writer, although I feel like I can see the drugs behind the words on the page. The book is all about music, some of which you will know, some of which you will vaguely remember and some of which you will have no idea what he is talking about because the bands have not stood the test of time. He died in 1982 a lot of bands have faded into the unconscious since then. This is a great book for a rock music lover (aware of music before 1982) to have around to dip into and read a bit of and then set down. I'm not really set up for dipping into right now, so I'm not going to finish this. But it's no reflection on Lester Bangs.

Mozart's Sister: a novel.
Rita Charbonnier.
I'm just not into this book about, well you can guess from the title. I suspect it will make me mad, the way she, a talented musician got shunted aside for her genius brother. So I'm not going to keep reading.

The complete idiot's guide to gluten-free eating.
Adamson & Thompson.
I've been eating gluten-free to see if it will solve my health problems. I picked this up to get some tips.

So simple window style.
Abbott & Burren.
I didn't read this book, but I copied a few ideas. I really want to do Roman Shades in the front room. Maybe this summer.

Smart Shelving and Storage Solutions.
Danny Proulx
This book was eclipsed by the other storage & shelf book I got. Sorry Mr. Proulx.

Checked out and didn't read:
American Diaspora: poetry of displacement.
Ed. by Suraez & Van Cleave.
I got this book for a project for youth group and then forgot to bring it the day of. It went back to the library unread.

Intoxicated: A novel of money, madness, and the invention of the world's favorite soft drink.
John Barlow
I wasn't in the mood for this. So I didn't read it. I think I couldn't get past the fact that it seemed to be about Coca-Cola, but began in England. I know it could have gone anywhere from there, but I kept thinking, "Coca-Cola is from Atlanta, Georgia! What are we doing in England?"

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Venus Envy. Shannon McKeldon

In this book Venus/Aphrodite angers Zeus and he punishes her by making her be a fairy godmother. She’s been doing it for 1000 years when she lands her next assignment in Rachel Greer, a 30 year old woman living outside of Seattle who has sworn off men after 3 disastrous relationships and has overfilled her time with volunteer work. She’s not much interested in meeting prince charming, much to Venus’ frustration.

This was mostly an annoying book and my finishing it had more to do with it being cold out. Because of the cold, I didn’t want to get up and find another book to read, so I just finished this one. It’s a nice beach read.

Monday, November 26, 2007

What I did on my Thanksgiving Break.

I had the entire week off, which was very welcome. I had great plans, and spent the week in a happy combination of work and sloth. A lot of little projects got finished around the house. The biggest one was painting a wall in the living room. It was pretty exciting to see how the color changed the room. I’ll get an entry about it up on the “ours” blog soon.

I spent Thanksgiving with the BroMAunts (Brother, Mother, Aunts.) I’ll get an entry up on the “ours” blog about that too. Thursday night, I stayed over at my mom’s house so we could go with the Aunts to the Rickreal Christmas Bazaar. The town of Rickreal is outside of Salem, so we had a nice drive there. The Bazaar was great, though had mostly nothing I wanted or needed. Do you have a need for crocheted booties to keep your feet warm? Do you long for booties in U of O or OSU colors? This was the bazaar for you! There were three or four booths with your choice of booties in a vast array of colors. There was also a huge booth with many, many, many decorative toilet seat covers. Do you long for a “roll in the hay”? Then the booth with the plastic bag with some hay and a toilet paper roll was for you.

In the car afterward, we were reviewing the highs and lows. They did have some nice stuff, especially some handspun yarn and more than a few quilts I would have liked to have. But there was some pretty bad stuff. The cruelest use of craft items? The room fresheners that were really cute craft teddy bears that some delusional woman had dipped in scented wax. The poor things were strange colors and just looked sad, all covered in wax like that. We laughed hard about them. I found the most useless item to be “Table Leggins.” which were decorative covers for your table legs. You could get them to match your table d├ęcor. They were the biggest waste of money that I have ever seen, aside from those poor bears.

Saturday and Sunday were mostly slothful. I walked to the library to return a boatload of books, and found “Friends” Season 6. I wasn’t sure what season that was, and you can’t tell from the case, but I got it anyway. While I was cooking my first ever brisket, I watched most of the whole season. I finished it the next day. It turned out to be the last season I watched in its entirety, but it was still funny. It’s the one that starts with Ross and Rachel getting married in Las Vegas and ends with Monica and Chandler’s proposal.

Because of my work/sloth combo, I was ready to go back to work on Monday. Yay for an entire week off!

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Metropolis: A Novel. Elizabeth Gaffney

Frank Harris is an German immigrant in post-Civil War New York City. His name isn’t really Frank Harris, but it becomes that after P.T. Barnum’s stable, where he works as a stableman, burns down. He escapes the fire, but is fingered as the arsonist. To avoid that charge, he falls in with the Whyos a New York City Gang. He’s not the hardened criminal the Whyos think, so how will he survive in the gang?

This was a great novel, very full of historical detail. I particularly enjoyed the Whyos and the Why Nots—the corresponding girl gang—as they used their musical talents to carry out their crimes. Frank Harris is a great main character. He is a bit idealistic, but also fairly canny. There’s a great bit of socialism and feminism mixed in. I loved this book. I rank it in the top 10 this year.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Storage & Shelving Solutions: Over 70 projects and ideas that fit your budget, space and lifestyle. Readers Digest.

This book rocks! It is so cool that I took it over to show my brother on Thanksgiving. By the time I finished pointing out all the cool projects, he suggested I buy the book. Which I will, if I don’t get it for Christmas. You will most likely see a project or two from this book appearing in my house. For instance: floating shelves. You know how they get them to float? By using hollow core doors. They also have several projects for adding storage between the studs in interior walls. Which is very cool. You don’t know how cool it is until you see the pictures. Very ingenious stuff in here.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Rattled. Debra Galant

I can't read the entire blurb on the front of this book--part of it is being covered up by a library bar code--but the part I can read says: "...of New Jersey what Carl Hiaasen did for the swamps of Florida." Because I like Carl Hiaasen's swamps of Florida, I picked up this book. I am very guilty of judging books by their covers, and I went for it. The fact that Tom Perrotta said it clinched the deal. I really like his books.

So Debra Galant doesn't quite do for the whatever of New Jersery...etc. It was a pretty okay book. Heather and her husband buy a McMansion in rural New Jersey. One day while her handyman--a lifetime resident--is working in her backyard, Heather sees a rattlesnake. She screams for the handyman to kill it. He does, and it turns out to be endangered. Heather is arrested and hijinks ensue.

The book follows Heather, the handyman, the head of a local conservation group as well as the developer of the subdivision as they all react to the crime. In a Hiaasen way it is supposed to show the silliness of the rural/suburban divide. Mostly, Heather comes off as shrill, stupidly entitled and demanding and thus, the last 5 pages of the book when she is supposed to be a good and normal person ring a bit false. It was a good diversion, though.

Eleanor Rigby. Douglas Coupland

I came across Coupland's Miss Wyoming in the Cambridge library early in the century and quickly read all of his books. I love his writing style, his quirky characters, his sometimes supernatural plot lines and the fact that he loves to set his books in Vancouver, B.C.

This book is about Liz, a person so settled in her loneliness that she has the email address EleanorRigby@something.com. It is also about Jeremy, a young and troubled man. What do these two people have in common? I'll leave that to you to find out.

This was more of a caring, Microsurf-ian novel than a sci-fi Girlfriend in a Coma-ian type novel. I liked it, though.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Bizarro has been cracking me up.

Our paper has a darn good comic section. I read a lot of the comics on the 2-page spread, but last week Bizarro was funny.

This first one made me laugh because when I was young and Speak and Spells were popular, we had one. I was a bit hopeless at it, and had endless troubles with "Level One"

"Spell Angel." It would say.

"A-N-G-L-E" I would type in every time.

"In-cor-rect." If you had a Speak and Spell, you know what it sounded like. "Try a-gain."

I would furrow my brow and type again. "A-N-G-L-E."

The Speak and Spell never got tired of my continued misspelling of this word. It would just continue on, "In-cor-rect. The cor-rect spelling of Angel is. A-N-G-E-L." And it would move on. After all these years, I still pause and visualize the word "angel," or "angle" before I write them.

Note. If you clicked on that Speak and Spell link, you may have been as delighted as I was to see the box. "Makes spelling what it should be--fun!" What an hopeful slogan that was. Advertisers. So jaded on the inside and optimistic on the outside.

The humor of this comic depends on if you have a "Friendly Retired Guy" in your life:
I actually laughed out loud on the train when I read this. My father was a friendly retired guy long before he was retired. I have several memories of him going out on a walk after dinner and returning ninety minutes later to report that he'd been talking with the guy 15 minutes down the street for an hour or so. He can start a conversation with anyone, anywhere.

Don't Die, My Love. Lurline McDaniel

When I was younger, I loved, loved, loved Lurline McDaniel's books. Six Months to Live, about a 13-year old girl that gets leukemia, was a particular favorite. All of McDaniel's books deal with teenagers put in a tragic situation. They usually don't have happy endings in the "everyone gets better" sense. I came across this book in our school library and was thrilled to find it, having forgotten all about the joy of reading McDaniel tragedies.

In this book, Julie and Luke have been sweethearts since the sixth grade. Luke is a star football player and Julie's dad is the football coach. After the football season is over in their Junior year, Luke begins to feel run down. It turns out to be Hodgkin's Lymphoma. The rest of the book explores how everyone accepts or doesn't accept Luke's battle with the disease. Will he get better in time to lead the team for his Senior year? Will Julie be able to have a life with a boyfriend with cancer? Will her mother ever get off her back about choosing a college?

It was a pretty typical McDaniel book, though I loved the "message" Luke gave Julie at the end of the book. It was a surprisingly touching scene. I think these books a great for teenagers who want to explore life's potential tragedies in a safe environment. Especially teenagers who want to read sad stories.

The god of animals. Aryn Kyle.

I've been deciding for days if I like this book or not. I think I'm leaning toward "sort-of." This is a coming-of-age story of Alice, a 12-year-old girl whose father breeds and trains horses. Her mother never leaves the house, but stays upstairs in her room all day. Her 17-year-old sister Nona has recently run off to marry a cowboy she just met. This is bad for the business, because the sister was the talented rider, who could lure in girls for lessons.

This story deals a lot with class. Alice's father is mostly a jerk, but more because of life circumstances. The business is hard and he doesn't know how to do anything else, so he will do anything to make his barn work. After the departure of the sister, they only have one riding client, which they hope will bring more clients. Due to their lack of clients, they are forced to board horses which brings a group of wealthy women to their barn. They spend afternoons drinking and grooming their horses, but never riding them.

Over the course of the book we see how Alice adjusts to her sister's disappearance and the family's lack of money. Saviors appear and disappear as the book winds on, in the form of grandparents, a rich horse owner and, surprisingly, her sister's husband. I liked how Alice accepted her family's tragic flaws and just kept working. I suspect this may be based on the author's own life. I also liked how complex the characters were, especially the father who was both a gentle soul and a tyrant. The writing was good, with especially good descriptive language. The class issues were very well drawn too. Obviously, if you are a horse person, this is a book you should read. So, overall, a good book, but dark enough to keep me from really liking it.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

The invisible circus. Jennifer Egan.

The story of a girl, Phoebe, who sets out at 18 in 1978 to trace the last journey her sister took at age 18 in 1970, before she fell from a cliff in Italy. It apparently was made into a movie of the same name in 2001, starring Cameron Diaz. I won't be seeing it. It was an okay book, but I have a feeling which parts of the book were over dramatized for the screen.

Pat Conroy said on the cover, "If there were justice in this world, no one wold be allowed to write a first novel of such beauty and accomplishment." I would say that is overstating the case by a lot.

Soon I will be invincible. Austin Grossman.

I had this book on hold for a long time at the library, but it was worth it. It was like a comic book without the pictures and with better writing. This book follows Dr. Impossible, an evil Super Genius as he battles the Champions, a group of superheros including Fatale. Fatale is the newest member of the Champions, part human, part robot. The book had a great plot, and also let you see the human side of these "super" persons as in this excerpt where Dr. Impossible is talking about what went wrong with his only girlfriend.

"I guess she got bored with me. Some nights on the island, it's beautiful--tropical constellations, jungle sounds, and luminous fish. But when it's five in the morning in the hideout and you can't sleep, and CNN's stuck on another economic summit, well, that's another feeling. You're blacked out and can't work because some hero team is trolling the South Seas, the heat is unbearable, and it's an hour until dawn, the slow tropical sunrise over the lagoon, and you're thinking about how far you are from home, and that this whole thing was maybe not such a brilliant idea after all, but there's nothing you can do about it now.

"My style of work takes a lot of preparation. I building things and test them out. I have to order parts, or cast them myself. I have to pull all-nighters to debug my robot's pathfinding routines before an invasion. It isn't that interesting to other people."

I loved this book so much it made the next three books I read entirely unreadable. Fabulous.

Friday, November 2, 2007

Book: All Your Worth: The Ultimate Lifetime Money Management Plan.

All Your Worth: The Ultimate Lifetime Money Management Plan.
Elizabeth Warren & Amelia Tyagi
This mother and daughter pair wrote a book about managing your finances by using percentages. 50% of your after-tax income goes to Must Haves (things you have to have to live, such as food, shelter and any long-term contracts you are signed into), 30% to Wants (everything that isn't a must-have or savings) and 20% to Savings (money you save or money you pay toward credit card debt). I think the percentages method might work well for people who don't want to spend hours crafting and refining a budget, and everyone can save more money. There is also a helpful section about Bankruptcy. Not only if you should declare it, but also what actually happens during the bankruptcy process. I've never read anything like that in a personal finance book and found it very interesting and sympathetic. I enjoyed this book and think their system is a pretty sound one. Interestingly, I read about this book in the paper and put it on hold in the library. I was 12 of 12 on the hold list and the library had three copies. I checked in now and then to see how things were progressing and nearly everyone returned the book late. I wonder how their finances are?

Thursday, November 1, 2007

MPR's Select a Candidate Survey

Don't know who to vote for? Minnesota Public Radio wants to help you figure it out. They offer a quiz to help you select a presidential candidate. I took it and my results are below. (MPR doesn't have the fancy "post your results" feature that many surveys have. You have to type the results in yourself, if you want people to see them.)
  • Chris Dodd (29)
  • Dennis Kucinich (24)
  • Hillary Clinton (23)
  • John Edwards (23)
  • Barack Obama (22)
  • Bill Richardson (20)
  • Joe Biden (17)
  • Mike Gravel (17)
  • Ron Paul (11)
  • Rudy Giuliani (10)
  • Mike Huckabee (4)
  • John McCain (3)
  • Mitt Romney (2)
  • Dunchan Hunter (1)
  • Fred Thompson (1)
  • Tom Tancredo (0)
You too can take this informative quiz. Wouldn't it be fun to post your results (or at least your top five) in the comment section? I think so!

http://minnesota.publicradio.org/projects/ongoing/select_a_candidate/poll.php?race_id=13

Things I read, started to read and didn't read in October

I read a lot. I always have, and the insomnia problem I'm dealing with just gives me more time to read. I spend more time reading than probably anything in my life with the exception of working and sleeping. So I decided to keep track here of what I read. I added to this entry all through October, with the intention of publishing it at the end of the month. About a week ago I realized that this is a very long entry and I would be better off posting as I finish books and save my end of the month recap for the books I give up on or end up not reading. So new format next month.

Finished:
The Royal Treatment.
MaryJanice Davidson.
What if the U.S. hadn't bought Alaska, but instead it had become it's own country? With a king? And what if the King ran into a feisty American who he thought would be perfect for the crown prince? And what if hijinks ensue? This is a the usual girl-meets-boy book, but setting it in the Sitka Palace in Alaska made it interesting.

Sleeping With Cats: a memoir.
Marge Piercy.
Marge Piercy has lead a very interesting life. And I am an incredibly boring middle class girl. This was a great book.


The Friendship Test.
Elizabeth Noble.
After immersing myself in Ms. Piercy's fascinating life, I needed some fluff to cotton my mind again. Four friends meet in college, then stay friends and are there for each other when two have problems in their mid-thirties. And there is a romance. I didn't hate anyone, it didn't tax my brain and now it is over.

Cataloochee: a novel.
Wayne Caldwell.
Set in Appalachia, one of my favorite kind of books: sprawling time period with a family tree at the front to keep track of the characters as they age and reproduce. It began just as the Civil War was ending and kept going all the way to the 1920's. This book had me flipping to the family tree constantly, because it had a lot of characters, but I enjoyed getting to know them as they aged.

Sex Wars.
Marge Piercy.
This was a great book. I really like Marge Piercy, her novel Gone to Soldiers is one of my top 10. It's not about that type of sex, but what we would refer to as gender. The book takes place in the 1870s and follows a few main characters: a Jewish Immigrant from Russia, Anthony Comstock (of the Comstock Laws), Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Victoria Woodhouse. Their stories intertwine and made me both happy that women have a lot of rights now and also angry about the status of women, both historically and today. Marge Piercy really brings this time period to life.

Fun Home
Alison Bechdel
Matt is the graphic novel reader in the house--my skimming style of reading and leftover classist issues mean that I don't read them. I did read Craig Thompson's "Blankets," which was good, and Matt also introduced me to the serial comic "Dykes to Watch Out For" drawn by Alison Bechdel. Matt being Matt, he also checked out all the "Dykes" books from the library so we've both read the whole series. It's good. Anyway, the foremost author of "Dykes" has written a memoir about her father's death when she was 20 and he was 44. A few months before his death, and right after (like the sentence after) she came out as a lesbian, Bechdel's mother told her that her father slept with men. This book is a history of her life with her family and is beautifully told and drawn. In discussing with Matt, I learned that it is better to read a chapter, then put the book down and come back later for the next, rather than devour it in two days as I did.

Every Man for Himself: Ten Short Stories About Being a Guy
Ed. Nancy E. Mercado
Not the short stories I thought it would be, a fact which is clearly stated in the introduction: "They are not stories about your voice changing, learning how to shave, or any other 'coming-of-age' cliches like that." Instead there are 10 pretty original stories. About a guy who has a lottery to take a girl to the prom and finds that every action around that becomes a statement for someone. About The Unbeatable, a student at the NewMan Academy for the Enhanced who's name gets him into a lot of trouble. About a boy sent to live with his grandmother who, when she catches him kissing a girl, makes him take care of a piglet. A few of these stories I did not enjoy, but most were good.

Rock Star, Superstar
Blake Nelson.
Pete is a high school student who plays bass in a band. It's a cover band, but they make good money. He joins another band and they suddenly have a chance to make it big. But is this high school student ready for the big time? And how does this affect his relationship with his girlfriend, his father and his friends? I read a good amount of Young Adult fiction and this was some good stuff. It was also set in Portland, so that was fun. And the main character reminded me of one of the kids in my youth group. Blake Nelson wrote "Paranoid Park" which Gus Van Sant adapted into his new movie.

Linden Hills
Gloria Naylor.
I read Mama Day in college and loved the book. I tried to read The Men of Brewster Place and couldn't get into it. So when I was checking out books a few weeks ago I stumbled into the "N's" and happily found Naylor, Gloria. This book is about land owned by a former slave before the Civil War. After the war his son and grandson, etc through five generations build Linden Hills, a subdivision for only the best black people. But all isn't as it seems in Linden Hills as two young men find out as they do odd jobs to make money before Christmas. This was engrossing, but hard to read, I finished three other books as I was reading this one. I kept getting distracted trying to figure out where this Linden Hills was supposed to be set (it may have said at the beginning of the book, but I wasn't paying attention) and also what the time period was. Other than that, it was a great character study of a handful of characters. Mama Day makes a two paragraph cameo.

Paranoid Park
Blake Nelson
Another YA book by Blake Nelson. This one is about a high school kid who inadvertently, well, it's pretty gruesome and I don't want to say what it is, but he didn't mean it to happen. He gets away with it, and the book traces his reaction in the days and weeks after it happens. Gus Van Sant's newest movie is based on this book. The "it" scene is very well written in a screw-up-your-face kind of a way. This is also set in Portland. It may inspire a Gus Van Sant movie with dialog again.

Started but didn't finish:
What goes around.
Alexandra Carew.
I hate this book. I'm only reading it because I have no other fiction right now. Every character I have encountered I have hated. No more!

In a Country of Mothers.
A.M. Holmes.
I really liked the last book I read by her (This Book Will Save Your Life) and expected to like this one. However, the shrink, one of the main characters, was entirely unlikeable by the close to the end point (about 20 pages more to go) and her patient wasn't so great either. Plus, neither of these people seemed to need money. Like they didn't have to go to work. It just bugged and I stopped reading.

Catching Alice.
Claire Naylor.
I grabbed this while I was grabbing Linden Hills. It's one of those novels that Bridget Jones has paved the way to publish. I can't tell you how many books I've found in the last 10 years where the main character is tragically flawed, spends the whole book flailing about and finds love at the end. In Bridget Jones there was much laughter. Most of the other ones range from fluffy to sad. This was sad. I'm not even going to bother telling you the plotline.

Anything Considered
Peter Mayle
I really liked A Year in Provence. Every piece of Mayle fiction I've read since that time. Eh. It passes the time, but I don't really like it. I'm about 20 pages from the end and will I finish? Who knows? Who cares? This story is about an Englishman living in France who is out of money and advertises for a position. Anything considered. He ends up on this convoluted chase. It's kind of boring.

Sugar Blues
William Dufty
I haven't eaten sugar since late September (except the slice of cake I had on my birthday). I checked this book out of the library because it is a classic, but it is so dated. I already think sugar is bad for you, so I don't really need 200 pages to tell me the entire history of sugar and all the havoc, physically and socially, it has created. I skimmed, then skipped entire chapters. Then I flipped to the second to last chapter, read it and then decided that was all I needed of that particular book.

Checked out of the library and didn't even read:

Life your Life for Half the Price: Without Sacrificing the Life You Love.
Mary Hunt.
I just read a book by her and wasn't ready to read another one. I'm not in the mood for financial books, though I do go through stages where I will read tons of them.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Halloween Graveyard.

Today, I bring you the best Halloween decorations in the neighborhood. Why the fuss over a few fake gravestones and some pumpkins? Let's look a little closer......
Ah, The Flat Earth. It had a good life. As did disco (which seems to have some sort of nostalgic zombie thing going on)
And we often morn those family values (especially every election). I personally morn the loss of the LP, though I'm not sure where the date comes from. Nuclear Power. Is it dead? France doesn't think so.
I guarantee you a history major lives here.
Hee hee. Happy Halloween.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Red Sox memories.

I lived in Massachusetts from 1996-2001, and spent the majority of those years living in South Boston and Somerville. Before arriving in the Bay State, I had no idea that the Red Sox were living under a curse.

At the library in college, I came across some graffiti on a desk asking "What dumb $%^& blew the 1986 World Series?" The answer was scratched in the desk along with more choice words about the player.

I asked my then-boyfriend the trivia question and the sentence was barely out of my mouth when he spit out the answer. "Bill Buckner."

"How do you know that?" I was amazed, this being a decade after that particular series was over.

"It was one of the worst plays in Red Sox history," he explained to me, as if I should know this. "The Red Sox are the worst team ever. They always loose. They haven't won a World Series since 1918"

"The Cubs haven't won a series since 1908. What makes Boston worse than them?" I asked.

He sighed and said, "The Red Sox come so close to winning and then lose in the most painful way. It's torture."

And thus I was introduced to the sad/happy loser culture that was being a fan of the Red Sox.

A few years later, I was living in Boston and watching the evening news. The Red Sox had just lost some important game and were not going to advance. There were man-on-the-street interviews. One of them was a middle aged man, nicely dressed and very angry. "My father," he spit out, "My father, is eighty-three years old! When is he going to see us win a series?"

I laughed, but I thought of that man every September and wondered, in 2004, if the poor man's father was still alive to see them win.

NPR tonight had a story about younger fans having escaped this sad/happy state of loserdom. "The Boston Red Sox are the greatest team evah!" one teenager said. One of the parents commented about his child's confidence in his team, "I know that eventually, the Red Sox will let him down."

And thus, a new generation will be born.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Random pictures from the last two months

I've been carrying my camera around, but haven't been downloading pictures as much. Here are 7 random pictures from the last two months.

Caveman run this place. Today special? Sandwich. That all.
Actually, I walked by about two hours later and the message had been fleshed out to read: today special half sandwich and soup. More intelligible, but not as funny.

What's the story behind this van, do you think? It was parked downtown.
When Matt and I went to visit my Dad and Barb in Arizona, we saw a lot of this in front yards. This, however, is an Oregon specimen, from my neighborhood. Impressive!
On the way to the Max stop is a very button-down security firm. It's a nondescript office building with a parking lot. Boring, boring, boring. What fun to walk by one day and see these two ladies outside. I'm not sure what the protocol is when finding chickens. They don't have collars, so it's hard to figure out where they came from. I'm not sure how this story ended.
This is a bad picture of the beautiful moon in September. It was so beautiful that, while stopped at a light, the guy in the car next to me (I was on my bike) beeped his horn to get my attention so he could exclaim "Look at the moon!" while pointing out his sunroof. "I know!" I said. And stopped to take a picture.
Tis the season. We don't really have fog here like I experienced living in South Boston, or even Boise. Our fog is more like very small particles of slow-falling rain. This day, a spider had spun a web on a real estate sign and the fog just made it pop.
Heh-heh. Ah, Halloween decorations. This made me chuckle. People don't go all out in this neighborhood with the decorations, but they do decorate. I've got another house I need to walk by in the daylight because it is very funny.
So ends the random pictures.