Tuesday, October 18, 2016

August, maybe some September, books

Well, we're back, like just waking up from a long sleepless night. Clearly, it was spent reading.

Let's just get it out of the way - I didn't finish several of these books. It's like confession - feels better to be upfront about it. So here we go:

Till We Have Faces: A Myth Retold, by C.S. Lewis: Love this guy. Made it maybe past the fifth page. What can I tell you. Nothing. Because it's like I didn't even try. Honestly, it was right after I was trying to read Chaucer because a friend is teaching a class on it, and I never read it, and good lord, it's like a horse pill if you pick it up on the wrong day, so then I picked this up and.... Urghh.

At the Edge of the Orchard, by Tracy Chevalier: First off, huge fan. Loved the Unicorn one she wrote. This one was harder for me to get into. I got partway through. Let's face it - maybe I just didn't want to know what happened? Maybe later. Will put it on the list. I'm sure it's great. *facepalm

All the Light We Cannot See, by Anthony Doerr: Wild acclaim! Best novel ever! But, sadly, massively depressing, and according to my book club, it got even more so after I abandoned it, so... perhaps it's just better this way. However, the writing is tremendous. Just excellent imagery, and allegory and vocabulary usage. All excellent. Worth picking up! Bring tissues. Side note: apparently Kristin Hannah wrote a book on the similar topic, The Nightengale. I've heard recommendations to read both. I could make a claim that I will, but I think we all know the truth here... let me know how it is...

A Series of Unfortunate Events: The Austere Academy, by Lemony Snicket: Yep, escaped back into the kid's section again. Didn't finish this one - what is it with the wildly depressing books this month - but it started out strong! I did finish the first one in the series, which you'll see there camped out at No. 2 in the stack. Did you hear they are coming out with a movie? Super curious at how they are planning to pull that off!

The Ultimate Bicycle Owner's Manual: The Universal Guide to Bikes, Riding, and Everything for Beginner and Seasoned Cyclists, by Eben Weiss: I'm not sure what possessed me to pick this up. Full disclosure - the bike I own was free. It's an orange beach bike with a couch-like seat, five dubious speeds and touring handles, which currently sports flat tires and let's face it, a missing basket. However, I'm appreciative those two times a year I break it out and take it for a 10-mile spin (cough). That said, I have dreams that I own a Trek and ride it like the wind. Miracles happen. This book is hilarious. Eben is great, and he makes you think you could not only own said Trek, but in fact fix it and have educated conversations at bike shops. Well, certain bike shops. He understands there are different types of bike shops. Anyway, it's great. Give it a go. And for pete's sake, don't lease a Subaru. (Book joke.)

The first phone call to Heaven: A Novel, by Mitch Albom: Is there anything this guy writes that isn't great? This is a fast read - also, it has an unexpected ending. And like most of Albom's books, it makes you really think. I found myself pondering this long after I put it down. Basically, it starts with a phone call to a woman... from a relative who is dead. The story moves in way you can't imagine from there.

Night Shift, Charlaine Harris: She of the Sookie Stackhouse/True Blood books. I picked this up on a whim, looking for (apparently) some brain junk food, and I hit the motherload. Witches, vampires, werewolves, intrigue - check. Set your mind to Easy, and sit down with some candy for a real Halloween treat. Fyi, went looking for more when this was done, and sure enough, I found it. Will update you next time!

I saved the best for last. Get ready.

Rise of the Rocket Girls: The Women Who Propelled Us, from Missiles to the Moon to Mars, by Nathalia Holt: Folks, get yourself to the library, or better yet, just buy this one. Give it to your sisters, nieces, daughters, aunts and anyone. This book, written by a science writer with a Ph.D. (!), is excellent. Ever wondered where they came up with the word "computer"? From the women who computed the earliest math for rocket propulsion. Ever wondered how we got to space, or how long that took? It's in here. This is the real battle not only for science, but for women in science, and the rise of mechanical computers in that journey. From the earliest testing of rockets in the desert to the launches into outer space - made while we were doing calculations by hand, by the way - this is truly a work of art in revealing the geniuses behind the curtain. I was blown away, no pun intended, that I didn't know these things before. This is what science education looks like, folks. Get yourself some.

And there it is. Much more for the September-October stack, which is currently due at the library any second. See you next time!

Thursday, October 13, 2016


We have a lot of yarn now. It came from my dad's house.
It was Bonnie's. She died about a month and a half ago now.

She was so many things, and did so many things. She had a life well-lived.
And, she was fearless. We were in France, and she admired the coffee cups we were using in a restaurant. She said, I think I'll see if he would give some to me, and I laughed.

Guess who got the coffee cups.

We all went to Ireland several years back. We ended up sitting next to a family in a bar in Limerick. The father and daughter were at the head of the table, drinking and telling stories. They were there post-funeral, they told us, and they were singing songs and crying and sharing memories. They brought us in and we laughed and cried with them. I kept thinking about that night when we were having dinner after Bonnie's service.

She framed a picture of a cat I did freehand so long ago. She put it up right next to all the other art in the house, done by real live professionals. 

It felt weird to write another blog post without saying something about this. So, instead, I'm crocheting my fingers off. And reading library books. And taking a course. And drinking wine. And so on. More later.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

July Books: A kindle post

Usually, when I let my stacks of paperbacks and hardcovers go stale, it's because I'm on the kindle. This is my second one, the first having broken down while traveling. I believe this is the regular Kindle. It uses e-ink, instead of a computer-like screen, and I really like that.

Having a kindle is both great and awful at the same time. The Whispernet thing they use means buying the books is instantly gratifying and horrible on your wallet. It's addictive. Anyway, I've downloaded quite a few books, as I used to travel a lot for work, and having the kindle meant not hauling four books in a suitcase. Also, it's easier to read while lounging. Kindle - the lazy book. Probably not the tagline they were going for.

Some kindle books I've read lately:

I've been binging on pretty much everything by Susanna KearsleyThe Rose Garden was the first book I found from her. Loved the time travel element, which was actually pretty mind-bending. Also, loved the setting in Cornwall. The next one you should read, should you fall down this rabbit-hole, would be The Winter Sea, which delves more into local Scottish history, and the abilities of the mind to see and hear the past, and after that, go ahead and fall right into The Firebird, which infuses the history of Russia with telepathic minds of two would-be lovers. I read the last two in the wrong order, and was kind of bummed I hadn't known about the connection earlier. Not only are the settings beautiful, and the characters strong and interesting, but she also does her homework, and includes notes at the end for you to help sort out the history you learned from the elements of whimsy.

One book I come back to far too often is The Royal We, by Heather Cocks and Jessica Morgan, also of the famous GoFugYourself.com blog. Confession time: I'm an avid fan of WhatKateWore.com. Susan (the author) does a bang-up job on covering not only the stylings, but the events that Kate Middleton, now the Duchess of Cambridge, attends and their meaning to the country, and she handles the commentary extremely well. So, when she mentioned she was working with the GoFugYourself girls on a giveaway of their book, loosely based on Kate and Wills' courtship, well, I was intrigued. (I also became a fan of their blog. It's a slippery slope.) The book does a nice job of painting a picture that, while not accurate to their personal situations, is certainly fun, humorous and entertaining albeit in a respectful way. It reminds the reader that behind all the glitz and glamour and pomp and clothes and events, is a real couple, a boy and a girl that fell in love despite the circumstances. And that's pretty important for us to remember about every public figure, really. Also, I love that they made the not-Kate into an American, and she's from Muscatine, Iowa. Woot!

One new thing I read on kindle, that I kind of wish I'd read in book form instead is The Blue Tattoo: The Life of Olive Oatman, by Margot Mifflin. I picked this up because we're watching Hell on Wheels on Netflix, and the show has an Olive Oatman character. Not surprisingly, the tv show bends the facts on her a bit. The book, however, is a pretty scholarly treatise without being dull about it. It examines her life, and how things were written about her and her family. Local tie - the family started out in Whiteside County, Ill. And then things went south, both literally and figuratively. Excellent read, though, and while kind of sad near the end, the very last finish is both uplifting and a hat tip to the author. Fun stuff!

This last book is one I'm buying for sure at some point, because it is such a neat idea. The Time Traveler's Guide to Medieval England: A Handbook for Visitors to the Fourteenth Century, by Ian Mortimer. Honestly, I'm pretty sure I would have died of sickness fairly early in life. Or lived in a hovel. Or crawled into a hovel and died. I am not built for the 14th century - those people were tough. And Ian (we're on a first-name basis) breaks it down from the travel to the food to the clothes to the houses, to what you'd see on the "street" of a small hamlet to a larger-sized town. He's a big fan of Chaucer, and quotes him on various linguistic issues, and so you'll learn some local slang as well. Just when you thought you forgot high school English, am I right? 

So there you go, a tour of my Kindle. I have a bunch of stuff on there that you've already heard of, since I like to take certain book buddies along when I head out of town - Big Magic, Let's Pretend This Never Happened, Oracle, that kind of thing. What's your favorite ebook? Let me know!

Back to real live paper next time, possibly a recipe, maybe some photos? See you then!

Friday, August 5, 2016

Blueberry Crumble Pie

I know, I know, I owe you a July books post, and I promise, it's underway, although it may well be the Kindle post I mentioned earlier.

In the meantime, I offer humble pie. And by that, I mean blueberry.

I've emailed/texted my sister for this so many times, that this last time she just took a photo of the magazine recipe and texted it to me - maybe she thought that would just solve the issue? In any case, I made it not twice, just for us and then for book club, but three times in the last two months. Suffice to say, I'm finally satisfied with the amount of blueberries in my life. But if you are not, here is the solution: Blueberry Crumble Pie.

Notes: The original recipe calls for plain breadcrumbs where I've used graham cracker crumbs - it's just a matter of what I had on hand. But either will work just fine. If you do use plain breadcrumbs, add about 1/4 c. of sugar to that crumb/butter mixture to taste.

All you need:

4 cups blueberries
1 9-in. graham-cracker crust
3/4 c. brown sugar
3 T. flour
1 t. vanilla extract
1/4 t. lemon zest, optional
1 8-oz. container sour cream
1/4-1/2 c. graham cracker crumbs
2-4 T butter, melted

All you need to do:

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
Wash, let dry and pour fresh blueberries into graham cracker crust.
Crush graham crackers in gallon-size ziploc bag until fine. Set aside.
Melt butter, and mix in graham cracker crumbs until the texture of wet sand. Set aside.
Mix brown sugar, flour, vanilla, lemon and sour cream until smooth. Pour over blueberries. Sprinkle over graham cracker crumb mixture. Bake at 375 for 40 minutes or until lightly browned. Cool 1 hour on wire rack.

This was a hit not only for book club, but also for breakfast. It is also excellent with vanilla ice cream.

Book recommendations to come!

Note: The original recipe came from Cooking Light, roughly circa 1997ish. Don't hold me to that, however, as I apparently can't be trusted to keep track of this recipe outside of the internet...

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

June books

Phew, that was a hot one! Not in books, exactly, just the weather. Really glad for the 70s and 80s of the past week. We had a busy month - lots of trips to see family! Training for the Bix 7-mi. road race has kicked into high gear, so there's lots of ibuprofen being consumed, and we're heading out soon for more Gardening on the Farm, which I will try to take photos of this time. In the meantime, our local garden is buried in weeds. Too bad you can't make salsa out of those.

All that, but we still had a big stack this time. This one required extensions at the library, including a third week on guess which book (sigh) that I'm sure was a gift from the nice library women. There were some good ones and some others that tested my endurance. A mix for June.

Smart Cookies' Guide to Making More Dough, by The Smart Cookies and Jennifer Barrett: So, I picked this up because I signed up for the Live More Weigh Less challenge, and then the owner of that, Sarah Jenks (who's a genius) did a video with Sandra Hanna, who runs the Smart Cookies site, and anyway, rabbit hole later, I got the book. The book did sort of lay out some foundations, but I like the website better. The videos are great - I saw some preview to her program, and basically that alone saved me something like $200 because I called the bank and got a lower rate on my credit card. Sandra is indeed a smart cookie and I may yet sign up for her deal. We'll see.

Neil Patrick Harris: Choose Your Own Autobiography, by (guess who) Neil Patrick Harris: This is the best book. So sorry I finished it. I kept going back to see if I'd missed anything. The format? Genius. The stories? Poignant and told so well that you forget it's a famous person telling it. The stories? Awesome, both the real and not-real ones. Did you catch that? He mixes in some doozies. Also, it's a great thing to read something by somebody who truly loves the people in his life. So much love. All good things here.

Maeve's Times: In her own words, by Maeve Binchy and Gordon Snell: This is a collection of columns and observations on the daily grind, which were published in The Irish Times, where Binchy worked for several years. Just read a particularly hilarious memoir of a forgettable ski trip that turned out fabulous, and there is more in there just like that. If you've read any of her books - Quentins, particularly - you'll enjoy this read. (If you haven't read Quentins, what are you doing with your life? Go get it immediately! If that is too much, at least watch Circle of Friends.)

A Clatter of Jars, by Lisa Graff: Primarily a young adult novel apparently, this was kind of an interesting read. Really neat concept of talents, or Talents, being something bestowed on people, and kept in jars, and the ensuing mess of summer camp amid the Talent trade. A neat book about telling the truth, friendship and family, really.

Didn't finish:

Bad Feminist, by Roxane Gay: Some really good points on what the heck we read and why we're drawn to books and stories that don't necessarily help the womanhood all that much (looking at you, 50 Shades). She also goes through a bit of what feminist used to mean, and how it's being defined now. This is a key book, I would think, for anyone who is studying the subject, and also who can concentrate longer than I, because ... I didn't finish it. Bad feminist.

The Trip to Echo Spring: On Writers and Drinking, by Olivia Laing: Got through a part about Raymond Carver and John Cheever drinking in Iowa, and the general premise, which is that many famous writers are connected, and that one of those connections is alcohol, and almost as I was reading I closed the book, and I haven't been back since. Maybe this is a book for winter?

One Wild Bird at a Time, by Bernd Heinrich: Yes, still reading from last month. Got an extension. Didn't finish. Don't even start - it's a vortex, man. I may have to buy this one, or I'll be out of quarters for late fees. Birds. Unbelievable.

That's this month. Coming up, there will be a Kindle books post, as I find when I've abandoned my usual stack, it's because I've taken up my on-again, off-again affair with the Kindle. Also, more on the road trip! Click on for Part 1Part 2 and Part 3.

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

California to Iowa, Part 3

Well, we drove out of Zion National Park, and decided - we want more! - so off we went to Bryce Canyon National Park because why not. Turns out it was right down the road, and even more beautiful, if more packed with tourists.

But the red rocks are gorgeous.

There are several pocket trails if you're into that, and also if you're not trying to drive across country and get back home in a reasonable amount of days.

Some folks are more adventurous than others.

From there, the land began to come down from its height, into the lowlands and desert. 

We saw the strangest things. This sign that said no services for 100 miles, lovingly set off by the "No Bull" header. Cars off the road at random. People walking. (From where?) The solar panels in a field. Like, huge ones. And then, finally we drove north, because it seemed like a good idea at the time.

And we landed in Colorado in great weather, which turned cloudy, then gray, and then slightly worse than bad. Long story short, we got stranded in Vail. Because of this.

Might not look like much, but it was enough to close Vail Pass. We ended up overnight at a great place, considering we found it in a snow storm - the Christie Lodge. They were super nice, and had a fabulous Thai restaurant and bar on site - bonus! The next morning, I woke up to check the roads. Turned out Vail Pass was open. We got ready in a record-breaking 15 minutes, and white-knuckled it through the pass, side-eyeing the trucks putting on chains and trying not to think about our California tires, getting to Golden about two hours later, exhausted. From there, let's just say our patience wore thin with the trip. We barreled home through the rest of Colorado, Nebraska and Iowa, chasing trains and eating the best fast food we could come up with on the way,
including Zombie Burger in Des Moines.

At last, we made it home. The next day we picked up the dogs. Who licked us, and then promptly fell asleep.

The End.

Monday, June 27, 2016

California to Iowa, Part 2

When last we spoke en route, we were headed out of Hurricane, Utah, and into Zion, 
fueled with breakfast pastries and coffee. 

Almost immediately out of town, the red rock began to rise up out of the distance.

Pretty soon, we were in Zion National Park, and if you have a bucket list, I'd add this one to it as soon as humanly possible. Because, it is beautiful.

Now, granted, we went at about the perfect time - late March/early April, good weather, about 9 a.m. in the morning. A dusting of snow had just fallen, making everything look like Christmas.

It was, in a word, enchanting. 

We drove through the rest of the park, and it seemed, all too soon, that we were headed east again. We made another stop before heading to Colorado, but that's fodder for another blog post. 
Until next time, keep it in the road.