Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Books. Lots and lots of books

In the last week I've read some books.

The Scrapbook of Frankie Pratt, by Caroline Preston. It has a very interesting format; it tells the story in a "scrapbook" style. Little bits and pieces of various things like movie tickets, telegrams, and photographs create a collage on each page. It was a very quick read since there are only a few actual sentences per page. It was fun, and I like the happy ending.

Labor Day, by Joyce Maynard. A novel written from the point of view of a 13 year-old boy, very recently made into a movie starring Kate Winslet and Josh Brolin. The boy is the son of what I had hoped would be the main character. It's the story of a family torn apart by heartache and sorrow and their efforts to become whole again. The story begins when an escaped convict from a nearby prison meets the boy and his mother in a Walmart-type store and asks if he can stay with them in their home until the police stop looking for him. I wanted to like the book more than I did. There is a lot of the boy's personal narrative; he's interested in girls but unsure how to approach them. He's discovered what to do with himself in the middle of the night. Ahem. He's interested, disgusted, and mortified by what his mother is doing in the next room with this man who during daylight hours is more of a father to him than his real dad has ever been. I had to turn the book back into the library before I could review it. I wish it had had more substance, and I wish the story could be told from the mother's point of view. I think I'll read another of Maynard's books to see if I think she's any good. Other of her books besides this one have been made into movies, so apparently there's something there for some people.

When You Reach Me, by Rebecca Stead. Very strange, but intriguing juvenile fiction. I'm still trying to decide what I think about it. It involves time travel in a very different way and at the end when all was made clear I thought it was very satisfying.

Gone Girl, by Gillian Flynn. I kept checking to see, but this nasty book was, indeed, written by a woman. Filled to bursting with profanity and an obsession with genitalia and crude, coarse, meaningless sex. Ick, ick, and ick again. Do people really want to read about that stuff? I kept waiting for it to turn around and be "good", and for the characters to ever exhibit any redeeming human qualities at all, but it never did. The only time the female character was anything approaching moral or kind or feminine or loving was when she was pretending to be those things. Dark and horrifying, but not in a good way.

It's been the kind of week where I'm glad I didn't lay out any money for books. The library is like a free preview, a try-before-you-buy kind of set up. I won't read any of these books again (and reading books again is one of my favorite things!) but I do hope to see the movie Labor Day when it comes out on dvd to the library. I'm interested in the mother's story and would like to see it brought to life by Kate Winslet.

Monday, February 3, 2014

Another Monday,

time again to figure out what we'll have for dinner this week.

In the fridge/pantry I've got the following things* that need to be used up this week:
  • a lb. of fresh spinach
  • a big head of broccoli
  • 3 links of sweet Italian sausage
  • a 1 lb. package of bacon that's missing 3 slices**
  • half of a head of green cauliflower
  • romaine and leaf lettuce
  • cheese ( parmesan, cheddar, provolone)
  • ham
  • several potatoes
  • garlic croutons
Meal plans that will use up those ingredients for dinner:
  • spinach/bacon quiche (spinach, bacon, provolone. I've got a pie crust in the freezer)
  • Beef noodle stir fry*** (broccoli)
  • White bean and sausage rigatoni (Italian sausage and parmesan cheese. The penne {rather than rigatoni}, white beans, and crushed tomatoes will come from my food storage)
  • cheesy ham and potato casserole with caesar salad (potatoes, ham, lettuce, parm and cheddar cheese, croutons)
I think that with leftovers, a wedding reception on Saturday, and date night that will be all the cooking I have to do this week. I will also bake bread twice this week, and pressure-can some ham stock made from the ham bone after I cut all the spiral-sliced ham off it.  I don't really care too much for cauliflower, green or otherwise, so I might try to give that away.

My grocery list includes:
  • 1 1/2 lbs. sirloin tip steak
  • a container of feta cheese
  • dry mustard
  • orange juice and milk again later this week
and I think that's it!

*I always have what I consider to be "staples" on hand. Eggs, milk, butter, flour, onions, beans, canned veggies, breakfast foods, juice, various types of pasta, etc.
**The missing 3 slices of bacon went into a roasted brussels sprouts dish I made last night. It was really good. I don't know where I got the recipe but I didn't invent it. It had a couple of small apples, a small onion, a pound of brussels sprouts, the bacon, maple syrup, butter, salt and pepper, and then roasted in the oven. When it came out I stirred in some apple cider vinegar.
***From Nony here. I will use broccoli (that I have on hand) instead of the green beans, like she does.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014


From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail, by Cheryl Strayed.

This book is the true story of the author's search for herself as she treks along the PCT. She does this entirely alone for most of the trip. This is a story of pain. Physical pain. Mental pain. And the devastating heartache and emotional destruction that comes to people who are experiencing life on planet earth.

In a lot of ways I identified with Cheryl Strayed. (Strayed is the surname she chose for herself when she divorced the man she loved after her mother died. There was this space for her to put the name she would change to on the form in the divorce kit. Okay.) I admire her for acknowledging and confronting and honoring her pain and not running from, hiding, or denying her pain. I was raised to "fix my face", to straighten up and carry on like nothing happened which only added an excruciating element of shame to the emotional and physical and psychic pain I've felt in my life. Cheryl Strayed doesn't try to hide her pain; she acts on it in ways that are both liberating and self-destructive.

The PCT offers her desperate hunger and thirst, extreme heat and cold, both ascent and descent which offer different forms of torture to her feet, fatigue and exhaustion, and fear. And yet also exhilaration, beauty, friendship, generosity, and, finally, peace.

I would like to read this book again and find the symbolism in her journey. The relationship between her extraordinarily heavy backpack that she names "Monster" that she carries up and down mountains again and again and without which she cannot continue, and her very real burden of guilt and grief. Between her blistered, bleeding, ruined feet and her broken heart. But the book is due back at the library tomorrow and I don't know when I'll get it back again. I'll remember it for a long time.

This book is full of the mother of all cusswords. Just so you know if you decide to read it yourself.

Monday, January 27, 2014

Whatever shall we eat?

This week's menu requires hardly any planning and no work beyond reheating until Saturday. My good Mr. Dub is doing his job out of town this week which means I'm pretty much on my own* and luckily have leftovers in the fridge. For dinner this week I shall have:

  • the last bowlful of cheesy potato soup
  • the last bowlful of Brazilian Black Bean Stew
  • the last bit of leftover Mexican rice with the last of the leftover refried beans made into a burrito
  • the last of a bottle of chicken made into either a quesadilla or some chicken salad
  • perhaps a baked potato and some green beans
  • and on Sunday when we are all together again with our son and beautiful new daughter in law we shall have baked citrus-herb chicken with some Brussels sprouts**.
* My Little Friend is here, of course. He generally makes his own dinners because he doesn't ever like what I make. He'll have fried egg sandwiches, macaroni and cheese, fish sticks, and whatever else he can find. We have all these items for him already in the house.
**New recipe! I got some Brussels sprouts in my Bountiful Basket and since I've never eaten or prepared them before went looking for ideas. I found a recipe that calls for roasting them in the oven with some chopped up apple and a couple of slices of bacon. Sounds delish.

I am still doing pretty well on my no-spend January. I have gone out to lunch a couple of times but have stayed within my weekly budget. This week from the store all I'll need is a jar of peanut butter and a bottle of orange juice. I'll need to buy another gallon of milk later in the week. So perhaps I'll spend as little as $7 at the store this week which means that I'll close out the month having spent only $100 on groceries, snacks, and a couple of lunches out. I've spent nothing at all on hobbies or crafts. And last week we were able to pay off the remaining balance on the only car we owed money on!

Sunday, January 26, 2014

A Woman's Place

by Lynn Austin.

Set during WWII, this story revolves around the lives of 4 women who have very different lives from one another:

  • Virginia (Ginny), a married mother of two school-aged boys who feels that her family doesn't need her and isn't interested in her
  • Rosa, a fiery young Italian girl who marries a marine she just met right before he leaves for basic training
  • Helen, an uptight, lonely and bitter old spinster
  • Jean, an ambitious young woman whose heart is set on going to college and having a career.
These four women all get jobs at a shipyard that has been set up to build ships and aircraft carriers for the war effort and learn to love and help one another. A lot happens in the book, and although there is a lot of sadness (it is set during WWII, after all) it has a happy ending. 

Themes in the book include racism, women in the workplace, sexism, friendship, romantic love, faith in God, and loyalty. I identified most with Ginny and was pleasantly surprised at her happy ending. I liked that there wasn't any cussing or graphic sex scenes.There were some loose ends that never were tied up to my satisfaction, and I think it touches a little lightly on some very serious issues that might deserve more attention, but overall it was a quick and easy and pleasant read, which is probably what is was intended to be. It made me wonder what life was truly like for those women during WWII who were called to work in factories while the men in our nation were away fighting in the war. My opinion is that except for a short time in the world's history (during the 1950's) most all lower and middle class women worked at whatever job was available to bring money and other resources into the family but maybe I'm wrong. 

Thursday, January 23, 2014

The 100-Year-Old Man...

...Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared, by Jonas Jonasson.

This book was written in Swedish and translated into English, and I think it is probably a lot funnier in Swedish, but still very captivating and funny, in a "dry humor" sort of way. The movie version came out in Sweden last month. I wonder if I'll ever get to see it.

It's about a 100 year-old man named Allan Karlsson who climbs out his nursing home bedroom window on the afternoon of his 100th birthday in order to escape the birthday party that the nursing home director, "Director Alice", has planned for him and accidentally begins a grand adventure wherein he is charged (quite unfairly and hysterically, I might add) with the murder of 3 people. The chapters jump back and forth in time but I didn't have any trouble keeping track of what time it was as I read from chapter to chapter - it is clear from the story what time it is. Allan meets all sorts of real-life famous and influential and important people throughout his life, and has an impact on world history and events without ever having to care about anything. Naturally he would rather not be locked up in a Russian work prison for 5 years, but as long as they keep him busy and supplied with vodka every now and then, he doesn't find too much to complain about.

It is a long book - 516 pages in the large print edition I ended up with from the public library. But the story moves along at a brisk pace and the only reason I noticed the length is because there are more books in my queue that I am anxious to get to before I have to return them to the library.

I definitely recommend this book to anyone looking for a lighthearted and unique story that takes license with history. How funny and interesting to think about the possibility of it being true!

Monday, January 20, 2014

Another week, another menu plan

Here I am again, figuring out what we're going to eat. I still have plenty of food in the house and will try again to buy as little as possible, using up what we have in the pantry and store room, as I continue our January "spending fast".

  • Cheesy potato soup with bacon bits and toast made with yeasted corn bread.
  • chicken quesadillas made with bottled chicken, sauteed onion and bell pepper, and cheddar cheese and served with salsa and sour cream
  • Brazilian black bean stew* with cornbread muffins
  • pork loin roll-ups with tomato/red pepper/onion "salsa"
  • leftovers (there will be leftover potato soup and black bean stew)
The only thing I'll need to buy this week is a Bountiful Basket, milk, and sour cream!

*new recipe!