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!

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Books and movies

In anticipation of the book club meeting that was held yesterday I called the library to request a printout listing all the books I checked out last year. I had looked all over my account information online and couldn't find the section where they keep track of my books. Because I couldn't remember all the books I read last year. To be truthful, I can't really remember all the books I've read this month.

It turns out the library doesn't keep track. As soon as you return them the information is erased from your account. Unless you returned them late, then they block you from checking it out again until you pay your fine. You can view all your "blocks" on your account, but none that you returned on time. So you see how being a responsible citizen and returning your books on time and/or paying your fine in a timely manner does you absolutely no good whatsoever.

So I'll try to keep track of them here. A list of books I've read and whether or not I enjoyed them, in no particular order. My only real New Year's Resolution is not to continue reading a book if I'm not enjoying it, so I may not list the ones I don't like, just the ones I finish in 2014. Also movies.

Books that I've managed to remember reading in 2013 and up to this point in January 2014:
The Bartender's Tale, by Ivan Doig. Liked it.
The Whistling Season, by Ivan Doig. Loved it.
Looking for Alaska, by John Green. I find myself thinking about this story quite often, which is not exactly the same as loving it, but still important.
The Winter Sea, by Susanna Kearsley. Loved it. It had a satisfying surprise ending that may not be a surprise for the kind of reader who likes to figure out how the book will end while they're reading. I've never been that kind of reader.
The Story of Beautiful Girl, by Rachel Simon. Loved it.
Anne of Green Gables, by L.M. Montgomery. Loved it, as I always do.
Welcome to Last Chance, by Cathleen Armstrong. Didn't love it. Two minor characters that I found memorable but didn't appreciate the book as a whole. Predictable romance with no deeper meaning or symbolism.
The Letters, by Suzanne Woods Fisher. Didn't love it. Same kind of book as Welcome to Last Chance although I liked this one better. Not exactly my cup of tea though.
The Light Between Oceans, by W.L. Stedman. Expected to love it but didn't.
Understood Betsy, by Dorothy Canfield Fisher. A children's book, I absolutely loved it.
While We're Far Apart, by Lynn Austin. Liked it.
Jane Eyre, by Charlotte Bronte. Loved, as I always do.
Divergent, by Veronica Roth. Liked it.
Insurgent, by Veronica Roth. Liked it okay but not as much as the first in the series.
I Was Told There'd Be Cake, by Sloane Crosley. A book of essays, some of which I enjoyed very much.
I Feel Bad About My Neck, And Other Thoughts On Being A Woman, by Nora Ephron. Another book of essays. Enjoyed it very much.
And the Pursuit of Happiness, by Maira Kalman. Kind of a strange and unexpected format in that it's a picture book for adults, and I found myself sort of outraged when she puts Barack Obama and Martin Luther King in the same league. Interesting tidbits about Abraham Lincoln and democracy and the United States of America though and I liked many parts of it.
Horoscopes for the Dead, by Billy Collins. A book of poetry. I loved it.
Edenbrooke, by Julianne Donaldson. Didn't like it. So predictable. The good guy is always good in every way and always on hand to save the day, and nothing at all redeemable in the bad guy. No growth or maturation or newly found wisdom in the heroine. Move along, there's nothing to see here...
7: An Experimental Mutiny Against Excess, by Jen Hatmaker. Loved it. Made me inspect my lifestyle and character and ethics in a new way.
Star Girl, by Jerry Spinelli. Interesting, intriguing, liked it okay but didn't love it.

It turns out I did read a respectable number of books last year! There are a number of books I started but didn't finish because they didn't hold my attention. I also know there were other books I read but I've forgotten the titles and authors of them.

Movies I've seen lately:
The Hobbit, An Unexpected Journey (Saw it in the theater when it came out in 2012, saw it again on TV in December before we went to see the sequel. Liked it much better the second time and it helped me know what was going on in Smaug.)
The Hobbit, The Desolation of Smaug, liked it.
Saving Mr. Banks, loved it.
The Host, on dvd. It was interesting.
The Magic of Belle Isle. On dvd. Loved it.
World War Z. Scary but good.
Monsters U. Okay.
Despicable Me 2. Pretty cute.
Catching Fire. Okay.
Frozen. Awesome.
The Secret Life of Walter Mitty. Loved it. I read the short story before we went the the movie (it's a super short story which I wasn't expecting). The movie has nothing at all to do with the book except that in both cases Walter Mitty daydreams a bit to escape his tedious life.

I will try to list the books as I read them this year, and maybe do a grand finale book review sometime in December. The year 2014 is going to be The Year of Books for me!

Monday, January 13, 2014

Monday's menu plan

It's January 13, nearly half way through the no/low spending month. Last week didn't go exactly as I expected but we ate most meals at home.  I baked bread for us, made homemade rolls for a wedding reception, baked muffins instead of buying donuts for a class treat for Jake, and stayed out of the store and fast food restaurants. I fought and conquered a nearly irresistible urge for a diet Dr. Pepper. It's been 6 or 7 weeks since I've had any diet soda, but I still feel kind of sad when I think about how I'll never have it again. For dinner this week we'll have:

  • leftover beef stew with cornbread muffins
  • the turkey tenderloin and mashed potatoes that we didn't have last week
  • bean burritos and mexican-style rice
  • baked citrus-herb chicken with steamed broccoli and roasted sweet potato
  • turkey salad on crackers (made from some of the leftover turkey tenderloin, some chopped celery, craisins, onion, and a bit of mayo) with raw veggie dippers/ranch dressing and a sliced pear
  • smoked sausage with macaroni and cheese and a green salad
My shopping list for this week should come in under $25 and includes:
  • milk x 2
  • a dozen eggs
  • 2 bottles of apple juice
  • 10 flour tortillas
  • 1 box of crackers
I continue to be amazed at the amount of food we already have in the house and how long it takes to eat it up. I got a Bountiful Basket last week and that, combined with the home-canned and frozen food that's still in the kitchen plus the long-term food storage items we have on hand, makes me feel like we're eating like kings over here!

Monday, January 6, 2014

This week's menu plan and recap of last week

This week dinner main dishes will be:
  • beef stew
  • spinach/bacon/feta quiche
  • smoky black bean and lentil soup
  • baked rotisserie-flavored turkey tenderloin with mashed potatoes
  • ham and beans
  • turkey/dried cranberry salad on crackers
  • leftovers
Last week a friend of mine gave me some ham and a large ham bone with lots of meat still on it. I used some of the ham last week in the potato au gratin casserole instead of the smoked sausage so I still have the sausage for another time. I will make a big batch of stock out of the ham bone and use it in the smoky lentil soup and also in the ham and bean dinner. She also gave me two frozen pie crusts that she had leftover from Christmas and I will use those to make two quiches this week - one for us and one for her.

Last week I spent $20.48 at the store! This morning I bought:
  • a gallon of milk
  • 5 lbs. potatoes
  • 1 head of celery
  • 2 dozen eggs
  • a small container of feta cheese
and spent a total of $8.34. I am going to see if I can get through this week with that being my "big" grocery shop for the week! I anticipate that I will have to buy milk twice more before next Monday but other than that I'm going to try to get through the week just on what we have in the house. I have had a few moments in the last week where I felt an impulse to run out and buy fast food and a few other things that I wanted but managed to wait for those urges to pass, and they did. I hope to end the month with my shopping and eating habits better under control. Not that I have a problem with overspending, it's just that I am somewhat of an impulse shopper when I'm already at the store for something else, and I'd almost always rather eat out than in, and it's always possible to do a better job of managing your resources.

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Goal for the new year

I found a free Kindle-based daily devotional program for the Book of Mormon that I hope to accomplish in 2014.

On lds.org I found this quote about gospel learning:
"The Lord commands us to actively 'seek learning, even by study and also by faith' (D&C 88:118). We seek learning not only because it is a commandment - we seek it because the desire to ask, to seek, and to find answers to life's questions was planted in our hearts by our Heavenly Father. He wants us to continually seek eternal truths because this is central to how we come to know Him. Through sincere study of the restored gospel, we learn of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost. We learn who we are, why we are on this earth, and how we should live in order to enjoy happiness and peace in this life and a fulness of joy in the next."