Thursday, September 17, 2015

Recent Happenings

We have recently discovered Gilmore Girls via Netflix at my house. Amabel and I have watched a lot of it together, but I saw all of season 1 before I felt pretty okay about her watching it. So we watched seasons 2 and 3 together, and she went back and watched season 1 when I wasn't around. But over Labor Day weekend,  I was sick and she had a weekend without television so I got way ahead of her.

What's funny is that we have discovered that several of our other friends have also been watching Gilmore Girls. It's like it's in the air. It was not a show I was interested in when it originally aired. Its company of other shows on the WB at the time had me wrongly assuming that it was trashy. The first three seasons were relatively trash free, but the fourth season had Rory off to college and the stakes were raised. Still, compared to a lot of shows with college characters, it was relatively clean... until the season 4 finale. Yikes! I'll let you know if it turns around.

By the way, I finished my Summer Reading Challenge just in time. And thank goodness. I am not sure if making a reading list is a very helpful strategy. On the other hand, I can't help but make lists of all the books I want to read. Incidentally, the book I chose for one that everyone has read besides me was The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion. I actually think it's an exaggeration to say everyone has read it (more so than that expression usually is) but it's one of those I just kept seeing around. I enjoyed it.

Since school has started, I haven't had time to do much reading or television watching. I'm homeschooling again after a four year break. It's still not my thing, but it's what needed to be done for the next little while. We've got ninth grade, sixth grade, and third grade this year. It's a lot. But George is helping get us going in the morning and stay organized. That has helped a ton. We're only three weeks in so there are still some growing pains, but we're trucking along.

A friend brought me a share from her CSA group last week and I have been enjoying trying new recipes with all of the fresh vegetables. One thing we often get a lot of during this time of year is zucchini and squash. I tried a new recipe this week that George and I really enjoyed. The kids didn't rave, but they also didn't complain, so I'd call that a win! The original recipe had the squash cooking much longer, but I think it's so much better when the squash maintains some texture- I am not a fan of mushy squash!

Corn with Squash

2 summer squash cut in quarters long ways and then sliced
1T olive oil
half an onion, thinly sliced
2-3 ears of corn, cut off the cob
- heat oil in skillet and sauté onions for 2-3 minutes or until tender
- add corn and squash and sauté about 3-5 minutes more, salt and pepper to taste, and serve

Thursday, July 09, 2015

What I Learned From Summer Reading

I'm over halfway through my summer reading as I begin this post. And I've already learned something. The obvious thing is that I don't like most of the books I have read. And that is kind of a bummer. I have read many of them simply because they were on my list and I needed to check them off, so to speak. But I walked into some of them doubting that I would like them from the get go.
I was already pretty sure that I didn't like nonfiction and that I didn't like anything to do with World War II. Now, I am certain. So, the first two lessons should have been no brainers for me. And, I must say, my dear husband is delighted to know I will be guarding my heart in the following three ways.

1) I will not, repeat not, read anything about World War II again unless I want to, on my own, without pressure or even well intended suggestion from anyone else. It's disturbing to me. I realize that's the point. The events that took place were horrific and it is good and right that they are written about for all to read and know about so that they are never repeated. Absolutely. But my fragile heart (is it Hugh Grant who talks about his fragile heart in Notting Hill?) cannot take anymore. It's too much. It really happened. And I can't bear to dwell on it, to live it again and again through various characters, however fictional they are. It's too tragic. It's too much. I find myself talking myself out of this "but so and so liked it," "but I'm sure it's a beautiful/powerful story," "but everyone else is reading it," etc. I don't care. I am not everyone else (look at that! I sound like I'm being my own mom!). I can't handle the places my mind goes, the fear and the injustice and the helplessness, and, all too often, the almost-ness -- it's all too much for me. I loved The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society. Somehow, that had me separated enough from the horrors of horrors that I thought maybe I had matured out of this whatever it is. But this is where I am.

2) Nonfiction, in general, is boring to me. I just can't make myself enter into a world from however many years ago, whether ten or two thousand, all too often written by a historian who is overly confident in the appeal of the facts apart from any real human interest story. Oh the time I have wasted on biographies! How was I a history minor? How?! I think I'm going to have to blame it on my high school history teacher, my fifth grade history teacher (who was actually a long term sub for my real fifth grade history teacher), and one of my college core history teachers. In that order. Somehow, they had a knack for stories. The fifth grade sub drew me in. She lit the fire. But it would've burnt out if not for my high school history teacher, who was, incidentally, a complete jerk- a jerk who told stories very well. And after four years of listening to him tell these great stories, it only took one really great college lecturer to reinforce what I thought was true. I loved history! But you know? I don't really. I didn't even really do very well in most of my history classes.

I think what it must be for me is that I do often find a survey of history to be rather intriguing, but when it gets down to brass tacks, when it gets down to individuals and the particulars of events, I am not any more interested than I am in present day individuals and events.  I never watch the news. I never read tabloids or follow celebrity gossip. Every now and then some celebrity or another pulls me in- usually the royal family, but sometimes if a celebrity couple is getting divorced, I get sad and hopeful that they'll work it out! And sometimes I get pulled in by the biopic. Oh, how George hates the biopic. I am beginning to share his feelings. I was surprised how much I hated the book A Beautiful Mind after I saw the movie A Beautiful Mind. The movie made me care about John Nash by painting him as very sympathetic character, but the book exposed him as a much, shall we say, yuckier person than the movie would lead us to believe. Similarly, Julie and Julia painted Julia Child as an all around delightful and positive person, but Julia's biography My Life In France left me feeling quite differently about her.  I just read Jack, a biography about C.S. Lewis. While I would never say he was yucky, he was certainly duller than I imagined. In some ways, that's an encouragement. He certainly didn't realize how he would reach people for generations to come. Any one of us could be doing Kingdom work that reaches much farther into the future than we realize! On the other hand, reading about an old fuddy duddy who liked walks, but only certain kinds of walks, and beer, but only certain kind of beers, and kind of lived very much like a hobbit, failed to charm me but more kind of made me sad because I don't think Lewis and I would've gotten along well at all. I'm sure we will be great friends when we do meet! But I don't like to think of scenarios where we would not have had anything much to say to one another or enjoyed one another's company at all!

3) I am henceforth free, even encouraged, to stop a book at any point after deciding that I don't like the book. Page 33? Yes. Page 133? Yes! Page 233? By all means! Cut your losses! Why do I force myself to finish? I have never been able to give up on a book. Truth be told, I have always been told I am loyal to a fault and have never been able to give up on much of anything-- horrible boyfriends and cheeseburgers included (if it's not enough for a whole other meal, might as well finish!)

Oh, and one thing I already knew is that I like happy books. I'm a romcom girl through and through. I will not be content with a dopey, sappy, slapped together romcom though. It has to work.  It has to be realistic enough that I really believe these people belong together and will stay together. With that in mind, I have also adopted a second summer reading list that I have been spacing between the books I am not enjoying from the original summer reading challenge. This list also comes to us from Modern Miss Darcy. It is her Beachy Novels subcategory from her 2015 Summer Reading Guide.

1) Love Walked In by Marisa de los Santos- oddly, this one had caught my eye in the past so her recommendation seemed almost like an affirmation of my original inclination. I liked it. It had some less than satisfactory resolutions in it. But ultimately, I decided I bought everything. Or at least I would play along. There were things not to like for sure, but I very much liked the characters. I thought the author really knew them and portrayed them well. Even the less likable characters had positives and I cared about them. I haven't recommended it to anyone, but I still liked it.

2) The Royal We by Heather Cocks and Jessica Morgan - I had already been waiting in line for this one at my library when I saw the list. I told y'all I have a weakness for the royal family! However, I don't think I would recommend this one. It just goes on and on. But because you know they get married, because there's a picture of the bride and groom on the front and it's written from the bride's point of view in past tense, there is more of a tendency to roll your eyes or groan rather than bite your nails over the many setbacks. There's no will they or won't they? We know they will, so get let's get on with it! I'm all for the story of how they come together in the first place and the awkwardness of being a commoner who needs to be groomed for royalty. I guess there were just too many "and then..." kind of scenarios- you know, curveballs. Just get on with it!! So, it was fun, but a bit too long and I don't think I'd recommend it. 

3) The Blue Bistro by Elin Hilderbrand - the story in this book was uniquely complicated. I cannot say that this is a story I could relate to, but I was interested in how it would all turn out. And the food descriptions at a beachfront Nantucket restaurant were divine! I had never read anything by Elin Hilderbrand before, but I liked this well enough to plan on coming back to her again.

4) Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty - I liked this one. I usually recommend books I like a lot to my younger sister, but this one had my older sister written all over it. It was suspenseful and, dare I say, murder mystery-esque? I don't read murder mysteries and I am not the least bit interested in them. But this one was about a bunch of school moms leading up to an event where we know someone dies. So you keep wondering who's going to die. And who would kill that someone? My older sister loves murder mysteries. And being a school mom, I think she would also relate to the moms in this book. It was one I think I will recommend to others, not even people who are necessarily interested in mysteries. I liked it so well that I have since added more of Liane Moriarty to my library list for later.

5) Little Beach Street Bakery by Jenny Colgan - just, no. This one was also complicated in both the most bizarre and cliche ways. Let me just say there's a beekeeper, the perfect storm (literally, like the movie The Perfect Storm), a guy who made millions "on computers" and just throws money around like confetti, would be lovers running after each other in the rain (couldn't decide if we were channeling Sweet Home Alabama or The Notebook here), a secret island, that stupid subplot where the girl's girlfriend hates the guy's guy friend until suddenly they're sleeping together and really like each other (so predictable and yet makes no sense), a puffin that decides it's a pet, a Star Wars theme wedding, transatlantic running away from love flights, a harbor full of shipwrecked rubber ducks, people chained to a structure in protest up until the very last minute (what will happen?!), a penniless girl opening an instantly successful bakery (that incidentally does not sell cupcakes in spite of the cupcake on the cover of the book), a hostile, tyrannical woman who runs the town but is really just sad (insert exaggerated sad face emoji), and loads more nonsense. I made none of that up. That's how bad this book was. It was worse than some of the books I have read for free on my Kindle that I am embarrassed to tell people about. So I have lost a bit of faith in Modern Miss Darcy. But of the five she recommended, I would probably recommend three, so I haven't written her off completely.

Tuesday, July 07, 2015

Christmas In July

So, I saw that Hallmark has a whole Christmas in July thing going on and I am totally bummed out because we don't have cable! But it did prompt me to make a list of my favorite made for TV Christmas movies for those that do. My mother-in-law turned me on to these about twelve or so years ago. There is definitely a degree of cheesiness, of not made for the silver screen-ness, of over the top Christmasyness. But there is also the flip side of that- cozy cheeriness, made for watching under blankets with a mug of hot chocolate, and over the top Christmasyness! In the last twelve years, I have seen a LOT of these movies. There are plenty of bad ones. But there are a lot of pretty good ones too. Generally speaking, anything with Candace Cameron Bure or Lacey Chabert  is going to be tolerable at the very least. I also tend to like anything with Alicia Witt in it.

These are not all available on Hallmark, but nonetheless, this is the "countdown" of my six favorites (six for the six months left until Christmas). Basically, I chose ones that to me were the most memorably enjoyable.

6) Holiday High School Reunion - This is a Lifetime movie. It's about a girl who goes to her high school reunion and all sorts of Mean Girls like hijinks take place.

5) Trading Christmas - This is a Debbie Macomber Hallmark movie starring Faith Ford and Tom Cavanagh. It's about two people who trade homes at Christmas to get away from the things going on in their own lives-  it's pretty much The Holiday at first glance. But it has its own story.

4) Holidaze - This is an ABC Family movie starring Jennie Garth. ABC Family does pretty well with these! It employs the classic amnesia plot device. But don't let that deter you, it's not the same old story you've heard a hundred times. It's got a lot of cozy Christmas small town charm and Jennie Garth-esque quirk. This one is available on Netflix.

3) A Very Merry Mix-up - This is a Hallmark movie starring Alicia Witt. It is hard to say what it's about without giving anything away. I will say that it has a bit of a While You Were Sleeping vibe. But, and I know this is a big statement, it's better. It is!

2) Love at the Christmas Table - This is a Lifetime movie starring Danica McKellar. Winnie Cooper?! The beautiful thing about this movie is that it does have some Wonder Years qualities to it in that it is about a boy and a girl and their friends and families and the Christmases they spend together over the years. I still rank The Wonder Years as my all time favorite show so I am naturally going to be biased toward its leading lady (ooh, and did you hear Fred Savage has a new show coming to Fox?!), but I think it's just a really delightful movie. 

1) 12 Dates of Christmas - This is an ABC Family movie starring Amy Smart and Mark-Paul Gosselaar. It is also available on Netflix. This movie employs the now popular Groundhog Day plot device- the whole living a day over and over and no one but you knows it is happening- for, right, twelve days. Again I say, ABC Family does pretty well with these! Plus, it's Zack Morris! Come on! How could it be anything but awesome?!

Alright, there's my top six. I should mention that an honorable mention goes to Matchmaker Santa, a Hallmark movie starring Lacey Chabert and Florence Henderson. My girls watched this movie with me this past Christmas and both of them seemed to think it belonged on the list. I couldn't remember it as well as the other ones on the list- but perhaps because I have only seen it once and I've seen these others at least twice. And a second honorable mention goes to A Snow Globe Christmas (not to be confused with Snowglobe which is kinda weird), a Lifetime movie starring Alicia Witt and Donald Faison. This is one George always goes back to as being one of the better ones he's seen with me, and again, I've only seen it once. But, as I said before, you usually won't go wrong with Lacey Chabert or Alicia Witt. Merry Christmas in July!

Monday, May 25, 2015

Summer Reading Challenge 2015

My friend Sarah Katherine asked me to do this reading challenge with her this year right after I had posted my list of 23 books for the year as a new year's resolution. She is likely already completely finished with the challenge, but I have been waiting to get farther through my original list before I start on this one. So, as summer approaches, I have decided I will make Sarah Katherine's reading challenge my summer reading challenge and finish the remainder of my list (the Andrew Peterson books, the two Julie Klassen ones that haven't come out yet, As Always Julia, and Delta Wedding) after the summer. Look at me saving the best for last (not really, I am not looking forward to those last two at all!!) And 12 books for the year is not much of a challenge for any of us, though I believe it's the categories that makes this more of a challenge; however, 12 books from Memorial Day to Labor Day is a bit more of a challenge, especially when we're not really talking about beach reads. In the end, my list has 16 rather than 12, and there's still one more I'll need to choose. So, 17 books in 15 weeks. 20 weeks into the year, I have already read 30 books, so I am hopeful I will be able to meet this challenge. I started reading the first selection (I'm not doing this in order by the way due to my reliance on library availability) Ready for the list?

#1 a book you've been meaning to read

Jack: A Life of C.S. Lewis by George Sayer - my daddy gave me this book when I graduated from Auburn. Why haven't I read it?! At first it was the RUF intern study program and then it was burn-out from the RUF intern study program, and then it was issues with my dad. Once my issues were hashed out, I had forgotten about the book entirely. But now, I'm ready! I'm looking forward to it.

#2 a book published this year

Go Set a Watchman by Harper Lee - Cannot wait until July 14th!

#3 a book in a genre you don't typically read

Did y'all know there is a genre called magical realism? I did not. I am not completely sure I understand what it is, but I am going to read a book from that genre that sounds like it will be delightful. The Dress Shop of Dreams by Menna van Praag sounds like it could be a pretty good. And I am trying very hard to pick books that sound like they could be pretty good! I also feel like I can add One More Thing: Stories and Other Stories by B.J. Novak to this category. It was on the paperback bestseller list at one point recently, but has fallen off. But I almost never read short stories so it works for my atypical genre as well. 

#4 a book from your childhood

Caddie Woodlawn by Carol Ryrie Brink - this is another I can't wait to read! It is the first chapter book I ever went back and read twice! I think I'll read it aloud to Elspeth this time! Another favorite was Johnny Tremain by Esther Forbes and that may be a good one to read aloud to August if I have time for it.

#5 a book your mom loves

A Severe Mercy by Sheldon Vanauken - she also recommended The Screwtape Letters so I will try to get to that one too- can't believe I've never read it!

#6 a book that was originally written in a different language

This one was tough. I took a literature in translation class at Auburn and loved it. But there are plenty of scary suggestions out there like Tolstoy and Dosteovsky! I thought about Dumas. I loved The Count of Monte Cristo in high school, but I've heard that his other books aren't as good. And I thought about Heidi. I have my grandmother's childhood copy. But something in me wanted to read something written in the last twenty years. The classics will always be there, but I felt like I'd benefit from an introduction to a modern author from somewhere other than America. I finally decided on The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Luis Zafon of Barcelona because it is supposed to be a great book for book lovers. We shall see what this book lover thinks.

#7 a book that "everyone" has read but you

Okay, I don't know very many people. And the problem with this category is that I generally read what it seems like everyone else is reading unless I'm just not interested. Hunger Games? Not interested. Twilight? Not interested. Obviously, those are examples from a little while back. But it seemed like everyone at church up here in Iowa had read Gilead so I read Gilead. A couple of years ago, everyone was reading The Help so I read The Help. But nothing seems to be getting a lot of buzz around me these days. So I'm going to wait on this one. I feel like I'm copping out, but I just can't think of anything. I'm sure something will surface over the summer as everyone has more time to read.

#8 a book you chose because of the cover

This goes against everything in me. For one thing, we have all been taught never to judge a book by its cover! For another thing, how often do you choose a movie because you just love that actor and his body of work and the screenwriter wrote something else you really enjoyed and it really looks funny only to be horrified by the movie. Or bored silly. Or both. It happens to George and I a lot! So committing to spend the time it takes to read an entire book, as opposed to the hour and a half it takes to watch a movie (coupled with our increasing comfortableness with turning a movie off altogether when we realize it's a stinker), is kind of a big deal. Not huge, but I tend to scour Amazon reviews before I make such a commitment. Well Abby, it's time to live a little! So, with my handy dandy Barnes and Noble 15% off coupon in hand, I headed over to Barnes and Noble today to choose a book by the cover. I realize I could've gone to the library, but there aren't many displays at the library. Plus, it was a fun outing with the kids. I picked up a book called How to Be a Heroine: Or, What I Learned From Reading Too Much by Samantha Ellis. I know nothing about it but the title and the description from the little blurb on the back cover. But I'm looking forward to it!  

#9 a book by a favorite author

Maud Hart Lovelace has earned her place as a favorite of mine because of the Betsy Tacy books. If you have not read the Betsy Tacy books, you are missing out. Truly. Betsy and Tacy are two girls growing up in Deep Valley, Minnesota and the reader has the privilege and the delight to grow up with them through the ten books Mrs. Lovelace wrote in the series. There are several other books about Deep Valley that do not follow Betsy herself that I have not read, simply because when I read about Betsy, I have to stay with Betsy because I can't wait for what happens next! However, I should have read these other books in the series by now! Amabel has, and I am very eager to read her copy of Emily of Deep Valley by Maud Hart Lovelace.

#10 a book recommended by someone with great taste 

When I think of someone with great taste, I think of my friend Annie Barlow. She loves Jane Austen, so there's that, and she reads more than me, so there's the certainty she'll have some books in mind that I haven't read. She's smart and has a great since of humor so I know she will neither recommend something horribly written nor horribly dull. And we both agree on not wasting our time on anything that's overtly dark and heavy- ain't nobody got time for that! Annie recommended a couple of things to me. First of all, Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein. She also recommended Uncle Dynamite by P.G. Wodehouse. I have long wanted to read Wodehouse -since Lord Grantham mentioned him in Notting Hill. (Well, he wasn't playing Lord Grantham at the time.)

#11 a book you should have read in high school

The Once and Future King by T. H. White - I truly should have read this in high school. It's long. And at some point, our twelfth grade English teacher decided we should just split the last part of the book up and each person in the class would read a chapter and "teach it" to everyone else. I remember, even at the time, thinking this was a cop out. I think the teacher even acknowledged it. But we were taking too long with it, so we did it this way. And I remember kind of faking it with my chapter, because I really didn't know who anyone was or what was going on. I had been behind when we quit. So, I owe it to myself to read it. And I'm looking forward to doing so.

#12 a book that's currently on the bestseller list

I've been keeping an eye on the bestseller list since I decided I would do this this summer and have already added several books to my library list only to have the book fall off the bestseller list before the hold is ready. Meanwhile, all the ones in which I am not interested in the least seem to linger on the list for weeks! I am so ready for The Girl on the Train to fall off the list! Not interested! Something tells me most books that the majority of the public are going to be reading and talking about is not going to be for me- case in point, Fifty Shades of Grey. But as it happens, we had dinner last night with some new friends and as we got to talking about books, she recommended and subsequently loaned me two books that are both on the bestseller list right now. The first one is All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr. The second book is The Boys in the Boat by Daniel James Brown.

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