Monday Musings: On weddings, childhood reading and lips.

Happy Monday to you.

I went to a wedding this weekend in Greenville, S.C., a place I’d been through — maybe even slept in — but never really explored. It was a blast. Picture a bunch of north-of-30-year-olds who think they have the stamina (and livers) of 22-year-olds. That’s all I’ll say. But the town is a find. It’s cute and quaint and walkable, with a proper main street actually called “Main Street.” It’s also a foodie town — every restaurant, even the burger joint on the corner, was phenomenal. I don’t know why I haven’t been more often.

Last week, I read that one of my childhood idols, E.L. Konigsberg, passed away. I hadn’t thought of her in years, but the news still made me take pause. Her book “From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler,” was one of my favorites growing up. I don’t remember much more than two kids running away and camping out in the Met Museum in NYC, but I know I loved it. Right up there with “Have You Seen Hyacinth Macaw?” and “The Westing Game.” I need to own and re-read all of those again, I think. Continue reading

Monday Musings: On childhood, book movies and gelato.

Happy Monday to you. I’m back with more random, wacky things on my mind.purple_flowers

Finally (finally!), spring weather seems to be breaking through. This weekend down south was only slightly cool but gloriously clear and sunny, which does loads for my mental and physical health. Don’t mind me while I go roll in the warm grass like Oliver does, reveling in spring. I just wish we didn’t go straight from freezing to sweating this year.

I finished reading Divergent, by Veronica Roth, this weekend. Have you had the pleasure? It’s great. Really creative and suspenseful, and I highly recommend it. It’s of the same genre and post-apocalyptic undertones as the Hunger Games series. And therein, I guess, lies the scary part. These books are for young adults — meaning pre-teens and teenagers, right?. Books about killing and war and sex, even. Hey, when I was 15 I was reading questionable things too. But more like romance smut from the vaults of Danielle Steele and Judith McNaught. Not dark, violent books about evil people who want to take over the world. I’m just sayin’.

Speaking of books, it’s starting to bother me when a popular book that everyone’s read becomes a movie. Think Gone Girl or Fifty Shades of Grey. It seems a waste to recreate a story that everyone already knows. To me, it destroys the magic, replacing all of the imaginative visions I created with Hollywood’s interpretation. And it becomes so much more about who’s going to be cast than about the words or the work. I prefer when an obscure book becomes a movie — think Perks of Being a Wallflower and Silver Linings Playbook. Then I can read the book to fill in details. But I suppose my definitions of “popular” or “obscure” are relative.

Mad Men season 6 premiered last night. I’ll tell you how it’s gone for me by the time you’re reading this. I watched it live, but also recorded on my DVR. I will spend all day today reading through the TV writers’ and fellow viewers’ analyses. Then I will watch the whole thing again tonight or later this week with fresh eyes. Because it’s visual literature, remember? I know, obsessed.

Have you tried Talenti gelato? You can probably find it in your supermarket. All I have to say is this. Salted Caramel gelato with chocolate-caramel truffles mixed in. I have no other words.

Have a good week, all.

Monday Musings: On Springing forward, Nutellagate and Gatsby.

Good Monday to you. Here are some of the random, wacky things on my mind this week:

nutella

Whew. I missed last week’s Monday Musings, something I swore to myself I wouldn’t do. But I was getting our new blog, Culinary Cousins, off the ground. If you haven’t, come visit us over there. I’d love to know what you think.

The time change last weekend wasn’t as painful as others I remember, though I dread any moment that wrests precious sleep from my cold, tired, weary hands. But with added sunlight comes the prospect of warmer weather — it was even in the upper 70s this weekend in North Carolina! Nothing like turning on both your heat and your air conditioning in the same week.

Did you hear about Nutellagate at Columbia University? Those student hoarders are after my own heart. Nutella is just about the best thing ever invented, so I don’t blame them one bit.

When I was in high school, I hated English class. That may be surprising given my love of words and reading. Mostly I hated the way we had to analyze and dissect everything to death. It totally took the fun out of it. One book to fall victim to that was The Great Gatsby. How I hated that book, with a passion. I thought the characters were annoying, and I couldn’t relate at all. Plus, my teacher insisted everything had to mean something — those eyeglasses on the billboard were looking down on everyone, or whatever. Can’t they just be eyeglasses on a billboard? Can’t I just read it to enjoy the story? Sheesh. Well, I read Gatsby again for one of my book clubs in anticipation of the movie’s release in May. This time, I couldn’t put it down and was captivated, especially since I didn’t remember what happened. My, what changes with age and experience.

You know, I often stare at my rasceta. And sometimes I use a zarf. I try to avoid snollygosters whenever possible. I bet you do too

Have a good week, all.

I'm (not) gonna soak up the sun.

Oliver and I spent a few days at the beach last weekend, for the first and only time this summer. I had grand ideas of slathering myself in sunscreen and pitching a chair on the strand all day with a stack of reading material. Then I realized how much of a hassle that is. It’s hot. I’d have to shave my legs. I don’t swim in the ocean. And I don’t particularly like sand. I’ll take a pool over the beach any day. Plus, the older I get the less I really care about a tan.

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Playing book club catch up.

I can’t remember if I told you, but I joined a book club back in March. It was actually an item on my life to-do list, though luckily the invite just came my way without much effort.

My grandmother was in a book club for years in her small, southern town, and I always idolized it. Once a month, they dressed, hosted a ladies luncheon and discussed what they’d been reading. Their book club was organized a bit differently than I’ve ever heard:  the 12 members each selected a book at the beginning of the year, one per month, and then passed them around through the year so that everyone read all 12 books, but not at the same time. I think they discussed more than books too – like current events and, inevitably, the goings-on about town. We are more traditional. We choose a new title every month, one member at a time, and then we all read the same thing. It’s not as cost-efficient, but our discussions are centered on just one book. And we meet at a wine bar. Continue reading

A book I just can't stop talking about.

2012 is shaping up to be a banner year in the reading department. In the last month alone, I have burned through five full novels, a food narrative/cookbook and two unabridged audiobooks. Now I’m furiously working my way through a sixth novel before a book club deadline next weekend. I’m sure that pace can be attributed to my recent downtime, but also to a pent-up, post-school need to voraciously consume words, characters and stories.

Some of the selections have been enjoyable, some not so much. But one title was so special that I’m going to have to add it to my top 10 of all time, if not top 5. It is Ann Patchett’s “State of Wonder.”

I can’t always explain how I find the books I read, though Julie’s theory that books find you when you’re supposed to read them usually holds up. In that vein, I somehow came to reserve “State of Wonder” at the library. I know friends have posted it on Goodreads in the last year, and perhaps I also saw it on a “top” list from an email newsletter or newspaper book review. No matter its delivery, I haven’t been so engrossed in a book in quite a long time.

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The post with too many names.

Here it is. I’ve made it all the way to 100 posts! I can’t imagine how in the world I’ve found 100 things to write about in the last two years, but I hope you’ve found them interesting and informative, enough to keep reading at least. So, at this milestone, let me thank you again for faithfully reading and for allowing me to feed my soul a bit with writing.

When I first envisioned this post two weeks ago, it was going to be called, “Distraction is the best medicine.” I had just received some pretty earth-shattering news, the true magnitude of which didn’t hit me until a few days later. Luckily, I was headed out of town to celebrate my mom’s birthday, looking forward to being enveloped in the arms of family and welcoming the distraction of celebration, fun times and happy faces.

A few days later, I could have called the post, “When it rains it pours.” My 94-year-old grandmother fell and cracked three ribs, my mom was scheduled for foot surgery, my great-aunt (also in her 90s) entered the hospital with bronchitis and my aunt took ill with pneumonia.

It felt like our family was falling apart. So the more appropriate title became, “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.
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On the road again.

Happy New Year, everyone! I hope 2012 has been treating you well so far.

My past several weeks have been spent relaxing, communing with family and friends, baking, clearing out the DVR and being generally productive during my days off. As is always the case at the holidays, I’ve also spent most of that time on the road. I’ve crisscrossed the Carolinas several times to see a friend’s new baby, to stay with family at the holidays and this weekend to recuperate at the beach after one week back at work. (Because, wow, it was a slap in the face after so much vacation.) Those are roads and routes I regularly drive, and I’ve usually been content to call friends or listen to whichever radio station is in service to help pass the time. Until now.

My friend Angie is an avid consumer of audiobooks, and frequently buys or rents them when she makes long trips. While I’ve always been a book reader, I was never all that interested in audiobooks. When I flew for work a couple of years back, I did take advantage of some free Audible selections and sporadically listened to them on my flights or on walks to work. But I was never hooked. There’s just something about a real book, holding the paper in my hands, absorbing the words on the page and completely concentrating on the story as I build it in my head. I viewed audiobooks as unnecessarily expensive, intangible, listened to while multitasking and, worst of all, abridged.
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Lollygagging.

It’s not often that I am truly at leisure. Even during the weekends, there’s always something pulling me away. A dog that needs walking. Homework that needs doing. Friends that need seeing. Plants that need watering. A meal that needs cooking. A garden that needs weeding. A wall that needs painting. A whole house that needs cleaning.

You get the idea.

But a week ago today I quit my job. Don’t worry, there’s one awaiting me. I just decided to take a much needed vacation during the job transition limbo. And because God’s timing is perfect, my vacation happened to fall in summer and near a national holiday … which meant I could enjoy July 4th weekend at the beach. So I’ve been lollygagging for the past few days, with nary a care in the world. There’s no work to be done, no phones to answer and no dire emails to be returned … at least for now.

It’s a revelation to wake up every day after a 10-hour slumber, have coffee on the porch in the humid ocean breeze and wonder what I’ll do with my day. Sun? Reading? A walk? Television? Playing on the Internet? A nap?

These days we live to plan each night’s dinner, and the wine and spirits flow at 3 p.m. Even though the plan was to be home by now, we’ve all looked at each other for several days in a row and said “Wanna stay another day?” Sure. Okay.

You’d think I’d be bored out of my mind by such leisure, but it’s nice to slow down, walk on some sand, soak up the sunshine and enjoy out of doors. I’ve already read two whole books and am working through the third. Most importantly, I was appointed cook during our visit. The farmer’s market is nearby, so we’ve relished the season’s best produce. I’ve been practicing all the southern delicacies that are traditions of summer:  pimento cheese, boiled peanuts, squash, okra, butter beans, creamed corn, lowcountry shrimp boil and many, many peach cobblers. Someday I’ll get around to posting some of those recipes.

The point is that it has been bliss. Extraordinary, uncommon bliss. And I can appreciate it because I know it won’t last.

Like an alcoholic in a liquor store.

I stopped by the library’s Friends of the Library book sale at lunch today, which was nerd-o-rama to say the least. Men and women who looked like they hadn’t seen the sun in a few weeks were running through the aisles with red eyes and crazy hair, stuffing books into their NPR tote bags. Luckily my crowd reflexes are still sharp, and I dodged a few of them before it got ugly.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m also a book nerd of the highest order. Some of my most vivid childhood memories are of waking early on Saturdays and heading downtown to these enormous warehouses to spend the day book spelunking with my parents. I think we filled all the bookshelves in our new house that way.

When I moved to New York, I introduced both of them to the Strand. Big mistake, since I come by my bookaholism quite genetically. For us, just visiting that store is like being an alcoholic in a liquor store, a dieter in a chocolate shop, an addict in a pharmacy. I know my dad ordered their books online, and I made several car trips down with a boxload of special requests. I think that’s technically called trafficking. Luckily, in NYC you have to purge as much as you bring into your house, otherwise you’ll soon be sleeping on it. That curbed my “problem” for awhile, but now I have 2,000 square feet to fill. Be worried, very worried. Keep reading »