One Month Gone

Thursday, January 31, 2013

Does anyone else ever tire of January? I've always thought it my least favorite month. But this year, instead of focusing on all the reasons to dislike the first month of the year, instead I decided to focus my energies on my 2013 resolutions. Ultimately, I know, I am only accountable to myself, which probably explains why I made manageable goals for The Year of the Snake. Read two books a month. I read four in January. Exercise three times a week. Yup, did that too. Write 52 thank you cards this year. I managed to post five for the month. And while these resolutions may seem insignificant to most, I know they are small steps towards creating positive change and a more abundant life. So I march forward, welcoming February with open arms.  

Words: Wisdom

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

People assume that a person who acts happy must feel happy, but although it's in the very nature of happiness to seem effortless and spontaneous, it often takes great skill. The belief that unhappiness is selfless and happiness is selfish is misguided. It's more selfless to act happy. It takes energy, generosity, and discipline to be unfailingly lighthearted, yet everyone takes the happy person for granted. No one is careful of [their] feelings or tries to keep [their] spirits high. [He/She] seems self-sufficient; [he/she] becomes a cushion for others. And because happiness seems unforced, that person usually gets no credit.

The Happiness Project by Gretchin Rubin

Meal Planning 101

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

I know, I know, you can find 1,000 other post about this topic on the Internet, but stay with me for a minute.

A little background. I come from a family of cooks. My mom did the majority of cooking when we were growing up, but I remember my dad liked to cook just as much. He would make my special birthday dinner (taquitos, beans, and rice) and often try to recreate recipes from things he'd eaten at a restaurant, which meant we'd sometimes have the same thing multiple times a week until he perfected his recipe. My parents were also champion dutch oven cooks back in the day. All four of my siblings like to cook and are good at it. Cooking, for me, has been my longest and most beloved hobby (since the time I was eight-years-old). Point is, I like to cook.

One of the unexpected benefits of marriage is having more than one person to cook for. Yay! The other benefit, at least in my case, is sharing the actual task of cooking with someone else. (GH is great like that.) When we were first married (which I guess we still are) GH telecommuted twice a week. This luxury meant he often did more of the cooking than I did. Since moving to the Midwest, however, we noticed a dramatic shift in our evening routine. And not in a good way. With both of us working and telecommuting out of the picture we would frequently arrive home tired and hungry, dreading the What's for dinner? question. We'd get into tiffs about what to have or who should cook or if we needed to run to the store for ingredients. Eating out was an easy, but expensive, fix. It didn't take us long to discover dinner time was causing a lot of unnecessary stress in our relationship. The solution? Weekly meal planning! As clearly stated on one of our 2013 Post-it notes. Brilliant.

So here's what we've done. Every Friday we come up with a Menu of the Week that consists of four meals. (GH cooks two nights and I cook two nights.) The other three nights are for leftovers, breakfast for dinner, on our own, or, occasionally, eating out. On Saturday one of us will go grocery shopping for the entire week. The menu is then posted on the refrigerator and each of us selects our respective nights to cook. From a financial perspective, cooking at home makes sense; but we have noticed the added benefit of more peace in our evening routine. Plus we get to enjoy the benefits of tasty leftovers for lunch the next day. Have you tried anything similar to a weekly meal plan?

Some of our new favorite recipes include this lamb kebab platter, a to-die-for veggie marinara with crusty bread on the side, and this flavorful vegetarian curry coconut red lentil soup.

Image from A Blog About Love. 

Music Monday: Alexander James Wallace

Monday, January 28, 2013

When I lived in Northern Idaho, over a decade ago now, there were three radio stations I could get in my car: country, NPR, and Christian rock. I became a loyal public radio supporter from that time forward. Occasionally, however, when driving through the rolling Palouse to visit family that lived a few hours away, I'd tune into a Christian rock station to see how long I could last. (Hint: It was never long.) But I like stories of faith, grace, and God. I especially like when those stories are set to music, which is probably more along the lines of Gospel music, unlike its alternative step-sister. Alexander James Wallace, a St. Louis musician, released his first album Prodigal late last year. Paul & Silas in Prison is a folksy rendition of the biblical story with a hefty dose of unanswered questions and a final admonition. But I like it. And it sure beats a pledge drive any day.

When Failure is really Success

Saturday, January 26, 2013

On the whole, though I never arrived at the perfection I had been so ambitious of obtaining, but fell far short of it, yet as I was, by the endeavor, a better and a happier [wo]man than I otherwise should have been had I not attempted it.   —Benjamin Franklin 

Here's the thing, I don't smoke. I don't drink. And I don't do drugs. But I like ice cream. In fact, I would eat sticky toffee pudding for dessert every single night if I could. Truth is, I LOVE desserts. More than I really should. Which is probably why GH suggested we have a dessert free month. Whaaaaatt? Had I been more astute and hip to the horrors of withdrawal I would have chosen the shortest month of the year. Duh. But I didn't. And instead I have been fighting sweet tooth cravings the entire month of January. Oh, the horrors

If you look at this experience from a purely black and white perspective I have already failed. It is nearly the end of January and I have eaten three, yes three, desserts. (Because smoothies don't count.) Now I could get all down on myself and be glum about this but here's the second thing, when taken in context, this is a HUGE step. Having three desserts in a month vs. one every day, which had kind of become my modus operandiwell, that's success in my book. 

The month isn't over but I am committed to seeing this through. If you need me on February 1st I'll be baking a celebratory cake. 

Friday Favorites: {Guest Post by Abby}

Friday, January 25, 2013

Winter always gets me in the mood for soup and it makes me think of my grandma’s soups. My grandmother was a child of the depression and would turn leftover chicken and turkey into delicious chicken or turkey soups. These soups would be filled with Pennsylvania Dutch egg noodles, celery, and carrots sliced into coins or two inch logs. She never liked onions, but would throw in a whole onion for flavor. She would bring her homemade soups over to my parent’s house in a double broiler. They were filling and satisfying on a cold winter’s day.

My grandmother passed away years ago, but I still crave soups in the winter. My grandma’s potato soup is a family Christmas tradition, but with one pound of bacon it isn’t exactly the healthiest option (although it makes it tasty!) and that recipe I can make from memory. However, I have found some new favorite soups that are healthier and just as comforting.

Washington Post’s 30 Minute Red Lentil Soup
The secret to this soup is garam masala which gives the soup an Indian flavor.

Cauliflower Soup
This soup is healthy and the lemon brightens the flavor of the cauliflower. I like to add dill weed to it for a bit more flavor.

Butternut Squash Soup
A coworker shared this recipe with me. I highly suggest roasting the squash first before peeling it. If you can get pre-sliced butternut squash, that is even better. It has a rich creamy flavor that I can’t get enough of.

Do you have any favorite go-to soup recipes?

Reading Lately / 3

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Rory Hendrix has been told she comes from a line of feebleminded folks and that she amounts to trash. And while it’s true the Reno trailer park is the backdrop for Rory's life on the Calle, that doesn’t change the fact that Rory is smart. Smart enough to find guidance in the pages of a well-worn Girl Scout Handbook, and clever enough to uncover her Mama’s file and piece together parts of her family’s bedraggled past. No doubt Rory was dealt a crappy hand. Yet although she experiences horrifying moments at a young age — moments that shape, confound, and sometimes silence — her unflinching spirit and genuine hope for a bright and free future make her attempts at a better life all the more meaningful. 

Draw an egg, the "Handbook" says, or model an egg-shaped piece of clay, and "hatch out" a bird. I look through the Birds from Every Continent section in the encyclopedia, searching for one kind whose body doesn't look like an egg, upright or sideways, but from loon to blue jay, ostrich to starling, all their shapes agree. Take this one to the bank: birds are hatched from eggs and are always egg-shaped. Maybe there's no escaping the shape that molds you, no getting around how you got started even if you do break out. I haven't found a mirror yet that doesn't reflect the curves of the Calle back at me, my dirty ways, my fragile teeth and bad skin, my hands that won't stop picking at themselves. The Girl Scouts win again. Except for one thing. Wings are born from that shape. They don't come from any other. 

Short chapters speed this compelling story along, while great turns of language make Tupelo Hassman’s debut novel unlike anything I have ever read. Truly a rare and satisfying treat. 

2,000 Degree Oven

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Last Friday I ventured into the city to take advantage of a free monthly workshop series at Third Degree Glass Factory. My mission was two-fold: meet folks from Meetup and learn something new. Fortunately, I accomplished both in the space of two short hours. Sitting on the front row allowed me to bask in the warmth of the ovens and take full advantage of the Q&A portion of the evening.

Glassblowing, like any other craft, looks easy when demonstrated by skilled professionals, but is probably something you shouldn't attempt at home. Glassblowing is essentially a three step process. The blowpipe (long iron rod) is inserted into the first and hottest oven and gathers a blob of molten glass much like picking up honey on a dipper. The molten glass comes from a solid rod of colored or clear glass that has been melted down. The second step involves placing the glowing glass into the "glory hole" of the second (2,000 degree) oven between each blow of air and rotation. Glassblowers not only blow air into the blowpipe, they constantly turn the rod to expand and thin the shape, occasionally holding the piece up into the air to let gravity pull the mass down. Once the shape starts to form a colleague leans in with wooden paddles to shape out the flat parts (usually the bottom), while the artist continues to spin the piece. Finally, a little water is used to remove the glass from the rod and the ponti is added to the bottom. The last step requires cooling the glass in an annealer oven, ensuring the glass cools at an even temperature and does not crack. (Cooling typically takes 24 hours depending on the thickness of the glass.) And while most glass pieces are created in 20-45 minutes, some pieces can take up to six hours of continuous work!

Glassblowing has changed very little since the Roman Empire, which, to me, is part of its appeal. A modern connection to an ancient art. Now that's something to behold. The factory also offers classes from simple bead making and paper weights to complex eight week intensive training courses. I look forward to returning to this local gem. Now I just have to decide which class to take.

All images taken by me.

Thao & The Get Down Stay Down

Last week one of my friends posted a crowdsourcing question on Facebook that boiled down to what should she be listening to right now? Taking that golden opportunity I mentioned two groups that I have become fond of over the last few months. Others chimed in and it didn't take long for a short list to form. Leave it to social media to provide you with a digital playlist for how to effectively spend an iTunes gift card. Brilliant. This morning, after the long holiday weekend, my reader was bursting with news of new music. Forthcoming festivals and tours. Heaps of albums waiting to be released and general sounds that made my heart happy. Which is where Thao & The Get Down Stay Down comes in. Due to release their new album We The Common on February 5th this group is just the right dose of cubicle clapping cheer for a short week.

Ps. The band will be in Kansas City, Salt Lake City, and Washington DC in the next couple months.
 So, you know, you might wanna go see them or something.

Friday Favorites: Affordable Art

Friday, January 18, 2013

In conjunction with Gail's post last week, I'd like to talk a little about incorporating art into your home or personal space. When it comes to artistic talent (drawing, painting, and sculpture) my sister was blessed with incredible creative talent  I, however, am simply an art appreciator. In college I worked for the artist Nancy Crookston and enjoyed watching her creative process. Her warm portrayal of landscapes and people were my first introduction to a style that moved me. (One of her prints is framed and hangs in my mother's front room.) Collecting art doesn't have to be expensive. In recent years, I've started collecting small pieces of art when I travel. Not only can I reflect where I was when I bought the piece, but the art becomes a sort of visual storytelling that can spark conversations and makes me happy. Last year I purchased art for our newlywed home from some of the artists featured here. Happily, all of the pieces ended up being more vivid in person than online. Here are just a few of my favorite artists that inspire me to create a more inviting space in my own home. Have you purchased original art? Are there any artists you'd add to this list? 

Book Club

Thursday, January 17, 2013

When I lived in Virginia I met with a group of women once a month for a book discussion. Suzette, our fearless leader, was always on her A game. Which made attending book club easy and enjoyable. The process for selecting books was structured such that once a year everyone would bring three books that they wanted to pitch to the group. We'd go around the room and hear the pitch for each title then go around the room a second time for a brief recap and vote. That's right, titles were selected by a vote. (So democratic of us!) Then a calendar was set for the year. This meant I knew what we'd be reading in November even though it was only April. Brilliant. On top of that we would get an email reminder about book club one week before our meeting. (Also helpful in creating anticipation and reminding me to double-check my calendar.) Finally, we would often get a thank you email the morning after our discussion. Sometimes  additional links or tips to things we had discussed the night previous would be included, but it always conveyed an uplifting spirit, reinforcing how much we'd enjoyed our time together. It was an added touch that made all the difference. This was, by far, my most beloved book club. We didn't limit ourselves to genre or content. Which was refreshing. We made title selections as a group, meaning we shared ownership of what we were reading. And finally, we changed location monthly so one person wouldn't get burnt out with hosting responsibilities that included leading the discussion AND providing refreshments. We were part of a group which meant we took turns. As the years passed friendships became richer. Sometimes we didn't even get to "the book". Which was perfectly okay. We had developed a sisterhood of fellow readers. I've missed these women. Their laughter and camaraderie. So tonight, in anticipation of  joining what I hope will be my NEW book club, I'm setting off to attend a gathering hosted by a women from church. I pray for open-mindedness and a spirit of inclusion. Stay tuned.

Cutting Squares

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Remember back when I conquered some of my social anxiety by attending a Service Auction at my new ward? Do you also remember that I ended up "winning" a tutorial for a baby sewing project that night? Which, at the time, seemed kind of perfect, since everyone I know had either had or was anticipating a little one in the next few months. Plus I'd get to make a new friend. In my past, however, experiences with these types of service auctions always occurred within the ranks of other single folks. Which meant there was sort of an understanding that once auctioned, services would be largely forgotten by both the giver and receiver. It was just sort of assumed. With this in mind, I didn't really plan on dusting off my Singer any time soon. Instead, I'd find something cute on Etsy and call it good. In fact, I kind of just went about my business and let the baby-craft-sewing-project slip my mind. Except that I couldn't. Not really. You see, the young mother that auctioned this service kept asking me about it whenever she saw me at church. She even sent me a few text messages. When are we getting together? 

Not wanting to disappoint and since she was all hell-bent on keeping her service commitment, I decided to set a date night with her. Step 1: Math at Joann Fabric on Friday night. Which is just how this past weekend got started. As I scanned bolt after bolt of colorful fabrics the entire experience felt overwhelming. It's just fabric, go with your favorite colors. It'll be alright. You can do this. Uncertain what someone would even like or if it would go with their design or if the colors were gender neutral enough and definitely NOT wanting to foist a breastfeeding tent on any unsuspecting mothers, I opted for something simpler. Or so I thought. Next thing I know, service-auction-lady pulls out her iPad and is calculating like crazy, pulling up Pinterest images and telling me how the assembly process will pan out. Geez. No wonder I felt out of my element. Now here I am, with a ridiculous amount of cotton, muslin, and polyfill and our office has once again become a craft corner.  If you don't hear from me for a while I'll be spending time with my rotary cutter pumping out 5 x 5 inch squares, hoping to finish this project before the babies start Kindergarten.

Anticipating New Music

Monday, January 14, 2013

With all the blogs dedicated to upcoming music, the buzz surrounding Phosphorescent's March release has certainly already caught your attention. I am, however, bringing it to your attention again. Some songs swaddle your entire soul and this is one of those pieces. The lyrics are both familiar and new, with a hauntingly beautiful instrumental swell in the middle. And while my listening to Song for Zula probably accounts for at least 738 of those YouTube views, that's just part of the joy of anticipating beauty.

For more information about the band click here.

Reading Lately / 2

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Back when I worked in the Ivory Tower my colleagues would often cite authors of prominence. One summer, as part of the committee to overhaul the freshman summer reading ciriculum (less Odysseus, more snippets of multiple authors to foster interest and encourage further study), Joan Didion's name kept resurfacing. She appeared as the unseen member of our committee; hoovering at the edges, hopeful of being included in the final compilation. I nodded, feigning familiarity, but in truth I had not read any of her works. I was unaware of her story and her impact. Yet her name continued to echo in my head. Until, finally, last week I picked up one of her books. The Year of Magical Thinking is an examination of grief at its most intimate and raw moments. 

Life changes fast. 

Life changes in the instant. 
You sit down to dinner and life as you know it ends. 

Which is where the story begins. Just days after Christmas of 2003 Didion's husband, John, suffers a massive and fatal coronary. At the same time, her only daughter is at a nearby hospital in a coma. The book unfolds with a sort of rewind button, where tiny details, like a CVS or escalator ride, spin the author back several decades to a time of youth, near the beginning or middle of her 40 year marriage. There is a moment, after the postponed funeral, where Didion's daughter has a relapse and is taken to UCLA hospital in critical condition. She writes of all the inquiries showered upon her at that time. An unspoken reference to the questions that certainly arise upon an unexpected death. People questioned her, feeling that the event could be managed. In order to manage it they needed only information. They needed only to know how this had happened. They needed answers. They needed the prognosis. Which is a beautiful way of explaining how we try to comprehend the unthinkable. 

Although Didion's lifestyle is removed from most of ours (friends with private jets, a house in Malibu and close contacts at The New York Times), she touches on the truth that Grief turns out to be a place none of us know until we reach it. We anticipate (we know) that someone close to us could die, but we do not look beyond the few days or weeks that immediately follow such an imagined death. Even as she consumes and tries to intellectually process data and studies of grief (dolphins that refuse food in mourning and birds that become disoriented), she uncovers the universal truth that we are ultimately only imperfect mortal beings, aware of the mortality even as we push it away, failed by our very complication, so wired that when we mourn our losses we also mourn, for better or for worse, ourselves. As we were. As we are no longer. As we will one day not be at all. 

Cacao to Cacao

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Warning: This post is not about chocolate. It is however about finding new hobbies, er I mean vegging out on the couch all in the name of completing a Post-it. (Sick of my Post-it stories yet? Don't worry, there's more to come!)

Monday night GH and I sat down to accomplish a very important task: finding a new television series we could watch together. Truth be told, I'm not a huge TV fan. We never had cable growing up and I guess school work always kept me busy enough that I didn't really engage in entertainment during college. As a result, my pop-culture knowledge, for the majority of my life, was sadly lacking. Mostly, though, I came to TV series late. For example, I discovered (and was totally enthralled with Seinfeld) FOUR years after the sitcom ended. I wanted to talk about it with everyone. Duh. Then I didn't start watching my other favorite series until 2007, THREE years after the show ended. Awesome. Currently, I keep up with Colbert and Modern Family on Hulu and that's about it. But back to Monday night. As we scrolled through Netflix we came up with two possibilities of shows we'd both like. Eventually we settled on Portlandia. Have you seen this comedy series yet? H-I-L-A-R-I-O-U-S.  Put a bird on it and Cacao had me rolling. Think hipster Portland at its best. Comedic gold I tell you. 

Music Monday: Polly Paulusma

Monday, January 7, 2013

This time of year it's easy to find new music. List after best-of-list can be found on any corner of the Interwebs. (Which is highly convenient for plotting future music swaps. Yay!) And sure, I like finding new music as much as the next person, but sometimes I relish discovering old tunes. Songs that transport me back to a place and time in my life that exist only in memory now. Cleaning out a drawer last week I uncovered Polly Paulusma's debut album Scissors in My Pocket. Instantly I was carried back to a pink brick house, an outdated upholstered coach, and my first boyfriend sitting next to me. So I did what you might have done. I popped the CD player open, blew out the dust, stuck the disc in and pressed play.  

I was thinking love was just a complicated game
You play in the dark
No-one told me strategy was only for defense
And winners thank luck
Oh take my hand and show me how to spin around this floor


There's something about the new year that just makes me what to overhaul every aspect of my life. More exercise. Check. Eliminating desserts (at least for January). Check. Connecting with people I care about. Check. And creating a pleasing space for creativity. Which is where this little corner comes into play. While free Blogger templates are nice and get the job done, I wanted something different. Something cleaner and aesthetically pleasing. Which is why I decided to invest in a new template. I hope you like the results. Although I still have some tweaking left to do, overall, I'm really happy with how it turned out. 

Remembering My Father: Part I

Sunday, January 6, 2013

I have wanted to write about my father in some meaningful way for years now. I suppose more for myself than for anyone else, but I am, for once, compelled to write what I know. What I remember, to the best of my recollection and what, on occasion, may be aided with the words of others. 

My father, Joseph Alfonso Rodriguez, was born in 1955 in Bakersfield, California. He was one of the baby boomer generation. Born to a teenage mother (16) and fathered by a man he never knew. He entered the world on a mild February. Shortly after his birth he was adopted, by a man who married his mother and worked late at the bar keeping celebrity customers happy. My father was not only the first child, but the first son, and therefore the first grandson of nana and tata. Dark hair and dark eyes, his cherubic face and generous baby fat earned him the nickname Pauncho for the rest of his life. Raised in a household that spoke only Spanish, my father did not learn English until he started attending public school, thus becoming bilingual at a young age.

His mother was naturally gifted in the arts of baking and sewing. She painted exceptionally well and made beautiful dresses. She loved generously and laughed heartily. My father was raised with the watchfulness and grit of two working parents. A father who insisted the lawn be mowed again because it wasn’t right the first time. Blue collar Americans that gave their children the best they had and more than they’d had. Two years after his birth a sister joined the family and two years later another sister followed. The three siblings strengthened and supported one another, particularly after their parents divorced some 14 years later. It was then, I suppose, that my father learned early to become a man. Caring for his mother and younger sisters in an unexpected role. His life though, was the common sort.

Trips to neighboring Knott’s Berry Farm; backyard swimming parties when his father would wake them at three or four in the morning, just off his evening shift; flamboyant piñatas for any occasion; homemade corn tortillas slapped fresh in nana’s kitchen; tamales for Christmas; summer road trips to National Parks and the distant hope of a college education. His young life was a good one. Flush with the possibility of a future. The American Dream, one he was bound to achieve. And then, at age 17, not quite an adult, two young men, with dark suits and matching name badges, knocked on his family’s door. They came with a message and an invitation. He accepted their message and, dressed in white, was immersed into the chlorine ripples of his backyard swimming pool.

This is what I remember of my father’s early life. I was, of course, not there. These are only remnants of tales told to me by others. Pieces I try to assemble as I reconstruct the memory of a man I'm still trying to understand.

Friday Favorites: Young Adult Books

Friday, January 4, 2013

One of my goals for 2013 was to read more. Although I quantified the resolution, reaching that number isn't nearly as important as keeping my mind full of ideas, stories, and new vocabulary words. Besides, keeping current on what's hot is part of my job! However, sometimes it is useful to reread beloved classics. Full disclosure, with the exception of two books, I did not read any of these works of fiction until I was a legal adult. Fortunately, YA books fluidly cross age demographics and are enjoyed equally by young and old. Sometimes, particularly when I am in a reading slump, I’ll reach for something from the YA shelves and renew my love of this genre. That AND I have a particular affinity for young female protagonists. 

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith
My sixth grade teacher gifted me this book when I graduated from college. It was one of those books I recommended to everyone after I finished reading it. The coming-of-age story of Francie Nolan is peppered with poverty, heartache, and a difficult home environment, yet as unfamiliar as her life is to most of us, her story resonates on a raw emotional level. Little details like penny candy and New York neighborhood sounds make this book memorable. In truth, I’m probably due for a reread.

Because of Winn Dixie by Kate DiCamillo

When young Opal goes to the grocery store she leaves not with the groceries her father sent her for, but a new canine companion. This heartwarming tale weaves the hope of loss into the optimistic reality of creating new relationships (even with hard to crack folks, canine companions, and misunderstood people). While the public library is prominently featured in this book (yay!), the most dramatic moment comes courtesy of an outdoor summer party and unexpected storm. I read this just two months ago and promise you won’t regret picking up this award-winning book.

The Giver by Lois Lowry

Sometimes books shake your paradigm of justice and morality in such a way that your own reality is forever altered. This is one of those books. Jonas, a twelve-year-old, lives in a utopian community, but when given his life assignment as Receiver of Memories, he is exposed to the dark truths on which his community operates. I can’t help but think how profoundly important this book is, not only because I have included it on this little list, but because it has been challenged, and yes, even banned, in school districts across the nation.

The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster

For anyone who has a penchant for reading aloud and delights in wordplay this classic tale has amused readers for generations. With the unsuspecting arrival of a mysterious tollbooth in his bedroom, young Milo embarks on an adventure with Tock, his furry friend. They travel through exciting lands, meeting memorable characters along the way. The illustrations add to the book’s charm and proves to be the perfect antidote to rainy day boredom. (While you’re at it, be sure to pick up The Dot and the Line, also by Juster.)

The Yearling by Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings

This book might fall in the category of Old Yeller or Where the Red Fern Grows, since the story lines are strikingly similar, however I think this Pulitzer Prize winning book is more compelling for a variety of reasons. Maybe it’s the writing style, with vivid descriptions of nature (plants and trees), but I fell in love with Jody Baxter from his first boyhood moments of romping through swamps and fighting off invading predators. I delayed finishing this book simply because I could not bear to have the story end. Which, is my mind, is the ultimate indicator of a good book.  

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

I went back and forth about whether to include this title on my list. In the end my heart won out. With all the accolades, awards, and controversy this book has produced over the past five decades I’m sure you are well-aware of the plot. I've read this book every August since 2002 and still cry in certain passages. I have two copies in my personal library. A couple years back, when I was reading it for a book club selection, I was struck by how many literary themes emerged in my well-worn pages. There isn’t much to say about this book other than you should read it. Let me say that again: you should read this book! Read it for the first time or the 50th time. Read it for passages of silent courage and reminders of human goodness. Read it. And be sure to report back.

Certainly there are other notable and worthy books that have been omitted from this list. I’m curious, what are some of your favorite YA books?

Midwest Boardwalk

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Remember how we took a mini vacation for the New Year? Yeah. Well.....
In truth, I was excited about our cabin in a gated community. I could even get on board with the fact that we wouldn't be soaking in warm mineral pools on account of a jetted tub and fireplace making up the loss. Plus I'd be able to cross traffic jam pie off my "Taste of MO" list, which made me happy. But Branson, ohhh Branson. 

Branson is one of those places that is a mix between a carnival and a boardwalk (without the beach). Billboards boast gospel singers, celebrity impersonators, and redneck tenors. It has the feeling of a family-friendly Vegas, with neon lights and bold colors, but I wasn't convinced. Desolated water parks and miniature golf courses made our off-season visit more noticeable. If that wasn't enough, vacant motels with dingy for-sale signs dotted the landscape. Restaurants and kitschy shops were nearly all shut down for the season, leaving only the sketchiest of places open for business, with the exception of the sprawling Outlet Mall. Every turn we took I couldn't shake the eerie feeling. What was this fabricated place and why did people come here? Meanwhile, the voice inside my head kept growing louder, repeating You're a stranger here.

The rain prevented outdoor activities, which meant we watched movies, read books, and played board games. We ate Indian food and continued our fondue for two tradition. I even made it to midnight, which is kind of a feat for me. And then it was all over. We loaded up the car and I secretly vowed to not return any time soon. 

On the road heading north, we decided to take a brief detour through the town of Springfield. I knew the little Red Velvet shop would be closed, but I still wanted to see the facade of the famous blogger sisters. So we drove through the seedy sections of town and eventually found what we were looking for. Window displays filled with vintage radios and 1940s clothing. I pressed my nose against the glass and looked in. I could see the bake shop to the right waiting for a freshly baked batch of honey cupcakes. I imagined going inside and browsing through collections of carefully curated finds, all perfectly suited to the hipster vibe of the two-year-old shop. 

Since it was lunch time on New Year's Day I figured we should stop for a bite to eat. On the way into town there was one corner that I'd seen with several people inside, which is usually a good indicator of a tasty local spot. We turned around and headed back up the road. Again the place was packed. So we parked and walked towards the entrance. I envisioned locally sourced produce and a menu reflective of the season, complete with an assortment of delicate homemade sweets. Bundled against the cold day we walked past the window and I glanced into the frosty pane to get a better sense of what type of meal we'd be enjoying, and I noticed several yellow cafeteria trays. Oh, I thought, comfort food. Well, that won't be so bad. Once inside the lobby I knew something was amiss. The tiled entryway and grand staircase reflected that we were in fact inside the Hotel Missouri, as the outside sign indicated, but the odd smell and rundown appearance didn't match my conception of what a charming place this would be. There had been so many people in the dining room, certainly it was a favorite spot among the locals. Undeterred, I asked the woman at the lobby counter where the restroom was. (Hotels are notoriously great places for scouting out clean restrooms when traveling in unknown cities.) She gave me a strange look and said "No, I'm sorry ma'am, but this here's a homeless shelter." 

Suddenly the bedraggled folks came into focus. I looked into the dining room and sure enough the guests were not enjoying collared greens and mac n' cheese, but canned globs of color separated into square compartments. I eked out a mixed apology and thank you before turning to leave. Using all my willpower I managed to get outside the building before bursting into great wide laughs.

Picture of Resolute

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Happy New Year!

Remember when I talked about our annual Post-it board project? Well, the Post-it strikes again! This time in a burst of Mardi Gras color.  

This year we tried something a little different. Rather than just having a board of super awesome fun activities we could do throughout the year, we opted for a little discipline, with thoughts of more lifestyle changes and long-term objectives. To that end, Post-it notes on the right side of the board (12 of them) represent the awesome travel/camping/museum outings we have planned. While Post-it notes in the middle of the board (3 of them) represent the responsible lets-be-grown-up-adults goals like paying off student loans and making weekly meal planning a reality. Finally, the Post-it notes on the left side of the board (3 per person) are goals that each of us individually have. Mine include reading two books a month, exercising three times a week, and writing 52 thank you cards this year. I'm looking forward to diving into a new year with increased motivation. 

What about you, any resolutions on your 2013 agenda?

My Bookbloom All rights reserved © Blog Milk Powered by Blogger