Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Loved These Books

I have been reading quite a bit more than usual lately, due in large part to my recent trips to Phoenix, Vermont, and San Diego; I've read a few good ones, and I thought I would list a few of my favorites.

 Loved, loved, loved The Last Chinese Chef.  Mones effortlessly ties so many strands together within the novel to create a strong plot with beautifully developed characters.  She manageds to include Chinese culinary history, a woman's coming to terms with grief and loss, the examination of secrets in relationships, feeling like an outsider, the effect that race/ethnicity/culture have on one's definition of self, the sensuality of food, family relations, and a love story all in only 300 pages without making the novel feel overcrowded.

In fact, I enjoyed this novel so much that after finishing it I proceeded to buy and devour the author's other two novels, which were also set in China.  Mones's first novel is called Lost in Translation, but don't let that keep you from reading it.  It has absolutely nothing in common with the movie of the same name except maybe the underlying theme of a woman's feeling lost and finding herself through her experiences in an Asian country.  Her other novel, A Cup of Light, has similar themes, but features a woman discovering China through it's ancient pottery.

Motherless Brooklyn is a great novel because it takes a relatively common theme: the detective noir story, and turns it on its ear.  This Brooklyn raised orphan turned detective narrator has Tourette's Syndrome.  Not only are we following the path to find the murderer of Lionel Essrog's father figure slash mob boss, but we're inside the head of someone who suffers from the uncontrollable need to spout nonsense nonstop throughout the entire book.  It's a testament to Jonathan Lethem's talent that whether irritating, funny or sympathetic, the repetitive words spewing from Lionel's mouth never get old.

The Hunger Games is a phenomenal young adult book that I recommend to  adults anytime we talk books.  It was so good that I literally could not stop reading it until I finished it; I ignored conversation, guests, and yes, even food, until I had raced through the pages.

In this post-apocalyptic world, two teens are chosen from each territory to take part in the Hunger Games, a pop culture event where they must fight to the death.  Even if you are not wild about science fiction, I still recommend this because the characters are amazing and it is a fascinating (and quick) read. 

The second book in the series, Catching Fire, was also amazing.  Should you begin reading the series, you'll be as tortured as I am waiting for the final book, The Mockingjay, which is not coming out until the end of August.
The description of Little Bee sets this novel up as having a very surprising secret horror that will be given away if too much is explained about the plot.  After reading it, I don't understand why the publishers chose to set it up like this.  Though the event on the beach was horrible, it's not particularly surprising by the time you read about it.  The event has connected the lives of a 16-year old Nigerian orphan, called Little Bee, and a well off English journalist couple and brings about the retelling in both Little Bee and the wife, Sara's, voices.  The story accurately illustrates the struggle of refugees fleeing to the UK, of which many of us here in the United States are unaware.  Another book I could not put down, though reading it in a public place was a risk due to the fact I ended up in tears as my plane landed.  (It was dark; I don't think anyone noticed.)

I read the very French The Elegance of the Hedgehog with mixed emotions; though I am not usually a lover of philosophical and satiric novels, I found myself enjoying it immensely anyway.  The delightful main characters: 12-year-old Paloma Josse, her building's dumpy concierge, RenĂ©e Michel, and shrewd wealthy resident, Kakuro Ozu, make this bittersweet novel a lovely read even during the more laborious philosophical passages.  It's no surprise to discover that author, Muriel Barbery is a philosophy professor, but it was a surprise to find how some of those philosophical questions lingered in my mind after closing the book.

I have definitely been recommending The Help to people lately, but that one is getting more than its share of publicity already, so I figured that I wouldn't spend much of my shout out on it because chances are you'll hear about it from someone else too.  Needless to say, it's good.  I have read some negative comments about the voices of the black women in this novel, but it certainly never felt offensive to me, merely loving.

Oh, and I was just thinking of another one I read a little while ago and thought I'd add it because it's truly a lovely (and very funny) look at Judaism in particular and religion as a whole.  For someone who has a hard time defining herself as a follower of any specific religion, it put a lot of my feelings in perspective regarding spirituality.  Plus, it was pretty darn funny!  Author, A.J. Jacobs, a New York Jewish agnostic, (Jewish "in the same way the Olive Garden is an Italian restaurant.") decides to follow the laws and rules of the Bible, beginning with the Old Testament, for one year.  The conclusions he draws from his time fully immersed in his quest end up being incredibly moving and reverent.

Monday, April 19, 2010

My Signature Scent

Spring smells like citrus and greenery...and now so do I!  I can't stop smelling myself; I even put this one on when I get out of the shower sometimes so I can smell my wrist as I lie on my pillow falling asleep.  It's so subtle, fresh, and clean smelling that I can't get enough. 

I fell in love with this perfume when I got a sample of it from Sephora last year, but I couldn't bring myself to spend the money on it because perfume is just too expensive.  However, as my tiny little sample capsule emptied slowly, and I went from wearing it daily to wearing it weekly to make it last longer, I finally decided to man up and shell out the funds to actually buy a bottle for myself.

It was good timing on my part because, not only is Miller Harris perfume not carried by Sephora anymore, but Tangerine Vert is getting increasingly hard to find.  I finally found it on eBay for about a third of the original retail price, so I am not only smelling amazing, but feeling lucky as well!  (This was definitely a gamble as perfume is often copied and nearly always copied badly.  I did check out the seller very carefully, making sure they had good feedback and a return policy, so I was pretty sure of what I would be getting.  And, sure enough, it was the real thing.)

There's the general fashion advice that you should pick one perfume and stick with it so it becomes sort of your signature.  The gist is that when people smell it, they will automatically think of you, but I've never really been able to stick with just one scent (as much as that indulges my love of being original and being the center of attention).  To be honest, I've never managed to finish an entire bottle of perfume before; I usually fail to think of perfume as a much-needed accessory.

I don't think that this latest perfume will change that for me either even if I keep wearing it everyday.  Orange notes are apparently very difficult to make last, so there will be no leaving a trail of scent in my wake as I dramatically exit a room.  A bit self-defeating on my part because the very light scent is what drew me to this perfume in the first place.  I do think that I'll keep wearing this one, so feel free to ask for a sniff of my wrist when I next see you.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Highlights of our trip to Phoenix this past weekend...

In no particular order...

NO WORK!  I didn't think about it for even a second from the minute I left the office on Wednesday afternoon to the second I flipped the switch to arm the clock alarm last night. 

Geckos!  Everywhere.  Who could possibly believe that those little cold-blooded suckers are so darn adorable?  And no, that's not just because I've been conditioned to think they speak with little cockney accents.

Sun. Sun and more sun!  Sun therapy will make life bearable for another week or so, at least.  This may or may not have also resulted in a lowlight of my trip: the unbearably white hand print I somehow left in the middle of my sunburned upper thigh, but I have no regrets.  The streaks on my right knee and biceps, on the other hand, I may have some regrets about.  How can one person be so terrible at applying her sunscreen?

Wildflower season!  Gorgeous flowers helped me keep my mind off the fact that I was hiking a questionable number of miles in extreme heat with no lunch.  Enjoyed the colors and sounds of the desert barefoot from the middle of a mountain stream as I waited for Nathan and Susanne to catch up (that's right, you read that correctly, I was ahead of them.  By a lot, I might add.  Of course, this was, admittedly, on the way back to civilization.  Air conditioning and a frozen cola slushy make quite good carrots in my opinion).

Good company!  Had a marvelous time hiking with one of my future sisters-in-law, Susanne, and Nathan (and other various wildlife).  Hung with fun people she works with (poolside with beer, no less).  Was reminded how much fun Nathan and I have on adventures together, and how much we appreciate each other when we're in the midst of adventure!

Excellent food!  Mexican food was on the menu pretty much every night of our stay with yummy discoveries everywhere we went as well as very tasty breakfasts every day.  Highlights would have to be Navajo Frybread tacos at Sacred Hogan, salted caramel almond ice cream from The Main Ingredient, and frozen raspberry lemonade from the Two Hippies Beach House.

Wouldn't mind if we made this a yearly visit....

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Our DIY Wedding

One of the things that I have enjoyed immensely about planning the wedding is envisioning what the whole enterprise will look like on the big day.  The flowers, the tables, the weather (dear Lord, I hope it doesn't rain!), the lawn games, the smiles, the words (just beginning to begin to contemplate the ceremony though so that is still VERY diaphanous).
The plan is to have our family all gathered in the lush backyard of my grandparents' house under the tall pines and the soft blue of the Vermont summer sky.  We'll have croquet and badminton games set up at one end of the yard and the tables for the meal nearby.  They'll be lovely tables covered by antique tablecloths (some of which have embroidered W's on them-borrowed from my Nana-which I love because they also look like M's!)
One table will be set up to be the bar, one will have the amazing food from our locally based caterer, and one will be piled high with a dessert buffet!  The other tables will be set up using both Emily's planning for the decor and Jessica's flower design and arrangement.  I love that I don't have to give either of those aspects a second thought beyond knowing that they will be phenomenal.  I laugh thinking that E & J will spend more time making the tables and flowers perfect than I have spent on any aspect of this day. (My meeting with the caterer took 15 minutes!)

I do know one part of the table design.  It's one bit that I am most excited about right now.  Both the dinner and cake plates we're using are really fun ones we've all been picking up from antique and thrift stores.  Here are some of my favorites, but only a few, as I have about 50 more faves packed up already!  Thank goodness that I have an extraordinary photographer to capture all these gorgeous details so that I can share them with all my friends later...and thank goodness I have extraordinarily gifted family members to help pull it all off!

Monday, April 5, 2010

Just Call Me Jimmy

 So I just came across this really fun feature for my computer that makes every one of my keystrokes sound like they're coming from a typewriter.  The typewriter sounds for my PC-friendly version, sadly, do not contain the end of the line ding, but I will settle for this fun tappy, tap, tap at least.  It makes me feel like my blog postings are breaking news for the Daily Planet.

Lucky you if you have a Mac because I hear that the ding is part of this version.