Friday, January 28, 2011

The Knockout Artist

Hostess: Alyssa
Book:The Knockout Artist by Harry Crews
Food: Salmon with leeks and jalapeno, toasted bread with goat cheese, pears and roasted red pepper, triple chocolate torte
Wine of the Night: Tormenta
Month: January

First book club of the new year, and I needed it. I have been feeling a little bummed out this week, with all that has been going on, but apparently all I needed was book club. Good friends, good food, good conversation, and of course good wine.

Alyssa always picks books with strange, sordid characters living the basest forms of life, doing the worst possible things to get by. Eugene Biggs may not have quite hit rock bottom, but he was lingering around down there with a crazy cast of characters. Oyster Boy, Charity, Pete..

We all agreed the book was hard to get into. For me, the turning point was the introduction of Charity. She was a bigger mystery to me - like what was her story? She acted like a super academic, but she was really just crazy. Karin and I agreed that she was just getting off on her relationship with Eugene, and had the money to live out the farce she was producing. Ironically though, it is crazy Charity's "work" that finally gets the lead out of Eugene and gets him to want to change his life. Shame and humiliation kept him from going home, but reading what Charity thought of him, and realizing that he was just an unique party favor was the epiphany creating moment.

Will I read Harry Crews again? Probably - Alyssa told us about one novel that sounded kind of interesting, although I can't recall the title. I will have to find out. He looks like an interesting guy too.

Karin, at her book club meeting in November, mentioned that we all have a pattern of book choices, which was really interesting. I have been thinking about this, and will continue thinking about this until I decide what pattern I seem to follow. I already did find a common theme that runs through all my choices, although I don't think this is what Karin meant. All of my choices have involved water as a major player ~ Remembering Blue, The Problem with Murmur Lee, and now my next choice, Waltzing the Cat. I hope to explore this idea further, as it develops in my mind.

The next book club book is Waltzing the Cat by Pam Houston, my choice. I am looking forward to rereading this book, Pam Houston is a favorite of mine.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Wordless Wednesday - Wishing for Warmth

California, I miss you.

* Please remember all photos are property of Cinnamon Owl.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

A wintry mix of children's books

Today would have been the perfect day to stay home - cold, wet, gray. Instead of snow, we have rain. This type of day calls for some serious couch time with a book and my animals. Instead, I am here at work. Which is not too bad either, really. I get to hang out in the school library and look at the books and help students find authors that they love. Which is pretty cool.

At the beginning of the month, I lined the tops of all the bookshelves with some of our winter and snow themed books. I find it comforting to read old favorites, especially on days like today, and I thought I would share just in case you are interestedin checking them out for your family as well, one wet and cold day.
Owl Moon by Jane Yolen - I love any book with owls, and this is a sweet book about a parent and child's hike through the woods, looking for owls.
Cross Country Cat by Mary Calhoun - Poor little left behind Siamese cat! I love how he uses cross country skis to get around!
The Winter Room by Gary Paulsen - I just love Gary Paulsen. Try Puppies, Dogs and Blue Northers as well.
The Long Winter by Laura Ingalls Wilder - I loved these books as a child, and I still love to revisit the world of Little House! Sometimes I think if I need to survive in the wild, I could, having learned all I needed to know from the Ingalls family.
This next one is not an old favorite, but rather a new one. And it is not wintery at all, but is a book that is good for all seasons.
Zen Shorts by Jon Muth - A wise panda breaks down buddhist lessons into a story telling language easy for kids to follow and understand.
What about you? What books from your childhood stand out in your memory, and make for great cozy reading?

Sunday, January 16, 2011

A Simplified Life

When Billy lost his job in December, two weeks before Christmas and in the middle of our adoption home study, we had to do a reevaluation of the way we were living. Due to the timing, Billy and I were financially tapped - we had spent our savings on the home study and on everything we needed to do for it, and were using whatever extra we were making for Christmas gifts. We went into financial lock down until we could create a way to live on our reduced circumstances, and we learned a few things along the way.

After reviewing how we spent our money in the past, excluding the adoption of course, we were shocked to see how much we were wasting in our lives - energy, food, money. We would leave lights on in rooms we weren't using, leave the heat cranked to 70 degrees even when we weren't home. I would grocery shop with a menu for the week in mind, and then not stick to it, allowing the fresh ingredients to turn slimy and spoiled in our refrigerator. We ate out too much. We had a pretty hefty entertainment budget as well. We just were not careful or smart with our money, and didn't even realize it.

Obviously, things are not the same - we had to put our adoption on hold until Billy secures employment (anyone hiring?), but we have evolved. Perhaps we had gotten stagnant, and needed this to get us moving in other areas of our life, to teach us to not live so carelessly and wastefully. And now, we only keep lights on in the rooms we are in, and if we need them. If natural light does the trick, we don't flip the switch. We turn down the heat when we are not home and at night. I plan dinners and stick to the plan - and even plan on eating the leftovers, which were formerly tossed. But the biggest change of all is how we spend our money recreationally - rather than going to the bar every weekend, we have been spending more time with friends at someone's house, socializing there, or watching movies. We had always taken advantage of our area Metroparks, but now we are there every weekend. We cook more together, read more together, and I find we have more to talk about, all of a sudden. More ideas, revelations, excitement about different things. It is like we are tapping into the creative sides of our brain more often, the side we may have left the light on in, but never visited.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Dear Mr. Conroy

When I was fifteen years old, my father put the book The Prince of Tides in my hands and told me to read. An unusual choice, some might think, for a 15 year old female from the suburbs in Michigan, who listened to Nirvana and frequented Denny's. This was my life though, growing up. My parents started my reading education early, as young as ten when my mother gave me James Herriot's All Creatures Great and Small, and never moderated or censored my reading choices; in fact they encouraged me to read whatever I could get my hands on, and suggested many of their favorites, like J.D. Salinger, John Irving, James Herriot, and Kurt Vonnegut. I read voraciously and tenaciously, hanging on every syllable of every sentence.

The Prince of Tides was a changing point in my life however; while I always read constantly, and by constantly I mean actually not putting the book down, and read while brushing my teeth, making breakfast, walking from room to room, I really couldn't put this book down. I even convinced my mom the day after I started the book that I was sick, and had to stay home from school. I finished The Prince of Tides that very day, and thus began my lifelong love of the south and southern writers. The lives of the characters in this book could not have been further from my own, yet something in the writing, in the story spoke to me. The setting, the characters, were a million miles away from my own personal landscapes, and I wanted to be part of that world. I wanted the concrete and tall buildings around me to transform into tidal lowlands; I had a crush on Luke, wanted to be Tom's friend, wanted to save Savannah. And later Luke. I can still recite from memory the poem Savannah wrote about Luke, still remember the white porpoise, Caesar, Callonwolde. This book is so full of pain and beauty and love rolled into one. I cried throughout most of it.

After that day, I read all of Pat Conroy's published works, and made sure to read every new one that came out after. Now, 20 years later, I am midway through Conroy's book My Reading Life, and am just as enthralled as I always am. It has reminded me just how in love with reading, with words, with books, with the south, with southern writers, Conroy in particular, I really am. He taught me that there is magic in a sentence, and that you can never use too many adjectives. He has shaped my northern world into one that dreams of the south, flawed or unflawed.

"Books are living things and their task lies in their vows of silence. You touch them as they quiver with a divine pleasure. You read them and they fall asleep to happy dreams for the next ten years. If you do them the favor of understanding them, of taking in their portions of grief and wisdom, then they settle down in contented residence in your heart." Pat Conroy - My Reading Life

Sunday, January 2, 2011

A Little Luck

New Years in our household is a holiday filled with traditions based in superstition. I grew up a hybrid American blend of English, Irish, Scottish ancestry, and learned early on the "necessary" customs to perform every year, according to the old beliefs. We must have a first foot (the first person in your home after midnight) with dark hair, and it is better if it is a man- it is ok if the first foot is your own self, as long as you were not in the home at midnight. We must have a substantial amount of cash in our pockets at midnight, to ensure money in our pockets all year round; we should sweep the bad luck out of our house, by sweeping out the back door.

Billy's family is a mixed bag of genealogical beginnings as well, and his mother is southern by way of Hawaii. His family on New Years Day would always eat the standard southern good luck dinner of cornbread, collard greens, and black eyed-peas. According to the superstition, the yellow cornbread symbolizes gold, the collard greens dollar bills, and the black eyed peas represent coins. From what I have read, this modest meal is in remembrance of the Civil War, and how it affected so many people. Or, another explanation I have read is that by eating a humble meal at the beginning of the year, you will be eating richly at the end of the year.

This was a tradition we had previously never followed after we were married- mainly because the greens and the black eyed peas are generally made with ham hocks, and I am a vegetarian. This year, feeling like we needed all the luck we can get right now, we decided to make our own version of this Munyer family tradition.

Billy made collard greens, but instead of flavoring it with ham, he sauteed onions, garlic, butter, and olive oil together, then added a little vegetable broth. He let this simmer for about 30 minutes before adding the greens, brown sugar, and vinegar. He cooked this all together for another 20 minutes, then added a dash of liquid smoke as a finisher. This was honestly the first time I ever enjoyed greens, even counting the times I had eaten them as a non-vegetarian. The black eyed peas and cornbread we made as normal, and we slathered on the Cinnamon Honey Butter I had made the week before, which made the cornbread super delicious. Probably not the healthiest dinner we have ever eaten, but it definitely tasted fantastic. Marty joined us for dinner, so hopefully the good luck extends to him too.

It must be something in my blood that compels me to follow my own family mythologies; with the addition of the good luck dinner, we are adding another component. The way I see it, how can you go wrong starting the year off with a home cooked meal eaten with loved ones?

Here is a to a year filled with health, wealth and happiness to all. Slainte!

Saturday, January 1, 2011

My Top Ten Reads of 2010

For some reason today I keep thinking about books and reading. This seems like a weird thing to be thinking about on New Years Day, but here I am, doing it. Maybe I am because last night I was talking to people about books, and the thoughts carried over to today. Who knows.

I went back and looked at my Goodreads page - one of my resolutions this year is to enter every book I read into Goodreads, even if it is a throwaway read. It was interesting to see what I was reading this time last year, and that got me to thinking about what books I read this year that I absolutely loved, couldn't get enough of, caused me to stay up until 3 am reading them. They are not all new to 2010, but 2010 is when I read them.

They are, in no particular order ~

1. The Little Friend by Donna Tartt

2. The Help by Kathryn Stockett

3. The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

4. The Likeness by Tana French

5. The Kitchen Boy: A Novel of the Last Tsar by Robert Alexander

6. First They Killed My Father by Loung Ung

7. The Passage by Justin Cronin

8. Game of Thrones by George R.R. Martin

9. The Hour I First Believed by Wally Lamb

10. South of Broad by Pat Conroy

What did you read? What were your favorites of 2010? I need some ideas for 2011.