Category Archives: in my library

The Mustache & The (Accidental) No TV Week

The Moustache by Carrere This month, while I was waiting for my book club book to come into the library, I filled the time with the novella, The Mustache by Emmanuel Carrere. It was recommended to me by one of the ladies in my book group, and she warned me that it was interesting and “very disturbing” at the end. That was enough to get me interested, but the premise was really intriguing as well: Curious to see people’s reactions, a man decides to shave his mustache on a whim. When no one notices, he becomes annoyed. Then, when his friends and family claim he never had a mustache, things unravel.

I normally only read old books (pre-1950s for the most part). I know I’m missing out on a vast array of good literature by being this way, but new things just don’t strike my fancy the way old things do. But I’m really glad I tried The Mustache…the story was fast-paced and completely unexpected. I can’t tell if it was truly a page-turner or if I was rushing through it in anticipation of the “very disturbing” end. Either way, the closing pages did not disappoint!

Apparently the movie ends very differently (from what I can tell from Wikipedia). I am still interested in seeing it though, especially since it is directed by Carrere and the music is done by Phillip Glass…I’ll be adding it to my list of things to watch once the weather gets cold.

Speaking of watching things, I haven’t had my TV on at all since last Monday. If you know me at all, you know this is huge… I often have the TV on during the day in the background for noise. It’s usually a cable news channel rehashing the same old stories, the same old Washington drama, the same old political fights. At night, especially if Naoto is working, I often spend the evening half working on a project and half watching Big Bang Theory re-runs. It is a silly waste of time. I didn’t make a conscious effort to turn the TV off, I just got busy working on things and didn’t turn it on. I’ve been listening to crazy-awesome music instead. Eleven days later, I feel like I haven’t missed a thing. Now, if only I could give up the internet for awhile…

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The Good Earth

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We read The Good Earth by Pearl S. Buck for book club this month and I loved it. The book can be summed up with one classic phrase from the late, great Notorious B.I.G.: Mo’ money, mo’ problems.

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In turn-of-the-century China, Wang Lung is a poor farmer who marries a slave, O-Lan, who has working hands and big, unbound feet. But it is because of O-Lan’s work ethic, resourcefulness and working hands and feet that Wang Lung is able to survive droughts and famine to become a rich landowner. Wang Lung does not appreciate this until the end…after he takes another woman (with beautiful, small features and tiny, bound feet), builds a larger house to accommodate his first family, his lover and his mooching relatives, and realizes he has raised spoiled children because they didn’t have to work for everything as he had.

I think Wang Lung is a good man (in spite of the fact that he followed the traditional rich land owner’s path of having a concubine…) who gets caught up in the human desire for more. It takes him awhile to learn the lesson, but I think as he’s struggling to learn it, he just wants everyone around him to be satisfied, even though this often leads to more unrest among the ungrateful members of his family.

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O-Lan is now one of my favorite literary characters. She is such a strong woman who accepts her path in life and makes the most of it. She is so resourceful, stretching small luxuries out so they could be enjoyed longer, conserving even when they are rich enough to be wasteful. In spite of Wang Lung taking a second woman in the home, O-Lan remains devoted to her family, true to her role and wife and mother, but also draws her boundaries clearly. I cannot imagine living at a time when working class women were considered slaves from birth, expected to care for her husband and his family in addition to working in the fields and bearing children alone.

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I loved reading this book in the spring as we were starting our garden since so much of the book is centered around the earth and farming. I borrowed an old copy from the library (I think this copy was published in the 1947, the original book was published in 1931) and I am so glad I did because throughout the book, there were wonderful illustrations. I loved seeing Howard Willard’s interpretations of the story (as seen throughout this post).

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Have you read The Good Earth or any other books by Pearl Buck? I own her book A Portrait of a Marriage and I’m thinking I need to pull it off the shelf. Are there any other good summer reads I should add to my list?

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Reading, Rain and Rally

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Yesterday I had grand plans to get the house all cleaned up for the weekend, and it only sort of happened. I tidied a bit and fretted about but didn’t get all of my projects accomplished. It threatened to rain all day, making it the perfect day to stay indoors and get stuff done. It turns out it didn’t rain until the late, late afternoon. And when it started, it was a light mist, so I went out side and sat on the wicker couch and read my book for a bit. I’m reading The Good Earth for book group. We picked it because it’s spring–time for gardening and working with the earth–and it’s a really intriguing look at Chinese farm life in the turn of the century. We read a lot of books about rich white people in our book group , so this is a nice departure from the usual reads. (I should explain this more in a post dedicated to book group…)

Today, I am sweeping and mopping and sorting mail (or maybe just sorting mail). Our next Honor Flight is Tuesday, so there is a lot to do today and tonight to get everything ready. Naoto has been in Connecticut since yesterday and he comes home tonight, too. As much as Presley and I enjoyed having the bed to ourselves last night (SNORE-FREE SLEEP!) we are both looking forward to having him home and getting to hang out tomorrow. We’re going to a Food Truck Rally, then to our community garden orientation and after that, we are planting our garden! I can’t wait!

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Relish Book Signing

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Last Wednesday night, Naoto & I headed into the city to Challengers Comics & Conversation for a book signing party for Lucy Knisley’s book, Relish. I’m not a huge graphic novel follower…I’ve only read a few, but Relish is about food, and I know food. I had to work, so we missed Lucy’s talk about the book, but we did buy a copy and had it signed. Lucy asked us for our favorite food and she included a drawing of it with her signature. We chose sushi…mainly because my favorite food is pizza and tacos and Naoto’s favorite food is whatever he is eating at the moment…we can agree on sushi. Challengers had food and drink on hand to lend to the celebration. I had a delicious slice of pie from Hoosier Mama Pie Company. I shall insist on the visit to their shop soon…now that Naoto can (almost) eat again, I’m sure he won’t object to joining me!

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Along with the book, we both fell in love with a print of cat positions. Naoto insisted on buying it (because it reminded him so much of Presley). We had Lucy sign it “for Presley” and then we exchanged pictures of our kitties (like the proud parents we are!).

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I’m pretty sure Presley was thrilled. We laid the print on the table and she promptly flopped down on it and took a nap and soaked up the love.

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J-E-L-L-O, the Vintage Way

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Letter Month is over, and my letter writing has slowed down quite a bit. I have letters that came in during the first week of March that still need to be returned. I’m slowly making my way through the pile before I go to bed each night. Thankfully, my outgoing mail timing has been good, because some amazing mail has been trickling into my mailbox.

Last week I got this amazing vintage Jell-O pamphlet from Donovan. It was printed in 1928 and it has all sorts of Jell-O recipes and many of them are featured in Jell-O molds. It makes me wish I had a Jell-O mold! (Confession: I spent an hour on Ebay last night checking out my vintage Jell-O mold choices!)

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My favorite part of the booklet is the line: Jell-O is like the princess in the fairy tale: it is as good as it is beautiful. So true! I remember being so excited when I saw a bowl of Jell-O in the fridge when I was little…my favorite has always been Lime. From reading through the pamphlet, I learned that lime must be a “newer” flavor, as the only five flavors listed in the pamphlet are Lemon, Orange, Strawberry, Raspberry and Cherry.

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I am completely enamored with the illustrations of the fluffy Jell-O desserts and the perfectly shiny Jell-O molds sitting atop beds of lettuce or whipped cream. Everything in the first half of the booklet is expected–Jell-O with fruits and whipped cream served as molds or in stemmed dessert glasses. So pretty!

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Then there’s the second half of the booklet–the Jell-O salads. Back here, we are mixing up Jell-O with tuna and olives and cabbage and horseradish. I was really excited about the Shower Salad…Strawberry Jell-O with pineapple, apple and maraschino cherries?? Sign me up! But then, I read the last line: Garnish with Hellman’s Blue Ribbon Mayonnaise. Hmmmm…ick. I guess I shouldn’t knock it until I’ve tried it…but quite frankly, I think if I made the Shower Salad, I’d be garnishing it with Dream Whip! Little did I know that the Shower Salad is probably the least offensive salad in the section…tuna and lemon Jell-O…eeks! It all reminds me of that Friends Thanksgiving episode where Rachel makes the traditional English trifle (and accidentally adds meat!)

Have you made anything interesting with Jell-O lately? Have you ever had it with olives or meat or other savory bits mixed inside?

Thanks, Donovan, for the sweet ephemera and for feeding my Jell-O obsession!

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The How Green Was My Valley Tea

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I didn’t disappear last week…I spent all day Thursday and Friday reading the most lovely book, How Green Was My Valley by Richard Llewellyn. It was the March choice for my book group and we celebrated it with a green-themed tea at Peggy’s house. We all contributed a little something, but as usual, Peggy went above and beyond baking up a storm and choosing the perfect linens, dishes and flowers to set the mood. Seeing the daffodils throughout the room really made it feel like spring, even though we all came in our winter coats on a chilly grey day.

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Peggy made a leek, bacon and goat cheese frittata, rosemary pistachio scones, homemade lemon curd and citrus cranberry pull-apart rolls. Bobbie brought chicken salad cream puffs, Peggy (we have two Pegs!) made Irish soda bread, I made homemade ricotta and we enjoyed English breakfast and Highland Toffee teas along with mimosas. It was a tea to end all teas…so much deliciousness in one place!

We indulged and chatted and then spent a good part of the afternoon talking about the book…we always talk about the book. (We aren’t one of those book groups who just gets together to drink wine and gossip.) Everyone wholeheartedly loved How Green Was My Valley. It captivated me for two days, and over those long afternoons of reading, I had to remind myself to slow down and soak in the beauty of Llewellyn’s writing…

I keep reading several passages from the book over and over again. (I need to take it back to the library, but I can’t let go yet!)

There is good a cup of tea when you are feeling low. Thin, and plenty of milk, and brown sugar in the crystal, in a big cup so that when your mouth is used to the heat you can drink instead of sipping. Every part of you inside you that seems to have gone to sleep comes lively again. A good friend of mine is a cup of tea, indeed.”  [from chapter sixteen]

There is a lovely smell with tweed. Good it is, and honest, of the earth and of humankind, and a pleasure to wear, and always a friend to you. I had a brown tweed, the colour of a ploughed field in the pebbly soil, when leaf has been put down about three months before, and grass is just poking through, barely to be seen, but there. That, and a grey, the colour of spring rain, and almost as soft to the touch.” [from chapter twenty-two]

Throughout the book I was lulled into the comfortable arms of Huw’s memories growing up in a big family with strong and tender parents…and the book is peppered with tales that are sometimes shocking, sometimes horrifying, sometimes hilarious…very real for the turn of the century in a South Wales mining community.

I absolutely loved the book and I love that we chose to read it this month. It couldn’t have been a more perfect choice for a morning tea at the arrival of spring.

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The Original 100 Calorie Snack

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I always thought those “100 Calorie Snacks” were new creations, and I guess they are new in their pre-packaged, highly marketed forms. But the church cookbook proves that someone’s been thinking of 100 calorie portions for awhile now. Crazy insane how many rutabagas you can eat for 100 calories.

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The BEST Christmas Gift

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A long time ago, I was pilfering through my mom’s cookbook drawer searching for some recipe I’d loved as a kid. My mom hasn’t bought a cookbook in years. Nope, you won’t find a Rachel Ray or a Giada or a Barefoot Contessa book in her drawer. She does have plenty of old-school pamphlets filled with recipes promoting things like Philadelphia Cream cheese and Eagle Brand condensed milk and of course she has the Better Homes & Gardens Cookbook. (Does everyone have this cookbook? Naoto and I each brought one to the marriage and neither of us is willing to part with the copy we brought.) While I was looking through the drawer I found her old Methodist Church cookbook. I flipped through it finding all of the usual church cookbook fare: plenty of jello salads, punches and casseroles. I loved seeing familiar names from our small town and seeing which recipes my grandma and her church lady friends contributed. I told my mom that I wanted a copy of the cookbook.

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Since the cookbook was published in 1984, I knew finding one would be pretty impossible. I sifted through eBay listings of church cookbooks for weeks, but gave up and kind of forgot about it for awhile. When we were celebrating Christmas Thursday, I opened a box that had some new kitchen towels and new measuring spoons inside and there it was, tucked under a kitchen towel–the church cookbook! Apparently my mom told my aunt that she was searching for one and my aunt offered up her copy for the cause! (Thanks, Aunt Karen!)

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My mom and I spent a good amount of time looking through our books and discovering recipes that include outdated ingredients (Have you ever used Dream Whip before?), many cans of cream of mushroom soup, oleo (aka margarine) and lots of Jello. I’ve already picked out a few recipes to try. I’m starting with a Jello salad, since Naoto and I have been in a Jello groove lately and I’m super-psyched to see several lima bean salads and casseroles!! Limas are my favorite and who knew they were the star of so many dishes!!

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Spend Out

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When I read The Happiness Project, one thing that stayed with me most was the part where Gretchen Rubin talks about “spending out”. She confesses to having a hard time using brand new things for the first time (not wanting to ruin their “pristine glory”) and tells a personal story about a bottle of perfume that sat on her grandmother’s dresser for as long as she remembered. The bottle was full when her grandmother died, most likely because her grandmother was saving it for a special occasion.

I’m a total saver. In some ways, it’s a good thing. My savings paid for our wedding and the down payment on our apartment. But in many other ways, my saving is just crazy. I save my “good outfits” (just in case some fun, unexpected plans come up) instead of wearing them to work or to run errands. I save gift cards for the perfect purchase. (We still have three gift cards from our wedding almost seven years ago.) I save the snacks I bring home from Japan. I save the “good” pens for the “right” use, as if I don’t deserve to enjoy writing out my to-do list. I save the good stationery for special occasions (which, for the record, never happen). I save scrapbook supplies because I never think I’m good enough or creative enough to use them the “right” way. I save good art in the closet because I’m afraid to mess up where/how I hang it. I save (as pictured above) fancy paper for juuuust the right project. (Full disclosure: this is just a small portion of my paper collection…the rest is in bins in the closet. Shall I take a break while you call the Hoarders people now?)

I don’t think I’m alone in my saving (hoarding). I often hear to other crafters lament that it’s hard use up their “best” supplies. I know other letter-writing lovers who talk about “hoarding” their vintage postage. I know people who have a hard time making the first pen mark in a brand new journal. I have a set of teacups that my mother received as a wedding gift that sat in its original box in her attic for thirty-nine years before she gave them to me. (A year later, I have yet to use these teacups.)

One of my goals for 2013 (and beyond) is to spend out–to use up or wear out everything I’ve been hoarding. I am going to break out the new dishcloths that my mom gave us for Christmas in 2011. (See how crazy I am?) I am going to use up my fancy papers, even if it means dreaming up reasons to use them. I am going to spend the gift card stash and wear the good clothes until they cannot be worn anymore. I am going to hang up all the art, even if it means patching a few mistakes in the walls. I am going to crack open the journal I made five years ago and fill it up with messy handwriting. I am going to use up ALL of my stationery (I’ve actually been doing well using up this lovely stuff Naoto bought me!) I am going to fearlessly use my typewriter, knowing I can easily buy more ribbon for it, and use my vintage Dymo label-maker knowing I can buy more tape for it. And…I’m going to use up my washi tape–which is by far my most-hoarded supply. I don’t want my craft stash to become the perfume bottle of my existence.

Are you a saver? Is there something you would like to use up this year? Are you a spender? Any words of wisdom for the savers?

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on happiness

First of all, I am not a big fan of self-help books…not anymore. I read them a lot in college, and I found them helpful and uplifting (at times), but then I would put them away and go back to being my imperfectly unhelp-able self.  At one point, my bookshelves were full of SARK‘s entire collection, a few books from Og Mandino and a few other random titles that spoke to me in the bookstores. I’ve donated most of those books in my “old age” (although, I still have some of the SARK books tucked away). I’ve found that I learn more about myself and the world just by reading classic literature and the news. It’s amazing to a book from the 1920s and realize that people are the same, struggles and successes are the same, love is the same…

With that said, when Gretchen Rubin’s The Happiness Project came out in 2009, I was intrigued. But I waited a long time to buy it (in paperback–I’m frugal) and I’m still reading it…it is packed with information and I find myself highlighting an awful lot, and agreeing an awful lot. Rubin’s follow-up book, Happier at Home comes out today but I’ve been reading it over the past two weeks. I was the lucky winner of the book on Leslie’s lovely blog, Lights and Letters.

Although I haven’t found myself highlighting Happier at Home as much as I am in The Happiness Project, I really found the home focus interesting. Since Naoto & I are trying to finish our home, and make it our own (as opposed to a 1970s relic) it helps to think about our own routines and happiness in addition to pretty design and finished projects. The books is broken down into nine areas Rubin focuses on in her quest for happiness in her home. Some of the areas spoke to me more personally than others–especially Possessions, Time and Now.

A few tidbits I found most interesting:

+ It is estimated that Americans spend an hour a day searching for things, and getting rid of clutter would eliminate 40% of housework (p.44, Possessions)–so true for me (hence the little red toolbox!)

+ “…happiness is not having less; happiness is not having more; happiness is wanting what I have” (p.58, Possessions)–I love this quote…and while I think for us, happiness is having less (we have a lot of stuff), I do love some of my excess (like each and every one of my four sets of dishes!)

+ Rubin doesn’t talk on her phone or check her email while running errands. She quotes Virginia Woolf, “My mind works in idleness. To do nothing is often my most profitable way.” (p.138, Time)–This one will be in the forefront of my mind. I need to cut myself off from my cell phone more often, and I don’t even think I’m quite as bad as most people. When I quit my job, I had to turn in my corporate (and only) cell phone. It was six months before I got a new one…in those six months, I listened to birds and looked at flowers and thought about things on my walks…now I tend to text or check Twitter. It’s such a bad habit, and one that I’m eager to break…and in general, I need to be more idle and unconnected…

+ “Now is now” (p.250, Now)–Now is the time to do the things you want (and need) to do. “We’re not playing tea party; this is real.” Rubin started her original happiness project to appreciate life more. I always have a nagging feeling that I’m not appreciating these days enough–no kids, little responsibility, kind husband, home of our own…and I think that’s why I’ve enjoyed these books so much. The big take home for me is to cross off those nagging tasks so you can enjoy the good stuff. Get rid of the junk so you can enjoy the treasures. Stop saying yes to things that annoy you and start saying yes to things that fulfill you.

Your turn: Do you read self-help books? Have you read The Happiness Project or Happier at Home? Will you?

*Reviewing Happier at Home was not a condition of winning the book, I just found it an interesting read and thought it would be fun to share on the blog.

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