Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Alphabetical by Author: Mary Kay Andrews

Image via Good Reads


Since Edward Abbey didn't work out for me, I decided to go in a totally different direction to check the letter "A" off of my alphabetical fiction journey. I picked up "Spring Fever" by Mary Kay Andrews to read while on vacation.

To cut right to the chase, I didn't really like "Spring Fever." I didn't quite dislike it, but it just didn't really do it for me. I enjoyed reading enough to want to get closure on the characters, but I ended up skipping about 5 chapters in the middle to try to bolster my waning interest.

My main issue was that the characters just didn't have a lot of depth. They all felt one-note to me, and that didn't make them very relatable, despite the reviews that said everyone would relate to the main character, Annajane. There is a time and place for this kind of book--depth is messy; sometimes it's nice to root for the extremely-obvious and align yourself with the heroine, no reservations.

My recommendation (or lack thereof) really boils down to what you're looking for: Are you in the mood for something that won't require much thought and won't provoke any angst? Then go for it! "Spring Fever" will do the trick. Are you looking for something less predictable, something that might prompt you to put down the book from time to time and reflect? Go with something else. But keep "Spring Fever" in mind the next time you're in the mood for a neat-and-tidy, good-triumphs-over-evil happy ending.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Blogs I Love

There was a time when I had a list of about 20 blogs that I regularly read. I didn't made a conscious decision to stop reading them, but my interest waned. I've moved, started new jobs, began and ended relationships, and that kind of change naturally upsets routines. However, a few of those websites stuck with me. These are the blogs that I just can't quit:

The dreamy imagery typical of a Tranquility du Jour post.

I have been reading Tranquility du Jour for nearly a decade. Written by Kimberly Wilson, Tranquility du Jour is a great place to, well, get a dose of tranquility. The website is really more of a community than a blog. Kimberly does retreats, podcasts, and a book club. A year or so ago, she and her partner actually went on the road in a (super-adorable) camper to meet fans all around the country. If you visit, expect lots of pink and lots of references to Paris, pigs, and pugs.


Inspiration to get your hustle on at The Everygirl

I started reading The Everygirl after pinning their list of essentials for women in their 20's. At the time, I was in my 20's, and now I have entered my 30's, so that gives you an idea of how long I've been a fan. A lot of their content seems tailored to women in their 20's who are entrepreneurs of one stripe or another, who probably travel for work, and who are finding their way in the world. It's that third item that I relate to most. I like The Everygirl for fashion and beauty trends, self-help kinds of articles, and home decor pieces. I also particularly like that they feature a brief round-up of the top headlines from the week every Friday. The Everygirl's life seems a little fancier than mine, but the articles are accessible and enjoyable even for those of us who aren't moguls in the making.


Vintage whimsy and sound advice from The Simply Luxurious Life

The Simply Luxurious Life is a little bit like a mash-up of The Everygirl and Tranquility du Jour. It's empowering, Francophilic, and, like The Everygirl, a touch schmancier than my real life. Where I think The Simply Luxurious Life, written by Shannon Ables, really excels is in encouraging readers to build their lives thoughtfully and in exactly the way that is right for them. While I love the idea of many of Shannon's product recommendations, the advice of someone also in the process of building an authentic life is actually what keeps me reading. That and Shannon often punctuates her posts with vintage fashion images like the one above, which is just plain fun.

What blogs do you like? Are there any that you've read seemingly forever?

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Saturday Morning Pins

Most of my outdoor has been spent running through my neighborhood, but this weekend I'm dreaming of camping (and 50% less humidity).

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Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Alphabetical by Author: Edward Abbey


I just can't get into Edward Abbey. Not even "The Monkey Wrench Gang." I am raising the white flag, and I am giving up on this book. Perhaps I am missing something Very Obvious and Important, but I just don't particularly like any of the characters. They all strike me as stuck in a prolonged adolescence. I teach high school, so I have a very low tolerance for immature behavior from adults. It's fine when it's teenagers acting like teenagers, but adults acting like teens? Thanks, but no thanks. I'm off the clock.

I had been really pushing myself to just power through and read it for the sake of being able to write a blog post saying that I had finished it, but what is the point in that? I blog for my own entertainment; the point of 'Alphabetical by Author' is to find fiction I enjoy, so why slog through a book just to say that I did? There is something to be said for practicing follow-through, but there are no consequences to failing to finish a just-for-fun book. It's not exactly the same as, say, not following through on the wet clothes in the washing machine and ending up with a smelly, mildewed mess. If it isn't enjoyable to read the book, you're missing the point of reading for fun.

Hence the Abbey quote above: Finishing a book for the sake of saying you finished it is growth for the sake of growth. It just doesn't make sense. Life is too short to give yourself grief over things that don't have consequences.

Monday, July 13, 2015

Fantasizing About Fall Knitting

I don't see sweltering temperatures and insane humidity as a good enough reason to put down the yarn and needles. Instead, summer is when I often do my most prolific knitting. (In fact, expect a whole slew of finished objects over the next few weeks.) I don't have any outdoor space in my current apartment, so, unless I'm hiking or doing a bit of birding, I tend to be indoors. As I work through my stash, I find myself daydreaming of fall knitting and planning projects for the coming season. Here's what's on my radar so far:

Ravelry
I love a good cardigan, and I love asymmetrical details, so this Ballet-Neck Cardigan by Suvi Simola is a must-knit. You can find the pattern in Vogue Knitting Early Fall 2015, already on newsstands. I knit a strawberry pink cardigan a couple years ago, so I'm going to use a stone/taupe kind of neutral (that just so happens to be in my stash) instead of doing another bright color.

Ravelry
I fell in love with a Fair Isle cardigan from REI last winter, but the price was far from right. Like any resourceful knitter, I took to Ravelry to try to find a pattern with the same feel and look as the Sweater Of My Dreams. This one is just about perfect, and I have some leftover yarn from other projects that will be just right for the yoke. I am going to knit this one up in shades of blue and green (think mountains). You can find this pattern in Drops 116.

Ravelry
I've been a fan of Mari Chiba's designs for awhile, so I was very pleased to see that the Fall 2015 issue of Knitscene features a mini-collection of her work. It was love at first sight when I saw the Solitude Jacket. While I actually really like this shade of brown, I'm not sure that it makes the most sense with my existing wardrobe. (Apparently, being in your 30's makes you more practical.) Plus, there is, as always, the cat hair issue with dark colors. (Again, practical.) I'm considering knitting this up in a winter white or ivory, but we'll see what actually comes home with me! (I'm only 31, after all...)

Are you a knitter? What are you excited about for fall?






Saturday, July 11, 2015

Saturday Morning Pins

This past week was one of those weeks when it's not so much that you're going through a bad time or a tough time, but it seems like everything is just slightly harder than it should be. It's frustrating, but it feels kind of petty to complain about it, because the reality is that you have a really nice life and nothing is actually going wrong. Weeks like this always trigger a little bit of existential angst for me, because there's no real problem to solve and no obvious action steps to take. You just have to ride it out until bad luck, entropy, or whatever you prefer to call it gives you a break.

I find that few things help me during these periods quite like looking at pictures of baby animals, hence the theme for this morning's pins.

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Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Blueberry Lavender Dump Cake


Dump cakes could probably benefit from a new name. To the uninitiated, it isn't exactly clear whether we're talking "dump" the verb or "dump" the noun. When I made classic cherry and pineapple dump cake for a past boyfriend, he expressed surprise that it wasn't chocolate, because dumps are, well, brown. Having grown up in the South, I had taken it for granted that everyone would know what a dump cake is. Not so. When I mentioned dump cake to my current significant other, he thought I was talking about a cake known for its laxative properties. (And he grew up in Northern Virginia, which tends to support the idea that Nova is distinct from Virginia.)

Scatological connotations aside, dump cakes are really fantastic. They're kind of a cobbler, kind of a crisp, kind of a crumble, and totally warm, gooey and delicious. Really everything you want in a comfort-food dessert. They've got the taste factor, and they've got the ease factor. It really doesn't take much more effort than spooning ice cream into bowls, but you get points for serving something homemade. Hell, some recipes you could probably get into the oven without dirtying a single utensil.

Here is my barely-a-recipe for Blueberry Lavender Dump Cake:

Ingredients:

  • Can of blueberry pie filling
  • A very small amount of culinary lavender (about a three-finger pinch if you're really into lavender like me)
  • Duncan Hines cake mix of your choice*
  • Stick of butter or margarine, your choice


Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Dump the pie filling into your cake pan.
  3. Sprinkle the lavender over the pie filling, lightly crushing the buds with your fingers as you go. This should be a very light dusting--too much and your cake will go from pleasantly floral/herbal to soapy.
  4. Sprinkle cake mix over pie filling in as even a coating as possible.
  5. Melt butter in the microwave, then pour evenly over the cake mix.
  6. If using a 9" x 13" pan, bake for about 30 minutes, until golden brown. Smaller pans like mine will require additional time.
  7. Enjoy warm or cold, but I personally prefer warm.


*I specify Duncan Hines because that is the preferred cake mix of Aristotle Onassis, second husband of Jackie Kennedy Onassis, so it's obviously the classiest and fanciest of cake mixes.

Monday, July 6, 2015

Farmers' Market Haul


I love going to farmers' markets in the summer and fall. The older dudes remind me of my maternal grandfather. He didn't sell his produce, but he did plant and harvest a garden every year.

You can see this week's farmers' market selections above. The cantaloupe might be enjoyed sliced and dusted with chili pepper. The corn is destined for a bean salad. The green beans will be lightly cooked and then tossed with a vinaigrette. The okra will be fried with a panko coating. And the flowers are just because.

The fuzzy brain flowers are called cockscombs, due to their resemblance to a rooster's comb.

Friday, July 3, 2015

Hooray for the Quick Pickle!

Sweet/Hot Pickles

When reading a restaurant menu, few things light up my face quite like the words, "house-made pickles." Bonus points if we're talking pickled red onions. And yet, I had never thought to make them myself, despite seeing quick pickle recipes all over the place. 

As you can see above, today I broke through into the hipster- and prepper-filled world of home canning. I made some quick-pickled cukes, red onions, and garlic using this recipe from 'The Chew.' Turns out the push I needed was an endorsement from my TV-chef-fake-boyfriend Michael Symon. It probably doesn't hurt that he was serving them atop a hot dog, one of my favorite, favorite foods and guilty pleasures.

This recipe has a really high ratio of satisfaction to effort--a little chopping, a little mixing, a little pouring, and you're done! The result is a beautiful, fragrant jar of your very own house-made (or, in my case, apartment-made) pickles--minus the noisy gastropub! 

Thursday, July 2, 2015

The Best of Intentions

As you can see, this lovely quote is via Horseshoes & Hand Grenades.

As the school year wore on from May into June, it rapidly became apparent that I wasn't even remotely taking care of myself. My apartment was a mess, I was eating a lot of Little Caesar's, and I generally felt sluggish. I could see that my bad habits were feeding into each other, but I was in full-blown survival mode, so I was in no place to begin to fix them. I resolved to make my summer about putting healthy, functional systems into place.

I decided to start with working out, something I have never routinely done in my adult life. I found a six-day "reboot" kind of plan, and a longer couch-to-5K plan. I decided that I would start with the six days of circuit training to boost motivation (let's be real--a month-long challenge won't happen without some wind in my sails) and then I would start the 5K training. I bought some special, extra-super-stabilizing (and expensive!) running shoes. I wrote all of my workouts from now until my October 5K in my planner. I even did the six days of circuit training, which is HUGE for me! I was sore as hell, but I did the best that I could. I was proud. I was cruising into the 5K training on a high, just as I had hoped I would.

And then, on day 2 of couch-to-5K, I hurt myself. I wasn't running or cross-training. I was doing a little housework, and I twisted and bent at the waist to pick something up. This motion was just right to thoroughly piss off a muscle that apparently didn't particularly enjoy circuit training. It was like a pain explosion from my lower back to my hip. I couldn't put weight on the leg. I barely managed to grab my phone and get onto the couch. (There was a lot of cussing and crying.)

Fantastically painful muscle spasms were a new one, but this sort of thing is why working out has never taken hold with me in the past. I always seem to have some success, quickly followed by some sort of injury. Since I have more than a touch of perfectionism, I tend to want to do things either exactly as planned or not at all. In the past, being sidelined by an injury was always an excuse to give up--obviously I can't do this exactly as I had envisioned, so why bother? I have a heart condition and extra bones. (Seriously!) I'm just not meant to be an athlete of any kind.

Running shoooooooooooes fit for a lioness.

However, something about this time is different. Maybe I've mellowed out since entering my 30's. Maybe it's that I have a phenomenally supportive boyfriend who has had similar back problems and won't let me use it as a cop-out. Maybe it's a combination of things. But tomorrow I think I will lace up those expensive running shoes and... go for a walk.

Have you ever had a similar experience? Or a time when a minor (or major) setback made you want to give up? What do you do to keep your best-laid plans from going awry?