Thursday, January 11, 2018

Today I Have Happy Feet

Some days I feel like I do a whole lot of nothing, and it can get discouraging. Especially in the winter, when sometimes I do not leave the house for days in a row.

So I'm starting this feature: One Thing I Did Today, to show myself that yes, I did something, even just one thing: made oatmeal for breakfast, did yoga en francais, made zucchini noodle pad thai, or - like today - went to Happy Feet and had foot reflexology.

It was an hour of foot reflexology, which consisted of a foot soak, face, head, neck, shoulder, arm, hand massage, and then at the end, more neck, shoulder and back massage, as well as the foot massage. It was heaven.

After watching Richard Ayoade's Travel Man episode with Jon Hamm in Hong Kong, where they got foot reflexology, I got to thinking how I regret that while in Las Vegas Chinatown I didn't get reflexology. Then I realized there was this place right here in Pittsburgh, in my own neighborhood, right across the street from the neighborhood library! So today was the day.

It was everything I hoped it would be. I can't wait to go back.

Also, it was in the mid 60s today, after the foot massage we walked along the river, and right now I'm listening to the crows call and watching them fly around outside my window as I write this. I love the crows in the winter. I actually love them year round, but they fly around my neighborhood in the fall and winter, so that's when I get to actively enjoy them.

Until tomorrow ~

Oh yes! I've been asked what I am reading these days, and right now I'm reading The Beach Street Knitting Society and Yarn Club by Gil McNeil. I've read it before, but I only remember liking it, not the content. So I'm reading it again, enjoying every minute, and every page is a surprise, thanks to my lapsing memory. ;-)

Tuesday, December 26, 2017

Book Review: Welcome To The World Baby Girl! by Fanny Flagg and Christmas Days by Jeanette Winterson

Have I done nothing but read books this month?!? 

The latest in my whirlwind through novel-land is Fanny Flagg's Welcome to the World, Baby Girl!: A Novel.

Three words or phases to describe the book:

  1. Tragic
  2. Funny/Light (when not being tragic and deep)
  3. Southern, even though the main character lives in NYC, Fanny Flagg's southern accent is not at all hidden!
I love Fanny Flagg's writing. I've read two of her other novels:Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe and The All-Girl Filling Station's Last Reunion.

This book took a bit long to get into the "action," but the characters are so interesting they drew me in. I can't say much about the actual plot without spoiling it, but Ms. Flagg takes on some pretty deep societal issues in this one. I did wonder if she was the right person to take on this issue, but I trust her as an author and I assume she is speaking from truth and knowledge of the issue.

"Baby Girl" is a grown anchorwoman in NYC. She is young, beautiful, and tough. Her mother abandoned her when she was about 15, and it has led her to where she is now: ambitious, though with alcohol problems, relationships problems, and medical problems in the form of an ulcer which almost kills her at one point. The novel is about a girl who wants to plow forward in life without looking back, struggling against people who care about her yelling, "Slow down! Look back!" all told in Fannie Flagg's wonderful voice: everyday people having everyday conversations about everyday things. It is hilarious and serious all in one. It's a great read with a tragic ending and a happy ending, both at the same time. Not many people could pull that off, but Fanny Flagg does it with aplumb.

I am currently trying to read Shades of Grey by Jasper Fforde (NOT Fifty Shades of Gray!), which was recommended to me by Dave, who loved it. It is a dystopian fantasy, set in the future after the "Epiphany," and the social order is divided by which colors one can see.

I also tried in vain to read a non-fiction book, The Genius of Birds, by Jennifer Ackerman. The essays are about bird's intelligence in the form of tool-making, recognition and remembering, communication, architecture skills, etc. I love birds and I thought I'd be more into it, but it is a bit dull right now. Maybe because I'm not getting out enough in nature, nor birdwatching nearly enough.

Finally, I am carrying around Jeannette Winterson's Christmas Days: 12 Stories and 12 Feasts for 12 Days. I've read the first essay, Christmas-Tide where I learned that in America the Puritans actually banned Christmas from 1659 until 1681. Since then I've heard that fact on NPR a couple of times, and had the fact quoted to me by my mother--on-law. "I know, I know!" I say, as if it's old news that I am tired of, instead of a fact I just read a mere one day before hearing it on the radio. The next two stories, The Spirit of Christmas and The SnowMama were wonderful, though The SnowMama had me bawling my eyes out.

Happy Reading!

~ Melissa

Saturday, December 16, 2017

Book Review: Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell

I hadn't realized I was standing in the teen section of the book store when I spotted Rainbow Rowell's Fangirl: A Novel. It looked good, so I reserved it from our library. When I got the notice it was in I went to pick it up, it wasn't there, which is how I came to bring home and read another of her (adult) books, Landline. But then Fangirl actually came in, and I read it.

When my 13 year old heard I was reading Fangirl she said, "Simon Snow?" - the fictional series of which the main character of Fangirl, Cather, is a fan. Not only is Cather a fan, but she writes extremely popular fanfiction of the Simon Snow (similar to Harry Potter) series. Each chapter has a blurb of one of the (soon to be) eight Simon Snow books, or a blurb from her fan fiction. The story is of Cath's first year of college, and Rainbow Rowell does a great job writing about that painful, awkward transition: from the too-small dorm rooms, the strangers as roommates, the sitting alone in the dining hall, the partying and not wanting to go partying, all of it. Turns out, it is one of my 13 year old's favorite books.

I liked it, though not as much as I enjoyed Landline. The Simon Snow blurbs were ok, but sometimes a bit jarring and hard to follow, and though they paralleled the action of the story sometimes took me out of the story. The story, though, was layered and complex, with story lines not just for Cather, but also for her dad and twin sister. Cather's boyfriend Levi points out that a week as a freshman in college is actually like a month of real time, and we see that with all that is going on for Cather, from her relationships, to her classes, to what she has left behind in Omaha.

All in all a great choice, especially for high school teens wanting to get a glimpse of college life.

Next up on my reading list are a bunch of science books, most - if not all - I heard about listening to Science Friday: The Best Science Books of 2017.

I've got:

In other media (movies), I recently watched

The Big Sick - an Amazon Original Movie, which I highly recommend! It is "an awkward true story" of how Pakistani-American comedian Kumail Nanjiani met his wife Emily, cowritten by Kumail and Emily and produced by Judd Apatow. Ray Romano and Holly Hunt are excellent as Emily's parents. It is streaming on Amazon Prime, but I checked it out of our library. I'm also in the middle of Jerry Before Seinfeld, streaming on Netflix, which I am enjoying. It's all so much better than scrolling through social media.

Thursday, December 14, 2017

Book Review: Landline by Rainbow Rowell

Landline, Rainbow Rowell
Published in 2014 by St. Martins Press, NY.

Landline is a story of a couple who met while in college, and are now married with two young daughters. The wife, Georgie, is a comedy writer for TV, and often puts work - and her writing partner, Seth, also from college, over her husband and family. Her husband Neal is a stay at home dad who her children adore. Though they still love each other, their relationship is strained, and when a work opportunity comes up and she decides she must stay in LA rather than travel to his family in Omaha's for Christmas, Neal decides he and the girls will go without her.

Georgie's mother acts as if Neal has taken the girls and left Georgie. Though Georgie denies it, she begins to wonder, "have they?" Georgie talks to her daughters and Neal's mom on the phone, but is unable to reach Neal. He is never there or available when she does get through. Georgie ends up spending the week at her mom's because she finds it hard to go home to her empty house. She is not able to focus on work, especially after calling Neal one night from a landline in her old bedroom, and reaching Neal, but Neal in 1998, the one other time he left her and went to Omaha for Christmas without her, almost bailing on their relationship then.

All week she can not reach present 2013 Neal, only 1998 Neal. They talk late into the night like teenagers, about their love, their relationship, its problems and strengths. They fight, they make up, and Georgie begins to worry that what she says/does may have an effect on the past that might effect the present. What if he doesn't make the drive back to LA on Christmas, which he did in 1998, and propose? But then she realized (SPOILER ALERT) that this conversation really did happen - already for Neal in 1998, and 2013 for her. It is WHY he came back and proposed. 

So she skips out on Seth and her work meeting to fly to Omaha during a snowstorm (she has never experienced snow) and with help from the kindness of strangers, makes it to Neal's. Their love - in both time periods - is rekindled like embers of a fire not quite gone out gently blown upon; the fire is burning again.

I read the entire book in one 6 hour sitting. It was an enjoyable, fast read. She is a good storyteller: there was no excess or side stories to distract. Nothing unnecessary. Every word, sentence, paragraph forwarded the plot. The character list was trim and succinct. 

Three words to describe the book would be: Sweet. Simple. Enjoyable.

"Simple" though, is misleading. The writing skills needed to tell two stories - past and present - concurrently and keep it as clear and flowing as Rowell does, is anything but "simple." I think that the book reads simply and easily demonstrates Rowell's great skills as writer and storyteller.

One thing I noticed that made me go "hmm":

Near the end it's revealed that Neal's family in Omaha lives on Rainwood Road, which sounds awfully similar to Rainbow Rowell. Is this like a Hitchcock cameo: her almost-name dropped into the book, hidden among the details?

Two other main pieces of media I intook yesterday:

CLO's Musical Christmas Carol and Preet Bharara's live podcast with Hasan Minhaj. I will review those next, hopefully. 

Monday, October 30, 2017

Vegan in Columbus Ohio

We went to Columbus Ohio over the weekend and found some great vegan meals. We'd already been to The Northstar Cafe, Portia's Cafe, and Loving Hut in the past, so this time we tried some new places.

We arrived Saturday, and went to the Indian vegetarian restaurant The Banana Leaf. There was an amazing lunch buffet, everything clearly labeled either vegetarian or vegan and gluten-free. There was mango juice (vegan) and mango lassi (vegetarian, yogurt drink), many main dishes, they brought poori bread to the table, as well as a tray of appetizers for each of us. And dosas!

tray of vegan appetizers

main dishes

so much food! 

delicious dosas!!

That evening we went to Mellow Mushroom, and had a vegan cheese pizza with Buffalo (spicy) tofu as a topping. Unfortunately I did not take a picture, but the waitress said they are using a new vegan cheese - I didn't ask what it was but it was very good!

The next day for lunch we went to 6-1-Pho (a play on Columbus's 614 area code) for amazing vegan Pho and spring rolls (again, no pictures!) This was a place where you order at the counter: choice of Pho, rice bowl, noodle bowl or Vietnamese Sub. All was available veggie: you simply specify veggie broth for the soup and tofu as the protein. You could also specify which veggies you want in your soup or bowl, so Dave was able to leave out the cilantro while I was happy to have them pile it on!

After our delicious lunch I found a place offering vegan donuts: Destination Donuts, which turned out to be in North Market: an amazing public market with tons of restaurants offering great vegan food! According to Wikipedia, North Market was actually North Graveyard for most of the 1800s, but in 1872 the graveyard began to be relocated to make way for the public market, which opened in 1876. We were there the Sunday before Halloween and some of the old spirits may have been haunting the place.

Too bad we had just eaten, though I would have had a difficult time choosing where to eat. Here's a shot from the seating upstairs, looking down on the market. 

And the vegan donuts:

If you have a favorite vegan place to eat in Columbus, please let me know!

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Day 3: 10-4 Good Buddy! (October 4)

It’s nearly 6 am. I'm in the lodge, but soon will head back to my cabin.

I am working on the essay for the application to a Hotel Room of One’s Own, a humor writing contest. The winners get to go to the writing conference in Daytona next April, which I may do even if I don't win, then they get two weeks in a hotel to write, with room service and spending money to continue to ride the wave of momentum from the conference. Gosh I hope I win.

Oops, I took a big side track working on my application essay and now it’s 7:03 am and though it’s still pretty dark I’m itching to head back to my cabin. But should I do yoga and shower here first?? Maybe. Just in case, snake.

 Maybe I should go out and watch the sunrise. I might just do that.

I’m back in my cabin. So far I haven’t spotted any snakes. I have a cup of tea and a bowl of oats and fruit. I ate the rest of the delicious fries with the delicious tahini dip.

I think I might write a zine about my experience here and call it Snake In The Owl's Nest.

Recipe: Most Delicious Tahini Sauce

  • Tahini
  • Soy sauce
  • Garlic, clove, chopped
  • Squeeze 1/4 lemon
  • Water
  • Cumin

Mix mix mix, it thins, then thickens again. Enjoy…it is sooooo good. It makes an excellent salad dressing, also an excellent French fry dip. Also a good topping for baked potatoes. Also, good to mix into tofu salad or chickpea salad. I am going to need to go out and get more tahini before my two weeks are up, that is for sure. I cannot get enough of this sauce.

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Wildacres, 2017, Day 2

Day 2: October 3, 2017

The sunrise here on the main campus is beautiful, looking out from the porch outside the library (my picture doesn't nearly capture it) but I was anxious to get back to the cabin. I read that snakes don't "hear", but they feel vibrations on the ground with their body, so when I got back to the cabin I stomped around, letting the snake know I was there. I read that ring necked snakes are non aggressive and shy, so maybe knowing I was back would keep it away.

Also, Allen, head of maintenance, had come over early that morning and patched the cracks in the stone fireplace with concrete. He also sealed some holes under the kitchen sink and in the bathroom: he knew where this snake was getting in. In fact, I read in the log book that the person before me had seen three snakes: one small one under the writing desk, another small on in the bathroom while exiting the shower, and the big one I saw in the fireplace. Eek.

To try to make myself feel more at home in the cabin, I decided to cook. I roasted some potatoes and made a tahini dipping sauce (tahini, garlic, lemon juice, soy sauce) which was so delicious. I also planned out some possible meals for the rest of the week, even though meals are provided at Wildacres. These were ones I planned:

  • Taco salad (beans, greens, salsa)
  • Tacos: kale, cashew cheese, salsa, beans or tofu salad
  • Peanut butter tempeh
  • Red lentil berbere
  • French fries…that tempeh sauce was amazing
  • Stuffed sweet potatoes
  • Baked potato with cashew cheese and salsa
  • Mashed potatoes with onion, mushrooms, greens and salsa
  • Chickpea salad

For breakfast: Oats with nutmilk and fruit, which I am eating right now. Snacks are rice cakes, tofu and other salads, fruit, tacos, steamed kale.

I'm having trouble figuring out what I want to work on while here. I applied with the idea that I would work on my memoir, which I began here last year, but I haven't felt like pulling that out. So far, I've been working on "I remember" essays, then taking a memory and expanding it.

Currently I am working on two essays: one about training for and running the Cleveland Marathon in 2007, one about getting to my first day of second grade at a new school, and having to admit I didn't notice my bus number. I am trying to make them super funny, because I am applying for The Humorist In Residence at the Erma Bombeck's Writer's Workshop: A Hotel Room of One's Own. The application is due in three days and I have to send in a funny essay. 

I am sleeping in the lodge again tonight. I can't bring myself to overcome my fears and stay in this cabin, though during the day I really love it here, especially sitting out on the porch and watching the gray squirrels leap from tree to tree with acorns in their mouths.