September 26, 2012

Literally Literary: The Good Kind of Streaking

"Literally Literary" is a feature in which I write about books, reading and more books. My hope is the post title will provide a subtle hint that I am posting about BOOKS. For those of you where the topic of books results in narcoleptic fits thereby causing you to faceplant onto your keyboard, this will allow you to just click away from the horror that is the written word. Also, I simply adore the word "literally", it is literally my favorite adverb. Bonus points if pronounced with a Rob Lowe/Parks n' Recreation affectation.

Special Note: All posts contain non-affiliate links - I do not have an Amazonian Fancy Pants Affiliate Thingie.


Over the past few months, I have been ranting and raving about what a spectacular reading streak I have been on.  A streak that has lasted MONTHS.  I thought I would do a recap post when the streak ended, but at this point, there is no end in sight.  I am currently reading Wally Lamb's "She's Come Undone" (SO GOOD, Lamp reminds me of John Irving and has made the list of authors of whom I must read their entire library).  

Next on the list is JK Rowling's "A Casual Vacancy" (dropping TOMORROW.  Or rather MIDNIGHT, if I happen to be suffering from insomnia, yet again.)  and then, Laura Moriarty's "The Chaperone" (I chose the cover for this book as the image for the post --  I love that image and it reminds me of my great-grandmother.  She was a concert pianist and would have been touring around the same time period.)  

Also, I am asking YOU what has been melting your literary butter lately so that you can help my streak continue.  Can you help a reader out?

No spoilers are in any of my blatherings.  Pinkie swear.

Gone Girl” by Gillian Flynn
A weird, creepy book that starts out as a mystery, then turns into psychological thriller about halfway through.  At one point, I was walking around the house while reading.  I also had to hastily explain to my hungry children  what a "mystery" was while absently pointing in the general direction of the pantry where the Larabars live.

The Blood of Flowers” by Anita Amirrezvani
This is set in 17th century Persia and features a 14 year old girl whose future prospects are turned upside down when her father dies.  Her mother and her go to live with her uncle, who is a carpet maker.  The girl learns the trade along the way but struggles because of the limited opportunities for women in that time period.  I loved, loved this character and by the end of the book, it became a page-turner for me because I simply had to know what became of her.  Also, the author was quite talented in presenting the story in a richly-drawn environment.

Salvage the Bones” by Jesmyn Ward
With this being the winner of the 2011 National Book Award, I am wondering why more folks have not heard of this one.  This one is set in Mississippi and opens just a few days before Katrina comes bearing down.  It is not about Katrina, per se, but it does give you a perspective on the folks living there.  It also helped me understand what it must be like to be presented with an utter lack of choices - not just regarding the lack of Katrina evacuations, but also their lives in general

Where the Line Bleeds” by Jesmyn Ward
Another one by Ward.  Twin brothers are graduating from high school -- college is not an option and even the hope of finding a job is a slim one.  One of them does find a job, but the other one is left at loose ends and struggles.  Overall, I really like how Ward weaves a story and she is an author I have my eye on from now on.  If she is writing something, then it is important enough for me to read because I want to hear what she has to say.

Winter’s Bone” by Daniel Woodrell
This book is another dark one and shows that poverty is not limited to race.  It is set in southern Missouri and  features a strong, lead female character whose family is involved in the meth business.  Her father goes missing while out on bond and if the girl doesn't find him in time, her house will be taken by the bondsmen.  I probably related to this book more than both of Wards' for the simple fact that I am white and while I am not poor, I have lived in small communities where there is poverty.  It wasn't until I was an adult that I realized that some of my best friends in grade school were poverty-stricken.

Sharp Objects” by Gillian Flynn
This was Flynn's first book and my least favorite of her three.  I still enjoyed this book, although some of became a little silly and contrived.  However, it was a fun, eerie romp that reminded me of the twisted deliciousness that was VC Andrews (remember Flowers in the Attic?)

Dark Places" by Gillian Flynn
This was actually my favorite of the three Flynn reads.  It wasn't as gripping or addictive as "Gone Girl", but this one really spoke to me.  It was heart wrenching to see a family ripped apart by bad choices and poverty.

The Five People You Meet In Heaven” by Mitch Albom
I read this in one sitting -- it is a short read, but it is one that will leave you thinking.  I don't even believe in the concept of Heaven and Hell, but I was easily able to get on board with the story structure that Albom presented.

Nineteen Minutes” by Jodi Piccoult
Honestly,  I think Piccoult is a bit of a hack.  I have read a few of her books but her consistent, formulaic writing turned me off.  However, "Nineteen Minutes" came highly recommended by a friend, so I picked it up.  And then, I could hardly put it down.  Yikes.  Yes, it is her usual Plots Ripped From the Headlines modus operandi but this one is about bullying.  Overall, I really appreciated how she presented the story from about six different viewpoints.  I wish she had written from the bullys' perspectives (at least from ONE of them), but I still appreciated how she constructed this storyline, even going back from the beginning in Kindergarten and showing us the progression of the bullying.

The floor is yours, Gentle Reader.  What have YOU been reading?

September 21, 2012

Fridays of Intestinal Fortitude:
Jack the Tripper

Note: Fridays of Intestinal Fortitude is a weekly(ish) feature about food, food and more FOOD. No, I am not an expert, but I do enjoy talking about food prep, cooking food, eating food and making sweet love to food.  Okay, maybe not the "sweet love" part. After all, this is not meant to be an homage to 9 1/2 Weeks.

Recipe Index can be found here. 
Awhile back, Anjali and I were at the Asian store here in Olathe and I spied a jackfruit!  Manoj has always spoken of these as being his very favorite fruit in the whole wide world and how his grandma had a jackfruit tree and wow, it is the best fruit ever, OH.MY.GOD.  I have always wondered about this mysterious fruit that somehow trumped the mango (because in MY book, a fresh ASIAN mango is hard to beat.  And hard to find in America.  Grrr....)

Anyway! I lugged the thing home and Manoj immediately pronounced him vastly under-ripe.  It was going to be awhile.  I spent the next two weeks carefully rotating him.  And stubbing my toe on him so often that I dubbed him "Jack the Tripper".   And explaining to anyone who visited that no, it was not a durian, the famous stinky fruit (And also listed in the post I once wrote about Freaky Foods)

I also began to harbor an imagined kinship with Daenerys Targaryen as I pondered what in the FUCK was inside that thing.

We named him Jack.

And then we put him to work.  He was going to be staying awhile and rent don't come cheap, y'all.

Ah, so sweet -- Arun is bonding with Jack.  This reminds me of my pet pigs, Mickey and Judy.  I wonder whatever happened to them?

 Go the f*ck to sleep, Jack

 Miss H says, "I'm gonna love him and pet him and squeeze him and call him Jack George"

The anticipation!  Arya and Scout sniff suspiciously at what appears to be an egg. An egg that could very well contain another Chihuahua.

Manoj slathered his hands and forearms with coconut oil -- Jack was a sappy, sticky mess.  Think banana sap on steroids!

Hey there, good lookin'!

A single "pod" which had a hunka-chunka seed in the middle the size of a walnut.

Verdict?  It had a texture that was slightly rubbery.  It was not overly sweet, which was surprising to me.  The taste was very mild and fruity. It was not overly cloying and it had a milky finish.  It tasted as if a banana, a mango and a cantaloupe had just conducted a lusty, torrid Ménage à trois  and Jack was the prickly progeny of that lovefest.

Would I buy one again?  Yes.  For one, I was recovering from a cold so my sense of smell was completely off, so I would like to try this again.  Also, this is Manoj's favorite fruit and one of the few things he talks about wistfully from India.  I would gladly spend a few weeks stubbing my toe on a daily basis just to see him happy like that.

And now, I do know Jack.

September 6, 2012


Kansas City is in a severe drought.  My lawn is a crackly, crispy brown and many of the trees have dropped their leaves, folded their cards and walked from the table.  I have kept most of my potted plants alive, but just barely.  We will not know until spring whether those brown, droopy bushes in the back simply went dormant or are dead.

Additionally, our foundation is certainly settling. .  I cannot see any horrible cracks in the foundation itself, but some walls in our kitchen tell another story.  I tell myself it will be okay. That for the past 8 years, this foundation has gone up and down and up again as the rains come and go.  That my great-grandpa Floyd used to say that you couldn't ever keep a good house foundation in Kansas anyway with our soil and extreme variations in climate.

On Sunday, we invited a few folks over for an impromptu jackfruit feed (Cue Foreshadowing of this Friday's Intestinal Fortitude).  As everyone was in the kitchen chatting away, my neighbor Ken looked at me seriously and said "Everything okay?"  I was shocked because I did not realize up until that very moment how incredibly unsettled I was feeling.  Because Ken took me by surprise, I yammered out some quick reasons -- my grandma, Arun's recent illness, my own illness and two loved ones encountering cancer scares.  I did not go into great detail.  About how much I miss my grandma, how I hate to see her life so radically altered that we cannot even grab a simple lunch together now.  About how Arun's eyes grew frantic 2 weeks ago as he asked me if he was going to die because he couldn't breathe.  How seeing those desperate eyes of his touched me in a place that can never be untouched again.  How much I hate the cancer that always seems to be waiting in the wings to strike.   Always.

I also realized that it was the little things.  Not seeing Arun for the entire day.  Having Anjali gone every morning.  Worrying about the house.... the car.....our dog's interminable skin allergies which have flared in the last few weeks....  our oldest cat who is losing her spark.

Yes, the glaring, puerile metaphor in displaced footings is there.  Fortunately, it is easier to to set to rights my personal foundation.  Getting my exercise routine back into gear now that I am not sick. Digging into delicious books.  Writing in my journals. Playing the piano. Spending an evening snuggled with my husband watching silly movies while our kids are safely tucked away at my mom's house. Knitting a mindless scarf with one of my favorite yarns and not even bothering with the purl stitch.

On days when the kids are having a hard time and we are all grousing at each other, I will stop and declare "Let's turn this day around!  It's not too late."  Then, we do a group hug and try our best to emotionally reboot and move on.  Usually it works.  Most importantly, I want to teach my children that there will be bad days and good days, but the bad days never have to take root.  It is far too easy to let a bad day turn into another bad day, then another and then another......

It can happen seemingly overnight, all those Bad Days turning into a Bad Life.

My favorite mornings are the ones in which Lucy and I go for a walk.   As I put my shoes on, Lucy excitedly nips at me as if to tell me to hurry up.  We leave the house before anyone else has woken, even the neighborhood is still stretching as it slowly comes alive.  As Lucy and I walk the trail around our nearby park and the sun rises, the air feels pure and untouched.........full of potential.

As it should.