Thursday, December 31, 2009

Reading Challenges

Books to Read Before I Die reading challenge is sponsored by Diane at Bibliophile by the Sea. The idea of this challenge is similar to a "Bucket List" and, as Diane said so well, what better way to start off 2010, than with a Challenge that encourages us to "Read the Best Books First"!

Here are the guideline for the challenge:
*Between now and December 31, 2009, make a list of between 10 and 20 Books to Read Before You Die. (depending on interest, this may be an annual event challenge).
*The books on your list can come from your stacks or the library, and be in print or audio format.
*Overlaps with other challenges is fine with me.
*Once you've created your post with tentative titles, THEN sign up using Mr. Linky, by pasting the link to your post, along with your name/blog name. This is how you will be registered. Finalize your list by 12/31/09 (no changes to the list after 12/31/09).
*All bloggers who complete the challenge will be entered in giveaway to win an Amazon Gift Card.

My list of Books to Read Before I Die:

1.The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery
2.Hotel du Lac by Anita Brookner
3.Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout
4.Snow by Orhan Pamuk
5.The Gathering by Anne Enright
6.Jantzen's Gift by Pam Cope
7.God is Not Great by Christopher Hitchens
8.Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
9.Felicia's Journey by William Trevor
10.Fingersmith by Sarah Waters
11.Generation A Douglas Coupland
12.The Help by Kathryn Stockett
13.Kafka on the Shore by Haruki Murakami
14.The Welsh Girl by Peter Ho Davies
15.The Help by Kathryn Stockett
16.The Wilderness by Samantha Harvey
17.The Sea by John Banville
18.Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro
19.The Secret Scripture by Sebastian Barry
20.Molly Fox's Birthday by Deidre Madden

The Awesome Author Challenge is being hosted by Alyce at At Home with Books.

"The idea behind this challenge is to read works by authors who have been recommended to you time and again, yet somehow you haven't managed to read any books by those authors. These are the authors that everyone else tells you are awesome, thus the "Awesome Author Challenge" title."

The challenge begins January 1, 2010 and ends December 31, 2010 so there's a lot of time to read your Awesome Authors!
The Rules for this challenge:
**Crossover from other challenges is allowed
**Choose the level at which you would like to participate, post about it and leave a link to your post in Mister Linky.
**Titles and authors do not have to be predetermined, and can change at any time.
**Books can come from any genre or reading level, the only requirement is that you have heard great things about the author, but haven't yet read any of their works
The Levels of the challenge:
*Easy: Choose three authors and read at least one title from each author
*Moderate: Choose six authors and read at least one title from each author
*Challenging: Choose ten authors and read at least one title from each author.
*Over-Achieving: Anything over ten authors

I have a long list of authors that have been recommended to me many times and I have yet to read so I am going for the "Over-Achieving" Level and make a good dent in my list. I have updated my list here and listed some of the books I plan to read or choose from!

Away by Amy Bloom
An Expert in Murder by Nicola Upson
Native Speaker; A Gesture Life; Aloft by Chang-Rae Lee
The History of the Kelly Gang by Peter Carey
Housekeeping; Gilead; House by Marilynne Robinson
Disgrace; The Lives of Animals; Elizabeth Costello; Summertime by J.M. Coetzee
The Moons of Jupiter; Runaway; View of Castle Rock by Alice Munro
The Raphael Affair by Iain Pears
Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini
The Prodigal Summer; The Lacuna by Barbara Kingsolver
The Master; The Blackwater Lightship; Mothers and Sons; Brooklyn by
Colm Toibin
March; Years of Wonder by Geraldine Brooks
Tales of the City by Armistead Maupin
The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz
Intuition; Paradise Park; The Other Side of the Island by Allegra Goodman

Book Review - Double Take: A Memoir

Title: Double Take
Author: Kevin Michael Connolly
ISBN: 978-0-06-179153-6
Pages: 240
Release Date: October 10, 2009
Publisher: Harper Studio.
Genre: Memoir
Rating: 3.5 out of 5

Summary: Kevin Michael Connolly is a twenty-three-year-old who has seen the world in a way most of us never will. Whether swarmed by Japanese tourists at Epcot Center as a child or holding court at the X Games on his mono-ski as a teenager, Kevin has been an object of curiosity since the day he was born without legs. Growing up in rural Montana, he was raised like any other kid (except, that is, for his father’s MacGyver-like contraptions such as the “butt boot”). As a college student, Kevin traveled to seventeen countries on his skateboard and, in an attempt to capture the stares of others, he took more than 30,000 photographs of people staring at him. In this dazzling memoir, Connolly casts the lens inward to explore how we view ourselves and what it is to truly see another person. We also get to know his quirky and unflappable parents and his spunky girlfriend. From the home of his family in Helena, Montana to the streets of Tokyo and Kuala Lumpur, Connolly’s remarkable journey will change the way you look at others, and the way you see yourself.

My Thoughts: I read about Double Take: A Memoir by Kevin Michael Connolly in the Shelf Awareness Newsletter and jumped at the chance to read an ARC of the book. I was intrigued by Connolly's photo project, The Rolling Exhibition, as well as his participation in the X Games. Connolly traveled around the world taking pictures of people staring at him as he toured their town, village or city on his skateboard. I am also physically disabled, thus, am also very familiar with being stared down and stared at. Whether I am walking on crutches or in a wheelchair, there are always people who cannot stop gaping at my scarred and bowed legs. Being intrigued to read about the experiences of a man who grew up without legs, you can imagine my surprise and disappointment when Kevin Michael Connolly doesn't write about his X Games experiences, and gives few details about his travels and his photo project! Connolly includes pictures from his exhibition in the memoir, for example, along with a blurb about the exhibition on the back cover but not little else about this terrific accomplishment.

Double Take: A Memoir focuses on the author coming to terms with being a man without legs, what that means for him and its impact on other people. Connolly's parents are strong, full of love and willing to do whatever it took to make sure, growing up, Connolly's life was as normal a life as possible. He also has the love and support of his two sisters, two sets of grandparents and other family members. Connolly's mother always told him: "This isn't just your show". But it takes Connolly many years to understand what his mother is saying.

His normal life at home didn't apply at school where Connolly realized that he was different from the other children. He wanted to be included, like most children, and to participate in the same sports as his friends, but he wasn't able to, despite some very valiant efforts. Then Connolly's father helped him get involved in mono-skiing which means using a single ski or board rather than two skis. One ski makes it very difficult to balance, turn or stop, which resulted in a few concussions and other minor injuries to the author while he learned the sport. But Connolly soon excelled although he doesn't tell his readers how well. And once he tasted victory, everything in Connolly's life became about winning. He wanted to be the best, go the farthest and get the girl. Connolly tells the readers that he saw every task as a competition and he didn't want to lose. Connolly became driven to succeed. His single-minded purpose blinded him to other important things in his life such as his family. But it would be quite a while before the author realized that there's more to life than winning..

While in college, Connolly replaced mono-ski racing with travel, determined to see as many places as possible regardless of limited funds and his disability. At some point, irritated by people's stares and other reactions, Connolly began taking pictures of the people he encountered. It soothed his irritation and made Connolly feel he had the upper-hand. The picture-taking became a project that provided Connolly additional impetus to see as many countries as possible. But, after seeing a victim of the war while in Sarajevo, the author began to feel guilty about taking the pictures, wondering about the effect he was having on the people who saw him on the street. It felt narcissistic and self-serving to Connolly. His girlfriend, traveling with him, pointed out that he's not hurting anyone by taking their picture. The pictures show people with guilt, pity, sadness, joy, shame and surprise on their faces. Connolly realized that they're as curious about him as he is about them, making the picture project cathartic. In other words, he doesn't feel victimized when he has his camera with him..

Connolly writes honestly about the emotional turmoil he experiences while trying to figure out who he is and where he belongs in this world. By the time Connolly returns home from his travels, he has learned quite a bit about himself and the world. He is no longer blinded to the good things in his life by his single-minded purpose to win at everything. He realizes there is more to life than winning and he is happy to see his family again. Connolly has a very good sense of humor and no longer takes himself too seriously. But I wish he had written a chapter about competing in the X games and told us more about his photo project and how it came to be The Rolling Exhibition. I appreciate that Connolly shares his journey from being the legless boy to a man who happens not to have legs. And for me, personally, he has given me a different perspective from which to view the people who stare at me on the street. So, despite a lack of detail in the more important areas of his life, Connolly provides wonderful and important insight into what it's like to be different. Perhaps a follow-up is in order to fill in the blanks of this memoir, as well as to keep us updated about a very special person who's found the ability to write his way into our collective consciousness.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Teaser Tuesday 12.29.09

Teaser Tuesdays is a very fun, weekly bookish meme, hosted by MizB at Should Be Reading.

My Teaser:

' "You didn't take care of my baby. And now she's gone." He said nothing.
"What are you going to do about that?" she asked. '

Promise Me by Harlan Coben (p. 113)


Anyone can play along! If you'd like to participate, Just do the following:

*Grab your current read
*Open to a random page
*Share two (2) “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page
*BE CAREFUL NOT TO INCLUDE SPOILERS! (make sure that what you share doesn’t give too much away! You don’t want to ruin the book for others!)
*Share the title & author, too, so that other TT participants can add the book to their
TBR Lists if they like your teasers!

*And, finally, don't forget to link your post to MizB's at Should Be Reading. If you don't have a blog, simply share your "teasers" in a comment.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Movie Monday! 12.28.09

Feature Presentation...

We're coming up on the end of the year, as hard as that is to believe! At this time of the year, it's common for people to stroll down memory lane and to think about the past. Many movies focus on different times in the past and different things that have happened in the past of our country and the world. Molly has aptly chosen historical films as today's movie category! Share on your blog those movies that take place in the past, covering a specific period in style or subject. Post these movies and then link your post back to Molly and Andy's at The Bumbles Blog!
My list ended up rather long but I kept coming up with more movies (with some help from Sam!)

A Man for All Seasons (1966) A film based on the play about Sir Thomas More by Robert Bolt. Directed by Fred Zinnemann, the film won 6 Academy Awards including Best Picture and Best Actor. The movie concerns King Henry VIII's desire to have his marriage to his first wife, Catherine of Aragon annulled so that he can marry Ann Boleyn. Sir Thomas Moore refused to assist the King in this endeavor and resigned his office rather than take the "Oath of Supremacy" declaring King Henry the VIII the "Supreme Head of the Church of England". More is portrayed as a man of principle, devoted to his roman catholic faith, his family and the people of his country.

Elizabeth (1998) Directed by Shekhar Kapur and starring Cate Blanchett in the title role with Geoffrey Rush and Joseph Fiennes as well as 12-year old Lily Allen! This movie is loosely based on the life of Protestant Queen Elizabeth I of England who takes the throne after the death in 1558 of her half-sister Roman Catholic Mary I of England who dies from a cancerous tumor. Elizabeth had been jailed for supposedly conspiring to murder Mary but was released for her coronation! There is a sequel to this movie Elizabeth: The Golden Age (2007)

Bobby (2006) directed by Emilio Estevez and starring a very large cast including Anthony Hopkins, Harry Belafonte, Sharon Stone, Helen Hunt William H. Macy, Laurence Fishburne, Lindsay Lohan, Ashton Kutcher. This is a fictionalized account of the hours prior to the assassination of U.S. Senator Robert Kennedy at the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles after he won the California Democratic Party primary.

Good Night and Good Luck (2005) this is a black & white movie directed by George Clooney about broadcast journalist Edward R. Murrow's campaign in the 1950's to bring down the Senator of Wisconsin, Joseph McCarthy particularly regarding his anti-Communist actions and use of the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations. This movie has a terrific cast and received 6 Academy Award Nominations.

Driving Miss Daisy (1989) this movie stars Jessica Tandy as a 72-year-old Jewish widow living in Atlanta, GA in the late 1940s Her son hires a chauffeur for her, played by Morgan Freeman. She is determined not to like or trust the African-American man.. He is a kind and gentle man with a good sense of humor who isn't easily offended. During the course of their time together they, which spans many years, they come to rely on each other become very good friends. This movie won an Academy Award for Best Picture, the last PG-rated movie to do so!

O Brother, Where Art Thou? (2000) an adventure film directed by Joel & Ethan Coen loosely based on Homer's "The Odyssey". This movie is set in 1930's Mississippi during the great depression and stars George Clooney as Everett Ulysses McGill. It details his adventures with his buddies Pete and Delmar O'Donnell played by John Turturro and Tim Blake Nelson when they escape a chain gang and go in search of lost treasure. Everett claims to have stolen $1.2 million from an armored car which he buried prior to his arrest. They have just 4 days to find and retrieve the money before the valley it's buried in is flooded to create a new lake for a hydroelectric project. On the way, they encounter a host of interesting characters including 3 sirens, the KKK, the notorious bank robber George "Baby face" Nelson and blues guitarist Tommy Johnson. For easy money they record the song "Man of Constant Sorrow" at a radio broadcast station and name themselves "The Soggy Bottom Boys"! This is a wonderful, funny, unique movie with a fantastic soundtrack!

Beethoven's Nephew (Le Neveu de Beethoven) (1985) a costume drama, this movie, directed by Paul Morrissey, is about the last years of the composer Ludwig van Beethoven's life when he became embroiled in several nasty court battles with his sister-in-law over the custody of his nephew, Karl the son of his brother, Karl Caspar. Beethoven is somewhat obsessed with Karl, a musical genius, who he snatched away from his "demon" mother. The movie stars Wolfgang Reichmann as Beethoven and Dietmar Prinz as his nephew, Karl and Jane Birkin who plays Karl's very unhappy mother.

The Remains of the Day (1993) a Merchant Ivory Film directed by James Ivory, based on the novel by Kazuo Ishiguro, stars Anthony Hopkins as Stevens, a butler and Emma Thompson as Miss Kenton with Christopher Reeves and Hugh Grant included in the cast. The movie is set in England in the 1950s but much of it is a flashback to the days prior to WWII when Stevens and Miss Kenton worked together as servants of Darlington Hall where Stevens still works. Miss Kenton left Darlington Hall just before WWII broke out and married. Twenty-years later and no longer married, Miss Kenton has contacted Stevens who tries to persuade her to return to her former job.

Surviving Picasso (1996) another Merchant Ivory production, this movie loosely based on the biography, Picasso: Creator and Destroyer by Arianna S. Huffington. It stars Anthony Hopkins as Picasso. He meets a woman named Francoise (Natascha McElhone) in Paris during the Nazi occupation of the city. She always wanted to be a painter but her father beat her when she told him she didn't want to be a lawyer. She and Picasso become lovers but she discovers that Picasso cares little about other people's feelings and is a wanton womanizer who feels he can sleep with anyone he wants. The movie is told through Francoise eyes and she is one of the few of Picasso's women who stood up to his cruelty and went on with her life. The producers were unable to get permission to show Picasso's works in the film so it's more about his personal life than his creative side. And, unfortunately the movie didn't fare too well with viewers or critics.

Full Metal Jacket (1987) directed by Stanley Kubrick this movie is based on the novel The Short-Timers by Gustav Hasford. Set during the Vietnam War, this movie follows a squad of U.S. Marines during their United States Marine Corps Recruit Training on Parris Island and shows some of what two of them experience during the Tet Offensive. The cast includes Arliss Howard, Vincent D'Onofrio, Matthew Modine and R. Lee Ermey.

Where the Buffalo Roam (1980) directed by Art Linson and starring Peter Boyle, Bruno Kirby and Bill Murray as Hunter S. Thompson, Tthe movie chronicles many of Hunter S. Thompson's experiences on the campaign trail in 1972 and his rise to fame in the 1970s as a Gonzo journalist.

And my final entry in keeping with Molly's great choice:

Monty Python's Life of Brian (1979) in this comedy film written, directed and mostly performed by the Monty Python comedy team, Graham Chapman plays Brian Cohen, a young Jewish man born on the same day as Jesus Christ and in the same location, a few doors down. This confuses the wise men, among others when they come to visit and they end up praising Brian Cohen as the King of the Jews. Suddenly Brian Cohen is mistaken for the Messiah!

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Sunday Salon 12.27.09

This time last week I was watching snow flurries drift through the air and amass on the ground. It snowed for almost two days leaving Brooklyn covered with 12 - 15 inches of snow. Nothing compared to some parts of VA with 33 inches of snow! I can't even imagine that much's almost taller then me! I bet the snow drifts were! LOL I love snow especially when it first falls, it's clean, pure, it looks beautiful and it's always quiet and peaceful outside right after a big snowfall. Beautiful. Three days later is another story completely, especially on the side of the road were cars have been trying to park. The snow turns gray and dirty - blech! Was I ever surprised (and happy!) when I woke up this morning and the mounds of dirty snow lining the road outside were completely gone as was all of the snow covering the yard and sidewalk. It also felt like spring outside! This weather is so wacky! The cats were nuts this morning! Most of them weren't fans of the snow. They sat on the windowsills looking outside at it, wondering how to get around without touching it! When they discovered there was no way to avoid it, most of the cats stayed indoors. I've had a pretty full house for the last week. This morning it was like they broke free, there wasn't one cat inside! They were outside playing, running around, having a ball!. So cute!

I have been busy the last couple of weeks and very lazy about my blog! I guess I needed a break too. But I got a lot of reading done, some good books, some, unfortunately, not so good. I will be posting reviews...ummm...once I write them. lol I did say I've been lazy! I baked a lot of cookies thanks to some wonderful recipes from Kathy (Bermudaonion) that came with my Christmas Cookie Giveaway win! My husband's favorite so far has been the 7-Layer Bars. What's not to love of a cookie that combines graham cracker, chocolate chips, butterscotch chips and coconut?!

I have some new cat pictures to post on the sidebar of my blog and I'll do that this week. Bob has become a full-fledged member of the family and spends more time inside than out. He's getting along very well with the other cats and they are teaching him how to play properly. At first, since he's so big, I think it looks to the other cats like Bob is attacking them when he tries to play. But he backs off quickly and shows no menace so they are learning how to play with him. It's very cute to watch! Sadie still gets mad at Bob frequently and hisses at him to keep him in place. Bob just looks at her and cocks his head to the side as if to say "Who are you & what is the matter with you"?!Sadie is so much smaller than Bob she just can't upset him! Betsy and Magoo have become the best of friends and play constantly. Magoo cleans Betsy frequently, too. At first she didn't like it or thought he was playing but now she settles down and lets him clean her.

We have another cat who has been staying with us during the bad weather. He was coming by once or twice a day to be fed. He used to have a home but no longer does, we‘re not sure what happened to his home. He never showed an interest in coming inside until it got very cold out and snowed and then he walked right in like it was his right...such a cat!. We call him Burke. He's a very chubby boy, black with white markings. He's very, very cute but not very friendly. He’s afraid of my crutch which I feel badly about but I know he’ll get used to it as all the other cats have. Hopefully one day he’ll rub his chubby cheeks on it like Bob, Betsy, Magoo and Sadie do! Burke is timid, shy and nervous and keeps to himself. But we're happy to give him a place to stay warm & dry. I'm sure after Burke gets used to us a little more he'll become friendlier. I worry about the stray, homeless cats when it gets very cold and especially when it snows.

I hope you all had Happy Holidays and a Merry Christmas! It's strange to think that in a few days it will be 2010! I don't care for making a big deal out of New Year's Eve. I used to go to big parties but now I prefer a quiet night at home with my husband and the kitties or dinner with friends. Something like that! What are you all up to for New Year's Eve?

I should work on some reviews or my reading challenge lists which I have to finish in a day or two! No more laziness allowed!
Happy Sunday!

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Teaser Tuesday 12.22.09

Teaser Tuesdays is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by MizB at Should Be Reading. Anyone can play along! Just do the following:

*Grab your current read
*Open to a random page
*Share two (2) “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page
*BE CAREFUL NOT TO INCLUDE SPOILERS! (make sure that what you share doesn’t give too much away! You don’t want to ruin the book for others!)
*Share the title & author, too, so that other TT participants can add the book to their
TBR Lists if they like your teasers!



" The girls all snicker. Eva's look grows steely. It is a look she learned from her mother when she'd turn militant, irritable with the girls, with Frank."

Precious by Sandra Novack p. 32

If you'd like to join in (please do!)don't forget to link your post to MizB's at Should Be Reading. If you don't have a blog, share your "teasers" in a comment.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Movie Monday - Holiday Favorites!

Feature Presentation...

It's that Wonderful Time of the Year! Molly has chosen to start of this Christmas Week posting about favorite Holiday Movies! So, fellow bloggers, come up with a list of your favorite holiday movies and post about them. Then link your post back to Molly and Andy's at The Bumbles Blog!

The Christmas Story (1983) Molly, I know you posted about this one already but it is one of my favorites. TNT (I think!) runs this movie for 24 hours Christmas Even to Christmas Day. I never tire of seeing Ralphie (Peter Billingsley) coming downstairs in that big pink bunny suit given to him by his aunt or in watching his face light up in awe as his father (Darren McGavin) unpacks his winning raffle prize, a lamp in the shape of a "woman's leg garbed in fishnet stockings" from the box and place it in the front window with it's tassle-strewn lampshade for all the neighborhood to see much to his wife's (Melinda Dillon) dismay! This brilliant movie is based on the short stories and semi-personal anecdotes of Jean Shepard. There are so many wonderful scenes in this movie. If you haven't seen it, be sure you do!

Miracle on 34th Street (1947) Poor, poor Santa Claus is put on trial! Kris Kringle (Edmund Gwenn) complains to Macy's that their "Santa" is drunk and reluctantly agrees to appear in the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade at the behest of Doris Walker, Macy's event director (Maureen O'Hara). Doris' 9-year-old, Susan (Natalie Wood) does not believe in Santa because her mother has raised her to be a practical child who has no imagination. This troubles Kris and he is determined to convince her otherwise. This is a wonderful, magical movie.

We're No Angels (1955) including Humphrey Bogart, Peter Ustinov, Aldo Ray and Joan Bennett. In this comedy, three convicts escape from prison and hide out in a nearby French colonial town. They find a store that offers goods on credit and discover the store is owned by a family in financial straits. The convicts decide to stay and help the family with the store as a cover for their ruse...and fun ensues! I don't want to reveal any more about this gem of a movie. Suffice to say, this is one of Bogart's few comedies and it's fun to see him in a different light. This is an extremely fun, cute movie!

The Shop Around the Corner (1940) A romantic comedy starring Jimmy Stewart and Margaret Sullivan who play employees in a shop in Budapest. They do not like each other at all. Both are pen pals and falling in love with their respective partner in correspondence. But what they don't realize is that they are each other's pen pals! This is a delightful, enjoyable movie!

Broadway Danny Rose (1984) A comedy in black & white written by and starring Woody Allen and including a cast comprising Mia Farrow, Nick Apollo Forte, Sandy Baron and Milton Berle. Allen plays a talent manager who does everything for his clients who are generally incompetent and talent-less except for one who is somewhat talented. This somewhat talented client needs Allen's help desperately the day of a big show. But by helping out, Allen gets himself involved in a romantic triangle that involves the mob! The story is told in flashbacks by a group of comedians who are telling stories and anecdotes over lunch at New York's Carnegie Deli. I often watch this movie over the holidays because there are some very funny scenes that involve Thanksgiving dinner hosted by Allen for his clients. This is a hilarious and wonderful movie that was nominated for an Academy Award.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Wordless Wednesday 12.16.09

My youngest "children", 1-year old Sadie in her chosen spot on the cable box next to her pal, Homer! and 5-month-old Betsy, who's either bowing down to the camera or getting ready to pounce on something or someone! LOL

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Teaser Tuesday 12.15.09

Teaser Tuesdays is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by MizB at Should Be Reading. Anyone can play along! Just do the following:

*Grab your current read
*Open to a random page
*Share two (2) “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page
*BE CAREFUL NOT TO INCLUDE SPOILERS! (make sure that what you share doesn’t give too much away! You don’t want to ruin the book for others!)
*Share the title & author, too, so that other TT participants can add the book to their
TBR Lists if they like your teasers!


My Teaser:

" My body is sick with fear. It's so strong I feel it coming out of my pores like sweat. Richard puts the key in the ignition slowly, fiddles with the wing mirror, then starts the car, and we're halfway down the drive before I remember the food in the back. But I say nothing and hope he won't hear the plastic bags rustle. The food will be spoiling already in this heat, but we can't go back now. At the end of the track Richard turns left instead of right."

Talking to the Dead by Helen Dunmore p. 230

If you'd like to join in (please do!)don't forget to link your post to MizB's at
Should Be Reading. If you don't have a blog, share your "teasers" in a comment.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Movie Monday 12.14.09 Good Vibrations!

Feature Presentation...

We have discussed Soundtracks and Musicals but never movies about Music. Today the topic at The Bumbles Blog is movies with a music related theme. So, fellow bloggers, come up with a list of movies that fit today's theme and post about them. Then link your post back to Molly and Andy's at The Bumbles Blog!

I'll admit to you that I am pretty happy and impressed with my list! But I'm not bragging, almost everyone one of the movies on my list came from my husband. Sam is the music man in our family. I love music but group names, song names, tunes they just don't stick in my head. Sam remembers music better than our cat's names (almost!) LOL He loves music, especially rock, classical, some heavier stuff. He has really expanded my musical taste and taught me a lot!

The Last Waltz (1975, movie released 1978) This is a movie about a concert given by the Canadian rock group The Band on Thanksgiving Day 1975 in San Francisco. The film was directed by Martin Scorsese and made into a documentary released in 1978. The Last Waltz was supposed to be the end of The Band's touring career. As a result, The Band was joined by many well-known musicians such as Eric Clapton, Neil Diamond, Bob Dylan, Emmylou Harris, Joni Mitchell, Van Morrison, Ringo Starr and more!

The Song Remains the Same (TSRTS) (released 1976) This is a concert film of the Led Zeppelin Band. The band's 1973 concert tour stop in New York City at Madison Square Garden was filmed for the 3 nights Led Zeppelin played MSG.

The Kids are Alright (released 1978)is a "rockumentary" about the English rock band, The Who including live performances, interviews and promotional films of The Who from 1964 to 1978. There were also guest appearances of well-known people such as Steve Martin and Ringo Starr.

Tommy (1975) is a musical film based on The Who's 1969 rock opera album musical, Tommy. Directed by Ken Russell, Tommy is comprised of the band members as well as a star-studded cast including Keith Moon, Elton John, Eric Clapton, Ann Margaret, Roger Daltrey, Tina Turner, Jack Nicholson among others!

Live at Pompeii (1972) this is a film featuring of Pink Floyd performing six songs in the ancient Roman amphitheater in Pompeii, Italy in October 1971.

200 Motels (1971) is a British musical film featuring Frank Zappa and The Mothers of Invention written by Frank Zappa and Tony Palmer. with a cast that includes Ringo Starr and Keith Moon. The movie's main theme is "Life on the road" for a touring rock musician and there is a frenzied, chaotic air about the film partly attributable to it being filmed in 7 days with 11 days of editing. The movies also makes some broad statements about the surreal state of politics and culture in American and the world.

Woodstock (1970) is a documentary about the Woodstock Festival that took place in Bethel, New York in August 1969. The lineup of acts during the Festival isn't accurately depicted but the film has the Festival correctly opening with Richie Havens and closing with Jimi Hendrix. Entertainment Weekly called this one of the most entertaining documentaries ever made and the benchmark of concert movies. This movie was directed by Michael Wadleigh and edited by Martin Scorsese and Thelma Schoonmaker. It received an Academy Award for Documentary Feature and Best Sound.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Virtual Advent Tour: Christmas in NYC!

The Virtual Advent Tour is hosted by Kailana from The Written World and Marg from Reading Adventures. It's a brilliant way to celebrate the holidays and the month of December. One of my favorite traditions while growing up was The Advent Calendar my mother gave to my sister and I the last day of November. I loved opening the windows every day in December and seeing that day's picture and quote. The Virtual Advent Tour brings the calendar to life. It's also a wonderful way to get to know fellow bloggers!

Every December when I was growing up, my parents, my twin sister and I spent a weekend in New York City to see all the Christmas decorations and attend the Nutcracker Ballet at Lincoln center.

The Christmas Tree at Rockefeller Center is amazingly beautiful especially at night!

The Nutcracker Ballet is a fairy-tale ballet based on the story "The Nutcracker and the Mouse King" by E.T.A. Hoffman which was set to music by Tchaikovsky. In the story a little German girl, Clara (sometimes also called Marie) and her brother Fritz and their parents are celebrating Christmas with friends and family. Clara's mysterious godfather, Herr Drosselmeyer, brings a large bag of gifts for all of the children at the party. He gives Clara the gift of a Nutcracker Doll.
When the party is over and the family is sleeping, Clara creeps downstairs to look at the Nutcracker Doll which is under the tree. She falls asleep and has a long dream in which the Nutcracker Doll becomes life-size and defends her against a large mouse king and his band of mice! At this point in the ballet, the Christmas Tree begins to grow until it takes over the room! (In the next scene it has disappeared from the stage)
Upon winning the battle against the Mouse King, the Nutcracker Doll is transformed into a Prince. Clara and the Prince travel to a world where they are greeted by dancing snowflakes as they enter The Land of the Sugar Plum Fairy. The Fairy and the people of The Land of Sweets perform several dances for Clara and the Prince, such as a Spanish Dance representing Chocolate, an Arabian Dance representing coffee, a dance by Candy Canes.
Eventually Clara awake sunder the Christmas Tree with the Nutcracker Doll in her arms. And the curtain closes.

There are a few different productions of The Nutcracker and the story varies a little bit from production to production,. But Tchaikovsky's music is beautiful. The Russian Dance is very recognizable, The Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairies is beautiful as is Waltz of the Flowers and March. Every time I hear any of these pieces I immediately see images of the Nutcracker Ballet in my head!

The Metropolitan Museum of Art has a beautiful Christmas Tree with a handmade nativity scene at the base of the tree with wise men, shepards, men, women, children and animals along the base of the tree all the way around it who are on their way to visit the nativity. Beautiful angels cover the tree from top to bottom. It's splendid and beautiful!

Several of the large store in NYC such as Lord & Taylor on 5th Avenue, decorate their windows with holiday scenes. They are lovely and so much fun. People wait on lines just to view the windows. Sometimes they're fantasy or child-like fun or Christmas scenes of people celebrating...They are different every year!

Friday, December 11, 2009

Dinner Party Dessert: Bûche de Noël

The Progressive Dinner Party is a wonderful, festive idea hosted by Nicole, Amy and Julie. The Dinner started with Cocktails & Hor d'oeuvres on Monday and ended with Desserts dessert is fashionably late but hopefully still tasty!

Bûche de Noël (Yule Log) is a traditional dessert served during the Christmas holidays in France, Belgium, Quebec and several other francophone countries. It is made to loo like a log ready for the fire. It is made from génoise (Italian sponge cake) or other sponge cake which is frosted or, as is the case with the recipe I use, filled with chocolate mousse!, rolled and frosted and the "log" is then decorated with chocolate pieces to resemble bark, powdered sugar which resembles snow, fresh berries and/or mushrooms made from meringue.
Martha Stewart's recipe is terrific because of the chocolate mousse filling but there are other versions. You can simply spread the inside of the sponge cake with chocolate butter cream, which will also be used to frost it. This recipe is long and takes some time but it’s delicious and I figure Christmas only comes once a year!

The first thing is to make all of the parts for your Yule Log: chocolate génoise, chocolate mousse and ganache icing:

Chocolate Génoise
5 tablespoons unsalted butter, plus more for parchment and pan
2/3 cup sifted cake flour (not self-rising)
1/3 cup sifted cocoa powder, plus more for dusting
Pinch of baking soda
6 large eggs
3/4 cup sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract

1. Heat oven to 350 degrees. Butter a 10 1/2-by-15 1/2-by-1-inch jelly-roll pan. Line with parchment; butter and flour paper, tapping out the excess flour.
2. Sift flour, cocoa, and baking soda together into a medium bowl. Set aside. In a small saucepan over low heat, melt butter and pour butter into a bowl. Set aside in a warm place.
3. In a medium-size heat-proof bowl, whisk together eggs and sugar. Set bowl over a pan of simmering water; stir until mixture is warm to the touch and sugar has dissolved. Remove from heat, and beat on high speed until mixture is thick and pale and has tripled in bulk. Reduce speed to medium, add vanilla, and beat 2 to 3 minutes more.
4. In three additions, sift flour mixture over egg mixture, folding in gently with a spatula. While folding in last addition, add melted butter and fold in.
5. Spread batter evenly in pan. Tap pan on counter to remove air bubbles. Bake until cake springs back when touched in center, 15 to 20 minutes. Don't overbake or cake will crack. Let sit in pan on a wire rack until cool enough to handle.
6. Dust surface with cocoa powder. To make rolling easier, trim edges of cake, and cover with a sheet of waxed paper and a damp dish towel. Invert onto a work surface, and peel off parchment; dust with cocoa. Starting from one long end, carefully roll up cake in towel. Wrap in plastic; refrigerate until ready to use.
Makes one 10 1/2-by-15 1/2-inch cake
Chocolate Mousse
4 ounces semisweet chocolate
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
4 large eggs, separated
Pinch of cream tartar
1/2 cup heavy cream

1. In a double boiler, melt together chocolate and butter, stirring occasionally until smooth. Remove from heat, and transfer to a large bowl. Whisk in egg yolks, stirring well. Let cool to room temperature.
2. In a large bowl, beat egg whites with cream of tartar until stiff. Whisk a third of the whites into chocolate mixture; gently fold in remainder of the egg whites.
3. Whip cream until it holds soft peaks, and fold into chocolate mixture. Chill until set, about 1 hour.
Serves 4

Chocolate Ganache Icing
6 ounces bittersweet or semisweet chocolate
1 cup heavy cream

Chop chocolate into small pieces, and place in a medium bowl. Heat cream until bubbles begin to appear around the edges (scalding); pour over chocolate. Let stand 5 minutes, then stir until smooth. Refrigerate until cold but not solid, stirring occasionally.
Makes 1 1/2 cups

Assembling the Yule Log:
1. To assemble cake, carefully unroll génoise on the back side of a baking sheet (discard the plastic wrap and waxed paper, but keep the towel). Spread chocolate mousse evenly on cake to within 1 to 2 inches of one long end. Reroll cake, starting from other long end, using towel to help roll it. Cover with plastic wrap; chill until firm, about 1 hour.
2. Place cake, seam side down, on a serving platter; tuck parchment around it to keep platter clean while decorating.
3. Whip ganache at medium speed until it has the consistency of soft butter. Cut two wedges off ends of cake at a 45 degrees angle; set aside. Ice log with a thin layer of ganache. Attach wedges on diagonally opposite sides of log. Spread ganache all over log, using a small spatula to form bark-like ridges. Chill until ganache is firm, about 30 minutes.
4. In the top of a double boiler or in a heat-proof bowl set over simmering water, melt chocolate until smooth. Line a baking sheet with parchment. Spread melted chocolate 1/8 inch thick over parchment. Refrigerate until cold, 10 to 15 minutes. Roll paper back and forth until chocolate splinters; sprinkle over cake. Chill cake until ready to serve.
5. When ready to serve, arrange meringue mushrooms around and on cake, and dust lightly with confectioners' sugar.


If you would like to make Meringue Mushrooms to decorate the Yule Log (I don’t usually do this!) here’s the recipe:

Meringue Mushrooms
1 cup sugar
4 large egg whites
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 tablespoon cocoa powder, plus more for dusting
3 ounces bittersweet or semisweet chocolate

1.Heat oven to 225 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper, and set aside.
2.In a small saucepan, heat sugar and 1/2 cup water over low heat until sugar dissolves. Bring to a boil; cook until liquid reaches 248 degrees.(hard-ball stage) on a candy thermometer.
3.Meanwhile, in the bowl of an electric beater fitted with the whisk attachment, whip egg whites on low speed until soft peaks form. Increase speed to high, and add hot syrup in a steady stream, beating constantly. Continue beating until cool and stiff, about 5 minutes. Beat in vanilla. Fold in cocoa powder.
4.Spoon meringue into a large pastry bag fitted with a coupler and large plain tip. Pipe meringue onto prepared baking sheet to form 2-inch domes. Pipe a separate stem shape for each dome.
5.Sprinkle cocoa powder lightly over meringues. Bake until dry, about 2 hours. Store in an airtight container until ready to use.
6.To assemble mushrooms, melt chocolate in a double boiler or in a heat-proof bowl set over a pan of simmering water. Trim off points from tops of stems. With a small offset spatula, spread chocolate on underside of a cap and place trimmed end of stem into center of cap. Place mushroom, stem side up, in an egg carton to harden. Repeat with remaining mushrooms; refrigerate until set.

Book Review: The Last Bridge

Title: The Last Bridge
Author: Teri Coyne
ISBN: 978-0-345-59731-0
Pages: 240
Release Date: July 28, 2009
Publisher: Ballantine Books
Genre: Contemporary Fiction
Rating: 4.0 out of 5

Publisher's Summary:
For ten years, Alexandra “Cat” Rucker has been on the run from her past. With an endless supply of bourbon and a series of meaningless jobs, Cat is struggling to forget her Ohio hometown and the rural farmhouse she once called home. But a sudden call from an old neighbor forces Cat to return to the home and family she never intended to see again. It seems that Cat’s mother is dead.

What Cat finds at the old farmhouse is disturbing and confusing: a suicide note, written on lilac stationery and neatly sealed in a zip-lock bag, that reads: Cat, He isn’t who you think he is. Mom xxxooo

One note, ten words–one for every year she has been gone–completely turns Cat’s world upside down. Seeking to unravel the mystery of her mother’s death, Cat must confront her past to discover who “he” might be: her tyrannical, abusive father, now in a coma after suffering a stroke? Her brother, Jared, named after her mother’s true love (who is also her father’s best friend)? The town coroner, Andrew Reilly, who seems to have known Cat’s mother long before she landed on a slab in his morgue? Or Addison Watkins, Cat’s first and only love?
The closer Cat gets to the truth, the harder it is for her to repress the memory and the impact of the events that sent her away so many years ago.

Taut, gripping, and edgy, The Last Bridge is an intense novel of family secrets, darkest impulses, and deep-seated love. Teri Coyne has created a stunning tapestry of pain and passion where past and present are seamlessly interwoven to tell a story that sears and warms in equal measure.

My thoughts:
The first seventeen years of Cat's life, the narrator protagonist of The Last Bridge, were lived in pain, fear and confusion. Although she grew up in a family of five, she was only able to rely on one member of her family to love her and protect her when the "Monster" in the house reared his ugly head. The Monster was what Cat called her father. He made life a living hell for everyone in the family except Cat's sister, Wendy. Her brother, Jared, protected her as much as he could, but like his siblings, he was just a kid trying to survive. Cat, usually alone, would hide in the woods behind the house, escaping into her red sketchbook. Cat's mother loved her but let her know she wouldn't find protection in her arms.

Cat's emotional turmoil followed her when she fled her hometown, along with an intense feeling that she was not lovable. She didn't feel any safer away from home and the town she'd known all her life. She felt scared and completely alone, abandoned by the people who were supposed to love and protect her, . The emotions that lived deep inside of her intensified until she thought she'd go mad. She found solace in alcohol, the only thing she could depend on to wipe away all the bad feelings and memories as she tried to forge a life on her own.

The death of Cat's mother forces her to return to her hometown, a place she vowed she would never return. She arrives drunk, bitter and hurting. Every person and every place she sees is a painful reminder of a past she's tried so hard to forget. The buried feelings rise to the surface in one large mass, threatening to destroy her completely should they continue to be ignored.

Making things more frightening for Cat is the discovery that Addison is living in her hometown, He is the man she once tried to love but couldn't overcome her fears to make that leap. He is one of only two people who knows her most haunting secret, and when she learns he is living there, Cat considers leaving. But she's tired of running and hiding, tired of the pain, loneliness and sadness that are her constant companions. She must decide if she is brave enough to face the past, give up the drinking and begin a new life in earnest and finally let people in.

Teri Coyne has written a riveting and disturbing first novel filled with intense dialogue and vivid descriptions It's extremely well-written and, at times, so painful and real, I found myself cringing. The book is written in the present with the memories of Cat supplying flashbacks to the events of the past. Ms. Coyne handles the back and forth between past and present with a seamless flow that makes it easy to follow. It's quite apparent that Cat is drunk most of the time and some of her memories are disjointed or incomplete because of the alcoholic haze that casts a pall over her recollections

Although Ms. Coyne provides a good understanding of the family dysfunction, the past is limited to what Cat either allows herself to remember or is physically capable of recalling with any accuracy. This naturally leaves gaps and unanswered questions which makes the book pulse with realism. Cat is a well-developed character and at first belligerent, obnoxious and rude which makes it difficult to like her early on. But as her story unfolds, her behavior makes sense and I found that instead of feeling only dislike, I couldn't help but feel sorry for her as well. But there were plenty of times I wanted to smack her! Like people from real life, Cat is a complicated, layered character with many attributes that prevent the reader from being able to pigeon hole her with just one adjective. My understanding of Cat was a process that occurred as her story unfolded and my initial dislike and distrust of her developed into caring and respect.

There is little happiness in this novel. It's a bleak, sad and disheartening story for the most part, which some readers might have difficulty accepting. I have first hand experience with child abuse, neglect and domestic violence cases (as a former prosecutor and CPS attorney). This, unfortunately, makes me aware of how realistic stories like this are, and appreciate as much how well written and developed it is. It's a lower middle-class version of the story "Push" by Sapphire which was made into the movie "Precious".

I thought more details as to the family dynamics would have been very helpful in fleshing out some things, such as why, of all the siblings, Cat is the focus of the father's abuse or why Cat's mother didn't protect her. Cat's siblings fill in some of the blanks the few times Cat allows herself to get pulled into a family discussion. But the over-riding sense is that there were some horrific incidents and a dearth of cringe-inducing occurrences which none of the siblings care to recall. It's frightening to think about how many children in our country live in similar circumstances where every day is a struggle.

There are several twist and turns throughout the story. Ms. Coyne is in the habit of ending chapters with a surprising revelation which is then explained further in the one that follows. Although this was interesting the first few times, after that it became a rather tedious and unexciting, the effect of which was to render the new information annoying and anticlimactic.

The Last Bridge is an apt title for this story. An actual bridge figures prominently in Cat's abused and tormented childhood and the theme of bridges as links between the past, present and future are a significant part of the novel. This isn't a story for anyone who wants a happy ending delivered neat and tidy, wrapped in a pretty bow. This is a story for realists who know that lives can be full of pain, sadness and torment but sometimes there's a chance at something better if one is open to friendship and love. Cat has to be brave enough to take a risk, trust herself and another person in the same way the reader has to be willing to take Cat's journey with her.

I received this book from Florinda after I entered and won a wonderful giveaway of 4 books at her blog,
The 3 R's Blog Reading, 'Riting and Randomness. This is the first of the books I've read from that giveaway and I want to say thank you to her for her generosity!

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Wordless Wednesday 12.09.09

Jazzy and Bob just love the cat-nip! Jazzy runs around like crazy, emitting a low growl because she's having fun while Bob plops down on the Bob looking spaced-out! Yep, Sam and I are enablers. LOL

Monday, December 7, 2009

Movie Monday 12.07.09

Feature Presentation...

Today topic at The Bumbles Blog is Black & White movies! Simple but great movies with the focus on the actors because there's no vibrant costumes or background to distract. It's difficult for me to know where to start or when to stop because I adore old movies!

Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (1964) starring Peter Sellers, George C. Scott ,Sterling Hayden, Keenan Wynn and Slim Pickens and directed by Stanley Kubrick. In this black comedy, an unhinged US Air Force General orders a first strike attack on the Soviet Union. The President and his advisers try and prevent it from happening. A Cold War between the USA and Russia that has gone terribly wrong. Arguably Kubrick's best film

Casablanca (1942) stars Ingrid Bergman, Humphrey Bogart, Paul Henreid, Peter Lorre and Claude Rains. It's set during WW II. Bogart plays a cynical expatriate living in Casablanca running an upscale night club. His ex-lover, played by Ingrid Bergman, shows up there with her husband, a Czech resistance leader wanted by the Nazis. She asks Bogart for his help...what will he do?
"Louis, I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship"

Desk Set (1957) starring Katherine Hepburn, Spencer Tracy, Dina Merrill, Gig Young and Joan Blondell. Katherine Hepburn is in charge of the reference library for the "Federal Broadcasting Network" and answers all manner of questions such as "What are the names of Santa's reindeer?" She's been involved with Gig Young's character for 7 years. He's a rising star in the company & a bit of a player. In comes Spencer Tracy and a large machine, "the electronic brain" that may lose Katherine Hepburn her job and then some...!
It's a wonderful comedy!

Adam's Rib (1949) starring Spencer Tracy and Katherine Hepburn as husband & wife as well as opposing attorneys on the same case. Tracy is the prosecutor and Hepburn is the defense attorney. It's another hilarious movie & a great romantic comedy!
"Lawyers should never marry other lawyers. This is called inbreeding, from which comes idiot children and more lawyers."

Christmas in Connecticut (1945) starring Barbara Stanwyck, Dennis Morgan and Sidnet Greenstreet. It's a fun romantic comedy about cons & appearances being deceptive. There was a remake in 1992 and another planned with Jennifer Garner but there's nothing like the original.

Miracle on 34th Street (1947) starring Maureen O'Hara, Natalie Wood, Edmund Gwenn and John Payne
A Santa is needed for The Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade at the last minute. The Santa who was supposed to ride the sleigh in the parade was much too drunk. An elderly man is discovered around Macy's who looks just like people imagine Santa to look. When he is pressed into service it's discovered he believes himself to be Santa! Maureen O'Hara works for Macy's and is in charge of Santa. She has an adorable little girl who doesn't believe in magic, make-believe or Santa. And Santa is determined to change her mind. This is a wonderful Christmas movie. It has also been re-made. The new Miracle on 34th Street is cute but doesn't compare to the original.
"My daddy would never tell a lie! Would you, daddy?"

Raging Bull (1980) Starring Robert De Niro and directed by Martin Scorsese about the boxer Jake LaMotta and the demons that plague him all the time.

The Big Sleep (1946) starring Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall. It's based on the novel by Raymond Chandler and is a great example of film noir genre. A great, if slightly confusing detective movie!

Manhattan (1979) starring Woody Allen, Muriel Hemingway, Diane Keaton and Michael Murphy and directed by Woody Allen. He's a 42-year-old twice divorced comedy writer dating a 17-year-old high school senior. He falls in love with his best friend's mistress. It's a very funny romantic comedy and was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Writing: Screenplay.

There are so many more movies..."Guess Who's Coming to Dinner?" "The Maltese Falcon", "White Christmas", "Pat and Mike", "North by Northwest" "On the Waterfront" ....
If you haven't seen some of these or any of them, you are in for some great viewing! Enjoy!

Book review: Cherries in Winter

Title: Cherries in Winter
Author: Suzan Colón
ISBN: 978-0-385-53252-5
Pages: 223
Release Date: November 3, 2009
Publisher: Doubleday
Genre: Non-Fiction Memoir
Rating: 3.5 out of 5

Publisher: What is the secret to finding hope in hard times?

When Suzan Colón was laid off from her dream job at a magazine during the economic downturn of 2008, she needed to cut her budget way, way back, and that meant home cooking. Her mother suggested, “Why don’t you look in Nana’s recipe folder?” In the basement, Suzan found the tattered treasure, full of handwritten and meticulously typed recipes, peppered with her grandmother Matilda’s commentary in the margins. Reading it, Suzan realized she had found something more than a collection of recipes—she had found the key to her family’s survival through hard times.

Suzan began re-creating Matilda’s “sturdy food” recipes for baked pork chops and beef stew, and Aunt Nettie’s clam chowder made with clams dug up by Suzan’s grandfather Charlie in Long Island Sound. And she began uncovering the stories of her resilient family’s past. Taking inspiration from stylish, indomitable Matilda, who was the sole support of her family as a teenager during the Great Depression (and who always answered “How are you?” with “Fabulous, never better!”), and from dashing, twice-widowed Charlie, Suzan starts to approach her own crisis with a sense of wonder and gratitude. It turns out that the gift to survive and thrive through hard times had been bred in her bones all along.

My review: "Put up soup" is the motherly advice given to Suzan Colón, the author of Cherries in Winter, when she loses her six-figure salaried job as a features editor for a well-known national magazine. Down home, stick-to-your-ribs cooking is the author's family response to financial hardship and economic recession. Ms. Colón realizes that the first thing she and her husband need to do is stop spending money on take-out and restaurant dining and start cooking. But it's been a long time since the author experienced financial hardship and she needs some help getting back into the practice of cooking. She unearths her Nana, Matilda Kallaher's, recipe file in the basement, discovering notes and tidbits of advice on coping during difficult times, as well as essays her Nana wrote. Ms. Colón's mother tells her that Nana enjoyed writing so much she considered writing her autobiography. However, she found Francie's life in A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith (A wonderful book! I highly recommend it!) so similar to hers that she abandoned her memoirs. Ms. Colón wants to know about the woman, her Nana, who cared for her until her death when Ms. Colón was only seven years old, so she encourages her mother to tell her about Nana. What the author wasn't aware of, but soon learns, is that Nana believed one of the best gifts we can give to ourselves and each other is spending time with the ones we love. Ms. Colón's job loss provides her the opportunity to do just that with her mother.

"We may have been broke, but we were never poor" was one of Nana's favorite sayings and one of the many characteristics Ms. Colón's mother imparts to her about Nana. It takes the author some time to understand what Nana meant by this. Despite having some savings, a 401(k) and zero balance on her credit card several months after losing her job, Ms. Colón is concerned about spending money on food and other things she and her husband don't really need. From her Nana's notes she learns how to make a dollar last, something at which Nana was a champ, having lived through the depression and severe financial troubles. But of almost greater importance, Ms. Colón comes to understand, is Nana's belief that sometimes you have to splurge on a frivolous "luxury", like plump French raisins or fine china vases from Austria, even if it means scrimping more for a week or two. Nana believed the occasional treat prevented a person from becoming bitter, downtrodden and from measuring everything and everyone by monetary worth.

The author has been through difficult financial times before, but for several years her job allowed her to get used to spending her ample salary on lunch and dinner out, on expensive skin care products and make-up, and at expensive NYC gourmet markets. When she loses her job and, hence her six-figure salary, Ms. Colóns concern and fear about money is understandable. But her worry verges on tedious whining that begins to grate on our nerves like fingernails on a chalk board. For example, she complains that her computer is a few years old and not always reliable but she isn't sure she and her husband should spend a few thousand dollars on a new one. She laments spending money on a high end salon hair cut but then justifies it because her hair is curly and frizzy. Meanwhile, she tells a story about Nana working to support several family members at age sixteen and only being able to afford a muffin and a cup of coffee for herself to eat all day every day during this time. The complaining is especially hard to understand when, early in the book, she says that her husband, Nathan still has a job so they are:

"...comfortably well off by recession standards. Our rent is low, half of our friends think we live decadently because we have health insurance and our cats are fat and happy."

Fortunately, as Ms. Colón learns more about Nana and what her life was like, she comes to understand that, although she needs to make changes and the economy isn't great right now, her family has been through much worse and she has much to be thankful for.

I enjoyed this book for the most part but it did take me several chapters to get into it. I didn't feel a connection to the author until her worry about losing her job and her fears about having enough money diminished as she learned more and more about the difficulties her Nana experienced. The book is a little disjointed, too, as many of the chapters bounce around from the author's story to Nana's story and back again. Some of the chapters also include a section for the author's great-grandmother's story. I had a little difficulty keeping track of everyone's name although the family tree, in the front of the book, is helpful. My favorite part of the book is Nana's story. She was a very resourceful woman who enjoyed life and people and persevered through some very difficult times, always with a smile on her face. Ms. Colón tells us that Nana was famous for her positive, happy outlook on life. No matter what was going on in her life at the time, whenever anyone asked Nana how she was, she always replied "Fabulous. Never better." That's a woman I would love to know and experience her influence on my life. The recipes that begin each chapter are from Nana's coffers. They are simple, recipes for "stick to you ribs" inexpensive meals and some delicious desserts.

This book is a reminder for us of what is most important in this life, the people we love, our family and friends, being there for them as they are for us and spending time with them. Everything else, as far as Nana was concerned, should be a means to that end. So when you finish cooking and enjoy a meal with your family and friends, take some final advice from Nana, as the author does, and leave the dishes in the sink and enjoy being with your loved ones.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Sunday Salon 12.6.09

I am having a difficult time believing we're beginning the second week of December! Amazing! I love this time of year. Even, the smell of the air seems to change in some places. It's the smell of Christmas for me, the evergreen trees, wreaths and garland, cookies baking, gingerbread, cider and peppermint and so much more all mixed together (and the scented Yankees Candles don't hurt! LOL) I love Christmas carols and music, especially Tchaikovsky's The Nutcracker Suite, Handel's Messiah, The Little Drummer Boy, Greensleeves, O Holy Night, Winter Wonderland and so many more. I am more of a traditionalist when it comes to Christmas music but there are modern versions of the songs that I like. And, for the most part, if it's Christmas music I'll listen to it. Our cable channels include many music channels one of which is called "The Sounds of the Seasons". I like to put it on during the day while I'm puttering around here taking care of the cats, reading writing or blogging . It makes me feel festive and happy!

This was another week when I didn't blog except from posting cookie recipes. I got hit with a bad cold. Cold don't mix well with my asthma and I have a habit of ending up with bronchitis or pneumonia whenever I get a cold. I didn't have the energy to post and comment on other blogger's posts. Everyday I thought I'd be able to post on my blog after checking email, checking the blogs on my Blogger Dashboard and visiting some blogs. But I got tired really quickly so I would stop to rest planning to get back on-line in a little while. But my brief nap turned into a long sleep which I woke up from feeling worse than before I fell asleep. That was the pattern for most of my days this week with slight variations.
When I woke up this morning I felt better. I still have a cold but I have more energy and I'm able to breath better. Yay!

The cats kept me company all week. Betsy and Magoo slept on the bed close by. Magoo on top of me at times! Sadie doesn't like to get on the bed but she sits with me when I'm on the computer, she likes to share the chair. Fortunately she's little! Sadie makes this adorable, sweet-sounding chirping noise when she wants to be cute and loving. I got a lot of those noises this week!
The cats, especially Bob, Jazzy, Dopey and Sadie really liked cat-nip this week! We always have some but sometimes they don't want anything to do with it. This week they wanted some. It brings out their friskiness. At different times, the 4 of them were running around while Sam waived the laser light around. They love that little red dot. It doesn't seem to bother them that they never catch it! Jazzy growls the entire time she's playing. She also loves this colorful, soft balls we found at Target. She and Huxley bat them all over the place. Bob really played hard for the first time last night. He chased the laser light all over the place. It was very funny! LOL He's adorable when he runs and a little spazzy! His face lights up and his eyes get very big & blue.

I didn't get a lot of reading done this week. I seemed to fall asleep every time I opened a book. I bought some good books because Amazon was having a 2 for the price of 3 sale on Black Friday. I also joined Paper Back Swap and have received some great books from them. The Prodigal Summer by Barbara Kingsolver has been lost in the mail it seems since it was mailed 26 days ago & still hasn't arrived. Our mail delivery has been a little iffy the past couple of months ever since our regular mail delivery person left. The replacements, and there have been many, can't seem to even read the very large house numbers on the door!
Anyway, I have some great books to read. I am reading Talking to the Dead by Helen Dunmore. I have Away by Amy Bloom, Snow by Orhan Pamuk, Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf, Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout, The Raphael Affair by Iain Pears, The Master by Colm Toibin, Housekeeping by Marilynne Robinson, The Moonstone by Wilkie Collins, The Last Dickens by Matthew Pearl and Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen now on my shelf. And that doesn't include some wonderful books that I've won. I'll save that list for another day. I'm looking forward to reading all of them and more!

Enjoy your Sunday my friends! I've missed you and hope to be posting daily this week!

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Delicious Cookies!

I wanted to post these recipes much sooner but I haven't been able too. Better late than never, right?!

Kathy at
Bermudaonion's Weblog and Julie at Booking Mama hosted a Virtual Cookie Swap for 12 Days and provided all of us with some wonderful cookie recipes. If you haven't seen the posts on their blogs, definitely check them out. They are also each hosting a Giveaway. In order to enter the giveaways on their blogs, Kathy & Julie have asked that entrants provide a tried and true cookie or candy recipe. I am posting my favorite of my grandmother's Christmas cookies and a delicious cookie bar recipe I have made numerous times! Enjoy!

My grandmother made these cookies every Christmas when I was younger. I looked forward to them every year when I was growing up! It has been a while since I made them but I will be for sure this year!

Butter Ball Cookies

1 cup butter
1/4 cup sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 cups cake flour
1 1/2 cups walnuts, ground fine**
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup powdered sugar

Preheat oven to 325 degrees

Cream together butter, sugar, salt & vanilla
Blend in flour & nuts
Roll into balls.
Bake at 325 degrees for 20 - 25 minutes
Remove from oven and while still warm, roll in powdered sugar.
Roll in powdered sugar again
Makes about 4 dozen cookies!

** Pecans can be substituted for walnuts. You can also add chocolate chips or butterscotch chips to the mixture.


Chocolate Oat Bars

1 cup butter, softened
2 cups light brown sugar, packed
2 eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla
2 1/2 cups sifted all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
3 cups quick-cooking rolled oats

1 (15 oz.) can sweetened condensed milk
1 (12 oz) package semi-sweet chocolate chips (2 cups)
2 tablespoons butter
1/2 teaspoons salt
2 teaspoons vanilla
1 cup chopped pecans or walnuts

Preheat oven to 350 degrees

In large bowl cream together (1 cup) butter & brown sugar
Beat in eggs & (2 tspns) vanilla
In another bowl sift together flour, baking soda & (1 tspn) salt
Stir in oats
Stir dry ingredients into creamed mixture until well blended
Set aside
Put about 2/3 oat mixture into bottom of greased 10x15x1 pan
Set aside remaining oat mixture

In heavy saucepan over low heat, combine sweetened condensed milk, chocolate chips, (2 tbspns) butter & (1.2 tspn) salt, stir until melted and smooth
Stir in vanilla & nuts

Spread filling mixture over oat crust in baking pan
Crumble remaining oat mixture over the top

Bake at 350 degrees 25-30 minutes
Cool; Cut into squares