Wednesday, August 27, 2014

The Last Book You'll Read by the Pool (this year anyway)



With Labor Day weekend quickly approaching, I realized I have been remiss in finding a good summer reading list. Browsing CNN this week, I found this post from July.

Since I've already read these in the hardback version, I wouldn't mind throwing these paperbacks in next to the sunscreen. Luckily for us Texans the pool bag doesn't get put away until October.

1. Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn
5. The Fault in Our Stars by John Green
12. The Interestings by Meg Wolitzer

The following, however, might have to wait for the Christmas list…

2. The Engagements by J. Courtney Sullivan
3. Let's Explore Diabetes With Owls by David Sedaris
13. The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Woolf-ish



Having studied Virginia Woolf as an undergraduate, I was pleased to see a children's book titled Virginia Wolf on the library endcap. I picked it up and discovered that Kyo Maclear, the author, was inspired by Virginia Woolf and her sister, painter Vanessa Bell. 

"One day my sister Virginia woke up feeling wolfish," Vanessa tells us on the opening page. Lightly painted in color by Isabelle Arsenault, the first illustration features a smashed alarm clock and wolf ears peeking out of the bed clothes. Vanessa describes how her sister's mood brings the whole house down: "bright became dim and glad became gloom." As we turn the pages, the pale washes of color darken to stark blacks and whites. Vanessa tries to cheer Virginia up but is unsuccessful. Finally,Virginia tells her about a place that would brighten her mood: Bloomsberry. Soon, Vanessa has painted the walls, and black and white blossoms into turquoise birds and purple butterflies. Seeing the vivid world, Virginia is ready once again to go outside and play. 

Sold on both story and pictures, I snuck the book into my daughter's already sagging book bag. I thought it may have been skipped over or ignored, but she brought it in just now and said, "Mommy, can I read this to you?" Not only do I love hearing her confidence in reading, but I also love hearing her asides as she flips the pages. "See, you get a surprise at the end," she said on the last page. When her brother didn't understand the surprise, she explained, "See how she looks like a wolf, but she's actually a girl with a bow. You think she's a wolf sister but then she's a girl."

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Yes, Chef



"I have never seen a picture of my mother, but I know how she cooked," begins chef Marcus Samuelsson in the opening pages of his memoir Yes, Chef.
 
Samuelsson was born in Ethiopia, but he and his older sister were adopted as children by Swedish parents. Influenced by his grandmother's kitchen, Samuelsson decides as a teenager to pursue a career in cooking. 

From Switzerland he works his way to Austria, and eventually lands a position in a Swedish restaurant in New York. Rollerblading through Chinatown and past Indian groceries, his taste buds are opened to international cuisines, spices, and textures. As one mentor reminds him, "Food is not just about flavor. It has countless dimensions, and one is visual. What do you want it to look like? What do you want the customer to see?"

And the reader easily visualizes, through Samuelsson's fascinating memories and Veronica Chambers' writing polish, not only his signature dishes but the markets, kitchens, and friends that have shaped him. Samuelsson reminds us it is not about the accolades of a Top Chef win or a White House dinner, but hard work, curiosity, and humility.   

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

In the Basket with Fala



Reading this article today reminded me of a recent book I devoured in three sittings. 

Upstairs at the White House: My Life with the First Ladies by J.B. West chronicles the career of a White House Chief Usher. The Chief Usher's job is to oversee the staff and budget of the residential White House. Starting with Mrs. Roosevelt and ending with Mrs. Nixon, West recounts the idiosyncrasies, leadership style, and ambitions of each First Lady. 

From architecture to art work, kitchen staff to social secretaries, West tells about the daily pressures of keeping everything and everyone working smoothly for the First Family. He maps out the guest rooms of famous guests, the refurbishing of presidential suites and offices, and various trips to the warehouses where the presidential furniture and dishes are stored when not in use. He also details the massive restoration during the Truman years, the transformation from residence to museum during Kennedy's, and the battles to maintain the historic home under the restraints of a government budget. Lest the reader get bogged down under lists of curtains and china, West sprinkles in anecdotes that reveal the personality behind the portraits you studied in elementary school.

Whether you are a history buff or just a snoop, the accounts are fascinating. You'll have your own private peek into the daily life of our most iconic American families who lived in a time before presidential pets could tweet.  

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

40 days


For Lent this year, my son's Sunday school teacher has him on a "SecretAgentSpyMission" to do kind things for others and acts of thanksgiving.  When I caught him sweeping up his graham cracker crumbs after his snack (without being asked), he said it was his mission for the day. This morning's mission apparently was not to "get sent off line" at school. Apparently his Sunday school teacher is onto something.
 
I have my own mission this Lenten season - being present. I suppose this means turning off the car radio while I drive, listening to my kids without making a to-do-list in my head, eating while sitting in a chair (preferably at a table), breathing to hear myself breathe, and praying. Since I always need a way to focus on the last one, I'm turning to Ignatius - by way of Tim Muldoon's The Ignatian Workout for Lent.

Each day's exercise has a scripture reading with reflection, and suggestions for prayer and action. This sentence felt relevant today:  "Our faith is that God knows us better than we know ourselves, because we can only see what happens moment to moment."  Perhaps it was because my mind was already mulling these other words I played for my students' exam today:
           
 "Again, you can't connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something — your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever." 

I guess for me, the whatever category is God. Most days, if I'm present.