Tuesday, December 31, 2019

2019 book list





Here's what I've read in 2019:

*The Wife, by Alafair Barke. A page-turner with a little too-much legalese and a surprising twist at the end.

*Homegoing, by Yaa Gyasi. Absolutely fantastic! A great book to read prior to going to the National Museum of African American Art and Culture. (I had my older daughter read it, too.)

*Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat: Mastering the Art of Good Cooking, by Samin Nosrat. Samin is awesome!!! I totally have a girlcrush on her. Also, buy the book. It's entirely, wonderfully, practical. (If you haven’t seen her Netflix show, DO.)

*An American Marriage, by Tayari Jones. Interesting.

*The Best Cook in the World: Tales from my Momma’s Southern Table, by Rick Bragg. Captivating and humorous. Fun story-telling, interesting culture. Good recipes. Finally mastered collard greens and ham and beans!

*Trouble I’ve Seen: Changing the Way the Church Views Racism, by Drew Hart. A bit tedious, but some helpful anecdotes and insights.

*The Diary of a Young Girl, by Anne Frank. More depressing than I'd remembered.

*The Diary of Anne Frank: the play, by Francis Goodrich and Albert Hackett. Being Mrs. Frank was more fun than I thought it’d be.

*It Happens Every Day: An All Too-True Story and A Year and Six Seconds: A Love Story, both by Isabel Gillies. Stellar. I read them both in a rush.

*Just Mercy: a Story of Justice and Redemption, by Bryan Stevenson. Intense, painful, eye-opening. Made me want to do something, like become a lawyer or something equally improbable.

*The Female Persuasion, by Meg Wolitzer. A pleasant read.

*Girls Burn Brighter, by Shobha Rao. Well-written, but disturbing and not very satisfying. I had to force myself to get through it.

*Heartbreaker, by Claudia Dey. Odd, but okay.

*Girl in Translation, by Jean Kwok. An easy, enjoyable read.

*Deathtrap: A Thriller in Two Acts, by Ira Levin. Fast and fun. (I read it because I was thinking of auditioning for the play, but then I didn't.)

*Lunch in Paris: A Love Story, with Recipes, by Elizabeth Bard. Good writing with a so-so story. I didn’t feel like I gained new insights, and the recipes didn’t tempt. 

*Disgrace, by J.M. Coetzee. A tightly-woven and well-told story that touches on a staggering number of complicated issues.

*Where We Come From, by Oscar Casares. About the current immigration situation: a close-up, compassionate look at one small piece of the story.

*Three Women, by Lisa Taddeo. This is a book that begs to be discussed: if you have a book club, put it on the list.

*Ask Again, Yes, by Mary Beth Keane. Super good and refreshingly understated.

*Slow Man, by J.M. Coetzee. So many words and soooooo slow. I’m amazed that I had the patience to read it, and even more amazed that he had the patience to write it. I'm still not sure what it was about.

*I Feel Bad About My Neck: And Other Thoughts on Being a Woman, by Nora Ephron. Easy and entertaining. I like her writing style — it loosens me.

*White Walls: A Memoir About Motherhood, Daughterhood, and the Mess In Between, by Judy Batalion. Excellent book (that did drag on a wee bit too long) with great writing that made me feel inferior about my own.

*I Remember Nothing: and Other Reflections, by Norah Ephron. Fun.

*Travel Light, Move Fast, by Alexandra Fuller. Good book with a devastating ending.

*The Heart’s Invisible Furies, by John Boyne. Started super strong; drug on forever: meh.

*Consent: A Memoir of Unwanted Attention, by Donna Freitas. Too long and wordy — would’ve appreciated more of a story — but eye-opening.

*Olive, Again, by Elizabeth Strout. Perfect and wonderful and lovely. I'm an Olive fan (though I don't really like her).

*Alone in the Kitchen with an Eggplant: Confessions of Cooking for One and Dining Alone, edited and compiled by Jenni Ferrari-Adler. An enjoyable, behind-the-scenes look at what food writers eat when they're alone. Made me happy.

*A Life of My Own, by Claire Tomalin. A fascinating life told tediously.

*The Girl With Seven Names, by Hyeonseo Lee. I learned loads about North Korea.

*I’m Lying But I’m Telling the Truth, by Bassey Ikpi. Excellent, up-close look at mental illness (though I did get a little lost at the end….)




Right now I'm hurrying to finish The Hungry Ocean since it's way overdue. Next up: Permanent Record, The Dutch House, and Nothing To See Here.

What have you been reading?



Got anything good to recommend?

More on books....
2018 book list
2017 book list
2016 book list
2015 book list
2014 book list







Her: Conspiracy, for the third or fourth or fifth time 
Him: Crown of Midnight, for the second or third time

P.S. I'm in dire need of good read-alouds to share with my younger son (almost 14). Preferably, I'd like to skip the war-and-disaster-and-sex books in favor of well-written comedy and/or the meaningful ordinary, books like Anne of Green Gables or Harris and Me or Holes or Where the Lilies Bloom or Counting by 7s. Both old-time classics and new gems welcome, please and thank you! xo

Monday, December 30, 2019

the quotidian (12.30.19)

Quotidian: daily, usual or customary; 
everyday; ordinary; commonplace



This year's spread was improved upon with guests from Eritrea, Tunisia, and Sudan.




The ordinary made festive.




Flaming burger balls: not exactly what he was going for.




Burger vs TMJ. (The burger lost.)




Finetuning and tweaking.




Everyone needs a Mavis in their life.




We're on a Rook kick: anyone up for a game night?




Nay-neigh.




Crash course in auto mechanics, courtesy of Necessity.




Rain or shine, Sunday afternoons are for playing.
(photo credit: my older daughter)




Our pastor invited him to read his statement during her sermon.
(photo of photo by Jim Bishop)

This same time, years previous: a mistake-based education, family magnified, our apocalypse, chopped locks, tamalada!, one step above lazy (maybe), eggnog.

Thursday, December 26, 2019

a Christmas spectacle

When I asked my younger son what he’d like to do on Christmas to make it special since we don’t do presents, he said, “Do presents.”

“Ha,” I said. “Besides that.”

“Make something and take it to the neighbors on Christmas morning,” he said.

We used to make Christmas deliveries but several years ago, when it started to feel like just one more thing I had to do, I'd dropped it. But if a child wanted to do it, then fine, yes, okay. Never mind that it’d take more work. Never mind that the other kids weren’t thrilled. Never mind that knocking on random doors and giving people things makes my husband feel like crawling into a cave and ceasing to exist. If this was what my younger son wanted, we’d do it.



So I dug out my Christmas tin collection and gave them a good washing. A couple days before Christmas, my younger son popped multiple batches of corn, helped measure the ingredients, and stirred the caramel. Christmas morning, we made little “Merry Christmas! Love, The Murches” cards and taped them to the tins.



“How about I take Coco?” my older daughter said.

"The dog stays home," my husband said.

"If Coco goes, then we have to take Charlotte," my daughter said.

"No dogs," my husband repeated firmly

"Let's take the donkey!" hollered my older son.

"Yes," my daughter said, ignoring, for once, her brother's taunting. "Let's take Ellie!"

"NO," my husband said. "We are not taking a horse around to the neighbors'!"

"Aw, come on," I said. "Why not? She’s cute."

And then my older son appeared, decked out in his leather jacket and pink plastic sunglasses, his guitar slung over his shoulder.



Husband: You have got to be kidding me.

Me: Um, hon? That might be a bit much.

Older son [singing loudly]: Jingle, jingle happy bells, Jesus is born!

Me: Oh good grief.

Husband:



And off we went, dogs, horse, grumpy husband and all!











I alternated between pleading with my son to tone it down a little, snapping at my husband to stop fussing at the kids (dogs, Life In General, whatever), giggling uncontrollably, and shaking my head in disbelief at the staggering extent of our spectacular freakishness.



It was so worth it.

This same time, years previous: right now, balsamic-glazed roasted butternut squash and brussel sprouts, 2016 garden stats and notes, old-fashioned sour cream cake donuts, remembering Guatemala, cheese ball, hot buttered rolls, bacon jalapeno cheese ball.

Monday, December 23, 2019

or something like that

Up until this last week, I've been uncharacteristically chill about Christmas. The reasons are varied. 

1. Thanksgiving was late, so we were still riding those lingering festive fumes well into December.

2. I mostly stayed out of stores (except for one day when I went on a mad and desperate hunt for jeans, I HATE CLOTHES SHOPPING).

3. There's been no snow, which makes everything decidedly unfestive and ordinary.

4. We've been drifting in and out of illness.

5. Schedules have been wack. With the kids running hither and yon — on Friday the older two returned from their Colorado trip just a couple hours after my younger daughter left for Puerto Rico for two weeks — routine flies out the window, and there’s not much time or energy to dedicate to festivities. 



Mostly, I just pretended Christmas wasn't happening. The lack of pressure felt amazing. How far could I take this, I wondered. We already skip the gifts, but what about nixing the stockings, too? Do we actually need a tree? And who really cares about a Christmas Day turkey or ham anyway?

Days ticked by and still no tree, no thought of stockings, no nothing. Well, except cookies. I like the cookies part and happily baked trays of peppernuts and butter cookies, gingerbread men and Russian tea cakes.

It was lovely.





I’d seen articles (didn’t read them, though) about how women shoulder the bulk of making the Christmas magic, and it’s true: it probably wouldn’t occur to my husband to do anything to celebrate Christmas until the 24th at 7 pm, if then. So, with the older kids beyond the magic stage, and my younger daughter gone, why bother stressing myself out over something that no one particularly cared about? 



But when I ran my brilliant no-stockings plan by the kids, my younger son gave me such a beseeching, pleading, crestfallen look that my very soul was pierced. I’m already aware that he is growing up in a very different family from the one his older sibs grew up in and that, just because the older kids are poised on the edge of the nest ready to leap, it doesn’t mean he is. This still-cuddly, lanky, as-tall-as-me boychild of mine fiercely loves, craves, and needs our togethering traditions.

So we reversed course, but with a couple changes: my husband would be in charge of the stockings (this is how I delegate responsibility so I don’t have to take responsibility for everything) and the older kids are in charge of each other’s stockings.

Or something like that.

We did eventually get a tree, but just barely. (My younger son had gotten so desperate for holiday cheer that he'd resorted to making miles of paper chains and stringing them all over the house. Getting the tree was the only way to make him stop.)



Saturday, four of us drove over to the farm to get the tree, and then I played Christmas music and baked cookies while my younger son quietly decorated the tree all by his lonesome (until I texted my husband to please come help because the youngest child decorating the tree all by himself is heartbreaking), all the while feeling mildly guilty about our last-minute slapdashness until I realized that it was solstice, and, Oh hey, look at us being all light-up-the-dark intentional!



So here are the questions I’m mulling over: How to shift celebrations to accommodate a changing family while still respecting everyone’s needs? How to steer clear of consumerism without being grinchy? How to create togetherness and tradition without it becoming a burden?

There's no answer, I know. Just, flexibility coupled with selfcare and trying to be generous and prioritizing relationships.

Or something like that.

For sure, there will be no Christmas ham this year. My suggestion of a giant salad was met with a minor revolt, so I switched to a lasagna. But then this morning as I was making my grocery list, my older son said, What about hamburgers? and everyone lit up so I switched course yet again. Christmas burgers, here we come!

This same time, years previous: rock on, Mama, sex for all creation, the quotidian (12.21.15), the quotidian (12.22.14), fa-la-la-la-la, how to have a dunging out date, toasty oatmeal muffins, Christmas pretty, homemade marshmallows.

Monday, December 16, 2019

the quotidian (12.16.19)

Quotidian: daily, usual or customary; 
everyday; ordinary; commonplace



Christmas on my stove: secondhand treasures [insert giddy happy dance].





Magnet upgrade. 




Sprouting garlic: one of my younger son's experiments.




Stay-inside-and-bake-all-day weather.




She babysits.




Leaving for a MUCH anticipated road trip to Colorado to go snowboarding in the Arapahoe Basin.

This same time, years previous: croissants, sour candied orange rinds, almond shortbread, the warming, the quotidian (12.15.14), the quotidian (12.16.13), peppernuts.

Friday, December 13, 2019

second amendment sanctuary

On Wednesday evening, three of my kids, my parents, and I attended our county’s board of supervisors meeting in which there was scheduled to be a vote on a resolution on whether or not to make our county a Second Amendment Sanctuary. Friends of ours, fellow advocates of stricter gun laws, planned to speak in opposition to the resolution, so, in solidarity with them, we decided to go.

On the drive there, traffic was bad. I joked that it was all the gun’s rights people going to the meeting, but then, when traffic stopped a couple miles before the school, we realized, Oh wait, all these people are going to the meeting. Mom suggested we turn around and go for ice cream since it looked like there was no way we were ever going to make it in, but the kids and I argued that if all these people were coming to support, then it was all the more important for us to be there.

Eventually, I managed to skip much of the traffic by driving beyond the school's entrance and then turning around and entering from the other direction. At the front doors, we bypassed a man handing out orange GUNS SAVE LIVES stickers and went straight inside. The gym was already full, and by the time the meeting started, there was standing room only.



Those who wanted to speak (three minutes only) had to sign up. Do any of you want to say something? I asked the kids. It was a rhetorical question, but my younger son said, Maybe?

We talked it over. Should I? he wondered. I'm scared! And, What would I say?

I pointed out that hardly anyone was going to speak against the resolution — it was pretty much a done deal — but it's always good to present different perspectives. Plus, I added, children need to be heard. What you think matters. For a few minutes, he stood there, quietly watching the crowd, waffling. Then suddenly, "I'll do it," he said.

From our perch in the bleachers, he carefully crafted a statement, first dictating it to me, and then copying it over himself, adding to it as he had more thoughts. Under his breath, he practiced reading it out loud. He folded it up and then unfolded it and re-read it, again and again.







The meeting finally began. Person after person got up to speak before the board of supervisors, the crowd becoming more riled up with each gun-favorable declaration, leaping to their feet, waving their hats, and punching their fists in the air. One presenter called for a poll. Everyone opposed to becoming a Second Amendment Sanctuary, stand up. About a dozen of us stood. Those in favor? Three thousand people went wild.

After an hour of speeches, only one person — a Democrat leader who had given introductory opening remarks — had spoken in opposition to the measure, and then Ruth, our friend from church, got up to speak. The crowd cheered when she mentioned her gun ownership, but as she began to talk about life first, not guns, people turned aggressive. Go home! they jeered. Your time’s up. If you don’t like it here, leave! Move to Canada! Boo!

Incredible. Here were thousands of people who were passionate about their rights, and yet they were unable to extend the most basic right — the right to share a different opinion — to another human being.






After several more people spoke in favor of the resolution, the crowd was in such an uproar that the board said they should just go ahead and vote now. Does anyone else have anything different to say? they asked, a question which tipped the room into chaos, some people requesting to speak, and the majority shouting them down.

“Do you want to talk?” I yelled over the din into my son's ear. “Yes,” he said. “Then go now, fast,” and he, forgetting his request to have me accompany him, took off alone, shimmying his way through the press of bodies. A minute later, he reappeared on the floor down in front of us and walked up to the front where he stood, clutching his scrap of paper in his hand.

More speeches in favor of the resolution — there was talk of the endtimes, the tyrants in Richmond, God-given rights, "don't tread on me" or else — and two more against, though we could barely hear what they said over all the heckling.



And then the board of supervisors decided they'd had enough; there would be no more speakers allowed. So my son never did get to speak, much to his disappointment.

We left then, before the vote — it was going to pass anyway — and before the traffic. As I gathered my things to leave, I felt a gentle touch on my leg. “Is that your son down there?” the man sitting next to me asked, pointing.

“Yes,” I said, wary.

“Your son is a very brave boy."

And just like that, I folded. My shoulders slumped, the air — had I been holding my breath? — whooshed from my lungs. This man saw my child, not as a threat, but as a person.

“Thank you,” I said. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

Once out in the cold night air, the kids exploded, their voices ragged with emotion. Since when was our right to bear arms mandated by God? I only saw three black people! Did you see the one guy blocking the man that wanted to speak?

“When Ruth talked about the value of red-flag laws, people laughed," my older son said. “I could’ve cried!”

Did you see what they did to that woman? one of the kids asked. We'd all noticed the solitary young woman sitting on the other side of the gym, the woman quietly, steadily, holding up a sign of protest. Partway through, she left, and the kids saw a man crumble up one of her papers she'd left behind, and then somebody draped a pro-guns sign over her seat and everyone laughed. “She had a small child with her,” my daughter cried, “a little girl, and they laughed at her!”

Listening to them, I realized the full magnitude of what they had just endured. They’d witnessed bullying, not just by one or two people, but by hundreds. In front of a throng of emotionally-charged people, they’d been singled out. I'd found the meeting fascinating — to me, it was an educational experience, a real-live study in human behavior — but to the children who are accustomed to thoughtful, civil discourse (in public, at least, if not at home, ha!), and who had made a sincere effort to understand all the arguments, the experience was deeply upsetting.

My older son, in particular, was dismayed (in his words, "sickened") by the blatant disregard for reason. “It was like being in an auditorium filled with several thousand me’s when I was twelve years old and wanted an ipod and was obsessed to the point of irrationality.”

I tried to help the kids see the bigger perspective. Hundreds of people weren’t yelling, I said. Perhaps those people were as uncomfortable with the heckling and bullying as we were? And we saw people we know, right? Good people. Our neighbors. My mother pointed out that people occasionally called out the hecklers for their bad behavior, shouting “Let them speak,” and “It’s their turn now.” I told the kids about the gentleman with the kind eyes and the orange GUNS SAVE LIVES sticker who told me my son was brave.

That night I had trouble falling asleep, and the next day, in a Lenten planning meeting with our pastor, when I happened to mention that we’d been at the county meeting the night before and she, immediately concerned, asked what it’d been like, I surprised myself by bursting into tears. Apparently the experience affected me more than I’d realized?

And yet, in spite of all the negativity and ugliness, I'm so glad we went. I’m grateful that the children got to watch a small minority, themselves included, stand up for their beliefs in the face of overwhelming opposition. I’m grateful they got to feel, firsthand, the frightening force of an emotionally-charged, fear-fueled crowd. And I’m grateful they got to better understand this side of our community, our home; this is where we live.

What an experience.

P.S. For another perspective on the evening: A Crowd of 3000 Praises God and Guns Alike.
P.P.S. And here's what Ruth said (thanks, Harvspot!).

Photo credits of the meeting: my older son

This same time, years previous: science lessons, the quotidian (12.14.15), in my kitchen: 4:15 p.m., hot chocolate mix, constant vigilance!, soft cinnamon sugar butter bars, cracked wheat pancakes, fig and anise pinwheels, ginger cream scones.

Thursday, December 12, 2019

turkey broth jello

Raise of hands: How many of you made broth with your Thanksgiving turkey carcasses?

When the dust settled after our marathon of feasting, there were two turkey carcasses hiding out in the basement fridge. Sunday morning, I stuffed them — bones, giblets, fat and all — into my biggest stockpot which actually happens to belong to my husband.



Whenever we make applesauce, my husband always fusses up a storm about needing a bigger pot so last year I got him a right fine handsome one for his birthday — It holds twent-one quarts! It doubles as a canner! — and then he was all like, “Oh, I see. You’re using my birthday to get what you want,” which was absolutely not true since I was perfectly chill with the pots I already had so I said I’d return it but he was like, “No, no, it’s a good pot and we’ll use it” [wink-wink], and I was like, “Fine, whatever, see if I ever buy you anything again.”

So I covered the bones with water, all the way up to the top, and then I added a couple stalks of celery, some carrots and a couple onions, peppercorns and several bay leaves and then set it on the heat where it simmered all day. I turned off the stove at bedtime, and the next morning I cracked the lid (to prevent this horror), and set it to simmer again. At that point, I could’ve strained off the liquid and I would’ve had a whole bunch of quart jars of broth. But since I don’t have much room in my freezers, this time I was going for broth jello — i.e. simmer it down until it’s so thick it’s jello.



By that afternoon, the liquid had reduced dramatically. Was it a fifth of what it’d been in the beginning? A tenth? I’m not sure, but there wasn’t much of it. I strained the broth into a small kettle and put it in the fridge to chill over night.



The next morning, I scraped off the thin layer of fat that had risen to the top (the dogs enjoyed it), and then spooned the broth into boxes, maybe four quarts worth.

It was so thick I could cut it with a knife.



Turkey Broth Jello

turkey carcasses
2-4 stalks celery, large chunk
2-3 carrots, large chunk
2 onions, peeled and quartered
3 bay leaves
1 tablespoon peppercorns

Put everything in your largest stockpot and fill to the top with water. Bring to a boil over high heat and then reduce and simmer for 12-18 hours. If you want regular broth, stop after a day of simmering. If you're going for the jello, let it simmer for a couple days.

Strain off the liquid — I pour the whole mess into a colander and then strain it a second time with a fine-mesh sieve — and chill overnight. (Save the scraps for the dogs.) Skim off the fat and divide the broth into containers. Label and freeze.

This same time, years previous: the quotidian (12.11.17), in praise of the local arts, the quotidian (12.12.17), Italian wedding soup, okonomiyaki, iced, stuffing, my elephant, the quotidian (12.12.11), human anatomy, baked corn.

Monday, December 9, 2019

the quotidian (12.9.19)

Quotidian: daily, usual or customary; 
everyday; ordinary; commonplace



The little (growing) boy makes his breakfast.




The only thing missing is Goldilocks.




Roasted cabbage.




Eat your veggies.




Restocking the jelly cupboard.




Thanksgiving empties.





She bought herself a mini and named her Ellie.




Hair slinky.

This same time, years previous: the quotidian (12.10.18), yeasted streusel cake with lemon glaze, managing my list habit, the quotidian (12.8.14), the quotidian (12.9.13), pimento cheese spread, winter quinoa salad, zippy me.