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Archive for July, 2011

Where Did I Go?

You know how people say that you are actually more productive when you are already busy?  I think at points that may be true for me when it comes to writing.  When my life is so jam-packed that I can’t even think straight, writing relieves me worries.  When glorious summer hits and I am free as a bird, the idea of spending one more minute than necessary inside is downright disturbing.

Instead of writing, reading other posts, or commenting, I spent this past week with the intention of having as much fun as possible.  This included…

playing golf*bring food to a family potluck*swimming*adventuring to one of my favorite restaurants*packing a picnic in my recently acquired picnic basket*eating said picnic with one of my best friends out on the lawn in a state park*watching a funny movie*wandering through a rose garden and trying out my photography skills*getting my nails done by someone other than myself*watching reruns of Clarissa Explains it All and Doug*taking advantage of the Borders going-out-of-business-sales (sob)*watching a movie that was so bad it was funny*running as the sun came up*jumping in puddles*driving several hours hours to go to a zoo to meet a friend who I see so rarely, I tend to think she’s imaginary*reading a book in less than 24 hours*getting lost looking for a cupcake store*watching horsies run really fast*spontaneous night picnics involving ice cream* and more!

In case you’re worried that I haven’t been reading, don’t be!  Here are some posts you can expect from me in the very near future:

  • What is the best summer read?  Take the poll if you haven’t already!  It closes on Wednesday.
  • Picnics, The Very Hungry Bookworm style
  • Room by Emma Donoghue- WOW
  • The beauty of Paperback Swap
  • 10-word reviews of some books that have slipped through the cracks

While you wait, enjoy the sun!  Go outside and run around or jump in puddles or build a sand castle or yeah, you get my point :)

The Bookworms Poll: Best Summer Read

Alright people, your nominations are in.  Two weeks ago, I asked you for what you consider to be the best book for reading during the summer.  I have compiled the most popular responses into a poll.  Below the poll, I have included a blurb about each book so check them out before you vote so you know about all of your options.  Which of these would you be most likely to pick up as you face the sweltering days of summer?

Blurbs ( The links take you to Amazon to check out reviews and any other info.  The descriptions are from Good Reads)

Bad Girls Don’t Die by Katie Alender:  When Alexis’s little sister Kasey becomes obsessed with an antique doll, Alexis thinks nothing of it. Kasey is a weird kid. Period. Alexis is considered weird, too, by the kids in her high school, by her parents, even by her own Goth friends. Things get weirder, though, when the old house they live in starts changing. Doors open and close by themselves; water boils on the unlit stove; and an unplugged air conditioner turns the house cold enough to see their breath in. Kasey is changing, too. Her blue eyes go green and she speaks in old-fashioned language, then forgets chunks of time.

Most disturbing of all is the dangerous new chip on Kasey’s shoulder. The formerly gentle, doll-loving child is gone, and the new Kasey is angry. Alexis is the only one who can stop her sister — but what if that green-eyed girl isn’t even Kasey anymore?

The First Xanth book by Piers Anthony: Xanth was the enchanted land where magic ruled–where every citizen had a special spell only he could cast. That is, except for Bink of North Village. He was sure he possessed no magic, and knew that if he didn’t find some soon, he would be exiled. According to the Good Magician Humpfrey, the charts said that Bink was as powerful as the King or even the Evil Magician Trent. Unfortunately, no one could determine its form. Meanwhile, Bink was in despair. If he didn’t find his magic soon, he would be forced to leave….

Harlan Coben Thrillers like this one: Caught tells the story of a missing girl, the predator who may have taken her, and the reporter who suddenly realizes she can’t trust her own instincts about this story—or the motives of the people around her.

Hunger Games Trilogy by Suzanne Collins: In the ruins of a place once known as North America lies the nation of Panem, a shining Capitol surrounded by twelve outlying districts. The Capitol is harsh and cruel and keeps the districts in line by forcing them all to send one boy and one girl between the ages of twelve and eighteen to participate in the annual Hunger Games, a fight to the death on live TV.

Sixteen-year-old Katniss Everdeen, who lives alone with her mother and younger sister, regards it as a death sentence when she steps forward to take her sister’s place in the Games. But Katniss has been close to dead before—and survival, for her, is second nature. Without really meaning to, she becomes a contender. But if she is to win, she will have to start making choices that will weigh survival against humanity and life against love.

The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald:The mysterious Jay Gatsby embodies the American notion that it is possible to redefine oneself and persuade the world to accept that definition. Gatsby’s youthful neighbor, Nick Carraway, fascinated with the display of enormous wealth in which Gatsby revels, finds himself swept up in the lavish lifestyle of Long Island society during the Jazz Age. Considered Fitzgerald’s best work, The Great Gatsby is a mystical, timeless story of integrity and cruelty, vision and despair.

Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen: When Jacob Jankowski, recently orphaned and suddenly adrift, jumps onto a passing train, he enters a world of freaks, grifters, and misfits, a second-rate circus struggling to survive during the Great Depression, making one-night stands in town after endless town. A veterinary student who almost earned his degree, Jacob is put in charge of caring for the circus menagerie. It is there that he meets Marlena, the beautiful young star of the equestrian act, who is married to August, the charismatic but twisted animal trainer. He also meets Rosie, an elephant who seems untrainable until he discovers a way to reach her.

A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness: Deep in the stacks of Oxford’s Bodleian Library, young scholar Diana Bishop unwittingly calls up a bewitched alchemical manuscript in the course of her research. Descended from an old and distinguished line of witches, Diana wants nothing to do with sorcery; so after a furtive glance and a few notes, she banishes the book to the stacks. But her discovery sets a fantastical underworld stirring, and a horde of daemons, witches, and vampires soon descends upon the library. Diana has stumbled upon a coveted treasure lost for centuries-and she is the only creature who can break its spell.

The Wheel of Time by Robert Jordan: The Wheel of Time turns and Ages come and go, leaving memories that become legend. Legend fades to myth and even myth is long forgotten when the Age that gave it birth returns again.

But one truth yet remains, and what mortal men forget, the Aes Sedai do not…

What was, what will be, and what is, may yet fall under the Shadow.

The Gospel According to Coco Chanel by Karen Karbo: A modern look at a legendary fashion icon with practical life lessons for women of all ages…

Shopaholic Series by Sophie Kinsella: Beck has a fabulous flat in London’s trendiest neighborhood, a troupe of glamourous socialite friends, and a closet brimming with the season’s must-haves. The only trouble is, she can’t actually afford it–not any of it. Her job writing at Successful Saving magazine not only bores her to tears, it doesn’t pay much at all. And lately Becky’s been chased by dismal letters from the bank–letters with large red sums she can’t bear to read. She tries cutting back. But none of her efforts succeeds. Her only consolation is to buy her something…just a little something…

Finally a story aries that Becky actually cares about, and her front-page article catalyzes a chain of events that will transform her life–and the lives of those around her–forever.

One Day by David Nicholls:Emma and Dexter meet for the first time on the night of their graduation. Tomorrow they must go their separate ways. So where will they be on this one day next year? And the year after that? And every year that follows? Twenty years, two people, ONE DAY.

The Witching Hour by Anne Rice:In this engrossing and hypnotic tale of witchcraft and the occult spanning four centuries, we meet a great dynasty of witches–a family given to poetry and incest, to murder and philosophy, a family that over the ages is haunted by a powerful, dangerous and seductive being.

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows: January 1946: London is emerging from the shadow of the Second World War, and writer Juliet Ashton is looking for her next book subject. Who could imagine that she would find it in a letter from a man she’s never met, a native of the island of Guernsey, who has come across her name written inside a book by Charles Lamb….

As Juliet and her new correspondent exchange letters, Juliet is drawn into the world of this man and his friends—and what a wonderfully eccentric world it is. The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society—born as a spur-of-the-moment alibi when its members were discovered breaking curfew by the Germans occupying their island—boasts a charming, funny, deeply human cast of characters, from pig farmers to phrenologists, literature lovers all.

Juliet begins a remarkable correspondence with the society’s members, learning about their island, their taste in books, and the impact the recent German occupation has had on their lives. Captivated by their stories, she sets sail for Guernsey, and what she finds will change her forever.

The Help by Kathryn Stockett: Aibileen is a black maid in 1962 Jackson, Mississippi, who’s always taken orders quietly, but lately she’s unable to hold her bitterness back. Her friend Minny has never held her tongue but now must somehow keep secrets about her employer that leave her speechless. White socialite Skeeter just graduated college. She’s full of ambition, but without a husband, she’s considered a failure. Together, these seemingly different women join together to write a tell-all book about work as a black maid in the South, that could forever alter their destinies and the life of a small town…

A Homemade Life by Molly Wizenberg: Cotton candy at the state fair. S’mores around the campfire. Hot dogs at a baseball game. Some foods are inextricably linked to events or places. Wizenberg has noted similar associations between food and her own life, and she shares them in this delightful treat of a book. Part recipe book, part memoir, Wizenberg takes us through the moments of her life and the memorable foods that helped mark those occasions. Time-tested and good tasting, her recipes range from the simple to the complex, the healthful to the decadent. Some are original and some are borrowed, but each one marks an event — important or mundane — with equal significance.

Jeeves and Wooster by P.G. Wodehouse: From the introduction by Hugh Laurie: “The first thing you should know and probably the last too is that PG Wodehouse is still the funniest writer ever to put words on paper. This much is uncontested by all but the most irretrievably insane. Fact number two: with the Jeeves stories, Wodehouse created the best of the best. The world of Jeeves is complete and integral; every bit as structured, layered, ordered, complex and self-contained as King Lear and considerably funnier.”

I have not read all of these, by many of them have just been added to The List.  If you were at a book store looking for your ideal summer read, which one would you pick up, based on your knowledge of them and the blurbs?  Leave me a lovely comment explaining why!  Happy weekend.

The One Where Mama Weasley Swears

Well, it’s done.  Over. Ancient History. Ended. Carried off.  At an end. Past.  Bygone.  Settled.  Closed. Up. Completed. Accomplished. Finished.  Achieved.  Concluded.  Finalized.  Put to bed.  Realized.  Settled.  Wrapped up.   Concluded.

The last Harry Potter movie is out and with that, my childhood is closed.  Yes, I realize that I am 24.  A bit late, but heck, I do things at my own speed.

I don’t much to say about the movie aside from that I loved every minute of it, I started crying at several points during it, and finally lost it when the credits started rolling.  I thought I had myself pulled enough together to leave the theater, but then, standing in the middle of a mall food court, I started bawling again.  Good job Lauren.

Instead of focusing only on the last installment, I thought I would share my top ten favorite moments in the series.  They are in chronological order.  Be careful, moments 6-10 do come from the last book, so don’t read them if you are worried about spoilers.  Please, share your favorites in the comments.

1.  The first time that Harry sees Hogwarts.  It is this giant, wonderful castle with moving staircases, all the food he could dream of, and ghosts.  It is a place that he can finally claim as his home.

2.  Harry and Ron flying Mr. Weasley’s car to Hogwarts.  They have absolutely no idea what they are doing and they are breaking every rule in the book, but they are trying to be resourceful and solve a problem.  Sure, it caused more problems than it solved, but they sure know how to make an entrance.

3. Hagrid’s release from Azkaban.  Hagrid did not deserve to be there in the first place and his release not only gives him his freedom back, but also clears him of past accusations.  He can practice magic now and even becomes a Hogwarts professor.  I love Hagrid…and his rock cakes.  I might make some soon :)

4.  Sirius’s first smile.  Sirius gets a chance to see Harry and finally convinces Harry that he was not the reason that Harry’s parents were murdered.  He asks Harry if he would consider living with him and Harry is overjoyed.  Sirius did not expect this reaction and he smiles for the first time in years, a smile that lights up his entire face.  I was disappointed because the movie doesn’t include this small moment, but I absolutely love it.

5.  Harry and Hermione’s conversation at the Yule Ball.  Both Harry and Hermione are having trouble being with the people who they want to be with, and Ron is off with Lavender Brown making a fool of himself.  It is in that conversation that we finally see that while Harry and Hermione love each other, they will never love each other that way.  I think their friendship is so sweet and it is my favorite relationship in the series.

6. Professor McGonagall’s duel with Snape.  It was amazing and did complete justice to the most stable character in the series.  Professor McGonagall is unfailingly good and always acts in the way that she thinks is best, regardless of social pressure.  Her duel with him and subsequent protection of the castle was awesome and reminded me of why I should never mess with a strong lady like her.

7.  Snape backstory.  Severus Snape may be the most interesting character of the series because you are not sure until the end whose side he is on.  Even though we get snippets of backstory in the later books, the best sequence is in the last book and movie where we see why he hates Harry and why he chose the side that he chose.

8.  Dumbledore’s concept of reality.  “Of course, it is happening inside your head, Harry, but why on earth should that mean that it’s not real?”  You know Dumbledore, even if some of your acts over the years are questionable, thanks for your wonderful mixture of wisdom and silliness.

9.  When Harry surprises everyone and is alive.  The look on Voldemort’s face is priceless with “dead” Harry Potter is alive.  I almost stood up and raised a triumphant fist in the theater. I’m really glad I didn’t.

10.  Mrs. Weasley’s cursing.  “Not my daughter you B*#&$!”  Thank you Molly for being a fierce mother with a big heart.  You show Bellatrix who’s boss!

Please share your favorites down below!

Five Things You Should Bring to See Harry Potter in Theaters

Well, folks, I never thought that this weekend would come.  The Harry Potter franchise is releasing its last movie, hoping that it is all grown up and will be able to fly.

Wow.

Since this worldwide phenomenon has been going on for 14 years now, I thought I would offer a few words of wisdom on how to prepare for this final installment.

Here are five things that you should bring with you to that theater tonight…or tomorrow…or next week…or whenever you get around to seeing it.

1.  Knowledge of Harry Potter

Nothing is more annoying to me than someone in a movie theater who just won’t. stop. talking.   Worse is when that person is incessantly jabbering because they have no idea what is going on.  I understand that other people may not have read all seven books and seen the first seven movies multiple times, but for the love of all that is Harry, please know who the main characters are, who is dead already, and why Harry and Voldemort don’t get along.

If you go to the movies with the idea that you are going to be cute and ask a friend for clarification on every facet of the movie, be aware that you may not be so cute by the end…unless you somehow manage to pull off wearing popcorn.

Don't be that guy.

2.  A Good Attitude

Now, I have never been one to dress up for a movie, nor have I ever seen the midnight showing, but that doesn’t mean I don’t let myself get sucked into the energy that these books/movies elicit.  I have on occasion (or for every movie) worn lightning bolt socks.  Subtle, but fun :)  You do not have to wear anything special, but don’t be one of those people who gets to the theater and cynically looks around for people to laugh it.  Maybe you are a grumpy-poo, but a lot of people have been waiting a long time for this moment.  If you are not into the magic and fun of the franchise, why did you just spend $15 on your IMAX 3D ticket.  Loosen up and have some fun.

PS.  And laugh when something funny happens.  My favorite line of the series is coming up in this movie.  It has to do with Mrs. Weasley and cursing (both with her wand and her language).  Watch for it.

3.  A friend

For many of us, this love of all things Harry Potter has been going for 14 years.  I started reading the books in late 1997 when I was ten, almost eleven, just like Harry was.  If you let me do the math, the Harry Potter series has been a part of my life for almost 2/3 of it.  Wow.

Anyway, what made this series great was that it inspired people to interact with each other about it.  My friends and I decided what house we would be in (Ravenclaw), who our favorite characters were (Hedwig and Hagrid), and who we would be if we went to Hogwarts (hopefully a less obnoxious Hermione).  Around the book release dates, the books and their plots were topics of conversation as we ran laps for soccer practice and studied for tests.  When the last books came out (I was in college at the point), my friends and I (all with our own copies) sat around reading and reacting to the book at the same time.

If at all possible, don’t go to this movie alone.  Find someone who has shared your experience with this book and go with him.  If these people are too far away or unable to come for whatever reason, at least bring them with you in spirit.  That is the best way to honor this series.

4.  Snacks

Personally, movie theater popcorn and soda are not going to be good enough for this last movie.  Considering that J.K. Rowling spend a lot of space in her books describing food, it only seems right to create and sneak in (I am a bad person) some Harry Potter food.  Earlier this year, I perfected my own version of butterbeer.  Good luck trying to bring that in.

For this most auspicious of occasions, I decided to create something that Harry tends to get on the train to Hogwarts and that has always intrigued me: Pumpkin Pasties.

Basically, they are little handheld pumpkin pies.  I made some for fun.  My taste-testers unanimously approved.

Pie dough:  I used Simply Recipe’s Pate Brisee.

Inside:  Mix together 1 cup of pumpkin puree, 1/4 cup sugar, and 1 tbsp each of cinnamon and nutmeg.

  • Preheat your oven to 400F
  • Roll out the  pie dough to 1/8″ thick and using a saucer, cut it into 6″ circles.
  • On each circle, place 2-3 tbsp of the pumpkin mixture.
  • Wet the ends of the dough (where you are going to seal it) and fold the dough over on itself to enclose the pumpkin.
  • Crimp with a fork to seal it.
  • Put a few slits in the top so that it doesn’t explode.
  • Bake for 15 minutes or until the crust is golden.

These travel really well, so once they cool, you can absolutely stash them in your purse/pocket and they will arrive safely at the movie.

5.  Tissues

Last, but certainly not least, I would recommend a box of tissues or, if you are trying to be environmentally-friendly, a hankie.  I know that I am going to bawl like a little baby simply because this last movie feels like it is marking an end to my childhood.  More than going away to college, living on my own, or getting my first “real” job, this last movie feels like a closure.

For those of you who do not have this personal connection, you may want to bawl because of what is going to happen in this movie.  I won’t sugarcoat it (as I thought of doing with the pumpkin pastie), people are going to die.  People you like are going to die.  You may not be happy with how this ends.

That is why you should be safe and bring something to wipe the tears away, just in case.

Whale Talk (and a Make-Your-Own-Pizza Bar)

A varsity letter jacket: it’s exclusive, nearly unattainable, revered…and everything that’s screwed up about Cutter High, as far as T.J. Jones is concerned.  That’s why T.J. is determined to have the Cutter All Night Mermen–the unlikeliest swim team a high school as ever seen– earn letter jackets of their own.

It won’t be easy.  For one thing, they don’t even have a pool.  They will fight for their dignity, they will fight with each other, and sometimes they will just fight.  And then they will realize that a single moment can bring lifelong heartache or lifelong friendship.  For T.J. and his crew of misfits, the quest may be far more valuable than the reward.

~Back Cover

When I was in Kindergarten, I lived under the assumption that everyone was nice, that if I didn’t do anything bad to someone, then they wouldn’t do anything bad to me. One day, near the end of my Kindergarten year, I was happily walking up the sidewalk leading into school and, all of a sudden, I found myself on the ground with a skinned knee. My carefully organized folders with my meticulously colored “homework” assignments were scattered all over the sidewalk and even (gasp) in the mud. I looked up, embarrassed that someone had seen me clumsily lose my footing, when I saw another girl laughing at me. I quickly figured out that I had no fallen on my own accord. She had tripped me. Too proud to let her see how distraught I was, I calmly picked up my muddy papers and limped inside, making plans in my head to exact revenge.

Of course, I never really got revenge on this girl, unless you consider losing my friendship forever an act of revenge. Yes, I still remember exactly who this girl is. We are not friends.

In Whale Talk by Chris Crutcher, T.J. finds another way to get back at the people who are mean for the sake of being mean- he creates a swim team.  The only real swimmer on the team is T.J.   The rest include an angry, one-legged student who everyone is afraid of, a body builder, a genius who is looking for a physical extracurricular activity, a massively overweight boy, and a special education student who is mourning the death of his athletically-gifted brother.

If dealing with each other isn’t enough, they live in a homogeneously white community that elicits strong undertones of racism, especially since T.J., our main character, is African- and Japanese-American.

I truly enjoyed this book.  I read it about a month ago and I can’t stop thinking about it.  It is heavier material, but told in a light way so that you do not feel yourself bogged down with dense and depressing reading.

If I Could Change One Thing… I would add a girl to the swim team.  This is a very male book in the sense that there are very few female characters that have any sort of impact on the plot.  I think it would have been fun to add a female character to the swim team to see how that impacts the team dynamic.

I Would Recommend This For… anyone who likes reading about unlikely friendships, fighting the bullies, athletic competition, or struggles against racism and abuse.  Although it is classified as YA Lit, it is valuable for adults to read as well.

Other Reviews

Make-Your-Own-Pizza Bar

After each swim meet, the team stops for pizza on the bus ride home.  It is on these bus rides that they begin to bond as a team and as people.  They tell things about themselves that they have never shared with anyone before.  While some might argue that is a result of the long bus trips together, I firmly believe it is the pizza.  Pizza is my favorite food and it only seems natural that it would make the world a better place. 

Since people have such unique tastes when it comes to pizza, I like to create a make-your-own-pizza station so that everyone gets exactly what they want.
Pizza Dough:

I make two types:  normal and whole wheat.

Normal- this recipe is originally featured over at Simply Recipes

Whole Wheat-  this recipe is originally featured over at Andrea’s Recipes

Pizza Sauce:

Since it is summer, I chose to make my own and my goodness, I am proud of it.

Ingredients:

  • 10 tomatoes
  • 1/2 cup, total, of chopped herbs of your choice (I used oregano, thyme, basil, and rosemary)

Procedure:

  • Preheat your oven to 250F and cut all of your tomatoes in half.  Place on a baking sheet, skin-side down.  Roast for 1-2 hours.
  • Take them out of the oven and remove the skin.  It should be easy to remove at this point.  Put the tomatoes in a larger pot and put the burner on low.  Stir in the cut-up herbs of your choice.  Let simmer for about a half hour.
  • Using an immersion blender or working in batches with a regular blender, blend your sauce until smooth (or leave it chunkier if you like it like that).
  • Put the sauce back in the pot and continue to cook on low heat for 2 more hours.  This will condense the sauce and make it sweet.

Other Toppings:

  • Grate Mozzarella and Parmesan  cheese.
  • Steam broccoli, spinach, mushrooms, and peppers.
  • Grill onions.
  • Grill eggplant.
  • I felt like two different kinds of pizza so I just went ahead and did it!

    Grill ham, sausage, chicken or any other meat you’d like.

Putting it all together:

  • Preheat the oven to 500F.
  • Have everyone assemble their pizzas.  Do not put too much sauce or toppings on.  In this case, less is more.
  • Pop each pizza into the oven for 10 minutes, or until the crust seems done.
  • Eat.

You know you want that.

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