Thursday, September 24, 2015

Snackshots -- September

September has not yielded as much time for snacking and relaxing as I had hoped.  The weather has been gorgeous, and my kiddos are settling nicely into the routines of the school year.  I started out strong, taking advantage of my longest-ever chunks of time to myself and doing things like cleaning out closets, taking walks, thinking clearly, and appreciating my life.  The reality of volunteer commitments, kids' extracurriculars, traveling husband, and on and on has now come crashing down.  I've got a good gig, and I know it.  I expect my days to be busy, of course I do.  But this week, I've felt overwhelmed by my to-do list, kind of as if a grayish cloud of ick is following me everywhere.

I need to do the hard work of rethinking my priorities, values, and commitments; deciding what I can and cannot do well; and how to best take care of my family and myself while also serving others.  

In the meantime, I'll grab five minutes when I can and treat myself as I always have, for better or worse, with a little snack and a cold Diet Coke.  Paired with a favorite cheese and some crackers, the American Spoon Red Pepper Relish is delicious.  Plus, its texture is more pureed than jellied, which makes it easier to spread.  I picked this up when my husband and I were at a wedding in Charlevoix, Michigan.  

I do indeed relish my life.  So punny.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Last Breath of Summer Reading

These are my feet on Labor Day.  I had just dropped my daughter off at the pool so that my little fish could get in a couple more hours of swimming with her Daddy.  It was the last day of the season for the pool.  Her brothers were tired of swimming and at home device-ing.  I opted to go home and do laundry and life stuff rather than sit in the sun and feel the sadness of summer being over.  This past one was the first summer in nine years when I had three capable swimmers and dared to do some reading poolside (while also sneaking glances at my peeps, obviously).  It was glorious.  I can't face an exhaustive overview of my summer reading, but I happened to read four books I loved in the last few weeks of summer.  I'm linking up with Modern Mrs. Darcy to share Quick Lit reviews of my last breath of summer reading.

I always enjoy Jennifer Weiner's novels, but Who Do You Love was really something special.  I'd rank it right up there with Good in Bed.  The love story spanning many years worked for me, and the friendship between Andy and his mentor brought me to tears.  Just a really satisfying read.

Cara Nicoletti is a hip twentysomething Brooklyn butcher, baker, blogger, and author of Voracious: A Hungry Reader Cooks Her Way through Great Books.  I'm a forty year-old suburban mom of three, room mom, cub scout coordinator, and children's church leader.  And yet, I feel like Nicoletti and I are kindred spirits.  I too am a hungry reader.  Our taste in books is very similar, and I really like how she writes about books and food in an honest, accessible way.  Her passion is cooking and baking in ways inspired by her reading.  Most of her recipes were beyond what I would attempt at home because I am no longer ambitious in the kitchen and my kids are picky eaters.  Yet, I enjoyed reading the recipes and love how she is a voracious reader in all senses of the word.  I ordered my own copy of Voracious because I am obsessed with the gorgeous cover, the beautiful illustrations throughout, and the thick paper of its pages.

I am totally cribbing from my GoodReads review here:  "I think most readers will give All Together Now three or maybe four stars.  Maybe they'll think it's cheesy or kind of lame or too dang sunshine-y at the end.  Maybe they are right.  All I know is that this book made me happy.  It has so many of the threads I love:  strangers become friends, community bands together, woman learns her own strength, fresh start in life/career, good guys/girls "win," music is a bridge, and more.  Plus, I just cannot resist a British setting.  I imagine All Together Now has been (or will be) optioned for film.  I can already picture my mom and sisters and I laughing, crying, and singing along.  Rolling your eyes?  That's fine.  Haters gonna hate."  Clearly I was in an odd spot when I drafted that one, but I stand by it as a five-star read for me.  Find more of my interesting but uneven reviews on GoodReads -- I'm booksandcarbs there.

In one of the blurbs on the back cover of Elisabeth Egan's A Window Opens, J. Courtney Sullivan compares its protagonist, Alice, to Kate Reddy and Bridget Jones.*  I didn't connect to Alice quite as much as to those other fictional friends of mine, but I thoroughly enjoyed this story of a wife and mom trying to figure out "what all" she can have and "what all" she wants.  The fact that Alice is a reader and book lover and is (sort of) working in the publishing world added to the appeal of this novel for me.  Very worthy read! 

Gorgeous weather outside these days, but it's back to the real world of to-do lists, volunteer commitments, packing lunches, chauffeuring, and homework supervision.  I'll still find and make time to read, but summer is very much over.  

*Kate Reddy of Allison Pearson's I Don't Know How She Does It and Bridget Jones, who needs no introduction.  Also, check out J. Courtney Sullivan's novels if you haven't:  Commencement, Maine, and The Engagements.

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Borrow and Buy

At the various branches of the Chicago Public Library I frequented from 2001-2011, I bought books from a cart of discards and donations.  I fell into the habit of checking the sale cart on my way to the checkout counter and often found something that seemed worth the 25 or 50 cents being asked for it.  I paid when I checked out the books, and I always took pleasure in that transaction.  A little treat.  I actually found many great books on that cart -- Ruth Reichl's Garlic and Sapphires, for example.

I could not have been more excited when we migrated to the suburbs and found that our beloved Elmhurst Public Library had a small room dedicated to selling discards.  Stopping to browse in that little room on my way to checkout is one of my favorite library rituals.  There's a wall-mounted box where you slide in the suggested $1 donation per book.

Today I had five minutes and five bucks to spend in that little room.  I was pleased with my finds.
Part of the ritual is removing the clear plastic overlay from the library books (with the tools pictured) and then carefully peeling off the stickers on the side of the book.  I put the original dust jacket back on (sometimes damaged from impatient sticker peeling, but usually looking pristine).  If I tried to tell you how much I enjoy handling the books and doing these small tasks, you might feel sorry for me.  But don't. 
Here are my finds from today and my reasons for choosing them ...

I loved the audio of Us by David Nicholls.  I actually own all of his books (except One Day) in hardcover and thought I'd add this one to the shelf.  Sometimes it's nice to have a physical reminder of a great audiobook.

I borrowed Courtney Maum's I Am Having So Much Fun Here Without You from the library (possibly this very copy?) last year and enjoyed it.  Will I reread it?  Not likely, but owning it allows me to share it with others.  When one of my friends headed to Hilton Head for ten days this summer, I chose three great books for her to take along -- one was a library book sale room find and the other two were from the AAUW book sale (which deserves its own post).  She loved the books* and then passed them on to another friend.  They'll probably make their way back to me eventually, but if not, no biggie.

My mother-in-law loves to read, and I now have a sense of what she enjoys.  I am always finding her reading material in the book sale room.  

The Vigilante Poets of Selwyn Academy by Kate Hattemer has been on my radar.  I follow her on Twitter and happen to know she hails from Cincinnati, which makes me want to read her book.  Duh.

Fair Shares for All: A Memoir of Family and Food by John Haney was not on my radar, but food writing is something I enjoy even though I don't browse in that section of the library.  Worth a try.

Seeing Better Nate Than Ever in the book sale room felt like fate.  I started following Tim Federle on Twitter last month.  His feed makes me laugh, and I'm eager to see what he can write when he has more than 140 characters to use.

Someone (someone like my husband, who is apprehensive about the number of books flowing into our house) might ask this obvious question:  "But aren't they selling the books no one wants?"  In some cases, sure, they are selling books that don't circulate often or at all.  Nonetheless, the book sale room is a great place to find semi-recent bestsellers.  Our library will buy many, many copies of a hot new release.  After the initial demand dies down, there's no longer shelf real estate for twenty copies of the same title.  To the book sale room it goes!

If your library has such a magical place, pop in next time you're there.  You may find a new read or an old favorite that you can treasure or share with others.  You have nothing to lose, except a few dollars ... a donation to the local library that you love.

* The books my friend borrowed for vacation and loved were:  The Matchmaker by Elin Hilderbrand, The Good House by Ann Leary, and Left Neglected by Lisa Genova.

NOTE:  The produce ridiculously staged with my book stack was purchased this morning at the Farmers' Market:  zig zag zucchini, big fat tomato, and purple peppers.  The light in the background of the picture is our oven pre-heating for the Red Baron pizza I was actually serving for dinner.