Saturday, June 17, 2017

Pulling out of the environmental discussions and other books

As regular readers know, I agreed to host a discussion of Rachel Carson's pivotal work, Silent Spring, here on the blog.
I'm pulling out.*

I did not read Silent Spring this spring.

The reasons have far more to do with me than with Silent Spring.  I finally realized that I wasn't reading anything because Silent Spring was sitting there and I couldn't bring myself to learn how long we have known about the connections between environmental pollutants and human health, particularly cancer, as multiple friends in their 40s are battling cancer and people elected to represent me suggest that I am an enemy of theirs, or the country, or progress, or the economy, because I think that environmental protections should be cherished. Silent Spring hits a raw place.  That this is raw 55 years after publication makes it more so.  I couldn't.

Fortunately I began to read again after I stopped trying to get through Silent Spring and started picking up children's novels.  Also fortunate, my streak of picking a depressing book did not extend to everything I read recently (but extended to enough that, during the most recent book, the Mister asked, "So, do these ghosts have cancer, too?).

Some things I have read:

Nick Hornby A Long Way Down  This is a one of those great books that I have no idea to whom I would recommend it.  The premise is that four people meet as they are attempting to commit suicide.  It is funny and very well written.  Nothing gets resolved and it is unsentimental and reading it for pleasure (and it was pleasurable) makes one question one's taste.

Anne Lamott Hard Laughter  In one of her wonderful non-fiction books (probably Bird by Bird), Anne Lamott describes her father's cancer diagnosis and searching in vain for a funny book about cancer.  Being unable to find it, she decided to write it and it became her first successful novel.  I came across Hard Laughter recently and was expecting a funny book about cancer.  If that was the intent, Anne didn't fully succeed.  Most of the time I was wondering, "Just how old is this?" (it was written in 1979) and "I am so glad that Anne Lamott is sober now," because, while this isn't supposed to be autobiography, it clearly is, and the main character uses a lot.  Another book that made me wonder, "Now just why is reading this pleasurable?"

Ronlyn Domingue Mercy of Thin Air  I asked a literature-teaching friend from Louisiana for a fun, Lousiana-based book for my trip to New Orleans.  She suggested Mercy of Thin Air, about which I was dubious, because the first person narrator is a ghost.  I didn't manage to get it read before New Orleans, but found myself describing it to The Mister recently on the road.  "There was a plot twist that I didn't see coming.  But of course I should have seen it coming, because it made everything make sense.  But the ghost didn't see it either."  After trying to follow this, The Mister concluded, "So basically the plot twist worked the way a plot twist is supposed to?"  Overall very well-done.  Full of old people love and young people love, and plenty of death, but not too sticky sweet.  Recommended for my mothers and many of their friends.

Deb Caletti  The Secret Life of Prince Charming  As we were leaving town on Thursday, we stopped by the library to turn in Summer Reading logs (because the program ends before we return from our trip!) and as I returned Mercy of Thin Air, I realized I had no book for me to read on the road.  So I grabbed the best looking (of the three) paper backs on the sale table.  The Secret Life of Prince Charming was it.  And as far as relationship books about divorced parents and a high school girl coming to terms with the idea that her father is a womanizing loser, this was well done. I'm not sure any of my readers are exactly in the target demographic, but if you need reminding that, "porches with one leaning pole will collapse, even if the other is strong," you could do worse.

Ealier in the year, even the children's books I picked up were making me cry.  I read Maniac McGee (by Jerry Spinelli) to Dianthus and had forgotten how explicit the discussion of racism is. The book is still excellent, but I want it to be outdated.  It is not.  Aster brought home Bravemole (by Lynne Jonell) from the library.  I'm all about picture books about rodents.  Except that it is a book about the September 11th attacks and I was not ready for that, so wept unceremoniously as I read about the brave worker moles who had thought that the dragons were gone for good.

Kashmira Seth's Keeping Corner is about a pre-teen widow in India.  In itself it is not a tear-jerker, although the idea that someone can be a shaved outcast from the age of 12 is horrifying, and I would recommend it for the mothers, GK, LT and such.  When combined with the recent National Geographic project on widowhood, and profiles of Indian women dumped by their families as widows sixty-some years ago, it is sobering and saddening. [To be clear, these are currently alive women who have been shaved, begging, dead to most of the world widows for over 60 years, since they were 10 or 11].

More brief bits about books:

Gail Carson Levine Ella Enchanted  (a re-told fairy tale).  Among my favorite Cinderella re-tellings, but I have a bunch.

Jessica Day George Tuesdays at the Castle  (a book about my last name) It is packaged as a book that looks purely whimsical (the castle changes shape every Tuesday!), so when the parents die in the second chapter, I groaned to The Mister about how cursed I am with orphan books.  It turns out the book is mostly whimsical, but not nearly as much as suggested,

Shelia Turnage Three Times Lucky (a luck book!)  Also less whimsical than the cover suggests.  Another orphan.  More alcoholism and domestic violence.  Still pretty fun.

Speaking of the times not changing, orphans and unexpected domestic violence, The Mister and I watched the Netflix series Anne with an E.  I was of very mixed opinion (This is super-well done, fantastically casted and the writers respect the characters, even if they are forging their own plot lines. The tongue-in-cheek feminism thing is actually very fun, if depressing.) until the last episode, which includes character assassination and is just plain wrong.  If there is another season I won't be watching it.  Probably.  Except that I watched that horrible Martin Sheen PBS thing on Thanksgiving, and I went to Prince Edward Island for Anne tourism, so I probably will.  I am re-reading Anne of Green Gables right now, and have learned that a few of you haven't read it, and you should.

The book about obsessive birding I was reading last summer, Dan Koeppel's To See Every Bird on Earth started out with concentration camps (and if I left it at your house, let me know.  I think I made it halfway), and this year's book about obsessive birding,  Big Year by Mark Obmascik, hits failed marriages pretty hard in the early chapters.  Both left me wondering exactly what I got myself into.  Big Year is quite an acheivement-- both the concept of Big Year birding (a competition with very specific rules without known competitors or prizes), and the book that manages to make it fascinating for a book-length read (Thanks E for the book!).

I haven't seen the Big Year movie yet (I still don't get how it could be done with a celebrity cast), but I did watch a childhood favorite bird movie, Condorman, while in Kansas at the end of April.  It is slightly less cheesy and less dated than I would have expected, but I think I had really low expectations.

Oh, I also read LaVyrle Spencer's Hummingbird for bird year, but can't shut off the "rape culture should be called out" part of my brain long enough to enjoy such silly historical bodice rippers anymore.

What have you been reading?

And if it is Silent Spring, how can I facilitate conversation without having read it?

(*Once again I hope me of the future doesn't get any of the allusions to current events)

Monday, June 12, 2017

Funky Pie and Progress

Blue cheese, kale, onion and a little bacon
Old blue cheese smoldering in the fridge and some vague recollections of a blue cheese kale tart recipe, led to this umami bomb of a dish, which I somehow insisted on calling a pie rather than a quiche.  It was full of caramelized onions, kale from our garden and lots of blue cheese.  I was pleased.

The other half of the pastry dough went toward a blackberry blueberry pie with a crumble top.  While it was delicious fresh out of the oven, it was actually better chilled the next morning with time to set, and, of course, blackberry pie makes a fabulous breakfast.  Blackberries were from the farmers' market and blueberries commercially frozen.  Pastry was the Magpie recipe (butter and stick form Crisco) with one cup (of the 2 1/2 total) of the flour whole wheat.  Filling was mostly from Art of Pie (tapioca thickened) and crumble top was made up on the spot.

Blackberry blueberry cut while it was too hot
In other pie news, I know my mother-in-law loves me because she baked a peach pie (using the last of last year's frozen Colorado peaches!) for my birthday celebration with them.  (True, my mother-in-law has never been anything but open and loving and has expressed affection with words and deeds, but peach pie with Colorado peaches is my language).

The Mister's extended family has an annual pot-luck after a gathering at the cemetery on Memorial weekend.  There were several pies available-- goopy cherry, goopy strawberry, goopy cherry cream (which I later learned was cherry cheesecake, but if you are going to bake it in a pie crust and top it with a bunch of pie filling, I am going to consider it a pie). and mincemeat.  I ate the mincemeat because I am sure it must be a family specialty of one is serving mincemeat in May.  I had a bite of Aster's strawberry, which just reminded me that whole strawberries don't make a great pie, and I avoided the other's because I have become a cherry pie snob (I love a good cherry pie and I have no interest in pre-prepared cherry pie filling.  I was like this before MiL further spoiled it for me by sharing pies made with the rare tart cherries from her trees.)

On the way back to Oklahoma from Kansas, we bought convenience store  Moon Pies.  They needed more moisture and more flavor, but I suppose they were okay.

Yeah, we melted a plastic tray, but baked some great cookies
Every batch had issues, but every batch was tasty
In other baking news, during finals I baked macaroons (the delicious French sandwich cookies, not the delicious balls of coconut) with Aster, Dianthus and some college students.  They were tasty although disasters ensued.  Dianthus and I have since made macaroons from a mix and Friday night he rolled sushi as he is practicing for competitive cooking, and both macaroons and sushi trays were challenges on the recent season of Master Chef Junior.  I made not-quite-macaroons for the Mister Family Pot-Luck and for friends in Kansas, where we covered them with chocolate ganache, while chocolate coconut cream and strawberry-rhubarb sauce.

Rolling sushi
Yes, someone has shorter hair now, too.

Pies Baked Year of Pie (Continued)
Blue Cheese Kale
Blackberry Rhubarb
Coconut Chocolate (sweetened condense milk base.  Just fine.).
April 30
Dairy free coconut custard (invented at the last moment.  Just fine.)

Thursday, June 1, 2017

Herons and more

I have seen my "spirit animal", the great blue heron, a great deal recently.

It makes me feel like my life is on the right track, even if so much else isn't.

Wildlife adventure before even putting in the boats
Besides a heron that didn't stay around for a photo, and a great egret, on Cane Bayou May 18 we saw a diamondback watersnake eating a catfish, eyes of several alligators, a gray snake in a tree, a cricket toe in the kayak smaller than the Mister's toe, a green tree frog, several red eared sliders and possibly some other turtles, a squirrel that didn't move (in a tree, mid-day.  We stayed away from that squirrel), a parent osprey feeding two chicks, and a dragonfly that ate a damselfly while I was explaining the difference to the other groups.  While out with the excellent Canoe and Trail Adventures ( source of these photos) we also heard bronze frogs and pig frogs that we did not see.  Our guide told us we might see a Mississippi Kite soaring if we were lucky, but we certainly wouldn't be so lucky as to see one perched.  And in Louisiana we didn't see any, but we must be really lucky in our small town in Oklahoma, for there seem to be even more patrolling our skies this summer.

Cricket Frog. Not The Mister's foot. photo
While I'm listing birds, I should add that on the recent trip to Kansas, besides the herons, we saw eastern kingbirds (lots of westerns here in Oklahoma, along with scissortailed flycatchers), large families of Canada geese with goslings of different ages, shrikes, hummingbirds, cardinals, blue jays, hawks (mostly red-tailed), cattle egrets, nighthawks, bluebirds, house finches, gold finches and oriels.
My shins (only) sunburned.  They are peeling now.


Witty watching caption goes here.
Photo also by Canoe and Trail Adventures.