Thursday, July 31, 2008

Gettin' my shimmy on . . .

A while back, I took a bellydancing class. We met for six weeks, we had our little recital, and that was that. Right? Not so fast.

A few weeks ago, I got a call from the instructor. It seems that a national news program was profiling one of the members of our class for a special on Mississippians who were committed to getting fit. Anyhoo, they wanted to send a film crew from Los Angeles down to Hal and Mal's, where they wanted us to re-create our class recital so they could film it for use in the program.

Meaning that my undulating mid-section would be flashing briefly across the screens of innocent viewers nationwide. Aaack. Tuesday night found me at Hal and Mal's in my bellydancing regalia, such as it is. (Most of our class members have full bellydancing costumes. I think I was the only one there in a black sleevless top, some black slacks, and a veil!)

Needless to say, I showed up early to get a few drinks in me before the film crew got there. They packed the audience with not only invited guests, but random barflies, who hollered and hooted for us during the MANY MANY times we did the routine. (We had to keep doing it over and over so the crew could film it from different camera angles.)

But it was fun, and April (the woman being profiled) looked GREAT! Since I got blasted for no bellydancing pics last time, I thought I'd include one from this second performance. Don't we look cute?! (Incidentally, I can't believe that I'M the tall one in this photo! I'm NEVER the tall one. Nev. Er.)

Monday, July 28, 2008

Dealing with Death

I just finished reading The Year of Magical Thinking, by Joan Didion. The memoir chronicles the year after the death of Didion's husband. It is an interesting treatise on grief and mourning, if a bit too cerebral at times.

Didion's husband, John, dies from a cardiac event right before Christmas. Shortly before his death, the couple's daughter, Quintana, suffered an embolism which led to her hospitalization. So basically, Didion has to deal with the death of her husband of 40 years while caring for her hospitalized daughter, who is still clinging to life.

Didion had, I thought, many interesting things to say about the death of a loved one - how we never expect life to change so drastically, so quickly. How we can never really know what to expect, how we will feel, until it happens to us. How most of us may think of our reactions to death in immediate terms - the funeral, etc. - but we never adequately consider the long years of absence thereafter, and how we will deal with those. How, despite what our rational mind knows (this person is gone forever, etc.), part of us still hopes/thinks they will return to us, miraculously.

My only criticism of the book is Didion's tendency to over-intellectualize everything. By turns this habit was both interesting and tiresome. Having read the book, though, my guess is that this is the kind of person she is. I would bet that, were I to read one of her novels, I would find the same penchant for the slightly pretentious.

At any rate, I enjoyed the book. Out of five start, I'd give it three or so. Not a must-read, but worth picking up if you have some time.

Friday, July 25, 2008

A new word

Reading Karr's The Liar's Club, I came across a word that I had never heard, but which I am now determined to incorporate into my general vocabulary. "Horking" is a word that Karr uses for vomiting, and though I didn't find it my Merriam-Webster's, I'm telling myself it's just a bureaucratic oversight.

Not only does "horking" have wonderful onomatopoeia, I personally think it could be applied to many different actions.
To wit:
I have been coughing all day. I nearly horked up my lung this morning.
They horked down those burgers as if they hadn't eated in a week.
Her casserole stank like a pile of fresh hork.
I drank too much last night, but I felt better after a good hork.

I mean, where has this word been all my life?! Expect to see more of the word "hork" in forthcoming posts!

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Un-put-downable

I just finished reading The Liar's Club, by Mary Karr, and it is one of the most un-put-downable memoirs I have ever read. Karr grew up in the lower middle class of a depressing town in Texas. The story revolves around her family life as a very young girl - ages 6 to 9 or so. What first strikes you is Karr's voice. Tomboyish, able to hold a grudge, thirsty for love, stubborn as a mule, Karr unflinchingly admits her own foibles and those of others, but also cuts through the novel's events to the beating, loving heart of her family.

Her alcoholic/manic depressive mother is beautiful and educated in a town where neither attribute was common. Her father, a working man with a talent for bombast, dotes on both his children, but particularly on Karr, whom he dubs "Pokey." After her mother leaves her father, Karr and her sister choose to live with her mother, more out of a sense of feeling obligated to protect her from herself than anything else.

Eventually, the family finds its way back together again, and the story is satisfyingly whole. Though few doubt that at least some of a memoirist's work must be imagination (Who among us can remember such detail about their life as a 7-year-old?), Karr has a knack for taking down some of her more relatable thoughts and experiences. The people she writes about, their conversations, their weaknesses, have the ring of universality.

Worth reading, and one of the best examples of the genre I've come across in a while.

Monday, July 21, 2008

First words!

Clay has begun saying his first word! He says, "Hey!" and waves his little hand at you. It is soooooo cute!! I completely give the credit on this one to hubs, who spent alot of time waving and saying "Hey!" himself in order to get booger to copy him.

I am also sure that Clay understands the word "cookie." He LOVES vanilla wafers, and we maybe give him a couple a day. But we always dole them out in the same place - a corner of the kitchen underneath the cabinet where we keep the bag of cookies. He can be anywhere in the house, and doing anything, and if we say, "Do you want a cookie?", he immediately looks up at us and then heads for that corner of the kitchen. As in, "Yes! I SO want a cookie! You totally read my mind! Now, where is it?"

He's also been learning to walk in his first pair of shoes lately. I got them for him because I'd like him to be able to walk in them pretty well by the time we go to Portland. That way, if we're out and about up there, I can get him out of his stroller and let him toddle around a bit. So now, some time during the morning hours, we put his shoes on and then go out to the back yard to play. He toddles all around the big patio (Thank God I had it enlarged; it is HUGE now and provides plenty of space to do laps!), looking at all the potted plants and peering with fascination at the wind chimes. He does really well on flat, level surfaces, though he tumbles alot if he ventures out onto the lawn.

He's growing up so fast! What a sweetie pie! I love that kid.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Memphis trip report (cont.)

On Saturday morning, Some of the members of our party legged it down Main Street a bit in search of brunch. We ended up stopping in the Cafe Napoleon, which I wouldn't necessarily recommend to anyone on the basis of its food, but which was locally owned by some super-sweet people. (And I had bacon. No one can screw up bacon. I LOVE bacon.)

On the way back, I got some cute pics of kids playing in the fountains on Mail Street. Sooo cute!

Then, we headed over to the National Civil Rights Museum. This is where things started going downhill. When we arrived, there was a line snaking out the door, in the heat. No one seemed to know if this was the line to get in, the line to purchase tickets, what. And there was no representative of the facility there to direct people.

When we finally did make it inside, a museum rep was shouting (and she had to, really, because the lobby area was so crowded) that we had to check our cameras and camcorders (They said they would set off alarms within the exhibit. Riiiiiight.), which I wasn't crazy about. I mean, if you have a $20 camera, it's no big deal to check it with a stranger. But if your camera costs more like $250? You kinda don't want to hand it over to the unknown person behind the window.

So we split up. Some of us went to check everyone's cameras and some of us went to buy museum tickets. After waiting in lines for that, we went to ANOTHER line to wait to be admitted into the actual museum. The lobby was thick with people. And it was HOT. The AC may have been going full blast, but so many bodies crammed into such a small place made it virtually worthless.

Finally, we were ushered into a theatre to watch a brief video about the Civil Rights movement before FINALLY making our way to the actual museum. Again, a museum rep in the theatre shouted at us to move in and leave no seats open due to the crowd. (Though when the video started, there were still plenty of vacant seats in the theatre.)

Anyhoo, the video was informative and well done, and then we were unleashed upon the museum itself. A word about the exhibits - there are alot of printed placards containing information and quotes about various stages of the Civil Rights movement. In fact, there are almost too many. You are basically confronted with wall after wall of printed text, which takes alot of time to get through. (Plus, if you are short - like me - you have to jostle your way up to the front of the assemblage to even SEE what you are looking at.)

The actual artifacts on display were quite powerful, including vignettes of Rosa Parks (You walked through a bus, and there were both audio and text placards to guide you.), lunch counter sit-ins (This was extremely powerful; the video here was amazing.), and a burned-out Freedom Riders bus. I wished that the museum had showcased more of these types of items and fewer "walls o' text" that you had to just read.

The tour ended in a complete bottleneck at the hotel room where Martin Luther King was shot. (See pic above - an outside photo.) I peeped in, but by this time, I was mostly hungry, tired, and burning-up hot. We skipped the second part of the museum, across the street, because we were weary and fed-up.

I arrived really wanting to get the most out of this experience, but unfortunately poor museum crowd control (and traffic flow in the design of the facility) made it difficult. I recommend calling ahead and asking museum staff when they experience a "slow time" in order to better absorb what this museum has to offer.

We found refuge at The Majestic, a restaurant on Main Street. Cooling fans, white tablecloths, and great food awaited us. I had the flatbread duck confit appetizer, which was big enough to be a meal in itself. The waitress kept the cold iced tea coming. We slowly began to revive.

After that, well, it was time to head back home! We stopped in Grenada for ice cream at Spencer's on the way back, and then beat a hot trail to Jackson.

All in all, it was a great trip! I really enjoyed myself!

Next up - Portland, Ore., in early August.

Walking in Memphis

This weekend, I hit the road to Memphis for some fun with a few girlfriends. Thought you might appreciate a trip report!

We headed straight from Jackson to Gus's World Famous Hot and Spicy Fried Chicken, located in downtown Memphis on Front Street. I had never been there before, but I'd heard so many raves that I wanted to try it. Miraculously, it wasn't that busy when we showed up for lunch. We were quickly seated, and our server promptly came over to take our orders. We started with an appetizer order of fried green tomatoes because there were those in our party (and I'm not naming any names here, but their initials were Stacey) who had NEVER TRIED them. The tomatoes came out quickly, fresh from the oil. They were delish!!

With that experience checked off our collective lists, we all eagerly anticipated the chicken. And we were not disappointed. Again, served fresh from the pan, the chicken was crispy and piping hot without being greasy. (You know your chicken isn't greasy when it's served on a slice of untoasted white bread, and the bread remains free of grease. Divine.) I found the spice referred to in the establishment's name to be subtle, though there were those in our party who thought it was more pronounced. I inhaled the chicken and seasoned fries, we paid our tab (cheap, cheap cheap. It was something like $37 for four people.), and we headed in the general direction of Graceland.

We had pre-purchased Platinum Tour tickets, which allowed us access to the mansion, Elvis' car museum, his two planes, and a limited exhibit of his clothing. I thought the tours were really interesting. You could enjoy all of the exhibits at your own pace, and there was alot to see. It took us about 2.5 hours to tour, and we didn't even get to the "Private Presley" exhibit, which focused on Elvis' years in the military.

What was reinforced to me on the tour was what a profound impact Elvis had on the music industry. He shattered records all over the place (see the pic above) and continued releasing hits almost until his death. There was also an emphasis on his charity work (he donated to a wide range of causes) and his close relationship with his family.

And if you want to see how a major attraction handles crowd flow and markets well to its visitors, look no further. Tourists are moved through Graceland with the precision of a Swiss clock. I never felt rushed, and I never felt as though any of the exhibits were too crowded to enjoy them. Also, there were attraction representatives scattered throughout the grounds to direct you, answer questions, and make sure your experience at Graceland was a positive one. Can't commend them enough on that.

After Graceland, we checked into the Downtown Marriott. We had beautiful room on the 17th floor, with views of the city and the river. After a few minor mishaps (the elevators were on the fritz when we first arrived, our toilet had a brief malfunction which was quickly repaired, etc.), everything at the hotel went smoothly.

We were initially going to hit Rendevouz for dinner, but when we discovered an hour wait at the establishment (aaack. You know how I hate to wait.), we decided on Blues City Cafe. (Thanks for the suggestion, wonderful front desk person at the Holiday Inn!) We were not disappointed. Our party of four was quickly seated, and in no time we were feasting on ribs, beans, slaw, fries, and yummy grilled bread.

After dinner, we waddled, er, walked, down Beale Street to check out the action. We saw some amazing feats of acrobatics by a muscled group of young black guys, who flipped and tumbled their way expertly down the hill that is Beale. It was still a bit early, and though some establishments already had live music playing, I was dismayed to discover that no one was dancing. We were in luck, though. At the very end of the street, a small group of musicians was playing on the curb. There was an older man (who was clearly three sheets to the wind) dancing for the large crowd that had assembled to listen.

Then Stacey spoke the fatal words. "I dare you to go dance with that old man." Need I continue? I sashayed out to the middle of the group and danced a number or two with him, eventually pulling Stacey and a little girl out of the audience to join us. Fun, fun, FUN!!!

A bit parched, we decided to leg it over to the Peabody Hotel to enjoy a drink or two in their famous lobby. The ducks had long since been moved back up to the roof, but I enjoyed the atmosphere and history of the place while sipping a Pomtini (which I can highly recommend).

Our first day coming to a close, we ambled back to our hotel.

Stay tuned for our adventures on Saturday!

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Tigers and bears, but no lions.

Hubs and I took booger on his first trip to the Jackson Zoo this week! His aunt and cousin were in town, so we all packed up and went together. It was so much fun! First of all, and I can't stress this enough, you have to get to the zoo EARLY during the summer months. (The zoo opens at 8 a.m. during July for a reason.) While the zoo has incorporated ways to help you beat the heat over the years (misters; more shaded exhibits/areas; some indoor/air-conditioned exhibit space), the majority of the zoo is still outside and HOT. So plan ahead - bring water, wear suncreen/hats, and show up early.

We got there around 8:30 a.m., and by the time we left at around 10 a.m., it was just starting to warm up. We had big fun looking at the elephants and giraffes, getting up close and personal with all the monkeys, and watching the otters frolic. (Clay and I read the Dear Zoo book alot, and we found most of the animals from our book at the Jackson Zoo! I was a little surprised, though, that we didn't see any lions while we there. Am I mistaken? I though the zoo had some lions. Maybe my memory fails . . . )

If you have older kids, you might want to make a stop by the interactive Discovery Zoo on your way out. (It doesn't open until 10 a.m.) And while there are plenty of places to buy food and drink in the zoo, we weren't discouraged from bringing in our own bottled water.

Admission is $6 for adults and $3 for kids. (Kids 2 and under get in free!) Parking at the zoo is $2.

Be aware - you have to drive through a very sketchy part of town to get to the zoo. Chin up - you park on zoo property in a gated lot. But you would THINK that the City of Jackson would make an effort to clean up right around one of its major attractions. Sad, sad, sad.

Nose in a book.

I've had my nose in a few books lately, and I wanted to weigh in. First of all, I picked up Ann Patchett's bel canto this week. WOW. I loved this book, and I think you will, too.

In an unnamed South American country, government officials are throwing an elaborate birthday party for Mr. Hosokawa, the CEO of a vast Japanese electronics company. The officials are hoping to dazzle him into locating a factory within their borders, bringing jobs and prosperity to the nation. To lure Mr. Hosokawa to the party, an exclusive live performance by famed opera singer Roxana Coss has been scheduled. (Hosokawa is a huge opera fan, and Coss is his favorite soprano.)

The evening is on its way to a successful conclusion when a group of armed terrorists storm the party, looking for the country's president as a high-profile hostage. Unable to find him in the raid (he unexpectedly did not attend the evening's festivities), the terrorists are forced to concoct Plan B, which involves taking everyone hostage. This plan is eventually amended to trading the most valuable hostages (re: top government officials, diplomats from other countries, leading businessmen) in return for the satisfaction of the terrorists' demands.

As negotiations between the authorities and the terrorists drag on, the hostages (all type A personalities) begin to learn how to do, well, nothing. They form bonds with one another and get to know their captors. They look out windows. They leaf through magazines. They learn new languages, play and listen to music, and cook. The hostage situation becomes a rather unique vacation from their normal lives, and the characters begin to adapt to the situation.

A Japanese businessman surprises everyone with his talent for piano. One of the terrorists can sing, and the opera singer sets about teaching him proper technique. A French diplomat relishes his time in the kitchen, chopping up onions and roasting chickens for the assemblage. Some of the characters find love in one another's arms. Their time together becomes the beautiful song of the book's title. A time for reflection, beauty, love, and friendship. But it is also a time of forgetting. Everyone avoids thinking about how the situation must end and what the government will eventually do to force the hands of the terrorists and get the hostages released. Because, as both the characters and the readers know, all songs must come to a close.

I know it sounds like a far-fetched premise for a book, but you will love every minute of this story. The characters are wonderfully drawn, and Patchett's soaring passages about music and careful sketches of human relationships will leave you refreshed and inspired. Don't miss this one.

I also finally got around to reading Love in the Time of Cholera. This tome by Gabriel Garcia Marquez had been on my list a while, and, having read it, I might suggest Obsession in the Time of Cholera as a more apt name.

The book, set in the Carribbean in the late 1800s, tells us first of the first young romance between Fermina Daza, a school-girl with an overbearing father, and Florentino Ariza, a young, poor man (and an illigitemate child, no less) with a penchant for the nostalgic/romantic side of life. Florentino first sees Fermina walking to school with her spinster aunt and falls immediately and hopelessly in love with her. He quickly arranges to send her secret love notes, serenade her on the violin, and write flowery poems in her honor. Eventually, he asks her to marry him. Fermina begrudgingly agrees to the engagement, but only if it can be kept secret from her father until she is older and more secure in her ability to assert her will. Florentino assents.

However, when Fermina's father discovers the plan (long before the appointed time), he whisks his young daughter off on a long trip. Absence, rather than making the heart grow fonder, convinces Fermina that she does not, in fact, love Florentino. Later, after father and daughter return home, Fermina breaks her engagement to Florentino, eventually marrying a young, rich doctor with a respected family name.

While Fermina does not seem to feel a riot of emotion for her intended, she realizes that she is making the right choice. The couple goes on to live a happy life together, raising two children and playing an active role in public life. (I found it interesting that the man Fermina eventually chooses to marry is the polar opposite of Florentino. Where Florentino longs for the nostalgic, wearing clothes long out of style and clinging to a way of writing/courting/living that is representative of the past, Fermina's husband is all about progress and modernity. Marquez created a nice dichotomy with the two men in Fermina's life.)

Rather than dusting himself off and moving on, Florentino nurses and cherishes his rejected love. While he has many sexual relationships (most of them unobjectionable, though the final one is disgustingly awful and wrong), he never marries. He hopes and prays for the day when Fermina will be free again. By the end of the novel, the reader begins to see what such single-minded devotion has resulted in.

The book is rather long and very slow-moving, but it does an excellent job of character development. In addition, Marquez has a talent for descriptive writing, and I loved reading passages about the city the characters lived in.

And while some might characterize this book as a story of enduring love (the love of Florentino for Fermina), boy does it make "love" look unhealthy. Florentino does not love Fermina. When he asks her to marry him, he barely even knows her. When she jilts him, he still barely even knows her. And yet he hangs onto to his obsession with her, carefully feeding it throughout his entire life, until he's a dirty old man. He finds solace in sexual escapades with widows, unattached women, and eventually a VERY young girl whom he's supposed to be serving as guardian for (sick, sick, sick) while he waits for Fermina's husband to kick the bucket so he can swoop in.

Just because you dress it up in poetry and moonlight violin serenades does not make it love. Today, Florentino would be called a stalker and probably face harassment charges. I think that the book is so named because the kind of "love" that Florentino has is a sickness, just like cholera. And its side effects are no less damaging.

Meanwhile, Fermina did not seem to really love either of the men in the book. She made decisions that she felt were the right course of action, but, even when she was engaged to Florentino, and even when she later married the doctor, Marquez does not describe her as caught up in the throes of love. She seems much too . . . practical . . . for that.

At any rate, I found this to be a rich, atmospheric novel with realistically delineated characters, but it was a story of waste and obessession rather than one of love. I finished reading with a bit of a hopeless feeling. Not a quick read or an uplifting one.

Good idea. Weird ending.

I caught Magnolia, an older movie (1999) starring Tom Cruise, Julianne Moore, William H. Macy, Philip Seymour Hoffman, and John C. Reilly, this week. I had remembered that, when it came out, there was this big stink about Tom Cruise's odd role in it. Having seen the film, now, though, I don't think his role was what I'd call odd. More accurately, it's just different from the characters he usually plays.

Here's the skinny: The film follows the stories of seemingly unconnected characters, although the short narrative at the beginning of the movie lets us know that these characters ARE all related in one way or another. (This plot device has since been used with varying degrees of success in other films - see Crash, Traffic, etc.) In quick sequences, we are introduced to a cocaine addict and her famous TV-show-host father, an infomercial king who sells ideas on how to "Seduce and Destroy" the opposite sex (Cruise), a child genius and his callous father, a rich man dying of lung cancer (jason Robards) along with his trophy wife (Moore) and hospice nurse (Hoffman), a soft-hearted cop (Reilly), and a washed-up game show contestant (Macy).

Each character is dealing with their own crisis, and these inner (and external) conflicts are depicted in heartbreaking relief by the superb performances in the cast. Eventually, the viewer sees how each story is connected to all of the others, how all of the seemingly disparate lives are part of a larger family.

I was totally hooked by this movie. The acting is amazing, with Moore, Hoffman, Reilly, and Cruise being particular standouts. (I think Cruise goes over the top a bit in some early scenes, but he more than redeems himself in his final sequences. Moore, Hoffman, and Reilly are pitch-perfect.)

As the threads of each storyline were slowly woven together, I begin thinking that this was a GREAT movie. But then, something completely ridiculous happened at the end. It rained frogs. Yes, it literally rained frogs. And I couldn't get past it. And I still don't understand it. Why, oh WHY did director Paul Thomas Anderson do this to me? Is he trying to say that, in some way, the collision of the characters portends the end times? What? Somebody please help me out here. I was willing to give this movie an A, or at least a B+, until the end. The end kinda ruined it for me.

Note - not for younger audiences. Lots of sexual content, some nudity, tons of language.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

I survived.


We had Clay's first birthday party recently, and I'm happy to say that I survived. We decided early on to invite just family members, because booger gets whiny when there are too many folks around, and we were throwing some relatives into the mix that he doesn't see that often. (Plus, the guest list included two five-year-old nephews. May God have mercy on our souls.)

We did an evening cookout, and all told, there were about 12 people there. Because his birthday is in July, and because it's an election year, we did a patriotic theme. I had red and blue streamers, bunting, flag placemats, and red and white pinwheels all over the place. We tied a HUGE red/white/blue bow to the mailbox, too. (We even did a cute custom invite for the party, in the style of an invite for an election fundraiser. You know, "Paid for by The Citizens to Celebrate Clay Bradshaw," etc.)

On the menu was pretty much the usual for a cookout -hamburgers, turkey brats, chips, summer corn salad, and these cute little cupcakes that I decorated with blueberries and raspberries. I LOVE cupcakes for parties because there is no messy cutting and extra cake plates. Dessert is self-serve and already portioned into neat servings. People can always have another cupcake if they want more.

Clay didn't quite know what to make of his birthday cupcake, but hubs helped him blow the candle out and got him started on it. Once he was down from the highchair, he played adorably with the two nephews, following them around with contagious little giggles.

When we opened presents, he was pretty amazed at the haul. Hubs and I have been woefully lax about buying him toys (who wants more crap to pick up at the end of the day?), so he's basically been playing with the same stuff since he was born. This morning, he ran around maniacally, looking at all his new stuff and chewing on it to make sure it was real. We are retiring some old playthings to make room for the new stuff, so it should all even out in the grand scheme of things.

After a bit of play, why, it was seven o'clock! Family made their way out the door, we plunked little man into his bath and then into bed, and then Brian and I collapsed on the bed, completely and utterly bereft of energy.

But, hey, we made it, right? We made it a whole year, and the kid's still alive. PLUS, we threw a pretty awesome birthday party for a 1-year-old. So, who gives out the medals? Do we even get T-shirts?

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Dino-riffic!

I took little man to the Mississippi Museum of Natural Science today to see the animatronic dinosaur exhibit they have on display. They've got five or so vignettes with moving dinosaurs in little habitats, plus a cool model of the inner workings of the dinos that you can control at the push of a button. (I thought that was a nice touch. So take your kid to see the stripped-down model, which is not scary at all and which they can control, and then maybe they won't be spooked by the fully fleshed-out versions later in the exhibit.)

Plus, since booger is walking now, this is the first time he was really able to enjoy the preschool room. (That's where he is in the photo.) He ran around that place like it was an amusement park. (And I guess it kinda was, for him.) He played with the big foam blocks. He admired himself in the mirror. He took a great interest in all the other kids. Then, he repeatedly tried to stage his escape into the museum itself, running around all over the place, heading primarily for the fish tanks. It was so much fun to watch my little Houdini careen through that place. He was really enjoying himself. If the museum hadn't been so crowded, I would have allowed him more free running time. As it was, though, the place was packed. I kept worrying he'd get stepped on or tripped over.

For one adult and one infant, admission was $5. The dino exhibit is up until January 4, so you have lots of time to visit!

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Picadillo

Hubs and I have LOVED this recipe for Turkey Picadillo for years. But because I have a million cookbooks, and several of them have recipes for picadillo in them, I have a moment of hesitation every time I want to make it. ("Is THIS the recipe that we like? Or is it THIS one over here?") So, mainly because I want to know what recipe I'm making (sheesh.), I'm posting it here, where it's easily accessible. Plus, YOU get to make it now! So it's a win-win!

Turkey Picadillo

1 tsp. olive oil
1 c. finely chopped onion
1 pound ground turkey
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 c. beef broth
1/3 c. raisins (sometimes we use more)
1/3 c. chopped pimiento-stuffed olives (sometimes we use more)
3 Tbsp. capers
1 Tbsp. tomato paste
salt and pepper to taste
3 c. hot cooked rice

Heat oil in large skillet over medium-high heat. Add onion, saute 5 minutes. Add turkey and garlic, cook until browned, stirring to crumble. Add broth and next 5 ingredients (through salt and pepper), stir well. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat, cover, and simmer for 20-30 minutes. Serve with rice.

This makes four large servings. I sometimes add more raisins and olives because they give the dish huge punch. Also, don't put in as much salt in as you think you'll need at first. The olives and capers lend quite a bit of salt to the dish. When in doubt, under-salt. Taste as the dish simmers, and add more then if necessary.

This is a Cooking Light recipe (subscribe today!!), and each serving is only 423 calories! YAY!

Let sleeping dogs lie

A friend recently suggested Agatha Christie's Sleeping Murder to me, so I picked it up on my most recent foray to the library. I so enjoyed it! (Thanks, Jenny!)

The plot revolves around New Zealander Gwenda and Englishman Giles, a young, newly-married couple. While Giles is traveling on business, Gwenda is charged with finding a house in the English countryside for the pair. She jaunts through the country on the errand, enjoying being a tourist as well as a house hunter. (She has never visited England before.) Gwenda finds a charming Victorian villa where she immediately feels at home, purchases it, and begins to decorate and renovate it in preparation for Giles' arrival.

Then the odd things start to happen. She asks the gardener to move some steps from one place to another. Upon beginning the work, the gardener discovers that the new location for the steps was actually original to the house. She requests that a door be cut from one room to another. The workmen begin to carry out her wishes, and they find that, once upon a time, there WAS a door there, exactly where Gwenda pointed out. As these types of "coincidences" accrue, Gwenda feels sure that something is amiss. Is the house haunted, perhaps? Then, she has a frightening vision of the body of a young woman at the foot of the steps in her new home, strangled.

As the mystery begins to unravel, who should happen upon the scene but our dear Miss Marple. Naturally, she lends clarity and caution to the proceedings, and before long, our young couple is in the thick of a decades-old murder investigation.

I love reading these Agatha Christie mysteries! They are such fun, and I never see the RIGHT ending coming. Plus, they give me a hankering for scones (Miss Marple and her compatriots are always talking things out over tea.) which I am only to happy to satisfy.

Wasted time

Our book club chose Kurt Vonnegut's Timequake to read this month, and I approached it with such high hopes. I was sooooo disappointed. I finally gave up on page 190 or so. Basically, it's a quasi-memoir/sci-fi novel with what could have been a very interesting premise - a glitch in time causes everyone to "reset" to ten years prior, after which they must repeat the exact same ten years (with no changes - doing only exactly what they did before, be it mistake or no). Everyone knows they are "repeating," but they can't do anything to stop it or change it.

All the way, Vonnegut makes social and literary points that are in themselves valid, but there's no real cohesive, larger story to pull everything together. There are no primary characters with any discernible plotline. There are no objectives. There are no central conflicts. It's just sort of a wandering, stream-of-consciousness . . . thing. (I hesitate to even call it a narrative.)

Sooooo, anyway, unless you are a big Vonnegut fan (as I've heard that this novel is very indicative of his work, though not his best book), pick this up. If not, pass on it.

Monday, July 07, 2008

Poetry Project

When discussing American poetry, one always seems to begin at Longfellow. Enormously popular during his lifetime (and still), I must say that I do recognize myself (and a particularly American sensibility) when I read his work. Though I'm not fond of long, narrative poems in general (his specialty), I do like some of his shorter stuff. "The Children's Hour" is much more poignant now that I have a little one of my own, but since we all read that one in high school, I thought I'd post something a bit lesser-known.

Snowflakes
by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Out of the bosom of the Air,
Out of the cloud folds of her garments shaken,
Over the woodlands brown and bare,
Silent, and soft, and slow
Descends the snow.

Even as our cloudy fancies take
Suddenly shape in some divine expression,
Even as the troubled heart doth make
In the white countenance confession,
The troubled sky reveals
The grief it feels.

This is the poem of the air,
Slowly in silent syllables recorded;
This is the secret of despair,
Long in its cloudy bosom hoarded,
Now whispered and revealed
To wood and field.


P.S. If you know these poems I'm posting, you probably know that I can't get all the line spacings right on blogger. If you are aware of a way to tab in at the beginning of the line, let me know! So far, I haven't figured it out.

Crafty little devil

I FINALLY went to the new Mississippi Crafts Center over the weekend. The building is absolutely gorgeous, with a modern-looking glass staircase drawing the eye around the large, airy atrium at the entrance. The floors look to be stained concrete, and frosted glass panels (which can be removed to accomodate large events) divide the first floor into several separate spaces.

Two intricate pieces by Fletcher Cox accentuate the lobby area, and the shop featuring work of Craftsmen's Guild Members is soooo much bigger than any retail space the Guild had before. The merchandise, to say the least, is impressive. I'm a sucker for all of the gorgeous hand-carved wood pieces - bowls, furniture, vases, cooking tools, gorgeous little treasure boxes, small pieces of statuary - but there is so much more available. Pottery of every description, jewelry, fiber crafts such as scarves and hats, stained glass, metal and stone sculpture, wall art, everything you can think of is for sale in the expansive, light-filled space.

I noticed, too, that the building (which is available for rent) has an embarassment of locations where events could be staged. As I said before, the atrium can be enlarged by moving the glass panels. There is also usable covered event space in both the front and the back of the building. It would make a wonderful setting for an evening event, particularly in the summer.

So, after having spent an enjoyable hour or so admiring the new building and exclaiming over wonderful items in the shop, I began to take my leave. At such time, I was accosted by an older gentleman just outside of the front door. He seemed nice enough, well-dressed in clean, pressed clothing, and he informed me that he was the brother of the craftsman (and very talented woodworker) who was demonstrating at the facility today. Then, he launched into a nearly 20-minute monologue about his travels, his visits to galleries and museums, his garden back home, his penchant for marijuana, his ability to gain entry to any venue without paying admission, and so on and so forth. I was heartily trying to be polite for the first 10 minutes or so. I spent the next five minutes wondering how on earth I would ever escape. During the last five minutes, I slowly inched towards my car, eventually calling out that I couldn't stand to hear about any more debauchery as I hastily slammed the driver's side door.

Now, I can walk quickly and keep my eyes facing forward with the best of them, particularly when I'm in a location where such behavior constitutes self-preservation. But I was just so unprepared to be held captive at the crafts center! And when that little guy got going, he just WOULD NOT hush! He admitted to me twice that he was manic (in between telling me about mandingos and bragging at how he scored some weed off a hotel doorman once), and it was clear from his wildly erratic diarrhea of the mouth that he was being completely honest. While I never once feared for my safety (he was harmless, and there were plenty of people around), I did become increasingly annoyed.

At the drop of a hat, there went 20 minutes of my life that I will NEVER get back, and that I sorely wish I could have salvaged. Groan.

More time

I saw 25th Hour, starring Edward Norton, last week, and I sooooo enjoyed it. I'm beginning to like Edward Norton alot. I think he's a great actor, but more than that, he seems to pick really interesting projects. (That said, I have zero desire to see him as The Incredible Hulk. Part of the reason I like him is that he's steered clear of such roles. Plus, I don't think I could buy him as a comic book character.)

In this movie, Norton plays Montgomery, a drug dealer who gets pinched by the DEA. The movie catalogues his final day of freedom before he goes to jail for 7 years on drug charges. He re-visits his old school, has dinner with his father (a wonderful turn by Brian Cox), and goes out one last time with his two best friends (played beautifully by Philip Seymour Hoffman and Barry Pepper) and his girlfriend (Rosario Dawson).

It seems ordinary enough, but every interaction is imbued with meaning because all involved realize what's on the other side of the evening - 7 long, horrible years in prison. Norton is marvelous in this. There is also an achingly quiet scene between Pepper and Hoffman, overlooking the hole that was Ground Zero, that I will remember for a long time.

The only complaint I have is an early scene, played between Norton and his reflection in the mirror, that I thought was too preachy and overwrought. The script circled back around to it later in the film, which redeemed the sequence somewhat, but mostly I felt that this could have been cut without detriment to the story.

Warning - there's alot of language here. But for a movie about a drug dealer, I can understand it. Watch this movie for the performances.

The whole truth

I just finished reading gods in Alabama (by way of Heather's suggestion - Thanks, Heather!), and I thought it was a great read. Author Joshilyn Jackson (There is surely no more obvious way to let your daughter know you were hoping for a boy than to name her "Joshilyn," is there?) introduces us to Arlene, a 27-year-old from Posset, Alabama, now living in Chicago. We learn early in the story three things about Arlene: 1.) she is celibate, 2.) she will not lie, and 3.) she will not return to Posset (and hasn't in about a decade), even though her whole family still lives there.

In the following 250 pages or so, Jackson tells us why Arlene crafted these three cardinal rules for herself, slowly revealing the secret she's been hiding from her family and her sweet boyfriend, Burr, all this time.

This novel is much about the truth and lies. How, when we don't know the full truth, we fill in the blanks in a way that makes sense to us. How we can *technically* tell the truth but still be deceitful. How we lie to ourselves about our pasts and what will make us whole.

The colorful cast of characters includes Arlene's drug-addicted mother, her iron-willed Aunt Florence, her beautiful, bubbly cousin Clarice, and high school quarterback Jim Beverly, who figures heavily into Arlene's rationale for abandoning the small Southern town where she was raised.

While not groundbreaking fiction, the novel is entertaining and reads quickly and pleasurably. There were some interesting twists at the end, and some of the characters had some really funny lines. Worth reading.

Sunday, July 06, 2008

Happiness is a roast chicken.

A short ode to roast chicken. Is there anything more homey, more comforting, more downright wonderful than a beautiful, juicy roast chicken with crispy brown skin? You slosh some broth in a pan, throw the rinsed chicken in, and anoint it liberally with olive oil and salt/pepper. Maybe you throw a quartered onion or some herbs and lemon inside the chicken cavity. Cover with some tin foil and toss it in a 350 degree oven for a couple of hours while you soak in the tub, paint your toenails, and play "This Little Piggy" with the baby. (Our piggies travel all over the world sampling exotic cuisine, so this game can get a bit involved for us.)

Your reward? Delicious, tender yumminess. If you were feeling ambitious and added chopped veggies to the pan an hour into the cooking, you have a complete meal! Clay LOVES the soft-cooked veggies, perfumed and flavored by the lip-smacking liquid that cooks out of the chicken. I swear, we will wash his hands after the meal, and an hour or two later, you can still smell a hint of roast chicken when he puts his little hands on your face to point out your "Eyes, Nose, and Mouth" (another popular game at our house). Strangers with candy? He couldn't care less. But allow one of those strangers to wave a bit of roasted chicken in his general vicinity, and he would follow them to the ends of the earth.

And then the leftovers. The LEFTOVERS! We make homemade chicken salad. (I love it with minced white onion, celery, and tons of curry; or with halved red grapes and pecans; or with celery, green onions, and capers.) We also make rich chicken noodle soup. Sometimes, I'll boil the stripped chicken carcass the next day and make homemade chicken broth, which we use for soups, gravies, risotto, all kinds of fabulous things.

Our family can stretch one roasted chicken into at least three satisfying meals, plus homemade broth. There is absolutely no down side, people.

Saturday, July 05, 2008

What I've been listening to . . .

I recently bought three CDs which I thought I'd share:

Joshua Radin's We Were Here - Joshua Radin apparently went to college with Zach Braff, and so if you watch Braff's movies (or tune in to Scrubs), you'll notice Radin's songs sprinkled in at key moments. Radin has a quiet, folkie sound, with some interesting harmonies and nice, simple arrangements.

Regina Specktor's Begin to Hope (Limited Edition) - I first stumbled across Regina Specktor when a friend had one of her songs ("Samson," which is great) posted to a MySpace profile. Since then, I've noticed that her Soviet Kitsch album got great reviews, and songs from Begin to Hope have hit the charts. I think she has a style reminiscent of a lighter Tori Amos, so if you like Amos, you'll probably like most of the songs on this double-disc set (17 tracks).

Remy Zero's The Golden Hum - Ok, I'll grant that this one is a bit out-there. I found Remy Zero through a tenuous TV connection. (They sing the title credits song for the TV show "Smallville," which hubs loves.) Though the band is no longer making music together, I picked up this CD because I was interested in a few stray songs of theirs that I'd managed to hear snatches of, and I thought they were worth checking out. Now, some of the songs on this CD are just plain weird. But some seem oddly inspired. Check out some of the samples posted on Amazon, and you'll get a feel for their brand of racket.

Friday, July 04, 2008

Through a child's eyes

I recently finished reading When Madeline Was Young, by Jane Hamilton. I've read a few of her books before - A Map of the World (which I was rather ambivalent about) and The Book of Ruth (which I thought was wonderful) - so I figured it was time to pick her up again.

The novel hinges on Hamilton's deft sketch of the Maciver family. Our narrator's father, Aaron, an intellectual fellow from a good family, marries the beautiful Madeline, a statuesque blonde with a penchant for fashion. Everything is going along swimmingly in their new-married lives until Madeline suffers head trauma during a bicycle accident, leaving her with the mind of a 7-year-old.

With Madeline's own parents at too much of a loss to care for her, this duty falls to Aaron and his aging mother. Soon, however, another woman enters the picture - solid, smart, gentle Julia. Over time, Aaron and Julia fall in love. What to do? The two arrange for Mac to divorce Madeline and marry Julia, and then Julia and Mac care tenderly for Madeline as if she were one of their own children. Aaron and Julia go on to have their own children (of which Mac, our narrator, is one) and live full lives together against the backdrop of the coming Vietnam War.

Characterization in this book is wonderful, and I liked Hamilton's basic premise - What happens after tragedy? And not just in the initial months, but in the long years thereafter, when the grind of constant care and eternal watchfulness drags a bit? How do people piece their lives together in the face of such responsibilities?

Hamilton freely admits that this book was inspired by Spencer's A Light in the Piazza (which I have been meaning to read for months). Now that I've finished this tome, I plan on getting Spencer's short novel at the library during my next trip. (Incidentally, A Light in the Piazza was also adapted as a stage musical. New Stage Theatre will be producing in next season.)

At any rate, while not an uplifting sort of read, I found this novel to be interesting and well thought out. Worth reading.

Up, up, and away!

Well, I've gone and done it. I booked tickets to visit my sister in Portland in August. I'll be taking booger with me - his first plane ride! I'm a little nervous, but mostly I'm excited. I've hardly seen sis since she moved up there more than a year ago. I totally support her in her choice of where to live, but it has been a change for our close-knit family. She wasn't able to be here when booger was born, and she will miss his first birthday party. I didn't see her on my birthday, and I didn't see her on hers. She wasn't able to join us for Father's Day lunch this year, she missed Thanksgiving last November, the list goes on. I know that she misses us and wants to be with us, and we certainly miss her.

Anyway, enough boo-hooing. I'll be seeing her, with little man in tow, for a little more than a week come August. Hopefully, the flights won't be too bone-grinding with a one-year-old, and Portland looks like a nice, laid-back, family-friendly city. I'm looking forward to checking out some of their botanic gardens. They have a Japanese Garden, an International Rose Test Garden, and a Classical Chinese Garden that all look gorgeous online; maybe we'll be able to swing by some of those. Plus, they have a famed farmer's market and an open-air crafts market (which is supposed to be a great place to find souveniers) that I'd like to check out. They have lots of kid-friendly attractions - a great zoo, some cool parks, and alot of outdoor trails/sights - too. Lastly, the food is rumored to be wonderful there, so I'm looking forward to eating!

Also on the travel front, I'm slipping away to Memphis next weekend with some girlfriends. Our plan is to see Graceland in all its glory and eat alot of barbeque. (Sounds good to me!) I'll post a trip report upon our return!