Right now I am reading NEXT by James Hynes.  I will probably get some of his older works.  His writing is wonderful.  Don’t know how I have missed him.

Kevin is a middle-aged man looking for a new job and new location to escape the mind-numbing, humiliating job he has in Ann Arbor as an editor in a dead-end, under funded, department at the University of Michigan.  He travels to Austin all the while worrying about terrorist attacks and jihadists.  He sat next to a beautiful girl (half his age) on the plane and is now following her through the streets of Austin.

The following quote is x-rated, but really funny.  It refers to his current live-in girlfriend that he would like to break up with, but isn’t sure what the protocol is since he is her landlord.  He isn’t sure whether she will be more upset over the break-up or the loss of her apartment.  This is how she got the apartment in the first place.

“Well, maybe it was the other way around, she blew him first and then he offered her the apartment–he’s hazy on the details, he was a little drunk at the time—but either way it was an epic fellation.  She took her time, she acted as if she enjoyed it, she had technique.  Whatever warnings the Jiminy Cricket in his forebrain might have had about a young woman who was willing to blow her potential landlord on the first date were sluiced away in the patella-rattling rush of pleasure, and by his relief, considering where she was putting her mouth, that she hadn’t ordered the bird peppers. with her stir-fry.”

Loved the Jiminy Cricket reference.

And his descriptions of cultural icons like Starbucks that have intrigued me.  “Starbucks is like its own country, you have to know the silly argot.”

The woman he encounters in the Starbucks…….”Cheerleader, thinks Kevin.  Sorority girl, marketing major, party girl once upon a time.  A Republican, maybe, but a fun Republican, a sexy Republican.  She’s pretty, formerly pert, now softening around the edges.”

That’s as far as I have gotten, but Shelly says the last 20 pages are “heart in your throat gripping.”

I just finished So Cold the River by Michael Kortya.  A lot like a Stephen King novel.  Supernatural happenings in French Lick, Indiana.  Not a 5 star, but a good beach read if you like that sort of thing.

In the stack:  Girl in Translation, The Marrowbone  Marble Company, American Music, Beach Week, Last Night in Montreal, and What the Dead Know.  I am trying to decide if I will cave and get The Passage.  I really don’t want a 600 page Vampire book but the reviews are compelling.

Books Read May and June

Strip by Thomas Perry   So funny. A great cast of Knuckleheads, bad guys, and a case of mistaken identity.  Four Stars.

Every Last One by Anna Quinlen.   Good but tragic.   Four stars

The Lake Shore Limited by Sue Miller.  Awful on every level.  Mediocre writing, completely unlikeable characters, a waste of time.    One Star.

The Imperfectionists by Tom Rachman,.  Not sure what the hoopla is about this other than Brad Pitt has optioned it for a movie.  (that’s not a recommendation for me)  It was ok, but not earth shattering.  Three Stars.

The Lonely Polygamist by Brady Udall.  One of my all time favorites.  I know, Polygamists?????  But it is really good.  Trust me.  Five Stars!!!!

Beautiful Maria of My Soul by Oscar Hijuelos.  Simply awful.  Pornographic follow-up to The Mambo Kings Sing Songs of Love which won the Pulitzer Prize.  He should have quit while he was ahead.  This one is embarrassing.  Minus 10 stars.

Finally finished The Gate at the Stairs.  Still never got it.  Two stars.

That’s it.  Off to the beach.

I mowed my yard today.  I blame Mary Hugh.  She came by for some computer help and had been gardening and just by looking at her I decided that Louie was really busy and stressed so I would surprise him and mow the yard.  Notice I don’t say cut the grass……that’s because we have no grass.  We have clover, wild onions, dandelions, and some sort of weird thing that pops little white things when touched (sort of like popcorn, but I know enough to know that it is a covert breeding thing and there will be millions more tomorrow).  And I’m pretty sure that I killed some things that didn’t deserve it. All those little crocus plants left their leaves and I think they need to be left alone.

And now I know why Louie has cute legs.  Mowing is hard.  I am also pretty sure that they make mowers that are self-propelled.  We need one of those.  No,  we need a lawn service.   And grass would be nice.  Really, there is NO grass.  None.   There is a plant called Spanish Quill with pretty little purple and white flowers, but no sense of boundries.  It’s everywhere…..well, it was.  I mowed a lot of it.  And I ran over sticks and rocks.  And I threw things like sticks and rocks into the ivy.  Louie would be very upset, but I throw stuff into the ivy all the time and he will never know.

I am going to take a shower and an antihistamine.  This will probably result in a sinus infection.  But it counts as cardio…..right???

Am reading  “The Irresistible Henry House”  by Lisa Grunwald.

I am enjoying it…a lot like early John Irving.

Henry arrives in the world as a “practice baby,” passed between a dozen young women at the Practice House of Wilton College’s Home Economics program in a decidedly pre-Spock era that discouraged mothers from holding babies “too much.” From the beginning, Henry inspires in women the desire for his exclusive attention–but none want them more than Martha Gaines, the program director, who has spent her career overseeing the proper raising of a string of “house” orphans who were eventually adopted out.

I am also trying to finish “The Elegance of the Hedgehog”  by Muriel Barbery, but I am struggling.  Too much philosophy.  I hate to admit that it may be over my head, but I secretly think it is just boring.

I finished the last of the Lisbeth Salander Trilogy, “The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest” by Steig Larsson.  I had to order it from England, because the publisher is holding back the US distribution to maximize profits and I just couldn’t wait.  It’s not as good as “The Girl Who Played With Fire” but if you have invested time in reading the first two, you have to read the last one.  It does answer some questions, but mostly it makes you wish the author hadn’t died and could write some more.  And that he had a publisher who understood that 200 pages that cover Swedish financial scandals (first one) and scandals involving the Swedish Secret Police ( second and third one), and have minute details and that involve people with names that are made up mostly of consonants;  just make American readers yawn.  Still and all, after the first 150 pages of each one, it is a really good series.

Now I really am going to take a shower and a pill.  Louie better love me for this one.

I’ve decided that I am over-thinking these posts……consequently, posting nothing at all.  Will try to quit worrying about who reads them or who really cares what I think and just write something.

Just finished the novel THE HOLE WE’RE IN  by Gabrielle Zevin.  Soooo good.  From the jacket:  “Meet the Pomeroys:  a church-going family living in a too-red house in a Texas college town.  Roger , the patriarch, has impulsively gone back to school only to find his future ambitions at odds with the temptations of the present.  His wife, Georgia, tries to keep things inorder at home, but she’s been feeding the bill drawer with unopened envelopes for months and can never find the right moment to confront its swelling contents.  In an attempt to climb out of the holes they’ve dug, Roger and Georgia make a series of choices that have catastrophic consequences for their children–especially Patsy, the youngest, who will spend most of her life fighting to overcome them.” It is funny, tragic and very well written.  I sympathized with some of the Pomeroys, hated some of them and seriously wanted to slap Georgia.  Zevin’s gift is that even as I wanted to thwack her, I sort of understood how she got so wretched.  If she hadn’t screwed up her children so thoroughly, I would have been more sympathetic.

After years of basically being ignored in stores, George had gotten cancer,  lost seventy pounds (only six and a half of which had been breast tissue) and was suddenly  the belle of the mall.

Don’t want cancer, but losing seventy pounds……would love that.

Roger, her husband was the stereotype of religious pomposity that I hate most.  He uses God as his justification for being a self righteous bastard who’s selfishness is epic.

In the end, it is Zevin’s writing that is mesmerizing.  Clean, spare and razor sharp.

MUSIC UPDATE:  Found a wicked little song to share…..it really is over the top in malice, but I will cop to feeling this way occasionally.  PRAY FOR YOU

Quick read and really good.  Highly recommend.

We are at the beach……life is good.

So, I am not so good at  daily posting.  Just haven’t had much to say, but it is definitely time to do a “Read” commentary.  It may have taken me so long to get around to it because I just haven’t read anything that has been wonderful.  I received 2 books from the Early Reader Program to review  and sadly, both were miserable, so it has taken a long time to wade through them.  I feel an obligation to actually read them since they were nice enough to send them to me, but wow…….tough.

First, SMOKE  by Jeremy Chester:   Is about a man in the Federal Witness Protection Program whose identity has been compromised and he is being blackmailed to kidnap a business man.  A good synopsis on the cover made me think it would be a better read than it is.

I admit up front that I haven’t finished this book.  I have been trying for over a month to get “into” it. It may not happen. I am from Miami, loved the premise…..I lived through the Colombian Drug Wars there and thought it had the basis for a great plot. We actually avoided our closest mall because there were drug related murders committed there.  But someone needed to tell Chester that he had too many characters with too little clarification and they were soooo confusing. Between the Witness Protection Program, the CIA it was too hard to tell  who was a victim or bad guy, I understand suspense and mystery, but this was just sloppy characterization that made it very hard to stay involved. It could be a good story……just need to simplify and grab the reader a little earlier. I am determined to finish. I owe it to the Early Reader Program. But, it isn’t easy. And a good book needs to be engrossing enough to make multiple character confusion worth figuring out.  This one isn’t yet.

The second book I received was RICH AGAIN by Anna Maxted.  She has a very successful collection of “Chick Lit” and the cover and title certainly looked like this would be more along that line.  Nope.

I really tried to like it. It even had some good moments (very brief moments)…..but on the whole, it was just a scrambled mess about at deeply unlikeable family with obscene amounts of money and no redeeming values. Add an unbelievable plot with a pathalogically evil villain who was just so soulless, that I started laughing everytime he appeared in the story.
I’m all for using time as a plot device, but Maxted (or some editors who were much better than I at keeping dates straight) kept jumping back and forth in time, so sometimes the whole thing didn’t make sense.
Now, I am pretty sure my daughter will like this better than me……she’s smarter and may not be so put off by the time shifts. But there really is no romance…..every one is so mean and shallow; I need at least one character to have a nice evening, a good kiss, a little sex.
I would have trouble recommending it to anyone.

On a more positive note……my book group is reading SWIMMING by Nicola Keegan.  Here’s the Amazon description:

A spectacular debut about the rise of an Olympic champion — a novel about competition, obsession, the hunger for victory, and a young girl with an unsinkable spirit struggling to stay afloat in the only way she can.

When we first meet Pip, the extraordinary heroine of Nicola Keegan’s first novel, she is landlocked in a small town in the center of Kansas, literally swimming for her life. Pip is tall and flat and smart and funny and supernaturally buoyant. On land, she has her share of troubles: an agoraphobic mother, a lost father, a drug-addled sister, and a Catholic education dominated by a group of high-energy nuns. But in the water, Pip is unstoppable. In the water, her suffering and rage are transmuted into grace and speed and beauty.

Swimming is the story of Pip’s journey from a small Midwestern swim team to her first state meet, her brutal professional training, and the final, record-breaking swims that lead to her dizzying ascent to the Olympic podium in Barcelona. It’s the story of a girl who discovers, in the loneliness of adolescence, in the family tragedies that threaten to engulf her, the resilience of the human spirit and the spectacular power of her own body.

I really liked this book……….I didn’t find it all that “uplifting” but I loved Pip’s voice.  Pip’s internal conversations were very entertaining.

Finally,  I am reading 36 ARGUMENTS FOR THE EXISTENCE OF GOD  A Work of Fiction by Rebecca Newberger Goldstein.  This one may be over my head.  I took one Psychology course in College and we all know that was a long time ago.  And I never studied any kind of Philosophy.  Words like existential make me twitch.  But I am increasingly interested in the direction religion is taking in this world and I have lately found myself questioning some very fundamental beliefs.  While this is a work of fiction, it’s characters defend their faith while asserting that faith alone does not promise moral integrity.  From the cover:  “36  Arguments for hte Existence of God plunges into the great debate of our day: the clash between faith and reason.  World events are being shaped by fervent believers at hoe and abroad, while a new atheism is asserting itself in the public sphere.  On purely intellectual grounds the skeptics would seem to have everything on their side.  Yet people refuse to accept their seemingly irrefutable arguments and continue to embrace faith in God as their source of meaning, purpose and comfort.”

Here’s a link to a great review….http://tinyurl.com/y9tq35t

I am only on page 58, and it is slow reading.  Lots of looking up words and theories and wishing I had paid more attention in that one sad little course I took.  But I think it will make for some fascinating discussion and it does have a plot with some romance.  I will keep you posted on my progress.  I really like what I have read so far.

Coming soon, The State of the Stitch.  Still working on Emmy’s stocking.  I took a break and stitched a little name tag for Bernie’s Easter Basket.

I love Lasagna.  All kinds of Lasagna.  A discussion yesterday reminded me of a wonderful SMOKED SALMON LASAGNA  I made years ago.  It also brought up a survey of how to “track” recipes.  I have so many cookbooks that I can lose a recipe and spend way too much time searching through books trying to remember where the darn thing was.  Case in point, I have all of the Barefoot Contessa Cookbooks and use them ALL the time.  Good ol Ina needs to publish a comprehensive index of all her books…..I finally found the LASAGNA WITH TURKEY SAUSAGE  in the fourth book I picked up.  Come on, Ina…my memory is shot and I need better organization.

So we began comparing notes on how we keep up with our favorites.  One of the group is typing all her favorites into her computer so she has them organized HER way and can e-mail them easily.  Another uses little sticky notes to mark her go-to recipes.  Another scans them and prints a copy for a loose leaf binder.

I write in my books…..I put a date, the occasion (if there was one) and an evaluation.  Often it is just one word….  And I use little post-its and I type some into a recipe file in my computer.  And I scan and print them.   There is probably a diagnosis out there somewhere for my lack of focus.

I want to figure out if I can create a tab for recipes here, but until I master that, here are two great Lasagna Recipes.

SMOKED SALMON LASAGNA

from COLORADO COLLAGE

1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter

1/3 cup flour

4 cups milk

1 tsp. salt

1/2 tsp. ground white pepper

1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan Cheese

1/4 cup grated Gruyere Cheese

2 Tbs. dry sherry

1/2 cup grated cheddar cheese

1 cup grated mozzarella cheese

1 cup grated provolone

1 1/2 cups grated Romano or Parmesan Cheese

1 Lb. plain or spinach lasagna noodles cooked al dente and drained

3 large tomatoes, peeled, seeded, minced, and drained

1/2 Lb. mushrooms, thinly sliced

1 Lb. smoked salmon, chopped

In a medium saucepan, melt butter over low heat.  Add flour and cook, stirring constantly, 3 minutes.  Whisk in milk and heat to boiling.  Boil over medium-high heat, whisking constantly, 10 minutes or until thickened.  Remove from heat and stir in salt, white pepper, Parmesan, Gruyere, and sherry.  Set aside.  In large bowl, combine cheddar, mozzarella, provolone, and Romano.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Grease 13x9x2 inch baking pan.  Spread one quarter of the cheese mixture in prepared pan.  Layer one third of the cooked noodles, one third of the sauce mixture, half of the tomatoes, half of the mushrooms, half of the salmon and another quarter of the cheese mixture.  Repeat layers beginning with noodles.  Top with remaining noodles, remaining sauce mixture, and remaining cheese mixture.   (May be prepared up to 1 day in advance.  Cover and chill.  May be prepared up to 2 weeks in advance and frozen.  Thaw before baking.)  Bake 45-60 minutes or until golden                                           brown on top and thoroughly heated.  Let stand 15 minutes before serving.

Not exactly low-cal.  Or heart-healthy.  But, oh wow, it is amazing.

LASAGNA WITH TURKEY SAUSAGE

from Barefoot Contessa Family Style

2 Tbs. Olive oil

1 cup chopped yellow onion (1 onion)

2 minced garlic cloves

1 1/2 pounds sweet Italian turkey sausage (casings removed)

1 28-ounce can crushed tromatoes in tomato puree

1 6-ounce can tomato paste

1/4 cup chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley, divided

1/2 cup fresh basil leaves

Kosher salt

Freshly ground black pepper

1/2 pound lasagna noodles

15 ounces ricotta cheese

3 to 4 ounces creamy goat cheese, crumbled

1 cup grated Parmesan cheese, plus 1/4 cup for sprinkling

1 extra-large egg, lightly beaten

1 pound fresh mozzarella, thinly sliced.

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees

Heat the olive oil in a large (10-12-inch) skillet.  Add the onion and cook for 5 minutes over medium-low heat, until translucent.  Add the garlic and cook for 1 more minute.  Add the sausage and cook over medium-low heat, breaking it up with a fork, for 8-10 minutes, or until no longer pink.  Add the tomatoes, tomato paste, 2 tbs. of the parsley, the basil, 1 1/2 tsp salt, and 1/2 tsp. pepper.  Simmer uncovered, over medium-low heat for 15-20 minutes, until thickened.

Meanwhile, fill a large bowl with the hottest tap water.  Add the noodles and allow them to sit in the water for 20 minutes.  Drain.

In a medium bowl, combine the ricotta, goat cheese, 1 cup of Parmesan, the egg, the remaining 2 tbs. of parsley, 1/2 tsp. salt and 1/4 tsp. pepper.  Set aside.

Ladle 1/3 of the sauce into a 9 x 12 x 2-inch rectangular baking dish, spreading the sauce over the bottom of the dish.  Then add the layers as follows:  half the pasta, half the mozzarella, half the ricotta, and one third of the sauce.  Add the rest of the pasta, mozzarella, ricotta, and finally, sauce.  Sprinkle with 1/4 cup of Parmesan cheese.  Bake for 30 minutes, until the sauce is bubbling.

You can make it a day ahead and refrigerate the unbaked lasagna.   This one is really good, too……

But my favorite is from an ancient Betty Crocker cookbook that I cooked for the first time in 1970.   Didn’t know what a clove of garlic was back then and chopped up the whole thing.  Mom’s house smelled like Gilroy, CA for a week.  I’ll post that in the future.

Happy Cooking.

After my MadMen Marathon, I am completely in love with Jon Hamm.  Like leave-Louie-in-love.

Check out this SNL sketch .

And on a completely unrealated issue…….I am apparently living in the Ghetto now.  Our neighbors have installed a F@*&^%$#   STREET LIGHT IN THEIR BACK YARD.  Combined with the cloud cover and the snow, the reflection turned our whole bedroom orange.   What do they think is going to happen???  Weren’t the three on the street enough to give them that Orange Vapor light sense of security???!!!!!!!  Having a sleep deprived neighbor is a lot scarier than the crime situation in Sequoyah Hills.

Seriously.

Yesterday, I was the Queen of the Couch Potatoes.  I mean, really Queen.  I watched MadMen ALL day.  Except when I checked the weather channel and accidentally landed on Turner Classic Movies and there was SOUTH PACIFIC.  The really old one filmed in 1958 with Mitzi Gaynor and Rossano Brazzi.  I have a soft spot for South Pacific as it was the first musical I ever saw…….in 1955 at the State Fair Music Hall in Dallas Texas.  And we went to see the National Revival Tour in October in San Francisco.  The movie never fails to move me.  The songs are iconic and the message of acceptance still amazes me.  Based on the 1948 Pulitzer Prize winning collection of short stories by James Michener,  it deals with racial bigotry long before the Civil Rights movement brought it to national attention.  Lyrics like :

You’ve got to be taught
To hate and fear,
You’ve got to be taught
From year to year,
It’s got to be drummed
In your dear little ear
You’ve got to be carefully taught.

You’ve got to be taught to be afraid
Of people whose eyes are oddly made,
And people whose skin is a diff’rent shade,
You’ve got to be carefully taught.

You’ve got to be taught before it’s too late,
Before you are six or seven or eight,
To hate all the people your relatives hate,
You’ve got to be carefully taught!

Amazing!  And Poignant.  And True.

Then……hours of MadMen.  My opinions of every character have changed.  I think that is a total testament to the quality of the writing and acting.  Just when I am sure that Betsy is the victim and Don is so horribly screwed up that everything is his fault, the next episode completely flips their positions.  Of course, when you watch Season 3 first and then go back to Seasons 1 & 2 to find out why things happened, you are bound to have to adjust some ideas.  I cannot overstate my view that you all should go out and rent, buy or borrow the DVDs and start watching.  Best TV out there.

To cap the complete waste of a day……I watched the Grammys.  ALL 4 HOURS!!!!  Some great moments….Mary J. Blige singing Bridge Over Troubled Waters with Andrea Bocelli was very unusual.  Pink’s Cirque du Soleil performance was amazing.  If she can sing while doing that, there is no excuse for anyone lip-syncing ever again.

Poor Taylor Swift teamed up with Stevie Nicks and was so off key that she made the Fleetwood Mac relic sound good.  Swift is cute and her lyrics are certainly fun in a very 15 yr old way, but she definitely needs teverything that a recording studio can do for her.

The rap song was hilarious.  Eminem and L’il Wayne and Drake…..clutched their crotches and bounced around the stage and CBS had to bleep so much that 50% of the lyrics went missing.  What on earth was the point of singing lyrics that they had to know would not make it on the air.

0:41 — “Trying to get in where I fit i, no room for a nigga / but soon for a nigga / it be on, muthafucka / cause all the bullshit / it made me strong, muthafucka.”

0:50 — “And I’ma pick the world up and I’ma drop it on your fucking head.”

1:04 — “I could die now, rebirth muthafucker/ Hop up in my spaceship and leave earth, muthafucker / I’m gone.”

1:44 — “And I came up from behind and pretty much snuck up and butt-fucked this game up.”

1:53 – “Day that I leave it but I swear one way or another I’ma make these fucking haters believe it.”

2:42 – “So I don’t plan on stopping at all / I want this shit forever, man.” (These chorus bleeps were particularly amusing.)

2:55 — “And I ain’t even planning to call / I want this shit forever, man.”

4:55 — “So I don’t plan on stopping at all / I want this shit forever, man.”

5:30 — “You can’t put it out once we light it / this shit is exactly what the fuck I’m talking about when we riot.”

5:40 — “Out of our mouths now rewind that / payback, muthafucka for the way you doubted me.”

5:54 — “I want this shit forever, man.

That’s what we missed……..Elegant music.

Bill Flanagan (started VH1 and does music reviews for the CBS Morning Show) started my day with a video article on American Standards in Music and what made a song resonate with listeners.  His view was that what you heard as an adolescent formed your taste in music.  Dear Lord, what are the kids now going to look back on.

I am guessing not Some Enchanted Evening.

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