Saturday, December 26, 2009

A Baby Sawyer is Born!

I thought it might be kind of sacrilegious to title this "For unto us a Baby Sawyer is Born" which seemed like the more humorous title. It's the day after Christmas here and just over 48 hours ago Kevin and Sarah welcomed their very first, long awaited child into the world. First things first--he's gorgeous and I'm not saying that just because we've all been praying for him for years and staring at Sarah's belly for signs of movement for the past several months--he's just a precious, sweet, beautiful little bundle weighing in at a nearly 9 pounds with two dimply little cheeks.

Kev & Sarah asked me to take pictures on the big day. I got the call at 6:22 a.m. on Christmas Eve that they were on their way to the hospital. When I saw Kevin's name on my cell phone, not a drop of sleep remained behind my lids and I couldn't stop fidgeting until well...maybe I'm still fidgeting. I was picking up some friends from the airport, so I got ready, packed up my camera (in case the baby decided to come really quick) and headed to the airport. Fidgeting on the way to the airport. Fidgeting at the airport. Got a message that Sarah was indeed in official labor. Called friend and roomie Katie who was in the States so we could scream and holler in excitement. Got friends. Got home. Got a text--baby coming quickly. Got to the street to get in a cab--baby coming in 45 minutes. Oh my goodness. Here I'd been imaging hours and hours of waiting at the hospital and I was now in danger of missing the birth (and I was supposed to be in the delivery room!)

When I got there I rushed in with about 30 minutes to spare. Sarah was breathing and getting her strength up so the room was pin drop quiet. I was a little curious as to whether or not this event would scar me a tad. I mean--it's no easy affair (for Sarah), but it was remarkably not tramatic in the least. I attest this to Sarah who never even cursed, not once! With camcorder in one hand and camera in the other, I tried to capture all the good stuff--the nurses and doctor counting with Sarah through each contraction. Kevin cheering Sarah on. Sarah speaking (in Chinese!) with the nurses and doctors and of course, doing her darnest to bring baby into the world. Then, there he was! Grady Glenn himself crying and in Sarah's arms. Kevin tearing up. The nurse (and Kevin) counting Gray's ten fingers and ten toes. Measuring and weighing him. Wrapping him up like a cocoon. Yawning. Crying. Napping. It was an amazing experience and such a blessing on the eve of the celebration of our own Savior's birth!

For more pictures see:

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Year End Lists

I love year end lists and since we just ended a decade, there are decade lists! Jackpot! I just love the summing up of a whole year's worth of entertainment--mostly in books, music, and movies. Plus, who in the world except people who are paid to make lists can actually keep up with all the books, movies, and music that comes out? We should thank them for their service.

Paste Magazine has a boatload of lists and so I thought I'd extend some of the links to you.

The 20 Best Books of the Decade (2000-2009) :: Blogs :: List of the Day :: Paste

The 17 Best Romantic Comedies of the Decade: including Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Juno, Amelie, and About a Boy

The 50 Best Albums of the Decade
: There's quite a range here and so many of them are on Google Music (Google, if you're reading this, please don't shut down the free music in China)
On the list are albums by The Avett Brothers (See I told you there were good), Iron & Wine, Coldplay, etc...

The 20 Best Books of the Decade: I was surprised I'd read some of these, since I'm not the most up-to-date of readers--Atonement, Me Talk Pretty One Day, The Year of Magical Thinking (I'm going to have to disagree with them vehemently on that one), The Road, and Gilead--which is a must.

NPR always has good music lists too. That Bob Boylen...

Hopefully coming sooner rather than later---my top reads of 2009.

Anyone else got some good lists?

Friday, November 27, 2009

This guy looks awesome

I know this is a little weird, but I randomly came across this picture while I was looking for something on flickr and I think this guy looks awesome. It's quite possible I've been listening to the Into the Wild soundtrack and bearded indie bands too much lately. Whatever. That beard is cool.

Knapp Is Back

I love Jennifer Knapp. Her voice, her music. Love her. I have never gotten tired of her first album Kansas, which is so full of beautiful, raw truths and music that is likewise. And now she's back from wherever she's been and is working on an album. Two songs are up on her Myspace page and they sound good--like Kansas which I thought was better than her two subsequent albums. Here's hoping.

Also, checkout a live performance of The Way I Am.

Monday, November 23, 2009

I'm Brian Fellows

During a break today I discovered that Brian Fellows, my favorite SNL skit, is on Hulu! If any of you reading this went to PCB with me, then you'll remember myself and a few others repeating portions of the skit over and over and over again... Watch and laugh:


Sunday, November 8, 2009

Just Finished: Cry, The Beloved Country

When we were in Birmingham this summer, I tracked down an old bookstore. It wasn't that great, but I did pick up a copy of Cry, The Beloved Country by Alan Paton. It's one of those books on a lot of lists but since it's about Africa I had avoided it (please don't write me mean letters). My copy was published in 1950 and has that nice old book smell.

I started reading it a few weeks ago and from the beginning was not thrilled. There are a lot of short sentences, and I'm not the biggest fan of short sentences. The story wasn't gripping me either, but I kept chugging through. About 2/3 through it just gripped me. The whole narrative takes place in South Africa and begins with a rural Zulu parson who finds out that his son has come into some trouble in Johannesburg. He goes to the big city in search of his son as well as his brother and sister who have all ceased communicating with him since they left. What he finds in the city is mostly heartbreak with chinks of hope--the black people are repressed, living in cramped housing, turning to crime, etc and his family is no different. The more he learns about his son, the more he feels that he is actually the failure. There is constantly the tension of what is and what could be or could have been. Here's one of the most heartbreaking passages from the book concerning the parson's son:
And again the tears in the eyes. Who knows if he weeps for the girl he has deserted? Who knows if he weeps for a promise broken? Who knows if he weeps for another self, that would work for a woman, pay his taxes, save his money, keep the laws, love his children, another self that has always been defeated? Or does he weep for himself alone, to be let be, to be let alone, to be free of the merciless rain of questions, why , why, why, when he knows not why. They do not speak with him, they do not jest with him, they do not sit and let him be, but they ask, ask, ask, why, why, why...

But when the parson returns home, partly successful yet still with a heavy heart, the author starts to show us that there is hope and redemption even in the despair of failure; that even in a society wrecked by racism and corruption that a seed can be planted and that change can happen in both the young and the old. It's vague, but I think you should read it and fill in the gaps yourself. You'll be motivated to justice.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Just Finished: Plan B--Further Thoughts on Faith

I read one of Anne Lamott's previous books on faith Grace (Eventually) and wasn't really planning on reading this one, but someone gave it to me so I thought I'd give it a go. I have a hazy goal to read more books written by believers, especially ones vastly different from myself and Anne Lamott fits the bill. She's wicked liberal, Episcopalian, my mom's age, and she has dread locks.

Plan B is much like Grace (Eventually), a collection of essays on the author's life and faith in the day to day. And much like Grace Lamott rails and rails and rants about George Bush, which I began to skim after the 20th or so reference. Aside from that she has some great, practical insights into coping with this flawed existence we have and relating it back to God (or having friends relate it back to Him for her). My second favorite part was when she referred to her love handles as Aunties, but the best line, something that shed new light on the verse "take every thought captive" was this blip about praying:
My mind kept thinking its harsh thinky thoughts, but I would distract myself form them gently and say, "Those are not the truth, those are not trustworthy, those are for entertainment purposes only."

Those are words I can take to heart.

Although her writing style is totally different from mine, I admire her honesty and how she puts herself out there on the page. Something I could definitely learn to do better, I just might have to change a few more names...

Plan B is funny and thoughtful and she sneaks in some content in there, which makes her essays entertaining and substantive.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Eye and Mouth Candy

A few weeks ago I stumbled upon the most amazing, delicious, scrumptious, eye and mouth watering website appropriately named TasteSpotting. Any recipe you ever wanted and didn't know existed from the best food blogs on the internet can be browsed, searched, and gloriously discovered right here. On the opening page is a row of recently discovered pictures which speak well enough for themselves. Pic[k] one and let the baking begin. It's like having access to a fancy, gourmet Betty Crocker or Joy of Cooking and it's all free and available at your literal fingertips. Whoever thought of creating this aggregator of recipes--hats, spoons and spatulas off to you.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Blood, Sweat & Tears

...that title is an extreme exaggeration all to announce the latest newsletter from the Social Venture Group team! Woot woot! For the past several plus weeks we've been writing, editing, and translating to bring you, our public the Fall 09 edition of Doing Good. So if you've been wondering what exactly I do all day, now all you need do is click the link below and see for yourself. Inside these pdf pages you'll learn about some great organizations working with people in need here in this large chicken shaped country as well as other interesting and informative info.

This was really a team effort and I had so much fun on my first go 'round with it.

Read all about it:
For the English version click here.
For the Chinese click here.

Sticky Bike

The other day something unexplainable happened to my bike. I was coming home after a day out. I exited the line 4 metro and sauntered up to where I'd locked it. At this point I noticed something: my whole seat was covered in some sort of stickiness. Tiny dots of dried stickiness which I noticed covered the whole bike. I got out a wet wipe and tried to rid my ride of the mystery stuff with some success. When I got home, my shoe soles were sticky from the pedals. I was mildly annoyed, but more than that I thought how strange this was. What the heck is on my bike? Seriously, what? Did someone come through spraying everything in sight with sprite? Some sort of liquid manna? It's almost infuriatingly bazaar, but this is one of those occurrences that happens in a foreign country.

Since it was clear that I would probably never figure it out, my roommate and I made up a song. I think you'll know the tune:

Sticky bike. Sticky bike.
What did they spray on you?
Sticky bike. Sticky bike.
It's not your fault.
It's not your fault.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Just Finished: The Moviegoer

"Yet it was here in the Tivoli (theatre) that I first discovered place and time, tasted it like okra."

(Warning, I spoil the ending below...I couldn't help it.)

Listed as one of the Times 100 Best Novels [since 1923], The Moviegoer by Walker Percy is southern literature itself. Set in New Orleans after the Korean War, Binx Bolling is aimless and adrift despite his good standing as a successful young stock broker from a good family. Nearing his 30th birthday, Binx is on an existential journey he calls "the search" which constantly eludes him as he goes from happiness to malaise and back again. His frequent moviegoing and his list of secretaries temporarily suspends this malaise, but ultimately they get worn out by him and he by them. His familial relationships are complicated. Both his aunt and his mother prefer to view him as a latent genius made for a career in research but do not actually dig deeper. The one person he seems able to help is his aunt's stepdaughter Kate who veers between sanity and insanity and, he finds, is perhaps the only person who, by saving, he can save him.

The Moviegoer is very much a product of it's time and the voice, the descriptions, the behavior of the characters reminded me of movies like Breakfast at Tiffany's and Rear Window though more serious. Binx's journey is very much a selfish quest and a spiritual one--the search for something that will fulfill the longing he can only momentarily assuage with making money and sleeping with his secretaries. In the end, he sacrifices the search to help the person who most needs him, which, it could be argued is indeed the fulfillment of the search. This is a thought provoking story with elements of redemption that I think will continue to resonate in my mind. Plus, I love the diction and feel of books and movies from this time period--slow, desperate, and sometimes convoluted like listening to people from another English speaking country talk to each other in their own non-American way.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Just Finished: How to Breathe Underwater

Well...just finished a few weeks ago. I have to be honest, the cover was better than the book. I think of that cover often, not only because it's sitting in plain sight, but because the picture is so beautiful. I'm not the biggest fan of short stories in general because I always want more than the 15 pages allotted, but this book was well reviewed so I took a chance.

How to Breathe Underwater
is Julie Orringer's first collection of short stories. Each is somehow related to adolescence and growing up yet thankfully it's not first kiss, awkward prom date kind of stories. In fact, they aren't really coming of age stories at all, and each is vastly different from the other in subject and locale. The stories are at once ordinary and mundane events yet hold your attention because the people are so real that you could walk past them on the street.

The opening story was perhaps the most striking and is the hardest to describe. A New Orleans family attends Thanksgiving at the home of a new age follower who has been treating the mother of the family who is sick with cancer. The children of the family are thrust into a foreign world of tofurkey and meditation. As they play in the backyard with the other children, they encounter desperation and darkness that culminates in an unexpected ending. In another story, a plump, somewhat self-conscious study abroad student plays host to her cousin, a tall model with whom she has always been at odds and has a glimpse of what lies beneath the surface. Still another story is a witty letter written by an adult woman to her teenage self. All the stories are very human, if not all very original. They are not so much compelling as relatable and are reminiscent of the hardships and tragedies that we have all faced at one time or another. Considering the subject matter, Orringer could have written these stories for teenagers, however her subtle prose puts an adult voice to these stories of youth, rebellion, and self-discovery. Not a must read, but an interesting one.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Music for Autumn

I love autumn. I can't say enough about it except that we don't get enough of it here; however, I'm thankful that the cool evenings have come earlier this year than usual. Cardigans, jackets, jeans, blankets, tea, breezes, large leaves from plane trees falling everywhere, pumpkins, birthdays for some of my favorite people, the laziness of summer without the heat, curly hair not diffused by humidity. There is so much I could say about this most glorious of seasons. Today though, I've come up with a few songs I listen to as compliments to the shortening days...

  1. This Side [Nickel Creek]
  2. Manner and Means [Caedmon's Call]
  3. Let it Fall [Sean Watkins]--one of the most autumnal songs I know (Fall in the title does not refer to the season)
  4. More Love [Dixie Chicks]
  5. Keep it Loose, Keep it Tight [Amos Lee]--especially good for walking around the city
  6. These Days [Denison Witmer version although the Jackson Browne original is just as good]
  7. Ready [Meg Hutchinson]
  8. Comes a Time [Mutual Admiration Society]
  9. Gold [Interference, from Once soundtrack]--Listen to on repeat.
  10. Something Pretty [Patrick Park]--Listen to on repeat.
  11. Fields of Gold [Sting]
  12. Doctor My Eyes [Jackson Browne]--Never been able to get enough of this song.
  13. Drops in the River [Fleet Foxes]--All of Fleet Foxes for those of you who skipped the previous post.
  14. Don't Go Away [Oasis]
  15. Everybody's Gotta Learn Sometimes [From Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind soundtrack]
  16. Bobby [From Love Song for Bobby Long]

These are in no particular order, just great great songs I love to listen to all year and remind myself of autumn.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Fleet Foxes

Just in time for autumn, I discovered Fleet Foxes. Have you listened to them? They simultaneously sound like the concentrated light of lazy fall afternoons and a last day on the beach when the air turns chilly. I have recently come to think the world of music reviewers for their amazingly precise descriptions of music and for Fleet Foxes, retro baroque pop is perfectly fitting. I've been listening to them for a month nearly everyday without tiring of them. Unlike a lot of music for me these days, I love almost their whole album + ep. The songs are cohesive enough without being exactly the same and the storytelling in them is gorgeous, poetic, slightly melancholy, and even occasionally romantic but never depressing. These guys harmonize like they grew up in an Ivy league a capella group (in a good way). For you China folks, they're free on Google.

Favorite songs:
  • Drops in the River: "Days are just drops in the river to be lost always." Minutes 2:15 & 3:15 get me every time.
  • Mykonos: "You will go to Mykonos with/with the vision of a gentle coast/and a sun to maybe dissipate/shadows of the mess you made"
  • Blue Ridge Mountains: "Let's drive to the countryside, leave behind some green-eyed look alikes/So no one gets worried, no."
  • English House
  • Ragged Wood: "Lie to me if you will at the top of Beringer Hill/Tell me anything you want, any old lie will do."
Side note: A few months ago I heard someone admit that they were a little ashamed that they liked Fleetwood Mac. Why would anyone be ashamed of that? Stevie Nicks has one of the most distinct voices in rock and their music is good. Landslide, Rhiannon, Dreams. Good songs.

Fleets forever!

Monday, October 12, 2009

We Jump. It's What We Do.

We climbed the Lupu Bridge (it's one of the many bridges that connects the east and west parts o the city) a few days ago and since we had some nice wind and a fancy camera just made for it, we took 5.3 million jumping pictures. They're my favorite. Well...they were...see video.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Pics from the City

Here are a few more of the pics I've been taking. All on my city excursions. I don't know if you know this, but it's very difficult to get a lot of very good photographs.  This one to the left is my favorite of late. I just get entranced by it. The little colorful bulbs in the  background are tiny pomegranates. Who knew that pomegranates could be tiny and ripe? I had the urge to pick one and hold it in the palm of my hands and maybe even give it a little peck.

I don't know what I think about graffiti, but I like how this picture came out.

This building is much more Gotham-y at night.

At an intersection downtown. I took this while I was stopped at a red light. Thankfully there are no trees to fall on this [beautiful] mess.

What were "they" thinking when "they" piped 97 electrical wires into this window? Did anyone stop and say, "Hey guys, do you think this is the best long term solution?"

I have no idea what this says. It's not impossible that it is a Chinese saying or a request for more chalk.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

New word: Argot, no relation to ergot

Good word of the day from my page-a-day new words.

\'är-gt\ n : an often more or less secret vocabulary and idiom peculiar to a particular group.
 my definition: fancy word for insider joke.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Healthy, Hearty Pumpkin Muffins

[Adapted from Whole]

It's not quite cool enough here yet for pumpkin, but who cares. I had some fresh pumpkin  so I boiled it for a while and pureed it a la potato masher (if you're in China, make sure to use the pumpkins that are orange on the outside, green ones aren't as sweet). Finding a healthy pumpkin recipe proved more challenging than I realized. Even this one from was supposedly healthy but with 3/4 cup veggie oil and 3 eggs, not quite, so I made major adaptions and came up with a roommate approved recipe! (Note: I also made my own applesauce and sweetened it a bit with brown sugar so I reduced the sugar in the recipe.)

1 3/4 cup all-purpose flour
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1 Tablespoon (or more) pumpkin pie spice
1/2 cup applesauce
1/4 cup vegetable oil
2 cups pumpkin puree
1 cup plain low-fat yogurt
2 egg whites, beaten
1 egg, beaten
1 Tbsn flaxseed
2 Tbsn water
3/4 cup sugar
1/3 cup raisins or dried cranberries, optional
1/3 cup pecans, optional

How to:
  1. Preheat oven to 350F (175C). Prep 12 large muffin tins with paper or a little oil. (I used silicone muffin cups and the muffins didn't stick at all.
  2. Combine dry ingredients in a medium bowl.
  3. In a large bowl combine wet ingredients. Once combined add dry ingredients and mix until just combined. Add dried fruit and nuts, if adding.
  4. Spoon batter into muffin tins, filling about 3/4 of the way. Bake until a toothpick inserted comes out clean, 40 minutes to 50 minutes (It was very humid when I made these and I was using a Chinese oven so be careful that they cook in the middle. Don't put them too close to the top burner and let them cook longer if they seem to need it. Cool in pan for a few minutes and allow to finish cooling on a wire rack.
Serve warm with butter, cinnamon and sugar, or green rhubarb jam, if you're so lucky to possess some.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Ideal Jobs

[Change of font today. Tired of Arial.]

Sometimes I think of jobs that would be really fun to do but which don't actually exist. Part of the reason these pretend jobs sound so appealing is that they also sound blissfully non-time consuming or time consuming in blissful ways.

1. Naming books. I realize that lots of authors probably name their own novels. I also know that plenty of novels get renamed. What if I could get a gig as book title editor. No grammar skills required. I would have to read the book, of course, which would be a plus as long as I worked in the fiction/creative nonfiction division. If the Powers That Be (also known as "They") didn't consider this enough work, I could spend the remainder of my day approving and vetoing book cover designs.

2. Professional book reader. Don't mistake this for job #1 because it's not the same at all. In this profession, I would be one of those people with a mysterious talent for enjoying books that are always popular. [I hardly ever read best sellers, so they'd have to be literary hits.] Once my talent is discovered, books will come in the mail by the hundreds with checks enclosed in their pages and all I will have to do is give the books a thumbs up or a thumbs down. Since I'm not very good at actually reviewing books, I will just give my yay or nay and send them along to the New York Times for review. This job will be kind of secret like the people who decide what colors we're all going to wear 10 years before they hit the runway.

3. Child naming vetoer. When more than one person in America had named their child ESPN, something has to be done. Calling child services might be the first step, but close behind is a CNV who inspects the names of all children either before or shortly following birth. Any initials that spell a curse word (no example needed), names that sound like other things (Matt Trest) and awful get your child beaten up on the playground names will be done away with (Iowna Hanky). Sure it sounds like this is taking away a parent's freedom to name their own child, but really it gives that child so much more freedom in the future. No more Josie Grossy, my friends.

4. Model beautiful jewelry by Shannon Guo from lips to clavicle.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Yum. Blogs with food.

How is it that there are so many recipes in the world? It's overwhelming in good and bad ways. I've got a huge folder of recipes that I've ripped out of magazines, a huge folder of recipes I've emailed myself, and I've recently taken to reading food blogs all in an effort to find more fun things to make in the kitchen and to sharpen my cooking [as opposed to baking] skills which are none too creative. It's impossible to keep them all organized. Inevitably there are some pages that have a dessert and an entree on them. I just came across this list: Blogs with Bite from the NY Times blog Bitten so I thought I'd try to hook you as well into my web of recipe madness.

In other news, I've got a large slice of organic winter melon in my fridge that I have nothing to do with. Any suggestions?

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Shanghai Design Guide

Just posted today on Design*Sponge is a design guide for Shanghai penned and photographed by your very own Flynneous using her other alias. I'm absolutely euphoric! Nice to see your name in lights every once in a while. Go read!! Pretty please.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

So Easy That EVERYONE Can Do It

This is a clear symbol of the dumbing down of America. Cinnamon and sugar, a classic topping for buttery French toast...also delicious when baked into breakfast breads. Yes. It's delish. It is not, however, something that requires a recipe. Nor is it something that you buy in a tiny container at the grocery store for more than $2. I know tiny spice jars of cinnamon and sugar are not new to the marketplace, but this is the first opportunity I've had to rant about it online. 

I have to say that I feel ashamed that this product sells so well that the first time I went to research it at Wal-mart (I do not want to hear from people who have access to Whole Foods, Harris Teeter, Wegmen's, and Trader Joe's either because we have none of those in my hometown), it was sold out. If this is on your shelf, you have to take it off right now, peel off the label, and incinerate it so no one knows that you purchased this product with two ingredients that are already in your kitchen cabinet. 

I will have an eentsy bit of mercy on those who know nothing about cooking and don't read ingredient labels, but really just put a little thought forward and things like this won't happen.

Honestly, I think this one small item is evidence of a very big problem in society---the easy fix. I commend McCormick and the other spice sellers who knew as much and decided to capitalize on this staple. Why spend 27 whole seconds mixing sugar and cinnamon in a little bowl when you can spend 2 bucks plus tax on it. Are you aware how much a pound of sugar costs? Do the numbers add up? This is not a money saver.

When Wal-mart had restocked the product, I looked at the ingredients on the jar (see below) and saw that there was indeed a third ingredient--cinnamon oil. Guess what. Cinnamon sugar with or without cinnamon oil tastes exactly the same. I promise. In fact, I'm pretty sure that cinnamon bark is the source of cinnamon oil and ground cinnamon come from bark.

Now go. Eat your cinnamon rolls and French toast with good, ole-fashioned, homemade cinnamon and sugar. Teach your children and grandchildren how to make it. You'll be doing society a favor.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Banned Books Week: September 26-October 3

Did you ever watch The Waltons? If not, it was about a family living in the mountains of Virginia who had a number of kids and live near a small town. The drama took place before and during World War II. On one episode (the details of which are a little scratchy) the law-abiding, church going townspeople get all up in arms about the German books in the library and decide to hold a book burning to get rid of all the Nazi propaganda. John Boy, the oldest Walton child, book reader and writer of the family, tries to reason with the once reasonable neighbors who have leapt wholeheartedly into this ignorant, angry mob. As often happens with an angry mob, they won't hear any of it so John Boy brings a member of the community who happens to be German to the book burning. She saves a book just as it is about to be incinerated and begins to read it to the crowd, translating it into English, "Our Father, which art in Heaven. Hallowed be thy name."

And that, my friends, is why you don't ban books. Instead, you educate people and allow them to make intelligent decisions. Included on the American Library Association's list of books that have been challenged and/or banned in 2008 and 2009 are Kite Runner, To Kill a Mockingbird [which is required reading in Mississippi!], The Catcher in the Rye, and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn among others. The list they've compiled isn't really that long and a lot of them were middle school libraries, which I'd say is not so cut and dry. It's ok for an 8th grader to have no access to The Joy of Sex. It's more than ok, but the issue is that all over the world people are stopped from reading things that would actually give them a more realistic view of what the world is actually like or what it could be like. Yes, To Kill a Mockingbird might scare little black kids, but much of that amazing book is about ignorance. The perpetuation of which is a whole lot scarier.

The moral of the story is two-fold: don't burn the Bible just because you can't read the language it's written in and challenge ignorance in whatever country you live in. I know I'm preaching to the choir here.

A book about banned books: Reading Lolita in Tehran: A professor gathers a group of her former students in Tehran for a covert literature class of banned books. While not my favorite book, the issues of censorship are ripe for the picking. Jane Austen was among the blacklisted authors. Can you actually imagine a world without Mr. Darcy? I shudder at the thought.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Just finished: Death and the Penguin

Today I finished Death and the Penguin by Andrey Kurkov, one of the books recommended by Nick Hornby in The Polysyllabic Spree. It's been a while since I've read any Russian novels. As broad generalizations go, they definitely have a unique feel to them, and when they're mildly decipherable I do enjoy them. One of the best aspects of this book was that it was a fast read with extremely short chapters and unsentimental prose. I do like descriptive, sentimental prose, but this was a nice change.

The story takes place in Kiev and focuses on a kind of loser of a guy named Viktor Alekseyevich Zolotaryov. [Thankfully this book was no War and Peace withmillions of Russian names all attributed to the same person.] Viktor is an uninspired aspiring writer who never finishes much except for short stories that are too short to publish. The only consistent being in his life is his pet penguin Misha who he took in when the zoo was giving away animals it could not feed. How in the world Kurkov created this waddling pet and made him seem real is pretty great. Viktor and Misha are both melancholy, lonely characters who lack direction. However, the monotony of their lives begins to change after Viktor submits one of his story to a local newspaper. The editor calls him in for a job: to write obituaries for people who are not dead yet. While odd, this seems straight forward enough until the people on the list start dying at which point all sorts of mysteries and complications arise. I don't want to give away the whole story so I'll stop there.

While darkly comic, unemotional, and distinctly satirical, Death and the Penguin does make for some interesting character analysis. Viktor is mostly friendless and has such pitiful ambition that it's hard to feel sorry for him at times, yet his one loyalty to Misha--a clear parallel to himself--makes the would-be writer a more compelling and sympathetic character...on one hand. On the other hand, he willing ignores almost every difficult or dangerous situation he faces up to the very end and the last line [slight spoiler] seems a final selfish act of self-preservation that may be a concrete slab of ultimate loneliness. However clever the last statement, Viktor was a little disappointing when it came down to it--his actions careless and irrational. I closed the book wondering if I might be missing something crucial. I still recommend the book wholeheartedly for its originality and the fact that its written in and about a country far away from America [unlike most of the books I read.]

By the way, it's got a great cover.

Albums on Stream

More music again. I'll move to different interests in the next post, but for now... NPR has two highly coveted (?) albums streaming this week.

First: I and Love and You, the new release from the Avett Brothers. It's coming out next week, so here is what is probably your only chance to listen to all the songs. Exciting no? I did enjoy listening to the whole album, but I like the live version(s) of Laundry Room better. Worth a few listens though and it's only up til the 29th.

Second: Volcano Choir's one and only (so far) highly experimental album Unmap. Good name. I took a listen and they weren't kidding when they said it was experimental. If the lyrics were to be written down they'd look something like this:
ehyeah ee ahmlk diggy diggy bump bump
dun dun dun snow ooohwah

I don't know what I think about this album yet. It's definitely got the wintry, snowy feel of Bon Iver. Unmap is the type of album in which purchasing one or two tracks just won't do it.Without words and with similar style, the songs flowed into one another nicely. Made for good working music because it's nearly impossible to sing along.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Roll Over

I'm such a mooch. I never find funny videos on my own. I'm not exactly sure how to do that. A friend sent me this one. Yes, it's a pet video. Yes, it's hilarious.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Bon Iver's back..and Justin Time for Winter

Last winter it was all I could do not to listen to Bon Iver's (aka Justin Vernon) snowy, gray, beautiful album For Emma, Forever Ago. I mean, the title itself was enough to make me listen to it. Ranked on the tippity-top of almost every indie best of 2008 list, the album was the perfect haven for cold days. I think it's imperative that you purchase it. Next on my list of things to be gifted (I don't really have any U.S. cash anymore, so I'm hoping someone will iTunes gift it to me [open shameless birthday plea (it's only 2 months away) close shameless birthday plea])...
Today I was listening to a BBC Scotland Americana radio show I came across randomly and heard a song from Bon Iver's new project which, confusingly enough, was actually recorded before For Emma, Forever Ago. It's called Unmap and Bon Iver and a band called Collections of Colonies of Bees who are calling themselves Volcano Choir. I cover is cool but a tad creepy, very reminiscent of The Village--apparently Those-We-Don't-Speak-Of like it, so that's good enough for me. Since I've only heard one song, I thought I'd reprint the article on BBC (with their permission of course).
by Matthew Horton
Bon Iver’s beautiful, lovelorn For Emma, Forever Ago was a critics’ favourite of 2008, topping many year-end lists and bewitching the lucky few who heard it with its heartbreaking songs. It was the delicate raking-over of a relationship’s embers, the cathartic mumblings of a bereft man holed away in his Wisconsin wood cabin with a guitar and set of microphones, recovering from illness and the break-up of his band.
On its near-follow-up, Justin Vernon (Bon Iver in plainclothes) has reconvened with the Volcano Choir he and members of post-rockers Collections of Colonies of Bees formed in 2005. It’s an entirely natural combination, but a very different beast from Bon Iver. Where For Emma, Forever Ago cradled the listener, Unmap is plainly more challenging.

For starters, it’s light on words, favouring a hushed minimalism which isn’t so far from Vernon’s previous set but lacks that album’s immediacy. It’s not so easy to find a way in. Persevere, however, and rewards are plentiful, from the wind-scattered prettiness and choral interjections of Husks and Shells to And Gather’s campfire chimes, handclaps and cosy organ fills.

This is a quiet, withdrawn record, edging slowly into life with repeated, grooving sequences on Island, IS (available as a free download from the Jagjaguwar site) and the cats’ chorus of Cool Knowledge. Meanwhile, Dote’s ambient drone recalls Boards of Canada’s unsettling atmospherics and the treated vocal parps of Seeplymouth owe a debt to Laurie Anderson. These are not mainstream influences, but the parts add up to an oddly accessible whole.

It’s evident in the dreamy vocoder of the gorgeous Still, which feels like a comfort blanket after Mbira in the Morass’s creepy ghost-blues, and Youlagy’s gospel coda which happily tempers the mournful Thom Yorke-like whine that otherwise dominates the song. Difficult music offset by soulful touches.

While there’s still a whiff of the wintry woods about Unmap, it shows a more experimental side of Vernon than we’re familiar with, his occasional colleagues clearly giving him the space to express his less-charted oblique leanings. A welcome companion piece to For Emma, Forever Ago, this side-project is also a work to cherish in its own right.
Still reading? The album debuts September 22nd, but you can download the song I heard on BBC called Island, Is on the Jagjaguar label site. Experimental but still nice and wintry! Did anybody catch the pun in the title?

Friday, September 18, 2009

My Friend Is A Mail-Order Bride (Not My Friend Actually)

At this week's end, I've got for you two brief essays (one essay, one blog post actually) on the unusual experiences that come about when living in China. Both essayists are in my writing group, which, as a matter of fact, is composed of just the three of us at the moment...

First up, first-rate journalist Kellie Schmitt's article coming out in the next issue of Marie Claire called My Friend Is A Mail-Order Bride. The title gives you a good idea of the subject. The story gives an interesting perspective on how Chinese women view marriage today.

Second up, but not second-rate is a hilarious blog post by Justin Earley about an unusual encounter at Starbucks, where incidentally, he's had many an interesting encounter. The title, Remember the Time We Broke the Bed, should be enough to draw you.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

It's Warm, It's a Robe Turned Backwards, It's Snuggie!

When first I saw the Snuggie, I couldn't believe how low the As Seen On TV products had gotten. They were always pretty sad, but this...this was a polyester fleece robe turned backwards so that people wouldn't have to have cold forearms while turning the channel in the winter time.
Then they seemed to have caught on, not only as a joke, but people actually purchased them. Now they've appeared on the runway at New York Fashion Week. Sure, it's kind of a joke, but this may not be the last we see of high-end Snuggie. The Times has a slide show of them here.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Chinese News of Interest: Put the Ring in Your Pocket & a Chinese Mason-Dixon Line

Number of Hidden Marriages Increases in China. I had no idea there were any hidden marriages in China, but according to this article many couples feel the need to hide their wedded bliss from co-workers and potential bosses  in order to actually get jobs, keep them, and get promoted. As my friend Grace said today, it's definitely a slippery slope. Denying such an important thing as ones marriage must lead to even bigger lies.

In other news. China is drawing the line between North and South (which probably means that we will never get proper heating down here.) The formation of a new park to draw the line has caused some controversy. Where's the harmonious society, people?

Friday, September 11, 2009

The Pigeon Stays in the Picture

I like birds, but I'm no great fan of pigeons. Still, when one appeared propped on my bathroom window adjacent to one of my roommates' windows at 11:00 p.m. Tuesday night, I felt no personal vendetta against the creature. I cannot say the same for my two roomies who thought it needed to be removed immediately from it's 31 floor perch by whatever means necessary. With vision of The Birds swirling in their heads, they attempted nudging it off the sill with an umbrella (ella ella eh eh eh), tossing cookies at it which it later ate, scarying it with their hideous screeching, and calling it names. I, of course, was morally opposed to the whole affair. Live and let fly, that's my motto.

The pigeon remained unmoved and both my roommate's window and my own were closed for the night just in case it attempted to retaliate or come inside for more cookies. The footage is a little dark, but it's the sounds you need anyway. (Fortunately, my roommates don't read the blog, so mum's the word.)

Making weird sounds at the bird and berating it.

The weirdest sound of all.

And weird sounds plus name calling.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Experiments in Healthy Eating

What with heart disease a regular occurrence in my family and a recent blood test that said my cholesterol could be lower, I've decided to start devoting more energy to healthy eating. I've got a new-to-me bread maker and so far I've made two batches of bread.

The first (stage left) is a whole wheat flaxseed loaf. Yep. It's suspiciously only 2 inches tall. When I saw this development, I was none too thrilled; however, it was shockingly good. I'm not sure how it turned out so well, but it wasn't too moist or too dense just a bit short. Amazing. The other batch of bread was a less healthy cinnamon raisin bread which looked and tasted as good as promised. So good there are no pictures (no I didn't eat it all..I shared almost all of it.)

Next on my health crusade...I've heard about the healthy possibilities of black beans so today I looked for a recipe for black bean burgers and found a highly rated one on All Recipes. In the past I probably would have been a nasty old naysayer about this type of veggie cuisine, but I've been proven wrong by Bocca Burgers and these honestly turned out deee-licious. Seriously. I did make a few changes. I used red bell peppers instead of green because I don't really like and did not have green. I put beans and veggies (none of which I measured) into the food processor, but made sure it didn't turn into a paste. I added ground chipotle in lieu of hot sauce which I also don't have. It had a bit of a kick but not too much. I used my flaxseed bread for the bread crumbs to boot! Then I grilled it on my little grill pan, cut it in half and sandwiched it between the last two pieces of my bread. A little fresh tomato, a little ketchup--that's lycopene folks. Yum!

Meanwhile, I was also making whole wheat hamburger buns which are still in the oven and hopefully will turn out good enough for the remaining 3 black bean patties I threw in the refrigerator. Now I just have to keep up this energy. I tell you. The appliances are making this healthy cooking stuff easier.

Up soon (but maybe not too soon because a single girl can only eat the same thing so many times before she becomes uninspired): Cooking 101's Ultimate Veggie Burger

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

On the Shelf

As usual for my trips home, I load up on books. While I belatedly discovered, I have embraced it's extremely low prices with reckless abandon. (I still believe in and did buy books at a physical bookstore. Don't you worry.) The bruises are almost clearing on my shoulders from carrying this weighty cargo on my back and I've placed them nicely on my to-read bookcase. I haven't had so many new reads to stare at in a long time. Now I'm having the hardest time deciding which one to read first--the covers are all so pretty! So I'm reading two at a time. Here is the list of my new paged companions.

1. How to Breathe Underwater by Julie Orringer: Is this not the most beautiful cover? It makes the heart ache. A collection of short stories.

2. Taft by Ann Patchett: From reading the covers of a few Ann Patchett novels, it seems she has quite a range of subjects to cover. I enjoyed her writing style in Bel Canto, so I thought I'd give this one a try.

3. Suite Francaise by Irene Nemirovsky: Written some 60 years ago, the author was killed in a concentration camp and this novel was not published until a few years ago.

4. One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich by Solzhenitsyn: I feel like I should read something by this guy and I found this book at a used bookstore and picked it up.

5. The Moviegoer by Walker Percy: Great title and the author is southern. What could be better?

6. Sex, Economy, Freedom and Community by Wendell Berry: Racy title, no? The folks at Image Journal really like this guy and I've seen his name mentioned quite a few times elsewhere as a Christian writer with a unique perspective on culture, community, etc. I also bought his novel Hannah Coulter this summer, but I couldn't lug another volume.

7. Breath for the Bones: Art Imagination and Spirit (Reflections on Creativity and Faith) by Luci Shaw: I just started this one, and I found it insightful already. The topic, the intersection of art and faith, is a subject in which I am always searching for wisdom. This was also recommended by Image Journal.

8. Cry, the Beloved Country by Alan Paton: This one is on so many reading lists. I Tivoed (that isn't spelled right is it?) the movie while I was at home, but figured I should read the book first. It's only fair.

9. The Things They Carried by Tim O'Brien: also on a lot of lists so I bought it. The title is also reminiscent of my book carrying so I thought it was appropriate. I think this one is going to be a pretty heavy read.

10. Death and the Penguin by Andrey Kurkov: How could a book with this title and originally written in Russian not be interesting? (That's a rhetorical question.) I heard about this book from The Polysyllabic Spree by Nick Hornby. Now that I think about it, I sure hope I'm smart enough to read this book.

11. Housekeeping Vs. the Dirt by Nick Hornby: the next installment which follows up The Polysyllabic Spree. This is a compilation of articles that Hornby wrote for The Believer Magazine. His monthly column was basically a list of things he read and books he bought each month; however, he was given the stipulation that he was not to bash any authors as that would be left up to every other magazine and newspaper on the planet.

12. The Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco: One of my friend's favorite books and a classic, I'm told.

13. The Bookseller of Kabul by Åsne Seierstad: I saw it really cheap at the bookstore and well, the cover was beautiful. The book sounded interesting, too.

14. Nine Horses by Billy Collins: Collins is (or was?) U.S. Poet Laureate. This might be the first book of poetry I've ever bought for myself which was not required reading. I think I'm finally growing up. A friend of mine recommended Collins as very accessible and lately I've been thinking that poetry might not be all that bad. After all, Noah in The Notebook read poetry, so how bad can it be? (By the way, how funny would it be if the horses on the cover didn't add up to 9?)

Those, plus a handful of other unread books previously acquired should keep me busy for a while.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Photos: Nature and scenery

I are a few more photos from home, just not terribly sentimental ones. This is me experimenting with my new camera around town on what was an unusually cool Saturday morning for Mississippi. I was walking around some beautiful neighborhoods, and I think a few people thought I was casing the area. Oh my.

There's actually a bee in there.
Still life.
An avenue. Did you know that's what they're called? I love avenues. My favorite chateau in France has the most beautiful avenue of trees.
Live oaks on the Mississippi Gulf Coast. Once I wrote about live oaks in a creative writing class and my teacher marked out live nt realizing that there is a difference. Live oaks are green year round as opposed to oaks that lose their leaves every autumn.

Hilsarious T-shirt

I spelled hilarious wrong on purpose.

This is a t-shirt titled "I Scream" from I don't really know anything about this website and am ready to go read a book so I'll let you look if you're interested, but a friend had it on her gchat and I thought it was hilsarious.

The artist is Brock Davis and the t-shirt is available in baby onesies as well as adult sizes. It's just so witty. I don't wear t-shirts very often, but if I had a baby, I sure would buy it for him/her. It's not cynical is it?

Monday, September 7, 2009

Are You Listening to...The Avett Brothers?

Well are you? You should be.

I love alt-country and alt-bluegrass music. Without the alt I can only stand a few songs, but if it's good, I can listen to the alt-c and alt-b all day. For my tastes, what makes the alts good is a healthy twinge of modernity mixed with sweet strings and storytelling lyrics. Accents are fine, but twang is only acceptable in small doses.

These alt-musicians are few so far as I can tell (I'd love to be proven wrong), but luckily I've recently found North Carolina natives The Avett Brothers. That's a long A. They're two brothers who play guitar and banjo and two other fellows one who plays the string base, the other the cello. The Avett's have been around for a while, but only recently got on a major record label. One reviewer described them as punk bluegrass which is an accurate description. I've only just scratched the surface of their music, but I'm hooked. I'm told that their albums have grown a little calmer with each release although this is not readily apparent from the recordings I've heard of their live performances at SXSW (a big indie music festival) and the Newport Folk Festival where the lead sometimes screams the lyrics (I don't particularly like that but no band is perfect). The music is beautiful, the songs are honest and sweet, and the lead singer's voice has a great edge to it.

Now on to the listening:
Laundry Room is my favorite so far. I have listened to it over and over again just as the lyrics deserve. Oh it's so good! I've heard a few live versions. The first is from SXSW (linked before), the second at their NPR Tiny Desk Concert (click here to watch) and third, a version that has a slightly softer ending which you can get here (along with two other songs).

Down with the Shine is another great song which they played live but has yet to be released on an album. Great and gritty, the words are both vague and pointed enough to allow you to fill in your own story.

I and Love and You is the free release from the EP of the same name. Not so much of the strings, but good lyrics. Don't listen if you've just had a hard breakup.

Let me know what you think of 'em.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Reminders of Home

A few last pictures from home. This is half of a water tower (guess which half is missing) in Soso, Mississippi where my mom and I used to live. Is there anything better than a town named Soso, population 72?

I took this while driving. Not supposed to do that I'm sure but I love how this one came out. By the way, do you see that sky? Thank God for blue skies and the possibility to capture them on camera for gray city days.

I was aiming for a picture like this with a nice curve of a country road. How I love country roads. They take me home. To the place I belong. John Denver's got nothing on me.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Compulsive Hobby of the Week: Apron (Part II)

I'm back. Jet lagged and unpacked. It took forever to get things situated. All the little things that are handy to have like Scotch tape, dental floss, and spare nails. If it actually made any difference to the future, I would vow never to move again, especially in China. On with the project.

So here is part two of my apron project. This one is actually modeled after this Anthropologie apron. Ze resemblance is striking, no? I made my own pattern, which could use a little improvement. It pokes out on the sides a bit, but otherwise I like it. It was my first attempt at piping, too, which I was quite proud of. See right:
I also made brown ruffles at the bottom that match the piping. I'm quite happy with the finished project, and I'm already missing my sewing machine. Sigh...another reason to miss America!

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Here I Go Again

Shanghai, here I come. Because I live in the Deep South, I'm leaving before dawn cracks (2:30 a.m.) to catch the first leg of my flight in cajun country. From there to O'Hare and finally the city on the sea somewhere around a day later. My luggage is definitely overweight. Here's hoping I can avoid getting charged--there's no way I can sacrifice my new rain boots and agave nectar and all natural cleaning liquid and Trader Joe's dark chocolate covered raisins and fifteen books. Oh no! Ai yo!

Please pray for safe, uneventful flights!

Thursday, August 27, 2009

The Photographic Dictionary

For all you lovers of art look up The Photographic Dictionary:
" dedicated to defining words through the literal, figurative, and personal meanings found in each photograph."

The dictionary is organized by letter. Each letter has a list of words and corresponding photos with definitions beneath them. (Beware, some of them are very artistic, in case you're sensitive to that sort of thing.) It's a cool idea, especially since the words the artists have chosen would not necessarily be obvious choices and the definitions below them are both traditional and unusual. If you've got a shot to add, they accept photos. X, Y, and Z are particularly small lists.

I like breath, kiss, and citroen. Any of them strike your fancy?

How about this one by yours truly:

Oyster [oy-stur]
1. a bivalve mollusk with tasty meat.
2. a tight lipped person.
3. a potential treasure chest, just add sand.

Also, I just saw this too: I'm not sure what it is, but I love to look at trees and pictures of trees which Sierra Norte seems to be a collection of...

Monday, August 24, 2009

Compulsive Hobby of the Week: Apron (Part I)

As the first episode of this season's Project Runway aired on Lifetime last week, I too was doing some furious fashion design and construction. Anthropologie has these adorable throwback, patchwork aprons to which my ever fashion forward friend Carrie alerted me. When I was in Nashville, I popped into their shop and desperately wanted to buy one, desperately; however, my budget afforded me none of them (sniffle, sniffle, snort.) So I decided to go home and make one (or more, time permitting). I even used fabric I already had for this one! Yay.

Not to be self-deprecating, but I think it looks better in person. I couldn't get the detail in my picture.

Every time I wear it I'm going to say, "There's no place like home! There's no place like home! There's no place like home!"
If all works is a small hint to the sequel of this post:

Sunday, August 23, 2009

A Little Fiction, Literally

And now, here is an extremely short piece of fiction that was once a postcard I wrote to a friend and which shamelessly amuses me (oh how narcissistic) so that I keep making other people read it. The inspiration came from a true story a friend told me; however, any resemblance to reality is purely coincidental. Purely.

The Breakup by G. Flynn
“Oh dear,” he said with some sadness, with some vexation and with considerable embarrassment. All the people sitting on nearby benches around the pond had stopped talking to watch them. She looked up at him longingly and he wondered how much she actually understood of what he was saying to her, if it would really sink in until he left. In time, she would realize he wasn’t coming back. As the days passed, she would forget him and she would learn, as he already had, to keep with her own kind. It would be better this way for both of them, but it had been fun while it lasted. They had been a couple that turned heads.

He thought back on their time together and knew he would miss her. “I’m really sorry,” his throat began to close and the air seemed heavy and sad. “I didn’t mean for it to end like this. I only want the best for you. I have to go now.” Gathering courage, he turned and took a few steps. She followed. He knew she would. “You can’t come with me. Please, just let me leave.” He could see in her eyes that, this time, she knew she could not come with him. She stayed steady, looking at him intently. He sighed deeply, turned to his path and walked away. In the wake of his departure, she uttered only a single, “Quack.”

What do you think? Isn't it just ducky?