Friday, July 30, 2010

On the move

If you haven't heard, I'm moving. And if you haven't heard, it's because you have not been within ears distance. I've complained, cried, cursed my current landlord (in my head), injured myself (accidentally) and injured some of my possessions (also accidentally) all while trying to pack up my apartment. Moving is a grievous process for me and one that I seem doomed to repeat year after year (after year after year, I could go on.) Let's take a moment and relax with a picture of something that flew by my window a few weeks ago.

Ah...I feel a little better. The fact that a new season of Project Runway just started (watching it right now) makes me feel better. On with the show.

After my landlord decided to jack our rent up oh 20 percent or so, New Roommate (that's her name for now) and I started the search for a new place. Thankfully everyone is not as crazy as my current landlord and after looking at a half dozen places or so, I found one just next door. Literally. Hallelujah! And our landlord speaks English. Woot woot! And there is a special sink where clean, drinkable water comes out. What are the odds? Here's a mini tour.
The living room. There's even a TV that is from this millennium.

And this is where I'll be sleeping. I've got a view of some trees which you cannot see from this perspective. Also, I won't be sleeping on that table, in case you were worried. (There are 2 other bedrooms that I didn't feel like posting.)

And the most important room--the kitchen! There's some more counter space stage right and a huge piece of furniture just outside the kitchen. Thank goodness. So after we decided on the place. Euphoria should have set in, I'm sure. Instead, I went home and felt thankful but very overwhelmed (tears were involved.)

Moving from floor 31 to 8 means no more of this every night. (*Note: skies have been unbelievably clear...maybe I do like the Expo.) Sigh.

Luckily, I still had some time to jump. I rocked this jump. Once I came back down to earth, I started contemplating how I might decorate my new room. It takes me somewhere around 6 months to a year before I usually can figure out what to do with my place. In lieu of painting (which my landlord just might not like), I'm thinking of this:

Wall decals on Taobao. And one day, just maybe I'll get this amazing chair from Anthropologie. It's named Astrid and it costs more than an entire months rent, but I imagine it would last longer than my newest rental contract.
Moving and unpacking tomorrow! I can't wait to find what I did with, um...everything.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Just Finished: The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao

I had no real desire to read this book until a friend gave it to me in lieu of packing it off to America with her. It's been such a buzz book, which is a bit of a turnoff, sort of, plus it didn't sound that interesting. So ok. I was wrong. The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, literary darling Junot Diaz's Pulitzer prize winning nove, is a read worth..reading.

While the title character Oscar features pretty close to center in the novel, ultimately, the story is about the de Leon/Cabral family and the supposed curse that has plagued this Dominican family all the way from the island to New Jersey and back again.

Oscar is a hapless, obese nerd whose nerdiness only increases as he becomes more and more socially awkward, reading, watching and writing sci-fi as he hopelessly pines after girls who have no interest in him whatsoever. He is completely incapable of being "normal" and constantly spirals down with little to any resolve besides his fantasy obsession.

Oscar's sister Lola is popular and also troubled. As she grows up, she too grows somewhat destructive, unable to deal with her mother and throwing herself senselessly at the opposite sex, but always feeling a sense of love and responsibility to draw her brother out of himself.

The two grow up in a household where there harsh mother yells more often than comforts, but as the story backtracks, the narrator tells us of horrible past--abuse, love gained and lost, and repeated disappointments that eventually forced her to flee from her native Santo Domingo to New Jersey and to shut off emotionally from her children.

Santo Domingo particularly comes alive in the story as the characters from past and present endure the harsh rule of a ruthless dictator (Trujillo) and his minions (who carry out the family curse) and the unstable life of a third-world country full of disappointment, corruption, and prayer (in the form of La Inca, the stand-in matriarch in the story).

While the language is sometimes rancid and sometimes barely comprehensible for a non-Spanish speaker, the story is compelling throughout although not very suspenseful. It's more like a yarn being unfolded on a porch somewhere (or perhaps whispered), and the title is the Brief Wondrous Life--so it's kind of a giveaway that Oscar probably isn't going to last to the end of the book.

The writing is witty, intelligent, and conversational. Long before the end, you feel like you've got the characters in your head, so distinct are their voices. But the best thing about the novel is that it provides a great window into a culture completely foreign to me and probably to most non-Dominican people. Not that I think I've now got a full view of the culture or the people, but definitely a glimpse to go on.

Now I'm all caught up on my book reviewing. Phwew.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Just Finished: Knowing God

(Apparently this book requires a wide berth.)
J.I. Packer's classic book Knowing God has been sitting on my shelf for 5 years. Even though it had a nice enough cover, I just never read it and when I did read it a few months ago, it took me several months to read. You can't digest Packer too quickly (or God for that matter)--it's best to let the chapters of Knowing God simmer in your thoughts. Some of the topics he covers are well worn paths that any Christian has heard to some degree but probably not given enough consideration to such as the Christian's place as a forgiven, adopted child of God, God's role as our unflinching guide through all things, and simply the importance of knowing God more deeply. Other topics like the use of images depicting God are potentially more controversial and largely not talked about in a lot of churches and call us to look more deeply into the full implications of scripture.

Knowing God is full of wisdom and anyone reading it should have pencil in hand to underline and take notes.Throughout my reading, I felt like I was getting a fresh insight into the person of God and the relationship we are called to when we become children of the Most High God. It's nothing shabby. It requires our all and its depths are more than any of us will be able to plumb in our lifetime, which makes it all the more exciting. Here's a brief expert to give you a taste:

We are unlike the Christians of New Testament times. Our approach to life is conventional and static; theirs was not. The thought of "safety first" was not a drag on their enterprise as it is on ours. By being exuberant, unconventional and uninhibited in living by the gospel they turned their world upside down, but you could not accuse us twentieth-century Christians of doing anything like that. Why are we so different? Why, compared with them, do we appear as no more than halfway Christians? Whence comes the nervous, dithery, take-no-risks mood that mars so much of our discipleship? Why are we not free enough from fear and anxiety to allow ourselves to go full stretch in following Christ?
This may be one of the few books I re-read.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Just Finished: Population: 485

Another long titled book: Population: 485--Meeting Your Neighbors One Siren at a Time (by Michael Perry.) I finished this book shortly after arriving back in the chicken shaped country, but I've got a backlog of books to tell you about and now that I'm packing up again, I figured I'd better write about it before this one goes in a box.

Population: 485 is a series of essays written about the small town upper midwest experiences of a volunteer firefighter and EMT. Michael Perry, is a veteran of both and a writer to boot. Most of the essays center on calls he went on in his small hometown, and no, they're not about getting little old ladies' cats out of trees. They're more about people in real pain, not always but often, people vomiting, people dying, people surviving, and the camaraderie of firefighters and EMTs. Perry's stories are varied--sometimes they make you want to throw up, they are laugh out loud funny at times, and also heartbreakingly sad while always very human.

My main criticism of the book was Perry's emotional distance from just about everything. He's by no means cold or dishonest, but he also leaves up a clear wall between himself and the reader, a distinct lack of vulnerability. I know because I often do the same thing when I write. In general, a nice slice of nowheresville Americana, by far the most interesting part of my great country.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Listening In: Mississippi Execution

Last week I listened to a fascinating story on Radio Diaries (NPR) that took place in my very own hometown of Laurel, Mississippi a long time ago.

This story was no lighthearted matter but was about a woman trying to find the truth behind her grandfather's conviction for raping a white woman. Having grown up in Nevada, she had little connection with Mississippi and until her mother was sick, didn't hear much about her grandfather. After her mother died, she decided to track down the past and went to Laurel to get answers. Very interesting, especially the way that the old lines between black people and white people are grayed but still very much a reality.

To listen or read the transcript click here. Or to download it directly click ici.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Kitchening: Bay Leaves

Have you ever wondering why you have bay leaves? I mean, you probably have never thought to yourself, "Oh, if I could only get a good whiff of a bay leaf, then all my petty troubles would disappear." I know that thought has never crossed my mind. Couple of days ago I was perusing a food blog on the New York Times and came across a question to readers about what to do with the pile of bay leaves every cook almost inevitably has in their cabinet. There were the usual answers: stews and marinara sauce, but quite a few surprising ones I thought we should all be aware of:

1. To keep bugs at bay (oh man that was a good pun). Supposedly these innocuous leaves are a natural repellent that can help keep your flour from getting buggy--Shanghailanders take note, especially if you don't have room in your tiny little fridges for the mian fen.

2. To simmer with your chai.

3. To add some flava flave (I'm laughing at myself for typing that) to your rice pudding. Even to simmer in your milk as you're making mac & cheese (the real kind.)

4. For Indian food. Apparently loads of dishes use them.

5. To calm the stomach. Simmer a few leaves in water to make a tea that soothes the digestive system.

For more uses from NY Times readers click here. Also, are y'all listening to Toad the Wet Sprocket like I asked and hopefully squeezing in some Gin Blossoms (especially "Found Out About You")? I found the albums for $.75 a piece on I'm totally buying them.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Last month I went home for about three weeks to attend my 5th year college reunion (apparently not everyone has these...), my friend Bev's graduation (at our alma mater, way to multi-task Bev!), headed south to visit some friends in Virginia, and then home to my hot, sticky, beloved Mississippi. Now my vacation in pictures...

I woke up in Toronto (layover) and this is what the sky looked like. Can you believe North America? Best place ev-er.

I only had a few days in good ole Providence (which I hadn't graced in 5 years) so I hit the ground running, once I hit the ground. I looked up my friends at my former work place, the Brown U bindery. That was the best job an undergrad could want. A bunch of bluegrass and book lovin' creative types who liked to play word games and play practical jokes!

My favorite arch in the whole's the Whispering Arch (say that in a hushed voice, if you're reading these captions out loud.) My friend Amanda (see below) showed me this some time during our matriculation. If you whisper ever so quietly in one side of the arch, a person listening on the other side can hear your voice like you're in their ear. It is amazing. You think for a second that, of course, it's not that far so you aren't really hearing it through the architecture of the arch, but upon looking behind you, you realize that there's no way a whisper could carry that's the magic of the arch.

Same day as all this I visited my favorite tea shop in the whole world! Tealuxe how I've missed you and the stack of free coupons we scored our senior year! I paid for my tea that day and had bubbles in it. Delish. Now a few more pictures to pay homage to this great place. (Try the Copley Square Vanilla if you're ever in the area.)

My old home, Andrews dormitory, also known as Hotel Andrews because it was and is the best dorm in all of Browndom. I prayed a lot for good housing and got to live here for 2 years!
While we waited for Bev to graduate, my dear, long lost friend Tatiana and I took a tour around Newport, Rhode Island. Beautiful (and chilly) New England breezes and everyone wearing Talbots and J. Crew.

They have some angry fountains there....

At one of the giant houses of Newport, we took out time from our touristing to get in a jump shot or two...this might still count as touristing.

American rickshaws! Who knew? Do you think they were trained by the Chinese men at my metro stop? Then Bev graduated (a few other communal things happened in between the rickshaws and Bev becoming a doctor of medicine.)

We were trying to find the procession line and look what else we found...conservatives at Brown....what are the odds?

Bev is a doctor! A legit one. If you have any aches or pains, let me know and I'll give you her phone number.

Group shot. (Brodie if you're reading this...sorry I didn't get you in here...)It's my other long lost friend Amanda! How I've missed my New England friend and former Andrews cohort. She's become a klepto now though...kind of unfortunate.

Guess where we went after the ceremony? Yep...Tealuxe. (Tati and Jamie who is not long lost, but great all the same.)

Do you see how big things are in America? These are the ingredients for kettle corn. Yes please.

Then I had to say goodbye to my long lost friend. She's going to find me a job in Bean Town though so we'll see each other again.

I drove. Don't know who took this picture, but it's the two curly headed femme fatales up front.

Next stop was the stinkbug graveyard in Virginia.

Where they also had beautiful swiss chard. Too pretty to eat...did anyway though.

Guess who was in Virginia. Hello Baby Gray! Not the best picture I've ever taken of him, but he's lookin' good, right? (Charlotte, take note.)

Then I went home where all kinds of interesting people come into my mom's shop. Most of them great. Some of them heretical...Guess what probably isn't going to happen on May 21, 2011...

I'm just making sure everything still tastes ok.Took a walk along the beach pre-oil arrival. Apparently this bird is trying to hunt fish. Either that or he has a crick in his neck.

Bleh. I'm so devastated that this bird might be coated in petroleum right now.

My quick trip came to an end via New Orleans where my mom and I spent a nice evening an then woke up at the crack of dawn.

See, there she is. A bit out of focus and about to order beignets from Cafe du Monde.

I know it's kind of dark, but I love this picture and the old fleur de lys finials.

Had another layover in Toronto so I did a little sightseeing at night and realized I don't love sightseeing by myself, especially at night in an unfamiliar city. Still the people there were extremely friendly. I really liked them and the city seemed nice. Next time I'll go in the day time...

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Remember the '90s? Toad the Wet Sprocket

The '90s was a bad time for music. Be realistic and admit it. I remember long hours of changing radio station hoping to hear a little Oasis or Alanis or...Toad the Wet Sprocket.

Do you remember them? I really hope you do, and if you were one of those people who just didn't appreciate them, that is all about to change. It really is because when you hear Glen Phillips sing, you'll feel like America is a great and melancholy place. You'll bop your shoulders a little, if you're sitting at your desk. You'll listen to the lyrics and think about how interesting and smart they are. Then you'll listen to the music and think...oh...that's definitely from the '90s--but in a good way.

So even though I sadly no longer have their full albums (hint hint for Christmas) I have just discovered Pandora (don't say anything) and had a nice few hours of Glen Phillips' awesome, distinct voice and along with the Gin Blossoms (also great) and the other two or three '90s wonders. I've also included Glen Phillips singing with Nickel Creek...please humor me and listen.

For some reason, listening to this made me miss America.

Just Finished: An Infinity of Little Hours

The full title of this book is An Infinity of Little Hours: Five Young Men and Their Trial of Faith in the Western World's Most Austere Monastic Order by Nancy Klein Maguire. Can you tell from the title that this is no ordinary piece of fiction? Well it's nonfiction, that's why...

This book charts the progress of 5 young men who enter a Carthusian monastery in England called Parkminster. They come from America, Ireland, and Germany with varying experiences and backgrounds. In fact one of them falls in love with a woman on his boat ride to England and almost doesn't enter the monastery.

The events take place in the early 60's, but once setting foot in Parkminster, the men find that they could be in the early 1000's when the Carthusians first became an order. By entering, the men agree to cut off almost all communication with the outside world, sit in a house and pray, read, meditate, and garden with daily masses that are mostly devoid of personal human contact. They also give up their names--Paddy becomes Dom Leo, Bernie Dom Malachi and so forth. Once a week the men get to go on an outing and talk with the other men in their one opportunity to connect and get outside the monastery walls.

As the men progress from the first mandatory month of retreat and then become novices, and move closer to making their solemn vows (which mean they commit to spend their lives as Carthusians) they each face challenges with the live of solitude and reflection.

Klein, who is married to a former Carthusian, researches the history and life of this monastic order well and it is pretty interesting (except for the whole chapter that outlines every second of a mass), but she fails to build the suspense I wanted-- Will Dom Phillip be able to stand off-key singing for the rest of his life (it sounds funny, but think about it)? Will Dom Malachi return to the girl he left behind? Will any of them hear from God? Will their faith be shaken when it's just them and silence?

Even with its faults, I thought this was a thought-provoking read as I try to slow my mind down and focus more on God in the silence of my empty apartment. For the men in the book who did not make solemn profession, they still seemed monks at heart. Their years at Parkminster greatly changed them and, I think, gave them a greater ability to be silent and more at rest with God and their own thoughts.