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Thursday, June 25, 2020

What I've Read Recently // May 2020


After a slow reading month in April, I finished 8 books in May. I always list the books below in the order that I read them but they rarely line up (if ever) in the order that I enjoyed them. The month started strong, took a dip, and finished solidly. There are a lot of GREAT books in this month's post. Six of the eight rated were 8 or higher on a scale of 1-10. I hope you'll take the time to read through all of the summaries. And I really hope you take the time to pick up a couple and read them yourself.

The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison
Adapted from Goodreads:
Toni Morrison's first novel tells the story of black, eleven-year-old Pecola Breedlove. In the autumn of 1941, the year the marigolds in the Breedloves' garden do not bloom. Pecola's life does change- in painful, devastating ways.
What I thought: 8.5/10
Obviously, this book is full of beautiful writing. Morrison has a gift of language that is breathtaking. There is a deeper and parallel commentary occurring in these pages in nearly every passage. I experienced this textured storytelling in a way that felt similar to Sing, Unburied, Sing by Jesmyn Ward (Reviewed for October 2019). These two novels read both brutally and beautifully. There are countless examples of this figurative writing throughout the text. One that comes to mind is the description of the delivery of the Breedloves' new, yet torn, sofa and all that it signifies. This passage perfectly captured the circular trap of powerlessness, racism, and poverty --even though the words on the page, at the surface, seemed to be about a piece of furniture. Another striking example for me was the haunting symbolism in the "See Jane Run" segments throughout the novel. As Pecola's psyche deteriorates, so goes the cadence and completeness of the primer excerpt that opens the chapters. The bottom line is that this book is stunning and heartbreaking. While it was published in 1970, it speaks clearly to the realities of 2020 (living in a racist society, the systemic and racist hierarchy of beauty and value, violence, the treatment of black women during pregnancy/labor, colorism, institutionalized cycles of poverty, AND...). You should definitely read it.


The Rest of the Story by Sarah Dessen
Adapted from Goodreads:
Emma Saylor doesn’t remember a lot about her mother, who died when she was ten. But she does remember the stories her mom told her about North Lake (where she grew up) that went on forever, with cold, clear water and mossy trees at the edges. Emma hasn't been there or seen her mother's family since she was a little girl. How will her life evolve as a result of spending a few weeks in North Lake?
What I thought: 5/10
Emma Saylor is our protagonist. Her dad and everyone in her current teenaged life call her Emma. We quickly learn that her deceased mother used to call her Saylor. Emma doesn't have a lot of memories of being called Saylor. Emma is upper-middle class. She is careful to not upset or challenge her dignified (live-in) paternal grandmother or her quiet and predictable dentist dad. Through a series of events, Emma's dad has no other option than to ask his mother-in-law (who he has not been in touch with for a very long time) to let Emma come stay with her (surrounded by Emma's barely-remembered aunts, uncles, cousins, and childhood friends) in the blue-collar community of North Lake where her mother was raised. Emma's parents actually met as teenagers at the lake. See the lake is split between blue-collar/year-round North Lake (Emma's mom's family) and affluent/seasonal Lake North (where her dad summered with his upperclass family). Emma has been primarily raised to fit the stereotype of a "Lake North Girl." She shows up to grandma's house and is immediately referred to as "Saylor." What follows is her swift transformation into a hard-working, uncomfortable with entitlement, not-afraid-to-get-dirty, cousin/granddaughter --a solid "North Lake Girl." Are you on the edge of your seat to know what happens next? I'm embarrassed to have spent so many words on this thin book.


American Dirt by Jeanine Cummins
Adapted from Goodreads:
Lydia Quixano Pérez lives in the Mexican city of Acapulco. She runs a bookstore. She has an eight-year-old son, Luca, the love of her life, and a wonderful husband who is a journalist. Something beyond horrific happens and Lydia and Luca are forced to flee. Lydia and Luca soon find themselves miles and worlds away from their comfortable middle-class existence. Instantly transformed into migrants, Lydia and Luca ride la bestia—trains that make their way north toward the United States, which is the only place they might find safety. As they join the countless people trying to reach el norte, Lydia soon sees that everyone is running from something. But what exactly are they running to?
What I thought: 8/10 (Listened on Audible)
I had reservations about giving my attention to this book. Oprah chose it as her (January 2020?) book club selection and the criticisms came swiftly. Here's the problem: While the book is primarily about undocumented immigration, the US-Mexico border crisis, and violence in South America, it has been written by a nonimmigrant and non-Mexican. I read it (listened to it) anyway. Since then (and embarrassingly recently) I am making a concerted effort to educate myself about systemic racism. A small component of how this ubiquitous racism operates lies in the publishing/media world of which books get printed, marketed, and purchased. There are lots of books about this topic already written by Latin American authors who I should have/could have given my time and attention. I found American Dirt to be compelling and sweeping. I was captivated, horrified, and informed by the story. I loved the writing and the voice of the narrator (Yareli Arizmendi) in my Audible version. It's my responsibility (and all of our responsibility) to know more and to try to understand how to witness and address our border crisis. To this end, I've committed to begin by reading Latinx authors on the subject in both fiction and nonfiction. If you have a recommendation of a book you found important, I'd love to hear it. If not, there are eight books recommended HERE as a place to begin.


Where the Heart Is by Billie Letts
Adapted from Goodreads:
Seventeen years old, seven months pregnant, and broke, Novalee Nation is abandoned by her boyfriend at a Walmart in Oklahoma on their way to California. Stranded in an unfamiliar small town, Novalee builds a life with the help of some amazing people she meets along the way.
What I thought: 8.5/10
If you've seen the movie but haven't read the book, do yourself a favor and pick this one up! This story overflows with heartache, hardship, and struggle --all balanced beautifully with love, kindness, and generosity. The characters are vivid, original, and layered. I think you'll fall in love with more than a few --just like I did! Sister Hubbard, Moses Whitecotton, and Benny Goodluck come into Novalee's life on her first day and they grow to root her into her new life with every page.


The Giver of Stars by Jojo Moyes
Adapted from Goodreads:
Based on a true story, the Baileyville Packhorse Librarians of Kentucky face danger and challenge in the rural mountain terrain and work in the gossip and distain of town fold who would punish them for their unconventional ways.
What I thought: 8/10
Books? Libraries? Women fighting for a place in the world that they get to define? I'm IN! This is a beautiful story of courage, friendship, and fierce independence. I found it to be funny, moving, and spirited. A friendship like Alice and Margery's is one for the times. Izzy, Beth, and Sophia each have so much to offer and I loved following their journeys through these pages. These characters and the men in their lives came to life in the reading and I was thoroughly entertained.


The Secrets She Keeps by Michael Robotham
Adapted from Goodreads:
A psychological thriller about the unlikely friendship between two pregnant women that asks: how far would you go to create the perfect family? Agatha is pregnant and works part-time stocking shelves at a grocery store in a ritzy London suburb. Meghan is the effortlessly chic customer whose elegant lifestyle dazzles her. They meet and then...
What I thought: 7/10
I thought this book was really very good. I did compare it to the other books read this month --and that is a lot to live up to. As far as thrillers go, the pacing and twists were exciting and compelling. Not everyone was who they appeared to be from the outside --in hindsight, I'm not sure I can recall a single character who didn't have at least one surprise. This is the perfect book for a weekend away.


The Care and Feeding of Ravenously Hungry Girls by Anissa Gray
Adapted from Goodreads:
A dazzling debut novel about mothers and daughters, identity and family, and how the relationships that sustain you can also be the ones that consume you. The Butler family has had their share of trials—as sisters Althea, Viola, and Lillian can attest—but nothing prepared them for the literal trial that will upend their lives.
What I thought: 8.5/10 (Listened on Libby)
"As a mother, I am my father's daughter. And I hate everything about him." -Althea Butler.
This book gets under your skin and agitates. Gray writes her characters to life --every moment of their pain drips into your heart through her passages. Listening to the story in the distinct voices of the narrators January LaVoy (Viola), Adenrele Ojo (Althea), Bahni Turpin (Lillian), and Dominic Hoffman (Proctor) added depth and nuance. Centered around the struggle to connect and forgive within families, this novel also speaks to racial inequities of the justice system, the will and strength of women of color, abuse, and addiction. This is a great story!


My Dark Vanessa by Kate Elizabeth Russell
Adapted from Goodreads:
Exploring the psychological dynamics of the relationship between a precocious yet naïve teenage girl and her magnetic and manipulative teacher, My Dark Vanessa is a brilliant, all-consuming read. Vanessa is 15. Her English teacher, Jacob Strane, is 42. Jumping between memories of her sophomore year of boarding school in 2000 and the present, 17 years later, this novel explores victimhood, trauma, consent, and societal complicity.
What I thought: 8.5/10
This was a book I needed to take little "breaks" from. The content is disturbing, thought-provoking, complex, and crushing. It is beautifully written, achingly painful, and further opens the conversation around topics of sexual violence that have been historically oversimplified. I had a hard time putting Vanessa away from my thoughts after I had finished the book. To read about what happened in 2000 is heartbreaking on its own (but not to Vanessa who refuses to name Strane a predator). As the reader, to also confront the reality of Vanessa's subsequent and enduring understanding/definition of what love looks and feels like through her life after Strane (harsh, punishing, and superficial) evokes sympathy and sadness. However, Vanessa is unwilling to consider herself a victim. She ignores the truth that his abuse has left a residue over her being that contaminates nearly every aspect of her life --only she has to believe that this poison is somehow a perfume --because if she doesn't, then she has no power at all.

~ Pin for Later ~





Thursday, May 28, 2020

Things I Love Thursday // 5.28.20


  • A Weekend Away with Friends - Like everyone else, I've seen way too much of the inside of my home for over 2 months now. It was an incredible gift to be invited to spend the holiday weekend with our dear friends at their house in the mountains. Like us, they have been predominantly sequestered during this time so we all felt comfortable sharing the house with one another. Despite the forecast, we had great weather, got out on the boat several times, relaxed and read books, ate incredible food, and truly enjoyed the time with one another. 


  • Children's Theatre of Charlotte/City Stems - My year-long term as president of ENCORE!, the Children's Theatre of Charlotte's volunteer auxiliary, has come to a close. It was an incredible honor to serve the Theatre and the community in this role. The season definitely did not wrap up the way anyone was expecting it might. Theatre leadership and the board of directors are busting their behinds to forecast, plan, and execute on an engaging (virtual) summer and (hopefully) eventful and joyous 2020-21 season. The creative energy and passion that lifts up The Arts in Charlotte can always use extra financial support and volunteer efforts. My amazing ENCORE! Council tapped my favorite Charlotte creative to make me a parting gift that I am in love with. Laura Hughes of City Stems knocked it out of the park (again). Look at this stunner! The polkadot pot has ears! Doesn't get any cooler than a raven zz and the size of the airplant is unreal. #swoon


  • Clairol Root Touch-Up - Not allowed/ready to head back into the salon? Me neither. A longtime favorite of mine is here to help out all the graying brunettes who are reading along! I just treated myself to a freshening-up this week. 15 minutes. $7. Grays are covered for about 4 more weeks. Voilà. Please, do enjoy my partial Elvis impression below.


  • Cooking - I continue to entertain and busy myself by trying to bring culinary happiness to the dinner table during our extended social distancing. Half Baked Harvest remains a popular feature in my Foodie Night text chain and in my Instagram feed. This week, my family loved HBH's Thai Black Pepper Chicken + Garlic Noodles. The original recipe called for broccoli florets but welcomed substitutions. I had red bell pepper and sliced mushrooms on-hand (and decided to save my broccoli for the next dinner). It was fantastic! Everyone loved the way the sticky heat complimented the buttery noodles and we will surely have this again very soon. HBH's One-Pot Lemon Basil, [Broccoli], + Sausage Pasta originally called for asparagus. Not only did I not have any --but one of my teens refers to asparagus as "asparaGROSS" --so broccoli to the rescue. We found the pasta to be very satisfying but it didn't win any prizes at the dinner table (maybe it really needed the asparagus?). If I make this again, I will reserve about 1/2 cup of pasta water and use it to make the sauce more velvety and a better consistency to coat the noodles. Over the holiday weekend at the lake, we very much enjoyed Half Baked Harvest's Burrata with Pepperonata + Tomatoes over toasted homemade sourdough. The flavors and colors were beautiful! I loved how the zip of the balsamic was balanced by the creamy burrata and the sweetness of the peppers and tomatoes. Next time I make this one, I'll include extra cheese. Looking for a delicious way to enjoy the recent "harvest" from the backyard garden, I found a simple recipe by Gail Simmons in her beautiful cookbook, Bringing it Home. Shaved Zucchini Salad with Harissa Citrus Dressing + Mint, will continue to please as long as the zucchini and yellow squash keep producing. I plan to double or triple this dressing next time and keep it on-hand for a quick assembly. It rained all day yesterday and we cozied up with another indulgent and comforting recipe from HBH. Skillet Cheesy Pepperoni Pizza Chicken was as good as it sounds. Pictured below, in order, and with the recipes linked are the highlights of the week: Thai Black Pepper Chicken + Garlic Noodles, One-Pot Lemon Basil, Asparagus, + Sausage Pasta, Burrata with Pepperonata + Tomatoes (from my Super Simple cookbook which has gone up from $18 to $22.50), Shaved Zucchini Salad with Harissa Citrus Dressing + Mint (also from my cookbook but maybe this link will work?), and Skillet Cheesy Pepperoni Pizza Chicken.


  • Not Cooking - I definitely love to cook and I certainly enjoy a break from cooking too --especially when I have the pleasure of consuming anything prepared by our friend Adam. His culinary exhibitions have been featured in the blog before. A self-taught home chef, I've never seen him work from a recipe. What he delivers to the plate has never fallen short of amazing. This weekend's delights included an incredible salmon filet over bottarga noodles with crisp-charred cherry tomatoes, [magic] herb sauce, and crispy salmon skin. Holy moly. I wish I could share the recipe with you (and have a copy for myself) but as I said, Adam never seems to be working from a recipe. *crazy-impressed*

     
  • My New Fabric Face Mask - Lemons! Perfection. This sweet little mask is from a local shop called Roses + Azalea --a wife/husband team that makes organic personal care and beauty products that "heal + nourish the body holistically." This is my first purchase from the shop; however, I am interested in sampling the Beauty Cream and Face Serum.


Thursday, May 21, 2020

Things I Love Thursday // 5.21.20


  • Puppy Breath - We finally got to meet our friends' new puppy this weekend! Bella is a Cavapoo. She is very sweet, very sleepy, and very much the owner of my heart now.


  • Love Notes - We celebrated Mother's Day a week late this year. Some of the sweetest parts of the day were finding these little notes all over the house. I actually just found another one yesterday! So simple and thoughtful. Bookmark this idea for your loved one's birthday! (If you're interested in the reason we celebrated late, keep reading --otherwise, skip ahead). My husband had surgery the week of Mother's Day and asked me if I'd take a "rain check" on celebrating. He didn't feel "prepared to prepare" a fabulous day. Of course, I said it would be no problem. He expressed great thanks and insisted that it was supremely generous of me to agree to postpone --while I (secretly) thought the generous thing would have been to just roll with the situation and lower my expectations. When I (later) admitted this to him, he said it never crossed his mind that having a "not fabulous" day might be an option. Haha. You might be thinking, "Goodness! What on earth does she expect?" Here's my definition of fabulous: No plans, no dishes or picking up (but enjoying a clean house), handmade cards from the girls, my favorite meal. It's really not over-the-top. BUT the "favorite meal" part is critical and it requires my husband to grill. Grilling was not allowed on May 10th because of his surgery. Let me tell you, it was worth the wait.
  • Snake Huggie Earrings - I'm loving the style of wearing multiple earrings in my original piercings these days --after a break from doing just that (which lasted about 20 years). I was surprised to find that while my helix piercing had closed, my lobe piercings were still open. For now, (ha!) I have three piercings in one ear and one in the other. I've been wearing a combination of tiny studs and asked for a few small pairs of "huggie" hoops for Mother's Day. This Amazon link has lots of very fun styles to choose from and each of these 14K gold plated pairs is only $12. A huge bonus is the way these are designed to "click" open and closed. The hinges might wear out at some point, but it's worth it to me to not have to struggle to get the back wire inserted (as some hoop-style earrings are designed). In addition to the snakes, I chose these ones and these ones


  • Mike's Hot Honey - We first stumbled upon this product in our favorite local cheese shop, Mere's. It has really got a kick! Delicious with cheeses, on avocado toast, pizza, or grilled cheese --it went fast. We've been "unable" to get our hands on any more (because I didn't bother checking for it on Amazon). Duh. In any event, we have it again and you might find it amazing as well! 


  • Pimento Cheese - It's a southern thing. It's necessary. Before we moved here, I had never even heard of pimento cheese. Now, if you visit us from out of town, we will make it a point to serve you pimento cheese and Cheerwine (also very much a thing). My friend, Anne, popped over the other day with a lovely little surprise: Chef Jaime's Pimento Cheese. I've had lots of versions of this southern staple and this is by far one of the creamiest --with just the right amount of texture from the curds and peppers. If you're local to the Charlotte area, you're in luck! Just order through an Instagram message and delivery is free! Spicier versions of pimento cheese are usually what I gravitate toward and I can't wait to order Jaime's jalapeño version. So I have to know (especially from my West Coast peeps): Have you had pimento cheese? Are you a fan? 


  • Garden Growth - We are having a very strange spring. It's been incredibly mild, as far as temperatures go. Some days are downright chilly! It rained all day yesterday and through the night. I had planned to make a big spring salad with grilled chicken for dinner and instead remained curled up and opted for Mexican takeout last night! Given/despite (?) the weather, the garden is going like gangbusters. These zucchini seemed to burst out of nowhere overnight and this sweet little cherry tomato, though not completely ripe, had fallen from the vine. The beans are taking shape. The banana peppers continue to amaze and the crook-necked squash are almost the right size. In case you've missed the many announcements on Instagram, I'm a farmer now. Obviously.


  • Meals We Loved - We continue to eat well during quarantine. My "Foodie Night" text chain is always full of ideas, recipes, yummy-looking plates, funny memes, and good news. If you read the TILT post last week, you know my friend, Carrie, gifted me yeast packets! If you have any, I highly recommend making a fun night of homemade pizzas. Everyone in our family enjoyed creating their own version of the "perfect pie." The recipe linked here makes 2 large pizzas or 4 generous individuals. Next time (and there will definitely be a next time) I will cut the dough into 6 pieces because the size of our 4-portioned pies was tricky to transfer onto the hot pan. I used the leftover grilled asparagus and red onion from my Mother's Day meal + shredded mozzarella and creamy ricotta in a very easy and versatile frittata this week. I've also linked a recipe for spring ramp pasta. If you can't find any ramps, then small leeks, green onions and/or shallots would be a good substitute (I'd also suggest adding some lemon zest to finish the dish). Pictured below, in order, and linked recipes here, are the highlights of the week: Carrie's Yummy Pizzas, Thai Basil Beef with Peanut Salsa (this recipe came from my Half Baked Harvest Super Simple cookbook and is not available online; however, this HBH Thai Basil Beef is similar, "Mom's Favorite Meal" (rare filet, grilled asparagus and red onion, green salad, +big cabernet), Leftovers Frittata, Simple Ramp Pasta, and Coconut Chicken Tikka Masala.


  • Sourdough Strides - I have a new favorite sourdough recipe/technique and it's resulted in two beautiful, rustic loaves over the past week. Turns out, I had been over-proofing my dough and by the time it hit the hot oven, it was exhausted --which yielded a very wimpy oven spring. This new recipe from Sylvia of Feasting at Home (gorgeous blog --going to have to spend some time exploring soon) is even a "no-knead" method! In the sourdough bread post, you will find step-by-step instructions and videos about the different "folds" that are straightforward and detailed. If you're into the whole bread-baking thing --or you want to jump in, give this recipe a go. Sylvia also has a detailed methodology for making your own starter --though, the easiest way to get started is to find a baker friend in your area and ask for some of theirs. Seriously. Sharing your starter is a thing. Most bakers are very generous and love to celebrate this part of the "Bread Community."




Sunday, May 17, 2020

What I've Read Recently // April 2020


April was a slow reading month for me. I'm not sure why;* it's not like I was busy doing much of anything else... In any event, of the 4 1/2 books I completed, at least two were very good! I hope you enjoy the summaries below.
As always, I'd love to hear what you've been reading!

My Lovely Wife by Samantha Downing
Adapted from Goodreads:
Our love story is simple. I met a gorgeous woman. We fell in love. We had kids. We moved to the suburbs. We told each other our biggest dreams, and our darkest secrets. And then we got bored. We all have secrets to keeping a marriage alive. Ours just happens to be getting away with murder.
What I thought: 7/10
You guys, this book is not your typical suspense-thriller. I you can see from the summary that this isn't going to fall into the run-of-the-mill "bad guy comes after innocent woman" kind of box. It's a well-written page turner that turns the stereotyped serial killer on its head. I won't say too much about the plot because I don't want to give anything away. I did not rate the book higher than 7 because the characters were fairly one-dimensional and their motives continue to allude me; however, I conjure Joaquin Phoenix (as the corrupt emperor, Commodus, from one of my all-time favorite movies, Gladiator) when he demands of the jeering crowd: "Are you not entertained?!" --and find that I'm holding my hand in a declarative thumbs-up.


Final Girls by Riley Sager
Adapted from Goodreads:
Ten years ago, college student Quincy Carpenter went on vacation with five friends and came back alone, the only survivor of a horror movie–scale massacre. In an instant, she became a member of a club no one wants to belong to—a group of similar survivors known in the press as the Final Girls. There are three Final Girls in recent history: Quinn, Sam, and Lisa. The three have never met. That is, until Lisa, the first Final Girl, is found dead in her bathtub, wrists slit, and Sam, the second, appears on Quincy's doorstep.
What I thought: 6.5/10
This is the final of the three published Sager books books, to date. A fourth book is due out later this year (and truth be told: I will more than likely read it). Sager hooked me pretty good with Lock Every Door (7.5/10). Because it was such a quick and entertaining book, I felt compelled to read his most recent work: The Last Time I Lied (4/10). It was pretty disappointing. Other reviewers who found TLTIL less-than-great kept mentioning how it did not stack up to his first book: Final Girls. So... I felt I should give that one a chance. Final Girls started off with an interesting premise, following the sole survivor in the aftermath of a violent massacre as she tries to get on with her life. To his credit and true to other Riley Sager novels, this one had lots of twists and turns. There were enough threads woven through to keep me turning the pages and I did not see the end coming. However, I found the main protagonist, Quinn, to be terribly frustrating. The choices she made were usually questionable (to say the least) and her thoughts/actions from one paragraph to the next were contradictory. Having said that, I was entertained. If you like suspense/mystery and a quick pace, you'll probably like this one.


The Bookish Life of Nina Hill by
Adapted from Goodreads:
The only child of a single mother, Nina has her life just as she wants it: a job in a bookstore, a kick-butt trivia team, a world-class planner and a cat named Phil. When the father Nina never knew existed suddenly dies, leaving behind innumerable sisters, brothers, nieces, and nephews, Nina is horrified. It's time for Nina to come out of her comfortable shell, but she isn't convinced real life could ever live up to fiction.
What I thought: 8/10
This was such a fun read! I loved the playfulness in the writing. The Bookish Life of Nina Hill reminded me of a Gilmore Girls episode with quick wit/dialogue, humor, smarts, and whimsy. Nina is charming --but not overly so. She's a bookworm so of course she stole my heart from the get-go. Full of trivia tidbits, love for the comfortable life she's built, and working through her anxieties, Nina is a thoughtful and interesting character. The story pulled me along on a very pleasant and enjoyable journey. I wouldn't describe this story as suspenseful, provocative, or thrilling --but it is perfection for a relaxing afternoon in the sunshine, sipping coffee in the morning, or curling up in your favorite chair with a glass of wine. 


Prozac Nation by Elizabeth Wurtzel
Adapted from Goodreads:
A harrowing story of breakdowns, suicide attempts, drug therapy, and an eventual journey back to living, this poignant and often hilarious book gives voice to the high incidence of depression among America's youth.
What I thought: I stopped reading this book at 56% through.
First and foremost, I applaud Wurtzel for contributing to the conversation. I thought this book would be part memoir and part critical reporting of the scope and the shift toward psychopharmacology in America. It was not that. Instead, this book was incredibly self-indulgent, whiney, and tedious. The author did a good job describing how it felt to be misunderstood and unwell. She talked at length about how exhausting it was for her family and friends to maintain relationships with her. Definitely. I get it. The book is extremely exhausting. Between the totally random italicized rants shoved between passages, the prevalence of obscure words and book references (to show us how intelligent and well-read she is), name and brand dropping, and complaints about how little money there was for anything (except private school, summer camp, NYC apartments, therapists, cruises, etcetera) I found the book unreadable. Despite really not caring for Wurtzel or her writing, I did feel compassion for her in having to live through such intense depression and hopelessness. I wanted to bear witness to her struggle and listen to her story. However, after avoiding the book in favor of nearly anything else, I finally gave myself permission to just move on. *sighs with relief*


Dear Edward by Ann Napolitano
Adapted from Goodreads:
One summer morning, twelve-year-old Edward Adler, his beloved older brother, his parents, and 183 other passengers board a flight in Newark headed for Los Angeles. The plane crashes. Edward is the sole survivor. Dear Edward is at once a transcendent coming-of-age story, a multidimensional portrait of an unforgettable cast of characters, and a breathtaking illustration of all the ways a broken heart learns to love again.
What I thought: 9/10
This was a fantastic book! While the subject matter is devastating and the journey for Edward is painful and incredibly difficult, overall, the story is beautiful. The characters here are layered and compelling. These people are flawed, honest, and worth your attention. Napolitano somehow manages to write Edward's grief into the pages with grace and unflinching detail. The journey from broken, to less-broken, and then to re-shaped is emotionally moving. I feel changed for having read this novel and I think you might too.

*I am sure why! The "problem" was how long it took me to give up on Prozac Nation. I have a hard time not finishing a book that I've started and only recently have I given myself permission to do just that. Life is too short (and my "to-read" list too long), to waste so much time with unenjoyable and/or tedious reads.

~ Pin for Later ~



Thursday, May 14, 2020

Things I Love Thursday // 5.14.20


  • Strawberry Picking - If you are anywhere near Indian Trail, North Carolina, do yourself a favor and make it a point to visit Wise Acres, "a family-owned u-pick organic strawberry and pumpkin farm." During this pandemic, Wise Acres is offering reservations that are managed in order to ensure safe social distancing. Extra sanitary procedures are also in place. The outing gave our little trio a much-needed change of scenery on what turned out to be a gorgeous afternoon. We came home with the most delicious strawberries! Berry picking at Wise Acres will last through mid June but reservations can be a little hard to come by. If you're planning on making a trip, set a reminder to check the website regularly on May 17, as this is when they will be releasing more time slots. If you get an "excessive traffic" message, keep refreshing your page. Good luck!




  • Love & Support - And who doesn't love that? More specifically, Greg underwent elective surgery to repair a damaged tendon in his elbow last week. He's been suffering through tennis elbow for almost three years now and managing a bit with cortisone shots --in the hopes that it would heal with good rest. Unfortunately, that never happened. For anyone wondering about the logistics during COVID, he was under the best care (of a good friend of ours) at an outpatient surgery center for only part of the day, and I waited in the car the entire time. The messages and positive vibes from friends and loved ones has been great. Not everyone knew that the surgery and been scheduled --but those who did reached out immediately with kind words and good thoughts. Several of our sweet friends and neighbors also gifted us with incredible meals delivered over the first few days following his surgery. We were spoiled (and it was fantastic). Pictured below is Rosemary Pork Loin with Watermelon Salad and Corn on the Cob, Baked Oatmeal with Bacon and Cantaloupe, and Roasted Tomato Bisque + Homemade Croutons with Artichoke and Broccoli Pesto Brie Paninis with Thyme Honey. Not pictured but also devoured (as you can imagine): Béchamel/Bolognese Lasagna. So grateful (and full).
  • Sweet Surprise Salt Cellar - Look at this little treasure! My girlfriend, Fran, is a part of the "Foodie Night" text chain (that I've blogged about before). This text chain is one of the best developments to come out of this quarantine. We share photos, recipes, ideas, and feedback about dishes we've tried. We also share a lot of jokes and memes. This "space" has been inspiring, supportive, uplifting, and motivating. We all appreciate it so much. Fran delivered these delightful salt cellars to each of us in the Foodie Night group as an extra Mother's Day treat. I hope you have a great network of supportive loved ones in place to both demonstrate and receive some extra grace during this challenging time. Cheers to good food and great friends!


  • Yeast - Speaking of good food and great friends, my girlfriend, Carrie, just gifted me with some solid gold. Well... edible gold. Check it out! YEAST. Is yeast available where you live? It's been very scarce around these parts. Tonight we're using a packet to make homemade pizzas! I hope it's an entertaining and delicious dinner. I thought about making Kindred's Milkbread recipe that the internet has been abuzz over lately... but that sucker calls for THREE yeast packages. Who has that kind of hoard?? Maybe I'll try a little focaccia with it. Perhaps one like this?



  • HBH Dinners this week - I'm singing the same tune I've had stuck in my head for weeks now. The lyrics are all about how Half Baked Harvest has the most beautiful, delicious, and fairly easy-to-make recipes that have captured my heart and belly. This week we enjoyed Better-than-Takeout Dan Dan Noodles (so good but barely enough to satisfy our family of four), Better-than-Takeout Sweet Thai Basil Chicken (our second time with this recipe and I forgot to add the fresh mango before I took its picture), Sun-Dried Tomato, White Bean, and Goat Cheese Pasta (I served this as a side dish to cheeseburgers and there were lots of leftovers), and Coconut Popcorn Chicken with Sweet Thai Chili Lime Sauce and Creamy Honey Mustard (the panko is essential to getting these crunchy and both sauces are excellent --so don't skip one.) 
  • Coffee on the Porch - Small, socially-distanced get-togethers have been a saving grace for me these past few weeks. While North Carolina is slowly testing the waters of re-opening (we're in phase one of three) and allowing some business to open to the public, I'm not ready to dip my toe in just yet. However, spending time outdoors (6-10 feet apart and BYOB+C) with a handful of bookclub friends, a neighborhood couple for a drink, or a sweet friend for coffee on the porch has done wonders for my spirits. This week I got to visit with a bestie I hadn't sat in the company of for more than 8 weeks. Absolutely delightful. Also delightful were the gorgeous spray roses she brought me from her garden. Have you ventured into this territory of in-person visiting yet? Where do you fall on the spectrum of closeness? It's so difficult to know what's safe and responsible. I'd love to hear your thoughts.

Thursday, May 7, 2020

Things I Love Thursday // 5.7.20


  • "Porchraits" - Stay at home, quarantine, shelter in place... (Mostly) everyone, across the country and throughout the world, is doing what they can to help flatten the curve. During this quiet break from what used to be our hurried "normal" --while simultaneously co-exisiting with the very real horrors, failures, and impossible obstacles/choices so many people are facing in the world, my privileged appreciation of this "saturated togetherness" with my family is a jarring juxtaposition. Acknowledging the "upsides" seems insensitive, at best. It feels strange and confusing to experience these mixed emotions and even stranger to try to explain my "struggle" here. See? Weird. In any case, here I am. I am grateful for the slower pace and learning how to fill it with simple pleasures. I think often about how to carry this present-ness forward when we move toward recovery. With the intention of not taking for granted this unique and novel moment of our lifetime, we had family portraits done to mark this time at HOME. Barefoot and on the porch, we sat and smiled as the most lovely photographer (and elementary school teacher from our beloved Dilworth), instructed us on head angles, hand placement, and dress adjustments. Twenty painless minutes later, we were finished. And later that day, after she sent us the files, we were thrilled. If you're in the Charlotte area, contact me and I will put you in touch. (I must also point out that Geneva was an incredibly good sport about this --given the fact that she was scheduled to have her braces removed 4 weeks ago.) Here're a few of my very favorites (so hard to choose).






  • Fresh Herbs - Are you growing your own herbs yet? Raised bed, container garden, pot on the porch... Even if you only have a sunny windowsill to work with, I encourage you to take the plunge. This is a beautiful option from HortikiPlants on Etsy. Fresh herbs add flavor, color, and pizazz. (Yeah. I just used that word. You're welcome.) Your home-grown fresh herbs will also add a level of badassery you didn't realize you were missing in your dishes. For real. You'll love it and so will your family. Well... maybe they won't actually notice. But you will and it will be great.


  • Lemon "Bars" - I love lemon bars. It's the choice I often make when confronted by a bakery display window. The tart, creamy, sweet lemon custard over a buttery crust of shortbread... so good. But, for some reason, I never actually get around to making any. To my delight, Piper made Lemon Bar wedges the other day and they were amazing! She was forced to make wedges instead of rectangles because it turns out that I don't own a square baking dish. Hm. Never noticed its absence before. Anyhoo, they were great. (AND... they came from a box mix.) True story. Trader Joe's Lemon Bar mix is awesome. Don't worry; there was still a lot of butter (in the shortbread crust) and a bit of work involved (squeezing 1/2 cup of fresh lemon juice, I think) --so it was a lot like "homemade" in the end and they tasted bakery-good. Do you have a no-fail recipe your family loves? If so, let me know. Maybe we (she) will try it next time. But know that they're going to have be really good to outshine the TJ's ones.


  • Squash Blossoms - Have you ever had the pleasure of fried squash blossoms, filled with ricotta or goat cheese and herbs, then dusted with flour and crisped-up in a pan of hot oil and butter? Let me tell you, they are unbelievably delicious. Sadly, they wouldn't travel well for takeout and I'm not ambitious enough to try to make them at home so it will be some time before I enjoy my next plate of this culinary delight. *sigh* In the meantime, I will dream of those ones and enjoy the ones that have exploded in the garden this week --promising the arrival of yellow, crook-necked squash and green zucchini. Yahoo! 


  • Watermelon Rosé Palomas - Surprise! (Not) It's another Half Baked Harvest recipe. This one is for a cocktail that calls for fresh watermelon juice, rosé, sparkling water, and tequila. What's not to love? It's a perfect recipe to bookmark and carry through these approaching summer months. And it's so pretty!


  • Soccer Sisters - As you know, this year was the first that the Jones Sisters got to play on the same soccer team. Before the season/school year was canceled, I got to see them compete in two games. I'm grateful even for that. Before we turned in uniforms this week, they allowed me to take some backyard pics of them. They are very good sports. (Heh. See what I did there?)