Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Thank you for returning it to the library

Hey, I finished The Kite Runner last week. I'd tell you all about, but I'll bet you've read it already. The reason I'm so late getting around to it is that I've been waiting for you to return it to the library.

Next book up was Verandah People, a collection of short stories by Jonathan Bennett. It was so-so. I put up with it because it was a mini-trip to Australia, where all these story characters sit out on their seaside verandahs, leading not very happy lives. Hey, if I could sit on a seaside verandah in Australia, I'd be happy.

If you decide to take on the book, but don't like yucky stuff, skip "The Slow War Cry of Grammar."

Now I'm slogging through The Knitting Circle by Ann Hood. The book jacket is covered with liberal praise from other authors I have read and enjoyed, but I must be missing something. Knitting is a Lifetime Channel movie tucked between bookcovers. All the drama feels trumped up, with just enough lovely jaunts to Europe thrown in. All the characters have pretty jobs, the kind soap opera characters might have. Real people spend their days making phone calls for collection agencies, or providing respite care for handicapped children. Hood's people own knitting shops, or blow glass, or run darling little bakeries where they make delicate pastries all day long. They own charming beachside cottages on the East Coast on their knitting-shop pay. Hey, do you know how much charming beachside cottages cost?

The most sympathetic, humane woman in the book falls in love with another woman. I guess it turns out badly; I'm not sure because I skipped that part. Now that I'm 3/4 of the way through, things are finally getting truly terrible for the main character, which means that the story is finally picking up.

All in all, Kite Runner was far superior--great description, spare prose, credible characters and real drama.

Since I didn't offer you anything new and compelling to read, how about a great cookie recipe:

Mix together:
1 cup sugar
3/4 c. vegetable oil
Beat in:
2 eggs
1 tsp. vanilla

Mix together and add to the sugar-egg mixture:
2 1/2 c. flour
1 1/2 tsp. baking powder
3/4 tsp. salt

Stir in:
1 - 10 oz. pkg. mint chocolate chips
Form into balls and roll in:
1/4 cup sugar
Place on cookie sheets. Bake at 350' for 8-10 minutes. For those of you who care, the whole batch weighs in at 5784 calories.

If you can't find mint chocolate chips, just use regular ones after adding 1/4 tsp. mint extract to the dough. Or maybe 1/2 tsp., I can' t remember. Just make sure the dough smells minty.

Our Crystal Lake bishop's wife made these at Christmas time and brought them to book group. As we all traded goodies, we were encouraged to take enough home for the family. So I took plenty of these. And they just never made it home. Not sure where they went ;-)

Monday, March 16, 2009

But, we're not Amish.

Well, I just didn't eat anything interesting this week. I passed up my chance for a Sonic Blast in Louisville (Abbey got the Reese's PB) because I was saving room for dinner at Indy's best Italian restaurant that night. But after more than an hour waiting for a table, John and I gave up and drove through at Fazoli's. That is so lame, but that's just how things turn out sometimes.

So I can only feed your minds this week. If you're hungry, go to Emma's blog. Things are rather meaty over there right now.

Over on the Finished Book Pile, we have Rumspringa by Tom Shachtman. Delving into the Amish culture, Shachtman explores the "running around" period that Amish parents grant their 16-and-up children, wherein they are free to roam without supervision, sampling the wares of the outside world, deciding whether to "join church," settle down in the Amish life or not.

It is hard to believe that such a strict, traditional people allow their kids a window of time to smoke, drink, sleep around. (I've got my own rumspringa child. I just want to tell her, "But dear, we're not Amish.") Shachtman examines: how much do the parents know about what goes on? Is a sheltered Amish childhood adequate preparation for meeting The World and its temptations? How many kids, in the end, opt for Amish life and why? And as for the ones who don't, why not?

Shachtman follows several youth through their rumspringa and beyond. We get to be the fly on the wall, watching them choose between wild parties and traditional "singings," cashiering at the tourist restaurants, driving fast for the first time, negotiating with a parent who offers a fully tricked-out buggy "if you'll just end this running around and join church now."

Shachtman also draws a picture of what it means to choose the Amish life: How do the they adapt to a changing world? What rules do they change and why? Would the religion survive if it allowed education beyond the 8th grade? What happens to those who leave the church? And, finally, what about the Amish is worth emulating and what should the Amish learn from the rest of us?

The author concludes that Amish youth could spend their allotted running around days hiking in the Rocky Mountains, or tracing their roots in Switzerland, or moving to Chicago and studying biology or in any number of world-widening pursuits. But with their short educations and sheltered childhoods, they don't know enough to even dream about these things.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Haste, oh haste, oh haste away!

Let's just get to the food right away, shall we? Today, we feature:   Honey Chicken Stir-Fry

This is the kind of recipe where I hide the leftovers behind something ugly, hoping the family will forget about them, so I can have them for lunch the next day.

And as for something to read, last time I mentioned George Ade, whose collection of writings I had just started. Now that I've finished the book, I want to rave about George's best, which was his treatment of musical comedy. In one story, a wife drags her husband to the opera. He thinks it's ridiculous and, just to make his point, writes his own little opera in which a fire alarm rings in a city apartment building and all the residents stand around singing about how they really must get out to save their lives--"Haste, oh haste, oh haste away!--but they just keep standing around singing. Then there was "The Sultan of Sulu," probably Ade's most famous work, a 3-act (or maybe 5-act, can't remember) play in which a bunch of soldiers land on the island of a sultan with 8 wives and proceed to Americanize everything. The song lyrics rival Gilbert and Sullivan. Finally, I could not wipe the smile off my face as I read Ade's essay poking fun at the all the conventions of the musical comedy.

In the dry period between returning the last stack of books to one library and getting a new stack at another, I am catching up on my periodical reading, namely Irreantum, one of the Mormon journals. After a hiatus in publication, they put out a double issue last fall from which I'd like to plant a big virtual blue ribbon on the chest of two authors: Darin Cozzens and Emily Milner.

Cozzens' short story, "Reap in Mercy," tracks two farming neighbors from the point of view of the serious, responsible one. Resentment builds through the years as the narrator watches the other get away with carousing, though repenting just long enough to try to go on a mission. Later, the narrator finds himself drawn in when his nemesis always gets "in a bind," the kind of bind that sends the him to work in the other guy's bean field at the expense of his own beans. Then the neighbor goes through his know-it-all period. Won't reveal more.

Milner launched her essay, "Beauty for Ashes," with remarks about the show, What Not to Wear. This is one of my favorite shows, so Milner hooked me right away, never mind her criticisms of dear old Stacy and Clinton. I liked peeking into her mind as she considered how she looks (pockmarked and overweight) and how people respond to it. Since I visit teach Milner's sister (lovely cheekbones, abundant curly hair, exercise enthusiast), I kept trying to picture what Milner really looks like.

Well, that's it for now. I'm off to stir tonight's spaghetti sauce.