Sunday, August 30, 2015

A Quick Trip to the Nature Park / A.K.A Keeping My Sanity, Or What's Left of It

I've taken you here before, but in a different season.  It's now late summer and the trees and plants change from week to week.  It's starting to look like fall, even if it doesn't feel like it.  It's 90F in Philadelphia as I write this.  Too, too hot for me at any time of the year.

 Low tide and late summer flowers.
 This is a nice place to sit when the sun swings around and the bench is in the shade.
 The Ben Franklin Bridge to New Jersey.
 Cormorants walking on water.  I love that they float low in the water, their heads like periscopes.
 In a few more years, this park will be even more interesting.
 Lovely fall flowers.  I just wish the background vista was lovelier.  Camden, NJ.
The Walt Whitman Bridge to New Jersey.  And the ruins of piers.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

The Way We Live Now - Anthony Trollope

Ta-da!  I finally finished my Trollope!  Don't get me wrong.  I enjoyed it immensely.  But in this edition, it was 825 pages long.  That's a long book.  I've read Orley Farm, which is also long, and several other Trollopes that I have in multi-volume older editions.  It says something for the book that it held my attention for so long.

As with most Trollopes I've read, Trollope weaves several stories around and together.  It starts with Lady Carbury, an authoress of dubious quality.  She supports her daughter, Hetta, and her son, Sir Felix Carbury.  Although both are grown, they live at home.  That's to be expected of unmarried Hetta, but Felix is a gambler, a womanizer, and a drunk.  He spends his money and almost impoverishes his mother, who dotes on him because he's her beautiful son.

Roger Carbury, Lady Carbury's cousin, loves Hetta, but she won't have him.  She loves and respects him but doesn't love him that way.  She loves Paul Montague, although he's been engaged to an American woman, older than he and far too passionate.  He breaks off the engagement and then meets Hetta and falls in love.  There are repercussions and lost letters and misunderstanding.

Then there's Mr. Melmotte, a rich, rich man, and his wife and daughter, Marie.  Is he rich?  Or is it smoke and mirrors?  Opinion is divided.  But as people bow to his possible wealth, they accept him into their ranks and he becomes more arrogant.  He's rude, they all admit that, and doesn't know how to act in polite society.  Lady Carbury wants Felix to marry Marie for her money, but he's not eager.  Marie, however, falls madly in love with him and plans their elopement.  But country girl Ruby Ruggles, whom Felix courts for giggles and fun, loves him, too, and hopes he'll marry her.

I don't think there's any recapping a book like this.  I could tell you about Ruby and John Crumb, about Mrs. Pipkin, about Paul Montague and Mrs. Hurtle, about the gambling debts, and how the club goes belly up and the young men have no place to go, about Lady Carbury and Mr. Broune.  There's a lot about love, love lost, love mistaken, and there's a lot about business and who's skimming what from whom and who actually has any money.

The Way We Live Now is a lush book, one to get lost in, one with wonderful characters and stories.

Saturday, August 15, 2015

Never Fall in Love with a Spider

This is a lesson we all should have learned from Charlotte's Web, isn't it?  Somehow, I didn't.  A couple of months ago, we noticed a spider in a web on the outside of our kitchen window.  She and her web were very visible.  We started saying hello to her when we got up in the morning, and later we wished her a good night.  It seemed a smart place for her to have her web, near the patio light, which would draw nocturnal insects.  It was a safe, sheltered place for a smart spider.

We named her Regina and identified her as a yellow and black garden spider.  She has long, elegant legs and a wonderfully intricate pattern on her back.  Garden spiders weave a distinctive zigzag runway in the middle of their webs, the purpose of which, so far, has not been determined.  She was often busy in the morning, reweaving or revising, and checking her web.  She was a source of pleasure for us.

Then she disappeared.  We knew that that might happen.  We mourned for her but were hopeful that she had just moved on.  And then I noticed her in the corner of the patio, above a dying azalea.  Delighted, we rejoiced.  And then she disappeared.  I sent our neighbors, the ones who share our patio wall, an e-mail.  I told them we had lost our spider and she might be headed their way.  They looked for her, but no luck.  A few days later, Jack found her on the outside of the second story library window.  Clearly, she was moving up in the world.  And then she disappeared.  A garden spider needs a real garden, doesn't she?

It's been about a week since we last saw her, and Jack has just found Regina again.  She has a web behind a chair on the patio.  Her reappearance has made my day, but she seems to be a nomadic spider, so I expect she'll disappear again.

Here's Regina.  If you look closely, you can see her zigzag runway, just below her legs on the bottom right.  She's an amazing creature.  Isn't she beautiful?

Book Darts and Turtle

I just rediscovered my Book Darts.  When I'm reading a book I plan to post about, I sometimes think I should take notes.  But I hate taking notes, interrupting the flow of my reading, and I'm the world's worst note-taker.  I scribble things down and then either can't read my scrawl or don't remember what I meant by 'file complaint'.  Did I file a complaint or was I reminding myself to file a complaint or did someone else file a complaint.  Don't ask me.

Anyway, years ago, I bought a small tin of Book Darts.  Like, I suspect, a lot of you, I love stationery items and book related things.  I bought the book darts, put them in my desk, and forgot about them.  I remembered them when I was reading the latest book I posted about and thought I should take some notes about it.  Instead, I dug out my Book Darts and had a great time marking the pages where there were things I wanted to remember.  I just checked and found that Book Darts are still available.  They're great.

Update for Those With Cats:  Turtle is still in her box.  Usually, she abandons a new box after a few days.  I think she likes this one because it's shallow.  She can lie in it and still see everything that's going on around her.  

The Folded Clock - Heidi Julavits

I read about this book on someone else's blog, and then in a million other places.  I had to wait in the on-hold line at my library for a long time.  But after I started reading it, I wondered why it was so popular.

It's a book of essays about the author's life, in the form of a non-linear diary.  The author, Heidi Julavits, grew up in Maine and now lives in New York City in the winter and in Maine in the summer.  She and her husband are both writers and teachers, and they have two children.

I almost stopped reading after a couple dozen pages.  I was thinking that there wasn't anything very interesting about the book and that I, or many other people, could have written something comparable.  But I kept reading, the way I sometimes can't stop watching TV or listening to an overheard conversation.

I don't mean to pan the book.  I just don't see anything special about it.  I think Juvalits shares a little too much  -  the abortion she had when she was a young woman, sex acts she performed discretely in public, how she admits to using men for most of her life, the affair she had with her second husband while they were both married  -  I don't think these things added to the book.  I've had some wild times in my life, and you may have, too, but I don't share them with anyone except my closest friends.  And, usually, not even them.  You either had to be there or you won't know about them.

There were parts that made me smile because they were familiar.  Like how, as a child, she predicted the day's luck by whether or not she could take the foil top off her morning yogurt container without tearing it.  I do things like that even now.  Or how, when she moves from her winter house to her summer house, or vice versa, it takes her forever to remember which knob turns on which burner on the different stoves.  I've lived in our current house for almost ten years, but I still occasionally open the wrong drawer looking for tea towels.

She writes about how hard it is to make friends as you get older.  I agree completely.  (See above;  if you weren't part of my life as it was forming me, I'm not going to give you a crash course in what has made me me.)

My last critique is that some her sentences were constructed in a way that, had I not known better, would have made me wonder if English wasn't her first language.  I won't provide any examples because I'm always second guessing myself about things like this.  I started out in life as a writer, I worked as a writer for a while, but when I question usage or grammar, I think maybe things have changed or I've misremembered the rules.  If I've made errors in this blog post, feel free to let me know.  Glass houses, stones, etc.

I finished the book and I enjoyed it.  I just don't know what all the fuss was about.

Grilled Eggplant and Lemon Slices

My husband is a great cook and he enjoys it.  I'm a good cook, too, but I mostly see cooking as another household chore.  I like to bake.  My mother was a fantastic baker, so I'm spoiled for homemade cakes, pies, and cookies.  Unfortunately, with just the two of us, a cake or pie or a couple of dozen cookies can spell dietary disaster.

Jack found a bunch of grilled vegetable recipes on the Internet and we've been feasting this week.  I think they're all from Bon Appetit.  This is the only one I took a photo of, but they were all keepers.  This is the grilled eggplant, grilled lemon slices, and yogurt recipe.  I don't like eggplant unless it's grilled to within an inch of its life, so I liked this one.  The grilled lemon slices were different.  Their flavor was so strong that I could only eat a couple of them.  But the flavors of this dish were an interesting and successful combination.

Because I'm a vegan, we swapped out the labneh (Lebanese strained yogurt), which I doubt we could have found anyway, for plain, unsweetened  coconut milk yogurt.  I tried to strain it, but that didn't work.  So we settled for making it a creamy sauce to put the grilled vegetables on.  From the magazine photo, theirs was thicker, like cream cheese.  But it tasted good to us.