the strange familiar of kitchen traditions

My mother does not cook. I like to make fun of her for it, which she graciously puts up with.

She does, however, make approximately 100 pecan pies every single Christmas. This is in no way an exaggeration. It started with just a few for family, a couple for friends at church, nothing big. Then she realized that it was cheaper to just make pies for my brother’s and my teachers at school instead of buying gifts, so she started making those, along with a few more for church people. And it’s just grown from there. It’s actually kind of terrifying.

My mom roped me into the pie-making a few years ago. To her credit, she has always called it exactly what it is: free labor. I can’t really say I blame her.

There’s a specific routine to our pie-making: newspapers on the counter, the same measuring cups and teaspoons, that one brown Pampered Chef thing that we melt butter in. I control the eggs, vanilla, salt, and butter, Mom does the Karo syrup, sugar, and pecans. Other than the occasional sliver of egg shell that wants to sneak in every now and then, it’s exactly the same, every time.

Making pies by myself here in Birmingham? Not the same at all.

Though the recipe is simple and I know the routine by heart, the weird part is cobbling together the various mixing bowls and measuring cups. I don’t have the same stiff spatula or the brown butter-melting bowl. I don’t have the large mixing bowl with the pour spout, and I definitely don’t have the expanse of counter space on which to spread out.

I mean, I definitely have perfectly acceptable substitutes for all these things (except the counter space, boo). But they’re not the same, you know? My pies still get made, they taste just the same, but it’s still different.

Not bad different. Just...weird different.

Eventually there will be routine in Birmingham. But until then, making pecan pies won’t feel right unless it’s back in Georgia with my mom.

Love ya, Mom ; )

the anti-nanowrimo?

So there’s been this thing for a while called National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) during November, where valiant souls attempt to write a 50,000+ word novel in a month. A few years ago, the blog community adapted NaNoWriMo into NaBloPoMo, where bloggers write a new post each day of November.

I did neither of these things. Instead, I accidentally participated in my very own NoBloPoMo, posting exactly nada during November. So, you know, that’s fun.

November is a strange month. It always feels like nothing is happening, even when things do happen. It’s a lot of waiting and planning and feeling anxious about the end of things. I don’t know what it is, but it’s weird every year. Whatever.

And now, everything of varying levels of significance that happened last month:

  • My brother turned 21. I bought him an awesome gift that I thought of all on my own. It was a proud moment for me.
  • I gained a few gray hairs during a particularly stressful yearbook distribution.
  • But really, I found a couple of gray hairs this month. #notokay
  • What is okay? My two new pairs of shoes. That is very okay with me.
  • I powered my way through about three seasons of Gilmore Girls. I’m currently in Season 5 (Episode 7: “You Jump, I Jump, Jack”, in case you’re curious). I expect I’ll finish it up just in time to leap into my planned Friends marathon in January. It is truly amazing that I accomplish anything in a world where Netflix exists.
  • I attended a beautiful wedding…where the power went out ten minutes post-ceremony. Lesson learned: cutting cake in the dark is not fun.
  • Thanksgiving happened. Food was consumed. Mean Girls was watched. You know, the usual.
  • Black Friday happened. Things were bought. No Londons or Longs were harmed in the procurement of these deals.
  • I have new books: Horrorstör by Grady Hendrix; Yes Please by Amy Poehler; Promise Not To Tell by Jennifer McMahon; So Brave, Young, and Handsome by Leif Enger. Plus books for other people. Shhhhh….
  • 707 has been decorated (though not a single Christmas bauble made an appearance before Thanksgiving, thankyouverymuch).

Aaannndddd that’s about it. I’ll think of more later, most likely, but I’m still too shocked that it’s December to care right now.

Time to be an adult and put up my laundry! Life’s grand, isn’t it?

2014 bookshelf update: part 5

It feels like forever since I wrote my last bookshelf update. September and October have been absolutely crazy-packed! Between work, weekend vacations, and (let’s be honest) the start of the fall television season/the arrival of Gilmore Girls on Netflix, I’m actually kind of impressed at the amount of books I managed in the last two months.

The Bone Season, by Samantha Shannon
I technically finished this one in August, but I wrote Update 4 too early to include it, so here it is! Check out my full take on TBS here. (TL;DR It’s gonna be the next.big.thing in YA. Read it now and be a hipster about it in two years)

The Mangle Street Murders: The Gower Street Dectectives, Book 1, by M.R.C. Kasasian
TMSM features a Holmes and Watson-esque duo in 1882 London (though a man and a woman in this incarnation) investigating the murder of a young woman whose husband is the only suspect. I wanted to love this book so terribly much. The online reviews were glowing, and the cover was bright red and enticing. But, alas, it was not to be.

As sharply-plotted as the book was purported to be, I just couldn’t bring myself to like or understand the characters enough to pay close attention to the plot. The main detective, Sidney Grice, is arrogant, snide and all-around unpleasant. And while some books feature unfavorable main characters (Gone Girl springs to mind), they at least frame it in a way that tells you, “Yes, you are not supposed to like these people.” TMSM seemed to want you to be intrigued by Grice, but I couldn’t get past his aggravating persona.

I finished the book, and maybe I’ll read it again at another time, but for now I’m not a fan. Sorry, M.R.C. Kasasian.

Peace Like a River, by Leif Enger
The prose in this book, oh my goodness! I’m not usually one for underlining and dog-earing in books, but I absolutely had to for some of the lines in this book.

“I remember it at October days are always remembered, cloudless, maple-flavored, the air gold and so clean it quivers.”

“Look at the Milky Way. It has that pattern, doesn’t it, of having been cast there by the back-and-forward sweep of His arm?”

“I laughed in place of language.”

Honestly, the beauty of the prose in this book made me so giddy I squealed a few times. Shea will serve as my witness.

Other than being beautifully written, I really enjoyed the plot. The characters were incredibly different from the ones I’ve been encountering recently, and there were a lot of positive faith elements as well. The story is told from the perspective of a young asthmatic boy who believes his father can work miracles. When his older brother is charged with murder and then escapes jail, the boy, his father, and his sister take off across the north to bring him back. The back cover blurb describes it as “at once a heroic quest, a tragedy, and a love story,” which pretty much sums it up. While the plot did not go anywhere I expected it to, I sincerely liked and appreciated this novel (and the beautiful words didn’t hurt it one bit). I highly recommend it.

Rosehead, by Ksenia Anske
I heard about this one through a YouTuber I follow. The author is independent, so I ordered the book from her website. I thought about getting the ebook version, but the cover was just too pretty not to have on my shelf. Besides, since Ksenia ships the books herself, she also signed it, which was a nice touch.

The plot follows a preteen girl named Lilith Bloom to her family’s big reunion at her grandfather’s large estate in Berlin. While there, she discovers her grandfather’s world-famous rose garden is carnivorous and must find a way to save her family from being eaten by the garden. Crazy, right? I was hooked immediately by the blurb, though it took me about halfway through the book to really get into the full story, mostly due to pacing. In my opinion, some things got too much explanation while others were glossed over too quickly, but the book as a whole was still enjoyable. I’d love to lend you my copy if you want a silly, ridiculous read (it also features a talking dog, if that’s a selling point for you).

Mercy Snow, by Tiffany Baker
This may be my favorite that I read the last two months. A school bus accident which kills the daughter of a local family provides the impetus for the novel’s mystery, which is set in the small paper mill town of Titan Falls, New Hampshire, along the banks of the twisted and nasty Androscoggin River (which is a character all in itself).

The book cycles through the focuses of four women and girls in the town: June McAllister, the wife of the local paper mill owner and de facto “first lady” of Titan Falls; Mercy Snow, whose brother is accused of causing the accident; Hazel Bell, a sheep farmer and wife of the bus driver; and Hannah Snow, Mercy’s younger sister with a thirst for knowledge and an unusual connection the spirit world. All four women have secrets to protect, and as the town comes closer and closer to solving the mystery of the bus accident, their worlds threaten to unravel.

This was such an excellent book, and I loved every moment within its pages. Baker’s writing is tight, but with just the right amount of color. The small town came alive in my mind, full of secrets and social hierarchy. It’s a great fall/winter read, so definitely pick this one up with a cup of hot chocolate and roaring fire beside you.

The Ocean at the End of the Lane, by Neil Gaiman
How Neil Gaiman creates such intricate worlds within so few pages is a magic I’ll never understand. Ocean manages to be both creepy and childlike, exacting and wild, all at once. In fact, I’m not going to summarize the plot for you because I’m not sure I could do it any justice whatsoever. Grab a copy for yourself and fall into Gaiman’s web of masterful storytelling. It’s an absolute treat.

I’ve just started Laura McHugh’s The Weight of Blood, but I’m a pitiable way into it so far. I’ve progressed a bit further in The Handmaid’s Tale, though I expect I’ll need a few months more to finish it up as it doesn’t keep my attention very long at any one time. Additionally, I’ve got Amy Poehler’s just-released memoir Yes, Please on ebook hold at the library (!!!), so you can expect to see a gush about that one in the next update.

I’m also beginning to work on my reading goals for next year, including getting more classics and non-fiction into my literary diet. Let me know if you have any suggestions!

Please let me know if you want any more info on/want to borrow the books above or if you want to swap recommendations. My heart is always open to new stories!

notes from the minutes past midnight

The minutes after midnight are weird little creatures.

Everything and every one has switched off for the night except me, at least in the small bubble of my apartment. Muffled laughter outside the window and sporadic social media updates tell me the world is still active, but in here all is static.

Usually there would be a cup of tea or cocoa sitting nearby, but I forgot to make one tonight. It would be half-finished and cold at this point, but still, there’s something very satisfying about having a mug close at hand while writing.

Emotions are strange in this type of stillness. It’s this bizarre muted amplification, if that makes any kind of sense at all. Everything inside me is all at once both huge and shadowed, inflated and dull. I feel everything and nothing all at once.

I lie on the couch and tick off the little tasks I need to do before tucking myself into bed. Tidy the kitchen. Take off my make-up. Put up the strewn articles of clothing on my bed. Nothing I want to do, but all the things I require of myself before bedtime. It’s routine.

The fan kicks in, and it’s the first noise other than my keyboard clacking I’ve heard in the last 20 minutes. (Of course, I type that and then someone screams loudly outside my window. It’s either a spider or someone just got engaged.*)

These are the moments in which my brain remembers every far-flung dream it has ever conceived. Auditioning for a Broadway show on a whim. Hopping on a train to Vermont just to see the how the leaves look in autumn. Every possible way to get to Andorra. I walk through all the plans again, tweak them, file them away for the next time 12:45 a.m. and I meet.

I wander through the catalog of what-ifs, the could-have-beens, the roads-not-travelled. I wonder for the umpteenth time if any of them led to Friday nights with a hand to hold instead of…well, Friday nights blogging in a silent apartment. I remind myself that those alternate paths are alternate for a reason.

And, due to a lack of felt goatees, this obviously can’t be the darkest timeline. So that helps.

There is so much to want in this world. Every day there is a new something. And I want so many somethings. Physical somethings, emotional somethings, mental somethings, something somethings. I want so much of it. And at 1:05 a.m. I reminded just to what depth some of those wants go. The ones that ache and cry when my mind touches them, the ones that threaten to turn my heart inside out and wring it dry.

Sleep is finally creeping into my head, and I think I shall heed its call. The simple joy of a non-committed Saturday is calling to me, and I will wake up with a smile on my face and no ties to this midnight cacophony of brain activity.

Which, I think, is why I decided to write it here in the first place.

*All credit to Shea for this quip. My wit is all puns and plagiarism after 11 p.m.

too little and too much to say today, so…

…it’s list blog time again, y’all.

I know. So exciting.

What I’m Reading: I just wrapped up with Tiffany Baker’s Mercy Snow (which was quite good), but I’m waiting to start another book until I get my delivery from ThriftBooks next week (Neil Gaiman’s The Ocean at the End of the Lane and Laura McHugh’s The Weight of Blood). But I’m dealing with the interim time pretty well because…

What I’m WatchingGILMORE GIRLS! Thanks to its arrival on Netflix, I have put my West Wing power-through on hold in order to return to Stars Hollow once again. It. Is. Glorious. And the 20-something American female population doth rejoice.

What I’m Eating: Bagels. And they were buy one, get one free at Publix, so I didn’t even have to choose between blueberry and cinnamon raisin. It’s the little things in life, you guys.

What I’m Listening To: Every Broadway playlist on 8Tracks.com. I’m a bit obsessed, and I don’t even care.

What I’m Learning: How to play the ukulele. Oh yes. I now serenade my roommates nightly with whatever Taylor Swift song I decide is my current favorite. They really appreciate it.

What I’m Loving: All things Harry Potter. This isn’t unusual, but today I’m a bit more excited that normal because…

Where I’m Headed: THE WIZARDING WORLD OF HARRY POTTER! Suz and I are about to embark (in like five minutes) on a fall break trip to HP World, and I am so excited. In fact, we need to pack up the car right now. So…bye! : )

ahead of the pop fiction curve (maybe?)

I am forever late to the party when it comes to the next.big.thing. in YA/YA-adjacent literature series.

Harry Potter? Half-Blood Prince was already in paperback. The Hunger GamesMockingjay had come out the same month. Divergent? Four months before the release of AllegiantTwilight (yes, Twilight)? 10 months to go until Breaking Dawn.

So yes, I am perpetually late to the pop culture lit party.

But I think, for once, there is a chance I’ve caught a big series after Book One. *chorus of literary angels*

This Book One is Samantha Shannon’s The Bone Season (published August 2013). It’s the first of what will eventually be a 7-book series, and it is not a short intro piece, a la Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s StoneThe Bone Season clocks in at 452 pages. Here’s the back cover blurb:

The year is 2059. Paige Mahoney is working in the criminal underworld of Scion London. Her job: to scout for information by breaking into people’s minds. For Paige is a dreamwalker, a rare kind of clairvoyant–and under Scion law, she commits treason simply by breathing.

Elsewhere, however, there is a seat of power even greater than Scion. And they have a different design for Paige and her uncommon abilities…

So yes, it’s another dystopian series. Shocking, I know. But TBS  also benefits from some Harry Potter-esque fantasy elements, specifically the fact that it focuses on gifts of clairvoyance. Clairvoyance, for the purposes of TBS, are those who can access the Æther (aka the spirit realm). There are seven different main types of “voyants,” each with various sub-types: soothsayers, mediums, sensors, augurs, guardians, furies, and jumpers. Voyants also have a colored aura, the color corresponding to which main type of voyant they fall under. Amaurotics (a.k.a. non-voyants) can’t see auras or connect with the æther.

In this dystopia, a group called Scion began taking over various major world cities after the reign of Queen Victoria, starting with London. Under Scion rule, voyants are considered unsafe and traitorous, so they are forced to work underground in black market situations in order to survive. Shannon said she was inspired by the idea of what might happen in a second Salem Witch Trials-type situation.

Paige Mahoney, the main character of TBS, works for a syndicate known as the Seven Seals, headquartered near London’s Covent Gardens. Paige is 19, strong-willed, and pretty much everything we’ve come to expect from dystopian heroines. Supernatural Katniss. This isn’t a bad thing, it just isn’t reinventing the wheel.

There are minimal amounts of romance, thankfully, but I imagine more is headed our way in the next 6 books. Again, not a bad thing, just not what I always care to have my books focus on.

I want to tell you so much more about the novel and its world, but to do so would give away plot points, and I’m trying to be as anti-spoiler as possible here (I wouldn’t even write this blog post until my roommate had finished reading the book).

What you do need to know is this: the world of TBS is not laid out for you. Period. You’re stuck trying to piece together the rules and makings of the Scion world as the novel progresses, and I’ll admit that I was pretty frustrated by that at first. Once you get it, you’re great, but the first few chapters are tough when you don’t know the world you’re stepping into.

There is, thankfully, a handy-dandy glossary at the back that defines the slang and names used. The vocabulary was actually one of the more fascinating things for me, since it’s halfway stuck in the Edwardin era (a.k.a. when Scion took over) and also mafia-ish in a way. I spent a lot of the first part of the book flipping to the glossary to make sure I understood what was going on, so I definitely recommend buying the hard copy as opposed to the e-book.

Ugh, I so want to discuss the rest of the book, but I don’t want to ruin anything for anyone. Literary frustration!

And yes, this series is expected to blow up. Shannon’s second entry in the series, The Mime Order, is scheduled for a January 27, 2015 release, and the pockets of the Internet who heralded The Bone Season have had their pre-orders in for months now (I’ll probably put mine in by the end of the month). Andy Serkis’ movie studio, Imaginarium Studios, has already purchased the film rights. Samantha Shannon has even been called “the next J.K. Rowling.”

I’m not going to say it’s perfect or my favorite, but the next.big.thing. is here, my friends, and it’s The Bone Season. And for once, I am finally ahead of the curve.

on tuesdays we play trivia

On Tuesdays, we play trivia.

“We” is Parkside and Recreation, a somewhat fluid group of Samford post-grads who attempt to answer questions about movies we’ve never seen and music we’ve never heard.

Occasionally we get questions about pandas. We do really well on panda questions.

Parkside and Recreation has never won. We came in third a couple of times, but we’ve also come in dead last twice.

When you come in last at Trivia Tuesday, you get to pick a category for the next week. Our two choices: Harry Potter wandlore and How I Met Your Mother.

We did really well on those categories, as well.

Every week there is a music round, featuring 10 songs that share some common thread. Parkside and Recreation hates the music round. We are too young for the trivia curator’s taste in music and keep crossing our fingers for the day when the common theme will be “show tunes.”

There is a burger sold at the Trivia Tuesday establishment, and one has graced our group’s table every week for the last month. While I have never had it, the speed with which it disappears clearly speaks to its magnificence. I believe bacon jam is involved?

We have a group message thread for Trivia Tuesday. I believe this is what makes it an official “thing.”

We fit in general life updates between rounds. Some of us don’t see each other except at Trivia Tuesday. It’s our chance to play catch-up.

On Tuesdays, we play trivia. And Tuesday is now my favorite night of the week.