Category Archives: Reading

Summer Reading 2017

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My cat Jefferson who was staring at the wall for a good long time.

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Ta da!  Your guide to fruitful beach reading!

Dear Friends of the Expat Princess,

Books have always been my soul food, the words contained therein natural healers.   Books are my go to space to recover, regroup, recharge.  Although I am an extrovert, reading,  being alone my head, and getting quiet,  are central to my well-being.   Seventeen years of being an expat only fomented this – what TV there was was usually bad so we turned it off.  Like Thomas Jefferson said, “I cannot live without books.”

In the past decade and a half, though, my reading tastes have changed dramatically.  I moved away from novels, primarily,  and into non-fiction, religion, and history.  When Thing 1‘s migraine struck, I read a lot about migraines, hormones, meditation, and alternative medicine.  This was out of necessity but it helped move me forward.  Peggy Noonan spoke about the phenomenon of reading tastes changing and the importance of books in a most excellent commencement address you can watch or read here.  It comforted me to know that others experience shifting reading sands.

When my mother died, all this changed.  For the first time in my life, I did not want to read and when I did, it was all about grief.  Grief constricted my reading appetite, much like your throat closes up when you are trying not to cry.   I tried innumerable books and nothing held my interest.  There was no moving forward, just observing my own life in a sometimes schizophrenic way:  Detached one moment and in the throes the next.  And then several friends sent me books, all in the same week.

Herewith is how I managed to move forward with reading material selected, for the most part, by others.

In the first instance, snarkiness was key.  Keep your judgments to yourselves, please!  This seems counter-intuitive but I desperately needed acerbic wit.   Kevin Kwan brought it in spades with Crazy Rich Asians and China Rich Girlfriend.  I ripped through these in no time at all.  If you have ever lived in Asia, these are must reads.  If you have never lived in Asia, these are must reads. Kevin obviously travels in higher circles than I did,  but it was fun to read about some of my all haunts without experiencing the left lung hocking up coughs and consequent flying gobs of spit first hand.  In fact, I don’t remember if Kevin (as I have come to think of him) ever mentions the grotty side of China but whatever.  TOTAL FUN.  I can’t wait to read his new book, Rich People Problems just published in May of this year and to watch the film version of Crazy Rich Asians.

Once I discovered that snarkiness was the key to my happiness, I remembered a book about the dysfunctional Vanderbilt family I’d been meaning to read.  Since my sister is married to a different branch of the Vanderbilt family, I thought this might be a mood elevator and give great insight.  Written by Wendy Burden (Cornelius Vanderbilt’s great-great-great-great-granddaughter) Dead End Gene Pool is a memoir of her incredibly wealthy, incredibly crazy childhood.   It might well have been titled Crazy Rich Americans.  Hilarious and disturbing at the same time.  Lucky for my brother-in-law – sometimes it pays to get the short end of the stick!  Wendy (as I have come to think of her) now lives in Portland, Oregon.   I hope to meet her one day.

Side note:  Both Kevin and Wendy are Parsons School of Design/Snark alumni.  Maybe it’s just Manhattan?

Now, on to the self-help side of things.

My sister sent me Anne Lamott’s new book Hallelujah Anyway: Rediscovering Mercy.  I will write about this at length in a separate post at length but suffice it to say, sometimes my only prayer in the past two years has been: Lord, have mercy.  Christ, have mercy.  And let’s face it, who doesn’t like to read a good snarky Christian author?  Oh, relax, people.  RELAX.

Then there is the book entitled Kombucha!  by Eric and Jessica Childs.  This is actually my second copy.  The other one is in a kitchen in Arkansas, where I left a batch of the probiotic fermented tea brewing on the counter back in January.  My neighbors found the “science project” fascinating and threw it out in late February.  I love kombucha.  I love making kombucha as much as I like drinking it.  For awhile I was concerned that I liked making kombucha for my family more than I liked cooking them a meal.  Now, I am over it.  They can always drench their cereal with ‘buch!  Tazo‘s orange ginger and passion teas make particularly yummy brews good for the tummy – my version of cod liver oil, only it’s delicious.  This book is so chatty and well designed that I can imagine Eric and Jessica (as I have come to think of them) encouraging me to take my operation commercial and invest in the stainless steel tanks favored by serious brewers.  For good measure, I include a cocktail recipe at the end of this post.

Not only are we grieving the loss of my mother, we are grieving the loss of Mr. Understanding‘s job.  I would say career but I am not sure it is over.  To that end, a friend sent me the book Designing Your Life by Bill Burnett and Dave Evans which helps one figure out what they want to be when they grow up.  If you are over 50 years of age, this is called an “encore career”.    Mr. Understanding and I are working our way through the book with our Beloved Design Your Life (BDYL) Team via a Facebook video group chat on Saturdays.  I am designing my life around the beach, travel, writing, art, yoga, reading, ‘buch brewing, needlepointing, and figuring out how to throw in boutique ownership.

Finally, for Mother’s Day, Thing 1 sent me the book Not Quite Nirvana: A Skeptic’s Journey to Mindfulness by Rachel Neumann to expand my meditation practice.  I am not all the way through this yet as I read it only at the beach.  Having said that, if all I got out of it was the nugget of a question Rachel’s young daughter asked her, “Are you available?” I would be happy with my summer read.  Let me ask:  Are you available?  Most people are not.  Most people do not ask if you are either.  If I had taught myself and my children this question two decades ago, I would have been a better mother.   Here’s another gem:  “When I am not being mindful, almost all of life can seem like a series of interruptions of what I thought was important [emphasis mine].”   I can’t wait to hit the beach again to finish the book.

As I look at the stack of joy in front of me at the table that now serves as my “office”, I am grateful for those sweet souls who knew how to feed mine.  That most of these books arrived in the same week is not a happy accident, it was divine intervention.  I can almost hear my brain opening a crack and telling me it’s okay to read Candice Millard’s latest book Hero of the Empire:  The Boer War, A Daring Escape and the Making of Winston Churchill or Kristin Schell’s The Turquoise Table (Kristin makes herself available).  Almost.  I might need some more snark.

So, to all my new found friends – Kevin, Wendy, Eric, Jessica, Dave, Bill, and Rachel – and to my old friend Annie,  I salute your health with a glass of my favorite Spanish summer beverage, tinto de verano (summer red/summer ink) after a hard day reading at the beach.  Here is my Bastardized American ‘Buch tinto version:

1/2 cup cheap red wine

1/3 cup lemonade

splash of your favorite kombucha

Or, just eyeball it like I do!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Mother’s Day – Good Gifts #3

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The above painting is one I had commissioned by Charleston, SC artist Joyce Harvey as a gift to myself.  I was not expecting it to be finished in time for Mother’s Day!  (More on Joyce in a future post).  It represents me and my sisters.  It was inspired by a painting called “The Happy Tomato” done by my sister in law, Dr. Skin.

I know you are all thinking that today will be hard for me.  It will be.  Today is my first motherless Mother’s Day.  It is also the 4 month anniversary of my mother’s passing.

In spite of that, today I choose to REJOICE! that I had such a fine mother, who gave me, along with my father, two wonderful sisters.  They have sustained me mightily during this period.  It is a shared grief and that makes it more tolerable.  I also have a wonderful mother-in-law, Winnie, who gave me by ever-patient husband Mr. Understanding (he lives up to his name) and whose gentle presence has helped me heal.   When I go to church today with my father Big Mike, I will REJOICE in his excellent taste in women; without him, there would be no mother.   He too has been instrumental in my healing.

Finally, I give thanks today for the lumpy, bumpy, large and mugwumpy body that gave me three beautiful Things.  They are glorious.  Without a whole lot of loving Understanding, I would not be a mother.

The grieving for today was done earlier in the week and I am looking forward to homemade lemon blueberry buttermilk ricotta pancakes  and an afternoon reading on the beach.  It is a beautiful day and this is exactly what I want to do.  May yours be equally satisfying, joyful, and glorious.

 

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Are You My Other Mother?

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Right up there with Dr. Seuss is the author of “beginning to read”  books, P.D. Eastman.  Although not nearly as prolific as Seuss, Eastman’s books Are You My Mother? and Go, Dog, Go! are easy to read classics on par with The Cat in the Hat and One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish.  

Eastman’s story about a baby bird hatching while his mother is gone from the nest foraging for food, and his subsequent quest to find her, leave an indelible and anxious mark on many a four and five year old.   The baby bird did not know what his mother looked like so he inquired of a kitten, hen, dog, cow, car, boat, jet, and SNORT, asking plaintively, “Are you my mother?”

I  am fortunate that I did not have to ask this question as a child.  However, both of my maternal grandparents lost their mothers in adolescence and my father-in-law, The Headmaster, lost both parents at a very tender age.  This is why, although the waves of grief billow over me threatening to capsize my equilibrium, I try to have only the occasional pity party.  I was blessed with knowing my mother Sally and liking her, to boot.

But even my mother threw me and my sisters out of the house.

“GO OUTSIDE!”  she yelled with alarming frequency.  Sometimes she’d even lock the doors so we couldn’t come in and bug her.  Reading a book in my room was not an option. She needed the nest CLEARED.

When this happened, I would ramble in the neighborhood, visiting my “other mothers”.  Estelle McDowell, a married, childfree woman who looked liked Mrs. Claus, read me her childhood books, books written in the late 1890s and early 1900s by Josephine Scribner Gates.  She entertained me with stories of the pet monkey she once owned.  Even if I couldn’t come inside to visit, she would hand me a piece of Almond Roca candy and kindly tell me to skedaddle.

Then there was my “Nana”, Lois Watson, to whom I was not related but who was present when my mother brought me home from the hospital, who knit my Christmas stocking, and taught me to bake.

Finally, there was Thelma Willard, who taught my mother to garden, kept a basket of polished beach agates on the hearth, and whose husband’s garage was filled with hundreds of clocks with which he’d tinker.

All of these women’s houses were their own special kind of Wonderland and the people who inhabited them were lavish lovers of children.

The absence of my mother Sally has obviously created a tremendous void.  There is no upside in this.  But is there, perhaps, more space for others to tuck themselves in?  Skipping around my Florida neighborhood, I ask myself, “Are you my mother?”

There is Winnie, my mother-in-law, who has given me space and healing hugs.  There is Carol, my next door neighbor, who gives me gardening and household tips, a friendly wave across the driveways. There is Sandy, who invited me to the Daytona Beach Symphony Fashion Show.  There are the women of Sally’s bible study at Trinity Episcopal Church who welcomed me into their circle when I was forlorn.  I gravitate to their experience, wisdom, and open hearts.

The baby bird at the end of the book Are You My Mother? cries out, “Where am I?  I want to go home.  I want my mother.”

Baby Bird gets his wish.   And in my own way,  I am too.

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Self Portrait of an Artist #2

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Tonight I am fixing “easy grilled chicken” from Naomi Duguid‘s beautiful book Burma.  This is NOT The Atonement Dinner. My last post before my mother died was about her being a Food Diva.  Regret.   I am not sure I can face The Atonement Dinner just yet.

This meal is a repeat, however, of the last meal I remember Sally fixing for me.  I even made the tangy red chili dipping sauce (of course she had dried ancho chiles in the cupboard).  I can only hope it is half as delicious.

Happy Friday.

 

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Red Beard

 

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I distinctly remember my parents coming home from their Hawaiian adventure.  I was in the swimming pool at the country club.  My parents rounded the corner of the club by the golf pro shop.  I literally could not believe my eyes.  My mother was 20 shades darker and my dad had a full beard, most of which was red.  They were my parents but they were fundamentally altered.  I was OVERJOYED.

When I had a red headed baby I recalled my father’s red beard.

For Christmas, I gave my mother an Ancestry.com DNA test.  Mr. Understanding gave me one too.  I set up my mother’s account but she did not get around to spitting into the tube. This I regret, not making sure she did the test.  I’d already given my father one (file under: What to Get A Man for a Gift).

When comparing my DNA to my father’s (yes, he is mine!)  it turns out that, genetically,  4% of my DNA comes from the Iberian Peninsula.  This I did not get from Big Mike.  From the map, it appears that I am Basque-ish on my mother’s side.  Celtic invaders from long ago???  This might explain my affinity for Galicia,  pilgrimages to Santiago de Compostela, and love of the Portuguese and Spanish languages.  It does not explain my distaste for fish – it must be a mutant gene.   All of my DNA comes from seafaring countries.  It also explains my mother’s dark dark dark skin due to prolonged UVA exposure.  I am anxious for my sisters to do the test – maybe MoodRingMomma is even more Iberian than I?

And to think that Spain was the country I liked living in the least …

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Possible Heart Nutrients

lord-stood-by-meThis is from Sally’s 2016 archives.   What are you doing for your heart?

This is what I am doing for mine:

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OK, I am not actively reading cook books.  Yet.  But my father is.  He had to go buy Mark Bittman’s How to Cook Everything, ironically the one book that my mother didn’t currently own because she knew how to cook everything.  She gave it to everyone in the family – I have gone through several copies because the binding is terrible.   Dad’s  Mardi Gras waffles were stupendous.

Suggested reading:  Grit by Angela Duckworth.  Am only a chapter in but it is fascinating.  More on this topic later, but needless to say, SALLY HAD GRIT.

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Here, a recipe from Food52.com for grits.  You can add shrimp.  Or not.  You know what I would do, even though it is a Lenten Friday.  XOXO

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Persian Aversion: An Ode to Martha

 

One of the oddities not mentioned in the After Your Heart Surgery brochure that a hospital gives a patient and their family before going home is that the patient will become a Food Diva.  If they were a Food Diva before the surgery, this aspect of their personality will become heightened, exacerbated, enlarged, inflated.  Once the pain is over and the patient returns home, small portions of any food not resembling hospital food will be requested.  This is natural.  But “requested”, perhaps, is too gentle a word.  Strongly suggested?   The very thing the caregiver is suggested to make, however, will offend the patient’s also heightened olfactory senses.  Chex Mix (TM) can send a patient into paroxysms of disgust.  Crockpot pork shoulder, lovingly rubbed with chili, garlic, salt, and cumin, can send a patient over the edge.  Who knew?

If one is not a natural born cook yet finds them self in a primary caregiver role to a Food Diva, this is a bitter pill to swallow.   Where does it say I have to be Alice Waters, Julia Childs, or Ashley Rodriguez?  To the patient whose primary love language is Acts of Service – The Provisioning of Healthy Meals to Your Family – to find oneself in the clutches of a merely serviceable cook of a caregiver is to find oneself gazing about the ramparts of the pits of hell.  Some snarky, possibly overtly aggressive, comments about pizza and the frequency with which it is consumed, just might be uttered by the patient: “You just keep eating your pizza.”  Food shaming at its best!

MoodRingMomma and I were at our collective caregiving wits’ end the other night.  I suggested to our mother that we could eat either a) crock potted chicken thighs in green salsa from her own website cooksallycook.com or b) Stromboli from the Italian restaurant a stone’s throw away.  MoodRingMomma added that she was willing to cook c) chicken curry.  A veritable smorgasbord of options, with a green salad on the side!

But no, The Radish wanted effing ground lamb kebabs on flatbread with roasted tomatoes from Naomi Duguid‘s cookbook Persia.  No matter that we did not have the skewers the recipe required, a grill, or ground lamb.  Hamburger would do, mixed in with the grated onion, mashed into pasty little sliders by my very own dish pan hands, and cooked on the pancake griddle.

I later commented that really, this very labor intensive  dish, was a Persian version of a poor Greek’s gyro, one we could probably get as take out.   I felt it needed some tzatziki but all agreed that the sumac spice was essential (this, of course, we had on hand).  Nonetheless, the Radish was pleased with the outcome and the smell did not offend.  She enjoyed watching MoodRingMomma cry over grating the onions and me mashing the meat paste into “kebabs”.   There was no sitting at the feet of Jesus for these sisters.

It was shortly after this that I had a hissy fit on the phone with my other sister MCVwasHere, during which I explained that everyday with a heart surgery patient is like being on a roller coaster.  Up one hour, down the next, with loop de loops, hanging upside down for extended periods.  This is no reflection on the heart surgery patient.  It is the nature of the beast. But no doctor tells you this beforehand, of course.  A heart surgeon touches your body exactly twice: once to cut on you for 4-5 hours and then again to remove the staples, and maybe then he or she  might even make a different healthcare worker do that nasty bit of business.

My ten year old nephew, overhearing the conversation, piped up and said,

“Wait!  You’re on a roller coaster????”

Like we were whooping it up on vacation at DisneyWorld.  It still makes me laugh hard.

Sometimes life demands that a Martha show up instead of a Mary.  Marthas get sh*t done.  Martha would not have hesitated to wipe up the blood and crust from the wounds of Jesus but she might have been resentful that she had to unload the dishwasher and milk the yak too. I am not so sure that That Other Mary would have been up to the task, something I will inquire about in my personal one-on-one conversation on the other side.  For today, Sweet Jesus, let me make it to Christmas.  At least there have been no poopy diapers.

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Shopping Suggestions:  you are cutting it close, shoppers.  I think you can still order Naomi Duguid’s books Persia or Burma, which are part travelogue, part stellar photography, and part recipes.  Even if you never cook from them, they are beautiful books.  Alternatively, order some baklava from Shatila.com.  I like to think Martha served both Jesus and her sister a piece.  YUM!!!!

 

 

 

 

 

 

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