Book Review: Not That Kind of Girl

Lena Dunham and I are kindred spirits. Our kindred nature is not obvious perhaps. I mean, I don’t wear crop tops, get naked on screen, or write and star in a ridiculously successful, hilarious HBO series. But, I feel like she gets me. She gets women in general and she gets me, specifically. As I was reading Not That Kind of Girl, I not only laughed so hard I cried, I also shouted, “Yes! Yes!! Yes!!!” in ecstatic bliss that someone could articulate so hilariously and rightly my neuroses, my experiences being a female, and what it’s like to grow up. This book is a must-read. Even if you are not a Lena Dunham fan, you can surely appreciate her insight, her acute observations of the world, and her peerless humor. And her writing rocks. It’s specific,  closely-observed, and poignant and hilarious at once. Her comedic timing is impeccable. Read this NOW! Novel type: memoir My rating: 9/10 Read if you like: Tina Fey’s Bossy Pants, Amy Poehler’s Yes Please!, to experience joy, or to vicariously relive your Gen-Y child and early adulthood – you may grimace in pain, but that pain will transform to the ecstasy of being understood 10 Reasons why Lena Dunham is Hilarious and Brilliant, or, Lena Dunham….

  1. On the early twenty-something period of self-loathing that many of us endure: “I am twenty years old and I hate myself. My hair, my face, the curve of my stomach. The way my voice comes out wavering and my poems come out maudlin. The way my parents talk to me in a slightly higher register than they talk to my sister, as if I’m a government worker that’s snapped, and, if pushed hard enough, might blow up the hostages I’ve got tied up in my basement” (xi).
  2. On bumbling her way through pick-up lines like the rest of us, mentioning bodily functions, parents, and other unsexy things: “I only get BO in one arm pit. Swear. Same with my mother” (21).
  3. On the nebulous world of Instant Messenger flirtation: “For the next three months Igor and I instant message for hours every night. I get home around three thirty and he comes home at four, so I make myself a snack and wait for his name to appear. I want to let him say ‘hey’ first, but usually I can’t wait that long. We talk about animals. About school. About the injustices of the world, most of them directed at innocent animals who can’t defend themselves against the evils of humanity. He’s a man of few words, but the words he uses are perfect” (28).
  4. On not settling: “When someone shows you how little you mean to them and you keep coming back from more, before you know it you start to mean less to yourself. You are not made up of compartments! You are one whole person! What gets said to you gets said to all of you, ditto what gets done. Being treated like sh-t is not an amusing game or a transgressive intellectual experience. It’s something you accept, condone, and learn to believe you deserve” (48).
  5. On unreliable narration: “I’m an unreliable narrator. Because I add invented detail to almost every story I tell about my mother. Because my sister claims every memory we ‘share’ has been fabricated by me to impress a crowd. Because I get ‘sick’ a lot. Because I use the low ‘duhhh’ voice for every guy I’ve ever known, except for the put-off adult voice I use to imitate my dad. But mostly because in another essay in this book I describe a sexual encounter with a mustachioed campus Republican as the unsettling but educational choice of a girl who was new to sex, when, in fact, it didn’t feel like a choice at all” (51).
  6. On stripping down regularly for her HBO show Girls: “Another frequently asked question is how I am ‘brave’ enough to reveal my body on-screen. The subtext there is definitely how brave I am enough to reveal my imperfect body, since I doubt Blake Lively would be subject to the same line of inquiry….My answer is: It’s not brave to do something that doesn’t scare you. I’d be brave to skydive. To visit a leper colony. To argue a case in the United States Supreme Court or to go to a Crossfit gym. Performing in sex scenes that I direct, exposing a flash of my weird puffy nipple, those things don’t fall into my zone of terror” (105).
  7. On motherhood: “For as long as I can remember, I have wanted to be a mother. In early childhood, it was so extreme that I could often be found breastfeeding stuffed animals” (121). **Incidentally, I forwent sleepovers in favor of practicing vaginal deliveries, and whilst wandering the mall with my mother, I insisted that she stop and sit with me by the fountain in the center of food court so that I could breastfeed one of my dolls.
  8. On girl crushes: “I’ve never wanted to be with women so much as I wanted to be them: there are women whose career arc excited me, who ease of expression is impressive, whose mastery of party banter has me simultaneously hostile and rapt. I’m not jealous in traditional ways – of boyfriends or babies or bank accounts – but I do covet other women’s styles of being” (129).
  9. On fear and paranoia: “An assistant teacher comes to school with bloodshot eyes, and I’m convinced he’s infected with Ebola. I wait for blood to trickle from his ear or for him to just fall down dead. I stop touching my shoelaces (too filthy) or hugging adults outside my family. In school, we are learning about Hiroshima, so I read Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes and I know instantly that I have leukemia. A symptom of leukemia is dizziness and I have that, when I sit up too fast or spin around in circles. So I quietly prepare to die in the next year or so, depending on how fast the disease progresses” (205-206).
  10. On adrenal fatigue: “I’m afraid of adrenal fatigue. This is related to chronic fatigue but not the same. Western doctors don’t believe in adrenal fatigue, but if you have a job and are human, then any holistic doctor will tell you that you have adrenal fatigue. It is essentially a dangerous exhaustion that comes from ambition and modern life. I have it so bad. Please read about it on the Internet – you do, too” (237).

Peonies

The peonies, those graceful, supple things, are getting ready to break my heart today. One of the many pleasures of this summer has been discovering peonies sprouting in every corner of my garden – an unexpected gift of a first summer in my new home. They’re just at their peak right now, and I fear that the summer’s warmth – here to stay, it seems – will usher their end shortly.
IMG_6722

So, in honor of these peonies, I thought I’d share my favorite poem by my favorite poet. Read it a couple of times – I dare you not to cry.

Peonies

This morning the green fists of the peonies are getting ready
to break my heart
as the sun rises,
as the sun strokes them with his old, buttery fingers

and they open —
pools of lace,
white and pink —
and all day the black ants climb over them,

boring their deep and mysterious holes
into the curls,
craving the sweet sap,
taking it away

to their dark, underground cities —
and all day
under the shifty wind,
as in a dance to the great wedding,

the flowers bend their bright bodies,
and tip their fragrance to the air,
and rise,
their red stems holding

all that dampness and recklessness
gladly and lightly,
and there it is again —
beauty the brave, the exemplary,

blazing open.
Do you love this world?
Do you cherish your humble and silky life?
Do you adore the green grass, with its terror beneath?

Do you also hurry, half-dressed and barefoot, into the garden,
and softly,
and exclaiming of their dearness,
fill your arms with the white and pink flowers,

with their honeyed heaviness, their lush trembling,
their eagerness
to be wild and perfect for a moment, before they are
nothing, forever?

– Mary Oliver, from her collection New and Selected Poems

IMG_6624

Book Review: Dark Rooms by Lili Anolik

  source: Amazon.com

Summertime always puts me in the mood for a good scare. I think it’s the hot weather or something. Give me a natural disaster flick or a grisly murder mystery, and I’m happy, cheesy effects and all. Humidity be damned.  When I was growing up and the summer weather was particularly sticky and humid, my dad would load me and my brothers into the mini-van, and we’d drive 40 minutes away from the city to catch a double-feature, mostly thrillers, at the drive-in. Forget the respite of artic-chilled movie theaters. There’s something about popping the trunk of a mini-van, gorging on salted butter popcorn, swapping at mosquitos, and battling a scare-induced need to urinate all while watching a half-cheesy, half-terrifying movie that seems just right.  I’m feeling pretty nostalgic for the days of Twister, I Know What You Did Last Summer, and Scream. Those nights at the drive-in I remember feeling part of it all, like I was in equilibrium with the world or something, as middle school as that sounds.

So the other day, one of those characteristic Midwestern melty, wet ones, I stumbled upon Dark Rooms by Lili Anolik in the library’s“Hot Reads” section , and the novel’s dark premise – the murder of a teenage girl – seemed right up my grisly alley.

Overview: Eighteen year old Grace Baker’s quiet, predictable world at Chandler, an elite, preppy school where her dedicated father teaches history and her enigmatic mother heads the photography studio, is shattered when her charismatic and wild younger sister is found dead in a field behind the school. Though the murder is pinned on Manny Flores, a classmate whose suicide note reads as a confession, goody-goody Grace instinctively feels no closure to the case and slides into a self-destructive, obsessive haze, becoming addicted to prescription drugs and then pregnant under circumstances mysterious and forgotten. She drops out of Williams, obtains a job at her alma mater working in the AV room, and moves back into her childhood home, now a broken one. Her father, too, is sliding toward self-destruction, and her mother, as wild and beautiful as her beloved muse Nica,has moved to an artist’s colony, no longer interested in mothering her second-favorite daughter. Thus ensues Grace’s increasingly obsessive investigation into the circumstances around Nica’s death. Guided by suspect list that ranges from the dolty guidance counselor Shep, to Nica’s string of ex-boyfriends, to her own parents, Grace’s investigation simultaneously paves the path to her redemption and to her destruction.

Novel type: mystery thriller

My rating: 4/10

My review: This book was basically a disaster — and not in the natural kind of way. The plot was contrived and dominated by turns that were more lazy escapes from dead ends than creative twists. Further, Grace’s first-person narration was a mismatched patchwork of dreamily poetic – if unrealistic – memory sequences , Twilight-worthy teenage drama, and James Patterson’s formulaic mystery writing. With some good editing, this book might strike a healthy balance between the literary and the prosaic , but as it is, the reading is disjointed and forced.

The bottom line: this book did not deliver the summer chill I was hoping for. Eh, what’s a girl to do? Drag her husband to Jurassic World, of course! I’m off to the movies.

Read if you like: anything Gillian Flynn, but particularly Dark Places and Sharp Objects. And then prepare to be disappointed.

Book Review: The Luckiest Girl Alive by Jessica Knoll

source: http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/22609317-luckiest-girl-alive

Book Review: The Luckiest Girl Alive by Jessica Knoll 

Overview: With the exception of a gauche last name, Manhattanite Ani FaNelli seemingly has it all. She has snagged a sweet writing gig at a famous women’s magazine, she’s got a rockin’ body (thanks to anorexia), and her handsome fiancé will give her the Waspy last name she desires, as well as a plush spending account. Beneath this surface good fortune, however, Ani harbours a secret, one so ugly it just might explain (perhaps even excuse?) her obsession with perfection, her combination of self-loathing and adoration, and her searingly bitter (and hidden) attitude toward just about every person in her life -fiancé included (heck, the novel opens with Ani simultaneously registry shopping and fantasizing about stabbing her betrothed with a good Williams Sonoma knife). Narrated by a decidedly unlikeable narrator, the story unfolds – err, unravels – in ways that are alternately fascinating and disturbing, and always unexpected. The reader will find herself absorbed in the twists and turns Ani’s life has taken, empathizing with Ani even as she is disgusted by her.

Novel type: anthropological study of New York WASPs -cum-thriller

My rating: 7.5/10

My review:I’m not gonna lie: I couldn’t put this book down. For the two nice summery days we’ve had this June (damn you, Wisco), I spent the afternoon lounging in my backyard, munching frozen grapes, and whipping through this juicy summer read. While I found myself turned off by Ani in the same way that I was the narrators of Girl on the Train and Gone Girl, I was also taken by her charismatic sarcasm and acutely observant nature. I found the plot twists interesting, and Ani’s  detailed reflection on her prep school years (circa 2003) – her school’s fancy foyer, her clunky Steve Madden clogs and Victoria’s secret built-in-bra tank tops, the Abercrombie and Fitch cargo pants craze  – brought back memories, some painful, from my own teenage years. While this book offers nothing earth shattering (and I’d recommend Girl on a Train first), it’s a great summer read. Pull out your beach chair, don your straw hat, pour yourself a tall glass of lemonade and pass the afternoon with this book in hand.

Read if you like:

books with preps gone bad: Prep by Curtis Sittenfeld ; The Secret History by Donna Tarrt; The Goldfinch by Donna Tarrt; Special Topics in Calamity Physics* by Marisha Pessl; The Headmaster’s Wife by Thomas Christopher Greene

or

thrillers like: Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins; Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn; Reconstructing Amelia by Kimberly McCreight

*if you’re going to read one or the other, read Special Topics; it’s unambiguously great.

Behold, The Fatty Mint

IMG_5658

Well, folks, word on the street is that it’s that Thin Mint time of year. As much as I adore Thin Mints (and could eat them by the sleeve directly out of the freezer), I do not approve of the mile’s long ingredient list, most particularly the partially hydrogenated palm kernel oils and soy lecithin. Indeed, I rehashed the Samoa a couple of years ago for the same reasons. But dang,  thin mints are the perfect spring treat.  So yesterday afternoon, inspired by the sunshine streaming through the windows, the bouquet of tulips that I scored for $3.33 at Whole Foods, and the good cheer of a weekend ahead of me, I re-created the beloved treat. My version is grain-free, dairy-free, and sugar-free and contains loads of the healthy fats that health authorities have denigrated for years. Turns out, fat is actually really good for you.

Behold, the Fatty Mint!

Ingredients:

3 cups almond flour; ½ cup or so of unsweetened cocoa powder; 1 tsp peppermint extract & ½ teaspoon for the chocolate coating; ¼ cup chia seeds; 3/4 of a  bar of unsweetened baking chocolate (or, whatever kind of dark chocolate you like; I used a bar of Ghirardelli’s unsweetened chocolate. With dark or unsweetened chocolate, quality matters.); stevia (or honey) (as many drops to taste); ½ cup (or so) of coconut oil

Directions:

Place the almond flour, cocoa powder, chia seeds, and peppermint extract in a mixing bowl, and melt the coconut oil in a microwave-safe cup. Pour the melted oil over the mix, and then add a couple of drops of stevia into the mix as well*. Mix the batter, and then assessing how sweet you’d like your cookies, add more sweetener (or not). The batter should be wet enough that you can roll it into little balls, without them crumbling. If your batter is too dry, add a little more coconut oil. (Of course, if you’re subbing honey for the stevia, your batter will be plenty wet.)

IMG_5649

After your ingredients are well-incorporated, roll the batter into about 1 inch balls. These treats are very rich, so a bite-size is just about perfect. After you’ve rolled the balls, melt ¾ of a bar of chocolate in a microwave-safe bowl (or a double-boiler). Drop ½ tsp. of peppermint extract into the melted chocolate, and if you’re using unsweetened chocolate, add a couple of drops of Stevia to the chocolate as well. Mix the chocolate well. Transfer the melted chocolate to a small cup or ramekin for an easier dipping mechanism — things will get messy quickly! Dip the cookies into the chocolate, and then place them in the freezer, since we all agree that Thin Mints simply must be frozen. These Fatty Mints should be served cold.

IMG_5651

The chia seeds add a nice crunch.

IMG_5652

A cup of melted chocolate.

IMG_5656

A messy treat.

IMG_5657

Chocolate, sunlight. Yes.

*If you’re new to baking with stevia, start small. You can always add more sweetness, but you can’t take it away! I ended up using about 7 drops of stevia. If you’d prefer to use honey, start with ⅓ cup. The cocoa powder is quite bitter, so you’ll need a good amount of honey to balance out the flavor.

Jared and I tried a few “Fatty Mint Balls” (hmm, maybe the name needs some improvement?) after dinner last night, and I do declare, these are legit.

IMG_5664

The pop of peppermint hints at spring, and the rich chocolate makes this treat very satisfying. Move over Thin Mint, the Fatty has come to town.

On My Due Date

“Healing is impossible in loneliness; it is the opposite of loneliness. Conviviality is healing. To be healed we must come with all the other creatures to the feast of Creation.” Wendell Berry

Today was to have been my due date. “Was to have been”. The past future perfect. 20 weeks ago, Jared and I lost a baby, whom we had taken to calling “Baby Blue, when I was 20 weeks pregnant. I woke up this morning thinking about this due date that was to have been, and I sat down to write, without a plan in mind. So here I am. Publishing these undrafted, unrefined thoughts.

I think today is a due date of sorts. I’m due to express the gratitude – out loud – for everything that has been just right in my life, for the kindness that has revealed to me that the underbelly of sadness is love, the kind of love that quietly simmers in past future perfects, the love that has allowed me to arrive at my due date and be able to say, “I am lucky” and really mean it.  Wendell Berry writes, “Love is what carries you, for it is always there, even in the dark, or most in the dark, but shining out at times like gold stitches in a piece of embroidery,” and dog gone it, he’s right.

So on the due date that was to have been, I choose to be grateful for:

  1. My husband, Jared, the love and rock of my life. I did not fully comprehend nor appreciate the strength of this man, his patience, his kindness, or his love for me until we experienced this loss together. I know the strength of my marriage only because I have seen it bear weight. I turn to Wendell Berry again to articulate the felt sense that my marriage began in earnest five months ago. He writes, “It may be that when we no longer know what to do/we have come to our real work,/and that when we no longer know which way to go/we have come to our real journey./The mind that is not baffled is not employed./The impeded stream is the one that sings.” I am grateful for this singing stream.
  2. The family (my beautiful sister cousins, especially)  and friends who have made me laugh when I didn’t think I had a crumb of joy left in me. I am thankful also for all of the people who shared with me the joy of my pregnancy. You know who you are.
  3. A resilient body.
  4. Yoga. Every time I’m on that mat, I remember how lucky I am simply to be breathing. Every inhale gives me strength, and every exhale grace.
  5. Baby Blue’s fetal cells. It’s a fact that fetal cells stay in their mom’s body for decades after conception, even if the baby is never delivered. Isn’t that a sweet thought? My beautiful friend Laura turned me on to this RadioLab.  Listen to this: the current theory is that a baby’s fetal cells remain with his/her mother to help heal her when she’s sick. Babies biologically tend toward kindness.
  6. The ability to feel happiness for others again.
  7. The perspective, born out of distance, that life – with all its unknowns, its possibilities, and its moments of grief and grace – continues.

“You do not have to be good.

You do not have to walk on your knees

for a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.

You only have to let the soft animal of your body

love what it loves.

Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.

Meanwhile the world goes on.

Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain

are moving across the landscapes,

over the prairies and the deep trees,

the mountains and the rivers.

Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,

are heading home again.

Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,

the world offers itself to your imagination,

calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting –

over and over announcing your place

in the family of things.”

Mary Oliver

Baked Cinnamon Steel Cut Oats

It’s cold here. It’s a deep in the heart of a Midwestern Winter, brittle bones, shield your face from the wind, don two pairs of socks, curl up under a blanket and pray for spring kind of cold. Today, it’s supposed to get up to a whopping 18 degrees, which the meteorologists are calling “balmy”. Adjectives are relative, I guess.

This past week has been downright arctic.  One day, upon returning home after a yoga class, I walked into a house that had settled at 52 degrees. I “harrumphed” and hightailed it to the coffee shop where I spent a supremely cozy morning reading a good book (more on that later!),  eavesdropping on conversations between Stay At Home Moms, and nibbling on baked oatmeal. Oh my, buttery baked oatmeal feels just right on a bitter day. So,  when I returned home at noon to a much more humane environment (62 degrees, baby!), I set to work at re-creating a baked oatmeal. I tweaked this gorgeous recipe to eliminate sugar and dairy (my husband and I *try* to steer clear!) and to increase the healthy fats.

The steel cuts oats contribute a nuttiness, and the apples and cinnamon provide a comforting sweetness on a toe-freezing morning. This morning, I enjoyed a small bowl of these nourishing overnight baked oats with a spoonful of homemade apple butter. Take that, winter!

IMG_5526

A bevy of baking ingredients

IMG_5528

Our stock of local, humane, farm fresh eggs. We pay 2.50/dozen, and you bet you can taste the difference.

IMG_5532

To separate the coconut meat from the milk, simply use a spoon (the thick cream will be on the top of the can). I used the cream in a paleo banana bread, and it was delicious.

INGREDIENTS

2 cups steel cut oats

1 can of coconut milk (remove the cream from the top of the can, and simply use the milk at the bottom; for those of you who aren’t dairy free, use 1 cup of whole milk or cream)

6 tablespoons melted and then slightly cooled butter

2 eggs

2 apples diced

⅓ cup of chia seeds

cinnamon (I used a liberal amount)

3 teaspoons vanilla (I used Trader Joe’s Bourbon Vanilla – the best!)

1.5 teaspoons baking powder

*For a little sweetness, you might add ½ cup of brown sugar, maple syrup, or honey. Personally,  I find that the butter adds a roundness and the cinnamon and apples a sweetness that is satisfying on its own.

Directions:

Mix the oats, chia seeds, cinnamon, and baking powder together in a medium bowl. In a small bowl, whisk the eggs, and then add the coconut milk, butter, and vanilla to the egg mixture. Stir until all the ingredients are incorporated. Simply pour the wet mixture over the dry ingredients, give the mixture a couple of stirs, and then cover the bowl and refrigerate overnight. The overnight refrigeration allows the steel cut oats time to soften and the chia seeds time to swell and will give the dish a gentle fermented flavor (think sourdough bread!).

IMG_5534

IMG_5537

The next morning, preheat the oven to 350 degrees, and pour the batter into a baking dish (I used a 9 by 13 inch dish, though as smaller one would suit just fine).Set your timer for 30 minutes, and check in with the dish then as baking times will vary. You’re looking for a lightly golden top!

IMG_5554

IMG_5555

Serve with cashew butter for a hearty meal or apple butter for some sweetness.

IMG_5561

IMG_5557

IMG_5564

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.