Monday, April 29, 2013

Book Nook - The Fault in Our Stars

The Fault in Our Stars, by John Green:

I discovered The Fault in Our Stars by following the 2013 Tournament of Books - it was a much-discussed contender with a lot of support.  Despite finding out what happened in the many spoilers in the comment section of the tournament (so you've been warned if you click on that link), I was intrigued to read this book that had gripped so many readers and made a literary superstar out of its author, John Green.

Knowing a major plot point before even reading the first sentence somewhat diminished my reading experience.  I knew what what was coming, so I couldn't allow myself to be pleasantly pulled along.  Instead, I searched for and collected the author's breadcrumbs, which was fun too, but typically a task done on the second reading.

Because spoilers somewhat ruined the experience for me, I shall not give you any!  As for the plot, all I will say is that Hazel, our 1st person narrator, is a 16 year old terminal cancer patient, who must carry around a tank of oxygen and have tubes in her nostrils because her "lungs sucked at being lungs."  At one of her weekly Support Group meetings, she meets Augustus, who had osteosarcoma and lost a leg to it.

One of the criticisms of the novel is that Hazel and Augustus don't really speak like you would imagine teenagers to.  Sure, they say "like" quite a bit, but they also discuss existentialism, the universe, metaphor.  Hazel recites a lengthy poem by T.S. Eliot by memory (another character later quotes a lengthy bit of Shakespeare in an eloquent letter, even though it's very out of character).  In one conversation, Hazel has to explain to her mother what her t-shirt means (it says, this is not a pipe in French, but it is a picture of a pipe.  Hazel's mom doesn't get it, but of course Hazel and Augustus understand perfectly well that "it's a drawing of a pipe.  Get it?  All representations of a thing are inherently abstract."  I'm not sure I quite bought into all of their heavy, intellectual exchanges.  I could see some teenagers using these words and structuring their sentences in these ways and exploring such topics, but the majority....not a chance.

There is a lot of humor throughout the book, which serves well to lighten the serious issues of cancer and dying.  I loved the scene where Hazel counters one of Augustus's sisters and her superficial  praise by saying a very snarky, "he's not that smart," which launches the two into a fake barb on how smart and hot Augustus is. "Seeing me naked actually took Hazel Grace's breath away,' he said, nodding toward the oxygen tank."

If you can just let go of the fact that most teenagers probably don't talk like Hazel and Augustus, it's a real pleasure to listen in on their conversations.  Yes, quirky, intelligent replies are given to each other just a little too quickly, but that's ok.  The topics of their many conversations provide depth to the novel and characters.  I also enjoyed the teenagers' very real relationship with their parents.  Green is not afraid to make Hazel's father teary often, or Hazel's mother have secret ambitions for after the inevitable outcome of "terminal" cancer, and he's also not afraid to have them bicker with each other and love each other in very real ways.  On top of that, he has been able to convincingly write from the perspective of a dying 16-year-old girl.  Not an easy feat, I imagine, but he pulls it off.


Sunday, April 28, 2013

Ice Cream Sundays - {chocolate-peanut butter}

The recipe for chocolate-peanut butter ice cream (from David Lebovitz's excellent book, The Perfect Scoop) appealed to me because of its simplicity: warm up some cocoa, sugar, half and half and a pinch of salt, then mix in some peanut butter.  Easy peasy, and my 5 year old actually did most of the work!

However, I have learned over the past year of making countless ice cream recipes one very important thing: I prefer custard style ice cream.  There's nothing wrong with Philly style (meaning, no egg yolks) and I've tried some really tasty kinds.  But, I really do like the traditional, custard style ice creams best, and this one is no exception.  I thought this was a good ice cream, but not super-sweet (for some, that might be a big plus).  I actually whipped up some hot fudge to try to amp up the sweetness, but it just didn't pair up well with this ice cream.  Now, I'm stuck with a bunch of extra hot fudge - what to do, what to do..............


Thursday, April 25, 2013

Spring Blooms

It's been a really beautiful Spring here in Central Ohio, and I just couldn't resist sharing some of the shots I've taken recently of blooms and flowers in the area.  I've been feeling the need to get out and shoot a lot, because I know that very soon all these delicate blooms will be gone until next year. 

So, here's a little Springtime bouquet for you:

I hope you've been having a lovely Spring!


Monday, April 22, 2013

Book Nook - Ignore Everybody

Ignore Everybody: And 39 Other Keys to Creativity by Hugh MacLeod:

I discovered this book because it was recommended by Austin Kleon, author of Steal Like an Artist.  I just loved that book, which I recently re-read.  Going along with Kleon's advice to learn from those people that inspired your hero, I wanted to check out a couple of his recommended books.  I can definitely trace a little bit of Austin Kleon in the pages of Hugh MacLeod's book.....very neat!

This is a quick little read - in fact, the book is really one of MacLeod's most popular blog posts, reincarnated into a longer book form.  Some tidbits from the book: merit can be bought, passion can't; avoid the watercooler gang; sing in your own voice; selling out is harder than it looks; nobody cares, do it for yourself.  These, and a bunch of others, offer the reader some advice on how to lead a creative life.

The author interjects a lot of his own story into the pages of this how-to-be-creative-manual.  He found himself in New York City as a young copywriter, and started doodling on the backs of business cards, not to try to make anything of it, but just for the fun of it.  His business card art took off, and now he does that and running his blog.  It's an inspiring story of how things can develop, especially those endeavors that you've put your whole self into.

The business card doodles are featured throughout the book, and while I appreciate the connection they give the reader with the author, I thought they were a little edgy.  This is probably the only how-to-be-creative book out there that you will hide from your children.  And, for the most part, they are unrelated to the content of the book. 

There are a couple of good ideas that I really appreciated from the book, I thought I'd share them:

-"The sovereignty you have over your work will inspire far more people than the actual content ever will.  How your own sovereignty inspires other people to find their own sovereignty, their own sense of freedom and possibility, will give the work far more power than the work's objective merits ever will." (page 7)

-"I would find that extra hour or two in the day that belongs to nobody else but me, and I would make it productive.  Put the hours in, do it for long enough, and magical, life-transforming things happen eventually." (page 11)

-"If you have something to say, then say it.  If not, enjoy the silence while it lasts.  The noise will return soon enough.  In the meantime, you're better off going out into the big, wide world, having some adventures and refilling your well.  Trying to create when you don't feel like it is like making conversation for the sake of making conversation.  It's not really connecting....." (pages 100-101)

This book got me thinking a lot about creativity, what I'm doing right, what I'm doing wrong, and which direction I want to take my creative self.


Sunday, April 21, 2013

Ice Cream Sundays - {brown butter}

I have long been wanting to make brown butter ice cream from The Craft of Baking by Karen DeMasco.  Her ice cream recipes are outstanding, and this one sounded particularly intriguing.

The first thing you should know: cook your butter carefully!  I burned 2 sticks of butter on my first attempt.  On my second attempt I turned the heat down to medium and that worked great, so lower heat and keeping a close eye on it is the best way to go.  This recipe has a few steps, so you really need to start a day or so before you want to serve it.  The first step is mixing the brown butter with milk and cream, and letting it infuse for 8 hours.  Then, you make the ice cream mixture, and let it sit for 8 hours.  Then you churn the ice cream, and let it sit (I always give it at least a day).  So you can see, you'll have to time your brown butter ice cream cravings accordingly.

But once you've had this ice cream, the cravings won't ever let up.  It is sooo good.  It's a very sweet ice cream (not a problem at all for the Bachs).  The wonderful flavor of the brown butter makes this a unique ice cream, and we just gobbled it up (I foresee some requests for this one on birthdays and other special occasions).  DH and I seemed to like it a bit more than the Bachsters, and the two of us could not stay out of it.  I begged DH to save me just a little bit, enough for a decent shot.  Thankfully, I managed to get this tiny scoop before we polished it off:


Monday, April 15, 2013

Book Nook - Mamarazzi

Mamarazzi: Every Mom's Guide to Photographing Kids by Stacy Wasmuth:

I love this book for one reason above all: the photos are fantastic!  There are so many great shots of kids in this book, it inspires me every time I flip through it.  Looking at all these great photos makes me want to get outside with the Bachsters and photoshoot like crazy.

The author offers advice on equipment, exposure, composition and other traditional photography topics, but also has some really great tips geared specifically for photographing your child, like funny tricks to get them to laugh, or how to pick out just the right outfit.  Since I've tricked myself into believing that I already have a grasp of the ins and outs of photography's technical aspects (ha!), I found these little tips to be the most helpful for me (and as you can see from the above picture, I've marked a bunch of pages).  I always seem to need a little help once I get my subject where I want them, so her advice will definitely be put to good use.

The subtitle of the book is accurate, by the way: this is a guide for every Mom (and Dad, too for that matter).  You only need a camera (any camera) and a kid (or kids).   I also enjoyed the articles written by other photographer-Moms and seeing their shots as well.  These are some seriously talented ladies!

The last chapter of the book deals with how to hire a photographer so that you can get in some of the shots, too.  I wish the focus here would have been how to take a decent shot with your timer or wireless remote control.  This is possible to do, and after you've read through to that last chapter, you've got so many great DIY photography tips that I just can't imagine wanting to run out and hire a pro.  So, maybe I'll not only start working on those fabulous shots of the Bachsters, but also make sure to get myself in some of those shots as well!


Sunday, April 14, 2013

Ice Cream Sundays - {honey thyme}

Honey thyme ice cream makes me think about.....context.  Yes, context.  You see, the recipe is from The Cook and The Gardener by Amanda Hesser.  In this wonderful book, Hesser works as a chef in a chateau in the French countryside.  She develops a friendship with the chateau's curmudgeonly gardener, Monsieur Milbert.  I can't help but think if I were at Chateau du Fey, dining on Hesser's gourmet dishes made with the freshest fruits and vegetables from M. Milbert's ancient garden, I think every meal I ate would be magnifique.

But, in the context of my little non-French non-chateau kitchen, well, I'd have to say honey thyme ice cream is just different.  The thyme is definitely the predominant flavor; in fact, you could go so far as calling it thyme ice cream.  After the first several bites, the thyme tones down a little and then the flavor is sweet creaminess (the honey isn't very discernible).

It's an interesting ice cream, and after the right meal it would be a nice surprise.  If I'm ever lucky enough to find myself at Chateau du Fey, I would love to sit outside on a terrace and enjoy the views of the countryside while savoring honey thyme ice cream.  There, it's absolutely splendid.


Monday, April 8, 2013

Book Nook - About a Boy

About a Boy by Nick Hornby:

A few days ago, I was having a bad day.  I can't even recall the reasons it was bad, I just remember thinking that I wanted to get away from my stinky day for a while.  Luckily, I had just gone to the library and had About a Boy sitting there, waiting for me.  It was a lovely way to get lost, and I finished the book in a couple of sittings.

The story is divided: half the chapters we follow Will, 36, who is shallow and self centered - but lovably so.  He doesn't work (he earns a living from royalties from a popular Christmas song - Santa's Super Sleigh - his father wrote in the 30s), he doesn't have any hobbies (unless you count shopping, watching telly - this book is thoroughly British - and doing recreational drugs) and he's the spitting image of Hugh Grant (I'm joking - this book was made into a movie starring Hugh Grant, in a role I think he was destined to play.  I could not get his image out of my head as I read the book, so after a while I stopped trying).

The other half of the chapters, we get to follow Marcus around.  He's 12 years old, has just moved to London with his depressed mother, gets seriously picked on at school and is a rather odd child.  He does things like throw french loafs at ducks, inadvertently bursts out into song at inopportune moments and lacks the ability to recognize sarcasm.  He has no friends (until he meets Ellie, who loves Nirvana and takes him on as a pet) and no idea how to help his mum when she goes into crying fits.

The meet cute is this: Will joins SPAT (Single Parents Alone Together) as a way to meet single mums to date (despite the fact that he is not a single parent, which is no problem at all for Will, and the results are hilarious).  Will and Marcus meet at a SPAT event, and Marcus starts to show up at Will's door on a regular basis after that.  Maybe they can provide each other something that is missing from both their lives?

I was laughing and smiling all through this book, on a day that would have normally seen me cranky and grumpy.  For that, I am ever thankful.  Hornby's writing is clever and witty ("they travelled to the hospital in as much silence as a screaming baby would allow.").  And things that seem pretty lighthearted on the surface have meanings that the reader can ponder and relate to to: sure we can laugh that Will loafs around all day, but he's really looking to make his life meaningful.  Marcus doesn't mind his crazy haircuts from his mum, but Will points out to him that a better haircut will help him blend in with the crowd more.

Light-hearted, and at times downright funny, with memorable characters that have hidden depths - an excellent way to transform a bad day into a much better one.  I can't wait to read more by this author.


Sunday, April 7, 2013

Ice Cream Sundays - {dog night}

I'm cheating a little with this post, because it's not about any homemade ice cream that I've made.  But, our local Graeter's Ice Cream had their first Dog's Night Out last week, and we couldn't resist taking our pup out for a treat (and I couldn't resist sharing this adorable picture):

Graeter's was very sweet and gave Ranger and his doggie cousins Ernie and Abu special dog ice cream.  However, Ranger far prefers my own homemade ice cream (I'll admit to giving him a little scoop every now and then).  Over the weekend, I was bringing some ice cream up from our basement freezer, and he met me at the top of the stairs, licking his chops and wagging his tail!

We might take Ranger back to Graeter's for another Dog Night, but if we do, we'll just order him his own scoop of vanilla.  After all, he's an ice cream connoisseur...just like his family.


Thursday, April 4, 2013

Our Easter

I wanted to share a few pictures of our Easter - we had a great holiday this year (and are still enjoying it, actually - the Easter Bunny brought way too much candy)!

Here are a few shots of our egg coloring session:

Here's my egg creation - a picture of a camera...on the other side, I drew a picture of knitting needles hard at work:

The Easter Bunny didn't get our poor pup any special treats and he looks so sad in this picture.  He knows when there's a special event or holiday happening, and he wants to join in too!  I will need to have a chat with The Bunny about this to make sure it doesn't happen again next year.

The Bachsters got these cool bubble wands in their baskets, so after we ate our fill of candy, we went outside to play with them.  They discovered that it was great fun to cover our cars with bubbles!

We have an egg hunt every year, and our 7-year-old always finds the most eggs, much to the dismay of our 9-year-old - as you can see......

(Even poor Ranger kept sniffing around the eggs, hoping to find his Easter treasure.  Sigh....some of us had a better day than others on Easter morning).

Do you celebrate Easter?  If so, how was your holiday?


Monday, April 1, 2013

Book Nook - The Hobbit

The Hobbit, or There and Back Again by J.R.R. Tolkien:

(I'm having trouble with my link today, so you get a lovely photograph instead!)

I read The Hobbit a couple of months ago, but have been procrastinating on actually putting it here on Book Nook because, well, what can I say about the book that hasn't already been said, and in infinitely more eloquent and insightful ways?  When you're dealing with a classic, it can be a bit nerve racking.

I originally started reading the book for two reasons.  First, I wanted to see if it might be appropriate for our 9-year-old to read.  Second, I was curious to see if movie was loyal to the book.

So, to answer the first question, yes, I think it would be fine for a 9-year-old to read.  However, DD did not seem interested, so we'll just have to get it out every now and then to see if she picks it up on her own.  To answer the second question, yes, the movie was fairly true to the book, however, I think the movie was way more violent (and there's no way our 9-year-old is watching it).  A war might be mentioned in the book, but you see images and gory details from said war in the movie.  I think the film makers had rather vivid imaginations bent on portraying violence to the extreme.

But I digress....the book.  One thing you won't get with any movie is the richness of the author's voice.  Subtle humor, language, structure, imagery (in your own mind)....these are things that are mostly lost to the movie goer vs. the reader.  And this book is a classic for a reason.  Tolkien is a gifted storyteller, and it's pure pleasure to read his words.  He has a light touch (I loved it when Bilbo thought about his "Tookishness"...or the fact that the trolls are named Bert, Tom and William, for instance) and guides the reader through the plot with ease.

I was glad that only a portion of the story is currently available for moviegoers.  It allowed me to imagine the majority of the story the way the author intended.  I will say, that I read my book on CD, and the narrator was wonderful (can't remember who narrated it - sorry).  This is different than watching a film, even though your eyes are not doing the reading.  If you've never enjoyed books on CD, it's a wonderful way to get absorbed in a story, and this one would be a great start.

So, I'll keep this post short and sweet.  Tolkien crafted a marvelous story - experience it in its original form before you see the movie(s).

What are your thoughts on movies that are based on books?