Saturday, November 26, 2011

The Thanksgiving Grinch

Black Friday has come and gone. My only purchase of the day was a Christmas tree, a modest 5-6 foot Noble fir from the Mountain Pine fresh Christmas tree farm which I won’t pick up until the entire house is de-Thanksgivinged. I’m an official Thanksgiving Grinch, grateful the day is over, particularly the food of the season, turkey, yams, mashed potatoes and pumpkin. I’m craving salad, fresh spinach, tomatoes and cucumbers with absolutely no protein, no candied walnuts and absolutely no bread products.

What is it about this time of the year that causes people to indulge? Eight pounds is the average weight gain for the holiday season. EIGHT POUNDS! 28,000 calories over what our bodies need to maintain our current sizes! Those statistics alone are worthy of exclamation points. I suppose the cold has something to do with it and those clothes that camouflage the worst of our consumptions, except that California is warm enough to walk around with bare feet and our wardrobes usually work year round.

I threw away what was left of the stuffing, the mashed potatoes, the chocolate torte, everything with too much butter, saturated fat and calories. I saved the turkey, the cranberries and the yams. My family isn’t big on leftovers. After a turkey sandwich or two, thankfully, they’re done.

I’m a fairly decent cook, meaning that I’m great at finding other people’s new recipes and trying them out. However, I’m a washout with large joints of meat, rib roasts, turkey and ham. Except for the latter, which only requires heating, I can’t tell when anything over 3 pounds is done and, for some inexplicable reason, my meat thermometers (I’ve tried two) don’t register correct temperatures. Someone suggested that I’m not inserting them into the thickest part of the thigh but then no one else in the vicinity seems to know exactly where that is either. I’m strictly a “roast for 3 hours at 350 degrees” kind of person, except that whoever decided roasting an unstuffed 12 pound turkey at 350 for 3 hours likes her turkey to taste like jerky.

 Inevitably, my main course is either blood-rare or bone-dry. On the few occasions when I manage to get it just right, I have no idea what I’ve done differently. This year was no exception. The turkey, once again, was over-cooked, leading to an overindulgence of everything else except the vegetables.

We could go out because, after all, Thanksgiving is about family togetherness and being grateful. We could also become, for one day, vegetarians. I’ve hinted at both, to no avail. Apparently, my family doesn’t mind eating dry turkey. “It’s enough,” said my son, “to smell it cooking and then to eat too much of everything else.”

Monday, November 21, 2011


Irish Lady by Jeanette Baker
Publisher: Sourcebooks Casablanca
genre: paranormal, historical, sci-fi/fantasy
Length: Full Length (325 pages)
Heat Level: spicy
Rating: 4 books
Reviewed by Lavender

Meghann McCarthy escaped the slums of Belfast to become a rich, successful attorney in London. Yet she can never quite banish Ireland from her heart, or forget Michael Devlin, the boy she once loved with a passion that nearly tore her apart. When Michael, a notorious Irish nationalist, becomes involved in a vicious court case, Meghann agrees to defend him. But even as she jeopardizes her hard-won success, she finds the true power and spirit of the Irish heritage she has too long denied...and the courage to face her love for Michael.
Flawlessly blended paranormal aspects and gripping Irish politics make for an exciting romance. The adventure taking place in the 1990's is the perfect complement to the emotional parallel story happening centuries before.

Interesting characters make up this story, from the brave and devoted heroine, Meghann, to Michael, a heart-breakingly tragic Irish hero. The chemistry between them is great.

Queen Elizabeth the First interacts with the adventurous, damaged characters in the sixteenth century story. It's fascinating reading their interaction. Values of the past and present-day values sometime compare strongly, but otherwise, they can clash. Could things that were acceptable or at least tolerated centuries ago, and no longer are, happen anyway now? And if so, could the offending parties get away with it? This book explores treachery.

As the book switches back and forth between the two stories, tension is kept up, so readers are not likely to be disappointed. Both stories hold great appeal. This is a paranormal (due to the ghost character visiting the lead in the nineteen nineties), historical, and modern-day book, but it is also somewhat of a thriller in a sense. The modern characters are in great danger, and the clock is ticking.

The setting is vivid, and the history takes a reader along on a wild ride. Ireland comes vibrantly to life in the mind of a reader. Different themes come into play such as love, freedom, fidelity, friendship, and so much more, mixed together with an exciting plot.

Love and life are the prizes. The alternative is unthinkable. Not everyone
in this story will have a happy ending, but those who do will be inspiring. Readers who are fans of these genres will probably love this book. I know I did.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Blue Nights

I finished Joan Didion’s new book, BLUE NIGHTS, reluctantly switching off my Kindle in the wee hours. Like Anne Rivers Siddons, Alice Hoffman and Anna Quindlen, Didion delivers the kind of prose that makes a reader stop, breathe deeply, and wait out the rush of emotion the author's words bring to the surface. In the case of BLUE NIGHTS it is pain, wrenching and emotional, the kind of pain that the death of a child brings.

The book is about Didion’s daughter, Quintana Roo, who died at age 39 after battling a complexity of illnesses for two years. Adding to the author’s tragic circumstance is the loss of her husband, John Dunne, who died of a heart attack shortly after the collapse of their daughter. 

Despite the subject matter, the book isn’t morose. It’s a revelation, a quick jolt of the familiar, bringing to mind an, “Oh, yes, I remember feeling like that.” It’s also the story of a family living a privileged life in the golden age of Hollywood, a working mother, a man in love with his wife, an adored child and a marriage that lasted a lifetime. Anecdotes of celebrity dinner parties, movie scripts and films are interspersed with flashbacks of family scenes and lovely words like, “What remained until now unfamiliar, what I recognize in the photographs but failed to see at the time they were taken, are the startling depths and shallows of her expressions, the quicksilver changes of mood.” What mother hasn’t seen long ago photos of her child and wondered how she could have missed what should have been obvious? 

Chapter 1 opens with the explanation for the title, BLUE NIGHTS, something only recently pointed out to me, a native Californian accustomed to the quick drop of the sun into an even briefer twilight. “In certain latitudes there comes a span of time approaching and following the summer solstice, some weeks in all, when the twilights turn long and blue. This period of blue nights does not occur in subtropcial California, where I lived for much of the time I will be talking about here and where the end of daylight is fast and lost in the blaze of the dropping sun…To the English it was the gloaming, the glimmer, the glitter, the glisten, the glamour---carrying in its consonants the images of houses shuttering, gardens darkening, grass-lined rivers slipping through shadows…”

Writing doesn’t get much better. The book isn't for everyone. I highly recommend it. 

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Publishers' Weekly Review for IRISH LADY

Irish Lady
Jeanette Baker. Sourcebooks Casablanca, $12.99 trade paper (336p) ISBN 978-1-4022-5592-2
Description: skillfully blends contemporary and historical romance with a dash of the supernatural in this large-scale tale, first published in 1998, of tumultuous romance during Northern Ireland’s Troubles. In the early 1980s, Meghann McCarthy left behind her impoverished Belfast Catholic neighborhood, torn by urban strife, and her charismatic lover, Michael Devlin, a passionate IRA soldier. Fifteen years later, she’s a leading legal mind in England and he’s accused of murdering a prominent British politician sympathetic to the Irish Republican cause. Meghann takes on Michael’s case, and as their old mutual attraction flares up again, she finds herself strangely dreaming of her ancestor Nuala O’Neill and Nuala’s great love, Rory O’Donnell, one of the 17th century’s last Irish holdouts against Elizabeth I. Baker carries off both complicated romantic plots with panache, but her real achievement lies in avoiding sentimental gushing while accurately depicting the atrocities visited on the Irish by Britain—and by themselves. (Jan.)
Reviewed on: 11/07/2011

Sunday, November 6, 2011

A Bucket List?

I’m slowing down. I wish I wasn’t, but I am. My energy level isn’t the same as it was when I was 30, or even 40. My body certainly isn’t the same either. I can’t drink caffeinated coffee after 6 and still fall asleep at 11:00. Writing until midnight and rising early are no longer possible and all-nighters are out of the question. Dairy and wheat are a problem. My hair has thinned and my metabolism is slower. My weight isn’t all that much different, but the distribution of flesh doesn’t look at all the same. I forget more than I used to.

According to a graphic illustration in the Monday Health section of the LA Times, my muscle mass has deteriorated to less than one-fourth of what it was when I was 20. I keep the gray hair away with frequent visits to a salon but, other than sun block, my skin is my own and it shows. For some inexplicable reason, my mirror reflects what I want to see, but photos don’t lie. Like Nora Ephron, I hate my neck.

The truth is, none of the above depresses me all that much. Age happens to everyone. The alternative is an attractive corpse and I certainly don’t want to be that. What troubles me is that there is less time ahead than there is behind. As far as I’m concerned, it happened too soon. In Ireland I can’t qualify for a 30 year mortgage because, according to actuary tables, I won’t live to pay it off. In eleven years I will be too old to rent a car in Europe. It probably doesn’t matter because I won't be going anywhere. Air travel has become increasingly painful, cramped seats, crying children, inadequate facilities, delayed flights, all recipes for those terrifying blood clots to which older people are susceptible. The idea that I’m winding down and should start thinking about downsizing, looking into retirement communities, houses without stairs, Medicare plans and AARP membership is more than disconcerting. It’s terrifying. I’m a baby boomer, for heaven’s sake. Not that long ago there were more of us than anyone. The world was ours. Our potential was enormous.

I still love to read, sleep late, travel to new destinations. My dislikes haven’t changed all that much either. But the world has certainly changed and my time is limited. It isn’t possible to see and do everything that appeals to me. I probably should prioritize. I need my own bucket list. It merits deep thought….a week at least.