Shaking It Up

It’s time to mix things up a bit around here. This will be the last master post showing everything I’ve been eating for the week. Instead, I’m going to make it a daily thing, along with my workouts, in addition to other posts. In part, this is due to my feeling disconnected from my blog as of late because I write these posts in advance and then forget about them. I think I’ll have more interesting and fresh posts if I write them in real time. Also, change can be refreshing. On a snowy Monday- what Monday isn’t these days? – I warmed up with a steaming bowl of oats. I went for a banana bread knock-off type bowl starting with mashed banana and ending with chopped banana slices. After boiling my milk, I tossed in the oats and swirled it with a touch of cinnamon and mashed banana for sweetness. For added protein, I threw in a tablespoon of peanut butter and a tablespoon of walnuts. Along with a dash of brown sugar, I added some raisins for sweetness. Great fuel before shoveling! Peanut butter toast is something that never needs to be changed. Sometimes jazzing it up can be fun and tasty, but the old standby never disappoints!Scrambled eggs with some cottage cheese is one of my favorite ways to make them. They are so cheesy and creamy, along with some whole wheat raisin toast and fruit, and my taste buds were super happy. More oats, this time of the dark chocolate peanut butter variety. With a splash of jelly and a few raspberries on top, I think it actually looked quite pretty. Sometimes oatmeal doesn’t look as amazing as it tastes with it’s versatile flavors. After a workout, I was feeling a couple of different foods. I went with one egg scrambled with cottage cheese and a buttered piece of toast with another piece of toast peanut buttered. Poached eggs will always reign! The golden, buttery goodness of it all screams unhealthy, buts it’s so simple without any added butter (except on the toast). Okay, the buttered toast makes the dish that much better. Thanks to the impending storm, my mom and I needed to head out to the grocery store early on and I didn’t have time to make my pancakes. Instead, I had an egg over easy, hidden by a slice of cheese, and a blueberry scone we picked up at the store. It was an alright breakfast as I wanted to like it more than I did. It could have used some clotted cream! I was so pleased with myself when I thought to throw my leftover pulled pork into a panini. With a bit of shredded cheese and barbecue sauce, along with a healthy dose of veggies, this meal was so delicious. I made a big batch of curry for the week, which turned out pretty well. I just used the sauce from the A Taste of Thai packaging, chickpeas, and a ton of veggies. Over brown spinach rice, it was downright delightful! More curry, this time you can really see the chickpeas! The sweet potatoes in this added a real flash of flavor. A piece of tilapia added to the healthy power of this salad. I love the fresh flavors of vegetables mixed with tangy dressing and cheese. This pasta dish was fantastic. All it comprised of was leftover whole wheat penne, sausage, spinach, peppers, mushrooms, Brussels sprouts, and shredded cheese. Lunch on Saturday included strawberry Greek yogurt, granola, an apple, and a bag of cheezits at my cousin Michael’s show. It was a strange assortment of foods, but it hit the spot. Sunday afternoon, after a stop at Trader Joes, I heated up the orange chicken they offer. To make it a splash healthy, I grilled bok choy, peppers, and carrots and tossed it into the chicken dish. I was eating a lot of fish and then that fell away for awhile. This grilled piece of tilapia paired fairly well with pasta and spinach. Leftover tilapia was thrown into a quick stir fry before I headed out to my screenwriting class. To make it a bit more flavorful, I drizzled some barbecue sauce on top. Sausage, rotini, peppers, and mushrooms was an easy, delicious dish. At an old favorite restaurant, they serve this dish called chicken supreme, that is a white sauce. My mom recreated it in divine interpretation. The sides included mashed potatoes, corn, zucchini, peppers, and turnip. Friday night dinner came in this much needed cheeseburger. I opted for a burger with a slice of American cheese, sautéed mushrooms and peppers, and barbecue sauce. On the side was homemade potato chips and baked beans that were maybe the best id ever had. My company was in the form of my friend Katie and it was so nice to catch up! Dinner on Saturday was pizza with family after the show. I was so excited for the cheesy goodness, I didn’t wait to snap a picture! To end the week, and welcome another storm, we had braised short ribs, macaroni and cheese, Caesar salad, and roasted Brussels sprouts. SO good!

Family Dynamics As Shown In Books

It’s not that I didn’t enjoy the book I will be reviewing today because I did, I promise. It’s just that, the excitement coursing through me as I force myself away from Amy Poehler’s new book Yes Please to be a productive, functioning human rather than a cackling fiend on the couch is impalpable. Next week, you’re going to get a really long, loving review of how much I love that book and I can say that with confidence even now because though I’ve had it for just a few hours, I’m tearing my way through it. And it is phenomenal.

But, I can’t get ahead of myself and allow this other excellent book from falling into a black hole of never being appreciated by me. The Burgess Boys by Elizabeth Strout has been on my reading list for awhile now, but got tossed aside a few times when all of my on-hold books kept surging in and I had to finish those on a deadline.

Burgess Boys

The story begins with from an outsider’s perspective, showcasing how humans have the tendency to observe and react to another’s life, particularly those who live around us, are close to us, or are celebrities that we feel belong to us (Amy Poehler and I are basically best friends for reals though, I promise). In this case, a mother and daughter focus on a small family who lived in their neighborhood, two boys and a girl, whose family mysteries seem alluring and intriguing and unknown. In this method, Strout also establishes the characters’ personalities through an outsider’s view, so when we finally meet the Burgess’ we feel as though we already know them. This is interesting because oftentimes when I’m reading, I feel as though I am next to the main characters, undergoing every event with them. In this case, I felt as though I was watching them, much like a neighbor might, and I wonder if that was the author’s intent.

From the preface, I thought the story was going to be focused on a mystery that was highlighted, but ended up being a sort of “MacGuffin” or otherwise an afterthought to the actual plot of the story. In the end, that mysteries so-called resolution doesn’t really matter to the characters and after reflecting on it, I found it doesn’t matter so much to me either. As in life, with books, you travel on a journey with complicated people whose ordinary lives are turned extraordinary through quality writing, interesting plot twists, and obstacles that arise quickly because it usually needs to be resolved by the end of the story. How things turn extraordinary often depend on the genre because an extraordinary fantastical tale about a young wizard facing the world’s evilest noseless man is different than an extraordinary memoir about a young woman embarking on a months’ long hike by herself. Yes, sometimes plot lines in stories are juiced up in order to make them interesting and oftentimes what happens to the characters wouldn’t happen to your real-life next door neighbor, but a piece of the story and those characters feel alive and recognizable.

This is the case in The Burgess Boys. There’s nothing aggressively extraordinary about these characters when you observe them at a glance, but the fact the Strout brings them to life, gives them a voice, and makes them breathe, allows a reader to see that mundane life is fraught with complications and hardships that are born from both how a person feels and acts as well as anything that might happen to them.

Part of what attracted me to the novel is not what happened because I didn’t feel as though a lot did happen. What’s interesting is seeing these different personalities that make up a dynamic of a family. My own family is close and loving and we definitely have our similarities, but there are tons of differences between us. From our family, we find the voice of reason, the comedian, the drama queen (YUP, that’s me), etc, as all families do. Sometimes our family members do things that don’t make sense to us or are wrong or are exceedingly kind, but the best types of families, the closest ones, stick through it to support, even if it looks messy and is full of mistakes.

To me, that is the essence of The Burgess Boys whose main characters are a family who are different from each other, both on an emotional level based off of life experiences and on a personality level that stems from an inherent narrative (and probably other scientific things I won’t pretend to understand), but they share a similarity that, if nothing else, is due to the fact that they are family.

Life and family are complicated and sometimes we get frustrated by that and it takes reading a book to make us understand how fragile everyone else is too. To our families and those closest friends, we are at our most vulnerable because they see us through our best and worst times. Other than just family members, sometimes we put certain people on pedestals or judge others as somehow lesser than us, or we even put people in boxes and expect that we know who they are and what they do. But people have the remarkable ability of surprising us, even those we know and love best, and regardless of if that surprise is good or bad or in-between, we have to accept it or we don’t.

I can’t honestly claim any hard feelings or angst with my family or other people (unless I’m oblivious), but it is interesting to read about. I would definitely recommend this book because it is not only a good read, but it makes you reflect on your own family and the part you play in it. Enjoy!

The One Where I Watch A Cartoon

This summer, I’ve run through patterns where I will find a new TV show and all I want to do is watch it, or there will be other periods where all I want to do is read. While I do other things in my life that are actually productive during these times, I’ve found my recent freedom from school-related things to be indulgent.

I’ve talked in length about my annual Harry Potter re-read and that did not disappoint. On Rave Review Tuesdays, I have also talked about Orange is the New Black and Mitch Albom’s The First Phone Call From Heaven. While I am currently reading David Sedaris’s new book Let’s Explore Diabetes with Owls (and only have two days to finish since it’s from the library), I went through a phase the past couple of weeks of watching a new TV show (for myself, not new in general).

Disclaimer, if I’m even using that in correct fashion, but I have never really been one to watch cartoons. Growing up, I absorbed Disney princess movie after Disney princess movie, where I think my proclivity for crowns stems from, but when it came to sitting down to watch Saturday morning cartoons, I was never into them.

This might be due to the fact that my sister is three years older, had three years older taste, and I wanted to follow her in every step, including TV shows. I only ever would glimpse cartoons here and there when my brother, who is five years younger, would watch them, and at that point, I had no patience for them. I was the freak who watched Friends when she was much too young. I always preferred Saved by the Bell or Sweet Valley High because it offered much more drama and romance.

My family went through a phase when we were older of watching Family Guy and I thought it was funny in parts, but never my favorite. We were never allowed to watch The Simpsons when we were growing up and when I got older it just never occurred to me to watch that. It especially became easier to not have to watch what was actually on TV because of DVR and other forms of new media that allowed me to watch my favorites anytime I wanted.

There was also the period of my life from seventh grade to my freshman year of high school that all I watched was Friends. I don’t know why I was allowed to buy all of the DVD sets, especially because a year later they were so much cheaper!

Anyways, back to the topic, when it comes to cartoons, I am pretty much all about the Disney princess movies and that’s it, until I found a new show.

It all started with Tumblr. Browsing through my feed or whatever they call it on that, gifs and quotes from Bob’s Burgers kept popping up. I thought they were kind of funny when reading them, even without knowing any of the background. People were commenting about how funny it was and how they relate to it in odd ways.

After a couple of weeks, my neighbor mentioned she watched it and loved it, as well as my cousins, so I checked on Netflix and decided to give it a try. When I watched the first episode, I was taken aback because most of the characters’ voices, men and women, were voiced by men. At this point, I was thinking it was going to be another show that I would roll my eyes at and get annoyed with, thinking it was some anti-feminist attack and all about fart jokes.

I was wrong and I’m so glad I kept watching.

Much of the humor is actually very clever and each character is fleshed out in a brilliant way. I can’t decide which character I like best between Tina, Gene, and Louise because they all have very specific personality traits that are hilarious, ridiculous, and somehow quite endearing. I also adore Linda and Bob and the entire family dynamic because to its core, the show features a very close, sweet family relationship who mock each other, get annoyed by one another, but always stick together and support one another.

There is something very relatable about the characters, which I think I’ve discussed on here before about that’s how any media draws me in. I don’t care about the storyline, or rather, in some sense I’m more lenient about what is happening to characters if I like the characters. In any medium, book, movie, TV show, musical, or play, there is going to be a premise that is not quite regular and borders on the fantastical, or is completely fantasy. It has to be interesting to draw in an audience.

Within the show there is a realness to how quirky people in real life are, whether they don’t quite fit in with other people’s realm of normativity, whether because they are a little nerdy, can’t read social cues properly, somewhat introverted, or are just so eager and excitable that it can be overwhelming for other people. Bob’s Burgers even shows the struggle of a person, and the family they have to drag along with them, when they own a family business.

Yes, the show is built on hijinks, makes the occasional fart joke, and sometimes goes for the obvious joke, but that’s all part of its charm. I think sometimes that some other shows similar to this have the objective to offend, however they can, however badly they can make it, which causes them to lose form. The shock factor works best when it’s used sparingly because you don’t expect it, but it also doesn’t take away from the show you’ve created.

However, what do I really know, because I don’t have a multi-million dollar TV show or movies coming out. Yet…

I will watch or read anything if it adds a touch of cleverness and beauty to it. Perhaps I am analyzing the show way too much outside of the scope of what the creators want, but I think that what they have created is a quality, fun show that takes a somewhat simple premise and makes it outstanding. The writing and dialogue is smart, but not overwhelming or trying to be too far above what this genre entails. It kind of reminds me of 30 Rock in that smart, but ridiculous form that takes nothing to be serious, but also has heart and truth.

Actually, I would say it has the cleverness of 30 Rock and the endearing factor of Parks and Rec…

I watched the three seasons featured on Netflix faster than I should have, but they were only twenty minutes per episode, so I flew through them. I was sad knowing I had to wait until fall to see new episodes until someone told me that the fourth season had already aired and would probably be on On Demand. It was the gift that kept on giving.

I realize that I’m sort of jumping on the bandwagon that has been plugging on for awhile now, but Bob’s Burgers will definitely be something that I’ll continue watching when the new season hits. I might even watch it when it actually airs, which means it’s special if I’m going to deal with commercials.

I mean, if I didn’t convince you with this edition of Rave Review Tuesday to check it out, because if nothing else, it’s just fun, then maybe the fact that it just won a Creative Arts Emmy might sway you.

Books That Hurt Your Brain (In a Good Way)

I know what you’re thinking, finally a review on Rave Review Tuesday. I finished my annual reread of Harry Potter, which means I’ll have some more time freed up to read/watch and review new material. I already have another idea lined up for next week’s post!

Though I’ve had a Nook for a couple of years now, I haven’t taken advantage of the perks until now. I finally cleared my library debt-side note- WHY is it so hard for me to return books on time? I worked at a library for four years!

Regardless, I am a free woman and was able connect the Nook to the e-resources. There was a plethora of options, which was frustrating in the beginning because every one of my choices were already taken out. Once I figured out the filter button, I saw Mitch Albom’s new book The First Phone Call From Heaven on the first page and was excited.

Albom’s The Five People You Meet in Heaven is one of my favorite books. His writing style and premises are intriguing because they center on the spiritual without being preachy. In his books, he features complicated characters and mixed emotions that are very real.

Before even reading the book, I wondered how I might react receiving a phone call from Heaven and the answer is more complicated than I would initially think. While ultimately I think I would be overjoyed, my feelings would also range from terrified to skeptical. When a loved one dies, there is the anxious beating in your heart that yearns for just one more conversation, one last hug, to even see them one last time. He correlates these desires with the idea of Heaven and the comfort it offers, or quite the opposite for others.

At the finish, I can’t say I have a definitive answer for how I would react, but I don’t think that was the idea of it. The premise is to make you think while reading and after you’ve finished, and I would say that Albom accomplished this feat.

The book itself is not complicated, but an easy, quick read that was enjoyable. There were many characters who were the focus and it kept going back and forth to show each perspective, but I didn’t find it difficult to remember them. My investment in the story might have been emphasized in the actual storyline, but I did care about the characters, their feelings, and how the phone calls affected them.

While reading, observing how the characters’ react to the news that a small town in the mid-west was receiving phone calls from deceased loved ones, I found my own opinions floating between them. Each character, whether central or in the background, had a very strong reaction to the phone calls and it was easy to understand why and how they would feel this way.

I like reading stories that make me question my own vantage point and help me to understand others. People and their motives are not easily understood in real life, which makes literary- or fictional in general- characters that much more compelling. When reading, watching, or observing, I want to care about the characters, but I also don’t want them to be perfect. I want to see them going through simple daily tribulations, as well as mysterious events that wouldn’t necessarily happen in real life. Throughout, I want to be surprised and disappointed in them. And I want the story to drive them to places where I *probably* will never be, but they help me wander down that road in my imagination.

I won’t spoil the story in any way, but I will say that I was satisfied by the ending. This has proved difficult lately whether in books or movies. I often find endings to be too cheesy or dissatisfying. Sometimes I’ll feel cheated or rushed, or maybe I’m just sad the story is over. I blame the writer in me for this as lately I find myself rolling my eyes or tossing the book aside unceremoniously. In this case, however, I was very pleased, despite being worried about the ending throughout.

Once, I chose to read a book from the back cover that summarized the story. The mystery was exposed right there and left me so curious that I just kept flipping through the pages, waiting so anxious to see how it would end. I had to prevent myself from screwing it all and going right to the back to find what happened. The mystery was so interesting that I was worried the entire time that whatever the answer would be, it could never be enough for the curiosity it piqued in me. In the end, I think the author took the same route of thinking because it was never concluded. There wasn’t even a hint of implication. It was just, “Oh, it was never solved.” To this day, I can’t decide if that was a stroke of genius or a cop-out because she couldn’t come up with anything good enough. I was so angry I threw the book across the room and made my mother read it too so I had someone in which to sympathize.

Connecting that rant to the topic, I didn’t throw Albom’s book across the room. And that’s all I’ll say about that.

If you are interested in reading about the spiritual in a manner that offers you context and a thinking point, but also lets you think and establish a perspective of your own, then I suggest reading Albom’s books. In the Five People You Meet in Heaven, I connected with the main characters more and cared more about where and how they ended up then the actual plot, but in The First Phone Call From Heaven, it was the opposite.

Regardless of what is what, I think it’s a mark of a good author when the reader is so captivated they don’t even allow the sounds of construction crunching down around them. I would even state on record that Albom is one of my favorite authors, though we know, without a doubt, who holds the title of absolute favorite. And if you can’t determine that without me telling you, then you have a quite a bit of reading to do going back in my blog!

Let me end by posing a question (which could have embarrassing results if no one responds). How would you react to a phone call from Heaven?