Category Archives: books

Free Reading Friday: Sous Chef

Sous ChefAlthough I am not generally a fan of reality TV, I am slightly obsessed with cooking shows. From Chopped, to Iron Chef, to The Next Food Network Star, to Cupcake Wars, if there is competitive food creation, they’ve grabbed my attention. My son always tells me that I should be on one of the food shows because he thinks I’m a great cook. While that is definitely flattering, not only have I come to cooking a bit late in life (really only after he was born), but I am also very much a recipe girl. I need solid directions I can follow and add just a bit of improv to. I randomly forget my cooking basics like how to boil an egg or corn on the cob. I definitely get more than a bit flustered when trying to put together a complicated main dish and any sides at the same time and timing is NEVER my friend in the kitchen.

That being said, I am fascinated by those who can do it all and do it well. Aside from dishing out popcorn at the local movie theater, I’ve never worked in the food industry, so it is a bit of a mystery to me. I’ve had several friends who have been members of wait staffs in restaurants, but most of them were in college and did not take their jobs very seriously. What goes on in the actual kitchen remains a bit of a mystery to me.

Michael Gibney’s book helped clear up some of the mystery.

From movies, TV and my one Facebook friend who actually works as a chef, I knew chefs put in long hours. However, until I read Sous Chef: 24 hours on the Line, I had no idea just how long those hours are. I did not realize that my 8 hours a day being bombarded with questions from teenagers and the additional two hours or so I spend each night working on grading and lesson planning pale in comparison with life on the line in a kitchen. The idea of going into work at 9 am and not finishing up until after midnight is appalling to me. Although Gibney explains that the early hours before the restaurant opens for business (in his case dinner M-F and additional brunches on the weekends) are a bit slow and contemplative, the constant barrage of work that descends on everyone in the kitchen mid-day is enough to make me thankful I’ve only ever been on the dining room side of the experience.

The kitchen hierarchy was fascinating to read about. All the individual jobs I had no idea even existed are knowledge I am glad I now have. I also like finally understanding what a sous chef really does.

Reading his first hand account of the craziness that does not manage to burst into complete chaos once the tickets start rolling in has given me a better perspective on why it sometimes takes longer than I think it should to get my food. It also helps explain why sometimes things on the plate are not perfectly executed. It has also made me rethink my stance on sending food back to the kitchen (although I rarely do).

While I haven’t actually eaten at a restaurant since finishing the book, I believe the next time I do, the knowledge Gibney has given me will not only improve my experience as a customer, but also my empathy for my fellow human beings.

Advertisements

Leave a comment

Filed under addictions, books, cool links, education, entertainment, food, products, ramblings, reading, TV, what makes me me

Throwback Thursday: Best friend time

Buldog side viewI write about my friends a lot. I can’t help it. They are the most amazing people in the world. They are my family and I cannot imagine my world without them. Unfortunately, the years have scattered us across the country. Of our core group of 5, only one of them still lives near me. One spends a great deal of his time hiking in Colorado, one is trying to uncover the seedy underbelly of cyber security in DC and one is teaching Victorian sci-fi and horror in Georgia.

This summer my best friend and I got to spend four days bumming around DC with our reporter friend. It was amazing since it was the first time I’ve gotten to visit him in his new hometown (and it’s been his hometown for over a decade…yeah, I know, bad friend).

Last month, we all got together for another for another glorious four days in Isle of Palms, South Carolina. We rented a beach house, stayed up late, went on ghost tours and generally had a blast.

Then, just last week I got to spend part of my fall break visiting with my best friend in Georgia. Sure, she still had classes to teach, but in between those classes, we got to hang out at the coffee shop, go shopping, take my kids on adventures, eat a lot of super tasty food AND, most importantly, watch our favorite girly movies and talk, talk, talk.

One of our very first stops was Jittery Joe’s, a local coffee chain that has 16 locations: Nine are in Athens, four are in other towns in Georgia, one is in Tennessee and very unpredictably, one is in Japan. Athens actually has a surprising number of local, sort of chain restaurants, which I think is cool.

Jittery Joe'sWhen my best friend used to live around the corner from me, we spent countless hours at our favorite local coffee shop. Although neither of us are huge coffee fans, if we tried to count up all the spiced chais we drank over long talks about every aspect of our life, we could probably fill a swimming pool..and I’m not talking about a dinky backyard pool either. Because my best friend lived right around the corner and our local coffee shop was just right around another corner, my kids practically grew up there. In fact, they are friends with the owners’ kids, so they always loved going to the coffee shop with us. They’d bring books or electronic devices, share a cookie and let us talk for hours.

At Jittery Joe’s, we all fell right back into our old habits. Well, almost. The barista accidentally made a pumpkin spice latte and offered it to me for free, which replaced my usual chai. I also had to change out my usual cookie for a chocolate croissant. JJ’s has cookies, but they are flat and sort of hard. On my very first trip to Athens, my BFF warned me not to be fooled by the cookies because I would be horribly disappointed. As we share nearly identical sweet teeth, I trusted her. Thankfully JJ’s does have some good brownies, muffins and some passable croissants. The kids were happy playing their devices and I was thrilled to get some major best friend time in.

When my BFF was not teaching and we were not hanging out with my kids, we got more quality time in watching (and partially talking through) some of our favorite shows and movies. After my kids go to bed, we have a habit of putting a show we both love and have seen 100 times like Friends on in the background. We usually start off watching the show, but then start talking. Before we know it, three or four episodes have gone by with us only catching about half of what is going on, but not even remotely caring. We also like to hang out, browse the internet and read fun bits of information to each other. On our last visit together (when she came to see me before DC), we spent several hours reading hilarious book summaries and reviews to each other on Amazon. Yeah, I know, we are total geeks, but we both teach literature for a living, so this is big fun for us.

We also continued our tradition of watching movies our husbands don’t really enjoy. We re-watched Bride and Prejudice for the umpteenth time. We broke out into songs in several places and debated the hotness of William Darcy (played by Martin Henderson) and Balraj (played by Naveen Andrews). It was a hard call, but in most scenes we went for Andrews. Of course, that could be because of our undying love for his character Sayid from Lost. While the movie was playing I found myself looking up the actors to see what else they’d been in. When we found out Henderson had played Brittany Spears boyfriend in her “Toxic” video, we had to watch that as well.

My Cousin Rachel was also on our to view list. Neither of us had seen it before, but she’d read the Daphne du Maurier novel it is based on and really liked it. We both really liked the movie and it lead to a great debate about our thoughts on Rachel’s guilt. One thing I desperately miss about my BFF living 10 hours away is our discussions about movies, books and TV shows.

On my last night in Athens, we also kept up a long standing tradition of watching a Mystery Science Theater production. Every Friday her husband makes popcorn and they watch either a Rifftrax or an MST3K. This time it was The Final Sacrifice. Like all movies featured on MST3K, it was horrific, but the jokes of Mike Nelson and his robot pals made it a wonderful, laugh out loud night. I love watching one of these movies the night before I leave because it makes the leaving just a tiny bit easier. Or at least it distracts me from it.

Junkman'sThis trip we did not get to do nearly as much shopping as I’d like. We weren’t able to get a babysitter and since dragging my kids clothing shopping is worse than a root canal (or so I’m told, I’ve never had one, but my BFF assures me, having done both, that this is true), we only got to pop into one store. Usually we get a few hours to shop all our favorite places in downtown Athens and I go home with an outfit (or two) more than I arrived with. My BFF is the best person in the world to go shopping with. She gives me an honest opinion every time and encourages me to indulge, which is something I rarely do. I, on the other hand, keep her desire to spend too recklessly in check. We perfectly balance each other out. Plus, we have a lot of similar taste in clothes. Since there was no way we’d be able to enjoy clothing shopping together, the only store we got to go in is the Junkman’s Daughter’s Brother, a really strange and eclectic Athens institution. My kids love going in there because they have lots of unique items (and TOYS!). I love it for the same reason. The owner seemed really keen on showing us all the anti-Trump merchandise that had come in. I cackled a bit when he said the only good thing about Trump being elected was all the anti-Trump merch he was able to sell. I told him I was glad Trump was making someone happy.

As usual, the visit was over way too soon. It seemed like before I could blink it was time to load my car back up and head back home. My kids and I left at 7:30 in the morning and there were tears all around. My kids were crying because they were going to miss my BFF (and her amazing dog) so much. My BFF and I were sobbing because it will be five more months until we see each other again.

We’d gotten a bit spoiled seeing each other three times in the as many months and this stretch is going to be hard. Even though I know I will see her again on spring break and we will have an amazing time, it was just as hard to leave her on Saturday as it was the first time I pulled away from her house four years ago. She is my family and without her, home just doesn’t seem quite like home.

2 Comments

Filed under bad days, books, clothing, cool links, cool places, entertainment, food, good days, love, movie references, my daughter, my friends, my son, nostalgia, products, ramblings, reading, the arts, travel, TV, what makes me me

Free Reading Friday:The Pretender

The PretenderI have a policy that if a student asks me to read a book they either love or really want to read for a project, I always read it. This has lead to some wonderful literary finds.

It’s also lead to some real stinkers.

My most recent student inspired read is The Pretender: My Life Undercover for the FBI by Marc Ruskin. As part of my AP Language and Composition class, students have to read four works of non-fiction and do a variety of essays/projects based on them. The only catch is that the book has to come from a list of non-fiction books I’ve read. I do this in an attempt to not only curb cheating, but also to be able to provide them with helpful insights and discussion should they find themselves struggling when reading or when trying to figure out what to write/do a project about.

The list I’ve come up with for them to pick from is fairly extensive. There are about 200 books on the list (and I’m always adding more). Although a large chunk of them are memoirs, I also have everything from sports to politics to cooking on there. I have some great books that deal with social issues as well as ones that offer insights into other cultures I’m sure my students are completely unaware of. My goal is to broaden their horizons and make them view life through a different lens.

So, when one of my students brought me Ruskin’s book because she wants to get it on my list, I was eager to read it. Most of my knowledge about the life of FBI agents comes from The X-Files, so I figured it might be time to learn something slightly more factual.

The premise of the book intrigued me. I was excited about the prospect of hearing the ins and outs of undercover life. I wanted to know everything from all the background work that has to be done before an undercover agent goes on assignment all the way through sentencing the guilty parties.

This book definitely covered a lot of the backgrounding elements of the cases and even had some fairly specific details about the actual undercover experiences, but I found it lacking in follow through. Each chapter relates to a case Ruskin worked. After finishing each chapter, I was left with a lot of questions. Some of those questions probably couldn’t be answered due to confidentiality issues with other agents or case information which is still not available to the public. However, the majority of the missing info seemed like it was just oversight and bad story telling.

Ruskin admits right off the bat that he’s an FBI agent, not a writer. And that is very apparent. While many of his stories were probably fascinating, I got so distracted by his writing style at times that I found it hard to concentrate. I wanted him to tell the story, not tell me that he was going to eventually tell the story (especially since he rarely fully delivered on those promises). Ruskin has a nasty habit of starting to tell a story and then stopping and telling the reader they’ll hear more on that later. But he doesn’t mean later in the chapter, he means sometime much later in the book. And these attempts at foreshadowing are not effective as they completely distract from the story he should be telling in that chapter AND are set up to be hugely important bits of information that he doesn’t fully elaborate on later.

He also spends a lot of time complaining about all the aspects of his job he didn’t like. I totally get why he did it, but it not only got really annoying at times, but truly interrupted the flow of his story. I wanted to hear much more about what happened on the cases and less time about the red tape he got caught up in.

It also got harder and harder to swallow that he was the only one who really knew how to do things right. I realize that in many situations his life was in serious danger. He was completely in the right to demand that he was protected and to be very angry when he was not. However, his voice in the narrative is so cocky at times that it gets harder to sympathize with him when the Bureau leaves him in danger because I knew it was going to be paired with a huge excoriation of the Bureau that left him looking like the only competent person working there.

I’m interested to see if my student ends up using the book for one of her projects. She asked me for my honest opinion when I finished the book and I gave it to her: the stories were interesting, the writing was frustrating.

 

Leave a comment

Filed under addictions, books, cool links, education, entertainment, life as a teacher, pet peeves, ramblings, reading, teaching, the arts, what makes me me

Free Reading Friday: Replica

Replica 1I am a huge Lauren Oliver fan. My best friend and I share a love of YA fiction and she suggested Oliver to me several years ago. I started with the Delirium series and have been hooked ever since. I especially appreciate that Oliver has not gotten herself stuck into one type of writing. While the Delirium series is dystopian, Before I Fall and Panic all take place in the real, modern world. She hasn’t even pigeon-holed herself as just a writer of YA fiction as she also has her adult novel Rooms, which is a ghost story of sorts, but securely set in the very real world.

I wasn’t sure quite what to expect with Replica, but I was instantly pulled in by the cover. Not only is the book decorated in a really cool duel toned book jacket with bright butterflies, but depending on how the book is flipped, it tells two different, but intertwined stories. I’ve never read a book like this before, and even if Oliver had not written it, I might have picked up a copy because the concept was so cool.

One half of the story is the story of Lyra, a “replica” living at the Haven Institute. From the very start of the narrative, Lyra tells the reader that she is not human, but a replica (clone), made at Haven. Lyra’s story chronicles her life in Haven as well as her escape from Haven and her connection to Gemma, the main character of the book’s flip story.

Gemma is a teenage girl living with very strict parents in North Carolina. She and her best friend April call themselves “aliens” because they’ve never quite fit in with the other kids in their class. She feels ostracized from her peers in part because of her history of childhood illnesses, in part because of her parent’s strict eye on her and in part because she is teased for being overweight and a “freak.” Gemma also feels disconnected to her parents, especially her father, who she feels has never really loved her. After a strange incident that links her father to a mysterious place called Haven, she goes on a quest to find out just what her father may be hiding from her.

Although the two stories stand alone as completely separate stories, they also intertwine in very key moments to make a bigger, more complete (and compelling) story. Although I liked both stories on their own, I definitely felt pieces were missing at times. I was particularly dissatisfied with the ending to Lyra’s story…that is until I read Gemma’s and both stories were completed.

Well, as completed as the first book in a series can be. Oliver definitely sets the book up for more to come.

Although readers can technically read the stories in either order, there is definitely a reason that the words run down the spine correctly when Lyra’s story is the first one (and the reason there is a bar code on Gemma’s story). The book is more complete and more rewarding if Lyra’s story is the first one.

I cannot wait for our school library to get a copy of this book because I know my students will be lining up to read it. I also cannot wait to read the next book in the series, Ringer, which just came out.

Leave a comment

Filed under addictions, books, cool links, entertainment, life as a teacher, my friends, products, ramblings, reading, teaching, the arts, what makes me me

Throwback Thursday: Friendcations

IoPI recently returned from a glorious and much needed friendcation at the Isle of Palms, South Carolina. For those of you who don’t understand my completely made up word, a friendcation is a vacation taken by a group of amazingly close best friends who, thanks to the cruel hands of time and career, have been flung all over the country and rarely get to see each other.

My particular group of best friends found each other in college. We all met in various ways during our freshmen year of college and quickly became inseparable. The core group of us are all from more than slightly dysfunctional families (and all but one of us have divorced parents). We went to college seeking knowledge, but it turns out we were looking for a bit more. We were looking for family.

And that’s exactly what we found. I have lived every significant event in my life with these people. I’ve also lived most of the very insignificant ones with them. At several times in my life, I think they are the only reason I kept going. I know with absolute certainty that I would not be who I am today without them. I also know that I cannot begin to thank them for all they’ve done for me or to express to them just how much I love them. But luckily, I know I’ll never have to. They already know. It’s part of what makes us, us.

Not only are we close emotionally, but for most of our adult lives, we’ve lived close to each other as well. Up until 4 years ago when she finally landed her dream job as a professor of literature at a wonderful university, my best friend in the entire universe lived right around the corner from me. Not long before then, another one of my besties and his girlfriend moved out to Arizona (and then Colorado) so that she could pursue her dream of getting her PhD in psychology. The third in our group actually moved away much earlier to pursue a career in political journalism in Washington, DC, but since he still has family in the state, we saw him a few times a year.

As of now, there are only two of us still in Indiana and it breaks my heart on a regular basis.

Thankfully, two years ago my Colorado bestie and his girlfriend decided to get hitched. Rather than have some crazy elaborate wedding with hundreds of guests, they invited only their closest friends and family members for four days of merry making and celebrating. We all jumped on planes and piled into the biggest, nicest vacation home I’ve ever stepped foot in for one of the best long weekends of my life. Not only did I have the honor of seeing two people I love very much vow to love each other forever (in a gorgeous lake side ceremony in the mountains), but I got to spend 4 solid days with the people I love most in this world (well, at least outside of my immediate family).

Over the course of those four days we tried to escape from a Phantom of the Opera-themed escape room, went on the best scavenger hunt ever, saw a fantastic burlesque show, played drunken Street Fighter at a video game bar, ate a ton of amazing food, helped prepare a few million pounds of food with very dull knives, had drinks at a super swanky bar I do not think we belonged in, played trivia, partied until hours of the morning I’d forgotten existed outside of shoving a bottle into a baby’s mouth, had some funky eggs benedict (my favorite breakfast food) at a super groovy brunch place, and ya know, went to a wedding.

It was so fantastic that we all decided we had to do it again.

DestinSo last year, right smack in the middle of September, my best friends and my Colorado besty’s wife’s best friends found ourselves barreling toward Destin, Florida. Once again we rented a HUGE house. This time it had not only a hot tub, but also a pool. The weather was gorgeous and we spent four days playing on the beach, swimming, hot tubbing, racing go-karts, chasing each other on water bumper boats, eating amazing food, playing D&D (did I mention we are all geeks to the core?), singing karaoke, and biking around town. It was amazing.

When it was time to get back in the car and drive home, I didn’t want to. I knew that the second the car pulled away I would start missing them all so much. And I did.

I went back to work the next day and thankfully it was a silent reading day in two of my classes (the entire period isn’t silent reading, just 25 minutes). I’d just started a new book called Why We Came to the City by Kristopher Jansma. I didn’t really know anything about the book, but I loved the cover. It turns out that in many cases you can judge a book by its cover. In the first few pages of the book I knew I’d found the perfect book for me. The book centers on four best friends who met in college. Four friends who became family and still lived near each other, supporting each other through everything. I swear Jansma wrote this book about my friends.

As soon as silent reading time was over and my students started journaling, I logged onto my personal email (something I rarely do at school) and sent my friends a message containing a quote from page 5 that perfectly described us: “Sometimes we missed those who hadn’t come to the city with us–or those who had gone to other, different cities. Sometimes we journeyed to see them, and sometimes they ventured to see us. Those were the best of times, for we were all at home and not at once. Those were the worst of times, for we inevitably longed to all move here or there, yet no one ever came–somehow only left. Soon we were practically alone.”

It was like Jansma knew us. It was beautiful and heartbreaking all at once.

This year, we once again got to take our friendcation. This time, we landed in Isle of Palms, SC. We all stayed in the beach house my sister-in-law owns. Although it lacks a private pool, it is right next to the ocean, so we still managed to have lots of fun. We explored downtown Charleston, went on a ghost tour, tried out a gastro pub, played D&D again, sipped super fancy beers in a roof top bar that one of my friends joked we were not young or pretty enough to be in before leaving to go to a complete dive bar where we were definitely the best looking people, and sang karaoke. Most importantly, we stayed up until the wee hours of the morning talking and laughing and having the most fun in the world together. One of the best parts is that I actually flew into Atlanta so that I could ride to SC with my best friend, her husband and our wonderful reporter friend, which meant a full day of very exhausting traveling, but one spent with the best people.

On the way to the airport, we started making plans for next year. We all want to see the Big Easy, so I hope we can make it happen. I know that no matter what is going on in my life, I will make this next trip a priority. I miss my people too much not to.

Leave a comment

Filed under books, cool links, cool places, entertainment, food, good days, love, my friends, nostalgia, ramblings, reading, the arts, travel, what makes me me

Free Write Friday: The Epidemic

the epidemicI really like the concept of this book series by Suzanne Young. I also greatly enjoyed the very first book in the series, The Program. For those not familiar with the series, it is yet another offering from the dystopian YA genre. In the world of The Program, suicide has basically become a communicable disease. The Program exists to save kids, in a very Minority Report way, who are potential victims. It’s a very interesting concept and I greatly enjoyed both the characters and the plot.

After the first book though, it’s been a bit downhill for me. Not only did the plots get decidedly more convoluted with every book, but keeping the books in order–considering how similar the titles and cover art all are–is next to impossible.

Because they couldn’t have been written and released in the order of the actual series. That might be too easy. Book one came out in 2013 and book two followed the next year. But then, came book .5, a prequel to the series, followed by book 2.5. then book .6 and finally, at least until this date, book 3. Are you confused yet? Because I sure as heck am.

Jumping back between the stories of Sloane, Realm, and Quinlan–some of whom never meet and have no direct connection, is disorienting.

On top of all that, book .6, The Epidemic, also has a convoluted plot which is hard to keep track of.

One consistent issue I have with the entire series is the element of romance in it. I have no problem with teenagers having relationships in books. I understand why teen characters have sex in books (they do in real life too). What I don’t understand is the overwhelming number of characters in this series who have found their true loves/soul mates before they even hit 18. It is unrealistic, to say the least. Granted, considering that in this series suicide is contagious and can apparently be passed from one person to the next just like a cold virus, I guess anything is possible.

That’s another issue I have with this particular book. In this book, Young basically tells readers that there is a patient zero for this suicide disease and that merely talking to her causes people to become suicidal. Again, more than a bit far-fetched.

The ease in which the main characters are able to escape at the end of the book lacks major believability for me, especially when books 1-2.5 are taken into consideration.

Still, I want to see how it ends, so I’ve just started book 3 (the title of which is so generic that it evades me now).

Leave a comment

Filed under addictions, books, cool links, entertainment, pet peeves, products, ramblings, reading, the arts, what makes me me

Free Reading Friday: El Deafo

El DeafoIf my 100 book reading challenge on Goodreads and my Pop Chart Lab 100 Essential Novels challenge was not enough, I’ve also decided to take on the Pop Sugar reading challenge. Although I didn’t officially jump on board with the Pop Sugar challenge until two weeks ago, I went back through my Goodreads list for this year to see how many categories I could check off the new list.

Thanks to my rather diverse reading habits this year, I already have 80% of the Pop Sugar list done. I was in the school library last week talking to our librarian (who is one of my best friends) about the categories I’d yet to fill. When I mentioned that one of the boxes I had not yet checked off was a book by an author with a disability, she immediately headed for the stacks and came back with El Deafo.

Even though this is a graphic novel, it took me a bit of time to read. It’s a fairly substantial sized graphic novel and while it does not overwhelm the reader with words, the words Bell uses are weighty and really make readers pause to put themselves in her place.

This autobiographical graphic novel is Bell’s story of being born into the hearing world, but losing most of her hearing to meningitis at age 4. The book, which has all the innocence of young childhood, is an amazing look at how hard it would be to find oneself suddenly pitched into silence. And as if that was not hard enough for Bell, growing up in the 1970’s, hearing aid technology was overly clunky and anything but stealthy. So not only did Bell feel isolated from the hearing world due to her disability, but because of the large, bulky hearing aid pack she had to have strapped to her chest so that she could hear her teachers (who were using a microphone connected to it), she was an instant target for speculation and mockery by her peers.

Interestingly, my first year of teaching, I had a student in my 7th grade English class who used a microphone/hearing device. Thanks to the passing of a few decades, all her peers could see were the hearing aids in her ears, but every day during class, I had to wear a rectangular microphone device around my neck. The device, which was about the size of a Galaxy phone, although MUCH thicker, enabled her to hear everything I said in class very clearly. Unfortunately, as one of the science teachers found out, it was powerful enough to also follow teachers out of the room and into the bathroom, where the poor girl then had to listen to her teacher pee. Bell has similar situations with her device and her visual portrayal of it, immediately called to mind the red-faced embarrassment my colleague felt when she realized our student really could hear everything, pretty much all over the school, if it was not turned off. I can only imagine the conversations that young lady heard over the years.

Bell takes readers on a journey through her elementary years, which find her struggling both to find a way to “hear” everyone in her world, but also to make friends. Making friends is hard enough for the new kid in school, which Bell is when her family moves after her kindergarten year. Bell shows readers how those difficulties are compounded for students with disabilities.

However, through it all, Bell shines. Her alternate persona, El Deafo, becomes a superhero sweeping in to save the day. In doing so, she manages to save herself.

A simply wonderful book that I think every teenager (and adult) should read.

Leave a comment

Filed under books, cool links, education, entertainment, life as a teacher, nostalgia, products, ramblings, reading, teaching, the arts, Uncategorized, what makes me me