Forever a bookworm

Buckle up for some humblebragging.

I could read before kindergarten. In fact, when I went into kindergarten, I once got in trouble for reading the teacher’s lesson plans. THAT WERE IN CURSIVE.

In first grade, during reading time, the teacher sent me to the class with fourth- and fifth-graders to read with them.

All through elementary school we did the Book-It Program with Pizza Hut where you got a free pizza and stuff once you’d read a certain number of books each month. And guess who was at Pizza Hut quite a lot in those days? Yours truly. Because books. And also because pizza, of course.

So, I’m a bit of a reader, you’d say.

My reading got me in trouble when I was in middle school because I decided to try out some more Stephen King after I’d read his “Eyes of the Dragon” and enjoyed it. The book I chose next? “IT.” Weird, suddenly I’m fucking terrified of clowns forever.

Another time books betrayed me – and actually continue to – was when I went to a bookstore. For as long as I can remember, and before, according to Mom, one thing happens when I get to a bookstore. I always have to poop. (We were done with the humble bragging part, in case you were confused.)

For the longest time, I felt alone in my affliction. Was it the excitement of being in the bookstore that caused it? Was it the anxiety of having to pick just one book out of all of these on the shelves? Was it lactose intolerance? (Probably).

But apparently it’s a legit thing that happens to lots of people. And even has a name.

Anyway. All of this is to say I like books. I like reading. My ideal desert island scenario is an endless stack of books, a hammock and Chris Pratt.

It’s also why one of the things on my Life List is “Start a book club.”

Do you know how hard it is to start a book club? (First world problems, I know, shut up). There’s the finding others as interested as you are, coordinating schedules, deciding on books, deciding on food… it’s not as easy as it seems!

My friends and I have mentioned the idea of starting a book club a few times but it never went anywhere. We would be talking about a book one of us read and then say “Oh we should start a book club” and forget about that thought by the next day. We’ve had unofficial tiny book clubs in the past where a few of us will read a book recommended by another one of us and kind of sort of talk about it in passing.

And book clubs in movies and TV always look so exciting. Like all these friends get together and have wine and snacks and talk about a book – THAT’S THE DREAM.

Around sometime in September, with the threat of winter ahead where nobody feels like doing anything, the book club idea got brought up again. But this time, it became more serious. My friends and I decided to actually make it a thing. Mainly for the food.

We got real official with it, too. We figured out a date that would probably work for all of us, decided we’d all bring food and a drink of some sort, and created a poll filled with suggestions of books we all wanted to read and everyone voted on that month’s winner. LEGIT.

And of course there were rules. Basically we’re like a fight club but with reading.

1. You can’t talk about the book with any book club member until we all meet and discuss.

2. Our meetings have to have food.

3. No new members unless we all approve of them.

4. You have to have finished the book by the time we meet up (we’ve gotten slightly lax on this one a couple times since because life.)

The first book we chose was my suggestion – Samantha Irby’s “We Are Never Meeting in Real Life,” because I’d heard about it from several blogs I follow and on Twitter and it sounded right up my alley as far as humor and whatnot.

Reviews of all the books we’ve done so far are at the end of this post.

At that first meeting, a couple of the girls were sick, but the rest of us met and ate entirely too much food (I still dream about the salad bar that Kristen brought). And then settled in to talk about the book. We started with “Did you like the book?” but by the end of it were talking about much deeper stuff, brought there by some of the things the author had written and other things that we’d felt based on what she wrote and how she wrote it.

You guys, my little book nerd heart was so happy…

I don’t know what it was specifically, or if it was a combination of a lot of things. I loved having this time with my friends. I loved that we’d all read the same book. I loved that it sparked discussions of all sorts. I loved that some of us had different opinions and some of us felt strongly one way or another about things. It made me feel somehow more adult – I can’t explain it.

Since that first meeting, we’ve read four more books. We’ve all had all kinds of thoughts and feelings about all of them and the discussions we have had have been as light-hearted as “How were you picturing this character?” or “Were you pronouncing her name this way or that way when you read it?” to “If this was you though, and your child/mother/friend, how would you have reacted?”

It’s been so awesome. And it’s actually pushed all of us to read much more than we had been before we started the Book Club. It’s like suddenly there aren’t enough books and there are too many books all at once.

And I think doing something for five months straight makes it pretty official, so I’m going to go ahead and say we are official. I mean, we even have a Facebook group and a group text, so…

I highly recommend doing something like this with your friends. Maybe it’s not books you talk about. Maybe its a TV show? Maybe you knit or something? Or scrapbook? (I don’t have the patience for those last two but really appreciate those who do, just FYI).

Whatever it is, it’s essential. I consider this a form of self-care. It’s something I look forward to every month and something that makes me happy.

And I’m reading books I may never have picked for myself, so I’m finding new genres I may like which just gives me that many more books to choose from at the bookstore. Which means I have to poop again.

Book Reviews:

October – We Are Never Meeting in Real Life, Samantha Irby
She’s a good writer, don’t get me wrong, but I finished the book feeling bad for her. It wasn’t because of what had happened to her through her life, it was that she was really sad, or seemed to be. The whole book was so self-deprecating. I don’t mind that, in moderation, but when you seem to dislike yourself that much, how am I supposed to like you? I was disappointed because lots of bloggers and writers I follow on Twitter had raved about this book and I basically just tried to get through it.

November – The Girl Before, JP Delaney
This wasn’t a good book. It had an interesting premise, and yes I continued because Book Club but also kinda because I wanted to know what happened next, but at times it veered into Fifty Shades/Twilight territory and it wasn’t really written well so I don’t recommend. Also, thus far it’s the only book we’ve read written by a male author.

 

December – When We Were Worthy, Marybeth Mayhew Whalen ⭐⭐
This book was the first one we’d read I liked. It was a decent story, by a much better writer than the previous month. Small-town drama and a couple twisty things I liked, 8/10 would recommend for a beach read.

 

 

 

January – Little Fires Everywhere, Celeste Ng ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
I really, really liked this book. I’d read some of Celeste Ng’s writing before, and saw this book on like, ALL the “Best of” lists from 2017 so had high hopes. She didn’t disappoint – it was good from start to finish, and though I had the flu the day the girls met, I was FaceTime-d in for some of the discussion, which was definitely the best one we’ve had since we started the club. There’s some serious, complicated stuff in that book and it was awesome to hear everyone’s views on it.

 

February – Rabbit: The Autobiography of Ms. Pat, Patricia Williams
I haven’t started it yet because it’s fairly short and I want it fresh on my mind when we meet for Book Club, which isn’t until the end of the month. Some of the girls have finished it already though and like it a lot, so I’m excited.

 

 

Happy reading, friends!

Advertisements

Land of the free

For the longest time, I thought that “And have a great day” was part of our national anthem.

Why? Because that’s what we heard over the morning announcements after it played in elementary school.

Without fail, as soon as the last words of the anthem were sung, Mr. Haller came over the intercom and simply said “And have a great day.”

It’s one of those things like the Shane Company commercials or my new favorite – Budget for the people – that you can count on to be the same every time you hear it. So you quote it. And if it were to change, well, that’s unheard of.

Sometimes after I hear the anthem to this day I’ll quietly (sometimes, usually it’s loud) add “And have a great day!” Because old habits, you know?

Our anthem was provided by the late Whitney Houston’s Superbowl performance because my elementary school had style. And it was the 90s.

And you better believe I sang along with it, with the same inflection and vibratos and that part where she goes up on “Freeeeee” and holding out the word “brave” at the end… yeah…. that’s a classic. R.I.P. Whitney…

I thought I’d share with you this story today, of all days, America’s birfday. Where I will be celebrating by having a day off in the middle of the week, swimming and probably getting sunburnt, and spending time with family, food and fireworks, the latter of which I will be trying to take some cool pictures with on account of I’ve been doing a little studying. I’ll let you know how that goes…

In the meantime, enjoy your day, enjoy your freedom, thank those who have helped to keep us free and by all means, make sure you watch the annual Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Contest that starts in half an hour.

Traditions, people.

God Bless America.

And have a great day.

How That Vegetarian Thing is going

If you are a frequent or even sometimes reader of this blog, you know that since January 1 I have been living a meatless existence.

I’ve been a pescetarian. Or, if you’re my mom and don’t fully listen all the time when I tell you things, a “presbyterian.” Even though I really am that, too.

Anyways. No meat, just fish. And limited if any, cheese, which has nothing to do with meat really except it comes from the same place and the animals can stay alive and you still will get cheese.

For any of you that might be new, or, to refresh your memory, I gave up cheese after some sent me to the emergency room, and I gave up meat soon after because I found that it was entirely too easy to go to Wendy’s all the time, I felt like crap a lot and I realized it wasn’t even that good.

And it’s gone well, so far.

Sure, sometimes the aroma of Chick-fil-A makes me want to say “nevermind that whole thing, I’ll just grab breakfast nuggets this one time.” And when the new Smashburger showed up downtown, I didn’t enjoy a delicious burger, so much as black beans that wouldn’t stay together in burger form and gave me gas.

Speaking of gas, I also now am officially lactose intolerant. Doctor hasn’t told me, but I know. I. KNOW.

Anyways.

As I said, it’s gone well. For the most part. You see, there have been a couple of setbacks.

My family went out to eat at The Blind Pig like, a month after I made my declaration of almost-vegetarianism. This restaurant is an almost entirely meat-full restaurant. They have bacon ice cream, kids.

I found the one fish item on the menu and was forced to taste the aforementioned bacon ice cream, much to my chagrin. It ain’t bad. And I spit out all the tiny bacon pieces that were in it, so that doesn’t really count.

Then there was the time I was trying to be a good person and didn’t realize my meal had been compromised until it was too late.

I went to pick my grandma up from a short stay in the hospital. She had fallen and broken her wrist and my parents were otherwise unavailable so it fell to me to pick her up and take her home. Not a problem, of course, I love spending time with the little lady. Problem was, we got home and everyone had already finished dinner.

I sat down for dinner with her and was so preoccupied with making sure she was eating OK and wasn’t leaning on her broken wrist and everything that when a plate was put in front of me to eat with her so she wasn’t alone, I blindly took a bite. And then another, and then another. And then realized it was pot roast.

Shit.

I called my mom all anxious and frustrated because I’d been doing so well and how pathetic that I couldn’t even make it more than a couple months without eating a four-legged animal.

You guys, my stress dreams now are about eating meat. Before? They were that I didn’t actually finish school – I’d forgotten to take a class or turn something in or pass a class or whatever and my whole high school or college education was invalid.

Now, when I’m stressed? I dream about eating a hamburger. WTF.

After that, I vowed to pay more attention to everything I ate. Make sure places have a vegetarian option or shrimp or fish. Don’t go to BW3s. Potato soup does have bacon bits in it, even if it looks like it doesn’t.

Which brings us to The Incident.

It happened this past weekend, at a bridal shower for Rebeck.

I’ve been in wedding mode since, like, November, keeping track of showers, bachelorette parties, gifts, cards, invitations, save-the-dates, planning and whatnot.

Kind-of-related: Made a kick-ass ribbon bouquet for Rachel at her two showers. I’m so crafty!

But yeah…you know what a lot of people make to eat for showers of the bridal and baby variety? Pimento cheese.

Ahhh, pimento cheese. You live in or attend a party in the South, there’s a 97 percent chance something there will contain either benedictine or pimento cheese. Yummm.

Naturally, Rebeck’s shower, in Tennessee, was no exception. Except these pimento cheese sandwiches were panini. They were cut up in those cute little triangles and I loaded my plate up (and by load up I mean I took 3).

Delicious. Deee. Lish. Us.

I’m at my second bite of my third sandwich and a sort-of-familiar bit of food hits my tastebuds.

It can’t be.

Noooooooooooooooo.

I look at Rebeck.

“Do these have bacon in them?”

“Yup.”

“Shit. Well. I’m not a vegetarian anymore.”

And I had been doing so well! Obviously this was sabotage. How was I to know these usually meatless sandwiches were now tainted with That Food I Had Vowed Not To Eat?

So, I had three more and vowed to go back to the meatless diet the second I left Sarah’s house.

And I am sticking to it.

Until another Meat Sneak Attack.

But beware. I’ve got my guard up now. I think.

A farewell to cheese

Due to my body’s decision that it no longer can handle cheese, there are some lifestyle changes that have to be made.

And by lifestyle changes, I mean, I’m gonna be the one at the parties standing over there by the veggie tray because I can’t really have anything else.

Not that it’s not a good thing to be giving up that stuff – it’s forcing me to be healthier, which, let’s face it, I’ve needed to do for a while. However, there are the occasional delicious treats I will miss due to the part-self-imposed, part-gallbladder-imposed indefinite hiatus from all things queso.

Oh, and here’s another fun fact, it’s not just cheese, it’s cheese and any kind of creamy sauce – see alfredo, the tastier and more deadly alternative to marinara.

We’re a few days in to the diet I plan to carry out in the new year (and forever, really, if I can make it stick) and so far, so good. However, in my mind I’m slowly gathering the list of things I once could enjoy but now cannot, unless I want to go to the hospital again. No thank you. One ER trip in a lifetime is plenty for me. And the meat thing, well, if I eat meat again it won’t send me to the hospital, but then how will I be able to brag about no longer being a carnivore?

Wanna know the list? Perhaps you can enjoy some of these things in my place. Just don’t remind me how delicious they are.

Things my body rejects but once loved:
• Buffalo Chicken Dip
• Poppyseed Chicken (a.k.a. The Only Thing I Can Cook Pretty Well)
• Fettucini Alfredo
• Spinach Dip
• Macaroni and Cheese
• Tequila Wait a second, how’d that get on there?

The completely self-imposed meat restriction has further-reaching consequences, such as no more Chick-fil-a (let’s not talk about it) or BLTs and you can just forget about that Turkey Tom from Jimmy John’s.

Looking over all these things I’ve listed, none really hurt — except maybe Chick-fil-a, that’s a hard one to deal with — so I think I’ll be able to live without having them just fine.

And when I start to dread bathing suit shopping less than a dentist appointment, I’m pretty sure it’ll be worth it.

Chef Dad

If we’re being 100-percent honest here, I had this blog planned way before Dad commented on a post and said he’d be down to get me a camera for Christmas if he was featured in more posts.

In fact, I should have written this during the summer, when Chef Dad was at the grill in all his glory.

You see, my dad has recently developed an increased affection for food. Not that he eats any more than he did before. He just appreciates it more now.

I have no idea when it started for sure, on account of I don’t live with them anymore, but all of the sudden – earlier this summer – Dad seemed to be talking a lot more about Food Network shows and dinners at their house seemed to be centering more around what could be made on the grill.

Father’s Day was easy this year – easier than it’s been in a while – because we knew what he wanted: grill stuff.

He started looking up recipes, trying different combinations of things and, oh yeah, when we said grace before dinner, a little part was added where we thanked God for Bobby Flay. Dad’s idea.

Now, when food is being made and something’s done wrong, he’s the first to tell you you’d be kicked off Top Chef or Hell’s Kitchen or whatever he’s been watching lately.

He gets a little bossier than usual when he’s grilling, but he’s also in his element out there. He loves it. And he’s even appreciating food more, I think.

Like recently when he took me and Rachel out to lunch and was picking up on the little things they’d done to the burger he got.

This is all from a man who once, while in charge of cooking when Mom was out of town, made us meatloaf that contained two HANDFULS of brown sugar and looked like dog food.

So, as someone who is equally untalented when it comes to cooking, it gives me hope for the future. Maybe I just need to get a grill.

All royal and whatnot

Day 2. We’ve still got a ways to go, kiddos. You’re gonna get tired of this. Or you’re gonna love it. And if that’s the case, I will gladly take that love and support and maybe even money? and use it to move to London and get a job as a tour guide on a double decker bus, or professional PIMM’S taster. You know, wherever I’m needed.

I digress.

Day 2 was probably my favorite day of the trip. I had slept for 13 hours – a new record, I’m pretty sure, followed only by the first night after my appendix came out. But those weren’t consecutive hours of sleep, really. I just slept. A lot. Not much else you can do after you’ve been shanked in three places and they removed an organ.

In unrelated news, I might have ADD.

OH! What did we do the second day? I’m glad you asked.

We started the day with various modes of transportation that finally let us off at Hyde Park/Kensington Palace. If you don’t know Kensington Palace, it’s where Princess Diana lived. And it’s where Prince William and Kate are going to live.

The park is beautiful. It’s huge and filled with people just there to RELAX. What is that? People bring books or kites or picnics or wine (no public intox laws there, y’all) and spend the day just chillin’ at the park.

Or, in the case of this dude, getting some hardcore sleeping in.

We took a walk up to the gates of the palace, where we saw all kinds of cards, balloons, flowers and photos for Diana, since her birthday had just passed.

And then we marveled at the fact that instead of letting Saturday be your catch-up-on-life or nurse-a-hangover day, these people were just enjoying the park. Maybe they were doing one of those two things, but I saw a lot of reading, napping and playing going on. Loved it.

Naturally, because we were at a park and there was a hill, we had Alistair roll down it. And took pictures of it. Here he is after some exhausting hill-rolling.

Then I offered to pay him two pounds if he could tell me my name. This is funny because from the second we got there, he knew Ashley’s name and called me Mommy’s Cousin, which I thought was hilarious. I knew they’d be best friends immediately and I was right. I love being right.

So Ashley photographed the ordeal as he thought and thought and thought before he said “Sally?”

We had a re-test a few minutes later so he earned the two pounds. And knew my name from then on.

So then, we made our way around the palace, past the gardens.

They’re all about free events for the family in London, so while we waited for a table at The Orangery, where we’d be having proper English tea, we watched the old people dance and the kids do crafts and listen to stories until we saw some royal robes they were letting people try on.

Oh yes. You know we jumped at the chance for that photo op.

Here Ash and I are, complete with legit royal faces. Tip: You look more regal if you don’t look directly at the camera. Or crazy. I don’t remember which one.

Alistair and Allyson posed for a few too, with their best royal faces competing the ensemble.

I’ve told you about the tea already but let me reiterate that it was scrumptious and delectable and all that.

After some more enjoyment of the city’s public transportation system, we were home. In time to relax and sit and talk on the patio and have some adult beverages.

I think we had champagne? And then tried this liqueur called Chartreuse, which is green, and which I sent a picture of to my dad, claiming it was absinthe and it was about to get crazy. Because I like to scare my parents.

The best comparison I can make of the stuff is to Goldschlager, which I once threw up into a bowl. Who puts pieces of something that can cut your mouth and throat in a drink? Chartreuse was free of floaties, but it still had a kick.

And by kick, I mean you’re supposed to sip it and even the smallest sip is intense.

Fun fact: It’s made by monks, which begs all sorts of questions.

The aftertaste, however? Delicious.

We had cheese and crackers and grapes and dips and stuff for our dinner while Matthew asked us why we had a Facebook account and what the point is of posting anything to it. To this, Ashley and I replied with, “Um. We don’t know.”

All in all? A pretty perfect day, especially since for this one we were fully conscious the entire time.

Dazzled by the pudds

You guys, people say England isn’t known for its food. And to that, I say, “Pshaw,”
on account of some of the best food I’ve ever eaten I had when I was in England.

For reals. England should be known for its deliciousness.

And, because we are American, we took pictures of pretty much everything we ate. And drank. Which was a lot. Prepare to get hungry.

We didn’t have fish and chips – don’t judge, we gotta save something for next time – but we had all kinds of other stuff.

Like, the second day. When we went all proper English and had tea. Along with tiny sandwiches and some delicious desserts.

Isn’t it pretty?

And that, well, that is just a table full of desserts I could have probably eaten every bit of. Including Victoria Sponge cake. She had the cake made for her every day. It must be so nice to be royal.

Speaking of proper, though, we saw a sign for proper hamburgers. But didn’t have any. I’m not sure what constitutes a proper hamburger, but I imagine you have to wear gloves while you eat it or something.

Possibly – in my opinion anyway – the best thing we had was our breakfast at The Wolesley. A close second was the dim sum and other yummy Chinese food we had that was so amazing we spent our time actually eating it and took no pictures of it.

But our fancy Wolesley breakfast started with these beverages – a cappuccino and an affogato (which Ash and I of course called an Afro Cat). The affogato is a scoop of ice cream – yep for breakfast ’cause I’m an adult and I do what I want – with espresso poured over it.

Our actual meals? Ashley had Eggs Benedict and I had something called an Arnold Bennett omelet.

Kids, I don’t eat omelets in America. This trip changed my life.

Other food highlights?

Ashley got some British candies. And I would have pictures to show you of the display but that wasn’t allowed. So this is Ashley, with her British candies. When we were on the one wrong train we got on our whole trip.

We had some amazing nachos.

And then there was this other dessert that I may or may not be drooling over while writing this.

Yeah. That’s a belgian waffle, with bananas and vanilla ice cream on it and some kinds of sauce. I think chocolate and caramel maybe.

Bangarang.

At a dinner party we had appetizers and an entree that were almost too good for words, followed by Gu cake. Gu with a little doohickey over the u. And the title of this blog post? Written on the side of the Gu cake box. Seriously.

I don’t like cake, but I would marry this stuff. It was that good.

We also found some new favorite drinks. And I’m strictly a beer girl these days so the fact that I loved both of these means they’re REAL good.

This first one, I honestly don’t remember what’s in it. It’s a Tokyo something. And we drank it in two minutes because we had to go catch the tube.

And finally, I’d like to introduce you to PIMMS, a.k.a. THE BEST DRINK I’VE EVER HAD.

OK. So this drink is a type of gin, I believe. The way we had it – and in our opinion, the only way you should drink it – was in a glass mixed with lemonade and garnished with all kinds of stuff.

What kinds of stuff, you ask? Strawberries, oranges, mint and…wait for it…cucumbers.

I ate so much stuff with cucumbers in it in England. And liked it. What is wrong with me? I pick them out of salads here.

So, if you know where in America we can get some PIMMS, especially without paying an arm and a leg, please let Ash and I know. We’ll be your best friend. And we might let you share…might being the operative word there…

20. Family

Today, as is tradition every year on the weekend before Christmas, my family had their annual Christmas party. There’s always a TON of food – and by ton I mean RIDICULOUS AMOUNTS – and we do a white elephant gift exchange. This year there were 30 people that had to steal presents from each other and fight for the best one.

I got a Darth Vader Mr. Potato Head and Juno on DVD. Some people got candy, hot chocolate, lottery tickets and my cousin got a Snuggie. I purchased a Bump-It for the exchange, which ended up going to one of my male cousins, who’s a freshman in high school. Ha.

I love my family. A lot. I have a big family on both sides – mom’s the youngest of six and dad’s the oldest of seven so lots of aunts, uncles, cousins – and am very lucky to be close with both sides. My dad’s side all lives in town so we see them more often and we have several big get-togethers during the year. Christmas is one of my favorites, because unlike Derby and some other smaller parties, it’s one of the times you know for sure that everyone in the whole family will be there. And with the exception of one of my cousins, tonight, everyone was there.

We took part in our new annual tradition of splitting into groups and singing 12 Days of Christmas. Each group gets a different day and we all take turns, of course. Last night my cousin Caitlin, my sister’s boyfriend, Chuckie and I were number 7. After we realized everyone was assigning different objects to their number – like Six Degrees to Kevin Bacon, Five Kings Burping, to which my youngest cousin, Kaleb added a little burp every time – we made ours 7 Single Ladies and did a very short version of the Beyonce dance to that song. It usually results in lots and lots of laughing, some pretty impressive creativity and about five minutes of voice warm-ups, preparation and organizing.

It’s my new favorite Christmas tradition at the family party and it gets funnier every year. And one of several of my favorite memories of my grandpa – who passed away last summer – is from that sing-a-long. The first year we did it, he and my cousin Aaron, who’s the next oldest after me, were day 10, I think. They sang “10 Lords-A-Leaping,” I think, and the best part was that every time it got to them, they sang in a very, very low voice and held their arms out like opera singers.

Like I said, I love my family. I love that we have fun together. I love that we play games like Taboo with almost 20 people involved. I love that I am lucky enough to have such a great group of people in my life. I could go on and on and on and on but it’s late and I have a Survivor finale to finish.

Seriously though. They’re awesome. And they’re my favorite every time of year, of course. But there’s something about having a group of more than 30 people who care about you that you get to spend so much time with and not mind at all that makes it great enough to be on this little list.