Monday, April 7, 2014

The Fault in Our Stars (2012)

I was pushed really really hard into reading The Fault in Our Stars by John Green. Asia, my 11-year-old niece, wrote the title on all of my note lists. She asked me about it every time we saw each other. She told me it was the Best. Book. Ever. That I HAVE TO READ IT NOW!

So, with that pressure on my back, I finally took the time to download the book and started reading it. It's not often I come across a book I read non-stop until finished. It's not often I take a book (hidden on my iPad) to meetings and read a page or two under the table when the conversation becomes dull. It's not often the whole family reads a book and talks about it during long distance phone calls.

This book is considered children's literature. Really? It's about two kids, teenagers, both dying of cancer. They are smart, clever, deep, intellectual, and care about each other and the big questions. What happens when you die? Is it important (or even possible) to do something heroic that makes your life worthwhile or are we all destined to oblivion any way?

To give you more information about this "amazing book" Asia wants you to read (or else), I now turn my review over to a Q&A session with Asia "the great and powerful"...

Asia, The Fault in Our Stars is a love story. What do Hazel Grace Lancaster and Augustus Waters mean when they tell each other every thing is okay? When Hazel and Augustus say everything is okay, they are referring to their friends, Isaac and Monica, who tell each other "always" so that they will "always" be there for each other. Hazel and Gus mix this statement around to create their own "always;" it is okay.

Which scene in the book do you remember and love the most? The scene from this book that I remember most is Augustus' pre-funeral. SPOILER ALERT!!! I loved this scene because the connection between Augustus and Hazel is emphasized in a way that you understand what they are going through.

Why do you think Augustus carries a cigarette in his mouth but never lights it? Augustus is a very metaphorical person. In the book, Augustus says that he is putting the killing thing in his mouth (the cigarette) but not giving it the power to kill (lighting it). It's a metaphor.

What do you think Hazel means when she says she is like a grenade? Hazel has cancer in her lungs. When she says she is like a grenade, she is stating that one day she is going to blow up and obliviate everything in her wake and she doesn't want to hurt anyone.

Are you glad you found out that Sisyphus the Hamster ended up okay? Yes, because at least when Hazel and Gus went to Amsterdam they weren't totally disappointed.

Even though the "world is not a wish-granting factory," if you had a Genie foundation wish, what would you ask for? I don't know what I would do with my wish. I have a good life so I would probably give my wish to someone who needs it more than me.

Do you think Augustus chose a visit to Amsterdam because he wanted to give Hazel her wish or do you think he chose Amsterdam because he wanted to make Hazel fall in love with him? Or both? I think both because Augustus is a very charismatic person and he wants Hazel to have a good life before she dies but Gus has very strong feelings for Hazel and the trip to Amsterdam shows his affection for her.

Why do you think we like to read sad stories that make us cry? Because it's real life. Real life is hard and it will make you cry. But it also makes you laugh and smile. That is what I love most about this book. You are crying because Hazel is sick or because Gus dies, but you are laughing at the jokes and you feel happy when you think about the love they share for each other!


Sunday, April 6, 2014

Love Story (1970)

Having recently read The Fault in Our Stars, I decided to revisit the love story that broke the young romantic hearts of my generation: Erich Segal's Love Story.

I will say up front and center: The Fault is better. The writing style is more sophisticated. The characters are more developed. The story deals with death more intimately and much more realistically. The connection between Hazel Grace and Augustus Waters is deeper and more heartfelt than the relationship between Oliver and Jenny, even though they are all supposed to be intellectuals of some sort.

Love Story is almost still an outline. The story was published too soon and still needs work. It isn't finished! Yes, it's a classic but it can never be called literature. The success of the story in 1970 must have been due to timing. Jenny was ethnic in an era when the blonde-haired blue-eyed standard of beauty was being challenged by the "other." It was what we wanted to read and see at the time.

Here's a brief summary of the story: Harvard jock meets Radcliffe music student. Oliver Barrett IV has generations of wealth and accomplishment behind him. Jenny Cavalleri is the daughter of an Italian baker, although her father is specifically not an immigrant and does not speak Italian. The social gap between the lovers is wide but the disparity of their class is part of what attracts them to each other. They date, marry while still in school against the wishes of Oliver's parents, and then struggle to make ends meet. Oliver achieves success with his wife's help and then - blam - she dies.

The heart of this story is about Oliver and his father, not about Oliver and Jenny. 

Oliver gets good grades, excels in sports, but is angry at his father because he gets no recognition for his accomplishments. Oliver is expected to do well because he's a Barrett and generations of Barretts have always done well. There's even an underlying suggestion that many of Oliver's accomplishments are due, not to his personal efforts, but instead due to his last name and the financial contributions made by his father.

Jenny is this perfect character with no apparent faults. Everyone in the neighborhood loves her. She sleeps with Oliver without expecting a relationship. She marries Oliver when he's broke and then helps her husband through law school. Jenny doesn't even suffer tremendously when she becomes ill and only asks to be held tightly right before she dies.

Jenny's illness and death scene is shorter and less detailed than Oliver's opening hockey games which play no significant part in the story. (And what's with the doctor telling Oliver that Jenny is sick and asking him to keep the information to himself? WTF? My God, times really have changed.)

Love Story is about how Oliver stands up to his father, makes his way in the world, graduates third in his class without his father's assistance, learns the value of money, and then acknowledges the unconditional love he feels for his father after he has matured and become a successful man in his own right. With a little more work, Love Story might have been a work of literature but probably not the great success it was in theaters.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Recycle: Television

This is my old analog TV to the right. I just handed it off to Ron, the (really pleasant) front desk guy at my condo. I would have posted his photo instead of an old TV next to someone's wheel chair but how do you hand off a TV and then ask someone if you can take their photo? For what purpose?

I'll sneak one in later.

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Repurpose: Fabric

Saving my floral and striped fabric for this …
an old leather chair where the seat cushion becomes an upholstered one.

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Repair: Old Storage Box

We found this box on an abandoned ship. It's roughly built and was probably a first-year shop project given lovingly to a parent who left it behind thinking he'd return some day. Exposure to moisture over the years caused the wood to swell and the lid would no longer shut.

Found box.

I put the box out with the intention of working on it and while I was away Eric sanded the lid down so it will now shut. We then gave the box two coats of polyurethane and tightened the hinges. It's not a beautiful show piece by any stretch of the imagination but it serves me well hidden away on my bookshelf storing note cards and envelopes. Lucile's letters rest on top.

Repaired box.

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Recycle: Hunter Rain Boots (sold)

I bought these boots online a few seasons ago and kept them even though they are a size too big. Here's how it read on craigslist:

Hunter Original Short. Some wear but in good condition. UK5. US7. EU38. (Size down instead of up even if you plan to wear with socks.) $25.00. Local pick up. Cash only. E-mail if interested.

Sold today to a lovely woman named Gigi. She was wearing UGGs (or something similar with no traction) and walking on a crutch. During all of our recent snow and ice, she slipped and hurt her knee. Now she has a brand new pair of boots and I have a little more cash. :-)

post-note: and then I sold a few days later the following brand-new Seychelles to a bargain-seeking girl Myriam for $20.00. An amazingly easy and personal way to clean house without having to devote a entire day to setting up a yard sale.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

An Apple a Day ...

We all know we are supposed to eat fruit and vegetables. So we walk into the grocery store and we pick out the prettiest biggest Snow White apple we can find. It's even got a pretty name, this apple: Red Delicious. We take our big beautiful apple home and we take a nice big bite anticipating ... oh, no, ugh! yuck! The apple is brown and mushy and not that good so we throw it away.

Years go by and I am at the Dupont Circle Farmers Market when I discover the best damn apple I have ever eaten in my whole damn life. I don't remember the variety but I remember the moment well. Quality of food matters.

According to Karen Palmer, the Red Delicious apple has been "hybridized for ... appearance resulting in a taste and texture that is horrid."

A Good Apple
The Fuji apple, on the other hand, is crisp and sweet, consistently so, even at the grocery store. This hybrid was developed in Japan during the 1930s and introduced to the U.S. market in the 1980s. It is a cross between the (horrid) Red Delicious and the old Ralls Genet (from Virginia).

In keeping with my food goals for the month of January, here is a recipe that calls specifically for the Fuji apple:

Quesadillas with Brie, Apple, and Arugula
Combine and stir well:
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
2 teaspoons apple cider
3/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Heat large non-stick skillet over medium heat. Spread one flour tortilla with 1/3 mustard mixture and place, mustard side up, in pan. Arrange slices of brie, rind removed, over one half tortilla. Cook until cheese begins to melt. Place Fuji apple slices over cheese and top with arugula (or spinach, in my case). Fold tortilla in half. Press gently with spatula and cook until golden brown. Repeat two times.

Recipe from Cooking Light.

And since we are talking about apples ... the bad seed.
Palmer also tells us that in 1892 there were around 735 apple varieties available from commercial nurseries. Today there are fewer than 50.

We are about to get a whole new crop of apples, though, such as the Arctic apple that has been genetically engineered so that it won't brown. We will save in waste but we will lose the ability to determine how fresh (and safe) our apple actually is. Here are some of the concerns about the GMO apple:

  • problems with cross pollination and maintaining non-GMO organic products
  • health issues and whether or not we can really trust the USDA
  • genetic labeling requirements that are not yet law
  • how to market the Arctic apple (Beware!)

Recent articles here and here. Conversation here. Definitions following:

Heirloom: a cultivar of a vegetable or fruit that is open-pollinated and not grown widely for commercial purposes. An heirloom often exhibits superior flavor and can produce seeds that will result in seedlings.

Hybrid: a plant that is produced from two plants of different kinds. Companies often patent hybrids so others cannot grow them.

Genetically Modified Organisms: Organisms that have been created through the gene-splicing techniques of biotechnology. This science allows DNA from one species to be injected into another species in a laboratory, creating combinations that do not occur in nature or through traditional crossbreeding methods.

Join the Non-GMO Project here, at least until more has been done to protect our food supply.