Homegoing

Evil begets evil. It grows. It transmutes, so that sometimes you cannot see that the evil in the world began as the evil in your own home.

I relate to the world through books. In light of the recent election, I’ve tried to figure out what to read to help me understand what happened. As I bulk up my reading list with political treatises, calls to action and historical reviews, this book was already on my nightstand. It was the book for discussion at my library’s book group this month and it was perhaps more timely than expected when selected over the summer.

Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi tells two parallel stories of a family tree starting in Ghana; one sister is sold into slavery and taken to the American south, the other sister is married off to a white colonialist in their native home. Each chapter tells the story of the next generation until at the end when the two branches of the family tree meet again in “current day” to bring the story full circle.  The timing of the novel is a bit off (I stuck to thinking about each chapter as taking place in a vague time period and not worrying if characters were still alive that probably should not have been) but I think Gyasi wanted to make sure certain generations were in place for certain events such as Birmingham coal mining by prisoners and the unionization of the mines later in the South or in Ghana, the conflicts of colonialism over time as well as the overarching evil of slavery that threads through both storylines. The stories are all powerful (some stronger than others as often happens when your chapters are basically vignettes that could stand on their own). I would also note Gyasi is strongest in her African chapters; her American chapters could sometimes feel like they are out of Hollywood’s central casting. I did wonder a bit if that may have been slightly intentional; that she was using the stereotype as a sort of shorthand and that the reader could then fill in the character blanks as a sort of self-examination. But that could be years of readers’ response theory rearing its head.

For me, the American chapters definitely held up an ugly mirror. For one, several are set in Harlem, in the north. In fact, the family is part of the Great Migration of African American families to the north during the early 1900s. Now, in school, growing up in the northeast, I think we’re taught a quiet sort of pride in that. We were “better”; we weren’t “racist” because African Americans could make a life for themselves in the North. It is a way, I see now, we comfort ourselves. The north could be, often was, just as bad. I liked that Gyasi did not sugarcoat Harlem of the 1920s. The lead character in that chapter wanted to be a jazz singer and was told continually she was too dark to make it big, no matter her talent. Her husband, light skinned enough to pass as white, leaves her and starts a family with a white woman. It made me reflect on how I was taught about African American history growing up in a almost all white northern suburb. I definitely had guilt and shame but was comforted again with this idea that we were “better” than the south. Later history classes corrected me on that and Gyasi makes a powerful statement about it here by illustrating it but not overtly addressing it. In light of recent events, I think perhaps the comforting message of high school history class had stuck with me more than I thought. I also find, living in the south now, that I cling to my northeastern identity more and more. In a sense, willfully other-ing myself at times as a comfort. Gyasi doesn’t let you do that in this read; we are all culprits. We all allowed this to happen and we are all tainted by the history of slavery and what it led to, both in the Americas and in Africa.

Gyasi is also touching on other aspects;  I think she is saying some powerful things about masculinity, both white and black. A particularly heartbreaking chapter features a gay man deciding to follow the standard path open to him; marrying the woman his uncle arranges for him. She touches on social class and how that intersects with race and gender as well. From an artistic perspective, she’s also just telling a fascinating story of one family and its parallel branches and doing it with lyrical language. Her African chapters especially paint a vivid picture of the time periods she is capturing. The book very helpfully comes with a family tree in the front so the reader can keep track of where in the family they are as the book progresses.

While I have been adding lots of non-fiction to my reading list lately to help me understand our new world, this book reminds me why fiction is always my favorite. It can bring to light the world we inhabit in much truer ways sometimes that simply recounting the facts.

In need of some inspiration

Last week was long. I was away from Tallahassee, traveling for work and it was just the week that would not end. In the middle of it, I needed inspiration so I started thinking about my fictional spirit animals; the fictional ladies I want to be when I grow up. In times of trouble, I admit, I retreat into fiction. I’m trying very hard not to do so here. So, I’ll post this here for inspiration, for those days my news feed will make me cry and remember these ladies. They may have been afraid sometimes, discouraged, annoyed, angry but they always acted as they saw fit and made the tough decisions when they needed to. So, my fictional hall of fame:

Agent Peggy Carter

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Seriously, when I grow up, I want to be just like Peggy. She is smart, resourceful, bold and is not afraid to tell it like she sees it. But, she also knows how the game is played so she has to be extra clever to get around all the ridiculous male misogyny in her line of work. We need more Peggy Carters front and center for girls and boys to see what is possible, regardless of gender. I know the character isn’t going anywhere but I was bummed that the TV show wasn’t more successful. Her portrayer, Hayley Atwell is also #lifegoals so it was a win-win in both fiction and reality!

Leslie Knope

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Leslie Knope is a spirit animal of sorts. The woman can do things with binders and organization that made me actually get teary at times watching this show. But mainly, she is eternally optimistic and sure that she can make changes in the world around her. She refuses to get bogged down by all the naysayers and traditionalists around her but continues to work and fight for what she believes in. She even wrote a letter to America after the recent election and folks, it gave me life.

Amelia Peabody

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Amelia doesn’t have a movie or tv show yet; criminal really. I’ve always cast Kate Winslet for her in my mind though and Tom Hardy for her rapscallion husband Emerson. Amelia is a take no prisoners sort of person. She is happiest when organizing the lives of everyone around her and solving murders while she does it. She is brilliant and independent; her marriage proposal to her husband is one of the best things ever. And their marriage a thing of beauty; Amelia never loses herself in it but I think becomes the best version of herself. (which is a common thread for my fictional role models; all had strong partners for love interests. Example A: Ben shaking his head next to Leslie in the above gif).

Anne Shirley

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Anne is a bit of a mess at times but she always pulls through. Smart, funny, and still sensitive after living a life that would have hardened most. Her imagination is perhaps the thing I love most about her; the world is a stage for her mind to go wild and she’s another optimist for us to aspire to be like. The type of friend who sees the rainbows through the rain.

Belle

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My first bookworm role model; the heroine who taught me what it was to be a heroine. To fight for those you loved even against crazy odds (and to always have a book on hand). The Disney princesses can be problematic, it’s true; but Belle has a backbone on her and never lets the world and the little minds she’s surrounded by get her down. She always dreams of adventure and does not settle for less than what she wants.

This morning

I am sure many will use this trite metaphor this morning but I need to write it down so I remember what this feels like. It was like watching a train wreck. After awhile, the result was foregone, no matter how much you stared at it in disbelief and horror and yet, you kept watching. Hoping against hope something would happen to stop what you were seeing. You are baffled as to how it could have started. There were people, smart people, who’d engineered the train, the tracks. There were people, trained people, running the train itself. There were people, qualified people, monitoring the train, its trajectory. There were people, skilled people, who’d performed maintenance, checked for mechanical problems, before it left the station. And somehow, there you stood, watching this thing – this massive, impressive, terrifying thing – skew from the tracks going 100 miles per hour, taking out everything around it. And all you could do was watch as the train came careening right at you, at everything you stood for, everything you believed in, and then, then after you stand there watching, it slams into you. In that moment, you suddenly know that nothing you thought was true. Everything you’d thought could not possibly happen, not today, not in this country and this world which is supposed to be better, happened. And in that moment, you’re suddenly ok that the train is about to take you out because you’re not sure you want to deal with what comes next.

We don’t have that luxury. We survived the train wreck. What we do now, what we do next, and for the next four years, is incredibly important. It is OK to despair for a moment, to realize something we’d taken for granted was wrong. To realize we clearly were not where we thought we were to prevent the wreck. Now, we have to learn, we have to rebuild, we have to understand how we got here and how to fix it. I am feeling terrified and I am feeling motivated. I don’t know my country right now, I’m not sure I want to this morning but this morning will pass and tomorrow will come and the day after and the day after that. We need to fight, we need to work and we need to fix this system, this culture, this country which watched the train wreck with me. We can do better, we will do better.

On the road again…

I have a lot of travel back scheduled into this year. And on top of that, busy work schedules, a fun sinus infection and other various commitments and you get this, my first post in a month being written in an airport during a 3 hour layover. I swear I’m still here!

And still chugging away on my reading goal for the year. I have surpassed my GoodReads Challenge total for the year (I’m currently on book 98 out of the 85 I wrote in for the challenge) so that one’s crossed off the list. My quest to finish half-started series though is still moving along as best I can. I got a little side-tracked for a bit (again). I’ll have gotten a good chunk done and off my list. I can’t decide if I want to keep up that challenge for the first part of the upcoming new year or if I want to go down one of the other paths of my to-read list that I’ve been brainstorming (the books on there the longest, pick a genre, a topic, an author etc.). All that aside, here’s what I’ve been reading (well, most of it; I spare you the many romance novels I sneak in everywhere) since we last spoke:

The Serpent on the Crown (Amelia Peabody #17): I have been savoring this series. Mainly because after many years, I am on homestretch. Once I get to #19, that’s all she wrote (literally). I was bummed to find out, #19 is one of the novels that takes the family back in time to fill in gaps Elizabeth Peters skipped earlier in the series so #18 will actually be the “last” story of the Peabodys in the 1920s. I’ll miss Amelia; one of my most favorite literary role models. But I still have two books up my sleeve for this series so I’m going to drag it out.

The Dead in Their Vaulted Arches (Flavia de Luce #6): Flavia remains one of my favorites as well but she’s becoming increasingly a character who needs a big sister in her life. Ironically, she has 2 of them but Flavia is marked and this chapter finally explains why she is so separated from her family. This installment was also, what’s the right word? Painful to read at times. Flavia goes down a dark path for a while, one in which she desperately needed a big sister to stop her from and that was hard to read. She’s having some major growing pains and I hope the author can steer her through and still keep Flavia all the best parts of herself.

The Unusual Suspects (The Sisters Grimm #2): This is one of those series I had forgotten about and then was bummed I had because it’s lovely, fun, imaginative and also, somehow, realistic (unlike the Into the Wild series which has a similar fairy tale trope and which I abandoned after 50 pages because every character was annoying me and I can’t imagine how I liked the first book). We have a main character in that fun early stage of her teenage years here which can be annoying but she had only a mild case of Book 5 Harry Potter Syndrome. She’s also surrounded by such fabulous characters and a story that gets more intriguing by the second that I survived her. Also, there is a teenage Puck in these books; what is not to like?

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child (Harry Potter #8…sort of): I must have started at least 3 different blog posts about this book on its own and I just…can’t articulate my reactions to this book very well. I enjoyed it; I liked the idea behind it. I, as I always expected, adored Scorpius Malfoy, wanted to smack Albus because he’s just like his father and want to SEE this. I think just reading it does it an injustice. That said, I am one of those fans that finished the HP stories in my own head a long time ago and I had a hard time adjusting my mind to this ending Rowling has endorsed. I have my own stories for James, Albus and Lily, not to mention Rose Granger-Weasley and Scorpius Malfoy. And to be honest…I like my endings better. So while I liked this, I appreciated it, I would LOVE to get to see it realized on stage someday, I think I’ll just keep my own stories for the kids as my canon and go on my merry way.

Changeless (Parasol Protectorate #2): This broke my heart but I abandoned this. I adored the Finishing School series by the same author (see last blog post) but I remember struggling to like the first book in this series as well and the second book fared no better. I didn’t like the characters, the story was moving at the pace of molasses and…it wasn’t giving me what I wanted. What I wanted was the Finishing School characters to pop up, to give me some sort of connection to this storyline and why I should care and it just wasn’t happening. It’s on my try-again someday list though so maybe 3rd time will be the charm with this series.

The Dead Ladies Project: Exiles, Ex-Pats, and Ex-Countries: I ran out of room in my to-read drawer when I bought a new book so a book needed to come out. Considering this one has been in there since last November, it seemed like its time had come. I don’t think I would like this author if I ever met her; she is need of someone who would be more sympathetic that I would be. To be frank, a friend who’d smack her, tell her to get over herself and to start by showing her married lover the door, would probably be a good idea right about now. However, I liked the stories she told around the places she was living and the authors she chose to see her new home in a different light. I learned a lot about authors and composers I didn’t know before and, to be honest, about cities I had never heard of. I liked the use of literature and geography to explore her story but her story seemed overcomplicated by…her. A lot of angst going on it this book but if you plow through that, the idea is very cool.

Ghostly Echoes (Jackaby #3): I literally finished this an hour ago (writing on Sunday in an airport remember) and I need the next book NOW. This series is one of my current favorites. It has fabulous heroines, magic, mystery, a hint of romance and a delightful supernatural detective who gets better with each book. In this latest story, Jackaby and his intrepid crew of mortal and immortal gumshoes are getting closer to figuring out who the Big Bad is that’s been leading them on a merry chase for 3 books now. I loved seeing Jenny, the resident ghost of the crew, get some answers in this book as well as see her come into her own. The strength of Jenny has always been hinted at but it was awesome to get to see her kick some ass and take some names in this book. One of the best things about this series is the strength of its heroines (and its villainess) and it’s wonderful to see the series keep building on that strength.

Some series are hard to describe…but they are still awesome

Ever read a series and try to describe it to someone and have them look at you like “this sounds nuts?” I have many of those. There is the series that is about assassin nuns in 12th century Brittany who are also daughters of Death (literally). There is the other series about an alternate 1980s where time travel is real and you can actually get yourself into a fictional world with the right skills. And then there is the series I just finished in an alternate supernatural steampunk Victorian England set in a finishing school for lady spies. On one hand, such a description sounds nuts and because of that, people fail to see just how spectacularly awesome this series is.

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Cover from the 3rd book in the series (I love the bladed fan!) 

The Finishing School series by Gail Carriger follows the hijinks of a Miss Sophronia Temminnick and her fellow students as they attend Mademoiselle Geraldine’s Finishing Academy for Young Ladies of Quality. A finishing school which has one purpose in mind: to turn its students into lethal intelligencers. It’s also a floating dirigible which just might make it the coolest boarding school outside of Hogwarts. Over the course of four years, Sophronia and her gang manage to save themselves and the realm a number of times before graduating and gallivanting off on their next adventure.  There are also vampires, werewolves, and a notorious secret society called the Picklemen who are usually up to no good (the name alone is insulting to Sophronia, ladies are apparently not welcome).

Sophronia is a fantastic heroine; she reminded me some of my other favorite precocious and lethal leading ladies, Flavia de Luce and Theodosia Throckmorton. You get those three together in a book and fiction won’t know what hit it. She also has a pet robotic dog, a best friend in one of the sooties running the boiler for her school and the sharpest mind to even try to seduce gossip out of poor unsuspecting evil geniuses in training her school has yet seen. She’s the sort of character you wish you could be like but are secretly exhausted by. As her friends basically say to her often, she has no off switch.

It’s a series you can read fast and you should since it is complete now. You don’t have to wait to find out what happens next and Sophronia and her friends will not disappoint. I am excited now to re-visit and finish the other series Ms. Carriger has which is set in the same universe as The Finishing School books just 25 years later. Dashing off now!

Some Fall Cooking

I just sort of decided if the weather wasn’t going to be obliging and turn more fall-like, I would just start cooking like it was getting cool and crisp outside. Of course that means my A/C is working overtime but I don’t much care at this point (well, yes, yes I do but I’ve decided to be irrational about it).

I’ve made three tasty recipes via the crock pot over the last two weeks and they have been quite successful if I do say so myself. I also, in branching out on breakfast recipes, made my first smoothie for breakfast and while tasty, I didn’t find it especially filling. I like something I have to chew I think for my first meal of the day but I will share all!

Skinny Banana Split Protein Smoothie was my first foray into breakfast drinking. It’s delicious and easy to make. I did a few modifications to my version but I recommend if you’d like to try a breakfast smoothie (original recipe).

Makes 1 Serving

Ingredients
1/4 cup plain greek yogurt
1/4 cup unsweetened vanilla almond milk
1/2 Tbsp unsalted almonds
1/4 cup strawberries, hulled and halved (I also was pretty liberal in what 1/4 cup looked like)
1/2 banana, peeled and sliced
1 scoop vanilla protein powder
3 ice cubes

Directions:
1. Put all ingredients in blender EXCEPT ICE and pulse until smooth
2. Add ice and pulse again until smooth. Serve immediately.

Harvest Apple Pot Roast is next on the list and this may be my favorite of the bunch. It was so tasty! I also loved the thin gravy that is created with recipe (well, it probably could have been thicker; I’m not very good at making gravy I discovered) which I covered my baked potato side with as well. The gravy and meat had a slightly sweet taste to it (I imagine because of the apples) which just made it a different meal to put into rotation. This kept OK for a week but I would suggest eating it faster than that as by the last day, the leftovers were quite dry (and no amount of gravy was helping). (original recipe)

Makes 3-4 servings (depends on the size of the roast you use too!)

Ingredients
1 beef roast (I used one that was about 1 lb and on sale)
2 small to medium yellow onions
1/3 cup chunky applesauce
1 can low sodium beef broth
1 packet Italian dressing mix
Flour for gravy (about 3-4 Tbsp)

Directions
1. Put the roast in a slow cooker. Mix the applesauce, beef broth and Italian dressing mix together in a small bowl and pour over the roast. Cook on high for 4-5 hours or low for 7-8 hours.
2. Remove the roast and onions from the crockpot. Turn the heat to high. In a container with a tight-fitting lid, put 3-4 Tbsp of flour and enough water to make the consistency of wallpaper paste. Shake the mixture together (a lot!) and gradually whisk it into the broth in the crockpot to create the gravy.

Italian Smothered Steak is sort of mis-named in my opinion. It’s basically an Italian Steak Stew. I think maybe you could get out the steak pieces in one piece but mine just broke into big chunks of meat so the stew aspect was born. This is hardy folks fare folks but quite good and the leftovers have been keeping quite well. I have this with a salad to start. (original recipe)

Makes 4-6 servings (depends on the amount of steak you use)

Ingredients
1-2 lbs beef boneless round steak (I used about 1.3 lbs of what was on sale that week)
1/2 tsp salted salt
1/4 tsp pepper
1 medium yellow onion, chopped
1 jar (24-26 oz.) traditional pasta sauce
1 package (9 oz.) refrigerated cheese tortellini
1 medium zucchini, cut lengthwise in half and then cut crosswise into slices

Directions
1. Cut beef into 6 serving pieces; sprinkle with seasoned salt and pepper. Layer beef and onion in slow cooker. Pour pasta sauce over top.
2. Cover and cook on Low for 8-9 hours
3. About 30 minutes before serving, stir in tortellini and zucchini. Increase heat setting to High. Cover and cook 20-30 minutes or until tortellini is tender.

Lastly, I am trying to diversify my breakfast menu (mainly because I am sick of cereal) and so I put out a call on facebook for suggestions and oatmeal came up a lot. I have never liked oatmeal – the texture gives me issues but I thought if I dressed it up enough, I could get past it so I took everyone advice to try it with a recipe for Apple Pie Steel Cut Oatmeal. I smells divine and the fact you put in the crock pot before bed and wake up to your apartment smelling like apple pie is a major bonus. Alas, I still don’t much like oatmeal but I’ll eat this all up over the week as it is quite filling which is something else I was looking for in a breakfast meal, one that actually kept me full until lunch. (original recipe)

Makes 5 servings

Ingredients
1 cup Steel-Cut Oats
4 cups unsweetened vanilla almond milk
2 medium apples, chopped (I used Gala)
1 tsp coconut oil
1 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp nutmeg
2 Tbsp maple syrup
Splash of lemon juice

Directions
1. Add all ingredients to the slow cooker and stir. Put on Low for 8 hours or High for 4 hours.
2. Give a good stir before serving and top with favorite toppings like peanut butter, fresh apple or maple syrup.

 

Fall

I miss you. Like, a lot. I was never one for sun and heat and somehow, I ended up living in a place that often resembled the face of the sun to me. I am tired of the sun. It’s so…unrelenting. I want a crisp, cool morning with grey low-hanging clouds, maybe a bit of a mist in the air and if there could also be just a touch of woodsmoke hanging about, that would be heavenly.

Instead, it is will be 93 today. 91 tomorrow. If I’m lucky, we may get a thunderstorm through which means the sun will be gone for a few minutes but when it moves on, it will somehow be hotter and more humid than before even when I didn’t think that was possible. So I will leave these images here and drink my pumpkin spice latte and pretend for a moment that it’s fall outside my window and not a never ending summer.

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