761 Books

You may notice that there’s a new page listed on the bar right below the header for this blog. “761 Books” is where I’ll be discussing things I read.
I started with a list of what I’ve been reading lately. It was an odd exercise, because it made me realize that I’ve been reading some really low-brow crap lately, and really enjoying it.  I’ve never been much of a snob, but it was hard not to add something a bit more high falutin’ so I wouldn’t look quite so, well, common.

I would love to hear arguments, comments, and recommendations. You suggest it, odds are I’ll read it and get back to you.

Pink. Nostalgia. Shazam!

When one is in the grocery store, it is not generally expected that a wave of nostalgia will wash over one in the toilet paper aisle. It did though, when I saw this:

pink toilet paper roll

How great is that? I’d never really given it a lot of thought, but when I saw this I realized that I haven’t seen colored toilet paper in ages. When did it go out of style?

I did some quick research, and discovered that after its heyday from the 50’s through the 70’s, it started to lose favor because of the dyes perhaps posing a risk to the environment, and because it cost more to produce. So sad, I didn’t realize I missed it until I saw some in my local grocery store.

These rolls of pink loveliness (goes well with my sleep-deprivation bathroom wallpaper,

 

Find the cure, through wiping

 

no? That’s a whole ‘nother story for another day….) apparently passed the environmental protection censors because it’s all for a good cause — finding a cure for breast cancer. I’m sure it’s all biodegradable and healthy now, so don’t worry.

In my research I’ve discovered a whole new world of toilet paper aficionados — blogs, and web sites, essays and articles. TP is a bigger deal than I thought! By the by, aside from Wikipedia, your one-stop shop for TP talk would probably be Toilet Paper World (glow in the dark toilet paper, anyone? Got some Christmas gifts to buy?).

For me, this  product gave me an oddly nostalgic pleasure, just for a moment. I was talking on the phone to a friend while I was shopping, and when I mentioned the wall of pink toilet paper, she said that she’d had the same reaction when she’d seen it in the store. It spoke to me. I was happy to pay for it, and took it home.

Once home, though, that frisson of nostalgia petered out. I’m not entirely keen on the particular shade of pink, to be honest. And it kind of looks, well, weird.

Nostalgia, in fact, may depend precisely on the irrecoverable nature of the past for its emotional impact and appeal (cf. Linda Hutcheon in this essay). It’s weird to be nostalgic. I don’t feel old enough to be nostalgic, but I guess I am. Besides, it’s not really a function of age, is it? It’s more about the signifiers, iconic images that point to moments in our lives.

The following cavalcade of images represents signifiers that make me feel a frisson of nostalgia. Like the toilet paper, it would probably be a bit of a disappointment if they actually reappeared. Let’s keep them all safely in the past, where they will continue to give me pleasure.

 

blue portable typewriter

We had one of these... wonder where it went?

 

I remember we had one of these. In 5th grade I typed a project on “Australia” with it. It had a case (this is not the exact kind, but I remember it was robin’s egg blue), and you could carry it around.

I loved this typewriter, and even though I failed typing class in high school (sigh) it certainly didn’t hurt that I’d learned where the letters were by 5th grade.

Remember this? I once, over the course of a hot summer afternoon, drank an entire case of can of tab colathis stuff (with the help of my friend Trudy, by the way — not all by myself). That was back when you slathered yourself with baby oil and baked yourself in the sun. Good times, good times.

This particular can doesn’t show it, but remember those cool push top cans? They had two little push buttons, and they were great. Probably a choking hazard. In fact, I remember opening one with my teeth while on the merry go round in the local park. We used to make that thing go so fast we were in danger of flying. It was a lot of fun, but probably banned now, along with those push button can openings.

 

whirly death traps of fun

 

 

And these! Oh, remember these?

Wacky Packages! If I recall correctly, I had a large collection of these stickers on the headboard of my bed. I’m sure that my mother was happy about that.

There was a lot of great candy, back in the day.  I ate it while watching the Shazam/Isis Power Hour. Anyone remember what “SHAZAM” stood for?

Solomon, Hercules, Atlas, Zeus, Achilles, and Mercury.

If I recall correctly, Billy drove around in the desert in an RV, and talked to the above-

 

what a couple.

 

mentioned  Gods.  Isis was an ancient Egyptian superhero who was, for some reason, a school teacher in the modern day (I had to look on Google for that part — couldn’t remember it).

That ends my nostalgic trot through the years of my youth.  To end, some immortal words from the great bard, Lou Reed:

I don’t like nostalgia, unless it’s mine.

Box 761: Pop Culture Edition. Buffy, Vampires, and Bones

I’m a bit tired today. I stayed up watching Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Season 1. Well, only about half of it, but the damage has been done — I now have to watch all of the other seasons and have to find the time to do so.

This sort of thing requires some research, as well. I have to actually find the rest of the seasons (I only bought the first) AND I don’t want to spend a fortune. Thank god for the internet.

A bit of background. I have heard for years about this Buffy show, and never watched it. I

... and, she wears sensible shoes.

think I probably thought I wouldn’t like it, or that it was over-rated as a camp-tastic romp, etc. Then I just plain kind of forgot. But I continued searching for my Buffy-esque brain candy… I tried them all folks — The Dog Ghost Whisperer (which has its moments — I mean, not everyone can pull off that 5 inch heel and lacy bed-jacket vibe like J Lo-Hew, and nobody can rock the false eyelashes like she can).

But hey. I have some taste, and that show got seriously bad when she started playing out her real-life yummy mummy fantasies and they all of a sudden had an abnormally precocious (even by tv standards) 5-year old who was, like, an empath or something. Oh, and her second husband? He’s really her first husband’s soul in her second husband’s amnesiac body and looks to us like the first guy but when you see him in a mirror on the show he looks like some other guy (the amnesiac second guy)….

Too complicated? Yes. And not in a fun way. And they actually canceled it without a final show, but I had stopped watching it by then anyway. How many Friday nights can you spend counting the inappropriate outfits that Melinda wears? (Hey, my husband is in Afghanistan… nothing much else to do).

See? Just trying too damn hard...

I just bought the first season of Buffy, and now see that The Ghost Whisperer is a too-earnest, gawky step-sister to Buffy. Where Buffy is effortless and funny and satirical, TGW is too much a vehicle for Jennifer Love Hewitt’s hunger, too much a pale imitation, too freaking earnest).  The Ghost Whisperer, if it were a person, would be Ashlee Simpson to Buffy’s Jessica.  Ashlee might be more slick, and maybe even more “popular”, but Jessica was there first — an over-the-top Jessica Rabbit and an original. Jessica might be corny and campy and unwittingly sort of well, teetering in the liminal space of cool/uncool, but she got there on her own. Like Jessica, Buffy’s sartorial choices are hit-and-miss (Pantsuits. Really Buffy?). She has some great looks, but some (like Jessica’s mom jeans) really need to be banished down the Hellmouth along with the other evil things. It is this, though, that makes Buffy lovable, and J-Lo-Hew just kind of a  pose-hard derivative Ashlee.

The ghost that Jennifer/Melinda whispers to is Buffy, and I don’t think that Buffy is listening.

So. I’ve pretty much figured that I’m a Buffy fan, right? I have to say that I might also be a vampire fan, too. At first, I was going to deny it, but upon reflection, there have been numerous guilty-pleasure pop culture experiences in my life that are vampire-related.  I’m gonna admit it here, and just put it out there…. I read the Twilight books. Every single one of them. I even watched the hideously horrible movies made from them, and can with certitude say a few things here:

this photo is for my eldest daughter. She loves him.

I think Robert Pattinson looks like he needs a shower, but he’s kind of okay. On the other hand — while reading the books I was firmly in “Team Jacob’s” camp but upon seeing the movies I can now say that they have made Jacob, um, yucky. The casting is wrong, and this says it all (that link is genius).

The books are not high literature, but are a rollicking good read nonetheless. When I’m looking for  reads of the rollicking variety, I go for the big fat series’:  Outlander Series, Twilight, Harry Potter, Jack Reacher books, the Millennium series, Alex Ryder books, James Patterson’s Maximum Ride stuff, the Odd Thomas books… you know, they uh, rollick. They aren’t illiterate, they are internally consistent, story-driven and when you’re done, there’s almost always more.

At this point in time I’m going to put my inner teeny-bopper away for a moment and remind you all that I actually have a Master’s degree in English Literature, okay?

Good. Glad we got that out. And just so you know, it’s a bona fide degree too, not a fake one from the internet….

So where was I? Vampires. I’m going to give up on discussing the evolution of vampires in popular fiction (from Lestat downwards) and cut to the chase. Angel. I discovered that not only is he a vampire who loves Buffy, but he later gets his own series! Yay! (Don’t tell me what happens, okay?). I find myself intrigued with this guy. Not only because I want to know if the series jumps the shark and lets him and Buffy be a couple, but because I’m amazed at what the years have done to this guy. Wow, they haven’t been entirely kind to him.

Behold:

Huh. 15 years makes a big difference.

I like this guy (or did, until he started cheating on his wife in real life. Now I think he’s a jerk). He stars in one of the worst television-steals-from-books series there is: Bones (which is based loosely on Kathy Reichs’ clever and gripping Tempe Brennan series). Apparently these are done with the blessing of Reichs, but I can’t figure it out. In the books the protagonist, Tempe, is a smart, funny, flawed and really great character. In the show, she is some sort of high-functioning Asperger’s savant with (admittedly) great clothes. Ruined it, and have belabored the joke so long that it’s just not funny.

Don’t get it.

Why do I know all of this, you ask? Because I have a teenager living in the house, and  I consider watching tv with her slightly more “quality” a time than say, letting her sit in her room and text her friends all night while I read a good book somewhere else in the house. This way she can text in front of the television while I read in front of it, and we both watch it with half an eye/ear. See?

Quality time, people. That’s how you stay connected to your teen.

Okay, that and I love television. I love popular culture and I love television — the crappier the better. I love it all — reality shows, cooking shows, gossip/entertainment shows. I like drama, romance, comedy. All of it. I remember the jaw-dropping, stomach clenching but euphoric feeling it was to watch the very first I want to Marry a Millionaire. How much better can it get?

This is the stuff that will send our civilization careening down a slippery slope that we won’t be able to clamber back up. And I have a front row seat!

Authenticity & Animals

Had a good day. Slept in (after getting up at 6 with the dogs, we all trooped back to bed), had a leisurely time reading the paper and puttering around the house. There’s nothing nicer, is there? Clean kitchen, calm happy animals, fresh coffee, a tidy perfectly un-read paper waiting to be laid open and savored. I ate yesterday’s slaw (click on calendar to the right of your screen, or scroll down) and found to my delight that it’s even better the next day.  Ah. A perfect Sunday.

Met someone in person today who I’ve talked to on Facebook for a year. We’d never actually met in person. What was great was that we didn’t really have to introduce ourselves and the conversation was easy and familiar and really pleasant. We have a lot in common and I really enjoyed my day. Thanks for coming by, and lets do it again!

My father can’t quite figure out Facebook, and thinks it makes no sense. Some people think that it distances people from one another. I disagree — it can allow you to hold people at a remove or  create false intimacy, but the other choice is that you can be real, and make it a tool for communication.

It’s the same choice you make every day of your life — to be authentic, or not.

Anyway. Now my evening is coming upon me and I have no plans more complicated than reading and trying to ignore the nonsensical argument the next-t0-naked next-door neighbors are having at present (something about the barbecue, I think). I’m a little worried about his cough, it’s getting worse.

To be fair, they’re actually fully clothed today…..

I added a new link onto my blog roll today — Confessions of a Closet Artist. Beautiful photography, and it’s clear that her inner artist is out and doing great things.

Tomorrow Mr. 761 is home for a month of leave from Kandahar. He’s home one month out of every three; it’s actually a pretty good schedule. This will be the first leave that he’s had in a year and a half that we’ll be alone for most of. The kids are both out doing their own thing this summer — university and working/staying at the local military base respectively), so we’ll have the place to ourselves. Weird, but nice. Like anything it will take a bit of an adjustment, but it’s good practice for when the younger goes away to culinary school next year. My nest is already half-empty, but for him it will be new — he’s been in KAF through all of these changes in the past year and a half. He’s been home for one leaving the nest, but not really for the continuing reality of that empty spot… it’ll be good for him to acquaint himself to it.

After weeks of oppressive heat/humidity, everything is clear and lush and greenly cool today. Birds are darting all over the yard, and I couldn’t get my camera fast enough to take a photo of the little wee bird who likes my front stoop. So here are some photos of the animals who live indoors at Box 761:

Flowerpot. She's orange and sits in windowsills, what can I say?

Bo. If cats had mugshots, this would be his (check out the fangs)

Henry. The sweetest dog. He's "sensitive".

Memphis. Retired service dog, enjoying retirement very much.

Garlic Scapes, I love you 761 ways….

How pretty are these things?

That little beauty to the left of the page is something called a “garlic scape”. I had managed to live 45 years on this planet without ever hearing about scapes. One day a few weeks ago, a facebook friend wrote rhapsodically about it being time for them, so I looked them up. Then I mentioned them to a friend of mine who always seems to know about these things, and she delivered a bag of them to me the very next day.

What I’ve discovered is that a scape is merely the stalk of the garlic that has been harvested before it gets stalky and firm. This apparently helps the bulb to develop, and gives us scapes — the less pungent forgotten sibling  of what we know of as garlic.

What other vegetables haven’t I heard of? I find this mildly concerning — that at my advanced age I discovered something new. I’m a bit humbled by it, but notice that many people have responded to my newly knowing comments about scapes with “…um, what?” Makes me feel better, somewhat.

Today I sat for a while, pondering the scapes. I put them in a vase to keep them orderly, and considered just keeping them that way — so pretty and funky and curly.

Then I made Pesto. I’ve never made scape pesto before, but looked around and found some recipes online, and then just ignored the recipes and made my own. Turned out nicely, too.  Here’s how you do it:

Lovely! I have learned, though, that eating a teaspoon of it right from the jar is not recommended...

2/3 cups roasted pine nuts and about 2 cups of roughly chopped garlic scapes (flower bits off).

Whiz in food processor, then drizzle about a 1/2 cup of olive oil in, add some salt and pepper. Throw it in a bowl and add about 1 cup of parmesan, put in a generous tbsp of roughly smooshed cumin seed.
Air tight container, lasts up to a week refrigerated.

Pasta, tossed with the garlic scape pesto:

photo of sunlight glimmering off the gorgeous green pesto tossed in pasta

Yum

It’s kind of a funny thing, making that pesto. I  made about 2 cups of it — that’s a lot of pesto. Usually, I have a few other people in the house with me to share. Right now, though,  Mr. Box 761 is in Kandahar working, my youngest daughter is working/staying at the Cadet camp (for 7 weeks!) and my oldest daughter is taking summer courses at university.

I’m alone with my pesto.

In a week, though, Mr. Box 761 will be here for a month of leave. Certainly there’ll be some left for him to try while he’s home. This is a man who wooed me with (amongst other things) garlic sandwiches… (don’t knock ’em — they were delicious).

Recently I’ve been watching a lot of ridiculous television and last night I watched several episodes of a show called “Millionaire Matchmaker”. Quickly, it’s a show about a yenta in Los Angeles who sets up millionaires (usually men) with women who want to date them. The matchmaker is quite a character, and it was her brassy boorishness that drew me to the show — she’s really oddly charming, and so completely invested in her character. Fascinating to watch. These shows seem to go on in marathons, so last night I watched three shows in a row. By the end of it I could have wept — the cavalcade of hard young women, eager “cougars”, lonely narcissistic “millionaires”…. oh, the humanity.

I’m so glad I met my husband the old-fashioned way: drunk, in a bar.

The Girl at Box 761

Box 761 has been empty for a few days — it will take some time to make this a regular part of the day. It has been hot here, positively sultry, and much of my time is taken up with lazing about on the couch, reading books. I just finished the third and final book of the image of the first book in the seriesMillennium Trilogy by Stieg Larsson — otherwise knows as The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, etc. I have seen them in book stores for a while now, and figured I might as well see what the fuss was about. Larsson was apparently the second-best-selling author in the world in 2008… who knew?

They are not bad books, at all. I kind of enjoyed them — “kind of” because I wasn’t riveted to the book. Halfway through I did a shameful thing and looked at the last chapter to see how it ended. I think this means I cared about what happened to Salander (the “Girl”) but it could also mean that I wasn’t willing to do the work to get to the end honestly…. I read the entire book, but still, I knew how it ended.

It could mean I have no  impulse control, too. Hmm.

Anyway. I read all three books in about as many days. For each, I read the last few chapters after I’d read about 100 or so pages. It doesn’t seem to ruin anything for me, and face it — it’s not high literature, right? I wanted to know what happened. Then I read how they got there. Kind of like eating your pie before dinner…. whatever.

These books made me think. Not so much about the characters or anything, but about the fact that it made me realize just how few books I read (and let me tell you, I am a prodigious reader) that are not peopled by North Americans. It was refreshing, and I liked the glimpses I got of Sweden, Swedish life, and a European sensibility. I could do without the very detailed chapter on a  shopping trip to IKEA, but I certainly hope that IKEA is planning on selling the “Lisbeth Salander Collection” in all of their stores. I couldn’t figure it out — why on earth would Larsson add that much detail? If I hadn’t been so lazy, I would have gone to the computer while reading it and checked it up. I know for a fact, though, that the IKEA website is a pain to navigate through and in the end I didn’t care enough.

Quick fun tip (via Wikipedia): the first novel in the trilogy was called “Men Who Hate Women“, which somehow was translated into English as “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo“.  Huh. I can see why the publisher would have maybe balked at that…. If you’re interested, you should go to that Wikipedia page here. It’s full of lovely conspiracy theories and arcane facts.

Next on my list? I’m not sure yet. I have some books that I’ve been meaning to (re)read — I read Middlemarch at least once a year, and Vanity Fair as well, but I do not yet hanker for them. I recently (re)read the 7th Harry Potter book (and yes, I cried when Dobby died. Oh, can you stand it?). I want big fat well-written plot driven mindless reads. Hey, it’s summer.  George Eliot would understand if she were here. I can’t decide, and have perforce devised this cunning poll: