Tuesday, February 22, 2011

It’s all about the cake…

Somebody around here has a birthday coming up.  It’s not a big one, doesn’t end in zero (thank God), and that certain someone has already asked that there be no fancy presents or dinners this year because of additional expenses. Expenses like prom dresses, bridesmaid dresses, flower girl dresses, first communion dresses, and sweet baby Jesus, there are a lot of dresses to be purchased in this family! Ack!

But that person would like a cake.  A vanilla cake with almond buttercream frosting.  This recipe is the bomb, and it's what I made the valentine's cupcake frosting with.

Is it wrong that the soon to be birthday girl purchased cake ingredients this past weekend and told the kids that they were there in the cupboard, just waiting for them to spend an evening in harmony together, using the mixing bowls and cracking the eggs?

The gal just wants some cake, dangit.  That’s all.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

I finally read A Farewell to Arms. And I'm not sure how I feel about it.

The Husband has been asking me to read A Farewell to Arms for a few years now.  He loved the book, thought it was great, and thought I would enjoy it too. Well, I finally read it, and I don't think "enjoy" is the right word. It took a while to get into, but was much easier to understand what was going on than For Whom the Bell Tolls, another Hemingway novel that I've tried unsuccessfully to read on several occasions.

The rest of my review will contain spoilers, because I think I might be the last person on earth to read this book, but here are some random thoughts.

  • Good GOD did Lt. Henry like to drink. So did most everyone in the book, for that matter.
  • I need to get me one of those relatives who will let me write bank drafts to fund my lifestyle.
  • I wanted to slap Catherine throughout most of the book.  She was the biggest doormat ever, and I don't recall her standing up for herself even once in the book, except maybe to assert her decision to get married only after she was thin again. 
  • The war scenes in this book were thankfully nondescript.  I appreciate that Hemingway didn't get into the grisly details of the war. Then again, Hemingway doesn't go into details about anything, so this shouldn't be a surprise.  I was thankful that i didn't have to read about a lot of gore, missing limbs, etc.  I'm not a fan of war stories for this reason.
  • I didn't fully understand what was going on in the war.  This is probably my fault because history and geography are my two worst subjects.  A decent knowledge base in both would have been helpful, I think, for me to understand the tactical and strategic parts of the war. I was mostly lost until I realized that the Italians were going to shoot him because they thought he was a German wearing an Italian uniform, or because they thought he was an officer who abandoned his regiment. See - still confused.
  • The ending of this book sucked. Thanks to The Husband spoiling it for me years ago, I knew basically what happened, but there were so many loose ends that weren't tied up.  What happened to the priest? Did Rinaldi have syphilis or not? Maddening. And then, (spoiler alert) to kill off Catherine and the baby like that and just abruptly end the book with Lt. Henry lost and alone in Switzerland? Maddening.  The Husband says that's just classic Hemingway. 
I guess I'm glad I finished it, but I'm not a fan of the sparse description and I didn't fall in love with any of the main characters...  And quite frankly, the story wasn't fantastic.  The second half of it was much more gripping than the first, and I was interested enough to finish it, so that's something, but I don't know, it was a war book, with lots of drinking, a love story, an unplanned pregnancy, a frantic escape from authorities, and then tragic death. 

Grade: Overall, I'm giving it a C.  But only because it's Hemingway; his fame makes me want to boost his grade a little.  If some unknown author had written it, I don't think I'd have gotten past page two.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Mmmm, cupcakes...

*photo of the card and cupcakes with pink icing that I made the kids for Valentine's Day:
Valentine's cupcakes

Why I don't like Valentine's Day

I shouldn’t be a hater.  The Husband has never failed to get me a Valentine’s gift.  He’s very sweet about it.  This year I got a Clay Matthews t-shirt.  I have a major minor obsession with the Packer’s linebacker, and TH got me a shirt to proclaim my love.  Now that’s a husband!  I certainly haven’t gotten him any Megan Fox t-shirts lately. 

As a kid, I loved Valentine’s Day.  Making the valentines, getting candy, having a party at school.  What wasn’t to love?  To make it even better, My grandparents always sent something to us for Valentine’s Day.  One year, when I was about 10 years old, my grandpa made me a jewelry hanger out of painted wood.  It has has two hearts with a rainbow arched above them.  One heart has my name painted on it, and the other heart says ‘Grandpa’.  I love that thing, and it hangs in my bedroom to this day. 

But as I grew older, the holiday just made me feel lousy.  Valentine’s Day reminds me the most of junior high, and reminders of that awkward stage in my life are not welcome in this brain of mine.  7th and 8th grade were awful years.  I was so self-conscious, chubby, with bad hair and teeth.  I wish I could go back and tell myself that almost everyone looks awkward in junior high, but, being in that adolescent ‘it’s all about me’ phase, I thought I was alone in my misery.  At my school, you could pay a dollar to send a lollipop with a personalized note to your sweetie.  They were delivered in class, and sure enough, the girls who I was convinced had everything you could dream of, would get one or two lollipops per class period from their admirers.  If I ever got one, it was from my best friends.  It’s not that I didn’t appreciate them, but let’s face it.  It wasn’t the same as getting a lollipop from a BOY.   

To make things worse, the school distributed these computer generated match maker lists.  Five boys’ names were matched to each girl and sent out to everyone. I’m sure it was a random generator, I don’t recall filling out a Match.com type of survey or anything.  But everyone wondered who their ‘perfect matches’ were.  If you got a popular boy on your list, you might swoon.  If you got the geeky guy from your biology class who offered to dissect your frog for you, you weren’t as impressed. I was convinced that if a boy got matched with me, they either thought, “ew!” or, more likely, “who?”  I had some confidence issues back then, you see. 

Later on, in high school, we had our Sadie Hawkins dance around Valentine’s Day.  This dance was less formal than prom or homecoming, where the girls asked the boys to the dance.  I’m ashamed to admit that I never went to a Sadie Hawkins dance in high school, only because I was too much of a chicken shit to ask a guy to go with me.  See? I told you I had issues!

I'm happy to report that my kids didn’t inherit these rather pathetic tendencies.  Hollywood struts her stuff, and knows that she’s got it going on, but not in a conceited or cocky manner.  She just accepts it, and her confidence mixed with just the right amount of humility is charming. She gets that from The Husband, who even as an ancient 42 year old (ha!), accepts without wonder that he still turns the ladies’ heads.

The Boy just recently asked a girl to be his girlfriend. He seems to be the only child of mine who might have some of the insecurities that  I was plagued with at his age.  Which is why I’m inordinately proud that he overcame them to ask this girl out.  They went to a movie this weekend together – with a group of other friends, of course.  He’s only 13, after all!  He even held her hand.  Today he brought a teddy bear and some chocolate to give to his girlfriend at school.  Isn’t that sweet?  Even sweeter is that as soon as she said she’d go out with him, he called me to tell me that he had a girlfriend, even though I was only out at the grocery store and would be back soon. The fact that he called me to tell me the good news right away made me almost weep. Yeah, I still have issues.

I’ve spent the last 19 Valentine’s Days with The Husband.  He’s always given me a gift and told me he loves me.  I’m now much more confident in the knowledge that I’m a successful, likable, attractive woman who has a family that I wouldn’t trade for anything.  And yet, those memories of feeling lonely and left out are still back there, in the recesses of my mind. Which is why Valentine’s Day will never be my favorite holiday. (That distinction goes to Thanksgiving.  Food, family, and football.  Ah…). 

I hope you have a good one anyway.  Happy Valentine’s Day!

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Book Review: Freedom

I may have mentioned before that I love to read. I decided that I should try to do a book review of the stories I’ve been reading.  I think it will be nice to be able to look back upon these reviews when I’m trying to remember what I thought of a particular book that I’ve read.

I’m not an expert reviewer, in fact I think I'm pretty bad at it because I don't take a lot of time remembering what I liked about a book. I also don’t spend a lot of time analyzing the technical proficiency of the authors I enjoy.  I couldn’t even tell you what kinds of books I prefer, except that I love good character development, and feel good about a book if it teaches me something I didn’t know before I read it.

With that said, my first book review is going to be for Jonathan Franzen’s Freedom.

(Huh, I just looked it up on Amazon to get the link and see that it was an Oprah selection.  I didn’t know that.  Not that it matters, I just wasn’t aware.)

Anyway, the book is 576 pages long, and was published in August of 2010. 

I’ll start by saying that I loved this novel, and was impressed with it because it took the story of a regular middle class family, with their believable problems and made it truly interesting.  If someone were to ask me what the book was about, I could say that it’s about a long time married couple who struggle with the relationships they have with their kids, and who aren’t quite sure of their commitment to one another. That sounds pretty boring, though.  And how would Franzen fill 576 pages full of that?

He did it by weaving a web full of complex characters with ordinary problems.  Walter was ‘too nice’, and yet he had a wicked angry side.  His wife Patti was confused, but competitive.  Richard was the bad boy, the kind of man every self-respecting good girl falls for in college, and yet he was drawn to his friend Walter, perhaps because of his goodness. Patti and Walter’s kids had believable issues: shacking up with the neighbor girl at age 13, sibling rivalry and a daughter who thought she was above all of the struggles. 

The relationships between each of the characters was fully vetted in the novel, and in the end, there were strands woven from one person to the other resulting in a tight web of a realistic and entertaining story.  I wanted to know if Joey would ever forgive his mother for the mistakes she made as she parented him, trying to get him to be on her side, to love her the most.

I think what captivated me the most about this novel is that it shows the cycles that a long time marriage go through.  The story breezed through the easy years, highlighting what worked between them with a lighthearted view.  The focus was on the rough patches in the marriage.  The bitter betrayals severed the artery of Patti and Walter’s marriage, but they also led each of them to find themselves and become whole again.

It would take pages and pages to detail what I loved about the characters in this book.  I’m a character snob, and nothing annoys me more in a novel than an author trying to pass a character off as perfect.  We all have our flaws and quirks and insecurities, dangit, and that’s what makes us interesting!  Franzen made this novel interesting because his characters had flaws. Major flaws that made other people dislike them.  You loved Patti and rooted for her to succeed, but you can understand why the ladies of her stylish neighborhood didn’t care for her.

That’s real life!  And I loved that much of the story was based in Minnesota.  That’s unusual in itself – sometimes it’s hard to find enough glitz and glamour when you drop the family of a complicated novel in the middle of the ‘boring’ Midwest.  

Politics played a huge part of the story of this book, and while the main characters definitely leaned toward the left, it was interesting to see the dynamics of Democrat vs. Republican, especially when family members took opposite sides.  There was a lot of content devoted to things that I know nothing about (mountaintop coal mining, bird species preservation, population control, etc.) but these parts didn’t drag or become too dense for my enjoyment.   

Overall, it was an enjoyable read, and I flew through it faster than most novels of its size.  As I’ve mentioned, a truly enjoyable novel pulls me in by dropping me into a world of interesting, yet believable characters.  Freedom did just that, and I was very sorry when my Kindle displayed that final blank page at the end of the story.

Overall grade: A-

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

This is why I'm glued to the couch on Sunday afternoons...

I'm not a very consistent blogger these days, am I?

First things first.  Thank you for your prayers.  I needed them and they helped me get through a difficult time.  You all rock.

And now, onto happier subjects.  Did you hear who's going to the Super Bowl this weekend?  Oh yeah.  It's my Packers.  I love football, and I especially love my Packers.  This year, I'm minorly obsessed with this guy:

Clay Matthews (#52) is a linebacker who missed out on the Defensive Player of the Year award.  He was beaten by a hair (only two votes) by Steelers safety Troy Polamalu - the curly haired guy on the head and shoulders commercials.  So the Packers were this close to having another defensive player of the year (last year Charles Woodson won the award.) I'm pretty sure Dom Capers (defensive coordinator) has a secure job for a few years.  But, back to #52.  Clay is awesome.  My wee little fixation is 100% because of his tremendous contributions to the team.  He was our first round draft pick in 2009, and this year has had 13.5 sacks in the regular season, and 3.5 in the playoffs.  My obsession has nothing to do with his arms, honest.  (Oh, how I will miss seeing those arms every Sunday after this weekend. Sigh.)

Anyway, I probably shouldn't get too attached to Clay because whenever I start to swoon over a player, he goes somewhere else.  (I'm still heartbroken over Darren Sharper, who went to play for the Vikings, and then the Saints.)  And yes.  I do actually pay attention to the game, and not just the players. I'm looking forward to the Super Bowl, and it'll be the first time in 13 years where the commercials will take a back seat to the game.

Anyway, that's all I know at the moment. Life is trucking on, moving faster than the ballsy semi drivers who flew past me on the interstate during yesterday's blizzard. But hey, at least it's February.  Spring is only a few months away.