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September is always a good time for starting new things – the seasons are changing, school starts (or, now that I’m out of school myself, I get to see lots and lots of kids at the library starting the school year, and boy does that change the rhythm at work), the church calendar restarts.  I’m a fan of fall in general (hello, sweaters!) and this year I got my own little kick-start by moving at the end of August.  So September has been all about settling in and developing new (hopefully good) habits.

While I can’t say I’ve done anything impressive with my reading this month (pretty ho-hum-average with 12 books read so far – the day isn’t over), I’ve made a few other small steps.  I’m back in a super-walkable neighborhood, so I’m trying to develop two habits here.  One is walking to stuff I can, like the cluster of restaurants that’s 15 minutes away.  So far we’ve walked to eat out once a weekend.  Sometimes I’m super hungry and have to fight the urge to jump in the car because it’s faster, but I’m always glad walking back to have a chance to let dinner settle (plus, if I wanted to I could have more than one beer and still make it home!)

The other walkable-neighborhood habit is to just walk.  The neighborhood is pretty flat, there are sidewalks, and there are lots of great houses to drool over.  My old neighborhood only had the houses, and not even as many of those.  Over the summer, I got into the habit of driving to a nearby park where I could do my loop without fear of getting run over.  Here, I can even walk after dark, which is especially handy in the winter.  Or I can do what I did today and go for a nice long walk up soak up the sunshine while it lasts.

Another step is to get more organized about food and cooking.  This involves planning, which I’m still figuring out, and finding a balance between frugality and deliciousness.  I’ll feel super-frugal one day and daydream about big pots of beans from scratch, and then I’ll go buy $20 worth of nuts at Trader Joe’s.  So far I’ve been planning two meals per week, we’re eating out once, and the other nights are a combination of leftovers and sandwiches.  I might work up to planning 3 meals and leaving more leftovers for my lunches.

The nuts remind me of another new food habit – homemade granola.  I’ve lost track of how many times I’ve made that recipe, each time ever-so-slightly different.  The last batch has oats, a double-helping of pecans, a heap of coconut, sunflower seeds, cinnamon, nutmeg, butter, maple syrup, a big scoop of peanut butter, and vanilla.  I’m also going through tubs of yogurt with it, so I’ve been slacking on my raw milk drinking, but this is so much more satisfying than cheerios with banana (and raw milk) for breakfast.  I’ve been going through enough oats that I think it’s time to invest in more canisters so I can buy oats (and maybe coconut) in bulk from Bob’s Red Mill, instead of buying it by the bag.

Next up on the to-do list: start having people over for meals!  The apartment is cozy, but I can fit 6 people around the table.

Now I just need to figure out how it came to be the last day of September…

It’s fall – and it feels like it.  Sunday was pleasant and warm, getting hot in the sun waiting for brunch (at the Screen Door), but by Tuesday I was wearing tights and extra layers and bringing a jacket to work.  I even got caught in a sudden downpour on my two block walk from work to my car, sopping wet in spite of my (very un-Oregonian) umbrella – I’ve got to keep all those books dry, and a raincoat only keeps me dry.

Today the sun is out, but it’s chilly enough for knee socks and banana bread and an extra round of coffee to celebrate my half-day of work.  Oh, who am I kidding – I’d be baking banana bread even without the cool weather!  I came across a recipe this morning, following I don’t know how many random links to find this blog that shares a recipe from Molly Wizenberg’s A Homemade Life for Banana Bread with Chocolate and Crystalized Ginger.  I really enjoyed A Homemade Life when I read it back in July, but hot days in July are not ideal for banana bread.  So I was quite pleased to come across it this morning, when I had a few overripe bananas and some free time on my hands.

The bread is still in the oven, but I’m pretty sure it will be delicious – I licked the bowl clean (almost).  Follow the link above and try for yourself – I only had two bananas, so I added about an extra half cup of yogurt, since that perfectly polished off a carton of plain, cream-top that I’d been ignoring in favor of Greek style yogurt.  Oh, and I threw in some nutmeg and cinnamon because quick breads don’t seem quite right without them.

Fifteen more minutes!  In the meantime, coffee and a gothic novel – Michelle Zink’s Prophecy of the Sisters.

Last night I started reading Laurie Halse Anderson’s Wintergirls.  It came in on hold, for the second time, and I thought I’d better start it right away.  Sometimes it’s hard to get books back off the shelf once I bring them home – it can turn into a black hole of Things I Want to Read.  At any rate, I’m a little ways in and simultaneously interested and repulsed.  Repulsed isn’t quite the right word – I’m not irritated by Anderson’s style (the use of strikethroughs and various text sizes mostly works for me) and I’m finding the characters intriguing.  I think it’s mostly that I just don’t get anorexia.  I can’t even imagine having that kind of relationship with food.  That, in turn, makes it hard to empathize with Lia.  At the same time, it’s like a car accident – it’s hard to look away.  I’m curious to see how I feel as I get further into the story.

Speaking of things I’m reading, I need to work fast and clear some space on my To-Read shelf, because there are a lot of books coming out soon that I want to read.

  • Top of the list is the sequel to Patrick Ness’ The Knife of Never Letting Go, which is coming out in September.  I might go so far as to purchase this one for myself – The Ask and the Answer – just so I don’t have to wait for the YA librarian to order it , which of course means I need a matched set.  Which means I need to reread the first book.  Talk about cliff-hangers!  I’d better prepare myself for what I’m sure will be another.  Also, why isn’t there an audio version of The Knife yet?  Seriously.  September 8.
  • Everyone’s all buzz buzz buzz about Catching Fire, the sequel to The Hunger Games.  And I’m definitely looking forward to this, but not with the same intensity or cliff-hanger-resolving anxiety.  I’ve got it on hold, and I’m willing to wait a bit before devouring it.  September 1.
  • Same thing goes for the Graceling prequel, Fire – I want to read it, but I’m not biting my nails.  October 5.
  • Katherine Sturtevant, author of the wonderful At the Sign of the Star and it’s companion, A True and Faithful Narrative (both excellent historical fiction) has a new one coming out, which isn’t another book about Meg, but I trust Sturtevant’s style enough to be looking forward to it.  It’s called The Brothers Story, and don’t you wish it had a better title AND a better cover?  Sheesh, don’t the publishers want people to read it?  Also, shouldn’t there be an apostrophe in the title somewhere?  November 10.
  • Speaking of bad title decisions, the third installment in Linda Buckley-Archer’s Gideon trilogy is due out – Time Quake.  The first book was originally called Gideon the Cutpurse – doesn’t that just scream fabulous historical fiction?  Then, when the second book came out, the title was switched to The Time Travelers.  Yawn!  Book two is The Time Thief and the new one is Time Quake.  Sure, sure, this is a nice sort of branding and the whole series is unified, blah blah blah.  But I had to look them up to make sure I had the right name for each book – the titles aren’t distinct or memorable.  True, the books focus less on Gideon himself than on the children, but the switch did the whole series a disfavor.  Nice covers, though.  October 6.
  • Speaking of new covers, I’m not too much in love with the cover for Shannon Hale’s new one, Forest Born.  I liked the style of the original covers of The Goose Girl, etc., much better.  This one looks less old-fashioned and distinct and more like it could belong on any girly fantasy story.  Which isn’t to say that I won’t read the book.  But this series is more companion-y and less of a build-up from one book to the next, which means it probably won’t be at the top of my pile – I ordered it, and I’ll let the kids have at it first.  September 15.
  • Al Capone Shines My Shoes.  I feel like I need an exclamation point at the end of the title.  I can’t wait to see what Gennifer Choldenko does with this sequel to Al Capone Does My Shirts. It’s been a while since I read the first one, but I have fond memories – and it’s historical fiction that won’t scare off boys.  Can’t wait to unpack it when it arrives.  September 8.
  • I already mentioned Richard Peck’s new one a while ago, A Season of Gifts.  I highly recommend both A Long Way From Chicago and A Year Down Yonder on audio – so hilarious and still sweet at the same time.  So of course I ordered the new one.  And speaking of covers, I have no doubt who’s driving that car.  September 17.

What am I missing?  I know there’s a new Kate DiCamillo, and a Neil Gaiman novella, and Jasper Dash and the Flame Pits of Delaware – what else?

Edited to add:  Duh.  Sacred Scars, the sequel to Skin Hunger by Kathleen Duey.  My hold just came in and reminded me.

Second duh: Front and Center, the sequel to Dairy Queen and The Off Season.

A cold, drizzly October day calls for one thing – a pan of brownies.  Okay, two things – a pan of brownies and a few cups of coffee (or tea).  After adding a bajillion new books to my Goodreads to-read list, I set about making these Chocolate Zucchini Brownies.  I’ve been craving chocolate (when don’t I crave chocolate?) and it’s getting a bit chilly for ice cream, and lately I’ve eaten more than my fair share of chocolate chips straight from the bag.  So brownies it is.  I haven’t cut into them yet – any minute now – but I’m looking forward to it.

One of my favorite things about living here is that the mail carrier goes down the other side of the street first, so if I see the truck go past, I know I have a few minutes to finish up a letter, find that DVD that needs to go back, dig out the stamps, find my shoes, etc. and still get it into the box in time.  This is the life, I tell you.

I’m about to start listening to the new Kate Atkinson – whee!  And I have a pile of YA books that are calling my name.  Plus all those picture books to review.  It’s like a book orgy around here.

So, I just noticed the Goodreads “blog this review” feature, and thought I’d try it out.  Well, that’s not quite true – I noticed the feature a long time ago, but never stopped to try it.  I’ve continued my whirlwind of mystery reading – if I finish listening to Maisie Dobbs today, I’ll have read eight mysteries this month.  Which is a lot more than my usual none to one.

I started fall quarter over the weekend – I had to travel north for the class that met in person, and then the rest is online, and the other class is entirely online.  There’s some overlap between the two, it looks like, since one covers children’s materials and the other covers children’s services.  In other words, I’ve got a great excuse to read a TON of children’s books.

I took the train instead of driving up, and I really enjoyed it – especially the ride home on a gorgeous fall day, on a fairly empty train.  I got lots of reading in, and enjoyed the scenery, and thought about all the reasons I love this time of year.  It’s the part of fall when it’s not drippy and miserable yet, you’re still getting some sunshine, but you can cozy up with a cup of tea and not feel like you’re boiling alive. Riding the train also allowed ample opportunity for nostalgia – both for all those old movies where they ride trains, and for my own train riding past, all across the UK and Italy.  Nothing like a train ride to give you a travel bug.  Right before my trip I watched The Lady Vanishes – an old Hitchcock I hadn’t seen before – which had a classic combo of great laughs and paranoia.  Definitely recommended to train-movie fans and old movie fans in general.

I got to thinking about genres – and how a mystery like Sister Pelagia and the Vicky Bliss books are technically in the same genre, but really couldn’t be further apart.  While each could be read purely for the ‘solving a mystery’ aspect of the story, the tone and treatment of characters are so different.  Anyway, here are my thoughts on the crime-fighting monastic.

Sister Pelagia and the White Bulldog (Mortalis)

Sister Pelagia and the White Bulldog by Boris Akunin


My review

rating: 4 of 5 stars
A mystery for people who like classic Russian lit, or who just like the novelty of having an Orthodox nun and bishop solve crimes. Sister Pelagia is a great character – people don’t give her a second glance in her habit, but she’s got sharp wits and a good sense of self-preservation, wielding off would-be attackers with her knitting needles. But she’s no Miss Marple in a habit – she’s also young and impulsive. The plot starts slowly, with plenty of time spent setting the scene of the country province, the local government and society, issues of corruption and church politics. I got distracted by trying to keep all the characters straight – the Russian naming system makes it twice as hard, to me. The plot thickens about halfway through, and the end features more action and a dramatic courtroom accusation. Things are just wrapping up when a monk makes a dramatic entrance – not to further thicken the plot of this story, but to provide a hook for the next volume in the series. Which I just might have to read.

View all my reviews.

I’ve decided, a little belatedly, that September is Mystery Month.  Yeah, yeah, it’s almost over – but it turns out I’m reading a lot of mysteries this fall.  I got on a kick with the Vicky Bliss series, and then I started listening to Maisie Dobbs – she makes excellent company while baking a pan of brownies – and then I dove into Sister Pelagia and the White Bulldog, on Julia’s recommendation.  All in all, a lot more mysteries than I usually digest in one month, and with two Vicky Bliss and a handful of Maisie and Sister Pelagia left, October might be Mystery Month, Part 2 – unless, of course I get sick of them.

If I do get sick of them, I have a nice list of YA titles to keep me busy – I just signed up for a Mock Printz.  It’s not until January, but it’s never too early to start reading.  I’ve already read (and pugned, as Frankie would say) 3 of the 11 titles.  Here’s the list for 2009, with links to my thoughts on the ones I’ve already read:

Some of these I’ve heard good things about and I had in the back of my mind to read, and some I’d never heard of.  So at the very least it will broaden my reading for the year.  Last year’s Mock Printz was remarkably unsuccessful in choosing the winner or any honor books – we read only one of the five honorees (Your Own Sylvia). So far this year, I think my favorite is Jenna Fox.  I ordered a copy of Paper Towns with an Amazon gift card, so I’m waiting for that to show up.  But where is Octavian Nothing, Volume 2?  From all accounts it’s a worthy sequel, and we had The Pox Party on the mock list 2 years ago.  I was looking forward to a few rousing arguments about it.

Good grief, it’s almost 4 months until we meet and I’m already spending too much time thinking about it.  Maybe I can distract myself with a nice warm cup of coffee and a mystery.

Oh, and talk about a first day of autumn – I’m bundled up, my toes are cold even in socks, I’m craving hot beverages, the air is crisp and fally, it’s cloudy one minute and sunny the next, and – good grief – there are a few leaves on the lawn.  The weather’s sure not wasting any time.

When did I become the kind of person who writes an eight page paper when five are required?  Probably because it’s a ‘report on your experience’ paper rather than a research or opinion paper, but still…I was shocked to look down and realize I was on the 8th page without the end in sight.  Editing was called for.  I turned it in.  I’m free.*  Fastest paper ever.

To get myself in the Advent spirit, I made soup today.  I’d made a resolution to cook with dry beans, because really, I’m home most days and have plenty of time to sit around while beans cook themselves.  No need to buy canned for convenience.  So I was checking out the bean section and spotted a bag of cranberry beans (thanks, Bob’s Red Mill) which the copy claims are “much sweeter and more delicate in taste than common pintos or kidney beans.”  Oh, those pintos!  So common!  Not likely the lordly cranberry bean!  I suppose since most beans don’t really fall into the “delicate” or “sweet” categories at all, the claim to be sweeter and more delicate is possible.

Anyway…I bought the beans and then decided to make the recipe for Cranberry Bean Stew** on the back.  Except I just realized that I didn’t really follow the recipe AT ALL.  I halved it, and then I went crazy.  Here it is, with my changes in parentheses:

  • 6 oz cranberry beans
  • 6 cups water (I used 6 cups for a 1/2 batch to make it brothy)
  • 1 large onion, finely chopped
  • 3 celery stalks, thinly sliced (the celery stalks at midnight!)
  • 3 oz frozen or fresh cranberries (completely omitted, but I did throw in a sliced carrot)
  • 3 potatoes, peeled and diced (I used decent sized Russets for a 1/2 recipe)
  • 1 cup half and half (duh, it’s a fast.  Left this out and threw in a veggie bouillon)
  • 2 tbsp fresh parsley, finely chopped (omitted, tossed in some assorted dried herbs)
  • 1 large bay leaf
  • 1 large clove of garlic, crushed (two cloves, oh yeah)
  • 2 tsp salt
  • 3 tsp pepper

Bring water to a boil in a deep pan. Add beans, onion, celery stalks, cranberries, potatoes, parsley, bay leaf, garlic, salt and black pepper. (I sauteed the onion & celery & garlic in a little olive oil before throwing them to the wolves, I mean beans) Boil rapidly for 15 minutes until brothy. Remove froth with a spoon and discard (there was no real froth, so I didn’t bother). Reduce heat, add half and half (omitted) and simmer for 1 1/2 hours (I copied this from the online recipe, but my bag says 2 1/2 which is what I did) or until smooth. Put in blender for a smoother soup (nope). Serve hot with whole grain bread (probably some sourdough toast).

I haven’t eaten a bowl yet, but the broth is tasty.  Even with the full-salt bouillon cube I tossed in a fair amount of sea salt, so watch out.

*Free as in ‘the assignments that are due this Sunday are done.’  Not at ALL free as in ‘caught up with readings’ or ‘done with the quarter’ or ‘ready to graduate.’

**Why does Bob’s Red Mill claim that you can search their recipes, when any keyword search results in a huge list of every recipe on their website?  You only find specific recipes if you narrow it down by category and ingredients.  Why have a keyword search if it doesn’t do anything useful?

Last week I considered doing another year of NaBloPoMo-whatsit but decided that what with the way the weeks and months – let alone days – are careening past me, daily blogging seems well nigh impossible.  So, there you have it.

Today I’m holed up in my room, where I crank the heat up and not feel wasteful because I’m only heating one room.  The thermostat and I have a complex and tumultuous relationship.  On one hand, the electricity bill and my sense of wasting resources and my firm belief in keeping warm through striped socks, sweaters, and endless cups of tea and coffee, my faith in making do with less.  On the other hand, my cold toes and my lack of desire to live through the winter like Miranda in Life as We Knew It, huddled in a single room in all the clothes I own, under the comforter.  As a compromise, I’m huddling myself in a single room, with a perfectly reasonable two layers and the heat turned on.  I emerge to make coffee and unearth back issues of The New Yorker (what?  I had to read an article for class and finding my print copy gave me a break from staring at the computer screen).  The rest of the apartment is bone-chillingly cold.  Well, in comparison.

I like the idea of hibernating in cold weather.   Acknowledging that actual seasons are passing by outside.  Appreciating the various joys of summer and winter in turn.  (Which is much easier to do when the sun is shining, no question.)  I think we’re pretty spoiled in our degree of comfort.  Which is not to say that I don’t enjoy those comforts as much as the next person, but sometimes we need a little kick.  Like winter coming.

Let’s do an October book-roundup.

  1. Coraline, Neil Gaiman
  2. The House of the Scorpion, Nancy Farmer
  3. Understood Betsy, Dorothy Canfield
  4. Book of a Thousand Days, Shannon Hale
  5. A Certain Slant of Light, Laura Whitcomb (audio)
  6. Fat Kid Rules the World, KL Going (audio)
  7. Laika, Nick Abadzis
  8. Naomi and Ely’s No Kiss List, Rachel Cohn & David Levithan
  9. Day of the Scarab, Catherine Fisher
  10. The Mysterious Edge of the Heroic World, E.L. Konigsburg
  11. How It Happened in Peach Hill, Marthe Jocelyn
  12. The Namesake, Jhumpa Lahiri (audio)
  • A total of 12 books
  • 3 audio
  • Only one adult title finished – The Namesake, which I recommend – the book itself and the audio version.
  • I finished up Catherine Fisher’s Oracle series which I recommend to fans of juv fantasy/mythology.
  • For fans of fairy tale retellings, Book of a Thousand Days is a first-rate contribution.
  • For fans of wholesome old-fashioned-ness, you can’t go wrong with Understood Betsy.  How did I miss this one as a kid?
  • The one that hit me hardest was Laika.  You can’t read this and still be prejudiced against graphic novels.  One of those books like Octavian Nothing  (I can’t believe it took me this long to think of the comparison) that isn’t easy – it covers complex issues and it decently gut-wrenching – contains tip-top writing and storytelling, and really really stays with you.  Although ON didn’t have me in tears like Laika.

I made my butternut squash soup (no photos, because it’s really not that pretty) and ate the last of my pumpkin bread pudding (photos to come) and sat down with a cup of tea.  Read through a few articles for school and now I’m dying to close my eyes.  Not necessarily because the articles are boring (one was hilarious) but it’s a gray day, and my tummy is full, and the couch is comfortable.  I went for a walk this morning and thought of all kinds of things to write about, but of course now they’re gone.  Something about Lincoln logs…oh yes.

There are these logs in the park that are set up like Lincoln logs.  Okay, I’m sure the Lincoln log people imitated the way logs were actually cut to make log houses but WHATEVER.  Where one long piece of wood rests on two little pieces, and they’re all notched to fit together?  For whatever reason, there are a bunch of these in the park, all lined up.  I have no idea why, but today I suddenly noticed them as being Lincoln log-esque, and for whatever reason it felt noteworthy.  I always like Lincoln logs.

Speaking of constructing houses, my second thought was of all the leaf-houses we built as kids.  My parents have two maple trees in the front yard, and instead of raking up the leaves and disposing of them, my sister and brother and I would rake them into floor-plans.  We would argue over who got which “room” and what would go where and it was all delightful.  And whenever we were bored, we’d just rake the leaves into a new shape and play house in our new house.  Until everything got too wet and soggy and had to be raked up.  I wish we had pictures of that.  Clearly I’ve always been a teensy bit obsessed with houses.   I would say that these leaves houses were one of THE memories of being a child.  Top Ten.

On the book front, I’m reading the Konigsburg.  I’m generally a fan, so I’m inclined to like it, but I’ve read less than flattering reviews and I can’t get them out of my head while I read!  Certain elements are a little heavy-handed, but her characters I do love.  It turns out several of the characters have appeared before, but for all my retention of authors and titles, I’m terrible at remembering the insides of books in great detail – so even though it’s only been a few years since I read The Outcasts of 19 Schuyler Place, it wasn’t until she hit me over the head with it that I realized Amadeo’s parents were the kids in that story.  I do like it when characters and places are glimpsed again and again.

I’m 2/3 through The Namesake, which I’m still thoroughly enjoying, and way too pleased with myself at spotting a certain plot development WAY in advance.  A casually introduced character shows up years later?  I called it.

An addiction to Veronica Mars has been impairing my book reading this week, sad to say.  Of course each episode leaves you with a question and of course the next episode doesn’t really answer it.  Yet I keep watching just one more.

Despite the pumpkin bread pudding, I’m having a serious craving for chocolate.  It’s calling out to me.

We’ve officially entered the rainy season.  Yes, true, the rainy season never really stops here, but we’ve had some monsoon quality rainstorms lately.  Last night I was falling asleep, listening to the nice gentle drip of rain when a global faucet was turned all full force and it went drop “plop plop plop” to “CHHHHHHHH.”  It would dwindle for a moment, and then it would start back up.  It was so loud that I felt like I ought to be outside, experiencing this extremity.  It was movie-quality rain, the kind where romantic characters are suddenly drenched while having a tender moment after running after each other when they suddenly realize they must confess their undying affection.

I’ve been thinking about Thanksgiving dinner and it’s gotten me awfully hungry, a situation that might be improved by eating lunch.  Or, you know, more pumpkin waffles.  Or I could bake more pumpkin muffins.  Or try this recipe for pumpkin bread pudding.  All pumpkin, all the time.

I’ve been reading Emma, rather slowly, ever since I got back from California.  Occasional breaks for children’s books, because I don’t want those library books to gather dust on my shelf.  Last night I picked up Touching Snow, which I’d checked out because it was on the list of National Book Award finalists (the “young people’s” list, what else?  Because last year I read all the finalists and thoroughly approved of their choice of winner) (I put all of them on hold, except for 1) Story of a Girl which I already read and liked – and was just telling Bronwen about!  Because we drove through the town where it was set!  2) The Invention of Hugo Cabret which I also already read and liked, but did not drive through the town where it was set because I didn’t have enough gas to make it to Paris.)  Anyway, I started reading it and was pulled in…but it turned out I was not in the mood to read about an abusive step-father (they call him “the Daddy,” which really creeped me out for some reason).  So instead I turned to something I knew I would enjoy (it was Friday night, after all) and started the third Oracle Prophesies book, Day of the Scarab.  Oh yeah.

In the car right now I’ve got The Namesake – I have no idea where the story is going, but I’m sold and along for the ride.  Too bad it’s overdue…bad wanna-be librarian.

*”Jason, the Ice Capades are an extravaganza” – Ms. Allegretto

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