Thursday, June 13, 2013

The Thieves of Manhattan

The title drew me to this book and it is as mysterious as the plot. It is about a young aspiring author, Ian Minot,  who can't get his work published by a world of publishing that is rapidly changing and doesn't respect him or his work. He learns more than he wanted to know about how books really get published and what really sells from an older, cynical, ex-editor, Jed Roth,  who teaches him about life and writing.

I didn't know if I would like the book or even finish it, but once I started reading it, I couldn't put it down. It is a fascinating read about distinguishing fact from fiction in the literary world and in the characters who cross the path of the young writer. He sees how people can change personas and perceptions as easily as they change coats. He starts to suspect that no one is who they seem to be and that everyone is lying about not only their true identities but also the validity of their published writings. Even though he is jealous of published writers, he is scornful of the nature of the publishing world of people who are far too impressed with themselves. People are "gaming" other people and everyone has an agenda.

Especially intriguing are the sections when the seasoned editor, Roth tells the neophyte, Ian, that his work is too ordinary--ordinary people with ordinary lives where nothing exciting happens. However when Roth shares his own writing with Ian, Ian realizes that he is a much better writer than Roth. They form an uneasy partnership to polish a work of fiction and get it published as Ian's memoir since that seems to be what excites the publishing world. Ian wants to be published; Roth wants revenge on the publishing world for perceived slights.

Ian begins to suspect that the memoir is about crimes that have been committed and that he is being set up to take the blame. It is a satisfying, intriguing adventure full of surprises and as exciting as the world of publishing would have it to be. The life of the main character takes a few turns I had not expected which I always like in a good summer beach book.

Looking for Me

On the day that the first tropical storm of the new season arrived in my region, it was easy to justify a day in front of the computer while the rain poured through the trees in the window behind my screen and the laundry was chugging away without my help. The hours fly when surfing the web is a trip into dozens of worlds unlike my own. It is entertaining, amusing, appalling, and fascinating to visit the inner workings of the minds of other lives. Some are very foreign, some are very familiar. I wondered how many other people were doing the same thing across the globe. Why do we do this? What are we looking for? Why is it so absorbing?

We can visit Facebook, Twitter, blogs, and endless other popular places to connect with other people to glimpse whatever they will reveal of their lives. We accept, discard, and consider what it all means to us. We are looking for ourselves. Who are we? Why does a certain life experience appeal to us while another is discarded as unacceptable? I have to decide if playing games is a worthwhile activity to include in my life. I have to decide if taking pictures will be rewarding for my personality. Do I really want to spend my time reading a book about World War II that someone just reviewed? Will it give me any insights into my psyche; will it make me feel good or will it make me feel bad? Yes to this, no to that. So many questions to be answered.

I grew up in an era when so many technological toys were not available and the quest into self-discovery was a different journey. We had to seek out the company of people in our geographic area to see how we could garner some wisdom through their lives to pick and choose what made us comfortable in our own skins. It was a much slower journey to become ourselves. These days constant noise across the globe 24/7 can be overwhelming. I begin to doubt if I can find myself in the middle of so much over-stimulation.

I can't decide if all our technology is better or worse for today's generation. Perhaps this global village will provide companionship to the lonely, insight to the confused, comfort to the infirmed and entertainment to the bored. Considering the number of people addicted to self-destructive habits, all of us need something to fill our lives. 

At times when I am the only person in my house, I am glued to the computer screen. That probably says a lot about me. I'm still stuck to the computer rather than walking around permanently attached to a smart phone. Will the time come that I drop the land line, cancel cable computer and live my life on a smart phone communicating with 5,000 BFF that I've never seen face to face?

Monday, June 10, 2013

Chunky Monkey

This is a tasty summer dessert. It can be a smoothie, or refrozen into soft ice cream consistency or you can drink it with a straw like a milk shake. It is very cold and delicious but very nutritious. It is dairy-free, and gluten-free. I made a few personal adjustments, but  I found it on 

Chunky Monkey

1 banana
1 can 13.5 oz. coconut milk
1/2 C. chopped pecans
1/2 C. chopped strawberries
1/2 C. semi-sweet chocolate chips or 2 Tbs. cocoa powder

2 Servings

Cut the banana into chunks and freeze it. Put the other ingredients into separate containers and refrigerate them until the banana is frozen.

The amounts of the ingredients can be adjusted to personal taste. I sometimes add other fruits and leave out the chocolate chips.

Put all ingredients into a blender and I use the "aerate" setting until it reaches the consistency I like. Sometimes I pulverize it until everything is the size of specks and drink it like a shake/smoothie.

At times, I like to leave the ingredients in pea-sized chunks and eat it with a spoon. It can be eaten in a variety of ways.

Sometimes I put it back into the freezer for an hour until I can eat it with a spoon as I would eat ice cream. If it is left in the freezer too long, the ingredients separate and the coconut milk freezes as hard as ice. It has to be thawed at that point and remixed in the blender if it freezes too hard.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Know Thyself

I tried to read Bill Bryson's A Walk in the Woods, but I did what he did. I didn't read all of the book and he skipped hiking parts of the Appalachian Trail. He began his quest to hike the Appalachian Trail from Georgia to Maine with a lot of optimism and naive assumptions. It quickly became an exercise in survival. It was a good lesson in geography and history of the regions where the Appalachian Trail meanders through the Eastern part of the United States. Along the way, it became convenient for him to begin skipping parts of the trail for various reasons. The trail was never fully developed to the extent that the planners had intended which made it very difficult in some regions.

It had some interesting moments and was a little funny at times, but I kept wondering why he was doing it. Maybe it is like "why they climb the mountain..because it is there." I've read that people in Europe walk a lot and hike a lot and I think he got into that when he was living abroad. I know there are folks who like to hike, but I think they don't take too long to figure out a little goes a long way. I don't need six hours in the wilderness to remind me how much I enjoy a hot shower, clean toilets, clean beds, and warm food cooked on a stove.

I found parts of the book to be tedious and boring, so I skimmed big sections of it. It is a good "how to" manual for those who want to commit a few months of their lives to hiking the Appalachian Trail. I have to wonder if the book would encourage or discourage anyone seriously considering such an undertaking.  I have a lot of respect for his research and his list of suggested readings. I enjoy his folksy style of writing layered over some well-considered advice on the topic of serious hiking.

I stopped reading it before page 300. I skimmed over the rest. I went to the last chapter and read how he felt about the whole experience, but I thought it could have come a lot sooner. Generally, it was too much information, that I didn't need or want. I preferred mining for his nuggets of "self-realization" as I read how he reacted to various situations. His revelations about other hikers that crossed his path would have been a red flag to me. There are criminals in nature as much as on a big city sidewalk.

He learned a lot, and I suppose he wanted to know all of those things and wanted to write a book, but I didn't really care about most of it. I found the lesson about hypothermia to be good to know and a word to the wise to those who should stay out of the wilderness. I also thought the notion that it is dangerous to wander off the trail was a good piece of advice. Everyone has their levels of tolerance and I glaze over at the idea of spending that much time in the woods. Mention bears, snakes, insects, challenging weather conditions, and mind-numbing exhaustion, I could be quickly cured of the impulse to wander into the woods even with a GPS and a cell phone. I think he discovered the stuff of which he is made and sounded a bit sad about it. I'm sure he found some parts of the experience to be very rewarding. Whatever they were, I'm okay with not having that experience. I'm not willing to pay the price he paid. He did a respectable amount of hiking the Appalachian Trail, and wrote a book which I could vicariously enjoy without making such a huge commitment. I enjoyed his Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid more than his Walk in the Woods.

Monday, June 3, 2013

Microwave Multitasking

Everyone has a microwave that is used often in the course of a day. It's great for making a cup of tea or coffee--two minutes to heat water on high heat. Defrosting freezer items can take longer such as some frozen meats might take ten minutes on medium to low heat. Frozen items like precooked chicken can be heated in two minutes. Cooking a raw potato quickly can take only 6-8 minutes in a microwave. Microwaves are often used around my house to heat some leftover foods like vegetables, or spaghetti, etc. Snacks like popcorn or pretzels are easy to heat in a microwave.

So with all that stuff taking time to prepare, what to do with the two minutes that it takes the microwave to heat something? It's not enough time to go back to reading my book. It's not enough time to go back to preparing other things for a meal. After all if a cup of soup is in the microwave, it might boil over, so there I stand watching the turntable inside while the soup heats. It became obvious that it was a perfect opportunity to do a little multitasking while keeping an eye on the contents in the microwave. It isn't multitasking in the truest sense of the word, because I'm just watching the microwave do something and I want something to do while I watch it.

In the two minutes that it takes to heat a cup of water for tea, it is possible to do 50 lunges. Jumping jacks make a good choice, because one limits the time one does those anyway. Squats are easy to do in place while watching the soup or cup of water rotating around inside the microwave. Stretching exercises are quick and easy to keep busy and make good use of the time spent watching the microwave. I like put my hands behind my head, which bends my elbows, and lift the opposite knee to touch elbow to knee, alternating sides to see how many I can do in one minute. Sometimes for variety, I side-step back and forth across the kitchen and count how many I can do in the two minutes before the tea is ready.

Pushups are not a favorite of mine. I would rather use the set of dumbbells that weigh ten pounds each, which I keep in my kitchen corner. I can pick them up and do curls, or lift them over my head, or any number of movements while standing far enough away to watch the activity in the microwave and still move freely. Any activity that keeps me moving and using energy is acceptable. I don't have a formal list of activities that I do during that time when I babysit the microwave, I alternate with my mood. Sitting in a chair is the only unacceptable option. I already sit too much when I am reading. I need a counter where I could stand to read or work on the computer which is what I did when I worked. Exercising when I take a break helps.