Weather changes everything, doesn’t it? Ten days ago we were buried under well over a foot of snow and the temperatures lingered in single digits. Recently temperatures have crept into the 40s and the big melt is on. Welcome to March!
Two good reads
I just finished reading Unsheltered by Barbara Kingsolver. (Skip this paragraph if you already read it, because it was published a few years ago). I have never found Kingsolver’s novels to be “easy reads,” but they are also very worth the effort. Unsheltered is no different. Like many recent books, this one tells two distinct stories, one modern and one dating from the 1870’s. The hook is that both stories unfold in a house at the same address in a small New Jersey town and in a period of social upheaval.
The modern heroine, Willa, an unemployed journalist, and her husband Iano, an underemployed professor, face the same unsolvable financial struggles so many Americans have been grappling with for the last few decades: job insecurity, caring for sick, dependent parents, adult children and a grandchild needing their support. I was a few chapters into their story before I realized that it was playing out against the last five years of polarizing politics in this country. Their story is sometimes uncomfortable, often raw, but an honest look at today’s middle class.
Willa’s nineteenth century counterpart is Thatcher Greenwood, a teacher and disciple of Charles Darwin and Asa Grey, hired to teach science at a high school where he’s forbidden to use the term “evolution.” Greenwood, his wife, her mother and sister are living on the edge of poverty at the same address more than a hundred years earlier. He bonds intellectually with his neighbor, botanist Mary Treat, a historic figure in the company of Darwin, Grey and others. Caught like Willa in the winds of social change, he’s also in a no-win position, although his story benefits from Kingsolver’s scientific reservoir of botany & biology.
Unsheltered is much more than a novel. It’s history, science, and social and political commentary. It’s complicated, but so is life. It’s a great book to read in the company of a friend or two because there’s so much to discuss.
I also read Lillian Boxfish Takes a Walk. I looked forward to this book by Kathleen Rooney, a memoir cum novel about a successful career woman, for a time the most highly paid woman in advertising in the 1930’s. Rooney based her character on a real woman, Margaret Fishback. The story line follows the 84-year-old Lillian’s New Year’s Eve walk around Manhattan in 1984. Lillian recounts her life’s ups and downs while walking past important (to her) landmarks along the way. This is a book both funny and poignant. I wish I knew more about Manhatten’s storied streets and neighborhoods. On other hand, as a former copywriter, I more than understood Lillian’s work.
Look! Stanley Tucci is in Italy!
Are you watching Stanley Tucci Searching for Italy on CNN? There’s a bit of a buzz about it and I can understand why. It’s about Italy, it’s about food, and Stanley Tucci has access to the best chefs and their kitchens. This is fun: pretty people, pretty scenery, pretty food and a pace that moves viewers from kitchen, to field, to table. One of the things Steve and I learned on our European travels is the impact of local food sources on local flavors and farm-to-table cooking and eating. It’s a significant part of European culture and Tucci nails it.
After you’ve watched Stanley Tucci Searching for Italy, check out Somebody Feed Phil on Netflix. Phil Rosenthal (creator of “Everybody Loves Raymond”) travels the country and the globe eating and taking in the culture. Good food in cool places.
My husband’s kitchen takeover
Yes, I’ve been temporarily “excused” from kitchen duty.
Steve has stepped up and he’s really good. Actually he has always had his specialties. Friends refer to his beef burgundy as legendary and I don’t make chili at all any more because his is so much better. He also makes a very mean meatloaf. But now he’s making chicken pot pie, spaghetti bolognese, and Stanley Tucci’s pizza (see above). Tonight he’s making my favorite salmon (as long as I talk him through it!).
This all started with me fainting a few weeks ago, something I have been known to do in the past and for no discernible reason (though my doctors have certainly tried to find one). We went to the ER where I fainted again (apparently I don’t truly recover from one faint so they often repeat) but this time I was plugged into all sorts of monitors and — ta dah — the doctors identified a brief but especially quirky heart rythm they describe as an electrical problem. After a few more tests the next day, I got a pacemaker to guard against that quirk. All this is is a very long way of saying I cannot lift my right arm over my head or pick up more than a gallon of milk for six weeks. (Yikes! Yes, six weeks.)
It’s been a bit of a challenge getting my head around this pacemaker, but fainting without warning and with no recognizable trigger is dangerous, so I’m also relieved. And while this is certainly a personal topic to blog about — I really had to think about it — this is life throwing the occasional curve. I think of you as my friends, and I need to put a good spin on this, lest I think of myself as too fragile. And wouldn’t that be boring?
Thanks for stopping by, for reading/listening. Stay safe, wear your mask and get your shot!
See you again soon.