Books read in September 2017

Schooling is over for the summer.  Time to return to the regular reading schedule.

Picture Books: When’s My Birthday?
Middle Grade: Ashes to Asheville
Young Adult: Genuine Fraud (thought see the picture accompanying this post for my other favorite)
Adult Fiction: The Beautiful Land
Young Nonfiction: Take a Picture of Me, James Van Der Zee

When’s My Birthday?
Read for Librarian Book Group
As a person who enjoys her birthday, I enjoyed this book.

Ashes to Asheville
Sarah Dooley
Read for Librarian Book Group

When Fella’s mother, Mama Lacy died, Fella could have gone on living with Mama Shannon and her sister Zaney.  But Fella’s grandmother Mrs. Madison thinks Fella should live “with her blood.” She goes to court, and wins, so Fella lives with Mrs. Madison, and only sees Mama Shannon and Zaney for church.

One night, Fella catches Zaney breaking into Mrs. Madison’s house.  Zaney’s goal?  To steal Mama Lacy’s ashes, drive to Asheville to scatter them, and be back before anyone knows she’s gone.  Fella comes along, as does Mrs. Madison’s dog.

The plan to drive hundreds of miles in an old car in the middle of the night without detection falls apart quickly, and this book is full of misadventures.  It’s also full of heartbreak, while managing to be quite funny.  Some plot points are convenient, but overall, this book is worth reading for the love, humor and even class issues, as well as LGBTQ custody issues.

When Dimple Met Rishi
Sandhya Menon

Sandhya Menon sets up a great “meet cute” by having Dimple fully focused on her education and career, and not at all interested in being matched with a husband by her Indian family.  Meanwhile, unbeknownst to Dimple,  Rishi has been matched with her and is excited to begin their lives together, first by getting to know each other, then after they are married which Rishi guesses will happen after they finish college and before he goes to graduate school.

The opposite of sparks fly.  Or maybe, sparks fly in one direction and are then repelled and sent right back to a surprised Rishi. This sets the stage for a delightful little reverse romance that also includes class and friendship issues, parental and sibling relations and a satisfying ending.

Genuine Fraud
E.K. Lockhart
This is Jule’s story, but her story can’t be told without also telling Imogen’s story.  E.K. Lockhart lets us in on both stories as this book unfolds.  A fun read, and best when one can read a large chunk at the beginning.  If read in bits, this book might be confusing.  Memorable characters, plus class issues.  Nicely done.

The Epic Crush of Genie Lo
F.C. Yee
Read for Librarian Book Group
This book is hilarious and the kind of outsized, bombastic story that I enjoy. It also hooked me up with some Chinese folklore, and has a punny title.  Big win!

Words in Deep Blue
Cath Crowley
Read for Librarian Book Group ????
Let’s imagine that a boy goes to school in a town until he is well into middle school.  Then he moves away.  A few years later, he drowns.  In this modern world, where we are all connected via social media, what are the chances that no one in the old town will hear of this boy’s death?

If you think the chances are zero that not one person would catch wind of this boy’s passing, you are going to have the same problem with this book as I did.  The entire premise of the book rests on the dead boy’s older sister moving back to their old town, yet not a single person she encounters (except for her aunt) knows about her brother’s death.  Even the friends she has kept in touch with during the years she has moved elsewhere.

There was a lot to like in this book.  The friendships and romantic relationships were well developed and there was good stuff around mourning and losing things (brothers, bookshops.) However, my reading experience was marred by the continuing confusion as to why no one even mentions the dead brother and then the increasing skepticism that they wouldn’t have heard about the dead brother.  I’m not sure how this book made it into publication with that largest of plot hole.

The Beautiful Land
Alan Averill

Takahiro is a washed-up American-born Japanese reality star when he goes to work for the Axon Corporation. Samira is an Iraq War veteran, crippled from PTSD.  They have their Seattle childhood in common, and their friendship that never developed into something more.

Tak’s job at Axon is to explore parallel universes, which is not your normal kind of job.  When it turns out that someone has other plans for parallel universes, Tak and Sam must work together to save the world.  And also figure out that whole latent romance thing.

Averill balances the parallel universe and the relationships with flair.  This book is high-stakes, high-action and also funny.

Take a Picture of Me, James Van Der Zee
Read for Librarian Book Group
Picture book story of James Van Der Zee, who took portraits of people in Harlem during the 20th Century.  Likable illustrations, plus actual examples of Mr. Van Der Zee’s work at the end of the book.

Three sentence movie reviews: Lost City of Z

A gripping tale of Percy Fawcett, explorer of the Amazon.  In this tale, Mr. Fawcett is much more enlightened than his contemporaries, and respects the “primitive” societies and landscape he is exploring.* Balances nicely the adventure and the family scenes on the home front.**

Cost: $1.50 from Redbox
Where watched: at home with Matt

*I’m a bit suspicious of how much of this attitude is historically accurate to the real Percy Fawcett, and how much has to do with contemporary movie makers still wanting to make an adventure movie set in a time period where the motivations for exploration were mostly icky.

**Fun realization.  Watching the DVD extras and discovering that in some countries this movie is called the Lost City of Zed. 😉

poster from:

Challenge. Me, the food I eat, and the USDA Thrifty Food Plan

In looking for ways to send more of my money toward the payoff of my student loan, I’m going to focus on reducing my food costs in the last three months of 2017

There are many different ways to look at food costs.  Some people lump their grocery and eating out budgets into one line.  Some people look at the amount for the entire month, while others look at their food budget weekly. Some people even will break down each meal into a cost.

I have a couple of complicating factors in tracking my grocery bill.  One has to do with the calendar.  There are 30 days in some months, 31 in others.  Some months have four weekends, some have five.  Also, I make and sell meals to Matt.  This came about because I needed a side job, and one of my skills is cooking. He has no desire to develop that skill in himself (thus far) and needed to reduce food costs.   This has been great for both of us.  For me, it’s easier to make recipes that feed more than one person.  Plus, I get a little extra cash on the side.  Matt gets a variety of nutritious food for less than he would pay eating out.  I charge him $4.10 per meal.

A few years ago, I was searching the internet to find out what is a reasonable amount to spend on groceries.  I discovered the USDA’s Food Plans.  In a delightful bit of government minutia, food costs are tracked monthly and published on the USDA website. In one handy PDF document, you get food costs broken down by age, gender and family. Plus you can see the average cost under four USDA plans broken down weekly or monthly.

Example: For August 2017, a female between the ages of 19 and 50 would find the weekly/monthly Thrifty Food Plan costs to be $37.90/$164.20; the Low-Cost Plan to be $47.90/$207.50; the Moderate-Cost Plan to be $59.00/$255.80; and the Liberal Plan to be $75.40/$326.70.  Note that these plans assume all meals and snacks for the week/month are prepared at home.

This is super cool and gives me a goal.  Except, I also have to somehow reflect the fact that 4-6 meals worth of food per week go to a male between the ages of 19-50 years old (Thrifty food cost for that category is $42.80/$185.40).  What to do, what to do?

I went back and crunched my grocery numbers from YNAB. There’s a whole spreadsheet, but I won’t make you read that. I’ll just sum up what I found.

First of all, I decided that the grocery shopping week begins on Saturday.  I do my shopping on Saturday or Sunday.  Thus, months that have five weekends, the total monthly food cost gets divided by 5. (Of course, October is the rare unicorn and begins on a Sunday, making things complex. I gave September 5 weekends, and October 4)

From April through September my average weekly food costs were $64.97 which puts me above the Moderate and below the Liberal Plan. Drat!  Although August & September took a deep dive with $56.50 and $54.04 weekly totals.

But! Some of those food costs went to meals for the 19-50 year-old male.  I don’t have data prior to August, but in August I sold Matt 21 meals and in September there were 17. (Vacation happened.)

I took the average number of Matt’s meals per week and added them to the total number of meals per week for me (7 days times 3 meals per day gives me 21 per week) giving me a total of 26.25 meals per week in August.

After that, I figured out what the weekly percentage was for my meals.  In August  that was 80%.  Using that percentage, I could then calculate my actual average weekly meal costs.  My total:  $45.20 which puts me below the $47.90 Low-cost plan but not reaching the threshold of $37.90 Thrifty food plan.

I’ve realized there is a slight flaw in my data in that I don’t actually know how many meals I ate in the month.  As mentioned before, vacation happened and the food budget for vacation happens outside of this grocery budget.  I also don’t know how much I ate out in August, or September. Though my $40 eating out budget remained untouched all month (good job, me)a friend did buy me lunch for helping her with her resume.  Plus work bought at least two lunches.

I have added lines to my spreadsheet so I can more accurately reflect the number of days I ate meals that I prepared.

My goal for October, November, December is to meet the Thrifty Plan Food costs while still eating a variety of delicious food with a lot of fruits and vegetables.  I still plan to buy my red meat and poultry at New Seasons, which costs more, but I hope to offset that by doing the bulk of my shopping once per month at Winco (I have rediscovered the amazing deals) and cooking more with low-cost ingredients as well as using meat and cheese as flavor enhancers and not the main event.  I will also figure out a way to better ascertain if Imperfect Produce is a good enough deal to keep going with.

Right now, I’m pleased that my grocery costs are in the Low-Cost range.  But the monthly difference between the Low-Cost and Thrifty plans is $43.30.  Over one year that is $519.60 that would be better off being paid toward my student loans.

September 2017 Song of the month : Independence Day by Martina McBride

This one comes to me via the Amateur Talent Contest at the Minnesota State Fair.  Grace Harmoning sang it in the Teen category.  I’d not heard this song before (probably due to the fact it’s a country song and my knowledge of that particular genre is sparse).  I could tell it was a popular song, because several people around me were singing along.

It was only after I watched the video that I found out its subject was domestic violence.

Heat Pump!

Today is the day we get our new heat pump.  Currently, our home is heated by Cadet heaters. I dislike them for a variety of reasons: You have to turn them on and off, there’s no set-it-and-forget-it option; They are expensive to run; There’s not a lot of control, they go from too cold to too hot.

I’ve been longing for a ductless mini-split heat pump for years.  And since we’re putting a path in the side yard, we decided to have the heat pump installed now. That way, we would know how much space it was taking up before we put in the path.

Here’s our before picture:

And here’s what it looks like after!  That little guy is going to heat our 1000 square foot house much more efficiently than the cadet heaters.

One thing that worked out quite well, is that the remote control–which is used to control the temperature–fits nicely where our phone jack used to be.  We will always know where the remote is, and our unessential phone jack is covered.

Here’s what it looks like from outside. 

The electrician had the worst job. We don’t have a crawlspace and we don’t have an attic, so he had to run the cable to the electrical panel from the outside through the dead space in the kitchen.  Then he had to make a turn and sneak through the closet.

He was a bit sweaty by the end of it, and sadly lamented our lack of crawlspace. 
It’s nice to have this project done.  Right now the temperature is such that we don’t need the heat pump to work, so we’ve mostly been using the fan feature.  This is probably the first year of my life–ever–that I’ve looked forward to colder temperatures.

Orange Door Project: Side Yard rehab

Project time!  We are making a nice path from the sidewalk to the edge of the backyard.  I look forward to not walking through mud (in the winter) weeds (in the summer) and cat poop (year round.)

Here are our “before” photos.  Side yard from the fence to the edge of the yard.  Big weedy mess. 

From the fence to the sidewalk: big weedy mess.

From the sidewalk looking back to the fence:  big weedy mess, though that is mint that I planted.

The side yard is a Fall 2017 project. After that, we will tackle the backyard, which is a Spring 2018 project.

The plan for the side yard: clear all the vegetation, dig out 4″ of dirt.  Add back in 2″ of gravel, landscape cloth, a layer of sand, flagstone, then more gravel.  I’m very excited to be done with this project and have an easy  passage.

Hike to the top of Mt. Sylvania

I’d never heard of Mt. Sylvania, but here was an urban hike, so we went for it.  We started at McNary Park, which had a nice mist going.

Most of the hike wound through the largest planned community in Oregon, which sits on the border between Portland and Lake Oswego.  There were a good amount of tunnels to walk through.  I observed that Lake Oswego tunnels do not stink of urine.

A few houses ring the top of Mt. Sylvania, including this one, custom built for astronomy, and with an awesome weather vane.

On a clearer day you can see a very long way.

This was also one of those hikes where I had no idea where I was most of the time.  Just after I took this picture of this house that utilizes much Deco glass, we turned the corner and, “oh hello!” there was the car.

An obituary that caught my eye

You know how you hear about people having to cross state lines to get married (Mildred and Richard Loving, for instance) and you think that perhaps that only happened in the south? (Maybe that’s just me, thinking along those tracks.) 

Here is a woman who had to cross the Columbia River to marry, because Oregon didn’t allow a white man to marry an Asian woman.  The rest of her life is also interesting.  What stories might her parents have told her, of their life in China?  And what stories could she tell us about being an orphan at 16?  Or her experiences volunteering for the Rose Festival and the Portland Rose Society?

Three sentence movie reviews: Palo Alto

I liked this movie, both for Jack Kilmer’s performance* and for the gauzy way the story unfolds. Based on a series of stories written by James Franco, the movie is unflinching in depicting everyday rape culture, and I wonder how much Gia Coppola’s direction has to do with this.**  It’s one of those movies where I think maybe the kids of Palo Alto need a little less free time, a little less money, and perhaps something to believe in; yet also, I was mesmerized by the film itself.

Cost: free from library
Where watched: at home

*”Who is that?” I wondered aloud during his first scene.  His performance wasn’t showy, but he had full command of the screen.  It made sense when I figured out he was the son of Val Kilmer and Joanne Whalley.  This was his first role.

**DVD extras provide an interview with James Franco, where he discusses how strongly he felt that Gia Coppla should direct this movie, even going so far as to take a role in a film, simply to obtain the rest of the funding necessary to film.  He’s also creepy good as the soccer coach.

poster from: