Our New Year’s Eve Celebration

I went to Fred Meyer and grabbed ingredients for beer cheese fondue, fondue dipping things, and our favorite kind of ice cream. As a bonus, I stopped by a Redbox kiosk to see if the movie we were planning on watching, Tenet, was available. It was! This means we paid $1.80 for it, rather than the $19.99 we were planning on paying.

The result: beer cheese fondue was delicious and simple to make, Tenet was entertaining, and the ice cream was, as always a cornucopia of chocolate flavors and textures.

Books Read in December 2020

Picture Books

I am Every Good Thing
Derrick Barnes
Read for Librarian Book Group

Lyrical and beautifully illustrated.

All He Knew
Helen Frost
Read for Librarian Book Group

Novel in verse with very evocative poems about Henry, a deaf boy who was sent to live at a home for feebleminded children.

I spent the first segment of the book hating it, due to how the children were treated by the attendants. If you are feeling the same do persist as the book takes a turn. It also has me curious to read Down in my Heart, William Stafford’s memoir about his time as a conscientious objector during World War II.

Middle Grade

Some Places More Than Others
Renée Watson

Watson is so great at emotion! Plus, often her books are set or partially set in Portland.

Amara gets intergenerational insights to her family’s relationships when she takes a trip to New York City with her father. Includes a list of things to see in Portland and in NYC, as well as prompts for readers to ask family members about their stories.

(I got this from a Little Free Library and am excited to pass it along to another reader.)

Young Adult

The Whitsun Girls
Carrie Mesrobian

The writing! So good! But this is a hard book to get into. There are two plots–one back in the day maybe mid-1800s? and one modern. The first chapter has five members of an extended family, plus another guy, plus an ex-boyfriend, plus a dead mother, plus a mention of a different guy, plus a reference to a different family, plus a dog named Rusty.

By the end of the first chapter, I had a rough sketch of all the people, but it was touch and go there for a bit. At any rate, Mesrobian, besides being a lyrical writer, is so good at portraying emerging female sexuality. I’d say it’s worth wading through.

The Truth Commission
Susan Juby

A family who revolves around the whims of one of their children. In this case, it’s a talented daughter who draws unflattering portrayals of her mother, father and younger sister, publishes them in graphic novel form and has become famous for them. But the same situation applies to families with a child who has a substance abuse problem, or one with a terminally ill child.

Juby is great at observation and also funny. Plus, there are footnotes.

Charming as a Verb
Ben Philippe

Henri has crafted a way to move through the word as a Black kid on scholarship at his New York City high school. He’s got his sights set on Columbia, runs a dog walking business, and nothing much fazes him until a fellow student and upstairs neighbor calls him out for not being what he seems.

Aside from amazing title, this book was fun on so many levels. At this point, I’m ready to pledge to read all of Ben Philippe’s novels. The first two have been so good!

Another Kind of Cowboy
Susan Juby

Alternating narrator novel about a boy who loves horses (specifically dressage) and a wealthy girl who like plastic horses more than the real thing.

Cemetery Boys
Aiden Thomas
Read for Librarian Book Group

There are parts of this book that scream FIRST NOVEL! Sometimes the writing was such that characters in the room seemed to disappear and reappear when needed, rather than staying present for the entire scene. Other times I wasn’t sure what was going on.

However! This story is an interesting insight into brujx culture (I had to google) and also has a trans Latino character. I’m all for representation, so have a look.

Before the Ever After
Jacqueline Woodson
Read for Librarian Book Group

Woodson is the queen of novels in verse and I suspect her mastery of language inspires a lot of other writers to try their hand at the format, with varying results.

This is a portrait of a family affected by chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE).

Grownup Fiction

Nella Larson

Interesting story from 1929 (that I came by because of Jan Wilson’s Goodreads feed) about a Black woman who runs into a childhood friend who is passing for white.

I was reading this the same week I watched Bessie and a week before Ma Rainy’s Black Bottom was released on Netflix. These three things together were a great combo.

Also, read the introduction last to avoid spoilers.

The Golden State
Lydia Kiesling

The minutia of raising a toddler rendered in sparkly prose the likes of which made for enchanting reading.

My library copy was annotated by a previous reader who carefully crossed out both instances of “bring” and wrote “take” in a neat script. This amused me greatly as Kiesling’s style eschews series commas and dialog conventions. Apparently the incorrect usage bring/take was a step too far off the literary fiction grammar path.

Girl Gone Viral
Alisha Rai

Katrina is fine with lusting after her bodyguard while living a pleasant, secluded life she’s built. But then an innocent encounter in a café is turned into a viral series of inaccurate tweets and she escapes with the lusty bodyguard to his family peach farm.

I enjoyed these characters and also felt overall this was a book without a lot of obstacles, which made for pleasant reading.

Photo from the Past

My friend S. North gave me this photo of use taken on the porch of the Leverett, Massachusetts house she was living in in the mid-90s. I’d lived with her and one other roommate (most likely the person who took this photo) for a summer and came back to visit that winter. We lived on 868 N. Pleasant St., though. She had moved by this time.

There are things I love about this picture. The fact that we both now live in Portland and see each other regularly. That I’m still overly reliant on one sweater-type object, bright in color, to keep me warm. (That’s my famous green sweater in the picture. It was given to me by friend Sara because her Great Aunt Hazel died and she knew I would love Great Aunt Hazel’s sweater.) I love that S. North still wears caps like that. That porch sitting was very fun.

However, this is what I wrote on Instagram:

Back in my green-sweater-wearing, porch-sitting days.

The truth behind this photo is that this was one of the hardest times in my life. My connections were few and felt tenuous and it was tough to get through every single day. I’m lucky to still be here.

There were respites, like this trip, and I’m glad to have had those days of light.

Mental health issues are tough. Hard to spot, hard to get treatment for in our health delivery system, and hard to overcome. It’s been a few decades since I’ve felt this way and I still do daily work to keep from sliding back.

While I do pine for parts of that time in my life I know I’ve traded it for something more solid and happier.

If right now is a dark time for you, keep reaching out, keep trying to get help, keep trying different things to make you feel better. The world can seem crappy and not worth sticking around for, but it is. Really

Roadside America

There are times when a somewhat innocuous newspaper mention knocks the breath out of me. So it was when I read in passing that Olivia Goldsmith, author of many best selling novels including The First Wives Club, had died while undergoing cosmetic surgery. I was on the bus at the time, and there was no one to remark to.

So it was with this paragraph which spends a little more time on the subject of Roadside America’s closing then the passing mention of Goldsmith’s death did. It still caused that catch in my breathing.

When I moved from Somerville to Portland in 2001, my friend flew out to make the trip with me. I had purchased a guidebook called Roadside America, which directed us to the quirky things along the way. Of the sites we saw, the one that surprised me the most was the Roadside America attraction the author mentions.

In my memory, it was a sprawling setup. Miniatures of America that stretched through several stitched together buildings. It was, essentially, a huge model railroad, but when you neared the end of the winding path, the lights dimmed as if the sun had set over the landscape, an American flag was projected, and “America the Beautiful” played. I found myself surprised at the tears that sprung from my eyes.

There were a lot of things that could have fed into that feeling. It wasn’t yet two months after 9/11; I was making a huge move to a place I’d visited regularly, but never lived; my time in Massachusetts hadn’t been the greatest. But somehow that simple (and also complex, what with the lights and the projected flag and the music) picture of the sun going down over a miniature American landscape stirred up a lot inside me.

My visit to Roadside America was probably going to be my only visit. I don’t see myself making my way back to Pennsylvania in this lifetime. But it was a perfect visit.

Christmas Present: A Movie!

In the normal world, I don’t go to the movies on Christmas, because I wouldn’t want to go to work in Christmas Day and I don’t think my actions should support other people having to go to work on that day. But this is a pandemic, all the theaters are closed, and Wonder Woman 1984 is opening on HBO Max on Christmas Day!

So we bought our selves a one-month subscription to the channel, and prepped for a Christmas Day treat.

I made a cheesy pizza roll appetizer I’d had my eye on for years, Matt broke out the cheese from the gift basket his uncle sent, I mixed up a colorful cocktail, and we settled in for the next Wonder Woman installment! Here’s my review.

Christmas Morning

This year, due to quarantine, the fam met briefly in my Aunt Pat’s garage so we could do stockings. This year, that meant putting things in a “stocking” that was really a bag with a name written on it. Then we brought our stockings home to unpack.

There were a lot of goodies in the stocking!

Plus, I had a fun present to open, so here’s another view of the spoils.

The stationary says, “Nobody writes letters anymore.” I love it!

These were my winners!

And check out this situation:

Though brief, it was nice to see everyone for a stocking exchange.

Christmas Dinner

Since all the Christmas traditions were up in the air, I decided that 2020 was the year to try a Tofuky. Even in my vegetarian years, I never shelled out the money. Back in those days, it came with a tempeh drumstick, so I guess I should have sampled the product then.

Here’s the Tofurky, ready to go into the pot. I followed the instructions on the label and made a soy sauce/olive oil concoction for the broccoli and tofurky to roast in.

And here’s our final product, dusted with sage. I also made mashed potatoes, because I don’t like to pass up a chance to eat mashed potatoes.

The verdict? Very salty. The broccoli tasted amazing, through, having roasted in that soy sauce/olive oil concoction. I skipped the gravy (because I almost always skip the gravy) and the potatoes were delicious!

While I wouldn’t turn down a slice of tofuky, if one is offered to me, this was probably a one-and-done experience.

The Santas

Since we are quarantining this year, Matt and I will not be doing the usual, which is going to Aunt Carol’s house for dinner and stockings. Instead, we went to find the Bakelite Santas that Chris Willis (@ChrisWillis) has been installing in various Portland locales for 10 years. We pondered the clue he gave us and set out for Westmoreland where we wandered about until we saw a faint pink glow coming from an empty building.

The Santas were marvelous!

This was our first time seeing them. They don’t usually wear masks, but this year is a special year. We got to find six mask variations.

This was a very fun break from our routine. Here’s more about the project.

Decorating Santa Cookies with Mom

Mom wanted to give her neighbors some cookies and, when searching the internet, found someone’s great idea to turn a heart-shaped cookie upside down and make a Santa. Using just the star tip, some frosting, and jimmies, red hots, and chocolate chips, we made these darling little creatures.

These are also historic cookies because while we were making them, I got a call offering me a job as a full-time copy editor.