Thursday, November 29, 2012

Okay, Maybe Just One More....

With Thanksgiving in mind, I took a detour into a quick nonfiction read about the foods of our childhood, Better Than Homemade: Amazing Foods That Changed The Way We Eat by Carolyn Wyman. This book is easily read in an afternoon, colorful, glossy, lots of pictures, and a ton of fun, trivial history about products we all remember from back in the day. We're talking Kool-Aid, Tang, Pillsbury, Jello, Green Giant, and a slew of other ones you'd recognize in an instant.

author Carolyn Wyman

It's hard not to get nutty for nostalgia during the holiday season, when so much time is spent around friends and family you either can't see during the rest of the year, or you're avoiding (hey, we all have those people in our lives lol). But what better time to indulge in a fun book like this. Check out all the cool stuff Wyman teaches you that you didn't really need to know, but now that you do, you can have something to throw into those awkward pauses when someone else says something mind-blowingly inappropriate and fight-inducing:

  • The story behind why Dinty Moore stew cans used to have a thumbprint on the lid
  • How sci-fi writer Gene Wolfe helped design the machine that makes Pringles (thank you!!)
  • How the Pringles shape helped inspire the shape of the Sydney Olympic Stadium
  • Jolly Green Giant, Tony The Tiger, Pillsbury Doughboy, Charlie The Tuna and the Keebler Elves were all designed by the same ad agency, Leo Burnett
  • Philadelphia Cream Cheese is not made in Philly, but do try their 3 Step Cheesecake anyway --- like you'd want to turn away cheesecake either way, right!
  • Who knew the inventor of Jell-O was a wee bit of a hottie back in his day!

And here's a little something not mentioned in the book, just my own observation, is it just me or does the 1936 incarnation of the Jolly Green Giant bear a bit of a resemblence to Jerry O'Connell?!

A really entertaining part of this book are the "Unauthorized Uses" sidebars, relating the not-endorsed-by-the-manufacturers uses for the products. Some of my favorites:

Coffemate Non Dairy Creamer :  clothes whitener (mixed with water makes a soaking solution), dry erase board cleaner, OR mixed with 2 parts hot water can be turned into liquid creamer

Tang: can be used to shampoo greasy hair, clean toilet bowls or dishwashers, wart treatment (Tang & water paste with a Band-Aid over it)

Kool-Aid: recreate your favorite discontinued flavors! Sharkleberry is 1/2 tsp each of Lemonade, Orange, Strawberry with 1 cup sugar and 1/2 gal of water. Sunshine Punch = 1 pack Orange + 1 pack Lemonade with the sugar and water. Wyman says you can find other flavor formulas at KoolAid Usernet Group.

Carnation Instant Breakfast: Did you know you can make ice cream from this stuff? Yep, mix 1 packet with 1 cup milk, put in a plastic container, stick in freezer until it's about half-frozen, still a little soft. Take out, throw into your blender, hit pulse until it looks like ice cream. This is just for a single serving so if you have friends around, you'll either have to do the math on that one or send them on their way before trying this ;-)

There's a good amount of quick and easy recipes in this book but the one I must say all of us need to try at least once (honey, I think I see another baked goods testing day in your future ;-P) is the Better Than Sex Cake (Better Than Sex?? You know we have to test that!!)  featuring one of my faves, Cool Whip! Or as we , thanks to Family Guy, like to say in our house, "Coo WHHip". Recipe link below pic. Enjoy!! 

Better Than Sex recipe

One Last Helping Of Harvest

Funny how you find yourself recovering from Thanksgiving excitement only to find yourself right up on Christmas craziness! The Fall / Winter transition with the holidays and all is my favorite time of year but yea... leaves me with a slight but constant weariness lol. My fatigue blended with a holiday helping of sinusitis left me with energy to do little more than delve into my books and my Kleenex box for a few days.

I opened up this book Harvest Moon by K.C. McKinnon (the penname of writer Catherine Pelletier) thinking it's a short read, should be a good, chill break from the more politically themed books I've been tearing through recently. Harvest Moon is the story of Maggie McIntyre, a forty-something whose husband does the mid-life crisis and runs off with his assistant. About to be a divorcee, Maggie herself runs off to re-start her life in the small Canadian town where she spent summers as a teenage girl. She hopes to reconnect with her first love, Robert Flaubert.

Apparently a movie version of this book was made a few years back,
I didn't see it but came across something about it when I was writing up this post.
Doesn't surprise me, this book reads like a Hallmark movie lol

I was pretty underwhelmed by this one. The story wasn't awful, I really liked the Canadian setting, but it didn't feel like the characters were developed enough to make the kind of epic love McKinnon was trying to create all that believable. I would say this had more the feel of a short story or novella. One reason I have a hard time getting into short stories is the length prohibits the kind of in-depth character development I really enjoy in novels. That was sort of the feeling I got here. The little bits of Robert's letters didn't really tug at my heart, they just sounded like a clingy teenage boy pushing too hard to have more than fun summer flings. A girl is suppose to make a forever decision that early in life? Calm down boy! Everyone thinks they "know" it's love with the first one, doesn't always make it so. Young Maggie isn't convinced it's forever love until years later when her marriage to another man flatlines and she starts to ask what if. She moves back to this town in Canada and sadly finds that Robert died a few years back from a heart attack. Within days of her arrival back in town, Maggie finds herself caught up in a romance with Robert's 20 something son, of all people.

I read a number of reviews on this book screaming "ICK!" over this but honestly it's not the worst plotline I've ever come across. It's not incestual, it's just kinda weird and unusual, out of the norm. The idea of the relationship with Robert's son didn't bother me -- I actually read a similar storyline in Emmeline by Judith Rossner --  but the forced "I've loved you so long even though I just met you" sentiment was a bit much. Robert naming his son Eliot because Maggie's favorite author was T.S. Eliot (before she discovers Yeats) even though Eliot's not her son (that WOULD be  exponential ICK!!) -- see what I mean about clingy? .... Eliot romancing Maggie with Neil Young's "Harvest Moon".... the whole book was on schmaltz overload -- though I admit, I do kinda like that song, mainly because it reminds me of my mom playing and singing to the record when I was a kid :-)

TYPO! "Eliot had begun to fidget, the toe of his book kicking now against the broken shards of coffee cup..."


Another thing I found funny, the pic of the Harvest Inn reminded me a little bit of the opening shot of the 1970s British comedy series, Fawlty Towers

The book did remind me of a great T.S. Eliot poem though, "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock".
Bit of a cumbersome title but definitely a beautiful poem. It's a little long, you can read the whole thing here, but here is an excerpt, just to give you an idea:

LET us go then, you and I,
When the evening is spread out against the sky
Like a patient etherized upon a table;
Let us go, through certain half-deserted streets,
The muttering retreats        5
Of restless nights in one-night cheap hotels
And sawdust restaurants with oyster-shells:
Streets that follow like a tedious argument
Of insidious intent
To lead you to an overwhelming question….        10
Oh, do not ask, “What is it?”
Let us go and make our visit.
In the room the women come and go
Talking of Michelangelo.
The yellow fog that rubs its back upon the window-panes,        15
The yellow smoke that rubs its muzzle on the window-panes
Licked its tongue into the corners of the evening,
Lingered upon the pools that stand in drains,
Let fall upon its back the soot that falls from chimneys,
Slipped by the terrace, made a sudden leap,        20
And seeing that it was a soft October night,
Curled once about the house, and fell asleep.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Love Me Some Lincoln!

All this election year hoopla has inspired me to check out books on past presidents and their leading ladies. Here I visit one of my favorites, Abraham Lincoln, who, according to a few biographies I've read on the guy, hated being called Abe. Whatever name you want to give him now, this man undeniably had a way with talking simply but strikingly. Not saying the guy was perfect or that every decision he made was brilliant... how could you say that about anyone? But man, to read back on even basic letters he wrote to people, one can find some touching, inspiring words! Most recently, I've read Abraham Lincoln: Theologian Of American Anguish by Elton Trueblood. Gotta say, the title alone intrigued me. Considering the title, I actually didn't get into this book for any Christian reasoning. I looked at it as another sort of history book. And it did not disappoint!

I had the Carl Sandburg Lincoln books when I was a kid {sadly, they got ruined while in storage at my parents' place years ago :-( } but had never come across this title before. This copy I have now was actually in a box of books one of my friends had pulled from a house that he helped clear out. He nearly threw them in the dumpster but I got the box from him, realizing when I got home that I had an autographed copy! Always a bonus :-)

author Elton Trueblood - from
"David Elton Trueblood (1900–1994) was a noted 20th-century American Quaker author and theologian, former chaplain both to Harvard and Stanford universities."

At only 141 pages, this is a pretty easy, entertaining read -- easily done in an afternoon or evening lounging at home (if you're so lucky to have those :-D ). I didn't find the writing overly preachy but definitely informative, regardless of your faith. Some of the cool stuff Trueblood discusses:

  • Lincoln was the first President to establish an officially / federally recognized Thanksgiving Day. Lincoln originally encouraged 4 nationwide fasting and reflection days throughout the year but upon suggestion from a Quaker friend, decided one nationally recognized holiday for everyone was the way to go -- Lincoln wanted the day to be non-denominational, just a day where everyone could stop, collaborate and listen... jk.. couldn't resist... nah, he wanted people to stop, reflect, and be thankful and humble for their blessings, acknowledge their misguided actions but appreciate the lessons learned from them. 
  • Even though Lincoln was down for having a Thanksgiving Day, he actually pushed to keep legislation in session during Christmas. In fact, Lincoln had official work-related letters dated on Christmas Day! While he was a man of faith personally, he never outwardly subscribed to any one particular religion or followed any one church's religious holiday schedule. He found things he liked in several faiths. Even the night of his assassination, the night he was attending the theater with Mrs. Lincoln, was a Good Friday. 
  • Terms that are so commonly attached to American Government today, such as "Under God", recited by schoolchildren everywhere with the Pledge of Allegiance,  and "In God We Trust" lead back to Lincoln. Trueblood talks of how "Under God" does not appear in the first draft of The Gettysburg Address, leading one to believe it was something Lincoln ad-libbed in the moment and added in later when it was reprinted in the papers of the day. And it was Lincoln's administration who popularized the phrase "In God We Trust", a phrase we instantly associate with the National Treasury now. 
Abraham Lincoln
"Abraham Lincoln was not a religious leader in the conventional sense. Certainly he was not  professionally religious and he had no formal theological training. What he knew about prayer came not from books but from experience, much of  it agonizing. He was no flaming prophet like John the Baptist, nor was he an ecstatic arouser of men's emotions, like the Mahdi. He was, instead, as Horace Greeley said, 'a plain, true, earnest, patriotic man, gifted with common sense.'"

This book definitely had me thinking about our presidential election this year. Think about how many people on either side  of this election said that the opposing candidate winning would be the worst decision a voter could make. How many, on either side, said the opposing candidate would bring the country to ruination? Well, take a look at what was being said of Lincoln during one of his election years:

"Had we any respect for Mr. Lincoln, official or personal, as a man, or as President-Elect of the United States, his career and speeches on his way to the seat of government would have cruelly impaired it. We do not believe the Presidency can ever be more degraded by any of his successors, than it has been by him, even before his inauguration." ~ The Baltimore Sun

Or the 1864 New Year's edition of The Crisis:

The people of the North owe Mr. Lincoln nothing but eternal hatred and scorn. There are  500,000  new made graves; there are 500,000 orphans; there are 200,000 widows; there is a bottomless sea of blood, there is the Constitution broken; there are liberty and law -- liberty in chains and in a dungeon; thieves in the Treasury, provost marshals in the seats of justice, butchers in the pulpit -- and these are the things which we owe Mr. Lincoln.

WOW. Sound familiar? I'm recalling something about history and repetition... Imagine, Lincoln ever being considered the worst president in history! But in his time, there were people that honestly saw it that way. Just as now, there are people that things couldn't be worse. Trueblood makes a good point regarding the President and the press:

 During his first year as President, Lincoln was faced with public criticism of a bitterness which is hard to believe. All men in public life are forced to bear abuse, but few have faced it as much as Lincoln faced it day after day. The writers in the newspapers could sound smart because they did not have the responsibilities of decision, and they could sound bold by enunciating extreme positions which they were not required to implement. Lincoln, by contrast, in order to maintain integrity had to reject extremes because he was sworn to be faithful to the welfare of the entire nation. 

Reading about Lincoln, and how he solidified his stance on slavery (in part, finding support in the Bible verse Matthew 25:40 -- 'Inasmuch as ye have it done unto one of the least of my brethren, ye have done it unto me'), it makes me ponder how Lincoln would view our president now. What would he say about the hateful, racist things said about the guy? What would be his words of wisdom to bring people together and pull their heads out of their asses? Would they listen? Regardless of what you might think of our president as a person or a leader, the amount of blatantly racist, uneducated, uninformed comments I've seen thrown his way just off of his race... I've found it utterly ridiculous that with all the information in the world now, people can still choose to remain so f-n stupid when it comes to race and respect for fellow human beings in general. But I was warmed by one story in particular in this book, regarding Lincoln and Quaker Eliza Gurney.

widow of  English Quaker Joseph Gurney and friend of Abraham Lincoln

During the Civil War, Eliza Gurney became concerned for the mental health of Lincoln, what with the stress of brother versus brother out there killing each other and him being held largely responsible. Gurney rounded up three of her fellow Quakers (John M. Whithall, Hannah B. Mott and James Carey) and walked over to the White House to visit him -- back in the days when it was still cool to just walk up to the front door like you were taking over some mail that got mistakenly delivered to your house. Gurney explained that they were not there to request anything of the strained president, but instead offered their spiritual support and friendship. They came in, did a prayer circle with the president. They only intended to stay 15 minutes or so, but Lincoln found himself so lifted and refreshed by being given the opportunity to share the weight of his burdens with genuinely concerned friends that he asked them to stay longer, do some more praying, more talking. One of the Quakers later wrote that at one point, there was a moment of silent prayer where the tears were just rolling down Lincoln's face. Lincoln was so moved by the day and the generosity of these people that he asked Eliza to continue to write to him so that he may continue to talk out his fears and have a friend / Friend to pray over him (a sort of unofficial therapist, maybe?). You just don't hear these kinds of stories that often these days. But it was sweet to picture what a gift this must have been to Lincoln.

"Lincoln was grateful for the confidence of those who supported him so loyally in his difficult task, but he was deeply sobered by the fact that almost two million of his fellow countrymen had voted against him." ~~ Elton Trueblood

Another vintage Lincoln book I highly recommend if you can find a copy is Lincoln: His Words And His World, published by Country Beautiful in 1965. My copy pictured below:

This book explores the man behind the presidency through his letters and speeches. Heavily illustrated, it offers a wealth of info on him that's easy to read in sections. Might be a bit of a treasure hunt involved finding a copy though -- I was given this copy when I was a kid and it's the only one I've come across in person. I'm sure there's gotta be some out there on Amazon and Ebay though :-) But hey, that's half the fun of a collectible library right? The hunt!

And, seeing as how this is a book blog, I thought I'd share the list from Trueblood's book of
Lincoln's Top 5 Most Influential Reads:

  1. The Bible
  2. The plays of Shakespeare
  3. Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe
  4. The Pilgrim's Progress by John Bunyan
  5. Life of Washington by Mason Locke Weems 

No beach reads for that guy!  :-P  I take that back, Robinson Crusoe is kind of a beach read... of a different sort lol.... see ya next time to talk about Lincoln's missus!