Monday, July 31, 2023

A Book Post

Last week I talked about reading a book that had brought up some unsettled thoughts and unsettling questions in my mind and I thought it deserved a post of its own. That book is Fatty Fatty Boom Boom by Rabia Chaudry. 

When I stumbled upon this book on the library shelves, I didn't recognize the author's name from the Serial podcast, but just by the title, I knew this was a book for me. I was a chubby kid, and when I was about eight or so my father started calling me "Crisco Kid". When I asked him why he told me it was "Fat in the can just like I was" and laughed uproariously. It didn't help that I grew up near five male cousins who quickly latched onto the nickname and tortured me with it daily. I'm not sure this bothered me too much as a kid, but when I think about it six decades later, it strikes me as inordinately cruel.

As a chubby kid who grew up to be an overweight adult, I get almost everything that Rabia Chaudry talks about in this book. No, my mother didn't bottle feed me with half and half nor give me frozen sticks of butter to teethe on, but I can understand Chaudry's associations of food with family and love. The descriptions of her childhood Pakistani food are mouth-watering, and even though she does tend to go on a bit, I also recognized her endless cycles of eating, dieting, weigh-ins, exercise, deprivation, and seesawing weight. I think when you are overweight, that often becomes one of the primary things you constantly associate with yourself, even though you may have lots of other accomplishments.

Plenty of other reviewers have accused the author of fat-shaming and being fat-phobic. I didn't see those things. I read a book written by someone who has always been concerned with her weight and all the things she had to try over many years to "fix" the situation. She says,
"I still don't love my body, I'm not happy with it, just as most people aren't perfectly happy with their bodies. So, yes, it's normal not to love your body."
I feel pretty much the same way, but I don't care much whether this feeling is normal or not. I don't hate my body, I admire all it can do, but I can't say I love my body. Sometimes it's just uncomfortable to live in it, but that doesn't mean I've given up or am ready to stop trying to eat healthily and keep moving. In her memoir, Chaudry doesn’t try to wipe the words “healthy” or “unhealthy” from our vocabulary but pushes us to question where our behaviors and relationships to food fall on that spectrum. “I deserve the joy of food,” Chaudry writes. But she adds: “I also deserve not to harm myself with it". The author concludes with:
“Don't make me feel terrible now, yet another failure, for not being able to feel great no matter what. Every person, I'd argue, has the right to pursue what feeling good means to them.”
I heartily agree. And part of that is no longer thinking of myself as the Crisco Kid. 

I loved the author's audiobook narration, along with the Pakistani recipes she included. "Because everyone has to eat, yes, even fat people...and so many of the best memories of my family revolve around food."


In case you missed the release of Obama's Summer Reading List (like I did), here it is. I've read two of the books (Hello, Beautiful and Birnam Wood), have tried to read The Wager, and have Small Mercies on hold. Now I'm wondering if you have any recommendations from your Summer Reading List?

Friday, July 28, 2023

Pickle Day: A Short Story in Pictures

John picked a bunch of cucumbers on Wednesday so yesterday was pickle day. I make refrigerator dills because anytime I've canned pickles in the past they've ended up less than crisp and nobody eats them. It also helps to have a spare refrigerator in the cellar where we store beer, garden produce, and pickles.

Because cucumbers float, I'll have to turn the spears around and stir the slices occasionally to make sure they're all exposed to the brine evenly, but that's easy enough to do. The kitchen smells strongly of pickles, as do my hair and clothes, but that's okay. Soon enough we'll be enjoying lots of delicious dill pickles!

Thursday, July 27, 2023

Doesn't That Pond Look Great?

I haven't seen the Oppenheimer movie yet, and I probably won't until it's available to stream or on DVD. It's three hours long and I would like to see it from the comfort of my own chair at home and pause it as necessary. There is also a chance I might stand up and yell, "Doesn't that pond look great?" every time it appears on screen, and that could be a little embarrassing if I did it in a theater. 

I first heard about the movie last February when Justin said they were filming a movie at his workplace and Matt Damon was there. When I asked what the movie was, all he knew was that it was about "some famous guy". After a little bit of searching, I found that Christopher Nolan and crew were filming Oppenheimer and Matt Damon was playing Lt. Gen. Leslie Groves.

Justin works on the grounds crew at the Institute for Advanced Study. As explained by Lee Sandberg, Communications and Public Relations Manager at IAS, "It is not a university nor a think tank. IAS is a global center for intellectual inquiry dedicated to providing the world's foremost scholars with time, space, and collaborators to drive fundamental discovery. Visiting IAS scholars and scientists range from the post-graduate to faculty level, and with funding from IAS and outside grants, are able to pursue work driven by their own curiosity." 

Several hundred "members" (that's what the really smart scholars are called) from around the world live, work, and study at IAS. There are also several hundred staff members (administration, grounds crew, plumbers, painters, dining hall staff, etc.) that take care of the 800-acre campus, buildings, and infrastructure. IAS figures in the Oppenheimer movie because in addition to being the "father of the atomic bomb", J. Robert Oppenheimer was the longest-serving director of IAS, from 1947-1966. 

As part of the grounds crew, Justin was charged with taking care of the pond before the film crew arrived. There are cat tails, reeds, and weeds growing in and around the pond, and the film crew wanted them to look a certain way. Justin had to don his waders and head into the pond to trim the cat tails and reeds and scoop out all the floating detritus that the wind blows to one side.

In the photo above where Einstein (Tom Conti) drops his hat, you can see the area of the pond that they weren't originally happy with. After Justin's initial trimming, he had to put his waders back on for a second day to trim some more to get it to the director's satisfaction. There was some concern about the water in the pond being overly muddy since Justin had been wading in it for two days, but it was finally deemed acceptable. 

The pond does seem to loom large in this movie. I thought I might have trouble finding movie scenes that included the pond, but when I started looking, there were loads of them. Oppenheimer and Einstein speak at the pond, and there is a scene where Oppenheimer and Lewis Strauss (chair of the Atomic Energy Commission, played by Robert Downey, Jr.) chat at the same pond. 

Cillian Murphy is J. Robert Oppenheimer and Robert Downey Jr is Lewis Strauss,
talking at the Institute for Advanced Study. Melinda Sue Gordon/Universal Pictures.

So if you happen to see the Oppenheimer movie, keep an eye out for the pond. I don't think that Justin's pond-grooming skills are acknowledged in the credits, but feel free to jump up and shout, "Doesn't that pond look great?" :-)

Wednesday, July 26, 2023

Unraveled Wednesday: 7/26/2023

I'm joining Kat and fellow Unravelers with some progress on my Sparkly Hitch on the Move. 

This is the only project I'm working on, but I've just added some more triangles and progressed to the "Body Pattern II" section of the pattern. Here I have to remember not to do kfbs with one of the yarns, so I've had to tink back quite a few times. I'll get it eventually!

Reading brought three finishes this week. The first, It. Goes. So. Fast., is authored by Mary Louise Kelly from NPR. She is a parent to two sons and in this book, she writes about balancing her family and work demands. I thought that the stories she shared about NPR were the most interesting and I would have enjoyed even more of them. She once received a call from the school nurse in Washington, D.C. saying that her son was quite sick and needed to be picked up and taken to the hospital. The only problem was that Kelly was on a Blackhawk helicopter in Baghdad. Some of the parental anecdotes begin to feel redundant, and I thought there were too many forced metaphors, but I gave the book 3.5 stars rounded up. 

The second book I read was Dear Edward. It was a difficult novel for me to read and there were several times I wondered why I borrowed it from the library. Edward is the lone survivor of a plane crash and the story is told in alternating chapters of Edward's experiences living with his aunt and uncle after the crash and stories from other passengers on the plane. It was almost impossible for me to put myself in Edward's shoes and begin to imagine how he might be feeling because the book's whole premise is fraught with so much emotion. But I also couldn't feel much emotion for the rest of the passengers because they are thinly sketched and you know from the beginning that they are not going to survive. So this three-star book was a strange dichotomy of too much emotion and not enough for me, but that may be very much due to the subject matter.

The third book is Fatty Fatty Boom Boom by Rabia Chaudry. I'm still mulling over lots of thoughts and opinions (some of them still unsettled in my mind and also unsettling) and I think this book might need a post of its own. I'll share my feelings about this one soon.

What are you making and reading this week?

Thursday, July 20, 2023

A Gathering of Poetry: July 2023

It's the third Thursday of the month so I'd like to welcome you to A Gathering of Poetry. I don't remember how I came upon this poem, but it says what I've been thinking about lately, far better than I could express it myself.

Smart Cookie 
by Richard Schiffman

The fortune that you seek is in another cookie,
was my fortune. So I’ll be equally frank—the wisdom
that you covet is in another poem. The life that you desire
is in a different universe. The cookie you are craving
is in another jar. The jar is buried somewhere in Tennessee.
Don’t even think of searching for it. If you found that jar,
everything would go kerflooey for a thousand miles around.
It is the jar of your fate in an alternate reality. Don’t even
think of living that life. Don’t even think of eating that cookie.
Be a smart cookie—eat what’s on your plate, not in some jar
in Tennessee. That’s my wisdom for today, though I know
it’s not what you were looking for.


Schiffman, Richard. "Smart Cookie". Rosebud, date unknown.

You can read more about the poet here


Thanks for reading and joining us for our monthly Gathering of Poetry. Be sure to visit Kym and Kat so you can gather more poetry and you can add your link below if you would like to share one of your favorite poems. The more the merrier!

You are invited to the Inlinkz link party!

Click here to enter

Wednesday, July 19, 2023

Unraveled Wednesday: 7/19/2023

I'm joining Kat and fellow Unravelers with the completed Vergißmeinnicht (Forget-Me-Not) Hitchhiker.

I do love it and it's safely put away until fall. But because I do love Wollmeisen Rolls, I'm going to be starting on my next one.

Wollmeise calls this color Captain Ahab, and I can see the colors of the sea and Captain Ahab's ship in it. I'll be unraveling, soaking, and winding it before I actually cast on. I'm still working on my Sparkly Hitch on the Move and will show you my progress next week.

My reading was up and down last week. I read a two-star book entitled Hedge by Jane Delury that I thought was going to be great, but it was not. It's about a garden historian named Maud who restores historically significant gardens, and for the first few chapters, this unique and interesting premise is explored as Maud works on an estate in the Hudson Valley. But the book quickly turned into a sort-of romance and endless wondering if Maud's new love interest has abused her daughter. 

A friend recommended The In-Between: Unforgettable Encounters During Life's Final Moments, so I gave it a try. It's written by a hospice nurse (apparently she's famous on Tik-Tok?) and the blurb stated that stated, "This extraordinary book helps dispel fear around death and dying". I did not find that to be the case but did think that the best thing about the book is that it illustrates how valuable and personal hospice care can be at a time when patients and families desperately need it. This was three stars for me. 

I lucked into getting Yellowface from the library. I was 65th on the waiting list, but when I was checking my holds, I got this notice that I had found a skip-the-line loan. I had never heard about this in Overdrive, but quickly took advantage of it. The loan is only for seven days so I made sure to listen to it so I wouldn't have to return it without knowing how it ended. It's an interesting story that raises the issues of plagiarism, privilege, diversity, racism, and cultural appropriation, but I'm not sure they were examined thoroughly through protagonist June Hayward. This is the first book I've read by Kuang and I'm not entirely sure what she was trying to do. The writing seemed sophomoric and full of clichés. I don't know how June Hayward ever thought she was going to fool readers and publishers into thinking she was Asian, and she certainly wasn't able to fool anyone into thinking she was an above-average writer. I did agree with this quote from the book:

“But now, I see, author efforts have nothing to do with a book’s success. Bestsellers are chosen. Nothing you do matters. You just get to enjoy the perks along the way.”

I have let myself be fooled by blurbs and publishers' hype plenty of times. Yellowface is a much-hyped novel that is worth reading, but only because it raises questions and not because it provides any easy or thoughtful answers. I gave it three stars.

Lastly, I read a pre-publication copy of The Heiress by Rachel Hawkins. Ruby McTavish Callahan Woodward Miller Kenmore was married four times and through a series of letters she has written to an unknown recipient, we learn the story of those four marriages, what happened to her four husbands, and why she adopted a child, Camden. There are lots of twists, double-crosses, and secrets in this family drama, and it's not over until almost the very last page. I could have used a family tree to clarify who was who, and several of the plot points require some suspension of disbelief, but overall, The Heiress was a fun and entertaining read. Three and a half stars rounded up.

What are you making and reading this week?

Tuesday, July 18, 2023

Read With Us: Seven Reasons to Read The Seven Moons of Maali Almeida

Last week, Kym gave you an introduction to our current Read With Us selection, The Seven Moons of Maali Almeida. This week I'm going to try and give you seven reasons that I hope will sway you toward reading the book. In the interest of full disclosure, I am only about one-third of the way through the book myself, so these are the seven reasons I've come up with so far. 

  1. 1. Captivating Fantasy World: The Seven Moons of Maali Almeida presents a rich and immersive fantasy world filled with interesting lore, unique culture, and diverse landscapes. I have been drawn into this vividly imagined universe.

2. Strong Protagonist: The novel centers around Maali Almeida, a compelling and interesting protagonist. Maali's journey is one of self-discovery, empowerment, and resilience, making him a relatable and inspiring character.

3. Engaging Plot: The story follows Maali as he embarks on a perilous quest. The plot is filled with twists, turns, and unexpected revelations, keeping readers on the edge of their seats.

4. Themes of Friendship and Loyalty: One of the core themes explored in the book is the power of friendship and loyalty. As Maali encounters various companions along his journey, bonds are tested, and readers are treated to a heartfelt exploration of the importance of trust and support in the face of adversity.

5. More
Thought-Provoking Themes: Beyond the adventure and fantasy elements, the book delves into deeper themes such as identity, destiny, and the nature of power. These thought-provoking explorations add layers of complexity to the story, making it a rewarding read for those seeking more than just surface-level entertainment.

  1. 6. Beautiful Descriptive Writing: Shehan Karunatilaka's prose in The Seven Moons of Maali Almeida is full of vivid and evocative descriptions. From sweeping landscapes to intricate settings, the book paints a stunning visual picture that allows readers to fully immerse themselves in the story.

7. Positive Representation: The Seven Moons of Maali Almeida offers diverse representation, featuring characters from backgrounds, cultures, and experiences much different than our own. This inclusivity allows readers to encounter a range of perspectives and fosters a greater sense of empathy and understanding.

I hope at least one (or possibly several) of these reasons has sparked your interest. Our book discussion day for The Seven Moons of Maali Almeida will be Tuesday, September 19. Carole, Kym, and I will each post discussion questions on our blogs that day, and then at 7:00 pm Eastern time we’ll be hosting a live book discussion on Zoom.

Come Along and Read With Us!

Monday, July 17, 2023

Museum of Me: July 2023

This month The Museum of Me takes a road trip! The museum staff was tasked with putting together a soundtrack for a day in your life. The day they chose is this coming Thursday, when we head to northern Pennsylvania to visit John's sister and her husband for a few days. My BiL has an old TR4 that belonged to his father and it's been sitting in his garage for at least 20 years. John had a brain fart and thought it might be fun to try and get it running, so that's what we're doing. Never mind that John has an old Jeep sitting in our garage that barely runs; apparently, it's more fun to try and fix other people's vehicles. But I always like spending time with John's sister so I'm looking forward to reading in the hammock, visiting junk/antique stores, and maybe even having some people to play Cards Against Humanity with since John refuses to play games. 

But since we're taking a road trip of at least 220 miles, that calls for a playlist. Here's what the museum staff has come up with.

Many of these songs are self-explanatory. Pennsylvania because that's where we're going; Allentown because we go past the exits for that city: East Bound and Down because John likes that stupid song, and the rest of them because I like them and I'm in charge of this playlist. Many of these are simply good summer songs that are great to sing along with. 

Thanks to the museum staff for putting this together. The playlist is about an hour long and that ought to be long enough to entertain me along with some car knitting, reading, looking at the scenery, and asking if we're almost there yet. 

Thanks for visiting The Museum of Me. I hope you have plenty of car tunes on your own road trip playlist to play and sing along with wherever you're heading this summer! We'll be back on the second Friday of August with a brand-new installation.

Wednesday, July 12, 2023

Unraveled Wednesday: 7/12/2023

I'm joining Kat and fellow Unravelers with more of the Forget-Me-Not Hitchhiker. It's what I've been working on most of this past week in hopes of finishing it, but the ball of yarn that is left to knit may be imbued with some sort of magic. I keep knitting and knitting, but it never seems to get any smaller. I'm betting it will run out someday but today is not that day.

I've also been working on the Hitch on the Move, but it looks pretty much the same except it now has a few more triangles. 

I read two books last week, one interesting and informative and one that was a disjointed mess. The interesting and informative one is Wonder Drug: The Secret History of Thalidomide in America and Its Hidden VictimsWonder Drug is a horrifying and tragic tale of greed and negligence. In 1960, a New Drug Application for thalidomide crossed the desk of Dr. Frances Kelsey, an FDA Medical reviewer. The drug was touted as a new miracle drug for a range of ailments, including morning sickness, touting it as “completely atoxic, safe for everyone, children and pregnant women included." Kelsey refused to approve thalidomide, due to the lack of safety data and shoddy research. Except that Cincinnati-based chemical company William S. Merrell was busy distributing thalidomide to an estimated 20,000 women in the US through the free samples given to more than 1,200 doctors. Thalidomide had not been approved by the FDA, so Merrell was asking doctors to perform "clinical trials" on their patients. This is not at all how clinical trials are run, and the whole scam was marketing by Merrell.

The author tells this sad tale of medical scandal through research and interviews with patients and those affected. Merrell escaped without any penalties, but this did force a change to the FDA’s rubber-stamping patent approval process. There are clear villains and heroes in this book, and it makes for an illustrative and chilling read.

The disjointed mess was Saturday Night at the Lakeside Supper ClubIf I viewed it as a light bit of entertaining fluff to read in the summer, it might have been okay, but overall there were too many things I disliked to consider the book light and entertaining. I enjoy stories about food and family, but sad, tragic, and appalling things happened too often for this to be a cozy novel. Many of the characters felt flat, especially the selfish and always disagreeable Florence. Another character, Brenda, is described as a "sexually liberated local pariah". That's pretty much what she is, and I couldn't understand what she was adding to the story. The timeline of the novel extends from 1934 to the present time, and each chapter changes time and point of view which made it difficult for me to always understand what was happening when. Due to some of these jumps, the reader does have a good idea that something terrible is going to happen. I could barely pay attention in the intervening pages just waiting for tragedy to strike. I really disliked how the author simply disposed of a primary character just a few pages from the end of the book. I enjoyed Stradal's prior novels, but this one is too disjointed for me to recommend. Two and a half stars rounded down.

What are you making and reading this week?

Wednesday, July 5, 2023

Unraveled Wednesday: 7/5/2023

I'm joining Kat and fellow Unravelers with my new Sparkly Hitch on the Move.

The sparkles in the black aren't very evident in the photo, but they are there. I'm not sure that I love these yarns together (yet) but I'm following Kym's Rule of Knitting Real Estate ©. This states that the knitter should make sure that they knit enough on the piece to ensure that they are making a valid assessment. So I'm going to keep going (and I even have the yarn picked out for my next one)!

I've knit plenty of Hitchhikers and thought that this pattern would be similar, but instead of using bind-offs to form the teeth, these triangles are seemingly formed by magic! It's hard for me to stop before I've completed a triangle but I really do appreciate the clever construction and it's easy to keep knitting. 

The Forget-Me-Not Hitchhiker makes a nice bit of mindless, mindful knitting to work on after I've knit a triangle or two on the Sparkly Hitch on the Move. I do like how the color gradations are turning out and have picked out a couple of choices for my next Hitchhiker, too.

I finished Birnam Wood and while it was different from other fiction I've read, I don't think it was my cup of tea. Maybe my expectations were too high; maybe Eleanor Catton just isn't an author for me, or maybe it's some combination of the two, but this book was less than I had hoped. The ideas of an eco-thriller and guerilla gardening were both interesting to me, but the execution fell flat. The beginning was a bit slow when the reader is introduced to the characters, but despite some excruciating detailed descriptions, many of them felt like stereotypical caricatures. The rich, evil villain (I could almost imagine him twirling his Snidely Whiplash mustache!), idealistic yet clueless activists, and aspiring journalist Tony who argues with everyone about everything and is a premiere mansplainer came together for an ending that felt rushed and too far over the top for a literary author.

But I also finished Little Monsters and this was much more a book for me. I loved Adrienne Brodeur's wild memoir, Wild Game, so I was anxious to read this work of fiction, Little Monsters. It's almost as good as her memoir. Brodeur clearly knows family secrets, lies, dynamics, complexities, and dysfunction and they are all evident in this tale of the Gardners. Patriarch Adam is a marine biologist with bipolar disorder; son Ken is an arrogant real estate developer with political ambitions and a lot of rage, and daughter Abby is an artist living in the studio that her architect mother designed but is owned by her brother. Ken and Abby lost their mother in childbirth when Abby was born and that began the family's traumas. The family is planning a 70th birthday party for Adam who has gone off his meds in hopes of one last scientific discovery. Needless to say, the party does not go as expected.

This novel is set on Cape Cod which Brodeur also knows well and her descriptions are lush and detailed. Each chapter alternates between five different characters' voices and the multiple points of view are an interesting way to tell the story. While I was reading Wild Game I kept saying to myself, "I can't believe this is happening!", knowing that those events really did happen in the author's life. As a work of fiction, Little Monsters is missing that small piece but it's still a 4.5-star book for me.

What are you making and reading this week?

Monday, July 3, 2023

Why: A July Update

I think I managed to not ask why in May or June, but I've got something to ask about in July. It's not a big life-altering thing, just something I've wondered about for a while. 

Why do I get friend requests on Instagram and Goodreads from people that I don't know, that don't seem to be friends of friends, and that I haven't interacted with at all? Every so often on Instagram and probably three or more times each week on Goodreads, I'll get a friend request from someone that is a complete stranger. I always just delete them on Instagram. I haven't posted anything there myself for more than six months, and I'm really just there to look at pretty pictures of yarn and flowers. 

When this happens on Goodreads, I compare books with the person making the friend request, and if we seem to have similar tastes in reading or they write reviews that I appreciate, I will add them as a friend. But I shake my head in puzzlement when the person has zero books. 

Here's the most recent one. I've blocked out his name because I didn't feel right about sharing it, but I left his picture. No books, but there is one on his TBR. I thought that maybe he had been busy with other things and hadn't had a chance to read this year, but when I looked back at 2022 and 2021, he had read zero books during both of those years, too!

By then I decided that I had spent too much time on this and just deleted him, but I still can't help wondering why. Why does a person who is not a reader send friend requests to strangers on a book-related website? What does he stand to gain if I would add him as a friend? Is he going to overwhelm my email with spam? Try to get me to invest in his latest can't-lose venture? Is he just lonely and has resorted to trying to find friends someplace where the return is going to be very low? Do you guys get these odd requests from strangers? Tell me why!