Category Archives: Writing

Three books worth your time

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I love reading and I especially love memoirs. I love reading about people’s experiences growing up, or in far off lands, or in their garden, or otherwise living their lives. Here are some of my absolute favorites:

Memoirs

Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life, by Barbara Kingsolver: This chronicle of novelist Barbara Kingsolver’s family spending a year committed to eating only locally produced foods, and raising their own made me think more about where my food comes from and to see the value in supporting local farmers and businesses. Kingsolver admits that they were not rigid about their commitment, and that it was a journey. Her insights about their experiences are thought provoking, but not at all in an accusatory way.  She just tells it how it was for her family. Her husband and daughter get in on the act, too, writing scientific snippets and sharing recipes and their own experiences eating local.  This book made me want to break out my gardening gloves and go plant some tomatoes.  The audio book is exceptional, the author reads and her Southern voice is soothing and calm. Listening, I felt like we were sitting at the same table, having a friendly chat.

 

Love in the Driest Season, by Neely Tucker: Foreign correspondent Neely Tucker and his wife are working in Zimbabwe, when they meet a tiny, abandoned, malnourished infant girl, and try to do the impossible, adopt her. The story chronicles their experience as foreigners, trying to adopt in Zimbabwe, a country that does not allow their children to be adopted out of country. I first heard about this book via NPR, during an interview with Mr. Tucker.  At the time, I was researching adoption, and was eager to get my hands on any first-hand accounts of adopting abroad.  The audiobook for this is quite good, too.

 

The Language of Baklava, by Diana Abu-Jaber: I picked this up from the library when I was part of a book club related to food and foodie memoirs. The author is of American and Jordanian descent and her memoir focuses on her experiences growing up in Upstate New York and Jordan, with lush descriptions of the foods from her childhood (recipes included!)  She is tender and astute in describing her family and especially her father, a gregarious Jordanian, making a new life in America with aplomb. After I finished this book, I tried my hand at making baklava, hummus, baba ganoush, and several other dishes that I’d previously been too intimidated to try, opening my mind and enhancing my appreciation for good food from far-flung places.

 

What do you like to read? Have you found any memoirs you’d recommend?

 

How (and where) to eat all the tacos (just in time for Cinco de Mayo!)

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My favorite kind of date night is the kind where we go out to eat. I don’t have to cook or clean up, and I can just sit and shoot the breeze with the man I love best. I am pretty dedicated to making sure one of these kinds of date nights happens weekly. Julio loves sushi and barbecue and I love Asian fusion, so I assumed for last week’s date night we’d hit one of our favorite places. To my surprise, Julio suggested tacos. Julio does not love tacos and only puts up with eating them a few times a month because I love them so. Corn tortillas, flour tortillas, soft, crunchy, chicken, ground beef, beans, cheese, tomatoes, onions, allllll the salsas and sauces! They are so easy to throw together on busy nights and because they are customizable, I don’t have to listen to my kids whine about how much they hate dinner.  What’s not to love? My refrigerator is a virtual taco shrine—jars of wicked hot salsa stand on doilies of Mission tortillas, flanked by containers of shredded cheese and offerings of tomatoes and heads of lettuce. Hail Tortilla, full of carne asada… 

So—why would we go out to a restaurant for something I can make in infinite varieties at home? Because my husband loves me and wants me to be happy.

  Date night

Julio had heard about this place downtown called Tin Roof Tacos, and thought it sounded interesting, so off we went to the “fast-casual” place on 115 S. Broadway, in Boise. Tin Roof Tacos is located in a small strip mall and the place was HOPPING, like, we had to fight for parking, HOPPING! The line was out the door when we arrived at around 7 PM. Fortunately, the line moved super fast, and the menu for all the Texas street-style tacos and beverages is plastered in large print on one wall, so while Julio waited in line, bantering with the other taco pilgrims and with the friendly staff, I set off to wrangle a couple of seats at one of the long, family style tables packed with college kids and families.

Julio went for broke and ordered one of each of the 14 varieties because they looked small, but really it was because I asked him to.  I figured we could take some home for the kids, but really I meant me.

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We ate and ate and ate. We divvied them up, took a couple bites of each, then traded. There is something sublime about tacos and Coca Cola together. It was street food heaven. Fajita chicken, BBQ pulled pork, fried chicken, ground beef, black beans, corn, veggies, steak, brisket, shrimp, and a blizzard of cotija cheese! I am not ashamed to admit we ate alllll the tacos.  I think I heard angels, or maybe it was just The Fitness Marshall videos I turn on to distract Hulk Smash whenever I overindulge. Whatever. We all went away happy. We were too stuffed to consider dessert, but if I had ordered dessert, it would have been more tacos. (Though I hear the rice pudding is delicious.)

tacos!

Julio said he was so full that he didn’t think he’d  want tacos again for a year, but surprise! We went back three days later for more (but we stuck to a more reasonable three tacos each, this time. You know, moderation and all that…)

As I write this, I realize that Cinco de Mayo is just a day away, and though it has nothing to do with commemorating the unlikely defeat of French forces by the Mexican army at the Battle of Puebla in 1862, if you suddenly find yourself in Boise, with an urge to celebrate a foreign holiday, Tin Roof Tacos is a good place to start.

Note: This post is an independent, non-commissioned review, and I was not compensated for it.  It’s just me, sharing my taco love.

empty tacos

Musings on mid-life

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I turn 40 this year. I have been dreading it a little bit, because this is the culturally expected norm, and it seems the accepted thing to do.  I am officially not young anymore.  I’m not really OLD, either, though—which is good, but also kind of bugs me, because I am really looking forward to being the cranky old lady who swears too much and doesn’t give a rat’s arse about what the church people and neighbors think.  Of course, my attitude may be slightly ahead of schedule…

Who Cares!

At any rate, I have decided to declare this year my mid-life crisis year, and do some of the random things I have always thought of doing “someday” or haven’t considered because KEEPING UP APPEARANCES. I don’t have a bucket list, per se, and most of the things I want to do are pretty mundane. and not stereotypical of midlife crises. I have decided not to take a lover, for example. But, letting my kid draw all over her bedroom wall? Sure, why not?

Ellen's Dragon

Most of my midlife crisis will likely be acquiescing to my limitations rather than fighting against them. I’m tired of fighting the inevitable. A few months ago, I quit dyeing my hair to cover the gray, and when I came back from the salon today, my kids were visibly relieved that I merely cut it. “I’m glad you’re back to your natural color,” my 17 year old daughter tells me, “you looked kind of scary when you dyed your hair.”  My fifteen year old son agreed. “When you dyed your hair, you sort of looked like you were trying too hard.” The knotheads.  But, they were right. While I miss having the well defined, expressive eyebrows that coloring gave me, I am cool with my fading red hair.

my hair then my hair now

(Farewell, eyebrows. Hello, new-old me!)

I spent the first part of this year decluttering the house as part of a Lenten challenge. I don’t even celebrate Lent, but I have thoroughly enjoyed off loading a bunch of junk.  Sentimental items I’ve kept for decades really hold no meaning to me anymore, and I had to laugh at some of the things I’ve held onto. She-Ra paper dolls, anyone? Since Lent and the challenge are over, I’ve quit the laser focus decluttering, but I have developed a habit of picking up things as I move about the house and getting rid of whatever I am tired of moving from place to place. There is still a lot of stuff I’d like to get rid of and downsize, so I will likely continue to move them slowly, but steadily out of my home and out of my life.

I am reading more now than I have in the previous few years.  Most books I’ve read in the last seven years have centered on educational philosophy and other non-fiction. I have plowed through several novels since January and it feels so indulgent. When reading fiction, I feel the same way I do when eating a dessert while trying to lose weight. “I am so bad. I should be making better choices.” Nom, nom, nom. Check out this great reimagining of a romance novel cover, by The Wonderful World of Longmire:

For the Love of Scottie McMullet

Oh, but there’s more!

I am also bingeing on my favorite movies and TV shows—because I can.  Folding laundry is fun again. Yes, again.

I am tired of making goals and chasing dreams. I’m not done doing those things, I’m just taking a breather, a sabbatical, if you will. My midlife crisis year is a season of comfort and rest, rather than pursuing the elusive essence of whatever.  I’m settling in and looking forward to being fat and happy.

I regret nothing

It’s just a phase…

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My eldest child just got her driver’s license. My husband and I had to kind of push her into getting it, because she was perfectly content to sit shot-gun and read novels while I did all the driving, but, now she’s got it.  I wonder at her hesitancy to venture to the edge of the nest. She wants to be treated like a grown up, but she also still wants to be a kid.  She’s responsible and quite mature in some ways, but in others, she is still very, very young.  I find it both endearing and a little annoying that she still wants to throw herself across me on the couch and have me scratch her back. This is a very strange phase of parenting to navigate. 

 

Ellen driving

I realized the other day, that I am truly out of the “little kid” stage.  My youngest child is six.  She can do most things on her own. Yet, she too, still wants to sit in my lap and be read to.The similarities between the six year old, and my seventeen year old are striking.  They both want to be big, but they both want to be little. 

Neenie in the rain

Homeschooling has given me the unique opportunity to really SEE and experience my kids’ growth and development.  When I was a new homeschooler eight years ago, I asked a veteran homeschooling mama what the best curriculum was. She replied, “Let them be little.” Thinking she was referring to some kind of method book, I pressed for more details.  She replied, “Kids grow up so fast. Don’t be in a hurry to get them there. It comes soon enough.” She wasn’t kidding, though I didn’t really believe her at the time.  The days are long, but the years really are short!

Why I started blogging.

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I’ve always loved to write and I feel more at home writing to an “audience” than to myself. In fact, as a kid, I kept a diary and wrote each entry as a letter to my favorite actor at the time, Lou Diamond Phillips. Yes. Really. In my diary, we were besties and I could tell him anything (and also swoon over how amazing I thought he was.)

Lou Diamond Phillips

I spent hours gazing at this picture of LDP—from the cover of our VHS copy of Young Guns II. Such a tortured soul. Le sigh, le purr.

Eventually, I got over my infatuation with Lou Diamond Phillips, but I still kept a journal, and out of habit, I still wrote my entries in letter format, to LDP.  Then, I discovered Erma Bombeck, and although I was too young to truly appreciate the topics of her books and essays, I really liked her style—and I started mimicking it until I found my own voice.

Erma Bombeck

Odd combination of muses, I suppose, but whatever.

I started blogging, because I still like to write, and though I have always dreamed of writing the Great American Novel, I figured blogging was a faster and cheaper way to get my ideas out into the world. Also, instant gratification.