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I don’t know about you, but I had a lovely month with my books. Especially as I’ve had ever so much time to read, thanks to a nasty bout of the flu that just won’t seem to go away. I’m now at the point where I’m better enough to feel hungry/go to work but after I eat/get there I feel all gross and blah, so I spend as much time as possible in bed, reading books. There are worse ways to go through life, I suppose.

So! This month, in the “finished that” category:

I adore Dorothy Sayers, and when I heard that they (“they” being Bourbon St. Books) were re-issuing the Lord Peter/Harriet Vane books with new covers and offering to send me new copies, I was, well, rather excited. Here’s a pic of my old copies for reference.

My editor, Jennifer, and I agreed that I wouldn’t reread the books. It was her idea. I’ve got a rather large stack of new books to review, and since I can quote chunks of these books I could easily write a review, point out the new covers, rail on Avon or whoever it was that published that whole series with THE SOLUTION TO THE MURDER (sorry, had to shout there) right there in the cover illustration (seriously, Avon? Seriously? So not cool. Sometimes you can judge a book by its cover, I guess).

So the new books came and I was very happy and I may or may not have done a spontaneous little dance about the room clutching them to my chest, which may or may have inspired my 15 year-old daughter to pronounce that I was “cute” and “adorable” and “now she could picture what I looked like at 8.” Yeah. Anyway. I did read them after all, at least the first two. Because it’s years since I read them and, well, new copies! Did I mention that? What book lover doesn’t want to read a new book?

I’m guessing you’ve already read Sayers and if you haven’t, my goodness, why not? Go now. Anyway. New covers, so much fun, get them, YAAY. Linked to my review, which shows off the new covers. Did I mention that? Shutting up now.

Death of the Mantis: I’m happy to have discovered another new mystery series. This one is based around a Batswana detective, a man who adores his wife and his baby, who loves to eat and drink South African wine, and who is bull-headed enough to solve mysteries when others want to take the easy way out. Really liked it! Highly recommend if you’re looking for a good new detective series. As we so often are.

Forgotten:  Hmm. I will be honest. I felt the author had a really great premise but didn’t take it anywhere. Young, blazing-up-the-corporate-ladder lawyer takes an African safari at her dying mother’s wish, there’s a devastating earthquake and everyone back home thinks she’s died. Returns home 6 months later to find her apartment leased to someone else, her car in storage, her office given to her rival. So how much of her old life does she try to get back? Couldn’t this have been a great book? It isn’t. It’s chick-lit in the derogatory sense of the term. Guess who’s in her apt? Clue: he’s hot! he’s gorgeous! he’s from Irrrreeeeellllaaaandd! Blue eyes! Accent! Gag.  I’ll leave it to you to figure out whether they get together or not.

Stockholm Octavo: Interesting. I enjoyed this one and managed to learn a little European history at the same time, which I didn’t know, which just goes to show they don’t teach the right things in our schools. I mean, honestly, have you ever even used algebra? No. Whereas I could’ve known something about the connection between Sweden and France just before the French revolution. This book is fun. Full of intrigue and dark alleys and card-playing and apothecaries with mystical herbs.

How to Love Wine: Written by the NY Times wine columnist. It’s good. You will learn something about wine. It’s also a memoir and a manifesto to not over-mystify wine, in the sense that we all bow down to the self-proclaimed “experts” with their tasting notes and grades over 100, but at the same time that we recognize that wine is mysterious and elusive, and that a bottle changes not only over time but even over the course of an evening.

Moranthology: This one is just fun, although I do feel the need to tell you I don’t agree with her on everything. Still, I would love to have a coffee with her. She’s hilarious. A collection of articles by Caitlin Moran, who writes for The Times of London. Reading it made me snort out loud in public, to the deep humiliation of Elliot, who was with me. Go read my review. It’s short. (Unlike this post)

The Lawgiver: The latest by Herman Wouk, still writing books at 97. Gosh that makes me feel like such an underachiever. A fast, enjoyable read, told through emails and memos and skype conversations between a large group of people who write/produce/develop/cast a new movie about the life of Moses. Highly enjoyable.

Iron Hearted Violet Also enjoyed this book. It’s a middle-reader, a fairy tale about the power of words and the power of belief too, and how what we believe affects our actions. All this wrapped up in a delightful tale about an ugly princess and her stable-boy friend and a cowardly dragon. I just want you to know this isn’t of the “believe in your heart and you will know your way” crap that Disney shoves down our throats. It’s much more subtle and better. Basically, an evil god tells Violet that a real princess has to be beautiful, and tells the people that they deserve so much more than the very good king they’ve got, and stuff like that. And they do believe him, with disastrous results. Could spark some really good discussions with your kids. My only complaint is that the illustrations throughout make the ugly princess really rather cute. I wanted her to be, well, ugly outside anyway, as that is one of the main points.

“Who Could That Be at This Hour?” (All the Wrong Questions): Did you read The Series of Unfortunate Events? Then you already know what to expect. This is the first in a new LS series and is lots of fun, full of word plays and puns and strange events. LS stars in this one as a kid asking all the wrong questions.

Courting Cate: Someone had the brilliant idea to set Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew amongst the Amish. It makes sense, because where else could a dad forbid marriage for the younger till the older is married nowadays? A fun, fast read. Christian fiction.


The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared: Allan, at 100, is bored with life. He climbs out the window at the home where he lives and takes off. An unpleasant young man at the bus station asks him to watch his suitcase while he goes to the bathroom, but the bus comes and Allan gets on board with the case. The chase is on. Allan makes unlikely friends along the way, and terrible things keep happening to the bad guys. We’re also told the story of Allan’s life, and boy has he been everywhere, including being an observer of some major events of the last 100 years. Quirky and amusing.

Flight Behavior: Actually I just finished this one. It’s so good, you guys. Kingsolver at her best is a joy to read. She is seriously talented. As usual, it’s got lots of natural science in it and Kingsolver makes no secret of her own personal views. But here’s another thing I loved about it, aside from the sheer brilliance of the writing: prob most of her readers are educated and liberal-leaning, but she’s set it amongst poor, undereducated people in the Appalachians and so manages to show both sides. This is something that our nation so desperately needs–the ability to see the other side as people, with valid reasons for their hopes and fears. (Ok some aren’t valid. But you know what I mean) And the writing, the writing, the writing. Exceptional.

To Read:

Sweet Tooth: I am so excited about this one! The latest Ian McEwan. Did you read Atonement? (NO the movie doesn’t count! Seriously?) Atonement was so good, and so true on many levels. I might start it today. I am trying to get better by staying home. Or I might watch Netflix all day. We’ll see.

Gaudy Night: What? I haven’t reread it yet. Did I mention the new copy?

The Woman Who Died A Lot: A Thursday Next Novel: Will get to this one soon. The latest Jasper Fforde, which I am seriously behind on.

An Extraordinary Theory of Objects: A Memoir of an Outsider in Paris: just started this one last night. A memoir written by a woman who’s family moved to Paris when she was 12, and it rocked her world. (Aside: experts on families moving internationally would agree. You’re not supposed to go overseas for the first time when your kids are between about 11 and 18. I’ve known of cases where it was fine though) So far so good.

Rennefarre; Dott’s Wonderful Travels and Adventures: A fairy tale written in Germany in the time between the world wars.

This post is too long. I do realize that. If you have managed to make it through to the end, please leave me a comment telling me that, and telling me what you’re reading/have read this month. Are you thankful for books? I am!

I cooked all day and at the end, realized that I’d really only produced what would be an average amount of food for an Arab household, inviting us over on any given Saturday. In fact, less. That’s a discouraging thought.

We invited an Iraqi family over. I’ve mentioned them before–Harold and Maude, the people we went camping with, the people who showed us home movies both of their child’s circumcision and their time at an Egyptian resort, Maude pretty much fully covered head to toe, Harold in Speedos. They arrived pretty much exactly on time. Usually, they’re an hour or more late when they come to us, but if we’re more than 15 minutes late going to them, they call to see where we are. Today, we said come at 3 and they came at 3:15.

Things were going swimmingly in the kitchen. An hour earlier, we’d gotten a phone call that another friend was stopping by. I took it in stride. There was a time this would have thrown me for a loop, but I’ve been in strict training for a couple of years now. Someone stopping by, who will expect to be served something to eat and drink, an hour before another family is coming for Thanksgiving when things are at their height in the kitchen? No problem! I ran upstairs to apply my make-up, talking to my brother on the phone, and then pulled appetizers from Trader Joe’s from the freezer and popped them into the oven, underneath the turkey. These frozen appetizers are a lifesaver. I recommend the Mushroom Turnovers and whatever else you can find that looks good that doesn’t have pork or alcohol in it. Keep in your freezer, practice continually saying “No you can’t have those” to your kids (they love those mushroom things, and they won’t even eat mushrooms) and you, too, can react calmly to unexpected guests. The house was even already clean! We were way ahead of the game.

I served out cranberry-pomegranate juice and the mushroom things and these sort of Indian things that came with coconut chutney, frozen in a little packet. Our friend ate and drank a little, and gave us gifts. That’s why he’d come. His wife recently traveled, and she brought us dates, and large  jewelry for Ilsa and I, but she was too tired to come in person. He didn’t stay long, which was good as I wanted to set the table before they arrived. He left a small mound of salt on the couch, from all the nuts he ate.

I had a fresh turkey that dry-brined for 3 days in the fridge (well, 2 1/2) with fresh herbs. I had massive amounts of mashed potatoes since I usually don’t have enough, given that the twins adore mashed potatoes and I hardly ever make them. I had 3 veg and gravy and home-made cranberry and dressing and all that good stuff, just like you. I made fancy-schmancy individual salads with fresh mozzarella and home-made smoky tomato vinaigrette, and turkey bacon, just because.  We got out the china that Donn’s great-aunt bought in Japan during WW2, when she was there with General MacArthur. We were ready.

Maude walked in carrying an enormous dish of food for me. “You don’t need to bring food on Thanksgiving!” I told her, but she said, “No, no! Just a little something, because you invite me to your house.” Sigh. I squeezed things aside in the fridge to make room. Later I check, and she’s brought me turkey and rice! A LOT of turkey and rice! She’s an excellent cook, so I know it will be delicious. But in addition to my own Thanksgiving leftovers and Maude’s offerings, I also have leftovers from last night, when another Iraqi friend sent us an enormous amount of food, just because. My fridge is so full right now, you guys. Please come over and want leftovers instead of Trader Joe’s appetizers.

I really wondered if people would like the food. On the one hand, I didn’t care. We’d invited them for an American Thanksgiving, and that’s what they were going to experience, like it or not! But I also didn’t want to waste food, especially when everything turned out so well. I needn’t have worried. The kids didn’t really like much, but Harold and Maude managed to find plenty of things they liked, from the brussel sprouts cooked with turkey bacon and onion, to the butternut squash roasted with butter and brown sugar. They were very unsure about cranberry sauce–sweet sauce with meat? Was I sure?–but ended up liking it, or at least liking it okay. But it was a very strange moment when I looked at my table, groaning with food, and realized I had probably made less food than Maude had made last time we were over there.

We had dessert. Their daughter felt comfortable eating the whipped cream straight from the bowl with her finger, but that’s the beautiful thing about being 5. Most people liked the pumpkin pie, and the American coffee (decaf) served in china cups. We had coconut pies too (really tarts), and chocolate-filled pralines.  There was a lot of food. At one point, Harold said, “I feel I gained 5 pounds!” We assured him that was the proper American thing to do.

I am going to start out by telling you that I have no pictures, although just glancing with your eyes up and down this page could probably have told you that. At first I was having fun exploring the limitations of the iPhone camera, but I’m currently going through a stage of “this camera isn’t really a camera and wow, those are some limiting limitations.” Also, does anyone know how to get hipstamatic prints to anywhere else other than the app? I suppose I could google or ask my sister-in-law (basically the same thing). But I am lazy.

So, Halloween. Last year, 2 families came to my house and I took their children trick-or-treating in my neighbourhood. I mentioned one family who left the following day. They’ve just returned (YAAY!!!!) and are trying to settle in again, this time for good.

This year, the two original families assumed this year would be a repeat. Ok then! I ended up inviting 2 more families, so that no one would feel left out. One showed up with their 4 month old as the cutest Snow White ever–chubby cheeks, enormous black eyes with lashes out past her eyebrows, and all. Her mother found the outfit for $2 at Value Village, and makes jokes about how she’s really Snow Beige, and takes pictures of her with an enormous red apple. I want to post these pictures for you very badly, but I won’t cuz she’s not my kid. Just picture the cutest baby ever in a Snow White costume.

4 families meant 20 extra people to feed. I planned to race home from class, which ends at 1, but I ended up having to borrow a van, take 6 people home, take one woman for coffee because she was sick and had an appointment at 2 and I felt terrible leaving her at the dr’s office to waste 45 minutes, and then return the van. So I got home at 2:20, in plenty of time to make pizza and white chili, both from scratch, by 5, right? Or maybe not so much. Truly my organizational skills leave much to be desired. I started the beans using the Quick Method found in my handy “More with Less” cookbook (total aside: I love this cookbook. Some of the recipes are weird, but where else will you find poems to bread?), where you bring the beans to a boil, cook them for 2 minutes, let them soak an hour, and then cook them for 2 hours until they’re done. (See? Plenty of time. And my friend Debbie thought I couldn’t do it!) I got them soaking, ate my lunch, started the pizza dough, went out to borrow costumes for little ones from my friend with the costumes, came back, kept cooking. The kitchen looked like a flour bomb had gone off in it. I make the dough from scratch and the sauce from scratch, because I got in the habit of doing this in Morocco where I needed to do this, and now we all like the taste so much better and I’m so used to it that it really doesn’t take all that long. One family only eats hallal meat (that is, meat slaughtered the Muslim way and sold at special stores) so I had to wait till Donn got home with the hallal chicken before I could finish making the chili. Luckily everyone was late.

In fact, everyone was so late that I decided to go trick-or-treating first. We had 3 parties. Ilsa went with the older girls and some of her friends from school, Abel went with the older boys. I went with 4 moms and 5 kids aged 1 to 5. We had 3 princesses, a Spiderman, and an Indian. They were all pretty darn cute. We set off, leaving the men to sit around the living room and sample the candy instead of passing it out to the kids. Donn had to run out and buy more! In the meantime, the 3 older kids (5, 5 and 3), all of whom had experienced Halloween the year before, remembered that this was fun and meant candy. They began to race from house to house, occasionally tripping over their costumes, competing as to who would get there first, shrieking with laughter. It was pretty awesome to watch. Soon the other 3 year-old, who was shy at first and hanging back with his mother and refusing to try to say trick-or-treat or thank-you, was shouting THANK YOU and racing with the others.

At first, my heart was warmed. They raced ahead of us, and we followed more slowly, the one year old princess toddling with us. Then, I realized they were all ringing the doorbells, each as many times as possible. The formerly-shy 3 year old had discovered that he could open people’s doors and walk right into their houses! He didn’t go far, but each time he was getting a little bolder. “This is great!” you could see him thinking. I did my best to disabuse him of the notion, as did his mother, but in fact from then on I had to run along and keep up (in my boots with their 3-inch heels) and when necessary hold his hand to prevent him from continuing this combination of trick AND treat!

We returned about 8:30, even the mothers dragging with exhaustion. I realized that in spite of the huge pot of chili and stacks of pizza and cornbread I’d made, I probably didn’t have enough food. “So! How’s that candy?!” I urged the children, hoping they’d fill up and then go home and be hyper with their parents, not me. We started serving soup, putting pizza on plates, urging cornbread on people (they were suspicious, as they’d never tried it before). The soup was too salty but was nonetheless a hit with most people. The pizza slowly disappeared. I had a brilliant idea and made pizza bread with a loaf of bread I had in the freezer, and told my kids to fill up on that and cornbread. We had just enough food. It wasn’t totally Arab (where you have massive amounts of leftovers) but it was okay.

I made tea. I put out a dessert that one of the moms had brought (I hadn’t made one, as I figured there would be enough candy in the air to suffice). One of the children spat out the marshmallow-type candy she was eating, as it wasn’t hallal (gelatin has pork products in it. No kidding). Her mother sorted through the rest of her candy.

Elliot, age 17, had afro’ed his hair (he can do an impressive afro. I will post a picture. Here he is), stuck drumsticks in it, put on a leather coat and sunglasses, and gone out to collect cans of food for a food drive that Ilsa’s class is doing. She gets extra credit, but wanted to collect candy for herself, so he volunteered to help. Then later that night, while I was serving tea, he went into that disaster area of a kitchen and cleaned the whole thing himself, leaving it with shining, spotless countertop and a gleaming floor. I told him that he was my favorite child and he was on no account to leave for college next year. Seriously. I need him and it’s not at all creepy to keep your child from leaving home and growing up and becoming his own person, just so he can do your dishes.

Everyone left by about 10, given that it was a school night. I can’t imagine how lovely the children were next day; I know my 3 teens were exhausted. I know I was exhausted, come to that. Nonetheless, I feel we have established a tradition. I’ll let you know how next year goes. If we double again, that’ll be 8 families. What are the chances of me actually making enough food?

How was your Halloween?

November 2012

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