good reads and time-wasting projects for lazy unproductive people

The best part of having a couple of bad weeks of teeth-and-jaw-pain is not feeling bad about doing the things you most enjoy to the exclusion of almost all else. Reading in my case. I often put holds at the library on some of the newly published books, and wait my turn to read them. Sometimes, as happened recently, they all seem to become available at the same time. I was reading the new book about the Duchess of Windsor THAT WOMAN, when suddenly SOME ASSEMBLY REQUIRED, Anne Lamont’s new book written with her son Sam, came up. I read reasonably fast, but not that fast, and besides, there are all kinds of other things to interfere in my schedule. I decided all I could do was carry on, read as fast as I possibly could and hope it worked out.

Then I fiddled away an hour and a half at the library while Hubby attended a meeting there. Have you ever noticed how some things just seem to call out to you only, so loudly you can’t possibly resist? Like Oreo cookies for one. And books. With so many books all around, how could I resist picking up another  to have a look at while I waited? Bad mistake.  By the time we left, I had another book checked out–now I had three books I needed to finish in three weeks! THAT WOMAN, SOME ASSEMBLY REQUIRED, and HINDI BINDI CLUB.

I was already well into THAT WOMAN (by Anne Sebba). I had read quite a bit of books about Wallis Simpson, beginning in the late 1950s with her own autobiography (1956), THE HEART HAS ITS REASONS, so I already had an idea of who this Mrs. Simpson was. Social climber, right? I thought so then. I find that reading now, at 70, as opposed to reading about her when I had barely reached the age of majority, gave me quite a different take. I plead guilty to falling for all the hype about this “poor relation of a southern bourgeois class,” but by the time I finished this book, I’d changed my mind. At least I’d decided that no one except the Duke and Duchess themselves will ever know the truth, and they’re not talking. What seemed to be true isn’t necessarily. Depends on viewpoint, and mine had changed a lot the past 50+ years.

I remembered a taped interview of Martha Gelhorn I’d seen a few weeks back–after I watched the HBO movie about Gelhorn and Hemingway. In fact I’d viewed her through the same lens I’d used to look at Mrs. Simpson. I wished I could see or hear her to see for myself. That’s what led me to find the archived video interview with Gelhorn herself on YouTube (26 minutes). She may have started off hanging onto the coattails of Ernest Hemingway, but she sure learned to make her own way by the time that interview was done.

Wouldn’t it be nice to hear what the Duchess really sounded like? I thought I remembered seeing the two of them on 60 Minutes once. Maybe I could find that, leading me to still another online search that turned up a fascinating BBC broadcast from 1970. For about 48 minutes The Duke and the Duchess together discuss their lives, expressing opinions on modern youth, smoking, the Establishment and the role of women in society. The duke speaks candidly about his lack of a conventional job in the working world, and shares memories of his royal family. Makes me glad I wasn’t born royal. The question came down to Duty to family and country, or the right to love and marry the one who makes you happy, and we know what he decided. Who can say he was right or wrong? For sure the Monarchy under  King Edward VIII (and Wallis?) would have been far more modern than it was under King George V and Queen Mary or, for that matter, the present queen Elizabeth II.

On to Anne Lamont’s new book written with her son, Sam, SOME ASSEMBLY REQUIRED, which is her take on becoming a grandmother and Sam’s on becoming a father at 19. Like all Lamont’s books, for me thi was not a disappointment. What she brings to her writing is the feeling that she’s just like the rest of us, living from day to day trying to make sense of it all, looking for the answers when we don’t even know the right questions to ask. I especially enjoyed the several chapters (she hesitatingly spent away from her grandson) as she accounted her visit to India. She said it all the way I wish I could have. I’d recommend anyone who wants or plans to visit India to read it before you go, if for nothing else, then for the advice about how to respond to the deluge of beggars, not to mention the guilt you feel for having so much when so many poor and uneducated people there have little or nothing.

Well, now that I’d heard Martha Gelhorn, and Wallas Simpson and the Duke speak, my inquiring mind needed to know what Anne sounded like, so off I went to find her. Here she is in a video taped interview with her son. At just under an hour it’s a tad long, but I fast-forwarded through parts of it. When I was finished I wanted to move to California and become her neighbor.

Two down, one to go; it was time to pick up the impulsive pick from the library, a debut novel from 2007 by Monica Pradham. Clearly a “fast read.”  THE HINDI-BINDI CLUB wasn’t written quite as well as the other two books, and I admit I couldn’t help comparing it unfavorably to Amy Tan’s JOY LUCK CLUB, but the recipes for regional Indian dishes at the end of some chapters looked tantalizing. No doubt I’ll have to try a few.

I decided to give the novel some slack–it was a first book after all–I thought there were enough really good moments that made up for it. To my surprise, I began to like the characters, even though it was difficult at times to discern who the speakling. and I even look forward to book two if/when it comes along. The theme weaves the stories of different generations of women, mothers who grew up in different parts of India in different class systems and from what became Pakistan and their American-born children. They learn  from each other, after a series of life tragedy, what they need to know in order to sustain traditional old-world values while accepting the inevitable differences of their daughters. Likewise, the women growing up in the U.S. learn to appreciate the people their mothers were and are. Several visits to India reveal India herself changing subtly along with them. As much as I thought I already knew a lot about India, I still learned from this book. Isn’t that what we’re all hoping to do when we read?

One final word about Miss Pradham. I learned in the credits at the end that her parents settled in Pittsburgh in the late 1960s where she was born. Hubby and I lived there several years from the mid-1960s, and we were somewhat active  in the Indian Society at the University. It’s quite reasonable to think our paths may have crossed somewhere. Small world, isn’t it?

Advertisements

learning to unplug

Are you “plugged in” to technology–iPads, iPods, iPhones, laptops, PCs and Macs–for the majority of your day? Think about it before you answer. I became concerned about my own “plug-in” problems a couple of weekends back. It was the Sunday I decided to pull the plug on my computer. The decision started with a concern for my physical health. I was experiencing a lot of neck stress, headaches, and my fingers were feeling stiff. It had been only a little more than two months since my last RA infusion; I’d hoped to make it at least six months, the average length of time between symptoms, before needing another, but each patient reacts his own way so the rheumatologist asked me to call him if I felt a flare before six months. Since chemotherapy last year that left my veins uncooperative (or what the nurses called “shot to hell”) we were hoping for at least six months reprieve between needle stabs. The only way to know if my pain was the beginning of flareup, or simply too much time in front of the computer, as I’d begun to suspect, I decided to pull the plug for 24 hours.

The next day there was a slight difference, but still a lot of neck strain. Then Hubby noticed I was squinting and looking upward, straining to see the computer screen through my bifocal. I decided to pull out some old computer glasses I’d had made a few years ago to use with the computer. Voila, after only a day or two I felt the difference. Experiment successful. I was really happy that it wasn’t an arthritic flare after all. But after that Sunday unplug, I had become aware of another, potentially much more serious mental problem that might require more effort to fix.

It was a lot more complicated than just the time spent keeping up with this blog. There was all that time I spent reading and commenting on other blogs. Much of that part is good, I’ve decided, as it leaves me with a sense of connection with the world. All day long on unplug day, I kept thinking of things I wanted to do that required my PC. Answers. To all kinds of things! I’ve gotten in the habit of running to my PC for every little nonsensical thought or question that occurs to me. I click Google or Bing, insert a few keywords and bingo, I have access to everything I want or think I need to know. Medical symptoms. Recipes. Movie reviews. You name it. It’s all there and then some.

Remember in the old days you’d wake up in the middle of the night with this burning question–really serious stuff. The answer would come to you, you knew that, so after you worried with the question for awhile you’d eventually fall asleep again. If you were lucky, the answer floated into your consciousness the very next day, or maybe several days later. But I don’t remember a time when the answer didn’t come eventually. Alternately, you’d run into a friend or co-worker who might know. They either would or not. But it wasn’t that important anyway. In my class on the neurophysiology of the brain the following week, I asked the professor if google could be injurious to our brains and our ability to remember. She admitted she didn’t know, and that she worried a little about that herself. There just wasn’t enough research yet to know. Another student suggested that the harm may be offset somewhat by the work our brains have to do to come up with the right set of tag words to get answers, suggesting we were still assisting the plasticity of our brains to keep them working better as we age. That’s a little of why I blog. To keep reaching for the right word to convey to meaning in my communications, I reasoned, would be a good exercise for my bain.

Back to the Sunday experiment. It hit me at some point that day that I could use my lazy Sunday afternoon to scan recipes from a library loaned cookbook so I could try them at will and go ahead and return the book. But no! That would require plugging back in–to two machines, my scanner/printer setup AND the PC to store them in an electronic file. Couldn’t do that until tomorrow. When I actually started preparations for dinner, at some point I needed to be close to the kitchen to monitor things, but make that time go faster at the same time. My office is right across from the kitchen, so I’ve gotten into the habit of sitting at my computer with an ear to the kitchen and play online cards. Long story short, throughout the day I was drawn like a magnet over and over again to my computer. But Monday morning I felt triumphant! I’d managed to go a full 24 hours without plugging in, not even to check email.

Which brings me to the video below. Last night, Hubby and I attended a lecture/movie at a local college. The movie by a San Francisco filmmaker, Tiffany Schlain, was entitled CONNECTED. It premiered at this year’s Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah. Using animation, archival film footage and much of her father’s writings, the movie explores the idea of how and why people are connected through technology. As in all of life, however, there’s always a balance to be achieved between the GOOD and NOT SO GOOD elements of every new discovery that impacts humanity.

Should you be interested in seeing CONNECTED, it’s available on video (to members) on Netflix. In the meantime, this 16 minute video interview with the filmmaker will give you many things to think about. Maybe you’ll have a clearer understanding, as I do, why we’re hearing “where does the time go” over and over again, even by young people. I understand that the majority of these YouTube sharings are rarely seen, but if you’ve ever wondered “where did my day go” or “is all this focus on technology good for me,” I think you’ll indulge me the nudge to watch. Maybe, like me, you’ll decide technology is good overall (perhaps, though the jury’s still out) but, maybe it’s good to unplug now and then.

colorful, spicy and healthful indian cooking

Over the years I have prepared Indian (or Indian-style) dishes, even developed a few of my own when I used to cook a lot. The past few years, I’ve been very reluctant and usually leave the Indian meals for Hubby to prepare. He does an admirable job, too, but I still have this innate desire to be able to whip up a fantastic Indian meal myself. I have a few good Indian cookbooks, and I’ve turned out some decent meals with the help of some of them, but what I’m missing in (most of) them, is technique. I didn’t grow up in India learning to cook at the knee of an Indian mother, so I’m short on technique as well as imagination.

So whenever a Wintersong reader (and blogger friend) left a comment suggesting some Indian recipes, I remembered a discovery I made months ago that renewed my hope in learning how to cook Indian dishes seat of the pants style, i.e., without recipes. I’m still working on it, and want to share my discovery with my readers. The video below is one of six of a series called Healthful Indian Cooking by Alamelu Vairavan of Milwaukee, Wisconsin. In it, Alamelu will show you how to prepare a typical Indian vegetarian meal of Lemon Rice, Eggplant Masala, and Lima Bean Poriyal. She also takes you shopping in an Indian grocery store to explain how different rices taste.

Here’s my tip of the day for you: don’t worry about trying to jot down the ingredients while you watch. At the end of each dish preparation, the ingredients are listed. Just pause the video and copy them down so you’ll be able to actually read it when you’re ready to try them yourself. Also, I’ve made a list of the other five episodes that I consider eye candy for foodies. If you enjoy #101, you’ll probably want to see the others as well. They’re all on YouTube, and each contains nutritional information and tips in choosing ingredients, and runs about 27 minutes.

#102: features a Raita (Cucumber/Tomato/Yogurt Salad), Garlic & Pepper Chicken, a colorful rice dish featuring vegetables.
#103: featuring Cauliflower Masala, Green Beans Poriyal, Black-eyed Peas Kulambu, plus a visit to a farmer’s market to choose vegetables.
#104: featuring Brussels Sprouts Kulambu, Roasted Potatoes, Turkey Podimas cooked with split peas and coconut, plus a tour of an Indian grocery to learn about spices used in Indian cooking.
#105: features Tuna Masala, a Carrot Sambhar, Chickpea & Mango Soondal, and tips of how to select the right kind of lentils at an Indian grocery.

Finally, I thought you might find this little-known fact–about me–a little interesting. It’s my Indian name. An Indian friend of ours since more than 40 years ago, Gangs, an Indian friend of ours at the time, decided I should have an Indian name. Since my real name was and is considered “old-fashioned” in the U.S., Gangs reasoned that I needed an “old-fashioned Indian” and came up with Alamelu. He claimed it was very old-fashioned. Years later, when Hubby and his three brothers were performing a ceremony of homage at the one-year anniversary of their father’s death, the Brahman priest asked for the names of the son’s wives. When it came time to provide mine, they were at a loss as how to translate Alice into Tamil, so Alamelu was substituted. Thus, my (unofficial) Indian name has been Alamelu for about 45 years. Now you understand how I was attracted to this video when it first came to my attention. Since the video Alamelu is actually younger than me, I surmise the name has enjoyed a resurgence as India, just as mine has (in various spellings) in this country.