Commonplace Book 28 (ish)

So, my last Commonplace Book posted, but was backdated, and when I tried to fix it, I deleted it. It was all very livejournal circa 2004. So, picking up where we left off:

What is a commonplace book? For me, this is a space where I post interesting links, reflections on what I’m reading, and the newest recipes I’ve been trying out — a collection of miscellaneous micro-posts.

What I’m fixing:

  • Sausage barley spinach soup. (Slow cooker, obviously, or are you new here?) You can add the onions and garlic and sausage in raw, but I’ll warn you that the ground sausage will fuse into a strange puck you’ll have to chop haphazardly with a wooden spoon later on, so consider wisely…
  • Scallion pancakes. These are kind of a major pain, but not really hard: just labor-intensive. But the payoff! Almost exactly like the cheap Chinese dive version I love, but with a certain something reminiscent of the hot “chapat” we used to get at the hospital canteen for breakfast in Uganda, warm and wrapped in grease-spotted notebook paper. Is this not helping to sell them? Seriously. Delicious.

What I’m reading:

  • Anne of Green Gables, My Daughter and MeThis one is doubly personal for me, because a.) I am an Anne devotee and b.) I married into a family that also includes an adopted mother and adopted Korean little sister. I had expected to love the reflections on Anne but often I find them prone to dull summary, which may just be loyalty or jealousy  — I can nearly quote the original. But parts of the personal storytelling ring like Shauna Niequist’s essays, which is never a bad thing: sensory details and bustling families and warm, intimate friendships.
  • Dumplin‘: I had read a recommendation for this from, I think, Annie of The Bookshelf in Thomasville, Georgia (who I knew casually in high school, and who is now a real-like Kathleen Kelly), and audiobook is definitely the way to go on this. J doesn’t like the profanity emanating from my iPhone as I wash dishes in the evening, but the narrator, a prickly, overweight teenager from rural Texas named Willowdean Dixon reminds me of some of my favorite Southerner college friends.
  • Someone tell me if it’s worth reading all of The Well-Trained Mind right now all at once. I’ve made it to middle school and I’m losing steam because my oldest child is, in fact, four. But I’d like the big picture! Please advise.

Commonplace Book, 25

What is a commonplace book? For me, this is a space where I post interesting links, reflections on what I’m reading, and the newest recipes I’ve been trying out — a collection of miscellaneous micro-posts.

What I’m fixing:

  • Once I read a piece that talked about the culinary creativity that comes with “nap jail,” but I like “serendipity of the (pantry) shelf” — to modify a library term — better, as some of my innovations have to do with working around sleeping children, but a lot is just me being cheap and using what I’ve got. Anyway, earlier this week, the thing I was going to make ended up being impossible because I was completely out of soy sauce, but I had thawed chicken breasts, and this recipe — fragrant garam masala chicken stew with peas and potatoes — fit what I had on the pantry shelf without too many substitutions. And maybe it’s just that we ran out to the local ethnic deli for their lovely spiced rice to accompany it, but we ended up loving this dish probably better than what I’d intended to make.

What I’m reading:

  • At our Advent party, a friend and I got to talking about Children of Men when she saw it on my shelf and how it compared to the film. And I wish I could say the book is better but…it’s really not. I was reminded again reading this reflection on the movie, ten years after its debut.
  • This Christmas, I read In this House of Bredewhich I feel like has been recommended by every Catholic literary type ever, and it totally lived up to the hype — I think I’m still wandering the hushed and peaceful halls of the monastery now. There’s so much I’d like to excerpt, but I’ll stick to just one. A young nun reflects on Holy Saturday:

“As the candles caught their light one from another, Cecily had a vision of the flame running in the same way from one church to another throughout Christendom, far around the world: new light, new joy, fresh hope. Thousands of candles, pure wax, wax of bees, made through the year by the wings and work of infinitesimal creatures like us, thought Cecily, made for this night.”

I remember thinking something similar — though infinitely less lyrical — as a teenager in Mass, imagining the same feast being celebrated the world over, century upon century. And look! Dwija is reading it now, too!

  • My read-this-so-you-don’t-gasp-at-the-interstate-traffic book this year was Uprootedby Naomi Novik, which I doubt I would have picked up if it hadn’t come recommended by a friend. I’d describe it as a vaguely Polish fairy tale, but that would do it a disservice. It subverts all kinds of fairy tale tropes, self-consciously evaluating its own story in light of tradition. I especially like the way it doesn’t stoop to action movie scenes, as when the protagonist looks down from a high tower at warring soldiers:

That was a story, too; they all had stories. They had mothers or fathers, sisters or lovers. They weren’t alone in the world, mattering to no one but themselves. It seemed utterly wrong to treat them like pennies in a purse. I wanted to go and speak to that boy, to ask him his name, to find out what his story really was. But that would have been dishonest, a sop to my own feelings. I felt the soldiers understood perfectly well that we were making sums out of them—this many safe to spend, this number too high, as if each one wasn’t a whole man.

Don’t you just love that! I hate action movies and skim action sequences in books (also: Quidditch), but Uprooted highlights the humanity between warring sides, and its fantasy is truly innovative: spooky and unpredictable, deep and wide, like there’s a whole world just beyond the scope of the story. Anyway, highly recommend.

Profesh shot of me by the four year old in Cabbagetown, Atlanta, last week beside a mural made by an acquaintance

Commonplace Book, 15

What is a commonplace book? For me, this is a space where I post interesting links, reflections on what I’m reading, and the newest recipes I’ve been trying out — a collection of miscellaneous micro-posts.

What I’m fixing:

  • Orzo with tomatoes and feta. Pretty much doesn’t need a recipe, but I used one anyway, because that’s how I roll.
  • Super Fantastic Cinnamon Rolls in the Bread Machine. It’s in the title, right? Pippin requested cinnamon rolls and ACTUALLY ATE THEM. The first 2.5 were astonishingly delicious but now thinking about them makes me queasy. Beware the overdose, I guess.
  • In continuing my vaguely-ethnic-chicken-in-the-slow-cooker bonanza, Thai Peanut Chicken. (See vaguely Chinese, vaguely Indian, and vaguely Southern in previous commonplace entries.) It ended up rich and lovely, like a very lazy chicken satay — and I have such fond memories of eating that dish, once when a college friend made chicken peanut satay for me after she returned from a mission trip to Indonesia, again eating tofu peanut satay at the top of the Space Needle on our honeymoon.

What I’m reading:

  • You know the little bunny icon on the Librivox app where you can speed up the reading? The other day I did that for Brothers Karamazov after realizing I’d been on three runs (/shuffle-wheezes) still listening to the dang initial interrogation. FINISH, FYODOR.
  • In other finishing news, I finished Book 2 in the Throne of Glass series and am no longer bound by the laws of sisterhood (or sister-in-lawhood) to continue, but I probably will. It’s pure escapism and I’ve enjoyed texting my teenager sister-in-law to discuss them. Long live the SMS Bowers Book Club, I guess.
  • Did I say last week that I’d wanted to read The Dog Stars one summer but it was high school assigned summer reading? Um, pretty sure I’m misremembering, because it’s a fair bit past PG-13 and reminds me more of The Road than anything else that comes to mind. Not sure yet if I’ll finish it, because whoa. I’m pretty sure someone’s going to get eaten.
  • Did y’all see the post this week over at Mama Needs Coffee? I’m always gobsmacked by Jenny Uebbing’s ability to start off apparently just giving a general, casual family update and sneak amazing insights there into the middle:

But that morning I just stayed where I was, physically and mentally content to remain at home.

I am sorry for the months and years I wasn’t able to be in this place with my kids, but I have no guilt.

I don’t think I was ready for full contact motherhood until recently. I think it was essential to my mental and physical health that I have some degree of separation from my kids, and I think it helped me to survive a demanding season of life.

But my parenting muscles are growing. I’m getting stronger and more able to withstand long stretches of time without the relief of going off duty, even if only mentally. And I’m so glad. Because I love my children, but also because for a while there was a sneaking suspicion, never voiced but ever present, that maybe I didn’t pick the right life, so to speak. That I should be doing motherhood better, stronger, more joyfully.

Now I can see a little more clearly that as they have grown and changed and matured, so have I.

I kind of need that reminder sometimes. That it’s a process to learn how to manage it all, to grow into being a mama, and that it’s ok to need space and breaks. Evidence below:

Bad parenting day = sitting in the grocery parking lot after a solo grocery run, eating a {tragically stale} doughnut and reading teen fantasy because sometimes you just need a break