Books of 2019 – Number 10 – Eating Eternity: Food, Art and Literature in France by John Baxter

It has been a couple years since we went to Paris, but I still have a little moment when I unlock my phone and pay attention to the photo that lingers behind my screens of apps. It is the Eiffel Tower lit up at night. I took the picture while I stood under it and looked up. J’aime! Our last night in Paris, I made us go back to see it one more time.

Paris is magical like that. I chose my book #10, John Baxter’s Eating Eternity – Food, Art and Literature in France, because of my affection for Paris. John Baxter is an Australian writer and filmmaker who has lived in Paris for decades. He has written other books about France, but this is his only one devoted to food.

This was a very fun book to read. There are twenty-nine short sections – all with either reproductions of artwork or period photographs. Baxter writes about the café life in France and what food in the home (or castle) would look like. His writing about the Occupation of Paris during World War II brought to life the efforts of the chic restaurants to still delight when the food of the city was scarce. Chefs filled in the gaps by offering up zoo animals which were being sold off and city rodents. Yuck!

There are vignettes of artists Renoir, Monet, Cezanne, Dali and Matisse and their relationships to food in their life and in their art. He writes of wine, champagne, chocolate, fruit, vegetables and the many ways ingredients are combined for pleasure and sustenance. I learned and I enjoyed.

The book made me want to pop into a boulangerie for a pain au chocolat, and then take a stroll to the Eiffel Tower.

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Books of 2019 – Number 6 – Democracy in Chains by Nancy MacLean

For a few months now, I have been reading Ron Chernow’s biograpy of George Washington. It is my Kindle read, so I really only read it when I am travelling or when I wake up at night and can’t sleep. Because of that, the 818 pages of the book are taking some time to get through. I just, however, read about Washington’s inauguration, his reluctance to assume the role of President, and his continual efforts to ensure the people that their government would not turn into something outside of the democracy that so many had suffered to create.

This book is quite the juxtaposition to my sixth book of the year, Nancy MacLean’s Democracy in Chains – The Deep History of the Radical Right’s Stealth Plan for America.  We are reading this one for our book club and I expect some good dialogue. Dr. MacLean is a professor of history at Duke, and her book begins in Jim Crow South. Early on it reviews the Brown vs Board of Education ruling and the measures that some communities went through to avoid the law taking effect. In parts of Virginia, it meant the shuttering of publicly funded schools from 1959 – 1964.

The book introduced me to James McGill Buchanan, a political economist who won the Nobel Prize in Economics for his work on public choice economics. Buchanan’s career becomes the lens through which we see the intersection between economic theory and the billionaire capitalists who see their own success as a guarantor of the success of the country. Buchanan and his close group end up supported by the ultra-wealthy Koch family, and the mutual relationship leads to much of the neo-conservative movement that began with the Reagan Administration and continues today.

There are readers of this book who laud its content and wake-up call, and there are those who question its research and motive. What it made me recognize is that our democracy is never a guarantee. We need to pay attention. George Washington was not wrong to be nervous.

 

Books of 2019 – Number 5 – The Productivity Project by Chris Bailey

 

My book selection repertoire tends to be a mishmash of history-related non-fiction, but I also love me some self-help type books. I am open to how they make me think about how I may want to change how I think, act, do things, and generally conduct my life.

My number 5 book for the year falls in that category. Chris Bailey’s The Productivity Project  – Accomplishing More by Managing Your Time, Attention and Energy, is the culmination of his year of productivity experimentation. For 365 days he put himself through a multitude of evidence-based experiments to see how and if it improved his ability to be productive. Bailey wrote about his year on a blog, and that led to the offer to write this book. The book details the winners that he culled from the experiments.

There is nothing groundbreaking in the pages of this book, but I can always use a good dose of coming face to page with the things that I know are useful, but that I slack on. My brain also benefits from a clear breakdown of why some of the things that I know I should be doing, could actually work. Time, attention and energy are the three components of productivity that Bailey identifies and highlights throughout.

Chapters of the book each focus on a takeaway and offer a challenge. One that I have tried to incorporate in my routine this year is what he calls his rule of three. Each morning – before any work is started – look forward to the end of the day and write down the three things that I want to have accomplished by the end of the day. I have been about 50/50 in actually doing this. When I do it, I think that it makes me more intentional during my day. When I don’t do it, I think I’m a loser (not really that bad, but I do wish I had done it).

Other challenges range from diet/nutrition, sleep, externalizing tasks and creating a maintenance schedule to review, and gratitude identification. I appreciated so many topics in a single book, and I have dog-eared and high-lighted what resonated with me. It definitely can’t hurt.

 

Books of 2019 – Number 4 – War Hospital – A True Story of Surgery and Survival by Sheri Fink, MD

 

 

War Hospital – A True Story of Surgery and Survival by Sheri Fink, MD

Publisher: Public Affairs in 2003

429 Pages

I just finished my fourth book for the year in my quest to read 52 books this year. I am enjoying the extra time that I am putting into making myself step away from other distractions and giving my attention to words.

Sheri Fink’s non-fiction work, published in 2003, is an incredible telling of what happened in the city of Srebrenica during the Bosnian War – a horror that raged from 1992–1995. Fink’s work focuses on a warzone hospital and the individuals who worked there. She writes of the paths that led the heroes of this story to the hospital. She describes how they learned the practice of war medicine in real time. Reading about the hospital’s day-to-day, you see the doctors and nurses suffer horrible losses, and work through grisly conditions. The physical, mental, and emotional toll is brutal. At the book’s end, only during the horrific massacre that took place in their village and threatened everyone, do the doctors, nurses, and others leave.

At its conclusion, Fink poses questions about the presence of humanitarian workers in such situations. Do such services provoke a false sense of normalcy and security? What is the responsibility of the medical professional when there is clear violation of anything resembling humanitarianism? Are expectations of neutrality for medical professionals the right stance?

I remember watching the 1984 Sarajevo Winter Olympics. It was a beautiful venue amidst picturesque mountains. People sat at sidewalk cafes drinking coffee and wine. Ten years later, those mountains sheltered snipers, foragers for food, and refugees trying to find a safe place. The Olympic stadiums were in ruins and marked by warfare. It is hard to believe it can happen. This book made me understand what happens when it do

Past Weeks’ Good Things

week2This morning was the first one in recent memory that I went out to get the paper and I didn’t get rained on or had to deal with a water covered newspaper bag. The sun is shining and it is a wonderful time to review some of the good things that made their way into my days over the last few weeks.

ErasablePencils – This started with a podcast. The Erasable Podcast is a one hour plus conversation among three dudes who love pencils. The podcast starts out with them describing what they are drinking and what pencil they are writing with. One guy is in Baltimore, one in California, and one in North Carolina. Turns out that all of them have never met in person before, but the camaraderie among the three during the podcast would not suggest that they aren’t comfortable with each other. So, they really do kind of talk about pencils for an hour – and it is truly fun! I have learned that the little metal piece that holds onto the eraser is called ferrule. I have learned that all pencils are not created equal and that Target curates their pencil collection better than you might think. In fact, on Saturday, Dan and I went to Target and I picked up a box of Ticonderoga Renews which was the pencil of the week that they reviewed, and I also bought a box of Ticonderoga The World’s Best Pencil. Checking out, the cashier picked them up and said, “You know, these really are the world’s best pencil!” Pencil love is catching on and it can partially be traced to the friends who sit around with a beverage and talk over the Internet with each other about writing implements that they dig.

Mystery-LogoMystery Show – Two podcasts in a row, I know, but it is necessary. This one came to me from as a text from Sam “Download the Mystery Show podcast! You will love it!” I did and I do. Starlee Kine may be one of the most charming people hanging out on this earth. She is also an amateur detective of the Harriet the Spy ilk. She is going to use resources to solve your mystery – with one caveat. The mystery can’t be solved by just googling it. I am a couple mysteries in and they are candy. When she calls someone up on the phone that may be able to help her piece the truth together, she is as likely to start talking to them about their high school experience as she is about the case in hand. If I ever get to meet Starlee Kine, I wonder what I would share with her? I don’t know, but I would probably feel like I had been touched by an angel afterwards. She is like that. The last episode I listened to involved a picture of Britney Spears from several years ago. In it, she is holding a copy of a novel that was not very popular. The author of that novel wanted to know whether Britney read it, and whether she liked it. I am not going to give it all away, but I was listening to the end of the episode while I was driving the other day. I realized that I must have had the biggest, goofiest smile on my face. It’s like that. (and I really need a sticker of that logo!)

watermelonWatermelon Salad Recipe – I came across this recipe a couple weeks ago, and this week I made it twice for two separate dinner get-togethers. I really like watermelon and to pair it with fresh herbs, toasted nuts, mozzarella, salt and a smattering of olive oil seems to be a combination that speaks summer salad. It is delicious!

d49ab787-3ffc-4d16-b908-c5bc4eeeee18
Cleaning my office
– A couple weeks ago, I left work on a Friday afternoon and I felt horrible. It was late and I needed to get home, but what I was leaving behind was chaos. There were piles everywhere. My to-do list was a joke. The plan for my next week wasn’t to be found. I made the decision to go in over the weekend to get some order to what was left behind. I also spent some time rereading the wonderful David Allen’s Getting Things Done. Between the plan that the book lays out for putting order to your life, and a few hours of diligent order-making in my office, my work life is now in such a better place. All last week, I kind of perused my new system and felt so much better about things.

Funny sight on the way home – Driving home from work one night, I was stopped at the corner of Rockhill and Cleaver. There was a skinny little lady with a fat bulldog (I think) who started walking across the street on the red light. At a point when she was almost to the median, the dog decided it needed a rest. It laid down in the middle of the crosswalk and would not budge for several seconds. The visual of that big old dog stubbornly laying there while his owner tried to coax him on was very amusing and made me laugh.

That is five, but there have been many others since the last time I posted one of these. There were dinners with friends with good food and conversations, picture of Banjo with her new KC Royals collar and Ali’s craft pictures,positive responses to some of the things going on at work, Negroni week, babysitting Birdie and Dan’s extraordinary baby calming skills, a thoughtful and fun invitation, and a bunch of other stuff. Once again, as I look over things, I know that I am lucky. I hope your week ahead has lots of good things to capture.

Good Things

weekI won’t even attempt to put a timeframe on this post. I have not had a typical good things post in so long, I have forgotten how I had even had that habit. These are busy days, I know, but I can’t believe that they have been so busy that I can’t sit myself down and rattle off what has made me happy, impressed me, inspired me, or in some way or the other made me take positive notice. I need to do that. It revs my engine. It balances me. It makes me accountable. It makes me a better world citizen when I make myself be more aware of goodness.

So, I will do my best to bring the habit back into my life. Here, I give you a recap of some of the things that I have taken note of during the last several weeks. Maybe you have noticed some of these too!

ypl_woodson_Brown_Girl_DreamingBrown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson – We had our annual Poetry Night Book Club last night. This is the night we all bring a poem or two to read aloud and say why we like it. My choice this year may have been my easiest choice ever. A few weeks ago I read Jacqueline Woodson’s National Book Award Winning Brown Girl Dreaming. Jacqueline’s book tells the story of her life – all in verse! She was born in Ohio in the 1960s, but did her growing up in South Carolina and Brooklyn. The pieces that she put together in this book weave a beautiful story of her family and the time during our country’s history when being a brown girl could sometimes be dangerous. The book is marketed as a young reader, but I think there is no age limit to love this book. Here is just a snippet.

sometimes,

no words are needed

Deep winter and the night air is cold. So still,

it feels like the world goes on forever in the darkness

until you look up and the earth stops

in a ceiling of stars. My head against

my grandfather’s arm.,

a blanket around us as we sit on the front porch swing.

Its whine like a song.

You don’t need words

on a night like this. Just the warmth

of your grandfather’s arm, Just the silent promise

that the world as we know it

will always be here.

bugNew Art

Dan and I went down to the Brookside Art Fair last weekend and I was taken by the art of Kreg Yingst, an artist from Florida. He does super cool block prints that are music themed. There were several that I could have been very happy with, but I decided on one with a vintage bug and Beatles lyrics. Everytime I walk past it hanging in our dining room it makes me smile!

Rotary073368_2219861926312520772_nWaldo-Brookside Rotary – For a few years, Dan has wanted to start a Rotary Club in our neighborhood. While he loves his current Rotary Club, he had the feeling that there was a niche for an evening club in our area where there lots of new businesses and active neighbors. It is now a real thing. Through his work and the support of the Plaza Rotary over fifty people have committed to being a charter member of the new club. I am one of them. I have already met some wonderful people – all with a commitment to make our city, nation, and world a better place. It is a great thing to be a part of from the very beginning, and I hope that Dan knows what a wonderful thing he was instrumental in bringing about! If you are in the area, we would love to join us at 5:30 at The Well in Waldo.

EdEThe 100 Day Project – There is an Internet challenge that started back at the beginning of April called the 100 Day Project. The goal is to pick something that you want to try to do for 100 days and go for it and document it. In my quest to be a little more creative, I decided to do this, but I had a little trouble coming up with what it was that my challenge could be. I kind of wanted to draw, and I came up with the best solution for someone who wants to draw but needs a lot of help with it. My project is #100Daysof EdEmberley. Since April 5, I have been drawing and posting an Ed Emberley inspired drawing on my Instagram feed. It has been fun, and there are so many creative things coming out of this challenge. I think I can make it until July 14!

zucchiniZucchini Noodle Maker – In our continuing quest to eat more Paleo, Dan and I happened onto a new gadget that has made our list of great things. This little device when scraped across a zucchini created noodley pieces of zucchini that can substitute for pasta when paired with things like shrimp scampi or beef stroganoff. I could eat them every day!

As I was going through my logbook pages for the last several weeks, there are a number of little things that bear mentioning since they too were great! Things such as: visiting Powell Gardens on a beautiful Saturday in Spring, cleaning out my utensil drawers, watching the Kentucky Derby with juleps and friends, Birdie snuggling on Dan, buying tickets for Pitchfork festival in Chicago and Jason Isbell at the Ryman Theater, Season 1 of the Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, Dan reading me Lake Isle of Innisfree in his William Butler Yeats voice, seeing the Drive By Truckers, peonies in bloom, them Royals!

That does it for this one. I hope there are many good things ahead for everyone!

Last Weeks’ Good Things

Marc1We lost an hour to Daylight Savings and I lost a week in noting some good things. Time to regroup and get this done! I am seeing that many of the things that I am sharing today have a media bent, but so be it. They are all pretty great! Here are a few of the good things that came my way lately.

How the New York Times is Made – If you show me a production line, I will be mesmerized. Whether it is making crayons, cars, or candy bars, the travel down conveyor belts from pieces to completion is something I love watching. I also love the New York Times. I like how it looks and feels and reads. A little bit ago, Reeves Wiedeman wrote an article for Popular Mechanics that details how the New York Times is made. While he does not include any videos of production lines, he does a great job of giving a picture of a day in the life of the paper. Another very fun part of this is that Reeves is a Kansas City guy and a grade school friend of my son!

Taking Apart an Adding Machine – Hank Green is the brother of John Green, the author of The Fault in Our Stars. The two do this weekly video series where they talk to each other about a crazy variety of topics. I don’t always watch them, but when I do they make me laugh, or smile, or think harder. I did watch a recent one that was amazing. Hank found an old adding machine in a shop. He bought it and when he got it home, he wanted to find out how it worked. That week’s video was him taking it apart and figuring out how the innards worked to put the numbers on the roll of paper and do the math functions that were punched into it. I could watch this thing over and over! Several years ago, Sam found a machine almost exactly like it in a thrift store and bought it. It is sitting up in his bedroom. Hmmm.

Maira Kalman video on the Cooper-Hewitt My Favorite Things exhibit – I wrote in my wedding post about going to the Cooper-Hewitt and seeing the wonderful Maira Kalman exhibit. I so love everything that woman does and want to be her friend so badly! Anyway – I came across this video of her talking about the exhibit which made me so happy. She talks about the duality of our lives – sorrow/joy, love/hate, awake/asleep… and how we all live in a state of duality. Her message, her art, and her curation are so good!

Encouraging Words – It is sometimes lost on me what power encouraging words can have. I try to do a good job with it with my family, friends, and people I work with. But sometimes, it can be the encouraging words of a stranger that can have the most profound impact. They don’t have to talk to you, but they decide to enter your life and do so by telling you something that makes you feel good about yourself. I had an example of that at the gym the other day. I was trudging along on the treadmill reading my book when a man got on the bike beside me. He was there for a physical therapy appointment and when getting on the bike he was obviously in pain. As he peddled he also looked pretty darn uncomfortable. As a person who has been in his shoes, I understood and I looked over at him and smiled. He returned the smile. A few minutes later he looked over at me and said “hey, you are doing a really good job at that!” That just made my day.

Darwin had crappy days too – One of my workmates had a bad day a couple weeks ago. It wasn’t one thing or another – it was just a combination of things that made it just a bad day. Shortly after that, I came across a portion of a letter that Charles Darwin wrote. Reading it made me think about my work friend and I copied it down and gave her a copy of it the next time I saw her. I think it is a good reminder that we all of some pretty rotten days, but we can go to bed at night and wake up the next day to new opportunities. Sometimes we just need to get it out. Charles Darwin’s getting it out kind of delighted me! 

But I am very poorly today & very stupid & hate everybody & everything. One lives only to make blunders.— I am going to write a little Book for Murray on orchidsf8 & today I hate them worse than everything so farewell & in a sweet frame of mind, I am | Ever yours | C. Darwin

So that is it! Hope many good things happened to you, and like Kansas City, your spring has sprung!