El’s Rabbit Trails: Stockings to hang by the chimney with care.

My friend Joanna is an amazing woman. She wifes and she mothers six kids, homeschooling five of them. She runs half marathons and can cook up a storm. If those aren’t enough things to be good at, she’s also an excellent seamstress. This holiday season she has decided to use her sewing talent as a means to start an entrepreneurial venture and sell her original design Christmas stockings.

jos-stocking

You can find her stocking for sale here, at her etsy shop, JoMamas Calling. She really does do excellent work and if you buy a stocking from her it will be one that will last for years as part of your Christmas collectibles.

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Food: A Love Story

food-love-story

Food: A Love Story, by Jim Gaffigan. Originally published in 2014. 352 pages.

I can honestly and unequivocally say that if you asked me for a genre of book I thought I would never, ever, be bothered to read, I’d probably say one like this: written by a modern day stand up American comedian. I have no idea what possessed me to grab this off the featured shelf of our library on my way to check-out kiosk. Something about the photo made me snicker, curiosity got the better of me, and my state of mind this holiday season demanded that I read something that might make me laugh.

At least I hoped it would make me laugh, and thankfully, there were several moments as I read this book that literally made me laugh out loud. I read portions to members of our foodie household. The funny parts were so funny that I was able to forgive Mr. Gaffigan for the parts that were patently UN-funny.

This is not high brow, not excellent writing, and book snobs need not even bother to crack the cover. I generally consider myself a book snob, but I’m prole enough to be able to kick back and laugh with someone as low brow as I am. I’m not going to even try and discuss this book from a literary perspective because that would mean pretending that it’s literary. The fact that Gaffigan keeps making the best seller list with these books says as much about American reading habits as his books reveal about American eating habits.

So rather than go any further, I’ll just put up some funny quotes:

It would be embarrassing trying to explain what an appetizer is to someone from a starving country. “Yeah, the appetizer—that’s the food we eat before we have our food. No, no, you’re thinking of dessert—that’s food we have after we have our food. We eat tons of food. Sometimes there’s so much we just stick it in a bag and bring it home. Then we throw it out the next day. Maybe give it to the dog.

Indeed:

In America we have gone way beyond sustenance. Eating is an activity.

Gaffigan’s wife is a devout Catholic, who is also thin and pretty (nothing like him) and his five kids are very cute. This irony prefaces a few jokes in the book. This is when reached a point in his life when he decided to stop trying to get into shape, and embrace his reality:

It wasn’t defeat as much as it was acceptance. I figured, I got a hot wife. If she leaves me for getting fat, that means she’s shallow.

On trusting a skinny person’s word on what tastes (or doesn’t taste) good:

I’d still trust an overly fat person over a skinny one any day. The best adviser would have a very specific body type: pudgy or just a little overweight. This makes it clear they have a somewhat unhealthy relationship with food, but not a clinical problem.If they are morbidly obese, then you can conclude that they will probably eat everything and anything and do not have discerning taste.

My favorite part was probably his exploration of how dumb we have to be to have made bottled water into a multi-billion dollar industry. He even notes that Evian is “naive” spelled backwards, which I somehow never noticed.

Recently I tried Smartwater, which has electrolytes in it, and it’s supposed to replenish your body better than regular bottled water, therefore making you, I guess, smarter. I tried it, and it totally worked. I am now much smarter. Now I only drink tap water.

On second thought, that wasn’t my favorite part. It was this section, which I am going to end with along with an embarrassing confession. Me and my daughters? We are these people. My Benevolent Dictator thinks we are nuts:

Foodies will travel for miles in search of the perfect hamburger. “There is this place in Greenpoint that’s only an hour by train and a forty-minute walk from the subway that has the best burger in town!” It can’t be better than the burger I can get across the street. Mostly, I just want the closest best burger in town.

Yep, we drive for a great…whatever. We even got excited about trying a new local vegan donut shop and we’re as far from vegan as you can get.

Like I said, I laughed, which was the whole point. This book was basically a 300+ page stand up act, with all this implies: Some great hits, and some big misses.

Book snob grade: D

For me, out of book snob mode: Solid B+

Content advisory: The occasional four letter word here and there, but very rare.

Suburban Wildlife

This is RJ:

rj in a tree

Some of you parents of teenagers today might remember him from the 2006 animated film, Over the Hedge. RJ was the story’s protagonist,  a racoon who survived by rummaging through the garbage cans and open garages of the suburban neighborhoods which adjoined the woods where he and his animal friends lived.

So I opened my front door a couple of days ago, at 2:45 in the afternoon no less, to find this fellow (or perhaps it was female?) staring down at me from about 8 feet away and 10 feet up. I immediately had one of our daughters grab a camera and record this oddity to show the man later when he got home:

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I was fairly well surprised, not too mentioned worried if the thing would jump from the tree onto my head as I got into the driver’s side door of my truck, which was parked pretty close to the tree. So my daughter and I both walked around to the passenger side, and got in. She climbed across and drove us to our destination.

I often joke about living in a concrete jungle but it’s not entirely true. We do live in the midst of suburban sprawl,  but on morning jogs there is the occasional deer family crossing the street from one side of the woods to the other. On evening walks, you might see coyotes in the distance between the woods and the pond. And my husband has taken some pretty cool photos of glorious hawks as they landed on our back yard fence.

This morning when I took a walk, cars zipped alongside me on the main road, and I still noticed the cardinals, butterflies, and rabbits on the other side of me. I am fortunate to live where where there is a decent amount of land labeled as habitat preservation areas.

For now at least.

 

In the Queue

After a relaxing Thanksgiving, a crazy Thanksgiving weekend, and a very slow start to what I like to call Recovery Monday, I decided that the least I can do is keep reading. It really is one of the only things that relaxes me. Not the only thing, but one of the top 3. So I dusted off the book pile and am planning on getting at least three books completed and reviewed by the end of the year. I also have a couple of children’s books that have stood the test in our family from our oldest now 21, to our youngest, who is 7.

Books I plan to read by the end of the first quarter of 2016:

  • Orthodoxy, by G. K. Chesterton. I am reading this in bits because it’s one of those books you don’t want to rush through. It gets better with age and I like to savor it, let the thoughts kind of roll around in my head for a couple days after I’ve read a chapter or two. It deserves no less. Yes, much like Lewis and Booker T. Washington, I am an intellectual groupie of Chesterton. I should make that a category.
  • Things Fall Apart, by Chinua Achebe. I’m pretty engrossed in this one right now and hope to be done by week’s end.
  • Life Together, by Dietrich Bonhoeffer. It’s been a few years since I read it, but it’s time to read it again.
  • Vanity Fair, by William Makepeace Thackeray. I’m expecting this to be a fun one.
  • Who Made God? And Answers to Over 100 Tough Questions of Faith, by Ravi Zacharias. I was with a fellow bibliophile, lamenting the dearth of Christian writers the caliber of Lewis, Chesterton, and Bonhoeffer, and she suggested I check out Ravi Zacharias. “A Lewis for our generation”, she said and loaned me this book as an introduction. Looking forward to reading this and more from him in the coming year.
  • Ready to Run, By Dr. Kelly Starrett. I am training for my first ever race, a 5K in early 2016, and I need to shore up some things. I know 5K is almost nothing to a few of you who read here, but to me it’s an accomplishment. The book comes highly reviewed and I need to finish it and implement some of the recommended changes.
  • Working With the Hands, By Booker T. Washington
  • The Color of Water, by James McBride
  • The Sunne in Splendour, by Sharon Kay Penman, comes heavily recommended by Maeve.
  • The Hunger Games, which fellow bibliophile sold me on. Since our girls already own them I can read them whenever the mood strikes.
  • Till We Have Faces, By C. S. Lewis. Nope, I have never read it. Yes, I blush slightly at the confession.

This is where you tell me what you’re reading, or planning to read as we move from 2015 to 2016. My 2016 list is still a work in progress and I’m open to suggestions.

So please, fire away.

 

Iconic Characters: Mr. Knightley

Jonny Lee Miller as Mr. Knightley in BBC's Emma
Jonny Lee Miller as Mr. Knightley in BBC’s Emma

Having agonized- that’s hyperbole- over whether I will be so bothered as to ever review Jane Austen’s more acclaimed novels, I have concluded that the answer is no. We may certainly at some point visit one or two that have not been adapted by a major Hollywood studio. However, there isn’t much that an average reader and novice writer with scant literary knowledge or insights into life in 18th century England can say about those books that hasn’t already been said. I have recently read a few posts from other bloggers which present a well rounded exploration of Jane Austen’s works:

From Escoffier at Just Four Guys:

Why Jane Austen is Not Chick Lit

Three perspectives from Adventures at Keeping House:

The Real Villain of Pride and Prejudice

Pride and Prejudice:The Most Unrealistic of All Jane Austen’s Love Stories

The Inherent Liberalism of Pride and Prejudice

I trust that there you will find plenty of food for thought and controversy to mine for die hard Austen fans. Not to mention the aforementioned are much more articulate and knowledgeable than I.

I do however, have a very strong opinion on one matter that I want to address in an Waiting+For+Mr.+Darcyattempt at cathartic release after seeing yet another woman wearing an insufferable t-shirt. It is with this business of Mr. Darcy from Pride and Prejudice extolled as the most manly and admirable leading man in all of Austen’s works. I patently disagree.

The most alluring male lead in all of Jane Austen’s works that I have read is without question Mr. Knightley from her 1815 published work, Emma. While the title character and leading lady is often very hard to take, Mr. Knightley is a breath of fresh air among male characters of any era.

He is confident, direct, and never fails to call Emma to account and a higher standard of behavior when she gets out of line. In other words, he is exactly the kind of  man we post-modern sassy women need in a husband rather than a steady dose of  Darcy’s “You must allow me to tell you how ardently I admire and love you”.

Contrast with this description of Mr. Knightley, the man to whom Emma is eventually wed:

Mr. Knightley, in fact, was one of the few people who could see faults in Emma Woodhouse, and the only one who ever told her of them: and though this was not particularly agreeable to Emma herself, she knew it would be so much less so to her father, that she would not have him really suspect such a circumstance as her not being thought perfect by every body.

“Emma knows I never flatter her,” said Mr. Knightley.

While Emma may not be Austen’s most acclaimed work, it is in my opinion certainly the most entertaining and humorous, and the one book in which she provides us an example of a man, stalwart, and unafraid to confront folly in the life and actions of his intended.

That in my opinion, makes Mr. Knightley rather than Mr. Darcy, Jane Austen’s most iconic male character.