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The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins rose to #1 on the New York Times Bestsellers List last week, and I finished reading it just in time to agree – it is the new Gone Girl.   I never read Gone Girl, haven’t seen the movie either.  I would generally say crime fiction isn’t my genre, but after a recent train trip to Chicago to see our daughter, I found myself in a large downtown Barnes and Noble bookstore where I picked up a copy of this book intending to read the first page.  The first page turned into the first chapter, and then another and then another.  That is why The Girl on the Train will stay atop the best sellers list.  The narrative travels at a speeding train’s pace and, as the cover image hints, it compels the reader with a Hitchcockian, “Rear Window” brand of intrigue.

Rachel, one of the three female characters, is a sort of train wreck of a character.  She is an out of work, alcoholic divorcee who continues to take the train into London each day to keep up the charade of employment, so that the girlfriend who she is temporarily living with won’t kick her out of the apartment.  Since she isn’t really going to work, she can drink canned gin and tonics on the train and allow herself the revelry of staring out the window, imagining the lives of people she sees on the front porches outside the stations where the train stops.  And so it begins!  She sees something curious and disturbing one day – or does she?  Due to her abuse of alcohol and her fragile mental state, she frequently blacks out, or seriously doubts her memory in hungover light of day.  So can she be a reliable witness for a murder case?

She isn’t even a reliable narrator.  Neither is Anna, wife of Tom, Rachel’s ex-husband.  Neither is Megan, murder victim and wife of Scott, who has a secret past creepier than the events surrounding her murder case.  These three narrate the novel which switches frequently from story teller to story teller, from past to present, from the discomfort of home to the safety and anonymity of a moving train compartment.

The Rosie Effect by Graeme Simsion

February 15th, 2015 | Posted by Lackey in My Reading Life - (0 Comments)

I loved The Rosie Project  and I can’t wait for the movie.   I love Don Tillman and his hilarious wife, Rosie, so I knew I would live the Rosie Effect.  I got a digital library loan of the novel, which was my first read in OverDrive.  I’m not sure I like it as well as I like reading Kindle editions, but it did give me the added satisfaction of letting me know I opened the book just 25 times and finished it in 6 hours and 36 minutes.  And what a fun six and a half hours those were.  (I read most of by a fireplace as a winter storm pounded the Northeast Ohio Lake Erie shore.)

In this sequel Rosie is pregnant with a baby she and Don had not discussed having together.  His quirks and idiosyncrasies as a man and husband look as if they will be exacerbated by the responsibilities of parenthood.  I laughed out loud many times while reading about the troubles Don manages to get himself into.  It is hard to believe that until recently Graeme Simsion was a name associated with the theory of data modeling and not a popular author.  Everyone I know who has read The Rosie Project loved it and I will be recommending the Rosie Effect for a long while to come.

Us by David Nicholls

February 1st, 2015 | Posted by Lackey in My Reading Life - (0 Comments)
I really enjoyed One Day by David Nicholls and had read enough pre-publication hype about Us to convince myself that I would love it too.  I was not disappointed!  Nicholls is an author and screen writer and I am already anxious for the movie version of Us, especially if the movie is true to the European vacation itinerary of the novel.
Connie Peterson tells her husband, Douglas, that she plans to leave him after they return from a trip they have planned to take with their son, Albie, who is about to leave for college.  The plan is a grand tour of France, Spain, Amsterdam and Italy, complete with all the art museums and requisite life-changing tourist stops.  But the life-changing happens as a result of people more than places. The reader travels along inside Douglas’s simultaneously humorous and painfully honest narration.  Although the optimistic reader hopes for a happily-ever-after ending, pleasant realism is a pretty good was to end a pretty endearing story.

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During a recent trip to Chicago to visit our daughter, we mastered Uber well enough to get us anywhere we wanted to go in the city. And I wanted to go to Eataly, Mario Batali’s 63,000 square foot Italian food emporium.  Just inside the front door was a dedication to Ernest Hemingway that reassured me we were probably going to like the place.  Of course, I am a fan of Batali from my daily, treadmill-time watching of  The Chew, which he co-hosts.  Also, David gifted me with a copy of Batali’s new America Farm to Table cookbook from Christmas.  I had read enough about Eataly to be intrigued and, I must say, it exceeded my expectations in a way that any store as large as five Trader Joe’s might!

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The motto above the door is one I certainly approve of!  If we had know that we could have gotten a glass of wine and walked around with it, we probably would have.  As it was, we really didn’t have any intention of eating a meal at Eataly, but the power of suggestion overwhelmed us.  Inside the two-story building are eight Italian themed restaurants, the largest of which is La Pizza & La Pasta, where we eventually took a seat at the counter so we could watch the daily pasta dishes being prepared.

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Lucky for us, there was no waiting.  Probably because it was still Sunday morning, but David and I used the “it’s 5 o’clock somewhere” justification for ordering a glass of wine to go with a “pizza of the day”, which happened to be prosciutto!

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Our very friendly server started us with a plate of oil and a brown paper package of freshly baked bread before helping us select a Valle Reale Montepulciano d’Abruzzo to go with our pizza.

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We had a great time watching the preparation of the Daily Pastas and had no problem finishing the pizza, which had been perfectly baked in a stone pizza oven, also in view, and generously covered in fresh mozzarella and prosciutto.

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Fortified and ready to shop, we walked around for the best part of an hour taking in the fish counter and it’s corresponding restaurant,  Il Pesce, as well as the meat counter.  I understand there is also a meat-centric restaurant called La Carne, which is in  a remote corner of the second floor and a vegetarian eatery called Le Verdure, as well.

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If you to to Eataly, I would probably suggest starting the the center of the second floor, La Piazza, which is the busy Italian city center where you can order a glass of wine and stand at one of the tables to enjoy items coming directly from the counters or production corners located right behind them: La Mozzarella, Il Crudo, I Salumi & Formaggi and Il Fritto.

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We were off to investigate Italian wines!  I have a new interest in Nebbiolo, red Italian grape variety that is being grown at Quarry Hill Winery, where I work part-time.  Nebbiolo is most commonly used in Barolo and Barbaresco wines.  I though perhaps I could learn a little more about the grape from the young guy working in the wine department.  He was initially very interested in talking to me, but when I began asking some specific questions that were out of his range of knowledge and explained that I work at a winery in Ohio, he admitted he was also from Ohio – an OSU grad.  He suggested we could sample some wines at the nearby Vino Libero counter, where 6 casks of wine were “on tap” and, once again, you could stand at a tasting counter and enjoy your wine with a selection of marinated olives, or salumi, or prosciutto di parma, or even spicy tuna.

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I must say, the whole Eataly experience was a feast for the eyes.  Even the signs for the Toilette were clever!  We decided our trip home on Amtrack would allow for a small bag of groceries which we chose mainly from the selections of First Anniversary Celebration Sale bins that were prominently placed throughout both floors.

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In addition to a particularly flavorful Provolone that we found in the cheese shop, we brought home some a small jar of a white truffles and mushroom sauce, a tube of Triplo Concentrato dei Comodoro tomato paste, and a box of Barilla Bucatini n.9 – my new favorite pasta!

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Next time, and there will be a next time, we will plan on eating our way through both floors.  Mario Batali may have created a culinary circus in Eataly, but who doesn’t enjoy a culinary circus?

The First Bad Man by Miranda July

January 18th, 2015 | Posted by Lackey in My Reading Life - (0 Comments)

I love Miranda July.  I hate Miranda July.  I was totally amused by her collection It Chooses You a few years back.  I was drawn to her new novel, The First Bad Man, like a car wreck that I knew I probably didn’t want to see but couldn’t look away from.  Mostly, I admire Miranda July.  She puts it out there a little bit like Lena Dunham, another brash, young artistic voice I can’t entirely ignore.  And I didn’t hate this book as much as I thought I might.

The title comes from the role of “the first bad man” attacker in the self-defense videos produced by the non-profit that Cheryl, the protagonist, works for.  Cheryl lives alone, is infatuated with a creepy board member named Philip and obsessed with the connection she felt with a baby she met when she was six that she named Kubelko Bondy.  When her boss asks if her 26 year old daughter, Clee, can move in with Cheryl temporarily, the book becomes sexually charged and borderline surreal.  In her review of the book, Lena Dunham wrote, “Miranda July’s ability to pervert norms while embracing what makes us normal is astounding”.

I almost stopped reading this book.  When I saw where it was headed, I wanted to stop looking through the keyhole at bizarro-world.  But the New York Times review of the book had already cautioned me that “challenging work tends to incite readerly resistance”.  I stayed with it until the end, shaking my head but a little in awe of the risky freshness that July makes her readers confront.

My Year in Etsy – A to Z

January 5th, 2015 | Posted by Lackey in My Creating Life - (0 Comments)

The past year – 2014 – was a big one for my Etsy shop – Linda’s Other Life.  I went beyond baby steps to realize how much fun managing my shop like a business and treating sewing like a job could be.  I decided to compile my progress A – Z as a way of motivating myself to be even better in the new year.

A – Aprons         Vintage feed sacks, oilcloth, Christmas aprons, many custom orders

B – Burlap          Table runners, embroidered VW bus pillows, my first wedding order, fish shaped perch pillows

C – CLE               Local stores, even the CLE Clothing Co., starting carrying candles, key fobs and hand sewn items

D – David           Because D is always for David, and it was his idea (inspired by Bono) for me to make this list

E – Etsy              Little did I know when I opened my shop two years ago that Etsy would open so many doors for me

F – Fabric           I’m obsessed with fabric!  I dream of fabric!  I have too much fabric and I don’t see it as a problem.

G – GBT              Girl’s Best Friend in Lakewood has become a new best friend and creative partner in retail

H – Hangers      I have actually gotten rid of clothes from my closet just so I could steal the hangers for aprons!

I – Intuition       I am learning to trust my intuition – about what will sell, about how to design, about styles and colors

J – Joann’s         I love going to Joann Fabrics!  I can spend too much time and money there.  I am there too often.

K – Keepsake     I have reconstructed keepsake items for customers and sewn items I hope will become keepsakes

L – LOL               My “brand” is truly becoming my “other life” and life is good

M – Mess            My sewing room is frequently messier than my desk at school used to be and I am fine with that

N – Network       I am enjoying networking with people at craft fairs  and making connections with retailers

O – Oilcloth        Fun and easy to sew, colorful oilcloth is one of my new obsessions

P – Pandora        My sewing music easily changes with my moods and Pandora makes it easy

Q – Quilt Shops  New Quilt Shops in every town we visited this year.  Favorites are always Amish country, OH

R – Repurposed  I love repurposing fabric!  Feed sacks, old pieces of lace and trim, burlap bags, vintage fabrics

S – Salty               Salty Not Sweet in CLE has been good to me and even led to an airport retail opportunity

T – Tables            Table runners, placemats, pub mats – everyone has a table that needs dressing up

U – USPS             Our jolly postman frequently trades postmarked packages from the box for fabric deliveries

V – Vacation        I actually allow myself  ”vacation” days from time to time and have enjoyed taking the holidays off

W – Wonder Fair   An in-home craft show was the best – and most profitable – idea of the year!

X – Xtras             I try to make my Etsy packages special by including little extras – candy, buttons, gift tags, etc.

Y – Yarn               I stitched some sayings in yarn on burlap to make some pretty cool pillows this year

Z – Zero               Pleasant year end surprise – cash to spend to bring my profit back to zero!

 

Time to start over!

 

I love to pick a book to read by the light the Christmas tree on my iPad during the holidays, and this year I was intrigued by all of the accolades All the Light We Cannot See was receiving – finalist for the National Book Award, New York Times #1 bestseller, Indie Next Pick and the list goes on.  I had read enough to know it is a WWII story of a young boy and a young girl who are united by the power of radio.  Historic fiction isn’t at the top of my lists of reading interests, but after reading a little bit about Anthony Doerr and discovering that he grew up in Cleveland, Ohio, I knew I had to read this book.  Doerr’s prose is beautiful poetry!  He weaves a compelling connection between his alternate narrators – Marie-Laure who lives with her father in Paris near the Museum of Natural History and a German orphan named Werner who is snatched up by Hitler’s Youth for his aptitude for science.  Although the book is very long – 544 pages – the chapters are relatively short and the jumping back and forth between narrators and time periods make it an unbelievably quick book.  I was fully satisfied by the novel and it was the rare sort that made me interested in doing more research into the ancient walled city of Saint Malo, the seizure of French art during the German invasion and the history of radio.  Doerr explains his various inspirations for the novel in this short video.

The Story Hour by Thrity Umrigar

December 17th, 2014 | Posted by Lackey in My Reading Life - (0 Comments)

storyJust before Christmas, I was having a nostalgic craving for a good old-fashioned Christmas shopping experience at a local book store.  Problem is – there aren’t any anymore.  So we ventured to Mac’s Backs Books on Coventry , which is a little out of the way, but one of the only authentic bookstores of miles around.  We milled around, lingered, lifted books off the shelf and read a few pages.  That is how I found The Story Hour by local author Thrity Umrigar.  Turns out Umrigar received an M.A. From Ohio State University, and a Ph.D. in English from Kent State University.  I read the cover flap and decided to continue my abstinence from book buying and get it from the library – digital loan.

The Story Hour is a novel in two voices.  The narration alternates between an Maggie, an African-American psychologist married to a professor and her client Lakshimi, a younger Indian woman from a small village who helps her husband run his Indian grocery.  Laksmimi has attempted suicide, which precipitates her relationship with Maggie, who she meets in the hospital following her botched attempt. A relationship develops between the two woman and, through various plot twists and turns, their lives become irrevocably intertwined.

I enjoyed the book enough to say I would recommend it.  Both women are terribly flawed and vulnerable, which is why their stories seem so true.

One of the reasons my son was most excited about our recent visit to Pennsylvania was to show us around one of his favorite places to eat and drink – Tröegs Brewery in Hershey PA. As we pulled into the parking lot on a Friday evening, the place looked packed, but he assured us that the tasting room was large and it would be worth the wait, should there be one. He also advised checking out the merchandise in the gift shop, since it closes early. All sorts of tee shirts and beer related souvenirs arranged in a spacious store with a window into the production facility.

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Upon entering the tasting room, we were greeted by a host who explained how to get beer and food and described a number of specials. The room is full of booths and long tables to share. We were in luck when we spotted a table of folks getting ready to leave, so we sat down and studied the beer menu to make our sampler selections. Sampler trays are offered two ways – six samples from their Year-Round Beer list for $8 or Pick Three from the whole list which includes limited draft beer and Hop Cycle Seasonals for $5.50. The detailed beer menu included information about ABV and IBUs as well as clever descriptions, such as “colossal, palate-numbing” for the Impending Descent Stout, which was my favorite.

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Beer orders are placed at the bar – food orders are placed at a counter where you also pick up your trays of food after your buzzer goes off. We decided to share a couple of appetizers from the “Shared” section of the Snack Bar menu - Poutine hand-cut fries with turkey neck gravy, celery salt, sage, cheese curds and cranberry ketchup and a charcuterie tray which came on a round wooden board and included house made pickles, radishes and horseradish mustard.

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Entree selection was even trickier! So many interesting choices from a menu that changes seasonally and includes a list of farms and friends which source their ingredients. I had the crispy chicken leg with mole spices, black bean tacos, pumpkin guacamole and pickled chayote squash. David ordered a troegswurst sandwich, and Ben got the beef short rib pot roast with root vegetables, and duck fat mashed potatoes which came in a canning jar. It was accompanied by a wheat roll and a little paper cup of the most delicious smoky butter I have ever tasted. Candice got duck confit with almond stuffing, pear relish and cardamom syrup.

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Since I am a sucker for holiday brews, I had to order one Mad Elf Ale – brewed with sweet and sour cherries, local PA honey and chocolate malt!

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We piled back into the car, stuffed and happy, yet doubting whether we had made the best menu choices in light of all the other tempting selections we had not been able to sample.

Lucky for us, our Sunday drive brought us back to Hershey for a little time at the outlet mall and a chance to see the Hershey kiss streetlights in the daylight – and it just so happened to be dinner time. Visit #2! No complaints.

This time we all knew what beer we liked, and the menu took less time to sort through. We started with a basket of popcorn with brown butter and rosemary salt to share. David got the deconstructed lamb burger which is served on curried naan, Ben chose the venison and aged cheddar bologna which was served with a tiny cast iron skillet of braised red cabbage and I decided to try the wood smoked trout salad. No traditional salad here! It was served in a small canning jar and tasted like tuna salad’s worldly sophisticated sister. Another round wooden serving tray with bread crisps, crème fraiche, lemon rosemary jam, pickles and radishes and a tiny trio of creamy potato pancake like hash browns.

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I love eating out and trying new dishes, but I describe the food at Tröegs in such detail because it is an awesome brewery that could get by with serving their Oktoberfest pretzels and other simple bar fare. Instead the menu might trump the beers!

What did we do when we left? Go back to Ben and Candice’s apartment and continue the food coma by watching Chef.

A Day of Breweries in Kalamazoo

November 10th, 2014 | Posted by Lackey in My Traveling Life - (0 Comments)

We decided to celebrate our 12th wedding anniversary with an overnight in Kalamazoo, MI.  Why Kalamazoo, most of our friends asked?  Food, wine and BEER!  In April 2014, U.S. World & News Report named Kalamazoo as one of 8 undervalued beer cities in the world.  I made a reservation at The Kalamazoo House, a  lovely bed and breakfast and we enjoyed a beautiful fall to a very cool city we initially knew very little about.

IMG_9720.JPGMy investigation in to breweries to visit suggested a good place to begin would be The Kalamazoo Beer Exchange.  Located in the historic Globe Building in downtown Kalamazoo, The Beer Exchange offers 28 rotating draught beers from around the world, with prices based on real-time sales, like the stock market, resulting in an ever-evolving happy hour. Occasional “market crashes” will occur daily, dropping beer prices to their all-time low.

IMG_9724.JPGWe did experience one drop in the market, which resulted in the immediate appearance of our server who explained that you could stock pile a few beers at their low prices if you were interested.  What a concept!  The food was decent and the atmosphere was great for our first night.IMG_9725.JPGThe next day we knew we were going to have to pace ourselves.   Our first order of business was a visit to the Gilmore Car Museum, an amazing museum campus worthy of its own blog post – but I’ll leave that to my husband.  I would certainly recommend it if you are in town.  They even have displays of period costume pieces to accompany the beautiful cars.

IMG_9750.JPGWe made it to Bell’s Eccentric Cafe in time for lunch.  According to their website, they are “Michigan’s oldest brewery and one of the oldest craft brewers east of Colorado, Bell’s Brewery, Inc. offers distinctive beers including Two Hearted and Oberon, which enjoys a cult-like following and who’s release date corresponds with the start of the Major League Baseball season”.  IMG_9762.JPG

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IMG_9751.JPGWe both ordered a sampler and a bowl of soup and thoroughly enjoyed the atmosphere of their casual tasting room.  We could have easily spent more time, but we visited their General Store to get a few gifts and headed for nearby Arcadia Brewery.IMG_9740.JPG

IMG_9752.JPGA stark contrast to the worn wood homeyness of Bell’s, Arcadia’s tasting room is sleek, stark and stainless steel.  We chose another sampler from their interesting offerings.  I particularly enjoyed the Jaw Jacker!  There isn’t really a restaurant on the premises (there is a pub at a different Arcadia address in town) but there was a cafeteria style counter where you could get freshly barbecued meats and a few accompaniments, including a cardboard dish of sautéed greens that I thoroughly enjoyed.IMG_9749.JPGAfter a nap back at the B & B, we headed out for dinner at Gonzo’s BiggDogg Brewing .  The place is really unassuming from the outside, and the menu selections were as well.   But the beer was pretty tasty.

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IMG_3336Our evening ended with a short walk to a crusty old establishment that just recently became a brewery as well.  Rupert’s Brew House  is a college dive bar that advertises live music 5 nights a week.  The night we visited the entertainment was provided by young university jazz musicians and Rupert himself.  Rupert is a Great Dane with a bar high nose who has clearly inspired the naming of some of their brews.  My Mulit-grain Mutt was the perfect way to end a pretty perfect day.

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