Sunday, March 26, 2017

Book Review: The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt

This Book was Almost the End of Me

Months. I have months into this book. That was why I was gone for so long. I started this late summer and somehow was stuck deep within it until well after the first of the year. Months. Literally months.

Usually, I just switch to a new book when I'm stuck. I am not sentimental and am ruthless about ending a book in the middle but I just couldn't do that with this one. I somehow became connected to Theo, our main character and protagonist that I wanted to personally strangle many times through our journey, that I couldn't give up on him, even when he gave up on himself.

This book is almost a series of smaller books about Theo that could be compartmentalized. First his mother is killed in a terrorist attack in New York City when a museum is bombed. This begins the connection and obsession with the Goldfinch painting that Theo steals during the incident. His connection to this painting is a common thread in this whole book as he goes from NYC to Las Vegas and back to New York as we follow the chronicles of his life.

I went through this book in spurts, putting it down but always coming back. In the end it was worth it. It won a Pulitzer Prize for a reason. I just had to remove myself from Theo and his world many times so I could come back and still enjoy it.

Book Review: Warm Bodies by Isaac Marion

Zombies: A More Human Version

Yes, another movie that apparently I'm the only one who had not seen so the book was new for me. I also am not the hugest Zombie fan and can't stand to sit through an entire episode of Walking Dead as they moaning gets on my nerves.

This is different. R, a zombie, is having an existential crisis. See he kind of remembers being a human and is trying to reconnect the circuits to his memory. He's also madly in love with the girlfriend of one of his victims. . . he has absorbed the emotions of the young man along with his actual brain.

This is comedic of course, and also very sweet. It's not my typical book but I really did enjoy it. Looking for clip art today, I found that there's a prequel and another book in the series. I will have to check them out.

Book Review: The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins

Momentum Builds

Yes, I know it's a movie and maybe I'm the only one that didn't know the twists that would come but I so loved this book. I highly recommend it. Watch a woman who at first seems desperate and miserable with her life, unravel the story behind her personal failures to realize that not everything is how it seems.

Great book.

Book Review: Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng

This Book is Both Beautiful and Sad.

I had to sit with it for a while. It's been months to reflect (I read it in the fall) if I enjoyed it our not. It was complex and had me running through a series of emotions that were often hard to decipher.

The story is about Lydia, who has died, drowned in a pond near her home. Lydia was scared of water and how did she end up there?

This story is about so much more than Lydia as we watch the family struggle to come to terms what happened and why. Lydia is the beloved daughter in a Chinese American family. That heritage is important to this story as we watch the family untangle in their grief. Each member plays an important role in this story.

Besides for the intrigue, and often melancholy content, this book is beautifully written. I wouldn't call it a happy read by any means but the prose is often like poetry.

Book Review: Gypsy Brothers by Lili St. Germain

This was a Moment of Weakness that Lasted 7 Books

Yes, you heard me right. I'm going to call it a "moment of weakness". 

I absolutely devoured these books. Then I read the epilogue too.

This was recommended as the series to read if you were having withdrawal from Son's of Anarchy. Yes, I love SOA too. I'm admitting all kinds of things that maybe I should keep to myself.

Now these books aren't deep and they aren't going to be life changing, but they are fun. Follow Juliette's plan to avenge her family's betrayal at the hand's of his motorcycle club, which includes the new leader (who betrayed him) and his seven sons. She has some pretty diabolical plans on ending all of them.

This is violent of course, and not very realistic, but neither was SOA. Somehow in a book form without the actual blood and guts to see, I found it very easy reading. Sometimes I did have to turn away when I watched SOA.

This is a good escape. I read them in a weekend. Short and easy to read. Enjoy.

Sunday, October 30, 2016

Phase II of the Kitchen - COMPLETE!!!

Coming back from summer "hiatus". . .

If you have been following my kitchen makeover journey, you may know that I wanted to convert my kitchen from it's previous adobe look, to a more rustic farm kitchen. Phase I started with a new color of paint for the walls. I started the cabinet makeover in Phase II, in April, when the weather was still a bit chilly and definitely dreary. Once summer hit I could not justify spending time indoors while the sun was shining. I resorted to projects that could be one outside. Don't worry, I had plenty to do. I improved my front garden, and put in some flowerbeds in the backyard, with assorted perennials. I also worked on some furniture as I have a covered porch, including some chairs and a hall tree.

Well the weather officially turned last weekend and I couldn't delay the kitchen any longer. I finished this up last  to Saturday and Sunday but had to wait for some drawer pulls that I ordered on Amazon.

Here is the final result:

The bottom cupboards went very quickly but that might be because at this point, I'm almost a master at this. Between the kitchen cabinets and assorted smaller projects I have been using a lot of chalk paint. I do have some tips that might be helpful:

1. There are many recommended ways to clean or prepare the surface before you paint kitchen cabinets. For kitchen cabinets specifically, there is the issue of grease and other substances that do make their way on to the surface. I recommend using a cleaner like 409. I just sprayed it on and then wiped off and let them thoroughly dry before continuing.

Even the cat's stool got refinished!
2. I had pulls on all my doors and drawers. I decided that for the doors, a know would do. I just used regular Spackle or patch to fill the extra holes. A light sand was important to blend textures. I didn't overdo it as the chalk paint hides minor imperfections.

3. Three coats of paint is much better than two for the doors and drawer faces. While two coats was plenty for the frames, I found that for a deep color the faces just needed more paint.

4. Don't be alarmed if the color seems "off" while you are painting. . . I found that Empress Silk looked significantly different between coats (think really kind of pink first coat) and the colors really evolved into the  multi-dimensional effect that chalk paint is known for.

5. Wax not only protects the surfaces (especially important in a kitchen) but really adds to the look of the cabinets. I used both dark and clear soft waxes, getting the dark wax in all the nooks and crannies to add depth.

6. Hardware was just as important as the change in color. I tried to use the old existing hardware for the drawers but it just didn't work. I found some really nice birdcage pulls on Amazon that weren't too pricey. The pulls oiled bronze finish complimented the glass knobs well. 

This kitchen is finally coming together with the completion of Phase II.

There is a "Phase III" but it will have to wait a little bit. . . Phase 3 is replacing the counter-tops and the sink and that involves a little bit more technical skill than I have, especially with the way the sink is placed within the intersection of two counter-tops. I was originally thinking that we would go with a wood counter like a butcher block but I think a white granite type material (I don't care if it's synthetic) with green and gray veins might be a nice touch. I'm contemplating a copper sink rather than the white enamel I have because it's very difficult to keep clean but I might be dreaming in both these cases. I would really like a sink with an apron but I don't think it can work with this space unless we go much smaller.
I really can see how far we've come when I look back at a picture from the previous owner's listing. I forgot how this place looked when it had white appliances. That was an easy way to update rather quickly as we already owned black and stainless steel appliances that we moved right in. We also replaced that metal vent under the kitchen cupboard to the right (on the floor) with a wooden version that we were able to also refinish with the chalk paint.

Accessories really became important too. I have moved vintage martini shakers and old milk bottles up into the open spaces above the cupboards. Gone are the wine bottles and decorative olive oil container that had colorful peppers and spices.

Since I have to wait for Phase III I"m going to move on to some other room's walls and perhaps update our trim throughout the house. I'm also contemplating a glass tile project for the staircase. 

Saturday, September 10, 2016

Restaurant Review: Tacopocalypse in Des Moines, Iowa

Fusion Tacos = Yummy Tacos

This is one of those places we discovered because Guy Fieri featured it on Diners, Drive Ins and Dives. What we also discovered was a super cool neighborhood called East Historic Village in Des Moines. What a neat town!

Tacopocalypse is a cool place. I'm not sure why the people here are so into zombie references but there is also a Zombie Burger down the street which we didn't get a chance to try. What is is about death and gloom? The town itself is picturesque and colorful. I would definteily recommend this as a road stop. There is a cute little store called Raygun which was Iowa's version of our "Made in Detroit" kind of branding but their version is more humorous. There are also colorfully painted old buildings in the shadow of the capital's gold dome and a piano right on the street corner.

Tacos have a lot of options. You start with the meats which range from braised pork, bacon chorizo, chicken, wasabi brisket, and vegan options, and then you add delicious toppings. You can customize but they had some good combinations right out of the gate. I chose a Bulgogi (Korean Beef) with spicy mayo and kimchi, and a Sesame Pork with spicy mayo and slaw. I liked them both but that kimchi was memorable and I wish I could have one again. the pork was also very flavorful, with a red curry. This wasn't just some carved up meat with topping for flavor. Every component brought taste to this adventure.

This place also serves burritos and quessidiallas of couse, with many of the same options. Where they stand out is their Masa Fries. These fries are a combination of potatos and corn that are deepfried sticks of goodness. We ordered it with a poutine of bacon chorizo. This is not your standard chorizo which I do not really like but bacon that has been made into a sausage like texture.

There is a lot of swag to buy to commemorate this experience. I will proudly say that I now own a t-shirt from this place. My kids preferred souvenirs from the Raygun next door but I'm happy to own my cool new shirt that I had to order online (they were out of a lot of stock) but it beat me home and was waiting for me when we got back to town.