Two good books

In the past two weeks I’ve read two good books.  Good enough to document that I’ve read them on the blog…which means they are good.  But they come with caveats.

The first was Somewhere Inside:  One Sister’s Captivity in North Korea and the Other’s Fight to Bring Her Home by Lisa Ling and Laura Ling.  This was actually the book I read while waiting for another book on North Korea which I now have in my hot little hands.  All this North Korea (NK) stuff was recommended by a friend and honestly the main stream media hasn’t made NK look dull much lately either.  My impression before I started reading Somewhere Inside was “yada yada, a journalist was somewhere she shouldn’t be and her famous sister helped her get her out”.  It IS a story about that…don’t get me wrong…but the trials of getting her out and what she went through while waiting to get out was fascinating.  North Korea is just that…fascinating…with a hefty side of scary.  The most memorable tale was when one of the sister’s (I think it was Lisa) went to NK for a medical mission with a doctor who was removing cataracts from children and adults.  When one of the adult patients was finished with her surgery she ran up to thank the pictures of Dear Leader hanging on the wall…expounding how grateful she was that the Dear Leaders gave her sight.  Um…yeah…news flash…thank the doctor why don’t you?   It was a great quick engrossing read.  It was light on politics, but gave you enough to understand the insanity that is  N. Korea and our relations with them and the six party talks.

The second was a book that I picked up on our library’s “fast mover/popular book” shelf.  I had no idea what I was getting myself into.  I saw “Paris” and “WWII” and thought to myself “I like both those topics” so I stuffed it in my bag and off I went.  Sarah’s Key by Tatiana de Rosnay is a book I will not be forgetting in my lifetime.  It’s a beautifully written account of the 1942 Paris roundups and deportations, in which thousands of Jewish families were arrested and held at the Vélodrome d’Hiver outside the city.  At times when reading I had to stop and calm down.  The painful separation of family, and trying to grasp how Sarah lived knowing what she did to her brother, but realizing the good in the family that saved her.  It’s awful.  It’s the saddest story I’ve read in ages.  So don’t go about it lightly if you chose to read it…it will haunt you.  I almost wish I would have read it before I had children because I think that is what made it so hard to read…imagining my own child in that situation.  Ack.  Horrible.  You are probably wondering why I’m even recommending it?  Well because I think it’s important that we don’t repeat history so we need to face the painful past.  I was never educated about this event (the Vélodrome d’Hiver round-up did occur and countless French Jewish children died) in school, so this semi-fictional account is all I’m going to get and Tatiana de Rosnay does it beautifully.

Good movie season

The holiday season always seems to bring out some good flicks.  I was surprised last night when Royce shoved the Sunday Source section in my face and said  "Look…SlumDog Millionaire".  I was like "wah"?  Then took a second to read it and figured out that one of my favorite books has been turned into a movie.  I’m not sure where that movie name came from as the book was titled "Q & A" but this is defeintely based on the book.  The trailer looks like it follows the story pretty well, and even gives a good feeling of suspense.  I’m also impressed with the many film festival awards. 

I of course recomend you read the book first…it’s a fast read and a whimsy of a story.  Hopefully the movie makers won’t turn it into a boriing interpretation like they did The Namesake.


We both had hectic work weeks that is for sure.  Between a stretch of night shifts, jury duty and my  first NDA of the year coming to a conclusion, the three day weekend is much needed.

Tonight we are kicking it off with our annual Valentines cooking class at L’ Academie de Cuisine.  Bistro cooking at it’s finest…Mussels Provencale, Beef Bourguignon with Buttered Noodles and Crepes Suzette with Vanilla Ice Cream.  I’m really looking forward to the Beef Bourguignon…I’ve been searching for a good recipe for this dish since we returned from Paris and I doubt this French cooking school will leave me hanging.

We have lots of other things we may get to…or we may not.  I think we both are looking forward to watching some movies, reading books and the general laziness that we both are craving at this moment. 

Speaking of books.  I’ve had a good run lately.  Finished Snow Flower and the Secret Fan a couple of weeks ago.  It reminded me of Memoirs of a Geisha, but was different enough to keep me interested and thankful for my big feet.  Currently I’m engrossed in The Book Thief…a whimsical story of a young girl growing up in Nazi Germany who amongst other things, has a love a books and ends up stealing them.  The narration is unique and the characters are all engrossing.  So far my favorite story line is the relationship between the girl and the Jew they are hiding.  A great page turner…good for all ages.  I have a feeling I’ll gobble up the rest of it this weekend.

A good read

It’s been a while since I’ve blogged about books.  Mostly because I’ve been too busy for books or the stuff I’m reading isn’t that noteworthy or thought provoking.  I however just finished “The History of Love” by Nicole Krauss which came recommended by one of the research nurses I work with at the NIH and I gobbled it up in under a week.  Great writing, intriguing characters and a story line I’m not worthy to summarize.  

Next up, I’ve been told to read “Everything is Illuminated” so I think I’ll put that one on hold for our upcoming vacation. 

You know you are becoming a runner when…

The thought of 3 miles on a treadmill seems like a prison sentence.  Ugh…it was the longest 3 miles of my life.  I focused on breathing, I counted with my right foot, I named all the cities I would like to live in, I named all the cities I want to visit, I named my favorite foods, I thought of what I wanted to eat when I got home, I started thinking of the glass of wine I was going to have…you can see where this is going.  It was a looonnng workout.  I wanted to speed up to make it go faster, but this was a short-tempo run and I suck by that, as is easy to do when on a treadmill.  I did vary the pace a little to loosen up the joints but for the most part I kept my short-tempo pace.

Pain…not too bad today.  It hurt when I put incline on the treadmill which I’m sure means something but I’m not smart enough to figure it out so I just put the incline back to zero for a pain free run.  I figured I was already torturing myself enough.

I think (I hope I HOPE!) the weather is turning for the better this weekend.  I have to get my long run in Saturday morning before the Iowa game because Sunday we leave early in the morning for a quick trip to visit friends in NJ and PA.   

Time to go ice my calves and curl up in bed.  Reading “Desert Solitaire” by Edward Abby…it’s making me itch for our trip to Yellowstone.

A birthday cold

It’s what every 29 year old wants…a chest cold for her birthday.  At least it held off consuming me until late Friday night and didn’t do most of its damage until Sunday.  I’m on the mend though…good timing if I say so myself since I planned on taking the week of from running anyways.

My mom’s visit was good albeit a bit dull for her I’m sure…taking care of her sick daughter probably wasn’t in her plans of “things to do while on vacation”. We did make it down to see the National Archives and the Postal Museum on Friday.  Saturday we went roaming around antique stores in Frederick, MD.  Sunday she got to go to the grocery store, the ER and  she got to drive on the capital beltway…scary, exciting, what every visitor to DC wants to do!  

I took today off of work, my first honest  ‘sick-day’ in 3 years, mostly I just take “mental health” days.  I plan on sleeping a lot and reading.  I already finished A Little Love Story by Roland Merullo…great quick read; the main character is hilarious in his humor.  The ending was a bit confusing but I found a tip to go back and read the first chapter and now it makes sense.

On today’s reading list is The Memory Keepers Daughter and maybe I’ll watch some movies too.

Lazy Day #1

After a nice layer of freezing rain, it decided to snow yesterday so no lawn work today.  Yes, I did say snow.  I’m tired of snow.  Enough said.

We haven’t done much today outside of running boring errands.  I needed a new book so a trip to the library was in order.  I’m giving The Book of Salt a try…wasn’t recommended by anyone, but while I was wandering around the book store last night after dinner (trying with all the deepest restraint in my body to not buy a book) I stumbled upon it and figured story set in Paris can’t be all that bad.  If anything, I’ll get to think about Paris occasionally. 

We then headed out to get new running shoes for Royce and trade in the ones I bought last week because they gave me horrible shin splints.  We are picky about our sporting good franchises and typically only really patronize those that give back.  For running we chose Fleet Feet…for most everything else it is REI.  It is nice to have a runner fit you in a good shoe unlike your local Dicks where they may not know the English word for shoe.  I’m feeling faster already just sitting on the couch breaking them in.

After that, we went to the grocery store.  The only perk with this crappy weather is it still feels like winter and therefore slow cooked things like soup still sound good.  Tonight it is Mom’s hamburger soup (recipe follows).  Smells wonderful.

Like I said…it has been a boring day.  Top it off with a trip to PetSmart to get Charlie a bone and a toy, and a trip to REI to get some mittens on sale and there really isn’t much else to report.  Tonight we plan on watching a lot of basketball and then we are meeting some friends out for drinks.

Tomorrow more laziness ensues.  Hopefully it will warm up a bit so I can take these new shoes out for a spin.

What’s for dinner:  Mom’s Hamburger Soup (I’m only typing this because I have it memorized and it is easy…oh and it is really good so I hope you try it).
0.5 – 1 lb hamburger
2 tbs butter
celery, chopped
onion, chopped
carrots, chopped
potatoes, diced
28 oz can crushed tomatoes
15 oz can navy or great northern beans, drained and rinsed
15 oz can red beans, drained and rinsed
4 cups water
4 teaspoons beef bullion
Spices — put in tea ball or cheese cloth
2-3 crushed bay leaves
1/4 teaspoon each marjoram, thyme, rosemary, basil, and tarragon

Cook hamburger, rinse, drain, set aside.  In a large stock pot melt 2 tablespoons butter, add onion and celery and saute.  Once soft add, carrots and potatoes.  Add the water and bouillon (I typically just use beef broth instead of water) and toss in the tea ball with spices.  Along with the cooked hamburger add the two cans of beans, and crushed tomatoes.  Add sugar (1 tsp) and pepper to taste.   Takes about 1 hour on the stove for veggies to soften.

We typically add barley too because barely is good in soups…makes them kind of thick and chewier.  In addition this makes great leftovers for the work week.

late night ramblings.

I’m having a good work week.  This rarely happens so I figured I would document it so I can check back later when I think work sucks.  I’ve gotten lots of good feedback from my presentation I did last week…and honestly the good words from the head-boss-man were all I needed to put me on cloud nine for a while.  To top it off yesterday my immediate-boss-man (I’ve got 3 boss-men in case you were wondering) asked me if I would be the pilot person to start up a program with the NIH.  In short I’ll be working with the clinical pharmacology people over there writing protocols and conducting studies as well as providing some FDA regulatory know-how.  Should be a good experience.  Funny, but just this January I was starting to think about how much I missed this part of drug-development and then…plop…this comes along.  Strange how things work out sometimes.  Add all of this stuff up and I was actually smiling while walking out to my car today thinking how much I like my job.

Our weekend is shaping up to be quite a lazy one.  That is what happens when you have no money and the weather Gods ruin your plans of doing yard work by threatening rain, snow and cold.  I hope we can get out to see a movie. I really want to see The Namesake which is the movie based on a book that I really enjoyed.

I was reading the other day that This American Life, a great radio program, is coming to television.  We have had a hard time catching this show on NPR since we moved to DC.  The NPR station here is actually fairly crummy on the weekends so I miss a lot of my favorites like TAL and Selected Shorts.  I’m also going through Fresh Air withdrawal, I haven’t heard that program since I left NJ.   Now that I think of it our programing is pretty crummy.  Anyways…back to the point.  I’m really excited to see how This American Life is translated onto TV and what kind ofreception it will get from viewers.   If you’ve got Showtime you should check it out.

What I’m reading:  I’m going to have to ditch Blue Highways.  This guy is way to wordy…it is like he is driving 25 mph through America and not really stopping at places I find interesting…so he is going to stay in Kentucky and I’m not sure I’ll ever pick him up again to take him much further.  Any recommendations to take me out of this bad book funk would be greatly appreciated.

A weekend of relaxation? really?

I’m sure going to try.  I’m starting my day today (and maybe tomorrow) with some Yoga.  That’s the one thing I love about the place I take Pilates from…if I miss a class I can make it up however I want and today I chose Yoga at 10am instead of Pilates at 8am.  I think after Yoga I’m going to head to the mall to stock up on some stuff I’m nearly empty on from the Clinique counter.

The rest of the day is a wash.  I should take care of some touch-up paint in the master bed room, I should go to Home Depot to get screws to re-install my closet door, I should to taxes.  Key word in all of this is ‘should’.  I may just sit on my ass and read.  I had a stressful week at work. I really can’t complain because weeks like these maybe occur three times a year at best when I have an NDA due.  Regardless…it is a different kind of stress compared to a chaotic pharmacy circus stress that I can typically handle (and bounce back from with a nice bottle  glass of wine).  This stress is a week long mind numbing, door closed, people avoiding, frantic typing, constant analyzing kind of stress as I try to wrap my 70+ page review into something cohesive that identifies all the issues.  And after a day of no human contact coming home is odd…and wine doesn’t help me unwind because my brain just keeps wondering what I’ve missed or what I need to take care of tomorrow.

Tonight, Laura is coming over to teach me how to make her famous Mac & Cheese.  I hate Mac & Cheese, but I had some of hers at Christine’s 30th birthday party in the woods this past September and I’m still dreaming of it…so now she has to teach me how to make it.  I think after dinner us girls are going to head to a movie while Royce sleeps.  He is working the dreaded11p-7a shift tonight, and also worked it last night, so he typically sleeps a bit before going into work at 11pm.

What I’m reading:  Blue Highways:  A Journey into America by William Heat-Moon.  This book is for my book club.  It’s a non-fiction book along the lines of Jack Kerouac’s On the Road…but supposedly it is better.  I sure hope so, because I never could get through On the Road…I pretty much gave up on the book after he had traveled through the areas I was familiar with.  Blue Highways started off good but started to fail after he got on the road…so that isn’t a good sign.  Maybe I’ll push through and find a good rhythm today.

Goodbye Iowa Loan

Damn it feels good to pay off a loan!  And to think we only have 4 more education loans to pay off!  OK well we aren’t going to focus on those 4 others…lets just bask in the glow of paying off this one can we?  With completing this loan and the expectation of finishing off Royce’s credit card debt this month we will have some extra $$ month to toss around.  Gee I wonder how that will get spent?  I havea feeling this elderly home of ours will find ways to spend it.

You might be thinking why is she paying bills on Valentines day?  Well because we are lame.  Well actually it has been a pretty darn good night.  My day sucked..bad…I was in a really crabby mood because I had to go to work today, which really I shouldn’t be mad about, but none of the roads were plowed after our 4 inches of snow/sleet we got yesterday and I could barely get my car off our street.  To top it off as I was turning into the FDA I nearly got broadsided by a snow plow who didn’t think he had to stop at a red light.  Then none of the FDA lots were plowed so I had to park in the garage which meant I had to go through the ‘real’ security at the main building (not like the fake security in my little building) and I had to wait in a long line of industry folks who couldn’t decide if they needed to take off their coats or not to go through the metal detectors (as I sigh and roll my eyes)…once I did get to go through they gave me hell because my shoes ‘beeped’ (gee maybe it is because they are hiking boots!) and they insisted on rummaging through my bag for my so called ‘camera’.  Whatever.   I think I was the only one in my division at work today.  It was eerily quiet which made for a productive but rather dull day.

When I came home, I hugged my dog, kissed my husband, admired my flowers and drank some hot chocolate.  I then parked myself on the couch as Royce made a fire and I finished my book.  Which was a relatively good read…I did get rather tired of the grown adults calling their father ‘daddy’ through the entire book.  There is something about adult children calling their parents ‘mommy’ and ‘daddy’  that just gives me the creeps.  I guess I just find it degrading…like you are speaking to them as though they are the child and you are the superior.  I don’t know…maybe I’m just weird.  Other than that, it was an engrossing story about an Iowa farming family. 

After I finished reading I figured I would sit and give Royce some company while he was reading, and paying bills seemed as good a task as any so thats what I did. 

Tonight Royce is making dinner.  Chicken Marsala with mashed potatoes and asparagus is on the menu.  We aren’t big Valentines Day celebrators…we prefer to cook in instead of going out.  Instead of presents we have decided that V-Day will be celebrated with gifts of things we can do together.  So this year we are taking a cooking class.  Our class is on Saturday night at the local French cooking school L’Academie de Cuisine.

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