What I’ve Read This Winter – Part 2

No One Is Coming to Save Us, Stephanie Powell Watts

This book touted as a modern version of The Great Gatsby but having read it, I think it’s a bit of a stretch. This is not to say this isn’t a good book though. I did enjoy reading it. It just wasn’t exactly what I was expecting.

Set in a small economically depressed American town in the south, the story mainly focuses on busybody matriarch Sylvia, who despite having her own apartment, spends most of her time at her former house, now owned and occupied by her middle-aged married daughter, Ava. Ava’s marriage was troubled at best and then further complicated when her childhood friend JJ shows up after a long absence. Now that he’s achieved some degree of success, he’s back to win her heart.

There are a few common themes and moments that loosely connected it to The Great Gatsby but the characters are far more endearing despite their flaws. It was really more about regular people struggling to get what they want out of life. I supposed though, had it not been blurbed with the comparison, I may not have picked it up so I guess from a marketing perspective, it worked.

My Name is Lucy Barton, Elizabeth Strout

This was such a random book selection for me. I needed to download something to my eReader right away and this one was the first one that was available in the “recommended” section from our local library. I didn’t even read a synopsis before I began and had no clue what it was about or what to expect.

Most of the story takes place over a few days when Lucy is laying in a hospital bed while fighting an infection after a surgery. Her mother had come from rural Illinois to visit and as they talk about some of the folks from her hometown, she reflects on her upbringing. She is very subtle in her revelations so that, as a reader, you really have to stop and consider her implications.

It reminded me a tiny bit of The Glass Castle in that the (in this case, fictional) protagonist grew up in abject poverty and has moved on to a much different life while maintaining a complicated relationship with her family.

We Have Always Lived in the Castle, Shirley Jackson

I can’t remember the last time I’ve read a novel that had such palpable tension right from the start.

The story is narrated by Mary Katherine, a teenager who lives with her older sister and feeble Uncle on a large familial estate. The rest of their family had perished in a tragedy many years before and they live in isolation from the locals who seem to fear and loathe them. As the story unfolds you begin to understand the events that occurred years before.

It was fantastically bizarre, and apparently, there’s a movie version coming out sometime this year.

The Lonely Hearts Hotel, Heather O’Neill

When I started reading this book I found something oddly familiar about it. The theme of being young, poor and exploited in Montreal reminded me of Lullabies for Little Criminals and then I realized they were authored by the same person. Lullabies for Little Criminals is one of those books that just haunts you years later. That gave me a bit of an idea of what to prepare for as I read on.

The novel is about Perriot and Rose who met when they were orphaned babies. Both talented and charismatic, as teenagers they fell in love as they toured the city performing on behalf of their orphanage. They were separated when they were sent out to work as servants, but spent their early adult years trying to find each other while they tried to stay afloat in the city during the depression.

Overall, it was a bit weird. The prose is unique and visceral. At times I could almost feel the grit and hunger of depression era Montreal coming off the pages. It wasn’t as upsetting as Lullabies though. It read more like an early 20th-century fairy tale, but without a conventional happily ever after.

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Foods I Miss From My Childhood

The other day I had a hankering for pudding, but not just any pudding – I wanted Laura Secord butterscotch pudding. I did a quick google search to find out what direction to set out to procure the snack for which I craved, only to discover IT NO LONGER EXISTS!!!

I thought back to the last time I actually bought pudding cups and I was at a loss. Did I stop buying pudding because they stopped making it or did I just stop eating pudding at some point? Growing up, these cups were a staple in our home for lunch boxes and after-school snacking. We used to buy them at Costco by the case.

I know I could have just gone to any grocery store and picked up a Snack Pack (I assume these are still around) but Laura Secord pudding had a particular texture. It was – I don’t know how to describe it? Silkier? Is that an accurate pudding descriptor? Anyway, nothing short of the real thing was going to fill this void for me so I just moved on, but it did get me thinking about some foods I would revisit if I had a time machine.

For a brief time while I was a McDonalds sold pizza in our area and it was legit. At that time my University residence was literally next door to a participating location. It was not only awesome pizza but also super cheap. The crust was just the right thickness, and it was crispy in all the right places. The sauce was sweet with a kick of spice and was topped with the perfect amount of gooey, stringy cheese. It was perfection.

Apparently, they stopped offering it because of the 11 minutes it took to get it out to the customer, which I find hilarious because, at the train wreck of a McDonald’s that I frequent these days, I’m sure I’ve waited more than 11 minutes for a black coffee and a hash brown (the staff is really nice though).

According to this relatively recent article, there are three stores in the United States that still make the pizza. None of these locations would be very convenient for a road trip though, nor are they near anywhere we would visit though. I’m sure it wouldn’t be nearly as good as I remember anyway.

While I’m thinking about McDonald’s, I also miss their deep fried (not baked) apple pies and the McDLT – which was the burger that was served with the meat and bottom bun packaged separately from the lettuce, tomato, cheese, pickles, sauces and top bun, to keep “the hot side hot and the cool side cool.” The packaging was styrofoam and was phased out around the same time they switched to cardboard wrappers. I guess losing the McDLT was a small price to pay to keep what was left of the ozone layer.

These were the best chips ever. EVER!

In case you missed these, O’Grady’s were extra thick rippled potato chips liberally coated with a incomparably delicious cheese dust that would cake in the deep ridges. I think these disappeared sometime in the late 90s. I know I bought them into my 20s, as I recall they paired well with the economical Sawmill Creek Red I used to swill back then (apparently that still exists – 36 bucks for a 4 litre box!)

Someone told me that the Ruffles Au Gratin was a decent substitute. I recently tried them and after sampling an entire full-sized bag just to be sure, I can tell you, these are not the same thing. Not even close.

What foods do you miss?

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I Made A Thing in February

I’d got off to such a strong start with my resolution in January but I don’t have much to show for February.

It was obviously a short month and we were away on vacation for the first nine days. When we got home I had some billable work to take care of. Then, two weeks ago I dropped my Aeropress full of coffee grounds and freshly boiled water on my hand and gave myself a mild 2nd-degree burn. It covered about 75% of my right hand – my dominant one, which made doing stuff kind of uncomfortable for a week or so. As my hand began to heal we had some warmish nice sunny days, so I got outside to do some yard work. And now it’s March!

The only craft I managed to complete this month was a set of Valentine’s Day cards for Little B to hand out to her pre-school friends. This almost didn’t even happen because I’d forgotten all about until about 7:00 PM on the 13th. Jeremy and I don’t really observe Valentine’s day, for many reasons, but mainly because I’m a cheap-ass who doesn’t want a grossly overpriced bouquet of flowers or to be rushed through a lukewarm inflated Prix-fixed meal in a crowded restaurant because the greeting card industry thinks we should.

But that’s just me.

Anyway, this idea was blatantly ripped off from Pinterest. I printed them on some 65lb cardstock that I already had but if I was going to do it again, I’d defiantly buy something thicker. The balloons were from Party City and the quality is quite impressive. We’ve had one blown up and kicking around our house for about a week and it doesn’t look like it’s lost any air at all. The Washi tape was from Dollarama.

Now I have a few spring-themed projects on my mind and a few other things on the go already. I don’t know yet what March will bring for leisure time, but I’m really hoping to carve out some space in my life for some creativity over the next few weeks.

What are you working on this month?

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