Summer Reading

Midnight in Peking:How the Murder of a Young Englishwoman Haunted the Last Days of Old China
by Paul French
Found this one from an NPR reading list. Set in 1930's China, it's a sort of police procedural/mystery novel/historical non-fiction about the mostly British expat community living in Peking. Kind of dark and noir-ish, (some violence in description of the crime) it is an interesting glimpse into a time and place that I knew very little about. Couldn't put it down, read it all in one sitting.

Indigo: In Search of the Color that Seduced the World
by Catherin E. McKinley
Picked this one up on a whim in an airport bookstore, of all places, but really enjoyed it. It's a combination historical research/memoir/travelogue, recounting an African-American young woman's Fulbright research scholarship trip through various West African nations as she traces the history and modern day culture of the indigo trade routes- the growing/making/dying, as well as the fabric trade/colonialism/history that developed along with it. It's kind of slow paced and rambling, but also fascinating as she talks about women's cultural roles in the making, designing, and selling of cloth and clothing- as art. Thought all the folks who enjoy quilting and sewing would find it interesting. It has a memoir/anecdotal tone, not a scholarly one.

The Summer We Read Gatsby
by Danielle Ganek
Initially I selected this book just because I loved the title. The first time I read it, I hated it - not sure why. I think I wanted it to be more lyrical and deep. Once I accepted it as "chick lit" and a totally fun, non-serious beachy sort of read, I re-read it and loved it. It's a coming of age story, romance, and mystery all in one. The characters grew on me and I think I'm going to make it a tradition to read it, every summer, just for fun. Puts me in a summer-y mood. Also, acceptable for the school library - no sex or violence.

Traveling With Pomegranates: A Mother and Daughter Journey to the Sacred Places of Greece, Turkey, and France
by Sue Monk Kidd
Read this to fuel my wanderlust; it was an interesting book with alternating perspectives in alternating chapters- the mother, the daughter, back and forth as they each experience the places they go with their varied perspectives. Non-fiction travelogue woven with personal memoir/internal thinking, quite different from her other work (The Secret Life of Bees, etc).


Onion Bagel with a Schmear

Twenty  plus years back I lived in New York, briefly, where I became an aficionado of many NYC customs, habits, foods and proclivities. The one thing I absolutely cannot live without that has stayed with me all these years is a love of really great toasted bagel, preferably onion, with a "schmear" of plain cream cheese. (Although I must secretly confess that I prefer a thin schmear, "like buttah" I used to say, not a thick schmear which is what one normally is served. If I am served too much cream cheese, I just scrape off the excess, which I know is some kind of sacrilege.) Note: only an onion bagel with small caramelized onions on the outside is acceptable; onions on the inside, whether powdered or actual, are wretched and will be sent back with loud exclamations of disgust. If I can't get a good onion bagel I'll eat a plain one or an "everything". I really don't like fruity ones or cinnamon or chocolate - are those really bagels? They seem to me to be verging into some nebulous cross-over world of stale donuts.

Growing up in Dallas in the 1960's-1970's you'd think there were no bagels available locally, but you'd be surprised . I lived in a heavily Jewish north Dallas neighborhood where there were mom and pop delis and restaurants nearby that served decent bagels. When I moved back to north Texas after being away for a long time, suddenly there were chain bagel shops everywhere, and they were all serving pink, purple, blueberry, cinnamon, or chocolate bagels with strawberry, honey whipped, caramel cream cheese or some such crap. These chain bagel stores, (with names that evoke New York or Jewish sounding identities) didn't even toast them for you (an untoasted bagel is a raw bagel, and tastes like chewing on gummy tasteless stale bread.) In spite of the Popsicle colors and "flavors", these bagels have no real tasty bagel kinship. The best bagels have a sort of malted yeasty flavor that is hard to describe but you know it when you eat it. I notice a lot of people buying these bagels and bringing them to parties, and no one is eating them. They just sit there, looking pretty.

The very best bagel I ever had, bar none, came from a tiny Jewish bakery in a Hasidic neighborhood near where I used to teach school in Silver Springs, MD. This bakery was tucked away deep in the neighborhood and next door to the local yeshiva- I only found it accidentally when I took a wrong turn one day to avoid traffic. It had high ceilings, wooden floors, a long glass counter. Old man behind the counter, old fashioned cash register that chinged when they rang you up.You'd wait in line with young men in long black coats, black hats, and ear locks and they'd pretend not to notice you. These bagels were so wonderful that after I started bringing them in to work and eating them, everyone else I worked with wanted one, too, and soon my entire school was eating there - we increased their business about 300 %. There was something magical about those particular bagels - I still dream about them- larger than usual, a bit softer/chewier, not as hard, more malty/yeasty. Aaaaaaahhhhhhh, the memories.......

I've spent a lot of time lately- god knows why, it's not like I don't have enough things to do- looking for a better bagel in the DFW area. Why do we develop these ridiculous time-consuming quests for seemingly trivial things ? They give us pleasure, sure, distract us from our real life problems.....and I think I've found it. Ironically, it's from a neighborhood deli, just a few blocks from where I grew up, and it may have even been around when I was a kid living in the old neighborhood (the name seems familiar, although I had never been there). Deli News, below is their website. Some neighbors of ours, recently moved here from the northeast and hungry for the tastes of home, discovered it in Zagats and highly recommend it. I've started eating there- fabulous sandwiches and other deli foods as well. Yum!  I buy a dozen bagels at a time, bring them home, freeze them, then pull one out at a time. Zap in microwave for about 10 seconds, slice, then toast . I'm having one right now.


Rediscovering One's Inner Child

While on vacay this summer, hubster and I rode bikes all over an exotic island, mostly while inebriated, riding from bar to bar. This was the perfectly normal and socially acceptable thing to do, as all the bars had bike racks out front. We had so much fun that when we came home, I decided I needed to get back into bike riding. I rode a bike as a child and well into my teens/young adulthood- traveling far and wide, country and city. Then I became a working mom and got too busy and forgot about it somehow.

I spent a lot of time researching which bike was the best one for me  - I highly recommend Lance Armstrong's website, (regardless of whether or not you think he was a doper and should have his Tour de France medals stripped from him; it's not a website about him. It's about cycling as a hobby.) His website has tabs that discuss all kinds of bikes, riding styles/locales/preferences matched with suitable bike choices, what features to look for and why, many different brands considered and discussed. It's a great starting point for the novice; I'm sure advanced cyclists have other sources of info. In my case, I looked up beach cruiser bikes, comfort bikes, best bikes for old farts - all criteria that applies to me. I compared features, brands, models and settled on the one I wanted : The Electra "Townie" model 7D ( bc I need hand brakes not coaster brakes) .Then all I had to do was find a local dealer. More internet research, as the make/model I settled on is from California, and was not easy to find locally. But eventually I did, and soon came home with a bike eerily similar to one I had as a kid, only new and improved with better construction and features. Once, a few years back, I did buy a cheap no-name bike at Walmart, but never rode it bc it was so poorly constructed that it hurt to ride it. Made me feel clumsy and sore. This new bike rides like a dream, plus it's cute to boot.


The most amazing thing about this to me is that, in spite of my many health problems that make it difficult for me to exercise and get around most days, getting back on a bike has been remarkably easy. My legs have "muscle memory" that, even though they have not been used for this purpose or in this way in over 25 years, instantly picked right up and knew what to do. It all felt reassuringly familiar. (That's why I need hand brakes bc I kept instinctively squeezing the handle bars to stop.....could never remember to pedal stop.) Hubster and I have been going on bike rides around the neighborhood....now all we need is to find a bar with a bike rack out front !

Where I bought my bike:

Whatever You Do, DON'T GO HERE !!!

Hubster and I were looking for a quick, easy vacation that gave us the "feel" of traveling internationally, without actually having to leave the country (because I let my passport expire and have not had time to go get a new one!) Our "key" criteria was that we must have a short flight (our long flight to Hawaii last summer gave me blood clots in my legs). We both like beaches and bars and the pleasures of the ocean plus those of a city. We settled on a destination - I am not going to mention where it is- and had one of the best vacations we've ever had. No kids, no mothers-in-law, no cooking, no driving. Just sunning, swimming, snorkeling, sex and cocktails. We even went swimming with dolphins in a coral reef. The place we went to we loved so much, we decided it is our new "go to" place, and plan to return every year just for a couples get-a-way. Great food, white sugar sand beaches, casual vibe, can walk/ride bikes everywhere, fun outdoor bars. Why am I not going to tell you where it is? I don't want too many people to go there and spoil it. It is perfectly charming, just as it is, and I intend to keep it that way. Selfish, I know.

 Top photo: Our mystery destination. Above: Hubster and I drinking alcohol in a boat, somewhere in the USA. Below: Swimming with dolphins.