Book Review: The Vast Fields of Ordinary

The Vast Fields of Ordinary, by Nick Burd

Oh, I so wanted to like this book. I really really did.

For one thing, no one wants to feel like they never like anything, and lately books I like seem to be few and far between. And I loved the title and so I went into it hoping for the best.

And also, how can I put this?  So far, I haven’t read any books about gay male teenagers that I find remotely as appealing as my favorite YAF books where the same old same old happens and a  girl falls in love with a boy.  And I’d like to think it’s not me, that I don’t only like books about people who are just! like! me!. So I’m waiting for the book that does that for me.

But that was not this book, unfortunately.

So the main character Dade is gay, a senior in high school, and carrying on a secret romance with a really popular boy in his class named Pedro.  Understandably the fact that Pedro and all his friends treat Dade like crap every two minutes doesn’t make him feel too great.  When he meets Alex at Taco Time and they fall in love, he finds the strength to tell Pedro to get over himself, and things progress from there, although the romance is tempered by the fact that Dade is leaving for college in Michigan at the end of the summer, and Alex doesn’t appear to have too many career goals besides selling pot to high schoolers and making tacos.

So, first problem – the character of Alex was so unbelievable as to be essentially a cartoon. Super hot, super nice, secure in his sexuality, with tons of friends who never appear to care or even notice that their friend is gay?  Alex’s sexuality and his relationship with Dade is NEVER mentioned by any of his friends, at any point in the book.  Uh huh.  Not buying it.  Magical hot gay boy who everyone loves and no one questions EVER just shows up and everything is fabulous?  I don’t think so.

Also, the fake band names?  SO SO SO SO SO TERRIBLE.  I seriously cannot deal when people make up fake names for stuff in books.  I mean, I guess I can forgive you Omnipedia for Wikipedia or what have you.  But I just simply cannot give you a pass for naming your fake teen band VAS DEFERENS.  Ugh. No no no no no no no. Good lord.

And Dade is all het up about his parents and how they aren’t getting along and how he thinks they might get a divorce when he leaves for college and how they’re so annoying and harshing his buzz, but quite frankly his parents seemed kind of nice to me.  And really, is it the worst thing in the world if your parents are trying to work it out and stay together so they can parent you together and they live in a big house and they bought you a BMW and they’re proud of you for getting into a good college? Is this really going to keep you up at night the summer after your senior year?

Lastly, the ending was awful. Just awful.  Pedro has creepily been stalking Dade ever since he started dating Alex, and yet when he shows up at Dade’s house towards the end of the novel, Dade is all “Oh, Pedro, the memories” instead of “Oh Pedro I am dialing 911” and I just DID. NOT. BUY. IT.

So to make a long story short, I’m still waiting to be swept away by “boy likes boy” YAF.  But just because it hasn’t happened yet doesn’t mean it can’t.  This, however, was not that book. Anyone have any recommendations for me?

Should you read it?: Maybe, so you can tell me what you think. I’d be interested to know if maybe it was just me.

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Awesome Times One Million

Seriously, I’m going to have to stop traveling because all of this crazy shit always happens while I’m gone!

When we went to the Dominican Republic, Saddam Hussein was captured and we didn’t find out until we were back in the United States.  When we went to Ensenada for my best friends wedding, Britney Spears dug out her best sweat suit and married KFed.  When we went to Playa del Carmen, Pope John Paul died.  And we just got back from a weekend in Seattle and while I was gone DOOCE’S WASHING MACHINE BROKE.

Seriously, for the good of the world, I better just stay here.

Anyway, I went to Seattle, it was the best weekend ever.  Mr. E has become a one man Seattle PR machine and want us to move. there. now.  By the end of our trip he was running up to houses and getting real estate flyers.

We’re not worried about how to pay for it because Pants’ modeling career is obviously about to take off, like, any second.

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My step sister rules with a capital R and took us to about a million awesome restaurants and we went on a duck ride which was so cheesy but so much fun, and we went to the beach twice and to the park four times and we went to the zoo and to the fish ladders and I had no idea, but you guys, Seattle has the BEST COFFEE.  Seriously.  AND we got to go see 500 Days of Summer BY OURSELVES and we walked on the beach BY OURSELVES and that was when I discovered I have NOTHING to say to another adult that isn’t about poop or the head size of your average two and half year old boy.  Luckily Mr. E reassured me right away.

Me:  I have nothing to say to an adult that isn’t about two year olds. I’m so boring.

Mr. E:  Oh, hon, that’s not true.  You also talk A LOT about books.

Pants had the BEST time.  Every night before he fell asleep, he’d whisper, under his breath “Go duck ride.  Go beach.  Go park.”

Anyhoo.  That is all  beside the point because holy goodnight, I met Mighty Maggie!!!  And I love her and she is awesome and the end.

Seriously.  She is, first of all, so much cuter than all the pictures she puts up on her blog! For reals, Maggie, I think you might need to fire your staff photographer.  Also, she bears kind of a shocking resemblance to Zooey Deschanel, if ZD had brown eyes and the most adorable one year old girl ever permanently attached to her hip.  And the next time she writes anything about whether or not she might be done losing weight I am just going to put a giant HAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA in her comments because hi, she’s so skinny!  Also, she brought us presents! And when I opened mine I kind of got misty eyed, although I did have two (ok two and half) glasses of wine at DELANCEY.  Yes, we went to Delancey and we totally took super obvious pictures of Molly every time she came out of the kitchen and the pizza was so so so so so so very delicious and also I got to meet Phillip who was super nice and the kind of awesome where he put me instantly at ease even though he was surrounded by the crazy high strung blogging ladies at every turn, and also Mini Molly was there and how anyone who is her mother keeps from chomping on THOSE CHEEKS every minute of every day is beyond me and she was wearing PINK SHOES and I got to hold her and it was very awesome.

Although did I just say that Maggie was awesome because she is cute and skinny and she brought me presents?  Hmmmm.  Maybe that’s just easier than gushing on about how nice and funny and cool she is.  All I know is that we hung out for like barely four hours because she is waaaay cooler than I am  and she had a FASHION PARTY to go to but anyway, the rest of the weekend I kept thinking “I have to tell Maggie that!”.  So either I am crazy, or she’s mega awesome and not just because she reminds me of Zooey Deschanel.

In other news, I am a big big fan of the whole Cheung crew.

But I am perhaps not the only member of my family who might have kind of a largish crush on one super adorable  future Mixed Martial Artist – Mr. Jackson Cheung.

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Seriously, Jack and Eli together was the CUTEST THING EVER.

And now, if you’ll excuse me, Pants either has a hangover, or he’s celebrating his return to Sacramento by getting an ear infection.

So NOT AWESOME.

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Remember all those lovely tomatoes?

Sally sent me an email telling me that she had linked to me on her all tomato blog (best idea ever) and even though I still haven’t written back to her because I suck at returning email and have been spending all my time fretting over important things like growing even more tomatoes and if I have enough coffee mugs for The Blathering her post did get me started thinking about how I had NO idea what to do with all these gd tomatoes but the more I thought it the more it turns out I have LOTS of ideas so lucky for you here they are!

First of all, I like to just walk right out in the garden and pick a tomato and eat it sprinkled with salt. Here’s a visual representation for you which includes one of my favorite! things! ever! – my jadite salt shaker that my mother in law gave me.

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Remember that scene in Ratatouille when the snively critic tastes the ratatouille for the first time, and he drops his spoon, and his childhood floods in and in an instant he’s six years old again and he’s sitting in a stone kitchen somewhere in the french countryside and his mother is cooking him lunch?  That’s how I feel when I eat a fresh homegrown tomato warm off of the vine. Best thing ever.

So that’s one.  Only four hundred tomatoes to go.

Anyway, then Mr. E and I still had all these wads of tomatoes so we canned twelve quarts of tomatoes, following the recipe in the Ball Blue Book.  If you’re even pondering canning anything, you must get the Ball Blue Book.  You don’t need a fancier book or a cuter book or a big hardcover coffee table book.   No.  Get the Blue Book.

Anyway, the tomato canning instructions are very detailed and we followed them to the letter.  The only thing I’d add is that it’s going to take forever, you’ll need more dishcloths than you ever thought possible, you want to use good sharp knives and a real wooden cutting board, and everything in your kitchen will be covered with tomato juice.  Oh, and you need a canner and a jar lifter.  And of course jars and lids.  But any decent hardware or kitchen store will have all this stuff togetherish for you to pick up all at once. And the Blue Book will tell you what you need – I probably left some stuff out.

It’s a bit of an initial investment, although not huge, and when you bust out a jar of tomatoes in January that you canned in July, it will all be worth it, trust me.  And you can reuse everything except the jar lids next year.

Also, please make sure to pick the hottest day of the year to do your canning, just for authenticity’s sake.  If you really want to get in the mood, you can read some Little House on the Prairie before or during the process.

In the wintertime, I will mostly use my canned tomatoes to make soup – run a can of tomatoes through the food mill straight into a pot.  Boil it up, add a few cooked noodles (I like wagon wheels because I am five) and some salt and pepper and voila! Best lunch ever.

Speaking of stuff, these are the knives I use.   I’m a big fan and I’ve been collecting them over the years and my mom switched over to ceramic knives and gave me hers.  (Ceramic knives are so weird but whatever).  Anyway, now I have a shitload of knives, but it’s ok to start with one.  A good knife is worth the price, it really is and yes I put mine in the dishwasher and I so don’t need a lecture about it thank you very much in this house it goes in the dishwasher or it goes in the trash the end.

Where was I? Oh, yes, overpriced kitchen hoo ha.  I have this knife sharpener, which is very loud but very awesome and you can tell me all you want about your knife sharpening stone or god knows what but you will pry my electric knife sharpener from my cold dead hands.  And I could write a sonnet about my tomato shark, but I won’t. But you should get one.  For certain.

So.  Next I made tomato sauce, but since I was pretty much over canning at this point, I just made freezer sauce, in two separate batches.  I filled one stock pot with unpeeled tomatoes cut in half, and I simmered this for about a day, at which point I put the whole shebang through my food mill.  The milled liquid got cooked down some more, and I added some red wine, some salt, a little bit of sugar, two bay leaves, and some herbes de provence. At the same time, I filled the other pot with peeled diced tomatoes, olive oil, and a ton of chopped garlic, and cooked that for about the same twelve hours – this makes a much chunkier sauce but there will be a lot less of it.  After both batches had cooled I put them in ziploc sandwich bags and tossed them in the freezer.  We used a bag of each kind the other day to make chili and it was quite delicious, if I do say so myself.  You don’t even have to thaw the tomatoes, just peel off the ziploc  and throw them right in.   I probably started with about fifty large tomatoes, and I ended up with about six sandwich bags worth of sauce.

It looks like we’re going to get a second batch of tomatoes – there’s a bunch of green ones on the vine.  And I’m still picking anywhere from four to ten a day now.  If I end up with leftover green tomatoes, I will definitely make piccalilli, which is a sort of sweet green tomato relish.  My step father makes it and I have to beg jars every three months because I can’t eat a tuna fish sandwich without it. That recipe is also in the Ball Blue Book.  I think I’m going to try making sun dried tomatoes and maybe roasted tomato something or other, although Mr. E is not a big fan of hot cooked tomatoes, so we’ll see.

Some other things to make with tomatoes – caprese salad is a big one around here (sliced fresh mozzarella, basil, tomatoes, salt, pepper, and olive oil.)  Sometimes I make a nice big platter of these, sometimes I stack them in tomato “napoleans” which you can see here:

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Mr. E has been making tons of traditional style fresh salsa, but one of my other favorite tomato dishes is just a can of black beans (rinsed) tossed with tomatoes, half a seeded diced jalapeno, a couple diced tomatoes, a few chopped peaches or a mango, chopped basil or mint, and a little diced red onion, drizzled with some olive oil, lime juice, and whatever mild vinegar you have lying around.  Oh, and salt and pepper.  You can eat this with chips, on chicken, over a tortilla, on its own with a spoon right from the refrigerator, whatever.

Of course there’s always the time tested BLT but since gluten free sandwich bread is pretty sub par, I haven’t been eating too many of those this year.

And if you have like, farm hands to feed during threshing time, there’s always my favorite fattening as hell meal of all time – country ham, cheesy potatoes, and biscuits filled with thin sliced tomatoes and cucumbers.

So there’s my “what to do with tomatoes” ideas.

May the tomato force be with you and protect you from late season blight.

Book Review: The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate

The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate by Jacqueline Kelly

Hmmmm.

So, let’s see.  Nice cover?  Check.  Sassy female protagonist?  Check.  Interesting and funny opening chapter? Check.

And yet, I don’t know.  There was just something missing from this book.

It’s the story of 12 year old Calpurnia Tate, or Callie Vee, as everyone calls her, growing up with 6 brothers in turn of the century Texas. Her family is obviously well off, and her mother wants her to do the traditional girl stuff, and hopes she’ll learn to cook and sew and come out when she’s 17, but Callie is much more interested in exploring and science and the natural world.  Her grandfather doesn’t pay much attention to her until he discovers that she’s as interested in bugs and plants and such as he is, and after he loans her his copy of The Origin of Species, they take to exploring together.  And they discover a previously unknown species of plant, which quite frankly is about the most exciting thing that happens in this book.

I guess maybe that was my problem – this book was well written, and interesting, but eh.  Nothing much happened, and after all was said and done, it was more than a tidge boring.  Worse, though, it reminded me SO much of Caddie Woodlawn.  I am hopeful that the coincidental similarities are just that, coincidences, but really.  Callie/ Caddie?  Lots of brothers?  A mother who wants her to sew and an 11 year old daughter who wants nothing to do with such things?  Lots of outside adventures in a rural ish area in the 1800’s?  Yeah.   Let’s just say that as soon as I was done with Calpurnia, I dug my battered copy of Caddie Woodlawn out of the bookshelf and you can say what you want about it, but it’s far far far from boring.  I don’t think the similarities between the two books are going to do The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate any favors, I really don’t.

Should you read it?:  Eh.  If you want.  It’s not a bad book, just not that exciting.  But if you haven’t read Caddie Woodlawn, I highly recommend that you do.

Sacramento Sidewalk

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Like Watching Paint Dry

Holy house projects, batman.

The fireplace is DONE.

DONE DONE DONE!

And the enormous gross laminate tv stand from Walmart has been moved out of the living room and into the garage.  We’ve been to Ikea TWICE in one weekend.  And Mr. E I have had about four hundred fights in which I yelled “orange is not the accent color for THAT side of the room!” and there was a alot of swearing and I still need someone to sell me a giant mirror for twelve dollars and fifty cents worth of heirloom tomatoes, but the living room is painted and did I mention the fireplace is done?

In case you needed a review, here’s a before picture: (OY.)

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Here’s some afters:

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Holy god did that take a lot of hot weekday afternoons to get done.  I just look at it and I feel tired.  If you are ever tempted to cover something with travertine, oh, please, think twice.

Probably not of  general interest, but here’s what we did to the gd fireplace:  We took off the cheap ass painted red mantel, smashed off the travertine, marble, and ceramic tile covering the fireplace and hearth, chiseled off all the remaining tile grout, patched the broken bricks, primed the bricks with two coats of oil based primer, and then painted the bricks with two coats of latex semi gloss paint in color Valspar French Ivory.

We got the mantel as a plain slab of wood from a local wood company.  It came as one giant length of alder.  We cut it to the right length, sanded it with 80, then 120, then 220 sandpaper, then stained it and stained it again when we didn’t like the first (very orange!) color, and then wiped on two coats of rub on poly.  And then put it on the fireplace.

The walls are painted “Macaroni” from Valspar, another Martha Stewart color.  It’s almost the same color that we had before, except it’s not the world’s crappiest paint so it looks about a million times better.

Also, I believe I may have pulled of the single greatest lighting coup in home decorating history.

Here’s what we had when we moved in. (Picture it with an ugly glass shade, like this):

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And gosh, as much as I love shiny gold chrome, no.  Just no.

Here’s what I wanted, but I just couldn’t bring myself to spend six hundred and fifty dollars on replacement light fixtures. (I need five of these bad boys).

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So here’s what we did instead.  This is a four dollar glass shade holder kit from Home Depot, spray painted black, with a four dollar glass schoolhouse shade, also from Home Depot.

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I’m not gonna lie, there’s was SOME swearing involved in rewiring this bad boy to the ceiling, and I still need to scrape and patch and repaint the ceiling, but isn’t it gorgeous?

Love it.

And now we only have four more to go!

But lord am I happy not to be scraping mortar or painting brick.

Unsupervised.

So before I tell this story, I must first detail for you Mr. E’s love of the useless junk being sold at your average every day American garage sale.

Now, don’t get me wrong.  I am a big big fan of garage sales.  Just last weekend I scored a garage sale table, a huge box of thread, a counter sized piece of butcher block and a mortar and pestle, all for the bargain price of ten dollars.  But I think you can agree that all of these items are eminently useful.  And Mr. E looked askance at all of them.

Because unless you are shilling old science fiction novels, crappy cds, or half of a bike, Mr. E is just not interested.

Truly, if there is a run down crap ass bike for sale anywhere in the tri county area, Mr. E is drawn to it like a moth to a flame. I cannot tell you how many rickety non working bikes I’ve had to drag that boy away from in this lifetime, but I can tell you that when we moved out of our apartment in Ann Arbor, we had to get rid of four partial bike frames he’d had strewn around the basement for years, and then we had to do the same thing when we moved out of our house in Nebraska.  And now he even owns a real! working! bike! that I made him buy NEW at a BIKE STORE, and it makes no difference.  Just last weekend I had to grab him by the shirt and drag him down the sidewalk as he ogled a ten dollar bike without tires.

This is why Mr. E is not allowed at garage sales unsupervised.  He has inherited a deep deep love for useless crap.

But last weekend I was off my game and I was cleaning something and someone down the street was having a garage sale and Eli wanted to go for a walk and so Mr. E and Eli wandered off without me and when they returned they were wheeling a shop vac, and Mr. E said “Look! I bought you a present! And it was only twenty five dollars! This isn’t really the correct hose for it and it makes sort of a loud noise when you turn it on but I know you’ve been wanting one!” and he was all excited so even though twenty five dollars seemed a little high for a shop vac without the right hose I am trying to be less bitchy about presents and also I did really want a shop vac so I just said “that’s so great!” and smiled and wheeled it into the garage.

And I should maybe add here that I am never ungrateful to anyone’s face about any presents, EVER. I ALWAYS write a thank you note and I deeply appreciate the thought every time anyone gives me something. It’s just that I have highly particular taste, and while I certainly don’t blame anyone for not getting it, sometimes when it comes to Mr. E it’s best for me to just pick out my presents myself.  People always think they know better than you but in fact it turns out they do not. For example I was raised Episcopalian, and so when I was nine years old I had my confirmation ceremony and my father bought me a cross on a chain at J.C. Penney.  I wanted a sterling silver cross, but the sales woman insisted that when I was older I would change my mind, that gold was really the thing to have and that “grown ups” wear gold and I would like it please to be known that I am THIRTY TWO and I still don’t wear gold, so there J.C .Penney lady.

In other words, I know what I like.  But I am working on keeping an open mind.

Anyway.  Fast forward to this afternoon –  I was scraping paint in the hallway because what the previous owners of our house did not cover in travertine or marble, they painted.  Badly.  And since they didn’t sand or prime or anything all the paint in the hallway is bubbling and now I have to scrape it off so I can repaint the damn thing to look just like it did before, and that is why there was paint all over the floor and all over the hallway but never mind the giant mess! I have a shop vac now.  Fabu!

So I dragged the thing in from the garage, plugged it in, turned it on, and let’s just thank god Eli was across the room, because otherwise I’d be spending my afternoon at the ENT, I swear.  I mean, people.  The noise.  The noise emitting from that thing?  When I turned that machine on I fully believe it pierced the barriers of space and time, because never in my life have I heard a noise like that coming from anything and I used to be forced to attend the Highland Fricking Games every summer and they have a BAGPIPE PARADE that sounded like a choir of dulcet angels compared to the instrument of brain melting evil formerly known as my garage sale Shop Vac.

I called Mr. E and tried to make light of the situation “Seriously? Why did you buy this?  I cannot believe anyone would hear this noise and buy this machine!” even though I was kind of totally pissed off.  But then I lost what we laughingly call my sense of humor about the whole thing because after that phone call, I felt a sharp pain and then BLOOD CAME OUT OF MY EAR.

And that is why Mr. E will never ever ever ever ever ever ever ever ever ever everrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr EVER be allowed unsupervised at a garage sale ever again, for the rest of his natural life.

I just hope the damn shop vac can be fixed with spare bike parts.