I’m baaaaaaaack~~

The last few years I have been woefully lacking in the reading department and so i decided that the coming year would be different.  I’ll be returning to my minimum of fifty books (so at least one a week) and since I really enjoyed recording that stuff when I was on this blog before, I thought it would be nice to get back to it.

Good luck in 2016, my lovelies!

Clara’s Kitchen

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I’m pleased to share my thoughts on Clara’s Kitchen by Clara Cannucciari with you.

I first discovered this wonderful woman about a year and a half ago when I can across her delightful videos on youtube.  It prompted me to ask my own grandmother about the hard times and I learned some fantastic information about her and her past as a result.  Since finding her videos, I have felt grateful that someone from the era of the Great Depression is around, sharing with us some memories and recipes from that time.  I wish there were more being shared by more people, but we’re running out of resources like Miss Clara.

Times are harder and only getting harder and we, as a whole, have forgotten what it is like to go wanting.  We have credit cards to live outside our means, ads and social pressures telling us that we need the latest thing, companies producing items that simply don’t last, and so on.  But back then, Clara says, they didn’t know to want anything, because it just didn’t happen.  You knew from day one that you just couldn’t get everything you wanted and you were okay with that.  Birthdays weren’t celebrated, gifts weren’t really gifts but necessities, and so on.  The littlest things were wonderful when you got to have them, because you had to do without the rest of the time.  This is a lesson many of us need to learn and, perhaps soon, we will have to.  I’m just glad I got to read a little bit of her experiences. Gives you a good perspective on what you have now.  Read the book or watch some of her videos, like the one below:

Guts

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If you’ve ever watched 3rd Rock From the Sun, then you know Kristen Johnston as the alien-trapped-as-a-woman Sally. Guts is a quick book confessing how her addiction to drugs and alcohol led to her insides splitting open and almost killing her, and how it affects the life she has lived ever since.

It’s not a new story, in and of itself, but it is told in her voice and that voice has a flair for comedy, sarcasm, and self-deprecation. Most of all, she is blunt about the experience, and that frankness is what is most important. You may read a hundred books about an actress who fell prey to addiction, but it is fascinating to a person like me, who has never had any desire to be addicted to drugs or alcohol, to see what it did to her. She does point out that everyone has an addiction. It doesn’t have to be narcotic to have detrimental effects on our lives, either. In my case, for instance, it’s food and the struggle I have with the feeling of hunger. That addiction to food, or sugar, has led to some unhappy aspects of my life that I am battling to this day. For someone else it might be golf, or video games, or sex, and so on.

Anyway, there isn’t much to say about this book, because it’s just so straight forward. If you like Kristen Johnston, I urge you to give it a try. It’s a very easy read to blow through. If you are a functioning addict, I urge you to read this book. Obviously, if you’re in denial like most addicts are, you may not recognize that you should see this story, but if you even have the smallest inkling, please do it. It may do nothing for you, but it may be exactly what you need.

Radical Homemakers

20120809-185327.jpg This book completely took me by surprise and I think it may just be a volume that changes the course of my life. If I had found Radical Homemakers by Shannon Hayes on my own, with its strange title and plain cover, I would have moved on. As luck would have it, however, it was the next read on the same pseudo book club that turned me onto ‘The Dirty Life‘, which I reviewed recently. While the last book was interesting, this one spoke to me in a way that I will try my best to explain.

First, I think it important to explain that ‘Radical Homemakers’ refers to men and women around the world—focusing on the U.S. in this book, though—who have shifted their priorities from the rat race of consumerism in its current state, to a life- and home-centric conduct where more of what they need is provided by their own direct labor rather than working at a job to afford to buy it indirectly. If that’s confusing, maybe reading on will clarify better.

The first portion of the book outlines the concept of Radical Homemaking, while the remaining shows you the philosophy in practice using quotes from twenty families already in the midst of the lifestyle. There are so many dissimilarities between these households that they perfectly point out that it’s all about starting where you are and doing all you can to be a producing ‘unit’ instead of a consuming one. The concept section functions by being frank about the economic situation as it pertains to excessive consumerism and the corporate desire to make you buy as much as possible. Instead of living a dogged life trying to make more and more money to buy more and more things you either don’t need or could do for yourself if you had the time. Time taken up by working for dollar amounts. Instead, these people are taking back the looked-down-upon roles of homemaking (though, it really is just homesteading by any other name) to live off of less money, higher quality, and closer community instead of being unfulfilled by meaningless (subjective) jobs to pay for sub-par food quality and less connection with their loved-ones. Hayes recognizes that most people will inherently see nothing wrong with such a lifestyle and has no problems with those who choose to continue to function that way. She also points out that there are still many important jobs outside the home, such as health and social justice roles, and does not demean or decry them. She means only to explore the origin of what homemaking means, why so many people are being drawn back to the proverbial hearth, and share the experiences of just a few of these families. More still can be found on the website radicalhomemakers.com.

Next, I should explain that I have been talking about some of the things in this book for some time in bits and pieces. I don’t think this book has come to me at a better time. It echoes the sentiments in my heart, organizes them, gives history to flesh out the path travelled, and provides experiences that inform me better of the longings I couldn’t put a name to previously.

This is how it makes me feel (and makes concise ideas I’ve already grown or been growing). That even if most of the world thinks living under a multi-generation roof, taking care of your family indirectly, making things from scratch, and producing as many of your own needs while spending the least money is backward, then let them think it. Corporations are not out to help you to be happy, they’re out to help you to buy more of their products—especially if you don’t need them. Community is the single most important skill and asset a person can cultivate. The point is not to do everything alone, but to cultivate relationships with others and share the wealth. There is no way to like everyone, but there is a way to get along with them anyway. Knowledge is important, but you don’t usually have to spend huge amounts of money for the information and hands-on experience. If there is a better way, then what are you waiting for?

There are probably more that fell along the wayside, but that fairly accurately gets much of it across. I’ve been rethinking some things more seriously and will shortly be making efforts to achieve a less stressful lifestyle. I don’t care if anyone thinks it’s a bad idea.

The Red Necklace

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The Red Necklace by Sally Gardner was not what I expected, but that’s what I get for listening to a book for no other reason than the narrator. Had I looked up anything about the book itself, I’d have been less surprised by the content of the story. After some time, I began to wonder when the other shoe was going to drop, until I looked up a little info and realized the book is meant for 12-16 year olds. Suddenly, it all became clear. Nothing truly terrible was going to happen to these characters and the likelihood of there being a ‘happy’ ending was very high. I was glad for this knowledge, because the advances of the villain on the very young (read: approximately twelve years old) female character was beginning to worry me a great deal.

As you may know from previous reviews, I am not the sort who usually shies away from large age gaps, but the subject was too young to fathom. That, and the man was truly despicable. That was the point, of course, for him to be soulless and depraved. The fact that he was old enough to be her father, easily, would not normally have worried me so much. Hence, my relief in knowing this was for youngsters after all and there would be no taking advantage of her.

The book is not, as the cover suggests, about the French Revolution itself, it is simply the story of two young people experiencing their tumultuous adventure in the midst of the rise of the Revolution. Were it not for the fact that the villain has a hand in making the uprising occur, the relevance to the Revolution would be just about nil. Yes, the pressure is cranked up when the girl is imprisoned and put on trial for her nobility, but even the Red Necklace itself has nothing to do with the guillotine. The villain simply places it on victims he has killed. To what end is unclear.

The book’s ending was not a definitive happy ending, more a telling that the story has come to an end, but that the main characters were going to be happy and together eventually. This surprised me, but I found it an interesting choice. I still prefer it to some terrible ending, that’s for certain.

For me, the book had the same feel as The Alchemist by Paolo Coelho. An allegorical fairytale happening to a young person, or so it seemed to me. It was a good book, and the author did very well with prose here and there. However, the best recommendation I can give to this book is the reader of the audio version: Tom Hiddleston. His narration was riveting, his tone evocative. He did so gloriously at the opening, that my eyes flooded with tears simply at the perfection with which he read a very important line. He uses a variety of accents and speech patterns to help distinguish characters for the listener, proving his proficient skill in these areas as well as allowing oneself to lose track of the book and feel like each person has come alive to play their role. Hiddleston was an excellent choice, as well, for his background in French language, which made for proper pronunciations of various names and locations throughout.

Would I recommend this? I think that if you like younger books, simple and creative tales, or have a young person that you would like to share it with: yes, I would recommend it. However, I’m biased, and would recommend you try to find the UK version of the audiobook for Hiddleston’s stellar performance.

The Dirty Life

I’m not sure what I expected to get from ‘The Dirty Life’ by Kristin Kimball. I have a few books about the experiences of people, or a family, who went back to the land or tried their hand at farming. I know that many of them are depressing, but I felt like this one would be upbeat. That said, I was glad to find that Kimball put in the bad experiences as well as the good, giving a very balanced picture of what the whole thing has been like for her over the last seven years. The bulk of the book details experiences from the first year, but she does give snippets of information about the years that follow, specifically information pertaining to things you, as a reader, learned about year one.

The things I liked best about the book are a visceral tug of ‘lust and admiration’ for her cooking husband right at the beginning, the information about their using draft horses for farm work, her learned understanding that things die merely because that is how nature works (or the nature of agriculture, your choice). I love that there are people who want to help at every turn, I love the insights into how smaller communities work and how saying nothing at all can still count as ‘visiting’ someone. I like that someone can be terrified to commit to someone else and be happy together six years later. I like that even though it’s clearly difficult to begin a farm like theirs, that it gets in her soul and won’t let her give it up completely even if she tries to walk away.

The most important part of their story, I feel, is what they’re trying to do with their farm. The idea of a ‘take as much as you need’ CSA that provides all aspects of one’s diet is novel, intriguing, and sounds wonderful. Seven years into it and they are going strong, but will this style catch on? It’s certainly hard to provide everything people eat (or most everything, they admit they cannot provide citrus where they are in Pennsylvania), so I find it fascinating that they are doing it and doing it well. One has to recognize that they found a good set of bones, i.e., a farm that already had certain things established, such as a ‘sugar bush’ which is a grove of sugar maples. This allowed them to immediately offer a source of sugar that would take someone planting from scratch some 25 years to achieve. However, they went in full boar, and they’re still going. For all the hardship and failures, they’ve done what they set out to do and it’s certainly an enviable endeavor.

There are a lot of things I could say about the book, but I really think that the content will affect everyone differently. Tears come to my eyes as stories are recounted of draft horses partnering with man in the most unlikely times and ways, but it may be uninteresting to someone else.

I think it’s a book anyone who wants to go back to the land should read. Farming is not sunshine and daisies (though they can be present), but it’s not bound to fail either. The more one knows, the better prepared they’ll be. So if you’re thinking about it? Read this too.

The Beauty Detox Solution

The Beauty Detox Solution is one of those books that you look at and all you can see is celebrity hype that is doomed to be ridiculous.  Color me surprised when I read through it and thought it made sense.

I’ve read so much about diet (I mean lifestyle diet, not short-term-lose-weight diets) and food that I feel I have a pretty decent handle on what is bullshit and what isn’t.  While Miss Snyder does a great deal of repeating (I realize some people need to see information repeatedly to absorb it), her basic information is simple and reasonable.  I felt like her method took what information I know about the best diets and put it together in a way that made the best sense for someone like me.  I’ve been on the raw diet, I’ve seen the merits of meatless and whole foods and so on.  She explains all of the medical and scientific reasons behind what she eventually suggests you do, although I knew 98% of it already.

What I got out of this book:

  • The order in which you eat food is important because some foods digest faster than others.  This is common sense, but it’s not one of those things that you automatically think up yourself, most of the time.  The quick explanation is that if you put a slowly-digesting food in before a fast-digesting food, the faster stuff has to wait in line behind the slow one and things start to rot.  Gross, yes, but true.  She explains how to properly order your food in detail, but the rules are very simple and pretty easy to remember.  I like this.
  • Your body holds onto fat to protect you.  This is an idea I have never seen before and it was like a gong went off.  Essentially, fat cells wrap around toxins, which hold the poisons and chemicals away from the rest of your system.  Your body doesn’t want to burn the fat because it knows the toxins will get put back into your system where it will wreak havoc.  It will only begin to release it when your system is getting enough nutrients and energy.  Suddenly a whole lot about my battle with weight becomes a whole lot clearer.
  • If you spend all of your available energy on digesting, your body can’t use it to make sure everything else is working at it’s best.  This goes back to point one, where digesting efficiently allows your body an excess of energy to go repair shabby parts of your body and make you look and feel tons better.  She throws out a stat about how 80% of your energy is used for digestion, but if you’re making it harder to do it, then that other 20% is hard-pressed to help and doesn’t really get used optimally.

I like the way she puts this whole lifestyle together, I like that the rules are insanely simple to remember, I like that it’s not about losing weight (although that is usually a byproduct), and I like that she understands that some people still want to eat meat, regardless of health implications, and helps readers to incorporate them into the diet so that you are still functioning as optimally as possible.  Luckily, I’ve been leaning toward removing meat (except some fish) from my diet anyway.

Best of all, it’s something I really want to give a shot, so perhaps this book review will end up becoming a testament to it’s success or not.  I’m already planning my next grocery trip so that I can get started with ‘phase 1’/’phase 2’.

Don’t let some of the verbage throw you off of this book.  She’ll use terms like ‘Beauty Energy’ and so on, but if you look at the larger picture, it’s really her way of helping you visualize exactly what she’s teaching you.  Everything else is the same way.  It may not always seem pertinent, but it’s easy to understand and it’s all common sense in the end.  Also, a huge help is her website, especially her blog, where many of her recipes are available as well as some videos that are very helpful, such as how to open a young coconut and so on.  Any gray areas I’ve discovered in her book were cleared up there quite easily.