April 28, 2010

Etiquette Is Dead

... or rather, Elizabeth Post, granddaughter-in-law of the famed etiquette expert extraordinaire Emily Post, has died.  Emily Post was, and is, the grand dame of etiquette and author of "Emily Post's Etiquette," the quintessential guide to etiquette in society.  Five years after Emily Post's death in 1960, Elizabeth took over as head of the Emily Post Institute in Burlington, VT.  Of course, times changes and so do social mores; as such, Elizabeth updated the guide five times during her lifetime.  As her daughter Peggy Post says, Elizabeth believed that at the core of etiquette was being respectful, kind and considerate of others, rather than acting pretentious or condescending.

I won't bore you with personal stories of how manners and etiquette are disappearing in today's world, as I'm sure that you have your own stories to tell.  (Plus, I'm not perfect, and neither are you.)  I will say that proper etiquette is just as important today, if not more important, than it ever has been.  Regardless of the circumstances, we should always be aware of how we treat others.  As the Golden Rule goes, "Do unto others as you would have done unto you."

Click here to read Mrs. Post's obituary.

April 26, 2010

I've been reading, what have you been doing?

So, if I didn't make it clear in my previous post about reading, I love to read.  True story that one day I will be embarrassed that I wrote about--in junior high, I looked forward to summer vacation so I would have more time to read books of my own choosing, rather than those forced upon me.  Granted, much of this time was spent by the pool or at the beach working on my tan, but still.  Anyway, I recently read two books that I really wanted to write about it.  They are The History of Love and The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society.

“Once upon a time there was a boy who loved a girl, and her laughter was a question he wanted to spend the rest of his life answering.”  As happens so often to me, I had picked up The History of Love numerous times in numerous book stores, only to replace it with another book.  Why?  I don't know.  A friend lent me the novel to read, and I immediately regretted not buying it for myself.  I don't often reread books, but I would read this one again and again.  The blurb on the back cover doesn't do much to explain the plot, which is probably one reason for my indecisiveness in purchasing the book.  It's basically two interwoven stories, one of a teenage girl named Alma who is desperately trying to connect with and please her mother, and the other of an elderly Holocaust survivor, known as Leo Gursky, living alone in Manhattan.  To make matters more interesting, the story itself revolves around a novel appropriately titled The History of Love.  The novel deals with the themes of love, loss, and longing; not only that, but the prose is beautifully written and constructed.  I can, without a doubt, say that this is one of my favorite books.  Ever.

As for The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society--with a title like that, how can you not want to read this book?  What is Guernsey?  Why does its society deal with both literature and potato peel pies?  What, in fact, is a potato peel pie?  In short, you can find the answer to all of these questions by reading the book, which covers the occupation of the British Channel Islands during World War II.  (Long parenthetical: As I write, I realize that this is the second book in a row that I read dealing with World War II.  This is unintentional, although I do find the accounts of World War II interesting and horrid and disturbing and gripping. [A second aside: When I was younger, I misunderstood and thought this particular war was called "War War Two."  To me, this actually made sense; it must have been the second war, and to emphasize this fact, they used the word "war" twice.  I am pretty sure I learned the correct verbiage sometime before the 7th grade, when I had a nine-week study of the Second World War and the Holocaust in my rotation class.])

The plot progresses through a series of letters between a female newspaper journalist and the inhabitants of Guernsey, an island located in the English Channel.  The personal letters between the characters provide an intimicacy that seems as if you actually know the characters, and/or are eavesdropping on their private correspondence.  Those who live on Guernsey are basically prisoners of Hitler's troops who have overtaken the Island as a point of defense in the English Channel; the inhabitants are subjected to curfews and strict rules.  The only freedom they can find is in books, and in their discussions of said books.  Hence, the Guernsey Literary Society.  I'll let you read the book yourself to find out how potato peel pies fit into the story, but please take my word that you will enjoy this book.

April 22, 2010

Grilled Peach Salad

One of my favorite salads to prepare (and to eat... what good is a meal if you can't eat it?) is a simple strawberry/feta/walnut/spinach salad with a balsamic vinaigrette drizzled on top.  I think it's such a crowd-pleaser due to its simplicity, and the sweetness of the strawberries with the tang of the feta and the crunch of the walnuts and the salt in the vinaigrette.  Yum.

Recently, I was invited to a potluck dinner and volunteered to bring a salad.  I wanted to make something a little different than my fail-safe option above, and I found this delicious recipe on the Food Network website.  I can't wait to try out the recipe for myself; a properly-raised Southern gal like me loves Paula Deen, exaggerated Savannah accent and all!



3 tablespoons rice wine vinegar
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1/3 cup olive oil
1/2 teaspoon salt


3 peaches, pits removed and cut into wedges
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 teaspoon salt
5 cups mesclun greens mix
1/2 cup chopped pecans
1/3 cup crumbled feta cheese


Preheat a grill pan to medium-high heat.


Combine the rice wine vinegar and Dijon in a small bowl. Slowly pour the olive into the bowl, whisking constantly to emulsify. Season with salt.


Place the peaches in a bowl and drizzle with olive oil. Sprinkle with salt and toss well. Place on the grill and cook for 1 to 2 minutes on each side.

Place the mesclun mix in a large bowl. Add chopped pecans, feta, and cooked peaches. Drizzle salad with dressing and toss to coat.


April 21, 2010

Refresh Mississippi

As a Mississippi native, I have spent most of my life hearing/reading/seeing that Mississippi is consistently among the poorest states, and oftentimes, the poorest state in the nation.  Mississippi has a long, bloody history, and the legacy of that history is one of the major issues holding the state hostage in its current economic state. 

But the point of this post isn't to defend or even to discuss why Mississippi is such a poor state.  No, the point of this post is to spread the word about the Pepsi Refresh Program.  Pepsi is offering grant money to individuals/groups whose ideas can change the world.  One program in particular caught my attention, as it happens to be sponsored by a group in my hometown.  That group is MadCAAP, Madison Countians Allied Against Poverty.  MadCAAP is participating in the Pepsi Refresh Program to provide 1,000 school-age children with much-needed school uniforms and supplies; otherwise, these children are unable to purchase mandatory school uniforms and supplies.  Voting takes about 2 minutes, tops.  You will be asked for your e-mail address, but only to verify that the voter is a person and not a bot.  Additionally, you have 10 votes you can use per day, but you can only vote for an individual program once per day. 

Please, help support the great state of Mississippi by voting.  It will make a world of difference in 1,000 children's lives.

April 20, 2010

Taxation Without Representation

"No taxation without representation" is a phrase that should be familiar to all Americans, as it harkens back to the Revoluntionary War in the late 1700s.  If you're a bit rusty on your U.S. history, the British colonialists in the newly-born United States of America were protesting taxes levied upon them by the British government, even though the colonies were not being represented in Parliament.  Seems fair enough, right?  You can tax us as long as we are represented and have a say in the allocation of said taxes.

Unfortunately, as basic as this tenant seems, the District of Columbia does not have a voting representative in Congress.  The District is a federal territory, not a state; arguments for and against allowing the District to have a vote in Congress are met with constitutional and/or political challenges.  For years, the debate has raged on; residents of the District are taxed (trust me) by the local government as well as by the Federal government, yet we have no say in the Congressional branch of our government.  The slogan "Taxation Without Representation" is even printed on all DC license plates.

Recently, it seemed like we were on the verge of a Congressional vote becoming a reality; a bill was presented in the House of Representatives concerning placing a voting delegate in Congress.  However, today we learned, according to Representative Steny Hoyer (D-MD), that the proposed DC-voting rights bill will be pushed back until another session of Congress.  You can read the article from Roll Call newspaper here.  While Representative Hoyer says that he is "extraordinarily disappointed" that the bill has been pushed back, there was an attachment to the bill regarding DC gun laws which caused a high level of controversy (the rider to the bill would have decreased the regulations of the DC gun laws).  Sad day for DC, but life goes on.

April 16, 2010

All Laquered Up

I've been on a nail polish kick lately, and some co-workers and I have been ooh-ing and aah-ing over some of the recent releases from Essie and OPI.  I will readily admit that I am pretty traditional, though not necessarily conservative, when it comes to nail colors--give me pinks or corals on my fingers and reds or pinks on my toes and I'm a happy girl.  I do like a lot of grays and deep, dark purples, but I tend to steer clear of greens, blues, and anything that could be considered DayGlo.  So, you can imagine my delight when I saw the newly released Essie 2010 Spring Resort Collection.  I love the Playa del Platinum, and I really like the Splash of Grenadine.  I could even be talked into trying Turquoise and Caicos, and perhaps, just maybe, Lapis of Luxury.

Playa del Platinum

Touch of Grenadine

Turquoise and Caicos

Lapis of Luxury

However, I was not as thrilled with OPI's Shrek Forever After collection, to be released in May 2010 in conjunction with the movie Shrek: Forever After.  While the names are creative, as always, I only really liked Rumples Wiggin on my first look.  Funkey Dunkey (i.e., donkey) and What's with the Cattitude? are cute colors for summer, but I'd probably stick to one of my no-fail summer colors, like ElePhantastic Pink or Charged Up Cherry.  I can say that, without a doubt, you will NOT find me wearing Fiercely Fiona or Who The Shrek Are You?, although OPI did a pretty good job of transferring Shrek and Fiona's skin color to nail color.  Ogre-The-Top just reminds me of above-ground swimming pools, so that one is definitely out.  Overall, I think it's a fun color story, and I commend OPI for not including a pink or red hue in the collection.

Rumples Wiggin

Funkey Dunkey

What's with the Cattitude?


Fiercely Fiona

Who the Shrek Are You?

April 13, 2010

Recent Readings

I love books. I love reading. I love reading books (although I will read anything really... magazines, newspapers, billboards, cereal boxes, Wikipedia's random article generator, etc.). Since the beginning of the new year, I have been busy with work and other goings-on in this game we call life, so when a co-worker/friend of mine invited me to join her book club, I was thrilled. Not only would I be "forced" to read, but then I would get to discuss what I'd read with others! What a novel idea! (Couldn't help the pun.)

For our first book, we chose Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett. This was one of those books that I had picked up several times in various bookstores, but a) it was very long, and b) it was endorsed by Oprah. Now, I don't have anything personal against Oprah, since she happens to hail from my homestate and generally seems to be a helpful and giving person. However, I refuse to read a book simply because it's a part of Oprah's Book Club. I have been known to peel the "Oprah's Book Club" sticker off of the book before even making it to the register to purchase it. (As an aside, I feel the same way about books that have been made into movies; I will not, cannot, buy the book that has the movie poster as the front cover. For this very reason, I have yet to read Shutter Island, because I can't find a copy sans movie poster.)

Back to Pillars of the Earth. It is set in 12th Century England, after the sinking of the White Ship and before the murder of Thomas Becket. While I enjoyed the book, I enjoyed it more for the architectural story than the actual story story. It's historical fiction, and I do find the history of the English monarchy compelling. I really enjoyed reading about the function, the structure, and finally the form of cathedrals during this time and how those aspects continued to evolve from early Gothic architecture to the later Romanesque style. I would recommend the book, but I will say that at times, the story dragged a bit.

Our second book was The Help, by Kathryn Stockett. Kathryn Stockett is another Mississippi native, so I was the one who suggested we give this one a whirl. The events that occurred in the 1960s South are such a stain on our history, and although I was excited to read the book, I was also a bit apprehensive. Although race relations are, unfortunately, still a hot-button issue, they were an inferno in the Deep South in the 60s. Ms. Stockett spent five years writing The Help and received at least 45 letters of rejection before anyone would publish the book; publishers didn't want the responsibility of publishing a story that could potentially backfire in such a major way. Of course, I dug right in. While reading the book, I loved reading familiar street names, neighborhoods, and stores that are still in Jackson to this day. What was heartbreaking was reading the accounts of the African-American maids who were mistreated and abused. There is definitely some controversy regarding a white Southern author writing about the thoughts and feelings of "the help"; how on earth can she be objective when Ms. Stockett's own family had their own black maid? How can she even pretend that she knows how any of the women feel, when she has not been falsely accused from stealing from her employer, when she has not been forced to use a separate bathroom for fear of contaminating the "white" toilets, when she has not watched the baby she raised reach for her, the maid, instead of the child's mother? In the end, I think it was brave, not to mention ambitious, of Ms. Stockett to consider tackling the issue at all. Between the viewpoints of the multiple narrators, the novel does an excellent job of showing events from varying perspectives. The book is at times entertaining, disheartening, and joyful, and overall a very enjoyable read.

Our third book is the Swedish novel, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson. This book has been hyped online and in the news lately, so I thought I would thoroughly enjoy it. I did not. The book starts off a bit slow, mainly throwing around some financial jargon that wasn't quite over my head, but wasn't quite interesting to me, either. For the most part, I enjoyed the characters in the book, especially the protagonist Lisbeth Salander (i.e., a girl who happens to have a dragon tattoo) and Mikael Blomvkist, journalist and magazine publisher. I love a good mystery/crime novel, so admittedly my expectations were high. I don't want to spoil any of the plot of the book, but I found the investigative journalism component compelling; I found some of the events in the book to be graphic and disturbing. It wasn't that I disliked the book, but it stayed with me, and not in a pleasant way. However, I find myself itching to read the next novel in the series, The Girl Who Played with Fire, so perhaps it wasn't a futile read after all. The best way, of course, for you to decide if you liked it is to read it yourself.