February 20, 2012

Washington and Thatcher

Happy Presidents Day!  Hopefully you aren't at work today, though I know quite a few people who are.  It's interesting to read about the history of Presidents Day and the different titles the holiday has in different states. For example, the actual name of the holiday is "Washington's Birthday," originally a holiday observed only by government workers in the District of Columbia.  In the great state of Alabama, the holiday is officially called "Washington and Jefferson Day," although Jefferson's birthday is actually in April.  Who knew?  (Most of all, Presidents Day reminds me of the fantastic movie, Holiday Inn, starring Bing Crosby and Fred Astaire. It's a must-watch if you have never seen it!)

Yesterday I spent the day with a friend, and among our adventures was a viewing of The Iron Lady, promoted as a biopic of Margaret Thatcher.  Thatcher was not only the first, and only, female Prime Minister of Great Britain, but she was also the longest-serving Prime Minister.  

While the movie did show us many of the accomplishments and failures of Thatcher's life, it also focused much on her dementia in later life; it seems more like a snapshot of Thatcher's life rather than a full-fledged biopic.  I will say that Meryl Streep was excellent in this role; she was perfectly cast, and she truly transformed herself into Thatcher.  She has already won a Golden Globe for her performance, and I would be shocked if she didn't win the Academy Award for which she's also nominated.  The film is also nominated for the Academy Award for best makeup, which was so realistic it was hard to believe it was simply makeup.  I did like the movie, and it's rekindled my interest in reading more biographies, though we'll see if I stick to that.

February 18, 2012

Some Good News

It's been an interesting couple of weeks.  You would think that not having a job means I have much more free time, and I do, but luckily I've had quite a few interviews that have been keeping me busy.  The short story is that I was presented with three very attractive job offers within a 24-hour period; the good news is that one of those offers was my top choice, so I am beyond thrilled!  I start work on Tuesday and couldn't be happier. 

That's me, celebrating my new job.
My birthday was on Tuesday (yep, Valentine's Day) and I had a pretty phenomenal birthday, all things considered.  Since my sister now lives in DC, and since we were born five days (and five years) apart, we had a joint birthday celebration last weekend.  It was tons of fun, and so great to see so many friends in one place!  We went to New Vegas Lounge, a DC favorite for live music and dancing.  Then, my sweet roommates treated me to dinner at Town Hall (our home away from home) on Monday night to celebrate turning another year older; my sister came by later that night with a delicious rainbow birthday cake, her specialty.  The night of my actual birthday, my sister, her boyfriend and I celebrated again at another favorite restaurant, Zaytinya.  Like I said, pretty phenomenal. 

rainbow birthday cake

I leave you with the recipe for Town Hall's Goat Cheese Macaroni, because it is amazing and I hope to recreate it myself one day.  I found the recipe via Pinterest, naturally.

Town Hall’s Goat-Cheese Macaroni
Serves 4 to 6

3 tablespoons butter
3 tablespoons flour
1½ cups half-and-half
¾ cup heavy cream
1½ tablespoons white wine
1¼ cup fresh goat cheese
½ cup garlic-herb Boursin cheese 
1½ teaspoons kosher salt (or more to taste)
1⁄8 teaspoon ground white pepper
Dash of Tabasco
½ box (½ pound) cavatappi pasta 

In a medium saucepan set over medium heat, melt the butter. Add the flour to make a roux and cook for 1 minute. 
Add half-and-half, heavy cream, white wine, salt, and white pepper. Stir to combine and bring to a high simmer, but make sure not to boil the milk. Cook the mixture on low for 10 minutes to thicken. Set aside to cool for 5 minutes.

Put the cream mixture into a blender and add the goat and Boursin cheeses and Tabasco. Blend for 10 seconds on low speed until smooth. 

Strain the cheese sauce through a mesh strainer back into the saucepan and set aside to cool until the pasta is cooked, or store it covered overnight in the fridge. 

Bring a pot of salted water to a boil. Add the cavatappi, and cook until al dente, about 8 or 9 minutes (the pasta will continue to cook in the sauce). Strain the pasta and add it to the cheese sauce. Turn the heat to medium-low and warm the macaroni and cheese until heated through, about 2 minutes. Season with more salt if necessary.

February 6, 2012

The Night Circus and Salvage the Bones

I'm not sure exactly what prompted me to purchase The Night Circus for my Kindle, except that I remember finding the reviews interesting.  The Night Circus is indescribable; it's a fantasy, a dream-like story of romance, with plenty of humor and suspense thrown in.  It's a thoroughly entertaining read that I didn't want to put it down.  Erin Morgenstern writes eloquently about the surreal world of Marco and Celia, pitted against one another in a magical and fierce competition, and the cast of characters that each play a pivotal part in their story.  From the Amazon page: 
The circus arrives without warning. No announcements precede it. It is simply there, when yesterday it was not. Within the black-and-white striped canvas tents is an utterly unique experience full of breathtaking amazements. It is called Le Cirque des RĂªves, and it is only open at night. 
But behind the scenes, a fierce competition is underway—a duel between two young magicians, Celia and Marco, who have been trained since childhood expressly for this purpose by their mercurial instructors. Unbeknownst to them, this is a game in which only one can be left standing, and the circus is but the stage for a remarkable battle of imagination and will. Despite themselves, however, Celia and Marco tumble headfirst into love—a deep, magical love that makes the lights flicker and the room grow warm whenever they so much as brush hands. 
True love or not, the game must play out, and the fates of everyone involved, from the cast of extraordinary circus per­formers to the patrons, hang in the balance, suspended as precariously as the daring acrobats overhead. 
While plenty of magic occurs in the pages of The Night Circus, the compelling story seems so real that you find yourself pulling for the protagonists, all the while realizing that only one can win the competition.  

It was a hard to swing from the elegant prose and vivid imagery of The Night Circus to Jesmyn Ward's stark and gritty Salvage the Bones, winner of the 2011 National Book Award.  The novel chronicles the days of a poor family living on the Mississippi coast in the days leading up to Hurricane Katrina.  While this book was a quick read, it was not an easy one.  Esch, the narrator, is fourteen and pregnant; her mother is dead, her father is an alcoholic, and one of her three brothers is stealing food and medicine for his pitbull's new litter of puppies.  There are some pretty graphic descriptions of dog fighting in the novel, which were hard for me to read.  Thin glimmers of hope shine throughout the novel, such as the community of friends that pull together after the storm, but these slivers of light are so fragile that I was left feeling depressed upon finishing the novel.  It's well-written and deserving of the praise it has received, but it's not a book I would choose to read again.

February 5, 2012

The Book Thief

Pre-unemployment, I borrowed my roommate's copy of The Book Thief, by Markus Zusak.  I cannot do this book justice by writing my own review, so I'm going to borrow one, which I'll get to in just a second.  One day last week, when I had nothing to do since I no longer have to be at work from 8:30am-5:30pm, I stopped in at Barnes & Noble for a coffee and for some browsing.  I was a few chapters in to The Book Thief so I decided to pick up a copy and read at the store while I sipped my coffee [for those wondering, this is entirely legitimate and even encouraged by Barnes & Noble staff; I know because I've asked].  

Trouble was, I couldn't find the book.  It's had a bit of buzz so I thought perhaps it was sold out; I pulled out my trusty iPhone to make sure I was spelling the author's name correctly, when I realized that The Book Thief is actually a young adult novel.  Cue surprise.  The novel doesn't read like The Twilight Saga or Judy Blume, so I was surprised, but upon reading the author's biography, I realized that he is a young adult author, therefore causing this novel to fall into the young adult genre.  Regardless, I finished the book (not at Barnes & Noble) and have to recommend it.  This story is heartbreaking, heartwarming, funny, and very sad, but overall it's a wonderful book about one girl's struggle to survive Nazi Germany and how the power and comfort of the written word helped her through it all.  

I told you that seemingly random story about not being able to find the book so you'd understand why this review is from Teenreads.com:
"A human doesn't have a heart like mine. The human heart is a line, whereas my own is a circle, and I have the endless ability to be in the right place at the right time. The consequence of this is that I'm always finding humans at their best and worst. I see their ugly and their beauty, and I wonder how the same thing can be both."
So muses the narrator of Markus Zusak's powerful and moving bestselling novel of 2006, THE BOOK THIEF, which is now out in paperback. As you might guess, this is no ordinary narrator. The contemplative first person guiding you through this book is Death, an at-once fitting and ironic vanguard for a tale that both celebrates the power of words and agonizes over the consequences of their use. 
Set against the tragedy-stained canvas of World War II, Death tells the story of young Liesel Meminger (the eponymous book thief) growing up in Nazi Germany under the watchful eye of a staunch foster mother and kindly foster father who teaches her to read. She attends meetings of the BDM, a youth group aimed at indoctrinating young girls into Hitler's ideology. She plays soccer with the boys on her street, holding her own in any disputes that arise. And all the while, dreams of her dead brother haunt and goad her into a fascination with reading and words that inevitably leads to her life of crime. 
While other writers have employed Death as a narrator, Zusak makes his own indelible mark on the technique in the dimensions he gives to the character. Death is simultaneously dispassionate about his work and the impact it can have while striving to understand humanity's resilience. Death boasts an omniscience of what will happen in life but also a naivety about what can happen in the human heart. 

Read this book.  That is all.

February 4, 2012

Life Update

"In three words I can sum up everything I've learned about life: it goes on." Robert Frost

I've put off posting because, quite frankly, I didn't want to put these words into writing yet again.  The short story is this: my position at work has been eliminated, and I'm out of a job.  The longer version doesn't really matter at this point, except that I was already looking for a new opportunity, and now I'm much more motivated to find one.  From here on out, January 25, 2012 will be the day that lives in infamy (as well as February 17, 2009).  Though on second thought, perhaps I shouldn't compare my loss of employment to the December 7, 1941, the day that the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor, the day that truly lives in infamy.  [See, there I go again, making a World War II reference, and that relates directly to *my next post.]

*Initially, I inserted what is now the following post in this spot, since the segue from "the day that lives in infamy" miraculously fit the book I'd most recently finished.  BUT, I think I'm not quite being fair to myself if I don't at least mention a few things that have been floating about in my brain.

Losing your job sucks.  It fucking sucks.  Since this has now happened to me twice, I consider myself an expert and know all the things about losing jobs.  When you work somewhere for almost five years, that place becomes home.  Did I wake up with absolute joy every day because I was heading in to the office?  Did I adore every single one of my 400+ co-workers and colleagues?  Was I happy with my job responsibilities after holding the position for almost three years?  The answer to these questions is a resounding no.  In fact, I'd begun looking for a new opportunity, though I was in the very, very early stages of such.

However... did I find satisfaction in my job, helping people achieve a difficult task?  Yes.  Did I make a difference in people's lives?  Yes.  Am I proud of the quality of work that I leave behind?  Yes.  Did I consider my direct co-workers and many of my colleagues friends?  Yes.  Did I have three years worth of junk (but my junk) accumulated inside and underneath my desk?  Yes.  Please don't interpret this post as a complaint, because it's not.  I choose to see this situation as an opportunity; for three months I'll be paid to look for a new job while not actually have to work at the old one.  That's a win-win, right?

compliments of my former co-workers
More than anything, I am so very extremely lucky and fortunate to have wonderful friends and family who have sent me love, cupcakes, and funny someecards to brighten this time in my life.  I am also lucky to have been treated well upon my exit, and I harbor no ill-will toward my former place of employment.  I'm a firm believer that everything happens for a reason, and that God has a plan for each of us even if we're reluctant to follow.

That's all, folks.