Thursday, August 27, 2009


This is not the only book I've read lately. But it's the only one that I can't keep quiet about for more than a couple of hours after finishing it. I can't believe I haven't heard more people talk about it.

I stumbled on The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing in a search for a novel set around the American Revolution to supplement S's homeschool curriculum for this year (fifth grade).

Well, it is most definitely not a fifth-grade book. I would think readers should be at least 13, older if they are sensitive. I may wait until Sam is older than that before he reads it, because I know he will identify to some degree with the young, African-American protagonist, and it's such a complicated and disturbing book. But I definitely will want him to read it.

The story comes to you as a first-person, 18th-century account from Octavian (that's the protagonist) mixed in with fictionalized "primary sources" to piece together his story from the times he's not able to write. Having spent a fair bit of time with archaic American newspaper prose myself in my college days, I confess to diving into this with a weird English-major joy.

Octavian is reared by eccentric philosophers in Boston, educated as an experiment along with his very young and beautiful mother, an African princess. When the philosophers' club falls on hard times, the truth comes out: He and his mother are really slaves like any others, subject to the whims of their owners, and their treatment changes abruptly. Revolution shakes the region and Octavian becomes a fighter, his horrible past providing an upsetting contrast to the still-inspiring (I think) idealism of the young men with whom he serves the cause of the colonies. Unwitting betrayal, captivity, and poison play their part. The end is really no end at all, because there are two more books. I can't wait.

(By the way, I dearly hope to see a black actor of the first order play the part of Bono, an older slave in the philosophers' household when this series makes it to the big screen, as it certainly must. Denzel, are you listening?)

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Back to school

So's not to leave out the toddler, we made a name tag. It made her happy.

Homeschooling S.

A gets settled in 3rd grade.

K makes his kindergarten debut.

My two middle boys at the elementary school.

Can you feel fall in the air? Yeah, me neither. We went swimming after school today. It's too early for all this back to school stuff!

Thursday, August 06, 2009


John Hughes died today, and I have been married for 16 years.

This calls for a story. It's a long one.

In August 1989 I was a cranky 15-year-old riding in the backseat of a very large blue Dodge van all the way across the country, and then all the way north, almost as far as you can go, plugged into a Walkman all the while. Dragged away, crying, pouting, and finally sulking, away from my friends and the school choir and drama programs and the voice lessons I had planned, away from radio stations and concerts that were oh-so-important, away from the long-haired boy I was sure would eventually come around and fall in love with me. Goodbye to the top-floor bedroom where I watched golden leaves float in dense showers to the ground and listened to the summer rains of western Pennsylvania beating the roof of the screened porch, to the squirrels in the backyard, to the giant hemlock tree shading the front porch, to the everywhere-lush green of the east. No more taking the trolley downtown to hang out by the Three Rivers Fountain and go to Eide's for records. No more covert operations to the Galleria to spy on the gorgeous senior boy who worked in the shoe store (different from the long-haired boy; I still had a wide range of interests). No more basement sleepovers to escape the oppressive, wet heat in the upstairs part of the house.

Oh yes, I was a delightful teenager, and I didn't dwell at all on what I was losing.

We arrived in Fairbanks, a family of eight, bedraggled and tired after some 3000 miles on the road. We passed the marquis of what would become my high school, and I could not figure out what the heck a malamute was supposed to be. The graphical representation was not all that good, as I remember. (It's a sled dog. You really can't blame me for not knowing. None of the popular Disney dogsled movies had happened yet.) I noticed that the auditorium was called Hering, and the pool was called Hamme. Great, a whole school of salted, preserved meats.

Skipping forward several days, I started my sophomore year of high school. Thankfully, I had made friends at church and my dear, wonderful Kelly - the girl who could sing AND play basketball AND was destined for the student body presidency - was showing me around. Before too long I found a crowd where I was comfortable. I settled into Concert Choir and met the drama teacher.

Then Seminary started. What we did, although I'm sure it wasn't the most righteous or diligent thing to do, was to sit on the floor in the hallway of the stake center and wait for the last minute to pass before going into our classes. All the better to people-watch. And I liked what I saw. The boy who caught my eye had pegged pants, argyle socks, a denim jacket, Converse All-Stars, and suspenders hanging loose from his waist. No visible hair, and a bandanna tied tight around a perfectly round head. My first thought, of course, was that I had found a Mormon skinhead in Alaska. I knew we had to meet. I asked Kelly who he was.

"Oh, that's Glenn," she said. "He looks like a rebel, but he's really all into scriptures and stuff." Apparently he had been the champion in the Seminary scripture chase the previous spring. He was a senior. Oh, the appeal of a senior boy to a sophomore girl! And everybody, it seemed, knew him and loved him.

The deal was sealed. I was on the hunt. I also heard he had an out of state girlfriend, but this didn't worry me.

Within a couple of weeks I learned through covert means that he was up for Homecoming King at his high school. Certainly not my high school. The two are mortal enemies. Then I learned he had won. All the stoners and nerds and punks and losers banded together and voted a punk rock kid homecoming king. Do you see the John Hughes element yet?

Naturally, everyone I had befriended wanted to get to that homecoming dance and see the spectacle. Everyone wondered how the crown would fit on top of his hair. Oh yeah, his hair. About 8 inches tall spiky crazy hair, sometimes straight up in the air, sometimes arranged in the messy nest of Robert Smith, sometimes sprayed into a peacock-tail fan. This was no skinhead. That was also ok with me.

Students from my school were not allowed at dances at his school, and vice versa. There had been horrible fights. We heard there might be a guest list, but it didn't pan out. So there was one thing left to do.

I dressed in one of my mom's old formals from the 60s. It was bright, near-neon paisley flannel with a black velvet bodice and covered buttons down the front. I put on my red lipstick, which my mother hated and greeted with "Here come Ana's lips!" I got in my friend Chris's tiny car and we went over to the dance. A girl named Cat let us in the back door.

Glenn wore Royal Stewart tartan pants covered in multitudes of zippers, and a white t-shirt with the sleeves ripped off and something written on it in black marker, I can't remember what. I did what any postmodern girl would do, of course: marched right up to the punk rock homecoming king and said, "I saw you at Seminary."

He had seen me, too, and didn't seem unhappy to see me again. We slow-danced to a Pink Floyd song. Looking back, for many years I thought it was "Wish You Were Here," but now I think it may have been "Blue Skies." When it was time to go home, I left with my friends.

The following Monday I wrote my phone number in the margins of my Seminary manual in my red "LDS SCRIPTURE MARKING PENCIL" and ripped it out. I gave it to Glenn on the steps of the stake center as the sun was rising. He called me that night and told me the detailed history of Bauhaus, Love and Rockets, Tones on Tail, and Peter Murphy. I started sitting in his car before Seminary, listening to music, instead of in the hallway. We kissed for the first time about a month later under a streetlamp in the falling snow, the cloudy sky glowing pink, reflecting the lights of the town.

After a breakup, a mission, and a lot of letters and phone calls, we got married on August 6, 1993 in the Salt Lake Temple.

It's too bad John Hughes never made a movie of us; it would have rocked. But 16 years of marriage (adorned with 15 years of higher education between the two of us, and four beautiful children) trumps any show I've ever seen. Even Pretty in Pink.

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

No-bake cheesecake

You have to love food with a rhyming name. This recipe was inspired by an old favorite from Red Butte Cafe in Salt Lake City - formerly one of my favorite places, although it's been less wonderful the last couple of times I've been there.

Anyway, I made this up on Sunday for dessert when it was still way too hot to bake. It has cooled down this week, thank goodness, but I still think I might make this (or some variant on it) again soon. It is very, very intense and chocolaty. The kind of thing that makes some people say, "That's too rich," and makes me say, "Seconds, please."

Aztec No-bake Cheesecake

1 package cinnamon graham crackers, crushed fine
3 tbsp. butter, melted

1 8-oz. package reduced-fat cream cheese
1 6-oz container smooth yogurt - vanilla, orange or lemon flavor
1/2 c. cocoa powder
1/2 c. white sugar
1 tsp. vanilla
1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon

1 12-oz. package dark chocolate chips
1 12-oz. can evaporated milk
1 tbsp. butter
1 tsp. vanilla
1 tiny pinch hot chili powder or cayenne pepper, or to taste

Extra ground cinnamon to garnish (sprinkle)

In a 9-inch pie pan, mix cracker crumbs and butter with a fork. Press to form crust. Refrigerate.

Using an electric mixer, beat together cream cheese and yogurt until well blended. Incorporate other ingredients on slow speed. Pour into crust. Refrigerate.

In a heavy-bottomed saucepan, combine chocolate and evaporated milk. Heat over medium heat, stirring constantly, until smooth. Remove from heat. Add butter, vanilla and chili or cayenne and stir them in. This is a hot fudge sauce, by the way. Pour about 2/3 of it over the pie. Save the rest for your next ice cream sundae.

Sprinkle cinnamon very lightly on top of the pie. Refrigerate at LEAST two hours. Overnight is better, if you can wait that long.

So I am now thinking I could double the yogurt and cream cheese, eliminate the fudge layer, and make a perfectly respectable lemon no-bake cheesecake to serve with strawberries (which are almost done for the summer - I stopped by my strawberry stand today and they say they are going to close August 13. Sad!)

Honestly, I was surprised to see how well it set up. Way too easy.

Sunday, August 02, 2009

Lightening up

Just some stuff I'm liking lately, with links to make it more fun for you.

- Lapis jersey knit skirt, convertible to strapless dress, cute with a t-shirt underneath. Not in stock on this wholesale website, which is mysteriously full of Fall 2007 clothing. Found at Marshall's in dark brown for $10. This would be so easy to make, and I might try. I wore it today with a lavender tiny-paisley-print, ruffled-front blouse to church, then with a t-shirt underneath the tube dress incarnation to a picnic.

- Navy blue nail polish on short nails. Yeah, it's pretty much the only hot new trend I can afford. So I tried it. I like it.

- Roasted beets. Yum. Except I just do mine with olive oil, salt and pepper. Put them in a salad with some goat cheese and yellow tomatoes and raspberry vinaigrette.

- Toy clearance at Target! Time to start Christmas shopping! And I already went, so you are all free to go get whatever is left.

- Green zebra-striped tomatoes from my garden.

- New vacuum cleaner. Can I get a woot? Anything would have been an improvement over my 8-year-old el cheapo model, but I have to say this one is just awesome. Hat tip to Consumer Reports for the recommendation (I finally bought my own subscription) and thanks to awesome mother-in-law who footed the bill for the new vac. We actually bought it at Costco. Sigh of love for Costco.

- Buffy the Vampire Slayer. I am so late to this party. We are almost through with Season Two on DVD. No spoilers, please. I am loving it.

- Segue right into my cousin Valerie and her hubs James debating Very Important Topics (like Buffy, Harry Potter, and So You Think You Can Dance) on American Nobody. I have still never met James, which is a shame. Because he has a cool new job working for one of my favorite shows and it would be better to brag about that if I knew him really well.

- My Teva Mush flip-flops. It's getting so I don't want to wear anything else. I love not working this summer!